Frolics on the French Riviera – Top 10 Nice Highlights

The best thing about the beautifully crafted Sky Atlantic show Riviera were the endless captivating shots of clear blue sea, and sunshine glittering on the water… clichés galore and I LOVED it. I spent 10 episodes drooling over the scenery (much more interesting than the show!), and … Continue reading

Live like a local in Sala Comacina

A few weeks ago Mr TBST and I headed to the pretty, sleepy village of Sala Comacina on the edge of Lake Como. We’ve been crazy busy since our honeymoon, and it was finally time to rejuvenate in one of my favourite places in the whole world – Italy. Each region and city is different from the last, but will greet you like an old friend you can’t wait to join for chilled wine on a beautiful terrace. This year I wanted to explore somewhere new, and if it’s good enough for Mr Clooney…

We found our perfect hide-away on Air bnb – Suite Regina in Sala Comacina offers guests a floor to themselves; a large bedroom with balcony overlooking the lake and a fridge complete with bubbly and bottled water, and a huge bathroom with claw-foot tub and waterfall shower. Hello serenity!

To reach Sala Comacina, we flew into Milan, took the airport express train as far as Saronno, then hopped onto a regional train to Como itself. From there, Sala Comacina is a C10 bus ride away. This post-flight trio took us about 2 and a half hours, but was super easy and the bus tracks the edge of Lake Como, so it’s a very special introduction to the region.

On arrival, our lovely host Wendy gave us a tour of the village’s bars and restaurants, some of which get booked-up for dinner several days in advance, so I’d recommend planning and pre-booking if possible. One of my favourites was the Lido Di Sala Comacina, where you can dine al fresco from a simple but delicious home-cooked menu, with a gorgeous house wine. Locals in every bar and café in the village greeted us with “ciao” and a nod when we walked in, giving us that cosy feeling of familiarity, and plenty of opportunities to try out our Italian lingo (and gesture wildly while speaking loudly in English).

The Italian lake-side streets are incredibly narrow and parking in the villages is limited, so trains, buses, lake ferries and water taxis are the best way to get around, and make it very easy to explore further afield. A ferry-journey away, the “Pearl of the Lake” town of Bellagio offers a panoramic view of the Lake, and its narrow, cobbled streets are full of boutiques, wine bars and tucked-away roof terraces. Isola Comacina is the only island on Lake Como, and its historic ruins, picnicking spots, and viewpoints make it worth a visit. The island can be reached by water taxi from Sala Comacina, or by lake ferry from many of the other towns. Tip: Take your own refreshments onto the island, 2 cans of soft drink and 2 small ice creams cost us almost £20.

Lake Como is naturally and unapologetically romantic, with the kind of distracting beauty that grabs your attention and won’t release it. Waking up beside the Lake and eating fresh pastries on the balcony feels like pure indulgence, but budget airlines and self-catering accommodation make Italy a great, flexible option for couples on a budget, and whether you visit for 3 days or 3 weeks you’ll take something indefinable away with you.  I would visit again tomorrow, and the next day, and for the rest of my life.

Ciao!

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Above: Beautiful architecture in Sala Comacina

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Above: Bellagio

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Above: Sala Comacina village, as seen from the lake

 

Vegetarian New Zealand (Part 2)

A few more meat-free choices from the South Pacific…

The Camel Grill (Wellington)

On the waterfront, at the arty heart of this ultra-trendy city, you’ll find a fast-food van and pure joy. Recently named “coolest little capital in the world” by Lonely Planet, you can’t move for aviator-sporting, granola-munching hipsters and freshly ground coffee in Wellington. But if you fancy something naughtier, and you like your falafel moist (and lets face it what lunatic doesn’t?), seek and you shall find The Camel Grill.

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Hubby loving life at The Camel Grill

The Village Café (Martinborough)

This place is exactly what it says on the tin…and then some. Homemade gnocchi, freshly baked bread, perfect Martinborough sauvignon blanc, all served by fresh-faced locals who are happy to share their recommendations and tweak dishes as needed. Martinborough itself is a wine village about an hour’s drive from Wellington, and a little off the usual tourist track. A plethora of boutique vineyards, olive groves, and wide country roads make this a perfect cycling spot – check out Green Jersey cycling tours and bike hire.

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Cycling through Martinborough’s olive groves and vineyards

Indigo (Napier)

This Indian restaurant, an anachronism housed in Napier’s beautiful art deco architecture, is a real find. Average from outside, but brilliant Trip Advisor reviews overruled my first impressions, and I’m so happy we ate here! The vegetable manchurian is a welcome change from the usual vegetable curries, and a dhal tadka washed down with a beer is the perfect end to a day of wandering.

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The famous Daily Telegraph building in Napier

PS I choose a meat-free diet but I’m not super-strict, so I didn’t check with the restaurants whether every ingredient in their vegetarian options was strictly vegetarian. I hope this blog post will help both vegetarians and others who make meat-free choices without having strict objections to ingredients derived from animals. Freedom of choice… no judgement here!

Glamping

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I discovered this Shepherd’s Hut on the Canopy & Stars website (which probably deserves a post all of its own – I could spend hours gazing at the tree-houses on that site and it’s great when you’re in the mood for procrastinating!). West Town Farm, in Ide, is just an hour and a half from Bristol, and not only is the farm is the perfect backdrop for romance, the idyllic Shepherd’s Hut is pure bliss.

This place is the best of both worlds – secluded and peaceful, but with the bustling farm just two minutes’ walk away. The ‘bathroom’ hut with electric shower provided a touch of luxury, and the hand-delivered freshly cooked breakfasts gave me the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten. Those eggs certainly came from happy hens! You get a real sense that the farm is a big part of the local community, and everyone is happy to show you around, or you can simply explore to your heart’s content.

And my birthday treat for The Boy – a Segway Rally through Haldon Forest. If you’ve never experienced Haldon Forest, it’s worth a visit, and while you’re there a Segway-ing is an absolute must. The beauty of the Segway is that pretty much anyone can ride one, there is very little falling off involved, and once you’ve mastered the balance you can feed the adrenaline junkie within you. Just as I considered trading in my car, I sadly discovered that Segways aren’t road-legal in the UK, so my commute isn’t about to get interesting.

If you’re ever in Ide (not a sentence I ever knew I’d use), I wholeheartedly recommend dinner at The Huntsman Inn. We loved this place! Great food, friendly team, and my personal favourite feature was a huge blackboard on the wall that listed the source of every ingredient on their menu, right down to the artichokes.

 And if I know where my artichokes have come from, I can sleep easy in my Shepherd’s Hut.

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A nod to the Welshman.

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I fell a little bit in love with these gorgeous piglets.

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 Oh, look, it’s the Hut again, but this time she’s made it look rustic.

 Check out: http://www.canopyandstars.co.uk/ @canopyandstars http://www.westtownfarm.co.uk/ http://www.go-segway.com/ @Go_segway http://www.thehuntsmaninn.com/ @THEHUNTSMAN_INN

This post is a cheeky re-blog from my original Cocktails & Chutney blog… hope you enjoy!

Copenhagen – The perfect city break?

When my suitcase split at the airport, and I realised I’d forgotten to pack a few city break essentials (who needs a coat in Scandinavia anyway!), I wondered what lay ahead. Happily, prosecco and G&Ts came to the rescue, and I discovered Copenhagen is freakin’ awesome! So I’d like to put forward my case for Copenhagen as the perfect city break for Brits…

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Above: Nyhavn.

Firstly, the flight time is just 2 hours, and Copenhagen airport is a 10 minute train journey from Copenhagen’s central station. So travel time won’t eat into your cheeky weekend away – win! Public transport in Copenhagen is super-efficient, there are plenty of S Train stations, and the metro is being expanded to make travel even easier – although one guide explained that natives of Copenhagen expect it to be completed in “year haha”.

Secondly, Copenhagen is a haven for foodies – even fussy vegetarians. When the concierge explained we were staying in the ‘Meatpacking District’, I worried I’d be living on vending machine fodder, but once again Copenhagen came up trumps (of course!). I recommend Toro – contemporary tapas, uber-friendly staff, very accommodating for vegetarians, and you feel cooler just sitting in this place! It gets very busy, so it’s worth booking a table. And if you’re away for a romantic break, check out the brilliant Je T’aime. Rustic French-inspired cooking, candle-lit tables and yummy new world wines.

Andersen Bakery (FYI Trip Advisor’s top-rated bakery in Copenhagen) and it’s melt-in-the-mouth pastries can be found opposite the train station – Three visits in four days… they must be doing something right! But it’s not just pastries… From the marshmallow *sounds like* ‘flooble’ on my scrummy Danish ice-cream, to the Tuborg beers we supped in our hotel, there is lots to love in Copenhagen.

Thirdly, there is so much to keep your entertained in Copenhagen. Get learning with the free Sandeman’s walking tour, check out the underwhelming but popular sculpture of ‘The Little Mermaid’, keep warm in the greenhouses in the botanical gardens, and sample beers in the Carlsberg factory. Discover a new perspective on a boat trip, climb the spiral church tower at the Church of Our Saviour, and visit the free town of Christiania. Embrace your inner child and play with Lego in the official Lego shop, and sit on a sunny terrace in Nyhavn (‘New Harbour’) – With outdoor heaters, and blankets on the chairs, you can dine al fresco whatever the weather, and yes chances are it’ll be cold. Watch the changing of the guards at the royal palace, or travel the short distance to Sweden to make it a multi-stop trip. We walked more than 6 miles a day in Copenhagen, so remember to pack comfortable shoes (or blister plasters). And *girl comment alert* all the walking means those pastry-pounds will stay away! Win-win.

Finally, the Danes are said to be among the happiest people in the world, and this feels true from the moment you step off the plane. And it’s infectious! Copenhagen left me feeling rejuvenated – I can’t wait to see more of Scandinavia…

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Italy by Rail (Part 4: Venice)

IMG_1193I leap at any opportunity to share my love of Venice, one of my favourite places to be, so I’m excited to be writing this post and sharing some of my top picks!

Nothing can prepare you for the breathtaking sight that greets you as you leave the train station and find yourself on the edge of the Grand Canal. For me, this beats arriving by water-taxi or speedboat hands down. It is like entering another world – and one that you’ll be very reluctant to say goodbye to when the time comes.

Venice itself is pretty small, and if you like to tick off the sights, you’ll be able to do this easily, without much need for public transport. However, Venice is also the perfect place to just BE. So take a vaporetto (water bus) for no reason – if you’re under 29, the ‘Rolling Venice’ card and 3-day young persons’ travel card are a bargain! – island-hop with hoards of tourists, and find your own little piece of paradise. Enjoy navigating the intricate network of narrow streets, and the joy of leaving a busy tourist hot-spot and finding yourself in an isolated square within seconds.

I’ve been lucky to visit Venice 3 times in the past few years, but I still get a thrill from a ride in the gondola (made less romantic by the tourists snapping away at you as you go by, but with a charm of it’s own, and offering a unique perspective of Venice), and scoffing gelato in St Mark’s Square. However, my heart lies with the islands in the Venetian Lagoon, and the peace you find in the evenings when the vaporetto have stopped their regular trips, and the crowds  have returned to their cruise ships and tour buses. When you’re booking your Venetian adventure, consider staying on the island of Murano. While this might mean limiting your evening meal options, or splashing out for a water taxi or late vaporetto after dinner in Venice, it’s worth it for the tranquil feeling that you are the only people left on the island at night, and waking to watch the locals go about their daily business – this might sound obvious, but literally everything happens by boat; rubbish collection, fruit and veg sales, construction… it’s an awesome insight into island life! Last time I visited Venice, The Boy and I opted for pure luxury after 10 days of hostels, and booked 3 nights at La Gare Hotel Venezia – a stunning hotel on Murano, complete with prosecco breakfasts (and a spread to make your mouth water), comfortable luxurious rooms, and a smashing restaurant.

The small islands of Burano, famous for it’s lace-making, and Murano, of glass-making fame, are nicely geared up for tourism, with plenty of photo opportunities and locally-produced souvenirs to take home, but don’t dismiss the tiny island of Torcello, in the north of the Lagoon. With a full-time population of just 10 people, including the parish priest, Torcello offers breathing space after the crowds on Burano and Murano. There is a cathedral and church that are worth checking out, and the Ponte del Diavolo (Devil’s Bridge), but the real attraction for me is Osteria Al Ponte del Diavolo. If you’re looking for a hearty but refined Italian meal, in a peaceful sunny garden, this is the perfect lunch stop. Oh and they also do wedding receptions, in case you are thinking about Italian nuptials!

Below: Pretty coloured houses in Burano, and a glass sculpture in Murano.

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I’m out of superlatives, so I guess it’s time for me to stop writing. I hope this post offers an insight into what makes Venice so special, and will encourage you to think outside the box just a little when you live your Venetian adventure.

Useful sites:

http://www.veneziaunica.it/en/content/rolling-venice

http://www.lagarehotelvenezia.com/en/

http://uk.osteriaalpontedeldiavolo.com/

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