*This post contains sponsored content but as always opinions are my own

Front of Chicheley Hall Hotel, Milton Keynes

Recently I was invited to stay for the night at Chicheley Hall, a grade I 18th century mansion, based in 80 acres located in Chicheley, just off the A422 and fifteen minutes away from Milton Keynes. The hotel is run by the De Vere Hotel Group and is a popular wedding venue and also been the set of films and TV programmes such as Pride and Prejudice and Black Beauty.

Initially the hotel belonged to the Pagnell Family of Newport Pagnell (the town Newport Pagnell is about ten minute drive away). During the Second World War the house was used as a base to train Polish agents, was used by the Special Operations Executive as a training school and was a FANY wireless telegraphy training school.

In 2010, the Royal Society acquired Chicheley Hall with support from The Kavli Foundation. The Kavli Foundation is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity by promoting public understanding of scientific research and supporting scientists and their work.

Bed inside the Blackett Suite

There are 48 individually furnished rooms and I was lucky enough to stay in one of the ‘superior’ rooms called the Blackett Suite. Patrick Blackett FRS was awarded the Noble Prize in Physics in 1948. The suite was what I can only describe was amazing, it was huge.

View of the Blackett room where you can see the bed and sofas.

It was very clean and plenty of windows offering fantastic views of the grounds. Beyond the grounds you couldn’t really see any property for miles around! The bed was very comfy and I still couldn’t quite believe that I was sleeping underneath a coat of arms!

View of the sofas in the Blackett room.

Once we got settled we went for a walk around the grounds. There wasn’t anyone around and it was quite special to be able to stroll around. We saw geese and peacocks walking around!

View of the trees in the Chicheley Hall Hotel.
Chicheley Hall from the side.
Chicheley Hall from the side.
Geese swimming at Chicherley Hall Hotel
Rebecca in front of the mansion
Tapestry placed above the fire place.

We also had an explore around the inside of the Hotel. Then it was time for a three course meal, My starter was a brie tart whilst James had the chicken goujons. For the main I had a gourmet cheeseburger with homemade chunky chips. The chips and cheeseburger were filling but the chips really tasted amazing whilst my partner had a 8oz steak which he really enjoyed.

Strawberry Lime cider in a Stella Artois 'Cidre' glass

For pudding James had a chocolate brownie with honeycomb ice cream and I had a chocolate cheesecake. The burger and tart had finished me off by then so I got the cheesecake packed in a tub to take-away.

Image of Rebecca Merchant.

I should note there is a bar at the hall with an assortment of drink.

Brie tart.
Chicken goujons
Image of a burger with chunky chips
Image of the breakfast room with wooden panelling, chairs and a painting.

The next morning we had breakfast in another drawing room. The breakfast was a buffet. It was a usual hotel breakfast in that there were cereals, toast and croissants as well as a cooked breakfast you could have. I chose muesli and a slice of toast with marmalade.

Image of jars of jams, marmalades, nutellas and croissants.

All in all I loved my time at the hotel, it is a lovely place if you want a special couple of nights away. Being fifteen minutes away from Milton Keynes there is plenty to do in the local area, and although it seems like it you are not completely isolated. It gave me the opportunity to visit Bletchley Park which is home of the codebreakers during World War Two which I have wanted to see for years!

Image of Keswick town centre

I had to admit when my partner told me we were going on holiday to the Lake District, I was a bit dubious. However, the Lake District is one of the most beautiful places I have been too. Here is my mini guide on what to do and where to eat in the place that has been awarded World Heritage Site status.

Lake Windermere

Image of Lake Windermere

The largest lake created by glaciers and the reason why everyone visits the Lake District. The cruise across Lake Windermere is a must as the scenery is so beautiful. We stopped on Belle Isle, a lovely little island where you can walk, cycle and even have a BBQ and partake in water sports. There are some people that do live on the island and there are even little holiday homes you can stay in. Myself and my partner walked around the island and it wasn’t difficult at all and there was clearly marked paths.

Keswick

Image of Keswick town centre

Keswick is a small town which myself and my partner stopped in for a bit of shopping. The middle of the market town is charming with a lot of original buildings which fits in with the surrounding area and lots of little one off shops if you are looking for an original gift.

Galleny Force Waterfall

Image of a waterfall

Located near Keswick, Galleny Force was a lovely quiet place to have a walk and picnic in relative peace. Parking is quite difficult as the nearest village is Stonethwaite which has quite limited parking.

Ambleside

Image of a runner, running in Ambleside

Where we stayed and it was absolutely beautiful. There was so much to do in Ambleside lots of walks, a thriving place to do a little shopping (I loved the independent bookstore!) and of course home to Bridge House a little house that stands over Stock Beck.

The Sourdough Pizza Company

Image of a pizza from the Sourdough Pizza Company

We stayed just down the road from this delightful little gem. The pizza crusts are all handmade for home delivery. I had the Row Row Row your Goat pizza which consisted of goats cheese, mozzarella, caramelised red onions and spinach.

Walnut Fish Bar

Another night, another takeaway. Wulnut Fish Bar served the best fish and chips, well deserved after summiting Scafell Pike.

Aira Force

Part of the National Trust, Aira Force is 65ft high with water crashing over. It is a lovely little walk which lasts about an hour if that,so there is no need to take the day out. There are benches where people have pressed their coins in.

Image of Aria Force

Coins pressed in on a bench at Aria Force

Scafell Pike

Image of Scafell Pike

I had to admit walking Scafell Pike was challenging, the views were beautiful. I have to admit you have to be exercising fairly regularly to not find this hard work. I have written a previous blog post about this, which goes into more depth. However the feeling of achieving the summit was amazing, two scary parts was when it completely clouded over at the top and I couldn’t see very far in front of me. The second part was when I slipped over and banged my elbow so hard that I nearly passed out.

This is what I got up to on my trip to the Lake District, is there any places in the Lake District that you like?

 

 

What to pack for a trip to Costa Rica

If you are thinking about travelling to Costa Rica, you are going to be wondering about what to pack. The weather in Costa Rica changes more often then you think and it isn’t all bikinis see what to pack below.

Clothing

  • Flip flops
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Bikinis
  • Swimming Costume
  • Shorts
  • T-shirts
  • Waterproof Jacket
  • Trainers
  • Walking Boots
  • Jeans
  • Leggings
  • Light trousers

Toiletries and Medication

  • Bug spray
  • Sun cream
  • Paracetamol
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Shower Gel
  • Deododrant
  • Shave Gel

Other Items

  • Sunglasses
  • Plastic bags
  • Mobile phone
  • Notebook
  • Microfibre towel
  • Chargers
  • Money
  • Water Bottle
  • Bag Pack
  • Camera

In terms of money the two main currencies used is American Dollars and the Costa Rican currency colones, I found that you don’t really need to travel with any colones at all. In terms of footwear you are better off wearing shoes that are quite sturdy such as trainers as the paths and roads are not well maintained (or even exist) at all. You need to bring bug spray as well in Costa Rica the mosquitos get everywhere.

Bahia del Sol Hotel Guanacaste Costa Rica view of the beach and a blue and brown outdoor chair set

Sun cream is another must even if the weather is overcast the sun is strong enough that you will get burnt. I went in January and the weather changed all of the time, particularly in Monteverde. When I was in Monteverde it would chuck it down, be cloudy and boiling hot in less than a hour. I was so glad I brought my raincoat with me, it was a lifesaver as a cheap plastic throwaway poncho does not do the job.

Are you going to Costa Rica soon? If so you may want to read my post on what I got up and where I went.

 

 

 

View of the forest in Costa Rica

Costa Rica in Central America is the ideal country to visit if you want beaches and stunning wildlife. If you are thinking about booking a trip or are lucky enough to have already booked a trip to the country of Pura Vida read on.

Tortuguero

Image of the Tortuguero Evergreen Lodge Waterways

Tortuguero, located in the Limon Province and on the Caribbean side of the country, is a National Park about a hour and a half from the mainland which you can only get to by boat. Tortuguero is known best for its turtles however I went out of season so didn’t see any. I stayed at the Evergreen Lodge and we had a boat tour around the waterways where we saw camen, sloths, white faced monkeys and howler monkeys which sounded like hogs.

Trees Tortuguero Costa Rica

At Evergreen Lodge you get to stay in your own cabin, which doesn’t have any glass windows (they are just covered by mosquito mesh!) to allow you to have an even more authentic experience as you can hear all of the wildlife. The Howler Monkeys in the morning sounded like hogs! You will also visit the village of Tortuguero, the village was tiny- it was essentially a street. It is the perfect opportunity to buy souvenirs and have a smoothie or ice cream.

Tortuguero Costa Rica view of a beach with black sands

Tips for Tortuguero:

  • Buy lots of mosquito spray, you will need it in the middle of the rainforest!
  • There will be lots of time on a boat, so if you are prone to being travel sick buying tablets is a must.
  • It can get quite cold at night so bring some warm clothes (and a torch if you go on a night walk!).

Image of a sloth on the tree in Tortuguero Costa Rica

Alajuela

View of the Arenal Volcano Costa Rica

Home of the Arenal volcano the La Fortuna region is a popular location for tourists. When I was there I visited the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges. It is popular because the bridges allow you to see the forest from above. There are 15 bridges and 6 of them are hanging, you can walk through the park yourself or you can hire a tour guide. I 100% recommend the tour guide unless you know the wildlife in Costa Rica very well you wouldn’t see not even half the animals that you can see. The guides are very knowledgable about the park and show you wildlife through the telescope. There are other activities you can do such as zorbing, rappelling and night tours.

Macaw Parrott Proyecto Asis

Proyecto Asis is a wildlife centre that I visited. The main aim of Proyecto Asis is to rehabilitate animals that have either been hit by transport or rescued from owners or in some cases hotels. The guide was very helpful, he knew the animals very well. It was interesting to learn that the parrot hybrids that were being bred and selling for up to 20,000 dollars were being let out into the wild and destroying the natural Scarlett and Great Green macaw’s. There was this toucan that had a broken beak and it was lovely to hear that a prosthetic beak was being made for it.There were lots of white faced and howler monkeys that were going to be released back into the wild. I chose the package so I could feed them which was lovely.

There are many natural hot springs around La Fortuna due to the volcano. I visited Ecotermales in Fortuna and it was amazing! There was about 5 pools all of varying temperatures and a cold pool as well. There are two time slots a day that you can book onto, to stop the spa being filled with people. I went late in the evening and the lighting was so pretty, it was all low level yellow light so it doesn’t feel clinical.

Tips for Alajuela:

  • Make sure visit one of the many springs, there are so many and you can book last minute.
  • You will find amenities more spaced out in this area and the roads are very thin so you will find you will need to travel by taxi a lot more.

Monteverde

Image of Rebecca Merchant in Monteverde

Monteverde is home to the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest and Reserve situated in the Puntarenas Province. The Cloud reserve was voted one of 7 natural wonders of Costa Rica. Costa Rica is well known for its eco-tourism (more on this later) and the Cloud Forest and Reserve only allow 250 visitors a day. So to guarantee entry you are best off going in the morning. The Cloud Forest consists of paths so you don’t need to bring your walking boots and you can either take a guided tour or walk by yourself. I recommend a guided tour as you will be able to spot all sorts of animals and learn about the history of the area.

Hummingbirds feeding on the feeder

Just outside the Cloud Forest and Reserve there is a cafe called Cafe Colibri, colibri means hummingbird and the cafe attracted lots of hummingbirds! These birds are gorgeous and are quite tame so you can get up to them quite close.

View of the inside of Cafe Colibri Monteverde

Due to Monteverde’s location in the mountains, the weather continuously changes. It would literally rain, be extremely windy and then have the sun beating down all in one hour! So you do find yourself pulling off all the layers you have put on.

View of the rainforest from the Rainbow Valley Lodge

St Elena is where the majority of tourist and food shops were located, it is a very small town but has everything you could need for your stay.

Tips for Monteverde:

  • It can get very cold and wet so bring layers! I remember sitting in the hotel bed with all of my layers on being absolutely frozen and not being able to put the heating on because there wasn’t any central heating!
  • I stayed at the Rainbow Valley Lodge, which I really recommend. My room was the double room with mountain view and I loved it, I felt so lucky just to look outside my bed and see the forest and parrots flying above.
  • Costa Rica was the first country in the world to pioneer zip lines. I went to the 100% Aventura Adventure Park in Monteverde which is home to the longest zip line in Latin America. You could go superman style on the zip line or the usual sitting style. Unfortunately the day I went it was so cloudy that I couldn’t see much at all but for the thrill seekers amongst you, you have to do it.

Guanacaste

Bahia del Sol Hotel Guanacaste Costa Rica view of the beach and a blue and brown outdoor chair set

This was the last place I visited on my stay at Costa Rica. I stayed in Playa Potrero which is home to essentially warm sandy beaches, fishing and water sports. For myself and my partner this was the relaxing part of the holiday so we really didn’t do much other than lounge around the hotel and eat at various restaurants.

View of the beach and birds in Guanacaste Costa Rica

Tips for Guanacaste:

  • Perlas restaurant is a great American themed bar. They have lots of live music and great Costa Rican and American food.
  • Another good restaurant is The Beach House selling traditional Costa Rican food, cocktails and again live music.
  • If pizza takes your fancy The Restaurant at the Sailing Centre (yes that it’s name) had great pizza.

San Jose

San Jose is the capital and the largest city in Costa Rica. I spent an afternoon there on my last full day before I flew home. There are a lot of places to go shopping, if you are looking for a bit of culture you could visit the National Theatre of Costa Rica, Museo Nacional de Costa Rica and the Costa Rican Centre of Science and Culture.

Tips for San Jose

  • There is no such thing as the highway code in San Jose but Costa Rica in general, be really careful when you are crossing the road or driving in Costa Rica.

Getting around Costa Rica

Guanacaste Playa Portero Costa Rica

Travelling around Costa Rica is fairly straight forward, the two main bus companies used was Interbus and Gray Line. Booking an Uber is cheaper than using taxi’s in San Jose.

Image of a Christmas Tree made out of plastic bottles in Tortuguero Costa Rica

Overall Costa Rica provided me with such a variety of experiences from the urban to the natural side. Costa Rica is very popular for its eco tourism and is miles ahead in terms of protecting the environment and take pride in this. I saw Christmas trees made out of bottles, Ecotermals had an integrated waste disposal system allowing 100% of its waste to be processed and shops allowing you to take back bottles for a price. The locals are so friendly and will go out of their way to help you.

 

 

Belfast City Hall in January

I started off my New Year with a bang by spending a weekend in Belfast. A 40 minute plane journey from Birmingham airport and we were there.

Victoria Square Shopping Centre

Saturday was about exploring the City and doing a bit of shopping. We went to St George’s Market which was mainly full of small independent food stalls. It had a lovely quiet atmosphere and was fairly busy. We also had a gander around CastleCourt Shopping Centre and Victoria Square. Victoria Square has a dome for a roof and you can go up to the top and see great views of Belfast.

Image of a St Georges' Market stall with cheese

Image of a St George's Market stall selling mugs and postcards

St George's Market

In the evening we went to Granny Annie’s. It was a place that we happened to walk past and we were attracted by the outdoor decor and the inside certainly didn’t disappoint. There was live music and food. It was had a great atmosphere and was so busy. Definitely book if you want to go there. Granny Annie's Cocktail Bar

Granny Annie's Cocktail

On Sunday, I booked a coach trip to the Giants Causeway. I had booked the trip through Allen’s tour. The tour left South Donegall in the morning and snaked its way up to the Causeway. We stopped by Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This bridge is part of the National Trust, and was erected in 1755 to reduce the reliance of a boat reaching the island as salmon fishing was a industry there. The island and the views were lovely but I didn’t find crossing the rope bridge that scary!

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

The Giants Causeway itself was lovely. I thought the basalt columns would be taller then they were but the fact that lava settled into those shapes is interesting (Geography geek coming out there!). Finally on the way back we went to the Dark Hedges – famous from being in Games of Thrones. Although by then it was dark so it was a bit pointless.

Giants Causeway

Hexagonal Blocks of the Giants Causeway

View from the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

At night we ate at Little Wings Pizzaria. The pizza was lovely (I had the Formaggi Caprini which is goat’s cheese, red onion, rocket and garlic oil). I had to get the nutella pizza for dessert – which is essentially nutella and chocolate ice cream on a base. The pizza’s are cooked in a wood stone oven. They were gorgeous.

Little Wings Pizzeria

On the last day we went on a famous Black Cab Taxi Tour around Belfast. The tour I took was the political tour where I learned about the The Troubles and the history of Northern Ireland and saw the murals on the walls and the Peace Lines. It was very interesting

I think Northern Ireland is lovely and I am glad I went for the weekend. Have you ever been to Northern Ireland, let me know what you thought or any suggestions on where I should go next!

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