Celebrating Shakespeare: Must-See Settings for his Greatest Works

On 23rd April 1616 our greatest dramatist William Shakespeare died. To celebrate Shakespeare Week, and over 400 years of his immeasurable legacy, we’ve put together a list of the loveliest real-life locations that inspired his world-famous plays…

Verona, Italy

Verona

Verona, the enchanting city in northern Italy’s Veneto region is the setting for Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet. It has earned World Heritage status and gives its neighbouring romantic rival Venice a run for its money, especially during the Valentine’s’ Verona in Love’ festival. It’s perfect for an afternoon stroll, a gelato stop in a sunny square or a visit to the market at Piazza delle Erbe and the imposing Arena di Verona. The latter is one of the largest and best preserved Roman arenas and still presents a summer season of opera. Still, the Verona most people come for is the one that inspired the bard.

The legend of the star-crossed lovers was already a popular story in Italy in the 14th century before Shakespeare took the story worldwide. At Casa di Giulietta you can step out on the world-famous balcony and rub the right breast of Juliet’s bronze statue if you’re looking for luck in love or enjoy hushed reflection at her tomb in the dark crypt under the church of San Francesco al Corso.

Rousillon, France

Carcasonne

Shakespeare takes the characters of his dark comedy All’s Well that Ends Well all over France, but the play revolves mainly around the protagonists’ home in Roussillon, in the far south – an area stretching between Provence and the Spanish border. Today the Languedoc/Rousillon region represents to many the ‘real south of France’, where you can enjoy unspoilt landscapes and sample wonderful, traditional wines, such as Vin de Pays d’Oc.

Visit the magical fortress of Carcassonne, stroll around mediaeval Montpellier or explore the Spanish influence of Perpignan in the foothills of the Pyrenees, with its gothic palace and far-reaching views. Plus, it’s not far along the coast to the French Riviera to taste the glamour of sun-drenched Nice and Monaco.

Venice, Italy

Venice

Arguably the world’s most romantic city, Venice is unique, other-worldly, breathtakingly beautiful. Not surprising then to find here the setting for two of Shakespeare’s plays – his great tragedy Othello, whose title character is a Moorish general in the Venetian army and the rather controversial comedy The Merchant of Venice. In Shakespeare’s play the money lender Shylock asks for news from Rialto and for centuries it has been the city’s commercial centre. Now it’s a tourist Mecca; an area boasting fabulous food markets and of course the stunning Rialto Bridge, crossing the Grand Canal.

Wonder at the decadence of Saint Mark’s Basilica, take a trip to the colourful, glass-making island of Murano or soak up a Venetian sunset listening to live music in the Piazza San Marco.

Birnam, Scotland

Scotland

It is believed that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth between 1604 and 1606, shortly after England’s new King, James I (and 6th of Scotland) had ascended the throne. The Scottish born monarch was reportedly interested in witches and Shakespeare would have gained James’ approval for his Scottish play. Macbeth – a violent story of ambition and murder – seems to be a mix of fact and fiction. There was indeed a Macbeth who ruled in Scotland in the 11th century, although the finer details of the drama have benefited from Shakespeare’s artistic license.

In the centre of the town of Birnam today stands a single stately oak, reputed to be the last of the ancient Birnam Wood made famous in the play. ‘Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be, until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill, shall come against him.’ And it was on Dunsinane Hill that the real Macbeth took a defeat in battle.

The Birnam and Dunkeld area is located in the beautiful Big Tree Country of Perthshire, and is so lovely that it has been popular with tourists since the railway brought the first illustrious Victorian holidaymakers such as Beatrix Potter.

Yorkshire, England

yorkshire

The imposing Yorkshire castles of Middleham and Pontefract mingle history and art once again. Middleham Castle in Wensleydale, mentioned in the Domesday Book , was King Richard III’s favoured seat – known as the ‘Windsor of the North’ during his reign.  Today, Middleham is an impressive ruin, located in a superb area for walking and close to the traditional Dales market town of Leyburn. Rather than Middleham , Shakespeare uses Pomfret Castle (now Pontefract) as the historic setting for both Richard II and Richard III.

Pomfret had a fearful contemporary reputation. In Richard III, the character Rivers describes it, ‘O thou bloody prison!’  It lies in ruin now, but offers visitors great views of Pontefract itself and fascinating tours of its underground cellars, which truly were used as a prison during the English Civil War.

Windsor, England

Windsor

Shakespeare and his work, was patronised by both Elizabeth I and James I, so it is perhaps fitting that he should set one of his comedies in royal Windsor. The Merry Wives of Windsor is a farce about lecherous and jealous men and the women who get the better of them. The castle and the royal family also celebrated 400 years of the bard, with ‘Shakespeare in the Royal Library’ throughout 2016.  The exhibition celebrated his connections with the royal seat and included royal collections of Shakespeare’s works and even Shakespeare inspired art created by members of the royal family. It all formed part of the special Shakespeare400 series, commissioned to celebrate the playwright’s legacy.  

The Queen’s residence, Windsor Castle is the oldest castle still occupied in the world and summer tourists may be lucky to visit on one of the few days that the neighbouring Frogmore Estate is open to the public. It’s a tranquil and private royal house and grounds, owned by the crown since it was purchased by Henry VIII. Shakespeare set a scene from The Merry Wives in a ‘field near Frogmore’ – its name derived from the proliferation of frogs flourishing in its marshy Thames bank setting.

Stratford-upon-Avon, England

Stratford

No Shakespeare inspired itinerary would be complete without a trip to his birthplace and home in Stratford-upon-Avon. This beautiful, quintessential English riverside town close to the Cotswolds boasts the house where the great bard was born, his wife Anne Hathaway’s Cottage – fine example of a Tudor farmhouse with beautiful gardens – and the home of his mother, Mary Arden, where you can learn the art of Tudor archery and enjoy falconry displays.

Conclude your day with a trip to the specially restored 15th century Guildhall, or in contemplation of the playwright’s final resting place. The grave’s noteworthy inscription, believed to have been penned by Shakespeare himself, includes the words; ‘Blese be the man that spares thes stones, And curst be he that moves my bones.’ Well, you wouldn’t dare, would you?

And of course, there are few better places to watch contemporary versions of his world-famous masterpieces than at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s incomparable Stratford theatre.

High Flyers – Find out the nearest airport to our overseas properties

plane

There is nothing worse than booking your dream holiday property overseas and then trying to figure out where the nearest airport is.  Spending hours going through properties and finding there is nothing nearby can be really disheartening. Many customers ask our call centre staff for assistance when making their reservation.

As we know that travel is just as important as the property, we have now done some of the leg work for you. All of our 4000+ overseas properties now have at least the location of the nearest airport, many of which are within a 1 hour drive, to your perfect holiday home.

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Where can you find this information?

On each property that we have this information for the airport is stated underneath the text regarding the area and before the property text.

So whether it’s France, Italy or Ireland that takes your fancy we hope this additional information makes your holiday search that little less stressful.

france

The Best 2017 Events and Activities in France

2017 offers a wealth of festivals, carnivals and activities to enjoy all over France, all of which take advantage of their glorious surroundings to ensure an amazing spectacle.

From live music echoing around the historic ramparts and city streets of Carcassonne to brilliant bright kites on beautiful beaches in the sun-kissed Riviera, the unique cultural identity and scenic beauty of France makes it the perfect holiday destination. So take a look at our pick of this year’s biggest and best events.

Carcassonne Festival, Languedoc-Roussillon- 1-30 June

Carcassonne Fireworks Finale

The amazingly preserved medieval city and UNESCO site hosts this culturally diverse festival. One of France’s most popular events, it offers over 120 shows, many of which are free and take place in and around the  stunning historic streets of Carcassonne. International stars rub shoulders with emerging talent and local artists. www.festivaldecarcassonne.fr

Nice Carnival, Cote d’Azur – 11-25 February

One of the largest carnivals in the world takes over Nice for 2 weeks. The daily parades are a feast for the senses with fantastically decorated floats, huge figurines and over 1000 musicians, dancers and performers throughout the day and night. The famous flower battles see elaborately dressed figures throwing flowers into the crowd. www.nicecarnaval.com

VitiLoire, Tours, Loire Valley – 27-28 May

Celebrate the Loire Valley at this free event comprised of 150 winegrowers from this fantastically diverse wine-producing area. The festival includes a producers’ market, wine bars, cookery demonstrations, dinner parties and of course lots of tasting opportunities! Workshops, walks and cycles through the vineyards are also on offer. www.vitiloire.tours.fr

Dragon Festival, Mondragon, Provence – 13 May

The annual Fête du Drac takes place at night with a huge dragon procession, fireworks, medieval market and a carnival atmosphere. The festival pays homage to an old legend that a dragon appears on the banks of the River Rhone to catch unsuspecting villagers. Thankfully, visitors can just enjoy the spectacle without fear! www.comitedesfetesmondragon.com

Nice Jazz Festival, Cote d’Azur – 17-21 July

Nice city

One of the best known international jazz gatherings that has showcased the talent of Louis Armstrong, B.B. King and Erykah Badu to name but a few. The event dates back to 1948 and is now one of the French Riviera’s most popular events.  www.nicejazzfestival.fr

World Music Day, Nationwide – 21 June

La Fête de la Musique is held annually on the summer solstice and is a celebration of all types of amateur music. Across France musicians gather in the streets, bars and cafes to perform for free so you can enjoy a wonderfully festive atmosphere wherever you choose!  www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr.

Le Tour de France – various – 1-23 July

The world’s most prestigious bike race occurs over 3 weeks in July, taking in mountains, flats and road race sprints. Over 10 million people cheer on the race, enjoying the carnival atmosphere, the official promotional caravan and the grand spectacle. www.letour.fr

Menton Lemon Festival, Cote d’Azur – 13 Feb – 2 March

Citrus Exhibition at the Lemon Festival of Menton

Lemonade, lemon vinegar, lemon trees, lemon statues and lemon decorated floats; 145 tons of citrus fruit are worked into models and art in the centre of Menton to celebrate the lovely lemon! This unique event is over 80 years old and has a wonderful carnival atmosphere with parades and street performers. www.fete-du-citron.com

Bastille Day, Nationwide – 13 and 14 July

This national holiday is celebrated across France with fireworks, singing, dancing and a heartfelt party atmosphere. The storming of the Bastille was the start of the French revolution and many towns and cities, including Paris, also host a military parade. www.parisinfo.com

Avignon Festival, Provence – 6-26 July

Avignon, the UNESCO world heritage site, is home to one of France’s oldest and most famous festivals. Every year over 40 shows take place around the city, showcasing the very best in theatre, dance, music and visual arts for a native and international audience. www.festival-avignon.com

Chorégies d’Oranges d’Orange, Provence – 19 June – 5 August

This classical music and operatic spectacular dates back to 1860 and takes place in the magnificently preserved Roman theatre in Orange. The theatre’s original stone stage provides exceptional acoustics and atmosphere for the audience of 9,000, enjoying performances of well known works such as Madam Butterfly and La Traviata. www.choregies.fr

The Festival of Lights, Lyon, Alps – early Dec

Lyon lights

This beautiful night time spectacle sees Lyon awash with light. Candles are placed outside every window in the city and, buildings, streets and squares are lit by artists and light installations are showcased. The festival has a magical atmosphere, celebrating the creation of light. www.fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr

Lorient Interceltic Festival, Lorient, Brittany – 4-13 Aug

This Celtic area of Brittany celebrates its history and brings together the Celtic regions of the UK, France and Spain. The 10 days and nights offer a cultural showcase filled with music, dance, processions, markets and games. www.festival-interceltique.com

Braderie de Lille, Pas de Calais – 2-3 Sept

The Lille Street market is one of the world’s largest flea markets and one of France’s most famous events, dating back to medieval times. Lille is transformed into a bustling, pedestrian friendly home to 100km of stalls. Traditionally moules-frites is eaten by visitors, and the local restaurants compete to build the highest pile of empty shells in the street. www.lilletourism.com

Berck-Sur-Mer Kite Festival, Pas de Calais – 9-17 April

Kite festival

Put your feet on the sand and your head in the sky at this International Kite Festival! The huge beach at Berck has hosted all kinds of spectacular and colourful kites for over 25 years. Learn to fly and make kites for the first time or watch the biennial (falling on even years) world team championships. www.cerf-volant-berck.com

World Puppet Theatre Festival, Charleville-Mezieres, Champagne – 16-24 Sept 

The lead event in the world of puppet arts! Every 2 (odd numbered) years, 250 companies from 5 continents meet to present the latest puppet creations and productions. Visitors can enjoy over 200 puppet shows, from traditional to contemporary. Suitable for adults and children. www.festival-marionnette.com

Carpentras Truffle Market, Provence – Nov – March

In the foothills of Mont Ventoux, Carpentras is famous for its black Truffles. Every Friday morning from November until March, local foragers weigh in and sell their delicious finds at the weekly Truffle Market. www.carpentras-ventoux.com

International Garden Festival, Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire, Loire Valley – Apr to Nov

The chateau estate is transformed into an open air landscape art museum, showcasing the work of 30 landscape artists from around the world. Each year the gardens offer a new theme and transform beautifully throughout the spring, summer and autumn seasons. The gardens are lit at night using candles and beautifully bright LEDs, creating a magical visitor experience. www.domaine-chaumont.fr

5 Fun New Year’s Resolutions – and how to keep them!

Why are New Year’s resolutions so difficult to keep? Every year we start off with such good intentions, but, according to research, only around 1 in 10 of us stick to our resolutions.

This is because most of us set unrealistic goals at the start of the year that we can’t possibly keep…and that makes us reluctant to set any more.

The key to keeping your New Year’s resolutions is to make them small, easy to maintain and fun! So here we’re taking five common New Year’s resolutions and recommending a fun way to make your aspirations a reality.

1. Travel more

mountain path leading to lake at Cwm Idwal, Devils Kitchen

First off, forget expensive, faraway destinations and those stressful hours trapped in the departures lounge. There are plenty of unexplored gems right here in the UK, just waiting to be discovered.

In fact, for breathtaking mountain scenery, an intriguing local language and and even a dormant volcano, you need only go as far as north Wales and the beautiful Snowdonia National Park. If you want to avoid the crowds of Snowdon itself, explore the rich natural and cultural treats of the rest of the park, including the ancient castles and events celebrating Wales’ ‘Year of Legends’.

2. Get fit

iStock_000005150611Large

The bad news is that spending money on a gym membership you’ll hardly ever use will not get you fit. Amazingly, millions of pounds are still wasted in this way every year in the UK. The good news, however, is that a sure-fire way of making exercise work is to make sure you enjoy it. Instead of a sweaty, crowded gym, get yourself fit out amongst some of the outstanding natural beauty that Britain has to offer.

The Forest of Dean, just north of the River Severn and close to the Welsh border, is the perfect location for a fitness break. There’s a simply incredible number of activities available in this spectacular location, including cycling, caving, climbing and canoeing. There’s even diving at one of the UK’s newest inland dive sites. Plus, of course, there’s the simple pleasure of walking and hiking around one of England’s surviving ancient woodlands. You’ll be so captivated by the amazing scenery, you won’t even realise how fit you’re getting!

3. Learn a language

Le Mont Saint Michel
They say the best way to learn a new language is not in the classroom, but to immerse yourself in the culture. With a self catering break in the gorgeous countryside of France or Italy, you can escape the stifling cocoon of hotels, cities and resorts, and mingle with the locals. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can pick up the basics in a supermarket or cafe. Plus, by visiting a stunningly beautiful location, you’ll give yourself even more motivation to persevere with the language.

An ideal place to start your learning is the stunning Armorica Regional Natural Park in Brittany. From the mountains to the sea, you’ll discover some incredible wildlife and breathtaking views. Here, you can forget the old French stereotypes: the local Bretons are very friendly, and fortunately they’re rather used to helping Brits struggling with the language!

4. Relax more

Bamburgh Castle and seat

To truly achieve relaxation, you need to give your body the most peaceful stimuli: creature comforts, natural beauty, and calm, quiet surroundings. Likewise, there are a few things you need to avoid at all costs, such as long-haul flights, stressful airports and lost luggage.

How about a holiday let with a hot tub, surrounded by the rugged beauty of Northumberland? In this most northerly part of England, you can really get away from the crowds, with miles of stunning coastline and woodland to enjoy.

5. Spend more time with the family

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Spending more time with the family does not mean staying at home in front of the telly! Jobs, housework and the distractions of normal life mean that getting away is the best option for renewing those family bonds. Getting everyone from the kids to the grandparents in one place is a great idea, and there’s no easier way to do so than by renting a large holiday cottage.

There’s no better choice than the Peak District, Britain’s first national park. If you’ve got family members spread far and wide, its location right in the heart of Britain, nestled just between Manchester and Sheffield, will ensure it’s easy to get to for everyone. With so much to see and do throughout its 500 square miles, there’ll be something to keep the whole family entertained, before you all come together for some real family bonding.

We hope this has given you some inspiration for how you can keep your New Year’s resolutions this year, whilst at the same time exploring some of the wonderful countryside right on your doorstep.

Tour de France – Gear up and see France from the saddle

Become King of the Mountains in France

Believe it or not, it’s Tour de France season again! That means now’s the perfect time to think about bikes, France, and combining the two in the perfect holiday.

A quick look at how seriously the French take the Tour de France proves that cycling really is a national passion here. And why wouldn’t it be, what with varied scenery, a great climate, and charming towns and villages all conveniently linked by thousands of miles of quiet roads?

Better by bike

The brilliant thing about France is that there’s cycling here for everyone, whether you’re an avid racer tackling infamous Alpine climbs or a total novice hoping to coast along from café to café.  Better still, cycling isn’t just a good way to keep fit, it’s also a lovely way to meet the locals and see a country close up, and you’ll find yourself in out-of-the-way places many tourists never really see.  One thing is for sure: whatever your interests and level of fitness, France is a country made for experiencing on two wheels – the only problem is deciding which bit to explore!

Later on we’ll help you get to grips with some of the practicalities of cycling in France, but let’s start with a quick rundown of some of the country’s best regions for a two-wheeled adventure of your own.  Remember, with more than half a million miles of roads to choose from (and that’s excluding motorways!) there’s a huge network of cycle-friendly routes covering every corner of the country.  Look out for so-called ‘voies verte’ routes too, as these ‘greenway’ routes are a particularly good option for families because they’re generally flat and completely free from motor vehicles.  Some even follow scenic disused railways or canal towpaths.

Normandy, beach and rock formation in Etretat

Normandy, beach and rock formation in Etretat

The way to go…

There’s enjoyable cycling to be had all over France, and with thousands of holiday properties located throughout the country, it’s easy to find the perfect base from which to explore by bike.

The famous Loire Valley is ideal for beginners, with easy terrain, a user-friendly cycle trail and plenty of great sightseeing, including iconic châteaux.  Normandy and Brittany make good bases too, although Brittany’s intricate coastline makes cycling inland an easier option here.   If it’s big mountain scenery and a serious cycling challenge you’re after, head for the French Alps and enjoy (or endure!) some of the world’s legendary road and off-road routes.

France’s Atlantic coast offers the best coastal cycling in the country, and it includes islands you can reach from the mainland situated between the Gulf of Morbihan and the Gironde.  So long as you avoid some of the main roads – especially in peak season – the areas around rivers like the Dordogne, Lot and Aveyron also make ideal cycling country.  Watch out for some steep but rewarding climbs as you leave the valley bottoms.

Aquitaine, Languedoc and the Midi-Pyrénées offer good opportunities for cyclists too, and it’s worth checking out the huge area of pine forest at Landes as well as St Emilion and its surrounding area.  Burgundy has plenty of interest to offer cyclists, including scenic canals through undulating terrain.   In pretty Alsace, the foothills of the Vosges are home to beautiful traditional villages well worth a visit, or pedal to Comar for a day in this wonderfully preserved historic town, often considered the capital of Alsatian wine.

Getting to, from and around France

Whether you’re driving to France or flying and picking up a hire car, it’s possible to take your own bikes with you.  Choosing this option won’t just save you the time and expense of hiring bikes when you arrive at your destination, it means you’ll get to ride a bike you’re already familiar with.  If you decide to fly, check with your airline about the additional costs of taking your bike, and make sure you know how to pack it and whether or not it needs to be booked on the flight in advance.  Airline websites usually have all this information available under their ‘Baggage’ section.

Of course, if you’re a really keen cyclist you may even decide to ride to France!  A journey like this turns your holiday into an adventure, but be sure to plan and pack carefully.  Ferry companies will allow you to take your bike on board and, if you time it right, you might even be able to benefit from special offers aimed at cyclists.

Eurostar and the French rail network both allow bikes on trains, although you should check and book in advance by contacting either http://www.eurostar.co.uk or http://www.voyages-sncf.com.  It might be necessary to pay for transporting your bike, and not all high-speed TGV trains will carry bicycles.

If you prefer to hire bikes when you arrive at your destination, check carefully to make sure the bikes fit properly and are in good working order.  If you’re hiring for a few days, it’s even worth thinking about taking basic tools along too, like a puncture repair kit and a pump.

Points to remember

Just like at home, to stay safe and avoid breaking the law you need to know the rules of the road if you’re cycling on French highways, even the quiet ones.  Make sure you check for the latest laws and regulations covering traffic, safety equipment and bicycle set-up.  As a general rule, you must obey all traffic signs just as you would in a car.

  • The law doesn’t require you to wear a helmet in France, but it’s definitely strongly advised. If you’re riding in the dark away from urban areas, you’ll need to wear a high-visibility jacket too.
  • In towns and cities you must cycle in the marked cycle lanes wherever they are provided.
  • Don’t forget to check the latest law on alcohol limits and driving, because the same limits apply to cyclists as well. Ignoring these laws could lead to a major fine and the confiscation of your bike, and you could even have your car licence withdrawn.
  • In France, to be ‘roadworthy’ bikes need to have a bell as well as brakes that work properly. If you ride after dark, you’ll need to make sure your bike is also fitted with reflectors together with lights front and rear.
  • While it’s fine during the daylight hours, don’t ride side by side at night, no matter how tempting it is.
  • Always make sure that your holiday insurance covers you for the type of riding you’ll be doing. If you’re mountain biking in the Alps or road racing in a competition, you might need specialist insurance to cover any medical costs arising from an accident.  Never be tempted to skimp on this – medical and repatriation bills can quickly run into tens of thousands of pounds, or even more!

Last but not least, it’s worth doing a bit of research before your trip.  We’ve tried to give you a few of the basics here, but there’s a wealth of more detailed information available online.  Look at the tourism websites for the particular area of France you’d like to visit, and start your adventure with a visit to the official site for cycle tourism in France at www.francevelotourisme.com

Take a look at holiday cottages in France to find your perfect for cycling holiday accommodation.

Cottage of the Week – Villa Franeli, Cote-d’Azur

A beautiful, contemporary retreat, Villa Franeli (ref. FCA342) has been stylishly designed and beautifully furnished. All rooms benefit from south-facing patio doors, with views over the pool area and overlooking the quaint Provençal village of Le Rouret. Sleeps 8. More info on our website.

Cottage of the Week – Mas Saurine, Languedoc-Roussillon

A 19th Century Catalan farmhouse situated in a tranquil location, yet close to endless miles of golden sandy beaches and the high mountain peaks of the Pyrénées, Mas Saurine (Ref. F66156) offers a lovely, scenic holiday location for up to 7 lucky guests.

It is situated in a tranquil location, yet close to endless miles of golden sandy beaches and the high mountain peaks of the Pyrénées. Nearby are the villages of Joch and Vinça with local shopping. More comprehensive facilities are provided by Prades and Ille-sur-Têt, both 15 minutes away.

Find more information, up to date availability and pricing and make your booking on our website.