Tag Archives: food
November 22, 2016

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia

A rippa of a day in Margaret River, Australia
Canoeing on Margaret River Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Canoeing on the Margaret River

“It’s a rippa of a day. Hope you’re enjoying yourselves. It’s so beautiful here and hardly anyone ever does this.” Apparently ‘a rippa of a day‘ means ‘absolutely fantastic’, ‘here‘ is Margaret River, after which the nearby town is named, in Western Australia, and ‘this‘ is canoeing along the river. We’d just had a brief rain shower and now the weather was clearing as we paddled slowly along the wide and tranquil stretch of water. The roots of huge trees entangled the shores and their tops towered over us, swaying gently in the breeze. I was in a canoe with our guide for the day, Sean Blocksidge, who runs the Margaret River Discovery Company and food blogger Niamh Shields. Also on our tour were a honeymoon couple from Australia and another couple from America.

Paddling canoe on the Margaret River, Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Paddling our canoes

After our canoe trip, we went to the waterfall on Margaret River, in full spate due to an exceptionally wet winter. We sat down beside it and Sean explained its significance to local Aboriginal people as a tribal camp ground. He’d brought along some bread and three types of honey for us to try. “This is honey-gold. It’s called Karri, from the local Karri tree [eucalyptus diversicolor], which grows round here. It has strong healing properties and is highly valued.” They all tasted good but this one was a real winner.

Karri honey at Margaret River waterfall Western Australia

Karri Honey

We headed off in Sean’s 4X4 to Prevelly for a quick coffee at the White Elephant Cafe and to have a look at one of the area’s premier surfing beaches, Gnarabup. This area had also been hit by big storms so the weather was unseasonably cold and wet. Even so, we could appreciate it and see why, in the summer months, it is one of the most popular places not just for surfing but also to relax and enjoy this lovely coastline.

Gnarabup Beach Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Gnarabup Beach

Having been refreshed, we set off to explore some of area’s countryside and Sean regaled us with tales of his life and local history. including the horrific bush fire of 2011 that destroyed a vast swathe of the area. Luckily no-one was injured, but one of Western Australia’s oldest homes, Wallcliffe House, built in 1865, was gutted. It was an important example of early colonial architecture and home to one of WA’s finest collections of antique furniture. Driving on through the lush countryside, we passed dozens of vineyards. Margaret River is famous the world over for the quality of its wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonney but increasingly for other, lesser known wines and blends. With its consistent growing seasons, mild winter, pleasant summer, good rainfall and fertile soil, it is home to over 150 wineries – and the number is growing.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling Margaret River WA

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling

The previous day, Niamh and I had experienced an excellent Wine and Food Tasting at the Leeuwin Estate, one of the five founding wineries in Margaret River. Not only do they produce superb wines but they have a unique collection of modern art, which they use for the labels on their very distinctive Art Series wines. (Watch out for more in my next article on Food and Drink in Western Australia.)

Fraser Gallop Estate Margaret River Western Australia

Fraser Gallop Estate

Now we were visiting Fraser Gallop Estate, an up and very much coming winery that’s already producing some distinctive award-winning wines. Francine Davies showed us round. “The Fraser Gallop Estate winery is custom designed to process a maximum capacity of 300 tonnes of grapes, particularly designed in layout and size for the fermentation of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Semillon Sauvignon Blanc blends.” We then had an informal lunch of local food, including octopus, duck and chicken liver pate, smoked trout and venison chorizo. Sean explained each wine and we sipped glass after glass with much relish. A big favourite was the splendid 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, “Just suck it up,” said Sean in typical Aussie fashion – and we did! NB: this estate is not usually open for public visits.

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate - Margaret River - Western Australia - collage zoedawes

Wine-tasting at Fraser Gallop Estate

After such a hedonistic lunch, it was time to get some fresh air and we headed back to the coast. The Cape to Cape Track is a 135km route beside the Indian Ocean  from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste, past dramatic seascapes and pristine beaches, along undulating paths. We parked up and set off a steady pace, walking through a vibrant patchwork of plants, shrubs and trees. This part of Australia is known for its wild flowers and in spring they burst with colour and scent. (We were visiting in October, the perfect time to see them.) Beneath us waves crashed against the shore and overhead seabirds wheeled. Sean told us to look out for migrating whales; we saw none, possibly due to the stormy weather. Sea spray brought the zing of ozone and the ocean was dappled with sunlight.

Spring flowers on Cape to Cape Track Margaret River - Western Australia - photo zoedawes

Cape to Cape Track Margaret River

After about an hour we had to turn round, but not before Sean had taken a photo of each of us perched on a rock above the cliffs. Windblown and happy, we then returned to the vehicle, making the most of our time out in this glorious scenery. Back in the town of Margaret River, Niamh and I said goodbye to Sean, who suggested we drive to a road near where we were staying, to see kangaroos having their evening meal. Here they are …

Kangaroos at Margaret River

We stayed at Basildene Manor near the town of Margaret River. This beautiful boutique hotel was built by Percy Willmott, a lighthouse keeper at Cape Leeuwin, in 1912. He created a splendid home resembling a relative’s grand country estate in England. It’s welcoming, luxurious and delightfully quirky, with lovely grounds and truly scrumptious home-made cakes.

Basildene Manor Margaret River Western Australia

Basildene Manor

I travelled to Perth, Fremantle, Rottnest Island and Margaret River courtesy of Tourism Western Australia #justanotherdayinWA and would like to thank everyone, including a great bunch of fellow bloggers, who made this such a memorable adventure.

Zoe Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller on the Cape to Cape Track - Margaret River - Western Australia

Happy memories …

More about my trip to Western Australia: Rottnest Island in search of the quirky quokka and Top Places to Eat and Drink in Fremantle.

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The Quirky Traveller Top Tips for Margaret River - Western Australia

September 20, 2016

Enjoy 24 hours in Calgary, Alberta

Enjoy 24 hours in Calgary, Alberta
Calgary Stampede Sign - image zoe dawes

Calgary Stampede Sign

The large red sign on the highway summed it all up; ‘Horses always have Right of Way. It’s a Stampede Thing’. The Calgary Stampede is Calgary’s USP. Billed as the Largest Outdoor Show on Earth, it attracts over 2.5 million visitors every July (plus lots of horses) and brings a wild-west tang to the city. Originally a small agricultural fair started in 1886 to promote Calgary and lure farmers to move from west to east, it quickly grew in popularity. The exhilarating covered-wagon races were a huge draw in the 1920s and still attract big crowds today.

Covered Wagon exhibit in BMO Centre Calgary Stampede Park - image zoe dawes

Covered Wagon exhibit – BMO Centre

I was in Calgary just a week before this epic festival kicked off and the whole city was ablaze with all things Stampede-related. It was the final day of our Canadian RV Road Trip through British Columbia and Alberta from Vancouver via the Rocky Mountains. We’d left the iconic mountains to cross the ‘endless’ prairies, so very flat after the spectacular ups and downs of the majestic Rockies. The sun shone and the heat increased as we reached Calgary, the sunniest city in Canada.

Cruise Canada RV Calgary

Cruise Canada Calgary

My fellow traveller, photographer Alison Bailey, and I had driven our Cruise Canada RV (Recreational Vehicle = motor-home), nicknamed Rocky in honour of our route, over 3,000km and were very pleased to have arrived in Calgary, not only unscathed, but having had an absolutely wonderful trip. We dropped Rocky off at the Cruise Canada RV depot on the outskirts of the city and had 24 hours to explore Calgary before we returned home to the UK.

Calgary City Centre Alberta - photo zoe dawes

Calgary City Centre

We stayed overnight at the Lakeview Signature Inn, close to the airport. Our comfortable suite of rooms seemed very luxurious after 2 weeks in our RV (though I am a total convert to motorhome travel now). The helpful receptionist gave us a map and suggested we got the C-Train (Light Railway) into the city centre, where we could see all the main sites within a fairly small area. Skyscrapers soared above the Alberta prairies as we got nearer, crossing the Bow River, which we’d last seen winding sinuously through Banff in the heart of the Rockies. We got off the train near the Town Hall and headed to the Calgary Tower, which my guide book said was home to the Tourist Information Centre.

Calgary Tower - image zoe dawes

 Not any more. It’s a dedicated tourist attraction, selling tickets to whiz you up 190m, 62 floors, in just over minute, but no sign of the Tourism Office. Never mind; Calgary city centre is built on the classic North American grid system so it’s very easy to get around. Everyone seems to gravitate towards Stephen Avenue, a pleasant walkway, lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and some attractive older buildings.

Stephen Avenue Calgary Albert - photo zoe dawes

Stephen Avenue

 The Tourist Information Office is now situated on Macleod Trail and they suggested visiting the Glenbow Museum, on the corner of Stephen Avenue. It’s one of Canada’s largest museums and hosts a number major temporary exhibitions as well as having over 20 permanent galleries. They chart the history of Canadian West with First Nation exhibits, with a special section on the Blackfoot people and displays from the 19thC pioneering era. It’s also home to contemporary art and militaria from around the world. Or so the marketing blurb says; unfortunately it was closed the day we visited …

Glenbow Museum Calgary - Alberta - photo zoe dawes

You might imagine, in a place famous for its ‘frontier’town’ atmosphere, there would be ‘cowboys’ sporting stetsons all over the city. No. There were plenty of people dressed for work in shirt sleeves, dresses, suits and more casual tourists, but hardly a stetson in sight. I saw one guy on the train; that was it. However, we were told that as soon as the Calgary Stampede started, “everyone thinks they’re a cowboy” and everyone dresses up. But fear not, you can buy the iconic headgear on street stalls and shops all over Calgary, with prices varying from a few dollars to much more, depending on the quality of the hat.

Stetson stall Calgary - photo zoe dawes

Stetsons for sale

As the sun sank down behind the skyscrapers, we decided to have a meal in town before returning to our hotel. We chose Milestones on Stephen Avenue, as it was Happy Hour and their cocktails looked great. I can highly recommend their Original Bellini; very colourful and moreish. We had a selection of small bites including crisply perfect Asian Chicken Bites, followed by Steak Frites; melt-in-the-mouth fillet steak, golden Parmesan fries, delicate buttermilk onion rings and truffle aioli. Perfect meal for our last night in Canada.

Meal at Milestones Calgary - photo zoe dawes

Milestones meal

The next morning we checked out of our hotel, leaving our luggage to be collected after lunch. We got the C-Train back into Calgary, where we split up. I wanted to visit two major sights, whilst Ali wanted to do some photography. I got another train to Stampede Park, home to the famous festival, which was gearing up for opening the following week. I wandered into the BMO Centre (Bank of Montreal) where I found a perfect little gem of a museum; the Grain Academy. Volunteer and enthusiastic raconteur Gordon showed me round the quaint exhibition which tells the history and importance of grain to Canada and the rest of the world. There’s a very big model railway showing the journey of grain from the Alberta prairies through the Rockies to Vancouver. (If you travel through this part of Canada you can’t miss the VERY long trains transporting this valuable commodity for global distribution.)

Grain Academy Painting - Calgary

Grain Academy Mural

On the main corridor outside the Grain Academy is the wonderful Calgary Stampede ‘Parade of Posters‘. There is one poster from almost every year since 1912 to the present day. Not only does it give a fascinating summary of the way the show has grown over the decades, but it also illustrates the history of art and poster making.

Historic Calgary Stampede Posters - photo zoe dawes

The most famous is the 1923 poster. The sketch of a cowboy on a bucking bronc by Edward Borein, called I See U was designed vertically so the poster would fit on a telephone pole. This image has been immortalised in an electrifying bronze sculpture at the entrance to the Park.

I See You - bronze sculpture Calgary Stampede Park - photo zoedawes

‘I See You’ sculpture

There’s a really excellent Art Trail which takes you round all the Public Art works on display here. They illustrate the history of Alberta and reflect an aspect of Canada’s heritage in an original and entertaining way. ‘By the Banks of the Bow’ is one of the biggest sculptures in North America.

There are a number of stadiums which host events and entertainment. You can visit the Stampede Ground any time of the year.

By the Banks of the Bow sculpture - Stampede Park Calgary - photo zoe dawes

‘By the Banks of the Bow’ sculpture and Saddledome

The last place I went to was Fort Calgary, It was built by the North West Mounted Police in 1875 due to its strategic position where the Bow and Elbow Rivers meet. Reconstructed in modern times, Fort Calgary now houses an award-winning interpretative centre telling the story of Calgary and its pioneering past. There are some interesting recreations including a carpenter’s workshop. I didn’t have time to walk beside the river, but it looks like a nice way to end your day.

Fort Calgary and Colonel McLeod statue - photo zoe dawes

Fort Calgary and Colonel McLeod statue

Ali and I met up for a quick bite to eat; we only had time to grab a sandwich from a street cafe, before we got the C-Train back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and headed off to the airport. Even though we’d only had 24 hours in Calgary, we’d managed to get a really good feel for this vibrant, historic city of contrasts.

Cocktails at Milestones Calgary - zoe dawes

Cheers from Ali and Zoe

I travelled to Calgary as a guest of Destination Canada on the Travelator Media RV Road Trip from Vancouver to Montreal. More articles about our trip:

The Quirky Traveller – Top 10 Memorable Moments from a Canada Road Trip

Travel with Kat – The Sunshine Coast

On the LuceWaterfront Toronto

Heather on her TravelsA perfect day in Montreal

Watch out for more articles on this amazing adventure across Canada.

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Calgary in 24 hours - zoe dawes

 

August 16, 2016

Quirky Travel Guide: top things to do on Aruba

Quirky Travel Guide: top things to do on Aruba
Eagle Beach and Palapa Tree Aruba - image zoedawes

Eagle Beach and Palapa Tree

Famous for its white sands and sunshine, Aruba is popular with couples, honeymooners, families and visitors of all ages looking for a relaxing holiday or action-packed break. Just off the coast of Venezuela in what was formerly known as the Dutch Antilles, Aruba has more sun than most other Caribbean islands and many visitors return year after year. I spent a relaxing week exploring the island with a group of fellow bloggers, soaking up its friendly, lively atmosphere. Yes, there are lots of gorgeous, sandy beaches on Aruba but there are plenty of activities if you fancy a change from sunbathing.

Fun things to do on Aruba

Aruba #onehappyisland - Baby Beach

Aruba #onehappyisland

With international resorts, year-round festivals and sport competitions, a wide range of restaurants and bars, many tours and activity centres, an intriguing history, unique natural landscape and a vibrant night-life, there really is something to suit every age and taste.

Watersports and Boat Trips

Kitesurfing on Palm Beach Aruba - zoedawes

Kitesurfing on Palm Beach

Refreshing breezes blow most days (and sometimes much stronger winds) making Aruba a windsurfer’s delight. The Windsurfing World Championships were being held whilst we were there and it was wonderful to see both windsurfers and kitesurfers whizzing across – and above – the water like enormous seabirds. My fellow travellers had a go at stand-up Paddle Boarding with Dennis Martinez of Aruba Surf and Paddle School and did very well, especially as a rainstorm hit just as they were getting into their stride. (Turns out the island has been suffering a drought and more rain fell in that half hour than in the past 18 months. It was the only rain we saw all week.) Frigate birds and pelicans add an exotic touch to the scene.

Aruba Paddle boarding on Aruba - zoedawes

Paddle Boarding lesson

Swimming on Aruba is a joy, as is snorkelling. I’ve never seen so many colourful fish. Irridescent pink and purple, lime green, zingy yellow, scarlet, apricot, sapphire … stripes, spots, splodges … opalescent scales glimmer and flicker in the shadows. Drifting slowly over a coral reef is to enter another world of rainbow silence. I went snorkelling over the wreck of the WWII warship SS Antilla during our Jolly Pirates Boat Trip along the coast of Aruba.

Jolly Pirates Boat trips Aruba - zoedawes

Jolly Pirates Boat trips

You could try SNUBA, an underwater breathing system that combines snorkelling and swimming. There are many Diving Schools with expert tuition for every level from beginner to advanced and other watersports include wakeboarding, kayaking and paragliding.

De Palm Island - Aruba - image zoedawes

De Palm Island

On De Palm Island, not far from the airport, you can try their underwater Sea Trek and Power Snorkelling and lots of other activities, with plenty to keep children happy. I braved the Banana Boat – never again! I much preferred lying back on one of the sun loungers …)

Off-road Safari Tours

De Palm Tours 4x4 Safari Aruba

De Palm Tours Land Rover Adventure

One of the most popular ways to see the island is on a 4×4 Safari Tour. We did the half-day Natural Pool Land-Rover Adventure with De Palm Tours. They pick-up from all the major hotels in downtown Oranjestad up to Palm Beach; check time and place so you don’t miss the start like we did! Travelling in convoy with four other vehicles our tour included California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, Wariruri Beach, Bushiribana Gold Mill and and the ruins of Natural Bridge, which had been the largest natural bridge in the Caribbean until storms destroyed it in 2005.

Aruba De Palm Tours 4x4 Safari - collage zoedawes

Adventure Safari Sites

The final stop is the Natural Pool. After a breath-taking bumpy ride over the rocks and sand dunes of Arikok National Park, we walked down a long flight of steps to a large rock pool on the north coast. It is not quite as idyllic as it may sound as there were many other tours at the same time. You’re given a snorkel and life-jacket and enter the pool in a big group; it’s difficult to enjoy the fish when you’re worried about being being kicked by a nearby swimmer. I’m assured that going early in the morning or later in the afternoon you can avoid the crowds and then it is no doubt lovely.

Natural Pool Aruba - photo zoedawes

The Natural Pool

 

Arikok National Park

One of the surprises on Aruba is how dry it is. Due to its southerly position, it has much less rain than some other Caribbean islands, meaning it’s a hot, sunny destination all year round. In Arikok National Park, which comprises 20% of the Aruba’s surface area, you can see examples of the island’s geology, flora and fauna. They include rattlesnakes, lizards, iguana, many exotic birds, cactii of all shapes and sizes, the wind-hewn divi-divi tree, aloes and wild flowers.

Arikok National Park Guide Aruba

Guide in Arikok National Park

Book a guide to make the most of your time and to learn more about the park. There are also historic sites including 1000 year-old cave paintings by the Caquetio Indians. The island’s oldest cactus (150 years) towers over other spiky monsters and in the restored adobe farmhouse bats flitter across the ceiling.

Adobe farmhouse and divi-divi tree Arikok National Park Aruba - image zoedawes

Adobe Farmhouse and Divi-divi Tree

 

The Bon Bini Festival

Every Tuesday evening there’s a lively show in the courtyard of Fort Zoutman, the oldest building in Oranjestad. Now home to Aruba’s historical museum, the Fort was built in 1798 by the Dutch and is the oldest building in the capital. A cheery compere introduces local singers and folk dancers, along with marching bands and there’s a wonderfully informal Carnival Parade complete with sparkly costumes and splendidly ornate head-dresses.

Aruba Bon Bini Festival - collage zoedawes

Bon Bini Festival

The audience is mainly tourists but on the evening I was there, the compere shone the spotlight on one of the island’s Ministers, casually dressed, enjoying the show with friends. He looked quite embarrassed to be picked out but smiled and waved to the crowd.

Fort Zoutman in Ornajestad Aruba

Fort Zoutman

Fort Zoutman Museum is well-worth visiting during the day. It has some interesting Aruban art and exhibits covering the early history and development of the island, including the story of weaving and hat-making. If you ask, it is possible to get up on the roof, where there’s a great view of Oranjestad and its charming Dutch Colonial buildings from the Clock Tower.

Oranjestad, capital of Aruba

Oranjestad, capital of Aruba

Eating Out

Sitting at a table on the beach, cocktail in hand, silky-soft sand between your toes, watching the sun go down as you wait for your dinner, being serenaded by the resident singer … what’s not to like?

Passions on the Beach cocktail - Aruba - image zoedawes

Cocktail on Eagle Beach

This is the dining experience offered by Passions on the Beach, a restaurant on famous Eagle Beach, just one of the many excellent eating-out experiences to be had on Aruba. Whilst we there, we saw a wedding on the beach; perfect place to tie the knot.

Celebrating wedding on Eagle Beach - Aruba

Celebrating marriage on Eagle Beach

Another great place to eat is the quirkily named Screaming Eagle Restaurant.  As well as indoor and outdoor dining you can be pampered with a ‘Dinner-in-bed’ experience on their very comfortable lounge beds. I had the best food on the island here. Chef Erwin Hüsken serves a superb variety of French-fusion cuisine. The Caribbean Journal voted Screaming Eagle the #1 Restaurant in the Caribbean on their Top 50 list for 2015.

Screaming Eagle dishes Aruba

Food photography by Screaming Eagle Restaurant

Other places I ate at include Moomba Beach Bar on Palm Beach (delicious seafood chowder), Papillon Restaurant in the Village Mall near Palm Beach (salty oysters),  Seasalt Grill in the Renaissance Marina Mall, Oranjestad (tasty Caribbean and seafood dishes), Pinchos Grill & Bar on Surfside Beach (super steak and grilled fish) and for breakfast and great pastries, Huchada Bakery in Santa Cruz.

Huchada Bakery in Santa Cruz, Aruba - image zoedawes

Breakfast – and more – at Huchada Bakery

Top of the Caribbean dining experiences for me was lunch at The West Deck on Governor’s Beach. Set on a wooden deck overlooking the sea and airport, it’s very popular with locals and tourists. Informal and fun, they serve freshly-caught fish, shrimp, crab and lobster as well as chicken and steak cooked simply with a strong Caribbean influence.

Oh yes, there are pelicans too …

Pelican at The West Deck Aruba - image zoedawes

Pelican at The West Deck

Aruba Travel Facts

I travelled to Aruba with KLM, which flies daily from UK airports via Schiphol Airport. I stayed at the luxurious Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, which has a great roof-top pool overlooking Oranjestad Marina. The hotel has excellent amenities but its unique attraction is the Renaissance Aruba Private Island. You get there by launch from INSIDE the hotel lobby and it’s home to the island’s only flamingos. It truly is a little piece of Caribbean paradise.

Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Private Island - image zoedawes

Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Private Island

If you’d like to find out more, visit Aruba website and follow their hashtags #discoveraruba and #onehappyisland on Social Media. Special thanks to our host Amayra Boekhoudt, who looked after us on behalf of Aruba Tourism with kindness and good humour all week.

Lunch at The West Deck Aruba

Lunch at The West Deck with our host Amayra

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Quirky Travel Guide - fun things to do on Aruba

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!

February 16, 2016

Tasty fun at Kendal Festival of Food

Tasty fun at Kendal Festival of Food

Kendal Food and Drink Festival 16

“We’re so excited. This year’s food and drink festival is jam-packed with sensational and varied food producers, chefs, street entertainment, master classes, cookery demos and unusual events. There really is something for everyone, whatever age and whatever foodie preference.” Cath Dutton, founder of Kendal Festival of Food is speaking in her office, surrounded by boxes of brochures, flyers and wrist-bands. She’s been working 24/7 with Stacy Hurley to get this annual feast organized. “The awful floods of late 2015 devastated Cumbria, but we have a resilient spirit and Kendal Food Festival 2016 celebrates that, as well as the phenomenal food and drink that the North of England is famous for.”

Lovingly Artisan sourdough baking demo at Kendal Food festival

Lovingly Artisan sourdough bread demo

Kendal Food Festival 2016 is in its 7th year; I’ve been coming for 5 years and it just gets better and better, whilst still retaining its original ethos of showcasing local food and drink producers and talent. Some of the highlights I’ve especially enjoyed from previous years include The Fabulous Baker Brothers, who did a hilarious cookery demo double act, Smoky Jo’s introduction to smoking food at home and Aiden Monks’ Lovingly Artisan sourdough bread masterclass. Smoky Jo’s are back this year in the Best Of Cumbria Theatre in Kendal Town Hall.

Andy Swinscoe cheese demo Kendal Food Festival - photo zoedawes

Andy Swinscoe cheese demo

Throughout the weekend of March 12th and 13th 2016, there will a veritable cornucopia of events. Looking through the Kendal Food Festival brochure I’m hoping to attend The Best in Northern Cheese with Andy Swinscoe of The Courtyard Dairy and Cooking with Duck with Chris O’Callaghan of Linthwaite House. He’s going to be using a famous local speciality, Grasmere gingerbread in his demo. Mike Bevans, owner of the hotel said, “I’m delighted we can support the festival. It’s a great opportunity for Chris to showcase his talents and it will also hopefully inspire budding chefs and create positive publicity for this area.”

Wild boar stall - Kendal Food Festival

Wild Boar stall

As a blogger with a strong interest in cuisine in the UK and around the world, I often take photographs of food and drink in markets, during meals and at cookery lessons. I’m sure to pick up some useful tips at the Food Photography workshop with Jenny Heyworth from Aspire Photography. Catherine Connor, MD of Aspire told me how thrilled she is to be attending this year’s festival. “It’s a fabulous foodie event and brilliant that it’s in our own backyard. It attracts hundreds of photographers, bloggers, journalists, families, celebrities and food lovers, not just from Cumbria and the North West, but around the country. We’re proud to be a part of this increasingly popular festival.”

Kendal Food Festival stall - zoedawes

Local honey

NEW for this year is the Edible Garden at Wainwright’s Yard, where we can learn more about growing our own fruit and vegetables as well as food for health and well-being. The Family Festival Village returns with some fun events for children, including Sculpting with Ice Cream, Create a Cress Head and the Kidz Kitchen. Join the battle of the bakers at the Bring a Bake competition in the AGA showroom and watch out for the Strolling Gardeners, the Farm to Fork Roadshow (there will be lambs!) and the Festival Jester demonstrating his circus skills out and about.

Cumbrian lamb

Hold at lamb at Kendal Food Festival

Of course, the festival is renowned for the many stalls that line the streets of Kendal town centre, selling everything from scrumptious bakes and chocolate treats to artisan breads, organic meat and poultry, regional cheeses, craft beers and spirits, tasty preserves and oh, loads more. Marian Graveson, of Blue Moose Kitchen, says, “This will be my third year at Kendal Food Festival and it really is one of the best festivals in the country. There are lots of reasons why I love this weekend: we always have fun, even if the wind is blustering the stall down the street!

Kendal Food Festival Cumbria

Kendal Food Festival street stalls

“It’s very well-organised and there is so much to see and do. I’ll be selling everything from Gingerbread Men kits, cookie mixes and 5 varieties of brownie mixes, including local favourite Kendal Mintcake.  Then there’s the Hot Chocolate. I’ll be giving out samples of my handmade mix during the festival; perfect if the weather is a bit chilly.”

Blue Moose Kitchen baking kits

Blue Moose Kitchen baking kits

The other BIG attraction is Northern Spirit on Saturday night. The brochure invites visitors to, ‘Join us for a celebration of some of the region’s very best spirits; sample a selection of regionally crafted vodkas and gins as well as some of Scotland’s best whiskies.’ Looks like a great way to celebrate a weekend of superb food, drink and much, much more.

The Lakes Vodka - Kendal Food Festival - zoedawes

The Lakes Vodka

Get your tickets for Northern Spirit, One Day or Weekend Kendal Food Festival wristband here and start planning a delicious weekend. See you there!

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

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