Watch out the Anglo Saxons are invading Wessex again.

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For one week in June, hidden deep within the heart of Wilshire in the Chalke Valley, a Roman invasion takes place. Not only Romans, they are joined by Vikings, Napoleonic armies all fighting alongside Medieval Knights.

This all happens at Chalke Valley History Festival in the stunning setting of rolling downland pastures, winding combes and ancient pastures. A wonderful vibrant weeklong festival, devoted to promoting the understanding and enjoyment of history to all ages. It is the largest festival dedicated to history in the UK. The setting comes alive with explosions, tanks, dancing, cookery from the past – all a unique glimpse into Britain’s past.

This year hosted a unique combination of speaker events and seminars alongside living history entertainment of combat displays, trench experiences and historic air displays.

Dan Snow joined the festival all week and other well known speakers made appearances included Andrew Marr, Ken Clarke, David Owen and Monty Don, to name a few, alongside eminent historians and authors.

This year, the highlight for me was  the talk by eminent biographer AN Wilson. Andrew Norman Wilson is an English writer and newspaper columnist, known for his critical biographies, novels, works of popular history and religious views. His latest book is a short biography of our Queen.

He painted a humorous and mesmerising portrait of “Lilibet” the woman, and of her unfaltering reign during the tumultuous twentieth century, while asking the audience candidly whether Britain can remain a constitutional monarchy after her reign ends.

The invasion will take place again next year, so all you history buffs put these dates in the diary 25th June to 1st July.

 

CVHR.org.uk

Under African Skies

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The daylight is fading; the faint orange moon is shining sulkily. In the gloom of the evening our guide shines a red light searching for something, something not promised but wildly anticipated. “To the left”: whispers our fellow game drive companion. Creeping slowing across the savannah three majestic lionesses appear, oblivious of our quiet excitement.

Our safari is a sensory feast, with the heat, smells and sighting of the day and a wonderful climax to our South African adventure.

South Africa excites like nowhere else. My adventure starts with exciting cosmopolitan ‘Mother City’ of Cape Town with its backdrop of lofty Table Mountain and beautiful tablecloth of fleecy clouds. I head for the famous wine regions Stellenbosch and the Robertson Valley. Both famous for the quality of their wines, gastronomic delights served in Dutch gabled houses. The mountains and vineyards are a delightful setting.

 

Travelling along Route 62 unspooling across the heart of Klein Karoo (Little Karoo) rising and falling through river-threaded valleys and dramatic mountains. This is home to dust-bowl towns, sheep farms and unpretentious places where Afrikaans is spoken more readily than English. Here is Oudtshoorn, ostrich farming country, capital of the big eyed, long legged birds. This peaceful bushland, is also the home of the much-loved creatures, the meerkat.

 

There is something magical about watching a meerkat greet a new day amongst the Karoo shrubs. As the sun warms the burrow a solitary meerkat pops up – the sentinel. She faces the sun, arms at her side, absorbing heat through her ‘solar panel’ – the dark patch on her belly. I see her head swiveling, her dark eyes moving ceaselessly back and forth. She is studying us, then the surrounding bush, then she gazes at the skies, on the lookout for most-feared foes – birds of prey. Then, one at a time, the others join her, and I hear a quiet, regular chirrup, reassuring them that all is well and the day begins

 

The R62 flattens out; sand and scrub roll to the horizon, and the forests. After 50 miles the road follows the coast with the crashing waves of Plattenberg Bay on the Garden Route. Here I stay in a fabulous tree house at Tsala Lodge amongst the forest and mischievous monkeys before heading to Amakala Safari Lodge in the Eastern Cape Reserve.

 

South Africa is a fabulous, exciting holiday destination with such a variety of experiences on offer. It was such good value and I was made to feel like royalty by the hotels and game lodges. I felt quite the African queen without, sadly, Humphrey Bogard.IMG_3077CSC_1131IMG_2949

Explore from your Doorstep

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There’s a lot to be said for staying in England this year. No airport delays, no poor currency exchange rates or language barriers to contend with – you can just jump in the car (or on the coach or train) and let the holiday begin. It’s easy to get there, your credit cards work and mobile phone data won’t cost a fortune – and overall, it’s not bad value for money.

And at least with your weather expectations will already be set– so if it does rain all week, you’ll have waterproofs and wellies at the ready.

There are plenty of interesting reasons to take a break nearer home aside from the financial implications. England is a rich and diverse land with plenty to revisit and explore. It has a unique selection of cities, towns and villages with unique architecture, atmosphere and geography. Combined with entertainment, theatres, and museums there are lots to keep you entertained, refreshed and relaxed.

Check out English Tourism Week (25 March – 2 April 2017) a weeklong celebration of the diversity England has to offer. During the week there will be a wide variety of local and national events, discounts and special offers being made available by tourism businesses around the country including museum events, exhibitions, sports experiences and lots more.

visitengland.com/english-tourism-week

We have picked ten ideas to inspire you for this year’s doorstep adventures.

Roam the Yorkshire Dales

Ramble in rolling hills, beautiful valleys and delightful stone built villages. The Dales is one of the jewels of the north and sometimes lost in the shadow of the more famous Lake District.

Enjoy a walk along the Ingleton waterfalls trail, which will lead you through ancient oak woodland and breath-taking scenery via a series of stunning waterfalls. Head off to Gunnerside in Upper Swaledale and marvel at the classic Dales landscape. Why not take a trip on the Settle to Carlisle railway, which cuts through the National Park using tunnels and iconic Ribblehead Viaduct.
visityorkshire.co.uk

Take a Trip to the Timeless Seaside of Kent

Here sandy beaches meet surf schools, fishermen’s cottages meet Charles Dickens connections and retro ice-cream parlors meet chic shops. This is the perfect place for family-friendly fun.
New events and anniversaries for 2017, including exhibitions at Turner Contemporary, nostalgic events at Dreamland Margate and the 80th anniversary celebrations of Broadstairs’ Dickens Festival.
Exciting things are happening in the coastal resorts of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate.
ww.visitthanet.co.uk

Go Out and About in Buckinghamshire

Discover interesting villages such as The Vicar of Dibley’s Turville and the famous windmill used as Professor Potts house Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Great Missenden, a wonderful curving high street with half-timbered houses and Georgian shops is the home of the delightful Raold Dahl Museum
There is also an abundance of walks from the Ridgeway trail along the back of the Chilterns to the Thames Path.
www.visitbuckinghamshire.org

Stargaze in Northumberland

You will find the Northumberland National Park is out of this world for stargazing and astronomy. It has the darkest skies in England. Here, on a clear night, you can see millions of stars, the Milky Way and even the Andromeda Galaxy (2.5 million light years away) with the naked eye. Every night, there is something different to see, from meteor showers to the Northern lights.
visitnorthumberland.co.uk

Join in events in Jane Austen’s Hampshire.

Jane Austen, one of the world’s most famous authors, spent most of her life in the historic and beautiful county of Hampshire. Its houses, countryside and people provided the inspiration for many of her novels.
2017 will mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and Hampshire Cultural Trust is working with Jane Austen’s House Museum and many other partners across the county to celebrate Jane’s creativity and talent. The year will be packed with exhibitions, talks, walks, writing competitions and performances
www.janeausten200.co.uk

Soak up Beautiful Bath

Relinquish those worries, rejuvenate, become inspired, and leave Bath feeling truly happy. Set in rolling hills in the southwest, the UNESCO World Heritage Site Bath is renown for its hot springs and beautiful honey-stone architecture. Take a tour of the original Roman Baths or get a real taste of life gone by at the Thermae Bath Spa, where you can bathe in the natural hot springs deep beneath the city.
www.visitbath.co.uk

Capture the Castle in Lincoln

Navigate paths first built by William the Conqueror as you walk along the entire medieval walls of Lincoln Castle – built in 1068 – giving stunning views over rural Lincolnshire or across the city to the beautiful Lincoln Cathedral.

There is a wealth of history to discover inside the English castle too. Living history in the Victorian prison, amongst other heritage attractions, will bring to life the ways the castle has been used over the years – including stories of prisoners that have spent time in its cells.
lincolncastle.com

Cycle the Oxfordshire Countryside

Enjoy a gentle bike ride along the ancient drovers’ road, the Ridgeway in the fresh air to discover the delights of Oxford, Abingdon and Didcot.
Encounter mysterious earth works such as the White Horse, perhaps the emblem of a local tribe; ancient tombs like Waylands Smithy and strange creations such as Dragon Hill. Lets go fly a kite from Uffington Castle, amid the sweet scented meadow flowers and humming bees.
experienceoxfordshire.org

Blast off to Leicester’s National Space Centre.

Your whole family will enjoy this adventurous day out. Will you choose to pilot the “Eagle” onto the moon’s surface? Why not be one of 17 astronauts in the UK’s only Spaceflight Induction Module and fly on a white knuckle ride from the moon, past meteorite showers and an ice canyon and onto Europa?
Watch the first ever sci-fi movie and see a dog spacesuit. Accept the ultimate water rocket challenge and blast off into space inside the Vostok Capsule. And don’t miss seeing the last piece of genuine moon rock to be returned to Earth on display at the National Space Centre.
spacecentre.co.uk

Step into the pages of an Enid Blyton novel in Dorset

Explore the rugged landscapes for a sniffing adventure.

Enjoy glorious views, beautiful sunsets and wander wildlife and butterfly havens stumbling upon grazing goats and rich arrays of wildflowers. Steeped in maritime history and heritage, there are museums, castles and lighthouses to explore, folklore and tales of pirates and smugglers to discover and arts to admire.
visitdorset.co.uk

Push yourself to the limits or do you need a helping hand?

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http://www.ukelectricbiketours.co.uk
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Stand up on the peddles and give your bum a rest” shouts Jon our bike guide, as we skedaddle down the mountain roads at a rate of knots.

This was my first time on an electric, or e-bike and I chose to combine it with a visit to Verbier in the Swiss mountains.

The patience of Jon and with much encouragement at the start, I got the hang of it – much like riding a bike. Oh the joy I feel after just 10 minutes especially on the downhill journey.

Effortless? Not really, you do need to keep pedaling or you will fall over. You also need a certain amount of stamina – and a glass of wine calling me to the summit.

It is not like a scooter. They look a little different to conventional bikes, the usual choice of gears and handlebar- mounted buttons to kick in the motor when you need it. Which in my case was all the time uphill.

However, my pride was boosted when I was told that I had tackled an uphill part of the Tour de France route.

The e-bike gave me great pleasure that I thought I had lost, the joy of cycling. I am not infirm: I just have a dodgy hip.

The early morning weather was clear; the Combins and Mont-Blanc ranges were awakening. So was the alpine wildlife. I encountered the squeak of marmots, the sight of a stately ibex and even a glance of an eagle. Without too much effort I enjoyed the tracks and climbing roads up into the mountains; all without breaking a sweat!

I had hired the bike for a day at an appropriately named shop ‘Backside’ based in the stunning mountain resort of Verbier. I was told to wear a helmet and gloves but that wearing lycra was a no no, thank goodness. I did appreciate, though the extra padded shorts. Cycling can be hard going on certain parts of the anatomy.

“In a short time they will revolutionise biking here in the mountains” said Jon, who is also a downhill biker and skier. Even he appreciated the fact that the hard work uphill was taken away.

There are great benefits as cycling keeps you fit and mobile as well as the environmental benefits. Its fun too – especially when you are able to enjoy it in such a wonderful place.

You will find the e-bike is becoming more and more popular closer to home according to Marcus, who runs UK Electric Bike Tours based in Kent.

Marcus hires and organises wonderful e-bike itineraries taking in vineyards, steam railways, castles and suggested pub stops. These are proving a great hit wwith family groups and the mature cyclist.

All great fun and a huge smile factor – give it a go and embrace the new challenge.

P1050760IMG_0274-1E Bike rental:

Switzerland
Backside http://nobounds.ch/fr

UK Electric bike tours

Swiss mountains aren’t just for winter

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Swiss mountains aren’t just for winter.

I discover a whole summer playground in Verbier.

It is wonderful to see the lush green meadows, spectacular waterfalls and sparkling lakes in the Alps. Previously, I had only seen them in winter dressed in snow and wondered what it would be like to visit in the summer.

Switzerland really is unlike anywhere else in Europe. It’s just a short flight or an interesting rail journey from the UK. Although it’s also quite expensive it has the most dazzlingly landscape of mountains, lakes and alpine flowers.

I am staying in Verbier, Valias. The beautiful location of the popular ski resort is hard to beat. It lies on a wide plateau opening to the south onto views of the peaks in Italy and France and Switzerland. At an altitude of 1,500m – it is higher than our Ben Nevis.

Here from to spring to autumn the air is full of birdsong and the sound of cowbells. However, far from going into hibernation waiting for the skiers to return, in summer the mountains become a playground for walkers, bikers and world-renowned international art and music festivals

Throughout the summer months the lifts are open every day, ideal for hiking and biking. There are over 500kms of marked paths to discover. I enjoyed taking in the breath-taking views, enjoying the cool fresh air and getting some exercise on these mountain paths

Mountain biking is a big thing here. Not feeling quite as strong as these younger cycling enthusiasts, I rented an electrical bike (e bike) for the day. Without too much effort I enjoyed riding along the tracks and up into the mountains without breaking a sweat! Even overtaking younger cyclists on some climbs.

The early morning weather was clear; the Combins and Mont-Blanc ranges were awakening also the alpine wildlife. I encountered – squeaking marmots, the sight of a stately ibex and even a glance of an eagle.

Being a spectator is fun here, be it watching the amazing paragliders soar like birds down the valley or the amazing down hill antics of the daredevil mountain bikers.

Relaxing and wellness is important too so an afternoon in the W Hotel spa recharged my energy levels.

Verbier is fun, inspiring or relaxing– you set your own challenges and agenda. There is something for all ages and abilities.

Music in the Mountains
View on the mountains from the Combins terrace (c) Nicolas Brodard

The cosmopolitan Verbier Festival is an opportunity for music, culture and education. It brings magic to an intimate setting in the Swiss Alps.

This is where the world’s leading classical musicians are invited to get together and perform with the best of the next generation. The concerts provide a unique opportunity to learn and be inspired in a truly alpine environment.

Some of Europe’s premier jazz, classical and operatic musical acts feature in the programme. During the 17 days of the festival you can attend up to 53 world-class concerts and workshops many of them free.

There is a great atmosphere in the town with music and musicians everywhere during the summer.

Art in the Park
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Way up in the mountains, at an altitude of 2,300 meters is the 3D Sculpture Park. These contemporary art works are created by international artists and are set within the mountains illustrating intriguing stories within an amazing backdrop.

Great Swiss Hospitality – a taste of luxury

As expected, they certainly know how to spoil you here. The Hotel Mirabeau was relaxing and friendly with great views over the village. I instantly felt at home here.
The region supplies the very memorable specialties such Bagnes cheese, wine, meats, rosti and Chanterelles mushrooms

The mountains are a perfect inspirational summer environment even without snow and are filled with great food, fun and above all exciting challenges for every level.

Verbier Fact Box

For more information visit http://www.verbier.ch/en
Accommodation:
Hotel Mirabeau+41 27 771 63 35 http://mirabeauhotel.ch
Flights: Return flights from London Heathrow to Geneva are available from £92 with Swiss Air.
Flights available from many regional airports to Geneva.

Train: Return train transfers from the airport or border railway station directly to destination are available with the Swiss Transfer Ticket that is priced at 141 CHF (£98)
www.myswitzerland.com

Biking and Other activities:

E Bike rental: Backside http://nobounds.ch/fr

Bike Guide: MTB VERBIER http://www.mtbverbier.com

Verbier 3-D Sculpture Park and Residency http://www.3-dfoundation.com

Verbier Festival Concert https://www.verbierfestival.com/concert

Spa at W Hotel +41 27 472 88 88 http://www.wverbier.com

Alpine Cheese Diary

Restaurants :

Chez Martin +41 27 771 22 52 http://www.chezmartin.ch
Fer à Cheval +41 27 771 26 69
La Promenade +41 27 778 12 http://www.bonatchiesse.ch
Le Carrefour +41 27 771 55

A sculpture surprise round every corner

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Turning the corner I found I was confronted by a skeleton on a bicycle, an elephant and huge rutting stags not to mention a large pink boat in the lake. I was lost in wonder in this enchanting woodland. A wonderful escape from reality on a Tuesday morning.

This atmospheric Sculture Park specialises in exhibiting over 600, 20th Century and contemporary sculpture for garden and interior designers all set in a ten acre arboretum and water garden. It also has an indoor gallery.

 It’s well worth a visit if you are in Surrey or North Hampshire.

Adults £10.00

Senior discount 50%
www.thesculpturepark.com

Charming Chateaux, Chinon and Fabulous Cuisine – The Loire Valley

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After a long warm drive south through the French countryside my genial host greets me.
“Just walk through the vineyards this evening to the village where your dinner will be served. Stop at the brow of the hill and admire the view over the river to Angers”

The footpath through the regimented rows of vines is magical on this warm still summer evening. The walk is enriched by the distinctive fragrances of honey and lemon peel from the linden flowers coupled with the smell of heady jasmine. This is the land of the good life, chosen by kings: fine wines, sumptuous food and spectacular countryside. A perfect place for my laid-back road trip discovering the delights of the Loire Valley.

This “Garden of France”, takes its name from the majestic river, which meanders through the countryside. France’s lavish royal past is everywhere in the gentle landscapes. The Valley produces succulent fruit and vegetables as well as some excellent wines: Chinon, Saumur and Sancerre. The food and wines are renown and it seems like you are eating and drinking the views around you.

I am staying in the guesthouse, Chateau de Cheman, a 13th-century manor house tucked away in a valley among the vine covered slopes in the charming village of Blaison-Gohier near Angers.

This is truly châteaux country with stunning properties of elegant grandeur. Angers, famous for its medieval château and 14th-century tapestry. Nearby Chateau Brissac – boasting the tallest Chateau in France to name just two. These are statements of French aspirations. They are also settings for intrigue, power plays terrorism and dubious hygiene.

When château fatigue sets in, I explore the cities and countryside of the Loire, which have plenty to surprises.

Set in the nearby countryside are strangely beautiful troglodyte caves carved into limestone cliffs. After the quarrymen of centuries past had excavated the white tufa stone to make the Loire’s distinctive creamy white houses, they moved into the empty caves.

The valley offers an enormously interesting and varied range of accommodation, all easily bookable in advance. Further down the river near Chinon I stayed in a family run hotel Le Domaine Mestré in Fontevraud L’Abbeye”. This was once the main farm of the Abbey, an attractive, eclectically furnished building with a fabulous restaurant. All adding to the gastronomic holiday delight.

The Loire Valley is an enormous Unesco World Heritage site. So having whetted my appetite with an aperitif, would it be greedy to say that I need to go back for more?

http://www.chateau-cheman.com
http://www.domaine-de-mestre.com

A lighter shade of Greene. ‘Travels With My Aunt’ Minerva Theatre Chichester

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12. Patricia Hodge and Steven Pacey in Chichester Festival Theatre's TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT Photo by  Tristram Kenton-1

Travels_4 Rachel Grundy, Stephanie Bron & Ensemble in Chichester Festival Theatre's Travels with My Aunt. Photo Tristram Kenton

It’s always a pleasure on a light spring evening to visit Chichester Festival Theatre.

This years new musical offer is ‘Travels with my Aunt”, based on Graham Greene’s 1969 novel. It proved to be lighthearted and entertaining show based on the travels and adventures of an elderly Aunt and her repressed retired bank manager nephew.

It is a fun romp around a selection of exotic destinations in search of Aunt Augusta’s (Patricia Hodge) long-lost love, Visconti. Her poor nephew Henry (Steven Pacey) is persuaded reluctantly to abandon his suburban life cultivating his precious dahlias to trail after her.

The show cheerfully takes us on a journey by train, flight and sea visiting Paris, Milan, Istanbul and Asunción

Patricia Hodge keeps up the energy throughout. Her limited vocal range is compensated by the comedy and emotion she portrays with each song.
She finds the warmth in the character, which could otherwise be irritatingly bombastic or just plain, eccentric.

Steven Pacey is also excellent as Henry, a buttoned up but thoroughly decent character who finds travel broadens his mind and enlightens him to the joys of love.

The set at the Minerva theatre consists of railway departure board and a big glass-and-wood cabin depicting the carriage compartments seen on old trains. The orchestra is cleverly elevated in a signal box.

The show’s fast pace, jaunty song lyrics and snappy choreography captures the social and sexual enlightenment of the sixties providing a nostalgia kick to the audience.

The show is a reminder that romance and adventure doesn’t automatically have to stop at 70, however, I’m not sure it inspired me to give up the dahlias and take to a life on the road, but in a few years time, who knows…….

Travels with My Aunt runs at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre until 4 June. Box office 01243 781312 or cft.org.uk

I must go down to the sea again… sunshine and storms!

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National Museum Maritime Cornwall panoramic Bob Berry copyright

Pendennis Point and Castle from the air

The dramatic and mischievous spirit of the sea is ever present here in this Cornish town of Falmouth. The town’s history abounds with tales of courageous maritime exploits and endeavours, from the days of the Packet ships and Trafalgar Way, to more recent heroic around the world challenges.

As I arrive waves were whipping over the hotel’s jetty and I found myself battling to stand against the gusts of wind.

Retreating to the warmth of the hotel bar perched at the very edge of the estuary and overlooking the harbour I witnessed the force of the sea. Small yachts were being tossed about like corks. One broke away from its mooring and headed for a buffeting against the sea wall. The coastguards rescued it sometime later, sadly, not before it has sustained some damage. The turbulent sea was doing it’s best to demonstrate its power and capability in the harbour.

That evening in the comfort of the restaurant I was mesmerised by a thunder and lightning show as the storm travelled across the water and the rain lashed against the hotel. I was reassured to know that the hotel had stood on the same spot for over 350 years and had weathered many far worse storms. Next morning, in direct contrast, the sun rose over the calm millpond of the harbour. It became a playground for kayaks and small dinghies and swans swimming serenely.

Falmouth is a thriving Georgian town perched on cobbled streets just right for ambling and exploring its quirky shops, cafes and maritime heritage. Stretching along the coast, the sea is never far away and various jetties provide views over the estuary of pleasure boats, yachts small fishing boats and even the occasional cruise liner.

It’s the unpredictable spirit of the sea; the scent of the air, the fresh food it produces and not forgetting constant screech of seagulls and that makes Falmouth a great place for an escape.

Places to visit

National Maritime Museum
A must visit is the engaging National Maritime Museum. This museum shares the town passion for the sea and the lives of the community for whom the sea has been a way of life a source of food. It tells real life tales of the dangers and adventures on the oceans. The viewing tower and café offer magnificent harbour views.
Website: http://www.nmmc.co.uk
Contact number: 01326 313388

Pendennis Castle
Henry VIII chose the location of this fortress well to defend the harbour and Cornwall against foreign invasions in Tudor times. High on the hill its 450 years of history can now be traced from its origins as a coastal stronghold to its last military role as a secret Second World War base.
http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/pendennis-castle/

Beaches
The three main beaches; Gyllyngvase, Maenporth and Swanpool. All the beaches are family friendly, unspoilt and easy to reach.

Events celebrating sea faring past
Fal River Festival is a fantastic ten-day festival held from 30th May to 5th June 2016, which encompasses over 150 events varying from music and drama, the arts and heritage to gig racing and walking.
A festival of Sea Shanties, Songs of the Sea and Cornish Songs held from 17th to 19th June 2016 is a glimpse into the world of maritime music while raising funds for the RNLI.
Falmouth Week held from the 5th to 14th August 2016 has grown into the largest sailing regatta in the southwest with more than 400 yachts racing over eight days.
Falmouth Oyster Festival held from 13th to 16th October 2016 celebrates the start of the oyster dredging season and the diversity and quality of Cornish Seafood.

Where to stay
The Greenbank Hotel – with an impressive seafront location overlooking Falmouth Harbour, the Greenbank Hotel offers panoramic views and traditional charm. The spacious bedrooms are elegantly decorated with a nautical theme and the Harbourside Restaurant serves fresh seafood and local specialities and offers wonderful views across Falmouth Bay.
Website: https://www.greenbank-hotel.co.uk
Contact number: 01326 312440

Where to eat
Many independent cafes serving pasties and cream teas line the town’s narrow cobbled streets. There restaurant service delicious cuisine as diverse as Japanese, Caribbean, and Mexican alongside fine Cornish fish restaurants. The hearty freshly cooked portions at The Shed a gregarious restaurant and bar put a smile on diners’ faces.
Website: http://www.theshedfalmouth.co.uk
Contact number: 01326 318502