Saturday, 28 December 2013

A new year is dawning ...

With only 3 days left till the end of 2013 I just wanted to express what a fab year it's been again! I think it's so important to get away from the daily grind even if it's only for a long weekend. You know what they say (whoever they are) all work and no play ... Work is important to me of course, as I love it but I don't ever want to be dull! It lifts my spirit to look forward and plan the next trip ... working makes it possible.

As well as revisiting old haunts there have been some new additions to the list of locations I've been and I have loved all of them! There are still many more in my sites and it's always a challenge deciding where to go next. However, I do know where I'm going next and that will be Barbados again at the end of March. I like to top and tail the winter with a week of sunshine and it means taking a long haul flight somewhere. Barbados never fails to deliver and I can't wait .. but I may just squeeze in a quick little long weekend trip somewhere before that to visit friends ... somewhere the flip flops won't be needed (except perhaps by an indoor pool) so I will keep you posted!

Thanks once again for reading and sharing my travels with me .. it's lovely to get all your positive feedback and hopefully give you some inspiration to go somewhere you've always wanted to visit.

Have a very Happy New Year and a fabulous, healthy and prosperous 2014!

عام سعيدΚαλή Χρονιά ~ felice anno nuovo ~ feliz año nuevo
(Happy New Year in the languages of the countries I visited this year)

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Monday, 9 December 2013

Hola buenos días .. chilling in the Riviera Maya, Mexico

People often ask me why I go all the way to Mexico or the Caribbean for just a week. Granted it's a relatively long flight but whether it's 5, 7 or 10 hours it really makes no difference to me. On day flights I catch up on the movies I've missed and overnights I may watch one movie then try to sleep till breakfast.  It's only time shifting .. for me jet lag is partially in the mind. I set my watch to my new time zone as soon as I'm on the plane and put myself in that headspace. I start thinking I'm already in the new zone and on arrival I push myself to stay up as late as I can and don't give in to napping (disastrous if you sleep longer than intended though!) Take one day at a time. If I feel tired early in the evening on day 2 or 3 maybe then I let myself have an early night if there's nothing going on. Let's face it even with no time zone change, hanging out in the fresh sea air and sunshine can make you tired anyway so just go with the flow. The reason I do long haul in winter is because I can get guaranteed warmth and sunshine and it breaks up the darkest part of winter in the northern hemisphere.

So my first trip this winter was to Mexico once again but this time to the East Coast and Riviera Maya which faces the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. We stayed about thirty minutes drive south of Cancun at the Grand Mayan. It's a large resort but very spread out with a number of their own hotels on site in varying sizes and price scales.  It's only a 15 minute drive from the city of Playa del Carmen which has undergone rapid development in the last few years. There are numerous hotels in the area and the atmospheric Avenida Quinta (Fifth Avenue) is a pedestrian street with artisans, high street clothing brands and restuarants in abundance.
Mexican scrambled eggs
This trip was all about relaxing by the pool and the beach and enjoying good food. The resort was large enough to accommodate a variety of different restaurants with food ranging from Italian, Thai to traditional Mexican, but we did make the effort to go to Playa del Carmen one day and mooch around the shops for an hour or two before finding a great little Italian restaurant Cenacolo where they make their own pasta and try to keep the dishes traditional.

This region of Mexico is sub tropical so we had a little rain on a couple of occasions. These can be torrential downpours but only last for a few minutes. We saw many species of birds and butterflies as there are a huge variety of tropical plants and forests within and surrounding the resort. There are also iguanas, geckos and crocodiles and there is a turtle nesting site on the beach. Turtles nest all along the stretch of beach from Cancun to Tulum. Six of the seven species of turtles are found in Mexico. I tried in vain to photograph some of the birds I saw but they were just too quick.

brightly coloured bird
I did manage to capture some pelicans flying in formation, kites and seagulls. I couldn't even begin to tell what the other brightly coloured varieties were but they made a heck of a racket in the mornings and all I could see was bright yellow or orange creatures scooting in and out of the treetops from my third floor balcony!

As I love ancient history and architecture next time I plan to go for longer and visit Tulum in the south -
"The Tulum archaeological site is relatively compact compared with many other Maya sites in the vicinity, and is one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites."
 and Chichen Itsa-
"It is located in the eastern portion of Yucatán state in Mexico. The northern Yucatán Peninsula is arid, and the rivers in the interior all run underground. There are two large, natural sink holes, called cenotes, that could have provided plentiful water year round at Chichen, making it attractive for settlement. Of the two cenotes, the "Cenote Sagrado" or Sacred Cenote (also variously known as the Sacred Well or Well of Sacrifice), is the most famous. According to post-Conquest sources (Maya and Spanish), pre-Columbian Maya sacrificed objects and human beings into the cenote as a form of worship to the Maya rain god Chaac. Edward Herbert Thompson dredged the Cenote Sagrado from 1904 to 1910, and recovered artifacts of gold, jade, pottery and incense, as well as human remains.  A study of human remains taken from the Cenote Sagrado found that they had wounds consistent with human sacrifice."

This was my fourth time in Mexico and I absolutely love it .. the people are warm and hospitable and can't do enough for you. I look forward to going back again next year and now I know what to expect of the area will plan a few day excursions and perhaps make it a two week trip for a change!
¡Hasta luego!

To see more photos follow and 'like' my facebook page .. Holiday Queen


Friday, 1 November 2013

Living the high life Middle Eastern style .. Part 1 Dubai

Last week I set off on my first trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  When I say 'first' I know there will definitely be a 'second' and a 'third' and maybe more to the region. 

Dubai was never a place I fancied visiting as all that I had seen and heard about it made me imagine a world of opulent glitz and glamour quite removed from my reality. To be quite frank I had never even thought about visiting Abu Dhabi either! The fact that it was featured (with artistic licence) in the film 'Sex and the City 2' didn't inspire me in the slightest, especially since I knew most of it was filmed in Marrakech, Morocco!  However, all that has now changed and I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised.

My first 'wow' factor was flying with Emirates on their A380-800. It's a massive aircraft and from the moment you step inside you feel the difference. Economy is like flying premium on other airlines and the entertainment system is state of the art. You can watch movies (from a selection of 100's) from the minute you sit down until you land and you can access wifi for a nominal fee. They have on-board cameras so you can have a birds eye view from the tail, nose and undercarriage. It was amazing seeing the lights of the runway in the distance and the approach through to the landing .. fascinating stuff! (I must admit to feeling a little nervous wondering how something that big can take off and land!) I now want to fly with them all the time! I wonder do they go to Caribbean??!! The food, the service and facilities were second to none .. I can't rate Emirates highly enough.

We arrived quite early in the morning and made our way to the hotel The Address, Dubai Marina right beside the Marina Mall. The staff were very friendly and hospitable, sorting out our room while we had a leisurely breakfast allowing us to check in a few hours early for no extra cost. We spent the 2 days in Dubai being tourists, visiting the Dubai Mall, watching the Dancing Fountains whilst marvelling at the world's tallest building the Burj Khalifa.  Seeing it rising endlessly into a clear blue sky was awesome and I suspect that on the next trip I may make it to the top, although I'm slightly nervous about that prospect too!  We also visited the Gold Souk and dined outdoors at the Madinat Jameirah where we had Persian food and a fab view of the Burj al Arab

I could easily spend a week there particularly at this time of year when the weather is cooler than the unbearable temperatures of high summer. I also quite fancy a little desert retreat for a couple of days! I look forward to my next visit in the not too distant future!

Take a tour on the Emirates Airbus A380-800 .. it's the first ever aircraft to feature on Google street view!

Living the high life in the Middle East .. Part 2 Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi was never on my list of places to go.  I knew nothing about the place and although I had heard of it, I had no real concept of where it was. It's just over an hour's drive south from Dubai and is the capital of the UAE. It is smaller (population under a million) and less ostentatious on the surface but don't be fooled, this place drips in gold.

We stayed at the InterContinental Hotel situated within 5 minutes drive from the Marina Mall and has it's own beach which was in redevelopment while we were there.  It has great views of downtown Abu Dhabi, and you can watch the sunset from the pool or various levels in the hotel. 

Our first afternoon was spent having high tea at the Emirates Palace a wonderful hotel complex which
has the appearance of having been around for a long time.  In fact it's less than 10 years old!

Emirates Palace
The building was designed by architect, John Elliott RIBA, who was Senior Vice President at Wimberly, Allison, Tong and Goo, an international firm specialising in Luxury Hotels. It opened in November 2005 but certain restaurants and spas did not open until 2006. The hotel was built by and is owned by the Abu Dhabi government, and is currently managed by the Kempinski Group.
The costs to build the hotel were 3.9 billion GBP or 11.02 billion AED or about 6 billion USD. The Emirates Palace occupies 850,000m² of floor space. Underground parking allows housing for 2,500 vehicles. There are two swimming pools and spas. The hotel has its own marina and helipad. The Emirates Palace is the second most expensive hotel ever built, only surpassed by Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

Prepare to spend at least 2 hours enjoying the food (and the cappuccino with the edible gold sprinkles) all beautifully presented. There was so much we couldn't finish it all so opted for a doggie bag at the end!  We took a walk around the complex .. the beach is private so we weren't able to go there but it would be a fabulous place to stay if you could afford to!
They even have a gold vending machine in the lobby if you feel so inclined to buy some.

We took a Big Bus tour around the city on day 2.  It's a great way to see and learn about the city and another architectural beauty is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque which also looks like it may have been around for a while but it too is only a few years old.  We also went to Saadyat Island and had lunch. This will be an amazing place when the development is completed.  The Louvre and Guggenheim galleries are under construction as well as many other attractions.  The bus tour also offered a shuttle service to visit Yas Island which is home to Formula 1 racing and Ferrari World, but we didn't have the time to go on this occasion. There's always next time!


Monday, 7 October 2013

Dubai and Abu Dhabi on the horizon

At the end of this month I will be taking an extended weekend trip to the UAE.  It's a place I'd never really thought I would want to visit but now I have the opportunity to go so am really quite excited about it!

See you in a couple of weeks!!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Down time in New York

As you will know if you read my last blog post, I decided to go out to New York a couple of days before my job commenced to hang with my friends and acclimatize. The flight was delayed by an hour leaving Heathrow but the upside of the journey was that the immigration process was relatively short compared to the two hour wait we had last year. I spent the next day shopping for consumables for the job and had dinner with my friends at the Stand Up NY comedy club.

Before checking into the hotel the next day, we took a stroll on the promenade of the East River on the Upper East side and admired some of the lovely little buildings tucked down the side streets ... something I never really get to do as it's usually all go go go in the city that never sleeps.

I just managed to get to a friend's birthday dinner on the second Saturday night .. late finish at the tennis, bus back to the hotel, quick shower and change and hopped in a cab for a 10 minute ride to Dizzy's Jazz Club at the Time Warner Centre.  I made it just in time for the 9.30 session.  By 11pm I was ready for my bed, so it was just as well that the next session was due in at 11.30 and off I went!  Such a party animal me!!

I also met up with a couple of my NY friends after work on two occasions but I had to get them to come to me at my hotel as this job was just not conducive to getting out much. Fortunately, the hotel has a rooftop bar and a stunning view of the top of my favorite building the Chrysler, situated on 42nd and Lexington.
"The Chrysler building is one of the last skyscrapers in the Art Deco style. The gargoyles depict Chrysler car ornaments and the spire is modeled on a radiator grille. Since it was restored in 1996 it glitters again like it must have in the 1930s." 

Lunch at Robert
After the job was over and most of the crew had gone home, I stayed on for an extra day to pack my kit carefully and do some last minute shopping, eating and catching up with one of my best friends. We ate lunch at Robert which is located in the Museum of Art and Design and has the most amazing views of Columbus Circle and Central Park. We had a look at the jewellery exhibition within the museum, wandered around the air conditioned shops in the Time Warner building (it was an extremely hot, humid day outside) then found ourselves still there at dinner time so went to Landmarc for our last night together.

The flight back was also delayed by 2 hours and I arrived back the following day to a cold, damp, grey day in London .. aaah it's so good to be home again! 

If you enjoy reading my blog, have a look at my facebook page and 'like' it for updates and daily postings on interesting locations around the world ...


New York .. "just like I pictured it, skyscrapers and everything"

It's a bit of a misconception if you imagine that my recent New York trip was a holiday .. it was over two weeks of full on work (no days off), 12 hours a day minimum and not much down time.  However, as I am the Holiday Queen it is my prerogative to post what I want on my blog and I know some of you are interested in my work so here's a quick run down of my three weeks away.  

All this and more ...
I tagged on a couple of days either side of my job (US Open tennis) firstly to ease myself into the time zone, get organised etc... then a day and a half afterwards to do the same. I got to spend time with my NY 'family' which is always a bonus and I am truly grateful for the opportunity. Also I get to wind down afterwards and carefully pack my kit back into the flight case that would undoubtedly get bashed and thrown about by the baggage handlers. I am pleased to say that I didn't get one breakage either way, so either my packing skills are amazing, or the baggage handlers couldn't actually lift the 30kg weight of my case!!  And that was my small kit!!  I knew pretty much how many people I would be making up so had everything I needed for them plus a little more for any unexpected guests (which they always spring on me!).

Head in the air-con flow
The previous two years of the Open were blighted by hurricane Irene, then a tornado after hurricane Sandy and the joke was that this year we might just get a plague of locusts instead! Be careful what you put out there! The night after we had a major downpour of rain, the studio lights went on for the night session and the flood lights lit the practice courts. Out of nowhere we were then graced with a swarm of seemingly every imaginable insect species which descended upon us at the speed of light!  We were frantically swatting and spraying bug repellent on ourselves and turned the lights down in between on-air segments. I've never seen anything like it. 

The 'A' Team
This year we had our usual team of presenters plus some high calibre guests, the green room/make up room was flooded again, and we had various visitors of the insect/arachnid/four-legged variety, not to mention the high heat, high humidity, perspiration and frizzy hair to contend with but it's all part of my job so it kept me busy and on my toesI'd like to tell you it's a glamorous world but only when it's over do you appreciate your efforts and realise what a great experience it is and I wouldn't change it for anything else!

Monday, 19 August 2013

Buongiorno Milano

My friend and I have just spent a lovely relaxing weekend in Milan - more relaxed than usual as it was Assumption Day on the previous Wednesday, a national holiday in Italy so many businesses and shops were closed. No matter though, it was mainly the higher end of the retail spectrum on certain streets that chose to close so there were still quite a few stores open for business. Many were in the process of renovation and redecoration in readiness for the new season. Just as well we weren't after much anyway but we're always happy to experience just being there and enjoy the warmth of the weather and the hospitality. 

We spent Saturday morning doing a bit of shopping, the majority of the time in the relatively new department store Excelsior, "a unique shopping experience. Fashion, beauty, accessories, food and design mingle together in the historic building at Galleria del Corso 4, ... now completely renovated by acclaimed starchitect, Jean Nouvel. 4000 sq m in one area, divided over 7 floors and inside an architectural casing of ribbon-like video installations that create a kaleidoscopic effect, and a network of floating lifts and travelators. Milan’s old Excelsior cinema has now risen to new heights as the new icon of worldwide shopping." 
They house an ecclectic array of designer's collections from Paris, New York and around the world. A very stylish affair with cool music and uber hip sales assistants to enhance your experience!   

In true Italian style, we even saw a bicycle parked outside with it's own tail attached to the mud guard!  There are now a number of bikes for rent in Milan and even though many of the streets are cobbled it does not stop people from using them. It's a great way to get around and see the city .. called BIKEME it's a public bike sharing facility like the Barclays or 'Boris' bikes in London.

Our afternoon was spent enjoying a leisurely lunch and a refreshing glass (or even two if I'm honest!) of prosecco as we put the world to rights and people watched before heading back to our hotel to rest and freshen up for dinner.  

The main department store in the centre of Milan La Rinascente opens from 10am on a Sunday so we spent our last few hours doing a giro of each floor before checking out of our hotel and heading to our respective departure points.

This trip I did not have to buy an extra suitcase or worry about being over my luggage allowance weight, but I had a great time as always and look forward to doing it all again next year! 

We always stay at the Starhotel Rosa Grand which has been renovated and upgraded over the years and is right in the heart of the city next to the fabulous Duomo Cathedral.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Long weekend in Italy and hitting the 10,000 mark!

I'm off on my annual trip to Milan this weekend .. and a lovely one it's going to be by the looks of the weather forecast!  Just perfect for trying and buying our next season's winter warmers!!  Not!! Ha ha!  Luckily most of the shops have air conditioning but it's always a challenge pairing winter coats with bare legs and flip flops!!  The Italians have it sussed though .. when trying on coats the sales assistants bring boots, gloves and hats to try on to get the real 'feel' of the overall look!  I'll let you know how I got on when I get back!

The other exciting news is that very shortly my blog will have reached the 10,000 hits milestone .. so I just wanted to say a big 'thank you' once again for taking the time to read and share my trips and tips with me.  May we have many more!!

Next week I head off to New York again on a work trip but I will keep you updated and hoping that this year is hurricane and tornado free!!


Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sand dunes in East Sussex

The only place you will find sand dunes in East Sussex is along the south coast in Camber Sands .. known for it's miles of sandy beaches and used for countless photo shoots and filming.  I have done my share of fashion shoots down there but not for a few years so when there was an invitation to a beach party I was happy to have a different reason to revisit!  Our friends own a property right on the beach and it is available for rent year round so even they have to book well in advance to use it! They were lucky they got a good week of warmth and sunshine, but on the day of the party torrential rain was forecast so in between the sunshine and clouds, we were treated to a good old thunder and lightning storm to go with the spit roast pig and birthday cake!

Camber is just 3 miles east of the medieval town of Rye. "Rye was once surrounded on three sides by the sea and its maritime heritage dates back to Norman times. To defend it against frequent attacks from the French, Rye became an ‘antient town’ of the powerful Cinque Ports Confederation."  We stayed at The George in Rye hotel .. located right in the centre of town.  It's a relatively small hotel and boasts that it is the most luxurious in Rye.  It was really lovely but the downside was being woken by squawking seagulls at 3am!  Rye is full of quaint little shops and there's plenty to see and do in the area. It's under 2 hours drive away from London making it very doable even for a day trip!

It's always nice to get away for a weekend but if you fancy a longer stay down there you could always check the availability of the beach house .. it would be a gorgeous winter break too if you like to be by the sea no matter what the weather.


Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Travel inspiration

My friend Francesca has a blog call 'Running Girl' which is a nice little mix of running, food and travel.  She and her husband are upping sticks and moving to Dubai in the Middle East.  It's always exciting to learn more about living in another country other than the one you grew up in. I should know, I've done it!

I would love to have her guest blog for me once she gets settled and I have a sneaky suspicion that I will be frequenting that area in the not too distant future too .. for an entirely different reason but it will be a fascinating part of the world to see and experience.

Have a look at her blog .. hopefully it will inspire you in many different ways! 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Finding a taste of summer in Crete

Al Fresco by the sea
The largest of the Greek Islands, Crete, is my new 'must go again' place to visit and it really was a welcome escape from the unseasonally cool damp shores of England.  I hadn't been to Greece for a number of years so it was lovely to go back and be reminded how warm and friendly the people are. The food was fabulously fresh and surprisingly cheap given the financial troubles that have plagued the country in the last couple of years.

Macaris Suites and Spa
We flew Easyjet from Gatwick to Heraklion and then transferred from there to Rethymnon, an old 16th century Venetian town which was about an hour's drive away. We stayed just outside in the foothills at the Macaris Suites and Spa. It was a perfect spot, peaceful and quiet and just 10 minutes walk from the centre of town. It was a nice time of year to go .. a week after the half term school holidays but not yet at peak season. The weather too was also my idea of perfection.  Sunny and warm (around 28C max 18C min) but not as hot as it would definitely be in high summer! 

The spa
The spa at the hotel is special, a beautiful welcoming indoor plunge pool and jacuzzi is what you see from the other side of the glass facade. Once inside you notice the calm and serene atmosphere and there are many treatments available. The hammam is a gorgeous mosaic room perfect for a cleanse after a workout at the gym upstairs.

Most of our time was spent lazing around the pool as well as little jaunts into the beautiful old town which has lovely restaurants and shops. We also took an excursion to the far south west side of the island to visit the small island of Elafonisi. It is a protected nature reserve and to access it you have to walk or swim the short distance through the shallow turquoise blue water. The tour was a three hour trip each way (with a stop for refreshments) but so worth it! We spent four hours at the beach making it a long but very enjoyable day. Our guide was exceptionally good and had a vast knowledge of the whole of Crete and especially this region.

As we approached the first thing you notice is how unspoiled it is.  There are no resorts or permanent structures (yet!) although there is a kiosk selling drinks and light snacks. There are also toilets and showers but virtually nothing else.  You can rent sun loungers under umbrellas for 7 Euros per pair but there is absolutely nothing of the kind on Elefonisi itself and never will be. We waded over to the island (a good workout for the legs) and were stunned by the beauty of it. The waters are myriad blues ranging from the lightest turquoise to indigo and the sand ivory with pink tinges caused by the coral reef nearby. As you walk further down the beach black rocks emerge from the shallows and the larger grains of sand are black so blend in with the beach to give an unusual hue. Be aware though in high season we were informed up to 10,000 people visit per day!!

There is so much more to Crete and I want to go back and explore again, taking in the magnificent gorges, architecture and beaches on other parts of the island. 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Four seasons in one week

Mother Nature has been cruelly teasing us again .. with summer supposedly just around the corner we are treated to the odd beautiful sunny day where we are lulled into a false sense of security then she whips it away again by throwing the wind, rain, hailstones and cold at us!  Oh well, there's not a lot we can do about it except to either grin and bear it or hop on a plane to take us to places where the sun is guaranteed to shine and infuse us with that much needed Vitamin D.

Rethymnon Old Town
In a week's time I will be packing for just such a trip to the island of Crete, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. I will be going with 3 girlfriends and staying in Rethymnon on the north coast.  As well as relaxing by the sea/pool I want to make time to explore the old fortresses and monastaries in the area. We should have a blast and I look forward to telling you all about it when I get back!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Holiday Queen is two years old today!!

I attended a superblogger's masterclass tonight and got some great insights and advice from people who have been doing this successfully for a long time. Mine started off as a sort of on-line diary with no expectations other than to share my experiences and inspire you to get out there and see the world, even if it's just in your own country. Travel really does broaden your horizons and allow you to appreciate other cultures.

I can't believe I started my blog two years ago now!  It started as a suggestion from a photographer friend who said I should write one as I always seemed to be out of the country (I think it was supposed to be a bit of a joke!) I guess I do travel quite a bit and usually post a selection of my holiday snaps on facebook for my friends and family to see.

Who knew that once the seed had been planted in my mind it wasn't going to go away? I've noticed that when I get an idea that I like, I stick with it and it constantly evolves and excites me. I love to write and it's absolutely true too that my flip flops have been on every single trip from the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean to the hurricane flooded practice courts at Flushing Meadows for the US Open Tennis.

My next jaunt is to the mediterranean island of Crete next month so I look forward to sharing that trip with you. After the wintery weather we've been having here over the past few days it will be great to get away!

I now have a facebook page to coincide with my blog! Please feel free to join! 

Friday, 19 April 2013

Day trip to the Atlas Mountains

Making Argan Oil
We had almost a whole day to fill after our check out of the hotel so we decided to take a trip to Ourika valley at the foot of the Atlas MountainsWe didn't have time to do any trekking (that's definitely for next time!) but we walked through the souk which takes place every Monday.  There they have freshly killed meat, plants, herbs and spices and everything else you could want to buy. From there our driver took us to see Berber women making Argan oil. You get shown all the cosmetic products made from the oil and taken to the shop .. there was no pressure selling but seeing how these women work makes you want to buy something or at least put a small donation in the dish in front of them.   

The Hammam
We were also taken to a traditional Berber house beside a river where they use the power of the water to drive the mill to grind flour. They also had their own hammam which is a steam room - this is where they cleanse their bodies at least once a week. It was quite small and looked a little claustrophobic to me!

Of course there is a shop there too but again no pressure to buy.  What I did notice was that the prices quoted were considerably lower than those in the souk in Marrakesh so of course I had to buy a couple of pieces of Berber jewellery! *happy face*

Valley and snow capped peaks
Afterwards we had a late lunch overlooking the beautiful valley .. again sampling the local wine and Moroccan salad before heading back to collect our luggage and reluctantly heading to the airport and home.

Next time I visit Marrakech I definitely want to do another trip to the Atlas Mountains, going over the top and experiencing the magnificent Sahara desert in true romantic style. There are many tours offering various types of trips from one day hiking to camel treks, quad biking and 4-WD safaris.

My next jaunt will be to the island of Crete in the Mediterranean in a few weeks .. can't stop me .. variety is the spice of life!

A little taste of food Moroccan style

Going to Marrakech for a long weekend was amazing but there just wasn't enough time to go to all the fab foodie places recommended to us!  So we chose what we deemed a good cross section and were not disappointed! 

Orange segments with cinnamon
Our first restaurant experience (apart from our hotel - which was very good) was to Le Comptoir Darna situated in the Hivernage area where there are a number of restaurants and night clubs. We arrived at 8pm (the opening time) and were surprised how empty it seemed. However within a half an hour or so the place filled to capacity while a four piece band sat on the large staircase and played Morrocan music. We had their special mojito cocktail for our aperitif - I don't know how they made it but it was arguably one of the best I've tasted! The atmosphere was fantastic as was the food. Of course the dish of choice had to be the Tagine! The locally produced wine was suprisingly good too! I had sliced oranges with cinnamon for dessert, a tasty combo which they also serve at breakfast that I will easily recreate at home! 

Le Comptoir Darna
At 10.30 the music cranked up and a troupe of silver clad belly dancers - including two dancing with less vigour and a tray of candles balanced on their heads - appeared and entertained us all. They danced on tables and the crowd loved them! There was a disco upstairs after midnight which we did not stay for, but I imagine a fun time would be had - a great place to go with a group of friends!

Roof terrace La Sultana
The other two places we tried were equally good for the food and wine .. we lunched at La Sultana on the roof terrace which was a lovely respite from the hustle and bustle of the streets outside. A haven of calm. This would also be an amazing place to stay if you want a real treat! Our other dinner outing was to Le Jardins de la Medina another luxury hotel situated in the Kasbah. The restaurant was overlooking the small pool and gardens. The food was also very good and the pièce de résistance was the pumpkin souffle we had for dessert! Not something I would normally choose but it looked so interesting it had to be sampled! It was gorgeous! Light and fluffy with a scoop of jasmine ice cream on the side - pure ambrosia! 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Marrakech - getting to grips with the Souks

I travelled to Morocco way back in the day when I took a 'gap' 6 months which turned into 2 years! (But that's another story!) My friends from school and I had bought an old VW camper van and drove all the way from London via France, Portugal and Spain before boarding the ferry to North Africa. Our route took us from Tangier to Tetouan, Fez, Meknes and Rabat before heading back up the coast and continuing our European adventure. We never got to Marrakech and I knew that one day I would go there. I'm sort of glad it took so long as it turned out to be everything and more of what I thought it would be and although I loved and appreciated Morocco back then, I now have a much greater understanding of the culture. Obviously things have moved on substantially in the 20 plus years it's been but take away the mod cons and everything is essentially as it was centuries ago.

My friend and I flew Easyjet from Stansted direct to Marrakech - a journey time of 3 hours 20 minutes away making it a very do-able long weekend jaunt. We opted to stay outside of the confines of the walled city at a lovely small resort called Sirayane located a few kilometers south west of the MedinaIt's far from the madding crowd but only a 15 minute shuttle ride away, which the hotel provides free of charge six times a day. Perfect if you want a quiet oasis of calm after a day's shopping in the souk! The only sounds you'll hear are those of the birds and the chilled out lounge music around the bar and pool.
If you have never been to a souk before, it's an idea to get a guide to take you
Medersa Ben Youssef
around and show you the different parts of the Medina, visit a museum and learn some history about the place. Marrakech is a labyrinth of alleys and can get very confusing if you don't know where you're going. It could be like getting lost in a maze but we didn't have to worry about that thankfully. We trusted that our guide would get us out of there when we were ready.
It's a given that you will be shown things you may like to buy but there is not too much pressure selling here. Just be aware that the price they initially quote is not the price you should pay. They love to barter so pay what you think it's worth.  

Not only are they catering to tourists .. we witnessed the auctioning of leather pelts to the locals for the artisans to make shoes, bags, wallets etcHead down another side alley and this is also the place where you can see everything being made pretty much in the same way it has always been done .. their craft being passed down through the generations.

We didn't get hassled because we had a guide but I did get a proposal of marriage from one of the shopkeepers!! The girl still has it (laughs out loud)!! Oh, and I almost forgot to mention .. be aware of the iron carts and mopeds weaving in and out of the narrow streets - they are potentially lethal!

In my next post I will fill you in on our day trip to the Atlas mountains and the fab places we ate in the Kasbah and Gueliz .. see you soon! نراكم قريبا