Take a train or drive the hour or so west of Florence to the beautiful compact city of Lucca. It is virtually car free so perfect for wandering! Climb the Torre Guinigi which has oak trees growing at the top. Hire bikes from piazza Santa Maria del Borgo and join the popular afternoon Lucchesi 'passegiata' around the city's wide ramparts, enjoying views of the botanic gardens and plenty of private gardens too as you cycle around. Enjoy a rich hot chocolate in the Piazza dell' Anfiteatro. The cool narrow streets surrounding the central piazzas of Lucca have a wealth of individual shops selling fashion, food and ice cream, many of them seemingly unchanged over the centuries.
If the fancy takes you make a detour on the way back to the 'Parco di Pinocchio' in Collodi which is an eccentric but somehow endearing homage to the wooden puppet and its author, with garden sculptures of the key characters in the story.
In Castle Hedingham, Essex not only can you explore this magnificent Castle, you can walk around the beautiful grounds filled with daffodils and bluebells in spring time. There are lots of events that take place here, from jousting tournaments to wedding fairs. A short walk away brings you to the village pub 'The Bell.' This family pub serves hearty, excellent value meals and stocks local ale and ciders. If the pub isn't your thing there is a lovely tea rooms opposite serving up light lunches and home-made cakes.
Stroll or cycle the traffic free paths of this gently rolling 22km coastal stretch between Pembrey Country Park and the National Wetland Centre, Wales. Transformed from its industrial past, Llanelli’s steel works are now a wildfowl packed lake surrounded by sculpture dotted parkland. Carmarthenshire Woods and a giant earth sculpture replace a coal fired power station. Salt marshes and dunes provide a wildlife haven.
Bikes can be hired from The Discovery Centre at Llanelli (Merlin Cycle Tours), from where you can head in either direction, refuel in the café or grab an ice cream.
Discovery Centre/North Dock, Llanelli SA15 2LF
Google map: bit.ly/10TmB11
From the main car park there are a variety of routes that take in paths through woodland, moorland along with the banks of reservoirs and streams. The simplest is a circuit of Jumbles Reservoir (just under two miles). But this can be extended to a route which leads up to the B6391 and then passes Turton Tower (a listed building dating back to the 1400s – open to the public). The track continues round moorland moorland and drops down to Turton and Entwistle Reservoir, which you can walk round, or just cross the dam and walk up to the railway hamlet of Entwistle. From here it’s a short walk through woodland to Wayoh Reservoir. The path then leads to Edgworth from where it’s a stroll along the road through Turton Bottoms and then a woodland track back to Jumbles Reservoir.
Refreshments are available from a kiosk by the car park, from Turton Tower (during opening days) and from pubs at Entwsitle and Edgworth.
Farndale, in the heart of the North York Moors National Park, is famed for its wonderful daffodils, believed to have been first planted there by medieval monks from Rievaulx. The carpet of spring flowers attracts some 40,000 visitors annually, but this year they are late to bloom, and won’t be at their peak until the middle of April. The Daffodil Walk runs alongside the River Dove for around 2 1/2 kms, and refreshments can be found the Daffy Caffy, or at the Feversham Arms at Church Houses, which does a marvellous Sunday lunch.
The Forbidden Corner is a unique labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, follies and surprises created in a four acre garden in the heart of Tupgill Park and the Yorkshire Dales. The temple of the underworld, the eye of the needle, a huge pyramid made of translucent glass, paths and passages that lead nowhere, extraordinary statues – at every turn there are decisions to make and tricks to avoid. This is a day out with a difference which will challenge and delight adults and children of all ages.
Richmond Park, the biggest Royal Park in London, is loved and visited by many. Keen walkers can attempt the eight mile round trip while families can follow the less challenging walking trails leading to Pen Ponds.
Isabella Plantation is my favourite place for a stroll particularly in the spring when its azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons are in full bloom. Viewing St Paul’s Cathedral through a telescope located at the top of King Henry’s Mound near Pembroke Lodge is also a must.
We love visiting Low Sizergh Barn a dairy farm just south of Kendal in the rolling hills of South Lakeland. Time it right and you can watch the cows being milked while you sip leaf tea at your table - there’s a glass panel in the tea shop and it overlooks the milking parlour. The food they serve is straightforward but delicious, with an emphasis on quality – the scones are fresh, the butter is good and there’s no spray cream here! The cakes and scones are made on the premises and you can buy more to take away from the shop downstairs. The ethical ethos permeates the whole visit - there is a social enterprise nearby called Growing Well (www.growingwell.co.uk/), where volunteers grow vegetables and support is offered to help them return to employment. You can buy their veg in the farm shop, which sells a wide range of other yummy local food, including cheese made from the farm’s dairy herd. Foodie heaven. You can also buy crafts and some lovely quirky gifts from the shop. Or there’s a two mile farm trail to work up an appetite and admire the free range hens whose eggs you have just bought. A lovely afternoon, or morning. And for southerners visiting the Lake District, it’s perfectly situated on the A591 between Kendal and the M6 for a stop off to stock up on Cumbrian delicacies for your way home.
Alliumphobic? Take a trip to the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight and face your fear.Taste scapes, giant baked elephant garlic, breads, dips and chutneys. Garlic sculptures, topiary and murals satisfy the art lover. Ride on the farm tractor to tour the growing fields. Plait it, buy it, eat it, smell it. Learn curious snippets and historic facts at the heritage centre.
From the café watch the red squirrels scurrying past while sampling the menu of food cooked with …
If you’re feeling really adventurous, try some garlic ice-cream or a garlic Bloody Mary. And for the positively dedicated garlic lover, join in the festival frolics with 25,000 like minded enthusiasts in August.
Low Sizergh Barn tea room not only serves really great food, much of it from the farm or local area, but it comes with a great view.
Every afternoon around 3.30pm you can head for the tables by the windows overlooking the farm's parlour for a bird's eye view of milking time, or you can watch the action relayed live on large screens.
Should you miss milking time, you can enjoy Cow Cam throughout the day. It provides entertaining viewing of the herd's ladies indulging in a satisfying scratch on the oversized brush suspended from the cowshed rafters.
And it's just a small part of what's on offer just off the A591 near Kendal, there's also a well stocked farm shop, working farm, farm nature trail, and craft, clothing and gift galleries.
Over the past six years we have been to some fantastic farms at Easter in different parts of Yorkshire. Farmstay.co.uk is run for farmers and you can choose self catering cottages on working farms. Our children have seen lambs being born, bottle fed the orphans, helped train sheep dogs, had quad bike rides, even taken the elastic bands in for show and tell!
Each farm has been slightly different but the enthusiasm of the farmers and love of what they do has been fantastic and has proved an experience to remember. This year we are going to Teesdale - Toby Hill farm and have high hopes for yet another great adventure. Support local farmers and have a fantastic holiday to boot!
Famous for it's surfing credentials, but also a great family beach, with brilliant walks via the South West Coast Path. Smallish and pebbly on high tide, but huge and two miles wide on low tide. Blue bar is great for food and drink deep into the night, or take a stroll up the sand (keep an eye on the tides) for a clotted cream infused snack at the National Trust caff on Chapel Porth. there's a great little guide here
I found it possible to organise my own walking holiday. Our first family trip began at Ortisei with the first ascent via cable car, giving everyone a boost. Another glorious walk finished at the Lago di Braies Hotel on that beautiful lake. Get the books, write yourself a booking script in Italian (or German) and you will be rewarded by stunning scenery and a variety of welcoming refugi. Our (big) boys love it!
A secret hideaway! Found this place through a recommendation and went with the family. A few holiday apartments on a beautiful estate surrounded by vineyards, with a pool. We found the owners, who live there too, went out of their way to make us welcome and to give great tips on where to go to eat and how to avoid the tourist hoards! Local vineyard "Isole & Olena" visit was amazing! Also very close to Castellina in Chianti (great local market on a Saturday) and with views to San Gimingnano. We went last summer and are going back in August. The kids loved it as there were other kids there when we went and they made great friends. We easily visited Florence (hot!), Volterra (very winding roads) and Siena where Simon told us where to park and when to watch the horses training for the Palio (free and amazing!) Also they gave us directions to a free beach 'The White Sands' where we had a day trip which was brilliant. Ask Verity for some of her fresh eggs and Simon for some great wine! Roll on Summer! PS Hubby wants me to add - sunsets like I have never seen before - sat on terrace with wine and/or beer every night before going for dinner!
A slightly salted sandy river beach with wide grassy banks. Sheltered from the coastal breeze but not far inland from the mouth of the Mino. Picnic on the sand or under the trees for shade and enjoy the views of Portugal. Local families relax there on Sundays and public holidays - you will probably have it to yourself the rest of the time.
Eiras, O Rosal, Pontevedra, Spain
Google map: bit.ly/10vsCjI
I recently had to interview a bunch of NYC kids for a parenting magazine. I asked them for the #1 thing they love about their neighborhood, and all the Upper East Side kids said the same thing: Sedutto. The tiny ice cream/frozen yogurt shop has tons of flavors and mix-ins. You can even order a cupcake, and they'll replace the inside with your favorite ice cream flavor. A bunch of Manhattan kiddos can't be wrong. It's a sweet pit stop if you're hanging around Museum Mile.
1498 1st Ave # 1, New York, NY, United States
+1 212 879 9557
Google map: bit.ly/XS2PCV
* Amanda is our Been there local for New York. You can check out her page here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/new-york-local-amanda-green.jsp and her own NYC blog here: www.noisiestpassenger.com/. She's also on Twitter: @amandagreen
As you drive through the tall fir trees along the winding hilly roads in search of Les Chalet du Tarn, where to your side rolls the calm, serene Tarn river, you can't help feeling as though you have escaped. Escaped the busy day-to-day hassle of life, the crowds and heat of tourists and have discovered a wonderful retreat in the heart of the French countryside in the Midi-Pyrenees.
The road curves and you cross a small, stone bridge and crawl across taking in the breathtaking views up and down the Tarn. A quaint church sits at the opposite side and as you reach this you take the lane to the left, following alongside the river again, driving carefully between it's banks and the Chateaux on your right. This is a place of heritage and original architecture.
Les Chalet du Tarn is a campsite, but there are chalets you can hire. Before you have even pitched your tent, with views that are hard to put into words, the friendly owner invites you to dine tonight - what's on the menu? "Ce soir", he says, "Moules frites". Heaven to my senses.
Each night the owners create a new menu, everything is home made and served fresh to your private, if basic, table.
Imagine: you are sat back, relaxed, with a glass of locale vin blanc/rouge/rose in your hand; the quiet hush surrounds you, a slight rustling of the trees and background run of the river; a few children play over in the park while on the other tables couples sit and converse in their mother tongue. The owner stands command over the hot coals, stirring and lifting the steaming moules in a home made garlic and white wine sauce. The smell is phenomenal. He is a master of precision, carefully watching and marinading the most incredible moules you will ever eat (and that is some claim).
As they are served, straight from the huge wok style pan, to your table the traditional skinny frites are rushed from the kitchen by his wife and staff where you are left to dive in and devour these delights.
Listed under 'children's attractions' in guidebooks, but a fascinating Communist survivor (1948) for visitors of all ages. Children ('Pioneers' back then) drive the narrow gauge trains, take your tickets and salute you at the stations. A bonus: to get there you can ride on the (adult-run) Cogwheel Railway to Széchényi-hegy.
MAV Zrt. Szechenyi-hegyi Gyermekvasut
1280 Budapest, Pf.: 27, Hungary
A company that teaches surf-kiting in the summer but runs from Brig in Switzerland in the winter specializing in snow-kiting. However, Oli, the owner, was happy to cater for us on our first ski/boarding holiday.
He knows the area well in terms of where is best to ski in which conditions, has many alternatives for a break from the piste ie 15km toboggan runs, cross-country skiing, trying out snow-kiting. He gave us skiing lessons at a very favourable rate, has deals with the hotel where he is based and a local kit hire shop. We started out with brand new boots for the week! He charged us for the "guiding" for the week. We found this invaluable having never been on a winter holiday before. We were so well looked after even to the extent of Oli telling us, while I was still investigating ski trips,about the Ski train run jointly by Eurostar and TGV Lyria. This took us all the way from St. Pancras to Brig on two very comfortable trains. Nine hours but actually equivalent in time and price to the air/hire car travel alternative. Much more pleasant than air travel, which played a big part in the choice, with bigger baggage allowances (teenage daughters!) and Big Blue Experience gave a discount for coming all the way by train.
Brig is a relatively undiscovered ski destination, particularly by Brits. Chats on the ski lifts prompted surprise to hear an English voice and questions about how I found out about the place. More experienced winter holiday takers told us it has the least busy pistes that they have been on.
In the end the holiday worked out about £100 less than the cheapest ski-package I was looking at for the same dates, in Borovets through Crystalski, and much less expensive than anything else I could find in Switzerland!
It's a change from the city and great for children. You can see rescued brown bears - some have been used for entertainment and maltreated - and feed them honey from wooden spoons! There are also wolves. Regular trains from Nyugati Station to Ivacs take about an hour, then follow the signs two km to the sanctuary. It's popular with Hungarian families and there's also a restaurant. Admission is 300 Ft [about 87p] per person. Hours are March to September 8am to 7pm. October to February 9am to dark.
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