Monday, 9 November 2015

Weekend in Harrogate: Our First Little Holiday in the UK With Our New Baby Daughter

Harrogate Spa Town, Yorkshire 

English spa towns are often good-looking, affluent places; and Harrogate in the heart of Yorkshire is no exception. The grand Georgian buildings, huge selection of designer shops, and variety of wonderfully distinctive and quality restaurants make this quaint and historic town a delight to visit, not to mention the friendliness of the locals. 

The evening we arrived, we ate at the lovely French restaurant Le Bistrot Pierre. With their traditional French menu there is a great selection of fine authentic cuisine including the delicious tarte flambee - an Alasatian type of thin crust pizza often with creme fraiche, onions, shallots, and lardons. The service was excellent and everyone was so friendly and accepting of our new little bundle of joy. Although she was very good and didn't make a sound. She was oblivious to all the attention she was getting! 

After a good breakfast buffet at the Yorkshire Hotel and some shopping in the morning, we joined the queue outside Betty's Tearooms in Parliament Street for lunch. It looked long but it moved quickly; there's more room than it first seems. Again, they were very accommodating and welcoming of us arriving with a baby, and the toilets are well equipped with baby-changing and a nice little seating area where I took the opportunity to feed the little one. We were seated in the downstairs area and the service was very attentive. I was also taken by the stunning wood-carving artwork featuring Swiss villages and local Yorkshire sights, all around the room. The food was delicious - my authentic Swiss rosti all crispy on the top with strong Gruyere cheese, and the patisserie selection is perfection - as close to genuine French patisserie as you can get. 

Bettys tearooms Harrogate

Bettys tearooms Harrogate

In the afternoon we took a walk down to the Valley Gardens, passing the old Pump Room, and through the arty, affluent Montpellier quarter. We enjoyed some fresh air and the autumn leaves glowed in late afternoon sunshine. These gardens lie on a fault line and the mineral-rich spring water comes from this very area, a river of it trickling beside one of the main pathways. Spring water emerges through the layers of rock, collecting valuable minerals along the way, its benefits having been harnessed for centuries. The wells and pump houses within the park and the signs and information make the spa history tangible and easy to understand. 

Valley Gardens Park, Harrogate

On my next visit I hope to enjoy the traditional and well-preserved Turkish Baths and experience the benefits of the spring water. My skin and hair already feel nicer and that's just after simply showering in the hotel! I also want to see the unusual rock formations at Brimham Rocks. But of course we'll also be sure to go back to Betty's! 

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Ten Unusual and Beautiful Gardens in England, Europe, and Around the World

Beautiful Garden #1: Botanical Cactus Garden, Eze, South of France

This stunning and panoramic picturesque botanical cactus garden is spectacularly located at the very top of the beautiful and historic hilltop village of Eze. It overlooks the Mediterranean for miles and the rocky coastline of the Cote d'Azur, as well as the terracotta roofs of the village below. The gardens can be admired spreading out down the hill; azure blue against deep, bright green. The wide range of cacti and succulents thrive on the sun-bathed slopes and are complimented by the classy and elegant terracotta sculptures of women dotted around the gardens amongst the plants, by artist Jean-Phillippe Richard. Entry to the gardens is approximately €6 per adult.

Beautiful Garden #2: Japanese Gardens, Monaco

Unexpectedly located at the bottom of the urban sprawl of the city, along the coastline beside a collection of high-rise residential buildings, this garden is a tranquil and pretty little haven. It is very well maintained with its lovely pristinely raked gravel, little bridges, and colourful koi carp in the water.

The garden is located on Avenue Princess Grace and has no entry cost.

Beautiful Garden #3: Maui Garden of Eden

This tropical and colourful botanical garden makes a great stop on the famous Road to Hana. Parrots, peacocks, waterfalls, and sweeping views of the ocean and volcanic beaches and coves below add to the awe of this colourful place. Plants are well-labelled and the grounds are very well-kept. 

It is around $15 per person to enter but well worth the cost especially as most of this goes towards maintaining and looking after the grounds and specimens. 

Don't forget to look for the colourful bark on the Rainbow Eucalyptus trees in the park and along the Road to Hana, these trees are awesome! 

Beautiful Garden #4: Gardens of Surprises, Burghley, Stamford (UK)

These lovely, well-kept and typically English country garden grounds within the Burghley Estate include large grassy and hilly areas with modern sculptures to spark the imagination, as well as the Gardens of Surprise; beautifully maintained plants and trees amongst the many exciting water features; including jets, curtains and streams of water which children in particular love to run in and out of, splashing each other and giggling with delight!

The moss house, mineral room, mirrored maze and interactive waterworks are exciting features of the gardens along with interactive sculptures and obelisks combining light, steam and water for abstract and intriguing effects.

Shoes must be worn so bring a pair of crocs or something similar to enjoy usung the water features, which is especially tempting on a hot day!

It is around £8.00 for an adult to enter, and £5.30 for a child under 13.

Beautiful Garden #5: Kew Gardens, London, UK

The famous and world-reknowned gardens at Kew are comprised of an enormous expanse of beautiful grounds with mature trees and plenty of space to feel totally removed from the city, as well as tropical environments housing exotic varieties of flora like the Victorian Palm House with the lake in front, and the House of lilies with its giant varieties. There is also a great tree-top walk for higher views of the gardens, and a tall 1800s pagoda at the other end of the park, but easily viewed from many points across the grounds.

Kew Gardens take excellent advantage of seasonal changes and put on a fantastic winter wonderland walk at Christamas with the trees, grounds and palm house lit up spectacularly. In autumn and at halloween, the pumpkin displays and autum sculptures make great seasonal additions to the grounds.

Beautiful Garden #6: Richmond Park, London, UK

Much more wild and natural than any manicured gardens, this beautiful chunk of nature on the edge of London to the West is a wonderful place to spot the famous deer and other abundant wildlife. Created in the 1700s by Charles I, there is an enormous emphasis on nature conservation. There are various trails and walks, and in summer bike hire is available near Roehampton Gate.

The landscaped grounds at Pembroke Lodge are beautiful, and great cakes, drinks and snacks are available at the Georgian tearooms.

The quaint English town of Richmond itself is a fantastic place to visit on the edge of London for lovely tearooms, upmarket gift shops, and great restaurants.

Beautiful Garden #7: Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris

Wide tree-lined walkways and beautifully manicured lawns make this a lovely peaceful place to visit in the middle of Paris for a break from grubby metro statiins and busy shops and cafes. The little model boats on the circular basin lake in front of the palace make a great attraction for children as they can be sailed via remote control. 

There are beautiful rose gardens and greenhouses with stunning orchid collections, and the famous Medici fountain makes a great centrepiece in the middle of the lake.

Reach the garden by metro/RER and the Luxembourg stop is just outside the gardens' entrance on Boulevard Saint-Michel. 

Beatiful Garden #8: Jardins du International de la Musee de la Parfumerie, near Grasse, France

These gardens in Mouans-Sartoux are based around the perfume industry and the plants and trees at the centre of this romantic French tradition. Tour the gardens to sample and sniff the various plants by rubbing the leaves and experience the multitude of aromas grown locally in this stunning part of Southern France. 

In summer take a hat and water - there is little shade and temperatures can soar! 

Beautiful Garden #9: Butterfly Park, Aruba

This outdoors butterfly sanctuary at the Eagle Beach end of Palm Beach, is a hugely educational place with great talks and tours, and walking around at your own leisure is also a delight. The netting covering the sancturary keeps the butterflies and moths safe, and the entry to the outdoors enclosure is via a double curtain. Around the garden there are lovely tropical plants and trees, and a pond with terrapins, as well as butterfly and moth cocoons and chrysalises in dedicated house-boxes, and if you're lucky, young butterflies and moths emerging from the cocoon can be seen, especially early in the morning. 

There are many varieties of butterfly and moth around the garden, from large iridescent turquoise butterflies to enormous Indian moths with wingspans of 20-30cm! 

Beautiful Garden #10: Anglesey Abbey Grounds, Cambridge, UK

Much like the stunning and famous Kew Gardens, the grounds at Angelsey Abbey put on a great show at Christmas with their winter wonderland walk; the trees lit up spectacularly with bright colours and colour-changing lamps. Sculptures and light shows against the abbey are also beautiful and atmospheric even on the wettest winter evening! 

Anglesey Abbey is a National Trust country house and the 114 acres of grounds and colourful gardens at any time of year are grand and very well-maintained. The real working watermill makes an interesting addition also - why not purchase some freshly milled flour for some really tasty baking!