Monthly Archives: October 2016

A Highland Visit

I am a very lucky girl to have visited Scotland for a second week  this year. I have been familiarising myself with the Highlands, cities and countryside. In May / June 2017 I will be hosting my first tour to Scotland with a tour group. Along with my good friend and amazingly wonderful guide Charles Barkla we have planned 13 days of travel staying 2- 3 -4 nights in each place to immerse ourselves in the food, gardens, culture, history and whisky in this stunningly beautiful country. This tour will begin in France and take in the countryside of Normandy for 6 days.

For many New Zealanders, Scotland is the home of their ancestors and whether your surname starts with a ’Mc” or like mine ‘Cadzow ‘ we can trace our heritage to villages, castles and stately homes.
We didn’t find a stately home!!!  but, we did visit ‘Cullen’ –  although we have no knowledge if Philip’s family came from this very cute seaside village. Half an hour away was Banff where my Mothers mother was born and south of Glasgow is the remains of Cadzow Castle, sitting on the estates of the Hamilton Clan. It was very exciting this time to see the ancient Cadzow Cattle – now being reintroduced to the Hunting lodge grounds.
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Scotland has the ‘Wow’ factor, not only does it have a stunningly beautiful landscape. It is surrounded by a magnificent coastline and interspersed with an incredible number of Lochs.
It is home to exquisite seafood and Salmon – I just can’t get enough of the biggest tastiest scallops I have ever eaten. Traditional black pudding, Haggis, Neeps and Tatties are a must try and even a breakfast of kippers.
Throughout Scotland whisky distilleries are everywhere. It is a massive industry and from growing the barley, to providing beautiful water, to the distillers making their own unique product, you can get a good drop where ever you are. We visited the smallest distillery called Edradour out of Pitlochry set in a valley amongst the hills. I think it will soon no longer be the smallest since they are expanding hugely – but I still favour it as a  must see visit.
Scotland’s hertitage  makes it a cultural explosion and is is hard to choose what to leave  out on a tour. My love of gardens means there will be a few of those, but even the wild blue rhododendrons along the roadside are pretty stunning. There will be visits to historical sites, the odd castle and stately home, but we will be focusing on the real Scotland and what make it so popular as a tourist destination.
Hotels are booked and I can’t get any more rooms. 
E mail me – judith@judith-cullen.com 
If you want to be in on this boutique small group tour 
 
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Getting Acquainted with Normandy

 

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For 5 days (which wasn’t long enough )Philip and I explored Normandy securing hotels, restaurants, garden visits and excursions for a new tour to Normandy and Scotland  in May / June 2017.

Our French friends Jacque and Anny – who live in the Normandy countryside couldn’t  understand why ..when we went to visit towns we also checked out hotels!!
Gardens are our love and on this tour I intend to incorporate several. Our b and b garden was a delight and we often sat well into the evening out on the deck overlooking a rather lovely stream with a glass of wine and our computers !!
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We soon found a little more confidence driving the extremely narrow roads, through many gorgeous villages, to some incredibily stunning gardens. The French love hedges and to a degree quite a bit of formality, but then the planting can then become more relaxed. Avenues of huge tress that must be extremely old line roadsides everywhere, just like in the South of France.
This region also has a long coastline so naturally Normandy can offer wonderful seafood especially oysters, scallops, shrimps and prawns. A Classic dish is mussels cooked in cream and served in a huge bowl with an equally huge bowl of chips!!!
Many regions have iconic historical sites that have become major tourist attractions. Mont Saint Michel is one of these. Sitting proudly just off the coast there is now a fleet of buses that transport visitors the 600m to the base of the island. This is the most visited historical site in France. Built and added to and getting higher and higher since the 8th century, it is perched high above the rushing incoming tide and is a good strenuous walk up thousands of steps to the Monastery and Abbey at the top.
We arrived very late in the afternoon and people were leaving in droves. I think this is often the best time to visit these places when the tourist buses have departed and they are pleasantly calm with a beautiful evening light.
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Normandy of course was the chosen site where the Allies launched the successful invasion of German occupied France during  World War ll . Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy.
Normandy today has many monuments, museums, gravesides and events to commemorate the invasion. Loss of life, not only the military but the local civilians is hard to comprehend and cemeteries close to the landing beaches are very moving visits.
The city of Bayeux – which will be one of  our 3 nights stops  on the tour  was the first city to be liberated by the allied forces. But, it is also home of the Bayeux Tapestry which depicts the events leading up to the  Norman conquest of Britain. A very long time ago I used to teach embroidery and this has been a life long dream to visit the 70 m long miraculous Tapestry which is  still in wonderful condition . It ‘will’ be a visit on the tour.
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A glass of Calvados and a tasting platter of creamy camembert is obligatory in this region which is very beautiful and has an abundance of gorgeous medieval villages / cities to visit. The food is delicious and the French are very particular about eating well.

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Paris -Walking Heaven

Visiting Paris like most are other large tourist cities means good walking shoes a bottle of water and your camera charged up.

Everywhere you look its enormous and impressive. Iconic Paris has many monuments but also parks and gardens everywhere lined with fabulous rows of huge pleached trees, for the Parisians to relax, picnic and exercise.  This year the Luxembourg gardens had an exhibition on apples and pears with a huge range of old varieties and methods of espaliering. Lucky for us Paris had a car less day and Sunday here  also means the shops are closed. Although the main city traffic routes were open, places like the Champs Elysees, Les Invalides and Place de Concorde were home to walkers, families on bikes and many on roller skates.

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Musee D’Orsay with its impressive collection of Impressionist paintings is a must visit – housed in an amazing old railway station beside the river Seine it is an easy way to loose 3-4 hours. This year we finally visited Saint Chapelle- the little church by Notre Dame with the most incredibly beautiful stain glass windows. They are arranged across 15 windows, each 15 metres high, the stained glass panes depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments. There was no queue amazingly and they were very breathtaking. Just around the corner from these beautiful churches, I was amazed to see a street of Nurseries selling plants for apartments and balconies. It makes sense really. Many people won’t have cars and the centre of the city has to offer everything.

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But Paris is about food . Every corner has a cafe and restaurant with seats all facing the street. From coffee and croissant in the morning to a wine and salad at lunch  – open until till late in the evening  – these places are always open. Parisians,  like most in France like to stop and eat lunch and dinner together with friends and family  – usually two or three courses.

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In St Germain we ate at the iconic Le Relais de l’Entrecote where the menu is steak and chips – thats it !!!. there was a huge queue to get in and it was heaving with people. You  are asked  how you want your steak cooked – Rare or Medium.  A plate of  salad is served first then your first of two plates of steak and chips arrives . Served on small plates you get  2. We had to ask the people beside us the protocol. The restaurant was so packed they even pulled out the table from the wall for me to sit down. it was a fun experience and the food was great. In France the bread is sublime and is always served at the table. Small bakeries are everywhere and you see lots of the French heading home with a baguette under their arm.

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Leaving Paris by rental car turned out to be hassle free and our next 5 days takes us to Normandy so I can work on a new tour for 2017.  Its all about Gardens, Food, Culture and History including Normandy and Scotland.

The first stop had to be at Giverny . We visited Claude Monets garden back in  the Spring of 1995 with our 3 little children aged 8, 5 and 3 and I remember Matthew telling Philip I had taken a whole roll of photos of the garden. There was certainly more people and the car park and tourist shop etc is much bigger. But, the garden in Autumn this time was still beautiful and taking photos on my IPhone is so much easier.

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A new city to Love – ‘Aix en Provence’

 

I had read of Aix en Provence and couldn’t wait to become acquainted with this town. Our hotel was in the middle of a tangle of medieval lanes which we drove down several times before locating the ‘door’ to our fabulous contemporary apartment. The streets were alive with young people – this is a university city with many foreign students and we felt instantly at home. The main Boulevard is lined with a double row of Plane trees which is blocked off on Fridays for a huge weekly market and decorated with fountains in every courtyard and square. The streets were alive in the evenings and the alleyways filled with bars, restaurants, cafes and shops. Dinner two nights in a row  for us was in the same square where there was a huge number of restaurants to choose from. Regional favourites and just favourites like buratta and fresh tomatoes can’t be beaten. Fresh fish from Marseilles and our favourite duck were  all sensational.
This is the home of Cezanne and there is a self guided walk to follow through the city following little brass plaques with a big ‘C’ set in the footpath. Such a terrific idea.  During the walk we came across an exhibition of one of Cezannes  impressionist artist friends Camoin.

Each day small markets are set up until 1pm selling fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat ,fish etc . We came across what looked like the most delicious street food and couldn’t resist a baguette filled with prosciutto and melted cheese . It was succulent, luscious and completely wonderful.

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Gardens are what we love to visit and like food and wine they have regional differences – although all good gardens are fabulous architectural landscapes. Potagers and vegetables play a huge roll and the art of espaliering is a dynamic feature used in the garden  Du Chateteau Val Joanis – an hour from Aix en Provence  which is surrounded by vineyards and olive trees.

We know Provence for its rows of colourful lavender, but we are now in late summer and autumn colours are starting to appear.The villages of the Luberon are doted all over the countryside  – People like Peter Mayle made many famous in his books ‘ A Year in Provence’ and  ‘Tourjours Provence’ . In the late afternoon it was a perfect quiet time to visit 3 villages taking in a quant bread museum in  Bonnieux, a walk up through the village of Lacoste to the castle of  the famous Marquis de Sade – now owned by Pierre Cardin and  we enjoyed a  wine sitting on a balcony in Menerbes taking in the stunning view of the countryside and more villages in the distance.

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Traveling and exploring has advantages and disadvantages. You certainly cover a lot of ground and get to see many varied regions and landscapes . However, we are finding we always need a day or two longer in each stop. Choosing a destination and staying put gives you time to investigate and familiarise yourself with your surroundings, go to the same cafe for coffee each morning  and the same bar for a wine in the early evening.

Stopping for lunch in Arles was one such stop that wasn’t long enough. Narrow streets are lined with houses from the 15th and 16th Centuries and the sidewalks filled with cute little restaurants that were all full of people enjoying the ‘menu du jour’. The French love to sit down and have 2-3 courses for lunch with a glass of wine. All the shops close for 2-3 hours and the streets are quiet, children go home or eat at school and it’s a lovely time to sit and relax. Arles was the largest city of Roman Gaul and home to Julius Caesar for a while. It  has  impressive remains of a Roman theatre and amphitheatre that now hold UESCO status.

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A very Special visit was catching up with New Zealander Philippa Foubert, her husband Yannick  and their two gorgeous 7month old twin boys. They live close to the town of Anduze which is renowned for stunningly beautiful garden pots. Yannick owns and makes pots which are sold all over Europe. I have always loved these stunning things and soon they will have them in New Zealand! Many of the roads in France are lined with plane trees, supposedly  Emperor Napoleon is credited with originating the policy of lining French roads with trees, to enable his soldiers to march in the shade – Not sure about this because they would take years to grow. But today there is a move to remove many sections of trees because of the alarming number of road deaths attributed to cars colliding with trees. We beloved them but I can see the problem.

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