Cruising the Mediterranean on MSC Splendida? – here’s what you need to know

I’m relatively new to cruising so my week’s cruise in the Mediterranean with MSC Cruises was a very enjoyable way of learning what cruising’s all about and how to get the most from this kind of holiday. I’ve realised that, just as there is a style of hotel or resort to suit each person’s taste and budget, every cruise line and cruise ship brings a different flavour, so it’s important to research carefully before you book your cruise. We had a wonderful week with MSC Cruises and if you’re thinking of booking or have already booked on MSC Splendida, here’s what you need to know to get the most from your cruise;

Ready to board MSC Splendida at Tunis

Ready to board MSC Splendida at Tunis

About MSC Splendida – big is beautiful

First the vital statistics. There’s no getting away from the fact that MSC Splendida is a big ship, with over 1600 staterooms and room for 3247 guests – or more if you happen to be travelling in the holiday season when there will be plenty of children to swell the numbers on board. She’s a relatively new ship too, built in 2009 and one of the four “Fantasia” class of ship in the MSC fleet which incorporate the most modern designs.

We found that MSC Splendida was a beautiful and glamourous ship and everything on board was extremely well maintained. A big ship has pros and cons – it means that there’s lots of choice of things to do and many different bars and restaurants to spread out, but you do need to be aware that the most popular areas such as the pool decks will become very busy especially on sea days.

I hope you enjoy the video below – my tour of MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

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Who are the other guests on an MSC Mediterranean Cruise?

One of the key differences with MSC Cruises is that this is very much an Italian run cruise line, attracting a large proportion of European guests on the Mediterranean routes. Since passengers can board at different ports such as Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa, the majority of guests on our cruise were from Italy, Spain and France, with a few from China and Japan and a minority of English and Irish. This was never a problem from a language point of view since all announcements were made in 5 languages, including English and we were left in admiration at the multilingual skills of the crew.

The European flavour also extends to the way things are done on board, for instance the dress code is less formal, charging for bottled water seems strange for the British but is acceptable for European guests, and the service is friendly and efficient but less effusive than you might find on a North American ship.

The broad mix of European nationalities also meant that the entertainment could not rely on the language – so no comedy acts but more song and dance shows with a broad appeal. If you want a very British ship this may not be the cruise for you but if you are travelling as a family group or with friends then the cosmopolitan mix of guests will probably suit you.

MSC Cruises is also doing a great job in attracting a younger audience to the cruise market and on our cruise there were plenty of families, couples and groups of friends from 30+. This cruise certainly dispelled any preconception that cruises are only for the retired and the age range was similar to that you might find in a large resort hotel.

Atrium of MSC Splendida with   MSC Cruises

Atrium of MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Dining options on MSC Splendida

There were two formal dining restaurants on board MSC Splendida, where you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner as part of your inclusive cruise package. We were assigned to the Villa Verde restaurant on Deck 6 which was at the back of the ship, giving some nice sea views which we enjoyed at breakfast and we shared a table at dinner with a Norwegian and German couples who luckily spoke some English. The La Reggia restaurant was a two-level restaurant on deck 5 and 6 in the middle of the ship and we ate there for lunch on the sea day. The menus were the same in both restaurants and were excellent quality 3 or 4 course menus serving a mixture of European and Mediterranean dishes, with a few different choices of appetisers, soups, pasta, meat or fish dishes and deserts. Most guests were assigned a set dining time of 7pm or 9.30pm although in La Reggia there was also a flexible dining time option which you needed to opt for before your cruise.

La Reggia restaurant on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

La Reggia restaurant on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

For informal buffet-style dining, there were the adjoining Pago Pago and Bora Bora buffet restaurants on Deck 14 which merged into the pool area, with some seating outside. At main meal times there buffet restaurants were very busy and so we preferred to eat in the formal restaurants most of the time, although we would often dip into the buffet for a snack or a cake on our return from a shore excursion. The variety of food in the buffet restaurants depended on the time of day with a wide selection at meal times and at other times plenty of fresh pizza, sandwiches, fruit and cakes on offer.

Bora Bora self service Restaurant on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Bora Bora self service Restaurant on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

We also took the opportunity to eat in the Santa Fe Tex-Mex Speciality Restaurant on Deck 7 which served exceptional steaks as well as other Tex-Mex specialities and brilliant Margaritas. There was an additional charge, depending on what you chose, just like a normal restaurant, rather than a fixed cover charge as I’ve found in other speciality cruise restaurants. Interestingly the restaurant seemed to be not very busy which could be that the guests were not looking to pay extra for dining on this cruise.

Overall the food on board MSC Splendida had a very Mediterranean feel with plenty of pizza and pasta and was high quality in taste and presentation. However, the speciality dining options were more limited than some other cruise lines so I would say that if you are looking for a gourmet experience on board, with a focus on trendy or more unusual food experiences, this may not be the ship for you.

Our Balcony Stateroom

We loved our balcony stateroom on deck 13 (room 140) which had a modern, Italian feel in the decor and a coffee and gold colour scheme. There was a seating area with sofa which could become a third bed and desk next to the windows, a fridge with mini bar and a flat screen TV. The bathroom had plenty of space with a moulded vanity unit and mirror above and a powerful shower with a curtain and some shampoo and soap in large refillable containers. Our balcony had room for 2 lounger chairs and the small table by the sofa could be used for drinks. The stateroom was a lovely place to relax before dinner or on the sea day when other areas of the ship were quite crowded, and we sometimes would pop up to deck 15 to get a coffee or cake and enjoy it in our room.

Stateroom 13140 on board MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Stateroom 13140 on board MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

What additional charges will I need to budget for?

As with all cruise lines there are some things that are included in the price of your cruise on MSC Splendida and other things that you will need to budget for. My impression is that MSC Cruises pitch their cruises at a competitive entry price but that you may then need to budget for extras that some other cruise lines would include in the price, such as bottled water and bus transfers. Here’s what you need to budget for;

  • As on most cruise lines gratuities are something extra you need to budget for and are not really optional. On MSC a service charge of  7 euros per person per day is added automatically to your bill, so there is no need to tip individual members of staff unless you have received exceptional service. An additional 15% service charge is also added to speciality restaurant, bar and spa charges.
  • If you wish to take excursions, the prices are published on the MSC website and range from around €50 for a city tour to €80 for a longer all day tour.
  • If you decide not to take the ship’s excursion but to explore on your own you may need to pay for the coach transfer to and from the port which may be some distance away. The price for the MSC bus service was typically €8-15 per person return. Another option is to take a taxi (likely to be a similar price to the cruise bus) or take public transport which requires some advance research.
  • On MSC many people purchase a drinks package in advance which is likely to save you a lot of money, even if you are a moderate drinker and gives you the peace of mind of knowing that your drinks are at a flat rate. For our 7 day cruise on MSC Splendida the Cheers Adult drinks package was €115.50 per person allowing table wines, beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner as well as soft drinks and coffee from the bar while the Alegrissimo package for €161 per person allowed the same type of drinks including drinks from the bar on a 24 hour basis.
  • If you wish to try out the speciality restaurants on board (the main one on MSC Splendida being the Tex Mex Santa Fe restaurant) there will be an additional charge depending on what you choose from the menu – from memory a steak meal was around €20 supplement.
  • If you enjoy spa, hair, nail or beauty treatments as part of your cruise obviously you would need to budget for these and there are plenty of different packages and special offers that you can check out when on board.
  • Wifi is another extra and tends to be both expensive and slow (since it has to come via satellite) so it’s probably better to forget about catching up on your e-mails and use the time to relax.
Dinner in the Santa Fe restaurant on board MSC Splendida

Dinner in the Santa Fe restaurant on board MSC Splendida

So if you are a moderate drinker and take a couple of excursions during the cruise, you should budget €250-300 per person on top of the price of the cruise, more if you want to enjoy spa treatments, speciality dining and a wider range of drinks.

Purple Jazz Bar of MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Purple Jazz Bar of MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

What’s there to do on board?

In my experience so far, you’ll never be short of things to do on a cruise, but will leave wishing there were more than 24 hours in a day to take advantage of everything on offer. For us one of the attractions of this cruise was being able to visit a different destination on each day of the cruise, which left us with limited time to try out all the entertainments on board. We did however very much enjoy the evening show each night, with two separate performances designed to fit in before or after your dinner sitting. The shows were mainly song and dance routines that would appeal to a wide audience with some juggling, balancing or acrobatic elements incorporated. Over the course of the cruise the evening shows transported us with different themes to Paris, Ancient Greece, Italy, the land of the Aztecs, as well as a Luciano Pavarotti tribute show one evening.

Aqua Park on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Aqua Park on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Of course one of the most popular parts of the ship is the pool deck and MSC Splendida had much to offer with an outdoor Aqua Park including jacuzzis and fountains as well as the pool. The second indoor L’Equatore pool area was ideal for younger children and families and had a retractable roof but was covered during our cruise. At the back of the ship was the smaller Playa del Sol Zen area, although the “Zen’” could be a bit misleading as this area was just as busy as the others. The Aqua Park was full of families and groups enjoying themselves with music, karaoke and dance classes taking place at one end, so great if you like a buzz of activities but not if you are looking for peace and quiet on your cruise. You would need to lay out your orange towel early to be sure of a sunbed in any of the pool areas although you could retreat to the Top 18 solarium area for an additional charge.

Sports court on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Sports court on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

During the day and into the evening there was a wide range of entertainment including dance lessons, bingo, quiz events, sports tournaments, culinary demonstrations and Karaoke. We did attend a destination talk on our first day but this was mainly to provide information on the excursions on offer and one thing I did miss was any insights about the ports of call that we were about to visit. We found that the activities on board MSC Splendida were mainly about entertainment rather than education or culture, perhaps due to the issues of operating in multiple languages. So if you are a culture vulture or are looking for education from your cruise, you may have to create your own, but if you like plenty of lighthearted entertainment, there’s lots on offer.

L'Equatore pool on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

L’Equatore pool on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Fitness and spa on MSC Splendida

Because we were so busy on this cruise visiting all the interesting ports of call, we didn’t make much use of the fitness facilities on board. However, Guy did use the gym a couple of times and on our sea day I had the treat of a lovely facial and Balinese massage. The spa has a large seating area with healthy snacks and drinks to order at the bar and a shop area selling sportswear and beauty products. I had a lovely relaxing facial and on a separate occasion indulged in a Balinese massage with scented aromas and soft music leaving me with my skin soft and glowing and in a soporific mood. It’s worth checking for special offers and packages if you are someone who enjoys a relaxing spa experience as part of your cruise.

Swan towels in the Aurea spa on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

Swan towels in the Aurea spa on MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises

What do I need to wear on board MSC Splendida?

Cruise ship dress codes can vary widely between different cruise lines and ships and also depend on the route and itinerary. Most people will pack comfortable clothes and shoes for sightseeing on shore excursions, something casual for relaxing around the pool on sea days and a few smart outfits to dressing up in the evening. However, the thing that concerns most guests who are new to cruising is what they need to pack for formal nights on board.

Gala night on MSC Splendida with my Eileen Fisher sparkly evening top

Gala night on MSC Splendida with my Eileen Fisher sparkly evening top

I was also unsure whether I should be packing my long evening gowns and whether Guy needed his dinner jacket/tuxedo as would be the norm on some more traditional and British cruise lines. However a bit of advance research told me that most guests on an MSC Cruises around the Mediterranean adopt a more European style of dress, since there are so many Italians, Spanish and French on board.

On our cruise noticed that there were not so many ladies on gala evenings were wearing long dresses, but they tended to adopt a more ‘cocktail’ style of glamour and that the men were wearing a wide range of different jackets but very few went for the “black tie” or tuxedo. In the end my sparkly Eileen Fisher sequin top and my versatile black Joseph Ribkoff evening cover-up were perfect for the two gala evenings on board and on other evenings I dressed as you would when going to any nice restaurant, while Guy wore a blazer and open neck shirt.

Gala night on MSC Splendida with my Joseph Ribkoff evening jacket

Gala night on MSC Splendida with my Joseph Ribkoff evening jacket

Did I say there were two gala evenings on our week’s cruise? This was because the Mediterranean route we sailed on MSC Splendida calls at many different ports on a circular route and so guests are able to start their cruise at different points such as Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa. Two different gala evenings gave everyone the opportunity to experience a formal night wherever they boarded. On other nights there were different party themes that included “Carnival Party”, “Flower Glory – a trip to the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s” and “White party” but I never saw anyone but the crew dress to these themes, since most guests would not know about them before they came on board.

On board MSC Splendida with my Eileen Fisher linen vest

On board MSC Splendida with my Eileen Fisher linen vest

On the sea day, dress around the ship was much more informal, such as you’d wear around the pool or for a day at the beach. You can read more about what I packed for my Mediterranean cruise in my article – What to wear on your Mediterranean Cruise – my 6 top tips

Who is this cruise suited for?

As I said at the beginning, there’s a cruise for every taste, so who is a Mediterranean cruise on MSC Splendida best for? In my opinion

You will enjoy this cruise and ship if…

  • You enjoy visiting a lot of different destinations in one cruise
  • You are looking for a lively atmosphere, lots of entertainment and plenty to do on board
  • You enjoy a cosmopolitan European atmosphere on board
  • You want a cruise with a youthful feel which is ideal for families with young children, groups of friends, multi-generational groups and those from their 30s upwards.

But this may not be the cruise for you if…

  • You are looking for peace and quiet on your cruise
  • You want a cruise that offers a gourmet experience or wide range of speciality dining options
  • You enjoy a lot of cultural and educational activities
  • You want to mix with passengers from an older age range
  • You are looking to mix with mainly British or North American passengers on a ship that is mainly English speaking

Other articles in my Mediterranean Cruise series

Join me on a week’s Mediterranean cruise with MSC cruises
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Tunis and Carthage – Day 6 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
A day at sea and back to Barcelona – Day 7 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
What to wear on your Mediterranean cruise – my 6 top tips

MSCCruiseslogoThanks to MSC cruises who hosted Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy travelled on MSC Splendida from Barcelona on a 1 week cruise calling at Genoa, Marseille, Naples, Messina, Tunis. Prices for a similar cruise start at around £700 per person. For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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6 things the English girls get SO wrong on the beach in Greece!

On the Greek island of Zakynthos I’ve been enjoying plenty of beach time while on holiday, hanging out with my daughter, my Greek niece and her friends. From behind my (designer) sunglasses I’ve been observing Greek beach etiquette and realising how different it is from a British day out at the seaside. The stylish Greek girls laugh at the English holiday-makers who get it wrong in every way on the beach, so if you want to blend in with the cool crowd on the beach, here’s where you need to know;

On Dafni beach in Zakynthos, Greece Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

On Dafni beach in Zakynthos, Greece

1. Don’t think that the beach is free

If you’re used to a week in Cornwall you may imagine that on your Greek holiday you’ll be laying your towel out on the sand and unpacking the picnic you brought with you. The beach is free, right? Wrong! In Greece you need to rent a pair of sunbeds which will cost you €4-10 for the day. No self respecting Greek would lay their towel on the sand unless they were in a completely deserted spot with no beach bar. The sand is way too hot for a start and there’s no shade, besides you need that handy table to put your drink and you’d want to relax and chat your friends without getting sand in your hair. Some beach bars don’t charge for sunbeds but you’ll still be expected to order a couple of drinks at the bar. For sun-beds and drinks you probably need to budget €10-15 for a day at the beach.

The Greeks would rather rent a sun-bed than lie on the beach Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Greeks would rather rent a sun-bed than lie on the beach

2. Don’t try to get bronze in a week

The Greeks look on with astonishment at the English girls who lie in the sun for hours, desperate to go home after a week’s holiday with a deep and lasting tan. You’ll never see a pink and peeling Greek girl. The Greeks respect the sun and will either stay in the shade or sunbathe for short periods with plenty of sun-cream and then have a siesta in the hottest part of the day. Why worry about your tan when the summer stretches ahead of you with plenty of beach time to develop that gorgeous brown body.

Order a chilled Frappuccino on the beach in Greece Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Order a chilled Frappuccino on the beach in Greece

3. The coffee comes chilled not hot

Why would you order a hot drink when the temperature is in the 30’s? The Greeks love their coffee too but it has to be chilled. To be like a Greek you need to order a “Freddo” coffee, which is the typical Italian style of coffee such as expresso or cappuccino, but on ice. When the guy comes round to take your order as you lie on the sunbed, make it a Freddo cappuccino, Freddo Expresso or a Freddoccino (iced mocha coffee with chocolate). If you need something stronger then order an iced beer although the Greeks would never drink more than one or two since they’ll be going home for a home cooked meal later on and wouldn’t want to appear drunk in front of the parents.

The pool's lovely at Windmill Hotel in Zakynthos but the Greeks prefer the beach Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The pool’s lovely at Windmill Hotel in Zakynthos but the Greeks prefer the beach

4. Why spend the day at the pool when you can go to the beach?

The Greeks can’t understand why the Brits come on holiday for a week and then lie by the pool rather than going to the beach. You can find a pool in any city or hotel, but when you are on holiday you surely want to make the most of the beautiful beaches and swim in the sea as much as possible. The Greeks believe the pool water is full of chemicals and other people’s sweat, while the sea is natural and healthy. There’s a Greek saying that if you swim in the sea all summer, you’ll be healthy all winter. The Greeks on holiday will also want to see as many different beaches as possible and will hire a car to go and explore the best ones rather than keep returning to the same place. On Zakynthos you could probably find a different beach or rocky cove for every day of the month and still have not seen them all.

The Greeks love the latest trendy designer sunglasses Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Greeks love the latest trendy designer sunglasses

5. Be sure to wear the latest designer sunglasses

The sun in Greece is strong, so the Greek girls understand the importance of a good pair of sunglasses that will protect your eyes. This is an investment purchase, not a bit of 5 euro fun to throw away at the end of the holiday. A Greek girl will buy a new pair of designer sunglasses each summer, depending on the latest fashion, so she has a few pairs in her wardrobe. Last year it was all bright frames, this year it’s oversized rounded frames and iridescent lenses. My Greek fashion spies tell me that in Athens everyone is wearing wooden framed sunglasses, so next summer you’ll probably see them on every Greek beach.

Be sure to wear your sexy bikini on the beach Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Be sure to wear your sexy bikini on the beach

6. Understand the importance of a sexy bikini

In the magazines you may admire those elegant one piece or tankini swimming costumes and think that they are just the thing to cover up any embarassing bulges. But in Greece everyone from the largest to the slimmest, from your daughter to your granny wears a bikini, so leave your one-piece to wear in the pool back home. In the blistering Greek summer a one-piece would just be too hot and inconvenient. And while we’re on the topic of bikini etiquette, the Greeks always wear their bikini to the beach, never change when they get there. Slip on your micro-shorts and a transparent, floaty top to show off your figure and you’ll be considered sexy but not slutty. On the sun bed or in the beach bar you can pose in your tiny bikini, go for a swim, dry off and then cover up again to go home where you’ll shower and change before dressing up for an evening meeting your friends in the bars and clubs.

Now you have all the Greek secrets for a stylish day on the beach where you can blend in with the locals and not stand out like a beetroot. Thanks to Sophia, Nicki, Fruzsi, Ezster, Tolya, Sophie-Anne and Georgie – my beach babes and Greek style advisors.

More things to see in Zakynthos

Shipwrecked on Navagio – the most photographed beach on Zante
Swimming the turquoise blue at Porto Limnionas
10 gorgeous beaches and places to swim on Zakynthos

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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

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

Lovely Laugharne – on the Dylan Thomas trail in South Wales

I like to imagine the 19 year old aspiring poet, Dylan Thomas arriving at Laugharne on the ferry, taking in the wide open skies of the Taf estuary, the small boats stranded in the marshy channels and the stark, stone towers of the ruined castle, and thinking “YES!, this is where I want to be.”

He later wrote that it was the sort of place where people like him ” just came, one day, for the day, and never left; got off the bus, and forgot to get on again.” Laugharne in Camarthanshire is one of the places that Dylan Thomas is most connected to, living for the last 4 years of his life in The Boathouse overlooking the estuary which inspired him to write some of his greatest poetry.

Even if you know or care nothing about Dylan Thomas, Laugharne is an enchanting place to spend a day, as we did as part of our weekend following the Dylan Thomas Trail, in honour of the centenary of the Poet’s birth.

View of the Taf estuary from Laugharne Castle

View of the Taf estuary from Laugharne Castle

Staying at Brown’s Hotel – Dylan’s favourite pub

We’d spent the Saturday in Swansea, discovering the city that Dylan knew as a young man and wrote about in Return Journey as well as visiting the Dylan Thomas Birthplace, before driving on to Laugharne to stay at Brown’s Hotel. As we pulled up, the evening sun lit up the front of the Georgian pub, a favourite drinking haunt of Dylan that has now been renovated as a bar with boutique style guest rooms.

When he lived here, Dylan’s routine was to sit in the window seat of Brown’s in the morning, studying the papers, or dropping in to see his parents Jack and Florence who lived at The Pelican opposite, before going home to the Boathouse for lunch and working in the writing shed in the afternoon, usually returning in the evening with his wife Caitlin for a few more beers.

Browns Hotel in  Laugharne

Browns Hotel in Laugharne

Our room was The Laques, named after a part of Laugharne that you can see from the bedroom window where Flemish weavers once settled. The style was very much boutique retro, with a stripy carpet, those chalky Farrow and Ball tones of beige on the walls and modern oak furniture with a 1950s air. The double bed had coverings and cushions in similarly muted shades of grey and purple and from the bed we could gaze at the photo-mural opposite - a soft-focus shot of the estuary with waving grasses in the foreground.

The room was small but thoughtfully kitted out with tea and coffee, bottled water, a few old books including a Dylan Thomas selected works and a bedside radio. The adjoining loo and bathroom featured those rectangular white tiles that were popular in the 1930s when a plumbed-in bathroom was a novelty, a bath with white waffle shower curtain and shower above and some delicious Warm Ginger toiletries. As the hotel isn’t really a hotel but a bar with rooms and only does bar snacks, we stuck our noses into the Three Mariners pub next door, but the place looked packed and the music was Saturday-night-loud, so we ended up having dinner at Cafe Culture, a pleasant Italian down the road.

Brown’s Hotel, King Street, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. Tel: 01994 427 688 E-mail: info@browns-hotel.co.uk Rooms are £75-140 based on 2 people including breakfast. Heather and Guy stayed in The Lacques, a Classic King Room which costs £105/ night for weekend stays. Twitter @BrownsLaugharne | Facebook Page | YouTube

Browns Hotel in Laugharne

Browns Hotel in Laugharne

Evening light on the Taf estuary

I took advantage of the evening sunshine to go and explore, following signs along the lane towards The Boathouse, where Dylan Thomas lived with his family. From the lane above the house, now known as the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk, I caught the beautiful views over the Taf estuary, where the water was gently rippling and glittering in the evening light. The tide was out with the sandbanks exposed at low tide and some wading seabirds picking their way gingerly through the shallows. It was this view that inspired Dylan to write his Poem in October about his walk from here to St John’s Hill where the wood overlooks the town.

It was my thirtieth year to heaven Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood And the mussel pooled and the heron Priested shore The morning beckon With water praying and call of seagull and rook And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall

Taf Estuary at Laugharne in Wales

Taf Estuary at Laugharne in Wales

You can follow the Dylan Thomas Birthday walk yourself, on the route Dylan described in his Poem in October, where there are benches and signs along the way so that you can read each line or verse at the place it was written. There’s a Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk Website with all the information you need and an App of the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk for iPhone and Android.

Dylan and Caitlin – in life and death

On Sunday morning we enjoyed a good cooked breakfast in the bar at Brown’s Hotel, surrounded by memorabilia and mementos of Dylan Thomas and then walked up the main street towards St Martin’s church. Through the main churchyard gate and over the little footbridge across the lane, we found the plain white cross of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas standing out among the grey gravestones.

In the church there is also a replica of the stone memorial in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, with Dylan’s lines from the poem Fernhill ” Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea”. Dylan Thomas died in 1953 aged only 39, while on a poetry reading tour in New York, of causes which have not been fully explained but were probably a combination of pneumonia, morphine overdose and heavy drinking, while Caitlin was also buried with him after her death in 1994. Dylan’s father, Jack had died only the year before Dylan himself and Dylan wrote one of his most popular and moving poems Do not go gentle into that good night about his father’s illness.

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It felt a little voyeuristic taking a picture of the gravestone, so we continued up the leafy lane beside the church, fringed by cow parsley and pink campion, taking a short cut to The Boathouse.

Grave of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas at St Martin's church in Laugharne, Wales

Grave of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas at St Martin’s church in Laugharne, Wales

The Boathouse - my sea-shaken house

In 1938 Dylan and Caitlin visited their friends the writers Richard and Frances Hughes at Castle House in Laugharne and decided to find their own place nearby. The couple moved into a tiny fisherman’s cottage and then into a grander house at SeaView where they lived until 1940 until the war years intervened and they moved to London. In 1949, The Boathouse which Dylan described as “my sea shaken house on a breakneck of rocks”, was bought for Dylan by his friend and patron, Margaret Taylor and he lived there with Caitlin and the children until his death in 1953.

Walking down the steps to the whitewashed house, the views across the Taf estuary were striking, not only from all the rooms, but from the balcony running around the house and the terrace at the back where there was originally a landing stage for the coal boats. Under the roof was the main bedroom which is now an exhibition space with mementoes and information about Dylan’s life, while through the small shop was a parlour furnished as it would have been by Dylan and Caitlin and kept for ‘best’ as was the custom. I spotted the desk that had belonged to Dylan’s father and had come from his childhood home at 5 Cwmdonkin Park, since Geoff Haden had told me how he really wanted it back!

Downstairs where the family would have gathered was now a tea room but we were able to sit on the terrace in the sunshine with fabulous views over the estuary where I had a chat with artist in residence, Cheryl Beer, who was playing her ukelele and making up poems with some of the children visiting. Cheryl told me that she was one of 12 different artists who had been invited for a month to create a work related to Dylan Thomas – you can see some of the photos from her month in residence on her blog here. She had noticed the strips of paper in the writing shed like shopping lists of the words that he planned to use, and was asking people to write a line of poetry or prose on a strip of paper, which she could incorporate into one large digital work. Having read some of the passionate, tender and angry love letters between Dylan and Caitlin, she also was planning to write a song that told the story from Caitlin’s point of view, “as a woman who was often being apologised to”

Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne

Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne

The Dylan Thomas writing shed

After visiting The Boathouse we walked back along the path to Dylan’s writing shed which the staff kindly opened for me to take photos, although you can normally only peer through the window. Inside Dylan’s writing desk was set out as if he had just left, with cigarette stubs, strips of words hanging up and that inspiring view right across the estuary. The first poem he wrote there was Over Sir John’s Hill, in which he describes the birds stalking their prey and bringing death in the midst of this beauty.

Over Sir John’s hill, The hawk on fire hangs still; In a hoisted cloud, at drop of dusk, he pulls to his claws And gallows, up the rays of his eyes the small birds of the bay

This is also where Dylan wrote his most famous play for voices, Under Milkwood, inspired in part by the people of Laugharne. Dylan described his work in a letter as “a play, an impression for voices, an entertainment out of the darkness, of the town I live in .. (so that) you come to know the town as an inhabitant of it.. utterly familiar with the places and the people.” From the writing shed we dropped down a path to the level of the estuary where we walked back along the paved causeway with the marshland ahead of us until Laugharne castle came into view.

The Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Dylan’s Walk, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, SA33 4SD |Twitter @DTBoathouse | Facebook Page | Open daily 10am-5.30pm in summer, 10am-3.30 in winter Adults £4.20/ Children £2.00. There is a pop-up Dylan Thomas shed, a replica of the original which is on display in various festivals and places around Wales.

Dylan Thomas writing shed at Laugharne

Dylan Thomas writing shed at Laugharne

Laugharne castle, Brown as owls

The final stop on our day in Laugharne was the ruined castle which overlooks the marsh and the estuary, described by Dylan in his Poem in October.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour And over the sea wet church the size of a snail With its horns through mist and the castle Brown as owls But all the gardens Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.

Laugharne Castle was built in the 13th century, probably on top of an earlier Norman castle and it came under siege in the English Civil War and was partly dismantled. When Dylan first came to Laugharne, the castle and its grounds were in the gardens of Castle House next door, owned by writers Richard and Frances Hughes. Dylan was allowed the use of the gazebo in the garden which overlooks the estuary and it was here that he wrote the short stories “Portrait of the artist as a Young Dog”.

A nice touch is that there is a writing desk and old typewriter within the gazebo to recreate how it would have looked when Dylan wrote there. The castle is now open to the public, although it’s really just a picturesque shell of the castle that the Welsh Lords used to dominate the estuary and port at Laugharne before it silted up. You can climb the tower for views over the estuary, and there’s a Victorian Rose garden which is a pleasant place to sit on a summer afternoon.

Laugharne Castle is run by CADW and is open April-October 10am-5pm Adults £3.80

Laugharne Castle  in Wales

Laugharne Castle in Wales

Whether you are a Dylan Thomas fan or not, Laugharne is an enchanting place to visit, for the views of the estuary, the walks up to St John’s Hill, for the Brown as Owls castle, and of course for the fascinating Dylan Thomas connections. Follow where Dylan walked, drink where he drank and be inspired by the beauty of the place and the poetry. In a place like this we might all have a literary masterpiece in us.

For more information to help you connect with Dylan Thomas in Laugharne;

Visit Wales – the official website for everything to see and do in Wales – also on Twitter @VisitWales and Facebook
Visit Carmarthenshire – discover places to see and stay around Laugharne in South Wales
Dylan Thomas 100 – everything that’s going on for the 2014 Dylan Thomas Centenary year
Brown’s Hotel – Dylan’s favourite pub where you can now drink and stay the night
The Dylan Thomas Boathouse - where Dylan lived from 1949-1953
Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk – take a walk inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Poem in October
Laugharne Castle - where Dylan wrote in the gazebo owned by his friends the Hughes

My thanks to Visit Wales for arranging this weekend and allowing me to discover Dylan Thomas in Wales

Read my other articles about the Dylan Thomas Trail in Wales

An ugly, lovely town Part 1 – a Return Journey to Swansea with Dylan Thomas
An ugly, lovely town Part 2 – the Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea

Follow Heather on her travels’s board Welsh Wales on Pinterest.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com - Read the original article here

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