Despite all the summer airport chaos, we arrived into Skiathos airport right on time on an early Sunday evening in late July. Clearing security and receiving our cases quickly from its small but efficient airport, we were met outside by someone from the guesthouse we were staying in – many of the small family-run guesthouses in Skiathos town offer free transfers the short distance from the airport to their properties.
After settling onto our modest but adequate room, we took a stroll downhill through the narrow back roads winding down to the main hub of Skiathos town. The sun was already going down and the seafront and harbour looked pretty in the red glow of dusk.
Our first priority was to find the old marina where the boat trip we had booked for the following morning would depart from. Easily locating that, next on our list was food. Although we’d eaten an all day breakfast at the airport before departing the UK that afternoon, that was now 6 hours ago and we needed some kind of snack to keep us going until morning.
We eventually settled on a seemingly popular Greek fast food-type place where we ordered chicken souvlaki – chunks of grilled chicken and salad along with a few chips in a pitta – opting to have the tzatziki sauce on the side in case we didn’t like it. It was dark by now and after a quick wander around some of the souvenir stores, we decided to call it a night and find our way back to our accommodation.
We were up early the next morning so we could wander into town to grab some breakfast before our cruise departed. We were again spoilt for choice with all the local bakeries and cafes on offer but sticking with the theme of the day (we’d booked a ‘Mamma Mia’ cruise) we chose to visit the reasonably priced Mamma Mia bakery.
While the tour had been marketed as a Mamma Mia tour, it actually had very little to do with the film other than a final stop at the church on a hill featured in the hit musical. From reviews we’d read online, we’d at least expected some Abba music to be piped into the boat – something that was obviously expected by other passengers too as one later asked a member of staff about this and offered to hook up his own iphone to the sound system. This lead to a full on party complete with drunken dancing from a group of fun-loving Italians on board once the cheesy pop classics started blaring out after our lunch stop.
Heading down to the old marina, we managed to locate the tour company we’d booked with from the many others all offering the same selection of island tours and Mamma Mia themed excursions and boarded our boat finding seats in the shade on the top deck.
Departing Skiathos old marina, the boat took us around the east coast of the island and up to Lalaria Beach on the north coast. Here, the boat docked at this well-known and extremely popular bay for about an hour. The beach had been separated in two overnight by a landslide and with the tide being in, this forced us to scramble over the fallen rocks to reach the far end of the beach and its pretty arched rock formation.
After a bit of sunbathing and paddling in the turquoise blue sea, it was back on board the boat where we found we were all stopped from sitting on the top deck – something which wouldn’t have been a problem except for the crew smoking indoors downstairs. Finding a seat by the window, we soon found out that the upstairs was out of bounds for safety reasons and due to rough, high seas the day’s itinerary would have to be changed.
While we would still be heading to the island of Skopelos, we would no longer be able to stop at Skopelos town and would instead be heading to a small bay on the island.
As Skopelos town was to be our lunch stop, we were reassured that there were cafes and restaurants where we were going.
Arriving at Panormos Beach, we found that it was pretty enough but there wasn’t a great deal to do. Avoiding being herded into the first restaurant we came to with the rest of the group, we walked the length of the bay eventually sitting at the furthest restaurant along and ordering some reasonably priced toasted sandwiches before returning to the boat via a small convenience store to grab ice poles to cool us down.
After our makeshift lunch stop, we passed the cave of Skiathos before docking at a port on the west of Skopelos Island. From here, we left the boat and boarded coaches which took us across the island to the stop we had all been waiting for – the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri, or the ‘Mamma Mia church’. Made famous in the Meryl Streep musical, the church sits on the top of a large rock, only accessible by walking up 110 steps. It was a pretty climb and the views gave us plenty of excuses to stop on the way up.
This was the last stop of the day so from here, it was back onto the coaches which returned us to the boat ready to sail back to Skiathos. Arriving late afternoon, we had a bit of time to explore the town some more before grabbing dinner and heading back to our guesthouse.
We had to be up at 4am the next morning to make a 7am flight to Athens so our time on Skiathos had come to an end. I’d liked what I’d seen of it and wished we had a bit more time to see more of the island.
My ‘big’ summer trip this year was supposed to be stateside to finally tick my final state of Hawaii off but it was something that needed to be planned and booked well in advance and when that point in time came, things were still very uncertain in the World as the pandemic continued to rumble on. Hawaii seemed a very big gamble when coming all the way from the UK – long haul flights, internal flights, car hire on multiple islands, hotels and condos all to book and while we could have gone through a specialist such as Trailfinders or Flight Centre to organise it all for us as a package giving us a bit more peace of mind should we have to cancel, we weren’t sure we’d get exactly what we wanted this way being so used to planning everything just how we liked it independently. It was a lot of money to lose should it all go wrong again.
So we begrudgingly made the decision to put off the trip another year and swapped Hawaiian island-hopping for Greek island-hopping. We knew we wanted to get out of the UK this summer as much as we’d enjoyed our UK National Park trips of the last two summers and Europe felt less of a risk than the US, somewhere we could easily return from mid-trip if needed, somewhere we didn’t need to test to enter even at our point of booking quite early into the year.
Wanting to island hop meant we still couldn’t book as a package trip. With flying in and out of different islands, we’d even need to book our main flights as separate bookings as the (mainly) package holiday carriers that flew there didn’t allow for open jaw bookings but we decided to go for it and hope for the best.
Having never been to Greece before, it was hard to know where to start. Who knew there were so many islands to choose from?! My friend who had been many years ago suggested Santorini and with this being an island in the Cyclades, we decided to concentrate on this area. After some googling, we saw lots of suggestions of mixing Santorini with a less ‘touristy’, more traditional island. Milos, Paros, Naxos and a few other islands I’d never heard of before all came up as recommended in various searches and we eventually settled on the much-praised Naxos island.
With those two islands only taking up a week of our 2-3 weeks available, my friends suggested looking into going to the ‘Mamma Mia’ island. She was a big fan of the film and wanted to visit some of the locations if we could. A bit more research lead us to find out this was filmed in Skopelos, one of the Sporades Islands and not really anywhere near the Cyclades! However, the neighbouring Sporades island of Skiathos was somewhere you could fly to directly from the UK and from here it was possible to do a ‘Mamma Mia’ boat trip to Skopelos. To get to the Cyclades from here, we’d have to fly via Athens and as neither of us had visited Greece’s capital city before, it seemed silly not to add a stop here into the mix!
Our trip was finally coming together – we’d fly to Skiathos for a few nights, fly to Athens and spend a few days there and then on to Naxos and Santorini by either plane or ferry – whichever worked out cheapest/least time-consuming.
With a few days still to fill, we looked at adding one more island. Wanting somewhere with plenty to do and some history behind it, I suggested the largest of the Greek islands, Crete. Being the most southerly of the Cyclades, it fitted perfectly into our into our itinerary as our last stop and with it being a popular package holiday destination from the UK, there was plenty of direct flights back to regional airports in the UK available, even one direct to Norwich, the closest airport to my friend!
Researching what we wanted to do at each of our stops, we carefully worked out how much time we’d need at each destination settling on a 2 night stop in Skiathos (just enough time to use our full day there on the Mamma Mia tour), 4 nights in Athens, 3 in Naxos, 3 in Santorini and 4 nights in Crete – a 16 night stay in total. After booking our main flights, we debated internal flights over ferries deciding by the time we added in time to get to the airport, checking in, collecting luggage after landing etc etc, a 4 hour ferry ride would be just as quick as a flight. For the most part, the ferries were cheaper too especially as we didn’t have to pay to take our luggage on board and it seemed like a more authentic option if we were island-hopping! So, other than Skiathos-Athens where a flight was really the only viable option, we opted for ferries between the islands.
Accommodation-wise, we tried to stick with budget options, mainly using guesthouses or, with Athens, hotels in less touristy and therefore cheaper areas. Other than that, free cancellation was our non-negotiable and where possible, we tried to get some kind of breakfast included. Santorini was the main challenge here with many places being either already booked up for the summer or super expensive meaning we had to go above our £100 per night budget despite staying a 15 minute walk out of Fira town centre but we did at least have a hotel with a pool for that and we managed to save elsewhere.
Flights, ferries and accommodation sorted, we moved on to activities. With it being the height of summer, we knew Greece would be busy and wanted to save time by pre-booking tickets to museums and archaeological sites allowing us to skip the lines. We both decided that driving Greece would not be something we’d be confident with, especially with the language barrier, so instead we booked some organised tours on the various islands so we could still see as much of them as possible making sure, like we had with our hotel choices, that everything was cancellable until the last minute just in case.
In the run up to our trip, we began to wonder if we’d done the right thing booking such a short stay in Skiathos, mainly because of the airport disruption with airline delays and cancellations constantly in the news. Our flight already arrived relatively late into Skiathos, just after 7pm, and with just one full day there followed by a very early morning flight out to Athens the following day, any delays or worse, cancellations, would make our stay there pointless and possibly have a knock on effect on our transfer to Athens from there.
As it turned out, we were worrying over nothing. Flying out of the relatively small and quiet East Midlands Airport and with Jet2, possibly the least disrupted UK airlines this summer, was a good decision. Everything ran smoothly with our departure and before we knew it, we were arriving into Skiathos ready to begin our summer island-hopping adventure in Greece!
Having won a 5* trip to Cannes in the South of France, it wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the most luxurious and expensive places in the World – the Principality of Monaco. Sandwiched between the French resorts of Cap d’Ail and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera, Monaco is actually its own country.
Leaving our Cannes’ hotel bright and early after another delicious breakfast, we walked to the station and caught a train along the same line as we had to reach the city of Nice the day before. This time we continued a few stops further on until we reached the sprawling Monaco station.
From here we followed signposts pointing in the direction of the Prince’s Palace, stopping along the way to gawp in the windows of the various airplane, super-yacht and mansion-selling stores along the street – prices all on request, of course, because if you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it!
We soon reached a pretty and rather bustling square with a range of cafes where we crossed the busy road to the bottom of the hill leading up to the palace. As we made our way up the hill, we stopped to catch our breath and enjoy the picturesque views over Monaco’s waterfront, the built up city rising up into the hills behind it.
Along the way we passed the statue of the late Prince Rainier III, who famously married Hollywood star Grace Kelly before the path opened out into the courtyard. We arrived just in time to witness the changing of the guard, a daily ceremony held in the palace courtyard although with just 15 minutes to go til this began, it was difficult to find a place to stand from where we could get a clear view.
After watching the guards march and change places, the crowds started to disperse and we spent a bit of time in the courtyard from where there were more pretty views over the country. Leading off the courtyard were a series of narrow roads leading into Monaco-Ville, Monaco’s Old Town. The streets were lined with souvenir stores, cafes and restaurants – it was a shame we were still full from our breakfast as this would have been a perfect place to grab something to eat and drink, especially as the prices here seemed quite reasonable.
After weaving through some of the old streets, we followed signposts to Monaco Cathedral which stands across from the interesting building of the Palace of Justice. Although it was a Sunday, we arrived at a time when there were no services on so were able to have a look around the inside of the Cathedral.
The Cathedral faced out towards the sea so from here we crossed the road to the clifftop path and followed it in the direction of Monte Carlo, leaving the path to enter Jardins de Sant-Martin, a clifftop park with pretty views over the Mediterranean Sea, sculptures, ponds and fountains which lead out to the popular Monaco Museum of Oceanography.
Unfortunately, we did not have time to pay the museum a visit and instead continued to follow the path back down to sea level and the Monaco marina.
With our visit being just a few weeks before the Monaco Grand Prix, preparations were already being made for that and the preceding E-Prix with many roads cordoned off to vehicles and bleachers already set up for fans to watch from.
This meant we were able to walk along part of the Grand Prix track as we made our way down to the marina area.
The walk along the seafront was most notable for the abundance of super yachts docked in the marina. We thought the boats docked in Cannes looked expensive but they were tiny compared to some of the mansion-sized boats we saw docked here!!
From the marina, we found our way into the city of Monte Carlo where the streets were lined with designer stores.
After a bit of window-shopping, we found our way to the famous Casino of Monte Carlo, the setting of many a Hollywood film including a couple of James Bond films.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have our passports with us, a requirement of entry into the main casino, so instead we had to settle with a look round its grand foyer.
With my friend’s husband being a big Formula 1 fan, he had requested photos of the infamous hairpin bend on the Monte Carlo racetrack. The bend was just a short walk from the casino and it was fun to watch cars carefully wind their way around the sharp turn.
Hungry by this point, we failed to find anything affordable restaurants in the area or any cafes at all so, not wanting to walk all the way back to the old town, we instead headed back to the station, grabbing some snacks from a store there to tide us over.
Instead of going straight back to Cannes, we decided to stop off at the town of Antibes, just a few stops before. From the train station, we wandered until we reached the Old Town where we found more narrow cafe and boutique store-lined streets opening out onto busy squares. Finding ourselves at Place Nationale, and hungrier by the minute, we decided to take a seat in the sunshine at one of the restaurants spilling into the square for drinks and pizza before walking down to the seafront.
While the restaurants here were squarely aimed at the tourists, there was a good atmosphere as everyone sat out enjoying their Sunday evening.
Dinner eaten, we continued our look around the Old Town stopping to browse in the stores and for ice cream along the way.
Eventually, we found ourselves at the old city walls and walked through the city gate out towards the marina where more expensive (but slightly more modest than what Monaco had to offer) looking boats were docked. We followed a pathway along the front and up onto the city ramparts where we found ourselves overlooking the pretty beach Plage de la Gravette, still busy despite the sun starting to disappear.
Continuing to walk along the city walls, we reached the former Chateau Grimaldi, which now houses the town’s Picasso Museum, and Antibes Cathedral.
As it was starting to get dark, we decided we should probably return to the station and make our way back to our Cannes’ hotel but we both wished we had had more time to spend in Antibes.
The next morning, due to another British Airways cancellation leaving us on an earlier flight than originally planned, we were up early for one last 5* hotel breakfast before being met by our private car driver returning us to Nice Airport. Here, our business class flights once again gave us access to the lounge before our flight was called for boarding and despite it not being long since breakfast, we certainly made the most of the buffet food on offer! It had certainly been an experience getting the 5-star experience on our trip and the attentive service, super-comfy beds, business class flights and delicious food was something I could definitely get used too.
Won back in 2019, our prize of a 5* trip of a lifetime to Cannes in the South of France had been a long time coming with various lockdowns and travel bans forcing us to cancel and reschedule multiple times in the intervening years but we had finally made it and after walking up in our luxurious 5* hotel room at the Five Seas Hotel, we were excited to see what was on offer at our included breakfast.
Once up in the rooftop breakfast room, we were not disappointed as we were greeted enthusiastically by courteous staff, shown to a table with views across to the Cannes sign in Le Suquet district, poured fresh juices and handed a menu each. On our table already lay two baskets, one full of fresh bread – crusty chunks of white French stick and slices of a seeded bread – the other filled with delicious pastries. Further to this, the menu contained a wide range of options from cereals to cheeses and meats, fruit and hot, egg-based options. Not wanting to come across greedy, we ordered a selection of cheeses between us to eat with our bread and a cheese omelette each with a side of bacon. The staff seemed surprised that this was all we wanted so my friend added an order of the salmon to eat with her bread and I added a bowl of fruit to my order along with a pot of tea.
Waiting for our choices to arrive, we munched on the light, flaky Pain au Chocolate pastries. As each of our courses arrived, we were running out of room on our table. Everything that arrived was just as delicious as the course before it from the tasty selection of hard and soft cheeses to what we both agreed was the best cheese omelette we had ever tasted. The fruit salad that followed, full to the brim with fruits including apple, kiwi and pineapple finished it off perfectly.
We were on a schedule that morning having booked onto a walking tour of Nice, a 40-minute train ride from where we were staying in Cannes. With the Cannes train station being just a short stroll from our hotel, we had just enough time to return to our room and grab what we needed for the day before heading straight out.
At the station, the ticket machines were easy to navigate and the station platforms well-signposted. The train followed the coastline offering beautiful views of sandy beaches and blue seas as we made our way into Nice. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day with rain forecast later. Pulling into Nice station, we followed google maps to the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Medecin, from where it was about a 20 minute walk down to the seafront.
Arriving early for our tour, we took at stroll through Jardin de Albert 1er, a small urban park dotted with sculptures, and along the sea front where I was surprised by the bright blue colour of the sea, before making our way back to the Fontaine du Soleil meeting point.
After admiring the fountain, which is dedicated to Greek god Apollo, we followed our guide into Nice’s old town stopping to hear about the old sweet store, Henri Auer, and the Nice Opera House before continuing to Marche Aux Fleurs, a bustling market selling flowers and food. From here we made our way to Place du Palais de Justice, a square in the old town in front of the courthouse and then to Place Rosetti where Nice Cathedral stands.
Our guides then led us along some more of the winding, narrow old town streets until we were back out at the far end of the seafront. Here, we took an elevator up Colline du Chateau or Castle Hill where the Castle of Nice once stood. Now, the hill is parkland with a cafe, children’s playgrounds and beautiful views over Nice.
Unfortunately, the occasional drizzle had now turned to heavy showers but while the views did not look much like the blue-skied picture in a complimentary postcard we were given, it was still pretty spectacular and our guides explained that the bright turquoise colour of the sea was caused by large grey stones on its seabed.
After visiting three viewpoints on Castle Hill, one of which looked across to the port on the east side of the town, our tour came to an end leaving us to find our own way back down to the centre of Nice. Before taking the elevator back down, we took the short walk to see the man-made waterfall built into the hill and visible from the fountain we started at.
Back down on the seafront, the rain was getting heavier so we decided to shelter at one of the bars along the promenade ordering a few snacks to keep us going. The rain stopping again, we headed back out walking back through the old town and exploring more of its narrow streets lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.
Eventually, we ended up back out in the main town where we walked along Promenade du Paillon back to Fontaine du Soleil. With the rain once again getting heavier, we headed back into the old town and found a cafe to sit in and have drinks before looking for somewhere to eat dinner.
With Nice once being part of Italy before joining France, there is a heavy Italian influence in the restaurants there. We had passed many lovely looking restaurants in the old town over the course of the day but now found many of them to be closed until around 7pm – by which time we had to be making our way back to the train station – so unfortunately, we had to settle for one of the more touristy restaurants near to the market area.
After dinner, we started our walk back to the train station only for a heavy rainstorm to set in. We arrived at the station soaking wet and were glad when we got back to Cannes and our hotel to dry out and warm up! It was a shame the weather had not been on our side today but we had still enjoyed our trip to Nice and our walking tour of the city. We had one full day of our trip to the South of France left and planned to use it to visit Monaco and we were both hoping that the weather forecast for a return to sunshine the next day would be correct!
Way back in 2019, I was lucky enough to win an online competition I’d entered for a trip to the French Riviera. The prize consisted of a three-night break in a 5* hotel in Cannes, business class flights with British Airways, private transfers and spending money. Inviting one of my friends along as my plus one, we arranged the trip for the following April.
Spoilt for choice, we were given the pick of a range of luxury Cannes hotels and after a bit of googling, decided to go for the Five Seas hotel, a small, boutique hotel tucked away down a back street of Cannes rather than one of the larger hotels lining the sea front.
All set to go, things, of course, did not go to plan and with lockdowns and travel bans suddenly in place everywhere for the first half of 2020, we ended up having to cancel our plans.
Thankfully, the prize promoters were willing to honour the prize and, naively expecting things to have returned to normal within a few months, we rescheduled for September 2020. And then, with PCR testing, travel bans, lock downs etc etc still being a threat to travel abroad, we rescheduled again to April 2021. And then to September 2021. And then to April 2022.
We were beginning to wonder if we would ever make it there but it was fifth time lucky and the other weekend, we finally got to the point of packing our suitcases ready to head to Heathrow airport!
Even at this point, things were not plain sailing. We had booked an early afternoon flight back from Nice which would give us the morning in Cannes but just weeks before we were due to travel, the promoters informed us that this flight had been cancelled by BA and we had been put on a morning flight, our transfer from the hotel to the airport now scheduled for a disappointing 8.30am.
But being a freebie, we couldn’t really complain and we had at least booked the early morning flight into Nice giving us most of that day there to get to and explore Cannes.
Or at least that was the plan. With flight cancellations amongst other problems at UK airports being heavily in the news during the school Easter holidays, and BA often being mentioned as an airline cutting flights, I was keeping a close eye on the flights we were booked on.
On the Wednesday, just 2 days before we were due to fly on the Friday morning, and a day before we departed for London to stay in an airport hotel overnight, I happened to check on the status of our outbound flight only to see it listed as cancelled. Not only that but when we signed into the BA website, we had been bumped onto the 9pm flight which didn’t arrive in Nice until 00:05 Saturday morning.
Managing to get hold of the promoters, we came up with a plan to transfer onto the 9pm flight but on the Thursday night. We would then cancel our London airport hotel, instead booking a similarly priced hotel at Nice airport before transferring to our Cannes hotel on Friday morning as originally planned. It was a long night as we wondered if the promoters would successfully be able to arrange this with their flight providers but the next morning, just hours before we left for London, we got a phone call back saying it had all been arranged!
Since my friend and I were travelling from different parts of the UK, we’d decided to use our UK transfers allowance on trains instead of private transfers, opting to upgrade to first class in line with the theme of the weekend. Once in London, we used the tube to travel to the airport, deciding to put the remainder of the UK transfer money in with our spending money for Cannes.
After using the self-service bag drop off machines at Terminal 5, our business class tickets came with fast track security passes and we were soon in the departures lounge a full 3 hours before our flight was due to depart. We had done a bit of research on the airport lounges available to us and decided to follow the signs to the BA South Galleries Lounge.
We were surprised at how large the lounge was, with a range of seating options many next to a charge point for phones or laptops etc. Food was being served from a central kitchen and a variety of snacks including crisps, pretzels and biscuits lay at self-service areas alongside bar areas with champagne, wine, beers and soft drinks which were also all ‘help yourself’. Self-service hot drinks machines also sat in every section of the lounge so you never had far to walk to get what you wanted.
Finding a quiet, cosy corner to sit in, we scanned the QR code on the table to access the menu ordering the steak and ale pie with mash each before helping ourselves to drinks. Within minutes, our food was delivered to our table. We spend the next few hours eating our way through the menu and the tasty treats dotted around the lounge before deciding to take a walk to check out some of the other lounges available to us.
We ended up in the BA North Galleries Lounge, smaller version of the the South Galleries but with a better view of the runways so we spent some time sat watching the planes come in to land as the sun set until it was time to board.
Expecting to get just a snack on board as part of our business class ticket, we were surprised to find it was a full meal. I was quite pleased that neither of the choices – salmon or quinoa, were things I ate or I’d have probably eaten it despite being full from the offerings in the lounge. Instead, I politely declined, settling for drink.
Once at Nice airport, we quickly passed through immigration and collected our luggage before crossing the road to our hastily booked airport hotel. The room at the Campanile was cheap but cheerful and fine for the few hours we needed before our transfer to Cannes the next day.
The next morning, we were promptly met outside the hotel by our driver to take us to our Cannes hotel. Luggage taken off us and lifted into the car, doors held open for us and complimentary bottles of water placed before us, this was very different to our usual experience of dragging our luggage to the nearest station or shuttle stop, jumping on a busy train and trying to find our own way through an unfamiliar city to a budget hotel!
Instead, 45 minutes later, we pulled up at the door of the Five Seas Hotel. Before we could even undo our seatbelts, various staff members were surrounding the car emptying it of our luggage and holding doors open for us. As we walked into the foyer, we could see our luggage safely lined up against the wall waiting to be taken to our room.
We were greeted by a series of friendly faces, invited to take a seat on cosy furniture in the foyer and offered complimentary water or juices as someone checked us in. Despite it not even being 11am, we were then told our room was ready. Expecting to be given our room number, key and be sent on our way, we were surprised when we were instead led to the lift – which was called for us, doors held open when it arrived – and taken to our room, given a tour of its facilities and having all the hotel facilities explained to us.
The room was lovely with a free minibar containing snacks and soft drinks, a large bathroom and separate wardrobes amongst other features. Once settled in, we headed out to explore. We had a vague plan for the trip to try and see as much as possible of Cannes that day then to use the local trains to visit Nice, Monaco and Antibes on the other two days.
Making our way down to La Croisette, the long promenade, we strolled along the front for a bit before deciding to head back into the town to find some lunch. Here, we stumbled across Marche Forville, an indoor market which today was filled with various street food vendors. Grabbing some homemade bruschetta and a savoury pie to eat on the go, we continued to walk through the town, soon finding ourselves on the main high street.
After some window shopping, we returned to the seafront grabbing an ice cream from one of the many gelato vendors on offer before deciding to hop on to Le Petit Train de Cannes, a cute land train that takes tourists around the main parts of the town while a pre-recorded commentary plays.
The train took us down the far end of La Croisette, the commentary pointing out the many famous hotels which various celebrities have frequented over the years.
Much of La Croisette promenade looked like a construction site during our stay as the town raced to make itself presentable in time for the upcoming film festival and as we passed churned up pavement after churned up pavement, we wondered how it would ever be ready on time! Even some of the famous hotels and venues such as the iconic Carlton Hotel and the infamous Palm Club, were currently closed for renovations.
It was a shame the train didn’t have a hop on/off option like tourist buses but it was still fun to get a glimpse of the highlights of Cannes and learn something about what we were seeing.
The train did make one stop, at the top of the hill in Le Suquet district – the old town with winding, narrow roads and colourful houses – outside L’Eglise Notre-Dame d’Esperance. Given 10 minutes until we were told the train would depart for the rest of the tour, this was long enough to visit the church and walk up to the walled viewpoint for beautiful views across Cannes.
Hopping back onto the train at the sound of its bell being rang, we both agreed we would walk back to Le Suquet district after the tour and explore further so after we pulled up back at the seafront station, this is exactly what we did.
Finding a bar in one of the street’s there, we sat and had drinks, people watching for a while before continuing to wander, eventually finding ourselves back on the hilltop. With more time to spare, this time we walked up to the higher viewpoint by a sculpture of huge letters spelling out Cannes and then into the gardens of the neighbouring Musee de l’explorations du Monde before heading back downhill taking narrow street after narrow street until we happened to see the sea glistening in front of us.
Finding ourselves at the western end of the bay by the Port of Cannes, we strolled out along on of the jetties, looking back at the town and enjoying the views before walking back into town to look for somewhere to have dinner. Menus at the more touristy restaurants were not too badly priced although a bit more than I was used to and at over 20 euros each for a margarita pizza and soft drink, I was still glad we had been given spending money for our trip as part of the prize!
After dinner, we walked back to La Croisette and walked further east along the promenade as far as the Carlton Hotel. It was a nice evening and the sun was starting to set so we decided to look for somewhere outside to sit and have drinks. With the Carlton Hotel closed for renovations, its beach bar was open to all. Glancing at the over-priced menu, we immediately dismissed it and continued to walk before stopping and turning around. Being used to travelling on a budget, if this was our own money, there’s no way we’d ever consider visiting such an expensive bar but we’d been given spending money to live the life on this trip so we decided maybe, as a one off, we should just forget the cost of the drinks and go for the experience.
After taking seats on the cosy loungers on the beach, we perused the menu and ordered. There was a good atmosphere with mellow trance music being played from the main bar area and a few groups of people sat dotted around at the various tables or at the bar and it was nice to relax with drinks as the sun started to go down. The ambience was spoiled slightly by pigeons jumping onto our table and stealing the complimentary nuts we’d been brought with our drinks and we noticed other tables having a similar problem. While we sat, some of the bar’s patrons got up to walk along the jetty and take photos and once we’d finished our drinks, we decided to do the same.
Back at our hotel, we freshened up before visiting its rooftop bar. With prices not far off those at the Carlton Beach Bar, we didn’t stay for long but the service from the staff serving, like everything else at the hotel, was impeccable.
It’d been a fun first day in the South of France and after all the walking we were more than ready to take to our uber-comfy beds, ready to see what the next two days – which we planned to spend in Nice and Monaco – would bring.
After not travelling outside of the UK for 18 months, I was in need of some warm sunshine. So when my friend announced she had some work leave to use up and asked if anyone fancied a trip away, I suggested a February half term getaway. The destination was narrowed down considerably by our ‘minimum temperature of 20 degrees celsius’ requirement, our limited time constraints (it had to be 4-5 nights maximum) our budget and after a quick search of a few US cities such as Miami and LA and ruling them out when we saw the price, we decided the safest bet would be the Canary Islands.
Spontaneously deciding to take this trip just 6 weeks before our proposed departure dates, we booked at a time when an outdoor mask mandate existed across Spain and its islands and the various Canary Islands flitted between level 2 and level 4 Spanish restrictions (mainly meaning differing levels of curfews and capacities in bars and restaurants). As we booked, the rule was also in place in the UK that we’d have to take a PCR test upon return, isolating until we got a negative result. But we were hopeful at least some of these restrictions would be lifted by the time we flew.
We had no real preference on which Canary Island we visited – I had taken beach holidays on both Lanzarote and Fuerteventura in the past and my friend on both Tenerife and Gran Canaria but neither of us had really spent any time actually exploring the islands – so we were basically just looking for the best deal we could find with a package operator (we felt more protected booking this way rather than flights and hotels separately).
It didn’t take us too long to settle on a 5 night break to Lanzarote staying at an adults-only hotel in the resort of Costa Teguise on a bed and breakfast basis. Coincidentally, Costa Teguise was the resort I had stayed in on both of my previous trip to the island of Lanzarote for a Christmas trip 5-years earlier and many years ago as a teenager so I was familiar with the resort and knew it had what we wanted for a few days away.
Luckily, in the weeks leading up to our trip, the UK abandoned its PCR testing for vaccinated travellers on arrival back into the country giving us one less thing to worry about and the week before our departure, Spain got rid of its outdoor mask mandate. Still, after having so many of my trips cancelled or booked over the last 2 years and with working at a school – where Covid was a continuous problem – right up til the day before we departed, I refused to get my hopes up that the trip would go ahead.
Navigating our way through the slightly confusing passenger locator form for Spanish arrivals and downloading our QR code successfully, we were soon packed and ready to head to the airport. Everything ran smoothly at the airport and suddenly, we were on the plane ready to take off. After all this time, I could hardly believe it was actually happening!
We arrived at Arrecife Airport in Lanzarote about 4 hours later and got our coach transfer to our hotel. Masks had to be worn on public transport and when walking through the hotel to our rooms but we were more than fine with this as long as we didn’t need to wear them out and about. Our room was the same as any other Canarian aparthotel room I’d ever stayed in with a bedroom, lounge area and kitchenette and being on the third floor, we also had a balcony overlooking a local park.
It was dark by the time we were settled in but as I was familiar with the area, we took the short stroll to the coast path and walked along it into the main town to find something to eat. Although temperatures dropped in the evening, it was warm enough to just wear a light jacket or cardigan out. Choosing a bar to sit in, we ordered a pizza to share. We had hoped to see some live music which was advertised at the bar’s entrance but after waiting half an hour after it was supposed to start, we gave up and returned to our hotel for an early night, tired from all the travelling.
We awoke the next morning to glorious, warm sunshine and after enjoying a buffet breakfast at our hotel, ventured out to spend the day exploring Costa Teguise. Starting at Playa de los Charcos, the closest beach to our hotel, we made our way along the esplanade stopping to enjoy the views across the Atlantic Ocean. Walking along the main beach, Playa Cucharos, we then made our way along the headland and round to the pretty cove of Playa del Jabillo with its lagoon-like bright blue waters and then on to Playa Bastian.
Looping back around to the busy Playa del Jabillo, we stopped for a while to enjoy the sunshine, swim and eat our picnic lunch. After drying off, we walking to the main square Plaza Pueblo Marinero where we cooled down with drinks at one of its many bars before walking back down Avenida de las Islas Canarias to our hotel where we enjoyed the last of the day’s sunshine from our balcony.
That evening, we walked back into town and had dinner at one of the restaurants in the Square followed by crepes oozing with Nutella from a desserts’ stall. Failing to find any live music on anywhere again, we once again returned to our hotel for an early night in anticipation of our earlier start the next day.
Wanting to see more of Lanzarote than just the resort we were staying in, we had booked a full day coach tour of the island for the next day of our trip. We were up in time for the doors opening for breakfast so we could still get our fill before meeting our coach. Being just the second pick up of the day, we then spent the next hour sat on the coach driving through Costa Teguise and then Puerto del Carmen as we picked up the rest of the passengers. Once everyone was on board, we drove inland towards Timanfaya National Park.
After a pitstop for refreshments in a nearby village, our first main stop was at the camel park on the outskirts of the National Park where we had the option to take a camel ride through the volcanic landscape then it was on to a stop at Hilario, an area within the National Park where we watched demonstrations of the geothermal energy.
A restaurant at Hilario is built on top of one of the volcanoes and uses the heat from them to cook its food. We didn’t have time to eat there but did get to see the food cooking above the pits.
Back on the coach, we were given a tour of the National Park passing craters and fields of lava while the official park commentary was played to us.
We were scheduled to make a stop at El Golfo to see the Green Lagoon next but our guide explained that it was closed that day due to filming – Lanzarote’s dramatic landscape means it is used for lots of films including Marvel films such as Thor and The Eternals!
I was disappointed that we weren’t going to see the lagoon. Instead, we were taken to the Mancha Blanca, the National Park’s Visitor and Interpretation Centre on the outskirts of the park to learn more about the formation of the park.
Then it was on to our lunch stop at a restaurant in a small Canarian town where for an extra 10 euros we could help ourselves to the buffet food provided.
Our first afternoon stop was at a local vineyard where we got to sample some local wines and then it was on to a viewpoint at the northern end of the island. We were told that the views here are normally spectacular and reach across to La Graciosa, another of the Canary Islands, but unfortunately, a sandstorm from the Sahara had swept in, obscuring our view.
Our final stop of the day was at Jameos del Agua, where a sea cave and lava tube has been turned into a concert auditorium and gardens designed by Lanzarote-born Spanish artist, Cezar Manrique. Then it was back to Costa Teguise where, thankfully, we were one of the first drop offs.
Still full from making the most of the lunchtime buffet, we still walked into town that evening but rather than dinner at a restaurant, just went for drinks at some of the bars in the main Square.
After the glorious warm sunshine of the previous 2 days, we awoke on day 3 to clouds followed by heavy, but thankfully short, showers.
With the forecast suggesting the sun would come out for a few hours before more showers in the afternoon, we decided to spend the morning locally walking along the coast path and on the beach then to catch the bus to Arrecife, the island’s capital city, in the afternoon.
Catching the local bus was straightforward and it took around half an hour to reach Arrecife with all the stops along the way. Once there, we began to make our way along the promenade beginning at Parque Tematico with its ocean views and public art and past the main beach, Playa del Reducto.
Making our way past the resort’s iconic Gran Hotel – the only hotel on the island to exceed the now lawed 5-storey limit – we walked past Parque Jose Ramirez Cerda and out across the causeway to Castillo de San Gabriel, enjoying the views looking back towards the city.
With the clouds rolling in, we could see there was another storm heading our way so we quickly made our way back along the causeway to the esplanade just in time to take shelter in a nearby souvenir store where we waited for the rain to clear.
Once it had cleared, we decided to stroll through the main shopping area of the city so we could easily dodge inside a shop should the rain start again. Fortunately, the sun was soon shining again so after stopping to eat our picnic lunch we decided to return to the Gran Hotel and take a trip up to its 17th floor rooftop bar where we had drinks while enjoying the beautiful views across the island.
Then it was back to the bus station to catch the bus back to Costa Teguise where, later that evening, we took our now traditional stroll into town for dinner and to search once again for live music, tonight, actually finding some at an American bar!
We had just one day of our holiday left and decided to spend it visiting another of the island’s popular resort towns, Puerto del Carmen. Catching the same bus that we had caught to Arrecife, it took about an hour to reach the resort.
Exiting the bus at the top end of the resort, we first took a stroll towards the neighbouring, and quieter, Playa de los Pocillos, before returning to the busy Puerto del Carmen ‘strip’, the 2-mile stretch running parallel to the beach lined with a multitude of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. Reaching the southern end of the strip, we crossed the road to Playa Grande, the resort’s main beach to rest our feet, relax in the sunshine for a while and eat our picnic lunch.
After lunch, we walked into Puerto del Carmen’s old town and down to the Old Town Harbour where we cooled down with drinks from a bar overlooking the marina before returning to the main strip, this time taking the coastal path past the small, pretty cove of Playa Chica and back to Playa Grande where we once again spent some time relaxing on the golden sands.
Soon, it was time to catch the bus back to Costa Teguise. With the one-way traffic system along the strip, it took us a while to locate the return bus stop at the top of a hill behind the main town. Despite the local bus app telling us a bus was due in the next 10 minutes, we waited over half an hour, arriving back in Costa Teguise an hour later.
That evening was our last on holiday and we once again walked up to the main square, having dinner at an Italian restaurant followed by more crepes! Walking back along the seafront, we stopped at a cocktail bar along the way for some final drinks before returning to our hotel.
With a few hours before our transfer back to the airport the next day, we made the most of the buffet breakfast before relaxing by the pool in the warm sunshine. It had been a well-needed and long-overdue sunshine break and, for me at least, had felt like a bit of normality after so long without travelling. And with a few more trips abroad planned for the rest of the year, I’m hopeful that they too will be able to go ahead.
Wanting a winter break by the coast for myself, my parents and their dog, Lily, we didn’t really have any specific place in mind so were just looking to find a reasonable deal somewhere. Happy to stay in a static caravan, lodge or cottage, we eventually plumped for a break with Darwin Escapes staying in a lodge in Dorset. Although not right on the coast, their Wareham Forest site was a 10 minute drive from the beaches in Poole and no more than a half hour drive in either direction from coastal towns including Bournemouth, Swanage, Lulworth and Weymouth. The site promised seclusion and peace and quiet with none of the usual club houses etc you’d find on many of the other chain holiday parks and there were plenty of country parks, woodlands and countryside walks nearby should we tire of the beach.
With a later than normal check in time of 4pm, we set out from our Midlands base early afternoon arriving in the dark down the not-at-all-well-lit country roads. We were more than pleasantly surprised by the cosy lodge which met us and after unloading our car, immediately switched off into holiday mode.
That evening, we drove the short distance into Upton for fish and chips before relaxing back at the lodge in front of the television and flame effect fire.
On our first full day in Dorset, we opted to drive the short distance to the nearest beach to the holiday park. Lake Beach is one of Poole’s beaches, situated on the shores of Poole Harbour. We parked on the car park by the old pier from where we had the choice of walking across the beach or taking a path through the dunes behind leading to Ham Common.
With Lily itching to get in the water, we strolled along the pretty stretch of beach to begin with. As the beach tapered off, the tide hitting the cliffs and eventually stopping us from walking any further, we followed the steps leading up to the coast path turning left at the top to walk towards Ham Common viewpoint.
While it was possible to continue around the Haven Holiday Park ahead of us and pick up the coast path again on the other side, we instead decided to loop around back to the Lake Beach car park, this time walking along the coast path rather than back along the beach. The path took us past a large lake – perhaps the lake the beach is named after, before curving back towards the old Lake Beach Pier and we arrived back at the car park just in time for a picnic lunch.
After lunch sat inside our car, we drove the short distance down the road to Hamworthy Beach. The beach was backed by a large public park with playing fields, a play area, paddling pool (closed of course for the season!) and cafe.
After giving Lily a run round on the playing fields, we headed down the the beach. The wooden breakers along the sands and unfortunate placing of the steps to access the beach meant we couldn’t walk in one continuous end to end stroll along the beach so we instead made do with a walk along the promenade past the colourful beach huts, occasionally stepping down onto the sands whenever Lily decided she wanted another splash in the sea! Then, reaching Poole Yacht Club at the far end of the beach, we turned around and walked back through the park to the car park.
It was now late afternoon so after stopping to grab some groceries, we decided to drive back to our lodge where we spent another evening relaxing.
Day 2, we decided to drive a bit further and take a trip to Weymouth. The site of many a happy family holiday as a child in the early ’90s, I had returned to the popular resort just once since for a flying visit 10 years earlier so I was looking forward to returning once more.
Realising we were travelling into the town the route we used to take and past one of the holiday parks we used to stay at in Osmington, we decided to pull over at a view point for Dorset’s famous White Horse – a figure cut into the limestone of the hills – something I loved to stop and see as a child.
Disappointingly, we found the figure to be more the green and muddy horse than the white horse. I guess the figure is not kept in its bright white state out of the holiday season!
Driving past the pebbly north end of Weymouth’s seafront, we parked near the old Pier Bandstand from where we could easily reach the long, sandy stretch of beach – much better for Lily’s paws! – we walked right the way along to Weymouth Pavilion in the distance.
From here, we took a stroll around the picturesque harbour, reminiscing about some of the now long gone attractions we had visited here many years ago over tea and cake at one of the harbourside cafes.
Taking a slow stroll back along the promenade to the car, we sat and had a late lunch before driving back to the lodge for a lazy late afternoon.
The next day we drove to Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic Coast wanting to see both the small horseshoe cove there and the popular Durdle Door a bit further along the coast. We parked at the large and rather expensive car park at Lulworth’s visitor centre and took the short stroll down through the pretty village to the beach.
With the tide in, there wasn’t much beach to walk along so we instead followed the coast path up towards Stair Hole.
There were great views of Lulworth Cove from the path from where you could really get a better sense of the curvature of the bay and when we reached Stair Hole, just a short way up, it was fun to watch the waves crashing through the rocks.
We followed the coast path a bit further towards Dungy Head but with my parents struggling with the muddy paths, decided to turn back to the car park. Seeing the signposted path to Durdle Door leading up and over a rather large, steep hill, I realised my parents were not going to cope with the walk there and back again so we instead drove the short distance there, paying another rather steep fee to park in the car park nearby.
From the car park there was still a bit of a walk to the Durdle Door viewpoint but the clifftop path was more gently sloping so taking our time, we were able to all make it there and back. The views of both Man o’ War Beach and Durdle Door itself were really pretty although Durdle Door did really remind me of the Green Bridge of Wales in Pembrokeshire.
Swanage was our destination the following day, somewhere none of us had visited before so we were unsure what to expect. We arrived to rainy weather and parked up on a car park next to a sports field and just a short walk from the sea front. It was a good job Lily had chosen to have a run around on the playing field as we found the sea to be rapidly coming in leaving very little beach for us to walk on.
Heading north, we began our walk along what beach was left until we eventually had to climb the steps up onto the path behind the sands, leading past more colourful beach huts. We soon came to a private section of beach where, during the summer months, dogs are not allowed, but as it was out of season, we could continue further along. Soon, the path tapered off as we reached a cliff-lined section of beach. With the tide still racing in, we decided to turn around and walk back in the other direction.
Reaching the cafe we had started our beach-walk from, the rain started to fall harder so we decided to return to the car for a picnic inside, sheltered from the rain before driving down to Swanage town where we parked up to take another walk.
From the town, we walked back down towards the beach where the sea now covered the sands completely and the waved slammed against the sea wall.
We walked south along the promenade towards Swanage Pier and Harbour then followed the signposts along the coast path towards Peveril Point, reaching a pretty cliff top area looking out to sea.
The coastguard lookout house was perched nearby and information boards around it detailed wrecks and disasters that had occurred nearby.
After looping around the cliff top, keeping well back from the cliff edge, we walked back into the town and its quaint high street lined with independent stores, cafes and bakeries. We couldn’t resist buying a delicious looking cake each from one of the bakeries before driving back to our woodland lodge to eat it alongside a warming cup of tea!
With just 2 full days left in the area, we still had a long list of places to visit, both coastal and inland. After Lily had missed out on getting much beach time the previous day, we decided to drive to the popular seaside resort of Bournemouth which we knew had a good stretch of sandy beach no matter what the tide was doing.
With it being out of season, we managed to park up right on the seafront, saving my parents a walk down the cliffs to reach the beach. Starting towards the Boscombe end of the beach, not far from Boscombe Pier, we walked in the direction of Bournemouth, Lily having the time of her life running around the beach chasing her ball, diving into the waves to chase sticks and meeting and greeting plenty of other dogs out for a stroll along the way.
Walking against the wind, and stopping regularly as Lily played, we didn’t get as far as we were planning and as the rain once again started to fall, we decided to return to the car. After lunch, we gave Lily another quick stroll, this time walking towards Boscombe and under the pier and back before driving back.
With one last day left in Dorset, there was one place we’d hoped to visit that we’d not yet made it to – Sandbanks. Situated between the towns of Poole and Bournemouth, Sandbanks is known as the home of the rich and sometimes famous. Driving in, we passed huge houses backing onto the beach or overlooking the marina full of expensive-looking boats.
It was the weekend and reaching the beach car park, it seemed like everyone in the area had had the same idea to visit that day!
The pretty stretch of beach was too busy to give Lily much of a run around on but we walked sown towards the shore and gave her a paddle in the sea before weaving our way through the crowds to walk along the golden sands.
After lunch, we decided to drive the short distance back to Bournemouth which although still busy, had a lot more room as there was more beach for people to spread out along. Lily once again had lots of fun racing around after her ball and burning off some excess energy before it was time to once more return to our cabin.
Despite the cold, wintry weather, it had been fun to spend some time exploring the Dorset coast and with plenty more to see and lots of walks along the coast path to do, I hoped to return sometime soon.
Liverpool was one of those UK cities I’d been to multiple times but never really seen anymore than my hotel room and the concert arena due to always being short on time. Visiting again on a pre-Christmas concert break, I was determined that this time would be different. Despite having just the one night in the city, we had made plans to drive up early so we could have most of the day exploring the city.
Arriving too early to check in at our hotel near the docks, we dropped our bags off and walked straight into the city centre.
Our first stop was at Liverpool One, the city’s large outdoor mall for a spot of shopping. The mall has all the usual high street stores and a range of well-known restaurants on its top level. After working up an appetite shopping, that was exactly where we headed, settling on Zizzi Italian restaurant a pizza and pasta lunch.
After lunch we wandered further into the city towards the Cavern Quarter. Passing the city’s famous Hard Days Night Hotel (where I’d had an excellent afternoon tea on a previous visit to the city!), we found our way to Matthew Street, home of historic live music venue, The Cavern Club.
Turning into the street, we were met by themed bar after themed bar and with the Cavern Pub and Cavern Restaurant also bearing the famous bar’s name, it took us a while to work out which venue was the one we were looking for!
Finally spotting the Cavern Bar’s entrance across the street, we paid our £5 entrance fee and began our walk down the staircase to the basement, stopping to view some of the pictures lining the walls showing some familiar (and in some cases unexpected) faces who had performed there over the years. The bar was a lot smaller than I’d expected it to be with low ceilings and stone walls. We spent a bit of time looking around finding a larger, more open room with a stage at the back of the venue and a smaller but busier room at the front.
Memorabilia from the Beatles’ career as well as from other famous rock and pop acts covered the walls and a gift store sold a range of Beatles and Liverpool-themed souvenirs while Beatles’ hits were performed by live acts in each room.
After buying drinks from the bar, we found a free table in the smaller room. The structure of the room with its archways and stone pillars meant there wasn’t a clear view of the stage from many of the tables but video screens dotted around showed a view of the stage and it didn’t matter too much anyway as there was such a great atmosphere as everyone sang along to the Beatles’ and other popular 1960s’ hits.
Highlights of the afternoon included mass singalongs to Let It Be and Hey Jude and after the latter, the singer took a well-earned break. We decided that was our cue to leave having spent a lot longer there than we had planned to!
Before heading off to explore more of the city, we stopped to get photos with the sculpture of John Lennon outside the Cavern Pub and then went on a search for the Cilla Black sculpture. Unable to find it where google maps said it should be, we stopped to ask a local who informed us it had been temporarily removed for renovation. Guess we’ll have to return to see that one another time.
We’ll also have to return to visit the Beatles Museum. Spending longer than planned in the Cavern Club meant we didn’t have time for this, or any other, museum.
Retracing our steps back through the Cavern Quarter and through Liverpool One, we made our way towards Liverpool’s docks area. Passing Salthouse Dock, we walked along Hartley Quay, past the Maritime Museum and towards the Tate Liverpool where a giant colourful sculpture stood aloft outside.
It was now early evening and after stopping for windswept photos beside Albert Dock, we took a stroll around it passing the currently quiet cafes, bars and restaurants. With the winter sun already going down, the dock was lit up with lots of twinkly lights. We were hoping to end our day with a ride on the Wheel of Liverpool, the city’s equivalent of the London Eye but despite it being a Friday evening and the city filling up with weekend visitors, it was closed.
So instead, after enjoying the sunset views across the River Mersey, we returned to our nearby hotel to get ready for our concert over at the M & S Bank Arena at King’s Dock.
It had been a brief but fun trip to the city and it was nice to finally spend some time there being a tourist but there was so much more to see and do and I’m really looking forward to returning.
While staying on the outskirts of Bangor to visit the nearby Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, we decided to take a day out from our National Park activities to instead drive across the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey.
Having never visited this part of Wales before, we’d done a bit of research on places to visit on the island and had a long list of stops which we knew we couldn’t possibly get through in one day. Without an exact itinerary, we drove across the Britannia Bridge into Anglesey to see where the day would take us. We’d certainly chosen the right day as the sun was shining and the sky overhead was bright blue!
Our first stop was our one definite ‘must do’ photo opportunity of the day in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch!! This town has the longest place name in the World and after parking up at the train station we had a lot of fun trying to pronounce it using the helpful phonetically written out signs dotted around to help us. After a quick look around the souvenir store next door, it was back in the car to decide where to head to next.
With it still being early, we decided to drive right across to the west side of the island to try and beat the crowds at South Stack Lighthouse, just outside of the town of Holyhead. Managing to grab a parking space on the second closest car park, we were glad we’d decided to make this our next stop as we watched cars who’d followed us have to circle the car park and leave to park further out. As expected, the carpark wasn’t cheap so we paid the lowest rate which allowed us an hour’s stay. We didn’t plan to go into the lighthouse or even into the visitors’ centre so we figured this would be enough time to walk to a lighthouse viewpoint and back.
We followed a a path out from the back of the car park turning right towards the lighthouse. Soon we were on the Anglesey coast path enjoying pretty coastal views down towards the lighthouse. We spent a while taking photos, enjoying the scenery and wandering along the various paths to get different views. Then, with a bit of time on our parking ticket still left, we retraced our steps and then followed the coast path in the other direction for a while for more beautiful views.
Next we drove the short distance back towards Holyhead to Breakwater Country Park. From here, it was possible to access the coast path again and we followed it in the direction of Holyhead, the marina there soon coming into view. With the sun still shining down on us, the views along the coast path were really beautiful and when we turned back, we realised we’d inadvertently walked a lot further than we’d thought we had! Back at the country park, we grabbed our picnic lunch from the car and sat out on a bench overlooking a pretty duck-filled pond to eat it.
Deciding not to stop in Holyhead itself, we continued north-east next following the coast to the next bay, Cemaes Bay. Unfortunately, with it now being the busiest part of the day and with everyone making the most of the sunshine and rushing to the beaches, we were unable to find a parking spot so had to drive on.
The same happened at the next spot, Bull Bay where all the on-road parking spots were taken and car parks full. Wondering if this was going to be the case for the rest of the day now, we continued our drive. Spotting a large lay-by area at the top of the hill just outside of Bull Bay, we decided to pull in to look at the map and decide where to head next. We were excited to find an ice cream stand in the lay-by so we bought an ice cream each and sat enjoying the view for a while.
We decided to try one more of the places we had listed along this stretch of coast, the next town along, Almwych, and this time we were lucky. Here we found a much quieter (and free!) car park by the port.
Following the road out of the car park alongside the port and past the Copper Kingdom attraction, we picked up the coast path by the cliff top Y llofft Cafe and began to walk in the direction of Point Lynas. The views, with the sun shining down on the glistening, clear blue sea and the wild flowers blooming, were stunning. Not having time to walk all the way to Point Lynas and back, we turned around after a while and retraced our steps back to Almwych Port.
It was now late afternoon and we needed to start to make our way back towards the town of Menai Bridge where we had a dinner reservation booked at a US-style BBQ restaurant. We had time for one more stop and decided to make our way towards Beaumaris. Instead of stopping in the town itself, we chose instead to make another coastal stop at Llandona Beach.
Following the signposts and sat nav directions we found ourselves on a narrow, winding road with a rather steep descent down to the beach. Hoping we wouldn’t meet a car driving towards us in the other direction, we slowly made our way down eventually reaching a flatter road leading to the car park. Arriving late enough that parking charges no longer applied, we parked up and made our way through the dunes onto the pretty stretch of sand.
After a stroll along the beach, we made our way back to the car and back up the steep hill to drive to Menai Bridge for dinner before making our way back across the bridge to the mainland.
It had been a whistle-stop tour of the Isle of Anglesey but we’d really enjoyed our day and I’d definitely like to return and explore more!
Following on from visits to Brecon Beacons National Park and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, we travelled north to the third and final Welsh National Park of our summer road trip, Snowdonia. Like the Pembrokeshire park, this was a park I was somewhat familiar with having vacationed near Barmouth at the southern end of the park a few times with my family and dog in the past! I had not ventured any further than the beaches close by to here though in all the times I had visited so was looking forward to explore the park more.
After a pleasant drive following the coast road from the northern end of Pembrokeshire up and through Aberystwyth and other Welsh seaside towns, we crossed into Snowdonia National Park early afternoon, driving through a mountain pass and up through a very busy Barmouth.
Continuing on, we stopped in the town of Harlech, famous for its castle. We were here to see another sight which had put this town on the map though – the World’s Steepest Street. Or at least, at this point in time, the World’s former Steepest Street as the accolade had recently been given back to the city of Dunedin in New Zealand.
A sign still stood proudly at the top of Ffordd Pen Llech, as if the challenge from the New Zealand street had never happened and tourists were queuing up to take photos with it. Few of them though, were taking on the challenge of walking down the street and, of course, back up again.
Bravely, or stupidly, though, this is exactly what we did. The initial gradient of the street was deceivingly a comfortable decline but as the road turned around a corner, we began to feel it on our knees and knew the climb back up was not going to be a breeze after all. Making it to the end of the street, we turned around and began our walk back up. Reaching the steepest section, we were glad of a breather as we stood to the side to let a brave driver slowly weave down past us, then it was onwards and upwards, still out of breath from the climb. Making it to the top, we were proud of our achievement but worried for our chances of reaching the top of Mount Snowdon if we’d found even this a challenge!!
Back at the top of Ffordd Pen Llech and in the centre of Harlech town, we took photos of the castle ruins before rewarding ourselves with an ice cream at the busy parlour across the road. Then we drove to our guesthouse accommodation, in a farmhouse not far from Portmaddog.
The following morning we were up early for breakfast before driving the short distance to the town of Llanberis, home of Mount Snowdon. Unsure about what the weather would be like – not to mention our levels of fitness! – we had prebooked seats on the Snowdon Mountain Railway. Usually, the train runs to and from the summit of Mount Snowdon but with Covid regulations in force, its final stop was currently three quarters of the way up the mountain at Clogwyn. We had bought a return journey ticket but, as long as the weather conditions were ok, planned to walk to the summit from this point and then the whole way down Snowdon.
With the weather at the base of Snowdon blue skies with the odd cloud, we were hopeful we would be able to hike to the summit. Arriving at Clogwyn though, we were met mainly by thick cloud. Still, it was dry and there were no forecasts of storms so after explaining to the train driver that we’d be walking rather than using our return train ticket, we set off following the other hikers up the Llanberis Path.
The Llanberis Path is the easiest, but longest way to the summit of Snowdon. Just before the summit, it meets with the rest of the paths with everyone following the same final stretch. Before embarking on our hike, we were warned by the train driver to pay careful attention at the point the paths met so we knew exactly which trail to follow back down the mountain and didn’t end up on a more treacherous or difficult path. We were told that alternatively, we could just follow the rail track down from the summit back to Clogwyn as this wasn’t currently being used by the trains.
Even just walking the last quarter of the Llanberis path to the summit was not easy. The path was often steep and loose rocks and shale made it trickier to navigate. I’d bought walking poles with me especially for this hike and was glad I had them to support me. The cloud thickened the further we went and we soon found ourselves dripping wet from walking through it despite it not actually raining.
As we neared the summit, there was a queue of people waiting to have their photos taken with the Cairn at the highest point while others decided to push their way straight to the top, climbing up the rocks rather than waiting in the line. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the top. There was no view but we took photos with the cairn as proof we’d made it. Unfortunately, we didn’t feel we got to savour the moment as we felt under pressure to get our photos and get out of the way to make room for the next group in the queue, some of whom were already climbing up next to us.
Carefully making our way down from the summit back to the path, we decided to take the train driver’s advice and follow the train tracks back down to Clogwyn rather than the much steeper path. Many other hikers had decided to do the same so we were able to just follow other groups of hikers. Back at Clogwyn, we found somewhere to sit for lunch before following the path all the way back to Llanberis town.
As we made our way down the mountain, the cloud started to clear again revealing pretty views of glacial lakes. For the most part, the descent was easier than our climb up the final quarter of the path to the summit although the final section into the town was so steep we wondered how we would ever have succeeded walking the whole way up – we’d have been exhausted just a fraction of the way in to our climb!!
We were relieved to make it back into town and after a quick look around the gift shop for a souvenir or two, we walked back to our car (wishing that we’d parked a bit closer than we had!) and drove back to our hotel via a stop in Caenarfon for dinner.
We awoke the next day to aching legs but made it up and out in time to make our reserved ticket slot to visit Portmeirion village. This was one of those places I had passed many times on visits to North Wales and often had my parents tell me how pretty it was and that I should visit so I was excited to finally make it there.
Despite being in Wales, Portmeirion was built in the style of a village in the Italian Riviera. An entrance fee has to be paid to gain access unless you are staying in one of the on site hotels or have a meal or afternoon tea booked at one of the restaurants there. As part of its Covid restrictions, advance bookings were recommended which meant we were left to hope it would be nice weather on the day we had picked. Unfortunately, we arrived to dark clouds which soon became heavy rain.
As we’d arrived early, we were able to stroll around and explore the village before it got too busy. It didn’t take long to look around and if the weather had been better, it would have been nice to take our time a bit more and stop to have tea and cake at one of the cafes there. With its Italian-based design though, a lot of the cafes and restaurants in the village had mainly outdoor seating and with the heavy rain, the parasols and small marquees erected to cover these areas were not able to keep them very dry.
Instead, we walked along the village’s coast path, enjoying the views over the estuary then followed the path up and into the woodlands. After seeing the Japanese Garden, Dog Cemetery and Dancing Tree, we decided to call our visit day and move on.
Having expected our visit to Portmeirion to take up most of the day but finding it wasn’t even midday yet, we were at a bit of a loss for what to do with our afternoon. After consulting the map, we decided to drive to the village of Beddgelert where the National Park Visitors Centre was to try and get some ideas.
Parking up in the village, we walked to the Visitors Centre to find it closed for lunch! The town looked pretty though so we decided to grab an ice cream and take a walk down by the river.
A map by the river showed a variety of circular walks of different lengths that could be taken in the area. We decided to do a loop down one side of the river, across a bridge and back up the other side however, upon reaching the bridge, we didn’t feel we’d gone very far at all so instead decided to continue along the riverside path a bit further.
As we continued, the flat, wide path narrowed and became stonier until at points we found ourselves having to scramble up rocks and edge our way along narrow riverside ledges to continue along it.
Unsure where we were actually heading, we got talking to some other people who were following the path who told us it eventually came out at a National Trust car park with toilets at which point you could either retrace your steps back to Bedgelert or pick up another longer trail.
It was certainly an adventure getting there and we’d enjoyed the river walk with its waterfalls along the way. Eventually arriving at the car park, we decided to turn back and follow the path back to Beddgelert. Arriving back, we found the Visitor Centre now open so after a quick look around and more souvenir buying, we drove back up to Bangor where we’d be checking into the last hotel of our trip.
The following day we drove back into the National Park to Conwy Falls Park, just outside of the popular town of Betws-y-Coed. After parking up, we grabbed breakfast (and some change) from the cafe overlooking the carpark before paying the small admission fee to go through the turnstile gate into the park.
Here, we followed the one-way path down to a viewpoint of Conwy Falls before trekking back up to the car park and driving into Betws-y-Coed itself.
Parking by the river, we took a stroll through the riverside path and up into the woods following a well-marked circular path before sitting on one of the many picnic benches in the wood to eat lunch.
Then we followed signposts through the town towards Sapper Suspension Bridge, a bridge built across the Conwy River in the 1930s. After tentatively bouncing our way across and back again, we explored the town a bit more stopping to grab some delicious cakes from a local bakery.
With the sun shining, we decided to leave the National Park for the afternoon and drive up to the coast. We arrived in Llandudno early afternoon and enjoyed a leisurely hour or so strolling along the promenade and along the pier before eating fish and chips overlooking the sea.
That evening, after an early dinner, we drove the short distance to Penrhyn Quarry, site of one of Wales’ multiple Zip World attractions and home of Velocity 2 – the fastest (and formerly longest) zipline in the World.
This was something we’d wanted to experience for a while and had been disappointed to find it sold out for the entirety of our North Wales stay when we went to book. Luckily, after regularly checking the website, we eventually managed to get some cancellation tickets a few days before.
After checking in, all the riders in our times lot were decked out in safety gear – overalls, harnesses and a helmet – ready to fly; and after a safety talk and instructions on how to ride (arms lodged behind our back), we were taken to a practise zip which was pretty exciting in itself and a lot of fun. Then we clambered aboard a 4-wheel drive van and were driven along the long, winding road to the top of quarry.
It was a sunny, blue-skied evening and the views from the top over the quarry and across Snowdonia were so beautiful that we deliberately hung back in the queue for our go on the zipline so that we could spend more time admiring them.
When it was our turn, I was more excited than nervous as we were clipped into place. Then, following a countdown in Welsh, we were released to fly down, head-first, over the quarry. It was an exhilarating experience, it definitely felt as fast as it was and the ride was long enough that I felt I did have time to take it all in.
This was the most expensive experience on our trip but absolutely worth it and it was something I’d love to do again someday!
The next day, the penultimate day of our trip, we took a day off from Snowdonia National Park and instead, headed across the Menai Strait to spend the day on the Isle of Anglesey (post coming soon).
The following day, it was time to wave goodbye to Wales for a while but not before a couple of more stops. First up, a stop just outside the National Park – the town of Conwy where we admired its well-preserved castle and passed by Britain’s Smallest House.
Then, as we headed back to England and the Midlands, it was time for our last stop in Snowdonia National Park, Bala Lake. Parking up in Bala town, we followed signposts out of the car park along a country lane and along a public footpath down to the lake.
Enjoying the pretty views across the large expanse of water, we followed the lakeside path down to the busy watersports centre where families sat picnicking on the lakeshore, children splashed in the shallows and kayakers paddled out into the distance.
Then we walked back into town and began our drive back to England along the Milltir Cerrig, a mountain pass road with amazing views.
It had been a fun few weeks seeing a bit more of Wales and its stunning National Parks and I knew it wouldn’t be long before I returned.