Top 5 Sights to see in Lanzarote

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Lanzarote is the fourth largest of the Canary Islands and sits in the Atlantic Ocean about 125 km off the west coast of Africa. It’s a small island with remarkable volcanic landscapes and pretty much good weather all year round.  As well as some gorgeous beaches, white-washed villages and fishing ports the island is home to some unique visitor attractions.

Top 5 things to see in Lanzarote

When I visited Lanzarote I discovered that this little island has some unusual and fascinating sights and at just 60 km (37 mi) long and 25 km (16 mi) wide it’s ideal to explore by car.  Here are my top five things to see and do in Lanzarote.

Lanzarote’s  famous architect, César Manrique, had a major influence on the island’s planning regulations and he lobbied successfully to make sure that any new buildings are in keeping with the island’s traditional colours and style. His ethos was to combine art and nature in a unique way and on a sustainable level.  No high-rise buildings are allowed which means the coastline has no ugly tower-blocks which gives the island a more traditional feel.  Some of Lanzarote’s top sights include those created by César Manrique so I’m going to start with some of them.

1.  Jardin de Cactus

A visit to the Cactus garden, even if you’re not that into cacti, is a fun way to fill an hour ot two.   The Jardin de Cactus is a César Manrique creation built into an old quarry; a perfect example of architecture integrated into the landscape.  It’s in the north of the island between Mala and Guatiza.

Jardin de Cactus, Lanzarote

Blue sky backdrop

The garden houses over 7,500 cacti from around the world and as it’s now been established for over 20 years some of them are pretty big.  The dark grey lava stone used to build the walls and terraces make a nice contrast to the prickly plants and make for some lovely photo opportunities.  The cacti are interspersed with volcanic stone sculptures and there are Manrique touches throughout from quirky cactus-shaped door handles to the unusual signs for the toilets.

Most of the garden is explored by walking along sloping pathways and ramps but there are some steps which are quite steep so not suitable for everybody. You can climb up the curved wooden stairs inside the windmill to see its workings and there are wonderful views across the gardens from its base.

The Jardín de Cactus is open every day from 10:00 to 17:45, it costs €5 per adult and €2.50 per child (7-12 years). 

2. Jameos del Agua

Los Jameos del Agua is inside a lava tube, or volcanic tunnel, which formed when Volcano La Corona erupted three to four thousand years ago.  The idea of exploring a lava tube was  a definitely must-see for me. A  ‘Jameo’ is a volcanic cave with a collapsed roof and there are many of these in Lanzarote but del Agua is probably the best known.  It’s situated in the north of the island and is part of the Atlantida cave system.

The lake at Jameos del Agua

The lake at Jameos del Agua

Cesar Manrique had the idea of turning the ‘jameos’ into a visitor centre with restaurant, museum, tropical gardens, swimming pool and 600 seat auditorium all within the lava tube.  First I descended a spiral staircase down to an underground salt-water lagoon, Jameo Chico, (small Jameo) with crystal clear waters.  Here I spotted the tiny, glow in the dark, blind albino crabs (Munidopsis Polimorpha) which are the symbol of Jameo Agua and dot the floor of the lake like a starry sky.

A walk alongside the lake through the lava tube brings you to a garden of plants and a vivid turquoise pool which a solitary palm bowing over it.  It’s picture postcard perfect.  The 600 seater auditorium, added in 1987, is a venue for concerts and festivals and takes up the whole of an underground lava bubble.

Opening hours at Jameo Agua are every day from 10:00 to 18:30 and Saturday from 10:00 to 22:00.  The restaurant is open from 11:30 to 16:30 and the cafeteria from 10:00 to 18:30. It costs €9 for Adults and €4,50 per child (7-12 years).

3. Mirador del Rio

El Mirador del Río is an observation point sitting high up on the Risco de Famara, in the north of the Island.  It’s barely visible from the outside as it’s been integrated and blends completely into the volcanic lava cliff face – of course it’s another César Manrique creation.    At an altitude of 474 metres it’s home to one of Lanzarote´s most spectacular views – the Archipiélago Chinijo Nature Reserve, Graciosa Island, Famara Cliff and down the North West coast of the island.

Famara Cliff

Famara Cliff

Inside the building are two white cavernous rooms, the curved, smooth walls contrast with the dark porous texture of the volcanic lava outside.  Two huge picture windows open out onto the incredible view but I preferred to enjoy it from the outdoor terrace.

The island of La Graciosa is separated from Lanzarote by a narrow strip of sea called “El Río” (The River) and it’s this that gives its name to the observation point.  There are good views from the terrace of the Famara Cliff and the red-coloured “Salinas del Río” of “Guza”, the oldest salt mines of the Island.

Famara Cliff

View of Famara Cliff from the terrace

Across El Río to Graciosa Island

View cross El Río to Graciosa Island

Mirador del Rio is open everyday from 10.00 – 18.00 and admission is €4.70.

All three of the above attractions are near to each other on the north side of the island so worth planning to see on the same day.

4. La Geria and the Vineyards

Lanzarote has a wine-producing tradition that began as far back as the 15th century.  Heading towards the centre of the island on the road from San Bartolomé to Playa Blanca you’ll find La Geria, an area of vineyards and wineries in the shadow of a brooding volcano range.

La Geria wine region

Zocas in La Geria wine region

The vineyards in Lanzarote aren’t like any you’ll have ever seen before.  A massive eruption in 1730 lasting six years covered this part of the island in thick, black volcanic ash and put a stop to any cultivation except for the grapevine.  Each vine is grown in a round hollow and surrounded by a small crescent-shaped wall called a Zocos which protects it from the near-constant winds. There’s little rainfall in Lanzarote and the volcanic ash preserves soil moisture around the plant ensuring it has enough water to grow.

When I visited in February the vines weren’t sprouting yet but it was still worth visiting to see the surreal sight of row upon row of Zocos sitting in seas of black sand. There are plenty of bodegas to stop at for a tapas lunch, and of course the wine is excellent…

5. Timanfaya National Park

I’ve saved the best until last.  The volcanoes and lava fields of Timanfaya National Park were the most breath-taking of the sights I saw in Lanzarote. Covering an area of over 51 square km in the South West of the island these are the same volcanoes that blew their tops in 1730 covering La Geria wine area in black ash and small pebbles of lapilli.

Volcano at Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote

Volcano cone at Timanfaya

A group of over 100 volcanoes, Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains) and their massive rippling lava fields make up Timanfaya National Park and it’s the main focus of Lanzarote’s UNESCO biosphere reserve.

Intense heat rages under the earth here and I watched as a park ranger poured a bucket of water into a small hole and it burst back out seconds later in a plume of hot water and steam.

Geyser spout at Timanfaya

Geyser spout at Timanfaya

To protect the unique flora and fauna from trampling boots visitors are not allowed unescorted walking but if you’re really keen to explore you can take the Ruta de Tremesana, a three-hour walk, with a park ranger. It’s advisable to book as they get busy.   If you’re not feeling energetic then El Diablo buses leave from the nearby car park every 20 minutes for a tour around the volcano craters and lava field.  Pre-recorded commentaries in three languages impart interesting facts and the views are spectacular.

Timanfaya National Park

Fire Mountains in the Distance

A lava crust at Timanfaya

A lava crust at Timanfaya

The road ribbons through the lava field which, in places, looks as though it’s only just solidified from its cascading, bubbling path towards the coast.   The scenery we passed was incredible with steep slopes of grey and black around the gaping mouths of the cones. Rust, orange and maroon peaks contrasted with ochre sands while scrubby plants clung to the slopes of picon.  The driver navigated some pretty tight bends to get the best views into some of the peaks.  If you just see one thing in Lanzarote make sure it’s Timanfaya.

Open volcano crater at Timanfaya

Open volcano crater at Timanfaya

Lanzarote's Fire Mountains

Lanzarote’s Fire Mountains

Volcanoes at Timanfaya

Moonscape at Timanfaya

The park is open daily from 10.00 – 17.45.  The El Diablo buses cost €8 adults and €4 for children.  Worth every last cent.

Have you got any Lanzarote sightseeing tips?  Please share…

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Brighton Rocks…

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I grew up in Sussex just along the coast from Brighton or the City of Brighton and Hove as it’s now known. I love to go back for so many reasons – family and friends are there, of course, but Brighton is a diverse and fun city and it keeps calling me back.   I thought it about time I introduced you to the British seaside town that really rocks.  My Brighton…

What to do in Brighton?

A ten minute walk south from the train station down Queens Road takes you straight to the vibrant, holiday atmosphere of the promenade and Brighton’s infamous pebble beach.

The Brighton Wheel

The Brighton Wheel

This is the fun sea-sidey area of town; under the promenade stalls sell crafts, colourful prints and original pieces by local artists as well as buckets and spades and Brighton Rock. A carousel lends that funfair vibe and when the sun is shining the bars, cafés and restaurants fill the air with happy chatter.

Brighton Pier

Brighton Pier

Brighton Pier

Brighton Pier

Brighton Pier, although I’ll always think of it by it’s original name, The Palace Pier, has rides, slot-machines and fish and chips – do beware the seagulls – they’ll have your chips if you look away for so much as a second. Brighton’s Sealife Centre is right next to the pier.   It was a clear, crisp December morning when I took these shots – Brighton’s just as appealing in winter don’t you think?

There’s another pier in Brighton, The West Pier although, sadly, not much of it remains.

Remains of Brighton's West Pier

Remains of Brighton’s West Pier

On Brighton's West Pier

On Brighton’s West Pier

Brighton’s West Pier is where my grandparents took me for days out with my brother when we were young and I can remember rides on the bumper cars and speed boats launching from the end of the pier.  This is me with front tooth missing aged 5 on the West Pier – you can just see Brighton Pier in the background.

Take a walk along to the West Pier and you’ll see the Old Bandstand and the elegant squares and terraces of Regency Houses painted their uniform cream colour.  Carry on further for a picnic on Hove Lawns and a rainbow row of beach huts.

Brighton & Hove Beach Huts

Brighton & Hove Beach Huts

The Brighton Wheel

There’s a new feature on Brighton’s seafront now, The Brighton Wheel, where you can take a ride and take in panoramic views of the seafront.  I’m waiting for a low tide and perfect sunset… £8 per adult with 10% discount if booked on line.

The Brighton Wheel

The Brighton Wheel

If you’re looking for upmarket shopping head for The Lanes; a maze of narrow alleyways yielding a cornucopia of classy shops, restaurants and even the odd celeb. Jewellery and antique shops, designer boutiques and gift shops mean you may want to flex your wallet.

Brighton’s Royal Pavilion is a must see. Built for George IV as his seaside retreat, this is Brighton’s jewel in the crown and a visual Turkish delight.

Ice Skating at Brighton's Royal Pavilion

Ice Skating at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion

Domes, minarets and turrets are accentuated by clever night-time lighting – pink during Gay Pride and blues and purples for Christmas.  Inside gets even more exotic with a riot of Chinese opulence and silk paintings, the ultimate seaside pad.  At Christmas the Pavilion becomes the backdrop for an outdoor ice rink where you can don your earmuffs and skate away to Christmas classics while the spicy aroma of mulled wine fills the air.

Brighton Pavilion

Brighton Pavilion

Ready for lunch?  Try Bill’s in North Road for fresh, seasonal, smile-on-your-face food – a deli come café, come bistro. A friendly vibe with fab, fresh food.  Brighton was the second Bill’s, after Lewes, and is now a nationwide chain with over 30 stores.  The Brighton and Lewes cafes are the best though!

If your shopping tastes are eclectic then the nearby North Laine (not North Lanes!) is bohemian heaven; second-hand furniture, ornaments, vintage clothes, vinyl and an assortment of kitsch collectables can be foraged for and there’s a Saturday table-top street market too. The bars and cafés are laid-back, hip and arty with excellent people watching potential. For entertainment it’s worth checking out The Komedia for an evening show, its café-style live entertainment consists of music, cabaret and its Krater Comedy Club hosts live laughs every weekend.

Time for a treat and the best gelato in town without doubt  (I’ve tested them all) is in the North Laine just around the corner from the Theatre Royal.  Gelato Gusto makes fresh gelato every day in the most amazing flavours – I’m still waiting to try the chilli chocolate and mint!  Sorbetto, Belgian Waffles and other mouth-watering deserts will tease your taste buds and in winter the hot chocolate’s a dream – there’s seating inside.

Gelato Gusto

Gelato Gusto

Brighton has more than it’s fair share of street art – it’s big, bold and colourful and you’ll find street graffiti all around the North Laine area and where you’re least expecting it.

So now you know what to see there you’ll need to know how to get to Brighton…

Just half an hour’s drive from Gatwick Airport and just over an hour by train from London Victoria means that Brighton is easy to get to.  Step out of Brighton Station and you can see the sparkling sea. Breathe deep and smell that fresh, salty sea air.  What are you waiting for?

This post is part of the Hertz Big Travel List and this cool watercolour has been painted especially for this post by Ella Masters.  I love it!

Brighton watercolour by Emma Masters

Brighton by Emma Masters

Montenegro – A Photo Tour of Budva

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The second part of our ‘Grand Montenegro Tour‘ excursion took us to Budva. With a backdrop of dramatic mountains, colourful harbour and a fortified Stari Grad (old town) it’s the prettiest of tiny towns and one of the most popular on Montenegro’s coast.

Budva was one of the last Venetian outposts and there are many clues to the 400 years of Venetian rule in the 15th century within the walls of the Medieval fortress encircling the town.  In contrast, the narrow alleyways and squares are filled with modern boutiques, bars and restaurants.  So, what to see in Budva?  Let me show you in photos…

Dancing Girl Statue, Budva

Dancing Girl Statue, Budva

The old town of Budva lies on a little island that was once linked to the mainland by a sandbar which over time turned into a peninsula.  Head out towards Mogren Beach for panoramic views of the town.

There are three churches in Budva and all very different.  (clockwise) The Church of Saint Sava is a tiny single nave church said to have been built during the 14th century. Church of Saint John the Baptist was Seat of the Budva bishopric until 1828.  In 1867 the belfry was added to the north side. Church of Holy Trinity is a single nave construction with a dome built in 1804 and modelled on one of two churches of the Podostrog monastery 2k from Budva.

The Stari Grad or Old Town is made up of narrow streets, alleys and small squares.

The old town was heavily fortified and today is still entered from one of five gates in the towering walls. Evidence of different Mediterranean cultures that have influenced the town can be spied in the walls .

Budva Fortifications

Budva Fortifications

Budva Harbour

Budva Harbour

Dancing Girl Statue Budva

Dancing Girl Statue Budva

Budva, Montenegro

Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises UK for hosting our cruise. As always views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise are entirely my own.

Venice from the Water

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Gondolas in front of Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, VeniceWe’re shuffling slowly along the narrow wooden boardwalk and the water below us is bubbling up through gaps in the thick stone slabs gradually immersing them. The water’s creating small swells and eddies; the gondolas in their blue canvas coverings jostle against the choppy tide as it slaps over the quayside. We’re in Venice, it’s the first Acqua Alta of the season and the water is rising.

Acqua Alta in Venice

Acqua Alta in Venice

What is Acqua Alta?

The phenomenon is caused by a combination of astronomical tides, the scirocco wind and Adriatic tidal seiche and it makes for some very different views of the city turning St Mark’s Square into a massive paddling pool.  Tourists are sloshing about in brightly coloured plastic disposable boots and the passerelle (temporary platforms) are placed in the deepest areas of flooding so that people can get around without getting wet. This was my first visit to Venice and the first Acqua Alta of the year hit within minutes of us stepping off the Alilaguna from the airport forcing us to navigate crowds, water, the passerelle and our luggage.  I hadn’t thought to pack my wellies but we were lucky – this Acqua Alta was only 105cm – in the past it’s risen to over 155cm!

Acqua Alata, Venice

Acqua Alata, Venice

We check-in to our hotel, The Locanda Antica, on a good day just a few minutes walk from St Mark’s Square, and head out again for our meeting place under the column with the winged lion in the Piazzetta San Marco (little Piazza).  The Lion of St Mark is the symbol of Venice and countless images of its form watch over the city.

Winged Lion Venice

Winged Lion Venice

We’re not getting anywhere quickly, the passerelles are narrow and then we find ourselves on the wrong platform heading into The Basilica but eventually make it to the column in time where we meet Katrina, our guide, looking glamorous in her black wellies worn with typical Italian flare.  We’re taking a boat excursion – what better way to see Venice than from the water, close-up and personal and today probably the driest way too!  We head out from the pier near to St Mark’s Square and begin motoring towards the Grand Canal, the main thoroughfare which ribbons through Venice.

Grand Canal, Venice

The Grand Canal, Venice

Top Sights on Venice’s Grand Canal

The first monument we pass is The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute known to locals as ‘Salute’ and built in the 17th century to give thanks for the end of a plague which killed over a third of the city’s population. It’s home to many Titian works and Tintoretto’s ‘Marriage at Cana’ and is one of the city’s most iconic sights – you’ll recognise it even if you’ve not visited Venice.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Venice

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Statues of Atlas, on the roof of Dogana da Mar – the old customs house, were built to represent the supremacy of Venice.  On the golden ball stands Giuseppe Benoni’s ‘Fortune’ a 17th-century statue which turns in the wind – a spectacular weather vane to guide sailors and remind them also that they’re in the hands of fate.

Domed Basilicas, churches, towers and ornate palazzi line the canal and we’re surrounded by vaporetti and water taxis. Gondolas glide by powered by svelte gondoliers wearing their signature stripes.  It feels as if I’m part of a modern-day Canaletto painting.

Grand Canal Venice

Grand Canal Venice

The Rialto Bridge

There are four bridges crossing the Grand Canal and after passing under The Academia Bridge we see The Rialto Bridge and it’s beautiful.  For almost 300 years Ponte di Rialto was the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot.  The structure standing today replaces a series of wooden bridges that have spanned the canal since 1180 – the last wooden bridge collapsed due the weight of spectators watching a boat parade for the wedding of the Marquis Ferrara and replaced by a wooden drawbridge.   When this came to the end of its life a stone bridge was proposed and in 1591 the bridge as we know it was completed.

Rialto Bridge, Venice

Rialto Bridge, Venice

The Rialto Bridge peaks upwards to allow the galley ships which used to use the river to pass beneath and is made up of one central covered walkway and one more to each side.  We found the bridge packed with tourists pretty much all the time but the best way to appreciate its full beauty is, of course, from the canal and we’re right in the middle of all the action.

Ca d’Oro

The beautiful and ornate Ca d’Oro (House of Gold) is in Venetian floral Gothic style and is one of the prettiest and most photographed palazzos on the Canal.  Palazzo or wedding cake?  Either way today the water was lapping at the front door.

Ca d’Oro, Venice

Ca d’Oro, Venice

The brightly painted wooden paline are to secure boats and mark a safe path through the canal – three poles tied together are called Bricole.  Centuries ago when only a few main families were prominent in Venice each would have their paline painted in the family colours, nowadays there’s not enough colours to go round.

Grand Canal Venice

Grand Canal Venice

We turn off the Grand Canal into The Cannaregio district, the world’s first ever Ghetto and home to the Venetian Jewish community who were forced to live there from 1516 until the 1800s.  The canals are much narrower here and the place has a more intimate feel to it.  The gates of the ghetto were locked each night, guarded by Christians paid for by the Jewish community for their own protection, and opened again in the morning.

Madonna dell’Orto

Tintoretto created many paintings for Madonna dell’Orto (Our Lady of the Orchard) church as he lived close by.  This was his local place of worship and he, his wife and their two children are all buried there.

Madonna dell’Orto, Venice

Madonna dell’Orto, Venice

We pass by the church and head into wider water, the Venetian Lagoon and the cemetery island of San Michele appears in the distance as we make our way back towards St Mark’s Square.  But we’re not finished yet.  Next stop is the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, over the water from St. Mark’s Square and the beautiful backdrop to the gondolas at St Marks Pier.

Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore

We take a look inside the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore, an island church and home to paintings by Tintoretto (The Last Supper), exquisitely carved choir stalls  and  the worlds largest Swarovski lens.  The lens sits beneath the central cupola and is to encourage visitors to appreciate the church’s architecture from a different perspective.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute Interior

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute Interior

We head to the lift for a ride to the top of the bell tower, although there are stairs if you’re keen to burn off some of that pasta.  The views over the island of Venice, the Doge’s Palace and St Mark’s Square from the campanile are outstanding.  If you’re after a top Venice-vista then this is a must-do – it’s not busy and it’s only a short vaporetto ride away.

View of Venice from Basiliica of San Giorgio Maggiore

View of Venice from Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore

It’s always good to end on a high and this was the last stop on our boat tour and a high in more ways than one with both the height of the tower itself and the stunning birds-eye views. We’d seen Venice from the water and from high up in a tour that took two hours, Katrina had pointed out all the best sights and shared fascinating facts – there were only six of us on the tour so plenty of opportunities to ask questions.  We also had a personal headset so were able to hear every word loud and clear.

 Thanks to  Walks of Italy  who kindly provided our VIP Boat excursion ‘Venice from the Water’.  As always views and opinions – good, bad or otherwise – are entirely my own.

Grand Canal Venice

Grand Canal Venice

Hagia Sophia – The Essence of Istanbul

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Aya Sofya, Hagia Sophia or, in English, the Church of the Divine Wisdom, is a mighty structure defining the heart and soul of Istanbul, melding the characteristics of a city that crosses time, continent and culture.  If you only have time to visit one sight in Istanbul this is it.

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

Church, Mosque and Museum

Originally built by Byzantine Emperor Constantius I as a Greek Orthodox Church, Hagia Sophia had a hard life and survived an earthquake, fire and revolt over a period of 916 years before being converted to Aya Sofia Mosque in 1453.  Four minarets were added and the vast, domed building remained a mosque until 1935.  At this time Ataturk proclaimed that it should become a museum where symbols of both religions would be housed side by side to pacify both faiths.

Hagia Sophia Dome

Hagia Sofia Dome

Head upstairs, or rather up wooden ramps, for a spectacular view of the main atrium and nave from the balcony above the main entrance.  Bathed in diffused golden light the people gathered below gauge the scale of the building.  The central dome, reaches 55.6 m above the museum floor and is supported by four pendentives adorned with winged cherubs.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sofia Mosaics

Ancient frescos and gilded mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Christ, restored after the mosque became a museum, are displayed under the magnificent dome alongside 19th century leather medallions gilded with the names of God (Allah) and Mohammed in Arabic lettering.  More mosaics, uncovered after the Hagia Sophia became a museum, line the upstairs gallery and give an idea of the grandeur of the original decoration inside the Church.

This is a majestic, beautiful building that inspires a sense of awe and one where I felt compelled to stay awhile, even after having seen all there was to see, just to soak up a sense of time and place and the essence of Istanbul.

The Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern are close by but save the Hagia Sophia til last.

Today any form of worship (mosque or church) is strictly prohibited – as such there is no strict dress code.

 Where: Aya Sofya Meydanı 1 Sultanahmet

When: 9am-6pm Tue-Sun mid-Apr–Sep, to 4pm Oct–mid-Apr.

Cost:  Adults TL – under 12s free

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

Pictures from Pamukkale

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Pamukkale means ‘Cotton Castle’ in Turkish and perfectly describes the white terraces, known as travertines, which tread their way down the hillside. Each pool is created from startling white limestone deposits and are filled with water from 17 of the hot water springs in the area.

The travertines, Pamukkale

The terraces are like hundreds of mini infinity pools that hug the hillside leading down to the town below.  The shallow water reflects the cobalt blue skies above.

The travertines, Pamukkale

The travertines, Pamukkale

People have bathed in the pools for hundreds of years and at one time hotels at the top of the travertines used the water from the pools. This took a serious toll on the site which was in danger of being damaged beyond repair. The hotels have since been demolished, visitors are no longer allowed to wear shoes in the pools and the water is now chanelled in rotation as there is not enough to fill the whole site at any one time. The travertines are now slowly recovering.

The travertines, Pamukkale

We spent a couple of hours exploring the remains of Hieropolis, the ancient town built at the top of Pamukkale, before paddling in the travertines and people watching as whistles were blasted at offenders not removing their shoes before walking on the limestone – yes some tourists still do this – but not these women…

Travertines, Pamukkale

Up close the limestone was a miniature version of the travertines themselves and just a little rough to walk on – by the time we got to the bottom my feet felt really soft after the buffing they’d had.

The travertines, Pamukkale

As the sun slowly started to sink the light reflected off the limestone giving it a soft golden glow and the moon appeared in the sky above.

The travertines, Pamukkale

The travertines, Pamukkale

Travertines, Pamukkale

Travertines, Pamukkale

DSC_0453-001

Sunset at Pamukkale

Pamukkale was the second stop on our mini-tour of Turkey. From Goreme we travelled eight hours on the night bus to Dinizli and then by Dolmus to Pamukkale itself arriving in the town at dawn.

Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia

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Hot Air Balloons, Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot Air Balloons, Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia, in central Turkey. is known for its valleys and unique rock formations, shaped centuries ago by erupting volcanoes.  Rose Valley with its pink hued rocks which deepen as the sun descends, Pigeon Valley, Ihlara Valley and Goreme Valley home to the Open Air Museum.  The beauty of the valleys can be appreciated in two ways, either by pulling on a sturdy pair of boots and hiking through them or by drifting, gently above them at sunrise during a balloon flight.  Which would you choose?

Not many things will get me up at 5am – the prospect of a stunning sunrise, possibly.  Flying off to a new destination, always.  But on our second day in Goreme, when the alarm started screeching, I was out of bed like a rocket – I knew today would be one of the highlights of our Turkey trip – though it was a pity not to have had more time in our Fairy Chimney.

After a quick coffee, pastries, fruit and signing of forms at the Butterfly Balloon meeting point 16 of us set off in a minibus to a high plateau overlooking Goreme.

Float like a Butterfly...

Float like a Butterfly…

We arrived at the take-off area to the sight of dozens of hot air balloons, in various stages of inflation, and watched mesmerised as they lifted gently into the air and floated into the rising dawn.

Dwarfed by these giants, excitement growing by the second, we watched balloon after balloon gently tilt, lift from the ground and with a whoosh of ignited gas drift into the landscape.

Up, up and away...

Up, up and away…

Our balloon was one of the last to lift and the sight ahead of dozens of balloons in different colours, sizes and varying heights as they drifted into the pink dawn was spectacular.

As the ground sunk away we floated low, skimming the trees in the valley, as we rose higher we enjoyed a birds-eye view of the landscape which gave us a good orientation of the area – useful for hiking the next day.

Ballooning over Cappadocia

Kaan, our pilot, was skilled to within an inch of clipping the tree tops with the guy ropes trailing from the balloon above us.    We soared higher, the roar of flame cutting through the quiet.  There was no breeze as we were travelling at the same speed as the wind; all was calm, peaceful and serene.   Fairy chimneys loomed and passed by and the panorama below gave us plenty to muse over.

The rock formations close-up

The rock formations close-up

I could have stayed drifting forever and walked on air for the rest of the day – but I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Views over the valleys of Cappadocia

Views over the valleys of Cappadocia

Rock Formations

Rock Formations

Ballooning (4)

Below the Basket

Below the Basket

The winds have welcomed you with softness,
The sun has greeted you with warm hands,
You have flown so high and so well,
That God has joined you in laughter,
And set you back gently into
The loving arms of Mother Earth.

— Anon, ‘The Balloonists Prayer,’

Floating over Fairy Chimneys

Floating over Fairy Chimneys

Bologna – La Grassa La Gusto

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Mortadella and CanteloupeOf the three epithets bestowed upon Bologna;  La Dotta – The Learned, La Rossa – The Red and La Grassa – The Fat, it was the latter, fatter moniker that caused me concern. Since I have little willpower where food is concerned I knew I would return from Italy a good few pounds heavier (three if you must know) having gorged myself on pasta, succulent cured meats, gelato and yet more gelato.  Let me share the foodie delights that Bologna, food capital of Italy, brought to the table. Continue reading

Hoi An – a Culinary Quest

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Being a bit of a foodie meant that a big part of our trip to Vietnam was for the cuisine.  Fresh, zingy flavours bursting onto the taste-buds combined with mouth-watering herbs and the warmth of South East Asian spices was such a lure. The Red Bridge Cooking School kept cropping up during our research so we booked ourselves on a half-day cooking class hoping to glean tips to help us recreate those tantalising flavours when we returned home. We were so glad we did – it was a mouth-watering highlight of our week in Hoi An. Continue reading

Recipe for Blackberry Vodka

You’ll find lots of posts on The Travel Bunny taunting and tempting you with accounts of the luscious food and drink I’ve gorged in places like Turkey, Iceland or Vietnam. I love sampling cuisines from around the world but sometimes the best tastes are right under your nose, well just outside the back gate. There’s a rambling field at the end of our garden which is teeming with wildlife and it’s covered in a thick tangle of brambles. This year they’re heavy with plump, juicy blackberries aching to be plucked and made into something glorious.
Blackberries on the Bush

Lush, plump blackberries

What to make with Blackberries?

Yesterday I pulled on my Wellies (there are Adders in that field), had a good old forage and picked myself a bucketful of blackberries. I’ve put some in the freezer to add a touch of berry heaven to those warming winter apple crumbles.  I have jars of dark, gleaming bramble jelly stock-piled from last year so don’t need to make more jam.  So, what to do with yesterday’s harvest?  Ha! it’s been made into a big bottle of of swirling, ruby-coloured gorgeousness.  Blackberry Vodka.  There’s nothing better than the rosy glow a couple of shots of blackberry vodka impart on a crisp winter’s evening and the dark ruby colour makes it a perfect Christmassy tipple.  If you make this now it’ll be ready by Christmas – the blackberry season still has a few weeks to run.

Here’s my recipe for a delicious Blackberry Vodka.

Blackberry Vodka

Ingredients for Blackberry Vodka

500 ml of Vodka – don’t crack open the Grey Goose, a cheap supermarket brand will do nicely.

A bottle of Vodka

500g of freshly-picked blackberries. Rinse thoroughly to remove any bugs.

A bowl of Blackberries

Dark, Plump Blackberries

 

100g of caster sugar

2 Vanilla Pods

My secret ingredient! Split the pods and scrape the seeds out – add these and just one of the pod casings into the Blackberry Vodka.  The second pod I add to a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar which is lovely for baking.

Sugar and Vanilla Pods

Sugar and Vanilla Pods

 

I doubled the ingredients because I had so many blackberries and a whopping litre bottle of Vodka.  Made perfect sense…!

How to make Blackberry Vodka

Take a sterilised, airtight Kilner Jar or wide-necked bottle large enough to hold all your ingredients.  Add the blackberries, sugar, vanilla pod and seeds and pour in the Vodka.   Yes, it’s that easy!

Making Blackberry Vodka

Adding the Vodka…

Give the jar a good shake to help dissolve the sugar and place in a cool, dark place. Swirl the jar every day for the first week and then occasionally until none of the sugar is visible at the bottom of the jar.  Forget about it for 3 months…

Blackberry Vodka in a Kilner Jar

Job done!

After 3 months strain the liquid.  Rinse a muslin cloth and wring it out tightly to stop any of the precious liquid soaking into it.  Place the muslin over a sieve and strain the vodka through it into a wide jug. It’s important to remove the blackberries at this point otherwise the woody centre of the berry gives the Vodka a bitter taste.  Funnel the liquid into the bottle of your choice – I save any unusual bottles to make it look even more special!  You can drink now or, if you have cast-iron willpower, leave the warm blackberry flavours to infuse even more.  Enjoy!

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Italian Coffee Culture

Caffè Marocchino

Caffè Marocchino

Coffee culture is an essential part of Italian life, akin to an art-form and nigh on a religion. There’s a myriad of coffees on the menu from Espresso to Caffé Shakerato – then there’s the two, three or four different ways they’re served. Coffee is a serious past-time in Italy and comes with its own etiquettes and customs. Let’s get to grips with the ground rules – just so we don’t commit any Italian coffee faux pas.

Where to drink your caffé

In Italy a bar is not a bar, at least not like the bars we’re familiar with in the UK – it’s actually a café (caffé) and sells snacks, pastries and alcohol but it mainly sells coffee. Fast coffee. Coffee on the go.

Un Caffé (Espresso / Caffé Normale / Short Black)

Caffe Espresso

Caffe Espresso

Italians drink lots of coffee – they drink it small and they drink it fast. A pick-me-up and a quick caffeine kick.   ‘Caffe’ is what we’d call an Espresso – it’s served, not too hot, in a petite porceleine cup and saucer – thick, dark and without milk. It’s ordered at the till and downed, like you’d slam down a shot, whilst standing at the counter (al banca).  This all takes less than five minutes at a cost of under €1.

In Italy it’s not usual to sit at a table (al tavolo) and linger over un caffé unless you’re in a tourist area where it’s accepted. However, if you want to take your time and indulge in a bit of people watching (like I do!) whilst sipping your Macchiato you’ll be charged accordingly – around €6.

When to drink your Cappuccino

You’ll get a few odd looks from the locals if you order a Cappuccino or milky coffee post 11 a.m. or after a meal. A milky drink on a full stomach is most definitely frowned upon. So if you must order a Cappuccino post dinner at least have the decency to look embarrassed!

Now that you have the low down on some of Italy’s coffee customs it’s time to inspire you with some Italian coffee creations.  Guaranteed to perk up your day…

Un Caffé – An Espresso

You can take it short (Ristretto) or long (Lungo) depending whether you like your Espresso with more or less hot water – it’s not as diluted as an Americano and more authentic. If you need a proper caffeine hit go for a Caffé Doppio (Corsivo) which is simply a double shot espresso.

Espress Caffe wth glass of water

Espress Caffe

Caffé Americano

This is a long black coffee, espresso topped up with hot water, and my choice for an after dinner coffee – a neat espresso would keep me awake – the same amount of caffeine, I know, but it’s all in the mind!

Caffé Freddo or Cappuccino freddo

This is iced black coffee that has usually already been mixed with sugar and chilled in a bottle in the fridge. If you don’t want it sugared ask for ‘non zuccherato‘.  It’s served in a glass (al vetro).

Caffé Macchiato

If you don’t fancy a milky coffee but can’t do without a dash of milk then a Macchiato might be your answer. An espresso stained with a tiny froth of milk and served in a demitasse cup.

Caffe Espresso with milk

Caffe Espresso with milk

Caffé Shakerato

The Shakerato is a shot of espresso, lightly sweetened and shaken with ice in a cocktail shaker.  A delicious cloud of foamy froth tops off the glass and a vanilla liqueur is sometimes added.  The perfect pick-me-up for a hot summer’s day.

Caffe Shakerato

Caffe Shakerato – shaken and not stirred

Caffè Estivo

Translates as summer coffee. Basically an espresso topped with con panna (cream) and buckets of foam.  Looks pretty but there’s a lot of foam (shiumato) to get through before you hit the espresso.

Caffe Estivo

Caffe Estivo

Caffé Corretto

I love the way the name implies that your Espresso is faulty until it has been ‘corrected’ with a sneaky dash of grappa, brandy or liqueur.  I find Tia Maria works well – maybe I should research further on this one.

Caffè Ginseng

An espresso with added ginseng extract.  A definite pick-me-up…

Caffé Ginseng

Caffé Ginseng

Cappuccino

We all love a Cappuccino – espresso with steamed, frothy milk added so that there is a clean layer of milk foam on top. Served in a larger cup (tazza grande). Coffee art adds to the look with intricate patterns and designs.  Add chocolate shavings and you’ve got Cappuccino con Cioccolato.  Don’t forget though – not after dinner…

Cappuccino Heart

Cappuccino Heart

Latte

If you order a latte in Italy you’ll get a glass of milk and probably an odd look.  In Italian latte means ‘milk’.

Caffè Marocchino – sometimes called Espressino or Mocacchino

Served in a glass demitasse – so you can see all those layers of gorgeousness. The inside of the glass is sprinkled with cacao (chocolate powder) followed by a shot of espresso and topped with a generous dollop of milk foam.  If there’s not enough cacao a further sprinkling tops off this little gem of a coffee. Wonderful.

Caffè Marocchino

Caffè Marocchino

I hope I’ve provided a little enlightenment on Italian coffee culture and whetted your appetite with a little coffee inspiration.  What’s your favourite coffee tipple?  Come on spill the beans…

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Aperol Spritz – Sunshine in a Glass!

Aperol SpritzA toast on the blog this week. Say hello to Aperol Spritz a cheeky little Italian apéritif.   I first noticed it in Venice as the sun started to dip – everywhere I looked people were sipping fluorescent-orange cocktails – in the piazzas and canal-side cafés, in bars, terraces and trattorias.

Aperol Spritz

Aperol Spritz

Of course I had to try this quirky concoction and it tasted so different from anything I’d ever tasted before – I’d been Spritzed!  Now whenever I’m in Italy I have to treat myself to at least one glass and take a moment while I enjoy a sunset and the gentle bitterness of this unique tipple.   I’ve quaffed a spritz in Portofino, Positano and Catania to name a few places and I’ll be sure to have a glass or two when I’m in Venice in September.  Yup, the future’s orange!

The Spritz is a legacy from Austria which is why it was originally more popular in northern Italy.  It’s sold in bars and cafés all over the country today and in Spain and the UK too. In fact you can buy Aperol in one of the UK’s leading supermarkets!

Aperol Spritz

Aperol Spritz – Sunshine in a Glass

Aperol Spritz isn’t too alcoholic (11% ABV) so it’s perfect for a pre-dinner drink. It’s made with infusions of sweet and bitter oranges, rhubarb, gentian, herbs and roots – the recipe is a closely guarded secret so I can’t divulge any further.   Campari is similar but not as sweet and with a higher alcohol content.

What does Aperol Spritz taste like?

Decidedly delicious; very slightly bitter with a sweet hint of orange and a light tang of herbs. The Prosecco gives it sparkle and the soda water refreshes. It’s Italy’s answer to Pimms. Summer in a glass.

A Tumbler full of Aperol Spritz

What ingredients make a Spritz?

3 parts Prosecco (75ml)

2 parts of your chosen aperitivo (50ml)

1 part soda water (25ml)

How to Make a Spritz

Start by adding the ice to a large white wine glass or tumbler then pour in the Prosecco and Aperol (or whatever bitter you’re using e.g. Campari). Squirt in the soda water, give it a quick stir, adorn with a slice of fresh orange and you’re ready to spritz.

For greatest effect add a glowing sunset, roof terrace or patio garden. Ideally drink in a Venice bar with a great view of the Grand Canal.

Have you Spritzed in Italy?  What did you think?

 Here’s to the weekend, Saluté!

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Aperol Spritz

Aperol Spritz – best sipped with sunshine

Pisa – Much More than a Leaning Tower

The River Arno, Pisa

Pisa’s River Arno at Sunset

If you plan to see The Leaning Tower of Pisa, before flying out from Italy’s Galilei Airport or before taking the train to Florence from Pisa Centrale Station I’d recommend you don’t hop straight on a bus.  There’s much more to Pisa than the campanile so take time to wander through the city’s streets, people watch in a piazza and take in the atmosphere – and a gelato – along the River Arno.  You’ll see all this and more on the 1.5 km walk from The Leaning Tower back to the main Centrale Station.

How to get from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to Pisa Centrale Train Station

There are two walking routes and I’m going to take you on the longer one which is easier on the eye and only takes around half an hour depending on how long you linger.

From The Leaning Tower point yourself in the direction of it’s lean and head down Via Santa Maria.  There are some restaurants and trattorias down here if you want to eat before leaving and plenty more before you arrive at the station.

Via Santa Maria, Pisa

Via Santa Maria, Pisa

I have a thing about old doors and windows and couldn’t resist stopping to take a picture of this lovely old door on Via Santa Maria.  I wonder what lies behind number 108?

Old Door in Pisa

Old Door in Pisa

 

Piazza dei Cavalieri

Continue down Via Santa Maria passing Grand Hotel Duomo on your left; after this take the fourth left onto Via dei Mille, walk to the end and cross over the road onto Via Corsica.  Follow this road until you arrive at the grand Piazza dei Cavalieri or Knights’ Square.  This grand square was the political centre in medieval Pisa, where the citizens would meet to protest or celebrate.  There are statues dotted around and although some of the buildings are currently being restored they’re lovely to look at.

Palazzo della Carovana

Palazzo della Carovana

 

Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, Pisa

Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, Pisa

 

Walk straight through The Knight’s Square into Via Ulisse Dini where the street narrows and the scenery changes.  This street connects Piazza dei Cavalieri with Borgo Stretto and in Etruscan times was a stream.

Looking down Via Ulisse Dini

Rooftops in Via Ulisse Dini

Piazza St Felice, Pisa

Pizzeria in Piazza St Felice, Pisa

 

Medievel Columns in Via Ulisse Dini, Pisa

Medievel Columns in Via Ulisse Dini, Pisa

A small building in Via Ulisse Dini displays the medieval columns of the church of SS Felice e Regolo.  During restoration in the 20th century the columns and stonework of the original medieval building were revealed.  The old stonework really stands out against its backdrop of a modern bank.  At the end of Via Ulisse Dini you’ll come to a T junction.  Turn right and head down Borgo Stretto.

Chiesa di San Michele in Borg

This is a dark, narrow street but after a minute or two you’ll come across the contrasting brightness of the marble façade of Chiesa di San Michele in Borg, a big wedding cake of a of a building.

Chiesa di San Michele in Borgo

Chiesa di San Michele in Borgo

 

Ponte di Mezzo

Keep walking until you come to Piazza Garibaldi  right next to  the Ponte di Mezzo which crosses The River Arno.

Ponte di Mezzo, River Arno, Pisa

Ponte di Mezzo, Pisa

De’ Coltelli gelato shop

Here you have a choice – you can carry on walking over this bridge towards the station or you can take a small detour.  If you turn right from Piazza Garibaldi and walk along the banks of the Arno for about a minute you’ll come to a beautifully ornate red brick building.  But we’re not interested in that.  We’re interested in De’ Coltelli gelato shop that’s next door to it.   I had my first pistachio gelato here – one of the best gelatos I’ve ever tasted – must be due to the organic, seasonal ingredients this gelato artisan uses.  It’s worth walking to the station just for this!

Pistachio Gelato from De' Coltelli , Pisa

Pistachio Gelato from De’ Coltelli

 

 

I paused on the Ponti di Mezzo to to enjoy my gelato and the sunset which turned the River Arno gold and bathed the beautiful stately homes along its banks in soft sunset hues.

The River Arno, Pisa at Sunset

The River Arno, Pisa at Sunset

 

Once across the bridge carry on down Corso Italia which takes you down a pedestrianized shopping street – perfect for any last-minute retail therapy.

Pisa Mover bus ticket

This street leads straight down to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.  Pisa Centrale Station is right opposite.   If you’re heading for the airport drop into the station magazine kiosk in the foyer to buy your Pisa Mover bus ticket  (€1.10) which you’ll need before you get on the bus.  Take the right-hand subway beneath the rails and exit the  station.  Straight ahead at the end of the path is the bus stop for the Pisa Mover bus service that’ll take you on the 7 minute ride to the Airport.  The bus departs every 10 minutes and stops in front of the departure terminal check-in A.

Pisa Centrale is Pisa’s main station and is where you’d take the train to many of the bigger cities in the region.  Florence is just an hour by fast train at just €7.90 single.

How to get from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to Pisa Centrale Train Station

I’ve made a little map so you can see the exact route.

Map Leaning Tower to Pisa Centrale Station

Have you been to Pisa and did you take a look around the city or did you just visit the Tower?  Do share any other places worth seeing or any tips you might have for visiting the city.

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