Monday, April 23, 2018

Sunday visit to Ilam Park in the Peak District, April 2018.

Ilam Park is situated in a spectacular location in the Derbyshire and Staffordshire Peak District close to the pretty market town of Ashbourne. Owned by the National Trust, Ilam Park from what we saw appears to be a popular destination for families and dog walkers. With a nice tea-room the park is open all year round and there is plenty to explore with lots of fairly easy going walks. It was our first visit and we had a wonderful day helped by a relatively warm and dry day. The house itself is now a Youth Hostel so the main reason to visit the Park is to enjoy the grounds and the surrounding countryside.

Main entrance to Ilam Park

The village is very pretty with some unique houses and as it's just outside the Park it's worth a wander. The sign posts around the Park aren't that clear so pick up a map before at the house and ask one of the volunteers before you hear off to make the most of your visit.

The Peak District is a beautiful part of the UK, stunning scenery, beautiful architecture and lots of wonderful places to enjoy local produce. We're lucky that it's only an hour or so from where we live so we're hoping for a good summer so we can enjoy it a lot more. Our plan next time is to try some of the walking that nearby Dovedale has to offer. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Next stop Punta Arenas - time to visit some penguins.

After a fabulous few days in Puerto Natales which left us wanting to return for more, we made the return journey to Punta Arenas where we were staying for New Year. We were booked to stay at the boutique hotel La Yegua Loca which translates into English as The Mad Mare. This is a great hotel, the vision of a couple to renovate an old house and turn it into a hotel. In their own words "not any hotel, but something unique and very special, that recovers the traditions and trades of a land of adventurers and explorers. Loaded with dreams. Also with a small dose of madness". They have really succeeded in translating their vision into reality, it really captures the spirit and excitement that you experience when visiting Chilean Patagonia. We loved our time in this special place.

La Yegua Loca

After an early start from Puerto Natales our goal had been to visit Isla Magdalena to see the colony of Magellan penguins, unfortunately bad weather led to a cancellation. Plan B was quickly established and we arranged a driver to take us to Fuerte Bulnes, a 40 minute drive from the city. The fort is a reconstruction, the original was founded on a hill overlooking the Strait of Magellan in 1843 under the command of Manuel Bulnes Prieto.

Fuerte Bulnes

After an interesting afternoon at the Fort we returned to Punta Arenas and the hotel with our fingers crossed that our rescheduled visit to Isla Magdalena would go ahead the next did!! Situated a relatively short boat tide away from Punta Arenas the island is home to a huge colony of Magellan penguin couples and their young. As you get close to the shore line you get your first view of this once in a lifetime sight, it was quite incredible to see so many penguins close up. After docking you get around an hour on the island to walk around a roped off pathway from which you get a close up view of island life.

On our way back to Puenta Arenas we passed a smaller island colonised by sea lions. Again the sheer numbers and size of some of these mammals is staggering, as we had to take photos from distance on the boat which was bobbing up and down the quality isn't so good as they were on the island.

That evening was New Year's Eve and the staff had pulled out all the stops back at La Yegua Loca to prepare a fun evening for all the guests which culminated in watching the fireworks being set off by the coast. A fitting end to 2017 and a great start to 2018.

Happy New Year

Friday, April 6, 2018

Puerta Natales, time to experience Patagonia & Torres del Paine.

Towards the end of December 2017 we flew to Chile for two weeks.  After a lovely family Christmas in Santiago we headed south to Patagonia. After landing in Punta Arenas we took a taxi into the city centre to catch a bus to Puerto Natales. What we didn't know at the time as that we could have caught the bus from that airport, still you live and learn. The bus trip on Buses Fernandez took around 3 hours another example of the sheer size of Chile. Both of us were full of excitement as this was pair first trip to Patagonia so the time flew by. On arrival we grabbed a taxi for the short ride to our home for the next couple of days, Hotel If.

Hotel If/ Restaurant Santolla
Situated just a short walk from the centre Hotel If offers basic accommodation, it did the job for us however in all honesty could do with a bit of work to make it feel more comfortable. The big plus is it is next door to Santolla, a fantastic restaurant built in a series of freight containers as you can see above. Owned and run by the family behind Hotel If the atmosphere is fun, the service comes with a smile and the food especially the King Crab is absolutely delicious, a 5 star recommendation.

Exploring the Ultima Esperanza
On our first full day we joined a cruise on the Ultima Esperanza (Channel of Last Hope) booked with a tour company called 21 de Mayo to see the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers. Bearing in mind we were visiting the region in high season the boat was busy however not to the extend that you could't move around. One thing I forgot to mention at the start of this post is come prepared for all seasons when you visit Patagonia as you can experience a mix of weather in one day and when the wind blows its cold....very cold. We had a great time on this well organised cruise, the scenery is spectacular so wrap up warm and enjoy.

Some friendly locals

Balmaceda Glacier 
Serrano Glacier
Whilst you have to view the Balmaceda Glacier from the ship you get a closer view of the Serrano Glacier, the ship docks and you then have a short walk around 1km to the foot of the glacier.

After leading the Serrano Glacier we were treated to a glass of whiskey with ice (supposedly) from the glacier before heading to a nearby ranch for a delicious BBQ lunch.

Lunch stop at the Estancia Perales
Our main reason for visiting Patagonia was to visit the world famous Torres del Paine National Park hoping to see the iconic views of the Torres (Towers). We joined our group for the day full of excitement for what lay ahead. One thing to check if you book a day tour in the park is what are the plans for lunch? You may need to book a table at one of the Lodges so especially in high season it's a good idea to check.

Hidden in the clouds - Torres del Paine

So unfortunately as you can see we chose a cloudy day, luck wasn't with is however we did catch some glimpses of the Torres (Towers) and Cuernos (Horns) just not quite the clear view with blue skies that we hoped for. They are spectacular and have to be seen to really appreciate their sheer size and dominance over the surroundings.

After lunch we drove on to view the Grey Lake and stunning Grey Glacier. This involved a walk of perhaps 2km of which part is very exposed and incredibly windy so wrap up warm and hold onto each other.

Grey Lake & Glacier in the background, see below

Our final stop for the day was the Cueva del Milodon. It comprises a number of caves and a rock formation know as Silla del Diablo (Seat of the Devil) and was the location where a German explorer called Herman Eberhart found the skin of an unidentified animal which was later identified as a Mylodon an extinct animal which died over 10,000 years ago. After the impressive Torres del Paine and the Grey Lake it was if I'm honest a bit underwhelming in comparison.

We had a wonderful time in Puerto Natales exploring the region and the town itself. The town itself is relatively small with a population of around 19,000. There are lots of bars and restaurants, we had lovely meals at Santolla and Afragonia as well as El Bote. If you're looking for somewhere to have a drink and a bite to eat rather than a full meal try Hostel Wild. If you fancy some shopping and want to take home some souvenirs talk a walk to the Pueblo Artesanal just outside the town centre, it's packed full of colourful hand craft. Next stop back to Punta Arenas for a couple of days and to celebrate New Year, time too to visit some penguins.