Awesome Amsterdam on a Budget: Eating Out, the Dutch Way

Mar 02, 15 Awesome Amsterdam on a Budget: Eating Out, the Dutch Way

Posted by in Travel

Amsterdam is one of those places that you need to experience at least once. I’ve been and I loved it. It’s a vibrant, bustling city with lots to discover on every corner. When it comes to city breaks, they can be a tad expensive. But, that doesn’t have to be the case with Amsterdam. In fact, this is one city where you can do a wealth of things for free. What’s more, you can tie in your foodie delights within the trip too. After all, you don’t want to break into your wine budget! There are some great things that you can do in Amsterdam on a shoestring. Let’s find out more about awesome Amsterdam and eating out the, Dutch way. Free Walking Tours (And Amazing Cafes!) There are a load of free walking tours within Amsterdam that you can be a part of. These operate on a daily basis. Head to Dam Square at midday to see the sights of what Amsterdam has to offer. You can take a relaxing strolling around Amsterdam with your friends. These take around three hours to complete, but they are a great way to soak up the excellent Dutch weather. Head to Singel 404 for a true taste of Amsterdam. They serve all of the traditional Dutch cuisine, but on giant sharing platters. Breads, wine and cheese are the perfect lunch. Lunchtime Concerts at Concertgebouwplein Despite the incredibly long name, Amsterdam is the home of free and live entertainment. During the peak summer months, free, open air concerts take place. These are a must for any culture vulture. You can sample the food, wines and watch the shows that are put on the centre of the city. The street food is a must with the Concertgebouwplein! Try the delicate rice pastries for a true taste of Amsterdam. Vondelpark Many European cities have luscious green spaces, but none is as beautiful as what Amsterdam has to offer. Vondelpark is a must for locals and tourists alike. The area...

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My Top 5 Favourite Tapas Bars in Barcelona

Feb 18, 15 My Top 5 Favourite Tapas Bars in Barcelona

Posted by in Food and Wine, Travel

I spent most of last Autumn hanging out in Barcelona and while I was there, I discovered plenty of little tapas bars around the well worn tourist path. There are SO many crap tapas bars in Barcelona. I hope my little list will at least give you brief glimpse into what you can find if you scratch the surface and get away from the tourist ghetto of Las Ramblas and Carrer de Ferran. As Barcelona is full of tapas bars, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one, the ones that I found were, for the most part, recommended to me by friends who live there or colleagues who visit often. So without further ado, here they are in no particular order: Bar del Pla (Born):  I found this place one night after we had visited a few other tapas bars in the area. The Born is part of the Barrio Gotic and Tourist Central but there are still great places to be found. Bar del Pla, while not exactly hidden, is not on a main street in the Born but off one of  its little alleyways and from the outside doesn’t look like much, although it always seemed to be packed with a mix of locals and tourists. Don’t let the tourists put you off, the menu features fresh and modern tapas with a twist and traditional foods as well as fresh salads. I remember ordering grilled calamares with chickpeas – so delicious, we ordered a second round! We also had a sardines on toast combo with mango and rocket, another inspired combination. The wine list is a mix of Spanish and foreign wines as well as house vermouth – which I love! The prices are a bit more expensive than the usual tapas bars but worth it and the staff was very helpful in making recommendations. I’ve been told the staff speak English, although as we all spoke Spanish, we didn’t put them to the test. Carrer Montcada, num. 2, 08003 Barcelona,...

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Charmed by the Dordogne River Valley

May 14, 14 Charmed by the Dordogne River Valley

Posted by in All, France, Travel

I recently came back from the Dordogne region of France. If you’re like me, the Dordogne rings a bell as one of the rivers of Bordeaux. But, it’s a lot more then that. The river may end in Bordeaux but it’s starts far inland and the history that courses along it’s riverbanks goes back to the Middle Ages and beyond. I wasn’t thinking about that as we landed in Brive. We were on the inaugural RyanAir flight from London to Brive and it was a bit of a bumpy landing. It seems it can be a bit windy in this part of France but  before we knew it, we were on the ground. Ryan Air now flies twice a week to Brive from Stansted Airport. Thankfully, our first stop of the afternoon was to the charming house of Denoix liqueurs. The Denoix family have been making the speciality of the region, liqueurs de noix, as well as a whole host of flavoured liqueurs since 1839. Not much has changed in the production of the liqueurs, we were shown the stone wheel that they still use to crush the walnuts as well as the copper pots that they use to infuse the liqueurs. The family use only all natural ingredients, including fennel, star anise, and orange peel amongst other ingredients. It was a lovely introduction to the region. Later that evening we dined at Chez Francis, local institution of a restaurant which is famous for the graffiti left on it’s walls by literery visitors. I loved the various drawings and scribblings that covered the walls and even the ceilings. Of course, I had to leave my mark 😉 The next day was full on sight seeing starting with the town of Turenne, which I insisted on pronouncing as Tureen, still can’t get my head around that. Turenne is a medieval town famous for being built at such a commanding height and also as one of France’s most beautiful villages. The castle atop the hill is...

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Four Seasons Sharm el Sheikh – My Birthday Treat

Mar 24, 14 Four Seasons Sharm el Sheikh – My Birthday Treat

Posted by in All, Hotels and Spas, Travel

As we touched down in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, I was full of anticipation for the next few days and my stay at the Four Seasons Sharm el Sheikh and not only because it was my birthday that week 😉 I’ve stayed at a few other Four Seasons resorts around the world but I’d never been to the Red Sea and couldn’t wait to get out into the sun and onto the beach. I had been looking for a warm and sunny place to spend my birthday and when Four Seasons suggested I stay with them, I jumped at the chance. I love the Four Seasons resorts. Although they are a luxury hotel chain, all of them have a distinct charm and each one has it’s own boutique experience. The entire experience begins at the airport where we were greeted by our driver and car and whisked to the resort. The car had wifi which meant we didn’t waste anytime waiting to tweet about our holiday The Sharm el Sheikh property is set on a hill which slopes down to the Red Sea. There are 4 pools at the resort along with with a long stretch of sandy beach and a jetty that juts out over the reef to where it is safe to swim without getting yourself cut by the coral. The Waha Pool Bar and Restaurant is situated beside the main pool and serves European style cuisine. The first night we arrived, it was the bi-weekly Fish Market night at Waha. The resort offers different themed cuisine nights at each of it’s restaurants. The restaurants take it in turns to host the themed evenings. The Fish Market had an array of fresh fish and shellfish to choose from and it was then grilled or prepared to our specifications. As well as the themed cuisines in the restaurants, the hotel also features Bedouin Night where we dine under the stars on a beachfront sandy outlook by the sea. The food was terrific. I...

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Navarra – A Wine Region of Diversity

Feb 24, 14 Navarra – A Wine Region of Diversity

Posted by in All, Spain, Travel

When one thinks of Spanish wines, Rioja immediately springs to mind but that’s not the only game in town. I visited the region of Navarra which is just north of Rioja last Autumn and found a diverse and exciting wine region. A region that is producing great value for money wines. Navarra has been producing wines for centuries but after they were wiped out by phylloxera in the late 19th century, they never regained their former glory. Even today, there are only 12,000 hectares under vine whereas pre-phylloxera they had 50,000 vines. Nowadays, if people are familiar with Navarra’s wines, it is with their lovely and spicy rosados. Made from tempranillo and garnacha, the rosados can range from delicate with ripe red fruit flavours to robust and spicy. Unlike Rioja, Navarra doesn’t specialize in one particular grape. While some might see this as a negative, it does allow the growers of the region to produce a variety of wines. The reds of Navarra are made from widely grown varieties in Spain – tempranillo, graciano and mazuela as well as international varieties such as cabernet sauvignon and even merlot. We visited quite a few bodegas on our trip, here are some highlights, except for Bodegas Ochoa which I’ve written about separately here. Bodegas Inurrieta, located in the Ribera Alta, the winery has its vineyards at 380 to 400 metres and they produce fresh and exciting wines. The wines are made in a modern, approachable style and are of an excellent quality. Bodegas Senorio de Sarria is in the Valdizabe region and set amongst rolling hills. I first came across their wines a few years ago here in London and ever since I’ve kept a lookout for them. The winery is a blend of modern and new, with the old cement tanks as part of the decor. There is a beautiful small chapel next to the winery which was built exclusively for the family and has a wonderful series of mosaics covering its walls. I liked...

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A harvest time visit to Bodegas Ochoa in Navarra

Feb 21, 14 A harvest time visit to Bodegas Ochoa in Navarra

Posted by in All, Spain, Travel

Last Autumn, I visited the region of Navarra in Spain. Navarra is a bit off the beaten path except for the annual St. Fermin festival, better known as The Running of the Bulls, which takes place through the streets of the capital of the region, Pamplona. Pamplona has a lovely Palacio in the main square as well as great medieval architecture. It’s easy to imagine the bulls running through the narrow streets and the adrenaline rush that goes along with it. There are of course lots of great little tapas bars. I do love  jamon, manchego cheese, chorizo and all the other tapas that are best with the wines of Spain – especially the wines of Navarra.   I had met Adriana Ochoa last Spring here in London so when I saw that a visit to Ochoa was on our itinerary of vineyards, I was excited to see Adriana again and taste more of her wines. The Ochoa family have been making wine in Navarra for several centuries and Adriana and her sister are the next generation have take over. The current incarnation of Ochoa was founded in 1908. During lunch, Adriana explained a bit of the history of Navarra and their vineyard as well as their wine making philosophy. Adriana is one of the new generation of Spanish winemakers who have travelled around the world doing stints at various vineyards and she has brought back and implemented a few new innovations. Their vineyards are outside the medieval town of Olite and as we were there during harvest, we got to visit the vineyards and even take a ride on a mechanical harvester. Afterward we went back to the winery and watched while they unloaded the  just harvested grapes and even got a taste of literally ‘free run juice’. As a side note, Olite has an awesome castle and medieval city centre and is worth a visit on its own. Over lunch we sampled the various wines that Ochoa make, including a rose and...

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