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.
The camp was situated at one of the most scenic locations, just at the banks of cauvery. Although booze is not allowed in the forest region, we did have some good mocktails and snacks with the campfire. The early morning trek to tower was great and the experience was top notch.
+91 968 602 0000
Google map: bit.ly/14TqJSL
A wonderful family-run yoga retreat in the Italian countryside. You are picked up from (and, sadly, dropped back to...) Pescara airport and taken to the six-bedroom villa near Atri for a snack and tea before bed. The next morning you wake to the wonderful views across the valley, yoga on the terrace and lovingly home-grown, home-prepared vegetarian meals which will rival anything you've ever tasted (vegetarian or not). Local wine and 2 yoga classes a day are included, and you also have the option of paying for extra treatments and/or snacks on top. Spend your days enjoying the beautiful views over the mountains while you swim, sauna, hot-tub or just swing in one of the hammocks dotted around the garden. For those who prefer to get out and about, there are options of day-trips to nearby towns, a beach yoga day (all included in the price) and a meal out in a local restaurant (transport there and back included, meal is approx. £15). There are also bikes to borrow and a cafe a short walk away for that authentic capuccino (just don't ask for white tea). Stephanie teaches yoga in a calm, confident, serene and non-judgemental way, so you really will be fine whether a complete beginner or an expert. Her massages are to die for. (Seriously. Have one.) Rupert takes care of all the cooking (and, basically, rocks the kitchen). Put all these things together and you get a week (or a weekend) of utter bliss. You'll come back a different person. (And you'll be forever planning your next trip back...)
Pescara airport (from Stanstead) or Rome
The castle hamlet of Acera is home to about 100 Italians in the summer months and just a few goats in the winter. Its location nestled in the Perugian mountains 10 miles northeast of Spoleto and at an altitude of over 1000m above sea level, lends itself to any difficulty of hikes and on/off road cycling.
Acera has no shops so pay a visit to the pizzeria at the bottom of the winding access road before heading up. Leave the car in the village and you are spoiled with any amount of public tracks, from a 15 minute walk around one hill, with views back towards Spoleto, to choosing one of any number of peaks to conquer, to treks of over 15 miles to the valley of the River Nera, clear enough to drink from and take a refreshing swim in.
If you come this way it's best to organise to be collected by car at the end of your walk/ride. Make sure to stop at a local sausage maker, Salumificio Del Nera in Sant'Anatolia Di Narco, for the most amazing local meats.
If you ask around back in Acera, you should be able to get hold of some local truffle, its big business around here and absolutely delicious.
Accommodation can be found at a number of agritourismos in the area, though, at the moment, not in Acera itself.
Acera, Provence of Perugia
Nearest train station, Spoleto (15miles)
Google map: bit.ly/10atxnC
Salumificio Del Nera S.R.L.
Localita' Renare, Sant'Anatolia Di Narco, PG 06040
Corvara in the Alta Badia region of the German speaking, northern Dolomites is the perfect summer mountain playground. The ski lifts remain open all summer giving access to the high alpine pastures and rocky limestone peaks. The Boè and Vallon lifts from the edge of town take you to the start of the amazing Via Ferrata (a rocky scramble secured by iron cables and ladders) up to the rocky summit of Piz da Lêche (2915m); there are plenty of mountain guides and rental shops in town for the less experienced. Alternatively you can hire mountain bikes and use the lifts on the other side of the valley. Then all you have to do is point the bike down hill and enjoy the ride!
If you are imagining vast semi deserted beaches of white sand and turquoise sea, you don't need to go to the Caribbean. You can still find them in the Cabo de Gata National Park in the Spanish Mediterranean. There are no crowds, no buildings and few people. Walk from the pretty resort of San José or hire a car and sunbathe, skinny dip, windsurf and sail. It is beautiful.
A nature reserve with some of the best beaches in the world, in particular Rodas Beach on Monteagudo. Great for a day trip from Vigo but even better to camp. No cars, no rubbish bins (take your rubbish back to Vigo!), awesome sunsets over the sea, wonderful flora and fauna (especially birds). Summer only. Plan ahead for the boat and camping!
A one hour cruise around Taiaroa Head. See three species of albatross, spoonbills, petrels, shearwaters soaring around the boat. It was almost as if the birds were choreographed. Excellent commentary from two very friendly and knowledgeable staff.
Hire a bicycle and cycle east along Oriental Parade, past the airport on the west side, cutting down to Lyall bay then on round to Owhiro Bay. Here the tarmac road ends but if you have a mountain bike you can proceed along the coast towards the Red Rocks seal colony.
Start from Oriental Parade on the Wellington waterfront.
Google map: bit.ly/13SPgXB
Providing a more relaxed aspect of the Czech Republic after a few busy days in Prague, Cesky Krumlov is a refreshing getaway three to five hours south of the capital by bus and definitely not to be missed.
Follow the Vltava river 180kms south from Prague upstream into the gentle foothills of the Bohemian Forest towards the German border and find yet another truely exceptional Unesco World Heritage site. Cesky Krumlov is set in a tight loop of the Vltava, and dominated by an imposing castle built on sheer rock which gives stunning views over the medieval houses and narrow streets. The castle has a bear pit (complete with bears) and an historic theatre where original costumes are still worn for performances. The music festival in July and August attracts international performers; a modern art gallery exhibits works including those by Gerald Scarf, an intriguing photographic museum with images including Hitler's visit to the town during the war; these attractions are all discounted with a Cesky Krumlov card available from the tourist office. Well informed, multilingual town guides are very helpful and not expensive to hire for two or three hours. Despite some smart and expensive hotels (Hotel Ruze at the top of the town was configured from an ancient monastery), there are cheaper hotels and charming B&B's both within and outside the historic centre.
Families will love the canoeing on the winding river through gorges and the town itself but beware the diversions and salmon runs in the town which provide a bit of excitement to the unwary! And there are beautiful and undemanding walks in the gentle surrounding countryside and forest.
The famous wine producing town of Eger is situated 128km north east of Budapest and nestles in a sundried valley between the Mátra and Bükk mountain ranges. Eger is famous for its minaret, Egri Bikavér wine and the heroic legend attached to its castle.
Bikavér is a potent hair-on-your-chest brew which suits Eger’s sunbaked hillsides and colourful Mediterranean atmosphere.
Known abroad as Bull’s Blood, the wine brings thousands of tourists to the town and surrounding valleys.
A good time to visit is during the wine harvest season, in September and October, when the 'szuret' (harvest) provides the excuse for festivals, events and enthusiastic sampling of the year’s brew.
Serious drinkers go to the source. A brisk 20-minute walk away and you are in the "Valley of the Beautiful Woman".
The 'Szépasszony völgy' lies just west of town and although most guide books suggest taking a taxi, there really is no need. A relaxing walk through pleasant tree-lined suburbs will stimulate your thirst.
As you reach the brow of the hill, there it is spread out in front of you: the wine lover’s paradise.
It's a sun-baked valley, where 200 wine cellars form a horse shoe shape surrounding a grassy park. Some cellars have tables outside, some have musicians inside.
Besides Bikavér, Eger’s vineyards also produce Medoc Noir, a sweet red dessert wine, and the white Egri leányka, which is honey-coloured and slightly flavored with herbs. Wines can be sampled for around 30p a glass. Egeszségedre!! (Cheers!)
Google map: bit.ly/V8xbm3
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Leaving a disappointingly grey, drizzly Lake Balaton, I needed to raise my spirits. I’d spotted a hotel on my map, at Retimajor among wetlands 30 miles away. As our shadows lengthened over the fields of sweetcorn and sunflowers, my bicycle and I sped along quiet lanes, to the tranquil haven of Retszilas Fishponds Nature Reserve. Despite having no booking, I was made welcome in an airy suite. As the sun set I watched waders and waterbirds settling for the night. Hungary’s only museum of fishery, a wellness centre and fishermen’s inn complement the outdoor activities.
Rila mountain is a two hour drive from Sofia. The landscape is alpine, serene and astonishingly beautiful. Rila is known for the Seven Lakes area - glacial lakes, which reflect perfectly the surrounding peaks and the few puffy clouds in the sky. In my experience the hiking trails are well marked and signposted. If you are doing a popular hike, you meet people every now and then, which is comforting and you can ask for directions. I have done a five day hike to the highest peak – Musala 2925m and the Seven Rila lakes. You need to be relatively fit to do it. If you are not, do not worry. Most routes are loop hikes, so you can always stop in one of the mountain huts for a cup of tea. If you are doing a guided tour, ask your guide about the level of difficulty.
Pirin mountain is a three hour drive from Sofia. The starting point for most hiking routes is the ski resort Bansko or the nearby village of Dobrinishte. From Bansko you can go by car/taxi/shuttle bus to Vihren Hut, which is at the foot of peak Vihren, 2,914 m. In Bansko in July there is an international jazz festival. I also recommend going to Dobrinishte – there is a thermal spa pool surrounded by the view of snow-topped mountains. The perfect way to relax after your hike.
For a guided hiking tour, me and my husband have used the services of Penguin Bulgaria www.penguintravel.com and can recommend them. The advantages are that you have an English speaking guide, who knows the mountains; transfers to and from the mountains are included, they pick you up at the end of the walk by car and bring you to your hotel (in the event that you are not sleeping in the mountains), accommodation and meals are also included, they look after your luggage so you may be able to go with a daypack only.
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.
This short drive of around 30 miles takes you to the heart of the ancient wine-growing region of Ribeiro through rolling vine-terraced hills and some of the most interesting villages in the area. You can also visit one of the many wine–cellars or bodegas although it is always wise to phone or check with the Tourist Information Office before doing so. Stop off in Beade to admire its medieval parish church, situated on a promontory with spectacular views, and the quirky architecture of its well-preserved pazos, mansions owned by the nobility. Then drive past Leiro and on to Pazos de Arenteiro for more traditional architecture, river walks and captivating views of the surrounding countryside and the river. On the way back stop to admire the Cistercian monastery of San Clodio and have lunch there or at the restaurant in the beautiful square.
+34 902 93 24 24
Take the OU 209 out of Ribadavia heading for Leiro. Leiro, Beade, Pazos de Arenteiro and San Clodio are all well signed from this road. You can pick up a large scale map from the Tourist Information Office in the Plaza Mayor, Ribadavia, to help you find your way around.
Google map: bit.ly/UOH1FB
If you're lucky enough to be in Zakopane during the early summer what could be better than a stroll in the Tatra under the beautiful blue skies.
I recommend an early start and heading straight to the Kuznice cable car (by foot or taxi) for the easiest way up 1987m Mt. Kasprowy Wierch to enjoy the views while saving your limbs! Then follow the blue route down through the flowering mountain meadows surrounding the Five Lakes Valley before heading on to Lake Morskie Oko where you can cool your weary feet in the emerald green waters.
From here you can descend down to Polana Palencia by foot and horse drawn cart before returning to Zakopane by bus. Don't underestimate it, it's a long strenuous day in the mountains but you'll certainly enjoy your well earned beer and golonka in the evening!
Experience a real sand desert on the shores of the Baltic, with high peaks to scale and sloppes to roll down on the other side. These oceans of sand have been shifting for millenia, and also provide an oasis of peace and tranquility from the often-crowded seaside resorts in Poland. Now an UNESCO heritage site, it's an easy 5 mile cycle from Leba (take the slow train from Gdansk for even more of a feel of 'other-worldliness'.)
A bus trip out of Zakopane followed by a yomp up to Morski Oto lakes snuggled among some of the highest peaks in the Tatra mountains.
Took the horse and trap down, which included a "pit stop" for the driver to find a butterfly net - activity from the horses - and lets just say it was good for the garden.
Missed the last bus so for a few zlotys joined a workmans van to the hotel to rejoin our week long vodka tasting.
Take the ordinary bus from Zakopane.
Google map: bit.ly/13VcsmH
Cycle away the winter cobwebs in the Brecon Beacons!
Park in the village of Talybont on Usk, where you can start and finish at the White Hart or Star pubs. One has a bunkhouse and the other a B&B and restaurant open through the winter; both have great beers and good food.
Cross the canal by the footbridge then cycle north on the Taff trail which begins with a long climb alongside the Talybont reservoir. you will see the high peaks ahead of you to the left. You then pass through Talybont on Usk and Taf Fechan forests, before crossing a B-road leading to a fantastic climb up stone tracks to the Cwm Cynwyn pass as the base of Cribyn at an altitude of nearly 2000ft. On a clear day the views are stupendous and you may surprise a few walkers, fell-runners and sheep.
The descent is very technical with huge boulders and terrifying drops coming down the other side before the surface improves to a fast tarmac descent into LLanfrynach, where there's a pub for a well-earned pint, before following the roads back to Talybont.
Talybont on Usk village:
White Hart Inn:
Talybont-on-Usk, Brecon, Powys LD3 7JD
Talybont-on-Usk, Brecon, Powys LD3 7YX
Google map: bit.ly/UILn0F
You don't need a car to get to this lovely Chilterns walk as it follows the old drovers trails as they moved livestock along ancient sunken lanes that criss-cross the area.
Starting from Tring station, you have a choice of a four or six mile circular route through an area that supports an amazing diversity of birdlife; red kites, goldcrest and the lesser-spotted woodpecker. Wild fallow deer are a common sight too, badgers and the rarely found dormouse. But spring brings out the beautiful bluebells that can be enjoyed in the Ashridge Woodland, a National Trust estate.
Refreshments aplenty along the route at Ashridge and Aldbury.
Tring station on the London Midland line from Birmingham and London Euston.
The Chilterns nr Ivinghoe Beacon
Google map: bit.ly/11b7JNX
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