Cefalu or Mondello?


When making a trip to the motherland, it can be difficult to visit the best of Sicily in a short space of time. Cefalu (Chef-a-lu) however, is one destination I have no regrets for choosing. There’s no other word to describe it, absolutely perfect. The fresh pasta, seafood and hello… cannolis, rich history, exquisite architecture combined with crystal clear beaches – you can’t go wrong and without a doubt, I’ll be back.

Porta Pescara, Cefalu
Porta Pescara, Cefalu

So it’s interesting how we ended up in Cefalu. You see, when my boyfriend Jamie gifted me a roundtrip flight to Palermo for Christmas, that’s where he intended to go. Palermo – end of the line. (We’ll just casually brush aside that my family roots are from the Catania metropolis near the base of Mt. Etna.) But once I started going down a rabbit hole of researching the best and must-visits of the Palermo region, Cefalu was a choice I couldn’t ignore.

For Sicilians, summer months are spent at the beach. The streets of Palermo become deserted as locals head out to Mondello and the surrounding beaches for the day. To give them credit, a Sicilian tan is a hefty goal I’m not ashamed to aim for either. But I started stumbling across forum after forum posing the almighty question:

Which beach town is better, Mondello or Cefalu?!

Mondello is local. It’s only 15-minutes from downtown Palermo and has some of the most stunning coastline you’ll ever see. Period. But public transportation in Sicily is horrendously unreliable, driving is a death-sentence and taking a taxi is sacrilegious. Staying downtown in Palermo during the evening and sunning ourselves on Mondello’s beaches in the afternoon just wasn’t feasible as a tourist over a five-day period. 

Cefalu on the other hand offers the best of both worlds. Known as one of the finest resort towns in Italy, it combines remarkable beaches with an authentic, historical and visually mesmerising center all in one small village. Plus, it’s only an hour direct train from Palermo (6.20 Euro) so it was beyond easy to combine the two destinations. 

Cefalu Esplanade
Cefalu Esplanade

My favourite part of Cefalu was simply – all of it – looking at it, eating in it, and living amongst it. We stayed at Hotel Riva Del Sole (and loved Pasticceria Gelateria Tentazioni Giuseppe next door for a daily espresso pick me up). The hotel was modest and slightly dated but had a rooftop and balcony overlooking the sea and the service was friendly enough. There are also many affordable Airbnbs overlooking the seafront to consider as well. 

Hotel Riva Del Sole, Cefalu
Hotel Riva Del Sole, Cefalu

So when in Cefalu it’s perfectly acceptable, in fact, assumed that you’ll be sunning on the beach during the day, sipping an aperitif at sunset and socialising in the main piazza after a late dinner in town. 

Being in Cefalu felt like a proper holiday. We’d put our daybed request in the night before (25-30 Euro for two beds and an umbrella for the day) at Lido Pura Vida as we had a 20% discount through our hotel, but there are many that line the beach if you arrive early enough, and spent all day sipping Sicilian Morettis and taking a welcome relief from the hot sun in the aqua blue water. 

Lido Pura Vida, Cefalu
Lido Pura Vida, Cefalu

Grinning from ear to ear…

Lisa Vecchio, Cefalu Beach
Lisa Vecchio, Cefalu Beach

“Do you love it? Because I love it. I mean I really love it! Look at this water though! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is the best place in the world.”

The sand soft on your toes (after you get over the first few feet of rocks), the water shallow and warm on your body – even better, no weird bits. Floating with not a care in the world, looking back at the charming Porta Pescara hugging the coastline, the cathedral standing high and the mesmerising backdrop of La Rocca mountain towering over the town (if only we had time to climb it), it was bliss.

Cefalu Beach
Cefalu Beach

Eating in Sicily is an event in itself, but eating in Cefalu is an experience.

You’ll never accomplish it all your first time around as there is just too much choice. Dining on seafood in the open air, watching the sunset while sipping an aperitif, and letting the hours run away from you while listening to live music under the evening lights of the Duomo. Pure magic.

The streets of Cefalu
The streets of Cefalu

They say cannoli a day keeps the doctor away! No, not really but I still had a minimum one a day just in case. 

Cannoli from TINCHITE' Taverna & Putia
Cannoli from TINCHITE’ Taverna & Putia

Where we ate in Cefalu

Al Gabbiano is the first place we ate when we arrived in Cefalu and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Overlooking the busy beachfront, the fresh seafood with homemade pasta, exquisite yet affordable Sicilian rose and friendly service made our experience here a memorable first impression. 

Lisa Vecchio, Al Gabbiano, Cefalu
Lisa Vecchio, Al Gabbiano, Cefalu

Enoteca le Petit Tonneau is a very small enoteca with one of the best sunset views in town. Snag one of the 3 tables on the veranda to devour charcuterie and a carafe of wine. The place itself is instaworthy but has limited capacity so book ahead. 

Sunset, Enoteca le Petit Tonneau, Cefalu
Sunset, Enoteca le Petit Tonneau, Cefalu
Charcuterie plater, Enoteca le Petit Tonneau, Cefalu
Charcuterie platter, Enoteca le Petit Tonneau, Cefalu

Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu – the food was delicious but honestly, even during the day when we felt very underdressed in our bathers considering the upmarket decour, the view outside took our breath away and all our shame went with it. Anywhere on this street you won’t be disappointed dining during the day or at sunset considering the location. 

The terrace at Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu
The terrace at Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu
The view at Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu
The view at Ristorante Kentia al Trappitu

Bar Duomo has been one of the most popular food destinations in all of Cefalu since 1952. It’s best known for its gelato and desserts, but it’s also perfect for cocktails and people watching to the beat of live jazz under the lights of the town’s famous cathedral. With my ultimate dream combo of negroni and cannoli in hand, I was in heaven. 

Bar Duomo, Cefalu
Bar Duomo, Cefalu

TINCHITE’ Taverna & Putia was recommended by a local and so we tried their tasting menu. Frankly, we found it very filling but a bit overrated as it was quite modern. The cannoli here was one of my favorites, but we preferred to dine more traditionally for the remainder of our trip. 

Tasting menu at TINCHITE' Taverna & Putia
Tasting menu at TINCHITE’ Taverna & Putia

Where to eat in Cefalu (that we missed out on):

Bastione is a centre of innovation, food and culture. It’s reputation suggests it’s meant to be an amazing experience of learning about the area from a sustainable perspective, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to splurge on their tasting menu at Bastione & Costanza.

Ristorante e pizzeria Baglio del Falco is set in a rustic garden just outside Cefalu center. We considered taking a taxi just to experience this setting (which has great reviews) but ultimately decided to stay local. 

Cortile Pepe and Le Chat Noir are very close to the cathedral and also came recommended by locals but as I’ve mentioned, in Cefalu there’s too much choice and often not enough time. 

After leaving Cefalu we had two nights in the center of Palermo, and even made the day trip (we took the forbidden taxi) to Mondello. I’ll tell you about it in my next blog. But the moral of this story is… I love Cefalu. I love Sicily. And I will be back!

Sunset, Cefalu Beach
Sunset, Cefalu Beach

Top of my list to visit in Sicily include:

  • Taormina
  • Catania
  • Linguaglossa (where my heritage is from)
  • Favignana
  • Syracusa
  • Trapani
  • And the list goes on….
Romantic Sunset, Enoteca le Petit Tonneau, Cefalu
Romantic Sunset, Enoteca le Petit Tonneau, Cefalu

To Margate, With Love From London


For Londoners, a getaway to the quintessential English seaside is the ultimate summer thrill – that is when you’re on lockdown and leaving the country isn’t really an option. Fish and chips by the sea, sunbathing near brightly coloured beach sheds and devouring rock candy to the sound of children in arcades is just what the doctor ordered. Here are the highlights from our staycation in the seaside towns of Margate and Broadstairs in Kent.

Family holiday in Broadstairs, Kent

A train from London Victoria to Margate is a breezy 1 hour 50 minutes, even faster when going at high speed via St Pancras. Pack the bag full of snacks and it beats flying any day. Margate has a history with Londoners, being a leading seaside resort over the centuries it has also had its highs and lows. In fact, it went from being quite dishevelled and rundown with the closure of vintage theme park Dreamland but has had its revival since it reopened and is now very popular with Londoners chasing housing prices that can actually put them on the property ladder. It’s nicknamed Shoreditch-by-the-sea, inundated by a culture-lead generation of East London hipsters who have chosen life in a quiet seaside town over the hustle of the big smoke.

Dreamland, Margate

But that’s not all that makes Margate an ideal destination for a short holiday. Sure, it’s got a massive main beach and a host of great seafood restaurants, but also tucked away in Old Town you’ll find an abundance of quirky antique and vintage shops and a fair share of funky bars and hipster hangouts. With the 2011 opening of the Turner Contemporary gallery – named for the painter who visited the town throughout his life, it truly is living up to its reputation as an artists hub.

Old Town, Margate

Old Town, Margate

Situated between Margate and Ramsgate, one could say that neighbouring Broadstairs is an even more ideal coastal town. Along with its connection to author Charles Dickens, it’s known as one of the most popular destinations to live by the seaside and I can absolutely see why. It’s family-friendly beaches such as Viking Bay and Joss Bay are a much more pleasant way to avoid the daytrippers on Margate’s main sands. Souvenir shops, ice cream parlours and shacks selling floaties, buckets and spades line the beach at Viking Bay. The Pavillion, Charles Dickens and Royal Albion (which also doubles as a lovely hotel) are great places to have a decent meal and refreshing beer overlooking the seafront, yet there are a plethora of fine places to dine. On a clear day, you can apparently see Dunkirk, France across the sea. 

Pirates Bay, Broadstairs

Viking Bay, Broadstairs

The Pavilion, BROADSTAIRS

The Pavilion, BROADSTAIRS

Art gallery, Broadstairs

Art gallery, Broadstairs

Where to stay in Margate:

About a 25-minute walk into Margate (or a cheap £3 taxi), the beautiful Walpole Bay Hotel in Cliftonville was originally built in 1914 and continues to be restored to its original glory, including a working 1927 Otis Trellis elevator. Walpole’s long bay is famous for its tidal pool, literally, a pool built into the sea only a stone’s throw from the hotel, where walking the concrete border during low tide is a pastime we had to partake in. The hotel is also a living museum, with artefacts and antiques throughout, it’s like stepping back into a bygone era. The beautiful veranda, covered with brightly coloured flowers is the perfect spot to enjoy afternoon tea. 

Walpole Bay Hotel

Walpole Bay Hotel

1927 Otis Trellis lift, Walpole Bay Hotel

1927 Otis Trellis lift, Walpole Bay Hotel

Walpole Bay Tidal Pool

We were absolutely delighted with the attentive service and our stay overall. Just a word of warning, as with most hotels in England, there is no air conditioning and a small fan did not provide much relief from the sweltering August heat. 

Activities for kids in Margate:

The rides at Dreamland are currently closed due to COVID-19, but there’s the famous Grade I listed Shell Grotto and a variety of amusements such as the Flamingo Arcade, which also has Lost Island mini-golf situated underground making it a great option for a rainy day. The Shell Grotto currently has a book ahead requirement with the new COVID restrictions which meant we left it a bit too late to knab a booking. As for the Flamingo, it also shares an arcade in Broadstairs so our tickets were interchangeable between the two which helped to secure a much doted on prize for the little one. Plus, Jamie is pretty good at the claw machine so a cute teddy came home with us as well. 

Walpole Bay, Kent

Where to eat in Margate:

We had the most delightful dinner at Buoy and Oyster, a sea-facing restaurant offering fresh seafood and sunsets that would make anyone take out their phone for a snap. Fresh crab, octopus, oysters, mussels, clams and it went on. They even have a pretty balanced kids menu. Book ahead and request a spot on the terrace. 

Fresh crab, Buoy and Oyster, Margate

Fresh crab, Buoy and Oyster, Margate

Sunset at Buoy and Oyster, Margate

Just before leaving on our final day, we stopped off at the Sun Deck, a food, music and drinks pop up on the beach just across from the station in Margate. Options ranged from a converted double-decker bus serving tea to po boys, pulled pork sandwiches and other choices of street food, with a bar serving drinks to a soundtrack of funk and soul. It’s family-friendly but also a great place to chill out, set back from the beach crowds and of course, the sunsets are meant to be pretty spectacular too. The only downside is we were directed to the public toilets shared with beachgoers which isn’t a quick or pleasant experience. 

Sun Deck, Margate

Sun Deck, Margate

Also recommended to eat in Margate:

WARNING: Avoid Eddessa’s. While this Turkish restaurant was recommended by our hotel, we found the service horrendous, food extremely slow and overpriced for the portion sizes. While we are patient during these challenging times as small businesses come to terms with COVID, there are just more pleasant experiences in town for the money. 

We can’t wait to come back to both Margate and Broadstairs for an adult’s holiday to explore all the funky bars and delicious restaurants that were just a tease on this trip. And yes, there are other lovely seaside towns in Kent too. I’m keen to also try bohemian Whistable, lovely Ramsgate and underrated Folkestone in the near future. Who knows, I may become a regular DFL (down-from-Londoner,) as the locals refer to us. 

Living Life in Earls Vegas (aka Earlsfield, London)


So, what’s it like living in Earlsfield, London? The self-proclaimed Earls Vegas?

Earlsfield Station, London

Earlsfield Station, London

I’ll not only share how I ended up living in this family-friendly haven of SW London but also 8 reasons why you should visit Earlsfield too. 

Since moving back to the UK in 2015 I’ve made Southwest London my home. This city, divided by those who claim eternal loyalty to either living north or south of the river Thames, was a place I’d lived twice prior (2003, 2006) however this was my first venture living South. I’ll let you in on a little secret though, I absolutely love it. My loyalty to SW London now stands stronger than I ever imagined. 

My first home was off of trendy Northcote Road in Clapham Junction. Whilst Clapham is coined “Nappy Valley” due to the abundance of affluent young families and strollers/buggies, it also has a reputation for its twenty-something party scene and abundance of Aussie, Kiwis and Saffas. 

Clapham is technically split across 4 areas and transport links: Clapham High Street, Clapham North, Clapham South and Clapham Junction – each providing their own unique charm. My flat off of Northcote Road gave me access to a number of trendy boutiques (Oliver Bonas), mom and pop restaurants (Cafe Tamra, Made in Italy, Opa Opa, Dip & Flip) and some decent bars (Vagabond, The Old Bank, Northcote Records, Draft House) to keep me hopping along any night of the week, plus the transportation links are fantastic. I lived there for 2 and half years and loved it.

Next, my partner Jamie and I moved one neighbourhood over to Wandsworth Town. I dreaded the move initially, despite it being in walking distance to Clapham Junction Station. St. John’s Hill replaced our regular nights dining out and we ventured to new places such as Kao Sarn and Pizza Brixton, with flash cocktails always available late at night from Powder Keg. Even my local yoga studio Sadhana Yoga and Wellbeing was perfectly situated. 

So for our most recent move, thanks to our landlord selling in a reflex reaction to Brexit, I shuddered at the thought of going even further afield to Earlsfield. From the perspective of some, I’m in proper suburbia. To others who actually live in suburbia, I’m still very central in London. Welcome to Earls Vegas! 

Where is Earlsfield?

Earlsfield is a leafy suburb of Wandsworth Council, London, located between Clapham Junction and Wimbledon. With the greenery and transport links of Wandsworth Common, high street shops of Garratt Lane and appealing proximity to Central London, it provides a suburban feel with all of the urban amenities. 

What I sacrificed for trendy Northcote Road I made up with outdoor space. I never would have dreamed it would become such a privilege, especially now as I type this during lockdown from COVID-19 (Coronavirus). I have a big outdoor yard which has been a lifesaver during the precious days of sun, with a garden patch full of rhubarb, thyme, bay and rosemary included – how lucky. Saturday afternoons spent playing outdoor games with a 6-year old and doing odd-jobs like power washing and deck staining have kept me busy whilst not working due to redundancy. Plus, I’m a sucker for a tan. 

Backyard Fun

Backyard Fun

Why is Earlsfield called Earls Vegas?

Unsuspecting to the naked eye, many assume Earlsfield is only for young family units and retirees, yet leafy Earlsfield does have some nightlife. The Wandle, named after the local estuary the River Wandle, is renowned for its vast beer garden, a line-up of cover bands and summer BBQs to the beat of live sports. Graffiti Bar, a gimmicky cocktail bar offers an £80 bar tab when you complete their menu of cocktails (which, obviously we’re in the running for) and is open until 2 am. Then again, the Leather Bottle is known to have one of the best beer gardens in all of Southwest London, enlarged garden games and pastel-painted sheds included. 

Cocktails_Graffiti_Bar_Earlsfield

Cocktails at Graffiti Bar, Earlsfield

Here are 8 reasons to visit Earlsfield:

1. The Great Outdoors

Southwest London has a plethora of outdoor space. In Earlsfield specifically, you can spend time in the vast greenery of Wandsworth Common  – whether it be for a run, a game of football (where Jamie’s 6-year old plays in a weekend league) or to have a few drinks with friends. 

Wandsworth_Common_Pond

Daily walks along the pond of Wandsworth Common

I’d also recommend a walk along the River Wandle. While some aspects require you to cut through various residential neighbourhoods, the Wandle passes through the South London Boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton, and Wandsworth to join the River Thames. The river is about 11 miles long.

2. Pubs in Earlsfield

Prior to moving to Earlsfield, we discovered what we like to call the ‘Garratt Lane Pub Crawl’. Starting on Garratt Lane near Southside in Wandsworth, you can easily hop along to about 10 pubs, from the Garratt Tavern at the start to the Leather Bottle to finish. 

Our favourites include:

  • Tir Na Nog – family-run Irish pub with free snacks daily
  • Grosvenor Arms – amazing pizzas and a good selection of craft drafts
  • The Earlsfield – try their rack of ribs, you won’t regret it
  • Halfway House – close to the train station and outdoor seating for people watching
  • Leather Bottle – amazing beer garden and decent Sunday roast

The_Leather_Bottle

The Leather Bottle, Earlsfield

3. Brunch in Earlsfield

You can’t do a Saturday in London without a decent brunch. Earlsfield doesn’t fail to deliver either. Despite the sad closure of Bloody Ben’s (a sister restaurant to a favourite of ours on St. John’s Hill), there are plenty of options to keep you full of avocado toast. 

Our favourites include:

  • Hallowed Belly – each week they offer a discount to the local ‘street of the week’

Hallowed_Belly_Earlsfield

Closed Hallowed Belly, Earlsfield

  • Bean and Hop – sister cafe to Northcote Road top-pick Cafe Tamra, delicious middle-eastern inspired breakfast, pizza in the evenings and craft beer
  • Flotsam and Jetsam – all-day breakfast, fresh juices and amazing coffee. This is one to queue up for after a game on the Common.

4. Coffee in Earlsfield

While you have your fair share of big chains (Starbucks, Costa, Gails), it’s the independent guys that give Earlsfield a community feel. Especially during COVID-19, we love supporting them as they open up for take-aways and have turned themselves into mini-grocers.  

Our favourites include:

  • Belle Amie – Offering brunch options too, Belle Amie is somewhere you can enjoy a great bite of their unique Tarte Flambée with a sip of roasted Allpress coffee beans.
  • Bonsai Espresso Room – Speciality coffee and cakes in a quirky cafe just across from the Common. They’ve mastered the art of no-contact take-away with installed plexiglass. 

Bonsai_Espresso_Room_Menu

The outdoor menu at Bonsai Espresso Room on Wandsworth Common

  • Eclectic Collection – eclectic vibes and great coffee, they’ve stayed open during lockdown by serving the community with eggs, flour and takeaway brunch!

The_Eclectic_Collection

Beautiful Eclectic Collection in Earlsfield, London

5. Craft Beer in SW London

We wouldn’t live in Southwest London if we couldn’t have our craft beer. Luckily there are many breweries within walking distance. We like supporting these guys when we can – even better, we can’t wait until they open again to enjoy their taprooms and have a beer at the picnic tables out front. All do local deliveries or pick-up service. 

By_The_Horns_Brewery

Enjoying the sunshine at By The Horns Brewery

Belleview_Brewery

Supporting local breweries, Belleview Brewery

6. Shopping

Fair enough, Earlsfield isn’t a shoppers paradise but there is enough to keep you entertained during a family walk on a Saturday afternoon. First up you have Southside shopping centre at the end of Garratt Lane – hop on the bus or stroll down if you really need a shop at the big Sainsburys, Waitrose, Sports Direct etc. But what gives Earlsfield it’s proper charm are the antique, charity and speciality shops. My favourite is Lark, independent clothing, accessory, and jewellery shop with 6 Southwest London sites. 

7. Location

I know, right? At first, I was saying, “oh no, not Earlsfield” and now I’m bragging about the location. It’s not so bad really. It’s a good sandwich to be in the middle of – you’ve got Tooting on one end only a 5-minute bus ride away with delicious curry houses and thriving markets,  Northcote Road less than a 30-minute walk away with all my old favourites, Wimbledon Village just one more train stop with all the flash chains and then Wandsworth Town. Balham too is an achievable walk. In fact, I walk everywhere; and when in doubt there’s a bus, and when in doubt again there’s a train. If only the London Santander city bikes (aka Boris Bikes) were this ‘far’ out. 

Tooting_Broadway_Market

Tooting Broadway Market

8. Community

Yes, of course, the community! We say hi to our neighbours, we collaborate on the Earlsfield Facebook Group (otherwise nicknamed ‘The Chat’ due to the gossipy comments) and of course take great pride in clapping every Thursday evening at 8 pm for our amazing NHS. I love looking over and seeing the rest of the street participate too!

NHS_Clap_Earlsfield

Clapping for our NHS in Earlsfield, London

So that’s that – life in Earls Vegas. I have high hopes that all of the above and those who plan to open survive the upside of this COVID-19 lockdown. And if you do consider residing in this lovely corner of London, just be careful of those pesky foxes. They will have a field day in your garbage, snack at your garden and keep you up at night with their howls (more like grunts). 

Welcome to the fabulous Earlsvegas!

Welcome to the fabulous Earlsvegas! Graffiti Bar, Earlsfield

5 Reasons to Visit Belfast


Belfast is highly underrated as a city-break destination. It’s not surprising considering the history of trouble that took place over a 30-year period which meant that tourism was previously non-existent. But things have changed, Belfast is on the up and tourism is booming, especially in the summer months. Here are 5 reasons why you must visit Belfast.

Welcome to Belfast

1. Rich history

The Troubles

The period known as the troubles took place between 1968 to 1998. It was a horrible time in Northern Irish history and the wounds are very recent. To put it into perspective, the conflict is so young that I was 15 when things ended under the Good Friday Agreement, making it even more relatable. If you want to truly understand an unbiased perspective take a Belfast Black Cab Tour, run by taxi drivers who were considered a neutral source at the time so could to take journalists across the borders freely.

Belfast Peace Gate

During our 1.5-hour tour, we visited the gates at the peace line which separated the Nationalists and Loyalists – these are still only open from 7 am to 7 pm to keep the peace and are heavily monitored by CCTV. We stopped along the political murals where we had an opportunity to write an inspiring message on the wall and visited remembrance memorials on both sides where we learned in great detail about the horrors that took place. Witnessing fresh flowers at these sites and barbed wire still up around the homes close to the wall made the recency all too real.

Belfast Political Murals

Belfast Political Murals

Belfast Peace Wall

Our guide Jake was really knowledgeable and gave a balanced perspective from both sides. He is passionate about moving forward as he lived through the atrocities and his kids even attended a mixed school – something only available apparently for about 1% of the population. According to him, there are still walls in people’s minds and it’s going to take at least one more generation until there will truly be peace. “Fear is a powerful weapon” and “we, unfortunately, live with Brexit every day,” said Jake.

Jake of Black Cab Tours

Jake of Black Cab Tours

Titanic

The ‘unsinkable’ was the pride of Belfast. She was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard where she resided before her maiden voyage in 1912. The two massive yellow cranes, Samson and Goliath of Harland and Wolff shipyard are an iconic part of Belfast’s skyline.

Titanic Belfast museum houses an educational and interactive journey through Belfast’s history, the building of the world’s most iconic ship and exploration into its discovery at the depths of the Atlantic.

  1. Great outdoors

Heading up to the natural phenomenon of Giant’s causeway is a must-do whilst in Northern Ireland. Only approx. over an hour’s direct-drive from Belfast, you can make a day out of it with the many coach tours that take you up north or hire a car. For those Game of Throne fans, there are even tours dedicated to the filming locations. I was slightly disappointed in my research, however, that all tours were large and on buses as I much prefer a small personalized tour but hey, when in Belfast…

We selected Irish Tour Tickets because the entrance fee to Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge were included, which isn’t always the case for other companies so check ahead. We got picked up from our hotel (Ramada by Wyndham Belfast City – great location in the Cathedral Quarter) at 8:15 am only to sit in front of the tour office until the tour officially left at 9:15 am. With a head of full of Guinness from the night before, we definitely would recommend making your own way to the tour office if you prefer a lie-in.

Giant's Causeway Tour Route

Our guide Gavin and driver Davy, the ultimate duo, made up for it however as two local Belfast lads they provided great commentary throughout the long day. Davy even sang the traditional Irish song The Green Glens of Antrim, local to County Antrim, whilst driving to wish a passenger a happy birthday.

The drive up the Antrim Coast was beautiful, rugged coastline on one side and a blanket of green on the other – it definitely ticks the quintessential Irish scenery box. You could even see Scotland in the distance!

Giant’s Causeway too was mesmerizing – not only for the phenomena of the causeway itself but also for the natural landscape around. Irish folklore has it that the causeway was created by an Irish Giant, who threw chunks of the Antrim Coast into the sea when threatened by a large giant in Scotland.  Scientists, however, will argue it was formed from lava. Who would you believe?

Giant's Causeway

Lisa & Hannah at Giant's Causeway

There are two trails to get to the causeway, I recommend to start on the red trail which provides a view from up above whilst the blue trail is at sea-level. For those who aren’t up for the walk, there is also a shuttle bus for £1. If you’re hungry you can grab a snack in the café in the Visitor’s Centre, or settle in at the cosy pub, The Nook, on-site for a pint of Guinness and some Irish stew as we did.

The Nook, Giant's Causeway

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, an old salmon fishing rope bridge, which is now owned by the National Trust is one of the most popular sites in the area. Tourists line up to cross the bridge, only to wait again on the other side to cross back. It makes for an excellent photo opportunity, just don’t look down to the sharp rocks and thunderous ocean below. When walking back to the car park there’s a great view looking back over the bridge connecting the small island of Carrickarede to the mainland. I’ll admit, I was scared and it didn’t help when young boys behind me decided to jump to shake the bridge (which is against the rules!) but I’m still proud of the accomplishment.

Hannah on Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Our last stop was as Bushmills claimed as the world’s oldest whiskey distillery dating back to 1608. We did not get a tour but I was still happy to pay £10 for 3 drams – Black Bush blend, and 10 & 12-year single malts. The 10 was my favourite.

Bushmills

Bushmills

Whilst the tour was grand and the highlight, of course, was Giant’s Causeway and getting to walk in the great outdoors, you’re much better off renting a car and getting it done without requiring a full day of stops, some of which aren’t necessary.

  1. Food, pubs and live music

Belfast’s social scene is thriving – even more, their food is significantly underrated. There are a few core popular areas for tourists in the small city, the city centre, the student area around Queen’s Quarter, the family-friendly Titanic Quarter and the buzzing Cathedral Quarter. We based ourselves around the Cathedral Quarter which was very central to both the centre of the city as well as popular nightlife spots.

Fave brunch spot:

Established Coffee, located in the Cathedral Quarter, it is hands down pure awesome. On our first afternoon we stopped in for ‘the best toastie I’ve ever had’ according to Hannah and I do concur, only to go for brunch again on Sunday. The quality of the coffee is a given, and I also highly recommend the hash. Be prepared to wait for a spot to open up but well worth it.

Fave Dinner:

Made in Belfast
This funky local chain was absolutely stand out – from service to its seasonal farm-to-table sustainable, ethically sourced menu. I was over the moon with my rump steak while Hannah found love with the lamb.

Top pubs in Cathedral Quarter

Crown Liquor Saloon

Dating back to the 1880s, this pub is an institution of Belfast and has been one of the “mightiest Victorian gin palaces of the city”. Here’s where we had our first Guinness (and Hannah’s first-ever, whhaaat?!) before starting a mini pub crawl of Belfast’s best pubs. Being right in the city centre, expect it to be busy with both locals and tourists with Guinness in hand, but make yourself at home in one of the cosy snugs and admire the elegantly detailed woodwork and stained glass which lends itself to being a Grade A listed building owned by the National Trust.

Crown Liquor Saloon - Bar

Crown Liquor Saloon – Bar

Crown Liquor Saloon - Snug

Crown Liquor Saloon – Snug

Kelly’s Cellars
200 years old, Kelly’s is one of Belfast’s oldest traditional Irish pubs and is another iconic Belfast boozer. With cute bric-a-brac, from pots to fiddles hanging from the ceiling, it’s an excellent place to hunker down for a Guinness and some traditional Irish stew whilst listening to traditional Irish music.

Kelly’s Cellars, Belfast

Kelly’s Cellars, Belfast

Kelly’s Cellars

Maddens Bar
It doesn’t come any more of a quintessential local, with a live Irish band in the corner, money hanging from the ceiling and good honest chats with locals. Hannah was keen for a wine, but I encouraged her this was a place for Guinness.

Maddens Bar, Belfast

Maddens Bar, Belfast

On Commercial Court, an Intsta worthy cobblestone street in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter you’ll find the Duke of York. Full of old lamps, clocks and advertising signs from every generation there’s live music both downstairs and upstairs. It feels like a small-town crowd in the heart of the city.

Duke of York, Belfast

Duke of York - Live Music

Duke of York – Live Music

The Harp Bar, just across from the Duke of York is another lively bar with live music.

The Harp Bar

Claimed as the oldest pub in Belfast, Whites is very cosy with exposed oak beams and a burning fire so it’s a great environment to stay warm from Belfast’s unpredictable weather. Set in a 17th-century building, saddle up at the bar for a Guinness or pop upstairs to the Oyster Rooms for some traditional grub.

Whites Tavern, Belfast

Whites Tavern, Belfast

At the National, we witnessed an awesome band, Belfast Busking Band, a local group putting a twist on old school beats, trumpet and all, in this chilled out beer garden. Things started to pick up later in the evening with a younger crowd.

Belfast Busking Band

Belfast Busking Band

  1. People

You can’t go wrong with the Irish. They’re friendly, love to have a drink and some craic (good fun). Everywhere we went we found them delightful, welcoming and generally happy to chat about everything – from what life was like at that time to how things are moving forward and the tourism that the city is embracing.

Hanging with locals at Maddens Bar

Hanging with locals at Maddens Bar

  1. Affordability

Compared to the prices of Dublin, Belfast was very affordable. Not to mention, being on the £ makes it easy for those coming from mainland UK and it’s such a short flight –  less than an hour.

Therefore, you now have 5 strong reasons to hop on over to the amazing city that is Belfast.

Commercial Court, Belfast

Commercial Court, Belfast

Holidaying in Port de Sóller, Majorca


Boating, Floating and Gloating

The girls on Mezzo Magic

The girls on Mezzo Magic

Majorca has a mixed reputation. On one hand, the beautiful Balearic island is known for its natural beauty (aqua blue coves, citrus plantations, lush mountains, and spectacular beaches). On the other hand, you’ve got debauchery in Magaluf, the party hotspot in Palma for young Brits that gives it a reputation in itself. The good news, spending a long weekend in Port de Sóller, a small horseshoe bay on the island’s west coast, was the perfect adult holiday for me and my two friends in which we fell in love with the Spanish island of Majorca. 

Mountain view of Port de Soller, Majorca

Mountain view of Port de Soller, Majorca

Let’s face it, when you’re planning a surprise trip in the middle of July there are basically only two rules. Sun and beach. The only clues we had leading up to it were that it was an island with sun every day with a high of 37°C (98°F), we’d need aqua socks to protect our feet in the water, we’d need sneakers as there was some sort of hike, a metal water bottle, a good book, and swimmers. Oh, and we were renting a car as the place where we were going was a bit off the beaten path. I can live with all those things. Intrigued, to say the least…

My mind was racing with ideas such as Madeira or Sardinia. No, wait, what about Sicily? So when Penny gave us a crossword puzzle and a big clue, ‘Balearic’ hidden right down the middle, Sophie and I were still miffed. We had no idea where that was or what it meant. When she finally explained it’s an archipelago of islands off of Spain and announced our final destination, I was ecstatic. I’d never been to Majorca, and knowing only as much as the clues I was given was enough to get pumped.

Hiking in Majorca

Majorca is a hiker’s dream, especially during the off-season. Well signed and maintained paths are all over the large island. Even better, our quiet cove of Port de Sóller is a key area for hiking and there are trails leading directly from the town and the port. One of the most famous takes you from Sóller to Fornalutz, voted one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, but unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to visit.

We did, however, brave the heat for a 4-hour hike from Port de Sóller to Cala Deia, a beautiful secluded beach featured in the BBC series The Night Manager. The plan was to go halfway to Son Mico, a lovely Finca set up in the hills of the Serra de Tramuntana, which serve homemade quiche and orange cake, refill our water bottles and decide whether we had the energy to keep going. But when we got there it was disappointedly closed for the holidays, our water bottles were nearly empty and there was no point in turning back, it was so hot we needed the sea, asap! 2 more hours to go…

Son Mico Finca, Majorca

Throughout the hike we were mesmerized by the sounds, we were alone and it was quiet other than the crickets chirping away. We covered various terrain, from very dry red dirt, shiny silver rocks, orange mud. We went from windy paths deep in the mountain to open roads; crossed areas where goat and wild horses roamed, welcomed the shade under olive groves and counted the boats out at sea as the coast came back into view.  

Olive groves in Majorca

Olive groves in Majorca

The heat was overwhelming, and we were warned that lots of injuries happen on the trails when hikers are not well hydrated. We were sweating profusely, shocked by how swollen our fingers were. Luckily we had pre-made sandwiches which we cheekily put together from the morning’s breakfast bar at the hotel, they were vital in keeping our energy going. It’s recommended to hike first thing in the morning, not midday like us when it was 32°C (90°F).

Group Shot Hiking Serra de Tramuntana, Majorca

Group Shot Hiking Serra de Tramuntana, Majorca

Sweating Hiking Serra de Tramuntana, Majorca

Sweating Hiking Serra de Tramuntana, Majorca

When we finally made it to Cala Deia after four hours of hiking in extreme heat, no water and thoughts about our survival, it was such a welcome relief.  Staring down at the little alcove with turquoise water, two restaurants where you can buy beer and food, and families splashing about, we were in heaven. It was beautiful, and we were also quite smug we had our aqua socks with us to clamber over the rocks with ease. Beer in hand, bum in the water, I was proud of our accomplishments and relieved to finally be able to relax and enjoy the beautiful Balearic Sea.

Cala Deia View, Majorca

Cala Deia View, Majorca

The sea, Cala Deia, Majorca, Cala Deia, Majorca

The sea, Cala Deia, Majorca

Restaurant, Cala Deia, Majorca

Restaurant, Cala Deia, Majorca

Getting back was an adventure in itself, as we certainly were not walking. The road out of Cala Deia to the bus stop is quite long, and steep, and winding. As a joke, Penny stuck her thumb out, and before we knew it we were thankful to be in the back of an old French/Brazillian couple’s green Mini, they were shocked that we had walked there to begin with. “In Majorca, you need a car,” they lectured. We had a car we told them, we just chose not to use it! We were so grateful, we were exhausted and it would have taken us forever to get up there. Luckily when the bus finally came it was air-conditioned. Everyone shut their eyes and had a nice little nap during the 30 minutes back to the port.

Things to do in Port de Sóller

Port de Sóller is a destination in itself. There’s plenty to do, here are a few ideas.

Beach shack, port de soller, Majorca

Beach shack, Port de Sóller, Majorca

Go for a  Hike – see above

Hire a boat – we recommend Mezzo Magic, it cost 75 Euro cash (91 Euros if paying by card) for 3 hours at sea including snacks and drinks. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours in the beautiful Balearic Sea. The boat company is lush and top quality. During our time at sea we visited the blue lagoon, snorkelled, and paddle boarded. The girls went into a sea cave and Sophie jumped from the top of the rocks. We snagged the bean bags at the front of the boat and thoroughly enjoyed the sun, sea and drinks. 

blue lagoon, Majorca

blue lagoon, Majorca

Paddle boarding, Mezzo Magic, Majorca

Paddleboarding, Mezzo Magic, Majorca

Mermaids Island

Mermaids Island

Beach  – The port offers the only sandy beaches on the west coast of the island, there are two beaches, one at the end of each bay. Loungers and umbrella rentals are affordable if you’re making a day out of it. The sea is very calm and there is an area with a lifeguard in Platja d’en Repic beach which is most popular with families. 

Platja d'en Repic beach, Majorca

Platja d’en Repic beach, Majorca

Paddleboard – Sóller SUP is about halfway around the bay and rents paddleboards (15 Euro for the hour) as well as provides lessons. 

Sóller town – is beautiful. The streets are made of natural white stone; houses have massive big brown doors with ornate knobs, such as a lion’s head. The tall buildings have the Serra de Tramuntana mountains in the backdrop and the narrow alleyways are an easy way to get lost exploring its charm. Visit the botanical gardens, galleries, or simply come for lunch or dinner, there is plenty to do.

Streets of Sóller town, Majorca

Streets of Sóller town, Majorca

Església de Sant Bartomeu

Església de Sant Bartomeu

Sóller Market – On Saturdays, this traditional market is frequented by both locals and tourists. It takes up the main square and surrounding areas and is quite big, with local crafts, clothes, jewellery and food available. Open from 8:00 to 14:00, Penny and I walked away with some beautiful yet affordable hand-painted ceramics.

Meat at Sóller Market, Majorca

Meat at Sóller Market, Majorca

Ceramics in Sóller Market, Majorca

Ceramics in Sóller Market, Majorca

Where to eat in Port de Sóller

We’ve had recommendations from friends that include Sabarca, Kingfisher and Randemar, but here are the ones in Port de Sóller that we tried.

Patiki Beachhands down our favourite. Fresh food, friendly service and beachfront, you couldn’t ask for more. We sat on the blue and red checkered tables and devoured creamy burrata, fresh tomato salad, locally caught sardines, butter beans, and local bread with tomato puree on top. For the quality, it was super affordable, and the atmosphere was perfect after dinner to just enjoy the sound of the ocean and to have a post-dinner drink playing cards. Goblets of gin in Spain, this is what I had been practising for all year.

Patiki Beach Restaurant, Majorca

Patiki Beach Restaurant, Majorca

El Sabor – is a lovely tapas restaurant just across from a tram stop. They do an excellent Aperol Spritz, a good variety of tapas with great views of the ocean – plus service was friendly and attentive. This was perfect for a midday snack.

Restaurant Las Olas –  Although it didn’t come recommended from friends, we greatly enjoyed Las Olas, centrally located on the main promenade. The sea bass, lamb and vegetable paella were all very good quality, not to mention the atmosphere of seafront views. 

Villa Louisa – is absolutely beautiful with stunning stonework, fresh flowers and a lovely setting but slightly overrated for the price. They had a fantastic French rose and a great selection of fresh fish (monkfish was divine), as was the seafood pasta. Unfortunately, it’s not very vegetarian-friendly. 

Where we stayed

Our hotel, Citric Hotels, was great value for money and well situated close to the beach. In fact, I can’t really complain about our stay at all. What I especially liked was waking up to views over the port and the sun shimmering on the water. 

View of Port de Soller, Majorca

View of Port de Soller, Majorca

We had a basic budget room for the 3 of us, two single beds and a pull out which they had pre-made. We upgraded in advance to ensure we had a balcony and air conditioning, both definitely worth it. Their breakfast buffet was standard Spanish continental, but that didn’t stop us from making sandwiches each morning from the cheese and meat platters to bring to the beach. More importantly, their bar was cheap and open late, and overall the service was fantastic – with recommendations each morning on how to get around. When our car was towed, they were there to help, and when asked for a late check out so we could shower after a full day at the beach, they only charged a reasonable 20 Euro. 

Getting around Port de Sóller

Tram – The scenic tram, Tren de Sóller, the island’s first electric tram which takes you from Port de Sóller to Sóller town is a must-do. A steep 7 Euro, the slow yet picturesque journey is a relaxing way to get between the two towns and is quite useful if you are staying outside of these central areas. 

Tren de Sóller, Majorca

Tren de Sóller, Majorca

Bus – There are regular bus routes to get between the west coast towns and to the capital Palma. Most hotels can provide a timetable. The bus stop in Port de Sóller is a short walk from the port. 

Car – They say the best way to see the island is to hire a car. So that’s exactly what we did. Only to check out of our hotel on our final day and find our car missing. Confused, we quickly realized we had parked it on a hill in a no parking zone. An orange triangle-shaped sticker was found on the ground which indicated it had been towed. Luckily our hotel was very nice and called us a taxi to take us to the police station in Sóller. We paid the fine of 207 Euro (exact change only), walked 10 minutes to the salvage yard only to find the car wasn’t there. Let’s not fret, we only need to fly out in a few hours….

Port de Soller Towing Notice

Port de Soller Towing Notice

The police met us at the salvage yard and realized that it must be in a different location. Don’t panic. They could only accommodate one passenger so Sophie bravely jumped into the back of the police car (yes!) whilst Penny and I sat waiting in the scorching heat, at least we were left in pleasant surroundings with views of mountains and lemon groves. Sophie returned 20 minutes later with our car, followed by the police who kindly give us an escort out of the tiny narrow and winding streets to the highway. We got to the airport relieved only to find out our flight was annoyingly delayed. 

Police escort from Soller

Police escort from Soller

Until next time, Majorca

What I loved about this Port de Sóller was that it was a true blend of mountain and sea. At night we commented on the revelation of seeing the stars, something that’s not too common in London. It was serene, peaceful and delicious. I spent 9 hours in the sun one day relaxing by the sea and I was in my happy place, no work, the sound of the ocean, and just…the clear blue ocean! There are definitely other beautiful, Instagram famous spots on Majorca but the small bit of paradise that we touched was just perfect. I definitely want to come back, both to Port de Sóller and to explore other parts of what Majorca has to offer. 

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Sorrento Food Tours


Sorrento is the ideal base for exploring greater Naples and the Amalfi Coast. With beach clubs, transport links, shopping and a thriving food and nightlife scene, there’s no reason to miss out. Even better, let’s highlight the fact that it’s flat so it’s super accessible compared to the cliffs of Positano and Capri, so take advantage and give your feet a rest after a day exploring the nearby coastal towns and islands.

Beach clubs, Sorrento

Beach clubs, Sorrento

As we only had one night and two days to spend in Sorrento, I decided to optimize it with a food tour. This gave us the opportunity to explore the town, learn some history and importantly, uncover the best places for local food and drink. Our goal was to consume as many Italian delicacies as we could in a short amount of time.

Chiesa di Carmine

Chiesa di Carmine

We joined Tamara on Sorrento Food Tours walking food tour for 3 hours of pure indulgence. We met on the steps of Chiesa di Carmine (Carmine Church) in Piazza Tasso (main square) to begin our tasting experience and I was initially shocked to hear her American accent, slightly disappointed we weren’t being led around by a local. We quickly learned that she’s a lady of the world, an ex-flight attendant originally from San Diego. She’s been running tours across Italy and has called Sorrento her home for many years after meeting her love Michele at Michelin starred Il Buco.

Sfogliatelle from Bar Pasticceria Monica

Sfogliatelle from Bar Pasticceria Monica

Our first taste was a traditional Neapolitan pastry, Santa Rosa cream custard and wild cherry sfogliatelle from Bar Pasticceria Monica. With a quick sugar rush from the delicate filling and a great start of what’s to come, I was ready to see where the afternoon would lead us.

Arancini, The Join

Arancini, The Join

Arancini at The Join, Sorrento

Arancini at The Join, Sorrento

Join, a casual tapas and wine bar is recommended for aperitivo and live music. Here we met Serena who shared around homemade arancini. We laughed to ourselves at the different country flags stuck into the arancini to show the diversity of our group, but then again, most of us were American. Jamie showed his support for the EU of course!

 

Pizzeria Da Franco is one of the most popular spots in town, not only because their pizza is out of this world good, cooked in their famous wood-burning oven 8ft deep 500 celsius, but they’re also open from lunch to 1 am which is appealing. We shared saltimbocca, which means jumping around, a traditional Italian dish of veal wrapped with prosciutto and sage. We then had their delicious thin and crisp pizza, the prosciutto di Parma DOP was salty and dry, the thick legs hung from the ceiling as they go through 1-2 legs a day. The mozzarella was moist and delicious and of course, their friendly staff is what gives this place its reputation as it has been around for nearly 70 years. In fact, we couldn’t help popping by later that evening after a few negronis for a late night pizza and a few more beers.

Giardini di Cataldo

Giardini di Cataldo

Just around the corner is Fondo L’Arguminato (a citrus garden right in the center of Sorrento). Unfortunately, if the gates are shut you can’t enter, which was the case for us during our tour but we came back for a peek into the beautiful lemon haven the next day. Normally open to the public during the day, when the gates are open you are free to explore the 300-year-old lemon grove which harvests 3 times a year.

 

Luckily around the corner is the Giardini di Cataldo (limoncello factory) where you can buy an assortment of products grown in the citrus grove. This was a great spot to hear from Luigi about how limoncello is made using only the peel (surprising!), as well as to taste it, some lemon sorbet, boozy baba cake and liquorice liquor. Importantly, if you see limoncello spelt with an ‘e’ (lemoncillo), that’s how you know it’s fake so if you’re looking for authentic gifts this is the spot!

il Bocconcino

il Bocconcino

We then stopped at a small delicatessen and food market, il Bocconcino, to try some charcuterie. Salami with cow’s milk cheese, speck which is salt-cured like prosciutto but smoked and provolone del Monaco (semi-hard cheese local to the area produced by monks). If I was staying for a few days I would definitely do my local shopping here, or as Tamara recommends go for a simple panini.

Charcuterie from il Bocconcino

Charcuterie from il Bocconcino

We finally sat down for our main course at Da Gigino Ristorante, another local place Tamara recommends to try for pizza or pasta after the food tour. We had a lovely buffalo mozzarella starter followed by gnocchi Sorrentino. I can say it was tasty, but the free-flowing Calabrian white wine was a nice treat too!

Jonathan, Nino & Friends

Jonathan, Nino & Friends

Following, we sampled some chocolates from Nino & Friends, a great place to pick up some treats such as candied lemon and orange rinds and other delectable gifts to bring back home. Jonathan did a great job of sharing coffee beans coated in chocolate, sugared almonds, and stuffed pralines. But we favored the dog Margo who hangs out front a bit too.

And finally, we closed off the tour with gelato from Davide Gelateria and a glimpse at Mt Vesuvius in the distance.

Sunset at Sky Bar, Hotel Plaza, Sorrento

Sunset at Sky Bar, Hotel Plaza, Sorrento

After an afternoon of filling up on delicious food, we were ready for a drink. Tamara recommended the following and even joined us for a few at Sky Bar at Hotel Plaza, which has great cocktails and amazing sunset views over the sea and Mt Vesuvius.

Other bars in Sorrento

  • Fauno Bar – perfect for people watching in the heart of Piazza Tasso
  • Fuoro 51 – Wine bar
  • La Bottega della Birra – Tamara suggests asking for Nuzio in this craft beer hot spot

Still hungry? Here’s where to eat in Sorrento (Thanks Sorrento Food Tours for the recommendations!)

  • Il Buco
  • Accento Restaurant
  • Inn Bufalito
  • La Basilica
  • Porta Marina Seafood
  • Hotel continental “Terrazza Vittoria”
  • Bagni Delfino
  • Ristorante O’Puledrone
  • L’Antica Trattoria
  • A’Marenna

Note: getting to Pompeii or Mt. Vesuvius from Sorrento is easy by Circumvesuviana train in about 30 minutes. This train has many stops and is very busy with tourists but is the most direct route if you don’t have a private car. It is also riddled with pickpockets so be very careful with your belongings. I witnessed someone get their phone taken out of their front pocket without evening feeling it. There are also lockers for a small fee at the Pompeii train station.

Thanks Tamara for a great day exploring Sorrento, we enjoyed all your recommendations and company over too many negronis!

Get In The Know, Positano


I’ve never met a single person who would say no to a trip to Italy’s Amalfi Coast. In fact, for many, it’s the ultimate wedding or honeymoon destination – also now popular with backpackers, and rightfully so. Situated to the east of Naples, the Amalfi Coast is a 50-kilometer stretch that runs along the edge of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula.

Amalfi Coastline

Amalfi Coastline

Jamie had gifted us a flight to Naples as my Christmas present. To set things straight, he became keenly more interested in a trip to Naples following a boxset binge of the Sopranos. But I’m not complaining. It was the perfect opportunity for me to introduce us to the Amalfi Coast for the first time and so it was a win-win.  

Lisa Vecchio, Positano

Lisa Vecchio, Positano

Jamie Synan, Positano

Jamie Synan, Positano

While only a short trip, 3 nights and 4.5 days, we prioritized the cliffs of Positano and a food tour in Sorrento, then a quick stop to the ruins in Pompeii and a traditional Napolese pizza at the famous L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele in downtown Naples on our way home. If we had more time, I would have loved to spend it in Amalfi, Ravello, and the islands of Ischia and Capri – but there’s always a next time. So, let me tell you about Positano…

Positano from above

Positano from above

Getting to Positano is half the fun. If you’re in no rush, I highly recommend taking an open-air ferry, just make sure you check the schedules in advance. The highlight of my trip was taking the ferry from Salerno to Positano, sun beaming on our faces as we passed the tiny cliffside towns from the sea. It appeared as if the clouds could touch the tips of the churches, we saw old stone fortresses built into rocks and antiquated houses set amongst vineyards. It was all so peaceful, the sound of waves and the sun overhead made me feel lucky to finally be in the much-in-demand Amalfi Coast.

Ferry Salerno to Positano

Ferry Salerno to Positano

After arriving in Positano by ferry we were greeted by a porter who offered to take our luggage to our hotel. “No!” We sneered, we’ll manage fine. Oh, how naive we were. Has anyone told you about the stairs?!

Climbing the steps of Positano

Climbing the steps of Positano

With luggage in tow, we schlepped it up further and further, hoping the next set of steps would be the end, when in fact it was still only the beginning. Stopping to catch our breaths, we received words of encouragement from those passing by, they’d done this already and didn’t envy us. But it was worth it, to stop and look out at the blue ocean and beautifully weathered Italian houses, colorful B&Bs and the rugged mountainous setting around us.

Classic Alfa Romeo, Positano

Classic Alfa Romeo, Positano

View looking down at Positano

View looking down at Positano

We quickly discovered that the multilayers of Positano are beautiful looking up, and just as stunning looking down at the town and the sea below. It’s charming in its own right, it is the Italian med after all. But it’s not for those unfit or very accessible, the stairs definitely make it even more memorable. As do the hordes of tourists and day-trippers from Sorrento.

Vespa cliffside in Positano

Vespa cliffside in Positano

For a day and a half, we ate fresh seafood like kings, drank our fair share of local Calabrian wine and explored the gelaterias, art galleries, souvenir shops, and restaurants, taking a new set of stairs each time to uncover different places. The weather gods weren’t in our favor though, so there was no sun bedding to be had. However, an afternoon sipping 10 Euro Spritz’s (trust me, that’s a steal) and people watching at seafront Blu Bar was the perfect way to spend it.

Spritz o'Clock at Blu Bar, Positano

Spritz o’Clock at Blu Bar, Positano

Cocktails at Blu Bar, Positano

Cocktails at Blu Bar, Positano

Blu Bar, Positano

Blu Bar, Positano

For sunset, we made our way cliffside to Franco’s Bar, an Instagrammer’s dream, with lemon trees set against deep blues and limoncello yellow decor, upmarket cocktails and chilled out beats. You pay for the view and the price to be seen in this crowd, but hey, it’s worth 20 Euro for at least one drink for the sunset alone.

Franco's Bar, Positano

Franco’s Bar, Positano

Franco's Bar, Positano

Franco’s Bar, Positano

Another great spot is tucked around the corner from the main beach, a short walk brings you to Hotel Pupetto, with ocean views away from the crowds and a quieter and smaller beach to spend the afternoon.

Hotel Pupetto, Positano

Hotel Pupetto, Positano

Where to eat in Positano

Chez Black was a top favorite. Reasonably priced for being beachfront, they also honored my reservation and gave us an ocean facing table. Their signature dish is the sea urchin, but we came for the vongole. Simple al dente pasta and the sweetest clams I’ve ever had. We were impressed by their wine list as well as their 8 Euro cocktails. Jamie was most excited with their wall of fame, it appeared to be Denzel Washington’s favorite restaurant, amongst other celebrities.

Famous Chez Black, Positano

Famous Chez Black, Positano

Dinner at Chez Black, Positano

Dinner at Chez Black, Positano

Even better, the staff were excellent too. They recommended Fly Bar for a drink post dinner, built into the cliff with seaside views, jazz, and a banging 20 Euro coffee negroni. Situated above Music on the Rocks, which also comes highly recommended by a friend for a big night out as it’s the only club in town. They own these venues too, hence the recommendation.

La Tagliata was the one I was looking forward to the most. A family restaurant set in the town of Montepertuso high above Positano, they’ll arrange a private transfer for free – the views are outstanding as you wind up and up the mountainside, it’s a bit nerve-wracking but fun. Or you can go physical and take the thousands of steps up and work hard for your dinner. Served family style, there’s no menu and you get what’s grown from the garden with their own brand of wine all for 45 Euros, cash only. You are treated like one of the family, even visiting mama’s kitchen to snap photos with the staff.

Family pics at La Tagliata

Family pics at La Tagliata

We started with antipasta of Serrano ham, local cheese and pickled veg, arancini, and eggplant parmigiana. Wow, that’s a lot to start! This was followed by 4 kinds of pasta: ravioli, gnocchi, ricotta cheese cannelloni and zucchini over cortege – a pasta we’ve never had before. Take your time because as soon as your plate is empty, out comes the next course. It was a mixed grill of chicken, beef, pork, rabbit, lamb with fresh skin-on fries and salad, but this changes all the time. Finally, for dessert, we were served fresh fruit, a variety of cakes and limoncello. Stuffed.

The multiple courses upon courses were impressive, as was the warmness of the family such as Renato, the self-proclaimed black sheep of the family and Letizia who waited on us. But I just wasn’t that overly keen on the meal itself. Good, but not great. If you come here, it’s for the experience and I would still recommend it for that alone.

La Cambusa is another one that seems like it’s made for tourists as it’s right on the seafront, but the quality of the fresh seafood is excellent. The view from upstairs is fantastic, and we were blown away with our seafood scampi and lobster linguini. Mama mia it was good!

Scampi at La Cambusa, Positano

Scampi at La Cambusa, Positano

Lobster at La Cambusa, Positano

Lobster at La Cambusa, Positano

Highly recommended restaurants in Positano (that we didn’t try)

Negroni, olives and espresso

Negroni, olives and espresso

Da Vicenzo – If I had time for one more this is where I would have gone but we couldn’t get in without a reservation. A lively family-run restaurant with an emphasis on fresh fish, about halfway up the steep steps, reserve for an outside table with ocean views.

Ristorante da Bruno – Cliffside pavement tables overlooking the town, known for their quality of produce.

Casa e Bottega – For a light, healthy meal for breakfast or lunch (from 12); don’t take reservations.

Next 2 – Very trendy and glamorous wine bar, but traditional in its roots. It’s expensive but we heard good things from Canadians we met that it was worth it for a ‘special’ experience.

Ristorante Max – Where locals go for pizza and super fresh seafood, also part of an art gallery. The stuffed zucchini (courgette) flowers come recommended

Collina Bakery – The only takeaway coffee in town, also baked goods, desserts, pizza, and gelato.

Gelato in Positano

Gelato in Positano

How to get to Positano from Naples Airport

As I mentioned above, getting to Positano is half the fun.

By car is by far the quickest (if not in tourist season when the roads can be backed up) and most efficient, if you can handle the tight turns, drops and narrow passes on the windy roads. But they say the amazing views of the ocean below are worth it. Private hire transfers go from 60-100 Euro or you can book the Positano Shuttle in advance for 28 per person each way.

Alternatively, the bus from the airport makes two stops, Naples Central Station (15 minutes) or the Port (Molo) (30 minutes).

If getting off at Naples Central, you can then take a train to Salerno (40 mins) and then catch the Travel Mar Ferry to Positano. This is what we did because it was our only sunny day and we wanted to maximize the views from the sea. We didn’t regret it one bit! The train hugs Mt Vesuvius nearly the whole way, plus the cliffside towns from the ferry are breathtaking. Just make sure you check the ferry times. There are also many restaurants outside the port in Salerno to grab lunch. Keep your eyes peeled for the old leathered guy with the sunburned bald head and splitting Speedo, he’s friendly!

It’s also recommended to hire a boat to visit these smaller towns, as no boating license is required, and Salerno has some pretty reasonably priced rentals compared to the more touristy towns, so a local colleague tells me.

If taking the airport bus to the port, you can take the Alilauro Ferry to Sorrento (40 minutes). There are also plenty of hotels and restaurants near the waterfront in Naples if you need to kill time. Once in Sorrento, you can catch another ferry to Positano, or the local Sita bus. Note, you can also catch the train direct from Naples to Sorrento – it is slow, will be packed and you will likely stand for about an hour and it is riddled with pickpocketers – I witnessed this myself. The ferry is much more enjoyable.

Overall, a lovely time in Positano. I just can’t wait to go back when the sun is out!

Quay Street, Galway

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in Galway


When it comes to national festivities, nothing beats celebrating in the originating country. Think about eating a homemade Thanksgiving dinner in the US, participating in Carnival in Rio or Day of the Dead (Dia de Los Muertos) in Mexico. So when I was on deck to plan a surprise getaway in mid-March, the obvious choice was Ireland for St. Patricks Day. An ultimate bucket list tick for all.

Quay Street, Galway

Quay Street, Galway

To switch things up and keep the surprises coming, and in aligning with the destination theme, I wrote short rhymes (not quite official Limericks) containing clues which were revealed leading up to and throughout our whole weekend away.  

I gave each of the girls a gold envelope with a clue inside when we met up for dinner about a month before the big trip. This would be all they’d have to spark some excitement before setting off for the weekend. They had no idea where they were heading…

This isn’t your average getaway, this much is true
Keep alert and be ready to solve all the clues

It’s March already and we all want some sun
But sometimes you need to sacrifice it, for a bit of traditional fun

There’s more to where this is going, you’re getting the gist
Take some time to prepare the ultimate Spotify playlist

There will be loads to learn and beauty to see
After all, for many, it’s a new country

You think you’ve figured it out but you’ll have to wait and see
It’s not exactly what your thinking, but it really is a goodie

This got the reaction I was hoping for. Cryptic clues… Spotify playlists, what could that have to do with it?  A country many hadn’t been to before with no sun!? And what exactly do you mean by ‘traditional’ fun? The fact that we were travelling over St. Patrick’s Day weekend didn’t quite click yet despite me assuming they would have guessed it.

But typically early in the week before we head away for our secret adventures, the group is given a snapshot of the weather and some indication of what to pack. Rhyming this too was the only option, obviously.

The trip is approaching, in fact, it’s very near
That’s why you’ll be expecting me to tell you what to wear

It’s time to pack so I’ll start with the weather
It’s not looking so great though so I’d bring a puffer and hat if I knew better

Yikes, it’s saying rain for days – oh it’s just looking drab
So don’t forget to throw your umbrella in your bag

We will be outside, so I’d def pack your trainers
It’s not that fancy though so I’ll be dressed a bit plainer

Jeans and leggings will do the trick
There’s no need for your swimming costume as there’s nowhere to take a dip

Bring your carry-on wheelie as we’re flying Ryan Air
Don’t overstuff it as they’re strict, I wouldn’t even dare

9 am from Stansted, what was I thinking?
Let’s grab the 7:07 train from Tottenham Hale, I def won’t be drinking!

That’s it for now, there are lots more clues to come
Oh, and throw in some green, to join in on the fun

The green might have been too obvious of a giveaway so to throw them off the night before we left I sent them this…

A last-minute request, the last clues were a trick
Chuck that bather in, you just might take a dip

I had been to Ireland before, Dublin a handful of times and Cork as well, so while planning this trip I did some research on some of the best Irish cities to celebrate St Patrick’s Day in. Dublin was an obvious choice, but it was a bit over our typical budget and I wanted to try something new. I had my heart set on Galway as I’ve heard so many lovely things and it was top of my list, but the challenge was that transport is limited so you need to rent a car – something the 3 of us typically had blacklisted from our trips as we rarely ever drive.

So, when we got to the gate at Stansted Airport earmarked for Shannon, Ireland I handed over 4 new gold envelopes with some fresh clues.

For this special weekend, I wouldn’t have it any other way
You guessed it right, we’re going to Ireland for St Patrick’s day!

But wait up girls, I need a volunteer
Drinking on the plane this early I wouldn’t even dare

You think you know where we’re headed but that isn’t the case
This Limerick will guide you to our final destination as part of the chase

So who will it be, who wants to drive
You’ll get the best views, and a big high five

Oooh, the excitement was building. What do you mean we’re not staying in Shannon? And we’re driving?! They never expected that. Both Penny and I haven’t properly driven for nearly 12 years, so keeping safety in mind, Sophie took one for the team and offered to drive under the condition that Penny navigates. Good news for me, because after the car was hired…

Shamrock welcome at Shannon Airport

Shamrock welcome at Shannon Airport

Before we get there we’ll need to stop off
I promise this view will have you say ‘oh my gosh’

In fact, it’s your first time to Ireland and so there’s lots to explore
That’s why the first stop, of course, are the Cliffs of Moher

I was excited about this one. Sure it was raining, but they say in Ireland if you let the rain stop you from doing anything you’ll never get around to doing anything at all.

So there we were 3 girls setting off to enjoy the beauty of the famed 2,500km coastal road the Wild Atlantic Way. We didn’t do the whole thing, of course, that would take days but we thoroughly enjoyed our stretch of the Cliff Coast, from County Clare to County Galway.

Enjoying the View - Cliffs of Moher

Enjoying the View – Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Sunny Cliffs of Moher

Sunny Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s most visited natural attractions. Stretching for 8km along the Atlantic Coast, you can see the Aran Islands and the beautiful cliffs from varying, yet treacherous vantage points. In fact, it was well worth the visit for some amazing snaps, but it’s somewhere that’s hot on the tourist trail so can be quite busy at times, and many people go off the protected path for the ultimate selfie. It’s also known to be a place where a lot of (deliberate and accidental) deaths take place.

After heading North from there we had a lovely drive through lush green country roads that hugged the coast, getting glimpses from time to time of the deep blue ocean. Houses would come sparsely, and cows and horses were our new friends. The landscape drastically changed as we moved away from the coast into the Burren, getting dizzy on Corkscrew Hill it was like a roller coaster – we didn’t know what was going to be around the next turn. We had our windows down and the music on, cautiously going through deep puddles flooded from the rain. Overall, it was the perfect road trip getting a feel for the Irish countryside and well worth taking the ‘long way’ to our final destination.

We can’t go much further till we eat some grub
A thatched roof and fresh oysters, it’s one of the best seaside pubs

Just off of the highway before entering Galway is Moran’s Oyster Cottage, one of the most famous oyster shacks in the world as rated by Travel & Leisure. With its picturesque thatched roof, it’s over 250 years old. After a full day of exploring, we were reading to dig into some local grub and have our first pint of Guinness of the trip.

Moran's Oyster Cottage

Moran’s Oyster Cottage

Oysters and Guinness, Moran's Oyster Cottage

Oysters and Guinness, Moran’s Oyster Cottage

Garlic Crab Claws, Moran's Oyster Cottage

Garlic Crab Claws, Moran’s Oyster Cottage

The first bite of traditional sweet brown soda bread was so good we gobbled it up in seconds, followed by the oyster platter consisting of both Giga (rock oysters) and wild oysters (known as ‘Galway Flat’). The seven-generation old recipe of homemade fresh chowder with generous chunks of seafood was a must eat but I could have gone without the warm garlic crab claws as the garlic butter took away the flavour of the crab. All the portions were massive, even Sophie’s vegetarian goat’s cheese salad and wild mushroom risotto. I couldn’t help but dip my fork in for a few extra bites, despite my bulging jeans, everything was so yum I’ll definitely be going back.

Queue Ed Sheeran once back in the car… “You’re my pretty little Galway Girl…nah nah nah nah nah.”

One more clue before we get on our way
If you haven’t guessed yet… we’re on our way to Galway!

There’s a reason why everyone loves Galway, it’s even pretty in the rain. This harbour city on Ireland’s west coast is known for friendly locals, winding lanes which still retain portions of the medieval city walls from back in the day and traditional pubs with live music. And we were ready to take it all in!

Best pubs in Galway (That we’ve been to…)

  • Tigh Neachtain – by far our favourite, a cozy wooden pub with quiet snooks and all around good atmosphere of a traditional Irish pub where there’s always someone to chat with

Tigh Neachtain, Galway

Tigh Neachtain, Galway

  • Tig Coili – walked in to see locals playing the fiddle over our first pint, great traditional pub with live music throughout the day and night in the heart of the Latin Quarter

Tig Coili, Galway

Tig Coili, Galway

  • The Crane Bar – full of locals with live music upstairs in the evenings, good craic

The Crane Bar, Galway

The Crane Bar, Galway

  • The Salt House – dive bar with over 120 craft bottled beer and even more on tap, a bit pretentious about their taps but good to see Ireland is trying their hand in the craft beer scene
  • Bierhous – a modern bar with regular DJs, cocktails and craft beer, offers a nice classy atmosphere and menu
  • John Keogh’s – a West End gastropub with a great soundtrack known for its food, shame there was no live music but really enjoyable atmosphere with cosy snugs

Rest up girls let’s call it a day
Here’s a little something to dress in your best, for the St Patrick’s Parade

The Parade starts at 11:30 and ends at 1
The theme is ‘diversity’, OMG it’s going to be fun!

St Patrick's Day Parade, Galway

St Patrick’s Day Parade, Galway

Lisa Vecchio, St Patricks Day Galway

Lisa Vecchio, St Patricks Day Galway

St Patrick's Day - Parade Ready

St Patrick’s Day – Parade Ready

The parade itself was a nice local affair to watch, with various clubs, bands and organizations marching throughout the city to celebrate their own traditions. Families and tourists got involved, dressed in green wigs, hats, and glasses. But it was right back to the pub after to celebrate over Guinness and traditional Irish music that made the day so memorable. In fact, we met so many lovely, chatty people from all over Ireland who came specifically to Galway to celebrate. But even then the small city was was still manageable and it wasn’t overcrowded or too difficult to find a seat in a pub. Much different than I would expect from Temple Bar in Dublin.

We had our first pint at 12 pm, hit the pub, had a lovely Guinness stew at one of the best restaurants in Galway Quay Street Kitchen…and 12 hours later were in bed.

You’re in bits after last night and assume the fun is done
But don’t think we’ve forgotten about a special someone

Hurry, get your stuff together it’s time to pack
I’ve booked a special treat to get rid of this hangover and to relax

Since it was Sophie’s birthday the coming week and I knew we’d be suffering a bit on our final day, I booked us into the spa at 5-star Hotel Meyrick. It was a great deal, two services for 60 Euro and we also got to use the spa, including the outdoor ‘Canadian hot tub’ which had views over Galway Bay. Maybe we can afford to stay here next time instead of the budget Imperial Hotel (big rooms and great location in Erie Square to be fair).

It was the perfect end to a great trip. After that, it was only a 1 hour straight shot back down to Shannon on the highway.

Fun Fact! Claddagh, an area close to Galway city, is where the famous Claddagh ring comes from. It is a traditional Irish ring which represents love, loyalty, and friendship.

Claddagh Rings, Quay Street

Other recommended pubs in Galway

  • O’Connor’s Famous Pub
  • The Front Door
  • Busker Brownes

Drinking Kölsch in Cologne


Cologne (Köln) has long been on my list of places to visit, but I can’t exactly point my finger to why. I don’t have much experience travelling in Germany, bar debauchery during Oktoberfest 2006 and an all-night bender in Berlin the same year. But something about Cologne must have grabbed me to put it on my bucket list a few years back.

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Perhaps because the colourful, pastel houses that line the Rhine River are beautiful, despite that fact that about 75% of Cologne was destroyed by bombs during WWII and much of the city had to be rebuilt. Or the fact that it’s a university town, one of the oldest and largest in Europe, so it’s young at heart. But after spending a weekend in this abruptly charming city, I’ve learned so much more than anticipated.

Going in with no expectations was the trick. For both me and my Aussie travelling companion Hannah, our goals were quite simple – eat hearty German food, drink delicious Kölsch beer and surprise ourselves with who we might meet or what we might learn by wandering aimlessly throughout the small, 2,000-year-old city.

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We positioned ourselves at the recently launched 25 Hour Circle Hotel. It’s in the northwest corner of the city centre, just on the edge of the trendy Belgian Quarter, and easily walkable to any of the main sites such as the famous Cologne Cathedral, Old Town and the student bars on Zülpicher Strasse.

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Ultra-hip is a start to begin to describe this unique and futuristic, Berlin-designed hotel. Robots roam the lobby (for-real!), rooms are fitted with retro gadgets and the rooftop Monkey Bar screams urban chic, with cathedral views and amazing cocktails to support its claim. Plus, staff were super nice and helpful, bikes are available to rent, and there’s even a sauna for guest usage.

I’m also a huge fan of tours when it comes to getting to know the more intimate details of a city, and so we booked with The Kölsch Guys when we arrived, one of the few tours running in winter as well as English speaking. Our host Ariane, a local university student, spoke impeccable English (thanks to her Canadian mother) and was very useful in teaching us about Cologne culture, Kölsch beer and local history and architecture.

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Kölsch Beer & Brewhouse Facts:

  • The first rule of a brauhaus, put your coaster down in front of you to indicate you would like a Kölsch.
  • When you want them to stop coming (and they will keep on bringing them!), place your coaster on the top of your glass to indicate you’re finished.
  • The koebes (waiter) will keep track of how many Kölsch you drink by marking a tick on your coaster for each drink.
  • They’ll also be deliberately rude until you’ve ordered your fill; it’s part of the tradition.
  • Each brauhaus has its own Kölsch or family recipe. This comes from a barrel (not a keg, as the carbon dioxide would change its unique taste). It has to follow a proven formula, a similar concept to the French DOC for Champagne, to officially be called Kölsch.
  • “Prost” is the way you say cheers before taking your first sip.
  • 4.8% ABV is the average for Kölsch, served in a 200ml skinny glass and distributed from a wreath holding 11 Kölsch glasses.

The Kölsch Guys Beer Tour:

We learned quite quickly that Cologne has its own arrogance about it, but balances it with a dry sense of humour that really is a teddy bear at heart. Koebe’s want your service, they want to speak English and they appreciate your patronage but they’ll act like they’re doing you a favour at the same time. It’s part of the charm and their mentality to be rude and up front, and notably more forward than other German cities.

Kölsch in itself is unique. It’s a light, easy drinking beer that’s part of the local life and culture. Residents grow up drinking Kölsch quite young, and people decide where they are going to hang out based on the brewhouse whose Kölsch is to their preferred taste.

It was at our first stop Brauerei zur Malzmühle where we had our first Mühlen Kölsch and learned the basics about how to approach this local beer (see above).

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Our second stop, Gilden im Zims, is an original brauhaus built before the war, with antiqued Roman remains stored behind glass windows in the floor. This is also an exception to Kölsch predominately being family owned, as this one is a franchise.

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I personally found the Sünner Kölsch at our third stop Sünner im Walfisch a bit more flat tasting than the others, but the overall atmosphere very cosy. It was on our way here that we learned about the importance the number 11 has to the city, with their traditional Carnival (fifth season) starting at 11 am on the 11th of November, and even the beer wreaths holding 11 Kölsch.

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Finally, at Brauhaus Sion, a 700-year-old brewhouse, we saw our first example of how the locals dress for Carnival, from fancy dress to sophisticated traditional garments.

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For a quick way to get your head around how important Kölsch is to those from Cologne, this tour was friendly, affordable and worth it. How else would we have learned not to take locals too seriously? As Adriane said, “Cologne humour is only funny to Cologne.”

Where to eat in Cologne:

Peters Brauhaus

Peters Brauhaus is one of the more famous “must go” to for traditional Kölsch, and equally for some satisfying local grub. The same can be said for many of the other traditional brewhouses. But we came to Peters for one thing, pork knuckle! Crispy, juicy and cooked to perfection, with savoy cabbage and fried bacon-potatoes, it was out of this world massive and delicious.

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Plus, we loved our waitress. She optimised the quintessential Cologne wait staff, even before we really knew what it was about. With bright red lipstick and short curly grey hair, for a woman in her 60s, she had all the sass I would expect. She was beautiful, acted fed up, with a brisk, no-nonsense attitude that was charming at that same time. I liked her and didn’t want to do the wrong thing by her.

She perfected the dry sarcastic humour we were told about. “Can we please order food?,” I asked politely. “Why not?” was her abrupt reply. I desperately wanted a photo but was too intimidated that she wouldn’t have stood for it.

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More importantly, though, can you imagine devouring a pork knuckle hungover? The dream for any fried and grease loving meat eater.

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Bei Oma Kleinmann

Next up is known as the best schnitzel in Cologne, you don’t have to ask me twice. Bei Oma Kleinmann, situated in the buzzing student area, is a must stop when visiting. I recommend to book ahead or join the queue for when they open at 5 pm daily to try and snag a seat at the bar while you wait for a table. I have no regrets about our “early bird special”.

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The staff are great and speak English, the Sünner Kölsch is free-flowing and even the wine list was above average compared to what we found in other brewhouses. The whole restaurant has so much character, the walls covered floor to ceiling in photos, both real as well as wallpaper that they had custom made with original photos after being fed up with them coming down all the time. My favourite was one of Carnival dating back to 77’.

When it came to the schnitzel though, I bow down. You have options of traditional veal or pork as it is, or can choose from one of the ten or so sauces on the side, from mushroom to pineapple curry. Honestly, they’re not needed as the veal was fried to such perfection, each bite was followed with “OMG it’s soooooo good.”

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The homemade potato salad was a great accompaniment, as were the fries, and it worked well to order one of each to share between us. I didn’t think we’d manage, but both smashed our whole plates till not a bite was left. There’s always the children’s option (only 1 cutlet instead of two) for those less inclined, but my suggestion is to come hungry and enjoy! There’s a reason they’re number 1.

Salon Schmitz

Rated as a place “to be seen” in the trendy Belgian Quarter, Salon Schmitz is a laid back cafe, bar and salon wrapped into 3 separate buildings offering regional food with their own Kölsch on tap. It was a bit of a strange concept to have to place your order through the window next door, but order your drink seated at a table from the waiter in the 60’s themed bar, but we were satisfied none of the less. Their English was friendly, the menu more of a guess!

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Cafe Waschsalon

Cafe Waschsalon was a great spot to stop in for lunch. This concept cafe is a converted old laundromat, eccentric and friendly, despite minimal English speaking, they tried really hard – in a good way. They specialise in light fare, coffees and juices during the day and are known to have good cocktails in the evening. I was in love with the goat cheese and walnut salad and would happily return.

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All Kölsch’ed out? Here is where to drink cocktails in Cologne:

Monkey Bar

The rooftop bar at the 25 Hour Circle Hotel is one of the hottest new cocktail bars in town. In fact, when we arrived at 7 pm expecting it to be quiet (as were the other bars in the neighbourhood at that time), we were surprised to find it pumping. The Negronis were strong and on point as well as their own version of a pisco sour was impressive. “It’s the best Negroni I’ve ever had,” said Hannah. 112 Euro later, and her hangover the next morning would beg to differ.

Cafè Restaurant Feynsinn

Just down the street from the best schnitzel in Cologne (Bei Oma Kleinmann), this casual restaurant is a hot spot for dinner, as well as, they produce a great cocktail menu.  In the heart of the student area overflowing with bars, this place stands out as a more sophisticated, healthy option to schnitzel and Kölsch.

Shepheard

Hidden down a few steps with a foggy glass door with Shepheard clear across its surface, this is one of the most popular cocktail bars in the city. Despite being hard to find, it was a pleasure to sit at the bar chatting to the friendly bartender Adrian as we worked our way through their music-themed menu.

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The Grid Bar

Based on a recommendation from our friends at Shepheard, this is where bartenders in Cologne come to drink.  We rang the bell to be let into this sophisticated speakeasy, situated next to an amateur night club with music pumping and a long line out front, I wouldn’t have known it was here with our referral. In the end, it was another win for a great spot to try interesting cocktails with a good vibe.

In fact, we met a friendly local who talked us through his two cents on what makes Cologne so unique. “Cologne is not beautiful but a great place to live, if you want beauty go to France.” He also shared that the local “politeness” could be offensive even to other Germans who aren’t local.

“In normal places, you order your next beer, here we tell them to stop bringing it.” Thanks Tilly, great to make your acquaintance.

Time to relax…naked?

On our last day, we have had our fill of beer and schnitzel. Theoretically, many are still staying strong to their post-Christmas diets and dry-January obligations, which don’t seem to exist in Cologne. So, we thought what better way to reward ourselves and come back to London more refreshed than ever with a nice relaxing spa.

Searching “Best Spas” in Cologne we came across a few that were central to the city. We had our eye set on Claudius Therme, but due to the rain and poor timing, we didn’t feel we could make it across the city. We also passed Bathhouse Babylon on our first day, only to learn it was one of the hottest gay spas in town – we dodged a bullet there. So, we were left with one final option, the Mauritius Hotel and Spa.

Aside from the service being quite curt and unhelpful, the bigger confusion came with a German custom we frankly weren’t aware of, nor prepared for. Shocked isn’t the word to describe our disbelief as we entered the spa area to find men and women in their 70s straight in the buff! It’s not every day an old grey-haired man enters the same swimming pool as you, slowly making his way down the stairs, bit by bit (literally). That was my cue to exit the pool, asap!

Before entering one of the many saunas, there was a clear sign stating it was nude only. We thought nothing of it and carefully entered one where we knew no one else was present and stripped down to our bathing suits. During a refreshing dip in the jacuzzi after, where we were politely asked to keep the volume of our voices down as it was echoing and distracting to guests who were sleeping, we were pretty sure the guard on duty had it out for us. That was proven just moments later as Hannah was called out for wearing her knickers in the ‘strictly nude’ sauna and was asked to refrain from future use.

It was easy for us to walk away at that point. What might be part of the local culture was frankly getting just a bit too weird. When is being dressed frowned up and nudity required? Someone only from their local customs can explain better than I can at this point.

So, clothed or naked, when is the ideal time to visit Cologne? So what if it rained the whole time we were there, any time is the right time! Carnival in February is their busiest season, but otherwise, there’s nothing stopping you for taking a weekend getaway to drink Kölsch, eat great food and mingle with the locals. They really are friendlier than then on first impressions! Plus, there are some great museums to try too (if you can find the time).

 

 

Christmas Markets in Bruges


Colourful guild house, Bruges market square

Colourful guild house, Bruges market square

Bruges is one of Europe’s most picturesque and romantic cities, with an irresistible charm all year round. But visiting Bruges in the lead up to Christmas makes it even more enchanting.

Christmas lights in Bruges

Furthermore, getting from London to Bruges on the Eurostar is easy as pie, which also means there is a very good chance you may return home with heavier suitcases than intended, thanks to some amazing Belgian beer at prices you only can get locally. Or at least that was the case (literally) for us as there are no alcohol restrictions on the Eurostar so it beats flying any day.

Bruges Christmas Markets at dusk

What makes Bruges so charming though is the pastel coloured medieval guild houses that line the market square. In fact, they were gorgeous in the sunlight but became even more mesmerising once dusk approached and the twinkly Christmas lights that covered them were lit. That, coupled with romantic canals, handmade chocolates, hearty meals in cosy pubs and a vast variety of quality beer, I’ve got nothing but praise.

Chocolatier in Bruges

Chocolatier in Bruges

Christmas Markets

Bruges Christmas Market Square

We spent some time in the Christmas Village (Kerstmarkt Brugge) in the Bruges Market Square (Grote Market), overdoing our selfie game to the picturesque backdrop and roaming through the stalls who were selling winter hats, Christmas decorations and lots of booze. Attempting to blend in with the locals, we tried our hand at the Chouffe Coffee Liqueur with whipped cream, it was very sweet but also felt pretty special at that moment considering the setting.

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Bratwurst with onions

The main square is also the heart of where the tourists roam. This is likely due to the beautiful backdrop of the Belfry of Bruges, made famous in the movie In Bruges (2008). Also on the Market Square, you will find the “Historium”, a historical experience which takes you back in time to medieval Bruges. There are also horse-drawn carriages, restaurants in colourful guild houses and an ice rink for the winter season. In fact, at the foot of the Belfry are the “world’s most famous chippies” known as frietkoten, something we discovered making our way home late at night after too many Belgian pints.

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There was also a second set of markets (Simon Stevinplein) – these stalls were selling more clothing and decorations, and it was there we befriended Mattias and his local friends who welcomed us to a game of “nails”.

Here’s the gist…you stand around a large tree stump and each take turns to hammer your 9-inch nail into the stump whilst in a circle. If your nail gets hammered in first, you must buy the next round of nails, if your nail goes in last, you buy the next round of beers. The first is definitely much more appealing to the latter considering the cost was 3 Euro to 20.

The markets on Saturday were also much busier than during the daytime on Friday – perhaps this was because this was the first weekend they were open and so the locals were very active in town as well. The Bruges Christmas markets run November 23, 2018 to January 1, 2019.

Accommodation

La Maison Zenasni, Bruges

La Maison Zenasni, Bruges

We stayed at the adorable bed and breakfast La Maison Zenasni, which I highly recommend. A huge mansion set only a few blocks from the main square, you can’t help but ooh and ahhh as you enter. They even had our names on a welcome board when we arrived, a nice personal touch.

Welcoem to La Maison Zenasni

Welcome to La Maison Zenasni

There are only 3 rooms in this antiquated wooden palace, each decked out with their own theme – we had the blue room. We fell asleep staring at the large chandelier hanging from the high ceiling, bathed in an old cast iron bathtub and woke on Sunday morning to church bells outside our large open window, Jamie’s favourite part. The only downfall was the lack of toiletries and that there was no mounted shower head.

Breakfast Room, La Maison Zenasni, Bruges

Breakfast Room, La Maison Zenasni, Bruges

Breakfast was included and we dined along with the other guests on a huge wooden communal picnic table, the massive glass window showered us with natural light, as we devoured a spread of delectable cheeses and pastries, attempting to cure our hangovers.

But enough about the accommodation, let’s get onto the beer!

Pubs

Our first stop was Café Vlissinghe, the oldest bar in Bruges originally built in 1515. Hidden away from the market and the masses of tourists, this Flemish gem was super cosy, with an old stove keeping the small Inn very warm. In the summer months, the large garden in the back seems ideal for a delicious beer outside in the sun.

Jamie tried his hand at the guest beer which was a Julius Blonde, and I went with the Vlissinghe house beer. We snacked on chunky salami and tasty cheese before Jamie was told off for feeding the very adorable Jack Russell. I’m not going to say “I told you so.”

Bruges canals

We moved on from there to a sports pub called The Monk who have a pretty good array of beers on tap to try. Here we chatted to friendly James, an Englishman from Hastings trying to hide his accent behind his Flemish after 11 years in Bruges, about which beers we should try and what restaurants he favours in town. I couldn’t resist Chimay Blue’s dark rich flavour while Jamie went with his mate’s suggestion of Cherry Chouffe, a new favourite that made its way home with us.  

Kwak hourglass

La Corne

Everywhere we went we picked out a new beer which would come with its own glass custom from the brewery. It means you can literally choose your beer by the glass you want to drink from (like a horn for La Corne or an hourglass with a wooden holder for Kwak), that is, if you’re open to experimenting with new varieties and taking a risk. Jamie was shocked, on the other hand, to learn that most beers are at least 8% ABV but still taste delicious, something he admits isn’t the case ‘back home’ in England.

Talking beer at Cambrinus, Bruges

Talking beer at Cambrinus, Bruges

At Cambrinus, an old pub with over 400 beers, we met another English beer coinsurer, from Lincolnshire, who swears that Westvleteren, a brewery founded in 1838 at the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium, is one of best beers in the world. They had it in the bottle there for about 19 Euro, so we booked in for lunch the next day to try carbonnade, the famous Flemish stew made with beef/lamb and beer and ordered a tasting paddle of their best draft beers. The portions were huge and hearty – we tried the fried cheese, carbonnade and homemade meatballs –  and the staff were very friendly. Just make sure you book ahead or expect to get turned away.

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Another option is to try the Bruges Beer Experience. Interactive and educational, you are taken through the history of brewing all the way through to learning about global beer varieties. For us, it was a great way to escape the rain. Using an iPad, you walk around the venue to either read or listen, and at various points you can quiz your knowledge or participate in multi-sensory learning by smelling hops, tasting notes or pairing foods. Entry is 9 Euro or 15 Euro including 3 beer tastings at the end, which is worth it!

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There are a few breweries right in the heart of Bruges, so we tried our hand at Bourgogne des Flandre. It’s located in a beautiful setting right on a canal, which I’d imagine provides wonderful views in the summer. We thought it wiser to stay warm inside and try a paddle tasting to sample all the Flemish beers. Luckily, Jamie and I have opposite tastes so we quickly split the beers in half after discovering our preferences.

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Christmas Beers

Christmas Beers

Finally, to our favourite pub T’bruges Beertje. The trick for this small tasting house is to skip the overcrowded front room, keep walking past the toilets, and you’ll find even more tables in the back. I loved the vibe of the whole place, covered in various beer logos and adverts. If it wasn’t full of tourists you’d want it to be your local. They have about 300 beers in bottles and are very friendly and open to discussing your tastes and finding the right beer. In fact, they had such a variety of Christmas beers that we decided to embrace the season and get stuck in.

Dinner

While scouring local reviews for a top-notch restaurant for our anniversary dinner, I settled on Park Restaurant. Their set menu of 70 Euros includes wines, so wasn’t too bad for the value. The reviews raved about owner Axel and the personal service offered. I couldn’t agree more. Set in a huge old townhouse down a quiet street away from the heaps of tourists, classically decorated, tall candle lights, white table clothes and all.  

Park Restaurant, Bruges

Park Restaurant, Bruges

With that said, there were some gaps that make it clear why they haven’t received their Michelin Star just yet…the menu never changes aside from small touches – the butter was served in paper rather than handmade, and the walls are filled with European celebrities who have visited over the years. But hey, it’s a model that works.

Dinner at Park Restaurant

Dinner at Park Restaurant

Overall it was a comforting, old-fashioned dining experience with great service, tasty food and a charming ambience but was it worth it for the hefty price tag? Maybe, just to meet Axel. He gave us good recommendations on where to go on from there (see Late Night).

But a cut above was Bistro Christophe. This contemporary Flemish restaurant was on many of the top foodie blogs of Bruges, so naturally also made it onto my shortlist. When James at The Monk also recommended it, I felt we had to give it a go, even if that meant two expensive meals back to back.

Chateaubriand at Bistro Christophe

Chateaubriand at Bistro Christophe

The service was excellent, but the food even more heavenly. We split the chateaubriand and were over the moon with the quality of the cut and the accompanying sauces with a bottle of Caruso & Minini Terre di Giumara Frappato – Nerello – Mascalese wine.

Late Night

Thanks to the recommendations of Axel land our friends from Surry who bumped into at the Bruges Beer Experience, we were in no shortfall of post-dinner options. In fact, there was a good mix of basement style bars catering to students and higher-end cocktail joints.

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Both evenings we ended up chatting away over a few whiskeys to the friendly staff at Comptoir Des Arts, a fun and casual basement bar where you can check out live jazz. Across the street at ‘t Poatersgat, things were a bit busier with a much more student vibe. Hidden behind a concealed hole in the wall, go down the stairs to enter this casual dive bar, with a big select of beers on draft, and easy place to lose the time. Some say it’s a must for Bruges!

With friends at BAR”N

BAR”N is a cute modern yet cosy cocktail bar near the main square. This was recommended by some friends, and a fun atmosphere to start or end the evening as it closes at 2.

And finally, there’s Groot Vlaenderen, a classy cocktail bar in a beautiful brick building, expect it to be crowded but with a vast array of cocktails – with the price tag to come with them. Service was slower than desired but the drinks made up for it.

Brussels

When taking the Eurostar to Bruges, you must change over in Brussels. That’s not necessarily a bad thing!

We left Bruges after checking out of our B&B and made our way over to Brussels for a few hours. This was a great call as there’s still tons to do.

  • Visit the Brussels Christmas Markets for lunch
  • Take a photo of the famous statue Manneken Pis
  • Wander around the Grand Palace
  • Taste a variety of beers in the massive Delirium Village, with 8 bars and fun atmosphere
  • Eat huge bowls of delicious Mussels at Chez Leon

Manneken Pis, Brussels

Manneken Pis, Brussels

Delirium Village, Brussels

Delirium Village, Brussels

We also made the right move of ignoring all the tourist beer shops like the Bottle Shop where prices are extremely inflated and stopped off at Carrefour grocery store to stock up on our Delirium and La Chouffe to take back to England, for literally a fraction of the cost.

Overall it was an amazing trip together. We tried many Christmas beers and old favourites like Delerium, Chimay and Kriek but also some new varieties that are now up in my books, such as La Chouffe and Trappist. Drinks aren’t that expensive either, expect to pay about 4 Euro for a very strong beer, however, dinner can put you out a bit more with starters between 10-15 Euro and mains 20-30.

I can’t wait to go back!

Lisa & Jamie in Bruges

Lisa & Jamie in Bruges