Hong Kong Highlights

Our Hong Kong Highlights are not a tourist list of things to see rather what we discovered, walking the streets, during our brief visit to Hong Kong in October, that stuck in our hearts and minds.

Armed with a map, we picked up at the train station, we set out each day with the plan only to discover a new area of the city of Hong Kong.  Each day as we hoped, we were amazed at the colours, culture and fantastic food we discovered.

Here are our Hong Kong highlights which were overlaid, everyday and everywhere by two things; the vibrant colours and juxtaposition of eastern and western cultures.

CITY OF LIGHTS & COLOUR

Hong-Kong-Highlights-skyline
An obvious highlight; the Hong Kong skyline, famed for its brightly lit skyscrapers.  The nightly ‘light show’ spectacular from either side of the harbour and quite stunning from the Star Ferry.

We were more amazed also by the colours and lights in every street…
Hong-kong-highlights-colours

There must be almost as many neon lights as people in Hong Kong!
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EAST MEETS WEST

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The juxtaposition of eastern and western cultures is constantly highlighted, and for us sometimes uncomfortable, in Hong Kong; smart-dressed city types relax in the many western style bars, seemingly oblivious to the (more often than not) Chinese making everything work in the background.

Contemporary stores selling fine goods sit along side traditional Chinese stores and workshops.Hong-kong-highlights-chinese-tradition

High above the bustling streets, hidden away roof top bars offer breath-taking prices to match their viewsHong-kong-highlights-roof-top-bar

whilst below in the narrow streets and alleys make-shift street cafes serve fantastic, simple local food to eastern and western people alike.Hong-kong-highlights-street-food

An amazing array of ingredient in even the simplest dishes…
Hong-kong-highlights-foodie-blog

TEMPLES

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Though the peace and tranquility is spoilt in some by camera clicking, indiscreet tourists others remain serene and sacred places the Taoist and Buddhist temples remain one of our Hong Kong highlights.

In most temples we came across I only stood close to the entrance and watched the people perform their ceremonies for a few minutes.  If the temples were empty, and it felt appropriate, I took pictures.
Hong-kong-highlights-traditional-temple

In the smaller, less tourist visited temples the deep red of the messages to the gods, the aroma of the constantly burning incense coils particularly highlight the contrast of east and west in Hong Kong.

Even surrounded by ancient eastern culture and religion the modern, western influenced city and its skyscrapers were never far away.Hong-kong-highlights-incense-spirals

APPRECIATION OF STYLE & NATURE

The of our most surprising Hong Kong highlights for us was the evident appreciation and application of style.
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These two perfectly, almost eerily, coordinated girls caught my eye on Hong Kong harbour.  Their use of colour perhaps not as vibrant as others but such simple, understated and elegant style made a real impression.

Even the modern shopping malls revealed an appreciation of style.  These ‘retail temples’ were worth visiting to see the emphasis given to style and use of natural materials.  Even the ladies rooms were spectacular!
Hong-kong-highlights-architecture

Thankfully nature still rules in many places throughout Hong Kong and is appreciated sometimes simply for the shade it provides
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and, in such a fast developing and fast moving city like Hong Kong, it’s fascinating to see nature appreciated and interwoven with a special attention to detail and effortless style.

Hong-kong-highlights-nature-colours

THE PEAK

Not for the experience of the Peak Tram which, though a wonderful site making its way slowly up the hill, we avoided and walked up to the Peak from the city instead.

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Rather again for nature and the dominance of it so close to the city.  On the path up to and around the peak it was wonderful and unsettling at the same time to see how quickly nature takes back over after people have cut their path and laid their mark.

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Hymer Motorhome Customisation

Our Hymer Motorhome customisation started even before we’d placed our order for our Hymer motorhome.  After many great times and summer adventures in our VW Transporter self-converted custom-camper we wanted to extend our camper adventures to winter.   Buying a ‘winterised’ Motorhome was a reasonably straight forward decision and a custom specification of the Hymer MLT 4×4 ticked most of our boxes.

However, no offence Hymer, Hymer owners and all caravan and motorhome owners, the various ‘beige’ interiors within the white boxes really do not excite us.

We needed to find a way to customise the motorhome, to reduce the white box exterior and beige interior without impacting the resale value, so ideally the customisation would be reversible.

We had heard about vinyl wrapping and, after several fascinating visits to vehicle customisation companies, we finally found S6 Wraps. When we explained the motorhome customisation project we had for them, were as excited as we were to get started on the inside and out.

On a beautiful, chilly morning in January we waited with anticipation to collect our Hymer motorhome…

Finally our Hymer motorhome (a monster 4×4 truck) emerged, exactly what we expected but not exactly what we wanted…yet.

The team showing us, enthusiastically, around our new motorhome seemed surprised when we explained how much we planned to customise the motorhome appearance, inside and out.  We were so pleased to finally be in our motorhome but very eager to get away and somehow reduce the beige feel of the interior.

The privilege of the first drive of our Hymer MLT 4×4…one very happy Hymer owner

Straight to S6wraps in our wonderful but white Hymer motorhome…

who got to work on turning our matt grey designs for the exterior graphics into reality.

We had the steel wheels removed and sprayed black to complete the customisation..

Once S6wraps had finished their work, with attention to detail to every line on the cab and the motorhome body, we made changes to the inside to cover some of the beige with warm grey and more colourful and softer fabrics.

Hymer motorhome customisation complete we set off to the French Alps to spend the winter and truly test our Hymer 4×4 motorhome…

We’ve been amazingly cosy all winter thanks to the winterised options like the extra diesel heater, under-floor heating and a heated garage (essential to dry out kit each evening).

 

Wherever we have stopped the amazing mountain views have drawn our attention

and we’ve been amazed how we draw the attention of passers by in turn.

We’ve made new friends of strangers everywhere we have stopped, aspiring motorhome owners and travellers alike wondering where they can purchase the ‘Nomad Explorer’ model of the Hymer motorhome.

and now as the snow melts and spring flowers start to emerge everywhere, we prepare for our summer adventures in our customised Hymer motorhome.

Who knows where it will take us, what experiences we will have and people we will meet…

 

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A year in the French alps

It’s been a busy year living in the French Alps…

When the builders completed the transformation of the shell of our 1850s Savoyard barn in August we spent a fun, exhausting and fascinating five months completing the renovation ourselves. From fitting floors to building furniture.
here is how we renovated a tumble down barn to boutique ski chaletbarn to boutique chalet

Finishing just in time for winter season we had a busy year; enjoying time with friends old and new to enjoy winter season in the French Alps. Getting just a little better at snowboarding, learning to ski again.
Here’s our winter season captured in pictureswinter season Portes du soleil

We were also busy during this first year living in the French Alps managing our holiday rental business in the UK and building up to the sale of the business in May and June.

We think we amused and inspired the team at Travel Chapter (the new owners of the Sheepskin brand and UK holiday property collection) in equal measure by choosing to camp in our VW camper van throughout the six week sales completion process.
Just for fun here’s our business sale ‘adventure’ in picturesIMG_4539

Business sale complete, at the end of June we were off on the road with Adam’s parents this time for two weeks sharing some of our favourite places with them on a camper van trip as part celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary.
A day in Provence, ten days in Italy and back to the French Alps….ten day motorhome holiday Italy Pastum

In July, back to home in Montriond in time for the bikers to arrive in force. 10,000 Harley riders, two BMW riders (us!) and one Triumph rider (my dad!). We made the most of the Harley Days Festival with two ride outs on Harleys, a night at the Blues Brothers concert and a quiet evening BBQ at Lac du Montriond.
All in all a great Harley Days Morzine 2017Harley Days experience tour

In August the mediterranean sea and sunshine were calling us but so were the peaks around our home in the French Alps so in August we completed our quest of walking the four peaks that we can see and that inspire the artwork in our home; Roc D’Enfer, Nyon, Ressachaux and Nantau and a few other wonderful alpine walks with friends too.
Walking in portes du soleil.walking portes du soleil

So that is the whistle stop summary of our year in the french alps, from August to August.

Of course we didn’t sit still in September,  we’re still busy and I’m busy writing so stay tuned….

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Motorhome holiday in Italy…

A motorhome holiday in Italy was Adam’s parents holiday they would most like to experience as part of their 60th wedding anniversary celebrations.  We have visited Italy many times in our VW camper van so relished the idea of returning and sharing some of our favourite places in Italy with them.

So off we went with a vague plan for a motorhome holiday in Italy.

After picking up the motorhome (from Hertz in Lyon) and filling it with all of our plates, bedding, provisions and our two man tent for us to sleep in we set off south for a day in Provence.

A wander into the nearest town to search for local wine and a morning coffee brought us to a beautiful tranquil squareA day in provence peacefuland made us linger a little longer than planned as the beautiful light, colours and stylish, Provence locals distracted and intrigued our group of people watchers. A day in provence styleWine rack stocked with Provence Rosé next stop Italy.

We drove via Piemonte and one of favourite places for motorhome stops in Italy, a basic campsite in an olive grove just outside of the lovely hill town of Olivetta San Michele (which has a fabulous food shop with home made savoury pastries!)motorhome holiday italy piemonte

Finally the motorhome holiday in Italy started fully.  Along the coast though and into Tuscany for a few days of amazing home-made pasta and of course some lovely Chianti wines.motorhome holiday in italy pasta

During our stay in Chianti, on a walk to the local town of Marcialla we found a fantastic delicatessen selling wines produced on the surrounding hills.  You could buy the wine to take home or, for the same price, chilled to enjoy on their terrace with a view.  We couldn’t resist!motorhome holiday italy chianti

On this motorhome holiday in Italy, as always, we had so many amazing food experiences, too many to mention here.  One in particular was in Umbria; a wonderful foodie find with the local food shop in Civatella del Lago.foodie motorhome holiday Italy

During our ten days in Italy we managed to get as far south as one of our favourite places, Paestum, and treated Adam’s parents to Mozzeralla direct from the buffala farm and a beer by the Greek ruinsten day motorhome holiday Italy Pastum

We were half way through holiday time and so time to head north and towards home.

Herculaneum was far too busy and hot for us to wander around this time unfortunately but it was fascinating to stay above and see the ancient and modern cities together.Motorhome holiday Italy Herculaneum

Stopping at Solfatara campsite just outside of Naples was a steamy and smelly as alwaysitaly motorhome holiday Solfatara

and a little more challenging getting in to and out of the campsite in our motorhome versus our VW campervanIMG_4606

One final stop in Italy, parking the motorhome down a tiny street in Courmayeur and finding a great local restaurant (one we hadn’t found on any of our ski trips in winter), a great find with amazing views.IMG_2157

Ten days was not really enough in Italy in the motorhome but we managed to share some of our favourite places and find a few new ones that we will be sure to revisit on our next motorhome holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking in Portes du Soleil

As soon as the snow disappears, normally early May, we are out walking in Portes du Soleil.  Walking in Portes du Soleil mountains from Morzine and Montriond has easy access and is very rewarding with amazing views across Haute Savoie region from many of the peaks.Morzine portesdusoleil summer hikingIn spring and summer the valleys and peaks are transformed by nature.  Verdant and welcoming from the valley floor to the rocky peaks where miraculously mountain flowers appear everywhereSpring mountain flowersand crocuses force their way through the fading patches of snow.sheepskinalps-walking-holiday1.jpgDuring May and June, the wonderfully peaceful ‘inter-season’ Adam and I enjoy a variety of walks from our home in Portes du Soleil.  Some walking out to conquer particular peaks and others simply a nice circuit along the rolling hills of the lower slopes.

Everywhere is well sign posted so, as long as you have an idea of where you want to head to, it’s easy to walk in Portes du Soleil without a map.sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil14.jpgWe have now completed/conquered the four main peaks that dominate the skyline from Morzine & Montriond; Pointe de Nantaux, Ressachaux, Pointe de Nyon and Roc D’Enfer.

Pointe de Nantaux was particularly daunting and rewarding at the same time and took us two attempts to conquer since the first time the summit was still very much covered with snow but in August 2017 we made it to the top with our friend David.Nantaux-summit-Haute-savoieThe sign at the bottom ‘KMV’ (kilometre vertical) gives it away that this is not the easiest of walks and this is by no means the roughest or steepest part.
KMV-walking-portesduesoleil1
In short the KMV is 1000m of ascent in 2000m of distance covered and then you have another 200m or so of climb and around 500m distance to reach the summit.

The arrow shows the top of the KMV (where I took the photo below), you may just make out the path directly below and the summit you see to the right is not the true summit….Nantau-Montriond-portes-du-soleil

IMG_4775The peace and tranquility, that we had all to ourselves (even on a bank holiday), at the summit was spellbinding.walking-in-portes-du-soleil-nantaux-summitNantaux-summit-montriondWalking the descent was harder on the legs though easier on the lungs and the scenery, with views across Portes du Soleil, absolutely breathtaking.  Oh to be the shepherd who gets to stay here!Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil5Everywhere reminders of the power of nature.amazing-nature-walking-portesduesoleil

Pointe de Ressachaux is another must conquer peak when walking in Portes du Soleil. We set off reasonably early suspecting it was a 5-6 hour walk to the summit and back.   It was Sunday so, after several cups of coffee, 10.30am wasn’t a bad achievement!Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil2As we huffed and puffed up and up through the forest we were embarrassed and just a little demotivated to be cheerily greeted by a group of pot-bellied, grey haired ‘ramblers’ striding down towards us at 11.30am.

In my halting French I asked were they returning from the summit already? ‘Bien sûr! Bonne Montée!’ they replied as they disappeared down through the forest.

A few corners later some very kind, and fit, person had made a welcome bench from a fallen tree…Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil11We envied the French group, probably enjoying a menu du jour very soon but the tasty cheese baguettes in our rucksacks for lunch at the summit spurred us on. and hat a picnic spot it is.Morzine walking amazing viewshiking morzine portesdusoleil area

Pointe de Nyon, our favourite peak in winter for easy to reach, fun, off-piste on powder days and actually a deceivingly difficult walk in summer.
Morzine spring summer walk bike resortWe have walked from our home in Montriond, through town and up to the plateau du Nyon via the Cascade de Nyon which makes it about 5 hours to the top and back.IMG_4663On a clear day, as our next walk to the summit of Nyon, you can clearly see Mont Blanc from here…IMG_4659To make it shorter we’ve driven up to the plateau and walked from there which makes it a little more relaxing and leaves time for lunch at Chez Nannon.

You can even get the chair lift to just below the summit so that you can reach the amazing viewswalking-ported-du-soleil-Nyon

Roc D’Enfer lives up to its name Rock of Hell.

We walked from home which made the total circuit about 30km and around 7 hours. On the way to the base of Roc D’Enfer you have spectacular views, even Mont Blanc in the distance.walking Portes du soleil Mont Blanc viewWhen you pass the sign that basically says ‘ this way if you’re sensible and want an easy walk back to Les Gets or this way Danger of death’ you know you will have to keep your wits about you.

A steep, scramble over rocks takes you up to a narrow path along the long ridge which follows the crest where sometime it can be quite tricky to see where the path is.walking portes du soleil Roc D'EnferFor several kilometres the narrow path picks it way up and down the ridgesRoc D'Enfer walking portes du soleiluntil finally emerging into a mountain meadow and the long track back to Col D’Encrenaz and home with Roc D’Enfer looming large behind you.walking portes du soleil mountain meadow

Walking in Portes du Soleil is not all about ‘up’, high peaks and tough climbs.

We’ve had great days wandering in the valley and found virtually flat walks with friends and family by the river and around Morzine town using the suspension foot-bridge to avoid ups and downs.Morzine  - 6th July 2016The advantage of staying close to town is that there are always plenty of places for refreshments in the sunshine…IMG_3686and if you do fancy exploring and walking a little higher in Portes du Soleil you can always take the lift up.Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil15

My favourite, relaxing rather than challenging, walking in Portes du Soleil has got to be around Lac du Montriond.  A flat walk with spectacular views in every direction and a bar at either end!

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Similarly Lac du Mines D’Or is a short drive, up, along Vallee de la Manche and rewards you with amazing views, a short walk and the Chalet Freterolle just a little further up for a spot of local lunch…

walking-portes-du-soleil-lac-mines-d'or

Off-piste, back country Snowboarding

Serene-snowscene-Avoriaz

Off-piste, back country is what snowboarding is all about for many keen snowboarders. Previously, we now know, we have been, reasonably safe, ‘side-country’ off-piste snowboarders.

Off-piste, side-country snowboarding is what most snowboarders do, it’s the type of off-piste snowboarding that is likely to be covered in your travel insurance, it’s normally easy to find (not far from or in-between the pistes), doesn’t involve hikes or walks, so long as you keep a lift in sight somewhere, however it does mean you need to be an early bird to get first tracks and fresh powder.

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Helen-snowboarding-offpiste-backcountry-luke-rees
Helen-snowboarding-offpiste-backcountry-luke-rees

There is so much more off-piste snowboarding to discover in the back-country!

We are both reasonably good snowboarders and love exploring independently so over time we could get to know the back-country off-piste in the Porte du Soleil however we are also both very impatient.  Rather than spend lots of time searching ourselves we saw the value in joining a guided group on a week long off-piste back-country course and chose the ‘off-piste back-country ‘ with Mint Snowboarding in Morzine.

We had high expectations of the week off-piste and David, our Mint snowboarding guide / guru (the ‘green giant’ disappearing off into the mist below), did not disappoint.

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misty-backcountry-hike-offpiste-luke-rees

When the group, of six, met on the first morning David asked each of us what we wished for from the course; the answers were all reassuringly similar.  To have a better understanding off-piste conditions, to improve our confidence riding in the twists, turns and powder of back-country conditions.

A couple mentioned they’d like to do some cliff drops which scared and excited me all at once.  During the week we practised (and landed!) several cliff-drops which all felt, and looked from above, a lot bigger than they do here)…

adams-cliff-drop-luke-rees
adams-cliff-drop-luke-rees
helens-cliff-drop-luke-rees
helens-cliff-drop-luke-rees

But before we went into the back-country search of fresh tracks off-piste first a refresher for us all on avalanche safety.  We all had avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels and had been on avalanche training courses before and all agreed you can never have too much practise using your equipment, practising avalanche situations and understanding as much as possible about weather and mountain conditions to hopefully avoid the avalanche in the first place.

After practise using our transceivers and probes we dug a snow pit to investigate the snow pack which fascinatingly and worryingly showed a few weak layers.  Here I am separating off one of the weak layers…

offpiste-avalanche-training-mint-snowboarding-rob-palmer
offpiste-avalanche-training-mint-snowboarding-rob-palmer

I hasten to add I am stood in a hole here which makes David look even more like the Jolly Green Giant towering over little me – one of the group, Rob, took to calling me ‘Ninja’ from this picture I can see why ;-).

One thing we learnt quickly was that although it is great to snowboard the ‘off-piste’ that you can find easily from the lifts you are amply rewarded if you hike a little off-the-beaten-track and into the back-country.

ridge-hike-to-backcountry-offpiste-snowboarding-luke-rees
ridge-hike-to-backcountry-offpiste-snowboarding-luke-rees

No matter where you are in the mountains there is always a stunning vista to remind you what an amazing and beautiful world it is and how privileged you are to be in the special place.  Our hikes into the back-country often rewarded us with spectacular views and special moments…

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view-worth-the-walk-in-off-piste-backcountry
helen-and-adam-enjoy-mountain-view-off-piste-back-country
helen-and-adam-enjoy-mountain-view-off-piste-back-country
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offpiste-backcountry-course-mint-snowboarding-alex-horton

On each of the five days we had a few ‘five’ minute hikes (or at least five minutes for David with legs twice as long as mine and who thinks nothing of hiking up 700m and snow-boarding down off-piste before breakfast!) and a few climbs…

climbing-offpiste-backcountry-alex-horton
climbing-offpiste-backcountry-alex-horton
climb-offpiste-backcountry-luke-rees
climb-offpiste-backcountry-luke-rees

and more often than not beautiful powder and fresh tracks once we reached the back-country destination…

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fresh-powder-worth-walk-off-piste-backcountry
more-first-tracks-in-fresh-powder-offpiste-backcountry
more-first-tracks-in-fresh-powder-offpiste-backcountry

One of our group, Luke, is owner and writer for adventure travel website awe365.com and wrote a great article about the five day back-country course with more detail of what we did and where.

magical-mystery-tour-offpiste-backcountry
magical-mystery-tour-offpiste-backcountry

Overall it was a wonderful week when nature was kind to us with frequent falls of fresh snow to make each day different and amazing fun.

more-snow-portes-du-soleil-ardent-car-park-mint-snowboarding-off-piste-back-country-course
more-snow-portes-du-soleil-ardent-mint-snowboarding-off-piste-back-country-course

Vanity struck at some points and on mellower, less demanding slopes we played with videos.

An eye-opening, exhausting, exhilarating and extremely enjoyable five days with a fantastic bunch of like-minded and fun-loving people.  One of those life-changing experiences.

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mint-snowboarding-backcountry-offpiste-group-alex-horton
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offpiste-funky-views-nature-alex-horton

Gower holiday, close to nature

Memorable Gower holiday close to nature

Our recent Gower holiday was made all the more memorable with our days spent close to nature.

Before the hours of daylight got too short and the days a little too chilly to sit for hours, by the crashing waves, watching the end of a fishing rod we planned a short holiday for a few days of fishing on the Gower peninsula.

We started each day of adventure and exploration before the sun rose above the horizon and meandered back late each evening.  Every day memorable in its own way and each with new discoveries about Gower.

We had fished off breathtaking Rhossili Bay beach before and know you can reach the small headland at Burry Holms and some great, quiet fishing spots but only at low tide. High tide was 7.30am that day so to get over to the headland and back safely before then meant an early start…Peaceful Rhossili bay beach to Worms Head Gower

The 5am alarm was certainly a memorable part of our holiday; jolting us out of a deep sleep in this peaceful place on Gower.  We thought about snoozing but knew that getting up in time to see the sunrise over Rhossili Bay would be more memorable than a lazy morning.

We were far from disappointed; even stepping out of the cottage in the lane, where few street lights pollute the sky, the stars were bright in the still black and clear sky.

After a walk through the dunes in the twilight we were rewarded with a truly beautiful and memorable sunrise over the Gower coast and along deserted Rhossili Bay.Stars at sunrise Rhossili beach Burry Holms Gower

As we sat, mesmerised, on the rocky outcrop at Burry Holms we both gasped as we spotted an otter peak out from the rocks below then sprint across the sand.  The returning tide was just starting to wash our foot prints away on the beach where the otter dived into the waves lapping on the sand.  We were both so excited to be so close to nature and to share such a memorable experience.Fishing at sunrise Rhossili Gower

Finally with bait in the water we were joined by other natives and were close to nature again when a couple of seals popped their heads above the waves just in front of us.  The seals were certainly more interested in our fishing rods and bait than any fish and for the next few hours followed us to each new fishing mark.

The morning was one of the most beautiful and memorable on our Gower holiday even despite the lack of fish.

We explored the paths to Worms Head in the afternoon.  A crisp clear day meant the view from the coast walk of Rhossili Bay beach towards Burry Holms was spectacular and certainly will be memorable.Beautiful deserted Rhossili Bay Beach Gower

Another twilight walk along the long winding path from Rhossili village to the National coast watch hut, looking out to the causeway to Worms Head, we explored the various beautiful bays along this stunning part of the Gower coast.Walking Gower coast path

Each day different paths, different rocky outcrops, different vistas, always a wonderful sunrise.  Each day also the same attention from the seals which equally amused and frustrated but made each day unique and overall a very memorable holiday on The Gower peninsula.Gower seals enjoy fishing

We gave up fishing and instead enjoyed a few pints of locally brewed Gower Gold ale, delicious and dangerously quaffable.  In the pub we got a few handy tips for fishing spots and bait from the locals that Adam put in his memory banks for next time.

Yet again Gower amazed us; a small corner of Wales where the stunning coastline helped us to experience a very memorable Gower holiday and enjoy, as we always do, being close to nature.Memorable Gower holiday close to nature Gower seals