Start at the spires of La Ville Rose (The Pink City). A profusion of pink marble and rosy bricks have given Toulouse an unforgettable skyline, and one of its standouts is the Romanesque Basilique St-Sernin.
The octagonal bell-tower of this 11th-century masterpiece became the blueprint for churches built in the surrounding Gers region. Step into the church and stroll around the ambulatory, beneath the watchful gaze of marble cherubs, before descending into the vaulted crypt. Numerous holy relics here cemented the basilica’s importance as a stop on the French Way of St James pilgrimage route.
Swing east along Rue du Périgord for a detour to Les Halles Victor Hugo. This food market brims with dried sausage, cheeses, and ripe-to-bursting tomatoes. The best produce is cooked up at restaurants on its upper level.
Belly full, head south out of the market along Rue du Rempart Villeneuve before walking west along Rue Lafayette. Soon enough you’ll spy Place du Capitole, home to Toulouse’s 18th-century city hall. Continue west and duck south down Rue Lakanal, which leads to the Couvent des Jacobins. This grand complex with peach-coloured cloisters is the heart of the region’s religious life, and celebrated its eighth centenary in 2015.
Striking a balance between elegance, centrality and value, rooms at Hotel Albert 1er have crimson drapes, crisp white sheets, and lean-out-and-sigh balconies.
Day 2: step through history in Auch
Leave vibrant Toulouse in your rear-view mirror and drive west towards the placid town of Auch. It’s an easy 80km journey along the N124, passing meadows strewn with hay bales.
The town’s centrepiece is the Cathédrale Ste-Marie. This twin-towered masterpiece took two centuries to build, so its architectural flourishes range from Gothic to Renaissance. Most impressive is its choir. Saints and philosophers are carved in wood and a set of 18 stained-glass windows dating to the 15th century sparkle above. Reward your introspective visit to the cathedral by ambling north to Rue Dessoles, where you can enjoy inventive duck dishes and local cheese at La Table d’Oste.
Just southeast of the cathedral (follow Rue Laborde to Place Salinis) is the Escalier Monumental. A mighty 234 steps flow down this Baroque outdoor staircase, bypassing medieval to modern landmarks along the way. As you walk down, admire the Tour d’Armagnac, a former seat of power for the counts who held sway here in the 14th century. Also note a statue of semi-mythical musketeer D’Artagnan and contemporary sculpture by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa.
Auch’s most glamorous place to stay is the Hôtel de France, a 300-year-old hotel mere moments from the cathedral, replete with stained glass windows and wrought-iron railings.
Day 3: steep yourself in medieval history near Valence-sur-Baïse
Take the northbound D390 from Auch for 33 tree-lined kilometres until you reach tiny Valence-sur-Baïse, with Abbaye de Flaran at its northern edge. Built in the 12th century, this stately Cistercian abbey has seen numerous attacks, suffering enormous damage during the bitter Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Now faithfully rebuilt, the cloisters of this sandstone sanctuary enclose a serene courtyard.
Next, drive north out of Valence-sur-Baïse along the D142 before joining the D278 towards Laressingle, France’s smallest fortified town. With its rectangular turrets, Laressingle looks almost like a castle in Lego. March over the stone bridge and through its single archway, and picture yourself firing arrows from the town walls. Alternatively, test your trebuchet skills at the Cité des Machines du Moyen Age, a gaming zone themed around medieval warfare.
Barely 500m north of Laressingle, surrounded by acres of rose-draped gardens, Lacassagne has stylish rooms and lounges with fireplaces, within a country manor filled with antiques.
Day 4: see Gothic splendour in Condom
The prosaic origins of Condom’s name – a contraction of ‘Condatomagus’, a market town between two rivers – haven’t stopped visitors taking selfies with the road signs. But despite its name, this town of cobbled lanes and timeworn shopfronts will leave you impressed.
Its centrepiece is the Cathédrale St-Pierre, a flamboyant Gothic edifice with attached cloisters. One of the last buildings to be crafted in Gothic style in the Gers region, this 15th-century building boasts a 40m tower and glittering stained-glass windows. Within, bone-coloured arches and intricate tracery complete the effect.
Streets flowing from the cathedral square feature hôtels particuliers(stately townhouses) from the 18th century. They’re easy to spot by their decorative balustrades, ornamental windows and the occasional family crest carved in stone; find several privately-owned homes along main drag Avenue de Gaulle.
Not all the historic buildings are off-limits to visitors. On Rue Jules Ferry, behind the cathedral, stands the Musée de l’Armagnac, within a 17th-century former outbuilding of Condom’s Episcopal Palace. The museum is a temple to the region’s beloved brandy, which continues to be lovingly distilled from wine in oaken barrels at countless chateaux in the countryside. Armagnac tastings are offered at the museum, and you might want to pick up a bottle or three.
Le Continental’s rooms are tastefully furnished in faux-vintage style, plus there’s a spa and sauna. Crucially, the restaurant serves excellent local fare, including duck flambéed in Armagnac brandy.
It’s tradition in Lima to start the morning (or night) off with piping hot cups of herb-infused drinks that are boiled with grains like quinoa or boosted by maca, a revitalizing root from the high Andes of Peru. Find the carts set up at bustling intersections from the break of dawn until stock runs out, and back again when the sun sets. Don’t forget to ask for the yapa, the leftover pour that couldn’t fit in the first serving. Top spots include Grau at 28 de Julio in Barranco, Brasil at Grau in Magdalena del Mar, or Emancipacion at de la Union in central Lima.
You say potato, I say papa rellena
When life gives you 4000 varieties of potatoes, get creative. The papa rellena is Peru’s equivalent to a twice-baked potato. Completely enclosed and thus easy to eat on the go, mashed potato is stuffed with seasoned ground beef, onions, olives and egg before being fried to golden perfection. You’ll find plenty of options within the first three blocks of Av Petit Thouars, near central Lima, where students of nearby universities scramble to get the best and tastiest deal. Top it off with ketchup or Peru’s ever-present spicy chili sauce, aji.
Stick to the basics
Chocolate-covered pretzels aren’t the only salty-sweet combo: choclo con queso (corn with cheese) is a popular standby meal and proof that something must be in the water to make Peruvian food taste this good. In the case of Peru’s giant-kernel corn, that ‘something’ is anise. The small, aromatic seed gives the boiled corn a hint of sweetness that, when paired with a thick slab of queso Andino (a typical salty cheese in Peru), bursts into big flavor. Carts neighbor Lima’s Museum of Art during lunch hours, but at night, find the tastiest on Angamos at Jr Dante in Surquillo.
Although pollerias (roast chicken restaurants) appear to be on every corner in Lima, huevos de codorniz (quail eggs) rule the roost when it comes to street food. Vendors with small push carts first hard boil the eggs then, if you prefer, peel the spotted shells to reveal the creamy insides which are then generously sprinkled with salt. Nearly half a dozen of these small eggs can be purchased for one sol, and are found outside of shopping center Polvos Azules in central Lima or any district market.
To do or donut?
In Peru, such hole-y goodness as the donut and other fried pastries are upped a level by incorporating native starchy vegetables. Picarones opt for sweet potato and squash, hence their orange hue. Rings of this naturally sweet batter are lightly fried before being bathed in a generous pour of Peruvian honey. Their pastry cousins, yuquitas, use flour from the yucca root to become a warm, air-puffed treat. Get the best bang for your buck (or sol) at Mercado Palermo in La Victoria for yuquitas, and Parque Kennedy in Miraflores for picarones.
Hidden behind a bush of colourful foliage near the busy shopping centre Kisementi, a hedged path leads to Endiro Coffee, a beautiful little space serving coffee ground and brewed in-house. Grab a seat in the homey, comfortable loft upstairs, and with the right company, you’d think you were having coffee at the family dining table. Endiro’s motto of ‘brewing a better world’ highlights their commitment to buying coffee directly from farmers they know, train and equip in the town of Bududa on the slopes of Mt Elgon.
Good African Coffee
In the popular shopping area of Lugogo, Good African Coffee (goodafrican.com) is a trendy place for weary shoppers to put their feet up and relax. Grab a cup of the single-origin coffee that empowers thousands of local Ugandan farmers and communities and pair it with one of the heavenly handmade chocolate bars.
The heat of the city will drive you into the haven of CaféJavas (cafejavas.co.ug) sooner or later. With branches all over Kampala, this cafe is undoubtedly one of the most popular spots for a cup. Try CaféJavas’ signature blend: a mocha or cappuccino amped up with a shot of espresso made from locally grown coffee. If you seek refuge from the bustling streets, order a drink in the location on Kampala Road opposite the main post office, which sports an old-school atmosphere with green velvet-covered booths, old books, dial-up phones and hooded reading lamps.
An import from Uganda’s neighbour to the east, Java House (javahouseafrica.com) brews delicious cups of Kenyan coffee that’s hand roasted daily in small batches. Java House is popular for their ice-blended coffee frappes topped with a generous clouds of whipped cream, a perfect cool-down after a warm afternoon of sightseeing. Java House is not just about the coffee, and it’s worth seeking out the amazing chocolate fudge. The tables are often taken up by coffee drinkers bent over their laptops, lapping up the fast wi-fi.
Dropping into the self-proclaimed ‘happiness capital’ is one of the best ways to start your morning in Kampala. The baristas at Café Pap take a few extra seconds of their time to make each drink special by carefully writing kind words like lovely, cherished and dear in chocolate syrup on top of your coffee. The beans used here come from the slopes of Mt Elgon near the underground Sisiyi River are roasted to perfection at the shop, giving a satisfyingly sweet flavour.
Brood is the Dutch word for bread, which tells you immediately what this place’s forte is, but the freshly brewed coffee is up there too. Several branches of BBROOD (bbrood.ug) dot the city, but each shop can hold only about 10 customers at a time. The best one is tucked into a corner of New Day, a little bookshop inside Acacia Mall, a great stop for sandwiches and coffee at lunch.
After strolling through African Village, a huge handicraft market that’s open daily from 8am to 7pm, walk across Buganda Road to 1000 Cups, one of the first coffee shops in Kampala. Pass by the vintage stools and grab a seat on the cosy balcony outside in a low chair with overstuffed pillows. The cafe is a favourite of travellers from all over the world who are drawn to the cafe’s down-to-earth feel.
Away from the noisy city in the suburbs of Kololo, you’ll find Prunesamongst a sprawling garden. The coffee served here is a secret blend created by the proprietor from locally sourced beans, making a rich fruity espresso. Prunes is also one of the best places to get delicious healthy food or breakfast in Kampala. Time your visit for a Saturday when the farmers market selling local fruits, vegetables and handmade art is on.
Home to one of Dublin’s most popular beer gardens, the Bernard Shawalso houses an Italian cafe and a big blue bus, which whips up freshly-made pizza out back. If it looks thrown together, it acts like it too, hosting everything from a flea market every Saturday afternoon to regular pub quizzes, gigs, paint jams (to refresh the colourful graffiti) and even the world’s first coffee-throwing championship. If you want to explore further, head south across the bridge and you’ll find yourself in the trendy Rathmines neighbourhood.
Pet spaniels and eat spuds at MVP
With a wonderful combination of strong, original cocktails – ever heard of a Poitin Colada? – and fresh baked potatoes to protect you from said cocktails, MVP (mvpdublin.com) is in vibrant Portobello, a stone’s throw away from the beautiful, tree-lined Grand Canal (and the childhood home of Leopold Bloom). It’s one of the few dog-friendly watering holes in Dublin, so you might meet some furry friends up until 10pm. Beat the barman at chess on Tuesday for a free pint and keep an eye out for regular Sing Along Socials where you can screech your heart out to your favourite songs without being judged.
Make yourself at home in House
Located across two former upper-class residences, House (housedublin.ie) is decorated in an eclectic Georgian style yet still manages to be both elegant and welcoming. Choose to hide beside the fire in the library, enjoy the sunlight through the bright windows of the conservatory or perch on a stool in the pantry. Surrounded by historical townhouses on charming, residential Leeson St, it has one of the nicest beer gardens in the city, with a cover that can withstand the temperamental weather. Open late Monday to Saturday and attracting an older, upscale crowd, it’s a peaceful place to have a gin and tonic in the evening while enjoying the boppy swing soundtrack and sampling a cheese board.
Sing along in the Cobblestone
Simply the best place to catch some Irish traditional music in Dublin city centre, the Cobblestone describes itself as a ‘drinking pub with a music problem’. It’s popular with Dubliners and tourists in equal measure, and everyone is welcome to join the free nightly music sessions. If you want to sit near the musicians, you’ll have to be quiet and respectful – head to the back of the bar for a chat. Use your visit as an excuse to explore the revitalised Smithfield area, complete with restaurants, cafes and the Old Jameson Distillery.
Kick off in the Irish capital with an overview of the country’s history at the 1877-established National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology. Just some of its highlights are the world’s most complete collection of medieval Celtic metalwork, and four preserved Iron Age ‘bog bodies’ with intact features such as fingernails. Other exhibitions include Medieval Ireland, and Viking Ireland, featuring finds excavated at Dublin’s Wood Quay.
Brú na Bóinne
A Unesco World Heritage-listed wonder from around 3200 BC, the vast Neolithic necropolis Brú na Bóinne, 50km north of Dublin, predates both Stonehenge (by a millennia) and the Great Pyramids of Egypt (by six centuries). In fertile farmland scattered with standing stones, the complex encompasses three main burial tombs: Newgrange, a white quartzite-encircled grass-topped passage tomb measuring 80m in diameter and 13m high, which aligns with the winter solstice; Knowth, containing extraordinary passage-grave art; and sheep-roamed Dowth.
Less than 10km west, in the 18th-century town of Slane, coaching inn Conyngham Arms, makes a charming overnight stop.
Hill of Slane
The Hill of Slane is where, allegedly, St Patrick lit a paschal (Easter) fire in 433 against the ruling of the Irish high king. Patrick then described the holy trinity to him by plucking a shamrock to illustrate the paradox of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one, kindling Christianity in Ireland. Only faint remnants of subsequent religious buildings here remain, but the views are sublime.
Hill of Tara
Once the home of ancient Ireland’s druids, followed by its high kings, the Hill of Tara is 24km south of Slane. This sacred site is one of the most important in Europe, with prehistoric burial mounds and a Stone Age passage tomb, dating back 5000 years. It’s steeped in Irish folklore and history, and visiting the grounds is free.
Glendalough’s Irish name, Gleann dá Loch, means ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’, and the Upper and Lower lakes at this spot 100km south of Tara – along with wild Wicklow Mountains scenery and a cache of religious relics – are magical. In 498, St Kevin set up here on the site of a Bronze Age tomb and the monastery later established here lasted until the 17th century. The Glendalough Visitor Centre (visitwicklow.ie/item/glendalough-visitor-centre) is a mine of information. Next door, the comfortable Glendalough Hotel, makes a convenient base.
Amid stone ruins 50km west of Glendalough, stop off to see the distinctive Moone High Cross. Dating from the 8th or 9th century, it’s renowned for its intricately carved biblical scenes.
Browne’s Hill Dolmen
Topped by Europe’s largest capstone, weighing over 100 tonnes, the 5000-year-old granite portal dolmen (tomb chamber) Browne’s Hill Dolmen sits about 20km south of Moone and is one of Ireland’s most intriguing prehistoric monuments.
A pivotal chapter in Irish history played out at Vinegar Hill, 53km south of Browne’s Hill, during the 1798 rebellion against British rule. Nearby, the National 1798 Rebellion Centre has evocative displays. The rebels used Norman-built Enniscorthy Castle as a prison; it’s now a museum with superb rooftop views.
Named Waesfjord (‘harbour of mudflats’) by the Vikings, who are thought to have landed here around 850, Wexford town is 22km south of Enniscorthy. Traces of the fort built by the Normans, who conquered it in 1169, are still visible in the grounds of the Irish National Heritage Park open-air museum.
Central Whites of Wexford has stylish rooms, restaurants and bars.
Medieval stone carvings are a highlight of the atmospheric Cistercian ruins of 12th-century-founded Jerpoint Abbey, some 60km northwest of Wexford in idyllic rural surrounds.
Set on the swirling River Nore with a web of narrow laneways, Kilkenny is a 20km hop north of Jerpoint Abbey, and a contender for Ireland’s most spectacular city. Its ‘medieval mile’ stretches between 12th-century-established Kilkenny Castle and its monumental Cathedral of St Canice, on the site of a 6th-century abbey founded here by St Canice, Kilkenny’s patron saint. Today, it’s a creative hub, with works showcased at the National Craft Gallery.
Glittering stalagmite- and stalactite-filled Dunmore Cave is a quick 10km zip north. History runs deep here: in 928 Vikings slaughtered 1000 people at nearby ring forts, and survivors sheltered here until the Vikings smoked them out. Excavations in 1973 uncovered their remains, along with Viking coins.
In Cashel, 60km southwest, appealing accommodation options include boutique Baileys Hotel.
Slate mining once dominated the economy in northwest Wales: slate from these hills supplied most of the roofs in Victorian Britain and was transported around the world. Its decline over the last century hit local communities hard and left quarried hillsides, great caverns and dark tunnels in its wake.
They’re all visible around the small town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Surrounded on all sides by Snowdonia National Park, its quarry-scarred landscape means it didn’t qualify for park status. Yet the area has a hard beauty of its own, and once you head downwards you discover another world. You can explore the Llechwedd Slate Caverns just outside town via numerous tours, and adventurous can spend two hours exploring the eerily magnificent mines on a Caverns tour, using zip lines, rope bridges and footholds hammered into the walls, gazing into dark holes and across cathedral-sized caves. It’s a great feeling – you get to put your hands on history, and set your heart pounding.
If that sounds a bit much, operators Zip World also offer Bounce Below, a series of enormous interconnected trampolines and slides. Trampolining in a cave is a unique experience, and the atmospheric lighting and chiselled walls around you give the giggling fun of bouncing up and down a nice counterpoint.
Fly high and low on record-breaking zip lines
Outdoor zip lines offer up a different perspective. You can build up quite a lick heading down these, a physical thrill that’s matched by the awesome spectacle of North Wales swooshing by beneath you. Blaenau Ffestiniog’s three zip lines take you down from the hills above to the mine itself. At Bethesda, northwest of Blaenau, Zip World Velocity (zipworld.co.uk) boasts the longest line in Europe and the fastest (up to 100mph) in the world.
More records are smashed elsewhere. Go Below, outside the appealing town of Betws-y-Coed, has the world’s longest underground zip line and can take you to the deepest point in Britain that’s accessible to the public – almost 400m below ground.
Snowdon: a mountain for all comers
Betws-y-Coed is a great base for exploring Snowdon, at 1085m the highest point in England and Wales. It’s famous for its views (to Ireland on a – rare – clear day), legends (it’s said to be the tomb of a giant slain by King Arthur) and the fact that you can get a train to its summit. That accessibility is a big part of its appeal, and there are numerous ways to tackle the mountain, from the 120-year-old railway and the zig-zagging Miners’ Track to challenging climbing pitches and notorious Crib Goch (a knife-edge arête with a steep slope on one side and a sheer drop on the other).
Exploring Snowdonia National Park
Snowdon is the best known – and busiest – feature of Snowdonia National Park, which stretches over 823 sq miles of peaks, valleys, forests and coastline. But there are arguably even better walks to be had in other parts. The Glyders mountain range is a steep mass of broken rocks whose heather- and boulder-covered upper reaches feel like another planet. Tryfan, the most iconic of its peaks, offers invigorating scrambling routes and is topped with two rocks called Adam and Eve – the bold can leap between the two for good luck. Further south, Cader Idris is popular with walkers and climbers, while the park as a whole was made a Dark Sky Reserve in 2015 in tribute to its clear air.
Exploring Wales needn’t just be done in walking boots – the country has some of the world’s best mountain biking facilities. East of the national park, towards Wrexham, Coed Llandegla is a forest reserve with trails operated by Oneplanet (oneplanetadventure.com) that run the gamut from gentle, family-orientated routes to viciously steep ascents and hardcore jumps and drops. The impressive skills zone is a good place to practice, and the blue trail is great for beginners who want downhill sections that exhilarate without being petrifying.
Back in the national park, Coed y Brenin (beicsbrenin.co.uk), near Dolgellau, was the UK’s first dedicated mountain bike centre and now has eight trails including extensive singletrack.
A 12th-century fortress perched atop an extinct volcano with the elegant sprawl of Princes St Gardens in its shadow, Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline and is Scotland’s most popular attraction. Inside you’ll find the Royal Apartments, the Stone of Destiny, prison vaults and a chapel that’s the oldest building in Edinburgh. Even if you don’t do the tour you’ll catch glimpses of this towering icon wherever you are in the city, and can hear it every day (except Sunday) when the one o’clock gun is fired in a tradition dating back to 1861.
The Royal Mile
Here is the Edinburgh of your imagination: cobbled streets, higgledy-piggledy houses, dark wynds, dank closes, and more shops selling the holy trinity of tartan, cashmere and whisky than you can possibly imagine (or need). There’s a medieval castle at one end, Europe’s oldest inhabited palace at the other, and countless historic buildings stuffed in between. ‘Daunder’ from top to bottom, dipping into closes and secret gardens, and eavesdropping on the ubiquitous guided tours.
National Museum of Scotland
Fresh from an ambitious £47m development and the recent addition of ten new galleries, the National Museum of Scotland is cherished by locals as much as tourists. There are more than 20,000 artefacts, from medieval Lewis Chessmen to Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal to be created from an adult cell. For many the greatest draw remains the museum itself: an outstanding example of Victorian architecture, its Grand Gallery rising the full height of the building.
Eat out in Leith
A ten-minute bus ride from the city centre, Leith’s historic port has served Edinburgh for centuries. The area around the Shore has undergone a major renaissance and is now the stomping ground of hipsters and creatives, boasting river walks along the Water of Leith and some of the best food and drink in the city. Pick from two Michelin starred restaurants – The Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart – or the latest addition to the fine dining scene, Nordic-inspired Norn (nornrestaurant.com). For more relaxed scran, go for seafood and Scottish classics at the Shore, curry at Vdeep (vdeep.co.uk), steak and cocktails at Chop House or craft ales at Nobles (noblesbarleith.co.uk).
Royal Yacht Britannia
While you’re berthed in Leith, head for Britannia, rated Scotland’s best visitor attraction for ten years running. Launched in 1953, this glamorous vessel was the Royal Family’s floating residence for 44 years, travelling over one million miles to become the most famous ship in the world. Explore all five decks, the royal apartments, crew’s quarters and engine room, finishing up in the Royal Deck Tea Room for scones.
The New Town
The joke is that only in Edinburgh would a masterpiece of Georgian architecture constructed in the 18th century be referred to as ‘new’. The harmonious grid of neoclassical houses and communal private gardens has to be the world’s most elegant response to overcrowding. Walk the cobbled streets and admire the pillars, high ceilings and decorative friezes of the residences. Then go for a craft ale or whisky at the traditional Victorian Cumberland Bar or Kay’s (kaysbar.co.uk) and pretend you live there too.
Not many cities can boast a walk like this: an ancient volcano rising from the roughly hewn expanse of Holyrood Park with stupendous views across Edinburgh, Fife, and beyond. Described by Robert Louis Stevenson as ‘a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design’, it’s all just a moment’s walk from the Royal Mile, yet even on a warm day you are guaranteed a spot of your own.
Edinburgh is a city of grand outlooks, and one of the best perspectives can be gained from the top of Calton Hill. It’s a short, steep climb to the summit, rewarding you with views down the length of Princes St, the Castle and Arthur’s Seat. It’s also home to a contemporary art gallery and a hotchpotch of historic monuments, the most iconic of which is an incomplete acropolis started in 1822 by famed Edinburgh architect William Playfair. When funds ran out only the facade was completed and today its giant steps have become the neoclassical playground of children and tourists.
“I don’t recommend the onion,” wisecracks one of the assistants at Terre Adélice, as he gestures a silver scoop across two freezers worth of multi-coloured ice cream.
That’s because at this cult ice cream shop, burrowed among the wrought-iron balconies, ornate streetlamps and medieval cobblestones of Rue Saint-Jean, the onion parfum (perfume) really does taste like onion. Its kick is as pungent and tear provoking as any soil-covered organic bulb you can pick up from the local farmers’ market.
And in a city of a thousand restaurants, of starched white tablecloths and Michelin stars, and of hot bouchon (small bistro) lunches served among cold wood-panelled walls, it is gastronomic quality that counts. That’s why Terre Adélice’s ice creams have parfums instead of flavours: they don’t just rouse the taste buds, but awaken the senses too.
A spoonful of silky lavender parfum ice cream melts in the mouth, scattering a floral breeze of Provence’s famous purple fields across the tongue, as a cluster of backpack-carting tourists line up outside the petite double arches of Terre Adélice. Many stand spellbound in the sticky September afternoon sun, hypnotised by the vast menu propped up against the wall.
They ponder the delights of dill ice cream with salmon and leeks, and dare one another to try Szechuan pepper with salad or the strawberry soup. But just why does Terre Adélice sell so many strange flavours?
The art of ice cream making
The shop’s story begins with brothers Bertrand and Xavier Rousselle selling just a few scoops of sorbet in the heart of Ardèche back in 1996. After spending a year studying the technical aspects of ice cream production, they began to create their own using artisanal processes.
This meant waiting for fruit to ripen rather than cooking it, and sourcing produce locally from Ardèche and Drôme in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. Each batch of ice cream also included up to 70% of real fruit, far more than the 25% required by French lawmakers. It’s a fruit-squishing figure they continue to fulfill today.
Their reputation soon spread and their Lyon store, which opened in 2010, now stays open until 1am during the summer, transforming the ice cream outlet into something of a foodie pilgrimage site.
Melting people’s hearts
“During July and August, we serve between 5 and 7000 people a day, seven days a week,” says Guillaume Rousselle, son of founder Bertrand Rousselle and manager of Terre Adélice. “That includes ice cream converts, people that don’t generally buy it,” he adds.
A merry hubbub of smartly-dressed waitresses and smartphone flashes merge outside as hungry pilgrims enter the small shop and glance across the multi-coloured mosaic of creamy sorbets, each served in a single, white china spoon.
For those lucky enough to nab a seat, there’s a terrace outside, ring-fenced with ropes like a VIP area. It chimes with a cacophony of chatter and clinking cutlery as friends share ice cream selections and giggle over the results.
It’s a far cry from the business’ original blueprint. Initially, the objective was to offer a fine line of ice cream to boulangeries (bakeries), patisseries and stylish restaurants.
But an increase in demand from local chefs meant new parfums were soon being whisked up in the kitchen and everything from truffle and Roquefort to fennel and parsley was taste tested. The success led the Rousselle brothers to open their own store.
Now more than 100 establishments across France carry the coveted glacier brand, while 93 of Terre Adélice’s 150 flavours have been awarded an Agriculture Biologique (bio) certification.
That’s why you’ll find smoked bacon ice cream at elite Parisian restaurants, like the recently reopened Café de l’Homme, and strange, savoury flavours selling well at a number of gourmet golden boys in Lyon.
Outside in the autumnal sun, a brown-haired woman is straightening up her smartphone, attempting to capture the perfect, pre-melt photo of her chestnut ice cream. Despite the mad flavour concoctions and weirder scoops, Guillaume says that the smooth Madagascan vanilla and sweet caramel parfums remain the favourites among tourists. Still, like the assistant said, it’s best to leave the onion to the professionals.
With narrow medieval alleys, 16th-century castles and the shimmering reflection of pastel-painted shopfronts in its canals, Annecy glows in its own splendour. But the true allure of the ‘Venice of the Alps’ is its diamond-cut lake and crown of snow-sieved alpine peaks. Rising above the lightly lapping shore are steep mountains with rugged roads to test the legs, though flatter alternatives cater for cyclists who prefer to admire their massifs from below.
Route one: Beside Lake Annecy
Route: Easy. Bike: road or hybrid. Distance: 20/30km. Hills: none.
This relaxed ride is ideal for beginners or families. Heading away from the lullabying sways of the boats moored at Annecy’s Quai de la Tournett, a piste cyclable (cycle track) winds along the lake’s west shore, past yacht clubs and people-peppered beaches, and onto a landscape of quiet parks, sleepy villages and fields of idly grazing cattle.
The route follows a former railway, so gradients are minor, but there are plenty of opportunities to divert from the path. Take the tunnel near the village of Duingt to discover the fairy-tale wisps of Château Ruphy. Some of the former train stations are now cafes, so refuel and turnaround at Coup de Pompe (10km out) or Loisirs du Bout du Lac (15km) for an easy tootle back to Annecy.
Make it easier
For a more moderate route, complete a low-level circuit of the lake. Follow the piste cyclable along the west shore from Annecy, before indulging in a mixture of main roads, cycle track and quiet streets along the east shore (with one hill at Talloires) until you’re back to where you started, a total of 40km.
Route two: Semnoz and Forclaz
Route: hard. Bike: road. Distance: 80km. Hills: two major climbs.
Grappling mountains that have defeated Tour de France riders, this circuit of Lake Annecy is for serious cyclists only. From Quai de la Tournett, take the D41 road to Semnoz, where the gradient immediately rears up, setting the thigh-burning tone for the next 17km.
It’s not the severity of the climb that gets you but its utter relentlessness: continuous bends weave through thick pine forest before breaking out into alpine meadows at the summit of Semnoz. Efforts are rewarded with spectacular views across neighbouring peaks and down to the distant glistening waters of Lake Annecy.
Descend around sweeping switchbacks to St Jorioz, before following the piste cyclable along the west shore of Lake Annecy to reach the D42 near Vesonne. Here you’ll meet the Col de la Forclaz, a demanding ascent with tight hairpin bends and some very steep sections that will have you straining on the pedals. Pause for a breather at the col and admire the paragliders launching from the sheer cliffs above. Then it’s a technical descent to the main road and onto Annecy for well-deserved celebratory ice cream.
Make it easier
Peak-bagging roadies can reduce their sweat by choosing either Semnoz or Forclaz and combining it with the easy lakeshore roads to make a bespoke Tour du Lac.
In Annecy, Roul’ ma Poul (annecy-location-velo.com) has a massive fleet of hybrids. For road bikes, visit nearby Sévrier where Cycles Toinet (cycles-annick-toinet.fr) and Sévrier Sports (location-velo-annecy.com) each have a small selection.
When you get to Benidorm, the aforementioned clichés are alive and well, keeping this sun-drenched Costa Blanca resort ticking along beneath its soaring skyline. But there is more to the city than the Benidorm of British legend. After all, this place is a favourite weekend escape for Madrid residents seeking the beach and sunshine – and, let’s be honest, madrileños aren’t here to tuck into fish and chips or play for a full house. They’re drawn by Benidorm’s charming old town, wide, sandy beaches, fine cuisine and stunning scenery that are all too often overlooked outside Spain.
For almost any visitor, Benidorm’s standout attraction is its two vast city beaches, Levante and Poniente. Levante is always busy, but if you go to Benidorm early or late in season (when the weather is still a knockout) and head as far west as you can be bothered along Poniente, you’ll be rewarded with far fewer crowds. The view is all gold sand and impossibly blue sea with Benidorm Island a shadowy triangle on the horizon; there’s a relaxed vibe, bags of space, and a delicious breeze. The seafront is lined with simple restaurants where you can while lunchtime away over tasty Spanish fare – try Ulia (facebook.com/Restaurante-Ulia) for a sizzling paella in which chicken, chickpeas, cauliflower, pepper and fat wedges of lime all vie for attention.
Old town stroll
The loveliest part of Benidorm is its old town, occupying an enviable spot on a hill between the two beaches. It’s particularly pleasant in the evening – take in the sunset from the Mirador where the castle once stood, while street vendors and musicians get ready for another night’s activity in the squares nearby. The old town’s narrow streets and charming buildings make for a pleasant meander, the flagship sight being the white walls and blue domes of the 18th-century Iglesia de San Jaime.
If you don’t want to stay in a resort or a high-rise hotel, this is the best place in Benidorm to sleep. Treat yourself to a room at five-star boutique hotel Villa Venecia (hotelvillavenecia.com) if you’re feeling flush; otherwise, try one of several welcoming little hotels like Hostal Irati (booking.com/hostal-irati), or investigate the range of decent Airbnb options.
As you’d expect, the old town is also home to some of Benidorm’s best eating and drinking. Calle Santo Domingo and the area around is packed with first-rate tapas joints like La Cava Aragonesa, making for a perfect gastronomic bar crawl. If your budget didn’t stretch to staying at Villa Venecia, then consider dinner there instead: the food’s as good as you’d imagine, with a menu that might include winners like turbot with Romesco sauce or Iberian pork cheek with pumpkin cream.
Love or loathe Benidorm’s lofty architecture, few could disagree that the city is surrounded by gorgeous scenery on all sides. Benidorm is a compact city that was designed to sprawl upwards rather than outwards, making it quick and easy to escape the high-rises and immerse yourself in the natural beauty that characterises this part of Spain. Walk up to the Sierra Helada Natural Park to the east of the city – the rewards are fabulous views, plus the chance to nip down to the lovely, secluded coves at Cala Almadrada and Cala Tio Ximo for a peaceful dip. A fun alternative is to rent an electric bike from cute little shop Tao Bike (taobike.es) near Playa de Levante and let your wheels do the work for you. Even further up (though still walkable), the Cross of Benidorm stands guard over the city and provides hypnotic views over coast, mountains and skyline. At sunset in particular the vista feels more like Rio than Benidorm.
To the north of the city unfolds the rugged scenery of the Sierra Cortina mountains, and the Spanish money-shot image of towns like Polop, perched dramatically on hilltops. Get bikes or a car and explore at your leisure, or make the journey even more thrilling on a jeep safari with a local operator like Marco Polo Expediciones (marcopolo-exp.es). They’ll drive you right up to the Leon Dormido mountain (so called because it’s said to resemble a sleeping lion) that once captivated Gabriel Miró. If you’re lucky, you might get the view to yourself, affording a sense of solitude just a few kilometres from the Benidorm buzz.