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Petersham Nurseries, Richmond Park

January 3, 2017
Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

Going for a walk in Richmond Park is something I don’t do enough.  And every time I go I remind myself how beautiful it is, how tame the deer are and how it actually feels like you’re in the countryside [for a little while].  And now I have another excuse to keep returning: Petersham Nurseries.

Richmond ParkRichmond Park

It’s one of those places where I wondered why on earth I hadn’t come sooner.  First and foremost it’s a garden centre, which doesn’t sound hugely appealing in itself.  But then you get there and you understand what all the fuss is about.  Even in early November, when it gets dark early and Richmond Park is soggy and your hands are freezing, Petersham Nurseries is like a flowery fairytale.  Everything is ridiculously pretty, without being kitsch.

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond park

But flowers aside, there’s a lot more to Petersham Nurseries.  Namely the restaurant and cafe, both in glasshouses.  In fact, it reminds me a little of a British version of South Africa’s Babylonstoren.  Arguably without the sun, the winelands, and the Cape Dutch architecture, but Babylonstoren does also have a cafe and an excellent restaurant (Babel) in glasshouses.  There’s something about eating in a glasshouse that clearly appeals, I for one love it.

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond park

We came here for tea, having walked our on-loan dog Amiga through an autumnal Richmond Park.  Dogs are allowed too (in the cafe).  Even in the winter this place gets busy, and the restaurant is always fully booked (so book ahead).   The cafe is teaming with life; from dogs barking, children laughing and friends gossiping.  The cakes are so good you could sit here for hours and work your way through the (considerable) selection.  They – of course – also have a large range of teas, from mint to English Breakfast, and also serve more casual, hearty lunch options like quiches and roasts.   It’s cosy and warm and the best place to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

Petersham Nurseries’ more formal restaurant made a name for itself when chef Skye Gyngell (who since left to set up Spring) became Head Chef, and it was awarded a Michelin star.   I’m yet to eat here, but I’ve only heard good things.

But quite honestly, Petersham Nurseries was one of my 2016 highlights.  And I look forward to returning many more times in 2017.

Petersham Nurseries

Church Lane, Petersham Road,

Richmond TW10 7AB

Photo credit: my own and Stephanie Wolff’s photos

Andalucia, Blog, Bologna, Croatia, London, Mexico, Mexico City, Prague, Rome, Sicily, Spain, Tulum

BEST OF 2016: MY FAVOURITES

January 1, 2017
City Turtle 2016

2016 was another busy year of travel.  I enjoyed a record number of European city breaks (Rome, Prague, Bologna, Istanbul, Marbella, Paris, Amsterdam) and a few brilliant longer trips to Miami, New York, Hvar, Andalucia and Mexico.  Hopefully all my blogs have been useful for those travelling to these destinations.

Here are my favourites of 2016:

Most Spectacular Hotel: Hotel Esencia, Mexico

I promise I’ll stop banging on about this hotel, but this boutique design hotel stands out for me as one of the best places I have ever stayed.  Its stretch of beach is so peaceful, the sand so white and the sea gloriously turquoise. The rooms are white washed, minimalist and super comfortable.  Morning yoga is the best way to start the day there, followed by a delicious healthy breakfast.  It’s no wonder Conde Nast voted it as one of 2016’s best hotels.

Esencia, Mexico

Runner up: Finca Cortesin (and I shockingly still have not written a blog about this place).  Hands down one of Europe’s most beautiful properties, high in the hills 30 minutes from Marbella, with sea and mountain views.  The interiors are so elegant, the swimming pools vast and the spa to die for.

Finca Cortesin, Spain

Favourite new discovery: South East Sicily

A week of exploring all the Baroque-rich towns and cities of South Eastern Sicily is such a treat.  Each of the towns, from Ragusa to Modica to Note are all so individual, with good restaurants, a few fun bars, and lots of pretty streets to explore.  Our seafood lunch at Taverna Cialoma in Marzamemi was one of the big highlights of our trip.  And we learnt that the very underestimated city Catania is also worth a stop.

Ragusa, Sicily

Favourite new London restaurant: Foley’s

With so many restaurant openings in London this year, it’s hard to pick a favourite.  But everything from the divine alfresco bar (with the best Espresso Martinis), to a menu where you literally want to eat every dish (and we did), to the friendly, helpful staff, meant that Foley’s wins the 2016 prize.  A place I know I’ll return to, again and again.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Runner up: The Ninth and Clipstone.  Both of these relatively new openings in London have a lot in common: excellent food, reasonable pricing and great atmosphere.  The Pain Perdu at the Ninth is the best pudding I’ve had this year.

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

Favourite Bar – International: The Living Room, at the Faena, Miami

Wow, the new(ish) Faena hotel in Miami is a true showstopper, rich in colour and gold and opulence.  And walking into its main bar, The Living Room, is like stepping into Gatsby’s 1920s.  I loved every moment of being in this crazy, vibrant, colourful place, where you don’t know where to look or which cocktail to pick from their indulgent menu.  The Faena’s restaurant Pao was also a highlight of my visit.

Photo credit: https://luxuriavacations.com/destinations/usa/faena-hotel-miami-beach

Runner up:  The Bar at the Baccarat Hotel, New York. This hotel is so fantastically blingy, as of course you’d expect considering the owners.  It’s a stunning hotel (the rooms are far more toned down than the public areas), but the bar really stood out.  It’s always packed with very glamorous people, the cocktails are fantastic and the interiors are fabulous.

Photo credit Baccarat Hotels

Favourite English Countryside retreat: Foxhill Manor, the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is one of my favourite areas of England; the countryside is so breathtakingly beautiful here and the villages are all so picturesque, with so many pretty Cotswold stone cottages, lovely cafes and restaurants and fantastic country walks.  So staying at the exclusive five star Foxhill Manor (Dormy House’s sister property) was one of the highlights of 2016, the ultimate country house hotel.  The food was amazing here, our suite the size of my house in London, and the views of the Cotswolds out of this world.

Foxhill Manor, Cotswolds

Favourite Restaurant – International: Quintonil, Mexico City

Chosen not because it’s voted as the 12th best restaurant in the world, but purely because it was a magical experience, and I’ve never had Mexican food like it.  It’s incredible value for money, and the amuse bouches we had here were some of the best I’ve had.  That said, its Mexico City competitor Pujol deserves a mention too, also for its creative food and noteworthy tasting menu.

Quintonil, Mexico City

Runners up:  This is such a tough one, as I have eaten at some seriously wonderful restaurants this year.  Still, if I had to choose, I loved Marzapane in Rome because it is was so different, so modern and so un-Roman.  At the same time, Sansho’s tasting menu in Prague was exceptional, and fantastic value.  And last but not least, Dalmatino in Hvar, Croatia was unexpected and their squid ink truffle gnocchi mind-blowing.

Marzapane, Rome

Favourite beach: Tulum, Mexico

Who knew Mexico’s Riviera Maya had such incredible beaches?  The beach at Tulum is possibly the most perfect beach I’ve been on.  Lined with palm trees and eco hotels (no building is higher than the tallest palm tree), white powdery sand and warm welcoming turquoise waves, it really is a paradise beach.  Plus, it stretches on and on, and makes for the best walk at sunset, Margarita in hand.  Especially the beach at Nomade (photo below) was phenomenal.

Tulum, Mexico

Runners up: Dubovica Beach on Hvar, Croatia and South Beach, Miami.  These two beaches couldn’t be more different, but each has it’s own bit of wow.  Dubovica beach is small, pebbled and one of the prettiest European beaches I’ve seen.  It has a lovely beach bar too and it’s generally not too full of tourists.  South Beach Miami is of course heaving with people, but that doesn’t stop it from being ‘wow’ in its own way.  It’s one of the most fun beaches I’ve been to, great for people watching, with so much going on.

Dubovica Beach, HvarMiami Beach

Favourite Afternoon tea: Petersham Nurseries

I don’t know how I only managed to visit this heavenly place until so recently, but I fell head over heals for Petersham Nurseries.  Even on a cold (but beautiful) winter afternoon the Cafe was so warm and cosy, the cakes so delicious and the selection of teas ideal.  I can’t wait to return in the spring and the summer.

Photo Credit: http://friendlynettle.com/day-petersham-nurseries-%E2%99%A5/

Favourite city break: Prague

People warned me that yes, the city is beautiful, but it’s touristy and the food isn’t good.  Well, yes, I’d agree that’s it’s busy, but it’s hard to avoid tourists these days.  And, after all, I’m one too.  But I’d disagree that you can’t eat well.  One of my favourite restaurants of the year, Sansho, was here.  Plus Field was excellent too, as was CottoCrudo at the Four Seasons.  There’s lots to do and see, and it’s incredibly affordable too.  Win win.

a-prague-top-ten-sights

Runner up was Bologna, with so much charm and beauty, and excellent Italian food and wine.  Our experience at Drogheria della Rosa was absolutely one of the most memorable of 2016.

Drogheria della Rossa, Bologna

And what has 2017 got in store for me?  Definitely more European city breaks, with Rome and Stockholm already booked, a trip back to Andalucia and Italy this summer for sure, and Mallorca in September.  I’d also really like to return to Vienna, explore Porto and maybe go to some of the Greek islands…  Let’s see where 2017 takes me!

Blog, Mexico, Mexico City

Huset, Mexico City

December 31, 2016
Huset, Mexico City

Huset is one of Mexico City’s 2016 new openings, and has been exceptionally well received by locals and tourists a like.  In the very trendy district of Roma Norte (the place for bar hopping and cool restaurants), Huset has found the perfect home.

Its stand out feature is of course its beautiful green terrace/courtyard, which is wonderful for brunch/lunch, or for dinner. With countless lamp bulbs strung overhead, almost like a ceiling of lights, it looks stunning lit up at night.  Naturally it’s most popular to sit here, and very lively, so book ahead if you specifically want to sit here.

Huset, Mexico City

We did not book ahead on a Saturday night, so sat inside.  The bar inside is charming too, less atmospheric perhaps, but with exceptionally nice staff (their English isn’t great, but who cares), who are talented cocktail shakers.  Our Espresso Martinis were excellent and helped fight off our jet lag.  But Huset is mainly a place to come for lunch or dinner, and as we had booked Pujol for dinner we didn’t dine here, which I quite regretted having looked at the menu.  I have since also read excellent reviews of the food.

Huset, Mexico City

Huset

Colima 256, Cuauhtemoc,

Roma Nte.

Mexico City

 

Blog, Mexico, Tulum

Sanara, Tulum

December 31, 2016
Sanara, Tulum

Tulum is heaving with hotels of all kinds, mostly of the eco, rustic variety.  While we stayed at Nomade, the other place I would have loved to have stayed is Sanara.

Sanara is a very small (19 rooms), eco boutique hotel, which focuses on wellness.  I love it’s minimalist white rooms, which are spacious, steps from the beach and come with lovely roll top baths.   You can expect daily yoga and can enjoy their spa and wellness centre, with various packages of ‘personal healing journeys’.

Sanara Tulum (photo credit Sanara)

Sanara is not your most affordable option in Tulum, but it’s absolutely worth spending a little extra for such a beautiful and relaxing hotel.

Still, if you don’t stay here it’s absolutely worth stopping by for a sunset drink or for a delicious, healthy lunch or dinner at their top restaurant Coconut.   We came here to enjoy one of their wonderful cocktails, and it felt a lot calmer than the more buzzing Nomade.

Sanara, TulumSanara, TulumSanara, Tulum

If you’re looking for a party, Sanara is not for you.  But if you want to unwind and leave Tulum feeling more ‘zen’, healthy and rested, then you’ve come to the right place.

Sanara

Tulum

 

Blog, Mexico, Mexico City

Quintonil, Mexico City

December 31, 2016
Quintonil, Mexico City

You’d never know a restaurant of Quintonil’s standard would be hiding behind a plain wooden door in the upmarket neighbourhood of Polanco.  Located on a quiet, leafy street, you’d walk straight past it if you weren’t ‘in the know’.  But they don’t really need any ‘walk ins’; Quintonil is one of Mexico City’s most well-regarded restaurants (voted 12th best restaurant in the world), booked up weeks in advance, and, though we were the first guests to arrive for lunch, it filled up completely.

The restaurant itself seems more Nordic than Mexican in style; all pale woods and minimalist design.  The coolest, most bustling part is closer to the kitchen at the back, which is a more open space with green leafy walls.

The waiters were all lovely, though (and we thought this was somewhat recurring throughout our trip) there were quite a few members of ‘senior’ staff who just hung around, and once in a while politely asked us if we were enjoying ourselves.  And then went and stood against a wall again and waited a bit to ask the next table the same thing.

Quintonil, Mexico City

But wow, the food. Rob and I are both fans of Mexican cuisine, but we’d never had food like this.  Beautifully presented, wonderful flavours, bright (but natural) colours – it truly was a feast to behold.  They have an a la carte menu, so you don’t have to sit through 10 courses if you don’t want to.  They do serve the most stunning amuse bouche of various ‘mole’ (sauces). We tried to opt for more unusual dishes, like cactus ceviche with an accompanying beetroot juice.  I loved the Mexican white wine which accompanied our lunch.

Quintonil, Mexico CityQuintonil, Mexico CityQuintonil, Mexico CityQuintonil, Mexico CityQuintonil, Mexico City

Prices are more than reasonable considering the quality.  And we welcomed the ensuing food coma.  After lunch we were more than happy to roll into an Uber (so brilliant in Mexico City) and into our bed at the St Regis for an afternoon snooze.  As we’d been up and exploring the city since 5:30am (thank you, jet lag), we didn’t feel guilty at all.

Quintonil

Newton No. 55,

Miguel Hidalgo, Polanco

Mexico City

Mexico

Blog, Date Spot, Drink, London

Thomas’ Cafe at Burberry, Mayfair

December 31, 2016
Thomas' Burberry Cafe, Mayfair

When fashion designers try and do restaurants or bars or hotels they can get it wrong (par example the Versace Hotel in Miami), but trust Burberry to get it so right with their first Café opening: ‘Thomas’’ (names after the founder, Thomas Burberry).

It is beautiful, undeniably so.  With dark walls, dim lighting and a welcoming fireplace, it feels like you’ve walked into someone’s very sophisticated but cosy country home.  And while it’s clear that the interiors are well thought through and stylish, it’s done in an understated, unpretentious way.  Nothing flashy, or too polished.  A bit like the brand itself.

Thomas' Burberry Cafe, Mayfair

Finding somewhere to go for coffee is difficult around Regent Street, unless you’re happy to settle with Pret or Café Nero and a bunch of tourists.  So Thomas’s is welcome for more than one reason.  Also, you can book, which means no unnecessary and tedious queuing for brunch.  And lastly, while you’d think it would have the same eye-watering prices as Burberry itself, you’re wrong.  It’s not cheap, of course.  But it’s reasonable.  And everything, from the beautiful presentation of the eggs with soldiers, to the tea with its own hour glass timer which tells you when the tea leaves have brewed to their optimum, is delightful.

Thomas' Burberry Cafe, MayfairThomas' Burberry Cafe, Mayfair

I could happily sit there for hours, sipping my cappuccino, watching people come and go, until it’s cocktail hour and then gently move on to one of their G&Ts.  There is no rush to leave your table (or if there was, we never felt it).

You are so well looked after here, by young, good looking, could-be Burberry models. Who are exceptionally polite and accommodating. But my favourite thing about the place is the soundtrack, which I recognised from their impossibly glamorous Christmas advert casually starring Siena Miller and Lily James (and which I still wish was a trailer to a 2 hour long movie).

Thomas' Burberry Cafe, Mayfair

And so, with January around the corner, this is a place that will make you embrace winter.  And be the perfect refuge for your post sale shop.

Thomas’ Cafe

Burberry

5 Vigo Street / 121 Regent Street

 

Blog, Mexico, Mexico City

Mexico City: My Recommendations

December 12, 2016
Mexico City

Quite a few people looked surprised when I said I was going to Mexico City.  ‘Isn’t it dangerous?’, ‘Why would you go there?’ were common questions.  Not many were convinced when I said Mexico City was meant to be really cool, and the food scene there one of the best in the world.

Now I’ve been I can try and convince people that it really is the case, because I loved the city!  And our two days there were certainly not long enough (though we did make the most of it, since we were up at 5:30am every morning due to jet lag).

Mexico City

Here are my highlights:

DO

Mexico City is a huge, sprawling city and it can take quite some time to get from place to place.  Ubers are brilliant though – safe and super cheap, though public transport is apparently easy to use too (though we didn’t try it).  The first port of call is of course the main square, Zocalo, immortalised in Hollywood film through James Bond’s Spectre.  It is the third largest square in the world (apart from Tiananmen Square and the Red Square) and worth a wander.  The cathedral is more impressive from the outside, but it was the National Palace which we found most interesting, especially Diego Rivera’s famous mural – which takes you through Mexico’s fascinating history.  Mexico City is also known for its museums, the most well known being the National Museum of Anthropology, which is beautifully done (the building in itself it worth seeing).  Also worth visiting are the Frida Kahlo museum and Trotsky’s house (he was assassinated here), in the south of the city, which we had to miss due to lack of time. 

Diego Rivera, Mexico CityNational Palace, Mexico City

STAY

We were lucky enough to stay at the St Regis, known to be the best five star hotel in the city.  But this big glitzy chain hotel might not be for everyone (though it’s central location right on the Paseo de la Reforma is ideal).  If you prefer smaller, more unique boutique hotels, then Condesa DF or (the more affordable) Hotel Carlota are perfect, especially because they are in the super trendy and fun area of Condesa, where you can find lots of great restaurants and bars.

St Regis, Mexico CitySt Regis, Mexico City

EAT

Mexico City is the ultimate foodie city.  From street food to Michelin star cuisine, it has it all.  Our one full day in the city was thus based around food.  A massive (and incredible) breakfast at the St Regis, followed by a superb lunch at Quintonil (photo 1 below), in the upmarket area of Polanco.  Pujol (photo 2 below) is most famous and exclusive restaurant, known as the best in Mexico and (apparently) 17th best restaurant in the world.  We managed to get a table here at 9:30pm and did not regret it.  The six course tasting menu is not cheap, but the food and experience excellent (though we weren’t keen on our waitress).  It’s most famous for it’s ‘Mole Madre, Mole Nueve’ dish, with two types of ‘sauces’, one made on the day, one over 1000 days old (sounds weird, tasted quite good!).  Other than those two restaurants, Maximo Bistrot, Raiz and Rosetta come highly recommended, but if you have the time do explore some of the street vendors and markets for some proper authentic food.

Quintonil, Mexico City

Pujol, MExico City

On a more casual cafe/brunch level, we wandered through Condesa on Sunday morning, and while most places hadn’t opened yet, we really enjoyed a juice at Monsieur Croque (and I loved the look of neighbouring Ficelle Patisserie). Almanegra in Roma Norte apparently serves some of the best coffee in the city, and Ojo de Agua is the place to go for healthy food (they do great juices and acai bowls).

Ficelle, Mexico City

DRINK

Mexico City is a fantastic place for drinks.  There are bars around every corner, and they’re pretty cool too.  We spent our night bar hopping in the hipster area Roma Norte.  Huset has the prettiest terrace (photo 1) and a great cocktail list (they also serve great food apparently).  Patio Aurora (photo 2) we stumbled upon by accident, but liked the look of it and loved it.  Really fun vibe, good cocktails (they specialise in G&Ts) and reasonable pricing.  Limantour is one of the best known bars in Mexico City, and is often found on the ‘Best bars in the world’ list.   I had a fantastic smoked Margarita here, but we found the atmosphere at the other bars better (and there were way more tourists/expats here than the other more local bars).  Apart from the above, the Hanky Panky Cocktail bar (speakeasy style) is meant to be fun too.  And there are a tonne of other Mezcal and Tequila bars worth exploring.

Huset, Mexico CityAurora, Mexico City

Blog, Mexico, Tulum

Hartwood, Tulum

December 10, 2016
Hartwood, Tulum

People rave about Hartwood.  If you type ‘restaurant Tulum’ into Google, Hartwood will take over the search results.   Set up by the American Eric Werner, the New York chef came to Tulum on holiday in 2009 and never left.  He brought with him his wood-fire cooking techniques, and Hartwood quickly became the place to dine in Tulum.

Open only for dinner, the menu is very fish and meat heavy, all cooked on an open fire of course.  Good news is you can actually book ahead now (just send them an email), which we did, and smugly skipped all the queues (there are always queues).   We ate here on our final night and were not disappointed.

The restaurant itself is busy and atmospheric, lit mostly by countless candles.  It’s loud in a way that you can still enjoy conversation, and the buzz is such that it encourages you to buy that extra bottle of wine, or a (delicious) Mezcal-coffee shot instead of pudding.  It’s probably the most upbeat place in Tulum.

Hartwood, Tulum

The menu changes daily.  We shared gambas to start, which were huge and beyond juicy, and gone in seconds.  As a main Rob went for the octopus, and I went for their beef, beautifully pink on the inside, and smoky and crispy on the outside.  To finish I had my Mexcal shot (!) and Rob the sweetcorn ice cream.  I was pretty skeptical about it, until I tried it.  And then proceeded to pretty much finish the whole thing.

Hartwood, TulumHartwood, Tulum

Conclusion: yes, Hartwood is good.  And it should absolutely be on your Tulum bucket list.  But don’t forget about places like Arca (right next door) and El Tabano, which might not have the same press, but definitely deserve it.

Hartwood

Carretera Tulum Boca Paila 7.6Km

77780 Tulum

Photo credit: All mine, difficult to take decent photos with no light!

Blog, Mexico

Esencia, Riviera Maya

December 10, 2016
Esencia, Mexico

There are not many places like Esencia.  This 28 room boutique hotel is the ultimate beach paradise.  Located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, on Xpu-ha beach (known by some as the finest beach of Riviera Maya), it’s one of those places where you arrive and straight away decide never to leave again.

Once the private home of an Italian Dutchess, it was bought by a charming American in 2014, who has turned it into a beauty of a design hotel.  Most of the jungle suites are hidden in the Yucatan jungle, though the best rooms are in the main house, with incredible views of the turquoise Caribbean sea.  The rooms are whiter than white (with a hint of Mondrian colour and design), super stylish and unbelievably comfortable.

Esencia, MexicoEsencia, Mexico

While it’s hard enough to tear yourself away from your private jungle plunge pool (which can be heated to essentially turn it into your bath), the place you’ll want to spend most of your time is either on the whiter than white sandy beach, or by one of the sleek swimming pools sipping frozen Esencia Margaritas.  Watch out though, we were so elated when we arrived that we promptly drank four Esencia Margaritas without realising they were $30 (plus tax) a pop!  While white seems to be their signature colour, I loved the bright yellow colour highlights in their furniture and towels.

Esencia, MexicoEsencia, MexicoEsencia, Mexico

Days start with a morning class of yoga, aided by the soothing sounds of the ocean, after which a hearty breakfast of eggs and avocados (of course) is enjoyed at the Pool Restaurant.

Esencia, MexicoEsencia, MexicoEsencia, Mexico

If you’re feeling active then paddle boarding and snorkelling are an option, or you can walk through a dilapidated neighbouring hotel to a private cenote, for a swim in clear fresh water.

Esencia, MexicoEsencia, MexicoEsencia, Mexico

The Beach Bar is a place to spend a large chunk of your afternoon and evening, watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand.  And on to dinner, another treat of tacos and guacamole, while listening to a local band playing Mexican tunes.

Esencia, MexicoEsencia, Mexico

Esencia is a rare, special place, and sadly no longer a secret.  Celebs and fashion bloggers are loving it (as Esencia’s Instagram page will show) and their NYE party is set to be the place to be on Riviera Maya.  But despite the buzz, this is ultimately a place to retreat to and completely relax, to enjoy the peace and quiet, and to spoil yourself rotten.  Good luck trying to leave!

Esencia

Carr. Cancun-Tulum Km. 265

Predio Rústico Xpu-Ha

Xpu-Ha, 77710

Playa del Carmen,

Riviera Maya,

Mexico

Photo credit: All mine (and more on my Instagram)

Blog, Mexico, Tulum

Tulum: an overview

December 3, 2016
Tulum

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not a hippy, nor does the whole ‘hippy thing’ especially appeal to me.  So I was a little apprehensive about going to Tulum.  Except, Tulum isn’t very hippy at all.  That’s really in its backpacker’s past.  Instead, it now seems to attract glamorous beach babes and all the New York cool kids (and a fair few celebrities).  It’s main selling point is its incredible white sandy beach and beautiful, warm sea, as well as offering fantastic restaurants, bars, boutiques and plenty of outward bound activities (snorkelling, paddle boarding, cenote swimming).

Tulum

STAY

There are so many hotels and beach shacks to choose from in Tulum, it’s hard to make a decision.  I’d read about Tulum’s newest opening in Conde Nast Traveller: Nomade, Be Tulum’s sister property right next door.  With its laid back vibes, stunning (and quiet) stretch of beach, wellness focus and Indi vibes, this has quickly become a Tulum favourite.  I’d definitely only opt for their Sea View or Ocean Front Suites – the other rooms can feel a little dark ( and I wasn’t a fan of their brown mud-like walls at all).  This is place for the young and lively, with chilled music constantly playing in the background.

Nomade, Tulum

Fashion bloggers seems to adore the eco-resort Azulik,  with some of the most amazing Tree House Suites overlooking the beach and open air baths.  This adults only resort is super private and exclusive.  While I didn’t stay there, I personally loved the feel of Sanara, a small and quiet boutique hotel (19 rooms) with wellness at the forefront, daily yoga and a top restaurant Coconut.

Sanara Tulum (photo credit Sanara)

 

EAT

One thing you’ll do in Tulum (apart from never want to leave), is eat well.  There’s a different restaurant or cafe to choose from every step you take along the Tulum strip.  Signs for ‘healthy food’, ‘cold-pressed juices’ and ‘tacos’ are everywhere (as well as ‘Margaritas’, of course).

Hartwood is by far the most famous restaurant in Tulum.  Open only for dinner, this buzzing restaurant is the place to be for fish and meat lovers (all food is cooked on an open fire).  Good news is you can actually book now (just send them an email).  But we found Arca a close contender, not just in location (it’s right next door) but also in terms of the quality of the food and experience.  The design of the restaurant and bar was beautiful.

Arca, Tulum

If you’re looking for traditional, outstanding Mexican food, then El Tabano is the top spot.  Super affordable, with a large menu scribbled on the black board, we had one of our favourite meals here (and they served our favourite Mexican wine: Casa Madero).  If you need a change from Mexican cuisine, then Posada Margarita (possibly nearly as popular as Hartwood) serves the best Italian food in Tulum.  Their fresh pasta dishes were incredible, and one of their salads for lunch on the beach works very well too.

For other lunch options, Mur Mur is an Ingrammer’s dream – all green and white furniture, big pot plants and a great brunch menu.  There are some lovely (if very expensive) boutiques down the little lane where Mur Mur is too.

Mur Mur, Tulum

Finally, Zamas is worth a stop, if not for the quality of the food (average tacos, but great avocado and goats cheese tostados) or the service (below average) but for the colourful terrace and beautiful views of the ocean.  But our favourite lunch place? Most definitely Nomade’s Sea Grill restaurant on the beach La Popular: the best seafood we had and the most incredible setting.

Zamas, Tulum

DRINK

You’ll never be short of alcoholic beverages in Tulum.  While it’s super laid back and finding a nightclub is close to impossible, there are plenty of bars, and plenty of relaxed beach club parties to be found (if you want to find them).  Gitano was one of our favourite bars, and certainly the swankiest (and most expensive) one out there.  Not so rustic or beachy, more polished and suave. Phenomenal cocktails for about £7 – £8 a pop.  La Patrona (right next to El Tabano, if you’re having dinner there) is much more low key, with a very limited cocktail and beer menu (all $8) and good Margaritas.

La Patrona, Tulum

If you’re looking for a place for a good sundowner though, then health-focused hotel Sanara’s Coconut Bar & Restaurant is ideal: with a lovely terrace overlooking the beautiful sea and beach.  Their herb-infused cocktails were delicious and if we’d had time I would have returned here for lunch.

But the best way to enjoy a cocktail in Tulum? Ask Nomade’s beach bartender for a ‘Margarita to go’ (i.e in a plastic cup) and walk the stretch of the beach, cocktail in hand, at sunset.

Nomade, Tulum, Mexico

More detailed blogs to follow about Tulum: keep an eye out.

 

Blog, Italy, Sicily

Catania, Sicily

November 16, 2016
Catania, Sicily

Writing this a few months after my time in Catania, I look back and think of it as one of my favourite places I visited in Sicily.  It was never on my ‘to see’ list, but we purely stayed there because our flight departed from Catania on the Sunday, and we left our villa on the Saturday.  But I’m so glad we did stay here, where 24 hours is plenty to explore this raw, gritty but alluring city.

Catania doesn’t get a lot of great press.  The second largest city of Sicily is often dismissed in favour of Palermo, the grander capital of the island.  And it was perhaps due to low expectations – and having seen so many other wonderful towns in Sicily – that all of us found ourselves really liking it.   No less so because Mount Etna looms behind the city, which remains quite a spectacle, but also because it has character, it feels very alive, very local and very un-touristy.

CataniaCataniaCatania

 

STAY

We stayed in a fantastic and very affordable Grand Tour Bed & Breakfast on the Via Umberto – very centrally located between the new and the old town.   The host was an absolute dream, and put up with all our questions and favours, called us a taxi and was more than accommodating.  If you want something a bit more hotel-like but still affordable there’s the Italian chain hotel UNA Palace Hotel or the smaller Romano Place (which looks rather lovely).

Grand tour, Catania

 

EAT

We got very lucky here.  I’d read somewhere about a new opening of a Slow Food restaurant in Catania called Me Cumpari Turiddu.  We were having drinks around the corner in the afternoon, so decided to walk past briefly and have a look.  It looked fantastic – modern but with an Italian feel.  Different, with character.  A bit like the city.  And we had our best dinner here.  The menu was inventive (we tried donkey here for the first time), everything was delicious, and I loved the interiors!

Me Cumpari Turiddu, CataniaMe Cumpari Turiddu, Catania

Apart from that, we enjoyed a very typical Sicilian breakfast (aranchini, anyone?!) at the popular Pasticceria Savia – again this all day cafe seems to be a place frequented by locals for ice creams, cakes and more savoury pastries.  They do good coffee here and have a large terrace on the street.

Savia, CataniaSavia, Catania

 

DRINK

If you’re looking for a boozy night in Sicily, Catania can certainly offer that.  It is a very lively student city, the streets fill up in the evening, and terraces spill over into the road.  For aperitivo and shaded pre-dinner drinks head to the very popular Razmataz.  After dinner grab a cocktail at the characterful Boheme Mixology Bar, where they design special cocktails specially for you.  It’s not cheap but it’s fun and the drinks are good.  If you’re going for a big night then head to the Nievski bar in the very buzzing gay district for a bottle of Flo Sicilian wine or multiple beers to end the night.

Boheme, CataniaNievski Bar, Catania

For more tips on the beautiful Sicily, feel free to check out this post here.

Blog, UK - Outside London

The Painswick Hotel, Cotswolds

November 16, 2016
The Painswick Hotel, the Cotswolds

It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with the Cotswolds.  I go at least twice a year, to escape London and to enjoy the fresh air and long country walks.  I often stay with my friend Hen’s parents, in the Slad Valley, one of the most beautiful parts of the Cotswolds.

A few months ago I read an article in Conde Nast Traveller raving about the newish Painswick Hotel (part of the famous Calcot Collection) which had opened in the beautiful village of Painswick.  As it was only a 15 minute drive from where I was staying one weekend, we decided to visit the Painswick Hotel for afternoon tea.

Located in an 18th century Cotswold stone mansion, it’s a grand and beautiful building.  But despite this the Painswick Hotel feels very homely and cosy.  The entrance is slightly underwhelming – I’m not sure about the neon sign reading ‘the Painswick’ upon entering, this felt a little too Shoreditch and didn’t really fit in with the rest of the place.  The rest of the design however, by Nicky Farquar, is beautiful.  It is a mixture of quirky, more contemporary furniture and lamps and beautiful, OKA-esque interiors.  Nicky strikes the balance just right.

The Painswick Hotel, the Cotswolds

We had afternoon tea in one of their large(r) but warm sitting rooms, with an old fireplace which now is replaced by a cosy wood burning fire.  The afternoon tea is very reasonably priced if you opt for a pot of tea and a scone – probably about £8 per person (and they were amazing!).  The macaroon is tiny (but also apparently delicious) so don’t expect something the size of a scone.  The banana cake/bread might have actually been my favourite.

The Painswick Hotel, the Cotswolds

The bar in the next door room is rather lovely, and stands out with its special ceiling and coloured bottles.

The Painswick Hotel, the Cotswolds

We had a little walk around and admired the outside terrace with beautiful views of the Cotswold hills.  In the summer this must be a dreamy place.  And being located right in Painswick itself is a massive treat, with plenty of other charming pubs and little shops to explore.  The Painswick also has an (apparently) excellent restaurant, and while we didn’t eat here, we certainly loved the interiors here too.  Especially the lunch menu looked quite affordable which is rare in this neck of the woods.

The Painswick Hotel, the CotswoldsThe Painswick Hotel, the Cotswolds

The hotel was fully booked, so we didn’t get to see any rooms, but at around £140+ a night they are quite reasonable compared to the other Calcot hotels (like Barnsley House and Calcot Manor).

The Painswick Hotel, the Cotswolds

I’ll have to come back and test the beds and the bathrooms, but overall I liked the place and would recommend it to those looking to escape London for a night or two (or to the Cotswold locals for afternoon tea, lunch or dinner).

For other Cotswold tips, you may find this blog post useful.

The Painswick Hotel

Kemps Ln, Painswick

Stroud GL6 6YB

Photo credit: The Painswick Hotel

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