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February 10, 2017

5 romantic experiences with a difference in Scandinavia

Snowmobile on frozen lake in Finland Scandinavia

Snowmobile in Finland

You may not automatically think of Scandinavia when you the consider things to do around Valentine’s Day. A proposal on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a romantic dinner in Rome, a luxurious hotel in the Lake District or maybe a gentle stroll along a beach in Spain? However, there are many lovely experiences to be had in the Nordic countries of Europe, especially in winter; here are 5 of my favourites

Scandinavia – Norway

Take ‘the world’s most beautiful voyage’ to the Arctic Circle

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour Norway Scandinavia

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour

The famous Hurtigruten Ferry may not be the most luxurious of cruise ships but what she lacks in grandeur she more than makes up for in romantic adventurousness. Still running as a postal service, ferries sail daily from Bergen via deep Norwegian fjords up to Tromsø and Kirkenes in the Arctic Circle. You pass some of the world’s most stunning scenery and in winter the snow-clad landscapes are truly breathtaking. Stops include Havoysund and Honningsvag from where you can get off to visit the North Cape. It’s an unforgettable voyage.

Melt the ice in a Snow Hotel

Moomintroll and Snork Maiden in Kirkenes Snow Hotel - Norway

Moomintroll and Snork Maiden in Kirkenes Snow Hotel

On the outskirts of Kirkenes, 250 miles into the Arctic Circle, you will find a very special place to stay. Snuggle up together in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel and you’ll feel on top of the world – literally. Every year tons of ice are used to create a unique hotel which positively encourages togetherness. When I was there, two couples were on their honeymoon and there’d been an engagement party the night before. Each ‘bedroom’ has a different theme with beautifully lit ice-sculptures throughout. The temperature is a regular -4 degrees Celsius and there are lots of activities including husky and reindeer rides. Scandinavia accommodation doesn’t get ‘cooler’ than this …


Get away from it all with Greta Garbo

 Ystad Saltsjöbad Hot Tubs Sweden Scandinavia

Ystad Saltsjöbad Hot Tubs

To be precise, stay in the hotel where Greta Garbo, the reclusive Swedish actress, went to get away from it all in her homeland. The Ystad Saltjöbsad Hotel in the Skåne region of south Sweden has everything you want from a luxury break in Scandinavia. Gorgeous beach setting, gourmet dining, classic Swedish design and the indulgent spa are all highly conducive to romance. Enjoy a bottle of champagne in a double bath or relax together in one of the outdoor hot tubs – perfect any time of year.

Have fika – anytime, anywhere

Fika in Malmo Sweden

Fika in Malmo

Share a big piece of chocolate cake or light-as-a-feather lemon sponge in a cosy cafe with the one you adore. The Swedes love their coffee and cake; you can get great bakes all over Scandinavia but in Sweden they make a big deal of Fika. It’s basically ‘coffee and cake with friends’ (or lovers!) and in most workplaces throughout the country they stop for fika everyday. I had the most divine brownies in a greenhouse at Malmo Castle – simple pleasures in Sweden.


Cuddle up on a husky ride through the frozen north

Husky sleigh in Finland

Husky sleigh in Finland

Wrapped up in reindeer furs, dashing through the snow on the husky sleigh in the north of Finland – magic. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to visit Finland as it’s covered in snow and there are lots of wonderful outdoor experiences for you to try. You could try reindeer racing or maybe a snowmobile safari across a frozen lake. In the evening sample local delicacies like Finnish meatballs, moose casserole, sauteed reindeer or Rönttönen, a pastry filled with lingonberries.


Get hot and steamy with an old geysir

Geysir Hot Springs at Haukadalur

Hot Springs at Haukadalur

For a romantic break with a real difference, visit Iceland. This is definitely the quirkiest of the Nordic countries and can be very romantic. Stroll round the little streets of historic Reyjavik with its wooden houses, quaint museums and trendy bars. Take a tour of the Golden Circle to see the steamy geysirs and thundering Gulfoss Waterfall or go for a dip in the thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon.

And finally …

Kallbadhus Malmo 03 photo Oskar Falck c Malmö Turism Sweden Scandinavia

Kallbadhus Malmo – photo Oskar Falck c Malmö Turism

There are plenty more romantic things to do and places to see in Scandinavia. You might see the Northern Lights at any time in winter, or maybe discover Norse heritage in Greenland – more info here – or get even more off the beaten track in the Faroe Islands. Without doubt, Scandinavia has something for all lovers of romantic travel.

This article is in collaboration with Best Served Scandinavia, specialists in tailor-made holidays.

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Romantic Scandinavia Experiences by Zoe Dawes

January 19, 2015

What is cultural tourism?

Blackwell Arts and Crafts House - Lake District

Blackwell Arts and Crafts House

Cultural tourism (or culture tourism)

A subset of tourism concerned with a country or region’s culture, specifically the lifestyle of the people in those geographical areas, the history of those people, their art, architecture, religion(s), and other elements that helped shape their way of life.      Wikipedia

In the past, announcing an interest in ‘cultural tourism’ could be perceived as elitist, posh’, exclusive, highbrow. After all, the original cultural tourists were wealthy gentlemen who went on the Grand Tour’ from the mid 17th century. It was most definitely not for ‘everyman’ and some thought it was more about historical paintings, classical music and plays rather than people and place. Yet, way back in 1717 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the Turkish Ambassador and probably the first woman to write about her travels abroad, not only described the dress and habits of the local women she saw in Constantinople (Istanbul) but also noted how many things in this exotic country were similar to home. In a letter to her sister, she concluded, “Thus you see, the manners of mankind do not differ so widely as our voyage writers would make us believe.”

Anchorhold and Kendal Parish Church - image Zoe Dawes

Anchorhold and Kendal Parish Church

I recently spent some time talking to various people involved in cultural tourism in Cumbria, as part of the Lakeland Arts Anchorhold Conversations.  Grizedale Arts ‘Anchorhold’ was a large wooden structure on the lawn outside Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal.  (At times, due to inclement weather, we had our conversations inside the gallery. )

Curator Jamie Barnes in Abbot Hall, Kendal

Curator Jamie Barnes

Jamie Barnes, a freelance curator who works for the Brewery Arts Centre, artists and other artistic venues, is responsible for hanging many exhibitions that are seen by locals and tourists from all over the UK and abroad. Jamie aims to ensure the audience will get the most from these shows. “I always think about the public. ‘Can I understand what is in front of me?’ This gets down to details of height, labelling, space.” He’s also an artist and feels that culture is an intrinsic part of us all. “Art is how you live your life.”

Richard Greenwood in Abbot Hall

Richard Greenwood in Abbot Hall

Richard Greenwood, Head of Operations for Cumbria Tourism, has worked in and around the Lake District for over 30 years and is passionate about bringing more visitors to this beautiful part of the world to experience its culture as well as the stunning scenery. “I think places like Kendal and Keswick have an incredibly high quality of culture, especially given that we’ve only got 500,000 people living in the area. We have a rich outdoors culture, not only in the museums but also in the Mountain Festivals, which attract speakers and visitors from all over the world.”

Shakespeare Globe Theatre at Blackwell - image

Shakespeare at Blackwell – image

“In the summer I saw Shakespeare Globe Theatre performing Much Ado About Nothing in the grounds of Blackwell Arts and Crafts House It was a fabulous performance in a wonderful setting.” Richard has a good grasp of what cultural tourism is all about and the benefits it can bring to an area. “These visitors are often higher spending, and look for quality hotels, self-catering and B&Bs along with good food and drink.” Nowadays the cultural tourist may well wish to link all of these on their travels.

Blackwell Arts and Crafts House

Blackwell Arts and Crafts House

An excellent example of this is Lakeland Arts. They run Abbot Hall Gallery, the Museum of Lakeland Life and Blackwell Arts and Crafts House and are currently developing a major new cultural attraction, Windermere Jetty. Not only do they provide superb visitor attractions but they have excellent gift shops, cafes serving delicious food and they also liaise with local accommodation providers to recommend special places to stay.

Rev Rob Saner-Haigh in Anchorhold

Rev Rob Saner-Haigh in Anchorhold

Sitting inside Anchorhold with the Reverend Rob Saner-Haigh, vicar of nearby Holy Trinity, Kendal Parish Church, seemed very appropriate as the route up to Kendal’s Anchorite Well starts at the church. “We collaborated with Grizedale Arts for the Harvest Festival. The church has been here for over 1000 years and has some significant art works.” He is keen to develop more cultural projects.We also talked about the spiritual and healing benefits of culture and its relevance to everyone. “Culture covers what people are, the world in which people live. I’d challenge the idea that culture has to be difficult to access.  It’s an expression of hopes and dreams, joys and struggles.”

Holy Trinity Kendal - one of the largest parish churches in England - image Visit Cumbria

Holy Trinity Kendal: one of the largest parish churches in England – image

Ancient cathedrals, monasteries and convents have been on the tourist list for centuries and with the growth of rural exploration it’s hoped that our local churches and chapels, architectural gems full of artistic treasures, will become significant attractions on the cultural tourism map.

St Martin's Church Brampton Pre-Raphaelite stained glass window - image Dave Brooks

St Martin’s Church Brampton: Pre-Raphaelite stained glass window – image Dave Brooks

South Lakeland District Councillor Chris Hogg, was delighted to be given the newly created Portfolio for Culture, Events and Festivals. He’s very keen to encourage cultural tourism and develop long-term partnerships with local organisations that will enhance the visitor experience. With many exciting events happening over the coming years, he’s sure that cultural tourism is going to be very important for the local economy as well as helping to improve the health and well-being of us all. He’s very excited about the Lake District bid for World Heritage Organisation status as a UNESCO Cultural Landscape.

Andy Goldsworthy - Tilberthwaite Touchstone Fold - image

Andy Goldsworthy’s ‘Tilberthwaite Touchstone Fold’ – image

Chris added “We’ve got a great literary and artistic  heritage going back centuries. Of course this area is famous for inspiring creatives like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Beatrix Potter, Turner, John Ruskin, Kurt Schwitters, Andy Goldsworthy and many others, but we continue to attract creative people all the time. Every generation re-interprets the landscape in a unique way for themselves.”

Boyle Family at Abbot Hall exhibition - image Zoe Dawes

Boyle Family at Abbot Hall launch

In a current exhibition at Abbot Hall Art Gallery, internationally renowned artists, the Boyle Family – Contemporary Architecture displays their unique earth studies. ‘Facsimiles of the ground taken from randomly chosen points in the world that resemble slices of the landscape fixed to the gallery walls.’  These huge artworks seem to perfectly illustrate Rob Saner-Haigh’s thoughts, “Culture helps us make sense of the world around us. There is a huge connection between people and place. It’s part of being human.”

The Museum of Lakeland Life in Kendal

The Museum of Lakeland Life in Kendal

This can be seen all over the world, not only in art galleries, museums, at concerts, festivals and theatres but on street corners, in restaurants, hotels, schools, universities, factories, offices and shops.  At the recent launch of Lakes Culture, the Lake District was described as the ‘original cultural destination‘ and the advantages of combining culture and tourism sectors to develop ‘economic resilience’, were outlined.

Lakes Culture - Cultural Tourism

Lakes Culture

Cultural tourism may be a fancy-sounding concept, but the reality is that we don’t have to try hard to experience it and its benefits are far-reaching and good for us all.

December 7, 2014

Grizedale Arts ‘Anchorhold’ : Conversations on Culture in Cumbria

It’s a real pleasure listening to people talk about their passions. They become animated, articulate and  engaging. Their enthusiasm is infectious and can be a catalyst for change. In recent weeks I have been chatting to a number of people closely linked to the cultural scene in Cumbria and each person had a unique perspective to share.  This was part of the Anchorhold project ‘…collaboration between the architects, Grizedale Arts, Lakeland Arts and the artist Marcus Coates and has been funded with the generous support of the Visit England and Arts Council England Cultural Destinations ProjectLakes Culture.’

Grizedale Arts: Anchorhold Abbot Hall Kendal

Anchorhold outside Abbot Hall

Grizedale Arts Anchorhold is a large wooden structure of interlocking pieces designed by the architectural practice Sutherland Hussey. It vaguely resembles a building made by a Jenga fan and is currently situated outside beautiful Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal. The name ‘Anchorhold’ refers to a tenth century hermitage in which anchorites would be walled up in order to think on issues that impacted on society. It turns out the position is especially appropriate. The vicar of Kendal Parish Church, the Rev Rob Saner-Haigh explained that there is an ancient path from the church next door to Abbot Hall up to the Anchorite Well. In 1430 “4 December. Commission to the Prior of Cartmel to confine Alice Skawseby in a certain house built for anchorites near the church of Kirkeby in Kendall.”

Zoe Dawes aka The Quirky Traveller inside Anchorhold

Inside Anchorhold

Due to very wet weather during the time I was talking to these people, it wasn’t always possible to sit inside the sculpture so we were able to use one of the rooms in Abbot Hall, set up as part of Grizedale Arts The Nuisance of the Landscape- The Sequel exhibition.

Grizedale Arts Reading Room Abbot Hall

Grizedale Arts Reading Room

Local photographer Florence Acland was the first person I talked to. Living in Ambleside, from a highly creative family, Flo has developed a unique photographic perspective in portraiture and design.

Florence Acland photographer

She assembles everyday objects collected by her father or family into intricate artworks. Shen takes a series of photos and then dismantles them – the photograph is the art. She hopes Cumbria and the Lake District will become better known nationally for its cultural diversity and wants to encourage visitors to come the this area to see the quality  on offer. “Cumbria can be a bit like an island because of its geography, slightly cut off, but I want our art to reach as many people as possible.” 

Florence Acland photograph

Florence Acland photograph

I then spoke to Hilary Claxton, owner of Beech House, a luxury Bed and Breakfast in Kendal. She often has guests staying with her who are performing at the Brewery Arts Centre or visiting Abbot Hall. “I really love the fact that we’ve got Abbot Hall within 5 minutes’ walk of our house.  Just to be inside this building makes me feel special.” During the summer she attended the Barbara Hepworth ‘Sculpture Day’ and felt it epitomised just what a great cultural experience could be, working as it did on many levels.

Barbara Hepworth sculpture

Barbara Hepworth sculpture

Having learnt a lot about the great artist’s techniques and works, the participants got a wonderful ‘hands-on’ opportunity to make a sculpture in the style  of Hepworth.”I’ve put mine in the back garden – you must come and see it!” Hilary went on to talk about the close connection that her business has with cultural life in the area. “Abbot Hall sends us guests, speakers, artists – we’re listed on their website and other people find us there. Barbara Hepworth’s daughter stayed with us. Obviously we benefit from having them stay with us but it also brings culture much closer to us and stimulates my interest in the arts locally.”

The next person to the Anchorhold conversation was Charlie Gere, Professor of Media Theory and History in the Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts, Lancaster University and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Grizedale Arts and on the Board of Abbot Hall.   He talked eloquently about the local arts scene and the history of Grizedale Arts. “It’s aim was to provoke a series of questions about art in the Lakes, about the landscape, about culture. They work very closely with communities, for example Coniston, to bring high-end art. Grizedale Arts is better known in Japan than it is in some parts of Cumbria.”

Coniston Nite Live -image Grizedale Arts

Coniston Nite Live – image Grizedale Arts

Charlie outlined his ideas for developing a “more autonomous local culture, based on the model of the Working Men’s College,” one of the earliest Adult Education institutes in the UK. Village halls could be become places where anyone who was interested could explore their artistic creativity.

I also talked to Richard Greenwood, Head of Operations Cumbria Tourism, Jamie Barnes, freelance curator and the Revd Rob Saner Haigh, vicar of Kendal Parish Church. You can read our conversations in this article on Cultural Tourism.

The Nuisance of the Landscape: Grizedale - The Sequel

The Nuisance of the Landscape: Grizedale – The Sequel

Anchorhold is part of The Nuisance of the Landscape: Grizedale – The Sequel, a fascinating, quirky and at times challenging exhibition which Grizedale Arts describes ‘a major survey show of our work over the last 15 years; from rotting sculpture in a forest to super social utility. It features the work of several hundred artists we have worked with, many household and craft objects from our collections, and also represents recent community projects we’ve done at home and abroad.’


The exhibition runs until December 20 2014 across four venues in South Lakeland:  Abbot Hall Art Gallery, the Museum of Lakeland Life and IndustryBlackwell Arts and Crafts House and the Coniston Institute. Don’t miss it!

February 6, 2014

A ‘Great Adventure’ of a day with Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle and Zoe Dawes radio interview

There are some days in my life as a travel blogger that stand out as being exceptional and remind me how lucky I am to have this job. Sitting opposite the renowned adventurer and TV treasure Ben Fogle in a London radio studio, I had to metaphorically pinch myself.  How had this happened? Ben Fogle's 'Great Adventures' for Celebrity Cruises

We were being to be interviewed by various UK radio stations about a recent Travel Survey carried out by Celebrity Cruises and the launch of ‘Ben Fogle's Great Adventures', a diverse series of shore excursions for the cruise line.  Meeting Ben was a real treat as I have been a fan of his informal, relaxed, often humorous and always entertaining programmes for a long time.  He manages to combine a quirky adventurous spirit with a kind of ‘everyman' appeal that is very attractive.

For about three hours we were on various radio programmes where Ben talked about the travel survey, which shows that 65% of Brits are keen to experience something new on holiday this year.  Gone are the days when all we want to do is gently toast on a hot beach or dance the night away in an exotic bar.  Of course, many of us still enjoy that, but we're all becoming more adventurous and this is where Ben's new venture for Celebrity Cruises is absolutely part of the zeitgeist.

I answered questions on travel trends for 2014, cruises and how we can satisfy our thirst for new experiences on different types of holidays. Ben Fogle Celebrity Cruises kayaking in SwedenBen has put together a great collection of activities that enable participants to really immerse themselves in the place they are visiting. So often a visit ashore means getting into a coach, being taken to see well-known sights, given a tour and a meal and shuttled back onto the ship.  But there’s another way to see the world and Ben’s chosen some intriguing experiences where ‘doing’ is as much key as ‘seeing’. These include snorkelling with salmon in Norwaykayaking around the Stockholm archipelago in Sweden, and a mini-triathlon in Croatia.

Once the radio interviews were over we were whisked off to the Hoxton Hotel in trendy, graffiti-decorated Shoreditch.  (Read my review of the Hoxton for TNT Magazine here.)As we walked into the achingly cool reception area there was a noticeable intake of breath as some people recognised Ben.  We had lunch and a round table discussion with senior execs from Celebrity Cruises and fellow ‘Destination Bloggers’.  We’ve all been on cruises with this company and are passionate about the places you can see en route.  Before lunch Ben gave us a brief presentation on his ‘Great Adventures' and answered questions.

Ben Fogle 'Great Adventures' for Celebrity Cruises

He outlined each trip in great detail and explained why he had chosen them.  He’s clearly a kayaking fanatic and wants us all to give it a go, whether it’s in Swedish waters or off the Croatian coast.    He hopes to tap into cruise passengers’ interest in maritime history and culture in Oslo.  Here we can see TWO very different vessals sailed in by famous Norwegian explorers  – Thor Heyerdahl’s ‘Kon Tiki’ and Amundsen’s ‘The Fram’ .  He’s clearly got a sweet tooth as he’s included  a tasty little trip to make ice cream in Sorrento.  He said he really enjoyed designing the programme, which he hopes will help people to experience each country in a more ‘immersive’ way.

Ben Fogle and Celebrity Cruises 'Destination Bloggers'

Ben Fogle and Celebrity Cruises ‘Destination Bloggers’

He was friendly to everyone and posed endlessly for our photos after lunch.  Then I had a real treat – a chance to interview him about how he came up with excursions and talk more broadly about his own adventures around the world.

Ben Fogle interview for The Quirky Traveller

Ben said that his first cruise was “a real eye-opener, mainly because in four days I was able to take in four completely different destinations – Malta, Siciliy, Naples and across Italy to Positano.” He explained that the idea for the â€˜Sicilian Gastronomic Tour' came about when he was on a Celebrity cruise and they stopped off in Sicily.  He was taken to a colourful fish market in Catania and he wanted to bring the delicious fresh seasfood back onto the ship for the chef to cook. He also shared his fascination with travelling to places off-the-beaten track and his love for the Outer Hebrides, where his exploits on Taransay in 2000 first showcased his telegenic appeal.  Of course, my favourite quote was, “I love quirky – I guess you could say I'm a real Quirky Traveller!”

In the evening we went to a popular cookery school, â€˜Food at 52', where chef/owner John Benbow showed a group of us how to make an Italian meal, homage to the ‘Ben Fogle Sicilian Gourmet Tour’.  It was fascinating seeing an expert at work and also great fun – at times we felt a bit like contestants on the Great British Bake-Off.

Ben Fogle Italian cookery lesson -  Food at 52

We split into two groups and worked across a large long utensil-bedecked table, learning how to make delicate Almond Biscotti, mascarpone-stuffed chicken thighs and speedy Gelatto.  Ben showed he was a dab hand at using an electric whisk and pretty darn dextrous with the lemon zester!

Food at 52 cookery lesson with Ben Fogle and Zoe Dawes

Once more we were all being filmed and photographed, part of the launch event for ‘Ben Fogle's Great Adventures', but very soon the concentration and enjoyment of the cooking made us forget the cameras.  Unfortunately I had to leave before the meal was served but the warmth of our star guest and the excitement generated by this unique day will stay with me for much longer than those delicious- looking almond biscuits.

Celebrity Cruise ship 'Reflection' Mykonos

If you’d like more information on Ben Fogle’s shore excursions visit Celebrity Cruises and maybe one day you’ll go snorkelling with salmon – very quirky …

October 30, 2012

Top Tips for a stay in lovely Lot et Garonne, France

In the fifth of our series of interviews with holiday homeowners from around the world, Martin and Christine Drew talk about how they fell in love with a less known spot in France, the Lot et Garonne. 

Martin  Christine  - Front door of ValmarWhen Martin and Christine Drew finished a self-build project for their own home in the UK, they decided to look for a renovation project in France; an old barn, farmhouse, or other ruin that they could slowly bring back to life and restore to its former glory. Little did they know that they would end up buying a ‘little piece of France’, a building plot in Lot et Garonne with stunning views over a gently sloping valley and build Valmar Gite a beautiful 2-bedroom house with swimming pool that was completely different to what they had anticipated and which they now love to share with holidaymakers.

Valmar Gite, Lot et Garonne, France

Valmar Gite, France

1.       What first made you fall in love with Lot et Garonne and why should people come here?

We had holidayed in various parts of France, the Riviera, the North Coast, Languedoc, but we found the North to be a little too much like home back in the UK and the South to be a little too hot and arid for our liking. So, when we visited the Lot et Garonne and discovered the beautiful green rolling hills, quiet country lanes, almost free of traffic, vineyard after vineyard and fields full of cheerful sunflowers, we really did fall in love with the area.

2.       What's the ‘best kept secret' you would tell any visitors not to miss?

One of the best kept secrets of the Lot et Garonne is found at the nearby village of Le Temple-sur-lot. Just 10 minutes' drive from Valmar Gite, the ‘Jardin des Nénuphars' (Garden of Water Lilies) was created by Joseph Latour-Marliac in 1875 and is said to contain the oldest and the most prestigious nursery of water lilies in the world. The gardens are most famous for their association with the artist Claude Monet who visited the nursery many times and it was from here that the inspiration sprang for his creation “Les Nymphéas”, a series of approximately 250 paintings, devoted to water lilies. There is a café perched on the side of the lake where you can sit and relax and partake in a snack and a beverage, or favourite tipple.

3.       Where's the place to go to just hang out, people watch and generally soak up the atmosphere?

Night Market at Pujols

Night Market at Pujols

There are 152 villages classed as ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France' (the most beautiful villages of France) and two of them are in the Lot et Garonne. One is called Pujols and is an ancient village perched high on a hilltop. Once occupied by the Romans who fortified it, Pujols has superb views towards Villeneuve-sur-lot. It is only a 15 minute drive from Valmar Gite and a favourite of ours to visit for either lunch or the fantastic weekly ‘Night Market'. By day you can stroll around the quirky little side streets and alleys, before sitting down for a spot of lunch and to take in the superb views. Then by night you can bring along your own food, or buy at the night market in the central square and experience great live entertainment and join in the fun family atmosphere, whilst experiencing a taste of the ‘real France’.

 4.       What would you recommend visitors either treat themselves to or take home as a   souvenir?

One of our favourite pastimes is, of course, eating out.  Whether it’s dropping in at a café or brasserie, to grab a bite to eat at lunchtime, or going for an evening meal at a nice restaurant, we love eating out in France. And you mustn’t visit the Lot et Garonne without experiencing at least one of the local culinary delicacies. For starters Martin enjoys his chevre chaud (melted goats cheese on toast) and Christine loves her escargots (snails). Magret de Canard (duck breast) is also a great favourite and for something to take home as a souvenir, the area's main town, Agen, is world famous for its ‘Pruneaux D’Agen’. You are unlikely to find prunes as tasty as these anywhere else.

5.       Finally, what are the most ‘quirky' things to do, see, eat, visit or experience in this place?

If you're looking to do something a little unusual, then how about a bit of prune stone spitting. There is an annual event that takes place in a nearby small town, Sainte Livrade-sur-lot. Each year, normally the last Saturday in July, the 6,000+ inhabitants of the town, along with entrants from just about anywhere, gather together to compete in the prune stone spitting world championship. Around 100 participants take part and there are separate competitions for adults and children.  If you don’t fancy having a go at this somewhat quirky event, you could always just join in the fun as a spectator!

Valmar swimming pool & countryside

Valmar swimming pool & countryside


Holiday Homeowner Q&A is brought to you by, the UK's leading holiday rentals website with over 320,000 properties worldwide. From cute studios and city apartments to rural cottages and country homes, large luxury villas, quirky conversions and more, there are thousands of unique places to enjoy a more authentic and unusual holiday.


September 28, 2012

A laidback lifestyle in Frigiliana, Spain

In the fourth of our series of interviews with Holiday Homeowners from around the world, British expats Boz and Polly Cannon share their secret to a more laidback and active lifestyle and offer an insight into their new life in Frigiliana, in beautiful southern Spain.

 After working for 23 years in the Royal Navy then spending 5 years commuting from Petersfield Hampshire to London working in high pressure IT environment, Boz Cannon and his wife Polly, an NHS administrator, decided it was time for a change. In 2002, they bought a luxurious two bedroom apartment in a small complex in Frigiliana above the Costa del Sol, with incredible 360 degree views from the balconies and roof terrace, both down to the sea and to the mountains.

Apartment in Frigiliana After returning to London, Boz found out his  CEO had been fired, so that very same night they decided to cash in all their investments, sell the flats and move lock, stock and barrel to Spain. Less than three  months later they arrived for good.

1.  What first made you fall in love with Frigiliana and why should people come here?

Frigiliana From Above

We fell in love with Frigiliana, in southern Spain for so many reasons, it just seemed to have everything we could have ever dreamed of.  We had always loved the outdoors, so with the hills of the Sierra Tejeda and the Almijada Natural Park on our doorstep, the Mediterranea Sea  ten minutes away and the Sierra Nevada ski resort just 90 minutes away we could now play to our heart’s content. After our previous hectic lives, the moderate pace of life, lack of road rage,  low crime levels, lack of materialism and the fact that the Spanish have maintained family life and values, was a true joy to become part of.

 2.  What’s the ‘best kept secret’ you would tell any visitors not to miss?

El cebuchal VillageThis one is very easy. El Acebuchal is a small aldea (hamlet) about 5km from Frigiliana which was an old staging post on the trade route from the coast into the province of Granada. During the days of the civil war, the village was abandoned and  fell into ruins but back in 1998 Antonio Garcia ‘El Zumbo’ and his family, who now own and run the restaurant there and who lived in the village as children, decided to renovate some of the family properties, which sparked off a full scale renovation of the village. El Acebuchal has now been reborn as a beautiful whitewashed pueblo with lovely cobbled streets and a wood fired oven in the main street, where Antonio will often cook a whole roast lamb or suckling pig.

3.  Where’s the place to go to just hang out, people watch and generally soak up the atmosphere?

Frigiliana StreetIn terms of just hanging out, there is no better way to get a feel for the life and soul of the village than to take  an evening  ‘paseo’ (wander) through the village. Join in with the locals as they parade through the narrow alleys and winding lanes, often with four generations of the same family in tow. Great grandparents with their walking sticks down to babies in pushchairs, they all stop to chat to their lifelong neighbours and friends.

4.  What would you recommend visitors either treat themselves to while they’re there, or take home as a souvenir?

Local products

A visit to Frigiliana would certainly not be complete without sampling some of the local delicacies.  The Spanish make some really delicious food and very quaffable drinks.  There’s the locally produced Frigiliana wine, made of the moscatell grapes that are harvested in August, taken to the local press in the village and then transferred to huge barrels where the juice is left to ferment for three months or more with no additives whatsoever. Another  favourite is the locally produced cane honey, still made in the original factory in the village. For the carnivore, a plate of ‘Choto’ (goat) in garlic and almond sauce is an absoute must.

5.  Finally, what are the quirkiest things to do, see, eat, visit or experience in this place?


The Axarquia region of the Costa del Sol plays host to a vast array of adrenalin fuelled adventure sports. There’s canyoning, a relatively new sport to Spain, but also parascending, skydiving, climbing a ‘via ferrata’ and kayaking. There are also dozens of caves in the area, including the world famouse Nerja Caves, that take the visitor to a whole new subterranean world with immense galleries, wierd and wonderful rock formations, and prehistoric cave paintings reputed to be almost 20,000 years old.

Boz and Polly on the terrace

Frigiliana apartment owners Boz & Polly

Holiday Homeowner Q&A is brought to you by, the UK’s leading holiday rentals website with over 320,000 properties worldwide. From cute studios and city apartments to rural cottages and country homes, large luxury villas, quirky conversions and more, there are thousands of unique places to enjoy a more authentic and unusual holiday.

August 10, 2012

Insider secrets from idyllic Sardinia

In the third of our series of interviews with Holiday Homeowners from around the world, globetrotting Italian traveller and entrepreneur, Antonio Bortolotti and his wife share with you their reasons for loving where their holiday home is situated,  best-kept quirky travel secrets and top tips for making the most of your stay. 

After 15 years working as an air steward for Alitalia, Antonio decided to draw on his extensive world knowledge and, together with his wife Cristina, set out on a mission to create their perfect holiday home and fulfil a lifelong dream. In just three years, they bought and renovated, with amazing creative zeal and flair, Casa Teulada, an idyllic stone farmhouse on the island of Sardinia in Italy.

Casa Teulada

Casa Teulada, Sardinia

Featured in some of the most prominent national papers, including The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Observer, Casa Teulada has been successful beyond Antonio and Cristina’s wildest dreams.  Today they delight in welcoming guests from around the world to enjoy their beautiful home in a  very special part of Italy.  As well as running Casa Teulada, Antonio has also written three books, including an iPhone guide, and runs the blog, where he and wife Cristina share their experiences of other great holiday rentals around the world.

Antonio & Cristina

What first made you fall in love with Sardinia and why should people come here?  We live quite a hectic life and dreamt about the perfect place to indulge our senses for years. After venturing around the world, we found the ideal place not far from home! A traveller’s paradise and undoubtedly the top Italian holiday destination among our fellow countrymen, Sardinia ranks top for idyllic beaches, crystal clear waters, great scenery and warm people hands down. Northern Sardinia is where the rich and famous gather to enjoy the vibrant lifestyle and glittering nightlife, southern Sardinia – especially the southwest – is still authentic, pristine and laid back.

Teulada Beach - Sardinia

Teulada Beach – Sardinia

It is here that we chose to fulfil our dream, as we love the quality of life, which for us translates into peace and tranquillity surrounded by genuinely warm locals living at a very slow pace. Sardinia has it all in terms of unique history and lots of opportunities for every budget, so it was a natural place to go to live out our dream.

What’s the ‘best kept secret’ you would tell any visitors not to miss?  The coastal drive from Chia to Teulada from September to June! This shows nature at its most spectacular best: secluded coves, endless beaches, unpaved treks in the “Mediterranean macchia (bush)”, ancient ruins of mysterious civilizations, colours and perfumes that shake even the coldest heart. You could get trapped meandering through this 25 km long stretch of coast forever and never get bored seeing something similar twice.

The Girotonno (Tuna Tour) is a not to be missed event held each May in Carloforte on the tiny island of San Pietro.  Italy has many festivals and this is one of the quirkiest.

Giant tuna during a tonnara in Carloforte

Giant tuna during a tonnara in Carloforte

A food and wine competition celebrating the tradition of tuna fishing, the event evokes men, stories and flavours of the tuna on the routes of the old Tonnara of Carloforte, one of the most active of the Mediterranean Sea. This is unique opportunity to explore in detail the magic world of the tonnara traps and the fishermen, admiring the ancient rite of “Mattanza“.

Where’s the place to go to just hang out, people watch and generally soak up the atmosphere?  Only an hour’s drive from Teulada, is Poetto’s beach in Cagliari, Sardinia’s gateway.  Catch the sunset if you can – locals love it, so why shouldn’t you?

Poetto beach

Poetto beach – Sardinia

What would you recommend visitors either treat themselves to while they’re there, or take home as a souvenir?  Sardinia is a world of its own, very different from the rest of Italy in many ways. A good way to sample its diversity is through food and local delicacies, which speak for the inhabitants of this unique island. Eat Sardinian and you will discover a pleasant, unexpected surprise that will make you bring home some fantastic, mouth-watering Pecorino cheese, Mirto liqueur, Grappa Fileferru – typical Sardinian liqueur – and Bottarga, salted, pressed, dried, and ground grey mullet roe, which is excellent on spaghetti or sliced on salads!

Bottarga with spaghetti

Bottarga with spaghetti

Finally, what are the most ‘quirky’ things to do, see, eat, visit or experience in this place?  Again, food is definitely quirky in Sardinia and Sardinians have a concept of cuisine all of their own! Spaghetti with bottarga or sea urchins is an absolute joy for foodies!  Make friends with locals and do something extraordinary for them, and they will invite you home to sample Porceddu, a young pig slowly baked and cooked underground with an elaborate procedure) and a specialty consumed only among friends to celebrate special events.

Casa Teulada at night

Casa Teulada at night


Holiday Homeowner Q&A is brought to you by HomeAway, the UK’s leading holiday rentals website with over 320,000 properties worldwide. From cute studios and city apartments to rural cottages and country homes, large luxury villas, quirky conversions and more, there are thousands of unique places to enjoy a more authentic and unusual holiday.