Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Monday, 21 May 2012

Exploring Foodie France: Saint-Valery-sur-Somme

I spent the May Bank Holiday weekend in the beautiful town of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme in the north of France; a fabulous foodie weekend which marked the start of an exciting few months of gastronomic adventures through France, my absolute favourite destination for food and wine. I'm lucky enough to have trips to Paris, Lyon, Carcassonne, and Marseille lined up for this summer, followed by a quick visit to the gorgeous Dordogne region in September. Enjoy the first instalment of Exploring Foodie France and keep an eye on the blog for lots more to come!...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Steak in the Snow

This weekend, in Graz in Austria, I sampled the best steak I've had in a long time.

Last night at the restaurant of the trendy Hotel Wiesler, amidst original street art murals, stripped back walls, and an edgy artistic crowd, I forgot all about the minus 15 degree temperatures, constant biting wind and gusts of cold, wet snow outside and tucked into a glorious rib eye steak. Perfectly cooked and so tender the knife sliced through the meat like butter, the generous sized slab of beef nestled on a funky wooden board alongside pommes frites, homemade coleslaw and a pot of chilli sauce.

If you're feeling adventurous pop over to Graz in Austria and try out the restaurant's fabulous menu of traditional and international dishes for yourself. You can even stay in one of the achingly hip zimmers at the hotel - or try it's classy and well-priced sister hotel, Das Weitzer, a few doors down. Whilst there you might as well make a weekend of it. If that's the case, I can thoroughly recommend a trip to the opulent Graz Opera house and a fascinating elevator ride up to the top of the Schlossberg.

Enjoy! :-)

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Paris List

Two important things have happened this week. I've finally booked a trip to Paris, after years and years of romanticizing about it. And I've finally found the time to write about it. I'm guessing I'll have a lot more to say when I've actually been on the trip, but for now I want to share my Paris List - of must-sees, what I'm daydreaming about, and what I couldn't care less about (or "bof!" as the French say).

The Paris List

1. Ile de la Cite

Must-sees: Pont-Neuf; Square du Vert-Galant and its romantic tree-lined garden; the exquisite stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle; the underground crypte archeologique; and, of course, the Cathedrale de Notre-Dame.

Daydreaming about: crossing the Seine and dawdling at the kilometre zero, the symbolic heart of France.

Bof!: the Conciergerie - Paris's oldest prison - apparently a long queue to see not much at the end of it.

2. Champs-Elysees

Must-sees: Arc de Triomphe for a dusk-time view of the Voie Triomphale; the gold obelisk of the place de la Concorde; the Louvre, preferably via a back entrance to avoid the queues, to visit the Musees des Arts Decoratifs, de la Mode et du Textile, et de la Publicite.

Daydreaming about: the postage stamp market on the corner of avenues Gabriel and Marigny and being spellbound by Monet's masterpieces at The Orangerie.

Bof!: the Grand and Petit Palais... well, maybe just a quick peek.

3. Opera district

Must-sees: the passages filled with 19th century arcades; the spectacular Opera-Garnier; and the church and flower markets in the place de la Madeleine.

Daydreaming about: stumbling upon the highly commended Art Nouveau public toilets.

Bof!: the Cabinet des Monnaies, Medailles et Antiques, although I'm sure a certain someone might be pulled in that direction!

4. Les Halles

Must-sees: I've been warned that this area is not worth a visit but I would like to venture north to the rue Montargueil and the traditional grocers, horse butchers and fishmongers still in existence there.

Daydreaming about: ice skating on the site of many Revolutionary executions, at the Hotel de Ville / Beaubourg.

Bof!: Les Halles and its horrendous shopping mall.

5. The Marais, Ile St-Louis and the Bastille

Must-sees: the museum of French history at the Palais Soubise on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois; the Picasso museum on rue de Thorigny; and Victor Hugo's house at the place des Vosges for all things Les Mis.

Daydreaming about: wandering through the old, secluded la Marais and the area's lively bars, cafes and restaurants.

Bof!: rien!!

6. Ile St-Louis

Apparently the most romantic part of Paris for strolls. C'est tout.

7. Bastille

Must-sees: the place de la Bastille, with its column and Spirit of Liberty to commemorate the July Revolution of 1830 that saw autocratic Charles X replaced by 'citizen King' Louis-Phillipe.

Daydreaming about: the bright lights of the Opera-Bastille and mingling with the ghosts of Piaf and Hayworth at the music halls on rue de Lappe.

Bof!: the decidedly ordinary budget chain hotel we are staying in, close to Breguet Sabin.

8. Quartier Latin

Must-sees: the riverside quais and bouquinistes, selling old books, postcards and prints from green boxes along the riverside from square Viviani eastwards; the famous botanical Jardin des Plantes; and visiting the crypt of Voltaire, Hugo and Zola at the Pantheon.

Daydreaming about: rendez-vous at the Jardin de Luxembourg; romantic liaisons in the dead of night at St-Sulpice.

Bof!: paying 10 euros to see Van Gogh et al at the Musee d'Orsay.

9. The Eiffel Tower

Must-sees: views of the Eiffel Tower from the north bank's museums; chilling at the feet of the tour; and doing the touristy thing and taking the lift up to the top.

Daydreaming about: seeing the Eiffel Tower lit up at night - every hour for 5 minutes, with a million illuminations.

Bof!: checking out the national war museum and Napoleon's tomb.

10. Montparnasse

Must-sees: the 56 floor skyscraper, the tour Montparnasse, with its incredible views of the city including the Eiffel Tower; and the eerie catacombs - skulls and all - at the place Denfert-Rochereau.

Daydreaming about: immersing myself in the boulevard du Montparnasse, once at the heart of the inter-war artistic and literary boom.

Bof!: the cemetery.

11. Montmartre

Must-sees: the Montmartre vineyard; exploring the less crowded route to the Butte and Sacre Coeur via the place des Abbesses and the rue Lepic.

Daydreaming about: Moulin Rouge and the 1920s cabaret of Le Lapin Agile at rue de Saules.

Bof!: the touristy and grotty place du Tertre.

12. And the rest...

Must-sees: the trendy areas around the Canal St-Martin; famous graves at the Pere-Lachaise cemetery; the wine warehouses at Cour Saint-Emilion; and a stroll along the disused railway line and viaduct of the Promenade Plantee.

Daydreaming about: the grotto and temple of Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and the terraces and waterfalls of Parc de Belleville.

Bof!: Bois de Vincennes and the Frank O. Gehry cinematheque at Parc de Bercy.

Wish me luck.. and bon voyage! ;-)

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Gran Canaria is apparently not all concrete and clubbing!

Rather sceptically I decided to venture to Gran Canaria for a bit of winter sun. I'm a bit of a fan of getting back to nature on holidays, experiencing a bit of culture, discovering the history of a place, you know what I'm talking about. So I hadn't heard much about Gran Canaria, or indeed any of the Canary Islands, that seemed attractive to me. Much internet research took place before I committed to booking the week long break. Even though I selected Puerto de Mogan very carefully, scanning all images online and reading every possible travel blog and review site, I was still sure that I would find a built up, ugly resort and a black sand beach full of English people roasting themselves by day and scoffing McDonald's by night. I'm English so I feel I'm allowed to make such a sweeping generalisation.

Puerto de Mogan could not be further from the concrete and culture-free Canaries that I had conjured up and filed away in my "never going there" holiday scrap book. However, it was fortunate for me that we arrived and drove through the rest of Gran Canaria at night - on the way back to the airport after a week in heavenly and delightful Mogan, I saw exactly the kinds of resorts that I had dreaded. But that's another blog-post.

Back to Puerto de Mogan. We stayed in a huge complex of apartments built into the side of the valley. We had everything we could possibly need in our self catering apartment, including peace and quiet, views, and a touch of luxury. Check them out here. The town itself was a charming and unique little place, with a modern harbour and colonial style painted buildings and bridges that would have been tacky anywhere else. The relaxing atmosphere and beautiful beach, sea, and sunny weather made us forget about everything back in icy Britain. For a completely chilled out break, I recommend a few days sunning, eating and drinking on the seafront in Puerto de Mogan.

So, things to do. Aside from enjoying and indulging in Doing Nothing, there seemed to be loads of water sports / boat trips / fishing type excursions going on. The white sandy beach and swimming bay are really beautiful, if a little crowded. The sand is imported from the Sahara apparently! There are lots of cafes and bars for coffees, drinks and ice creams. We also went for an amazing walk up the side of the valley opposite the apartments. Many people, including some locals, did the same first thing in the morning before it got too hot but the paths weren't at all signposted or advertised (in fact, there was one sign saying private and no entry, but everyone was ignoring it so we followed suit). One crazy woman ventured off the track for a little "run" up a near vertical path - more like a stagger or climb but her leg muscles must have been like rocks afterwards! Once over the top of the mountain we had the most incredible views of lush greenery against red rock. The flowers and cacti dotted around the edges of the cliffs and roadside were so beautiful. The best thing, however, was the breathtaking view of the bright blue sea for miles around and the absolute silence and isolation. It was bizarre that ten minutes walk from Mogan could take you to an idyllic haven with no trace of civilisation. We walked on much farther than most other people out for a stroll and would have gone on to the next resort quite easily if we had taken some food and water with us :-).

That leads me to the best part of the holiday - the food. The restaurants and food in Puerto de Mogan were fantastic. I did not have a single bad (or even slightly poor) meal during the whole week - even the supermarket food is good there! If you don't want to take my word for it, see my restaurant diary blogs for photos and links.