Top 5 Cotswolds villages within 1.5 hours of Winchester

Drink, Food, Shopping, Travel

The picture-perfect Cotswolds is a firm favourite in our household. It’s just close enough for a day trip, or an easy weekend away, and even in bad weather it’s still utterly charming.

Although it feels like a bit of a trek, the nearest stretches of the Cotswolds are just over an hour away from Winchester (and even closer if you’re based in north Hampshire). Pootle up the A34/M4 and you’ll hit Cirencester (the “Capital” of the Cotswolds) in an hour and fifteen.

So if you fancy a beautiful day trip for some stunning scenery and sublime pub lunches, jump in your car and try these villages.

1. Castle Combe

When I think of the Cotswolds, I think of Castle Combe. The beautiful sandstone cottages, sweeping streets, and the tranquil river running by are just exquisite.

Castle Combe is proclaimed as one of England’s prettiest villages, as well as rising to fame through being a film location for some big tv/film hits, most notably Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, Downton Abbey, and Stardust.

The White Hart pub serves a great range of easy pub classics, including jacket potatoes, stews, sandwiches and pies. If you’re after something special, The Manor House Hotel has become a firm Insta-favourite for its sweeping, ivy-covered façade, or otherwise try The Castle Inn (opposite the White Hart) which is the sister Inn to The Manor House Hotel.

And for any Harry Potter fans, nip over to neighbouring village, Lacock, to visit Hogwarts, the home where Professor Slughorn pretends to be an armchair, and one of the Godric’s Hollow filming locations.

2. Bibury

Another contender for “prettiest village in England”, much of Bibury is protected by The National Trust, and for good reason. Arlington Row, which is the most photographed row of cottages in Bibury, dates back to the 1300’s, and you can even stay in one of them.

Grab a bite to eat at The Swan Hotel, which sits on the River Coln and is another Cotswolds Insta-landmark, again for its ivy-covered façade.

3. Poulton & Meysey Hampton

Ok, so whilst these are technically juuust outside of the Cotswolds, they’re both right on the edge and so sweet that they deserve a spot on this list. I’ve grouped them together because they’re a stones throw from each other and an easy walk between. Lunch at the Masons Arms, which sits on Meysey Hampton’s beautiful green, surrounded by Cotswold cottages. The green even has the old horse mount steps from time-gone-by that you can walk up.

4. Biddestone & Slaughterford

Just a 35-minute cross-country walk between each other, Biddestone and Slaughterford sit just across the Cotswolds border, and both are equally charming in aesthetic.

Biddestone’s White Horse pub is well regarded, or why not try The White Hart in Ford, and walk in a loop between Biddestone, Slaughterford and Ford.

5. Burford

Slightly larger than the previous 4 places, Burford boasts a much larger food scene and a small high street to boot. If you like antiques and homeware, Burford is the one for you.

Walk along the River Windrush towards Swinbrook on this scenic 6.5km walk before circling back to Burford for a well-earned pub lunch.

A short break on the Isle of Wight

Travel

Awash with seaside towns, no motorways, and beautiful rolling hills, the Isle of Wight is a wonderful haven from the hustle and bustle of mainland UK. If you’re after an easy, slow-paced break with lots of walks and outdoorsy activities, the Isle of Wight should definitely be considered. Outside of summer, it is also not too busy and you are spoilt by the sunsets.

We stayed for 4 days and 4 nights. Unfortunately 2 of those days were working days for us, but I think if you took that time off, 4 days would give you just about enough time to do the island justice.

Cowes

Not to be confused with East Cowes, Cowes is where we set up our base. Cowes and East Cowes are separated by the Medina River and are both very easy to get to. As a foot passenger you want the RedJet from Southampton, which takes you to Cowes. For car passengers, you want the Red Funnel that takes you to East Cowes, also from Southampton. Cowes is then about a 20 minute drive around the Medina.

Cowes (both East and west) was historically a Viking settlement, who used the Medina River for strategic raids on the mainland coasts. During Henry VIII’s reign, castles were built in both East and west Cowes, as the cities were frequently attacked by the French. In 1815, Cowes became the world’s first yachting centre, after the Royal Yacht Squadron was founded, and it is since then that Cowes’ nautical identity flourished.

Osbourne House

DINNER RECOMMENDATIONS The Coast and Gastronomy both blew us away. Both were nearly booked up when we made our reservations over a week beforehand, so a top tip is definitely to book early! The Coast serves a great selection of meats and seafood, pasta and vegetarian dishes. You’d be hard-pressed not to find something you like. Gastronomy serves a smaller fusion menu, all of it absolutely mouth-watering and beautifully served. The other place we had wanted to try, but didn’t get the chance, was Call It What You Want, which serves cajun-inspired food, beers and wines in a super relaxed setting.

COFFEE – By far the best coffee we had in Cowes was from Richmonds Bakery on Bath Street. They also make it incredibly hard to resist their cakes and treats, which are dangerously displayed in their bay windows as you walk past…

DRINKS – If you’re looking for a nice bar to grab a pre-dinner drink, or a sundowner, then check out The Winter Garden (which transforms into the Summer Garden in the summer), Harbour Kitchen, or Compass Bar. Another place that we had wanted to try but was closed is Mojacs, a wine bar tucked away and around the corner from The Coast.

The Needles

THINGS TO DO – English Heritage’s Osbourne House is by far one of the most popular things to do on the island. It’s in East Cowes and there is lots to explore, plenty of green space for picnics, and it really is an interesting piece of the island’s history. Carisbrooke Castle is another English Heritage site that’s quite popular, just outside of East Cowes.

If you’re after some fresh air, then there are a lot of walking options on the island. All very well sign-posted, you can’t turn a corner without seeing navigation route and cycle route markers. The National Trust owns a lot of the island’s green space, so it is definitely worth checking out their guides in advance.

Another iconic landmark to the island (and to GB, I’d argue) are The Needles. This area is also owned by The National Trust, and there is a visitors centre with a chairlift, mini golf, a viewing platform, and a coastal walk. We timed our trip for sunset, driving along Military Road from Ventnor to the Needles for epic cliff and sea views. Be warned, you are well and truly exposed to the elements, so wrap up warm, but the sunset is spectacular and it is totally worth the wind burn!

Other popular activities we found through our research were Blackgang Chime (a theme park), the Garlic Farm, Colebrook Bay, and Robin Hill Country Park.

Yarmouth – Day Trip

Yarmouth Pier

The pretty little town of Yarmouth is a great day trip from Cowes, and also from Lymington in the New Forest. The George, a pub that sits on the seafront and against Yarmouth Castle’s old walls is a great spot for food and drinks (or to stay the night). Lunch from Gossips Cafe is also a great option, or otherwise PO41 does excellent coffee and toasties.

Wander the cute little streets and pop your head into the delis, boutiques and bookshops before walking Yarmouth Pier, the last operational wooden pier in the British Isles, with lovely views over both Lymington and Yarmouth.

Ventnor – Day Trip

If, like me, antiques, coffee and seafront strolls are your cup of tea/(coffee?), then don’t miss Ventnor. It’s directly south of Cowes, and make sure you drive via Godshill, a very sweet and picturesque village en-route.

Ventnor has a lovely long seafront you can walk along, and definitely aim to finish your strolls at the Spyglass, an old pub that sits right on the edge of the cliffs with views out to sea. A very easy menu serving the likes of seafood, jacket potatoes, salads, sandwiches, etc, there’s something for everyone. The Spyglass also has local musicians come and perform on the weekends.

Book Review : Daisy Jones & The Six

Book Reviews, Travel

To put it plainly, I was blown away by this book. Inspired by the formation and rise of Fleetwood Mac, with a real 70’s retro rock flavour, this is the type of book where you mourn finishing it, and absolutely have to pick up another book by that same author (Taylor Jenkins Reid in this case). It had me conducting in-depth research into each Fleetwood Mac member, reading old news stories on them and their tours, and listening to all of their music again with a new appreciation.

What I love about a Taylor Jenkins Reid novel is that there is always a twist or three, and you never know when she will reveal them to you, you just know that they are coming. No spoilers here, but the twists in this storyline are wonderfully delivered and altogether will have you reading this book in every square inch of space in your day.

What I also enjoyed about this book is that it is written as an interview script, giving you the perspective of each band member. It means you get multiple viewpoints, which all match and clash at the same time to really drive home how the eventual fall-out of the band came to be (this is not a spoiler, given that we know that Fleetwood Mac split).

An incredible book I won’t forget. It’s a must-read if you haven’t already.

UK City Break: 3 days in York and beyond

Drink, Food, Shopping, Travel, Uncategorized

As a lover of history, York has always been on my list of UK places I’ve wanted to visit. When the pandemic meant that international holidays were out and UK staycations were in, I decided to jump on the opportunity to get up to York.

Some quick facts about York:

  • Population: around 210,000
  • Founded in: 71 AD by the Romans. After their fall, Anglo-Saxons lived there before being conquered by the Vikings who renamed it “Jorvik”, and so York got its name.
  • Top touristy spots: York Minster, The Shambles, Yorkshire Museum, Betty’s Tearooms, Jorvik Viking Museum, York Railway Museum, York City Walls
  • Excellent food/drink spots (there are so many but these are a few): Pairings Wine Bar, Partisan, Sapori, Brew & Brownie, Wheldrakes, Mannion & Co, The Dark Horse Espresso Bar, The Larder Club, Shambles Market
  • Great day trips: Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay, Malton (food capital of Yorkshire), Harrogate, Yorkshire Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Haworth (birthplace of the Bronte sisters)
  • Tips:
    • Book everything that needs tickets in advance!
    • Check opening times – (e.g. the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth is not open 7 days a week)
    • Get the Ringo app – easiest way to pay for parking
    • Get up early to experience York before the tourists – we arrived for 8am and got to have the Shambles, the Minster, and the City Walls all to ourselves!

Day 0.5: York

Coming from London, the drive to York took us about 5 hours (stops included), and could not have been easier . Just get yourself onto the M1 and drive.

Given how iconic it is to the city, we booked York Minster tickets for the afternoon. It is a beautiful building, and you can see the Doomstone there.

We then pulled up a chair at Sapori, which is a wine bar on the Shambles, and enjoyed wine and nibbles whilst watching the world go by.

Tip: If you get a lovely sunset, definitely go to York Minster. It is simply stunning.

Day 1: Day Trip to Malton, Robin Hood’s Bay & Whitby

I love a road trip. For me, there is nothing worse than coming away from a trip you’ve looked forward to for months, only to discover you missed half the good stuff!

Malton

Yorkshire is filled with gorgeous villages, towns and coastline. So if you don’t drive up, have a look at public transport or hire a car for the day and get out of the city.

We went for a loop from York to Malton to RHB to Whitby and back to York. We also chose the route that took us over the Yorkshire Dales (beautiful).

Malton – the food capital of Yorkshire, with a pretty centre. Lots of boutiques and antique shops, and some incredible food options. We ate at Lutt & Turner (incredible, highly recommend).

Robin Hood’s Bay

Robin Hood’s Bay – a picture-perfect coastal town. Gorgeous side-streets and idyllic houses, plus a long open beach and a coastal path.

Grab a drink from The Bay Hotel and listen to live performers, or go fossil hunting on RHB beach.

Whitby – a larger coastal town, Whitby is famous for its fish & chips and seaside activities and arcades. It is also overlooked by the eerily beautiful Whitby Abbey, an impressive ruin and English Heritage site.

Save your appetite for fish & chips (if only to fuel your Adventure Golf and arcade shenanigans on the pier), and then drive up to Whitby Abbey for views of Whitby and out to sea.

Day 2: York

Day 2 was a day focused on York’s food and history scenes. We got up early doors to see York without the hustle and bustle and tourists, grabbing a coffee and snack from Brew & Brownie to fuel us. It’s well worth it if you want some empty photos and prefer the quiet.

York City Walls

We grabbed an incredible breakfast at Partisan (book ahead, you won’t regret it), before walking the city walls and along the river, and just generally wandering and doing a bit of shopping.

Next food-stop was Betty’s Tea Room. Every time we had walked past Bettys, the queue was round the corner, so you definitely, definitely, definitely want to book this one in advance! Bettys is famous for afternoon tea, and has become an unconditional requirement of a trip to York.

The Shambles

Because we hadn’t booked ahead, we weren’t able to get tickets to Jorvik or the Yorkshire Museum on the day, but, keen to learn some of York’s history, we were able to buy tickets to the York Dungeons on the day. Fun and scary at the same time, it’s a lighter way to absorb the history of York.

We rounded off our foodie day with an evening at Pairings. We had intended to only be there for one quick glass, but ended up staying for 4 hours! If you love wine and charcuterie, then do not miss this one.

Day 3: Harrogate & Haworth

Valley Gardens, Harrogate

We planned our route home to go via Harrogate and Haworth.

Harrogate also has a Betty’s Tea Room, excellent shopping, and the gorgeous Valley Gardens.

Haworth

Haworth is just lovely. A long cobbled high street with views across the valley and a fabulous mix of shops, Haworth shouldn’t be missed. If you are also a a literature-lover, then definitely visit the Bronte Parsonage Museum, and walk up to the Bronte Waterfall.

4 days in Hay-on-Wye

Drink, Food, Shopping, Travel, Uncategorized

I was recently spoilt with a very special trip to Hay-on-Wye, a town that sits on the Welsh border, just west of Hereford. It reminded me a lot of a Cotswold town, with pretty stone buildings and narrow streets.

We spent 4 days there, arriving via Cardiff and driving through the Brecon Beacons (which were incredibly beautiful), but you can also drive via the Cotswolds so if you had longer, I think the perfect trip would be a few days in both areas.

Hay-on-Wye is known as “the town of books” and if/when you go, you will see why. Every other shop is a bookshop, or sells books (new and second-hand). It’s magical. There is also a plethora of homeware and antiques shops, and the food and drink scene is excellent too.

Day 1: Cardiff and Hay-on-Wye

If you’ve not explored Cardiff before, then I would highly recommend driving through this way on your way to Hay. Cardiff is a fantastic city, with excellent shopping, history, and things to do. It also has oodles of old arcades which are filled with independent eateries and shops.

I recommend these food places especially:

  1. Wallys Deli in the Royal Arcade
  2. Coffee Barker in the Castle Arcade
  3. New York Deli in the High Street Arcade
  4. Madame Fromage, also in the Castle Arcade

Cardiff is also not that far, taking around 2.5 hours from Hampshire, so you could just about make it a day trip.

If you have longer, I would also explore the Cardiff Central Market, and Cardiff Castle (free entry to the grounds only). The Cardiff Bay area is also excellent, and an easy train ride from Cardiff Central.

Our drive from Cardiff to our accommodation, Cynefin Retreats, took us around 1.5 hours, with wonderful scenery to admire along the way.

Day 2: The Brecon Beacons & Pen Y Fan

Pen Y Fan is the highest point in the Brecon Beacons, and much of the surrounding area is owned by the National Trust. The car park for the trek is back towards Cardiff, and it fills up very quickly, so definitely get there early. The walk is circular and well sign-posted, but the best tip is to start from the car park (the one with the toilets, not the other one), and go straight up anti-clockwise, rather than clockwise (the clockwise route is a much, much steeper climb!).

The loop took us about 2.5 hours (including stops for photos, naturally), so all-in from Hay, it’ll take around 6 hours, leaving you the afternoon to explore Hay some more (or recover!).

Day 3: Hay-on-Wye

You really are spoilt for choice in this wonderful town. For the vintage and book lovers, you can get lost for hours in the high street shops and arcades. My favourite was the Hay Antique Market on Market Street, which I spent a lot of time in (much to my non-vintage loving fiancé’s delight!).

Even if antiques are not your thing, there are a lot of other shops to dip in and out of (like Goosey Gander), as well as lots of food spots.

Our favourites were The Old Electric Shop, Eves, and The Granary but we felt like we barely scratched the surface of Hay’s food scene!

As it was our final night, for dinner we booked Chapters, which is a small and intimidate restaurant serving only local and seasonal foods, most of which is grown by the owners.

Chapters is inside an old chapel on Lion Street and serves a tasting menu of about 7 courses. It’s a fab way to taste local and fresh food, and I would definitely recommend it.

Day 4: Hay-on-Wye and Home

I always find that the places I love the most are the ones that leave you wanting more, where you feel as though you have only just begun to get to know them as you have to leave. Hay is definitely one of those places, and I have no doubt that we will return soon.

Unmissable upcoming markets

Drink, Food, Shopping, Style, Travel

We visited Alresford last weekend, and had the luck of stumbling upon their bi-annual brocante and antiques market, hosted by ACVR events. Although we (and they) were nearly blown away in these uncustomary gale-force winds we’ve been having, there were some beautiful pieces and/or bargains (the joy of an antiques market is that the two are never mutually exclusive) for sale there.

I love having a mooch around a market, particularly when having a lazy weekend, so I thought I would make a list of some of the upcoming ones over the next few months.

Winchester

On the first Sunday of every month is the Antiques Market (it’s brilliant. You could spend a lot of time there).

On the second and fourth Sunday of every month is the Hampshire Farmer’s Market.

On the third Sunday of every month is the Art & Design Market.

I am biased, but Winchester is one of my favourite places. We are spoilt with inescapable history on every corner, independent shops and fantastic food options.

Southsea

Love Southsea Market hosts a fantastic market every two or so weeks. Stalls include street food, flowers, clothes and fashion, homewares and accessories, and jewellery.

You need to book tickets at the moment, due to Covid : About — Love Southsea Markets

Separately, there is also a farmers market on the third Sunday of every month.

Southsea is a lovely coastal town, east of Portsmouth (a little like Brighton & Hove twin together, so does Portsmouth & Southsea). It is full of cool eateries, coffee spots, and independent shops (and very lovely 4-storey townhouses looking out to sea).

Alresford/Alton/Petersfield

Alresford – Every Thursday, Alresford hosts their weekly market of local foods, ceramics and homewares. There’s lots to also explore around Alresford, including shops and walks, so it’s definitely worth a day-trip.

Alresford’s bi-annual vintage and brocante market that we stumbled upon last weekend is separately hosted by ACVR events. The next is on the 26 September. If you want to catch it sooner, head to Ringwood, Romsey or Bishops Waltham, or otherwise have a look here: Calendar of Events – Speciality Markets & Events (acvrevents.co.uk)

Alton – The pretty little market town of Alton hosts a weekly market on a Tuesday. The farmers’ market is also on, on 12 June, 17 July and 14 August, and the Hampshire farmers market on the second Saturday of each month. Alton is also a stone’s throw away from Chawton House, Jane Austen’s family home.

Petersfield – On every Wednesday and Saturday, the Petersfield market has a variety of stalls and is on between 8:30 and 3pm. The Hampshire farmer’s market is on there on the first Sunday of every month.

Ringwood

The Hampshire farmer’s market is held on the last Saturday of each month. There is also a weekly market every Wednesday selling local produce, crafts, clothes and plants.

On 3 July, 4 September, 6 November, and 4 December the ACVR vintage and antiques market we had the pleasure of visiting in Alresford today, will be at Ringwood.

Ringwood is another lovely Hampshire market town, close to beaches and the New Forest, with excellent eateries and independent shops.

Romsey

Romsey’s market is hosted every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday morning in The Cornmarket. Romsey has hosted a market for over 400 years, so although I have not visited this one, I imagine it would be a nice one to stroll through. Romsey is another town with some nice independent shops and cafes.

The Hampshire farmers market is also on, on the first Sunday of every month.

The ACVR brocante market is also here on 25 July, 17 October, and 28 November.

Bishops Waltham

The ACVR brocante market is also here on 18 July and 10 October. Bishops Waltham’s markets are sadly on hold at the moment, but is usually on Fridays.

I have not been to Bishops Waltham in a long time, but it’s on my list now that things are opening up. I have, however, heard that there is a Josie’s there and therefore I am convinced it will be a nice day trip. Bishops Waltham is nestled on the edge of the South Downs, en route to other towns and villages worth a visit, such as Wickham.

Day Trip/Weekend Break : Lyme Regis, Dorset

Drink, Food, Travel, Uncategorized

We recently did a day trip to Lyme Regis in Dorset, and really loved it! It is a something-for-everyone small seaside town two hours from Winchester.

It had real Cornwall-y vibes, and the drive itself is super pretty given that it crosses the New Forest, and the rolling hills of the Wiltshire and Dorset countryside (depending on your route).

Things To Do

Beach

Obviously there’s the sea! The beach has a sandy side and a shingle side, so it’s a win-win really. There were lots of cafes and stalls along the front for refreshments, and some watersports and equipment-for-hire places too.

Mini Golf & The Town Mill

There’s a great outdoor mini golf course set up the hillside that overlooks the harbour and sea.

The Town Mill is a converted mill turned art gallery and space for local artisans. There’s a pretty courtyard and a cafe selling locally sourced food.

High Street

The high street, is very small and there are not a lot of shops, but it’s definitely worth a mooch. There are some lovely (and fancy) homeware shops, and lots of vintage and antique stores too. We didn’t get to try it, but there was a queue out the door and down the street for Mulberry Manor bakery, so I can’t vouch for it, but it’s probably worth a try.

Walks & Heritage

The Jurassic Coast has many walking options, and also a lot of National Trust and English Heritage sites nearby.

Lewesdon Hill (National Trust) is the highest point in Dorset, providing views across Devon, Somerset and out to sea.

The East Devon and Dorset hills (both AONBs) and the Blackdown Hills are also in close proximity.

Food & Drink

Town Mill Bakery – situated down Coombe Street, and named after the Town Mill itself, Town Mill Bakery offers great breakfast and brunch options.

The Oyster & Fish House – if you love seafood, this place should not be missed. Lovely views over the sea, friendly staff, and excellent seafood and cocktails.

Swim – a good brunch and lunch spot, selling burgers, salad, as well as steak, fish and vegetarian options. It has a great cocktail menu too, with views over the beach.

Dottie Kitchen – another good lunch spot selling wraps, smoothies, salads and sandwiches.

Kiosk – right on the seafront, selling excellent ice cream and fair-trade coffee.

City Breaks : Bordeaux

Drink, Food, Travel

This week I was meant to be spending a long weekend in Bordeaux. We went two years ago, over this exact weekend, and loved it so much that we immediately booked to go again in March 2020. Of course Covid had other plans for us, so we optimistically booked to go again in March 2021… and here we are. Locked down and planning to go in March 2022 instead…! Obviously there are eleven alternative months in the year we could go, but there are several benefits to going in March.

Firstly, the weather (an excellent starting point for any holiday planning). Being in southern France, Bordeaux’s sunny skies and low-to-mid 20 degree temperatures towards the end of March were a much needed vitamin D boost after the long grey winter. We hired a soft-top Fiat 500 to get around, and it was warm enough to have the top down the whole trip. Pure bliss.

Secondly, March is a relatively quiet time to visit the wine regions of France. I do not count myself as a wine connoisseur, so if you are, then you are probably sitting there reading this and thinking that March is actually the worst time to go. The reason is, March is right before the Spring season begins. From late-April onwards, Bordeaux is jam-packed with festivals and fairs, starting with the annual Spring Fair (Printemps des Vins de Blaye) which showcases the new wines produced by the vineyards in and around Bordeaux (not to be confused with the larger festival in June – Fête Le Vin). However, for us, going out of season meant prices were (generally) lower and, in some cases, we had the place to ourselves.

If you are after a busier and vibrant city-break, June and September are both meant to be excellent months to visit the region. Either way though, Bordeaux has so much to see and do, excellent food, coffee, shopping, bars and restaurants, and is a city brimming with beauty and history (it is a UNESCO World Heritage site) that you would be hard pressed to not have a good time, no matter what time of year you went.

Day 1:

Accommodation: Château Grattequina

Activities: Day trip to Saint Emilion

Saint Emilion

It goes without saying that when visiting the Bordeaux region, you visit St. Emilion. An easy and picturesque 45-minute drive from central Bordeaux, passing vineyard after vineyard, this beautiful and ancient town is full of romantic cobbled streets and, most importantly on a trip such as this, wine. St Emilion is one of the five key wine areas of the Bordeaux region (see map below for a breakdown of the five), and should not be missed. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

St. Emilion wineries create some of the most prestigious Bordeaux wines, so the town is on the expensive side, but it is well worth the trip. As well as a plethora of wine shops and cellars, there is also lots of history to be seen in St. Emilion, given that the town was first founded by the Romans and then later renamed after an 8th century monk, Émilion.

There are plenty of brasseries and tabacs to grab lunch and/or snacks, or, if you are after fine dining, then Michelin-starred Logis de la Cadene would be one to look into.

Having blindly purchased several bottles of red “because we met each other in 2011 so it must have been a good vintage”, we pootled back, soft-top down and hair flying everywhere, to our accommodation for the evening; Château Grattequina.

Staying in a chateaux was something we wanted to do because Bordeaux is home to so many. However, they are not the cheapest, so we only stayed one night at ours. We picked Chateaux Grattequina because it was on the outskirts of Bordeaux, situated right on the river, and had only just opened having been completely refurbished. It was also small, with only 9 guest rooms, with a simple but beautiful exterior. Parts of the grounds were still being tended to when we stayed, but the hotel staff could not have been friendlier, and the décor was lovely. The only point to be noted is that there is no alternative place nearby to eat, unless you want to drive into the city. So make sure you take this into consideration, or have a look at the Hotel’s menu before deciding what you want to do.

Day 2:

Accommodation: Airbnb in central Bordeaux

Activities: La Cité du Vin and north Bordeaux sight-seeing

After checking out of Chateaux Grattequina, we took the short drive into central Bordeaux. Our Airbnb was on a side street, off one of the main “Rues” of the city – perfect location for touristing, terrible location for driving. All I will say is, if you plan to drive into central Bordeaux, only hire a small car!

Our Airbnb was in one of the city’s many old stone buildings meaning temperatures indoors were a nice escape from the heat, and you couldn’t hear the hustle and bustle of the busy city.

As this was our first day, and first time, in the city we thought it only apt to make our first destination the wine museum – La Cite de Vin.

The museum is situated to the north of the center, on the river, and you can either walk along the promenade (but this is about 45 minutes) or take the tram. Book your tickets ahead, as this museum is always busy. This is a good starter for wine-novices like us, as it explains the basics of wine and also gives you a nice history overview of Bordeaux and its wines. There is also a room of wines from every country in the world, and the top floor gives you panoramic views of Bordeaux and a glass of wine.

Opposite the museum is Les Halles de Bacalan, where you can pick up fresh produce and/or enjoy a glass of wine in the sunshine. After suitably imbibing, and deciding absolutely every red wine we tried had notes of chocolate and cherry, we wandered back to the centre along the promenade on the river. Bordeaux has made huge investments to the city, and this area certainly showed this. The tram line stops all the way along it, and shops and restaurants have established themselves along the riverfront for the perfect setting for sundowners and al fresco dining.

Day 3:

Accommodation: AirBnb in central Bordeaux

Activities: More sight-seeing, Le Marché des Capucins (south Bordeaux) and a bit of shopping on Rue Saint-Catherine

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will be hard-pressed not to find an eye-catching, historic building in Bordeaux. Places you should certainly put on your list are:

Porte Cailhau – dating to 1494, this beautiful gate was built in celebration of Charles VIII’s victory over war with Italy, and was the main entrance into medieval Bordeaux.
  1. Porte Cailhau Bordeaux
  2. The Basilica of Saint Michel (which boasts an excellent flea market every Sunday, full of odds and sods and gorgeous vintage art, furniture and décor items)
  3. Place de la Bourse and the Miroir d’Eau
  4. La Grosse Cloche
  5. Bordeaux Cathedral
  6. Esplanade des Quinconces
  7. Place de la Victoire

Other nice places are the Grand Theatre and the Jardin Public, but you really can just meander around the city’s cobbled streets and happen upon a historic monument.

We ended up walking to Le Marche des Capucins via an indirect route in order to sight-see most of the above landmarks and to work up an appetite…

Le Marche des Capucins is a big bustling food hall offering a cornucopia of every cuisine you could ask for, as well as fresh and dry foods. We timed our visit there for lunchtime, but I think I’d have found room for something even if I’d eaten a 10-course meal.

We ended our impromptu walking tour of the city on the Rue Sainte-Catherine. This is one of Bordeaux’s main shopping streets in Bordeaux, and runs right down the middle of the city. The side streets leading off of it are also worth a nose around for independent boutiques and wine shops.

Day 4:

Accommodation: AirBnb in central Bordeaux

Activities: Wine-tasting tour of the Medoc region

One of the activities we didn’t pre-book, but knew we wanted to do, was a wine-tasting tour of the region. The reason we didn’t pre-book was because if you google “wine-tasting tours of Bordeaux”, there are so many results and as we knew nothing about wine, and had no set itinerary, we wanted the flexibility. Now, this might be something, if you go in the busier months, that you might want to consider booking ahead as I can imagine these tours are in high demand.

We found ours through Bordeaux’s tourist website (Bordeaux Tourism), and it was excellent. We opted for the Afternoon in Medoc tour, which included guided tours and wine tasting at two Chateaux in the Medoc region, plus some nibbles. Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, and there were only 6 of us. I think this is the tour we did: An afternoon wine tour in Medoc, but don’t quote me on that.

Day 5:

Activities: Downtown Bordeaux

On our last day we booked lunch at Garopapilles, in downtown Bordeaux. This is the northern part of the city-centre, and is a quieter area with high-end boutiques. Garopapilles is a Michelin-starred restaurant, and we opted for the lunchtime tasting menu. We wished we had discovered it earlier, as it was very easy-going and relaxed, and also sells some amazing wines. It’s one we will definitely be booking for our next trip.

A Historical Stroll Through Winchester

Travel, Uncategorized

START: The Great Hall and Winchester Castle

The original castle site dates back to the Roman times. After William the Conqueror successfully invaded England (in 1066), he built one of the first Norman castles here in 1067. The Great Hall was built later, in 1222, and is the only part of the original castle that is still standing. The castle was a royal residence until the 1500’s when Elizabeth I became Queen.

You can do tours of the Great Hall, and see King Arthur’s round table here, as Winchester is believed to be the site of Camelot. At the back of the Hall is Queen Eleanor’s garden, beautiful in the summer, and a lovely and tranquil spot.

2. The Westgate

One of the two remaining gateways in Winchester, the Westgate used to be a debtors’ prison and is now a museum.

There are often family-friendly activities going on, and it’s a really good place to learn about the history of Winchester.

3. Winchester Cathedral

It goes without saying that Winchester Cathedral is one of Winchester’s top history spots. The original minster, Old Minster, was founded around 645, and the brick paths around it are where the Old Minster stood. The current structure is Norman, dating to the late 1000’s.  It is the burial place of King Alfred the Great, King Cnut, William the Conqueror’s son, and  Jane Austen (to name but a few!).

If you are visiting Winchester at Christmas, the Christmas market stalls are all around the Cathedral, and it is a truly magical time of year here. There’s also ice-skating, and the carols are also lovely to go to. I recommend picking up a mulled wine and having a wander to see all the Christmas lights about the city.

There is an admission fee for visiting the Cathedral, but it is well worth it.

4. Cheyney Court & Priory Gate

One of Winchester’s most iconic spots, picture-perfect Cheyney Court is the perfect summary of Winchester history. It dates to the 16th century, as a court for the Bishop, covering the Soke of Winchester.

Adjoining it is the 14th century Pilgrim’s Hall, which, after the 1600’s was used as a stable block. Look back (and up) once you’ve walked under the Priory Gate, as there is a small Porter’s Lodge above, which was the home of the Cathedral’s organist.

5. Kingsgate

The second medieval gate in Winchester, the Kingsgate as it stands today is believed to date as far back as the 12th century. Above the archway, on the first floor, is St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate church, one of the few gateway churches remaining. The Kingsgate was one of the gates into the medieval city, and the church used by the lay people.

There’s the lovely Kingsgate Bookshop inside the archway, with a selection of books, maps and prints available to purchase. If you’ve watched the recent Les Mis. film, you can see this stretch of Winchester when Hugh Jackman is fleeing from Russell Crowe near the beginning.

6. Jane Austen’s House & Winchester College

Passing through the Kingsgate, you turn left along College Street. On the right hand side, passing P & G Wells (Winchester’s oldest bookshop) on your right, is the yellow house where Jane Austen lived in her final years. It is said that Jane Austen and John Keats were both frequent visitors at P & G Wells.

Just along from Jane Austen’s house is the beautiful Winchester College. This is one of the many buildings of the College, which offers guided tours that cover much of its history and grounds.

7. Wolvesey Castle

Wolvesey Castle is an English Heritage site with free entry. It’s situated behind the Bishop of Winchester’s current residence, and you could completely miss it if you didn’t know it was there. You have to walk down a path along the side of the Bishop’s residence, and then all of a sudden, you’re amongst its magnificent ruins.

This was the palace of the medieval bishops of Winchester and was classed as one of the most important Norman palaces in the UK. It was used until the 1680’s and was sadly left to fall into ruin.

8. St Giles’ Hill

If you’re after a stunning view over central Winchester and it’s water meadows, St Giles’ Hill is where you want to go. Historically, the area around St Giles’ Hill and The Soke was the wealthy area of the city. At the top of the hill is a park where the ladies and gentlemen of Winchester would promenade around St Giles’ Hill. Definitely worth a visit, although the walk up is steep!

9. Chesil Rectory

The Chesil Rectory is another iconic landmark of Winchester. It dates back to between 1425 and 1450, and is the oldest commercial property in the city. During the Reformation, Henry VIII took over the Rectory and gave it to his daughter, Mary. When Mary got married to King Philip of Spain, she gifted it to the city as part payment for her lavish wedding (which was held at Winchester Cathedral).

It was left to deteriorate, to the point when it was nearly demolished, before being rescued and restored in 1892. It is now an award-winning restaurant, and definitely a must-go on your list of places to eat.

10. END: The Guildhall, King Alfred’s Statue & Abbey Gardens

King Alfred is considered the first King of England. Before him, England was split into kingdoms with different rulers, with Winchester as the capital of Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom). King Alfred is credited with successfully integrating the kingdoms to ‘create’ England. He is also credited with achieving peace with the Danes, who the Anglo-Saxons had continuously been at war with. King Alfred is buried at Winchester Cathedral, and his statue at the bottom of Winchester’s high street is both an iconic and symbolic landmark to the city.

Just in front of King Alfred’s statue is the Guildhall, and behind this, Abbey Gardens. St Johns House overlooks this too, as does the Mayor’s house. The Guildhall was built in 1873, and was built upon the site where a nunnery had been situated since before 899AD (built and founded by King Alfred’s wife, Aelswith). The nunnery later become known as St Mary’s Abbey, and its garden are where this route ends.

There are many more historical spots around Winchester, not to mention all the quaint side streets, but this route covers a fair few of them.