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.
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.
This area of marshland on the Provence region's Mediterranean coast is a wild corner of France. Teeming with wildlife, it boasts pink flamingoes, native Camargue bulls and also native Camargue rare breed grey horses, manned by troupes of traditionally dressed "gardiens" (much like cowboys). Book in to the Mas de la Fouque hotel for an impressive stay in stylish surroundings, right in the heart of the wetlands.
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
A stream tumbles down a small but enchanting waterfall. It used to power the grade II listed 19th century sawmill in Gayle. The bridge over the stream provides scenic views of the falls, Dod Fell and the sawmill (set against the beautiful backdrop of Wensleydale)
Just follow the road right down into Gayle from Hawes. The falls and bridge are right in the centre of the hamlet. Just watch out for cars using the narrow road on the bridge.
Google map: bit.ly/Mbclbl
Whether you are visiting Olympic Park or just looking to keep the kids occupied head down to Billingsgate, take a picnic but be sure to pack a mackerel (the fish market closes at 8.30am) and when you spot Sammy the seal (although most likely Simone) throw the fish at her. She has been hanging around here for a few years and why not with all that fish around? You might see porpoises and the odd dolphin too....
River Thames between Canary Wharf and as far in as Vauxhall Bridge. West India Quay on DLR and walk along the docks.
Google map: bit.ly/QdJAzO
Try the gardens at Cap Roig (Jardi Botanic Cap Roig),a series of beautiful and unusual themed gardens laid out on terraces around a modern castle leading to the sea. My favourite was the cactus garden which affords spectacular views of the coast below. Time your visit to coincide with the open-air music festival that the garden hosts in the summer. When we were there three years ago, Leonard Cohen was performing under the stars!
It literally is a mountain made of salt - a weird geological feature that made the local duke one of the richest people in medieval Spain. For a truly different experience you can go on a tour of the mine workings. Walking down white crystalline tunnels deep underground and coming across colourful shrines left by superstitious miners from years gone by is both surreal and strangely touching. There is some information in English but not all the guides speak it so check beforehand. The local village, Cardona, is dominated by a 9th Century castle that has been converted into a Parador - a classy, state-owned hotel. It's pricey but immaculate with top-notch food and views to die for. If you don't want to stay you can have a look round the battlements for free so you can take some photos of the view.
The Pyrenees are an essential part of Catalonia's soul. We've had several holidays up there and there's always something new to see but here are two top tips:
(i) the little train from Barcelona to Latour-de-Carol snakes through some of the most fantastic mountain scenery this side of Switzerland including some of the most historic villages in Catalonia. And, unlike the more well known Train Jaune, the journey will cost you less than a round of drinks. From Latour-de-Carol you can change onto a French train and head down the other side of the mountains to Toulouse or return to Barcelona after a bite to eat in the station café and a brief stop for some photographs. Buy your ticket to Latour from the automatic ticket machine at Sants Station otherwise you'll have to wait an age in a queue. Then, if travelling on to Toulouse, buy the ticket at Latour - don't attempt to buy a through ticket to Toulouse at Barcelona unless you really want to wrestle with the full horror of Spanish transport bureaucracy for half a day!
(ii) There are a number of spectacular minor roads leading north-west from Figueres up into the Pyrenees. Set your Sat Nav for Coustouges and follow the directions up into the heights of the mountains. Very quickly the tourist-strewn plain is left behind. The drive is amazing and when you reach Coustouges and nearby Sant Laurent de Cerdans you are in authentic Catalunya - check out the ancient Romanesque church in Coustouges. Both villages are actually in modern day France but are very much part of historical Catalunya and Catalan is still spoken. Sant Laurent has a long history of textile production, made possible by the numerous water-mills in the area, and you can pick up some traditional striped Catalan cloth for a song.
Google map: bit.ly/M8nIW2
Perched high on the cliffs above the town of Blanes, Marimurtra botanic garden is one of the first places north of Barcelona where you can get a true sense of the gobsmacking beauty of the real Costa Brava. There are ponds full of terrapins and avenues of trees and a formal staircase down through the pines to the cliffs and the deep blue sea - surely one of the best photo opportunities on the whole coast. And when you're sated by the views and the greenery a ten minute walk takes you back down to the sea front of Blanes where you'll find a good range of restaurants. We had a nice pizza at a place called La Gondola next to the marina but there are lots of others that looked equally good. Blanes is on the train line from Barcelona but it's a long and dull walk through an industrial area to get into town - a frequent bus service will instead drop you right at the marina.
Passeig Carles Faust, 9 Apartat de Correus, 112, E-17300, Blanes
+34 972 33 08 26
A chance to stay in the safari park. From the balcony watch the exotic animals and sunset over the lake (with a glass of wine) while the children/friends interact with free-roaming deer and wallabies. The gibbons, rhinos and antelope enclosures are just a few meters away and for an extra 69euro per group of six you can get a behind-the-scenes tour to get a bit closer to the animals. You can also book workshops and outings (children 5/adults 10 euro), going though the Cerza woods at night which is particularly scary.
All materials used to make the lodges are eco-friendly and they are equipped with the usual mod-cons.
A couple of nights here was a great way to break up the visits to the castles, cheese farms and galleries.
Ferries from Granville. This fabulous archipelago of islands is barely populated, car free, breezy, sunny, a timeless place of great beauty. There are a couple of gites and little shops and a fair few yachting visitors. Weathered rocks, deserted shorelines, beaches, pools teeming with life all abound. Great for kids.
Just outside the scenic village of Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei, one of the most beautiful villages in France, this idiosyncratic garden is the brain child of Michèle and Philippe Manson. Laid out as a series of rooms (the moon garden, the calm garden, the nuttery, the garden of contrasts and a further nine areas) your senses and moods are gently uplifted by the careful planting and loving attention of the garden's owners. There is a chichi gift shop and a place to take tea or coffee once you've finished soaking up the sights and scents.
The garden hosts events throughout the year, and is particularly renowned for its evening music concerts and candle-lit walks.
61250 Saint Céneri le Gérei
+33 (0)2 33 26 73 24
13th April 2012 to 31st May 2012, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 2.30pm to 6.30pm.
June 1st to September 16th, 2012, daily except Tuesdays from 2.30pm to 6.30pm.
All through winter by appointment for groups ring: 02 33 26 73 24.
The Garden is closed in October.
Rates: €6 for adults and children over 12 years. €3 for children under 12.
Evening concert/walks: €10
The garden is not suitable for wheelchair access
There are spectacular views from the elegant lakeside promenade to the Borromean Islands while the restaurants and bars have a more relaxed, less “touristy” atmosphere than the larger resorts on Lake Maggiore. Baveno may not be as famous or as fashionable as its larger neighbour, Stresa – it’s probably as well known for the red granite quarried behind the town as for tourism, but it was good enough for both Queen Victoria to stay and as the destination for Winston Churchill’s honeymoon. It’s also an ideal centre for exploring the lake, either to visit the nearby islands or to sail to the Swiss towns at the north of the lake.
With just a population of 1500 and a spattering of small hotels, the gulf of Orosei's Cala Gonone is the perfect base to explore the surrounding regions. It is so small that there is no taxi firm, so you will need a car from the closest airport, some two hours away.
The gulf's many beaches are some of the best in the world and only one is obtainable by foot, Cala Luna, the rest you will need a boat for. Stranded on a perfect beach for a couple of hours - the horror.
Gorropu gorge is the most unbelievable walk you'll ever do. It's so off the beaten track it took us 45 minutes to actually get IN to it from the path we'd enjoyed for three hours around mountainous, beautiful scenery - there are no signs. There are no roads. It was akin to a level of Tomb Raider, circa 2000.
Cala Osala to the north was a deserted kilometre of white sand perfection, mid week.
The fresh gulf fish and local Dorgali wines are something to shout about and the little delis in Cala Gonone make taking packed lunches on mega day walks/bathes a truly delicious experience.
It's the luxury package of life people pay a lot for but you don't have to pay the huge prices if you know it's there.
The plateau of the Giara di Gesturi stands 500 metres above the surrounding Sardinian farmland: a startling, rocky ecosystem of twisted cork oaks, scrubland and shallow lakes.
A thunderstorm was building one September evening when we first encountered the surreal terrain and we were so spooked by its sharp contrast to the rest of the island we left almost immediately.
The following morning, feeling braver in the sunshine, we returned and hired mountain bikes to explore.
We’d been warned of the feral pigs who can be rather curious of visitors, but the highlight was undoubtedly the scores of miniature wild horses we encountered – another oddity in this curious landscape.
This 8km fairytale system of underground caverns is truly magical, consisting of tunnels and rock-rooms encrusted with minerals and festooned with magnificent stalagmites and stalactites that glitter in the lamplight. They’ve been created by the rivers Placido and Rapido in their underground courses. Although the caverns delve deep into the mountain, the first cave has walkways for visitors to get up close and marvel at these natural wonders. If you want to explore further you can go in with a group of experienced cave explorers from the local speleologists’ association. Not for the claustrophobic, or if you’re afraid of the odd bat, but certainly a breathtaking experience even if you just visit the first vast cavern.
Grotte di Su Mannau s.r.l, Via Vittorio Emanuele, 3 – 09010, Fluminimaggiori
Google map: bit.ly/LV5Yxr
Bisevo is only five nautical miles and is located southwest of Komiza on Vis Island. The Blue Cave is perhaps the most beautiful of the 10 caves stretched along the island. Visit the cave in the sun and see it illuminated by a luminous blue light while objects beneath the surface shimmer in silver and pink. The best experience here is that it is not a crowded tourist attraction, even in the summer.
The easiest and cheapest way to get to Bisevo and the Blue Cave is to take one of the excursion boats that runs daily from Komiza in the summer. There are also agencies that run fast boat excursions from other islands.
For a more private experience, hire a boat in Komiza and motor out yourself. Afterwards you can boat around the tiny island and stop to bathe in hidden coves. Take a fishing rod because the waters are teeming with fish. There is a small harbour on Bisevo with a pier for fishing boats. On the island, you'll see ruins of the Benedictine monastery of St Sylvester, founded in the 11th century and the remains of a church. There's no accommodation on Bisevo.
Vis Tourist Board:
Setalište stare Isse 5, 21480 Vis
+385 (0)21 717 017
Google map: bit.ly/MAij6B
This lovely peaceful small guesthouse by a lake in the middle of the Swedish countryside is perfect for an idyllic break away from the crowds (not that there are many in Sweden!) The Dala-Floda Inn is in Dalarna county, supposedly the most 'Swedish' part of Sweden - it's chock full of beautiful lakes, pine and birch forests, and small red wooden cottages everywhere you look.
Evalotta, who runs the guesthouse with her husband Per, is the perfect host and had dozens of suggestions for day trips in the surrounding area, which has many interesting sights. In the evenings, you will be treated to a fantastic organic dinner, all with local produce, much of it from Evalotta's garden. There is also a great wine list with some really interesting organic and biodynamic wines.
The rooms are clean and simple Swedish style, and breakfast is delicious too! If it's warm enough, there is a swimming area just by the hotel where you can take a dip in the beautiful lake. There's also a sauna in the hotel, and one by the lake that you can pre-book.
If you want to experience 'real Sweden' and really relax, this is the perfect place.
There can be no better way to see the beautiful islands of Croatia than from the sea. Adriatic Kayak Tours offer a variety of trips where you can paddle round the islands and in to lots of secret places along the coastline you'd never get to see from on land. We had a fantastic trip paddling round the gorgeous island of Mijet. You don't need to be an expert, and if you get puffed out with all that paddling...well just roll out of your kayak and cool off in the azure blue sea!
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