Travel: Cologne’s Christmas markets. Well worth a visit.

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There’s no better way to get you in the festive spirit than that of a traditional Christmas market. The lights, the atmosphere, the smells and the sounds, and that dear reader is quite possibly why I take a trip each December to set me up in time for the big event.

Cologne is a city with something for everyone, regardless of age, interests or gender, making it an ideal location for a pre-Christmas visit – we were tempted by the famed Christmas markets – known as the season of Kölner Weihnachtsmarkt – of which there are seven in total. Every year these markets attract almost three million visitors to Cologne.

Right off I’m going to suggest you make sure you take a sturdy pair of walking shoes, a warm jacket, a hat, gloves and a camera. Oh, and if you can afford it, try to book into a city centre hotel.  We used the Lindner group’s City Plaza Hotel and found that its location at Magnusstraße 20 was perfect. See my review here: Accomm: Cologne. Lindner City Plaza. A very comfortable hotel in a superb location.

Accomm:Oban Glenburnie House. Excellence with a view to match.

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Glenburnie House, Oban – the epitome of excellence.

It’s fair to say the west coast seaside town of Oban isn’t renowned for having a huge selection of five-star hotels – in fact, it struggles to get above a reasonable three-star level.

However, don’t let that put you off visiting.  There are some establishments that reach that level of luxury and comfort you crave, and the Glenburnie House is one of those.

Located on the Esplanade this Victorian, granite built home already rates a five-star with TripAdvisor from 368 reviews.  That, by anyone’s standard, is pretty good going. The guest house has private parking available, and if that’s full, there is on-street parking immediately outside the entrance, although it is metered at certain times.

The location of this establishment is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, simply stunning. It offers an unrivalled seafront location with spectacular views across Oban Bay and the island of Kerrera, where you can sit and idly watch the ferries toing and froing from the outer islands.

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There are some delightful views from the front-facing rooms.

Food: Harrogate – The Royal Baths. Stunning setting with a quality of food to match.

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The Royal Baths Chinese restaurant, Harrogate.

I once reviewed a Chinese restaurant in Blackpool and remember at the time thinking it would be almost impossible to beat. Well, how foolish was I because it has at least been matched!

The Royal Baths Chinese Restaurant has proven that it is possible to eat quality oriental food outside of China, but to find such a gem of an establishment in Harrogate of all places was, quite frankly, remarkable!

The establishment is located in Crescent Road in what was the original Royal Baths building of this spa town. The decor is stunning! Gothic columns, original stained glass, marble flooring, imported authentic Chinese furniture. Just go and have a look, its well worth it even if you don’t eat anything.

Food: The Creagan Inn. A pub with a seaview restaurant on the shores of Loch Creran.

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Creagan Inn is located on the main road so do take care, it can be busy.

Creagan Inn is a delightful pub which sits on the main A828 road between Ballachulish and Oban in the rural coastal area of Appin on the west of Scotland.  It is located in an enviable position on Loch Creran with stunning views across the bay to the hills of Mull in the far distance. The famous Castle Stalker, guarding the entrance to Loch Laich, was the one time home of the Stewarts of Appin and is located around five miles from the Inn.

Originally believed to have been built as a ferryman’s cottage in the 1740s, it is possible that where Loch Creran narrows at this point there may have been a ferry service before the road or even the rail bridge was built.

And, Creagan is a far cry from the days I enjoyed its public bar with the then host Alex Wardlaw on many clay pigeon shoots at Fasnacloich back in the 80s, being completely unrecognisable now, with the exception of the original stone building’s façade.

There’s ample parking with three separate car parks, but I’d urge caution as this is a busy road, particularly in the tourist season, so take care when entering or exiting any of the car parks.

Disabled access is good with ramped or level access throughout the building, as well as a couple of marked disabled bays in one of the car parks.

Inside, it’s basically all open-plan with a mix of table sizes, some of which have lochside views.  There’s also an outdoor dining area, which I can only imagine would be stunning on a summers evening as the sun sets across the Loch Creran.  At the time of our visit it was cold, wet, grey, and in good Scottish parlance, a ‘dreich’ day!

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Sunset on Loch Creran – Copyright: Flickr

Food – Oban: Ee-Usk. Seafood dining at its very best

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Ee-Usk is highly visible with its red roof

Ee-usk is an award-winning seafood restaurant located on the north pier in the seaside town of Oban, on the west coast of Argyll. The name derives from the Gaelic language where ‘iasg’ is the word for fish but is pronounced ee-usk.  Now, I’ll bet few knew that little nugget of information.

The building certainly stands out being housed in a double height glass-fronted, red-roofed building right on the quayside with fantastic views across Oban Bay to Kerrera, Lismore as well as the mountain of Mull on a good day.

It has an unenviable list of suppliers, which includes: Langoustines, courtesy of Jordan Kerr and his brother John who fish the waters and sea lochs surrounding Oban and the nearby islands. Crabs and lobsters are harvested around the rocky coastline of the island of Luing by Neil MacQueen and his family on a daily basis. Neil selects his finest examples for Eeusk and delivers them live to their kitchen. The native blue mussels are farmed in the fresh waters of Loch Leven by James MacLean. James has been supplying mussels to Eeusk for over 14 years. I’m sure you’re getting the idea by now that this is a business which excels at using local produce on its doorstep

We were dining in the evening with a 7pm reservation, made some months earlier, and, I should add at this point, if you’re hoping to get a table in the busier summer months without a reservation, then think again!

Accomm: Harrogate – The Yorkshire Hotel. A fine old building in a great location.

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The Yorkshire Hotel, owned at the time of my visit by the Akkeron hotel group but now run by the HRH Hotel group is an old Victorian style hotel located on Prospect Place right in the heart of Harrogate, which couldn’t be a better location for those visiting this beautiful Yorkshire town. It’s approximately five-minutes walk to the city centre in one direction, and a five-minute walk in the opposite direction to Valley Gardens and the Pump Room. 

My booking was made directly with the hotel reservations unit and was completely fuss-free; in fact, it was one of the easiest bookings I’ve made. Reservations staff were exceptionally helpful with everything that was thrown at them. The hotel has 35 private parking bays located directly outside the front door. Be aware however that these fill up quickly and you may have to use on-street parking instead.

On arrival, check-in was hassle-free and despite an early arrival our room was ready and waiting for us. Located in room 103 on the first floor, a 2-roomed suite was accessed via one of two lifts available. The hotel is disabled friendly, with good open plan areas, wide doors, and all floors accessible. Front of house staff were extremely friendly, offering us maps of the area, marking these with features we asked for, offering ideas for other visits during our stay and providing all relevant information necessary. Please note however that disabled guest using wheelchairs may have to access the hotel via the brasserie/bar in a lane to the rear of the hotel as there are several steps to negotiate at the front doors.

Food – Hexham: The Golden Dragon. Unfortunately, this wasn’t their finest hour!

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The Golden Dragon, nothing special from the outside.

Well, my visit to the Golden Dragon was certainly memorable, but not for the right reasons. A first for me, in that I arrived at 7.00pm and was back in the car at 7.55pm having eaten three courses and had a drink. Given that we could allow 10 minutes wait time for service, that meant we spent 45 minutes eating. I’ve never ever seen such speedy service. Taking into account the tiniest of portion sizes, I was not at all surprised when checking my watch I found we were in and out in less than an hour!

The restaurant is located in the town of Hexham in Northumberland on Battle Hill. This is one of the main streets in the town which is double yellow lined throughout therefore if you are visiting you will have to park elsewhere and walk to this establishment. The restaurant has no private parking.

After eventually finding a parking space on a side street we arrived at the restaurant at 7pm. It is a nondescript little building and unfortunately, the interior was no better. The restaurant was split over two levels and has approximately 20 tables. It really has absolutely no character, being painted in magnolia along with the obligatory Chinese paintings and the plethora of hanging red lanterns. The tables are a mix of blue cotton tablecloths and pink paper ones? As you can see, now we have a mix of pink, red, blue and magnolia as a colour scheme – it’s painful frankly, and I can see no reason why this hasn’t been addressed.

Disabled access is fine off the main street although there is an inner door to negotiate once you are in the main front door. There are dining tables on the lower ground level area next to the bar and ‘reception’ area.