Author Archives: Heather Cowper

Things to enjoy in the Brecon Beacons in Wales

This February I returned to the Brecon Beacons National Park in mid Wales where we also stayed in a bunkhouse last summer and wanted to give you some Europe travel tips on what there is to see and do in this beautiful region of Wales. The Brecon Beacons National Park, with over 500 square miles of mountains, river valleys, rolling farmland and woods, offers a wealth of locations for all kinds of outdoor activities.

Brecon Beacons National Park by Karen Bryan

Outdoor activities
The Brecon Beacons  is a great place to spend a few days if you love walking on waymarked footpaths and nature trails and other outdoor activities such as climbing, cycling, horse riding and  abseiling as well as canoeing on the River Wye and Usk and watersports on Llangorse Lake. Wherever you go you will find specialist companies who can organise these activities for you – just pick up leaflets at your accommodation, tourist information point or in local sports and activity shops. If you just want to plan a day’s hill-walking , then buy a local Ordnance Survey map to guide you,  but make sure you are well prepared for all eventualities of weather which can change quickly in Wales.

Pleasant market towns
Another pleasure is to potter around in some of the small market towns, especially when there’s a farmer’s market with local producers gathering to sell their specialist food product – these are usually held on Thursday, Friday or Saturdays, but check in advance. Of the towns we’ve visited, Abergavenny has a wider range of high street as well as local shopping, we enjoyed pottering around the outdoor activity shop and food shops in Crickhowell and found that Hay on Wye is great for gift shops and craft galleries as well as the book shops for which it is renowned.You’ll find that most eating out is done in pubs which have a cosy atmosphere and are becoming well known for their use of local produce, some now gaining a national reputation.

Hay on Wye in the Brecon Beacons

Hay on Wye in the Brecon Beacons

Festivals
Throughout the year there are a number of local festivals that draw the locals as well as visitors into the area. The best known is perhaps the Guardian Hay festival at Hay on Wye, held in June  but there are a number of others from the Brecon Jazz festival in August to the Abergavenny Food Festival in September showcasing the best of Welsh produce.

Entertaining the family
If you’re looking for looking for more structured ways to entertain the family, then you can try;
– A visit to the Big Pit National coal museum (free) where you can find out more about Wales’ mining heritage and take a tour down into the coal mine with helmets and headlamps.
Dan-yr-Ogof showcaves with a dinosaur park full of life size dinosaurs and a playbarn too.
Craig-y-Nos Country Park with family friendly walks, rivers and ponds and picnic areas
- You’ll find more information on family activities in the Brecon Beacons on the Visit Wales Tourism site here

Camping in the Brecon Beacons

Camping in the Brecon Beacons

Accommodation
Wales has many options for the budget traveller as well as those who like their comforts – you can try the following as well as checking out the accommodation options on the Visit Wales website and the Brecon Beacons website;
– There are a number of Hostels in this part of Wales run by the YHA which offer rooms of different sizes and some with en suite bathrooms as well as communal cooking and relaxation areas and are well set up for those who come for outdoor activities.
– For campsites and caravan sites check out the Visit Wales camping page or for camping barns (usually farm buildings converted into bunk rooms) try the Boots, Bikes, Bunkhouses network of Camping Barns
– Hotels and B&Bs find the best deals on Brecon hotels with HotelsCombined which searches the databases of more than 30 accommodation suppliers.

Photo Credits; Heather on her travels on Flickr

Cycling by the sea in Istria, Croatia

Enjoy cycling by the sea in Istria, Croatia

Last summer I spent few days in Istria, the beautiful northernmost province of Croatia with my family. The resort of Plava Laguna where we were based was ideal for Istria family activities and was especially strong on sports facilities, with a sports centre as part of the resort, bike hire shops and tennis courts and water ski-ing right outside the hotel.

Cycling by the sea in Istria, Croatia

Cycling by the sea in Istria, Croatia

On of the activities that we particularly enjoyed as a family was Istria cycling on the paths that ran beside the sea past the different swimming spots and through the pine forests to the local town of Porec. Although we were there in August, when the weather was at its hottest, cycling in the shade under those pine tree as still very pleasant, especially as we could jump off at almost any point and take a cooling dip.

Cycling in Istria, Croatia

Cycling in Istria, Croatia

I noticed that there were many trails that also took you inland from Porec through olive groves and vineyards and past small local farms where you might try the local cheeses. Maps of these trails were available in the hotel and cycle shops and if we’d had more time, I would have loved to have taken a picnic and gone out for a full day, especially if we’d been there in the spring or early autumn when the truffle season or grape picking might be in full swing.

My Europe rravel tip is to plan your cycling day out at the Istria-Bike website with details of different bike trails including the topography of each trail, the highlights you can see along the route and even place to stay nearby. There are details of hotels and other accommodation that welcome cyclists and will provide extra services for you as well as bike races and leisure events for the cycling enthusiast. Even if you’re not a hardened sports fanatic, hiring a bike for a day and getting out into the countryside, or riding along the coast as we did, is a wonderful way to enjoy the natural beauty of Istria.

Photos by Heatheronhertravels

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Bristol City Museum

Three free museums to visit in Bristol, England

If you’re visiting my home town of Bristol it’s worth being aware that there are some excellent free Bristol museums here that are ideal for families and lovers of history and culture. Here are three great free Bristol attractions that I personally recommend as top Europe travel tips and that are all situated close to each other in the university district of the city that’s also got plenty of nice shops, cafes and restaurants.

Bristol City Museum

Bristol City Museum

Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery

This is in an imposing Edwardian building at the top of Park Street and it’s hard to miss. It’s got the typical mixture of Egyptian mummies, stuffed animals and paintings and the odd curiosity like the biplane hanging from the lobby ceiling or the painted Romany caravan. These in themselves would not make it anything special, but the museum regularly holds excellent touring exhibitions which are also free – the recent Banksy exhibition was one of their most successful but there are many others. I’d recommend that you check what’s coming up or just pop in to see whatever exhibition’s on, you’ve nothing to lose. This museum is also very family friendly, as the open lobby to the rear is given over to a play area for younger children and there are many hands on family activities. On a rainy Saturday or Sunday the place is swarming with families having fun and there’s also a pleasant cafe at the back with tables near the play area where you can keep an eye on your offspring.

The Georgian House in Bristol

The Georgian House in Bristol

The Georgian House

This Georgian townhouse was built in 1790 for a wealthy Bristol merchant, John Pinney who was a slave owner and made his fortune from sugar plantations in the Caribbean. The Georgian House has been restored and is now furnished and laid out as it might have looked when the Pinney family lived there. You can see both the imposing drawing rooms and bedrooms and the kitchen below stairs with it’s polished copper pots, as well as an unusual cold plunge pool in the basement. On the top floor is an interesting small exhibition, with information about the family’s Caribbean business interests and details of the triangular trade in slaves and other goods that brought so much wealth to Bristol. The museum is open Saturday-Wednesday (closed Thursday and Friday) and is free.

Drawing room at the Georgian House in Bristol

Drawing room at the Georgian House in Bristol

The Red Lodge

This old building only hints from the outside at what you’ll find within, as although the house was built in 1580, the exterior was updated and added to in Bristol’s Georgian heyday. The Red Lodge is furnished in Elizabethan, Stuart and Georgian styles and you enter through the impressively panelled Great Oak Room, with its original Elizabethan plasterwork ceiling and carved chimney piece. From the window, you can look down on the restored Elizabethan knot garden and look down on the city imagining the grassy hillside that once separated it from the bustling city centre.

Although the house is quite grand, it was built as a lodge for the much larger Great House, which once stood on the site of the present Colston Hall used for concerts, further down the hill. The house later had other uses such as a school for girls and some of the rooms have mementos from this era. Like the Georgian House, the Red Lodge is open Saturday-Wednesday (closed Thursday and Friday) and is free.

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All photos by Heatheronhertravels

Harbour at Isle de Houat in Brittany, France

A boat trip to the Islands off Brittany in France

When we visited Brittany this summer, we took the ferry to Isle de Houat, just of the coast of the Gulf of Morbihan. The Gulf is a large inland bay with many small islands, where the mild and sheltered conditions make it a favourite area for sailors.

Harbour at Isle de Houat in Brittany, France

Harbour at Isle de Houat in Brittany, France

One of my Europe travel tips, if you’re visiting this part of the French coast is to take a day-trip to one of these islands where you’ll find peace and tranquility, beautiful unspoilt beaches and perhaps a few small cafes or restaurants, serving the local seafood for which Brittany is famous. On many of the islands, you”ll also find campsites, small hotels or holiday homes to rent, in case you want to stay a few days and relax.

Vannes is an excellent starting point for this kind of trip, although there are other ports along the coast where you can take the ferry, such as Quiberon and La Trinite-sur-Mer. Here are some of the islands you can visit;

Fishermens cottages on Isle de Houat in Brittany

Fishermens cottages on Isle de Houat in Brittany

Belle-Ile-en Mer is outside the Gulf of Morbihan and is the largest of the Breton islands with a sunny, mild climate, thanks to the Gulf stream. On the side facing the mainland, you’ll find golden sandy beaches, while towards the open sea, the landscape is wild with craggy cliffs and crashing waves. Belle Isle was a favourite of painters such as Matisse and Monet. In the island’s capital, Le Palais, there’s a 19th century military fortress overlooking the port.

Isle de Houat is ideal for walking with several different beaches, some sandy and others with rocks and and pools where you can find oysters and mussels on the rocks. We had fun fishing for crabs, although we only caught tiddlers and had to buy some from the fishermen on the way home to cook for supper. There were pretty old granite fishermen’s’ cottages that are used as holiday homes and a few small cafes and restaurants around the port.

Looking for crabs on Isle de Houat, Brittany

Looking for crabs on Isle de Houat, Brittany

Isle aux Moines is within the Gulf of Morbihan and relatively accessible, and is the best known and most densely populated in the Gulf islands. You’ll find excellent walking as well as cycle trails here and beautiful old fishermens’ cottages. It’s nickname is the Pearl of the Gulf.

L’Ile d’Arz is also within the Gulf and is a rural and lush green island with several bays and a large number of beaches. There’s a coastal path that allows you to walk right around the island.

If you want to take a day trip to one of these Breton islands, I highly recommend that you book both the outward and return journey in advance, especially at weekends and high season. Try the ferry companies listed below to help you research your day trip – consult the ferry times and start planning your day on one of these lovely Breton Islands;

For further information try

Navix
Companie des Iles
For booking your ferry tickets you can also try Billets-Bateaux

All photos by Heatheronhertravels

Monastery of Jeronimus in Lisbon

Visiting the sights of Belem in Lisbon, Portugal

I recently spend a short break in Lisbon, Portugal and thought I’d give you some tips from the day that we particularly enjoyed in the Belem neighbourhood of the City. To get to this part of Lisbon, you’ll need to take the 15E tram, which we caught from the outside the Cais do Sodré Metro station.

Monastery of Jeronimus in Lisbon

Cloisters of the Monastery of Jeronimus in Lisbon

Monastery of Jeronimus

The first place we stopped was the Monastery of Jeronimus, one of the must-see sights of Lisbon, known for it’s ornate and detailed carved stonework. The large church is free to enter and on both sides of the entrance you’ll find the tombs of the famous Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, and the writer Luís Vaz de Camões who chronicled his voyages. The carved columns soar up to the vaulted ceiling and there are many fine paintings, side chapels and stained glass windows to admire. You’ll have to pay to enter the double story cloister with the same intricate stonework, a pleasant and shady place to linger on a hot day, with a fountain playing in the central courtyard.

Pasteis de Belem, Lisbon

The Pasteis de Belem shop in Lisbon

Pasteis de Belem

Just along the road from the monastery is the most famous pastry shop in Lisbon, known as Pasteis de Belem after the small and delicious custard tarts, known elsewhere as Pasteis de Nata. The Monasteries were known for making these pastries from the egg yolks left over from the egg whites they used to starch their laundry. The story goes that the monastery sold the recipe to this pastry shop which they now keep as a closely guarded secret, known only to a few of their chefs. The shop is very popular and there are always queues for the Pasteis de Belem tarts, although you can also go inside and eat them sitting down with a cup of coffee as we did.

Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon

Monument to the Discoveries in Belem, Lisbon

Monument to the Discoveries

We completed our walk around Belem with a look at the Monument to the Discoveries, erected in 1960 to comemmorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. The statues of famous explorers and notable figures from Portuguese history, stand behind Henry the Navigator gazing out to the River Tagus and to the sea as if on the prow of a ship. Behind them, you’ll find a map of the world laid into the stone paving, showing the different places in the Indies visited by these adventurers many of whom set off from this very spot.

There are many other things to see in Belem where you can easily pass a day, such as the Palacio de Belem and the intricately stone carved Belem Tower, as well as the parks overlooking the River Tagus, where you can sit and enjoy a few of those Pasteis de Belem.

All photos by Heatheronhertravels

Lisbon Travel Tips

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London attractions: Things to do in Hyde Park

Although I was brought up in London, I’m constantly reminded when I return of the many great places to visit that are new to me. One of these is Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, and ever hopeful that spring is just around the corner, I thought I’d share some tips on things to do in Hyde Park.

View from Serpentine Lido Cafe, Hyde Park, London

Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park

Hyde Park was once a hunting ground for Royalty, but these days it’s one of the green lungs of central London with plenty of amenities for visitors. The best way to approach the park is on foot or by tube from wherever you’re staying – the nearest tubes are too many to mention, so I suggest that you download the map from the excellent Royal Parks website and approach from whichever direction is most convenient for the things you want to see. The western half of Hyde Park merges into Kensington Gardens where there also many things to enjoy.

Hyde park for sports

If you’re staying near the park and like to keep fit, it’s an excellent place to run and jog, perhaps doing a circuit or two around the Serpentine Lake that runs through the centre of the park. Cycling is permitted on roads and some cycle paths and you can even swim in the lake at the Serpentine Lido and paddling pool between Easter and October. Near the Lido, you’ll find the tennis centre where you can turn up and play and there’s even horse riding in the park available from the Hyde Park Stable if you ring to book in advance.

Diana Memorial Fountain, Hyde Park, London

Diana Memorial Fountain

Hyde park for families

Diana Memorial Playground, Kensington Gardens, London

Diana Memorial Playground

The park is a mecca for kids to enjoy a bit of space away from the noise and London traffic and you can enjoy a picnic in summer or a walk beside the Serpentine Lake to feed the ducks. There are several playgrounds around the park but the most popular is the Diana Memorial Playground on the edge of Kensington Gardens, which is often packed with kids swarming over the pirate ship at the centre. Near the Lido is the Princess Diana Memorial fountain, a loop of shallow water that children love to paddle and dabble in when the weather’s warm. If you have older children, they may also enjoy some of the other sporting activities I’ve already mentioned.

History and Culture in Kensington Gardens

things to do in hyde park

Kensington Palace by UGArdener

On the western edge of Kensington Gardens is Kensington Palace, home of the late Princess Diana and other members of the Royal Family, where you can visit many of the Palace rooms and see the Royal Ceremonial dress collection as well as an exhibition of some of the clothes Princess Diana wore. If you’re an art buff you can visit the Serpentine Gallery for free when there is an exhibition being held – visit the website to see what’s on.

Afternoon tea in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens

There are many places to eat in the parks including the Serpentine Bar and restaurant and the Lido cafe, but one that is ideal for afternoon tea is the Orangery at Kensington Palace where you can have the Debutante’s afternoon tea in the elegant surroundings of the former Orangery.

serpentine bar hyde park

Serpentine Bar & Restaurant in Hyde Park

Best of London Tips

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Romas Mansion on Zakynthos

Explore the history of Zakynthos in Greece

In my recent article I speculated whether Easyjet might fly to Zakynthos in Greece (also known as Zante) in 2010 and it turns out that they have just launched flights there from London Gatwick Airport. Always aiming to bring you the best European travel tips, I thought I’d let you know about a couple of interesting places to visit that will give you a sense of the history on the island.

Romas Mansion on Zakynthos

Romas Mansion on Zakynthos

If you’re holidaying on Zakynthos, it’s likely that you’ll visit Zante town, the capital of the island, to watch the fishing boats at the quayside, shop for clothes and souvenirs or soak up a little Greek coffee culture in the main square. If you do, make sure you allow an extra hour to look around Romas mansion, tucked down a side street just behind the main square for a taste of how the aristocracy of the island lived in the past.

The mansion was built in the 1660s and is one of the few houses of this period to survive the terrible earthquake and fire of 1953 that destroyed Zante town. It was built in the 1660s and was used as the seat of government during the English protectorate of the island in the early 19th century, but was later bought by the Greek government minister, Alexander Romas. The house has now been restored and opened by the Romas family who still live there and is full of beautiful antique furniture and family portraits, giving you a glimpse of how the wealthy Greek families lived in that era. Check the website for opening times before you visit.

Terrace near the castle on Zakynthos

Terrace near the castle on Zakynthos

Another historic site that you might enjoy is the Venetian Fort built in 1646 at the top of the hill overlooking Zante town. The terrace just below the castle is a favourite place for Zakynthians to go and have a drink in the evening and there’s a pretty churth you should visit if it’s open. Surprisingly, I had never visited the castle before, despite visiting the island many times, but this year I finally managed to be there at a time when it was open. Inside you’ll find a large space that once must have been full of buildings, like a small village for the soldiers stationed there. Now the pine trees have grown over it all and the buildings are largely ruined, but the view over the bay is as spectacular as ever. Even if you don’t see the castle, make the effort to go up for a drink at sunset on the terrace.

View from the castle on Zakynthos

View from the castle on Zakynthos

Romas Mansion, Louka Carrer 19, Zante town, Zakynthos, 29100
Tel +30 26950 28381 Website www.romas.gr

All photos by Heatheronhertravels

View from St Peter's in Munich

Climbing St Peter’s church tower in Munich

On my recent visit to Munich before Christmas, I enjoyed a bracing walk that took my breath away – literally. This was a walk of the vertical rather than horizontal kind, up the many steps of St Peter’s Church tower just by Marienplatz, in the heart of old Munich. You pay a couple of Euros for the privilege at the booth at the bottom and then keep climbing, hoping that you won’t meet too many others coming in the opposite direction, when the stairs get narrow.

View from St Peter's in Munich

View from St Peter's church tower in Munich

Not one for those who hate heights or even those who feel claustrophobic at the thought of narrow stairwells, but once you get to the top, the view is well worth the exertion. From the top of St Peter’s you get a 360 degree view over the rooftops of Munich and down into Marienplatz, where the Christmas market was being held. If you timed you visit for 11 o’clock or noon, you’d get a birds eye view of the famous Glockenspiel on the facade of the Neues Rathaus or New Town Hall, when the painted figures turn round in time to the clock chimes.

The climb reminded how many church towers there are to be climbed in the cities of Europe – I’ve climbed towers in Croatia that were downright dodgy, up the Cathedral tower in Valencia and the ultimate in Church tower climbs at the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where the crowds were just as pressing at the top as the bottom.  Climbing a church tower is one of my travel tips as in all cases the view was wonderful and a great way to get a different perspective on the city.

Best of Munich Tips

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Bunkhouse at Trericket Mill, in the Brencon beacons, Wales

Stay in a bunkhouse in Wales and enjoy the great outdoors

If you love the great outdoors, then Wales is your country and the Brecon Beacons in particular will offer all you could wish for in stunning scenery, walking, mountain biking, climbing, canoeing and many other outdoor activities.

Bunkhouse at Trericket Mill, in the Brencon beacons, Wales

Bunkhouse at Trericket Mill, in the Brencon beacons, Wales

If you’re travelling on a budget or just prefer to get close to nature, then you may enjoy camping, but outside the summer months, you may find it a trifle chilly and damp. I love to hill walk in beautiful countryside but I must admit I prefer a slate tiled roof over my head at the end of a long day rather than damp canvas. This is where the discovery of a network of camping barns in the Brecon Beacons, could extend your enjoyement at any time of year. A bunkhouse is one step up from a tent, but not quite a bed and breakfast – it’s often a barn or outbuilding that has been converted into simple accommodation, with bunk beds and self catering facilities.

Trericket Mill in Brecon Beacons, Wales

Trericket Mill in Brecon Beacons, Wales

In the Brecon Beacons, you’ll find a group of bunkhouses that you can use as a base for exploring the area or spend your time hiking or cycling between them, and which are ideal for groups getting together or families. At some of the bunk houses there is also camping or bed and breakfast accommodation available , and normally they will have cooking facilities but if not there’ll be a cosy pub nearby.

We stayed in the bunk house at Trericket Mill last summer at an old water mill where a stone building in the orchard provided the bunk house with camping spaces surrounding it. We toasted marshmallows over the camp fire in an old oil drum then slept soundly with chickens pecking under the apple trees as well as ducks swimming on the mill stream that ran through the property. There was a swimming place with a freezing plunge pool just up stream which was so cold it took our breath away and lead to squeals of shock and delight from our children. In the watermill there was Bed and Breakfast on offer and you could even order a vegetarian home cooked evening meal, if the thought of another round of sausages and baked beans didn’t appeal.

Swimming in the Stream at Trericket mill in Wales

Swimming in the Stream at Trericket mill in Wales

Next time I visit the Brecon Beacons, I’d love hike from one of these bunk-houses to the next, using the maps and trails on the boots bikes and bunkhouses website. You can cross farmland and fields, follow the rivers or canals, stop off at interesting local towns like Brecon and Hay on Wye and soak up some history and pre-history in ancient forts, stone circles and Roman remains.

All photos by Heatheronhertravels

The Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

Visit the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

If you’re fascinated by the ancient sites of Greece and Rome, then you’ll love the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, one of the highlights of the Museuminsel or Museum Island where you’ll also find several other major museums and galleries. Although I didn’t get time to visit the others when we were there last spring, the Pergamon has the reputation for ‘If you only see one, see this one’

The Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

The Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin

Even if you’re not normally one to hang out at ancient monuments, this museum is a great place to get a manageable taste of the antiquities in under an hour when you just see the highlights with the audio-tour. The museum gets it’s name from the huge Pergamon Altar which is more of a complete building frontage, that has been transported into the first room of the museum. Here you can sit on the very steps of the building which once stood in Turkey as you listen to the audio-guide and view the figures on the frieze at close quarters – once they were painted in bright colours and gilding rather than the current stark white marble.

Market Gate of Miletus at the Pergamon Museum

Market Gate of Miletus at the Pergamon Museum

Next you walk through the huge Roman market Gate of Miletus, and imagine the high walls that once surrounded it and the bustle of people passing through. Then just when you may be getting tired on the monochrome marble and stonework comes a burst of colour in the colbalt blue Ishtar gate, from the Babylon of King Nebuchadnezzar, with amazingly preserved tilework of horses and lions along the processional way.

Once you’ve completed the audio-guide with these highlights, there are many other interesting things to explore in the museum, but we had teenagers in tow and they had reached their culture limit by that time and we had to move on.

Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon museum in Berlin

Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon museum in Berlin

If you’re on a budget, it’s worth noting that there is free entry to the museums on all on Thursday evenings and that children under 16 are free.

All photos by Heatheronhertravels

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