Nice is the Perfect October City Break


Nice, the 5th largest city in France, is a real city. What I mean by that is, it’s got more substance than just a beautiful coastline. Upmarket hotels like the historically famous 5-star La Negresco offer exquisite seaside views, yet the gritty streets of Old Town showcase it’s multi-century Italian past. Even better, the Nicois (those from Nice, not just a yummy tuna salad, so I’ve recently learned) get sun more or less year round.

Hotel Negresco

Hotel Negresco

My first time to Nice on the Cote d’Azure in the south of France was as a study abroad student at 19. I hadn’t really ever considered that I had a need to return to the sunny paradise, simply because I’d already been before. What a stupid way to look at travel.

In actuality what do I remember of that time? Mere glimpses of a whirlwind month of backpacking on the Eurorail across Europe. My Aussie friend Hannah had a similar experience during her gap-year at 18, spending one month learning a foreign language on the French Riviera. Looking back we were both nostalgic and recognised that we were two pretty darn lucky teenagers.

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So when I found flights for a measly £50 for mid-October and discovered that the temperature was a drooling 77F (25C), I thought what could be greater than to have a tour down memory lane. In fact, revisiting Nice over 15 years later was like a whole new world.

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Been there, done that is now a thing of the past. It’s all about revisiting as an adult where my priorities are a bit shifted away from late night raves (well…) and more focused on degustations and fine wine.

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Hannah and I have successfully travelled to France previously, to sip wine in Bordeaux a few months back, and therefore knew our priorities (see above re food and wine) are aligned. Our new tradition is to make our first night of arrival chilled out, and all about gluttony.

The Deck Hotel

The Deck Hotel

We arrived around 5pm after a midday flight, checked ourselves into ultra-chic and nautical themed The Deck Hotel located a block from the beach, and set ourselves on the prize of prosecco to celebrate our weekend escape. I accidentally spotted the rooftop bar on Hotel Aston La Scala while discovering the gardens of Promenade du Paillon, and our pre-dinner aperitif location was instantly sorted. Planespotting, live music and sunset views over both the sea and Old Town included.

View from Hotel Aston La Scala

View from Hotel Aston La Scala

We had booked ourselves for dinner at Les Agitateurs, which resulted in a lot of oohs and ahhs. Our menu came hidden in a brown envelope which we unwrapped to unveil an exquisite 5-course tasting menu, all in French of course, for an affordable 39 Euro. It was an obvious yes, even though we weren’t necessarily clear on what specifically we said yes to.

Tasting menu at Les Agitateurs,

Tasting menu at Les Agitateurs,

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We woke Saturday morning to sunshine, warmth and a need for the sea. The promenade lining the seafront is inundated with seafront restaurants with deck chairs for hire. As our hotel concierge explained, they are more or less all the same – bar the one he likely gets his kickback from – plus not all are open being the offseason, so we took his recommendation and popped less than a 2-minute walk from our hotel to Ruhl Plage.  

Deck chairs Ruhl Plage

Deck chairs Ruhl Plage

Rose on the beach

Rose on the beach

For a hefty 27 Euro each we got a sunbed, towel and umbrella for the whole day. And it was worth it!

The food and drink were overpriced so after treating ourselves to a bottle of rosé, we popped out to try what was described in a local blog as ‘the best fish in Nice’. Michelin Guide recommended, adorably trendy decor, fantastic service, generous sharing portions and mouthwatering ceviche, Peixes was hands down impressive.

Peixes, Nice

Peixes, Nice

Hannah at Peixes, Nice

Hannah at Peixes, Nice

Ceviche at Peixes, Nice

Ceviche at Peixes, Nice

The good news was, our lounge chairs were left waiting when we returned nice and full. Back to the rocky beach of Ruhl Plage to absorb the last of the day’s sun before freshening up for our next French delicacy.

Beau Rivage, Nice

Beau Rivage, Nice

The promenade, Nice

The promenade, Nice

We purposely didn’t reserve anywhere for Saturday night as we wanted to play it by ear. However, this wasn’t my first rodeo and as expected we had difficulty finding a decent spot initially. Despite having done our research, many of the more traditional places we had hoped to dine at didn’t take reservations and were surprisingly closed on Saturday.

Luckily, we stumbled on Lou Pilha Leva (famous for moules) which was on the top of our list, to try the local delicacy of socca. Similar to a crepe, it’s a traditional street food often enjoyed as a snack with a glass of rosé. Good news, because we like both those things. The way it works there is simple, you queue up, place your order for a very, very cheap price, and as politely as the French would, elbow your way into one of the long picnic benches on the pavement to enjoy.

Lou Pilha Leva

Lou Pilha Leva

After a few aperitifs, we finally found the gem we didn’t know we were looking for. Le Petit Lascaris, an authentic and local bistro with a regularly changing menu. We were instantly sold on the alfresco dining alone. But, uhum, does the menu say roasted qual asshole (see pic below)? Luckily the translation was off we later found out after befriending too American girls sitting next to us whose French was beyond this world impressive. We had major linguistic envy, swapped travel stories and even got in with the local bartenders at their sister bar next door, Coco Vin, a fantastic little wine bar to finish with an after dinner drink.

Petit Lascaris

Petit Lascaris

A popular thing to do while in Nice is the Cours Saleya market which is on daily, a great place for produce, a renowned flower market and souvenirs. Just around the corner is Cafe Marche, on the top list of brunch spots. We had our heart set on this farm to table setting but didn’t realise there too, you had to book ahead, as otherwise you will be greeted with a curt ‘no’. In fact, she said ‘it’s just so hard’ being that popular and when asked if she could recommend anywhere else she said she’d ‘rather not’. Fine, we had Italian in the Old Town. Also fine.

Cours Saleya market

Cours Saleya market

Cours Saleya market

Cours Saleya market

We missed the one thing to do, a hike to the castle for a magnificent view over Old Town and the sea but that’s okay. For a short mini-break, I’ll forgive myself for all the wine and sun in exchange.

Nice, it truly is for everyone and a perfect short city break. It’s for those seeking a vibrant artistic hub or the elite who fly from all over the world for high profile events such as the Grand Prix or the Cannes Film Festival. There’s so much going on, plus miles of rocky coastline I wish I had more time to come back and explore the mountains and seaside villages outside of the city.

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Kefalonia, Greece as you haven’t seen it yet


When I think of Greece I picture whitewashed stone walls, blue shutters and feta for days. So, when my childhood friend Renee came to meet me in Europe and said Greece was her number 1 priority, I was all hands down.

The problem was, going to Greece in mid-August is peak season. A flight might normally only cost me less than £50 but in summer most flights are well close to at least £250. Not to worry, I leaned on my trusty friend Skyscanner, typed in Greece and found myself starring Kefalonia in the face.

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Agia Efimia, Kefalonia, Greece

I didn’t know much about this part of Greece, and really, my holy grail was to visit Shipwreck Beach on Zakynthos (Zante), which is only the next island away. A quick glance at Google Maps gave me the idea that it would be easy enough to travel from one island to the other. So, on a quick Facetime call, we bit the bullet and bought a roundtrip ticket from London Gatwick to Kefalonia (despite it being a 6 am flight, eeek).

It was only after we bought our tickets that I did some research properly. Getting to Zante wasn’t as easy as it seems, and Kefalonia was quite a large island in the sense that getting to each major site was a drive away; renting a car was highly recommended in which neither of us was keen to do.

It was final – we were going to the Ionian Islands! The Ionian Islands lie off Greece’s west coast, in the Ionian Sea. They are traditionally called the Heptanese, i.e. “the Seven Islands” and Ithaca (just to the north) was the name of the island home of Odysseus in the epic Ancient Greek poem the Odyssey by Homer. Apparently, archaeological investigations have revealed interesting findings in both Kefalonia and Ithaca.

After scouring Hotels.com (you get your 10th night free!) and endless days of indecisiveness; I booked us into a 4-star hotel in the northeast part of the island in the upmarket port of Agia Efimia; and broke our trip up with our final night in the heart of the capital, Argostoli. Other popular spots on Kefalonia include Lassi, which has some nice beaches and is close to the airport, and the port of Fiskardo in the north, but we didn’t have time to do it all.

Here are my highlights of (what I like to refer to as) Kef:

It’s a lovely place where families come to relax and describe it as “beautiful”. It certainly isn’t the party of Mykonos or the whitewashed walls of Santorini but does offer its own calm bliss through quiet secluded beaches, friendly locals and fantastic food. Ahem, did someone say goat? You’ll find them both roaming the hills of the dry mountainsides and as your main course for dinner.

Agia Efimia

Map of Agia Efimia, Kefalonia

Map of Agia Efimia, Kefalonia

This upmarket, picturesque port which was a traditional fishing village is in the northeast part of the island, overlooking Ithaca. A handful of tavernas line the small port, where excursion boats wait to take tourists out during the day and various performers and live music are often on at night.

Port of Agia Efimia

Port of Agia Efimia

Around unsuspecting corners, you’ll find a set of rocky stairs taking you down to the sea, where locals splash around in coves and the water is such a clear blue you can’t help but feel delighted with yourself for escaping to such a gem.

Agia Efimia Beach

Agia Efimia Beach

What makes Agia Efimia so special is that while it’s touristy, it’s so small and the tourists are minimal to other places you would go in Greece, that it still has an authentic charm.

Odyssey Hotel

Odysessy Hotel, Agia Efimia, Kefalonia

Odysessy Hotel, Agia Efimia, Kefalonia

Odyssey Hotel was just what the doctor ordered. With an epic view from every room looking out to the sea and Ithaca in the distance; the sun loungers and the pool are worth it alone. Service was exceptional (so exceptional we got a very slow and detailed walkthrough of every minor hotel detail without necessity) and our booking also included a complimentary 20-minute massage. Did I mention no kids under the age of 16 allowed?

Renee challenged herself and even woke for sunset (or maybe it was just the jetlag), stumbling the whole two steps to our balcony to witness it rise over Ithaca. Our mornings were then spent enjoying our complimentary breakfast, including Greek yoghurt with honey, along with generous portions of whatever else we wanted, as you can pick anything from the menu, from eggs to pastries.

We’d lay by the pool all day, sipping Mythos and reading our books, then take a break from time to time to dive into the pool or cross the street to splash in the aqua blue sea to cool from the heat. The best part was, we were the only ones in the sea in the little cove we found just a few feet from the hotel. I couldn’t believe it! Mesmerized by how blue the water was, and how secluded we were, I’m fully relaxed now thinking back on it.

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Lisa Vecchio Agia Efimia

We also had fantastic meals in the port of Agia Efimia, including the local delicacy goat, baked feta, and souvlaki (with fries inside and all). We uncovered picturesque Taverna Pergola a block off the main tourist street, where Renee tried goat for the first time and I couldn’t refuse my first mousaka of the year. Local wine was generous everywhere we went, with carafes only costing on average 8 Euro.

Souvlaki in Kefalonia

Souvlaki in Kefalonia

Taverna Pergola, Agia Efimia

Taverna Pergola, Agia Efimia

On our second night, we met an expat from Coney Island who spends his summers in Kefalonia. We secured a table overlooking the port while enjoying our meals of goat (again) and roast pork to live Greek music in the background at To Steki Taverna.


Myrtos Beach

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Myrtos Beach, Kefalonia


Myrtos Beach is reputed as one of the best beaches in all of Greece! As we had no transport of our own, we took a cab for 15 Euro from the hotel and spent the afternoon mesmerised by its beauty and found refuge from the scorching heat in the cooling Ionian Sea.

The views of Myrtos Beach from above are so breathtaking they are worth the visit alone, as now I understand why this is voted one of the best beaches in all of Greece. The white rocks exfoliate your feet, and the aqua blue sea was a dream, calmly tucked away in a giant cove carved between the feet of two mountains, Agia Dynati and Kalon Oros.

Cooling in the sea at Myrtos Beach

Cooling in the sea at Myrtos Beach

While there is the ability to rent sunbeds and umbrellas, they were all sold out, naturally. Luckily, there were other facilities such as a snack bar selling water, beer and ice creams as well as a working toilet, to find some shade from time to time when taking a dip in the sea still didn’t satisfy.

What was morning concerning was our cab driver, a young hip girl, who also thought the view was so fab she decided to Instagram her pic, scrolling through filters and hashtags, while we were winding up the massive mountain on our way out to Argostoli. It was so uncomfortable I had to tell her so. Maybe if you’re used to these windy roads it’s no big deal? I don’t think so.

Argostoli:

Sunset, port of Argostoli

Sunset, port of Argostoli


I felt we couldn’t visit an island without seeing its capital, not realising the closest beaches were in the neighbouring resort town Lassi. We stayed in a simple hotel, Mouikis Hotel, where we had a massive balcony overlooking the protected sea, it was so calm it almost looked like a massive lake. In walking distance to the pedestrian shopping street, main square, and port, in a short afternoon, we were able to see most of the town.

The highlight, however, was the sea turtles! While having a souvlaki pita for lunch, we had heard rumours that you can see the turtles from the promenade we were dining on. But I didn’t realise how huge they were going to be! To our surprise, during lunch that afternoon we saw a handful, (not before Renee slipped and fell on some fish scales), and took one more look in the morning before flying out, as its rumoured that the best time to see them is when the fisherman come in.

Sea turtles in Argostoli, Kefalonia

Sea turtles in Argostoli, Kefalonia

We spent the evening in Argostoli sipping wine in a beautiful spot near the port at a restaurant and wine bar called Cavo that overlooked the sea. We were the only ones there, but we didn’t mind at all as it was so peaceful, surprised by how quiet the island generally was despite it being peak season. Served by a local family, ‘Sexy Sweetheart’, as Renee called him due to his good looks and the fact he served us complimentary watermelon after our wine tasting, was the perfect way to chill before dinner.

Cavo Restaurant, Argostoli

Cavo Restaurant, Argostoli

Wine at Cavo, Argostoli

Wine at Cavo, Argostoli

We had our last meal at Ampelaki, not too far from the port and neighbour to the above restaurant. I had the meat pie, and Renee tried rabbit for the first time. Both were delicious, and of course, accompanied by another 8 Euro litre of local wine.

Overall the whole island was beautiful and very chilled. Its dry, mountainous landscape was an unexpected yet serene backdrop. Its quietness meant we could enjoy secluded swim holes and drinks overlooking amazing scenery without disruption. Of the few tourists we saw, I noticed many were Italian. Having looked at a map, Kefalonia is just across from southern Italy, and now it makes sense where the cruise ships were coming in from. In fact, at our last meal, we were asked if wanted the menu in Italian or English.

Overall, I would recommend Kefalonia if you are looking for a beautifully enjoyable holiday off the beaten path. Even though there were tourists, it definitely could have been far worse. Kefalonia is tranquillity at its best, with mountainside goats included.

Hiking the Cinque Terre with My Mom


Cinque Terre, the five lands situated on the Italian Riviera between Genoa and Pisa, is one of those really special places that words can’t describe. It truly is charming, rugged Italy. The gorgeous scenery is made of a stunning coastline dropping down to the Mediterranean, packed with pastel coastal villages and hiking trails between terraced vineyards, lemon trees and olive groves.

Hiking to CornigliaI found myself there for the first time in 2003, a backpacker in the sleepy town of Riomaggiore, my favourite of the five. We arrived and only then inquired about guest lodging and ended up in a tiny apartment fitted out with the basics. Most nights we bought pasta and local wine from the Co-Op (the only grocery in town) and it was enough to satisfy, sitting around talking about our travels in a charming Italian flat at night, after hiking between all five towns during the day.

Riomaggiore main street

I vividly remember meeting Aussie backpackers in their mid-twenties. They were old and brave in my eyes of just 19. I couldn’t believe they threw their cares of getting a big kid job out the window; that could wait. The world comes first.

So, when my Mom told me the one place she wanted to go in Europe whilst visiting me in the UK this past May was Cinque Terre, I couldn’t say no.

The thing was, I was nervous. In the twelve years since I was last there in 2006 for my second time, I’d heard rumours about how much had changed. Cinque Terre is no longer the quiet backpacker, hidden ‘old’ Italy that I experienced in my youth, it’s now on the tourist trail. It’s in magazines, guidebooks and caters to cruise ships. I was excited to relive my former footsteps but anxious that I may discover something I didn’t recognize.

In order to make Mom’s dream come true, we had a 4:30 am wake up to get to London Gatwick.  7 hours later we arrived in Riomaggiore from La Spezia, but it only took one look at the town to know all the travel was already worth it. I was back again in this amazing other world so different from home or anywhere else I’ve been, and a place that was one of my favourite backpacker spots as a teenager.

Vernazza

I was excited to show Mom all of the five towns, and how different they can be from each other. I could point out what’s changed and what new restaurants had arrived on the scene, places I used to sunbathe and sip wine along the coast. I was excited to get her into her sneakers so we could begin the famed hike, it’s so magical trekking from town-to-town and I wanted her to experience what I had before.

I even loved practising my (poor) Italian. “I wish I could speak French,” Mom said. “You mean as good as I speak Italian?” “Haha, something like that.” I think she was saying I could be better despite four years under my belt in High School.

The thing was, things had changed. A devastating rock slide had damaged the most famous part of the hiking trail, Via dell’Amore, which hugs the rocky coastline from Riomaggiore to Manarola. It used to be the most dramatic and breath-taking bit too. Also, because of the mass tourism, you now need to buy a hiking pass to use the trails. There are free trails, of course, but I was dead set on showing Mom the Cinque Terre I knew as a backpacker.

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Nowadays there’s no general store that’s not stuffed with souvenirs, or local wine without a Cinque Terre label slapped on to it to promote tourism. Being more or less cash only, the ATMs fail regularly and the demographic has gotten older.  It’s no longer a secret backpacker haven.

That was the most obvious thing, there were people everywhere. And I mean everywhere! Chinese tour groups, hiking enthusiasts, backpackers and day-trippers coming off of cruise ships in La Spezia. Luckily, we still had some pretty fantastic meals, enjoyed the picturesque scenery, and had some awesome mother-daughter bonding time too. Going in the offseason of May, I just can’t imagine things at full swing during summer, likely not my cup of tea at all.

Riomaggiore

Of the three times I’ve been to the Cinque Terre, I’ve always stayed in Riomaggiore. It holds a special place in my heart.

Lisa Vecchio in Riomaggiore

We stayed in an amazing refurbished apartment right in the middle of the marina, steps away from where I sunbathed on the rocks in my youth. A step up from the old granny flat on the main street, we were in the heart of one of the most scenic areas of town. With our window open at night, we woke up to the sound of Italian fisherman getting their boats out in the early am and to the sea lapping at the shore.

Riomaggiore Marina

Lydia, from our accommodation Allo Scalo dei Mille, greeted us from the train station to show us our immaculate apartment. She was super helpful also in recommending restaurants and giving us background on the locals i.e. her cousin is the priest at the only church in town which made Mom happy when we attended on Sunday. Denise, the owner of our flat was American, born to a Cinque Terre resident and came back after growing up in the States to renovate the building into apartments for rent. Smart lady.

Every morning we had a coffee on the main street at Hotel La Zorza, a simple eatery below a budget hotel but an easy place to grab a pastry and a cuppa before setting off for the day. There are so many new restaurants and cafes on the high street, finding a decent coffee or meal wasn’t always a guarantee.

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My favourite secret find thanks to Lydia was off of a small side street. Osteria Maite could have had better service but sitting out in their courtyard amongst the twinkling fairy lights at night with a wine and fresh pasta was all we could have asked for. I even tried the walnut sauce, which was to die for, a classic of the local Ligurian cuisine.

The best views in town were at cliffside A Piè de Mà. We reserved a table that overlooked the Med, the perfect place for sunset. They do good cheese boards and have an extensive wine cellar. Unfortunately, they are cash only and have no table service, meaning a very long and unnecessary queue to the bar.

Sunset at A Piè de Mà

We also had a fantastic meal at Enoteca Dau Cila, one of the two restaurants right in the marina across from our apartment. I was sceptical that it would be overpriced and poor quality for the location but the scampi (shrimps) were huge and fat, and the branzino (sea bass) was simple and light. We were even given a complimentary Lemoncello with our bill and left smiling from the great staff, wanting to come back again if we had more time.

Branazino at Enoteca Dau Cila

Manarola

Anybody who appreciates a good meal will tell you that Trattoria Dal Billy (Billy’s) in Manarola is the place to be. It’s well worth the climb up through the smallest of the five towns to get to this cheap and friendly eatery serving simple local dishes. Definitely reserve in advance as they have two seating’s, 7 and 9 pm, and try the specials of both land and sea.

It was also recommended to visit Valastro wineries. A shuttle bus from Manarola station will take you up the mountain into the neighbouring town of Valastro (not one of the five). Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to make a booking and try it.

Corniglia

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I’d recommend staying in Corniglia if you wanted somewhere less touristy and more serene. It’s definitely a town I’d like to stay in one day. Smack in the middle of the five, if you’re looking to do the famed hike, this is the closest starting point from Riomaggiore currently due to the path being closed up to this point. For those that don’t know, Corniglia is also famous for its 365 steps, one for each day of the year, up from the train station into the town.

Mom and I took the train to Corniglia to begin our hike on our second day. The ocean views from the steps are fantastic, as is getting a small glimpse of the adorable houses that line the cliffs sandwiched between the vineyards.

Vineyard in Corniglia, Cinque Terre

After getting to the top of stairs and wandering through town Mom stopped me and said, “how much longer do we have left?” That made me laugh, as we hadn’t even started onto the hiking trail yet. “3 more hours to go Mom!”

Within a few moments of entering the trail, I could tell she understood why this hike is so special. The smell of honeysuckle and the Mediterranean coming into view around tight corners was only the beginning. The best part was, she didn’t take me seriously when I said it was a hike. She thought I meant a light walk. When we finally got to the next town of Vernazza it was like finding gold at the end of a rainbow, a sight so sweet we had worked ourselves up for a well-deserved lunch and Spritz.

Hiking To Vernazza

Vernazza

Hiking into Vernazza, Italy

This was Mom’s favourite town. As you come from Corniglia, you weave into town down steep side streets before hitting its main central artery. Vernazza also has a lovely port lined with restaurants and it’s a great place for lunch, no matter how you find your way there.

Vernazza marina, Cinque Terre

The most famous place with the best views is Ristorante Belforte. Situated within the castle, this cliffside restaurant is stand out. You can’t book, but it’s well worth the wait to dine on the terrace next to the Med in this medieval setting with a stunning backdrop. Even better, they are known for their seafood and their scampi salad was out of this world. Overflowing with so much fresh seafood, I was definitely jealous of Mom’s dish despite my Lingurian squid ink pasta with fresh shellfish being pretty darn good too.

After lunch, we relaxed on the rocks in the harbour amongst the locals and tourists, before grabbing a few Spritzes at Ananasso Bar. While I’m a sucker for an Aperol, Mom was blown away by her Lemoncello Spritz. So much that we stayed for well more than one to enjoy the sun and people watching.

Sprtiz's at Ananasso Bar, Vernazza

The colour of Vernazza, Italy

We began the second half of our hike on day 2 from Vernazza, heading to the last town (or first depending on which way you start) of Monterosso. This trail was much busier, and with the amount of ‘traffic’ of tourists, there were definitely a few ‘hug your neighbour moments’ when the path was so narrow it was only 1 to 3 feet wide.

Local selling Lemoncello in Monterosso, Cinque Terre, Italy

After a steep climb, we made our way down again and were relieved to spot a local selling handmade Lemoncello straight from his lemon trees in a small shack next to the trail. It was an awesome break to just stop and pause, have a chat with the friendly man and happily hand over some cash to support his likely well-lubricated business. As we continued on we stepped over small waterfalls and caught glimpses of Vernazza in our past. Another awesome hike under our belts.

Monterosso

Monterosso, Italy beach

Monterosso is the biggest of the five. In fact, it was a lot larger than I remember, it even has two beaches where the others really have none.  Many people stay in Monterosso as it has the only 4-star hotel amongst the group, and many other hotel-like lodgings compared to the small apartments you rent in the other towns. Being bigger also meant that it had more shops with a good variety and some better-quality souvenirs, like Fabbrica D’Arte where we both bought a special memento. But it really was just a gelato that we wanted after a long day of hiking, of course. And we left satisfied.

Gelato in Monterosso, Italy

We only had 2.5 days all up to explore all five towns and obviously would have welcomed one more day. But for my Mom, it was just enough and exactly what she’s always imagined it would be.  It’s like nowhere else, rustic Italy, with vineyards taking over the hills, steep climbs through narrow back streets, and old women sticking their head out of the window to hang their laundry and just watch the world go by.

Monterosso

Mom said the locals must be like goats to be able to trek these hills but also, she was really grateful. For some, being in your 60s would limit your ability to achieve such a great accomplishment of hiking to each town. If I’m on honest, I don’t know how I did the whole five in one go in my past, being 19 might have helped. But I also feel so lucky that we were able to do it this time around together as mother and daughter.

Lisa Vecchio & JoAnn Rose in Cinque Terre, Italy

Hand sculture, Venice

Making friends and eating cicchetti in Venice


My mission for my most recent visit to Venice was all about hunting down the best cicchetti (chi-ket-tee), small bite size appetizers and pieces of crusty bread topped with a variety of delicious goodness. In fact, the concept is not too dissimilar to my pintxos adventures in San Sebastian, Spain. But Venice, oh beautiful and so romantic Venice, was such an incredible experience my second time around; so rich with food, Campari Spritz and some new-found friends along the way.

Our first cicchetti stop at Cateolia

Our first cicchetti stop at Cateolia

This trip was very different from my first visit to Venice with my Italian class back in 1999 when I was just 15. My most vivid memory of then is of when Cara ordered the pesce (fish) on the one night we were given the freedom to explore the city and dine solo without our teacher. After finding a restaurant and proudly placing our order in our broken Italian accents, we all were aghast that Cara’s fish came fully intact; head, bones, eyes and all. That was one lesson learnt that still makes me laugh even to this day.

Gondola in the Grand Canal, Venice

Gondola in the Grand Canal, Venice

But what I’ve been most surprised about after doing some research close to 20 years later (OMG), was to stumble across the concept of cicchetti and it being unique to Venice. I think this is largely due to the general lack of awareness from other visitors too. When I told friends and family we were heading off to uncover all the secret cicchetti spots amongst Venice’s hidden corners, a typical response was a big fat “che cosa?”.

For anyone who doesn’t know what I’m talking about, I think it’s time you head to Venice to get your cicchetti on!

Lisa & Jamie in Venice

Lisa and Jamie in Venice

Cicchetti aside for a moment, the greatest debate of all for Jamie and me as a couple on our first trip abroad together was deciding on how we would travel from the airport to our hotel. There are about four options (public ferry for the typical tourist, shared speedboat (shuttle) for those with a bit less patience, private speedboat for those with deep pockets, or the bus for those afraid of water), so it really was worth all the faff to finally agree on the shared speedboat for 25 euros each which we pre-booked on Venice Link. We felt like celebrities straight out of a Bond movie cruising through the Grand Canal. But this post is all about new friends and cicchetti, so back at it…

We met our first friend, Louisa, who greeted us at our lovely boutique hotel, Ca’Gottardi in Cannaregio, and who graciously gave us some tips on getting around (like how to score a 2 euro gondola ride across the Grand Canal to witness the recently famous hand sculpture). Her hotel is perfectly situated off of the main artery, Strada Nuova, running from the Rialto Bridge to the train station Santa Lucia. This road can be quite touristy at the best of times, but once off the beaten path toward the Jewish Ghetto, we came across some fantastic cicchetti and wine bars.

Crossing the Grand Canal

Crossing the Grand Canal

Hand sculture, Venice

Hand sculpture, Venice

On that point of Ca’Gottardi, another friend we can thank is the mysterious night manager on our first night’s stay. As we stumbled in after too many Campari Spritz, we were pleasantly surprised to find a drinks trolley in the lobby. His English was nonexistent you could say, but he simply wheeled it over to us as we fell into the couch and helped ourselves to some complimentary blended whiskey. This mysterious night manager wasn’t seen again, and on the two following nights when we inquired during the early hours about the drinks trolley, we were told there was no such thing. We still question if he even worked there in the first place!

Rialto Bridge, Venice

Rialto Bridge, Venice

Our first day was a whirlwind overall, getting lost amongst the streets off of the Rialto Bridge and taking in the breathtaking beauty of the magnificent water world that is Venice. Our favourite cicchetti experience was that very first night at Osteria al Cicheto where a tall local gentleman, Alessandro, overheard Jamie and I trying to figure out how to order the bite-sized snacks, and before we knew it we were sharing wine and he was giving us suggestions on how to make the most of Venice. He was so nice and even helped us score a table for a more formal dinner at the very small and much in demand osteria. There we had the most authentic, delicious meal of the entire trip, including Venetian style cuttlefish, fresh octopus and duck pasta. We can’t thank Alessandro enough, but also, I would come back to Osteria al Cicheto in a heartbeat to dine on their three-course local cuisine for a steal at only 33 euro each. Our wine bill was a tad bit more…whoops.

On our second day, the rained had ceased enough that we assumed it was our one chance to head out to the famous islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. I recall a visit to Murano, famous for handblown glassmaking, from my youth trip and wasn’t that fussed to return. Burano, for another matter, has become an Instagram sensation over recent years, as tourists capture the magnificent coloured houses on this island known for lace craft. Starving, after taking too many snaps of the breathtaking backdrop (it’s just so cute!), we stopped off for lunch at Ai Cesendeli and were definitely pleasantly surprised with the gorgonzola and prosciutto pizza and pasta vongole.

Once back in Venice, we were in dire want to truly uncover all the hidden gems of the Jewish Ghetto, as that’s where all the cicchetti food tours take the tourists. Fondamenta Ormesini is the spot; a street in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto along a canal lined with small cicchetti and wine bars. Our favourite was Al Timon, one of liveliest and most popular of the street serving 1-euro cicchetti and some killer wines (and apparently steaks too if you book in for dinner). On our second time back, I overheard some young kids next to us with American accents chatting away and instinctively knew they must be studying abroad. It brought back memories of when I backpacked throughout Europe at a similar time in my life. So, after swapping a few tales of our travels with Carly and Eric from Long Island, Jamie and I decided to buy them their first Campari Spritz, something I know I would have greatly appreciated at the age of 19.

Campari Spritz Cheers!

Campari Spritz Cheers!

Our fun didn’t stop there. As our trip coincided with St. Patricks day, Jamie was hell-bent on getting himself a pint of Guinness, despite me sticking my nose up to the notion while in Venice. Late at night on the 17th of March, we coincidently stumbled across an Irish Pub (Irish Pub Santa Lucia) serving green beer. We quickly befriended Marco, who taught us how to translate phrases into Italian, as one does when having a few pints in a foreign land. The funniest part of the evening was trying to give Marco some context to the phrase ‘you’re hard’, as in ‘you’re a tough guy’, which he hysterically practised in English while we perfected its translation “uomo duro”.

On our third day, the rain was relentless. Take note, when you hear sirens going off from loudspeakers throughout the entire city, count the number of beeps as it signifies the anticipated water level the canals will rise. Or at least, that was our experience whilst befriending Nicola and Matteo, owners of uber cool Chet Bar in the university area of Campo Santa Margherita. We were instantly drawn in for their killer cocktails and a great soundtrack but left swigging new whiskies and learning the craft of rosemary gin (try their Vizio del Conte – rosemary-infused gin, cardamom-infused vermut, Campari bitter). Our fun got interrupted, however, by Nicola running outside to count the sirens, apologizing to us as he leapt out the door to run home in urgency to grab some higher wellies, and strongly advised that we make our way back to our hotel in no more than 1 hour, or we will enjoy the flooding on a much more personal level. Yikes, things just got fun!

We took their advice, but not before stopping off at their sister bar (it was on our way I swear!), the craft and sustainable Il Mercante. Alessandro (yes, everyone is called Alessandro) is co-owner with the boys over at Chet bar, and he happily gave us the inside scoop on what to eat (including their killer bacalao and duck breast cicchetti plates) whilst we sipped another cocktail and listened to Oasis in the background. “We don’t do it for the money, if we did we’d open a shit restaurant for tourists,” he told us. We were in our glory land. But wait…isn’t there a flood going on?

We didn’t make it in time, and before we knew it we were nearly ankle deep in water, tiptoeing our way across town. With barely any cash on us, we got swindled into buying two pairs of waterproof over the shoe wellies, which only leaked a few seconds later. As our hotel entrance was surrounded by water, we escaped across the street to the touristy Old Wild West, an American BBQ fast food joint. Luckily Stephano, an Italian/American/South American, interesting character to say the least, kindly served us wine and chicken fingers before telling us it was cash only and gave Jamie two trash bags to wear on his feet while he braved the flood to get cash out. He was since known as ‘that weirdo Stephano’.

For our final day, we had initially planned on heading out of town to Verona or Vincenza but Alessandro at Il Mercante made our minds for us. With a bit of a hangover, we caught the train an hour and eleven minutes out to the holy land of the Italian brandy, Grappa, in the city of Bassano del Grappa. It was here, after visiting the Poli Grappa Museum and trying a quick throwback of the stiff stuff, that we took a stroll over the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) for a breathtaking view of the Alps and met our final friend, the meat lady at the pub Al Saiso.

We were the only people there, and she didn’t speak very much English. We decided we needed something big and starchy for our hangovers, and Jaime thought he spotted the pasta on the menu under the heading ‘taglieri’. We even debated about the fact that we wanted the same one, so said who cares, let’s get two. When it came time to order, I asked for the burrata and prosciutto plate, but really pushed that it comes out primo (first). She looked confused because then we ordered two servings of the taglieri. We just nodded really, really enthusiastically, so she said okay.

After devouring a massive plate of meat and cheese “primo” as requested, to our surprise out came two huge cutting boards with more meat and cheese. We couldn’t keep our laughs in; come to find out, taglieri means cutting board. She must have thought we really were some meat loving weirdos since we ordered so much of it. It was so intense we barely touched it and felt bad but laughed all the way home about how we travelled all the way to Grappa to eat a whole heck of a lot of sliced meat.

Lisa Vecchio in front of Cafe Ponte Vecchio in Bassano del Grappa

Lisa Vecchio in front of Cafe Ponte Vecchio in Bassano del Grappa

Our final shout out goes to the Flyin Lion, the magnificent mascot of Venice. The Lion with Wings can be seen everywhere from flags to upholstery and building carvings in the likes of St. Mark’s Square. Jaime loved it and even bought a dorky t-shirt with the lion on it to commemorate the trip.

Thanks to all the friends and memories we made in Venice! I’ll definitely be back sooner than later for some more cicchetti.

 

Best of Prague Guide – A Surprise Trip


For 3 months they waited in anticipation, the only answers to the two clues they were allowed to ask didn’t give much of an indication of where we were headed. “What will we drink?” Sophie asked. “Beer,” was my response. “What sort of coat will we need?” Penny followed. “A lightweight or heavy puffer?” It was November after all, and the coat choice was a defining ask. Heavy puffer all the way.

It wasn’t until we got through the airport’s security gates (I even folded the boarding pass just so) and under the boarding sign that our first secret getaway destination was revealed, Prague!

We're going to Prague!

We’re going to Prague!

I’ve travelled with the same two friends once a quarter for the last two years, so these secret getaways are now our way of travelling with a new twist, each taking a turn to plan the unexpected. “I woke up this morning and have never been so excited,” Sophie said. “So good to just show up and not have to do any work,” Penny agreed as we made our way to the airport. Lucky ducks.

To no surprise, I was thoroughly prepared and even created a Prague guidebook of sorts for the girls to get a glimpse into what was planned as we flew over from London. This blog is a combination of the best of Prague from my guidebook, and some other new-found treasures mixed in.

Some light plane reading

Some light plane reading

Prague:

Prague is a beautiful, romantic city that can satisfy any beer aficionado. The “City of 100 Spires” isn’t too bad on the eyes either, with gothic churches and impressive gargoyles sprouting up on nearly every square. The bad news is that every tourist known to man can agree. In the summer, Charles Bridge can be so overwhelmed with tourists it can take up to 10 minutes to cross its 515 meters. Holidaying in November was bliss for us though. Mulled wine around every corner, we’d arrived just before the Christmas markets opened, so the city was still and quiet (and grey) as we drank its beer, got lost amongst the cobblestones and ate goulash in abundance while meeting friendly locals.

Tram car, Prague

Tramcar, Prague

Pastel streets of Prague

Pastel streets of Prague

Where we stayed:

Lokál Inn
Our huge family-sized suite set the standard at this 4-star hotel situated over a fun and social brewhouse. It’s cheap and the food here, an authentic menu that changes daily with breakfast included, is amazing, which made it an excellent stop before we set out exploring on our first day. As they have their own Pilsner Urquell tanks, my mouth dropped after taking my first sip of lager. I’ve been to Prague before, but I didn’t remember the beer being THIS good!

Lokal Inn, Prague

Lokal Inn, Prague

Also, a plus, they are conveniently situated at the base of Charles Bridge, making access to the Old Town super close, but just in case they also offer guests complimentary smartphones so you can navigate the city and book in reservations without roaming!

What we ate:

I’ll admit it without embarrassment, I ate goulash every single day. It’s likely because I created an obsession with the almighty potato pancake. Because I chose to favour this one meal, it meant that I really slacked in my Czech cuisine exploration as I didn’t even have pork knuckle or duck, standard Czech dishes. And as for my vegetarian friend Sophie, food options were tough at the best of times. While the common solution is to order dumplings filled with fruit, a simple serve of fried cheese was enough for Soph at nearly every stop.

Goulash
Hands down my favourite dish, this savoury stew made of meat and onions in a thick brown sauce with paprika is typically topped with dumplings (potato or bread), making this Czech staple (despite not originating in the Czech Republic) a must have at nearly every meal in town.

Goulash at V Kolkovně

Goulash at V Kolkovně

Pickled Cheese
Perfect with a glass of pivo (beer), camembert is typically fermented and pickled in oil, with garlic, chilli and other spices and served with crusty bread. Trust me, it’s way more delicious then my description makes out, worth trying at least!

Pickled Cheese at Strahov Monastic Brewery

Pickled Cheese at Strahov Monastic Brewery

Trdelník – Chimney Cake
You can’t cross a street in Prague without witnessing one of the biggest tourist knocks offs in the city. Not even traditionally Czech, these sweet treats of hot dough covered in sugar and filled with ice cream or Nutella, make the perfect Instagram. If you’re going to do it, look for ones with long lines as some can be left out for hours so be sure it’s fresh!

Trdelník

Trdelník

Where we ate:

Word of warning, if you’re keen to get in anywhere half decent, book in advance. On the plus side, credit cards are pretty much accepted everywhere and free Wi-Fi is plentiful.

Luckily, I had identified a few places in advance that I highlighted in my guidebook. Others we were able to visit on our Eating Prague Craft Beer and Food Tour which I highly recommend you check out.

V Kolkovně
Part of a chain of restaurants operated under the Pilsner Urquell brand, this casual brewpub was perfect for devouring goulash over a few pivos. Despite the restaurant looking fairly empty, we were told that no tables were available without a reservation. Thankfully bar tables were free, because the potato pancakes were so full of spice they were out of the world, awesome. A bit pricier than other places, but well worth a visit for traditional Czech grub and enough Kozul (dark beer) to keep you satisfied.

Velkopřevorský Mlýn (Priory Mill)
While this beautiful pub, referred to as the ‘flower pub’ throughout our trip, is pleasing on the eyes (in more ways than one) and makes for some great snaps, the food is overpriced as it’s very close to the tourist spot, the John Lennon Wall. Actually, dishes were nearly double some more authentic spots we visited, the goulash less than average and bread bowl quite small. It’s okay though, the fur seats, view overlooking the mill and hot waiter (and I mean like model HOT!) made it worthwhile.

Velkopřevorský Mlýn (Priory Mill)

Velkopřevorský Mlýn (Priory Mill)

Bredovský Dvůr
Uniquely, Pilsner Urquell is served from their own pipes on the premises, only 3 meters travelling from the tank to pour, ensuring the beer doesn’t make contact with any air to not damage its perfect flavour. Known for their large pork knuckle dishes and savoury duck, it can be described as authentic and reasonably priced, and a good excuse to escape the Old Town to experience a gem.

Also try: Lokal Inn, Sisters, Maso a kobliha, Nase Maso, Zvonice, Bistro No 19.

Where we drank:

There were two big takeaways from my drinking exploration of Prague. Firstly, there’s a lot to learn about Czech beer so definitely check out my review of the Prague Craft Beer Tour. Places like Lod’ Pivovar (a brewery on a boat!) and T-anker (amazing city views) are two beer spots you must Czech-out. (See what I did there?) Secondly, the cocktail bars were the biggest surprise of all! We somehow managed a cocktail crawl in this beer haven of a city.

Cocktail bars of Prague:

Bonvivant:
This 1920’s NYC themed speakeasy is a place you can comfortably stay for hours. We were lucky to meet Michael, who was the perfect host, talking us through absinthe to whisky based cocktails. We were there too late in the evening to try their food, but if you’re exploring the Old Town this is an absolute gem to settle in to for great service, cocktails and locals.

Absinthe served at BonVivant, Prague

Absinthe served at BonVivant, Prague

Black Angel
Centrally located in the basement of U Prince Hotel in the Old Town just across from the Astronomical Clock, this eclectic, gothic-themed cocktail bar was recommended by friends but was a big disappointment when compared to some of the other low key and sophisticated cocktail bars popping up all over the city. Book in advance, but we warned, no photos are allowed which is a crying shame. In a nutshell, it’s a bit touristy and gimmicky but a quirky stop off if you’re in the area.

Cash Only Bar
What a treat to find! Small setting upstairs, with an intimate, arty basement downstairs specializing in cocktails, hot dogs and surprisingly, amazing salted almonds. The vibe screamed all around “cool”. It was recommended to us by Michael at Bonvivant, the staff were friendly, talking us through an array of cocktails, Sophie specifically really enjoyed an absinthe and champagne combo, who knew! I loved the huge block of ice in my Old Fashioned with a $ embedded in it and we were even awarded a free shot called Bohemian Sluts (was that some sort of innuendo?)

Cash Only Bar, Prague

Cash Only Bar, Prague

The Alchemist Bar
One of the city’s newest cocktail bars, velvet red chairs, gothic tapestries and burning candles set the vibe for our last stop on our unplanned cocktail crawl. It was surprisingly quiet and friendly, despite it being in a big touristy hostel neighbourhood with lots of clubs. My favourite part was trying Becherovka, a local herbal liquor that to me tasted like the cinnamon bear candies I’d eat at my grandmother’s as a kid, or others like to call it the original Fire Ball. But I think the most special moment was ordering the ‘Choose Your Fate”, in which Sophie and Penny picked a tarot card out of the deck, and a robed and beak-masked man delivered their drinks in a smoking old chest. It was all a bit bizarre but in a good way.

Nearly every evening ended back at Lokal Inn, where it was very easy to settle in amongst the long benches and drink one more ‘oh so good’ pilsner with the locals.

For more cocktails try: Parlour, L’Fluer, Bugsy’s Bar, Anonymous Bar

For beer, also try: Riegrovy Sady, Letna Park Beer Garden, U Fleku, Pivovarsky Klub, Fat Cat

What we explored:

Prague Castle
Just like Ed Sheeran’s latest single, Prague also hosts a magnificent Castle on the Hill. We visited both at night and during the day, to get two very different perspectives of the city’s most popular tourist attraction. Entry to the grounds of the Castle is free but some buildings such as the St Vitus Cathedral, Basilica of St George and Golden Lane can only be visited with an entry ticket. Hot Tip: The statue of the boy with a golden penis is called “Youth” and it is located in the courtyard in front of the Toy Museum. People say rubbing the boy’s penis brings good luck so of course, we gave it a go.

Prague Castle grounds by day

Prague Castle grounds by day

Prague Castle grounds by night

Prague Castle grounds by night

While in this neighbourhood there are two other great finds. The first, Svatováclavská vinice (St. Wenceslas´ Vineyard) is literally a vineyard at the base of the Castle. It was closed while we visited and the vines were in hibernation for winter, but in summer I would totally nab a seat and enjoy the sunset for one of the arguably best views in Prague. Talk about romantic!

Strahov Monastic Brewery
When heading down from the Castle, another popular stop off is Strahov Monastic Brewery, dating back to the 17th century and still brews beer using traditional recipes from back in the day. Here you’ll find an overpriced brewpub, restaurant, and a lovely outdoor patio but also tour groups and unfriendly service. It’s an easy stop off to rest your legs but don’t make an afternoon out it.  If you do though, it’s also a great place to try the famed pickled cheese. 

Lennon Wall
Talk about a city made for Instagrammers. The John Lennon Wall is special to me, as 10 years before in 2007 I visited and took the exact same snap with a different group of friends while travelling throughout Europe. Strange to think a big puffy jacket lined with fur is still a requirement. As a symbol of peace, the graffiti-clad wall was first used to protest against communism in the 80s, and every day individuals and artists contribute to its powerful message with lyrics and images.

John Lennon Wall 2007

John Lennon Wall 2007

John Lennon Wall 2017

John Lennon Wall 2017

Old Town Square & Astronomical Clock
The tourist heart of the city, the Old Town Square has remained relatively untouched in terms of architecture since the 10th Century despite many invasions. The many outdoor cafes and restaurants that line the square give the hordes of tourists a reason to time their visit to watch the spectacle of the famous clock marking the turn of the hour. Definitely worth a walk by for a snap but then I recommend having a pivo in a quiet corner of the city.

Astronomical Clock

Astronomical Clock

Street Art
I’m not referring to graffiti, but interesting and different art installations all over this pastel shaded city. Finding these unique and interesting representations is a fun way to explore some of the back streets, avoiding the marionettes and uncovering the uncommon treasure.

The most famous include:
Embryo Drain Pipe
A bit odd, a fetus is trying to get through a narrow pipe attached to the side of a building. Rumor suggests it refers to how difficult for artists it is to be understood by narrow-minded people.

Hanging Man by David Černý
The sculpture, installed in 1997, can easily be overlooked but if you find Husova Street and look up you’re in for a treat. Don’t worry, Sigmund Freud hanging above your head looks surprisingly realistic but is just a statue.

Hanging Man by David Černý

Hanging Man by David Černý

Giant Head of Franz Kafka
The sculpture is worth trekking across town for to witness 42 constantly rotating and moving layers of the famed writer Franz Kafka’s head. I recommend to video or even Boomerang this one, as it’s hard to describe otherwise. Hint: it’s just behind a shopping mall if you need to stop off while in the neighbourhood.

Giant Head of Franz Kafka

Giant Head of Franz Kafka

And of course, don’t forget to cross Charles Bridge, you won’t forget it!

Getting back to our secret getaways, the girls gave excellent feedback on the concept as we all really enjoyed our time in Prague. Now the biggest question is, where are we going next? And will I be able to stand the anticipation in much the same way when someone else is planning and I’m left in the dark? I’ll find out in only a few short days where I’m off to next!

Coliseum at sunset

“When in Rome”…for 48 hours


They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to explore the best of the ‘eternal city’ in the same amount of time.

You see, I haven’t been back to Rome since I was 15. Well, that’s not entirely true. There were those 24 hours in Vatican City before jumping the Euro Rail to Spain in 2003, but that’s a story for another day. So why has it been so long?

Even more significant, I’ve held an Italian passport for 8 years and it was still lacking that big bold ‘Italia’ stamp. And I was nervous too. I mean, what if they started talking to me in Italian at passport control and if they asked where I’ve been all this time…London, Melbourne, New York. Everywhere, but Italy!

Partially, I think my memories are jaded. I looked back and pictured a big antiquated city, dirty streets, being approached by pushy men and gipsies handing out roses every second minute to make a quick buck. Oh, but I was so wrong. Rome, in the offseason, was overwhelmingly beautiful, delicious and all around awesomely welcoming!

You could spend a week in this city and still not uncover all of its gems. But, if you’ve only got a short amount of time, here’s a taster of the best of Rome.

Stay on the other side of the Tiber River:

The narrow cobblestone streets, colourful graffiti, local trattorias and apertivo bars are what makes the once working-class neighbourhood of Trastevere one of the hottest areas in Rome today. It’s perfectly picturesque, a healthy mix of students and tourists taking advantage of the too many ivy-covered bars and trattorias by night, while the quiet streets are equally as Instagram-worthy to explore during the day. Even better, the Vatican is a 20-minute walk North, the Coliseum a 25-minute walk East, and the Trevi Foundation a 20-minute walk Northeast. Win-Win.

Streets of Trastevere

Streets of Trastevere

Hotel Santa-Maria: The Trip Advisor ratings are so through the roof, considering they have been awarded one of the top 10 places to stay in Rome, so there is no way I couldn’t book us in. Set in a quiet cloister with blooming orange trees, the service is beyond friendly, location super convenient, and the great breakfast and apertivos are a bonus.

Orange Trees, Hotel Santa Maria, Trastevere

Orange Trees, Hotel Santa Maria, Trastevere

La Tavernetta 29: This is where the locals eat and the obvious choice when in Rome is the carbonara of course, but I also chose to try the truffle ravioli which was out of this world. Service was spot on, with complimentary lemon sorbet and limoncello to close, at a shockingly affordable 25 Euro with wine for two.

La Tavernetta 29, Trastevere

La Tavernetta 29, Trastevere

Babylon Café: A local street artist I purchased an awesome photograph from recommended this hip gem, a casual place to enjoy an apertivo with the locals, plus there’s live music on the weekends. We would have never walked in if it wasn’t for the recommendation. In fact, we went for 1 but stayed for hours and the waiter was very patient with my poor stab speaking Italian after too many Campari Spritz.

Live music at Babylon Café, Trastevere

Live music at Babylon Café, Trastevere

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa: Craft beer is taking Italy over by storm and this low key beer bar has a suite of regular changing taps. We were even lucky enough to meet a few brewers while socializing at the bar.

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa

Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa

Eggs: While traditional trattorias are rumoured to have the best carbonara in the city, tiny and modern Eggs takes the Roman classic and gives it a contemporary twist. Organic eggs are at the heart of this varied menu.

Eggs, Trastevere

Eggs, Trastevere

Prosciutteria Cantina dei Papi: Modestly priced, this cute prosciutteria is an amazing stop for a grazing platter, with aged meats hanging from the ceiling to add to the ambience and the house wine a perfect accompaniment.

Prosciutteria Cantina dei Papi

Prosciutteria Cantina dei Papi

Time to get touring:

Rome is smaller than one may imagine. In fact, if you’re reasonably fit, getting yourself in front of all of the major ‘must see’ sites isn’t as difficult as you may think.

No stop in Rome is complete without going by to the see the big man in Vatican City. Plus, you’ll also get bragging rights of hopping between two countries. There’s even a post office you can send mail from!

Lisa Vecchio in Vatican City

Lisa Vecchio in Vatican City

You can easily spend a whole day in the Vatican Museums sandwiched between hordes of tourists. If you’re short on time, my friend Jen recommends doing the Livitaly Early Entrance Vatican Small Group Tour. As it offers early access, you’ll start the day at 7:30 am, avoiding the crowds and getting exclusive views of the Sistine Chapel and ancient Roman sculptures. The tour only takes max 6 people but lucky for her she had the guide to herself!

From Vatican City, it’s a short walk over Ponte Principe Amedeo Savoia Aosta heading straight toward Piazza Navona. Take a few snaps in front of the famous Baroque Roman architecture and the beautiful Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers.

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

Gelato in Pizza Navona

Gelato in Pizza Navona

Continue on to the magnificent former Roman temple, the Pantheon. Entrance is free, they just insist that you remain quiet as you stare into the oculus (hole) in the ceiling of the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.

Next onto the famous Trevi Foundation, always stunning, especially in the sunlight. Legend says if you throw a coin into the fountain with your right hand over your left shoulder you’ll return to Rome one day. I guess the coin I threw in when I was 15 worked, as I couldn’t believe how much I had overlooked the magnificence of this city previously.

Trevi Foundation, Roma

Trevi Foundation, Roma

Depending on how much time you have left in the day, head South where you’ll catch the sunset against the Coliseum. It’s breathtaking. You likely won’t have enough time to do a full tour of it now, but you’ll at least get some awesome shots while deciding when to come back later.

Coliseum at sunset

Coliseum at sunset

It’s likely you’ll be hungry at this point!

Eat in the heart of Rome

Figuratively, not literally.

I can’t recommend Eating Italy Food Tours enough, having also done a Craft Beer and Food Tasting Tour in Prague with them last November. Italian born, American bred Sebastiana led us through her local neighbourhood of Testaccio, the heart of Rome. This is not because it’s centrally located, but it is because it contains the old port where the bulk of Roman food entered the city back in the day, making it the epicentre for butchers and as a result, dishes made of offal.

Go out of your way to visit:

MASTO: This is a neighbourhood eatery at its best, serving only locally sourced meats and cheeses, so much that if the owner Rita and her husband don’t know where it’s from personally, they’re not supplying it. Having won two free glasses of wine on our tour, we knew that coming back to Masto on Sunday afternoon to eat our way out of the country before flying back to London was the only option as the prosciutto was the best Jen ever had! The polpetto (meatballs) were amazing as well.

Masto Testaccio

Masto Testaccio

Polpetto at Masto, Testaccio

Polpetto at Masto, Testaccio

Ristorante Angelina: The old slaughterhouse on the Tiber River, now converted into a cool community arts space, is the heart of this neighbourhood. Steps away is Ristorante Angelina, specializing in in Rome’s famous quinto quarto (offal). I tried the coda alla vaccinara (oxtail) and the trippa alla romana (tripe), an acquired taste to say the least. It’s an eccentric place none the less and the menu is balanced for those less adventurous.

Trapizzino: When it comes to street food Trapizzino is taking over by storm, they’ve even gone international to NYC’s Lower East Side. Picture a pizza crust triangle sandwich stuffed with the likes of your most savoury favourites. Couple your bite with their local craft beer and it’s a late-night muncher’s dream.

Trapizzino, Italian Street Food

Trapizzino, Italian Street Food

Giolitti: Hands down the best Gelato I ever tasted, and I’m not the first to say it. Serving since 1914, know how to handle the grumpy owner, always pick two flavours that complement each other, and if he asks if you want la panna (whipped cream), always respond with a “si”. We came back here twice!

Gelato served at Giolitti, Testaccio

Gelato served at Giolitti, Testaccio

So, those are my quick wins. Initially hesitant to go to Rome in January as it would be cold, I would highly recommend taking advantage of the offseason, escaping the hordes of tourists and experiencing Rome in its most authentic state. Just make sure you do yourself the courtesy and always get real gelato, not the powered fake stuff you’ll find on most corners.

Hint, you can tell by the colour, if it’s not natural (i.e. a banana is white, not yellow on the inside), it ain’t real!

Eating Prague Craft Beer & Food Tasting Tour


With Prague being one of the top beer destinations in Europe, one doesn’t need to go too far within the city walls to taste a beautiful pint of Pilsner. However, as it boasts more and more tourists each year, what can be difficult to find is a decent drinking hole that only locals know about.

There are countless beer and food tours in Prague, ranging from cheap pub crawls to multi-sensory foodie experiences. When I surprised my two friends with a trip to the “city of a hundred spires”, I wanted the right balance of beer education, delicious food and of course, some fun. Luckily, I stumbled upon Eating Prague Tours, Craft Beer and Food Tasting Tour (previously Brews with Views), and never looked back.

I had done my research before we set off, and was pleasantly surprised to visit a number of places I had already earmarked on my list. Without this tour though, I likely wouldn’t have visited them all simply because we might have deemed them ‘too far’ out of our way or sidetracked doing something else. Most importantly, we would have missed out on all the fascinating education we experienced being led around by our local, Jan!

Eating Prague Tours Guide Jan

Eating Prague Tours Guide Jan

Our meeting point was at 2:30 on Loď Pivovar. I had heard a lot about this craft brewery that’s literally situated on a boat, tanks and all! It’s an awesome place to spend the afternoon looking out onto the river, where the 3 of us enjoyed their standard 3 beers all varying in degrees (Legie 10 degrees, Republika 12 degrees, and Monarchie 13 degrees), the dark one (Monarchie) the most memorable with coffee and chocolate undertones. Rumor has it that the brewer was previously employed at the famous tourist spot U Fleku, was let go after years of loyalty, so stole the recipe for their famous dark beer and brought it over, and it tastes worlds better. But that just may be a tall tale. 😉

 

No tasting would be completed without a food pairing and the roasted barley served hot with butter and salt was the perfect beer snack. Goodbye popcorn and peanuts, hello barley. Secondly, we read a bit about pickled fish and cheese in advance, so when a jar with clear liquid, some vegetables and two big brown blobs were presented we weren’t quite sold initially yet were intrigued. But after trying one bite of the previously battered and fried pickled fish cake (meatballs) I was a convert. I would go back for more right now it was so darn delicious.

We spent the first hour or so getting to know Jan and the basics of the Czech beer world. The rise of craft beer is so steady that Jan claims that 1 new craft brewery opens a week in the Czech Republic, adding to the already 370 craft brewers in the country. This a warm welcome to contradict some of the big-name players likes Staropramen, who Jan depicts as officially the worst beer in the country, as they replaced yeast with syrup when they began to mass produce under Anheuser-Busch.

Maso A Kobliha

Maso A Kobliha

We were then taken to a more residential area where we stopped off at Maso A Kobliha, the home to a well-known British butcher to taste his Scotch eggs accompanied with an American Pale Ale, Matuška Apollo Galaxy, a brewery in Broumy, Czech Republic. This cute spot off the beaten path is a great place to also stop for brunch or a coffee, and are also specifically known for their donuts. It was here that I learned about three distinct tastes in beer and how they vary based on origin. For example, Czech and German beer favor malt, US and British beers favor hops, and Belgian beers favor yeast. Think about it and have a big long sip, and it’s evident!

Scotch eggs from Maso A Kobliha

Scotch eggs from Maso A Kobliha

Another one on my list was T-Anker, known for its great views over Old Town Prague, and its collaboration with the oldest brewery in the world, Brenvov. We each told Jan what style we preferred, Penny was sticking with dark, Sophie was going for sweet, and I was keen for a Permon Winter Ale. We had a long chat at that point about what it was like to brew under communism, and Jan shared some personal stories too about growing up in the 80s when they brewed under (and still do) decoction mash, something every super beer connoisseur should know, which means the process is not automated and water or heat isn’t added to the Mash Tun. The results are proven to be more flavorful.

Naše maso famous hotdogs

Naše maso famous hotdogs

Sister's open-faced sandwiches

Sister’s open-faced sandwiches

Our next stop off was to the celebrated Naše maso butchers for a world-famous hot dog accompanied with handmade ketchup and mustard. As Sophie is a vegetarian, we also popped across to Sister’s, a cheap and cute bistro serving the classic open-face sandwiches (herring all the way!), both places of which were on my list! As we walked, ate and talked we were advised that white Czech wine was safe to drink and reasonably good, but watch out for the red, which is known to be so bad it is usually mixed with coke.

 

On our way to what was officially our last stop on the tour, Jan popped into family-run Perníčkův sen (The Gingerbread man’s dream), to give us a personalized Prague Food Tour gingerbread cookie to celebrate the traditional food craft of the region, which I had no regrets of devouring on my way home in the early hours after a day full of pints.

Tiny mugs at PIPA, Beer Story, Prague

Tiny mugs at PIPA, Beer Story, Prague

We finished off at Beer Story, also known as PIPA, which was one of my favorite stops full of Czech and global beers. Jan led us through the history of Czech brewing, trying everything from wheat beer, to Bernard Dark, to pilsner, and Trautenberk APA, each served out of teeny tiny beer mugs. We definitely overstayed our tour allotment but Jan being the friendly and caring guide that he was continued to pour and pour till it just got too late. Before wishing us well he introduced us to Bonvivant cocktail bar, set to the tone of a 1920’s New York speakeasy, where young Michael took care of us until the early hours, providing great service and way too much absinthe.

Absinthe served at BonVivant, Prague

Absinthe served at BonVivant, Prague

For anyone in Prague interested in learning more about the huge influence beer has had in Prague, and the Czech Republic as a whole, I highly recommend Prague Food Tours and our guide Jan!

Nostravi, cheers to your health!

Nostravi, cheers to your health!

Nostravi, cheers to your health!

Outstanding in the Field, Burgundy, France


Outstanding in the field is a foodie’s dream. Turning the notion of dining out on its head, instead of bringing the farm to a restaurant’s table, they bring the restaurant to the field. Their mission is to “re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.”

Sounds enticing, doesn’t it?

Outstanding in the Field, Burgundy, France

Starting out in 1999 in California by artist and chef Jim Denevan, Outstanding in the Field was one of the early pioneers to try a such a crazy idea before it was cool for pops ups and food trucks to roam the country. They’re now in their 14th year with 87 events alone this season and have held events in all 50 states as well as 14 countries. My friend Emily has been waiting years for them to come to Europe and I was lucky enough to join them for their first event in Burgundy, France.

Welcome to Outstanding in the Field

We were dropped off in the middle of the vines of Domaine Lebreuil where we were greeted by General Manager Eden before joining the other 80 guests for canapés and generous pours of third-generation winemaker Jean-Baptiste Lebreuil’s selection. I was keenly interested in finding out where everyone was from, there were a few French and English accents I could hear, but the event was overpowered by faithful advocates who traveled all the way over to Europe from the US. That’s some effort!

Canapes 
House-made marbled ham
Salmon gravlax with Fallot mustard
Vegetable tart with a mousse of Fromagerie Delin Delice de Pommard
Beetroot salad with Emmanuelle Bailard Farm back currants and crunchy peanuts
2013 Domaine Lebreuil “Dessus des Gollardes” Blanc
2013 Domaine Lebreuil “Aux Grands Liards” Rouge

Canapes at Outstanding in the field

After Eden shared the history of the program and why we were all standing in the middle of nowhere, 41-year-old Jean-Baptiste followed up with a humble and humorous welcome. “I am so happy we are all here in the earth of Burgundy,” he shared. He was clearly very excited to meet everyone and host his first of this kind, and “for the weather since harvest is next week!” It was a hot day for sure.

Jean-Baptiste Lebreuil

We walked straight through the Grand Cru vines to find a long table set in the middle of the vineyard. You were even welcomed to bring your own plate, but for those of us who hadn’t, we picked through the colorful stack before taking a seat to start our meal prepared by Michelin starred chef David Le Comte of Kook’In.

Domaine Lebreuil

Dinner
Club sandwich with tomato, hard-boiled egg, cocktail sauce, parmesan, bacon & Truites De L’ube GAEC trout

Club Sandwich

Bourguignon perch with espelette butter with grilled Eric Roy Farm seasonal vegetables
2015 Domaine Lebreuil Premiere Cru “Aux Clous” Blanc

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Ligny Farm poultry prepared in the style of Gaston Gerard with roasted Farmer Bruno Grenailles potatoes
2015 Domaine Lebreuil Premiere Cru “Aux Clous” Rouge

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Petite Louisette Charolais beef grilled in the style of Bourguignone with ratatouille
2014 Domaine Lebreuil “Les Boutieres” Rouge

Beef with ratatouille

Assortment of Burgundian cheeses with pain d’epices: Brillat Savarin, Epoisses, Comte, Mulot & Petit Jean
Cheesecake with Emmanuelle Baillard Farm black currents

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The wine pours were generous and Jean-Baptiste even brought out a magnum to share with his guests. He truly was a pleasure to meet and speak to.

Lisa & Jean-Baptiste

So what did I think? If I’m honest, I was disappointed with the food. It could have been the fact that it was nearly 90F degrees and therefore the fish was overcooked, the chicken undercooked, and steak so fatty I couldn’t even get it down.

But what I will praise is our friendly and fun waiter Percy; Jean-Baptiste and his wines; the carrots and vegetables which accompanied the fish were out of this world; and the cheese, OMG!!! Plus that fact that I was lucky to be in a beautiful vineyard in the middle of Cote de Beaune, Burgandy.

Lisa Vecchio Burgundy France

Lastly, the event was poorly organized from a logistics perspective (except for the excellent porter-loo facilities). When the meal ended at around 10 pm most guests made their way to an after party at Jean-Baptiste’s chateaux. We would have loved to join but weren’t quite sure if were invited, and therefore, stood in the pitch black dark in the field scrambling to figure out how to get the one taxi in town to come get us in the middle of a vineyard, literally. Finally one did, for the price of 30 Euro to go 3 kilometers down the road.

I would consider going again because who doesn’t love drinking copious amounts of wine in a beautiful setting while making new friends and tasting some fantastic local grub. But for the steep cost of $250 USD, I’d give it a proper consideration before forking over the cash again. Thanks Outstanding in the Field for a fun dining experience!

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Why Santorini Should Be On Your Bucketlist


Santorini, one of the most stunning Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea, is an obvious choice for one to have on their bucket list. Whitewashed luxury hotels, infinity pools, and blue domed churches create what looks like a sandcastle drizzle cake on the side of volcanic mountain cliffs jetting over the deep blue ocean.

Firostefani, Santorini

Firostefani, Santorini

This alone is what makes this unique destination one of the most Instagrammed places in the world. On my bucket list for some time, when Steph and I rattled our brains for a sunny European destination neither of us has been to (which is more difficult than it sounds), Santorini was the obvious choice.

On the one side of the island you have small beaches made up of black, red and white lava pebbles. But the heart of Santorini is in the Caldera towns such as the capital Fira, and more picturesque villages of Imerovigli, Firostefani and Oia.

The Caldera, Oia, Santorini

The Caldera, Oia, Santorini

I had my heart set on staying in Fira, being the capital and all, it seemed the place to be. But one thing that became apparent very quickly is that Santorini is not an inexpensive getaway. After doing some initial research, we simply couldn’t afford to stay in any decent accommodation in Fira for our modest budget.

Oia was our next option. Noted for the best sunsets on the island and for those looking for a romantic corner of the earth, tourists flood through the narrow cobblestone streets to catch a glimpse of the red and orange hues over the sea while enjoying an upmarket meal perched deep in the Caldera. After sunset, the crowds flock to see the cliff-side Caldera lit up at night and to peruse the high-end shops before the streets become quiet.

Sunset, Aperanto Suites

Sunset, Aperanto Suites

Luckily we found Aperanto Suites, a brand new property in Finikia just a short 10-minute walk to Oia. There were minimal reviews which made us apprehensive, but after seeing how comfy the luxe blow up pool loungers looked in the photos, it was worth a gamble. And we have no regrets. The place was immaculate, with an infinity pool overlooking the dusty, barren earth below with the sea in the distance. Each morning we would wake to a knock at our door, with breakfast served poolside, accompanied with a glass of champagne (just don’t forget to complete the breakfast form the night before).

Poolside, Aperanto Suites

Poolside, Aperanto Suites

We spent our days lazing by the pool, getting the much-needed relaxation and Vitamin D we purposely escaped our jobs to achieve. At night, we’d walk into the town for a gorgeous Greek meal of moussaka and chicken souvlaki to catch up on our separate lives in London and Sydney. It was a hard balance to find somewhere moderately affordable, opting for modest tavernas like Pelekanos (watermelon, halloumi and fig salad, fresh sea bream, and chicken and cream cheese) and killer cocktails at Oia Gefsis over more renowned restaurants, but then what Greek food isn’t delicious (hint: check out the baklava at Melenio, trust me)! Just make sure wherever you go to book a reservation in advance, especially if you want a sunset view table.

Baklava, Melenio Bakery, Oia

Baklava, Melenio Bakery, Oia

The best part of the trip was hiking from Oia to Fira. Despite strong suggestions of wearing sturdy shoes, taking plenty of water and leaving before the day got too hot (all of which is common sense), we stupidly chose to start our expedition midday. The path entrance was conveniently just behind the bus stop across from our hotel, but immediately after starting off uphill in the scorching heat we quickly realized this would be no small feat. We climbed up steep, rugged hills on dry, rocky dirt paths, catching our breath as we passed tired donkeys and exclusive luxury villas that made us ooze with jealousy and happy that we didn’t go too cheap and cheerful. Santorini is not the type of place you want to cheap out and we found our accommodation to be perfect for what we needed. Otherwise, we’d only be even more envious of the stunning properties parading in our face.

Domed church, Santorini

Domed church, Santorini

We passed churches and hugged the rugged coastline, snapping pics of what you only see on postcards. The whole stretch was 9 miles and took about 3.5 hours. Getting closer to our finish, we stopped in the small, picturesque town of Imerovigli. If I would go again, I’d also suggest staying here. Lunch at Mezzo was one of the best meals we had, untraditionally Greek, the Tropical and Popeye’s salads were something I’d go back just to enjoy again, plus the ocean view over the Venetian Castle and the volcano wasn’t too shabby either. Luckily at this point on our trek, it was only another 45 minutes to Fira and a really enjoyable part of the journey. The uphill battle was long behind us and the remainder led us through the small village of Firostefani, with more whitewashed villas stacked on top of each other with aqua blue pools to contrast the white and make us rush to get our phones out for some more Instagram worthy snaps.

Magnificent Santorini

Magnificent Santorini

We spent the evening in Fira, exploring the capital and taking advantage of the nightlife that doesn’t really exist anywhere else on the island. After seeing chains like McDonalds and Sephora next door to fish spas (the kind where they eat the dead skin off your toes) and ice cream stands, it made me so happy that we made the right choice in staying somewhere beautiful and quiet off the beaten path. The two old men who served us at the traditional tavern Camille Steffani were so friendly, and after devouring the stuffed cabbage and vine leaves, I can see why this place is still a hit after getting its start in the 70s, despite there is no sunset view.

View from Firostefani

View from Firostefani

Nightspots like Koo Club and Enigma are open to the early hours, but a few 12 Euro Aperol Spritz and some poppy dancing with the trendsetters in our hiking gear was all I needed before calling it a night. With apparently only 44 cabs on the whole island, I was more concerned with making sure we got a cab before the clubs let out and I was forced to scarf down an unnecessary gyro while queuing for one. Does this mean I’m getting old? Luckily, 2 am isn’t late enough to warrant such demand and 20 Euro later we were back in the outskirts of Oia, happy we did the hike in reverse and got the hard bit done first.

On our final day we joined Santorini Sailing on the catamaran Dream Catcher to take a dip in the sea and to witness the beaches we yet had time to visit. I thought I heard a familiar accent when boarding, as Captain Ted is a fellow New Jersian (Bergen County), and has been spending half the year in Santorini running his lucrative business and the other half with his family in the states for the last 20 years. Not a bad life.

Ammoudi Bay

Ammoudi Bay

The trip started in Ammoudi Bay, the one place I wish we had more time to explore as the Ammoudi Fish Tavern is meant to be pretty spectacular. We let the sun scorch our bodies as we sunbathed on the boat’s front ropes, then made a few stops to dip into the Aegean, including passing the volcano and stopping off to swim in the hot springs and at Red Beach. The best part of the trip (and what makes it worth the money) was not only the unlimited local Greek white wine I generously helped myself to, but the meal served while we watched the sunset. Fresh Greek salad, olive dip, and eggplant were to start, and I only wish I had more room in me (and wasn’t in a bikini) to further devour the chicken and pork served with fresh tzatziki that even now makes my mouth water thinking of it.

Under the Caldera, Oia

Under the Caldera, Oia

Santorini had been on my bucket list for years, and I had always put it off as somewhere overpriced and touristy. It’s true, you’ll find quieter Greek islands elsewhere where the hordes of tourists don’t exist and you don’t have to spend a pretty penny, but I would definitely go again, maybe for a future romantic getaway or to explore the ruins of Akrotiri Archaeological Site. And when I do go back, an infinity pool deep in the Caldera and a visit to the wineries is the only way to do it.

Lisa Vecchio, Santorini, Greece

Lisa Vecchio, Santorini, Greece

My Introduction to Scotch


Do you know the difference between whisky and whiskey? It’s just one of the many things I learned on a recent trip to the Scottish Highlands to wet my palate with a dram or two…or three. So, if you don’t know, the Irish and Americans spell it with an ‘e’; and the Scots don’t.

Scotch on display

Scotch on display at Oban Distillery

Immediately after getting off the plane in Inverness I was hit with really strong winds and fresh air. Oh Scotland, how I’ve missed you. I didn’t mentally prepare for the feeling of being brought back to when I lived in Edinburgh for a month when I was 20. But this time was different, I was deep in Lochness Monster territory after all, and there strictly for the whisky.

I met up with four friends from Australia for the ultimate road trip. There would be lots of driving through lush, beautiful remote areas, hiking and frolicking amongst nature, and of course, my first proper introduction to the world of Scotch.

Welcome to Inverness

Welcome to Inverness

So what makes a scotch a scotch? Well, the production of water and malted barley which is matured in oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years within Scotland and made to a specific law. Easy enough. Oh, and single malt means it’s from the same distillery.

Inverness & Lochness 

Welcome to Ness Vegas

Welcome to Ness Vegas

If you’re in for some entertainment head to Ness Vegas and check out the decor at B&B Gleninver Guest House. Our host Mandy was friendly, offering suggestions of where to go in town (Hootananny for awesome live Scottish music, bagpipes and all). She greeted us with champagne, as the five of us huddled into one room with black and white Marilyn Monroe wallpaper, and we left her after a full Scottish breakfast, black pudding and haggis included. But aside from the welcoming stay, Inverness was surprisingly a party city.

River Ness, Inverness

River Ness, Inverness

Live music at Hootananny, Inverness

Live music at Hootananny, Inverness

We instead made our way to Lochness to search for Nessie, the famed Lochness Monster and explored the ruins of Urquhart Castle while playing with old swords before setting on for a four-hour journey heading off of the mainland. There’s only one way to road trip in Scotland, and that’s with mini bottles of whisky to taste in the back seat, bypassing waterfalls and stunning scenery and dancing to the bagpipes of upbeat Scottish band Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Don’t forget to slow down when there’s sheep on the road though and keep your eyes peeled for a long haired highland cow! 

Lisa meets a long haired Scottish cow

Lisa meets a long haired Scottish cow

The Misty Isle

The Isle of Skye is a magical place. Remote and desolate, it’s brimming with natural beauty and enchanted, rugged landscapes. Calm lochs, towering mountains, and scenery you only see on postcards made the whole journey jaw dropping.

Fairy Glen landscape, Isle of Skye

Fairy Glen landscape, Isle of Skye

We stayed at the Old Inn & Waterfront Bunkhouse in Carbost, set overlooking a beautiful loch with the Culillin Hills in the distance. The location was a convenient two-minute walk to Talisker Distillery, who provided a very educational tour and a dram of their rich, and evenly balanced sweet and smoky Talisker 10.

The Old Inn, Carbost, Isle of Skye

The Old Inn, Carbost, Isle of Skye

While we received a bit of a cold welcoming from one particular staff member at the Old Inn, who remained that way for our two-night stay, I still would highly rate the visit for both their amazing, locally sourced menu, including fresh mussels, mackerel, juicy steak, scallops and more, as well as bartender Calum, who patiently poured me whisky after whisky each night while I educated my palate. Not that I’m impartial to a cute bartender or anything. We sat around listening to the sound of live fiddling performed by locals in the bar while chatting to friendly old Scottish men, bitter that the English have taken over the Isle.

Hanging on Loch Harport, Isle of Skye

Hanging on Loch Harport, Isle of Skye

Another reason for being on the Isle is to explore the great outdoors. My favorite spot was The Fairy Glen; majestic, spongey grass, unusual and lush cone-shaped hills above the village of Uig, perfect for exploring on a sunny summer’s afternoon running around like school children. In more recent years, visitors come to move the natural rocks around to make spiral shapes on the ground, or piled high into pyramids, which provide a stunning view from the top of the grassy hills.

Jump for joy, Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Jump for joy, Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Rock formations, Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Rock formations, Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

Further on the topic of fairies are The Fairy Pools, a beautiful natural waterfall phenomenon in Glen Brittle. We were lucky for another sunny day which made the hike along the small and stunning rock pools a glorious way to spend the afternoon.

Fairy Pools waterfalls, Isle of Skye

Fairy Pools waterfalls, Isle of Skye

After road touring the Quiraing mountains, we somehow missed this popular hike, we stopped off in the harbor town of Portree. At the Merchant’s Inn, a pint of Isle of Skye Brewing Co’s IPA made me melt, followed by fresh fish and chips on the pier in front of pastel covered shops. I definitely recommend a stop through Portree.

Fish and chips in Portree, Isle of Skye

Fish and chips in Portree, Isle of Skye

Oban (O-bin)

Sunset in Oban

Sunset in Oban

What a town, this “little bay” (translated from Gaelic), truly is. Cute and picturesque, with striking views over the Firth of Lorn to the Isle of Mull. The perfect place to grab a sunset snap. Even better, it’s the seafood capital of Scotland! The place to be is the green seafood shack out on the ferry pier where they shell out plate after plate of fresh lobster, oysters, mussels, crab, fish, you name it, and oh is it deliciously fresh.

Green seafood stall, Oban

Green seafood stall, Oban

Skip McCaig’s Tower, the random fortress at the top of the city to commemorate John Stuart McCaig, whoever he is, as the most interesting thing is the view. Instead, check out Alice Strange Gallery on the way down the steep hill for some interesting screen prints and funky crafts.

Otherwise, spend your time at the Oban Distillery who gave a stand out tour (shhh, it was way better than Talisker). Young Euan cracked jokes as we learned why this small distillery is so stand out, and one of my favorites to drink. Their signature takeaway was a complimentary tasting glass, definitely a keeper, as well as the crystallized ginger we tasted along with the Oban 14.

Oban Distillery

Oban Distillery

Free whisky! If you register on Discovering Distilleries you receive a friend of the distillery voucher that gets you into both for FREE!

So what did I try? A lot! Neat, on the rocks and with a drop of water just to get a feel for how the taste can change. Good whisky is so cheap in Scotland there’s no reason to go expensive. A decent one is the cost of a pint. But these were a few of my favorites in no particular order, however, those (that I remember) are my favorite are starred. I like both a balanced whisky with some sweetness, but also something smoky and peaty is hard to say no to now as well. What can I say, I’m a convert.

  • Ardbeg ***
  • Coal Ila 12 ***
  • Belvenie
  • Bowmore
  • Bunnahabhain
  • Dalmore
  • Glenmorangie ***
  • Highland Park
  • Jura
  • Laphroaig
  • Oban 14 ***
  • Scapa
  • Talisker 10
  • Tomatin Legacy
  • Tomatin 12
  • And many more I can’t remember