Tag Archives: culture
July 26, 2016

Top tips for ‘off-season’ in Menorca

Top tips for ‘off-season’ in Menorca
Es Grau cottage with flower pots Menorca - image zoedawes

Pots of flowers in Es Grau

Summer time and the living is … hot and humid and the beach calls. It’s the only place to be on Menorca (Minorca) in July and August. Lying on a sun lounger taking in the rays, plunging into the deep blue Mediterranean to cool off, lunch in a seaside bar and maybe siesta like a true Spaniard. However, during the off-season in Menorca, in spring and autumn, even winter, the sun shines without being scorchio, the island is lush with flowers and vibrant colour, beaches are less crowded and you can walk about in comfort.

Marguerites on cliff top overlooking Addaya Bay, Menorca Spain - image ZoeDawes

Marguerites on Addaya cliff top

Outdoors on Menorca

One of the best things to happen to Menorca in recent years, was the opening of the Cami de Cavalls, a 185km circular route round the island, tracing a historic route passing many places of interest and some gorgeous scenery. In summer you may get a tad overheated but off-season is the perfect time to walk, run, cycle, or do what I did this spring – go horse-riding on the Cami de Cavalls. It’s the perfect way to see the island. [Read Heather Cowper on hiking around Menorca for more tips.]

Horse riding on the Cami de Cavalls Menorca - image zoedawes

Horse riding on the Cami de Cavalls

There are plenty of other walking and cycling routes on the island, the smallest of the Balearics. Menorca derives from its size compared to Majorca – 47 km x 17 km and its highest point, Mount Toro is just 400m. Having a meal beside the sea tastes just as good off season and you’ll not have to queue for that special table. Menorca is designated a UNESCO Bisophere Reserve because of its unique bio-diversity. Albufera and its bay Es Grau is a haven for wild birds within its dunes and marshland. It’s also a great place to enjoy tasty seafood.

Meal by the sea in Es Grau Menorca - image zoedawes

Meal by the sea in Es Grau

Beaches on Menorca

There are more beaches on Menorca than Majorca and Ibiza put together. The popular ones can get very crowded during the summer holidays but off-season are much less frenetic. You don’t need to get there early to bag a sunbed; just bring a towel and if you feel like a swim, the sea is very tempting. It does take a while to warm up so choose a shallower beach like Arenal d’en Castell, if you want a dip in spring.

Sun loungers on Arenal Beach, Menorca, Balearic Island, Spain - image zoedawes

Arenal d’en Castell Beach in spring

At Binibeca there’s a great beach bar which serves basic food, cold beer and cocktails – ideal for sundowners. The sandy shore is perfect for making sandcastles and the inner bay is sheltered from the stronger currents further out.

Binibeca Beach Bar lspring sun on Menorca - image zoedawes

Binibeca Beach Bar at sundown

Nearby Binibeca Vell is a photographer’s delight. White-painted cubes house tiny bars and restaurants, souvenir shops, boutique hotels and self-catering apartments. Built in the 1970s to look like a traditional fishing village, it attracts visitors all year round but is best visited off-season; this photo was taken in May and hardly anyone was around even though it was a glorious day.

Binibeca Vell fishing village on Menorca, Spain - image zoedawes

Binibeca Vell

Cala Galdana is one of the best family beaches on the island; a delightful bay dotted with graceful trees and excellent facilities for all ages. I stayed at the Artiem Audax, an adult-only hotel overlooking the bay. Not far from here are some of Menorca’s picture-postcard-pretty beaches including Cala en Turqueta, Macarella and Macarelleta.

Cala Galdana from Hotel Audax on Menorca, Spain - image zoedawes

Cala Galdana from Hotel Audax

Other popular beaches include Cala en Porter, setting for the last of the Menorca Fiestas in September, Sant Tomas and Son Bou, bordered by sand dunes and the very busy Cala en Blanes, the nearest Menorca gets to a mass tourist destination.

Places to go when it rains on Menorca

Menorca Naveta in the rain - image zoedawes

Heather Cowper and Zoe at a pre-historic Naveta in the rain

Menorca does get more rain than the other Balearic islands but there are lots of things to do indoors when the weather changes. Check out my Top Tips for Culture Lovers on Menorca for some great ideas including museums, art galleries, historic sites and foodie venues. How about a guided tour round a winery? Binifadet started growing vines in the 1970s and has been selling quality wines since 2004. They have a high-tech wine production centre over two floors, producing not only red, white and rose,  but also a very good sparkling wine. Their wine labels are works of art, including the very quirky Merluzo. Binifadet Restaurant serves superb Menorcan cuisine with a contemporary twist. I especially enjoyed their cheese platter, monkfish and prawn croquettes, roast Mediterranean vegetables and cheese cake with wine jam. (Read Kathryn Burrington‘s excellent article on Menorcan Food and Drink.)

Binifadet Winery Menorca - image zoedawes

Binifadet Winery

On a rainy, cloudy or windy day (beware the nippy Tramontana) hire a car and explore the island. There’s a major road from the modern capital Mahon in the east, to the old capital Ciutadella in the west. Many road fork off the north and south taking you down winding country lanes to coves, bays and beaches on both coasts. Signage has improved greatly over the years and it can be fun getting lost amongst the stone-walled lanes. Stop off in quaint villages, search out local bars and restaurants and eat like a local. Stop off at the famous Cova d’en Xoroi for a unique Menorcan experience; the huge cave has been turned into day-time bar with night club. If, like us, you can’t see the renowned sunset view, at least you can enjoy a pomada (Menorca gin and bitter lemon) sheltering from the elements.

Cova den Xoroi pomada Menorca - image zoedawes

Pomada at Cova d’en Xoroi

Off-season weather on Menorca

In spring and autumn you get some beautiful weather; sunny days, light breezes, occasional showers – though it can also rain very heavily and get very windy too!  Temperatures range from about about 18°C – 24°C but it gets cool in the evenings. Bring clothes suitable for an English summer, ie layers and you should be fine. A waterproof jacket, sturdy walking shoes and maybe a brolly can all come in handy. I was in Menorca one January when it snowed, much to the delight of the locals. The snow had barely settled before it melted but it was fun whilst it lasted. However, it is the spring flowers that I love the most. In April and May the island bursts into glorious technicolour; blue cornflowers, white and yellow daisies, lacy elderflowers, bright red poppies … Don’t take my word, get out there and see for yourself …

Spring flowers in Menorca - image zoedawes

Poppies by the roadside

Visitor Information for Menorca

To plan your holiday in Menorca visit the Menorca website and www.Spain.info or follow them on social media: Twitter @Spain_inUK | Facebook | Instagram. If you need a guide to show you the sites of Menorca, I can highly recommend Menorca Guides Luis Amella. Thanks to all for a lovely trip

Menorca gate and spring flowers - image zoedawes

Menorca gate and spring flowers

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Off-season Menorca - The Quirky Traveller

June 14, 2016

Petra; rose-red city at the end of the day

Petra; rose-red city at the end of the day

Sunset at Petra is a mystical time. The imposing buildings blush pink in the fading light as the seering heat fades and the day gradually cools down.

The Treasury Petra at sunset - photo zoedawes

The Treasury at sunset

Earlier on, the rainbow colours of the striated stone glow in the midday sun and the disant mountains shimmer in a heat haze. The wind that whistles through the Siq, narrow entrance to Petra, one of the top UNESCO World Heritage sites, shapes the walls and rocks into sinuous and weird shapes. One of the largest bears a remarkable resemblance to a fish.

Sandstone rock shaped like a fish, Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Sandstone fish

I spent a fascinating day exploring the ancient city of Petra and the end of the day was my favourite time. Most visitors had left and the Bedouin camel riders were wending their way back home, past intricately carved Nabatean tombs and deep caves.

Petra tombs and camel rider at sunset - photo zoedawes

Camel rider and tombs at sunset

A Victorian writer, John Burgon, won the Newdigate Prize in 1845 for his poem PetraThough he’d never actually visited the city, he’d heard about it in the news. Its ‘modern discovery’ by Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812, had created huge interest in this marvellous site. Here’s an extract from the poem.

Ad Deir - The Monastery Petra Jordan - photo zoedawes

Ad Deir – The Monastery

Petra

It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!
Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;
Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;
But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;
The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,
Match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time.

John Burgon 1845

The final line of this sonnet has become the most popular quote on Petra, and at sunset it is easy to see why, though it seems more pink than red in this light … What do you think?

The Treasury at sunset - Petra, Jordan - photo zoedawes

The Treasury at sunset

Unmissable Petra

Join me on a quick guided tour of Petra to get an idea of just how lovely this magical city really is.

I travelled round Jordan courtesy of Visit Jordan. Their website has lots of information and advice about this beautiful country. Further tips here: 5 Top Things to See in Jordan

May 25, 2016

5 compelling reasons to visit remarkable Rwanda

5 compelling reasons to visit remarkable Rwanda
Nyungwe Forest Lodge view Rwanda - image zoedawes

Rwanda hills

Known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills‘, Rwanda is quite simply one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. Its landscape is captivating, its lush, green hills rolling endlessly across the country, its lakes flooding out across fertile plains, its rivers flowing powerfully through the land and its forests home to some of the most impressive animals on our planet. I spent ten days exploring some of Rwanda and it’s won a place on my Top Ten Countries in the World to See before you Pop your Clogs.

Rwanda - zoedawes

Nestled in the heart of Africa, Rwanda is landlocked, with 23 lakes, many rivers including the mighty Nile and the Congo, five volcanoes, 23 lakes and many mountains and hills. It’s rated as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa and its people are welcoming, warm and friendly. Here are 5 reasons why you should visit Rwanda at least once in your life.

1.  Get close to Mountain Gorillas

Baby gorilla eating bamboo in Rwanda - image zoedawes

Baby gorilla eating bamboo

NOTHING can prepare you for the your first sight of a mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen David Attenborough rolling around with them or John Bishop’s awed whispers, when you finally get to see one, your heart does a happy dance and you feel blessed. Having trekked uphill for some time you are more than ready for one of the best wildlife encounters you’ll ever have. Rwanda is the world’s top destination for seeing mountain gorillas. Living up in the dense bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains, these gentle giants were in danger of extinction, but due to the visionary dedication of Dian Fossey and now the excellent conservation work done on a daily basic, their numbers have stabilised and are starting to grow.

Silverback mountain gorilla in Rwanda - image zoedawes

Read about my memorable encounter with Mountain Gorillas here.

2.  Discover Rwanda’s traditions in a unique village


The sound of a lively group of Rwandans laughing as they parade towards a traditional hut, carrying a bride aloft in the pouring rain is one that will stay with me for a long time to come. In Iby’iwacu Village you can meet poachers-turned-dancers. In a ground-breaking project, the aim is to improve ‘the lives of reformed poachers and communities around Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park through provision of conservation incentives, supporting community enterprise development and livelihood based projects.’  The little guy in the foreground of the video, a member of the Batwa pygmy tribe, used to hunt gorillas and now is Master of Ceremony. You can watch a marriage ceremony, see a ‘witch doctor’ preparing his potions, the grinding of bread and making of pots, all performed in high spirits, whatever the weather!

3.  Explore Rwanda’s lush Montane Rainforest

Nyungwe Rainforest trees Rwanda - image zoedawes

Nyungwe Rainforest

Though much of Rwanda’s ‘montane rainforest has disappeared you can still find the last remnants in the vast Nyungwe National Park, a vast expanse of primary rainforest. With over 1,000 ha, it’s home to over 300 bird species,  numerous orchids and exotic plants, plus 75 mammals including species of 13 primates, about a quarter of all Africa’s primates. During my stay at the luxuriously tranquil tea plantation Nyungwe Forest Lodge, I spent some time exploring a tiny part of this huge area.

Nyungwe Forest Lodge Rwanda - zoedawes

Nyungwe Forest Lodge

I glimpsed energetic colobus monkeys leaping from tree to tree; they come very close to the Lodge most days. There’s a rope walk to experience the forest from on-high and plenty of walks, varying from relatively easy (you need to be quite fit even for these) to strenuous. Waterfalls and rivers flow through sunlit valleys and the sounds of bird call and monkeys screeching adds a sonorous soundtrack to your walk.

In the heart of Nyungwe Montane Rainforest Rwanda - zoedawes

Relaxing in Nyungwe Rainforest

4.  Discover how well Rwanda is recovering from tragedy

Kigali Genocide Memorial grave Rwanda - zodawes

Kigali Genocide Memorial grave Rwanda

1994 is a year that will live in Rwandan memory for generations. The country suffered a horrific genocide as the Hutus carried out mass killings of the Tutsi tribal members and moderate Hutus. The story of this awful time is told in moving imagery and personal accounts in the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are buried. Within its walls, in the heart of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, you will learn the meaning of reconciliation as well as tragedy. Everyone you meet will have been touched by this tragedy, yet Rwandans have worked hard through legal and personal ways to reconcile themselves to what happened and move forward into a better future. With a thriving economy, a vibrant tourist industry and a philosophical approach, the future look very positive for the people of Rwanda.

5.  Make friends wherever you go in Rwanda

Children admiring a camera in Rwanda - zoedawes

Children admiring a camera

Rwanda has to be one of the friendliest countries in Africa. Wherever you go in this beautiful country, people smile, wave and say hello. Not having been too exposed to tourism, the local people retain a friendly curiousity about visitors. If you’re driving across the country, you will have regular opportunities to engage with Rwandans, whether it’s a roadside market, a photo stop or just along the road.

Woman in Kigali Market Rwanda - image zoedawes

Woman in Kigali Market

Everyone seems to be carrying something; with public transport limited, most people walk or cycle everywhere. Elegant women carry balance heavy pots, enormous bunches of bananas or bowls of washing on their heads, men have arms full of wood, bicycles are loaded up with groceries and children lug huge bundles of sticks up steep mountain tracks.

Boy selling fruit by roadside in Rwanda - image zoedawes

Boy selling fruit by roadside

I traveller to Rwanda courtesy of Uber Luxe Safaris, experts in organising tours to this lovely country. You can find out more about holidays in Rwanda here. I’d love to return – and I do hope you get the chance to visit one day.

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Visit Rwanda Pinterest - zoedawes

April 10, 2016

Top 10 places on the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland

Top 10 places on the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland
Dunluce Castle and Giant's Causeway on Irish Coast NI - zoedawes

Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway from Magheracross Viewpoint

It’s not often that a place truly exceeds expectations, is it? Often we’re a bit disappointed, having heard good things about a book, film, restaurant or place, which then struggles to live up to our imagination. The Causeway Coast on Northern Ireland not only exceeded my expectations, it totally blew them away.

Giants Causeway Boot NI - zoedawes

The Giant’s Causeway – Finn MacCool’s Boot

Having recently seen a re-run of an episode of BBC Coast featuring the Giant’s Causeway on the Antrim Coast, I knew it was an interesting coastline, but nothing prepared me for the reality of its spectacular beauty. I spent a long weekend in Northern Ireland, driving from Larne to Bushmills along the famous Causeway Coast. Even on a blustery day, the rain-swept beaches and wave-lashed cliffs had a dramatic beauty, and when the sun came out, this stunning coast simply took my breath away.

Portballintrae Causeway Coast NI - zoedawes

Portballintrae Harbour from the Bay View Hotel

There were so many things to see and do that a weekend was not nearly long enough. However, I did manage to pack a lot in so here are my:

Top 10 places to visit on the Causeway Coast

1.  The Giant’s Causeway

Giants Causeway County Antrim Ireland - zoedawes

The Giant’s Causeway

The hexagonal basalt blocks and columns of the Giant’s Causeway, Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site, are scattered all around. And not just hexagons but four, five, seven and even eight-sided shapes form a jig-saw of geological complexity. Formed about 60 million years ago, it is an astonishing place of myth, mystery and natural wonder. Make sure you take enough time to explore. Join one of the walking tours that start from the excellent Visitor Centre, with its interactive displays, Finn MacCool film and gift shop. The guide points out quirky rock formations such as The Camel, The Giant’s Boot and The Organ, explains how the Giant’s Causeway was formed (volcanic activity) and tells the legend of Finn MacCool. There’s a regular shuttle bus up and down the hill. Wander over the rocks (slippery at times so take care – sturdy shoes recommended) and take a seat to watch nature at her dramatic best.

The Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland - zoedawes

The Giant’s Causeway

I can highly recommend lunch at the Causeway Hotel – the Caesar Salad was delicious.

2. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge on Causeway Coast Ireland - zoedawes

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Not far from the Giant’s Causeway is Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. A narrow network of ropes stretches across a dizzying gulf from the mainland to the rocky outcrop known as Carrick-a-Rede. I must admit I wasn’t really keen to go across (vivid memories of my young son bouncing up and down on a rope bridge across an even bigger drop in New Zealand to make Mummy scream …) but had been persuaded by the encouraging National Trust attendant that it really was very safe. Apparently they replace the bridge every 3 years, and it is certainly much more robust than the single handrope the 18th c fishermen first strung across the water. They were after the abundant Atlantic salmon that swirled around these waters on their annual migration. Once over the bridge (my advice is hold on tight and don’t look down) you can still see a tiny fisherman’s cottage, near to where the salmon fishery was situated. The water is clear with irridescent shades of green and blue; it looks more like a Caribbean island than the UK coast.

The Causeway Coast from Carrick-a-Rede Ireland - zoedawes

The Causeway Coast from Carrick-a-Rede

Thousands of seabirds, including fulmars, kittiwakes, razorbills and guilllemots, wheel and squeal around the islands and cliffs, providing a noisy soundtrack to this unique experience.

3.  Bushmills Distillery

Bushmills Distillery whiskey - Northern Ireland zoedawes

Bushmills Whiskey Tasting

After all the adrenalin rush of Carrick-a-Rede you may need a drink and where better than the world’s oldest whiskey distillery? Bushmills Old Distillery, licensed in 1608) is home to Irish Whiskey at its best. I can say that with a certain degree of authority, having had an extensive whiskey-tasting with Bushmills expert Ben, after a fascinating tour of the distillery. You learn everything about the whiskey-making process, from use of the finest ingredients, through fermentation to distillation (3 times, once more than Scottish whisky), maturation in sherry, port, bourbon and madeira barrels for up to 21 years, and bottling.

Bushmills Distillery whiskey barrels - Northern Ireland zoedawes

Bushmills whiskey barrels –

I was given a bottle of their ‘Distillery Reserve’ 12 year Single Malt – and very fine it is too! Situated in the attractive village of Bushmills, the Distillery is one of the main tourist attractions along the Causeway Coast, and well-worth a visit.

Bushmills Inn Sunday lunch Northern Ireland - zoedawes

Bushmills Inn Carvery

I had an excellent Sunday Lunch (Kilhorne Bay prawns and Irish crayfish followed by roast Tamworth pork and Belted Galloway beef) at the historic Bushmills Inn, a haven of elegant dining.

4.  Rathlin Island

Rathlin Island Harbour seals NI - zoedawes

Rathlin Island Harbour and seals

Take the ferry from popular Ballycastle across the Sea of Moyle to Rathlin Island and slow down … It’s a cliche to say it’s like stepping back in time – but on Rathlin Island it’s a fact. With few inhabitants, even fewer cars, a sleepy harbour, old-fashioned pub, quaint Visitor’s Centre and a hotch-potch of lanes and stone walls, the island appears to be in a sleepy time-warp. I spent a couple of hours exploring the village and surrounding countryside. There are three Lighthouses, one of which, the West Lighthouse, is home to the Rathlin RSPB Seabird Centre. Rathlin is home to Northern Ireland’s largest seabird colony. Puffins, very rare choughs, lapwings and many other birds nest here. Fishing boats still go out every day and the baskets add a colourful note to the scenery.

Fishing creels on Rathlin Island NI - zoedawes

Fishing creels on Rathlin

There are spectacular views back to the Antrim Coast and over to Scotland; the Mull of Kintyre is only 13 miles away. Seals wallow in the shallows Mill Bay and the refreshing air of tranquility is most relaxing.

5.  Portstewart Strand

Portstewart Strand at sunset Northern Ireland - zoedawes

Portstewart Strand at sunset

It is almost impossible to choose a particular beach for this list, as there are so many. From long sandy beaches to tiny rocky bays, the Causeway Coast is a seaside treat. However, watching the sun go down on Portstewart Strand and having a big bowl of moules mariniere at Harry’s Shack was a perfect way to end a day out. Families, couples, dog-walkers, joggers, kite-flyers; it’s popular with all and sundry.

Portstewart at sunset Northern Ireland - zoedawes

Portstewart at sunset

Apparently there are rare orchids amongst the sand-dunes and the National Trust organises regular walks and activities all year round.

6.  Mussenden Temple and Downhill Demesne

Mussenden Temple Downhill Demesne N Ireland - zoedawes

Mussenden Temple

From Portstewart Strand you can see the rounded outline of Mussenden Temple, precariously perched on cliff at the edge of Downhill Demesne (estate). Built for the niece of the 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry, Mussenden Temple was designed as a library and is now a famous landmark on the coast. Downhill House was built by the Earl Bishop, Frederick Hervey, in the 1770s and became derelict in the 20th century. The Demesne includes a walled garden, dovecote and summer house and extensive grounds with beautiful views along the coast.

7.  Hezlett House

Hezlett House Northern Ireland - zoedawes

Hezlett House and the Spanish Chestnut Tree

Going from the landed gentry to more ordinary folk, a short distance from Dowhill Demesne is Hezlett House, in Liffock village. Home to a farming family, the timber-framed, thatched cottage dates back to 1690 and is furnished in a traditional manner. It’s a warren of little rooms and low ceilings and quaint nooks. There’s a collection of marble artefacts from Downhill Demesne in a shed by the garden, where grows a large Spanish Chestnut, known as the ‘Hanging Tree’.

8.  Portrush

Portrush Harbour Northern Ireland - zoedawes

Portrush Resort

Every coast needs a proper seaside resort and Portrush is Northern Ireland’s premier family destination. Here you’ll fnd a lively funfair, plenty of bars and restaurants, lots of shops, a sandy beach, aquarium, cinema and golf course.  I spent a pleasant afternoon wandering around the town with friends, had a Guiness at a waterside pub and an excellent meal at the Mermaid Restaurant overlooking the busy harbour.

9.  Game of Thrones locations

Ballintoy Harbour Game of Thrones location Ireland - zoedawes

Ballintoy Harbour

You will no doubt have heard of, and very possibly watch, the blockbuster TV series, Game of Thrones. What you may not know is that most of it is filmed in Northern Ireland. I took McCombs Game of Thrones Tour to some of the ‘Westeros’ locations; they are quite splendid. OK, I have to admit to never having seen an episode of the series, but that doesn’t matter … honest. You can just enjoy the scenery. My guide Derek was a big fan and explained the significance of each place. We went to Cushenden Cave, birthplace of the Shadow Assassin, charming Ballintoy, where Theon Greyjoy cames back to Pyke Harbour, Larrybane Quarry, scene of Renly’s death and I posed in a cape and sword (well, you have to, don’t you?) and the evocative Dark Hedges, where Arya Stark makes her escape down The Kings Road.

The Dark Hedges - Kings Road - Game of Thrones tour N Ireland - zoedawes

The Dark Hedges- ‘Game of Thrones’ King’s Road

Here I had my photo taken by American tourists who thought I was a TV star … great fun!

10. Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle on Causeway Coast NI - zoedawes

Dunluce Castle

One of the most impressive sights along this impressive coastline is Dunluce Castle, a medieval ruin teetering on the edge of Antrim cliffs. There has been a castle here since the 1200s and this building is documented in 1513. The McQuillans and then MacDonnells owned it until their loss of fortune after the Battle of the Boyne. Dunluce Castle is thought to be the inspiration for Cair Paravel in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. You can get a great shot of the castle and the Giant’s Causeway from Magheracross Viewpoint, and The Skerries and Portrush in the other direction.

The Skerries and Portrush from Magheracross Viewpoint Causeway Coast Northern Ireland - zoedawes

The Skerries and Portrush from Magheracross Viewpoint

I stayed in the Bay View Hotel in pretty Portballintrae, a few minutes’ drive from Dunluce Castle and Bushmills, for the weekend. Many thanks to Trevor, Laura and team for a warm welcome and lovely stay. I can highly recommend their Rathlin whiting and chips; best battered fish I’ve had in a long time!

Portballintrae from Bay View Hotel bedroom

Portballintrae from Bay View Hotel bedroom

I visited Northern Ireland courtesy of Visit Causeway Coast and Glens. They provided a Hertz hire car which meant getting around the area easy and I’m very grateful for their recommendations of places to see, eat and drink. I fell in love with this beautiful area and do hope you get to visit the Causeway Coast someday soon …

Zoe Dawes Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

Zoe at the Giant’s Causeway

March 7, 2016

Baroque Konopiste Castle in the Czech Republic

Baroque Konopiste Castle in the Czech Republic

Konopiste Castle and gardens Czech Republic - zoedawes

Rebuilt on the site of a medieval citadel, the opulent and impressive baroque Konopiste Castle (Konopiště) is in old Bavaria, now the Czech Republic, about 50km SE from Prague. Its most famous owner was Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, who bought it in 1875 when he was 24 years old.  His assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 was to trigger the First World War. Looking rather like a French Chateau, it’s set in a beautiful park with a large lake, lovely Rose Garden, exotic plants in hothouses and extensive Game Reserves in the more remote areas.

Konopiste Castle and grounds map

Konopiste map

If you’re a vegetarian or have a very strong objection to hunting, you may want to admire Konopiste Castle from outside.  Staring down from virtually every inside wall of this beautiful building are the heads of just about every animal ever shot by the Archduke, totalling almost 300,000.   The guide assures you that he was a great conservationist too, but it’s rather difficult to get that side of his character with these trophies all around.  However, I would strongly urge you to take the guided tour of the Konopiste Castle, as it is truly fascinating.

Konospiste Castle Hunting trophies - zoedawes

As well as the Hunting Corridor, there are a number of official and social rooms where important guests were entertained and slept in formal state.  The real highlight of the castle is on the second floor.  The Este Armoury is one of the largest and most valuable collections of weapons in the world, including beautiful Italian pistols and rifles, ornate suits of armour for both horse and rider used in jousting tournaments, with rare linens and other many other intriguing artefacts  collection.

konopiste-chateau-armoury

Konopiste Armoury – photo czechtourism.com

The private chambers of the Archduke and his wife Sofia, including sitting room, dining room and bedrooms are richly furnished with an air of faded elegance.  Photos of the family have a real poignancy when the fate of the couple is known by the visitor.  In addition, there is a lovely chapel, still used on special occasions, with a highly decorated vaulted ceiling, some old stained glass and a somewhat incongruous organ hidden at the back.  The Archduke’s Game Room and Shooting Gallery (not included in the tour when I visited) must have been in constant use during his occupancy, when he wasn’t off in India, Africa or some other far-flung hunting ground.

Konopiste Italian statues - zoedawes

Italian Renaissance sculptures are scattered throughout Konopiste Castle gardens, including a circle of maidens dancing around an urn and a big pond with what appears to a dragon’s head ready to spout water not fire. There was also a rather forlorn black bear prowling around a tatty enclosure; in the past it would have been fair game for the hunters as they roamed wild in the surrounding area till the last century.

Konopiste Castle bear - zoedawes

In front of the castle is a sculpture of a young man armed with a hunting rifle and two dogs straining at the leash.  It’s full of vigour and seems to embody the spirit of this fascinating castle.

Hunter & dogs Konopiste Castle - zoedawes

After all that history and opulence, you must call in to nearby Stara Myslivna Restaurant (unless you’re the aforementioned vegetarian, in which case you might want to eat at the Castle Restaurant.)  Not only is this place a carnivore’s delight, it’s also where all the hunting trophies and related paraphernalia that wouldn’t fit in to the castle, are on display.  Designed in the style of the castle interiors at the time of Franz Ferdinand, it even has a gloriously OTT chandelier made of antlers.

Stara Myslivna Restaurant Bar - Konopiste - czech republic - zoedawes

Stara Myslivna Restaurant

The menu features a very wide selection of game dishes with great names such as the Archduke’s Roasted Wild Game Sausage, the Empress Elisabeth’s Rabbit in Cream Sauce with Bread Dumplings and Franz Joseph’s Roasted Wild Boar with Old Bohemian Red Sauerkraut.  And, if you’re really lucky, you might get the table beneath the bear skin …

I visited Konopiste Castle on a tour organised with Czech Tourism. You can read about my stay in Prague here.

Prague Castle and Vltava River - zoedawes

Prague Castle and Vltava River

February 29, 2016

5 special places in Britain for Mother’s Day

5 special places in Britain for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day

Happy Mother's Day tulips

In the UK the day we now call Mother’s Day, was originally known as Mothering Sundayis a holiday celebrated by Catholic and Protestant Christians in some parts of Europe. It falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent, exactly three weeks before Easter. Wikipedia.  In the UK and Republic of Ireland, Mothering Sunday is celebrated in the same way as Mother’s Day is celebrated in the USA and elsewhere.

Afternoon tea at Betty’s Cafe Tea Tooms in Harrogate

Betty's Tea Rooms Harrogate

Harrogate, a place my Mum loved very much, is an elegant spa town in the heart of Yorkshire,. Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms is a magnet for all lovers of a good cuppa and slice of cake in charming surroundings reminiscent of a bygone age when ladies wore delicate tea dresses and their hair in a chignon. Betty’s opened in 1919 and has flourished ever since, with 5 other tearooms now open around Yorkshire. Try a Fat Rascal (a giant fruity scone topped with almonds and glace cherries), a fondant fancy or go the whole nine yards with their Lady Betty Afternoon Tea in the Imperial Room. Whatever you do, make sure you BOOK a table as Betty’s is VERY popular. Afterwards browse the designer  shops or indulge in the Harrogate Turkish Baths and Spa.

Castell Coch near Cardiff

Castell Coch (illuminated at night) South Castles Historic Sites (Guidebook FC)

Castell Coch at night  www.cadw.gov.wales

Charming Castell Coch (Red Castle) floats above the hills near Cardiff like a Disney Princess’s dream home. Built in the late 19thC for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute on the site of a much older ruin, it was created by architect William Burges, who also designed Bute’s main residence, Cardiff Castle. His brief appears to have been to fulfil his patron’s romantic fantasies about Gothic, so popular in the Victoria era. Wandering through its beautiful, ornate and colourful interior is to step back in time and any Mum with a love of romance and history will love it.

Lavenham village in Suffolk

Lavenham village http://www.discoverlavenham.co.uk/

Lavenham village www.discoverlavenham.co.uk

Said by some to be the most perfect English Village, the black and white timbered buildings of Lavenham evoke a time long gone, though its popularity means that on Mother’s Day it will probably more crowded than its heyday between the 14th C and 16th C. It was the centre of the wool trade and the enormous St Peter and St Paul Church is testimony to the area’s wealth.  With over 300 wonderfully preserved medieval buildings, it’s fascinating to look round and the quaint shops are crammed full of quirkilicious delights. There are lots of pubs, restaurants and cafes; I’ve very happy memories of a Mother’s Day lunch at the 15th C Swan Inn, but everywhere will be busy so if you want to eat out, you may prefer to find a quieter Suffolk village (there are plenty in this area) after you’ve explored Lavenham.

The Burrell Collection in Glasgow

The_Warwick_Vase_from_The_Hadrian's_Villa,_the_Burrell_Collection,_Glasgow Photo Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

The Warwick Vase from Hadrian’s Villa – The Burrell Collection – image Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin

My Mum used to spend hours in the Burrell Collection, set in the middle of Pollock Country Park in a purpose-built building housing an eclectic mix of paintings, furniture, pottery, tapestries, costumes, sculptures, masonry, stained glass and many other treasures. William Burrell (1861-1958) was a rich shipping owner with a passion for diverse artworks from around the world. He donated this major collection to Glasgow on his death. Hutton Castle Dining Room is a reconstruction of his dining room in his own home near Berwick-upon-Tweed. One of Mum’s favourite was the Chinese porcelain; there are everchanging exhibitions as well as the permanent displays.

The Eden Project in Cornwall

The Eden Project Cornwall zoedawes

The Eden Project – Cornwall

If your Mum likes pottering round gardens and admiring the planting, then take her to The Eden Project, an ambitious and description-defying visitor attraction in the depths of Cornish countryside. With its two Biomes and extensive grounds you can spend all day here. The Tropical Biome is used for tropical plants, such as fruiting banana plants, coffee, rubber and giant bamboo, and is kept at a tropical temperature and moisture level. The Mediterranean Biome houses familiar warm temperate and arid plants such as olives and grape vines and various sculptures. The Outdoor Gardens represent the temperate regions of the world with plants such as tea, lavender, hops, hemp and sunflowers, as well as local plant species. Wikipedia The Eden Project has a large performance arena; I saw Paloma Faith in concert at the Eden Project last year. There are various restaurants and cafes, gift shops and for more adventurous mums, a Zipwire to add adrenalin to her Mother’s Day treat!

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