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Beautiful Burgundy. Family cycling in France.

9 Oct

France is a great location for a cycling holiday. We are not quite ready for on-road cycle routes and travelling miles and miles each day so this year we opted for one base that was in easy reach of family friendly rides.

The canal paths and sleepy waterways are perfect for cyclists of all abilities. We set off for the day, loaded up with picnics, drinks and sun cream and just loved the relaxed and easy way of life. No one rushes anywhere in Burgundy. The colourful canal boats drift along with ease, the crew giving a wave as you ride by or perhaps lifting a glass of wine in your direction to say ‘Bon Soir’. The beautiful villages along the way are very welcoming with their boulangeries and cafes.

canal-collage

Our accommodation was on the edge of Vermenton. A lovely small town with all amenities and a very good campsite by the river. Friends of ours stayed at this site for a few days and loved it.

We stayed at Le Moulinot. This is a wonderful property that provides everything a family needs for a fun-filled holiday. The property is spacious and welcoming, has all mod cons (including a DVD player with English films) and is situated next to a beautiful millpond and swimming pool.

collage-pool

There is a canoe on the pond which we made use of every day. The swimming pool was cool and inviting during the scorching hot days and there were plenty of loungers for relaxing and reading.

You feel completely free here and are surrounded by fields, streams and wildlife. Other than the owners who live in an adjacent property, there are no other neighbours and it felt very safe for the children to be wild and free. It is a bird spotters paradise, with a resident Kingfisher, Dippers, Herons and Buzzards flying over-head and beautiful dragonflies flitting about on the water.

Wildlife Collage.jpgOur favourite wildlife were the Coypu who doggie-paddled across the pool at dusk and entertained the children for hours. Although they are from the rodent family they are very sweet and look like little otters or beavers. They  have been eradicated in the UK so we were quite excited to see them. There were also red squirrels and  Loir (Edible Dormouse). We had a brief glimpse of a red squirrel but sadly never spotted a Loir as they are nocturnal. We did however hear them in the roof space at night!

Coypu Collage.jpg

Coypu spotting!

collage-moulinot

The beautiful and tranquil, Le Moulinot

Vermenton is an excellent base for exploring Burgundy. Here are our recommendations for places to visit.

  • Noyers-sur-Serein. A beautiful medieval town with an old castle to explore. Try lunch at Rouge et Blanc where you can get a fantastic platter of cheeses and cold meats.
  • Grottes de St More – Quite an energetic hike to these and you do need to be a bit of a mountain goat at times! If you are feeling adventurous though they are definitely worth exploring. Good for spotting sleeping bats!
  • Avallon – Another medieval town with some great restaurants. Thomas had his first taste of snails here. L’horloge restaurant on 63 Grande Rue Aristide Briand was really good at accommodating my gluten free requests. The owner spoke good English and was very reassuring in talking me through their menu.
  • Chablis – The only place I have ever been where it seems normal to have wine with breakfast! Check out the wine tours here, there are plenty to choose from. The open air market is excellent too.
  • Vezelay – A trip to the Basilica is definitely worthwhile. We had lunch at Restaurant le Dent Creuse which was very reasonably priced and despite looking like a tourist trap was actually very good.
  • Grottes D’Arcy – These are excellent caves with a guided tour in French (my husband and children enjoyed a spontaneous translation from a lovely Parisian English teacher). Look out for the second oldest cave paintings in France and amazing geological formations.
  • Auxerre – We visted here on our last day and I wish we had discovered it earlier. It has the best market of any we had seen. Do not miss Cathedral St Etienne, it has stunning stained glass windows, statues, gargoyles and paintings that take your breath away.

auxerre-collage

grottes-de-st-more-collage

vezelay-collageAs well as site seeing there are plenty of other things to do in the area…

Kayaking

collage-kayak

There are quite a few options for Kayaking the Burgundy rivers. We decided to head to St Pere in the Morvan Valley and chose AB Loisirs. They were helpful and friendly and spoke English which was very useful for us! Our route was a five mile fairly easy paddle and was easily managed by our 7 and 10 year old who shared kayaks with us. This was a great way to explore the river Cure and get up close to the wildlife.

Two minutes from AB Loisirs is Brasserie de Vezelay where you could buy a perfect, cold, gluten free beer. They also serve bar snacks. Definitely worth a visit if you are a coeliac like me.

Markets

We love visiting French markets with their atmosphere, sights and smells and stocking up on local cheeses and pastries. You can find a list of market days here.

Ecluse Des Dames on the Canal du Nivernais

ecluse-des-dames

Ecluse Des Dames – a wonderful find!

I have to mention Ecluse Des Dames which we happily discovered on a bike ride. This is a play park in the trees! For just five euros each your little ones can play tarzan for as long as they like whilst you enjoy the picnic areas and hammocks and keep a close eye on them. (Children under 6 must be accompanied by an adult). The owners also have a small bistrot here where you can enjoy a glass of Chablis and a goats cheese salad. What a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Burgundy was a delight for all the family and we would definitely recommend Le Moulinot. We will have some very happy memories of this trip.

What is your favourite holiday destination as a family?

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‘Amazing’ Magazine review and give-away!

6 Apr

amazing cover.jpgRecently we were asked to review an educational magazine for children aged 7+.

I had my reservations about this because because I have purchased ‘educational’ magazines before and they have never really interested my children, despite both being avid readers.

I was pleasantly surprised when our Amazing magazines arrived. They have a very ‘comic’ book feel about them and the cover is very bright, colourful and captivating with a horrible history feel about them.

I instantly liked the issues that I was sent. They are easy to read and full of useful facts, puzzles and even recipes.

Amazing inside.jpg

The content of these magazines is based around the national curriculum and includes English, Maths, Science, Arts and Humanities, along with many other subjects. I really liked the section on Personal Development which included information on Special Educational Needs. This subject is explained in very simple terms that children can understand and I think reading this would really encourage greater understanding among children and their peers. I’m so glad to see this included.

Of course the real testers were Lily and Thomas (now 9 and 7 years). I gave them a magazine each and they read them cover to cover in bed that night. Thomas wanted to jump out of bed there and then and make a catapult as suggested in his magazine! We have since made this and it works great (video to follow!)

Amazing.JPG

I asked Lily for her own review of this magazine and this is what she told me:

“This Amazing magazine is awesome! From Roman Gladiators to Chariot Races, from Latin to a Roman word search. There are puzzling anagrams and poetry. i like page 26 because of the real ‘Roman Life Rap’. It’s fun to read but also educational. The step by step instructions for building a catapult have really come in handy!”

By Lily Dixon aged 9, nearly 10!

We have 10 free copies of Amazing magazine to give away! To be in with a chance of winning, please email me at tracydixon244@gmail.com. The first 10 readers to get in touch will be sent a copy direct from the publishers.

If you love the magazine as much as us, subscriptions can be purchased with a discount of 10% by using the discount code WOW10. Check out the Amazing website for details.

 

Book Review: The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting

12 Oct

book cover

Like no other Green Parenting book I have ever read, The Ultimate Guide to Green Parenting is more like an Encyclopedia for the eco-conscious.

From real nappies, co-sleeping, breastfeeding and vaccines to green travel and the green home – there are so many subjects covered in this book.

Each issue is tackled with a science-based approach and is backed up with hard facts and well-balanced advice.

The book covers all the essentials and is a great reference for both new or existing parents. The author tackles some previous so-called ‘expert’ advice and gives you proven facts to enable you to make your own decisions.

I really wish I had this book when I was pregnant. It would have made all those decisions such as which nappy to use so much easier! There is a great section on ‘Green Birth’ which would be very empowering if you are considering a birth outside of a hospital setting. Again, it is backed up with evidence, research, facts and figures.

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who would like to make greener choices for their family. It would also make a great gift for a new parent.

Hotel review: Horn of Plenty – award winning hotel in Devon

5 Sep

outside-day

It is not often that we review somewhere without a couple of noisy children in tow but on this rare weekend we were child free (thank you mum!). We thought we had better make the most of it and booked a night away at The Horn of Plenty, near  Tavistock in Devon.

A beautiful, independently owned hotel, the Horn of Plenty boasts many awards on their website. Too many to mention on here but do pop over to their awards page to see for yourself. It is a 4 star hotel with two AA rosettes and a multitude of excellent reviews. Here’s another one to add to the collection.

The hotel has 16 rooms with 4 located in the main house and the remainder in the converted Coach House. We stayed in one of the Coach House rooms which are described as being more contemporary in design. Ours was certainly very modern and furnished to an excellent standard. It was a huge room and had all the little luxuries that make a visit special. Molton Brown toiletries, super soft bath robe, slippers, mini bar, very comfortable bed, TV, hot drinks etc.

Bedroom

Our room had a sweet little terraced area where you could sit outside and watch the sheep in the neighbouring field. We sat out here after our evening meal and watched the many bats swooping around catching their supper.

Terrace

The luxurious bathroom was perfect for a long bath and the chance to indulge in a complimentary copy of Country Living Magazine.

bathroom

After being given a few moments to settle in one of the staff brought us some very complimentary Panacotta. This was such a nice touch and gave the hotel a really welcoming and individual feel.

Pannacotta

That evening we visited the fine dining restaurant in the main house that looks out over the Tamar Valley. We had a table with the most amazing views. You can see for miles and it really is breathtaking.

Table view

Now for the food….. ooh the food! Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. The dishes were inventive, full of flavour and fresh ingredients but were also works of art. Look at this beautiful Duck liver parfait with damsons and wild offerings.

Liver parfait

My starter was a Cornish crab and crayfish salad with curry spiced mayonnaise and alphonso mango.

crab salad

For main course we both chose the Pan roasted South Coast John Dory & butter poached lobster with vintage carrots, nasturtium & Nepalese pepper.

main

Now for my favourite part of the meal – pudding! I chose the Variations of Garden Mint and Valrhona bitter chocolate delice.  Nick had the Kaffir lime parfait, strawberries, watermelon & basil.

tracys pud

nicks pudding

My pudding was the most amazing I have ever eaten. The combination of the mint and bitter chocolate was just divine!

The cheeseboard was a perfect combination of flavours and came with picked celery and a ginger jelly. Very yummy!

We are both quite critical about food when eating out but we couldn’t fault our meal at all. Everything was delicious, and we were served by friendly, caring staff who went out of their way to please. They were very knowledgeable about the food and the menu. As a coeliac they advised me on my gluten free options and most of the menu was naturally gluten free or could be easily adapted.  The menu also included complimentary canapés,  espresso sized cheese soup and petit fours. Quite a feast!

Finally, as a green parent I am always interested in whether an establishment has an environmental policy. The Horn of Plenty have put a lot of time and resources into developing theirs which you can see here.  They have a fantastic kitchen garden which could easily supply their kitchens. This did look quite overgrown and neglected on our visit, it would be great to see this revamped and fully stocked.

The perfect romantic destination in Devon – we would highly recommend it if you feel the need to temporarily escape from the hectic world of work and parenting. If you can’t arrange childcare, do not fear – children are welcome too!

 

North Norfolk Adventures from Kelling Heath

17 Aug

kelling

Kelling Heath is in an area of outstanding natural beauty, the campsite is made up of 270 acres of woodland and heathland. Their website tempted us with the chance to spot wildlife, cycle and explore the beautiful Norfolk Coast. As ‘green parents’ there were so many things about Kelling Heath that we were drawn to, not least their 10 green reasons to visit, it really seemed the perfect location for us.

On arrival at the site we were instantly impressed by the layout and the ‘safe’ feeling that the site has. The speed restriction throughout is 5 mph, the roads are wide enough to accommodate a car, as well as a family of cyclists. We felt very confident with our children cycling around the site and always used our bikes to go to the ‘village centre’ or the pool. For such a large site I think they have got this just right.

Beautiful views from Kelling Heath

Beautiful views from Kelling Heath

Our pitch was spacious and had electric hook up as standard. (Our first time camping with a real fridge.. yippee!) The shower block was always clean when we visited, even at peak periods and there were always cleaning staff around to check on things. They did a great job at a really busy time. The showers were hot and the cubicles were well thought out for families – plenty of space, hooks for your clothes and a little fold down seat/shelf. I can’t stand it when your clothes end up in a wet puddle on the floor due to lack of space!

To use the indoor pool you will need to purchase a pass for the Leisure Centre (unless you are staying in a lodge in which case you will get free membership for the duration of your stay). A pass for a family of four will cost you £32 per day which I think is pretty steep. You can also use the gym, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi but even so it is a lot of money.  If you are feeling brave, the outdoor heated pool is free for anyone staying at the site. We didn’t use it but I heard from other people that it was very cold!   As an alternative you could visit the Splash Leisure Centre in Sheringham.

The other facilities and activities on the site were great. There is children’s entertainment most evenings and whenever possible this is outside.  This pleased us because on a nice summer’s evening the last thing you want to do is to be sat indoors. The entertainment was of a good quality, they had a clown on a couple of evenings who brought along lots of activities for the children to try. There were all sorts of comical bicycles and children of all ages were having a great time attempting to ride them. Green Daddy also had a go but this was purely for research purposes of course….

There is a children’s assault course, adventure play area and playing field. Plenty to keep children of all ages entertained.  The site is perfect for cycling. Whether you want to stick to cycling through the woodland and heathland on site or venture further afield, there is something for everyone. We did a lot of cycling. One of our favourite routes was from Kelling Heath to Sheringham Park (via a 40 foot viewing tower!). For more information on cycling routes check out the Huff and Puff website. They are based at Kelling Heath and can also provide cycle hire.

cycling

Viewing tower at Sherringham Park

Viewing tower at Sheringham Park

The highlight of our holiday was definitely our day out on the North Norfolk Steam Railway. This railway runs from Holt to Sheringham and makes a request stop at Kelling Heath Campsite! How great is that?! We had a fantastic day spending the first part of the day in the lovely seaside town of Sheringham. I would definitely recommend the Whelk Coppers Tearooms which is down on the seafront. It’s a quaint little cafe offering home-made cakes, light lunches and smoothies. Really great atmosphere and friendly staff too. Also, don’t miss the Shell Art Gallery. You might think is sounds boring but it was quite an eye opener!

NSR collage

Other days out included the seaside town of Cromer. The lifeboat station and the Henry Blogg Museum are both located here and the children really enjoyed both of these.  The Henry Blogg Museum was really interactive and the dressing up was fun!

Dressing up at the Henry Blogg Museum, Cromer

Dressing up at the Henry Blogg Museum, Cromer

Felbrigg Hall is another lovely place for families. It is a National Trust property with a fantastic walled garden. The house had a really fun quiz for the children which really kept them interested and they enjoyed re-enacting the ghostly photographs that a past resident had produced!

Ghostly going-ons at Fellbrig Hall

Ghostly goings-on at Fellbrig Hall

There is a wonderful new nature centre at Cley Marshes. The staff there are very knowledgeable, you can get a wonderful lunch in the cafe and the gift shop sells excellent gifts for bird lovers and nature lovers.

saltmarshes collage

lily=hide

marsh

No visit to North Norfolk would be complete without visiting the seals at Blakeney Point. There are various boats which will take you out on the 1 hour trip. We chose Beans Boats but they all charge around the same price. This was a great experience and one the children will hopefully remember forever!

Blakeney Point Seals

Blakeney Point Seals

on boat

Kelling is a great site, the only negative point for us was that we were in a field with a group of around 25 people who were very noisy in the evenings and late into the night. This did slightly spoil our holiday, especially given that we had asked to be in a quiet part of the site.  I have raised this issue with Kelling and they have assured me that they are going to re-visit their policies around group bookings and noise levels.

Overall, we would definitely recommend Kelling Heath as a great location for exploring North Norfolk. Three out of four of us agreed that we preferred it to Center Parcs!

 

 

 

 

Lavender Cottage, a family friendly holiday in Appledore

19 May
Lavender Cottage is the middle housse

Lavender Cottage is the middle housse

As an assessor with Approved Family Friendly, I was recently asked to visit Lavender Cottage in Appledore.  We were quite excited to visit a part of Devon that we had not previously visited.

The cottage is situated in a quiet residential street, it takes less than 5 minutes to walk down to the village and the quay. We loved wandering through the small streets (thankfully, pretty lacking in cars), exploring all the little nooks and crannies and discovering wonderful little cafes, galleries and other treats.

Although it obviously caters for tourists, Appledore has a real community feel about it. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming and it’s a very unspoilt little place.

appledore collage

Lavender Cottage is the most wonderful family home from which to explore the area. The owners have renovated the property with children in mind. They have lowered all of the door handles in the property, the original ones were far too high for children to reach. They have provided a cot and high chair and have left a list of other items which are available from the owners should anyone need them. children’s plates, cups and cutlery are also provided which makes life much easier if you have toddlers. Books, toys and DVDs are all available for children to enjoy. Both Lily and Thomas loved the whole ‘seaside’ theme throughout the house. The highlight for them had to be the little porthole window between the sitting room and kitchen!

porthole

The beds are SO comfortable. The single beds all have double duvets which makes them lovely and cosy. The double bedroom has a king size bed which I think is always a nice little luxury. The mattresses are very comfortable. when Thomas was tucked up in bed on the first evening he said “Mummy this bed is glorious” which did make me giggle. All of the beds are made up for your arrival and there are plenty of soft white towels too.

bedroom collage

 

View from the two back bedrooms

View from the two back bedrooms

 

The garden has also been designed with children in mind. As well as a lawned area, there is an ‘imagination area’ where children can make up their own games using stepping-stones and painted logs that can all be moved around to set the stage for any adventure. Lily and Thomas spent many hours playing out here and we enjoyed soaking up the sun with a glass of wine on the benches that are provided.

There is also a barbecue area and a picnic table which is separate from the play area. This will give peace of mind to anxious parents (like me) who get totally stressed when there’s a lit barbecue within 10 feet of children! Charcoal, fire lighters and matches are all provided for guests to use.

garden Collage

The owners have left lots of useful information in the cottage, including recommendations for days out, restaurants and local attractions. We discovered the wonderful Coffee Cabin in Appledore which serves freshly cooked, locally sourced food for breakfast and lunch. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop for lunch but the smoothies and cake were scrumptious!

menu

Tempting treats from the specials board

There is a passenger ferry from Appledore over to Instow which makes for a nice day out. Pack a picnic or visit one of the eating spots in Instow, you could also pick up some food from Johns Deli which has been awarded The Best Food and Drink retailer in Devon.

view collage

Appledore and Instow

We travelled a little further afield for our last day and visited the beautiful, historical fishing village of Clovelly. I remember visiting here as a child and loving it, Thomas and Lily felt exactly the same.

Lovely Clovelly

Lovely Clovelly

Lavender Cottage is a stunning, spacious property from which to explore North Devon and I would highly recommend it if you have children of any age. We can’t wait to go back for a longer visit. Check out their website for more details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A quick and easy boost to your five-a-day

18 Mar

 

 

phyto fitI was recently contacted by Phyto-Fit who produce nutritional products.  They take pure fruits and vegetables and freeze dry them into a convenient powder. This can be sprinkled onto your food, added to soups, sauces and shakes.

I’m not a huge fan of supplements so I admit to initially being reluctant to try these products. I was however, pleasantly surprised. We were sent samples of four of the powders – Super Greens, Baobab, Carrot and Strawberry. We have been experimenting with what to do with these. We have added ‘Super Greens’ to a cottage pie and ‘carrot’ to a cheese sauce. The Strawberry and Baobab are lovely added to a milkshake. You can really taste the ingredients because they are so concentrated, a teaspoonful is all that you need.

This is a great way to add extra fruit and vegetables to any meal or drink and could be especially helpful if you have a fussy eater. I think as parents we have all struggled with this at some point. I love the idea of being able to add a ‘nutrient’ boost to my child’s diet. Of course there is no substitute for fresh fruit and vegetables but Phyto-Fit is a great additional supplement.

The powders themselves are certified by the organic farmers & growers association to ensure quality.