‘The chateau is screensaver material’: readers’ favourite long weekend trips
Winning tip: sax and the city, Dinant, Belgium
Dinant is defined by cliffs, hills and the mighty Meuse River. You could take a lazy funicular trip to the fortress, gawp at the stunning citadel or check out the kitsch saxophone paraphernalia at Maison de Monsieur Sax – the town was the childhood home of Adolphe Sax. And you probably will. But Dinant is also a town for adventure with plenty of hiking and several ziplines. You can take an electric boat out on the Meuse itself, or better still, kayak the Lesse tributary, passing under weeping willows and over rapids. The chateau above at Walzin is screensaver material. Pick one of the many riverside restaurants to put those calories back on with a local Leffe beer and fries (with mayo).
Isle of Mull, Hebrides
The Isle of Mull is one of those places that would be packed to the rafters if its weather was more reliable. I’m glad it isn’t, because it’s partly the tranquillity that makes the place what it is. There are beaches that wouldn’t look out of place on a tropical island and a sense of place and deep culture that you can only get with somewhere remote. We stayed in one of the hotels in colourful Tobermory, the island’s “capital”, from where we’ve enjoyed mussels at the Mishnish restaurant and walking out over the white sands of Calgary beach across the island to the west. The ferry to Mull leaves from Oban.
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City break, Lincoln
Lincoln is a wonderful small historic city for a long weekend. We stayed right in the centre in a two-bedroom modern house fronting on to the iconic Steep Hill. What a location! We didn’t use the car all weekend because there are plenty of sites walkable from the house, including Lincoln Cathedral (don’t miss the rooftop tour) and ancient Lincoln Castle, which houses an original Magna Carta. The old city wall walk offers fabulous views over the city. A thriving high street leads down to a marina, pool and canal.
Canals and chips, Bruges
Bruges is lovely for a short visit, and only an hour and a half from Calais, but tranquil Damme, a few miles to the north-east, is the better place to stay. This historic Flanders village has a star-shaped defensive moat and a flailing windmill set in fields, which are cut through with canals. Hire a bike and you can get to Bruges in 30 mins along the canal to see world-renowned works by Memling, Bosch and Brueghel at the Groeningemuseum. Have mussels, chips and a beer and enjoy the atmosphere with tourists from all over the world! The next day leave the crowds and cycle seven miles the other way up the Damse Vaart to Sluis in the Netherlands for a herring in the market … hold the tail, look up at the sky and just eat it like a native.
Hills and islands, Northumberland
I arrived in Alnmouth by train from London Kings Cross in under four hours. My city-escaping friends collected me and detoured past castles, coastline and countryside until we reached their new home near the small market town of Alnwick. With flasks packed, we scaled 714-metre Hedgehope Hill, one of the Cheviots, gaining spectacular views over the nearby Scottish border. The next morning, a windswept coastal walk took us past the beautiful sands of Beadnell Bay. An exhilarating swim was enjoyed before toasties and beer at The Ship pub in Low Newton while watching gentle waves. The boat trip to the Farne islands (from £23) was other-worldly; puffins, seals and gulls swirling around dramatic cliffs. Joyous!
Art in the South Downs
If you crave the peace of the countryside but also want to immerse yourself in great art, head for the South Downs. The Bloomsbury Group and, later, the surrealists found inspiration there, and their legacy lives on in their country retreats. Spend Saturday marvelling at the home and studio of painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Charleston Farmhouse. Then you could pop into Berwick Church to admire its newly restored Bloomsbury murals. Save Sunday for a tour of Farleys House, where Lee Miller and Roland Penrose entertained Picasso. Round off your weekend with a ramble on the Downs and a drink at Virginia Woolf’s local, the Ram.
Cross Channel raid, north-east France
Only a 25-minute drive from Calais, Cap Blanc-Nez is great for a weekend or a stopover on your way further south. With a sandy beach and fabulous local restaurants including Le Cap in Escalles, known for its fresh seafood platters, there’s plenty to do. We stayed at the delightful Hotel l’Escale (from €110 B&B), which has a fine restaurant. If your interest is the first and second world war sites, Cap Blanc-Nez is a great base for exploration. To the south, past Boulogne, is the seaside town of Le Touquet, with its historic villas and memories of PG Wodehouse, Noël Coward and HG Wells.
A day on the Swiss riviera, Lausanne
We took the morning CGN Belle-Epoque ferry from Lausanne-Ouchy to fairytale Chillon Castle (CHF29), admiring fantastic views across Lac Leman to the Alps en route. From here you we walked along the lake to Montreux, where beautiful flowers adorn the lakefront. A short train ride took us to Vevey, then we hopped on a bus to the Vevey-Mont Pelerin funicular, admiring the Unesco-listed terraced vineyards on the way up. At the top we had a drink on the terrace of Mont-Pèlerin Chalet, with panoramic views of the mountains and the vast lake. We took the train back to Lausanne, had dinner and enjoyed an evening swim in the lake with the locals.
Stories and ruins, Brecon Beacons
Dinefwr, in the town of Llandeilo, on the Afon Tywi (River Towy), is 324 hectares (800 acres) of parkland boasting castle ruins, a splendid manor house, a National Trust cafe, herds of deer and the white fairy cattle which populate Wales’s myths and legends. The park, on the western edge of the Brecon Beacons, is also home to a marvellous storytelling festival, Beyond the Border (7-9 July). In 2021 I stayed at the gorgeous Lookout (sleeps two, three nights from £350), just outside the town, overlooking one of the Tywi’s burbling tributaries. I loved it so much I’ve booked The Lookout again for this year’s festival.