Wednesday, 21 March 2007

A Taste of France

We spent another very pleasant weekend in Northern France at the weekend.

A programme we have offered for some years now is 'A Taste of France'. Basing ourselves in the walled town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, the gateway to the Cote d’Opal, we offer delegates a brief tour of French gastronomy.

Montreuil has long had a reputation for its beauty, its fine restaurants – and as the setting for the classic Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables. The town is steeped in history and has many sites of historical interest – from the mediaeval walled ramparts to the statue of the British General, Sir Douglas Haig, who set up his headquarters in the town during the First World War. The impressive fortifications offer numerous facilities to walk or stroll and many visitors also take in a visit to the 15th century citadel in the town. Indeed we have used the town as our base for a number of walking expeditions - using the town as a starting point for a programme of walks spread over two and three days.

The town is also known for its floral displays which adorn the streets and squares through the seasons. But it is probably as a centre of gastronomy that most French people will associate Montreuil-sur-Mer - the town being host to many fine restaurants.

The villages and small towns of the area are as charming as the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer and our weekend began in the bustling resort of Le Touquet which is situated just a few minutes drive away. We arrived in Le Touquet in good time to browse the bustling Saturday morning market. Always popular with locals, the market offers a fabulous selection of local delicacies - from locally produced wines and cheeses through to local farmers selling the fruits of their labour. We always pick up a selection of different kinds of bread, a few cakes for those back home - plus some locally prepared olives to nibble on when we return on Sunday evening.
Our hotel for the weekend is the Hermitage which is located in the heart of the historic town of Montreuil, on the site of the Hotel Dieu Hospital, founded in 1200. The hotel was completely renovated in 2002 and is now a lovely, comfortable, well-appointed three star hotel. We have been taking groups to the hotel since the month it opened and we believe it to be one of the best hotels in Northern France - and our guests are always extremely complimentary about it.

The renovation and rebuilding work carried out over the last couple of years isn’t the first time the site has undergone a transformation. Following its foundation in 1200 by the then Lord of Montreuil, it was rebuilt under the expert eye of Napoleon III. Until a few years ago the building was in use as a hospital and the trained eye will spot some of the current architectural features which give way its past – such as the high ceilings, wide corridors and trolley-shaped lifts!

The hotel currently has 57 bedrooms – each equipped with en-suite bathroom, WC, hair dryer, telephone and satellite TV. If guests fancy a stroll the hotel is situated in the centre of town, within easy reach of the shops, bars, restaurants, the market square and the town walls, complete with walks.

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a wine tasting at La Vinophilie – a very pleasant hour tasting a number of wines plus an opportunity for our guests to quiz the knowledgeable proprietor, M Vigneron. Because we had already purchased a wine gift for our guests there was no pressure to buy although so impressed were one or two of our guests that M Vigneron was kept busy wrapping presents. After the wine tasting we headed for Le Coquempot Restaurant for dinner.

Le Coquempot is another popular destination for visitors and whilst there may be better - and more expensive - restaurants in the town, we have always found the restaurant provides us with great food and wine. Other restaurants worth considering - depending on budget - are the Auberge de la Grenouillere and, of course, the Chateau. The in-house restaurant at the Hermitage is also worth a try. Le Jeroboam is, in fact, owned by the son of the owner of the Chateau and leased by him from the hotel.

After a nightcap in the hotel bar our guests had a relaxing Sunday morning with a spot of shopping for bread, cakes and chocolate in the town before we moved on to the coastal resort of Wimereaux where we once again enjoyed a fabulous lunch at the Atlantic Hotel. The weather was extremely stormy, with access to the hotel along the promenade impossible - but the view of the storm from the windows of the cosy restaurant was spectacular.

The whole weekend offers a lovely introduction to the wonderful tastes of France and we have arranged this programme for private groups as well as corporate guests. We can combine a stay with any number of business or social options. Meeting facilities are excellent and Le Touquet also offers good golf and shopping.But the beauty of the package is that it is often priced much, much lower than a similar programme in the UK.

So, if you're looking for a keenly priced meeting, sales or staff conference or simply a looking for a way to reward staff or clients then why not get in touch? and, if walking and eating is your bag - our three day walking breaks are ideal for groups of six or more!

Tuesday, 6 March 2007


March in Bruges can be a chilly experience - and last weekend was no exception!

We are frequent visitors to Bruges and always thoroughly enjoy the 'Venice of the north'. Over the years we have used the city as a location for meetings and incentive trips - the city offers some great value meeting facilities and, of course, the 'out of hours' opportunities are as delightful as they are varied. There are a number of high quality hotels that are ideal for meetings and sales conferences and you'll struggle to find a better destination for client and staff entertaining. With a journey time of just over the hour from Calais by coach it's a very 'do-able' short visit destination. Flights to Ostend airport also leave you with a very short transfer time to the city centre.

In 2006 we offered our first programme of trips to the city for Christmas shopping and the Christmas markets and we had a busy December taking groups varying in size from 12 to 50 for a day of shopping, visits to the markets and, of course, some splendid wining and dining! Mind you, we'll be launching our December programme a little earlier this year to get over the problem of tunnel and ferry crossing availability!

Last year we expanded our programme of trips to European road running events with a first time visit to Bruges to participate in the Ostend to Bruges 10 Mile Race - and our group enjoyed it so much we returned there last weekend with another group of 22 enthusiastic runners and their families and friends. These weekends are great fun and very sociable. A reasonably early start from Kent took us over the channel and we arrived in Bruges in good time for lunch and some sightseeing and shopping. The fact that most of the group were running on Sunday morning didn't stop them enjoying an agreeable Saturday Night out at one of the city's institutions de Vlaamsche Pot (below). This long established restaurant serves up a great value fixed menu for groups of all sizes that includes a huge traditional Belgian Carbonade and as many french fries as you can handle - plus unlimited beer, wine and soft drinks. All served in a fabulous atmosphere with great enthusiasm by friendly waiters. Whilst it might not always suit the food connoisseurs - it remains one of Bruges' iconic establishments.

We've also discovered a gem of a restaurant outside the city centre. The Zandwegemolen is a converted - and working - windmill located on the ring road a mile or so outside the centre and we made a return visit for Sunday lunch. It benefits from its slightly out of the way location with its primarily local clientele enjoying some fabulous food and wine - plus the owner's own beer brewed in the cellar. As well as being a great location, serving great food - with seconds enthusiastically offered - and boasting a lovely and gregarious owner, the Zandwegemolen benefits from all-inclusive prices around half that of city centre restaurants.

We now have a number of fixed one, two, three and four day Bruges programmes catering for private groups, incentive groups, meetings and incentives - plus our specialist running and walking groups. This year we're taking a group of 40 to 50 people on a three day sponsored walk in and around Bruges and the Flanders area. The Windmills of Bruges over the August Bank Holiday Weekend is the latest in our programme of escorted, sponsored walks which will also be made available from the summer to private groups of eight or more walkers. We provide all the resources needed to support walkers of all ages, sizes and abilities including back-up vehicles, food and drink. Our visit also coincides with the Pageant of the Golden Tree a spectacular event which takes place in the city every five years and which celebrates the anniversary of the marriage of a Belgian Count with the English Princess Margaret in 1468. This summer sees our 4th overseas sponsored walk and will be raising funds for two well-deserving local charities - St Michael's Hospice, in St Leonards, and Martha Trust which has homes for the profoundly disabled in Deal and Hastings.

We'll be visiting Bruges many more times this year - so if you'd like us to suggest a programme for a trip of any length - be it corporate or private, for business or for pleasure, why not get in touch?

Incidentally, we'd like to thank one of our runners, Amanda Wheatley for adding to our Bruges photo library!