Sunday, 13 May 2012

Dinard, France – the Place Colard market and the Promenade au Clair de Lune

Last month I had a crazy idea in my head about buying a gorgeous and cheap house in the middle of nowhere in Brittany, France.  And so, coming across some cheap flights (£50 all in for 2 people from East Midlands airport to Dinard airport) on a whim I booked them.  Of course I then realised that buying a house in the middle of nowhere where I'd have to fly and then rent a car each time I wanted to get there probably wasn't the best idea...and so a fantastic weekend trip to Dinard was born.

Everyone has heard of St Malo but we'd never heard of Dinard which is the next resort over, across a small channel.  Apparently though Dinard is known as the Cannes of the North and has had a number of famous visitors.  We picked the most stunning weekend to go, the weather was gorgeous and we were able to enjoy some time on one of Dinard's beaches.  It was also really pleasantly quiet, with very few tourists (why am I telling you about it?!) and surprisingly little English was spoken by the people we met, which was brilliant as we really wanted to practice our French.

We arrived late on Friday night (well about 9pm) and almost everything was closed, including our hotel!  They had left us a note in the window though, so we called the number...and then started to panic as no-one was answering.  About 20 minutes later, after following some suspicious French people into the hotel foyer, the completely bonkers Audrey came down the stairs and eventually managed to get us checked in, with keys to our room.  It was certainly an unforgettable welcome to France!  Soon after though we were settled in and down the road at Flo's, who was much saner, and stayed open to cook us some lovely galettes (French savoury pancakes) and to give us our first French conversation.

Our Saturday was already planned out, we wanted to visit the market at the Place Colard which comes every Saturday morning.  Arriving there following an enjoyable walk through the local streets, we found every single inhabitant of Dinard – it wasn't uncomfortably packed but there were so many more people there than we probably saw for the whole of the rest of the weekend.  And we soon found out why...the market is truly unforgettable, like nothing we had ever seen before in our lives...

The first thing of note and what has really stayed with me were the seafood stalls.  Thousands of oysters in their shells, ready to be eaten, huge live spider crabs and lobsters which when disturbed would start to slowly crawl around and plenty of fresh fish.  I've never cooked lobster or crab but would think it would be an interesting experience getting them home from the market!

Of course the stalls we were looking forward to were the cheese stalls and there were plenty of them too.  We tracked down one in a big open fronted van and I took the plunge, asking in French for some 18 month matured Comte cheese (which we had to try having seen it on the Hungry Frenchman with Raymond Blanc) and some tomato and olive gouda.  And that was the start of our lunch. 

Next at a saucisson stall we tasted saucisson with ceps, which was mouthwateringly stunning and purchased 4 different sorts, getting 1 free for being the first customers of the day.  We then bought a baguette traditional, some cider (the favourite drink of Bretons) and some tomatoes and after seeing the rest of the stalls (which included lots of fruit and veg, deli stalls, clothes and household goods and some hot food stalls with pancakes and vietnamese being the most popular) we headed down to the beach for a gastronomic delight of a simple continental lunch.

After lunch we went for a walk along the Promenade au Clair de Lune which is a pleasant stroll around the coastline including views over to St Malo and further round the boats in the Port of Dinard alongside with the fringes of some gardens.  Of course the name suggests that you should walk it in the moonlight, when I believe it is all lit up, and no doubt this would make for a romantic after dinner walk.

I could write on forever about our weekend in Dinard.  But as you can probably tell I'd definitely recommend it, especially if you can get cheap flights and hotels deal like we did.  If we'd had longer there are some great walking and hiking trails around Brittany including national parks and also canoeing trips.  To find out more I'd recommend looking on this site.

Our trip really got us even more hooked on France and last weekend we cooked ourselves a 3 course French meal to relive the coming soon at Phil's foodie site

P.S. Despite the strange arrival, the hotel we stayed in (the Comfort Hotel, Dinard Balmoral) was perfect for what we needed for the weekend.  Breakfast was lovely and really fresh like all food in France (though not cheap) and we were allowed late checkout to make the most of our Sunday.  I'd definitely recommend it for a stay.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Stanage Edge and Bamford

Wanting to explore a new area of the Peak District we came across SwallowHolme campsite in Bamford, near Hathersage. This was a perfect location for many potential walks, allowing us to explore Stanage Edge and is also a reasonable distance from Ladybower Reservoir.

Setting off on the Friday morning we were lucky enough to have a rare spot of sunshine, adding to the feeling of excitement and as usual it wasn't long before we were amongst the rolling green hills of the lower Peak District. Unfortunately the sunshine wasn't to last and most of the weekend saw the refilling of the local rivers and reservoirs but it was a great start nonetheless.

All that rain meant that the river alongside the campsite was rushing past as though it had somewhere better to be. Both the road and railway line run very close to the campsite but neither really bothered us much throughout our stay. In fact we felt incredibly close to nature, choosing a corner pitch near the river and being visited frequently by the robin and other birds. A hungry mother duck with 3 baby ducklings was happy to eat our bread, with Mr Drake chivalrously refusing to accept any.

Saturday the rain let up for a while so we donned waterproofs and headed out in the car for walk. Parking under the shadow of Burbage Rocks we headed up onto the top towards Stanage Edge. The rocks are gritstone and with the strange smoothed rocks and sandy path it felt very similar to The Roaches. The view though was quite different, much wilder and emptier with huge swathes of brown and cream moorland.

After a short while I did feel it was all a bit same-y, unlike The Roaches which constantly changed throughout our walk. The weather didn't give me much time to change this opinion as the wind blew in chilling everything and black clouds raced across the sky towards us. We hunkered down under a rock, feeling slightly Bear Grylls like (despite the emergency poncho and umbrella!) and sat out the storm before returning to the car.

Back at the camp, tragedy had struck. Only 2 ducklings were now following their mother and unfortunately she didn't seem any more worried or adept at looking after them, so it wasn't really a surprise when another was missing on the Sunday. Nonetheless nature seemed rather cruel that weekend.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

New Welsh Coastal Walk

 The worlds first coastal path for an entire country.

Of coarse you can do the entire country if you do Offas Dyke Path

Finishing touches are being made to the world's first coastal path network to cover an entire country.
Stretching from the mouth of the River Dee in Flintshire all the way to Chepstow, the Wales Coast Path covers 870 miles (1400km).

The network also links into the Offa's Dyke Path - creating a 1030 mile (1660km) route around the whole of Wales.

The coastal network is officially opened on Saturday 5 May.

Coastal access officer, Trisha Cottnam said the official opening marked the end of a five year project to build the network.

"It's a world first. There has never been a nation with a fully linked coastal path all the way around," she said.

Final preparations are being made to open the Wales coastal path. 
"We have a fantastic coastal path in Pembrokeshire and the Llyn Peninsular and around Anglesey, and it was the initiative to actually join everything up."
The project was backed by the Welsh government and local authorities, alongside the Countryside Council for Wales, taking five years to complete.
Visitor boost
It has cost about £2m a year to fund, with £4m of the cash coming from European grants.
The whole coastal network takes in two national parks, three areas of outstanding beauty, and 11 nature reserves. But not everyone has backed the network of paths, some farmers and landowners say it will hit them in the pocket.

Lyn Jenkins, who runs the Cardigan Island Farm Park, has spent tens of thousands of pounds opposing the project and access to his land.
"It totally finishes our business, it is letting everybody in free" said Mr Jenkins.
"But not only that, it is bringing people into a very dangerous area, that is clearly dangerous where the cliffs are crumbling."

However, Caroline Thompson from Ramblers Cymru said she believed the paths could only have a positive impact for those areas the network passed through.
"There will be increased tourism, increased visitors in the coastal communities and that will hopefully generate new enterprises and further income for those businesses," she said.

However, she also recognised that the network did not have universal access to the shore: "There are certain areas in Wales where there are private estates and unfortunately there isn't the coastal access.
"It would be great if that could be opened up so that the public could access it."

There has also been some concern from some landowners about the effects of allowing access across their land.
The whole network will be officially opened on Saturday, with three events being held at Flint, Aberystwyth and in Cardiff Bay, where environment minister John Griffiths will cut the ribbon to the network.