Bournemouth and the English seaside

We recently had the opportunity to visit the lovely seaside city of Bournemouth for the weekend.

Actually, we’d intended to visit here for a long time. We have super lovely and creative friends from the Gold Coast who lived and worked here for a few years and loved it (shout out to Lou and Iain from P’s in a Pod); and as Aussies, we are always on the lookout for a ‘real’ beach.

As far as seaside cities here go, I’d describe Bournemouth as being a contemporary destination, conveniently located just two hours’ train ride from London; the beach is actually beautiful, there’s a pier, and plenty of bars, restaurants, serene hotels and accommodation to keep you happy for a sunny weekend escape.

We appreciated how the city has been designed – there’s a central mall with shopping – at the top of that is a spot called ‘the triangle’ that boasts some nice bars and eateries like Smokin’ Aces and Koh Thai. A wonderful park and landscaped garden area (including mini golf) leads explorers through the town towards the beach and Bournemouth Wheel. Either way along the beach you can wander the promenade and discover ice-cream, coffee, cocktails and markets. Truly charming.

Recommended

Cheap treats

The Moon in the Square (Wetherspoons chain pub with rooftop terrace)

Coffee

South Coast Roast (just off the top of the mall)

Eat

Koh Thai – for delicious food and a nice atmosphere including music

Drink

Smokin’ Aces – for 2-4-1 cocktails 5pm to 8pm and check-in on Facebook for a free shot!

Sixty Million Postcards

Stay

Chocolate Boutique Hotel

Hallmark Hotel East Cliff (request a sea view room)

 

Do you have tips on where to dine, shop, play and stay in Bournemouth? Let us know in the comments.

April in Tuscany

I’m sitting in the corner of Radda’s old village square at a bar called Palazzo Leopoldo. 

Cooper’s suggestion that I find a shady spot was a good one. The midday sun floods across faded yellow walls and sunflower pots, proving April in Tuscany sparkles with its own touch of timeless elegance.

A pleasant soundtrack of Goo Goo Dolls and Mary J Blige has turned into a string of ballads by Ed Sheeran – a fellow fan must be running this joint!

The light in Tuscany is as they say: golden, warm and soothing. 

The sunsets are spectacular and saturate with pretty light the rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards (which at present are stripped, a new season on the way).

It’s really warm in the middle of the day and a nice change from chilly England (that said, we’ve had nice days recently but I’ve been inside at work)!

Where I sit and write now – first draft on paper – I’m positioned by an old Roman fountain. I spotted a young artist perched by a flower pot sketching the fountain just the other day and thought how charming the scene was; now I’m here and feeling all creative too.

I don’t really mind if no one reads this – the space, the channel, the craft, it’s for me.

I guess right now though I’m bordering on an Under the Tuscan Sun cliché, but that’s ok too.

Three notepad pages down already, and they’re still playing Ed Sheeran. Lucky streak for me!

Last time I wrote like this was in my treasured travel diary from my first life-changing adventure back in 2000 which was to the USA and Canada.

I remember sitting inside McDonalds as freezing snow fell upon Times Square outside. First snow I’d ever seen.

A melodic Backstreet Boys tune played on the radio there (also good by me, at the time), and it was my first experience as a traveller being alone but not feeling lonely. 

It’s a bit like that here too (although Cooper’s not far – he’s wandered off towards the scenic viewpoints on the outskirts of this pretty place to record a little something for YouTube).

Drops in temperature happen here too – overnight from around 4pm; but it’s light until 8pm.

Our villa is in Montebuoni, which is a ‘resort’ in the Tuscan hills, about 15 minutes’ drive from the nearest town of Radda in Chianti, and next door to an impressive winery, Castello di Ama.

We were staying here with To Tuscany in a cosy villa named La Stalla. Montebuoni is set amidst hilly vineyards and includes pool, tennis courts and a number of beautifully restored villas, some of the original buildings date back to the 1500s.

We discovered that during medieval times, this whole area that had been popular for wine and olive producers, was mostly abandoned due to ongoing wars between neighbouring cities Florence and Siena. It was unsafe to live here until the 1800s when things calmed again and people returned to the area, only to gradually regenerate it to its former glory.

Now the fields that stretch as far as the eye can see offer a patchwork of organised plantations that make the land look particularly charming and well kept.

I can actually see why many Italians were drawn to develop businesses in far north Queensland during post-war migration periods because the climate and land in that part of Australia feels quite similar to the Tuscan region; Tuscany’s landscape is larger though, but I felt some similarities and I remember quite well the Italian influence of my childhood in places like Cairns, Atherton and Mareeba (Australia).

Iconic Italian Cypress trees point skyward and line the property around where we are staying; grassy spaces with wildflower patches are everywhere around us and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic picnic spots.

La Stalla’s most important feature for me was the peace and quiet. 

The large, homely property sleeps four or five, and when we arrived on Monday I actually fell asleep on a bed in a little patch of sunshine that was streaming in through the window.

A bird sang sweetly outside, the wind gently swept across the trees and I couldn’t resist dozing in the warmth and stillness of it all.

No east London sirens, no deadlines, and happily no Wi-Fi.

I think we don’t realise the impact of city life until we remove ourselves from it. 

I find the city’s energy and opportunities intoxicating but here I’ve remembered the pleasure of slowing down, just being and indulging in imagination; well, that and a bit of red wine (Chianti, of course) and cheese.

And when I say ‘a bit’, I quite possibly mean a lot.

You do need a car in these parts (automatic, and with a GPS or reliable phone data package for Google Maps is highly recommended).

There are many villages that would be difficult if not impossible to reach otherwise. You can visit wineries of all shapes and sizes, most family-owned and operated.

Gorgeous Siena is about 45 minutes’ drive away, and yesterday we parked there and took a train to Florence (find the car parking facility at Siena’s train station for about €2.50 for the day, which is vastly cheaper than anywhere else, and for trains visit trainline.eu).

Florence is beautiful.

If it weren’t for all the tourists it would be perfect.

It’s a small, romantic city in which you can walk around – everywhere takes about twenty minutes.

Florence is where the Renaissance began, breaking the shackles of the Dark Ages and shedding light once again on creativity, learning, passion, pleasure and the arts.

The city was famously managed by the Medici family in the 15th Century, and their mark along with that of the artists, musicians and papal folk that influenced during this time is still bright and bold.

Find a view – whether up the steep hill to absorb all that Piazzale Michelangelo has to offer, or from a cool rooftop bar position; breathe in the past and present indulgences of Florence.

There’s tours of all sorts here, and we’d strongly advise researching ahead of time to avoid the queues which can quickly become tiresome.

As for me today, I’ve recovered from the hustle and bustle of that big Italian draw-card and am happily hanging about within Radda’s romantic walled city with pen in hand, coffee at the ready.

It really is beautiful in these parts and while I don’t understand the language I find it soothing to listen to its rhythm in the voices of those around me or on the radio.

Signing off … I’ve got a date with Cooper at a winery.

Ciao for now.

PS if you’d like more Tuscany, we captured some beautiful photos that are published here on Flickr.

Italy

The 7 most romantic things to do in Bath England

Bath is the epitome of Georgian elegance and is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year. It’s a pleasurable day trip from London (take an easy train ride on Great Western Rail from Paddington), or stay a night or two and truly indulge in all the romantic things to do in Bath!

Personally, I love Bath because it’s easy to get around but has the all the perks of the city (shopping, coffee, plenty to see and do); it’s rich in history (the buildings tell many lifetimes worth of tales, dating back to the Romans right through to Jane Austen, and even the birth of Royal Mail), and aside from anything, the city is strikingly beautiful!

It’s one for the romantics, for sure, and here are seven of our sweetest ideas for you to explore…

7 romantic things to do in Bath, England…

  1. Bath Abbey Tower Tour

Bath Abbey is the divine structure that makes for a perfect meeting spot in the town centre. It is an utterly surprising find as you’re wandering the old streets, and you’ll have your phone in hand snapping pictures before you even realise what you’re doing!

Indulge in some people watching in the square, and when you’ve gathered your breath, climb to the top for a bird’s eye view of the area.

If this idea takes your fancy, you can book exclusive personalised tours which take place out of hours – watch the sun set over this uniquely lovely place, away from the tourist crowds. More at bathabbey.org/towertours.

Things to do in Bath - Travel Live Learn Things to do in Bath - Travel Live Learn

2. Stroll along the Gravel Walk

This is fine for all, but Austen fans will especially rejoice because it is the setting of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion.

Continue your wander through to Royal Victoria Park for a picnic, and wind up your exploration in the lovely woodland of the Botanical Gardens.

Be mindful after dark though, for although it might seem pretty at dusk it is said that a number of Bath’s former residents often also wander here. Particularly notable is a white haired man who will appear before you on the Gravel Walk, only to vanish back into the night. Spooky, although perhaps a romantic pursuit for the ghost-hunters (like me) among you… Boo!

Things to do in Bath - Travel Live Learn

3. Take to nature – canal ride, row boat or horse drawn carriage ride

As you step off the train into the city of Bath, you’ll spot signs for visitor information centres. Drop in and enquire about one of the unique opportunities to interact with nature.

Particularly special on a sunny day, is the opportunity to hire a row boat or board a quaint vessel headed along the canals. There’s plenty of romantic little spots to stop at, like The Bathampton Mill pub, or choose a more remote countryside patch of green and relish in the serenity.

Back in town, we suggest skipping the cab line and instead take a horse drawn carriage ride around the city, just like in Austen’s romantic age. Be enchanted as you pass by grand spaces like the Royal Crescent, Royal Victoria Park and The Circus. Courtyard Carriages will make it happen.

Things to do in Bath - Travel Live Learn

4. Stay overnight in a romantic hotel!

Bath is brimming with excellent accommodation options for all budgets, but if you’re willing to splash out for a special occasion and take full advantage of this city’s status as a centre for romance, this one looks nice – the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa, centrally located with sublime views of the city! We’ve not stayed here, but sure would like to. Seems so very Austen-esque.

Another decadent property I spotted on our travels was Bath Spa Hotel, a five star stay overlooking the breathtaking Bath landscape. Romance aplenty (hint hint, Cooper).

 

5. Jane Austen festival in September

Yes, yes and yes! Indulge in regal splendour – performances, balls, workshops, promenades, fairs, lunches, breakfasts (and the odd Mr Darcy sprinkled around town for good measure)…

There are even short tours of the surrounding area on offer so you can get your entire literary and adventure fix with the least amount of effort. If you’re a fan of Jane’s, don’t miss visiting in September. More at janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk.

Note: there’s a plethora of Austen experiences open all year round too if you can’t make it in spring.

Things to do in Bath - Travel Live Learn

6. Thermae Bath Spa

Bath is of course famed for its ancient baths and healing waters, and now thanks to Thermae, we can all take a dip.

After you’ve explored the interesting old ruins, step it up to contemporary times in an utterly indulgent and romantic manner. Thermae now boasts a sensational rooftop pool with sweeping city views. There’s plenty of other treatments you can enjoy too – the best of modern pleasures and old world lush blended into a sublime chance to unwind and feel the love. More details here.

7. Country walks and quaint villages

When we visited Bath recently, we actually took the Hop on Hop off bus tour, which features two routes through Bath – one travels around the city and explains the local history, and the other highlights the outskirts upon the hilltops overlooking the city’s skyline. This is an excellent way to get your bearings in the city (helpful too, because Bath is very hilly so it’s easy to get tired making your way around). An option like this makes it simpler to identify the places you might like to go back to, and the skyline journey in particular showcases some lovely walks.

Suggested places to visit include the ‘prettiest village in England’, Castle Combe (accessible from Bath), Kennet and Avon canals which are some of the loveliest waterways working their way through England. The tour guide also pointed out walks you can try nearby to stops on the tour’s itinerary such as around Middle Hill Lodge.

Words can’t describe how lovely it is here, although many writers have attempted to do so throughout history. Why not visit and see for yourself. You may find the Visit Bath website useful, and book your train tickets in advance for the best deal, try Great Western Rail or nationalrail.co.uk.

If you’ve found this helpful or have a tip to add, please let us know in the comments.

-Sarah