Sourdeval and Domfront en Poiraie

July, 2022

Sourdeval is part of Basse Normandie (Lower Normandy) in the Manche department. A small village, surrounded by charming mansions, old farms and a dreamy landscape. The dog guides me over the country roads, during our daily walks. The most favorite hike is the Voie Verte, on top of the ridge. This is the old railway track, which stretches as far as Mont Saint-Michel. Very popular among the cyclists and hikers! I love the view over the fields from the escarpment, where farmers are busy to roll the golden hay into stacks.

I take the dog with me in the car on a few outings. Due to the fact that she has some joints problems, we need to adjust the length of our walks! We explore the small waterfalls in Mortain. An area popular among mountain climbers.

Next, we drive up the hill to the cistercian abbey just outside Mortain. The convent was founded in 1112 and it was a nunnery until 1793.  As the habits of the nuns were made from undyed wool, they call it Abbaye Blanche (White Abbey). Recently, this immense building got a new owner, who will hopefully start the renovations. I only can have a glimpse through the gate.

Abbaye Blanche Mortain

Later in the week, we are going to visit Fosse Arthour, a serene lake and a nice hiking area. The small scenic road takes us in 25 minutes to this oasis amidst natural beauty! According to the legends, King Arthur and his wife, who lived in the caves, are laid to rest in the lake. Different trails go around the Fosse, over the sandstone rocks and along the fast streaming river Sonce. There are plenty of picnic areas, possibilities for rock climbing and even an Auberge, with a small terrace overlooking the stream.

After my partner arrives by train from Paris, we explore charming Domfront-en-Poiraie. This fortified medieval town is situated high above the Varenne valley. Even though it is a very hot day, we decide to climb the narrow streets towards the modern Neo-Byzantine style church; Saint-Julien was built in the 20th century.

Plenty of charming stores, half-timbered houses and the remains of the old castle are all part of this attractive town in the lower Normandy region.

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On the road again to the next house sit

 

23rd of July, 2022

It has been a while, since I hit the road to go to France on my own. It was during a house sit in The Lot. This time I have the opportunity to visit Normandy, one of the places from our bucket list. My transponder is installed, to drive smooth through the traffic at the Péage. At 5.00 a.m. I am already on the road to avoid the Black Saturday madness.

Everything is going well, until somewhere in between Lille and Amiens, I notice three uniformed guys, all lined up at the side of the highway. My speedometer says 100, while I am allowed 110. For whatever reason, I just know they are going after me! Maybe my sunglasses are too big? Or they think that a lady, driving on her own in a Dutch car, probably comes from Amsterdam? Suddenly, one guy is in front of my car, two at the back and even another car is following!!! They all guide me to a very quiet place, far away from the highway. I feel like a criminal…..

After opening the window, all three guys with ‘Douanier’ on their jackets are surrounding me. I look as relaxed as possible and my school french is floating out of my mouth; “Qu’y a-t-il, messieurs?” “Controle, madame, where are you going to?” I explain that I am going for a house sit to Sourdeval in Normandy, looking after a funny dog and two ragdolls.

‘ Les Douaniers’ give me a suspicious look. Did I maybe use too many Spanish words? “Did I bring boose?” Yes, sure, one bottle of whiskey for the boyfriend, who is coming by train on Saturday. I get enthusiastic, happy to practise my french, and tell them how long we will stay and what we are going to do.

The guys don’t even ask anymore for my passport, nor check the loads of luggage I brought. “Merci madame, bonne journée” and they rapidly leave. Pfffff…….

The next day I arrive safely at the gorgeous property, where I will stay for ten exciting days.

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Ships that pass in the night

 

9th of January, 2022

Our rental car guides us from the Tramuntana mountain range into the lively capital of Mallorca. We booked a room in Hotel Meliã Palma Marina and the view from our spacious balcony is stunning! Cruise ships arrive late at night and leave early in the morning. I could just sit for two days on that balcony and watch the ships passing by….

 

Our hotel serves the best breakfast I have ever had; all kinds of fruits and nuts, cheeses and meat, juices and marmelades. Everything is very attractive displayed.

Nobody controls your room number or QR code. Last evening, our ID and QR code were both checked in a restaurant. Even our temperature was measured!!!

From our hotel it is an easy walk along the harbour to the impressive 14th century Gothic Cathedral.

 

At the foot of Cathedral La Seu lies Parc de la Mar. It is also the entrance into the Old Town. Medieval streets are connecting historical palaces, churches, arches and cute little stores.

Inviting terraces, where the winter sun just reaches the chairs, are a perfect spot to relax. Most of the tapas restaurants are closed in January. It takes us a while, to find a nice eatery for our last evening. Tomorrow, we will fly back to The Netherlands, after spending three great weeks on the island!

Cathedral La Seu Palma

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Exploring the grounds of Lluc

9th of January, 2022

After a great night of sleep (it was extremely quiet in the Monastery!), we wake up around 8.00 from the sounds of the café on the plaza. A very good breakfast buffet is served in the restaurant. We pay the 4 euro parking costs at the reception and put our luggage in the car. It is time to explore the grounds of Lluc.

All around the Sanctuary, sculptures of the prominent Majorcan artist Joan Bennàssar, are visible. The exhibition is called “The road to Lluc, Shelters of Love and Good Will”.

It is the work created by Joan Bennàssar in a year full of uncertainties and with the motivation to bring hope to those who come to Lluc after making such an effort to get here. This exhibition follows the traditional path, that begins in Inca, passes through Selva and Caimari, crosses Escorca and reaches Lluc, meandering through magical corners of the Serra de Tramuntana, as the path is the perfect metaphor of life. The work arises from the conviction that living means live together in harmony and that there is no progress without ethics. It is connected to the work Human Reasons because it reinforces effort, love and individual offering to the collective future.

From the Plaza del Lledoner, a stone path leads up to the spot, where the Holy image of the Virgin was found.  It is called the Mount Rosario Route, but also the Camí dels Misteris. A short hike of around 30 minutes, but definitely worth the climb.

We pass a small cemetery, though we can’t reach it, as the road is blocked due to fallen stones.

The five stone monuments are impressive. We admire the three bronze reliëfs, representing the mysteries of the Rosary (joy, pain and glory). At the end of the path, the Cross is overlooking the Monastery and the valleys of Lluc and Aubarca. The cold wind is strong here on top of the mountain!

We quickly descend to a warmer atmosphere and visit the interior patio ‘Jardí de les Magnòlies and the central courtyard.

The Botanical Garden is small, but contains around 200 different species, all from the Balearics. Pieces of art and funny constructions  are placed between the plants and along the narrow pathway.

There is no time anymore for a visit to the museum of Lluc. Today we have to drive through the mountains to the capital Palma, where we booked a hotel for our last two nights. The hustle and bustle of the big town will be in strong contrast with the serenity of the Sanctuary!

The Tramuntana Mountains

 

 

 

 

Impressive Santuari de Lluc

8th of January, 2022

Around 9.30 we are on our way to Santuari de Lluc in the Serra de Tramuntana. We have another 4 days to explore the island and decided to stay one night in the Monastery and 2 nights in the attractive capital Palma. Lluc is just a 45 minutes drive from the village, where we have been house sitting. After Inca, the road is crawling up the mountain. It is still very quiet on this Saturday morning, although we do have to watch the cyclists!

We find Santuari de Lluc in a valley on a height of 525 meters. The name Lluc derives from Lucus, which means ‘sacred grove’. According to the legend, a young shepherd found the statue of the Virgin of Lluc, the Black Madonna (La Moreneta), on the mountain. On this spot a chapel was built in the 13th century, which formed the origins of Santurari de Lluc. In the 14th century a hospice was created to accommodate all the pilgrims. In the 17th century the Basilica was founded and nowadays a museum and botanical garden are also part of the Santuari. Lluc is still a very important pilgrimage meeting point and spiritual center.

We park the car at the spacious parking place just outside the grounds of the Monastery and cross the Plaça dels Pelegrins, towards the impressive entrance. Our room will be ready in the afternoon, but we can leave our luggage at the reception. After a quick coffee on the plaza and a visit to the tourist information centre, we start our hike; “The volta a la moleta de Binifaldó”. Today is windy and around 8 degrees. We even have to wear gloves! Here, in the Tramuntana mountain range, the climate is different than central Mallorca!

The route will take us through a lush pine and holm oak forest, along lime and charcoal kilns, via impressive karstic landscapes and even via an old Roman highway. We start from 474 meters and the highest point is 700 meters. It should take a rough 3 hours, but it takes us much longer! Many pictures are taken and we fully enjoy the different scenery.

Very impressive are the exokarst formations, that have been shaped over thousands of years by the rainwater, in combination with the carbon dioxide in the air. During the last half an hour we have to watch our step, as we descend over huge stones, back towards Lluc.

The grounds of Lluc are at this time of the day full of visitors. We grab the luggage and go to our room, through the very quiet and spacious corridors. The room is basic and we got some sheets to make the bed! We do have our own bathroom and the view from the window is wonderful!

At 17.00 a service starts in the Basilica and just a handful of people are present. We have a quick glimpse inside and after, go for a drink in the bar beside the Sanctuari. Now, in winter time, it closes at 6.00 p.m and the dining room in the Monastery does not open until 7.00 p.m. We are tired and cold and ask the waiter if we can sit down by the fire in the restaurant. No problem at all and he finds us a nice table and quickly serves us some lovely Spanish wine, tasty olives and delicious bread with a strong aioli! We booked our room including the dinner and we get a three course meal. Nothing fancy, but definitely tasty!

Tomorrow, we will visit the Botanical Garden and walk the ‘Pujol des Misteris’ on Mount Rosario, where ‘La Moreneto’ was found.

Bodega Biniagual and Mondragó Natural Park

January, 2022

We choose the perfect day for a wine tasting; it is cold, windy and rainy. Finca Biniagual is just a ten minute drive from our little village and situated in the wine-producing Binissalem region. It is a hamlet of 14 houses and a chapel and besides the vineyards, there are many olive and almond trees, sheep and cattle and seasonal fruits.

Nowadays, the wine industry is booming again, after a plague of phylloxera in 1891. This virus destroyed all the vineyards of Mallorca. In the 1970’s vines have been replanted and today, there are more than 65 wine estates on the island. Since 2002, the winery has been producing wine again.

The environment in the bodega of Finca Biniagual is elegant; nice seating arrangements, impressive paintings all around and a relaxing atmosphere. Wine samples are served, together with a description and an explanation, paired with delicious cheese, ham, quiche and tortilla. During the next couple of hours we try to honour the 5 S’s of wine tasting; see, swirl, sniff, sip and savor! What a great way to spend a miserable rainy day!

One of our last outings during this fabulous house sit, is a trip with the dogs to Mondragó Natural Park. It is located at southern Mallorca, in the municipal area of Santanyi. The Park has a surface of 766 hectares, but only 95 hectares are public property. The rest of Mondragó is privately owned land.

The landscape is made up of stoney fields, scrubland, wild olive trees, orchids, Aleppo pines, the rock rose, heather, lavender, almond and fig trees. Many different animals and birds also inhabit the Park. The rocky cliff-lined coast is an ideal nesting ground for the peregrine falcon. Both the rocky landscapes and the many dry stone walls are resting spots for certain reptile species; geckos, snakes and tortoises.

The dogs are on the leash, as some sunbathers found their way to the secluded beaches. Rosie would love to mingle with them! It is just January and already a warm day! The hiking paths are narrow, but the dogs love it. There are enough different smells and views!

Tomorrow will be cleaning and packing day. The owners of Rosie and Margot are returning from their holiday and we have to say goodbye. We will miss the dogs so much, but we hope to return one day!

 

 

 

Platja de Muro and a visit to Port de Sollér

January, 2022

Our intention is to explore Parc Natural de s’Albufera de Mallorca together with the dogs, on this glorious New Years day. According to our travel guidebook, the area is an eldorado for birdwatchers, as more than 200 species of rare birds have been spotted in the wetlands. We, and a few others, are pretty disappointed that the parc is closed, as we are fully prepared for a big hike. At least the beach is on walking distance and the dogs are getting very excited; they smell the sea! Platja de Muro is just an extension of the Parc Natural and it feels like we are on a Caribbean island! Soft sand, blue skies and a turquoise sea. In the summer it will be busy here with sunbathing tourists, but today there are just a few other dogs…..

Later we drive through Can Picafort, which was once a picturesque fishing village, but is now destroyed by ugly apartment buildings. At the far end of the boulevard some sculptures, made by the artist Joán Bennàssar, are overlooking the serene bay. These pieces of cement, mainly women, are goddesses and fairies, who dialogue with nature and the sea. They are distributed in 4 groups and are all located on the beach, along the promenade; desire, ritual, treasure and wound

The next day, we are going to discover a part of the northern coast and the dogs are joining us again for the trip. The Serra de Tramuntana, an impressive limestone mountain range of almost 90 km long, is covering this part of the island. Our plan is to drive to Esporles and from there direction Banyalbufar, both very pretty places! Just before Banyalbufar is a small parking place at the side of the very curvy road and it is also the starting point of a fabulous hike to Port de Canonge. Again nothing is going according to our plans, as the parking place is already occupied by a rough 20 cars. No other possibilities to park the car. Why did we go on the weekend, instead of choosing a quiet day during the week? The dogs are getting eager to go out and we too! We turn around and drive up the hill again and find a small spot behind the bus stop. Here, in the middle of nowhere, on top of the hill, a ruin of a former hamlet is visible. It is pretty spooky, but the dogs love it!

From here we follow the road to another pretty town called Valldemossa, a popular town for weekend outings! The road now turns towards the coast and passes scenic places like Deia. We decide to go to Port de Sóller, situated on a secluded bay with plenty of restaurants and lovely terraces overlooking the beach, the harbour and the lighthouse.

We take the dogs for a walk and they seem to like the ambience! Later we feed them, before they go for a nap in the car, while we have ‘a bite’ in town.

Port de Soller is fabulous and very relaxing! Our hike will have to wait for next time and NOT in the weekend!

The lively market towns Inca and Sineu

December, 2021

The commercial town of Inca is just a ten minute drive from our “home”. It is the third main town on the island and perfect for shopping. Inca is famous for the leather industry and the many old wine cellars, now converted into restaurants. We like to go on Thursday, which is market day and enjoy the Christmas spirit, with all the flowers on the square. I have never seen so many poinsettias in one spot! After getting some local produce, we find a place on a small terrace and enjoy the Spanish ambience, while sipping a red wine, a cappuccino and a croissant for the small amount of euro 5.40!!!

Sineu is another lovely market town and also very centrally located. Once it was the most important town on the island! Many tourists, as well as locals, are flocking the streets on the Wednesday, when fruits and vegetables, handicrafts and even livestock can be purchased. Another big attraction of this rural small place is the parish church, with its massive bell tower; Iglesia Santa Maria de Sineu. Very impressive from the outside and inside!

We stroll the streets of Sineu up and down, admiring historical buildings, and discover the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception, which is nowadays a nunnery. It was built on the ruins of the former Palace, residence of the many kings of Mallorca.

Later we return to the main square, where we find an empty table in front of the church, overlooking the market. We order a drink and a small bite and they serve us very tasty local cheese and jamón. A great way to end this beautiful morning!