Cornwall, land of captivating coastlines, Celtic culture and clotted cream lies in the far south-west of Great Britain. In fact you can’t get any further south or west on British mainland as the peninsular of Cornwall reaches right out and dips its toe into the choppy Atlantic Ocean. The Lizard is Cornwall’s most southerly point and Land’s End the most westerly – two extremities of a wildly, beautiful coastline that goes on for nearly 300 miles.
Boats by Polpeor Lifeboat Station
To say I’ve been tardy in not visiting Cornwall before is an understatement. We’ve holidayed in pounding rain in neighbouring Devon and even made it as far as Plymouth. I’ve hauled the kids up the 93 steps to the top of Plymouth lighthouse from where you can almost touch the county of Cornwall but I’d never stepped foot on Cornish soil. And now I’m annoyed with myself for leaving it so long. Too long. We spent a few days there this month exploring just a little part of the county and it’s utterly gorgeous.
From Truro to St Ives
Our first two nights were spent in Truro for a family wedding. The wedding ceremony took place at St Just in Roseland which has got to be one of the most picturesque churches in the UK. Two miles from St Mawes it’s 13c and built next to a small creek. Surrounded by sub-tropical gardens it’s the perfect setting for a fairy-tale wedding. And it was. But that’s another story.
St Ives, on the west coast, was to be our base for the next two nights. But en route we wanted to explore some of the dramatic Cornish coastline with its hidden coves and rugged scenery. So, instead of taking a direct route across country we went the long way round via the coast. First stop was The Lizard the most southerly point on the Cornish coastline. We parked up at Lizard Village, leaving a donation in the honesty box at the car park, and walked the half mile to the sea. It was a brisk but bright day, the sea sparkled in the sunshine and wild grasses and plants fluttered in the breeze.
The Lizard, Cornwall
There’s an old lifeboat station at Polpeor Cove, just a few minutes’ walk from the Point, which was in use from 1914 to 1961. A state of the art lifeboat station is based half a mile away at Kilcobben Cove today and it’s essential. This westerly approach to the English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world with up to 400 ships passing by every day.
Polpeor Lifeboat Station
Wild Plants at Lizard Point
Two miles north from The Lizard, and a scenic walk if you have time, is Kynance Cove, said to be one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. It looks most gorgeous on a sunny day at low tide when the white sands gleam all the way to Asparagus Island (love that name!) and the turquoise water laps against the red and green serpentine rocks and offshore stacks. When we arrived the day was becoming increasingly blustery and grey and the tide was high. Despite the weather and a darkening afternoon the cove was stunning but still showed a hint of turquoise in the swirling sea. We parked up at the cliff-top car park, paid our £3 and were advised to take the right-hand path which leads down to the beach and the café. This was the steepest but fastest route and we’d make it down before the waves covered the beach completely. We got some dramatic views on the way down.
Kynance Cove, Cornwall
It was wild and woolly and the wind whipped our faces as we walked but I loved that we saw a rugged, invigorating, windswept side to the cove. At low tide it’s possible to cross the beach by the caves and climb back up to the car park via another cliff path. By the time we got there it was just a narrow slither of sand and every few seconds another wave would rush at the rocks. We considered legging it across but eventually went back the way we came to avoid a good soaking. We’d have got wet either way because the rain let rip just before we made it back to the car!
Kynance Cove from the Beach
The Minack Theatre at Porthcurno
We carry on westwards towards Penzance and Porthcurno where The Minack Theatre is carved into the cliff-face. Minack means ‘rocky place’ and the open-air theatre overlooks a dark rocky crag and gully far below. The perfect dramatic backdrop.
I’d always thought the Minack was an ancient theatre built hundreds of years ago but a fascinating exhibition tells the story of a remarkable woman, Rowena Cade, who breathed life into the theatre. This slight woman, together with her gardener and his friend built the theatre with their bare hands over many years. When the cost of granite become too much they devised a technique of using concrete and she carved elaborate Celtic designs into the blocks. The first production was The Tempest staged in 1932 but the theatre carried on evolving and Rowena worked on it year on year until she was well into her 80s. Sub-tropical gardens add to the beauty of the theatre whose season runs from May to September.
Parking is free to visitors to the theatre. Entry to the theatre: Adult £4.50 | Over 60 £3.50 15 & under £2.50 | 11 & under 50p. Under 2 FREE. Winter opening is October – March daily from 10am – last entry is at 3.30pm (closes 4pm) Closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Just a short drive of 4.2 miles from The Minack is Land’s End – the most westerly point on the English mainland and our final stop off before heading for St Ives. In Greek times Land’s End was called ‘Belerion’ – place of the sun. When we arrived it was anything but. We paid the usual £3 car par fee and headed down to the cliff edge and stood as near to the end of Land’s End as we dare. The 200ft cliffs face the full force of the elements with dramatically atmospheric views.
The raging sea was in full fury crashing into black granite outcrops and spraying high into the air before being gusted away by the wind. We braced it out for about half an hour before seeking out the famous Land’s End signpost – John O’Groats 874 miles, New York 3,147 miles Ironically New York will be the next trip I take!
The island of Delos sits in the sparkling Aegean Sea in the centre of a circle of Greek islands called the Cyclades. Just a 25-minute boat trip away from Mykonos it’s one of the most important mythological, historical and archaeological sites in Greece. It’s also the mythical birthplace of Apollo, god of light, truth and music and his twin sister Artemis.
For over a thousand years Delos, Isle of Light, font of life, was a sacred place and is today UNESCO protected and part of the World’s Cultural Heritage. And it’s beautiful.
Pillars at Delos, Greece
A morning excursion from our cruise was spent exploring the sprawling ruins of the ancient shrine. The island is 3.5km south-west of Mykonos and just 5k long and 1.3 wide so this can be done in less than a day. Just as well really because the island shuts at 3 pm when the last boat leaves.
This tiny island was inhabited from 3000 BC by a population of around 25,000 and by 300 AD was completely abandoned. At one time, Delos was so sacred that people close to death or giving birth were kicked out to a neighbouring island. It would seem things have gone full circle as the only inhabitants are now the team of archaeologists working on the ruins. This makes it a peaceful contrast to busy Mykonos just across the water.
The Ruins of Delos, Greece
Delos, in ancient Greek, means clear and brought to light. You can pretty well roam as you please through the ruined streets, arcades and temples and the light gave everything a particular clarity. The pale golds of the stonework complimented the blue skies and seas perfectly giving it a softer appearance than the pristine whites and crisp blues of Mykonos. So, what is there to see on Delos? Here’s what I discovered…
The Theatre District, Delos
The Theatre from the stage
The theatre once held up to 5,500 spectators. Nearby is an underground water cistern – there was no fresh-water on Delos so drinking water was captured from the rainfall and stored in the cistern.
The House of Dionysus
The remains of many mansions are near to the theatre. Obviously ‘the place’ to live. The mansions must have been impressive with outdoor pillared courtyards, two or three levels have intricate mosaic floors. The House of Dionysus (below) has a mosaic showing Dionysus riding a panther.
Pillars and Mosaics at Delos
Window at the House of Triton
The Sanctuary of Apollo
The Sanctuary of Apollo lies at the heart of the ancient remains at the end of The Sacred Way. The remains of a massive statue of Apollo rests here although only the torso is left – probably because it was too heavy to loot. One of the hands rests in the Delos museum and a foot resides in the British Museum.
The torso of the statue is to the right of the right-hand column
Terrace of the Lions
This is probably the most famous of Delos’ sights. The lions on the Terrace of the Lions are replicas of a possible nine to twelves lions that once guarded the wealthy trading port. The remaining five original lions are now housed in the island’s museum. The lions were a gift from the people of Naxos in the 7th century BC – an imposing sight to guard the ‘sacred way’.
Terrace of the Lions
Delos Lion Statue
Most of the significant finds from Delos are now housed safely in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens but there are still some interesting and beautiful pieces in the museum at Delos so it’s worth taking a look inside at the statues, pottery and mosaics.
Statues in Delos Museum
Leopard Mosaic in Delos Museum
I enjoyed just wandering the island for a couple of hours soaking up the feeling of a place lost in time and bathed in light, seeking out carvings in the stone as tiny lizards scorted through the dust around my feet. I’d have liked to climb Mount Kynthos for views down over the island and stopped off at the Temple of Isis on the way up but didn’t have quite enough time. Here’s a few more images of what I discovered on Delos.
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Getting to Delos:
Boats leave for Delos from the Old Port of Mykonos daily, weather permitting, except Monday when the site is closed to visitors.
The first boat to Delos leaves at 9:00 am and the last one at 12:50 pm. The first boat back to Mykonos goes at 11:00 am and the last at 3:00 pm
Travel Tips for Delos:
There are toilet facilities in the museum.
It is not possible to stay overnight in Delos.
It’s very hot with little shelter so I’d advise taking water, a hat and sunscreen.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa stands, or should I say leans, in the Piazza dei Miracoli in the medieval part of Pisa. On my journey home from Florence there was no way I could fly out of Pisa’s Galilei Airport without stopping off at the Field of Miracles to take a look at the iconic campanile, the Baptistry and Pisa Cathedral.
Given World Heritage Site status by UNESCO 25 years ago, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is just a five-minute bus ride and a 30 minute walk from the airport. Easy to squeeze in a quick visit before my flight and a lovely way to round off my trip to Tuscany.
I arrived at The Square of Miracles, which is on the perimeter of medieval Pisa, just as the sun was going down and bathing the ornate buildings in a warm, golden light. The white marble buildings stood out against the rich green of the grass of the lawns where students lay enjoying the last of the sun. There are three buildings in the square, The Baptistry, The Cathedral and, of course, Pisa’s Leaning Tower. I didn’t have time to go inside the buildings or to climb the tower but still really enjoyed my brief visit.
The marble Baptistry at Pisa is also on the lean by 0.6 degrees towards the Cathedral. It stands slightly higher than the tower and is the biggest baptistry in Italy. The lower section with rounded arches is Romanesque style and the upper sections with pointed arches are Gothic style. At first I thought my photos were completely skewed until I found out that all three buildings in the Square, and other towers in the city, are all on a bit of a lean. The sandy soil in the area is the guilty culprit for this squiffiness.
The Baptistry at Pisa
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta – Duomo
Between the Baptistry and the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands the centerpiece of the complex, the impressive Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta designed by architect Buscheto and the oldest of the three structures. Building started in 1064. In 1595 a fire destroyed most of the Renaissance art works although many mosaics and the famous pulpit survived.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Pisa
The design is Romanesque but there are many influences and styles from other cultures including Byzantine and Islamic. Pisa was a Maritime Republic and trips to North Africa and the Middle East by sailors are depicted on various parts of the cathedral. The large bronze doors of the cathedral decorated with Moorish themes are right opposite the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
The Leaning Tower of Pisa is an iconic piece of Italian architecture standing 55m high and on the tilt to 5 degrees. Of course I knew it leaned but had no idea to what extent until I saw it up close. How on earth does it not topple over!
Leaning Tower of Pisa
Construction goes back to 1173 but the bell tower was leaning before the third floor was even finished and work interrupted throughout construction. The tower is actually slightly bent from an attempt to straighten it to prevent it falling. In 1275 the tower was enlarged and three new levels added. In 1350 the belfry was added and the tower finally completed in 1372.
There are 294 worn steps to reach the top. A gallery and arcade is located on each level except the last one where there are 7 bells. The tower was closed from 1990 to 2001 because of instability whilst engineers tried to stop the tower from toppling but it’s now open again to visitors. The Leaning Tower of Pisa actually leans a little less today due to corrective work. It’s now at the same inclination that it was 200 years ago.
Tickets for the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Book Tickets to the Leaning Tower online or in the Square of Miracles. I’d recommend booking in advance to avoid queues – it gets very busy in high season.
I loved watching people doing what looks like Tai Chi whilst trying get that cheesy travel shot.
Tavarnelle is a municipality in the Chianti region of Tuscany situated in the beautiful countryside between Florence and Siena. Think fields ribboned with grape vines, ruby red wines and medieval hilltop hamlets – so much to love! I recently spent a fabulous few days on a blog tour organised by the municipality of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, my first visit to Tuscany, to discover its food, wine, history and beautiful countryside.Let me tell you about ‘Chianti da Vivere’ the good life’.
Tuscany more than lived up to expectations with wildly beautiful views of ancient hilltop villages surrounded by billowing fields of budding vines and olive groves. Dramatic skies spiked by lofty Cypress trees, misty mornings and a feeling of freshness in the air gave us a taste of springtime in Tavarnelle.
We sampled delicious Italian food during a farmhouse cooking class with Wilma at Podere Torricella where we cooked up, dished up and polished off some mouth-watering rustic cuisine. We dropped by Agriturismos; these old estates and farms produce olive oil, wine, honey and serve delicious, locally sourced or home-grown food.
You wouldn’t visit the Chianti corner of Tuscany without dropping into a vineyard or two so we checked out a few – from the oldest of wine cellars to the newest, state of the art, winery at Cantina Antinori.
Tavarnelle Art, History and Artisans
Something that surprised me about the Tavarnelle region was an abundance of artefacts, museums and ancient architecture; some of the buildings which date back as far as the 10th century housed some exquisite relics.
Artisans are still hard at work in the Tavarnelle region and we saw two craftsmen, one over 80 years old, at work in Argento Firenze, Sambuca, creating beautiful hand-made silver and enamel pieces.
I’ll be telling you much more about our trip to Tavarnelle in the coming days but before that I’d like to introduce you to the medieval town where I stayed for two nights during the blog trip. San Donato in Poggio (Poggio means on a hill) is a gorgeous walled hamlet on the old Roman road from Florence to Siena (about half an hour’s drive from Florence).
San Donato in Poggio
Records date the castle back to 989 and to this day part of the fortress wall remains, two entrance gates; Porta Florentine and Porta Sienese together with a lookout tower, the Torrino and a bell tower, the Campanone. Narrow, cobbled alleyways lined with quaint houses and arches dripping with Wisteria lead to the main Piazza Malaspina. The octagonal well in the main square is overlooked by Palazzo Malaspina which houses the tourist office, exhibitions and art collections, the church of Santa Maria della Neve and the Palazzo Pretorio – all medieval structures and one housing the Museo Emilio Ferraria; a small farming museum.
Octagonal Well in the main Piazza
Just outside the walls of the hamlet stands a Romanesque parish church dating back to 989, which houses a glazed terracotta baptismal font, attributed to Giovanni della Robbia (1513) and a painted crucifix attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, an apprentice of Giotto. Other works are now preserved in the Museum of Church San Stefano on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
Pieve di San Donato
I stayed two nights at a wonderfully quirky B&B, a medieval building located right on the Piazza and run by the charming Valeria. The Terrazze del Chianti, named so for good reason, as it has stunning views from the terrace across the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Country-style furniture and a wood-burning stove in my room made it really cosy and a huge collection of retro toys and memorabilia was fascinating. I loved the kitsch collection of cooking implements in the dining room which reminded me of times spent in my grandmother’s kitchen as a child.
Breakfast was excellent and whatever your taste in coffee was freshly made to order. Fresh fruit and juice, cereals, yoghurt, eggs, local cheese and salamis and home-baked bread and pastries were all delicious and a great start to a busy day exploring Tavarnelle.
Disclosure: Accommodation and meals were sponsored by the Municipality of Tavarnelle Val di Pesa but all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for Tuscany are my own. My thanks to all the people of Tavarnelle who helped make the trip so enjoyable. The “#chiantidavivere” blog tour took place during the first weekend of April 2014.
A few hours in Florence, the capital of Tuscany, is such a tease. Just enough time to catch a fleeting glimpse of the city that pays homage to the Renaissance; a living showcase of art, history and architecture but no time to dig deeper or step inside a museum or gallery. A few hours was all I had before meeting up for a blog tour of the Chianti area of Tuscany and so I made the most of my time. Join me on a mini-tour of photogenic Florence.
Church of Santa Maria Novella
Santa Maria Novella is the only one of Florence’s major churches to possess an original facade. The square in front was used by Cosimo I for an annual chariot race – The Palio dei Cocchi. Two obelisks, which each sit on four bronze tortoises, marked the start and the finish of the race.
The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as the Duomo, is the city’s main focal point and the dome is symbolic of Florence. The duomo is the perfect reference point when sightseeing and the top is open to the public for views of the city – an alternative is Giotto’s Bell Tower if you’re happy to climb the 414 steps. Florence is an extremely walkable city with all the main sights not more than 30 minutes from each other.
Carousel on Piazza della Repubblica
Even the street art in Florence is special…
Florence Street Art
Piazza della Signoria is pretty much an outdoor sculpture gallery and here, amongst the cafes and street life, there’re replicas of the original statues which now reside behind the doors of Florence’s museums. Michelangelo’s Statue of David is housed in the city’s Galleria dell’Accademia, but there’s a replica outside Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza if you’re short on time.
In front of Ammannati’s Neptune fountain is where, in the 1490s, Savonarola held his Bonfire of the Vanities. Here the Florentines burned their wigs, mirrors, paintings and symbols of decadence, however, his puritanical endeavours lasted only a few years before he was hanged and burned on the very same spot.
The River Arno and Ponte Vecchio
A few minutes walk from Piazza della Signoria runs the River Arno, the second most important river in central Italy. Florence’s rowing club The Canottieri has raced on the Arno for over 100 years and I watched some rowers power by as they trained in the warm Spring weather. In the distance Ponti Vecchio, ‘The Bridge of Gold’ straddles the river. Dating back to the 900s it’s lined with small shops; goldsmiths, jewellers and souvenir sellers. Above the shops runs the Corridoio Vasarianoa a passage which was used by the Medici family to travel in privacy from the Uffizi to the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the Arno.
Ponte Vecchio, Florence
The River Arno, Florence
The Best View of Florence
If, like me, you’re a sucker for a city view then cross over the river and head over to Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sun set over panoramic Florence. It’ll take a bit of legwork up some winding, narrow lanes and two flights of steps, but it’s worth the effort for the best view of Florence you’ll ever see. Stay awhile and maybe reward yourself with a gelato as the sun sets and the lights of Florence reflect on the River Arno.
View of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo
Florence at dusk from Piazzale Michelangelo
Florence at Night
After watching the sun slip away and the lights gradually illuminate the city I headed back down the hill and walked along the south side of the river. Ponte Vecchio was quiet, the shops shut and the shutters closed. I found myself a little pizzeria in a side road before heading back to the B&B. A fast and fleeting view of Florence and one that has me aching to return.
Ponte Vecchio at Night
I was hosted in Florence at the delightful Johanna I B&B and my thanks to them and to Luca for his tips on what not to miss in Florence.
The steaming milky-blue waters of the Blue Lagoon, Iceland beckoned. Wearing just my swimming costume I took a deep breath and pegged-it through the biting chill of Iceland’s February weather. Wading into the hot, mineral-rich water felt all the better for the minus degree dash. I laid back and soaked blissfully as the piping hot water relaxed every muscle in my body. Heaven…