Best to begin by watching the eight minute film screened in the bright cafe at the entrance.
You learn that these Grade 1 listed Edwardian gardens, filled in in the 1940s, remained lost, even in local memory, until 2000 when a new owner began excavating.
Then wander through the gardens, finding lakes, fountains, a bog garden, horticultural surprises at every turn, even a croquet lawn. Most amazing are the subterranean grottoes, ferny and mossy, with tiny streams and little niches.
Though smaller in scale, these gardens have everything offered by historical garden sites. The plant sale is good, parking is free, the welcome is great. What more could you ask?
With the help of John Willis, Tim Smit discovered this idiosyncratic English landscaped garden long before he started the Eden Project. Although restorations and discoveries are still being made, it took me two days to see it all. More like an adventure playground for garden lovers, the 200 year-old site includes a boardwalk through a jungle, an enormous wilderness (look out for figures made from plants and rocks like the Giant’s Head and Grey Lady), a pineapple pit, lakes and formal gardens. I stumbled across some charcoal making, and other events include regular bee walks and bug sweeping.
Pentewan, St.Austell, Cornwall PL26 6EN
Google map: bit.ly/Nv93SJ
Open all year (except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day)
Main Season (1st April to 30th September) 10.00am – 6.00pm
Winter (1st October to 31st March) 10:00am – 5:00pm
Adults -- £10
Seniors -- £9
Children from 5 to 16 -- £6
Childen under five go free
Family ticket (2 adults + 3 children) -- £27
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
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/
This cool, airy building concertinas across a hillside outside of Aix; the black and white facade hints at the kaleidoscope of delight within. The museum houses towering panels of brightly coloured optical art: are those cubes really flat? It seems impossible that they aren't pouring out of the walls. Our children were captivated and we were too. For a couple of hours we escaped the heat and revelled in colour and shape and illusion. We felt truly enlivened and enriched when we launched out into the sun's glare once more.
A two-tiered amphitheatre built by the Romans in the 1st century AD. It's a spectacular building and I remember visiting as a child and being in awe of the fact that gladiators would have fought where I stood. It's still used for plays and concerts now.
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.
One of the top attractions in Hawes is its waterfall and bridge. It is a great photo opportunity just watch out for the motorbikes and cars careering down the road!
On the main road into Hawes from Leyburn.
Google map: bit.ly/OnaTEd
Gayle is a quieter and more serene place than the bustling and noisy nearby tourist hotspot of Hawes. It has stupendous views of Wensleydale and Dod Fell which rise high above the hamlet of Gayle
Just a 20 min walk from Hawes (just follow the signs for the Wensleydale creamery and follow the road right down into Gayle.)
Google map: bit.ly/Mbclbl
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
It's worth making a special trip to find Hampton Lido, as the Canadian triathlon team have just done. This little gem, saved from demolition in 1985, is hidden away in SW London by Bushy Park. Open 365 days of the year, the open air lido has a heated 36m pool, plus a children's pool and a delightful grassy area to spread rugs on beneath shady trees.
The low, 1930s style building along one side has a gym with all the latest equipment and a fitness studio which offers yoga, pilates, circuits and more. Upstairs is the small Sun Deck cafe for breakfast (best porridge in London) lunch, drinks and snacks and a south-facing balcony terrace overlooking the pools. There are music concerts on the grass in the summer and if you join the Poolside Club you can swim and BBQ in the evenings outside public opening hours.
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