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city break

Austria, Blog, Vienna

Vienna: My Overview

September 4, 2017
Vienna

A city of sophistication, beauty and elegance, Vienna should to be top of everyone’s city break lists.  Yet it isn’t.  And suddenly it has surged in popularity, with so many friends wanting to go and asking for tips.  I cannot recommend it enough.

Having lived there for three years from 1998, and returning many years later, the city has changed immeasurably.  Thankfully it has retained its pristine grandeur and cultural draw, but it has modernised in terms of its cosmopolitan offering.  It now also appeals more to a younger crowd; less pompous, more accessible.  Now you can find countless cool coffee shops, stylish restaurants, rooftop bars and edgy night clubs – a side I rarely saw when I lived there years ago.  And while I found Vienna remarkably peaceful (which may also have to do with it being August, and holiday season), I was constantly surprised to find restaurants buzzing on a Sunday night, and the club in the Volksgarten full and pumping until the early hours on Saturday.  It therefore makes for a very relaxing, easy going weekend break, but with the opportunity to party if you want.  The ideal mix.

Vienna

HOW TO GET AROUND

Getting from the airport to the city is as easy as it gets.  Grab the City Airport Train (CAT) which goes every 30 minutes, and you’re in the centre in 16 minutes (12 Euros for a single ticket).  The station is a lovely 154 minute stroll through the park to the famous Ring Strasse (the Ring street which circles the inner city).

Getting around Vienna is also easy.  I’d walk the majority of it as I still thinks it’s the best way of discovering a city.  And Vienna’s wide boulevards are rarely heaving (apart from some of the narrower inner city cobbled streets which do get a bit congested with tourists).  Citybike Wien (like Boris bikes, you’ll find them throughout the city, super cheap) are also recommended, and make the short distances from highlight to highlight even quicker but also mean you can explore areas further afield, like cycling along the Danube and wine tasting in Viennese vineyards (yes, they exist).

WHERE TO STAY

We stayed at the new-ish Grand Ferdinand, a hotel which embodies ‘contemporary’ Vienna.  With the perfect location, right on the Ring and minutes’ walk from most sights, it’s a modern hotel with classical touches.  The bedrooms have dark blue/grey walls and white, minimalist furniture, power showers and all the mod cons.  The rooftop terrace with pool is it’s USP, very few Viennese hotels have outdoor space, let alone a swimming pool with views over the city.  It’s worth booking the hotel just for this, as while the pool is small, the terrace is relaxing and the views sublime.  The restaurant/bar up here (guest only) is also lovely, the flourless chocolate cake we had here was amazing.  Their standard rooms are also remarkably affordable, from just £150 per night.  They value for money here is incredible.  The big downside I’d say was the service: slow, unresponsive and absolutely living up to the Austrian grumpy stereotype (dare I say it).  But I’ll get over that.

Grand Ferdinand, ViennaGrand Ferdinand, Vienna

If you want to splash out there is no other place to stay than Hotel Sacher, the iconic hotel of Vienna.  Having had a big refurb, all the bedrooms are now lighter and with a more contemporary feel, but still embody that classical Viennese style.  And if you can’t afford it (rooms from £400 a night) then it’s still worth grabbing a Melange coffee and their world famous Sacher Torte in their Café.

Hotel Sacher, ViennaHotel Sacher, Vienna

WHAT TO DO

Walk, walk, walk.  Everywhere.  The city really is picture perfect, everywhere you look.  The inner city is heavenly to amble through, every building tells its own story, and end up at the iconic Stephansdom with its mosaic roof (if you have the energy, climb the 500+ steps to the top for a great view of the city).  My highlight will always be the Belvedere Palace and its beautiful gardens.  The museum houses one of the best Austrian art collections, with the famous ‘Kiss’ painting by Klimt, but also beautiful works of art of other Austrian painters, and a lovely Impressionist collection on the 2nd floor.  My absolute favourite though are Messerschmidt’s ‘character heads’.  The Kunsthistorisch Museum can also not be missed.  The Hofburg is a must visit to explore Vienna’s imperial history and learn about the Hapsburg Empire.  If you have time I highly recommend see the Lipizzaner horses perform, and booking an opera at the wonderful Opera house (Staatsoper).  Also consider the (newer) Museum Quartier for mainly modern/contemporary art and a fun, younger vibe.  The list is endless, you can easily fill three full days and still have so much more to do and see.

Belvedere, ViennaBelvedere, Vienna

WHERE TO EAT

Austria – and Vienna – is not known for its food.  Personally I am not a fan of schnitzels and strudels, but if you are then you’re in luck as they are top of their game here.  Breakfast is recommended at one of the famous cafes (more on those later), Café Central is probably one of the most well known (Trotsky and Freud came here back in the day) and the setting very special (though inevitably quite touristy).  The breakfast (below) which we had was actually remarkably good value and the bread incredibly fresh.

Cafe Central, Vienna

Brunch was also surprisingly good, we loved Ulrich (very popular amongst locals) or Erich – sister restaurants both in the same area and with a great menu and range (from juices to pancakes to vegan delights).  Expect a small queue, but it is worth waiting.  Ulrich is also recommended for dinner.

Ulrich, ViennaUlrich, Vienna

The Bakery (at Hotel Daniel) and the Brasserie & Bakery (at the Guesthouse Vienna) were also recommended for good brunches.  For a peaceful terrace lunch in the park enjoy lunch at the Meierei im Stadtpark (they serve a good schnitzel and steak tartare here), or go to the very special Palmenhaus for a salad or a sandwich and enjoy the greenery and the Burggarten (park).

Meierei im StadtparkPalmenhaus, Vienna

Dinner we went to O’Boufes, the sister restaurant to neighbouring Michelin star restaurant Konstantin Filippou.  The menu was limited, a mixture of Greek/Viennese, a little hit and miss.  The service was good but the restaurant didn’t rank top for us.  More fun and upbeat, and more laid back was Heuer (the Tagliatta and Burrata are both excellent here).  The photo below does not do it justice, they also have a huge terrace outside.  If you want a chilled out burger (and gin), then head to said the butcher to the cow.  And for a classic, sophisticated dinner try the Rote Bar at Hotel Sacher (ideal for a pre-Opera dinner as it’s just across from it).  Just remember that Vienna is expensive and food not great value for money, and we preferred the brunches/lunches/cakes to our dinners here.

Heuer, Vienna

FOR COFFEE (AND CAKE)

Speaking of cake, one thing I do adore in Vienna are the torte (cakes), and here you are spoilt for choice.  Apart from Café Central, other excellent cafes are Cafe Imperial, Sacher (of course), Demel and Landtmann. Coffee is not cheap here either but I guess you’re paying for the setting.  I was recommended Das Kleines Cafe by many locals and it is very cute and worth visiting.  Service horrendous though.

Das Kleines Cafe, Vienna

WHERE TO DRINK

The best rooftops bars are at the Grand Ferdinand (but sadly guests only, though I reckon this might change), the Ritz Carlton’s Atmosphere (gulp at the price, but that’s what you get at a five star hotel and the views are worth it) and Bloom Bar at the Lamee Hotel.  Other bars with views worth going to are Onyx, which was one of my favourites.  It has fantastic views of Stephansdom (photo below) and charming service (i.e the waiter looked like Leo Dicaprio).  The Sofitel’s Das Loft bar (it’s on the Danube) and Dachboden Hotel 25 (edgier) were also both recommended.  For summer days and nights the ‘beach’ bars along the Danube river are fun and full of locals enjoying the sun and a swim (in places) – like Hermann Strand bar and Tel Aviv Beach.  And for nightclubs go to the Volksgarten for various clubs and outdoor music, or Prater Sauna for more heavy, gritty party vibes (and an outdoor pool).

Onyx, Vienna

Further, more detailed blog posts about Vienna will follow – watch this space.

Thank you Luise van Holk, Victoria van Tets and others for your tips.

Some of the included photos are by Rikki Salmond. 

Blog, Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm: My top tips

June 12, 2017
Stockholm

Stockholm, a city I’ve rarely heard a bad word about.  I mean, clearly do not go during the winter months, unless you are looking for perpetual darkness.  And a head freeze.  But from May – September (if not a little later) Stockholm is a must visit destination.  I did think while there that it was rare for me to choose a destination which was not only colder, but also more expensive than the UK.  But Stockholm is an exception.

Stockholm

 Effortlessly sophisticated, peaceful and easy going, it is the ultimate weekend break destination.  The locals, apart from being startling good looking and (mainly) blonde, are also exceptionally friendly and upbeat. You’re greeted by an enthusiastic ‘hi hi’ wherever you go, the sing-songy language is wonderful to listen to and, should Swedish not be your first language, English is widely spoken. 

Stockholm

 I’m not sure quite where my fascination of Scandinavia and their language comes from. Perhaps from getting along with my Scandi school mates. But maybe more so from my obsession with Scandi Noir (the Bridge – set in Malmo and Copenhagen – is still one of the best TV series I’ve watched). And apart from that, there is the Scandi infiltration into multiple aspects of London life; in the form of food, design and even the ‘hygge’ lifestyle influence (though I must point out, hygge is Danish, not Swedish). 

Stockholm

 So here are my tips of what do to if you have a weekend in Stockholm, and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did:

WHERE TO STAY

 Through my work we were lucky to stay at the brand new Hotel At Six, the sister property of the much-loved hotel Thief in Oslo. At Six is not for everyone, it’s huge (300 rooms), modern and quite dark (the corridors felt a little industrial). My father – my date for the weekend – wasn’t a huge fan, but I was, and therein lies the explanation: this is a property better for the young. I liked the style.  The beds were like sleeping in cotton wool (my father will concur), impossible to get out of.  Bathrooms were slick and power showers excellent. The breakfast buffet was expansive and varied, and I loved it all from the chipolatas to the pastries and homemade jams to the chia and coconut pudding.   Location wise it’s hard to beat, with walking distance to the Old Town, Sodermalm and Ostermalm, and you’re right next to new hotspot Tak (more on that later).  One thing I would say is that unless you book a room on a high floor the views are poor (a building site) and the direct area it’s in (the ‘city’) is not the most beautiful.  But what must be emphasised is that the cost of the hotel is also very reasonable (especially for Stockholm), with rooms starting at around £180 a night.

Hotel at Six, StockholmHotel at Six, StockholmHotel at Six, Stockholm

Other good options is the Lydmar (right on the water in Ostermalm, next to the iconic but quite stuffy Grand Hotel), Hotel Story and Miss Clara for trendy, boutique options and Ett Hem for your most exclusive Relais & Chateaux option with a very personal, homely feel.

WHERE TO EAT

 Food in Stockholm is excellent and there are countless good restaurants in the city.  I gorged myself on whipped butter, rye bread and cinnamon buns, and had as much fish as possible.  You can’t go wrong with having fish here, it’s all so fresh.  Our favourite restaurant was Oaxen Slip, the more laid back sister restaurant to two Michelin star Oaxen Krug on the island of Djurgarden.  Located on the water, the food is full of flavour and unpretentious, the staff beyond charming.

Oaxen Slip, StockholmOaxen Slip, Stockholm

On our second night we ate at Portal, in the upmarket residential area of Vasastan (the Notting Hill of Stockholm).  This had a completely different feel, very light and open, typically Scandi in style, a little stiffer.  The food was beautifully presented and the scallops were some of the best I’ve had.

Portal, StockholmPortal, Stockholm

Other dinner places I was recommended are Woodstockholm, Café Nizza and Albin & Adam.  Nytorget 6 is a very popular lunch place in Sodermalm, known for their tacos which were delicious and I really liked the vibe here.  Cafe Pascal is a local favourite in the Vasastan area, and I also really wanted to go to Snickarbacken 7 Cafe but didn’t make it.   Plenty of excuses to return.

Nytorget 6, Stockholm

WHERE TO DRINK

 Stockholm does not really do roof terraces.  Probably because most of the year the weather does not really allow for much outside drinking.  However, the arrival of Tak changes this.  This uber cool roof top terrace bar, with great views of the city and an upbeat vibe, offers drinks alfresco to thirsty locals.  There will be queues to get up here on the weekends and the drinks are not cheap – naturally – but it’s great fun.

Tak, StockholmTak, Stockholm

Other fun bars are the courtyard bar at Hotel Story, the bar at Riche (known for its attractive divorcees!) and Penny and Bill.  Wine bars are also becoming more popular, and we much enjoyed the newly opened Tyge & Sessil

Tyge & Sessil, Stockholm

COFFEE

 The Swedes are seemingly also good at coffee.  Their coffee is definitely on the strong side, and give you a good pick me up for sightseeing and/or more eating and drinking.  We loved our coffee at the Urban Deli Nytorget (this is a chain, but it’s like a luxury version of Whole Foods, well worth going to), and coffee at Coffice, Drop and Johan and Nystrom come highly recommended.  In fact Arlanda Airport has a Johan and Nystrom café, where I spent quite some time waiting for my father’s flight to arrive, and both the coffee as well as the hot chocolate were delicious.

Urban Deli Nytorget, Stockholm

WHAT TO DO

 Stockholm is one of those cities where there is no need to have an itinerary as such.  You can walk from place to place, and follow the water through Ostermalm.

Stockholm

Take the lift up to the viewing platform at Gondolen (which is a slightly odd 70ies construction) for the best views of the city, from there you’re practically in the fun area of Sodermalm.  One of the highlights was visiting the world-famous Fotografiska (photographer museum), where we enjoyed a number of their exhibitions (in particularly Cooper & Gorfer’s ‘I know not these my hands’).  There’s also a great restaurant here with lovely views of the water.  A walk through Gamla Stan (the Old Town) is recommended, though I found it overly touristic and better to avoid the main ‘high street’ which has lost its authentic feel.

Gamla Stan, StockholmGamla Stan, Stockholm

Another must is spending the morning in the beautiful Rosendal park on Djurgarden, which is wonderful.  The café at Rosendals Tradgard is charming, a little like London’s Petersham Nurseries in feel, but perhaps with even better cakes.  You can have lunch here on a bench in the apple orchard or in one of the gardens, ideal for a summer’s day.

Rosendal, StockholmRosendal Tradgard, StockholmRosendal Tradgard, Stockholm

But perhaps one of our favourite bits was just wandering through the hipster area of Sodermalm, sitting in one of the green squares and people-watching, pottering around one of the many vintage shops, and stopping for a coffee at one of the many cafes.

Sodermalm, StockholmSodermalm, Stockholm

If you have time grab one of the ferries to one of the 30,000 (!) islands of Stockholm’s stunning archipelago.  I will definitely be returning to do this.

With much gratitude to Hedda & Umberto for all your wonderful tips. Tack! 

Blog, Italy, Rome

2016: Travel Plans

January 9, 2016
Rome

I’m excited about 2016 and all that’s in store, especially on the weekend break side (my favourite).

Here are my trips planned for the first half of 2016:

January – Rome, Italy

My favourite city. Despite having lived there, visiting this city never gets old.  This year I’m going with my father and sisters, and we’re staying at this lovely new Airbnb behind Piazza Navona. Incredible location and the perfect base.  I will be checking out boutique hotel JK Place, as have been hearing a lot of good things about it. F&B wise, I want to go for a cocktail at speakeasy the Jerry Project (my Dad agrees to come along as you can smoke inside). Apart from that I will most likely be visiting La Quercia for lunch (an old favourite of ours) as well as the wine bar La Vi, trying out Marzepane for dinner, and going bar hopping in Trastevere of course.  For more tips of Rome check out my Italy page (and Rome tab).

Colosseum, Rome

February – Prague, Czech Republic

While I did a day trip to Prague when I was about 12, I have not been back since and this time I want to do a proper weekend break there.  I will be staying at the wonderful Mandarin Oriental, which is just across the river on the South side, and walking distance to all the sights. It looks so beautiful, I’m excited!  Here, apart from visiting all my main highlights (the castle etc), I’ll be checking out the Mucha museum (as the friend coming with me is an artist).  I still need to do a lot of research into where we’re going to eat and drink, so any tips are welcome!

prague-winter-pink-sky

End of March/April – The Keukenhof, The Netherlands

I’m Dutch and while I’ve of course driven past the phenomenon that is the Keukenhof before, I’ve never properly visited. So that’s what we’re doing. For those who have not heard of it, the Keukenhof is where you can find hundreds of thousands of tulips, beautifully laid out. They tend to bloom in March and April (though who knows what will happen this year). It is a real sight to behold.

Keukenhof

First Bank Holiday May – Bologna, Italy

An Italian city I have never been to, but which has been on my list for so long. I can’t wait to explore the beautiful city of Bologna, in the province of Emilia Romagna.  Known for the oldest university in the world, it’s stunning red tiled roofs and home to spaghetti bolognese, I look forward to this foodie and carb-heavy weekend.

Bologna

Second Bank Holiday May – Istanbul, Turkey

The minute Soho House Istanbul (the photo below is theirs) opened I knew I’d found my excuse to return to Istanbul for the fourth time. Soho House is the perfect base to explore the city, and the weather should be good by the end of May (I’m hoping the Bosphorus outdoor clubs will have opened by then too)!  I’m going with some Turkish friends so I hope they’ll take me to some off the beaten track places.  Apparently the best place for a proper authentic kebab is Sehsade Erzurum Cag Kebabi, and I’ll definitely be going back to my favourite bar 360 for a cocktail at sunset with fantastic views.

soho house, Istanbul - this is their photo

June – Hvar, Croatia

One of my best friends is getting married here, so I couldn’t say no to returning to Hvar for the second time. I loved it the first time (7 years ago now!) so can’t wait for my return, and revisiting old haunts like Carpe Diem, Hula Hula bar and the super affordable but delicious Marinero restaurant .  Here’s the blog I wrote about it in 2012, I’m wondering how much has changed.  We’re all staying at the raved about Amfora, so it should be a really fun few days, and a magical place for a wedding!

Hvar

July – Sicily

Every year we do a family holiday to Italy, last year was our highly successful trip to Puglia (highly recommended), which will be hard to beat. While we spent some time in the north east of Sicily a few years ago, and visited towns like Taormina, this year we’ll be exploring the South East, relatively tourist-free and filled with incredibly beautiful Baroque towns like Ragusa (photo below fromwww.permesola.com), Modica, Noto and Scicli. We’ve rented the beautiful Villa Carcara and I’ll be starting my research soon! If you want to be inspired, Conde Nast Traveller wrote a beautiful article about the area in their January issue, or read about the cuisine here.

Ragusa, Sicily

Apart from that I’ll be returning to Paris for a weekend, and staying at the beautiful Westminster Hotel off Place Vendome. And who knows what else 2016 has in store!

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