Luxury in Provence

If you didn’t know already, I’ve just got married. Yay! Our venue was Portugal, so, not afraid of an adventure we decided to drive there from the UK. It’s a long way and we took 3 weeks in total to get there, get married and then drive back. We thought it would be a bit cheeky to have a honeymoon on our return home so we are saving that for next year. Instead we decided to incorporate a minimoon into our drive back.

A minimoon to me screams luxury, a short break away to relax after the wedding, somewhere romantic and of course it has to have delicious food options. After a lot of research we decided on Provence in the south of France. Beaumes-de-Venise to be specific.

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To reach this petite town on the edge of the Rhone Valley from Portugal took 2 days of driving. We left our wedding venue at lunchtime on a Saturday (in tears I might add as I was so sad to leave). We drove 460 miles, it took 7 hours give or take with a couple of driver stops to reach an over night stop in Spain. The next day we headed north along the coast to Andorra where we stopped for another night, this was another 7 hour drive but not as far, 400 miles, but it took a while because of the slower, twisty mountain roads. After a night in Andorra la Vella we then took the final leg of the drive to our minimoon destination. This took about 6 hours and was just shy of 300 miles. The journey was so diverse, vast plains, mountain villages, green forests and fields of sunflowers, we took so many photos and gawked in amazement at the sites we experienced. I really feel it is the best way to travel. You see so much at your own pace.

We had surfed the web for weeks trying to find the best, most romantic place to stay within our budget. We decided upon Les Remparts as it looked like a Boutique guest house but with the old world charm we were hoping for in that region of France. We also made sure we booked the best room.

As soon as we arrived we knew we had made the right choice. We were greeted by the French house keeper, a lovely lady who spoke no English. Our school French came back to us extremely quickly and with the added help of Google Translate we managed to communicate quite well. Phew!

Les Remparts is built within the old fortified walls of the village, this 16th century guest house screams French luxury on an extremely affordable scale. Our room was on the 4th floor, 38 steps up to the top is a lot when you are used to living in a bungalow like we are! The door to our room was OLD, it was wooden with the biggest key you have ever seen, we opened it to the most lovely smell as scented candles had been lit prior to our arrival. It was such a lovely touch, one I have never experienced before. It was very welcoming.

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The walls that you can access from your room. Photo borrowed from the guesthouse website.

Our room consisted of a huge bed with modern and comfy bedding that was fitting with the decor in the room. The ceiling was pitched and still had the original beams. We had numerous windows with shutters that gave us uninterrupted views through the old walls out over the Provence landscape. We had a wall and two archways that seperated the sleeping area and the ablution area where we had the most gorgeous free standing bath, his and hers sinks and entry to the most amazing rain shower I have ever used. In a building so old, on the 4th floor I was amazed that the water pressure was as strong as it was. To the opposite side of the shower was the toilet, in a small room with yes, you guessed it, another very old wooden door. We also had a clothes hanging area behind the shower, between the two sinks. The floor throughout the room was stone, as were the walls.

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Our room – photo borrowed from the guesthouse website
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Another picture of our room from the door way. Photo borrowed from the guesthouse website
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Our amazing rain shower

The guesthouse itself has 5 rooms in total, all with great WiFi. Breakfast is served by the housekeeper who greeted us, every morning. We were able to choose the time of breakfast. I’m not sure if that was because we were the only guests – yep, we had the entire guest house to ourselves for 5 days! 9am was the time that worked best for us now we were relaxing for a few days. Each morning we were served with fresh bread, croissants and pastries as well as freshly squeezed orange juice, mueseli and eggs however we wanted them. I had hard boiled. There were also preserves, cheese, ham and fruit too. Although we never did utilise it, I am pretty sure we could have used the kitchen to prepare our own lunches or dinners. There was an American style fridge freezer which we used though.

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The kitchen – photo borrowed from the guesthouse website

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The guesthouse has a communal lounge area where there is a lot of information on local activities, trips and tours. The lounge has large glass doors that open out into a courtyard that has a large seating area, a small pool enclosed within the walls and a hot tub too. To find the hot tub you need to find the spiral staircase to the side of the pool which takes you up to a hidden balcony where you’ll find a small couch and hot tub. You would usually have to book time slots for the hot tub but since we were the only guests we could use it when we wanted.

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The lounge, photo borrowed from the guesthouse website
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The courtyard and pool – photo borrowed from the guesthouse website
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The hot tub area – photo borrowed from the guesthouse website

 

Luckily for us, parking wasn’t an issue during our stay. The guest house has it’s own garage on the opposite side of the street. We parked there, without a problem every night but if the guesthouse was full there would have been a problem as it can only fit 2 cars. I can understand why many French people drive small cars, their villages are tough to get parked in!

Throughout our stay our room was cleaned every day, we only saw the housekeeper at breakfast and we could come and go whenever we pleased as we had a front door key. I would thoroughly recommend Les Remparts to anyone looking for a quiet, romantic break away. It is perfectly situated to explore the wineries, there are so many to choose from, it is also a great base for walkers and cyclists too. I would say it is more suited to adults, and ones that are able to walk up stairs too as there are no ground floor rooms which could be an issue if you have mobility problems. I wouldn’t suggest it as a destination for children, that’s not to say they aren’t welcome, it is just my opinion that it is better suited to adults.

My memories of a romantic minimoon will stay with me forever, I saw the most amazing sunset from our room. We had a tiny window that had a thick wooden frame. There was no curtain or shutter so it looked like a painting in a frame on the wall. The view through this window was breathtaking.

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Sunset Beaumes de Venise style

 

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The picture window

We stayed between 19th and 23rd September 2016. Our room and breakfast for 2 adults cost a total of 1040 euros.

Have you stayed here before? Are you considering staying here? Feel free to ask any questions, or, if you know of any boutique hotels which you can recommend to me in France I would love to hear about them.

 

 

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A Day in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

When asked what the highlight of my recent wedding road trip was I had to think carefully. There were so many highlights, obviously my wedding day was the top choice but in addition to that it was our unexpected day at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

I’d never heard of it but I am so glad we stumbled across it. Where else can you climb a church roof for a start? I guess there are 2 things slightly shocking about that statement, the first being that I was actually on the roof of a church which is ever-so-slightly dangerous (especially based on my recent track record). The second being that I suffer with Hypermobility – sometimes just getting out of bed and spending a day at home is all I can manage.

During our recent Minimoon we spent 4 days in Provence in Southern France. It is such a beautiful region and we only got to explore a very small area but what we did see we loved.

On our second day we decided to head out to Avignon but once we arrived we realised it wasn’t really for us. It was too congested and busy, after a busy two weeks of travelling we were after tranquility and calm. We found ourselves heading South East from our base to Camargue, we knew nothing other than what it looked like on a map.

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Once in the area we headed for Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer which is situated in the Rhône River delta on the Mediterranean coast. I was expecting a cafe, tourist information point and a car park with walking trails but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is in fact a beautiful sea side town with dozens of bars and restaurants and quaint shopping streets. The beach is small but perfect and there is a paved walkway all the way along the coastal side of the town. It had an old town America vibe about it with a French twist. We fell in love with the place straight away.

We spent about 6 hours here in total, we had a great time, if you have a similar amount of time then this could inspire your trip:

Enjoy lunch at one of the many restaurants and cafes. There are all types of cuisine, we visited the funky Fanneu where I enjoyed a tomato pasta dish and Simon tucked in to a blue cheese and chicken salad. Sadly we have no photos (we too hungry to even consider it)  but the food was great, the vibe was chilled and there was lots to choose from including tapas.

After lunch we took a stroll along the beach and enjoyed an ice cream. There are so many places serving so many flavours!

We then happened on a Bull ‘Fighting’ Show. I put it in inverted commas as it wasn’t actually fighting. There is a large open air theatre area on the beach in the centre of town where a group of local men show their acrobatic skills dodging the bull. We watched 2 separate shows which was enough, we aren’t sure how long the show went on for but it was free of charge to watch. I understand that this show isn’t for everyone but we were intrigued at what was going on so gave it half an hour of our time.

Just outside the arena is a small fairground, there are a couple of rides for kids and the traditional UK sea side amusements so we had a play on the ‘2p machines’, you know the ones, like on Tipping Point where you nudge the coins over the ledge. Of course these weren’t 2p’s but Euro’s exchanged for tokens. After a few minutes of childlike entertainment we came away winners!

Feeling like lottery winners we decided on a stroll around the town which is where we happened upon the church roof experience. In the centre of the shopping and eating area is a large church which seemed extremely popular with visitors. Sadly I can’t tell you anything about the interior as we were intrigued to find out how to get on the roof as we could see others peering over the sides at us. To the side of the church is an entrance with an admission fee of 2.50 Euro’s per person to head up on to the roof. As little as a year ago I would never have entertained climbing stairs. My hypermobility goes hand in hand with Vasodepressor Syncope which makes me feel faint and can result in me passing out without too much warning. I was also heavier, I have lost over 3 stone over the past year, I would have been too unfit to even consider climbing stairs before but feeling healthy and thinner I jumped at the chance. It turns out there are only 38 steps but they are narrow and they are windy so it isn’t for everyone. On reaching the top I was so pleased with myself, I wasn’t out of breath nor was I dizzy and whats more I got to enjoy the amazing panoramic views of the town. The walkways on the roof lead to the proper roof itself, where you can carefully climb further using the tile rows as steps. They are slightly slippy depending on your footwear but they are secure and it is totally worth doing! To many it would be a health and safety nightmare, not an option in the UK but we went for it, heck, we were on holiday!

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I reached the top – had to sit as way too slippy!
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View from the top – you can see everyone at the Bull show
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I’ve just come down from the very top, I am very pleased with myself
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Little me at the bottom, you can just see someone at the very top!

What better way to celebrate climbing a church roof in France than sitting down with a cold drink and a crepe. They are so yummy, we shared a lemon and sugar one which we thoroughly enjoyed. We didn’t have time to relax for long though, we had Flamingos to see.

Yep, Flamingos, did you know the Camargue is the only place in Europe where they nest? Who’d have thought these beautiful birds could be seen so close to home. We took the 10 minute drive north to the Ornithological Centre. I was disappointed that the centre didn’t promote the fact, anywhere on the roadside that this was the place to see the Flamingos. If it had we would have seen it on the way in to town earlier in the day, we would have stopped then which would have been much better than going at sunset when the mozzies are out.

When we arrived at the centre we parked up and followed another couple who Simon was convinced knew the way. We followed them along grassy, overgrown walkways for at least 20 minutes. We knew we were close as we could hear the Flamingos, they are so noisy! It turns out that they had no idea where they were going, we discovered this when we all reached the end of the trail with zero view of the beautiful pink birds I was so excited to see.

Fast forward another 20 minutes and we are back at the car park, where I insist we take a stroll over to the Ornithological Centre. I’m glad we did as it was the right place. Here we paid the 7.50 euro each to gain access to the lagoons where the majority of the Flamingos were nesting. Painfully for us, it was at this exact point that we discovered the millions of mosquitos, they found us tasty and were all over us instantly. It was awful. We weren’t armed with bug spray nor could we buy any there. We wanted to follow the map we were given to view all the sites of the centre but we just couldn’t bear it. We were being eaten alive – no other visitors seemed to be bothered by them, they must like our English blood.

We ran to the lagoon where the Flamingos were, took a load of photos and ran back to the car. We were so disappointed but we had seen them and that was the reason we were there. I cannot tell you anything else about the Ornithological Centre as we didn’t see any of it. Here are some photos.

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I would recommend anyone to visit the Camargue region of Southern France, it is wild, an area of lagoons and reed covered marshes and nature at its absolute best. We could easily have spent longer here. If you do visit make sure you go in the Spring or Autumn. We visited towards the end of September, the weather was hot and fine and the Flamingos were still there. Just make sure you take bug spray as we were itching our bites for days.

Have you been to Camargue? Have you seen the Flamingos? Let me know, or if you want any tips for a future visit let me know.

 

Shoes – 2 out of 3 DONE!

Good morning! I am happy this morning as I have 2 out of my 3 pairs of wedding shoes sorted for my big day! Does wanting 3 pairs of shoes for one occasion make me a diva? A girl can never have too many pairs of shoes surely?

Many of us with Hypermobility often suffer with problems with our feet. I do, and it is very painful. Specifically I suffer with Plantar Fasciitis. This means that heels are pretty much out of the question and have been for a few years now. I have a huge draw under the spare bed full of heels that I can’t bare to say goodbye to. I live in trainers, sneakers, flip flops and can sometimes get away with a slight cuban style heel. I can’t stand still without shoes on EVER, especially on a hard floor. So if I am preparing food in the kitchen I have to wear something on my feet. Usually my trusty black Birkenstocks as they have a foot bed which moulds to the shape of my foot. I am always on the look out for fashionable sandals or flip flops with a foot bed style sole that are fashionable but I don’t often find them. If you think you suffer with this condition you may find it hurts more when you go to bed, or sit down to rest. It really is painful and I have so much sympathy for you. The thing that really improved my feet issues were insoles. They are amazing and have transformed my life! The lovely people at Shuropody supplied me with these…..

Insoles

They slip discreetly in my shoes and really improve the way my feet sit in my shoes and the impact my feet have on the floor. I cannot recommend them enough. My nearest store is Watford but you can order them online. I’d suggest making the journey to your local store so you can get your feet examined. They’ll recommend the best for your ailment – they have so many options. They suggest you change them every year at a cost of approximately £35 which is far cheaper then getting Orthotics made especially. They are absolutely worth a try.

Anyway, I’ve digressed….back to the wedding. As I can’t wear heels anymore I was struggling to decide what to wear on my big day. My mum really wanted to see me in heels so I compromised. I have a gorgeous pair of heels for the ceremony. Honestly, I haven’t spent much on them as I don’t expect to wear them for long. If I could I would but I refuse to be in pain on my wedding day so I will wear them for as long as feels comfortable. They were £35 from ASOS and I fell in love with them as soon I saw them. So many wedding shoes look frumpy or impossibly high for me to walk in. I still wanted something fashionable and these are perfectly matched to my dress.

The heel is a decent height for me to not stagger down the aisle and I have the security of them actually being attached to my foot with the strap and zip fastening on the back. I am usually a girl that wears leather shoes, you pay more and you get more comfort – especially with my feet but these are great for an hour or so.

So pair two….I need a pair of shoes suitable for photos at the beach, that are still pretty and girly but gave me the comfort my poorly feet crave. Yesterday I embarked on a shopping trip to Cambridge with my mum. I wasn’t on a mission to find shoes but I was browsing around when I came across the perfect pair in Dune. How did this happen? Things are never this easy for me usually! They are white which is what I thought I might struggle to find as a lot of shoes seem to be tan or black these days. They are pretty and what’s more, they sparkle!! What do you think? In my opinion perfect for £60.

Dune Sandals

So now, I just need pair number 3! I need something comfy, secure and cushiony (yes, not a real word I know) and lovely for my delicate feet which will be dancing and mingling all afternoon and evening. Much to my mums horror I am going for Converse! I want to add some bling with a few sparkles here and there and replace the laces with some pretty shear ribbon. I can then wear my insoles and not be hobbling around the next day. I plan to wear them with some pretty socks like we used to wear when we were kids – remember these?

Socks

Not my usual style but I think they’ll be pretty and more to the point comfortable. I’d love to hear about your wedding shoe style. Are you planning on multiple pairs like me?

 

Portugal Wedding Venue Trip Day 2

As we woke up on another day in the beautiful Algarve we began wondering if the day ahead was going to bring us face-to-face with ‘the one’. So far we had seen some very lovely locations but none took our breath away enough. We were expecting to know straight away when we saw it.

We originally had an appointment at The Sheraton Algarve but unfortunately had to cancel. It really is a beautiful place but, to be honest, it was too formal for what we were looking for and it would have been a stretch financially. We both agreed we would stay there on a return visit as it really is beautiful.

Our first appointment of the day took us (eventually, we got pretty lost on the way) to Julias situated on the beach with a beautiful view of the sea and coastline. It is in the Almancil area of the Algarve which is gorgeous. There are lots of stunning villas nearby and we heard that Ant and Dec often pop in for dinner and drinks as they own properties close by. Sadly for us we didn’t see them. Doh!

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We could really see ourselves getting married here. The situation was perfect and the venue was clean, friendly and stylish. We met with the owner who explained the day and the services they offer and we even managed to enjoy a drink and panini whilst we chatted. It was during this chat that we discovered it isn’t that easy to get married on the beach in Portugal. There are licenses you need to buy and there are rules about music etc. This gave us something to think about as we moved on to our next venue.

Next stop on our whirlwind tour was Duna Beach in Lagos. We didn’t stay here long as although it was a nice location we knew as soon as we arrived that it wasn’t for us. The bar and restaurant I hear are funky venues to spend an afternoon or evening but we didn’t feel it was the right place for us. You might love it and I’ve seen some fab pics of weddings online there.

We were really starting to worry now…..was this going to be an unsuccessful trip? How many quick long weekend breaks would we need to take around the world before we found ‘the place’? Don’t get me wrong, we love to travel, we don’t need an excuse to discover somewhere new but when we’re limited to a certain number of days of annual leave and we want time off for the eventual wedding we had to work smart!

By now the day had become a scorcher and I was starting to feel the strains of the trip. Being hypermobile can be a real pain (yep literally) in extreme temperatures and I was starting to succumb. My neck, chest and face were all bright red and angry looking as were my legs. I had cream on, I was wearing a hat but the vasculitis I suffer from was rearing it’s ugly head. Luckily for me it doesn’t hurt. It can irritate if I catch or scratch it by mistake but more so it just looks AWFUL. I feel that everyone stares at me when I have it and that makes me feel more uncomfortable than I am already feeling. I have only had to deal with this for the past few years, since I was properly diagnosed with hypermobility. The picture below shows it at its worst on my legs. I have to take steroids when it appears which I hate as they really affect my sleep which is already pretty unreliable thanks to being hypermobile.

Vasculitis

Anyway, enough about that for now. Mid afternoon we arrived at our final destination – a beautiful fishing village in Western Algarve called Burgau. We were due to see our final venue but also meet with a caterer we had heard so much about afterwards. We had about 45 minutes to kill before we were due at the venue so we treated ourselves to a burger. I needed food, my energy levels were low and I was feeling pretty rubbish but food and a cold drink really helped.

We arrived at Salsalito just after 3pm. This was our wild card venue. All previous venues had been beach side and this was a 10 minute walk from the beach. It was a villa venue with no view of the sea, I literally came across it online a day or so before we left on our trip. Simon knew very little about it but he trusted my judgement! We were greeted by the owner, a lady called Sally who we immediately knew was a larger than life character. She welcomed us with open arms like we were old friends and led us through her home to the patio.

Now, you know I mentioned earlier that we still hadn’t the ‘take our breath away’ moment? Well let me tell you, we both experienced it together, at the same time as we were led out on to the patio. WOW!!!!! What a beautiful place. A hidden paradise we never expected. Beautiful, tranquil and so amazingly us it was untrue! We remained calm and collected for the meeting and tour and even met the caterer there.

Had we found THE place…..?

Portuguese Wedding Venues

Portuguese wedding venues differ in price and style all along the Algarve and there are so many hard to find venues which may just be your jewel in the crown.

Now, before we embarked on this fact finding mission we thought we knew which venue was going to be our favourite before we’d even seen it in the flesh. It just shows how important it is to see these venues for real as it turned out it wasn’t for us at all. If you’re considering somewhere in Portugal as a wedding venue then you absolutely must get over there and check them out, plus it’s a great excuse for a holiday too!

Right, day one, we’d been in Portugal less than 24 hours and we had a full day of appointments ahead. Our first was Club Nau on the coast in Ferragudo.

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We met with Rebecca and her partner who were absolutely lovely. They ran through everything with us from the ceremony on the beach, to how the venue would be laid out to the food and music options. It had a real laid back beach vibe. We could have beanbags and chill out areas on the sand and listen to the waves crashing. It was a great first appointment and we learnt so much. Unfortunately, although we loved the venue we couldn’t commit. To reach the venue you have to walk down some stone steps, my mother in law to be is disabled so this was sadly out of the question for her. We were so disappointed as everything else seemed perfect. Oh well, on to the next one!

Our second stop was Canico. What can I say. WOW! Never judge a book by its cover. You walk along a few pathways before entering a lift which takes you down and out into the restaurant area. This is a restaurant area like no other as it is set into the side of the cliffs. We arrived a few minutes early so we sat and enjoyed a drink whilst taking in the view out to sea.

Canico

We were drawn to this place as you can have your event set up on the beach. They light up the cliffs at night as you dance with your guests. We were shown around by the manager who was so helpful driving us around his vast property in his jeep. He showed us another area as an option which was around the pool looking out over the sea from the top of the cliffs. This was definitely something to think about so we left with lots of notes and added it to our list of possible options. Either way, we’d absolutely be back for dinner on our next visit to the area.

Next we moved on to NoSoloAgua in Portimao. We didn’t have an appointment but we planned on popping in to get a feel for the place. Unfortunately we just couldn’t find it! We drove around the town so many times and ended up giving up. Maybe on our next trip we will give in and get a SatNav! I have given them a mention though as they were very helpful on email which was great. It turns out that Portimao isn’t really the place for us, too commercialised but that could be what you are looking for.

We ended the day with a drive into the mountains to watch the sunset, we had a lot to talk about and another day of venues the next day.