10 fun things we did on a Christmas weekend in Dublin

Dublin at Christmas is the place to party! The Guinness is flowing, the drinkers are spilling out of the Temple Bar pub and there’s music on every cobbled street-corner. But we weren’t in Dublin to party. Oh no! Ours was a terribly serious visit to check out Trinity College Dublin and see if it met the approval of our youngest son, a prospective student who’s university bound next year. Still, in between the talks about History, Philosophy and life at Trinity, we managed to have our little bit of fun. Here’s how our weekend in Dublin went;

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1. Check in at Generator hostel

Now normally, you’ll find me in my preferred habitat of a boutique hotel, but this was a flying visit, so in the interest of keeping costs under control and in making my 17 year old son feel at home, we checked into the next best thing – a boutique hostel.

Family bedroom at Generator Hostel, Dublin

Our bedroom at Generator Hostel, Dublin

Our family room on the third floor of Generator Hostel was everything we needed the stay in comfort en famille. A comfy double and single bed, a modern en suite and a few funky features like the street-scape mural, tree-trunk for a footstool and plentiful powerpoints.

Downstairs in the bar, dimly lit by a Jameson whisky bottle chandelier, the music was throbbing and we were well fed on fish and chips and meaty burgers. I did feel a bit of carb-overload and craving for a fresh salad, but the cheap cocktails and craft beer (Sunburned from 8 Degrees Brewing, since you ask) more than made up for it.

The bar at Generator Hotstel, Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The bar at Generator Hotstel, Dublin

You’ll find Generator Hostel in the Smithfield area, which to use estate-agent-speak felt rather ‘up and coming’ and was just round the corner from the Old Jameson Whisky Distillery. A brisk 20 minute walk along the Liffey and you can be at Temple Bar, Trinity College or Grafton Street in the heart of the action. All in all a great choice for stylish and well-priced accommodation and I’d happily stay there again with my son.

If you go: Generator Hostel, Smithfield Square, Dublin 7. They also have hostels in seven other European destinations. Our family room cost £64 per room per night on a Friday/Saturday stay in December – prices vary depending on the season.

The Four Courts by the Liffey in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Four Courts by the Liffey in Dublin

2. Being student for a day at Trinity College Dublin

On Saturday morning, after our Irish cooked breakfast in the hostel, we were off for that brisk walk along the Liffey, which was looking particularly atmospheric in the chill winter air, with the sun lighting up the front of the Four Courts and creating reflections on the water.

The quad at Trinity College, Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The quad at Trinity College, Dublin

Now to the main purpose of us being in Dublin, the Trinity College open day. Trinity is the Irish equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge, where you can tread in the footsteps of illustrious former students like Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Samual Beckett. We walked through the classical Georgian front as if we owned the place to check out what was on offer for our prospective student.

Sphere within a Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodor at Trinity College, Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sphere within a Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodor at Trinity College, Dublin

The morning passed in a succession of talks in the different faculties; History, Philosophy, English. There were intense discussions with admissions staff (my husband) while remaining nonchalant and non-committal (my son). After sitting through four talks in succession I was wilting and had to leave them and hide away in the student cafe for a plate of sweet and sour chicken.

I would have loved to see the Old Library although unconvinced that the Book of Kells ( an ancient illustrated book of the gospels) was worth the hype. At that point we were feeling too tired and too tightwad to shell out the €10 for a quick peep, so left it for the next day.

The Campanile at Trinity College, Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Campanile at Trinity College, Dublin

3. A pint or two of Guinness at the Stag’s Head

By 2pm we had done all the university stuff and met up with our Irish friend Tony, an old mate of my husband, known to us as “wee Tone”. Being an old boy at Trinity College, his first words of greeting as we met him under the campanile were “Lets go for a Guinness at the Stag’s Head”.

Down Dame Street, we squeezed into the pub where wee Tone had whiled away many a happy hour as a student, tucking into his bacon and cabbage in the back room. The main bar was long and narrow, all dark wood pannelling and nicotine stained paintwork, just as an Irish pub should be.

The Stag's Head in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Stag’s Head in Dublin

Above the bar, the Stag’s Head that gave the pub its name was wearing a jaunty Christmas hat, as were many of the drinkers.  We ordered a Guinness for wee Tone, O’Hara’s for Guy while the prospective student and I were on the coke and bitter lemon. As the boys settled down to discuss old times, I saw my chance for a swift look around the shops and crafty bit of Christmas shopping.

If you go: The Stag’s Head, 1 Dame Court, Dublin 2

Guinness or O'Hara's - at the Stag's Head in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Guinness or O’Hara’s – at the Stag’s Head in Dublin

4. Shopping on Grafton Street

First stop was the lovely Avoca (pronounced A-vo-ca) on Suffolk Street which I had fallen on love with on my previous visit when we stopped in their visitor centre on the Wild Wicklow Tour. Known for its pretty checked wool throws and scarves, the store was packed with all sorts of goodies for those who aspire to stylish country living.

Checked woollen throws at Avoca in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Checked woollen throws at Avoca in Dublin

Next on Grafton street I braved the crowds under the sparkly Christmas lights and dived into the swanky Brown Thomas to buy some cosmetics as Christmas presents for my nieces. The place I really wanted to see was the Powerscourt Centre, with independent designer shops within an elegant Georgian Townhouse and a cafe in the covered central courtyard.

Merry Christmas from Brown Thomas in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Merry Christmas from Brown Thomas in Dublin

Up on the top floor I got the best view of the twinkly Christmas light displays and then did the round of the designer shops with plenty of choice for that elegant evening gown or society wedding outfit that I so rarely seem to need these days, although I also discovered a vintage shop which was more my style.

If you go: Avoca, 11-13 Suffolk Street | Brown Thomas, 88 Grafton Street | Powerscourt Centre 59 South William Street

Christmas lights at the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Christmas lights at the Powerscourt Centre in Dublin

5. Dinner at Fallon and Byrne

I timed it just right to return to The Stag’s Head after an hour and a half of shopping, to find the boys had just drained their glasses. We turned out onto the street, looking for a place to eat and settled on the downstairs wine cellar of Fallon and Byrne.

The wine bar is in the basement below the gastronomic food hall with dim lights and old movie posters, an antique gramophone sitting on the bar. The back wall behind our table was floor-to-ceiling with wine bottles and there were several groups of girlies enjoying a post-christmas-shopping glass or two.

The Wine Bar at Fallon and Byrne in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Wine Bar at Fallon and Byrne in Dublin

Guy pounced on the Chateau Mussar – I met the winemakers when I was in Lebanon and always look out for it. I ordered an Alsace Gewurtztraminer, inspired by the wine tasting we did on our Rhine river cruise, but only realised they’d brought me the Sancerre by mistake after I’d drunk half the glass. Oops! call myself a foodie?

It was all French brasserie style with pine tables and bentwood chairs, all that was missing were the candles stuck into wine bottles dripping wax which were replaced by fairy lights in a bottle instead. Wee Tone and our prospective student ordered the confit of duck with cabbage, bacon and lentils which was the best choice of main I think, but my cod in a tomato cassoulet with chick peas and chorizo came a close second.

If you go: Fallon and Byrne, 11 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2

Cod, chickpea and chorizo cassoulet at Fallon and Byrne in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cod, chickpea and chorizo cassoulet at at Fallon and Byrne in Dublin

Wee Tone had a 2 hour drive to get home so we parted ways and walked back through the cobbled streets of Temple Bar area with every pub spilling drinkers out onto the pavement – feeling very festive.

6. Brunch at Bewley’s Oriental Cafe

A bit of a lie in on Sunday morning and then it was time to check out of Generator Hostel, leaving our bags in the secure lockers for the day. We followed a recommendation from wee Tone and walked back to Grafton Street to try the brunch at Bewley’s Oriental Cafe.

Molly Mallone Statue in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Molly Mallone Statue in Dublin

Our path took us past the well known and well endowed Molly-Malone statue outside the tourist information centre on Suffolk Street, a favourite Dublin photo opportunity and of course we took our photos there too.

Bewley’s was looking very festive with Christmas tree in the centre of the room and we requested one of the red velour benches which luckily was free and enclosed us in a kind of booth. This Dublin institution was full of local families treating their children to brunch and had an old fashioned air with with chinoisserie painted walls and stained glass, very much an art nouveau, Libertys-of-London feel about it.

Brunch at Bewley's Oriental Cafe in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Brunch at Bewley’s Oriental Cafe in Dublin

We ate our Irish breakfast among the poinsettias, sparkling chandeliers and full length oil paintings feeling rather pleased that we’d bagged our red velour and tapestry bench, an excellent spot for people-watching on all sides of the cafe. By the time we left a long queue was forming but we were heading down Grafton Street for our next apointment at 11 o’clock.

If you go: Bewley’s Oriental Cafe, 78 Grafton Street, Dublin 2

Brunch at Bewley's Oriental Cafe in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Brunch at Bewley’s Oriental Cafe in Dublin

7. The tour through the history of Dublin at the Little Museum of Dublin

Every hour, on the hour there’s a free guided tour of The Little Museum of Dublin which we found at the end of Grafton Street, facing St Stephen’s Park. Taking the tour was definitely worthwhile, since our guide, John the archaeologist, really brought to life the collection of pictures and memorabilia in this Georgian townhouse, packed with the history of Dublin.

The Little Museum of Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Little Museum of Dublin

Our tour focused on the two first floor rooms where each section was arranged to tell stories from a particular decade of the last century. The tales and annecdotes took us from the visit of Queen Victoria to Dublin (where her party were reported in a misprint to have pissed over Patrick’s bridge), through the Easter Rising of 1916 where the rebels had holed up in the Jacobs factory and lived off biscuits (plain and fancy). We heard how during the rebellion the shooting on St Stephen’s Green would stop each afternoon to allow the groundsman to feed his ducks and how one of the leaders, Éamon de Valera escaped execution because of his American birth.

The tour continued on through the First World War, which is euphamistically known in Ireland as The Emergency (don’t mention the war) and on to more recent times when local girl and silver screen actress Maureen O’Hara was every Dubliner’s sweetheart and John Lennon ate at the exclusive Jammet’s French Restaurant and wrote in the visitor’s book that the other three Beatles “were saving up to come here”.

The Little Museum of Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Little Museum of Dublin

I could go on to tell you how Nelson’s Pillar was blown up in 1966 by the IRA, the job being finished off by the Irish Army in a “controlled” explosion which took out every window in the street. It’s now replaced by a tall knitting needle named The Spire which we passed later on O’Connell Street.

8. The Dubliners at the James Joyce Centre

Our appetite for Dublin stories whetted, our prospective student was keen to discover more about James Joyce so we headed up O’Connell Street on the north side of the Liffey, past the knitting needle Spire to the James Joyce Centre in another Georgian townhouse on North Great George’s Street.

We started on the 2nd floor with a video about James Joyce and various writers and scholars discussing aspects of his life and work, including a lot about the library scene of Ulysses set in the Dublin Library. Throughout his married life Joyce moved around, living in different apartments and places in Europe which perhaps explains the lack of memorabilia that you might have expected in a museum about his life, although there was a small bedroom area set up to show his domestic life and the kind of busy family rooms where he wrote his books.

Murals at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Murals at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin

On the first floor were two large rooms with an exhibition of black and white photos of post-war Dublin by Lee Miller, a photojournalist better known for her war photography, which were commissioned by Vogue magazine in 1946. On the ground floor was a timeline of Joyce’s life and another room with a video playing the film of Ulysses. In the yard at the back we enjoyed the murals showing stories from Joyce’s books which reminded me of the Dylan Thomas murals I’d seen in Swansea.

I had not read any James Joyce before I visited Dublin and left the centre feeling I didn’t really know much more about the man himself. We’d have liked to try the James Joyce Dubliners walking tour, which starts at the museum every Saturday at 11am and more frequently in summer. Perhaps I’ll be asking Father Christmas for a copy of the Dubliners to fill in the gaps.

If you go: The James Joyce Centre, 35 North Great George’s Street, Dublin 1

The James Joyce Centre in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The James Joyce Centre in Dublin

9. Lunch at The Winding Stair

By 2 o’clock I felt we’d probably done enough culture for one morning and we walked back down O’Connell Street and along the river for lunch at The Winding Stair, a restaurant that I had seen recommended as serving excellent Irish food. On the ground floor was a book shop of the same name but we climbed the winding stair after which the restaurant is named to the first floor and settled into a table in the small upstairs room.

I had the sole, nicely browned in butter with tiny pink Dublin bay prawns, balanced on a pile of mashed potatoes with cabbage and doussed in a lovely caper and butter sauce. Despite the casual wooden table and bentwood chairs, this felt like a proper restaurant with stiff white napkins and an excellent choice of wine by the glass, written on the board on the wall.

Lunch at The Winding Stair in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lunch at The Winding Stair in Dublin

The boys had the fish chowder, a soup that was heavy with mussels and fish and for desert we shared a large slice of spicy pear tart with brown bread ice cream. After lunch we had a browse around the bookshop downstairs, which had once taken up four floors, but in these days of online media had shrunk to only the ground floor.

It still managed to pack in plenty of interesting books, a couple of tables in the window and a red leather wing chair at the back where you could sit and read from the shelves of second hand books. They even served herbal teas and wine with some slices of flapjack. For those that don’t want the proper lunch, next door was the eating house called The Woollen Mills that served cakes, coffee and light snacks and also looked lovely, run by the same people as the Winding Stair.

If you go: The Winding Stair, 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1 and next door The Woollen Mills. Our seafood chowder was €9.95, Sole with shrimps, capers and butter sauce was €23.95 and pear and ginger tart with ice cream €6.95.

Lunch at The Winding Stair in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lunch at The Winding Stair in Dublin

10. Our weekend ends at Trinity College for the Book of Kells and the Old Library

Fortified by our lunch we decided to make a final pass by Trinity College at around 4pm to visit The Old Library and the Book of Kells, feeling that we wouldn’t have quite seen Dublin properly without paying a visit. Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the exhibition area of the Book of Kells but there were plenty of colourful displays about this medieval decorated manuscript of the four Gospels. As it was close to closing time we had to hurry through and the two books on display in a glass cabinet that were the Book of Kells were something of an anticlimax.

The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin

I did enjoy walking through the Old Library, a long, tall room with two tiers of antiquated oak bookcases and a lofty barrelled ceiling. The library at Trinity College Dublin is a copyright library, entitled to a copy of every book in print, although the books in the Old Library were all leatherbound tomes. Along the sides of the library were 18th century marble busts of of writers and literary figures, adding to the feeling of ancient learning in this venerable centre of education.

But we couldn’t linger too long as it was closing, so we were hurried out through the gift shop and back into the quad of Trinity College Dublin where we had started the weekend. It remains to be seen whether our prospective student will apply to Trinity but even if he doesn’t we got a fantastic flavour of the history and literature of Dublin. For my next trip I’m looking forward more of that great Irish food, fashion and design – I feel a girl’s shopping trip coming on!

If you go: The Book of Kells and The Old Library of Trinity College Dublin, Adults €10, Family ticket €20

The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin

For more information about visiting Dublin check out the Visit Dublin Tourism website

More things to see in Ireland

Irish tales and 50 shades of green on the Wild Wicklow Tour
The best of TBEX The best of Dublin
See the Sights of Northern Ireland by car

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Our weekend break at the Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon – video

What a night for a drive down to Devon! With rain pelting down on the windscreen and leaves blowing across the road, any thoughts we had of stopping at a country pub on the way were abandoned in the hope of just arriving safely at the Moorland Garden Hotel.

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

We’ve arrived at the Moorland Garden Hotel!

Just north of Plymouth we turned off the main road and down a secluded drive to reach the gates of the hotel, a long two-storey building with all the bedrooms overlooking the lawned gardens. Parking the car and running inside to escape the downpour, we were soothed by the warm welcome at reception and the sounds of music and celebration coming from the room at the other end of the corridor. This being rural Devon, the Young Farmers’ annual dinner dance was in full swing with lads in DJs and lasses in full-on evening glamour and tottering heels, wandering in and out of the bar, not a wellie or barbour jacket to be seen.

I hope you enjoy my video below of the Moorland Garden Hotel

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Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Harking back to the hotel’s glamourous heyday

The hotel was built in the 1930s, originally named the Moorland Links Hotel because of the nearby golf club and enjoyed a glamourous reputation in its heyday, attracting celebrities such as David Niven and Rex Harrison. With a large ballroom complete with sprung dance floor and resident orchestra, guests flocked to attend tea dances and balls, while in the 1940s the hotel was popular with army and naval officers stationed at nearby Plymouth. In 2011 the hotel was bought by the current owners Brian and Sonia Meaden who have gradually put the hotel through a complete refurbishment of the 44 bedrooms and public areas. While the swimming pool and tennis courts of the 1930s are no longer there, the hotel has taken on a new character as a welcoming place for guests wanting to combine the wild walks of Dartmoor with the Waterfront attractions of the Ocean City of Plymouth. To celebrate its 80th anniversary this year, the hotel has been drawing on its heritage, with a 1940s themed tea dance, Agatha Christie inspired afternoon teas and summer picnics in the wildflower meadow that adjoins the gardens.

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Relaxing the Dartmoor Bar and Lounge

Having left the cases in our bedroom (more about that later) we settled into the comfortable Dartmoor lounge for a warming bowl of haddock and sweetcorn chowder and chilli Exe river mussels from the bar menu. The decor was cosy and traditional with some modern touches and looked as if it had benefited from the recent refurbishment with an inviting air of fresh paint and new carpets. We settled into the oversized patchwork armchairs by the fireplace, which would be a favourite spot in winter when the fire is lit, admiring the striped tapestry, brocade and velvet fabrics with gilt mirrors and glowing red glass lamps. The walls were covered with artistic photos of Dartmoor, reminding us of the wild landscapes, granite tors and mossy covered river boulders that we had explored on previous visits to Devon. In one corner was a desk covered with useful information leaflets of local attractions and on the shelves were games and jigsaws to while away an autumn evening.

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

The adjoining Dartmoor bar had been similarly refurbished with plenty of comfortable seating areas, leather sofas and velvet banquettes by the wall. The wild landscapes of nearby Dartmoor were referenced in the black and white photos of moorland miniature ponies and twisted oaks, with metal stag heads on the wall and stag motifs on the cushions. Guy was keen to try a pint of the Dartmoor Best ale although we discovered from the barman that it actually comes from St Austell in Cornwall.

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Settling into the Lily of the Valley Suite

After recovering from our windswept Friday night drive, we were able to enjoy our spacious Lily of the Valley Suite on the first floor, where home-made biscuits had been laid out for us. All the rooms in the hotel have been individually redecorated with the help of West Country designer Nadine Judd, drawing on a garden theme to bring the natural beauty of the moor into the hotel. Like all the bedrooms, ours overlooked the garden and so when we awoke we had delightful views over the lawns and down to the Tamar valley beyond.

I had a peep in a few of the other bedrooms and found the decorative style was colourful and modern, often using patterned feature walls, bright floral prints and striking pieces of furniture. Our Lily of the Valley suite took up the fresh floral theme, with leaf green walls, pretty cream linen curtains with a delicate floral sprig and a feature wall covered with hand-printed lily of the valley paper on a dark background. We sat eating our warm biscuits on the green crushed velvet sofa with pastel floral cushions and flicked through the books and magazines that had been thoughtfully left under the glass of the coffee table. The overall effect was very pleasing although there was the odd item that seemed more high street than high end – a metal garden chair at the desk and a strange IKEA style metal shelf on the wall beside the bed. The en suite bathroom was clean and fresh with pale grey tiles and a shower above the bath although I suspect that this was one of the few remaining bathrooms in the hotel that was due for refurbishment, since I saw other rooms with more modern bathrooms.

Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Elegant Dining in the Wildflower Restaurant

On Saturday night we planned to eat in the Wildflower restaurant, having heard great things about the restaurant which won a Gold in the 2013 West Country Taste of the West awards and was named Best Restaurant in the South West. The Head Chef, Bruce Cole has been at the hotel for 18 months now and has created new menus that feature locally sourced and seasonal produce from nearby farms and food producers. After dinner we had a chance to chat with Bruce and he told us “When I arrived much of the food came from the freezer and the menu changed twice a year. Now everything is freshly made including the bread and pastries, we use the best local produce and we change the menu every 4 to 6 weeks with the seasons”

The Wildflower restaurant has large French windows that overlook the gardens which open in summer leading out onto the terrace. There is an elegant silver and turquoise theme with patterned turquoise velvet chairs, silver leaf wall decorations and a striking private dining area with silver and turquoise floral wallpaper and silver mirrors. I’d love to visit the restaurant in summer to enjoy a cream tea overlooking the gardens or to be there in September when the hotel hosts the Delicious Drake’s trail that ends on those lawns.

Dinner in the Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dinner in the Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

We had invited a friend who lives in Plymouth to join us for dinner and we were all wow’ed by the dishes which were beautifully presented and above all delicious. I started with a crab mille feille, a soft crab pate piled into a tower with crispy biscuits and a  piquant mango garnish. To follow I ordered the sliced breast of duck which was well cooked with a ring of crispy fat, served with vegetables and a prune puree that gave a fruity piquancy. My desert was a perfectly creamy crème brullee with a crisp caramel topping and ball of lemon sorbet in a brandy snap basket. Guy tried a board of delicious West Country cheeses and our friend had the Langage Farm lemon and lime sorbet on a creamy jelly with pretty edible pansies. I thought that the three course dinner which included coffee was incredible value at £28.95 considering the elegant surroundings, friendly and attentive service and of course the delicious food.

The next morning we were back at our window table for breakfast to enjoy the garden views in daylight and of course I had to have the English cooked breakfast while Guy ordered a kipper from the breakfast menu. There was the usual range of hot toast with jam and marmalade, croissants, fruit and yoghurts, a choice of packet cereals, although the selection was fairly limited and I thought the breakfast didn’t quite live up to the magnificence of the dinner the previous evening.

Crystal room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Crystal room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

You can get married here too!

After the Young Farmers’ party on Friday night I noticed that the ballroom was being laid out for a wedding on Saturday and went to have a nose around while the staff were setting out the tables. The large Crystal room at the far end of the hotel is on two levels, the first of which was being set out with chairs for the marriage ceremony while the ballroom area was arranged with tables for the dinner-dance that followed. The room lived up to its name, with sparkling chandeliers and mirrors, and would be the perfect setting for a summer wedding when guests can walk out onto the lawn. In the gardens I spotted the wrought iron rose arbour which was designed and made by local blacksmith Matt Dingle and is popular for wedding photos or even for the wedding ceremony itself. Although the wedding reception was in full swing on the Saturday night when we were dining in the Wildflower restaurant, I was impressed that the staff managed to keep everything running very smoothly, accommodating both groups of guests, although I probably wouldn’t want to be sleeping in the bedrooms immediately above the ballroom when a major event like this is being held in the hotel.

Gardens of Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

The morning market at Tavistock

On Saturday morning we ventured out from the Moorland Garden Hotel to explore the nearby market town of Tavistock, which sits on the western edge of Dartmoor. The town became prosperous in the Middle Ages from the wool trade and was one of the “Stannary Towns” around Dartmoor that controlled the local tin mining that took place on the moor.

Market in Tavistock, Devon

Market in Tavistock, Devon

In front of the impressive stone Guildhall we chatted to the owner of the fruit and veg stall and wandered through the covered craft market. Through an archway we found the Pannier Market, a historic covered market that was given its charter 900 years ago and houses an eclectic mix of different stalls that change daily, with antiques, crafts and daily necessities. On the Saturday it seemed to be a bustling general market of everything you could hope to find in a Devon town, from birdseed to fishing bait, tweed hats to moleskin trousers and country fudge to old books and antique costume jewellery.

Around the courtyard that enclosed the Pannier market there were a number of small specialist shops, including de la Torre’s selling a huge variety of olives and Mediterranean foods like houmous, olive oils and jars of condiments. Right next door was the Country Cheese shop where the staff were only too happy to let us try a sliver of this or that before we decided which of the many West Country cheeses to buy, deliberating between the delightfully named Miss Muffett, Tilly Whim and other Devon specialities.

Market at Tavistock, Devon

Market at Tavistock, Devon

The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum

On the way back from Tavistock that afternoon we stopped in at The Garden House, a privately owned gardens in a secluded Devon valley, set around a Georgian vicarage. The garden was bought in the 1940s by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue who moved to live in the vicarage and started planting the 10 acres of garden which was further developed in the 1960s by head gardener Keith Wiley who introduced the naturalistic landscapes of the cottage garden, wildflower meadow and Acer glade.

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

Walking past the house where I made a mental note of the tea-room, we started our tour of the garden at the small lake where the water lilies and sculptural gunnera made a picturesque setting with the half submerged blue rowing boat that was moored to the bank, but not going anywhere. Most beautiful at the end of summer was the walled garden where the long herbaceous borders were filled with hostas turning to yellow and decaying brown, with fraying silver thistles and the bright spots of dahlias blazing pink and pumpkin orange. In the middle of the walled garden was a small stone thatched cottage, perhaps the gardner’s cottage making a backdrop for the dusty pink hydrangeas and pink penstomen.

At the furthest end of the garden we enjoyed the rhododendron walk which was now full of autumn colour with golden maples and acers lighting up the dark rhododendron foliage. The path led us gradually up hill through the Acer glade beside a small stream trickling over shale which had been cut into the grassy bank. Having completed the circuit of the garden we hurried back to the tea-room in the house before it closed, to have a Devon Cream tea and a slice of home-made fruit cake. Please note the Garden House is now closed for the winter and will re-open again in March.

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey, home of Sir Frances Drake and a Rembrandt self-portrait

On Sunday before we headed for home, we drove the short distance to Buckland Abbey, a medieval abbey which later became home to the Elizabethan sailor, Sir Francis Drake and is now run by the National Trust. We spent a few hours here, enjoying the great barn, medieval house, the Rembrandt exhibition and had lunch at the cafe before driving back to Bristol, although it would be very easy to stay a whole day here if the weather was fine.

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

The Cistercian Abbey was founded here in the 13th century, but after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the abbey was sold to Sir Richard Grenville who demolished some of the monastic buildings and converted it to a family home. In 1582 Sir Francis Drake bought the property with the proceeds of his bucaneering raids on the Spanish fleet in the Americas and it remained in the hands of his heirs until earlier this century. This year Buckland was in the news due the Rembrandt Portrait which came to Buckland Abbey in 2010 and after a 2 year investigation by art experts has now been confirmed as a genuine painting by the master himself. We enjoyed looking around the special Rembrandt exhibition within the house showing the portrait and details of all the ways they had confirmed it was genuine, as well as other museum exhibits such as Drake’s Drum which accompanied him on his voyages and is said to sound when England is in danger.

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

There are no shortage of things to see in this part of Devon and another time we might enjoy a walk up to one of the Tors on the moor or drive into Plymouth where the waterfront is being developed with new restaurants and museums. If you’re looking for a comfortable and welcoming hotel with an excellent restaurant to use as a base for exploring the area I’d certainly recommend the Moorland Garden Hotel and would love to come back in summer to enjoy the gardens and sit out on the terrace, perhaps enjoying a Devon cream tea.

The Moorland Garden Hotel, Yelverton, Devon. Rooms for a weekend stay range from £100-125 based on B & B for 2 people sharing or £125-155 for a suite. Check the hotel website for information on special breaks such as 3 nights for the price of 2, Sunday night stays or breaks that include dinner and afternoon tea. Dogs are welcome in the hotel and can stay in certain rooms. My tip would be to check whether there is a wedding or function taking place in the hotel when you book and if so request a room at the opposite end of the hotel where you won’t be disturbed.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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London for Sugar Addicts

In this guest article, former pastry chef Andrea Duty takes us on a mouthwatering tour of the best deserts and sweet stuff in London – heaven for sugar addicts!

The torrid reputation of English food is infamous. Time and time again, foodie travelers pass on the UK’s bland traditions in favor of Vietnamese spice or French indulgence. And while it’s true that the culinary scene in London had an exceedingly long awkward phase, it’s since grown into a modern, dynamic contender as one of the best food cities in the world. I could talk for pages about the various curry houses, chippers, chaat shops and pubs throughout the city, but as a former pastry chef, I feel it my duty to bring you all things sugar, from the traditional to the internationally influenced. Thus, my list of absolute favorite desserts in London. Nothing bland about it.

Kouign amann from Parisian chef Philippe Conticini Photo: Andrea Duty

Kouign amann from Parisian chef Philippe Conticini

Kouign Amann

Renowned Parisian chef Philippe Conticini brings the signature bell jars display cases and geometric packaging of La Pâtisserie des Rêves to Marylebone, filling them with manicured renditions of French classics and updated British favorites. His kouign amann – a baton of caramelized croissant dough – negates the need for a trip to Paris on the Eurostar while his carrot cake has forever ruined me to my homemade version.

Merveilleux

Hot on Conticini’s heels is Frédéric Vaucamps, the master of meringues whose Aux Merveilleux de Fred just debuted South Kensington. His dainty “cakes” of crisped egg white, whipped cream and assorted toppings look like the dense cake balls du jour but wow with a cloud-like consistency. Flavors such as speculoos, praline and coffee compete as top sellers…and for space in my stomach.

Aux Merveilleux de Fred in South Kensington Photo: Andrea Duty

Aux Merveilleux de Fred in South Kensington

Sticky Toffee Pudding

All those who visit me in London are treated to a Sunday roast at The Spaniards Inn, a 16th century pub reportedly frequented by the likes of Dickens and Keats. My guests may think the aim here is to show them a bit of British history or give them a little culture, but my real motive is a slice of sticky toffee pudding. The version at The Spaniards is wickedly rich and is pushed over the edge with a dollop of clotted cream. Nab a seat by the fireplace and it’s pure heaven.

Sticky toffee pudding at the Spaniard's Inn in London Photo: Andrea Duty

Sticky toffee pudding at the Spaniard’s Inn in London

Bakewell Tart

Take a buttery tart shell, schmear it with jam, top with dense almond cake and you’ve got a classic Bakewell Tart. There are as many variations of this dessert as there are bakers in England, but my favorite slice so far is at Le Comptoir Gourmand. It may be commercially made, but it’s so rich and homey that I swear someone’s grandma must be running that kitchen.

Bakewell tart at Le Comptoir Gourmand Photo: Andrea Duty

Bakewell tart at Le Comptoir Gourmand

Pistachio/Ricotta & Sour Cherry Gelato

I recently spent two weeks in Italy where I consumed as much gelato as is humanly possible, but BUT (and I feel sacrilege even saying this) none of it was as good as the scoops at Gelupo. Here the flavors are spot on: fresh, not too rich, and not too sweet. They are just…perfect. Plus, there’s a dessert case full of frozen cupcakes, chocolate-dipped cones and a rotation of seasonal treats. Even when we are in the depths of winter, you can bet on finding me here.

Gelupo Gelateria in London Photo: Andrea Duty

Gelupo Gelateria in London

Andrea Duty is a former pastry chef from Austin, Texas living in London, England. She eats her way through other countries in attempt to discover cultural insight from cake and historical relevance through cookies…or something like that. You can follow her travels at This New View.

 

More London dining experiences:

Fine dining favourites at the top London Hotels
Five of the best kept secret eateries in London
An artistic lunch at the V & A – in London

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

Click to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, news and reader offers

HOHT newsletter

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

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