Metz : Grand Est : France

Metz : Grand Est : France

Metz Cathedral, France

We first discovered the beautiful medieval city of Metz, two years ago, on our first road trip from Istria to England, for Christmas. Positioned where it is, in north eastern France, it was a good place to stop and break up the journey to Calais. We’ve stayed a few times since – and although there are undoubtedly many fabulous places to rest our heads, we now just opt for Hôtel de la Cathédrale, which, as stated on the website, is very definitely, a hotel full of charm and character, in the beautiful heart of Metz. Housed in a 17th C building, the hotel is utterly charming, full of French antiques and, certainly in the variety of rooms we’ve stayed, oozing with vintage vibes. I’ve never stayed here and not returned home with a few ideas…

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

We arrived earlier this trip, and so took advantage of the additional time we had, to take in the festive atmosphere in Metz. There’s something about being abroad at Christmas – especially if it’s quite cold and everyone is wrapped up. It’s also really lovely seeing how other places “do” Christmas – I’ve yet to see anything on our travels, that’s not utterly exquisite. See for yourself – this is how Metz does Christmas…

Festival of Lights, River Moselle, Metz, France

Festival of Lights, River Moselle, Metz, France

Metz, France

Metz, France

Metz, France

Iconic city centre buildings, such at the Cathedral (right opposite our hotel), were illuminated at night, to stunning effect…

Metz, France

Metz, France

Another advantage to staying in the hotel we stay in, is that literally next door, is the most amazing restaurant – La Cucina di Casa. Always packed with locals – no English voices, all French. Always a good sign when the locals chose it! Not only is it sumptuously decorated with rich red velvet drapes, deep red and navy blue walls and packed full of gorgeous French paraphenalia, but it also serves the most mouth-watering pizzas. Thin bases, with just the right amount of toppings.

La Cucina di Casa, Metz, France
We do keep promising ourselves that we’ll make the trip to Metz in the spring or summer as it will be beautiful, but for us it’s just such a Christmas city, that I don’t want to break the festive spell, just yet…

Road Trip : September 18

Road Trip : September 18

We’ve made a few trips back to England since we moved out to Istria, and we’ve just completed our second road trip. Driving is definitely not the quickest way to get back, but it’s surprisingly less stressful than flying. And especially landing in a UK airport. Specifically Manchester…

Last time we drove, we headed across northern Italy, through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, skirting around the edges of Switzerland and up through France to Calais. We decided to try a different route this time and headed north up into Austria, Germany and Holland. We could have chosen a very scenic, mountainous route but that would have added hours and hours to what was already quite a long drive, so we didn’t get to see the best that these countries obviously have to offer. Germany, in particular, was pretty flat for the duration of the route we took and certainly no real Instagramable moments. However, the German motorways made up for lack of spectacular scenery – although very fast, they felt very safe as everyone seemed to really respect the rules of the road. Unlike in Italy. Holland, whilst still very flat – as we expected – became a lot prettier the more north we travelled. It has to be said, all three countries seemed to manage roadworks way, way better than happens in England. There were roadworks along the way, but the traffic largely kept flowing. Until we got to England, and this was what greeted us as we left Harwich, and became almost the norm as we travelled to various points in the country…

You definitely know when you are back in the UK…

This time we decided to try a different ferry crossing, opting for the longer Hook of Holland to Harwich route. This turned out to be a good decision, because finding and navigating both ports was really easy – they are both quite small, compared to Calais and Dover and Portsmouth etc, and well sign-posted. Maybe it was the time of day/year, too but on both journeys, we embarked and disembarked and got through passport control quickly and efficiently.

We didn’t book cabins as the crossings were in the daytime, but did book seats in the Stena Lounge. This was described as a quiet lounge, where you could relax or work, in comfort. In reality, it was a little bit like a lounge in a retirement home – although with the added bonus of complimentary drinks. The crossing was a good seven hours, so for the return journey we decided to book a cabin (see below) – with a 9am departure, it seemed like a good opportunity to catch up on some much needed shut-eye, and before arriving back in Holland at 5pm. We hit very, very lucky with the weather on the return leg – brilliant blue skies and a very calm North Sea…

Now, here’s a bit of a top tip if you ever do this crossing. It does take a whole day – and a whole day sitting in a communal area can go quite slowly. So, once onboard, get yourself along to the Guests’ Services desk and enquire about booking a cabin, because if they’re not all booked, they sell them off. Cheaply. So, we bagged a triple berth cabin which had a double bed, with a single bunk above, sea view, desk area and large(ish) bathroom with good shower, for just over 35 euros. Worth every cent to be able to have some privacy, catch up on sleep and freshen up. We’d also pre-booked lunch in the main restaurant – at 16 euros for two courses it seemed good value. And, we weren’t disappointed. The food was good restaurant standard and the portions very filling. Although it did all feel a bit “Triangle” when the Prawn Cocktail & Marie Rose Starter arrived. No Kate O’Mara though…

Retro North Sea lunch…

We’d never been to Harwich before, and needed somewhere to stay when arrived as we didn’t dock until 7.30pm, but to be honest we struggled a bit finding somewhere that looked appealing. However – and here’s another top tip – Walton-on-the-Naze is only 20 minutes away and I remembered our last stay here, at the beautiful Georgian Townhouse. There was availability on both nights we needed (arrival & departure) so we booked again. It was like a home from home and everything we remembered. Beautiful room, bathroom with a roll-top bath, super comfy bed, excellent breakfast, uninterrupted sea views and wonderful hosting from Chris & Geoff. Do yourself a favour if you’re ever Essex way and make a booking. You won’t regret it.

On the way back, we decided to take more of a tour through Switzerland. A word of warning coming up here – if you are going drive on a Swiss motorway, and you’re only passing through, get on Google Maps or which ever app you use, and find a route that AVOIDS motorways. You have to have a vignette to drive on the motorways – if, like us, you hadn’t realised, as you approach the motorway, the police will syphon you off into a lane where you then have to buy a vignette. At a cost of 40 euros! Once we’d got over the shock of this unexpected expenditure, we realised that actually this wasn’t too bad for us, because we can get to Switzerland quite easily and now having paid to drive on the motorways, we’ll probably explore it more over the next year. But, as I say, if you are literally just passing through, it’s quite a hefty fee to pay – especially if you’re unfortunate enough to join at one junction and exit at the next…

Having said that, and we didn’t even get high up into the mountains, Switzerland is beautiful and it was probably worth the 40 euros to see the little that we saw. I’ve since read this excellent article from The Culture Trip and will be definitely using this as a guide next time we visit, because we were a little bit captivated by Heidi Land.

We sailed a return trip with Stena Line for less than £250 for two of us, plus a car. If you book seats in the Stena Lounge, drinks (wine, soft drinks, water, tea & coffee) are complimentary – and although you could get well and truly sloshed, as there was no limit applied to how many times you could refill your glass, it didn’t seem quite the right thing to do on this occasion. As well as the restaurant where we pre-booked lunch (we didn’t realise the ferry would be quite as quiet as it was, so a booking, post summer, is probably not necessary), there is also another restaurant which serves hot food and when I looked, had a really extensive selection, including veggie options and salads, sandwiches etc.

So, will we be doing a road trip again? Yes, most definitely. It gives us freedom. We can decide how long we are going to be away, plan the route to suit ourselves, and have the bonus of having an empty car we can fill up with goodies when back in England, and en-route. Those French hyper-markets are just too good to not factor in a few wine stock-up stops!

 

le petit dejeuner : montmartre : paris

le petit dejeuner : montmartre : paris

Although Paris is packed to the gills with the most gorgeous places to eat, sometimes its the unexpected ones you stumble upon that are the most memorable. We recently stayed in Montmartre and Saturday morning was cold and grey – much like a home from home, so it was decided that breakfast was much needed to set us up for a day of sight-seeing. Having had two months of sweet Italian breakfasts, we were craving a savoury fix – and Restaurant Marcel just ticked those boxes perfectly.

Inside it was as achingly cool and cute as you like, and clearly a hip place for Parisiens to hang out on a Saturday morning. The decor was beautiful – greys and dark wood and low slung bare light bulbs. If Amelie had walked in, I wouldn’t have been surprised. For the first time, in a long while, we had a hot, savoury breakfast – with two BIG cups of coffee. Bliss! And clearly, these breakfasts go down well with the locals too, as most people in there were having what we were having. After nearly three months on the road – and it feels ungrateful even saying it, as it was all spent driving around beautiful Italy – you could not under estimate how good this breakfast was! Sausages, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, vine tomatoes and toast. Just delicious!

Another breakfast find was Le Pain Quotidian, situated on the corner of Rue Lepic and Rue des Abbesses, Montmartre – a perfect location to while away an hour or so, over a delicious breakfast.

Not only super Parisien, effortlessly cool – but with boiled eggs, on the menu. Another blissful start to the day…