Saturday, 6 September 2014

Windsor Castle, Berkshire

Windsor Castle shimmers in the evening sun

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Eton, Berkshire

An aerial view of the hallowed public school

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Castell d’Empordà, near La Bisbal d'Empordà, Catalonia

Dating from the fourteenth century, Castell d’Empordà is perched above the rolling farmland north of La Bisbal d'Empordà near the Costa Brava. Medieval towers constructed from golden stone form the atmospheric centrepiece of this luxurious hotel, which also features a modern wing, an outdoor pool, a spacious sunbathing terrace and a renown restaurant. The garden rooms in the modern block have balconies and large glass windows with far-reaching views taking in the surrounding villages. They are well-equipped with comfortable beds, free Wi-Fi, safes, minibars, rain showers, bathrobes and flat-screen televisions. Kitted out in a cool, contemporary style, these rooms have oak floors and stylish, sold furniture. And unlike the accommodation in the castle itself, the garden rooms are served by a lift.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Lunch at Castell d’Empordà, near La Bisbal d'Empordà, Catalonia

A historic castle-turned-hotel, Castell d’Empordà serves a fairly lavish lunch with a view for just under 20 euros before water and other drinks. The tables are laid out on a broad spacious terrace in the shadow of the medieval keep shaded by a modernist roof constructed from interlocking rusted iron discs. The set menu offers a choice of three dishes per course. For a starter, the salmon tartar is fresh, nicely dressed with lime and dill, and served with crisp radish, but the portion can be meagre. Among the main courses, the paella-like rice casserole contains generous chunks of fish and black sausage. It can be a little salty and some might find it bitter. Alternatively, the entrecôte steak, served with potatoes, is a big helping of juicy meat, typically cooked rarer than you ask for. For deserts, the creme brûlée is sweet, creamy and satisfying. Leaning heavily on Spain, the wine list is fairly priced For example, a bottle of Ruchel Godello Valdeorras - a crisp, clean, dry white wine - is good value at 17.7 euros.  Castell d’Empordà's good value lunch deservedly attracts plenty of punters and you'll enjoy the buzz, the history and the views across the surrounding fields. 8/10 

La Bisbal d'Empordà, Catalonia

Best known for its pottery and ceramics, La Bisbal d'Empordà is a quiet old town surrounded by rolling Catalan countryside dotted with medieval villages and tailor-made for cycling. The town's landmark building is the Palace Castle of the bishops of Girona (pictured above), which is surrounded by a small warren of old streets with pavement cafes and restaurants. It is also worth strolling along the tree-lined Daró river bed, which is now dry (pictured below), and along the Avenue de les Voltes with its elegant arcades (also pictured below). 6/10

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Restaurant La Cantonada, C/Del Bisbe, la Bisbal d'Emporda

Pretty much off the tourist trail and not open every evening, Restaurant La Cantonada serves superb, beautifully-presented Catalan food. This unpretentious eatery with unremarkable decor offers a three-course menu for 20 euros (includes desert/coffee and water), with supplements for certain dishes. Before you tuck into your starters, the gruff, but helpful, waiter will bring you some appetisers, such as a crostinis, topped with a tapenade, and a thick creamy soup in a small glass.  Among the starters, the gorgonzola ravoili with feta cheese, pesto and tomatoes is both excellent and filling. There is also a rich, thick and delicious, gazpacho-style dish, served with a big dollop of cream. It is quite sweet. The humous and parsley salad and the parmesan salad are both fresh and large.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Restaurant Ibèric, Valls, Ullastret, Catalonia

Although it has some comfortable seats on a pleasant terrace facing Ullastret's medieval stone walls, Restaurant Ibèric can be devoid of diners in the evening when the day trippers have gone home. The food is quite good, but doesn't make up for the lack of atmosphere. On the a la carte menu, most of the fish dishes are expensive by local standards - costing around 20 euros each, but the meat dishes are more reasonable at about 14 euros apiece.  There may also be a long list of specials, substituting for dishes that are off.  After you've ordered, a waitress might bring you some moist and delicious pieces of tortilla as a (free) appetiser. Among the starters, the tuna salad (8.85 euros) is generous and well seasoned. The chunks of fish, which are fresh and meaty, are accompanied by tomatoes and onions, as well as greenery. The steamed mussels (8.80 euros) are also plentiful, but are soaked in vinegar, which won't be to everyone's tastes. For a main course, the boar stew is a rich, meaty dish, served with a thick sauce, complete with mushrooms and onions. It is satisfying without being scintillating. The Catalan broad beans, however, are laced with too much fennel, giving the dish a strong aniseed flavour. You may not need desert, as you get a pile of tiny chocolates with your coffee, providing the needed sugar kick. Unfortunately, Ullastret seems quiet in the evening and the looming stone walls opposite Restaurant Ibèric can get a bit oppressive after dark. 6/10 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Pals, Catalonia

The heavily-restored and touristy medieval village of Pals rises above a flat plain running down to the Mediterranean. The ancient fortifications, stone houses, cobbled streets, Romanesque tower, time-worn archways and verdant pot plants give Pals an undoubted charm, but, in August, you may have to enjoy this period piece with coach loads of tourists. Although there are plenty of pavement cafes and souvenir shops catering to the visitors, the commercialism is low key and restrained. Pals is certainly worth a wander round, but try and avoid peak season. 7/10