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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, 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, 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, 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

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