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

Riga

Riga, the capital of Latvia, may be small but it is a charming city with a lovely Old Town, plenty of bars and an ever growing dining scene. Perfect for a two night stay, visit when the weather is warm to make the most of the outdoor cafes and bars.  


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

Stay: The Grand Poet

The Grand Poet is an outstanding 5* hotel located just a few minutes walk from Old Town, and right on the edge of Bastejkalna park. With impressive rooms, a superb spa in the basement and a selection of bars and restaurants, this is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for a touch of luxury on your trip to Riga. A champagne breakfast is included in the room rate here, and it is easily one of the best hotel breakfasts I have had. More on that in the ‘where to eat’ section below!


Do: Explore Old Town, St Peter’s Church, Central Market

Riga is a small city – accessible totally by foot – but there is still plenty to see and explore. Old Town is a great place to start, with it’s amazing architecture and colourful buildings. Start in Bastejkalna park at the Freedom Monument and walk directly into Lívu Square, from which you can wander down the many cobbled streets and discover local bars, restaurants and shops.

St Peter’s Church is definitely worth a visit, and for €9 you can get the lift to the top of it for panoramic views across the city. Opening times vary, but are listed here.

Central Market in Riga is the largest market/bazaar in Europe, and sells pretty much everything, from clothing to fresh fish/meat, chocolate to herbs and spices. It’s a great place to observe every day life of locals, who visit the market daily to pick up fresh produce. The area that it is in isn’t quite as touristy as Old Town and whilst not unsafe, we were warned to watch our belonging here and it definitely did have a different feel to it, so just keep your things tucked away if you visit.


Eat: Restorāns “Pētergailis”, Galerija Istaba, The Grand Poet

Located in the heart of Old Town, Restorāns “Pētergailis” offers excellent quality food in a cozy setting. The lamb from the specials menu was so tender and fell off the bone, and the presentation was that of a work of art. The desserts here were also amazing – Opt for the white chocolate ice cream with chocolate truffles for a seriously sweet hit. With a great wine list, plus an extensive cocktail menu, this is a great restaurant for either lunch or dinner – Just book ahead if you would like an evening meal; it get’s booked up days n advance.

Breakfast at The Grand Poet is truly a ‘grand’ affair. Offering everything from pastries and continental cheeses and cold cuts through to full cooked egg, bacon etc, the spread of offer is huge, and is accompanied by a wide selection of juices, hot drinks and champagne – all included in the room rate.

Galerija Istaba is an art gallery, shop and restaurant located in Central Riga, and offers the chance to eat in a place where there is technically no menu. They have meat, fish and vegetarian options that change daily, based on what is fresh and available, and for the price of the main course you select you also get a selection of starters brought to the table. The lamb here was juicy and perfectly cooked, and the mixed salad starters were fresh and tasty. The waitress here was very friendly and happy to suggest other local bars and restaurants she thought we would like during our stay. Totally recommend this place – Just book in advance as there are only 8 tables.


Drink: Folkklubs ALA pagrabs, Easy Wine, Kaļķu Vārti

Old Town Riga is teaming with bars, from the outdoor drinking areas in popular squares to underground cave pubs, there is something to suit everyone and every budget!

Folkklubs ALA pagrabs is an underground cellar bar offering the chance to listen to live Latvian folk music and enjoy a few drinks in a relaxed environment. There are different drink deals here depending on what day of the week you visit, but it is reasonably priced regardless of happy hour offers and is an excellent place to spend a couple of hours in the evening.

The concept at Easy Wine is unique; a chance to try 60 different wines that you dispense yourself, and the cost is based on how much each individual wine is and what measure of wine you would like. You are given a card pre-loaded with €50 which you place into the wine dispenser, select your measure form 50ml, 100ml or 150ml and the price of each is displayed above the dispenser. A great way to try several different wines from all over the world.

If the sun is shining, head to Kaļķu Vārti for a large expanse of outdoor seating and very reasonably priced drinks in the daytime. Located in Lívu Square, the atmosphere is buzzing here and it’s the perfect place to stop for a drink and soak up the sun.

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

Bern

The capital of Switzerland is often overlooked as a city break destination in favour of the more popular Zurich and Geneva, but Bern has its own charm and is a largely undiscovered city, making it a perfect escape for those wanting a slightly slower pace of life but the classic Swiss feel. 


  • Currency: Swiss Franc
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Swiss German

Stay: Hotel Schweizerhof

Located in the heart of Old Town, right opposite the main train station is Hotel Schweizerhof; a luxury hotel offering 5* accommodation complete with on site brasserie and spa.

Checking into a Junior Suite on the 6th (and top) floor of the hotel, it was quickly clear how this hotel had earned its 5* rating. With views of the parliament building and further afield across to the mountains, plus a large bed, a living area and separate bathroom with roll top bath and rainforest shower, this room was something special.

The spa is totally worth a visit during your stay, whether it’s simply to relax and unwind by the pool and enjoy use of the sauna, or book in for a luxury treatment. The Golden Relaxation massage that I had was exceptional, and left my skin feeling silky smooth.

Breakfast was included in the room rate and was served in the brasserie each morning, consisting of a cold buffet and extensive hot menu that could be ordered fresh from the kitchen. It was the perfect start to the day, and in a city where food and drink can quickly add up, it was great to have it included in our stay.


Do: Bear Park, Old Town, Bern Münster

Across the river just the other side of Nydeggbrücke bridge is the Bärengraben (bear pit) when the Bern bears live. Stop by and try and spot one of the three bears roaming around the park. At first glance it looks as if they are kept in a small enclosure, but the pit connects through to the large park below, where they have free reign of over 6000 square meters of space leading down to the river. Whilst at the bear park, grab an ice cream from Gelateria Eiswerkstatt, a recently opened ice cream parlour serving up some unique flavours (black vanilla, blueberry) plus the more traditional scoops.

The old town of Bern is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is easily explored by foot. Start at the main train station and cross to the Zytglogge (clock tower), from which you can explore the many cobbled streets and covered shopping arcades. There are plenty of small coffee shops and cafes situated amongst the shops, many of which offer outdoor seating and a change to stop and watch the world go by.

For incredible views across the city and to The Alps, climb the tower inside the Bern Münster. Costing only 4 Swiss francs, it’s a great way to take in a unique view of the city and surrounding areas, just be warned – it’s a steep climb of over 300 steps, and there is no lift!


Eat: Jacks Brasserie, Lötschberg, Toi Et Moi

No trip to Switzerland is complete without indulging in a classic Swiss fondue, and the one at Lötschberg was excellent. Opt for the classic ‘half & half’ (priced at 25 Swiss francs PP) which is served with bread and potatoes to dip. The restaurant itself has an extensive wine list and a cozy interior, and is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

For a special evening meal in the city, head to Jacks Brasserie. Located within Hotel Schweizerhof, it’s very convenient if you’re staying in the hotel, but also easily accessible to visitors staying in other parts of the city. The seafood platter here was exceptional, and they offered a lot of Swiss classics, as well as a variety of French inspired dishes. The staff were very knowledgable and were readily available to suggest a wine from the menu that would compliment our meal.

If you haven’t had your fill of fondue, visit restaurant Toi Et Moi and head straight for the dessert menu. For 14 Swiss francs a person you can indulge in a Swiss chocolate fondue, served with seasonal fruit, marshmallows and mini smarties. It was more than enough chocolate to share between two, and we were glad we opted for this as lunch instead of a dessert afterwards – it was surprisingly filling!

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

30 before 30

I originally set myself the challenge of visiting 30 countries before I turned 30 (I’m currently 28) but I ended up travelling a lot more than I expected last year, and so I’ve now already completed that. Deciding this was no longer the challenge I thought, I have changed it slightly…

I will now be aiming to visit 30 capital cities before I turn 30, which will be on 26th November 2021. So far I’ve been to 23, with 2 more booked for this year. I only class myself having visited if I’ve actually explored the city, rather than passing through or touching down in an airport and leaving straight away.

Below I’ve listed in alphabetical order the capital cities I’ve visited so far, along with the three I have planned and a few that are high on my list to visit. If anyone has suggestions or tips for the cities I’m looking to visit please comment below or drop me an email!

Visited: Amsterdam, Bern, Bratislava, Bucharest, Budapest, Cardiff, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, Ljubljana, London, Paphos, Paris, Prague, Reykjavik, Riga, Rome, Saint Helier, Santa Cruz, Stone Town, Vienna

Visiting this year: Madrid

Want to visit: Berlin, Belgrade, Warsaw, Tallinn

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

Venice

Venice, famed for its canals and gondolas, is made up of over 100 islands connected by small bridges. With no cars or bicycles, only boat or foot to get around on, it has a very serene feel and is a great place for a relaxing weekend getaway. 


  • Currency: Euro
  • Local time: GMT +1
  • Language: Venetian, Italian

Stay: Hotel Al Nuovo Teson

Centrally located near San Marco, Hotel Al Nuovo Teson is the perfect choice for comfortable yet affordable accommodation in Venice. We were warmly greeted upon arrival and given a map and several suggestions for a local dinner, which was a huge help for first timers in what can be a very confusing city!

The rooms, albeit small, were well lit and comfortable, and came with a minibar, daily maid service and a fully stocked bathroom. Everywhere was within walking distance, and the best place that we ate (Taverna Scalinetto) was literally around the corner.


Do: Gondola ride, I Tre Mercanti, Rialto

A trip to Venice isn’t complete without a ride on a gondola. These famous boats are located all over Venice, and the gondoliers easily spotted in their stripy uniforms. Wait at any of the ‘Gondola Service’ signs if there aren’t any readily available and a boat will show up in no time. It’s worth noting that the prices are set, so don’t try to haggle! A daytime ride will cost €80 for 30 mins, while a night time trip after dark is set at €100. Steep? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

Famed for its tiramisu, I Tre Mercanti is located on the corner of a canal and offers up an impressive 30 flavours! They aren’t all of offer at once though, so stop by and look at the menu, and if there’s one in particular you fancy trying, ask when the next batch will be out. We tried their original and the Nutella, both of which were divine! They are all handmade each day on site, and if you’re lucky you’ll turn up when they’re doing exactly this, on display in the window!

The Rialto area is one not to be missed. Go early to explore the local fish and fresh food market, located a few streets away form the Rialto Bridge. After that, I recommend stopping for a coffee (or an excellent hot chocolate) at Naranzaria, which has lots of outdoor tables literally on the side of the Grand Canal. Just watch out for high tide, when the water can lap over the edge and up to the tables!


Eat: Ristorante Al Giardinetto da Severino, Rossopomodoro, Taverna Scalinetto, Trattoria da Denis,

You’re spoilt for choice with the number of restaurants in Venice, but we were keen to experience local and authentic places whenever we could. We asked for some recommendations from our hotel, as well as other travellers we met on the trip, and the result was a holiday full of excellent food!

Ristorante Al Giardinetto da Severino could easily be walked past if you weren’t looking for it, but once inside you’ll discover a grand dining room lit by candles and filled with chatter. Smartly dressed waiters keep your glass topped up and a smile on your face, and the food only serves to broaden the smile. The house lasagna and Black Tagliolini are our recommendations.

Rossopomodoro is located near San Marco, very centrally, and while it is often frequented by tourists, the pizzas are excellent and a very reasonable price. They have expansive seating inside, but if its warm enough definitely opt for one of the outdoor seats as you can watch the bustling street life pass by while you wait for your pizza.

Taverna Scalinetto is tucked away in a back street, but is totally worth searching out. It’s authentic and cozy inside, with a great outdoor terrace situated under a vineyard for the warmer weather. The charcuterie board was excellent, and the spaghetti carbonara was the best we’ve ever eaten – no exaggeration! House wine is reasonably priced and very good, and the service was all done with a smile. Definitely recommend!

Trattoria da Denis was another back street find, and the layout made it easy to chat to other diners while we waited for food. House wine was very reasonably priced and bread was brought to the table shortly after we arrived. It was our first meal in the city and a great introduction to Venetian cuisine.

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!