Finding something wonderful in Rhodes

Compromise is a tricky thing, and usually means doing something you don’t really want to… so when it comes to holidays, compromising can be tough! In our house, we tend to take it in turns to pick trips from our … Continue reading

Get chocolate drunk in Basel

Mr TBST and I like to meet January head-on, booking a post-Christmas getaway so we can avoid those blues. This January we headed to the small but mighty city of Basel in Switzerland, for a 2-night/3-day stay.

Basel effortlessly blends romantic Swiss architecture, art and culture by the bucket-load, and quirky twisting side streets, while also being an economic hub – with the latter presumably being the reason EasyJet offers super-cheap flights to the city. Basel is predominantly German-speaking, however the locals are friendly and kindly accommodated our English.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in Switzerland, the food and drink in Basel is a foodie’s dream – with an equally exquisite price tag! However, there are some hidden gems with slightly kinder prices –  Drink Ueli Bier at Brauerei Fischerstube – a microbrewery and restaurant, with great food (including yummy vegetarian options) and a gorgeous potato rosti bar snack, and I’d also recommend Tibits, an upmarket self-service vegetarian restaurant on Stänzlergasse, where you pay for the weight of your plate!

My Basel highlight was our private chocolate tasting experience with Stephanie (Xocotour Suisse) – just wow! This euphoria is (probably) not solely down to the chocolate enzymes…. Stephanie is so friendly and knowledgeable, and so passionate about chocolate, it’s infectious – within minutes we felt perfectly at home in Stephanie’s hip cafe. The chocolate was honestly the best I’ve ever eaten – I’m converted to delicious artisan dark chocolate! Oh and while you’re there, ask Stephanie about Guatemalan Keith.

If you don’t share my chocolate obsession, there’s plenty more to enjoy in Basel! Basel is a wandering city; meander through steep and narrow streets, gaze at the architecture and enjoy the beautiful Old Town. Climb the Basler Munster (cathedral) – warning, its a very tight squeeze, maybe don’t attempt this after indulging in the local brew and heavy regional specialities! Check out the quirky engineering on the Tinguely Fountain, and the spectacular Rockstar Mural street art, tucked away in the shopping district. Visit the iconic, bright red Rathaus (town hall), wander the pretty St Alban district, and cross the Rhine in the small, eco-friendly ferries that use only the natural current of the river to make their journey between the two sides of the city.

Public transport in Basel is a slick operation (and better signposted than the tourist sites). The ‘BaselCard’ is provided free of charge to tourists, by hotels, entitling the user to free use of public transport for the duration of their stay, as well as discounted entry to a generous list of attractions. This perk meant we could spend a rainy Sunday tram-hopping to make the most of our final day and go a bit further afield. There’s no confusing validating, just hop on and off as you like.

We stayed at Hotel Spalentor, next to the gothic Spalentor Gate, one of the three surviving medieval entrances to the city. We had a free upgrade to a ‘comfort room’, which had nice touches such as a Tassimo coffee machine, loads of space, and a branded rubber duck(!), plus there’s complimentary fresh fruit all day on reception. The staff here are amaaazing, nothing is too much trouble, I’d definitely recommend it.

Basel is a small city, but I wouldn’t rule out returning, as there’s still more to so. There are so many galleries and museums, and we didn’t venture inside this time. Basel also has heaps of festivals spanning the calendar, so it’s worth checking what’s on before you plan your trip…

Enjoy this little piece of Switzerland!

Edinburgh: 10 Must-dos in the Scottish Capital

Edinburgh is a beautiful, buzzing city and there’s always something new to explore. Last year I took Mr TBST to this awesome city to celebrate his 30th, and we later returned for the Fringe Festival and Military Tattoo, squeezing in as many classic Edinburgh experiences as we could.

You can fly to Edinburgh with ‘budget’ carriers from a number of UK cities, and there are great rail and bus links. If you’re flying, the Airlink return transfer from the airport is cheap and cheerful and the bus will take you into the city centre. And if you’re looking for reasonably priced and central accommodation, the Hub by Premier Inn is compact but friendly and just off the Royal Mile.

So here are my personal top 10 recommendations for an Edinburgh first-timer…

1. Take a walking tour. OK yes this may be a little obvious, but Edinburgh truly is a walking city, and you can take your pick of tours: Historical, Haunted, Sherlock, Harry Potter…. the choice is yours, but definitely take a tour, get your bearings and maybe even learn something. Many are free, and most are advertised along the Royal Mile. My favourite was the Sandemans ‘Dark Side’ tour with the brilliant Angus.

2. Join the gin craze at the Edinburgh Gin experience. Confession time… This gin is so good that we paid for checked luggage to fly our new gin supplies home! The Gin Connoisseur Tour will introduce you to some Edinburgh Gin classics, and by the time you leave you’ll be firm friends. Try the Navy Proof gin… if you dare!

3. Try something a little different at the Panda and Sons speakeasy. If you like your cocktails with a side-helping of prohibition-era glamour and pictures of animals wearing clothes, this is the spot for you. This kitsch secret bar is hidden behind a barber shop front with a false bookshelf door, and if you can find your way in you can reward yourself with a cocktail served in a take-away box – or something equally creative from their unusual menu.

4. Climb Arthur’s Seat. Head out early on a clear day for spectacular views, and clear your head after all that gin! So pack your walking boots, it’s worth the hike.

5. Get lost in the past at The Real Mary Kings Close. The eerie underground streets are the true Old Town, with 400 years of history to share, and the brilliant actor-guides will entertain you while giving a very real history lesson.

6. Pay your respects to Greyfriars Bobby. This beautiful commemorative statue to a loyal pooch is popular with visitors and always attracts a crowd.

7. Get swept up in the excitement of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I admit I was sceptical as I thought military bands might be a bit stuffy, but the event brings together entertaining performances from global military groups, and Edinburgh Castle is the perfect setting for this annual August event. The iconic lone piper is both haunting and beautiful, and the fireworks and visuals are super. Just remember to wrap up warm!

8. Indulge in a full Scottish breakfast at Whiski bar. This friendly bar is quickly becoming a tradition for our Edinburgh visits, offering reasonably-priced Scottish fare on the Royal Mile.

9. Stroke a bald cat in the Maison de Moggy Cat Café. Feels like velvet. Promise.

10. LOL at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Famed for its comedy, this August festival is about so much more, with drama, dance, cabaret, street performers, talks, burlesque… Navigate the frankly overwhelming Fringe programme or just see what takes your fancy. It’s a down-to-earth festival with artists flyering their shows up and down the Royal Mile and beyond, so you’ll have plenty of choice. At last year’s festival we spent a lot of time at Whistlebinkies, and the Waverley bar on St Mary street had some great comedy too. Some of the best (and worst!) things we saw were spontaneous and free – it’s all worth a punt. After all, laughing is good for you!

So that’s my top 10 Edinburgh first time activities, and I’ve just realised that most of them involve food and drink. No surprise there I guess!

Happy Travels x

70ish hours in charming Ljubljana

After a blogging sabbatical while I started life as a student, I’m desperate to write for pleasure again! I’ve squeezed in a few trips, so I’ve some catching up to do, and I’ll start with beautiful Slovenia.

Mr TBST and I headed to this tiny yet justifiably proud country in southeast Europe for an Easter break, flying into Ljubljana from Bristol on Easter Sunday. Home to around 2m people, the first thing we noticed was how friendly the locals are! Our taxi driver waited over 2 hours when our plane was delayed and still had a smile on his face when we reached Arrivals, and our air bnb host rocked up on her bicycle at midnight when the flight delay made us late.

Ljubljana is an easy city to explore and it really has got it all… Cafe culture, orange wine, a crazy pastiche of architecture, and of course the obligatory free walking tour! Ljubljana was named 2016 European Green Capital, and central Ljubljana is pedestrianised and relaxed – you can book a free electric golf buggy-style ride if you want to get across the Old Town quickly, or you can meander along the Willow-lined river at your own pace. Treat yourself to the free daily walking tour (https://ljubljanafreetour.com/). Expect the usual – humour, history, quirky tales… oh and a free shot of honey liqueur, yum! Ljubljana Castle is worth the steep uphill wander too (or save your thighs and jump in the furnicular!), and while you’re in the area grab lunch at Vodkinov Hram – a great spot for goulash, veggie croquettes and a shot of something local to finish off the meal.

And if you enjoy sampling the local beverages as much as I do… Slovenia beer is great, grab a Lasko, or seek out a trendy micro-brewery. Wine-lover? Slovenia shares a border with Italy, so maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Slovenia produces good wine. Sadly they only export about 10% of their wine production, so it’s unlikely to pop up in your local Sainsburys, but when in Ljubljana, you can go wine-tasting with the knowledgable Boris in a 300-year-old cellar (https://winetastingljubljana.com/). Boris will introduce you to seven wines, including orange! Slovenia is a hotspot for orange wine production. Technically a white wine, orange wine production uses a traditional process to produce a delicious amber liquid more often found in Michelin starred restaurants.

More of a foodie? Slovenian cuisine is a beautiful fusion, influenced by their Italian and Hungarian neighbours, among others, and some gorgeous traditional delicacies of their own (try the Bled cake!). Ljubljana isn’t the most noticeably vegetarian-friendly city I’ve visited, but I had several fantastic omelettes, and Chefs were happy to adapt recipes to suit. Head to the top of the skyscraper for breakfast or a slice of the incredible layer cake, and as always if you head away from the tourist hotspots you can find some little gems of cafes.

Ljubljana is full of rustic charm and beauty, but outside of the city is where I really fell in love with Slovenia… mountains, vineyards, glacial lakes, ski resorts, it’s a very special place, and exploring it feels like you’re being let into a well-kept secret.

There is public transport from Ljubljana out to the famous Lake Bled (30ish minutes drive), or you can book a tour that’ll take you further afield without any faff. We booked a one-day small group tour through Viator and it was INCREDIBLE. We expected to be squashed into a stuffy coach and shepherded around at fixed stops, but honestly we couldn’t have been more wrong. Our guide picked us up from our apartment in a new and super-clean people-carrier, and we found there were just 6 of us on the tour. The itinerary was negotiable and our guide rearranged the day based on the weather forecast. Top Man.

We started with Lake Bled, taking a traditional pletna to Bled island. Pletna are wooden rowing boats with colourful awning, expertly steered by local boatsmen. The tiny island has a church, temple, gelato shop and cafe, and very little else, so you don’t need long there, and when you disembark you’ll helpfully be given a designated time for your return journey (this website is v helpful: http://www.bled.si/en/what-to-see/natural-sights/the-bled-island). While in Bled, enjoy a sparkling Slovenian wine overlooking the lake, or try the Bled cream cake. There’s a decent walk around the lake, and of course the castle overlooking it. Dotted around the lake are boathouses and pretty houses resembling Swiss chalets. There’s a relaxed vibe, and it’s easy to lose track of time pottering around the gift shops.

We then headed to the third most visited attraction in Slovenia: Savica waterfall. This is worth the short (approx 25 mins) uphill hike! It’s mostly stone steps, but when we visited we were battling remnants of snow and ice. It’s worth taking walking boots (I did it in converse daps and it was a bit hairy). This is close to Lake Bohinj and the Mount Vogel ski resort, so, still inappropriately dressed (it was sunny on the ground, honest!), we took the Mount Vogel cable car up 1.5km, where we found snow, and lots of it, as well as spectacular views of Lake Bohinj. Grab a beer in the ski lodge or hit the slopes, before heading back to the city.

I went to Ljubljana expecting a great city break, but what I got was so much more! And with short flight times from the UK, Slovenia is an easy and beautiful country to explore. Enjoy!

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