The gardens of Chatsworth House must be ranked among the most magnificent in Britain. It's worth a visit just to see the water features (though there is much more): the Cascade has been voted the best water feature in any garden in Britain; the Emperor Fountain was the highest in the world when it was constructed; on a smaller scale, the Willow Tree Fountain can't fail to amuse (it reputedly amused the young Princess Victoria). There is a choice of free, downloadable guides or you can join a guided tour.
You can't beat a garden and tea room combo to blow away the cobwebs at any time of year and Mount Stewart House in Co. Down delivers. From semi-formal Spanish and Italianate gardens, and the funky shamrock garden and dodo terrace to 80 gloriously rambling acres of secluded woodland with romantic neo-classical monuments and the chance to see red squirrels, plus seals and nesting sea birds on nearby Strangford Lough. And the tearoom? They make their own brand icecream, a well earned treat after all that healthy fresh air and walking.
A unique and exquisite 17th century Dutch water garden whose canals and ponds full of water lilies and lawns bordered by attractive topiary are best seen from the first floor of the summer house at the far end. A walk around takes you to a variety of herb and vegetable plots and a stunning display of very old espaliers. There are no cafe facilities on site but picnics on the lawns are encouraged.
In the 90s I used to walk Yogi, a joyful Bouvier des Flandres, in these gardens every day. Yogi has long gone, but the gardens are in better shape than ever after a £12.1m facelift courtesy of National Lottery funding. An artificial lake, classic bridge, cascade of waterfalls and even an Inigo Jones gateway are just some of the treasures hidden among the specimen trees and latticework of pathways in this early example of English landscape gardening. Dogs still roam free in the wild woods and fields, but must be leashed in the more formal areas.
This south London park, its landscaped gardens formerly part of the Kelsey Estate, has been kept secret by the locals for the past 99 years. It has been our family favourite since Grandma pushed Mum around in her pram before the Second World War. When I was a little girl, Mum and I fed the ducks together every Sunday. As Kelsey Park heads towards its centenary, and since I have no daughter of my own to pass it on to, the time has come to share Beckenham's hidden treasure with the rest of the world. I hope Grandma isn't turning in her grave.
"... Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as ... Parklife!" Blur, 1994
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
Situated overlooking Coniston Water, Brantwood House was the home of John Ruskin for the last 20 years of his life. The gardens are set into the hillside, and give an insight into the mind of this great Victorian polymath. There are eight themed gardens, some radical (Dante's Purgitorial Mount), some medicinal, others dedicated to ferns (over 250). Having spent a few hours wandering around the gardens, (and house) you'll get an appreciation into the troubled mind of Ruskin.
Ostuni is a city of white buildings on a hill that looks stunning as you see if from afar and as you drive up the winding roads to get to it. It has wonderful views to the sea peeking between those pale, seemingly ancient buildings. Ostuni is an Italian town that does not seem to cater to foreign tourists so there are plenty of opportunities to practice Italian. If you have children, they are your best passport in restaurants where they will get smiles from servers and special suggestions about what to eat on the menu. Wonderful tasting food at very reasonable prices. Just be aware that if you are early eaters, your selection of restaurants may be limited as Mediterranean hours are kept. There is a town centre park with play area and small cafe for that much needed coffee, for you and gelato for the kids. If you really want to experience Italy as the Italians do, Ostuni, in Puglia, is a solid base from which to experience Italia with the family and for less Euros than more popular Italian destinations.
Google map: bit.ly/OMY1dQ
This crumbling medieval town sits beside one of the "gravine" (ravines) which score the landscape on the border between Puglia and Basilicata. Hewn from the rock on which they stand, many of the buildings are worth seeking out; look for the church of San Michele delle Grotte and the osteria Grano e Vino. Cave dwellings found in the gorge are said to date back to the bronze age and are typical of the whole area. The big attraction for outdoorsy types is the nearby Alta Murgia National Park, an environmentally protected plateau. Excursions can be arranged from the town.
Via Firenze, 10 - 70024 Gravina in Puglia (BARI)
+39 080 3262268
Google map: bit.ly/MeFkzF
Osteria Grano e Vino:
Via Fontana la Stella, 39, 70024 Gravina in Puglia (BARI)
+39 (0)80 237 74 84
Google map: bit.ly/MYjgdN
Enjoy this classic early 20th century garden, laid out in a series of yew edged rooms. Take a stroll around the kitchen gardens, wildlife areas and arboretums all planted with stunning flowers and shrubs. I have been to most National Trust gardens and this is my favourite. After a perfect meal in the lovely tearoom take a short signposted walk across nearby scenic fields to Great Chalfield Manor, another gem.
This hill-top village literally juts out as a flash of colour amidst the cultivated Vaucluse - Luberon landscape. Built on soft ochre cliffs, the village is large enough to attract a flow of tourists who pass through for the day to photograph quaint and colourful houses built out of the warm, ochre stone.
To make the most of Roussillon village, stay for a night or pass by later in the evening when the cars have pulled out of its car parks. This way you can peacefully admire its brilliant cliffs as they glow eerily in the sunset.
For further sensory stimulation follow the woodland trail of ‘Le Sentier des Ocres’, choosing either a short or longer trail (45 minutes) through lightly scented ochre paths lined with chestnut, oak and pine trees. Look out for rare plants and orchids among the thyme and rosemary.
The 'Conservatoire des Ocres' on the edge of Roussillon along the D104 is also worth a visit. The friendly staff members provide informative guided tours and workshops (some in English) and even manage a small bicycle hiring service. After a long day cycling around the Luberon, it’s a nice place to return to as you browse around its impressive shop and sit for a while in its small café space outside.
Entry to Sentiers des Ocres is 2.50€ for adults and free for children, open from 9am – 7:30pm during July and August, and 9am – 5pm March – November.
For more information on 'Conservatoire des Ocres et de la Couleur', go to www.okhra.com (in French only).
For bike hire, go to www.luberon-biking.fr, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call +33 (0)490901462 English spoken). The bike pick-up point is at the Conservatoire des Ocres from 9am – 7pm, in July and August.
Google map: bit.ly/NXkrXX
The charming Franciscan Gardens are tucked away just off Wenceslas Square, between Jungmannova and Vodičkova - a cool, peaceful oasis in the heart of central Prague.
The gardens have benches a-plenty, fragrant rose bushes and spots of shade under trees, making this a good place to escape to in the summer months.
Enjoy an ice cream bought from the adjoining Pasáž Světozor on a hot day, or simply rest your feet as the rest of Prague rushes past.
The gardens also have a small children's playground with a sand box and swings.
Open daily from 7 or 8 a.m. to 7, 8 or 10 p.m., depending on the month.
Enter from Jungmannovo náměstí, or through Pasáž Světozor from Vodičkova Street.
Nearest metro: Mustek
Google map: bit.ly/MYWAZ4
* Helen is our Been there local for Prague. Her page is here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/prague-local-helen-ford.jsp and she has her own blog here: czechingin.wordpress.com/
Ochre has been mined here since 1848, for it's red and yellow colours. Today, guided tours are available through some of the 40km of spectacular vaulted underground tunnels that have been hewn by hand out of the earth. The tour guide was interesting, and the tunnels make a great sanctuary from the heat of the Provencale sun. The cliff marking the entrance to the mines looks more like a scene from Petra than Provence.
Mines de Bruoux, Route de Croagne,84400 Gargas
+33(0)4 90 06 22 59
A former Ochre mine, this site is now a rain and wind sculpted area of red and yellow earth, hidden in a forested valley in Provence. The walk through the forest opens up into a colourful martian-like landscape, with beautiful cliffs and pinacles of Ochre. From memory, the longest route takes about an hour to walk, but shorter routes are available.
ADEP, Logis neuf, 84400 Rustrel, Vaucluse
+33(0)4 90 04 96 07
The gorge of Verdon is situated deep in the Provençal countryside. One of the most beautiful natural sites in the region, the gorge is a popular tourist spot with many different activities. A small road twists around the steep sides of the gorge, offering fantastic views from above of the crystal blue water. If you are renting a car whilst in the region, this is definitely one drive worth taking. For the more adventurous there is the chance to rent kayaks and meander your way up from the immense lake at the bottom, taking in the sights on your way. For those who want to keep their feet on dry land, hiking or even rock climbing are also very popular activities. If none of the above appeal, there is a lovely man made beach to relax on, and many areas to enjoy both a picnic and the fantastic view.
It is also worth mentioning that there are many campsites around the area, for those who wish to sample all that the lake and gorge have to offer at a more leisurely pace.
Google map: bit.ly/OGMJHo
Drive along 'Route de Castallane' for a fantastic view.
Bled is a world famous town on the shore of a beautiful glacial lake. The area is one of Slovenia’s most popular tourist attractions and a wonderful place to cycle around.
Once at Lake Bled, we cycled up to the Jelovica High Plateau for a lovely view into the Triglav National Park. With a cable car taking us to Vogel Mountain we had the chance to see stunning sights before heading back on ground to cycle around the rest of Lake Bled.
The Fashion Museum is a great place to visit and not just for people who like frocks! The displays are well-designed and you can get very close to the garments and their accessories, so it is quite evident how things have been made and whether or not the tailoring is skilful.
At present there is an excellent special exhibition, on until 2 September 2012, called 'Jubilee: dressing the monarchy on stage and screen', which shows over fifty costumes made for productions over more than 50 years. These are free-standing, and again you can see the garments at close hand and admire the workmanship. But there is much to see in the permanent collections, whether or not you go for this particular show.
The Fashion Museum is a treat and not to be missed.
Grotte des Demoiselles is an amazing network of underground caves near Provence and the Cevennes National Park. Reached by a small funicular railway, the caves can only be explored in small groups with a guide. The spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, some of which are four or five stories high, are simply out of this world. The largest cave made me go weak at the knees with vertigo so be prepared! The caves were fitted with pathways, staircases and stone balustrades in the 1930s which add to the experience - I was constantly reminded of the optical illusions of Escher (the never ending staircase!).
If you can ignore the obligatory tackiness of the visitors centre/cafe, tune out the prattle of the guide and simply admire the natural beauty of this place then you'll be sure to enjoy these grottos.
Price wise it was a little steep (c. £10 each) but the group sizes were small and it didn't seem too busy (we went in late June).
I can't help thinking if this was somewhere a little more accessible it would be deemed a natural wonder.
The "Lungs of London": take a break from the city buzz and head up to Hampstead Heath. To breathe in wide, open and green views, start from the wonderful lido at Gospel Oak; trot up Parliament Hill to marvel at the city stretching out from east to west below; continue round the fields and woods to Kenwood House and enjoy a well-earned break on their outside cafe terrace; play spot the bird or spot the dog as you jog gently back down (approx three miles round route). To add to your fitness experience and commune further with nature, stop off at one of the swimming ponds (one each for men and women on the east Highgate side, and one mixed pond near Hampstead entrance) or finish off with a few lengths of the lido! To enjoy all four pools, enter the Hampstead Heath duathlon in early September, running between swims in all the pools, starting at the lido and finishing at the athletics track.
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath for a trails map and details of events like the duathlon. Can be easily reached from Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath overground stations or C2 bus from Oxford Circus or 214 from the City/St Pancras, stopping at Parliament Fields.
Us south Londoners have the most amazing free sports venue, here on Blackheath and adjacent Greenwich Park. Whatever your age, you can play and run your way across one of London’s biggest green spaces soaked in two thousand years of history.
Arriving at Blackheath Station walk up through Blackheath Village onto the heath proper. On the very place where thousands gathered for the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 you can play football, hockey, rugby, football, cricket, lacrosse, athletics, baseball and American football. It is also ideal and popular all year round for kite flying.
Walk across the heath past the start of the annual London Marathon to the gates of Greenwich Park where children can take a donkey ride. Then cross the A2 along which for centuries pilgrims rode and walked to Canterbury.
Through the gates and into the park where you can play cricket on a pitch in the shadow of the Georgian Ranger’s House, filled with mediaeval and renaissance art and old Dutch Masters; or play tennis on a court split by the nought degrees Meridian Line; walk toward the Royal Observatory and the statue of General Wolfe, winner of Canada for the British, pockmarked with Luftwaffe bullets and then take in the magnificent view that takes in the masts of the Cutty Sark and Canary Wharf.
Walk, run, jog, play with frisbees and cycle all for free in these grounds - horseback-ridden by Henry VIII and Elizabeth 1 - past the remains of a Roman temple, past a deer park, flower garden, bandstand and magnificent trees.
But if you want to be organised by someone else you can take part in sessions for military fitness, weight training and running for mixed groups and mums only. And if you’re worn out by all this you can take children and watch them making some effort on the children’s boating pond in the shadow of the Maritime Museum.
Blackheath Railway Station, Tranquil Vale, Blackheath, London, SE3 9LE
Buses: 53, 54, 89, 108, 202, 380, 386
Other stations around Greenwich Park: Network Rail, Maze Hill: DLR, Cutty Sark
Sports on Blackheath
For all field sports contact GreenScene, London Borough of Lewisham
Tel: 020 8314 2047 email@example.com
Kite-flying is free and can take place all year round.
Donkey rides are temporarily-suspended due to bereavement but will resume in October 2012.
Sports in Greenwich Park
Small putting green at Greenwich Tennis Centre, north of Ranger’s Field
(0)20 8293 0276 www.playzennis.co.uk
One cricket square on Ranger’s Field near Blackheath Gate available to book Tuesday-Thursday and weekends during park opening hours, 1May-30 September. Pavilion with changing rooms and showers.
Tel: 020 8858 2608
South end of the park close to the Blackheath Gate.
Call 20 8858 2608 for details of pitch hire times and prices.
Military/Keep Fit Training/Running
British Military Fitness
020 7751 9742
Contact for prices
Go Commando Personal Training
£20 per 3 hour session
Serpentine Running Club
07970 896440 out of office hours
Michelle - 07956 234309
Rebecca - 07967 793957
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pedal and rowing boats, open from Easter til October, weather permitting.
Google map: bit.ly/Onf2YV
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com