Monday, 24 June 2013

Living the Life of Riley at Villa 775

I am not ashamed to admit I have been living the life of Riley for the last few weeks. First, we went to the all-singing, all-dancing wedding in Saint Tropez - as if we do that kind of thing all the time! Then we took number 2 and her partner to London for the first day of Queen's to watch plucky Brits do what plucky Brits do best at tennis (apart from Murray obviously) and factored in a glass of wine or three on the 32nd floor of the Shard and dinner with number 1 and her partner at Malmaison along the way. Then last week, I skipped off to the Algarve to have a sneaky four days in the sun with my dear friend and Acorn supremo, Louise.

Villa 775 has been the backdrop for a number of hilarious girly tennis trips over the years but sadly those came to an end when it became apparent that I am the only one who still plays tennis. Anyway, fabulous memories of Umpa Lumpa dancing at Maria's, far too much 'drink it, it's only fruit cup' Sangria/Pimms and laughing at, and with, Alex and Rosie until I wept. So when I got the text from Louise inviting me to join her for a few days 'chillax', as the Barnsley lodger would say, I negotiated a pass-out from my beloved, numbers 3 and 4 (cries of "you're going on holiday again!") and the intrepid granny who was swanning off to Ibiza herself and the Jet2/Ryanair bookings were made tout suite.

Arriving at Leeds Bradford early on Sunday morning, there was a large group of tattooed men in matching t-shirts already drinking at the bar. Thinking: 'I hope Deano's stag weekend is somewhere other than Portugal', I checked in and, boarding the plane, was delighted to see that nobody was sitting in my row or on the other side of the aisle, nor indeed in either the row in front or behind. Marvellous, I thought. And then Deano's stag party boarded... next to me, in front and behind. Just me and eighteen jolly stags. Actually they were very polite and once we had established that I was not the stripper, they offered me champagne (too early) and only held my hand on take off and landing - because they were nervous, rather than me!

Met at the airport by the lovely Richard, the only difficulty we encountered was getting out of the car park. The barrier had broken and was being manually operated by a befuddled fellow who, at one point, was the recipient of some serious advice delivered by an enraged Richard who felt we had queued for long enough and stormed out of the car and gave the chap a proper talking-to (think Percy Sugden in Coronation Street if you get my drift).

Back at the villa, we waved off Stephen, Helen and Richard back to sunny Yorkshire and settled down to some serious relaxation. Louise admitted to having done virtually no exercise during her first week's sojourn, but, because I am a bit of an exercise-junkie, all that was about to change. Day 2 and we set off to sort out the bikes. No hire car so bikes and feet were our only means of transport. Having walked most of the way round the resort and organised bikes, I was then ready to organise a little light tennis. "I am digging my heels in!" said Louise as we walked past the Praca. Apparently only so much actual exercise can be done without stopping for milk shakes/pancakes/pina coladas - though not all at once!

The bikes were delivered by the delightful Riccardo (obviously the Portuguese equivalent of the recently departed - in the airborne sense - Richard) who was very proud to tell us that one of the two bikes (I suspect he says this to everyone) was used by Jason Isaacs - cue production of the autograph of Jason Isaacs alias Lucius Malfoy. He also gave us an excellent cycle route which took us through glitzy Quinta Do Lago, which has grown enormously over the last few years, and on to a nature reserve track which finishes at the end of the runway at Faro. Nearly three hours of cycling done and yes, it's milkshake time!

We also did a more challenging - hill and traffic-wise - cycle to the beach at Quartiera where my companion had previously road-tested the best chicken and chips in the area and we managed to sleep off our Sangria on the beach before wobbling back to Val do Lobo for pancakes and pina coladas (more of "I'm digging my heels in!" from Louise).

The highlights were definitely two meals at Maria's on the beach which has been transformed brilliantly and has changed hands for the better. We were looked after on both occasions by Matthew - there'll be a Portuguese spelling of that, but Lord knows what it is - and we managed to walk off our squid and wine on the way back to 775.

There was, of course, a brief trot round a tennis court but the Tennis Centre was very quiet and is definitely in need of rejuvenation. Shame though. It is definitely a case of faded glory now.

So a thoroughly relaxing few days in the sunny Algarve and back to reality and rather a lot of work over the next few weeks. Louise and Meme (and Richard, of course) - thank you!
 Here we are at the end of the runway...
 Louise definitely dug her heels in about sharing her banoffee pie!
And this is what those bad boys got up to whilst we were away - beer with champagne chasers at The Who concert with Skip and Mrs Broccoli!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Saint Tropez - Yeah Baby!

I freely admit to having been a bit 'bah humbug' in the weeks approaching our recent trip to Saint Tropez. I've lived most of my life in Yorkshire and strongly suspected that we (my beloved and I) were about to visit the Rip-Off capital of Europe. As I said, I have lived in Yorkshire for too long not to expect something approaching VFM (Value for Money) in all things - a concept as foreign to Saint Tropez as Yorkshire pudding.

We had been invited to attend a wedding celebration in Saint Tropez with an itinerary of events across the weekend, so we set off on Friday from Leeds Bradford, an airport joyously rejuvenated to make it look even more like a motorway service area than ever and about as comfortable. The plane had a goodly number of wedding guests plus two couples who were not connected to the wedding but were old friends of ours so once we were airborne, I was allowed to nap whilst my beloved 'worked' the plane - something which probably irritated the air hostesses no end but left me happily in snooze mode nearly to Nice. Once safely in our hire car, we sped towards Saint Tropez using the sat nav on the phone rather than the one in the car which wished to address us in German. Of course, my beloved can only follow instructions for so long before going off-piste which he did, ignoring directions as usual but we did, nevertheless, get to our hotel in plenty of time.

The hotel was a fine example of a good idea taken to extremes. Called The Kube, everything was cuboid - right down to the loo seat which did not make for a comfortable ride and therefore did not impress my beloved. The famous Ice Bar wasn't there - presumably melted, unlike my croque monsieur which was the temperature of ice cream in the middle and hot on the outside. But otherwise, it had a couple of very beautiful (though cold) pools and somewhere to lie in the sun so it fitted the bill. Actually it didn't fit a bill that any Yorkshireman expects to pay because just parking the hire car in the hotel car park was 40 euros a day - ouch!

With our friends who were staying in the hotel with us, we made our way into town for the Friday night drinks event with the bride and groom and very nice it was too. And then, we headed off into the centre of Saint Tropez to find somewhere to eat. We can never resist a place named after us so Beaux Arts or BA BA (I know, it's a stretch) as it was signed outside seemed the right choice and we made our way past the bouncers into a very chic restaurant where all the beautiful people seemed to be eating steak or sushi and drinking champagne. We ordered (not champagne which started at 125 euros a bottle) and sat and people watched. Within minutes the music was cranked up to high volume and we were surrounded by people dancing on chairs and in the small spaces between tables. You didn't need a partner, you just danced and yes, my beloved did just that. Brilliant!

Saturday morning and the sun lounger has my name on it. Meanwhile our lovely friends who'd been in the hotel gym by the time we got out of bed had headed off into town to see the sights and eat a delicious seafood lunch (of which more later). We slobbed by the pool until it was time to put our glad rags on for the next part of the wedding celebration - the reception at a beach restaurant. There was a strict timetable for this, but being France, everything ran about an hour and half late. But the wine flowed, the sun set romantically across the bay and there were speeches and dancing till the small hours when we walked, shoeless, back to the hotel to get a few hours shut-eye before the next event.

The following morning we had arranged to see my brother - no, not because he lives in France but because he was on holiday fairly nearby and we hadn't seen each other for over six months. He arrived with the latest Doris, which is how he refers to his girlfriends and we had a lovely catch-up by the pool. He had vastly entertained me the previous day by texting to tell me that he had told the Doris in question that he was five years younger than he actually is. Firmly told not to let the cat out of the bag, this, of course, makes me five years younger too and the intrepid granny has subsequently informed me that on the same basis she would like another 80th birthday party!

Our lovely friends in the hotel were ill. They had been ill all night and since the only thing that they had eaten and we hadn't was the delicious seafood lunch in the harbour yesterday we can only assume it was that. So we set off with our other friends, Sadders and Sue, to the bride and groom's lunch at the beach. This was probably the highlight of the trip - sitting just a few feet from the sand, eating really spectacularly fresh fish and watching the sea lap gently on the shore. Except that this was occasionally interrupted by the middle aged (and older) nudist men strutting their stuff on the beach. It's enough to put me off my prawns!

At the end of the celebrations we made our way back into town to find a quiet bar. Walking down a street towards the front, we bumped into chums, Andy and Claire who have a boat here in the harbour, and before we know it we are whisked away for drinks on their boat. Now I know nothing about boats, but... it sleeps eight plus crew, every inch of it is polished to perfection and if I did like boats, this is the one... but we'd have to sell at least one of the children even to pay the mooring fees, let alone fill it with fuel.

So now we're back in Blighty, catching up on work and washing, applauding our children for not having a party whilst they have been home alone and Saint Tropez feels like a distant dream - until we get our credit card bills!