Category Archives: Travel

The taking of a journey can involve a lot of things, travel can be over land by car, train or bus, you can fly or sail on a cruise ship or ferry. All these forms of travel require different preparations, equipment and frames of mind.

Early Women Travel Writers

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Nowadays we are totally familiar with the image of lone female travellers, each night there are overseas reporters from the BBC and CNN, travel correspondents in exotic locations and game show hosts traipsing through thick jungles. However, even 100 years ago the sight of a lone female traveller in foreign climes raised eyebrows. Despite this, there were still adventurous women prepared to take on a challenge and discover the world for themselves.

Previously many of the early female travel writers were often nuns, aristocrats or diplomats wives that kept their husbands company on foreign missions. By the nineteenth century it became more common to find women with their own fortunes, these pioneers were intent on seeking strange lands and exotic countries without accompaniment and writing about their discoveries or publishing journals along the way.

One of the earliest recorded female travellers was the pilgrim Margery Kempe (1373 – 1438) whose works were only uncovered in the 1930’s and tell of her travels to Rome, Spain and Jerusalem. Another early author who changed the travel writer genre was Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762). Her “Turkish Embassy Letters” whilst accompanying her husband, the Ambassador in Constantinople, gave an enlightening first hand account of the private lives of women in Islamic society.

French adventurer, Mary Catherine le Jumel de Barneville, Countess d’Aulnoy (1650 – 1705), she spent 20 years travelling through Spain and England writing fairy tales which were based around her travels. While Celia Finnes (1662 – 1741) in her notes “Through England on a side-saddle” describes her many journeys on horseback through England and Scotland accompanied by two servants.

Mariana Starke (1761 – 1838) redefined travel writing and is credited with being the creator of the first true European travel guide in 1820 covering France and Italy. Previous books had dwelt principally on art and architecture, whereas Starke’s book offered advice on passports, hotels, and food prices, it also included an exclamation mark rating system too.

Marianne North

Colour was added to the journals of Marianne North (1830 – 1890), who after her father died in 1869 decided that as a woman of independent means she would travel the continents. Between 1871 and 1885 she went all over the world producing beautifully rich paintings and articles of native plants flowers and fruits. North’s painting trips took her to, amongst other places, Canada, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the Seychelles. Her vast collection of paintings was donated to Kew Botanical Gardens, where they can still be seen today, exhibited in a specially constructed gallery.

Lady Blessington

Letter and article travel writing were also a popular pursuit during the eighteenth century and travellers such as Lady Marguerite Blessington (1789 – 1849), Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) and Lady Anna Riggs Miller (1741 – 1781) all had accounts of their European journeys published in book form. Elizabeth Craven – Turkey 1750 – 1828 noted for her exotic lifestyle and direct, no nonsense, editorials added to the travel writer’s armoury with her 1789 travelogue “A Journey Through the Crimea to Constantinople.”

The nineteenth century saw a number of independent, intrepid women take off and record their adventures, such as Isabella Bird’s (1831 – 1904) worldwide exploits and May Crommelin’s (1850 – 1930) travel stories in Idler Magazine about her trips in the Andes, the Caribbean and North Africa. Swiss adventurer, Isabelle Eberhardt (1877 – 1904), converted to Islam and travelled, posing as a man around Tunisia and Algeria. Her exploits were published posthumously after her untimely death at the age of 27 in a flash flood in Algeria.

Nellie Bly

Elizabeth Cochrane aka Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922) was an investigative journalist with the New York World Newspaper. She became the first person to travel around the world in less than 80 days, while re-enacting Jules Verne’s famous novel, meeting the author on route. Armed with one set of clothes, a small travel bag, £200 and a quantity of gold she set off from New York in November 1888 arriving back some 72 days later.

These and many other such ladies who took risks, chances and with their articles, letters and publications helped bring a new, personal perspective to the whole genre of travel writing and in doing so opened up opportunities for others to follow in their footsteps.


Five Classic Holiday Road Trips

One of Hollywood’s endearing holiday tourism themes, in films, is the iconic road trip. Cult classics like the 1969 “Easy Rider”, the “Smokey and the Bandit” series in the 1970’s, The Gumball Rally, Thelma & Louise in 1991 and more recently “Wild Hogs” all epitomise the unexpected thrill and excitement of travelling the open road.

The popular BBC car series “Top Gear” regularly undertakes road trips, touring in old sports cars, towing caravans or with provocative phrases sprayed on their cars in America’s deep South. Film stars Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman also produced two excellent road trip series in the “Long Way Round” between London and New York and the “Long Way Down” from John O’Groats to Cape Town.

Ever since Bertha Benz invented the road trip in 1888 people have been looking for more challenging and imaginative routes to ride. So what are the most interesting and popular road trips you can take?

1) Bertha Benz Memorial Route – Distance 120 miles

While this is not the most daring of rides, it is the world’s first recognised road trip. Karl Benz’s wife, Bertha, undertook it in August 1888 when she fancied a trip to visit her mother. Until then cars had only been run for short distances but Bertha took the car on a 120 mile round trip between Mannheim and Pforzheim.

The journey takes in the beautiful countryside of Baden and passes Heidelberg, stops at the first recognised petrol station, a chemist in Weisloch where she bought some Ligroin solvent to fuel the car. The return trip is a little longer as frau Benz wasn’t too enamoured with the hills and so followed the River Rhine back, passing Maulbronn Abbey and Hockenheim where today’s World of Motorsports Museum can be found.

2) Route 66 – Distance 2,448 miles

This has to be one of the most talked about road trips ever, the epitome of long car journey’s on the open road, wind in your hair and nothing for miles and miles. The original Route 66 starts in Chicago and finishes on the West Coast in Los Angeles. The route was officially declassified in 1985 but enthusiasts have kept the memory alive marking and travelling the route each year.

3) London to Monte Carlo – Distance 900 miles

This vintage car rally was made famous by the silver screen in the hit movie “Monte Carlo or Bust.” This again is another journey fraught with risk, challenge and possibilities, particularly if you make it in a classic car. As this may not be possible for most people why not try picking up a cheap second hand car in London and add to the excitement of getting to the South of France.

4) Mille Miglia – Distance 1000 miles

The Italian road race that was run between 1927 and 1957, starting in Brescia in the North of Italy, down to Rome and back, following a figure 8 course. The race was briefly revived between 1958 and 1961 but since 1977 it has been known as the Mille Miglia Storica, a historical rally featuring pre-1957 cars. The tour is run over several days between May and April each year and is well supported by locals and visitors along the length of the course. While you can follow the route of the course yourself at any time, the best option is taking part in the run or at least cheer on the competitors as they wend their way through the gorgeous Italian countryside.

5) Ho Chi Minh Trail – Distance 9,940 mile network

The Ho Chi Minh Trail was the route of many trails made famous during the Vietnam war, whereby the north Vietnamese Army brought weapons, supplies and food down to the front line. This is definitely a road trip with a difference and stretches from Hanoi all the way down to Hoian, covering a vast range of landscapes and vegetation. Due to the tough and unforgiving terrain you cross, from rugged mountain to thick jungle, the most popular way to make this trip is by motorbike. It is a trip well worth making, full of history, ancient temples and tranquil towns, a challenging road trip through an unforgettably beautiful landscape.

Five Nature Trails in the City

Cardiff is a great place for walking and outdoor exploration; even right up into the town centre itself. The course of the river and the Taff Trail, which stretches from Cardiff Bay, 60 Km north to Brecon, provide some gorgeous Welsh scenery to walk around and its numerous parks, gardens and nature reserves are a joy to stroll through. So for nature enthusiasts, spending time in the capital where can you go to get a spot of fresh air?

Cardiff Bay Trail

Cardiff Bay Trail – Since its rejuvenation the bay has been steadily growing as a destination for walking. When the Ponte Werin People’s Bridge was opened last year it completed a circuit that circumnavigates the fresh water lagoon of Cardiff Bay. Over its 5.5 miles of track you can follow the shoreline, walk through the old docks area and take in the Nature Reserve at Windsor Esplanade, explore the Sports village and marvel at the wonder of the barrage itself. If you don’t feel quite up to the full circuit there are regular river buses along the route that could cut your journey in half and still leave you feeling like you’ve explored this historic area of Cardiff.

Bute Park – Situated behind Cardiff Castle forms a marvellous gentrified country walk in the heart of the city. The trail has footpaths that criss-cross the landscape and traverse the playing fields, then you can meander through the riverside woodland which gives you a peaceful journey along the River Taff, across Blackwier, past the football pitches on Pontcanna Fields to the County Cricket Ground at Sophia Gardens. This is a surprisingly tranquil stroll considering you are in the middle of a busy city.

Wenallt Hills – Looking north from Cardiff you will see the majestic hills of the Wenallt framing the skyline, stretching from Tongwnlais with its beautiful Germanic looking Castell Coch right the way over to the suburbs of Newport. The hills are an area of unspoilt natural beauty that have been preserved and left in tact for people to enjoy. A walk here covers ancient forests, pastures and rugged scrubland. It has steep challenging runs and easy flat sections, a destination for walkers of all abilities. And from its peaks you have unsurpassed views across Cardiff, the Severn estuary to the Somerset Levels.

Glamorganshire Canal Nature Reserve – Below the Coryton roundabout on the M4, just off the A470, you will find this mile long stretch of the old abandoned Glamorganshire Canal that once linked the city to Merthyr and the Rhondda valley. This area of natural wetland has long been the perfect city habitat for many birds, animals and plant life native to the area.  There are plenty of hides and trails for visitors to view the wild life and take stock of  this natural setting in the city landscape. Along with the remnants of the canal is a section of the old coal tramway and the pastoral pleasure of Forest Farm Country Park, all nestled neatly along the banks of the River Taff.

Roath Park – This is a 130-acre, classic Victorian park on the eastern suburbs of Cardiff, laid out in 1894 it has four distinctly different green spaces. The southern edge holds “The Rec” playing fields, this is followed by a formal garden, glass house conservatory and arboretum. The main feature of the park is the large lake with its lighthouse memorial to Captain Scott and the crew of the Terra Nova, which set sail on its fateful voyage from Cardiff Docks. The area to the north of the lake has been left unspoilt as a natural woodland habitat. The park still has an elegant feel to it and has a traditional café, paddleboats and rowing boats for visitors to enjoy during the summer months.

Map showing the locations of the Parks in Cardiff

If you would like to find out more about exciting day trips and tours around Cardiff or the Welsh  countryside or the many other memorable festivals, please contact Travelling Content for more information.

Fighting for Bridges in Venice

Rialto Bridge

Venice is made up of 118 islands and is naturally known for its canals and bridges. They are iconic images of Venice and everyone automatically thinks of the Rialto Bridge whenever the city is mentioned. There are, however, some 400 other bridges that cross the network of canals and while most of these lead inconspicuous lives some have interesting tales to tell, none more so than the “battling bridges” from the late Medieval era.

Bridge Wars

During this period it was commonplace for kings and lords to parade their troops, showing off their combat skills and technical prowess. Tournaments and competitions were regularly held in large open fields where crowds would gather and cheer on the combatants. Venice, however, is not blessed with many large open spaces so they developed an unusual solution. Armed groups of artisans and workers gather together and fight for possession of one of Venice’s many bridges.

Battle of Carmini Bridge

Evidence of the “battagliolia”, mock battles dates back to the 14th century where they were described as “guerre di canne”, wars with sticks. Those taking part were armed with fire hardened bamboo sticks and wearing leather armour and wooden helmets would fight to defend the honour of their district. They became quite a famous spectacle and often were arranged for visiting dignitaries. In 1585 both Japanese and Turkish diplomats were entertained with a display and in 1547, King Henry III of France watched a battagliolia on Ponte Carmini. He commented later that the event was “too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game.”

Brawling on a bridge

Ponte dei Pungi

The intensity of these battles led to casualties along the way, with bruises, cuts and maiming commonplace, death could even result during some particularly hard fought contests. There are no documented rules and it seems to have been a drunken brawl that could go on for hours. Occasionally after much consumption of wine, the on looking crowds joined in, throwing roof tiles or even entering the battle and causing complete mayhem.


Ponte Punch-ups

Woodcut 1550

By 1600 the council’s clamping down on the stick wars meant they were replaced with “guerra di pungi”, the fist wars. These were bare-knuckled fights that allegedly started during one battle in 1585 when one group ran out of sticks but carried on regardless with bare hands. Initially there were demonstrations of single combat before the main battle but gradually these boxing matches took over as the main entertainment as the boxing became the popular spectacle.

While the mock battles were not an uncommon sight in Italian history, the Venice contests are unique for being contested on bridges. As one writer commented the object was not to “tear each other apart, but only in the presence of the city, win and take possession of the bridge.”

In 1705, however, the Venice Council of Ten finally banned the public fights and they disappeared into history. There are still the reminders of this unique time in Venetian history to be found at some of the most popular warring bridges. Set into the pavement of the Ponte Pungi and the Ponte Guerra are marble footprints. These are the points from where the boxers would start each round and where they would return once the round had ended.

The Bridges Today

Ponte Carmini today

The main sites of the bridge wars were:-

  •  Ponte Pungi,
  • Ponte Guerre San Fosca,
  • Ponte Guerra San Zulien,
  • Ponte Camini
  • Ponte Diedo.

If you would like to take a self-guided tour of Venice we have published a helpful 3-Day Walking Guide to aid you on your travels, alternatively contact us  for information about our rich and entertaining guided trips around the wonderful Italian countryside.

Italy Tops Holiday Destination Poll

The respected travel destination website TripAdvisor has just published the results of their worldwide survey to find the most popular places to visit and go on holiday in Europe. Italy is seems cleaned up in the polls. Paris topped the charts once again as people’s favourite location to go on holiday; however, Italy had an incredible six vacation destinations in the top 25.


Italy’s top rated attractions included the capital, Rome, the Renaissance city of Florence along with the style and grace of Venice. The marvellous countryside also figured highly with Amalfi, Positano and the nearby Isle of Capri all making the list.

Here is why Italy proves to be such a delightful place to visit for tourists.

Rome (2), from ancient Roman to Modern Italian you will find a long and distinguished history on show in the Eternal City. Monuments that date back thousands of years and right up to this year’s fashions can all be found on the streets. The Vatican, gorgeous fountains, vast piazzas and delicious restaurants are all ready to welcome the world traveller.

Venice (6) with its network of canals, bridges, narrow alleyways and little piazzas it is a joy to explore. From rides on the gondolas to ice creams in the square, it is a magical place, a romantic destination full of surprise and mystery. Whether you are enjoying a caffe in St Mark’s Square or trawling the side streets and arcades there are plenty of discoveries awaiting you.


Florence (8) is a city full of iconic images, the Duomo, Giotto’s Bell tower, the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi and Michelangelo’s statue of David. Everywhere you turn in Florence there is something for the tourist to explore or marvel at. The Renaissance city never fails to amaze her visitors with the sheer wealth of culture and history in her churches, museums and galleries.


Isle of Capri (12) is the epitome of romantic travel. With its breathtaking views across the Bay of Naples to Mount Vesuvius in the distance, surrounded by gorgeous aquamarine seas and clear blue sky. Whether snorkelling or relaxing on Capri’s beaches it is a marvellous place to visit during an Italian holiday.


Amalfi (19) presents a spectacular view as you approach it, clinging to the side of Monte Cerreto and a favoured holiday destination of royals and the aristocracy. Amalfi was once a powerful harbour but now a more tranquil tourist town on the blue waters of the Mediterranean, famous for its large lemons and limonchello liqueur.


Positano (25) is a chic, boutique holiday village, nestled into the scenic Amalfi coastline cliffs. It is now a fashionable destination from where you can explore the beautiful surrounding countryside, take trips to Naples, Pompeii and of course the nearby romantic Islands of Capri and Ischia.

When you add to this list the sumptuous food, heady wines and the friendly welcome you are guaranteed it is ever likely that Italy figures so highly on the world scene. And we’ve not even mentioned Assisi, Milan, Genoa…… the list goes on. The TripAdvisor full list can be found here.

Italian Cruising on a Vespa

The most memorable and iconic way to see the Italian countryside is on the back of a Vespa. This classic scooter has been the image of fun loving, relaxed Italian lifestyle since it first appeared in movies way back in the 1950’s.

Vespa on the Road

A favourite part of the Umbrian tour is always the Vespa trip. Everyone enjoys the chance to ride on the back of one of these classic machines. All have been lovingly restored and cared for by the enthusiasts from Citta di Castello Vespa Club who happily provide the transport for the day’s excitement.

The Vespa tour constantly provides a highlight of everyone’s holiday. There is a tangible sense of anticipation in the air as soon as the scooters start up and the party sets off. Weaving its way around the city and out into the surrounding green countryside.

There is a great sense of fun and freedom as the group negotiates Castello’s narrow streets and then out onto the open road and the green wooded hillsides. Imagine for just a couple of hours you are part of a liberated, motorcycle gang heading down the highway, looking for adventure, or at least a café bar for a drink and a cake.

Castello streets

The club love these days just as much as the visitors, they get to show off their gorgeous scooters and the wonderful Umbrian scenery, while having a great day out meeting new friends. This is the beauty of Umbria; the local people love making new friendships with visitors and freely share their enthusiasm for this very special part of Italy.

Debbie from Australia; who travelled over last year with “Mia Umbria con Antonella”, summed it up.

The absolute standout “fun” feature of the trip was our ride through the Umbrian hillside with members of the esteemed Vespa Club of Città Di Castello. These motorcycle enthusiasts showed us their beautiful home from a completely different vantage point – the high spirits of these gentlemen was infectious and the exhilaration of “flying” through Umbria was positively euphoric.”

Citta di Castello Vespa Club

Once the ride is over it’s back to a local restaurant where the group all enjoy a relaxing meal, wine and chat together. After all, this tourism lark is quite tiring.

If you would like to find out more about Vespa trips around the Umbrian, Tuscan countryside or the many other memorable days out, please contact Travelling Content for more information.

Italy Day Trips – St Francis’s Hermitage, La Verna

One of the best forms of relaxation is a sample of nature’s own medicine. Many cures, treatments and therapies for the world’s ills are based on natural remedies, but simply spending time enjoying natures beauty can have a great restorative effect. When in 1213 St Francis established his hermitage at La Verna in Tuscany it was for exactly this reason he chose the inhospitable but beautiful location as somewhere to relax and contemplate.

History of La Verna

In 1213 St Francis and St Leo were walking through the Montefeltro region when they met the Count of Chiusi, Orlando Catani. In exchange for praying for his salvation the count gave Mount La Verna to St Francis and his companions, to use as a place of peace and solitude. When St Francis first visited the mountain he was greeted by a great flock of birds that seemed to demonstrate the pleasure of his arrival. St Francis took this as a sign from God that here was where the order should establish one of their hermitages.

It was here on the 14th September 1224, his last visit to La Verna, that he received the stigmata of Christ.  He died two years later on 4th October 1226. Not long after this, continued interest in the hermitage lead to the establishment of the monastery.  It was such an admired destination that within 300 years the sprawling collection of buildings that are present today had taken shape.  

The monastery centres on a massive crevice in Monte Verna, said to have opened up at the exact moment Jesus died on the cross. And it is here you can see the cave where St Francis often slept, the over hanging rock, beneath which he meditated and the precipice where he fought with the devil. There is also a shrine on the site indicating where he received the stigmata. All of this not only makes La Verna one of the most holy locations in the Christian world but also a place of great serenity and calm (except of course during a Bank Holiday when the tourists flock in by the hundreds).

Tour of the Monastery

One of the most breathtaking views is from the Quadrante, the clock face on the basilica’s bell tower and standing in the wide courtyard you can overlook the splendour of the Casentino Valley. The courtyard also features a huge but simple wooden cross that over looks the verdant panorama, the distant mountains and towns of Poppi and Bibbiena.

The entire site is such a peaceful and tranquil location, where you can wander freely around a labyrinth of passageways and corridors looking into tiny chapels, oratories and shrines. There are surprises at every turn as you explore the monastery and everywhere you look you can see the luscious green canopy.

The Chapel of Relics in the basilica contains an interesting collection of items that belonged to St Francis, including his weather worn, coarse woollen habit, a wooden bowl and a blood soaked bandage used to cover his wounds. There are some sixteen tiny chapels and places of worship throughout the site, each with paintings, sculptures and frescoes depicting the lives of the saints.

A walk in the countryside

Once you have discovered every nook and cranny in La Verna you can work up an appetite with a vigorous walk around the trails and paths that cover the mountainside, they are excellently marked and once again lead to a hundred wondrous views.

The Rock of Brother Lupo, The Chapel of La Penna and the Chapel of Blessed John are an integral part of the National Park of Monte Falterona, of which La Verna is its magnificent centrepiece. 

La Verna is a fabulous attraction and one that is testament to St Francis’s love of nature. From its lofty heights you can look down on the surrounding Tuscan woodlands and valleys and appreciate the wonderful simplicity and spectacular beauty of it all.


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