Living the fairytale life at Hotel Chateau du Grand-Luce

Glorious Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé

From the moment I disembarked at diminutive Tours Airport I could feel I was in for something special. Driving through sunflower fields and idyllically sleepy villages I felt my sense of expectation growing as we headed deeper into the verdant Loire Valley. Final destination? The village of Le Grande-Luce.

It’s a dreamy sort of village with a church, two boulangeries, a chemist and, bizarrely, three hairdressers. And the piece de resistance (well, we are in France) set proudly in the centre of the village is the Château du Grand-Lucé.

Built by the Baron de Luce in 1764 it’s had a rich and somewhat turbulent history having survived the French Revolution, a rampant fire in the village and two World Wars. In the second one it became a hospital for wounded British military officers and paintings from the Louvre were hidden from the Nazis in a cellar under the stables. Since then it’s been a cinema, a holiday home and a fabulous wedding venue, and from Spring 2019 it opens for the first time as a hotel.

As the heavy black metal gates slowly opened, revealing the sweeping driveway and the imposing, neoclassical chateau, I breathed in the regal air and readied myself to play my part in its incredible history. And to enjoy living like a fairy-tale princess for a while!

Grand-Luce: me

Loving the chateau lifestyle

Come on in…

The stunning interior shows off high ceilings, sparkling chandeliers and classically elegant decor. There’s a grand pink dining room (you could have some dinners to remember in there), and plenty of plush seating areas for chilling out.

Grand-Luce: lounge

The beautifully stylish living area

Grand-Luce: dining room

The spacious grandness of the pink dining room

And then it’s time to go upstairs. Wow! How I can imagine dancing down that glorious staircase. The rooms on the first floor are all uniquely decorated, no one is the same. I stayed in the luxury of the Butterfly room, home to the antique wallpaper covered in, guess what, butterflies. Living surrounded by these beautifully delicate creatures quite simply makes life better.

Grande du Luce: seating area

My comfy seating area surrounded by butterflies

A large double bed with canopy and luxurious linen led to blissful nights of sleep and awakening in butterfly heaven, refreshed and ready to enjoy a new day in Loire heaven.

Grande Luce: bed

The tempting, luxurious bed

And from the moment I drew back the curtains (some of the biggest (and heaviest) curtains I’ve ever seen) my heart leapt at the view across the sweeping lawns towards the oak forest in the distance.

The magnificent grounds

Château du Grand-Lucé is set in 80 acres and  you’ll find flourishing flower, herb and vegetable gardens, a lake and meadows. The garden is dotted with statues given as a gift from King Louis XV, may of which are exact replicas of statues at Versailles, and crystal chandeliers hang from the avenue of trees. Seriously, chandeliers in the trees – and they come on at night!

Grand-Luce: crystal chandeliers

The trees sparkle with crystal chandeliers

There’s a quirky perfectly round swimming pool beside the orangery for lazy, sunny days.

Grand-Luce: pool

The sparkling pool beckons

With so much outside space, Château du Grand-Lucé is the perfect place for alfresco dining. Which we did a lot of. Long tables set with crisp linen and decorated with fresh flowers from the garden. You’re off to a good start before you even start eating.

Grand-Luce: dinner outside

Gotta love dining alfresco

Grand-Luce: dining table

Beautifully decorated with flowers from the garden

Grand-Luce: fruit and veg

The greenery of the fruit and vegetable garden

Grande Luce: sunflower

Giant sunflowers punctuate the Loire landscape

Grand-Luce: secret spot

One of many secluded spots to relax in

Food glorious food

Okay France is well-known for its stunning cuisine. And the Loire region does offer a lot of local deliciousness. Like these amazing pork rillettes. Melt-in-the-mouth snacking joy! Or how about some pigs in blankets? Impossible to resist.

Grand-Luce: rilettes

Tasty rillettes are a speciality of the area

Here’s a taster of what to expect. I’m warning you…be prepared to salivate!

Perfectly cooked steak served with a creamy Bernaise sauce and roasted vegetables from the chateau’s garden.

Grand-Luce: steak

Tender steak with perfect Bernaise sauce

Grand-Luce: apple tart

When in France eat apple tart tartin

Grand Luce: salads

The freshest of salad spreads

Grand-Luce: cheese

French cheese simply should not be resisted

And here we are posing in our fabulous, huge windows. It was irresistible. Loved those windows.

Loved Château du Grand-Lucé. A truly fabulous piece of Loire paradise.

Grand-Luce: windows

The best windows with the best views

The details

Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé opens in June 2019.

Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé is less than an hour’s drive from Tours Airport. It is also less than one hour from Paris by train to Le Mans which is about a half an hour drive away.

Find out more

Château du Grand-Lucé, le Grand Luce, Loire Valley, France

Visit https://chateaugrandluce.com/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/chateaudugrandluce/  

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/chateaudugrandluce/  

My highlights of beautiful Brighton

One of the many great things about living in London is that it’s so easy to get to so many other wonderful places. Like the stunning seaside town of Brighton. A quick train ride (and I do love a train ride) and you’re in a world of quirky shopping, bracing seaside walks, beach hut posing and of course eating and drinking. It’s become an annual pilgrimage that I excitedly look forward to – here are this year’s highlights. Enjoy.

As well as the classic photo opportunities, there were also snails dotted around the city. Very cute! Here’s the iconic Grand on the seafront, the brightly appealing beach huts and a couple of those sweet little snails welcoming you to Brighton with their snailspace.

Brighton: sights and snails

Brighton is the perfect meandering city. Just remember to keep your strength up with regular refreshment shops. Like at Grow 40 on the corner of Kensington Gardens which instantly became a favourite when they offered me Bailey’s coffee. Perfect for the recovering from the pelting rain and gale-force winds. It is autumn after all.

Brighton: Baileys Coffee

Bailey’s coffee overlooking the streets of Kensington Gardens

We had lunch at the other end of this buzzing road filled with unique shops at the lovely Fatto a Mano. My special pizza was a delight in cheesiness topped with artichokes, olives and pancetta and had one of the best-made crusts I’ve ever had. It’s hard to beat a perfect pizza – and this was perfect!

Brighton: pizza

The most delightful of artichoke and pancetta pizzas

It’s cocktail o’clock

After exploring the streets in more highly unpleasant weather we found it impossible to walk past the newly opened Ivy in the Lanes. And boy were we pleased we did. It’s quite simply stunning.

Brighton: The Ivy in the Lanes

The Ivy in the Lanes is oh-so stunning

And the cocktails! Even reading the menu got us excited. We went for candy floss fizz with fairy floss and prosecco, complemented with rose, lychee, ginger and Havana rum – the pink one topped with candy floss. And the yellow is fresh passion fruit shaken with vanilla-infused vodka and finished with flaming ovenproof rum in a passion fruit shell. Absolutely world class and so beautiful, too. There seem to be Ivy’s popping up everywhere these days but this is one you simply cannot miss.

The Ivy: Cocktails

Mouth-watering cocktails in shades of pink and yellow

What’s for dinner

Now here’s a challenge. Picking a restaurant in Brighton for dinner. It can push you over the edge, there’s just too much choice. My latest trick is to use google maps and find the ones I most like the look of that I am staying the closest to. Tonight that meant we headed for The Gingerman.

It’s a tiny, cosy place off a side street with the warmest of welcomes and a mouthwatering menu. My creamiest of Jerusalem artichoke soup was served with a gruyere, Parma ham and truffle mini toastie. An awesome autumn starter and the best ham and cheese toastie ever.

Brighton: the Gingerman

The creamiest of artichoke soup with the sweetest of ham and cheese toasties

So good I had to show you it up close.

Brighton: ham and cheese toastie

The best toastie in the world

My fish dish was Newhaven landed cod served with the sweetest of crab meat, pineapple, baba ganoush, peanut and a lovely bisque. Wow, such a tasty and exotic mix! And undoubtedly the best cod I’ve eaten this year. A night of bests, how I love that.

Brighton: the Gingerman

My beautifully cooked cod dish

Where to stay

Today we stayed at Artists Residence in Regency Square near the seafront. This quirky little place with narrow stairs and corridors has 24 unique rooms. Setting out to improve the business, co-founder Justin advertised for artists to decorate the rooms in return for their board. And he got quite a response. Each room is decorated with incredible original artworks. We stayed in the lovely Bonnie & Clyde.

Brighton: Artist Residence

The comfy bed against the stunning artwork

Brighton: Artist Residence

Love the novel wall mini bar

And here’s the tea and coffee station backed with more amazing pictures.

Brighton: Artist Residence

Tea time has never been so arty

Artist Residence is a great place to stay. Close to the shops and the seafront, beautifully unique with wonderfully friendly and helpful staff. I suspect I’ll be back.

Time for brunch

That indulgent meal at a time when I never really eat – I love a good brunch. Especially a brunch involving some sort of Benedict. Today I devoured an avocado Benedict at Six. Poached free range organic eggs, avocado and hollandaise sauce on a toasted brioche with extra bacon. The ultimate brunch treat.

Brighton: Six

Avocado Benedict rules

I love Brighton more every time I visit. Have you been there? Where are your favourite places to shop, eat and stay? I’d love to hear from you. 

Where to stay in Franschhoek, South Africa: Mont Rochelle

The heaven that is Mont Rochelle

Franschhoek is one of those places I keep going back to. I simply have to. This small town deep in the Winelands of the Cape, just about an hour from central Cape Town, is known as the food capital of South Africa. For good reason – there are certainly more restaurants than you can possibly eat in on one visit (or even several!). And there’s even more wine to taste. A serious gourmet heaven in the most beautiful of surrounds.

Today we’re heading for the paradise that is Mont Rochelle. This intimate 26-room hotel is part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition Collection. It’s set in expansive grounds just outside the centre of town with fabulous views across the vines and valleys towards the majesty of the distant mountains.

Mont Rochelle: hotel

The beautifully stylish hotel awaits, across the vines

Here’s what I loved about it.

The welcome and the service

You’ve barely stepped foot out of your car when you’re enveloped in the warmth of Mont Rochelle. Peter is waiting to enthusiastically welcome you and before you know it you’re on the verandah taking in the breathtaking view with a glass of bubbles in your hand! I certainly felt instantly at home.

All the staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgable without being intrusive. Some of the best service I’ve ever encountered makes Mont Rochelle an even more enjoyable experience.

The beautiful suites

Having finished our bubbles, we were escorted to our Cap Classique Suite in the Vineyard Wing. And some suite it turned out to be, too! An enormous bedroom, ensuite bathroom with spacious shower and deeply inviting bath and large lounge area with inclusive mini bar make up the interior. It’s certainly breathtaking.

Mont Rochelle: bedroom

A hotel room that’s the ultimate in comfort

Mont Rochelle: lounge

And then there’s the elegant, spacious lounge

Gotta love an expansive bathroom. Unfortunately due to the dreadful drought so I didn’t have the chance to luxuriate in this mega-bath. Think it’s worth going back for that alone. Not that I need an excuse.

Mont Rochelle: bathroom

Being clean and fresh has never been so stylish

And then you go outside. The double verandah leads to a private, heated plunge pool and looks out across rich green vineyards and valleys towards the towering mountains in the distance. This is the sort of place you’re never going to want to leave. Like ever.

Mont Rochelle: verandah

Looking back over our private plunge pool to our double verandah

Mont Rochelle: hanging chair

Terry chills out on the hanging chair

Mont Rochelle give all guests a signature duck, so cute. Here are mine chilling by my plunge pool.

Mont Rochelle: pool

Little Mont Rochelle ducks chill too, by the pool

Beds are turned down and scattered with rose petals while you’re out exploring the delights of Franschhoek.

Mont Rochelle: petals

Petals, robes and slippers ready for you after dinner

The pools

The main pool has even more spectacular mountain and valley views. It’s heated and lined with plenty of comfy loungers with a bar at one end for a reviving poolside cocktail or a glass of the local wine. The perfect place to soak up the sun and relaxation in luxury.

Mont Rochelle: pool

The perfect pool complete with sun loungers

Our suite also had its own heated plunge pool, twinkling invitingly in the sun with more fabulous vineyard and mountain views.

Mont Rochelle: room view

Chill out overlooking the private pool towards the valley

The stunning design and art

As well as being set in fabulously beautiful natural surroundings, Mont Rochelle is stylish and packed with quirky art. And there are plenty of surprises in store with myriad nooks and crannies to explore. Like this beautiful fountain.

Mont Rochelle: fountain

The picturesque fountain and beautiful valley views

And the Mont Rochelle rhino looking majestically across the valley.

Mont Rochelle: rhino

Love the Mont Rochelle rhino hiding in the garden

And also the clambering goats in the restaurant. I really wanted to take one home.

Mont Rochelle: goats

Quirky goat statues grace the restaurant

Mont Rochelle: Miko

Miko is stylish and unique in its design

The feast at breakfast time

Start off your day with a wonderful selection of tropical fruit, pastries, cereals and other cold delights. Passion fruit is my favourite and these were real beauties.

Mont Rochelle: breakfast fruit

Perfect passion fruit tops the tower of fruit

Before moving on to ponder the delightful cooked options on offer. A full English is always hard to resist and this was a substantial plate complete with all the favourites.

Mont Rochelle: full English

Starting the day with a tasty full English breakfast

I treated myself to a twice baked cheese souffle with mushroom sauce, crisp bacon and creamed spinach. What an indulgent start to the day.

Mont Rochelle: souffle

Souffle for breakfast, the ultimate morning indulgence

Beautiful Franschhoek town

As hard as it is to tear yourself away from the luxuries of Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek also has a lot to offer. The best way to explore the picture perfect town and taste the incredible range of local wine is on the legendary Wine Tram. You can read all about my hedonistic day of wine tasting here.

And finally, explore the lovely, individual shops, stop for a coffee at Sacred Ground (my favourite name for a coffee shop), and certainly try out one (or some) of the amazing, high quality restaurants. I’d particularly recommend Marigold in the main street for fabulous Indian cuisine. You can read about our dinner at Marigold here.

Of course in a foodie heaven like Franschhoek there are always new restaurants opening. So there’s just the excuse I need for another visit. Bring it on!

Mont Rochelle is at Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, 7960, South Africa.

Where to stay in Murcia, Spain: La Manga Club

So today we’re heading for glorious, sunny Spain to the province of Murcia. The region sits between Andalucia and Valencia on the Mediterranean coast and is one of the truly unspoilt places in Spain I’ve visited. You’ll find plenty of beaches – 250km of them on the Costa Calida and also the fabulous Mar Menor (small sea) which is the largest natural lake in Spain and the largest salty lagoon in Europe. It’s separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow, sandy strip called La Manga del Mar Menor. Manga means sleeve in Spanish and this long-sleeved area is a favourite for holidaymakers from all over Spain.

Murcia is also a major producer of fruit, vegetables and flowers for the rest of Spain and the whole of Europe. This amazing fresh produce means that the food is fabulous wherever you go.

We’re staying at the rather swish La Manga Club at the five-star Hotel Principe Felipe which is part of the resort which covers 1,400 acres (560 hectares) and offers myriad sporting, eating and relaxation opportunities. Here’s why it’s so fabulous.

Five-star delights at the Hotel Principe Felipe

This plush hotel overlooks two of the resort’s three golf courses. It’s one of those places that instantly lifts your spirit as you walk in the door. It’s luxurious, light and glitzy and even smells delicious.

Principe Felipe: hotel

The stylish hotel is set on the golf course

The beautiful, comfortable rooms

I do love a plush hotel room and these are right up there. The beds are large, with crisp linen and squashy pillows leading to the best night’s sleep ever. Bathrooms are large with separate bath and shower and the balconies overlook the peaceful greenness of the golf course.

La Manga: rooms

The comfiest of elegant rooms

La Manga: rooms

The balconies have lovely golf course views

Perfect poolside lazing

So how’s this for a pool? With comfortable loungers, serenity and beautiful views it’s certainly one that’s hard to drag yourself away from. Unless you’re heading for a snack or a drink at the poolside restaurant, Sol y Sombra – which means Sun and Shadow. What a great name for a restaurant.

Principe Felipe: Pool

The sparkle of the pool welcomes you

The Las Lomas apartments on top of the hill also have a fabulous spot for poolside indulgence and a cafe called La Pergola.

Principe Felipe: Las Lomas pool

The crystal, azure water of the Las Lomas pool

Total sporting heaven

La Manga Club is sport…pretty much whatever sport your heart desires. There are three world-class golf courses, a 28-court tennis centre and eight FIFA-standard football pitches. On weekends you’ll see games of cricket being played, there’s a bowling green and a Par-47 golf course to get in some short-game practice. The resort also offers a wide range of sporting academies which also include rugby and mountain biking. Or you could take a boat trip, snorkel, try some kayaking or scuba diving.

La Manga: West Course

The stunning view from the 18th tee on the West Course

And then there’s the fitness centre, complete with a large, well-equipped gym – just what you need if you’re going to do justice to all that fabulous Murcian cuisine.

La Manga: gym

Work off some calories at the impressive gym

There are also whirlpools, an indoor pool, saunas and a spa offering a wide range of extravagant treatments.

The restaurants and variety of cuisine

There are plenty of restaurants within the resort. These include the rustically pretty La Cala, which is on the beach – a stunning and somewhat precipitous drive from the hotel. Their paella is legendary.

Principe Felipe: La Cala

The restaurant at the seclusion of La Cala

Amapola at the Hotel Principe Felipe is their signature restaurant and serves fabulous Mediterranean dishes made using the freshest of local ingredients. Try to get a table on the terrace so you can look out across the golf course and towards the Mar Menor in the distance.

Principe Felipe: Amapola

Enjoy Mediterranean delights on the terrace at Amapola

You can also enjoy Asian delights at Asia, tasty Italian at Luigis, bistro-style dishes at The Village, Indian cuisine at Dharma, tapas at La Bodega and snacks at the poolside bars.

Oh, and although it doesn’t involve any eating, you have to pay a visit to the Piano Bar with a live pianist and plenty of opportunities to sing along to your favourite songs. Just be prepared for a late night and very probably a sore throat the next day.

The surrounding area

Another of the real joys of La Manga Club is that you have the beauty of unspoilt Spain right on your doorstep. Just a short drive away you’ll discover fabulous beaches complete with chiringuitos (my favourite Spanish word – it’s a beach bar) and quaint villages.

Cabo de Palos

Cabos de Palos is a busy little fishing village where you can relax on the harbour with a glass of your favourite tipple watching the world go by. Boatfuls of divers come and go, families fish off the pier and fishing boats deliver their catch of the day to the very restaurants you’re eating in.

On Sundays there’s a fabulous market – my favourite market in the world. An early morning start makes it easy to get parking (this is one popular market) and gives you the chance to take a rejuvenating walk along the beach and over the cliffs, around the coastline as the sun slowly rises higher in the sky. There’s no better way to start the day.

La Manga: Cabo de Palos

Starting the day beachside at Cabo de Palos

The market sells an incredible array of fruit and vegetables – well, it would wouldn’t it – with so much grown locally. You can smell the peaches from 100 metres away, become the proud owner of a large bag of fresh garlic for €1 (seriously, €1 for about 8 bulbs) and sample tomatoes that taste of sweet sunshine.

La Manga: Cabos de Palos market

Cabos de Palos market is simply the best

And don’t forget to search out the other bargains, too. I’ve bought amazing shoes, shorts and dresses for such great prices.

Mar de Cristal

Mar de Cristal on the Mar Menor is another favourite destination – who couldn’t love a place called Sea of Crystal. This little town has a busy beach full of happy families, a lovely little chiringuito and a great beachside restaurant called Arena. It serves a wide variety of tasty local delicacies – including some of the best patatas bravas you’ll ever taste.

La Manga: Mar de Cristal

The view from my sunbed at Mar de Cristal’s chiringuito

La Manga: Bonobo

Beautifully crips patatas bravas with spicy sauce

Or there’s also the aforementioned sleeve with its wide expanse of sand, warm, inviting ocean and fabulous restaurants.

La Manga: The strip

While away hours on the beach along the La Manga Strip

The excursions

If you’d prefer to be guided on your explorations, the hotel offers different excursions every day. You could visit the unique Calblanque Park, get a culture fix in historic Cartagena, check out local markets and beaches or take to ocean for some snorkelling, sailing or kayaking.

If you don’t have a car for your stay the MangaBus is free and will take you anywhere on site on demand.

And finally, here’s an aerial shot of La Manga Club and its incredible surroundings. Now if that doesn’t look like paradise, I don’t know what does!

Principe Felipe: aerial shot

The stunning aerial shot of the resort

You can find out more about La Manga resort by clicking here.

London tours and royal weddings

So Saturday was a big day in the UK, what with Prince Harry getting married to his American actress bride Meghan Markle. It was also a sunny day, hooray, as we embarked on our morning walking tour of Westminster in London. Destination, a pub in Whitehall to watch THE wedding. What a perfect London day lay in store.

We signed up for a Strawberry Tours free walking tour which was given a bit of extra royal and wedding flavour to celebrate the day. Starting off in blue-skied Leicester Square we met our guide Alex. He entertained us with stories of London’s Westminster and regaled us with Royal tales through history. Like how King James I invented the Union flag by combining the three flags of England, Scotland and Ireland – as I’m helping to demonstrate here.

Strawberry tours: Union Flag

Learning all about the Union Flag

Strawberry tours: regent street

The reds and blues of beautiful Regent Street

The grandeur of Buckingham Palace

We meandered down the Mall towards majestic Buckingham Palace. On the golden-topped statue in front Queen Victoria sits proudly like she’s guarding her domain. Which she is really as she was the first Monarch to really live in the Palace. When she and Prince Albert got married they renovated the building and turned it into a place for entertaining friends and even the general public. More about Victoria later and her contribution to today’s wedding traditions.

Strawberry tours: Buckingham Palace

Welcome to the grandeur of Buckingham Palace

Strawberry tours: Union flags

Draped Union Flags with Hyde Park behind

From Buckingham Palace we strolled through beautiful St James Park with its magnificent trees and sparkling lake.

Strawberry tours: St James Park

Looking back over the lake in St James Park to Buckingham Palace

Strawberry tours: pelicans

Pelicans in the park – who’d have thought?

And then it was on, past Westminster and Trafalgar Square to Whitehall. We settled in the pub to celebrate their wedding day with them while sipping on Prosecco. Any excuse to celebrate…and any excuse to share some fascinating facts…here goes.

My fascinating royal wedding facts

Queen Victoria is credited for starting the tradition of the bride wearing a white dress. She did so in a time when colors were much more usual.

Queen Victoria was also the first bride to place figures of the bride and groom on top of the cake. Her cake is said to have had a diameter of nine meters – now that’s a giant cake!

In 1840 Queen Victoria’s bouquet included a sprig of myrtle, picked from her garden, symbolising love and fertility. Since then every royal bride has had a sprig included in her bouquet – still picked from her garden at Osborn House on the Isle of Wight.

Meghan’s bouquet included forget-me-nots (Diana’s favorite flowers), sweet peas, lily of the valley, astute,  jasmine and astantia as well as those sprigs of myrtle and some blooms picked from the gardens of Kensington Place by Harry himself. Aah, how lovely.

The wedding bouquet at royal weddings doesn’t get thrown to the single ladies attending as I’ve experienced at not-royal weddings. It is laid on the Grave of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. This follows a royal tradition that dates back nearly a century, starting with the Queen’s mother in 1923.

Meghan had 10 bridesmaids and pageboys. Four-year-old Ivy Mulroney didn’t have a bouquet like the others as she had the honour of holding Meghan’s bouquet. Meghan didn’t have a Maid of Honor. It’s British royal tradition to have children as bridesmaids and pageboys, not adults. Kate did break with this when her sister Pippa walked down the aisle with her.

Meghan walked herself halfway down the aisle before being met by Prince Charles. If her mother had taken on the role, because her father couldn’t, she wouldn’t have been the first woman to fulfill the role. Queen Victoria walked two of her daughters down the aisle after the death of Prince Albert.

Harry and Meghan broke with the traditional wedding fruit cake, opting instead for a lemon and elderflower sponge cake with buttercream frosting made by Claire Ptak of London’s Violet Bakery. Yummy!

And finally, here’s a picture of the happy couple…may they always be this happy. Gotta love a fairytale story.

Strawberry tours: Harry and Meghan

Congratulations to the happy couple

Strawberry Tours offers a range of interesting London tours. All tours operate on a pay-what-you-feel basis which means that you will definitely get the best out of your guide! There’s a Jack the Ripper tour that I have my eye on next – I am somewhat obsessed with that tale, so watch this space.

Our weekend getaway to picturesque Paternoster

The joys of pretty-as-a-picture Paternoster

Today we’re heading up South Africa’s West Coast to the seaside village of Paternoster. It’s about a two-hour drive from Cape Town to one of the oldest fishing villages in the country. Legend has it it’s called Paternoster (our father in latin) because of the prayers said by shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. Luckily for us there was no risk of shipwreck, just beautiful beaches, amazing food and chill time.

Paternoster is literally dazzling with its white-washed fisherman’s cottages, wide sandy beaches and sparkling azure seas – and that perfect light. Definitely a feel of the Greek islands here. It’s known for its crayfish and is a pillar in the South African commercial fishing industry. It’s also known for the Paternoster Hotel which was built in 1863, and its infamous Panty Bar.

Paternoster: Hotel

Quick beer stop at the Paternoster Hotel

Cheers from the Panty Bar

The Panty Bar once served as the town jail before becoming a bar. In 1974 Johan Carosini started his collection of ‘Honeymoon Panties’, suspending panties in all shapes and colours from the ceiling.

In 1983 the collection was taken down after a priest reported it to the police as an unholy practice. The unfortunate policeman responsible for confiscating the collection quickly became known as Panty Basson! I can almost hear the villagers chuckling!

Giorgelli Carosini (son of Johan), who now co-owns the hotel, started collecting again in the nineties. As you walk into the bar you can’t miss the impressive range of panties hanging from the ceiling. It’s slightly disconcerting and you don’t want your imagination to wander too much as to where those panties may have been! Rather order a glass of Castle Light draught and head outside to get in a Paternoster state of mind. Well, that’s what we did.

Paternoster: panty bar

The panties are displayed hanging from the ceiling

It doesn’t take long to ease into that Paternoster pace. Or long to find your way to our next stop – Gaaitjie. Just head for the sea and you’ll see the signs and find a gorgeous, rustic white-washed restaurant on the edge of the beach. Gaaitjie is a heavenly place for lunch – you can read more about the delicious seafood we enjoyed by clicking here.

Paternoster: Gaaitje

The stunning view from Gaaitjie

Paternoster: Gaaitje

Rose by the beach at Gaaitjie

Home from home at Smuggler’s Cottage

Replete after our beachside repast we headed to our home for the weekend – the delightful Smuggler’s Cottage. (Smuggies as we now affectionately call it). The attractive guesthouse is set a couple of minutes walk from a beautiful beach. It has a lovely pool area where we soon settled in with a bottle of chilled Rose for some sunshine hours. And I posted this picture on instagram posing the question ‘Where in the world am I?’. I got wide range of suggestions. Greece, Spain, Cape Town (close – though I suspect that was from someone who knew I was in Cape Town), Portugal, the Med, somewhere in the Aegean – even Cornwall(!). My favourite response, however was: ‘I don’t know where you are but I wish I was there!’ Yeah, get that.

Paternoster: Smugglers Cottage

Chilling out pool-side at Smuggler’s Cottage

Smuggies has comfortable ensuite rooms with  tea and coffee making facilities, hairdryer (and hair straighteners, too – a first for me) and lovely large bathrooms. There’s a wonderful warm welcome and friendly efficient service. And we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast on the terrace framed by the beautiful bougainvillea.

Paternoster: Breakfast

Enjoying breakfast under the bougainvilleas

Creative dining at Wolfgat

The main reason for this foray westwards was to eat at Wolfgat restaurant. It’s ranked 13th in South Africa on the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes Benz Restaurant Awards. A huge achievement considering it’s not in a major city and South Africa’s restaurantland is incredibly competitive.

The restaurant is in a 130-year old building with fabulous views across the sea. The seven-course menu is inspired by the weather and the surrounding landscape. Dishes include local seaweed,  seasonal veldkos (basically food growing wild that’s been foraged locally) and plants from the garden. Chef Kobus van de Merwe is keen to showcase ingredients gathered from around Wolfgat’s beachside location.

All this certainly makes for an intriguing dining experience. The restaurant seats a maximum of 20 diners (it’s the size of a small house) so there’s an intimate atmosphere and you can easily watch the intricate dishes being prepared.

Paternoster: Wolfgat

Chef Kobus creating another innovative dish

What’s on the menu

There’s a lot to take in and I was certainly challenged with flavours and textures I’d never encountered before. Not all of them were good and I balked at the sight of succulents growing beside the beach the next morning, fearing I may have to eat them for breakfast. Dishes were heavy on the succulent/seaweed front which is certainly novel, if more disconcerting than pleasurable. And some of the flavour combinations tasted decidedly weird to me, like the mussel dish served with a seaweed broth and papaya.

I did really love the bread course which consisted of home-made breadsticks (in a sack) served with a pan of bubbling butter infused with bokkoms and seaweed. Bokkoms are a type of salted and dried local mullet (know as harders). So this was like the best anchovy butter you’ll ever taste – and I love anchovy butter.

Paternoster: Wolfgat

I wanted to lick the pan of bokkom butter

The final course was a wild sage ice-cream with sage ash and nectarines. The nectarines were suspended from a foraged bush which was set on fire at the table. A great piece of theatre unfortunately not backed up with great flavours – it just tasted very ashy. As a result we left with a bad taste in our mouths. Not a good way to end dinner.

Paternoster: Wolfgat

The ashy nectarine tree

Paternoster: Wolfgat

The dessert didn’t look great or taste great either

Eating at Wolfgat is undeniably a memorable experience. The menu changes frequently – obviously I guess as they are dependent on what they find around them to some extent. Perhaps we visited on one of the stranger days. Because let’s be frank, it was all a bit weird – though certainly an entertaining and educational experience. One we are still talking about.

Go and try it for yourself if you dare!

Wolfgat only seats 20 guests – as a result you need to book and pay in advance. Dinner costs R750 (around £44 at today’s exchange rate).

Take me to the beach

There’s no shortage of sandy shores in Paternoster. You can walk to a selection of them from anywhere in the town. We couldn’t resist driving to the more remote Tietiesbaai (for obvious reasons, who can resist such a name). Along a dusty road over the hill you get to this beautifully unspoilt beach which is a favourite camping spot.

Paternoster: Tietiesbaai

The blue bay that is Tietiesbaai

Paternoster: Tietiesbaai

Always happiest in the sun on the beach!

Feet in the sand at Seekombuis

On the way back from Tieitiesbaai to Paternoster town you pass Seekombuis (it means sea kitchen in Afrikaans), a ramshackle building on the beach – another place that seemed to be calling our names. Whatever you do, don’t pass it, you simply have to stop for a while and chill at this beautifully basic beach bar.

Paternoster: Seekombuis

Welcome to the rustic, beach-side Seekombuis

We sipped chilled beers in the sunshine with our feet in the sand, wishing we had time to stay for lunch and didn’t have to head back home so soon. A blackboard advertised Kreef (crayfish) salad for R65 (£3.80) and Peri Peri kreef starter for R70 (£4.00). I’m still regretting missing out on such a bargain kreef experience.

They’ve converted little row boats into seats and it looks so pretty and everything’s so peaceful with its beautiful sea views and not a building in sight. Seriously hard to tear ourselves away.

Paternoster: Seekombuis

Boat tables and benches on the beach

Paternoster: Seekombuis

Even in the bar you have your feet in the sand

We found it so hard to leave Paternoster – it just felt like we hadn’t spent enough time. Luckily there were several shops on the way out so we had an excuse to stop and prolong our stay, even if  only for a little longer.

Die Winkel Op Paternoster (a winkel is a shop in case you hadn’t gathered) has a quaint collection of souvenirs, clothes and random stuff and is great to browse in. All the shops have a certain charm, so I’d pop into them all. I guarantee you’ll find something that you didn’t know you needed and just have to take it home.

Paternoster: Die Winkel

Pop in to the shop for some souvenirs

I bought some beautiful shell hearts which I’m looking forward to hanging in my garden in London. Because I know every time I look at them I will be transported back to happy days in Paternoster. And reminded that I need to organise my next trip there – and this time it will be for longer, that’s for sure.

Have you been to Paternoster or somewhere similar? Did you discover some magical place that brought you such happiness and made you promise to return? I’d love to hear about it.