Cottages of the Week – Sanlucchese 1-4, Poggibonsi, Tuscany

These four stunning properties are set on a grand hilltop farmhouse complex with breath-taking views of the Tuscan countryside. Properties sleep 2, 3, 4 and 8 holidaymakers, and each one accepts 1 pet. Find individual property listings on the photo captions.

8 Unique Christmas Shopping Experiences

Edinburgh at Xmas: a vibrant yet traditional festive experience

Christmas shopping – those who love it will tell you nothing could spoil the feeling of finding the perfect gift for someone you love. Hate it and you’ll no doubt be put off by the bustling crowds and stress. Whatever your feelings towards it, we’ve come up with some shopping destination alternatives to the multitude of high streets and malls that’ll leave even the biggest shopping Grinch feeling merry and in the festive spirit.

  1. The Shambles, York

Take a step back in time this year and visit the historic city of York for a Christmas shopping experience coupled with culture and sightseeing. While the city has plenty of fantastic places to grab your gifts, the highlight has to be The Shambles, a road so old that it was mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086. Strolling down the narrow, charming cobbled road beneath beautiful, timber-framed buildings, you’ll find vintage boutiques, delicious chocolatiers and unique gifts. Voted ‘Britain’s Most Picturesque Street’ in 2010; it’s possible in some places to touch both sides of the streets with your arms outstretched.

  1. Llandeilo, Wales

While Cardiff and Swansea might be your usual destinations of choice for Christmas shopping in Wales, head out of the cities for more relaxing shopping. With a multitude of market towns in Wales you’re spoilt for choice. One of our favourites is the colourful town of Llandeilo, a chic Christmas shopping destination without a high-street shop in sight. Winding streets host many one off items from designer fashion, bespoke home furnishings and furniture, local crafts, produce and antiques. Right on the edge of the magnificent Brecon Beacons National Park, this is the perfect place to do a spot of Christmas shopping and get away from it all. Who said Christmas shopping had to be stressful?

  1. Carnaby Street, London
Christmas Decoration in London

Carnaby Street: An out of this world experience for festive shoppers

With such an array of diverse and fantastic shopping in the country’s capital, it can be difficult to know where to start. Stumble into a winter shopping wonderland and visit Harrods for a Christmas experience you’ll never forget or try the hip markets in Shoreditch and haggle with aspiring designers for one off fashion finds. Our top tip for London though is Carnaby Street in Soho, a shopping haven with independent boutiques and fashion retailers as well as bigger global brands and fantastic restaurants. You can get all of your festive shopping done here and have plenty of fun doing it!

  1. Northern Quarter, Manchester

If you like your Christmas shopping to come with a quirky twist then a trip to Manchester’s Northern Quarter certainly delivers. A hotbed of creative talents, independent retailers, record shops, cafes, restaurants and bars ensures the Northern Quarter has a charm that echoes Manchester’s illustrious musical and artistic history. A must see is the famous Affleck’s Palace with fashion retailers and outlets over four floors. If the chill of winter is getting too much then grab a drink or a bite to eat in one of the Northern Quarter’s fantastic bars or restaurants. If the shopping hasn’t tired you out then stick around a little longer to enjoy the vibrant nightlife on offer.

  1. Salisbury, Wiltshire

Recently voted by Lonely Planet as ‘One of the World’s Top 10 Cities to visit in 2015′, get there early for a quintessentially English Christmas shopping experience. There are hundreds of shops and, while Salisbury is famous for its local and independent traders, there are plenty of high street offerings as well. This medieval city is easy to get around making shopping a delight rather than a chore. Also included in the top 10 were Vienna, Toronto and Milan, so Salisbury is rubbing shoulders with some truly stunning places. A visit to Stonehenge is a must for any Salisbury trip (but don’t expect to find any shops there!)

  1. The Grassmarket, Edinburgh

Only a short walk from the popular Royal Mile, soak up the vibrant and medieval atmosphere at Edinburgh’s Grassmarket for a specialist shopping experience. Over 90% of the shops here are independent and locally run, and there’s year round entertainment and events to brighten up the day for even the most reluctant Christmas shopper. Eat and drink traditional Scottish and locally sourced produce whilst you enjoy spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle that towers above.

  1. The Lanes, Brighton

Enjoy another side of Brighton in the winter

You might want to leave your bathing gear behind for this seaside trip, but there are plenty of other reasons to visit this beautiful seaside town in winter. The Lanes are packed full of wonderful antique and jewellery shops nestled alongside contemporary and designer boutique fashion retailers, restaurants and eccentric cafes. If you have a sweet-tooth then pop into the famous Choccywoccydoodah and grab some deliciously indulgent stocking fillers. If you’ve still got some energy left at the end of the day then head to Brighton Pier for a fun-filled way to round off the day with rides, arcades and attractions.

  1. Christmas Markets

We’re cheating here but we can’t single out just one Christmas market. Combining food, drink and shopping, we think they create a fantastic festive experience that’ll get you in a marvellously merry mood. View our countdown of the 11 Best Christmas Markets in the UK for inspiration.

The UK’s Best Christmas Events

A selection of the Britain’s finest festive attractions to get you in the Christmas spirit. Enjoy Edinburgh’s mix of stunning seasonal events, take a walk on the wild side in Chester, marvel at gorgeous garlands in Cornwall and get fit and raise money for charity…

A pre-Christmas treat

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Thursford: putting the spectacle in spectacular

If you’d like a break to get yourself ready for the festivities, then Norfolk can be a great choice. There’s the chance for head-clearing walks on stunning beaches, cosy lunches in country pubs and much more. This would also give you the chance to enjoy the legendary Christmas Spectacular at Thursford. It’s the biggest Christmas show across the country, with 130 singers, dancers and musicians, offering three hours of stunning entertainment. It’s set in an amazingly created atmosphere full of fairground carousels and mechanical organs, and folk travel from all across the UK to enjoy a happy and memorable festive experience.

A night with the animals

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Monkey business by The Lantern Company

Many folk have been recently charmed by the BBC drama series Our Zoo – telling the story of Chester Zoo. This Christmas, there’s a chance to visit the place itself and enjoy one of their festive season lantern workshops. Youngsters can design their own lantern, and then everyone sets off on a night-time journey, listening to sounds of animals as they prowl the darkness. There’s an illuminated trail created by The Lantern Company, leading to a display of stunning animal themed lanterns. Hang your Christmas wishes on the Giant Wishing Tree before you visit Fruit Bat Forest and the Elephant House. There are 14 pre-Christmas dates, but many are selling out fast so do check now.

A day at the races

There has been a long tradition of festive season race meetings across the country gathering large holiday crowds. If you’ve never been, it could be a great time to pay a fist visit. Among the many meetings, there will be plenty of atmosphere on Saturday 27th December at Chepstow for the famous Welsh National. On Boxing Day itself, you’ll be able to choose from eight locations, including Huntingdon and Kempton Park, Wetherby or Towcester.

The power of flowers

Photo by Adrian Platt

Photo by Adrian Platt

At Cotehele, a magical National Trust Tudor property in gorgeous Cornwall, the garden staff spend most of November creating a truly amazing sixty-foot long Christmas garland. It contains more than forty thousand flowers, and right through December, you have the chance to visit the hall and admire its unique beauty. If you’re on a pre-Christmas break, you’ll also find musical events under it most days.

A walk in the park

Unless you have small children and buggies, then there’s a great way to clear the head on Boxing Day morning if you are enjoying a break in the wilds of Kent. You could join a group of like-minded souls at Ightham Mote to tuck into a full English breakfast to prepare you for a bracing and informal guided walk around this magnificent estate, just a few miles south of Sevenoaks. After your trek, you might choose to look round this romantic moated manor house itself. Noted historian Dr David Starkey has described it as “one of the most beautiful and interesting of English country houses”.

Your capital choice

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Edinburgh has Christmas covered

Staying in many beautiful countryside locations in central Scotland would give you the chance of a visit or two to Edinburgh, where there’s a huge choice of festive things to do. You and the family might visit the superb Santa Land in East Princes Street Gardens. There’s a grotto and train, tree maze, and terrific rides such as the North Pole Slide, Swan Lake and Race-a-Rama. There’s also a roller coaster! You might also book sixty minutes of circus acts and mischief makers in a youngsters’ treat at the Brat Kids Carnival in St Andrew Square. There’s also an ice rink there, and another in Princes Street Gardens – if you are brave enough!

An adventurous time

A Yorkshire break would give the whole family an excuse to enjoy great fun times at Stockeld Park, located between Harrogate and Leeds. Their packed Christmas Adventure can include either a stroll, or you could try Nordic Skiing, through the amazing Illuminated Enchanted Forest; a mix of theatre, fantasy and great lighting effects. Who knows who you might meet? Then you can lose yourself in the amazing Snowflake Maze. If you have a youngster who wants to try ice skating, but is a bit unsteady, they can even gain the support of their very own supportive penguin!

Lights at the borderlands

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Alnwick Garden’s stunning Sparkle show

As the festive season draws to a close, the magnificent Alnwick Garden in Northumberland is lit up with a truly stunning Sparkle lighting display. The whole family can celebrate the New Year in a traditional way with street entertainment, giggle-inducing party games, much music and a traditional Hog Roast Carvery, plus a DJ party or a quieter and more relaxing option in the Pavilion. There’s also an awesome landscape of windswept coastlines and castles, sweeping moorlands and charming towns to investigate as you make your way into another great year!

Run, Santa, Run

Ted tried it last year

Even Ted’s tried it

If you tend to over-indulge in the festivities over the Christmas period then our next choice is the perfect preparation for a New Year Resolution to get fit – and raise money for charity in the process! The annual Santa Fun Run, in aid of Bosom Friends, takes place in Barnoldswick every year. This year’s event takes place on December 7th near to our office and the emphasis is on the fun, so whether you try to beat your ‘PB’ or are happier completing the 5k as a strolling Santa, we’re sure you’ll have a good time whilst raising funds for a very worthy cause.

Find fantastic festive accommodation with cottages4you

The 11 Best Christmas Markets in the UK

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Edinburgh’s stunning festive skyline

1. Manchester

As one of the UK’s largest Christmas markets, Manchester offers a huge choice of Yuletide treats to shoppers. The market takes place in a variety of locations around the city, each of which offers a slightly different experience to visitors. More than 300 stalls in Alpine chalets are set up each year offering a colossal range of goods from all over Europe. The market also offers a wide range of opportunities to relax with a beer or sample some international cuisine.

2. Edinburgh

The European Christmas Market has been taking place in Edinburgh for more than twenty years. It is held in the historic centre of the city, from just below The Mound, along East Prince’s Street Gardens Terrace and up to the Scott Monument. This makes it perfect as part of a shopping trip along Prince’s Street, or for those who want to soak up the culture of the Scottish capital. The market offers arts and crafts along with a range of European food and drink.

3. Birmingham

Claiming to be Britain’s largest outdoor Christmas market, the Frankfurt Christmas Market takes place in Victoria Square, Chamberlain Square and Centenary Square in the centre of Birmingham. As its name suggests, the market has a heavy bias towards German produce with bratwurst, gluhwein, and schnitzel all being widely available. The market also has a major arts and crafts component centred on Chamberlain Square where shoppers can pick up crystal lamps, rugs and handmade leatherwork.

4.Bath

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Enjoy a festive break in Bath

Taking place in the heart of Bath’s shopping district, the Bath Christmas Market runs from the Abbey to the Roman Baths and includes more than 170 chalets. As one of England’s most scenic towns, Bath is a perfect location for a festive weekend break. The market boasts that the majority of the goods available from its stalls are handmade in the UK. Visitors can also take part in open air ice skating, bathing in the spa waters or relaxing with a glass of mulled wine.

5.York

There are a range of Christmas markets that take place in York during the festive season, with the most famous being the St Nicholas Fayre. This market has a Victorian theme, with shopholders dressed up in Dickensian outfits and a range of traditional produce on offer. Roast chestnuts are abound, as are Christmas carollers. Other markets that take place in the city include the Medieval Market, which takes us even further back in history and includes the popular Medieval bar for all of your traditional ale needs, and the Made in Yorkshire market for local produce.

6.Exeter

The Cathedral Green is the site for Exeter’s Christmas market, with the historic cathedral making a perfect backdrop to the festivities. The market offers a range of handmade local produce from across the South West and is within easy reach of Exeter’s main shopping district.

7. Cardiff

The Craft Folk Cardiff Christmas Market has a focus on traditional Welsh arts and crafts. It is located in the heart of the city’s shopping district, allowing you to pick up unique Welsh items as you do your Christmas shop. As well as hand crafted Welsh slate, pewter and traditional Welsh lovespoons, the market offers a range of delicious food and drink from the predominantly Welsh stall holders.

8. Lincoln

Few Christmas markets have a more spectacular backdrop than Lincoln’s. The stalls are located in the Medieval Square sandwiched between Lincoln Cathedral and the Norman Castle. The cobbled streets of the city’s cultural quarter are an atmospheric place to visit as part of a festive get away. The market itself has more than 250 stalls and there will be a range of cultural entertainment on offer for visitors. The Lincoln Christmas Market is ideal for families who want a more cultured shopping experience.

9. London

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Christmas on the Southbank

There are a range of Christmas markets taking place across the capital this year with the biggest being the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. This incorporates its famous ice rink along with a range of rides and attractions for all the family. The market offers traditional German crafts along with a range of festive treats. For a more modernist festive backdrop, the Southbank Centre Christmas Market offers mead, door wreaths, sheepskin rugs and a range of other festive treats.

10. Oxford

The city’s Christmas market takes place in amongst the colleges of Oxford University. History weighs in on all sides making the market among the most scenic in England. A wide range of hand crafted goods and unique foodstuffs are on offer to allow you to give your loved ones something special this year. There will also be singing and bands playing festive music on a daily basis.

11. Winchester

Located in the Cathedral Inner and Outer Closes, Winchester Christmas Market attracts more than 350,000 visitors a year. It is a traditional German-style Christmas market and offers a wide variety of British handmade goods. There are also lots of different foods to sample and take home, including bratwurst, mince pies and stollen. An open air ice rink is available, with a cafe alongside it for anyone who wants to sit down in a warm environment for some food or a coffee.

Mr. Turner’s Britain: 5 Destinations that Shaped the Artist

Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner

With Mr. Turner currently earning great notices and a retrospective of his late work exhibiting at The Tate, the life and work of artist Joseph Mallord William Turner has never been more talked about. But with a career spanning over 60 years involving the creation of countless sketches and paintings in several different countries, understanding where to begin an appreciation of Turner’s life and work can be a daunting prospect.

With Turner’s current prominence in mind, we’re decided to look at a few key works from his life and suggest where might be the best place to appreciate some of his works: the locations where they were painstakingly created.  As a renowned “painter of light”, Turner is regarded as the master of capturing the beauty, majesty and drama of history and the natural world so you can expect unparalleled beauty, stunning scenes and a few surprises as you embark on the Turner trail.

1. Otley and the Wharfe Valley, Yorkshire

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The beautiful Wharfe Valley

Turner’s dramatic portrayal of Hannibal crossing the Alps has its origins in the unlikely setting of a snowstorm rolling in over the Chevin, a rocky bluff that crests over the pretty Yorkshire market town of Otley. The artist spent a lot of time painting at nearby Farnely Hall and was a good friend of the Ramsden Fawkes family who live there to this day. Visits to the hall are by invitation only so we would recommend a walk up the Chevin ridge to marvel at the stunning views of the Wharfe Valley that inspired Turner and prompted him to return and paint throughout his life.

2. The Needles, the Isle of Wight

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Yachts off the Isle of Wight

Turner’s first exhibited oil painting at the prestigious Royal Academy was Fishermen at Sea, a moonlit portrait of men working tirelessly against crashing waves whilst the Isle’s dramatic Needles rise up out of the murk in the distance. Visitors to the west coast of the Isle who have marvelled at the craggy Needles rising from Alum Bay won’t be surprised that Turner was so inspired by them. In fact, the artists found a lot more inspiration in and around the Isle with fantastic portraits of Cowes, yachts at the Regatta, Freshwater Bay, Carisbrooke Castle and more still exhibited to this day.

3. Margate and Kent

White cliffs of Dover

The Kent coast was another location Turner would return to throughout his life. The artist would hone his skills as a young boy capturing local landmarks in pen, ink and watercolour. In fact, it was here that Turner first saw the sea, a subject that, like Margate itself, would recur throughout his life. Margate’s Regency flourishes were irreparably damaged during World War II, so filmmakers had to recreate Turner’s time in Kent elsewhere. Today his life and times in Margate are celebrated at the Turner Contemporary Gallery, and you may still find a few of his subjects still standing and awaiting your admiration!

4. Wales

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Caernarfon Castle: one of Turner’s Welsh subjects

Turner seemed to have a particular affinity for Wales and the Welsh landscape. Growing up in London in the late 18th and early 19th century, he was immersed in the creative atmosphere of the Piazza at Coven Garden – a hub of artists’ studios. The work of one particular painter would have a formative effect on Turner, Welshman Richard Wilson. Turner set out on a pilgrimage to the artist’s homeland and there would fall in love with the history and large array of stunning topographical features set within a relatively close space. During Turner’s five visits to Wales he would capture castles, lakes, mountains, cliffs and coasts all with an unerring focus on the rich majesty and natural drama they contained – a feature still evidenced in the delightful Welsh landscape today.

5. Twickenham, Richmond upon Thames

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The Thames from Richmond Hill

Turner received formal training in architectural drawing in his early years, and allegedly wished to train as an architect if he had the chance to have his time again. The artist’s structural paintings are a good indicator of his affinity for architectural design, but perhaps his greatest achievement in the field is Sandycombe Lodge, the Turner House in Twickenham. The home was built to Turner’s specifications and would allow himself, and his father ‘Old William’ a refuge from the pressures of London. Sketchbooks at the Tate in London show Turner’s design extend to the plot surrounding the home, which his father would later spend his days tending to. Turner himself was keen on exploring the surrounding area taking boat rides on the Thames, walking the towpaths admiring the views and taking guests on picnics.

Cottage of the Week – Dovecote Cottage, Downton, nr. Salisbury

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Dovecote: perfect, beautiful and charming

‘Perfect’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘charming’ are just 3 words guests have used to describe this cute cottage in Downton on the River Avon. With a current Reevoo rating of 9.4 out of 10 it’s fair to say that this lovely little property isn’t short of ways to keep holidaymakers happy and contented on their breaks. Along with a stylish and traditional interior with all manner of home comforts you will find a TV, DVD player with a small library of films, roll-top bath and Wi-Fi to help aid your passage into ‘holiday mode’.

Venture outside your door and you will find even more to see and do in the surrounding area. Nearby Salisbury is the only UK city tipped in Lonely Planet’s prestigious ‘Best of Travel 2015′ list – due in no small part to the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, the best-preserved copy of which is exhibited at the city’s lovely cathedral. Downton itself is renowned for its fishing and brewery and is beautifully picturesque, surrounded by water meadows and chalk downland.

Winchester, Portsmouth, Poole, Bournemouth and Southampton are equally accessible from the property. If you’re feeling a little more active then the New Forest National Park and Salisbury Plains are both on the doorstep and offer ideal terrain and stunning views for walkers and cyclists. The property sleeps 2 and 1 pet. Find more info and make a booking on our website.