Tag Archives: culture
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!

January 29, 2016

‘Peace of Eden’ in the Bohemian Paradise

‘Peace of Eden’ in the Bohemian Paradise

Gazing up through enormous sandstone walls carved into fluid waves, at the distant branches of enormous trees, it feels as if you’re in another world. A world where dryads, trolls, nymphs, dwarves and elves move unseen yet seeing, observing you from afar, luring you deeper into their universe, where who knows what may happen …

Hruboskalske Rock Town - bohemian paradise - czech republic - zoedawes

Bohemian Paradise, Czech Republic

I’m in Hruboskalske ‘Rock Town’, a sandstone mesa deep within a forested ridge between Hrubá Skála and the town of Turnov, in the Bohemian Paradise (Czeský Ráj). I’m being shown round by Andrew and Linda Philips and their two daughters, who have a holiday home for rent in this beautiful part of the Czech Republic. Within a short drive of ‘Peace of Eden‘, their traditional wood-clad Czech house, is this unique fairy-tale area of impressive rock formations, fortified towers and ancient castles, quaint villages and tranquil countryside.

Trosky castle bohemian paradise - zoedawes

We’d already been to The Old Woman and the Maiden. Trosky Castle, the most significant landmark of this region, is actually two towers, built in the 14th c on twin volcanic peaks which can be seen from far away across the Bohemian Paradise (aka Czech Eden). It’s one of the most popular castles in the Czech Republic and sums up this area’s attraction; historic, imposing, picturesque and yes, most definitely quirky.

Before we’d gone into ‘rock town’ we’d had a quick look round Hrubá Skála, an attractive chateau that’s been remodelled over the centuries and has an eclectic regal appearance.

Hruba Skala Chateau bohemian paradise - zoedawes

Standing on a look-out platform in the castle courtyard, we got a splendid view of the surrounding countryside, with forests, farms and tiny hamlets scattered all about and Trosky Castle in the distance. We spent a fascinating half hour in a gem-stone shop; the owner’s wife makes jewellery from local semi-precious stones. He took great delight in showing us a photo of Sophie, Countess of Wessex, wearing one of their brooches at a Duke Of Edinburgh Awards ceremony in the Czech Republic.

Hruba Skala Gemstone gallery - bohemian Paradise - zoedawes

We entered the ‘Rock Town’ down a flight of narrow steps between sandstone pillars, into a tranquil place of ‘towers’ reaching 55 metres high and straggling trees stretching up to grasp the sunlight above. The sandstone crumbles as you brush past and there are a number of caves, some of which used to be lived in. There is a very poignant memorial to a young boy who was killed falling down into this cavernous world. Emerging from its bosky depths, we followed the main road back to the chateau, passing many Czech families out on bikes and hiking in this popular walking area.

Hiking in Bohemian Paradise - zoedawes

What’s great about staying in Peace of Eden is that you get all the comforts of home after a busy day out; in fact, much greater comfort than my home for sure! Set in over 3 acres of attractive grounds, including a pond and fruit trees, the house has four bedrooms, sleeping up to eight people in cosy comfort.

Peace of Eden holiday home - Czech Republic

www.peaceofeden.co.uk

The kitchen- dining area is luxuriously fitted out with high-spec equipment, utensils and crockery with a traditional wood-burning oven at its heart. The large lounge has deep sofas and armchairs around a wood-burner, beneath an elegant brick-vaulted ceiling. It’s been renovated most sympathetically, keeping as many original features as possible whilst creating a contemporary feel.  My bedroom had a king-size bed and luxurious en-suite bathroom and looked out over the garden and surrounding countryside. There is wifi throughout the house.

Peace of Eden holiday home - czech republic- zoedawes

 You can order fresh bakes and preserves from a neighbouring farmer and in nearby Turnov there is a Lidl supermarket for most other shopping needs.

You need a spirit of adventure to make the most of your stay in the Bohemian Paradise. Tourism is in its infancy here and this part of the Czech Republic gets fewer overseas visitors than Prague (only 1.5 hours away). A car is necessary; with a SatNav it’s fairly easy to get about. Many signs, directions, menus etc are only in Czech so bring along a dictionary/phrase book and you shouldn’t have a problem. We had lunch one day in quaint Restaurant Bouckuv in Mala Skala; Andrew had got the menu translated for us so it was easy to order. I can highly recommend the venison goulash …

Restaurant Bouckuv Mala Skala - Czech Republic - zoedawes

Our final excursion was to imposing Kost, one of the best-preserved Gothic castles in Bohemia, surrounded by ponds which acted as defensive protection in the 14th c. Unfortunately, it was closed on the day we visited so we had to make do with admiring it from the outside. Aparently it has a macabre medieval torture chamber and an impressive collection of weaponry. Beside the castle is a footpath which leads into the Plakánek Trail, lined with massive sandstone rocks and home to a variety of birds and other wildlife. (Plakánek means ‘The Weeper’ and there are many legends about why is it called that, but according to the excellent Czeský Ráj information booklet, it was actually because charcoal burners got an eye-disease caused by the smoke from their fires.)

Kost Plakanek Trail Czech Republic

As we wandered along the valley, autumn sun filtered in and out of the clouds, lighting up the myriad of coloured leaves, shading from green to gold, amber to crimson, orange to yellow. The girls found a large frog croaking its way into the leaf litter and birds carolled through the canyon.

Plakanek Valley Trail czech republic - zoedawes

This is the Bohemian Paradise Protected Region, due to its unique natural beauty and historical sights. You may not have heard of it before, but now that you have, I hope you get to visit one day. There are very many other cultural attractions and excellent for mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. It is a very special part of Europe with an unspoilt character that invites exploration at your leisure.

Zoe Dawes Kost Castle Czech Republic

Many thanks to the Philips family for their generous hospitality and for giving me a glimpse of this romantic region of the Czech Republic. Find out more about Peace of Eden holiday home and booking availability here. Follow them on Twitter @peaceofedencz and on Facebook PeaceofEdenCZ.

Peace of Eden holiday home wesbite

www.peaceofeden.co.uk

December 31, 2015

Top travel experiences of the year

Top travel experiences of the year

Kempinski Ishtar Hotel Dead Sea Jordan - image zoedawesIt’s the end of the year and, along with many others, I’ve been looking back over the past 12 months and reflecting on all that has happened. On a personal level it was a big year as my son finished school and started university in Liverpool, so much of the time seemed to be spent nagging him to revise. I was also redesigning my training and coaching business zoedawes.com to focus on the tourism, hospitality and creative sectors. But there was time for some top travel trips and very special memories in 2015.  Here are my favourites; some unsual ideas for your own holiday next year..

Top travel experiences of the year

Getting up close and personal with grizzly bears in British Columbia

Grizzly bear cubs Knight Inlet BC Canada - zoedawes

I have never experienced anything like it. To go grizzly bear watching and get within a few metres of these huge, furry beasts as they make their way along the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest is truly wonderful. I can still picture the misty, rain-dappled waters of Knight Inlet and see powerful paws delicately turning over stones to find tasty morsels hidden below. With highly knowledgeable, friendly guides, a variety of transport modes, clothing, equipment and excellent meals all provided by Knight Inlet Bear Lodge, there is really nothing to think about except enjoying every moment.

Gary and Zoe Knight Inlet Lodge BC Canada

Being without internet connection and far from ‘civilisation’ is also a great for a ‘digital detox’; much needed in this day and age. If you love wildlife, the outdoors and bears this will be perfect.

Finally visiting Petra and floating in the Dead Sea, Jordan

Petra from Siq Jordan - zoedawes

In Autumn this year I fulfilled TWO life-long ambition on a memorable trip to Jordan. I first saw a picture of Petra and of somone floating in the sea reading a newspaper when I was a child. Since then I have wanted to experience both., but had no idea they would both be possible in the same country – Jordan. The ancient city of Petra didn’t disappoint, being much bigger and more impressive than expected. The Dead Sea was very different. The whole area is now a big resort with large modern hotels catering for holidaymakers from Jordan and further afield. It has the air of a posh Blackpool, though many of the hotels were half empty due to the current situation in the Middle East. We stayed in great luxury at the Kempinksi Ishtar Hotel (NINE swimming pools!). ‘Swimming’ in the Dead Sea is a highly organised activity, with help in covering yourself in mud (very gloopy) and floating for a few minutes. It’s very difficult to stay upright and the water stings like crazy if you get it in your eyes. But I did it and have the photo to prove it!

Floating in the Dead Sea Jordan - zoedawes

There are many other sights to see in Jordan, we had no problems in Jordan and I would highly recommend visiting now, subject to the usual Foreign Office advice.

Discovering British Royal Heritage on first trip to Germany

House of Hannover - Marienburg Castle

Have you been to Germany? I hadn’t until this year, when I went to explore sites relating to the Hanoverian royal family. I stayed in Hanover (Hannover)  which is only a short flight from the UK and a very buzzy city. Highlights of the Lower Saxony trip included the baroque beauty of Herrenhausen Gardens, historic Celle with its beautiful castle and medieval town, beautiful Buckeburg Castle and a guided tour of charming Marienburg Castle.

New Town Hall Hanover Germany - zoedawes

If you’re looking for a weekend break with a difference, pop over to Hanover and you’ll discover a city of vibrant culture, relaxed night life, good food and drink in a historic region with very regal connections.

International Happy New YearWherever you are and whatever you do, have a VERY Happy New Year full of quirky travel and much joy.

December 7, 2015

5 must-see historic sights in Jordan

5 must-see historic sights in Jordan

The most famous site in Jordan is undoubtedly the breath-takingly lovely ancient city of Petra, magnet for visitors from around the globe, but on a recent visit to this wonderfully diverse country, I discovered many other world-class sights. Here are 5 places that will appeal to any lovers of history, art and beauty.

Amman – Ancient Philadelphia

Amman Roman Theatre Jordan - zoedawes

Roman Theatre

The capital of Jordan, Amman is a beige mish-mash of busy highways, modern skyscrapers, ugly office blocks and higgledy-piggledy housing, where charm needs to be searched out. The jewel in its historical crown is the Lower City, where picturesque streets and old markets can still be seen. However, it’s the ruins of venerable Roman Philadelphia that attracted us. The huge Theatre, built in the 2nd c AD, seating 6,000 spectactors, is still used for public performances and from the top there’s a great view of Amman. Bedside the main amphitheatre is the intimate Odeum, a well-preserved structure that seats an audience of up to 500. Our guide, Burhan, made sure we visited the Museum of Folk Tradition, housed in the original entrance to the theatre.

Museum of Costume and Jewellery Amman Jordan - zoedawes

Museum of Folk Tradition

It has a delightful collection local costumes, attractive jewellery and artworks from around Jordan. I particularly liked the silver necklaces and face masks, embroidered dresses and mosaic fragments from Madaba, dating back to the 5th c AD. Towering over the Theatre is the Citadel, originally the acropolis of the city.

Amman Roman Citadel Jordan - photo zoedawes

Temple of Hercules

It has the remains of the Temple of Hercules and a huge hand from a massive statue. There’s also an excellent Archaeological Museum, with some of the oldest ‘human’ statues ever found.

Madaba – City of Mosaics

Madaba Church of St George Jordan - photo zoedawes

Church of St George

Known as Medba in the Bible, Madaba is renowned for its many churches, the floors, walls and ceilings of which are decorated with intricate mosaics. The first to be discovered in recent times is on the floor of the Greek-Orthodox Church of St George. ‘The mosaic panel enclosing the Map was originally around 15.6 x 6m, 94 sq.m., only about a quarter of which is preserved.’  It’s a map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, dating back to the time of Emperor Justinian (527 – 56 AD) and is belived to be the oldest map in the world.

Madaba Map of the Holy Land Jordan - photo zoedawes

Map of the Holy Land

It was probably designed for the benefit of pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land; surviving fragments include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. What amazed us most was how close you can get to it; there is just a little rope surrounding it, over which you can lean to take photos!

Jerash – Roman Gerasa

The Roman Arch of Triumph Jerash Jordan - zoedawes

The Arch of Triumph

I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of Jerash (ancient Gerasa), yet it is acknowledged as one of the most impressive Roman ‘provincial towns’ in the world. It’s easy to see why. The enormous Arch of Triumph, erected in AD 129 in honour of Emperor Hadrian’s visit, sets the tone for this trip back in time to Rome’s heyday in Jordan. Wandering past the Hippodrome you can almost hear the chariots racing round the track to the cheering crowds. Through the South Gate, you pass the Temple of Zeus and onwards to the large, elegant colonnaded horse-shoe of The Forum. With few tourists around during our visit, it was easy to get a feel for the splendour of this site.

Jerash Forum and modern city Jordan - photo zoedawes

Jerash Forum and Cardo Maximus

The main artery of Jerash is the Cardo Maximus, a paved road flanked by mighty columns decorated with agapanthus leaves. Some lie toppled where they fell hundreds of years ago, adding to the sense of history and myth. I loved the Nymphaeum, which must have looked wonderful when the fountains were in full spate. Hiking up to the South Theatre we were intrigued to hear the incongrous sound of bagpipes drifting across the ruins. Inside the Orchestra area were two guys in Jordanian army uniform, playing their hearts out in the midday sun.

Musicians Jerash Theatre Jordan - zoedawes

Theatre musicians

We chatted to them; it turns out they are retired soldiers who do this all summer to entertain the tourists. They’ve even performed at the Edinburgh Tatoo! Very quirky and unexpected …

Salt – Abu Jabber House Museum

Abu Jabber House - Salt Museum - Jordan - photo zoedawes

Salt Museum of Archaeology and Folklore, opposite the town centre Mosque, is a little gem. Opened in 2010, Abu Jabber House is a traditional Jordanian dwelling where the first King of Jordan stayed. Salt (Al Salt) is thought to have been built during the reign of Alexander the Great and has a strong historical past. Salt’s heyday was in the late 19th century when traders arrived from Nablus to expand their trading network eastwards beyond the Jordan River. As a result of the influx of newcomers this period saw the rapid expansion of Salt from a simple peasant village into a town with many architecturally elegant buildings, many built in the Nablusi style from the attractive honey-coloured local stone. A large number of buildings from this era survive. Wikipedia

Salt street market jordan - zoedawes

Salt street scene

The museum is home to a number of old artefacts, a recreation of a school-room, traditional Bedouin costumes and a model of the town as it used to be. The curator is very enthusiastic about Salt’s latest attraction and spent a great deal of time explaining its history. On a wall in one of the elegant upper rooms is a series of photos of the Kings of Jordan. This country is very proud of its Heshemite ruling family; there are pictures of King Abdullah II and his wife, Queen Rania in public places all over the country.

Salt Museum Kings of Jordan - zoedawes

Kings of Jordan

River Jordan – Baptism Site

Last but most definitely not least, the Baptism Site (Bethabara – Place of Passage) at the River Jordan. This is by far and away the most significant religious site in this part of the Middle East. There was some dispute over which side of the River Jordan was the ‘genuine’ site, but in 2015 ‘UNESCO weighed in on the rivalry, designating Jordan’s baptismal area on the eastern bank a World Heritage site. The UN cultural agency declared this month that the site “is believed to be” the location of Jesus’ baptism, based on what it said is a view shared by most Christian churches.’ 

Baptism mosaic River Jordan - zoedawes

Baptism mosaic

En route to the site itself is a newly created path that leads to the Chapels that have been built over the centuries and to the impressive (newly erected) Church of St John the Baptist with some interesting icons and murals plus some fairly tacky souvenirs and vials of ‘Holy Water’ taken from the rivulet nearby that is all that is left of the original River Jordan.

Church of St John the Baptist

Church of St John the Baptist

The river is a narrow muddy place with a covered pavilion on the site of an ancient chapel. On the opposite side (Palestine) is a much more elaborate complex with many pilgrims immersing themselves totally into the water. You can almost touch those on the other side and there is a feeling of great harmony as people of all races and creeds smile over the water and take photos of each other. Whilst we were there, a group of British visitors were celebrating the Baptism Service in the most appropriate place on earth.

Baptism site at the River Jordan zoedawes

The Baptism Site at the River Jordan

At the time of publication Jordan has the same safety rating as Canada, United States, China and Germany and has fewer tourists at present so it’s a great time to go. Many thanks to our knowledgeable guide Burhan and Visit Jordan for inviting us to experience Jordan, a country beyond expectations. Check out their website for more information on what to see, where to stay and when to go.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...