Sunday, 26 October 2014

Icmeler - the place to relax

Hubby and I are not really hotel/package holiday people. In fact our last such holiday was in 1989 - our honeymoon!!

However we decided to try an all inclusive week as the final celebration in our 25th anniversary year - our destination .... Seastar Hotel in Icmeler, Turkey.

My lovely hotel slippers
Seastar is a new hotel this year and the reviews on Trip Advisor were amazing ... until a month before we went when its rating began to slide. We were quite concerned and began our journey with a few worries.

Heaven knows why because Seastar is amazing - we now know some unscrupulous people were posting poor reviews, some having never even visited; Trip Advisor needs a few safeguards adding to protect businesses.

Our journey began at Birmingham airport very early for a 8am flight. Thomas Cook airlines were very efficient and although I am no love of flying both journeys were 'ok'. The transfer from Dalaman Airport took a little longer than we expected as our mini-coach did not like going up steep hills and our driver seemed to have forgotten where the hotel was !!

The hotel is stunning, so modern, so clean, such friendly staff. Our room was huge, a kingsize bed with two armchairs and table, balcony with two chairs and a fabulous bathroom with walkin rainhead shower.

Seastar Hotel from the sea
View from our balcony
(looking along the hotel)
Looking back at the hotel
from the poolside
Our favourite chairs between the
hotel and the sea
The food was amazing - so much to choose from. Every meal had three cold counters full of delicious fresh food and a hot side with 7 or 8 heated tureens. We ate three, three course meals a day !! but not so we were over full, just bits of everything as it was so nice. There was also a snack bar with pizzas, burgers and chips open all afternoon.

Drinks were available all day, hot or cold, alcoholic or soft. The waiting staff were brilliant, water and wine with lunch and dinner and continuous drink service by the pool or on the beach. Our room had a mini bar that was permanently socked as well as tea/coffee facilities. We were truly pampered - it was so relaxing not worrying about whether we had enough cash to buy a drink, I think that was a big plus for us, not about actual cost but the no need for money freedom.

Wine and olives
Cold Buffet
Sweet Buffet
Hot Tureens
We spent most of our time sitting on the rattan sofas pool side but facing the promenade and sea. We did lie on the sun loungers a few times but sun bathing is not really our 'thing'. We were expecting weather of 23-26 degrees but actually had 28-33 degrees. A little hot for us but sitting on the sofas reading and watching the world go by was extremely relaxing.
We did take the ferry boat into Marmaris one day - a fantastic 20 minute trip for just £3.30. Marmaris has a huge marina, the German cruise ship Aida was in port when we went. It also has a castle and a covered bazaar with over 300 shops in. Although the shopkeepers encourage you to look and buy there was no pressure, we just said 'no thank you' and walked by.
Marmaris Harbour
Turkish alley
Tall ships with Icmeler in the background
View from Marmaris Castle
Marmaris Castle

Although we said hotel/package holidays were not for us we had an amazing time - we are definitely not beach/pool sunbathers but loved the all inclusive pampering, weather and Turkish people. The hotel staff were amazing - they even sent us a bottle of wine and fruit bowl to our room as an anniversary treat. I think these photos show how much we enjoyed ourselves:
Marmaris Castle
On the ferry boat

Seastar Hotel
In the Seastar lounge
Huge thank you to Melis and all the SeaStar staff - we'll see you all next year as yes, we've booked again!!!!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Etaples and Lille

(lots of photos)

Our holiday this year was a little later than normal as I am no longer restricted to school holidays. Hubby and I decided to return for the third year to Etaples and the beautiful Fisherman's Cottage, it really is like a Tardis inside.

Beautiful lounge through to the kitchen
through to the dining room
Having spent a lovely weekend in London (Saints Bar & London post) we only had the London to Dover drive which was so much easier than from here at home. Early Sunday we drove to Euston and meet our daughter Philippa who was spending the first few days with us in France.

Arriving early at the docks P & O kindly allocated us an earlier crossing which to my relief was lovely and smooth, arriving in France mid afternoon.

Etaples is just a short drive from Calais so we were soon settled, Philippa loved the cottage and thought it was huge inside. Sunday evening we enjoyed a meal at Buffalo Grill followed, on Monday, by a trip to Saint Valery sur Somme. We drove first to Le Hourdel which is a lighthouse at the southern point of the Somme Estuary.

Philippa, Me and Hubby (taking photos)
Le Hourdel
Huge expanse of beach - in the far, far, far distance
 lay a small group of seals sunbathing
Saint Valery sur Somme
ancient town
Philippa - beautiful French scene
Tuesday is market day in Etaples which is always great fun; such lovely fruit and veg, bread, cheese and meat stalls. Our favourite bar/café is Au Vieux Port and a coffee outside on market day is a must, as was a last night (for Philippa) meal later that day.

We squeezed in a quick trip to Montrueil-sur-mer Tuesday afternoon. It's a beautiful place, the setting/inspiration for Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and was once the port for La Canche but as the river has silted over time the harbour is now at Etaples and Montrueil has very little 'mer'.
Ramparts at Montreuil-sur-Mer
Montreuil's cobbled streets
Philippa returned home by Eurostar, so Wednesday was a trip to Calais. Hubby and I used the day to do a little wine checking for our later purchases for ourselves and Round 4 of the Wine Challenge.

Thursday was quite emotional. Hubby and I walked to the Etaples Military Cemetery about 1.5 miles out of town. I have been doing some work at Nuneaton Library documenting World War 1 stories and Etaples played a major role. It had the largest Military Hospital and was a resting camp between Boulogne and the front line. Although this was our third visit to Etaples it was our first to the cemetery, I had seen the name on some of the paperwork I have researched and so now felt I had a small connection and better understanding.

It was an incredible place to be - so still - even with a hive of generators and workers re-engraving the headstones with mini drills, the railway running by and traffic on the main road.
Etaples Military Cemetery
A metal box set in the wall containing
a visitors book & books of all grave details
 in alphabetical order
 10,816 lie here - 35 unidentified
So peaceful even with engravers (right) at work
My grandfather was in this regiment
- I wonder if they served together?
Their names liveth forevermore
Saturday we went to the museum in Etaples as they had an additional exhibition about the British Hospital. The maps were fascinating showing the resting camps, hospital camp and the cemetery across the main road. The railway (so important during the war) was clearly dominant with some of the roads still the same.

 All in all quite a moving, interesting and thoughtful visit to both the cemetery and museum.

On our last night we returned to Au Vieux Port for dinner - there is so much choice on the menu but I couldn't resist Mussels au Bleu. They were delicious and so many it took me 50 minutes to eat. Hubby enjoyed a lovely duck dish, we both had café gourmand for dessert, with bubbly - Blanquette de Bourgogne - perfect.

Mussels with blue cheese sauce
Duck breast
Café Gourmand
Our week in Etaples passed by so quickly, it's a lovely town which is beginning to feel like a old friend. We had some rest days as well as trips out and enjoyed many evenings on 'our bench' harbourside although being later in the season the airport & harbour were quieter with the nights drawing in.
Sitting on our bench
We didn't return straight home from Etaples but travelled north to Lille, a town we've wanted to visit and loved the old part. The streets are all cobbled, the buildings are beautiful old Flemish style and the atmosphere city like without being overbearingly busy. The roads were very confusing - they sort of merge with the paved pedestrian areas so when you're walking it's confusing to suddenly be 'crossing a road'.

Lille centre
Church courtyard

Beautiful buildings
Garden at Porte de Paris
Stunning floor, windows and statutes
Porte de Paris - still has it's drawbridge through
original gateway
Loved this windmill on the outskirts of Lille
3 Brasseurs
Welsh and chips (scoop shaped)
Another wonderful holiday in my favourite country France - and Monday we're off to Turkey. I'm not very good at flying, in fact after our honeymoon 25 years ago I've only flown 3 times. We have not done hotel package holidays since our honeymoon so a whole new experience going all inclusive to Turkey - a great way to end our Silver Anniversary celebrations :)

Friday, 3 October 2014

Wine Challenge - Round 4

Last Saturday was the fourth round of our 100 Wine Challenge and was another brilliant evening.

Hubby & I have just spent a lovely 12 days in France (look out for my blog update later this week). We had the enviable task of sourcing the wines and cheeses - so with notebook in hand we browsed our favourite retailers:

On our last full day we revisited with shopping list in hand - all wines purchased and safely stored in the car (just enough room as we had a few for us too). We did buy a few special bottles for our final tasting at Christmas too.
On our final morning we made a quick dash to Auchan to buy the 20 cheeses - cool box ready we stored them away and plugged the box into the car to keep them cool on the journey home. A slightly smelly car but masked slightly by our smoked garlic.
And so with our precious load we left France .....
Ready to board
20 French wines and 20 French cheeses - I was really looking forward to this round, I did add a few little extras too. And so to tasting:
Blanquette de Limoux - £3.33 Auchan - made using the champagne method this wine must contain 90% mauzac, it has it name from the white bloom that appears on the vine leaves.
La Roche Brut sparling wine - £2.29 Calais Wine - a lovely bottle of bubbles, we also tasted it with cassis which is how the French would drink it as an aperitif.
J P Chenet Colombard-Chardonnay - £2.44 Pidou - this wine producer has been a favourite of ours for 20+ years, the bottles used tSao have quite a wonky neck, we have a set of their glasses with wonky stems. Colombard - Chardonnay was a new grape to our tastings.
Reserve des Vignerons Saumur Blanc - £3.30 Franglais Vins - a lovely chenin blanc from the Loire Valley
Touraine Sauvignon Blanc - £3.12 Auchan - this is one of my favourite French wines, a lovely sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley, it was one of the favourites at the tasting too.
Ardeche Sauvignon - £2.05 Simply - another example of a good wine, very slightly sweeter as this area of France is further south.
Les Roches Saintes Picpoul de Pinet - £3.70 Auchan - a crisp refreshing white from the Languedoc area in the south of France, as this wine is perfect with seafood we had nibbles of prawns and mini belinis with salmon mousse.
Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur lie - £2.85 Auchan - another Loire Valley wine, again perfect with seafood.
Cheverney Cuvée Royale - £3.75 Auchan - this was the star of the white wines, a firm favourite with everyone. It is from the eastern side of the Loire Valley and has to have 60-80% sauvignon blanc and the remainder chardonnay. This Cheverney has a 70% 30% split and was perfect with the goats cheese we tried too.  
The end of the whites meant cheese time - as well as biscuits we had French bread too (Asda). Most of the cheese was soft and thankfully I had cut it up at home beforehand as it softened/oozed even more. Here's our cheese list:
Auchan Camenbert
Mimolette slices
Petit Munster Gerome
Saint Agur
St Paulin
Neufchátel Coeur de Bray
Le Bleu
Gouda slices
Président Rondelé Noix de Dordogne
Tomme Noire Pyrenees
La Pavé Doux
l'Ortolon l'original
Fromage anctueux
Buche de chévre
Belcube mini cheese

French cheeses
The blue cheese was quite popular although strong and quite smelly. The only problem with French bread is that it is so moreish so it was a good job we had plenty.
Our rosé wine was a smaller selection this tasting, just two bottles, one from the Loire and the other from the South.

Les Roseraries Rose D'Anjou - £2.99 Calais Wine - this Loire valley wine was the sweeter of the two rosé wines and the favourite.
La Treille Provencale Cotes de Provence - £2.50 Auchan - from the south of France this wine had quite a crisp finish.
After the rosé wines we paused for our raffle - a bottle of J P Chenet Grenache- Syrah, a mini bottle of Friexenet and a pair of large size wine glasses.
And so to our red and final surprise bottle ...
Reserve des Vignerons Saumur Rouge - £3.30 Franglais Vins - the red wine matching the white from Saumur tasted earlier, a good cabernet franc red from the Loire.
Kiwi Cuvée Bin 518 - £3.49 Calais Wine - a pinot noir wine made by a New Zealander in France, hence the name.
Comte de Rivaliere Blaye Cotes de Bordeaux - £2.15 Auchan - a smooth example of a Bordeaux but without loosing its depth, a favourite of the reds.
Pied Tanque Rouge - £3.11 Majestic - a blend of wine made under the name originally given to the game of boules.
Fitou - £3.00 Auchan - a deep red from the Languedoc, some tannin but not over bearing.
Paul Mas Estate Malbec - £5.61 Majestic - another favourite, Paul Mas wines are from the south and this Malbec was full of deep richness.
Leon Perdigal Cotes du Rhone - £5.61 Majestic - a smooth rich wine full of fruit with a hint of spice. This was second choice of the reds. 
Cellier des Dauphins Cotes du Rhone - £2.50 Auchan - the favourite red, and is Nick's favourite hence including it, full of rich fruit, slight spice, little tannin. We tried a little French salami with the two Cotes du Rhone with mixed opinions.

20 French wines
Our final wine was a bit of a treat - Muscat Rivesaltes - £3.88 Auchan - a delicious sweet dessert wine. This was the first real dessert wine we have tried at the tastings and as it states we had it with pudding, French gallettes and homemade profiteroles. It's smooth honey taste was perfect with both with 'oh' and 'ah's as the delicious sweet wine was sampled.

The two stars of the French tasting were the white Cheverney and red Celliers des Dauphins Cotes du Rhone - both our favourites too.  
Cotes du Rhone


Although the prices seem lower than other tastings the wine was much better quality. Mainly due to the exchange rate but also because Nick and I have spent many enjoyable years researching French wines and therefore knew which to bring home.

The tasting have been very enjoyable to do and hopefully have been enjoyed by others - I must add a HUGE thank you to all our donators with this challenge so far. Our finale is on 29th November and will be Sparkles and Specials. As I mentioned I have a few wines ready but donations, especially raffle items, are always appreciated.