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.
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!


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…


Off-piste, back country Snowboarding


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.


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.


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)…


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…


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.


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…


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…


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


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.


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.


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.


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



Our favourite places in Oxford

The occasion of Adam’s birthday gave us a great excuse to visit some of our favourite places in Oxford.  Having Oxford as our local town is really a great privilege and we take every opportunity we can to wander the breath-taking streets of Oxford and visit our favourite places.  I wanted to share our favourite places with you to help you make the most of your visit to Oxford…

Oxford has many beautiful and awe-inspiring places and buildings, many of them are out-of-bounds except for the privileged few (privileged not just financially one assumes but in the determination and dedication that they must have in order to have the honour of studying in such a wonderful university town).  However although you will see plenty of private, no entry, closed signs…

No entry private places OxfordThere are still many wonderful places to explore.

We have been locals for several years now and have our favourite places in Oxford.  We never tire of it; we are always finding new favourite places and we still meander the streets, looking up to be sure to see the true beauty of the city its wonderful historic architecture and amazing vistas and skylines.

amazing architecture Oxford historic buildings

There is no denying that Oxford is a transient town, a place for tourists.  Every day of the year the streets are packed with throngs of visitors and rightly so it is a stunning and fascinating town.

The city of Oxford changes throughout the seasons as visitors and students come and go the city, its colours, feel and appearance change with the seasons but our favourite places in Oxford remain the same.

You will see our favourite places in Oxford are a little biased to places to eat and drink however they are also all great places to sit and watch the fascinating world of Oxford for by.

The first of our favourite place in Oxford is really an activity enjoyed in numerous places; walks along the River Cherwell, through University Parks and Christchurch Meadow.  I recommend getting away from the town centre and enjoying the paths by the rivers.  In Christchurch Meadow (behind the Botanic Gardens) the Thames and Cherwell rivers meet.

away from Oxford Crowds Christchurch Meadow

There are many paths along the river Thames but the prettiest and easiest are along the River Cherwell.  You can’t follow the river directly as much of the land is owned by the university but with an OS map it is easy to pick up the paths any quickly get away from the hustle and bustle.

Peaceful walks or punt on River Thames Oxford

Through University parks, north of Oxford town centre, you emerge on Parks Road and are quickly back in town along St Giles to find one of our favourite places The Ashmolean.  Established in the 16th century and refurbished in 2009 a mesmerising museum in a breathtaking building with exhibitions to inspire and amaze.

Ashmolean museum Oxford

We have visited numerous times and still not seen everything.  Since our privileged sneak preview of prior to the reopening in 2009 The Ashmolean remains one of our favourite places in Oxford.  Its only downside is that it is not open on Mondays which has disappointed some of our family and friends on extended weekend visits to Oxford.

Before heading to the town centre perhaps head out of town a little for a spot of lunch at one of two of our favourite places to eat in Oxford. First Gees restaurant is part of a local, privately owned group of restaurants each of which is very individual.  Gees looks very decadent and pompous from the outside but venture in and it is a very relaxed environment with quirky decor, attentive and friendly staff and great food from local produce.  Adam and I have turned up in walking gear on a late Saturday afternoon and stayed all evening but also enjoyed, slightly, more formal evenings there with family and friends.

A little further out of town but worth the walk (or taxi ride) is The Cherwell Boathouse, it’s hidden away in a quiet spot by the river and worth the trek for a special treat.  The week day lunch menu is great value for wonderfully creative and delicious food thought the wine list may still damage the wallet a little.  If you are in Oxford in the summer then you should book in advance, this goes for most places in fact.

On your way back in to town, just north of Gees, have a wander down North Parade, it’s a lovely little street for a mooch with an eclectic mix of cafés, restaurants and shops.  Carry on straight ahead to reach Woodstock Road and turn left to head back to St Giles and Oxford centre.  If you get thirsty on the way you can stop for refreshments at another of our favourite places The Royal Oak pub.  Being out of town it is a more of a locals place and is a good place for a beer and nibbles.

refueled and re-energised you’ll be ready to tackle the Ashmolean or save it for another day and continue the exploration of our favourite places in Oxford with a food and drink theme…

Not so easy to find The White Rabbit, behind the Oxford Playhouse near to Gloucester Green, is a quirky and friendly place.  The young owners pride themselves on their pizzas (which for me are ‘ok’) but the main thing is it’s a lovely little place to while away a little time, watch a diverse range of students, locals and tourists come and go and enjoy a pint of ale in this tiny and stylish place.

The White Rabbit pub Oxford

Often packed with tourists, because it is easy to find in the heart of Oxford on the corner of Broad St and Holywell St opposite the Bodleian Library, but with an equal mix of locals The King’s arms it’s a great place for a good pint of ale, some very tasty home made pork scratchings or a spicy scotch egg and a good people watching spot if you can grab a seat outside in the sunshine.  We’ve spent some wonderful afternoons there watching the world go by.

Ale and nibbles at Kings arms pub Oxford

If you wander through Christchurch meadow from behind the Botanic Gardens you come out at the other end through a grand gateway on St Aldates, turning right back towards the centre and Carfax Tower and you’ll find another of our favourite place in Oxford.  It’s another pub!  St Aldates Tavern nice atmosphere, friendly staff, a quite usual menu (unusual in that the menu is hidden inside old hard back books but also in that it ranges from pork pie and pickle to Mozzarella and tomato salad or ham, duck egg and chips to fresh pasta).  Needless to say they have great beers too in a great atmosphere so it makes a good place to escape the crowds for a while.

St Aldates Tavern Oxford

Talking of crowds I suppose you have to visit The Bear Inn, the oldest pub in Oxford and a quirky little place. Their website describes as ‘a hidden gem’, and granted it is tucked away but everyone finds it so it is not a place for quiet pint, nice relaxed meal or catch up with friends.  The interior, with its wood panelled walls adorned with the neck ties of previous visitors is worth popping in to see and experience but it is not one of our favourite places in Oxford.

On past The Bear and over Magdalen Bridge towards St Clements and Cowley to the last of our favourite places in Oxford; you guessed it another pub!  The Cape of Good Hope on the corner of Iffley and Cowley road on the roundabout at St Clements is another wonderful people watching place particularly in the summer when you can spill outside and enjoy your pint of local ale.  The staff are always friendly and knowledgable about the guest ales and always offer a little taste before you decide.

The Cape of Good Hope pub Oxford

The very last of our favourite places in Oxford is not a specific place but a general area.  A wander down the Cowley Road at any time of day or night is always entertaining and we have spent many afternoons, evenings (and on into early mornings!) doing just that.  On every block there is a great place to eat, we have our favourite places for Chinese, Nepalese, Greek and Indian food as well as our favourite place to dance into the early hours The Hi-Lo.  It’s a place you should discover for yourself though and find your own favourite places.  Do be sure to venture out away from the tourist and historic centre of Oxford and explore.

I hope that you find our favourite places useful when you visit Oxford and that this blog helps you make the most of your time in our wonderful town.

I know many of you must have your own favourite places in Oxford so do please comment and add your favourites too.

behind closed gates Oxford

Life at a difference pace in Lumbarda, Croatia

Though it doesn’t come naturally and didn’t feel right we felt we should try life at a different pace, a slower pace for just a while and Lumbarda in Croatia was the place to try it. We both notice how we tend to live and travel at a fast pace and we recognise we can skim over and past places rather than taking the time to get under the skin of a place, to get to know it better.

We are hungry for adventure and new discoveries yet at the same time wanted a place that would force a more relaxed pace of life and to have adventure and discovery on a smaller and different scale to normal.

Living in flip flops but attached to our laptops our requirement was; a place where we could connect easily to balance work with wonderful views, sea to swim, places to walk or jog, enjoy great food and wine and generally enjoy getting to know the place and perhaps ourselves a little better.  A tall order but we were confident that Lumbarda, on Korcula island in Croatia, could fit the bill.

Lumbered Harbour Croatia

Sonja at Camp Vela Postrana greeted us with tired looking eyes but a big smile, the summer had been busy and very hot and she admitted she was happy but exhausted. She was pleased we had returned In September, her favourite month when everything was all a little quieter, the sea was warmer and she said with enthusiasm brightening her eyes ‘you’ll see the sea and the sky are different colours, it’s beautiful!’

At the camp site we had wifi and views to the mountains on the Peljasac peninsula, it is staggering distance to places to eat and drink and a short meander to the sea in pretty much every direction.

For several days we woke to blue skies and had a run up through the vineyards or along the coastline to the next bay. One of us would pick up breakfast at the bakers on the home straight; we found that you have to get to the tiny shop before 10am or she sells out. Once we figured out the required routine we enjoyed some wonderful fresh bread and local pastries like Burek Sir (a little like the Greek cheese pie Tyrikopita) and, after a few visits, even a welcoming smile from the shy lady.

In the summer we had seen tiny pips of grapes emerging in the vineyards and now large bunches of red and white grapes weighed down every branch. One morning we were overtaken by a tractor and several scooters laden with empty crates as families busily began to harvest the white grapes. Having waited and watched patiently all summer it seemed the whole town was out lending a hand and joining in the jovial chatter as crate after crate emerged from the leafy rows covering the hillside.

Walking through Vineyards Croatia

As we walked back down lane on our way home we were surprised when one of the men called to us and beckoned us over. The smile creasing his rugged and weathered face showed he was pleased with their harvest as he passed us each a bunch of grapes straight from the vine. We enjoyed our little piece of the harvest as we strolled down the lane; tiny, juicy and delicious you could taste the flavor of very local and unique Grk white wine that these grapes will create.

The following day on our jog we saw the harvest was complete and the vineyards were quiet again. We skipped breakfast planning to enjoy a lunch of local cheese, Prsut (Croatian Proscuittio) and Grk wine at the Posip winery as we had last visit however the terrace, normally set up for hungry and intrigued tourists to taste their wonderful local produce, was completely taken over by crates of grapes and shiny grape crushing equipment. The man who had passed us the grapes the day before didn’t mind breaking off his work to pour us a glass of everything they make including some wonderful fig liquor.

Lumbarda sunset croatia

Croatians can come across as quite austere and, at first at least, don’t seem friendly because they don’t seem to smile very often or be very chatty. Perhaps this impression can be explained more by shyness and the difficulty of trying to make conversation in several European languages depending on who decides to take a seat at your table. Germans, Italians and English seem to be the most numerous visitors and you very rarely hear anyone trying to speak even a little Croatian. More often than not once you break the ice with a few, probably very badly pronounced, words of Croatian and a smile of your own they warm up and normally happy to teach you a few more words so that you can surprise the next person you meet.

Croatian cypress avenue church KorculaSo after chatting for a while with the men at Posip winery, using English, a little terrible Croatian and basic German, we bought several bottles of Grk white wine (which may or may not make it all the way back to the UK before we enjoy them) and we left with a warm glow inside and out.

We found it surprisingly easy to settle in to a routine and leisurely pace of life in Lumbarda…most days we wandered along the coastal promenade for a swim drying off in the afternoon sun.

We explored to the very tip of the island and spent an afternoon lazing in the quiet bay by the light house where an unmarked memorial cross made an unusual foreground to the coastal view…

Lighthouse lumbarda

We walked and, much to our own amazement, on another day jogged the 8 mile round trip into Korcula old town and back.

Korcula old town Croatia

We were warmly welcomed back to restaurants we had visited before and discovered new places where the food, the views and the welcome were equally amenable.

We enjoyed live music in the bar by the harbour that attracted more locals than tourists and spent quiet evenings, just the two of us, by our camper van, never boring of the inky black night sky. We listened to the murmur of the village across the field knowing that most of the chat and laughter was that of locals not the very few tourists who were lucky enough to choose September in Lumbarda.

Our little Mediterranean oasis had not disappointed and before we knew it a week had disappeared!

Finding our rhythm in Coastal Croatia

Wanting too find an easy rhythm to our travel we planned to return to Coastal Croatia and some of the places we found and enjoyed on previous trips.  Off the coast of the Croatian Peljasac peninsula, the beautiful Korcula island was our destination.  As the ferry docked, near Korcula old town, and all felt very comfortable and familiar we had the desire to improvise a little and so rather than head directly to the small harbour town of Lumbarda we drove instead to the far end of the island and to the Vela Luka.

As usual the guide book had little positive to say about the small town of Vela Luka, not many ancient sites or churches in the 19th century fishing village, it could be just our kind of place. We are not constant seekers of ancient sites but rather search for inspiration and interest in every day life and enjoy the diversity of local cuisine.  Vela Luka and its people looked like it had kept a frenetic pace during the hot summer season but now felt relaxed and sleepy as the ebb of tourists slowed.

We wandered the harbour and back streets, bought provisions in a small shop and then, reluctantly, headed to the hills to the only camp site nearby.

Camping Mindel promised to be a tranquil site, hidden amongst olive trees on a crest above several bays.

Camping Mindel Vela Luka secluded camping

Within a short wander we found a sheltered bay where waves lapped gently over with rough grey rocks leading down to the clear blue water, a great fishing spot for another day perhaps. We swam in the beautiful crystal waters but were disappointed and concerned to see another bare and almost lifeless sea bed. A great concern and a frustration for Adam who, ever hopeful, had spent several hours sorting and packing his fishing gear this Mediterranean trip.

The evening sea breeze dipped the temperature quickly in the shady cove so we flip flopped home as quickly as we could. We joined a few of our fellow campers on the roof terrace and were treated to a stunning sunset across the Mediterranean to Hvar island accompanied by the rhythmical ticking of Cicadas and the twitter of Housemartins swooping on the breeze that rustled in the olive trees below.

It seemed though that we weren’t all in the same groove; some couples came before the evening sky even started its performance, stayed for the first tinges of red and then left (dinner in the oven?), some snook in half way through, chinking plastic glasses of beer as the orange glow began but still left before the finale.

We stayed until the very last ray of light had disappeared and the Cicadas all fell silent.

Croatian sunset from Korcula island over Hvar

We were woken early and rudely with a dawn chorus of toddler cries and percussion of spoons on plastic plates, really not our favourite tune so we departed quickly to go explore the other bays on the peninsula.

Rather than walk the conventional footpaths to each of the bays we chose to search for a route from bay to bay along the rocks and there was, along limestone and stark white rock formations separated by flinty, pebble beaches in secluded bays.

Beautiful Croatian coastal walk

It was a peaceful interlude as we picked our way along the coast, the vista out to sea was ever changing as were the colours and textures beneath our feet.

It was difficult to see if many others had come this way or not, we seemed not to leave a trace though some of the smoother tops to the white, chalky rocks could be from the tread of human feet over time rather than the wash of the sea.

We crossed small beaches of limestone screes below tree covered cliffs where our path was marked, at least for a moment, by musical notes as our feet shifted the rock fragments to clink against each other making, almost metallic sounds, like the bars of a broken Xylophone.  Though we followed closely in each others foot steps and in the same rhythm the music we each created was completely different. Adam’s foot steps created their tune, my melody was a new one played on a slightly different ‘keyboard’.

As I clambered I wondered how many different compositions there may have been, each fleeting, never to be captured or recorded only to be enjoyed by those there to listen. We had certainly begun to find our rhythm again here in this peaceful corner of Korcula island.

craggy shore line stone scree Croatia

Living like a local and relaxing near Rome

We couldn’t miss the chance of living like a local and relaxing near Rome.

Our sketchy plan since setting off from Oxford included seeing our two lucky friends who live in Rome, or at least in an ideal location near Lago Bracciano just to the north west of Rome.   This visit was more about catching up with our friends rather than seeing Rome.  Adam and I have visited Rome on other occasions and Gary and Donna have worn out the circuit with various visiting friends and family.  It didn’t take us long (less than half a glass of wonderful, local Lazio red wine) to agree that we should simply do the things we all love doing; eating, drinking and walking.

We had a fabulous walk in the nature reserve at Monterano and around the beautiful countryside there, not seeing another living soul other than rather splendid looking Maremmana cattle grazing on the dry grass on the hillside.

Maremmana Cattle near Antica MonteranoAdam did tell me they were too far away for a great photo but I wasn’t keen on getting much closer.

The walk took us to the fascinating ruins of Antica Monterano.  No time for photos unfortunately we were all rather hot by the time we got there (we’d chosen midday to set off again and the temperature was already showing 32 degrees Celsius when we left the house).

We all love the sun and the heat but used what shade there was and refuelled…

Refuelling in the shade at Anitca Monterano

As we neared the end Gary took us to one of his favourite spots on the walk a welcome fresh water pool where we all took a dip and enjoyed a little wild swimming to cool off.

Cooling off after walk near RomeBy the time we had walked back, past the sulphur springs and up to the car we were completely dry and ready for a cold beer.

A much more sedate day next at Lago Bracciano, a beautiful and rather surreal place. We went straight to a pebbly beach (fairly quiet and equidistant between a bar and a restaurant so easy to see why it is Gary and Donna’s favourite spot there).  The beach was scattered with sunbathers and in calm, clear waters, lazy swimmers floated strangely amongst fully wet-suited divers and between everyone, several swans and their signets glided serenely by.

Surreal beach at Lago Bracciano ItalyAs I say, beautiful and surreal…

serene swans at Lago Bracciano ItalyAfter a lazy lunch, the lake took on a different feel as a storm developed on the far shore, the beach emptied and nature moved in. After enjoying the stirring, dramatic weather for a while, we headed to the hills at Bracciano for very good Artigianale beers…

stormy skies over Lago BraccianoA wonderful few days, providing an insight into a local life, playing and working in the sunshine. As we headed off north again, we were all envious of each other, the extensive diversity of what we (Adam and Helen) had seen on our journey contrasted with Gary and Donna’s deep understanding of and familiarity with the beauty of a single location.  Adam and I had enjoyed living like locals and relaxing into the pace of life in Rome.  We concluded that a balance between the two would probably suit us well.