A much deserved holiday in France…

Over the last 12 months David and I have worked really hard, both on the house and our day jobs. We have taken a few days annual leave here and there, but mainly to do work on the house.

We needed a holiday – a proper break to recharge our batteries.

We both love travelling and exploring new places, but there is one place in the world that we love to return to time and time again – David’s family home in France.

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Week one

We arrived in Nantes early on Sunday evening, picked up the hire car and drove the familiar route to the house. We opened up the house, freshened up and hungrily made our way to La Roche Bernard for a late supper.

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There is something extra special about that first evening on holiday – you can exhale and feel all your worries fade, smug in the knowledge that you have two weeks of holiday bliss ahead of you.

The following morning, after a relaxing coffee in town, we went to the supermarket to stock up on supplies. In the afternoon we did nothing but make ourselves at home, lounge in the garden, read books and drink Aperol spritz.

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Come supper time, feeling slightly woozy, we rustled up a simple supper – fresh langoustine and salad.

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Determined to make use of the bicycles stored in the garage, that evening we got them out, pumped up the tires, adjusted the seats and took then for a test ride.

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All around the house is beautiful open countryside and David and I relished at being free in it.

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Tuesday’s plans were scuppered by some morning drizzle – unfortunately Brittany’s weather can be just as unpredictable as the UK’s. We took it as a sign to lay low and spent the day reading and snoozing.

When the sky’s cleared in the late afternoon we went for a gentle stroll down to the river.

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There is a little spot, not too far from the house, where a few rocks jut out forming the perfect platform to sit and enjoy the river flowing past.

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The house is situated near the Lower Loire wine region, in an area known for Muscadet. Feeling relaxed and well rested, on Wednesday we were set to do some exploring and made our way to Clisson, just south of Nantes, in the heart of the wine region.

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Clisson is a picturesque little town and we had been reliable informed it was an excellent spot for lunch.

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After a long and scrumptious lunch at Restaurant de la Vallee, we found our way to Château de Cleray for a tour and tasting.

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Château de Cleray

Thursday is market day in La Roche Bernard – an event not to be missed!

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Stocked up with lunch supplies, we headed to Kerhinet, a small chocolate-box village in the centre of la Brière Natural Park – the perfect spot for our picnic lunch.

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After lunch, and a quick stop at the tourist office, we mapped our route for an afternoon bike ride – through the National Park, winding our way through its pretty villages and thatched cottages.

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That evening, hungry from our bike ride, we went to La Roche Bernard for a delicious supper.

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The following day, we went to Guerande – one of my favourite towns in Brittany. It is a charming medieval walled town, it has beautiful shops and is the perfect place to spend a morning slowly wandering down its narrow lanes and exploring its markets.

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Feeling the heat of the sun, that afternoon we hired a canoe and took to the water for a very laidback paddle and meandered our way up the river.

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Week two

After a day of rest on Sunday, reading and snoozing in the garden, Monday called for a little bit more action – so we made our way to the Guerande salt marshes for a guided tour.

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The Guerande salt marches cover 1,700 hectares of land and produce 15,000 tons of cooking salt a year, using the same simple methods as a thousand years ago.

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On our way home we picked up some locally caught mussels and that evening we dined on homemade moules marinière. Simple and delicious!

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Tuesday, the 14th July, was La Fête Nationale – what we Brits refer to as Bastille Day. It is a day of celebration to commemorate the Storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.

Towns and cities all over France celebrate La Fête Nationale, so we decided to spend the day in La Roche Bernard and join in the festivities. During the day we hired a motor boat to explore a bit further up the river.

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David and I took it in turns to be captain – a role which David took a slightly more relax approach to!

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In the afternoon we found a good spot on the trestle tables and enjoyed watching the festivities start up around us.

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Everyone eats moules and frites and drinks cidre or Muscadet.  Children stay up late, bands play and everyone joins in the fun.

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The evening is concluded with a spectacular firework display over the river.

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After a long, lazy breakfast on Wednesday, we took to the water again – this time on a yacht. Gael, our captain, offers a tour of the Gulf of Morbihan aboard his yacht, La Betelgeuse.

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I took my place on the deck, watched the world go by and felt completely relaxed and at ease with the world.

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David on the other hand, could not resist the temptation to get involved and delighted in the opportunity to help pull up the sails and take over the stirring.

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Thursday was set to be another hot hot day, so we spent our penultimate day on the beach.

David had discovered this great little restaurant, right on the beach that hire out sun loungers. Arrive early to secure your spot and then, once you are ready, you are welcomed into the beautiful restaurant for a mouth-watering three course lunch.

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After lunch you can return to your sun lounger and enjoy the rest of the afternoon on the beach, with someone popping out every now and again to offer you ice cold drinks – very civilised.

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On our last day, we enjoyed just being at the house and took a final stroll to our favourite spot by the river.

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On Saturday we went for one last coffee in La Roche Bernard before departing for London.

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This holiday was exactly what we needed – the opportunity to refocus, reenergise and come back ready to start our next project. The garden.

C x

A week in sunny Devon…

With the builders working away on the kitchen diner, we thought we would escape London for a well-earned week away.

Having to pay for the builders meant that the holiday fund was looking a little bleak (to say the least). So we set our sights on a ‘staycation’.

My brother recently bought a caravan in Devon, near Salcombe and it seemed like the ideal spot to spend a week relaxing, walking, reading and enjoying all that Devon has to offer.

It is a part of the world I know well. Growing up we would often go on family holidays to Salcombe and I have a lot of very happy memories there.

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Family holiday in Salcombe, December 1991 (I am the one in the pink coat)

We drove down straight after work on Friday, stopping over in Bristol on Friday night. On Saturday we woke up to glorious sunshine, an excellent start to the holiday! We hit the road straight after breakfast so we could be in Kingsbridge for lunch.

We arrived in Kingsbridge and immediately stumbled across this place.

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We drank cold wine in the sun, feasted on delicious tapas and felt the stresses and strains of life ease away.

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In the afternoon we found our way through Devon’s narrow, winding roads to our home for the next week. We took a stroll along the beach, feeling the sand on our toes and basked in the afternoon sun.

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The view from our caravan

On Sunday we had a lazy morning, reading and eating breakfast, before meeting with some friends. These are old friends who David met whilst at University in Bristol. They moved to Devon a few years ago and we have been meaning to visit ever since. It was great to spend the day with them and their two lovely girls, catching up on life and enjoying a perfect English summer BBQ.

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The following day called for a trip to Burgh Island, walking distance from where we were staying. Burgh Island is a small tidal island that is cut off twice a day from the mainland.

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But don’t worry, if you get stuck on the island at high tide, you can always get the sea tractor!

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Me on the sea tractor, 1991
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Me on the sea tractor, 2014

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In the afternoon we drove to beautiful Salcombe. We meandered through its little streets, popping into its charming seaside shops.

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Once we reached the harbour we found the ‘Salcombe Dairy’, the mother-ship of Devon ice cream, and of course we could not resist.

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On Tuesday we decided to put on our walking shoes and stretch our legs and lungs on a nice long walk, Slapton Ley to Start Point. But before we embarked on our hike, we needed a good breakfast. Having heard rave reviews about Aune Valley View café, we headed there first thing for a ‘butchers breakfast’.

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Glorious sunshine, stunning views, delicious breakfast, me and hubby – could life get any better than this?

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The walk was perfect and we both just loved being outside in the sunshine in a very beautiful part of England.

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The lighthouse at Start Point

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On our return to Slapton we sat on the beach, cooled our feet in the water and enjoyed a well-earned fish and chip supper.

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View from Slapton to Start Point

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Slapton Ley

Wednesday called for a slower day, mainly reading and snoozing. But come 4pm we were ready to do some exploring. We stumbled across the quaint village of South Pool, having heard good things about their local pub, the Millbrook Inn. South Pool was a charming place for an afternoon stroll, we felt like Peter rabbit might pop up at any minute.

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And of course we had to visit the Millbrook Inn for a scrummy supper!

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On our final day we decided to explore another beautiful stretch of Devon coastline and headed to ‘Bolt Head’ for a long walk. We followed the foot path along the dramatic coastline, along Bolt Head and towards Salcombe.

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Once you reach Salcombe the path leads you into Tor woods and finally through fields before joining back to the coastal path.

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This part of Devon truly is spectacular and on a sunny day, you could not ask for a more beautiful holiday destination. Of course being England, sunshine is not always a given, so we do appreciate how lucky we were to have such fantastic weather all week.

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Me and David are always tempted when we visit such beautiful places, to sell up and move to the countryside…

…but for now it is back to London and house renovations.

With a date booked in for the bi-folding doors to be installed, things are getting exciting!

C x

A tour of Tuscany…

I appreciate that this is going off topic somewhat, but I am going to justify it in two ways:

  1. The inspiration (and motivation) we get for restoring our house comes from all sorts of things and places, including holidays to Tuscany.
  2. This blog is a great place to share our holiday snaps with friends and family.

Florence. Day 1 – Day 3

We arrived in Florence at about 8pm local time and managed to find our first B&B, Residenza della Signoria, without a hitch. We could not wait to drop off our luggage and get out exploring. Luckily we only had to step out of the front door and we were in the heart of Florence with all its charm. We took a gentle stroll to get our bearings, soaked up the atmosphere and had a quick bite to eat. I had only been in Florence for a few hours but I was in love, this city was enchanting.

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After a really good night’s sleep we were ready for our first day in Florence and after breakfast headed straight to the central food market – San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale. We wandered around gazing at all the lovely food and decided to pick up a few bits for lunch. We took our picnic and headed south of river, up to Piazzale Michelangelo. Here we feasted on our delicious lunch and enjoyed the spectacular views of Florence.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around, enjoying our surroundings and letting the stresses of work and life float away. We ended up at a beautiful roof top bar just in time for an aperitif and to watch the sun set.

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The following day we decided to visit a gallery and on recommendation of our host went to Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Here we saw some great examples of Renaissance sculpture, but no more impressive than those in Piazza della Signoria. For lunch we headed south of the river to a restaurant we had spotted the day before and had a deliciously long long lunch.

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Fountain of Neptune in Piazza della Signoria

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Chianti. Day 4 – Day 7

For the next part of our journey we hired a car – there was really only one car that we wanted so it was with bated breath that we headed off to the car hire company. Thank goodness there was a little Fiat 500 waiting for us! We had to have an Italian car for our Italian adventure!

Our next B&B stop was Podere La Casellina, about half an hour south of Florence, but before checking in we decided to stop off in Greve In Chianti and did a tour of the wine museum and sampled some of the local wine and olive oil.

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We arrived at Podere La Casellina and were greeted by our hosts Michelangelo and Silvia whom were both lovely and spoke very good English. After a quick tour and a little siesta it was time for supper, which was served around the family dining table. We ate and drank long into the night getting to know our hosts and the other guests, a family from Prague, Czech Republic. The food and wine, all produced on their farm, was absolutely delicious, real Italian cooking and some of the best I have ever had. A few of Silvia’s dishes included pappa al pomodoro, wild boar pasta, stuffed peppers, ricotta tart and it was all washed down with Michelangelo’s wine, grappa and walnut liquor.

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Podere La Casellina

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The view from our bedroom balcony

The following day we headed out in the car and drove through the beautiful rolling hills, stopping off at vineyards and cute little towns, each prettier than the next. The landscape really was stunning, as was the wine.

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Over the next couple of days we also took day trips to Arezzo and San Gimignano, both beautiful towns and lovely places to while away an afternoon eating, drinking and wandering.

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Lunch at the Vasari Loggia on Piazza Grande, Arezzo

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Towers of San Gimignano

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But for us Podere La Casellina stole the show. I can’t quite explain it, but this little farm was amazing and we both felt privileged to have spent time with this lovely family and agreed that it was the highlight of the holiday.

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The farmhouse kitchen

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Fig trees
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Just a few of the residents at Podere La Casellina
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David relaxing in the garden
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Michelangelo’s olive groves

Siena and the South. Day 8 – Day 11

With heavy hearts we departed Podere La Casellina and headed south to Siena. Siena was a bit of a flying visit, a really good pizza for lunch and a stroll around the Duomo (although sadly not in it), so warrants a further visit I think.

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Our next B&B stop was Poderi Firenze, about an hour south of Siena. As we headed further south the landscape changed slightly, it was not as green or luscious but was equally as beautiful.

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‏On our first morning at Poderi Firenze we lazed by the pool and soaked up the amazing views, then after lunch drove to a small coastal town about an hour away, Castiglione della Pescaia. We strolled along the beach and had the best ice cream of the holiday. We stayed and had supper – our first bit of sea food. Delicious!

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Castiglione della Pescaia

The following day I inquired about visiting a natural spa and was told to go to Saturnia hot springs – a natural thermal bath fed by hot springs trickling down a formation of rocks. It was incredible, you sit underneath the waterfalls and let the flowing water massage your muscles, then wallow in the hot pools of water (about 37c) and let the sulfur in the water heal you of any aches and pains. Bliss!

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That night we went to the local town Campagnatico for supper. We arrived to crowds of people – apparently we had just missed the annual donkey race! We did however get to see the winner paraded in the local square and everyone enjoying the festivities.

On our last day we visited Montepulciano and Montalcino, both renowned for their wine. Going on a Monday meant we were limited somewhat (lots of places close on Monday in Italy) but what we did see and taste were fantastic.

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The coast. Day 12-15

The next part of our trip took us to the coast for a bit of ‘glamping’. Over the next couple of days we did very little but lay by the pool and go to the beach. Most evenings we made food in our tent, drank all the wine we had bought in Chianti, played cards and laughed A LOT (me and David get very silly when we spend lots of time together!!).

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On our last evening we went to the local town San Vincenzo, watched the sun set over the sea and ate lots of yummy sea food.

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Lucca and Pisa. Day 16-17

The following morning was an early start to make sure we were cleaned, packed and ready to head back to Florence to return the car at 11am. Once in Florence we wished our little Fiat 500 farewell then hopped on a train to Lucca, where we would spend our last night. Lucca was a great choice for our last night. It is a beautiful walled town oozing with renaissance architecture and had a great buzz. We enjoyed just wandering around all its little streets and chose a nice place for our last supper.

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Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca

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On our final day we walked around the wall of Lucca then took the train to Pisa. It did not really compare to Florence or Siena but we had to see the leaning tower of Pisa before our flight home. Our final bit of excitement before landing in London – Richard E Grant was in the seat in front us on the flight home!

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It was great to get away from everything for a while, including the house. It is good to get perspective on these things and now we can continue renovating the house with renewed strength and motivation.