... a UK Staycation in Poole, Dorset
It is now nineteen months since we shut the doors to our Sicilian house and little did we know then that as we turned the locks and set off to Palermo to board our ferry to Genova that we would not know when we would be able to return and that the world would be hit by a pandemic that would prevent us from travelling back to our Sicilian house for the unforeseeable future.
So far we have had to cancel three road trips and I have had four flights cancelled. I hope that I will be able to fly next month to check on our house but who knows what could happen in the next few weeks.
Last June my husband and I should have been celebrating our 25th silver wedding anniversary in Sicily but as Italy went into one of the strictest lockdowns in the world we started to look for an alternative UK destination.
We both love the English celebrity chef, restauranteur and television presenter Rick Stein.
Rick Stein has filmed in Sicily a few times and is a big fan of Sicily and Sicilian food. We have watched all his cooking programmes and bought the books, in fact we love him so much that we can actually recite the whole episode filmed in Palermo of his Long Weekends series from beginning to end. One of my favourite scenes is when he cooks panelle with Nicoletta Lanza, the Duchess of Palma whose husband, the Duke, is the adopted son of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa author of the novel The Leopard which chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the unification of Italy and just so happens to be Rick's favourite book.
Rick Stein has several restaurants in England including one at Sandbanks near Poole in Dorset where there is an all year round dog friendly beach. We were missing seeing the sea, our dog Daisy was missing the beach, we would be able to eat in our favourite chefs restaurant and we would be able to ogle boats, it was the perfect UK destination for us. I booked a hotel in nearby Poole and we were all set for June. Then the UK went into lockdown until July and yet another trip was cancelled.
We ended up celebrating our silver anniversary by having a home made picnic in beautiful Painshill Park in Surrey.
My 50th birthday was in January but I was unable to celebrate as we were back into our third UK lockdown plus Daisy was going in for surgery the next day to remove two tumours from her back but by May 17th Daisy was fit and got the all clear and hotels, bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen and so our trip to Poole was back on.
Last week we set off for Dorset which is just over a two hour drive from London, our first stop was to Sandbanks for lunch.
Sandbanks is a small peninsula crossing the mouth of Poole harbour on the English Channel coast. It is known for its high property prices and for its award winning beaches. In 2005 Sandbanks was reported to have the fourth highest land value by area in the world. The Sandbanks and Canford Cliffs coastline area have been dubbed "Britain's Palm Beach" and "Millionaires Row" and the area has attracted many celebrities and football legends to purchase houses there. With its fine golden sand beach Sandbanks is one of the most desirable holiday destinations in the UK. Naturally beautiful, Sandbanks has been designated by the European Commission as one of the areas in the United Kingdom which has achieved the highest standard of cleanliness and has held the coveted international Blue Flag for the past thirty years and offers a designated area for barbecues, swimmers and dogs.
Our arrival in Sandbanks really gave us the "Wow" factor and after what seemed like weeks upon weeks of moody wet weather in the UK we were blessed with glorious sunshine which made the sea a sparkling turquoise with sailing boats bobbing and people windsurfing and paddle boarding. Our lunch at Rick Stein's restaurant was booked for midday but we were a little bit early so decided to take Daisy down to the dog beach which is located at the far end towards Haven Point.
After unleashing Daisy and like an excited child that has not seen the beach and sea for months she ran straight into the sea for a splash around and then to explore the sand dunes. But Daisy being Daisy always knows that socialisation in a bar or restaurant usually follows a play on the beach and so it was time to head for lunch.
Rick Stein's Sandbanks is dog friendly but you must dine in the bar area, dogs are not allowed in the main restaurant or outside terrace which has beautiful views over Poole Harbour. On entering the restaurant and with me being a lover of mosaics and tiles I first spotted in the floor the restaurants beautiful logo of three fishes entwined into a wreath design. We were shown to our table and presented the menu and wine list. Daisy was brought her own bowl of water that was labelled "Chalkys Pal". Chalky was Rick Stein's beloved rough-haired Jack Russell Terrier dog who regularly joined his owner when filming his popular cookery shows and became as recognised and popular in his own right. Sadly Chalky passed away in 2007. Today Daisy was thoroughly spoilt and fussed over by our lovely waitress and the bar staff.
So I know that you are dying to know what we ordered?
My husband opted for a starter of Mackerel with Fennel Seeds and Sun Dried Tomatoes followed by Pan Fried Hake with West Country Mussels, Asparagus, Peas and Parsley. Are you dribbling yet?
Me? Well I had already decided before I set off from London that as we were by the British seaside my main had to be Fish and Chips, Cod from sustainable stocks which was deep-fried in a crispy batter, served with Chunky Chips, Mushy Peas and Tartare Sauce. I skipped starters because I wanted to keep space in my belly for dessert.
My husband selected a Sicilian wine (of course), a Fiano, Lunate 2019 which offered floral notes and hints of honey and spice.
Mmmmmm but what to have for dessert, there was such tempting choices ????
One of my favourite Rick Stein recipes that I make all the time, which everyone loves in both the UK and Sicily, is his Sicilian orange cake from his series and accompanying book Mediterranean Escapes, so with this in mind I chose the Clementine Almond and Olive Oil Cake with Frozen Yogurt.
Each dish was like a taste bud explosion of flavours and it was easy to recite a phrase that Rick was taught on his Long Weekends in Palermo "Non si puó levare dalla bocca" which basically translates to "You do not want to take something out of your mouth once you have tasted it", so in other words "I want more !!!"
After our delicious and yummy fish lunch it was time to head to our next destination and our home for the night the Hotel du Vin in Poole Harbour.
The Dorset coastline is known as the "Jurassic Coast" and is a World Heritage Site which stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay near Poole. It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2001. The Jurassic Coast consists of Triassic, Cretaceous and Jurassic cliffs documenting 185 million years of geological history. The site is best viewed from the sea where the nature of the rocks natural construction becomes more apparent.
Poole is a large coastal town and sea port. The town started as a Saxon dwelling but following the Norman conquest of England, which was also happening at the same time in sunny Sicily, the town grew rapidly into a busy port. By the early 18th century Poole had more ships trading with North America than any other English port and a vast wealth was brought to merchant's in the town. This prosperity supported much of the development which now characterises the Old Town where many of the medieval buildings were replaced with Georgian mansions. The town is now a bustling tourist resort and is well known for its natural harbour, busy quayside and historic old town with cobbled paving. During World War II, Poole was the third largest embarkation point for the D-Day landings of Operation Overlord and afterwards served as a base for supplies to Allied forces in Europe.
We arrived at Poole Harbour and parked our car and went in search of our hotel in the old town.
Hotel du Vin is a unique collection of nineteen hotels in the UK with a passion for great rooms, fine dining and wine. The Hotel du Vin Poole is located steps away from Poole Quay in a old Georgian mansion and oozes a relaxed maritime atmosphere and wine theme and has been lovingly converted into a luxury hotel. When celebrities are in town this is where they stay. This former home of a wealthy merchant is a impressive Georgian building that has ivy creeping up the outside and has thirty eight rooms that retain many charming period features.
Hotel du Vin literally translates in French to Hotel of Wine. The hotel features a bar and bistro with indoor and outdoor seating and a tasting room.
On arrival at the hotel as we opened the grand entrance door, which was at the top of a set of grand circular stone steps, we were greeted by a sweeping double staircase with a stunning Gary Myatt mural at the top of the stairs depicting people enjoying drinking wine. Another mural in the reception area by the same artist depicted the famous Poole regetta. On checking in the friendly hotel receptionist told us that we would be staying in the "Domaine Filliatreau" room which was located in the hotel courtyard, close to the hotels bar and bistro. She explained that it would be perfect for Daisy as the room had an outside terrace. Our room was lovely and comfortable and Daisy was impressed by the bowl of water and comfy bed that had been put out for her arrival and we were delighted by L'Occitane toiletries in the bathroom.
We decided to take advantage of our little outside terrace which acted as a suntrap and soaked up some British summer sunbeams whilst listening to the seaside sound of seagulls before heading off to ogle sailing boats, speed boats and yachts moored in the harbour.
Poole is a charming town that is often overlooked in favour of nearby Bournemouth.
One of the things I miss about Sicily is seeing boats bobbing out at sea in the Bay of Naxos and the super yachts that come each summer when rumours fly around Taormina and Giardini Naxos about which celebrity or millionaire is in town. I always love a boat trip and often get spoilt by my lovely friend Simona of Tripping Sicily who on a few occasions has invited me on lots of fun experiences on a variety of gorgeous boats. Many world class brands call Poole their home including Sunseeker International who are known as one of the world leaders in luxury high performance motor yachts.
Each year Poole plays hosts to many sailing events including the unmissable Poole Regetta which has taken place in the sea around Pool Harbour since 1849 and usually takes place at the end of April- early May and also Poole Week which usually takes place in August.
From Poole Harbour it is possible to take a boat trip along the Jurassic Coastline to admire its geology or to Brownsea Island which is a lush small island owned by the National Trust that has areas of woodland and a wide variety of wildlife and is a popular destination for camping. There is also plenty of opportunities for water sports.
As we walked along the quayside looking at all the boats we laughed that at the moment it seems the only way we would be able to get back home to Sicily would be to sail ourselves.
After our delicious lunch our tummies were still full in the evening so we decided to choose a pub for a drink and a snack and we were spoilt for choice on the quayside but we decided to head back into the twisting lanes of the Old Town to find what us Brits call a "Traditional British Boozer" with a pub garden for Daisy. Poole old town is very quaint with cobbled lanes and the majority of pubs still look quite medieval and Tudoresque and you can just imagine sailors or even pirates disembarking from galleons heading for a pint or several of Dorset cider made from delicious local apples. We chose the Kings Head on the cobbled High Street which had a lovely back garden and where Daisy was spoilt yet again by Dale the pub landlord.
After the pub we headed back to the Hotel du Vin bar for a nightcap in the bar before laying our weary heads on our comfy pillows.
The next morning we were up and out bright and early ready to take Daisy back to Sandbanks Beach to have a game of ball in the sea and to dig a few holes (maybe attempting to dig us a tunnel down to Sicily).
We missed the slip road for the main car park and ended up following Banks Road that turns into Panorama Road both which join to circle the peninsula which gave us a perfect opportunity to get a peek at some of the beautiful properties in Sandbanks set behind high walls and electric gates.
After the beach we decided to head back to Poole for one last pub lunch at The Antelope but soon it was time to leave the sea behind us and head back home to London with a very tired Daisy but not before driving past the Sunseekers showroom to choose which yacht we could purchase to make our great escape back to Sicily by sea.
I am only joking !!!!!!!!!!!
We loved Sandbanks and Poole which both boast a great seaside and nautical atmosphere.
The sea, beach and boat vibe reminded us very much of Giardini Naxos so much so that it made us suffer even more from "the sickness of missing Sicily" and yes that really is a thing, those who know will understand.
I hope you have enjoyed my British themed blog post with a Sicilian twist? Please do let me know.
We would love to thank the staff at Ricks Stein's Sandbanks and the Hotel du Vin Poole for making our mini staycation a memorable one.
Rick Stein Restaurants https://www.rickstein.com/restaurants/
Hotel du Vin https://www.hotelduvin.com/
Tripping Sicily https://trippingsicily.com/sicily-boat-tour/
If you enjoyed this post then you might enjoy these British inspired ones with a Sicilian theme too
"... a UK Staycation in Rye, East Sussex" https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2020/10/uk-staycation-in-rye.html
"Lockdown in London ... a day at Painshill Park" https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2020/07/lockdown-in-london-afternoon-at.html
"Lockdown in London ...Sicily on Screen" https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2021/01/locked-down-in-london-sicily-on-screen.html
"Joan of England, Queen of Sicily" https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2020/01/joan-of-england-queen-of-sicily.html
"Mount Etna & The Legend of King Arthur" https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2019/01/mount-etna-legend-of-king-arthur.html
"Casa Cuseni ... A House in Sicily" https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2016/08/casa-cuseni-house-in-sicily.html
"Taormina --- the British Legacy" https://whitealmond-privatesicily.blogspot.com/2017/09/taormina-british-legacy.html
Keep posted for our next UK Staycation
This month we are heading to Canterbury in Kent in search of Thomas Becket who was a friend and confidant of the Sicilian Queen Margaret of Navarre and who was important to the Normans in Sicily who built a cathedral in his honour in Marsala and had a effigy of him done in mosaic for Monreale Cathedral.
Watch this space, but for now enjoy my photos of our mini staycation.
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