Many visitors will have visited the Lake District without ever passing through, or stopping in, the lovely Lyth Valley. They're missing out on a treat, especially in spring when the many damson trees are in blossom. It's close to Kendal and yet off the usual routes, but the quality of the food at the Punch Bowl at Crosthwaite is, on its own, reason enough to visit. A traditional Lakes building with stylish and welcoming interiors, and an interesting menu with excellent food, it's one of my favourite places to eat - and was as good as ever on my visit last week.
Wheelchair-friendly guesthouse in a beautiful setting with easy open access to the mountains from the door. Accessible-trained owners have many years experience of teaching disabled students so can advise on how to make best use of local facilities.
Last year we took a friend with mobility difficulties to these superbly equipped, eco-friendly self-catering log cabins situated in the heart of the Peak District and would definitely return. They aim to provide a ‘home from home’ and lots of personal touches, care about the décor and quality of everything from the kitchen equipment to the crockery and soft furnishings mean they succeed in providing accommodation that all the family can enjoy.
The owners have thought of everything – and are on hand, without being intrusive, to make sure you really enjoy your stay. A thoughtful welcome pack awaited us – including homemade bread and biscuits, milk and eggs from their hens. We were particularly impressed that the cabin we stayed in had a knee hole under the sink so wheelchair users could take full part in kitchen activities.
Two of the cottages have been awarded Mobility Level Two under the national mobility scheme and one has been rated Mobility Level Three Assisted. Detailed specs are available from their easy to navigate, friendly and helpful website.
They welcome assistance dogs and also have made provision for people with sight or hearing loss/impairment.
They have a range of equipment (including adjustable beds and hoists) available for loan and they can put you in touch with local private care services if you want additional support/to give other members of the family a break.
We enjoyed a relaxing evening in the Swedish hot tub (as if the wet room and whirlpool bath weren’t enough!) and they now have a fire pit available for guest to use.
There is lots for people to do locally, whether or not you have mobility difficulties, and the owners have electric bikes and a mountain trike for hire.
They can organise pick-ups from local stations and bus stops and offer a discount for anyone arriving on foot, on horseback or by bicycle.
When your partner is quadriplegic and can't move at all you need holiday accommodation with some serious access features! BOD has everything and all contained in a spacious ground floor flat with unrestricted sea views. Essentials for us mean a wet room (there are two), profiling beds, tilting shower chair, a mobile hoist and it's all provided. Add to this a very high standard of furnishing and general equipment (some accessible accommodation can be a bit clinical), an accessible pub 100 metres away, and even a cliff lift - free to wheelchair users - to take you down to the promenade and the beach. We've had some pretty dire experiences in the past but this is accessible heaven!
The most disability aware hotel that I have stayed in either in the UK or overseas. The staff are very aware of any needs you may require and are very discreet about providing these needs: ramps appear, chairs are removed from the table, doors are opened, lifts called, special diets are catered for. They do not see your disability but your ability, nothing is too much trouble.
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire CV37 8BU +44(0)845 072 7454
Google map: bit.ly/ShkRfX
My first experience of the Riad Azoulay in Marrakech last year (though not my first time in the city) turned out to be a real stroke of luck and was so nice that I really wondered if a second visit would match up to my recollections. I didn’t need to worry – the same air of serenity, the same friendly attention, the same stimulating fusion of ‘east meets west’ in the decoration, the food and every carefully managed detail made me feel I’d never left. Meti, the beloved Bichon Frisé, was away having babies (for those who know her, mother and puppies are all doing fine, I’m told) but in all other respects Riad Azoulay retains its unique charm, keeps its quality intact and, happily for me, continues to remain a welcome oasis of calm in the wonderfully chaotic Medina.
The Perfection that is Frenches Farm, Farmhouse B&B: 400m from a pristine beach with seals:
I am sitting out front in the garden at a bench table surrounded by birdsong, as I post this from my laptop before going for a swim in the blissful sunshine. The manicured lawn goes on forever flowing to arable fields with only a majestic ancient Beech tree marking the boundary; in its boughs a pair of Jays are nesting.
This fifteenth-century farmhouse is gorgeous - well appointed on the inside and on the outside. Up a spiral staircase, the cavernous bedroom has colossal oak beams built-in during the early 1400s; trees were at least 400 years-old when felled so you are looking up at wood that was living c. 1,000 years ago! The round shaped beam was fashioned from the mast of a famous tall ship.
You get your own entrance to come and go as you please (but as farmers get up at five a.m, maybe no late-night raves – they didn't say that, but goes without saying on a working farm). Breakfast is from a good-choice menu and includes full English – everything is organic – and utterly yummy as freshly cooked. There is only the one apartment, so no need to worry about noisy neighbours – it's peace, peace, peace all the way.
The horse who starred as Black Beauty decided to retire here, that is to say, animal-lover Ruth kindly took him on and facilitated his retirement. He's got brains not just beauty as it is an excellent choice - 400m from a pristine Blueflag beach where seals bob up from the sea, looking curiously at you as you walk along in the early morning shoreline. Well-behaved dogs are welcome, but no sheep-chasers. Bird life proliferates, there are muntjack deer and badgers' sets nearby.
The sand is perfect for sandcastles and there is a Lifeguard-watched section of beach if you walk towards Sea Palling (turn left on the beach and walk for ten minutes) – always swim between the flags. For teenagers, there is scuba, jetskis, snorkelling from Sea Palling as well as plenty of eateries just near the beach there (also clean public loos – a must near a beach) – and great surfing right the way along Horsey, Waxham and Sea Palling beaches (they all join up so you can walk for miles). Because it's a bit further from Sea Palling, the Waxham section of beach opposite Frenches farm is very unpopulated – you've got big skies and stretches of sand all to yourself and can just look out over the water and focus your mind as the sun sets. I found two substantial pieces of amber - the light hits at an angle in the evening which makes it relatively easy to spot.
Got to mention the rock pools on Sea Palling beach near lifeguard's hut; where my little girl gleefully fished whitebait out in the 'Great Fish Rescue' trying to get the baby fish back to the sea in a bucket before the Seagulls ate them all! There were millions of fish stranded by the tide, easy to catch in nets - and lots of friends helped - great fun was had by all and many fish were saved; total cute fest. Other marine life abounds - crabs, starfishes, shellfish - it is the beach of choice for Marine nature trips by local schools – and now I see why! Rock pools are not just good for pond dipping for minibeasts and marine life – they are great for toddlers with inflatables, boats and mini-surfboards or younglings just learning to swim, and are very, very safe. They are Nature's warm, shallow swimming pools for children.
A spacious, airy and impeccably tasteful bedroom at Frenches farm looks out over beautiful tranquil fields, silence is broken only by the gentle swooping of summer swallows as they dart amid the eaves. But wait – you are the guest of Ruth, Henry and their family – so just a room? No – you get an entire annex to yourself, with beautifully appointed bathroom, living room – two huge flatscreen TVs in bedroom and another in the spacious living room, bookshelf-stacked library, period furnishings and every little thing thought of – chocolates on arrival, biscuit tin with yummy biccies, bottle of water to fill the kettle, a full-size fridge in the room to keep milk fresh or any other food you've brought, box of tissues, clean fluffy bathrobes to borrow, soap, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, hair mousse, toothpaste, just in case you forget yours, and towels and linen all provided, tea, coffee, hot-chocolate, a fresh jug of milk every day (and the mugs match the rose-theme in the room) and lots of friendly banter with a traditional Norfolk welcome. Really nice touches.
It is also in the same grounds as the historic site of Waxham barns - the largest Tudor barn in the county, well worth a visit.
Ruth and Henry at Frenches farm do Norfolk proud. They would have to invent a new star rating; it's an eight-star experience. They are so kind and genuine, a really lovely family.
Albergo Hotel Ghala is located in Apulia, the most southern portion of the country, the heel on the "boot" of Italy called Salento peninsula. The area is simply amazing, besides being beautiful geologically, it is one of the richest archaeological regions in Italy as well. The hotel is in the Province of Lecce in the small town of Galatone, just a short trip away from the dream-like beaches. The Ghala is a modern hotel with classic features like wooden parquet floors in every room, most of them with either a balcony or a small private garden. We stayed in a double room for 59 Euro per night, which was extremely cheap for a great place like Hotel Ghala. Our room was spacious, the decoration and the furnishing truly elegant and classy, it was bright and sunny, we could see the well kept garden, the flowers and palm trees from the balcony, an unforgettable experience for sure. The receptionists and the staff were extremely friendly and kind, A/C and free wi-fi in every room. Relaxing and having a drink in the roof-top garden was heavenly.
Via Giorgio Almirante, 50
Lecce - 73044 Galatone
Tel. +39 0833 / 88 08 36
Newly-opened (June 2012) bed and breakfast in a hamlet in the south Lakes. Watch the weather change over Blackcombe, stroll down to the standing stones pictured on their website before dinner cooked with ingredients from the garden or other local sources, or head off to the beach. This is walking, cycling, riding territory. Oh, and there's a good pub in Kirksanton too. Run by Kev and Rachelle, who know how to put you at ease. Lovely, comfortable bedroom, instant relaxation. Close to Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass and other Lakes attractions.
How about this for a perfect day out with three children: we rented Assunta Maria, accommodation with a delightful mix of old meets new, with a very modern lamia and traditionally restored Trulli - which keeps cool in the sun so it is brilliant for when the children need shade from the pool.
Head early to ZooSafari in Fasano and make sure your first stop is the Monkey Train. You sit in cages(!) as passengers on a train and you head into the monkey reserve. The monkey's then crawl all over the cages, right above your head and squawk at you until you feed them monkey nuts! The kids are either roaring with laughter or stunned into silence with fear.
Chill out in the afternoon by joining the old men in Ceglie Messapica town square, walking up and down, repeatedly, until those stomach's start rumbling and Aldo's Pizza is just round the corner - the best Pizza in Italy (says my 5 year old nephew Huey - and he is always right!)
Assunta Maria is just outside of Ceglie Messapica:
+44 (0)1386 710630
ZooSafari is in Fasano:
Via dello Zoosafari, 72015 Fasano Brindisi, Italy
Google map: bit.ly/RGxaAu
Aldo's Pizza is just outside Ceglie Messapica's town square
Trulli are typical of the region, circular limestone buildings with a conical roof, each slightly different, kind of resembling a Moor's turban from an Aladdin film. They are dotted around the area, and come in different levels from basic to luxury. Rent one near Ostuni (The White City), only about 10km from the crystal Adriatic, visit different villages for dinner every night from Locorotondo (great outdoor club called Mavu) to a meat feast at Ceglie Messapica, or passegiata at Martina Franca. But maybe best of all is to go to the market in the morning to buy fresh Buratta, Altamura bread, Primitivo wine and orechiette. I'm dreaming again ...
It's a hotel in a cave! The Sassi in Matera is a UNESCO world heritage site, a stunning collection of cliff side cave dwellings with ornate carved stone frontages. Best viewed from the ravine opposite the town, the scene is positively biblical. Indeed, Mel Gibson used the Sassi as Jerusalem's double in The Passion of the Christ, but don't let that put you off.
The area was run down and basically a slum until the 70s, but the last ten years have seen the unique charms of the Sassi finally receiving their dues. And the jewel in the crown is Le Grotte della Civita, a boutique hotel where Philippe Starck bathtubs stand proudly in bare limestone caves, the sparseness of the setting is uniquely romantic, artistic and beautiful. The breakfasts are delicious as well, and it's a brilliant spot from which to explore the vast charms of Italy's most neglected region.
Puglia is great for cycling. Get a flight to Brindisi and head inland, find one place as an HQ and then go for meandering circular rides in the countryside. The coast is a great place for a day trip but the hinterland is more chilled and has less traffic.
One thing to remember: it's a myth that Italians drive like crazy but they do have a habit of giving the car horn a little bib when they are about to overtake cyclists; they do this as a courtesy to let you know that they are coming but at first I kept stopping and looking back to see if there was a problem. Once you've got used to that you'll find Puglia a very safe and relaxing place to go biking.
I'm not a vegetarian but I did notice that there were plenty of tasty vegetable based dishes in this region perhaps in reflection of poorer times when meat was not so readily available. There is an 'old world' feeling to this part of Puglia, which reminds me: if you're over 35 and you just have to wear Lycra shorts, the locals will greatly appreciate it if you put on something a little less revealing before you enter into a cafe or a bar.
I won't suggest a bike route because I believe it's best to just head off aimlessly and see where the road takes you, it's all good.
I've been cycling (aimlessly) around the Brindisi region of Puglia many times and the one place I recommend as a place to stay is a holiday villa called Rustic Puglia near Ceglie Messapica. It is run by a young English couple, Claire and Andy. They run the villa as a separate property while they grow organic fruit and vegetables on the land. This is a great base from which to explore the rolling countryside and nearby ancient towns such as Cisternino and Locorotondo.
I got chatting to a local (well, he was from Milan originally) and he asked if the area reminded me of Ireland and it occurred to me, that with all the stone walls and cottages, it is just like Ireland - but without the rain. The Milanese gentleman suggested a disused aqueduct for cycling along. I still haven't found that aqueduct. Next time perhaps.
+39 327 2398484
Nearest town is Ceglie Messapica, nearest airport is Brindisi.
Otranto is an ancient port on Puglia's Adriatic coastline and the perfect seaside getaway. We booked into the family run Bellavista hotel on the seafront and were given an 'Otranto card' which entitled us to use the city's bikes free of charge. Cycling down to Porto Badisco, a rocky, lagoon like swimming cove, nine kms down the coast, proved a real treat. However there is heaps to enjoy in Otranto itself. The Romanesque cathedral in the old city is full of ghoulish surprises. A medieval monk called Pantaleone clearly had a lot of fun designing the cathedral's mosaic floor which contains a plethora of weird and wonderful pictures from Noah's Ark and Alexander the Great to King Arthur. And after roaming about, exploring Otranto's delightful nooks and crannies (or sitting under the trees on the seafront with a coffee or ice cream) where better to finish off the day than dining on gargantuan portions of pizza and seafood at La Bella Idrussa, which must surely rank as one of the best value restaurants in Puglia. Get there early if you don't want to queue.
Via Vittorio Emanuele, 18 73028 Otranto
Google map: bit.ly/QtYLRx
La Bella Idrusa
Via Lungomare Degli Eroi 73028 Otranto Province of Lecce, Italy
Google map: bit.ly/MSzW6S
Beautifully converted farm houses in a stunning olive grove 10 minutes from the lovely fortified port of Otranto. Rooms are cool and elegant, private garden and pool in courtyard. Short drive or cycle to Otranto and surrounding secluded rocky coves. Swathes of fresh fruits and pastries for breakfast and unbelievable selection of antipasti and pastas served at lunch.
Located conveniently and in a quiet location just off the main highway at the mid-point of Bari and Brindisi, Borgo San Marco is a Masseria uniquely restored to capture its originality as a small walled enclave. The details are exquisite without being forced or artificial and there is style. Stay on the upper levels and you can sun or read on private roof terraces or swim in the adjacent infinity pool in the gardens. There is also Borgo Aqua, a private wellness centre but it was summer, so our priorities were elsewhere. You are close to Savelletri, Torre Canne and the undeveloped beaches close to Rosa Marina. Eat in or at one of the fabulous sea-side outdoor restaurants on this side of Savelletri, it is a perfect base to explore this region of Puglia and works for couples and families.
Lovely trip of the Greek Islands and parts of Turkey in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. Valide Sultan Hotel was to be our treat at the end of this lovely vacation.
Front desk Bunyamin clearly went above and beyond the call of duty. Once we had checked in, he invited us to the rooftop lounge and began our visit with a detailed conversation to discover what we would like to get out of our Istanbul experience. Once armed with this information he made a number of suggestions of things to do and see during our stay in Istanbul. From his selection of a guide to take us on a historic walking tour, to his personal tutelage in negotiating with shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar his recommendations were flawless and his personal assistance was unparalleled.
Our room, The Marmara, was gorgeous in its extravagant fabrics and detail. The views were breathtaking; either experienced from our room, or the hotel’s excellent rooftop restaurant. There is no better location in Istanbul to enjoy the views of the many historic sites including the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque or the endless ships on the Sea of Marmara entering and exiting the Bosphorus.
The staff at the Valide Sultan was equally committed to the best overall experience for their guests. This hotel is small and intimate and while there, we felt like we were part of the family. They were consistently attentive whether servicing a request for our room, or suddenly appearing with a beautiful woven shawl to ward off the autumn evening breeze on the rooftop.
Valide Sultan was indeed the jewel that capped a most memorable holiday for us.
Torre dei Preti is an agriturismo located 2km outside the beautiful coastal town of Peschici, on the north Puglian coast on the Gargarno peninsula. It's a family-run business, and owners Oscar and Lucrezia are fantastic hosts, and even more fantastic chefs.
Rooms, mostly apartment-style, are located out in the well-kept grounds, are spacious, modern and comfortable, and are kept spotlessly clean. Balconies have a view out to the ice-white buildings of Peschici framed by the blue sky and olive trees. Near to the main house is a large, well-maintained and heated swimming pool with a sun-terrace and loungers, so while Torre dei Preti is a great base from which to explore the Gargarno, it's also a lovely place to spend time relaxing.
And of course, the food, the food, the food! Half-board at Torre dei Preti is a gastronomic experience, with almost all of the food being locally sourced and expertly cooked and served with love. Breakfasts are buffet-style, with a vast array of fruits, breads, yoghurts, cheese, meats and preserves, plus juice, coffee and cake, yes, cake - and all homemade. Dinner offers a table groaning with fish, meat and vegetable antipasti, followed by a choice of primi (usually pasta or risotto) and a choice of meat or fish secondi - again, everything is local and super-fresh. If you have room after all that (which you may not, but Lucrezia will convince you otherwise) desserts are homemade and generous, or you can simply enjoy a plate of fruit and an excellent coffee. Wine, all local, is superb.
All in all a stunning find, well-priced in comparison to other agriturismi in the area - an absolute gem.
Palazzo Siena is a truly hidden gem, which I can't recommend enough. On a hot summer day we drove through the sleepy town of Minervino di Lecce. We pulled up outside a hotel that looked practically desolate. But when the doors opened, Palazzo Siena was revealed in all its glory. Opened in the summer of 2012, it's a family-run boutique hotel and a food and design haven. The owner, a chatty lady from Naples, has an incredible attention to detail and she has decorated the hotel throughout with a very sophisticated taste, blending an Italian old fashioned style with modern accessories. That doesn't mean you don't feel at home, in fact, I have never experienced a hotel that makes you feel so welcome. The patio has a beautiful swimming pool, filled with sea water, and is surrounded by comfortable sun loungers. If you sit down, I promise you that you never want to leave. Palazzo Siena grows their own food, so if you want to disappear into the shade you can grab a basket and pick figs, lemons, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, beans and strawberries. In the country-style kitchen you can cook your own food, unless the owner has already beat you to it and has prepared typical Puglian treats such as Friselle bread with olive oil, oregano and tomatoes. The eight individually decorated rooms are spacious and comfortable and there's not a sound from the street. This is a sleepy village, after all. The hotel is close to the crystal clear waters of Salento if all the quietness gets too much. Although the hotel comes with a price, it's a price I'm definitely willing to pay to feel so totally relaxed. And did I mention the food?
The best place to base yourself in Puglia is a trulli and I think you would be hard pushed to find one more idyllic than Trulli Stella. It's a little off the beaten track and surrounded by farmland, olive groves and locals escaping (from nearby Ceglie) to the country for the weekend. More importantly it has it's own fully equipped outside kitchen and pizza oven and if you like, Maria, the trulli's manager, will visit with her mother, and cook you an amazing meal with enough food to last you for the entire week using ingredients from the garden and the local market.
When you can bring yourself to leave the tranquility of the trulli you are truly spoilt for choice as to where you head. There's the market cafe at Locorotondo where you can pop in for a sweet cake and deliciously strong espresso, before heading into the market to buy more ingredients for cooking those long leisurely lunches in your trulli. You can join the locals doing their morning shopping in nearby St Michele, but be aware you need to be assertive in the bakery queue if you don't want all the good bread to be sold before you get your turn.
A trip to the coast is essential and Villanova di Ostuni has some of the best local beaches: crystal clear waters, acres of white sand and a sweet marina where you can choose between a glass of icy cold rose at the local bar or a gelato on the other side of the square.
The white washed, hill top town of Cisternino is not to be missed; head to Pizzeria Da Angelo for some delicious wood fired pizza, sitting down to eat among the local teenagers, young families and grandparents alike. Take a stroll after dinner to listen to music playing in the piazza, or come back during the day to explore its warren of back streets and alleyways.
Finally no trip to Puglia is complete without participating in the evening passeggiata and there is no place better for this than Martina Franca with its mixture of shops and wonderful architecture. Sit with a glass of beer in the main square and absorb the wonderfully convivial spectacle.
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