A day in Monaco…

… and an evening in Antibes

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.

View of Monaco

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!

The Prince’s Palace, Monaco

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.

Crowds gathering for the Changing of the Guard

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 Palace of Justice and Monaco Cathedral either side of Rue d’Eglise
The Palace of Justice

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.

Above, Monaco Cathedral, and below, wandering through Jardins de Sant-Martin

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.

Public toilets, Monaco-style!

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.

Above, and below, super yachts and views at the Monaco marina

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!!

Designer stores in Monte Carlo

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.

Outside the Casino of Monte Carlo

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.

The infamous Fairmont Hairpin bend of the Monaco Grand Prix race track

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.

The city gates, part of the city ramparts

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.

Walking along the city ramparts – view of Plage de la Gravette

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.

Above, the Picasso Museum, and below, Antibes Cathedral

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.

Visiting the South of France – a day trip to Nice

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.

The bright blue sea

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.

Fontaine de Soleil

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.

Above, Nice Opera House, and below, my travel mascot, Mr Ted, visits the old sweet shop, Henri Auer

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.

Enjoying views from Castle Hill

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.

Above, and below, the man-made waterfall on Castle Hill

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 at the seafront

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.

Place Massena, the square that is home to Fontaine du Soleil

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!

A 5* weekend in the South of France

Cannes

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.

In the BA lounge at Heathrow awaiting our flight

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.

Drinks on offer in the lounge

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.

Above, a late night arrival in Nice, and below, transferring to our luxury hotel the next morning

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!

Strolling along La Croisette in Cannes

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.

At the market

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.

Above, down by the beach in Cannes, and below, on a hilltop in Le Suquet district enjoying the views

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!

Back in Le Suquet admiring the views

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.

The Cannes sign in Le Suquet district

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.

Resting from the steep walk up to the hilltop viewpoint

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.

Back down by the sea front

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.

Down by the beach

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.

Above, the famous Carlton Hotel, and below, drinks at its rather pricey beach club

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.

Passing by Palais des Festivals, site if the Cannes Film Festival

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!

Posing on the red carpet

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.

Ending the evening at our hotel’s rooftop bar

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.

A Winter Sun Break in Lanzarote

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.

Arriving in Lanzarote

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).

Above, and below, at Playa de los Charcos

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.

A walk along the coast at Costa Teguise

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.

Looking down on Playa de las Cucharos

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!

The waves crashing in, and below down by Playa del Jabillo

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.

Above, and below, dinner followed by crepes for dessert

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.

Above, and below, at the camel park near Timanfaya National Park

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.

Above, volcanic landscape at Timanfaya National Park, and below, watching the geothermal demonstrations at the 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.

Food cooking over the volcano

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.

Visiting a local winery

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.

Above, and below, at Jameos del Agua

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.

Above, rain and sunny spells

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.

Above, scultpure in Costa Teguise, and below, in Arrecife

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.

Above, and below, by Castillo de San Gabriel in Arrecife

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.

Above, and below, at the 17th floor bar of the Gran Hotel, Arrecife

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.

Dinner at an American bar in Costa Teguise

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!

A day in Puerta del Carmen

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.

At Playa de los Pocillos

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.

Above, by the marina, and below on Playa Grande

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.

Back in Costa Teguise

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.

Dinner in the Square

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.

A Winter Break in Dorset

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.

Lily settles into her cabin home for the week

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.

The pretty beach

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.

Cliffs backing the beach

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.

Lake Pier in the distance

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.

Lake Beach Pier

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.

The White Horse of Osmington

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!

Above, and below, visiting Weymouth

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.

On the beach at Lulwoth Cove

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.

Views at Stair Hole

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.

Walking on the coast path near Durdle Door

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.

Beautifulcoastline near Durdle Door

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.

Swanage Pier

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.

Swanage Harbour

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.

Looking back towards Swanage from the coast path near Peveril Point

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.

The coast guard lookout hut at Peveril Point

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!

On the beach at Bournemouth

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.

Visiting the beach at Sandbanks

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.

A busy Sandbanks Beach

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.

A Liverpool City Break

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.

Road trip to Liverpool!

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.

Liverpool One shopping centre

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!

Inside the Cavern Club

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.

The main stage at the Cavern Club

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!

Above, and below, down by the docks and the Liverpool Tate

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.

Albert Dock and the Wheel of Liverpool behind it

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.

The view across the Mersey from Kings Dock

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.

A Day on the Isle of Anglesey

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.

Attempting to pronounce the longest place name in the World

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!

South Stack Lighthouse

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.

On the coast path at Breakwater Country Park

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.

Above, and below, views from the coast path at Breakwater Country Park

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.

Looking out from a viewpoint towards Bull Bay

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.

On another coastal walk- from Almwych Port

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.

Above, an below, pretty views from the coast path

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.

Visiting Llandona Beach

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.

Llandona Beach near Beaumaris

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!

Revisiting Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Part 3

We were midway through a road trip taking in the three Welsh National Parks and after visiting the Brecon Beacons, we had spent the last few days in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. Basing ourselves just outside of the park near the town of Narberth, we’d taken trips out to Skomer Island, walked alpacas, revisited some of our favourite parts of the South Pembrokeshire coast and taken a trip to St Davids, the UK’s smallest city, and its surrounds.

With two final days left to spend in the park, we decided to drive out towards the seaside town of Dale, somewhere I had not visited for more than a decade. I remember being less than impressed on my last visit, mainly because the pretty beach looked out across to the Pembrokeshire Power Station pumping clouds of smoke out into the sky. But I thought being older, maybe I’d appreciate the village more now.

Walking along the coast path towards St Ann’s Head

Arriving at Dale, we parked up along the road behind the beach. Although visible looking out t sea, the power station was a lot less imposing than I recalled and didn’t spoil the prettiness of the place as much as I had remembered. Across the road from the beach were a few cafes and hire shops, all busy with customers as lunch time approached.

While the weather wasn’t sunbathing weather, there were still a few people strolling along the beach and plenty of surfers and windsurfers around.

Above, and below, more views walking towards St Ann’s Head

After a quick stroll on the beach, we sat on a bench overlooking the bay to have a cup of tea and picnic lunch before driving on to the next stop along the coast path, St Ann’s Head. We parked up in the free National Trust Kete Car Park, the sight of a former military base. Picking up a leaflet from under the car park’s information board, we followed the instructions to walk through along the public footpath through farmland and out onto the coast path. Here we were met but beautiful views of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm Islands.

The leaflet mapped out a short circular walk cutting back through the farmland to the car park before reaching St Ann’s Head itself but the coastal walk was so pretty, we decided to continue along the coast path further. Soon the lighthouse at St Ann’s Head was in view. Once we reached it, we followed the road leading away from the coast half a mile back to Kete Car Park.

The next day was our final day in the park and we decided to drive to the north of the park towards Cardigan then work our way back down the coast where we’d revisit Poppit Sands then see parts of the park we’d not been to before between here and Fishguard.

Views of the Presleli Hills

The drive north would take us through the Preseli Hills, another part of the park we’d not really visited before. Driving along the A478, we pulled over at a layby for our first view of the hills. The weather clouding over and rain forecast, we weren’t sure how visible the hills would remain and sure enough, by the time we reached our next stop, a viewpoint along the B4329, the cloud and rain was obscuring our view.

We continued our drive, heading towards the historic site Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber, one of the best preserved of the many, ‘cromlechs’ in this part of Wales. The site was well signposted from the main road and easy to find and luckily, by the time we reached there, the weather had started to clear.

Poppit Sands

After spending a short time marvelling at the ancient standing stones, we headed back out on the road to drive to Poppit Sands just in time for a lunchtime picnic on the beach. It had been a long time since I’d last visited this bay and it was a lot prettier than I recalled.

From Poppit Sands, we drove south to the town of Newport. Here, we pulled up at Newport Sands, its main beach and stretched our legs with a walk towards the harbour, Dinas Head in the distance. Back at the car, we drove through the town and down a side road to Newport Parrog Beach for views from the other side of the harbour.

Our next stop was a bit of a hidden gem as we went in search of Aberfforest Beach. This small, pebbly cove was reached by driving down a farm access road off the main A-road. After driving down the gravelly road, there was a small grassy pull in where a few cars were parked and we walked the rest of the way following the road to the left then picking up the Pembrokeshire Coast path. This lead us down some steps and onto the pretty beach.

We had read that there was a waterfall in the nearby woodlands so after spending a bit of time on the beach, we exited it and decided to follow a public footpath sign that seemed to be pointing away from the beach into the woods. We soon heard babbling water and reached a river running alongside the path. Crossing it over some makeshift stepping stones, we continued through the woodland eventually finding the pretty Aberfforest Falls!

The path continued from here, and I believe, loops back onto the coast path at some point but, as it looked quite steep and muddy, we decided instead to return to the beach and retrace our steps back to the car.

Our last stop in North Pembrokeshire, was just off the main road in Dinas Cross where we followed signposts up a rather steep hill with some sharp switchbacks to a Pembrokeshire Coast National Park viewpoint. It was worth the climb for the sweeping views across to Dinas Head with Fishguard to the south and Newport to the north.

Driving back towards Narberth, we relaxed over dinner for an hour or so before deciding to head out to the coast once more.

Above, sunset at Skrinkle Haven, and below, at Manorbier

It had turned into a beautiful evening so we wondered if we could catch a sunset somewhere. After looking at the map, we decided to try Skrinkle Haven but after arriving, realised it didn’t quite face the right way so we hopped back into the car and drove the short distance to the neighbouring Manorbier where we watched the sunset from the beach.

We’d had a busy few days in Pembrokeshire and discovered lots of new places along the way but, after a quick stop in Tenby the next morning, it was time to finally wave goodbye and drive to the final Welsh National Park on our road trip – Snowdonia!

Revisiting Pembrokeshire Coast National Park – Part 1

Having been holidaying in Tenby, a popular seaside resort in the south end of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park since I was a child, I know that area of the park at least pretty well so when we decided to include this park in South West Wales in our Welsh National Parks Road Trip itinerary, I knew I wanted to make sure we included some places and activities there I’d either not done before, or hadn’t done since I was much younger while still revisiting what I consider to be some of the park’s highlights for my friend who had not been before to see.

Views walking along the sea wall from Wisemans Bridge to Saundersfoot

With this in mind, we planned a 5 night stay in the area. With many of the hotels in the park itself sold out or way too pricey by the time we got around to booking and many holiday parks only offering the standard Sat-Sat, Mon-Fri or Fri-Sun stays which didn’t suit our itinerary, we eventually decided on a roadside motel in the small village of Llandissilo, a few miles north of market town Narberth and, while quite a way outside of the park, a pretty central location to reach all parts of the park from with pretty much everywhere being within a 20-40 minute drive!

Arriving early on a Saturday afternoon wasn’t what we had planned – we’d expected to spend most of the day still in the Brecon Beacons but the weather had had other ideas – so we made a hasty decision to stop off at Wisemans Bridge at the southern end of the park and the closest point of the park to our motel. When we had to queue along the a-road out of Carmarthen into the park, I should have realised how busy everywhere would be on a Saturday afternoon and we arrived to find all the spaces in the free car parks at Wisemans Bridge completely full. Continuing on, we came to the car park for Coppets Hall, a small bay lying between Wiseman’s Bridge and the popular seaside town of Saundersfoot. Although busy, the car park had an attendant who directed us to park along a grass verge despite there not being an actual marked space there. It didn’t cost much for a couple of hours parking so all paid up, we picked up the coast path and headed through the old railway tunnels and on to the sea wall path back towards Wisemans Bridge.

Rocky coastline at Wisemans Bridge

The Wiseman’s Bridge to Saundersfoot walk is one of the easiest walks along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path being along flat and wide paved footpaths so it didn’t take long to reach the pebbly beach at the other end. We spent a bit of time wondering along the beach looking in the rockpools revealed at low tide before retracing our footsteps back to Coppets Hall and walked in the opposite direction to the bustling town of Saundersfoot where we treated ourselves to an ice cream and wandered around the harbour.

After returning to Coppets Hall, we drove to our motel to check in deciding to have dinner in the restaurant on site realising it was unlikely we’d find anywhere with space for us to eat out at that evening!

For our first full day in the park, we had booked tickets to visit Skomer Island. Worried about things getting booked out, we had done this quite a bit in advance which meant we couldn’t check the weather first.

Walking along the coast path near Martin’s Haven

Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side that day. Arriving in Martin’s Haven to check in for our boat trip an hour before it left, we were met by high winds and heavy rain. After checking in and looking around the small gift store,we found the rain had eased a bit so I decided to go for a walk along the coast path while we waited for our boarding time. The views were stunning as I watched the waves crash up against the rocks.

Once it was time to board, we walked down to the small bay and onto the awaiting boat. Just as we set off, the rain started to pour once again making for a rather uncomfortable crossing only cheered up by a seagull deciding to hitch a lift on the corner of the boat to save him the flight across!

Arriving at Skomer, we climbed a set of steps up to a ranger station where we were met by an island ranger who explained a bit about the island, what we might see and the rules for our visit.

Above, and below, exploring Skomer Island

Because of Covid restrictions, the paths around the outskirts of the island had been made one-way in an anti-clockwise direction from the visitor centre and picnic area at the centre of the island. We had 4 hours until we needed to be back at the ranger station and were told that that should be more than enough time to walk the perimeter and be back with time to spare.

As we set off along the path to the centre of the island, the rain finally stopped and we made it about half way around the perimeter path before it started up again. The path around the island lead to many beautiful viewpoints from the cliff tops but wildlife wise, being slightly too late for ‘puffin season’, we instead had to make do with spotting a seal frolicking in the waves crashing against the rocks below.

The pouring rain and strong winds made the last section of our walk slightly more uncomfortable than we’d have liked and with not stopping as long as we otherwise would have to enjoy the views and speeding up our pace a bit to get out of the rain, we ended up back at the centre of the island quite a bit sooner than we had expected to.

The rain sets in again as we walk the coast path on Skomer Island

Luckily, we managed to find an empty bench in the covered picnic area so spent the last hour on the island having a leisurely picnic lunch and looking around the small visitor’s centre before making our way back to catch our boat back to the mainland. Just as we were about to depart, we spotted another seal playing in the surf then scrambling up onto the rocks just off the island.

The rain had stopped again making for a much drier and more pleasant boat trip back to the mainland. Arriving back late afternoon, we drove back to our motel and change into some drier clothes before going for dinner there.

Above, and below, taking Reggie the Alpaca for a walk

The next day, we were pleased to wake up to a much drier day and a forecast of some sunny spells! We had booked an alpaca trek for that morning and tickets to Heatherton World of Adventures for that afternoon so after breakfast, drove out to a farm near Manorbier to meet our furry friends for the morning. Having never walked an alpaca before, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but it turned out to be a really fun activity even if we were technically just walking around a field.

My alpaca, Reggie, was pretty obliging, trotting alongside me and posing for photos when we reached the halfway point in return for a few handfuls of food.

After returning Reggie to his pen and saying our goodbyes, we drove on to Heatherton, an activity centre just outside of Tenby. This was a place I’d always go on a cloudy day with my family when I was younger. Back then, it was a much smaller affair and billed as a ‘country sports’ and golfing centre. We’d spend our morning on the pitch ‘n’ putt course and our afternoons trying out archery, pistol shooting, laser clay pigeon shooting, croquet, boules, and, of course, take a few trips round on the bumper boats. Now the park has extended to occupy a site across the road from when the original activities are still housed and the list of activities on offer has more than doubled to include baseball, ropes courses, slides, a hedge maze and many many more. I mainly just wanted to revisit all my old favourites for nostalgic reasons so we bought an 8-credit pass which we calculated to be enough to spend on all these with a couple left over for anything else that took our fancy.

Upon arriving, we couldn’t quite believe how busy the centre was, especially as passes had to be pre-booked due to ongoing Covid restrictions and were supposedly limited each day. We struggled to even find a parking space in the overflow but once we had, went to pick up our passes from the main reception. Seeing that there were long queues for everything, we went with the one that currently seemed to be the shortest/moving the quickest and that was the bumper boats. Within 10 minutes we were sat in the boats – which didn’t seem to have been updated at all in the slightest since my original visits in the late ’90s – racing (well, more like crawling) around the small course trying to bump into the other boats. Great fun!

Having forgot to take our lunch with us that day, we grabbed sandwiches from the on-site cafe before our next activity. We went with pistol shooting next. Although we were the next group to take part when we joined the queue, there was a loong, tedious wait as the group before us had their safety talk then slowly worked their way through their 20 pellets but once it was our turn, it was a fun activity to try out and when I collected my target after our session finished, I hadn’t done too badly!

It was another long queue next, this time to try out laser clay pigeon shooting. This was always my favourite when I was younger as I was always pretty good at it but not today, as I failed to hit all but 2 clays as they flew through the air! At this point, having only averaged one activity an hour since our arrival and with still over half of our credit to use up, we were slightly worried we wouldn’t get through everything but as we headed across the road to try out the park’s new Dragon Slide – where you sit in a giant rubber ring, a bit like a water park slide but without the water! – we found a much shorter queue time and were on and off in 5 minutes. The slide was so much fun that we decided to use another credit up to ride it again!

Crossing back under the tunnel to the other side of the road again, we found the crowds had started to empty out a bit. We had 3 credits each left to use, 2 of which we knew we wanted to spend on the still extremely busy Adventure Golf, the other, we originally planned to use on archery but seeing there was still quite a queue for this and no queue at all for the bumper boats next to it, we decided to jump on these again instead!

Having left Adventure Golf to the last hoping the crowds would clear, we decided it was now or never and went to get our clubs and golf balls and were warned that we’d have to queue to play each hole. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad with just one group in front of us to wait for each time. Seeing how busy the park had been put us off booking to go to Oakwood, a nearby theme park, over the next few days as we worried we’d just be spending the whole day queuing so instead we decided to use the day we would have spent there exploring the coast a bit more.

It had been a fun start to our time in Pembrokeshire and we still had a few more full days left to explore the park as well as the morning before we left for Snowdonia. With the weather forecast not looking too bad, we were looking forward to spending a bit more time out on the coast.

Brecon Beacons National Park

After a few weeks of planning, we were starting a 2-week tour of Wales concentrating our time mainly on the country’s three National Parks. First up was the Brecon Beacons, situated in the middle of South Wales. The park was one I’d driven along the outskirts of many a time, bypassing it on an A-road at least once a year for the last 25 years as we headed on family holidays to South West Wales and I’d visited the town of Brecon as a ‘halfway to our destination’ stopping off point many times over. But I had never crossed that busy A-road to see what lay on the other side!

At the trail head to climb Pen y Fan

We arrived at our motel for the next three nights early evening on a Wednesday. We were staying in the town of Merthyr Tydfil just outside the southern end of the park as prices were a lot cheaper here than to stay in the National Park itself but in just a 5 minute drive, we were across the park boundaries.

After settling in to our room, we went out in search of dinner thinking that we’d have no problem getting a table anywhere on a Wednesday evening.

As restaurant after restaurant told us they were full though, we began to realise we were once again going to have to plan ahead for our meals this trip, pre-booking and making sure we were back in time rather than seeing where the day took us and grabbing something wherever we ended up. Finally finding a Pizza place that could squeeze us in, we had dinner a little later than we’d hoped but still found time to fit in a walk around town after our meal.

Sheep near the top of the mountain

Our itinerary for our stay in the park was more a list of ideas and suggestions than a definite plan. A walk up Pen-y-Fan, the highest mountain in Southern Britain, was top of that list and we were keeping an eye on the weather to decide which day was looking best for it. The weather looking to be ok and expecting the National Park to be pretty full with the August summer holidays in full swing, we were up early for our included breakfast at our motel the next day, aiming to be at the car park for the main path to the top of Pen-y-Fan by 9am to beat the crowds.

While the car park was by no means empty when we arrives, we did comfortably find a space and when we returned later to find cars parked everywhere in the main car park, along the road and in lay-bys within a mile or so either way, were glad we made the effort for an early-ish start.

View from the top

The weather was pretty clear for the most part, the sun shining as we set out. The path was easy to follow and the instructions I’d downloaded from a National Trust circular walking route helped us work out which of the two peak we were aiming for when the path split – and it’s a good job it did, We reached a very windy peak of Pen-y-Fan just as the cloud started to move in, some kind of view still visible to us from the top but just minutes later, we made our way across to the peak of Corn Du, the second peak to find ourselves completely immersed in fog and cloud and unable to see Pen-y-Fan, or anything else, anymore!

On top of Corn Du in a cloud!

From Corn Du, we retraced our steps back down the path we had walked up rather than taking the circular route down an alternative path to the road. Exhausted, but feeling a sense of accomplishment, we collapsed into the car feeling grateful that we had a space so close to the path entrance so that we didn’t have to walk any further, and treated ourselves to our packed lunch and a nice hot cup of tea from a flask!

Lunch over, we drove north and seeing the National Park Visitor Centre signposted, decided to use the facilities, get some more park information and buy some souvenirs. There were a number of walks signposted from the visitor centre of varying lengths and difficulties but deciding we’d done enough walking for the time being, we moved on to do a circular scenic drive through the east side of the park.

Above, and below, Gospel Pass drive

Driving up towards Brecon, we turned off back into the park and followed an extremely narrow, steeps, twisting and turning track which, judging from the grass growing up the middle of the road, is rarely used. Thankfully, we didn’t meet any oncoming traffic and just as we were wondering where the sat nav was taking us, the road opened out to reveal Gospel Pass, the road we were aiming for, in front of us.

This mountain pass is seen as a ‘must-do’ drive in the Brecon Beacons for it’s stunning views and we made our way along it past pretty countryside and wild horses roaming the hills. We pulled up at Hay Bluff, a parking area from where we could admire the views.

Llanthony Abbey ruins

After taking in the scenery, we continued along gospel pass, the road again narrowing and heading through woodland. Eventually, we reached Llanthony Abbey. The abbey ruins are free to visit and there was a cafe on site run by neighbouring Llanthony Priory Hotel for refreshments.

From here the road continued to a main A-road which we then followed west back to our Merthyr Tydfil Hotel giving us a few hours to relax and freshen up before our dinner reservation in town that evening.

The next day we were once again up early, this time to drive out to the car park at the start of the Four Waterfalls walk. As the name suggests, here there is a circular path with paths leading off it at various intervals to see four waterfalls!

Above, and below, on the Four Waterfalls walk

Finding the car park almost empty at around 9am, we chatted to the car park attendant who explained to us that none of the waterfalls are visible from the main circular trail and that the paths leading down to each of the falls were quite strenuous. He recommended we did the loop in reverse to see the most impressive waterfall first so if we were to decide we’d had enough at that point, we could just retrace our steps back still having seen a pretty good waterfall!

Although we were pretty sure we’d not give up after one waterfall, we decided to take his advice so we could at least get the waterfall with the most steps up and down out of the way first!

The main path to the waterfall exit was easy but we could straight away see why we were warned over the path to the waterfall itself. The steps down were often uneven, made of slippy blue stone and way too deep for our short legs to manage easily without grabbing onto something for support as we lowered ourselves down – and often there was nothing to grab on to! But it was worth it once the waterfall was revealed. It was possible to scramble across some rocks to go behind the waterfall but seeing as we’d had a tough time just getting down to that point, we stayed to admire it from the base of the steps before climbing back up to the path again – surprisingly, it was easier going up than down!

We continued along the path which narrowed, had frequent unpaved sections and rocky sections and was in itself, not an easy walk anymore, until we reached the next branch off to another waterfall. Again, we found a steep path with loose gravel sections, muddy areas and even a few boulder sections! It certainly made the walk more interesting though. It took us about 3 hours to complete the full walk with stops for a bite to eat along the way and taking our time across trickier sections of the path and we made it back onto the main paved section of the path back to the (now packed) car park just as it started to rain, grateful that it hadn’t rained while we were scrambling over already slippery rocks to see the falls!

Pretty views from the lay-by opposite Crai Reservoir

After a lay-by late lunch stop, we looked at a map and consulted our list of itinerary ideas deciding to loop around to the centre of the park and visit one of the park’s many reservoirs. We decided on Crai Reservoir which would put us back on a road heading towards Merthyr Tydfil again rather than taking us out of the way. We had read that there was a path you could walk there towards the reservoir dam with great views across but upon pulling up at the car park across from the reservoir, we couldn’t actually find this path!

There was a bridge across a valley stream leading off from the car park which offered a pretty view of the hills and some footpaths signposted up into the hills but across the road, we walked along the grass verge alongside where we could barely even see the reservoir peeping out from behind dense hedgerow, never mind find a path to access it.

Carreg Cennen Castle

Giving up and returning back in the other direction, we walked a bit further south of the car park to a driveway down to a house where there was a public footpath sign which seemed to be pointing along the side of the house’s grounds but a path was barely visible and overgrown with nettles to the point that we weren’t completely sure if it was even there or if the sign was pointing along the road we had just walked along instead.

Not wanting to end up walking across private property, we instead returned to the car and, as it was now nearing 3pm anyway, took a scenic way back to the southern end of the park looping background to our Merthyr Tydfil motel.

Nearing the castle

With no rush to get to our Pembrokeshire National Park destination the next day, we had planned to spend the majority of the day still in the Brecon Beacons but checking the weather, we saw there was heavy rain forecast the next morning. We checked to see if there was any availability at the Dan yr Ogof Welsh National Showcaves but fond all the timed slots already sold out so decided to see what the weather was like the next day and take it from there.

We did indeed wake up to heavy rain and cloud and decided our original loose plans to hill walk to a view of a glacial lake Llyn y Fan Fach or to drive along Black Mountain Pass at the west side of the park were probably not worth it as the views wold be obscured by cloud.

Exploring the castle ruins

Instead, we decided to begin our drive to Pembrokeshire making a stop at Carreg Cennan Castle on the edge of the Brecon Beacons along the way.We had downloaded instructions for a circular walk around the castle providing views it without having to pay to go in but once there, the weather still not great, we decided to pay the small fee to visit the ruins instead. Luckily, the weather started to clear just as we were about to leave so we got to see a bit more of a view from the top!

It was great to finally see what lay on the other side of the busy A-road bypassing Brecon that I’d driven down so many times in the past and as it turned out, our 3 nights in the Beacons was nowhere near enough time to see anywhere near all the park has to offer but it was a start. I was glad I had the chance to visit and definitely plan to return sometime!