I don’t even know where to begin.

I’ve never been on a cruise type of holiday before. One where days are spent living on a boat, travelling to different destinations, hopping on and off to take in some sights. I had visions of kids running riot, squeezing past people through small corridors and crowded tourist visits. I’ve been told some of what I imagined is in fact the reality of holidaying on cruise liners, so I’m glad that my first experience wasn’t on one of those great big ginormous boats with cinemas, ballrooms and late night discos etc. I’m not a fan of constantly being surrounded by groups (I go into diva mode when I can’t see over all the tall people) so I think easing myself in with a smaller ship was definitely the way forward.

In my last post on Egypt, I mentioned that we had flown into Hurghada and driven across to Luxor in order for us to catch our water ride. Most travel agencies can arrange this journey for you or better yet, you could fly directly to Luxor airport if you want to save yourself some time (I’ve mentioned a few other travel options at the end).

Choosing to stay on a boat as beautiful as Le Fayan was probably not the best idea. Because if this is the gauge from which we started, it’s going to take a lot to beat.

Le Fayan is a seriously good looking boat.

There’s a comfortable lounge area, spacious restaurant, gym, spa, luxury rooms, suites and the piece de resistance, a sun deck with pool, jacuzzi and outdoor dining facilities.

 

 

There are 57 bedrooms on board, and our particular trip was fully booked. There are also three luxury suites, with access to their own private jacuzzi if you fancy splashing out that bit more (if I could, I would!).

Le Fayan was even better than some of the hotels we’ve stayed at. From the moment we spotted it on the banks of the Nile, lined up with the others, we knew it was special. It oozed luxury. Our room was on the upper deck, sunset side so we were always facing the river rather than the bank (when we’re moored). In our standard room, we had a floor to ceiling window, two chairs strategically positioned facing outwards, the perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by. Every day we spent there, I woke up and headed straight for the curtains, throwing them back to look out and thank God for blessing Mo and I to be able to embark on such a wonderful experience. And my favourite thing of all was that it never felt crowded! There was enough room for all of us to have our own personal space as and when we needed it.

 

 

We spent a total of five nights on board, stopping daily for excursions. We started our journey in Luxor, cruising down at a steady speed towards Aswan.

Some of the sites we visited during our cruise:

  • Valley of the Kings
  • Karnak Temple
  • Komombo
  • Nubian Village

Of course each of these sites will need their own separate blog post as they actually BLEW MY MIND they were that amazing, but for now I’ll leave you with a few teaser pictures (the video highlights are coming soon 🙂 )

 

 

One of the most interesting parts of the actual cruise journey, was finding ourselves in an extremely large lock. Like a real-life English canal-style lock but on a seriously huge scale. It was bizarre. Although, I should not have been so surprised as it was in fact built by the British to facilitate irrigation of the cotton fields. I had never really thought about the logistics involved in situations like this, even though it was something I had been reading about pre-trip (later this year, I will be going on my first ever barging weekend holiday with boutique narrowboats – **I can’t WAIT for it**, where lock navigating will be a  skill I’ll pick up and hopefully become a pro at). To watch it in action, right here on the Nile, was kind of spectacular. To be stood on this large boat as it swiftly navigated the Esna lock with ultimate precision and to feel it lift up as the water rose was unnerving and fascinating all at the same time. The only unfortunate thing, was that we saw it all happen in the dark, so we were slightly limited in what we could see – but it was still special and I encourage you to head up to the top deck and watch it if you get the opportunity.

 

 

I’ve mentioned many, many times on here that there is nothing I enjoy more than sitting on a boat, gliding across the water and watching the world go by. I loved my boat trip in Mandalay, our sailing excursion in Rio de Janeiro and now I can happily add this journey down the Nile onto my list.

Riverboats allow you to get a real panoramic view of life by the banks. The views are ever changing, so different to anything you’ll see inland. Lush greenery and vegetation abundantly bloom, but that same starkness we witnessed on the drive from Luxor was still evident, further away in background. I watched people go about their daily life, washing, working, relaxing, kids playing…

 

 

Few things to note:

  • It seems that everywhere you go in Egypt, complimentary wifi access means that wifi is generally only available in reception or communal lounge areas. This goes for Le Fayan too.
  • I’m not sure if the food on board is pre-determined if you are travelling with a group – but it was probably the one part that I wasn’t too impressed with. However, this is down to personal choice – to be clear there was always a variety and the quality was great, but the menu as expected was continental/European style cuisine. Personally, I would have preferred to try more local dishes.

 

There are so many moments embedded in my memory from this trip. The first time we set sail; the time we had lunch on the upper deck; the time we spent with others on the boat; the friends we made. Our last day was extra special as many of the guests had left early doors, so Mo and I had some time to kill before catching the train. We packed in a few more sights on our own and then passed the remainder of the afternoon on the sun deck, feet in pool, basking in the sun, just the two of us reflecting on what had been a sensational holiday.

I always judge a trip on how sad leaving makes me, and I must say leaving Egypt made me very, very sad. Thanks to the trip organisers and the hospitality of Le Fayan, our first joint adventure to Egypt was one that ignited a passion and intrigue to return for more.

And when (not if) we do return, I can only hope we are able to stay somewhere as exquisite as Le Fayan.

 

 

*** Travel booking ***

There are no flights from Manchester direct to Luxor. Our options were to either transfer in Cairo, Hurghada or somewhere else – however because we had to be at Le Fayan by a certain time and date, and as we had limited time off work, the transfer flights didn’t work for us. This is why we chose to fly into Hurghada and take a car over to Luxor. Many people flew into Cairo and took the overnight train down to Luxor – this is an option I really wanted to do after my love-hate relationship with the overnight train in Bagan, and from the feedback the others gave, it didn’t sound too different!

Our tour was organised by General Tours Egypt and they did a fantastic job!

(I did a lot of research on getting around Egypt, so if anyone has any questions please feel free to drop me an email 🙂 more than happy to help)

 

 

Have you taken a cruise down the Nile? Where else would you recommend cruising? Or is not your cup of tea? 

 

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Haven’t written a travel linkup post in a while, not had a chance, but I wanted to make time for it this month. If you’re a blogger linkups are known as great tools to share content amongst others in the blogosphere. But I love them purely because it gives me a set topic to write about, something I probably wouldn’t have thought of writing otherwise. It’s a nice change from the norm and I love reading everyones interpretations from a single brief.

This months theme is all about places we can’t get out of our heads.

Where the heck do I begin?

Is there even such a thing as ‘a’ place I can’t get out of my head?

If you’ve been blessed enough to have the opportunity to travel and travel often, I can’t imagine ever dreaming about just the one place.

After re-discovering a pile of old family passports, it was quite amazing to find that I had forgotten about places I’d been and there was so much I was unaware of as a child. My mum and dad shared stories when I questioned them about that time they went to Canada, or Florida or wherever else they had visited that I hadn’t known about before now. In a bid to find out exactly how far out our travels had stretched I’ve been attempting to catalogue the number of countries I’ve been to on instagram, it’s been a stop-start situation – the main difficulty being that just choosing one photo that represents how I feel about a place is so hard. I’ve reached country 21 at the moment, I’ll carry it on once I’m back home and able to dig out more photos. But if choosing one picture is hard, how can I choose one place?

 

 

When I first moved to England, I unconsciously dreamt of Bahrain – a random but not so random dream. The vision played on repeat in my sleep for many years actually. Bahrain had been a place we visited regularly as a family, my dad would attend a yearly GM meeting out there and we would all travel with him, enjoying a break at the Meridien hotel. I have vivid memories of our time there, but my dreams were crystal clear and there was a time where I would definitely say this was the place that I genuinely could not get out of my head and had no idea why.

Where do I go on my daydreams though?

Back to Rio, one of our top five holidays, when we made it to the top of Corcovado and watched the clouds lift before the crowds ascended. Back to our trips to Europe? France, Spain, Norway, Sweden

 

 

Maybe it’s the quiet secluded beach on Tidung, part of the Thousand Islands in Indonesia where we saw turtles, ate fresh fish snacks and basked in the sunshine. Or do I cast myself back to the beautiful Veligandu resort Mo and I stayed at in the Maldives, where out on our private deck I watched, in absolute fascination, as a pod of wild dolphins flew across the horizon. Or maybe its when we got up close and personal with wild dolphins on a fabulous family holiday to Portugal last year? My daydreams do tend to take me back to a number of wildlife-inspired destinations…

Like the plains of Africa. Have I ever been able to get Zimbabwe out of my thoughts? The weeks I spent working with many different African wild species… The time I met my first baby elephant, it’s tiny trunk wrapped round my hands curiously trying to decipher what I was and how we could play. The moments I lay in the lion cub enclosures next to a 5 month old ball of fluff, whose paws flopped around as I rubbed their bellies, eyes closed as I stroked their temples and whose purrs I remember as the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.

 

 

BUT then I start thinking of purring and I’m reminded of home. Especially now when I’m thousands of miles away, far from my hubby, my fur-baby, my family, who are all going through a bit of a rough time. Over the last few days home has been the only place in my head, the familiarity of being in my own city, especially as just before I flew off I had indulged in two days of touristry (yes I’ve made that word up) in Manchester as part of the #workerbeeweekender.

Looking at where I’m sat now… on a sun lounger, by the pool, 32 degree heat (😏) this is a place I know when I return to England next week, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a hard time shifting it from my mind. But ironically, Dubai has always been a destination that I have never truly understood. This place isn’t my kind of place. Yet 10 days of living with friends (adopted family) in a quiet building, away from the razzmatazz of main Dubai, doing regular things like shopping, cooking, chatting… it’s like a whole new city. I’d even go as far as to say, it feels like home and I’m sure this experience will be another place I won’t be able to get out of my head.

 

 

The one thing I’ve come to learn about travel is that there is no place that ever truly leaves me. Even the experiences that I didn’t enjoy, the ones I would never (well never say never) return to, these place still stay with me. In the past I’ve written how smells can take you back to destinations, tastes, products, people, stories… All of these things stay in my head. Just today my mum asked if there was anything here in Dubai I wanted to pick up and take home for myself and I told her the only thing I wanted was the experience. It’s all I ever need (I suppose a couple of zaatar crackers here and there wouldn’t hurt either).

Rather than focusing on past trips, I’ve recently opened an avenue in my mind that makes me constantly dream of future travels. Of the places I haven’t yet been. Greece, Iceland, Poland, Malawi, Turkey…the list goes on. Mo and I both know that the journeys we take in life are what makes us who we are and there is still so much we have to learn.

So what’s the place I can’t get out of my head?

Let’s just assume it’s everywhere that isn’t where I am.

That’s what daydreams are all about though, right?

 

 

❤️ For my cousin Hafi who is due to get married tomorrow, I pray that you and your new partner get many an opportunity to explore the world and soak in everything it has to teach you. Good luck on your new adventure! ❤️

 

 


 

Travel Linkup

The topic for April is one we enjoyed in 2015 – and we fancied it again – ‘Places we can’t get out of our heads’. (And, for those of you who’ve been around that long – has it changed for you? Link back to your old post in your new post, it’s good for SEO!)
How to link up your post

Just pop your post up, add it to the below or on the blogs of Adventures of a London Kiwi, SilverSpoon London, Follow Your Sunshine and The Travels of Mrs B.

There are no rules – basically all we ask is that you check out some of the other cool bloggers that are involved in that months travel link up; make a few comments here and there and tweet a few of the posts out to your followers that you think they will love. It’s a great way to meet some new travel bloggers and share some blogging love!

The Travel Link Up is open to all bloggers – as long as the post is relevant!

 

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Announcing to friends and family that we were headed to Egypt brought about a variety of reactions. Excitement, worry, intrigue, anxiety… I realised that people had very mixed emotions about our next destination.

For years the coastal cities in Egypt were holiday hot spots, especially for British tourists. Nile cruises flooded the waterway, and the tourism industry thrived from International visitors. Revolution, military coup, the downing of a plane back in 2015… all factors that shattered the leisure industry. Safety for travellers was no longer guaranteed and the rifts it caused in the economy have definitely been felt.

This became increasingly clear when Mo and I tried to book our flights to Luxor, struggling to find direct routes, decent connections or at least any flight that wasn’t ridiculously priced. I’m not going to go into the full ins and outs of the trouble we faced booking our trip, I’m saving that for another post, but I wanted to touch on a particular part of our journey: the road to Luxor.

Our flight schedules meant that in order for us to get to our boat in time to start our cruise, we needed to drive from where we landed in Hurghada to the beautiful city of Luxor. I thought absolutely nothing of this journey until I started 1) speaking to people and 2) searching the route on google.

Everybody had an opinion… and it wasn’t good. You’ll get kidnapped. The road is too dangerous. You’ll have to be escorted by military. Anything could happen. I kept telling myself not to listen to it all and tried to banish out all knowledge of what I’d read on the very ridiculous dangerous roads website, which comes up pretty high on the ‘road to luxor’ google search. I reached out to a virtual friend @DanDohertyBlog, who knew this area of Egypt well and still had friends out there. He assured me there was nothing to worry about and trusting his opinion I decided I needed to stop being influenced by propaganda and try to see it for what it is, an exciting journey across the Egyptian desert.

Lo and behold Dan and his friends were right. There was absolutely nothing to worry about. The drive was FANTASTIC.

Mo and I have done a number of long distance journeys by car in many different terrains, but we’ve never driven along a road quite like this. A road where on every turn, every dip, every ascent we were surrounded by the same landscape.

Baron. Empty. Endless. Dry.

But totally spectacular desert.

 

 

I couldn’t stop staring at it. We’d go miles and although there was nothing to see I couldn’t help but think it somehow was everything. In my head I was imagining lands in ancient times. What might have lived behind the mountains. The rocks. Who knows what relics are buried under the ground. What carvings may or may not be etched inside the caves that we only caught glimpses of as we sped past.

My imagination was running wild as I strained through squinted eyes to look for signs of life. Following the paths of birds that soared and dipped, wandering what they knew.

Our drivers, Ahmed and Hisham were pretty great. A bit nuts, but they were great. Sort of left us to our own devices as bless Ahmed, he was really trying with his English but we struggled to make heads or tails of it sometimes. On the way there and on the way back we stopped halfway for tea breaks.

 

 

It was nice to stop and stretch our legs but also to walk around and just take in how amazing it was to be in the middle of nowhere. Literally nowhere (put that ‘literally’ in just for you sis 😉).

I should also point out the best meal I had was at the last service station! We weren’t planning on having a meal, but our driver insisted we have something before we trekked on. So we ordered whatever it was they had and waited to see what turned up. Grilled chicken, rice, salad, broth with orzo and a vegetable curry dish. It tasted fresh. Light. Not overly spiced and was the perfect food for being out in the heat. I did share mine with the resident kitten (I could not resist the cute ball of fluff) but what I did have I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

 

Some facts to bear in mind if you are planning on taking this route:

  • The road is closed for any tourist trips once the sun has set. Any dangerous road issues happen at night, when people are reckless or decide to drive without headlights, which is why the government has decided to impose a curfew for visitors to ensure their safety. Sensible.
  • There are many forums with people complaining that they are unable to hire their own cars to do the drive themselves – I haven’t looked too much into this but I think there are restrictions depending on where you’re from and what license you hold.
  • Travelling in the day time will pretty much mean driving in heat. A car with AC will make a heck of a lot of difference. Opening a window doesn’t help much when the air flying in is boiling hot.

Also worth noting that of course, like most non-western destinations the driving style can be a bit, let’s say ‘different’. I noticed here in Egypt the outside lane isn’t for overtaking, but more for acting as a buffer when you want to speed around turns. Driving in the middle of the road or towards oncoming traffic to overtake is perfectly acceptable. Flying past donkey carts at close quarters is completely normal and drivers only really wear their seatbelts when they’re headed towards a checkpoint.

All of that aside, I should point out that I was in no way ever scared or on edge during our journey. The last part as you head into some of the local towns alongside the Nile are really interesting, observing the hustle and bustle of daily life.

 

 

I’m so glad I wasn’t deterred by the negativity surrounding this journey and I hope the actions of a few don’t put others off from making this trip. It reminded me that it’s so easy to get swept up in the news and random rubbish that gets fired out over the internet and that really, trusting your gut and looking at the actual facts is always the best way forward. Having a few friends on the inside helps too 🙂

My advice would always be, reach out to agencies. Travellers who have been recently – that you trust of course. Don’t always go off the news and general scare-mongering that occurs in the tabloids. Everything we do in life has some element of risk, it’s all about being sensible and listening to rules and guidelines – that applies to any destination, including where you live.

 

 

 

The road to Luxor was a great lead up to what became a truly momentous adventure as well as being a perfect final journey to reflect on our trip, before heading back home.

 

 

 

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Weeks of sorting and organising thousands of photos have enabled me to discover albums of hidden gems I had almost forgotten about. With our blogger friends (Oli and David) living it large in Malaga, I can’t help but reminisce about the last trip Mo and I made to Spain over a year ago. I wrote about our weekend exploring Madrid, and then that was it. I’ve not really shared much else.

So let’s jump from the beginning… to the end!

Last stop on our 10 day Spanish road trip: Cordoba

Ahh… Cordoba.

Visits to the South of Spain are usually centred around the coastal resorts, Granada or Seville if you head west. Cordoba is still part of the Andalucia region but perhaps not top of the list on places to visit. Or at least I didn’t think so.

 

Where we stayed

We stayed at the Ayre Hotel, Cordoba. A decent hotel. We had a lovely room, the hotel itself seemed a bit dated (quite 80s), but it was pleasant, clean surrounded by beautiful greenery and reasonably priced, so we weren’t complaining.

We enjoyed a meal at the hotel restaurant, again nothing to write home about but it was nice. There was also an outside pool which we couldn’t wait to check out – although it took us a while to step inside as it was FREEZING. And watching people get in and out was great entertainment, all of us egging each other on to at least give it a go.

 

What we did

There’s quite a bit to do in Cordoba but Mo and I were slightly pressed for time. Well actually, we probably could have done more, but we did choose to spend an afternoon by the pool, sacrificing sight seeing for an afternoon of relaxation. But of course, we made sure that the one place we did visit was the beautiful Mezquita.

Truly a unique building, Mezquita is known not just as the Great mosque of Cordoba, but as a mosque-cathedral. Famous for being one of the most accomplished examples of Moorish architecture, this is one not to miss when you’re in the city.

 

 

To briefly touch on its history, a small church originally stood on the site which was apparently used as a prayer site for both Muslims and Christians (however this latter point has been debated). In 784 when Abd Al-Rahman took control of the city, the construction of the Great mosque began, and the building was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. In 1236 Cordoba returned to Christian rule and the building was then converted to a Roman Catholic Church, how it remains today.

It’s quite surreal walking through the archways and rooms, as the presence of both religions is visible. The archways themselves threw me right back to those we regularly saw in the Holy mosque in Makkah, so similar in colouring and style and in some places, material.

The most striking feature once you walk in is that of the hypostyle hall, over 800 columns made from Roman temple remains and onyx and marble and jasper I believe. The ceilings are high, the lighting varies as you walk through, the arches inspired by those from Al Aqsa mosque in the Palestinian capital, Jerusalem.

 

 

The mihrab (from where Muslim congregational prayers are led by the Imam) is absolutely stunning, full of traditional Islamic art feature such as geometric patterns, religious calligraphy, fluid patterns and lots of symmetry. For those who don’t already know, the mihrab is the part of the mosque which indicates the ‘qibla’ – the direction Muslims face when praying. The mihrab is usually a semi circular niche built into the wall, you’ll find them or variations of them, in nearly all traditional mosques.

 

 

Of course, as the mosque was converted into a cathedral, there are also a lot of Christian elements. The minaret was converted into a bell tower, which you can check out actually, the views over the city from the top are quite spectacular. And of course spend some time in the courtyard too, appreciate the scale of this heritage site and enjoy the fresh pools and orange trees that add a bit of tranquility to this popular tourist hot spot.

 

 

Aside from Mezquita, we also spent some time exploring the nooks and crannies of the city, wandering from street to street with no real plan, except to enjoy the fresh, warm air and the new environment.

 

 

 

What we ate

Probably the most iconic food story of our trip happened here, in Cordoba. So you may want to pay attention…

It was our final night in Spain. It had been an amazing trip, Mo and I had loved every second of our journey, even the hours spent in the car had felt like an adventure and we were quite sad to call an end to it all. But alas, the trip had to end some time, so we decided we’d see it off in style with an extra special meal out. We both put on our finest outfits. I even spent time straightening my hair, totally going above and beyond my normal holiday get up and go routine.

Our hotel was slightly outside of the city centre so we were excited at the prospect of finding a local restaurant, one that would boast authentic food, charming atmosphere, preferably some good quality tapas. We looked around on google for places nearby and we were a bit stumped, so we decided to go down and have chat with the hotel concierge. Map in hand he mentioned an area of trendy restaurant bars, popular with young professionals, where locals in the area go. That was it, that was exactly what we were after.

We hopped into the car and drove down to the location hotel concierge man had mapped out, and yes there it was, a street lined with trendy looking joints, Mo and I were excited for a lovely evening ahead. We parked up and started walking down… both of us wondering whether we should be concerned at how quiet it seemed. It was definitely dinner time? There were plenty of cars? Where were all the people?!?

A few strolls up and down we found there was only one place that seemed to be truly open for business, it looked nice, everyone around us spoke only Spanish. Looks like we hit the jackpot. We walked to the back where everyone seemed to be congregating and asked the lovely waitress for a table for two. She looked oddly at us, pointing to a few options in a gesture that sort of signified ‘take your pick.’ Being outdoor, a lot of the other tables were occupied by smokers, so we picked a place slightly away from the action.

All smiles, Mo and I were excited again. Food time! The waitress popped back asking if we wanted drinks, as she popped a bowl of peanuts in front of us. We asked to see the food menu. Again the waitress looked quizzically at us. We asked again and to our surprise we were handed a one page third of an A4 leaflet with poor lamination advertising no more than four food options (yes I’m a graphic designer so the paper quality means something to me).

Oh dear. What the heck was going on.

Trying to stay positive, we’d already made all this effort to get here we might as well just order what we can and make the most of it. So… two pizzas it was as that was literally the only thing we could actually eat on the menu. To be fair we’d had a really good baguettini style pizza before so it wouldn’t be so bad having it again. And this was a nice place so surely they can’t go wrong with a margherita.

Midway through our chat about how odd this ‘restaurant’ was Mo gasped. Eyes popping out of his head.

Mo: You’re not going to believe this
Me: What?
Mo: The waitress is making our pizza
Me: So? What’s the problem?
Mo: You need to see how she’s making it
Me: How???!?!
Mo: She has just reached into the freezer.
Me: yea?
Mo: Picked up a double pack of Dr Oetker pizza
Me: what… the….
Mo: She has taken them out of the box
Me: are you su-
Mo: And into the microwave they go.

Needless to say not long after dinner was served. We had a good laugh. It didn’t taste that bad. But boy oh boy that was one) not the fancy meal we had in mind and two) as if we just paid EIGHT Euros for a ready meal pizza!??!?!

Luckily, the next day we redeemed ourselves, determined to ensure the fine dining German chef Dr Oetker was not our final food memory of Spain. After our visit to the Mezquita, we thankfully enjoyed the meal we had been craving. Taberna La Romana – Reasonably priced, freshly-cooked (I repeat freshly-cooked) with tables looking out over the bridge to the Calahorra tower and for anyone who’s after a great gift, there’s a beautiful silver jewellery shop just next door, Joaquin Espaliu Designs.

 

 

When I grew up in Saudi Arabia, there was actually a compound named ‘Cordoba’ where a number of school friends lived. It’s quite weird thinking that back in those days I never realised Cordoba was actually a city, let alone one with such a great history and such beautiful landscapes. Our trip there was short but it was sweet and we’re glad we took the time to pass through on our way back to Madrid.

As a Muslim, the South of Spain is a truly special place, as it really is so interesting to learn and to see so clearly the influence the Ummayid leaders left behind and what part it played in shaping some of these areas.

Of course, the question we always ask, would Mo and I go back?

Definitely, there’s so much we didn’t get a chance to see: Calahorra tower, museum of fine arts and the Roman temple of Cordoba to name but a few.

However the next time we do make a trip over, we’ll be sure to do a much more comprehensive search on restaurants and fine dining beforehand. We’ll save Dr Oetker for the Aldi shop back home.

 

 

 

Have you been to Cordoba? What did you think?

 

 

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bents winter food market

 

I moved to the UK back in 1999 and boy were things different here. Well compared to what I was used to anyway. Streets were different, houses were different, days out were different. One of the strangest things I remember the first year of our return, was learning that a trip to the garden centre in England, was not actually just a trip to a garden centre… it was a day out??

Does this happen anywhere else in the world? Or is it just a UK thing I wonder?

Honestly, I came to realise that nothing is more exciting than stumbling across a new garden centre and I’m not even any good at gardening. Garden centres to me usually mean… a nice hearty lunch, lots of beautiful plant life, great gift sections and home and garden ware that’s ready to be the envy of all your friends and family.

Sorry… wait, I take it back. There is something more exciting than stumbling across a new on. And that is, taking a trip back to an old one!

The best ‘old’ one of the lot? Bents.

Ahh Bents.

Many, many years ago my dad took my mum to Bents garden centre and ever since my mum has taken countless friends and of course her family to experience the joy of a day out in Bents. A few weeks ago I was invited to the launch of their new Winter Food market, a brand new venture they had decided to embark on after many years of contemplating.

For me, no trip to Bents is complete without taking mother in tow, so Mo was left at home that evening and instead Mum and I scheduled some quality time together. It had been a long time since my last visit, thinking back it must have been at least 6 years (at least). When we pulled up into the car park I was literally gobsmacked by the sheer size of it.

 

 

Was it always this big? Or perhaps the addition of hundreds and thousands of tiny fairy lights made it seem so much grander. We drove into the vast car park and found ourselves walking through the food market entrance. Yes the food market. The last time I visited Bents the food section was quite small. A few counters, few shelves… but now there were fresh patisserie counters, a whole freezer section, fresh fruit and vegetables… and of course no area of Bents is complete without fantastic displays interspersed amongst it all.

 

 

It was so hard not to spend all our time shopping for groceries, but we wanted to visit the market first before spending time looking around (I had just come straight from work and food was very much required).

Heading out into the outdoor garden section, there in the corner sits the new Winter Food Market, a collection of mini huts, picnic tables, outdoor heaters and of course lots of Bents decorating touches. We walked into the evenings private event and took a stroll around the food stalls on offer. When the Christmas Markets come to Manchester, a year can not go by where I don’t indulge in a fresh crepe on a cold evening. So I was glad to hear this market revolved around food.

But not just any food, food for everyone. Yes to my pleasant surprise I have finally found a market where I can queue up and order a HOT DOG. You have no idea how good that feels. And yes ok it’s a vegan hot dog, but you know what, it tasted damn good! If vegan hot dog doesn’t take your fancy, there is an incredible pulled mushroom roll you need to buy and try. Truth be told I do not like mushrooms. And yet, here was a sandwich full of them and it was the most delicious thing I’d eaten in a very, very long time! There was a sweets stall with fresh waffles – and crepes and of course one dedicated to drinks. Again, even the hot drink section, instead of just brewing mulled wine like every Christmas market does, there was also a non-alcoholic apple toddy, infused with ginger and cinammon. Oh but you have to try the hot white chocolate – up there with my favourite Slatterys one, thick and creamy but not overly sweet.

 

 

It was pretty busy that night, tables were full but we spotted a couple of picnic table end seats available and the family on the other side of it invited us to perch and enjoy our meal sat down. We happily accepted, my mum completely drawn in by their beautiful baby girl. As it turned out, they were members of the Bents family. In all my years of coming to Bents, I had no idea this was a homegrown family business. In fact, Bents are celebrating their 80th year and we learned that family is an important part of everything they do. If Mum and I didn’t love Bents before, we certainly have an extra soft spot for it now. The hospitality and friendliness demonstrated not only by the famous family but also the staff on the night really blew us away.

 

 

There was entertainment playing on the stage in the corner, the lights twinkled, we were surrounded by flowers and plants, there was a lovely atmosphere. The Open Skies Glass House at Bents has one of those magical roof systems, where the panels can open to let in the fresh air, the cool crisp chill of winter. But unlike the markets in town – as soon as the rain decides to fall those panels can close right back up keeping you safe and dry and allow you to crack on with your evening.

 

 

Before we knew it, closing time was upon us. What we thought would be a quick visit to the markets turned into a whole evening out. Time had flown and it wasn’t long (a week later to be precise) before we were back to properly explore the store and purchase the odds and sods we needed. Return visits are so important, I’ve mentioned before people are always quick to point out to me that I must only receive good service when people know I’m a blogger. Well you know what, if people want to be rude, blogger or not they will be rude. I’m a firm believer that so long as you treat people with respect they will return the favour. And anyway, I can’t ever remember anything BUT good service at Bents, so the fact that we are still receiving it should be of no surprise.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the happenings of the city, I feel so guilty having neglected places like Bents over the last few years. The opening of the food court is a real game changer, Mo and I recently bought some frozen pastries to cook for guests we had staying over and they were fantastic! Although my top food court tip – Honey dew pomelo fruit is absolutely AMAZING. You will not find a pomelo this beautifully sweet in a normal supermarket, if you find it at all!

All in all, I’m so glad Bents decided to follow their dreams and finally open this Winter Food Market experience, I think it’s a great addition to the centre and gives us just another reason to return.

Who am I kidding, like we ever needed another reason 😉

 

Fan of Garden centres? Do you treat it as a day trip too? Have you been to Bents? 

 

Few details:
The Winter Food Market is open now until 22nd December.
Mon – Tues 12-5pm
Weds – Frid 12-8pm
Sat 12-5pm
Sun 12-4pm

 

*** Thank you to Bents for inviting my mother and I to taste the goods at the Winter Food Market. The hospitality we were shown was exceptional. Of course all opinions and photos are my own ***

 

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