Saturday, 18 February 2017

French Château in the Ardennes, Review Domaine du Faucon

Château Domaine du Faucon in French Ardennes ©Solange Hando

Ever dreamt of staying in a French château? Try this one in northern France, dating back originally  to the 14th century and now a four star hotel with gourmet restaurant and stable facilities.
You will find it in rural surroundings near the village of Donchéry, not far from Charleville-Mézières and just an hour from the illustrious wine cellars of Champagne.

Standard Room in the Chàteau ©Solange Hando

Domaine du Faucon has a total of 30 rooms spread through the castle and annexes. In this stylish boutique hotel, every room boasts an individual colour scheme and design. 
In a secluded annex, the top floor honeymoon suite comes in warm orangy-peach shades with fine drapes over the bed and a luxurious bathroom.

Cosy Corner at the Domaine ©Solange Hando

The hotel does not have a lift but staff will help with luggage. It is beautifully warm in winter and much of the charms lies in the small convivial salons where friends can enjoy a pre-dinner drink by a glowing fire. There are marble fireplaces and plenty of artefacts to admire.
The château has a small fitness centre and spa, well-kept lawns and facilities for wedding receptions.

Ready for a Dinner Party ©Solange Hando

Besides relaxation, the domaine prides itself in its gastronomy which guests can enjoy over a leisurely dinner or a Sunday brunch.
Savoury or sweet, the cuisine is based on seasonal local products, prepared and presented with an original twist, such as beetroot gaspacho with apple and cream, game with lentils, local cheese, pastries and wines to match.

Parkland at Domaine du Faucon ©Solange Hando

The château is set in wooded parklands with walking trails and gurgling streams while nearer to the house you can play tennis and golf cross, a game imported from New-Zealand and played with an oval ball and a net.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Mexico, Cancun and Yucatan Highlights

Caribbean Beach in Cancun, Mexico ©Solange Hando

Tucked in the north-east corner of the Yucatan peninsula, Cancun enjoys a privileged location, Caribbean Sea on one side. lagoon on the other, and between them a thin strip of land where luxury hotels line pristine white sands sprinkled with swaying palms.

There are no private beaches in Mexico but many hotels have secured private access to the beach, so if you want to mix with the locals, head downtown, browse casual stalls and gleaming stores and enjoy some true Mexican fare.

Chichen Itza near Cancun ©Solange Hando

If you're looking for just one day trip from Cancun and a bit of culture, this is it, the amazing Maya and Toltec site of Chichen Itza set inland, half-way between the east and west coasts. The Kukulcan pyramid (above) is the most impressive monument but dozens more are scattered around from game courts, temples and shrines to the sacred well where the 'lucky' Mayas were sacrificed.

There is much talk of high priests and gods, sacred jaguars and snakes but it's pretty safe to wander around and bargain for silver trinkets, Maya masks  or colourful hammocks. Stalls are kept to the main alleyway and although Chichen Itza is a hugely popular site, it is so extensive it rarely feels crowded.

Tulum South of Cancun ©Solange Hando

While Chichen Itza is undoubtedly the most impressive site, Tulum has the best of both worlds: beach and ancient ruins. An easy drive from Cancun along the east coast, you discover the final retreat of the Mayas and the Toltecs, their successors, as they fled internal wars.

There are ruins to explore, including a temple to the God of the Wind but be prepared to share the site with beach lovers, cruise ship visitors and oversized iguanas.

Seafront Restaurants in Campeche, Yucatan ©Solange Hando

The Yucatan has some lovely resorts beyond Cancun such as this one, Campeche, nestling in the Gulf of Mexico with broad beach and quiet coves, thatched restaurants and a 5km long promenade dotted here and there with striking works of modern art.

The town has an attractive historic centre with pristine streets festooned in wrought iron balconies, flower pots and cottages in pastel colours from sky blue and mint green to yellow or ochre red. There are musical fountains and stylish colonial buildings beautifully lit up after dark.

Pelicans on the West Coast ©Solange Hando

Pelicans are frequent visitors along the coast, fabulous to watch as they dive from great heights, as fast as arrows, vanish underwater then emerge triumphant before rejoining the flock. See them, hear them and feel the vibes as they swoop around inches from your head.

Inland, look out for coati, members of the raccoon family, highly inquisitive, greedy and never taking 'no' for an answer. Snakes are rarely seen, even though Cancun means 'snakes nest'. That was
long before the hotels laid their claims to the land.

Golden Sunset in Cancun ©Solange Hando

Sunset over the lagoon, sunrise over the sea, you can't beat the amazing Cancun sky.