Where Heather travelled in 2012 – a year in photos

At this time of year it’s nice to reminisce a little and let the pleasant memories of the year wash over us to create that rosy seasonal glow. Then we can all brace ourselves mentally to look forward to new plans, new places, things we want to do more of, things we want to do differently. I’ll be sharing my plans for Spring 2013 very soon, but in the meantime, here are some of my travel memories from the last year, which perhaps will provide some travel inspiration for your plans in 2013.

Pre-Christmas break in Gothenburg, West Sweden Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

December 2011 – Gothenburg, West Sweden for a pre-Christmas break with my husband

I’m cheating a bit here when I include our trip to Gothenburg from the end of 2011, but then it’s my blog, so I’m allowed a little cheating and we did have a great time despite the snowy and windy weather.

Why Gothenburg? I’ve always liked Scandinavia; so clean, so together and everyone speaks perfect English, and I wanted a pre-Christmas gettaway with my husband when we could eat great food and get into a Christmas mood, with just the two of us.

Happy memories? Fantastic seafood and a chat with the oyster-opening champion Johan Malm at Restaurant Gabriel, our memorable Michelin star tasting menu at Basement with head chef Camilla Parkner, sheltering in Cafe Kanold from the wind over a cup of hot chocolate with chilli, the Christmas market on the cobbled streets of Haga with the music of the marching band, the workman’s graffiti in the back of the statue of Mother Svea just outside our window at Hotel Elite Plaza, the millions of sparkling Christmas lights at Liseberg.

Where did we stay? The beautiful, 5 star Hotel Elite Plaza, once the headquarters of the Swedish Fire and Life Insurance company and full of grand marble staircases and chandeliers.

Want to read more?
Our Winter Break in Gothenburg, Sweden – Podcast
8 Swedish Foods to try in Gothenburg, Sweden – Video
Exploring the Christmas Markets of Gothenburg

Winter weekend on the Gower peninsula, West Wales Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

February – a winter weekend on the Gower in South Wales

Why the Gower? My son is at university at Swansea nearby and I wanted to get the whole family together, including my parents, to spend some time together near the sea.

Happy Memories? Long, blustery walks along the cliffs, the wide open beaches of Langland and Caswell, sitting with the papers and a cappuccino at Langland Bay Brasserie watching the rain beat on the windows, pretty painted beach huts and exotic spiky palms on Langland beach, watching the surfers bobbing in the water from the clifftop.

Where did we stay? Maryland, a spacious 4 bedroom holiday home which we booked through Gower Cottages, perfect for extended family gatherings and only a few minutes walk from the cliff path.

Want to read more?
Our winter weekend on the Gower in Wales – Langland and Caswell – Video

Family Road trip in Texas, USA Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

April – Texas, USA for a family road trip

Why Texas? My husband had visited Texas on a military exchange a few years before and kept raving about it, plus we wanted to find somewhere we could enjoy as a family with good weather at Easter and flights that were not too expensive.

Happy Memories? Experiencing a Blast-off at Space Center Houston, the finger-licking BBQ at Black’s in Lockhart, cycling along Mission Reach to the Spanish Missions in San Antonio, an afternoon wobble shooting at Picosa Ranch (I actually shot something!), tubing down the river at Gruene followed by Bluebell ice cream at the old fashioned drug store, tequila tasting at the Cibolo Moon at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country, eating trailer food, trying on cowboy boots and shopping for vintage in SoCo, Austin.

Where did we stay? The comfortable Park Inn Houston North, conveniently close to the airport, The Mediterranean style Hotel Valencia Riverwalk in San Antonio with views over the Riverwalk, The luxurious JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort complete with its own waterpark, our Holiday Rental in the Barton Hills area of Austin booked through HomeAway and the gorgeous boutique style Hotel Sorella in the vibrant City Centre neighbourhood of West Houston

Want to read more?
Our Texas Road Trip Part 1 – Podcast – Houston, San Antonio, Picosa Ranch
The best of Texas – finger-licking BBQ and a slice of pie
Picosa Ranch – a luxury Ranch with a slice of Texas history – video

Girl's gettaway weekend in Winchester Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

May – a girl’s weekend in Winchester

Why Winchester? I wanted a weekend gettaway with my sister and Winchester was easy for both of us to get to, as well as having loads of things to see and do in the city and the beautiful Hampshire countryside nearby for some walking on the South Downs Way.

Happy Memories? The Anthony Gormley statue standing ankle-deep in water in the crypt of the Cathedral, seeing the small wooden table in the house at Chawton where Jane Austen wrote her greatest novels, eating lardy cakes bought from the farmer’s market with a view of the sulphur yellow fields on the South Downs Way, watching the mesmerising water wheel grinding the grain into flour at the Winchester City Mill, spotting the artistic bollards outside The Old Vine where we had a delicious supper.

Where did we stay? The Winchester Hotel, a stylish, modern hotel that is an easy walk from all the historic sights.

Want to read more?
10 ways to spend a wonderful weekend in Winchester – video
Yellow fields with lacy edges – walking the South Downs Way near Winchester
On the trail of Jane Austen in Winchester

An early summer break with the family on Guernsey and Sark Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

June – Guernsey and Sark in the Channel Islands

Why Guernsey? It’s just a short flight from Bristol and has a fascinating history as well as a beautiful coastline, plus we were all intrigued at the thought of visiting Isle of Sark where there are no cars

Happy Memories? Walking along the coast from Fermain Bay to Jerbourg point through the pine trees, the exotic treasure trove of Hauteville House, home of Victor Hugo, eating crab sandwiches from a beach kiosk with a view of the sea, cycling around the island of Sark and eating fresh lobster in the garden of the Sablonnerie Hotel, hearing the stories of the German Occupation from Guernsey tour guide, Gill Girard.

Where did we stay? Self catering Albany apartments in St Peter Port that are perfect for a family holiday and the St Pierre Park Hotel with lovely gardens and golf course

Want to read more?
Guernsey, the German Occupation and Potato Peel Pie
Our spring break on Guernsey and Sark – Podcast
10 delicious foods to try on Guerney – video

Family summer holiday on Zakynthos, Greece Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

July – Zakynthos, Greece for a family holiday

Why Zakynthos? My sister lives on the island where she runs two hotels with her Greek husband, Denis so we like to visit her every year and explore some new corners of the island.

Happy Memories? Discovering Porto Limnionas, a rocky cove in the north of the island with turquoise water and a great taverna, sitting with a drink on the terrace of Harbour House restaurant at Agios Sostis with new friend Derek Linley hearing stories from his years coming to the island, our boat trip from Agios Sostis to spot the Caretta Caretta turtles in Laganas bay and swim in the sea caves at Keri, the Greek dancing night at Windmill Hotel which never fails to entertain us.

Where did we stay? My sister’s hotel, the Windmill Studios in Argassi with a view over the sea from the geranium filled terrace. She also runs the Windmill Bay Hotel just down the road.

Want to read more?
10 gorgeous beaches and places to swim on Zakynthos
Get in your car and drive! the bits of Zakynthos that you won’t see from your sunbed
Swimming the turquiose Blue at Porto Limnionas

A wild weekend on Dartmoor with the teenagers Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

August – an adventurous weekend on Dartmoor with the teenagers

Why Dartmoor? My husband knows the moor well from his army days and we all love the wild scenery and endless opportunities for outdoor adventure that kept my teenage son and his friends busy

Happy Memories? Having lunch at the Okehampton station buffet imagining that I was Celia Johnson in the film Brief Encounter, watching my son and his friends splash around in the river on their gorge scrambling adventure, our walk on the moor with friends above Peter Tavy followed by a hearty lunch at the Peter Tavy Inn, climbing up to the Great Staple Tor and finding a letterbox to stamp our hands, the blissfully warmth of the heat cabin at Woodovis Park and a swim with the family in the pool.

Where did we stay? Woodovis Park in a comfortable mobile home. It’s an immaculate, 5 star, family run camping and caravan site which is a great base to enjoy all that Dartmoor has to offer.

Want to read more?
Wild and Wet adventures on Dartmoor – staying at Woodovis Park

Walking in the Alps on the Tour de Mont Blanc Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

September – walking on the Tour de Mont Blanc in Switzerland and Italy

Why the Tour de Mont Blanc? I’ve been walking the TMB which is a long-distance mountain trail, in stages with my friend Julia and this was our third year on the trail. We both love the wild mountain scenery, the feeling of escaping our busy lives and the physical challenge of the walk.

Happy Memories? Watching the scenery change on the train journey from Geneva alongside Lake Lausanne and on the St Bernard Express, feeling on top of the world on the Grand Col Ferret at the border between Switzerland and Italy, staying at the fantastic Rifugio Walter Bonnati, undoubtedly the nicest refuge we’ve stayed in so far, having a picnic on the mountain overlooking Courmayeur and surveying the route we had just walked, the excitement at the start of the Tour des Geants in Courmayeur.

Where did we stay? A number of small hotels and mountain refuges; Gite Bon Abri in Champex Lac, Hotel Col de Fenetre  in Ferret, Rifugio Elena, Rifugio Walter Bonatti , Hotel Bouton d’Or in Courmayeur

If you plan to go
Click here to get my FREE Tour de Mont Blanc Packing guide

Want to read more?
The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 1 – Champex Lac to Ferret and a walk in the woods
The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries Day 2 – Ferret to Rifugio Elena and over the pass into Italy

In Girona, Costa Brava, Spain Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

September – Girona, Spain for TBEX

Why Girona? I attended the TBEX Travel Bloggers’ Conference being held in Girona where it was great to meet some of my  blogging friends in person and hear the speakers on different aspects of blogging.

Happy Memories? Staying in an apartment with Barbara Weibel, Isabel Romano and Laurel Robbins and just a floor down from Janice Waugh, Simon Falvo and Sarah and Terry Lee made for some great late night chats and bonding, eating pretty Pinxchos in a side street cafe with new blogging friends, wandering along the river with the tall pastel houses and criss-crossing bridges, the historic food by El Celler de Can Roca at the TBEX opening night party, the day out at Vall de Nuria in the Pyrenees after the conference

Where did we stay? A comfortable apartment in the old town of Girona booked through Wimdu

Want to read more?
Staying in the heart of Old Town Girona with Wimdu – video
A Sunday Stroll in the Pyrenees – Vall de Nuria
Case study – Costa Brava Marketing campaign – podcast interview with Jaume Marin

Travels in 2012 with the family Photos: Heatheronhertravels.com

And what about the family?

Of course for many of these trips I was with various members of my family, but they also did some travelling on their own that they wrote about for me on the blog;

My husband Guy spent much of August on a school trip in Namibia looking after a large group of teenage girls, where they did some community work in a local school, went trekking and had close encounters with the desert elephants and other African wildlife.

Read more about Guy’s Namibia Trip
Not that old zebra crossing joke again!
An encounter with the desert elephants of Namibia

My oldest son, William had a fun snowboarding trip in Andorra with a group of friends from university, which was spent mostly snowboarding, drinking and doing what students do on holiday. Read William’s article on Snowboarding in Pas de la Casa – a student’s guide

My daughter, Sophie-Anne wrote about her moving visit to Auschwitz with the Lessons from Auschwitz educational programme, designed to ensure that young people understand what happened and don’t let history repeat itself in the future. Read Sophie-Anne’s article on What every schoolgirl should know about Auschwitz – video

I hope you enjoyed my travels in 2012 and that you may feel inspired to visit some of these places yourself. I’ll be sharing my exciting travel plans for the spring of 2013 with you very soon.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

A sip of Champagne and other seasonal toasts around the world

I think my first introduction to champagne must have been as a teenager in France. For several summers I stayed with a family in Bordeaux who had a daughter of the same age, which was an eye-opener on the way the French enjoy and appreciate food.  The grand-mère of the family lived in a house next door and I remember how, perfectly groomed and dressed in Yves St Laurent, she would invite the family as a special treat to an elegant hotel for an aperitif of a glass of champagne. One summer we drove all the way to the coast at Arcachon for lunch sur terrasse, where I was taught how to break into an enormous plate of fruits de mer, with an accompanying thimble of champagne, of course.

Champagne bar at Waterside Brasserie, Arden Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

At the Champagne bar at Waterside Brasserie, Arden Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon

The first sip of champagne is the best

Since then I’m always happy to sip a glass of champagne when it’s on offer in any elegant watering hole, from Kettner’s in Soho when I was first married in London, to Goldbrick House in Bristol where I live now, to the Champagne bar of the Waterside Brasserie in Stratford upon Avon before an evening of Shakespeare. A glass of bubbly has become one of my favourite ways to start the evening and I love that first sip before dinner on an empty stomach, preferably with some smoked salmon canapes to nibble.

For the seasonal festivities, we’ll probably be opening a bottle late on Christmas morning, while the turkey is in the oven. There might be some too at New Year on the stroke of midnight although I’m not one to save it. I prefer to appreciate a fine champagne, like the iconic, yellow-labelled Veuve Clicquot at the beginning of the evening rather than later on, when you’ve probably drunk too much to enjoy the finer points of flavour. I remember my adopted French mother in Bordeaux telling me that the smaller the bubbles, the better quality the champagne, and that you should hold the glass by the stem to avoid the heat of your hand warming the champagne.

Margarita and Tequila tasting in Texas Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

A refreshing Margarita and Tequila tasting in Texas

Tequila tasting and a refreshing Margarita

If you’re celebrating the festive season in a warmer climate, you may like to go down the cocktail route which seems more appropriate if you’re eating Christmas dinner from the barbie with a view of the beach. Before my visit to Texas I thought of Tequila as something with a worm in the bottle, drunk by teenagers trying to be cool. Then I visited the Cibolo Moon Tequila bar at JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort and learned that a good Tequila is shown as much appreciation in Southern Texas and Mexico as a glass of champagne would be in France. Just as champagne cannot be sold under that name unless it comes from a very specific region of France, so Tequila must be from a designated area around the town of Tequila in Mexico.

Tequila has been drunk in Mexico for centuries, probably starting out as the local alcohol that was brewed at home by fermenting the spiny leaves of the Agave plant. Somewhere along the line it was discovered that the piña or agave heart produced a much more potent liquor and the drink of Tequila was born. In Texas, I tasted my way through the fresh young Blanco, the Reposado or ‘Rested’ Tequila which is aged in oak whisky barrels with a mellow flavour and colour, and finally the Añejo or ‘Aged’ Tequila, which is aged in white oak casks for a minimum of 12 months.

If you’re a whiskey lover, then you’ll also enjoy the complex flavours and smoky oak overtones of the Añejo with a slice of orange to be sipped in front of the fire. Apparently, at the Jose Cuervo Tequila distillery they hold their Reserva La Familia Añejo Tequila in such high regard that they stand as a sign of respect when they drink it, as if it were a senior member of the family. My favourite, however, is a well made Margarita cocktail mixing fresh lime, agave nectar, a tripple sec and of course the good quality blanco tequila, which is deliciously refreshing and guaranteed to get you in the party mood.

Snaps or Julmust with your herring and oysters in Sweden Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Snaps or Julmust with your herring and oysters in Sweden

Knock back the Snaps in Scandinavia

This time last year I was enjoying a pre-Christmas break in Gothenburg, West Sweden where I learned the Scandinavian way of knocking back the Snaps. This clear aquavit is the perfect drink to cut through the rich, oily herring which is traditionally prepared in a hundred different ways at Christmas in West Sweden. The herring was not only fished in abundance off the West Swedish Coast as a food staple, but also provided employment in the cannery factories that operated in coastal towns. The snaps might be flavoured with herbs or fruit at home and I was told that the top brand to try is OP Anderson.

Never sip your glass of Snaps but knock it back manfully with a cheery toast, “Skål!. Be sure to look each of your drinking companions boldly in the eye as you make the toast, which literally means “Skull”. You have to imagine that you’re a Viking warrior, drinking blood from your enemy’s skull and remember that when drinking with your enemy you’d want to be sure to look them in the eye, in case they burned your village down while your back was turned. Or so I was told in Scandinavia!

For those that have to drive in Scandinavia, there’s a seasonal soft drink called Julmust which is known as the ‘Taste of Christmas” and only sold in Sweden and Norway at this time of year. We tried our Julmust as one of the ingredients in a Christmas flavour iced popsicle at one of the several Michelin star restaurants in Gothenburg.

So  tell me, will your seasonal toast this year be knocking back the snaps (remembering your Viking heritage), sipping a refreshing Marguerita (a trip down Mexico way) or toasting the New Year in with a chilled glass of champagne? (the first sip is the finest)

This article was brought to you by Tesco wine, who offer a wide selection of champagnes and other drinks for your seasonal toasts

Where can I go to enjoy all these good things?

Tequila tasting and a perfect Margarita – Texas style – video
Seasonal and Wild, at the Waterside Brasserie, Stratford-upon-Avon
Eight Swedish foods to try in Gothenburg – video

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

Favourite Fika spots in Gothenburg for your coffee fix

One thing you’ll learn pretty quickly when you arrive in Gothenburg is that the Swedes are big coffee drinkers – they even have a word for the coffee break – it’s called Fika. Fika can mean a cup of coffee or a social event where you meet friends or colleagues for a coffee and a chat. If you want something sweet to go with your coffee, there are no shortage of delicious cakes and buns to choose from. When you’re in Gothenburg you’ll want to take a break from the sightseeing and find a cosy bolthole in winter or an interesting courtyard in summer to watch the world go by, so here are some of our favourite Fika spots from our trip to Gothenburg;

Buns at Cafe Kringlan in Haga, Gothenburg, Sweden Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Buns at Cafe Kringlan in Haga, Gothenburg, Sweden

Cafe Kringlan

In the picturesque old working neighbourhood of Haga, we found a weekend Christmas market going on all along Haga Nygata, the main street on which you’ll find Cafe Kringlan, marked by the golden bagel hanging outside. After listening to an impromptu student choir on a street corner and following a marching band up the street we squeezed into Cafe Kringlan for a restorative milky coffee. The place was packed and I liked to look of the pretty room at the back but after queuing at the counter laden with the traditional cinnamon buns and other tempting pastries we carried our glass mugs of coffee the only free seat by the door. Outside cakes and buns were also being sold including the golden saffron buns that are a speciality at Christmas time. Cafe Kringlan is at Haga Nygatan 13.

Cafe Kringlan in Haga, Gothenburg, Sweden Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Cafe Kringlan in Haga, Gothenburg, Sweden

Cafe Husaren

Cafe Husaren is also in Haga, just a few minutes from Cafe Kringlan and is reputed to the the place where they invented the Cinnamon buns that are a traditional Gothenburg treat and are served in many of the cafes around the city. The buns are so enormous that they’ll probably keep you going from breakfast until dinner if you have one with your late morning coffee. You can see the cinnamon buns prettily piled up in the window of Cafe Husaren as you pass by on Haga Nygata. Cafe Husaren is at Haga Nygata 28.

Cafe Husaren in Haga, Gothenburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cafe Husaren in Haga, Gothenburg

Le Petit Cafe

Much further down Haga Nyata is Le Petit Cafe where we ended up one early evening when everything else was closing in Haga. I like the vintage feel of this friendly cafe with a traditional Swedish feel of painted wooden furniture, pretty turquoise chinoiserie wallpaper and lots of antique finds scattered around. There are benches with cushions but we sat at the stools in the window with a coffee and slice of chocolate cake, watching the dusk fall in Gothenburg. Le Petit Cafe is at Haga Nygata 2.

Cafe Kronhuset

Cafe Kronhuset is set in a different area of the city to the cafes mentioned in Haga, in the Nordstaden neighbourhood close to the port and the Maritiman Maritime museum. The Kronhuset or Crown house is an old artillery store, built in the 1650s  in Dutch style with red brick walls and distinctive copper roof and window shutters and is reputed to be one of the oldest buildings in Gothenburg.  In the courtyard next to the Kronhuset are a number of small craft workshops as well as Cafe Kronhuset which is very cosy in winter and has tables in the courtyard to sit in summer. We sat inside near the back where a fire was burning next to the old anvil and the cafe is a great place for a light lunch of open sandwich or salad as well as coffee and cakes. You can hear us talking about the Fika in Cafe Kronhuset in my Gothenburg Podcast. Cafe Kronhuset is at Postgatan 6-8, 411 13 Göteborg

Cafe Kronhuset in Gothenburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cafe Kronhuset in Gothenburg

Fika time - Saffron Christmas buns at Cafe Kronhuset in  Gothenburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Buns at Cafe Kronhuset in Gothenburg

Da Matteo

Da Matteo seems to be the local’s Fika choice for great coffee and there are three different branches in Gothenburg that we found. In Victoriapassagen is a small coffee shop where you can sit on a bar stool and watch the world walk along the passage, or the two branches in Magasingaten, one of which is the bakery where they make the bread at the back and grind the coffee – I hear the pizzas are great here at lunchtime. If you’re in Magasingaten on a weekday lunchtime do also look out for the Strömmingsluckan herring cart selling traditional Swedish Fried Herring with mashed potato and lingonberry sauce.

Bread at da Matteo Panetteria in Gothenburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Bread at da Matteo Panetteria in Gothenburg

Bread at da Matteo Panetteria in Gothenburg Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Da Matteo Panetteria in Gothenburg

Cafe Kanold

I don’t know whether the Fika concept will stretch to include hot drinks other than coffee but if chocolate is your passion then the place for you is Cafe Kanold by the canal. The Cafe was only opened last year by Jeanna Kanold who runs the Kanold chocolate shop just around the corner and I’d highly recommend the hot chocolate with chili flakes which is just the thing to provide protection against the cold Gothenburg winds. I challenge you to leave without trying a few other chocolate treats such as the Gothenburg truffle which has sea salt on the top, invented by Jeanna Kanold and inspired by the ocean and seafood that if so beloved by Gothenburgers. Read my article about Cafe Kanold. Cafe Kanold is at Grönsakstorget 1.

Cafe Kanold in Gothenburg, Sweden Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cafe Kanold in Gothenburg, Sweden

Cafe Kanold in Gothenburg, Sweden Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cafe Kanold in Gothenburg, Sweden

More things to enjoy in Gothenburg

Eight Swedish Foods to try in Gothenburg – video
Staying in Luxury with Mother Swea at Hotel Elite Plaza in Gothenburg
The Christmas Film in Gothenburg Video

Visitor Information for Gothenburg or Göteborg

Thanks to West Sweden Tourism Board who hosted our weekend break in Gothenburg

heatheronhertravels' Sweden - Gothenburg photoset heatheronhertravels’ Sweden – Gothenburg photoset

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read more travel articles at Travel Blog Home

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Subscribe to Heatheronhertravels Don’t miss out – subscribe to Heather on her travels

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