Page 1

For the More Discerning Family Traveller Issue 50

A L L E B ! A I L A T 12 Page I

Italian Special

P

lus...

Quirky Cayman Brac

www.protraveller.co.uk


Coming Soon...

Information, Features, Offers and News, around the clock for Travel Enthusiasts around the World.

Travel and Tourism Content for terrestrial & online Radio Stations.

Travel Radio Streaming for Travel Agencies, Tourist Centres, etc. Centres, etc. Information and enquiries: editor@globetrotterradio.com

Globetrotter Radio has opportunities for experienced travel writers and broadcasters. Contact us if you would like to know more - editor@globetrotterradio.com


Pro Traveller

7

Issue 50

DUBROVNIK’S WELCOME RETURN Less than twenty years ago this former Adriatic favourite was devastated by war. Now, both the city and the tourism industry has made a miraculous recovery.

BELLA ITALIA ! The first of a two part special following Trevor Claringbold on a family friendly tour of magical Italy. In this issue we’ll visit :

12 15 19 23

POMPEII Destroyed almost 2000 years ago, but still drawing in the tourists.

EASTERN FLAVOURS IN TUSCANY With glorious countryside and wonderful old towns, and great cuisine.

LAZING IN LIGURIA The Italian Riviera may not be as famous as it’s French neighbour - but for families it has a lot to offer.

RIMINI IN GRAND STYLE Rimini may be the home of the Italian package tour market, but it is still possible to do it with class.

OFF-PEAK EDINBURGH

Scottish Capital is a year round festival city, but how captivating can it 27 The be in a rain soaked weekend out of season.

QUIRKY CAYMAN BRAC

Dartford takes a leisurely wander around the smallest of the Cayman 30 Katy Islands, and samples the great Caribbean food.

OVER THE WATER trips to France are still big business. We sample two options on the short 34 Day sea route from Dover to Calais.

A LAND OF KINGS AND CASTLES Upper Seine Valley boasts magnificent chateaus and glorious country38 The side - but few visitors. We look at what they’re missing.

3


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

DUBROVNIK A Croatian Phoenix Rising from the Ashes Trevor Claringbold takes a look at this one time favourite for British Visitors, and sees how it is making a comeback.

Relaxing on the moonlit terrace, enjoying a superb meal, with the waves of the Adriatic lapping against the shore just below us, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect setting. A classical guitarist serenades our party, as the lights of Dubrovnik twinkle across the bay. But just twenty years ago the lights were far less inviting. The Hotel Libertas, on the outskirts of this historic city, had a grandstand view of the shelling that rained down from enemy forces in the mountains above. Then on December 6th 1991, this once glamorous hotel became the target, as shells burst through the roof, gutting large parts of the complex. The terrace where we were now sitting was cratered, and covered with debris. As the war progressed, the remains of the hotel were used to house refugees, although as a memorial in the car park now attests this was still by no means a safe haven.

Once peace was restored the site lay abandoned, with the balconies and foyer overgrown, and the rooms full of rubbish. And yet the idyllic location still attracted those wanting to swim and sunbathe. It’s just one story that could be repeated countless times across the city. Despite the damage, the people gradually came back and soon found that Dubrovnik had lost nothing of its perfect setting. The waters of the Adriatic were still the same glorious blue, the narrow streets still oozed charm, an array of pretty boats bobbed up and down in the harbour as before, and of course the sun still shone. The Libertas Hotel has now undergone a massive rebuild and renovation, and is under the wing of the Rixos Hotel group. The transformation is amazing, and without doubt it is probably the best place to stay if you are visiting Dubrovnik. The rooms are

www.protraveller.co.uk

7


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

large, bright, and well appointed, with flat screen televisions that pop up at the touch of a button. The open plan layout of the rooms may not be to everyone’s liking, but that is more than offset by the unbeatable panoramic sea views. There are no less than five bars, and a choice of places to eat – and you will want to try them all, as the food is first rate. But this is a place to relax. Indoor and outdoor swimming pools, spacious sun terraces, gardens, and a relaxation and wellness area will see that everyone will have the best opportunity to feel refreshed. Of course you can also swim in the sea, as an area directly in front of the hotel is marked off and kept immaculately clean for guests. Watching the man dive with his basket to collect any loose bits of seaweed was a first for me! In the evenings, try the casino or nightclub, or just enjoy your drinks on the terrace, washed over by the warm airs of the Adriatic. In many places, the hotel is just somewhere to reside while you explore the region. Here, however, the hotel becomes part of the experience.

It’s also in the best position, as its just 15 minutes walk into the city, and yet that is far enough to be secluded, quiet, and not to be bothered by the crowds that herd off of the cruise ships each morning. Those crowds can be a problem. If possible, always leave any visit into the walled city until the afternoon, when they have all either gone back to their ships, or departed on coach tours. Walking the streets of the old city is a joy, though, and certainly one to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. A walk around the city walls – or at least the southern half - is well worth the few Euros it costs. It can be a bit nerve-wracking in places, but the views both across the city, and out to sea are breathtaking. The main entrance is just inside the main gate, and tickets are available next to Big Onofrio’s Fountain. Dubrovnik was once a major player in the sea trade of southern Europe, even rivalling Venice in importance. It was protected as a kind of neutral City State, basically being everybody’s friend, at the same time as spying on them all! Nowadays, its churches, cathedrals, and myriad of other significant historic buildings draw visitors from around the world. The long main street, or Placa, with its marbled paving slabs gleaming in the sunlight, is awash with ice cream parlours and gift shops. But step into any of the narrow side streets, and it’s easy to imagine

8

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

you are stepping back in time. Steep steps lead up past overhanging buildings, with washing lines stretching between them and women chatting from window to window. Back on the tourist trail, the Dominican Monastery also houses a small but interesting museum. There are some interesting artefacts, although much was apparently plundered during the Napoleonic time. The Emperor, of course, was not known for his love of monastic buildings, and whilst his troops were the occupying force here the monastery was used as stables for his horses. On the walls around the central courtyard there is still evidence of hollowed out stones that were used to hold water for them. As you walk under the tall bell tower, the small square in front of St Blaise’s church is the start of the other main street, Pred Dvorom. This is fronted by impressive buildings such as the City Hall and the Rectors Palace, and leads along to the Cathedral. Take a diversion along the Od Puca, to the lively market in Gundulic’s Square. This is where you’ll find the best bargains, although to be fair Croatia is still amongst the best value for money of all the Mediterranean countries. The Old Port is one of the most popular places to amble. Despite the mixture of traditional and modern craft, the whole place has a kind of timeless air about it. It’s surrounded on three sides by high walls that once protected the city, but today is a busy working harbour. Small boats take groups of tourists along the coast, or out to the islands, sometimes in glass bottomed vessels that allow you to enjoy the crystal clear waters.

place to try them. They are unlike most others I have tasted, and have a far ‘softer’ quality that was particularly enjoyable. Croatia is known also for its wines, of course, and you don’t need to travel far outside Dubrovnik to see the hills lined with vineyards. Back on the terrace at the Hotel Rixos Libertas, as it is now called, we were happily enjoying the seafood, and the wine. The old Napoleonic fortress on top of the mountain is now nicely lit, and there is a feeling of ‘forgive and forget’ amongst the Balkan people that I spoke to. The emphasis is on attracting visitors back to see for themselves that this is still a region with plenty to offer. Those with long memories of European travel will recall how popular the former Yugoslavia used to be for British visitors. It won’t be long before those masses ‘rediscover’ it, so I think the smart advice is to plan your trip pretty soon!

Photos - Trevor Claringbold

With such a maritime heritage, it’s no surprise that seafood is high on the menu for most of the area’s better restaurants. If you’re not too confident with oysters, mussels, squid, and the like, then this is the

DUBROVNIK

Hotel Rixos Libertas - www.rixos.com Liechtensteinov put 3 20 000 Dubrovnik, Croatia +385 (020) 200 000 Dubrovnik Tourist Board Brsalje 5, Dubrovnik Tel: +385 20 312 011

www.protraveller.co.uk

9


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

TRAVELLERS TITBITS

PHOTOGRAPHY ADVENTURES SET TO CHANGE CHILDREN’S FOCUS DURING OCTOBER HALF TERM

Keep the kids occupied with a little help from Peppa Pig World at Paultons Family Theme Park!

Children are being given the opportunity to delve deeper into the world of photography this October half term with new family holidays in India and Morocco.

If you’re want a guaranteed funfilled day out look no further than Paultons Family Theme Park in Hampshire, which is now home to Peppa Pig World as well as more than 60 other rides and attractions.

Two new trips from The Adventure Company will allow the whole family’s imaginations to run wild. Whether exploring exotic temples or colourful souks, travelling out of traditional high season ensures minimal crowds while the weather conditions will be ideal for photos. Prices for the trips, which combine the excitement of a real family adventures with photography, start from just £899pp including flights, accommodation and tuition.

Set in over 140 acres of beautiful landscaped parkland on the edge of the New Forest National Park in Hampshire, Paultons Park is still owned and run by the same family that first opened its gates to the public in 1983.

Families will also receive a free 50 page photo book of their favourite work as a lasting momento to take home at the end of the trip.

Exclusive to Paultons Park, Peppa Pig World is a magical kingdom that brings to life one of TV’s most popular children’s characters. Featuring seven magical rides, a host of fun animated attractions, indoor and outdoor play areas and a Peppathemed toy shop, Peppa Pig World is destined to keep little ones entertained for hours.

Call 0845 287 1198 or visit www.adventurecompany.co.uk

For more information : www.paultonspark.co.uk

10

www.protraveller.co.uk

A SURPRISINGLY SIMPLE SOLUTION TO TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN Planes, trains and automobiles no longer have to be stressful, thanks to ‘My Travel Surprise’ – the first ever one-stop shop for children’s travel toys. My Travel Surprise offers a range of lightweight, budget-friendly games and activities specially designed to keep youngsters entertained on any journeys or holidays. My Travel Surprise was founded by mum-of-two Amanda Mitchell, who was frustrated at the lack of suitable toys available to keep her children occupied during flights and car trips. My Travel Surprise has a range of unusual toys that are not readily available on the high street and start at just £2.50. Each toy ordered will be delivered partially wrapped in cartoon travel paper, so parents can give it to their child as a surprise gift. www.mytravelsurprise.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL

Pompeii was a place I always knew I had to visit one day. Ever since I first learned of the city that was destroyed by a volcano, and rediscovered centuries later, I felt consumed with curiosity. However, like most people before they see the place, I had many preconceptions that placed an image in my head as to what I’d find. Also, I suspect like many people, those expectations were exceeded many times over when I actually visited in person. Pompeii is unique. An emotive, three-dimensional time capsule of life in a well-off, and important, Roman city. It was a thriving trading city, close to the bay of Naples, with many high-status houses and public buildings. But the 20,000 inhabitants had already suffered at the hands of mother nature just 16 years before the fateful volcano, when a powerful earthquake destroyed much of the city. Then in 79AD, after days of throwing ash and smoke out into

the air, Mount Vesuvius finally erupted. Many of the population had already left, but around 2000 are thought to have remained. They perished as the poisonous fumes from the volcanic debris smothered Pompeii, and a deep layer of ash and pumice covered all but the tallest buildings. Finding your way around isn’t too difficult once you have worked out the grid of the main thoroughfares. Pick up a map from ticket office, though, as its easy to miss some of the less obvious places of interest in the maze of smaller streets. I also suggest you set aside a whole day, as to try and see Pompeii in less can be frustrating. Yes, it’s possible to walk around the main sights in half a day, but for me the most rewarding aspect of a visit is to experience what it was like to have lived here 2000 years ago. The best way to do that is to understand each place as you pass, and create a picture in you mind of how it was – almost like wandering through your own historical scenario. Such is the wealth of detail that is still easy to see, this is not a difficult thing to do. Imagine the bustle of activity around the busy shops, selling things from the large pots that are still in place. In the once well-to-do area where many of the high status homes were, the Casa del Fauno, a mosaic by the entrance says ‘welcome’, and inside there is still a small statue of a Faun. (Actually it’s a copy, as the original, like many artefacts from Pompeii and the surrounding area, is in a Naples museum).

www.protraveller.co.uk

12


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL

Of course, there are also many reminders of the tragedy that befell Pompeii. Next to the huge and largely intact amphitheatre I found an area that was apparently used as a kind of recreation ground – even with a swimming pool. I was told that when this area was first excavated, the archaeologists found the skeletons of many young men huddled in the corner. They must have been using the area at the exact moment the volcano erupted, and the subsequent devastation was so rapid that they had no time to escape. One of my favourite places – especially at the end of the day - is the Forum, situated at one of the main intersections in the city. Quite apart from the array of important buildings that surround it, such as the temples, the main market, and a basilica, it’s just a perfect place to just pause and think. Stand in the main square, and look along the length of the grassy

13

Foro. This was the heart of a busy, prosperous, and powerful Roman city. But in the background, the dark and infinitely more powerful shape of Mount Vesuvius gazes menacingly down on its most famous victim. I stand for a moment, lost in time, wondering what I would have done had I been here when the mountain erupted. The answer is never pleasant. There is so much to witness here, and in so many different ways. From a clinically historical point of view, I guess it must be the most complete Roman city still in existence. And that’s only what you can examine today. There is still a considerable amount that is yet to be excavated. It reveals so much about

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL

Photos - Natalia Kolesnikova and Trevor Claringbold

the way everyday citizens lived at that time, and how a city of this size functioned.

POMPEII

But without a doubt, unless your heart is as hard as the stone from the mountain itself, you’ll find this an emotional place to visit. No matter how many times I see them, the numerous haunting stone casts around the site, showing actual inhabitants in the positions they died, always leave a lasting impression. Above all else, Pompeii is not just another historical site. It was a real city with real people, and somewhere I recommend everyone to visit at least once in their lifetime. And, if the experts are right, Vesuvius is overdue for another major eruption… so you shouldn’t leave it too long before making your trip!

www.protraveller.co.uk

14


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL

AGRITOURISMO AND EASTERN FLAVOURS IN TUSCANY Trevor Claringbold takes the family for a relaxing rural break in the heart of Italy Follow the Arno river upstream from Florence, and you head into the high rolling hills of Eastern Tuscany. It’s a peaceful land given over largely to agriculture, but we were treated to an eastern flavour of an entirely different kind when we arrived at our chosen accommodation. The Villa Poggio di Gaville is run by cheerful Palestinian food enthusiast, Jamal, and his equally friendly English wife, Louise. It’s a beautifully converted farmhouse, lavishly furnished with acquisitions from their travels to the near and far east. Arriving just before dusk, we were enticed up the gravel drive by the last rays of sunlight dancing across the pale yellow walls. The trees were already just silhouettes against the patio lights, and the only sound to disturb the peaceful valley air was the orchestra of crickets. Guests are very much encouraged to make it their home whilst staying, and the personal feel extends to the rooms, which are all individually decorated. The shuttered windows look out across the surrounding fields, adding to the secluded, rural feel. The villa has its own stables, with placid, friendly horses, and in the field below is the

large heated pool – ideal for those lazy Tuscan days, and invitingly illuminated at night. If we had to single out one particular memory, however, it would have to be the food. Let me first say that you are genuinely lucky if you are one of the chosen few who get to eat an evening meal on the intimate patio. That’s because this is only a bed and breakfast establishment. Jamal cooks in the evening, only if there are enough guests, and if he feels like it. So there are no promises or guarantees, just a real treat for those who are fortunate enough. The cuisine is unique. A blend of Italian, English, and Middle Eastern tastes, with a hefty slice of the Far East thrown in for good measure. Try the succulent spinach dumplings, topped with cheese, and served alongside a tangy carrot and ginger puree. It’s also interesting to note that being an Agritourismo establishment, most of the food is sourced locally. There was an additional treat that was not strictly Agritouristic, but was certainly very warming. A bottle of the popular Italian liqueur ‘Lemoncello’ appeared, and proved an instant hit. It’s a wonderfully tasty drink, but beware, as it’s also one

15

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL

that easily tricks you into thinking it’s far less potent than it really is! Agritourismo began back in the 1950’s, and is essentially the combining of agriculture and tourism – or rural holidays using farms and cottages. Many will actually involve guests in the farms’, or other local activities. It is now well established, and actually defined under Italian law. The properties vary dramatically, but often now have very good facilities – like the Villa Poggio di Gaville. The location of the farm makes it ideal for days out. Less than an hour to the north lies one of Italy’s great cities – Florence. It’s close enough to visit more than once, which is good because you’ll never see even all the main sights in a single day. In the opposite direction is the impressive historic city of Siena, which is also worth a visit, but we headed an hour south-east to a lesser known gem – Arezzo.

Arezzo is the provincial capital today, but delve back into its history, and evidence of it’s time as a major Roman and Etruscan city is all around. The Roman amphitheatre is interesting rather than stunning, but the museum next door has some intriguing relics. You need to jump forward a thousand years or so, however, if you’re to discover Arezzo’s real treasure. In the heart of the old town is the fairly plain and unassuming Basilica di San Francesco, built around 1322. A century later, the local Bacci family commissioned Piero della Francesca to work on the decoration of the choir, and a series of glorious frescos were born. They have been acclaimed as on a par with those by Michelangelo in Rome, and are held in such high regard that visitors are limited to just 25 at a time – so book your tickets in advance during the peak months. Elsewhere Arezzo is a charming, peaceful, and relaxing town. It’s the kind of place where you benefit hugely from just wandering. Explore the side streets, alleyways, and the other palaces, piazzas, churches, and cathedrals. At the top of the hill – well, of all the hills, since each leads there – is the Duomo. If it has a slightly confused architecture, it’s because it was begun in the 13th Century, and gradually built across the centuries, only finally

www.protraveller.co.uk

16


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL completing in the 20th Century. Having climbed the steep streets, its worth taking in the view from the fortress walls, before resting a while in the pleasant, shady park. Heading back down the main street, the Corso Italia, it’s hard to find a building that isn’t worthy of note. A narrow side street entices you to the appropriately named Piazza Grande. Overlooked by a large bell tower, and with a magnificent palisade along one side, this large square is the home to a huge monthly antiques market. Over 600 stalls cram into the Piazza Grande on the first Sunday of each month, and the Saturday of the same weekend, and all around are the showrooms of antique furniture. You can’t fail to sense the history that surrounds you, and it’s a wonder that Arezzo isn’t completely overwhelmed by visitors. Instead, it is very much one of those wonderful discoveries that makes your holiday special, and provides lasting memories. The Italians know of it, but they are wisely keeping it to themselves.

Back at the farmhouse, Louise and Jamal are tending the horses, and deciding if they should cook for the guests tonight. They tell me that they have big plans for the future, including a health and wellness centre, and possibly themed stays such as cookery courses. I can imagine both will be very popular in these idyllic surroundings. It’s a truly wonderful place to relax and enjoy all that this part of Tuscany has to offer. Even more, you leave with the feeling you’ve been staying with friends - and we fully intend to return and see them again someday. For now, though, we are just looking forward to another meal, and another glass of Lemoncello.

AREZZO

The impressions of a 9-year old

“I was really happy here, and didn’t want to leave. The food was nice, and even when it was something I didn’t like, they changed it for me - which was nice. The pool was great, because I had it all to myself, and I helped to feed the horses in the stables. The best thing was the people though, and Louise and Jamal both felt like friends. They always had time to talk, and tell us about things. I’d like to go again .”

17

The Villa Poggio di Gaville, and other fine accommodation throughout Italy, can be booked via: www.holidaylettings.co.uk/96848 holidaylettings.co.uk is a TripAdvisor company that represents over 40,000 holiday homes available to rent worldwide. Book direct with owners of the homes for that personal touch.

www.protraveller.co.uk

Photos - Natalia Kolesnikova


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL ESSENTIAL INFORMATION Capital: Language: Population: Currency: Time Zone:

Rome Italian 60 million Euro GMT + 1

International Dialling Code: +39

www.turismoinliguria.it www.protraveller.co.uk

18


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL

It may not be as famous or chic as it’s neighbour just across the border, but the Italian Riviera in many ways has more to offer than the French equivalent. Liguria, to give this stretch of coast and its hinterland the correct title, can be roughly split into two parts, with the regional capital, Genoa, in the centre. To the west of Genoa, the Riviera di Ponente is predominantly a succession of small, but extremely popular, resorts, where the hotel lined seafront of one blends seamlessly into the hotel lined seafront of the next. The main resorts had their heyday in the stylish era from the 1880’s until the Second World War, when they attracted wealthy travellers from far afield. San Remo, for example, had a significant Russian community, with notable visitors which included The Empress Maria Alexandrovna and Tchaikovsky. Today, most of those lavish grand hotels had long since faded, and to be fair now look decidedly shabby. There are exceptions, of course, but for the most part it’s the more modern hotel complexes which are springing up on the fringes of many resorts that offer the 21st century traveller the expected levels of comfort. 19

The coast on the eastern side of Genoa – the Riviera di Levante - is generally less hectic, with mostly smaller, prettier resorts, & with a far more scenically appealing rugged coastline. In many places the mountains come right down to the coast, ending with steep cliffs, sprinkled with precariously clinging umbrella pines, that plunge into the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean below. If you’re looking for somewhere to stay, the relaxed ,attractive town of St Margherita Ligure is a good choice. Lazing on the east coast of the peninsular that leads to the ultra-chic Portofino, it’s just far enough from the main coastal road to avoid the constant traffic of it’s larger neighbour, Rapallo, whilst still remaining within easy road and rail reach of Genoa and the rest of the Riviera. The large marina is crammed with an expensive array of gleaming white pleasure boats bobbing gently up and down in the sparkling waters. The bright spacious promenade is lined with the orange and yellow facades of grand houses, and interwoven with majestic hotels. It’s not a big resort, but manages to cram in a great deal without feeling overburdened in any way. With the exception of the pretty church of San Michele up

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL on the hill, most of the attractions here revolve around the waterfront. It’s easy to take trips out from here by train (the station is at the north end of the harbour), or by boat. Regular boat services run to other resorts, up and down the coast, and it’s a rewarding way to experience the true beauty of this part of the region. It’s also possible to hire a boat and command your own schedule, of take one of the many fishing or diving trips. St Margherita Ligure is famed for is watersports, and lies on the edge of a stunning underwater treasure chest of colourful corals, and marine life. It’s a protected area, and the guided dives see enthusiasts from across the world. If you want a different perspective, then head inland from the harbour, on one of the many marked walks across the headland. They offer panoramic views of the coastline, and if you take your time to sit for a while and admire the breathtaking views, it will change before your eyes as the sun plays games with the shadows on the rocks, and the reflections on the sea. The walks head to other small villages and hamlets, or along the coast to perfect coves and hidden beaches. It’s a remarkable feeling that you can be an explorer, ‘discovering’ empty shores in such a popular region. Around the harbour is a good choice of restaurants, bars, and sublime ice cream parlours. Amongst the

best undoubtedly is Skippers, where you can sit at your table on a floating pontoon being gently lapped by the perfectly clear waters of the marina, and sample not only superb seafood cuisine, but that which is absolutely unique. There are, for example, particular prawns that can only to be found in a small area just along the coast. Choosing the sea bass was a wise decision, as it arrived looking and tasting as close to perfection as you’re likely to find. And if you’re feeling adventurous then give the octopus a try. It not only did wonderful things with the taste buds, it also managed to give a feeling that you were not just floating on the sea, but that you somehow had a deeper bond with it. We were staying nearby at the excellent Grand Hotel Miramare, which is a perfect blend of old-world elegance and service, combined with 21st-century efficiency and facilities. Balconied rooms, that boast glorious views across the bay, are well appointed, bright, and spacious. Pine trees and sunbeds laze in the sun-soaked gardens, alongside a large, immaculately clean pool, whilst just across the road is a secluded private sandy beach.

Liguria Tourist Board - www.turismoinliguria.it info@agenziainliguria.it

www.protraveller.co.uk

20


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL It’s a town that is cosy, and addictive, but when you do decide to tear yourself away to explore more of Liguria, there is plenty of choice. Genoa is a must for many visitors. Despite being the fifth largest city in Italy, the original heart of this maritime legend can still be seen. The fascinating Caruggi – a labyrinth of medieval alleyways – spread out to the many notable ‘palazzi’. Often housing museums, municipal buildings, or galleries now, these 16th & 17th century architectural masterpieces were once the showpieces of the city’s wealthy merchants. Even more impressive are the monumental buildings such as the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, which houses a fabulous treasury that is breathtaking to behold, and the churches of San Donato, and Santa Maria di

Castello which lies across the coastal highway from the harbour. There is a delightful vibrancy to Genoa, and even a sense of unfounded danger amid the myriad of small streets near the port. In the more spacious areas around the Palazzo Ducale, and the Piazza di Ferrari – watched over by the famous statue of Garibaldi – tourists snap away, and wander with ice cream in hand gazing up at the impressive architecture. Seemingly a world away, at the other end of the Riviera di Levante, is a stretch of coast known as The Cinque Terre, or ‘five lands’. It centres on the five picturesque villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Maranola, and Riomaggiore - each one huddled in a small cove, and surrounded by imposing cliffs. It’s the stuff of dreams for photographers, artists, and walkers. Stunningly beautiful seascapes, backed by dramatic rocky cliffs, and picture-postcard harbours that have provided a living for local fishermen for centuries, mean that this area gets packed in peak summer. There are good walking trails all along this coast, and it’s often more rewarding, (not to mention less frustrating), to park away from the towns and villages, and walk along the spectacular cliff-top paths to reach your destination. It might be more energetic, but it’s just one more way to get the best out of this endlessly endearing region. Photos - Natalia Kolesnikova and Italian Tourist Office

The impressions of a 9-year old

ST MARGHERITA LIGURE

“The best bit about this trip was the sea. Everywhere it was so clean and nice, and I wanted to swim all the time. The hotel was also good with a nice pool, and I really liked the breakfast. The meal at Skippers was like being on a boat, but was really cool. I didn’t like some of the seafood though. There wasn’t a lot for children especially, but I still liked it, and would like to go back. ”

21

GRAND HOTEL MIRAMARE – Via Milite Ignoto, 30 16038 Santa Margherita Ligure (GE) Tel. +39 0185 287013 www.grandhotelmiramare.it RISTORANTE SKIPPER – Calata Porto, 6 Santa Margherita Ligure (GE) Tel. +39 0185/289950 - www.ristoranteskippersml.it

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL

Rimini may be the largest and best-known package tour destination in Italy, but there is a very different side to this former Roman favourite. Enjoying pride of place on the glorious seafront is a hotel that has stood as a beacon of excellence for more than a hundred years. The Grand Hotel Rimini is, without doubt, not only one of Italy’s great hotels, but one of the World’s. It is the haunt of celebrities, royalty, and the well-to-do from around the globe, with a guest book that reads like an edition of ‘Who’s Who’. So how well would it cope with an average family that wants to splash out on a luxurious treat? We made a diversion on a recent Italian tour to find out. Arriving after a long drive we were grateful for the private car park, just in front of the majestic main entrance. From the moment you walk into the palatial marbled reception area, you can sense you are really stepping into a piece of history. That’s not to say it feels old, however; quite the contrary in fact. It actually felt surprisingly contemporary, with a relaxed atmosphere, and elegant décor. We were greeted with a warm smile by the helpful reception staff, who performed the check-in formalities quickly and efficiently – but without giving the appearance of hurrying. As anyone who travels regularly will know, there is that divine moment when you enter a hotel room for the first time. You form an instant impression, be it favourable or disappointing, in much the same way as when you meet a new colleague, or a daughter’s new boyfriend. You know immediately if you’re going to get along. As for

TREVOR CLARINGBOLD TESTS A CENTURY OF FIRST CLASS SERVICE this one, it was a hotel room that was going to be a friend for life. The tall windows and high ceilings give the spacious rooms a bright, airy feel. Sumptuous, classically styled furniture make relaxing here a pleasure, be it in the large armchairs, or overlooking the gardens, beach, and Adriatic, from the comfort of the private balcony. I sat for a few minutes, relishing the warm air as the sun was setting, and pondered why the room seemed so perfect. After some consideration I decided it’s because it was exactly how I would expect it to be, and there was nothing at all to quibble about. The facilities at the Grand Hotel are very good, considering they have to fit into a century old building that wasn’t designed with spas and wellness areas in mind. The Dolce Vita Spa may not be huge, but it is a top quality facility with cheerful, accommodating staff. There is a pretty little swimming pool, with water jets and hydromassage, plus a shower, sauna, steam bath, relaxation area, and a fitness room with Technogym machines. A range of beauty treatments are also available, including an invigorating hot stone massage. In the summer months you also have the choice of treatments across the road in another wellness area on the hotel’s beautiful private beach. Amid the golden sand is a neat wooden structure with white muslin curtains, which

www.protraveller.co.uk

23


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL

guarantees maximum comfort and freshness during the treatments. One of the biggest tests for any hotel of this standard, is how well they deal with young children. No matter how well behaved, youngsters have different requirements, strange tastes, and can easily be upset by things. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the restaurants. The Grand Hotel Rimini has a good selection of restaurants and bars, including ones overlooking the pool, and on the private beach. A well-travelled, strong-willed 9-year old was certainly the right person to see how well they coped, but even I was impressed at how effortlessly the various staff made her feel every bit as important as the adults. Treated very much as a young person, not a child, she was never made to feel awkward if she didn’t understand something, and was always addressed directly. As a parent, it can be annoying when some establishments insist on asking the adults how a child (who is perfectly capable of speaking for themselves) is feeling, or what they want – as though they are not there. So top marks here then. The quality and variety of food is also outstanding. Everything prepared and cooked to perfection, with just as much thought going into the presentation. The range of dishes changes regularly, and we never found a time

when we didn’t have to struggle to choose – such was the amount of mouth-watering temptations. Of course, a hotel can be excellent, but if the area it’s in offers little, then it’s still not worth visiting. Rimini certainly has a tacky tourist side, and in the main summer months the never-ending beach can be packed to bursting (away from the Grand Hotel’s private beach, of course). But there is another side to Rimini, sadly often overlooked by the beach towel brigade. A beautiful old town, centuries of history, excellent shopping, and superb local food and wine are all waiting to be experienced. It was an important Roman city, and the impressive stone Bridge of Tiberius marked the start of one of the most famous of the Empire’s roads. The Via Emilia runs almost completely straight, right across Italy to Milan. What is perhaps even more amazing is that the bridge is not only still standing, but is still being used by modern day traffic almost 2000 years after it was built. Mopeds buzz around the old streets seemingly indifferent to traffic, pedestrians, and even other mopeds. And the chic designer goods in the elegant shop windows provide a modern edge to the historic streets. Elsewhere in the old town are a wealth of medieval and renaissance buildings, the best known of which is the Malatestiano Temple. Although it is unquestionably beautiful, it’s also

24

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

ITALIAN SPECIAL the perfect reminder that not all is as perfect as it seems. For several centuries after it’s creation it was not formally recognised as a cathedral by the Pope, because the lavish interior paid more homage to the Malatesta family than it did to God. The exterior also has its flaws, with the originally planned grand arched tower never completed. The Emilia Romagna district is renowned for its fine wines and excellent cuisine, and Rimini has the best of both worlds. Its coastal location provides the excuse for exquisite seafood, whilst also being close enough to the mountains to class the superb produce from there as local. One useful tip regarding many Italian restaurants or bars, is don’t judge a book by the cover. Italians put far more effort into what’s inside the building than they do into its outward appearance. You can eat in restaurants with fading paintwork and broken shutters on the outside, that then produce the most amazing first class cuisine inside.

Many restaurants in Rimini – including our choice, the Osteria I Teatini - will also offer you locally produced wines such as the luscious white Trebianco, or the succulent red Sangiovese. The latter goes very well with any of the traditional grilled meat dishes. After you’ve worked your way through the menu, walk it of with a gentle amble around narrow streets, that offer all manner of interesting sights. The frequent open squares are generally surrounded by even more fascinating historic buildings just crying out to be explored. Even at the quiet times of the year, the whole area has an atmosphere and vibrancy that just asks to be soaked up for as long as possible. Rimini is a great place to visit, whether for the beach or the city. But it would be a shame to come so close, and not experience all it has to offer. And if you’re looking for a touch of luxury, or just good old-fashioned top quality service, then would we recommend the Grand Hotel Rimini for a family with children? Absolutely. Photos - Natalia Kolesnikova and Grand Hotel Rimini

The impressions of a 9-year old

RIMINI

“I really liked the room, as the bathroom was so shiny and the bed was really soft and comfortable. The food was lovely, and I especially liked the chicken pasta. I didn’t like the mosaic in the spa, as it looked like a sinking ship, but I thought the pedal boats on the beach with the curving slides were so cool. The staff were all so friendly too, and really everything was perfect!”

Grand Hotel Rimini is a property of Worldhotels. For more information, or to book, please visit http://www.worldhotels.com/grandrimini

www.protraveller.co.uk

Emilia Romagna Region Tourist Board www.visitemiliaromagna.com

25


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

Throughout the summer, Edinburgh beats to the sound of a seemingly endless stream of festivals and events. The Science Festival, Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and the world famous Edinburgh Festival all fill the ancient city to bursting point. Many visitors come as much for the colourful atmosphere, as for the events themselves. We, on the other hand, approached the city as it loomed out of the fog, on a wet weekend in October. As we neared the centre, the lines of tall stone fronted buildings cast even darker shadows on the glistening streets, whilst at the same time creating an impression that this was a place of power. First sight of the castle, proudly dominating the rocky high ground, further underlined the feeling that it was not a city to be messed with. To have accommodation right in the heart of th city is wonderful, except when you are trying to park. We were fortunate to stumble across a space just being vacated, not too far from our destination. The silver lining, under some very dark clouds, was a first walk along the famous Royal Mile. It was dusk, and there was a chilly breeze mixed with the annoying drizzle. Anywhere else this would have offered a depressing start a visit, and yet somehow here it didn’t matter. The place was alive, vibrant, and buzzing to the sound of street entertainers, tour guides, and people who seemed quite content to stand chatting – oblivious to the rain, but soaking up the magnificence of their surroundings instead. We’d been here less than half an hour, and yet we felt at home, welcome, and completely at ease. There are not many capital cities that can say that.

Passing the lines of shops selling whisky, kilts, and just about anything you can emblazon with the ‘Scotland’ logo, we arrived at our accommodation almost downhearted that our first perambulation had ended. We were keen to abandon our baggage, change into some drier clothes, and get back out – almost as if we were scared it would all be gone if we didn’t hurry. The Fraser Suites are an impressive selection of apartments, housed in a majestic period building just off the Royal Mile, close to St Giles Cathedral. In contrast to the building, the suites are very modern, extremely stylish, & ooze quality. They’re spacious, well equipped, and in our case offered a view of the castle from the bedroom window. The bathroom has a designer feel, with hidden lights creating an air of luxury to match the L’Occitane toiletries. When you check it against the cost of quality hotels in the area, the Fraser Suites offer excellent value for such a high level of accommodation, and in the perfect location. As we headed back to the streets, amid the ever increasing crowds, there seemed to be an invisible force that drew you towards the castle. As the Royal Mile turns from the High Street into the Lawnmarket, and then finally into Castle Hill, it narrows and steepens. Small alleyways head off in all directions, some enticing, and some very much not. As we pass the Scottish Whisky Experience the castle edges into view, like a giant barrier across the top of the hill. The road opens to the broad Castle Esplanade, full of revellers just milling about for no apparent reason other than to be there. A sense of expectation fills the air, a feeling that you’re about to experience something great. But despite lingering for quite a while,

www.protraveller.co.uk

27


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

enjoying the panoramic views over the lower parts of the city, nothing actually happened. Eventually we resigned ourselves to simply being pleased to have reach such a momentous summit, and started slowly back down the hill. There were countless groups of people, all with different agenda’s. We witnessed ghoulishly costumed guides leading a ghost tour, a group with a torchlight procession (although none seemed to know exactly what it was for), and all manner of others just out for a good night’s partying. After such an intense introduction to the city, I was worried the next morning may prove an anti-climax. It didn’t, and after a pleasant breakfast at the Rucola Restaurant, next to the Fraser Suites, we headed onto freshly cleaned streets as the cathedral bells struck 9am. We knew that a prompt start and a well planned timetable would be essential if we were to make the most of our limited time here. As we strolled down the Royal Mile, it was interesting how different it looked by day. The fine architectural details were far more prominent, for example, and the individuality of each building became more apparent. We were thankful of the break in the weather, as our first destination was the magnificent baroque Palace of Holyroodhouse, at the far end of the Royal Mile. The Royal Apartments have borne witness to many chapters of Scotland’s history, most notably those connected with Mary Queen of Scots. Later is was associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie, serving as his headquarters for a while during the 1745 uprising, and now is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. As you would expect, a tour will offer you glimpses into the lives and treasures of many of Scotland’s monarchs, and the famed Great Gallery even houses portraits of the nation’s legendary kings alongside those who actually did exist. In the summer months the gardens can also be visited, but for us that was a pleasure we had to forego.

FRASER SUITES EDINBURGH 12 - 26 St Giles Street, Edinburgh EH1 1PT Tel. 0131 221 7200 http://edinburgh.frasershospitality.com

We, however, were heading to the area they call the Grassmarket. Set in the heart of the Old Town, it’s one of the most eclectic, compelling, and lively areas of the city. In the past, it was home to merchants, body snatchers, & Edinburgh’s gallows. Thankfully, things have picked up a little, and now it’s a thriving community of appealing small shops, restaurants, & galleries. The colourful, curving slope of Victoria Street is much photographed, and the hotch-potch of independent shops demand exploration. With so many pleasant cafes, and a great choice of live music venues, it’s a cultural heaven that can quickly soak up your time. It seemed we had only recently heard the bells at 9 this morning, and yet was already dark and time to head back to our apartment. Certainly one of the biggest advantages of staying in the city centre, is that there is so much to see within

Our walk back up the hill was broken by a brief stop at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the John Knox House. This picturesque historic building offers an insight into the association between John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots, whilst also featuring live storytelling for children, literature, and theatre events. It makes a useful stop if, like us, you have youngsters who love to hear a well-told tale. Elsewhere, visitors with children can also enjoy the Museum of Childhood, and the Edinburgh Zoo – home to more than 1000 rare and beautiful animals. 28

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

walking distance, you have no need to waste time on travelling. Even so, Edinburgh still saps your time amazingly quickly. The next morning was devoted to what must surely be the highlight of every visitor’s time here. As you enter the main gate of Edinburgh’s mighty castle, you’re confronted by a massive rock outcrop, on which the castle is perched. Walking up the steep incline, through the second gate, you quickly realise what a truly dominant position it occupies. The walls curve around in front of you, marking the edge of the high ground. The panoramic views across the city, and on to the sea, would have given it’s defenders a tremendous advantage, and trying to attack it would have been foolhardy in the extreme. The main castle buildings are higher still, up more steep slopes, or a perilous stairway. Climbing it will reward you handsomely, however, as it’s here that you can witness Scotland’s most prized possessions.

The impressions of our 9-year old Junior Reporter “I really liked the Fraser Suites Apartments, especially the big screen TV’s in each room, and the pretty bathroom. The Storytelling Centre was nice, and I’d have liked to have stayed for longer there. The castle was kind of dark and scary, but the Crown Jewels were amazing. I got told off for trying to take a photo of them because apparently its not allowed!”

Photos - Natalia Kolesnikova and Visit Scotland

The Scottish Crown Jewels are amongst the oldest in Europe, and known correctly as ‘The Honours of Scotland’. The intricate workmanship combined with the exquisite design, and shimmering gold and jewels, make them a truly breathtaking sight. You can also see the ancient coronation seat known as the Stone of Destiny, which only returned to Scotland in 1996, after being taken to London 700 years earlier by the invading English Army. And if you’re thinking there is nothing here for the English, then you can see the place where the future King James I of England (and King James VI of Scotland, of course) was born. We all enjoyed our visit to Edinburgh Castle, and were sad that our short break to this city had come to an end. The castle certainly lived up to its reputation as one of the most impressive in Europe, although perhaps that’s no surprise considering Edinburgh itself has to be one of the most impressive capitals.

www.protraveller.co.uk

29


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

Quirky Cayman Brac Katy Dartford tastes the high-life in the Southern Caribbean Visitors are only just returning to Cayman Brac after hurricane Paloma hit in 2008. But in many ways, Paloma has helped preserve the Brac’s unspoilt, rugged charm, leaving it one of the quirkiest and least developed islands in the Caribbean. Cayman Brac is a quiet, laid back place consisting of families that mostly stem from the few core settlers of the 1850's. There are only two hotels and 15 restaurants and everything moves along slowly on "island time". Most day’s fisherman still congregate on the dock to quietly play dominoes, whilst waiting for the groceries to be shipped in. The 90 mile flight to from Grand Cayman on a small 20 seater plane takes about 50 minutes, with a stop off at Little Cayman. A short drive takes us to the Cayman Brac Reef resort. ( www.bracreef.com) with their onsite dive operators, Reef Divers.

The Brac has fewer sandy beaches than its sisters, Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, but it has plenty of iron shore. And Tenson ventures down to the beach most days to ply Chiton off the ironshore bay. These prehistoric-looking slugs in hard shells are plastered all over the rocks. “we call them sea beef” says Tenson. The Chiton, as well as Caymannite shells and rocks are used to make quirky pieces of jewellery to sell in the shop. Tenson is quite a storyteller, so you might be wise to form an exit strategy before you go in. He talks about fishing, dogs, and that he definitely doesn’t want many more tourists, despite relying on them for business. Because of its torpedo like shape the Brac has two separate diving environments; the north and south. There are about 45 moored dive sites, and most are just minutes away from the beach on the south west shore. Here is better for marine life and big walls,

After Paloma, the resort underwent a multi million dollar rebuild and is now the only dive resort on the island. The Brac’s dive sights haven’t had much attention lately. For Brackers’, like Tenson Scott, this is a good thing. “We don’t want any more crazy American women” he tells me. (Although he is now very good friends with that same ‘crazy American woman.’) The 70 year old former fisherman owns the small cottage shop NIMS Things (Native Island Made.) in Spot Bay. 30

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

such as Anchor Wall, with its deep swim-throughs and crevices and an old Anchor wedged into the wall. The north east sites, where the wreck of the MV Capt Tibbets is found, have longer boat rides and is best for deep dives and wrecks. The Tibbett is a 100 meter-long Russian missile frigate. Underwater its metal has been transformed; covered in marine life, red and purple sponges, fat white tunicates and bulbous clumps of hard red and yellow coral. Tiny creatures make their home on this artificial reef that was brought to Cayman Brac in 1996 from Cuba to finish its days as a diving attraction and the only Russian warship that can be dived in the western hemisphere. Then there is also the Lost City of Atlantis. By the beach at a dive site called Radar Reef on the north shore, I spot large terracotta coloured sculptures, like Russian matryoshka dolls. They are soon to join over 300,000 lbs of sculptures to become part of the large, underwater, multi-piece creation by a local artist, simply known as “Foots”.

I’m taken on a tour of the island by a local guide Keino. He tells me that the south side has only been developed in the last 30 years as Brackians didn’t believe it was safe from hurricanes. ‘I hope I never have to live through that again.' says Keino. He tells me that when Paloma struck, his wife didn’t want to leave the house “but she will do if it ever happens again.' He says that they had to smash the windows of their home to ease some of the pressure caused by the winds. ‘Next time – and pray to God there isn't a next time – but we will go to a proper shelter, or a cave.’ And Cayman Brac is full of caves. David takes me to the Bluff, to see them. The Bluff is a large limestone wedge-shaped ridge that runs along the spine of the 14-mile long island. It’s nearly 30 million years old and starts at sea level in the west end, reaching a height of around 40 meters in the east, the highest point in the Cayman Islands. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking and nature walks on the Bluff. Well marked trails lead to a variety of dramatic caves such as Rebecca's Cave, Peter's Cave and Skull Cave, and easy to follow nature trails lead to the 180 Parrot Reserve. Another of the Bluffs’ secret treasures is its rock climbing. It’s never really been promoted officially, as like free-diving; the government are worried that something could go wrong. But lots of climbers go there under their own steam and the infrastructure is quite simple. Many of the climbers who set up routes on the Bluff have homes on the island and visit several times a year. Bluff View House is a small guest cottage for climbers on the south east coast, and has route maps and ropes you can borrow. The best time to visit Cayman Brac is from January through to March when the water is still warm enough to dive and it is mostly dry. (the rainy season is in the summer.)

www.protraveller.co.uk

31


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

Tours Free nature tours are offered through District Administration's Marketing and Promotions Unit at naturecayman@gov.ky. Eating and Drinking For something a upmarket, try The Alexander Hotel. Opened in 2009 it strikes a real contrast to the rest of the island’s quirky eating establishments. Its poolside restaurant Casa Braca focuses on Caribbean cuisine. www.alexanderbrac.com Also try La Esperanza, mid way along the north shore at The Creek. It offers an interesting mix of American, Caribbean, and Seafood, plus a bar with entertainment, a grocery, car rental, boat dock, 4 apartments and 2 rental homes. It also featured as ‘the Sand Bar’ in the 2010 film Cayman West, the story of a fading Hollywood underwater action star whose life takes on new meaning when he's forced to spend time on Cayman Brac amid the local dive community. Accommodation The Alexander Hotel has great views of the Cayman shores, and is just 2 minutes walk from the beach. It’s built by a salt water pond, a nature reserve where you can go bird watching for the endangered West Indian Whistling Duck & many other migratory birds. For intimate bed and breakfast accommodation, try Walton's Mango Manor Bed & Breakfast at Stake Bay. Nestled amongst the fruit trees and ponds, it also offers two separate villas and a seaside gazebo with hammocks swinging between coconut trees. www.waltonsmangomanor.com

32

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

Day trips across the Channel remain as popular today as always, but nowadays many travellers are seeking more than just a few hours shopping & wandering in Calais. Our reporters took the short ferry trip, and visited two of the ‘in’ places for families, within an hours drive of the port.

After a swift and pleasant crossing from Dover on one of P&O Ferries newest ships, and a half hour drive from Calais, we easily found our way to Nausicaa’s large underground car park. For those not aware, Nausicaa is the National Sea Life Centre of France, and in the twenty years since it opened has grown to become one of the top ten attractions in the country. Indeed, over half a million visitors each year come to visit the 50 aquariums, 35,000 fish, and 1000 marine creatures. As our young daughter is always captivated by her grandfather’s fish tank, it seemed like a good choice for our day trip across the Channel. Arrival and purchasing the tickets was easy, with friendly, English speaking staff, and we were impressed to be given not just the map of the attraction, but also an additional one which shows all the lifts and easy access points to make life easier as we had a pushchair. Nice touch. And there were many more nice touches as our day progressed. Nausicaa certainly came across as somewhere that had been well planned, and with significant attention to detail. For example, unlike a number of other attractions in France that we’ve visited, the information displays were all in both English and French, which was very welcome. The displays are equally impressive, particularly the vast shark tank. Seeing these creatures from an underwater perspective, or watching the sea-lions swim all around you, will rate as a memorable experience for any visitor.

34

The appeal of a short break in northern France is easy to see. As well as the in-bred tradition of stocking up on your food and wine, it’s a chance to sample the delights of the French culture, cuisine, and style. But, for a little more of that ‘je ne sais quoi’, try heading half an hour or so south of the main Channel ports, to sample to the delights of the Opal Coast. The pretty seaside resort of Le Touquet may have faded a little since it’s pre-war heyday, but it’s still a pleasant place to spend some time. In it’s prime, Le Touquet was a resort to rival those on the Cote d’Azur. A meander around the outskirts will reveal the many lavish villas secreted in large gardens behind the screens of pine trees. It still retains that air of gracefulness and tranquillity, despite the influx of cars and coaches whenever the sun comes out. Nestling on the estuary of La Canche River, though, it has ample beach and amenities for all. Without doubt, the long sandy the shoreline is the town’s prime attraction, stretching from the sailing club on the river estuary, the full length of the town, and off into the distance towards Stella Plage, and Berck sur Mer. In the centre is the impressive Aqualud swimming complex, with its huge water slides and tropical atmosphere. All the family will enjoy it here, and when you’ve worked up an appetite, the panoramic Le Nemo restaurant is part of the same establishment. Away from the seafront, Le Touquet’s main shopping streets manage a quaint appeal that belies their fairly

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

modern style. Dozens of small independent shops beg for exploration, and amid the obligatory tourist souvenirs are some excellent offerings of local cheese, pottery, and jewellery. The town still sees itself as a cut above those nearby, and the designer boutiques are surpassed only by the enticing local speciality of hand made chocolates. The purpose built market place is also worth seeking out, with fresh local produce and crafts at bargain prices in the semi-circular mock-medieval gatehouse.

There are also smaller, more colourful tropical displays, and wherever you go there is a good deal of knowledge to be gained for young & old from the various displays. If you prefer a more hands-on approach, then you’ll enjoy the Touch and Feel tank, where you can experience running your hand across a stingray, or stroking the other fish. Whatever your own personal interest, there is sure to be something here to appeal, since just about every aspect of the world’s seas and oceans are covered somewhere. Even the local Channel coast gets a look in. The futuristic feel of the main areas also reminds guests how the centre takes a keen and responsible attitude to the future. Endangered species are highlighted, with the information boards spelling out the message of how we need to take care of them, and of the planet as a whole. There is even a valuable insight into survival of the fishing industry, and the efficient use of water energy. Nausicaa is also a successful fish-breeding establishment, and has a marine hospital to take care of sick creatures. For the guests, facilities include three main restaurants, photographers to entice you in to taking away a picture of those memorable moments, and of course there’s the obligatory gift shop. One of those undoubted highlights is also one of the last parts of your nautical journey around the exhibits. The Submerged Forest is a marvellous depiction of a South American rain forest that has been submerged in a flood, and where nature has strangely adapted to the new surroundings. It’s a great way to finish a superb day trip. Nausicaa is open all year round, except for Christmas, New Year, and a short maintenance period in January. We would suggest you allow at least 3 – 4 hours for your visit, and it’s proximity to the Channel Ports means its perfectly feasible to make a diversion next time you are crossing to France. It will be well worth it.

The bargain prices don’t, unfortunately, extend to the eating-houses of Le Touquet. Menu’s are generally a bit above average, but then, to be fair, so is the quality of the cuisine. Sit on the terrace of the very agreeable Auberge de la Dune aux Loups and sample the excellent seafood menu, with a glass of typically French wine. This is what a short break in France is all about. For the more energetic there is a large, well equipped, sports centre on the edge of town, with no less than 33 tennis courts and another large swimming pool. There is also a first class equestrian centre next to the airport. Golf and cycle hire are well catered for, and during the summer months there are plenty of water-based activities to help ease the Euros from your wallet. On the beach there are trampolines for the children, and carriage rides for all. The area has also become a haven for sand yachting enthusiasts. However you plan your stay, you’ll be surprised just how much a short break in this area can offer.

www.nausicaa.co.uk www.protraveller.co.uk

35


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

In the next issue of Part Two of our Italian Feast We take time to explore Lake Garda, visit a brand new hotel complex on the Puglian Coast, Stunning Sardinia, and enjoy a day wandering around the Eternal City - Rome.

Focus on France Emma Plaskett visits the little known Limousin Region, and Trevor Claringbold relaxes in the Marne Valley, east of Paris.

Cool Cayman Cuisine Katy Dartford continues her meander around the Caribbean, sampling the food and drink of the Cayman Islands.

Plus... Off the beaten track in Central Africa, Getting Active in Southern Finland, and an Alpine Adventure in Austria

www.protraveller.co.uk


www.protraveller.co.uk

36


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

For some inexplicable reason, the area just to the east of Paris is largely overlooked by British tourists. The countryside just to the west – especially the Loire valley, is crowded to the point of bursting each summer. Yet the only time the area centred on the upper Seine valley sees many visitors from the UK is when they pass through, skirting Paris on their way further south. However, in many ways – for us as tourists – that can be a blessing. It means that the region is a delight to explore, with a relaxed and unhurried feel – just like the Seine itself. If you glance back into the area’s history, though, things were quite different. The English didn’t just come here in large numbers, they actually occupied some districts for lengthy periods during the 100 Years War, claiming it as English soil. Take the impressive medieval fortified town of Provins, which is a good example. With a history stretching back over a thousand years, Provins is an intriguing and fascinating place. In its heyday, during the 12th and 13th centuries, it was an important European trading centre. It’s strategic location at the confluence of no less than nine major roads gave rise to the Counts of Champagne holding twice yearly ‘fairs’ here, which drew merchants from

across the continent. Indeed, for several centuries Provins had such standing that it even minted its own coin, which was recognised and accepted throughout medieval Europe. Today, visitors can find much to remind them of these past glories, not least being the mighty city walls. This mammoth structure is still in excellent condition, and it’s easy to imagine just how well protected the inhabitants and traders must have felt in times of trouble. Wandering the peaceful labyrinth of ancient streets of the hilltop old town, it’s difficult not to lose your bearings. However, most roads eventually lead to the large, serene town square, with the old well, and half-timbered buildings creating the perfect atmosphere. This is exactly how you imagine historic, rural France to be. Nearby is the dominant Caesar’s Tower; a vast, complex, and highly visible testament to power and wealth held by the Counts of Champagne in the Middle Ages. Elsewhere, the ancient Tithe Barn houses a detailed recreation of its time as the indoor market place, using waxwork recreations of the many different merchants and their trades. Below the cobbled streets there is also something of a honeycomb, as more than 100 tunnels have been preserved for a variety of uses. These were originally excavated to mine the much sought after ‘Fullers Earth’, but enterprising

www.protraveller.co.uk

39


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

townsfolk then made use of them as storage areas, cool rooms, secret hideaways, and a mixture of other roles. A less authentic, but more lively attraction is the ‘Eagles of the Ramparts’ medieval show. This is one of a number of shows that make use of the purpose built auditorium tucked just inside the city wall. Eagles, hawks, vultures and buzzards are amongst the birds of prey that sweep just millimetres above the heads of an enthralled audience, while costumed performers re-enact scenes on horseback, camels, and up on the ramparts. It’s highly theatrical, but the fast pace and constantly swooping large birds make it absolutely captivating. If you really want to sample what it might have been like to stay here in centuries past, treat yourself to a night or two at the magnificent Demeure des Vieux Bains. This monumental stone building dates from the 12th century, when it began life as the bath house for the town. The large vaulted room is the only one of its type in France, and later additions saw a more stately architecture from the 15th and 16th centuries. Relaxing in the sumptuous 18th century suites, with their Italian furnishings, makes you feel like royalty. The real royalty, and their post-revolution counterparts, had a somewhat larger abode in which to enjoy their lavish lifestyle. Some 30 miles to the west lies the one of the most important and best known chateaus in all of France; Fontainebleau. It’s impossible not to be awestruck by this sprawling royal palace. The facts and figures – over 1,500 rooms, 116 hectares of gardens, a canal that’s over a kilometre long, & no less than 34 sovereigns having stepped across the threshold – tell only part of the story. Each autumn the Royal Court would come to Fontainebleau for the hunting season. The vast forest, much of which remains today, was considered an excellent venue for such regal jollities. The chateau grew with each generation, and the interior was

adorned with the riches and grandeur that befitted the occupant’s high status. Today, tourists wander with jaws dropped amid the splendour, through long, breathtaking galleries, huge, luxurious bedrooms, and the prestigious ballroom. See the desk where Napoleon sat, and the throne room where the French kings had audiences with the rich and famous of their day. It’s a truly awesome structure, entwined eternally in the nations history, and one not to be missed on any visit to the region. Unlike many such chateau’s, it is also conveniently placed close to the centre of the city. This means it is not only easy to get to if you happen to be staying in Fontainebleau, but also helps you enjoy the delights that the rest of this fine city has to offer. The busy pedestrianised area is full of enticing shops, with the aroma of cheese and wine hanging tantalisingly in the air. This is a town that is known for its good living, and as you would expect there are also a fair section of designer shops, and upmarket boutiques. Fontainebleau is chic, stylish, but still relaxing and enjoyable. If you’re looking for the perfect place to stay, the peaceful, refined, Aigle Noir Hotel, just opposite the chateau, is an ideal choice. Built as a private mansion in the 17th Century, it manages to create an atmosphere that is both select and restful, with all rooms having their own unique personality. The level and attention to detail is impressive; from the selection of international sockets to suit all the main international plugs, to the television screens that ‘appear’ from the mirrored glass. Of course, if you prefer more rural surroundings, this is a beautiful area to explore. The smaller towns and villages along the Seine are idyllic, and certainly worthy of some time spent just ambling along the riverside, or amongst the narrow streets. Artists of all kinds come here to paint, draw, write music and

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

poetry, or just be inspired. In Samois-sur-Seine is the small island where gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt came to write music, and where his fans still meet annually in June for a jazz festival. Life is unhurried here, and the music of the riverside is a relaxing symphony of birdsong, gently rustling leaves, and the lapping water behind the occasional pleasure boat. The forest itself also has much to offer, from pleasant walks to long hikes, & even more energetic pursuits such as rock climbing and mountain biking. In the time honoured tradition of saving the best until last, however, there is one final experience not to be missed in this land of all things splendid. The Chateau of Vaux le Vicomte may be marginally smaller than that of Fontainebleau, but it is certainly

no less impressive. Indeed, it is said that it was Louis XIV’s extreme jealousy over his Lord High Treasurer’s owning of Vaux, that inspired him to build Versailles. It is still regarded by many to be the most beautiful chateau in France, and lays claim to

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller

Issue 50

being the largest private house in the country. Inside it is regal and ostentatious, but still retains a serene elegance. Twenty first century technology helps bring it to life, with holographic figures telling the story of the chateau, re-enacting scenes, & enjoying the daily life both above and below stairs.

Useful Contacts Seine-et-Marne Tourism – www.tourisme77.co.uk Demeure des Vieux Bains - Excellent accomodation in a llisted 12th & 16th century building in Provins. www.demeure-des-vieux-bains.com Hostellerie Aux Vieux Remparts – Elegant mid-range hotel in Provins. www.auxvieuxremparts.com

Outside the gardens are every bit as magnificent as the building, with large formal designs interspersed with fountains and topiary. During the summer months, visitors can enjoy a candlelit supper to beat all others, as around 2000 candles are lit throughout the gardens and the main façade just as dusk falls. The effect is almost magical. The restaurant on the terrace not only provides the perfect viewing platform, but also boasts excellent cuisine. The Seine et Marne region has many superb places to visit, with good food, and lovely people. As I sit enjoying a glass of wine after a delightful meal on the terrace at Vaux le Vicomte, the candles twinkling across the gardens to the illuminated chateau behind, it’s easy to see why this really is a land fit for a king.

Aigle Noir Hotel – Beautiful period hotel in the heart of Fontainebleau, near the chateau. www.hotelaiglenoir.fr Chateau de Fontainebleau http://www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr/

SEINE ET MARNE REGION

Chateau of Vaux le Vicomte www.vaux-le-vicomte.com

www.protraveller.co.uk


Pro Traveller Magazine - Issue 50  
Pro Traveller Magazine - Issue 50  

Pro Traveller Magazine - for the discerning family traveller. In this issue: a 16 page Italian Special, Diving in the Cayman Islands, France...