A Travel & Lifestyle Blog

Be an adventurer today - The Slaughters, Cotwolds

Decided to skive off work today?
Forget about shopping and lounging in front of the TV.
Put your Wellies on - they are oh, so trendy, after all - and get out there in the Cotswold's countryside: Lower Slaughter, to be specific!  
 

"It's cold and wet out there", you say!
"It's as close, as it gets, to Alice in Wonderland", I say!

Don't let the name frighten you either, this little dot on the map is a dollhouse village, complete with its' own watermill!

Wander around the village and you won't see a single tree that looks neglected, a single fence that needs repainting. It's picture perfect!
People are so easy-going around there that you'll see old books and lavender pouches for sale, on the stone fences outside the little cottages; nobody is there to oversee the sale, it's all rested on good, old-fashioned trustworthiness, as a little note informs you!


So, allow yourself to be part of the countryside for a day, stop at the Old Mill for a cup of tea and if you are feeling adventurous, try the little track to Upper Slaughter...it goes a bit like this: 

"Follow the track behind the watermill,
Cross three fields (what does that mean, well start counting...)
Cross the stone bridge
Walk across the old wall that runs on your left
and here you are!"
 
No maps, no cheating though!
Adventurers don't need maps anyway!

http://bit.ly/1KB2A6s
http://bit.ly/1KB2A6s

If you need something a bit more comfortable, try Lower Slaughter Manor (check availability) for afternoon tea.

We took dad there on Father's day and we spent a good two hours in our own little private mezzanine area, with bay windows overlooking the gardens.


So give it a go and if you don't come back home full of fresh air, clear mind and a relaxed mood...well, you are just being difficult really! 
 

Back to the King's Arms in Christchurch...

Put Christchurch on your summer map people! I'm talking about the one in Dorset, not the one in New Zealand!
 
Mudeford Quay

Why Christchurch?
Well first of all, the Sandbanks down by the Channel, is my Springbreak-pretend place. 

 didn't grow up in the States off course, so my idea of the perfect Springbreak comes from the movies and is a mixture of Abercrombie & Fitch dressed boys and gals, with a hint of America Pie mischief and endless sun-drenched days beach-side - or lake-side...depending on the movie! 


Mudeford Sandbanks fits this bill perfectly!
Jump on the Wick Ferry, right outside the Captain's Club in Christchurch and hop off at Sandbanks, to join the young crowd with cases of beer underarm, sea-battered looks complete with flip-flops and sweaters, lighter hair from the seawater and sweet tans.

Alternatively, drive -even better, cycle- down to Mudeford and take the Mudeford ferry across to the Sandbanks.  Nothing beats a day lying around the sandy beach, with a good book and a couple of drinks. If you don't bring your own, there's the Beach House Café.

Why is Mudeford so special? Because it feels so far away from everything, simple as that!
It's a microcosm of sand dunes, colourful beach huts (the priciest in UK apparently), families spending their days building sand castles and barbecuing with friends, all in a natural environment that's protected and respected.


And then in the evenings, after you've spent the whole day on the beach you come back to Christchurch, to get ready and go out in one of the dozen restaurants in town.
I just love that feeling of washing the seawater off and getting into something more elegant but having lovely tanned shoulders and very little need of makeup because your face has soaked in the sunshine and you naturally don't want to spoil that!

There is a great little selection of places to eat at: the Boathouse has live music and finger-licking good ribs and the DJ at the King's Arm's Bar goes on until 1am.

Negronis at the King's Arms Bar

Did you notice that I haven't mentioned the car once? Once you park your car, you can completely forget about it. You can walk everywhere or you can take the Wick ferry down to the Sandbanks. So, no time-restrictions, no worrying about moving round.

Christchurch is this little town full of monuments from different centuries with every step you take. You don't have to go looking for them, they are intertwined with townhouses and cute little cottages. 
 
If you walk from the King's Arms down to the riverfront for example, you come across Norman ruins, right next to a branch of river Avon, where people are fishing and boating, then you pass secret gardens with hidden monograms on the gates covered by ivy, then suddenly you look to you right and you spot the 11th century Priory towering over you.
You are not there yet, keep going until you see the Anglo-Saxon watermill, which was even mentioned in the Doomsday Book and serves as quaint little café. Now you are on the waterfront!
 
If you come with kiddies, there are so many thoughtfully created spots around town for them. The big natural playground is off course the beach.  But on the riverfront you'll find a "splash garden", with kid-friendly water jets and sprinklers, as well as mini golf, right next to the Boathouse.
 
The King's Arms boutique hotel, perfectly located in the middle of it all!

Back in May, I have had a couple of manic months at work and even the weekends seemed filled up with never ending engagements; I mean... it was Christmas just a few months ago and now we are starting to plan the next Christmas holidays already! 
So, one of the early May afternoons that I felt completely hopeless at work, I grabbed the calendar, found the first free weekend in June and planned our weekend away, in Christchurch.

The King's Arms is a very charming boutique hotel, with grey panelled walls and a very colourfully, newly refurbished bar. Last summer, the manager kindly invited us to come back for a complimentary stay, because last time we stayed there, our room got really hot. It's the price you have to pay when you are staying in a beautiful listed building at the same time of a totally unexpected heat wave.
While the rest of the rooms are air-conditioned, the last floor cannot be fitted with air conditioning units because of the lovely beams and cute little windows. The staff did their best to accommodate us with fans, but it was one of those freakishly hot summer days that nobody expects to have in UK. Still, their impeccable attitude and professionalism brought us back!

Our room was massive, great choice if you are coming with kids too and the lawns across the road, which also belong to the hotel include Norman ruins and a cute, white clubhouse, which normally houses weddings. It's very picturesque and the people are quite friendly, which makes all the difference!

The breakfast room at the King's Arms
Our massive room, with a hint of decadence and precious AC units!

The Norman ruins form part of the hotel's "front garden"

The evening we were visiting, there was some kind of a car show in town and not one, not two, but four Elvises walked in the King's Arms Bar, in their white flair suits and puffed up coifs.

That's the other thing about Christchurch. There is always something going on to attract your attention.
This time there was a vintage car show, on Sunday morning, by the river.
What a great collection of classic beauties, in a gorgeous setting! We hadn't planned it but we spent a good hour looking around, chatting to the owners and drooling over these vintage pieces.

This fiery Alfa was imported from South Africa and was found very close to its' original state apparently...
 
PS: Lately, I have been having doubts about how useful it is to write about restaurants and hang out spots, when so many people around seem to be so blue.
"How can this be useful to them?", I've been asking myself. 
Well, what's the point of a multimillion-magazine/marketing/blogging industry you might as well also ask...
 
I just couldn't shake off this feeling, that it's inappropriate to go on about yet another eating spot, when there are people who are emotionally struggling, everywhere. 
Take your friends' "likes" on Facebook, for example; when they consistently "like" posts about overcoming depression or keeping positive, they are not quite saying it out loud, but it obviously strikes a cord with them. I keep noticing it around me lately and it has really affected me.   

This feeling of anxiety comes and goes all the time for me too, but I'm the kind of person that has a little cry and then gets stubborn about making things happen so I get on with things, one way or the other; 
not necessarily the healthiest way to deal with life, but I refuse to let myself feel sad for too long, while a lot of people find it difficult to escape this vicious circle. As a result I have been feeling guilty the past couple of weeks any time I have been sitting down to write anything for the blog, hence the scarcity in posts.

But I have finally concluded that it's friendships that pull you out of this vicious circle. A text, a call, a little crying - even a little bitching - session, releases emotions and brings peace. That goes for boys too, bottling up emotions isn't the healthy way to go lads!  

I guess my little piece of advise is: when you are at your lowest, plan something you usually find fun, even if it feels pointless at the time. Especially if it feels pointless at the time!

When I planned our trip to Christchurch  it felt so far away, but the thought of  jumping on that Mudeford ferry and landing on Sandbanks, kept me going for weeks. x

Roadtrip to Champagne: Taittinger & Vranken-Pommery Houses

This is the final instalment to our Champagne road-trip.
After our pitstop in Paris for less than 24 hours, our Reims Michelin star dinning experience and our day-long drive through the Grand Crus villages, came our last day, when we actually managed to visit two Champagne houses in Reims: Taitinger and Vranken-Pommery.
Both Houses are located in the centre of Reims, but with very distinct attitudes to presentation and experience.


These two are the easiest Champagne Houses to visit, because they are open most of the time and do not require bookings, especially in quieter seasons. I have to say, visiting some of these Champagne Houses has proved harder than we initially thought!
We really wanted to visit the Laurent Perrier for example, and although we did drive through Tours-sur-Marne, where it is located, it looked closed, so we drove off.
The same happened with the Louis Roederer house in Reims, we drove around it on several occasions trying to catch it open, only to eventually find out that it is not open to the public. I felt like a kid outside Willy Wonka's factory at that point...  
 
What a fun day it turned out to be however, after we decided to swallow our pride and walk into the Tourism Office in Reims! We also found it really hard to contact most of the Champagne houses by phone, but the Tourism Office will tell you what's what and will help you plan your day, in no time! 
 
One of the impressive caves, full of bottles, amongst the 12 kilometres of tunnels that belong to the Taittinger House alone.
 
The Taittinger House puts a lot of emphasis on history and traditions.
The Taittinger building wouldn't attract your attention otherwise. It was the first one we visited and we really didn't know what to expect. A short presentation in a very plain cinema room focuses on the House's traditions. However, you soon find out that the current building was built on the ruins of the former St Nicaise Abbaye, where  Benedictine monks used the Roman chalk pits underneath, to store their wines at a constant temperature of 12C.
 
Left: the old staircase that the Benedictine monks used to descend to the cellars. Right: WWII art!


Straight after the presentation comes the interesting part, a windy staircase takes you twelve meters underground, straight into the chalk cellars. They are all stacked with thousands of bottles of champagne and you get to see how bottles are kept at different angles throughout their fermentation, in order to eventually be kept almost upside down and push the sediment out.
We also spotted the old staircases that the monks used to use. In the Roman chalk pits we even spotted little faces, carved in the porous walls; this unexpected art is the result of the people of Reims,  using the pits as hiding place during WWII.


If you thought that "Magnum" is the holy grail of sizes (third in, from the right), think again...here in Reims they go up to a "Nebuchadnezzar", or a whopping 15 litres of bubbles!

Overall, the Taittinger visit was a very interesting experience, packed with historic details throughout.


The Vranken Pommery House on the other hand, seemed like a fairy-tale castle out of a movie, where knights might as well appear, on their colourfully dressed horses.
It had more of a commercial feel to it, with focus on marketing and edgy blue colourful designs throughout the cellars.



Our guide was way too serious, he wouldn't answer to jokes and wouldn't take any comments either. This experience was totally different to the Taittinger one. Here, two double wooden doors open and you find yourself on top of a long staircase that is colourfully lit, descending into the chalk pits. Quite impressive, I will admit. It felt like we were entering a wonderland, with light installations, art pieces and bubbles, off course! We were cautioned to walk on the right only, as other groups were coming up on the left. I understand that safety is important in these conditions, but the attitude could be a bit more relaxed.

Loads of pieces of art were scattered around the chalk pits. This place had a modern feel to it throughout. What I really liked was learning about Madame Pommery, who inherited the House after her husband's death and was an innovator of her time, in terms of marketing.
Every time a new market was opened for Pommery Champagne, a cave would be named after this market. Hence you spot "Birmingham", right next to "Berne" and so on.




At the end of the tour we were taken to a white arched cave, illuminated with fluorescent blue lights, to have our champagne tasting. I had a glass of the Pommery Apanage Rose at first, but what was really nice was the Pommery Gran Cru Vintage, finer bubbles, very fine texture.
I have to say...that's where we decided that we are missing our ferry from Calais that evening, in order to take it easy and enjoy our tour.


Here's a question: why don't they offer any nibbles at these champagne tastings?
No, my inner alchie hasn't proclaimed itself just yet, so I just couldn't down three glasses of champagne, with no food! Well, it seemed like the perfect time to crack open our precious macaroons from Paris, they went down a treat!

PS: we missed the next ferry from Calais too, because we stopped for supplies in Carrefour, on the way!
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