travel

Zante

Zante is well known for its stunning beaches and it’s turtles, and there are plenty of options to discover both on this island. With all but guaranteed sunshine and warm temperatures from May-September, plus loads of gorgeous beaches, this island is an ideal summer getaway.


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +2
  • Language: Greek

Resort: Alykes

Alykes is a lovely resort on the East coast of Zante with a long sandy beach and plenty of tavernas and bars to keep you occupied in the evenings. The sea isn’t tidal here, so stays at the same level on the beach all day. The water is totally clear and shallow a fair way out so it’s perfect for swimming.

There are plenty of beach bars and tavernas along the shore, offering drinks and ice cream in the day and relaxing evening meals at night. Buca Lounge Bar was a particular favourite – their ice cream selection was the best we found, and they had an extensive cocktail list.

There are plenty of options for trips from the town if you fancy a day out – We did a turtle cruise for €25 each, including a coach transfer to the South of the island and then three hours on a boat. Plenty of time for turtle spotting plus a couple of swim stops in crystal clear bays.


Hotel: Potamitis Studios

We booked the Potamitis Studios through TUI and had an excellent stay. The family run apartments are spotlessly clean, have a lovely pool area with plenty of loungers and there is a weekly Greek night that is not to be missed! They are in a great location, just a 10 minute stroll from the beach and all of the bars/tavernas in Alykes town.

The food at Potamitis is great, and if you choose to you have the option of breakfast, lunch and dinner here. Plus, the pool bar stays open late so you can have a drink after dinner with some of the new friends you’ve made (and trust us, you will – it’s super friendly here!).

Note that air conditioning is an extra €50 when you check in, but that’s quite common with Greece, and it was very much needed in the 34 degree heat!


Restaurants: Fidelio, Fishalida, Anatolikos, Koukounari

There is an impressive selection of tavernas in Alykes, and we were really spoilt for choice on where to eat.

For restaurants right on the beach, head to either Fishalida (excellent fresh fish, although lots of options if you’re not a fish fan too) or Anatolikos. The latter was described to us as ‘like something straight out of Shirley Valentine’ and that was so accurate! Cute chequered table cloths on tables right by the beach. Both have perfect settings for a meal as the sun goes down.

We ate at Koukounaria one evening which had a lovely outdoor terrace and an extensive list of home cooked traditional Greek dishes. Particularly recommend the beef stifado here. It was also recommended to book here as it gets very busy around 8pm.

Fidelio was another favourite, serving lots of Greek dishes with particularly good side salads with most dishes. The local wine here was also very good, and crazily cheap at €7 a litre!

travel

Slovenia

Slovenia, located in Central Europe, is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a European destination offering a range of activities and landscapes. Start in the capital (Ljubljana) and then make your way to Bled to visit the glacial lake, followed by a trip to Postojna to explore the magical caves.
  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Slovenian

Ljubljana

Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is located in the middle of the country, and is a great place to start a trip to Slovenia. The public transport in the capital is great, and gives access to most parts of the country from the central bus and train station. There are lots of outdoor bars and restaurants in the city, many of which line the banks of the Ljubljanica River, making it a great place to visit in warmer weather. As for things to do, a few hours should be set aside for exploring the mainly pedestrianised Old Town, with its cobbled streets and colourful buildings. Keep an eye out whilst wandering for the numerous water fountains that are dotted over the city, offering fresh cold drinking water to passers by. Ljubljana Castle is well worth a visit, and the views from the funicular on the way up allow you to see miles across the city and into the mountains in the distance. When up at the castle, you can take part in either a guided or audio tour, as well as exploring the viewing points and castle tower offering a full 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding area. There are so many options of where to eat and drink in Ljubljana, covering all tastes and budgets. We tried to stick to trying local food as much as possible, and were not disappointed! Some of the things you may see on the menu include idrijski žlikrofi (traditional Slovenian dumplings – a bit like ravioli), struklji (dough rolled with various fillings) and kranjska klobasa (Slovenian sausage).
  • Hisa Pod Gradom: Tucked away in a side street a few minutes from the river is the charming Hisa Pod Gradom. Instantly greeted with a warm welcome, we were shown to a table in a cozy dining room and handed menus with an impressive amount of local dishes on. We chose several different dishes, all from the local list and all were excellent. Particular mention to the sausage cooked in dark beer, served with Idrija Žlikrofi. House wine here was great and very reasonable (€15 for a litre!) and the dessert selection in the cabinet made making a choice very difficult indeed! Loved this place so much we ate here twice on our trip.
  • Julija: Julija is located on the main street in the city centre, and is a great place to eat if you’re wanting to sample local cuisine in an upmarket setting. Candlelit tables set the scene, and smartly dressed waiters bring menus with a wide selection, offering plenty of meat and fish options along with a page dedicated to local dishes. The cheese štruklji (dumplings) here were excellent!
  • Druga Violina: I loved everything about Druga Violina, from the service to the food and outdoor seating. This restaurant is unique in that it employs several people with special needs, training them up and giving them a chance to work in a welcoming environment, and it was lovely to watch how the staff supported each other while serving. Local dishes are mainly served here, and the crushed potato with sausage was excellent, as were the pasta dishes we tried, and of course the classic Slovenian sausages. This was one of the cheapest places we ate cost wise, and the quality and service were superb.
  • Cacao: For excellent ice cream in the city, be sure to stop by Cacao, located on the river bank. They have a wide variety of gelato flavours, plus an extensive drinks menu, cake cabinet and plenty of seating both inside and outside. (Particular mention to the Cacao cake, which was rich enough to share but good enough that you’d want your own piece!)
  • Union pub: Run by the Union brewery, Union Pub is a few minutes walk from the main bus/train station I the city and is a great place to go to sample the local beer. We ordered beer tasting flights, which had three 100ml tasters and came with snacks. Priced at €5.20 per flight, this was a great introduction to the many beers that they serve, and is a fun way to spend an afternoon. There is also the option to take part in the Union Experience next door, going through the history of the brewery and sampling the beer in the place it is made.
  • Premier pub: Premier Pub was located beneath our apartment, so it was only right that we stopped by for a drink! They had lots of outdoor seating, which is great for nice weather, but the inside was cozy too so no problems if its cold/wet outside! An extensive drinks list with reasonable prices, the spritz drinks were great (cherry in particular) and the local beer was cheap. They also have a daily happy hour from 5-7pm!
We booked an amazing apartment through Airbnb for around €400 for three nights, and it was spotlessly clean and very centrally located. It had two bedrooms – one double and one twin – plus a sofa bed that would have slept two more people if necessary. The apartment was in a pedestrianised zone and overlooked the river, and was literally seconds from the centre of the city. There were bars and restaurants right below which were great for breakfast n the mornings or a quick drink before dinner (happy hour from 5-7pm in most of them!). The communication from the host was great, and they offered private transfers to and from the city, plus the option to leave bags if your flight home was a little later in the day.

Postojna

Around an hour from Ljubljana by public bus, the town of Postojna is home to the Postojna Cave Park. The caves are located in the South West of the country, and are 377ft below ground. A unique underground train will take you into the depths of the caves, and upon exiting the train carriage, a guided walking tour begins. There are well paved paths throughout the caves and the walk is done at a slow pace, so should be manageable for most people. The tour takes 1.5 hours in total, and lots of information is given throughout, as well as plenty of opportunities to stop and take photos. Tickets for this tour can be combined with several other activities in the park, including Postojna Castle.

Lake Bled

Located 55km from Ljubljana, Lake Bled can be reached easily using public transport from the city. Busses depart every hour from the central bus station and it takes a little over an hour to reach the lake. Combined tickets can be bought at the bus station (or online in advance) that include return transport, a boat trip out to Blejski Otok (the island in the middle of the lake), entrance to the church and view point on the island, plus an optional add on of Bled Castle.

The lake itself can be walked around and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to stop off at. In good weather, leave some time to simply stroll along the path and take in the views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

Boats to the island run every hour, taking around 15 minutes, and you then have one hour to explore before catching the boat back. Once on the island, make sure to visit the gothic church and take your turn at ringing the wishing bell (via a rope located in the middle of the church). Just remember not to tell anyone what you wished for, or it won’t come true!

Food wise, if you’re looking for a spot of lunch whilst in Bled, make your way to Pizzeria Rustica for reasonably priced and very tasty pizzas.

If you have time (and aren’t too full from the pizzeria) make sure you sample Bled Cake and/or Potica cake – Bled cake being a local speciality made from vanilla cream, whipper cream and butter dough, and Potica a traditional Slovenian cake made from thinly rolled yeast dough and filled with various fillings (commonly walnut, almond, cottage cheese or poppy seed).

travel

Iceland

Iceland is truly a unique country to visit – like nowhere else I’ve been. With ice glaciers, geysers and waterfalls, plus a geothermal spa, the scenery is stunning and there is so much to explore. With the added bonus of the chance to see the Northern Lights several months of the year, this is a once in a lifetime place to visit! 


  • Currency: Icelandic króna
  • Local time: GMT 
  • Language: Icelandic 

Reykjavik

Landing into the capital of Iceland – Reykjavik, makes this the most logical place to start your trip. A bus from the airport takes around 45 minutes, and private shuttles to most hotels in the city centre can be arranged. 

The capital is small and totally accessible by foot. Allow yourself a day to explore, eat and drink around the city, leaving time to climb the Hallsgrímskirkja, which is the tallest church in Iceland. The views are amazing, and if you time it right you can be at the top for the hourly ringing of the church bell. 

Stay at the centrally located Hotel Leifur Eiríksson for easy access to the city centre and incredible views of the Hallsgrímskirkja directly opposite. 


Golden Circle tour

To see the best sights that Iceland has to offer, join a Golden Circle tour (we booked in advance form the UK through Viator) which will take you to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur waterspout at Geysir. Along the way we stopped at various small waterfalls and viewing points to see as much as we could of the rural Icelandic countryside. 

Take layered clothing on this trip as the temperature can change rapidly in Iceland and our tour was a full day excursion – I was very grateful of my gloves and extra jumper when we were standing on the edge of Gullfoss – I didn’t want to move from the amazing view but it was remarkably cold!


Thórsmörk excursion

Without doubt my favourite day in Iceland was the private tour we took of Thórsmörk; a valley nestled between glaciers and located around a three hour drive from Reykjavik. We hired a private driver with a very large 4×4 jeep, who drove us expertly through some fairly extreme weather conditions and down into the valley. The scenery along the way was stunning, but nothing compared to what we found once entering the valley. 

We parked the car once we could drive no further and then walked into the valley along a number of small (and sometimes very icy!) paths. Snow was falling by the time we reached the small lagoon, which had amazing naturally formed blue ice sculptures. We spent a couple of hours exploring the area, and only saw a handful of other people the whole time we were there. It felt very remote and like we had experience a truly authentic part of Iceland.


The Blue Lagoon

No trip to Iceland is complete without a visit to The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with average water temperatures of 37-39°C. It’s the perfect place to relax and unwind, floating in the naturally heated waters and covering skin in the mud masks (provided on site) for a real pampered feel. 

Entry costs are from 6900 ISK (£43) but a trip can be booked in combination with drop off at the airport, which is what we opted for. We had three hours at the lagoon in the morning, including time for a shower before we were picked up and taken with our luggage to the airport for our flight home. For those wanting to spend longer at the lagoon and maybe sample some of the food on offer at their restaurant, a full day excursion can be booked from the centre of Reykjavik. 


The Northern Lights

You can never predict when the Northern Lights will appear, but visiting Iceland at certain times of the year enhances your chances of seeing this magical display. September-March are the best months to visit if the Northern Lights are high on your list, as in the summer months, Iceland gets very little darkness. 

We booked a tour for our first night with the hope of seeing them, and stuck lucky. While my photos do not do it justice, the pictures of it in my mind will remain with me forever. 

A lot of companies offer a deal whereby if you do not have success on your first trip out, they will offer a free second trip the following evening, so this is well worth looking out for. We booked ours through Viator, who are one of many who offer this ‘return trip’ option.

travel

Aeroplane essentials

We’ve all been there – an overnight plane journey involving very little sleep, boredom, dry skin and chapped lips. There’s often no avoiding spending long, continuous hours in the air, especially if you’re heading somewhere exotic and far-flung. But there are plenty of tips, tricks and travel essentials that can make the journey just that bit easier…


To help your skin:

We all want to land looking like the radiant celebrities we see photographed in the arrivals hall, and it may not be as difficult as you think. The humidity is the cabin on aeroplanes is much lower than we are used to in daily life, which means the moisture is zapped from our skin pretty quickly, but a few key products and tips can have you landing with fresh, glowing skin.

  • Remove your makeup: As soon as you’ve boarded, remove your makeup. It will allow your skin to breathe and will make the application of hydrating products a lot more effective.
  • Apply a moisturiser/sheet mask: Once you’re into your journey, treat your skin to a boost of moisture by applying a hydrating serum and/or moisturiser. My personal go-to’s are from the Elemis Marine range, but any moisturiser will help your skin out! Patchology also do an excellent ‘On The Fly‘ kit which contains two sheet masks, a lip mask and two eye patches.
  • Drink lots of water: As mentioned above, alcohol (and caffeine) will dehydrate you even quicker on an aeroplane than they would on the ground, so steer clear of these and instead drink plenty of water to keep you and your skin hydrated.


To help you sleep:

Everyone’s ideal scenario is to board your night flight, have dinner served with a G&T and then drift off into a peaceful sleep and wake up in time for landing, right? The reality however, tends to involve a lot of uncomfortable shifting around, pins and needles and hours of boredom while every single other passenger seems to be asleep. I’ve found the following really useful in ensuring I get as much sleep on board as possible:

  • Invest in a good travel pillow: I found that the Travelrest pillow (available on Amazon here) was excellent as it was adjustable, offered full support and could be used in multiple positions, meaning you can make yourself comfortable in almost any seat. I slept continuously for 3 hours on a long haul flight using this!
  • Clear your footwell: It may sound obvious, but giving yourself maximum room to stretch out will make a huge difference when you’re trying to get some rest, so if you have a bag/jacket under the seat in front of you, pop it into the overhead lockers and give your legs some extra room.
  • Steer clear of alcohol: The frequent line I hear from travellers is ‘I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine and it will help me sleep’. The alcohol may make you drowsy, but it will also dehydrate you and end up making you need the toilet quicker, meaning a more disturbed sleep. Sip a beverage with your dinner if you wish, but then switch to soft drinks and visit the bathroom before settling down in your seat.

Travelrest travel pillow


To keep you entertained:

The inflight entertainment systems on planes have come a long way in recent years, but if you’re wanting something to do other than watch back to back films, these are my recommendations of books that will keep you entertained long after you step off the plane:

  • Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce – A new thriller for 2019 and guaranteed page turner.
  • You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane – A light hearted and fun beach read you’ll want to read again.
  • Hot Mess by Lucy Vine – Dubbed ‘Bridget Jones’ for the new generation. Hilarious!
  • Hello, My Name Is May by Rosalind Stopps – A gripping read with a twist you won’t see coming
  • The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary – A laugh out loud, feel-good love story
  • You by Caroline-Kepnes – For anyone who has been gripped by the series on Netflix

travel

Tanzania

There is nothing as magical as going on safari, and Tanzania is the perfect place for your first safari experience! With The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park all within travelling distance of each other, it’s easy to see abundant wildlife in a fairly limited amount of time.
  • Currency: Tanzanian shillings
  • Local time: GMT +3
  • Language: Swahili, English

Lake Manyara

My trip started in Lake Manyara National Park, which we drove to after flying into Kilimanjaro airport. Known for its flamingos, there is also a high chance of seeing elephants, which is exactly what we saw approximately 3 minutes into our drive. It’s a great place to start your safari adventure, as the drive from Kilimanjaro airport (via Arusha) isn’t too far. We checked into Kirurumu Manyara Lodge for the night, which is an authentic tented lodge on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. The panoramic views from the balcony of our tent were incredible, and the staff welcoming and friendly. Breakfast was included here, and they made us a lovely packed lunch to take on our trip to the Serengeti the next day. Make sure you save some time for a cocktail in the bar before dinner – the menu was extensive!

The Serengeti

Leaving Kirurumu behind, we drove towards the Serengeti and were treated with incredible wildlife viewing along the way. We checked into Sanctuary Kusini, which is the only permanent camp in the South of the Serengeti. The luxury tents here, coupled with the stunning main lodge (where breakfast and dinner are served each day) make for a fantastic safari experience, and the sundowners each night on the huge rocks in the middle of camp offer stunning sunset views and a change to relax and share stories with other travellers after a full day of game viewing. The staff were also able to lend a telescope when night fell so that we could study the amazing stars above us. The Serengeti itself was where we saw the most varied wildlife, including but not limited to: elephant, lion, leopard, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest and cheetah. Game drives can be arranged through the camp if you are not travelling with a private driver.

Ngorongoro Crater

After an incredible two nights in the Serengeti, we moved to the Ngorongoro Crater, via a trip to a Masai Village. It was a great way to see how this tribe live in the middle of barren land, and we not only got to see the inside of their huts and meet the tribesmen, but were also treated to a traditional welcome dance. It was inexpensive to visit the Masai, and we were encouraged to buy a small trinket/piece of jewellery from their stand on the way out, to which we happily obliged (and I still wear my bracelet to this day!). We stayed overnight in the stunning Gibbs Farm during our time in this area. A peaceful and rustic environment with individual cottages for guests, the service here was impeccable and the food some of the best we ate on the entire trip. Gibbs Farm operate a farm-to-table motto with their food, with most of what you eat here having been grown on site. The meat is locally sourced and the coffee roasted each morning on the patio (a lovely activity to watch while eating breakfast) and you really can taste the freshness in each meal. There are a whole host of activities to join in with during your stay here, including farm walks, local town tours and even a visit to a primary school. The Ngorongoro Crater was formed by a volcanic eruption, and the form of the crater creates an almost ‘natural enclosure’ for the wildlife. It is a great place to try and spot the elusive black rhino, along with lion, zebra, wildebeest, gazelle and plenty of flamingos in the lake in the south.

Tarangire

Our final stop on safari was in Tarangire National Park, staying at Sanctuary Swala. This unapologetically luxury camp had everything, from an on site watering hole to a swimming pool that frequently had elephants drinking from it! The accommodation was stunning and the dining area in the main lodge had an outside terrace, meaning meals could be served with a view to the animals drinking from the waterhole. Tarangire park is famous for it’s elephants, and is without doubt the place that we saw the most. From young babies to older matriarchs, the elephant viewing in this park is unrivalled. It is one of the lesser visited parks in Tanzania, which meant we were often the only vehicle around and watching the elephants in silence felt like we had been let in on an African secret that nobody else knew about!
From Tarangire, we transferred to Arusha airport, where we caught a flight to Zanzibar to finish off the trip with some time on the beach. More about the beach break, and our overnight in Stone Town can be found here.
travel

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has something to offer everyone – Culture, safaris and golden beaches await in this diverse and exciting country. Two weeks is plenty of time to get a good feel for the country, but anything from 10 days to 4 weeks and beyond can be spent here! 

Sample itinerary


  • Currency: Sri Lankan rupee
  • Local time: GMT +5.5
  • Language: Sinhala, Tamil, English

Kandy

My trip started in Kandy, which is in the Hill Country and around a three hour drive from Bandaranaike International Airport. We checked into Randholee Resort & Spa, just outside of Kandy. It had an incredible infinity pool with incredible views over Kandy and the hills beyond. The hotel offered dinner on site which was a huge bonus for us as we didn’t arrive until 8pm and after a long flight didn’t fancy exploring the city that night. The next day we took a tuktuk tour of the city, visiting the Botanical Gardens, Temple of the Tooth, Kandy Lake and Kandy viewpoint. We then left our driver and wandered around the town, stopping for food in a local restaurant called Kandyan Muslim Hotel which turned out to be amazing and one of the cheapest meals I’ve ever eaten! Drinking is not huge on the agenda in Kandy; its a very religious part of the country and many places are not licensed. If you’re after a cold post-dinner beer though, head to The Pub, where good snacks and drinks are served – just don’t expect to find any locals in there!

Ella

From Kandy, we took the train to Ella, which I highly recommend! Often named as one of the most scenic train journeys in the world, it’s easy to see why almost immediately after you depart Kandy. Opt for second class to ensure you have the authentic experience of open windows & doors – first class may have air conditioning, but you may as well be on the Eurostar and most importantly, you won’t get that classic ‘hanging out of a door’ shot. We stayed at The Secret Ella during our time in Ella, and it was incredible. The service was impeccable (every room comes with its own butler) and the food at the restaurant was divine. It was the best Sri Lankan curry we had on the whole trip! As for things to do in Ella, the list is long. You can’t leave without seeing the nine arch bridge (walking distance form The Secret Ella) and for the more adventurous, tackle Ella Rock. The views from the top are incredible and totally worth the climb, but make sure to set off early so you avoid the peak sun and take plenty of water. Expect to spend at least two hours climbing to the top, and note that the last 30 minutes are steep and rocky – trainers/walking boots essential! In the evenings, Ella town comes to life. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you entertained, many offering live music. Particular mention to Matey Hut, which served authentic local food at a very cheap price – just be prepared to queue!

Udalawawe

Moving on through the country, we hired a driver (a tuktuk driver we had met in Ella who also ran a taxi service) to take us to Udalawawe National Park. We had booked a room at Private Organic House for the night, which we knew in advance was able to organise a safari for us the next day. The accommodation was basic but clean and the staff friendly. There are only three huts on site and a communal dinner is served each evening, which is a lovely way to meet other travellers. We set off at 5.30am for a safari run by the owners of the accommodation, and with only four of us in the truck we all got a window seat. It was an amazing experience, getting so close to the elephants in the park without any barriers, and we also saw plenty of exotic birds and smaller wildlife, including jackal, mongoose, jungle cat and deer. It cost the equivalent of around £60 for two people, including all park entry fees and was added to our bill on departure.

Unawatuna

On arrival in Unawatuna, it quickly became clear we had arrived in paradise. Thaproban Pavillion Waves is easily one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in, and oozed luxury from the moment we checked in. The infinity pool takes centre stage here, and the rooms boast balconies/patios with views directly over it. Sundown drinks are also served on the decking beside it, and at the end a small private beach can be found. The rooms were large and spacious with incredible air conditions and luxury products replenished daily. The breakfast in the restaurant (included in the room rate) was great and the lunch menu by the pool also very good and a reasonable price. Unawatuna itself is a lively beach resort, with countless restaurants and bars right on the beach. Sweeping round the bay, there is always somewhere offering happy hour, and the fish and seafood served at many of the restaurants is some of the freshest I’ve ever eaten.

Hikkaduwa

Our final destination of the trip was the gorgeous beach destination of Hikkaduwa. Our hotel, Sapphire Seas, was located right on the beach and had stunning views over the pool and out to the ocean. The rooms were all fitted with air conditioning and every first floor room had a balcony that overlooked the pool and the sea. In Hikkaduwa itself, there are plenty of restaurants in town to choose from – particular mention to Home Grown Rice & Curry and Thambili Cafe who served exceptional food – as well as a large selection of beach bars to keep you entertained in the evenings. If you aren’t content to laze by the pool all day, the turtle hatchery is a lovely way to spend an hour, and not only does your entrance fee go towards keeping the turtles of Hikkaduwa safe, you learn a lot during your visit too!
From Hikkaduwa we took a taxi to the airport, which took around 3 hours (including rush hour traffic) and boarded our flight to London (via Doha). We had an evening flight so left the coast late afternoon, but if you have a morning flight, I’d recommend staying closer to the airport the night before as traffic can be very unpredictable!
travel

Porto

Porto is Portugals ‘second’ city, after the capital of Lisbon, and is famed as the place that Port originates from. Set mainly around the Douro river, it’s a great city to visit for a relaxing weekend of sunshine, seafood and port wine.


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Portuguese

Stay: The Porto Concierge

When searching for accommodation in Porto, it can be confusing as to which area is best to stay in, but we decided we wanted to be close to the river and its many bars and restaurants, as well as walking distance from the cool Baxia neighbourhood, so narrowed down an area on the map and began our search.

The Porto Concierge apartment that we stayed in was perfect – We were met in person  and efficiently checked in, given tips on where to eat and explore, and they even left us a bottle of wine as a welcome!

The apartment (Behind Blue Eyes) was also in an excellent location – Just a few minutes from the river in one direction and a (very steep) but pleasant walk uphill to the bars/restaurants of the Baixa area, which truly comes to life at night! Everywhere was within walking distance, which is exactly what we wanted.


Do: Port wine tour, cable car, Baxia neighbourhood

No trip to Porto is complete without learning about the history of port, and the best way to do this is obviously on a port wine tour! We booked in advance through Viator and paid £28 for a 3 hour tour with 7 port wine tastings, which turned out to be pretty good value! It was also great meet other people on the tour who had come from all corners of the world! We went to three port wine houses, were given a full history of port wine and then taught how to properly taste the port itself. A brilliant afternoon!

The Porto cable car starts at the top of the Dom Luis bridge and gently carries you down to the riverfront on the south side, towards the Port Wine cellars. At €6 for a one way trip, its an inexpensive way to get a unique view of Porto across the water.

The Baxia neighbourhood is Porto’s busting nightlife hotspot, and an excellent place to go on a Friday & Saturday night. In the daytime, streets may seem deserted in this area, but come back in the evening and you’ll realise each seemingly derelict doorway has turned into the entrance to a bar/club!


Eat: Patio do Duque, Bar Tolo

Undoubtedly one of the best meals we had in Portugal was at Patio do Duque  – a tapas restaurant serving up excellent quality food at very reasonable prices. We ordered a lot of tapas to share (chorizo sausage, tomato & mozzarella skewers, calamari & cod fritters to name just a few) plus a bottle of wine and water for the table and the bill was €38! The staff were very attentive and took a lot of time to explain anything on the menu that we didn’t understand. Highly recommended!

A short (15 minute) car journey from the centre of Porto takes you to Foz do Douro; one of the closest beaches to the main city centre. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to try here, but our recommendation is Bar Tolo, located a couple of roads back from the sea. The service and the food were both equally great, and the menu offered a wide variety, from more traditional tapas dishes to full main courses (the blackened pork cheeks were exceptional!). On a warm evening, sit outside in their pavement-side garden, or head up to the cute rooftop terrace with a sea view if it’s open (peak times).


Drink: Base Bar, Cafe do Cais

There are plenty of bars to explore in Porto, but we recommend starting your evening at Base Bar; a relaxed bar with an extensive cocktail menu, live DJ and bean bags to chill out on! As it gets dark, festoon lighting illuminates the area and gives a magical feel to this unique drinking spot.

Touristy as it may be, a drink at Cafe do Cais right on the river front is the perfect place to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the views. We paid a bit more here for a drink than you would in other places in the city centre, but with views like this bar has, you can hardly complain at an extra €3 on your bottle of wine!

travel

Lisbon

Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is the perfect place for a weekend city break. Excellent food, plenty of outdoor terraces to soak up the sun and a gorgeous expanse of water at the south of the city, there is plenty to keep you occupied! 


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Portuguese

Stay: VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel

We booked the VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel through lastminute.com and loved our stay. One of the key benefits of this hotel was undoubtedly the rooftop swimming pool and terrace, offering panoramic views across Lisbon. There were always sunbeds available, and a bar offering a poolside drinks service.

The beds were comfortable, each room came with air conditioning (very much-needed in the 36 degree heat we experienced in the city!) and daily maid service. Despite the large number of rooms, the hotel never felt crowded.


Do: Walking tour, Time Out Market

Wanting to make the most of our time in the city, we booked a four-hour walking tour of Lisbon through Urban Adventures, which showed us the best of the city through the eyes of a local. Not only did we learn about the history of the city, we also got to sample a variety of local dishes along the way including traditional pastries, port wine, cheese & marmalade. We then finished the trip off with boat trip across the water where we were greeted with a seafood platter and green wine. A highly recommended tour!

The Time Out Market in Lisbon was the original, and a stay in the city isn’t complete without a visit here. There are countless options to choose from, offering food from all over the world. We went to a local dish by chef Marlene Vieiras, and the stand offered specials of the day. Our ‘Wednesday’ dish of Pork belly with clams was delicious!


Eat: Meson Andaluz, Restaurant Mili, Gelados Santini

For a cheap but incredible international meal, head uphill to Restaurant Mili, a local Bangladeshi restaurant that has won a Tripadvisor certificate of excellence, and for good reason. The fish was incredibly fresh and the special chicken curry was authentic and cooked to order so spice levels can be personalised. The meal was finished with a complimentary shot of cherry liquor – local to the area – which rounded the meal off perfectly. It’s also essential that I mention their house wine is €5 a litre here, and no, that is not a typo!

The candlelit steps leading down to Meson Andaluz instantly create a magical feel, and although there is more often than not a long wait for a table, you are seated amongst the storm lamps and given a drinks menu, encouraged to order a drink and soak up the atmosphere until a seat is available. The food here was divine – particular nod to the seafood paella – and the service excellent. It was a little more expensive than the rest of the places we ate, but worth every penny, or euro as it may be!

If it’s sunny and hot, you’ll most likely want an ice cream at some point on your trip, and if that’s the case, make sure you don’t pass by Gelados Santini. There’s a huge variety of flavours and toppings, and its open until midnight every night!


Drink: Topo Chiado, Lost In Esplanada, Rooftop @ VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel

For an afternoon beer in the sunshine, head to Topo Chiado – a gorgeous terrace in the middle of the city centre that is perfect for kicking back with a sangria and people watching. The views over the city from here are amazing, and there are sun loungers on the floor below the bar if you want to really soak up some sun.

Lost In Esplanada is the perfect bar to go to for sweeping views and a great sunset. It’s a fairly steep climb to get there, but once you’re up, you find yourself transported to a magical garden of swinging chairs, candles and fairy lights. Reservations are recommended if you want a table outside.

The rooftop at VIP Executive Éden Aparthotel is a hidden gem; you can’t see it from the street but it’s open to the public, not just guests, and a short ride in the hotels lift will bring you out to an expansive roof terrace complete with bar and swimming pool. Drink prices are very reasonable too!

travel

Kos

The island of Kos is located close to the coast of Turkey, and is well known for its long sandy beaches. With sunshine almost guaranteed for May-October, it’s the perfect place to go for a week of relaxing on white beaches or by a swimming pool overlooking a stretch of olive groves.


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +2
  • Language: Greek

Resort: Tigaki

The coastal resort of Tigaki is located in the North of Kos, and is a short 30 minute drive from Kos International Airport. With its crystal clear azure waters and soft white sand, it’s a family friendly resort that boasts a large selection of restaurants and tavernas, along with a good amount of bars for evening entertainment.


Hotel: Mayflower Apartments

We booked the Mayflower Apartments through TUI, and absolutely loved our stay. The family run apartments are perfectly located just a few minutes stroll from the nearest tavernas, and a pleasant 15 minute walk from the beach. The swimming pool was huge and always spotless clean, and there were always plenty of loungers regardless of what time of day we went to the pool.

The BBQ night on site (Monday evenings) was brilliant, and a great way to meet the other people staying in the apartments. Food was lovely and the Greek dancing afterwards was a fun way to end the evening. All for a very reasonable €13 – I definitely recommend it!


Restaurants: Alikes, Plori Taverna, Vassilis

Greek food is easily found in Tigaki, with plenty of tavernas serving local food and Greek specialities. For authentic Greek food in relaxed surroundings, head to Alikes & Plori Taverna by the beach, or Vassilis on the Main Street in town. All served excellent quality food for very reasonable prices – In particular Alikes, where bread for the table, two mains and half a litre of local wine came to €20!

If you’re after a quick lunch, head to the main road in Tigaki and make your way to Poilos Avnva. The pork gyros pitta is exceptional, and at only €2.50 won’t break the bank either! To satisfy your sweet tooth, Palapanis is the place to go for excellent crepes and waffles, cooked fresh to order and served with ice cream.

travel

Bucharest

A city that may not at first spring to mind for a city break, but should definitely be on your list! With lots of garden bars tucked between amazing architecture, a charming old town with a huge variety of cafes and restaurants and Europes largest urban beach, there’s plenty to keep you busy!

Sample itinerary


  • Currency: Romanian Leu
  • Local time: GMT +2
  • Language: Romanian

Stay: Old Town

Evenings in Bucharest centre around the old town, and so staying nearby makes for easy access to all the bars/cafes/restaurants. We stayed in an amazing apartment that we found on Airbnb, owned by CityLife Suites, and at £230 for three nights, it was a real bargain! The communication from the owners was great, and they also sorted airport transfers for us and gave a huge list of recommended bars and restaurants, which gave us a great starting point for exploring the city!


Do: Therme, Garden Bars, Old Town

Therme spa is located around 30 minutes by taxi out of the city, but it absolutely worth making the trip for. I recommend buying an all day ticket (80lei/£15) as once you get here, you won’t want to leave! The outdoor pool area is also home to Europes largest urban beach – brilliant for a sunny day – and the pool also has a huge swim up bar. Inside, there is a regular activity timetable, and when the sun goes down it turns into a lit up party paradise!

There are plenty of garden bars to choose from in Bucharest, and if you have a spare afternoon, definitely take some time out to visit one. My favourite was Gradina Floreasca as not only did they do great food (see below) but the pool was amazing to relax by for the afternoon and the drinks were very reasonable.

Spend your evenings in the old town, wandering the streets (all pedestrianized, which is lovely) and take your pick from the many cafes and restaurants that line the streets. In the good weather tables are filled outside and the buzz of chatter fills the air. There are also plenty of bars to keep you occupied into the early hours.


Eat: Les Bourgeois, Gradina Floreasca, Hanu’ Lui Manuc

Dinner in Bucharest depends very much on what you’re looking for in terms of cuisine, but here are plenty of amazing places to eat!

Located in the heart of Old Town, Les Bourgeois has tables sprawling across the street and an extensive menu offering local Romanian dishes as well as plenty of international options, and all for a very reasonable price. The pork chop with truffled potato is my personal recommendation!

Breakfast at Hanu’ Lui Manuc was a leisurely experience, and we were seated in a very pretty outdoor garden. The breakfast menu is simple; omelette or fried eggs with a choice of cheese, ham or smoked salmon. Working out around £3 per person (including a hot drink) it was a great place for a cheap meal that was still very good quality.

We visited Gradina Floreasca for the afternoon to spend time in the relaxing garden bar and make the most of the (free) swimming pool. The food here was excellent – the chicken and avocado salad in particular – and it’s definitely worth heading here for an afternoon in the sun and a delicious lunch.


Drink: Nomad, Pure Vida, Gradina Floreasca, Bound Bar

Visiting in summer months can mean soaring temperatures, so if you’re in need of a drink to cool down, consider the outdoor patio at Bound Bar. The giant mojitos were a personal favourite, and if you fancy a dance in the evening, this bar turns into a club at night.

Gradina Floreasca (as already mentioned above) is a garden bar in the heart of the city, and has an extensive drinks menu of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. The perfect place to spend an afternoon with an Aperol Spritz!

If its a drink with a view you’re after, then Nomad and Pure Vida are the places to aim for – they’re two of the best rooftop bars in Bucharest.