Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bonjour Paris!

This is a fab little piece written by my friend Nigel who is my guest blogger for this week!! 

Wasn’t it in the classic Audrey Hepburn movie, Sabrina, that they said that “Paris is always a good idea”? I seem to recall it was, and I have to say they were tres tres right. France’s capital is an absolute joy to behold and having just recently visited it for the first time since 2004 I have to say that I have fallen in love with it once more. Oui, mes amis, je suis tombĂ© amoureux!
The reason we headed to gay Parie was to meet some lovely American friends who were weaving their way across France with their mum, which was reason enough in itself for le voyage. Delicious food, the tastiest wine, the most atmospheric of bars and the most joyous of conversation were an absolute treat and it’s lovely when you can share so many fabulous things with people you adore. But how anybody can fail to enjoy the majesty and the grandeur of the city of Paris itself is beyond me.

As my partner has never been to Paris before this was the perfect opportunity to really hit the tourist trail and visit as many of the city’s massive attractions as possible. First stop was Notre Dame, the gargoyle-bedecked cathedral famed for its two striking towers and its love affair between a beautiful gypsy girl and a hunchbacked creature. Staring up at the huge round window on its facade you can’t help but get swept away by the romance of it all. I was ready to reach for my tambourine and start dancing as soon as I spied it on the horizon.
The same has to be said for Paris’ most famous landmark, La Tour Eiffel. It is truly amazing and deserves its accolade as the most visited paid-for attraction in the world. One of the most famous erections on Planet Earth (yep, hands up if you’re expecting a cheeky quip from me now!) the journey to the top within the windowed elevators as you stare down across the intricate layout of the city takes your breath away (and in my case takes my mind off the fact that I’m not overly good with heights). Having booked in advance there was no need to queue (the best move ever – especially as you breeze past the ever-lengthening caterpillar of visitors) and as you peep through the meshwork nearly 900ft above the ground, you can’t help but wonder how Gustave Eiffel even began to imagine the construction of “The Iron Lady” back in 1889. Although in a completely polar-opposite point of reference I was also busy picturing Grace Jones as Mayday the Bond villainess as she launched herself from La Tour in A View To A Kill. But that’s moi for you…

I could spend les heures trying to persuade people to visit the Parisienne joys of the Sacre Coeur, how climbing the 300ish (I think) steps to the top of the Arc De Triomphe was so worth it (there is a lift, but it ne marched pas when we were there) and how a visit to the decadence and opulence of the Palace Of Versailles is nothing short of spectacular. Strolling around and feasting your eyes on the feather-decorated boudoir of Marie Antoinette and the magical musical fountains in the Versailles Gardens are an experience that tout le monde should try.

I am not employed by some French PR agency whose job it is to big up the sights of Paris, although I would thoroughly enjoy the job and do it with ease. I just think it’s fabulous that there is so much wonderment and grandiose joy a mere train journey away from the UK. It has everything you need and is accessible with no baggage allowances, no lengthy check in queues and no trying to squeeze your hand luggage into an overhead locker. J’adore la France! Especially if I have some comfortable walking shoes and some fabulous friends alongside me.
The only trouble is I’ve been speaking ‘Franglais’ ever since I arrived back home…but you may have noticed that, n’est ce pas?

Nigel is a TV Presenter, writer and Craft Personality 


Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Perfect Short Break – San Sebastian (Donostia) North West Spain

A little travel taster from guest blogger Carey Hawkins who has just returned from a short vacation!

San Sebastian (or Donostia to the locals) stands on the edge of the Bay of Biscay, just a few miles from the French border. With stunning architecture, stylish Spanish women and wonderful food, it really is a people watcher and foodie’s paradise!

The gorgeous Concha bay is surrounded by dramatic cliffs which can be reached on one side by an amazing Victorian built ‘Funicular’ – a sort of steep cable railway - and there are two clean, golden sandy beaches to choose from, all within a 10 minute walk from the city centre.  The old town is filled with amazing bars serving the famous Pintxos, similar to Tapas and equally delicious and many Michelin starred restaurants can also be found amongst the cobbled streets.  

I would recommend San Sebastian as a great place to visit for couples, single travellers or families.  There are also plenty of activities for the little ones – a state of the art Aquarium, miles of golden sand and a retro ’70’s style fun fair.

Carey stayed with her husband Tom and 3 year old daughter Isabelle at the Irenaz Resort Hotel Apartamentos 

Friday, 14 October 2011

Greek Island Hopping

Now that summer has officially ended I thought I would reminisce in summers past for inspiration. I remember a lovely holiday some years ago when 5 of us flew to Athens at the end of August and chartered a sailing yacht to cruise the Peloponnese. One of our party held a skipper's licence, two others had crewed before so we didn't have to hire any extra help. We had two whole weeks of fabulous weather, including some days of very little wind when we were forced to use the motor to get to our next port of call. 

It seems like all of Europe is visiting the islands in July and August. This if fine if you enjoy the busy environment but for those who value their privacy and are looking for a more unique experience, these are definitely not the months.

The winds can be quite strong during mid summer - the 'Meltemi' is the NW wind which can blow for days and make your voyage quite unpleasant so we were lucky but in any event our skipper was quite experienced and had encountered heavy gales before so we felt reasonably safe. I'm not the best sea-farer as I suffer from motion sickness but after the initial day of hanging over the back of the boat, I soon got used to it and acquired my sea legs with only the odd day of sea swells putting me off balance again! Our route took us around Aegina, Poros, Hydra and Spetses.  All beautiful islands, particularly Hydra. We would often find a secluded bay where we could spend the day and sometimes the night, hop in the tender and find a nice little taverna to have dinner.

The harbours can get quite crowded so you often have to 'park' in rows and step over other boats to get to the shore!  You can replenish fuel, water and empty the waste tanks at these moorings then stock up on your supplies and explore the islands or just take a day out to laze on the beach and do nothing if you choose!

I'm now looking forward to some pre-Christmas sun in just a few weeks .. top up the tan and those vitamin D levels before we plunge into another predicted icy cold winter!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Eat. Drink. End Hunger!!

What a great way to end a fabulous vacation in New York .. enjoying a gastronomic blow-out at the New York City Wine and Food Festival ... Eat. Drink. End Hunger!  The event I attended was entitled 'The best thing I ever tasted between bread' based on the prime time series of the same name and took place in the Highline Stages on West 15th Street in the Meatpacking District.  It was essentially a sandwich heaven hosted by Duff Goldman, the rock 'n roll chef of Charm City Cakes and star of the Ace of Cakes on the Food Network.  All were mouth watering creations ranging from grilled cheese to meat and mushrooms, spicy chicken biscuits, lobster rolls, bacon-apple-dill combos and pot roast style Italian beef to name just a few. There were a few wines to try along with Liptons iced tea varieties and a particularly outstanding concoction of thyme infused lemonade.  And if you didn't already have enough to eat after sampling all of these goodies, at the end of the line was a Sweetstreet stall with a selection of desserts to die for.  My personal favourite was a cheesecake wrapped in a thin pancake, which I am guessing was delicately deep fried and dusted in cinnamon sugar .. a close second was a peanut butter and jelly cupcake .. so typically American!

After such a satiable feast it was all we could do to try to walk it off a little by following the Highline, stopping for a caffeine hit and doing a little retail therapy ... finally ending our day with a drink at the Rooftop bar of the Gansevoort Hotel where the views of the Hudson River and surrounding areas are quite spectacular!