January 1, 2017 by Heather Cowper
Filed under United Kingdom, Europe, World, featured, Aruba, Austria, Balearics, Bavaria, Bristol and Bath, Caribbean, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, St Kitts, Tirol, Wales
As we start a new year I’m enjoying the memories of last year’s travels, like flicking through a photo album in my head. I visited new places, returned to old favourites and had a great mix of travels with family, friends and the occasional solo trip. This year is wide open to new travel possibilities, but before we move on let’s take a moment to revisit some of the places I travelled in 2016.
February – a weekend of culture in the Lake District
My weekend in the Lake District brought back memories of family holidays as a child, when we stayed in an old stone cottage in the Easter holidays. This time I was there with my blogging friends and Travelator Media colleagues, Zoe and Kathryn, to enjoy a cottage stay with the Good Life Cottage Company. Despite the rain we had a great time discovering the cultural side of the Lakes, at Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm and Wordworth’s Dove Cottage, getting out for a blustery walk on Elterwater when the rain finally stopped.
February – a spring break in Athens
Later in February I visited Athens with my parents and sister who lives in Greece, gathering for the weekend at the classic and elegant Electra Palace Hotel. The warm and sunny weather gave us the opportunity to visit the Acropolis without the scorching heat and crowds that descend on Athens in summer. We loved the fresh spring days, wandering around all the ancient sites and relaxing in a pavement cafes of Plaka to watch the world go by.
March – A Caribbean adventure in St Kitts
March took me to St Kitts, my first ever taste of the Caribbean, where I explored this island that is one half of the island federation of St Kitts and Nevis. I found a laid back and slightly scruffy charm, with lush fields that once grew sugar cane, plantation house hotels and a growing list of stylish new bars and hotels. I tried lobster on the beach and rum cocktails at Salt Plage, learned about the local medicinal plants on a rainforest walk and saw the batik being made at Romney Manor. The visit gave me a desire to visit more Caribbean islands, which despite being small in size are surprisingly diverse, each with its own character.
Read More: A stylish traveller’s guide to St Kitts
March – Cliff walks on the Gower in Wales
I’ve visited the Gower Peninsula in South Wales a few times now, since my son was at university there and in March we made a return visit to the lovely Promenade View in Mumbles. With husband Guy, my son and his friends we explored the coastal paths and gorgeous beaches of the Gower, breezing along the cliff paths of Pennard Cliffs and Three Cliffs Bay. We even clambered along the peninsula of Worms Head, just making it back before the tide turned and covered the jagged rocks with the sea again.
April – A farmhouse stay in Costa Brava
After Easter it was off to Costa Brava, for a family break in a large and luxurious farmhouse (read my review) through Charming Villas. The fields around the house were bright yellow with rapeseed and from the bedrooms we had views over the olive trees to the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance. We spent a day in Girona, with pretty pastel houses lining the river, visited the Salvador Dali museum at Figueres and had a tapas lunch in the sunshine at Cadaques, before walking over the headland to Dali’s fishermens cottages in Port Lligat.
Read More: A driving tour of Costa Brava
April – Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast
On Northern Ireland’s scenic Causeway Coast I found windswept golden beaches, ruined castles and of course what most visitors come to see, the Giant’s Causeway. Along with the stunning landscape of the Causeway, I braved the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and visited the photogenic Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff-top, staying at the fabulous Bushmills Inn where a welcoming peat fire always burns. I also dipped into the thriving artizan food culture, with fabulous seafood and outstanding quality meat, all served up in huge portions with a healthy dollop of friendly Irish charm.
May – Visiting laid back Menorca
May took me to Menorca, the smallest and calmest of the Balearic islands, a place that doesn’t like to boast too much about its charms, but is full of history, fashion and great food. I spent a day exploring Mahón, the elegant capital of the island, walked to unspoiled beaches along the Cami de Cavalls and visited some of the island’s fascinating Talayotic monuments. Menorca has all the ingredients for a delightful break with mellow old buildings in Cuitadella, stylish shopping and lazy seafood lunches by the port.
Read More: How to spend a perfect day in Mahon, Menorca
June – A Uniworld Cruise through Burgundy and Provence
With husband Guy I took a Uniworld river cruise with Titan Travel through the South of France, from Lyon in the heart of Burgundy, to the medieval walled city of Avignon in Provence. The week flew by with rich insights into local culture and history, as we uncovered the secret passages of Lyon, visited the Papal Palace at Avignon and dipped into the world of Van Gough at Arles. Along the way there were plenty of opportunities to discover the delicious food and wine of Burgundy in vineyards, cookery classes and on board Uniworld’s extremely luxurious SS Catherine.
July – A road trip across Canada by RV
As a child our family were great campers, and in July I rediscovered the great outdoors in a road trip driving a motorhome (or RV as it’s known in Canada) from Toronto to Montreal. With husband Guy, I mastered how to navigate and park up our home-on-wheels and enjoyed a range of outdoor activities like cycling, hiking and kayaking in Canada’s National Parks. We also found that with a bit of planning it’s perfectly possible to visit Canada’s vibrant cities on an RV road trip. InToronto, Ottawa and Montreal we dipped into cultural highlights from totem poles to street art and new tastes from Poutine to Maple beer.
August – Cycling in Dorset
With the end of the summer in sight I went cycling with my daughter in Dorset, one of England’s prettiest counties. We set off from Dorchester, stopping for tea in Moreton and lunch overlooking Lulworth cove, passing Lulworth castle before finishing our ride in Wareham. We loved the quiet lanes, rolling countryside and sea views, not to mention all those impossibly picturesque thatched cottages, reminding me just how pretty England can be.
Read More: Cycling in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast
August – An active river cruise on the Danube
In August I took a short cruise with Avalon, starting with the cultural jewel of Vienna and passing through Austria’s scenic Wachau Valley until we reached Melk Abbey and disembarked at Linz. In Vienna we learned how to bake bread Austrian style, enjoyed the coffee culture and got to know the famous Lippizanner stallions in the Spanish Riding School. I also had the chance to try out many of the active excursions on offer, cycling past orchards heavy with plums and canoing down river with views of well kept vines in neat rows along the hillside.
Read More: Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley
Summer in Bristol
This year I’ve tried to enjoy more of my home town of Bristol, especially in the summer when there are so many festivals and things going on. I’ve discovered so much more of what’s on my own doorstep with levels of creativity and cool that had previously passed me by. In 2017 I hope to connect even more with all the fabulous things going on in Bristol so if you are thinking of paying a visit do let me know and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations.
September – Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol
Every year my friend Julia and I set off for a mountain hiking holiday, and this year we chose the South Tyrol in Northern Italy for our girl’s own adventure. Setting off from the luxurious Hotel Cyprianerhof, we made a circular route around the Rosengarten or Catinaccio range, staying in the mountain huts of the Dolomites. The trip gave us the challenge of climbing over high mountain passes and huts with limited facilities (what no shower?) but rewarded us with amazing views and a sense of achievement when we returned to Cyrianerhof for a well earned aperitif admiring the peaks we had climbed over.
October – a sunshine break in Aruba
October took me for some much needed sunshine to Aruba in the Dutch Antilles. I found a warm welcome at Amsterdam Manor Resort, indeed everywhere on Aruba which describes itself as “One Happy Island”. I found an island of contrasts – on one side a well developed tourist strip with white sand beaches, on the other a wild northern shore with waves breaking onto the jagged rocks and little in the way of development. There’s a sophisticated and cosmopolitan food scene and I loved the street art murals in San Nicholas, showing an unexpected side of the Caribbean.
Read More: My 10 favourite things about Aruba
November – 48 Hours in Florence
With the summer over and Christmas in sight, I nipped off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. Of course I saw the best known sights, like the Duomo and the David but also took some time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. I loved the bustle and great food in the Mercado Centrale where I found a local tripe festival in full swing, dipped into the Salvador Ferragamo shoe museum and wandered through the Boboli gardens behind the Pitti Palace with views over the teracotta roofs of Florence.
Read More: How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence
December – Finding the Christmas spirit in Coburg, Germany
My final trip of 2016 took me to Coburg in Germany, where early in December we caught the first weekend of the Christmas Markets to soak up some seasonal spirit. This pretty town, with medieval buildings clustered around the town square, was also the birthplace of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria who visited Coburg several times. As well as enjoying the mulled wine and Coburger Bratwurst cooked over a smoky wood fire, we visited the elegant palaces of Ehrenberg, Rosenhau and the Veste fortress overlooking the town where Martin Luther stayed and worked for a few months.
What’s next for 2017?
At the moment the New Year is wide open for travel plans with just a few things pencilled in and lots of possibilities. So far I’ll be off to:
Dublin in January – my son has just started university at Trinity College, Dublin so I hope to pay him a visit with my parents. You can read about our last trip – 10 fun things we did on a weekend in Dublin
Seefeld, Austria in February – as a travel blogger I often come across places on blog trips that I want to return to with the family and Seefeld was one of them. I was there in September 2015 on a walking holiday and fell in love with the pretty resort of Seefeld which is also a popular winter-snow destination. I’ll be returning there in February to try out some of the outdoor snow activities like cross-country ski, snow-shoe and winter hiking with my husband and friends. I’ll be trying to have a proper holiday (believe it or not blog trips do involve quite a lot of work!) but I’ll still be posting some photos on my social media channels.
Otherwise I have on my wish list to see more of the Caribbean, Canada and generally explore some new destinations further afield as well as enjoying all the great stuff in Bristol where I live.
Whatever your plans for 2017, I hope that health, peace and happiness follow you, wherever you travel this year.
Paris in winter. The air is crisp as you stroll along the Seine, passing the Cathedral of Notre Dame glowing golden in the afternoon sun, before finding a cosy cafe for a Chocolat Chaud to people-watch for a while. Sounds good doesn’t it? If you fancy a winter weekend in Paris, check out this cool giveaway from Avios for a 3 night weekend break for 2 people. Even if you don’t win you can still enjoy that weekend away by earning Avios as you shop at all your favourite stores – read on to discover more.
One of the highlights of our last winter visit to Paris was a walk around Marché d’Aligre in the 12th arrondissement. This neighbourhood is just far enough away from the tourist hotspots and has a multi-cultural feel – of course it’s wonderful for foodies. In fact you get three markets in one, since there’s a covered market where you’ll be drooling over the cheeses and admiring the beautifully presented fish and meat, as well as an outdoor fruit and veg market and a flea market where you can shop for vintage clothes and cute household finds. As you often find around markets, there are lots of lovely cafes and restaurants in the streets nearby, all supplied with the freshest of produce. Read about my visit to Marché d’Aligre here.
Not too far from Marché d’Aligre we enjoyed visiting the Victor Hugo house in Place des Vosges which is close to the fashionable Marais district. Although there are plenty of cute shops in the Marais, we found it a bit touristy, but when we reached Place des Vosges it was a much more local experience with everyone enjoying a bit of winter sunshine and children playing in the park at the centre of the square. The apartment where Victor Hugo lived is at No 6, Place des Vosges, to one side of the square, full of the paintings, furniture and artistic objects that he collected, giving a fascinating insight into the creator of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Read about my winter weekend in Paris here.
If you love to travel you’re probably aware of Avios – they were formerly British Airways Air Miles. You can build up Avios like a currency each time you fly with British Airways, Air Lingus, Flybe, Iberia and Kululu.com and use them to book flights or hotel stays. What you may not realise, however, is that you can also earn Avios by shopping online at over 1000 stores – probably the places that you are shopping at anyway. If you’re stocking up on food and wine at Tesco Direct, or buying gifts at John Lewis, House of Fraser, Selfridges, Currys and many more stores, you could be building up enough Avios for that weekend in Paris in the New Year.
Whether you’re buying extra provisions for Christmas parties or gifts for loved ones, it’s the perfect opportunity to build up your Avios, since many of the retailers offer extra points at this time of year. You’ll find lots of Christmas ideas on the Avios Christmas List website where they are also running a giveaway of a weekend for two in Paris.
I had a look around the Avios e-store and found plenty of inspiration for my own Christmas shopping from my favourite high street stores. My parents have a lifetime’s worth of ornaments so these days we tend to buy them foodie treats like the gourmet hampers at M&S. (M&S have an offer of 8 Avios for £1 spent until 18 Dec). For my husband I’d shop at John Lewis to buy a cosy wool jumper that he can relax in while watching the rugby – this one from Gant would be great to wear with jeans at the weekend (John Lewis have an offer of 4 Avios for £1 spent until 18 Dec).
My daughter collects silver jewellery so I think this pretty necklace from Links of London would be perfect for her (Links offers 8 Avios for £1 spent) and my son loves his music, so these Sonos speakers at John Lewis would mean he can stream music from his phone for student parties.
I recently upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus and wish I’d known that I could have bought it from Apple through the Avios eStore, as that purchase alone would have probably earned me enough Avios for my flight to Paris.
Win a trip to Paris with Avios
Now let me tell you about the three night trip to Paris that Avios are giving away on their Avios Christmas List website – you can enter here.
Just head over to the Avios Christmas List site and enter by leaving your name, email, address, and telephone number for a chance to win this trip. The prize consists of two return economy flights (including taxes, fees and charges) and a 3 night’s accommodation in Paris for two people.
You’re eligible to enter the competition if you’re over 18 and resident in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland), Channel Islands or Isle of Man and the competition ends at midnight on 22 December 2016, after which the winner will be drawn at random.
If you’re lucky you may win a weekend break in Paris (enter here), but if not you could easily build up enough Avios to cover your flights, just by shopping online at your favourite High Street stores this Christmas (shop here).
More tips on what to see in Paris
On your weekend in Paris you’ll almost certainly end up at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where there are always plenty of crowds gathering to see Paris’s number one tourist site. We preferred to walk through the less crowded garden of Jean XXIII behind the cathedral and then over the bridge to Ile Saint Louis. Along the main street of main road of rue Saint Louis-en-l’Ile there are plenty of charming independent shops, galleries and cafes.
In the Bastille neighbourhood, it’s fun to walk along Canal Saint Martin and take a look at all the house-boats moored there, a little like Regents Canal in London. Walk right to the end where the canal meets the river Seine and you can walk along the cobbled footpath by the river. There’s a good view down towards Notre Dame on Ile de la Cité and you can watch the boats go by before climbing up the steps and crossing over to the Rive Gauche at Pont Charles de Gaule. Read more about my winter weekend in Paris here.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my tips for a winter break in Paris – don’t forget to use the Avios e-Store to shop for everything you need this Christmas, at your favourite high street stores, so that you can make your weekend in Paris a reality.
How to collect and spend Avios Points
Check out the Avios Christmas list site for a chance to win a weekend in Paris and lots of cool gift ideas
Check out the main Avios site for information on where you can collect Avios and where you can spend them.
Check out the Avios e-Store once you’re ready to shop at over 1000 online retailers and build up your Avios.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Avios
We visited the Burgundy region of France as part of our Uniworld river cruise and despite the rain, I was excited to see row upon row of vines, as we were driven through some of the most famous wine villages in the Saone-et-Loire region of France.
First stop was the ancient fortified chateau in the village of Rully dating back to the 12th century with 32 hectares of vineyards, one third of which are Premiers Crus. Not only were we going to taste these fabulous wines but also to have lunch and a guided tour of the château with the owner.
The château and the vineyards are owned by the Comte de Ternay, whose family has lived here continuously for 22 generations. That period of time means that this family has been in this château and most probably producing great wine since the 12th century.
The Château is located on the side of a hill, facing the plain leading to the River Saône. The square keep was built during the 12th century with a dry ditch around the château to reinforce the defence. Later the fortress became a manor house and in the 18th century the outbuildings, the great and lower courtyards were created.
We learned that this ditch was later filled in because the Count’s grandfather fell in it one night and decided that it’s time had come. History does not record why he fell in it but I’d like to think it had something to do with (too much) wine! There is now a very tasteful dining room and a wine tasting cellar full of ancient barrels some of which have been converted to tables.
The Comte de Ternay, met us from our Uniworld luxury coach, an affable chap looking slightly frazzled. He explained that this was due to the obvious presence of three small boys who he refered to affectionately as his monsters. It was lovely to see that the same family has more children and that they do not see their château as a museum but a family home with a business attached. We felt lucky to be here knowing that this was a special place with no pretension whatsoever.
The Count started his introduction with a quote from Benjamin Franklin.
“Wine is sure proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
However I prefer the Galileo’s words that my father often quotes before he enjoys a glass.
“Wine is sunlight, held together by water.”
The region of Burgundy produces some of the most regal Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines in the world, with 100 different appelations and more than 3,000 individual producers. The Château de Rully vineyards are one of only 120 in the entire region of Burgundy which are owned by an individual. Around 80% of the wines made here are from the Chardonnay grape vines which enjoy the limestone terroir and south-east exposure.
We were invited to a dimly lit cellar underneath the 12th century keep. It was full of ancient barrels some of which had been turned into tables and with the wine we were served some delicious cheese puffs called gougères. We tried the Premier cru 1er Cru Clos de la Bressande Monopol, the Clos being a low wall surrounding the vineyard which helps the grapes ripen by protecting them from the wind. The Count told us that the Chardonnay grapes are picked by hand and not by machine and then they are sorted again on tables, so that only the finest grapes are used in making the wines.
The wine had a floral nose with aromas of honey and orange blossom and an elegant oakiness. The Count told us that he loves drinking it with cold cuts of meat, fish or white meats and sauces and that it was particularly good with goat’s cheese. It really tastes like sunshine in a glass.
We then tasted the Appellation Village Rully Les Saint-Jacques Ouest which was a lower classification called a regional appellation. It was good too but there really was a difference and the Premier Cru was the one for me. It was delightful to be drinking such beautifully made wine while chatting to a man whose whole life is dedicated to the estate outside his sitting room window.
After the tasting we moved back to the former stable block where a delicious lunch awaited us. Unsurprisingly we were served the local speciality, a classic Boeuf Bourguignon made with the château’s own red wine. This was accompanied by a potato gratin with a crispy topping of local cheese. For pudding there was an equally classic and simple apple tart. It really doesn’t get much better than this.
After lunch the Compte gave us a personal tour of the Chateau. There were some beautiful objects within the part of the house, but most interesting was that the Compte’s family have lived there since the 12th century and throughout that long time they have been producing and clearly enjoying the delicious wines. It was a remarkable day out that allowed us to connect with what it means to be part of the Burgundy wine region.
The visit to Chateau Rully was offered as an optional excursion as part of our Uniworld Cruise. The Chateau is also open for visits by appointment in July and August. For more information visit the Chateau Rully website.
This guest article is by Guy Cowper, who enjoys accompanying Heather on her blogging trips, especially where wine tasting is involved!
Travelling with Titan Travel and Uniworld Cruises
You can book your Uniworld Cruise through Titan Travel who specialise in escorted holidays and cruises. When you book through Titan Travel you enjoy their VIP Home Departure Service which is included in your holiday, to transfer from your home to your departure airport in one of Titan’s own vehicles.
Uniworld offer boutique river cruising on the rivers of Europe as well as other worldwide destinations. Like their sister company, Red Carnation Hotel Collection, the Uniworld ships feature luxurious furnishings and artworks with outstanding, personalised service.
Heather and Guy travelled on Uniworld’s Burgundy and Provence River Cruise through Titan Travel, on an 8 day cruise from Lyon to Avignon, from £2049 per person. As with all Uniworld cruises, the holiday is all-inclusive and covers meals and drinks on board, daily excursions, gratuities and airport transfers.
Thanks to Titan Travel and Uniworld for hosting our cruise.