Category: Travel-tastic

A week in Greece

I’ve finally just about emerged from the fuzzy fug surrounding my week in Finikounda and the inevitable readjustment to real life so I thought I’d tell you all about it.

If you read my last “first of the month” post, you’ll know that I love Greece.

If you didn’t read it, here’s a précis. I love Greece. The people, the pace of life, the food, the climate. All of it. It’s probably my holiday destination of choice for a summer break.

This time we chose a new (to us) destination; a small Greek village on the Messinian Peninsula called Finikounda. We chose it knowing it was tiny, with one supermarket, one cash machine and a handful of restaurants. We chose it knowing that there were no loud bars or crazy watersports. We chose it knowing that the village is little more than one main street with a few shops and the demographic is largely Greek families holidaying and older people relaxing. And we loved it for all of those reasons.

We stayed at a relatively new aparthotel called Tsokas Hotel which was about 5 minutes walk from the beach. Unusually for Greek accommodation it was very modern; with large open plan bedrooms fully stocked with a small kitchenette, air conditioning, a power shower and a large balcony. With only 15 apartments overall the feeling was intimate and relaxed, with no fighting for sunbeds or noisy guests. The hotel has a lovely kidney shaped pool which was a godsend in the incredibly hot weather (it was 35 degrees wen we arrived on Sunday lunchtime) and by late afternoon it was like dipping into cool bath water. Bliss.

So, what did we do? Pretty much nothing! We I had hoped to go and visit a nearby town with venetian castle ruins, but in truth it was so ruddy hot that that the thought of doing full on sightseeing was too much to bear! So we settled into a delightful routine of breakfast in the apartment, lounge by the pool, walk to the village for lunch, an afternoon nap for me, a spot more sunbathing and then dinner in a different restaurant in the village. It was the perfect antithesis to the real world and, because every day was something of a mirror image, the time lapsed slowly in a delightful blur of nothingness – a feeling of complete escapism where the only thing that mattered was what to eat for dinner and whether to have a quarter or half litre of wine at lunch. We weren’t back at the hotel later than 11pm any night, and were fast asleep by midnight at the latest!

If you follow me on instagram you’ll have already seen a lot of these pictures, but in case you don’t (you should, by the way!) and also to indulge myself and relive the delightful memories, here are some snaps from our week.

Would I go back? In a heartbeat! There’s something quite comforting in knowing you have a destination in your travel bag that you can 100% rely on when you need a certain kind of holiday. Plus there are still all the things and places that we didn’t manage to visit last week to bring a different dimension to the trip when we go again.

Do you have a favourite country to holiday?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

What happened to my carrier pigeon?

Lovely people, I specifically asked for a carrier pigeon to be sent to Greece if the world went tits whilst I was away.

It never arrived.

Carrier pigeon

What an awful week of political stupidity (BoJo as Foreign Secretary?? Really??) which paled into insignificance when followed by the atrocities in France and Turkey. The Nice attacks were especially close to home, as we spent a long weekend there last May soaking up the beauty of the city, the cuisine, and the people. We walked along the very Promenade des Anglais that was home to so many pointless deaths and have been talking about returning ever since. To attack innocent civilians enjoying themselves and celebrating the freedom and success of their country is the ultimate in distaste and cowardice, and almost incomprehensible. To lose your life in the pursuit of happiness is so unseemly, so unjust, and so many other “uns” I lack the articulation to, well, articulate.

Anyway. I’m back from Greece. Beautiful beautiful Greece, with it’s own economic and political problems, yet a feeling of safety and solitude. A stunning landscape, friendly welcoming people and a wonderful climate means, for me, it’s impossible not to have a total escape-from-it-all break of amazing proportions. A new corner explored and duly loved; with promises to ourselves to return and soak up more of the inimitable atmosphere.

Maybe you’ve seen some of my instagram pics, but there’ll be a blog post, obvs. I can’t express my love for the county enough; especially at a time when more and more of the world is becoming dangerous. Greece, you may be skint in the eyes of the EU, but I’m happy to continue to pump my wages into you by way of food and drink consumption!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Leaving on a jet plane…

…don’t know when I’ll be back again…

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Actually that’s not true, I’ll be back next Sunday!

By the time you read this I’ll be in fabulous Greece for a (hopefully) fabulous week of relaxation. I can’t wait to eat Greek food, soak up the sunshine and chill out with the husband.

I wish you all a good week, whatever you’re up to, and fingers crossed the country doesn’t descend into any further chaos while I’m gone! (although if it does, send a carrier pigeon to let me know and I won’t bother coming back!)

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

My first…part 5

It’s the first of the month again! Aren’t these long hot summer days amazing? (huge amounts of sarcasm). Grrrr….

Anyway, as I’m off to Greece in just 10 days time (woo and hoo!) I thought I’d talk about my first ever time on the Greek Mainland, in my early 20s.

I love Greece. Adore the place. The people, the climate, the food, some more of the food. Mmm…food. Greek cuisine is right up there with the best in the world, for me.

Greece is my first choice of holiday destination if I’m looking for a chilled, relaxed break with guaranteed enjoyment.

The first time I ever visited the mainland was with my Dad. After my parents separated things became fraught between me and my Dad for a while. I hadn’t taken sides in the split but I was living with my Mom, and she had a new partner which my Dad found difficult to deal with, especially my acceptance of it. In an attempt to build bridges I suggested that the two of us go on holiday.

Both having a love of Greece from previous visits to the islands, Dad suggested calling the travel agent (as you did in those days, before cheap airlines and hotel comparison websites, god I’m so old!) and finding out what was available within a few days; somewhere “typically Greek”. The travel agent suggested a place called Stoupa, which neither of were familiar with. It was described to us as being a small village on the Mani peninsula, with a mountainous backdrop, a handful of tavernas and bars and a very relaxed atmosphere. It sounded perfect.

And perfect it was. We arrived at Kalamata airport at around midday on a hot Sunday afternoon, after a 3am start from home. I hadn’t been to bed the night before as I was still packing so I slept all the way to the resort. On arrival we were shown to our apartment, which was a 2 story house, split into 3 apartments. We had loads of space, two balconies, 2 bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen. It was very much a home from home.

After changing into shorts we wandered down towards the direction of the sea, passing small tavernas and shops. As we reached the end of the narrow street the whole of Stoupa opened up in front of us. A horseshoe shaped bay with a sandy beach and sparkling blue sea. Stepping out and looking backwards we saw the mountain backdrop promised by the travel agent. We fell in love with the place immediately.

It was a week of lounging in the sun, reading books, sleeping and eating amazing food. We took an organised trip to the Diros Caves. We walked to Agios Nikolaos. And we overcame our difficulties and had a lovely Dad and daughter time.

Years later my Dad took his now wife, and she also fell in love with the place in the same way that we had years previously.

I never once suggested it to the husband, as he tends to get bored easily on holiday and I thought Stoupa would be way too quiet for him. I think he felt left out, because my Dad and his wife and I used to talk so fondly of our times there, and the husband had never been. So, eventually, and under some duress, I agreed that we would go. I warned him before we went that if he hated it he wasn’t to tell me, because he would spoil it for me!

But guess what? He loved it too! Absolutely adored the place, immediately. Such is it’s magic! And what did we do? Exactly the same as my Dad and I had done over a decade previously – eat, drink, sleep and read. We didn’t even leave the village because we were so content. Not only that, he was so taken with it that we went back 6 weeks later for our 5th wedding anniversary.

Here are some pictures of the bay.

And the mountains. Can you see the tiny villages? At night they look like little patches of sparkles in a sea of blackness because they’re so remote.

Stoupa mountain villages

And there are the most fabulous sunsets. Every. Single. Night.

Stoupa sunset

I very much want to see more of the world – all of the world – but I think I will always return to Stoupa. It holds such happy memories and is everything I could ever want in a relaxing holiday.

We talked about going back again this year, but I vetoed it because my Dad is ill. He was supposed to go last year and had to cancel because of his cancer treatment, and I don’t feel right going when he can’t.

So, this year, the husband and I are off to the other side of the peninsula – a place called Finikounda. I’ve read reports from some people that say it makes Stoupa look overly touristy, so I’m intrigued to see just how quiet it is! And of course I’ll be blogging all about it when I get home.

10 days to go!

Do you have any summer holidays planned? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Holiday buys from H&M

I’m lucky enough to be going on holiday in a couple of weeks (hurrah!) and I can’t wait to escape the British doom and gloom (weather, politics, football – it’s all pretty crap, isn’t it?!) Besides the obvious Brexit shaped elephant in the room, which I’m hoping won’t affect tourist relations, I can’t wait to lie in the Greek sun, eat Greek food and R.E.L.A.X.

Greece

In anticipation, I’ve bought a few cheeky bits and pieces for my sojourn to the sun. In truth I don’t really need any new holiday clothes, but when did that make a difference to anything?!

As usual H&M has come up trumps, with some ace stuff which just so happens to be mega bargainous in their sale too.

This playsuit was reduced from £12.99 to just £4.99. It’s a lovely soft fabric, quality but not too thick, with pockets (everything should have pockets, IMO). H&M patterned playsuit

So I might have bought it in plain black and black and white Aztec print too…

A couple of pairs of shorts – black lace reduced from £12.99 to £5.99, and imitation suede with front patch pockets reduced from £12.99 to £4.49.

These trousers, which the husband immediately screamed “pyjamas” at when I asked his opinion, but I think with a tan, a simple cream vest and loads of silver jewellery these will look suitably boho hippie and not like I’ve escaped from some kind of cult (£14.99 down to £5.99)

H&M mustard yellow hippy trousers

And finally, a new bikini, because holiday (bought as separates – £20.98 down to £10.98)

Mucho bargainous – gotta love the H&M sale!

Have you picked up any bargains recently? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks, as always, for reading!

A trip to Wales and a stay at the River Café in Glasbury

About 5 years ago the husband and I were invited to a wedding just over the Welsh border. The bride and groom included a list of accommodation which was local to the wedding venue, which is how we found the River Café.

Situated in Glasbury on Wye, it sits in an enviable position on the river, with a large decking area looking over the water, a well recommended restaurant and just 5 rooms available on a B&B basis. We were so taken with our stay, albeit brief, that we said we’d love to go back another time and just chill out.

That time was this weekend.

Setting off early (for us!) on Saturday morning in the bright sunshine we drove through country lanes and small towns, meandering down the west of England towards Wales. First stop was Hay on Wye, famous for it’s literary festival happening in a couple of weeks. Hay has a proliferation of bookshops and pretty little streets which were decorated with brightly coloured bunting.

We had a little wander round and a mooch around a small vintage market. How cool is the stuff on this stall?

Hay on Wye vintage stall

Hay Castle was built in the 12th Century. It’s not open to visitors, although there is a restoration project planned.

Then on to Glasbury on Wye. The River Café is run alongside Wye Valley Canoes which, unsurprisingly, is a canoe centre! They hire out single and double kayaks and canoes, as well as mountain bikes, tandems, and lambretta scooters! As I mentioned, there’s direct access to the river so it’s easy to get going, and the team at Wye Valley will come and collect you and your canoe from wherever you end up, if you want them to. Isn’t that fab? You could row down to Hay, have some lunch and then get delivered back to Glasbury by road rather than having to go against the tide to get back.

We had nothing as energetic in mind. In fact we wanted to do nothing apart from sit on the riverside deck and relax. Here’s the view of the back decked area, from the other side of the river. Nice, eh?

View of River Cafe Glasbury

Ironically we stayed in the same room this time around as when we were last there 5 years ago. The rooms are all simply decorated with white walls and simple furnishings; nothing fussy or chintzy.

Outside River Cafe Glasbury

It was lovely to open the windows and hear the birds tweeting while we unpacked our bits and pieces. A comfortable bed, delicious pillows and the softest duvet made for a great night’s sleep, and the bright airy bathroom with it’s walk in powerful shower was a great way to start the morning.

And so we spent Saturday afternoon sitting outside and reading with a couple of drinks, which was non too shabby with these peaceful river views.

Then showered and changed for dinner (I had chicken terrine to start, confit duck for main, and cherry cheesecake for dessert; all real tummy pleasers!) We were in bed ridiculously early for a Saturday night, no doubt exhausted from all that doing nothing in the fresh air! And Sunday started with a fabulous freshly cooked breakfast with tea and toast and never ending freshly pressed cloudy apple juice.

There’s plenty to do in the surrounding area, with the Elan Valley and Brecon Beacons National Park both being a short drive away. We quite fancied doing the Waterfall Walk but hadn’t come prepared (TripAdvisor reviews recommend waterproofs and sturdy shoes to walk behind the waterfall at Syn ) so that’s one for another time.

It was a lovely relaxing change of scenery, and I would highly recommend the River Café – either to stay or to eat – if you’re ever in the area (do book a table in advance though, as the restaurant gets very busy).

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

Hotel review: Kyriad Gare Perrache, Lyon

When choosing a hotel stay for a city break, I like to get the right balance between location, quality and price. The Kyriad Gare Perrache ticked all of those boxes.

Located just a couple of minutes walk from Perrache station, the transport links were second to none. With Metro and tram stops, and an overland railway there was nowhere that wasn’t easily reachable. Also it was just a short walk to Place Bellecour for the city tour bus and walkable to the old town across the river bridge. Location box ticked.

All the reviews I read on TripAdvisor commented on the friendliness of service, the modern styling and the cleanliness. I emailed the reception with a couple of questions before we arrived, which they answered quickly and helpfully. Check in was quick and seamless, in a really cool and funky brightly decorated reception.

Kyriad Gare Perrache reception

The rooms were well laid out, with The. Most. Comfortable beds and pillows, plenty of plug sockets, well lit mirrors (and a full length one too, amazing how many hotels forget that) and a great shower (one of the first measures of any hotel stay).

Kyriad Gare Perrache hotel bedroom

The rooms were serviced daily with clean towels, renewed coffee, tea and biscuits and everything was immaculately clean. Points lost for the tiny size of the lift (the three of us and our luggage wouldn’t fit, we had to make two journeys) but that’s not the end of the world.

The hotel had a great bar which played contemporary and traditional jazz and again was decorated in a very modern style. Drinks were VERY expensive, but that’s hotel bars for you! We didn’t eat in the restaurant but the food looked really good. Check out the funky piano!

Kyriad Gare Perrache hotel bar

Quality – box ticked.

Finally, the price. I mooched around to get the best deal, settling on Hotels.com and taking advantage of cashback via Quidco. The hotel website price was around 100 euros per night, but I booked it for about £50 per night. I found it cheaper to book a 2 night and 1night separate stay than all 3 nights together (I then just emailed the hotel to ask if I could stay in the same room for the duration of the two stays, which wasn’t a problem). You can read my top tips for booking a bargain trip here.

Price – box ticked!

Booking a hotel is always a risky process, even if you’re only on a short break and will just be using it as a base, because staples like a good shower and comfortable bed are important. But I was thrilled with this hotel and would definitely recommend it.

Only after I booked it did I realise that Kyriad is obviously a chain in France, as I stayed at one in Nice last year.

What are your criteria for booking a hotel?

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

A day trip to Annecy

One of the great things I find about French cities is how well connected they are, and how cheap the public transport is. So it made complete sense for us to take advantage of that and plan a daytrip outside of Lyon.

Annecy is a pretty town very near to the Swiss border, in the Alps. The old town has lots of coloured buildings and a river running through it. It’s sometimes referred to as the Venice of the Alps. I’ve seen pictures of it and read about it in the past and, although it’s a 2 hour train journey, the tickets only cost us about £45 return which was well worth it.

If you follow me on instagram you’ll have already seen a lot of these photos, as I was very taken with the place!

Lake Annecy is the biggest lake in Europe, and surrounded by pretty lakeside towns and mountains. We went on a boat trip.

There are flowers everywhere in the town and on the bridges across the river.

This is tartiflette – a speciality of the region. A gratin of potatoes, onions and bacon lardons smothered in baked reblochon cheese. It was pretty spectacular!

Tartiflette

We had a beautiful day in the sunshine, breathing in the mountain air and enjoying life, before getting the train back to Lyon in time for dinner!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x

 

 

Our trip to Lyon – what we did

Lyon is the third biggest city in France, after Paris and Marseilles, according to the commentary on our bus tour of the city. The open top bus, where everyone was crammed downstairs because the weather was so bloody awful…

Thank goodness for overpacking. As I mentioned in my previous post the weather forecast for the first two days was cold and rainy, followed by warmer temperatures and sunshine for the next two. There’s always the hope that the forecasters have got it wrong, and in fact they had, it was colder than suggested!

Our first stop was the Basilica de Notre Dame, situated high on Fourviere Hill on the old town side of the River Saone. We took the (impressively clean and organised) Metro and then the funicular railway to the top of the hill. The Basilica was built between 1872 and 1884 and is one of the most breathtaking churches I’ve ever been in – from sheer scale through to attention to detail.

Inside was mind blowing.

I spent so long looking at the mosaics – each one must have been 3 metres long and was made entirely out of tiny half centimetre squares. The dedication and attention to detail is hard to comprehend.

Mosaic fresco at Basilica de Notre Dame Lyon

On a good day you can see Mont Blanc from Fourviere Hill. On a cold, rainy, windy, 6 degree day, you can’t!

Vieux Lyon, old town, is a maze of cobbled streets and little squares with restaurants and traditional Lyonnais bouchons – tiny eateries serving rustic cuisine from the region. It was very pretty, but hampered by the weather even though we struggled on in the face of adversity!

You can get a perspective of how high the Basilica rises above the city from this picture.

Vieux Lyon with view of Basilica

Parc de la Tête d’Or covers 290 acres. It’s huge! I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a multi faceted park in my life, and we spent 2 hours just wandering around.

It has a lake where people can boat in summertime, a beautiful fountain surrounded by flowers, and there’s a big velodrome in the grounds too!

There’s a small deer park, which randomly also has some ostriches?!

A zoo with flamingos, a giraffe (who we didn’t see, unfortunately), lions (who wouldn’t stand up for a photo!), a variety of monkies who I couldn’t photograph through glass, buffalo, toucans and tortoises! An eclectic mix!

The park is famous for it’s rose gardens, although we were slightly too early as they weren’t fully in flower. I can only imagine what a riot of colour there is in high season.

And the Botanical Gardens which, although not my thing (too claustrophobic) were  very impressive.

There you have it, an overview of our time in Lyon! We didn’t mange to see everything we’d have liked because of the weather, the fact that 1st May is Labour Day and there is no public transport running (WHAT???!!! I didn’t know that when I booked!) and also my Mother-in-Law, who was our travelling companion, isn’t at 100% health right now so we were tourist dawdlers rather than striding out all over the place and walking miles like we usually do.

Special mention, before I finish, to my first time of eating snails! Which I enjoyed so much I had them a second time too! They’re fiddly to get out of the shells and not very filling, but they were so tasty and enjoyable. A similar texture to mussels, they were cooked in garlic butter and I loved them.

Tomorrow I’ll share some pictures from our daytrip to Annecy, in the Alps.

Thanks, as always, for reading!

My first…part 3

Wowsers, another first of the month. Where is the year going?!

Continuing my series, and as I’m currently in Lyon, I thought I would talk about my first city break abroad.

I’ve been holidaying overseas since I was a little kid, and the excitement of those 2 weeks a year in a big hotel in the sun was always immense. But as I got older travel started to become more accessible, with low cost airlines and the internet opening up all sorts of possibilities that would previously have been much more expensive and complicated.

The first city break I ever went on (by which my definition is not a holiday with the purpose of sunbathing!) was to Prague. It was also the first holiday that the husband and I ever went on where it was just the two of us. We travelled at the end of November on a cheap as chips flight. I remember vividly when the flight landed, at around 8pm, that there was a light dusting of snow on the ground, which I was so excited by!

We stayed in an apartment on the top floor of a stunningly ornate old building which had an aged charm and an eccentric owner. The small terrace was too cold to sit out on, but you could see the beautiful roofs and domes of the city, all glistening in the cold frosty air.

After dropping our bags we went straight out to have a look around and get some food. Our apartment was 5 minutes walk from Old Square which was buzzing with people, despite the cold. Restaurants had outdoor seating with patio heaters, and people were eating and drinking al fresco bathed in the lights of the square and the bars.

We fell in love with it instantly.

Over the next 4 days we wandered around the city, visited cathedrals, crossed Charles Bridge many many times, drank cheap beer, went on the funicular railway, cried at the Jewish war museum and cemetery, marvelled at synagogues, did a bit of shopping, ate hearty winter food, drank absinthe in an underground bar and went to a sex museum!

Prague

But, best of all, was on our last day. I was really upset to see that the Christmas market was being set up in old square but wasn’t yet open. As a firm Christmas fan, I was bereft that we hadn’t planned better.

And then, on our last night, the Christmas tree was lit and the market opened! I was beside myself (and very vocal!) It was the best end to a stunning break I could have asked for.

It was bloody freezing (as you’d expect) but we’d planned accordingly and wrapped up in multiple layers, hats, gloves and scarves. I’ve always thought of Prague as a winter city anyway so wearing chunky boots and a furry russian hat epitomised what I had anticipated in my mind.

Prague is an absolutely amazing city and I would love to go back, perhaps at a different time of year. I’d avoid summer due to the unfortunate proliferation of stag parties looking for cheap booze but I think springtime would be very beautiful.

I can honestly say that trip opened my eyes in terms of short breaks and seeing a different side of the world, and we haven’t looked back since.

Have you been to Prague? Do you love city breaks? Let me know!

Thanks, as always, for reading! x