Devon, England’s Agatha Christie Trail

March 10, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Posted in Europe, United Kingdom | 1 Comment
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by Max Pesling

Britain’s National Trust runs a beguiling array of estates, castles, churches, and abbeys, plenty of which can boast an air of mystery and even a few murders committed within their precincts.  But how many can claim they sheltered the world’s greatest maestro of the murder mystery? Just under three hours’ drive or train ride west of London in Devon (you might want to get the 4:50 from Paddington), Greenway, the manse and gardens shared by Agatha Christie (1890-1976) and her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan on the River Dart near Brixham, was opened to the public for the first time just this past year, and it makes for a fascinating peek into Dame Agatha’s life, times, and œuvre. Yanks and Canucks might also appreciate the nifty New World connections dating back to the 16th century: Sir Walter Raleigh was born here, and the house was built by a family that included the discoverer of Newfoundland.

Fans will also want to hang a while (as it were) in the somewhat funky seaside resort city of Torquay, a drive of 20 minutes or so away, part of the so-called English Riviera (and BTW where the famous Britcom Fawlty Towers was set), where the lady grew up and spent most of her life. Here amid the various hotels, restaurants, and fish-and-chips shops they can stroll the Agatha Christie Mile, whose 11 stops include Torquay, Devon, England, United Kingdomthe town museum with its inevitable Christie exhibit; the town hall where she worked as a nurse during World War I, when it served as a Red Cross hospital; Meadfoot Beach; the formerly grand Pavillion, now home to a somewhat sad-sackish little mall; and All Saints Church (where they’ll even give you an Agatha tour). Even the darn 12th-century Torre Abbey has an Agatha Christie room. And that’s not all, folks: the local tourist board sites and others like list a few additional sights in the Torbay area (which includes Brixham and Paignton as well as Torquay) either associated with Dame Agatha or used as inspiration or settings for her stories.

You’ll want to stay at the Grand Hotel where she honeymooned, and I’d definitely make time for a ride on the Paignton-Dartmouth Railway, a charming seven-mile steam-train run which pops up in several Hercule Poirot novels.

Agatha Christie bust, Torquay, Devon, England, United KingdomIf any of this tempts you, consider booking well ahead in order to come during September’s weeklong English Riviera Agatha Christie Festival (running Sept. 12-19, this, the sixth annual, should be even more elaborate than usual, given that it’s the author’s 120th birthday); for pics from the ‘ 09 festival, click here. It’s sure to be a delightful orgy of murder most fair.


At New Year’s, Scotland Goes Hog Wild For Hogmanay

December 29, 2009 at 10:16 am | Posted in festivals/celebrations, United Kingdom | Leave a comment
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by José Balido

Auld acquaintance, indeed — when it comes to public NYE bashes, there’s pretty much no acquaintance aulder than that of the Scots, and it all reaches its biggest and bashiest in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Here the partying starts on December 29 with a carnival, torchlight procession from Royal Mile to Carlton Hill, fireworks, and the burning of a repro Viking ship by lots of drunks in blond wigs (some of Hogmanay’s traditions go back to the Vikings); on New Year’s Eve up more than 100,000 revelers throng the city center for a street party, concerts, bonfires, and at midnight another burst of fireworks and the famous mass rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Other Scottish cities and towns have their own whimsical, sometimes bizarre twists: in South Queensferry, part of Greater Edinburgh, hundreds of people participate in the “Loony Dook,” rushing into the cold North Atlantic waters on January 1; in Stonehaven, near Aberdeen, NYE’s highlight is a parade with a few dozen guys swinging fireballs in wire mesh; in the town of Burghhead up on the north coast, it’s a burning barrel (though not till Jan. 11, the original date of Hogmanay). But no matter where in Scotland it’s celebrated, it goes without saying that many, many, many “cups of kindness yet” are involved. Happy 2010, everybody! More info:,

Where Cider Houses Rule

October 12, 2009 at 10:14 am | Posted in Canada, culinary/food & drink, Europe, France, Germany, Massachusetts, New York State, Oregon, Quebec, Spain, United Kingdom, United States, Washington State | Leave a comment

by José Balido

A demo of traditional pouring technique at a gala at the Cider Museum in Asturias, Spain.

A demo of traditional pouring technique at a gala at the Cider Museum in Asturias, Spain.

It’s autumn in the northern hemisphere, and in a few key regions of a few key countries that means apples and cider, both “hard” (mildly alcoholic) and not. While pomaceous potions are brewed — in versions sweet, dry, and downright tart — in countries as varied as Argentina, Russia, and South Africa, in certain fetching parts of Europe and North America, cidre, sidra, and Apfelwein are an integral part of the life and culture. Any one of them would make a juicy getaway indeed. So how do ya like them apples?

Canada: Quebec Though found in Ontario, British Columbia, and elsewhere, in Canada fermented jus de pomme has been a particularly important part of Quebec’s heritage ever since it was brought from France centuries ago (and they keep innovating, as with the relatively recent “ice cider”). A Route du Cidre covers some 30 producers, many family-owned but several run out of Roman Catholic monasteries (Cistercian cider – who knew?). Most are in Montérégie, just south and west of Montreal, and you’ll find the rest in the Laurentian mountains and the Quebec City area (including three on an idyllic isle, Île d’Orléans).

Britain: England & Wales Scores of small and medium producers crank out hundreds of labels worth of cider and perry (its pear counterpart). England’s West Country, Herefordshire, and East Anglia are hotspots, including historic thatch-roofed inns such as Bretforton’s half-timbered, Elizabethan Fleece Inn, Hereford’s Cider Museum, and a Cider Route covering big producer Bulmers and ten others.,,,

France: Normandy & Brittany Normandy’s best known for Calvados, but also strong in sweet, brut, and semi-brut cidres; the epicenter’s the Pays d’Auge/Calvados region, anchored by the picturesque village of Cambremer and the larger capital, Lisieux. The Route du Cidre here takes in two dozen visitable cidreries. Brittany’s lower on the radar but does some fine work in a slightly different style, served up in colorful ceramic bowls and cups instead of glasses. Its own Route du Cidre in the Cournouaille region covers nearly 40 villages and towns and a dozen cidreries. Besides a wonderful Gothic old quarter, the Breton capital Quimper offers an interesting, apple-oriented Still Museum.,,,

Germany: Frankfurt/Hesse & Moselle/Saarland German Apfelwein (aka Ebbelwoi) is on the dry side, and in Frankfurt with its more than 60 Ebbelwohnkneipen (cider pubs), many of them in the Sachsenhausen district, it’s arguably as big as beer; you can also visit Kelterei (cider houses) throughout its hinterland in Hesse, as well as down south in the Moselle and Saarland region bodering Luxembourg. The epicenter here is the town of Merzig, and a Viezstrasse (Cider Route) takes in some two dozen small producers.,,

Spain: Asturias In the green north, the Basques and Galicians put out dry, refreshing sidras, but nobody puts it at the center of their cultural universe and identity quite like their neighbors in the lush, rolling principality of Asturias. Every town has at least a couple of sidrerías, where sidra natural is poured from bottles held high over the head, to “awaken” the fizz (a top sidrería hotspot is capital Oviedo’s hopping Gascona Street). Some of the 110 llagares (cider houses) give tours, and there’s also an interactive sidra museum in the town of Nava (among other things, you can sample a wide range and try your hand at the distinctive pouring method). Visit llagares on your own or book tours through Comarca de la Sidra, which include ancient, atmospheric family operations that don’t sell their output.,

USA: New England & Upstate New York There are dozens of atmospheric mom-and-pop cider makers dotting the landscape in all five New England states – some still using old-fashioned steam-powered mills (B.F. Clyde in Mystic, Connecticut) or really old-fashioned rack-and-cloth models like the one at Cold Hollow in Waterbury Center, Vermont. Meanwhile, over in the Empire State, the Hudson Valley just north of New York City is prime apple country, and the Finger Lakes out west is also worth checking out for outfits like Lafayette’s quaint, century-old Beak & Skiff.,

USA: Pacific Northwest Cider’s pedigree here may not be quite as venerable as in New England, but it’s certainly well established, as there are dozens of lovely spots in Oregon and Washington within convenient driving distance of cities such as Seattle (for example, Orondo Cider Works, three hours east) and Portland (Ryser’s Farm and others in the countryside just south of the city).,

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