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 Most Beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe

The Most Beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe

When you’re traveling abroad at year’s end, visiting a Christmas market is probably the best way to dive into the holiday spirit and start enjoying the festive atmosphere. These markets offer unique traditional settings where you can try typical winter street food and beverages, buy cute and quirky decorations for your tree, keep the kids busy with games and toys or even ice skate or have a visit with Santa and his elves. Every year, some of the most charming European towns and cities host their own magical local events. Read on to learn about the most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe– ones we always recommend you visit on your next trip to the Continent or the UK. We’ve included details on market dates for 2018, so you can plan your trip accordingly. Time to get festive!

 

Cologne, Germany

One of the most beloved Christmas-time destinations in Europe is Cologne, in Germany. In this lovely city, millions of visitors from around the world head to the annual markets to enjoy the festive atmosphere, usually on the last Monday before Advent.  The city offers five different markets, where revelers can purchase decorations, toys, mulled wine, gingerbread and many other local treats. In particular, we recommend the Old Town Market, in front of Cologne’s Town Hall, which, legend has it, is populated by gnomes.

Dates in 2018: Christmas markets in Cologne run from the 26th of November through the 23rd of December.

Read related: These Are the 11 Most Tempting Food Markets in the World 

Lille, France

From the 23rd of November until the end of December, the Northern French city of Lille hosts around 90 wooden chalets selling delicious regional food and crafty Christmas gifts ideas from Russia, Canada and Poland. For a stunning view of the festive town from above, we strongly recommend a ride on the Ferris Wheel. Head to the town center of this pretty but under-estimated city in France for some unique holiday cheer. A day trip from Paris is even possible!

Dates in 2018: November 23rd through the end of December

Alsace, France

Christmas market in Colmar, France

Christmas market in Colmar, France

Have time to visit a couple more festive holiday markets in France? If so, also make sure to check out the lovely traditional markets of Alsace, including in Strasbourg and Colmar. There’s little more heartening and spirited than strolling through rows of warm chalets decked with lights and decorations, sipping spiced mulled wine and nibbling on gingerbread or crepes. Alsace is located at the border of Germany, and the cultural influences of both France and Germany combine in local Christmas fare and customs.

Dates in 2018: See this page for a full list of markets in Alsace this year.

 

Lisbon, Portugal

With fairy lights adorning the historic city center, the Portuguese capital looks completely different during the Christmas season. The bright colors and the delicious smells of the Natal E Na Fil Festive Market turn it in a whole new gem to discover. The Market, held in the Feira Internacional De Lisboa, usually takes place during the first week of December. If you’d like to try a typical Christmas cake, we advise to taste the ‘Bolo rei’ (the King’s cake), a round pastry stuffed with seasonal fruit, and to accompany it with a glass of fine regional wine.

Dates in 2018: Generally in early December. Visit the Lisbon Tourist Office for updates. 

Venice, Italy

How does ice skating in the gorgeous city center of Venice, Italy sound to you? In Campo San Polo, the biggest Venetian square after San Marco, an ice rink is set up every year for tourists and Venetians to enjoy. Campo Santo Stefano, located in the Sestiere of Dorsoduro – at a walking distance from San Marco via the Accademia Bridge across the Canal Grande –  is also turned into a Christmas Village, running for three weeks until the 24th of December.

Read related: Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy 

The Village has a whole section dedicated to Italian food, where you can find cakes, olive oils, fine vinegars and gourmet products to taste. Pannetone, a typical Italian cake that comes in different flavors, is one that’s especially enjoyed during the holiday season.

Dates in 2018: Early December through Christmas Eve (December 24th)

Florence, Italy

Photo by Alice Barigelli via flickr

Piazza Santa Croce, one of the most beautiful squares in the city of Florence, hosts a Christmas Market in 2018 from late  November to the 20th of December. Following the tradition of the well-known German markets, you’ll find plenty of small wooden chalets decorated with festive garlands and fairy lights. Vendors at these cheerful stalls sell Christmas decorations, handmade gifts and, of course, delicious food. In addition to regional Italian delicacies, the market also offers a good selection of German Christmas foods, including gingerbread and strudel.

Dates in 2018: November 28th to December 20th

Birmingham, UK

By Paul Englefield [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Heading across the channel to celebrate the holidays British-style, Birmingham’s Frankfurt-style Christmas market is the largest outdoor market of this kind in the United Kingdom. It’s also, somewhat surprisingly, the biggest German market outside Germany and Austria. If you love festive holiday markets, this one is truly unmissable! Held for the first time in 1997, it attracts more than five million people every year. Situated in Victoria Square and along New Street, this market will be open for five weeks from mid-November. The broad, festive food selection on offer here includes authentic pretzels, schnitzel, bratwurst sausages, and roasted almonds.

Dates in 2018: November 15th through December 23rd

Guernsey, Channel Islands

Christmas market in Guernsey

Why not arrange a magical winter getaway on the charming island of Guernsey? St Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital, is a perfect location to spend the Christmas break in a different and stimulating way. From the beginning of December, the historic central square of the town will be lit up each Saturday with festive street markets and many other Christmas activities, including carol services and Christmas pantos.

Dates in 2018: Saturdays in December (1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd)

Copenhagen, Denmark

Fairy lights at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen. Photo by Anna Maria Colivicchi / All rights reserved

Danish winter culture is all about ‘hygge’ – pronounced hoo-ga: a term that doesn’t have a proper translation in English, but essentially means ‘living in the moment’ and enjoying quality time with your loved ones, usually in a cozy environment. Visiting Christmas markets is, of course, one of the activities that can be described as ‘hygge’.

Read related: The World’s Most Beautiful Destinations for Fall Foliage 

The Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen features a "heart tree" beloved by visitors. Image: Visit Copenhagen

The Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen features a “heart tree” beloved by visitors. Image: Visit Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s biggest and most festive market is held at the iconic Tivoli Gardens. There, half a million lights guarantee a magical Christmas setting after dark – but there are many other seasonal markets to visit in Copenhagen, such as Højbroplads, an old-fashioned market in the heart of the Nordic city.

Dates in 2018: Visit the Copenhagen Tourist Office for more details 

 

Vilnius, Lithuania

At the start of December, Vilnius turns into a winter wonderland where magical Christmas lights, festive trees, live performances and seasonal food tastings guarantee an unforgettable year-end holiday celebration. Head over to the market in the Cathedral Square, where, surrounded by the delicious aroma of candied nuts, you can buy Lithuanian souvenirs, unique gifts, herbal teas and typical pastries.

Dates in 2018: From early December

Prague, Czech Republic

Christmas markets in Prague are the most impressive in the country, featuring brightly decorated wooden huts where you can find local handmade products like ceramics, embroidered lace, wooden toys, gloves and candles for your cozy winter nights. The annual markets are usually located in the Old Town Square and in Wenceslas Square; every year, the markets follow a different theme, usually announced in late November; in 2017, it was ‘history of Prague’.

Delicious typical Christmas food you can buy in Prague’s Christmas markets include large hams roasted on spits (Pražská Šunka), barbequed sausages (klobása), Hungarian flatbread topped with garlic, cheese and ketchup (langoš); pancakes (palačinky) and a variety of cakes and pastries that are prepared in front of you, such as ‘Trdelník’, a hot sugar-coated pastry.

Dates in 2018: From early December through the first week of January. See this page for more information .

Bruges, Belgium

Last but certainly not least, the fairy-tale-pretty city of Bruges is another of our favorite destinations for cheerful holiday markets. From the 23rd of November, Bruges’ gorgeous town center becomes a giant Christmas market, which is considered by many the best of its kind across Europe. If Bruges is magical on any day, the market that fills up the entire town adds an enchanting extra touch to this charming Belgian gem.

Dates in 2018: See this page for more information 

 

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! 

 

 

Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France

Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France

France is rightfully famous for its rich crop of lavender, and nowhere is more famous for its rolling fields of “blue gold” than the Provence region. The yearly harvest is one of the most beautiful sights in France, and it’s something that everyone with a love of travel and nature should experience at some point in their lives. 

If you want to see and smell the most gorgeous lavender fields in France, read on to learn how to make the most of your experience. 

Where and When to See Lavender in Full Bloom?

As mentioned above, the most important region of France for lavender is Provence-– and more specifically, the Luberon and Verdon plateau regions. Flowering season is typically between mid-June through early August, though this depends on where you’re visiting. Lower altitudes have slightly warmer climates than colder areas with later blooming seasons.

Read related: A Visit to the Magnificent Lascaux Cave in France 

In 2017, most of the Luberon was harvesting the lavender crop in mid-June, for example, but in the higher altitude plateau around Sault, it happened a bit later. Climate and rainfall have a big impact on the lavender crop, so it’s tricky to predict exactly when the flowers will bloom.

To play it safe, you should try to book your trip on the early side. A good range is sometime from late June through July. Avoid the beginning of the season and the late end.

Valensole

Arguably the most famous lavender farms in the world are in Valensole. At high growing season, it’s the biggest tourist attraction in Provence, and you can expect many other lavender-pilgrims visiting the area to take photographs, even at dawn and dusk. Still, it’s probably worth it for the sheer scale of these farms. Rows of lavender stretch out for as far as the eye can see– and it’s a colorful, breathtaking sight to behold.

Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France?

Sault, Ferrassières, and Aurel

These towns situated in higher climates still have lavender growing much later in the season, and there are far fewer tourists around to spoil the view. You can often see lavender here as late as mid-August, and the surrounding hilltop villages are beautiful. Look out for local scenic terraces overlooking the fields– ideal spots for a sunset aperitif or meal. 

Drôme

This northernmost department in Provence is one of the region’s best kept secrets. With the lavender here as beautiful as it is in more renowned spots, but with virtually no tourists present, you can experience the intense purple flowers and their delicate scent in almost total solitude.

The town of Montbrun-les-Bains is officially designated as one of France’s most beautiful villages, and its mountainous, late-blooming lavender is a local favorite. The village of Venterol is another well-kept secret, popular among locals for its ancient, poetically sinuous olive trees.

Lavender Museum

To learn more about the region’s most famous product, you can visit the adorable Musée de la Lavande (Museum of Lavender) in the village of Cabrières d’Avignon. Learn about the industry of planting, harvesting, and processing lavender at the collection here. You can even see an example of a lavender distiller from the early 20th century that uses an open flame to reduce the lavender into its potently fragrant essence.

The museum was opened in 1992, and it is closed in January. Audio guides are available in many languages, and you can watch documentaries, smell lavender, and try high-quality fragrances and cosmetics using pure AOC essential lavender oil. The museum is free for children under the age of 15.

The Lavender Museum (Musée de la Lavande) in Cabrières d'Avignon, France

Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey

For another unforgettable view of lavender fields, don’t miss Provence’s famous Cistercian abbey in the village of Gordes, part of the Vaucluse-en-Provence area. Founded in 1148, the abbey has been home to Cistercian monks ever since. There’s something distinctive about witnessing the centuries-old abbey surrounded by acres of blue gold. 

Note that while you can tour the site, it is still a fully functioning monastery, so you have to maintain absolute respect for the solemnity and religious devotion of the monks. A limited number of tours are available with reservations, and a French guide will take you around the Cloister, Church, Chapter room, Dormitory and other room.

Annual Lavender Festivals

If you want to really celebrate lavender in a stylish and authentic way, don’t miss Provence’s fabulous lavender festivals! With local goods on sale, artisan demonstrations, folk food and music to enjoy, these day-long events are a blast. Festivals put you in touch not only with the plant, but with the artisans who build their lives around it. Artists, farmers, and chefs are just some of the people in France who depend on lavender for their livelihood, and you can get a bigger picture of the area’s most famous export at these festivals.

The town of Ferrassières has the first festival of the year in early July, and it’s a very laid-back experience–  one that’s especially ideal for those  who don’t like big crowds. Valesol, on the other hand, holds the biggest and most popular festival in the region on the third Sunday of July, and the spa town of Digne les Bains has a festival that lasts a whopping five days in August!

Be sure to book accommodations ahead of time. Lavender festivals are popular in the area, and reservations go quickly.

Lavender products from France are sold at many annual festivals around Provence.

Where to Go Next for Blue Gold Sightings?

If Provence piques your interest in all things lavender, don’t assume that France is the only place where you can see it in all its glory. You can visit some stunning lavender farms all around the world, including New South Wales, Western Australia, Tuscany, and even some places in the United Kingdom (including Hertfordshire and Kent). Visiting Provence is just the beginning! 

 

 

I amsterdam City Card: Should You Get One?

I amsterdam City Card: Should You Get One?

Famously known for its cyclists, lively atmosphere, and chocolate, Amsterdam is a terrific place to travel. It has all the charm of Europe without any fuss, and you can have some really unique cultural experiences. If you’re currently planning a trip to the Dutch city, the I amsterdam City Card might just be for you!

(And yes, that’s the official spelling with a lowercase “A.”) Without further ado, read on to learn why the pass might be a good option on your next trip. 

I amsterdam City Card Should You Get One (3)

THE BASICS

The I amsterdam City Card uses the same basic model as other travel passes: you buy the card and get free entrance to museums, attractions, and public transport systems for the duration of your travel package.  

Here’s what the City Card includes:

  • Free entrance to 50+ museums and attractions
  • Free unlimited public transport
  • Free canal cruise
  • Discounts and coupons
  • A city map and guide book

How it works:  

You buy your City Pass online, and you can choose between 24, 48, 72, or 96 hour passes.

You’ll get a confirmation email immediately, and then you pick up your City Card at any of the following locations:

  • Amsterdam Central Station:  I amsterdam Store, on the North side of the station
  • Amsterdam Airport Schiphol: I amsterdam Visitor Information Centre Schiphol Airport, Arrivals Hall 2: Holland Tourist Information
  • Amsterdam Central Station: I amsterdam Visitor Information Centre at Stationsplein, Stationsplein 10 (opposite the main station entrance)

Your pass becomes active the first time you use it.

Included attractions:

The City Pass covers most of the big name attractions in the Amsterdam area. The Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum, the Rembrandt House Museum, the Royal Zoo, Rijksmuseum, and about fifty other attractions are all included. Here’s a link to the full list of participating attractions.

Plus, you can take a canal ride on any participating tour boat company! We suggest taking a tour that goes out onto the sea. Seeing the city from the water is an incredible experience, and even on cloudy days, the views are incredible.

The Anne Frank Museum is the only big name attraction not included in the City Card, so you’ll have to buy a ticket separately. It costs nine euros, and while the museum is being renovated you must purchase tickets online.

Getting around:

The I amsterdam City Card includes unlimited use of the GVB public transport system, including all buses, trams and metros in the city for as long as your pass is valid. One important point of note here is that your card does not include train rides, including the train you’ll need to take from the airport to Amsterdam Central station. You will need to purchase your own tickets to get from the airport into Amsterdam itself.

Pricing:

Pricing is solely based on the duration of your stay, so in terms of pricing structures, it’s very easy to decide which pass to get.  

Duration lengths:

  • 24 hour pass: €59
  • 48 hour pass: €74
  • 72 hour pass: €87
  • 96 hour pass: €98

SHOULD YOU GET ONE?

Some pros:

  • With one pass, you get access to almost every attraction in the city. It’s a massively simplified touring experience that saves you a lot in terms of planning time.
  • The pricing structure is very simple and easy to understand, and the website purchasing process is seamless. This pass is seriously low-fuss.
  • If you love sight-seeing, the City Card will absolutely save you money. Individual tickets can really add up, and you don’t have to see a ton of sights for the card to end up being the cheaper option.
  • You don’t have to worry about figuring out how to buy tickets for public transport, which can ease a lot of travel anxiety. Just scan your card and hop on!
  • The free canal boat trip is awesome. Boating around the city is one of the best ways to experience it, and the canal boat drivers are usually funny and friendly.   

I amsterdam City Card Should You Get One (4)

Some cons:

  • The card won’t give you travel from the airport into the city, so you’ll have to arrange your own transport.
  • You have to physically pick the card up at a pre-determined location, and that means you can’t pre-book tickets for larger museums until you physically have your card. This can be annoying if you’re trying to plan an itinerary, since you can’t pre-book before your trip. 
  • Your pass will automatically expire once your time frame ends.
  • You can’t go to the same museum a second time; your pass only includes one visit to each attraction.

Should you get it?

The short answer is: Yes! If you like to visit attractions, then the I amsterdam City Pass is a money-saving and convenient way to do it. You only have to buy one pass, and in return, you get access to museums and attractions without having to wait in ticket lines. The pass makes public transport easy and convenient, and you get some extra perks.

That said, the pass may not actually be much cheaper for shorter stays. The longer the pass, the greater the savings, so do some quick math on a short itinerary to see if you’ll actually save money. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of public transport. And, of course, use your best judgment for your trip!

Happy planning and safe travels!