Travelling around Central Spain Part III -Salamanca

Salamanca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and quite rightly so, it’s a beautiful city. We parked (for free) the other side of the River Tormes and walked across one of the main bridges into the heart of the city. And what a view! Ahead were the magnificent Cathedrals. There are two of them, joined together, but more about that later. Looking to our left we could see the Salamanca Roman Bridge with its twenty-six arches of which fifteen date from Roman times. All this and we hadn’t got into the city yet!

The Roman Bridge of Salamanca crossing the River Tormes and the city’s two cathedrals … Catedral Vieja de Santa Maria and Catedral Nueva.

Following the main route into Salamanca is one of the most interesting introductions to a city you could have. We skirted past the entrance to the famous Art Deco museum which was on our list to visit the next day. I took a picture of two of the imposing doors to the Old Cathedral as we passed plus one of Francisco de Salinas, who was a music theorist and organist. Hope he liked pigeons as they obviously like to perch on his statue.

Wonderfully carved doors guarding the entrance to the North and South transepts of the new Cathedral and a statue of Fransisco de Salinas musician and humanist.

We peeked into a few shops along the pedestrianised streets of Tor and Zamora. I couldn’t resist photographing this one with all the hams and sausages hanging up. These are a speciality of the region.

Quite a selection of cured hams and sausages.

We didn’t linger long walking through the main shopping area although we did stop to admire the tall buildings which line either side of the street. It was getting on for lunchtime and we were aiming for the magnificent Plaza Mayor, one of the grandest and most imposing squares in all of Europe. The square has been an important meeting place for the citizens and students of Salamanca for centuries. This is where you go to enjoy a coffee, a wine, meet a friend or take a stroll around the square passing all of its 88 arches.

Plaza Mayor

So many cafes to choose from, it had to be one in the sunniets corner. We sat and had a glass of wine, watched the people go by, had another glass of wine and then a bite to eat – just perfect. Having re-charged our batteries it was time to head off to visit Salamanca’s Cathedrals

I don’t know if this is unique but there can’t be many cities who can boast two Cathedrals joined together. One dates back to the 12th & 13th centuries whilst the ‘new’ one was started in the 16th century. The old cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria de la Sede is built in the Romanesque style and as well as many beautiful features it’s best known for the magnificent altarpiece of the main chapel dating from the 1440’s. We are kicking ourselves now for not actually going into either cathedral as we decided to do the rooftop tour linking the two and looking down onto the buildings. As you walk up there is a window you can peer through to see the old Cathedral but that’s as near as we got. I did get a picture with my 75-300 lens of the wonderful altarpiece at the end of the Main Chapel.

View of the Main Chapel and altarpiece in the Old Cathedral.

Carrying on, the views from the top of the old Cathedral are well worth the climb including being almost level with one of the many pairs of nesting storks you see at the top of buildings in Salamanca.

That’s what you call a bird’s nest!

A word of warning! If you are going up to the bell tower, avoid being in there late morning if you can. These are serious bells, many sets of them. We were there when they rang out the half-hour and take it from me …they are deafening.

One of the four sets of bells in the tower of the new Cathedral.

Once you come out at the top you walk along between the two cathedrals which is quite something along with the great views of the city not to mention the architecture of both buildings. The construction of the New Cathedral began in 1513 which is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin and again I’m sorry we didn’t go inside.

The walkway between the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral.

At the end of the walkway we followed a passageway into the New Cathedral which gives you a bird’s-eye view of one of the three naves and some of the beautiful stained glass windows of which there are apparently almost a hundred. This is a huge Cathedral with eighteen chapels all elaborately decorated, a high and low choir and a huge Sacristy comprising several rooms.

One of the three naves in the New Cathedral.

Once outside we walked back to our hotel Casino Del Tormes which is right by the Tormes river and a short walk from the centre of the city. We were impressed with the hotel as it was very reasonably priced, the breakfast was excellent with lots of choice, it’s in a quiet area of the city near the iconic Roman Bridge and our room had a lovely view of the river.

That evening we headed backto the Plaza Mayor before finding somewhere for dinner. At nightime the city takes on a different persona. All the magnificent architecture lit up and the place alive, not just with tourists but local people drawn as they have been for centuries to the square.

Stunning by day …and night.
Baroque architecture, amazing detail.

I could have taken lots of pictures as the buildings looked wonderful all lit up. The one below is an attempt to show the expanse of Salamanca’s famous Plaza Mayor.

Plaza Mayor (panoramic shot taken on my mobile phone).

Walking back to the hotel after an OK meal but nothing special we had to smile at the sign outside what looked like a pretty ordinary small convenience store. Clearly they catered for all needs!

Get your snacks and other ‘delights’ here …

The next day we visited the Art Deco Museum. A good day to choose as on a Thursday it’s free admission. I took lots of pictures, so as I think this Blog is long enough, I’ll write a second one on the museum. I hope there’s enough in this one to show how impressed we were with the city of Salamanca.

Travelling in central Spain Part II

There are lots of things we love about Spain and getting ‘free food’ when you order a drink is one of them. We’d left Toledo going round by the scenic route just to have one more glimpse of the old city before heading off towards Oropesa.

We were taking our time and decided to leave the main road and head for a village to see if the castle there was open – it wasn’t. The ‘town’ itself, and this is the only way I can describe it, is very utalitarian in its layout. Row upon row of small, identical houses in a regimented grid. The factory was nearby and so this town was obviously purpose-built but seemed to lack any soul. As we only walked to the castle we might have got the wrong impression of the place but it wasn’t somewhere we wanted to linger.

A splendid castle on the edge of the town. (Perhaps its only feature)?

Back on the main road again and by this time we felt we needed a drink. We didn’t have to wait too long as we arrived at Talavera de la Reina. It’s a large city famous for ceramics. As we were driving round the ring road we spotted a cafe in the park. It was like an ‘Imbis’-style cafe you get in Germany. We only ordered two beers but along with that came a free tapas. It was so tasty, you really feel you’re getting lunch for nothing. It certainly set us up for the last part of our journey to Oropesa.

Free Food with a beer.

In Spain there are state owned luxury hotels that are usually located in historic buildings, Parador de Oropesa is no exception. This part of the 15th century castle was fully restored in 1930 and converted into the first Parador. It is a beautiful place to stay and is full of paintings and artefacts and lush furnishings. Price-wise it’s not as expensive as you would think. There are actually two castles on the site; the Parador being the 15th century Palace of the Alvarez de Toledo family and the other, looking more like a castle is a partially preserved Arab fortress built around the same time.

Parador do Oropesa
Parador de Oropesa (one of the castles).

I’m sure there are some great views from the parapet across to the mighty Sierra de Gredos but it was overcast and drizzling when we got up the next day and the visibilty was poor. Having said that we were given a warm welcome at the castle and were able to wander around on our own – we were the only visitors and paid a modest €1.50 each, the concession price which was great value. Every year in April the town celebrates “Medieval Days” with everyone, including riders on horseback taking to the streets to converge on the castle where much festivities take place and much alcohol consumed (by all accounts).

14th century castle at Oropesa
Castello de Oropesa

With the weather improving slightly we decided to stop at the medieval city of Plasencia. There is so much evidence of the importance of this area in those times. The old quarter includes ancestral homes owned by the noblemen and many signifiant religious buildings. Placensia has significant historical remains with ramparts enclosing most of the centre of the city. We were lucky that day as the weekly market was in full swing. All the produce was displayed beautifully on the stalls including one which was selling nothing but young vegetable plants to take home and plant in your own garden. Certainly takes the stress out of trying to grow your own from seed!

The only thing was, because there were so many stalls and shoppers it was hard to appreciate the main square which is lined with lots of splendid buildings including The City Hall. Placensia is well worth a visit. I wish now we’d gone into the Old and New Cathedrals but we did wander through several of the medieval streets with some interesting architecture. A good place for shops too.

Plasencia
Plasencia Market & part of its medieval walls.

And now it was time to head for the hills. Next stop, the little village of Candelario where we were staying the night. It’s a very historic place, steeped in history and is described as one of the most beautiful villages in Spain. We were definitely going to include this one in our itinerary. Because we were there before the summer tourist season got into full swing it was very quiet. Come the summer tourist season people flock here to marvel at the traditional architecture, learn more of it’s cultural history and enjoy the beautiful setting. In the winter its a thriving resort being near to a ski station. Candelario nestles between high mountains and driving the winding road up to it we were grateful to our hotel for giving us such precise directions. There’s a car park at the top of the village and it wasn’t far to trundle our cases down the uneven street to our hotel, Posada de Candelario. More about this sweet little hotel in a moment.

On the right is our hotel, Posada de Candelario.

Originally the villagers made their living mainly from cattle. They slaughtered the animals in the streets by the many fountains dotted here and there and the blood was washed away down the narrow watercourses which run alongside the ‘main’ streets. That way the village stayed clean and the fast flowing water was always crystal clear.

Some of the interesing things we spotted on our walk round Candelario. The poster is advertising one of the many festivals which take place in this region.

The picture below (top rh) shows half a door in front of the entrance to some of the houses. Most of the villagers would have had one outside their house which protected it from the snow but also prevented animals from going in or out of the house. Days gone by animals used to live on the bottom floor in order to provide warmth to the house, also it was a way to keep the house ventilated during the season of slaughtering (it lasted during all the cold months, from November to February). Pigs were kept too from which sausages were made and sold throughout Spain.

Top left – one of the many medieval fountains. Bottom right – a view from the car park of the snow-capped Sierra de Béjar mountain range. The three central pictures show the cosy sitting room at Posada de Candelario, our bedroom and one of the hotel cats on Reception duty.

Our hotel couldn’t have been more different from the one in Oropesa. Posada de Candelario is located in an old Casa Chacinera built in the XIXth centrury. The building is full of character as you can imagine with oak beams, wooden stairs to the first floor and beyond. We were given a very warm welcome by Enrique and it wasn’t long before we felt very much at home. A spacious bedroom with a lovely, cosy bed was perfect.

The drinks and snacks in the sitting room are on a help-yourself-basis; simply write down what you’ve had and it’s added to your bill. The cats come and join you to have a warm by the fire in the sitting room and the breakfast was excellent with lots of home-made jams, warm croissants and as many cups of tea and coffee as you like. One of the reasons for mentioning food is that we weren’t able to find a restaurant in the village that evening that was open. We found the only pub in the village that was open. The food was limited as was the landlord’s conversation but we had some local ham and cheese and a beer which was something. The savoury snacks back at the hotel were very welcome too. In the tourist season the hotel serves evening meals and by all accounts, reading the reviews, the food is excellent.

We enjoyed our short stay at this cozy hotel in Oropesa and would have liked to have lingered longer but our next stop was the famous city of Salamanca. This UNESCO World Heritage city is one of Spain’s most beautiful and we were so excited to get there. More about that in the third part of this Blog on our tour of Central Spain.

Travelling around central Spain Part 1

San Servando Castle in Toledo.

Toledo is an ancient city set on a hill above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain. It’s the capital of the region and is a favourite tourist destination known for the mix of medieval Arab, Jewish and Christian monuments within its walled city. A wonderful maze of narrow streets which takes on a magical feel when night falls.

Bell tower of the Santa Isabel church adjacent to our hotel.

Driving to our hotel was interesting as the streets got narrower and narrower. The receptionist had emphasised that our hire car must be a small one otherwise we wouldn’t get through …how right she was! Nevertheless we arrived without scraping any paintwork at Hotel Santa Isabel which was a perfect spot to stay being right in the heart of the walled city. The picture above was taken from the roof terrace and is the church of Saint Isabel. I love the golden evening light on the campanile. Of all the places we stayed during our week in Spain this hotel gave us the best breakfast and the room and service was very good too. We highly recommend this hotel.

Main picture is the view from our balcony and the two pictures of the cathedral were taken from the terrace of the hotel.

On our first evening we wandered towards the Jewish quarter and had a tasty meal washed down with a carafe of reasonably priced vino in a very modest ‘locals’ restaurant .

Day two in the city and unusually for us we decided to go on the tourist train to see more of Toledo. It saved us from getting the car out from the very tricky hotel car park and it was an easy and inexpensive way to see the sights. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and as well as passing some of the landmarks in the old town the train takes you along the river Tagus with views of several interesting bridges and then goes up to the Mirador del Valle.

Some of the views taken during our trip on the tourist train.

From the Mirador del Valle you look down on the Tagus river which encircles Toledo. From the viewpoint where the bus stops for about fifteen minutes to give people a chance to take pictures you can see Toledo’s landmarks …the Cathedral, the Jesuit Church and the Alcazar. This is a just an amazing panorama. I can imagine that if you’re up there at sunset it looks even more breathtaking. We were impressed with the trip on the train; it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. We sat at the back which in our opinion were the best seats.

Once back in the city, we had a wander round the area just below the Alcazar as I wanted to take this view which is the last one in the set above. I love the the three roads snaking across and the castle in the background. I thought we might visit the castle but apparently it’s a youth hostel and as for the old fortress of Alcazar, well we gave that a miss as its a military museum now. It is an imposing building with its high walls and black pinnacles (?) on each of the four corners. Having decided we wouldn’t do the museum we settled for a couple of beers sat in the sun at a cafe opposite the Alcazar.

Medieval gothic architecture and (some of) the painted walls and domed ceilings.

After a bite to eat we headed to one of Toldeo’s main attractions, Catedral Primada or to give it its full name, Santa Inglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo. Do check out the opening times before you go. There is an admission charge but its well worth it. This medieval gothic religious edifice is majestic. There are several chapels to visit, also the Treasury and the Capitulary room and anteroom and you can climb the tower that’s 44 metres high to get great views of the city. Leave plenty of time for your visit.

Main picture is of part of the cloisters, the side pictures are of the main chapel.

I know it’s a personal observation but for me the most impressive part of the Cathedral is the Main Chapel with its enormous altarpiece which was started in the early sixteenth century and has been worked on by many craftsmen since. The gilding, the colours, the statues and the height is an incredible backdrop to the main altar.

Narrow streets of cobbled stones.

On our way back to the hotel we spotted a restaurant just round the corner that also did tapas. Stupidly we didn’t think we needed to book as it was a Sunday evening but when we went back later we found out it was a popular place and was fully booked. We should have gone earlier as in Spain people tend not to go out to eat until at least 9 o’clock. However we’d enjoyed exploring the back streets and although the main streets were fairly quiet the shops were open. Not sure anyone was interested in buying a Toldeo sword for which the town is famous but the shop selling marzipan was still busy. Along with these rather gruesome-looking swords, Toledo is famous for its handmade marzipan.

Fortunately we’d been told about a tapas bar, El Trebol on the other side of the city which had a good write-up so we weren’t surprised when we arrived that we had to queue to get in. The wait wasn’t too long and it was worth it. We were first of all directed to the bar so no problem there. We were served a drink very quickly and given two small plates of delicious ‘taster’ tapas as an appetizer. Before long we were taken to our table, chose four meat dishes from the menu and had the tastiest tapas of the whole holiday.

Sites of Toledo including one of the bridges spanning the river Tagus.
Puenta de alcantata one of Toledo’s landmark bridges with El Alcazar in the background.

Before we left Toledo we decided to re-trace the route of the tourist train and drive alongside the river. Two days in the city isn’t long enough to do justice to this former Spanish capital. We had wandered around the Jewish quarter but didn’t visit the synagogue. We hadn’t been inside the Mezquita Cristo de la Luz, a square-shaped mosque in the ancient medina and we hadn’t been to the Monastery of San Juan and any other monasteries for that matter. However we felt we had walked around most of the old town and done all we could in a short space of time. We never intend on our holidays to race around and when we’ve left things to do and see, well we can always go back.

Now it was time to move on and head across country to Oropesa. More about this Spanish town and others in the next part of this Blog.

A Taste of The New Forest 2.

It was a good choice to stay in Boldre. We liked the area as it was easy to get to places like Lymington, Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst. It’s a quiet village and as mentioned in my previous Blog, the pub, The Red Lion round the corner from our Airbnb served tasty pub grub and an excellent pint.

Unusually the parish church is not in the village itself but about a mile away. The church of St John the Baptist has a squat tower dating from the fourteenth century and as well as its imposing position on a hillock, the first thing you notice is the churchyard with tombstones standing to attention in straight rows and to the right of the church door, a stunning engraved glass window.

The churchyard at St John the Baptist.

As there was a service going on when we walked to the church the first time we decided to wander up the lane a few days later to see inside. Inside the church is a memorial to the servicemen who died on HMS Hood in a battle with the German battleship Bismark, 1418 people were on board with just three surviving. The officer in overall command was Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland who used to worship at the church and a memorial to those lost was erected by his widow. A service of commemoration is held every year.

Memorial to the 1,415 seamen who perished on HMS Hood.

As well as the memorial the interior of the church is well worth a mention especailly the modern stained glass window above the altar and the engraved glass window by the door depicting ‘The Tree of Life’.

The interior of the church.

After visiting the church we drove over to Lyndhurst to have a look around. I’d expected to see New Forest Ponies as we drove along but didn’t know there were donkeys roaming around too. In fact they are everywhere. The nice thing is that they totally ignore people and of course you shouldn’t touch them or feed them. We didn’t see anyone doing that but some people do get very close to them when taking pictures which makes me cross. You can tell when the donkeys are worried for their little ones as they stand over them to protect them.

We liked Lyndhurst as there were several interesting local shops in the High Street. We also visited the Gothic parish church which is very large and imposing. The William Morris windows are beautiful. Afterwards we drove to Brockenhurst which is the largest village in The New Forest but to be honest we weren’t that impressed … both of us thought as we were walking round that there must be more to the place but if there was, we didn’t find it. What was amusing though was the way the traffic ground to a halt at the top of the high street whilst about six cows ambled slowly along. A few locals came out of their houses to watch so maybe it wasn’t a regular ocurence. Not sure why I didn’t take a picture, it’s not like me to miss something like that.


You don’t need to get close to get a cute picture.

After walking around Brockenhurst and not being too impressed we headed to the coast to get some sea air before going back to our Airbnb. We took pot luck having never been along this coastline before and stopped at Barton-on-Sea. The cliffs are very impressive but it’s not a good idea to get too close to the edge as they are very crumbly as you can see from the picture. My man told me off for walking close to the edge, camera in hand, and of course he was right to do so.

Barton-on-Sea and a view of ‘The Needles’

That evening to celebrate our wedding anniversary we had booked a table at Lanes of Lymington. It had an excellent write-up and from reading their web site it sounded the perfect place to go for our meal. I have ‘lifted’ here part of the intro on their Home Page …Formerly a Church and School, the building is tucked away down a quiet cul de sac, just off the High Street and once ‘discovered’, offers romantic and exceptional, yet affordable, dining to suit all tastes. The split levels, small intimate alcoves, balconies and open plan ground floor are stylish and what you’d expect from a fashionable top London eatery. The restaurant did not disappoint. We had an excellent meal, not ridiculouly expensive. We felt we’d made a good choice for our anniversary meal.

Palace House Beaulieu (above) and (below) one of the many historic houses in the village.

For our last full day in The New Forest we decided to drive over to Exbury Gardens stopping on the way at Beaulieu, which is famous for its National Motor Museum.

I wasn’t particualrly interested in the Motor Museum so after walking around the village and checking out a couple of the gift shops we headed onto Exbury Gardens. We hadn’t gone very far before we had to slow down for several ponies and donkeys who were owning the road. It was another chance to take yet more pictures of these free-roaming animals. It’s rare to go more than a few miles before coming across the four-legged New Forest residents.

Donkeys & Horses are free to roam.

And finally we arrived at Exbury Gardens which had been recommended to us. The 200-acre garden was a 100 years in the making with the estate bought by Lionel de Rothschild in 1919. It has an excellent selection of contemporary and formal gardens, landscaped woodland and is located by the Beaulieu river. We enjoyed wandering around and as it was mid-week there were just a few visitors about. It was great to see the narrow-gauge steam railway in operation which runs around part of the gardens.

Top Pond
Exbury House (top left), stone bridge and Top Pond
River Walk.
Exbury steam railway
Marie-Louise Beer, wife of the founder of Exbury Gardens, Lionel de Rothschild.

If you are in the New Forest, Exbury Gardens is well worth a visit. Closed in the winter it re-opens in mid-March.

One of the many walks in the New Forest – a mix of woodland and open heathland.

And now it was our last morning and time to leave. There’s so much to do in this area and although we felt we’d packed a lot in each day we knew there were many more walks and trails we hadn’t explored. As we drove away from our Airbnb in Boldre we stopped before leaving the National Park to do just one more short walk. The sun coming through the trees lighting up the forest floor was magical and just as we thought we were on our own, out trotted a pony. He stopped in his tracks and was as surprised to see us as we were to see him. We stopped and waited and with one last haughty stare, from the pony, that is, he went on his way.

These ponies are free to roam and are owned by local families using their commoning rights.

We had enjoyed our five days in The New Forest and will definitely go back.There are events happening throughout the year and if the two Blogs on our stay in this area have whetted your appetite, here are two useful websites to help you plan your visit.

newforestnpa.gov.uk/events forestryengland.uk/new-forest

A taste of the New Forest

2021 was the year when many of us were unable to go abroad on holiday. It was disappointing but living in the UK gives you lots of choices of places to visit and discover ‘new’ parts of the country.

Earlier in the year we’d spent a week up in Cumbria and had thoroughly enjoyed exploring that area, we hadn’t expected great weather but overall it wasn’t too bad. Then September arrived and we decided to book another Airbnb, this time in the New Forest. We had a good excuse to go away, not that we needed one but it’s our wedding anniversary in the middle of September so we decided to take a mini-break and thought the area around Lymington looked interesting.

Once again my man had done some research and had found an Airbnb which suited us in a village very near to Lymington called Boldre. The owners were great, very friendly and helpful and we really liked the place especially having a garden at the side all to ourselves.

The Barn at Boldre with ample parking and our own private garden.

Boldre is in the south of the New Forest National Park. It’s a small village but it boasts a very good pub, and it’s a good starting point for walking. We found the Red Lion served a good pint and although we didn’t have an evening meal there, we enjoyed lunch sat in their very large garden.

For our first evening we drove into Lymington and had a wander around the old harbour area before an excellent meal at the Koh Thai Tapas in the High Street.

Lymington at night towards the Old Town Quay. Lovely Georgian houses.

Next morning we decided to do a little exploring, walking first of all to Boldre Church which is a mile away from the vilage. Sweet little church with a squat tower dating back to the 13th century. We couldn’t go in as on this Sunday morning there was a service going on. Nothing surprising about that but what did surprise us is that the church was packed, so unlike our village church at home.

Boldre Church with its very regimented graveyard and an
intricate engraved glass window.
Engraved glass window.

After having a wander around the churchyard we carried on our walk through Roydon Woods Nature Reserve and onto a pretty ford and footbridge across Lymington stream. We then headed uphill, followed the road for a while then through a couple of fields crossing two stiles and a footbridge before arriving back to Boldre. A very pretty walk.

Roydon Woods Nature reserve with a a ford and footbridge over the Lymington river.
Heading back to Boldre. Love the reflection of the tree branches in the stream.

We headed back into Lymington and treated ourselves to a drink at The Ship Inn before buying a crab sandwich for lunch. We sat on the harbour wall, a popular place to eat lunch. The fresh crab was delicious! An added bonus was that the sun was starting to come out.

An ideal place for lunch.

With the weather having perked up we decided to drive towards Beaulieu and then to Lepe Country Park, situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was lovely to see the sea and walk along the coastal path a little way. The sunshine had brought everyone out so it was quite busy with everyone deciding they wanted an ice cream,. Looking at the queue we decided instead to walk up onto the cliffs where there are fine views across to the Isle of Wight. If we weren’t limited with the car parking we’d have walked further along the cliffs.

Lepe – an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Remains of the breakwater.

A little along the coast from Lepe is the well-known village of Buckler’s Hard. Situated on the banks of the Beaulieu river, this unspoilt haven attracts many tourists not only to its Maritime Museum but because the area is totally unspoilt. Having driven down the lane a few miles towards Buckler’s Hard we reached the sign showing the parking charges. If we’d had the whole afternoon we might have paid the £5 for three hours but as we only wanted to have a quick walk round we decided to turn round and head back to Boldre.

On the way back we stopped at Hatchett Pond where there was a cow cooling off in the water and parked nearby, an ice cream van. Definitely a winner! We sat with our huge ice creams watching the world go by, enjoying the sunshine as much as the cow was enjoying his paddle and all this without having to pay for parking.

Cooling off in Hatchet Pond.

If you have read any of my holiday Blogs you will know that I try not make them too long, so I’m pausing this one here. I have lots more pictures and more rambings about our few days in the New Forest so I hope you’ll join me for the second half. Lots of cute pictures of donkeys and horses, beautiful gardens and an historic house.

A week in Cumbria – Part two

It’s been a while since I wrote about our visit to Cumbria but at long last, here I go with Part Two of the story!

A circular walk from our ‘The Old Dairy’, our Airbnb.

It’s the fourth day of our holiday and it was time to do some more exploring of the local area. There are so many walks around where we were staying it was hard to choose, however the maps in the Old Dairy gave us some options. This was our second fairly short, circular walk from our Airbnb and this time we were hoping to arrive back in the dry.

I love the stone bridges here and the white-washed houses and the stunning countryside. The hamlet of Millthrop is just down the road and is a pretty village. There’s a splendid row of cottages with a gentle curve of the frontages. This garden was so stunning although I wouldn’t have wanted to water all those pots!

What a beautiful garden!

After lunch and with the sun shining (at last), we decided to drive over to the market town of Hawes, stopping on the way to see ‘Cotter Force’ which is a secluded waterfall. The joy of this waterfall is that it’s easily accessible. You walk across a narrow bridge, along a stile-free public right of way which is suitable for buggies and wheelchairs and the short path leads from here to the waterfall. As you can see, it was well worth going to check it out.

Cotter Force waterfall.

The town of Hawes is a bustling market town in the Yorkshire Dales. Yes we had driven out of Cumbria, into a different county … but only just. The National Park Centre and the Dales Countryside Museum are both found there but Hawes is also famous for its Wensleydale cheese. The Creamery has a large shop and you can also go on tours to see the cheese being made. We did visit the shop which was packed full of people (it’s a popular tourist place), so we treated ourselves to some cheese and then headed back into the Main Street.

It’s a wide street, bustling on that afternoon with life – probably the good weather had brought people out. After looking in a few local shops we had a choice of at least three pubs along the street. We chose one and spent a pleasant time sat in the sun enjoying an excellent pint of beer and watching the world go by.

We rounded off a very pleasant day with an excellent Italian meal in Sedbergh at Al Forno. Warm, friendly service and delicious fresh pastas and pizza.

Dent village with Dent Station (Main picture).

I should explain that neither my man nor I are steam train enthusiasts but the next day we decided to drive to Dent and then go by train to walk to the famous Ribble Valley Viaduct to watch a steam train going across. This doesn’t happen every day!

The drive from Sedbergh was interesting as the road winds through a narrow valley called Dentdale, which is on the western slopes of the Pennines. Dent village has lots of history and boasts a Museum and Heritage Centre, a few shops, a fine Grade One listed church and pubs which are also B&B’s. There’s stunning landscape all around and many walkers come to the area as The Dales Way cuts through the village. It was a superb day when we were there but I can imagine life is tough in the winter and was even tougher over the centuries.

If you are expecting to catch a train from the village of Dent …forget it. Anyone expecting to walk to the station would have quite a job. The road is steep and narrow and even in the car it felt further than the four miles.The station is perched high up on the hillside and is on the Settle to Carlisle line and is the highest operational station on the National Rail network in England.

The station house itself is now a private house and as there was no means to buy a ticket we had a free ride to the Ribblehead Railway Station There was more life here and thankfully the station master, who was manning a small shop had a key to the loo. Feeling relieved (quite literally!), off we set down the path towards the Ribblehead Viaduct.

Ribblehead Viaduct

The viaduct is very impressive and what a lovely day it was to sit around waiting for the train to go across. I’m rather proud of the picture below even though it’s quite a distant shot. Of course no sooner had we spotted the train coming it was over the viaduct in next to no time but it had been a great sight and we felt it had definitely been worth coming up here.

Steam locomotive 34046 Braunton built in 1946.

We didn’t get a free train journey on the way back and felt the price to go just a few miles and only one stop was expensive but as we had only paid for one way, we had no grounds to complain! Had another hearty meal that night at The Dalesman pub in Sedbergh, our second visit. Excellent reasonably priced pub food and good wine and beer.

View from the train heading from Ribblehead station to Dent station.

For our last day in Cumbria we decided to drive to Ullswater, after all we were staying near ‘The Lakes’. It’s true to say that roads in this part of the world mean the journey takes quite a while irrespective of what is says on the map. Being on holiday we weren’t in a hurry but I imagine some of the locals get a little frustrated with tourists clogging up the narrow country roads.

Stopping en route to buy yet another excellent baguette for lunch from the friendly Spar shop in Sedburgh we headed off towards Ullswater, 35miles. We noticed lots of signs alerting us to red squirrels in the area, unfortunately the only ones we saw were on the signs. Our first stop was the car park for the National Trust’s wood and waterfall known as Aira Force. It’s a popular place and finding a space to park wasn’t easy but we managed it. The woods are lovely with lots of very interesting trees, mostly evergreen, loved by red squirrels but they weren’t coming out that day.

The river is so clear and although the path in places is a little tricky we thoroughly enjoyed the circular walk going across the river and down the other side. Before that we stopped to take pictures of the waterfall including from the viewing platform which at present is closed due to a fallen tree.

Aira Force waterfall and a rare picture of me!
Clear water cutting through the granite rock.

Leaving the woods and feeling ready for lunch we found a pleasant spot at the side of Ullswater. Our friend who knows the area well said we were lucky to find anywhere during the summer months!

Beautiful Ullswater.

We could have stayed there for the rest of the afternoon but decided to go over to Ambleside. It’s a narrow, twisty road up and over the Kirkstone Pass beginning in Patterdale and ending in Ambleside. With its 1 in 4 gradient, stunning views all round, it’s a great drive and is the highest pass in the Lake District.

Kirkstone Pass (r.h. picture features Lake Windemere).

As you can see it’s quite some road and probably not one to tackle in the ice and snow. I’m not going to say too much about Ambleside other than it seemed very crowded after all the other places we’d been to. The weather was starting to close in and was getting quite chilly so we decided to have a hot drink …a good idea you would think. Unfortunately both the tea and the coffee at this lake-side cafe were terrible so we left after a short while and headed back to the tranquility of Sedbergh and ‘The Old Dairy’.

The ‘poshest’ place in the town to eat is The Black Bull and as it was the last night of our holiday we booked a table. We weren’t disappointed; the food was delicious and the restaurant had a great atmosphere. It was the perfect choice for our ‘final’ meal of the holiday.

I hope this account of our holiday in Cumbria might inspire you to visit this area. We only saw a couple of the lakes and just explored a small part of this beautiful county but it was enough to whet our appetite for The Lake District and I know we’ll be back.

A week away in Cumbria

Usually by early summer we would have been on our way to France but of course this year has been different. The option to travel abroad wasn’t easy so we got out travel books for the UK, discounted some areas, made a list of possibles, whittled it down and decided on Cumbria. What a good choice!

Next step was to find an Airbnb for our week’s stay. Once again we made a good decision. The Green is just outside the market town of Sedbergh It’s an interesting town with good local shops, pubs, restaurants and the best fish & chips you’ll find anywhere. We were very happy in ‘The Old Dairy at The Green’ which was quiet, being the end ‘outbuilding’ of what used to be a working farm. There were lovely views all around and inside had everything we needed. Viv and Ernie were excellent hosts – on hand if we needed anything but otherwise left us to enjoy our time there.

‘The Green’ near Sedbergh, just in the county of Cumbria.

I should mention that our first stop before arriving at our Airbnb was at Kendal for something to eat. It’s just six miles off the M6 motorway and only twelve miles to Sedbergh. Kendal is a bustling town which we instantly liked. A pot of tea at one of the many cafes and a thick slab of delicious toasted fruit bread set us up for the afternoon.

After settling ourselves into the cosy ‘Old Dairy we drove into Sedbergh. We could have walked in but we had had quite a long journey. It’s easy to park just near the High Street and walk through the town. We would thoroughly recommend ‘The Dalesman’ a 16th century coaching inn where we had an excellent meal and a good pint of beer.

One of the many interesting ‘snickets’ off the main road in Sedbergh, (top picture) and the stunning countryside all around the town.

Our second day and time to walk off our meal from the night before. (Meals are very ‘hearty’ in this part of the world)! We took one of the recommended walks from the information cards in the airbnb and what an interesting walk it was.

First of all we walked down the lane to the village of Millthrop then crossed the river Rawthey and into Akay Woods. There used to be a Georgian manor house there which eventually after years of neglect was bought by Sedbergh School and demolished in the 1930’s. There’s very little left but one archway stands proudly almost taken over by nature.

One of the last remnants of the Manor House built around 1824. Nearby is this landmark, appropriately-named, ‘The Pepperpot’.

Coming out of the woods the first thing you see on the horizon is ‘The Pepperpot’. It’s a well known landmark and sits just feet away from the Dales Way path. The building is believed to be around 100 years old and is commonly thought to have been built as an isolation house for the daughter who lived at the Manor House who had Tuberculosis. In spring 2015 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Sedbergh School Foundation a grant to rebuild ‘The Pepperpot’.

We then walked across the fields admiring the stunning scenery. There was a short tunnel underneath the disused railway line with surprisingly, a horse standing above us, minding its own business. We carried on after having a few words with him and crossed another field to Brigflatts.

On the left is an old stone step stile. As for the horse …we didn’t expect to see him standing on the disused railway line!

There are just a few houses here including one very historic Grade 1 listed building. The Friends’ Meeting House was built in 1675 and is the second oldest of its kind in the country. We would have gone inside but the Quakers had a meeting and were sat in the garden absorbed with their thoughts. We retraced our steps up the lane and then a short distance along the A683 before taking the Dales Way path alongside the river.

Brigflatts Meeting House c1675.

It was a beautiful walk along the river even though it started rain and boy did it rain! We were thankful to get back to The Old Dairy to dry out.

Start of the path following the river. (Top picture). Bottom right is where we were staying with the Winder Hill behind.
It’s absolutely pouring down!

We more or less dried out after lunch which was just as well as we were going to visit friends who live in Silverdale. I went to Uni with them. It’s always lovely when we meet up and great to see their two girls. One is a star baker and had made a delicious chocolate cake with fruit on top. After tea, cake and much talking we decided to risk the weather and go fishing for minnows.

Those minnows just didn’t want to be caught!

Having spent a lovely afternoon with our friends we drove back in the pouring rain stopping at Kirkby Lonsdale to look at the 14th century ‘Devil’s Bridge’ (I also liked the other bridge which spans the river there) and to have a pub meal. They certainly go in for big portions at The Orange Tree however the food was hale and hearty and perfect for a very wet, dull evening. Good beer too.

Cumbria was certainly living up to its reputation for rain but then we hadn’t come here for the weather. We were hoping that it wouldn’t rain all week …

The more modern road bridge just up river from the c14th Devil’s Bridge.

The third day of our holiday and it was time to do some more serious walking. The obvious hill to climb is Winder which dominates the skyline but it’s a big hill and my man didn’t feel his knees were up to it. Actually, I don’t think I could have climbed up there either. So we chose to walk up to the waterfall called appropriately Cautley Spout – great name. It’s England’s highest waterfall and cascades down the eastern side of the Howgill Fells at the head of a glacial valley.  There are several walks you can do but we took the easier option of parking on the road and walking up from there.

Our walk to Cautley Spout and a wonderful view down the valley.

You can probably tell from the pictures that it was an overcast day and by the time we got close to the waterfall it was pouring down and getting quite slippery. Amazing view though down the valley so it was all worth it.

Cautley Spout – England’s highest waterfall.

What we needed now was a warm meal and a hot drink. The beauty of this walk is that just by where you park is a four hundred year-old pub, The Cross Keys Inn. It’s a temperance pub, owned by the National Trust and run by a lovely couple serving delicious homemade food. It was once possible to buy alcohol at the Cross Keys but the then landlord was drowned when trying to help a customer home from the Inn. ​The next owner, Mrs. Edith Bunney removed the licence in 1902. She left the property to the National Trust who now let it to Alan and Christine Clowes. We didn’t sit on any of the chairs in either rooms as we were soaked and instead sat in the conservatory enjoying watching all the birds flying down onto the terrace and the view up towards the waterfall. This is a place truly set in a different time and the good news is that when you have an evening meal there you’re welcome to take your own alcoholic beverages. 

Inside the Cross Keys Inn.

You’ll have to believe me as I didn’t take a picture but in the afternoon the sun came out so we sat in the field alongside ‘The Old Dairy’ enjoying the weather and a good book. In the evening we had an excellent meal at ‘Al Forno’, the Italian restaurant in Sedbergh. It had just re-opened after having to close temporarily as a member of staff had had to self-isolate. (These are unusual times …). Good to see that every table was full.

We’re almost half-way through our holiday and a good place to end this part of the Blog. It will continue … Thanks for reading it. Don’t be put off with all the rain I’ve mentioned; this really is a lovely part of England and well worth exploring.

A mini break in Somerset Part II

The first part of this account of our few days in Somerset ended where we’d just walked around the picturesque village of Dunster. Now picking up again to continue the second part of this Blog …we left Dunster after walking back to the castle to pick up the car and drove over to Porlock Weir.

It’s a scenic drive as you get nearer to the little port. Narrow winding roads made all the more interesting as that day they were trimming the hedges. Not much room for cars coming the other way and no chance of overtaking. At least there’s a large car park when you get there and because of the lovely weather, the place was buzzing, or maybe it is most times. I was hoping the tide would be in but you can’t have everything.

Porlock Weir

The wooden, re-inforced harbour gates are very impressive and were built to keep the inner harbour free of stones. We walked over the harbour bridge across to the comically named, ‘Turkey Island’ where in front of you is the cute, thatched ‘Quay Cottage’. Most definitely worth a picture.

Porlock Weir, Somerset

It was great just wandering round and of course we walked along the beach for little way too. Loved the old wooden breakwaters known as groynes. It had been a while since our tea and cake in Dunster and with The Bottom Ship looking splendid in the sunshine we felt it was time for a pint. And very pleasant it was too! The good news is that the pub will be re-opening on Monday April 12th for outdoor seating only but table service for food and drink – I’m getting excited just typing this!

Feeling refreshed we drove over to Watchet and had a wander round. Oh dear! I didn’t take any pictures of the harbour as I remember it being full of small ships and having lots of character. Sadly it was converted in 2000 to a modern marina and well …it was disappointing. The town was very quiet with a few shops open and dare I say -it just felt sad. Perhaps we didn’t see it at its best …

Time for another picture.

St Andrew’s Church, Lilstock

A couple of guys in the pub where we were staying in Crowcombe had said that we must go over to the hamlet of Lilstock to see the little church of St Andrews. “Its off the beaten track,” they said, and they weren’t kidding. As you can see we did find this ancient church which was declared redundant in 1980 and threatened with demolition. The Rector in the Benefice personally paid for the repairs and restoration which was completed in 1993. The chancel is all that remains but this does include a 14th century arch just inside the present doorway.

As most of my friends know, I enjoy taking picture of churches both inside and out and love a good graveyard. The graves were well spaced out and most of them very old. One notable grave there is that of Sarah Perrett who was lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.

The other reason for driving over to this side of the Quantocks was just down the road from Lilstock is a beach, not at all touristy which has a treasure trove of fossils. Reading about the beach doesn’t entice you to go; it’s waters are murky and polluted apparently and the only sand is beyond an expanse of rock. There’s a certain irony about a beach with lots of fossilised remains that is within sight of a power station, Hinkley Point. Not surprisingly there was just the two of us down there that afternoon and yes we did bring one small rock home.

Lilstock Beach, Somerset
Lilstock Beach – a fossil hunters’ paradise

For our last night, as requested, the chef cooked me an excellent curry. They really did look after us at The Carew Arms. Unfortunately the pub and hotel is not open at preset due to the Lockdown restrictions but we do wish them well and hope they will be able to open up soon. Such difficult times for the hospitality business and others too.

And so it was our last morning, but before heading back home there was just a couple more things we wanted to do …the first to walk up to Cothelstone Hill. It’s said to be the best vantage point in Somerset where you get a 360 degree view over the Blackdown Hills and when its clear to the Bredon Hills and Exmoor National Park. There are two earthworks at the top which might be bronze age burial mounds and also a clump of beech trees known as ‘The Seven Sisters’

View from Cothelstone Hill on The Quantocks
View from Cothelstone Hill on The Quantocks

As you can see from the picture it was a wonderful day to see the spectacular views …all we wanted now was to spot the ponies and it wasn’t long before we did.

The resident herd of Exmoor Ponies.

Originally a group of Exmoor ponies wandered over to The Quantocks and decided to stay. They are wild but obviously used to walkers because even though they knew we were there, they didn’t show any sign of moving on. While I was (excitedly) taking pictures a land rover drew up with a couple of wardens just checking that the ponies were ok.

Part of the Herd.
A splendid beast.

What a magnificent, photogenic lot! I just loved taking these pictures.

And so they wandered on.

All too soon the herd moved on so we continued our walk across the heathland and then through the woods following the escarpment and back round to the car.

Walking through the woods with fine views across to the Blackdown Hills

There was one last place we wanted to visit before heading home and that was Fyne Court, owned by the National Trust. We weren’t sure if the cafe and loos would be open, but they were. We couldn’t resist buying a hot drink and a (huge) piece of cake. We’d deserved it after our walk.

There isn’t a house there but the walks are interesting especially as some of the features give a few clues as to what the garden would have been like. The walled garden is now a haven for wild flowers and bees whereas originally the owners would have employed gardeners to grow fruit and vegetables. The Boat House is now a ruin but the Folly is being restored – we were there to enjoy the stunning autumn colours and we certainly weren’t disappointed.

One of the woodland walks.
Just magical.
Autumn is a wonderful time of the year.

It’s interesting that Fyne Court is quite understated with few attractions as such except for the woods and walking trails. I’m sure they are worth a visit at any time of year but I think we chose the best season.

Wandering along, just the two us was a great way to round off our ‘mini-break in The Quantocks. We’d packed quite a lot in and both us said we would come back another time. It’s an interesting part of the country and there’s lots more walks we would like to do. Maybe this Blog and the previous has inspired you to visit this area too?

Off to Menton in southern France all the way by train.

My man and I love trains and with the wonderful TGV and Eurostar it’s not difficult to wizz across Europe from London. The departure lounge at St Pancras is always packed with people sitting anywhere they can. All that space as you walk down between the arcade of shops and then at the end everyone is squeezed into this small holding area. Maybe sometimes it’s quieter but we’ve never seen it like that.

The TGV is a brilliant way to travel. You look out of the window at the cars going along the motorway and they seem to be travelling so slow …they’re not of course, it’s us flashing by. Within two and three quarters hours we’d arrived in sunny Avignon before travelling further south to Menton. The train goes a lot slower after Marseille but we didn’t mind; the weather and the terrain told us we were heading towards the glamorous Cote d’Azur with Menton being the last rail stop before Italy.

Hotel Lemon where we were staying for four nights was just down the road from Menton station. It was a perfect sized hotel for us with only eighteen rooms. Ours was right at the top of this French colonial style building, tucked away from everyone, the only snag being …there was no lift. The owner’s son was on hand fortunately and had no trouble taking both our cases, one on each shoulder up the two flights of stairs to our room – we were very grateful as by now we were definitely flagging.

The town of Menton in the South of France
The town of Menton – an interesting place to wander around.

I can’t say our meal in the town that evening was anything special but we made up for it after that. Our first full day there was spent discovering the town and walking along the promenade. Straightaway we loved the feel of the place. Menton is famous for its lemons and has a festival each year. As well as that it has apparently the most days of sunshine of anywhere in France. What a great boast, very good for tourism that’s for sure. As you can see from the pictures above it lived up to it reputation whilst we were there. I had to take a picture of these two art nouveau wall plaques – Alphonse Mucha painted decorative theatrical posters which was why these two were on the wall of a disused theatre. Good to see they hadn’t been vandalised.

That night we had as superb meal, not French but Italian. If you go to Menton do go to Le Napoli, their home-cooked meals are to die for! It’s more a locals restaurant than a tourist place which to be honest gave it a great atmosphere. The food, tasty sauces, the presentation, the price – everything was perfect. It was so good we went back there on our last night too.

Val Rahmeh Exotic Botanical Gardens
Val Rahmeh Exotic Botanical Gardens

Our second day in Menton and we were off exploring the hillside around the town. The Botanical Gardens of Val Rahmeh are delightful and very quiet. Entrance is just €7 which as they say on their website allows you to wander and enjoy the exotic, elegant, organised chaos of their gardens. Do check the opening times as the ‘old retainers’ go for lunch and they will get you out by 12.30 come hell or high water! The gardens are varied with paths winding through. It’s protected from the winds by the mountains which gives this exotic garden a subtropical micro climate.

I forgot to say that on our way up to the hills we walked through the historic old part of Menton and couldn’t believe how many passageways there are. It’s a mediaeval district with tiny houses built into the side of the hill. We never did find a way through to get out at the top road and maybe there isn’t one.

Cemetery du vieux chateau, Menton
Cemetery du vieux chateau

Leaving the garden we walked further up the hill coming out onto a main road and then turned into Park Pian which was full of olive trees (picture top left). It was so quiet and peaceful and a pleasure just to sit there for a while. Our next stop was the Cemetery du Vieux Chateau which as you would expect was equally quiet! If you follow my Blogs you’ll know how fond I am of cemeteries – well photographing them! This one has the best views of the old town and the harbour and some pretty good statues too. I was in my element taking pictures. There’s the grave of William Webb Ellis here. He is accredited with inventing the sport of rugby so this cemetery has become something of a pilgrimage site for rugby fans.

The rest of the day was spent flaking on the beach, reading and enjoying the sunshine. A couple of hours was enough; the beach was very rocky and quite uncomfortable and we only had a thin towel each. There was just one antidote to recover from our aching backs …a couple of beers at one of the bars along the promenade.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin between Menton & Monaco
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin – a mediaeval village perched on an outcrop high over the Mediterranean

The next day we walked from our hotel to catch the number 100 bus which goes along the coast round to Monaco. We missed the stop by the first staircase which takes you up to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin but spotted the second in time for the driver to stop for us. It’s quite a steep walk up to the village which is perched on the edge of a cliff topped by a 10th century castle which offers a fabulous panoramic view. We were lucky to see the view as not long after we’d arrived at the castle the clouds started to roll in. The main tower is pretty much intact and in fact was rebuilt at the beginning of this century. The medieval village has narrow streets, lots of arched passageways and tiny individual shops and of course cafes and restaurants.

Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Looks like we’re about to fall off the edge!

After refreshing ourselves with some local beer we made our way down to the corniche by the first staircase and decided to walk back to Menton along the promenade. By now we’re quite hungry and as luck would have it we came across a bakery with a cafe which was bustling with life and selling decent squares of pizzas and yummy cakes – perfect! I’m not sure how far it was to Menton except it felt a fair way so when we got back we headed off to the beach again for another couple hours R&R.

On our third full day we decided to visit Monaco and caught the 100 bus again. Monaco is the name of the country, it has several neighbourhoods and Monte-Carlo is one of these. (I looked this up!).

The Monte-Carlo Casino
The Casino de Monte-Carlo opened in 1863 and is the most prestigious of them all.

Our first stop after getting off the bus and walking along a street lined with very expensive shops (no surprise there), was to pick up a map from the tourist information office. We then walked though a small park with tropical plants and a manicured lawn to the ‘Place du Casino’, which says it all. There are four casinos in the Principality with the Casino de Monte-Carlo being the most luxurious. In the front, on the roundabout is the stunning ‘Sky Mirror’ designed by Anish Kapoor to reflect the fountain, the sky and the casino – it does that beautifully.

The harbour in Monaco
The harbour in Monaco with an enigmatic statue of ‘Le Plonger’ (the diver).

After watching the very smart limos drive sedately around the Place du Casino we headed off to walk around the marina on our way to the Prince’s Palace. It doesn’t cost anything to ogle these super yachts and it’s an interesting stroll. Loved the name of the motor cruiser registered in Poole …the name says it all. The statue of the diver was very impressive but despite trying to find if it was sculpted after anyone famous I’ve drawn a blank on that one.

The Prince's Palace and changing of the guard.
The Prince’s Palace. Every day at precisely 11.55 the Changing of the Guard takes place.

The Prince’s Palace of Monaco is the official residence of the Sovereign Prince of Monaco, H.S.H. Prince Albert II. Climbing up to the palace was a good aerobic exercise as there are plenty of steep paths and steps – there is an easier way but we like a challenge. We arrived at the square on the dot of 11.55, just as the guards were coming out. The Ceremony lasted about five minutes and although there were lots of tourists watching we managed to get near the front.

We then went to the shop to buy tickets for admission to the Palace which were 10 euros for adults. To my great surprise there was also an exhibition in the state rooms mostly of photographs and film of the afternoon on May 6th 1955 when Grace Kelly visited the Palace and met Prince Rainier. Less than a year after that this legendary film star married her prince. Sorry to disappoint if you’re visiting the palace this year, the exhibition ended on October 15th 2019. Even so, this 13th century Palace which was restored by Prince Rainier (with no expense spared) is magnificent with a spectacular marble staircase, opulent furnishings, frescoes, paintings and tapestries.

After that we were in need of something to eat but is there anywhere cheap to eat in this city? The answer is yes. Just by the market hall is an outside cafe selling drinks and sandwiches and panini at very reasonable prices. We felt quite pleased with ourselves but as by now it was mid afternoon it was time to head back to the station.

Two views of the harbour; inside the atrium of the casino; outside The Casino of Monte-Carlo
Around Monte-Carlo

One final thing we wanted to do was to go into the Casino de Monte-Carlo to have a peak inside – not to gamble but to admire the magnificent Atrium. It’s free to go in and photography is allowed. This superb space with its marble columns, frescoes and gold leaf everywhere is just amazing and impossible to photograph without any one else in the shot.

Did Monte-Carlo come up to our expectations? I’m not sure we had any. You can almost smell the money here but unlike Vegas this place is real. If it looks expensive, then it definitely is. It was well worth the visit but great to get back to some reality. For our last night in Menton we went back to the same Italian restaurant and the patron remembered us even down to the wine we’d drunk the first time!

When Saturday morning arrived we were sorry to leave Menton but as we were heading to Provence our sprits lifted fairly soon. We boarded the local train to Nice and then caught the TGV to Avignon. Next Blog … yes, it’s all about Provence!

Three go to Lisbon Part 2

If you’re going to Lisbon a friend said, you must visit the Aquarium.

It’s probably something we wouldn’t have thought of doing but when we read about it and the fact it’s the largest indoor aquarium in Europe we decided to go.

The Lisbon Oceanarium
The Lisbon Oceanarium

We caught the underground train from Oriente (East) Station on the Red line and arrived in this very modern part of the city. It’s a redeveloped area by the Tagus River called the Parque das Nações, pictured top left. There’s lots of green spaces, famous Lisbon mosaics and striking contemporary buildings like the Camões Theatre and the Oceanarium. Nearby are trendy waterfront restaurants and the glass-roofed Centro Vasco da Gama, with shops and cinemas. Just walking to the Oceanarium was an experience in itself – a really interesting area.

Unless you have the right equipment, taking pictures of fish in tanks is never easy. Here is a selection which I have to say I was quite pleased with. Also, you know how after a while in these kind of places you start to get bored, well not here. It was brilliantly done and kept our interest going right to the cafeteria. That was the one let down …we should have gone elsewhere for our late lunch.

Oceanarium Lisbon.
Fish in an immense tank. Penguins fairly free to roam in their cold quarters.

My favourite picture is the one top right. It looks like the people are actually in the tank with the shark!

Did I mention that when we were in Lisbon the temperature got near to 30 degrees? It was pretty hot in the city when we got off the train so we decided to stop at one of the cafes in Rossio Square to have a reviving beer before heading up the hill towards the castle. I don’t know if you can make it out from the picture below, it’s the one top left, it’s of a large group of people waving flags and protesting. Actually it looked like thousands of people led along by the local youth choir! We were happy to sit in the sunshine enjoying our beer, eating a pasta de nata and listening to the music until the rally passed by.

If you’re wondering how the graffiti fits in to the picture below – there’s a short cut to the gateway by the castle which we used, we called it graffiti alley as all the walls there are covered.

Walking back from the station to our apartment, uphill all the way.

After our walk back and maybe because of the beer we all decided that we needed a siesta before visiting the castle that evening. In the summer it stays open until 9pm long after the tourist coaches have left. It was definitely the right time to go, not only because it was a beautiful evening but it was so much quieter wandering around than during the day.

Lisbon castle
The grounds of Castelo de S. Jorge complete with peacocks.
Castle in Lisbon evening views over the city.
Views from the Castle.
Sunset at Castello de S. Jorge, Lisbon
Sunset at Castello de S. Jorge

The light that evening was stunning and walking along the castle walls was just fabulous as it gave us good views over the city and down to the river. We left our friend to talk to the peacocks in the garden as she doesn’t do heights.

The picture below is my favourite of all the ones I took that evening. The buildings have turned golden in the late setting sun.

Evening light hitting the buildings in Lisbon.
Looking through to the city bathed in warm sunlight.

Day 5 and we’re off to the magical place called Sintra. It’s a short train journey from Rossio station to Sintra which is at the end of the line. The station is superb with it’s ornate exterior with two horseshoe-shaped archways. We didn’t have much time to appreciate the building though as there was no way we were going to miss this train!

I think most tourists to Lisbon take the time to go out to Sintra. One of the travel guides describes this World Heritage Site as a Portuguese gem; ‘a place full of magic and mystery with its rippling mountains, dewy forests exotic gardens, glittering palaces and ancient castles’. What it doesn’t say is that it’s teeming with tourists. Yes we were tourists too all heading off the train at Sintra to find the 434 tourist bus – it was chaos. There were touts selling guided tours, tuk-tuk drivers stopping you as you walked along and the lack of signs of where to catch the shuttle bus was really confusing.

We eventually found the bus stop and squeezed onto an already tightly packed bus. We had intended to get off at the stop for the Quinta da Regaleira which is a stone palace steeped in myth and legend with underground passages and grottoes and is surrounded in mystery – I was intrigued.. (A quinta by the way is a wine-producing estate). As it happened we could have walked there which as our non-communicative driver wasn’t stopping anywhere until we’d got to the Moorish Castle we should have done.

Moorish Castle in Sintra
Top picture is of an interesting set of steps we spotted on the way to Rossio station. The rest are pictures of the Moorish Castle.

This castle was built by the North African Moors between the 8th and the 11th century. To get the best views you need to climb up onto the battlements which of course we did. Our friend was quite happy to chat to other tourists who didn’t want to brave the heights. It’s a terrific viewpoint though and very blustery! You can see several other palaces including the Regaleira which we were still hoping to visit.

After walking around the battlements and weaving along the many paths through the gardens we carried on up to the amazing Palace of Pena. If you’re tight for time this is the palace to visit. It sits on the top one of the hills overlooking Sintra and is (apparently) the finest example in Europe of 19th century Romantic revivalism. The colours of this castle hit you straight away and surrounding all this is a large forest with hidden paths threading through it. Our ticket which we’d bought at the first stop after getting off the bus covered the palace interior and the terraces and the park.

Palacio da Pena
Palace of Pena and a view of the Moorish castle which had been our first stop.
Just some of the stunning features of Pena Palace.
Just some of the stunning features of Pena Palace. Clearly a Moroccan style of architecture in this courtyard.

The interior of the palace with its staterooms and chapel was just as interesting as the terraces. There were fewer people inside so it was easier to walk round unlike the perimeter of the castle terraces which was really busy. I guess you have to accept this when you’re visiting a major tourist attraction!

Features of the Palace of Pena
The Palace staterooms; the main archway into the palace and a view of the town from the Palace of Sintra.

By mid afternoon after doing lots of walk we were feeling pretty tired. We decided not to walk down to the palace of Quinta da Regaleira and hoped we could hop off the bus at the nearest stop.. Getting on the shuttle bus it was obvious that again the driver wasn’t stopping until we were back down to Sintra. Disappointed we headed to an outside bar, paid over the odds for a beer and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were sorry not to have done more but Sintra is not easy to work out. I’ve since read on a few web sites that these shuttle buses are a law unto themselves particularly in the high season. You can hire a tuk tuk but they’re not cheap and on top of that you have the entrance price for each palace. Don’t be put off though …the parks and palaces of the World Heritage site of Sintra are well worth a visit. Best avoided in the high season if you can and when it’s cooler – this is a hilly place.

I did think I’d finish this Blog on our week in Lisbon in two parts but there’s going to be a third. With a day and a half left when we visited the main cemetery in Lisbon, discovered Fado in the Alfama district of the city and visited magnificent Monastery of San Vincent de Fora I have more pictures to drop in and some more ramblings. For now I think this Blog is quite long enough! Hope you’ll stick around to read part 3.