Walking through the door of our luxury holiday house of Stargazers in St Mawes, I felt the Wow! factor as if I’d been given a rather expensive but delightful present. Wow! St Mawes certainly had more than its fair share of Cornish charm, with the pubs overlooking the sea, pretty cottages climbing up the hillside and the lighthouse twinkling across the estuary at St Anthony’s Head. Wow! From the front door we were drawn straight towards the huge expanse of windows with stunning views across the bay. Wow! Every one of the four bedrooms felt like walking into a luxury hotel suite, each with its own bathroom and gorgeous, colourful furnishing.
Stargazers in one of five luxury holiday homes available to rent through St Mawes Retreats and it didn’t take long for us to settle into the good life. After a tiring week at work in Bristol, we told ourselves, this was no more than we deserved! In the Master Bedroom, the huge bed even swallowed up my six foot husband and was piled with silk cushions in lime, crimson and fuschia overblown roses on a crisp white cotton pique duvet. In front of the window were two leather recliners separated by a coffee table of glass on a base of tangled driftwood, the perfect place to relax with a cup of coffee and take in the view.
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Love was in the air as we snuggled into the bed to watch a George Clooney movie on the flat screen TV on the wall – well at least it was spelled out in big wooden letters L-O-V-E on the cream painted chest of drawers. Even the recliner cushions with motifs like “You rock my boat” , “Love is all you need”, and “Sail away with me” were guaranteed to make those of us who’ve been married 25 years giggle like teenagers again.
We had a bathtime soak in deep, oval bath, liberally doused with the Cath Collins orange flower bath oil, while contemplating the sparkly border tiles, his and hers sinks and huge walk in shower. I fell asleep with the St Anthony’s Head lighthouse winking at us across the bay and woke up with the sky tinged a little pink with just enough blue to make a pair of sailor’s trousers. The passing St Mawes ferry on its way to Falmouth looked like a blue painted toy boat and was followed in hot pursuit by a Cornish rowing skiff out for training. And all this before I’d even got out of bed!
It didn’t feel quite right with just me and Guy rattling around in a house that demanded to be shared, to be filled with friends, with chatter and good food. But on Saturday morning, our friends joined us with their teenage daughters and the house started to feel alive, as we all shared the pleasure of our luxurious holiday house.
Our friends chose the pink bedroom with a deep magenta velvet headboard, pretty crystal bedside lights and curtains covered with oversized pink and purple peonies. The bedroom faced the back of the house looking out on a little gravelled space with a bank planted with shrubs and its own modern bathroom with brown and white stone tiles and sparkly lighting around the mirror.
The girls loved their teenage pad upstairs, under the eves with four beds which was decorated with purple crushed velvet, spangly curtains and silver sequin cushions on the bed. They were thrilled to have their own TV, bathroom across the landing and a little balcony where they could look out on the sea view. The best bit, however, was that they had their own floor to get away from the grownups and make as much noise as they liked.
While we ladies were feeling that we’d stepped into the pages of a glossy magazine, the husbands were more interested in the number of flat screen TVs around the house. Guy even went around and counted them; there were seven in all, one for each bedroom, two in the sitting area and one in the kitchen. For someone who barely watches TV, I found the amount of electronic gadgetry slightly baffling. We lost count of the number of guns to control it all and mysterious voices wafted from the kitchen ceiling until we worked out how to switch off the radio.
Even more exciting for the menfolk was the wood-burning stove in the centre of the living room, which demanded to be stoked up, although fortunately no manly displays of wood-chopping were required. Once Guy had worked out that there were three recliners built into the large bank of leather sofas, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to prize him away from the weekend papers, the TV or that stove.
As if one huge living room was not enough, there was a second sitting area beyond, with cream covered sofas and so many cushions on the sofa that there was barely room to sit down, although of course the teenagers didn’t stand on ceremony and threw them all on the floor to make themselves comfortable. All around the house were lovely art-works, my favourite being all the driftwood sculptures and the ink drawings of boxing hares, although I wasn’t too bothered by the strange, sculptural metal discs.
All the living areas looked out onto the beautifully landscaped garden, with shrubs, grasses and spiky plants. There were paved areas where you could sit on wicker loungers and soak up the sun, with paths among the foliage where children might play hide in seek. Just below the house, although out of sight was Hotel Tresanton, a luxury hotel that I definitely want to visit for afternoon tea or lunch on the terrace when I come back to St Mawes in summer.
By late morning I was concerned that I’d never prize the crew out of the house, so I rallied everyone for the walk down into St Mawes. Even though it was 5 minutes down the road, we had to stop for a good look around the Waterside Gallery with beautiful Cornish glass and a wooden seagull sculture that bobbed up and down from the ceiling. We skirted the row of pretty cottages, while the girls ducked down onto the beach and kicked around in the pebbles and seaweed.
At the harbour we checked the times of the ferry, in case we fancied a trip across to Falmouth later and as it was nearing lunchtime bought ourselves a hot, peppery Cornish Pasty from the little bakery shop. Along the sea wall, we attracted the attentions of the seagulls who perched hopefully nearby, thinking that they might get a few forgotten crusts. We peered into the window of the St Mawes skiff club, set in what was once the village garage with vintage petrol pumps outside. Where the cars were worked on, we could see the large Cornish rowing boats that are used these days for sport and racing in local competitions.
We could have easily settled into one of the many pubs and cafes along the sea front but I was keen to see the pretty church at St Just in Roseland, which was one of the suggestions in the helpful guide left by St Mawes Retreats. We retraced our steps past St Mawes Castle, built as a coastal fortification by Henry VIII with the matching Pendennis Castle on the other side of the estuary above Falmouth. We traced the coastal path across fields that became increasingly muddy, and as the girls were becoming tired our friends turned back while we continued until we reached the creek and traditional boatyard with the church of St Just beyond.
This 13th century church has the most picturesque setting and is set in tropical gardens backed by palm trees with an ancient well bubbling into the creek. We walked back up the path that was lined by carved granite tablets carved with verses from the bible and at the car park unexpectedly found our friends who had fetched the car and driven back to save us from a muddy walk home.
Although there seemed to be endless eating-out opportunities in St Mawes, we decided that we really did need to test out the enormous kitchen back at Stargazers, although it felt like you needed a text book just to work out how to use the microwave. The granite covered island was a sociable space to gather with a glass of wine while you were cooking up a storm and the dining room table felt large enough to feed the 5000, or at least 12 of them. The next day we found two potatoes that had gone missing from our meal, and joked that the oven was so big you could lose your dinner in it!
On Sunday morning we emerged sleepy from each of the luxurious bedrooms and gathered around the kitchen work stations for our our frothy hot coffee, croissants, eggs and bacon. Once again, it was touch and go whether we would get out to explore anything else, as Guy was busy perfecting the Sunday morning art of doing nothing (which he’s very good at).
However, that winking lighthouse across the bay was calling us, so we decided to take a look at St Anthony’s Lighthouse. In summer ferries can take you across the water from St Mawes but we drove around the bay and left our car in the National Trust car park (£2 honesty box). All around were old military fortification and we walked down through the pine trees, to the white lighthouse which is as complete a version of a lighthouse as you could find. It was even used as the setting for the childrens’ TV show, Fraggle Rock which I had never heard of, but the girls told me all about the puppets living in the caves.
We could get as far as the gate to the lighthouse which has a cottage that you can rent, and watched the birds on the rocks and even saw some seals bobbing in the water. A few kayakers paddled up to the rocks to spot for seals, and snippets of their conversation with mentions of “Fraggle Rock” drifted up to us. Turning back up the path we walked until we reached the sandy beach that we had spotted from the lighthouse and scrambled down beside the stream, over the slippery, barnacle encrusted rocks to get to the sand. I love walking on beaches in low season with that feeling of freedom that you get in Cornwall in winter, the freshness and wide open skies.
Returning back to Stargazers it was time to pack up our things and leave the house for the next lucky people to come and enjoy the fabulous views and sea air. The sign in the hall says “Relax, it doesn’t get any better than this!’ and how right it was.
We all agreed that Stargazers was a wonderful place to stay at any time of year, and even if you never get out of the house (which is tempting) there’s always something happening out there on the water. St Mawes Retreats have done a fabulous job in creating the perfect luxury holiday home that you’ll want to come back to time after time. I’d come back again just for the breathtaking view, to sit in the garden and watch the boats go by and breathe in the magic of Cornwall and St Mawes.
Stargazers in St Mawes is available to rent through St Mawes Retreats and sleeps 10 people in 4 bedrooms. It is one of 5 luxury holiday homes offered by the company, sleeping between 4 and 12 people, all of which are beautifully furnished in contemporary style with all the luxury and attention to detail you could wish for. Four of the properties are in St Mawes with one in Fowey. Short breaks at Stargazers start at £650 for 4 people or £995 for 10 people. For more details and bookings do check the St Mawes Retreats Website.
Our thanks to St Mawes Retreats for hosting our weekend stay at Stargazers.
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With Christmas fast approaching, a shopping trip to London makes a great day out, and a surprisingly affordable one, if you’re visiting from abroad, due to the favourable exchange rate. Here’s a quick tour of the different shopping neighbourhoods of London and what they each have to offer.
Oxford Street for the big name brands
Let’s start with the more renowned places to visit. Oxford Street is situated right in the centre of the city and is home to all the famous chain stores as well as a large number of independent fashion outlets and the flagship Selfridges department store. While Oxford Street has something for everyone, nearby Regent Street will suit the more affluent shopper and offers a wide array of excellent jewellery stores, upmarket boutiques and the Liberty store for unique prints and gifts. The Apple store is also situated in Regent Street as is Hamleys, a fantastic toy store over five floors and a great place to take the kids! Adjacent to Regent Street is Carnaby Street, which came to life as the place to hang out in the 60s and nowadays still has a vaste number of independent shops, offering all manner of clothes, shoes, music and general paraphernalia dating back to that era.
Speciality shops in Kensington, Luxury in Knightsbridge
Heading south west across the city, we reach the trendy borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Here we find the King’s Road, a meeting point for punks in the 70s and still considered an in-place to visit and shop. Again, we find a large number of independent retailers in this long street offering everything from fashion and design wear to furniture and music outlets. Peter Jones is a large department store at the Sloane Square end of Kings Road offering quality clothes and goods. Nearby Kensington High Street, close to the Royal home of Kensington Palace is also a great place for some retail therapy with a good selection of different shops. Not too far away in Knightsbridge is the famous Harrods Department store which is reputed to be able to sell you anything you may wish for! The food section in Harrods is excellent with many different types of meats, cheeses and fruits to buy and after a hard morning of shopping your way through this huge department store, the Georgian Restaurant offers an excellent afternoon tea at very affordable prices.
Visit neighbourhood markets for local flavour
Markets are a great way to pick up a bargain and to interact with locals at the same time and London offers a number of different markets through the week. Camden Lock (Sundays) and Portobello Market (Saturdays) are two of the more well known markets however certain other markets are also very interesting for both locals and tourists. Petticoat Lane Market (Sundays) located near Aldgate in London’s East End offers a wide range of clothes, household goods and general bric-a-brac. Old Spitalfields Market, likewise in the East of London is one of London’s oldest markets and is open all week, specialising on different goods each day. Near to Spitalfields is Brick Lane, home to some of London’s best curry houses and a great place to stop for lunch with a difference!
More things to see in London:
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Our visit to Rotterdam as part of our 4 day European Sampler Cruise on board Crown Princess was one of the most enjoyable days of the cruise. The sun shone as we stood on deck and the ship glided through the canal that led to the port of Rotterdam, the second city of the Netherlands and one of the largest ports in the world. On the skyline were rows of windmills – the modern white kind rather than the picturesque old ones you get on every postcard, and the canal was lined with industrial buildings. We only had one day in Rotterdam, arriving mid morning and departing late in the evening but we managed to pack in plenty of interesting things, all within easy walking distance of the cruise terminal. So if you only have one day in Rotterdam, here are some of the things that we enjoyed on our cruise day ashore.
1. Spido Harbour Tour
From the cruise terminal we walked across the Erasmus bridge, known locally as the Swan for the sculptural effect of its supports, and from the jetty on the other side we took the Spido Harbour Tour, lasting 75 minutes. We were lucky to have bright and sunny weather, but the large boat would be suitable for all weathers with indoor and outdoor seating areas, and a café to buy coffee and snacks.
We settled on the open, upper deck from where we got a great view of all the interesting buildings alongside the Maas River. The commentary in English and other languages informed us about the modern buildings, many by notable architects, as most of the older buildings of Rotterdam were destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. We toured up one side of the harbour, past the Euromast tower and around the working shipyards where cranes were loading goods and colourful containers were stacked along the quay. Returning along the other side of the harbour we made a detour to pass the old cruise liner SS Rotterdam, the Hotel New York and the Crown Princess moored on Wilhelmina Pier, before being dropped off beside the Erasmus bridge again. Need to know: Spido Harbour tour lasts 75 minutes and cost €10.75 per adult €6.60 for children. The tours run all year round and in the summer there are around 10 sailings a day, with less in winter.
2. SS Rotterdam
We passed the SS Rotterdam on our harbour tour, but unfortunately we didn’t have time for a proper visit. This steam ship was the biggest passenger ship ever built in the Netherlands under the Holland America line and is now a hotel and museum. In her heyday she welcomed celebrities like Frank Sinatra and European Royalty like Crown Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands and Princess Margaret of England, but now anyone can eat in one of the restaurants and cafes or have a cocktail in the bar. You can take a 1 hour audio tour around the ship to see behind the scenes in the charts room, bridge and captain’s cabin. Need to know: SS Rotterdam, Katendrecht. Audio tour costs €16 Adults, €9.50 children 10am-5pm, free entry for the restaurants and bars
3. Schmidt Zeevis
Once we completed the Spido Harbour tour, it was getting close to lunchtime so we asked a local shopkeeper for a recommendation of where we might find some pickled herring, my husband’s favourite. We were directed to Schmidt Zeevis, a fishmonger’s and deli which had apparently won awards for the best in the city and was just a 5 minute walk away from the Erasmus Bridge. The chilled counters were full of fresh seafood as well as ready-to-eat dishes to take out, but there were tables by the window where you could stand and eat your lunch selection. In the open kitchen we could see large pieces of fish being sliced with great precision and the sharpest of knives. Display counters doubled as table tops and groups of local businessmen were eating anything from Japanese raw fish with dipping sauces, to battered fish goujons, all washed down with a glass of chilled white wine. We joined the lunchtime diners standing at a counters and Guy ordered a selection of herring and roll-mops from the deli counter, while I had the lunchtime special, which cost us around €10 per person Need to know: Schmidt Zeevis, Vasteland 60 – 3011 BM Rotterdam
4. HavenMuseum (Harbour Museum)
Strolling down the Leuvehaven area of the harbour full of old boats, we were invited on board one that was part of the Haven (Harbour) Museum. This Dutch barge named Geertuida or Gertrude, after the wife of the owner, was built in 1906 and was used to transport building materials like stone and gravel to Brussels travelling along the many canals. Even more fascinating, as the volunteer guide explained to us, was that the barge had housed a whole family who lived on board. The children continued to manage the boat until they were too old, when it was given to the musum.
We were taken into the boat to see the old-fashioned living room, bedroom and kitchen, with the childrens’ bunks down below. The rooms were small but cosy and well fitted, and in days when many people lived in poor housing conditions, would have been a very pleasant place to live. There were also many other boats that you could look at as part of the Havenmuseum, with walkways between them. Need to know: Havenmuseum, Leuvehaven 50, 3011 EA Rotterdam. Entry is free although donations are welcome. Open Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday 11am to 5pm although you can look at the boats from the quayside at any time.
5. Maritiem Museum
Walking further along Leuvehaven we reached the Maritime Museum where we found the Mainport Live spectacle on the ground floor, with a model of the port and a light and sound video presentation to give you the feel of the life and vibrancy of Rotterdam. Upstairs there was the Sea Palaces Exhibition with examples of cruise ship interiors since the 1920s. The exhibition showed how cruise ships had developed from luxury liners that only the very wealthy can afford, to the holiday playgrounds of today that everyone can enjoy. If you want to wallow in the nostalgia of towels folded into animals, dressing up for dinner at the Captain’s table and leather trunks full of finery, you will love this exhibition. Need to Know: Maritiem Museum Rotterdam is open every day except Monday, Adults €7.50, Children €4. Address: Leuvehaven 1, 3011 EA Rotterdam
6. Architecture walking tour
At the tourist information stand in the cruise terminal, we had picked up a leaflet for the Architecture Walking Tour. As Rotterdam was heavily bombed in the Second World War, much of the old centre was destroyed, but the city has more than made up for this with some striking modern architecture. We crossed the Erasmus Bridge with the 139m steel pylon which earn it the nickname of The Swan. The walk along the canal took us past the “Red Apple” residential tower which gets its name from the colour of the exterior and the apple market that once stood here. Further along was the Art Nouveau Witte Huis or White House, an attractive eleven story building which was considered the sky scraper of its day, and one of the few older buildings to survive the bombing. The walking tour continued through the city centre with over 30 buildings of architectural significance to see, although we ran out of time to see them all. Need to know: Pick up a leaflet for the Architecture walking tour or Rondje Rotterdam at the Rotterdam info tourism office or in the cruise terminal. There are also Black street signs marked Rondje Rotterdam to guide you. More information about Rotterdam architecture on Rotterdam.info
7. The Cube houses
A little way beyond the White House were the famous Cube Houses designed by Piet Blom, looking like a forest of cubes, each on its own trunk, containing the staircase. The houses overlook a small harbour area with a couple of bars which were a pleasant place to have a drink on the quayside and obviously very popular. If you fancy staying in one of the houses there is a hostel in two of the cubes joined together run by StayOkay. As the residents apparently got fed up of curious tourists wanting to have a nose around, one of the houses is now open as the Kijk-Kubus museum and I took a look around. The concept of Piet Blom was to create an urban village that included living space at the top level and small shops, businesses and play areas on the ground level between the houses, with each cube house being one of the trees in the forest. Having looked around the small show house, I decided that the houses are better to look at than to live in, with very small rooms and slanting ceilings tucked into the cube shape, but certainly an interesting insight into modern architecture in Rotterdam. Need to Know: The Kijk-Kubus museum is open every day 11.00-17.00 Adults €2.50, Children €1.50
8. A Water Taxi back to the ship
By the afternoon, we were a little foot weary and so we took one of the yellow and black water-taxis from Leuvehaven, near the Havenmuseum to speed us back to Crown Princess. We’d spotted the water taxis from the deck of the cruise ship in the morning when we docked and thought they looked rather fun – you could imagine yourself in one of those James Bond moments, weaving through the harbour with the baddies in hot pursuit. There was a crowd of people waiting but we all managed to squeeze in and I got the front seat beside the boatman as we left the harbour under the bridge, and then he pulled back the throtttle across the open water. In no time we were passing Crown Princess and Hotel New York on the end of Wilhelmina piers to be dropped off by the little boathouse jetty nearby. Need to know: Water taxis run from Leuvehaven and Veerhaven on one side of the river, to Hotel New York and SS Rotterdam on the other. They are normally running around every 10 minutes from 9am to midnight and our trip from Leuvehaven to Hotel New York cost €3.80 per person one way.
9. Hotel New York
Our water taxi from Leuvehaven dropped us at Hotel New York, at the end of Wilhelmina Pier, and before we made the short walk back to Crown Princess, we had to stop for coffee at this legendary hotel and cafe. The historic building was once the office of the Holland America cruise lines and the place where emigrants from the Netherlands left for New York to start a new life. Now the building is a buzzing hotel with bar, restaurant and outdoor terrace. Of course there’s plenty of seafood on the menu and a relaxed, brasserie atmosphere. We sat at the reading table, full of books and international magazines, under an enormous crystal chandelier, for a coffee an enormous slice of Dutch apple cake. The whole of Wilhelmina Pier is being redeveloped as a happening place with a photography museum and old warehouses being converted into residential apartments. The terrace café in front of the hotel was also busy and a great place to sit in the afternoon sunshine, with views of the harbour and boats going by. Need to know: Hotel New York, Koninginnenhoofd 1, 3072 AD, Rotterdam – On Wilhelmina pier, a short walk from the cruise terminal. Open from 7am to 1am
There was far more of interest to see in Rotterdam than I had expected, and it was easy to walk to many of the sights from the cruise terminal. Other guests used the free shuttle bus to take them to the central shopping area and the station, and I heard that some just stayed on the bus and used it as a mini-sightseeing tour. Another option that was very popular was to take the free bus to the station and catch the train to Amsterdam which I gather was a quick and inexpensive journey. There were also many excursions available to see various things in Amsterdam if you prefer to have transport and activities arranged for you.
More about our European Sampler Cruise with Princess Cruises
How to enjoy your Princess Cruise without piling on the pounds
Taster Cruise diary series at the Online Travel Journal
I found plenty of useful Rotterdam Tips in this podcast from Tips for Travellers by Gary Bembridge
My 4 night European Sampler Cruise with my husband was hosted by Princess Cruises who offer cruises to European and Worldwide cruises to allow you to explore fascinating destinations and escape completely on board their elegant and spacious ships. Our cruise took us from Southampton to Rotterdam to Guernsey before returning to Southampton. You can keep up with latest updates for Princess Cruises on their Twitter page @PrincessCruises and on the Princess Cruises Facebook Page.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey