Leaving the Cotswolds and the UK …


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On Monday, we said a fond farewell to Brook Cottage and the Cotswolds, as we made the most of our last day in what must surely be one of the prettiest parts of England. After a bit of a sleep in,  we breakfasted, packed up the car, and went for a walk around the top part of Blockley village which we hadn’t yet seen. It is truly an idyllic spot and as was the glorious little grade II listed cottage we stayed in.

Broadway was our first stop on the way back to Reading. Again, a pretty place with a very relaxed, almost sleepy feel to it, but I imagine on weekends and during the summer it would become very busy. It also had a surprisingly large number of hospice shops, but I have been told since that this is quite common in small English towns. Stanton had been recommended to us by the publican at The Redesdale Arms, so we passed through it on our way to Burford. It is a stunning little village, with what appeared to be a huge manor house, dominating the entry as we drove in. It had a similar feel to Blockley – an unspoiled hidden gem.

Our longest stop was Burford- like Broadway, it is bigger than Blockley and Stanton, and I warmed to it immediately. It has wonderful old buildings and a very large church which was open to view. We took lunch at a beautiful old C16th pub – The Bay Tree Hotel – it certainly had a great sense of history about it,  and was quite elegant, with a more upmarket feel than others we had visited.

After a tasty lunch we continued our walked through the town, and in particular had a really good explore in the historic St John the Baptist Church, work on which began in the C12th century. It is a magnificent building, and one of the stained glass windows, while not being really ornate or deeply coloured, was rather beautiful.

Our weekend in the Cotswold was divine – being with such good friends in a pretty and relaxing environment was a perfect way to end our short UK stay. It was over far too soon, but like so many other places we saw on our fabulous trip, we would love to return….






Not lost in the Cotswolds …


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Sunday’s effort at map-reading was a far cry from Saturday’s effort – it was quite a triumph in fact. After breakfast in front of a roaring fire in the cottage, we set off,  keen to redeem ourselves.

In truth, we did choose a walk which looked straight forward, from Blockley to Moreton-In-Marsh, and no sooner had we set out, than we met a group of walkers coming the other way, who confirmed we were going in the right direction. Not only that, the  path was very well signposted all the way, unlike the path we chose on Saturday, so we were confident we should continue.

We trudged through a field of cows and a bull, which was somewhat disconcerting, but the big beast was happily chomping away at the long grass,  so we avoided eye contact and continued up to the top of the paddock, and turned in a woodland area. The path in the woods took us out into a field and onto a very muddy track beside a high dry stone wall, which was corralling black-faced sheep.

Soon we were back in woodland, resplendent with stands of tall trees which opened out onto rich farmland, where the farmer was busy baling huge barrels of hay. More woodland followed then we hit a series of fields, some with crops, others lying fallow, and another full of wildflowers. This lovely walk took us through quintessential English countryside, and even though it was overcast, it was really pretty.

We finally came to an allotment on the edge of the village, which lead us down a path to the high street. Hungry again, we chose a pleasant-looking pub, The Redesdale Arms for another excellent pub lunch, followed by hot scones at the award-winning tea rooms Marshmallow. Buoyed by our triumph in reaching our destination, we decided to walk back to Blockley taking the same path, making for around a 12 km walk and we did it!

Having decided to dine in, we settled down for a relaxed evening in front of the fire and the television, sipping champagne, and watching France beat Honduras at the soccer World Cup – bliss!


Lost in the Cotswolds …


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We set off on Saturday morning with high hopes for a lovely day, strolling through the countryside from . We stopped first at the local cafe/shop to buy a recent map of leisure walks in the area and set off, with some instructions from the owner on where to access the beginning of the walking path.

The walk we had planned offered much promise. We had chosen to go to the old market town of Chipping Campden walking through country lanes and fields, and that is how the walk began. We wandered through wheatfields, dotted which beautiful large red poppies, climbed over stiles, looked at the farmland vistas, stepping carefully over blackberry and nettle bushes – I felt like a character in a Famous Five adventure, minus the lashings of gingerbeer!

Then came our epic fail –  between the four of us, we completely misinterpreted a turn on the map and we ended up on a quite busy road, which we discovered as we progressed further, was heading us in completely the wrong direction towards the A44.  With Map Reading 101 clearly not our best subject, we retraced our steps back to the bridle path where we assumed we had made the wrong turn. We could see the path we wanted to take quite clearly on the map, but it simply wasn’t there, so we took to the busy road again and headed in the opposite direction. It was a long walk, and often times hazardous as there were no footpaths, only mown edges for us to leap onto when cars were approaching.

We managed to confirm with a passing cyclist that we were heading in the right direction, and soon we were walking into pretty Chipping Campden, two and a half hours late, and having walked about 10 kms further than we had planned – but it was worth the trek. It is a beautiful town – picturesque, pristine and pretty, with some spectacular thatched cottages and amazing gardens.

We headed straight for a pub for a much-needed meal – it was tasty and good value, and we followed it up with scones topped with clotted cream and jam – delicious! After a little exploration of the town, consensus was that we should not attempt a return to Blockley on foot, so we found a private taxi and were soon back at the cottage.

Dinner was at Lower Brook House in Blockley, a very ambient hotel and accommodation, where we had almost chosen to stay instead of the cottage. The dining experience was a step up from the previous evening’s meal. We received a warm welcome from the very efficient host and were offered a seat in the comfortable lounge for an apéritif. The dining room was elegant with quirky decor,  the food was well presented, and all bar one dish (a lamb curry which was average), were high quality. It was a very satisfactory way to end a day, which had been much more of an adventure than we expected…

Escape to the Cotswolds …. Brook Cottage in beautiful Blockley…


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My own little escape to the country has come true – after a day back in Reading staying with close friends, we travelled with them to the pretty village of Blockley and it is absolutely charming.

Blockley seems hidden away, but in fact is quite close to Chipping Campden, Broadway, The Slaughters and other well-know Cotswold names. The road we took leading into this unspoiled village cut through fields on either side of the road, and when it came into view it proved to be real chocolate box stuff – pretty brownstone cottages swathed in flowers, each one as neat and tidy as the last. Many have name plates or words etched into the door lintels, which seem to describe their provenance.

With the car parked up on the little main road, we took our bags and provisions down to the cottage, passing by a ford and a real babbling brook – hence the name our our accommodation – Brook Cottage. It is absolutely delightful and looks exactly as it did in the advertising material we had seen – it is comfortably furnished, well-equipped and has a real character.

Once unpacked, we went off to one of the three local pubs, The Great Western Arms, where we had booked for dinner. I have been longing for a country pub meal and this one did not disappoint – the dining room is separate from the bar,  and it was empty when we arrived, but as we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink, locals started arriving, chatting away to staff and giving the room a warm friendly feel. The bar next door to the dining room is festooned with English flags in support of England’s World Cup campaign,  and it was buzzing as we left to walk back to the cottage.

The menu provided both traditional and modern fare, but we all chose traditional – haddock and chips for the girls, and sausages and gravy and potato for the boys – it sounds plain, but it the meals were well presented and delicious – as were the puddings!

Our night in the top floor room was punctuated by the sound of the real babbling brook, since we had flung the little window wide open due to the balmy evening air. As we settled for the night, we knew we had picked the right spot – both the village and the cottage exceed our expectations and the morning we had planned promised much …



Last day in France ….. fabulous Nice ~


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Yesterday was a relaxed but rather sad day for me, as it was our last full day in France. It began with a walk to the port in the early morning sun, then we backtracked along the Promenade des Anglais and across to the Cours Saleya, in search of a light breakfast.  We soon spied a busy café on a street corner and decided to give it a try. The interior reminded us somewhat of cafes at home – the breakfast fare was just what we needed and the coffee was excellent.

As we walked back up the Cours towards the Tour Bellanda beside our hotel, the flower market was getting into full swing, and fruit and vegetables sellers had set up their colourful stalls too. We were very tempted by the fresh fruit so ended up with a feast of fat, juicy apricots, plus melon and pineapple.

Soon we were ascending the many steps up to the Tour Bellanda, but we discovered there was so much more to it – the Colline du Chateau offers not only panoramic views, but as we climbed higher, we saw shady walking tracks, tranquil resting spots and the glorious hilltop park, which is obviously popular with fitness devotees. After our descent back down to the road and climb back up the four flights of stairs to our room, we devoured most of the fruit we had just bought – all those stairs had made hot and hungry again.

The sun was still blazing down, but there was more to see, so after a showering we set off again, using Rick Steves walking guide of the old town, much of which we found we had done already. I had decided to take in the shops on my own, so we split up then, with Phil returning to the hotel to escape the midday sun. I had a wonderful time, leisurely looking at all the colourful wares on display in the old town, and shopping in the modern area near Galeries Lafayette. I found a lovely gift too, as I retraced my way back through the bustling old town streets to the hotel room.

Next, it was time to address yet another thing on my bucket list – a swim in the Mediterranean, so on went the togs and jandals. Footwear is essential since the beach is not sandy – rather, it is covered in quite large stones. I can see why the locals wear Crocs to the beach now! After warming up on the hot stones amidst a bevy of topless bathers, I took the plunge! The water was so clear, so blue and so very warm – just lovely – tick!

After drinks in our room with Roger and Frances, we went off together in search of our last dinner on this brilliant French adventure. The Italian influence percolates through the city, not least of all, in the cuisine, but we thought French would be apt for our last night, and we found what we were looking for in the colourful Cours Saleya. The balmy Nice evening was over too soon – we had to return to the hotel to pack.

We have all adored Nice. It has such an infectious energy, vibrant colour and a tangible vibe  – and glorious weather of course. Phil and I certainly intend to return a third time and we will head directly for Room 44, in Hotel Suisse…. our own personal Tour de France has come to an end and it has been one of the best months of my life. I will carry so many treasured memories of the country I would love to call my second home, but our heartstrings are telling us it is time to get moving, back to our gorgeous girls and their beautiful babies … But first, a few days in the Cotswolds and Los Angeles …

Cote d’Azur attractions …


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Yesterday we were blessed with another 30 degree day for our ‘cram a lot into one day’ adventure. Our first stop was the exquisite Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat. Phil was at the wheel and was very impressive with his ability to round some extremely tight bends, and managing to squeeze the Grand Scenic into a tiny space very near the entrance.

From the approach to the entry, we could see that this visit would be something very special. The beautiful pink building is equally impressive inside and out, and the gardens are something to behold. Once into the villa, an easy-to-use free audio guide is available, and it divulges a huge amount of really fascinating information about Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild – who would have known that she loved monkeys?! There is even a small room, Le Salon des Singes, dedicated to them, where they are depicted on the wall coverings.

Beatrice’s bedroom displays amongst other things, clothing, shoes, a beautiful bedcover and an exquisite teaset – seeing her personal belongings preserved in this intimate way was a real treat, and the villa is full of them – beautiful porcelain of the time, silks, chinoiserie and the blue guest bedroom just makes you wish it had been you invited to stay in it! It has simply the most stunning view of the bay, which at the time of our visit had two huge ocean liners anchored in it, having ferried passengers to the bay at Villefranche-sur-Mer.

After viewing the house, we strolled through the beautiful gardens, which we learned Beatrice had designed to look like the prow of a ship when looking at it from the loggia, and you could certainly see that effect. The view from the loggia up to the Temple of Love spans a long waterway, which at twenty minute intervals, turns into a water symphony, where fountains play in unison with uplifting classical music -pretty impressive!

After we finished our stroll through the well-tended gardens, we took tea and tarts under the shade in the Villa’s tea rooms – a posh treat after a thoroughly worthwhile visit.

Next, we took in the seafront and some of the bustling side streets of the very colourful Villefranche-sur-Mer. It felt very Italian to me, which is not surprising since it is so close the Italian border. There was a small market in progress when we arrived, which had some very nice Italian leather bags too! Phil and I took the chance to climb up to the walled part of the town, which is really a museum of sorts now, plus it provides a great view.

The beautiful and spectacular village of Eze was our last appointment for the day. As it comes into view, you marvel at how that tiny village could have been built on its perch up on the rocks. The village must be approached on foot, and after a few circuits of the carpark looking for a space, we were finally on our way to the top. The village seemed very serene, despite there being quite a few tourists ducking in and out of the pretty lanes, just as we were. It was pleasing to see though, that there were very few ‘tourist’ shops within the village, which I guess is what helps to preserve its character so well. Finding the way to the top was a bit like working your way through a maze, and we noticed others were somewhat confused about how to reach it. Eventually we worked it out and paid the 6 Euro entry fee to Le Jardin Botanique d’Eze, so we could take in the brilliant vista it provides. We were not disappointed. It is quite breathtaking!

Rest and relaxation followed for a couple of hours on our return, followed by aperitifs in our room. We wandered the area close to the hotel and found the town to be strangely quiet compared to the previous evening – which perhaps had been so busy because it was a bank holiday here. We chose La Pierre Bise, because it offered meat grilled on hot stones, with what promised to be very tasty vegetable accompaniments, however we didn’t realise that we would be cooking the meat on hot stones on our table! It was fun, and quite delicious, but it seemed a bit odd to be paying to cook your own meal. However, it was a new experience, the music was great, and the wines we chose were excellent. After a full day, we turned in early, but not before taking in our brilliant night time view.

Magic in the Cote d’Azur …


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Outstanding – that’s the way to describe our day yesterday. Leaving Callas was quite moving for me because I felt so relaxed and at home there, but we had to move on, and I am taking cherished memories with me.

The day dawned very warm again and as we left L’Etoile du Sud, we knew we were in for a very hot day! We headed off in the direction of Nice, but detoured via St Paul de Vence. What a stunner she is! The walled town sits high on a hilltop like so many other Provençal towns – majestic and proud. As we drove in, I spied the famous Fondation Maeght- the Museum of Modern Art, which friends have said is spectacular, but I knew we would not have time for that, nor for the dining terrace at the iconic Hotel Colombe D’or, which was setting up for lunch as we walked by. Parking was at a premium around 11am, and the tourist buses had just arrived, but luckily, we found an underground carpark, which kept the car cool until we returned.

The town itself is simply beautiful – the patterned cobblestones lead to tiny flower-laden streets, each one leading onto another hidden gem. Tiny boutiques place their wares in narrow doorways, some offering a welcome blast of cool air we passed by in the hot sun. The views offered from the ramparts are expansive – we could even see snow-capped mountains in the distance. This place is a must see!

In Nice, our base is Hotel Suisse, positioned facing the Baie des Anges, with the most incredible view across the city and the bay, right across to the airport. Recently upgraded to a four-star hotel, it is small, with a great bathrooms, air-conditioning, tasteful French furnishings and a very comfortable bed. For me though, the best thing on offer is the view – spectacular! As I am writing this, I am sitting on our gorgeous little balcony, looking out on the vista I have just described, it is 10pm and balmy! Last night, we sat in our bed with the French doors open, watching the night lights twinkling in the bay – it is truly story book stuff. Speaking of which, James Joyce stayed here, during which time, he began writing Finnegan’s Wake.

When we arrived in Nice, we renewed our acquaintance by strolling down towards Place Massena via the nearby the old town and daily flower market, which by night becomes a huge dining area in the Cours Saleya. We found Galeries Lafayette, which is similar to department stores like David Jones, Nordstroms and Smith and Caugheys. We also found Zara, which had the usual queues to both to try and to buy.

We returned to the Cours Saleya for dinner last night. It was still hot and as we cruised around looking for a shady spot, and we allowed a very suave Italian gentleman to entice us to eat in La Cambuse, assuring us that their pasta was excellent, and it was. It was also a great place to people-watch, glass of wine in hand – and oh the sights you see – odd couples, odd clothing, odd behaviour, and the occasional knock-out well dressed woman or elegant man- fascinating. Phil and I wandered further afield after dinner, and found tiny lanes and large squares packed to capacity with evening diners. This city has a very attractive vibe, and is imbued with colour and vitality. It is really engaging.

On our return to the hotel, we sat first on the balcony, cooling down as it was still very hot, and later we could see the lights twinkling in the Baie des Anges from our big comfy bed – magic!


Sainte-Maxime – a gem…


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This morning we debated how we should spend our last day. We decided a trip back to the sea would be a great finale and it surely was. After breakfast we set off for Sainte-Maxine, and having heard that the biggest market in the Var (in Le Muy) was on our route, we decided to stop there first.

Frankly, it was a disappointment – big? Yes it was huge, covering several streets, but was not as vibrant as other markets we have seen in the area, and some of the wares on sale did not seem to be as good quality either. Having explored the market circuit, we left empty-handed and continued on to St Maxime.

What a great choice was. On our previous visit in 2012, we stayed in the outskirts of Sainte-Maxime, but never got into the town. While it is a resort town, it still has a laid-back, relaxed air, and the side streets are well served with cafes, restaurants and boutique style shops – off the beaten track a little, but with a cool vibe. We had coffee in a main street café, then Phil and I went to explore as much as we could in the time we had. We walked the sea wall, and could see St Tropez directly opposite, shimmering across the bay – a powdery shell pink in the hot afternoon sun. We continue our walk up into the little side streets, and met Roger and Frances for a delicious meal at Chez Sophie – we loved its relaxed feel, great jazz music and the tree in the middle of the shady annexe where we sat.

On our return, the pool looked inviting in the heat – two swims for me and then it was Prosecco in the pool for all. I as I dried off, lying on the sun lounger, I looked across the pool to see lavender and olive trees, still as statues, and it dawned on me what a special time this has been for us.

The day has finished for us with a tasty meal, jointly prepared,  and cooked by Phil on the BBQ. As we under ate under the mulberry tree, excellent Provençal rose in hand, we discussed our highlights and lowlights of the trip so far. We all agreed the highlights are too numerous to mention and the lowlights? Of no consequence really – a couple of days of rain, one of which precluded us from seeing Toulouse and Carcassonne, getting lost on the way here, and a bum meal in Paris… (Oh yes, and the ankle incident wasn’t good). On reflection, we cannot believe how much we have packed into three weeks – and we have three more days to go …


Chilling in Callas and dinner in Fayence ….


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After our big day out yesterday, it was a quiet day at L’Etoile du Sud, despite having a birthday boy in the house. After a leisurely breakfast, we walked to the village for coffee and a birthday treat from the boulangerie. We wanted to see the market in full swing, as last week we were somewhat early! It was quite a contrast later in the morning – very well patronised and colourful.

After walking back up to the villa, I managed to cobble together a birthday cake for Phil, and baked it in a casserole dish … . After a simple lunch under the mulberry arbour, it was time to chill by the pool for the rest of the day – hottest day yet reaching 29 degrees. We devoured the cake in a poolside afternoon tea and lazed around until it was time to get ready for our dinner in Fayence.

When we arrived at Restaurant Le France, they had no booking recorded for us, but they were able to seat us. The Terrace looked inviting but was fully booked,  so we were seated inside – fine by us since the interior was quirky and interesting, with the feel of a gentlemen’s club about it.

As for the food? Excellent! Again we were served amuse-bouche prior to the meal as has been our experience in the more classy places we have eaten. We decided the reason our booking had not been recorded was possibly due to Mr P’s classic rendition of ‘Allo ‘Allo Franglais – it was pretty funny listening to him book the restaurant in the phone….

Now we are winding down and gearing up for our move to Nice on Monday – who knows what our last day here will bring?

The fabulous Gorges du Verdon and some beautiful villages


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Yesterday, we experienced something truly special – the Gorges du Verdon, the second largest Canyon in the world. Today we travelled the south side and it was truly amazing. The topography, the vegetation, and the river flowing through it are a sight to behold. The road is winding, but has been built to allow many viewing points for the traveller. Our first viewing from an outcrop below the road was breathtaking and alerted us to the marvel of nature that lay ahead of us. We crossed the Pont de l’Artuby and the boys walked across to stand on it, their voices echoing around the canyon as we called out to them.

We continued our winding climb around the rim, stopping off at every opportunity to look down on this magnificent spectacle which nature has created. The south side drive is less hair-raising than the north side, but nevertheless is absolutely awesome, in the true sense of the word. The sheer cliffs tower above you as you drive, and beside the road, they seem to drop away beneath you, down to the azure river below.

Aiguines was our first stop once the rim drive was completed. It is a pristine little town, and was virtually deserted save for the few shopkeepers just opening their doors. We stopped in the Place de la Fontaine for a coffee, under the shade of the cafe umbrellas, and then wandered through the town. In the height of summer it must fill up with tourists, but today it was very sleepy. It does boast however, the magnificent Chateau d’Aiguines, a restored 17th-century castle with round tiled towers at each corner, and alongside is the 17th-century Eglise Paroissiale St Jean, with a small cemetery attached. The privately owned Chateau is an impressive building, set apart as it is from the cluster of buildings which form the small town, and from a viewing point outside it, you can look up to the crumbling ruins of a 13th century castle.

We continued on our way until we came to the Pont de Galetas. It spans a narrow part of the gorge where it flows out into Lac Sainte-Croix, and we knew that we could get on the water here to view the canyon from below. We decided to hire an electric boat rather than a pedalo as I would not have been able to take my turn with my injured ankle. The boat was a great choice – it was only able to move very slowly, which is fantastic for viewing. We took it for an hour and what a fabulous experience! As we moved slowly through the gorge on the almost emerald coloured water, we could see its true splendour – beside us, above us, around us – it is truly too hard to describe, but is an experience to remember forever.

After an hour in the gorge and a potter about on the lake, we headed to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and it is as beautiful as we expected it to be. It is situated near the entrance to the Canyon and one of its claims to fame is the 227 metre long iron chain with a centuries-old gold Crusader’s star suspended from it. In reality, it is quite hard to see the star with the naked eye however. The village is also famous for its Faience pottery and we saw some absolutely beautiful pieces. Sadly, we just missed the Friday market as all the stalls were closing up, but we decided to make Moustiers our lunch stop. Like Aiguines, the village was quiet so we kicked Phil’s birthday celebrations off in a gorgeous, yet almost empty restaurant situated beside a brook of cascading waters. The menu offered really refined fare, beautifully presented in fine dining style, beginning with amuse-bouche.

After lunch, I had to choose between exploring the town, or shopping, so I did what a girl does and Frances and I went to peruse the artisan shops, especially those with the pottery. There were some truly elegant pieces, with prices to fit.  Sadly it meant I had to forego viewing the 14th century Chapel of Notre Dame de Beauvoir.

On our return journey, we wanted to visit the town of Aups, which we had also heard was worthwhile, and it truly was. Like the previous two villages, it was quiet, so we were able to stroll around at our leisure, ducking and diving under old arches, unto narrow streets and lanes. We realise it is a real privilege to be able to do this in these centuries old towns and we appreciate that the inhabitants are so obliging, though sometimes it is hard not to feel as if you are intruding in such small and old communities. Aups has a quality to it that is hard to explain – it was truly appealing…

On reflection, this has been one of our highlight days, simply because we have witnessed one of the miracles of nature, and because we have seen three stunning historic towns – it will go down in my traveller’s memory as one of my best…



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