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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, Croatia

DiVino, Hvar – EAT

August 13, 2016
Divino, Hvar

Croatia is not known for it’s food, but Hvar is spoilt for choice.  While Dalmatino seems to be everyone’s favourite, DiVino gave it a run for its money.  For one, DiVino’s location, setting and view is much better than Dalmatino.  Here you can really enjoy the sunset, with breathtaking views of the Pakleni Islands and the sea.  Their terrace is large and comfortable but inside is nice too if it gets a little chilly.

Divino, Hvar

This really is the place to have sea food.  While some say the food is a bit pricey here, I was not disappointed with the excellent (and massive) tuna steak I had.  It was perfectly cooked, still quite raw in the middle and unbelievably fresh.   They served it with humus and swiss chard, so it was light but still filling.   The prawn risotto was also delicious, and beautifully presented (like all the food I saw come past).

Divino, HvarDivino, Hvar

This is a very romantic spot, and a great date place.  While it’s very close to Carpe Diem Lounge Bar, it’s a far cry from the noisier and more touristy dinner spots along the marina.   Their wine list was also excellent.  Annoyingly I can’t remember what the red wine was we drank here and enjoyed so much (and then asked for at every other restaurant we ate), but it was a local Croatian wine (which are surprisingly good).

If you’re looking for a break from partying at Hula Hula and Carpe Diem, then DiVino is the place to come to for a more sophisticated, refined evening.

Divino

Put križa 1, 21450,

Hvar

Blog, Croatia

Dubovica Bar, Hvar

August 13, 2016
Dubovica Beach Bar, Hvar

Hvar Town is as popular as ever now, with young and old flocking to this pretty place for the beautiful sea, the vibe and the parties.  With so much going on in and around Hvar Town, it’s easy to forget that Hvar Island offers a lot more places to explore.

If you want a little more peace and quiet, and to explore nearby beaches, I’d recommend doing a little boat trip to the pretty beach of Dubovica.   Eight kilometres east from Hvar Town, on the southern shore of the island, you’ll find this stunning pebbled beach.  I loved its little dilapidated church, so picture perfect nestled behind a lonely palm tree.   The sea is very calm here, so it’s perfect for swimming.  Don’t expect any sun loungers or parasols though, but it is an unspoilt rarity in Hvar.

Dubovica Beach, HvarDubovica Beach, Hvar

On the east side of the beach there is a little rustic beach bar tucked away.  Here you can easily while away an afternoon, drinking beer or a glass of freshly pressed orange juice in one of their deck chairs and watch the world go by in the shade of the trees.  The owner is incredibly friendly, and it could not be any more relaxing (a world away from hectic Hula Hula Bar).  I’d really recommend this place for a chance to enjoy a slightly more local Hvar experience.

Dubovica Beach Bar, HvarDubovica Beach Bar, Hvar

Dubovica Beach Bar

Dubovica (15 minutes’ drive from Hvar town)

Hvar, Croatia

Blog, Croatia

Laganini Lounge Bar & Fish House, Palmizana Hvar

July 20, 2016
Laganini, Hvar

If you’re spending a couple of days in Hvar it’s highly recommended to hire a boat for the day.  No need for a super yacht – even a little speed boat (doesn’t cost much) will do, and it means you can sail around the islands surrounding Hvar (mainly the Pakleni islands).  Palmizana is one of them – the perfect place for lunch at Bacchus and then a relaxing afternoon at Laganini beach club.

Laganini, Hvar

If you like Hula Hula Beach Bar but you’re looking for something a little quieter and more relaxed, Laganini is perfect.  You don’t pay the prices of Bonj les Bains, but you still get a very comfortable place to spend the day.  They also serve serving platters if you feel like a snack, and drinks too of course.  In the summer months it does get busier, but the vibe remains more laid back than in Hvar itself.

Langanini HvarLaganini, Hvar

The restaurant – which is more formal – serves excellent, refined food (and lots of fresh fish). Guaranteed a fun day (or night) out.

FYI you can also get a shared water taxi there from Hvar harbour. 

Laganini Lounge Bar & Fish House

Palmižana 33, 21450, Hvar, Croatia

Photo credit: Laganini

Blog, Croatia

Dalmatino, Hvar – EAT

July 18, 2016
Dalmatino, Hvar

I’m always sceptical when I’m recommended a restaurant which is number one on Tripadvisor.  Will it be excessively touristy?  Will it lack authenticity?  Are the reviews real?  Dalmatino is top of list on Tripadvisor for Hvar.  And, despite my hesitation, I did end up going because not only had my colleague loved it (and been twice in three days), but Rob managed to sneak there for lunch while I was doing bridesmaid duties, and he came back raving about it as well.

So then I had to go.  Nothing would stop me, not even when my friend who tried to make a reservation for us was told that it was fully booked all night.  I just called them and pleaded.  And begged.  And somehow that seemed to work, and the five of us got a table downstairs which was perfect.  I think it’s better to sit outside (as always tends to be the case in warm holiday destinations like Hvar), but beggars can’t be choosers.

First thing to mention is the service.   All the waiters there are extraordinarily friendly.  In a very genuine, unforced way.  They are clearly proud to work there (taking you through the menu with care and dedication), and happy to help you in any way possible.  Their aim is to make your evening enjoyable.  And they completely succeed here.

Dalmatino, Hvar

But you come here for the food.  And I didn’t really think Croatia did food like it (on the whole, I still think Croatian food is a poor version of Italian cuisine).  But Dalmatino blew us all away.  From the stunning, fresh tuna and avocado tartare, to the shrimp and orange tartar – the starters were healthy and delicious.

Dalmatino, HvarBut the dish which blew us all away was the black truffle and shrimp gnocchi – so rich, so creamy and so opulent (photo below does not do it justice).  The portion was massive but there’s no way you will leave a morsel.

Dalmatino, Hvar

The setting is simple, right by Hvar’s marina, down a little side street.  It looks unassuming, unflashy – in contrast to the superyachts moored around the corner.  But it will be full every lunch and night this summer, so if you’re in Hvar you must go, and make sure you book ahead.  Unless you’re not afraid to beg.

Dalmatino, Hvar

Dalmatino

Sveti Marak 1,

21450 Hvar

Photo credit: Dalmatino

Blog, Croatia

Hvar, Croatia

August 8, 2012
When I travelled to Hvar (Croatia’s largest island) about 3 years ago, I realised very quickly this was quite a ‘trendy’ destination.  Shiny yachts were lined up in the harbour, glamourous (with a substantial hint of tacky) couples pranced along the Marina and Carpe Diem was heaving with hot Europeans downing champagne.
In many ways Hvar can be seen as the St. Tropez of France or the Mykonos of Greece.  That may paint a somewhat shallow image of the island.  But one look at the island itself, surrounded by clear blue waters and with stunning architecture, all the while retaining a mixture of Croatian and almost Italian charm, and you’ll be much more tempted.
This year practically every second person I meet has either been or is going to Hvar.  It seems to offer that perfect combination of sea, sun and party.  City Turtle discovers what not to miss on Croatia’s most popular island.
Hvar

Hvar at dusk

Where to drink if you want:
Beach side cocktails
Hula Hula Bar
Address: 21450 Hvar
Party here in your bikini, enjoying the last rays as the sun sets.  The beats get louder during the day and expect lots of dancing on podiums.  If you don’t want to get involved with dancing too early on in the evening, just sip one of their incredible cocktails and enjoy one of the best views of the island.
Hula Hula, Hvar

The sunset view of Hula Hula

Sophisticated Rooftop Aperitifs
The Top Bar, Adriana Spa Hotel
Address: Ive Milia 3, 21450 Hvar
This is the place to enjoy the best views of the harbour and have a low-key cocktail before dinner.  The hotel itself is quite pricey but you shouldn’t miss a drink on their roof top bar.
The Top Bar, Adriana Hotel, Hvar

The Top Bar, Adriana Hotel, Hvar

All night partying

Carpe Diem
21450 Hear
It’s the most famous place in Hvar – for many the highlight of the Marina – and definitely worth a night of drinking and socialising with Euro Trash.  I met some wonderful Norwegians when I was there who were a lot of fun and very generous.  Bouncers can be quite strict, especially if it’s busy, and men will find it quite hard to barge in.   Most nights it is heaving.  I preferred the Carpe Diem Beach Party (on certain nights) – on a nearby island.  You can take boat taxis across to Carpe Diem’s island which is much less full but still has amazing music, food, booze and lounge areas.
Carpe Diem Beach Club

View form Carpe Diem Beach Club at dawn

To hit it hard
Kiva
You are greeted by the barman with a soviet helmet and a potent shot.  The rest of the night will be downhill from here..  This place is small and often spills out onto the street.  The barmen are friendly, the party-goers are a massively mixed-bunch (from Croats to Aussies, most of whom are generally off their faces).  It is unpretentious, loud and super fun.
Kiva Bar, Kvar

Where to eat:

Affordable
Marinero
Sveti Marak 9, Hvar
This place was my favourite.  A short walk away from the Marina, it is tucked away in one of Hvar perfect little side streets.  Tables are set closely together on the charming cobbled stones.  Make sure you come here early as there were substantial queues last time I was there.  The food is a range of sea food and pizzas and pastas (food on Hvar is heavily influenced by Italy just across the Adriatic Sea).  The seafood pasta was delicious, as was the tuna steak.  There is a low-key but buzzing vibe here and the prices are some of the best on the island.
Marinero
Pricey
Garifuls
hvargariful.hr/
Obala b.b.  21450, Hvar
Known by many as the best restaurant of the island, this place is visited by every celebrity who touches the island and by anyone who appreciates truly excellent food.  The sea food here is unrivalled.  Choose whatever fish you wish to eat – all caught that day – and they will cook it to perfection.  The views of Hvar’s harbour are delightful but it is the service which plays the largest role in making this a ‘luxury’ experience.  The service is unobtrusive but attentive, the waiters are knowledgable and utterly charming. It’s not cheap, but as a treat this place will certainly not let you down.
gariful
Food with a view
Luna
1 Petar Hektorovica, Hvar
385 21 741 400
Luna can be recognised by it’s lilac shutters, which stand out from Hvar’s stone walls.  The rooftop is wonderful (book in advance because it is very popular) – and I would only really come here if you do manage to book a table on the roof terrace.  There is real ambience here and many people think it is one of Hvar’s most romantic restaurants.  The food is good, especially the Croatian fish stew and the steak.  It is also great value for money.
Luna
What to do
If you are active
Hire a speedboat to explore the beaches on the Pakleni Islands. A powerful rib is £200 for the day – shared between a few it isn’t too expensive. There are definitely cheaper options available.  You can also explore Amo beach and Carpe Diem beach (they service great salads for lunch here).  The other islands have loads of nice coves where you can anchor up and swim in the crystal clear water. Also many of the bays have seafood restaurants and bars if you get thirsty.  Exploring these islands is a MUST.
yacht

If only we could all afford one of these..

If you want to chill
Beach, Sea, and more Beach.  Yes, there are pebbled beaches.  And if you don’t want to spend too much money you may find yourself lying on slabs of cement.  OK that doesn’t sound quite so comfortable but you can jump off the side into the most beautiful water to cool down (mind the sea urchins, which we named ‘Black Bastards’).  Or you can hire deck chairs.  There are so many options.
Sea Urchin & Star Fish, Hvar

Sea Urchin & Star Fish

Many thanks to Phil Kelleher and Charlotte Harper for their recommendations… 

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