The Coach House B&B – Derby

When I decided to visit Derby for a short break then The Coach House B&B immediately jumped out at me as the place I wanted to stay. With only a few rooms it’s in high demand of course but the size makes for a wonderfully personal visit.

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I had the pleasure of staying in the room on the top floor of the converted stables with it’s fabulous and enormous window looking out over the gardens. There’s also a smaller window that opens up onto purple flowers creeping around the frame in a way that’s so pretty it looks like the set of a film, and somewhere I actually sat and watched the blossom from the neighbouring garden float past. The bedrooms, as well as the ‘snug’ area are decorated in a fun, boutique hotel style, with greys, blues & yellows and unusual pieces the designer has found including a range of animal objects such as the rhino bed side lamps & a giant horse head wearing multi coloured reins.
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I stay in quite a lot of hotels so I would consider myself somewhat a bed connoisseur, and without any exaggeration my first thought when I laid on the bed in my room was ‘I need to buy this bed.’ Unfortunately I was informed in the morning it’s a special one only available to trade, but they have clearly done their research in both the mattress and sheet departments.
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Breakfast is served from 7 until 9 on weekdays, but as I slightly overslept due to immense comfiness, they were happy to serve me after the usual time. There are a selection of fresh juices & cereals to help yourself to, then french press coffee, smoothies, teas and a range of hot breakfasts made to order. I opted for the smoked salmon and scrambled egg bagel, generous and rich, which started me off well each morning ready for my days exploring the city.
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The B&B is well located, only a 20 minute walk (or £3 taxi ride) from central Derby. I walked through the nearby park next to the river Derwent to get into town which is a really pleasant activity in itself, and there are a number of local pubs in the area including the slightly unusual Abbey pub which is a popular spot in a converted church only a few minutes away.
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The Coach House is clearly the place to stay for those looking for a cool & quality alternative to the usual chains when staying in Derby.

Dining in Derby – Where to eat?

I wasn’t expecting Derby to have such a great range of restaurants, from local specialities to fine dining and from funky independents to quaint tearooms, but it turns out the city has a huge amount to offer, so much so that I had to undo my jeans when I drove home from my 3 day trip to the city, genuinely.

Here are a few of my suggestions for top places to eat for your next visit.

Coffee & light bites

  • BEAR – 7 Iron Gate – BEAR actually serves a lot more than coffee, including seasonal  food, cakes & pastries and cocktails & craft beer, but it’s the coffee that drew me in. All it’s coffee is sustainably sourced and their speciality coffees include the ‘Chemex’ and the ‘Aeropress’, whilst the more familiar French Press & iced lattes are also top notch. Whilst chatting to locals around town I was repeatedly told the cost of BEAR’s coffee machine, (pretty high!) but whatever they paid for it, with coffee that tasty, it was worth every penny.
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    BEAR – Coffee, Kitchen & Bar – Iron Gate, Derby – Bear Coffee Company
  • Derby Pyclet Parlour – Market Hall – A ‘pyclet’, pronounced ‘pie-clet’ is like a large flatter crumpet, and Katie the owner told that it was originally considered to be a crumpet for the poor, as they couldn’t afford the metal mould to make the more common thicker crumpets. Pyclets are delicious and a Derby speciality, and clearly incredibly popular; on a day following bank holiday weekend when everywhere else was quite quiet, the Pyclet Parlour had a constant stream of people coming past to pick up their stash to take home, with others sitting in to eat. I opted for a sweet topping of banana, cream, honey & chocolate, but other delicious toppings include sun-dried tomato, chorizo & goats cheese, and stilton. All for a few pounds, and served with a smile!
    Pyclet Parlour

Dinner

  • The Wonky Table – 32-33 Sadler Gate – The Wonky Table came highly recommended around town and is clearly a local favourite. It’s a small restaurant serving fresh, unique dishes as well as delicious cocktails, all in a funky environment with unusual decor. There are multi-coloured chandeliers with aeroplanes dangling down, old tills, and other vintage/quirky memorabilia dotted around. The staff are chatty and smiley and more than happy to recommend dishes. The food is tasty and imaginative, including a mini roast dinner for starter, tempura avocado, and a fantastic steak topped with a mini beef wellington.

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  • Masa – The Old Wesleyan Chapel – Masa is a fine dining restaurant & wine bar, and a favourite locally for those looking for somewhere special to dine or drink. It’s inside an old converted chapel, and the restaurant has kept many of the old pews as well as making use of the different tiers to create multi level dining, all with great views over the bar below.

    They have been awarded two AA rosettes for culinary excellence for the last seven consecutive years and a listing in the Good Food Guide and this comes as no surprise as every dish is well thought out and uses the highest quality of ingredients. I particularly liked the pork served with black pudding and scallops, as well as the fantastic amuse-bouche of butternut squash veloute with local pesto. There’s an extensive list of wines as well as cocktail favourites and it was clearly a popular spot for special occasions for drinks as well as food.
    Masa Restaurant | Fine dining in Derby

    Afternoon tea

  • Lisa Jean at Bennett’s Brasserie – Bennett’s Deparment Store, Irongate – Served in beautiful china, Lisa Jean’s offers a delightful afternoon tea in a relaxing environment with sweet and savoury treats guaranteed to fill you up. There’s a lovely selection of teas to choose from, with the opportunity to smell the different leaves before you make your choice. I opted for a mixed berry tea, and also tried the mint.

    As well as classic favourites like smoked salmon sandwiches, they added little twists such as serving a ‘made in house’ lemon curd with the scones, and mini samosas alongside ‘stilton & sausage rolls’ in the savoury selection.
    Welcome to Lisa Jean at Bennetts Brasserie | Irongate, Derby
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Lake Charvak

Lake Charvak is the pearl of the Tien Shan Mountains. A reservoir dammed by the Soviet built hydroelectric dam, it’s the most popular recreational area in Uzbekistan. The lake takes a couple of hours to reach from Tashkent and is at an altitude of 3000m meaning it’s a few degrees colder than in the city, and in Winter (which is when I visited) it’s bitterly cold especially at night.

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It’s a stunning location, particularly for anyone who is a new visitor to Central Asia as the scenery is quite unique. The lake itself is surrounded by the beautiful Tien Shan Mountain range which border 3 other countries, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is one of only 2 double land locked countries in the world, but despite similarities with it’s neighbouring states it is quite an individual country and it’s residents are very proud of it’s natural beauty spots such as Lake Charvak. Definitely one of the highlights of Uzbekistan and top places to visit, particularly for outdoor activity lovers.
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In Winter you’ll have the place nearly yourself and snow sits on the top of the mountains while the fog & mist drifts around giving an almost eerie feel. In Summer however the lake is full of locals and riruists who rent out the nearby properties at fairly extravagant prices.
There’s a limited amount of restaurants nearby so make sure to bring snacks if you don’t want to pay over the odds. Be sure to stay until dusk as that’s when the lake really starts to look spectacular, with pink clouds over the top of the dam & the mountains.

The Black Forest – There’s so much more than Gateau…

One of my TV shows features me excitedly walking towards a cake museum whilst announcing that ‘anyone who knows me, knows that my ideal day involves some kind of cake’, and it’s true!

Cake is used to celebrate lots of occasions, birthdays of course, Christmas, I once got some work experience at a PR firm by delivering them a cake with a picture of my holding my CV on it. You can imagine my delight then when I was invited to an event that not only involved cake but also my other love…travel!

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The tourist board for the Black Forest were celebrating the launch of their exciting new Facebook hub @visitblackforest by inviting a group of fellow travel and cake lovers to the Underground Cookery School in Hoxton to learn about the region and also to learn how to make the famous cake named after it. The Black Forest Gateau.  I’m always excited to visit new places and the Black Forest isn’t somewhere I have visited yet but for many reasons is up there on my list.
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It’s just over an hour’s flight from London making it quicker to get to than Edinburgh. It’s therefore convenient enough to be perfect for a short break, but still having more than enough to do to fill a much longer trip.
I was fascinated to try some of the snacks and wines from the area as we all arrived at the school. A plate of meat, cheeses and breads in Germany is called a ‘Vesper’ and it turns out that a Vesper is the ideal sharing plate. We had a whole selection of sausages, cheeses and pickles to share alongside a number of Black Forest wines to choose from. A German wine actually is one my top favourite whites and the Black Forest is a fantastic stop for any wine lover.
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I’ll admit my knowledge of the Black Forest before the event was limited, I know where it is, perfectly located for exploring inside Germany yet on the border of France and Switzerland, but I wasn’t aware of quite how much it had to offer. The landscape is incredible, rolling hills and so much to do for the outdoor lover; hundreds of hiking trails and incredible hotels/guesthouses such as wooden tree houses for that unusual overnight stay. On top of that it’s home to a strong culinary heritage and you’ll be treated to a range of top restaurants as it’s city ‘Baiersbronn’ is home to two restaurants with three Michelin stars and was described by the New York Times as one of the ‘world’s most unexpected restaurant capitals’. Plus in Winter it takes on yet another face, with Christmas markets taking place in both the cities and the forests, and snow activities like tobogganing and snow shoe trails.
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The activity at the event itself was incredibly fun, it was a lighthearted but hands on event, with lots of fun loving people invited and we all enjoyed it thoroughly. The Black Forest is obviously keen for us all to realise that there’s a lot more to the area than Gateau, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t enjoy the cake too.
The sponge cake is cut into three pieces, before adding sugar water and schnapps to each layer, for flavour but also to keep moisture in the cake. Chocolate, cherry and whipped cream are added in concentric circles followed by decorative chocolate curls and cream whips on the top.
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For me the Black Forest sounds like an excellent trip that I will have to embark on soon, as someone who loves outdoor activities, top end food and wine, and incredible scenery…it’s definitely my kind of place….SO WATCH THIS SPACE!
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If you want to learn more about the area visit the new Facebook hub
Facebook: @VisitBlackForest https://www.facebook.com/visitblackforest/
or say hi on Instagram: @visitblackforest #visitblackforest

Pouso Sambaquis, Ilhabela’s tropical hideaway

Yesterday, someone asked me what the English word for Pousada was. Google seems to think the direct translation is hostel, but that doesn’t quite fit, certainly they may have the laidback hostel feel, but with the touch of family that comes with a bed & breakfast, and certainly at Pousada Sambaquis, also with lashings of the personal attention that you’d expect at a top boutique hotel.

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I chose to stay at Pousada Sambaquis as many travellers do, based on the excellent reviews online and the photos showing a lush tropical hideaway but still close to the amenities of the island, but have been taken aback by the place on so many levels.

810_6528The pousada is a couple of streets away from the main beach strip on the South coast of the island, but hidden in an almost jungle like courtyard so it’s quiet and relaxing inside. The gorgeous pool is surrounded by palm trees and a multitude of flowers, and the gardens themselves are so lush that they have been visited by nearly 30 different species of bird.

810_6543The staff, owner Alex, and the housekeeper Maria, who everyone describes as the heart of the pousada, went out of their way to ensure that my stay was as comfortable and personal as possible.

Alex is a nature lover and an encyclopedia of the local birds & fauna, knowing all the best trails and hidden waterfalls. Maria is like everyone’s favourite auntie, always with a beaming smile, even when I crawled out of bed late after a few too many cachacas I was still met with a smile and an offer of coffee…which I gladly accepted. Staying at Sambaquis you feel like one of the family, which makes for a much more authentic and satisfying stay than if I’d gone to a chain hotel.

810_6603The breakfast is served in the shady enclave next to the pool, and has to be one of the nicest hostel breakfasts I have ever had. Maria bakes fresh bread every day, as well as making delicious pastries served alongside fruits, cold meats and cheeses, and selections of granola & yoghurt. In the afternoon the smell of fresh baked goods came floating out of the kitchen making me excited for the next morning.

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The rooms are immaculate and shady with views over the courtyard pool, fridges restocked daily with beers, water & soft drinks, comfortable beds and air conditioning for the hot IlhaBela days. My room had a lovely balcony from which I could see the mountains in the distance and on one evening I sat out there and watched one of the most impressive electrical storms I’d ever seen, which cleared the air for beautiful weather the following day.

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810_6568Alex is able to provide some personal tours, he knows the island and everyone knows him, with the park rangers greeting him like an old friend. He took me on one of his favourite national park trails, visiting a secret waterfall and an observation deck looking over the jungle listening to the sound of the toucans.

810_6562Whether you call it a guesthouse, a hostel or a B&B, Pouso Sambaquis has to be one of the friendliest and most pleasant places I’ve stayed at on my travels for a long time, and is an absolute must for your visit to IlhaBela.

https://www.sambaquis.com.br

 

A day out at Pier 39, SF

I only had a couple of days in San Francisco, but my wanderlust side was desperate to see some highlights of the city. San Francisco Bay and of the Golden Gate Bridge, a glimpse of Alcatraz and of course some top eats. A little bit of research lead me to Pier 39, a dining and shopping area in the Fisherman’s Wharf area of SF.

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I took the old fashioned cable car from Market Street to the end of the line Fisherman’s Wharf, a 20 min $7 ride up and down the hills of the city. `The cable car ride is fun in itself, if not a little crowded with people, but it’s a SF must do, and very convenient for Pier 39.

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The Pier itself is colourful and vibrant with a constant hustle and bustle of people and it has a whole host of drinking and dining options, especially if seafood is your thing. For me though, there was only one choice; Clam Chowder in a sour dough bowl. Admittedly it’s dishes like this that might be the reason my pants are getting a little tight, but oh boy it’s delicious. Warm and creamy, with locally sourced clams from Pier Market Seafood Restaurant, it was a definitely a dish that lives up to it’s reputation and one I’d love to try again!

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One thing I didn’t know about the pier is that it’s home to a huge number of Sea Lions! They started arriving in the area in 1990 after the Loma Prieta Earthquake but due to a plentiful herring supply numbers can reach 900 in Winter months! I’ve never quite seen wildlife in a city like that before, the sea lions were play fighting with each other and causing quite a scene, on top of all the noise!

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Obviously being in SF I was really keen to see the Golden Gate Bridge and although I could see it peeking out from behind the clouds from the pier itself I really wanted to get up close. From the edge of Pier 39 you can buy tickets for the Blue & Gold Fleet ferries. They go out regularly throughout the day for one hour trips, out of the bay and under the bridge.

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I chose to take the final trip of the day at 1830, which offered some absolutely stunning sunset views of the bridge as we sailed under it, the red cloud around the bridge looked magical and photos really don’t do it any justice. As we sailed back towards the pier we took a route around Alcatraz and got to see it all lit up before heading back to our start point for a nightcap. IMG-20171018-WA0022

Thanks to https://www.pier39.com & https://www.blueandgoldfleet.com

Tips for your first time travelling to India

I travel to have stories to tell, and boy do I have some stories to tell from India! If you abandon your expectations and develop a relaxed and flexible attitude, you will be blown away by the rich, cultural diversity of India and the fabulous opportunities it presents.

Having said that, I’m not going to pretend that travel in India doesn’t take a bit of getting used to – so here are a few tips that may come in handy to make your trip a little smoother…

#1: BEFORE YOU ARRIVE

Let’s get the initial practicalities out of the way first: it is more than likely that you’ll need a visa to visit India. Do not overlook this, and make sure to leave plenty of time for your application. The process is speedier than it used to be, and visitors can now apply online for an e-visa – but this can still sometimes be a hassle.

I’d recommend that even the most seasoned travellers should book at least their first night’s accommodation for when arriving in India, this will give you chance to get your bearings, get used to the heat and refresh before starting to explore. India is also a cash economy, and you shouldn’t rely on paying by card except at large hotels or shops. Most of the international airports have ATM machines, but all have withdrawal limits; usually around 10,000 rupees (approx US $156 at the time of writing).

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#2 KEEP THE ITINERARY FLEXIBLE

It’s joked that IST does not stand for Indian Standard Time, but actually Indian StretchableTime. Indeed when filming and travelling across India, meeting times, start times, deadlines and journey times have all had to be viewed fairly flexibly – if not with a pinch of salt. Working in India has taught me great things about patience, and going with the flow.

Generally, I’d recommend maintaining a relaxed/flexible pace and trying not to get worked up unless you really think that it will benefit the situation.

I’VE ARRIVED AT STATIONS TO CATCH TRAINS IN INDIA ONLY TO FIND THE SERVICE RUNNING 9 HOURS LATE, AND A FRIEND OF MINE HAD AN IN-DEPTH DISCUSSION WITH A MAN IN DELHI ABOUT HOW THE TRAINS THERE WERE THE BEST IN THE WORLD – ONLY TO DISCOVER HIS TRAIN WAS ALMOST A DAY BEHIND SCHEDULE!

Having said all of this, it’s important to be open minded in terms of time and what we might perceive as effectiveness, as certain feats that would be unimaginably difficult in London or NYC are undertaken with relative ease in Indian cities. In Mumbai for example, there are 58 different newspapers, in 29 languages, which are sorted by hand and delivered across the city. Even more impressive is the famous tiffin lunch box delivery service ‘dabbawalas’, which collects lunches from homes and delivers them to places of work and back again, with only a reported one mistake in every six million deliveries.’

#3: PAY ATTENTION TO LOCAL CULTURES

Generally the attention you receive as a foreigner will be friendly. Some people might be unnerved by potential staring – but remember, a smile goes a long way in any country, and can turn a situation around! Some of my most rewarding experiences in India have been when I’ve gone with the flow and sat with local people, listened to their stories and eaten what they have suggested.

India is a very diverse country, one of the most diverse I’ve visited. As such, on a visit to the South, one will have a very different experience to someone visiting the North East. There is great pride within each state, and massive differences regionally in food, traditions, style of dress and religion. Observing the customs in one region doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be observed in the same way elsewhere in the country. Don’t be afraid to ask what is expected of you, if you visit any places of worship for example. People will usually be welcoming and happy to answer any questions or guide you towards what is appropriate.

IN ONE TEMPLE I WAS HANDED A SMALL BOWL OF CUCUMBER WITH NO EXPLANATION, AND I SPENT THE NEXT FEW MINUTES IN A PANIC AS TO WHETHER I WAS MEANT TO PRESENT THIS AS A DEDICATION, OR TO EAT IT MYSELF.

Just ask, as you don’t want to offend anyone! (Just for the record, the cucumber was intended as an offering, which was luckily the option I went for!)

Alex Outhwaite in India

#4: FORGET EVERYTHING YOU THINK YOU KNOW ABOUT INDIAN FOOD

In the UK we are used to lists of curries; Bhuna, Jalfrezi, Korma etc, followed by a list of meats. Do not expect this in India! You might see some names you recognise on your travels but be prepared generally to throw out what you thought you knew about Indian food and embrace true Indian cuisine.

Secondly, meat isn’t as common in a lot of restaurants, and eating establishments describe themselves as either ‘Veg’ or ‘Non veg’, with veg being the standard. Certainly in the more rural areas such as the Himalayas of Jammu and Kashmir, meat is rather scarce particularly during certain months; whilst filming in this region my diet mostly consisted of daal and roti.

IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO MEET SOME LOCAL FRIENDS WHO INVITE YOU TO DINE WITH THEM, DO IT! IT’S THE BEST WAY TO DISCOVER LOCAL FOOD YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE TRIED OTHERWISE.

Water is served in most restaurants in a jug, and often tourist’s initial reaction is to be wary of it – but it’s going to have been filtered and will generally be fine to drink. I’ve never had any problems from drinking it. One thing that’s interesting to note is that people regularly share water bottles. People tend to not put their mouth to the bottle but tip it in from a slight height so that their lips don’t touch.

Many Indians eat with their hands, which I actually love doing when I’m over there. Hygiene of course is very important when doing this, so most restaurants (or hotels as they are sometimes confusingly called) have sinks inside the eating area.

#5: TAKE YOUR TIME

If this is your first trip to India, or indeed your 2nd or 3rd, there will be hundreds of things on your to do list. Bear in mind that the heat, noise and dust can be overwhelming, even to experienced travellers. Make sure you have plenty of time to rest and recuperate during your day.

When exploring Mumbai recently, I actually started my day at 4:30am to see the streets nearly empty and visit the vegetable markets. At 9:30am I went back to my room for a rest and a refresh before a late breakfast ready to restart my day! I’ll stress again, be flexible with your plans and leave plenty of time if you have a flight to catch or somewhere important to be as rush hour traffic can be crazy in the cities!

Alex Outhwaite on boat in India

#6: IF YOU DO GET SICK…

A phrase I love to use is ‘local drugs for local bugs’. Sure, it’s probably sensible to carry a first aid kit with you including medication from home, but my experience travelling in India has lead me to believe that when you get sick (and you probably will at some point), your local legitimate pharmacist will be able to assist you more than just blocking yourself up with Imodium.

To a certain extent I’d say this is true with old wive’s tale type remedies too. The suggestion of chewing local ginger proved incredibly helpful when I developed travel sickness on all the winding roads of Meghalaya. Equally, salted chai was super helpful for altitude sickness in the Himalayas.

Alex Outhwaite in traditional clothing

#7: A SCARF WILL BE YOUR NEW BFF

My suggestion here is to be more be comfortable, both physically and socially. I tend to carry a scarf with me at all times. Visiting a temple? Cover up with a scarf. Getting a bit chilly at night in the mountains? Wrap up with your scarf. Wearing a vest top and want to be a bit more modest in a village? Throw your trusty scarf over your shoulders.

In the heat, loose clothing is helpful of course, and don’t be afraid to wear colour. Indian traditional dress is often fantastically patterned and bright, often worn alongside fairly bling jewellery.

ABOVE ALL, ENJOY YOURSELF AND GO WITH THE FLOW!

Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa

Opened in October 2017, I had the pleasure of visiting Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa within it’s first month of opening. The hotel has introduced 5 star luxury design to the marina and with it’s nautical inspired interior concepts it still maintains a boutique feel.

One of my favourite things about the hotel, which I kept noticing throughout my stay was the little touches, that could be found all over the hotel as well as in the rooms. The Lonely Planet coffee table books, the lemon & cucumber water dispensers strategically placed on tables with nice views, I could imagine the designers walking around the hotel and noting where would be nice to sit…and what would our guests like to do when they sit there?

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My magnificent room had some fantastic examples of these well thought out touches. There was the complimentary sherry & gin in Crystal glassware so elegant I had people messaging after I posted photos on Instagram stories saying they needed to know where they could get their own versions! There was The White Company toiletries & the delicious sweet treats & welcome pack left for my arrival, every aspect of the stay managed to find that difficult balance between maintaining top quality but still being cool.

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My room also had fantastic views over the marina from it’s own personal terrace, and despite not visiting in the Summer, I made use of the winter blankets to sit out at midnight with a glass of Sherry and truly appreciate the tranquility of the area at night.

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You might think that the staff knew I was a blogger and treated me differently, but from check in to leaving I noted how staff interacted with guests; everyone is important, everyone is an individual. From the barman who mixed a special cocktail to my tastes, to the staff member who turned up with a fresh duvet at 1am when I came in from my balcony and spilt a drink; every one went out of their way to make my stay that bit more comfortable and that bit more special. This even included an evening knock to ask if I would like a turn down service, after a quick google it turned out, yes I would like one, thank you.

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Even without staying, the hotel is a top food & drink destination for the city, and I must admit I did take advantage of this. HarBAR on 6th is a stylish rooftop bar and eatery with views over the Solent. It’s trendy without being pretentious and as with every aspect of the hotel, a great deal of thought has gone into the individual pieces decorating the area, including an original welcome home flag displayed in the corner, and the Sailor Jerry artwork framed pictures.

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We dined downstairs in the The Jetty restaurant, eating what my dining partner described as “one of the best meals he’s ever had.” Genuine quote. Award-winning Chef Patron Alex Aitken is a clear draw to the restaurant, it’s such a pleasure to see someone getting so much satisfaction from what they do. Despite the restaurant being fully booked he still took the time to speak to guests, delighting them with stories of his love for foraging and inspiration for the dishes. I had the pleasure of trying the tasting menu, in all it’s seven course glory, accompanied by a wine pairing including a De Wetshof Estate Bon Vallon Chardonnay which is so delightfully fruity and will most certainly be making an appearance in a wine glass near me again soon.

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The ingredients are locally sourced wherever possible and the seafood dishes change depending on what is caught in the area by their trusted fishermen, but with the regional  produce the courses also drew inspiration from Alex’s travels; a particular favourite of mine was the slow cooked pork belly with plump grilled prawns, lime & ginger sauce, with it’s nod towards Singaporean cuisine.

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I went for a 40 min massage in the Spa area as well as testing out the sauna, steam room & relaxation room. Even my treatment was incredibly personalised with my masseuse discussing which oils I would like, how I’d like to feel after the treatment and her recommendations. Everytime I interacted with a staff member during my stay it felt like no request or query would be too awkward or too difficult to undertake.

810_3689810_3685 810_3733 For me, my stay was luxurious and exciting yet still relaxing, and is up there with one of the finest hotels I’ve stayed in worldwide. Southampton Harbour Hotel & Spa is definitely setting the bar for 5* stays and I’m sure others will be rushing to keep up.

https://www.southampton-harbour-hotel.co.uk

Make Hull your next UK City Break

When you think of UK city breaks where do you think of? Cambridge for the architecture? Manchester for the bars? Glasgow for the Art? Well I have a new suggestion for you….Hull. You might be surprised by my suggestion, but I bet you in a few months time you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t go sooner.

I’ve just had a wonderful trip there myself, and it’s ticked so many boxes I’m kinda embarrassed I already had this set vision (wrongly) of what Hull was like. So let’s see the reasons why you need to add it on to your list.

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  1. It’s the UK City of Culture 2017
    Hull is 2017 City of Culture for the UK, the second city ever to receive the accolade. What does this mean you ask? Well the term itself means that one location in the UK will be specifically promoting arts and culture as a means of celebration and regeneration and as such may host events such as the Turner Prize which Hull is indeed doing this year.When you walk around Hull there’s a large number of art installations, open air theatre spots and interactive street pieces such as a box you speak into that projects your words onto a nearby building. (Swear words not allowed, despite my initial amusement that it might just be curse after curse!)20171010_113619.jpg
  2. There are an unbelievable amount of drinking establishments 
    Hull has a lot of pubs, and I’m not talking about your chain pubs (although of course they have snuck in), I’m talking about unique boozers, with scores of craft ales, local brews & horse shoes on the walls. The kind of pubs that you see in UK travel guides but have been all but eradicated in London and replaced by imitations of the same. Somehow Hull has managed to find a wonderful middle ground, between keeping these old establishments authentic but equally making them a little more friendly for city-folk like me and making sure they stock a range of gins and slimline tonic.
  3. It’s London cool without the pricetag
    Humber Street looks like Williamsburg in NYC. With it’s brick buildings, re-purposed furniture and vintage shops it’s a pretty cool hang out. However, the price tags haven’t reached Southern levels yet and you can search for vintage designer label clothes without breaking the bank, or try 2 giant artisan chocolate brownies plus two coffees from Cocoa Chocolatier with plenty of change from a tenner. Try doing that in Shoreditch.

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  4. You can have so many days out for free!
    Hull has an entire museum quarter where virtually everything is entirely free of charge. The Wilberforce Museum, Streetlife Museum, Ferens Gallery (where the Turner Prize is exhibited) and many more don’t change for entry and you could spend whole days looking round. There’s plenty there to entertain kids too!There are tours of Hull Old Town for only £4 per person, which while not free is pretty cheap! (Read about the tour here.)

    There’s also the Fish Trail, part street art installation, part self guided tour, that takes you round many of the sights of the City passing by some great pubs and bars.

    Plus there’s the marina, whilst not necessarily a full day out, is certainly a lovely area to explore and take photos of, whilst being home to a number of lovely bars and restaurants.
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  5. It’s easy to get to. 
    We got the train from London, quick, stress free, and much cheaper than a lot of the West Coast routes.
  6. The Deep
    I remember The Deep being advertised when I was a kid on the buses on my way to school. Yet despite being well established in Hull, through regularly updating The Deep has managed to stay ahead of the game and has continuously been one of the most impressive aquariums in the world. On top of it’s wonderful range of aquatic life it has an incredible lift that takes you up through the aquarium in a Charlie & The Chocolate Factory style glass elevator.

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7. It’s so friendly!
I’ve put out quite a few tweets since I’ve been here and everyone has been met with replies from locals welcoming me to the city. Equally, in cafes and restaurants I’ve had the staff politely offer me a piece of paper with their own suggestions for favourite bars or places to visit. When I stopped to ask for directions I didn’t get the usual wave in a vague direction, the passer by asked if I’d like them to show me exactly where my destination was, as a Northerner myself I’ve always believed this but trust me, it is more friendly ‘Up North’.

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A guided walk of Hull Old Town | Walks in Hull

Hull is packed full of hidden gems; it’s definitely one of those cities that without the proper guidance you might miss a lot of what it has to offer. For this reason, the first thing I chose to do as soon as I arrived in the city was to go on a guided walk of Hull old town with one of it’s most highly recommended tour guides, Paul Schofield, who has been doing guided walks in Hull and Beverly for 29 years meaning you’re bound to enjoy the many walks in Hull.

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We met the group in Queen Victoria Square and Paul started the tour by explaining how Hull got it’s name and a little bit about the bombing in WWII. He said that the damage done to the city wasn’t really reported as they didn’t want journalists coming to Hull and seeing how badly hit it was as it would be so bad for moral. Having said that, I was surprised how many stunning old buildings Hull has, both on a grand scale like in the pictures below and also the more low key ones in the Old Town.

Guided walking tour hull old town, hull walking tour, Paul Schofield

Hull has a very unique trail on it’s pavements ‘The Fish Trail’,  an A- Z of fish which creates a tour of the historic Old Town. The trail is free of charge of course and offers a perfect way to explore Hull without a map, yet still encompassing many of the best sights, meaning it’s one of the most popular and actually easy walks in Hull.

Guided walking tour hull old town, hull walking tour, Paul Schofield

Paul’s tour passes by a lot of pubs, which Hull has many of! Some of the buildings are fantastically British and kooky, the kind of place that Americans go crazy over. On top of the pubs I noticed a large number of cool looking cafes and vintage shops en-route, that would not be out of place in Shoreditch or indeed Brooklyn. That sounds like an exaggeration but it’s true!

Hull’s Capital of Culture status also means that it’s benefited from some wonderful art installations around the city, juxtaposed with old buildings such as Hull Minster with it’s newly elevated status.

Guided walking tour hull old town, hull walking tour, Paul Schofield

Paul’s tour was relaxed and fun. He’s a fountain of knowledge of course, but it’s his passion and humour that make the tour and it really set me up for exploring over the next couple of days. There are a lot of great walks in Hull but a Hull Old Town Walk is definitely a fun one.  @hulltourguide

http://www.visithullandeastyorkshire.com

 

Top 5 places to visit in Peru

5. Arequipa central market – Arequipa is often only glanced over by tourists visiting the surrounding hiking trails and volcanoes, but in the city itself are a number of fascinating places to visit.

My favourite thing about the city was the colourful and bustling market occupying the large central square. It’s not massively highlighted in local guides but that just means that it’s mainly visited by locals and seemingly only the odd tourist.

Highlights here are the food areas with numerous stands selling crispy pork with local corn and potato. If you’re not comfortable in Spanish then a smile and some low key pointing will usually end in a generous portion of the day’s speciality for only a few dollars.

Finish off your meal with some local fudge.

 

       4. Huanchaco – It’s not quite so beach picture perfect as Brazil or Panama but Huanchaco is laid back surfer cool.

Plenty of beach space with endless surf schools to help you practice your skills, plus a good enough wave to keep the experts happy, Huanchaco has something for everyone on the backpacker circuit.

Equally it’s not quite the full on party scene of Mancora further north but it has cool hostels with a relaxed drinking vibe and handful of bars to party into the night.

 

      3. Ollantaytambo – Ollantaytambo is usually just a pass through point for people getting the train before the final Machu Picchu descent but it is beautiful in it’s own right.

Full of Inca ruins and surrounded by cloud laden mountains it’s particularly spectacular. Also, after mid morning when all the minibuses have rushed past, you’re likely to get the whole place virtually to yourself.

 

 

      2. Huacachina – Desert oasis Huacachina is hidden amongst the dunes near Ica. Known for it’s parties  there’s endless activities to do like sand boarding, dune buggies and boating on the lake.

Huacachina has some pretty cool hostels too, with happy hour offers all round before you head to the top of dunes to watch the sunset.

 

  1. Machu Picchu – Magnificent Machu Picchu is possibly the most awe inspiring place I’ve ever visited. The photos I’d seen before visiting didn’t even begin to prepare me for sitting there and looking out across the Inca city in the clouds.

The site itself is huge and the rolling clouds only add to the mystery and magic of the place. Despite the hoards of tourists heading there every day it still manages to feel like a place that you’ve discovered first. Truly unforgettable.

 

 

 

 

Havana Travel Guide

Before going – Make sure to sort your visa in advance as they will check at the airport before you fly as well as obviously when you go through customs/immigration.

Book your accommodation before you go unless you’re happy going from Casa to Casa looking for spaces, Havana has lots of options for rooms but if you’re arriving very early or late in the day probably just book ahead.

Make sure you pack any medications and/or important toiletries as you’ll struggle to get most and what you do mind may be very expensive.

Getting around – Unfortunately as prices have risen then taxis are no longer an especially cheap option. When you’re coming from the airport into the old town then you can go to the set price taxi stand so you at least know what price to pay, and perhaps ask other travellers if they are heading to the same place and share the ride.
Luckily Havana itself is fairly walkable so you won’t need to spend a lot on travel once you’re in the old town. Put some comfy shoes on and see the sights on foot.
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Currency– Cuba has two currencies at the moment but is looking at potentially combining them. These are the CUC which is kept in line with the US dollar and the
Cuban Peso. If you’re only there for a few days you’ll probably only deal with the CUC but if you’re venturing further afield on local buses etc then it’s helpful to have a handful of pesos too.
Food – Cuba garners mixed reviews when it comes to food but generally I found the meals I ate there too be excellent. As long as you’re not fussy and are open to what you’re being served you’ll generally enjoy eating in Cuba.
Chicken is popular and pineapple is in abundance but despite the relatively low price of some foods they are often scarce simply due to problems sourcing them. For example when on a drive around Havana we saw a queues for eggs. Eggs are cheap and popular but obviously if the Cuban hens aren’t laying then there might not be enough to go around.
Make use of Cuban favourites like any rum based cocktails and if you’re in a small cafe or home stay then ask to eat whatever they are having and you’ll probably be very pleasantly surprised.
Where to stay – I’m a big hostel user but Havana proved quite difficult to book. Most of the hostels available on the standard booking sites were actually home stays come B&Bs called Casa Familiars. They seemed to offer good value for money in some great locations so we booked one just outside the old town. The only problem was, due to the internet being so massively limited (see internet section) our potnetial hosts hadn’t actually received our booking and had accepted a walk in off the street.
However, they were able to suggest a similar residence round the corner and we ended up having a lovely stay including fantastic fresh breakfasts every morning.
My advice, stay at a Casa…but book ahead.

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Renting an old car – One of the highlights of Havana was seeing as old the old American cars driving around, multi coloured and some in fantastic condition. You can hire a car with a driver for an hour up to a full day. Unfortunately this seems to be going up in price virtually monthly. By the time we went the prices on the board were 50 CUC an hour but we haggle and compromised on 90 CUC for 3 hours. We toured the old town and along the Malacon before heading out to the fort. It’s a fantastic experience and makes for great photos.
Entertainment – Havana has a few dance bars/clubs including the famous art and entertainment centre Fabrica, but you don’t need to head to these to feel the flavour of Cuban music. Virtually every doorway has music bursting out of it and most bars have live music including singers and fabulous musicians. We loved the Cafe du Paris and it’s live performances that spread out onto the street, many a Mojito was drunk here.
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Safety – At no point did we feel unsafe in Havana. People were incredibly friendly and generally made a big effort to ensure our time their was a positive experience. You might however pick up on a few scams when you wander around, namely the Cuban cigar scam. Don’t be swayed by anyone approaching you talking of a factory cigar sale, the best Cuban cigars are in demand world over and don’t need to push pushed on the street by strangers.
Wi-Fi – Sure it’s nice sometimes to switch off your phone and enjoy yourself but Cuba has very very limited internet. I’m talking…a few hotspots around the city, mainly near 5 star hotels but it’s NEVER free. Expect to pay around 1.50/hour on government issue scratch cards and then you’ll have to hover around the spots in the dark in parks like all the locals. Phone signal for calls however never seemed a problem.