The air was chill but the rising sun surprisingly bright as we reached Stonehenge at a much-too-early hour when any sensible person would have still been in bed. Everything around us was still; no coaches, no crowds, not even an open gift shop. This was Stonehenge as you imagine it to be, standing alone in the Wiltshire landscape as if the builders had abandoned the stone circle for us alone to find.
But sadly the Stonehenge experience isn’t always like this. A couple of years ago I had visited with my blogging friend Barbara – she wrote about our day here. Although we were lucky enough to be first in the queue as Stonehenge opened and had the monument to ourself for a brief 5 minutes, it wasn’t long before the perimeter of the circle was flooded with other visitors. This is one of the major tourist ticklist sites and a convenient coach tour destination for day trips from London, so by the time we left, the experience was far from magical.
On a typical visit to Stonehenge you can skirt around the stones and photograph them from a distance, but without walking among them. This time our early morning tour allowed us to walk into the circle and hear our excellent guide Pat Shelley of Stonehenge-Tours.com tell us all about the stones and the stories and myths that surround them. But first a warning; don’t touch the stones, don’t kiss the stones, don’t hug the stones, don’t lick the stones! Those of us who visited Stonehenge as children will remember that this was once an open monument where you could walk among, sit upon and even picnic by these stones, but these days they are now treated with almost religious care for their preservation.
The stone circle was a masteriece of engineering with the sarsens weighing up to 50 tons being brought on rollers from the Marlborough downs and the smaller blue stones used in the inner circle being brought by river from the Preseli Hills 150 miles away in Wales. The lintels that sit balanced on the top of the larger stones are held in place with interlocking joints and were slightly curved to make the circle – you can see the bulge on top of some of the stones and the hole on others that have fallen. While it is clear that Stonehenge was built to be aligned with the sun and is part of a wider landscape of other stone circles and burial barrows, no-one really knows why it was built or exactly how it was used. Our guide Pat confided that Stonehenge is believed to have been built for ceremonial and ritual purpose which is archaeological code for ‘we’ve absolutely no idea!’
If you’d like to visit on a special sunrise or sunset tour of Stonehenge that will enable you to have that magical experience without the crowds, you need to plan well ahead. The early morning visit including access to the stone circle can be requested in advance at a cost of £30 per person via the Stonehenge website (this does not include a guided tour or even an audioguide) but guides like Pat Shelley also offer the special tour including transport from Salisbury and a guide for £98 per person. Twice a year you can walk within the stone circle during the winter and summer solstice but you will still be sharing the experience with thousands of other visitors. The normal entry price is £14.50 and is bookable in advance, by timed entry. A free audio-tour is available for download on iTunes here.
While you’re in the area there is plenty more to visit, so I would make a weekend or few days to stay in Salisbury while you explore the surrounding area – more information on the Visit Wiltshire Website.
On the road from Stonehenge to Avebury you will pass Silbury Hill, which at 40m high is the largest man-made chalk mound of its kind in Europe. The flat topped cone shape is too regular to be natural, yet no-one knows why it was constructed and no burial chambers have been discovered. There’s no public access to the base or top of the hill but on the opposite side of the road you can walk up the hill to West Kennet Barrow. This Neolithic long barrow or burial mound has a stone chamber at one end that you can enter and you are free to walk along the top of the barrow, with the wind blowing in your hair.
A more personal experience of the stones at Avebury
If you were disappointed at having to share Stonehenge with crowds of other visitors, I recommend that you drive 40 minutes north to Avebury, a larger site of standing stones that is also managed by English Heritage. Visiting Avebury is a much more personal experience and while the individual stones are not as impressive as Stonehenge, you can wander among them, touch them and hug them at will. The stones are well spaced out, making large stone circles across the landscape and a village has grown up in the midst of them, making for a pleasant visit, since you can wander freely around the stones, banks and ditches and then finish off with an excellent pub lunch at the Red Lion.
The beautiful cathedral is as much a living place of worship and community as a tourist attraction, and the spire can be seen for miles around as you approach the city from any direction. If you are spiritually inclined I’d recommend attending evensong or the Sunday morning service to hear the beautiful music and choral singing. The cathedral has undergone a major repair programme over recent years and you can read the cathedral blog to find out what’s been going on behind the scenes. You won’t find a crypt or hear a peal of bells here, since the cathedral is built on shallow foundations due to the high water table and too much vibration could make it unstable.
A perfect photography spot can be found from the footpath that runs in between the water meadows, leading to the Mill House Hotel at Harnham a pub and restaurant where we had supper, in a 15th century building with a garden, with views of the river and mill pond.
800 years of Magna Carta
In the chapter house of Salisbury cathedral you can see the best preserved of the four original copies of Magna Carta, sealed in 1215 by King John in an agreement to preserve the constitutional rights of his nobility. The ‘Great Charter’ guarantees certain rights, including the right to a free trial and copies were sent around the kindom after King John made peace with his barons at Runnymead, to ensure he didn’t change his mind (which of course he did).
The interactive exhibition has been created within the Chapter House to commemorate the 800 year celebrations with films and displays about the charter’s history and volunteer guides on hand to explain everything. Within a darkened enclosure, you can see the actual Magna Carta, written on vellum and with the mark where the seal would once have been, which signified the king’s approval.
Salisbury Cathedral Close
The cathedral is enclosed in a grassy close of 80 acres, surrounded by the houses that were constructed in the middle ages to house the clergy but have since been enlarged and beautified with grand Georgian facades. The houses, walls and gatehouses form a barrier that was designed to separate town from gown in troubled times – normally when the church was charging to local people too much in taxes. There’s plenty to see within the close including Mompesson House, an elegant Queen Anne style town house that is open through the National Trust, The Rifles (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum that tells the story of the County infantry regiments and the Salisbury Museum that houses local archaeological collections found in the area.
Visit Arundells, home of Sir Edward Heath
While you’re in the Salisbury Cathedral Close, be sure to visit Arundells, the former home of British Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath who lived here from 1985 until his death in 2005. The Grade 1 listed house has all those ingredients that make a perfect country gentleman’s residence; the gravelled courtyard with wrought iron gates, the honey stone Georgian frontage and the gardens leading down to the river. Inside the house is preserved as it was when Sir Edward lived there and reflects the passions of his later years. In the hall you’ll see models of his yacht, Morning Cloud and he described the rich man’s sport of ocean racing as ” like standing under a cold shower tearing up £5 notes.”
In the sitting room is a grand piano which visitors are invited to play, covered with silver framed photos of the great and the good, while the terracotta formal dining room, filled with Chinese artworks, saw many a Sunday lunch with everyone from pop stars to royalty. As you walk up the stairs you’ll admire the hand painted wallpaper depicting Chinese fables and stand behind Sir Edward’s desk in the study looking along the length of the garden towards the river. This is certainly a house that oozes the personality of its owner.
Stay within the cathedral close at Sarum College
I stayed at Sarum College while attending the Social Travel Britain conference and highly recommend it if you are looking for tranquil and comfortable accommodation right opposite the cathedral. Parts of the college date back to the 18th century and it is now used as a Christian study and conference centre, but anyone is welcome to book one of their 40 rooms. This is the only place that you can stay within the cathedral close, so you can drink in that cathedral view in the early morning, before other visitors are allowed in. The en-suite bedrooms are fresh and simply furnished and there is a refectory that serves excellent home cooked meals using local ingredients. Should you wish to venture out of the cathedral close to eat at one of the nearby restaurants, you can borrow a key to get back in after the gates are locked at 10.30. Probably not the place for party animals though.
More places to visit in the South of England
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In this article our guest author, Susan Foster shares her girl’s weekend getaway at the historic Hotel del Coronado, set by the sea in San Diego, California.
My friend Cherie and I traveled quite a bit together in college and for some years afterwards. These trips came to a halt during the years we raised our children. Recently however, we have enjoyed a girl’s weekend getaway together every-other year. A perk of midlife has been the significant upgrade in the accommodations we can now both afford!
This year’s destination: San Diego
Cherie is from Virginia and I live in Montana. This year, we chose to meet at the warm coastal resort town of Coronado, just across a bridge from San Diego, California.
Deciding to splurge, we booked a long-weekend stay at one of the leading San Diego hotels, the historic and luxurious Hotel del Coronado. Built in 1880, it is now an American National Historic Landmark.
A glitch in our plans!
Our flights were originally scheduled to arrive into San Diego late morning on a Friday, within minutes of each other. Unfortunately, an airplane mechanical difficulty delayed Cherie’s arrival until evening. I found out by reading a text from her just before boarding my own flight:
Despite feeling horrible for Cherie, the Hotel del Coronado was a lovely place to spend an afternoon alone.
I explored the sprawling grounds and beautiful building, walked several miles on the hotel’s private beach, ate a lovely ocean-side meal, and watched an incredible sunset from the balcony of our full ocean-view room.
Once Cherie finally arrived, we salvaged the rest of her day by enjoying a light meal and some talented live music downstairs in the Babcock and Story Bar.
Saturday was a full day!
Wearing the matching outfits we had unknowingly packed, we headed down to the beach for a walk, then consulted the helpful hotel concierge to assist with the planning of our day.
Old Town Trolley Tour and a day in San Diego
It had seemed unnecessary to rent a car. A cab from the airport cost about $30 US, and the village of Coronado is an easy walk from the hotel. Coronado offered more than enough to entertain us, but we decided to spend a day exploring San Diego. We purchasing discounted Old Town Trolley Tour tickets ($33 US each) from the concierge, which turned out to be the perfect way to experience the city.
The trolley route covers 25 miles in about two hours, and the driver provides an entertaining and informative narrative. Passengers can get on and off as they please at any of the 11 different points of interest. Trolleys cycle through each stop about every half hour throughout the day.
Typically, I prefer to be “off the beaten path” and avoid tourist-type activities. With our limited time schedule though, I enjoyed the comprehensive overview of San Diego provided by the Trolley Tour. We disembarked at five stops.
Our first stop was Balboa park in San Diego
Home to 15 museums, and a vast number of other interests, several days could easily be spent at Balboa Park. A free, narrated 15-minute tram tour of the park convinced us both to return someday with more time to explore.
Next up: Little Italy, San Diego
This hilly community with many enticing shops and restaurants is, according to our driver, the largest “Little Italy” in the United States. Had we desired Italian food, this would have been a perfect place for lunch. Or – we could have had a pint in the British Pub we discovered there!
Visiting Old Town, San Diego
We couldn’t leave without a stop at Old Town San Diego. Established in the 1700’s, we enjoyed walking through the historic buildings.
Our concierge recommended El Agave Tequileria. The authentic Mexican food and margaritas (mine was avocado!) were excellent.
A stop at San Diego Harbor
You could easily spend an entire afternoon at the San Diego Harbor. We just briefly walked up and down the harbor, but enjoyed seeing the ships and submarines which can be toured there.
Shopping at Seaport Village, San Diego
We enjoyed the quaint shops here, and saw some incredibly beautiful jewelry.
The sea wall was the perfect place to sit and sip a cup of coffee.
The setting sun looked like a ball of fire, back-lighting the sailboats and ships at sea, and the beautiful trees in the park. We were so enchanted we lost track of time, and missed the last trolley – which we had planned to take to the Gaslamp District, known as the “happening place” for nightlife!
Back to Hotel del Coronado
Reevaluating our plan, we took a taxi back to the Hotel del Coronado. Once there, we ended the day with a glass of wine and some tasty snacks. The February temperatures had cooled enough to need a coat, but we were comfortably warm sitting by an outdoor fire-pit at the Sunset Bar.
Sunday: Relaxation and spa day!
After a walk on the beach we reported to the Del’s Fitness Center, to join a group for a yoga session on the beach. It was my first yoga experience, and I absolutely loved it, perhaps thanks to the ocean setting!
The Spa at the Del offers over 50 different treatments and advance reservations are recommended. We pampered ourselves with manicures, pedicures, and facials, and enjoyed all of the delightful spa amenities, such as the steam room, hot tub and sunbathing by the infinity pool.
We watched the sun set while enjoying delicious “Charred Brussels Sprouts,” followed by salad and wood-fired pizza outdoors at ENO Pizzaria and Wine Bar.
It would be impossible to fully sing the praises of the Hotel Del Coronado, without making this article much too lengthy. You can read the article on my own blog with more about the history and amenities of this glorious hotel.
My only complaint is that our stay was much too short. Planning our next reunion will be easy – returning to San Diego and the Hotel del Coronado is a must!
About Hotel del Coronado
Hotel del Coronado is a luxury seaside resort in Coronado, California, just minutes from downtown San Diego. In existence since 1888, the hotel is now a beautiful National Historic landmark and a world-class luxury resort. Rooms rates are from $425 USD; book mid-week for lowest rates and be sure to check the resort website for special offers. Website | Twitter | Facebook
Read more about Hotel del Coronado in Susan’s article: Hotel del Coronado – Perhaps a glimpse of heaven
Susan received some complimentary services from the Hotel del Coronado during her stay, however all opinions expressed are her own.
Thanks to Susan Foster for sharing her weekend in San Diego. Susan’s blog the most – of every moment is about making the most of all life’s moments with recipes, tips, inspiring stories and excerpts of life in Montana. You can connect with Susan on Twitter | Facebook | Google+ | Instagram | Pinterest
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Calling all chocoholics as our guest author Magdalena Fielden tells us about the Grenada Chocolate Festival that she founded, for a taste of the chocolate created on this Caribbean island with chocolate food and cocktails, visits to the chocolate factory and even chocolate yoga and fashion. All happening in May 2015.
Grenada has a unique chocolate story to tell which I knew could be turned into an interesting and delicious experience. The more I thought about it the more I realised that we had never really worked collectively to promote Grenada’s cocoa history, traditions and the fantastic award winning chocolate that is produced right here on the island.
It was in 2013 that we started to talk about running a chocolate week at True Blue Bay. We had noticed that there was a growing interest in chocolate and workshops to learn how to make chocolate. I wanted to do more than just show people how to make chocolates and so the Grenada Chocolate Festival was born.
The Grenada Chocolate Company
As my inspiration I looked to the charismatic Mott Green who founded the The Grenada Chocolate Company. It was back in 1999 that Mott helped to organise small-scale local cocoa farmers and workers into a co-operative to produce delicious organic chocolate in a sustainable manner.
I was fascinated by Mott Green and admired his efforts to create chocolate ethically and how he involved the local community. And of course I loved the taste of the chocolate.
Over the years we promoted The Grenada Chocolate Company to our guests, encouraging them to visit the chocolate factory and visit the Belmont Cocoa Plantation to see how cocoa is processed before being turned into chocolate. But it was all very informal with no set itinerary or programme.
So I set about creating a dedicated chocolate event that would be truly Grenadian, involve as many local artisans and growers as possible and introduce people to different attractions and experiences.
And so the Chocolate Fest was born. We decided to use chocolate as a loose theme and created a programme that covers everything from art and beauty to fashion and food and encourages people to explore Grenada away from the beaches.
After a trial event in August 2014, we refined and expanded the programme to create the first proper Chocolate Fest that will run from 8 to 17 May 2015.
Learning about chocolate
Our programme includes experiences such as the Cocoa Chocolate Hash – a hike through a cocoa plantation, as well as the chance to be a farmer for a day at the Crayfish Bay Organic Farm learning how to pick the cocoa pods, harvest the beans and prepare them for processing.
We have partnered with a local school to take a field trip with some of the children to learn about the history of cocoa and how the island’s future depends on having a sustainable farming community. We are also holding a fundraising dinner with proceeds being used to build a playground at the Vendome RC School.
Contrary to popular belief chocolate does not have to be unhealthy. So we are dedicating a day to exploring its health benefits. The day starts with a yoga session at True Blue Bay’s Sankalpa studio and includes a meditation to appreciate the texture, smell and taste of chocolate. The session also includes tasting the local cocoa tea. Then there are hands on workshops about the health benefits of chocolate.
Chocolate is also a great beauty aid which will be demonstrated at a mini spa bazaar featuring local organic beauty products. We even offer chocolate themed treatments at True Blue Bay’s Blue Haven Spa.
Chocolate as an art medium
Cocoa also inspires local artists so we include a visit to the Art and Soul Gallery, owned by local artist Susan Mains, for the opening of the Cocoa Art Exhibition that features paintings, sculpture and batiks.
On another day we are inviting local artisans to display their wares at an arts and crafts bazaar featuring crafts, jewellery, art and chocolate.
My daughter, Marie will even be organising a fashion show featuring Grenadian inspired fashion created from batiks and soft tropical fabrics.
The best part – tasting!
Of course we haven’t forgotten about chocolate’s greatest attraction – its taste. And there are ample opportunities to sample our delicious local chocolate with chocolate breakfasts, preparing a chocolate inspired lunch under the guidance of our entertaining cooks, Esther and Omega, chocolate themed dinners and parties.
We will even offer tastings of chocolate inspired cocktails, chocolate beer brewed at our on site microbrewery, and local chocolate rums. And what better souvenir to take home than a bar of chocolate you have made under the expert guidance of the team at the Diamond Estate Chocolate Factory.
Learning will be made fun for children with a family fun day at the Belmont Estate where they can take part in activities such as dancing, walking and scooping the cocoa.
What more could you ask for from a holiday than combining chocolate with great weather, the warmest of welcomes and the chance to kick back and relax on a beautiful island?
If you’d like to visit the 2015 Grenada Chocolate Festival
The Chocolate Fest runs from 8 to 17 May 2015. Participation in individual days costs from US$36 for adults and US$20 for children. Some events are free for those staying at True Blue Bay Resort.
Thanks for this article to Magdalena Fielden, organiser of The Grenada Chocolate Festival who offer a unique visitor experience with their pure and delicious Grenadian organic and sustainable cocoa and chocolate.
Caribtours offers 7 nights at True Blue Bay from £1,221 per person, based on two adults sharing a True Blue Style Room on a bed and breakfast basis, including return scheduled flights from Gatwick and private transfers. A US$300 coupon book offering vouchers for discounts and offers at restaurants, spa, shops and diving at the resort and other outlets nearby. Price based on travel in May 2015.
All Photos by the Grenada Chocolate Festival
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This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here
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