Sensational Baby Boomers

Friday, 15 November 2019

CRUISING AROUND CROATIA


Last week was the first of our two travel blogs about our P&O Cruise on board the Oceana.  Flying into Malta, our first visits were to the beautiful city of Zadar in Croatia, followed by a day in glorious Venice. You will have read in the news this week that that beautiful city was subsequently hit by the "acqua alta" - the high tide which has caused millions of pounds worth of damage, including to the beautiful St Mark's Basilica. Such a terrible shame that some irreplaceable artefacts have been lost forever. It isn't the first time Venice has been flooded, and we doubt it will be the last, but we hope that Venetians will be able to overcome such terrible losses.

We set sail just before midnight, heading to Split - though we had originally been designated to visit the UNESCO World Heritage town of Sibernik, but because of our late embarkation, there wasn't time to make our way there.  Sibernik - like much of the Dalmation coast, is a beautiful medieval city, boasting two UNESCO sites - the Cathedral of St James and the Fortress St Nicholas. This fortress city is often overlooked since most tourists head for the better know cities of Split and Dubrovnik.

Sadly we never got to see it - much to Anne's disappointment, but for me, it meant a visit to Split - which is where I wanted to go in the first place!  Croatia's second city is a vibrant and energetic mix of ancient and modern.  The stunning medieval buildings and Diocletian ruins sit alongside bustling cafes, restaurants and modern shops.

The 4th Century Diocletians Palace  (not an actual palace, more like a collection of ancient churches/buildings and homes) was built by the Emperor Diocletian between 295-305, and while much of the original palace and its mausoleum have been demolished, the area is still home to around 3,000 residents.




Stroll around the streets and you will come across a ruin in a park, and while the St Duje's  (St Domnius) Cathedral boasts a Romanesque bell tower, the ancient sits side by side with the modern.  The architecture of course spans many centuries, and the cathedral itself has had a number of important additions over the centuries - the elaborate 13th century pulpit, the 15th century Altar of St Anastasius, and the 13th century wood carvings and carved choir stalls - all stunningly crafted by hand, and which have stood the test of time.




Like many of the Croation cities we visited, the streets are paved in pure marble, beautifully worn down by the thousands of residents and tourists, but you can never forget that the buildings require constant upkeep and underpinning because of their age.



Our next port of call was the beautiful Dubrovnik - which has long been on my bucket list. However, I have to admit that I did not get the buzz I expected from it.  I'm going to be a little controversial here and admit that tourism can damage some of the world's beautiful places, and I think Dubrovnik is heading that way - unfortunately due in part to the cruise ships.  Dubrovnik, like Venice, has taken the decision to limit cruise ships into port, to two per day, carrying a maximum of 5,000 tourists.  




The reason is evident, since Dubrovnik has become one giant outside restaurant, with cafes and bars catering for the thousands of visitors who throng the streets - not helped of course by the popularity of Game of Thrones, since much of the filming was completed here.

The picturesque wide boulevards were overcrowded, with shops catering to souvenirs and jewellery.  While still beautiful, somehow it lost its shine for me.





One can't help but mention the terrible events of December 1991, when Dubrovnik was badly damaged during the war which led to the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. The devastating cost of the conflict led to a loss of around 140,000 lives and the destruction or damage to many of its ancient buildings.   One family documented how they fled from their home with only the clothes they stood up in - while carrying the 99 year old granny from their burning house.

Having said that, it wasn't a negative experience - it is a beautiful city and has been very tastefully restored.  There are stunning churches, since Croatia is still a religious catholic country,and of course there are museums detailing their chequered history.



Ending on a positive note, our final visit in Croatia was to a beautiful small resort just outside Dubrovnik called Cavtat.  Fortunately this lovely harbour is unspoiled and provided a welcome oasis from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities.




With lovely beaches, crystal clear waters and boats for hire, this was a much more peaceful alternative its more famous sisters.  We settled into a rooftop cafe for a very welcome cappuccino, and strolled along the promenade, making friends with a lucky black cat which wrapped itself around my legs! 



Like everywhere in Croatia, there is an ancient mansion while notable churches in Cavtat include the church of St Nicholas, and Our Lady of the Snow, while the nearby island of Lokrum offers 19th century botanical gardens and citrus groves if you need to get out of the summer heat.

Richard the Lionheart was famously shipwrecked on Lokrum in the 12th Century as he made his way home from the crusades.  But beware - there is a naturist beach on Lokrum!




We are aware that this was a whistle-stop tour, and gives a small glimpse of Croatia and Venice, but that's cruising for you.  Next week we will compare the cruises we have taken, and talk a little about life aboard the ocean waves!

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Friday, 8 November 2019

CRUISING THE ADRIATIC




It's been a while since we managed to get a holiday together.  This year has kind of run away with us, so it was great to relax and get away with your BFF from everyday life - we even managed to keep away from our phones - at least for some of the time!

Anne C here - I had always wanted to visit Venice and Dubrovnik, so when we found a P and O cruise which took in both of those fabulous cities, we knew we were onto a winner.

MALTA


We flew to Malta, which was our embarkation port - a place where neither of us had previously visited.  And what a fabulous surprise that was! Valetta is such a pretty resort, with beautiful old buildings, friendly people, a harbour with amazing yachts, and stunning turquoise sea.

Malta has a great climate, even in October (although it did briefly rain while we were there), English is widely spoken, and they even drive on the left hand side of the road as we do.  The island has been invaded many times over the centuries and this is reflected in the mixed architecture which owes much to a Moorish influence with beautiful pale honey coloured sandstone and Baroque buildings courtesy of the later of the Order of St John during the 17th and 18th century.




We had only a couple of days there, staying at the Grand Excelsior Hotel, but we managed to wander round the streets during the day, and found a fabulous little restaurant, recommended to us by Anne H's daughter Lizzy, who had previously visited The Harbour Club.


We would love to go back  to Malta, since there was obviously much more to see, with prehistoric temples - the remains of which are actually older than the Egyptian pyramids at Giza, churches and beaches. The marina held some very impressive yachts but typical of Malta are the ancient Luzzu boats which are very brightly painted and which historically were used to ferry sailors from their vessels to the port.



Malta has some of the earliest archaeological remains in the Mediterranean, dating back to around 4000BC. Phoenicians and Greek traders were followed by the Carthaginians and the Romans.  St Paul was reported to have been shipwrecked and converted the island to Christianity. Turks and French later ruled until 1814 when Malta became British and developed as a port - leaving it open to attack by German and Italian forces during WW11.

There are palaces, churches and museums to explore, but sadly we did none of these due to lack of time.  There are also beaches to the north of Malta, and nearby islands including Gozo with its Megalithic Temples and sandy beaches.  Certainly plenty to see next time!




Despite the fabulous ship - the Oceana  I began to feel sea-sick as soon as we left port - surprising since on my last cruise, it never affected me.  A quick visit to the doctor for some pills sorted that out and we headed for the Croatian town of Zadar in central Dalmatia.

ZADAR


Much of Zadar, under control of Germany,  was destroyed during by allied bombs in 1943, with 70 percent of the city reduced to rubble. Sadly they were once again under siege in the early 1990s when Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Much of what was left of the old city was destroyed, but a beautiful new city has prospered and is now one of the leading Croatian cities.




Once again there are museums and churches to visit.  We walked along the promenade and heard the famous sea organ - the Morske Orgulje - set into the steps of the quayside.  The sea forces air through pipes, creating a fairly other-worldly sound.  Nearby is a Monument to the Sun - solar powered cells (sadly surrounded by barriers) which apparently give off a spectacular light show as the sun sets, but unfortunately we didn't stay that long. 





We visited the Church of St Donatus, a very plain 9th century circular building which is used for classical concerts because of its amazing acoustics, while in front of the church are the ruins of the Roman Forum, built between the 1st and 3rd Century, and which we were surprised to see were open to the elements and children played in the remains.

There are beautiful buildings and squares in the town, all with stunning marble cobbles.  Shops sell beautiful turquiose and coral jewellery, but at a price.  We sat at an outdoor ice cream parlour to match the world go by, and ate the largest - and most delicious gelato ever!

Lunch was in a restaurant next to the promenade, which looked like an old French chateau with torn shutters and peeling walls, but as we sat outside under the trees, it was one of the most perfect moments.  Each enjoying a glass of Aperol Spritz and pizza, with Sade playing softly on the loudspeaker and the sun beating down was one of my memorable highlights. We had never previously heard of Zadar, but it is such a beautiful city, it is well worth a visit.

Back on board we were told that our next port, Venice, would give us a longer stay as our embarkation had been put back until later the following day, meaning we wouldn't have time to visit Sibernik, so would go to Split instead.  (This suited me anyway because I had wanted to go to Split but felt it was too far from Sibernik for a day trip! However Anne H had previously visited Split so was disappointed not to visit somewhere new.)

VENICE



A very misty dawn broke over Venice as we arrived, which we were told was quite normal for October.  We didn't dock in the centre since it is well known that large cruise ship have caused problems in the past and are due to be banned so close to the city.

Venice of course is a series of islands, and we opted for a trip to Murano, famous of course for its beautiful coloured glass.  Our small tender collected us from the ship and took us to the dock of the Marco Polo Furnace, where we watched a demonstration by a master glass blower and then browsed the beautiful jewellery, ornaments and glassware made on the premises.  A quick stroll through the centre of the island uncovered many other glassware shops,but we didn't have time to explore the rest of the island before we were back on the launch heading for the famous old town.  



We made our way past the crowds along the water front and over several bridges - stopping briefly to look at the Bridge of Sighs (more on this later) as we headed for our gondola ride.  Since we were on a pre-paid tour, it meant that we shared our gondola with four strangers, so had to perch side-ways on stools since the first on board got the forward facing two seats, which rather spoiled it for me. So if you're going to visit, opt to pay privately for yourselves (more expensive obviously) but at least you get a better ride!






The canals were very busy and at times we log-jammed with other gondolas and even a couple of speed boats, but the buildings were stunning.  We later learned that all the footings, set very close together, to the buildings are made of wood, which you would expect to rot, but apparently not, since the water actually preserves them. It certainly makes you wonder about the architects of the past.  Incidentally Italy has indeed created many famous architects, including Andrea Palladio, of which his Palladian style still exists in grand houses in the UK and around the world.



We did go a little overboard (not literally) with lunch however.  Our beautiful sandwiches and tea were taken at the famous Florian's in St Mark's Square, complete with music from a fabulous string quartet.  We did look at the prices before we ordered however, since many tourists have been caught out at the cost.  Our meal cost us 30 Euros each - ok, expensive but it was a one-off and worth it for the people-watching!




We strolled around the city - taking in another gelato of course - you can't go to Italy and not have ice cream - stopping for photos of the Rialto Bridge, which surprisingly to me had shops on it which apparently help to pay for its maintenance.




Our next choice was whether to visit the Doges Palace or St Mark's Basilica, but seeing the queue into the Basilica would have taken about two hours standing to get in, it was a no-brainer.


Again the Doges Palace was a surprise for me.  I was expecting a palace with furniture, which it may once well have had, but this is the powerhouse of the Serene Republic and ceremonial sea of the Doges. This palace was equivalent to our houses of parliament, with a prison thrown in for good measure.

Instead there were various council halls, decorated with enormous paintings and frescoes, beautiful ceilings, antechambers, a chapel, an armoury complete with weaponry, and some apartments, but no velvet drapes and horse-hair furniture!

The prison is accessed by a bridge from the palace by the 17th Century Bridge of Sighs, so named as the prisoners took their last look at the outside world.  The cells were extremely creepy and as we went deeper into the prison, we couldn't find our way out as we wandered around in circles!  Fortunately we managed to get out and made our way by tender back to our ship.

We left Venice even later than planned but Anne and I were intrigued about how we were to get back to the open sea - which we had passed earlier in the day, and which seemed to be a long way from the dock.




Standing on the balcony in our PJs (!) we were astounded at the skill of the captain as he negotiated between the buildings - ancient and modern. What had seemed like a wide waterway when we were in a small tender, was reduced to a stream in a 2,000 berth ship.  We also watched the pilot boat as it came alongside and the pilot hopped over from our ship to his small boat. Fascinating!

When I started writing this I didn't realise how long it would be so I will  split into two  and complete next week.In actual fact, each city we visited is worth a blog on its own, but I don't want to bore you.  Obviously we didn't spend a huge amount of time in each place, but we hope this gives you a flavour of our travels and whet your appetite for a trip yourselves.

Happy cruising!


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Friday, 11 October 2019

MY HOLIDAY WARDROBE

At the risk of boring you to death about my annual trips to Santorini, I thought I would turn this blog into a summer fashion one - although it all seems a long time ago now, even though I have only been back a week.

Given that in the UK all it has done for the past week is rain, and the temperature has plummeted - it's almost like winter instead of autumn!

However, before we pack all our lovely summer prints away, we do have one more holiday to come - together this time - before we settle down for the winter.  Watch this space!




This lovely blue raspberry ripple Ted Baker top was a birthday gift to myself, and although sold out on the main site, it is still available from other retailers.  I mostly like to cover my ample hips so this is a perfect style for me, though I think it was initially meant as a swimwear cover up.  I've teamed it with ubiquitous thick white Julien Macdonald leggings (love them or hate them!) however, since it was much too hot to wear trousers or jeans. I also have a similar top in black and pink which I wear in much the same way. The flip flops and small tote bag are also from Ted Baker in the Harmony design. However, since these were bought in summer, they are now out of stock.


Swimwear cover ups are one of my beach holiday wardrobe staples since I can wear them for the evening over a cami and then over a swimming costume.  The advantage is they are super light to pack, and convert to a lightweight top with a self-coloured vest underneath. 



Another new purchase for the summer this year was this yellow tunic from Wallis, worn with white jeans from M&S, and sandals which I have had for many years and which I originally bought in Sainsbury's (no longer available but they do have some great sandals online).  The perspex tote is also a previous year's purchase, but similar ones are still available here.  Many have a zip purse attached in contrasting colours for your valuables to avoid having all your money/phones etc on display.

The butterfly earrings were borrowed from my daughter, and the watch is from Swarovski.



Silk pieces are a dream to pack - they take up very little space and once you've hung them up in the heat, al the crinkles fall out.  This turquoise one was gifted to me last year and has been on every holiday since then.  although now out of stock, Mandy's Heaven has many similar designs still on her website - and the cost won't break the bank either. The trousers are M&S and the jewelled turquoise sliders were a snip at just £13 in TKMaxx.


The orangey pink top is another beach cover up, this time from Matalan, and teamed with those same white Julien Macdonald leggings, and Sainsbury's sandals. 


I can't not include a photo of my lovely Greek friend Ellie - the reason I am taking Greek lessons is so that we can have proper conversations instead of via Google Translate!  My white top is still available from Zara and the pink chinos are from Florence & Fred at Tesco - similar ones here. Incidentally, Florence and Fred stopped selling via Tesco online. but are now available via Next. The necklace is originally from Phase Eight and perfectly matches the bracelet from Simply Devine. Sunglasses are Tiffany.

This year for the first time we visited the old village of Emporio - built sometime between the 14th and 18th centuries. It is difficult to be precise because many records of its history do not exist.  The picturesque alleys and walkways lead to a higgledy pigledy collection of tiny homes build on top of each other with no space between - it is difficult to see where one home ends and another starts.  The old castle is still inhabited, albeit in small apartment style homes rather than anything grand, and enjoys panoramic views of the island - presumably so the villagers could watch for invaders, since Santorini has been invaded so many times through the ages. Definitely a place to visit - I can't think why we waited so long to go.

I can't not finish with some fabulous photos of Santorini - it is just my favourite place in the world!  


Thira from the sea - taken from the King Thira pleasure boat (sadly not the fabulous yacht pictured here) for a sunset dinner cruise. There is a full day cruise taking in the volcano and some of the smaller islands but three hours on board was enough for us!


Sunset from Thira looking down onto Thirassia. Panemorfi (beautiful)!
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Saturday, 31 August 2019

A BIRTHDAY VISIT TO COLOGNE



When my daughter told me she was taking me to Germany for my 66th birthday (just gone), I thought it would be a bit of a blast from the past, since I lived in Germany for three years way back in the 1960s. My father served in the Royal Air Force and we lived at Rheindahlen, which was then the NATO headquarters, but I haven't been back since we left there in 1966.

We arrived on my actual birthday and there was a huge surprise waiting when we got to our room.  There had been a mix-up over my daughter's payment to the budget  Ibis Centrum Hotel, which was to be our home for three days, and to compensate, they had upgraded our room and left balloons and bunting (even though they got my age wrong, but as it made me younger, I didn't fuss about it!


Cologne cathedral 


Our first afternoon was spent getting our bearings and wandering around the city centre - which was around a 15 minute walk away from the hotel.  The first thing that struck me was that I didn't remember any of the city - despite the fact that we had spent many days and hours there and had visited lots of times. 

Obviously there has been a huge amount of building during the past 53 years - probably most of it during the 1960s as it was obvious from the design of the architecture. Clearly Cologne had been devastated during World War II - as had many English cities, and most of the rebuilding had been completed at a time when square building were the norm.

However, the beautiful and iconic gothic cathedral was one of the few buildings left standing, and stands proud and majestic in the city centre, although it is currently undergoing extensive renovation.  Finally completed in 1880, the cathedral took some 600 years to complete and was one of the most important religious sites in Europe, since it was to house the remains of the Three Kings.





The cathedral is free to enter, though there is a small charge to go up the tower - which we didn't do since I am very scared of heights and the 100m height and 533 steps was just too much for me! Interestingly I don't believe the blackened stone-work has ever been cleaned, leaving it very dark on the outside - testament to the history and the architectural significance of the building.  It is absolutely the heart of the city.

My birthday dinner was spent at my daughter's favourite restaurant - the Hard Rock Cafe - and we have to eat there wherever we travel if there is a branch!  The staff were very kind though, and brought free ice cream for us to share!



The Fragrance Museum


We had booked a visit to the Fragrance Museum, which was certainly one of the highlights for me.  At just 5 Euros, we went to the House of Farina for a tour and history of Eau de Cologne, which was quite fascinating.

Originally from Italy, the Farina family set up their business selling Eau de Cologne in the city to combat the appalling smell which we humans emit when we never wash!  Since the local water was filthy and smelly it was not used for washing, and consequently the population was also filthy and smelly and something was needed to enable people to live without a permanent bad smell!

Although the name of Eau de Cologne is French, the product came from Germany, the name endured  because all trade and nobility spoke French, which was the language of business and the upper classes.

Using essential oils, the Farina family developed a fragrance - actually stronger than today's eau de cologne - which was used by the aristocracy and rich population only, since it would cost the equivalent of 1000 Euros for a bottle at today's prices.  Bonaparte had a special compartment built into his shoes to place the glass container and reputedly went through a bottle a week.

Fainting was normal for people at events since the smell of the body odour, coupled with the strong smell of the fragrance meant many passed out when in close proximity! 

We were also treated to some little titbits of how life was like back in the 1700s - people put drops of blood and honey on cloth and hid it among their clothes - the blood to draw the fleas and lice, and the honey so that the little beasties would stick to it!

We were delighted at the end of the tour to be given a sample of that first fragrance - not as sophisticated as today's perfumes, but still quite pleasant. More modern bottles derived from that first cologne can be purchased in their on-site shop.

Incidentally 4711 was a competitor to the Farina family, which bought a licence to produce a similar product, and although the family tried to rescind the licences at a later date, and eventually succeeded in many cases, 4711 continues to this day.


Red Bus Tour


We always book a red bus tour during our city breaks, and we jumped on a bus just as the heavens opened, so that was a good choice.  However, I did find the rest of the city quite uninspiring.  Clearly many of the historic buildings no longer exist and it just seemed like any city with lots of office blocks, entertainment and sports venues and museums.  On the opposite bank to the city is Deutz - originally a separate town, but now part of the major conurbation.  It is here that you can "hop off" if you want to visit the city zoo or shop in one of the larger malls. There was also a zip wire and climbing course for the more adventurous but probably more suitable for those with older children.

We decided then to take the train to nearby Dusseldorf - another place I had often visited during my early teenage years, but again, I didn't recognise anywhere - though there is a fabulous shopping centre!  We strolled along the Rhine Promenade, but again, the view on the opposite river bank was largely flat and uninspiring. The train journey however, was exceptionally smooth, with double-decker carriages, largely on time and clean.

Dusseldorf





The Haymarket


Dinner was spent at the  X11 Apostles Restaurant in the Heymarket District which was exceptionally good.  We had searched for a gluten free restaurant as my daughter is intolerant to gluten, but sadly there is a distinct lack of GF choices on restaurant menus.  

This area housed the medieval market where merchants came to trade their cloth, leather, salt, cheese and of course hay, and forms part of the old town with its traditional buildings and local breweries.The area is very lively at night with food and drink stalls, jewellery and leather, and a live band creating a festival atmosphere.



 River Boat Cruise


For our final afternoon, we opted for a river boat trip, but I was hugely disappointed since it seemed like a kindergarten with beer!  Small children ran around while the adults drank and waitresses carrying trays of beer and chips swerved around screaming children  Since we were inside we couldn't hear any of the commentary and the upstairs outdoor area was completely full.  We had asked the guy when we got our tickets if the boat was full or if we should book another time, but he said the trips were always full, and there was only one more cruise that day.  Somehow I think they are missing a trick.  I would have loved an evening cruise with dinner when all the buildings were lit up through the city!


Incidentally the Willi Ostermann referred to on the boat  above is a famous German carnival singer and composer.

A stroll along the river bank is a must - walk around the back of the cathedral and between the museums and it is pleasant to sit and watch the world go by on a sunny day. You can also see the impressive Hohenzollern Railway Bridge spanning the Rhine, and which was largely destroyed during the war It now carries around 1200 trains each day in and out of the main railway station, although there is also a pedestrian walkway running alongside if you want to walk to the other side of the Rhine.  There are also plenty of riverside cafes and bars and some pretty old buildings in pastel shades which are extremely instagrammable!




There is certainly plenty to do - especially if you like museums - there is something to interest everyone, including for sport, art and chocolate! As one of the largest city and oldest cities in Germany, it is certainly worth a visit, but I think if I was to visit again, I would love to go in December to visit the Christmas markets! The shopping is excellent, though many of the names are to be found all over Europe, including the UK, though it was interesting to see C&A thriving here - a store which disappeared from our high street a few years ago!




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Friday, 19 July 2019

AN UNEXPECTED SURPRISE HOLIDAY IN FRANCE


The House in Apremont


When your good friends ask you if you'd like to pop over to France with them to stay a week in their holiday home - there's only one answer.  YES of course!!(And thank you!)

My friends bought their lovely holiday bungalow some years ago so I have visited two or three times previously, but they have completely renovated it since then, and it is absolutely gorgeous - and I'm not biased, I just love clean comfortable accommodation - ok, verging on luxury if I'm honest!

In fact the house is so popular, that they rarely get the opportunity to relax and enjoy what they have created, since it is rented out most of the summer months. The house is in the pretty village of Apremont in the Vendee region in the west of France.

Maison Blanc nestles between fairytale chateaux, ancient walled towns, traditional coastal resorts  and natural wonders. But best of all, it's a real home from home, with every modern convenience, from Sky TV and Alexa to a modern fitted and fully functioning kitchen. There is also a washing machine in the utility room, which means you don't have to fill your suitcase with more clothes than you need. Towels and bedding are provided.




From the UK it is possible to either fly or drive, and we have done both in the past.  This year we flew from Leeds/Bradford airport (local to us here in Yorkshire) to Limoges, but we have previously taken the ferry or flown from East Midlands airport.

For me the beauty of Apremont is the tranquil countryside and the peace and quiet, which may not be for you if you want to party.  It is the perfect spot for family holidays, with a double bedroom, two twin rooms, a shower room with loo and a separate toilet.  There are games and books in the cupboard, bikes in the garage, and the piece de resistance is the swimming pool in the garden, with plenty of sunbeds, so no need to get up at the crack of dawn to fight over your sun lounger. The home is tastefully decorated and furnished, and the lovely conservatory at the back of the house is light and airy. There are also a number of  nearby activities and places of interest to satisfy everyone in the family - leaflets are available at the house. 

Closest to the house is a small beach and river, which in summer has swimming and boating available to keep everyone happy, and the best thing is, it's just a 10 minute walk away.

Elsewhere, local amenities and nearby towns are only accessible by driving, so hiring a car is a necessity as public transport is nil.




After a busy and stressful year, I was ready for a little rest and recuperation, so reading a couple of books, relaxing by the pool and pottering around the shops was such a treat.  We ate out on the patio when the weather allowed us and there was one magical moment in the late evening when we turned out all the lights as we were locking up.  The night sky was a deep indigo and there were more stars than I've ever seen.  It was such a clear night - and no street lights - so we could see millions of stars - not all of them very bright, but it conjured up such a perfect feeling of peace and tranquility.



The village has only a handful of shops - a patisserie, a Spar grocery shop, a pretty jewellery shop (yes I bought some earrings!) and a couple of restaurants.  Highlight of the day was the stroll to the patisserie for fresh crusty French bread, buttery croissants and pain au chocolat.  I was lucky not to come back heavier than when I started, because the bread is so delicious, we ate it every day, usually sitting at the outside patio table in the early morning sunshine.



Days Out


One of the nearest towns is Challans, and we spent a couple of hours in the morning browsing the shops.  It is useful to note that although it wasn't high summer during our visit, the shops operate siesta times and close around lunchtime, re-opening in the late afternoon.  But there were still people drinking coffee and beer all day at pavement cafes - all very French!


St Gilles Crux de Vie is the nearest seaside resort to Apremont, with its charming small inlet harbour,  Unfortunately we mis-judged the timing and only had a short time there before the shops closed, but we enjoyed a coffee in one of the many cafes and strolled along the harbour after the tide came in.  There is also a fabulous old fairground carousel at the end of the pedestrianised street - very picturesque! It is also possible to get a ferry boat to the small island of Ile D'Yeu, though it is a place we have never been - maybe that's something for another visit.



St Gilles was originally two separate towns, St Gille de Vie and Croix de Vie, separated by the River Vie, and grew up around boat building, where today there are now five factories of leading boat builders. Anglers are able to hire boats for the day to take them out into the Atlantic for a spot of sea fishing if that takes your fancy.

Another day we ventured to the seaside resort of Les Sable de L'Onnes, which has the most amazingly long golden sandy beaches - a dream during the summer months, and ideal for young families.  It is also the largest local port, bringing in fresh fish to the restaurants.  There are plenty of water sports to choose from, though it was a little too early in the season to see much activity, other than wander round the boat yard and admire the small boats and yachts.

Les Sable is also home to the Golden Globe Yacht Race, last held in 2018, with a countdown to the next race in 2022.



I always love to visit La Rochelle with its traditional old harbour, and contrasting modern marina. There's also a fabulous 14th Century Lantern Tower and 15th Century fortress to explore, as well as an aquarium for the kids, a number of museums and a lovely beach. Of course we managed to find a few very nice shops along the way, pausing for lunch at one of the many harbour-side restaurants.


However much as I love La Rochelle it was a bit of a trek for our driver (otherwise known as my friend's hubby) and a six hour round trip drive, so it's probably worth spending a separate few days there. Being a port, of course, the seafood is delicious, and no visit to France would be complete without a meal of Moules et  Frites (mussels in a delicious cream sauce with fries for those who don't parle Francais).

There are boat trips around the coastline from La Rochelle, including one to Fort Boyard, which has had a chequered history and was latterly briefly used as a military prison. Am I the only one who remembers the strange  TV game show filmed there with Leslie Grantham (of Dirty Den East Enders fame) and Melinda Messenger?

Our last night in France as we made our way back to the airport was an absolute gem - and another place which we discovered was so interesting, it would be good to have spent more than a night there.  We had booked a small gite in Saint-Priest-sous-Aixe just outside Limoges so we were near to the airport for our morning flight.  What a perfect spot!  We didn't really know what to expect but the little hamlet was a touch of paradise.




Our little house was a converted barn, part of a complex dating back 1,000 years, and largely owned by one family.  The owner had an English father who served in France during WW11, married a French girl and stayed there. The little house had everything we needed for the night, including wifi, and a fully stocked, if rustic kitchen.  The rickety stairs led to two bedrooms - a double and twin, with a loo upstairs and a toilet and shower downstairs.

We enjoyed a relaxing glass of wine in sun loungers watching the kayakers navigate the small weir as they made their way downstream, which we followed up with a relaxing stroll along the riverbank, passing some very rusty tractors which haven't seen any work this century!  I think it was yet another one of those absolutely perfect moments where you totally let go and relax.



We ventured into the nearby town of Limoges, which was so pretty, with its porcelain shops and medieval buildings.  The Rue de La Boucherie is not to be missed, with its quaint doorways and beautifully restored architecture. The original butchers shops now house such diverse businesses as an historic library, antiques and a seamstress - not a butcher in sight! As always in France, there are museums and churches to visit, but our time there was fleeting, so definitely worth another visit.


The perfect end to a lovely week!

Booking information for Maison Blanc in Apremont available here or here or here (take your pick). With grateful thanks and much love, as always, to Paul and Gillian Hargreaves for a fabulous break.
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