Barcelona hotel – booked!

You may remember from a previous post that I am hunting out ideas for my 2014 trips abroad – well I have taken a step  forward in my Barcelona planning and have booked the hotel!

We are going to be staying at the Andante Hotel, which is extremely central – only a short walk to Las Ramblas where all the restaurants and bars are. It looks to be very boutique-modern and has a gorgeous infinity pool on the rooftop!

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Rooftop pool

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Terrace

 

For £95 a night for the room, we think we’ve got a good deal, as it also includes breakfast. For high season (July), we are only paying around £10 more than some people who are staying in a shared room in a hostel!

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Bedroom

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Breakfast

Next step is flights – we are scanning the airwaves every day for the best deal – we might have to play the long game with this one….

Andante Hotel – http://www.andantehotel.com/en

Short Stay – North Wales

For those readers who don’t live in the UK, Wales is known far and wide for it’s absolutely beautiful scenery – rolling green hills, old stone walls, and bright white sheep dotted throughout the landscape. It is one of my favourite places to visit and was the location that my boyfriend Martin decided to take me 2 years ago for a surprise weekend away.

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North Wales from the car

A friend of ours owns a small cottage in a tiny village called Rowen, in deepest, darkest North Wales – and this was to be our hideaway for a long weekend. Arriving in the village late on a Friday evening (in the dark) we could not fully appreciate how different our surroundings were to the life we lead in London. By daylight we realised that it was one of the smallest villages we had ever seen, with only one village shop and one pub. I counted no more than 35 houses at a glance and the village was beautifully positioned in the Conwy valley, at the base of the Carneddau mountains.

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The Ty Gwyn Hotel in Rowen

The cottage itself was stunning – built from Welsh stone it was very small but wonderfully decorated – with a large, open-plan downstairs (kitchen, living room) and a bedroom that was placed up a ladder on a mezzanine floor.  There was underfloor heating (which was very useful in November!) and an ornate fireplace. I was in love with it!

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The cottage

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View from the cottage into the valley

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Fireplace

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Mezzanine bedroom

The next morning we went out bright and early to explore the local town of Conwy – a coastal town which still has walls and a castle dating back to the late 1200’s. It was a windy but bright day, so we decided to go straight up to the castle along the old town walls. The views are fantastic from the top and you can see straight into the town and the harbour area. You could really imagine the 1200’s and what it must have been like to be defending the town from the towers and walls.

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Conwy castle

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View from a turret

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Conwy town

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The harbour

After pretending to be soldiers for while we got hungry and thirsty – down in the town we decided to partake in a little local culture and went to watch a Wales rugby game in a harbour-side pub. It was a brilliant atmosphere being amongst the locals who were very passionate about their rugby! Following this we wondered up the main high street and stopped in a little cafe, where we ordered a sandwich and soup combo, which filled us nicely. There are lots of independent shops in Conwy to browse around, which makes a nice change from London!

Back in Rowen we decided to visit the local pub that evening and it was immediately clear that the owners and locals know that you aren’t a regular resident in the village. They weren’t rude at all, but you do get a few curious glances and inquisitive looks! We enjoyed our drinks and wandered back up the hill to the cottage, basking in the lack of street lights and enjoying the clear, starry night sky.

The next day we decided to hike down to the Conwy falls, which is a waterfall on the Conwy River. We stopped at a 1930’s built white building called the Conwy Falls Cafe, which acts as a gateway to 9 acres of native forest and a easy walk down to the falls. The walk was scenic and fun, even in the rain! The cafe serves lovely cakes and treats and we stopped to enjoy a warm drink after the outdoor activity (http://www.conwyfalls.com/).

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Conwy Falls Cafe

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Testing the raincoat

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The falls

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Me and Martin

North Wales is well worth a visit if you’re in the UK – we were disappointed that we didn’t have the opportunity to take our bikes because the hills and valleys would have been perfect for riding. Apparently the area is well known amongst mountain bikers, so if you’re looking for some thrill action, try the area. It is also a perfect place to stay if you are thinking of visiting the Snowdonia National Park.

We shall be visiting the area again later this year when we plan to climb Mount Snowdon with some friends and trying out the longest and fastest zip line in Europe! http://www.zipworld.co.uk/ I am sure there will be blog post following that visit (if I make it down in one piece!)

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Zip line!

Short Stay – October in the New Forest

Everyone remembers the first time their parents met their other half’s parents – mine was this past weekend in the New Forest in Hampshire. My boyfriend Martin and I have been together almost three years but our parents have not yet crossed paths. We thought that, whilst on a visit to the New Forest in Hampshire, his parents and brother would like to have the company of my mum.

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Martin’s parents had rented a small cottage in the village of Lyndhurst on a family estate called Acres Down. Driving down a small country lane we found a series of buildings – the family house, a small farm shop, and three rental cottages, as well as a camp site. It seemed like a fantastic set up for a country business – possibly something I would like to do in the future. We made the most of the farm shop during our stay, buying our Sunday dinner meat (a huge silver-side of beef, fresh off the farm) amongst other purchases. It was perfect to have on our doorstep.

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Acres Down cottage

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View from the back of the cottage

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Acres Down Farm Shop

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Farm foods!

I think the cottages at Acres Down may have once been old out-buildings, which had been extended to create more space. The decor inside our cottage was slightly old-school but it was clean, tidy and comfortable. A recent addition to the living room was a wood-burner, which gave the place a lovely homely feel. At the back of the cottages were fields of sheep, cows and chickens, roaming in the long grass.

The New Forest turned the ideal place for this first meeting of families because it combined all of our loves – the outdoors, wildlife, and walking. My mum has been doing wildlife photography for years now in a semi-professional capacity, having had pictures published in various magazines (her own blog and wonderful pictures can be found at http://lindapriestley.zenfolio.com/). By far her specialist subject is the New Forest area, as she knows every single pathway, pebble and plant….and their relatives! Martin’s parents are also big fans of wildlife and walking, so we spent the majority of the weekend outdoors (when the weather allowed!)

We started up at Bolderwood, parking near the Canadian War Memorial and walking off-trail between the thick heather and low trees. Keeping as quiet as possible we quickly spotted a herd of deer running through the trees – with a huge stag at the helm. Mum has kindly provided me with photos of this beautiful sight. Further into the valley there is a farmer who encourages the deer into his land to feed – so you are pretty much guaranteed to see deer in this area – just remember to be very quiet!

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Walking in the heathland

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Deer in the New Forest

The New Forest is home to thousands of New Forest ponies and other wild horses, which are tended to by rangers. Twice a year, the ponies are rounded up by riders and moved into pounds, so that veterinary checks can be done and numbers counted. This is called the drift. Rangers don’t release dates for the drift but we were lucky enough to see this happening when we were out driving this weekend. The riders helping with the herd were wearing full tweed jackets and jodhpurs – it was fascinating to see them all riding off into the undergrowth to find more of the ponies. Later we saw many ponies with their tails clipped into a step pattern – this is to tell which had been herded and which had not.

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New Forest pony with the clipped tail

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New Forest ponies on the roads

We drove from Bolderwood down through what is known as the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive, which is a stretch of narrow lane between Brockenhurst and the A35. On this road you can find rhododendrons, azaleas and other beautiful bushes and trees. You could also visit Rhinefield House, which used to be a private country estate but is now a beautiful hotel. Along this drive you will also find the one of the largest oak trees in the country.

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A living monument

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One of the UK’s largest oaks

Our travels took us next to the vibrant village of Burley, a semi-touristy but all-together lively and picturesque part of the forest. There is bunting between the shops and stick of rock in the shops, most of which are themed around witchcraft. Burley apparently has a long history of witchery, as a white witch lived there in the 1950’s and took to walking around town with a jackdaw on her shoulder.

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Burley Witchcraft store

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Burley shepherd’s hut

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Burley bunting

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Burley streets

Parking up, we noticed that tractors were running from the car park out to a Cider Festival in a nearby field. This turned out to be a mixture between a steam fair and a small Glastonbury, showcasing very old methods of cider-pressing and featuring a grass-roots band playing cider-related songs!  After some tasting (quite a bit of tasting) we headed for the beach.

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Cider festival

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Apples, apples, apples!

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Steam cider pressing

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Pulley cider pressing

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More pressing machines

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Liking Step 6!

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Carton of cider for home!

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Festival fun

After a short drive down to Milford on Sea we grabbed some teas from the local cafe and headed down to the shore. From there we could see across to the Isle of Wight and the needles, with the lighthouse in the distance. Colourful huts line the bottom of the cliffs (for roughly £20,000 each!) and we played a game of stone skimming (I am pretty rubbish!). Gradually the sun came down and the sunset was just glorious.

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Milford on Sea

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Beach huts

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Never too late for ice cream

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Stone skimming

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Me and mum

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Milford sunset

In true Walton’s style, we stayed in that evening around the fire, playing board games and eating hearty food. This was all watered down by copious bottles of red wine and a large carton of the festival cider – it certainly added a little zing to the games! It was a perfect family-friendly weekend away.

Have you been to the New Forest? What were your highlights? 

Short stay – Chorleywood Tree House

For my 30th birthday present my lovely other-half showed exactly why I love him by appealing to my love of the unusual. He arranged for us to go for a weekend stay in a tree house in the glorious Chiltern countryside. Located on North Hill Farm in Chorleywood, a small village in Hertfordshire, this family- run business encompasses a number of unique accommodation options – the main lodge-style guest house, a yurt, a shepherd’s hut, and a beautiful tree house, where we were to lay our heads for two nights back in August.

Treehouse at Chorleywood

Treehouse at Chorleywood

From the front door down to the rope bridge

Down the rope bridge

Hidden away in the trees

Hidden away in the trees

Now I could start telling you how we’d truly escaped from the busy city into the countryside, when in reality it was only just outside of the M25 – But there isn’t anything further from London life than a tree house! Placed 5 metres up from the ground, the tree house sits sturdy with access via a wooden staircase and a slightly bouncy rope bridge! The outside follows you inside, as almost everything you see is made of hand-carved wood; from the shelving, to the light fixture, to the seat on the outside veranda, and even the bathroom window! The walls are simple chipboard, however this lends to the overall rustic feel of the place – especially as the owners have painted murals of trees throughout.

Inside the treehouse

Inside the tree house

Bathroom window - placed in an old tree stump

Bathroom window

But just because it was rustic didn’t mean we went without home comforts – there was a flat-screen TV with DVD player and a selection of DVDs (which I am sure would have come in handy if the weather turned bad – my favourite being Run, Fat Boy Run). A small bathroom on the side of the room had a fully functioning toilet with sink, complete with drinkable water. The owners also provided a fridge and all cutlery and crockery that we could possibly need. To add to the experience, every morning we received a  basket of breakfast at the front door, with cereals, hot toast and pastries, fresh milk and juices (included in the price). Breakfast in bed, in a tree house – I challenge you to find something more unique!

Breakfast delivered to the door

Breakfast delivered to the door

Amenities - TV, DVD and Fridge

TV, DVD and Fridge

The huge bed faced two glass sliding doors, which lead out onto the veranda with a magnificent view across the Chess Valley. A highlight of the trip for me was laying in bed in the morning (a unique experience in itself), with the sliding doors open, listening to the wind in the trees and the horses in the field below. Absolute escapism bliss!

Absolute bliss - The view from the tree house bed

Absolute bliss – The view from the tree house bed

One question I hear you ask – where is the shower? Now this might be one small factor that might test the hardiest of outdoors people! The hot-water shower is actually on the veranda, in the open air, with a shower curtain and some thin fencing! The water rolls off onto the grass below which is one way to ensure you keep the place private! The owners will show you another bathroom that is available in the main lodge, but we decided to brave the outdoors to its fullest – maybe if you want to go part-way you can wear a swimsuit!

The outdoor shower - are you brave enough?

The outdoor shower – are you brave enough?

The Chilterns is an area of outstanding natural beauty and consists of beautiful wildlife, chalk streams, farmland, and some ancient landscapes dating back to the Bronze Age. We spent hours walking and biking in the area’s numerous paths and lanes, stopping at some very nice local pubs. Our recommendations would include The Gate in Chorleywood for dinner – a modern gastro-pub with reasonably priced meals and good ales on tap (which pleased the boy!). For a nice stop-off on a walk, try The Cock Inn at Sarratt, where you have an old-fashioned, low-ceiling pub with friendly staff and a large beer garden. These are just some of the places we visited on our weekend but there are numerous other places to see in the area – so why not get away for a weekend and try a tree house?

For 2 nights in the tree house at Chorleywood over a weekend it is £200 with breakfast included – mid-week rates are slightly lower (prices correct as of August 2013). 

Would you like the idea of a tree house weekend? And more importantly, would you brave the outdoor shower??