Entries Tagged as 'P&O Ferries'

Autumn events in Belgium with P&O Ferries


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There are some fantastic events lined up for those of you interested in taking a P&O Ferry to Belgium this autumn and winter. The ferry will take you from Hull to Zeebrugge in an overnight voyage and you can choose between standard and premier cabins. The ferry to Zeebrugge is a plush ride with bars and a casino if you want to start your holiday off with a bit of easy living. Alternatively P&O Ferries offer multiple dining experiences if so you can choose between a 3 course meal and something a bit simpler.

This October marks the third edition of the Belgian Beer Challenge which this year is to be hosted in Leuven. Before any of you start polishing your luck tankards this competition is for breweries it’s not an international drinking competition. Over 750 beers from breweries around the globe will be putting their suds to the test. This competition takes place between October 31st and 2nd November. Judgement of the beers falls to a panel of 60 internationally renowned beer connoisseurs (a hallowed position indeed) who at the end of the weekend will award medals for a variety of categories.

Leuven is an oft overlooked location given the renown of places such as Bruges and Brussels; but a beer capital nevertheless. It’s the site at which Hoegaarden is brewed, a worthy site for pilgrimage if ever there was one. For a comprehensive look at all the breweries available to see click here Biking tours are also available. Leuven is a mere 16 miles from the capital of Belgium so it would make it an excellent stopping point even if beer isn’t the entire purpose of your trip to Belgium.

One of the best things about the onset of colder weather is that it means Chistmas Markets. Liege upon the Meuse river is a little bit further in to the country but still well within driving distance of Zeebrugge where P&O ferries arrive in Belgium. The Christmas Market in Liege is one of the oldest and largest in Belgium.

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The market opens between 11AM-8PM remaining open for business up until midnight at weekends. Entry is free to visit the 200 stalls offering seasonal produce and Christmas ware. This year will have a Russian inference from special guest artisans. The skating rink takes pride of place, a wonderfully romantic idea if you are taking a weekend trip away with a partner. For the kids there even promises to be a puppet nativity.

If Liege’s Christmas Market opening in November is a bit too early for you to be feeling festive then wait until December and make your way to Mons. This place has been made well and truly tourist friendly after the World War I centenary. With the approach of Christmas the Mons will bear its ‘Snowy Heart’. It’s slightly smaller than the market at Liege with 50 stalls but there are always plenty of artisan decorated chalets with goods on offer and promises of the perfect gift for that person you never quite know what to get until you see it. It is more than just a market though there’s plenty of entertainment on offer as well. Live music from marching bands will be accompanied by juggling and stilt walkers as well as fire breathing.

If passing awe isn’t enough for you and you want to get a bit active there will also be an ice skating rink at the heart of it all a colossal 900 square metres which is a breathtaking view in itself with all the winter shoppers gliding about between purchases. If you are taking kids along then they should be pleased to know that Father Christmas and Mrs Christmas will also be there getting drawn along in a carriage.

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For a touch of winter wonderment you won’t want to miss the Feeries. A production being put on by the Royal Theatre of Mons. It is a musical event with ballet performances lots of glamorous costumes and rousing music early tickets can be booked for just 25 euro.

Running from mid-September to late December is a season of late night culture. Called Nocturnes, in Brussels where major institutions of learning, museums, galleries and exhibition halls are open until midnight. Last year records were set for the number of people who came to the 54 participating museums during Nocturnes. Brussels is a fantastic city to stroll through during winter, architecture compliments the cold setting making cosiness all the more fulfilling. However after a late dinner it would be a shame to return to your hotel or room and if you didn’t fancy whiling away the night in a bar then a museum certainly offers a novel alternative.

P&O Ferries offer a 2 person return deal with a car from Hull to Zeebrugge, Belgium with an ensuite cabin for just £149!

Image credit: george ruiz , Huhnerauge , glasseyes view

Events in France from late summer to Autumn


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As late summer descends P&O Ferries have drawn up a few recommendations for getaways to France this August and September. The commemoration services for the centenary of World War I continue so be aware that some events will make it difficult to find accommodation. This goes double for the areas around the major sites of the conflict and traffic will be busy close specific services and ceremonies.

Let us first remind you that this will be your last chance to get to the gardens at the estate of Chaumont-sur-Loire castle. Thirty landscape artists have made the gardens around the chateau a picturesque scene indeed but the true skill of their craft shines given the clever way in which the landscapes appeal to the eye throughout the year. The onset of autumn means these gardens will be in transition from the bright colours of June and July to a verdant fruition, welcoming the oncoming harvest.

This year’s garden festival has the theme of nature. The crowds it has drawn vary from professional horticulturalists to nature lovers and those looking for ideas for their own gardens. There is more to it than an idle stroll, it has been described as an ‘open-air contemporary landscape art museum’. The gardens at Chaumont-sur-Loire have been bedecked with sculptures and other works which blend nature and art giving the gardens an almost Shakespearian feel – faery like. This is complemented come dusk as the gardens illuminate from thousands of LEDs to truly transport you to an ethereal plane.

Guided tours are available until late September, if you wish to get an all-encompassing understanding of just what is trying to be accomplished in Loire. The Loire valley on it’s own is an area of outstanding natural beauty if you wish to appreciate man’s attempt at a natural garden then you can easily find settings to juxtapose it with by straying beyond Chaumont-sur-Loire’s borders.

For more on the Loire valley click here

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Time is running short to make bookings for Lille’s long anticipated Flea Market. It will be open to all on the last weekend of August Saturday 31st to September 1st open from 2PM to 11PM. The flea market at Lille is steeped in tradition dating back to medieval times when valets were granted permission to sell off their masters cast off clothes and unwanted belongings.

The market has since grown to record breaking proportions. Last year welcomed over one million visitors. Lille is made in to a pedestrian zone with a 100km space open for people to sell their wares. It’s not just a large garage sale, though members of the public are welcome to turn a profit – craftsman from around France flock to the market to set up. You’ll be able to purchase anything from clothing to home made soap. France is famed for its gastronomy so of course there will be plenty to tantalise your taste buds. If you’re interested in the local traditions then the custom is to window shop over a plateful of Moules-frites that is steamed mussels and chips to you and me. Naturally there will be plenty of alternatives if that isn’t to your liking France is, after all, a country of cheeses, brasseries and of course wine.

One good tip is to pick up a Pass’Braderie for just 4.70 euro giving you access to all public transport over the two day period. As we mentioned Lille becomes a pedestrian haunt so it is advised to plan ahead with public transport.

On a different note entirely; if you’d rather go farther afield and want to do something a bit eccentric then the town of Agen in the south of France could have something right up your alley. From the 29th-31st August they are the proud hosts of the Big Prune Show. To celebrate the tasting of the first prunes of the year. French gastronomy has a very proud tradition but if you frequent France for it’s cheese and wines why not sample the prunes this time. C’mon they’re good for you!

This has been an annual event since 2005 and assuredly has a great family atmosphere along with a gourmet market concerts and regional produce.

This time of year also brings the wine harvest. If you fancy yourself a bit of a connoisseur then the last major tours of the year are available between October and November. To avoid disappointment book ahead. Of course there is never really any shortage of wine for tasting in France but it does make a fantastic trip to see the vineyards whilst laden with grapes.

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To take a more mainstream trip this autumn a family holiday to Disneyland Paris is sure to keep you on your toes. From October 1st to November 2nd the park will be going all out for Halloween. The streets will be littered with pumpkins – if you’re sensitive to the shade of orange then it may be best to take sunglasses. The villains will be taking pride of place as the most haunting time of year draws nigh but there’ll be plenty of chances to catch all your favourites in parades and lots of costumes to bring a spooky atmosphere to the park.

The Musical Water Show at Versailles will be closing come October 26th so this is your last chance to get there. A truly transportive experience the vast gardens and many statues and fountains of Versailles have been given backing music. The baroque stylings of Andre Rousset will give you a unique stirring as you strut the gardens of Versailles – one couldn’t be blamed for daydreaming of joining the aristocratic elite of days gone by.

Book your P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais now a 90 minute ferry runs 46 times a day from England to France.

Image credit:jean-louis Zimmerman ,Jeanne Meni,Olivier Bacquet

Holiday to Belgium this summer with P&O Ferries


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Fancy a trip to Belgium this summer? P&O Ferries can get you and the family their with their Hull to Zeebrugge ferry. The cross channel ferry is decked out with plenty of entertainment, even a cinema and casino for you to really get in to the holiday spirit before landing at Belgium’s port city.

There’s plenty of exciting and interesting events on this summer in Belgium. It’s true the mussel season has just about come to a close but gastronomers will have plenty of traditional fare to keep themselves sated.

The chocolate industry of Brussels is world renowned, for information on chocolate holidays look here. As any true foodie would know Belgium is famed for it’s waffles and is the birthplace of French fries (mistakenly named by Tommies in World War I). So there really is little need to fear that the food won’t pass muster. To cap it all, Belgium boasts some of the finest beers with the oldest brewing traditions in Europe with it’s close proximity to the fine wines of France there’s little excuse not to keep spirits high.

This July is the annually anticipated BrewFest 2014, if you’re struggling to find information about the event it’s very simple – show up in Antwerp on July 5th and make your way to Adriaan Brouwerstraat. Essentially there’s going to be a huge street party complete with DJs live performances and it’s all to be catered by Belgium’s own authentic breweries.

Antwerp is just a short drive from the port in Zeebrugge where your ferry will make berth, one of the great conveniences of a holiday to Belgium is that it is such a compact country that that you can really see it all in just a short time. The more historic sites such as Bruges are deserving of more of your time but if you find yourself in Belgium this July then letting loose on the streets of Antwerp will definitely serve to liven your holiday up. Belgium isn’t all Gothic architecture and canals!

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As well as the centenary of World War I, 2014 is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of the creator of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax. Who was born in Dinant a small city south of Brussels, it’s a remarkably scenic place resting on the River Meuse. You can actually visit Sax’s house if you find yourself down that way, there are hourly trains running from Brussels to Dinant.

To mark the anniversary of the saxophone, the Musical Instruments Museum in Brussels is hosting an exhibition entitled SAX200. This will be a groundbreaking display, the largest public collection of saxophones will be open to the public with contributions from museums all across the world, London, Paris, Leipzig, Amsterdam, New York and more.

Adolphe Sax created various musical instruments as well as some medical tools as well – the display began this February and doesn’t close until January 2015. To book now click here.

One great way to fill an evening on your trip to Belgium is to take the ghost walk at La Roche the castle of Ardenne. You get fantastic walking tour of the castle and learn a bit about Belgian folklore.

Reported sightings of the ghost of Berthe, daughter of the Count of La Roche in the 10th-century are said to be prevalent during the summer months. La Roche is situated to the south of Belgium so if you find yourself that way prepare yourselves for a spooky evening.

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A Titanic Exhibition

A major attraction for British tourists in Belgium this year is the Titanic Artifact Exhibition. Which opens it’s doors on May 31st and runs through to the close of September 2014 at the Brussels Expo. Everyone is familiar with the story of the Titanic but this exhibition will really draw out your imagination. The cruise liner was the very pinnacle of early 20th century affluence, in a time before the world wars had left their scars across society.

Through rigorous preservation techniques and chemical restoration a large collection of rare and fragile artefacts are to be displayed. These vary from scented vials and porcelain to the machinery of the ship itself, cutting edge in it’s day when technology really began to take a turn for the modern.

You can book ahead for tickets, since queues are to be expected. Your tickets give you an allotted 30 minute window to enter the exhibition without having to line up, so make sure you are prompt. Family tickets cost 50€, 15,90€ for adults and 12,90€ for children, under 4 year olds get in free.

Since the exhibition is in Belgium the stories of the crew focus on the Belgians who were aboard. You’ll get to see the luxury of first class cabins compared with second and third. Mementos and forensics of the final hours of the ship should certainly prove sobering.

There’s also a lot of information about the recovery of these artefacts and the reconstruction and preservation of the ship. The effort that’s gone in to bringing this exhibition about itself is a thing to wonder at, given that the wreck was only rediscovered back in 1985 and many of the preservation techniques that are now common practise were not yet invented.

To finish this post we’d like to draw special attention to one of the WWI exhibitions in Belgium this summer. The FotoMuseum Antwerp: Shooting Range – since this war was the first war to be documented on film it’s unique as the earliest experimentation with photography. Cameras were used for strategic reconnaissance as well as propaganda and anti-war protest. This exhibition presents authentic original film with a contemporary lens so you grasp the full scope of the conflict as a turning point for man.

There’s plenty for you to discover in Belgium over the summer months, many more war services are being held, or you can take to the great out doors and visit the scenic towns such as Spa, the birthplace of fictional detective Poirot!

P&O Ferries offer a 2 person return deal with a car from Hull to Zeebrugge, Belgium with an ensuite cabin for just £149!

Image credit: iris, Don LaVange, Michael

P&O Ferries: WWI memorials in France this summer


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We all know this summer is an important year, commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of world war one. If you’re planning to take a P&O Ferry across the channel to mark this anniversary then we have some key information for the main events to mark this momentous occasion. We’d also advise you to look back at some of our earlier blogs which focus on the major sites and monuments of the Great War.

If, however, you are planning a summer sojourn in France for the family that is more focussed on a fun, escape of environment to explore the new and exciting, or experiment with the strange and perhaps luxurious, then France has plenty to offer.

The major remembrance ceremonies are being held in November to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in memorial of the official armistice. These events will be broadcast across the globe and therefore draw large crowds. If you are the contemplative sort or wish to educate yourself or family on the significance of the battle lines once drawn across Europe then smaller ceremonies and exhibitions will be running from spring for you to visit on your trip to France.

The main summer services include commemorations for the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras and Vimy Ridge. Click here for links with details on what’s happening in 2014.

Some may not require a too scholarly approach for their immersion in history. These are some of the events we’ve cherry-picked that will be well worth investigating The Coal Field in 1918: A Devastated Landscape, The Disasters of War in Louvre-Lens and the opening of a new museum in Rue de la Basse Ville The Battle of Fromelles Museum. If you’re visiting the continent this June then keep an eye out for the Europe Run of Unity. A relay run of just over 652 miles, covering the length of the entire Western Front, is passing through Flanders to Strasbourg from the 10th-21st of June.

For more information on the Wilfred Owen Memorial click here.

The list of battlefields you can visit for a guided tour are too numerous to state here but if you have a specific soldier’s story to research the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will help you find graves and memorials for you to book your trip. Walking tours of battlefields will be in high demand but you can certainly pre-book with Visit Battlefield to see the fields where so many gave their lives.

2014 also marks the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944. The allied landings are to be commemorated with a massive synchronised fireworks display along the 80km beach head from 24 major points of the incursion. There’ll be quite a show for the kids with an air show by the French squadron Patrouille de France and military parades of the vehicles that were used. As well as light shows and concerts and huge picnic on Omaha beach. These events will be held from 1st-15th June so you’ll want to book sooner rather than later. Though the fireworks will be visible for miles around.

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The peaceful side of France

Summer is really a time for outdoors when visiting France. Yes there is the Cannes Film Festival (14-25 June) and events like the European Night of Museums, May 17th where museums, galleries and exhibitions all across the continent are open for free until 1am. But when better than summer to glory in the outdoors? Autumn is a time of harvest so if you are visiting the vineyards then you won’t be getting under the feet of the pickers. France’s countryside will be in full bloom and you’ll get plenty of sun should you choose to take to the great out doors.

The International Garden Festival for 2014 begins in June at the estate of Chaumont-sur-Loire Castle. It is essentially a landscape architecture contest but it runs through to September when the winner is announced, the idea being that a garden should be at its most beautiful during autumn. If you’ve got your heart set on a summer holiday the Loire Valley is breathtakingly verdant in the hottest months.

The garden festival is akin to an open air museum/park for landscape architecture. You can take guided tours if you wish to pick up some tips on cutting edge landscaping or just saunter about to smell the roses. The Chaumont garden festival isn’t just about the flowers, you can pay an evening visit during certain summer nights to see the gardens light up. The shapes and shadows cast by the plants at night combined with carefully situated along water features and sculptures gives the castle and gardens an eery transcendence. This year’s theme of nature promises to make for a mythic almost arcane atmosphere.

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A holiday to France doesn’t have to mean expensive Parisian hotels and the most dear bottles of wine, champagne and liqueur on the planet. If you are taking the entirely family, or just a trip with a loved one, the best way to cut the budget is to provide you’re own accommodation. Camping holidays are one of the easiest ways to enjoy seeing to France.

P&O Ferries provide cheap fares for the entire family plus your car, so that all you need to do is decide where to set up camp. For tips on camping abroad look to our blog on camping in the north of France. It’s a fantastic way to squeeze those pennies and so that you can spend a bit more time at Disneyland Paris or treating yourself to the fantastic cuisine that France is famous for.

Book your P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais now a 90 minute ferry runs 46 times a day from England to France.

Image credit: Roland Turner, Jimmy theSuperStar , anjanettew

Spring in Holland


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As Spring approaches you might want to start getting back outdoors for some fun. Holland comes to bloom quite early in the year, their tulip festival is held in January. Since there truly is no better way to welcome the turning of the season than getting out there to smell the flowers – we direct you towards the Netherlands for Spring 2014.

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Each of the P&O ferry destinations are in the art of chocolate making. France, Belgium and the Netherlands each have dynasties of chocolatiers so there isn’t really a better place to go in the world for Easter.

The Dutch are the ones responsible for making chocolate available to the masses. Their process brought the change from drinking chocolade to eating it in bar form making it a lot more healthier and cheaper to consume. It’s much easier to find a chocolate tour in Belgium but if your desire is Easter eggs then a trip to Holland will give you all the choice you need.

National museum weekend

National museum weekend happens on the first weekend of April each year. The doors to over 500 museums are opened to visitors for no charge whatsoever.

It isn’t just museums that are available, you’ll also have access to castles, theatres and more. Many of these locations host special events to mark the occasion, you’ll find activities for the kids, overzealous tour guides and lots to learn about.

Having such a large scale occasion free of charge is naturally going to draw lots of crowds so it’s best to book early and arrive early if you want to see the more popular sites.

Alkmaar Cheese Market

April brings the return of the Alkmaar cheese market to Waagplein square. This may not be enough for you to spring out of your chair and start packing a bag but the cheese market is almost as old as the city itself. It’s not just stalls with glorious golden blocks for sale: everyone from the throwers and weighers to the marketeers are part of an ancient guild with traditions dating back centuries. Essentially the whole thing is a bit of a show and you get to pick yourself up a bit of cheese at the end of it, not too shabby eh?

The Alkmaar Cheese festival is run every Friday from April through to September starting at 10am. There’s over 2,000 cheeses put on sale and you can take guided tours for the more historic aspects of the market. The market comes highly recommended as there’s plenty to see, smell and taste as well as a vibrant and colourful atmosphere.

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Keukenhoff & Flower parade

The Keukenhoff flower gardens open late in March and you only have a mere 8 weeks until they close on May 18th. Keukenhoff offer a unique floral experience with over 7 million bulbs coming to bloom for the pleasure of attendees.

If the weather is right you can anticipate a fantastic day out, the gardens are open from 8am to 7:30 in the evening and you’ll have over 32 hectares of garden to explore. Holland may be famed for its tulips, and there are plenty of them here, but there is also a wide variety of flowers in bloom from roses and daffodils to irises, lilies and orchids. You’ll be able to pick up some tips on growing for your own garden as well as a little something to plant as well.

Each year Keukenhoff attracts around 800,000 visitors, it is well located between Amsterdam, the Hague and Leiden: just a 30 minute drive, so most of the major tourist areas are well within reach. The opening weekend is especially hard going on traffic, one excellent recommendation is to take to cycling for your tour of Keukenhoff. The air itself turns to perfume as you whizz through the bright fields and Holland’s naturally level landscape makes it easy to cross the distance on pedal power alone.

Holland’s Flower Parade is an annual event being held on May 3rd in 2014. The 40 Km stretch of road between Noordwijk and Haarlem will host a grand procession of cars and floats, heavily decorated with flowers, in the 12 hour journey starting at 9 o’clock. The parade is free for all, even the floats are decorated by volunteers!

If you miss the parade or just want to get another look then the floats are on show in Haarlem until five o’clock the next day.

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King’s Day and King’s night

What used to be called Queen’s day is now known as King’s Day, celebrated on April 27th rather than on the last day of the month. For many this is the major party event of the year in Holland. Cities proudly orange up and what seems like the entire country takes to the streets to celebrate the Dutch monarchy.

You’ll want to book your accommodation early, the party atmosphere in major cities like Amsterdam and the Hague draw a lot of crowds so you’ll be hard pressed to be close to the action come the end of the month.

During the day unregulated markets and bars are erected down the streets of Amsterdam. There’s also a parade down the canals of waving, brightly coloured orange figures. Live music is performed at Museumplein and the main Amsterdam market takes place in Vondelpark.

King’s night is taken to most enthusiastically by the wilder partiers. Street parties run late in to the night, dotted all over Amsterdam and only seem to come to an end once the markets start opening again in the morning.

For a handheld holiday walking through Dutch flower gardens or a wild nights partying take a P&O ferry to Rotterdam.

Image credit: nyaskovic, Fairuz Razi Zakaria, lewishamdreamer

P&O Ferry day trips in France


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Planning a short trip to France to breathe a little life in to the tale end of winter? Whether you want a hotel break or just to venture forth for some duty free and see something new, there’s plenty of ground to cover around Calais, here are some suggestions for where to go.

The Burghers of Calais

The Burghers statues are spread out across Europe and have a fascinating story behind them originating in Calais where Rodin’s original bronze statues are.

When Edward III laid siege to Calais after the battle of Crecy in 1346 the town was forced to surrender because the people were starving. The King demanded that 6 of its leaders submit to him, presumably for execution, wearing nooses around their necks and bearing the keys to the castle.

One of the richest town leaders Eustache de Saint Pierre was the first to volunteer followed by 5 other burghers. Burgher is a medieval term for citizen mainly denoting a member of the bourgeoisie or intelligentsia.

Edward’s wife, moved by this show of self-sacrifice, asked for mercy to be given since it would be a bad omen for her unborn child and the burghers were spared.The nobility of these men in the face of crushing defeat, willing to give up their lives in order for Calais to be spared, is now remembered in the form of Rodin’s sculptures.

Rather than set the burghers up on pedestals he has given them true human form, exhibiting the fraility and despair that the burghers must have felt. He felt it important that they not be raised up too high because it is their humility that has immortalised them. The statues are located at the front of the town hall of Calais, it was Rodin’s wish that a passersby could come across them almost unawares and feel a certain solidarity with the once saviours of Calais.

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Calais beach

If you’re stopping off in France for some duty free and a day by the sea then there really is no reason to go beyond Calais.

The main road running parallel to the beach Route Nationale is lined with places to stop and have a bite to eat, or indulge in an idle bit of window shopping. The sandy beach front may not have the appeal of a tropical island but a beach is a beach. It’s always nice to recline before lapping waves and perhaps dream about what the summer will hold.

If the day isn’t quite warm enough for you then nearby is Les Baraques military cemetery. Since 2014 marks the centenary of WW1, a visit to one of these memorial sites will be a truly moving experience. As a port city Calais became a necessary supply depot with hospitals set up there for troops to be treated before being sent home. Standing amongst the uniformly positioned stones marking military graves makes for truly sobering experience which will make your stay in Calais all the more memorable.

Wilfred Owen war memorial

One name you’re sure to be hearing plenty of this year is Wilfred Owen. His memorial is located not too far inland in the village of Ors in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The world war one poet has a suitably stark yet powerful memorial.

The bone white structure stands on a green hill completely isolated, unlike other memorials where you’ll often find statues, tanks or planes you enter the memorial with nothing to distract you. Inside there is nothing but the poem Dulce et Decorum Est carved into glass covering the four walls. The handwriting is taken from Wilfred Owen’s own manuscript kept in the British Library. Resounding about the walls is Kenneth Brannagh’s voice reading six of Owen’s most famous poems.

There is a little more to see, a walkway leads you down in to a cramped and dank room that’s been little changed since Wilfred Owen left it to die a week before the Armistice was signed in 1918. It was shared with the other 29 men in Owen’s Regiment, and you can hear a reading of the letter he wrote to his mother the night before he met his fate.

This is a singularly powerful memorial to one of the greatest war poets to have lived. It will certainly draw a lot of crowds in 2014 so if you wish to see it it’s located by the Camp Militaire, a little way off from Cambrai, open everyday except Tuesdays between 2 and 4 o’clock.

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Louvre Lens museum

When people think about the Louvre, images of The Da Vinci Code, a massive glass pyramid and Paris spring to mind. The Louvre-Lens museum doesn’t quite have all that going for it but it shares the same rich artistic reservoir with its sister gallery in France’s capital.

The goal of the Louvre-Lens Museum is to spread France’s artistic heritage out of the main cities to revive some of the more provincial areas. Lens hasn’t had an easy history, it was destroyed in WW1 then occupied and subsequently bombed again in WW2. Originally it was a mining town but the last mine was closed in the 80s. It is, however, very well situated for tourism. A one hour drive from Calais and well within reach of the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands you could visit Louvre-Lens in a single day trip if you wished.

This museum has something for everyone, whether your interest peaks with the ancients, middle ages or modern artworks. The layout is also jawdropping, in total Louvre-Lens covers a space of 3000 square metres and it isn’t encumbered with partitions. Art from around the world is exhibited side by side in chronological order. So you are effectively following the steps of mankind through art history: beginning with Mesopotamia and ending with 21st century works. Louvre-Lens is truly remarkable when you look at the scope of what it offers the public.

Make the most of your P&O ferry trip from Dover to Calais and see more of the north of France.

Image credit: Ivan Pik , jpellgen, Tourism Pas-de-Calais

P&O Ferries Christmas market destinations


There is no better way to get in to the spirit of the season than wandering through a Christmas market. The smell of chestnuts, and twinkling fairy lights, mulled wine and plenty to delight the senses.

Mid-winter breaks are a fantastic way to keep your spirits up when the temperature's low and fortunately P&O Ferries can take you to any of three countries on the continent that love a Christmas market just as much as we do.

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French Christmas markets

As the closest destination to England a quick trip to France is the most hassle free choice. As renowned cheese and wine exporters you'll be able to find some fine produce to stock up on for the festive season.

The markets you'll want to consider are between Lille and Paris, but the closer to Germany you get the more teutonic the celebrations – if you fancy something a bit different then head east to Strasbourg.

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The main Christmas market is the closest you'll find to the port of Calais and you'll likely get everything you want out of a Christmas event here. The Place Rihour area transforms in to a real winter wonderland with chalets turned in to christmas cottage type shops and outside of each door is yet a different stall. The city of Lille itself is home to nearly 4000 shops.

Lille is an historic city and you'll be able to look over it in all it's festive wonder by taking a ride in the 50ft Big Wheel that sticks out across the skyline. This market is open everyday in December except for Christmas Day. There are plenty of hotels or flats to use for your stay but it's best to book early as market draws a lot of custom.

Caen

If you like your Christmas presents to be just a little more special than the average gift giver then take a trip to Caen. The Christmas market there specialises in craftmanship. For handmade goods you really don't need to look any further, there's also an international element so you're not limited to stock French figurines.

Craftmanship isn't limited to carvings there is also a fantastic culinary element to this market. So pick up some gingerbread as you idle you're way through the Christmas crowd. The Caen market will offer you a truly authentic Christmas experience it focuses on the traditional and religious aspects of the holiday with 53 Christmas stalls selling the famous Santon figurines for Christmas mangers.

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Dutch Christmas markets

Amsterdam is the centre for Christmas markets in the Netherlands. It hosts around 26 individual markets spread across the city so be sure to familiarise yourselves with the tram network.

The most anticipated Christmas market happens on the 23rd December, called the Winter Market. This may be a little too close to the big day itself, travelling on Christmas Eve is not or the easily flustered, but then again this is the season of good will so a bit of a Christmas adventure will surely make it all the more special.

The grandest market in Amsterdam is Albert Cuypstraat it promises a bustling and jovial affair where you can pick up everything from clothing and souvenirs to festive food, toys and just about anything else.

Since nobody wants to be alone at this time of year a trip with your loved one to the city centre markets will give you so much more to do than just shop. They have ice rinks and stalls and fair rides for the kids too.

The Bloemenmarkt or Flower market, will give an air of romance to your holiday, you can pick up Christmas trees there but we won't promise you'll be able to get it back home. We are sorry if that dissapoints you but there is the alternative of purchasing some excellent decorations for you tree back home.

The Funky Xmas market is an offshoot of Amsterdam's Funky Sunday Markets, you'll be able to find it at the Westergasfabriek. This event is being held on the weekend of 22nd and 23rd of December, again worryingly close to Christmas day itself, if you haven't already done all of your shopping. This promises to be a brilliant place to add a little bit of quirk to the festive holiday. A free spirited and lively market crammed with colour and music as well as delicious food and objet d'art to make your Christmas an unique one.

belgium-christmas

Belgian Christmas markets

Belgium is one of the best places to visit over the holidays. It's our opinion that during winter there are few countries with so many cities that get the Christmas season right. Cities such as Brussels and Bruges are made all the more enjoyable when wrapped up tight with a woolly scarf. You can wander for hours before stopping in at a cafe in the early evening for bite and something warm or just a large mug of ale.

Ghent

The Ghent Christmas market makes for a fantastic family pilgrimage. It begins on 11th December running everyday throughout the month to New Years Eve. There is a traditional element to it with Christmas carols providing the soundtrack through live performances by city choirs.

Since you are in Belgium and ‘tis the season, you should prevail upon yourself to try the chocolates and waffles – if you need something to warm you then there will certainly be mulled wine and cider near at hand. If your kids are not so easily impressed by the winding cobbled streets then the atmosphere is ever changing with live jazz and folk performances as well as a bit of Christmas rock thrown in to the mix.

Bruges

Bruges' Christmas market held in the main market square is open from November 23rd to January 2nd. With canal routes, cobbled streets and age old architecture you'd be hard pressed to find a city that gets more scenic throughout the Christmas period – especially when it snows.

As well as the inevitable appearance of Santa Claus, Bruges also promises a large ice rink for some handheld skating. The market is host to a snow and ice sculpture festival, so iif you tire easily of shopping, there will be some astounding carvings for you to marvel at as you join the merry gathering of Christmas revellers in Bruges this year.

Take a P&O ferry to France, Belgium or Holland for the Christmas markets of 2013

Image credit: LenDog64, Ben SJ, johnthrum

Wine tours in France


P&O Ferries: Wine tours in France

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The French have a special claim to wine production. Many of the new world vintages are growing vast followings and, it has to be said, make some very good wines. However the world really does look to France first for wine so so why not start your education there?

France has an ancient tradition of wine making, the notion of old world vintages from vineyards whose produce has been supped by Popes and Kings is a heritage that’s surely insurmountable. If you’re goal is to learn about wine your fist stop really should be France.

Whether you consider yourself a connoisseur, aspire to become one or are just interested in finding some good wines, autumn is an ideal time for you to tour France’s wine country.

Naturally with the harvest going on the pickers will be at their busiest so it’s probably best not to get underfoot too much, especially if you don’t know the language. Taking a tour is one way to assure you avoid this.

The main areas to visit for wine in France are: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire Valley. Each offers a unique guide to French wine making and you can book tours with companies or just take a trip by car or bicycle through the open country to each vineyard. There are a variety of wine tasting tour companies which vary in method from hotel arranged pick ups to deluxe VIP tours from companies such as French Wine Explorers. The latter specialises in taking guests to the exclusive and hard to reach vintners, giving you a bespoke tour to best suit your interests.

Romance does not abide in Paris alone, the French landscape itself can stir the soul and make a couple’s holiday seem all the more special.

Areas like the Loire Valley are immensely beautiful. A handheld tour with your loved one under autumn foliage, down secluded waterways with the scent of vineyards in the air will surely bring out the romantic in you. Of course a decent bottle of wine and countryside lodgings will help you make the most of your holiday as well.

There is much more to do than just drink in these regions, for our post on the scenic beauty of the Loire Valley follow this link. As mentioned in July’s post Champagne also offers more than it’s bubbly namesake. Beers have crossed the border from Belgium and the north of France has an intriguing array of locations, not to mention events that would help make your French holiday all the more memorable.

If tasting the wine is more important to you than getting a feel for the environment and the process of French winemaking, you can remain in the capital for a tasting session.

Where better than the hub of France itself to get a masterclass in the very best wines that France has to offer? These tasting classes begin at €50 and you can take your pick from drinking as you drift down the Seine to the scented cellars of the Parisian wine aficionados or something a little more modern like taking to a roof top restaurant.

Burgundy

Burgundy and Bordeaux

Some of the most famous French wines come from the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions. If you favour a glass of red then these more southerly areas are for you. Unfortunately this would mean quite a journey from the ferry port in Calais.

In Bordeaux, wine tasting summer courses are available, priced at €35 a head. This is quite a good deal considering that the workshops will school you in everything from tasting, to a course in how the wine is made.

These are a great idea for any budding vintist, connoisseur in the making or perhaps restauranteur who really wants to get to grips with subtleties of the different vintages.
If attending classes isn’t to your taste then all you really need do is find a decent guide to get you about your preferred region.

One of the recommended sites for doing just such is Saint Emilion. This is an UNESCO world heritage site right in the center of Bordeaux. This small medieval village is quite far off the beaten track, yet remains near to the vineyards so you’ll get good exposure to the wines of the region without falling in to a massive crowd of ‘wine tourists’.

Burgundy has a better proximity to central France so you can get tours of the vineyards that pick you up from your hotel in Paris. If you’re taking a city trip an urban night is better offset by spending the day out in the French countryside, particularly if it’s a bright sunny day.

Tours run by companies such as Authentica have a great reputation for hospitality, and their tour guides will give you tips on the best places to stop for lunch in Dijon. The best part of these trips is the warmth and interest of your guide. Wine tasting has an air dignity and sophistication to it but vineyards are places of energy and enthusiasm. Wine making may be a slow process however the love of the craft is a beautiful thing to behold in an authentic French setting.

If authenticity is what you strive for then a vineyard cycling holiday is definitely what we recommend. Logistically these are far simpler then you’d believe. A 6-8 day tour of the Cotes de Rhone, Provence, Burgundy or the Loire Valley will take you down beautiful waterways and across sprawling vineyards. You can stop to recuperate in the small towns and pause at the wineries to sample the good stuff. With hotel bookings arranged before hand you can sojourn, seeing or tasting whatever sparks your curiosity.

While the good weather lasts you can end up at the coast for a dip and then take a rapid transport through France and back up to Calais in time for the ferry home.

Image credit: ROGERIOMACHADO , Christophe DESMOTTES

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