Browsing Category

Sicily

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, 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, Italy, Sicily

Noto, Sicily

November 8, 2016

Noto is generally known as the prettiest of the Baroque towns in the area, and it is undeniably so, in a slightly ‘chocolate box’ kind of way.  It’s richer and more touristy than its neighbours, but also much smaller and felt less ‘local’.  The main sightseeing area is the long Corso Vittorio Emanuele with one beautiful building or church after another.  It’s definitely worth straying from the beaten path and climbing the stairs up (towards Crocifisso).  You’ll get some fantastic views of the rooftops and palaces below.

Noto, SicilyNoto, Sicily

EAT

Noto is known to be quite ‘foodie’ and I was quite excited to explore the restaurant scene here.

We went in search for a recommended restaurant – which took us up steps and more steps (it is a common theme in the area) in the burning sun.  And then we reached Crocifisso.  Which was shut for lunch (don’t believe the websites).  NOTE: It appears that Noto is a better place to visit for dinner, when the likes of Manna (brand new, modern – my ideal kind of place) and Dammuso are open.  Food is meant to be exceptional here.  Having said that, Dammuso is usually open for lunch, just not when we were there.

We did find a place for lunch (Marpessa), where the food and stunning presentation surprised us (the gazpacho was brilliant) and despite the heat we had a fantastic meal.  Though it’s cooler inside, sitting in the shade on their charming little terrace outside is much nicer.

Marpessa, NotoMarpessa, Noto

After lunch we were recommended ‘the best ice cream in the world’ at Caffe Sicilia (it was delicious, but DiVini in Ragusa was still better).  Caffe Sicilia is a quirky, colourful and in many ways very traditional Italian Gelateria, worth grabbing an ice cream for on the go.

Caffe Sicilia, Noto

DRINK

There are plenty of terraces for sundowners, but if you want something different the Anche Gli Angeli concept store also offers a cool bar under red brick arches.  Not only can you have a drink here, but it’s great for a little browse too.  This is not a party town, it’s more cute and sophisticated than buzzing.

Anche Gli Angeli, Noto, Sicily

On a different note, a short drive from Noto (25 minutes) you’ll find some beautiful beaches – and the Agua Beach Bar which is meant to be worth a visit.

Blog, Italy, Sicily

Ragusa, Sicily

August 13, 2016
Ragusa, Sicily

Also known as the ‘Grand Dame’, be aware that this lovely town is split in two – Ragusa Ibla (the historical part of the city, and clearly our focus) and Ragusa Superior (the new town, which we just visited for its ‘pescharia’ – fish shop).

Also be prepared to walk up hill (or up steps) – a lot – though you can actually drive to the top and park there (we only found this out after our vigorous exercise on our first visit).   Most of Ragusa Ibla is quiet, the locals only come out after around 6pm, and the few tourists here tend to flock around the Duomo square.  The rest of the town is yours to explore at leisure.

Ragusa, SicilyRagusa, SicilyRagusa, Sicily

DRINK

Aperitivo is a must at I Banchi, down a quiet side street, with tables outside under the shade of white flowered trees.  They’ll bring you a selection of Sicilian nibbles, and some great wines as well. It is in fact a panificio (possibly my favourite Italian word) –  a bakery – but also has an excellent restaurant (it is owned by the famous Michelin star chef Ciccio Sultano).  Apart from I Banchi there are plenty of other terraces to enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine, but none which really jumped out.

Ragusa, SicilyI Banchi, Ragusa, SicilyI Banchi, RAgusa

EAT

I highly recommend an ice cream at Gelati DiVini (the chilli chocolate was especially exceptional), and they also sell some good wine here too (the SP68 wine is a good, affordable option).  Another place for excellent ice cream and canolo is Pasticceria Giovanni di Pasquale.

DiVini, Ragusa

For more ‘serious’ food, you’re spoilt for choice.  Remarkably Ragusa has two of the best restaurants in Sicily.  The Duomo (2 Michelin star, and Ciccio Sultano’s flagship restaurant) and the Locanda don Serafino (also two Michelin star) constantly compete with who’s got the best restaurant, I’d go for their lunch set menu (far more affordable than dinner, at EUR 45 for 4 courses).  Many locals think the food is overpriced here, as generally the standard of food in most restaurants is very high.  Still, these restaurants remain good value for Michelin star restaurants (especially compared to London restaurants).   If you want something a little more moderately priced, I hear Monsu is meant to be excellent too.

Monsu, Ragusa

STAY

Locando don Serafino also has a small boutique hotel (4 star) very close by, which is the best place to stay in town, quirky, comfortable and right in the centre of town.  If you prefer to stay somewhere more rural, I’d recommend the beautiful Villa Carcara, just 10 minutes’ drive down the road.  Sleeping up to 18 people, with stunning views, gardens and a large pool, this place will make most people very happy.

Villa Carcara, RAgusa

Read more about South East Sicily here.

Blog, Italy, Sicily

South-East Sicily: An overview

July 30, 2016

People underestimate the size of Sicily.  It’s not an island you can cover in a week.  The island needs to be explored in pockets, or else you’ll spend your whole holiday in a car driving from place to place.

We went to Sicily for a long weekend a few years ago, and stayed in a charming Agriturismo in the North East of the island.  Perhaps one of the poorest areas and, while lovely, the poverty was certainly reflected.  An hour’s drive south to Taormina and we were suddenly in a different world, a town of faded glamour but still with a clear beauty, and plenty to do and see.

Sicily

This time we were drawn to the South-East – the Baroque corner of Sicily.  Originally I was inspired by an article written in Conde Nast, and a number of friends had recommended I go.  I read about honey coloured sandstone hill top towns, of cathedrals with stunning baroque facades, of curling alleyways and balconies overflowing with flowers and cacti.

Ortigia, Sicily

Last year our family holiday was in Puglia, a roaring success, and a lot to live up to.  Sicily was very different (though we enjoyed the same balance of sightseeing/food/relaxing) and wonderful in its own way.

Here are my highlights:

RAGUSA

Also known as the ‘Grand Dame’, be aware that this lovely town is split in two – Ragusa Ibla (the historical part of the city, and clearly our focus) and Ragusa Superior (the new town, which we just visited for its ‘pescharia’ – fish shop).  Also be prepared to walk up hill (or up steps) – a lot – though you can actually drive to the top and park there (we only found this out after our vigorous exercise on our first visit).   Most of Ragusa Ibla is quiet, the locals only come out after around 6pm, and the few tourists here tend to flock around the Duomo square.  The rest of the town is yours to explore at leisure.  I highly recommend an ice cream at Gelati DiVini (the chilli chocolate was especially exceptional), and they also sell some good wine here too.  Aperitivo is a must at I Banchi, down a quiet side street, with tables outside under the shade of white flowered trees.  They’ll bring you a selection of Sicilian nibbles, and some great wines as well. It is in fact a panificio (possibly my favourite Italian word) –  a bakery – but also has an excellent restaurant (it is owned by the famous Michelin star chef Ciccio Sultano).  Which brings me on to restaurants here: remarkably Ragusa has two of the best restaurants in Sicily.  The Duomo (2 Michelin star, and Ciccio Sultano’s restaurant) and the Locanda don Serafino (also two Michelin star) constantly compete with who’s got the best restaurant, I’d go for their lunch set menu (far more affordable than dinner, at EUR 45 for 4 courses).   Locando don Serafino also has a small boutique hotel (4 star) very close by, which is the best place to stay in town, quirky, comfortable and right in the centre of town.

Ragusa, SicilyRagusa, Sicily

NOTO

Noto is generally known as the prettiest of the Baroque towns in the area, and it is undeniably so, in a slightly ‘chocolate box’ kind of way.  It’s richer and more touristy than its neighbours, but also much smaller and felt less ‘local’.  The main sightseeing area is the long Corso Vittorio Emanuele with one beautiful building or church after another.   We went in search for a recommended restaurant – which took us up steps and more steps (it is a common theme in the area) in the burning sun.  And then we reached Crocifisso.  Which was shut for lunch (don’t believe the websites).  It appears that Noto is a better place to visit for dinner, when the likes of Manna (brand new, modern – my ideal kind of place) and Dammuso are open.  Food is meant to be exceptional here.  Having said that, Dammuso is usually open for lunch, just not when we were there.  We did find a place for lunch (Marpessa), where the food and stunning presentation surprised us (the gazpacho was brilliant) and despite the heat we had a fantastic meal.  After lunch we were recommended ‘the best ice cream in the world’ at Caffe Sicilia (it was delicious, but DiVini was still better).  There are plenty of terraces for sundowners, but if you want something different the Anche Gli Angeli concept store also offers a cool bar under red brick arches.

Noto, SicilyNoto, SicilyNoto, Sicily

MODICA

 Perhaps because we didn’t have super high expectations, having heard rave reviews of Noto and Ragusa, we were all somewhat surprised by how much we loved Modica.  For some of us, it was the favourite.  Modica is rich in character as well as the signature Baroque churches, beautiful view points and houses built up into the hill side.  There was plenty of grumbling about ‘more steps’, but I loved them!  The higher you get the better the view of course, and we found the charming Rappa Enoteca (turns out it’s number one on Tripadvisor in Modica) where we had delicious aperitivo, rose and beer outside.  We also bought some of their Modica-made chocolate which is a must when here (apparently it’s the oldest chocolate in the world). It’s above the cathedral and very quiet here, away from the more touristy lively streets at the bottom of the hill around Duomo Di San Pietro.   If you’re looking for more of a buzz, then Corso Umberto is where you want to be, with lots of bars and restaurants.  For dinner, Accursio was recommended, which looked sophisticated (if expensive).

Modica, SicilyModica, Sicily

MARZAMEMI

 This fisherman’s village wasn’t really planned into my itinerary, but having been recommended a good local restaurant and having not been to the seaside yet (despite having it as our daily view from the house), we thought we would go for lunch.  Marzamemi is absolutely tiny, and totally charming. During the heat of the day it seems very deserted (most people are probably enjoying the nearby sandy beach of Porto Palo di Capo Passero), apart from the minuscule ‘centre’ – the square with a few cute churches, a few streets which lead off it (with some tempting boutiques), and a row of restaurants along the waterfront.  Taverna La Cialoma is one of them – with a large bright terrace on the square, and then a smaller (more popular) shaded terrace right on the water. Perfect.  And then the food came and we nearly fell off our wooden chairs – it was like being served haute cuisine in a trattoria.  Incredible tuna carpaccio, melt in the mouth aubergine rolls stuffed with mozzarella and sprinkled with chocolate (it works beautifully), fresh prawns, simple but classic pastas.  Expensive, but totally worth it.  Marzamemi also seems to be a great place for sundowners, either on the waterfront (like Calamaro) or on the square at places like Kurabu (which also has some charming looking rooms).  The place really comes to life in the evening, sometimes with live bands or DJs playing on the square.
Marzamemi, SicilyMarzamemi, SIcily

Syracuse (Ortigia)

While the name Syracuse will probably ring more bells than Ortigia, it is the island of Ortigia (connected by a bridge) which is the heart of Syracuse; the historical centre.  Ortigia is where the true beauty of the city lies, and I wish I could have spent more time here than the few hours I did.  It is undeniably one of the ‘must sees’ of Sicily, grand without being pompous, vibrant without being too touristy.  Enjoy a traditional Granita and brioche for breakfast on the Duomo square (Condorelli gets it so right, and the brioche comes fresh from the oven), then wander through the narrow streets and grab a coffee at Movimento Centrale.  It’s definitely worth going inside the Duomo, and the nearby Chiesa di Santa Lucia has a lovely Caravaggio which you can’t miss. Make sure you reserve a table at the modern Retroscena for dinner, and for pre-drinks enjoy a glass of wine on the harbour front at the Marina Cafe. I will definitely be returning.

Syracuse, SicilySyracuse, Sicily

CATANIA

Catania doesn’t get a lot of great press.  The second largest city of Sicily is often dismissed, in favour for Palermo, the grander capital of the island.  But perhaps due to low expectations we all found ourselves rather liking the raw energy and gritty beauty of this interesting city.  No less so because Mount Etna looms behind the city, which remains quite a spectacle.  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.  And we had our best dinner here, in the beautiful newly opened Slow Food restaurant Me Cumpari Turiddu, where we tried donkey for the first time.  It is a very lively city, the streets fill up in the evening, and terraces spil 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, and then head to the Nievski bar for a bottle of Flo Sicilian wine or multiple beers to end the night.

Catania, SicilyCatania, Sicily

Further blogs on the individual places I visited to follow shortly, so keep your eyes peeled!

Looking for the latest London tips and travel suggestions?

Stay in the loop and sign-up for City Turtle's monthly newsletter.