A beautiful location, easy to reach and at the gateway to the Vercors National Park in France, St. Jean-en-Royans is the base for Velo Vercors. If you are looking for a road cycling holiday in France, riding quiet roads in stunning scenery there are plenty of places you could choose. They might do good food, and they might have nice rooms, and some good routes out of the front door. Velo Vercors brings it all together in a great package where everything just seems to come together, making for some sort of alpine cycling paradise.
An historic french house, with a nice big cool cellar to store and work on the bikes, a terrace for breakfast, sofas outside to chill out and enjoy the view of the mountains through the foliage of the garden, lovely food.
All of this comes together because Teresa is a great host, genuinely cares that her guests have a great time. Unsurprisingly when we visited there were return visitors.
The riding is fantastic, with breath-taking views, with more than enough to keep the most ambitious riders busy. Of course, having access to good roads is one thing, knowing where the routes are is something else. That's where Roger comes in - he knows his cycling, and he'll make sure you get to grips with the locale, making the most of the region with minimal faffing about.
When we went we made the Ardechoise sportive the focus of a long weekend, and Roger could not have been more helpful. Super long weekend with the boys, but equally I can imagine going back with the family for a week or two because there is plenty to do and it is just so relaxed.
The Lighthouse has a truly stunning vista across the whole of Torbay from a gloriously furnished penthouse. As a Georgian Crescent and Listed building it doesn't have a lift, but my word, to wake up to those views and space is worth the few extra steps. Wonderful!
While most of us head south to find our perfect coastal campsite the more discerning seekers of coastal camping will head north to the pristine beaches of the highlands and islands of Scotland, where you are likely to have a beach to yourself!
Wild camping spots abound but for those times when access to ‘facilities’ is desirable but won’t compromise on exposure to the wildness of the coast, Sango Sands Oasis will not disappoint. Just head as far north and west as you can go on the mainland well away from the pressures of modern life and you are there.
It’s a grassy cliff top location and the view down onto the bay is just amazing. It even caters for those who don’t like to pay for camping – it’s free out of season! Facilities remain open at these times, the only drawback being the lack of hot water.
The northern Highlands are on your doorstep, as are sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs and sea caves. The nearby beautiful Durness Estuary can be crossed by ferry to give you access to the wilderness area of Cape Wrath.
John Lennon spent many family holidays in Durness during his formative teenage years.
This is one of the best 4WD trips in the country, a landrover tour through an historic high country station that ranges up into the mountains high above Lake Wanaka. The numbers were small, and we got to see a real working farm. This is not a farm tour, but you do explore a 12,000 acre property with deer, sheep and cattle. Enjoyed outstanding views, one of the most beautiful deserted beaches anywhere, a great guide, a glimpse of early settler history in New Zealand, and of course, a cup of tea or coffee and a cookie.
Wanaka, Southern Lakes, New Zealand
+64 27 602 4018
Cruising the steep southern shores it appears that Lake Como is the preserve of the Clooneys, Bonds and Bransons of this world. Head north of Menaggio, however, and the millionaire quotient drops to nearly nil, the opulent villas and five star hotels metamorphosize into campsites, B&Bs and agriturismi, and the price of a holiday tumbles accordingly. At the tip of the lake (the area known as Alto Lario) the panorama opens up and here the serious Alps begin. The best bases in the area are Domaso, Gravedona and Colico, although the surrounding hill villages do offer accommodation options too. It is a region beloved of outdoorsy types from all over northern Europe, especially windsurfers, kite surfers, mountain bikers and hikers. Pick a road leading uphill from the lake and meander up it to discover ancient churches, alpine meadows, stone hamlets, superb food and incredible views of forest, lake and mountain. Such a beautiful area and yet still very reasonable. And not a movie star in sight.
The local station is Colico, buses and ferries run all around the lake. Better still to travel by car: 1.5 hours from Milan airports.
Google map: bit.ly/13kYoSI
The Circumetnea Railway is a narrow-gauge railway that runs in a C-shape for 110km from the city of Catania around Mount Etna to Giarre-Riposto which lies on the coast some 25km north of Catania. At least it's that way round if you start where we did. It's incredible value - around 6.50 Euro - and takes you through stunning landscapes with hundreds of differing views of Etna and the mountains, countryside, towns and villages around it. We stopped in Randazzo for several hours en route and found a spot from where we could gaze up at Etna unhindered. Three hours travel up and through and round the most spectacular scenery for just a few measly Euros. My companion and I both agreed that it had been our favourite ever journey by train.
From Catania - take the short underground railway system to the last stop, Catania Borgo.
The Circumetnea station is within sight of the exit and is signposted. From Giarre-Riposto station the CR station is equally close/visible.
Bussana Vecchia is a sun-drenched hilltop village that was devastated by an earthquake in the 1800s and brought back to life by a colony of artists who settled here in 1960s.
It has a unique hippie charm, stunning architecture and artist ateliers. The slow pace of Bussana Vecchia is a dream come true for any traveller who wants to experience something unique while visiting the Italian Riviera, without breaking the bank.
Go there now, and you may be able to check out - for free, however offers are appreciated - one of the largest railroad models in Italy, with hundreds of metres of tracks winding through tiny stations, fly-overs and mountains. Truly spectacular. To find it ask locals for the "plastico ferroviario", or follow the signs if you are lucky enough to find them.
There are also a couple of B&Bs in town, with rooms starting from €70. Drive down the hill and you will find some of the best beaches in the area, some of them with free access.
If you work up an appetite after exploring medieval alleys and church ruins, head for the Relax Cafè - when my friends and I sat down during a recent visit and ordered a glass of local white wine, we were brought an entire bottle. Afraid we were getting ripped off, we mentioned that it was only one glass we were after, and the woman serving us said: "Didn't you read outside? This is an experiment we are running. You pay with a free offer. If you want a glass you drink a glass, if you want a bottle you drink a bottle. You can give whatever you want, even just one euro!" I thought about the cost of living in London, and had to restrain myself from crying of happiness in front of everyone. My friends too were barely able to mask their surprise.
Have I mentioned you also get delicious pizza straight from the wood oven? (Which you can also make yourself, if you like). How about the stunning views over the Ligurian hills? Sounds too good to be true? Well go to Bussana Vecchia and see for yourself.
Driving or walking are your only two options. From Sanremo (or San Remo - not even locals are sure), head east towards Arma di Taggia and make a left, following signs to Bussana. Once past the "modern" village, keep driving up the hill towards Bussana Vecchia. Park your car wherever you can (the road is a dead end, and make sure you are good at driving on narrow roads), and walk into the village. At the entrance of the village, you'll find the Osteria degli Artisti. Turn right and walk up the hill for a couple of minutes until you reach a little square with a tiny church that has no roof anymore. Entrance to the Relax Cafe is there.
Google map: bit.ly/13YfO8E
Amazing views of the city, for just 3€. You can see almost everything, go at the end of your day and try to spot all the places you have visit, it's so much fun!
Calle de Alcalá, 42, 28014 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 60 54 00
Google map: bit.ly/12NOzec
First tip for travelling in Greece is to go in late September/early October! The crowds are gone, the beaches are empty and the weather is still hot and accommodation/tours are about half the price of the August peak.
Milos is a lovely, lesser-known island close to Santorini but I think the people are friendlier and the island more romantic than Santorini (if that's possible.) In Milos, rent a car (Giorgio's in particular, good prices, Giorgio himself seems dependable and he actually gives receipts) and drive to all the beaches - Sarakiniko looks like the surface of the moon and looks simply surreal. Another beach Tsigrado is stunning and isolated and well worth the death-defying cliff descent. Take a day trip as well by boat to see Kleftiko, where the pirates used to hide - unmissable! Tours in October are about 35 euros (down from 70 euros in August!)
Tour boats are available all along the main pier. Milos is easily accessible by ferry from Piraeus.
Google map: bit.ly/13KnF6d
South Pelion has everything to offer at all seasons. Walk on ancient stone paths under plane and olive trees with glorious views of the Pagasitikos gulf or the Aegean. Swim at deserted pebbled coves or beaches with swathes of fine sand. Select from a range of reasonably priced places to stay and enjoy food in fish restaurants, small tavernas that offer regional cuisine, or more international eateries such as Casablanca in Horton. Visit traditional hill top villages with quiet, plane tree shaded cobbled squares, little fishing harbours, historical sites, tiny fresoed churches or the market in Argalasti for local produce including home brewed local spirit tsipouro. In addition you can take a trip to nearby Skiathos on board the Africana from Platania for a day or two of partying. You will certainly be glad to return to the peace and beauty of South Pelion.
Campsites include Louisa at Platanias (www.camplouisa.gr/en/draseis.html), hotels include Kima and Des Roses in Platanias and accommodation includes Katerina in Pelion and Valtoudi in Milina.
My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon staying in one of the branas. So romantic, so welcoming, so beautiful. Great little restaurant onsite. Wonderful walks and only a short drive to the coast if you want to combine this with the mountains.
Valle de Lago s/n Somiedo Asturias 33840 España
+34 985 763 776
Google map: bit.ly/10PkNUQ
Riverside walk in Santa Eulalia up to the 16th century church on Puig de Missa.
Gentle meandering walk along the riverbank through fields of wildflowers and orange trees. Discover on the way a free irrigation museum with examples of horizontal water wheels and ancient irrigation methods. The climax of the walk takes you up a steep incline to the 16th century church at the top of Puig de Missa with breathtaking views across the Ibiza landscape and out to sea.
Iglesia del Puig de Missa
Plaza de Lepanto, s/n, 07840 Santa Eulària des Riu, Islas Baleares, Spain
+34 971 33 00 72
Google map: bit.ly/12GaS7c
The Bunker (or el Turó de la Rovira) is the best kept secret of Barcelona. With it's fantastic views across the city, this old war bunker is not to be missed. There are many places to get great views in Barcelona, but this one is definitely my favourite. It is in the best location which allows you to see everything so clearly, from the mountain of Tibidabo to the right, to the ocean and Montjuic, with all of the city inbetween.
Metro Alfons X, line 4. A slight climb up from the metro is required but totally worth it.
Google map: bit.ly/16Dngtk
Starting at Berwick-upon-Tweed a hike up the coast up to the English/Scottish border is a must as the beauty of the coastline is just breathtaking with coves, headlands and rocks which look like heads staring out to sea. The walk is generally easy but can be quite steep and dangerous at times because of the path being very close to the cliff edges and sheer climbs. But as long as you take your time and stay vigilant you'll be fine. A pose by the fence marking the border between England and Scotland as well as a photo by the border sign on the East Coast Mainline are both a must. To get to the border sign by the railway follow these directions - once you have got through the turnstile in the fence which has the Welcome to Scotland sign in front of it just turn left and walk across the field and follow the fence up to the stone wall by the railway line and the border sign is opposite to you.
Once you are in Scotland there are clear views down the coastline to St Abbs head. The entire walk from Berwick upon Tweed up to the England/Scotland border takes between one and two hours and clear signposting marks the way along the path so just follow the signs and stick to the path
A walk on the town walls of
Berwick-upon-Tweed provides stupendous views of the North Sea and the coastline south of Berwick as well as of the town itself. There are hidden gems along the route such as the Lion House, watch towers.
Google map: bit.ly/1338TY2
The restaurant has the finest clams near Lisbon and a view of one of Europe's most beautiful beaches. The journey there has captivating views of Serra da Sintra and the coastline. Spend a day at the beach then slide into the restaurant for a late lunch of ameijoas de bulhao pato (clams in garlic sauce) and camaroes (prawns) washed down with vinho verde (Quinta da Aveleda). On your way home stop off for dinner on the coast road between Guincho and Cascais at either Porto da Santa Maria (where presidents and football managers dine) or the Faroleiro
Take the train from Cais do Sodre in Lisbon to Cascais, jump in a cab towards Guincho beach, a 2km sweep of fine white sand. Drive along the coast road, passing Sintra range on your right and the coastline on your left. Drive past Cabo da Roca and Pe da Serra towards Almocageme. This beautiful village will lead you towards Adraga road. Follow it to the end.
Google map: bit.ly/10fjL7j
Just over the river from Lisbon is the Setubal Peninsula. Take a full day there, and head to the Arrabida Natural Park area. It has one of the most beautiful beaches in the region, Portinho da Arrabida, where green hillsides drop dramatically down to white sandy beaches. As it is protected by the curve of the Sado estuary, the water is warmer and much calmer than the Atlantic coast, perfect for sunbathing and swimming. There are also plenty of activities - diving, sea-kayaking, walking - all in the middle of the natural beauty of the Park. Have some of the best seafood in Portugal by detouring for lunch in Setubal, where there are dozens of low key restaurants dotted around local squares, and finally visit the quaint village of Azeitao for a wine-tasting at the Jose Maria de Fonseca quinta, including the regional sweet wine, Muscatel.
Portinho da Arrabida - www.getportugal.com/en/poi-praia-do-portinho-da-arrabida-14032
Outdoor activities - www.vertentenatural.com/index_lang.php
Winetasting - www.jmf.pt
The highest point in Athens. You can walk to the top using the footpaths but it is fun to catch the funicular railway (Telefrik). It is about a ten minute walk from Kolonaki square through some steep backstreets, but the funicular station is not well signposted. The little trains run every thirty minutes, and more frequently in busy times and costs six euros return. The views from the top are absolutely stunning.
10 minutes walk from Kolonaki square.
Google map: bit.ly/11w8a1O
A broad wooded valley north of Lucca, the Garfagnana is a ruggedly beautiful area of Tuscany hidden between the Apuan Alps and the Apennines, often overlooked in the stampede for the art-laden cities further south. If you are tired of galleries, museums and crowds or simply prefer nature to culture, a 24 hour escape to Barga, one of the 'Borghi piu Belli d'Italia' with its twisting lanes, artistic residents and incredible panoramic views will refresh your crowd-weary soul and renew your appetite for all that Florentine art. Among the elegant medieval merchant's houses are several flower filled stairways leading to the cathedral which surveys the town from above. The vista over the tiles and verdant valley towards the Apuan Alps is ample reward for the climb. There are plenty of trattorie for the obligatory sampling of delicious regional fare.
Barga can be reached from Florence by train but it is not a straightforward journey as you must leave the train on the valley floor. Simpler and quicker to drive - around two hours from Florence. Stay in the impressive and serene Villa Moorings in the town or in one of the many nearby agriturismi.
Villa Moorings: www.villamoorings.it
Via Roma 18, Barga (LU) 55051.
+39 0583 711538
Google map: bit.ly/Zg84hR
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