autumn in norfolk

If you haven’t considered taking a family break in autumn or winter before, then now is the time to start considering the idea. As the days get shorter and colder, the desire to wrap up and snuggle down becomes greater but this doesn’t mean we can’t be as cosy and comfortable away from home.

With cottages all over the UK available for rent for long weekends or longer breaks, it seems silly not to take advantage. It’s the perfect excuse to take the family away to discover some more of our beautiful country. From Yorkshire to Cornwall, there is something for everyone and this time we are shining the spotlight on Norfolk

Autumn breaks in Norfolk

Norfolk is a relatively flat countryside so it’s perfect for walking and getting outside without getting too strenuous. Autumn is renowned for colour and you can choose from the coastal path or a number of ‘Ways’ that take you on some spectacular journeys through the county. (Angles Way, Peddars Way, Boudicca Way and plenty more to choose from). If walking isn’t your thing then maybe cycling the routes could be a better way to get out and explore.

Beaches of Norfolk

The beaches are just as beautiful out of season – if not more and I know Baxter would love to run up and down a few of Norfolk’s favourites like Winterton, Brancaster and Wells next the Sea which is lined with the prettiest beach huts to photograph.

I didn’t know that Norfolk was a great place to watch birds. This is the time of year when birds are migrating from the Arctic and you can see the familiar v-shaped formations of geese as they travel down from Iceland and Greenland. I hear that Welney is the perfect Sunset spot to capture the wild swan feeds; the area fills with swans and ducks as they make their home for the winter.

Norfolk food and beer

Harvest time of year always brings lots of food festivals and special occasions to take part in. There are funghi forays, nature trails plus Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse has a wonderful Apple Day to visit. Maybe you could buy some and make a crumble or a Toffee Apple cake.

The city of Norwich always has plenty going on if you’re looking for a buzz, if not, enjoy the cobbled lanes and quaint town centre, maybe pop into a pub for some local beer from one of the many local breweries.

Heritage railway

The beautiful heritage railways of Norfolk travel all over the county and this is the time of year that you can take the children on a Santa Special. Sit back and take in the glorious scenery, I am told that the North Norfolk Railway from Sheringham to Holt is breathtaking.

Norfolk has a wealth of stately homes and museums to discover, parks full of wild deer and other wildlife and what’s more, it apparently has the best climate in the UK too.

You can find out plenty of more things to do on the Visit Norfolk website

Cottages to rent in Norfolk

Now all you have to do is find the right cottage for you to stay in. Norfolk Cottages has plenty to choose from for example, The Old Coach House in Pentney sleeps up to 8 people and allows dogs… just look at the swimming pool!

autumn in norfolk

Or The Granary? A luxury property in Aslacton. Take a look at the photos – I don’t think I’d ever leave it’s so beautiful.

autumn in norfolk

Have I convinced you to take a look at Norfolk? Do let me know if you go there and where you visit.

Disclosure: A collaborative post

venice in 1 day with kids

“Venice in 1 day with the kids?” you shriek in disbelief that it can be done.

“Yes.” is my knowledgeable reply as that is exactly what we did this summer whilst staying on Lake Garda.

We (Megan and I) decided that as a special treat for the girls (aged 9 – 10), we’d catch a train from Verona and spend one day in Venice.

Having lived in Italy for almost 20 years, I was well aware of the cost of a day trip to Venice and to keep our expenditure down our first decision was to take a packed lunch and drinks with us. We checked the train times and we booked a return ‘regionale’ online. (This saved us our first euros as tickets are slightly cheaper online and we found a great Family Deal).

venice in one day with kids

The girls were delighted to see that our ‘very reasonably priced train’ was a double-decker and insisted on sitting upstairs. It is incredibly comfortable and clean  – that’s until you visit the toilets – don’t go unless you really have to is my advice!

An inspector will be along to check your tickets but, if you’ve booked online, you’ll have an email with a QR code which they can scan. The journey from Verona to Venice takes about 1 1/2 hours and arrives slap bang in the centre. the perfect starting point.

Getting around Venice with kids

venice in one day with kids

Another decision we had made during the planning stage was to invest in a ticket for the vaporetto. At first glance, this might seem an outrageous expense but contrary to belief, Venice is enormous and the islands surrounding are quite a distance away. This is the part we hadn’t looked into booking online and my advice would be to do so if you can as it will save a lot of time. There are various options to choose from and we went for the 1-day inclusive pass. It cost about €20 each (there are no differences between children and adults) but it allowed us to travel anywhere at any time for 24 hours and you really will make the most of it.

The Grand Canal

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Our first vaporetto experience was on the Grand Canal. We caught the water bus from the ticket office and we cruised leisurely down the Grand Canal stopping off at all of the stops along the way. As we were first on, we had great seats at the back of the boat in the open part and this allowed the girls to take in the unique beauty of Venice. We stared in awe as we passed the most beautiful buildings lining the canal. I didn’t even bother starting with the history or cultural information and just allowed the girls to enjoy everything they could take in around them.

Trust me, that’s not all of my photos but you get the idea!

Piazza San Marco

venice in one day with kids

Our decision was to stop off at Piazza San Marco and take a walk through the alleyways from the ferry stop to the main square. There is also a public toilet closeby which came in very handy. We walked through the bustling lanes taking in Valentino, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana shop fronts. We were mesmerised with the elite fashion around us. I looked up ahead and through an archway and took in my first glimpse that day of San Marco Square, it really does make your heart beat faster. We walked the girls towards the entrance, Megan was already bubbling with excitement and I took their reactions in as they walked onto one of the most beautiful and iconic squares in the world.

The girls were awestruck. The marvel of what they were taking in stamped on their tiny faces. Piazza San Marco is enormous, as we stepped through the archway onto the square which was relatively empty we walked over to the centre so to get a good view of the place.

There was an orchestra playing to filled tables outside one of the cafes, queues of people lining up to visit the iconic buildings around the edge and hundreds of tourists vying for the best Selfie spot. The girls got their phones out and joined in taking photos left right and centre. All I could hear was ‘Wow’ and ‘Look mum!’

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We strolled through the square up to the cathedral and round to the Doge’s’s Palace. We didn’t want to lose any of our precious time queueing for visits but vowed to return with them one day and make time to visit the beautiful buildings and learn the history.

venice in one day with kids

We crossed a bridge and took a photo of the Bridge of Sighs and just a bit further along was the ferry point for the crossing to Murano and Burano.

Burano – the colourful island of Venice

venice in one day with kids

We knew that we wouldn’t be able to do a lot of walking as the little people could only handle so much and Venice is BIG. So on the advice of one of Megan’s friend’s who lives in Venice we had to choose between Murano – the island of the glass blowing or Burano – the colourful island adored on Instagram.

We jumped on the ferry (included in our 1-day Vaporetto ticket) and sat down to enjoy the 45-minute journey. It’s the perfect time to tuck into your picnic and the girls were able to roam the ferry safely and report back on their findings.

venice in one day with kids

Burano will catch your attention before landing as the Vaporetto makes its way along the coastline towards the doc. The island is a burst of colour in the middle of the blue lagoon. The individually painted houses are one brighter than the next all crying out for your attention. We docked quickly and without a map, we started walking to the centre.

Burano is the island of lace and there are plenty of shops to invest in local pieces costing form a €5 bookmark to €???? tablecloths, dresses and fine art.

venice in one day with kids

As you head towards the centre you quickly discover the island is crisscrossed with canals which in turn are adorned with brightly painted boats. Burano must be the birthplace of the rainbow there isn’t a surface on the island that hasn’t seen a paintbrush.

We treated ourselves to a drink/ice cream in one of the squares and then had to walk very quickly back to the dock so as not to miss our ferry. We were incredibly sad to leave and have vowed to book a room on the island next time.

venice in one day with kids

From the dock to the station

A word of advice is not to underestimate the walk from the dock where the boat deposits you back to the station. The beauty of the cheap ticket is the price but if you fail to catch your train, you will have to pay extra and on top of our super expenditure, that’s one thing we wanted to avoid.

It’s a half an hour walk and Megan, with Google maps on her phone, walked us through the alleys towards the station. She did such a great job we were able to enjoy an Aperol Spritz/coca cola before catching the train.

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Saving money tips for a day in Venice

Book your train tickets online, there are some fantastic deals to be had.

Take a packed lunch and bottles of water – each of the girls carried their own small water bottle which we would fill at the water fountains.

Book any entrance tickets and times to popular tourist sights online, you’ll be able to walk right in and avoid the queues.

Verdict:

This experience is one that has stayed with the girls. They say it was the best part of their summer holiday this year and one of the best things they have ever done.

Read also: Paris in one day

lovehearts, street art dope

A while back, I was lucky enough to go on a Street Art tour of London and listening to the knowledgeable guide really opened my eyes to a whole new world I hadn’t known about previously. A world of artists who express themselves through graffiti, stencils, prints, stickers, large-scale paintings and even street installations. Their art is often a means of expressing a political opinion, a message they want to send out to wake the population up to the truth as they see it.

That experience has stayed with me and now, every time I go abroad and visit a new town or city (or visit new places in the UK), I keep an eye out for any eye-catching art.

I’ve heard about Clet Abraham who adds humourous stickers to the Florentine road signs at night. Lorenzo Quinn who installed ‘Support’ – a pair of enormous human hands reaching out of the Grand Canal in Venice, propping up the historic hotel Ca’Sagredo Hotel and making a massive statement about global warming. I now visit a new town or city and look out for the artworks placed there when no one is around, in secret. Sadly it wasn’t there during our day trip in August.

I am hoping to organise a day trip to Paris. With a street art scene stretching back to the 1980’s, Paris has a wonderfully vibrant selection to offer. From Jef Aérosol, one of the first stencil artists who stencilled 350sqm next to the Pompidou Centre in 2011 and entitled his piece Chuuutt!!! (Shh!) to Jérôme Mesnager whose signature white figure ( a symbol of light, strength and peace) has been created in the Ménilmontant neighbourhood, interestingly it was Matisse’s painting, ‘La Danse’ that inspired him.

Following the theme of silhouettes, Nemo’s trademark is a black silhouette of a man wearing a trench coat and fedora. Nemo’s mural of a man on a bicycle can also be found in Menilmontant.

The 13th and 20th arrondissements and Montmartre and Abbesses are also great places to wander on the hunt for street art, Miss Tic has created a pin up-style woman with the words ‘To life, to love”. It is such an appreciated work of art that the city graffiti cleaners are asked to restore this piece rather than remove it.

Of course, not every artist needs graffiti supplies with them like spray cans and paints as artists like Alexandre Farto, known as Vhils, choose walls that have been painted or have certain textures and he strips them back using the various layers to sculpt faces on the wall.

london street art love will tear us apart again

I remember spotting one of Space Invader’s works on the London tour, a tiled mosaic of the pixelated video game Space Invader. Apparently, his first piece ever was in the French capital and also his thousandth in 2011.

Another artist I would like to find on my tour of Paris would be Gregos. I like his work so much, I follow him on Instagram. He makes plaster cast masks of faces and paints them before fixing them to walls all over the world.

Have you come across some great street art abroad? If so where?

Puy du Fou falconry Academy

It’s more than a month ago that I visited the world’s best theme park in France – Puy du Fou but I still continue to think about how much I loved it and how I would like to return with the family one day.

A visit to this unique step back in history is more than discovering a fascinating world of long ago played out before you by top-class actors. Puy du Fou sends you home with a complete top to tail wellbeing that I have never encountered elsewhere. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I have come to the conclusion that it is to do with the ethos of the park.

A world of nature

Puy du Fou forest

I remember clearly, as I was walking around the vast grounds, how every single factor of the park had been taken into consideration and tuned into the overall wellbeing feel. You cannot help but be in awe of the flowers, foliage and well-kept grounds. The land boasts a 100-year old forest with 150 different species of trees and that keeps the 45 gardeners and landscapers busy all year round.  In fact, they have developed ecosystems based on the natural food chain, such as ladybirds used to tackle the aphids on the rose bushes and using Ouessant sheep as an ecological lawnmower!

Puy du Fou lake

They take their consideration for guests one step further by choosing to maintain the gardens with silent and ecological electrical equipment. Nature and the control of nature is respected at all times and is an intrinsic principle of the Park.

Puy du Fou’s animals

Puy du Fou falconry

Then there is the question of all the animals used in the shows, they are full-time actors too and play a key role in the Puy du Fou excellence. The onsite Equestrian Academy has 206 trained horses in all disciplines from the trick stunt riders seen in Le Secret de la Lance to the finer dressage used in Mosquetaire de Richelieu. Great care is shown to these much-loved animals and their trainers ensure they have a healthy diet and strictly regulate their work levels.

I was very pleased to see the Animal Conservatory which offers a sanctuary for many age-old species like the Poitou donkey, the Des Fosses goat and the Poitou goose. Puy du Fou holds the record for the largest number of protected species in Western France.

Puy du Fou piglets

Everyone knows how much a dog lover I am and there are plenty of opportunities to see dogs taking part in the shows too. The Canine Academy operates on fun based and playful training methods. The 10 Czechs wolves were taken in from the age of 2 and a half months. The first six months were devoted to interacting with them before any form of training takes place. The training is very gentle and both their wellbeing and confidence is of primary importance.

Then there is the Falconry Academy which we were allowed to enter and visit. You can too – make sure you book in advance though.

We spent a lot of time with one of the falconers who introduced us to many of the 73 different species looked after at Puy du Fou. We even saw some newborns and it was explained that some are kept for training and used in the shows but another equal proportion are prepared to return to their natural habitat. For these birds, there is a bare minimum of human interaction so as not to confuse them.

Intrigued? If you are considering visiting take a look at my What to see and do at Puy du Fou post and start planning the best family trip ever.

You’re going to love it!

medieval village puy du fou

Puy du Fou is the most exciting theme park in the world, it’s even won multiple awards saying so and having been there, I can personally vouch for that. It is a theme park like no other and a minimum of planning before you arrive will allow you go get the very best from an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime. Three weeks have passed since my visit and I am still full of the wonders and joy my experience gave me.

puy du fou vulture

Making the most of your Puy du Fou experience

Puy du Fou has put a lot of thought into making sure your day runs as smoothly as possible and allows you to see and experience as much as possible too. They have a fantastic app you can download which gives a map of the park – essential for Day 1 until you get your bearings, a daily programme and restaurants among other facilities.

Le secret del la lance puy du fou

If you are old school, they also have a printed handout which has a map, programme and all of the information you need to plan ahead. These can be picked up at the hotel, at the park entrance and from inside the park too.

Top tip: Download the Puy du Fou app, available on iTunes and Google Play.

Top tip: Pick up a map as wifi can be sketchy in some areas of the vast park.

Top tip: Link to the Puy du Fou website

Pass Émotion

pass emotion puy du fou

Like all theme parks, Puy du Fou can get very busy which makes for queues and possibly having to miss out on a show. We had the Pass Émotion, it hangs on a lanyard around your neck and allows you to jump the queue for the most popular 7 shows plus sit in a specially designated area with a good view. €14 per person.

Souvenirs

One of the ideas I found so impressive was the souvenirs on sale. Firstly, the shops are in the various villages of the park; in the medieval village you could buy handmade jewellery, handwritten notes and leather goods (including the popular pixie boots worn by the staff). The souvenirs you can buy are made by local craftsmen who, dressed in period costume, make and sell their wares to you giving a wonderful layer of authenticity to your experience. I bought the girls some enamel earrings, myself a handwritten note and some Puy du Fou biscuits in a beautiful tin for us to share.

souvenir shop puy du fou

Pre-book restaurants

There is a wonderful selection of restaurants to eat at on the park and these too become booked up at busy times of the year. Everything can be pre-booked online at the point of booking your trip and I would especially recommend saving your place at Le Café de la Madelon to enjoy the dinner and cabaret.

La Mijoterie du Roy Henry restaurant Puy du Fou

Which shows to see at Puy du Fou?

All of them!

Honestly, you won’t be disappointed by any of them but sadly you most likely won’t be able to fit all of them on a weekend break. We managed to squeeze in 12 plus a couple of other activities worth considering when planning your Puy du Fou trip. They are all acted in French but the music and action are so intense that the stories speak for themselves. However, should you wish to listen to the translation of each show, you can ask for a translator and headphones.

Le signe du triomphe Puy du fou

Each show plays from 26 – 40 minutes and is played up to 7 times a day and there is seating from 2,400 to 6,000 spectators per performance.

Top tip: Bring your own noise-cancelling headphones as the ones provided don’t cover the volume generated by the show.

Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantômes

Le Bal des Oiseaux Fantomes puy du fou

The stage in the middle is flanked by two banks of seats raising high up into the treetops. A wonderful story with beautiful costumes is enacted with the main actors of the show – the birds. 330 eagles, falcons, vultures, kites and owls fill the sky and fly from one side to the other to waiting falconers dotted in amongst the crowd creating the most spellbinding spectacle. What an opener to our Puy du Fou experience! I read that the birds in full flight together is the result of a 25-year long project!

le bal des oiseaux fantomes Puy du fou

Les Vikings

Les vikings puy du fou

We left the birds behind and walked from the Medieval village, through the Vikings area where there were forgers working at the fire pit to the next stage, to watch The Vikings. Fort de l’An Mil is the setting of the quiet village which gets invaded by Vikings. The stage is enormous and whilst you are looking down one end, something is already starting to happen at the other. There is action everywhere and you really don’t know where to look next plus the special effects will blow your mind! Plenty of animals take part in this show too including a dog, horses, bull and geese.

Les vikings puy du fou

Le Dernier Panache

The production tells the story of the tragic destiny of Francois-Athanase Charette de la Contrie, a French naval officer. The audience is seated in the round theatre and as the story runs from scene to scene, the seating platform swivels around the theatre to the next part of the show. It’s a 360 performance which is superb and very cleverly organised. Our group were wowed by the genius behind the production, it’s like being part of a film. Expect to see horses on stage too.

Les Amoureux de Verdun

Les Amoureux de Verdun puy du fou

A different experience is offered by this fully immersive walk-through show that left me with goosebumps and sadness. Visitors are plunged into the First World War trenches and as you walk through them with battles going on around you, you hear the daily life of Poilus through letters he sent back home to his loved one. A very poignant show. I’m not sure I would take the twins (aged 10) but older children yes. You will pass people with tears in their eyes as you realise the extent our grandparents went to in order for us to lead the happy peace we enjoy today. Winner of Best Creation in the World Los Angeles 2016.

Mousquetaire de Richelieu

A very lively performance with sword duets, flamenco dances and equestrian stunts. Held in a purpose-built enormous theatre the story follows an impossible love affair of the 17th century. The stage boasts the largest stage curtain in the world!

Le Grand Carillon

Le Grand Carillon puy du fou

What a beautiful piece of architecture sitting in the middle of Le Village XVIIIeme. An enormous clock. We managed to watch a small part of the fascinating clock chiming before rushing off to the next show.

Le Secret de la Lance

le secret de la lance puy du fou

The story of a shepherdess as she discovers the secrets of a lance that has the power to protect the castle. The stage is mind-boggling, an 8-meter wall that disappears in front of you, a castle that swivels round and horses, fighting and lots of drama.

le secret de la lance puy du fou

Le Signe Du Triomphe

By the time we reached the impressive Gallo-Roman stadium, I was wondering what else could Puy du Fou throw at me. Hadn’t I seen it all now? No. I was entertained with gladiator battles and chariot races, young love that needed saving and some incredible animals too. Certainly one of my favourite shows.

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Le Mystère de La Pérouse

A brand new creation for 2018 and one Puy du Fou is rightfully proud of is a fully immersive walk-through show. You start by boarding the ship – La Boussole and watch the sailors as they prepare to set sail from Brest in 1785. As you walk further into the ship and follow the story, there is a rocking motion to the floor and you can see the sea outside of the windows. The voyage sails through Cape Horn and the Easter Islands and areas of the walk give off climatic conditions that would have been felt – the clammy hot of the Pacific and icy winds of Alaska, before ending a shipwreck at the end of the walkthrough. A stunning experience, you feel as though you have walked through history.

Le Ballet des Sapeurs

le ballet des sapeurs puy du fou

In the charming Le Bourg zone, Le Ballet des Sapeurs is played out by the children of the Puy du Fou Académie. the pupils play a very entertaining short act of putting out a fire.

Evening entertainment at Puy du Fou

There are a number of restaurants on site and each has a different menu and experience to offer. We ate at two of them.

Le Café de la Madelon.

Cafe de la Madelon Puy du fou press trip

A new restaurant set in the Belle Epoque era and seats 700 guests in one sitting. The menu is fixed and the price includes wine and water. Everything you will find on your table and there will be no extra waiting service throughout the meal as the staff take part in the onstage cabaret. It is a heartwarming story of a marriage and it’s amazing to see your waiter or waitress serve food or clear plates and then dance on stage with the ensemble. A very entertaining evening

Top tip: Book ahead!

There are two evening shows and I loved them both. They start after dinner and wait for the sun to set as the darkness is part of the stage.

Les Orgues de Feu

Les Orgues de Feu puy du fou

I sat entranced by this mesmerising show which takes place on a lake. Seated at one end, I watched as the lake became alive with light shows, fountains playing to music and ballerinas that glided across the waters dressed in illuminated ballgowns. I enjoyed classical favourites of Mozart, Delerue, Bach and Bizet, a grand piano coming out of the lake, a gigantic organ appearing and a golden harp. Top all of that off with a fantastic firework display and you have a show that is ten time that of the Bellagio in Vegas. Awesome!

Cinéscénie

Cinéscénie puy du fou

This was our final show and as it was the beginning of the Puy du Fou theme park, as mentioned in my previous post, there was a lot of anticipation in our group and around the entire park. As it is coined the greatest night show in the world, it had a lot to live up to and boy did it go above and beyond our expectations! I think we were all so stunned after the 1 and a half hour performance that we were speechless. Consider that the show is performed by 4000 volunteer actors from the nearby towns. It takes place on the world’s biggest stage: 23 hectares and includes 30 free-flying drones, film projections with 3D mapping, 28,000 costumes and 850 fireworks. This year has seen the addition of 10 drones in different scenes called ‘Neopters’ that fly simultaneously and are equipped with features that offer even more dimensions to the show.

Cinéscénie

From start to finish this show is mesmerising and will stay with you long after you have departed Puy du Fou.

Top tip: Please make sure you book and plan your trip around it.

Other Puy du Fou tips I can think of

Take some very comfortable shoes, there’s a lot of walking!

Take an umbrella or better still, a fold up waterproof poncho. Puy du Fou also sell them if needed as if it rains – the show goes on!

Dress in layers, we enjoyed some fabulous hot sunshine and I had to buy a hat as sitting in the sun for long amounts of time is tiring.

Other posts from my fellow bloggers who were on the trip:

Are we nearly there yet?: La Cinéscénie at Puy Du Fou – Review

Juggle Mum Blog: Review Puy du Fou

Extraordinary Chaos: A Guide for visiting Puy du Fou

Globetotting: The 8 shows at Puy du Fou that will blow your mind