Top Christmas Markets in The Black Forest | Black Forest Christmas Markets

Germany is famous for it’s Christmas Markets, even in the UK most of the major cities from London to Manchester claim to be hosting ‘German Christmas Markets’; so I’ve always been keen to see the real thing and find out what’s so good about them.

The Black Forest is a beautiful region at any time of the year, but in Winter it really does become particularly special as every town comes alive with lights and decorations and the markets pop up in the main squares drawing in tourists from all over the world. Considering how popular these markets are, I was pleased to find that they weren’t overly busy, walking round was a leisurely activity and you weren’t having to beat your way through crowds to reach the stalls.

Whilst the theme of romantically lit wooden stalls and festive lighting is common throughout the various markets in The Black Forest, they all manage to maintain individual charms with unique offerings. I’ve put together my top Black Forest Christmas Markets, with a recommendation as to who they suit the most…or do as we did and visit them all!

Black Forest Christmas Markets – Best for activities – Freiburg

Freiburg is in it’s 46th year of Christmas markets, and it is a really marvellous day out for all the family. Approaching the market the smell of the sausages sizzling and the Glühwein is a delight for all senses. The market extends along a number of streets and offers many gifts including knitwear, sweets & baked goods and jewellery, but one of the main attractions here is the option to see the creation of some of these gifts at a number of stalls.

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I loved the candle workshop on Franziskanerstraße. With the option to either decorate a candle or make your own from scratch, I opted for the latter and let me tell you it’s not as easy as it looks. The wick requires dipping around 500 times, by which time my candle was looking decidedly wonky, luckily the staff on hand helpfully suggested I could just decorate a ready made one. The dipping of the candles in coloured dyes was equally fun and we were able to come away with a more festive looking creation. There is a bakery on Kartoffelmarkt which allows children to make their own biscuits as well as a glassblower who, after demonstrations, is more than happy to let you have a chance to join in yourself.

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Black Forest Christmas Markets – Best for that something a little bit different – Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market

Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market takes the trophy for the most picturesque location for a Christmas Market. Located directly underneath a viaduct in a gorge in the south of the Black Forest, it’s a dreamy spot that’s hard to beat. It’s home to around 40 stalls with a fairylight lit entrance leading to the viaduct itself which shines from a distance in deep purple. There’s some great food on offer including pulled pork sandwiches served with sauerkraut of course, and selections of chocolate dipped fruit, as well as some great gifts including hand carved wooden kitchenware.

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Stunning location aside, what really sets this market apart from the others is the completely unique way to reach the viaduct. Starting at Kurhaus Hinterzarten from around 445pm, for a small fee you can join the delightful fire torch lit walk through the valley. Taking around an hour, and suitable for most walking abilities, it’s an atmospheric amble towards the market. As soon as the group were outside the built up area, we were given flame torches to guide the way, and there were a number of stops on the way for stories and even carol sing-a-longs. The path lit up by the torches really did look magical and made the already beautiful route to the viaduct even more enjoyable. The culmination of the walk is a bonfire made of all the torches before you’re able to go in and enjoy the stalls. It’s an incredibly unique experience and Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market is definitely one of the top Christmas Markets in the Black Forest.

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https://www.hochschwarzwald.de/weihnachtsmarkt

Black Forest Christmas Markets – Best For Young People – Karlsruhe

Karlsruhe Christmas Market is spread around the centre of town into a few main areas. The spread out nature gives it a relaxed atmosphere without feeling too crowded. Near the town hall is the pretty ferris wheel alongside pleasingly photogenic stalls, it’s a popular area for young people to enjoy a mulled wine and stays open fairly late into the evening.

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The second, and largest area of the market takes place on the market square and is a delightful illuminated area with a range of food and gift stalls. There’s a wonderful shop near the centre of the market selling every Christmas decoration imaginable; it’s like a proper Santa’s workshop complete with traditional wooden decorations and even a large sleigh display outside perfect for photo ops. It’s here that the crowds gather every evening to watch the main event and something that makes the Karlsruhe market unique, a full size Santa flying across the sky in his sleigh. Whilst he makes a few journeys throughout the evening, at around 530pm he makes his main journey complete with sounds and a story in the air to delight the young ones.

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Der Kirchplatz St. Stephan is the dedicated children’s area, with a floor made of wood chippings and life size models of characters dotted around the square. The highlights here however are the almost eerily lifelike models in glass boxes depicting fairy tales and stories inspired by the Black Forest; there’s Hansel & Gretel, Snow White & even a Sleeping Beauty, complete with a realistic chest going up and down as she breathes.

Finally in front of the beautiful palace is the ice rink. It’s an open air rink, with lovely views of the palace and it’s grounds, and it’s a great size meaning you won’t be getting in people’s ways if you’re not the best skater! It’s one of Germany’s largest open air rinks at over 1000m squared, and surely has one of the best backdrops, as the palace is lit up at night time meaning you’re able to skate in front of a piece of history.

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https://www.karlsruhe-tourismus.de/en/Media/Veranstaltungen/Karlsruhe-Christmas-Market

Hope you enjoyed my guide to the Black Forest Christmas Markets.

Where to eat in Lincoln |Top food & drink in Lincoln

Lincoln has a great number of options for food and drinks to suit all tastes. In the old town area then cute coffee shops and brunch options are numerous, as are traditional pubs with a few unique wine bars in between.

The list below is a few top recommendations for food and drink in Lincoln to suit whatever mood you’re in, all within walking distance of Lincoln Castle and the Bailgate area.

Where to go for cocktails in Lincoln and a stylish lunch – The Cosy Club

Towards the main shopping area of Lincoln is the old agricultural market and corn exchange area. It’s going through a regeneration of sorts and The Cosy Club is leading the way for style and also great use of the buildings. A relatively unassuming entrance leads up the stairs to a grand hall, with old timber beams on the ceiling, giant crown like light features designed by set designers from Game Of Thrones, and original adverts adorning the walls from when the building was an old corn exchange.

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It’s bright and cheerful, with colourful decorations and a long bar reminiscent of a speakeasy. There’s plenty of choice for drinks, including an imaginative cocktail menu which changes regularly, as well as an extensive spirit list.

As well as impressively sized sandwiches and burgers, there are tapas style options to share including top end haloumi fries and a scotch egg with black pudding. Main courses are also generously portioned with options including a superfood bowl and a delicious roast chicken wrapped in bacon which is made from scratch every order meaning it’s juicy and fresh.

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Top tip for dessert | Order the chocolate bomb with popping candy. It comes with a hot caramel sauce which melts the chocolate when poured, making a great boomerang, for those so inclined.

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Where to go for a coffee in Lincoln & a light lunch – Stokes Coffee

Stokes Coffee is a long standing family run business that smelt so delicious the scents wafted over as we approached from the castle. They have three locations but we visited Stokes on the Lawn which is housed in an old asylum. The cafe is decorated with funky wallpaper and a giant whale sculpture hangs from the ceiling. The team source, blend, roast and pack the products here and it’s possible to go ‘backstage’ so to speak, and view the teas and coffees and the coffee making process. They also sell the products to take home as well as drink in.

I tried the guest blend, with it’s hint of chocolate flavours as well as a fresh juice. The homemade food menu is clearly popular as the cafe was busy when we visited, giving a nice friendly atmosphere. I opted for the Lincolnshire Platter, complete with cheeses, pickles, pork pie, tasty Piper’s crisps (which of course are also from Lincolnshire), and haslet. For those who don’t know, (myself included until yesterday), haslet is somewhere between a meat loaf and a pie, and is sliced very thinly, going exceptionally well with mustard.

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Where to go for a cosy pub dinner in Lincoln – The Wig & Mitre

Upstairs from the Wig & Mitre Pub is the restaurant area. From my table I had great views of the castle on my right and then through the skylight on my left I could see the top of the cathedral, so I couldn’t really ask for better views.

It’s a cosy, relaxed atmosphere with a delightful owner who came to say hello during the meal. They do a range of ales as well as other options like the popular Adnam’s Stout, and there is a fairly extensive wine list.

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The menu is seasonal and there were a number of specials to compliment the other options. Starters included a beef brisket served in a yorkshire pudding which was filling and comforting, like the best kind of home cooking. Main courses included a duck breast with rich red cabbage cooked in red wine & cranberry sauce, and a pork belly with black pudding. The highlight for me was dessert. I opted for a double chocolate sponge, with caramel ice cream, genuinely so delicious I considered licking the plate.

The Wig & Mitre is a great option for those wanting tasty food in a homely environment, with the added benefit of being right in the old town area.

Where to go for Michelin Listed food | Special Occasion Dining – The Bronze Pig

So popular that you will have to plan your visit a few weeks in advance, The Bronze Pig has been open in Lincoln for around three years and gained a fantastic reputation during that time, as well as honourable mentions in the Michelin Guide 2018.

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It’s top quality, British food with unusual twists, featuring seasonal menus with ingredients sourced as locally as possible, (usually within 10 miles of the restaurant.)

There is an extensive wine list as well as suggested wines for each dish, and the staff are knowledgeable and passionate about the food as well as the concept.

Despite the fine dining level of food, it’s non pretentious, and makes for fantastic special occasion food or indeed a more frequent visit to try out the monthly changing menu for proper foodies. – Full review here;

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The Bronze Pig | Fine Dining in Lincoln

When you mention The Bronze Pig in Lincoln to others then their eyes light up. Either people are excited about their visit, or indeed have visited already for a birthday or an anniversary.

810_9244810_9251The restaurant is intimate, with only 12 tables, and only one sitting, meaning that you have the table to yourself for the whole evening. This is quite unusual in a restaurant of this standard, but allows guests to dine leisurely, enjoying their food and the environment, without having to rush for the next guests. There’s even a chef’s table for 6-8 people with views into the kitchen to marvel at the masterpieces being cooked. It’s decorated in a unique modern style, with wall murals and multi coloured chairs, bringing a bright vibrant aura to the rooms. 810_9266810_9270The chatty and personable owner explained a little about the ethos of the restaurant. Despite his Italian background the restaurant is decidedly British with almost everything on the menu coming from within 10 miles. A few exceptions such as the fish (from Grimsby) are allowed, but even bottled waters are locally sourced and Pompeo has even dabbled in British wines. The menus nod towards traditional cuisines, which with Lincoln being a heritage city with a huge amount of history is a lovely link.

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The food is seasonal and the menus change every month, with an evening of gastronomy held every 3 months with a special tasting menu. The food finds a wonderful balance between traditional menus and ingredients with a modern often deconstructed twist. Meats like rabbit, guinea fowl and pheasant make an appearance, with touches of sweet and savoury alongside each other, as well as a range of textures in every dish. The pan roasted quail was accompanied by a poached quail’s egg, but served alongside slightly blackened corn, giving a fine dining meal a homely nod. In a similar manner, the impeccable cod served with a tarragon pesto, sat on a cassoulet bed, once again mixing very familiar ingredients that one might find at home, alongside flavours and cooking techniques only found in top end restaurants.

The deconstructed lemon meringue pie was both sweet and torte, with a white chocolate ‘base’ that tasted like a rich tablet. A basil jus added an unusual but welcome flavour, and also that signature sweet & savoury mix.

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The chef is passionate about his food, and his taste comes across in the food. I was lucky enough to chat with him briefly after the meal and he talked enthusiastically about coming up with menus for the month.

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The evening was delightful from start to finish, and certainly in the top few meals I’ve eaten in recent times. With the frequently changing menus and expansions to the restaurant in the next year it’s certainly a place to return to.

http://thebronzepig.co.uk

48 hours in Lincoln | What to do on a weekend break?

In the past few years, Lincoln has grown from a sleepy midlands town to a thriving place with a popular university that also manages to maintain it’s historical charm…and boy does it have a lot of history!

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To familiarise yourself with the historic centre, try a walking tour with @hiddenlincoln My guide Ivan met me outside my hotel at The White Hart and took me on a two hour tour starting with Lincoln as a Roman settlement, through the medieval times right up to modern day. We wandered down streets without a single other person on them, only to come across preserved Roman walls and gates into the city, including the only Roman Gate in the whole country to still have traffic travel through it. Lincoln was a major player in the Roman times, and the city was full of bathhouses, an amphitheatre, markets and garrisons, and it’s possible to see evidence of these all over the city, if only you know where to look.

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Ivan was incredibly knowledgable, but tailored his tour to my particular interests, and as we approached the cathedral area, he pointed out numerous ‘secret’ carvings on the building, some done as medieval mischief, and even modern sculptures depicting a caretaker who has been working there for 40 years.

The cathedral is obviously a highlight, and even those not particularly interested in visiting churches will be wowed by the size and grandeur of it. It’s the third largest cathedral in the UK and despite the constant renovations it’s splendid to look at. An earthquake a few hundred years ago means that it’s designed in a few different styles including the more traditional gothic style, but inside it also features more modern artworks inside including paintings from some of the Bloomsbury set.

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The chapter house is lovely and during my visit I happened upon an impromptu performance from a fantastic group calling themselves Boston’s oldest boyband, singing ‘Unchained Melody!’

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When you’re all cathedralled out, then head to the Bailgate area to take a wander. At the top of the aptly named ‘Steep Hill’, Bailgate and the hill itself are full of boutiques, coffee shops and wine sellers, as well as the odd antique shop thrown in. You could spend quite a while wandering around, highlights include the traditional chocolatiers, as well as the more modern fudge shop, and an amusingly named café called ‘Basecamp’, (which it does feel like when you’re walking back up the hill.) It’s a pretty area with lovely buildings and looks like it’s straight from an old movie set.

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Facing the cathedral is Lincoln Castle, a well preserved walled castle with a Victorian Prison housed inside. The prison held both male and female prisoners, as well as very young children and quickly became very over crowded during the Victorian period. An exhibition inside allows you to see how the cells would have looked and learn a little about some of the inmates.

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Back outside and you can walk around the castle walls, getting fantastic views of the city and the cathedral towers. It’s a little bit windy up there, but a lovely walk, and it’s accessible to people with disabilities now too after recent refurbishments.

Outside of the town but within easy reach is the International Bomber Command Centre. The memorial itself is a 31 metre high sculpture surrounded by a Wall of Names, featuring the identities of those from Bomber Command and ground crew who lost their lives preserving the freedoms we have today. It’s a peaceful area with views through the memorial towards the cathedral. Inside the main building as well as a café is the indoor exhibition area, an interactive space including stories from the home guard and even a moving map showing bombing in Europe between 1939-1945. It’s a moving place and a very popular site to visit since it’s opening in March 2018. Even for younger members of the family, it’s an interesting place to visit and a great place for them to learn through interactive activities, and for those a bit older, its a wonderful place to pay your respects.

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Only a couple of hours by train from London, Lincoln is a lovely weekend away and full of varied options. It’s a great spot for history lovers, a top place for foodies, and with it’s range of trendy bars and cute boutique hotels it’s a great choice for a romantic trip.

https://www.visitlincoln.com

 

A French Feast with Eric Bichon | Wine Pairings & fine cuisine

L’Orée des Bois located in La Breille-les-Pins is the restaurant of celebrated chef Eric Bichon. I recently had the opportunity to try a menu of his creation, alongside thoughtfully paired wines inside one of the dining rooms at Chateau de Jalesnes in the Loire Valley.

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The dining area was laid out in a grand manner, with candelabras and foliage down the long tables. As the sun set over the gardens and pool area visible through the windows, it became a very atmospheric environment to dine in.

Around 20 people were dining together, with still gave off an intimate feel, and guests mingled and chatted together throughout the meal.

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Before every course, Chef Eric, softly spoken and humble in his mannerisms, came to the table to talk us through the dishes. The menu was unapologetically French, with fois gras and veal served, divisive socially but rather delicious. He regularly talked of getting certain items from his own personal garden, and his combination of the particularly sweet items on savoury dishes worked very well, such as the fresh figs served with the veal. The dishes also looked towards slightly more unusual textures such as the goat’s cheese mousse.


The Menu

Aperitif – Cremont de Loire – Ackerman Brut

Starter
Foie gras and braised beef cheek set in jelly, fresh mint flavoured broad bean puree and pickled red onions.
Served with Coteaux de Saumur – Domaine Lavigne 2015

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Main Course
Slow cooked veal, butternut squash cream, glazed shallots, fresh figs and orange sauce – Served with Traditional Saumur Champigny – Chateau de Targé 2015

 

Cheese
Ste Maure de Touraine goat’s cheese and chive mousse, assorted salads and chive & rosemary flavoured oil.
Served with St Nicholas de Bourgueil – Vieilles Vignes 2015

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Dessert
Soft lemon flavoured biscuit, rich lime flavoured cream, lemon verbena and cottage cheese flavoured sorbet.
Served with Saumur Rosé Ackerman

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The local wines served with each course complimented the dishes excellently. A particular favourite of the guests was the Saumur Rosé Ackerman, a popular sparkling rosé that not only went well with the lemon flavours in the dessert but also proved a popular option as a stand alone wine.

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Guests also seemed to thrive on the social aspect of the evening, with the chance to chat with other guests at Chateau de Jalesnes whilst enjoying the food. Many of the table had specifically chosen to visit that weekend to time it with the gastronomy evening, which is understandable as for many the chance to eat such fine French cooking in a picturesque environment is definitely worth the trip and rather better value than similar opportunities back in the UK.

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Rio Muchacho Organic Farm- Ecuador’s Authentic Eco Tourism Experience

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Ecuador has for a while been presenting itself as a eco tourism hotspot. There are eco lodges in most towns, recycling seems to be more present than even in many cities in the UK and tour groups offer eco packages to the country. However, what does a property need to do to call itself ‘eco friendly’ or even ‘environmentally conscious’. There isn’t an international standard for this and some adverts can be misleading.

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A guide book favourite and environmental leader in the region is Rio Muchacho Organic Farm near Canoa on Ecuador’s coast. It is famous in the area as the organic farm not only involves many of the local community but has carried on pursuing it’s goals despite some quite serious devastation from the earthquake in 2016 that hit for miles along the coastal towns. Nicola and Dario started their dream nearly 30 years ago and Rio Muchacho has since then gone from strength to strength, becoming a popular destination for placement years & internships for young people wanting to learn about cultivating land, growing organic produce, and seemingly learn different languages from the mainly Swiss & German interns and local Spanish speakers.

Nicola lives and breathes her ethos, the farm has no bins, everything is recycled, and for those visitors who bring items like non rechargeable batteries with them, there are posters informing them where they can take them to after they depart the farm. The facilities are compost toilets and showers with biodegradable soaps so even the shower water can be reused.

The rooms are simple yet pretty, made out of bamboo and decorated with coloured glass, they vary from cute tree house style rooms to rather spacious double bamboo cottages with en suite bathrooms. Whilst the area has less mosquitos than the nearby towns, it’s worth bringing your own mosquito nets if you’re someone who tends to get bitten.

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You’d think that by sleeping in such a rural area, where pretty much everyone is tucked up not that long after dinner that your night times would be quiet, but think again. From dusk onwards the insects, frogs and whole manner of other creatures seem to compete to make the most noise possible. This isn’t a complaint however, as there’s something pleasant about lying on your bed and listening to nature, and in the dark you’re treated to a private light display by a host of fireflies which is rather special.

 

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Day activities can either be booked separately or as a course of 3/4 days. One can horse ride to a nearby forest home to a population of howler monkeys, local guide Carlos is knowledgeable and patient, and as with all of the staff is fully committed to the ethos of the farm. The owners even set up a local environmental school to educate children about how they can care for the environment and this knowledge can be seen in Canoa itself where you’ll actually meet many graduates of the classes.

Other activities include making rings from royal palm, crafting bowls & spoons, similar to the ones used daily at the farm instead of plastic ones. There’s also the chance to go shrimp fishing, make masks out of the clay/mud from the river, as well as touring the actual farm itself and harvesting vegetables to cook yourself at meal times.

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Food is plentiful and either grown on site or locally sourced. Long gone is the standard almuerzo of chicken & rice you find up and down the country, lunch here means vegetables, delicious fresh juices, spicy homemade chutneys and Yuka cakes. A lunch popular at the farm with guests is called a Tonga. A large banana leaf is softened over the fire to make it more pliable, then hand picked vegetables, boiled eggs, rice, peanuts and plantain chips are folded inside before being tied into a delightful portable lunchbox to take out on day trips.

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There’s no signal at the farm and certainly no internet connection which can prove tricky for city slickers but they have a landline to call a taxi to take you to neighbouring Canoa if needs must. Most people would agree though, there’s something nice about switching off from technology for a few days and learning about where your food comes from.

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For anyone interested in an authentic environmental stay in Ecuador, if you don’t mind getting stuck in and getting your hands dirty then Rio Muchacho is a top choice and a truly unique experience.

http://www.riomuchacho.com

 

A weekend at Chateau de Jalesnes | Loire Valley

The Loire Valley in France is a stunning area. Quintessentially French, with sunflower fields and quaint villages including nearby Saumur with it’s popular weekend markets, it’s a delightful area to drive through. The drive from Tours airport to Chateau de Jalesnes is a little over an hour, meaning that with a flight time from Stansted of 1 hour 10 mins, it’s very easy to reach the location from London. Indeed it’s a popular location for weekend visits, as well as for larger groups who book the whole chateau for a enjoyable getaway.
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The exterior is exactly what you could hope for in a chateau design, grand and with sloping roofs, with a large moat and well kempt gardens. It’s Beauty & The Beast reincarnate, and it’s easy to see why couples choose to have it as the location of their wedding as it’s a fantastic backdrop for photos.After the refurbishment, the rooms were originally designed as separate apartments, meaning that you have all the facilities of a self catering apartment for your use. The kitchen is fully fitted, and with a Super U supermarket nearby (but not within sight don’t worry) if you wanted to cook a meal and dine in your room while admiring the window views it would be very comfortable.

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All the rooms have different layouts and designs, whilst still keeping a theme throughout. The room interiors are fairly modern with a hint of old school grandeur, including leather sofas, chesterfields, candelabras and chandeliers. There are some great unsual features including a double bath bathroom in the bridal suite. Side by side and facing each other they are ideal to relax in with your partner whilst sipping on some local sparkling wine. Equally the delightful clock tower with it’s four floors and splendid views of the chateau, has a giant in room hot tub. It’s large and luxurious, next to fully opening windows and surrounded by candles, an extremely decadent way to bathe with a view. The clock tower is a wonderful choice to stay in if you’re visiting with other couples or as a family. 3 separate bedrooms, 2 kitchen areas and a suave living area with a grand dining table and classic fireplace/heater makes it very homely, and every window gives great views back onto the main building.

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If you’re wanting to stay on the grounds for lunch times, it’s possible to arrange picnics and there is a picturesque dedicated picnic area in the woodland area just past the moat. I was served a selection of French cheeses and cold cuts, with pickles, olives and onion chutney, with baskets of fresh baguettes of course. The red checkered table cloths made for a picture perfect picnic and I was delighted to see they had sent over a bottle of Ackerman sparkling rosé. It’s a popular local wine, sweet and fruity, and one of the rooms inside the chateau is named after the wine maker himself so that probably hints at how tasty it is.

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Breakfast is also a lovely affair. You can opt to eat inside one of the main dining rooms, or as I did on both mornings, out on the ground floor terrace overlooking the clock tower. Freshly baked crossiants and other buttery pastries are served of course, with local preserves and fresh juices, as well as coffees, eggs and brioche toast. The sun hits the terrace in the morning so you couldn’t really ask for a nicer place to enjoy your breakfast.

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There is a large pool with multicoloured sun loungers at the very bottom of the gardens. The area keeps the sun until the late evening meaning you can soak up the rays until dinner time if you’re feeling in need of some relaxation. For those wishing to be a bit more active, there is a boules area, and I enjoyed playing a few games in the early evening. There are also bikes to hire and wine tours can be arranged, even the nearest village, is only a 15 minute walk and with it’s two steeple churches it is quite a pretty sight. If you’re wanting to explore the chateau and grounds a little more, there’s a pretty little chapel that weddings can take place in, and interestingly a number of caves near the front moat area.

With it being in such easy reach of the UK it’s a smart choice for those wanting a little taste of the finer things in life, with great weather and a beautiful backdrop to boot.

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