Girl about Town: Chocolate walking tour of London

Easter weekend is on the way. I am excited for three reasons:

1) Two free days off work! Oh how I need the sleep.

2) Family time! In my house, Easter is like Christmas we gather, we play games, we (even in adulthood) hunt out eggs and we dine en masse.

3) Gluttony! If you’ve been abstaining from treats and indulgences for Lent, Sunday is the day it all comes to an end (just to clarify, I have abstained from nothing this year, I’ve been a glutton throughout Lent. My bad).

In light of this list, Rebecca thought I should tell you about something that combined all three, in particular a chocolate walking tour of London, that I did with my family over a chilled weekend the end of last summer. I booked it through Great British Tours with a 50% voucher from one of those well known discount sites (either the pink or the green, I don’t recall) which made it very reasonable indeed. During the tour we visited some of my favourite chocolateries (where we had tastings and were entitled to a discount on most purchases), wandered through Soho at a leisurely pace soaking up the atmosphere and we found a couple of hidden gems that I’ll definitely be re-visiting.

The meeting point was the Algerian Coffee Store on Old Compton Street where our guide greeted us with a large cup of chocolate coated coffee beans and a gigantic grin – imagine if your job was to wander the streets of London eating free chocolate? I’d grin a lot too!

First stop was Hotel Chocolat where we bought chilli hot chocolate powder and tested out their new line of chocolate themed toiletries…

…then on to Paul A. Young where the team introduced us to unusual recipes such as limoncello and cucumber, pink guava and lychee, goats cheese, rosemary and lemon and Marmite truffles and where we also sampled their delicious Aztec hot chocolate…

… a quick pit stop at Freggo to refresh the palate with some Malbec and berries sorbet (new fave thing ever!)…

…a browse around the sweet counter (and a quick dash to the loo) at Fortnum and Mason…

… a brief history lesson about the birth of the truffle at Prestat and sampled some boozy treats…

…all ending up at Charbonnel et Walker where I stuffed my face with my favourite violet and rose crèmes (apparently also the Queen’s!).

All in all a fun filled day!

Great British Tours do some other interesting walking tours including a cupcake and macaroon tour which I have my eye on for my next free weekend…

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Barcelona Babymoon

Next week, Pete and I are off to Barcelona for a bit of a getaway. It’s not really a babymoon but I’m grateful we’re getting some time to ourselves as work plus incessant house worries and a serious lack of holidays was really starting to get to us. We didn’t think we could afford to book something for just us, (as well as the wedding we are going to in Italy in May) but I was determined that we should make the most of the last few months before we are a three. I scouted around for cheap deals and booked some EasyJet flights for £100 each and found a cool looking cheap hotel – Room Mate Emma. We’re both exhausted and just want to chill out, eat nice food, enjoy some sun (fingers crossed!) and walk around taking in the sights, and each other.

So before we go I need your recommendations readers, on things to do and see. All we have in mind so far is The Gaudi Park, (I have been before and seen La Sagrada Familia and the Picasso museum,) but I’d love to hear your restaurant recommendations, cool areas we should experience and relaxing things to do and see. Oh and I’d like to go down to the waterfront too.

Let me have it readers!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

PS, I’ll review the hotel and where I go afterwards, of course!

Dream Destination: Tuscany


Tuscan Landscape

In May Pete and I are attending a wedding in Tuscany and it’s time to get planning the rest of the trip. We’re travelling on a Saturday and returning 9 days later, the last 3 nights of which will be with the wedding party about 45 minutes south west of Florence. So that leaves us 6 nights to explore by ourselves. It’s our main holiday since South Africa last year, due to the move and renovations, so I want it to be relaxing, but I have also always wanted to go to to Tuscany so I’d like to make the most of the area.

And that’s where you guys come in!


Borgo Santo Pietro, via Mr & Mrs Smith

I need to know your recommendations – we have nothing booked yet, other than flights in and out of Pisa. I have been to Florence before (but Pete hasn’t,) so I wouldn’t be adverse to a day there but don’t think we need much more. I’m also not that bothered about hanging around in Pisa.


Image via Mr & Mrs Smith

So, I need to know… have you been? Where did you stay? Which of the many beautiful towns are the most worth visiting? Where is the very best Pizza? (I’m prepared to try several establishments to make sure it’s a fair independent review.) ;)

Please let me know and help me plan the trip – I promise I’ll report back!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

#JanuaryJoy: Plan a Trip

Todays #JanuaryJoy prompt is definitely one of my favourites and sure to become a Florence Finds tradition. For last years ‘Plan a trip’ I talked about safari and what became my epic trip to South Africa. I’m so glad I took some time over planning it and your advice. Today after hearing a few people talk about it (and having a long term ambition to visit myself,) I’m sharing Becky’s trip to Norway, Sweden and Denmark, in the hope that it inspires you to explore. Please do sure your travel plans for this year in the comments!

Oslo


Image via

SLEEP
We enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Guldsmeden

EAT
We ate a fantastic Easter lunch at the Ekeberg restaurant. Ask for a table by the window or if you’re visiting in the Summer, the terrace would be my choice.


Image via

SEE
A lot of our exploring was on foot. Walking to the top of the opera house roof was fun – A fantastic example of architecture and landscape rolled into one.
We took a boat trip to The Viking Ship museum and The Norsk Folk museum.
We also got the underground to the Holmenkollen ski jump and museum. The view from the top of the ski jump across the fjords is breathtaking and certainly made us want to return to do a fjords trip one summer.

Stockholm


Image via

SLEEP
The Rival hotel is a converted cinema owned by Benny from Abba. It was great and the cocktail bar was buzzing every night as was the adjacent cafe every morning which does a good breakfast. The location was amazing for getting around too.


Image via

EAT
As I was in the first trimester of pregnancy and feeling pretty ropey, dining out in fancy restaurants wasn’t a priority but we had a good meal at Riche restaurant and the bar had a great atmosphere too.

Under Kastanjen cafe was a nice stop for a coffee whilst walking the streets exploring Gamla Stan

SEE
The Vasa Museum
Skansen open air museum – A combination of a Zoo and folk museum. Probably best seen in late Spring and Summer.
Hallywyl Museum.
We also wandered around Gamla Stan – The Old Town and got around predominantly on the underground or walking.

Copenhagen


Image via

SLEEP
We stayed in the Marriott as my husband had points from work so got a free night. Sure you can find something with a bit more character – We did walk past the ‘floatel‘ a few times and thought it looked interesting… as long as you don’t suffer with motion sickness!

EAT
We decided not to go to Noma due to the bump but if you fancy it, I expect you’ll need to book your table now for June.

We enjoyed a really good fish lunch at Kastellet, Nordre Toldbod 12-20… a warehouse style informal dining restaurant & foody supermarket next to the water. Expect it’s lovely on a sunny day

SEE
Again, we explored the city on foot unless we got a boat. A visit to Christiania was eye opening.
Nyehaven shouldn’t be missed and a good point to start a boat tour from. I found the most dreamy shop… Illums Bolighus, Amagertorv 1-11
See The Little Mermaid – the clue’s in her title….she’s little!
Rosenborg Castle
Tivoli gardens…. All in all a pretty naff amusement park. The lights make it look pretty at night!
Louisiana Museum of modern art is a pleasant train ride north of the city and on a clear day you can see over to Sweden from the galleries gardens.

So readers… have you ever been on a Scandanavian trip? It’s Stockholm that has always tempted me – all the islands are supposed to be beautiful in the summer.

Where are you headed in 2014?

Love,
Rebecca (& Becky)
xo

Girl about town: (Working until) Midnight in Paris – Part 1


A few months ago I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to spend some time working in my firm’s Paris office. Erm, sorry, let me pinch myself whilst I just digest that.

You’re going to put me in a rooftop apartment in central Paris, send me to work in the most beautiful surroundings (on Place Vendome, next door to the Ritz,) and you’re going to pay me whilst I do it? Amazing! Where’s the catch?

Oh… I will be doing two jobs and working 13 hour days, every day, for the entire six weeks? Ahhh, there we go!

Needless to say, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time “about town” and I’m not going to lie I spent a lot of my spare time sleeping off my exhaustion. However, when I did get out, I wandered, ate, drank, observed, shopped, snapped and absorbed everything Paris had to offer with the hugest smile on my face and a skip in my step. After six weeks literally living la reve en Paris, I returned to rainy London (and my husband) last weekend and thought I’d share some of my favourite Parisian delights:

Brunch
I didn’t realise brunch was a “thing” in France. I went out there three days after landing back from the US, where brunch is the biggest “thing” and I was surprised to discover that they do it just as well. A colleague recommended the Marais area, specifically Rue de Bretagne, for brunch and made a few restaurant suggestions.

I picked the Grizzli Café, mainly because of the name, but also because of the description of a four course feast for a very reasonable price… “reasonable price” not being a phrase you hear often in Paris. It turned out to be a great decision – we started with fresh coffee and juice with a bread selection and pastries, followed by Eggs Benedict, a choice of salmon skewers or steak tartare and finished off with fromage blanc and fruit coulis. We got there just in time to get a seat, but it’s recommended that you book on Sundays as it gets busy! [For more details/pictures check out this post.]

Treats
I was undecided whether to tell you about the Laduree Salon du The or Angelina under this heading. I weighed it up and decided that it’d have to be both. The hot chocolate served at Angelina is infamous for a reason – it’s amazing. Thick, creamy and with just the right balance of bitter and sweet – it was totally worth queuing.

Although the sweet treats served here are as famed as the hot chocolate (in particular the Mont Blanc speciality,) I think the confections on offer at Laduree just edge it.

Of course there are the quintessential macarons (pistachio and orange blossom on this occasion), but in addition my mum and I tried the pistachio éclair and the rose raspberry Saint-Honoré which was almost too beautiful to eat. It consisted of a puff pastry base, topped with dinky cream puff pastry balls filled with light rose petal custard cream and raspberry compote, rose-flavoured Chantilly whipped cream, rose syrup fondant and raspberries. Of course there’s only one thing to drink with such pretty, delicate, pastel coloured confections – pink fizz.

Dinner
As I mentioned in a previous post, I like a restaurant with a difference, so when Mr G came out to visit me, I tasked him with finding a restaurant to fit the same brief. He did well and found La Gare not far from Trocadero.

As the name suggests, it’s an old train station that has been transformed in to a restaurant. You enter at ground level in to a funky bar (that serves a decent margarita whilst you wait for your table) and then head down a very grand staircase in to an enormous dining hall. At first glance I was worried that the size would make it feel over-crowded and like a canteen, but a clever layout and good interior design means that when you’re seated it feels much smaller and intimate. We went for a three course set menu and wines and fizz by the glass, all of which was delicious, and in a city notorious for its awful service, we were pleasantly surprised by how good it was!

Cocktails
At the other end of the size spectrum to La Gare is Jefrey’s. At about midnight one Saturday, my friend and I went in search of the Paris branch of the Experimental Cocktail Club (also very good and worth a visit). We were wandering down the road and saw the door to a teeny-tiny bar standing open. It was so small and well hidden we almost missed it, but after a double take and a quick confirmation that it was in fact a drinking establishment and not someone’s house, we took up residence at the bar and started working our way through the cocktail list.

Good cocktails are hard to find in Paris, but we were lucky enough to stumble across some of the best. Like I mentioned it was tiny, with only three stools at the bar, two small coffee tables and armchairs on the ground floor and a smattering of wing back chairs and banquette seating on a small mezzanine. If you turn up too late you just won’t get in, and the cocktails were so good it’s worth turning up early to bagsey your seat. The cocktail menu is inventive and the bar is stocked with weird and wonderful liquors from around the world, homemade infusions and syrups and fresh ingredients such as mint, fruit and spices. It evoked mental images of ye olde apothecary shoppe, and the painstaking care and attention with which the drinks are made only added to the feeling that the mixologists really are creating amazing potions! Add to the mix a great playlist full of new tunes and old classics (sadly not played on the vintage gramophone by the door) and an interesting menu full of tick boxes for DIY martinis and I think I found my favourite bar, ever.

I went back repeatedly.

I want to go back right now.

Come back next week for the Dancing, entertainment, shopping and sightseeing…

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Girl About Town Gets Out of Town: Barcelona

This year the Mr and I have spent all of our annual leave on attending 10, yes, ten, weddings (two of which were/are aboard) and all the corresponding stag and hen weekends. As such we didn’t have much leave left for a “proper” holiday. Or, more importantly, any money with which to purchase one! This left us in a bit of a quandary as taking time out to go exploring around the world is kind of our thing. Also, with such busy lives (as we all have) often, a holiday is the only time you get to truly spend QT with each other… and catch up on your sleep debt! So what to do, what to do?

Well Mr G thought we could cope until 2014. I vehemently disagreed and set about finding a cheap and cheerful (but still up to Florence Findette standards!) mini-break that:

  1. Started and ended with convenient flights at civilised times from one of our closer airports (Stansted, City or Southend),
  2. Was close enough that we didn’t waste too long on the plane,
  3. Had enough to “do” to keep us out of mischief but also not so much that we felt guilty if we wanted to chill out and ignore all the culture and sights
  4. Would be achievable within Mr G’s set of rest days between shifts.

Tricky.

After a long process of elimination we finally settled on Barcelona when I found super-convenient flights with EasyJet from Southend, at the civilised time of 9.30am on a Monday morning.

I’d been before, and enjoyed it but I wasn’t as excited about it as everyone else seemed to be, so I’ve spent the last seven years wondering what I missed and wanting to return! Also, Mr G hadn’t had the pleasure so it was decided. Barcelona it was.

The Hotel

I found the Melia Sky hotel on Mr and Mrs Smith, did a quick search and found it at a lower rate on Expedia with the flights in a package so it actually came out as a bit of a bargain. Shop around people, shop around!

The hotel is cool, modern, clean, funky in style, full of nice quirky touches and, although I normally try to get out of the hotel when I’m away and discover new places, I found it actually quite a nice place to hang out.

NB: Be careful not to book the Melia Hotel! The Melia Sky is the one you want – it’s the one with the outdoor swimming pool. We made this mistake and had to hastily re-book. Be warned!

Highlights included the light and airy rooms with floor to ceiling windows looking out to sea, the swimming pool area on the 7th floor roof terrace, which had just enough of a “cool kids pool-party” vibe about it to keep it young and fun (but not so much that I couldn’t just chill out like a grown up and read my book*), the bespoke scent that was piped in to all the public areas (similar to Jo Malone wild fig and cassis I think) and a lobby/lounge/bar area with apothecary jars full of flumps, complete with flump tongs! You can take the girl out of Essex but…

It’s slightly out of the way from the busier parts of the city, in a residential area but it’s only a short walk from the Metro station so within ten minutes you can be in Port Olimpic or on Las Ramblas. My only criticism would be the price of breakfast (if not included in your package), but we took ourselves out wandering most mornings in search of food and so managed to save ourselves over €40 a day by eating in little cafes nearby.

Where to eat, drink and people watch…

On our first night we followed what felt like a thousand tour groups to Las Ramblas to look for something to eat. We thought it would be a bad idea, but we went with it anyway. After negotiating hordes and hordes of tourists fighting for jugs of cheap sangria, we eventually found somewhere to eat, just off the main strip in Placa Reial called Ocana we ordered waaaay too much tapas and some yummy pink mojitos (served in jam jars) and sat back to people-watch on the square. All of a sudden it dawned on me that was the exact place we’d spent our first night the last time I visited the city. I must have been drawn to it!

Thereafter we stayed out of the main city and ate at various places in Port Olimpic. Much like a book and it’s cover, you shouldn’t judge a bar or restaurant by its décor, but most of the time I’m drawn to the prettiest ones in the street. Along this strip you are spoilt for choice with gorgeous eateries and drinking establishments ranging from the super-modern full of white sofas, mirrored surfaces and candles to rustic al fresco parlours on wooden decking where you eat in amongst tubs of herbs and spices.

This strip is bustling with beautiful people, in beautiful bars, drinking beautiful cocktails along the beach-front promenade. I’d recommend Gallito and Bestial for food, and Opium for cocktails and lounging early on and then posing and dancing later in to the night. I also heard great things about Shoko and the rooftop bar of the W Hotel.

What we did…

Chilled! With a capital *chuh*.

We made a lame attempt at sightseeing by jumping on one of those open-topped tourist buses, briefly stopping by the Sagrada Familia and in Parc Guell, but we got sidetracked by the beach front bars full of squishy couches, extensive cocktail menus and the prospect of lazy sun-drenched people watching and gave up our tickets.

So that brings me to my next point: Who has some recommendations? Bars, restaurants, sights, getting away from the tourist traps… leave a comment and share your Catalonian secrets!

Victoria x

*ironically not a grown up book, but some awfully addictive YA fiction. Best we steer well clear of this topic eh Mahj and Becca? ;-)

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

Wanderlust… 5 Places [Europe]

Here in Manchester it is claustrophophically humid right now, but without much in the way of sun. I know it’s wrong to want a holiday when I’m not long back from our recent trip to South Africa, but I’m longing for a traditional seaside summer holiday. Lazy days, sand between my toes, Mediterranean food, and so warm you can eat out at night. In our efforts to travel further afield and tick places off the bucket list, we often overlook Europe so I thought it would be fun to share some of the European destinations on my must-visit list and see if any of you are going or have visited…


Amalfi Coast, Italy, by Lark and Linen via Style Me Pretty

Luckily this first one might just fit into next year’s travel plans as we attend a wedding in Tuscany next May. Make sure you click through to the full post as the images of the cliffs with painted houses clinging to them, above the crashing waves beneath, are breathtaking.


Ata Hotel Capotaormina, Siciliy

This whole hotel looks romantic but how beautiful is this beach tucked into the private cove beneath the hotel? Although I’m not sure I would be able to relax for fear of falling rocks!


Fjällbacka, Sweden Via

Beaches aren’t for everyone and I have long wanted to visit Sweden and its many islands that apparently come alive in the warm summer months, and to investigate its coastal towns.


Hotel du Cap Eden Roc, Cap d’Antibes, France

Have you seen the Slim Aarons iconic poolside image of the Hotel du Cap? Super chic and used as a hideaway for celebrities at the Cannes film festival, this looks like a place to see and be seen. I would just love to sit by that pool and feel like I had stepped into that South of France poolside culture of excess and glamour.


Gardens of Marqueyssac, Vézac – Dordogne, France),

My in-laws holiday in France every year taking their caravan around the country and invariably stopping in the Dordogne. They know a place that gives you (huge) rubber rings to float down the river on and a bus picks you up at the other end at the end of the day. Meanwhile you float past the turreted round chateaux on route and pull your ring up onto the riverside beaches for a spot of sunbathing. Sounds idyllic right? Apparently many of them open their gardens for viewings like this place in Vezac too.

So folks, where are you headed this summer, and have I got you wanderlusting after any of these places?

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Girl About Town gets Out of Town: Roma

This month I was going to write about a recent glamping excursion to Jollydays in Yorkshire, but I realised that Rebecca had already done that. So I racked my brains trying to think about something exciting from the past four weeks to tell you about. I’ve been to plenty of bars and restaurants, but none of them could have filled a whole post. Then I remembered that I was taking a work trip for an event in Rome. Granted, the places we visited were a bit out of my usual personal price range but they were great, so for a special weekend break I’d definitely recommend them. I’ll certainly be re-visiting the city with Mr G (and his credit card) in tow.

In a similar style to my Dublin piece I’ll open with one or two recommendations for eating, drinking, sleeping and exploring and then I’d love you guys to pitch in with some of your own!

Where I stayed
The event was for a rather large group of people, and we required conferencing space so that ruled out most of the city centre hotels, due to their age and size. The central hotels in Rome are much smaller and tend to have less on-site event space, so we stayed just outside of the city at the Rome Cavalieri. A grand hotel in a traditional style, full of super-sized art work, furniture you can’t sit on, relics, artefacts and sculptures that make you jump at every corner – especially in the dark after only a few hours of shut eye, and a flute or two of bubbly! My favourite pieces were glass cases in one of the lift lobbies that contained the actual Rudolf Nureyev costumes from a staging of Giselle. He was surprisingly tiny!

Because it’s out of town guests also benefit from a resort feel at the hotel, with an indoor pool (part of the impressive spa) and a large outdoor pool set in beautiful gardens, overlooked by a lovely patio area – perfect for al fresco cocktails before heading in to the city for dinner. The view from the rooms is also amazing, stretching right across the city to the famous Seven Hills.

We made use of this view, taking lunch and breakfast on the roof terrace and it really is breathtaking. There’s a reason that this hotel, and specifically the top floor, is home to La Pergola, Rome’s only three Michelin starred restaurant. Needless to say, the closest I got to dining in here was when I stood outside it, with some Haribo (that I had packed for those low-blood-sugar-stress-out-moments) peering through the gap in the doors.

Shuttle buses from the hotel operate free of charge and frequently in to the city centre, so despite being a little bit out of the action, you’re never far from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Before my big event kicked off, we had to stay in a smaller, city centre hotel as the Cavalieri was full to bursting with ATP tennis players. (Yes I did spend a vast proportion of my [very little] free time scouting the halls for them. And yes I did spy one, from afar). We stayed in a much more budget-friendly hotel closer to the city centre which was at the other end of the design scale entirely. Modern in style and compact in design, the Hotel Metropolis is walking distance to some of the city’s main sights and a great choice for a long weekend.

Where I drank
All over the place, and whenever I could, basically! I’m a big prosecco lover, and it was a very stressful weekend!

In terms of an actual recommendation, you can’t beat the Hotel de Russie, one of Rome’s most famous hotels, and it’s beautiful courtyard gardens for a swish drink, some posing and some people watching! Set between the Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps it’s right in the heart of the action. The drinks aren’t cheap, but the setting, the service and the styling make for a special evening out,especially if you have something to celebrate. Also, if you fork out for a couple of drinks, you can save some cash and skip dinner with the amount of freebie snacks they bring out! We ordered some Italian cocktails and then gorged ourselves on fresh mozzarella and crudities, spicy meatballs, gigantic juicy green olives and small salty black ones, deep fried polenta and still-warm foccacia with oil.

The vibe is elegant, but with a funky air as the mixologists fling their shakers about to the sounds of a DJ, ensconced in a balcony high up on the wall, not too dissimilar to that famous one in Verona…

Where I ate
I tried to pick between three restaurants but I couldn’t pick a favourite, so I’ll recommend the three but I’ll keep it brief!

Something fancy: Casina Valadier is set in the Borghese Gardens, and is an old private residence, converted to a beautiful restaurant and event space. The décor, location and view are all so beautiful it made me want to fly all my friends and family out to renew my wedding vows. Speaking to some locals, it seems that Casina Valadier is something of an institution, and all “special” evenings out in the city start with aperitifs in the gardens, overlooking the cityscape. Take your camera!

Something traditional: Antica Pesa is a little bit out of the way, in one of the oldest parts of the city, Trastevere, set amongst old crumbling buildings, windy streets and cobbled paths, but it was worth the taxi ride. A lobby literally covered in photos of famous faces (James Bond through to Taxi Driver, via Sharon Stone and Will Smith – who both sent hand written notes) suggests it’s going to be a good night! The service was brilliant, the wine list was longer, bigger and heavier than the Bible (we took a recommendation!) and a menu full of traditional dishes and local ingredients all eaten in the courtyard, under the stars, made for a wonderful meal. What absolutely made my evening however, was when I chose a “traditional Roman picnic” as my starter and, expecting a plate of antipasti, was amazed when an artist’s case came out. I actually did I little squeal. I love an innovative serving suggestion!

Something modern: Molto, located in the upmarket Parioli area of the city, is contemporary and stylish. Pre-drinks on the decking outside with some nibbles (local parmigiano dipped in lavender honey. Swooooon), and then modern Italian cuisine in the trendy, black and white interior made for a perfect evening. There are wine bottles lining the walls at one end of the restaurant, a sleek bar at the other end, and slap bang in the middle, a big food station where they slice the cold meats, mash potatoes and plate up your pasta.

What I did
Of course there are the usual recommendations to visit the main tourist attractions, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Sistene Chapel, Colosseum, Vatican City, Pantheon, Borghese Gardens, the Roman Forum and the giant “Wedding Cake” (which my dad used to tell me about as a child – and was most disappointed to see when I finally visited Rome for the first time as a teenager!), the famous Piazzas Navona, del Popolo and della Repubblica and of course the famous streets of Via dei Condotti, Via del Babuino and Via Veneto with their bars, restaurants, designer shops and cafes.

You can read about those in any guide book, and I suggest you pay them all a visit if you have time.

Having been to Rome before though, the best recommendation I was given for this trip was to visit Eataly. You may have heard about them as they are popping up all over the world, they are basically enormous food courts-come-marketplaces-come-cookery schools, you can park outside, pick up a basket (or a trolley, depending on how big your case is) and spend a good few hours shopping for fresh, local produce and traditional Italian foodstuffs, taste-testing your way around the various stalls and stations and then stopping for a bite to eat in one of the restaurants, and even book yourself in for a cookery lesson or some wine tasting. Located about 15 minutes from Fiumicino airport, you could stop by on your way home…

… and eat it all on the plane.

Ooops. ;-)

So, ladies, do you have any Roman recommendations? (Ed’s note – I’d particularly love to hear any more hotel recommendations you have!)

Victoria x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.

A Getaway Challenge…

Over the weekend, Michelle got in touch with me and asked if I would share this with my readers so she could pick your collective, (and may I say, brilliant) brains. It struck me as a holiday challenge common to many people and that your many recommendations would be a brilliant research for many a year to come. Please do share your suggestions and links in the comments below. Here’s what she needs folks:

Hello Florence Finds readers,

For the past three weeks I have been trawling the internet trying to discover the undiscovered. Seeking out that little gem of a place that ticks all our boxes when it comes to the Mr and I’s summer holiday. We don’t consider ourselves a fussy pair, but this exercise has highlighted to us that perhaps we are.

I am usually pretty good at researching but this one has me stumped, perhaps it’s because I’ve already discovered some amazing places throughout Europe and visited many in the past, perhaps I’m looking for too much, I’d like to think I’m not though. These past 12-months have been hectic for us both, there have been a lot of life issues to deal with, we’ve come out of the other side stronger people but we’re a little frazzled from it all. Hence investing so much time and energy into finding the right place for us to totally CHILL OUT.

So it’s with this in mind that I’m reaching out to you, the stylish and in-the-know readers of Florence Finds for a helping hand, I’d much rather take a solid recommendation from one person, than a sugar-coated version from the masses, or worse still from a cleverly written sales brochure. (Being a marketeer myself I can smell the BS a mile off)!

So please ladies (and gents!) take a read of my hitlist and if you know of anywhere, have heard of anywhere or visited anywhere you think would fit the bill, then please drop us the details in the comments box below. I promise to keep you updated as to where we end up choosing and ultimately what it was like.

Summer Holiday Hit List

Travel date: End June – into July

Duration: 7-10 days

No of People: 2

Vibe: Total relaxation, lazy days spent lounging on the beach, reading a book, listening to music, heading to a local restaurant/beach shack in our swimwear for a long lunch, followed by more snoozing on a sunlounger and chatting until sundown. We want white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, I NEED to feel the sand between my toes and the salt in my hair. In the evening we’d have the option of staying sandy and salty, playing cards and sipping cocktails, or we’ll slap on some lippy (well I will anyway!!) and head out for dinner.

WANTS

  • Small boutique hotel or self-catering option – something stylish with cool design features / a considered interior space that feels luxurious yet comfortable. If it is a hotel then absolutely no more than 20 rooms and somewhere that is adult not child-friendly.
  • Within easy reach of an airport – less than an hour would be preferable
  • Within walking distance of local restaurants and bars – nothing fancy and definitely nothing where the menu is translated into all the European languages. We’d be happy with little shacks some nights, something a little more upmarket others, as long as the food is good (fresh fish, grilled meat, salads: typical mediterranean fare) and there MUST be decent wine on offer.
  • Europe – although I’m even considering looking at Mexico and the Caribbean now as I’m struggling to find my gem in Europe, but this is our preference
  • Within walking distance of a beach – If not walking distance then at least a short taxi ride away
  • Reasonably priced – this isn’t a holiday for extravagances

DON’T WANT

  • No Union Jack shorts in sight. This is where my snobbish tendencies rear their ugly head. I’ve done the whole holiday resort, clubbing til dawn thing in my teens and early twenties. I’ve been all over from Ibiza to the Canaries to Cyprus to Southern Spain. It was great at the time but now makes my skin crawl thinking about THAT kind of holiday.
  • Anywhere that’s full of tourists
  • We definitely don’t want to have to hire a car
  • Anywhere that requires a formal dress-code for dinner each evening
  • To be paying 15 Euros for a cocktail.

Places we’ve been – We’re keen to discover somewhere new to us both

  • Bay of Naples / Amalfi Coast Italy – this was our holiday last year and we loved it
  • Majorca – Many family holidays spent there over the years
  • Southern Spain – Almeria, Granada, Marbella
  • South of France: Cannes, St Tropez etc
  • Portugal – Algarve
  • Party holidays: Ibiza, Canaries, Cyprus
  • Egypt

So what do you think readers? The images here come from my recommendation to Michelle, the Aethrio hotel in Oia, Santorini. I’ve been to Santorini 3 times now, first backpacking as a student with Pete, then since with him again, then my Mum and sister. The last 2 times we stayed at the Aethrio, an old factory converted into a hotel. It’s enclosed behind Oia’s high white washed walls off a tiny cobbled street (there are no cars or roads in Oia after the main square’s drop off point) and time stands still here. Several rooms and suites are scattered around the property with a pool. It doesn’t over look the Caldera, but a high up viewing terrace does – perfect for vino or gin from your own fridge. It’s a simple place where time stands still and if you want to shut out the world, rest and recharge, this is your place. (It doesn’t have a beach although there’s one a taxi ride away on the otherside of the small island but there’s a tiny harbour down a million steps. It’s also not a design hotel, unless you count blue and white as a design statement, and Santorini isn’t cheap but there are plenty of Italian influenced places and fresh seafood spots where you can eat cheaply.)

Now it’s your turn readers!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Girl About Town: Eat, Drink and Sleep Dublin Guide

I constructed this post on the basis that there are two long weekends on their way (thank god!) and you lovely ladies might be looking for an idea for a weekend break.

I made a trip to Dublin in December to visit my cousin Jo, who is currently residing (and occasionally studying) at Trinity College. We managed to pack a lot in to three and a half days but I thought I’d make a suggestion for a place to stay, a place to drink, a place to dine and an activity and then open the floor (what is the blog equivalent in that saying? Keyboard?) for your suggestions as I’m sure there are many of you that know the city well.

So let’s kick off with Where we stayed:

We chose the Trinity Capital Hotel as it was directly opposite Trinity College where my cousin lives. We originally booked it, on recommendation, for logistical ease but it turned out to be a great choice.

The styling is eccentric and it felt like a cross between an early 20th century safari lodge, a Lewis Carroll book and, well, I can’t find any other word for it than imaginarium, really. The lobby and reception areas are filled with (faux) animal skins, gigantic chaise longes, racks of vintage luggage and super-sized arms chairs in sumptuous jewel-coloured velvets. The deep purple walls are adorned with beautiful maps, old and new, every pillar and alcove glitters with tiny mosaic tiles and gilded frames.

Matching black and white baby grand pianos sit in the middle of the lounge, huge mirrors invite you to walk down corridors that don’t exist, gargoyles of what looked like the cast of The Life of Pi perched on the roof outside my window and life-sized camel statues were waiting patiently for the summer to return so they have some company in the central courtyard.

It was one quirky hotel and I loved it! Such a great choice and I’ll definitely be going back. For a twin room in December it was approximately €150 per night, it’s walking distance to all the main areas of the city and, if you catch the bus from the airport to the city centre, it’s a stone’s throw case drag from the bus stop. We paid €12 per person per day for the breakfast buffet and I feel that it was worth the money for the selection and convenience.

We drank quite a few pre-drinks and nightcaps in the hotel as well, as the lounge sofas were just so squashy and inviting. The list isn’t extensive but the cocktails were reasonable for a city centre hotel bar and were tasty.

It’s also worth noting that my aunt, upon check in, was upgraded to a suite. Apparently the check in system picked her at random that day (they do one a day as standard), so that’s one to hope for, if you visit!

Another recommendation was La Stampa, but it was a bit out of my budget for that weekend. Has anyone stayed there? Was it worth a visit?

Where we ate

On our last night, after a trip to the theatre, we followed a recommendation to try The Pig’s Ear and we weren’t disappointed. We arrived at the hot pink door under a black and white striped canopy (how much did I love?) quite late in the evening but the staff were more than accommodating in finding us a table and talking us through the daily offering.

The menu was short but full of tasty dishes served in inventive ways and it was such a cosy setting it almost felt like we were eating at an old friend’s house. The best bit however was when I ordered a cup of tea at the end of the meal. I didn’t think there was a way to be inventive when serving tea. I was wrong! Too cute…

Where we drank:

Jo used the months leading up to our visit to trial a number of bars to take us to, one of which was 37 Dawson Street. This was by far my favourite drinking establishment of the trip. In the same style as the hotel, it was full of quirky artefacts with bemusing drawings and crazy taxidermy adorning the walls, vintage furniture upholstered in a patchwork of clashing colours and a neon sign proclaiming that “All is not what it seems”.

It seems that there is now a cocktail list available but when we visited, they were operating on the basis of “tell us what you like and we’ll make you something you love”. They were however more than happy to make us some classics as well. We drank our concoctions by a heart shaped fireplace, watched over by a giant moose head (that was wearing a giant red nose in honour of the festive season when we visited) before heading to the theatre and it was a fabulous way to start the evening.

We tried to book in for brunch the following day but sadly they didn’t start serving until after our flight check in time. So I suppose there’s another reason to go back. I hear they do an excellent breakfast martini…

What we did

I already mentioned in a previous post that we caught a train from Dublin to Belfast to visit the Titanic: Belfast exhibition, and of course as it was my first time in the city, I just had to pay a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, even if just for the free samples, the advertising display and the views of the city.

However, I think my favourite tourist activity was the walking tour. We try to book one whenever we’re in a city for the first time, and we normally use Sandeman but this time we signed up with a local company that my aunt had used on previous trips. Historical Walking Tours are led by local history graduates and they demonstrate a real passion and knowledge for their subject. I’m ashamed to say I know little to nothing of Irish history so the three hours we spent walking the city were fascinating and went some way to alleviating my ignorance. The tours start at the Trinity College front gates and take in all the major sights including the old Parliament House, Temple Bar, City Hall, Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral.

Next time I visit I hope to see Kilmainham Gaol and there may have been mention of a Leprechaun Museum... hmmmm.

So Findettes – are any of you planning a weekend break in May? If so, let us know where and it may be our fellow readers have some recommendations.

Victoria
x

PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.