Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

South of France Tours by The Good Life, France

This article was first published by The Good Life, France on https://www.thegoodlifefrance.com/feel-good-real-good-fabulous-and-authentic-south-of-france-tours/ .

What if you could really “do” southern France in 7 days in a truly meaningful, authentic and fabulous way? It’s just a week, but, if you know the right people and go to the right places, it really is possible to experience the very best of the south of France. The food, the sights, culture, history, wine and customs – so many things go to making this part of France a very special place. And, at TripUSAFrance they really do understand what it takes to make sure you experience all those things. This is a south of France tour that’s not rushed, not a 5-minute-tick-the-box race – but enjoyed the best way, relaxed, personal and authentic.

Julia and Stephane Girard-Gervois, a father and daughter team, of TripUSAFrance are two of the best guides in France. Their know-how, experience and contacts mean that you get to really know southern France in a very short space of time.

The very best of the south of France

TripUSAFrance’s south of France tours take in the main sites. From captivating Carcassonne which looks like a fairy tale come to life, to magnificent Montpellier (where Julia grew up before moving to the USA). But with this tour you’ll also discover less well known but incredibly special places. On the itinerary are Palavas-les-Flots with an enticing beachside hotel and the Maguelone Cathedral by the sea, once lived in by Popes. In just 7 days you’ll visit legendary sites as well as Provence’s jewels. Avignon with its incredible Palace of the Popes and the stunning Pont du Gard Roman bridge.  St Guilhem le Desert, one of the most beautiful villages in France and St Paul de Mausole where a troubled Van Gogh took sanctuary. Plus the famous underground art gallery Carrières Lumières and much more.

Julia will reveal the best of Nimes with its amazing Roman architectures. And picturesque Aigues Mortes, plus wine tasting at the gorgeous Chateau Flaugergues and at Chateau Jonquières.

You’ll have a real connection with the area, joining a French cooking class and visiting a French market. You’ll even be joining Julia’s mother for a delicious picnic by the water, where she’ll teach you to play the traditional French game of pétanque.

If you’ve got an extra two days to spend in France, you can also visit stunning Aix-en-Provence, the Roman city of Arles, and the famous soap factory of Marseille (talk about the perfect souvenir to take home).

See Southern France at a relaxed pace in a small group tour

Julia and Stephane like to keep their tour groups small so that they can really ensure that this is a journey you relish. You won’t be rushed on and off a bus, given 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there. That’s not the southern French way at all! You won’t spend all day on the road getting from one place to another to tick a box. The itinerary ensures you won’t spend more than a couple of hours being transported – meaning you have loads more time to really experience France. They’ve picked the best restaurants and know the chefs and the menus. If you’re a vegetarian, vegan or have food allergies then you won’t be suffering from a lack of choice here.  Julia’s made sure that every chef on their itinerary can offer you something delicious.

Learn French as you go

If you don’t want to learn or practice your French – that’s fine, Julia and Stephane will be with you. And, if you do want to go off for some free time, they’ll give you a cell phone so you can contact them whenever you need to. But if you do want to learn French, Julia will be happy to help you. She’s a teacher in Washington DC when she’s not guiding in France.

Get to know real France as a temporary local

For a feel good, real good, stress-free, everything beautifully organized, authentic, fabulous experience of the real south of France, TripUSAFrance will absolutely deliver. As Julia says “on our tours, you’re temporary locals, not average tourists bouncing around in a crowd or waiting in long lines and getting stuck in tourist traps. We will help you make a deeper connection with the country and understand what it is like to live there, while fulfilling the desire to see amazing sites and make lasting memories”.

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The Apartment, 7-13 Barclay Place, Edinburgh, Scotland

My husband, my mother and I recently went to The Apartment, 7-13 Barclay Place, Edinburgh, Scotland for a celebration lunch together. My husband was treating us to celebrate a successful year which saw my debut crime novel, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ published by Crooked Cat Books with a launch date of 02.02.2018. ‘Hunter’s Chase’ is dedicated to my mother. The story is set in Edinburgh and two of the main characters live in Gillespie Crescent, just opposite The Apartment.Hunter's Chase book cover (1)

Although there were only three of us, we are not an easy group to cater for. Mum uses a wheelchair. Unfortunately for her, I am not the best wheelchair driver on the planet, but she is very gracious. Access was easy.  I am vegetarian while my husband and mother are confirmed omnivores.

We had booked a table and the staff were very helpful and kind. We were able to choose between two tables and opted for the one nearest the window. We decided against alcohol in the middle of the day, but we all had different drinks. Mum had a diet coke, I chose a soda water and lime while my husband asked for a ginger beer.The Apartment Outside

Mum did not have a starter, but my husband chose the traditional Scotch Broth soup. I went for the pear, blue cheese and walnut salad. We were both delighted with our choices. The menu is not huge, but it is a carefully chosen mix of meats, fish and vegetarian dishes to suit all tastes. I always feel pleased when I have genuine choices: at The Apartment, I did.

The omnivores both chose the rib-eye steaks for their main courses. Mum requested hers be cooked ‘medium’ while my husband wanted his ‘medium rare’. Apparently both were perfectly cooked. They both seemed to enjoy their main courses. My husband’s only complaint was that there was parmasan cheese on his salad. He believes this to be the cheese of the devil! I chose a halloumi, sweet potato and pepper skewer for my main course. It was served with a beetroot coleslaw, green salad and another side. I chose fires. The beetroot coleslaw sounds strange, but tastes delicious. I highly recommend it.The Apartment Food

Neither Mum nor I could manage a pudding, we shared a plate of truffles. They were tiny but tasty. A delicious end to the meal with a fine coffee. My husband chose the chocolate brownie. This was served warm with a bitter fruit couli cutting the sweetness of the chocolate and a fine vanilla icecream. My husband is very fussy about his coffee, but not even he could find anything to complain about with his Americano.

The service was flawless. This was a first visit to The Apartment for all of us, but we thoroughly enjoyed it, so it will certainly not be our last.

‘Hunter’s Chase’ is available to order from Amazon.

mybook.to/HuntersChase

Val Penny

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Winchester Writers’ Festival, University of Winchester, West Downs Student Village, Winchester, England

The Winchester Writers’ Festival is held in the middle of June and attracts over three hundred emerging novelists, poets, short story writers, children’s writers, script and memoir writers  from across the UK and the world to the University of Winchester. Delegates attend workshops, talks and one-to-ones with over seventy literary agents, commissioning editors, authors and expert practitioners throughout an inspiring and supportive weekend. This year was the first time I had ever attended The Winchester Writers’ Festival, but it was recommended to me by my friend and mentor, Simon Hall.winchester

I had the opportunity to meet with four agents and publishers, three of whom expressed an interest in my work. However, it was eventually Crooked Cat Books, whom I had submitted my work to, prior to attending Winchester, that accepted my debut crime novel, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ for publication.

At Winchester, I stayed in student accomodation. My goodness, it took me back! Accommodation with breakfast is available at the University of Winchester in basic student rooms in the West Downs Student Village and in Beech Glade on the main King Alfred campus.  A free shuttle bus service will run between West Downs and the Festival venues on the main King Alfred campus at key times over the weekend. En suite and Standard (shared bathroom) accommodation is available at very reasonable prices. Beech Glade is much more convenient for the main campus where the talks, meetings and meals are held, but only West Downs has en-suite accommodation, so the deal was set. I was staying in West Downs. The West Downs Student Village is at the top of a steep hill, so I was glad the course ran a shuttle bus morning and afternoon.

winchester university diningThe accommodation is basic, but clean. My room contained a bed, wardrobe, desk chair and book shelves with an ensuite shower room. Basic bedlinen, toiletries and towels were provided too. I was only there for a long weekend, what more did I need? Accommodation includes hot and cold buffet breakfast for the nights you stay. If you are attending the conference for the day, lunch is also included. Dinner is not and requires to be booked and paid for separately. The meals were ample and tasty and there was provision for vegetarians. Prices in the bar are much lower than in the real world.

Winchester makes great play of being inclusive and having rooms suitable for wheelchair users. I did not see any wheelchair users at the conference. The pack I received states that, although there are stairs leading from conference buildings to the bar and dining roomm, there are lifts for those with mobility issues. I do not have mobility issues, but there were delegates who required assistance to walk. The lifts did not work. That was unsatisfactory.

Free, but limited, parking is available at West Downs and further parking is available in the main car park and Medecroft car park on the main campus but as I travelled to Winchester by train, this did not affect me.

lemnsissayThe keynote speech was delivered on the Saturday morning by Lemn Sissay. I enjoyed the talk and found him a motivating and interesting speaker. Unfortunately, as many people queued to buy his books after his talk, we were told he had somewhere else to be. As a result of this, he stopped dedicationg the books and just signed them, then he left. Not all those waiting with books go them signed. This was bad organisation disppointing and tacky. I have never seen this happen anywhere before. I opted not to buy any of his books.

The Winchester Writers’ festival was interesting some seventy-five speakers delivered fifty separate talks, readings and workshops to almost three hundred writers. The accomodation was adequate. However, bearing in mind the conference only lasts three days, it is extremely expensive. I would not attend the Winchester Writers’ Festival regularly, but I may attend again in the future. I believe there are other writers’ events that are better value for money.

Val Penny

 

 

 

Apple Apartments Greenwich O2, 1 Providence Place (27 Blackwall Lane) London, England

One of the great joys in my life is my family. I have two beautiful daughters of whom I am unfailingly proud. It is, therefore, a great delight that they agree the three of us should have a ‘girls’ weekend’ once a year.Apple apts livingroom diningroom

This year we spent our special weekend in London, at Apple Apartments Greenwich O2, 1 Providence Place (27 Blackwall Lane) London, England . It was a lovely weekend and the apartment was very spacious.Apple apts livingroom kitchen

We had three double bedrooms an en-suite shower room and a family bathroom upstairs with a large living/dining/kitchen and small wc downstairs. The concierge was helpful, the accommodation was spotlessly clean and the beds were comfortable, so the most important boxes were ticked. Apple apts main bedroom

Little things brought the apartment from excellent to good. The third bedroom had no bedside light, so I moved one from the main bedroom, only to find it had no bulb, so I needed to move a bulb from the sidelight in the living area. There was a dishwasher, but no tablets to allow us to use it. There was washing up liquid but no cloth or brush to give it effect. There were no dish towels to allow us to dry dishes, so we ended up using a hand towel.Apple apts bed 2

Having said all this there were sufficient mugs, glasses, plates and cutlery for the three of us to enjoy meals in the apartment. There was a tea bag and three sachets of sugar. Happily, we came prepared and the predilection of the British to drink tea continued unabated!Apple Apts bed 3

The bathroom facilities were exceptional. I was pleasantly surprised to have a  downstairs wc as well as the two bathrooms upstairs. It was a very useful and welcome addition to the accommodation. There were plenty of hand towels and bath towels.Apple Apts family bathroom

The beds were all comfortable with crisp white sheets, however, the stairs leading upstairs were quite steep and I was surprised that there was only a bannister on one side of them. Nevertheless this did not detract from our comfort during our stay. Apple Apts ensuite

My daughters treated me to a visit to the Duchess Theatre in Catherine Street where we saw the hilarious show, The Play that went Wrong. Public transport to and from the Apple Apartments Greenwich O2 to the theatre district was good. There is only one underground line from the nearest station at North Greenwich, but trains run regularly.Apple Duchess Theatre

All in all, we had a lovely weekend and I can recommend Apple Apartments Greenwich O2. It offered excellent value for money. We enjoyed our stay and with very small tweaks, this would be truly exceptional accommodation.

Valerie Penny

 

Peebles Hydro,Innerleithen Rd, Peebles, Scotland

Peebles Hydro outsideI have always enjoyed visits to the Peebles Hydro. It is a beautiful building in marvelous rolling countryside, indeed, the Peebles Hydro that is there now was built in the early 20th century as a country house hotel and spa resort in Peebles in the border region of Scotland at the south. The hotel actually opened in 1881, but burnt down and was rebuilt in 1907. It served as a hospital for injured service personnel during  World War I before reverting to hotel use.peebles-hydro-peebles-lounge

Peebles Hydro is a magnificent category B listed building. Peebles Hydro offers a peebles hydro entrancebeautiful setting in gardens, in the border town of Peebles. This charming, historic hotel features an indoor swimming pool, a spa, a gym and restaurant and overlooks the Tweed Valley and is backed by Glentress Forest. It is a 14-minute walk from the Tweeddale Museum and Gallery, and only 1.2 miles from Peebles Golf Club. The Scottish Borders are ideal for cycling, walking, fishing and golfing. The River Tweed is a short walk from the hotel.

peebles hydro poolWhen my children were growing up we made regular visits to Peebles Hydro, there is a lovely pool and special activities for children to be safely entertained. There is also a playground for children and there are lovely walks by the river Tweed nearby. Films are played for the children and there is a special early teatime for them. peebles-hydro-peebles-restaurant

I enjoy lovely views when enjoying breakfast or dinner in the restaurant. There is also a Peebles Hydro outcocktail bar. The evening dinner is always a favourite, the meal choices are tasty, the wines exquisite and the service first class. More recently, my husband and I regularly visit with my mother for a delicious, traditional afternoon tea on her birthday. The fresh sandwiches, scones and cakes washed down with tea poured from elegant pots enjoyed looking over the vibrant views of the Scottish borders is always a treat.

peebles hydro roomMost recently, last week my friend and I ventured to Peebles. It was a dleight to be back at the Peebles Hydro. Our rooms were lovely, each room at Peebles Hydro features classic décor finished in lightly coloured tones. All rooms have free Wi-Fi, a TV, tea and coffee-making facilities, heating and a bathroom with free toiletries. Breakfast was delicious and, as vegetarians, we had plenty of choice. I always enjoy visiting Peebles Hydro and highly recommend it.

Valerie Penny

 

 

Dumfries House, Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland

dumfries house annaMy friend Anna and I had a lovely day out to Dumfries House,  Cumnock, Ayrshire, Scotland.

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It was my first visit although Dumfries house is on of Britain’s most beautifuldumfries house prince charles stately homes that was saved for the nation by the personal intervention of Prince Charles the Prince of Wales in 2007. The house and estate is now owned in charitable trust by The Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust, which maintains it as a visitor attraction and hospitality and wedding venue. Both the house and the gardens are listed as significant aspects of Scottish heritage.

Mike Scott
Phone 07968 258392
e-mail mike@mikescottphotographer.comThe 18th century house is set in lovely grounds and combines the neoclassical architecture of Robert Adam with the furniture of Thomas Chippendale. The refurbished blue bed is a stunning work of modern and classical craftsmanship.

dumfries house cafeteria

We sampled coffee and cake at the visitor centre before touring the house and grounds. The baking was fresh and the scones the most enormous I have ever seen! We enjoyed the bright, freshly decorated cafeteria. There were many tables and it was well appointed. We enjoyed exploring the grounds and the playground is delightful. We only wished we had a child with us to enjoy it too.dumfries house woodland walks

On our visit around the house we were entranced by the quality of the restoration and the beautiful, original furniture that has been saved by Prince Charles. He has secured employment for many people in and around Cumnock. This is an area of Scotland that suffers from serious unemployment and a lack of investment. dumfries house blue roomI paticularly liked the yellow room in the house. It was so bright and light and cheerful. The collection of Chippendale chairs in this room is splendid. Anna enjoyed the blue room with its cool colours and original furniture.

After our tour of Dumfries House, we stopped for lunch downstairs in the original kitchen and servants’ working area of the house in the basement. The cutlery and table furnishings were beautiful. We were served vegetriandumfries house yellow room parsnip soup, made from produce grown in the grounds. There was also a selection of sandwiches with various fillings. Biscuits and cakes finished off the meal. Some of the sandwiches and pieces of cake tasted slightly stale. that was disappointing. I suspect they are cut early in the day and uncovered until served, at whatever time of day.

However, after lunch we took another tour of the grounds and visited the walled garden. The beauty of the house, grounds and the stylish walled garden far out-weighed the slightly dry cake.dumfries house walled garden

I would defintely visit Dumfries House again and, be happy to sample the offerings in the cafeteria. Also, if I were there in the middle of the day, I would make my way to the basement for lunch. I highly recommend Dumfries House.

Valerie Penny

 

 

Hilton New York, Midtown, 1335 6th Ave, New York, NY, USA

hilton towersNew York City is one of my favourite cities in the world. The skylines, the night life, the theatres and the shops are beyond compare, as are many of the hotels. Amongst those excellent hotels is the Hilton New York, Midtown, on 6th Avenue.

My advice is to request as high a room as possible so you can enjoy the views. This hotelhilton towers out 2 is centrally situated and is often the base for the major conferences I have attended in NYC. It is by the Rockefeller Centre, the theatres on Times Square and the shops on 5th Avenue.

 Hilton New York, Midtown, has courteous staff and a large reception area that makes checking in a pleasure. There is a bank of elevators so that access to rooms is usually swift. Whether conducting business, keeping up with a fitness routine or looking to spend quality time with your family, the Hilton hotel New York is here to make the most of your stay by offering the services you need, the amenities you expect, and the extras you deserve.

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hilton towers in 4The stylish NYC hotel rooms and suites are designed to exceed the modern traveler’s expectations. Business travelers, couples and families appreciate the array of amenities at this Midtown Manhattan hotel. During my last stay my room was on a high floor and I enjoyed the view over the New York skyline. The rooms have always been spotlessly clean and cleaned thoroughly daily. It was useful to have a desk at which I could work and the wifi is readily available.

The Hilton New York, Midtown, has various meeting rooms, a variety of restaurants tohilton towers in 2 choose from and pleasant bars and coffee shops to spend time. It also boasts a well-kitted out fitness room, so you have no excuse to give up on your regular routines and can stay active during your stay in the fully equipped fitness center.

There are lots of dining choices within this large hotel. You can start the day with a breakfast buffet and specialty coffees at Herb N’ Kitchen. Unwind with a few friends and a few drinks at the sophisticated Bridges Bar. Enjoy light fare or a late night snack at the Lobby Lounge. After a long day, enjoy a cool experience at the Minus5 Ice Bar where you explore handcrafted ice sculptures and enjoy even glasses made of ice, or a fresh meal delivered to you through the convenience of room service.hilton towers dining.jpg

I usually started my days with breakfast in Herb N’ Kitchen and as it features seasonal hilton towers in 5salads, artisanal sandwiches and brick oven pizzas, the kids enjoyed it for lunch. The hotel is so large that on days when I was working all day, the kids could find lots to entertain them, without leaving the premises. The barista zone offering specialty coffees to enjoy either in the restaurant or on the go is a particular favourite. Being able to relax in your hotel when you are in a city on business is vital. The Hilton New York, Midtown, is a hotel where I have always found it easy to do that. Partly because the service is so good and partly because there are places that allow for different types of relaxation.

Overlooking the reception, the Lobby Lounge is a great spot to rendez-vous with clients or colleagues. Enjoy exceptional wines, cocktails, light fare, as well as terrific people watching. Whether you are meeting for an end of the day debriefing or a late night escape, the Lobby Lounge never disappoints. Another favourite is the Minus5°.  It is an ice bar where you can touch, feel, and explore handcrafted ice sculptures and architecture made from Canadian ice. Everything inside minus5° is made of ice, even the glasses that you enjoy our famous vodka-based cocktails in. No matter what the event, you and your companions will be treated to the coolest experience in town. It is hilton towers out 3definitely worth a visit.

I have enjoyed the Hilton New York Midtown every time I have stayed there. I have no doubt I will stay there again and highly recommend it to you.

Valerie Penny