Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Top B&Bs named

Five British b&bs have been shortlisted for top prize in the Silver Travel Advisor Awards. Visitors to voted for the best providers for over-50s travellers in various  categories, including cruise lines. The b&b finalists are: Hassness Country House (Buttermere, Lake District); The Briars (Paignton, Devon); Prospect House (Whitby, Yorkshire); Number 30 (Bewdley, Worcestershire); Tregenna (Upper Lamphey, Pembrokeshire).

Danish paintings get re-vamped setting

Summer evening on Skagens southern beach (PS Kroyer, courtesy Skagen Museum)

There’s a special light at the northern tip of Denmark that has long attracted painters. The often stunning results are not as well known as they should be. Like those of the French impressionists they were often completed in the open air rather then in the studio. The re-opening of the Skagen museum after major refurbishment and expansion should increase ther exposure of artists such as PS Kroyer, Carl Locher and Michael and Anna Ancher. The collection was founded more than a century ago. The building which houses it was opened in 1928, Before the recent re-vamp it was able to exhibit only a small proportion of the 1900 or so works kept there. The museum is in the attractive small town of Skagen, which lies within walking distance of the point, at the northern end of Jutland, where the Kattegat and Skaggerak meet. See my earlier article about walking there.
Where Kattegat and Skaggerak meet

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Spring walking in the Surrey Hills

There should be nightjars in Hurtwood for the next week or so. They come there between April and mid-May. You can hear their strange churring call at dusk – and maybe spot them in ghostly flight. We were almost late enough to lie quietly in wait for them – not by design – for we had miscalculated the time kit would take to complete a walk and made our way back to the car park much later than expected. We had, however, heard our first cuckoo. Hurtwood is an area of forest and heath in Surrey Hills south of the A25 between Guildford and Dorking. Reginald Bray, (no relative of mine) lord of the manor of Shere granted the public the right to roam there more than 90 ago.  Hurt is a name for the bilberry that grows in profusion there. Red deer also browse among the trees.  Spring is a delightful time to go hiking in the English countryside. Beech trees were in vivid light green leaf, in the woods were great armies of English bluebells, arrayed as if to repel the Spanish invader, crab apple was in pink and white blossom.

Primroses covered a grassy bank. Dark violets were in bloom. We left the car a short drive from the village Shere and struck out to the north. St, Martha’s Church, on the North Downs Way, came into distant view. Martha was believed to be a corruption of Martyr, said one of my walking companions. The martyr concerned was said to be Thomas Becket. We ate a picnic lunch by the Victorian parish church in Albury, a village mostly built in the early 19th century to house locals evicted from the Albury Park Estate.  Henry Drummond, who had bought the estate, employed the architect August Pugin, who assisted with the design of the Houses of Parliament, and who was obsessed with decorative chimneys. We could see some of them, brick zig zag patterned, from where we sat.  There were riots here against he Corn Laws in 1830, the mill was burned down and a 19 year old man was hanged for arson. We drank Adnams and Doombar bitter at the Drummond Arms, in the garden by the swift running Tillingbourne and set out on what turned out to be a long and weary trek back to the car.

This walk was based on a route described in 10 More Adventurous Walks in Surrey by Raymond Hugh. Take an Ordnance Survey map, compass, and/or a navigation app as back up in case, like us, you miss a key turn off and wind up walking further than you should,

Benidorm - World Heritage Site? Don't sneer

Don’t sneer at Benidorm’s bid for UESCO World Heritage status. It may have acquired a reputation for the sort of holiday rituals you’d rather steer well clear of but it is part of post war social history. It has been described, inaccurately, as the birthplace of package tourism. However, for millions of Brits it was an introduction to the Mediterranean holiday many now take for granted. In the late 1960s one UK package tour operator alone – the ill fated Clarksons, which went bust in 1974 - soaked up 6000 of the 10,000 beds available there. The operator had took so many customers to Benidorm it even set up its own chicken farm there, to control the price of the countless eggs they consumed. Benidorm had been nothing more than a dozing fishing village with a superb beach before its entrepreneurial Mayor decided to turn it into a resort - hopping on his motorbike and taking hnis ideas straight to General Franco. His vision was that buildings should be separated by green areas, so that the growing town didn’t become too much of a concrete jungle. Today the resort attracts some 4m visitors a year – more than many countries. 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Chile volcano - travel warning

Travelling to or already in Chile or Argentina? Keep an eye on Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice following the eruption of Calbuco volcano - and if you have booked any flights in or around the area, check with airlines in case of disruption.

Rattenberg - the prettiest town in Austria?

Rattenberg is reckoned to be the smallest town in Austria. It also has a claim to being the prettiest. Wander in the pedestrian only centre and stop for an alfresco cake and a coffee in the sunshine at one of its enticing Konditorei (does any nation in Europe make more wondrous cakes than the Austrians?) and you won’t need much more convincing. It’s in Tirol, not far east of Innsbruck on the River Inn. To explore it, you park and walk. It has only 400 or so inhabitants, is overlooked by a castle built in the 10th century – and its main street is an ensemble of buildings, many medieval in origin, which would have made Pevsner drool. It’s Augustiner Museum houses a fine collection of Tyrolean art. It is also a centre of glass manufacture. 

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Favourite hotels: a little gem in southern France

Number 4 in an occasional series on special hotels 

It was the irritating tendency of French hotels to close their restaurants on Sunday evenings that led us to the Hotel Mont Aigoual. We had been walking on the Monts d’Aubrac, an open and sometimes windswept plateau which straddles a pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in the south of the 28 Massif Central, and we wanted to move on. Besides a restaurant that opened on Sundays the prerequisites were good cooking at a reasonable price and a comfortable room. From its description in the Michelin red guide to France, the three star Mont Aigoual, in the small town of Meyrueis, looked a good bet. 

And so it turned out. It’s a member of Logis de France, a long established family business run impeccably by Stella Robert, who polices the restaurant with eagle eyed briskness, and chef Daniel Lagrange. The rooms, which have flat screen TVs and either showers or baths, were more than adequate and modestly priced. Current rates range from €90 to €160 (or roughly £65 to just over £115), Breakfast included fruit juices, yoghurts, charcuterie and pastries. There was an open air pool in the garden at the rear. 

It was the food that marked it out, however. The excellent Menu Terroir remains a real bargain at €18 for two courses or €25 for three – maybe with a main of trout from the River Jonte with chorizo or Navarin d’Agneau. Sometimes we were content with that, sometimes we stretch to the Menu Gourmand, starting at €37, which currently includes lamb from the nearby limestone causses and turbot with truffles. For dessert I have returned more than once to the “assortissement” of intensely flavoured sorbets.

Lest you doubt my recommendation, users of currently rate the note "fabulous"'.

Meyrueis, in the Lozère department, lies at the meeting point of the Jonte, the Bethuson and the Brèze. The tourist office can provide details of excellent walks in the area. Among them are circuits on the Causse Méjean, the limestone plateau which rises steeply just to the north of the town, where there’s a memorial to 34 members of the resistance were killed (and 37 captured and executed) in the battle of La Parade on May 24, 1944.