Welcome to Travels with Mrs B, my travel blog of reviews and anecdotes from my stays in wonderful treasures around the world.
Recently I celebrated a readership of 40,000 on Trip Advisor (now 95,000 Oct ’17) so I am elaborating on my experiences in my Travels with Mrs B blog with my lovely, patient, kind, but sometimes grumpy, Mr B in tow. =)
I love the first coffee of the morning, being woken by the sunrise, my black poodle cross – Romeo, delicious scents, writing with fountain pens, new notebooks, old Stationery shops, Vivienne Westwood clothes, my hand stitched poetry quote coats, mother of pearl buttons, reading travel books and, most of all, my family with my whole heart.
Special skills: Mirror writing. Touching my nose with my tongue. Speaking French, Italian and Spanish usually not in the country I am supposed to.
I am an artist, photographer and grass roots record label owner based in South East England who travels for occasional business and permanent pleasure in beautiful spots in Europe and beyond.
I am not lucky enough to get paid for reviews or get any free stays so I will always give an honest opinion or feedback. If you want to message me then pop over to the Contact page.
The last time I had been anywhere near Nice was in 1989 travelling with girlfriends under canvas in France and Italy. Back then borders were still in place and I still remember the dizzying heights of the road over Genoa. I literally could not look down, fortunately my friend was driving.
We wanted a late summer break, the flights on BA were incredibly cheap to Nice so we thought, why not? Mr B used to live in Italy before we were wed, in fact in 1989 that was where I was heading with my friends to go and see him in Naples. We had never been to the Italian Riviera together though, and decided to stay there rather than the French coast. I did my usual due diligence choosing our hotel for 5 nights. Ages were spent poring over room descriptions, facilities and reviews. Even when I do decide on a hotel after what seems like tonnes of research, I still have a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach, have I chosen wisely? It was almost a decision on par with the third Indiana Jones when they discover the Holy Grail in Petra. I digress, the hotel we banked on was the very opulent sounding 5 star Grand Hotel del Mare Resort and Spa.
The reviews were slightly mixed but we felt hopeful. Our flight landed at 20.30 and we had to navigate the enormous terminal 1 and get by bus to Terminal 2 where our car awaited. That was a bit of a mare to find. A labyrinth of carparks were to be traversed before you stumbled upon the car hire. A french couple stopped us to ask where Bay B was, it looked from their tired and weary expressions that they had been wandering for perhaps days. Thankfully due to our short tempered wanderings for you all you need to remember is to head towards the carparks opposite the terminal entrance and walk as far as you can in a straight line, across bridges, narrow walkways and do not, whatever you do, attempt to short cut across the car park as you will not be able to gain access. It is one footpath in and out. We hired from Sixt, the gent was not as accommodating as our Ibizan chum earlier in the year, and although we got an upgrade to an Alfa Romeo sport we had to pay for it. No comps for us. He was also snooty or was it snotty? Whatever, he was that.
Nice airport is very conveniently located near to the motorway exits so we quickly sped off to the Italian border taking us about 40 minutes. The entrance to the hotel is just before a short tunnel and the sign for the end of sleepy town, Bordighera. The entrance is underground and is very impressive in that wonderful opulent, over the top way that Italy embraces so well. Marble statues welcome you to the glitzy lift that whizzes you to the first floor and reception. The interior decor is opulence, think Dubai on steroids. Gold and crystal gleam from every surface. It is almost as if they bought all the fixtures and fittings from every bankrupt hotel on the coast from the Belle Epoque era to the 1980’s. It is very kitsch without the sync. I loved it though. If you come to Italy expecting minimalism forget it, they are masters of maximilism, they even almost had a Caesar named after it.
Our room was a corner junior suite. Huge, and I mean huge, bed with good quality sheets and despite it normally being quite balmy in September, a chill wind was definitely blowing. I reached for the spare fluffy duvet in the walk in wardrobe.
The staff were lovely and could not do enough. Stunning views of the sea from our covered balcony so you could sit out in inclement weather.
We even witnessed a couple of fabulous thunder storms. The exterior of the hotel is quite brutalist. Heavy concrete structure which they have tried to balance with lots of silvered mirrors on the balcony walls. This was a good effect as you had panoramic views of both the Italian and French riviera. Early one morning as I looked out across the sea I was thrilled to see the faint mountains of Corsica. They were a mere shadow on the horizon but I saw them, 100 miles distant. You can only catch them in the early sunshine though, as the rays light up their profiles.
Breakfast is a buffet affair around the pool or indoors. The guests were a continental mix of Russians, Italians, French and English. The fresh watermelon and pineapple were delicious and my staple diet of the holiday.
We ventured out into Bordighera the first day, exploring this town. I’m sure in summer this is a pleasant place to chill out and enjoy the sun but it was cloudy so we headed off to explore the cramped hillside towns.
Apricale is perched like a plate of crockery about 20 minutes from the sea inland. It has an air of secrets and historic long lasting feuds about it. We wandered around the deserted streets wondering where the locals were. Tourists mingled but the whole town seemed to be on their siesta.
Hungry we stopped at an interesting restaurant which was built inside an old wine cave. The food was typical of the area, huge portions. We were ill prepared for the vast amount of delicious food served though. We were full after the antipasti! It was yummy but really heavy, in hindsight we should have had a simple pasta but we wanted to try the local cuisine. Stuffed we went to catch our breath in the town square just up the stone steps. I leant against the church wall and a chalk graffiti image transferred itself to my back much to the amusement of Mr B. Curiously there is a cycle attached to the tall steeple next to the beautiful mosaic panelled church. How did it get there? Did it symbolise Italy’s passion with cycling that could rival the adoration of God himself?
We waddled with our full bellies down to our car vowing never to eat again. The landscape is incredible here, tiny villages clinging like eyries in the verdant mountains. You notice the difference immediately as you cross the border to France. Italy is a little more rustic, Monaco is definitely polished, manicured even. Enormous views from the hair pin bends. “Wow, just look at that, don’t look!” was my most oft repeated phrase. Poor Mr B finally pulled the car over at a magnificent viewpoint for a literal birds eye view of the coast with no danger of careering over the edge. “Wow! Incredible!” floated from his lips over the edge of the vertiginous cliff into the bay of Monte Carlo. I had an unfortunate attack of Vertigo and crept back to the car, virtually on hands and knees.
We headed to Grasse as I wanted perfume straight from the factory. It was heaving with tourists but a great experience. Reading a couple of books about the French Riviera and its history, you understand the pivotal role that Grasse had in the olfactory trade. Starting off with tanneries, then perfuming rich ladies gloves which by natural progression turned into perfuming the rest of the body. All the greatest modern scents in the world started here.
Mr B insisted on a couple of days rest and we relaxed by the ocean with a stiff breeze to contend with but it was worth it. The young bar man never stopped from early morning to the end of the day and that was just bringing us our drinks!
Villefranche sur Mer was one of our favourite places that we stumbled upon in our ad hoc touring. It was wonderful. Jean Cocteau spent some time here recovering from opium addiction. He decorated the tiny church opposite The Welcome Hotel, his bolthole, with images of the local fishermen.
It is a charming sleepy resort with an air of intrigue about it. The regulars there were like characters from a Georges Simenon novella. He bought Villa Mauresque on the adjacent Cap de Ferrat peninsula just round the bay and many a famous author and celebrity paid him a visit.
The French and Italian riviera are steeped in history, famous authors regularly came here to escape Paris, New York or London. It is probably one of the few places in the world to have such wealth of talent roaming its boulevards and beaches and we were very lucky to have walked in their footsteps.
P.S. One of the highlights of the return journey was paying £10, reduced to £7.50 via the MyGatwick website, for the fast track passport control. What an absolute joy to wait until last to disembark the plane then glance at the huge snake of a queue to get through immigration. We strolled to the Premier lane, which was empty, flashed our passports and were through in literally minutes whilst the rest of the passengers from the plane were eyeing us with envy. If there is one thing you indulge in on your next vacation, upgrade to the premier lane on passport control. I promise that you feel like a true VIP.
It is always a struggle where family holidays are concerned. There are so many boxes to be ticked. Drive or Fly? As we live so close to the Eurotunnel and can literally see France on a clear day it seems silly not to drive to Europe. All inclusive? Nah, not for us. We end up getting bored of the food after day two. Our own villa or farmhouse within 8 hours drive? Sign me up!
I wish it was that easy, needless to say many weeks were spent trawling the web for holiday homes in Italy, then France, then back to Italy and finally France again as we decided to do the drive down in a day. Limousin came up as a top choice for us. We shortlisted 3 homes and let our sons in on the voting. Surprisingly the vote for the old 16th century ‘church’ came up trumps and the kids were sold on the pool and the fact it was remote and wild.
Eurotunnel in my opinion is the ONLY way to cross the Channel. Not only is it so convenient being a mere 10 minutes from our pad, but it really is so easy. Park and ride and you are in France in 35 minutes. We drove early morning and all the opinions on the web was to head for Rouen, don’t get caught up in the Paris Periferique! Sadly our satnav disagreed and took us past Rouen and then back to Versailles and we got lost in the longest underground tunnel motorway in the world.
We arrived at 7.15 in the evening after a supermarket sweep in the Super U in Laguenes.
The owners were lovely and showed us round the property. The pool is fabulous. It is set inside an old barn, but the barn was not converted and the pool is open to the elements. Luckily for us we had lovely sunshine most days and the pool was amazing.
Eldest son DB is in his element when he is off exploring the woodland and rivers and spent most of his time out looking for gold. Gold I hear you say? Yes, Corrèze is an area that has gold in its streams and rocks. The stones the house was built from all glittered with tiny specks of warm gold. It was wonderful to see all that glitters was indeed gold. We found lots of mica and sparkling rocks and DB found tracks of wild boar and rare chanterelle mushrooms. He cooked those in an omelette.
We went to the Cascades De Gimel, about a 15 minute drive away. Lovely cascading waterfall with an interesting back story. Once upon a time a beautiful lady lived at the top of the cascades in the castle (the ruin still stands). A powerful magician fell in love with her and wanted to marry her. She said she would if he fulfilled all her wishes and requests. She wanted a waterfall, he constructed the most beautiful waterfall for her right outside her castle. She requested gold and jewels and he conjured up those too. Things turned sour when he found out that she was also putting in requests to other suitors so he promptly killed her. Her ghost is said to haunt the cascades and the castle where she wanders about.
It’s about 6 euros to get in and there is a little cafe there too. You can spend a couple of hours here wandering along the waterfalls and seeing the flora and fauna. It is beautiful. This part of Limousin is still the most undiscovered part of France and you can imagine lost civilisations coming out of the forests. DB on his walks discovered a waterfall with a door behind it. He peered through the window and could see a sink and a table and chair. He said it felt really creepy and climbed back up. The door was about 25 feet down. Most mysterious!
The best part of the holiday was being able to completely relax and as we had lots of space around us no arguments ensued and everyone got on really well. In fact, we all came away loving each other a bit more. That is the point of a family holiday isn’t it?
Imagine my surprise when I got an email today congratulating me on a readership of 93,000 on Trip Advisor. I am not a prolific writer on TA merely reporting back on places I have visited, hotels I have stayed in or restaurants that I have dined in. I don’t go for reviewing every single place I have ever been to, only those I would urge you to try or conversely avoid at all costs. They are quite rare though, I prefer to use my spider senses to pick out places I think both me and Mr B will enjoy.
I look forward to writing more about my trips and give good advice to fellow travellers. Me and Mr B love to travel. =)
Both Mr B and me are avid electronic music fans and when we heard about Sonar in Barcelona we booked straight away. We have a record label so could get cheaper tickets through AIM, a wonderful supportive organisation for independent record labels and music industry. British Airways was a good port of call to organise flights and hotel. It works out a lot cheaper that way.
We booked to stay at the 5* Hesperia Towers which has just been taken over by NH hotels. It is in the Hospital district and quite a trek into the centre. However, the metro is just opposite and taxis are also outside. It was about 10-15 euros to get into the centre and there was also a timed complimentary shuttle bus from the hotel to both the airport and Plaza España.
Mr B was very disappointed when he saw the room as it was facing away from the centre, overlooking the hospital buildings and a built up area. He was not impressed. The door key did not work either so I popped down to reception to see if we could get a better room. I was shown the Duplex Suite which has two floors, downstairs a living room and toilet. Upstairs a jacuzzi bath under the sloping window, huge kingsize bed and two person shower.
Yes, we will have this one. The wonderful guy on reception said no additional payment was required as the original room booked was not suitable so he gave us a complimentary upgrade. The room really made it and Mr B cheered up immensely when he saw the incredible view from the window.
Sonar is split into Sonar by Day and Sonar by Night. It is held in two different venues. By Day is held in the area of Montjuic at the large Fira and has lots of workshops, talks and special performances alongside the bigger acts on the open air stage. There is a cool VIP section with an enormous specially designed fuss ball table (four end to end customised so loads of people can play at once). The weather was roasting so fans were set up with water billowing in rain clouds spraying across you as you walked past. Heaven.
One of the big draws on the opening night was Björk’s DJ set. The UV light effects were amazing, my trainers and dress lit up. The stage was shrouded in foliage and Björk was hidden from view most of the time. We made our way right to the front and I glimpsed what I could perhaps guess was her ankle. The set was four hours, we stayed for about an hour. Some of the set was incredible and other parts were more experimental. To be honest, we were glad to have witnessed it but prefer her songwriting to her DJ sets.
The first day we headed over to one of the indoor auditoriums to listen to Andy Stott. Mr B has been a fan for years and was over the moon to see him on the line up. The queue was pretty long to get in and we sat on the back row. The stage was completely black and the lights went down. Andy’s set was incredible and taken from his new album ‘Kindness of Strangers’. I did not feel so kind to strangers however, as lots of alleged ‘fans’ stood right behind us jibber jabbering away as his set played on. It was really infuriating. Why come and stand in the dark at a gig and then shout loudly throughout? I turned round angrily and asked them to ‘Vamos elsewhere’. A few moments later and the loudest part of Andy’s track came screeching through, you could not hear yourself think and it was fantastic as the loud mouths left the auditorium and I closed my eyes to enjoy the rest of the set.
We left to grab some food on the nearby street and went to a burger joint. It was busy, but the food was great.
Sonar By Night was held 5 minutes away at Fira Gran Via. Held in a huge cavernous building there were three stages to enjoy the music line up. There were literally thousands of people there but the space made it feel like a few hundred. Downside was not enough bars, it was roasting so I was on water only but it took a good 25 minutes of queueing to get a drink. They need to address this for next year, they have held it for 24 years so you think they would understand the need for more bars. I suggest that they just have an outlet for water only and keep alcohol separate. You are also required to load currency onto your ‘smart’ wristband so you can beep your way to refreshments. In theory again, this works on not having to carry cash around with you, but you must remember to credit the excess cash back to your card BEFORE you leave Sonar at the end of the festival. We forgot and when we returned home, again forgot until the deadline had passed and realised we had 30 euros left on our bands.
We enjoyed Jon Hopkins set which was really busy in the main auditorium. He was on about 3am. The sound was excellent and the VIP section allowed you to dance at the side of the stage and dance floor area, but I think most people preferred to be in with the rest of the delegates in the maelstrom of the dance floor. It was a really good set.
The beauty of attending Sonar in Barcelona is the revisiting of this wonderful city. It has everything, beaches, culture, food, shopping, beer, wine did I mention shopping? We enjoyed rediscovering this gem so much. Flights are pretty cheap to Barcelona all year round, and we even considered renting a place out there so we can fly out at the drop of a hat.
If you get tired of eating tapas there are some lovely Italian restaurants in the centre. We are suckers for Italian food and always search out the local trattoria or pizza place wherever we are in the world. One of favourite squares to hang out with a cold beer is Placa Reial. Gaudí designed the amazing lamp posts here and you can see everything from Flamenco to jugglers to acrobats in this fine square.
Do not miss the spectacular food market on Las Ramblas. La Boqueria. It has been here for years and is a real gem. We were parched and bought a couple of freshly squeezed papaya juices. It’s colourful, vibrant and exciting. The local bars surrounding the market all have delicious bites on offer, whatever is fresh from the market that day. Locals and tourists alike gather, chat and sample the yummy morsels. We searched out an Italian restaurant just round the corner from the market. Walk right through and then turn left into a narrow tall street. The Italian Bar Bacaro is situated in what seems is their private home, you really feel welcomed here. The food is out of this world and I’m sure that nonna (grandma) was in the kitchen making food. It was outstanding.
The Hotel Oriente on Las Ramblas is only 3 star but dates from ages ago. Hemingway and a whole host of famous people stayed here and the building is magnificent. I feel it is a real shame that some updating hasn’t happened to make it at least 4 star, but perhaps nostalgia is a draw rather than comfort and convenience. I loved the art deco style of it.
There are many little breakfast cafes operating along Las Ramblas but the one opposite Hotel Oriente was really good. That’s where I took this photo.
Two more gems we discovered were the Egyptian Museum (Museuegipci.com) and the Perfume Museum(museudelperfum) which is situated in a perfume shop at the back. You have to ask for them to open it for you, and you pay a small fee to enter. They have thousands of perfume bottles dating back thousands of years. It’s incredible. I was particularly interested in ancient Phoenician perfume vessels and they had a whole cabinet full. I love the hand painted designs of these beautiful pieces, some even of hand blown glass in exquisite designs that would not have looked out of place in a Missoni Home catalogue.
The Egyptian Museum is centrally located too, and what a gem! A business man became interested in Egyptology and over a number of years amassed an amazing collection. In June when we visited there was a temporary exhibition of Tutankhamen in the basement which was fascinating.
We even saw a statue of Bez, the little pygmy god of Ibiza, brought over by the Phoenicians who built colonies in the Med whilst they were trading. Bez was also worshipped in Egypt and appears as the god of childbirth protecting mothers. Interestingly in an old diving book I once read, the diver Capt Ted Falcon Barker discovered what he thought was an ancient Roman galley under the ocean near to Il Conejara a small island off the coast of San Antonio. It is purported that Hannibal was born here. (The ancient general not the killer forensic psychiatrist). In my musings I don’t think it was a roman galley he found but instead a Phoenician one, perhaps even belonging to Hannibal’s mother who it is said was shipwrecked en route to Ibiza and Hannibal was born on this small inhospitable island. In the wreckage was discovered a pottery jug with a figurine of Bez on it. The Captain had no idea what it was or who it symbolised. I recognised it immediately and if she was on that boat and that vessel had been brought for her to drink from to protect her from poisons and unclean water then we can imagine that it could have belonged to her. I would like to think so.
If you hop over to the website for the Egypt museum they also organise field trips to Egypt discovering ancient sites. They have one this year on a number of dates exploring Nefertiti. I also have researched this very interesting woman from ancient Egypt and she was a fascinating person. From the extensive research that I have conducted I have come to the conclusion that the ‘king’ she was married to Akhenaten was in fact a woman too, all the depictions of her/him are with breasts and a rounded belly. We have only been discovering ancient Egypt for just over a century so there is an awful lot we have to learn about these amazing people.
We usually travel to Ibiza at the beginning and end of the season. April is normally a nice month to go and I was continually checking the weather on my iPhone. It forecast rain for the day we arrived, would the gods smile on us or not?
I planned to drive to Gatwick airport and park the car in the short stay carpark. It is a little pricier than staying in the long stay, but I could not face the waiting around for shuttle buses and thought for the extra money it’s worth having convenience.
We overnighted at the Hilton Gatwick as it is located next to the short stay carpark and therefore easy access to the terminal. Now that British Airways have relocated their terminal to the South, this is worth considering. We were given a double superior room in the new refit. Although further away from reception along seemingly endless corridors, (at one point I thought I was trapped in a Haruki Murakami novel!) you get a much nicer room.
Cocktails are good here, the food was ok in Amy’s Restaurant but not worth the price. The bar is set in a nice atrium area, so feels light and airy and you can choose bar snacks to accompany your drinks.
Unfortunately as I write, South Terminal has woefully inadequate restaurants pre Security, hopefully this will change as it becomes more established. This was the first time that we had flown with BA without the complimentary food and drink service. It was a shock to have to part with money for my normal gin and tonic, especially as BA fares are not at all budget.
Mr B said it was not worth considering BA to fly short haul again and suggested we look at budget ‘no frills’ airlines. It was the same plane after all. I shuddered. No thank you. BA do have to rethink this faux pas, it now takes twice as long to get served in the cabin because of the extra time to take payments, (card or avios points only) If you are sat near the back, forget it, you will be eating and drinking just 30 minutes before you land. My advice is go to Wagamamas upstairs in the terminal before you board your flight and get some nice food and drink there or pack a picnic from Marks and Spencer before security and get your drinks when you’ve gone through.
When we arrived in Ibiza, we had booked a hire car through Sixt cars. We’ve never used them before, but they were a good price and the cars are located at the airport, there is no waiting around for the minivan and a drive of ten minutes to get to the cheaper car hire companies. The lovely young man upgraded us to a BMW 4 series. Mr B was over the moon. That made up for the weather being cold, damp and rainy. Despite Mr B’s protestations that he wanted to relax this break, I knew that the car would be too much of a temptation to do a whistle stop tour at some point. Our first two nights were booked at Atzaro, an Agroturismo, situated in the middle of orange groves in the centre of the island. It’s been two years since we last stayed there and is wonderful. We had been lured away by Aguas de Ibiza and the delightful Mirador de Dalt Vila, but it was good to be back.
I booked through the hotel website for the first night and got a good price from Booking.com for the second night. We had booked a suite for the second night so they upgraded us for both nights which was lovely. Our room was behind the main building, in a quiet and secluded part only for guests. We had two terraces and a small garden with a day bed. The suite is called Llebiec (pronounced Yeh Beck) and was glorious. We had an open fire, which was perfect for the inclement weather that we were experiencing, a huge four poster bed, and a decent sized bathroom. One thing to watch for is many of the bathrooms have climb into baths with the shower in the bath. This can prove a little tricky when you are trying to clamber out of the bath all wet and slippery. Extreme caution needed. Atzaro use the best bed linen and very comfortable beds with extra pillows. Bliss. We were very pleased with our room and immediately unpacked and I popped off to the bar for our first drinks of the holiday. Two large gold fish glasses of Vodka and Fresh Orange for Mr B and Gin Mare and Tonic for me.
Thankfully food in the restaurant is very good and provided you mention it to the staff upon arrival usually they will have a table free. Book ahead in high season as Atzaro is very popular with the locals and tourists alike. The fillet steak is always a good choice. Atzaro does also have a spa. It has two wonderful (one unheated, one heated) outdoor pools, a hammam and a sauna. There are also massages on offer, I had one of my best massages ever here and a range of yoga classes that are complimentary to guests so you can still work out and do your practice in a class if you wish. Sadly this time I had forgotten my lycra so a practice of full on relaxation beckoned for me.
However, due to the relentless drizzle, it was too wet to even drag myself to the spa. I preferred to cosy up with a roaring fire, a nice glass of red and of course, Mr B.
We took the car out for a spin the next day, exploring the hair pin roads to Portinatx, St Joan and along to St Vicente. The sea around Ibiza is mesmerising, beautiful shades of cool cerulean and deep turquoise blue almost too vivid to be true, it is breathtaking.
One of the bars on the seafront at Cala St Vicente called Restaurante Playa San Vicente is a great local place for simple food. Their tomato and tuna salad is delicious. They also do one of the cheapest and best mojitos. The Beach Bar is also good for food, portions are large, cocktails delicious and they also do nice healthy smoothies. This is at the far right of the beach set apart and next to the car park. It sometimes offers massages on its roof terrace.
Be careful heading through San Carlos on a Saturday as that is when the extremely popular Las Dalias hippy market is held and the roads soon get swollen with traffic. If you’ve never been to the hippy market either go first thing in the morning, or late in the afternoon to beat the crowds. You can feel a little like salmon swimming upstream otherwise. You get no chance to browse the lovely stalls, you only get spat out onto the pavement in the crush of people.
They also run a night time Hippy Market check online for details. Cala D’Hort was next on the list to revisit and is a must see, its the opposite side of the island to Cala St Vicente and both have a connection to Tanit. She was the Carthaginian fertility goddess who was worshipped here thousands of years ago. You canstill feel her energy on Ibiza. At St Vicente there is an ancient cave that was excavated and found to be an old Phoenician temple. (Es Cuieram). Many of the finds here can be seen upclose in the Archaeology Museum in Dalt Vila. Es Vedra on the other side of the island in the south was said to be Tanit’s home. It is also purported to be the site of the lashing of Odysseus to the mast and his rowers ears were stopped up with wax to prevent them hearing the sirens bewitching but deadly calls in Homer’s Odyssey.
The beach that overlooks the incredible iconic rock of a thousand postcards, Cala D’Hort, has three great fish restaurants. They do get incredibly busy though so do book ahead. Interestingly Hort in Catalan is garden. Translated Beach of the Garden. Garden of Eden perhaps? =)
Es Vedra attracts all kinds of energy from being the 3rd most magnetic point on the globe after the North Pole and the Bermuda Triangle. It has also attracted religious types. Take Palau I Quer for example.
Palau I Quer was a 19th century Carmelite priest who had been expelled from Tarragona in 1856 and sailed across to Ibiza. He became a hermit on Es Vedra for three years and experienced powerful visions about the end of the world foretold by a mysterious being who appeared to him. He wrote a book which is now in the private library of the Vatican and the Pope is the only one allowed to read it. The Vatican sent out emissaries who spoke to him and asked him what he wanted. He replied that he wanted to build a church for the fishermen, so they did at the nearby village of Es Cubells . This church is still very much in use today and has some interesting statues inside. There is also a statue and plinth of Palau I Quer along with a Carmelite nunnery. I find this piece of history fascinating. Any other place in the world that is famous for seeing visions of Mary and other saints are venerated and capitalised upon.
Not Es Vedra, it stands there, noble and not wanting veneration, it exists and it does so powerfully. The beach can get incredibly packed and the road down is very steep and quickly turns into a bottle neck. It is better to turn left at the road down to Cala D’ Hort instead of turning right to the beach as there is a fantastic natural car park where you can park up and admire the view. Be careful of your step though as it is a long way down and the usual boring bit about not leaving valuables on show as this is a favourite spot for unscrupulous car thieves.
If you are fortunate to come here in winter book a table at one of the 3 fish restaurants on the beach, or Es Boldaldo just across the way via a separate road. Your tummy will thank you. Disclaimer: There is nothing to stop you booking in summer, but the roads to and from the beach are so congested that it becomes a bit of a bun fight and I can’t bear that.
After leaving we were a little peckish so decided to call in to Sunset Ashram at Cala Comte. A few minutes along the coast from Cala D’Hort this is another lovely beach with glorious sunset views.
The restaurant here has been bought out and is nowhere near as good as it was a few years ago. The food menu is a bit whacky, also expensive. A small bowl of 5 baby potatoes fried was 12 euros. They were not nice at all and were microwaved and reheated. Pitiful. Yet the views are incredible and it is a wonderful place to stop for a drink.
I wonder how long this remote stretch of a cluster of restaurants will survive however, as a couple of years ago, billionaire developers from London bought a 12 km stretch including Sunset Ashram. Recently there was an auction for sun beds on the beaches in the south of the Island and now there are bans on live music and DJs at some of these beaches. The winds of change are coming and Ibiza may change immeasurably over the next few years.
What a thrill to walk down the boulevards of Seville with the scent of oranges in the air. The wonderful fruit contrast beautifully with the almost guaranteed azure blue skies and the leaf green of their foliage. We arrived in January to coincide with our annual sojourn for our anniversary. We settled on the 5 star Palacio de Villapanes in Calle Santiago.
It is a 19th century building based on a moorish courtyard design with beautifully appointed rooms. Huge wrought iron gates make you feel like royalty as you walk through them into the open air courtyard complete with sparkling fountain. As we were celebrating the manager gave us an upgrade to a Palacio Junior Suite, a huge room with separate dressing area, large freestanding bath and the best multi jet shower I have ever had. Our room overlooked an ancient well that was situated in an interior courtyard and this was where the southern pilgrim Santiago de Compostela route started, over time the starting point moved to the cathedral. It was sobering thinking about all the pilgrims that had come to that very spot before embarking on their walk of devotion, its guardians now a couple of white doves that would sit on top and then swoop to bathe in the fountain waters. Our breakfast was not included so every morning we would walk a different way from the hotel to discover our place to eat. Breakfast in Seville is very cheap, tostado, juice and coffee was about 3 euros.
The staff at the hotel are super friendly and the bar staff are so good at making yummy gin and tonics. My favourite is Gin Mare but I caught sight of a wonderful old looking bottle, square glass and a great logo. It was a London Gin but one I had not heard of. I googled the name on the back of the bottle and it turns out it is made not far from Seville in the heart of sherry country. Jerez! It was a delicious gin full to bursting with botanicals. The lovely girl at the bar, sorry forgot her name, was superb at making the G&T’s with perfection. She would put pink peppercorns, primroses, berries and fever tree tonic and make it the best mix ever. Feast your eyes on this!
We did walk ALOT during our weeks stay, traversing the centre of Seville, but as I love the tourist bus we had to do that too. We opted for the Seville bus which is green as we got 2 for 1 on the tickets costing 18 euros for 2 days. There are three different lines, a walking tour and a night tour so is excellent value. The buses are a bit older and the commentary is a patchwork of different voices but the information is of great benefit. We learnt about the historical past of Seville, and you could imagine the wonderful goods being delivered by Phonecian, Roman and Moorish merchants. Then the galleons in the time of Christopher Colombus. Indeed he studied before his second voyage in the convent across the river. He is also buried in the vast cathedral.
We wandered along the streets in the area of Triana, named after Trajan the Roman Emperor. It is a bright and buzzing place, just across the river. We were in search of a cigar shop for Mr B as grumpiness was starting to set in with our marathon walking so I googled the cigar shops in town. The Calle Betis cigar shop is on the lovely promenade a bit further down than the swanky Abade Triana restaurant. As we walked past, Mr B pulled me towards the menu. “Shall we go here for our anniversary?”. “Yes, looks lovely, let’s go and book.” The staff were very friendly and booked us in for the Thursday evening and showed us the river view tables for which a premium is paid but includes a drink and coffee. Perfect! The tasting menu with wine looked amazing. The cigar shop was only a few minutes down the road and was tiny but had a humidore. A good sign. Mr B bought himself some Romeo and Juliet cigars, Davidoff and La Paz his go to quick cigar. With a very happy Mr B we walked back across the bridge and towards the El Corte Ingles store. Bargains were to be had, but I didn’t buy. I was holding out for the perfect gift for my anniversary present. Jewelry perhaps?
One of the charming things at the weekend is watching the chestnut sellers on the street corners with their homemade stoves and curled paper cones. They tasted delicious too, especially the charred ones, they were extra sweet.
After we spent a long time eating tapas and drinking red Rioja at a delightful cafe we decided to head back to the hotel. However, we saw a group of people queueing and thinking it was a music venue went to investigate. It was the Museum of Flamenco and a performance was about to start in one minute. We hurriedly bought the last two tickets and entered the small, dark space with a balcony and rectangular shaped stage almost in the crowd. What a wonderful intimate venue for such a passionate dance. ‘Flamenco is a feeling’ we were told on the bus commentary. How true that was, from the moment the guitarist, singer and dancers appeared on stage and started to work their magic, you were immediately taken on a journey. Passion, emotion, and the percussion of their shoes striking the wooden floor transported you to ancient Andalucia. A member of the audience, who was clearly a flamenco guitarist judging by his beautiful long nails for picking out the notes, shouted out an appreciative ‘Olé’ when the drama got intense. It was fantastic and at the end another flamenco dancer in plain clothes got up and started dancing spontaneously. Seville is a wonderful city, full of history, great tapas, passionate flamenco and those orange trees! The scent will forever transport me to the land of Andalucia.
I live only two hours on the Eurostar from Paris and I can’t quite believe that I am not here on a monthly basis as it is easier to get to than the slow train to London. Paris is wonderful and even if you have only one or two nights here you can immerse yourself and take home some l’amour.
I did spend some time researching where to stay as I think you really have to zone into one area and explore that. I had seen some Phoenician and Carthaginian treasures in my Louvre guidebook that I wanted to see up close. Mr B had read a book ‘The fall of the priest, the rise of the lawyer’ by Professor Philip R Wood and wanted to see two works of art in the Louvre that the book discusses. ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ by Gericault and ‘Vive La Revolution’ by Delacroix.
We opted for the Hotel Regina as it had wonderful reviews and fantastic photo opportunities if you were lucky enough to bag a junior suite on the top floor. My top tip for a room upgrade is to book the best room you can afford and then email the hotel before you arrive. It helps if you have a special occasion to celebrate as that will almost certainly guarantee you an upgrade, if you haven’t then don’t feel bad about making one up. After all, if you get treated especially well you are more likely to return and recommend the place. I always mention my upgrade in my reviews and always personally thank the hotel afterwards. It makes your stay ten times nicer and you really feel like royalty.
The charming assistant showed us to the glass elevator and we whizzed to the sixth floor. Antique treasures are on every floor in this beautiful hotel and fashion shows by couture designers have been held here. The rooms on the sixth floor are up in the eaves of the building. As we were shown into our room, I did gasp loudly as it was exquisite. They had laid red rose petals on the bed, how romantic! We had not one but two mini balconies that looked out over the Rue du Rivoli, across the Tuileries towards the Eiffel Tower. It was magical. I couldn’t wait until dark when the Eiffel Tower would shimmer on the hour for five minutes like Josephine Baker in a sequin dress.
We immediately cracked open the half bottle of champagne in the fridge and toasted Paris and our beautiful suite. By the way, rose petals were a wonderful touch as I visited the Louvre smelling of roses.
The Hotel Regina is only a 5-10 minute walk from the Louvre and overlooks the delightful Tuileries gardens. The Musee D’Orsay is just across the Seine. I would highly recommend pre-booking tickets to visit both of these museum galleries as the queue can be quite daunting. In fact, we didn’t make it to the Musee D’Orsay because we were put off by the line. There is always next time.
One of our all time favourite places to go is the magical island of Ibiza. It is home to the Carthaginian goddess Tanit who resides on the tiny protected island of Es Vedra, the third most magnetic point on earth. Only the North Pole and the Bermuda Triangle are more magnetic, probably why we get pulled back at least twice a year for a few nights break.
We are not party animals and prefer the peace and quiet of Santa Eularia, a more genteel and refined town at the opposite side of the island to San Antonio. We have been coming for more than 10 years and have a few favourite hotels we always stay in. Our top three hotels are:
1. Mirador de Dalt Vila
2. Atzaro, Sant Joan
3. Aguas de Ibiza, Santa Eularia
Wherever you stay on the island you must try and grab a boat to Formentera. The closest you can get to the caribbean this side of the Atlantic. The beaches are like white talcum powder and the sea the clearest I have ever seen. Hire a bike for a leisurely exploration or if you are like Mr B hire a motorbike. I was a passenger which meant shaky legs and gripping on tightly in case I fell off the back. Not a relaxing way to start your beach quest. We probably were able to do more exploration with the power of petrol, however and did make it up to the lighthouse at the far end of Formentera. The next stop after that is Africa. There are remains of Phoenician settlements here and a pirate tower dating back to the 16th century is a landmark to look out for.
Interestingly, a prehistoric human skeleton measuring over 7 feet tall was discovered in the centre of the island near the lake. A giant in Formentera! The site is marked by gravestones set in a circle with the entrance directly pointing to sunset and Es Vedra just off the coast of Ibiza.
I firmly believe that Es Vedra has been worshipped from time immemorial and it really does have a powerful effect on me whenever I see it. Awe inspiring in fact. I don’t like swimming off Cala D’Hort beach as it almost feels like the water is bubbling underneath. Mr B laughs at me when I say this to him. Mr B took our older boys out in a pedalo to see if they could reach the island but it was an impossible task. The water was getting rough and the currents were strong. When he peered over the side of the pedalo it was dense with millions of jellyfish. He quickly turned the pedalo round and they pedalled back to shore at Olympian speed.
The Rio Delta is very different in colour from the Atlantic, the sea goes from sparkling azure to brown and sludgy on the way up to Buenos Aires. Docking at the port takes AGES. The ship that has been stalking us (MSC cruise line) was already set up and disembarking when we arrived.
The tug boats pulled us into a densely packed area thick with green foliage, like a huge floating football field. It must have been at least a metre deep. It was crackling audibly as we were pulled through it. Lots of swooping black martens, swallows and tiny exotic birds darted angrily from their nests on the water like flying arrows.
The port crew then dropped one of the guiding ropes and eight men stood around for ten minutes wondering how they were going to retrieve it. Finally a fork lift truck delivered a long pole with a hook on the end and after further fiddling about the rope was caught and we breathed a sigh of relief.
The roads to traverse in Buenos Aires are the widest I have ever seen. It was like crossing a double motorway and you have to move pretty fast to cross as the traffic is hurtling towards you. There are some amazing old style trucks here – think DUEL- imported from USA. They have most likely been rocking around since the 50’s.
We soon found our way to the shopping area (ahem) Calle Florida where I bought a pair of silver glitter platforms (think early Spice Girls) for the equivalent of £11. Everyone in Buenos Aires wears platforms. We ate Argentinian Steak and chips at 11 Gran Caffe. Mr B bought a belt and wallet from a lovely lady in a shop in one of the arcades. I bought a silver cross body bag. Leather is really cheap in Argentina but great quality. I also bought a picture book about Eva Peron which had been hilariously translated into English. I would like to read more about her as she was an interesting individual.
There were beggars in the streets who sent out their kids to beg. There was one angelic little girl who must have been about 4, she had a little worn green bag around her neck worn across her body, plastic flip flops that were two sizes too big, leggings and a plain cotton smock dress. As she asked for money she absentmindedly curled up the corners on the menus repeating her request over and over almost in a dreamlike state.
It was so heartbreaking, her little face, hair unbrushed, floating from table to table like a butterfly with a damaged wing.
She got some cash from people and she calmly stuffed it into her bag. As she played nervously with her bag repeating her mantra, a low value coin dropped out onto the pavement and she hastily picked it up, slipping it back in. Mr B told me that he had seen the grotesquely fat mother who was carrying another baby on her hip screaming at her kids to get more money.
It was truly heartbreaking and it did bring tears to my eyes especially when I saw another little girl, same age, but well dressed, holding her daddy’s hand going shopping. It made me think how the lottery of life can be so cruel sometimes.
We had booked that evening for a tango and meal event. It was brilliant although the meal was a little shambolic as they rushed to get the food out before the show began and then some meat came out tough, mine was delicious, but the young Brazilian girl next to me sent hers back and then had to eat it in the dark as the show had started.
She was very sweet and was very proud to practice her excellent english on me during our meal. Mr B thought this was quite funny as she was chattering away and asking me so many questions I could hardly eat my dinner. We were sat with some frightfully friendly Americans who asked me what English people really thought about Obama. I thought it was a funny question but then quickly changed the subject as I don’t like talking about politics during dinner it always gives me indigestion. Plus I had Mr B with me, who is an excellent person to have next to you as he knows interesting things about interesting subjects so can always get the conversation flowing almost as fast as the wine.
The story of Tango is fascinating.
It was brought over by immigrants from Italy, Spain and France and the African slaves and their wonderful dances and music. It started with the men dancing (fighting) with knives usually over women and then the prostitutes started to partner up and dance with the men. The sons of aristocracy wanted to dance with the prostitutes but high society wouldn’t accept it so the young men took the prostitutes to dance in Paris where it became adored and accepted by all members of society, especially the upper echelons. Once it had been embraced by high society in Paris, it was easy to import back into Buenos Aires and the elite accepted it and it became part of Argentina’s history.
There are many stories of how Tango originated I am relaying the one we were told en route to the venue.