S‘Albufera Natural Park, Mallorca’s Wonderful Wetlands

While most people visiting Mallorca are out grabbing a beach chair, we decided to experience nature among the hustle and bustle of the Spring crowds in a quiet haven for wildlife called S’Albufera.

I guess I had neglected to visit S’Albufera Natural Park, because I usually visit Mallorca to hikes in the Tramuntana Mountains. After an injury put me on the hiking sidelines, I decided to take the chance to experience S’Albufera.

Getting to S’Albufera Natural Park

Getting to S’Albufera was a bit tricky. The point of interest to the entrance is Pont dels Anglesos (the Englishmen’s Bridge) which our navi and Google Maps couldn’t locate. Drive south of Port d’Alcudia on the MA-12. If you see Grupotel Natura Playa (Playas de Muro, 5, 07458) on your left, you have just passed the Englishmen’s Bridge. On the MA-12, you can also look for the signs Sector 2, Platja Sector 1 (V -1 VS-2 V-3). If you are still lost, you will see plenty of people entering the park near the Englishmen’s Bridge.

The parking lot is small but you can find places to park near the entrance of better yet, the Can Picafort – Port de Pollenca L352 bus stops near the main entrance.

Get your Visitor’s Permit

The park entrance is free but you need to get a visitor’s permit. You walk 1km from the entrance until you reach the information center. There you have a chance to view the exhibit of the park animal photos and chat with a ranger. Once you pass the information center, it becomes more tranquil as you roam the park past the center.

The Bird Hides

I was not an avid bird watcher before I visited S’Albufera Natural Park except for the occasional pigeons and crows that visit my balcony. Sitting in the bird hides gave me an appreciation for the hobby. You need a lot of patience to wait for birds and wildlife which is quite therapeutic. As a reward for my patience, I spotted many Black-winged Stilts. With a surface area of 1646,48 hectares, you’ll have to return many times to see it all.

In the Spring visitors are likely to see Woodchat Shrikes, Sandpipers, waders and several species of Heron which include Purple Heron, Night and Squacco as well as Little Bittern. Stroll along the canal footpaths to see Cetti’s Warblers, Nightingales and Blue Headed Wagtails. Birds of Prey are common with regular sightings of Marsh Harrier’s, Ospreys and Eleonora’s.

Sitting in a bird hide watching nature was for me, as peaceful as my daily meditation.

We visited three bird hides all of which are open to the public. They provide you and nature a natural barrier, still allowing human onlookers to get close-up look at nature. You are close enough to see the beautiful array of birds with your human eye, but binoculars are recommended. My husband rigged a one-eyed binocular from his camera equipment. After an enjoyable day viewing the birds, we decided to invest in a pair of binoculars for future bird watching.

In the reserve, you will walk among pine woods, see fresh water pools and lagoons, reed-beds, and salt marshes. There are numerous species, too many to list, too many to count. On one of the canal stretches, I heard male frogs croaking in the ponds, competing for females. It’s Spring after all, so love is in the air!

On your next visit to Mallorca, take a chance to escape the beach crowds and visit the S’Albufera Natural Park.

The 365 Calvary Steps

The 365 Calvary steps in the charming old town of Pollenca lead up to an incredible Good Friday procession.

Experience the charm of Pollenca and the 365 Calvary Steps (Calle de Calvari), one step at a time.

Up the 365 Calvary Steps, Pollensa, Mallorca
Up the 365 Calvary Steps, Pollenca, Mallorca

If you don’t look hard enough, you could possibly miss an important attraction in old town Pollenca, the 365 Calvary Steps (Calle de Calvari).

Worn down from thousands of Christian devotees and tourists, there are numerous steps required to reach the top, in fact, one for each day of the year. If you feel fatigued half way to the top, enjoy a rest under the cypress trees or the fourteen tall crosses evoking Christ on the way to his crucifixion.

Along your journey, catch your breath and view the gorgeous homes and shops dotted along the steps. You will also find the occasional cat enjoying a siesta under the trees – a welcome sight to get your mind off the steep trek. Once you reach step number 365, enjoy gorgeous views of the Traumantana Mountains.

A cat along the 365 Calvary Steps in Pollensa, Mallorca
A cat along the 365 Calvary Steps in Pollenca, Mallorca

The Knights Templar were the first owners of this mount. Today, it hosts one of the most impressive traditions of Mallorca’s Easter week celebrations.

On Good Friday, the Calvari steps is where the Davallament (Descent from the Cross) takes place. A carving of Christ is removed from the cross. Then, in a somber torchlight parade, the carving is carried down the steps. The ritual is performed in silence except for the beating drum. Locals and tourists follow the procession led by members of various brotherhoods dressed in hooded robes. The parade ends at Our Lady of the Angels, the parish church dedicated to the patron saint of Pollenca, the Virgin Mary, and St. Michael the Archangel.

What goes up, must come down.

You can retrace your steps down the hill or venture along the side streets back to Pollenca. Reward yourself for your efforts and massive fitness tracker step count at one of Pollenca’s many restaurants.

Tip: One of my favorites is La Font del Gall. Just look for the fountain with the rooster on top at Calle Montesion, 4.

The 365 Calvary Steps Pollensa,Mallorca
Down the 365 Calvary Steps Pollenca, Mallorca

Five Reasons to Visit Dordogne France

There are hundreds of reasons to visit Dordogne France, but five that top our list.

Known by its older name, Perigord, Dordogne is France’s third largest region located in southwestern France about a 5 hour drive south of Paris between Lyon and Bordeaux. The Perigord region is full of medieval towns, gorgeous châteaux, prehistoric caves, elite gardens, awesome food and all in and around the spectacular countryside. So don’t delay, visit Dordogne France this year!

There are four major towns are Périgueux, Bergerac, and Sarlat, but don’t stop at visiting those towns and experiencing all that the Dordogne has to offer. When you visit Dordogne France, you’ll pass by many honey-colored stone houses and rich green meadows. Along the way you’ll be reminded why the Dordogne, the rural south-west of France is so loved by residents and tourists.

Here are five reasons to visit Dordogne, France.

  1. Le Châteaux – The Dordogne region has around 1000 castles and exquisite châteaux. Some of the most visited châteaux include the 15th century Chateau des Milandes which was restored by the legendary jazz and singer and actress Josephine Baker.

    Châteaux des Milandes in Dordogne, France.
    Châteaux des Milandes in Dordogne, France. Photo by Manfred Heyde.

    Also, worth a visit is the fortified 12th century Châteaux de Beynac. Set 200 meters high on a cliff that juts out onto the Dordogne River, it was temporarily occupied by Richard Lion Heart. The history alone is a reason to visit as well as the fantastic views of the countryside.

  2. Gorgeous Gardens – When you visit Dordogne France, you’ll see it has its share of châteaux as well as astonishing gardens to match.
    The most famous being Les Jardins de Marqueyssac with numerous perfectly manicured boxed hedges. The gardens overlook the chalky cliffs of the Dordogne offering an amazing panoramic view of Perigord.  Even more amazing than a day trip to the gardens is visiting the magically illuminated gardens during the summer evenings.

    The Gardens of Marqueyssac, Dordogne, France
    The Gardens of Marqueyssac, Dordogne, France. Photo by Lemoussu
  3. Quintessentially French towns – There are three major towns in Dordogne, Bergerac in the south-west, Perigueux further north, and Sarlat in the south-east, but don’t stop at those three. One never tires of visiting any of the towns especially those classified as ‘les Plux Beaux Detours‘ in France, so just look for the label Most beautiful detour in France and you’re on the right track. One city on the detour is Brantôme, also known as the known as the Venice of the Dordogne. A stop at the Benedictine Abbey on the river’s edge and the old stone bridge are well worth the visit. Each village has its own charm so make time to thoroughly enjoy as many as possible.

    Abbey of Brantôme and its bell tower, Dordogne, France
    Abbey of Brantôme, Dordogne, France, Photo by Monster1000
  4. Brilliant Caves – France is peppered with hundreds of caves full of prehistoric art and extraordinary rock formations hidden deep beneath a sea of caverns. At Grotte de Rouffignac, the electric train descends you to complete darkness where you’ll see nearly 100 line drawings and engravings of mammoths, horses, and bison as well as the ‘Great Ceiling’ decorated with 65 animal figures.When visiting Gouffre de Padirac you’ll see nature’s beauty in an underground gorge. After the 99 meter descent (elevator or stairs), you take to a gondola ride to enjoy the beauty of the limestone caves.

    Photo by cave painter
    Photo by cave painter
  5. A Gourmand Experience – I had to save the best for last as without a doubt, Dordogne is a foodie region. It’s the food and wine which draw many people to Dordogne. After all, the region is France’s capital of foie gras, duck, and truffle. Vegetarians, don’t fret, the daily markets in the towns and villages are full of seasonal produce such as walnuts, strawberries, mushrooms, goat cheese (cabécou), and French breads of course.And what better way to enjoy Dordogne’s bounty than with one of the region’s Bergerac wines. The region is one of the few in France that produce nearly as many white wines as red (around 48% versus 52%). The area contains 13 Appellations Contrôlées where Bergerac red wine, Côtes de Bergerac red wine, Bergerac dry white wine, Bergerac rosé wine and Côtes de Bergerac sweet white wines, are grown in the Bergerac vineyards.

    Bergerac white wine, Dordogne, France
    Photo by JPS68

Need another reason to visit Dordogne France? Stay-tuned as we update you on more great things to see and do in Dordogne France.

The Bodacious Redwoods of Big Basin

Big Basin Redwoods National Park is home to the largest grouping of massive redwoods that you must see to believe.

The plan was to drive north to Muir Woods really early one Saturday morning to participate in a hike with a ranger, but the sound of rain drops on my window was too tempting. I simply turned off the early alarm and said, perhaps another day. But as my time in Silicon Valley came to an end, I discovered Big Basin Redwoods State Park, and just in the nick of time.

A fallen redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
A fallen redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

The last weekend before my flight back to Germany, we had a strong desire to see some redwoods. We have some baby redwoods in Germany, but wanted to see the ma and pa of redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods National Park.

As fate would have it, a strong rain storm was predicted for my last weekend in California and the dream of seeing the redwoods was quickly fading away. The Saturday storms were monumental and as much as that region of California needed rain, I was disappointingly going to have to give up the idea of Visiting Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

California State Parks
Morning views at Castle Rock State Park on the way to see the Big Basin redwoods

Saturday evening every hour on the hour I methodically checked every weather app and channel I could in hopes of a glimmer of light, but the forecast was rain, winds, rain, and more of it. Sunday morning a glimmer of hope crept through my window—the sun attempting to shine through the grey clouds which told me let’s do this, but do it fast. I checked the weather apps again and they confirmed we had a 3-4 hour window to enjoy the park before the next downpour.

The long and winding road

I had been warned that the drive to Big Basin Redwoods State Park is full of hair pin curves and indeed it was. Normally, I have no fear of twisty windy bends but trees and debris had fallen making the drive a bit more problematic, so I enlisted my husband to drive. Actually, my driving was scaring him, so he was happy to take the wheel. 🙂

Road to Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Road to Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is about 30 miles (48 km) from Palo Alto and 22 miles (36 km) northwest of Santa Cruz, so if you’re in Silicon Valley it makes a nicer alternative to the very crowded Muir Woods State Park north of San Francisco. The drive to the Big Basin is pleasant and slow due to the turns, but if you start early you’re virtually alone on the road.

A humble view of the redwoods from Big Basin Redwoods State Park
A humble view of the redwoods at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

When we arrived at the park headquarters there was the 1930s lodge-style building with redwoods all around to greet us. After a short chat with the ranger, we paid the $10 fee to park in the headquarters area, where parking is limited, especially on a sunny weekend day. If you don’t mind a hike, you’ll find free parking near China Grade Waddell Beach, or Whitehouse Canyon Road.

All trails lead to the redwoods

Since we only had a few hours of sun and dry weather, we began our hike on the Redwood Trail. It’s an easy 0.5 mile long flat hike that is also wheel-chair accessible. We began our journey by purchasing the Redwood Trail map for 50¢ which provides descriptions of some of the signed areas of the trail. The Redwood Trail features some of the most immense old-growth redwoods in Santa Cruz County and is a great starting point no matter your hiking experience.

Largest Redwood at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Father of the Forest tree at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Height 250 ft (76 m), circumference 67 ft (20 m).

Next we hiked half of the Sequoia Trail since the skies were becoming cloudy and returned through the camping grounds then back to HQ. The Sequoia Trail is an easy to moderate 4 mile hike that will take you about two hours to complete and will lead you to the Sempervirens waterfall.

Never thought I could find a slug adorable, but …

As much as I was impressed by the massive redwoods with a gentle appeal, I was hoping to see more of the park’s diverse flora and fauna as well as foxes, coyotes, and perhaps a bobcat from afar of course.

We were lucky that day as we found a couple of Big Basin’s little creatures–the Pacific banana slug. The bright yellow slow-moving slug feeds from the forest floor which is full of organic matter, plants and mushrooms. I normally cringe at the site of the slimy looking brown slugs we have here, but the Pacific banana slug is really cute.

Do not touch or get too close to the banana slugs! They are sensitive delicate creatures that just want to live life in peace and cut off their mating partner’s penis after copulation. Yes, they really do that!

Pacific banana slug at Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Pacific banana slug at Big Basin Redwoods State Park

After the slug sighting, the downpour began just as the weather apps had predicted. We ran back to HQ and vowed to return to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park soon. Next time we’ll attempt some of the more strenuous trails such as Ocean View or Berry Creek Falls. But for now, we’re off to Santa Cruz where the ocean beckons us with sun, rolling waves, and if we’re lucky, we just might find a restaurant serving a bowl of delicious clam chowder to counter balance the calories we burned hiking.

On August 25, 2016, the National Park Service turns 100! Celebrate the Centennial by visiting one of America’s great national parks.

The Reality of Glamping at Feather Down Farms Holland

The Reality of Glamping at Feather Down Farms Holland

The first day was exciting but brought some challenges, mainly the weather. It was 6 degrees Celsius (30 Fahrenheit) in our tent. That’s the reality of glamping at Feather Down Farms Holland or anywhere else for that matter. It was so cold I could see my breath as I grabbed my flashlight to head to the Honesty Shop to grab the coffee and fresh milk I had ordered the day before.

Spacious tent interior. © Feather Down Farms
Spacious tent interior, © Feather Down Farms

Around 7:00 AM on the way to the shop, I checked the chicken larder for farm fresh eggs, but I was not alone. Aside from the guinea pigs and rabbits, the most beautiful Dutch children were anxiously anticipating the arrival of fresh eggs. The egg-laying hens teased us as they jumped onto the back of the wood step. They turned their backs giving us the illusion they would soon lay eggs, but didn’t.

Considering some hens lay three eggs every four days then repeat the cycle again, I grabbed half a dozen eggs from the Honest Shop and noted my purchase. The kids were still waited disappointingly as I ducked through the petting barn for cover from the hard rain and strong winds.

Fresh eggs, © Feather Down Farms
Fresh eggs, © Feather Down Farms

By the time I returned to the tent, my husband had started the fire and gladly welcomed the mug of coffee and fresh raisin rolls. The next challenge would be to make a real meal on the wood burning stove.

That morning’s menu included, scrambled eggs with red peppers, onions, and garlic topped on a slice of buttered whole wheat toast. Our first glamping breakfast turned out well. The only trick is to control the wood burner temperature, so prep everything first before you start cooking.

Glamping bed and breakfast cooked on a wood-burning stove at Feather Down Farms
Glamping bed and breakfast cooked on a wood-burning stove at Feather Down Farms

Shower and Shave

There is yet another barn, this one with hot water, where you can shower and shave. Some people took advantage of it and it appeared others just went for a true camping experience by bemoaning a shower at the campground glampground. You’ll need to haul your towels, flip-flops, and bath items to the shower barn, to get fresh, sparkly, and squeaky clean.

The one thing I can’t refrain from is to brush my teeth at least twice daily, so I brought my toothbrush. At least my pearly whites were clean and my breath didn’t frighten the farms animals away. Ok, ok, so I cheated and glamped a bit.

Insider Tip #3

Many of the Feather Down Farms Holland offer services such as ready-made fires to welcome you and even a set of bath towels; I’d recommend you purchase the services if you aren’t ready to leave the comforts of home quite yet.

What’s on the Agenda?

Depending on your preferences and the weather, you can discover the farm and farm living. Take a farm tour, hike or bike ride in the forest, play with the kids in the barn, or just hang around and relax.

Our Feather Down Farm was located near some quaint villages in Holland. That gave us the chance to discover the area and visit a local restaurant. A great excuse to heat up and charge the mobile phone. Too bad we forgot the charger.

Friendly bull from Feather Down Farms Holland
Friendly bull from Feather Down Farms Holland

The End of a Unique Experience

Once we got the hang of glamping, we thoroughly enjoyed the Feather Down Farm Holland vacation concept and the surroundings—you leave the city madness and are welcomed into simple country ‘green’ living.

We slept comfortably in our tent which was under a tree with an owl above that cooed us at night. We enjoyed the sunrise holding a cup of coffee watching the cows graze across the meadow, and relished the moments with our furry little vacation pet Hasi.

Making our own fire to heat the tent and cook our food was very empowering and after the first attempt were able to make some decent meals. By the end of the trip I was whistling my way through the woods with my cart to pick up dry wood and thinking about returning to one of the many Feather Down Farm locations around the world very soon, but most certainly when the weather is warm and toasty.