Our Normandy Adventure: Part III

Day 4

One thing you have to do when in France is to try a French breakfast and make it local.  We headed to the tiny bakery in Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer and were like kids in a sweet shop.  The range was quite astonishing considering its size and also at home we’re just used to 2 options when it comes to a continental breakfast pastry (croissants or pain au chocolat). We picked an apple based pastry and a custard filled one and took these away to consume in our car.  One of the tastiest breakfasts…..if only they were healthy and I’d be eating them every day!

Before Arromanches, we headed a little further on to Longues Sur Mer to see the German battery flanked by the landing beaches and the only artillery battery to have Listed Building status.  You will find four quite in tact gun casemates.  Allow about half an hour for this stop.

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Arromanches has a few memorials to explore but its real draw is the film shown there in its 360 cinema.  By far the most emotional of all and possibly the best of all films seen on our trip to Normandy.  People left the cinema with tears in their eyes and even writing about it now, stirs my emotions.  This 19 minute film showing previously unseen footage projects onto 9 screens in HD and tells the story of the 100 day Battle of Normandy.

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We then headed to Bayeux.  We made our way first of all to the Commonwealth Cemetery which was quite a contrast to the American Cemetery.  All the headstones were very similar and lined up to precision but many contained personal messages from home and they all had flowers planted.  It was not as grand but it felt a little more grounded and peaceful.  This cemetery is home mainly to British servicemen but also has people buried here from New Zealand, Canada and South Africa to name but a few nations; there were also German graves which I found quite touching and which provides such a powerful message.  Again, very different to the American Cemetery and possibly one of my favourite spots on our trip to Normandy.

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We found Le Moulin de la Galette for lunch.  Situated overlooking a river with its own water wheel, this place used to be a mill.  Now it dishes up the friendliest of welcomes, a huge selection of galattes (including a choice for me with several without ham!!), one of the prettiest locations and great home cooked food.

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Feeling very full and having had my fill of cheese, we walked slowly across the road to see the Bayeux Tapestry.  Being entirely honest, I was not too excited about this.  Yes, it’s old and big but would I enjoy it?!  Absolutely!  The museum is well thought out.  You take an audio guide which starts when you reach a certain point and this then guides you through the story being told on the tapestry making it fun and it also set you on a good pace. After seeing the tapestry there is a small museum followed by a 16 minute film.  You learn how it was a miracle the tapestry was still in existence.  It was used as a covering and once almost torn up for a parade.  The tapestry itself is amusing, clever and so well preserved that it’s hard to believe the 70 metre long embroidered cloth is more than 900 years old. Allow around 1.5 hours here and the cost of entry at the time of writing including audio guide was 9 Euros per person.

Afterwards, we spent some time in Bayeaux and with an ice-cream in hand wandered to the cathedral although the outside is far more impressive than the inside.  We had also heard about an organic cider and calvados producer with a shop in Bayeaux run by husband and wife team, Christele and Francois, which we managed to track down. Lecornu is situated west of the cathedral near to a green (Place de Gaulle) and sells calvados, cider, apple juice, calvados jelly and many more wonderful products.

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We were lucky that the weather was so beautiful for exploring Bayeux and then for sitting out in the evening with a glass of wine and nibbles listening to the birds sing and reflecting on what a terrific day we’d had.

Day 5

When we visited Normandy, we visited every beach and related museum and tried to experience as much as possible.  I believe that Utah beach has the best museum.  We only had about 2 hours here to explore and actually could have spent at least another hour here. The museum like all others has a film, accounts from those who fought, objects from the war and it was the only place I recall seeing the German story being told, although this was very brief.  One thing that struck me when listening to the stories of the French who were occupied was in relation to a German solider.  He used to visit them and loved playing with the children. He had white hair, that’s all the family remember, and he said he had children and missed them.  He went missing, presumably died in the war.  Many people didn’t want to be there fighting but felt obliged to and were terrified of the consequences. Utah was an American beach landing and was largely successful although not without its terrible losses.  We didn’t actually see much of the beach, mainly because the weather was poor on the morning we visited.  However, the museum here is wonderful, set on the beach which brings you closer to the history you’re learning about, brimming with accounts I could have listened to all day, with terrific exhibits and there is a walk right at the end above the trenches giving you a silent insight into life at Utah.

When you are at Utah beach, you’re not far from Sainte-Mere-Eglise which is worth a visit for its museum but probably more famously, the statue of the airman hanging from the church spire by his parachute.  When the paratroopers were dropped by the gliders and were dispersed throughout the area, one soldier found himself dangling from the church spire.  A comrade fought off German forces to save his life and was himself killed in action but John Steele played dead and lived to tell the tale.

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The museum, situated just across the road from the church, contains 3 areas all worth a visit.  Allow about an hour and a half to see it all with an entry fee of 8 Euros per person (at the time of writing).  The best part of the museum for me provides you with a tiny insight into what it must have been like in Normandy in 1944, thanks to a hyper-realistic museography.  There is a plane you walk into which is noisy to the point of being quite scary and it’s full of paratroopers ready to parachute into the night.  When you exit, you’re looking down onto the local area from above, you can see the church on fire and lots of parachutes descending.  Then you’re on the beaches and gun shots are being fired.  Making your way forward you’re in the middle of hedgerows avoiding sniper shots. Even though you know it isn’t real, your heart can help but beat a little quicker and your reflexes make you a little lighter on your feet.

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Now home and having reflected on the trip, I realise how quickly pain can be forgotten.  How we move on with our lives at great speed giving little time to let the past help our future.  With the anniversary of D-Day approaching, I hope everyone reading this will take a moment to remember those who gave their lives so we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

Read Part I and Part II.

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Our Normandy Adventure: Part I

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As I walked along the beach at Omaha, still golden in the low winter sun, watching families building sandcastles and holding the hand of my better half, I could not imagine the horrors that struck this place just 72 years ago.  That’s tangible history and yet it didn’t seem possible watching the scene unfold before me that something so unimaginably terrible had taken place here.  At first I felt bad about the family enjoying their time building sandcastles underneath the sculpture remembering those who’d lost their lives here.  Then I realised that if we weren’t enjoying our time there it would have been for nothing.  They gave their lives so that we could enjoy ours.  This place was once blood, bullets and bodies and now there was love, life and laughter.

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The Normandy beaches should be visited in your lifetime. I think it should be part of every school curriculum to visit these historically key locations, to learn about those who made the greatest sacrifice at all, to learn how it all started, the evil genius that brought this into being, the brutality, the morale, the struggle, the fight, the resourcefulness and why we are here now doing what we are doing.  It’s a part of history we all have in common.

Day 1

We took the ferry over from Poole to Cherbourg early on Monday morning.  We were lucky to have such a lovely sunny day for our sailing and even got to peek at millionaires row at Sandbanks on the way out to sea whilst sailing just past Brownsea Island.  Don’t pin your hopes on the Brittany Ferries‘ breakfast and take a good book with you to keep you occupied!

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We arrived in France at around 2pm and headed straight to Auchan to stock up on French goodies.  We selected several wines with the aim of tasting them before our return journey so we could buy more of what we liked.  Good decision!

For this trip we were reaching back to our childhood memories and decided to stay at the perfectly located Eurocamp Cote de Nacre at Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer about an hour and a half away from Cherbourg.  It was a lovely site tucked away behind residential streets which felt as though we were part of the community.  We took a walk around the site which was really quite quiet in April.  Our holiday home was completely private and had no-one staying immediately next to us which made it nicely secluded.  The grounds were beautifully kept and for those needing the communal washing facilities, we’ve never seen such a modern shower block.

Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer was fairly quiet in April.  The cold windy weather, although sunny, didn’t help much in bringing out the crowds but we were welcomed by the restaurateurs and chose to eat at Cote Sable.  On our first night we enjoyed the local delicacies of Normandy Mussels (mussels in a creamy white sauce) and a ham and cheese galette all washed down with wine and a bowl of cider.  It would have been rude not to have sampled the crepes and so of course we obliged!

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Read Part II and Part III.

Our Normandy Adventure: Part II

Day 2

Feeling refreshed after a great night’s sleep, we set off at around 9am to Caen.  Caen was heavily bombed in the war and was left with just one medieval street remaining although the city does not look as modern as some of the others which rose from the ashes.  Its cathedral, rebuilt after the war, makes a skyline statement and its castle looks rather impressive, reminding me slightly of Cardiff, but without much substance.  A view best appreciated from outside if you’re short on time.

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After a fleeting visit to Caen, we made our way to Pegasus Bridge about 20 minutes away. This had one of the best museums we visited, dedicated to the men of the 6th British Airborne Division.  It was not overwhelming and recounted real stories which I love.  We learned about the gliders that dropped paratroopers into the area before D-Day to try and make a little headway in preparation.  We learned how that particular plan didn’t really work too well and many were dropped in water where they drowned or right into the hands of the German forces and others were scattered all over then left with the task of reuniting with their sections.  The museum is split into an inside and outside section.  Outside, you can see the actual Pegasus Bridge, a glider and learn about the ingenious Bailey Bridge. Allow an hour for this visit and at the time of writing, the entrance fee was 7.50 Euros per person.

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After a quick packed lunch in the car (cheese of course!), we made the 15 minute journey to the Caen Memorial Museum.  You will be able to see the museum from a distance as there’s a large statue outside of the sailor and his sweetheart!  The Museum we found a little overwhelming but certainly worth a visit.  It took just shy of 4 hours to see it and that was without spending too much time in the latter part devoted to the Cold War and Berlin (we’d recently visited Berlin and so just looked around briefly as we’d learned so much there).  There is a lot of detail in this museum and although it flows very well, it is tiring. There is a film here which is well thought out and presents very differently to the others; it appears about three quarters of the way through the museum tour and runs every half an hour.  We had about 20 minutes before the next showing, just enough time to go to the café and grab a coffee and share a raspberry tart.  Once we’d finished the film, we headed outside to see the remembrance garden for the Canadians and Brits which is certainly worth a look.  The British garden was immaculately kept and was very peaceful with us being the only ones there.  If you plan on visiting both this museum and Arromanches 360, be sure to buy the joint ticket costing (at the time of writing) 21.50 Euros per person (saving 3.50 Euros).

Our final stop of the day was Sword beach, one of the British beaches.  There’s no museum here but there are some memorials just off the beach.  We took a very long and blustery walk along its lovely and peaceful promenade.  Be prepared for a long walk!  We seemed to walk forever and we only really scratched the surface.  This gives you an idea of how big this beach is.  The houses that line the front are characterful, pretty, most of them locked up until the summer months arrive. It’s a peaceful place full of joggers, dog walkers and kite surfers!

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After such an exhausting day, we headed back to Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer, our favourite little French town, and settled down to dinner at Le Crabe Vert.  As someone who doesn’t eat a lot of meat, I did find this part of France a bit of a struggle as they love their pork!  I was usually left with mussels, Scottish salmon (odd!) or whelks!  However, this restaurant served up a delicious seafood pizza which I ate a little too eagerly and then finished off with a scrumptious sundae.

Day 3

Our first stop of the day was Pointe du Hoc.  This surprised me as I really didn’t know much about this before arriving.  This is the cliff face scaled by brave American Rangers in the D-Day landings.  The German forces were not overly concerned about this spot as it was almost impossible, in their eyes, that anyone would try to target this spot as it was so hostile.  However, the Rangers did it although only 90 of the 225 were still able to bear arms on 8 June 1944, 2 days after D-Day.  You can visit the spot, see many craters where bombs hit, see the German trenches and gun emplacements and stare out to the raging sea below.  This was a mission impossible and I was in awe of their determination and the success of this operation.  The museum is very small but nicely presented.  There are a few information boards inside, tributes outside and the scene of Pointe du Hoc is left very much in tact.  Allow at least 2 hours to visit this spot (no entrance fee) which is exceptionally memorable.

Omaha is the beach which will stick with me forever.  It was truly the most beautiful of all beaches, long and golden and I would recommend visiting the beach here and taking a walk along the sea front.  There is a small museum although it’s not for everyone.  There’s lots of memorabilia which is great for people who like this sort of thing.  For me, I prefer reading letters, the stories and the real life accounts.  The people are interesting and for me, the objects less so unless of course they have a story attached.  Here, there was mainly just a note about what the objects were and so I found myself whizzing along to a board detailing the stories of several soldiers and then listening to the film at the end which is certainly worth a watch.

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You cannot visit this area without visiting the American Cemetery. If you have ever watched ‘Saving Private Ryan’ this will be familiar to you as it features in the opening and closing scenes.  It is grand and the headstones are positioned to military precision.  They are all very similar with the only difference being that the stones are shaped to the faith of the soldier.  There are also many stones which read, ‘A soldier, known but to God’.  There is no order as such to the stones; the men were not buried by surname, date of death, platoon or battalion, they were buried randomly, side by side.  Even Theodore Roosevelt Jr, the ex-President’s son, is buried amongst his colleagues without a special position.  It’s a very stark picture when you step out and see all of the headstones, all 9,387 of them, and realise this was the tip of the iceberg of the death toll of this Total War.  There is a film to watch inside and so do make the effort to go through the security checks to see it.  It tells the heartbreaking stories of several soldiers and this is what makes it so real.  After the film, head out through the long enclosed corridor whilst the names of those buried at the cemetery are read out.  There is also a board dedicated to the Niland brothers just past this which is worth reading (Saving Private Ryan used this for its inspiration).

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Gold beach is very similar to Sword although the promenade isn’t as pretty. However, this beach does have a museum with the nicest staff.  We arrived with half an hour to go before closing but were welcomed and actually offered a free return visit the next day.  However, half an hour is plenty of time to see this small museum which is split into 2 areas.  The first is dedicated to a plane which crashed in the local area.  It had set off from New York in 1927 and was the first airmail link to France and due to the bad weather on route, had to divert from Paris to Ver-Sur-Mer.  The second part was of most interest to us and tells the story of the British invasion. This section is relatively small, but perfectly formed, and so half an hour is sufficient.

We were staying in Cote de Nacre and were about a 10 minute walk from the beach which forms part of Juno beach where the Canadian forces landed.  Like the others, the sea appears miles out when the tide is out, very much like Weston.  It only adds to the sheer size of the beach.  When the forces landed on 6 June 1944, they opted to land when the tide was out so they could avoid the obstacles and booby traps in the water such as the hedgehogs.  To land so far from the sea and then have to make their way with their heavy kit to the edge of the beach and onto the road…..it really is astonishing how they did it under that fire of bullets.  Juno was a success story but again did not come without its losses.  There is a lovely memorial by Courseulles-Sur-Mer which is worth visiting.  This is the spot where many of the key figures arrived after D-Day such as Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, King George VI and Eisenhower.

We returned once again to our old faithful, Saint-Aubin-Sur-Mer for our evening meal and decided to splash out at Le Poisson Dans Tous Ses Etats (‘Fish in all its states’).  We hadn’t booked and were lucky to get a table as this place filled up with locals quickly.  We enjoyed fish soup, battered fish and chips with two types of fish and a trio of desserts and a lemon mille feuille.  The restaurant does not have a website but is on the promenade looking out to sea next to Le Charleston; if you always pick where you eat on Trip Advisor you will miss out on this little gem!

Read Part I and Part III.

Our Further Italian Wonders

We visited many other locations on our Italian road trip this summer and it’s difficult to include them all within just one week and so in addition to the wonderful Alberobello and surrounding areas, Volo Dell’Angelo, Maratea and Matera already mentioned this week, here are a few of our further favourites:

Craco

This is one of the most interesting places we stopped off at on our travels.  We headed here after our trip to Volo Dell’Angelo where we met Azeem, a travel writer from London and previously a city lawyer.  We had lunch with him in Castelmezzano and told him all about our plans to visit Craco.  He actually knew the guide there, William, and made a call to him to arrange a tour for us.  He also told us about the city that must not be named which we later passed on our travels!

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We met our guide, William, who took us on a private tour of the abandoned town which lies about an hour west of Matera.  Once beautiful with a stunning palace at its apex, it now lies empty, crumbling and divides those who still own properties here and government bodies.

You must book on to a tour to visit this site and hard hats are worn at all times and at just £15 per person, this tour is great value.  You learn all about the history of the town, its links to the mafia, its brilliant water system and how water came to be its downfall.  You get to see empty buildings that used to have purpose such as bakeries which now sit empty but for the large ovens which stopped serving up delicious loaves a long time ago.  You learn about the demise of the town, how people fled with the promise of a better life, how traditions fled with the residents, how the lifeline to this town declined and about the hopes of those that still claim ownership to the properties.  It is quite sad to visit the palace which sits at the top Craco.  Paintings are still visible, beautiful tiled floors still partially there (and partially removed by thieves) and the views from this incredible building are breathtaking.

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It’s not a surprise that many advertisers and film makers chose Craco or nearby to shoot their work.  It’s peaceful, extensive and brimming with character.  It’s also known as the ghost town and there are rumours that it is haunted.  Stop in your tracks for a second and you will hear doors/shutters moving, crows crowing and underneath that, an eerie silence of a town still clinging on.

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William, a former priest, is fascinating, knowledgeable and was very generous with his time.  We made the last visit of the day as the sun was starting to fade, the perfect time to take some fabulous photos.

Metaponto Ruins

If you like history this is for you.  This attraction is split into three parts: 2 sites of ruins and 1 museum.  The first site we came across was a set of Greek columns which once formed part of a temple dating back to the 6th Century (Tavole Palatine).  It is located just off the motorway in Metaponto and does not take long to stop off and view.  With its picnic benches set behind the bougainvillea lined path which leads to the columns, it’s also a perfect place for lunch stop.

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We then headed to the museum to understand more about the sites and it was also a useful place to then discover the exact location of the second site which spans a much larger area and is home to the ruins of several temples, a tomb, agora and a partially reconstructed amphitheatre.  Wear good shoes as this area is beautifully wild and full of grasshoppers, a few bees and lizards rather than set in a manicured landscape.  This is about 5 minutes away from the museum and first site.  It was very quiet when we visited and it was only towards the end when a small coach party arrived we realised just how peaceful this place was!

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Allow about 1.5 hours to visit all 3 attractions plus travelling time and the only entry fee payable is for the museum.  This is a perfect stopping point on the way to Maratea.

Monopoli

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Take a chance (!) on this pretty place on the way back to Bari airport for your flight home.  Walk past the locals making the most of every inch of its tiny beach, down the brightest white washed street I have seen, along the water side via a mini fortress and through to the harbour.  At the end you will find an archway which leads to a quaint piazza, the perfect place to have your last Italian supper.  We chose a typically Italian restaurant and dined on seafood topped off with prosecco and found it was incredibly cheap.  We enjoyed ice-cream here from the friendliest ice-cream man before wandering off to explore the surrounding streets.  Monopoli was pretty, friendly and the prefect way to end our Italian road trip.

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Matera

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Once the embarrassment of Italy, this is now the jewel in its crown.  Steeped in history, this is possibly the world’s longest living civilisation, having been occupied since the Paleolithic era.  In the 1950s this place had an open sewer running through the streets; Matera was a problem but now it’s a symbol of hope, beauty and strength.  It truly is an inspirational place to be.

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Accommodation here is in caves.  We stayed at Le Dodici Lune which has a display in reception of how this hotel looked just a few years ago and it is remarkable how far this place has come in such a short time.  Our room was very large and was comfortable although you do have the slightly damp feeling when you’re there as you are staying in a cave after all!  This hotel has a wonderful restaurant which sits in the sunken courtyard.  Candles line the stairway up to the passing pathways making this a romantic place to dine.

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Many visitors just pass by and you could probably get a feel for the place on a day trip.  We spent 3 nights here exploring and it was a great decision as we felt a part of Matera and enveloped by its hospitality by the time we left.

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Do away with all maps…..you will not be able to use them here.  Streets are alleys which merge and wind up, down and around.  You will feel lost without a map in this maze but be patient and you will soon learn your way around.  You have to remember that the cathedral is the centre and at the top of the sissi and then just let your feet wander and explore the delights of Matera.  One discovery I made which sounds obvious now I write this is that I expected Matera to be the sassi and so it was a bit of a shock to arrive to the busiest city we’d encountered on our trip and a bit of an alarm clock to our living dream.  However, once we’d found our way to the sassi, we discovered the beauty and peace that existed within.

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A big tip for those staying here is to bring a small case.  I had travelled with a large suitcase and a small carry on suitcase and before leaving Maratea, I had transferred all my things for our 3 night stay into the smaller case.  This makes a big difference if you are staying anywhere other than the hotels just off the main street (‘ground’ level).  Also, take shoes with excellent grip and do away with heels for evenings as this place is super slippy underfoot due to the well worn limestone.

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The best way to start your stay or your day trip here is to take a tour.  One of the best tours we have ever had was here in Matera.  A husband and wife team run tours in English and Italian with great skill, knowledge and energy.  Learn about the history of the area, the architecture and hidden symbolism with Matera Tour Guide.  I would also suggest a visit to Casa Noha at the start of your time in Matera which gives you a great understanding of its history.  This is located not far from the Cathedral but is not necessarily the easiest place to find.

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Matera is the setting for many films, most famously, The Passion of the Christ.  Explore the Madonna delle Virtu and see the Monastery where Mel Gibson chose to film.  This is one of the most interesting spots as it’s hidden away on the outer part of the sassi and has various levels to explore.  Don’t miss Casa Gotta (a reconstructed cave house), La Raccolta (a remarkable water filtration system and now a UNESCO site) and the churches Santa Maria de Idris, San Pietro Barisano and Santa Lucia Alle Malve.  Possibly the most famous of the churches is that set in one of the squares near to the ‘main road’ through the sassi, Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo al Sasso Caveoso.

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We never usually return to the same place to dine twice as we like to make the most of the experiences whilst staying somewhere.  However, Malatesta’s hypnotic trance had us returning for a second night.  On our first night, a guest stood up and treated us to an hour of opera and on our second night, we met a lovely group of Finnish artists.  The food was plentiful, home cooked and served with a genuineness you will struggle to find elsewhere.  This place lives in the moment and is open to all, a real taste of Matera.

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Maratea

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A hidden corner of Italy harbours a beautiful secret that is Maratea.  I inadvertently stumbled across this treasure in a fictional novel; reading about the pomegranate tree, Christ the Redeemer Statue and the homely Villa Rosa.  To discover just a few months later that this place existed meant there was only one thing for it…….I had to see it for myself!

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Maratea was the third stop on our road trip around Italy this summer.  We chose to stay at Villa Cheta Elite nestled away in the hillside at Acquafredda just 10 minutes away from Maratea.  It’s located on a coastal road which winds around the cliffs with stunning views out to sea and so walking around this part of Italy is not really an option.  However, Maratea itself is completely walkable.

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Our hotel was a stunning Italian villa beautifully kept and oozing understated luxury.  Our room had a dual aspect view of the turquoise waters below and we could see the outdoor restaurant between the pretty branches of bougainvillea.  This for us was the prefect base for our next adventure.

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Maratea is a small hillside town with narrow cobble roads, a broad selection of cafés and even more churches.  It’s a great way to spend a day taking in history, architecture and enjoying good Italian food.  Stop for lunch at La Caffeteria in Piazza Buraglia which is a tiny piazza full of character.  High above the town and a car ride taking in a few hair pin bends is the Christ the Redeemer statue with its back to the town below it.  In the novel I read, its back was toward the sea as the fishermen had no interest in the statue and the funds it was consuming and therefore, it was decided the statue would not look down towards the fishermen.  In reality, the statue stands atop this wonderful town offering a more protective arm and blessing this historically impoverished part of Italy.  When we visited, the sky was grey with rain and created a moody atmosphere allowing for great photos.

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The harbour hosts several wonderful restaurants which enjoy fabulous views out to sea.  Enjoy the most delicious Italian food and great value wine as you watch the sun set.  We visited Lanterna Rossa perched on the first floor with an almost concealed entrance which is up some steps and around to the left and certainly worth looking for!

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Beaches here are plentiful but don’t expect the sandy beach found in Castellaneta Marina.  This area is home to more pebble beaches but don’t let this discourage you.  We enjoyed La Secca beach for a day to recharge our batteries in advance of our remaining tour of Italy.  You pay a fee to park and to hire a sun bed but it’s all reasonable and there’s a great value beach bar on site which serves up good lunches.  This beach is located in a quiet cove and is family friendly.  Take a dip in the clear calm waters or hire a pedalo to take you further out.  We enjoyed a peaceful day here and would certainly return despite being lovers of sandy beaches.

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If you have time, don’t miss the White Horse restaurant which is very nearby La Secca.  There is a warm welcome and great pizza awaiting you!

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This is not something that is usual but we were lucky enough to watch the release of a turtle on the day we left Maratea.  Before arriving in Maratea, we’d stopped off at the WWF centre in Policoro and had learned that the turtle would be released at midday on the day we were due to leave.  We therefore headed to the beach and waited and waited until the moment finally came.  We felt incredibly lucky to have captured this memory.

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Volo Dell’Angelo

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We booked our flight on the internet in advance of our trip to Italy and opted to begin our journey in Castelmezzano, over to Pietrapertosa.  We parked on the side of the road in Castelmezzano and walked to the tourist office to collect our tickets.  It’s about a 10 minute quick walk through the town to get there and so leave some time.  You then trace your steps back to the entrance to the town near to where you park your car to catch a minibus to the hill you need to climb to reach Volo Dell’’Angelo.  At the top you are given your equipment, then get hooked up to the zipline and you’re away.

Soaring at over 120m above the towns of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, the Volo Dell’Angelo reaches speeds of up to 120 km per hour.  Imagine trekking up a winding steep hill and looking out over the valley beneath you in all its glory, knowing you will be flying above it very soon.  Strap yourself into a body sling and stand beside your partner as you line up horizontally with the waiting platform.  You will hear the words ‘have a nice flight’ before you are launched off the platform and out into the open.  You will hear and feel the rush of the wind, you will feel as though there is little to keep you suspended there above the caverns below and yet the fear leaves your mind as you are blown away by the thrill and peace the flight of the angel delivers.

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Time races by just as quickly as you feel your body is gliding through the air and it is brilliant fun.  At the end you can snap up souvenir pictures for 8 Euros capturing that adrenaline rush. A minibus then takes you to the town.  Take a walk past the homes, shops and venture down to see the church as the bottom of the hill and at the end, you will climb about 100 steps to the return flight.  We went further and passed the return flight centre to see the fort on the hill before returning which has terrific views.  Castelmezzano is probably one of the most stunning towns that we had the pleasure of visiting in Italy.  Its yellow and terracotta homes glow in the sun and on the return flight, generated a real wow moment, a memory imprinted for good.  It’s a fun place to explore and provides a perfect lunch stop (just around the corner from the church square on the left hand side there’s a café with the nicest Italian owner serving great paninis!).

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A trip to this region is incomplete if you have not set eyes on Castelmezzano.  The best view is flying towards it; an angelic flight that is!

Alberobello

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About an hour south of Bari airport you will find this gem of a town, partially sleepy and partially buzzing with tourists.  The old whitewashed funnel-topped trulli houses sit nestled in the hillside basking in the Italian sunshine and are symbolic of this region’s past.  Previously built to be easily dismantled, these now sturdy buildings are cute homes and hotel rooms.

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We made Alberobello our first stop on our tour of Puglia and Basilicata this summer.  It was easy to reach late evening and we were warmly greeted by Francesco from Trulli Holiday Resort.  The trulli are spread out across the town and are mainly in two parts – the Rione Monti and Aia Piccola.  The latter is where we stayed and was far quieter than the tourist honey pot!

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Spend your day wandering the streets of Alberobello, collect a bag of cherries from the discreet shop on the corner of Piazza Mario Pagano or an ice cream from one of the many vendors along route (they will all taste heavenly!).  Don’t miss Alberobello Cathedral, the trulli church in Rione Monti, take a peek inside a real trulli dwelling, spot the symbols on the trulli rooftops, learn about the region’s history and see a masterpiece of workmanship at Museo del Territorio.

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When you have walked your socks off, head back to your trulli to get ready for dinner.  The Italians do not eat until 8pm at the earliest and so there’s plenty of time for a drink before dinner.  Head to Paco wines and take in the scenes around you on the way.  Old men sitting on a bench catching up on the events of the day, women gathered together watching over grandchildren playing in the Piazza……typically Italian and wonderful to see.  Have dinner at Trattoria Amatulli where you will be hosted by a friendly and proud owner who will serve you delicious home cooked food for half the price of an ‘Italian’ meal back home.

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We spent 2 nights here as there is plenty to do around and about too.  We visited Ostuni (the place to pick up your olive oil), Cisternino (a great lunch stop – you must try the bombette and egg and cheese balls slightly fried at Le Chicche di Zia Rosa), Locorotondo (the best ice cream on our travels can be found at Café Dolce Passione by tourist information – take it to the park just across the street to enjoy in peace) and Martina Franca (one of the pearls of Puglia – you can get seriously lost here if your wander the maze of streets and so take some water with you and head to one of the Piazzas for lunch).  Do be mindful that the Italians do observe the afternoon closure and so it’s a great time to head for a lunch stop or a wander.

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Your Honeymoon Wardrobe Essentials

The big day is over, you’ve said your ‘I dos’ and now you are heading for your romantic getaway that you organised ages ago.  At that moment, you realise you actually have to pack something more special.  After all, it is an experience you are supposed to remember years and years on.  So we’ve made a little guide of your must haves for the honeymoon of a lifetime.

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By Fleur of England

Of Silk and Lace

What we always associate with wedding lingerie is luxury, and what’s more luxurious than silk.  Silk nightwear (and lingerie) is a good investment which will boost your confidence and make you feel beautiful.  A good silk piece with lace detailing can actually help enhance your features and figure.

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By Fleur of England

Among the industry leaders for silk nightwear is Vivis, which has a beautiful selection that would answer even the fussiest buyer.  Fleur of England on the other hand is a creation of Fleur Turner, a British designer, famous for her silk and lace masterpieces, whereas Stella McCartney’s lingerie collection would be a perfect choice for fans of designer brands.

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            By Eberjay

Naughty bits and pieces

If you ever wanted to try something a bit out of the ordinary, something more bold and sexy regarding lingerie, your honeymoon would be the perfect time to take the risk and wear that lace body.

There is, of course, a fine line and we like to keep things classy.  There are several brands that have managed to find the balance and incorporate the ultimate sensual boudoir experience.

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By Loveday London

Loveday London is an independent designer brand, famous for hand made pieces.   L’Agent, the sister brand of Agent Provocateur by Penelope and Monica Kruz, explores sensuality with its gentle lace designs.  Bluebella on the other hand has a naughty tone and a special collection for all the 50 Shades of Grey fans.

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         By Bluebella

Morning essentials

No matter whether you are spending a week in the South of France or visiting Thailand, you would need something made of soft cotton to just relax in while you have your room service breakfast.  You can choose from the gentle fabrics and designs of Eberjey, a Miami based brand that will make you fall in love over and over again.  Cyberjammies offers beautiful basics which everyone should have in their wardrobe as a staple.  You can always opt for its nightshirts or shorts and even if you go out in them, we will not judge you….they are really that pretty!  For those who want a bit more exclusivity, Yawn, a brand only available in the south of the UK, is winning hearts with its quirky prints and soft fabrics.

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                              By Eberjay

To discover your honeymoon wardrobe, please take a peek at Sipsey and we will make sure you are dressed for the occasion.

To Hull (& Europe) and Back: Part III

Read Parts I and II.

Day 7 – Luxembourg City

It’s a 3 hour drive to Luxembourg City today but this will be rewarded with stunning views of the old town and fortifications which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Board the fun Petrusse Express which will take you on an hour long audio guided tour of the city.  It will give you a good overview of the city’s past, a few ideas of what to explore during your visit and the best part is that it’s suitable for all age groups.

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Luxembourg City.  Photo by 55Laney69.

Stop for an ice-cream at arguably the best ice-cream shop in Luxembourg, Bonomeria, before heading to Luxembourg City History Museum to learn more about the city.  It is open from 10am until 6 pm and costs €5 pp to enter (free for under 21s) but it extends its opening hours on Thursday evenings from 6-8pm and it’s also free to get in at that time.

Stay at the Melia Luxembourg which offers modern accommodation with great views and is in easy walking distance to the main sites; it’s also budget friendly.  If you don’t mind spending just a little more, Le Place d’Armes Hotel is well worth it.  It is set in the beautiful historic square and minutes from the Palace of the Grand Dukes, ideal for exploring the city and experiencing a touch of luxury.

Day 8 – Luxembourg City

Start your day off with a walk along Chemin de la Corniche, a beutifully scenic promenade; this is the place to take your holiday photos.  Take in the Palace of the Grand Dukes (if you wish to visit, check beforehand that it will be open), the Barrio Grund and then finally, the Cathedrale Notre Dame.  Stop for lunch at AM14 nearby and enjoy the views once more.

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Chemin de la Corniche. Photo by Francisco Anzola.

If you want to relax this afternoon, try Les Thermes located slightly out of the city.  There is a pool, wave pool and water slides for those young at heart and if you want to build a bit of relaxation time into your break, there is also a spa.  There are a number of different steam rooms, our favourite is the Blummen which envelops you with the scent of herbs or fruits.  You can also enjoy the whirlpool, outdoor pool and ice fountain in addition to the usual treatments you can expect from a spa.

Treat yourself to dinner at Clairefontaine and your eyes and tastebuds will be rewarded in equal proportion.  An experienced and loyal chef cooks up various tasty treats every week night from 7:15pm until 9:30pm and so be sure to reserve a table if you intend on dining here.

Day 9 – Amsterdam

Set off in good time for your 4 and a half hour drive to Amsterdam.  Arrive mid afternoon and if you can, take a canal trip (€13 for just over an hour) or rent a bike and spend the afternoon exploring Amsterdam’s Canal Ring.  Enjoy a well earned coffee break at Espressofabriek, a place that all coffee lovers will appreciate with its home roasted coffee beans.  If you’re more into cake than coffee, you won’t be disappointed with its homemade treats; our favourite is the apple cake, served warm!

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Amsterdam.  Photo by Sonny Abesamis.

For a family holiday, Conscious Hotel Museum Square may be the ideal spot as it’s tucked away from the expected nightlife of Amsterdam and close to the museums.  For a more centrally located hotel, try Hotel V Nesplein, surrounded by the canals and aesthetically pleasing.

If you enjoy a modern dining experience Café de Jaren is well suited; sit out on the terrace taking in the view of the Amstel whilst dining on pan-fried wolffish or the De Jaren’s hamburger.  If you’re not a fan of modern and prefer a more unique experience, try D’Vijff Vlieghen where you can enjoy Dutch dishes whilst sitting under four original Rembrandt etchings.  The options for evening entertainment in Amsterdam are vast.  There are wine bars, cocktail bars, bars, pubs, clubs, comedy and live music venues to name just some of the options.  We love the Alto Jazz Café, a dimly lit cosy venue with live music every night from 9pm.  Be warned, once you’re in you may well find it difficult to leave!

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Café de Jaren.  Photo by dutchgrub.

Day 10 Amsterdam and homeward bound

A visit to the Ann Frank Museum is a must if you have not done this before.  The house opens at 9am each day and costs €9 per adult.  The visit will stir a mix of emotions from admiration to sadness and will leave you with a life lasting memory.  If you are a fan of post-impressionist art, the Van Gogh Museum is an obvious choice for a visit.  You can admire the world’s largest collection of his works from his famous Sunflowers to our favourite and lesser known rural themed paintings.  If you are travelling with children who may not fancy too many museums, there are other fun activities to try including visiting one of the many petting zoos or Amstel Park.

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Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent van Gogh (1890). Photo by Niels.

After a busy day of sightseeing, take the overnight ferry back from Rotterdam to Hull.  As one adventure ends, the next is not far behind!