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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the Europe.

Take a Stroll in … Valbonne, France

Although not the most familiar name on the Riviera, this medieval village has plenty to lure you away from the glamorous resorts

I could never tire of the Côte d’Azur: a golden thread of sensory delights with its sentries of fragrant pines, the relentless chirrup of cicadas, chic boutiques, bouillabaisse and the sparkle of an impossibly blue sea. Neither, it seems, can the millions of tourists who flock here each year.

But few look beyond the cosmopolitan glitz and glamour of the coastal resorts and head inland to a lazier, quainter and altogether more French way of life. Just 13 kilometres north of Cannes and 25 minutes’ drive from Nice airport, Valbonne is one of my favourite inland villages on the Riviera; still considered part of this exclusive strip of coastline, but refreshingly removed from its frenetic activity – the very place to take a stroll.

The village was founded in 1519 alongside a 12th-century abbey and, influenced by Roman military camps, was laid out along a grid pattern, in contrast to the spiral layout of many of its neighbours. Two principal perpendicular avenues converge at a forum known as Place des Arcades. Today this attractive, quintessentially Provençal square, with its cheery pastel facades and parasols shading café tables from the midday heat, is Valbonne’s beating heart. Traffic is banned for much of the time, so it is just the place to while away a happy afternoon of people-watching with a citron pressé. Historical clues are etched and scrawled everywhere: the arcade of the prominent Hotel Les Armoiries is engraved with ‘1628’.

Wander from the square down any of the side-streets and you’ll find ochre stone houses with porches smothered in vines or exuberant bougainvillea, doors with lintels decorated with the emblems of penitents and journeymen, and the occasional snoozing cat. On Friday mornings, though, the village is shaken from its slumber to host a busy market, considered one of the best in the area. Spilling from the square on to the surrounding streets is a veritable riot of scents and colours; stalls are crammed with mushrooms and gleaming olives, rubbing shoulders with bunches of lavender and jars of local honey. Nibble your way around here and you almost won’t need lunch.

At the bottom of the village stand the 12th-century Église Saint-Blaise, its attached monastic abbey, the Moulin des Moines (now a restaurant) and ancient carved stone monuments. The abbey has been painstakingly restored and, together with its integrated museum proudly displaying Valbonne’s heritage, is the place to make for if you want to immerse yourself in history. The village is also noted for its many art galleries and creative workshops (especially for ceramics, pottery and glass) and has hosted several major exhibitions. A busy cultural calendar blends modernity with tradition in the form of numerous festivals: antiques, theatre and wine-making.

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The village is built on a grid pattern

Southern Belle – Figeac, France

The medieval centre of Figeac is now a bustling town with distinctive architecture and a link to Ancient Egypt

As soon as you arrive in Figeac, in the Lot département, you know you have reached the south – the narrow cobbled streets, the dusty squares shaded by plane trees, the café terraces, the age-old buildings, and the marketplace – a feast for all the senses.

I arrived on the last day of the school year to the sound of happy children playing on a hot summer’s afternoon, and in the background the gentle sound of a fountain in a cool garden. The soothing presence of water is close by, with the River Cele flowing along the edge of the historic centre. In medieval times there was a canal here, and mills and tanneries were commonplace. The canal ran through Place d’Estang and into the Cele until the 1950s, when it was covered up.

The square is a stone’s throw from the river and a couple of alleys away from the marketplace. This is one of the great things about Figeac; it is compact, but each street and building is worth savouring, with history oozing from every pore. A guided tour means you won’t miss the hidden gems, but if you prefer to wander around on your own, pick up a ‘keys to the city’ leaflet at the tourist office and look out for the numbered symbols on the walls.

Sculptured Motifs

The town’s architectural heritage is stunning. The majority of the buildings date from the medieval period, but they intertwine with Renaissance architecture – magnificent staircases and ornate doorways can be glimpsed next to half-timbering. The oldest house is thought to be the 12th-century Maison du Griffon in Place Champollion. It is typical of this period with its sculptured motifs of fantastical animals and leaves. Turn around and look up to see the ornate arched windows of a 14th century dwelling, no doubt once the property of a rich merchant, given the quality and sumptuousness of the craftsmanship.

On the same square is a museum dedicated to Jean-François Champollion, who was born in Figeac in 1790. Champollion was the famous Egyptologist who deciphered the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone, and his birthplace is incorporated into the museum. By all accounts, he was a child prodigy gifted in languages, mastering Greek, Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Persian during his teens.

The museum also explores the origins of the world’s written languages, from runes to the development of the alphabet and the invention of printing. It is a fascinating mix of the personal – Champollion’s letters to his brother and his work notes are on display – and the global, with examples of writing from South America to Asia. There is even a mummy from the fourth century BC, miraculously preserved in its linen bandages in the Egyptian room.

The museum’s ultra-modern double facade, with its thousand letters, makes a striking impression. The stone exterior represents the traditional architecture of the town, and on top there is a modern `solelho‘, from which you have one of the best views of the square. Look up and on most streets you will see these upper, covered terraces which in days gone by were used to dry fruit and vegetables, and skins used in the tanning industry. The museum’s second, copper facade is set about a metre behind the original stone one and features symbols from 28 writings of the world, hinting at the contents within. It is an imaginative design which took five years in the making.

At the back of the museum is Place des Écritures, where a replica of the Rosetta Stone holds pride of place, and a stone staircase leads to a patio where three papyrus plants are growing. The square is often used as an exhibition area, and for small gatherings. The apartments overlooking the square are ‘social housing’, underlining the democratic feel of Figeac.figeac-france-1

Taste of the Coast – Occitanie, France

The region of Occitanie is home to many flavours and culinary traditions going back centuries

I am sitting at a suspended wooden table, staring at the silver shellfish in my hand, poised for the dreaded moment. “Whatever you do, if you can’t stand it, don’t force it. I’ve seen people swallow an oyster when they weren’t sure about it. It’s not a pretty sight. Just spit it out if you don’t like it,” Laurent says gravely. Three pairs of eyes watch as I lift the oyster to my lips and tip. It’s cold, it’s slimy but then I taste the salt, the sea, the lemon and pepper, and the tart but not unpleasant flesh of the oyster and swallow. A look of surprise and relief comes over Laurent’s face and we all laugh at my oyster christening.

Glass of chilled Picpoul de Pinet in hand, Laurent talked about his tasting bar, which he opened only last season. Here, the shellfish couldn’t be fresher. For Laurent Arcella is a third-generation oyster farmer on the Etang de Thau, the largest lagoon in the Hérault département. Upturned oyster baskets serve as hanging lamps, metal chairs are placed around sea-washed wooden tables, a raised bar hides the drinks and a blackboard announces the day’s tasting dishes. “It’s simple, sturdy, but it looks good,” says Laurent, shrugging. It certainly has one of the best views of the Thau lagoon, being set directly on Laurent’s oyster farm and looking out on to the waters and over to the port of Sète.

As my companions and I devoured fresh oysters and baked mussels, boats drifted past the pontoon, and it was hard to think of a better place to sample the AOC-protected Huîtres de Bouzigues. Just two days before, we had arrived in Collioure where the journey into Occitanie’s gastronomic culture along the southern coast of France had begun. Every day brought new surprises that delighted the senses.

Collioure is one of those fishing villages that appear frozen in time. The old stone church and its tower, the little pebbled beach dominated by the historic castle, and the traditional barques catalanes moored on the small pier on the seafront, all paint a picture of traditional French seaside life. It isn’t surprising that Collioure became such an important refuge for artists such as Henri Matisse in the early part of the 20th century.

Although the village is now quite small, it used to be a major anchovy-fishing port, with more than 150 barques catalanes plying their trade in the 17th century. Numbers dwindled to around 40 in the 1960s in the face of foreign competition and now just two of the traditional fishing boats are left.

Anchovy fishing is still engrained in the local community (two fish are carved in the stoup at the entrance to the church) and one indomitable producer still holds out against the tide. Maison Roque was founded in 1870 and is now demi-johns lined up outside in direct sunlight and facing the sea, thus enriching the aromas of figs and spices. As we sat outside, tucking into a delicious pissaladiere starter – a thin layer of puff pastry topped with anchovies and capers – and tasting the various wines, I turned my gaze towards the sea and the vines, and thought that the Catalan art de vivre was one that I could get used to.

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Seafood Heaven Beside the Étang de Thau

Beaune, Uncorked

Burgundy’s wine capital gives us a taste of the good life, both above and below ground

In the gloomy light of the Joseph Drouhin wine cellars, which cover a hectare below the streets of Beaune, my guide Christophe Thomas points to a door covered in dust and cobwebs. “That’s where Maurice Drouhin escaped the Gestapo,” he tells me. “There are some spiral stairs, and this is the corridor that goes to the cellars of the Hospices de Beaune.” The dramatic story of Maurice Drouhin’s escape during World War II is among the most intriguing chapters in the long history of Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of the town’s most prestigious winemakers.

As Christophe, the firm’s export director, explains to me in the semi-darkness of the ancient cellars, Maurice Drouhin was heavily involved in the Resistance. When the Gestapo came for him in the early hours of that morning in 1944, he had already escaped into the cellars which led to the Hospices de Beaune, the town’s famous hospital. There, the nuns hid him for two months, until the town was liberated by the Allies in early September.

It just so happened, however, that the months of his absence were the most crucial in the winemaking calendar. “His wife had no clue how to run a winery, so she got a bit scared because she couldn’t meet him,” explains Christophe. “She went every day to pray, and the Mother Superior would go as well, and they would pass notes [between each other] and ask questions and get responses to what was needed in the winery. Maurice would write things like: ‘Don’t forget to buy barrels’.”

The story goes that after the war, Maurice was so grateful for the nuns’ help that he handed the Hospices de Beaune a lucrative gift. “He gave a massive amount of Beaune Premier Cru [vineyards] to thank them for saving his life. So every year, we buy back most of the production.”

In the depths of the cellars, Christophe points out the barrels – marked ‘Maurice Drouhin’ – which were bought in the last auction. The sale, which dates from 1859 and takes place over a long weekend in November, is one of the most prestigious in the French wine calendar. Proceeds go to the modern hospital and various charities (the 2015 auction set a record for a barrel at €117,700, around £106,000). A visit to the Hospices de Beaune themselves, housed in the magnificent Hotel-Dieu, puts the history in context and shows how the town’s charitable spirit dates back centuries .

With its multi-coloured tiled roof, the Hôtel-Dieu is the town’s most iconic building. When you bear in mind the architecture of modern hospitals, it is hard to believe that the flamboyant Gothic building was intended as a hospital and not a palace. It was founded in 1443 by Chancellor of Burgundy Nicolas Rolin to care for the poor and sick as the country recovered from the Hundred Years War and the plague.

The Grande Salle des Povres must have had a soothing effect in itself, with its beautiful ceiling and 30 red, velvet-curtained beds. The museum tells how Rolin and his wife Guigone de Salins established the hospital, appointing a religious order to care for the patients. The stories of 15th-century remedies are fascinating, while the kitchen and apothecary show how early medicine drew on nutrition and herbs to treat the patients. Later, it became possible for people to ‘buy’ their care, which led the hospital to become the wealthy operation that it remains today. “It’s probably the most profitable hospital in France,” laughs Christophe when he tells me about it in the Drouhin cellars.

In the wine-tasting that follows the cellar visit, he tells me more about the famous vineyards that generate the area’s wealth. The vineyards are divided into ‘climats’, parcels of land that were inscribed into Unesco’s World Heritage list last summer. The `terroie changes so significantly over a relatively small distance that the wines resulting from the vineyards offer a specific character and are highly sought after. Indeed, the world’s most expensive wine comes from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, in the Côte de Nuits between Dijon and Beaune, where red pinot noir is the main grape variety.

Closer to Beaune, however, there are a number of vineyards that specialise in white grapes and so I venture south of the town to one such area – the village of Puligny-Montrachet. Here, Olivier Leflaive continues his family’s winemaking business that dates from 1635, making him the 18th generation to do so. He owns 18.5 hectares of vineyards but also buys in grapes to make his 82 different wines.

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Clockwise: Puligny-Montrachet vigneron Olivier Leflaive; A packed audience at the Annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction; Maison Joseph Drouhin’s Caves de la Collégiale in Beaune

Salamanca: Unique Architecture, Fun and Spanish Culture

ONLY WHEN THE LAST lays of afternoon sunshine clear the sandstone facade of Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor does the most magnificent town square in Spain begin to come to life. Old couples shuffle along colonnaded walkways; children play tag and dribble melting ice cream over the paving slabs; students clatter away on their laptops in the cafes. Gazing sternly over the whole scene are the greatest minds and bravest souls in all of Spanish history: explorer Columbus, conquistador Cortes, writer Cervantes -their profiles etched into the stone arches. Inches above their heads, local residents lean on cast-iron balconies and study the square in expectation.

Salamanca Cathedral

Salamanca Cathedral

Home to Spain’s oldest and most prestigious university, Salamanca has the double fortune of being quite possibly the nation’s brainiest and most beautiful city. Biscuity-ochre towers rise over the city, sending long shadows creeping down alleyways along which students pedal to their lectures. Ancient faculties line cypress-shaded squares – their stones bearing Latin inscriptions from alumni who graduated centuries ago, some painted in bull’s blood.

Hogging the skyline are twin cathedrals that survived the 1755 earthquake which destroyed Lisbon, and still sport broken windows and cracked walls from the tremors, while south of the city is the wide, sluggish expanse of the Rio Tormes slip ping beneath a Roman bridge on its way to the Portuguese Atlantic. Gaining admission to Salamanca has never been easy, nor has paying the tuition fees. Fortunately some especially bright students hit on a novel solution to this latter problem.

On the stroke of nine, two groups wearing shiny shoes, tight trousers and colourful sashes shuffle into the square, armed with an assortment of accordions, double basses, mandolins, guitars and tankards of beer. Soon the far comers of Plaza Mayor are noisy with the twangs, claps, shouts and whoops of the ‘tunas’, groups of troubadours who have busked to pay their study fees since the 13th century, with each band linked to a particular university faculty. ‘Doctors have always made the best tuna bands’ says Fernando Yunta, an architectural student who nonetheless plays guitar in the company of surgeons and psychologists. ‘Some of the songs we sing are about love or bullfighting. Some of them are about the university. We play for the music, for the fun. And also because it is a good way of getting girls.’

Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Salamanca’s traditions have endured through the many turbulent chapters of Spanish history. The university’s most famous story concerns the poet Luis de Leon, snatched from a lecture for heresy during the 16th-century Spanish Inquisition, locked away in solitary confinement for four years before returning to the same lecture theatre on his release with the words ‘… as I was saying yesterday’. Another professor exiled from Spain for six years during the political unrest of the 1930s returned to the lecture theatre and made exactly the same joke. ‘You feel history in the atmosphere when you study in Salamanca,’ says Maria Jose Gonzales, a student currently taking a master’s degree in psychology, swinging on a cafe chair as the tuna bands retune their instruments. ‘You feel you’re studying where generations studied before you. And, of course, it helps that the whole town looks a bit like something from Harry Potter.’

Take to the Slopes … Alpine Adventures

The resorts of Méribel, Les Gets and La Toussuire will appeal to all skiers in search of a fun holiday

This ski season, why not drive to the French Alps to indulge that love of snow,with a range of resorts to suit all abilities and ages. Taking the car with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is a convenient way to travel: you can pack as much equipment as you want for your Alpine adventures without incurring any extra fees and you can shop on the way.

One of the most accessible resorts is Méribel, in the huge Trois Vallées area. It is a great place for anyone who enjoys clocking up plenty of ski miles, with the highest accessible point being Mont Vallon, at 2,952 metres, which offers panoramic views of the Gébrolaz glacier and Grande Casse mountain.

For families, Méribel Altiport has several fun beginner zones, including the Inuits Piste, which organises outdoor games. Skiers aged from five to 12 have a daily entertainment programme, which includes an eagle show, husky-dog encounters and stalls selling home-made hot chocolate.

A lesser-known but equally enticing resort is La Toussuire, part of the Les Sybelles ski area in the Maurienne Valley of Savoie. The 45 kilometres of pistes include the Vallée Perdue, a scenic route that links La Toussuire with Le Corbier, and the more advanced, five-kilometre-long Grand Truc, while the floodlit Petite Verdette piste is perfect for a spot of skiing after dark. Facilities for children include practice slopes, a ski nursery and a ski school.

For somewhere that retains a traditional mountain-village atmosphere, head for Les Gets, with its rows of wooden chalets. The resort is in the Portes du Soleil ski area of Haute-Savoie and has a charming road-train shuttle to ferry skiers to the slopes. Attractions away from the pistes include a weekly market selling regional produce, an ice rink and a quirky mechanical music museum.

Arguably the best local slopes are on Mont Chéry, which has sweeping red intermediate runs that remain relatively quiet due to the location at one end of the huge ski circuit. Once a week, the English-run Ours Blanc hotel-restaurant, at the foot of the mountain, offers candlelit dinners at which guests can enjoy breathtaking views over the Portes du Soleil.

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Some of the resort’s beautiful chalets

Consuegra and Castile-La Mancha: A Brand New Spanish Adventure

FALL THE HEROES OF the Spanish-speaking world -from footballers to bullfighters, painters to kings – one man in particular stands out. His face grins at you on bank notes; his silhouette appears on postcards; his story has been told in ballet, opera, film, a Broadway musical, a Picasso painting and even a Coldplay song. And rather uniquely among national heroes, he is revered for being useless. This man is the great writer Miguelde Cervantes’ 17th-century comic creation Don Quixote, and his homeland is Castile-La Mancha.

 Castile-La Mancha

Castile-La Mancha

It is a landscape in widescreen mode -big skies and arrow-straight roads, a patchwork of scrubby fields extending to the horizon. Every so often crumbling castles appear, indistinct on hazy hill tops. It is a place where temperatures are high, mirages are many, and inhabitants are few. ‘La Mancha has a long history of locals who are considered a little bit crazy’, says Santiago Moraleda – a man who, dressed in a long black cloak in the midday heat and with a large tawny owl pecking at his ear, would seem to affirm his own theory. ‘But we are also people who are known for being very courageous, too.’

Santi isn’t as peculiar as he might first appear, for he is taking part in the annual medieval festival in the market town of Consuegra. For much of the year itis a sleepy place, where old couples perch on windowsills watching farmyard traffic rumble past. Every August, however, its citizens engage in weekend-long binge of mead glugging and pork roasting in the main square, plus some energetic battle re-enacting in a medieval castle, which rises regally over the town. Minibuses full of archers shuttle about the streets, Moorish encampments are pegged beside the football pitch and processions of monks walk solemnly beneath the tourist information office. Though his day job is as a guide for birding trips, Santi has dressed up as a knight for the occasion and has brought his own collection of birds of prey to the party.

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Consuegra and Castile-La Mancha

Consuegra’s most famous chivalric hero was, of course, Don Quixote -for it was here, some say, that he charged on horseback, lance in hand, at his most fearsome enemy. Santi happens to be standing in the shade beneath this particular foe, which was in fact not a many-armed monster at all, but a win windmill. It is on e of a great many whitewashed towers that still stand sentinel on rocky bluffs overlooking the plains of La Mancha – some preserved as museums, but most abandoned, their sails and cogs jammed solid and their roof spaces home only to nesting birds.

They were spinning long before Cervantes published his novel in the early 1600s, and have forever been an icon of the region. Fighting a windmill, and losing, is a defining moment in European literature and encapsulates the story of Don Quixote: a day dreamer who chose to live in a make-believe world of heroic adventures rather than humdrum real life. To some readers of Don Quixote, the hero is a blundering lunatic – but to others it is he who is sane. and the rest of the world that is crazy.

Santi has decided to name his various eagles, owls and kestrels after characters in the novel. And, just like the Don, he and other the inhabitants of Consuegra have decided for one weekend only to play at being lords, ladies, archers and knights – to briefly inhabit their own world of make-believe. The festival draws to an end; siege ramps are packed away, arrows pulled out of targets and Santi gathers together his feathered friends to head home. ‘The most important ingredient in the story is craziness’ he says. ‘For only with a little craziness can you truly have a life of dreams.’

Explore The Unforgettable Flavours Of Madrid

Like Ronaldo versus Messi, Catalan independence and the specifics of King Juan Carlos’ love life, the question of wherein Spain you’ll find the best food is a discussion that should be initiated with caution (possibly ending in waving fists and looking up rude words in your Spanish dictionary). The logical answer is Madrid, for it is here that you can taste the A-Z of all Spanish cuisine, from Andalucian gazpacho to lamb cooked in a Zaragoza style. And, thanks to the tapas philosophy, it is quite feasible to eat your way across the entire country in one evening.madrid

’When you go for a night out, you don’t drink beer and wine because you’re thirsty,’ says Jose Angel Mozos Garcia, welcoming customers into his seafood restaurant La Mar beside the city’s Opera House. ‘And it is the same with tapas in Madrid – people don’t eat because they are hungry, they eat just because it is fun. You start at your local and you keep going through the night.’ Outside Josh’s restaurant, the evening tap as crawl is slowly? gathering momentum, while inside, the kitchen shuttles off steaming plates of things that only this morning were swimming off Spain’s Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts: rich and creamy? Valencian seafood paella, and prawns from Cadiz now drowned in garlic to make the classic dish gambas al ajillo, beloved of Madrilenos.

‘Food in Spain isn’t about formal dining, white linen and good manners,’ continues Jose, scooping up prawns with a chunk of bread in his handsome, Moorish-tiled dining room. ‘It is food you eat with your hands; food designed for socialising.’ Madridisa capital that is decidedly short on formalities. Unlike London, Paris, Berlin and Rome, it has few iconic landmarks – no famous triumphal arch, no truly colossal cathedral. It is a city whose spirit comes more from its atmosphere than its bricks. And at no time is Madrid more spirited than the depths of night, when tap as expeditions are full swing – at an hour when London and Paris are tucked up in bed, when even Rome has paid its bill and is ready? to go home.

Casa Labra

Casa Labra

Navigating between eateries, you might cross lamp-lit squares where crowds spill out from the tabernas and lean on the pedestals of statues; or stroll beside the locked gates of p arks like Buen Retiro, the scent of pine wafting over the railings through the air; or potter beside the facades of vast galleries where, inside, the gaunt faces of El Greco portraits watch over empty? rooms that hours ago were busy with crowds. Some tapas places are pit stops, like Casa Labra – the founding spot of the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), in whose boisterous wood-panelled interiors cod croquetas sell for the democratic price of 1 euro 25 cents to standing customers.

Other restaurants invite you to linger longer; one such is La Bola, home of Cocido Madrileno- a ‘Madrid stew’ of sausage, hamhock, beef, chicken and potatoes, cooked in ceramic pots following an Asturian recipe unchanged since the 1870s (and served in interiors that have likewise barely? altered since). And then there’s the joy? of making your own miraculous Madrid tapas discovery – finding a bar squirrelled away on a backstreet off a backstreet, a place which serves the greatest tortilla espanola tasted by mortals and which, no matter how much Google Map detective work is done, cannot be found the following evening. Or indeed ever again.

Austen Powers – Hampshire

As the world remembers Jane Austen on the 200th anniversary of her death, we decided to explore the county that shaped her – historic Hampshire

Hampshire

Entering Winchester along the poker-straight Roman road that leads to a bronze statue of Alfred the Great speaks volumes about the part Hampshire has played in Britain’s early history. From Danbury hillfort, considered to be one of the best-preserved Iron Age settlements in Europe, to the historic dockyards in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on England’s southern coast, has featured consistently as an important centre in the tapestry of Britain’s past from its most primitive colonies to the Second World War.

Hampshire was also the beloved home of Jane Austen for much of her life and 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of her death. Celebrations and special events will take place across the county from Steventon, where she was born, to Winchester, where she died.

In and around Basingstoke, benches sculpted in the form of an open book will be positioned in places that influenced Jane’s work.

In Winchester, Rain Jane pavement art, which only appears when wet, will remind walkers on rainy days that one of Britain’s finest authors strolled there too.

Her wonderful books were greatly influenced by this beautiful county with its perfect hamlets and provincial life that shaped many of the characters in her novels.

Steventon

Tucked into the peaceful countryside on the fringes of the North Wessex Downs, the population of this sleepy village hasn’t changed much since Jane Austen was born here in 1775. The rectory, where she spent the first 25 years of her life and wrote Pride and Prejudice, Northcazger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility (though they weren’t published until later), no longer stands. But the church, where her father, George, was the rector and Jane was baptised is still used for services. In June 2017 Steventon will host a music recital entitled Jane Austen Suite and conducted by local composer, Philip Andrews.

Jane Austen’s House Museumjane-austen's-house-museum

In 1809, Jane and her mother and sister, Cassandra, moved from Southampton to Chaw ton, where they were given a cottage by Jane’s brother, Edward. A return to the tranquillity of rural life allowed Jane’s love of writing to find its freedom once again, and it was here that she re-wrote and published some of her most acclaimed works from Sense and Sensibility to Pride and Prejudice. The house is now a public museum and beautifully preserves the traditions of early 19th-century middle-class life. Taking a stroll around the village itself you half-expect to bump into Mr Elton emerging from a church service.

The Kingdom in the North – Bamburgh, Northumberland, United Kingdom

Let’s explore one of the most dramatic castles in Britain, Bamburgh in Northumberland

Cadwallader Bates, the pleasingly Arthurian-sounding 19th-century historian, wrote of Bamburgh Castle as “the very cornerstone of England”. Fifteen hundred years ago, it quite literally was. Its pre-Anglo Saxon name, Din Guarie, even encouraged some to believe that this fortress, towering aloft dolerite rock, was once the “Joyous Guard” of Arthurian legend, castle of Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad.

Visitors to the castle today will find the sandstone monolith strikingly situated between the village of Bamburgh in Northumberland – the northernmost county in England – and the Farne Islands, which lie a couple of miles off the coastline and house a famous seabird sanctuary.

Fiery Beginnings

There have been settlements at Bamburgh since prehistoric times (regular archaeological digs take place here and spectacular finds have included a gold plaque known as the Bamburgh Beast and the Bamburgh Sword) but for its earliest recorded origins, we must go back to AD 547. That fateful year in the life of the castle was when the Germanic King Ida the Flamebearer and his fierce invaders, known as the Angles, who hailed from the German/Danish border, seized Bamburgh.

By the early 5th century, the Romans had all but left Britain after three-and-a-half centuries of rule, rendering the country’s internal borders defenceless. Making full use of their advantage, for over a century the Angles had busied themselves raging and raiding their way through East Anglia, Lincolnshire and up into Yorkshire. But it was in AD 547 that they made their most important acquisition yet: that of Bamburgh. While Ida no doubt held strongholds in the region, the then Din Guarie was by far the most significant in the establishment of his emerging kingdom of Bernicia, which was centred on the rivers Tyne and Wear. It became his capital and thus the seat of the most powerful leader in northern “Angle Land” (which, of course, later came to be known as England).

By AD 603, Ida’s grandson, the fiercesome King Aethelfrith of Bernicia, seized control of Deira (known today as the Yorkshire Wolds). He defeated rival Angle chief Aelle in Deira, as well as the Celts, to form, with the unification of Bernicia and Deira, a new kingdom: Northumbria. This powerful new realm constituted almost a third of Britain’s mainland.

To perceive Bamburgh as the cornerstone of England was, then, no exaggeration; at the height of its power, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Britain were ruled jointly from York and Bamburgh and the province remained ferociously autonomous right up until the Norman Conquest.

In homage to his wife Bebba, King Aethelfrith named the castle – or “burgh” – after her. And hers was no nominal influence; she ruled Bamburgh herself after her husband’s death. Over time, Bebba’s Burgh would be compounded as Bamburgh.

The reign of king and saint Oswald – successor to Aethelfrith – who ruled during the 7th and 8th centuries, would come to be known as the “golden age” of Northumbria, during which time he ruled jointly from Bamburgh Castle and a monastery in nearby Lindisfarne and introduced Christianity to the kingdom. But post this golden time, after the eventual demise of the Anglo-Saxon rulers, Bamburgh Castle has endured, enjoying a long and often chequered after-life.

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During the Wars of the Roses, King Henry VI and Queen Margaret of Anjou found refuge at Bamburgh Castle

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