The Secret Is In The Soil

Soil is natures nurturing goodness. Packed full of nutrients, along with water and air it gives life to plants and provides a host of all types of insects and bugs.

It is essential for life on earth because we rely on soil to grow crops to eat and from crops also come materials like rubber, cotton, linen and timber.  Animals we eat need food which comes from crops. 

Although hydroponics can help us grow some food in water it is expensive and impractical, so therefore we can't feed the World's population without soil. 

Not all soil is the same, however, whether you have clay or sandy soil, organic matter is the key to making the soil healthy.  If you take a glass of water and pour it onto the soil and it takes 5 seconds or less to absorb the water then you generally have good soil.

Check out the infographic below called the Secret Is In The Soil.

The Secret Is In The Soil Infographic
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Discovering Morella in the Castellón Province Of Spain

Recently I was invited to the Castellón province of Spain by the Castellón tourist board with a group of lovely travel bloggers from the Bristol Bloggers group. Our first day was spent in the seaside resort of Peñíscola, a place steeped in history and a Game Of Thrones location. We then moved to Morella, an ancient city perched on top of a mountain road.

Morella is named by Conde Nast Traveller as one of Valencia's top towns. The trip to Morella is through windy mountain roads, but the journey is worth it when you arrive. You have gorgeous views for miles around the surrounding area.

We checked into the Hotel Rey en Jaume Morella. This three-star hotel had a rustic charm, with rooms simply decorated and featuring locally crafted blankets. 

The hotel either has mountain views or street views and I was lucky enough to get a room with this fabulous view below.

After dropping off our bags quickly we went out to explore the town.

How lucky were we to see a rainbow!

The town has a selection of artisan shops and gourmet delis. We stopped in Casa Guimera selling local honey, gourmet sausages, chocolate and cheese. This must have been the perfect shop, I mean, what more do you want in your life than cheese and chocolate?

Casa Guimera

We also stumbled across an amazing soap and candle shop too, selling natural organic and handmade soaps. 

Truffles image Morella Tourism

Morella is known worldwide as a place to find amazing truffles - not chocolate ones but the truffles of the fungi variety also known as 'black gold'. The truffle season runs from November to February with the truffle market held every Friday night. 

It's a lucrative business and not widely publicised, after all a lot of money and truffle changes hands. During the season the smell of truffle permeates the town and local restaurant menus make use of this luxury ingredient in their gourmet meals.

In this small town, there are a number of local cafes and superb restaurants where the quality of the food is excellent. Of particular note are Restaurante Daluan and Hotel Restaurant Cardenal Ram.

Hotel Restaurant Cardenal Ram

We had a cheeky aperitif in Restaurant Casa Pere, then we were lucky to eat at Hotel Restaurant Cardenal Ram.  Serving typically Morellan cuisine, with tender lamb, cured meats and local desserts, the food was tasty, well prepared and simply delicious.

carpaccio olive oil and bread
mushroom crepes and milk-fed lamb with truffle

homemade desserts including creme Catalana

After a few laughs, lots of amazing food and a little wine, we retired to our hotel, excited to see what tomorrow would bring.

Hotel Rey en Jaume Morella

The next day I was up early after a comfortable night's sleep to explore a little before our departure to our next town. First stop though was breakfast aHotel Rey en Jaume Morella. A continental breakfast with a great selection of pastries, meats, cheeses, fruit, cereal and yoghurts greeted us and was delicious. Of particular note were the scrumptious selection of pastries and the Spanish tortilla, a potato and onion omelette.

After breakfast I had a quick explore before check out. 

I strolled up to the castle on the mountain as I spotted it yesterday. The castle is well worth a visit for sure. As a crossroads that links Valencia, Aragon and Catalonia, the Mediterranean and the Ebro Valley, it is of important historical significance. In 1084 El Cid rebuilt the castle, and in the Battle of Morella, defeated Sancho Ramírez of Aragon. It was conquered by the Christians in 1231. In 1938 Franco's forces captured Morella too.

I could write about the history of Morella all day, so it's well worth reading up about it if you are going to this area as I have only briefly touched upon points of note.

Saint Mary's Church

Also worth visiting is Santa María Morella (Saint Mary’s Church), Convento de San Francesc Morella (St. Francis’ Convent) and the Morella Museo Temps de Dinosaures (Time of Dinosaurs Museum Morella). I never knew that Morella was known worldwide for dinosaur remains, and only last month in June 2017 more dinosaur remains were unearthed, a creature over 20 metres in length.

pin for later

If you would like to explore the Castellón region of Spain including the towns of Peñíscola, Morella and Benicassim, Ryanair has a new route from Bristol to Castellón (Valencia) flying twice a week. With flights from £40 return, it's a cheap way to explore this underrated area of Spain.

Watch out for my next blog post on my Castellón trip very soon where I discover Benicàssim. Also, check out my trip to Peñíscola on day one. If you like this post be sure to follow the #InCastellon hashtag on Twitter, FB and IG to see what we got up to on our trip to the Castellón region of Spain.

Read more about why you should visit Morella here. For what to do in the area check out 10 fabulous things to do in the Castellón area of Spain.

Thanks to the Castellón tourist board for hosting me on this fabulous trip.

The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Underfloor Heating And Radiator Heating

Although the weather has been warm in the UK, this is the ideal time to think about your heating system before the cold weather starts. If your heating is old and archaic investing in a new heating system that is energy efficient can actually pay for itself in the long run. 

This infographic looks at the advantages and disadvantages of underfloor heating versus radiator heating. What suits you will depend on your budget, where it is to be installed, and your aesthetic values. 

Let me know, would you consider underfloor heating or do you prefer radiators to heat your home?

*PR collaboration 

Zenmed Skin Support Review And Competition Ends 24/08

As I get older I find my skin gets more sensitive over time, with some redness or as they call it in skin care terms - rosacea. For my cleansing routine, I generally use Superdrug micellar wipes and Nivea sensitive toner. My skin I would describe as combination, so if I do use a moisturiser it has to be a light, non-oily and has an SPF factored in. Even with these products, I find I have the occasional breakout.

So when Zenmed contacted me to offer me a chance to review some of their products for sensitive skin I was looking forward to trying these products. 

Maybe they would be calming to my skin and help to settle it down. 

Zenmed was founded in 1999 and is a Dr formulated natural skin care brand. They believe that treating troubled skin shouldn't mean straying from a natural, holistic foundation, so all the products are cruelty-free and either vegan or have a vegetarian formula. 

Zenmed produces three main types of products:-
1. for acne
2. for scars
3. for rosacea
4. for anti-aging

The packaging is also 100% recyclable which I feel is important in this day and age.

Rosacea is a condition that can be really troubling and can include spots, burning and stinging of the face, redness and enlarged blood vessels. There are many causes including stress, exposure to sunlight, hot or cold weather and alcohol.  I was hoping that using the products by Zenmed especially formulated for rosacea would keep it under control and help minimise flare ups.

Facial cleansing gel

This sensitive skin formulated product is designed to cleanse and balance oils without the dryness of soap. Particularly good for normal or oily skin, you apply onto a wet face and neck, massage in a generous amount and then rinse off with water. 

I really liked this product, it didn't make my skin feel tight just very clean.

AHA/BHA complex

This alcohol-free formulation helps unblock pores and prevent blemishes and blackheads as well as balancing oil. You apply to a clean face on a cotton wool pad, avoiding the eyes, nostrils lips and ear lobes. 

Personally, as this is not to be used when going into direct sunlight and it could cause sensitivity I would use it once a week at first, perhaps on a day where you are relaxing indoors. I have used this over a couple of weeks and with the combination of other products my skin does appear less spotty. Will continue to use this for sure.

Support Serum 

The support serum is an anti-redness serum packed full of botanicals and vitamin C. Apply a thin layer to cleansed skin at night. Apply the desired moisturiser over the top. If you are using it during the day they recommend you use an SPF. 

They say with regular use this product dramatically improves the appearance and texture of mature and damaged and weakened skin, so I was excited to try this. The product is fragranced with rose, rosewood, lavender and other essential oils. As it is so fragranced I thought it would give my skin a breakout but surprisingly it didn't.

Anti-redness mask

The anti-redness mask has the active ingredient Willow Bark Extract. This extract is known to soothe and calm irritated skin. Apply the gel to the face and leave for up to 15 minutes, then rinse off with plenty of cool water.

This gel felt lovely and cooling on the skin. It really felt like it was doing good. The gel is fairly runny so be aware when you squeeze it out of the tube. My new favourite skincare product my redness seemed to have gone done even with one application. Only time will tell how well it will do over time but for instant relief from redness try it! 

Skin protecting lotion with SPF 30

Ideal for hypersensitive skin this is a light oil-free natural product, ideal for preventing UV flare ups. This lotion also has anti-ageing hyaluronic acid and soothes the skin with Aloe Vera and Cucumber.

This lotion dries to a matt finish so is perfect if you have an oily t-zone. It is also water resistant for up to 2 hours. Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure. I would also use this on my chest, if I was wearing a V neck t-shirt, as when you get older this area can show signs of ageing with sun damage.  Fragrance-free it won't clash with any perfume you are wearing. 

Oil free moisturiser with SPF 30

This light oil-free moisturiser is perfect for wearing alone or under makeup and provides protection from the sun with an SPF of 30.

Particularly recommended for acne prone skin I loved the light lotion. Again being fragrance-free it won't clash with your perfume or fragranced body products. 

If you wish to try the Zenmed products they also offer a money back guarantee so you don't really have anything to lose do you? Check out the terms on their website.

A tester before and after treatment for Rosacea

My opinion

I really liked the products, in particular, the cleaning gel as it really got my skin clean and the anti-redness mask as I feel this really worked to calm down my redness. Using the mask on a regular basis will be something I will continue with for sure, and I can see this would be a fabulous 'emergency' treatment for rosacea.

Today on my blog I am giving my lucky readers a chance to win a set of skin products from the ZenMed range for rosacea, acne, scars or anti-ageing. I will put you in touch with the company who will give you a personalised package based on your skin type, and then send out a range of products for your skin 

Enter via the Gleam application below. It's easier than it looks honestly! Also check out my other competitions here. Good luck. 

Win A Package of Zenmed Skincare Products

* Products shown may not be actual products received, depending on skin type.

A Weekend In Basingstoke For The Made In Basingstoke Festival

Basingstoke has a really cool event happening this Summer. The Made In Basingstoke Festival is a month long event full of things to create, taste, discover and make. 

There are many different activities running throughout the town for young and old alike between the 14th July to 13th August.  Some of my favourites include cupcake decorating workshops,  musical jamming sessions, celebrity chef demonstrations, a Punch and Judy festival, storytelling, decoupage and crocheting to name a few. That's a lot of activities! 

The team at In Basingstoke know about my love of food, so they invited me down to Basingstoke to discover some of the activities for myself during the Taste week from the 21st of July and see what Basingstoke has to offer. 

Sitting With Jane

My weekend in Basingstoke started with a tour of the Sitting With Jane book benches. Sitting With Jane is a public art trail of 24 book benches all designed with a Jane Austen theme. Jane Austen came from Steventon, just down the road from Basingstoke and lived there for half her life. This year is 200 years since her death so there are many Jane Austen activities going on in the area. When you think of Jane Austen and her connections to UK towns you may not think of Basingstoke so the Sitting With Jane book benches has been developed to change that.

These stunning art benches were created by individual artists and all are uniquely themed in the artist's own interpretation of a Jane Austen theme.

My personal favourite is the 'Golden Peacock' design by Sian Story Art. This book bench is a vibrant colourful design based on the famous Pride And Prejudice book cover. 

One of the book benches was designed by the artist who designed the new £2 Jane Austen coin, Dominique Evans. The book bench was created from her sketches and was so interesting to see.

If you want to seek out these book benches you can download the free app and when you use it to check-in at the benches, it unlocks information and free gifts like free tea, coffee and cake! About half the benches are in the centre of Basingstoke although some are further afield with one in Winchester Cathedral where she was buried. In September these benches are going to be auctioned off for the Ark Cancer Centre Charity so check them out now while you can. 

Celebrity chef demonstration with Phil Vickery

I was thrilled when I noticed Phil Vickery the celebrity chef from TV's This Morning programme was cooking at The Malls Shopping Centre as part of the festival.  I am a bit of a foodie and love watching celebrity chefs on TV and a few years ago I met James Martin and Anthony Worrell Thomson at The Good Food Show. Well, Phil Vickery was doing a cookery demonstration so I couldn't miss it! I first saw him on Ready Steady Cook years ago but didn't realise he held a Michelin Star when he was the chef at The Castle Hotel in Taunton too.

The dishes he cooked were all Vietnamese - a sumptuous belly pork with sweet and sticky combinations as well as a mackerel salad with Vietnamese flavours and a tasty looking stir-fry. 

It's amazing how natural he appeared on stage and how personable and easy-going he was when I met him. I was a little nervous but I shouldn't have been as he was really lovely. 

He told a story on stage about how he ate snake in Vietnam so I started the conversation with what his favourite foodie city was.  Phil has travelled far and wide and talked about how the food in southern Sri Lanka and also Singapore was particularly delicious with a mix of Indian, Chinese and Thai influences. He had some interesting stories to tell I can tell you.

I also had the chance to ask him a few questions, check out the answers are below.

  • What is your favourite cake? I like a great fruit cake like a Genoa cake. I also like a Madeira cake and an Angel cake, you know the one, yes it may not be good for you but it's delicious!
  • When you eat out do you have a favourite restaurant? I enjoy going to Rick Stein's restaurant in Padstow Cornwall.
  • What's your guilty food pleasure? Rodder's clotted cream. Has to be this one as it's had the most fat content, with that delicious crusty layer on the cream.
  • So with a scone is it cream first or jam? Jam first then cream.
  • If you could invite three people to dinner, alive or dead who would you invite? Keith Floyd as he was good to me and it would make a fun event. Maggie Thatcher to wind Keith Floyd up. The third person I would invite would be the Queen as I'd love to have a one-to-one with her and a nice chat over a cuppa.

It was fabulous to meet Phil and something I won't forget for a long time.

The Willis Museum

After the demonstration, we decided to check out The Willis Museum. This museum is a great little museum that is free to get in (but does rely on donations so please give generously). 

Outside this lovely building is a fantastic life-size bronze sculpture of Jane Austen, very recently unveiled on the 18th of July. By local artist Adam Roud it commemorates 200 years of her death and her connection to the area. We saw many people having photos taken with the statue and the detail was amazing to see. How the artist can get her flowing coat just right in the medium of bronze is truly amazing.

Inside The Willis Museum is everything from archaeology to fine arts and social and industrial history. It was interesting to see a household kitchen from the 1950's and kids will find the massive mammoth tusk amazing too.

Jane Austen themed afternoon Tea at The Royal Lion Hotel

Whilst we were in Basingstoke we had an opportunity to have a Jane Austen themed afternoon tea at The Red Lion Hotel. The Red Lion Hotel is a three-star hotel in the city centre. Inside the hotel was beautifully decorated in a traditional but fresh style. 

The afternoon tea consisted of a selection of traditional finger sandwiches including egg mayonnaise, cheese and pickle, Coronation chicken, as well as sultana scones with jam and cream,  Victoria sponge and chocolate cake. I presumed these were items from a traditional afternoon tea that Jane would have had in her day. Accompanying this was a selection of tea or coffee and a glass of Prosecco.

With afternoon tea, I find sometimes the sandwiches as made too far in advance, and the bread can be hard and stale, but not at The Red Lion. I think these were some of the freshest sandwiches I have had in a long time and incredibly tasty too. I particularly enjoyed the chicken and bacon sandwiches and the lovely scones, oh and of course the Prosecco.

For £15.99 per person, I thought the afternoon tea was good value considering the freshness of the food, the quantity and the fact that you also get a glass of wine. The staff were also incredibly friendly and couldn't do enough for us so I would definitely recommend going here when you want to treat yourself to afternoon tea. 

Evening meal at The Mayflower Chinese Restaurant 

The Mayflower Chinese Restaurant is in the old town centre.  We were invited to dinner there one night to sample their cuisine and hospitality. 

We were greeted by Brian and Hiro, with warm smiles. The food we had was from the set menu, and they were happy to substitute the odd dish. We went for a four-course set menu.

After we ordered the food, a bowl of prawn crackers and sweet chilli sauce came to the table and before long our food arrived, which was good as we were hungry!

A scrumptious selection of starters included prawn toast, satay chicken, vegetable spring rolls and crispy seaweed arrived. The peanut sauce for the satay chicken was excellent, not too spicy but really authentic and we were informed it was homemade. I loved the hand-carved eagle, carved out of a carrot. The attention to detail was fantastic. A great selection of starters and the size of the portions were generous. 

Next came a selection of crispy duck and pancakes with plum sauce. The meat was a mix of tender duck with crispy duck as well. This dish was mouthwatering, the combination of thin pancakes, plum sauce and meat were a great taste sensation.

Then our mains arrived. Szechuan chicken, sizzling beef with ginger and spring onion, and sweet and sour chicken Hong Kong Style. We couldn't fault any of the dishes. The Szechuan chicken was spicy but not too hot, the beef was delicious, the sauce light and the flavour of the ginger really came through and the sweet and sour chicken had a good balance of sweet and sourness. Served with hot egg fried rice everything was incredibly tasty and was really really good.

We were too full for desserts which were toffee banana or toffee apple but were offered tea or coffee instead which we had. We thought this set menu for £22.50 each was excellent. There was lots of food and everything was high quality, served piping hot too.

We have travelled extensively and often find the service in restaurants in this country can be patchy. Not here. The Mayflower staff are obviously well trained and Hiro and Brian could not do enough for us. Service was with a smile and served in a fun atmosphere too. There were a number of birthdays and a hen party in when we were there (not the rowdy type though!) and you could see the staff making a big fuss of everyone, not just us. Just before we left Hiro got his guitar out and started singing, inviting people up to sing. Yep, a fun atmosphere and great food made a fantastic night.

Where we stayed

We stayed at The Apollo Hotel. This four-star hotel is a couple of miles out of the town centre so is great for exploring the Hampshire and Basingstoke area. With 125 contemporary rooms, a bar and lounge, a brasserie restaurant and A La Carte restaurant as well as an indoor pool with spa treatments available, the hotel has everything you need for a relaxing stay in the area. 

Our stay included breakfast which had an extensive selection of hot and cold choices. If you want a full cooked breakfast, cereals, croissants, fresh fruit or even Parma ham for breakfast it was all available.
We thought the staff were lovely too. They called us a taxi and they were very helpful when I asked for information in the area.

Check out our video here from our travel blog Fly Drive Explore.

You can find out what's on in Basingstoke by checking out the link. Be sure to catch the Made In Basingstoke festival before it ends on the 13th of August 2017. With themes of Create, Taste, Discover and Make still going on there are lots of activities to take part in. You can also find out more about Basingstoke and the area around by checking out Destination BasingstokeCheck out my post on Why You Must Visit Basingstoke this summer too. Have fun!

* We were guests of Made In Basingstoke and Destination Basingstoke.

Benefits Of Transfer By Private Car

A taxi, in the general sense, refers to the hiring of a chauffeur-driven vehicle, for the personal use of one or more passengers, to travel from one place to another. Though a taxi is normally not the cheapest mode of transport, it is very convenient and most importantly always available on call.

A taxi picks you up from your doorstep and transports you to your desired destination efficiently and in the quickest possible manner. Apart from all this, there are plenty of other reasons to opt for a taxi service over other transport providers, as aptly illustrated below.

Round the clock service 

This is the most important point in favour of using a taxi service. A taxi is the one and only mode of transport, which is available at your beck and call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, come rain or shine. No matter where you are, you can utilise the services of a taxi agency, simply by placing a call from the location you are currently in.

Affordable and economic 

As far as convenience and comfort are concerned, nothing can come close to using a taxi for transportation. This makes the whole journey not only economic but justifiable in relation to the charges levied. The misconception that a taxi ride is horribly expensive, is far from the truth, especially if you compare it with a last-minute train journey. 

Saves time

Time-saving is the essence of modern-day life. You can safely cover a journey in a taxi in less than half the time consumed by other modes of transport. Not only you save time, but your energy is also conserved to tackle the rest of the day. Saving time, as they say, saves money.

Even if you have a car, the stress of finding a suitable parking place and then having to pay a lot of money for it far outweighs the hiring of a taxi. In the case of using public transport, one has to walk some distance and then wait for the vehicle to the desired destination to a

Experienced and professional operators 

Nearly all taxi companies employ drivers who are professional and well mannered. An outsourcing transfer service like, KiwiTaxi, that let you book a private transfer from a junction to the apartment location. They hire drivers who are experienced and familiar with the routes and traffic laws. Hiring a taxi from such a reputable company can ensure not only a hassle-free trip but a punctual one as well. The feeling of safety, security and assurance of reaching your destination at a fixed cost is a big bonus too. This can be especially reassuring for women in an unfamiliar city.

Even though some cities boast of an excellent public transport system, for a transport executive service and the flexibility and ease,  a customised taxi ride can make travel a whole lot easier. There are no midway stops to pick passengers and if you are transferring to an airport or train station, you can be assured of arriving in time. Not only that, you pay a reasonable cost as compared to the services offered with regards to time and efficiency.

Have you used a private transfer service?

* PR collaboration