101 places to go – Kayaking on the River Fowey, Cornwall

kayaking in fowey

If you are looking for an activity based holiday for your next cottage break, then kayaking should be near the top of your list. As one of our more established water sports, there are now many kayaking adventure centres across the country offering basic tutoring and guided tours across the length and breadth of our beautiful rivers and coastline. Kayaking is a great activity for the whole family as it is particularly easy for beginners to pick up quickly. Under the careful supervision of a local guide, you will soon be taking in the natural beauty of Britain at a suitably tranquil pace in keeping with your surroundings.

There can be few better kayaking locations in Britain than on the Cornish peninsula where the longest coastline in Britain offers a multitude of kayaking backdrops. Whether it be azure bays, quaint harbours or meandering estuaries, this is a great opportunity to become totally absorbed by the essential beauty of Cornwall. This is a county of contrasts, typified by the exquisitely timeless River Fowey which is an ideal base for kayaking, offering excursions extending along the coast itself but you can also enjoy delightful routes heading north into the rolling greenery of the southern Cornish countryside.

For decades artists have been attracted to this stunning part of Cornwall. Author Daphne Du Maurier famously made Fowey her home whilst children’s writer Kenneth Grahame was entranced by the region and his many holidays to the River Fowey doubtless helped inspire and shape the all time classic ‘Wind in the Willows’. The river has a kind of ‘other worldly’ secluded feel to it; the sense of freedom is all encapsulating and it is this quality that also inspired some of the world’s top music artists to record at the famous Sawmills studio. The creative energy at this idyllic setting helped Oasis create their classic album Definitely Maybe; The Stone Roses recorded the epic Fool’s Gold whilst other artists such a Robert Plant, The Verve and latterly Muse have all recorded famous tracks at this Cornish riverside haven.

The route heading north towards the shallows of the river and the village of Lerryn is ideal for beginners. Tours tend to follow the flow of the tide and at a leisurely pace you can keep a close eye on the local wildlife. Your mind can easily wander and you can just imagine Mr Toad and Mr Badger loitering by the leafy shore. Today the river is home to egrets, otters, heron, cormorants and much more. Cornwall is famed for the crystalline quality of its water and this holds true for the river Fowey. From your stealthy vantage point you can easily spot shoals of fish swimming close by, grey mullet and trout are particularly numerous in a river that is teaming with wildlife.

After a leisurely paddle you will soon find yourself in the pretty Cornish village  Lerryn, which is a great spot to take a break on your river adventure. This unspoilt village is picture perfect and a fantastic setting for a picnic or perhaps a sedate pub lunch. With the turn of the tide you will head back south alongside the river bank where you can spot the wildlife that you missed on the way upstream! If you are lucky you will spot the signature luminous flash of a kingfisher darting above the river or maybe even a migratory osprey on its fleeting visit to Cornish shores. Invigorated by the days exploits you can retreat to your cottage enriched by the memories of a great day kayaking in Cornwall.

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101 places to go – St George’s Day activities

Dover Castle

England’s largest castle: where better to celebrate St George?

While it would seem that the most appropriate way to celebrate the Patron Saint’s Day of England would be to go out and slay a dragon, George’s efforts in that department were supposedly so successful that you’ll have to make do with a host of alternative events.

Thankfully, the events taking place across the length and breadth of England are a little safer than George’s endeavours. So while you may not get a historic day named in your honour, at least you’ll have a nice day out. Sounds like a fair trade off to us!

While Saint George’s origins are shrouded in history and exaggerated by legend, one thing that most experts seem to agree on is that he was once a Roman soldier. Hadrian’s Wall then would be one of the best of the locations to celebrate the real life of George and his compatriots. Chesters Roman Fort and Museum at Hadrian’s Wall are running a Dragon Family Fun Trail on April 20 and 21. According to the website ‘St George needs your help to find all the mini dastardly dragons before they distress the damsels.’ Sounds great – if you’re brave enough!

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The largest castle in England with commanding views over the blue waters of the Channel is perhaps one of the best ways to experience the more magical side of the myth of Saint George. Dover Castle’s St George’s Day Festival offers a wonderful opportunity to celebrate in one of England’s most significant historical settings. Step through England’s story; enjoy medieval crafts and cookery, puppet shows, music and watch St George battle the dastardly dragon!

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The festival at Wrest Park in Buckinghamshire promises to be the biggest St George celebration in the country. Enjoy a variety of displays at this equestrian extravaganza – including medieval jousting! Children will be able to get involved with the interactive theatre and the medieval atmosphere will be aided with a number of campsites that you are free to wander through in the park’s 90-acre grounds. The highlight of the day will of course be the epic battle of wits between George and the dragon. Make sure you don’t miss it!

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Trafalgar Square will be hosting its annual Feast of St George on Saturday 20 April. This free event promises lots of food, plenty of music and much flag waving. This year’s event focuses on British food and will serve a number of free tastings, a banqueting area, live cookery demonstrations and food workshops. So bring your smiles and your appetites and celebrate England’s patron saint in one of the nation’s most recognisable locations.

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Castle Drogo in Devon may be England’s youngest castle but its Saint George celebrations are a little more grown up, involving, as they do, a lovely lunch on April 23 amongst the castle’s splendid surrounds. Entrance includes a tour of the house and access to the grounds, so you can take a stroll afterwards in what we’re hoping will be idyllic English sunshine.

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101 places to go – The Laugharne Weekend

iStock_000015342082XSmalllaugharne

A“timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town” is how Dylan Thomas described Laugharne. This small and enchanting corner of Carmarthenshire clearly had a huge influence on the writer as his most renowned works were created during his time at the lovely little boathouse by the bay. But Laugharne’s endearing personality isn’t just evidenced though its small scale and the large welcome offered by its inhabitants, it also informs its most popular event: The Laugharne Weekend.

Despite being hugely popular, Laugharne’s annual arts festival still offers an incredibly personal experience, where big names from the world of comedy, literature and music rub shoulders with townsfolk and visitors. It creates a lovely feeling of community and makes for an incredible celebration of the arts, filled with unique and memorable events. And because the festival can only grow as big as the town, it has retained its unique identity whilst some other festivals have expanded and lost a little of what made them so endearing in the process.

It’s for this reason that Laugharne offers up some very attractive events. The 2013 festival takes place on the weekend of April 5-7. Here are a few of our picks:

• The ‘Godfather of British Pop Art’ Sir Peter Blake RA will be appearing on the Sunday at 2pm in the Millennium Hall.

• Musical picks include Beth Orton on Friday, 9pm at the Congregational Church and one half of Everything But The Girl, Tracey Thorn on Saturday, 4pm at the Millennium Hall.

• Fans of poetry will find much to enjoy, including John Cooper Clarke on Saturday, 8pm at the Millennium Hall, Kate Tempest and Porky the Poet (aka Phil Jupitus) on Saturday, 3.30pm-4.30pm at the Marquee.

• Writers and broadcasters appearing at the show include Stuart Maconie, Caitlin Moran, Grace Dent, Charlie Higson and more. We’d also suggest Mark Watson at Saturday, 6pm, Congregational Church who will probably still be recovering from his 25 hour stand-up comedy routine for Comic Relief.

If you’d like to visit The Laugharne Weekend, take a look at our featured holiday cottages in the region today.

101 places to go – Verona

Verona and Adige River

Few would argue with the fair city of Verona’s status as a ‘must see’ destination for lovers. After all, it was within the city’s beautiful Roman edifices and medieval facades that William’s Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed romance came to life. Although advances have obviously modernised Verona, it still possesses a uniquely romantic, historic ambience and – thanks to its invitingly temperate climate – is a wonderful place to visit all year round.

Shakespeare himself was so enraptured with the city that he also set The Taming of the Shrew and (of course!) The Gentleman of Verona there. It’s hard not to feel the inspiration yourself as you gaze over the expansive Piazza Bra at the incredible Verona Arena or the lovely Piazza delle Erbe, and its famous resident, Madonna Verona.

There’s much more to see and do in Verona, whether you’re on a romantic break or a trip away with the family. Here are a few of our favourite sights…

• Verona conveys such a relaxing and welcoming atmosphere that simply sitting and watching the world go by is one of our favourite holiday activities. One of the best places to absorb the city’s ambience and admire the relaxed pace of life is the Ponte Pietra. This stunning stone bridge spans the Adige and affords wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding area. Whether you visit in the day or at night, you’re guaranteed a wonderful experience.

• Our next two recommendations offer a wonderful showcase of local history and ornate heritage. The Sant’Anastasia is basically an art gallery housed in a huge Gothic red brick church. In the light, airy interior you will find a stunning collection of paintings and frescoes.

• San Zeno Maggiore Church offers a wonderful ornate Romanesque interior to explore. Alongside the frescoes, large marble columns and impressive altarpiece you will also find a very atmospheric crypt: the setting for Romeo and Juliet’s marriage in Shakespeare’s classic.

Take a look at our featured holiday properties in Verona today. Visit our site for more holiday homes in Italy.

101 places to go – The Gathering 2013

TheGathering2013

This week’s featured pick is a homecoming of sorts for thousands, if not millions, of people around the world…

The Gathering is a year-long event organized by Ireland’s tourist board with the intention of opening the gates of the Emerald Isle to a global community of former residents, friends and family. Essentially, this makes 2013 a year-long party for Ireland’s visitors and residents with sporting events, festivals and a host of events and activities falling under The Gathering’s umbrella.

But don’t worry if you don’t have Irish ancestry; all events are designed to be as inclusive as possible. Basically, the aim of The Gathering is to enhance the overall experience of a holiday to Ireland, so whether you’re one of the Irish diaspora, or just fancy a visit, 2013 is probably the best time to go. Besides, you don’t want to be late to the party. Just imagine all that cleaning up!

Ireland isn’t short of spectacular locations and fantastic events in 2013, but we’ve managed to narrow the selection down to a handful of highlights. Please feel free to share your own picks in the comments section.

• The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival eases you into a year of Irish festivities from 14 February. For ten days the streets and screens of Ireland’s capital will be playing host to a number of exclusive screenings and premieres alongside appearances from some of the film industry’s movers and shakers. Tickets and a full schedule are available on the festival website.

• If you’re after something a little more traditional then Cork is playing host to the annual St Patrick’s Day Festival on the weekend of 17 and 18 March this year. The city will come alive with a host of free events for all the family – including a huge parade and plenty of artisan food and delightful crafts. Find more info on the website.

• County Galway is renowned for its glorious vistas and open expanses so, needless to say, many of its own offerings to The Gathering comprise of active explorations of the region. Visit Inishbofin Island on 24 May to walk along the western coast of Europe at the Walking Festival. From 30 March you can walk, cycle, fish, run and much more at the Explore Clonbur Outdoor Activity Festival 2013. There’s also a host of other events to take your breath away – if the countryside doesn’t get there first! Find the full schedule on The Gathering website.

Fancy attending The Gathering? Take a look at our featured holiday cottages in Ireland.

101 places to go – Warwick

Warwick castle warwickshire midlands england uk.

If you’re after the quintessential English experience on your holiday then we suggest you skip to the very bottom of this article and click on the link that says ‘Find holiday cottages in Warwick’ right now. If you’re still undecided, and would like to know more about the many charms of this wonderful county town in the heart of England, then read on as we celebrate wonderful Warwick..

Its location in the heart of England and breathtaking location high on a bluff above the River Avon has seen Warwick play an equally central part in English history. If testament were needed then you only have to take a look at Warwick Castle – widely regarded as Britain’s best – to marvel at the majesty and scenic beauty of the area.

•  Warwick Castle is undoubtedly one of the region’s biggest attractions. Thanks to its well-preserved towers and walls, its location on the banks of the Avon and the stewardship of the Tussauds group, the castle has become one of the UK’s premier tourist attractions. Enjoy a host of demonstrations, displays (including the world’s largest catapult!) and seasonal events at this most majestic attraction.

•  Though the Great Fire destroyed much of Warwick in the late 17th century, the town still offers a wonderful display of architectural heritage. Collegiate Church of St Mary, Warwick lies near the market in the town’s centre and is a ‘must-see’. This originally Norman church was later rebuilt in dramatic Gothic style, and it was here that writer JRR Tolkien wed in 1916.

•  Shakespeare was also no stranger to Warwick. It is alleged that a young William paid a visit to the lovely Charlecote Estate – not to admire the wonderful home and gardens. Instead, the young writer supposedly tried his hand at poaching and was rewarded with an appearance in front of the magistrates. The Charlecote Estate has been in the hands of the Lucy family since the 13th century and though it is around 5 miles from Warwick, it’s well worth making the trip.

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101 places to go – The Farne Islands

farneislands

Our new recommended destination is a true one-off and, since it re-opens in the spring, truly one to look forward to. There really is no other destination like the Farne Islands; located off the beautifully desolate Northumbrian coast, they offer sumptuous landscapes, fascinating history and, through their native inhabitants, one of the most spectacular wildlife attractions you could hope to enjoy on a UK holiday cottage break!

There are 23 species of seabird located across the twenty-eight islands, including terns, 37,000 pairs of puffins, razorbills and more. Last year, for the first time in 87 years, visitors to Staple Island were granted the opportunity to meet the native seal colony, comprised of 4,000 Atlantic Grey seals and their 1,500 pups. A sea tour setting off from Seahouses on the mainland will typically land at both Staple in the morning and Inner Farne in the afternoon.

Alongside their wild inhabitants the Farne Islands offers some wonderful displays of man-made heritage. There’s an old pele tower that houses the National Trust’s bird wardens throughout the year. There’s also St Cuthbert’s Chapel which dates from the 14th century and commemorates the hermetic life of the medieval saint and two lighthouses, one of which, the Longstone Lighthouse, has a connection to a very well-known piece of British folklore…

In 1838 the Forfarshire paddle steamer ran aground whilst sheltering from a storm off Big Harcar. Grace Darling and her father, Longstone lighthouse-keeper, William Darling took to the waters and rescued 9 people from the wreckage. The 22 year old received several commendations and her tale eventually passed into folklore as an example of selfless heroism. Today, the life and actions of Grace Darling is one of the many reasons people pay a visit to the Farne Islands.

Spring to September is the best time to pay a visit to the Farne Islands. Ensure you wrap up warm and check local weather conditions to make the most of your time there. Other accessible attractions include Bamburgh Castle, Alnwick Castle and Gardens and the majestic Cheviot Hills.

If you fancy flocking to the Farne Islands this springtime take a look at our featured holiday cottages in Northumberland for a fantastic selection of holiday homes in the region.

101 places to go – St Andrew’s Day 2012

Edinburgh Castle: free on St Andrew’s weekend

We’re not exactly short of reasons to visit Scotland here at cottages4you, so we’re the first to recommend a trip up north when a celebration takes place. That’s not to take anything away from the St Andrew’s festivities, however. Every year Scotland plays gracious host and puts on a wonderful array of events offering music, food and celebrations of heritage. And though the St Andrew’s celebrations may be a warm up for the other winter festivals of Burns Night and Hogmany, the upshot is less crowds to hinder your exploration and enjoyment of Scotland.

We’ve suggested a few specific festivities below but we think just visiting Scotland itself is one of the best ways to make the most of St Andrew’s Day. When you’re enveloped by the stunning highlands, dense forests, soaring mountains, deep lochs, rivers and historic cities of Scotland, you can’t help but feel humbled by the wealth of history and heritage that surrounds you.

There’s no time like the present to celebrate Scotland and its patron saint! St Andrews Day is on 30 November. Find holiday cottages in Scotland on cottages4you.

• As part of Scotland’s Winter Festivals programme, Historic Scotland is giving away free tickets to up to 40 of Scotland’s heritage attractions over the St Andrew’s weekend. To get free tickets to Blackness Castle, St Andrews Cathedral and many more attractions simply register on the ticket giveaway site.

• Alongside free entry to its iconic castle, Edinburgh will be marking St Andrew’s Day with free lantern making on the Esplanade from 11am to 4pm and a Night Time Spectacular from 7pm-8pm. In addition, we expect there will be dozens more impromptu celebrations over the weekend.

• It should come as no surprise to find that the town of St Andrews throws a very large shindig in honour of its namesake. 2012’s St Andrews Festival promises to be bigger and better than ever with a food festival, whisky-tasting events, live music, fireworks and more. It runs until 3 December.

101 places to go – Europe’s cultural festivals

We’re looking at cultural and artistic events in the new installment of our 101 places to go. Now that winter’s stepping up a notch there’s no better time to wrap up warm and stimulate your senses with a wide-array of artistic attractions. In fact, there’s so much going on in the arts at the moment that we could only narrow down our recommendations to three events: one in Britain, one in France and one in Italy. There’s plenty more going on all over Europe, but we’ve settled on events in locations that offer more than enough to enjoy whether you indulge your artistic desires or not.

Film in Bath

They say great cinema can make you see the world in a different light. It’s certainly a wonderful proposition, but you won’t find much on the glorious Georgian streets and architecture of Bath in the festive period that you’ll want to change. Still, the Bath Film Festival will still give you much to chew on as you walk the wonderful streets, dine in the fantastic eateries and relax afterwards in your holiday cottage.

Following its inception – when the Bath film society screened a number of French films and made £50 profit! – The BFF has become noted for its novel and cerebral celebration of cinema. The live music accompanying silent screenings in particular is well worth experiencing, and you can do so until 25 November 2012.

Find more info on the festival website and accommodation on cottages4you.

Art in Paris

Bath may have begun its cinematic celebrations by screening French films, but for a true celebration of Gallic culture where else can you go but Paris? The ‘City of Light’ takes its status as an artistic hub so seriously that it dedicates the entire Autumn season to celebrating the world of contemporary art.

The Festival d’Automne à Paris was founded in 1972 and offers a mixed programme comprised of visual art, music, cinema, theatre and more. If this is already enough to make you roll your eyes then take heart from the fact that Paris looks particularly glorious when bathed in the golden light of an Autumn afternoon. In fact, it’s practically a work of art in itself!

Find more info on the festival website and accommodation on cottages4you.

Music in Rome

We think it’s fairly safe to say our next suggestion began far later than St Ambrose’s famous proverb about being in Rome and doing as its residents do. ‘When in Rome, go to the Autumn Jazz Festival’ may not roll off the tongue in quite the same effortless way, but it’s equally sage advice!

This year’s Roma Jazz Festival aims to celebrate the close links that music has with the screen in one of Europe’s most iconic locations. Enjoy films, documentaries, fiction, cartoons, video clips, live soundtracks, computerised compositions and, of course, all that jazz! That is, when not enjoying the visual splendour of Rome to a great soundtrack. The Festival runs until 25 November.

Find more info on the festival website and accommodation on cottages4you.

101 places to go – The best British Christmas lights

We’ve got a bumper festive issue of ‘101 places to go’ this week. The big day may be several more weeks away but the preparations have begun in earnest; not least at cottages4you, where we’ve been busily beavering away on our Christmas celebrations and working hard to find fantastic festive offers for our customers (more info here:  http://bit.ly/PTOByR).

This week we’ve focussed on one thing that gets us more in the festive mood than listening to Bing Crosby while writing Christmas cards in a snow covered cottage. We’re talking about the unsung hero of the most magical time of the year: Christmas lights. So for this installment we’re looking at some of the best places to enjoy festive illuminations.

Westonbirt Arboretum

Regular readers won’t be unfamiliar with our love of this special place. A trip to the National Arboretum boasts a wealth of wonder at any time of year, with the seasons beautifully showcased through its living exhibits. Christmas at Westonbirt offers a unique magical trail through the trees with shadows and lights creating a wonderful festive tapestry. Father Christmas and his reindeer will be turning on the lights on 30 November, but don’t worry if you don’t make it; he’s going to be on-site in the run-up to Christmas, along with craft activities, refreshments and more.

Alnwick Gardens

Slightly closer to his home, Father Christmas will also be appearing at the North East Pole at Alnwick Gardens this year. Before then there’s a host of other festive activities to enjoy including the Duchess of Northumberland unveiling the gardens’ permanent lighting exhibit ‘Sparkle’. Phase one of the project will see the iconic hornbeam tunnels transformed into a ‘stunning spectacle of light and colour.’ Sounds unmissable to us but if you need more convincing there are also a number of craft workshops and lantern walks to get you into the festive spirit at this already magical location.

Bath

The Georgian streets and buildings of this fantastic World Heritage City provide some of the most atmospheric festive locations you could wish for. If you did need more help to get into the festive spirit then the Bath lights were officially switched on the One Show’s Matt Baker and Alex Jones with John Bishop on 12 November. On 30 November Bath’s festive market opens with stalls, carols and refreshment under the shadow of the stunning cathedral. If you’re looking for the most traditional festive lights on this list then you need look no further.

The Eden Project

Looking for a more unconventional Christmas? The Eden Project’s exotic topiary may provide a slightly off-beat festive attraction but it’s no less fun for it. The indoor ice rink has returned in 2012 with special skating sessions for youngsters, and there are plenty more festive activities including the chance to meet Father Christmas, his reindeer and elves, lantern parades, live music, food and drink, craft workshops and more – all within the magnificent illuminated ‘biomes’.

Manning Close

For many of us, Christmas doesn’t really start until we hang the lights on the tree or in the window. Spare a thought then for Paul Toole who spends the best part of the year planning the display at his parents’ house in Wells, Somerset. The Manning Close Christmas light show has grown in fame and stature each year propelling Paul into the spotlight (you may have seen him in Channel 4’s ‘King of Christmas Lights’ last year). This year’s switch-on is on 30 November and promises to be bigger and better with 40,000 light bulbs and participation from Paul’s neighbours on Manning Close.

Do you agree with the list? Share your favourite Christmas illuminations below!