The Macedonia travel itinerary below is kindly provided by Experience Balkan, an incoming tour operator for the Balkans and especially for the Republic of Macedonia. See their contacts at the bottom of the page, in case you are planning your Balkan holiday 🙂
Republic of Macedonia is a beautiful country settled on the central part of the Balkan Peninsula. It is still an unknown tourist destination, but it has lots of things to offer to its’ tourists. It is a small multi-colored piece of land, which attracts visitors with its natural beauty and tradition and these insignia, which leave a mark of recognition and singularity, are the reason why you should visit our country. The natural resources of Macedonia are interesting for adventurers and visitors who want to discover different countries. The beautiful lakes and the mineral baths are appealing for vacation and enjoyment. The mountains, decorated with different kinds of trees, but also with their mysterious caves, springs and picturesque waterfalls are a pleasure for everyone who wants to get away in the beauty of each season. Hundreds of churches and monasteries scattered around the country speak about the tradition forged in the stones and it is a real challenge to visit them all. The archeological excavations call all the passionate researchers of the past to tell their story covered with dust and soil. And about the gourmands, those who live to eat, the wealth of flavors is going to rapture them and fill them with longing for a new revival of that magic.
Through the centuries, Macedonia was a crossroad of many civilizations, and each one of them left traces of their existence. With more than 4000 archaeological localities, Macedonia is the land of archaeologists. Many invaluable artifacts and ancient cites are found all over the country. Found artifacts and their stories can be seen in the museums throughout Macedonia. The central museum, where you can see most of the artifacts is the Archaeological museum, in the capital Skopje. Built in 2014, the Archaeological museum has more than 6000 exhibits on three flоors.
The main tourist attraction in Macedonia is the city of Ohrid and Ohrid Lake. Ohrid Lake is one of the oldest and one of the deepest lakes in Europe, it is more than 4 million years old and 286 m deep. Also, Ohrid Lake is one of the lakes which has one of the clearest waters in the world. In these millions of years, more than 200 endemic species have developed inside the lake. The city of Ohrid is situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid. It has a rich cultural and historical heritage and is known as the Jerusalem on the Balkans because it once had 365 churches and was for a long time the center of Ohrid archbishopric. Ohrid is the city which was the center of Slavic literacy as well. When visiting Ohrid, you will see monuments, early Christian basilicas, medieval churches, fortresses and antique theaters, and they all provide magnificent views of the Ohrid Lake. Because of these historical and natural values, Ohrid and Ohrid Lake are part of the UNESCO cultural heritage.
The Republic of Macedonia has a very rich wine tradition. Today,the Republic of Macedonia has 24.000 vineyards, all of which produce high-quality grapes. The Macedonian wine is of great quality and wine production is a large part of Macedonian export. Production of red wine dominates with around 80% of the total. Tourists can visit Macedonians wineries, where they may taste domestic wines and enjoy the beautiful landscapes. One of the biggest wineries are Tikvesh winery, Popovakula winery,Stobi winery, etc. The exclusive Macedonian wine contains a large number of ingredients that are found only in this country. The suitable climate of the country provides excellent growth conditions for a variety of vegetables, herbs and fruits. The most popular vegetables here are tomatoes and peppers, and the most famous delicacy in Macedonia is made from mixed peppers and is called “ajvar”. Macedonian cuisine is also known for the variety of dairy products and pork meat. If you visit Macedonia, you will no doubt enjoy its’ magnificent food and probably gain some weight!
Kokino observatory is one of the oldest and biggest observatories in the world. It is located in the Staro Nagorichane municipality, around 30km from the city of Kumanovo. Situated between 1010 m and 1030 m altitude above the sea level, it is a remarkable archaeological site dating from the early Bronze Age. Recently, in 2009, an Iron Age settlement was also found in the area, pointing to the site being frequented even further back in antiquity. The observatory and the sacred site were first discovered in 2001 and ranked as the world’s fourth most important ancient observatory by NASA, listed together with Stonehenge in England, Angkor Watt in Cambodia and Abu Simbel in Egypt.
Skopje is the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, and has a population of around one million. Before 2014, Skopje was not such an appealing tourist attraction. However, in 2014, with the implementation of the project “Skopje 2014”, the city got a completely new look; i.e. lots of monuments and baroque buildings were built at the time and now, Skopje is very attractive for tourists from around the world. Apart from these new buildings, you can visit the Old Turkish Bazaar in Skopje, one of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans built in the 12thcentury.
Skopje is also known as the birthplace of Mother Teresa. In the center of the city, you have the chance to visit the memorial house of Mother Teresa and learn more about her life.
Macedonia is a mountainous country, i.e. around 80% of its territory is covered with mountains with dense forests, high peaks and beautiful landscapes. It is a landlocked country, with 3 major natural lakes, plenty of rivers, canyons and caves. One of the most beautiful canyons in Europe – Canyon Matka, is located in Macedonia.
Macedonia has more than 1000 churches and monasteries, rich with remarkable fresco paintings, woodcarvings and architecture, where you can see the work of one of the most famous icon painters and wood carvers on the Balkans and the whole Byzantine Empire. In Macedonia, you can see plenty of early Christian basilicas, or the first churches were built in the 4th century when Christianity became the official religion in the Roman Empire. Inside those early Christian basilicas, you may admire the beautiful mosaics which are still well-preserved.
In Macedonian villages you can see the traditional lifestyle of the Macedonian peasant. Here, you can taste local Macedonian food and drink home-made wine and the traditional Macedonian drink – “rakija”. Moreover, villagers offer tourists different kinds of tours and activities such as donkey safari, where you can ride donkeys and explore the nature surrounding the villages. Some of the most famous Macedonian villages are: Vevchani,Galichnik,Trpejca and Elshani.
Thank you, Experience Balkan for this Macedonia travel itinerary! Experience Balkan is an incoming tour operator for the Balkans and especially for the Republic of Macedonia. If you would like to visit Macedonia and you need arrangements, you may contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org For more information, you can visit our web-sites:
This Budapest city break happened accidentally. Lets say the city was easy to reach from all the places our ‘group’ came from – Ukraine, Romania, Turkey, and since it was many people travelling under my supervision I was really ambitious about showing not only the city’s beautiful parts, but also the surrounding region (and even farther)!
In fact, I never loved (not even liked) Budapest, but as I already know, it all depends on how planned you are, how responsible you face the new place. Imagine you come to any European capital, where do you end up without knowing where exactly to go? Where all the other tourists do, that’s why those places are called ‘touristic’ places, because their geo position was perfect for a first comer’s path. At the end you’ll say the same thing I heard from a very unlucky traveler: ‘Is there any place in the world to do anything special at all?’ Poor guy, he went around a bit, he is an expat, and he still thinks that it’s all about bars, and even the bars are all the same, because that’s right: all touristic places in the world are having more or less similar bars.
What if you do your pre-holiday homework? You’ll fell in love with the diversity of the globe and the specific spot you are visiting right know. Me and Budapest – our relationship is the best example of that. Hated for 25 years, and now liked so much that I’m even ready to move there ?
Day 1 – arriving and finding our Budapest city break guide
Budapest airport is quite well equipped and well functioning as for Eastern Europe, but getting from there to the city won’t be the best part of your trip. So I’ll reveal the best ways of getting from Ferihegy airport to Budapest downtown here
For the first day of our Budapest city break I booked a local guide from one of my most frequently used apps – Showaround. It’s not always helpful, doesn’t cover all the places I went to (so I had to discover other solutions of getting a local guide), but in here Showaround offers quite a wide portfolio of locals. Which doesn’t mean they are all suitable for guiding ? I really spent a while on researching profiles, filtering just those boys & girls who’re only interested in meeting a foreign person, without having any knowledge of their city, being able to do a memorable tour, from those who really know what to show in Budapest and how.
That’s how we ended up with Lili – our local guide in Budapest. The tour lasted for 3 hours and during that time we walked from Pest seeing and saving on maps all the best bars and restaurants, visiting the magnificent Saint Stephen (Szent István) Basilica. Afterwards we crossed the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to reach the royal part of the city – Buda, climbed up to the Buda Castle, walked around the historical part of the 1st District which is full of architectural miracles like the Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and Holy Trinity Column.
We ended our tour going back to Pest by bus to see the Parliament shining in warm orange lights at night and heading towards our restaurant nearby (kindly booked by Lili for us). To sum up, I’d say it was a traditional sightseeing tour which is very much needed if you are visiting a city for the first time, and if you’re a person who loves taking photos of everything around and spamming your friends’ Instagram feeds 😉
Above all it’s important to have this kind of a tour on your first day, it makes you feel so much more at home during the remaining time of your stay!
Sharing Lili’s profile for those who’re willing to listen to my advice and get a local guide leading them through the city’s best sights! I’d recommend to contact your guide a few days before your city break in Budapest.
What about the dinner? I’ll tell you everything about eating and going out in Budapest here. So far, I can confirm that everywhere we went was unique, unforgettable and delicious!
Did you know that…
Buda and Pest were two separate cities until 1873, in fact the first bridge across Danube to connect the 2 cities was built only in 1849
Buda – is the royal part of the city, settled on the hills with its wealthy grand Hapsburg palace
Pest – is the party & gastronomy heaven with plenty pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and bistros
The height of St. Stephen Basilica in Budapest is 96 m, current regulations prohibit constructing anything higher than 96 m, so the Basilica is visible from everywhere
Day 2 – a boat trip on Danube to visit a traditional Hungarian town Szentendre
So what is the best thing to do in Budapest or any other place close to water (river, lake, sea, ocean – doesn’t matter)? Boat tours or cruises, or just using the boat as a way of commuting!
For the second day I planned a boat trip to Szentendre – a little picturesque town, just 22 km away from the capital. It’s a perfect day/half-day boat trip from Budapest for mid-season, from the end of April and beginning of May the Danube is getting full of boats running back and forth to Esztergom, Visegrád and Vác – these are the other towns along Danube.
Esztergom – the town where the first king of Hungary, Saint Stephen was born and crowned
Visegrád– a former royal town, famous for the remains of the Renaissance summer residence of King Matthias (which was the first appearance of Renaissance outside of Italy in Europe)
Vác– famous for its Baroque city centre, catholic cathedral and ice cream 🙂
Besides that you can opt for a ‘program boat’ as Hungarians say, meaning a boat tour on Danube with fine dining, authentic local beer tasting, boat-cafes, wine tastings, cocktail and finally party boat tours.
And for goddess’ sake, don’t buy those tours from international websites (lets call it like that). Book at the first source, at the provider – BKV Cruises, and if you have difficulties with Hungarian language, ask me for help! Direct booking will ensure you pay less, and find yourself in a more authentic place with either
locals, or people who know how to look for the best deals ?
Danube boats with dinners, parties, tastings etc. – here
So as you understand now, after checking all the schedules under the links above, I chose Szentendre for it being the only available boat tour in the beginning of April 😀 But it’s definitely worth it for a few reasons.
It’s the best example of a traditional Hungarian little town with colourful houses, churches and people still earning money by doing traditional Hungarian arts (dollmaking, pottery, palinka and marzipan production).
There are many nice restaurants serving very Hungarian food, meaning – deep fried meet, chicken, vegetables and whatever else can be deep fried, various potato & pasta based meals, and Lángos – a traditional Hungarian delicacy, made of deep fried donut dough, covered with cheese, sour cream, bacon and other toppings at your choice. (As you see, Hungary is not a place for starting a low-fat diet!).
It’s much better (read: less expensive) to buy souvenirs in Szentendre, rather than in Budapest. First of all, it’s an experience: there are houses full of traditional tablecloths, pottery, wooden goods, whilst in Budapest it all looks crap on those touristy stalls in the centre.
Did I tell you that the weather was very much unfriendly? I even wanted to cancel it all, but then came back to my senses and searched for indoor activities in Szentendre. There are a few interesting museums, but only in case you like museums ? We were much more eager to walk along the river, actually until the point the town finished.
The thing I wanted a lot from this trip is to eat lángos (the fried dough with toppings), which we successfully managed at a very traditional place, it’s just a window in a wall, leading to an extremely hot kitchen where oil is boiling and women are running around to manage all the orders. It’s called Fantázia Lángos Büfé – it’s up to you to chose whether you want to stay at that unique kitchen window with comic streetart on the walls and sit on cheap white plastic chairs (an experience in my opinion!), or you prefer to go behind the corner, facing the river, and have a table at the very same establishment’s terrace with knitted chairs, blankets and all the nice stuff. The Lángos will be the same :}
Szentendre is famous for some orthodox churches (the town is very much influenced by slavik people, as I noticed – especially Serbians), what I didn’t like is that you have to pay an entrance fee at all of them (I’m okay with voluntarily donations, but paying to a church is a bit too much). So here they are if churches make you excited:
Remembering about museums for rainy days (or not only). There is a traditional marzipan museum and shop, some pálinka tastings around the main square, then a house with handmade pottery, and a shop with traditional Hungarian household items like kitchen & bathroom textile, toys for kids, they have very special dolls. These I consider half shops, half museums. Then purely museums:
Art Mill – the country’s third largest exhibition site
Many more museums here (the page is in Hungarian but easily convertible to English with google translate)
That’s how we spent our day – entering little shops and houses, walking along the Danube, eating Lángos, and, almost forgot to mention, there are many nice ice-cream shops in Szentendre. My favourite one, available also in Budapest, is Levendula Fagylaltozo – they have dairy-free, sugar-free, gluten-free ice-cream along with ‘normal’ sweetie-milky ones ?
The boat back is at 5 pm, and it arrives in Budapest at 6 pm, quite fast comparing to the fact that the route to Szentendre by boat takes 1h30 (which is because you are sailing against the current).
Evenings in Budapest are nice, if you know where to hang out. Which we did, of course ? The Spring Terrace of Akvárium Klub impresses by blooming design outdoors, and the fact that you are actually within an aquarium once inside (you’ll see:) Well, since the indoor area is mostly for kids – cinema, art space, even castings are held here, we enjoyed the buzzing outdoor terrace with drinks, music, lots of locals and almost no tables/chairs available. I’d recommend to take a glass of Hungarian champagne and enjoy the sunset, and take any chair from anywhere, because no one really cares how you ‘settle down’ there…
…but hunger never lets you in peace, right? So while everyone was having fun and drinking, I had to desperately search for a dinner spot on a Saturday evening… At the end we left it for the destiny to decide, and ended up in a restaurant called Konyha (kitchen).
They position themselves as a sophisticated Hungarian cuisine promoters, and what can I say, they do it great. I don’t remember the exact meals we had, but I know that our group ordered all the main courses they had in the menu, so lets say we did a broad tasting at Konyha. By the way, they only have daily menus, so it’s actually just a page of choices and that’s it.
The best thing Hungary could inherit from Ottomans (and it’s not the brunette men)?
Turkish Baths in Budapest
After returning from Konyha and having some rest to digest our excellent dinner, we planned to have a night bathing session in Rudas Baths – from 10 pm to 4 am, on Friday and Saturday nights they do allow mixed bathing (men vs women), otherwise it’s separated, like in a traditional hammam.
Therefore, see below my little guide of Turkish Baths in Budapest and let me know if you have difficulties to choose one out of all (I was struggling so much, that I promised to return and try out all of them, otherwise it’s unfair!)
Some photos from Gellért spa to boost your imagination 🙂
Budapest is extremely lucky to be a capital city which can brag about having thermal springs, in fact having 118 of them beneath the city, and all purely natural. Just imagine 70 million liters of hot water spring forth daily in Budapest. They have different mineral composition (some are smelly…), and have various healing effects.
I recommend (and mostly you’ll hear this advice all over the city) to focus on 4 famous thermal baths in Budapest, and as a bonus I’m adding some info for those who prefer hidden spas, revealing you some facts about 2 not very famous baths in Budapest ?
Rudas – built by Ottomans in the 16th century, and still functions in the very same building. The coolest thing about Rudas is that they organize a night bathing on Friday and Saturday nights, where mixed swimming is allowed (remember, it’s Turkish baths, so there are days for women, and there are for men). Besides the fact that it’s fun to swim at night (until 4 am), Rudas also offers a panorama outdoor pool on the rooftop. From there you’ll enjoy the Parliament view, and if you look behind, you actually see the Buda Castle in the closest vicinity. Rudas bath is built under the castle (Gellert) hill. The disadvantage is that the outdoor pool is small, people hardly find a place to sit (or even stay), it’s actually a small, but beautiful, jacuzzi pool, not for crowds for sure. Price from 4200 HUF/day (13,5 EUR).
Gellert – as for me, the most beautiful and well-equipped thermal bath in Budapest. It’s an exquisite spa with a hotel for those who plan to have a continuous spa retreat in the city. They offer various treatments and massages, 10 pools, and are open every day of the year, with the open-air pool only functioning in summer season. The prices are higher here, but it ensures you won’t be crowding in the water. Price from 5600 HUF/day (18 EUR).
Szechenyi – the most popular among locals and tourists alike. It’s a leisure place, or I can even say palace! It was built in the 20th century in Neo Baroque style, and I’d say it’s so well done, that passing by the palace from outside you stop and desperately try to search on maps where the hell are you to spot such an immense palace on your way. It’s more affordable than Gellert, thus more crowded, but at the same time they offer more pools as well (16 comparing to 10 in Gellert). Price from 5200 HUF/day (17 EUR).
Kiraly – one of the smallest baths in Budapest, constructed in the 16th century, offering steam rooms, hot air chamber, jacuzzi and a fitness room. The Kiraly bath is perfect for those who don’t rush to get various treatments in spas, but prefer a unique and intimate, less crowded location. Price from 2800 HUF/day (9 EUR).
Veli Bej – the most secret spa of Budapest, less know, was under reconstruction for a while. A very special spa, since it’s not part of the Budapest thermal baths network and belongs to a hospital. Recently renovated, but the modern adjustments were made in harmony with the original Turkish architecture. The water is 100% thermal, no chlorine added, and it’s changed 4 times a day. The maximum quantity of visitors at a time can’t exceed 80, which means it’s never crowded. Veli Bej is officially the oldest bath in Budapest, and has the largest Turkish pool in Central Europe. Prices from 2800 HUF (9 EUR), but the ticket is valid for 3 hours, you have to pay extra for staying longer.
Lukacs – built in 12th century as a monastery baths (so way before Ottomans), the hot springs are rich in calcium, magnesium, fluoride ions, hydrogen-carbonate, sulphate, sodium and chloride. Who knows maybe this is the only non-Turkish bath in Budapest? They offer several pools – both indoor and outdoor, a salt wall, sauna and lounge. Prices are from 3300 HUF/day (11 EUR).
Here I wanted to emphasize that Hungarian wine is something you should pay a lot of attention to, since traditionally the country produces very high quality red wine (Bikavér) and worldwide famous dessert wines (mostly Tokaji). Therefore if you are in Hungary, I wouldn’t recommend you to order something like an ordinary Merlot from the wine-list (unless the sommelier proves you that it’s special, because there are vineyards in the country which are doing experimental wine – planting vine coming from US or France), try as many varieties of Bikavér (translated as ‘bull’s blood’) and maybe find a favourite one to bring back home, as the most precious souvenir from your trip ?
Bikavér – the first quality wine in Hungary’s history to be produced within a single region, in Eger. It’s a full body wine, based on blue-frank, cabernet, merlot and kadarka grapes, however no single grape can dominate in a glass of wine. There are 3 tiers of quality: classicus, superior and grand superior. It’s low on tannin, has deep ruby colour, and a fruity and spicy flavour.
Dessert wines – there’ve been times when Tokaji (dessert wines from Tokaj region) were extremely famous (renown Austrian composer Joseph Haydn even used to receive payments in Tokaji Eszencia, the most expensive variety). Then there’ve been times when the Hungarian wineries were neglected during the Communist regime, so forget about quality…
1990 became a turning point for Hungarian winemaking – the wineries turned to private property again, some bought by worldwide holdings (like AXA insurance group, which buys vineyards all over the world), grapes were replanted, and as a result, the quality raised a lot.
Tokaji can contain only 6 local grape varieties – Furmint, Hárslevelü, Kabar, Kövérszölö and Sárgamuskotály. Now the most famous of wines is Tokaji Aszú, where not the variety of grape is the most important, but the fruit fungus called gray mold.
Which means that the harvest is done after the grapes are infected by the fungus, which makes them shrivel and become sweet.
The classification – 3-4-5-6 puttonyos – historically the locals where measuring Aszú berries in baskets (puttony), then marking the barrels by the quantity of baskets used. So a 6-puttonyos Aszú wine meant that for it’s production they used 6 baskets. The more baskets you put, the sweeter is the outcome ?
Nowadays the -puttonyos labels lost their technical use (since no one is using baskets for measurements), but it stayed for marketing purposes. In fact, 3-4-5 puttonyos term discontinued since 2013, and only the 6 puttonyos Aszú is officially valid. Which means that every wine which is below the 150 grams of sugar/liter (6 puttonyos) can be called only Aszú.
Talking about the most expensive Tokaji Aszú – it’s called Eszencia. This wine (or better say syrop) is made of the noble rot only, it has to age for 4-5 years to gain as little as 3-4 % ABV, then it can continue aging for 200+ years, since the sugar preserves it well. The Eszencia contains 450+ grams sugar/liter, it’s so sweet that people drink it from special spoons, tenderly called by Hungarians
as ‘angyalka’ (little angel).
So because I made this pre-story, you might have suspect that the next day of my Hungarian adventures is going to take place in Tokaj ?
Day #3 Tokaj
It’s around 2h15min ride from Budapest, which isn’t a little, is it? So I scheduled the vineyard tour and tasting for 3 pm in order for us to pick up the car and have all the group members awaken.
The route is beautiful! Maybe it’s my ancestors whispering in my blood, but hopefully not, and I’m objective. Hungary is a plainland, very much focused on agriculture, so you’ll see all around ploughed fields with some minor incorporation of human-planted forests. And keep your eyes on: you can usually spot deer and hare families on the fields ? It’s a picturesque trip to north-eastern Hungary, to the boarder with Slovakia, and apropos, the part of Tokaj wine-making region is actually on the territory of Slovakia.
How was I choosing a winery among so many of them in the region?
I used this Hungarian online wine-shop to see a list of wine-producers of Tokaj region. After checking out all of them, one by one, I ended up choosing between Royal Tokaji and Disznókő winery (the 6 puttonyos Aszú of the second one I already knew, read loved, very well). As I usually do in this doubting situations, I contacted both and let the first replied to win!
Both replied and the proposals were so good, that I cried for a while, that I’m not travelling alone, otherwise I’d definitely visit all two wineries, and actually spend at least 2 days in Tokaj. But it was a group trip, so we headed towards the winner – Disznókő winery.
The winery is just at the entrance to the Tokaj region (UNESCO Heritage since 2002), and you’ll notice it by unique architecture which is not usual for Hungarian vineyards. The oldest building is the Sárga Bórház – before AXA Millésimes invested in the vineyard, that was the only construction on site. Today it’s functioning as a traditional Tokaji restaurant, and the production processes moved to new, but very impressive constructions.
Axa built a state-of-art winery, perhaps, the most impressive viticultural architecture in Central Europe. It has 3 floors, and each represents a process of wine-making:
The ground floor where the grapes arrive and get under press
The fermentation of the grape juice is done a level below in stainless steel tanks
Finally the wines are ageing in French oak barrels in the subterranean cellar (which will be the most impressive part of your tour, since it’s very cold and almost 100% humid, you’ll see water dripping from the ceiling, walls, everywhere, and the famous fungus is here as well)
Then there is a yurt shaped huge garage for tractors, which is at the same time the most beloved by Hungarians concert venue ?
Talking about the wine – I explained the Tokaji Aszú quite in details above. Now I have to mention that the winery is producing dry and another special sweet wine as well:
1413 Tokaji – named after the first mentioning of the vineyard in 1413. The wine type is called Szamorodni (which means ‘born by itself’ in many Slavic languages). This explains the processing method – the grapes are not selected one by one, but picked as whole bunches with many shriveled and botrytized grapes. The young wine might be a bit acid (but I love that), with age it gains more honey notes.
Dry Furmint – a wine perfectly matching vegetable meals (in my non-professional opinion), it has a fresh citrus taste, the flavour is refreshing, I could feel some hints of grapefruit.
The experience in Disznókő combines a tour around the vineyard, to the chapel which leads to outstanding views around all the estate. You’ll see the famous stone which was believed to have a shape of a hog, that’s where the name comes from (Disznókő – literally means ‘Hog stone’). Then your guide will take you to the winery, where you’ll experience all stages of winemaking. After which you’ll end up at an underground cellar where they do the tastings. You can choose which wines to taste, the winery will provide you with 3 options – dry wines only, Aszú wines, or all of them combined. We chose the most complete one of course ?
It was a memorable trip worth those hours on the way, the winery actually made me finalizing and putting in words my feelings towards wine – one day I definitely want to have my own estate, it is one of the most beautiful businesses a human being could ever have))
Since we couldn’t eat at the Sárga Bórház (it’s booked for private events often, so you’d rather make a reservation), I impressed my foreign guests by, finally!, real Hungarian cuisine at a roadside restaurant, in a village leaving Tokaj. Which contains of: various potato side dishes, porc-wheel-chicken-vegetables all deep-fried in a ‘schnitzel’ way, large pieces of bread, and salads including anything but vegetables. No surprise that I was quite ‘big’ in childhood 😀
The plan for tonight was clubbing and lately I became an expert in finding very unique places for that (but I still couldn’t learn drinking responsibly). I chose 3 active, local, stylish nightlife spots in Budapest:
Csendes Bar (meaning quiet bar) – an extraordinary designed ruin bar with toys, bicycles, parts of mannequins handing from the walls and ceiling. As it’s name states, it’s not a dancing-shouting place, but a very artistic bar for those who prefer meaningful conversations with a glass of Hungarian sparkling (typical me…) They even close quite early, or just that was a Monday, and they closed at around 11.
Szimpla Kert – szimpla means simple, however the place is anything but simple, it’s very hard to describe, so I encourage you to visit it asap ? Imagine you are entering a closed courtyard (a very large one), with bars all around you, crazy British (read drunk) guys having their bachelor party, even more crazy locals, and many expats, dancing just in the middle of the yard, preventing you from moving forward, everything is lighty-shiny as a x-mas tree. Then at the end you’ll face a huge screen with a smart, (muted), movie, which no one actually watches, but it’s so cool to see it there, and stare if you can’t find a spot to niche yourself. And voila, there are some crazy, iron stairs leading upstairs where you’ll find a concert room (with a band actually recording), and another endless labyrinth of bars, so you can in fact spend a few hours by just entering a door, and finding another one to enter, endless… Then you’ll reach a small courtyard (mainly used in old times to dry laundry surrounded by balconies), and again stairs but now within a multi-floor stairway taking you downstairs.
It’s an ideal place for those Alices which always dreamed to find themselves in Wonderland ? After spending there a while I can’t believe there might be something more impressive in Budapest in terms of nightlife (but I’ll come back to double check!)
As the 3rd in my list I had Instant – the biggest ruin pub in Budapest. But guess what, after Szimpla we were even more satisfied than expected, so seeing a huge queue to enter Instant we decided to leave the place for the next time. What I know about Instant from my research: it’s the most famous nightlife spot in Budapest, hiding 4 dance floors, 8 bars and a restaurant inside. If you visited the Parliament, the Fisherman’s Bastion, then Instant is another sight to see and not to miss.
I wouldn’t plan going there, I guess))) After long driving to Tokaj yesterday, another 1h 20 min/one way, wasn’t very much exciting, but one of our ‘team members’ had to attend an event in Siófok, and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t treat this as an opportunity to see the famous ‘Hungarian Sea’ – Balaton.
A bit of details about the place:
The most popular Hungarian summer resort, although a bit expensive for locals)))
The mud of the lake is considered to be a remedy for people with fatigue, anemia and nervous diseases
The name of the lake comes from Slavic ‘Bloto’, meaning ‘mud’
It’s the largest freshwater lake in Europe
If you are about to visit Balaton, the easiest to reach is Siófok (by train), but there is another interesting spot around – Hévíz. It’s small town and world’s 2nd largest thermal lake, and 1st most active natural lake, as you understand the whole town is actually a wellness resort (and it’s another to do thing in my list for the next visit to Hungary). The lake is formed by hot and cold water springs coming from 38m underground, and the impressive thing is the stability of the lake’s temperature – it doesn’t change almost at all in years, and even in coldest winters it doesn’t drop below 24 °C. The tradition of thermal baths in Hévíz has been going on from 2nd century, under the Roman Empire, the scientific research of its’ healing properties started in 18th century by Festetics family.
The bathing time is from 9 to 18, the prices for bathing only are around 17 EUR/day, then there are many extra options, for example you can have various medical procedures, or just massage and traditional wellness treatments (search for these extra services under the Festetics Day Spa page). For bathing only consult the Lake Hévíz page.
So returning to Siofok in April ? Even though we took our swimming suits, it’s not Hévíz, it’s not year-round bathing. There are many great boat tours on the Balaton lake, but… they all start from end of April (which wasn’t our case).
Boat Tours on Balaton Lake
Apparently there are boats running all year round, but I didn’t know that when on Balaton. There is a ferry which takes you and your vehicle on the other side, and there are boat tours (very little though), even from March 30th. But you won’t have problems with it if you plan your Budapest city break for May or later on.
I found a great brochure with all the schedules for 2018, but… it’s in Hungarian. So let’s agree that if you don’t understand it, you just comment below with a preferred departure point (there are many ports around the lake), or just shout out saying ‘I don’t know from where, but I know it should be on Balaton’. I’ll help you to find the suitable boat and clarify the schedule ? Here is the link to this Hungarian puzzle-schedule in pdf)))
So we spent around 2 hours in Siofok walking around, eating a bit, and enjoying the swans and ducks on the lake. By the way, it’s really huuuuge, immense ‘water reservoir’ (as I call the too large water formations)))) For those coming in summertime – there is a paid beach which is comfortable for swimming, has sand and sunbeds, and doesn’t cost a lot. It’s from 2,4 to 3 EUR/day/adult, but it will definitely make your experience on the lake hustle-free.
Medieval restaurant in Budapest – a feast for the strong ones
After returning from Balaton we had a crazy plan – dinner in a medieval restaurant (isn’t it crazy? At least I never had one). If you are about to try this for the first time in your life, be ready – it’s a lot of food, and you better come with friends who are famous for having more than healthy appetite ?
Let’s have a look at the menu together and try to make clarifications:
Any plate (see last page) for 2 is actually for 4, and plate for 4 is for 8 people (otherwise you’ll overeat, believe me)
Although the plates are huge it’s much more fun to order them, than single meals, because this way you’re getting a change to try almost all their menu
The service fee is included in the bill, but I’m sure you’ll be happy to leave more tips, and I’m about to tell you why.
The restaurant is far not only about food. You’ll see belly dancers, fire dancers, fire eaters, medieval dancers, sword fights, and actually anything anytime. So, whenever you come (and do come only by reservation, they are mostly full), you have a guarantee of a show. And a tip: if your reservation is at 9 pm for example, come on time, or even a bit earlier to get a table closer to the stage. Otherwise they are placing everyone on first come first served basis.
Of course here you won’t find too many locals 🙂 The visitors are mainly travellers, just as you and me, trying to make the best out of their Budapest city break.
Well, I guess you can imagine that on the day after no one was fancy for breakfast ? And the day after was the departure time for most of us, while only me, the lucky one, managed to squeeze in the schedule the coolest ever dinner in Budapest!
I’ve never seen that many people just passing by on the street to stop in front of a restaurant and starting to take photos like hypnotized! Thanks god they don’t know how much more photogenic it is inside))
The New York Palace first opened in Budapest in 1894, at that time it was the most beloved coffee house in Budapest, a very artistic place, gathering famous editors, writers, composers. Unfortunately, the golden era of this sophisticated palace ended with the WW II – it was functioning as a sporting goods shop, and, of course, was very much neglected. Even though in 1954 it reopened under ‘Hungaria cafe’ name, it was really reborn in 2006 with its’ original name and proper reconstruction to its’ very best look.
Today New York Palace is a hotel, a café, a salon restaurant, and a bar. It proudly keeps its’ original Italian renaissance style, serving traditional meals of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
Why is it worth coming to Café New York? Far not in every city (even within the ancient European continent where we are spoiled by ‘old stones’) you can visit a restaurant or café within a luxurious, but at the same time elegant, palace, with fine cuisine (but delicious that you want to leak your plates), intelligent waiters for having a meaningful conversation. I was so fascinated by our waiters knowledge in Hungarian wine, that I couldn’t stop asking him questions, he actually had to delicately turn my attention to drinking wine, rather than continuing bombing with questions about Tokaji Aszú (maybe he was afraid that at some point he won’t be able to give an answer))
With the most beautiful dining place in Budapest I officially conclude my Hungarian adventures and get ready for the plane at 6 am (but I’ll be back, for sure!) But I’m looking forward to see what did you do during your Budapest city break, share your experiences in a comment below!
How to explore the best of Bordeaux in 4 days, from a local slow traveller
When one thinks about Bordeaux, he or she immediately thinks wine. We are so lucky to have these incredible vineyards around the city. However, did you know:
It is the location of the highest dune in Europe?
Rue Sainte Catherine is a 1.2 km long shopping street?
Bordeaux was under English ownership for 300 years
The city is classified UNESCO World Heritage
Bordeaux used to be nicknamed “the Sleeping Beauty”
Bordeaux has a submarine base
Yes, there are lots of fun facts to discover! It is what a slow traveller loves, would you agree?
So, come and accompany me in a visit of Bordeaux and the region…
The city of Bordeaux
I would recommend at least one day to visit the city.
Suggestion of itinerary:
Go out and explore the city freely, at your own rhythm. Go to the Place de la Comédie, le Monument des Girondins, Pey Berland square ; the old town: place Saint-Pierre, place du Parlement, place du Palais, la grosse cloche.
These are must see and touristy but should not be missed. On your way stop over to a “la Toque Cuivrée” shop and try a “canelé”, a typical sweet pastry from Bordeaux made from egg yolks. It is a must!
Make your way up to a borough named Saint-Michel, visit the local food market “les capucins” (closed on Monday). There will be plenty of spots for you to experience local food such as cheeses, meat platter, seafood, dunes blanches (cream pastry).
Make your way to the Basilique Saint-Michel and the river banks. Walk your way back to Place de la Bourse and the water mirror (miroir d’eau) where you may take pictures of the buildings reflecting on the water.
Thereafter, take a “batcub”, a public boat allowing you to cross town via the river, from the Ponton d’Honneur near Place de la Bourse to the wine musuem (Cité du Vin). Allow yourself at least 3 hours for the visit.
Then, either take the tram back to the centre, or if you still have some energy left, you may explore the borough named “Les Chartrons” or walk by the bank to enjoy the scenery of the city.
Don’t care much for the food market? Then make your way to visit and lunch in Darwin
Located on old military grounds, Darwin is an ecosystem that gathers professionals, entrepreneurs and artists who focus on developing a sustainable (green and economical) and socially responsible future. There is an urban farm, an organic supermarket, a skatepark, street art, a garage where you can repair your bike…
Darwin has a different vibe from the rest of Bordeaux and is definitely worth a visit. If you enjoy street art then you are in the right place. On that note, once in Bordeaux, you will notice a lot of street art in the city. For the last few years, street artists have realised many murals in places such as Darwin, les bassins à flots (near the submarine base), by the train station… places and sites off the beaten path.
In the evening, how about trying out some of the many wine bars in Bordeaux?
The bar à vin located 3 cours du XXX Juillet in front of the tourism office will enable you, for a small budget, to taste various wines from Bordeaux.
The Ermitage park in Lormont (other side of the river)
The park “Bordelais” and “jardin des remparts”
Transportation in Bordeaux
Bikes: traveling by bike is easy in Bordeaux. The city provides bikes names VCUB. There are comfortable and easy to handle. Throughout the city, you will encounter many bike parks where you may rent and leave your bikes. You will need a credit card to access a bike.
Second option: INDIGO, a mobile app, is slightly cheaper than the VCUB. Download the app, create an account and the app will locate the nearest bikes according to your location.
Tram and bus: easy to hop in and out, it covers most parts of the city. If you purchase a ticket, then you can use it for a whole hour but you do have to scan it every time you take transportation.
Batcub: the boat that takes you from one side of the river to the other. I strongly recommend it as you will discover the city in, yet another angle, and the best thing is that it will cost you a tram ticket!
Saint-Emilion, UNESCO World Heritage
Simply, a must see in the region.
Suggestion of itinerary:
Take the train from Bordeaux to the village. It takes about 45 minutes. Then, go up to the picturesque village.
Make sure you visit the underground monuments and the monolith church. You may purchase your tickets in advance on the tourism office website.
Thereafter, how about going to the “Clos des Cordeliers” where you can enjoy a glass of bubbly known as “Crémant de Bordeaux” and made exactly how they would in Champagne. They have underground cellars that you can visit as well.
If you fancy a picnic, you may purchase a basket and have a picnic in their park.
There are lots of restaurants and wine bars in the village. There is also a wine school. Depending on how you wish to spend your time, you will find activities related to wine ?
For dessert, try the almond macaroons: they are a typical local produce since 1620 and they are yummy!
After your visit how about exploring the vineyards? The choice is yours: by bike or on foot. The tourism office proposes many itineraries and activities that you can download from their website. If you do pick a bike tour, make sure you reserve it ahead of time.
There are many wineries worth visiting in Saint-Emilion. Pomerol is another wine appellation where wines are known worldwide.
2 châteaux near the village that you could visit.
Château Beauséjour Bécot: first growth (premier grand cru classé) family led winery with underground cellars.
Château Coutet: 400 years old family led organic winery
*booking visits in advance is strongly recommended.
The amazing Arcachon bay: another must see when visiting the region. You may easily spend, at the very least, one day there. Please note that during the season, the area is very very busy.
Suggestion of itinerary:
Early morning arrival in Arcachon by bus or train from Bordeaux.
Visit of the city, walk by the seaside, visit a borough called the “Winter town” (la ville d’hiver) where you will see villas with beautiful architecture.
From there plenty of options are available for you:
Take the boat up to the Cap Ferret where you may have a seafood lunch. Again, explore, discover this untouched area, the natural heritage, go to the beach or up to the light house.
Or, participate in a boat tour of the bay and admire the bird island (Île aux oiseaux), huts on stilts (cabanes tchanquées) and the oyster parks (parcs à huîtres).
Or, you may wish to rent a bike. There are bike paths from Arcachon to the Cap Ferret which pass by small fishermen’s villages that are definitely very local and untouched.
Do not leave the bay without visiting the Dune du Pilat, the highest in Europe (which you can reach by bus from Arcachon). Prepare yourself to climb about 150 stairs to reach the top. Boy is it worth it. The view is outstanding especially at sunrise or sunset. Yes, how about planning to watch the sunset there with a bottle of Crémant de Bordeaux (a bubbly) and a picnic of local produce?
La Teste de Buch, a village nearby, is worth a stopover. Go to the harbour. Walk by local oyster shops. If you like them, settle down in one of the huts (cabane) for a tasting of oysters and a nice dry white from the Entre-Deux-Mers region. A lovely pairing. Feeling adventurous? Try out the whelks (bulots), winkles (bigorneaux).
*Some sites are just in French and not in English…
The Médoc, land of grands crus classés
The land of grands crus classés, magnificent striking architectural châteaux… But also, family run wineries!
It is not as easy to discover the Médoc without a car. What is nice when discovering the Médoc is to go from villages to villages, from appellations to appellations. I do not recommend doing it by bike as the main road for instance, from the villages of Margaux to Saint-Julien is a busy one.
From a slowtourism perspective, I would suggest selecting a village and exploring its surroundings. You may reach the village by train or bus.
Suggestion of itinerary in and near the village of Margaux:
Hike : Margaux wineries, (Boucle des Châteaux de Margaux) : 4.9 kms.
Throughout the hike, you will discover classified top growths wineries (grands crus classés) such as Château Lascombes, Château Palmer… Fairytale looking castles.
You will pass by the tiny harbor of Issan where you can take a picnic. (you may be able to purchase in advance a picnic basket at Château Desmirail in the village of Margaux).
If you fancy a wine and tasting: Château Marquis de Terme proposes a bike visit of their vineyards.
Suggestion of itinerary in and near the village of Ludon Médoc:
Hike named “boucle des graves”: 5.25 kms
This path will take you to a small lake and the following wineries: Château Paloumey, Château Cantemerle, Château La Lagune.
You will also pass by a barrel maker. If you are in the Médoc on a morning weekday, then you can schedule (in advance) a visit of the shop. You will see a barrel being made. It is very interesting. They also have a winery and a restaurant if you fancy lunch. You can only do the visit on a morning weekday when they make the barrels.
On the above website, you will also find hiking itineraries that focus more on the nature and the biodiversity or horseriding.
These are just sample ideas to give you an idea of what a trip may be like in Bordeaux. Of course, there are many more things you can do: for instance, you may want to rent a private boat and enjoy a seafood platter in front of the Dune. Or, you may want to go fishing with the local fishermen in the Arcachon bay. Participate in a cooking class, a winemaking workshop, a tasting…
If you are planning a trip to Bordeaux, I recommend planning ahead: wineries, restaurants, transportation. The region and the city do welcome many tourists and I would prefer reserving in advance then being disappointed.
In France, many restaurants are not open all day. They have opening hours for lunch and for dinner: usually from 12 pm till 1.30/2 pm and from 7 pm to 9.30, 10pm. Check the timings out beforehand. If you are after all day serving food, then “brasseries” will respond your needs.
It is worth checking out local events as well, as they could propose activities (hiking, exhibition…) that interest you. Bordeaux and the region always have events big or local going on.
This year, there will be the renowned Bordeaux Wine Festival that takes place every two years in the city. Wine professionals welcome you for 5 days for tastings and activities on the banks (2 kms) by the river. 80 appellations from the South West of France which gives you the opportunity to taste many different wines. It is very popular. There are evening shows, fireworks, beautiful sail ships… The whole city celebrates wines.
Here is a list of some of the activities I love to do in the region:
Go up the bell tower next to the Basilica Saint-Michel, the view is unforgettable
Taking the river boat to cross the river and admire the XVIIIe century buildings by the bank
Go, dine and listen to music at “Chez Alriq” near Darwin, there is an outdoor restaurant located by the river. It is very casual and easy-going. Perfect for friends, families, couples
Take my bike on the Roger Lapébie bike path and go to the country side, enjoy the historical heritage of small villages I cross.
Go the vineyards of Fronsac and take a hike
Go and visit Blaye and its citadel. Take the road between Blaye and Bourg which follow the esturary. The view is striking. There are houses on one side of the road and their respective garden on the other side by the water.
Go way up north to Jau Dignac et Loirac, visit the lighthouse and take a stroll admiring the typical fishermen’s house and their square fish net.
Go and take a swim at “le Porge” beach which is untouched and family friendly
Stand paddle in the lake of Hourtin, about 18 kms long
Enjoy a picnic in one of the small harbour of the Médoc such as “le port d’Issan”
Visit the natural park “le Teich”, birdwatch
Canoeing on the Leyre delta nicknamed the little Amazonia.
About the Author
When I was 18 years old, I moved to London to work on my English. I thought I’d stay 2 years… I ended up living there over 10. I studied travel and tourism management and specialized in ecotourism.
After I obtained my BA, I came back to France, I was eager to live in the Gironde region because this is where my roots are.
In Bordeaux, I quickly found a job in the wine tourism sector. What a beautiful niche to work in! I am such an epicurean at heart. I fell in love with a job where you get to share and discover your region. I created and organised trips for amateurs or wine professionals.
I was lucky to participate in the Wine and Spirit Education trust course. Today, I am studying for level 3.
There is a lot to cover! Every single vineyards in the world and many tastings!
I now focus on slowtourism or slow travel: discovering places without rushing, seizing the environment, nature, the local life, wines…
I want to share ideas about walks and inspire you to practice slowtourism.
I want to create connections between people and a community of epicureans who love local life, wines, nature and taking it slow on travels…
Visit Fleur’s blog (English version here) to find out more about Bordeaux or just ask us to tailor a customised tour for you here
The Arusha National Park in Tanzania is a small (137 sq km) but beautiful African park, is the closest Tanzanian National Wildlife Park to both the famous “safari town” of Arusha (29 km), as well as the Kilimanjaro International Airport, thus making it ideal for day safaris, even from Moshi (65 km). Not only is the wildlife in the Arusha National Park abundant, but it is also one of the most beautiful and topographically varied game reserves in Tanzania. The African Arusha National Park’s three most significant features include the rugged Mount. Meru (Tanzania’s second highest peak at 4566m), the notably different coloured Momela Lakes, and the 3km wide Ngurdoto Crater, which was formed about fifteen million years ago! The varied and beguiling animals and flora found in this game reserve are mainly determined by the different altitude and geography of these 3 “zones”.
Mount Meru, the fifth highest African mountain forms part of the Arusha National Park, and is a recommended 4-day climb. One of Africa’s most rewarding climbs, offering spectacular scenery, and guaranteed wildlife animals encounters on its forested slopes. The summit cone features a stunning asymmetric caldera complete with an ash cone in the crater. The cone in itself makes a climb to the summit worthwhile. Climbs should be booked in advance, as an armed game reserve ranger of the Arusha National Park must accompany climbers. You are invited to contact us should you require more detailed information on climbing Mt. Meru.
This crater, located inside the Arusha National Park and stretching 3 km’s across, is a steep-sided bowl, surrounded by riverine forest, while the crater floor is a lush swamp. The crater with its many visible animal trials provides a natural sanctuary to many African animals, including elephant, African buffalo, a variety of monkeys and baboons, as well as birds like hamerkop, spur-winged geese and herons. It is however unfortunately prohibited to descend down to the bottom of the crater. To the west of the crater lies Serengeti Ndogo or “Little Serengeti”, consisting of extensive grassland plain and it is one of the few places in the game reserve, where Zebra can be encountered.
The Momela lakes, also located inside the Arusha National Park, are shallow alkaline lakes and are made up of seven lakes, being big Momela, small Momela, El Kekhotoito, Kusare, Rishateni, Lekandiro and Tulusia. All seven lakes are mainly fed by separate underground water sources. Due to the varying mineral content of these underground sources, each lake supports a different type of algae growth, resulting in uniquely differently colored lakes. Because these lakes are alkaline, the water is not utilized by animals for drinking, but they do however attract a wide variety of African bird life, particularly flamingos.
Did You Know ???
The Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is often referred to as the “Garden of Eden” and with good reason as the Ngorongoro has over 25 000 larger animals making it highest density of animals in one area in Africa.
How the Ngorongoro Crater formed? The Ngorongoro is an extinct volcano that collapsed in on itself approximately 25 million years ago forming a large superbowl. The Crater is the largest unbroken, unflooded volcanic Caldera in the world. The Ngorongoro Crater is 610 m deep and occupies an area of 260 sq km’s.
The view and game The views from the top of the crater wall are absolutely breathtaking. As one descends by 4×4 vehicle into the crater one passes through Fever Tree forests that shelter monkeys, bushbuck, waterbuck and a few black rhino. You then head onto the Ngorongoro plain with an abundance of animal life like you will never have seen before. Amongst the animals you will encounter are wildebeest, buffalo, gazelle, zebra, black-maned lion, leopard, hyena, hippo and elephant to name a few. In the Ngorongoro crater centre you will also come across a soda lake that has an abundance or bird life including flamingos. It is one of the top areas for predators to take down there pray. A trip to the Ngorongoro Crater is a sheer visual delight and a must for any Safari in Tanzania.
Lake Manyara National Park
Lake Manyara National Park is very easy to access: it’s about 180 minutes’ drive from Moshi, Kilimanjaro and barely an hour from the Ngorongoro Crater. Because of this, some of the northern sides of the park can get very busy, especially in the afternoon. To see the park at its best, we recommend that you either stay within the park or spend two nights somewhere close, entering the park early for a full-day safari.
Lake Manyara National Park is the smallest park in Tanzania extending over an area of 330sq km, located north of the Great Rift Valley western escarpment. The park is divided into three parts: the soda lake covering 220sq km, ground water forest and acacia woodland. Although small in size, the diverse habitats in the park provide the perfect environment for wildlife and birdlife, comprising up to 400 species. Famous for its “tree-climbing” lions which can sometimes be spotted in the boughs of acacia trees, it is also home to possibly the highest baboon density of any park in Africa.
Flora and Fauna of Lake Manyara cover about 330km², of which typically two-thirds is underwater, Lake Manyara National Park is a small park by African standards. However, it’s also very beautiful and contains tremendous diversity of habitats, animals and especially birds. You are likely to see buffalo feeding on sedge by the lakeshore, hippos in water pools in the northern fan delta, klipspringers on the escarpment wall, impala and plains game (zebra, giraffe, mongoose and warthog) scattered throughout. The Great Rift Valley escarpment looms on the horizon, forming an impressive backdrop to the lake. It is favoured by water birds, including storks, pelicans, herons, Egyptian geese and vast flocks of flamingos. The park is perfect for bird watchers and an ideal start to your safari.
Lake Manyara’s Fauna Lake Manyara’s game includes good numbers of elephant, buffalo and wildebeest along with plenty of giraffe. Also prolific in number are zebra, waterbuck, warthog and impala. You may need to search a little harder for the small and relatively shy Kirk’s dik-dik, and klipspringer on the slopes of the escarpment. The broken forests and escarpment make it good country for leopard, whilst Manyara’s healthy lion population are famous for their tree-climbing antics. (Whilst unusual, this isn’t as unique to the park as is often claimed.) Immediately obvious to most visitors are the huge troops of baboons which often number several hundred and are widely regarded as Africa’s largest.
Birds As with the habitats, the birdlife here is exceptionally varied. In the middle of the lake you’ll often see flocks of pelicans and the pink-shading of distant flamingos, whilst the margins and floodplains feed innumerable herons, egrets, stilts, stalks, spoonbills and other waders. With so much water around, the woodlands are equally productive, but it’s the evergreen forests where you’ll spot some more entertaining species such as the noisy silvery-cheeked hornbills, crowned eagles and crested guinea fowl.
Vegetation Set beneath the spectacular backdrop of the Great Rift Valley’s steep western escarpment, this long, narrow park protects an area between the escarpment and Lake Manyara. The parks namesake is a shallow, alkaline lake which expands and contracts with the seasons within a long, silvery bowl of salt deposits. Adjacent to it are wide, grassy floodplains and, further away, bands of mixed acacia woodlands. Further still, next to the escarpment, are patches of enchanting evergreen forests, which are sustained by perennial groundwater springs issuing from the base of the escarpment.
Serengeti National Park
The Endless plains….. the Vastness…. the scent and the wild voices of nature whispering at you. It’s traveling back in time…Serengeti National Park probably the most famous wildlife refuge in the world. Its eco-system is one of the oldest on earth. The essential features of climate, vegetation and fauna have barely changed in the past million years. Early man himself made an appearance in Olduvai Gorge about two million years ago. Some patterns of life, death, adaptation and migration are as old as the hills themselves. The eco-system extends over a much larger area and includes the Maasai Mara in Kenya and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, linking over 25,000 km2 of land in which animals can move freely. Much of this is nutritious grassland which acts as a magnet for wildebeest, zebra, impala and Thomson’s gazelle.
Serengeti is the oldest and most popular national park, also a world heritage site and recently proclaimed a 7th worldwide wonder, the Serengeti is famed for its annual migration, when some six million hooves pound the open plains, as more than 200,000 zebra and 300,000 Thomson’s gazelle join the wildebeest’s trek for fresh grazing. Yet even when the migration is quiet, the Serengeti offers arguably the most scintillating game-viewing in Africa: great herds of buffalo, smaller groups of elephant and giraffe, and thousands upon thousands of eland, topi, kongoni, impala and Grant’s gazelle. The Serengeti National Park has four separate sections, each with its own unique features and landscapes: the Southern Plains, Seronera (Central), Western Corridor, and Northern Serengeti.
The Southern Plains might be described as the “classic Serengeti” with its flat, open expanses of short grass plains. Just north of the short grass plains lies Seronera, or Central Serengeti, famous for its open plains, kopjes, and resident game, including large numbers of lions, cheetahs, and leopards. Stretching west to Lake Victoria is the Western Corridor, home to the Grumeti and Mbalageti Rivers, which support evergreen riparian forest and dense vegetation. From the Seronera area all the way to Kenya is the Northern Serengeti, an area of gently rolling country dotted with occasional hills and kopjes, broken by small rivers. This is where visitors might be at the right place at the right time to view the migration river crossings of the Mara River, made famous by National Geographic documentaries.
Where is Serengeti and how big is it?
Size: 14,763 sq km (5,700 sq miles). 14% of the country’s land area (size of Northern Ireland) Location: 335km (208 miles) from Arusha, stretching north to Kenya and bordering Lake Victoria to the west.
How to get to Serengeti
Scheduled and charter flights from Arusha, Lake Manyara, Karatu, Moshi and Mwanza. Access by driving from Arusha, Moshi, Lake Manyara, Tarangire or Ngorongoro Crater.
What to do in Serengeti
Game drive for wildlife viewing, Hot air balloon safaris, walking safaris, picnicking, camping, lodging, cultural tourism, visit neighbouring Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano and Lake Natron’s flamingos.
When to go to Serengeti
All year round but if your interest is to follow the wildebeest migration then the best time for this is December-July. And to see predators, June-October.
What game will you see in Serengeti?
There are so many different species in the Serengeti that this list could go on forever. The Serengeti’s main attraction is the Great Migration, consisting of up to 2 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebras and 350,000 Thompson, impala and grant’s gazelles. The predator viewing here is exceptional with approximately 3-4,000 lion and huge numbers of cheetah, leopard and hyena. Other game found in the park include Topi, Eland, Hartebeest, Buffalo, Elephant, Caracal, Serval, Bat-eared fox, Hyrax, Genet, Hares, Porcupine, Aardvark, Giraffe, Jackal, Mongoose, Crocodile, Monitor Lizard, Aardwolf, many kinds of primates including baboons, velvet and Colobus monkeys, and over more than 500 species of birds.
Mountain Kilimanjaro Information
Trekking Conditions . All 6 Routes to the Roof of Africa
There are six established routes to climb Mount Kilimanjaro – Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Shira, Rongai and Umbwe. The Marangu, Machame, and Umbwe routes all approach from the south of the mountain (Mweka is used only for descent). The Lemosho and Shira routes approach from the west. The Rongai route approaches from the north.
When to climb Kilimanjaro
Weather conditions and temperature on Kilimanjaro varies depending on season and altitude, cold temperatures and precipitation are the main weather concerns while climbing the mountain. The warmer, drier months are the best times to climb Kilimanjaro, climbs during January, February and September are all very good, while climbs in June, July and August are equally as good because it is possible the temperature will be a little cooler. Months to try and avoid climbing the mountain are during the rainy season which fall in the months of March, April, May and November although climbers can still experience rain during the dry season, the weather on the mountain is unpredictable.
Please note that this is a challenging and tough trek, which reaches an altitude of 5895m. It is possible to find this climb very difficult even if you consider yourself to be relatively fit, it mostly depends on how well your body acclimatizes to high altitude.
Ecological Zones of Kilimanjaro
It all begins at the base of the mountain as we embark on our climb, allowing us to pass through lush rain-forests, proceeding through heath, moorland, alpine desert and finally entering the arctic zone. Climbers need to be prepared for the wide range of temperatures has we pass through all the different zones, especially the extreme cold on entering the arctic zone. Climbers also need to be aware that the forest sections can often be quite slippery, moorland paths can at times be very wet due to poor weather conditions and the final ascent through the arctic zone is almost entirely of scree and loose rock, although it can be tricky there is no technical climbing skills needed.
You’re in good hands! Once were on the mountain all you need to worry about is enjoying your experience and ascending to the roof of Africa, everything else is taken care of by the experienced staff. You will have a fully licensed head guide, fully licensed assistant guides, experienced cook and hardworking porters. Food will be fresh, healthy and in abundance making sure that you are getting the right nutrition and energy for your ascent of the mountain. All your needs will be catered for. Emanuel and Edwin wish to give you the best experience upon the mountain and memories you will never forget. This is accomplished by no corners being cut and with our guaranteed quality of service.
Climbing Kilimanjaro doesn’t need any technical mountaineering skills, although a reasonable degree of fitness would increase your odds of a successful summit, safe climb and most of all an enjoyable experience. Please note that being physically fit doesn’t guarantee anyone to overcome problems with altitude although it can reduce the impact of your climb on the body. If anyone wishes to train for their climb we recommend that you take part in daily walks that should include uphill and downhill sections, it is also necessary to increase your endurance and confidence levels all of which will play a part in your success.
Traveling to Tanzania. Visa and Vaccination
When traveling to Tanzania most nationalities require a visa, this includes British, most EU, Americans, Canadians and Australians etc. All visas are available at the border, British and most EU are at a cost of €40 cash, whilst for US nationals it will be €81 cash.
Please note that airports and other points of entry to Tanzania may require you to show a certificate of vaccination for Yellow Fever. We recommend you seek medical advice regarding other vaccinations such as Polio, Typhoid, Hepatitis A and Tetanus. Malaria precaution is essential, we suggest you consult your GP on which Malaria tablets to take. It is the responsibility of all travelers to make sure they have passport, visa, vaccinations and suitable insurance in place for this journey.
Safety and Rescue
In our experience there are three primary steps to accomplishing successful acclimatization. Firstly, drink lots of water, we recommend a daily intake of 4-5 liters. Secondly it is sensible to walk slowly, the body needs as little strain as possible whilst adapting to the reduction in oxygen, it is not a race. Thirdly it is within our experience to know that climbing high during the day and sleeping low during the night can achieve greater success of acclimatization.
Our knowledge, training, equipment and personal attention are all designed with your safety in mind. It is probable that most climbers will experience mild altitude sickness despite adequate hydration and a slow ascent, most climbers will recover, for those who experience serious altitude sickness they will be required to descend to a lower altitude with a member of staff in the interest of safety. Please note all symptoms should be reported immediately to our guides, the senior guide will have the final decision on all matters of safety regarding serious altitude sickness.
Thousands of people attempt the summit of the majestic Kilimanjaro every year, on average two or three fatalities occur from acute mountain sickness, this is a result of not undertaking a rapid descent quickly enough. Although all our guides are fully trained in recognizing and dealing with acute altitude sickness there is no guarantees on the mountain with its unpredictable conditions and remoteness.
All head guides are equipped with oxygen and a complete medical kit. Anyone needing to be evacuated will be taken down by stretcher has quickly as possible to the nearest point that the rescue vehicle can access to remove you from the mountain for medical assistance. Your safety is paramount to us, therefore it is imperative that you advise us at the time of your booking of any conditions medical or otherwise that may affect you or others on the trip.
Lake Natron & Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano
Lake Natron is a soda lake with a large resident population of flamingos. Being on the border of Kenya, just north of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Natron and the active volcano Ol Doinyo L’Engai occupy a surreal landscape, overshadowed by the Rift Valley Escarpment. Lake Natron is a good area to visit authentic Maasai communities, experiencing first-hand the Masai culture. Foot safaris along natural river gorges are another possibility, as there are waterfalls, plunge pools and a natural jacuzzi fed by water coming from the Ngorongoro conservation area.
At the head of the valley lies the active volcano Oldoinyo Lengai, Tanzania’s only active volcano and the world’s only natrocarbonatite volcano. This unique and amazing geological feature is the most remarkable geological sight Tanzania has to offer, towering over the desolate landscape produced by the ash falling from its constant eruptions; Lengai created – and still creates – the Serengeti Plains, and is the cause of the archaeological fossil layers of Olduvai Gorge!
Oldoinyo Lengai means “mountain of God” in KiMaasai (the language of the Masai tribe), and when you see an eruption under-way (last eruption in 2008/9) you can understand how Oldoinyo Lengai got its name. It is usually possible to climb Oldoinyo Lengai, if the volcano is not erupting too savagely, and although the climb is hard (some might say savage) the views from the top are truly breath-taking.
If you are interested in visiting Lake Natron or Oldoinyo Lengai book your own personal Tanzania safari itinerary with a 5% discount through our Customised tours page.
Lying on the border of Kenya, Lake Natron is the only known breeding ground for East Africa’s millions of lesser flamingos. The best time to see the flamingos is during the breeding months from August to October. The surreal scenery of Lake Natron is great for landscape photography. The lake is not inside any national park, which means that as a visitor it is possible to go on a foot safari with your local guide.
You can take a short hike along a gorge in the rift escarpment to Engaresero Water Falls. There is a natural jacuzzi at the base of the falls where you can bathe, overshadowed by the rocks and epiphytes hanging above. It is also possible to take a dawn stroll out to the edge of Lake Natron and watch the sun come up over the immense landscape.
Ol Doinyo Lengai
The base of Ol Doinyo L’Engai, on the Engaruka Plains, lies at about 800m. The Masai’s ‘Mountain of the Gods’ is the only active carbonate volcano in the world. The steep ascent to the top (currently just under 3000m) requires determination and good fitness levels, but the views alone are more than worth the effort. It is usually possible to stroll over solidified lava flows, and walk among the lava cones belching out sulphuric gases. Ideally the hike begins at 1-3am, and the summit reached as the sun rises – you cannot have too much film for your camera!
The true bushmen of Tanzania
A morning hunt with the Hadzabe Bushmen of Tanzania Most of baobab trees at Lake Eyasi have big holes inside them that the Hadza use to hide their children during the heavy rains. They are also used for keeping water when rain starts Staying with the Hadza (the true Bushmen of Africa) is an experience of a lifetime. Just spend few days with them and learn about their way of life.
Lake Eyasi is a soda lake between Serengeti and Tarangire National Parks. It is a superb location for those interested in visiting the Hadzabe and seeing the traditional life of the ‘bushmen’. Their hunter-gathering lifestyle has not changed for 1000 years.
Culture: Excellent Birding: Excellent Best time to visit Lake Eyasi: All year except April and May. How to get to Eyasi: you have to drive. Safari types available: Walking safaris, food gathering with the local women, hunting with bushmen and traditional weapons
Fit travellers can join the Hadzabe in their traditional hunting with bows and an arrows. Water is carried in Ostrich eggs. For the less athletic you can join the women gathering tubers and seeds. You can camp at Lake Eyasi or stay in either of 2 Tented camps in the area: KasimaNgeda and Tindiga.
At Lake Eyasi
Lake Eyasi is just over an hour drive south-west of Karatu and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Lake Eyasi is a mildly alkaline lake about 50km long. To the north-east you can see the Crater Highlands and to the north are the plains of the Serengeti. Around 100 years ago when the warlike Masai tribes invaded Ngorongoro and Serengeti, the Datoga and other indigenous bushmen living there were pushed south. Many of these groups made the Lake Eyasi area their home.
Along the shores of the lake are Acacia forests which are home to a high diversity of wildlife including leopard and lion. There are several good quality private campsites which are located in the forest clearings by the lake. Each provides a grassy pitch, shower and toilet facilities constructed mainly from local materials.
Lake Eyasi is a superb place for bird-watchers. Lake Eyasi is well known for the Hadzabe bushmen and you can accompany them on a traditional hunt. The Hadzabe are the last of the true hunter-gatherers. They use an ancient ‘click’ tongue language and live by collecting berries and roots and hunting the small game that is still present in the area. Accompanying a hunt is an exhilarating insight into our ancient ancestors struggle for survival. Lake Eyasi’s principal source of water is the Sibiti River, which enters the southwestern end. The river may continue to flow all year round in wetter years and all the other inflows disappear in the dry season. Seasonal variations in the lake are large even though the northwestern shore is constrained by the Serengeti Plateau. During the dry season the lake can almost entirely disappear. The lake is also a seasonal stop for migrating flamingos.
The article is kindly provided by Armenia Discovery – our partner for vacations in Armenia 🙂
Like all foreign countries, Armenia has some unique quirks that visitors can have fun experiencing, there are definitely some odd occurrences one will be sure to write home about!
First of all, minus the nicely laid out, single line metro in Yerevan, there is no map or time schedule of Armenia’s public transportation. With over 100 marshrutkas (Soviet-style minibuses) and buses, this can be a bit overwhelming, but it is easy to make friends with people waiting at the numerous bus stops around the city who will be happy to help you determine which bus will take you where you need to go.
After boarding the bus, be prepared to be jammed into the tiniest standing space available as there are no capacity limits for the number of people that can board a bus. The standard rule is, if you can fit, you can ride! When it comes to payment, bus rides are 100 AMD = 0.20 € and the strangest thing about the whole public transit situation is customers pay when getting off the bus instead of getting on! Of course, we also have new modern buses with wifi but they don’t astonish seeing that than seeing minibuses or marshrutkas.
Food and Drink
Scattered generously around cities throughout Armenia are major sources of drink: drinking fountains․ These drinking fountains, called pulpulaks, provide a constant stream of fresh, cold, drinking water to passersby and the occasional dog.
The water in Armenia is something of a miracle and is rumored to be the tastiest, sweetest drinking water in the world. Perhaps the best place to start your Armenian water tasting tour is in the capital city, Yerevan. On the anniversary of Yerevan’s 2750th birthday, the city was gifted 2750 drinking fountains which provide endless streams of cold, fresh, delicious water for free to all who pass by. How the city survived its hot, dry summers for 2,750 years without these fountains is impossible to imagine.
Unfortunately, there are no such food dispensers aside from the standard vending machine, but the “tonir” is a famous Armenian oven that cannot be overlooked. The traditional tonir is a cylindrical oven dug into the ground, where the opening of the oven is in line with the ground level.
There is a second, above ground version, of this oven which looks like a mound of bricks with a circular opening at the top. These ovens are primarily used for baking bread and the raw dough is slapped onto the sides of the oven to be scooped out via a metal hook once baked. To get the dough into the oven, the baker must reach deep into the oven opening. What looks like a precarious dive into the tonir, unlikely for a hope of returning without major burns, is actually an age-old technique that has been passed down from generation to generation!
If the public transportation situation seems a bit overwhelming, taxis are an excellent choice for traveling around Armenia (rates at about 100 AMD = 0.20 € per kilometer), but even taxis are not exempt from oddities!
Cars drive on the right side of the road in Armenia, but steering wheels can be found on the right or left side of cars, so check twice before you pop into the passenger’s seat, you might just find yourself opening the driver’s door!
Generally, Armenia is known for its wide open roads, with no traffic jams, but there is one sort of roadblock that is quite common: sheep or cows!
Many roads pass through pastures and farms, so cows and sheep often find themselves hanging out in the middle of the road. Not to worry, though, honking a few times is certain to have them moving on their way. Last, but not least, bright red Coca-Cola tents at every gas station. Gas stations often are equipped with two things: the above-mentioned coffee machines and Coca-Cola tents filled with plastic furniture, available for travelers to rest in while their cars are being filled with gas!
In many cities in Armenia, especially Yerevan, visitors are taken aback by the extreme cleanliness. In the early morning and late evening, it is common to come across ladies with brooms sweeping dust and leaves from sidewalks and park paths. In the Yerevan metro, one will find not even a single scrap of trash and the escalators leading from the street to the metro tracks are constantly polished and clean. Especially in the summers, to follow up with the work of the sweeping ladies, shop and restaurant owners “wash” the sidewalks in front of their stores. Either with hoses or buckets, the sidewalk is sprayed clean of any remaining particles.
Do you know which word Armenians like to use most?
The answer to this question is clear. “Djan”. A word that has no translation in any language.
We use that word after calling someone’s name showing our warm gratitude towards that person, even if we speak with a stranger. Thus if you are Michael and here Armenians will call you Michael Jan, don’t be surprised. Just enjoy, because they welcome you warmly.
The first rule, Don’t be surprised if your new stranger friend invites you his house either for having dinner or drinking black coffee. No other purpose, or something bad in that invitation.
Just Armenians are very hospitable and it is not a secret for the world. We love to treat our national foods to others. You will make sure in that when you would be out of the capital. In every village you will find guest houses, where you will be accepted as a member of a family, they will offer you a tasty dinner with an overnight stay.
We don’t smile to everyone
In a lot of European countries, you will meet strangers who will smile you while passing. Remember you will not see it in Armenia. Maybe, many of you will be astonished by that fact, but it is a normal phenomenon for us.
Not smiling to the strangers doesn’t mean that we don’t like them or accept you. But be sure if you approach someone and ask something, that, not smiling Armenian, will do his best to help you, even not knowing the language.
Maybe this is enough. Have you ever been in Armenia? If yes, tell us what kind of weird things you noticed here.
Now, all that is left is to come to Armenia and see these odd phenomenon first hand and discover even more curious spectacles!
The article is kindly provided by Armenia Discovery – our partner for vacations in Armenia 🙂
The Everest Base Camp Trekking itinerary is kindly provided by Home of Treks & Extreme Expedition – our partner for extreme vacations and peak climbing in Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan and India 🙂
You can book any of their holiday packages via our Customised Tours page and get a 5% Haveneverbeenthere fan discount from us!
Everest Base Camp Trekking is one of the most popular trekking destinations among the trekkers who would opt for an incredible trekking experience while enjoying its natural splendor. Trek to Everest Base Camp is one the most renowned trekking trail in the world. Four of the world’s six tallest peaks namely Mt. Everest, Mt. Lhotse, Mt. Makalu and Mt. Cho Oyu are situated in this beautiful region. Everest Base Camp Trek is popular amongst the trekkers since the first trekking endeavor in the year 1953, that was when Sir. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa first triumphed over the highest peak of Mount Everest. The Everest Base Camp Trekking trail is luring the increasing number of expeditors who are seeking to enjoy the unique blend of both adventure and cultural / natural sightseeing.
The trail also encounters you with courageous and hospitable locals. The amiable traditions and unique cultures of Sherpa people who are always eager to welcome you with their arms wide open. Sherpa’s are yet another interesting part of the Everest Base Camp Trek. Trekking through the Everest region takes you to the world of Himalayan beauty where you get to witness the beautiful Himalayas, wonderful Sherpa culture and exquisite traditions of the people living in the Himalayas. The trek further enhances your adventure while sightseeing in Sagarmatha National Park which is a habitat for different varieties of floras and faunas. The region is also embellished with ancient Buddhist monasteries, beautiful glaciers, rivers and most of all the breathtaking beauty of the Himalayan range.
Highlights of Everest Base Camp Trek
• Sightseeing tour to various historical/natural/cultural world heritage sites in Kathmandu • Step inside and experience the lifestyle and traditions of people living in the Himalayas (esp. Sherpa) • Trekking in Sagarmatha National Park (Listed in UNESCO world heritage natural site) • Discover numerous Buddhist monasteries and other cultural monuments. • Visit to Sir Edmund Hillary memorials (Sir Edmund Hillary School in Khumjung and Sir Edmund Hillary Hospital in Khunde Valley) • Explore Everest Base Camp and a decent walk on the Khumbu Glacier. • Ascend Kala Patthar, a rockey hill at the height of 5550m for the view of Mt. Everest (8848m), Mt. Lhotse (8516m), Mt. Cho Oyu (8201m), Mt. Thamserku (6623m), Mt. Nuptse (7816m) etc.
Trekking Duration: 4 to 6 hours daily.
Start point: Kathmandu.
End Point: Kathmandu.
Lowest altitude: 1300 meters.
Highest Altitude: 5550 meters.
Modes Of Transport: Private Car, Jeep, Van and Domestic Flight;
Accommodation: Hotels in city and Guest Houses during trekking.
Itinerary For The Standard Route:
Day 01: Arrival
Day 02: Trek Preparation and rest day
Day 03: Fly to Lukla, Trek to Phakding
Day 04: Trek to Namche
Day 05: Acclimatization and rest in Namche
Day 06: Trek to Diuche
Day 07: Trek to Dingboche
Day 08: Trek to Lobuche
Day 09: Trek to Gorakshep, Explore Base camp
Day 10: Explore Kala patthar, Trek back to pangbuche
You can book any of their holiday packages via our Customised Tours page with our 5% partner discount!
Nepal is a paradise for adventure lovers. Nepal Adventure Tour Package offers a wide range of extreme activities for those who take their life as a challenge. The varied landscape has some of the best sites for it, raging rivers to run, mountains to scale, clear blue skies, challenging treks, fine lakes and rivers to boat, fish and raft down, and a wild terrain to ride.
Nepal, one of the smallest countries of world is the Green heaven of this planet you must visit at least once in your life time. Lying between the two biggest democratic and communist countries of the world: India and China, the nation is in the mission of being established as a Federal Republic Country. You cannot find any nation other than Nepal that has the largest variation in almost anything of world: natural beauty, geography, culture, religion, casts and climate.
Nepal Adventure Tour Package Highlights
Included most popular adventure activities in Nepal
Opportunity to visit Kathmandu and Pokhara City
Included hiking and sunrise views from Pokhara
Maximum flexibility in itinerary, with personalized service
Required minimum 2 persons
List of adventure activities you can do in Nepal
Day 1: Kathmandu Arrival and Transfer to Hotel
Your Arrival Time – Airport pickup and transfer to your Hotel.
6:00PM – Short briefing about your tour program. If you are arriving late (after 4PM) then we will have briefing next morning at 9:00AM. If any payment is due, then it will be collected during briefing time.
Day 2: Bungee Jumping Trip – Bhotekoshi Valley
6.00 AM – Morning after breakfast drive to The Last Resort for Bungee Jumping by shared vehicle / Full day Bungee Jumping. Lunch included
3.00 PM– Late Afternoon Drive back to Kathmandu. Overnight Stay at Kathmandu.
Day 3: Day Rafting on Trishuli River and drive to Pokhara.
8.00 AM- After breakfast drive to Trishuli River (put in point) / Rafting (4 Hours) and drive to Pokhara. Overnight Stay at Pokhara.
Day 4: Paragliding and Day Hiking to Peace Stupa
09.30 AM- Paragliding (30 Minutes)
1.00 PM– Guided Hiking to Peace Stupa (Approx. 4 hours)
5.00 PM- Boating at Fewa Lake. Overnight Stay at Pokhara.
Day 5: Activities and Drive to Kathmandu
5.00 AM – Drive to Sarangkot for Sunrise and Mountain Views
8.00 AM- Zip flyer (optional)
12.00 PM- Drive back to Kathmandu
Day: 6 Departures
6.00 AM- Optional Everest Mountain Flight
Free till flight check in time. Finally transfer to the airport for the onward journey.
How do I get visa to Nepal?
All foreign nationals, except Indians, need visas to enter Nepal. Multiple entry visas for 15 days (US€20 or equivalent convertible currency), 30 days (US€33) or 90 days (US€81) can be obtained from any Nepalese embassy or consulate. You can also get a visa on arrival at the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu or at the Immigration Office at the entry points of Nepal.
Tourist visas can be extended for a period of 120 days at the Immigration Department in Kathmandu. However, nationals of the following countries will not get a visa on arrival at the immigration entry points of Nepal: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq, Liberia, Nigeria, Palestine, Somalia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. They need to obtain visas from Nepalese embassies or diplomatic missions in their respective countries prior to their arrival in Nepal.
Gratis (Free) Visa for 30 days is available only for nationals of South Asian countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for the first visit in one visa year (January to December). However, a visa fee is required for its extension beyond the 30 days.
Indian nationals do not require a visa to enter Nepal. For more information please visit to Nepal government official website here.
For online visa application click here. You will find information to get the Nepal visa online.
When is the best time to visit Nepal?
Generally, Nepal is for all seasons, however, if you are going to the high Himalayas for trekking, the best months are between September to November and February to May, when the weather is pleasant during the day and the temperatures do not drop rapidly during the night. You can still visit the mid-hills, including Kathmandu, Pokhara, Poon hill and flat area Lumbini and Chitwan during the winter months (January and February). June to August is rainy season in Nepal. The rain is expected every day. It brings landslides and clouds often cover the mountain views.
Accommodation in Nepal
Standard Hotel (2 Star)
Deluxe Hotel (3 Star)
Luxury Hotel (5 Star)
Hotel Thamel or similar
Kathmandu Arts or similar
Yak & Yeti or similar
Hotel Tulsi or similar
Mount View or similar
Pokhara Grande or similar
The Last Resort
The Last Resort
The Last Resort
NO OF PASSENGERS
Skoda, Toyota, Tata Manza
Van / Jeep
Toyota Van, Scorpio Jeep
Toyota Hi-Ace Van
Coaster / Mini Bus
As a Haveneverbeenthere fan you can benefit from a 5% discount on all prices below, as well as the other tour packages from Holidays to Nepal
Price per person:
Optional: Extra Night
Optional: Everest Mt. Flight
€155 (Including Transport)
€155 (Including Transport)
€155 (Including Transport)
Taxes & Fees
Kathmandu airport transfer
3 nights hotel accommodation in Kathmandu (twin/triple sharing)
Daily breakfast at the hotel
Transfer to Bungee Jump on SIC basis with lunch
Kathmandu – Pokhara – Kathmandu transfer on private
2 nights hotel accommodation in Pokhara (twin/triple sharing)
Local hiking guide for Peace Stupa day hiking
Bungee Jumping, Day Rafting, Paragliding cost
One hour boating at Fewa Lake, Pokhara
Nature of personal expenses
Entrance fee Approx €33
Lunch and Dinner (Approx €8 per meal)
Any activities which isn’t mentioned in the itinerary
You can book any of their holiday packages via our Customised Tours page with our 5% partner discount!
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is almost a virgin country mesmerizing with full of pleasures, ethnic cultures, glided pagodas, adventures and natural resources. Myanmar is truly the one and the only country left in South-east Asia to explore. You will find a charming country of wonderful scenery and incredible local people in Myanmar (Burma). Want to get feelings like a time traveler? Yes, visit to Myanmar. It is a new world and a new light.
We suggest to pick up some famous destinations in Myanmar such as Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake with 5 days/ 4 Nights tour program with 4 stars hotels for each destination. Most of the travelers visit the country between October and April (high season). But you may visit between May and September (low season) because the rates are low and you can see still see the beautiful nature of Myanmar.
Tour Highlights in Myanmar
The world largest Man-Made attraction, The Amazing Shwedagon Pagoda and Yangon Highlights.
The fantastic experience of enjoying Sunset in Bagan from antique temples and pagodas and River Irrawaddy.
Regardless of who you are or where you are from, Bagan will welcome you warmly with his aesthetics culture.
Lifestyles of Bagan people.
Feel the cultures of Myanmar people in Old Cities and absorb fantastic experiences.
Observe the wonderful scenes in Inle Lake.
Learn the nature of Inntha’s village on water and observe their methods of fishing and planting.
Your trip will start at Yangon International Airport, where the private transfer is already waiting for you to take you to the hotel, however before that, on the way to the hotel, we visit Kaba-Aye (World Peace) Pagoda that is referred to the peace of the world, Maha Pasana Guha Cave that is a place of sixth Buddhist council was detained. During the day we also visit Buddhist Art Museum which are in same compound. We visit Gem Mart that is located within in Gem Museum where gem-sets of valuable stones can be watched.
After having our lunch, we continue to National Museum that keeps Myanmar’s art, history and culture. We set out to Sule Pagoda that is located at the center of downtown in Yangon and Mahabandoola Park near Sule Pagoda. Then, we visit The Amazing Shwedagon Pagoda that is enshrined by the four relics of four Buddhas at nightfall
Day 2 Yangon to Bagan , Bagan Exploration
The Ancient Bagan Historic Shwezigon Pagoda Fine Stucco Carvings
After having breakfast at hotel, you fly to Bagan by domestic flight (K7-262) in the morning. It takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to Bagan. Here you will visit some famous places such as Nyaung-Oo Market that is a buzzling marketplace. The most outstanding sights of the day will be: Shwe-zi-gon Pagoda that is an attractive feature of Myanmar stupa built on stonework, Kyan-Sit-thar U-min that is a tunnel with well complicated paintings and Wet-kyi-in Gu-byuk-kyi Temple with antique wall painting of Jartaka scenes. After these exceptional visits, you have some time to rest in the hotel and continue later with experiences in Bagan!
The Archeological Museum comes next, and that is a perfect place to explore history and culture of ancient Bagan city, Ananda Temple that is a temple of enormous and best brick works, That-byin-nyu Temple that is rising to a height of 201 feet above the ground overseeing other memorials around, Bu-pa-ya that is near to Irrawaddy river and a good place to watch sunset.
Day 3 Bagan to Inle Lake, Inle Lake Exploration
Inntha’s Lifestyle Nga Phe Chaung Monastery Floating Villages
On the 3rd day you fly from Bagan to Heho Airport by morning flight (K7-224). A private transfer will take you to the Inle Lake, where you continue the natural discovery by a motor boat. Some of the activities you can experience here are the traditional methods of fishing of Intha locals, gold and silversmith workshops at Ywama Village and Cheroot-making workshop in Nam Pan village.
After the workshops you are going to visit Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda that is one of the most famous pagodas in Myanmar. This pagoda has 5 gilded Ancient Buddha images and it is a major attraction in Inle Lake. But the most exciting part comes after the lunch – Shan Shoulder Bag Weaving Center, Floating Garden and Nga Phe Chaung Monastery a very noticeable construction made of wood at the end of the 1850 called as “Jumping Cat Monastery”.
Day 4 Indein Excursion
The Ancient Pagodas. Floating Garden. The Old Monastery
After having breakfast at the hotel, you continue to visit Indein with several antique pagod complexes. While sigthseeing here you can observe the natural scenic beauty of floating villages.
Day 5 Yangon Excursion, Departure Yangon, See you again
The Reclining Buddha Image Scott Market
Today is the last day of your stay in Myanmar. We fly from Heho to Yangon by morning flight (K7-249). After refreshments, you visit the Chauk Htat Kyi Pagoda Temple (Reclining Buddha Image) that is one of the largest and most graceful Reclining Buddha Images in South East Asia. Chauk Htet Gyi Pagoda is a six storey-high Buddha image. Then you may go to Scott Market for shopping, because it’s time to say good bye and, hopefully, see you soon, in Myanmar!
It’s been a while since I planned to start exploring the North, and finally it happened, after I found a very valid reason to dare visiting one of the coldest parts of Earth in January, dedicate time & money for planning and execution 🙂 Guess what was the reason for all this buzz? A birthday of a Very Important Person! Have you ever impressed someone with a trip gift? If you did please share your experience, if not maybe we can plan it together?
I was always dreaming to be surprised by someone packing my suitcase, buying the tickets and planning the adventures, and then kidnapping me to the airport. Well, so far it never happened (so I have to be my own Santa), but at least I’m getting the excitement when planning these birthdays for others, and wish there were more occasions to impress with these purely emotional, and zero materialistic gifts! Is your birthday soon?
Objective – See the Northern Lights. Destination – Rovaniemi Lapland. Duration – too short 🙂
I started by checking out all the airports in the Arctic Circle area, and researching about chances for Aurora. Well, you need 3 things for seeing it:
Auroras occur from August to April, but there is no precise forecast to predict it well in advance, so you can book your flights and accommodation at a good rate 😉 The only thing we all do when coming to the North is relying on our good luck, because nights should be the darkest in winter, sky should be the clearest in case it’s cold (what can be colder than January), and the solar activity – … well, this is the ‘hope for the best’ part of planning.
I was choosing between Norway and Finland, and somehow comparing the beauty of accommodation types (because the other parameters are more or less the same), I ended up with the Finnish Lapland, more specifically with Rovaniemi. And neither I, nor the VIP birthday guest, were disappointed, even though we couldn’t see the Aurora.
This brings back to my mind another important thing to share with you: Auroras are pure luck (do your best and hope for the best), but be sure to choose a place where you’ll get other attractions and activities to enjoy. You can stay in the middle of nowhere waiting for Aurora Borealis, but they may just not come, and you’ll be very depressed for spending your time passively waiting.
The North is much more than just the greenish-pinkish sky full of solar activity. It’s huskies, reindeers, cuisine, ice & snow (and ice hotels), endless safari ideas and just cozy wooden and warm houses where you feel yourself so Lappish that even start understanding their language while having the local TV on the background.
It’s been only 3 full days in Lapland, and almost 3 days on the road! But it was definitely worth it!
Day #1. Aurora hunt at the camp fire in Rovaniemi Lapland
I was very optimistic and was sure that the right hunt will take you to auroras, whatever the sky above your house is! Well, we arrived the night before and saw impressive snow-white forest along the dark road, and an equally white sky, predicting a lot more snow, but auroras above us 🙂
But the Aurora hunt was scheduled and we didn’t regret that joined!
So the idea of northern lights hunts is:
Experienced in Aurora locals take you to the most far from civilization places, where no city lights can disturb the darkness of the sky
They usually take you to approx. 3 different spots in order to find Aurora
Whether you see it or not, you’ll most probably end up with a camp fire, sausages, tea and coffee (Finnish people drink more coffee than any other nation in the world)
Well, the Aurora hunt I booked was smoother, less active, I wasn’t sure if my guest would like running around with a bus in order to see (and then maybe not see after all these) the Auroras. So I chose an aurora evening, with an ‘educational’ forest walk, a camp fire and sausages to wait for the northern lights well equipped 😉
It looked the following way:
There were a few pick up points in the most popular places – the Santa Claus Village (close to the airport) or the Santa Claus Hotel in the centre of Rovaniemi.
Once we were on board of the mini bus with the rest of the group (another 4 people, generally their tours are open to public, but you can request a private activity) we headed towards the cottage of Happy Fox, put on extra overalls on top of our owns, got some rhubarb candies and went out to the wild 🙂
We started from making the camp fire (or actually our guide did) and then entered the forest and started my favourite walk – deep snow, fire trees, and silence of a night in a forest
The rest of the activity until midnight we spent at the camp fire speaking about life in Lapland, the nature, the legends, and of course enjoying the slightly burnt on fire sausages and Karelian pie
Let me come back a bit to the forest part. It is really a-mazing! You see so many of footprints on the snow, it’s so hard to believe that this quiet, sleeping forest can be as lively as Turkish bazar. Then you’ll see how fire trees got used to the Lappish conditions – because of tons of snow on their branches, they don’t grow high and wide. Fire trees of the same age but growing in southern Finland can be twice higher, and much more wider in branches.
Our guides showed us huge anthills, can you imagine that the first thing the Polar bear does after waking up in spring, is taking a handful of the anthill, for ants being a great source of pure protein for a bear!
Then we walked down to the frozen river where in summer they have a sauna floating on water, do boat trips, fishing, next to the river have berry safaris and even gold panning (the soil here is famous to be full of gold).
We enjoyed the night a lot, and kept many memories for us. For not seeing the auroras we were rewarded by meeting a wild reindeer next to the road, who was digging in the snow to get some roots for dinner. Actually this is not a surprise for locals, since next to the road is always the forest, so reindeers, bears, squirrels, elves and other residents 🙂
Talking about the organizer – you can’t believe how many offers of Aurora hunts there are in the web! And most of my time was spent on comparing the offered services vs prices, and then the communication with the organizing company. That’s how I chose Happy Fox 🙂 Weird name? Not at all!
The legend says that the Auroras are caused by a magical fire fox Tulikko running so fast, that once it’s feet touch the snow, it sends sparkles to the sky. The aurora itself is called ‘Fox Fire’ in Finnish (‘Revontulet’). And let’s be honest the company got a point from me for naming themselves after the Fire Fox, sounds so good!
Kristina and Mika were very responsive (believe me or not, but I still have those never answered emails, when booking an activity). I clarified everything via email, and could pay online by card. To compare, there was a company asking to pay by transfer – why would anyone ever make an international transfer when there are others offering the same but with 0% commission paying by card or paypal? And I get really angry when such small companies which should fight for every client, don’t fight for their chance by starting a paypal account…
But that’s another story, the main point is that I was very happy with the choice and we even promised the hosts to come back in spring when the ice breaks on rivers 🙂
Turning back from night to day – since the activity started in the evening (9 pm), we had time to do some self-discoveries and visited the Santa Claus Village. And there are a few important things for you to know before going there:
Don’t stay in Santa Claus Village – it might seem as the best and most authentic place when visiting their website, but in fact they offer some very small wooden cottages or tree houses located just next to each other, so you’ll have zero privacy for enjoying the nature.
It’s a very crowded place and just next to the road, you won’t have a quiet night here.
It’s enough for coming for a few hours for seeing Santa (actually in the area there are 3 of them – 2 in the village and 1 in the Santa Claus Park)
Be careful entering the shops with your children – every little toy starts at minimum of 20 EUR, and if your children are a bit like me, they’ll want many, many toys from there
Reindeer and husky safaris in Santa Claus Village – if you are tight on time and budget you may do these here. But! A 20 min husky safari will cost you 40 EUR (hope I remember the figures right), and you’ll ride around people, cars, tourists etc. On the other hand, you can pay 125 EUR, ride 2 hours in a wild forest, disconnect from civilization and just wow to the view every single second. And you’ll ride your own sleigh on your own, all the 2 hours! But I’ll let you know more details on Day #3 🙂
Don’t get it wrong – go to the Santa Claus Village, once you are in Rovaniemi, but don’t choose it as your base point for accommodation and activities. The authentic Lapland is so close, just a few kilometers away, so why would you waste your chance exploring it?
Day #2 Overnight stay in the Arctic Snow Hotel and ice fishing in Lapland
I saw many times hotels made of ice and snow on TV, and never ever considered it as an option for me to stay. In fact, before the trip to Lapland, I realized that it would be a loss not to try out! When and where else if not here and now 😉
The Arctic Snow Hotel is impressive just by understanding that it melts every year, and then gets constructed again by December. Everything is made of either ice, or snow, even the bar & restaurants inside. By the way, none of these works full day – the bar opens from 5:30 to 6:30 pm, and then around 10:30 to 11:30, the restaurants – only for dinner, and by prior reservation. There is no human being ready to stay there in ice all day long.
The bed in your room is made of ice, then covered with reindeer hide, there is a small ‘coffee table’ made of ice, 2 plugs for your freezing phones, and a curtain instead of a door covering the entrance to a standard double room. The cost was 220 EUR/night
Then there are suites – more spacious, with carvings on walls, larger beds. These are 350 EUR. Besides that you can find a family room, a triple, or even larger one.
So how was it?
Check in starts at 3 pm, at that time or approx. every hour the hotel arranges a tour for all the arrived guests. This is when they’ll show you the facilities of the hotel – your room, the lockers, restaurants & bar, the eateries outside the hotel (not made of ice), ice sauna and standard Finnish sauna.
The building with the reception – is the place for breakfast next morning, and there is a room which is open all night long in case you are cold in your ice hotel (but that room was already cold at midnight, since they turned off the heating when closed the reception)
How to survive in an ice hotel? The locker room in the hotel has lockers for your personal belongings (we didn’t use it), sleeping bags and liners from fleece, and beds where you can sleep in warm if you are too cold in your ice room. The lockers is in something like a truck connected to the hotel, but not made of ice, so it has heating.
During the tour you’ll get an instruction on how to wrap yourself up at night, but I didn’t like it, because it wasn’t clear and the English of our guide wasn’t the best.
So here you go! How to survive a night in a snow hotel:
#1 Don’t go for the sleeping bag and put yourself in bed unless you are sure to fall asleep within the next half an hour – your room in the ice hotel is not a place where you just lay down to relax on your bed!
#2 Once you’re sure, take your sleeping bag and the liner from lockers, but don’t get undressed there (recommended to undress by the guide). Your room might be at the other end of the hotel, and you don’t want to waste your body warmth on the way.
#3 Take of your jacket, trousers, sweaters, shoes – and stay in your thermal underwear (if you don’t have one, stay in sweater and tights). Put your cloths to the sleeping bag’s bottom, for warming up you, and having the cloths warm in the morning.
#4 Put on a pair of woolen socks, keep your hat on.
#5 Put your liner inside the sleeping bag, and then crawl into it. Keep the reindeer hides under the sleeping bag.
#6 Pull up the zippers, tighten the top part of the sleeping bag around your head.
That’s it! This way you won’t be cold, even on the contrary. If you are from a very southern place, and your nose gets cold at night (nose and eyes are the only things uncovered), try to use a knitted scarf, to cover your face. It will let the air circulate but keeps your breathing warm.
Waking up in the snow hotel
By default the guides will wake you up at 7:30, you can change this time to anything until 10 am – that’s the check-out time. And can you believe, when the guides asked if anyone wants other time than 7:30, no one was against this early hour. And in the morning many of them even woke up before this hour!
Who knows maybe I was the only one sleeping sweet and deep in an ice hotel? I generally sleep very well in places with fresh, cool air 😉
Important to know: there is no reason to stay more than 1 night in the snow hotel, unless you are an Eskimo. Even the hotel recommends it for an overnight stay only.
Besides that, if you don’t want to stay in the ice hotel, but want to see it and take photos – please, you are more than welcome! Just park your car and walk in the ice hotel – the door is open, there is no receptionist to check if you have a room or not. Finland is a very very safe country and no one would ever had an idea that it might be dangerous. I received the key to my locker and went to check it out, however on my way I got too excited by the rooms having no doors, being empty and very welcoming, so I never arrived to the locker room, but kept taking photos of their various bedrooms.
But tsssss! It wasn’t me planting this idea in your mind, okay?
Other accommodation offered by the Snow Hotel:
The also offer the famous glass igloos, which are obviously made of glass, to facilitate the Aurora observation. I really wanted to stay here, but the price was painful – 600 EUR/night! But when I saw them live, I actually didn’t regret and realized how happier is the stay in our Airbnb house
Actually only the roof is made of ice, there are plenty of igloos and all very close to each other, and they are small, tiny. It’s not like a house or hotel room where you feel comfortable to spend time during the day, not only once asleep.
Besides that, the biggest disappointment would be to book a stay in glass igloo for all 5 nights, so 3000 EUR, and see zero auroras just because the sky is cloudy)) Remember the northern lights are pure luck!
Ice fishing in Lapland
As I mentioned above, there are different activities in the ice hotel area. One of them is ice fishing – thanks to the huge frozen lake just next to the hotel, you don’t have to walk a lot. If you always wanted to try it out – do it! But keep in mind that if it’s just cold outside, it will be extremely cold on the lake, and not only cold, but very windy.
Whatever your overalls are, you won’t stay there more than 20 min, unless ice fishing was your one and only dream since childhood. The chances to catch a fish in January, in the evening are low, very low. The morning session is more promising, but even if you succeed, don’t forget that the rule is to let the fish go afterwards (live).
I joined an evening session just to take photos and videos, but didn’t resist even for 5 minutes.
By the way, I told nothing so far about food? Did we eat these days and what? Restaurants are not so much spread around the Lappish forests 😀 Find out about what to eat in Lapland here
Day #3 Husky park in Rovaniemi. The best creatures in Lapland
There are so many things to do in Lapland, that till the end I couldn’t decide what will we do on our last day. Reindeers and huskies won as the most authentic creatures in the Lappish forest. Just as most of you I thought that 2 hours ride is too much – how can you stay outdoors that long if it’s anything in between 0 and -25 C ? But since the only short (touristic) rides were provided by the Santa village, and didn’t require prior reservation, I didn’t book anything and hoped for the best.
On the other hand, I never stop researching, even when all is planned, there is always a chance to find something omitted before. That’s how it was with huskies!
Raitola – is perhaps the best husky and reindeer park in Rovaniemi. It looks just as good as anything seen by me in the area. And since it was just 3-4 min further than the Santa village, we didn’t mind checking out.
First you’ll see the reindeer part – a cottage and lots of reindeers behind the wooden fence, relaxing and laying on the snow (I could never believe that these creatures are okay with sleeping directly on the snow!). Then if you continue to the next wooden cottage you’ll see a huge dog area with many dog houses, puppies and adult huskies. Don’t worry, it’s not a zoo or circus – the animals here are very happy, healthy and perfectly taken care of.
Now what to choose if you have no time for both (we were sure we’ll do both, but huskies were in priority). Huskies are more fun, they are very active, lively, sometimes unpredictable, and you’ll ride your sleigh on your own. Reindeers are for slower walks, and the only thing you’ll do is sitting in the sleigh covered with reindeer hides (although they raise their speed at the end of the ride once close to home).
So we entered the building belonging to the husky part and asked if we can have a husky ride. The girl we asked passed us to her colleague, who came and said that we should go upstairs for the overalls to put on top of our cloths, as well as shoes, jackets, gloves, and even goggles.
After dressing up as much as possible, we went to wait outside and one of the Raitola guides asked if we are the part of the group coming for the 2-h safari. We said we are not, but we’d like to join. The answer sounded like ‘anyways it will be the 2-h safari’.
Trying to avoid the long safari, indeed we ended up there waiting for the other part of our group 😀 and no one didn’t even told us the price (of course I checked while waiting).
When the group arrived, I was sure they are all professional skiers from Switzerland)) They looked athletic and very accustomed to cold temperatures, and to be honest this made me afraid – what will I do if get cold during the ride in the middle of the forest, 20 people won’t turn back because of me!
It became even worse when the guide started explaining how to ride the sleigh – the explanation how to break, keep distance between the sleigh and dogs, that if you hit the huskies by chance with the sleigh they might refuse continuing, it all sounded so serious, that me, with my navigation skills, is not someone suitable to control these very smart dogs.
But what to do? Once there, there is no way back. And guess what? They put us into the first sleigh, leading the group (and all those ‘Swiss skiers’ stayed behind!).
Each sleigh had 6 huskies, and let me tell you a bit about their hierarchy:
The hardest physically job is done by the dogs closest to the sleigh, they are actually the ones carrying you
The hardest psychologically done by the two dogs in front – they have to deal with the feeling that all other dogs behind are chasing them. These dogs are leading the others, they are barking before the start to spread the word to the ones behind to prepare for the run. If they stop, all the group will do the same.
During our ride the guide changed the leading dogs in our sleigh, because the husky who was leading it in the beginning, didn’t feel like doing it that day (by the way, the guides are very strict with the dogs, but as soon as a dog performs well, you see how much the guide loves the huskies, and paying back for the good job by petting and saying many encouraging words in Finnish))
There are two guides during the safari – one in front, one in the back, both on snowmobiles.
During the 2 hour ride you have a stop in the middle of the safari for photos – the guide will take photos of you then, and you can change with your partner from ‘passenger’ to ‘driver’, if you want. Generally, it’s 1 h of sitting in the sleigh and being a passenger (and photographer of all the surroundings!), and 1 h of riding and encouraging the dogs to run (maybe they don’t pay attention to you too much, but if you shout, you feel like contributing to their speed).
There are no words to describe how impressive was the snow-white forest, the communication with huskies, the excitement you get when the dogs from the sleigh behind start getting closer and try overcoming you)) I’m very thankful for the destiny to bring us here to Raitola in the correct time, just before their scheduled safari was about to start, and extremely happy that it was 2 hours, not half an hour or so.
I would definitely recommend to make reservations (relying on luck doesn’t work 24/7), and choose either a 2 hour, or not less than 1 hour rides.
Our guide made a Q&A session after the safari and brought a husky puppy inside the cottage to socialize. During this session I really learned some amazing things:
The Alaskan huskies have very different appearance. The reason is that during the Klondike Gold Rush people needed lots of dogs for transportation, so all the foreigners arriving to America from Europe were pairing their dogs with the local ones. They didn’t care about appearance, but payed a lot of attention to selecting the huskies by physical capabilities, resistance and friendly attitude towards people. That’s why all the huskies you’ll meet in Raitola look different.
Huskies consume 9000 calories a day! And all this comes from very specialized food for working dogs, which is protein and fat full.
Huskies run around 50 km a day (our safari was around 17 km, and some of them already worked in the morning ride, and will do a night ride as well), and 3000 km per season.
These dogs have the longest holiday ever – 4 months. They don’t train, just socialize and enjoy the mild summer weather. Huskies start training in autumn to get back in shape.
The puppies spend the first year of their life just socializing, because being human friendly is a very important part of their CVs.
All the dogs are born outdoors and sleep outdoors in their dog houses, they don’t feel comfortable inside the cottage.
So what happened to the reindeers? Well, after the first safari we were exhausted and it was already dark. And although there was a night reindeer ride, we felt like it would be something extra.
It was the third day of our activities in Rovaniemi, and what remained was dinner and packing suitcases (for 3 days we took a checked in and a cabin bag, that much of ‘wrapping’ you need).
Talking about the dinner – the house I rented on Airbnb was not only well done till the last detail, not only smart, but also very authentic, made in a traditional Finnish style, but as a bonus had a private sauna inside and a separate cabin with a grill! So guess what was the dinner during all the stay here?
This wasn’t the most active trip of mine … But it was the longest one I had lately! 7 days in Athens Greece – perhaps, having this much of time available, it’s okay to afford some laziness in between. Therefore, I invite you to review my life in Athens – all the things to do, all the places to go (or to avoid), and definitely all the restaurants to dine in 😀
The route from the airport was unbelievably green. We took the fastest route through the highway, but it also happened to be the most picturesque. As usually, using uberfor getting to the city.
You can check here the detailed instructions on how to get from Athens Airport to the city.
During this vacation in Athens I switched 3 hotels 🙂 Not because they were that bad, but it was the original plan – to try out and review as much as possible hotels, but without a hassle of relocating every day. All hotels are part of SPG network, so we had some enhanced conditions while booking.
Day #1 Must see in Athens, Greece. Or a light sightseeing which ended up in a tavern
After all the commuting and checking in hassle, which was actually quite hassle free 🙂 it was the right time to turn on activity mode.
Well, what can you do after checking in at 3 pm? A light sightseeing, with a nice dinner afterwards – that’s an active enough plan after all the passed kilometers behind.
As sightseeing route I would recommend to rely on your feet in the beginning, especially if you stay between Acropolis – Plaka.
We went towards Acropolis and had an obstacle on our way – a street artist making caricature paintings of you. I was in that holiday start mood when I couldn’t ignore such an obstacle.
So 5 min – and the best souvenir from Athens is ready. The cost is 15 EUR/person.
We walked along Dionysiou Areopagitou street, where we met our artist, bought some caramelized almond and took the stairs on the right to the Acropolis – it was of course closed, 25th of December 🙂 But anyways we had no huge desire to enter any museums that day.
Just to confirm: if we take AthensWas for a starting point, by walking straight along the street, the subway station Acropolis will be on the left, as well as the New Acropolis Museum, whilst the Acropolis itself – with all the ancient sites, will be on the right. If you turn right a bit earlier from the Dionysiou Areopagitou street, you’ll end up in Plaka – the most touristic part of the city, but also quite a photogenic one. The majority of tavernas with live music are situated there. But we’ll talk about it later 🙂
In case you chose to take our route, you’ll notice a hill (not too high one) – it’s the Areopagus (Mars) Hill. Always crowded, people are literally standing on each other’s feet for taking photos of Acropolis… Don’t climb up there, isn’t it a shame capturing these beautiful monuments in a complete chaos. There is a better place for that.
And it’s called The Filopappou Hill or the Hill of Muses – my very much loved piece of Athens :>
The Filopappou Hill or the Hill of Muses is just nearby – deep green & rocky, definitely my favourite place in Athens. It’s a nice itinerary for a walk (there are several caves, one of them is known as ‘Sokrates Prison’), birds, olive trees, and great photo spots! So just take the time to walk around and after the ‘Sokrates Prison’, on the right side you’ll see a path leading up. Take it and go until the very top, just until there is nothing else to climb up. You’ll find a perfect Acropolis & selfie spot, as well as a view of the seaside nearby.
Going back downstairs, and leaving the Hill of Muses, you’ll spot a traditional Greek Dances Theatre ‘Dora Stratou’. That’s actually a place where you could join a sirtaki dance workshop 🙂 We couldn’t (festive days…), but in case you’ll do, don’t forget to share your experience in a comment or even a short article maybe!
In the meantime while walking I made a reservation for a Greek tavern. Why not starting the trip with one of the most characteristic things you can spot in Greece! But before commencing with the dinner (starts at 9 pm), we decided to hang out a bit with locals, with a view.
Bar 360° – is a bit too fancy (or pricey) but a worth going place to celebrate the arrival to Athens. The bar occupies the top three floors of a large building on Monastiraki square. A glass of white wine sangria is 7,5 EUR, but you’ll get the Acropolis view and the vibrating ambience of a ‘locals go’ place. Tip: the elevator will take you to the 2nd or 3rd floor – which is marked as 360°, but don’t stop there, go one floor further – that’s Bacardi bar, and one more floor by stairs – and voila, you are in the maybe most beautiful and active rooftop bar in Athens.
Though later on I understood that it’s not a big deal getting the view of Acropolis in Athens – you can see it from almost from everywhere 🙂
Time for dinner – we headed towards Oinopoleion taverna (use their website to read the story and the menu, and their facebook for updates on events). We had a very Greek dinner with many different appetizers; amongst all of them above all I loved the zucchini balls and kept ordering them everywhere. And also a very Greek night with a band singing and playing local notes.
Surprisingly all the clients were Greek (well, it’s not a touristy place, their facebook page is in Greek only, and I just understood by the photo attached to the event, that there will be music & wine), and even more surprisingly, they didn’t react too much on the music. Almost no one was clapping, or singing, not even talking about standing up and spinning around in a dance. Actually I was the only one who clapped the rhythm until my palms started to burn (but they did already at ‘home’, at night).
Day #2. Trip to Sounio and the Poseidon’s Temple, followed by our active nightlife in Athens
Being extremely active after waking up, around noon, I decided that it’s time for a road trip, since there are some many beautiful sites around Athens. Indeed there are, but in case you didn’t rent a car, and rely on speed of buses, or other public transport means, you either wake up early at sunrise to afford some hours for commuting, or spend the largest part of the light day watching the views through the window.
And of course my ‘behind the window’ scenery below 🙂
Our destination was the Poseidon Temple in Kato Sounio. A place which I’ll always remember for heartbreaking sunsets : >
To reach Sounio you’ll have to take a bus from the Terminal and here is the timetable
The bus terminal of Athens is located at Kotsika 2 – near Omonia and Victoria metro stations. It’s not easy with google maps in Greece – the street names are inserted in Greek in many cases, which makes it impossible for you to type in and find.
Here is the link to the correct bus station, and just in case, the name which is searchable in maps – K.T.E.L. Nomou Attikis S.A
The one way ticket is 6,9 EUR/p
The route is beautiful, but a bit too long – in fact, it takes 2 hours, when it’s just 70 km!
Generally, you can enter the Temple – working hours from 9 AM to 8 PM, but we couldn’t… Probably because of the public holidays, on the other hand, I completely forgot that an open air temple might have any working hours… So we took photos from distance 🙂
And since we arrived at 3 pm, and didn’t have any breakfast before, it was quite a good time for the first meal of the day.
I found some restaurants during our long way there, and chosen Taverna Ilias which, surprisingly, was also closed, but, luckily, it’s smaller neighbor – Acrogiali – was fully functioning (and by fully, I mean that almost all the tables were occupied).
The food was great! I loved the shrimp saganaki, the fresh fried octopus, and especially the fried cheese. Talking about local attractions – the terrace is full of cats, huge, strong, ‘mafia’ cats. They have their own hierarchy, and a weak and small can eat only once the ‘boss’ is fed. So I destroyed this hierarchy a bit, by feeding exclusively a small favourite of mine 🙂
From your table you can access directly the narrow beach (you’re just one step away), observe the pinkest sunset ever, drink rose and prepare for 30 min of climbing up the hill towards the bus stop.
That’s what I forgot to mention – the bus leaves you on the top of the hill (comfy if you are about to enter the Poseidon temple), but if you don’t want to stay at the only restaurant available on the hill top (obviously it’s overpriced, and not a ‘local go’ place), then you’ll be willing to walk those 30 min down & up, for a great atmosphere, mouthwatering meal, and, btw, the view over the coast and the temple is much more unique from the bottom, than from where everyone else is…
But this wasn’t the end of the day for us. We had Napoleon plans for the nightlife in Athens. Not being a nightlife creature, I’ve spent a while on researching and finding (!) the best places, loved above all by locals.
Our first attempt was ‘Drunk Sinatra’ and I fell in love from the entrance. Actually, the entrance was the only thing I saw 😐 A magnetic vintage red curtain covering the entrance and then you hear that the bar is full, without even passing the curtain… I’m still disappointed that I couldn’t see the inside… It’s well known that Sinatra is always fully booked, so be smart and make a reservation!
Well, I always have spare jokers in my sleeves 🙂 So we continued our night in Noel – definitely the most beautiful and amusing night spot in Athens. Also fully occupied, but there was no one meeting us at the entrance door, so we sneaked in and found two tiny chairs at the stand. Everything in Noel is sophisticated and created with an overwhelming love to design. Even the menu was something exceptional, so well-done, that we even took photos of every single page 🙂
That’s where our night ended.
My heels flew me above the old city’s cobblestones and AthensWas disappointed by the absence of a kettle 🙂
Day #3 The best breakfast place in Athens, and the best dinner place and the best bar in Athens discovered on the same day. In between we had a trip to Mont Parnes Casino…
The third day in Athens was dedicated for late breakfasts and … casino! And again my super-planning nature faced the problem with finishings… Imagine me reading the reviews of the casino saying that you should take your passport with you to enter. Is there any possible answer I could give than ‘am I stupid not to take a passport to a casino’. And guess what happened 🙂
Let’s start from the beginning – the breakfast.
Perhaps, that was the best breakfast in Athens. Well, they were all great (especially those consumed, when others are about to have dinner), but this time I would like to point out the exceptional spot for breakfasting.
Couleur Locale is a 100% my style place! You go to the Monastiraki flea market, walk around, then secretly turn right to an empty street with some vintage shops, take care for not being noticed, turn right again now into the passeige and see in front of you a bar. Don’t stay on the ground floor (unless great fun is happening there), but take the elevator to the highest level possible (although in case you walk, you’ll see some antique chairs and tables at every level for a perfect selfie). Enter the rooftop terrace, say hello to Acropolis, find a chair and a piece of table, and order the reward for the dangerous spy route.
No jokes, the atmosphere is so completely local, that there is nothing left to do but to say ‘kalimera’.
As (an almost) local host who even had her own guest, I promised to show a casino with a view!
The Regency Casino is hanging on a level of 1055 meters on Mont Parnitha, in the centre of Athens National Forest. And I clap for the Casino to facilitate the access to this national park! They constructed their own private cable car station to give a special experience to those on their way to the heaven of table games. The funicular is free and no one requires you to use it only in case you come to gamble, in fact, many people use the cable car to get to the top and then enjoy a hike in the national park to get back down on their own, by foot. Besides that there is a free shuttle service for those having fear of heights.
On the other hand, if you are not using the shuttle, getting to the Regency Casino cable car station access is a bit problematic. It takes around 2h according to google maps and those who did the long route, and you’ll have to change 3 times, after which walk 22 min more… We chose uber, because we already missed half of the day by sleeping, so time was a concern.
This is your destination name for accessing the station for navigation: Cable Car Station, Parnithos, Acharnes. Our uber ride wasn’t more than 20 EUR, it took us 30 min to get there. I don’t know how much are the bus/train tickets, but if it’s 2 people and 3 changes, at the end it won’t cost less than our actual ride.
The problem is when you want to return from the casino. You won’t call uber, it just doesn’t find drivers in the area, but you’ll get only taxi drivers waiting for lost eyed first comers. Well, we had to take a cab, not too many options around. It went allright, and the total cost was 25 EUR, but the disgusting moment was at the end when the driver, who spoke okayish English all our way to Athens, stopped understanding a word after we asked for a receipt. Not a big deal, we could have called the police, but it wasn’t the amount to fight for and lose our precious time. However, after this episode I’m ready to cut a tongue of anyone who blames uber for whatever blamable against taxis.
Talking about the amazing casino 🙂 It was very good looking, a bit oldish, but let’s call it vintage. And here comes me with my ‘I always have my ID in the wallet’, who was proposing the receptionist to see the missing ID on a photo in my phone. Why not? 😉 There is always a chance, but this time it didn’t work out.
The restaurant was opening at 7 pm (we were a bit early birds), and all we could afford was getting out to the national park, taking panoramas and having fun of Greek children happily playing with the poor snow which they almost never see ‘downstairs’, in Athens.
We were a bit in a hurry though… Since a very special dining experience was waiting for us in the city!
Strofi restaurant is not something you will find in the buzzling centre of Athens. Strofi restaurant is not something which will advertise itself. Strofi restaurant is not for tourists. It’s for local gourmands (including expats who love it), who are coming there for a fine dining experience. And it will be traditional Greek cuisine, but completely different from the one you can find in the best Greek tavernas. Really, I was impressed!
We booked a table on their rooftop terrace, of course, with Acropolis view. For the main course we ordered lamb wrapped in vine leaves and goat baked in parchment paper and both were unbelievably delicious, that we even couldn’t decide whose meal is better. My guest even had the idea of coming here every evening for a dinner 🙂
What happened afterwards? Another local night out did 🙂
Baba au Rum – you won’t notice it from outside, but once you’re in, you won’t go anywhere until the party ends. Ranked among world’s 50 best bars in 2016, and, right now, when I’m writing these lines, I’m really missing the possibility of going out to Baba.
What impressed me the most was the service we got from the very entrance. No one prohibited entering, even though the bar was full. We got in, looked around the crowd and felt like it’s hopeless to find a spot, so we were about to leave, when the waiter caught us and offered two places at the DJs stand, for the beginning, as he said. And that was good enough for us till the end.
This was something in between the discipline of Sinatra and freedom of Noel. In the first you couldn’t enter because it’s full, in the second – no one cares if you entered unless you find yourself a spot, that’s when they come and serve you. Here it was crowded, but we got a helper to find a place 🙂 And the cocktails are amazing, just as their website says!
Day #4 Relocation to Hotel Grande Bretagne. The Benaki Toy Museum and the best taverna in Athens
This day was the check in to Hotel Grande Bretagne – my favourite out of all the hotels during this trip. A very lively lobby full of people, arriving and leaving, or just chit chatting next to the Christmas tree. The wedding of Prince and Princess of Montenegro took place in the hotel on the day we arrived 🙂 In a nutshell, it’s one of those 5* hotels which are not only showing stars, but also align the level of service and the quantity of stars.
We got the needed attention from the hotel’s employees, we enjoyed the spa downstairs with saunas and pool, and all the facilities were on the highest level. I can’t remember that I had some comments about possible improvements)) Only some modern buttons would be nice in the rooms – like ‘clean up’ or ‘do not disturb’ 🙂
Next in the plan was the Toy Museum! To be more specific it’s The Benaki Toy Museum, and it was logical (at least for me) to expect that the Benaki Museum on the maps, is exactly where the Toy Museum is. Not at all!
We came to the Benaki Museum, which made me suspicious from the very entrance, since they were announcing some religious expositions. At the reception we were told that the toy museum is at a different address and we can access it maybe by tram.
We took uber, which was around 5-7 EUR, but there are, of course other ways of getting there:
line B2 – here is the route – you should get off at ΟΥΛΕΝ, Palaio Faliro. It will take 20 min. The address of the Toy Museum is Leof. Posidonos 14, Palaio Faliro – use this address for google maps.
By foot – it’ll take 1:30 to 2 hours – but it’s a pleasant walk in Athens towards the sea, especially when the weather is nice.
The museum is very well done, and a great fun if you are with kids. The entrance ticket is 8 EUR/p, reduced for children. Some of the toys are actually functioning and you can spend some time on playing with your kids. I just enjoyed the atmosphere around, since most of the visitors are Greek families, so it was another roleplay for me, feeling that I’m also a local from Athens 🙂
You’ll find a Marina in front of the Toy Museum, across the road. That’s where you can stay longer and visit the Neraida Floating Museum – one of the free things to do in Athens, how about that? 🙂
Besides the museum visit, you can have lunch in the marina area – an option for those who came when the boat-museum was already closed 🙂 We’ve been to Napolitivo, and just next to it you can find TGI Friday.
The evening continued at our newly beloved hotel’s spa and followed by a night out in another Greek tavern 🙂
This time it was Orea Penteli – full of locals, nice Greek food and welcoming staff. The restaurant has 3 floors – underground, ground and first floor, and imagine to move dishes and meals between these, they installed a small elevator for food commuting only 🙂 That food traffic entertained me a lot, but besides this fun, there was also a very good band playing Greek music (of course). I liked a lot the singer’s voice and we stayed till the very end, until they stopped playing.
The location to Orea Penteli is here – again, because of their name been inserted in google maps in Cyrillic, you won’t find them, unless you have a Greek keyboard.
Since the taverna doesn’t have a website, the only source of information is your ears. We were on Thursday and they had the band in. Walk around (not earlier than 9:30) and either ask or stop where you’ll hear bouzouki 🙂 Actually there are many tavernas in that square, and the ones I know, are just the neighbours, almost next doors – it’s Oinopoleion (where we celebrated our arrival with a Greek band), the other is Taverna Tour Psirri, which was on my check list, but we couldn’t manage to visit all the Greek tavernas due to lack of stomach capacity.
Day #5 A guide to best fish restaurants in Piraeus, or where to eat fish in Athens
Next day I woke up as early as possible to enjoy a walk in Athens, just aimless pedestrian experience 🙂 I walked up to Acropolis by a secret route which I knew last year (when my local host showed it), and discovered that this year many people started using that half-hidden path 🙂 I went down to Monastiraki, my favourite square in the city, and then hardly passed through Ermou street – perhaps, the busiest in Athens.
Ermou is full of trade – not only shops, known and unknown outside of Greece, but also salep & simit sellers (so common in Turkey). Then I discovered amazing coconut bars and bought a few home, and, of course, realized, that shopping on this street doesn’t make sense, only passing by does. Sunglasses I liked costed 300 EUR in a shop on Ermou, in Athens airport it was 180 EUR, and I’m not talking about tax free… So just pass and enjoy the atmosphere 🙂
It was the first time we’ve visited Piraeus within this stay. And let’s talk about how to get to Piraeus from Athens in details:
There is a metro line M1 which takes you to Piraeus from Monastiraki station in less than 20 min
The ticket is 2,9/person and you can buy only a 2-trip ticket in the machine (at least that’s how I understood it)
And here you are in Piraeus – the ancient port of Athens, full of huge ferries, arriving and departing, and also some exclusive boats like the one we saw 😉 It was Al Mirqab – one of the largest motor yachts in the world, owned by former Qatar’s Prime Minister.
Piraeus is popular for two things – it’s a departure point for local and international ferries, and for its seafood restaurants. Locals love the fish restaurants in Piraeus, in fact, you will hardly find a Greek ordering seafood in Athens centre. Why? If in 20 minutes you can get the best of it with a view of yachts.
We chose Thea Thalassa (Sea View) restaurant, for its perfect view, rustic Greek interior and availability of tables on the terrace at the window. Although we were targeting another place – Varoulko Seaside, which happened to be a very famous Michelin star restaurant. But it wasn’t the place + mood + hunger for Michelin dining. We wanted ouzo and calamari! Luckily, the choice was made correctly and we weren’t disappointed at all!
The funny part of it was that most probably the head waiter and the waiter were father and son. And poor guy, he dropped everything he could, he messed up whatever he was involved into, and his father just kept complaining and hurrying him up 🙂
Day #6 Aegina island trip from Piraeus, which was actually a quadbike driving marathon
We had a crazy idea of returning to Piraeus again, now for a sea trip! The destination was Aegina – the closest island to Piraeus. If you won’t be tight on time (I mean you’re able to wake up early to make it for the ferry, I would rather suggest Hydra island. It’s a bit further, but locals say it’s enchanting by the rustic style it kept in this modern world. The island is car-free – only donkeys, and maybe some motorbikes 🙂
The schedule for Aegina ferries is here – the fastest boat is the ‘Flying Dolphin’ from Hellenic Seaways – it takes 40 min, but all this time you’ll be sitting inside the cabin (since it goes really fast, there is no, almost no, open deck), and there is no possibility to board with vehicle. The ‘Dolphin’ is more expensive than the other one.
The other option is a ‘classical’ ferry from Saronic Ferries – the route will take 1h15min. The tickets can be purchased either online, or in the port, and I didn’t notice a difference in price, however, for the ‘Dolphin’ the tickets might not be available anymore before the departure. It all depends on the day and time, since some locals might use it for getting at work.
The schedule for ferries to Hydra is available on the same website. It takes either 2h by the ‘Flyingcat’ or 1h35 min by the ‘Flying Dolphin’ – both operated by Hellenic Seaways.
As soon as we arrived to Aegina port we faced an obstacle which we couldn’t overcome. Quadbike hire office 🙂 The price is between 20 and 45 EUR a day + fuel. Fuel tip: don’t fill full tank at the petrol station, the usage is very small, you’ll bring it back almost full (when the rental office requires a quarter full). Here is the link to the rental agency we used, they also have cars, motorcycles, bicycles etc.
What are the things to do in Aegina? Well, don’t expect too much, the situation looks the following way:
The bike/car rental will provide you a map with all the sites to see and explains how to g et there
But I was I and prepared the itinerary the day before myself
There are some historical sites on this small island, a monastery, and beautiful coastal area with the best fish restaurants in Aegina
Although the biggest fun part was riding it all around on a quadbike with a maximum speed of 35 km/h 🙂
But talking about the historical sites:
Monastery of Agios Nektarios – a pilgrimage spot for orthodox people, where they visit the cell of Saint Nektarios. A beautiful monastery, can’t say anything against, but I’m not too much interested in religious places, although respect those who come there, and try not to disturb them by being a tourist in a saint’s cell.
However we’ve spent a while here, because the area is large and you can take the stairs from the monastery up to the Saint’s cell, on your way you’ll have a great photo spot with a view 🙂
Paleahora – a medieval village on the hills. From 9th to 19th century it was the island’s capital, now only the castle’s ruins and numerous churches remained. The story says that there were 365 churches, one for each day of the year, today the confirmed number of churches is 70, out of them 33 are open to visitors. The majority of the churches are getting destroyed just in front of your eyes, and it’s a shame that there is no ongoing restoration. On the contrary, the quarry nearby causes a lot of damage. We met a local boy and his father who warned us about not entering into ‘small caves’ if we spot some. Indeed, you’ll spot some of those on your way walking up to the hill, they are ruins of the ancient town, almost buried in soil, so commonly called ‘caves’.
Temple of Aphaia – the cult activity on the site was continuous from the 14th century BC, the ruins of the temple you’ll find today belong to the 5th century BC, they were built on top of several previous temples. The entrance ticket is 3 EUR/p and it takes you 2 min to walk around the temple and take a few photos. In my opinion, it didn’t make much sense to enter, because for me Greece is much more than the ancient ruins. But I don’t deny that it thanks to the great past the ambience of the country became so much liked by me, and, probably, by those millions of visitors from all around the world.
Perdika coast – that’s the park which we couldn’t cover, but it’s said to be the most beautiful side of the island with beaches and seafood restaurants. From here you can also take a boat taxi (8 min) to Moni island. It has no inhabitants, only goats and peacocks, deep water for diving and fishing and sandy beaches for those fishermen’s families. The regular boats go from Easter to September, although if you are in Perdika, I’m sure you’ll find a ride 🙂
Pistachio – Aegina is called a ‘pistachio island’ so as soon as you arrive you’ll see many sales points 😀
What we did is that before leaving the island we had dinner in a coastal restaurant. No, we didn’t have time to visit Perdika, but found a nice spot closer to the port – O Mantas sto Kima – they have live music quite often, just in case you’ll decide to stay overnight in Aegina 😉 The food was very good, we only regret for not being able to stay longer and enjoy it without being on the run.
The only thing we could do after returning from this quad bike driving trip back to Athens is getting upstairs to our rooftop bar in Grande Bretagne and enjoying the view of … guess what? Of course, Acropolis! Didn’t I say you can see it from almost everywhere))
The GB rooftop bar doesn’t deserve to be called ‘everywhere’, at least because it’s pricey, but what else can you expect on the roof of a 5* hotel!
Day #7 Celebrating New Year in Athens, Greece – with some inevitable adventures
It was the New Year’s Eve! Actually the reason we travelled to Athens. So after a late breakfast in Mani Mani we only had some little time to walk around, drink a tea in another rooftop bar with a view, and do our make-up 🙂
But let’s see the bullet points of this special day:
Breakfast (in lunch time) in Mani Mani – originally wanted to eat in Lotte bistro, but when we arrived they apologized saying that they have problems with electricity and the kitchen is not functioning. The next closest spot on my list of best restaurants in Athens was Mani Mani. New York Times recommended it amongst best restaurants, shops & sights in Athens, and maybe that’s the reason you’ll see lots of foreigners there. I didn’t like the food, it was too fusion 😀 Just look at the Greek salad in their understanding of it :)I don’t eat onions, so in Greek salads, since they are cut in large pieces, I happily remove them from the plate. In this interpretation of the famous salad the onions were almost in a puree state… I wish I knew :||The location is nice, it’s also a bit like hidden, doesn’t attract your attention from outside. The food is also good, but a bit too specific, and depends on your taste, of course. So check it out, maybe that’s exactly what you were looking for in Athens, or maybe not at all))
The National Garden, used to be the Royal Garden – greenery and peace in the heart of Athens. Locals with their children and dogs 🙂 I would imagine myself here sitting on the Zappeion’s stairs with a laptop open on my knees.
The Presidential Palace (or Maison) – just in front of the garden and something very much fun happens here daily, hourly. Perhaps you heard about the guard change at the Parliament, which happens hourly at Syntagma. And guess what! We were passing by to reach the National Garden, when the guard was leaving the Parliament (after the change) and heading towards… god knows where…
I imagined that I’m a princess and they guard me, that’s why I walk directly behind those tall guys with a weird walking manner. In fact, they stopped at a luxurious ‘maison’ and started to perform the ‘guard change’. Which was much more interesting to observe, almost alone, one-to-one with the guard, rather than staying in a crowd at Syntagma.
It seems like they perform the same guard change at the Presidential Palace every hour – in my case it started at 16:15, so I guess you can keep in mind it as a starting point for the hourly calculations.
The Panathenaic Stadium – where the first Olympics were held. Well, I saw it, but didn’t enter. The tickets are 10 EUR/p, and let’s say we bought them and payed 20 EUR for spending 5 min on the marble benches, taking some photos. But I’m very happy that we haven’t, because this really doesn’t make sense, and it’s very rude and unfair for taking this entrance fee for a passive activity like visiting a large piece of marble. It is beautiful, but it doesn’t fulfill you, best case your Instagram.
City Zen – the evening tea spot in Athens with a view of the Acropolis. Since we didn’t try anything besides tea, I can’t speak too much about their menu. But the place seems to be less popular than 360° and less pricey. If your main goal is to visit a rooftop bar with a view – it might be a very suitable place 🙂
And then preparations for the most important dinner of the year 🙂 Guess what, even here I managed to make a story with adventures!
We made a reservation well in advance for a NYE dinner at Hotel St George Lycabettus
Here I have to quote my Instagram post from that evening (I can’t let the emotions go, unless I publish them somewhere))
Imagine you are booking a NYE dinner in a hotel calling themselves as: ‘AWARDED BEST LUXURY ROOFTOP VIEW HOTEL at World Luxury Hotel Awards 2017’
… and then you are placed at a table behind the DJs back next to the kitchen, in a hall which probably doesn’t function as a restaurant, even the ceiling is much lower than the first hall
Imagine you are in this very festive #newyearmood
… and then the Head Waiter says that he ensured everyone was informed about being placed in this ‘backyard’ and almost blames you actually lie, that you weren’t ?
Imagine that he is that arrogant that looks like ready to slap you for not being happy with the kitchen table 🙂
… did I mention that the welcome drink is whiskey (sorry, ladies) and nothing else, the price for the dinner in the restaurant hall and the ‘backyard ‘ is the same (150 EUR/p) and we didn’t even hear a single sorry from the Head ? Waiter ???
that what I call a 5* hotel
Happy New Year @stgeorge_lycabettus_hotel ???
Hope in 2018 you’ll learn what is #customerservice ?’
I guess you got the point. We received the refund of our deposit and sat in the hall calling all the existing restaurants and hotels in Athens city, at 10 pm, on the 31st of December, if they have a table available (by chance)).
After numerous attempts we were able to get the desired ‘yes’ from Athenaeum InterContinental Athens – again a rooftop, but fair, no one is sat in the kitchen, lobby, or balcony, a very nice dinner in elegant surroundings and intelligent audience and service.
A bit boring though… It was that kind of audience which sits quietly at their table, consuming their food and talking about … maybe… weather 😉 There was a singer during the dinner, but she never stood up from her chair, or changed the notes of her voice once it got closer to the festive midnight.
However, I’m very happy that we ended up here, in a good place, again with Acropolis view 😀 But next year I’ll make sure to find a place where people celebrate loud (but not wild), where they express their excitement about the clock ticking towards a new year (and do have this excitement!).
Let’s treat it as a promise for 2018!
P.S. some fun & positivity from Monastiraki
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I’ve been to French Riviera and Provence in the past. For me it seems like it was during a completely different life, in fact, it couldn’t be more than 4 years ago. Me wasn’t me, the one I know today. I had no idea about how to plan holidays, how to do research, I only knew (thanks to Coco Chanel’s biography) that there is a magical town in the hills above Cote d’Azur. It’s called Grasse (amongst other melodious French town names, not the most attractive one, isn’t it?), and that’s the place where Chanel №5 was created by Ernest Beaux. That’s where the capital of world perfumery is located, since the town has the best natural resources for scent creation.
That’s why after landing in Grenoble, and spending there a short day, I was absolutely sure that I want to visit Grasse 🙂 Do you have these insane moments when a tiny, needle sized detail makes you sure that there is a place where you should be. And there is no other option rather than accomplishing.
Those years I had no clue about ‘activities’, I didn’t know about workshops around, cool local places, authentic things to do. What I knew is that I can create my own perfume in one of the perfumery factories in Grasse. Which I did and that’s how my ‘Liberté’ was born in Galimard – a perfumery founded by Jean de Galimard Lord of Seranon, who supplied King Luis with essential oils and perfumes.
I’m still getting excited remembering Grasse. So I’m planning to repeat my journey to the most beautiful part of Europe – French Riviera. But this time I’ll use all the knowledge gained in lots of previous trips – I’ll cover both mountains and sea, I’ll spend time on local agriculture, but won’t forget about fancy yacht trips, I’ll see the lavender fields in bloom, but I also exctract lavender oil in a small distillery, I’ll go cooking to Nice and visit a 2000 ha lake, maybe I’ll join a painting class in Luberon, but at the end, I’m sure you’ll find me wine-tasting in Chateau Sainte Roseline…
Would you like to join me? At the moment I’m just looking for attractive plane tickets for July/August 2018 🙂
⇓ ⇓ ⇓
Other than that …
⇒ If you wish to plan your trip on your own – use the menu on the top right corner or just below in the Read More section. You’ll find out about ALL the possible activities in the region, then some authentic places to stay and eat, and also information about Nice Airport.
⇒ If you want me to tailor you a Provencal trip which will suit your personality, occassion, mood and purpose of travelling, then leave your note at Customised Tours page. I”ll reply you almost immediately 🙂
It’s been a while since my trip to Amsterdam. However, I still remember the conclusion I made during that short city-break. I finally ound a city where I’d happily stay for a while, get settled for some 5 years maybe =)
Since I don’t remember my exact itinerary, and I did it much before I had an idea of creating this website and getting into a partnership with Tavsan Surat, I will just go through the ‘Amsterdam’ folder in my photo library and tell a few words to you about the best places I went to.
Perfectly constructed, I didn’t feel lack of space at all
With a round bath tube =))
I loved it, it was the best example of a smart hotel where everything is well thought out, compact, designed with a taste.
However, as Platinum SPG guests we were supposed to get the best room they had available (and the hotel got a red card for not providing it to us from the 1st night!), so on the next day we relocated to:
We had a gramophone, vinyl records, retro radio, TV, a bar stand, two toilets etc.
It was considered a luxury suite, but I was so disappointed by it. It wasn’t designed that smart – the stairs were very uncomfortable to use, each of them was too high. Perhaps you can use them comfortably only having long Dutch legs))
The duplex had a shower, not the romantic round bath tube like the ‘small room’. And imagine, the first night I was so exhausted that I didn’t use my wonderful bath tube. And on the 2nd, I didn’t have it anymore… 🙁
So I would definitely recommend the rooms, against the duplex suite. Checking out the other rooms in W Bank, I would pay attention to Fantastic Bank, with a terrace and jacuzzi, a WOW Suite Bank, with a round bath tube, or an almost 200 sq. m. Extreme WOW Suite, in case you want the most expensive room they have – from 2400 EUR 😀
It was more of a relaxing trip, I can even say romantic. The type of trip you’d prefer to get red roses & champagne, not chasing activities.
So in alco-flower-free time I just recommend some walks along the canals, I didn’t use any maps, guides, I don’t know anything about the buildings on the photos. For me it was just absolutely beautiful, which doesn’t require any information behind it.
The Amsterdam Tulip Museum
Accidentally I found myself in front of the Tulip Museum. Of course I entered, bought a ticket, and went through the whole thing. After which I can clearly state that it’s a waste of money and time. You’ll see a couple of films about the history of tulip business, some photos on the walls, and basically that’s it. The admission fee is 5 EUR/adults.
Well, I found out that tulips came to the Dutch from Ottomans. But I’m sure that most of you already know it, and if not – you can read about it on the web))
Heinen Delftware & The Royal Delft Experience Amsterdam
Located in the very centre, at KalverStraat crosswalk. It’s a shop of the famous Delft pottery and next doors – the Delft Experience Tour. Unluckily during my stay in Amsterdam the experience tour wasn’t running due to restoration works in the building. So I had access only to the shop, where I was happy to spend both time, and money 😉
To see how it’s done – on the 1st floor you’ll find an artist handpainting pottery
To buy souvenirs – anything from 2 EUR till thousands of euros worth items
To give your eyes a while of rest – it’s really peaceful to be surrounded by white-blue pottery, even when the shop is full of customers
Restaurant De Kas
It’s definitely a great place, although I have some mixed feelings here:
De Kas is a restaurant with greenhouses & garden just on the premises of the restaurant
The founder is taking care of the nursery and you can meet him every day while he’s taking care of the vegetables
It worth reading the short history of the restaurant, saying how the owner, a top chef, converted an old municipal greenhouse (which was about to be demolished) into a successful restaurant with a revolutionary concept.
De Kas serves only organic food, produced either by themselves, or by partner-farmers in Amsterdam area
The only disadvantage, for me personally, is the too sophisticated dishes. Well, you might be a fan of them, if you are used to this very organic cuisine, but as for me, it was too much of onions, celery, carrots and whatever else under sometimes weird seasoning 🙂
The interior is a WOW-WOW for me!
The menu is daily, so you can’t choose specific dishes, only have to decide whether you want a 3 or 4 course lunch menu, and the dinner is always 5 dishes.
You can book a table directly in the kitchen and be in the middle of the ongoing masterpiece creation!
So as you see, I only have concerns about the cuisine itself, but I know many people who’d say they’d love to eat this kind of food daily.
The restaurant is located outside the city centre, surrounded by private gardens with little summer houses (just for a person, or two), happy Dutch ducks are walking around. Don’t forget to book a table well in advance, we could get one only for lunch, not for dinner.
A typical Dutch village with goats, milk, cheese, windmills and within a 20-min drive from Amsterdam!
Be prepared to find many reviews saying that it’s too touristy, and not authentic, and whatever else people in wrong mood might say. In fact, it’s me always looking for non touristy places, zero crowd space and air to breathe. So if I loved Zaanse Schans, I’m sure most of you will.
Things to do & see in Zaanse Schans:
Clog workshop – see how the traditional Dutch clogs are made, take some clogs with you home, to get your neighbors downstairs relocate =)
Cheese workshop – any comments? Watch & learn how the creamy Dutch cheese is prepared (you can also buy plush toys, like goats, in the workshop)
Goat & poultry farm – that’s a great fun for kids (and never grown ups like me). Here you can pet, film & feed the animals, they are extremely friends and safe, especially if you give them some food – can be purchased in the farm, for 50 cents, as far as I remember.
CacaoLab – a shop with fine chocolate selection from the most ‘choco-countries’, handmade choco bonbons and a chocolate making workshops upstairs, above the shop.
Ice-cream – regardless of the weather and time of year, try the best milky ice-cream ever at Zaanse Schans. It’s sold from a caravan, you’ll find it just before turning to the farm.
Windmills – various museums and workshops are located inside the windmills, like spice warehouse, oil, paint, cocoa etc.
Other workshops & museums – by the time I got to Zaanse, it was almost 5 pm, exactly when the majority of shops & workshops close in the village. Hopefully you’ll get there earlier and manage to visit much more. A great guideline can be found on the official page of Zaanse Schans
The Smallest House in Amsterdam
2,02 m wide and 5 m deep, and in fact it has 3 floors where you can find a tea shop and a private tearoom. We entered the house without knowing that it’s something special, and all we wanted was breakfast. Only after we actually started to have it, step by step, we found out that it’s the smallest house in Amsterdam, dates back to 18th century, or even earlier, you can book the tearoom for breakfast, brunch, lunch or just tea. The room can fit 5 guests.
The Smallest House is a very memorable place hidden in the centre of Amsterdam, and a real must visit, in my opinion!
Floating Flower Market – Bloemenmarkt
Don’t expect it to float =) You can’t feel that unfortunately, since it’s a very stable construction above the Singel canal. However it’s the brightest place in Amsterdam, and a high danger for shopaholics – even if you are not crazy about flowers normally, you’ll get addicted to them here. Some recommendations:
I bought a lot of ‘canned flowers’ – you get a tin can with soil and seed(s) to plant back home. I’m not a pro gardener, but there was no plant grown out of those sets ? and I bought around 10 cans))
On the other hand simply packed seeds in paper bags were a good investment – I had great cherries & basil on my balcony this summer
Besides that, there are many souvenirs (nice & ugly), so it’s another good place for presents from Amsterdam.
Old Amsterdam – cheese & wine pairing
The very strong flavoured Old Amsterdam cheese is not only a perfect match for a dinner, but also an educational experience in the Dutch capital. During the cheese & wine pairing (you taste 5 cheeses & 3 wines) we learned about the production process of their signature cheese, found out that there is no precise duration of the maturing process (the company’s cheese experts are trying the cheese in aging rooms and give the green light if they taste done), why goat cheese is suitable for lactose intolerant people, and a lot of other things.
After the tasting we had a quiz, and guess who won =)
Old Amsterdam has 3 shops in the capital and 3 cheese tasting rooms respectively.
The best place in Amsterdam for a morning, day and even night out, loved by locals & pro-travellers 😉 And I was so excited, that I didn’t take too many photos, sorry… So photos bellow are credited to: renthouse.nl; citybussexpress.com; asthebirdfliesblog.com; foodhallen.nl; olivemagazine.com; topazandsapphire.com
De Hallen is a food, media, culture, crafts centre located in an old tram depot in the Amsterdam West district.
Let me start from FoodHallen – it’s divided in 2 major parts. First with plenty of different restaurants and open space eating table all around (in fact, it’s extremely crowded during dinner time, so come in advance!).
The second part is Kanarie Club. It’s less crowded here, but more expensive, and you’ll need a reservation to get a table. Besides the dining area, they have a wine-bar & a pool-bar.
Both parts of FoodHallen have DJ nights and special events announced at their web-sites. Additionally, let me mention that the place is great not only for nighty hunger, but also for breakfast, brunch, lunch and any kind of bites.
Even though FoodHallen is far from the centre, crowded, requires reservation (in case of Kanarie Club), it’s a must visit in order to feel the impulsive temperament of the city. Amsterdam is here, not in the red lights or cannabis.
Coming back to other directions of De Hallen centre. Let’s go through some of their ‘tenants’:
Kinki Academy – an arty place to get a haircut or learn hairdressing
AmsterGem – hand-made jewelry. They also offer a 3h workshop here
Filmhallen – a movie theatre with 9 screening rooms
Jean School – the world’s first full time denim developer school, exactly: sewing, fitting, washing, designing. The students graduate with a Level 3 diploma in Art & Design
House of Denim – in collaboration with the Jean School, the House of Denim hosts denim workshops, mainly focused on recycling & re-using denim
I don’t know if you did, but all the info above ensured me once again that De Hallen is a place to engage you for at least a whole day. But you don’t have to leave when the activities end. The old tram depot offers accommodation options as well:
And let me finish this Amsterdam storytelling with a romantic note – a dinner cruise 🙂
We booked the cruise through Viator, but since now I know the provider, as usually I would recommend to make a reservation directly. It was the Blue Boat canal cruise company and a great 3-course dinner, wine, a chef onboard, and some light, but not overwhelming commentaries from the captain when passing by a sightseeing spot. Magic two and a half hours, great memories and no photos 😉
Am I the only one not having in mind photos when being in the very best company and surroundings? 🙂
Definitely Malta has its advantages, but let me admit, it’s not my favourite holiday destination. However, I don’t want to be negative – you’ll see my story below and understand, what went wrong. First of all, let’s start from the reasons why Malta is a great holiday place for you, my dear reader:
If you are a diver – (and excuse me in advance, if I’m saying something stupid now – I’m not even a tiny bit of a diver 🙂 – Malta is a rocky island and the waters around it are deep. By the way, the biggest white shark was caught at Gozo! The ‘pre-African’ shelf is very rich of sea life, in fact, there is a possibility of encountering unexplored ordnance, especially in places like Filfla island, where fishing, because of this reason, was prohibited until 1990.
There are plenty of diving clubs offering their services to both beginners and advanced divers, the sea is crystal clear and the topography of the island is so various (you can dive wrecks, caves and tunnels, shallow reefs, drop offs and archways, which are unforgettable due to 20 – 40 meter visibility), that I’m sure there is a lot to explore!
If you are learning English – who doesn’t know that there are plenty of English schools & camps where regardless of your age you can combine learning & being on a beautiful holiday island. Malta is not only full of native English expats, at the same time I couldn’t find a Maltese person not speaking English. Therefore you can immerse in English environment without getting the UK weather 🙂
If you like been understood on holidays – Italy is great, but it’s so rare to find English-speaking Italians 🙂 This was my first holiday without a language barrier – each and every person I met spoke enough English to communicate. Perhaps, that’s why I had so many interesting conversations with the taxi drivers.
If you are a history addict – and especially WW II – I was surprised to find out that the biggest quantity of bombs during World War II where thrown on Malta (over 6000!). This lead to two outcomes: 1) there is a huge quantity of museums dedicated to weapon & WW II; 2) most of the island is destroyed, so don’t expect to walk too much along romantic medieval streets. True, there are places untouched by WW II, like Mdina, but the majority is new construction.
Well, that’s it, I guess. Additionally, you may find yourself in Malta because of your cruise stop, or by coming here on a wedding (it is a popular wedding celebration spot).
So in case you happened to be in Malta and you want to know what to do, where to go, what to see and what not, please be my guest 🙂
See my experience below or go directly to What to do in Malta page for the broadest selection of activities.
Marsaxlokk is a fishermen village with an open market, which mainly sells great fish & seafood, and also other ‘useful’ household items ?
It’s not worth spending there more than 1-2 hours – but it’s important that you come early morning 7-8 am to 10-11, after 12 the stalls become emptier, and the market will actually close by 2 pm!
I arrived early morning when the market was just waking up, and it was great since I could catch the best photo moment – sunrise. Those beautiful fishing boats called in Maltese ‘luzzu’ are worth coming, and the bay looks really cute. Every ‘luzzu’ has two Osiris eyes on it – painted or carved, it was brought here by Phoenicians.
Tavsan Surat loved taking selfies in the port ⇓
As a breakfast spot we recommend the Duncan restaurant just at the church in the centre. They have pastizzi and serve tea in glass ? They open at 7-7:30 and that’s where I waited for the bright sunrise 🙂
After I walked around the village up and down, my taxi arrived and took me to Siggiewi.
9:00 am – taxi from Marsaxlokk to Malta Falconry Centre in Siggiewi
Yeesss! I was really looking forward to this experience. Imagine real falcons all around, you can keep them on your hand, feed or even fly!
The Malta Falconry Centre is more of a shelter, rather than a falconry centre where people would learn hunting with birds of prey. It’s a family run project, I can’t call it business, because their intentions don’t concern profit. Doreen – the owner, is like a mother to all their birds. In fact she’s feeding them in her kitchen from their first day of life, it’s not a surprise that these birds feel more like humans, not birds. However, we don’t forget about their instincts!
The centre has a rule – they only keep birds which are grown up been surrounded by humans. They buy birds from people who are not satisfied with their breeding, hunting, appearance characteristics, or find owners which are not taking care of their pets, then Doreen buys them out. The centre also sells birds (some of them enjoy their new life so much, that they give birth quite often!), but only to people from the island, whom they know and can keep an eye on the future of the sold birds.
Coming to a place like this and paying for admission or the experiences is more like a donation, supporting the great job the centre does by giving a second life to unwanted pets.
I booked a half-day experience which starts at 9:30 and finishes at 12:30. There is also a full-day experience which lasts until 14:30. During the experience you meet all the birds, hear about their ‘life stories’, than prepare them for the flight show which happens at 11:30. By preparing I mean mainly weighting – because birds fly only at a certain weight. Their weight influences their hunting need as well – birds hunt only if they get the ‘hunting weight’. So it happens the following way: the bird reached its flying weight, it flies, gets lighter and reaches the hunting weight.
That’s why in order to demonstrate birds flying during the show, it’s important to put them on the scale. And they never reach the hunting weight here in the centre – because we remember about their instincts. A bird with too low weight might fly away and look food on its own.
All these we did with the centre’s falconer – Warren. He is a passionate professional of falconry and regularly joins world falconry expos, competitions and even huntings, as one of the best falconers of Malta.
By the end I was so touched by the destiny of these birds, their instincts, behaviour, that I even adopted one 🙂 Of course, only on paper! In the centre you have a possibility to adopt a bird for a year – it costs 50 EUR, and the money goes for the bird’s maintenance. As a reward (but actually knowing they are fed is the biggest reward, isn’t it?) you will get a framed certificate hanging on the wall at the centre’s reception, stating that you adopted a bird for a year. As well you’ll get a certificate by email, together with photos and the story of life of your bird.
Taxi from Siggiewi to Mdina
Now it was time for sightseeing. Everyone in the web says ‘You should definitely visit Mdina’, so even I was hooked.
Mdina is a typical medieval town; you can find a looooot like this around Europe. Without even brainstorming I can instantly suggest Girona and Bologna, for similar colour range, and then many more. So that wasn’t too exciting for me… Of course walking along narrow warm terracotta coloured streets is great (especially for instagram), but there are no real experiences to join. I mean there are some museums to visit – some noble houses where you can see how does a Maltese luxury look like, besides that a couple of nice restaurants and that’s it.
Being optimistic I planned to spend 2h in Mdina and 1h in Rabat. However, 2 hours for both sites is the most, in my opinion.
So after walking around and taking all the possible photos, I went to a very recommended place. It comes out first if you search for Mdina, check tripadvisor or actually any other travel advisory.
‘When in Mdina you should definitely go to Fontanella tea garden. Their view is astonishing and cakes are just a masterpiece’. I’m literally quoting the reviews.
So we went.
Since many other people read those reviews there was a queue to the terrace with the ‘astonishing view’, yes, exactly, a queue to get a table. At first I also stood in that queue, than I came back to my senses and remembered that I’m never waiting for a table. Still since it was said that the cakes are a masterpiece I decided to get a table in their patio and enjoy the dessert. In the menu you’ll find two categories with cakes – one with normal cakes, the second – something like signature cakes. So of course I ordered from the second one. My strawberry Meringue cake was nothing but sugar. It didn’t have any special flavors to remember. It costed around 6,5 EUR I guess, but the portion was enormous.
Being not interested in the place anymore, I ate some parts of the cake and left very soon. I turned right and saw a ‘public’ observation deck just next to Fontanella offering exactly the same view. And the view actually is not too special, but is available and for free, and is exactly the one I would see from Fontanella.
And in case you want sweets & view, let me suggest another scenario. You go to Fior di latte for an ice-cream (it’s just near Fontanella and in front of the observation deck) and eat it under the pine tree at the above mentioned observation deck.
Out of local restaurants which caught my eye were:
Coogi’s restaurant – a great terrace restaurant & tea garden on St Agatha esplanade, just going right from Fontanella. The street is quiet and the restaurant is known by locals mainly
Before heading towards Rabat, I wanted to check out a park which was mentioned as a local spot, not very known by tourists. It’s called il-Foss, Mdina Ditch Gardens, and as you might guess the park is located in a ditch. It’s very stark, spacious and empty, not a shady park for lazy time spending on a bench.
However, if you want some peace & silence, that’s a great place to escape to. But beware that the park closes for the night, meaning they will really lock all the entrances, and there were some cases when people were locked in =)
Walk to Rabat
Now it was time for Rabat, my maps showed it’s around 30 min to go, so I said ‘why not’, after all I’ve spent enough on taxis that day. Exiting Mdina I saw a bus, it’s screen said ‘Rabat’, so happily I asked the driver if he goes there. He was a bit confused and said that Rabat is over there, showing me like if it is just behind the corner.
I decided to interpret it as the bus stop is on the other side of the street. So I asked some ladies if the bus from this stop goes to Rabat, and they said they don’t know, but Rabat is here…. So in fact, Rabat starts as soon as you exit Mdina and lasts probably for the next 30 min walking time (as mentioned by my maps).
Since I understood that Rabat is actually almost the same as Mdina – a bit less tourists, but the same architecture, I just walked across it and since I was ready to walk, I went for some 30 min till Dingli village, from which it’s only 20 min till the famous cliffs.
On my way in Rabat I noticed a very cozy looking place to eat & snack:
Chalk Café Bar – the have a great exterior, and I guess a matching interior, that’s how they made me stop for a shoot.
Besides that on your way from Rabat to Dingli you can enter the famous catacombs – St. Paul’s & St. Agatha’s. These are Christian burial catacombs from the 4th to 9th century AD. I didn’t go there, because: a) I don’t like burial catacombs; b) it was Sunday and they were closed 🙂
Walk to Dingli Cliffs
In 30 min I found myself in Dingli village. Unfortunately, there is nothing special to tell you about, I only found a nice church.
Although only now, when putting it all into words, I managed to find something out-of-the-box:
Diar il-Bniet – is a family run restaurant & estate with a field to fork concept. The estate is located in Dingli, and it’s called Diar il-Bniet, which means ‘House for the Girls’. Some people might scare you saying they still see the mysterious girls-ghosts walking around.
Today it’s an estate run by a family promoting their grandma’s recipes, the 600 acres of field is religiously ploughed, you’ll find only organic
production there and some of their olive trees date back to 12th century…
You can book a table in their restaurant, visit their shop or even join a cooking class & tour around the estate.
I wish I found them that day 🙁
So I’ve spent 20 min more on walking till the cliffs. The Dingli cliffs are the highest point on Malta island – 253m above sea.
Definitely you should admire the site’s natural beauty from the sea (which I didn’t manage to do). Just take an ‘around island’ boat trip from Valletta, or other larger ports.
Talking about the view from the top ?
? If you look down from the cliffs, you’ll see the fields where locals still work (the fields were the reason Dingli village appeared). So it’s very important not to throw stones just for fun from the height ✌
? The tiny island in front of the cliffs (you can also see it on the photo) made me very curious – Dingli is on the southern part of the island, so it’s not Gozo, as you might thought.
☝The name of the islet is Filfla – it used to be a training field for the British army.
Nowadays uninhabited, possibly was sacred to the ancient inhabitants of Malta – the neolithic temples Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra are built on the Maltese side precisely in front of Filfla.
?that is the island I would definitely visit if I had a boat and a ‘boat driving’ licence
? Although keep in mind that you must get a special permission to visit it, since the entrance is allowed only for those with scientific and educational intentions.
Blue Grotto Beach
I was really tired after this walking all around, my knee was also aching, so I called a taxi and decided to go to a place where I not only see the sea, but also have a chance to get wet!
Most of the nice beaches suitable for swimming are located on the north-west & north-east of the island, so just the opposite to where I was… And I really wanted to go towards Valletta – it was late afternoon, no willing for long trips and high cab rates 🙂 So the closest ‘swimmable’ place was the Blue Grotto and actually it’s a ‘must-see spot, so why not?
When I entered the taxi the driver said he can’t understand why people come here (to Dingli cliffs): nothing to do, just to look down. Partially, I agreed. So I said that now I’m going to Blue grotto, where I at least can swim. He ignored these words.
We arrived to a village and he said it’s here. I asked where is blue, where is grotto, he said it’s over there (again this ‘behind the corner’ saying!), and added ‘there is no beach there’. I left the cab in an angry mood, typed in google Blue Grotto and found out that it’s some 25 min away.
In fact the guy brought me to Żurrieq – a town next to the Blue grotto. So I was forced to walk again, but I don’t regret.
There are boats to the caves around Blue grotto – from April till October 9 am to 5 pm, from November till March – 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. These are the working hours of the kiosk selling tickets to Blue Grotto and the caves, prices are 8 and 4 EUR – adult & child. I heard the most impressive is to visit the caves in the morning!
It must be quite lively here when the boats are departing, but unfortunately and luckily I missed the boat times, so the place was almost empty.
So I reached the beach which I was told doesn’t exist.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
… but I rely on my research capabilities more than on a taxi driver who picked me up at Dingli and said ‘I’m Maltese, but I’ve never been here’ ? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
So once you get to the Blue Grotto (googlemaps will lead you precisely), just keep going down towards the kiosks selling tickets on boat trips to the caves. Go down till the very end and you’ll see this ‘swimming place’
Correct, this is not a type of beach you can sunbath, let you children play in the sand, take an umbrella….⠀
But it’s a great place to swim – the water is deep and there are stairs (I felt like in a swimming pool), and after the shallow beaches in Larnaka, and then rocky beaches in Malta, I really enjoyed a swim here. I met there only locals who confirmed they come to swim to this specific place all year round.
I also met something & someone special. There were 5 kittens and their mother (actually, just like Greece, Malta is full of good-looking street cats), living under a boat. I was sitting there and waiting for my taxi back to Valletta (finally!). A woman came with a pink transportation cage, I was suspicious, and also the people around were. She said she’s feeding them here, and then taking the babies at home for the night, and on the next day morning brings them back to freedom & port life : >
I found some nice restaurants in Valletta when preparing for my trip and decided to go to restaurant described as ‘small, cozy place with local cuisine’. Unfortunately, I couldn’t check out if it’s true…
There is a tiny problem of solo travelers, at least in my case. When travelling alone I never pack any fine-dining outfits or make-up, I go and spend my time as a simple, natural beauty 🙂
Besides that, restaurants are not very happy about dedicating a whole table to one single person (unless they know you well, and know you eat big & leave tips).
So after being unsuccessful here and checking out the other recommended places, I was so desperate and tired that I just wanted to order food ‘home’ – Time to Eat Malta (if you find yourself in a similar drama!)
At the moment when I was actually half-way to order, I spotted a terrace on my way (just in the middle of Merchant street). It’s called Anglo-Maltese League, and this time the rating (3.1) was very precise. Well, the waiter is very friendly, he gets 5, but the food is far from being even a tiny bit sophisticated, it’s just average home cooking. I ordered rabbit stew and some white wine, and then of course black tea to finish this long day.
The plan for this day was impressive. Just have a look to know how great that could be:
Wake up at 4 am
Taxi arrives at 4:45 and takes me to the northernmost part of the island, Cirkewwa port
I take a ferry at 5:45 to Gozo island
In Gozo I have breakfast and get a taxi to Ramla Bay – the most beautiful beach on the island (my personal opinion)
I spend 3 morning hours laying on the red sand & swimming and then get a cab back to the port
Boat to Comino islet at 11:30
A 90 min segway tour on an island which has only 4 inhabitants, but lots of greenery, caves and the famous Blue Lagoon
Boat to Cirkewwa, Malta
Bus to Golden Bay & lunch somewhere there
A 90 min horse riding tour on the sunset
A ‘Malta at night tour’, departure at 18:40, to see the beauty of Maltese sites at night
Arrival to Valleta at midnight
Oh, I was looking forward to this day soooo much!
But there are powers more influential than perfect planning. Mother Nature and weather, for example 🙂
Ramla Bay & Gozo
I knew it would rain that day, but some light summerish showers don’t hurt. When I woke up that morning I poked my nose into the open window to ‘smell the temperature’, and came to a conclusion that I don’t even need a jacket! But I took my pareo to use as a beach towel and wore the shortest shorts I have))
So in fact when I was going by cab to Ramla bay the driver asked if I have an umbrella. I answered that I hope to get one on the beach. He said, it will rain and perhaps he has one… So when we arrived (the weather was getting worse and worse), he gave me a rain umbrella from his trunk! We agreed for pick-up at 11:15
So well-equipped I went to the beach.
Black clouds and thunderstorms on the horizon – I decided to swim until I can, because obviously it’s coming here. I had a fast morning swim in this crystal clear water, this beach is just created for light swims – the water isn’t shallow, but at the same time, I can’t call it deep, since the entrance is gradual.
Calypso cave on my right, dark black night-coloured storm in front of me, still blue morning shiny sky above my head, and a closed mojito bar behind. Perhaps it was my best beach getaway ever. It took me a while to relax and feel comfortable one-to-one with the sea, and once I did, I never felt that peaceful. I actually wrapped myself up in my pareo and lied down on the sand. That’s how I’ve spent almost two hours before the storm arrived (and passed!).
I used the closed beach bar to hide away from the rain and sever wind. I changed back to my shorts, and covered myself with the pareo, after some half an hour sitting like that I heard a voice from the closed bar, then a door getting unlocked, and the owner appeared behind me. He greeted the romantic girl sitting in the rain on his plastic chaired terrace, and the girl politely asked when do they open (I actually didn’t mind getting a tea!). He said they won’t. I waited for a while, didn’t want to pick up & run, opened my umbrella and went towards Xaghra – the closest village, so I could at least have some tea & treats.
When was the last time you walked on a countryside road, surrounded by a cactus jungle from one side, and vineyards from the other? And almost forgot, with an umbrella in your hand.
So you are just in between Sicily and Africa, the only live creatures you meet on your way are a shepherd and his sheep, and a taxi driver gives you an umbrella for the rain.
Every time life embeds some of these cutest surprises into my well-planned schedule, and I love them <:
They become the most remembered moments of travel, but I know that life awards you with these only when you spend enough effort on planning, otherwise you just end up walking around Mdina with other nice tourists.
I arrived to Xaghra, had 3 cups of tea and called my driver to pick me up from there.
However, the surprises were not over …
No Comino. Segway in Malta
During my stay at Ramla bay Sam from Comino Segway called me saying that most probably we won’t be able to make it today, the sea is stormy and the waves get very high, so the boats to Comino won’t go. We agreed to talk again around 11, so I had some weak hopes, but not too much. At the end, it was cancelled, but I really appreciated that Sam even sent me a list of things to do to fulfil the time I allowed for Segway.
I started to search for things to do in the northern part of the island – I already asked the driver to bring me to Mgarr port for the ferry, so I will definitely leave, arriving at the northern part of Malta.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find too exciting things to do/see – visiting Popeye village was too boring for me, going sightseeing is not my style, and I really wanted to do Segway. So there were two companies I found Segway Malta in Mellieha and Malta Segway Fun Tour. The first said they don’t go today (weather + Monday), the second said they might. So when I arrived to Cirkewwa I got a confirmation call from the Fun Tour, and they advised me the bus which would bring me to Bugibba/Qawra, it’s #221.
The Malta Segway Fun Tour is run by a British expat couple, I’m happy I got the segway ride, but Bugibba is definitely not a place where you should go for any kind of tour. It is destroyed, and not by WW II, but because of untidy people, with all my respect to Brits, most of the residents are UK expats and they transformed the place into English breakfast restaurants & Sky sport bars. There are some Brits which I love with all my heart, but most of the times those relocated to southern countries lose the sense of order, cleanliness, discipline. You guys feel like being on year-round holidays, year after year.
So our segway stops were at rubbish dumps looking for chameleons, and then the gentleman on the segway introduced me to local flora – pomegranate, lemon, olive, castor trees… And by the way, they promise to take photos of you during the tour and send it to you by email. I still didn’t get them.
I would definitely recommend joining a segway tour in Comino, they are really customer friendly even before you actually start the tour, but I wouldn’t recommend you to do a tour with Malta Segway Fun Tour.
Golden Bay Horse Riding. Restaurants in Golden Bay
From Bugibba I took bus #223 to Golden Bay where I was about to have my horse riding evening (I called them in advance to reconfirm if it’s not going to be cancelled). You have to get off at Riviera stop and walk approx. 10 min to Golden Bay, where the big (and 16 y.o.) Radisson Blue stays and a restaurant overlooking the bay. Here I had my fast & light lunch (before horse riding!), the restaurant’s name is Apple’s Eye. The cuisine is not too special, but it’s not bad either, so I’m very happy they have that restaurant in the bay.
I arrived to the horse rancho, and was a bit upset with the conditions. The place is too small for the quantity of horses they have, and it’s not too well maintained. Since I was the first and had to wait for the group to come, I’ve spent my time enjoying the spider nets on the ceiling.
But I have to admit, that the tour is a great experience, especially taking into account that there are not too many things to do in Malta.
It felt like Malta is created for this way of commuting :)) those rocky hills are good only on a horse back ?
I’m convinced that this is the way one should see a very touristy place like Malta – on a horseback in silence, on an empty beach at Ramla, or among falcons…
Indeed it was a happy 90-minute tour and a decent part of this crazy day.
Before the horse riding started I booked a taxi back to Valletta. I gave up with the idea of the night tour (although I pre-payed it), because I already started to feel exhausted, and I wasn’t sure we would finish in time here with horses.
In fact, I was right – the tour finished at 7, not 6:30 as it would if we started at 5 pm sharp.
My taxi was about to come at 8 pm, so by that time I planned to have dinner at the above mentioned and visited restaurant. It was dark already, but everyone said that Malta is a very law-abiding country with almost zero crime.
However going back from the rancho to the bay, I just made a single step behind the corner and saw a group of English-speaking men, probably drunk, but definitely very aggressive, screaming god knows what to god knows whom. Thanks to the high greenery and my fast reaction they didn’t notice me; I turned back and with half-running steps took the longest route to the bay, along the roadway.
Then I was in peace in my restaurant, drinking tea and waiting for my food, when I saw the notification that my cab arrived. The call centre confirmed it’s almost here, so I took my risotto and cake as take-away and hoped to eat it in the very best conditions at ‘home’
Funny but the taxi driver had dinner exactly at the same place and exactly at the same time. He finished, left, parked at the entrance of Radisson and sent the notification. Not knowing this I took my take-away bag, stood at the entrance gate of Radisson for 15 min hoping to see him arriving. And only after calling the company we managed to connect and share our experiences 🙂
What most of us expect to have at home when coming back with a piece of chocolate cake? Me personally – TEA!
I booked a studio apartment in a house which had 4 floors, with various types of accommodation, and a kitchen on the ground floor. If you provide a kitchen to your guests, which has all the cooking utensils, salt, pepper, sugar, instant coffee etc., why don’t you have some tea bags? Especially in a country where a great part of residents and tourists are from the UK.
I was so desperate… that I couldn’t agree with this unfairness. It was 8:45 pm, and I knew that in my room (floor 3, stairs) I have a list of shops in the area. Running up, finding the list and checking if any is open. Gigi shop closes at 9 pm! I’m running out checking its location – should be behind the corner, but can’t find anything open. Asking a woman passing by the street and she says it’s already closed. But I didn’t give up!
I started to check petrol stations; they’re usually 24/7. Well, the closest open one was at Luqa…
One more hope left – pharmacies. I was ready to buy chamomile and brew it. But there was no open pharmacy at 9 pm in Valletta.
So I warmed up some water in a pot (the electric kettle didn’t work) and imagined I drink tea.
That’s how this glorious day finished.
This was the final day – in the evening I had to be in the airport. But still I had a lot of plans, why else would you book a night flight 😉
Valletta sightseeing – I had to see the St. John’s Knights city
The Three Cities across the Grand Harbour
Ta’ Qali Crafts Village
In the meantime – check out at 10, store my luggage at the office of my accommodation company by 5 pm
From 5 to 6 pm – stay enjoying some tea at a nice terrace
Not bad as for a last day. But the weather got so much worse, that actually I couldn’t complete any of these.
I woke up early to see Valletta on the sunrise and take some photos. Partially I managed to do that and also to understand that Valletta is not worth seeing for a person like me. It’s so over constructed! Once you find a high observation spot you see that it’s full of stone. I don’t really like observing architecture, checking which are ancient buildings, which are built after WW II, going to history museums etc. There was a luxurious yacht entering the port – it was the Indian Express, that was something I liked.
I went to the famous Upper Barakka Gardens – that wasn’t something special besides the facts that you can see the saluting shooting at 12 and 4 pm, and that there is a lift taking you downstairs to the boats to The Three Cities.
Heavy rain started all of a sudden on my way to the Lower Barakka Gardens. Well, heavy can’t transmit all the essence of the awful weather that day. Luckily I was on the street where my apartment is located, and luckily it was before I checked out not after. So in two minutes getting a good natural wash – both me and my phone, I entered my apartment 45 min before check out and without having a clue about what to do next – where to go, how to go, or even to go or not.
What is the best place to stay all rainy day long with your laptop? There is no cafe being happy to have you all day long, and even I can’t drink that much of tea. Then my thoughts turned towards the freelance hubs & coworkings, which wasn’t a bad idea. I found 2 places but didn’t use them – Valletta Hub and Grand Central. I remembered the Maltese glassware I wanted to buy for home in Ta’ Qali and decided to go whatever it looks like outside. So I partially kept the old plan.
I dropped my luggage at the company’s office, got my boarding pass printed because my phone’s functionality went very bad after the shower rain, and I felt in danger. I bought an umbrella and my mood went up. I understood the functionality of the bus terminal and found the places to get the Ta’Qali bus and also the airport shuttle.
Ta’ Qali Crafts Village
To Ta’ Qali take either bus #56 (get off at Villagg stop) or #53 (this stops only at Qali 1 which is 10 min walk to the crafts village). The crafts village is a great place to go especially if you are by car and have checked in luggage to bring back home all the beautiful things purchased. You actually shouldn’t buy souvenirs or presents elsewhere; here you can get really authentic crafts!
Please do not misunderstand me – far not all the items are nice, some are created for tourists, some are unique for those who can respect the hand-made work of local artists.
I was sure it’s a whole market under a single roof, with little shops of craftsmen, one after another. It would make my life easier that rainy day. However, every company has a separate house, so it’s a real crafts village, just as the name says. I wish it didn’t rain, and then I would really go into each of the houses, be in mood to film the glass-blowing, pottery, ceramic, jewelery artists. But I only had patience to walk in the rain towards the Phoenician Glass house, I didn’t even go for visiting the famous Mdina Glass company – it was 10 more minutes of walking.
The glassware was great, and since they close their shop for reorganizing I spot some attractive discounts and bought three vases and three tiny candleholders, one of the vases even contains silver.
Then I had a smoothie in the Mediterranean Ceramics shop & café and decided that having two bags full of glassware in my hands means that I should go get my luggage and head towards the dry airport with lots of tea. After all, the weather was really encouraging me to get settled down.
So I hopped on the bus going back to Valletta, when there called a cab to pick me up from the luggage office and get me asap to the airport. The weather was so bad and my new umbrella got so broken that there was no way to walk around getting back to the terminal for the airport shuttle.
That’s how I ended up in the airport 7 hours before the departure 🙂
Restaurants, breakfast places in Valletta. Buying silver in Valletta
Oh, and by the way, during my ‘walk’ under the rain in Valletta I found some very good looking and not pompous restaurants:
Café Volare – I would enjoy having here a breakfast. A simple café with fresh orange juice, coffee, pastries, ice-cream, salads and of course English breakfast))
Several restaurants at Triq San Qwann and St. John square – sorry, my phone was already half-dead of humidity, I couldn’t mark the names under the rain, but you’ll definitely find them once there!
And by the way, the famous Caffe Cordina – I entered to have a breakfast, since everyone recommends it… But it’s just the same story as with Fontanella in Mdina – unfriendly, crowded, nothing special when it comes to food. I left after I saw the unpleasant atmosphere inside, understood that the waiters wouldn’t serve me fast enough and not finding anything appetizing in their menu and display case.
I also noted some shops on my way! If you want to buy silverware & jewellery go to Republika street, you’ll find at least three shops which are actually workshops. There you can see the craftsmen in the process of creation, and also get factory prices!
I didn’t want to go to Cyprus. But I was forced to)) Where would you go if someone asked you to choose between Vienna and Larnaca? I always go for seaside places, even though I wasn’t interested in swimming at all.
However, this trip proved me a lot:
A 3-day escape can feel like a real holiday (one of those when after arrival back home you don’t know where you usually keep the dishes).
Always rely on locals, especially those who speak poor English. Indeed those are the real helpful people, who will save you in the most unexpected situations.
Don’t believe official reviews, trust your own experience and intuition (this is how I ended up staying in a hotel without a single review on booking or wherever, and it was the best hotel I’ve ever been to!)
So let’s see how much is too much, because how I felt was definitely too much in Cyprus (but in the very best meaning of this word).
Loulla Efthymiou’s Halloumi Workshop
in Choirokitia (Khirokitia – another spelling)
One of the most amazing things I did when in Larnaca, and in fact, the reason why my day went so crazy!
When making my travel plan in a hurry (I found out about the trip a day before departure), I was sure I can cover all those villages by taxi – yes, expensive, but a good solution when you have limited time, no driving license and want to see it all.
However the taxi app I downloaded was hopeless, so I came back to my senses and checked the bus timetables. Which was nice – Choirokitia, the one I planned to visit first, had a direct bus connection with Larnaca, and the rest of them … I preferred to check afterwards, not to lose my positive attitude from the start.
I called Loulla a day before to agree about my arrival. Unfortunately, she doesn’t speak English, so she could only say: ‘Come to my house’. I checked the village – 600 inhabitants, won’t I find the famous woman cooking halloumi!
Getting out of the bus in the middle of nowhere – a few roadside restaurants, besides me only an afro guy left at this stop, the normal people continued their way to Limassol. I asked a butcher where should I go to reach the village itself, he showed and said up, to the mountains, along the roadway. So I decided I can manage to walk on a roadway for some ten minutes.
The road is over, the village is there, some houses but all dead, meaning empty, no one around. Then on my right side I see: ‘Nature Trail’ and stairs, and an ancient settlement up on the hills. So I could even believe that the halloumi lady is somewhere there in the ancient settlements)) I’m really living in Wonderland, I know. We climbed up the hill with Tavşan Surat, took some photos, and went back down. That’s a Neolithic site, worth visiting if you are a history lover.
From the top I notice a sign ‘Choirokitia 2km’, so calmed down Tavşan and we went ahead. And what was ahead? Some more houses, but still no sign of halloumi.
It was hot (noon in August in south Cyprus), so I gave up with this village and decided to go to the next one – Skarinou. On my way back we stopped at a corner bar/shop with some lively people to ask where is the bus stop which goes to Skarinou.
The super kind lady inside said it’s impossible, it’s the next village, but you can get there directly only by car… Me, desperate, persistent, asking with a half-live hope… maybe a taxi??? She went out to the terrace and when returned asked me to wait saying that the taxi will come in 10 min. Happy with the result, I didn’t want to think too much ahead or too much behind, but the lady asked what am I doing in Choirokitia 🙂 So I told her the story about looking for halloumi. She confirmed it’s here, but far away in the mountains, and suggested that the taxi which is coming would take me to Loulla, wait (she said it’s not more than 15 min) and take then to Skarinou 🙂 Am I not lucky? And they even explained him all this))
So Loulla. Finally there, she took us to the workshop where anari cheese (something like Italian ricotta) is sweating in hot brine. And then bags with halloumi thrown again to the brine and kept for an hour. And it’s ready! She explained (better to say showed) the microflora she’s using for fermentation, the press which she puts when the soft cheese is done. How she rolls it (that’s why halloumi has a tiny hole in the middle), and, finally, how is it kept – easy, in a 5l bottle with brine for a year without any refrigerator.
Since she didn’t take any money for the workshop, I wanted to contribute somehow. Despite having a long day of travelling ahead I said I want to buy a piece of halloumi. She let me to choose, packed it in a vacuum and gave it for free 🙂 No common language, no benefit for her (she didn’t know I would write here), just pure enthusiasm which you can find only in places not spoiled by tourists.
Places & contacts:
Bus Larnaca – Choirokitia – departs from Finnikoudes bus stop, next to the Finnikoudes beach. The schedule can be found here (that’s an online bus route planner, not a smart one, but helped me out a lot). Search for Finnikoudes (not Larnaca) and Chirokitia. It’s an intercity bus going to Limassol. The price is 4 EUR (whether you go to Chirokitia or Limassol), duration – approx. 30-40 min. It will drop you outside the village at some roadside restaurants, you’ll have to go under the bridge and continue up and right towards Chirokitia – around 10 min.
Loulla’s Halloumi workshop – there is no address to give you. Just stop at Chirokitia and ask locals, even without too much of English knowledge they’ll be able to explain you where to go. It’s actually up in the mountains, not too much of civilisation around.
Taxi from Chirokitia to Loulla’s workshop, waiting time and then the way to Skarinou Golden Donkey farm – 20 EUR. The contact tel. of the driver (he lives in that area, but doesn’t speak English, just really a bit) +357 99 676 460
Taxi from Larnaca to Khirokitia and other villages & cities in Cyprus – in fact, to order a taxi in Larnaca you have to go to a taxi kiosk, they offer trip around all the island and will give you a quote and make a reservation for you. I found this out only on my last day.
Golden Donkey Farm, Skarinou
– feeling already very confident in my new vehicle, I told the driver that after Skarinou I would go to Vavla and maybe he could take me and give his number to call. He did (that’s why you have it above:)
The donkey farm is definitely a great place for children – hens, donkeys, horses, mules. For their parents – souvenir shop at the starting point where you can buy liquors and cosmetics from donkey milk, olive oil from the farm’s olives, soaps, magnets, bags, t-shirts etc. I entered saying that I want to see it all! So they gave me a ticket for the museum and one for the donkey ride.
The museum wasn’t something very special – demonstration of villagers’ life in the area, basket weaving, silversmithing, farming, olive mill, wine press and so on. Then you actually get to the donkeys (adorable animals) and ask a guy to take you for a ride. Which I did 🙂 It takes about 15 min, but a nice experience if you have never done it before. We had a chat with the guy taking care of animals, he told me about the Safari nights which they organize – the owner shows how to milk a donkey, they do riding all together, dance sertaki, eat & drink 🙂
It was still early, so I went to drink some lemonade in the bar-restaurant they have there. I’ve noticed the owner – it was obvious it’s him. In the meantime I decided to call my driver, even though it was still early (I was booked at the next place for 5 pm), but what to do.
I had to wait for him for 30 min, spending my time in their souvenir shop. That’s when I met the owner, who tried to entertain me in my waiting time. Talking about plans & present, I was invited for the Safari night as his guest, so I really decided to finish now with the next village asap and come back.
However, it all happened in a very different way 🙂
Place & price:
Golden Donkey Farm, Skarinou – the entrance + donkey ride in the farm I paid 16 EUR. You can also purchase a certificate with your photo on a donkey, kinda donkey driving license. Besides that they always have some fun activities, like Safari Night, Dionysos Night, Gurmet Master Chef workshops – just call them at +357 996 20 736 and ask what’s going on!
The taxi from Skarinou to Kato Drys (my next stop) was 15 EUR, it’s about a 20 min ride.
Kato Drys medieval village
So a day before my trip I contacted Ecophysis – a family business offering eco tours and educational programs with a focus on bee farming. They are located in Vavla village and would have a ‘Bee keeping day’ starting at 5 pm on that Saturday.
However, it was only 2 pm when I left the Golden Donkey Farm. I thought to come and finish there earlier, and still have time to return to Donkeys. But life always makes fun of my planning.
From the taxi I called Georgia (the owner of Ecophysis, along with her husband) and asked to give directions to my driver. Since it was too early, she told the driver to take me to another neighbour-village, let me walk around & eat, and then she would pick me up before the bee keeping activity. So bye-bye donkeys 🙁
That’s how I’ve seen a village, which was more of a museum, than anything inhabited by humans. Especially in siesta hours (don’t know how they call it in Greek).
From the roadside restaurant where I’ve seen my driver for the last time, I found my way to the village itself. All doors and shutters closed, only sometimes you hear TV noise behind the walls – the only proof there are live people in this place.
Imagine walking on empty streets of a village, every single house of which is constructed around 300 years ago, and remained the same, without the air-conditioning adds-on, repainting, metal-plastic windows and so on. There is no new construction in Kato Drys.
So I really enjoyed walking and taking photos, there are some signs on the streets, which lead you to a church, or to a museum… And then was very suspicious to notice a Bee & Embroidery museum here, just before I’m going to have a bee keeping day. Maybe I can do it all here?…
Bee & Embroidery Museum
– a quite interesting house covered with intense pink climbing flowers appeared in front of us. The door was open, the sign on it stating ‘We are open’, so I said to Tavşan Surat ‘Haydi Bakalim’ and we went.
I looked around and entered the house where some locals were spending the hottest hours of the year in a cool room at the table. Asked where am I and if I can look around 🙂 So a handsome Cypriot showed me the so called museum. I say so called, because, in fact, it’s not a typical museum, it’s one of the ancient houses in this village, where everything stayed in its original condition – household items, kitchen, bedroom, stove, zivania making press. Imagine a parrot cage hanging from the ceiling, which is not for birds, but against – so actually a ‘fridge’ where you keep the cheese and avoid birds steeling it 🙂
A room was dedicated to beekeeping history in the region, and generally, throughout human history. He proved me that the symbiosis of people & bees is indeed beneficial for both parties. In nature bees consume all the honey they produce, they eat more and produce less, because their life is shorter and the conditions of survival are more difficult. Being a part of human husbandry they live longer, need less food, and produce more. People don’t take the honey bees produce as their own food, but they put another beehive on top of the first one (where they produce their food-honey), where bees store honey, when the first one is full. People only use the honey from the top beehive.
Then Michalis showed me a ‘new’ part of the house – the place where his grandparents used to live. Actually, all the museum is created because of his father’s addiction to aged things. And I understood this passion only after realizing the past of this family.
Women in this village were always (since long long years) making embroidery. But only for their own usage. One day there was a woman who lost her husband and stayed with children alone, without having any chance for income. Then a local school teacher asked why not trying to sell the embroidery she makes. Locals were sure that everyone all around the globe is making the same embroidery 🙂
But the widow was desperate and she took a donkey, and went up to the mountains, where, surprisingly, she sold quite successfully to foreigners. So let’s say she was lucky that Cyprus was part of British Empire!
Villagers found out about it and started to sell embroidery massively – women were responsible for the handicraft, men were travelling abroad, selling the goods and taking orders.
That’s how money and new fashions reached the village – after long sailing trips they even started to design ornaments on walls imitating cabin windows.
I could compare myself the village life before and after this ‘merchant revolution’ – Michalis showed me two houses – some 20 years of difference between them, but your eyes will say it’s at least a hundred of years path from stone floor and walls to a very well-designed interior.
And what about Michalis’ family? His grandma prepared an embroidery present for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, but the queen refused to accept it with an excuse that it’s not an official present from Cyprus island. In fact, the relationship was very tough because of the separatist movement, so Her Majesty just found a way to express her feelings, probably.
The new part of the house belonging to Michalis’ grandparents is full of embroidery and old photos, including the first lace merchant lady’s picture.
Besides that – a garden in bloom and fruits, a country house which they are renting out for tourists, and then a desert called ‘shoefig’ made out of cactus flowers.
Thank you, Michalis for making these hours in Kato Drys one of the most colourful ones in Cyprus!
Lunch in Kato Drys – restaurant Platanos – it is the place where Georgia from Ecophysis asked the driver to drop me and advised to have lunch. So after my adventures in the medieval village I returned to the roadside restaurant – a huge terrace under a more than a hundred years old Platan tree. I took a table, but since there was no one in a hurry to serve me I started to write notes about my day so far for sharing with you here on this page. I guess the restaurant manager/owner got panicked, he served me politely, asking twice what am I writing and then all the staff was passing by occasionally to ask if all is good 🙂 From now on I go dining with notepads!
The food wasn’t very good. Unfortunately the dolma (stuffed vine leaves, I don’t remember the Greek name) was old, you can detect it by the leaves – they are getting dark, full of holes, and thin after multiple heating. Additionally I ordered a Greek salad (which had no cheese for some reason) and grilled halloumi – which was dry and tough, so I’m not sure if it was grilled now or just warmed up.
Although I recommend you to go there– the place is lovely, green and with small lanterns hanging above you. It has a parking and obviously it’s comfortable to stop by when you are on your way to somewhere else. The food might be better on Sundays (I’ve read the choice is better on Sundays, than on Saturdays).
Platanos restaurant – it costed me 23 EUR for three very big meals – the stuffed vinegar leaves, halloumi and salad + water
– Georgia promised to pick me up from the restaurant at 4:30 pm. When I was about to call her, Kostas – her lovely husband entered the restaurant and took me to Vavla, to their eco business!
Besides me they had four other guests – all Greek-speaking. The couple showed us a movie about bees, one of them was always translating for me, did a honey tasting & let us try the creams made of honey.
After that we put on the beekeepers’ protective suits and went towards the beehives – they have 4 beehives for demonstrations.
It’s just next to the house where the initial presentation is done. They of course have much more beehives in a different location for the honey production Ecophysis does.
Their honey is great! I received a small jar as a present from Georgia & Kostas – it was 120 ml, but to feel covered during the airport security check, I asked them for a ‘best before sticker’ to hide the 120 ml marking. Criminal. I know. But the honey was worth it!
Our hosts explained that we shouldn’t stay directly in front of them (it might cause aggression from the bees’ side), they took out the frames one by one, showed how they store honey and lay eggs, and we even found the Queen.
Smoking in the bees is not anything they suffer a lot from. On the other hand, it was a pleasure seeing that the owners take care of every single bee, carefully closing the beehive, paying attention not to smash a tiny creature.
Beekeeping suits are important only in case you are allergic, and an accidentally gone crazy bee can cause major health issues for you. Other than that, there was no bee even touching my cloths.
When we proved ourselves as beekeepers the chill part began– Georgia and Kostas served lemonades, coffee, cheese, honey, toasts. Unfortunately, I had to miss this (I only managed to buy some creams and received a jar of honey as a gift), as I was in a hurry to catch the bus back home, to Larnaca. I always call hotels home, I feel so cozy there 🙂
Georgia took me to the station in Khirokitia and just when the car stopped a bus arrived – it was not mine, but the one going to Limassol, so we kept staying for a while.
More than half an hour passed, the bus is not coming, I’m worried we missed it and really eager to call a cab. Instead of it Georgia called the bus company and they ensured that the bus is on its way.
Indeed in 5 min it arrived, but just as in Spain, if it’s full, he won’t let you in. Georgia really did her best, asking him to let ‘just a wee little girl’ L He said another bus is coming because he left a lot of people on his way… I told my kind host that it’s already late she should go home, but also asked to call the bus company again to check if there is really a bus coming. She did, they confirmed, she left. I stayed alone with a guy who’s waiting for his bus to Nicosia for more than an hour already. I waited for half an hour under the dark Cypriot sky and then magic happened.
A taxi driver stopped just near me and went upstairs to the restaurant – I looked at him like a hungry lion seen a gazelle. Please understand me – the taxi app is not working here, I already knew that. The taxi driver I got daytime was a courtesy from the Khirokitia villagers. Now at night, alone with a rabbit in my bag, no civilization (don’t count that restaurant behind – I didn’t know what to expect, and if they understand English enough to call me a cab), and a taxi, like an angel stops next to me.
I decided if the bus doesn’t come before he returns from the restaurant, I’ll ask him to take me to Larnaca. And of course the bus didn’t come)) In order to get a quote for me he had to call the office and was very straightforward in saying that he doesn’t know Larnaca and if I don’t know the place we don’t go anywhere))
That’s how I arrived back home on my first day, and to finish it appropriately, I got stuck on the emergency exit’s stairs of my hotel 🙂 Yes, I wanted to go and check out the jacuzzi upstairs, but really wanted to go by foot, not elevator. So I’ve chosen the wrong stairs – the ones you can enter from inside, but can’t get into the hotel once you are out. I hoped to get to the jacuzzi and find a secret door leading to the elevator – so I was lucky again and didn’t have to call the reception asking ‘Let me in, pleeeeease!’
Places & Price:
Ecophysis beekeeping day – the cost depends on the quantity of participants and on the activity. For example, they also do tracking days, they pick up mushrooms, learn about plants etc. We were 5 people and payed 40 EUR/person
Taxi – Khirokitia to Larnaca – 40 EUR again … The bus cost would be 4 EUR…
The night before (that hard day’s night!) I decided that I’ll go to Lefkara only if there is a direct connection – bus, easily catchable taxi, whatever. I asked my favourite receptionist in the hotel and he showed me on the map where to find a bus station which has direct connections. Hardly, but I found it and when asking the lovely Greek moustached man in the ticket office about the desired bus line, he said: ‘Run! This is it! Be quick!’. So I jumped in the bus and told I need a ticket to Pano Lefkara, the driver looked a bit confused, but who cares – we are on our way to a new adventure, tavşan & me!
Being a smart blond I knew it won’t be easy to detect the needed stop without a preparation, so I was regularly checking google maps to see where we are and how much left to Lefkara.
But it can’t be that smooth in my life, can it?! We arrived to Kofinou (I knew it’s the place where you have to change in order to get to smaller villages), the bus driver looked at me and said ‘Lefkara’, so I understood it’s time to get out and find another bus…
The drivers are very friendly there, surprisingly. Well, maybe because I’m too cute 🙂
I hopped on a microbus and was the only passenger in it. Tried to pay, but the driver explained that ‘there is no ticket in this bus’. Later on I realised these microbuses were really free of charge, connecting villages and financed by the government.
By the way, talking about Kofinou. It’s an important point not only because the majority of busses to tiny villages start there, but also because there is a large refugee camp with refugees from Africa and the Middle East. I didn’t know it back then, when passing the village, otherwise I guess I would try to get in to see it. If you are interested, I found an article which really makes you feel like been there.
That’s how we reached Pano Lefkara.
I didn’t really know where to go in Lefkara, meaning that I knew there is a loukkoumi factory, a silversmith workshop, embroidery, a handicraft center, but I couldn’t find any direction or address. In this kind of situations, I need a break – a lemonade, shadow and sitting time to search the web.
We went to a great place – a terrace with ripening grape bunches above our heads, they have lemonade & smiley staff. Still I couldn’t find any information online, so I asked at the counter if they know the loukkoumi place, and, luckily, it was just 50 m ahead of us 🙂
Places & Prices:
Bus Larnaca – Kofinou – departs from the Central Bus Station which comes after the Marina (it’s not the Finkoudes stop!). Price – 1,5 EUR/person, schedule can be found here, as well as other bus options.
Kofinou – Pano Lefkara – free of charge, departs exactly where the previous bus leaves you and arrives to the center of Lefkara. Schedule can be found here.
So I was lucky to find another great place – the loukkoumi factory is a family business founded in 1895 and still remains within the Kramvidis family. I met the current owner, unfortunately it was Sunday and there was no production in progress, but I’ve seen the machines and bought some award-winning loukkoumi from him. Come there during the week and see how is the Cypriot delight produced live!
Michalakis Christou Silversmith Workshop
We continued our way – Lefkara is a picturesque place for a couple of hours of walk, until you discover and shoot every blooming corner of it. By chance I see a silversmith workshop on the corner. The owner – name of silversmith – did a very skilled marketing job – in front of the workshop & shop you can see written: ‘One of the last famous workshops. Free to take photos. Free engraving. You can order things in silver. Workshop prices.’ Don’t you feel good once you know that it’s free to take photos, and you don’t have to get embarrassed by secretly shooting someone’s silvesmithing tools?
The owner – Michalakis – is a very welcoming man. I had enough time for photos whilst he was busy with some customers, after which, of course, I continued to the shop (second part of the house), because there is no girl who’d ignore those shinny decorations 🙂 And then of course he came to me offering discounts, and I actually would buy even without them – the most glowing silver I’ve ever seen!
Michalakis told me that it’s their family business – he and his son are working with silver, his wife, Nina, is making embroidery (I also met her), and his daughter-in-law is also a needlewoman, I guess. I’m always happy to meet families which are creating business for generations and doing it all together, as it should be within a family. So I was more than happy to spot this workshop.
Michalakis Christou has 40 years of silversmith experience. After walking all along Lefkara I realised that he has the right to say this being the last real silversmith workshop – the others around are only selling or reselling silver.
They advised me to visit the Handicraft center, which I actually was looking for…
Staying on a street next to those numerous embroidery shops and checking the center’s brochure the silversmith family gave me, a woman with lace in her hands asked if I need some help. I asked about the place, but she answered that it’s far away, outside the village, I can go there only by car, and, by the way, why do I need to go there if she can show it all herself, in her shop 🙂 Am I a fish to get caught on this obvious hook?! Politely I left, promising to come back & shop before my bus.
Lefkara Handicraft Center
I walked a lot in Lefkara, and very satisfied because the biggest part of my Cypriot portfolio was taken there. In the end, I’ve seen a sign ‘Lefkara handicraft center’ and followed it – Voilà!, and it’s just next street to the shop where I was tried to be convinced it’s been far away…
Rely on locals, but stay vigilant!
The center is a very nice place where no one is trying to sell you anything 🙂 It consists of showrooms with separate entrances each belonging to a craftsman – some have paintings, some – sculptures, others – embroidery and so on. You can’t buy anything and you won’t meet there shop-assistants, just two ladies observing you behave 🙂 But you can take business cards of the craftsmen and order. The place where I actually felt sorry they don’t sell lace, because I really liked their collection (anyways, I have nowhere to put it at home)
Places & Prices:
Loukkoumi factory – watching & tasting is free, and you can also buy 3 packs of loukkoumi for a bargain price of 5 EUR
Lefkara Handicraft Center – 7 Agiou Georgiou, Pano Lefkara
Lefkara to Kato Drys Walking Trail
It was around 2 pm, the bus is at 3:30, and everything in the village is very close of course, so I don’t have to go towards the station well in advance. I’ve seen everything in Lefkara (never used to say that about places), besides of course sites which are outside the village and can be reached only by car. By the way, an interesting activity in Lefkara if you have some spare hours – a walking trail from Lefkara to Kato Drys. The walk is approx. 1 hour, low difficulty, the views are promised to be spectacular! Here you have the map 🙂
Lefkara Coffee Yard
In the remaining time I decided to have lunch and found the entrance which said something about being a restaurant with a garden. In fact, it was just another entrance to the terrace I’ve been to in the beginning of my trip in Lefkara – so the terrace with juicy grapes hanging above the heads of customers.
A had a club sandwich which came with a big portion of chips (which I never eat). Their lemonade is very good, and if I came again I would definitely go for a carrot cake from their menu!
We returned back with the same bus drivers, both Lefkara and Kofinou buses, and they were so friendly like if we know each other for years
So back in Larnaca around 4:30 pm, cooling down in the hotel, I tried to decide what to do the rest of the day. Sorry, I was tired, couldn’t find anything better than laying on a sunbed on the Castila beach. Taking into account that I came there around 6, they didn’t take money for the sunbed, so if you are an evening sealover just like me, keep this in mind 😉
Late at night I had dinner in one of the top restaurants in Larnaca. Firstly, I had in mind To Kazani Traditional Tavern – the #1 in tripadvisor, however, they are closed on Sundays L Out of the remaining ones I was attracted only by Souvlaki.gr – it’s a Greek fast-foodish tavern. Imagine, coming there I saw three similar taverns, out of three – Souvlaki.gr is full without any table available, the other two are completely empty. The staff is very welcoming and responsive, the food is very well prepared and the prices are hard to believe – I had a Greek salad, souvlaki, grilled halloumi and water, all this costed less than 10 EUR. The most expensive part was Perrier (I would do cheaper drinking wine).
Another restaurant I paid attention to was Militzis Tavern – overlooking the beach, with a very traditional Greek design and blue palette, it felt like they not only look local, but also taste! Once you go there, please let me know if I was right 🙂
Places & Prices:
Pano Lefkara to Kato Drys walking trail – 1h, easy. Map here
My last day and believe me, I was tired! As a plan for Larnaca discovery I decided:
Wake up early and check all the beaches – by checking I mean swim at each of them, evaluate the facilities and sandiness, take photos
Go for a city tour and find something interesting in a place which completely transformed into a tourist base
Before the trip I really wanted to have a gastro tour this day, combining eating and discovering Larnaca, but the organizing company rejected my request, because they can do it for at least two people, rabbits don’t count!
So talking about beaches in Larnaca:
Here you can find the official list of beaches in Larnaca, and Cyprus in general.
Then for sophisticated ones, list of Blue Flagbeaches in Cyprus.
The main city-beaches are: Finnikoudes, Castela, Mackenzie
They all have very shallow sea – good for children, and actually not a problem to swim a bit away to get deeper – and as I understood, all the coastline around Larnaca region is shallow.
Not the most beautiful surroundings – road behind it, ships, oil depots, hotels and even planes landing just behind Mackenzie beach (why did I pay 20 EUR for a taxi if I could just go along the beach ?)
The boat trips are starting from the Larnaca Marina, just behind Finnikoudes. I didn’t find them too exciting to join, very typical trips offered at every seaside resort – fishing & dining on board, boat trip to Agia Napa, shipwreck watching from glass bottom boat etc.
Finnikoudes beach – the central beach, named after the palm trees. It’s very large and has all the facilities (one of the Blue Flag beaches in the town), suitable for families with children, it has a playground, a volleyball net, and a bus stop behind taking you to nice places as Paphos, Limassol, Nicosia, and my small villages in between 🙂
Flamingo beach – usually not marked as a separate beach, but you can find it on maps. It’s not nice as a beach place at all, but that’s where you should go if you are in to paddle board surfing, beach tennis, surfing, diving etc.
Kastela beach – comes afterwards, my favourite one. I liked the sunbeds, the service and the beach bar. Comes just 1km after the castle, it has a parking, and all the facilities, marked as Blue Flag beach.
Mackenzie beach – the most developed place in terms of beach clubs, restaurants, taverns. If I wasn’t with Tavşan Surat , but with a handsome tanned guy, I would go for one of their beach clubs with lovely sunbeds & cocktails. Mackenzie is a place where you can meet the sunset and wait for the sunrise, some of the beach clubs don’t close until the very morning.
The most complete beach-review I found here, besides that, they also mention the hotels located at every particular beach.
I wouldn’t recommend going to Larnaca for a beach holiday, maybe I’m too demanding, but I really don’t enjoy staying on a beach and seeing oil depots. And the water (obvious, isn’t it?) is not as clear as it could be. If you go a bit north, you’ll end up sharing your beach with cargo ships and factories.
In case you are already there, go at least 8 km from Larnaca to the north – to the Oroklini area with Yannathes beach and Orkolini village restored to its original style in blue with some local tavernas.
Another option is in the south – Kiti village, another traditional place with folk festivals going on all summer long and a less crowded and more natural beach.
I was done with the beaches, and I was so desperate about Larnaca having nothing authentic, that I downgraded to a simple tourist – I went to the tourist office to ask for help.
They weren’t very kind & helpful though (and I didn’t expect the worse customer service in Cyprus in a Cyprus Tourist Information office). I asked where can I go from Larnaca to return back by 5 pm. First of all, she became angry: ‘So you don’t want to see Larnaca, you are not interested in it!’, then she kept giving me the bus timetable, saying that I can go everywhere – Nicosia, Paphos etc. Every time I was pointing out I have to return by 5, she insisted on going everywhere, but pointed out that it’s all about how much time do I need to look around once I’m there :)))
So I got the Larnaca city walking map, which was actually zero, nothing worth. I wouldn’t recommend going to the CTO in Larnaca – you’ll waste your time for getting a walking map. In fact, better ask at your hotel reception – you might receive more valuable information.
Until a point I tried to follow the map – I wanted to prove I’m wrong and these tourist info-points are helpful. But no, impossible. You’ll die of boredom having this kind of city-walk.
After I gave up following the map I went to the mosque – they give ropes you have to wear. A very nice place indeed. With taps and benches for cleaning yourself, shadow, drinking water – I really enjoyed.
There were three men inside – two were praying, one – whatsapping))) I felt I can go wherever I want and none of them wouldn’t even pay attention at me, I felt completely safe and in peace there.
Next doors was the Larnaca castle – a fort which used to be a prison and an old time police station where people sentenced to death were executed by hanging. Not the best atmosphere actually. The good thing about the fort is that they have some old pine trees in the garden with chairs underneath – it’s a popular place for summer concerts, so I enjoyed staying for half an hour in the shadow. It was priceless on a hot Cypriot day in August!
The map indicated the Turkish quarter been close, they call it handicraft quarter. So I got excited and prepared to see authenticity. Well, there are no Turkish guys hanging there around, only the street names are very Ottoman-style. And there are only three pottery workshops I knew about, out of which I spotted two:
Efthymios Symeou Ceramic Artist– a very nice workshop with, I would say, exclusive products, the pottery really look unique. Well, I came around lunch time and the owner was about to leave, I really wanted to come back at 4, but another pottery workshop took me over!
Emira Pottery – I received a very warm welcome, from both the son and the father. I was almost leaving when the guy turned my attention back by offering me to see the workshop/production area. I saw the stove, a hundred of shelves filled with various pottery, the potter’s wheel, and then, when I was ready to buy it all, the guy said that I can try to create a piece of art on my own! Of course she said yeeaah 🙂
The class was at 4 pm when his father arrived. And, just to remind, my taxi to the airport was scheduled for 7. Normally people leave their pottery creations for a week in the workshop, during this time it dries and gets baked under 1000 C for 9 hours! Me – as always – no time, let me take it raw))) So they asked me to leave my jar for at least 2h.
To sum up, it was a great experience – I did it all on my own, even though having zero talent to handicraft (my teacher didn’t comment and was very polite about my skills). Then I took this raw jar, packed into my suitcase, passed the security control which checked every inch of my bag, and my pottery creation kept its perfect shape despite it all!
That’s how my day & trip ended – in a very artistic way!
My accommodation in Cyprus
It was really hard to book a stay for the weekend in Cyprus: August, you are in Thursday, arriving on Friday, 98 % of the properties booked… Either I take something disgusting, or something suspicious with negative reviews, or something too expensive for a girl and a Tavşan … or a real miracle! That’s what I’ve chosen 🙂
– a suspiciously good looking place for a price of 90 EUR/night in Cyprus , in August. But I risked, and won!
Even the correspondence with the manager was on highest level – the free shuttle they offer wasn’t available at late hours of my arrival, so they ordered me a taxi, and the price wasn’t higher than the official rate:
20 EUR to/from the airport in late hours
15 EUR to/from the airport in working hours
I entered the hotel and felt in wonderland – so new, so well-kept, perfect colour range, and service! The receptionist like an angel in the entrance to the heaven, I never felt that welcomed in any hotel.
Even though I was tired, I had to take photos of the room – it’s designed in a very eco-smart style. The mirror transforms to a TV, the lights are managed by a touchscreen.
It was a single-room, but a very spacious bed and room in general. I had a kettle with a couple of cups, some tea-begs and instant coffee – well, this is the most important for me, a midnight tea drinker. Even in hotels with room service, I sometimes get embarrassed of ordering two cups of tea (both for me) at night, and nothing else. What can I do sometimes, I avoid eating sweets in those late hours, and tea actually has nothing to do with any kind of food for me.
Besides that I was recommended to visit the open-air jacuzzi on the rooftop. Which I haven’t had time to try, but it looks great! And clean (which is crucial).
On the next day after arrival I was stroke down by the breakfast. A beautiful lobby full of light, wooden furnishings & traditional blue elements, very ‘zen’ music, and last but not least a buffet full of delicacies! Can I wish for more? Yes! Little glass bottles with freshly squeezed orange juice and a waiter coming to my table asking if they can prepare me eggs and some coffee… My mornings were never that peaceful and light!
The location is also great – 5 min to the sea and you are actually located in the center, talking about shops and going out.
So why didn’t they have any glorifying reviews? Because they opened just on the day of my arrival and I was one of the first customers)) So they were trying their hospitality skills on me and the task was completed with excellent results! Well, nowadays they already have their 10 out of 10 at booking.com 🙂
P.S. Remember the plugs in Cyprus are British Standard. So either take an adaptor with you, or ask at the reception (or buy at any store nearby – which I did!)
I felt that typical Italian countryside atmosphere already arriving to the airport – what a crazy emotional palette! And so much more was waiting for me there! Nothing to compare with visiting major Italian cities like Rome or Milano. And I said to myself: ‘This is REAL Italy!’ 🙂 and it was!
Go and buy those tickets to Lamezia! And get ready for the perfect holidays by using my tips from the sections below (actually a very hard-earned information after weeks of research & emails!)
Why Tropea? Why Lamezia? Why Calabria?
I was looking for flights to Italy from Bucharest to take my sister on holidays and combine her seaside break with my ‘authenticity research’. Spotted a destination which I’ve never met before – Lamezia. Checked out the region – all we needed was seaside and the rest (unique and local things to do) I can find with a detailed research everywhere!
Now checking the flights to Lamezia Terme I understand why the majority of tourists were from Germany 🙂 Surprisingly, it costs less to fly to Lamezia from Germany, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Belgium, Spain and UK than from Italy internally!
However my confidence in being able to find unique activities in every single point of the globe encountered high obstacles. After days of research I knew only about some cooking classes and sailing trips. Needless to say that at the end I found what I was looking for: utterly distinctive experiences meeting all your (and my!) expectations.
Have a look at my final itinerary and then check out all the other local activities in Tropea. I would need to stay here for a couple of months to try them all!
Local activities, workshops, trips, my own schedule:
Day 1: Rubber boat trip – Coast to Coast Transfer – Costa degli Dei sightseeing – 25 EUR
Day 2: Horse riding walk in olive groves – 45 EUR
Day 3: Eolian Islands – Vulcano, Lipari and Stromboli – day trip – 45 EUR + 5 EUR tax
Day 4: Stromboli by Night – 35 EUR + 5 EUR tax
Day 5: Free day! Beach, sunshine and prosecco 🙂 – the best description and location of beaches can be found here. I would really recommend going to Grotta del Palombaro
Day 6: Cooking class – Fileja preparation at Torre Galli – 50 EUR + 10 EUR transfer
The first trip we booked through CST Tropea was with Shark Bay company and the tour was called ‘Coast to Coast’. I couldn’t get the idea even though it had a long explanation on the website and also Kerstin explained in her email (see What to do in Tropea | Aeolian Islands). So in fact it was a sailing trip on a rubber boat without stops – you sail along Costa degli Dei, see the picturesque rocks, the wonderland azure blue sea, turn back after Cabo Vaticano and stop for half an hour for swimming on its most beautiful beach – Grotticelle.
We couldn’t swim – it was too cold for us, since the trip was on our first day and again, we didn’t take anything to cover us from the wind. More Nordic passengers happily swam. The crew offered white wine after getting back on the boat.
Horse riding walking tour through forests, meadows, olive groves, some appetizers & wine with the host family on their terrace – this was the most exciting activity I joined in Tropea! I would do it daily 🙂 Imagine yourself on a horseback riding under blooming olive trees (even if you never did it like my sister, you can manage – Filipe and his son Nunzio will give you the most human-friendly horse). Have you ever smelled the olive flowers scent? From now on, I love it even more than jasmine!
You’ll see landscapes which are the real Italy for me – green, spacious, under bright blue sky and among oranges peeking out from the leaves. If I was about to choose one activity, it would be this one! You can book it with CST Tropea or directly with Filipe (they are a very responsive family!) The name of the rancho is Cavallieri delle due Sicilie, located in Francica.
I have to start from my favourite company – Savadori Navigazione. We booked a boat trip called Isole Eolie – Vulcano, Lipari e Stromboli through CST Tropea. These are the volcanic islands in the Tyhrrenian sea between Calabria and Sicily, belonging already to Sicily. One of the islands – Stromboli – is active volcano, Lipari – is the biggest island with descent infrastructure and various trips to minor islands (Panarea and Salina, and also to Sicily – Etna etc.). Vulcano – is the smallest out of the three islands, but it has a lovely mud beach for your revitalization.
The price of the sailing trip was 45 EUR/person, exactly the same as if you buy it in the port directly (we booked ours at CST Tropea – see What to do in Tropea | Aeolian Islands at How to book activities in Tropea). It was a whole day trip with boarding at 7:30 AM. Additionally you pay the UNESCO tax for visiting the islands – 2,5 EUR/person or 5 EUR/person from June to September.
Really lovely crew – all of them had very distinctive personalities, and the captain was incredibly charismatic. I saw him hugging the boarding bridge while staying at the lower deck area and after that, I officially state: wherever you are going on holidays, if there is a sea nearby you CAN make it a very special trip! And I don’t mean laying on the beach or swimming five meters far from the coast. Go further! See people in love with the deep blue waves, and try to fall in love as well.
We’ve visited Vulcano as our first stop. It’s a tiny island with a volcanic muddy beach where you should definitely take a mud bath, unless you have high scent sensitivity as I do (it smells so ….). The entrance to the muddy beach costs 3 EUR/person, +1 EUR for the shower afterwards (I guess you can’t avoid it!), and if you stay on Vulcano more than a day there are very attractively priced entrance passes.
If your stay is longer than mine, you can also find black sanded beaches which are adorable!
After having a glass of prosecco and an ice-cream, we got back on board.
Next stop was Lipari – the biggest island, and there is a lot to see! We decided to leave the group of our co-passengers and get lost. If you turn right from the port you’ll find an old cathedral with a quiet park nearby – pine trees, seagulls and an overlook on the sea, remembering my Spanish days I called it ‘mirador’.
We continued through the centre, met a group of local parents and children coming from their first holy communion and decided to follow them. We went through dark arcades and ended up in front of the municipality building. They entered a restaurant which was booked for all the families; so losing the group of locals, we found two ways to get down to the sea. The one on the right was closed with a comment ‘private entrance’, but the route on the left was a free to go one. Italian cats greeting us (or escaping in panic), pleasant shadow of the old trees along the way and, of course, stairs! Lots of them! But what a place we found! No comments, just photos to describe only the view, but far not the whole atmosphere.
My sister was bored, she’s not a person to philosophically sit on an empty beach, so we left. On our way upstairs I noticed a guy who was sitting along the stairs on the fence, watching us taking photos of each other. Italian bastard, had fun for free! He gratefully waved us when we left 🙂 Molto gentile!
I kept trying to get lost (poor sis, she always asks to go where people do – sorry, not with me!). Most of the tiny streets are curved and it feels like they’ll bring you to a dead end, but no! They’ll bring you to another turnaround 🙂 And you can endlessly continue this way just like in a labyrinth game.
Being tired of sun and heavy begs (I did some shopping on the previous island), we went to have some siesta on the central street in Ciuri Ciuri (read about it in the Where to eat in Tropea | Aeolian Islands). The owner’s dog was entertaining us and then a shop in front of it attracted me by its local delicacies offerings.
We tried to get back to the port and being a smart blondie I did two things:
I forgot where is the meeting poin
I googled in Italian the port from where all the Eolian Islands ships depart
So we went to a wrong place 🙂 It’s Italy, dear, and if all the boats to Stromboli depart from the same port, why would your boat leave from it as well? Even though it goes to Stromboli 🙂
Despite my sister being positively ensured that this is the correct place, I felt it’s wrong. So we went back to the centre, hoping to meet ‘our’ people, from our boat. On the way to the wrong port we met the guy who was taking photos of me onboard (I was staying at the lower deck with the lifebuoy ring behind me, having my dress of exactly the same colour as the ring – unconsciously entertaining everyone, as always), so I was sure he has to help us out! We met him and the whole group 🙂 But after going where they advised us, I turned right and then left, and then it was completely not what it should be. Luckily an old Italian man brought us to the proper port – Corto Marina.
NB: in case you get lost like us, dial the number on your ticket, so the boat waits until you get there. I completely forgot about this option!
All aboard, we continued to the most magnificent island – Stromboli. Black volcanic beaches, only part of the island is inhabited, the other – is too hot! Indeed, it’s not even firm, but quite soft and your shoes will melt if you step on it. The volcano explosions can be seen almost daily, smaller or bigger, you’ll definitely see one at night. It’s magic alive to watch this island.
However, we had only 1,5 h for it, and my sister trying to go where people do 🙂 In fact, we got stuck in a shop and afterwards had time only for a very good ice-cream (a gelateria you’ll find if going through the main street up to the hills – can’t remember the name), and to lay a bit on black sand:
We went back on board, and sailed an hour and a half to the port of Tropea. In fact, the happiest thing about it all was the sailing part. You can take me anywhere, just sail!
NB: You can order drinks & snacks on board, so no need to carry.
But it’s quite cold and windy on the sundeck area. So take some warm clothes in order to avoid this:
Stromboli by Night
I loved so much the trip, that I couldn’t stay calm the next day. I convinced my sister to go on a nice evening sailing and see the volcano explosions. ‘And the whole day before it we can spend on the beach!’ – I told her. So when it became too hot to stay on the sun, I advised to go to the port and buy the tickets for the evening. For some unclear surprisingly typical Italian reason hey costed us twenty euros less than it would by their official price-list (if you are a pretty girl, everything can happen in Italy). After buying the ticket we were told to go on board 🙂 Imagine two girls just coming from the beach in swimming suits under their summerly-light dresses! Since it was just an hour and half till Stromboli I didn’t expect them to leave earlier than 5 pm. In reality, it was 2:30. I calmed down my sister telling that we will stay on the beach in Stromboli 🙂
So we went! You can read my review of this tour in TripAdvisor
Price & book:
Isole Eolie – from 7:30 am till 7 pm – 45 EUR/person + 2,5 or 5 EUR UNESCO tax
Stromboli by night – from 2:30 pm till 11 pm – 45 EUR/person + 2,5 or 5 EUR UNESCO tax (somehow, we payed 35 EUR)
What were we doing on the 5th day? Sleep, swim & eat 🙂
As I told you earlier (see Where to stay in Tropea? Accommodation in Tropea & Calabria), we attended a cooking class in Torre Galli resort – a 300 years old country house – under Mariella’s guidance. First of all, she did a tour around the resort (before I mentioned I would write about it 🙂 – showed us the old olive oil & wine presses, the garden, terrace, olive & citrus groves. She has an ‘industrial’ (as she called it) kitchen – so you can have a workshop with a large group there, and a cozy home kitchen ‘for herself’ as she said. Of course, we used the small one and enjoyed all the aged stuff there – cupboards, marble sink, traditional Italian household equipment (numerous gas coffee makers, metal pots, wooden spatulas etc). Mariella offered to cook fileja – the typical pasta of Calabria. The good thing about it is that the base for each pasta is the same, only the shape differs from one region to another. And the recipe is:
1 cup of 000 flour
half cup of semolina
Water – as much as the dough asks for
So we mix the flour and semolina, and slowly, teaspoon by teaspoon add the water, whilst working the dough out.
And working it out is the most important part of the process – see photos below 🙂 Mariella’s workman – Mozo (I hope I remembered correctly) helped us with his man power to make the dough perfectly soft. He is from Pakistan and lives in Italy for 3 years, but knows how to position himself in an Italian kitchen!
After the dough is done (you might leave it to rest for 10 min), we roll it in long and narrow strings, then cut half of a thumb large pieces. And now we need the special metal / plastic strings for rolling the dough – you put the string on top of the dough piece, press a bit and roll gently to a pipe shape.
Put the ready ‘pipes’ on a well-floured tray (we omitted it and had to sort it out afterwards – not a pleasure!), after all are done, cooked in boiling water until they all appear on the surface.
As a sauce we heat up some olive oil with fresh tomato paste (made with garlic and basil), add fresh basil, salt, pepper and the prepared pasta.
Serve with ricotta and parmeggiano!
Besides that we cooked some sotte vegetables, fried onions and had some home-made wine.
By the way, the wine was made by the father of the local bakery owners we went to 🙂
I really enjoyed meeting the two brothers, born in USA, relocated back to Italy long years ago, running this bakery. A huge wood stove and lots of fresh, hot bread! Thanks Mariella for introducing us!
The price for the cooking class was 50 EUR/person + 10 EUR/person transfer from & to Tropea. If you book the activity with Mariella directly she won’t charge you for the transfer 😉
Barcelona already impressed me by the diversity of activities available even on the distance, when doing pre-trip research. But that’s half the trouble! Once you are there, you actually understand that you won’t be able to do all planed – because it’s Spain, it’s siesta, it’s mas o menos, and the cava is so sparkling… that even a wine tasting can occupy half of your day!
So my advice to you: regardless the quantity of time you’re going to spend in Barcelona, plan not more than two activities per day. Leave yourself time to follow the Spanish unpredictable nature, to aimlessly walk around the Gothic quarter, to end up in a bar which wasn’t marked in your itinerary and be happy with staying there too long to wake up early in the morning for another scheduled tour.
I believe I am a successful planner and controller, but despite my hard efforts I couldn’t control the whole universe around. Well, let’s see what I managed to accomplish out of my plan and what appeared in my trip as serendipity. Be both, my guest and judge in one.
That’s where I left time for magic on purpose 🙂 However, even this wasn’t enough. Finding ourselves in one of the most famous tapas places/restaurants in Barcelona – Els 4 Gats – and then in a very popular but quite hidden bar which is located on the most unhidden place of the city – Rambla, Boadas cocktail bar – the oldest bar in Barcelona (read about the places below). The night finished for me with a very upset stomach (and I don’t blame any of the places we went to), so there was no way to wake up for the booked Segway Tour starting at 11 am. Luckily I bought it from direct provider and they were understanding enough to take us in the afternoon. And by the way, the tour was private, though it wasn’t mentioned in the description.
Els 4 Gats – the restaurant opened in 1897 and became a very popular place of bohemian gatherings, I guess, a tavern, where you must hang out if you consider yourself being artistic. Picasso was a frequent visitor since the age of 17, then, he carried out his first exhibition in the big hall of Els 4 Gats. Big names like Gaudí and Rusiñol were not a surprise to see among the restaurant’s guests. I advise you to read the history of the place before visiting, so you can experience the atmosphere consciously once there.
Boadas Cocktails – opened in 1933 by a very charismatic person, Miguel Boadas, who was raised up in the bars of Havana and a quiet fishermen town – Lloret de Mar, at the same time (right, Lloret wasn’t a popular tourist destination a hundred of years ago). After settling down in Barcelona and meeting his future wife, Miguel started his own cocktail heaven in a tiny place on the Rambla corner.
Visit it – it is a spiritual place, because Miguel, and later on his daughter, they loved it as their home, Miguel died having a vision that all his friends are in the room and said to his daughter: ‘We must make a cocktail for all these people’. He died giving the glass mixer to his daughter and handing the Boadas Cocktail Bar to her hands. Today the bartenders are still wearing tailcoats and serving you a real masterpiece in glass. Average price: 10-15 EUR/cocktail
Besides Els 4 Gats we wanted to visit Bar La Plata – one of the oldest tapas place in the city. However, believe me or not (and if you knew me, you would!), there was no way to find it, whatever maps we tried to use. So maybe you’ll be luckier!
So passo por passo recovering after the night out, we found ourselves near the Arc de Triomf and La Ciudadela Park having a delicious Spanish brunch on the terrace of La Ciudadela Hotel Restaurant.
The Segway afterwards was amazing! Luckily I managed to learn it immediately and feel comfortable along all the 90 min (they also have 120 and 180 min tours!) Well, the best thing about it was the riding itself. For those who never tried, let me mention that you don’t have brakes, the eco-vehicle moves and stops based on your body-movements.
Some of the views were quite impressive – I really loved Ciudadela park and especially the fountain – disagree with me, but I’m so convinced that the fountain is much more beautiful as a whole composition than even Di Trevi in Rome. The guide was a good Segway rider, but not a guide – we didn’t get too many explanations about the places, stories behind their creation, local gossips etc. But generally he was a lovely guy performing magic tricks to entertain us. A very nice experience!
On our way to Segway we noticed a place with Asian mango ice-cream and other delicacies, so once again good fortune brought us to a worth recommending place – Tasmango Dessert – the visit in general can be called: ‘mango, mango, mango with a hint of coconut’.
If these words make you melting like white chocolate, than you are a my type of person! Besides the mango ice-cream (I would rather say sorbet), we had those rice-flour mochi cakes popular in Japanese places. And again – with mango!
In the morning before the Segway ride we bought a voucher for the Barcelona treasure hunt. I’ve chosen the Gaudí secrets in Park Güell. This is where we failed (and it was my fault, not the provider!). So the treasure hunt is a quiz online which leads you through hidden gems of Park Güell (in our case) by asking questions and making you answering them. And we walked up till the park 🙂 Already tired, I realized we need tickets to enter – no problem, I told myself! Trying to buy the tickets directly from the dedicated machine I was stopped by a staff guy, who didn’t let me and said that there are no tickets left for today. We could walk in the park itself – the greenery part, but not in the monumental area – which is the Gaudí-made park Güell! I lost my mood immediately, anger fulfilled me and of course the quiz is taking place in the monumental park, not among the trees.
So 15 EUR and an evening plan lost, and my email to the provider proofed that there is a note on their website stating that you’d need admissions for the park to do the treasure hunt. Well, based on this experience I can advise you a couple of things:
preferably choose any other treasure hunt path, so you won’t be tied to the availability of tickets to Park Güell (besides this they have 5 other routes available)
if you still want to do it in the park be sure that you bought the tickets in advance, because the treasure hunt is always available, but the Gaudí masterpiece on the Catalan hills is not
and definitely, with the treasure hunt or without you should see the park. The entrance before 8 am and after 9:30 pm is for free (at least the staff said so), normally the tickets costs 7 EUR
separately you can purchase tickets for the Gaudí house (5,50 EUR) – which wasn’t too impressive though. I would prefer to visit a house-museum which has all the furnishing left as it’s been in reality, but when it’s 80% empty – that’s not fun at all
And even without the monuments the park is lovely. If I lived in Barcelona I would just come here as often as possible in a peaceful hidden green corner, with a dog or a laptop 🙂
The day finished for us in a Spanish restaurant with amazing paella, again a not crowded place, located at the very end of the restaurant line in the port, too far for an average tourist to get there without being dragged over to a touristy place with a usually southern-oriental guy screaming about the best ‘cava, paella and whatever’. El Gangrejo Loco was a politely place, as I call them 🙂
Price and book:
Segway Tour – private tour 90 min – 45 EUR/person – Arc de Triomf – from Eco Moving Rent
Unpuzzle Barcelona – Secrets of Gaudí, discover Park Güell – 15 EUR from Unpuzzle BCN
Park Güell – 7 EUR/admission or 14 EUR/admission + tour or a private guide on request – buy in advance, online!
Casa Museu Gaudí – 5,50 EUR/person (located in the free zone of the park), online purchase
El Gangrejo Loco – the restaurant in Port Olimpic where we had a Spanish dinner with seafood paella and cava. Make a reservation online!
Second day was supposed to be very saturated – morning pick up of the rented car, then trip to Pubol – the Gala Dalí Castle, wine-tasting with vineyard, cellars and a castle visit in Perelada, finishing the day with a trip to Port Ligat and Dalí’s house. Grand plans! And I’m so proud I could arrange it all before the trip happened. However, human interaction is always unpredictable, so you never know for sure where you will spend double of the planed time.
We found a vintage looking Fiat 500c Cabrio in Europcar’s catalogue. The negative side of the story was that we couldn’t find rental office – we didn’t receive any email confirmation about the rental, so knowing only it’s Barcelona Sants didn’t help too much (maps showed only the parking place). The other problem was that when you are returning the car in non-working hours, you just leave it on the parking with all the documents. We brought it with full tank (and spent half an hour on finding a gas station in the area), however Europcar charged us for refueling, saying that they had to add fuel for 40 EUR. What a lie and unpleasant experience!
NB!: For some magic reason, the cabrio Fiat can’t be found on the desktop web-site, but is easily found in the Luxury & Fun section of the mobile web-site. Also if you want the pick up to be in Barcelona Sants, the Europcar office is inside the railway station, behind McDonald’s.
Price and book:
Europcar – The price depends on the day, we paid approx. 90 EUR with basic insurance included. Book online
Let’s leave negativity behind, Tavsan Surat is on a road trip in his little cabrio! We bought some pastry, fresh orange juice, coffee and water in the Sants station near Europcar’s office, so it sweetened our way to Pubol!
It took us around 1,3h to get to the Gala Dalí Castle – a beautiful place in a medieval village, far away from civilization even now. Actually, Dalí bought this castle to Gala because she was in need of a refuge and peace. The best part of the castle-museum is the garden with extravagant sculptures, lots of trees and hidden paths and a fountain.
Gala is buried in the castle, even though she passed away in Port Ligat. That was the reason Dalí had to get fake documents stating that the place of death was Pubol.
You will visit the bathroom with the dressing room and a fireplace in it, the kitchen, her bedroom and the guest room. Most of the furnishing is there, which makes you much closer to the Dalí couple’s life in their castle. Besides that – retro cars in the garage, the little park where you feel get lost. And the empty medieval village itself – perhaps, we were lucky to come in rain, so there were no tourist hanging around the streets 😉
Price and book:
Gala Dalí Castle (Castle of Pubol) – you can buy the ticket online – the admission is 8 EUR, admission + tour – 10 EUR
So let’s have a walk in Gala Dali Castle!
Another remarkable spot in the village was a medieval cathedral – you will definitely notice it when entering Pubol! We wanted to see it, however – shower-rain, no parking place around the cathedral, so we gave up 🙂 Send us some photos once you get there!
So we headed to our next destination – Perelada winery & estate – this is a huge project of a Catalan businessman Miquel Mateu. He bought the Perelada castle from noble inherits; he started a casino there, kept the former monastery transforming it into a museum of his antiques and a library, planted the vineyards and started to produce his own wine. I planned to spend twice less time here, but there was surprisingly too much to see.
We had the wine-tasting & visit scheduled at 4 pm, however as we planned to visit the castle and were ready with Pubol, we arrived a bit after 3 pm. We were told that the Perelada castle opens only at 4 (weird, isn’t it?) so we have to visit it after the wine-tasting. Okay, Tavsan Surat didn’t mind having some snacks in the meantime.
For the vineyard visit we needed the car – to arrive there from the wine-shop (the starting point). Afterwards our guide took us to the cellars where we’ve seen huge barrels and old dusty bottles with precious wine. By the way, one of the collections was not for sale – that’s Centenary Dalí – wine made of the first harvest from their most precious vineyard finca Garbet in 2000 – all the few bottles are dedicated to the Dalí Association, since Salvador Dalí and Miquel Mateu were good friends.
Finalizing the Perelada experience we joined the wine-tasting of 2 red, 1 white and 1 cava, however, unfortunately, the wines didn’t impress us at all. Tastes differ of course, but I guess if they made the tasting more expensive and would serve their best wines, like the ones from Garbet (100-200 EUR/bottle), it would make the visit more special and encourage clients to buy their most expensive wines in the boutique afterwards. Agree?
Coming back to the castle. We bought our tickets at the wine-shop, arrived to the castle and the security guys pointed toward Plaça del Carme, saying that this is not the entrance we need. Okay, arriving to Plaça del Carme we understood that it’s a monastery, not a castle, and even worse it’s closed. I didn’t give up – if the ticket is bought I will enter, I don’t care about locked doors, so I did my best to unlock the entrance door, but failed. However I was so notable, that a guy from the balcony of one of the houses on that Plaça, tried to explain something in Spanish and pointing somewhere right side. Which was a bench with old people, one of which said ‘siete’ – so seven… It was six, I still planned to get to Gaudí’s house in Port Ligat with last admission at 20:10… We tried to decide, Tavsan Surat voted for the monastery (even though not being religious), and I agreed – since we are already here, wasted a lot of time on ‘research’ and the place looks enormous, let’s wait a bit more to see if it was worth. And we had enough of Dalí that day in the Gala castle.
Just imagine my reaction when at 6:55 I saw people leaving the monastery with a guide – I run after the lady asking to let us in!
So now the explanation: the castle itself is a private property which you can’t access, it belongs to Miquel Mateu’s family. Part of the estate now hosts a casino – which you can access, of course. And the monastery also belongs to the family, and is now a museum where you can see one of the biggest antique – glass & ceramic – collections and libraries in the world. The entrance is each hour (so at 4, or 3, or 6, or 7 – or whatever else) – but be precise, otherwise the door is closed! The tour is private – only you and the guide, available in English, Spanish and, I guess, in Russian.
Even though it’s only a museum, it has a history of full castle value! The first fortress was destroyed in the 13th century during a war with France, after which the viscounts of Peralada decided to build something more spacious instead and the land of the destroyed fortress was given to Carmelite friars to build a convent there. And now the fun starts: the Carmelite monks were moved out during the confiscation of church properties in Spain. For twenty years the convent was empty, after which three brothers of the count family relocated there from Paris and faced a medieval, run down, out of fashion estate. Reconstruction, removal of the heavy baroque decoration, the brothers brought the first books to the now renowned library, after which they established a school for children from the village. One of counts was a teacher himself. However the next owner of Peralada didn’t have that progressive mentality and Peralada was waiting for its next wave of prosperity – under Miquel Mateu.
A passionate collectionair who finally found a spacious depository for his treasures. Nowadays the most notable part of the museum is the Glass and Ceramics collection – it is, in fact, the most important glass museum of Spain containing more than 2500 pieces. It’s worth to mention the jugs collection – or ‘porro’ in Catalan, which is a traditional wedding present in Catalonia, when the bride and the groom are getting separate ones, a male and female version. Besides that various drinking vessels, perfume (and sometimes opium) bottles, and even milk extractors.
The library contains around 100 000 books with the most spectacular collection of Cervantes, one of the best private collections in the world. The library and archive are open for researchers in the mornings and it must be really a once-in-lifetime experience to touch the books ageing back to XVIII century.
It’s definitely worth that one hour you’ll spend in the museum, and especially because you’ll have a guide to lead you through the history of the place. Without the very well-trained guide we had, it would end up being a sightseeing with lots of photos, without any understanding of the story behind those glass & ceramic ‘toys’.
Price and book:
Option A: vineyard visit + ageing cellar + tasting of 4 wines – 10 EUR/person, book in advance
Museu Castell Perelada – admission is 6 EUR, prices and tour options here
The original plan for the evening was to visit Dalí’s house-museum in Port Ligat and spend an evening on a beach I found in the internet, named as one of the most non-touristy and beautiful place in Catalunya. Well, being persistent, I wanted to follow the plan and at least get to the beach. In fact, it was a rocky place with many stones in the water and actually no sand. So for security reasons we stayed dry that evening and instead book a local hotel, had a great dinner on the coast and hoped to swim on the next day. There were a couple of reasons encouraging us to stay, but the most important was that Cadaques (Port Ligat is just nearby) is such an impressive white-blue housed town, all built on hills above a little bay, with many many boats (I guess their quantity is higher than the inhabitants’), that you just can’t resist staying there overnight!
My experience says that an accidentally opened door leads to uncovered miracles! That is why I’m so obsessed about whatever is closed 🙂
Price and book:
Salvador Dalí House – Portlligat – 11 EUR/person for House and Olive garden visit, and the web-site says that it must be always reserved!
Platja S’Arenella – not worth going for swimming, but I guess is nice if you have a boat rented. By the way, the island itself – Isla S’Arenella – might be an interesting spot, I found information that you can rent it out!
Hotel Sol ixent – a very beautiful B&B in Cadaques. Imagine you go on your terrace and see (and smell!) lavender all around, it has a great pool with sunbeds, restaurant which we didn’t manage to visit. It was a perfect last minute deal on booking.com – instead of 260 EUR/night price at the hotel’s direct web-site, it was 156 EUR on booking 🙂 So check out all, before you book!
Xiringuito la Sal – the beach terrace restaurant where we had our dinner upon arrival to Cadaques. First time in our lives we ate paella with ink (octopus ink), it’s so interesting, not like any other kind of paella at all. Make a reservation, they are quite busy, though we were lucky to get a table!
We couldn’t swim though 🙂 All the so-called beaches in Cadaques are not actually beaches, but slippery stones in the very shallow sea. The only way you should get wet in Cadaques is renting one of those shiny catamarans and deep diving on a solid distance from the town.
Instead of it, let’s go for lunch. But not as obvious as yesterday – somewhere hidden in those tiny-shiny white streets with climbing roses on their walls.
Cadaques – my new Catalan love!
I don’t know how, but I swear no google, no tripadvisor, just my 37-sized feet brought us to a restaurant located on the 1st floor of one of those white houses around, with sophisticated fine menu and some tables on their little balcony drowning in rose bloom. And they even run after us when I forgot my famous hat on the chair after we left. Amazing experience, that moment when unplanned impresses more than the whole carefully worked out itinerary (but you know only the one who worked hard deserves to be luckily surprised!)
We didn’t give up and tried to get another beach! Led to Bagur – the story says that Costa Brava was baptized on one of its beaches 🙂 I’ve chosen a beach club called Mar I Vente with extremely good reviews. We arrived and while staying in the queue to the public parking, I noticed the beach club’s private parking – which was closed. An A4 sheet on the entrance saying that they won’t open this year, but will be happy to see us in 2018…
The public beach downstairs was ‘fully booked’, no space even for a kitten, not to mention us with Tavsan. Both beach-restaurants saying that they are closed (!). Anyways we arrived, so we found a third restaurant, which also didn’t serve food – they started the sentence from saying that they’re closed, but served sangria which was good enough. So only their kitchen was actually closed.
Well, the beach was very nice – again a bay in the rocks, but now sandy. But quite small as for me, so you don’t feel spacious enough (if it’s not April, when there are no tourists). Next day we understood, that the best beach is in Barcelona, especially when you have no time for trusting online sources and facing the opposite of what expected. Or when you are not a solo-traveler, but a couple (or family) in need of comfort and hygiene (talking about sunbeds and showers).
So we headed to Barcelona, passing the famous Platja d’Aro and I’m sorry we were too exhausted to check it out, but as a bonus I can recommend you a restaurant there, it’s owned by an Armenian lady I know from an expat group 🙂
Price and book:
Restaurant Es Balconet – the super authentic restaurant we had our early lunch in Cadaques. Unique interior, blooming balconies and fine cuisine – all on a first floor of a hidden house on a tiny street! To get a table on the balcony – book in advance!
Mar I Vent, Aiguablava in Bagur – in case you go in 2018, tell me how was it, if it’s a nice place, okay? And call them, not to end up in our shoes!
Mediterrani restaurant at Platja d’Aro – owned by an Armenian lady whom I know from a common group. Have never been there, but Armenians cook well)) – Avinguda de s’Agaró, 117, 17250 Platja d’Aro, Girona (no web-site)
The last day in Barcelona. Actually not a full day to enjoy, because the end of it is bittered by the departure time blinking on my phone screen. But still we managed a lot!
Sunday morning we started at Camp Nou with their experience tour. I could never believe we’ll spend there two hours and that’s really something to see if you are not bored by football.
Very well thought out tour, a smart environment, just as I like. On each step when you would need guides to lead you – you have them there before you even think. Extremely high tech interactive materials – projectors, screens, touchscreens, headsets with the anthem sang on all the players’ native languages, tour to the pitch, press box, VIP-zone, changing rooms, and all the way long the staff is taking photos of you with a CL cup, at the entrance, with a player at your choice (they photoshop him:)
And guess what, the photos are ready and packed in albums when you are exiting – perfect strategy, when it’s in your hands already, packed in FCB album, you should really appear ugly on those pics not to buy it! You can buy the album with 3 photos for 39 EUR, one single photo, no album costs – 20 EUR, or have all the photos with the album for 59 EUR. A great business they do over there!
After the stadium we went for tapas in a nearby restaurant – apparently, where all the fans snack before games. And not only the food was authentic, but we had a bottle of white from Bodegas Iniesta! The blaugrana spirit didn’t leave us alone even outside of Camp Nou.
I was obsessed about seeing some more Gaudí places and since it was time to check out, we went to the one closest to the hotel – Palau Güell. I can’t say it wasn’t interesting, but it’s either me being not a fan of architecture and museums at all, or simply too dark and monotonous. Right, you see a couple of flours with rooms (again) where most of the furnishing is gone, only the walls left, then the famous roof with Gaudí chimneys, and yes, the ceiling in the guest room was made of gold (and had special holes to see from upstairs what are the guests doing), but it didn’t catch my attention for too long.
Price and book:
Camp Nou Experience: Tour & Museum – 25 EUR/adult, additionally you can purchase a guide or an audio guide option. Book in advance on the official web-site!
Bodegas Iniesta: el Vuit Barcelona – even though we were in another restaurant, I just can’t find it on the maps to advise you. So to continue the FCB experience Tavsan Surat suggests you a Barca fan restaurant with Bodegas Iniesta wines. Check it out and tell us how was it!
Palau Güell – the admission on the first Sunday of the month is free, general ticket (includes audio guide) is 12 EUR/adult. Buy online, or keep in mind that you can pay only cash on spot, no cards accepted!
So we finished with Gaudí and… wanted to go somewhere high!
As an option I had the Mirador de Colom – but the weather was greyish and I was upset I wouldn’t take nice shots. Then I’ve seen cable cars – why didn’t I know about them before! Going from Montjuic to the Port Vella they are an always exciting experience wherever I was before. But maps showed too far to get there, which was not completely true – it was shown that you can enter from Montjuic only, but in fact there is an entrance in the Port Vella.
The last option was the sky bar at W Hotel – certainly, one of the most noticeable, remarkable buildings in Barcelona. So we ended up there on the 26th floor with the shower-rain starting behind the windows. But what a beautiful place to watch Barcelona getting wet!
Soon after – waiting in the taxi line in front of the hotel and staying in the traffic on our way to the flamenco show. Yes, I know that Barcelona is not a flamenco place, but it was Tavsan Surat asking for dancing girls. What I loved about staying in traffic in Barcelona is that a car in front of you can be just a motorboat moving from one port to another 😉
Even though I lived in Andalusia – the birthplace of flamenco, and used to be kind of a flamenco dancer myself (even a bit performing), I was pleasantly surprised by the level of dancers and the show itself. They started from an introductory movie, then with a flamenco experience – we were asked to stand up and learn some basic steps and claps (golpe and palmas), and only then the show commenced. Sometimes flamenco, sometimes traditional Spanish dance & ballet – I even teared remembering my days on the dance-floor. Definitely recommend!
And, of course, as predicted our day ended up in the airport El Prat – on our way back home, to prepare for our next adventures and discoveries (that’s how I call home-staying!).