France and Italy’s Hidden Holiday Gems

We’re recommending a few lovely locations to see in France and Italy this year. Have you visited any of them? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

Manarola is a beautiful small town on the northern Italian coast. It boasts lovely trails, magnificent heritage and views like this!

Manarola is a beautiful small town on the northern Italian coast. It boasts lovely trails, magnificent heritage and views like this!

Le Palais Ideal in Hauterives, France. This extraordinary structure was built by stone from 1879 till 1912 by Ferdinand Cheval, the postman of the town.

Le Palais Ideal in Hauterives, France. This extraordinary structure was built by stone from 1879 till 1912 by Ferdinand Cheval, the postman of the town.

Tropea is one of Italy’s most beloved seaside towns. Located on the west coast of the Calabrian peninsula it offers beautiful beaches and a lovely ambience.

Tropea is one of Italy’s most beloved seaside towns. Located on the west coast of the Calabrian peninsula it offers beautiful beaches and a lovely ambience.

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac offer stunning views of Dordogne, beautiful walking trails and lovely ornate displays.

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac offer stunning views of Dordogne, beautiful walking trails and lovely ornate displays.

Étretat in Normandy is renowned for its beautiful cliffs, including three natural arches and the pointed "needle".

Étretat in Normandy is renowned for its beautiful cliffs, including three natural arches and the pointed “needle”.

Colmar is the third-largest commune of the Alsace region in France and is known for eight centuries of Germanic and French architecture and its beautifully bright Old Town.

Colmar is the third-largest commune of the Alsace region in France and is known for eight centuries of Germanic and French architecture and its beautifully bright Old Town.

 

 

 

 

 

Your Favourite French Regions

Mont St. Michel reflected in the sea at night

The Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel: one of the most iconic landmarks in France

France remains one of the most popular holiday destinations in Europe and with good reason. This huge country offers a wide range of varied landscapes and holiday settings, added to that the lure of fine wine and food, and it is easy to see why France maintains its strong appeal. Whether you are looking for winter sports in the Alps, or summer sun in the Cote d’Azur, here at Cottages4you we have a huge selection of villas, gites and cottages across the length and breadth of this beautiful country to choose from. Here are some of our customer recommended French destinations for 2014.

Brittany

Brittany or ‘Bretagne’ on the North West corner of France shares many scenic characteristics with its cousins across the channel in Cornwall and Devon. Indeed, the historic Celtic heritage is shared with the British Isles the result of a legacy of a trading network going back centuries. The sheer proximity to the UK makes Brittany eminently accessible via Ferry and consequently one of the most popular destinations in the country. With such a large rugged coastline, the beaches here are the envy of Europe. Popular with surfers, the coastline is perfect for water-sports and walkers alike. The outdoor lifestyle reflects the laid back atmosphere in region fiercely proud of its history. The result is an ambiance distinctly ‘Bretagne’ in character, indeed many locals still retains this ancient language. Be sure to include Rennes, Saint-Malo and Auray on your ‘to do list’ on your next visit to Brittany.

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Amboise on the Loire River

Loire Valley

Known as the ‘Garden of France’, the Loire Valley for many represents the very essence of a French holiday. The patchwork scenery conjures images of vineyards and golden fields full of sunflowers, with the Loire River itself providing a timeless backdrop to beautiful chateaux across the region.  The favourable climate helps nurture grapes which produce some of the world’s finest and best known wines including Muscadet and Sancerre.  Set within the historic heart of France, the region retains much of its Medieval and Gothic architecture the source of inspiration for writers and poets across the ages.  Amongst the Loire highlights include the unforgettable Chartres, Bourges and of course Orleans, home to one of France’s most famous historic figures, Joan of Arc. With so many beautiful chateaux to choose from, visitors are spoilt for choice but the Renaissance castle at Chambord is one of the most impressive sights in France.

Search for accommodation in the Loire Valley

Normandy

The expansive 400 mile coastline in Normandy will forever have its place in history and this year marks the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings, the turning point in the Second World War. In contrast to its rugged Bretagne neighbour, Normandy less exposed Channel coastline is gentler in comparison to Brittany with rolling greenery bordering long sandy beaches protected by dunes.  Perhaps the most beautiful landmarks on this delightful coast, is the spectacular Mont Saint-Michel.  This imposing island is dominated by its 8th century Abbey, a world heritage site that looks out across a stunning tidal vista. The view from the top of the Abbey is unforgettable, and at night when the castle is illuminated against the backdrop of the sea, you are left with a magical impression of truly one of the most iconic landmarks in France.

Pas-de-Calais

Visible from the white cliffs of Dover, the Pas-de-Calais lies a very short hop across ‘Le Manche’ for holidaymakers from Britain. Particularly popular in the 19th century as the coastal summer retreat of choice for ‘city weary’ Parisians, the region retains a strong cultural association to its Flemish neighbour. With its proximity to Belgium, much of the local architecture retains a strong Flemish influence, particularly amongst some of the region’s most beautiful cathedrals. Indeed, the Pas-de-Calais geographically retains the character of it ‘lowland’ neighbours, with large expanses of flatlands extending east towards the border with Belgium. Today the Pas-de-Calais renowned for its vibrant flavour typified by a general celebration of life reflected in the varied festivals throughout the year. Perhaps the best known of which is the ‘Dunkirk Carnival’, a lively series of events which will take place each weekend through February and March.

Search for accommodation in the Pas-de-Calais

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Beynac-et-Cazenac

Dordogne and Lot

The seductive south west of France with its promise of summer warmth, culture and fine cuisine has all the ingredients for a perfect extended holiday in France. The departments of Dordogne and Lot have much in common, with beautiful countryside and both enjoying long hot summers and mild winters. For many the attraction of Dordogne revolves around its lush greenery and slow pace of life which in many ways represents an echo of France from another age. It is an image that has drawn Britain’s throughout the decades and indeed you may find echo’s from rural England too, as many have been so enchanted by the region that they have the Dordogne their home.  Be sure to enjoy the sumptuous local delicacies in the famed local markets that offer special artisan shopping experience a world away from all too familiar high street clones. Highlights include the caves at Lascaux, the gardens of Marqueyssac, the picturesque village of Loubressac and the Chateau de Bonaguil.

Search for accommodation in Dordogne and Lot

We’re at The France Show 2014

The cottages4you team will be attending the France Show at Earls Court in London on 17th, 18th and 19th January.

Whether you’re an existing French holiday home owner who wants to enjoy a taste of France in the capital, or someone looking to start a letting business and want inspiration and advice, visit our stand (211) and chat with our expert team. You can also come along to one of our seminars, which cover all you need to know about buying in France.

Break up the day with cookery demonstrations from top French chef, Jean-Christophe Novelli and award-winning food writer Clotilde Dusoulier, listen to bestselling author Carol Drinkwater, sample fine wines and champagne, visit the French market, play a game of petanque and enjoy the live entertainment!

The France Show

Autumn Festivals in France

Paris

After the busy summer season, Autumn in France is a vibrant and magical time as the countryside becomes regaled in colour and people celebrate the best things in life with a range of festivals throughout the length and breadth of the country in the run up to Christmas. If you are looking to get away and enjoy the best of French culture and produce, this is a great excuse to cross the channel and enjoy a break in tandem with an Autumn festival in France.

Paris Autumn Festival (Festival de l’Automne) – September to December

Arguably the centre of culture in Europe and renowned for centuries as one of the artistic centres in the world, Paris is the venue for an Autumn festival from September through until December. This is major event encompassing theatre, film, music and visual arts attracting over 100, 000 people to watch artists from across the world. The festival takes place across high profile venues throughout the city including the Pompidou Centre , The National Opera  House and The Louvre!  This year will be the 41st festival and highlights include Japanese dancing theatre and a large representation of South African art with musicians, moviemakers, dancers and composers set to make a big impact at this year’s festival.

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Cider Festival, Le Sap, Normandy

As the Autumn months arrive in Normandy attention turns to harvesting the precious crop of apples to produce cider and calvados for which the region has been renowned for centuries. The ancient cider making craft is commemorated every year as a celebration of Norman history which has left a legacy of cider making through much of this part of France. Each year Le Sap plays host to a two day festival that showcases the best of Normandy’s cider and local cheeses. This year the celebration takes place on the 9th and 10th of November, offering visitors a taste of Normandy amidst a friendly and musical atmosphere.

Search for accommodation in Normandy

Beaujolais Nouveau Day

The perennial transition from summer to autumn also heralds perhaps the most anticipated harvest in France. The fresh grape crop signals the race to produce the first wine of the season, of course, the deliciously fruity Beaujolais Nouveau. The third Thursday in November is a special day for the French who are rightly proud of their wine making tradition and Beaujolais Nouveau day is marked by music, parties and fireworks across the country. Perhaps the most famous festival this auspicious event is Les Sarmentelles held each year in Beaujeu, essential the heart of the Beaujolais region. The celebration encompasses a wide range of the very youngest wines for visitors to sample. With a torch light parade in the evening and fireworks to follow, the wine is flowing well into the early hours.

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The France Show

France Show Logo

Calling all Francophiles! cottages4you will be returning to The France Show again this weekend.  The UK’s largest celebration of France and French living will take place from 18th-20th January 2013 at Earls Court, London.

This is a great opportunity to meet new and existing property owners or just come along for a chat. We look forward to seeing you at our stand, number 139.  You can also find us on the cottages4you Petanque pitch – the perfect opportunity to try your hand at this traditional French pastime and we welcome anyone who would like to take part to join us for a game of boules.

What’s more, anyone looking for impartial advice at the show is invited to attend our ‘Making Your Holiday Home Work Harder’ seminar in the French Property News theatre, taking place at 1pm each day of the show.

For more information, please contact Katie or Gemma by email press@lucre.co.uk or by calling 0113 243 1117.

Cottage of the Week – the annual 2012

As we start to wave goodbye to 2012 we thought we’d offer one last chance to look at the selection of featured cottages that we ran throughout the year…

Whether you’re looking for a cosy family retreat, a large manor house, villa, or just like the idea of staying in a windmill, we think your dream property is probably featured in this post.

Please leave us a comment below and let us know your favourite. In the meantime, we’re going to make plans to bring you a whole new year of stunning cottages!

Le Petit Troglo, Bourré, nr. Montrichard

Le Petit Paradis

Wonderful wildlife properties

ITV’s Holiday Home Sweet Home

Molly, Gennes, Maine-et-Loire

The White House

Promenade des Anglais

Sawmill Cottage

Casa Modica

River Lodge in Inverness

Bryn Tanat Hall

The Pump House

Seascape

La Fiones

Light Keepers House

Gatsby House

Rose Cottage

La Contadine

Villa 1

Camuscross

Leisure Hour

Shell Cottage

The Windmill

Apple, Cider and Orchard Cottage

The Lighthouse

The Old Bakery

Crwys Farm House

The Nursery at Ardbrecknish House

The Old Stables

Château de la Vauguyon

Cottage of the Week – Molly, Gennes, Maine-et-Loire

At cottages4you we sometimes find historic holiday hideaways that have been modified to favour contemporary comfort within their period surrounds. Then sometimes we find properties where so much effort has gone into preserving history that stopping to admire the unrivalled authenticity can make you wish for a few modern furnishings. We’re partial to both styles, but we truly love properties like Molly which offer a fantastic window to the past whilst also boasting a wealth of wonderful comfort.

Not that there’s much that’s typical about this 16th century former dependant of the adjoining château. Whilst every effort has been made to restore and furnish this elegant French country style property, an equal amount of effort has been made to preserve its traditional elements. What you’re left with is, basically, a wonderful holiday property and the building blocks of many a wonderful holiday tale for those lucky enough the stay there.

Molly is filled with surprises. Many original features have been retained including the flower-decked private cobbled passageway and stone stairways at the rear of the house. A terrace at the front of the holiday home provides the perfect location for alfresco meals or a glass of local wine – not to mention the perfect place to watch the world go by in this tranquil part of the Loire Region. Despite these wonderful discoveries, the most immediate surprise of a holiday at Molly is how affordable it is: 7 nights in June can be enjoyed for approximately £25 per person per night with four paying adults.

With such affordable rates there really is no excuse not to get out and about and explore your surroundings. After all, what is a castle without a kingdom? The local town of Gennes is just a short distance away. Set on the River Loire, it provides most amenities, whilst the historic château towns of Angers and Saumur are a short drive and will, if anything, only reinforce the unique historical ambience of your holiday.

To think that we can explain all of Molly’s charms in a blog post is to do the property a great disservice. While the lovely accompanying photos go a great way to conveying the abundance of historical beauty, the best way to appreciate its charms is to book a break and experience it for yourself. We’re sure a few of you are happy to hear this – and more than a few more of you will hopefully be lucky enough to experience it for yourselves.

If you aspire to live like a king in the Loire Region of France please take a look at the property listing on cottages4you and be sure to send us a postcard! We’ll be back next week with another fantastic Cottage of the Week. We suspect we may have our work cut out for us…

British Travel Award winners 2012

The British Travel Awards is the UK’s largest consumer voted travel awards programme with over 75 different categories all voted for by consumers. So as you might imagine we were delighted to be nominated in the Best Villa/Self Catering Booking Company a few weeks ago – and even more delighted to win it last week.

At cottages4you we strive to offer the best service, the best accommodation and the best prices and we’re delighted that so many of our customers agree with our approach. This award really is the ultimate accolade and we’re really happy to accept it on behalf of all our supporters. But don’t worry we’re not going to rest on our laurels! We’re going to spend the remainder of the year proving that we earned it and we’ll see you back in 2013 with news of next year’s event.

Until then we’d like to say a great big thank you to all of you who voted or have holidayed with us in the past or are looking forward to a cottages4you break in the future.

The 007 Greatest Bond Locations in Europe

For 50 years the cinematic adventures of James Bond have been a gateway to an exotic world filled with equal parts beauty and danger. And on those thrilling adventures, Bond films have showcased some of the world’s most stunning locales – along with the usual array of automobiles, glamorous ladies and a not inconsiderable amount of product placement. So for this feature we’ve decided to focus on 007 of the best Bond locations to visit in Europe.

If you’d like to join us as we follow in the footsteps of Britain’s favourite spy, we’ve also added a quick link to search results from cottages4you near each location. It may be a slightly less technically advanced travel option than a jet-pack in a suitcase, but we’re sure it offers a far more relaxing experience.

Don’t forget to enter our Bond Locations comp on Facebook. There’s a different prize up for grabs each week!

001: Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – The World is Not Enough

During this Pierce Brosnan Bond adventure, the villains destroyed MI6 headquarters on the South bank of the Thames. However, as luck would have it the world’s most secret spy agency had a standby office in what is inarguably one of Scotland’s most beautiful locations:  the iconic Eilean Donan Castle. So stunning is this location that we can quite understand why MI6 didn’t just decide to up-sticks from the Capital and use this office instead – aside from the opportunity to showcase the Millennium Dome and a number of London’s iconic attractions in the explosive opening sequence.

Eilean Donan Castle stands on a small island looking over the tranquil waters of Loch Duich and is reached by a beautiful stone walkway from the village of Dornie. It’s no stranger to attention from James Bond, either, having also featured in Highlander and Entrapment – both of which starred Sir Sean Connery.

Find holiday cottages near Eilean Donan.

002: Lake Como, Italy – Casino Royale

There were several memorable moments in 2006’s re-tooling of Bond that were uncomfortable for male members of the audience. For starters, there was the awkward moment when James Bond appeared from Caribbean waters wearing the world’s skimpiest pair of swimming trunks, immediately making most men in the audience mourn the passing of their midriffs. Then there was THAT sequence towards the end where the villainous Le Chifre helped scratch Bond’s itch in a distinctly unsubtle fashion.

While most of us can’t – and wouldn’t want to – emulate Bond in these situations, we can at least share the place he used to recuperate afterwards. These scenes were filmed in the gardens of the Villa del Balbianello on the western shore of the southwest part of Como. Now owned by the FAI (Italy’s National Trust) the villa and its gardens are open to the public from March until November.

Find holiday cottages near Lake Como.

003: Canale Grande, Venice – Various

Our customers generally fall into two different categories: some like to sample somewhere new each holiday while others return to their favourite properties each year. It seems Mr. Bond falls somewhere in between. While he’s probably been chased through every beautiful location in and around Earth, it seems there’s something about being chased through the historic canals of Venice that he can’t resist. And who can blame him? Not only do the tranquil waterways and historic backdrop of the ‘City of Water’ make for fantastic eye-candy but they also provide the opportunity for plenty of memorable action sequences, offering jet powered gondolas, floating houses and more.

As far as we’re aware, James Bond first visited as Sean Connery in From Russia with Love. He later returned after several years as Roger Moore in Moonraker before finally returning as Daniel Craig in Casino Royale. But whatever changed between his visits, the beautiful waterways, ornate architecture and romantic ambience of Venice remained reassuringly consistent.

Find holiday cottages near Venice.

004: The Eiffel Tower – A View to a Kill

We can’t think of anyone but James Bond who could get away with tarnishing one of France’s most beloved cultural icons by chasing someone off the top and getting tangled up in a fishing rod en-route. Roger Moore’s 007 swansong may have been one of the lesser Bond films, but the sequence involving him chasing a parachuting Grace Jones was incredibly memorable – as only an incident involving Grace Jones, Roger Moore, the Eiffel Tower and a parachute could be.

As millions of tourists will surely attest, most visits to the Eiffel Tower involve far less danger – though far more queuing – than Bond’s appearance in the mid 1980s. Still, it’s not a bad trade off to admire the best views of beautiful Paris.

Find holiday cottages near Paris.

005: Stonor House, Oxfordshire – Licence to Kill

James Bond and stately homes: both resolutely British but they tend to go together like chalk and cheese. Traditional homes may be the perfect place to spend a Sunday afternoon, but they’re not the sorts of places that get the pulse pounding. So it’s no wonder that it took the makers of the Bond films so long to destroy one (with exploding milk bottles, no less). As with Eilean Donan Castle, Stonor House and Gardens in Oxfordshire acted as another of MI6’s safe-houses that was attacked by villains, proving that not only are MI6’s safe locations not actually that safe, but also that cinema’s most secretive spy agency is probably slightly over-funded.

One of Britain’s oldest manor houses, Stonor House has remained in the same family’s possession for over 850 years. A visit allows you the opportunity to appreciate a host of treasures including old Master Drawings, European Bronzes, an early 19th century wallpaper of Paris and contemporary ceramics from around the world.

Find holiday cottages near Oxfordshire.

006: Siena, Italy – Quantum of Solace

History is all but inescapable in Siena; it’s deeply ingrained in the very ground you walk on. As you admire the ornamental architecture of the cathedral, or stroll round the wonderful Palazzo Comunale, you can’t help but feel that in some way you’re experiencing a semblance of what life was like hundreds of years ago. History is evidenced in one of Siena’s biggest attractions too: the bi-annual Palio horse race. Familiar to viewers of Quantum of Solace, it was during this event that Bond took part in a foot chase over the slate roofs of the town before descending for a showdown at street level.

The Palio is such an impressive display of Tuscan heritage that no special effects are required to convey the scale, drama and sheer majesty of this historic event. It only take place twice a year but there’s enough to stunning sights to see and things to enjoy in Siena to make a visit worthwhile at any time of year.

Find holiday cottages near Siena.

007: Romazzino Beach, Sardinia – The Spy Who Loved Me

At cottages4you, we can never agree on Bond’s greatest gadget, but we’d have to say a sports car that turns into a submarine must be pretty high up on the list. It’s certainly one of the most memorable. During The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond gets chased along the coast of Sardinia by a helicopter. After diving/driving into the water, he emerges shaken but not stirred onto the golden sands of the beautiful Romazzino Beach, prompting much bemusement and, of course, a double-take from someone enjoying a bottle of beer.

Like the best Bond locations, Romazzino Beach – and Sardinia itself – requires little work to convey the exotic beauty for which 007′s adventures are famed. With long white coastlines, sparkling emerald green waters, that famed Mediterranean climate and an abundance of heritage, it’s also one of the finest European holiday destinations you could wish to enjoy – even without a Lotus submarine.

Find holiday cottages in Sardinia.

What’s your favourite Bond film and location? Let us know in the comments below.

Cottage of the Week – Promenade des Anglais

Every once in a while we find a property that practically demands to become our new Cottage of the Week. Promenade des Anglais in Nice is perhaps one of the best examples of this. Alongside an eye-catching exterior there’s an equally beautiful interior and, thanks to its position just across the road from the beach, the location is not too shabby either!

It’s fairly safe to say that Promenade des Anglais doesn’t so much tick all the boxes so much as it takes a pen and scribbles all over them. In our experience there really isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ holiday property, as everyone has different wants and needs from their accommodation. But, we’d have to say, our new Cottage of the Week is probably as close as you’re going to get to a holiday home solution that offers something for everyone.

As already mentioned, holidaymakers looking for a warm expanse of sand to sit back and relax on won’t have too far to travel from the property. In fact you just have to take a look from the balcony or the large expansive windows to see how close you are to the beach. And if you favour past-times that are a little closer to home then take comfort from the fact that the area’s name translates as ‘the English Way’. After all, what could remind you of England more than a gentle stroll along the promenade?

Nice itself also has plenty to offer those seeking a more vibrant holiday experience. There is a range of nightlife and a bustling social scene comprised of clubs, pubs, piano bars, casinos, restaurants and more. The Autumn/Winter season also hosts its fair share of attractions with the city lighting up for Christmas, hosting the world-famous Nice Carnival in February and, of course, there’s that delightful year-round climate.

We’re sure the property itself is bound to delight all who stay in it. You can appreciate sea views from most bedrooms, there’s a wonderful light and airy ambience and, as you will see from the photos, stunning décor throughout. If you don’t fancy venturing over to the beach there’s a small garden and an enclosed courtyard with furniture – including a barbecue for al-fresco dining.

Perhaps the biggest attraction of Promenade des Anglais is that it can easily accommodate up to 10 holidaymakers. So, not only can you share the holiday of your dreams with lots of friends and family, but this stunning property also becomes instantly far more affordable.

If you’d like to make a booking, look at prices or just a look at some more photos, take a look at the property listing on cottages4you.