Spotlight on Warwickshire, England: An Under-rated Gem

Spotlight on Warwickshire, England: An Under-rated Gem

The lush county of Warwickshire is nestled at the very heart of England, only an hour by train from London and just minutes away from the bustling city of Birmingham. Medieval castles, historic towns, famous theaters and lush, breathtaking landscapes are only some of the stimulating attractions that his area has to offer curious travelers. If you are after an off-the-beaten path destination in the UK, read on to discover what we love about this region!

Warwick

Warwick is the county capital of Warwickshire, most famous for its charming medieval castle situated on a bend of the River Avon. Having stood in the city for over 1,100 years, Warwick Castle survived countless attacks and a terrible fire in 1871, and is one of the UK’s most well-preserved castles dating from the Middle Ages.

The current castle was developed from an original commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1068 and rebuilt in stone during the reign of King Henry II. Offering activities for every age, the castle gives visitors exceptional insight into the everyday life of its past inhabitants.

What to Do Around the Area:

If you are planning to visit the castle, we strongly recommend that you take some time to wander around Warwick’s small but gorgeous town center. In particular, if you’d like to try a traditional English cream tea, make sure to stop atThe Brethren’s Kitchen, a vintage tearoom which has been serving food to Kings and Queens, Tudor nobles and Victorian literary figures for over 500 years.

The food here is homemade with products from the Master’s Garden. Both the garden and tearoom are located on Warwick High Street, within the Lord Leycester Hospital, a historic group of timber-framed buildings dating from the late 14th Century: a fine example of Britain’s Medieval courtyard architecture which is well worth a visit.

Kenilworth

Warwick’s is not the only castle open to visitors in Warwickshire: the county is rich in fascinating historical sites, such as Kenilworth Castle and its Elizabethan Gardens. This castle has played a fascinating central role in England’s affairs for 900 years: for example, it was the subject of the longest siege in English history, at Kenilworth, in 1266.

Since it was partially destroyed in 1649, only two buildings remain habitable today. For the first time in 350 years, it is now possible to explore the entire height of the tower that Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, commissioned in order to attract the interest of Queen Elizabeth I, hoping to convince her to marry him (Spoiler alert: he did not succeed).

The tower, built especially for her, had a private staircase, luxurious rooms and glass windows . A newly installed series of stairs and platforms within the ruins take visitors 18 meters high, in order to enjoy the spectacular view from the Queen’s bedroom. If you’re feeling peckish after a long walk within the ruins, we advise you to go for a meal at The Queen and Castle, a fabulous village pub located in the shadows of the castle.

Royal Leamington Spa

Royal Leamington Spa’s Christmas Market on the Parade. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All Rights Reserved

This small town, located on the confluence of the rivers Leam and Avon, grew and prospered thanks to the natural spa springs that were discovered and commercialized here during the 19th century. In 2017, the charming little town was awarded the title of ‘happiest place in the UK’: in our book, this alone makes it well worth a visit.

The main high street, the Parade, offers numerous fine examples of Regency architecture and is lined with busy shops and cafes. We particularly recommend trying the handmade bagels at The Steam House, which are cut, roasted and filled to order. For a real taste of Britain, pop to Bandstand Tea Rooms where you can find the best home backed scones in town.

At the end of the Parade, the Royal Pump Rooms host classical music concerts and arts exhibitions year-round. Across the road from the Pump Rooms, the Jephson Gardens are the perfect place for a walk around the curated flower beds, or to sprawl out for a picnic on the grass during the warmer months.

Coventry

Coventry, situated 18 km north from Warwick, was completely destroyed by Nazi bombings during the Second World War. The city’s Cathedral, in particular, was damaged during a blitz on the 14th of November 1940. Instead of rebuilding the Cathedral, the architect of the new church, Sir Basil Spence, decided to keep the ruins intact as a memorial of that night. As a (touching) result, what remains of the old Cathedral stands as a tribute to peace and represents a unique space for prayers and reflection. This is a site that may deeply move you.

Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All rights Reserved

Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All rights Reserved

Stratford is the most famous town in Warwickshire, being the home to the poet William Shakespeare, who was born here in 1564. If you haven’t already visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace, his New Place and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, we strongly recommend doing so, since these historical sites represent some of the best-known and fascinating in England.

Theatre fan? Or just curious to see one of the Bard’s famed works in the town where he lived and worked? The Royal Shakespeare Company, based in Stratford, is one of the biggest theatre venues in the UK, staging different adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays and shows by other writers of the 15th century.

If you’re looking for something different to do in Stratford, head to the lovely Butterfly Farm, where you can enjoy the pleasure of discovering hundreds of colorful butterflies flying in an exotic environment of tropical blossom with splashing waterfalls and fish-filled pools. If you’re a book lover and you’re always on the look for a good second-hand and vintage bookshop, visit the Chaucer Head Bookshop, where you will find rare and antiquarian books covering a wide range of subjects.

Chaucer Head Bookshop in Stratford-upon-Avon. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All Rights Reserved

Chaucer Head Bookshop. Photo: Anna Maria Colivicchi / All Rights Reserved

Compton Verney House

Compton Verney House, Stratford-upon-Avon

Just nine miles from Stratford, Compton Verney House offers 120 acres of gorgeous parkland, a lake and an award-winning art gallery that hosts several stunning exhibitions every year. Richard Verney and his brother John, together with the Earl of Warwick Richard Beauchamp, acquired the estate in 1435 and built the manor-house in 1442.

This elegant house passed through different owners and through periods of splendor and decadence. During the Second World War it was requisitioned by the army and used as experimental station for smoke-screen camouflage. By the 1980s Compton Verney had fallen into semi-ruin, but in 1993, the Peter Moores Foundation acquired it, restored it to its astonishing original splendor.

Long Compton’s Rollright Stones

This mysterious complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monuments is situated near the village of Long Compton, on the border between Warwickshire and Oxfordshire. The three monuments have surprisingly inspiring names: The Whispering Knights, The King’s Men and The King Stone, respectively.

Read related: The Most Breathtaking Megalithic Sites on the Planet 

The oldest of these monuments was built between 3,800-3,500 BC. According to some legends, they are the petrified remains of a monarch and his courtiers, who were cursed by a witch and turned into stone.

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

The World’s Most Amazing Megalithic Structures

The World’s Most Amazing Megalithic Structures

Megaliths are enormous stones used by prehistoric civilizations to construct impressive monuments without the use of concrete or mortar. The word ‘megalith’ comes from two ancient Greek words: mégas, which means ‘giant’ and lìthos, meaning ‘stone’. Even though we can’t always clearly understand the reasons and history behind their existence, these incredible structures allow us to travel back in time and to reflect on the early past of humankind, and are inspiring sites to visit at least once in a lifetime. Every one of these ancient stones has interesting and fascinating stories to tell. From the world-famous Stonehenge to the mysterious spheres of Costa Rica, here are some of the world’s most incredible — and beautiful– megalithic structures to visit.

Stonehenge, England

Stonehenge, England and its breathtaking megalithic structures

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986, Stonehenge is without doubt the most famous cromlech – a circle of megalithic stones – in Europe, and one of the most visited attractions in the UK. Located near Amesbury, in Wiltshire, its name literally means ‘hanging stones’. The actual position of the megaliths was restored between 1901 and 1964, when every stone was straightened or reinforced with concrete to recreate the site’s original circular shape.

In recent decades, there’s been much speculation over the original purpose of Stonehenge’s construction, in 3100 BC. Theories are numerous: some say it functions as an astronomical calendar while still others think it may have been used as a site for ritual human sacrifice!

According to several legends, giants brought the stones from distant lands to create Stonehenge; isn’t it fascinating that some myths held that the massive stones had healing powers? This megalithic circle has always been surrounded by mystery– and since it’s only a few hours away from London, it’s an easy site to visit.

Just outside the visitor center, you can step into five Neolithic houses furnished with replica axes, pottery and other objects; these allow you to get a real feeling for what everyday life might have been like for the ancient people who built Stonehenge.

Carnac Stones, Brittany (France)

Carnac stones in Brittany, France

By Nicolas Raymond/Freestock

Around the village of Carnac, in Brittany, the biggest collection of megaliths in the world – alignments, dolmens, tumuli and menhirs – takes us back to 4500 BC. These prehistoric standing stones, amounting to more than three thousand when counting those situated within La Trinitè-sur-Mer, were erected by the pre-Celtic peoples of Brittany. At Carnac, there are three major groups of stone rows (alignments), which probably formed a single group and then split up when the stones were removed and used for other purposes.

Read related: Experience the Wonder of France’s Lascaux Paleolithic Cave

Since these incredible stones stand in perfectly straight lines, local legends claim they were marching soldiers, turned into stones by the magician Merlin.

A more rational explanation? According to researchers studying the site, the megaliths could have been used as a primitive earthquake detector, but there are also several theories about it being a huge lunar observatory or even a calendar. In the commune of La Trinité-sur-Mer, a much smaller group of stones known as Petit-Menec is nestled in the woods, covered by ivy and moss. If you’re looking for a unique adventure that combines mysterious megalithic structures and fresh air, Carnac is a great choice. Its beautiful beaches are well worth visiting, and the Quiberon peninsula nearby is famous for wind-surfing and sailing.

Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

Tombs of Giants and Nuraghi, Sardinia

Sardinia is already well-known for its enchanting beaches and deep blue sea. But if you’re after a peaceful, wild place tucked well away from those crowded holiday destinations, you might want to visit the majestic stone monuments scattered around the island. Several different kinds of megalithic structures grace this gorgeous Mediterranean island: menhirs (singular standing stones), cromlech (similar to those found in Stonehenge) and dolmens (composed of three or more stones).

Megalithic structures in Sardinia, Italy

By ciamabue [CC BY 2.0]  via Wikimedia Commons

The Tombe dei Giganti – meaning ‘Tombs of Giants’, a name given to the site by the locals, but nowadays frequently used by archaeologists – are impressive dolmenic structures, built in the 2nd millennium BC as collective graves and located in various Sardinian regions. We particularly recommend visiting those that stand in Arzachena, in northwest Sardinia.

Read related: Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy 

By Cristiano Cani [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Nuraghi are Sardinia’s most well-known symbol and the main type of megalithic structure found on the island.  A trip to Sardinia is not complete without a visit to one of these extremely evocative monuments. According to the experts, there were originally more than 30,000 nuraghi, although only 7,000 still stand today. The exact use of the Nuragic structures is still unknown: they may have served as religious sites, tombs or even fortresses.

Dolmens of the North Caucasus, Russia

Dolmens of North Caucuses, Russia

Megaliths and stone labyrinths have also been discovered in the Caucasus Mountains, 50 km north-east from the Black Sea. While these are not as famous as the European constructions, they are equally mysterious and intriguing. Archaeologists believe they were built between the 2nd and the 4th millennium BC, and previously unearthed dolmens continue to be found on both sides of the Western Caucasus. This makes the site even more fascinating as new discoveries are still underway. Despite their similar appearance to the sorts of structures we’ve highlighted in England, France and Italy, these Russian dolmens are of unknown origin. Experts are still developing theories about who build them and for what purpose.

Diquìs Stone Spheres, Costa Rica

Petrospheres in Costa Rica

By Rodtico21 [CC BY-SA 3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Over 300 petrospheres – the term used by archaeologists to refer to spherical man-made objects – are located on the Diquìs Delta and on Isla del Caño, in Costa Rica. While their exact significance remains uncertain, they have been attributed to the extinct pre-Columbian indigenous culture of Diquìs.

According to ancient myths, these perfectly rounded stones came from the sunken town of Atlantis. Since June 2014, the Diquìs Spheres are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Despite the fact that “archaeo-tourism” is still a new concept in Costa Rica, the museum FINCA 6 in Palmar Norte, which holds the largest collection of these stones, is gaining in popularity. Could the Diquìs Spheres be an excuse for planning your next trip to the charming Central American nation?

Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa Dolmen Sites, South Korea

Dolmens in South Korea

By Steve46814 [CC BY-SA 3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Dolmens can be found in East Asia too, and one of the biggest collection is situated on the Korean peninsula, which is said to contain more than 40% of the world’s dolmens, summing up these three important archeologic sites. Korean megalithic monuments date to around 1,000 BC: they are far more recent than the others we covered in this article. Objects excavated nearby suggest that they were mainly used as tombs.

Read related: 7 Top Things to See & Do in Seoul, South Korea 

Due to the increasing number of tourists traveling to Korea to see these megaliths, the sites of Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa are slowly becoming national symbols: ones that celebrate Korean pre-historic culture and its inhabitants.

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy: What to See & Do?

Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy: What to See & Do?

Think Italy is too popular with tourists to reserve any real secrets? Think again. The hilly region of Montefeltro, located between Marche and Emilia-Romagna in central eastern Italy, is a fascinating off-the-beaten-path destination. It’s situated twenty kilometers west of Rimini and the Riviera Romagnola.

The Marecchia Valley. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

The Marecchia Valley. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Ruled by the Montefeltro family since the 12th century, this area will surprise you with its charming castles, beautiful villages and delicious traditional food. It’s even the stuff of literary legend, since one powerful member of its ruling family, Guido da Montefeltro, makes a starring but infamous appearance in the Italian poet Dante’s The Divine ComedyDoes this sound like the right place for your next trip to Italy? If so, read on for our complete guide to the hidden treasures of Montefeltro.

Let’s proceed north from the capital of Marche, Urbino, to discover all of the riches of this lesser-known but magnificent region.

Macerata Feltria: A Roman Town in the Heart of Montefeltro

Our first stop is Macerata Feltria, an ancient Roman town first known as Pitinum Pisaurense. It’s situated in a small valley overlooked by Mount Carpegna. It is divided into two main areas: the upper part of the town, whose main attraction is the medieval castle; and the lower part, built during the Renaissance.

In Macerata Feltria, it is possible to visit the archaeological area of Pitinum, which is composed of a medieval graveyard and a Roman main street, called decumanum maximus. Here, roam among some impressive Roman ruins.

For a treat between sightseeing, we particularly recommend you taste the town’s signature cake, made with raisins, walnuts, sugar, flour and olive oil.

Carpegna and the Prosciutto Festival

Carpegna is located 45 kilometers from the seaside and it’s mainly famous for the production of a delicious variety of prosciutto. Every year in July, prosciutto experts travel to Carpegna to join a four-day festival in the center of the town, where gastronomic stalls offer free tastings of the pork-based delicacy and others that are typical of the area. In the evenings, live music and performances from street artists bring the town to festive life.

Palazzo dei Principi, Carpegna, Italy

By Germano Perugini [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

During the festival, it’s also possible to visit Carpegna’s Principi Palace, a gorgeous site which was built during the 15th century and opens to the public only on special occasions. The Palace holds original furniture and a library where Renaissance books and documents have been preserved. For those who love trekking, the Montefeltro Jockey Club arranges amazing trips to Mount Capregna, following remote dirt paths and picturesque routes.

Pennabilli: Not Just a Place, but a Myth

Pennabilli, Italy

The next stop we recommend is Pennabilli, a village on the west side of the Mount Carpegna. According to legends, Pennabilli was created when the two independent towns of Penna and Billi decided to merge together during the 12th century. Nowadays, the village is home to antique furniture shops, a vintage one-screen cinema, restaurants and stimulating festivals. Tonino Guerra, a famous Italian writer and poet, fell in love with Pennabilli and wanted to enhance the beauty of the village. Poems and lines from his works are scattered around the town, for visitors to read and reflect on while strolling through it and discovering its legendary charms.

One of the poems by Tonino Guerra in Pennabilli. “There are people who do not know where to go, and they are rushing to get there now.” Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved.

 

Here is what the writer said about his childhood in Pennabilli: “The village was the Himalaya of my childhood. Not a place, but a myth. When I was a little boy, my parents used to come here to sell fruit. They took me with them, because here the air is fresh.

A street in Pennabilli. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Guerra also created “L’Orto dei Frutti Dimenticati” (The Orchard of Forgotten Fruits), a fascinating garden where time seems not to exist at all. Plants and fruits that are very difficult to find in any common garden of the present day are cultivated here, and interesting works of art were donated by local artists to decorate the orchard.

“La Strada delle Meridiane” (The Street of Sundials) divides the town center in two: walking with your nose up, you can notice several sundials decorating the walls of the houses. Pennabilli attracts international visitors, in particular from Tibet, after the XIV Dalai Lama’s visit to the village in 2009.

In June, a festival called “Artisti in Piazza” (Artists on the Streets), brings music, dance and circus arts to the town. In July, Penabilli hosts the biggest antique furniture market in Italy, which attracts collectors and experts from all over the peninsula.

Maiolo, the Bread Festival and the Maioletto Rock

In Montefeltro there’s a small village that made a daily practice, the baking of bread, its main attraction. During the last weekend of June, Maiolo hosts the Festa del Pane (Bread Festival), a unique chance to taste delicious bread, prepared following traditional recipes. The festival lasts two days, starting on a Saturday evening with live music in the central square of Maiolo, where a long wooden table is set.

Spianata (a particular kind of pizza produced in this region, which we strongly recommend you try) and freshly baked bread with different toppings are served for dinner. This is an occasion for conviviality that will make you feel at home even if it’s your first time in Maiolo. On Sunday, the Bread Festival continues with visits at the stone ovens scattered around the village (in private houses, cottages or bakeries) where the bread is made. A different variety of bread is baked in every oven, together with other local products, which are then available to purchase.

Torta di Pane. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Our personal choice is torta di pane (literally ‘cake of bread’), a thin cake made of cocoa, raisins, walnuts and, of course, Maiolo’s bread. At the end of the Festival, the bakeries compete in a contest and a prize is awarded to the best bread.

The Maioletto Rock. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

If you get the chance to visit Maiolo, we also advice to take a trip to the Maioletto Rock. The very few ruins of the old castle of Maiolo, which crumbled during a flood in the 16th century, have recently been restored;  the walk to reach the top is guaranteed to leave you speechless.

Petrella Guidi: a Medieval Jewel

By lo.tangelini from Soliera / Modena, Italia (Petrella Guidi) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The painter Antonio Saliola, known for his landscapes featuring fantastic creatures like fairies and gnomes, often chose his garden and house in Petrella Guidi as subjects for his art. This village, situated on the right bank of the Marecchia river, is the smallest on our suggested itinerary around Montefeltro, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The medieval atmosphere is kept alive in Petrella Guidi thanks to several festivals staged here during the warm season. The ruins of a medieval fortress add to the dramatic effect. The tower, all that remains of a 12th-century castle that once stood here, was renovated a few years ago. A climb to the top offers breathtaking views over the Marecchia Valley.

Novafeltria: Food, Classical Music and Much More

Novafeltria, Italy

Novafeltria, called “Mercatino Marecchia” until 1941, is the biggest town center in this part of Montefeltro and has a lot going on, especially if you enjoy trying local food. Every Monday, the town hosts a massive market, that, from the main square, stretches through the streets of Novafeltria, and that sells literally everything you might wish to buy, from shoes to fruit and vegetables, toys, and the famous and tasty pesce fritto (fried fish), a street food that we strongly recommend.

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Best Food Markets 

The Marecchia river, which can be reached in ten minutes from the center of town, is the ideal place to sunbathe and enjoy picnics during summer, or to stroll during autumn and spring. Some very good restaurants are located on the river bank– perfect locations for a quick stop or a proper lunch.

Our pick is Ristorante Il Parco, a family restaurant run by friendly people, which has a wonderful terrace overlooking a garden on the riverbank. The restaurant serves the typical food of the region and on Wednesdays, you can enjoy cocktails and finger food on the terrace, for an Italian-style aperitivo.

Ristorante Il Parco in Novafeltria, on a summer night. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

Every year in August, the theater in Novafeltria hosts the Montefeltro Belcanto Festival, a series of opera and classical music concerts in the town and in the other villages of Montefeltro. Singers and musicians from all over the world travel to Montefeltro to perform in these concerts, which take place in splendid locations, not only theaters but also churches and in the open air.

Montefeltro is also very well known for its delicious truffles, which can be found pretty much everywhere in the region. About ten minutes by car from Novafeltria, there’s one of the most renowned restaurants of Montefeltro, which has been on the Michelin Guide to Italian Restaurants for decades, Da Marchesi, which we heartily recommend if you want to try black truffles at a very reasonable price.

San Leo: Italy’s Most Beautiful Town?

Umberto Eco, an internationally renowned writer and journalist, was fascinated by San Leo’s Fortress and churches, and defined the town as Italy’s most beautiful. The village bears the traces and the scars of Italian history, and offers many occasions to celebrate Italy and its historical and artistic heritage. Situated on a spur of rock, San Leo is accessible via a single road, excavated in the rock itself. Due to its remote location, this village was a refuge to Dante and Saint Francis of Assisi, but it was also a prison to the magician Cagliostro, who died in the fortress in 1795.

View of the Fortress from a terrace in San Leo. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

The Duomo of San Leo is a real master piece of Romanesque art, while the other church in town, the Pieve, just a few footsteps away, is the most ancient religious building of the region. The Fortress, designed during the Renaissance by one of the most important architects of the period, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, was turned into a prison in 1631 and is nowadays open to visitors.

The convent of Sant Igne. Image: Anna Maria Colivicchi/All rights reserved

A lesser-known but equally fascinating attraction near San Leo is the small church and convent of Sant’Igne, a quiet place for meditation, immersed in the woods. At the end of August, San Leo hosts a festival called Alchimia Alchimie, which aims to celebrate holistic arts through shows and conferences. The exceptional quality and unique location of the festival make it the most famous in the area.

Talamello: Of Art and Cheese

Last but certainly not least on our suggested itinerary for exploring the charms of Montefeltro: the town of Talamello. In the central square here, the church of San Lorenzo holds on display a painted crucifix attributed to a disciple of Giotto, Giovanni da Rimini, which was brought there by the monks of Poggiolo in 1374. In fact, this precious crucifix is not the only work of art that Talamello has to offer: The Gualtieri museum holds over forty paintings – spectacular oils on canvas, still life pictures and self-portraits ­ – donated by the famous artist Fernando Gualtieri, who is himself from Talamello.

The village is also renowned for its formaggio di fossa, a local cheese which is produced in distinctive pits. Some of these, hidden in the basements of restaurants or in private stables, are open for tourists to visit and to enjoy the cheese’s peculiar and strong taste.

Not far from Talamello, the Mount Pincio is the perfect location for mushroom and chestnut picking in autumn, and for sports such as paragliding and hang-gliding. Given the absence of light pollution, the mount is also an amazing place for stargazing, especially during the summer.

 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

 

Spotlight on Beaucaire, France: A Gem Near Nimes & Avignon

Spotlight on Beaucaire, France: A Gem Near Nimes & Avignon

At The Loftus Guides we seek to inspire you with suggested destinations that are unique and off-the-beaten-track: places that many travelers overlook, but shouldn’t. While we do aim to provide you with plenty of inspiring lists to peruse, we also want to bring you some local flavor, showcasing places around the world that deserve a closer look. This week, we train a spotlight on the charming town of Beaucaire, France. 

Beaucaire is nestled in the department of Gard right beside the Rhone River, which forms a natural boundary between Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon. The massive floodgates at the water’s edge are proof that flooding has at times been a real threat to this low-lying part of the region. The surrounding landscapes are lush and green, and the town is bathed in that extraordinary Southern French light that so many of us know and love. 

The Light of Beaucaire, southern France

An Easy Trip From Nîmes, Arles or Avignon

Beaucaire lies at the centre of a triangle formed by the important Southern cities of Nimes, Arles and Avignon. Only 30 to 40 minutes away by train or car, it makes an easy and lovely trip from all of these places. It also lies in close reach of the ancient Roman town of Orange, the village of Uzès, the UNESCO-listed Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard, and numerous other iconic destinations in the South of France. 

Read related: A Visit to France’s Lascaux Caves and Their Paleolithic Wonders

Starting to understand just how well-situated this little town is? Now let’s take a look at why it’s special in its own right.

Top Things to See & Do in Beaucaire

Although it’s not especially touristy, Beaucaire has so much to offer, from picturesque strolls to canal-side cafes, restaurants serving delicious local gastronomy and quaint little shops. Do turn down the town’s many small alleys and streets: you never know what you’ll find!

Take a Walk by the Canal

Port and boats in Beaucaire

The canal adds much to the charm of this little town, with its lush waterside trees, decorated houseboats and opportunities for boat tours. Visiting around Christmas-time? The boats are all decked out with lights, and there’s a festive Christmas market to explore as well. 

Visit a Local Market

Beaucaire is very much a market town. There’s a colorful food market that springs up each Thursday and Sunday morning on the Place Georges Clemenceau. Here, you’ll find everything from delicious local cheeses and produce to fresh bread, olives and flowers. 

For clothing, household items and textiles, take a whirl at the Cours Gambetta market along the canal, held on Thursday and Sunday morning.

Read related: These Are the World’s 11 Most Enticing Food Markets

During the summer, don’t miss the Beaux Quais de Vendredi, an evening market held along the banks of the Canal in Beaucaire each Friday night through July and August. Arts and craft stands, live musical performances and other festivities take over the canal strip, adding plenty of summery ambience.

Market Day in Tarascon

A lively market in nearby Tarascon. Image: Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

For a bonus, follow the bridge over the river to the adjacent town of Tarascon which has its own share of treasures to discover, including a vibrant, large open-air market and numerous cafes. 

Visit Two Castles (Overlooking One River)

Beaucaire Castle/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Beaucaire Castle/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Beaucaire and Tarascon each have an impressive castle and ramparts facing one another on their respective sides of the Rhone river. The walk and climb up the hill to Beaucaire’s medieval castle is a treat, with the view becoming more and more impressive as you climb. Free to visit, this impressive site gives you a glimpse of its past grandeur.

Chateau de Tarascon/Wolfgang Staudt/Creative Commons 2.0

Chateau de Tarascon/Wolfgang Staudt/Creative Commons 2.0

The Tarascon castle across the river is extremely well-preserved and is considered one of the grandest examples of a medieval fortress in France. It was built starting in the 15th century by the Dukes of Anjou.  

The Chateau often hosts events such as concerts and performances; ask at the tourist office for current details.

Enjoy Music & Dancing on a Hidden Square

Dancing at Place de la Republique, Beaucaire

Dancing at Place de la Republique/Michelle Loftus/All rights reserved

Find the Place de la République, which the locals call la vieille place (the old square). This is a term which might come up frequently when you’re asking for directions, so don’t be confused by it!

The charming square is surrounded by restaurants and café terraces. On certain evenings there’s free entertainment by local musicians, offering the perfect opportunity for an evening of free dancing.

Taste Locally Made Olives and Olive Oil

Olives and olive oil are a local delicacy, and we recommend you spend some time tasting some of these gourmet specialties. You can notably visit a local olive oil mill at Huiles Robert. Take a tour of the facility and taste the delicious oils! The shop here has many options for gifts to bring back home.

Read related: Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France

Address: 105 Allée Sergius Respectus, 30300 Beaucaire

Telephone: +33 (0)4 66 74 40 46

See the Abbaye Saint-Roman

Saint-Roman Abbey Beaucaire View

Situated right on the edge of town, this Abbey is a truly exceptional site. Carved into the caves and hillside by hermit monks from as early as the 5th century, it’s absolutely worth the uphill walk. The views alone are spectacular.

Address: Abbaye de Saint-Roman, 4294, route de Saint-Gilles, 30300 Beaucaire

Telephone: +33 (0)7 81 56 44 51

Visit the Pont du Gard Aqueduct 

Pont du Gard Aqueduct, France

The famous Pont du Gard aqueduct is nearby, so if time allows we recommend you see it firsthand. Enjoy this tour de force of Roman architecture and its mythical setting, as well as the onsite museum. For a fabulous evening outing, witness the spectacular son et lumière (a light and music show) that brings the site to life in the summertime.

 

See an Exhibit or Light Show at an Old Quarry

Chateau des Baumes and View

 Also just under half an hour from Beaucaire, take in the superb exhibits and light shows at the old quarry known as the Carrières des lumières. Then enjoy breathtaking views from the Chateau des Baux, a vast ruined castle situated high in the hills at the village of Les-Baux-de-Provence and billed as one of the finest sites in historic France.
Click here to see a full events calendar for the Carrière des lumières.

Accommodations We Recommend in Beaucaire 

Our general recommendation at TLG is almost always to book local holiday rentals and lodgings. Rent a flat, a house, a studio or even a furnished houseboat: in today’s world, this is possible just about anywhere you might choose to travel. 

What better way to experience a destination locally? You’ll be able to bring home local fare from the market, eat on your own schedule, pack a picnic for a day-long outing– all the while treating yourself to a morning or afternoon pause café, to use the French term. I don’t know about you, but I prefer not to eat out at every meal. 

Visit one of our favourite sites to find the perfect place to stay in Beaucaire. You can also find accommodation reviews and recommendations at sites such as Booking.com and TripAdvisor.

If you do choose to stay in a hotel, be aware that in Beaucaire and in Tarascon most of these offer basic comforts (remember that French 3-star hotels are about equivalent to 2-star counterparts in North America). You can expect good service, but grand luxury isn’t usually on offer here. This may be another good reason to consider self-catering accommodations, at the end of the day!

Where To Eat in Beaucaire?

Restaurant Menu Beaucaire

Beaucaire, like most towns in France, boasts plenty of restaurants serving high-quality fare. We recommend that you simply take a canal-side stroll to make your choice. Daily menus are displayed on traditional chalkboards outside of each establishment.  You can ask the servers to help you translate if you don’t quite understand the options.

In addition to the typically-offered menu— consisting of three and sometimes more courses– there is usually also a daily ‘set menu’ that is more affordable. You can also order a la carte, of course. 

For specific restaurant reviews and suggestions in and around Beaucaire, we recommend that you visit this page. 

 

For More Info: Visit the Tourist Office

In our opinion, the local tourist office should always be one of your first stops– no matter your destination. There’s no better way to find out about local events and activities such as market days, art tours, current exhibitions, concerts and performances, to name just a few.

Interested in a canal cruise with lunch? They’ll have a recommendation. Want to visit an olive oil mill? They’ll set you on the right course.

Getting There: The Beaucaire Tourist Office is located at 8, rue Victor Hugo. You can also visit the official website here for more information ahead of your trip. 

Please leave your comments below if you have any questions about your plans to visit Beaucaire: we’re here to help. Especially since some of the above resources are available in French, you can feel free to get in touch with any questions you may have about your trip.

You can also use our contact form and connect with us on Facebook.

Bon voyage! 

 

 

Staying in a Lighthouse: Is This Your Dream?

Staying in a Lighthouse: Is This Your Dream?

What is it about lighthouses, anyway?

What is it that makes lighthouses so iconic, mysterious and romantic? Why are they such powerful symbols in our culture?  And why is the idea of an overnight stay in a lighthouse such a compelling and enticing one?

There’s no simple answer to that question, of course. Most lighthouses no longer work the way they once did: they’re often unmanned, and some are no longer used at all. They’ve either been automated, or simply aren’t needed anymore, as we now have all manner of satellite and GPS technology.

Is it the bygone era? Is it the romanticism of heroic acts?

Perhaps lighthouses appeal to our romantic and literary sensibilities. Does their wonder come from their ability to snatch men and women from the dark clutches of the sea? After all, there’s nothing like a real or symbolic saving light in the darkness, to stir the soul and the imagination…


The Cordouan, Versailles of the Sea

Lighthouses commonly stand where the meeting points between the land and sea are at their most dangerous and violent: places that threatened humans as they ventured more and more to explore the oceans and colonize new lands. They represent danger in a certain sense– and human victory over that danger. There’s a sense of redemption in the image of a sea-battered old lighthouse sending out beacons of hope to lost seafarers.

Who hasn’t seen dramatic old pictures of Brittany’s great lighthouses – and attempts by the ocean to completely swallow them? These iconic lighthouses in France remain compelling tourist destinations, many situated on the “Finistère” coastline that meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Both the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines abound with these stirringly beautiful architectural structures, isolated on their stunning rocky outcrops and peaks. No wonder they inspire artists, photographers and travellers of all kinds to visit and admire them.

Perhaps the queen of these is Cordouan, at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary, near Bordeaux. Also known as the Versailles of the Sea owing to its sheer scope and grandeur, it was built under the reign of King Louis XIV, and is the oldest lighthouse in France.

Ways to Visit the Cordouan Lighthouse

You can visit this iconic French structure by boat – and it’s most definitely worth it! This active lighthouse is also home to an onsite  museum. There are three departure points for the ferry, all within close reach of Bordeaux. This is an adventure that’s perfect for the intrepid experiential traveller. 

Drop us a line below if you would like more information, or Contact Us by clicking this link.

What About Staying Overnight?

Some lighthouses have been retired from ‘active service’, however– luckily for us curious travellers– they’ve been put back into service as rental holiday cottages or bed and breakfast style guesthouses. These are just a few examples of lighthouses where you can stay overnight, all located in the UK and Ireland. There are plenty more, however: sign up for our forthcoming guide below to learn about some of the world’s most magical lighthouses to lodge in. 

 

Would you like to stay in a lighthouse?

Sign up here to find out where!

Pedestrian Travel: The World’s Most-Walkable Cities

Pedestrian Travel: The World’s Most-Walkable Cities

Walking is one of the best ways to get to know a city, because you get to experience the on-the-ground and in-person side of a city center. Faced and interacting with real people, you find places you never would have seen in a bus or car. As a traveler, it’s also far easier to get around cities with good pedestrian areas, since you can forgo renting a car altogether. Walking is free, environmentally friendly, and allows you to really take in the ambience and character of a destination. Read on to take a closer look at some of the world’s most-walkable cities: places you can experience almost wholly by foot!  

Venice

Venice is one of the most pedestrian-friendly cities in the world due to its enormous network of pedestrian streets that are totally free of cars. Most of Venice is car-free, and you have to either walk or take a water taxi to get around. Despite its dense infrastructure and the abundance of canals and bridges, the city is beautiful and flat, making for excellent walking.

Read related: The World’s Most Romantic Places For Honeymoons

Copenhagen

Denmark’s capital city has a medieval street grid and plenty to see, and its main street was converted into a pedestrian walkway. As a result, you can get most places in the city without a car, from Rosenberg Castle to the tidy markets in the city center. It’s a beautiful place to experience urban life on the water, and you can always take a water taxi if your feet need a break!

Seattle

America’s Pacific northwest metropolis is a model of North American walkability due to the local government’s regulations on parking spaces and pedestrian infrastructure. The iconic Pike Place Market is a great example of this type of active urban planning, and you can see and do most things on foot or by renting readily available bicycles.

Paris

With its gorgeous riverside quays, narrow little streets and glamorous, old-world boulevards, Paris is certainly one of the most romantic places to aimlessly walk. Whether you go as a couple or solo, spend time just wandering through the centuries-old streets of the world’s most-visited city. You’ll discover things you never would have, otherwise.

Read related: Is Buying the Paris Pass Worth the Expense? 

Houten

One of the most famously anti-car cities in the world is the unassuming Dutch town of Houten. The entire inner urban area of Houten is for bikes and pedestrians only, and the city’s cars are served by an external ring road only. Inside the ring is a network of 80 miles of paths for cyclists and foot traffic. 66% of traffic in Houten is pedestrians and cyclists.

Bordeaux

Southwest France’s UNESCO World Heritage site is a magnificent 18th-century city with one of the best pedestrian walking areas in the world. Pedestrian streets offer clear views of local restaurants and shops on either side of the walkway, and you can get to most places in the city by foot. The Rue Sainte-Catherine, vibrant shopping hub, is said to be the longest pedestrian street in Europe and at all times of day these pedestrian hubs are teeming with life and energy. For all these reasons, Bordeaux is a city that walking lovers adore. 

Marrakesh

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Marrakesh is a labyrinth of vendors selling woven goods, spices, and their famous babouches. You can walk from street markets to the historic Koutoubia Mosque and see the ruins of the 16th century El Badi Palace. Marrakech is unique and stunning in its variety and history.

Our Bottom Line? 

These cities are truly modern wonders for their accessibility and ecologically sound infrastructure, not to mention their endlessly fascinating streets. If you enjoy exploring quiet lanes and bustling high streets alike, we recommend adding them to your short-list of destinations– and travel where your feet can take you!