To be surrounded by the pristine desert scenery of the Australian Outback, home to the Aboriginal people and their culture for well over 30,000 years, is not only a privilege but an incredibly overwhelming experience. The natural beauty and richness of this vast landscape is hard to describe - the redness of the dirt, the endless ridges, chasms and gorges, the colour of the mulga’s (part of the Acacia family) silver branches sitting pretty alongside a royal blue sky, the desert wildflowers, and the wide expanse of land with barely another person in sight. Having just returned from a week-long hiking adventure along the infamous 223km Larapinta Trail, I feel a renewed sense of awe and inspiration for, and deeper understanding of, our ancient indigenous culture - the oldest culture in the world - and the Traditional Owners of the land.
In rather oppressive heat (35 degrees each day!), our hike with Great Walks of Australia and World Expeditions (who pioneered this trail back in 1995) was more than just an adventurous way to experience the ancient “Tjoritja” (the West MacDonnell National park) landscape. It also became a fascinating journey into the culture, spirit, and ever-changing relationship between the people and the land; a deeply authentic way to familiarise ourselves with the country.
In the safe hands of three young and passionate wilderness guides, Alice, Earle and Andrew, our group of sixteen began our walk at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station - the official start of the Larapinta Trail, walking west through witchetty bush, mulga scrub, and shady woodlands. A diverse bunch of fellow adventurers - from a spine surgeon to a tailored-suit maker, a pig farmer to a production line manager, from a student to a corporate high-flyer, and everything in between - our group was made up entirely of Aussies and Frenchies (all of whom loved a “yarn”).
We would stop for lunch under the shade of the Mulgas, our guides setting up comfy picnicking spots along dry riverbeds. Food on the trip was always wholesome and plentiful - 3 courses at dinner, and a well-considered menu - one night for example was toasted turkish bread over the camp fire with dips and olives, Barrumundi parcels also cooked over the camp fire with a sweet potato mash and salad, and then mini pavlovas for dessert. The quality of your guides is crucial on a trip like this. We were fortunate enough to be led by a late-20 something go-getter from Tassie, Alice, who has been working on-off in the desert for the past few years. A kind, confident, knowledgeable and passionate leader - Alice led the group like a pro. Earle, a 21-year old also from Tassie, had an eager enthusiasm and was truly at home in the bush. They were a great little team. It was the third guide’s Andrew’s first time on this trip (he had previously worked guiding around Uluru) and he was key for sharing with us stories of indigenous history and culture.
Each night we would sleep in a swag (either inside a safari-style tent or out in the open) at one of World Expeditions’ impressive, architecturally-designed eco-campsites by Neeson-Murcutt Architects, nestled amongst the hills just off the Larapinta Trail. These innovative and sustainable campsites were the perfect place to kick back and enjoy the outback solitude. Designed to help minimise the environmental impact, the camps are home to a communal tent for dining, safari-style tents for sleeping, composting toilets (to ensure that no waste enters the environment), solar lighting systems, and hot water for showers that is heated in an outback style, gas-fired “donkey” water heater. We would be given a bucket’s worth of water each day (2.5 minutes worth) to hook up to an outdoor shower. All waste and rubbish was removed from the camps on a regular basis, with everything being recycled where possible.
For me, highlights of the 6-day trip included a sunrise hike to the summit of Mount Sonder - Central Australia’s second highest peak at 1,380 metres. Getting up at 2am, we were driven to the base of Sonder and from there it was head torches on as we hiked the 8km (2.5hrs) up in the pitch black, with only a gazillion stars above, the brightly-shining moon, and the other walkers to lead the way. The views out over the rocky peaks and troughs of Tjoritja, in an ever-changing pink and orange sky, were breathtaking.
Ormiston Gorge and Ormiston Pound was another favourite stop, largely due to the scale of its towering walls, and the richness of the red rock all around. We soaked in yet another watering hole, surrounded by red rocky walls and shaded by trees.
Meeting up with local indigenous woman Deeanella Mack - with her amazing passion and energy for her people and the country - was another highlight. Deanna, founder of Cultural Connections NT, aims to help raise cultural awareness by sharing her knowledge. We learnt all about ‘creation time’ (commonly incorrectly referred to as ‘Dreamtime’), culture kinship and the skin system, and other cultural considerations. Deanna taught us how to “tune into country”. We learnt about the kin system and how aboriginal people call their mother’s sisters their mothers, and their father’s brothers their fathers. Their children therefore become their brothers and sisters, not cousins. Some children grow up not knowing who their biological parents are! The “Arrernte Skin system” consists of 8 skin names (some tribes only have 4) - a system put in place based on genetics - it gave tribespeople a purpose, and also ensured they didn’t marry too closely. A skin name is akin to a position description in a corporate, but there is no hierarchy in skin names - the chart determines what people did and when. The elders are effectively the ‘board of directors’. There were 250 different Aboriginal languages spoken here before British settlement, with the first white people only arriving about 75 years ago.
We learnt that the Aboriginal culture is not about asking questions - elders never reveal any answers, instead they encourage you to listen, feel, and taste. Their knowledge is shared, always. No one person ever holds all the knowledge, it can’t be lost. We were introduced to native plants (lemongrass for example, that the local people crush up, mix with fat, and use as a vapor on their chest), and they way aboriginal people would test if something (a plant) was poisonous - by rubbing it under their arm, near the lymph nodes, to see if would start to swell. If it did, this would mean it was obviously not good to eat. Nature would tell their people what to do next. Here, there is no such thing as “time” as the western world knows it.
Another local indigenous woman, Rayleen Brown, taught us all about native bush foods. The super passionate owner and founder of Kungkas Can Cook, a catering company-turned-cafe specialising in native bush foods collected straight from country. Indigineous people have been eating for bush foods for food and medicine for years - kangaroo, wattle, and bush crops like bush tomato, for example. The native Kakadu plum is considered to be one of the highest Vitamin C fruits in the world. The Mulga bush is an important food source as well - its wattle seed being full of iron, minerals, proteins - which reduces glucose, and helps to regenerate cells a lot more quickly. Mulga produce a lot of seeds can grind them down to use in cooking - seed cake, for example.
Things you notice in the desert: a staggering number of flies; an incredible quiet and calm; more stars than you ever seen in your life; an abundance of endemic bird-life; desert wildflowers in bloom; the dingo’s howl; and the joy that comes from being totally disconnected from the outside world.
As our van made the 200km journey back into Alice Springs (albeit blowing a tire on the way!), the soft hum of Xavier Rudd’s Spirit Bird song played in the background. A song Rudd wrote as an expression of the beauty of the aboriginal spirit, and one that sends a strong message about two issues very close to Xavier’s heart: environmental protection and the rights of Aboriginal people to their land. A reminder of how precious and ancient this landscape is, and how we must strive to protect and honour it.
If you are looking for an active way to enjoy the Australian Outback - and one that will not only be a humbling and grounding experience, but one that will enable you to connect not only with each other, but also the land, on a much deeper and spiritual level - the Larapinta Trail is for you.
Anything goes in Marrakech! Truly, it is the disorder of the city, and the oftentimes craziness, that makes me love it there so much. The colours, the noises, the smells, the spices, the amazing craftspeople, the mix of old and new - Marrakech is so many things. Local people here share a kindness and sweetness, and their hospitality is second-to-none.
Here are a few of my favorite things…
Nomad: for it’s rooftop and delicious veggie plate. Their alcohol license is currently being renewed, so in the meantime mint tea will have to do.
Cafe épices: recently renovated to take over the building next door, this beautiful space has a sunny rooftop which looks over the épices square (buy a beautiful woven bag from the sellers in the middle of the square, or one of Nadege Arnaud’s gorgeous homemade bags at her boutique, Bloom.
Le Jardin Secret: another wonderful hideaway in the medina that does great food in a beautiful garden setting.
La Famille: another hidden gem, and my favorite of all. French jeweler Stéphanie Giribone has created the most beautiful secret garden restaurant - beautiful interiors, an open kitchen, lots of greenery, and a little gift store at the front of the cafe. It’s beautiful here.
la Terrasse des épices: for their great food and rooftop.
Jemaa El-Fna Square: to check out the hundreds of illuminated food stalls in the evening, and the fresh orange juice sellers during the day.
To be cultured.
YSL Museum: the brand new YSL Museum, devoted entirely to the work of legendary couturier Yves Saint Laurent, should not be missed. Housed in a 6000-square-metre architectural wonderland by French architectural duo, Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty of Studio KO, the building is beautiful and so is the exhibition itself. A super creative and inspiring space. Take your time to explore the neighbouring Majorelle Gardens as well.
Try a traditional hammam (you can’t go past the one at Royal Mansour - unbelievable!!!) - for a lot of tossing and turning and rubbing and scrubbing on a big chunk of stone!
To be pampered.
Royal Mansour: the King’s hotel. The white marble-filled hamman here will blow your mind. Luxury and opulence at its absolute finest.
Yoga with The Yogi In Me (who also have studios in Paris).
LRNCE: Belgian Laurence Leenaert’s Marrakech-based lifestyle brand became an obsession of mine on my recent visit. Started 4 years ago in Belgian (it was just bags at that stage), Laurence moved to Marrakech a couple of years ago and moved into this stunning light-filled showroom in the industrial district in September 2017. I am basically in love with everything she creates! From rugs to wall hangings, ceramics to clothes, bags and shoes, she is one very talented woman.
Marrakshi Life: for Randal’s unisex clothes that are hand-loomed in his atelier just outside the centre of Marrakech. We especially like his jumpsuits. Make sure you take time to visit the atelier. It’s amazing to see the incredible craftspeople in action.
Popham Design: for stunning handmade concrete or cement tiles - individually made in a happy, light-filled factory outside the city. Also worth a visit to see these amazing tile makers at work.
Chabi Chic: a Moroccan accessory and interio brand based in Marrakech.
Villa des Orangers: it was my dear friends at the Kiwi Collection who introduced me to this beautiful property. As with many of the best things in Marrakech, Villa des Orangers is hidden behind an unassuming wooden door on a busy street near the foot of the Koutoubia Mosque, just outside the medina, which gives little hint as to the beauty that lies within. Until stepping through those big wooden doors, you would have no idea of the magic that awaits. The building - which dates back to 1930 - is full of marble and lattice and incredible tiles, and surrounds a couple of pretty courtyards and a beautiful pool. On arrival, there are endless friendly staff to greet you, give you a tour of the property, and show you to your room. If your budget allows, pay that little bit extra and book one of the double story rooms overlooking the pool (room 19). A beautiful escape. I have never seen a more incredible shower like that one!! And the freestanding bath is stunning as well. Breakfast is served in a pretty terrace by the pool, but you can choose to take it any of the other quiet corners around the property if you wish. The same goes for lunch. They have their own very calming in-house spa and hamman as well (which sadly I ran out of time to try). Perfectly located (the very heart of the medina is only a 5-10min walk away), Villa des Orangers is a very quiet, peaceful and beautiful place to stay.
The Scarabeo Camp in the Agafay stone desert- for an unforgettable lxury camping experience in the desert.
Bab Ourika Kasbah: an old favourite. Perched high on a mountain top in the Ourika Valley in the Atlas Mountains, this is the perfect place from which to escape the city for a few days, or simply as a day trip to enjoy a long lunch in the garden.
And for more of our past Morocco adventures, see here, and here! xx
modica | italy.
It had always been a dream of mine to visit the Italian UNESCO-heritage town of Modica in Sicily. The main (or only) reason being to stay in one of the gorgeous stone houses of Casa Talia. I had somehow stumbled across this little gem of a boutique hotel about 15 years ago. My sister Sophie had booked it on my recommendation and visited in between that time, but until September last year I had still never made it myself. So to finally roll into Modica (after a frustrating Vueling flight from Rome, where they lost all of our luggage for more than 3 days!!!) was a travel dream come true. To meet with Casa Talia’s gracious host and owner, Marco Giunta, was another super special moment. We literally chatted for days! The whole Casa Talia experience was a perfect one.
The town of Modica offers a window into a baroque world. Surrounded by stone houses that seem to sit on top of each other all over the hillside, and hundreds (literally) of baroque cathedrals, the architecture here is dramatic and incredibly beautiful. A true medieval marvel.
Together with his wife Viviana Haddad, Marco Giunta is the visionary behind Casa Talia. Originally from Milan, Marco and Viviana (both architects) bought a tiny abandoned house and garden in Modica’s Jewish Quarter back in the early 2000s with the view to restore it into a small guesthouse. They were looking for a slower life. It took years between finding the rightful owner of the land, making an offer and organising the acquisition, to securing the land, obtaining the necessary permits, completing the drawings and construction and so on, until they were finally able to open for business 4 or 5 years later. Since then the guesthouse has grown to 11 rooms and suites - most centered around a secret garden, a magical Mediterranean style hideout which was the exact thing that lured Marco to the Casa Talia location in the first place.
They sourced colourful, antique tiles from all over Sicily (the ones on the floor of the breakfast room being my favourite), and used local materials wherever possible when building the houses. A thoughtful and homemade breakfast is served each morning in the most delightful garden - with pinch-yourself kind of views looking back over the Catholic Quarter in Modica. It is honestly so beautiful it is hard to believe what you are looking at is real.
Each season Marco and Viviana reveal a new room (one they have worked on during the quieter winter months). We were lucky enough to spend a few days in one of their brand new suites - with its own private terrace and unparalleled views of the baroque city - which had only been completed the week before we arrived. We were the first guests to try it out!
During the time of our visit, Marco was also working on his and Viviana's new architecture studio (another amazing looking space), while also working on converting his existing architecture studio in Milan into a 1-room boutique apartment. I saw the plans when I was there and it looks amazing - a cube-shaped structure in the middle of a private piazza, all glass and steel and complete with a living green wall. Not only that, Marco has collaborated on a project in Cefalù (see our separate guide to Cefalu) - an incredibly beautiful seaside villa with direct access to a private beach, just 5mins from the centre of town. He has also helped former guests buy land in and around Modica, helping then redesign/restore the houses for either their own personal use or to turn into boutique accommodation. I joked with Marco that his life is quite possibly the antithesis to the "slow living" one he came looking for! He has so many projects on the go, it's amazing! A truly kind, humble, gentle and inspiration man - it was such an honour to spend a few days in his presence. If you get the chance, I highly recommend a visit to this incredible project
And while in Modica…
Book a table for dinner at 1* Michelin Restaurant, Accursio Ristorante: to enjoy a delicious menu and beautiful views over Corso Umberto from its outdoor terrace.
Book a table at Locanda del Colonnello Ristorante: for it’s pretty dining room and it’s interesting take on traditional food. And then grab a drink at Rappa Wine Bar next door.
Local things to try…
Granita and brioche (with or without ice-cream) - a typical Sicilian sweet lunch - from La Latteria Gelateria.
Arancini (another typical Sicilian snack food) from the Piccolo corner bar.
The local pasta dish of gnocchi with fava beans.
A bottle of Tarì, a Sicilian craft beer brewed locally in the hills of Modica.
Visit the 100+ churches in the Catholic Quarter - opposite Casa Talia.
Visit Monica’s 100+ chocolate shops!
Visit the nearby beach of Calamosche - 55mins.
Drive 2hrs west to the white cliffs of Torrre dei Scurchi.
And check out Marco’s other incredible property in Cefalù, also available via i-escape: Cefalù Boutique Villas.
under the moroccan sun with Atelier Doré and Smith Hotels.
Last month I had the greatest pleasure of joining Atelier Doré, Travel Club Mr & Mrs Smith, and twenty truly inspiring women from across the world, in Marrakech. The reason for our coming together? A creative retreat crafted by Garance Doré, French illustrator, photographer and creator of lifestyle studio Atelier Doré centered around ‘The Art of Storytelling’. Held in the rainbow-coloured riad that is El Fenn, we - a mixed bag of women from different places, of different ages, and with different passions (but with a common interest in creating) - joined forces under the Moroccan sun.
Together with Mr & Mrs Smith, Garance chose El Fenn as the home for our retreat - a warm and cosy riad hidden in the medina - for the strong sense of emotion it evokes. Soft, warm, dark, moody, light and bold colors and textures…the ultimate setting for creative inspiration. After being woken up at 5:30am each morning to the sound of the call to prayer, the workshop kicked off with yoga on the rooftop terrace as the sun was slowly starting to rise, followed by a delicious healthy breakfast. A dreamy start to each morning.
Through a series of workshops we were taken on a journey of self-discovery; exploring the idea of storytelling - in whatever form that might take. Tracy McMillan, an instantly likeable, warm, and fascinating character, is an American TV writer, author and relationship expert who was invited to host a workshop around ‘The Art of Telling your Story’. A true and natural storyteller herself, with an infectious happy energy, Tracy talked us through how stories are crucial to the human experience - “it is how we organise our experiences, and our thoughts about our experiences. Stories are how we make sense of the world”. Coming from a trauma-filled upbringing, it was inspiring to see the way Tracy has chosen to live her story and navigate her way through this world. She talked about love and relationships, and fear and failures. It was Tracy’s line about “when you are living according to your own narrative, you set everyone around you free” that resonated with me the most. At the end to the day, we all have a story.
Garance’s workshop was centered around ‘The Art of Photography’. Sitting up on the rooftop in the morning sun, we learnt how ‘Garance Doré' came to be - from a place of little or no support to the illustrator/writer/photographer Garance is today. With a natural warmth, openness and grace, Garance shared stories of her former partner Scott Schuman of The Satorialist by crediting him as being the one who sparked in her an interest in photography in the first place. It was Scott who told her that “if you can create an emotion, you’ve got a business” - advice Garance said she had at once loved and hated at the same time. As she says, “an emotion will never come twice, so if you have the emotion, write it, or take the photo”. If you are a real photographer, you steal the shot. Take the photo, all the time”. I loved this message. It was also Garance’s comment that “you carry your art with you”, so “make people curious about you” that has stayed with me since leaving Marrakech - basically you have the ability to choose the way you share your story with the world.
Morgan Sézalory, the super sweet founder of French label Sézane (a contraction of her last name and first name), talked us through ‘The art of creating a brand’. France’s first ever digital brand, Sezane is an absolute phenomena in France and Morgan spoke with such openness and honesty about how she started Sézane almost by mistake, without any kind of plan. She described herself as being “lazy and innocent”, but said she kept doing what she felt most passionate about and did it always with kindness and love - values that were instilled in her as a child - and values that are still carried through everything she does today. As Morgan says “the artist comes first, so follow your instinct. Put truth and heart into your projects”. Morgan has always worked with a deep respect, understanding and love for her followers and customers. At Sézane it is all about the experience, and she always ensures she engages with her customer base in the most generous way possible, whether that be giving out tote bags with every order (that she has collaborated with an artist on), or printing beautiful quotes on little cards. Proof that it is all about the little things; how to tell a story through a brand.
Our afternoons at the retreat were spent visiting and being inspired by local artisans at work; hearing their stories and learning about their craft. We spent a few hours with the lovely team at Chabi Chic in their beautiful, light-filled ceramics studio outside of the city, learning the art of marbling - a long-standing Moroccan craft. We then spent time with charismatic husband and wife team, Caitlyn and Samuel Dowe-Sandes of Popham Design, originally from the US but now residents of Morocco for the past 11 years. They kindly opened up their colorful studio and artisan workshop to teach us the art of making a handmade cement tile - a huge part of the heritage and cultural and artistic identity of Morocco. Joining their friendly team of mellums (or tile artisans), we were given the opportunity to make our own tile. It was fascinating to watch these talented, happy craftsman get to work in their workshop where they make over 140 tiles each per day. On our final day we were fortunate enough to have a guided tour of the new YSL Museum - a museum devoted entirely to the work of legendary couturier Yves Saint Laurent - housed in a 6000-square-metre architectural wonderland by French architectural duo, Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty of Studio KO. A super creative and inspiring space.
It was a week of sharing, learning and openness. In such an online world it was so refreshing to connect and share with so many accomplished and like-minded women in the real life, with space and time, not to mention being surrounded by the breathtaking beauty that is Marrakech. The Smith Hotels’ El Fenn was the perfect setting. And although it was sad to say goodbye to new friends after a week together, the best part of leaving was knowing that this is only the beginning for Garance’s retreats with Atelier Doré, and there will be plenty more to come (next stop, Hawaii). If you have any interest in sharing in wonderfully inspiring moments with wonderful people, keep an eye on the Atelier Doré Facebook page for details of upcoming retreats.
And while in Marrakech…
Eat: La Famille (with their beautiful secret garden and daily-changing vegetarian menu); Café Des Épices (for their pear and chicken tagine); and Nomad (for their vegetarian plate).
Shop: LRNCE and Marrakshi Life (whose showrooms are both located outside in the industrial quarter); Bloom for gorgeous handmade bags by French woman, Nadege Arnaud (in the épices square); and La Famille for handmade jewelry by French owner, Stéphanie Giribone.
Do: Venture out to the Beldi Country Club for a long lunch, or even further into the Atlas Mountains for lunch (and spectacular views) at Kasbah Bab Ourika.
Spa: Treat yourself to the most incredible hamman experience of your life at the lavish Royal Mansour Spa.
Sleep: El Fenn, obviously.
a night in Palma de Mallorca.
After 8 days of touring around the beautiful Balearic Island of Mallorca, we spent our final night in the island’s heart, Palma de Mallorca. It was here that we got to experience Palma’s relatively new, and very beautiful boutique Hotel Sant Francesc - a Kiwi Collection property.
We arrived at Hotel Sant Francesc feeling flustered. First of all my navigating companion had accidentally entered the wrong hotel name into our GPS and we had ended up at “Hotel San Francisco” instead. Driving past big cheesy-looking resorts and even bigger and more cheesy-looking German beer halls, we immediately knew we were in the wrong place. We later learned this area was called Playa de Palma (one to avoid!).
Once we realised our mistake we then made our way back to the old town of Palma but got ourselves terribly confused trying to navigate its tiny streets - most of which had big “do no enter” signs (with video security cameras attached) advising that only authorized vehicles were allowed to enter. After more than half an hour of circling around and around town, we finally decided that the only way to reach the hotel was to enter one of the streets and just risk it, which we did, but when we finally pulled up at Hotel Sant Francesc (the right one) we were a collectively-stressed mess! Luckily the kindest ever doorman greeted us - Unai, you are a superstar! Unai told us there was nothing at all to worry about, that the hotel would report our number plate to the police to advise them that we were hotel guests and we would not get a fine. He then insisted on taking our car, parking it and arranging for our luggage to be taken to our room. It was such an easy, friendly and calming welcome. Uni was an absolute legend. We knew instantly we were at the right place this time.
At Hotel Sant Francesc, the same level of friendliness and generous hospitality carried through to all of the staff we met. Miguel Garcia Feliz, the ever-so-charming General Manager, spent time running us through the features of the hotel, as did Diana. A former Mallorcan mansion from 1860, the hotel went a meticulous restoration and is now full of beautiful iron-clad windows and a luscious pale-green color palette (my current color obsession) on the walls - so calming and restorative. There is a gorgeous little rooftop terrace that offers beautiful views over Basilica de Sant Francesc and out over the city rooftops. Breakfast is really generous and is served in a cosy restaurant downstairs. We stayed in the Sant Francesc Suite, adorned with ceiling frescoes throughout, and it was one of the most grand and spacious rooms I have ever seen - looking out over the Basilica de Sant Francesc, it was a total treat.
We were able to walk everywhere very easily from the hotel - it made for the perfect base for our short 24 hour Palma rendesvous. I would highly recommend staying here on your next trip to the island.
And although we only had 24 hours in the city, these were a few of our favorite things:
Coffee at La Molienda - great coffee and delicious breakfasts (local, organic, seasonal produce) and outdoor seating.
Check out the contemporary art installation of Miquel Barceló in the Cathedral of Santa Maria de Palma.
A contemporary art installation housed within a Gothic cathedral.
Shop at local designer stores Cortana, Sybilla, Masscob la Coruna.
Drink vermouth and eat tapas at La Rosa Vermutería (you can't book, so get there early).
a few days in rome.
It had been years since my last visit to Rome. Having spent a lot of time romping around its magical streets (the Trastevere ones were always my favourite) in my 20s, it was probably about 10 years since my last visit. The beauty of Rome though is that it doesn't change, and that’s why I love it so much. It’s as if time stands still here. No matter how much time goes by, the beauty and the history of the Renaissance buildings and the historic monuments and the beautiful parks at every turn still blow you away every time - and that old-fashioned way of life, it just keeps on rolling by. I love getting lost in its streets, stumbling across random corners of wonder. I love the aperitivo culture and the way Romans spill on to the streets by 5pm, Campari in hand. It’s the best. And on top of that, there are so many beautifully hidden and magical places to stay.
We were fortunate this time to spend a night at the historic Villa Spalletti Trivelli, a Kiwi Collection property. An incredibly discreet, neo-classical mansion tucked away in a beautiful square just steps from the Piazza del Quirinale and near the Trevi Fountain. Oozing old world elegance, this stunning villa has been in the same family for five generations and was beautifully restored by Count Gian Giacomo Spalletti Trivelli and his wife, Susanna. The story of the house and its inhabitants over the years is one of much magic and intrigue; a long history and one with ties to the royal family and monarchy. I was lucky enough to meet with Maria Merra, the General Manager, who has been with the villa since its inception. With only 12 rooms this is an intimate and opulent place to stay. While all rooms are different, our recommendation would be to request one of the colorful rooms at the front of the house (overlooking the Quirinale Palace). We stayed in a suite, which while very spacious and lovely, is outside the main villa building and is much more modern in design.
In the grand drawing room (my favourite room of all) with its rich fabrics, antique furniture and art, and parquetry floors, a complimentary aperitivo is served every evening from 5pm. Guests can help themselves to any of the spirits and make their own cocktails. Delicious snacks are provided as well. The villa does not have a restaurant as such, but a sumptuous breakfast is prepared each morning and if you are wanting to stay in for lunch or dinner you can let the kitchen staff know and they will prepare something to order. There is an exceptional feeling of warmth and comfort here; a feeling of home. The villa also offers a stunning private garden, surrounded by some of Rome’s other most stately and beautiful buildings, and a rooftop terrace as well. Up on the roof there are four jacuzzis for guests to enjoy, and even one that is cornered off and can be booked for private use- they will even arrange champagne to be delivered there if you desire. Another really thoughtful touch is the wine tasting on Friday evenings from the owner’s very own vineyard, Pomario. Owned by the Counts Spalletti Trivelli, Pomario winery is located near Perugia in the municipality of Piegaro, not far from Monteleone di Orvieto on the border of Umbria and Tuscany. They make olive oil and organic wines, and on Friday evenings at the villa they share these with guests.
There is also a wellness centre in the basement where guests can enjoy complimentary use of a spectacular hamman, and a beautiful Italian garden.
It is a perfectly private and intimate retreat and one I would highly recommend for escaping the hustle of Rome.
If you are looking for something perhaps even more iconic, check out another of of the Kiwi Collection’s beautiful hotels, the classic Hotel de Russie. Located on Via Del Babuino, right by the Spanish Steps, and with a beautiful view over Piazza del Popolo and its obelisk, Hotel de Russie is renowned for having one of the most incredible secret gardens in Rome. With its cream-coloured facade and with pale-blue shutters, the exterior of the hotel is just as inviting as the interior. The rooms are elegant and luxurious, with ornate touches (think lots of Italian marble in the bathrooms etc). We recommend booking one of their Junior Suites (ask for the corner suite that overlooks the Piazza del Popolo). We loved how there was a ‘make your own martini’ kit waiting for us in the room as a little welcome - a super nice touch.
The Stravinskii Bar, located in the hotel courtyard, is renowned as being one of the ‘places to be seen’ in Rome. They serve excellent coffee, great cocktails and have an impressive wine list as well. Breakfast is served in the secret garden, under a sea of beautiful umbrellas, making for an incredible spot to start your morning with a delicious Italian breakfast.
We spent some time with the hotel’s delightful Marketing Manager, Flavia Campailla, who showed us around the property. If you have an open and endless budget (I’m talking a 10,000 EUR/night kind of budget!!!!), there is always the penthouse Nijinsky Suite. Flavia showed me through this suite and around its 239-square-metre rooftop terrace - overlooking the Villa Borghese gardens, the hotel’s own secret garden, the Pincio, and the rooftops of the Eternal City. A location hard to beat. The interiors have all been done by the Hon. Olga Polizzi, part of the Rocco Forte Hotel family (Lord Forte's daughter and the sister of Sir Rocco Forte) - colourful and lavish. The marble and mosaic bathroom with separate shower and steam bath is one of the most impressive bathrooms I have seen so far. If you can afford to splurge on this suite (sadly it is definitely out of my own budget!!!) you also receive a personalised experience of your choice: a three-hour walking tour of Rome; a two-hour tour of the city’s boutiques with a personal shopper; a Roman street food tour for up to 3 people; a cooking lesson in the privacy of your suite for up to 3 people; a 50-minute restoring body massage for 2 people; or an in-suite blow dry for her and a shaving service at the Acqua di Parma Barbershop for him! Alternatively, the hotel can personalise your suite with your favourite things, such as flowers, fragrances and much more!!! Luxury service at its finest.
No matter where you stay, this is a truly impressive Italian accommodation experience. We loved being greeted by the super friendly, charming (and very tall!!) doorman, Christian, each morning. We really loved the hotel’s secret garden and sitting having breakfast under the shade of all its greenery. And we especially loved the hotel’s close proximity to my favorite coffee bar in Rome - Rosati. Only 2mins walk, across the Piazza del Popolo, Rosati is a sophisticated Roman coffee bar with lots of old wooden decor and marble floors, that serves exceptional coffee and croissants. Try the tiramisu as well.
My friend Cols flew in as a surprise from Paris and together we took a car from Cernobbio to Tremezzo (just 30 mins) to spend the day as guests at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo on the banks of Lake Como.
Our driver - a charming Italian man named Alberto - took great joy in telling us stories of those he had driven before us (including George Clooney, twice). He even pointed out Clooney's villa, speaking exceptionally highly of the handsome actor who now calls Lake Como home (or, one of his homes I should say).
As we arrived at the hotel, looking up, we were blown away by its size and scale. The Grand Hotel Tremezzo, with its floating pool on the lake, is a grand and ornate mansion which was once the summer playground for wealthy Lombard Aristocrats.
With beautifully lush and hydrangea-filled gardens, there is another pool tucked away - on its garden terrace - and one inside the luxurious spa as well. Plenty of swimming options!
We were fortunate enough to experience a luxurious spa treatment at the T Spa with its wooden sauna with windows looking out over the lake.
The highlight though was lunch down at T Beach (a private 'beach' on the edge of the lake) by the floating pool. With Campari Spritzs in hand, we ate fresh seafood and caprese salad and watched the life on the lake go by. There are five restaurant and bar options at the hotel, but this one seems to be the most informal. It is said that Greta Garbo used to come and dine in the more fancy and romantic “La Terrazza” restaurant, renowned as being one of the most beautiful dining options on Lake Como.
Like I said, we only had the day...but it really is beautiful here (and if budget allows, I think it's worth the extra splurge).
*Check out our Cernobbio guide for more of our favourite places on the lake.
Lake Como has always held a special place in my heart. I have always been totally captivated by the light and the magic of the lake. It really is nothing short of a fairytale. Sparkling water, colourful little villages dotted throughout the mountains, and that beautiful light. The quiet and calm of the dawn, and the beauty of the magic hour when the sun starts to settle over the lake. It is a special place.
And I have forever had a love affair with the very fancy, Villa d'Este. Not that I have ever stayed there, but I have always loved wandering down that long, grandioso driveway alongside the lake - past the endless hydrangeas - into the grounds of the villa. Nothing screams old-school Italy to me, old-school Lake Como, more than this luxury hotel (with sixteen-century origins, and operating as a luxury hotel since 1873). I love to indulge in my €20 Campari Spritz by the water's edge and relish in the magic of this century-old gem. The people watching is next-level (you will no doubt spot a Russian wedding or two), and the waiters are like something out of an old-school Italian film. It's beautiful here. The swimming pool also is one for the books!
BUT in saying all of that, the most magical discovery in Cernobbio for me was last summer...when I happened somehow to randomly stumble across the most divine little bnb. Villa Derriere - run by a gorgeous young couple, Giorgia and Davide - is literally just seconds away from Villa d'Este. Perfectly positioned and hidden in a quiet garden off the main street, this ivy-covered villa houses just two bedroom suites. It is here in the magic of the pretty garden (complete with bocce ball ground, and chickens) that Giorgia and Davide offer the most generous and warm hospitality.
Davide - an ex-soccer player - is mostly in charge of food. Davide bakes fresh sourdough bread each day. He cooks everything from scratch using fruit and vegetables from their very own garden (which is located just on the other side of the lake in a little town called Nesso). He is gentle and kind. His dogs are his life. And so are his chickens. And so, of course, is Giorgia. The kitchen is full of love and warmth. Everything that comes out of there has been made with so much care. Breakfasts are incredible. Giorgia has generally made a fresh batch of cookies, or perhaps even a delicious chocolate cake, and together they serve up a whole medley of pretty little breakfast dishes - from cake and cookies, to fresh bread, eggs, fruits, yoghurt, homemade muesli, and more. It is like nothing I have ever seen at a bnb before. This is something very, very special.
If you are lucky, Giorgia and Davide might even take you to their farm one evening. Located on a very steep block of land that hugs the edge of the lake, this incredible property is home to a lush and large veggie garden and plenty of fruit trees. There is also a wood-fired pizza oven, and Giorgia and Davide have been known to host some amazing pizza parties down here. Not only that, there is a little row-boat and a perfectly positioned diving platform from which to launch yourself into the lake. The water is fresh and cold. And deep. Very deep. It is an incredible place to swim.
Back in Cernobbio, we love the tiny little town for its coffee shops, its hat store, and its gelato. We generally eat most meals at the villa (Giorgia and Davide provide breakfast, but are also happy to cater for dinner as well if you would like to book it in). When we are there, we never really want to leave.
If you are looking for somewhere else to dine however, I can highly recommend a gorgeous family-run restaurant tucked away high in the mountain. Hidden underneath a canopy of wisteria, the pretty terrace of Trattoria del Glicine is the perfect place for a long lunch with friends. The homemade pastas are amazing, as is the wine. As is everything in fact. I love it here.
Just get back down the hill in time for aperitivo at Villa d'Este (save room for a couple of Spritzs and some olives), and then dinner back at "home". It's a magical little town and one you would be crazy to miss.
Oh, Lisbon. You have such a grip on my heart. A city so full of charm and lovely people. The locals here are warm and friendly, so proud of where they come from. And I don’t blame them. Portugal has catapulted to the top of my favorite places right now. In fact, it has been there awhile. I was last here in 2014 for one of my best friend’s weddings on the Algarve. It was then that my love for Lisbon really deepened. I felt so at home and really connected with its energy. An inspiring creative community - so much going on in design, art, architecture - but all in this really refreshing, humble way with no ego. No attitude. Just good people doing really good, interesting things. Not only is it one of Europe’s biggest start-up hubs, but Portugal was also ranked by Forbes as one of the most affordable places to travel this year. The wine is cheaper than water (true story) and when I am here I tend to drink a lot of the stuff! The Vinho Verde (or green wine), my absolute favourite. There is a cultural and artistic richness in Lisbon. An addictive buzz. Its a big city, yes, but one that feels more like a village. Known as the city of the seven hills, you can pretty much get everywhere on foot (if you are willing to battle a few hills of course) with endless winding cobblestoned streets to explore. I never get far though without stopping a million times over to snap the stunning azulejos (tiles) that cover the walls of churches and decrepit buildings, everywhere you look. It is such a beautiful town. The light is what gets me as well. Such a beautiful, magical light. Dawn, when the streets are quiet…and dusk, when the streets are alive and buzzing with locals and tourists alike often down by the water to watch the sun go down over Cristo and the rest of the town. You will hear the sound of fado wafting through the streets. Portugal really does have it all. A spectacular coastline, dreamy beaches, delicious local wine, great good (I basically turn into a Portuguese bread and cheese whenever I am here, oh and a sardine), charming hilltop towns, diverse landscapes, and some of the friendliest people I have ever met. There is so much goodness to be found. Here, I update you with some of favorites (including some old favorites that were featured in the guide I published here in 2014)…
First things first, start the day with a pastel de nat (Portuguese tart) and a bica (espresso).
Wish Coffee House: at the LX Factory site (an abandoned factory site turned creative hub), serving excellent espresso (by Berlin’s Five Elephant), smoothies and snacks.
Heim Cafe: for coffee and breakfast.
Fabrica Coffee Roasters: for excellent third wave coffee (they roast their own beans). A few locations around town.
Hello, Kristof: in Bairro Alto, a coffee and magazine café with a Scandinavian aesthetic. Beans are roasted locally at Academica Do Café.
The Mill: an Australian/Portuguese cafe doing great espresso drinks (they also roast their own beans as well).
Bettina & Niccolò Corallo: located on a street overlooking the Jardín Botánico de la Universidad de Lisboa, also the site of a weekly farmers' market, in Lisbon's Príncipe Real, Bettina and her son Niccolò run this chocolate-focused café.
Copenhagen Coffee Lab - for seriously good coffee in a minimalist Scando setting.
If you haven't yet, be sure to try a local “bifana" (pork loin in a bread roll), Delicious.
Jose Avillez: basically when it comes to eating in Lisbon if you can remember the name “Jose Avillez” you will be doing fine. Any or all of this young, inspiring chef’s city restaurants are sure to impress. Back in 2014, Cantinho do Avillez had only recently opened and was the food highlight of our trip. Belcanto (now with two Michelin stars - the first Portuguese chef to be given this honour) was his first though and was listed in Restaurant magazine’s “The World’s 50 Best Restaurants List” in 2015. Cafe Lisboa (inside the São Carlos National Theatre) and Pizzaria Lisboa are great as well (and have stunning interiors).
Mercado da Ribeira (avenida 24 de julho): an awesome food destination. It opened just a few months before we were there in 2014, and it is still going strong. In fact, we noticed even more food stalls have popped up on our most recent visit in June. Some of our favorite things to lookout for include the tartar from Tartar-ia, the octopus salad from Henrique sa Pessoa, burgers by Honorato, sashimi by Confraria, the tuna sandwich on carob bread (trust me) from SeaMe, and of course, Lisbon’s best gelato from Santini (the coconut flavor is the bomb, and the pineapple too). Check out the wines by Esporao. I love my Vinho Verde (green wine) and you will find a couple of great ones here. If you are wanting some fun little gifts to take home, grab some retro-packaged tins of sardines from the Conserveira de Lisboa. And check out our favorite stand of all – the plants at O Meu Amore e Verde. It’s beautiful there.
Largo ao Tacho: for great smaller share dishes (Portuguese).
Dinner at Os Gazeteiros: a tiny French and local inspired restaurant (with a set menu).
Restaurante Santo Antonio de Alfama: for typical Portuguese food from the best restaurant in Alfama.
For Japanese (and the best sushi in LIsbon) check out Go-Juu - next door to the Fundacao Gulbenkian.
Linha D’Agua - right by the Parque Eduardo VII. A beautiful terrace with delicious food.
For vegetarian, check out: PSI - Resaurante Vegetariano, and Nicolau Lisboa & Co for “green food”.
For seafood: Cervejaria Ramiro: for the city’s absolute best. Hands down. This is a Lisbon institution – loved by tourists and locals alike. Simple, but the best.
For traditional Portuguese, check out:
Pap’açorda: for dinner. This is a Lisbon institution. What was once the ‘it’ place for the media crowd and celebrities around town, Pap’açorda’s décor is simple and understated, and the food is amazing.
For date night:
For fun with friends:
Tágide Wine and Tapas Bar: fun, chilled and great food…always. Located in Chiado, this is a beautiful tapas bar serving excellent small plates and delicious Portuguese wines. Be sure to try the custard tarts (served warm with cinnamon ice cream). A little more pricey, but worth it.
For Pastel de Nata:
Park: this bar on top of a parking garage is the perfect place for a sundowner. Amazing views over Bairro Alto and the river, there are always good tunes, good vibes and a cosy atmosphere on its leafy rooftop terrace. Fun after dinner as well.
The Terrace at Hotel do Bairro Alto: for some of the best views in town. Perfect for a light lunch or a pre-dinner drink. Located between Chiado and Bairro Alto.
Pensao do Amor: an old brothel-turned-cocktail bar. This bar feels like a home, with lots of different little rooms and dark and cosy furniture. It’s the perfect place for an afternoon dinner drink. Live music sometimes. Always busy. Good vibes.
O Bom o Mau e o Vilao: just a few doors down from Pensao do Amor, this is the obvious place to go either before or after a drink there.
Late-night dancing and good times at LUX and/or Brownie.
Another ultra-cool rooftop space opens in Lisbon. This time in Martim Moniz with extraordinary views of Lisbon, from São Jorge Castle and Mouraria, to the viewpoints of Graça and Senhora do Mont
Louie Louie - an awesome little record store (which started in Porto) with an in-house espresso bar.
Fashion: check out local designers “La Paz” and “Felipe Oliveira Baptista”.
Principe Real neighbourhood has many cute stores, in particular:
Em Nome da Rosa: for flowers
Isabel Lopes Da Silva: antique store with amazing jewellery (expensive but amazing)
Principe Real Enxovais: for house linen
Consi.go: a lovely little organic store in Estrela.
Sistema Solar: a quiet, independent bookstore in Chiado specializing in art books.
Under the Cover: books and magazines about art, architecture, design, fashion, travel and lifestyle.
Sardines from the Conserveira de Lisboa: with a store in Baixa (Rua dos Bacalhoeiros), and one at the Mercado da Ribeira, come here the most beautifully vintage-packaged tins or sardines. A staple on any Lisbon shopping list, they have been around since 1930s.
Chocolate from ARCÁDIA (Largo Trindade Coelho, 11): in Bairro Alto, this is Portugal’s most famous chocolate brand, created in the city of Porto in 1933. We love the wrapping as much as we love the taste of the chocolate itself. Reminiscent of our favorite Brooklyn-based chocolatier – Mast Brothers. Try the Port wine flavor.
Principe Real - garden and shopping square (at one of the highest points of the city):
Officina LIsboa - for shoes produced exclusively in portugal
Embaixada - concept store in a stunning old building
Cevicheria - one of lisbon’s hottest restaurants right now serving delicious ceviche
Yoyo Objects - design store - mainly furniture and lighting - from portuguese designers
Chocolateria Equador - 100% handmade chocolate saved in beautifully-designed pakcaging inspired by the 40s and 50s
Bairro Alto - neighboughood - full of traditional shops, restaurants and bars - known for its typical portuguese lifestyle during he day and bohemian atmosphere by night.
Praca Luis de Camoes - a very iconic square - honoring the famous Portuguese writer and poet Luis Vaz de Camoes - a busy meeting point to the historic area. Home to the famous coffee and pastry shop, A Brasilleira, where portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa used to go frequently.
Also - Loja do Burel - for traditional portuguese fabrics
Livraria Bertrand - considered the oldest bookstore in the world. bertrand is portuguese and opened in 1732.
A Vida Portuguesa - traditional and iconic products of all kind from portugal - gret presents and original souvenirs.
Near Rossio (Praca D. Pedro IV) - monument square - you will find Chapelaria Azevedo Rua - a century-old hat shop like no other - with bows, top hats, caps, berets and more.
Confeitaria Nacional - pastry shop and tea house - one of the most ancient and exquisite pastry shops in Lisbon - perfect for afternoon tea.
MAAT: Musuem of Art, Architecture and Technology. Definitely worth a visit.
LX Factory: an old industrial site recently converted into a creative hub full of galleries, cafes, bookstores, boutiques etc. Shop here, eat here, hang here.
EDP: the Electricity Museum. I saw an awesome exhibition here in 2014 by Portugal’s most famed street artist, Vhils. (who carves his art out of bricks and walls). Check out what else is showing though, as the building alone is impressive and worth checking out. And keep an eye out for Vhils.’ work on random street corners. One of our favorite pieces can be found on a large wall by the Port.
For hair: check out Griffe Hair Style. An amazing hair salon in Chiado. Owner Helena Vaz Pereira, works for some of the Portuguese fashion houses. For colour ask for Sofia, she is the best.
For a day spa experience: check out the Ritz. Alternatively, the Palacio Estoril Hotel in Estoril is also good.
For gallereis, check out:
Galeria Cristina Guerra
Galeria Francisco Fino
Galeria Murias Centeno
Galeria Pedro Cera
Galeria Vera Cortes
Arco da Rua Augusta - for its beautiful Triumph Arch and views over Tagus River and all the Baixa Pombalina.
Alfama - tradtional neighborhood - the striking portuguese neighbourhood of Fado. The Igreja De Sao Miguel (Alfama’s church) - a beautiful and unique church in the heart of Alfama
Jardim Botanico: for a beautiful botanical garden to sit or wander.
Parque Eduardo VII: a beautiful park to walk around - with great views over the Avenida de Liberdade.
Avenida de Liberdade: one of the most important avenues in lisbon - beautiful buildings filled with beautiful shops.
Praca do Marques de Pombal: monumental square. an iconic place in lisbon, honoring Marques de Pombal, the monarch figure behind the city reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. the urban and architectural style present downtown was made by his vision, and this square unifies the main avenue and the streets of the area.
Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara: an amazing viewpoint, located in the garden of the same name, offering beautiful panoramic views of the city of Lisbon.
Wander around some of our favorite neighborhoods…
- Belem (Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, Torre de Belem, Padrao dos Descobrimentos, Centro Cultural de Belem (contemporary art museum).
- Principe Real/Bairro Alto: walk down Rua da Escola Politecnica, then Rua D.Pedro V. When you're coming down the hill stop on the left at the 'miradouro' to see the views of the city and have a coffee. There are several 'miradouros' (lookouts) spread around town with spectacular views and cute little cafes and tables outside. Our favorite one (in Alfama) is Miradouro de Santa Luzia, which is located halfway up the hill, at the top of Rua de Augusto Rosa. If not for the view itself, but for the stunning bougainvillea overhead and the gorgeous setting. Also keep a look out for a little hidden oasis on Rua D.Pedro V Nº56-D – the Lost In café.
- Alfama: a very charming, very old part of town (and our favorite). Azulejos (the colored tiles) at every turn. Great photo opportunities.
Chiado/Baixa: perfect to wander around and explore.
Fundacao Calouste - museum and gardens. Come here for the art museum or just the stunning gardens themselves (designed by architect Goncalo Ribeiro Telles). A lovely spot for a walk.
Visit Sintra: one of the most beautiful and poetic places in the world. You will feel as if you are part of a magic fairytale here. Wander around, grab a coffee, do a bit of shopping, take plenty of photos. A few hours here is enough.
Go to the beach in Guincho. Have seafood for lunch at Mar do Inferno. Or drive a little further north to have lunch in Azenhas do Mar - a little cliffside town overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Amazing seafood and stunning views. It’s beautiful here.
The most delightful surprise of my recent trip to Lisbon, Santa Clara 1728 has quickly become my favourite place to stay in this magical town. A secret hidden gem in a quiet corner of the city. I had the greatest pleasure of meeting owner João Rodrigues on my visit, as well as his lovely wife Andrea. A beautiful family and an incredible inspiration. I also had the opportunity to sit down with Marta Flourenco - a delightful architect who works with João - to find out more about the ‘Silent Living’ project she has been brought in to run. Silent Living was born out of a need to find a language between all of João’s (and Portuguese architect Manuel Aires Mateu) projects - a way to understand what they all have in common to then be able to reflect this in new projects going forward as well. The beauty João and Manuel’s work is that it goes far beyond just the architecture itself - it is not just the architecture that speaks to you - it is the people, the environment, the simplicity, and the universal idea of home - people come to their places and are reminded of home; a feeling created by the senses. “The touch in architecture” for example, much more than just the drawing element. All of João’s projects have a strong sensory power that influencers the guests. Another of his properties, Casas Na Areia for example, with its sand on the floor makes you feel instantly relaxed - the sand slows you down. On entering Santa Clara you feel a difference in the acoustics, it is so quiet. You notice the connection with the open kitchen - and this feeling must be strong - the smell of fresh bread baking, or a cake - it helps remind guests of home. The meat comes from their farm, Casa no Tempo, and they use only local supplies. A common goal of keeping the experience as connected to nature as possible. Joao forever tries to respect and be faithful to nature wherever possible -paying homage to all things local and original. Casas na Areia for example was inspired by local fisherman houses, acting as a memory of an architype. Cabanas no Rio honours the simplicity of the fisherman’s life, connecting you 100% with the surroundings. Casa no Tempo is a modern interpretation of the traditional Alentejo-style house. The 18th century Santa Clara building was acquired by João back in 2012 - it was a delapidated/abandoned family house and Joao was determinded to remain faithful to the home’s heritage. He wanted to build another family house but had no intention of actually living there himself. That changed however and now João, Andrea and their four children live on the top floor. It is a unique and beautiful project. The interiors are stunning, simple. Local materials are used - in the stone (Lioz stone from Sintra), in the wooden floors, in the wardrobes (same finish as walls/ceiling - to unify), and the baths/basins which were sculpted from stone - the floor tile in the shower is just one tile (the tiler didn't want to do it, but Joao convinced him and he was so happy with the result). Each object/every detail has a story. This is design that inspires, in every sense. These ‘Silent Living’ projects really touch the maker, the owner and the guest. It is incredibly beautiful here.
For boutique budget…try The Independente. Affirming Portugal’s reputation as having the best budget accommodation in Europe, these neighboring late-19th-century mansions, in a premium location on the border of the Bairro Alto & Principe Real districts, were stylishly converted in 2011. With views over the Tagus River, this lovely hotel is full of classical features – big shuttered windows, high ceilings, vintage furniture, stained-glass windows, floors laid with traditional Portuguese Azelujos, and wrought-iron balconies. Choose from a private suite or dorm (where the bunk beds are custom-made from chipboard). We stayed in one of the private suites, which was colorful, bright and spacious. Breakfast is served each morning on the sunny rooftop terrace, with fabulous views over the city. You will no doubt meet Lurdes – the happiest of happy characters who runs the kitchen. An amazing leading light who made our time at the Independente all the more memorable. There is also a stylish in-house restaurant on the ground floor – Decadente – with a modern Portuguese menu, cosy atmosphere and beautiful outdoor courtyard.
For high-end historical luxury that you will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else …try the Palacio Belmonte, a 15th century palace-turned-guest house. Tucked away in the streets of Alfama, right up by the Castelo de São Jorge (atop the highest hill in Lisbon), this enchanted Palace-style accommodation is run by charismatic Frenchman Frédéric Coustols (an artist and landscape collector) and his adorable (5th) wife, Maria. Built in 1449, this is the most antique building in all of Portugal. Filled with over 38000 18th century Portuguese tiles (the blue of which adds to a complete sense of calm, stillness and ventilation), Roman foundations, seventh-century Moorish brick ceilings, antique furniture, spectacular reading and dining areas, private rooftop terraces, a swimming pool and spectacular garden, and an open bar from 5pm each evening…this is the most exquisite urban oasis, hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon city life below.
We were fortunate enough to enjoy a sunny breakfast with Frédéric on the terrace one morning, to hear how his connection with the Palace came about. It was on a visit to Lisbon many years ago that Frédéric saw the house and with intrigue, asked about it at the hotel he was staying. The very next day, without even going inside, he made an offer to buy it. A successful sale (he paid over 24million euro), it was not until 6 months later that he paid his first visit to the house. Counting 365 windows at that time, he suddenly thought “this is a little bigger than I expected” – he tells us, with a cheeky smile.
Living in France at the time, Frédéric went to the city hall in Lisbon to ask if the property could be divided up, where he was asked “why don’t you do a hôtel de charme?”. And it was on this whim, that he decided he would. When asked if he had experience as a hotelier, he chuckles again and tells us “no, we didn’t know anything about that”!
We were lucky enough to sleep in the 160m2 palace suite, which has a winter garden and terrace, on top of a Muslim tower of the 8th century. With views over the Alfama district out to the water, sleeping within the Palace walls was like stepping back in time.
The Palace has had many lives – it is the only building that survived ‘The Great Lisbon Earthquake’ of 1755 – and it is because of this that Frederic has such a passion for sustainability. As he told us “houses today can’t have this many different lives’. He recently spoke at a sustainability conference in Granada around tourism, and the need to protect historical districts to find a balance between providing tourists a special experience, while protecting the city at the same time.
With just 10 suites, it is not hard to see why 70% of guests are returning guests. This is a very, very special place, with Frédéric and Maria adding miles to that charm. As Frédéric once said, "I have traveled the world for fifteen years,". "Belmonte represents every luxury I didn't find. Principally peace. And beauty." It’s so beautiful here.
Pestana Palace: another goodie by my friends at Kiwi Collection – the world’s largest independent collection of luxury hotels - the location of this spectacularly restored 19th-century palace was one of the highlights for me. Set amongst some incredibly beautiful gardens the hotel is tucked away in a quiet residential corner of Lisbon near the River Tagus. Not only a hotel, the Pestana Palace is also one of Portugal’s National Monuments. The old palace building itself is quiet incredible. I spent an hour wandering through the building marveling at all the intricacies of the design and the opulent furniture and artwork. Unfortunately the hotel rooms are not in this old palace building but rather in a couple of large new accommodation wings that were built in more recent times. The hotel is definitely on the bigger side, so it you are looking for more of a boutique experience I would suggest booking Santa Clara or Palacio Belmonte instead, but if you prefer a hotel with a lot of space and many facilities (pool, day spa etc) than perhaps this is the one for you. Another highlight was the Pestana Palace’s close proximity to the LX Factory (where I would walk to each morning for my coffee from Wish House). And the breakfasts! They were incredible - a great selection and a stunning palace room from which to enjoy it.
It was back in ’95 as a young and green 15-year old that I first went to Japan. I was on a 3-month student exchange to a school in Nagoya. It was my first solo overseas trip and I loved every second. I was super lucky to be welcomed into the home of a very kind local family, which made the living-away-from-home thing a whole lot easier. I quickly fell in love with the feeling of being well outside my comfort zone. I was excited and intrigued by this new culture, their language and their traditions. It was incredible. And I guess it set the tone for all my travels today.
My recent trip to Japan in March was just a quickie but we managed to cover off a couple of days in Tokyo (obviously never enough time), the snowy-mountain town of Hakuba, the art island of Naoshima in the south, and then the nature-driven beauty of the Ise-Shima National Park to stay at the outrageously beautiful Amanemu.
With only a couple of days to bop around Tokyo, we managed to find some awesome little spots but also missed out on a few as we ran out of time. A big shout out to my friend Jac at The Broadplace who passed on so many of her awesome recos. Jac, and her partner Arran, have curated the most wonderful Tokyo exploration manual - a perfectly put together guide on how best to spend some lovely days in this energetic and mesmerizing city - if you can get your hands on a copy, I would strongly suggest you do!
So, here are a few of our favourite things:
Little Nap: off the beaten track a little, right near Yoyogi Park, this was our favourite coffee find of all.
Cafe Kitsune: a cute coffee shop corner down a little laneway in Aoyama, with a charming bamboo courtyard and staff that dress in matching Kitsune sweaters. Coffee and a few tiny snacks only. Don't come hungry! Extra points for Aesop Skincare in the tiny bathroom.
Fuglen: where Scandinavia meets Shibuya (via Oslo). We love this cosy little spot.
Bear Pond Espresso: this is one worth hunting down.
Cobi Bloom and Branch: a cute spot in Aoyama with more than just coffee - ceramics, clothes and more.
Blue Bottle: with quite a few locations around town, we like this one in Aoyama.
Shozo Coffee: the prettiest one of all (very photo-friendly).
Saturdays: for a coffee with your NYC-style clothes shop.
Little Cloud Coffee: inside the Visvim store in Shibuya.
Sidewalk Stand in Nakameguro for their affogato.
(So many more…but that should be enough to get you started…).
There are endless awesome eating options in Tokyo, obviously. But (in our short couple of days in the city) we absolutely loved some of these…
Shimada: the standing restaurant. No seats, you just stand at the counter. No English menu. Just trust what they recommend. The food is incredible.
Butagumi: for the best tonkatsu in Tokyo. A great lunch option.
Kaoriya: for lunch or dinner in Ebisu. All the noodles here are based on buckwheat, and come served on ginormous wooden trays. incredible. As recommended (again) by Jac from The Broadplace. So good.
Brown Rice Cafe: for an organic and healthy lunch.
Higashiya: a must for afternoon tea.
Yakitori bars: we recommend trying Birdland.
Mikawazezankyo: for excellent tempura (a little off the beaten track).
Sue Zen: as recommended by Julia Ostro.
Lotus Bakery in Nakameguro: for their charcoal croissants.
Gogyo Ramen: order the kagashi, or burnt ramen.
Oshito in Azabujuban: for their delicious vegan food and individual tatami mat rooms.
Den in Jimbocho for Kaiseki with a modern twist.
AMAN Tokyo: for a drink at sunset (overlooking Mount Fuji) from the 41st floor
Park Hyatt: for that real-deal “Lost in Translation” moment.
Gen Yamamoto: for their cocktail degustation.
Bar High Five: for more old-school cocktails
Star Bar: same
Codename Mixology: for more cocktails
Shonzui wine bar: for their focus on natural wines
Zoetrope: for whisky
Ne Plus Ultra: for whisky
Dover Street Market
Aoyama Growers Markets - on weekends only.
Bonjour Records in Daikanyama.
National art centre: we loved the current Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul exhibition.
Nezu Museum Garden for a peaceful place to rest
Miyazaki: if you’re into movies/cartoons
Check out the amazing depachika (or food halls) in the basements of department stores - Takashimaya is our favourite
Yoyogi Park on a Sunday afternoon
Commune in Aoyama
Mori Art Museum
Post book store
In my mind (if the budget allows), there are really only two places to stay in Tokyo. Both extremely luxe, but impressively understated; with some of the best service you will ever encounter anywhere in this world. They are the Park Hyatt, and the AMAN Tokyo (and both bookable via the kind folk at Kiwi Collection).
The Park Hyatt Tokyo may already be on your radar thanks to its starring role in the 2003 hit indie film Lost in Translation. Staring an aging actor (Bill Murray) and a neglected wife (Scarlett Johansson), this award-winning film by Sofia Coppola went on to become the best PR exercise the hotel has ever experienced. Interestingly, it took awhile though for director Sofia Coppola to get the Park Hyatt on board. Coppola was knocked back on two separate occasions before the hotel finally succumbed (when Coppola made a 3rd offer that was apparently too hard to refuse) to allowing the Coppola crew to shoot their film on site. The Coppolas offered to book out individual hotel rooms for each of the cast and crew, for an entire three week period - agreeing to shoot between midnight and 5am only - so as not to disturb other hotel guests. The film was made, and the Park Hyatt has since remained Tokyo’s most decorated hotel. Housed over the upper floors of the Kenzo Tange tower in Shinjuku, the Park Hyatt offers spectacular views out over Tokyo to Mount Fuji. The check-in process is impeccable. Guests are greeted on the ground floor (Level 2) and then escorted up to the glass-walled 41st floor where a concierge team will meet and greet you and personally accompany you to your room. It is there, once settled, that they will sit with you to go through your arrival information. Intimate and personalised, this process sets them apart from any other hotel I have visited. Rooms are large and spacious. Aesop Skincare (my favourite) lines the shelves of the bathrooms. The views are incredible. Only one interior designer and one architect were used to design the entire property, and we love its pale wood-paneled walls, the green color palette, and the way the hotel uses the communal areas to showcase local artists. The spa on the 47th floor is definitely worth a visit (with its beautiful Japanese-style onsen, well-lit beauty stations, and incredible 25m swimming pool) - some of the best spa facilities in a city hotel that I have ever seen. The bar is a knockout (and one that completes the Park Hyatt Tokyo experience). Made famous also by the film, you will enjoy breathtaking views over a light-filled Tokyo, with live music and old-school cocktails. And lastly, the food is exceptional. The breakfast selection is diverse. I opted for room service (so i could enjoy more time in the room itself) and had a healthy egg white omelette with ricotta and all sorts of greens. The staff are discreet, kind and humble. The Park Hyatt’s Shinjuku location makes it the perfect base for exploring the city, and if your budget allows, I would highly recommend this exceptional accommodation experience in Tokyo. It will wow you in ways you didn't expect.
After my first night in Tokyo at the Park Hyatt, I then went on to Hakuba in the mountains for a couple of days. On my return to Tokyo a few days later, I checked into the AMAN. Wowee. This, without doubt, is the most exceptional city hotel I have ever stayed at in the world. Big call, I know, but the AMAN Tokyo is a peaceful and humble oasis in the heart of the business district (Nihonbashi), right by Tokyo station, and it will completely blow your mind. Designed by Australian architect kerry hill (responsible also for the Lalu hotel in Taiwan we stayed at last year, as well as a number of other hotel throughout Asia (incl some other AMANs), his design inspiration for AMAN Tokyo came by way of three Japanese themes - nature, light and space. On arrival, guests are greeted on the ground floor by a team of discreet, polite and friendly hotel staff before being ushered up to the 33rd floor. Here, the impressive lobby area is cleverly designed around an engawa (japanese garden) with 30m high traditional washi paper walls. Famed for its high tea, it was strawberry season when I visited (the signal that spring has begun), and so ladies gathered at the AMAN to enjoy their strawberry-themed high tea in this beautiful open space. The Italian restaurant is led by chef de cuisine, Masakazu Hiraki, who is originally from Japan but spent 17 years living in Venice, Italy. The food therefore is a reflection of this. The Fumoir cigar lounge, another impressive room, is a place where residents as well as guests can store their alcohol and cigars to come back and enjoy at anytime. The 84 minimalist rooms throughout the hotel are light-filled and full of traditional Japanese furnishings including washi paper sliding doors and a “furo” deep-soak onset bathtub. The pool, however, was the highlight for me. 33m long at 34 floors high, this incredible space - with its floor to ceiling windows - has jaw-dropping views over the Imperial Palace and out to Mt Fuji. You are provided robes, towels, goggles, water - anything at all you might need to make your swim easier and more enjoyable. We enjoyed a deeply relaxing 90min seasonal journey spa treatment with senior therapist, Mai, in an all-light and pale-wood treatment room. It was ridiculously heavenly. But probably the best bit (and the nicest surprise) was the personalized leather name tags that were already affixed to our bags on checking out. It’s the little things… An incredible accommodation experience and the hugest treat. It is so very beautiful here.
And for something a little less pricey, but equally awesome (and more boutique-feeling), try CLASKA hotel (in the upcoming Meguro district).
Margaret River is the place you escape to when you want to surf by morning, luxuriate in rolling vineyards by day, and explore empty beaches and majestic tall-tree forests by afternoon. Top it all off with one of Western Australia’s outrageously magical sunsets and you’ll be in a serious state of bliss! An incredibly diverse region, Margaret River (only three hours south of Perth) offers the most impressive line-up of mind-blowing beaches and nature, coupled with endless wineries, breweries, local providores and producers. It’s very beautiful here.
Here are some of my favorite things found during my recent 5-day visit.
Sidekick: we vote this the best coffee in town, in a cute graffitied corner cafe on the main street.
White Elephant: we love this absolute beachfront spot early in the morning for great coffee and its (obviously) spectacular location (smackbang on Gnaraup Beach). Hard to beat.
Riversmith: the coffee is good, but its more about the setting here. A cute garage-turned-cafe/general store also on the main street in town.
As well as the cafes mentioned above, locals flock to Margs' Bakery for delicious baked goods and sandwiches. The local fellas call it the “babery” on account of the cute girls that work behind the counter!
Goanna Gallery Cafe: kind of in the middle of nowhere, but one that was recommended to me by Carlie (the super kind owner of Townhouse Margaret River). It’s a peaceful and friendly cafe in a bush setting. Come here for a more fancy cafe lunch.
Morries: at the top end of town, the locals go nuts for this place. Check it out for dinner and one of their famous cocktails.
Mikis: my favourite meal in Margaret River (after Vasse Felix), Miki’s is hidden away in an unassuming strip mall. It is high-end Japanese food with a difference (you wont find any sushi or sashimi on the menu). It’s a must (and you must book).
Vasse Felix: by far and away the most exquisite dining experience in all of Margaret River (I think, anyway!). Unbelievably exceptional service, and an amazing menu featuring seasonal and local produce and jaw-dropping wines. There’s a reason it is one of Australia’s top 100 restaurants. Don’t miss this one.
For bread (and for anyone who knows me, you know I go a little nuts for seriously good sourdough bread…), don’t miss the wood-fired bread from either the Margaret River Woodfired outpost, or the original one up in Yallingup. Incredible sourdough, and one of the most amazing fruit breads (thanks for the tip, tiffo!) I have ever experienced to date (up there with The Bread Social in Byron - that one still wins for me though). Get there at 4pm to buy the fruit bread when it is still hot out of the oven.
For wine: you are well and truly spoilt here. The Internationally-renowned Margaret River wine region produces more than 25 per cent of Australia’s premium wines. Spend some time bopping between the wineries around Cowaramup. There are so many to choose from - whether it be the standout big guys, or the smaller, more boutique operations - it is unlikely you will be disappointed. As Sean (our guide from Margaret River Discovery Co) told us, if you choose a bottle of Margaret River wine in a bottle shop - in the $20-$40 range, you will never go wrong.
Some of my favourites:
Vasse Felix: for the setting, their incredible wines, and the amazing restaurant (as mentioned above). Book a seat on the balcony upstairs and enjoy lunch while looking over the vines. We tried emu (!!) to start…and my gnocchi for main was unbelievable.
Fraser Gallop: we were taken here on our tour with Sean and were fortunate enough to spend time with their award-winning winemaker, Clive Otto. We were also treated to a private lunch in the vines. Its beautiful here. The chardonnay here was outstanding.
House of Cards: for a smaller, more boutique operation.
For beer: check out our favorite local brewery, Colonial. Their outdoor setting is beautiful and their drink selection is awesome. I personally love the Bertie cider (as much for its cute packaging as for its taste).
For beaches - there are honestly endless empty and beautiful beaches in this picture-perfect corner of Western Australia. You really can’t go wrong. Some of my favorites were:
Smiths - for a swim - ridiculously lovely
Injidup (and the Injidup Natural Spa - a little difficult to find, but so worth it)
Eagle Bay Beach
Kilcarnup (4wd only)
For sunset: do what the locals do and head to Surfers Point in Prevelly. Depending what the surf is doing, you might catch kite surfers, windsurfers or just seriously gun surfers out there on one of the most awesome breaks in the world. Take some beers and grab a bite from one of the food trucks parked in the carpark nearby (the Italian wood-fired pizza truck - Salento - was my favorite - pizza as it should be). If you happen to be further up north, catch the sunset from Sugarloaf Rock before heading to Dunsborough for dinner.
If you are looking for adventure, bring your camping gear and walk (all or some of) the Cape to Cape Track - a 125km walking track along the coast and one of the most diverse scenic trails on Earth. You will be blown away by the beauty of this coastline. It is magic. We were lucky enough to experience a small slice of it thanks to our guide Sean from Margaret River Discovery Co (more below). If you are visiting between September and December, you might be lucky to catch the sight of migrating humpback whales.
A helicopter flight with Scenic Helicopters. If budget and time allow, a chopper flight over the coast with Jackson (legend) from Scenic Helicopters is another must. Jackson and his family (the McLeods) have lived in the region forever. jackson’s parents run the local bookstore in town; his cousin operates one of the most highly-regarded tour companies; and jackson himself operates the helicopter business. we were lucky enough to do a 30min flight over the coast. flying high above the beautiful manicured voyager estate, and other recognizable wineries, we arrived over the bright blue and turquoise waters off the leeuwin-naturaliste park. tracking south along the coast we could see surfers point in prevelley, gnarabup beach (where i had been swimming earlier that morning) and so much more. i chose to fly with the door off, which made it extra awesome for shooting photos and for some pretty outstanding views. jackson is a super-friendly, easy-going guy who knows the region exceptionally well and sure knows how to fly. highly recommend.
Sean, who has lived in the region for over 13 years is one of those guys you are happy to be stuck in a vehicle with for over 6 hours! Fun, funny, and full of facts about the region, Sean’s “tour for people who don’t do tours”) was incredible. With a tiny group (there was just 6 of us), we bundled into Sean’s luxury 4wd and began a day of discovery. A volunteer firefighter, Sean perviously worked in the wine industry and knows the local community and region like the back of his hand. He is a super-experienced adventurer and loves connecting visitors with nature. He was a big surfer until only recently (when 3 of his good mates were taken by sharks). He is full of solid advice (like the wine tip above, and his other advice to “never be a winemaker!” He told us it is too much of an investment - of time, of hard work, of money for not enough reward!). Our morning started with a peaceful canoeing session, in a very wide and cool canadian canoe, down the Margaret River itself. It was beautiful. We then went on to Gnaraup Beach for a coffee to-go from White Elephant and then on to a scared aboriginal spot where we sat quietly and watched a bunch of marron in the water beneath us. We tasted three different local honeys from the surrounding trees, while reflecting on the Aboriginal history of the area that dates back more than 30,000 years. Lunch was hosted by the kind people at Fraser Gallop Estate - a tiny boutique winery that is proving to be the one of the region’s most celebrated emerging superstars. We had exclusive access to the working winery - spending time with award-winning winemaker Clive Otto (ex-Vasse Felix), and went on to enjoy a private lunch in the vines. Their chardonnay was the highlight for me. But my favorite part of the day was when we hit up Sean’s secret spot along the Cape to Cape Track. Going seriously off-road (Sean has special government approval to use a 4WD track), we battled dust-driven and sandy roads, dodging snakes and kangaroos, before popping out on top of the Wilyabrup Cliffs. High above the Indian Ocean the epic scenery, fresh sea breezes and surrounding ancient soils provided a deeper understanding of the unique terroir of the Margaret River region. Dolphins, sharks, whales, kangaroos, eagles and wildflowers are seasonal, but all possible from this vantage point. This point is also home to one of the biggest waves - flat on the day we visited - but getting up to 20ft on a good day. We sat and listened while Sean told us numerous stories about the area, including the time he and a mate were flying a chopper along that particular part of the coast and saw a whale from the air giving birth to its cub. They then spotted a great white heading towards the whale and its new baby, prompting Sean’s mate the pilot to get down really low in the chopper - just 2m from the water to try and scare the shark away. As they were working out if they should land on the beach or if it was right to intervene with nature, a pod of 12+ dolphins headed towards the whale. Sean managed to shoot a number of images that somehow made the international news, and in turn they found themselves the target of countless tv interviews from around the world about the story. This day with Sean was the absolute highlight of my trip.
Surf: an obvious one, but you are not only spoilt for choice here with the wines, but also the waves as well. When in Margaret River you are only a short drive from over 40 surf breaks and more than a hundred wineries. Best time for surf: September to April (to coincide with spring swells, summer beach weather and the Margaret River Pro).
Mountain biking: rent a bike from Hairy Marron on Bussell Highway, just outside Margaret River town, and go for a ride through the beautiful natural forest nearby – there are countless tracks you can choose from. It’s an easy way to sneak in some exercise between all the amazing eating and drinking you’ll be doing.
Visit the Boranup Forest and caves. Drive down Caves Road through the breathtaking Boranup Forest for a cave tour of Ngilgi Cave, Lake Cave, Jewel Cave and Mammoth Cave - all incredibly beautiful and ancient natural wonders - and all worth exploring.
Visit the local farmers markets. Held all over the region, check the market calendar to find out which market is on while you are visiting and stock up on local wines and produce - cheese, olives, artisan breads, smoked meats, seasonal fruit and veg, free-range eggs, flowers and so on.
Look no further than Empire Spa Retreat. The setting alone is worth traveling for. Tucked away in a beautiful bush setting, the rooms here are beautiful, and the spa treatments are heavenly. I was lucky enough to experience a Pure Radiance facial using 100% chemical free and Australian-made Sodashi products, and it was amazing. Book early to make sure you dont miss out.
There are a few fabulous sleeping options scattered throughout the region, but my suggestion would be to stay in the centre of Margaret River town itself. The great thing about being in town is that you are halfway from the top and bottom of the Margaret River Cape (Cape Naturaliste at the top near Dunsborough, or Cape Leeuwin in the south), making it the perfect launching pad for all your exploring.
In town, the pick of the bunch is without doubt the brand new Townhouse Margaret River (which opened in October 2016). A beautifully appointed and central townhouse, Carlie (the super-friendly local owner) has thoughtfully designed her home to include everything you could possibly need for your visit to the region. Located centrally behind the main street, it takes less than 2min to walk into the centre of town, making you close to all the good coffee spots, supermarkets and best of all, the best Japanese restaurant in town - Mikis. The house can easily accommodate up to six people, and would be absolutely perfect for a family holiday, or just a few couples as well. With lots of natural light, an outdoor shower, beautiful furnishings, and a sunny little garden, this is a really lovely place to stay. Carlie is only a phone-call away if you have any questions or need any help, and is brilliant at recommending all the best things to do in the area. It really is beautiful here.
Byron Bay has had my heart for a very long time. From coming here as a kid, to heaps of fun and crazy friend-filled trips in my 20s, to now, more recently, regular monthly visits since moving back from California 12 months ago. Its the energy. it hits you as soon as you touch down in Ballina and make the drive into town. Its the nature. The outrageous natural beauty of the bay. The beaches, the national park, the waterfalls, the hinterland with all its secret corners, and the ocean. I will never get sick of that walk up to the lighthouse, at sunrise or anytime of day, up along the coast spotting whales and dolphins along the way, and then cutting back down through the bush. As Byron becomes increasingly-touristed and busy, we seem to be spending more and more time in its surrounding towns (Bangalow, Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads, New Brighton, Federal etc) - more quiet and full of charm - but here are some of the things we are loving for time spent in the bay. Its very beautiful here.
Sparrow: its just a tiny hole-in-the-wall, but its our pick for the best coffee in Byron. Hands down. We seriously dream about this stuff when we’re away. Creamy, and so perfectly delicious. You can also find a small selection of bread by The Bread Social (the best fruit and nut loaf you will ever experience in your life). And the baristas are so ridiculously friendly. We love it here.
Leaf and Grain: is Bayleaf Cafe’s take-out outpost located right next door, and they do good coffee brews as well.
The Farm: if you’ve got a car, the Farm does an awesome coffee and is definitely worth the drive (for not only the coffee, but the food, the bread, the deli goods, the flowers, the animals, and the farm itself. But more on that later).
Bun: it’s not necessarily aesthetically pleasing, but this tiny caffeine outpost in the industrial estate does great coffee. Its amazing. You can also find their coffee in a bunch of places across town, including the guest suites at 28 Degrees. Its delicious.
Roadhouse: they do everything well here. Coffee is no exception.
Folk: what can i say, its my favourite (together with its sister cafe WOODS in Bangalow). So insanely adorable (a tiny little cottage tucked away next to a caravan park on the way out of town), good vibes, and healthy, inspiring, delicious organic food and drinks. Its very beautiful here. Eat and drink it all.
Three Blue Ducks at The Farm: we love coming here for breakfast. The brekkies are big and hearty and you cant beat the setting - surrounded by acres and acres of farmland and gorgeous farm animals. The staff are friendly. The coffee is good. And the bread is my favourite in Australia. Its delicious here.
Topshop: a Byron staple. High on the hill, up the road from Clarkes, grab a smoothie and a patch of grass. Known for their burgers, they bake their own bread and they do quick, easy eats to-go.
Combi: this pink and perfectly pretty Melbourne cafe opened their Byron outpost only a month or two ago. It will be your new go-to for all things healthy. You cant go wrong with any of the food here. The coffee is great as well. And the space is beautiful.
Roadhouse: its an old favourite. Super chilled, good tunes, and the food is so consistently good. Most things are made from scratch (including their almond milk). Breakfast here is wonderful. But we love it for dinner as well. We love their nourish bowl; we love everything they do. Their cocktails are next level, too. I can never go past the negroni. The only downside is that they don't have a bar license (only a restaurant license), so don't turn up expecting just to have a few afternoon drinks - you will always need to order some food as well (the popcorn does the trick though).
For pizza: you cant go past Il Buco. Its tiny - there’s not much room to sit down - but grab a pizza to-go instead. Its completely legit, and its amazing. We also like the Treehouse - where the pizza might not be quite as authentic, but the vibes are good and its a fun place for a drink as well.
Naked Treaties: for raw, vegan, organic, gluten/dairy/sugar-free goodness. They do great smoothies and sweet treats. Its like being back at Cafe Gratitude in LA - try their “My Heart is Open” smoothie.
The Source: where we stock up on snacks. Such an awesome selection of bits and bobs. We love their dark-chocolate covered everything (think bananas, goji berries, dried strawberries, almonds etc), and their raw cacao energy balls.
Bayleaf Cafe: their food is good. Its always insanely busy though. We like their greens bowl. And we love the take-away bircher from Leaf and Grain next door.
Bread from the Bread Social: Their Caraway and Rye is amazing, and their fruit bread is life-changing.
Heart and Halo: i love getting take-away from here. Hearty, healthy, indian-inspired vegetarian wholesomeness.
Italian at the Pacific: for a pasta and bottle of wine, plus a few coconut chilli martinis. Best cocktail ever. Be sure to swizzle the chilli around the glass a couple of times before taking your first sip. The perfect heat. Its the best.
St Elmo: for a pre-dinner cocktail at the bar before heading somewhere else, or to stay on for dinner. Tapas-style. The garlic-tomato bread to start is incredible.
Mongers: for a modern take on fish and chips. Casual and low-key. The calamari salad is great. We love their potato cakes as well.
Doma Café (Federal): for the cutest little Japanese café (in the tiny village of Federal about 25mins inland from Byron) offering insanely delicious brown rice sushi, healthy treats and good coffee. Run by a couple of delightful Japanese couples, their food is so unbelievably good and they can sometimes also be found at my favorite farmers market ever (the Friday morning Mullumbimby Farmers Market). The cafe in Federal closes early though, so make sure you check opening times before making the trek out there.
Roadhouse: for seriously good cocktails. Remember though they don't have a bar license, so you will need to order food as well.
The Italian: for their coconut chill martini.
Mez Club: for their happy hour, in a beautiful light, white space that feels more like Mykonos than Byron.
Beach Hotel: because no trip to Byron would be complete without it. Think casual beers by the beach.
Treehouse: fun place for a few drinks in the afternoon to roll into night.
Stone and Wood: for a drink at their brewery in the industry estate.
The Northern: for classic pub vibes and live bands.
Walk to the lighthouse: take the coastal track up, and the bush track down. catch the sun rise over the most easterly point of australia. have a swim at little wategos on the way up. its so beautiful here.
Yoga at Ananta.
Whites Beach: my absolute favorite place. This secret little beach (well not so secret anymore) is hidden away deep in the Broken head nature reserve. There’s good surf and plenty of beautiful white sand and you may even be the only ones there. Pack a picnic and stay awhile (just check the tides first though, so you don't get caught out).
Sunrise on Tallows: 7km long/wide surf beach, with the most cosiest corner down the northern end.
Surf/hang/bbq at Wategos. This is our favourite beach of all the beaches in town.
Surf lessons with Rusty Miller: ex-USA 60s surf champ, Rusty offers private or group lessons and is passionate on all things ocean-related.
Byron Bay Farmers Market: 8am-11am Thursday, and 8am-11am Saturday in Bangalow.
Surf 'The Pass': one of Byron’s most iconic surf breaks – famed for its long, peeling right-handers. In bigger swells the Pass can be challenging, but in general it’s a great location for any surfing ability, especially loved by longboarders.
Little Wategos Beach: this sheltered spot holds a special place in our heart, being the location of a good friend’s wedding. Located at the end of the Cape, its a beautiful little beach overlooked by the lighthouse and most easterly point.
Visit Bangalow: this is a must. The most charming of all the hinterland towns (only 15mins from Byron), it is one of our favorite places. Visit the stunning flagship store of Goddess of Babylon (featuring brands we love such as Noire intimates, and Yoli and Otis), Bisque Traders (for heavenly interiors), Woods (for the dreamiest little cafe), Island Luxe, Our Corner Store, the Saturday farmers market, the pharmacy (stocking brands like Aesop, Dr Hauschka, and chocolate by Melbourne’s Monsieur Truffle), and Graciosca for the most incredible hilltop hideaway ever.
Visit Mullumbimby: home to our favorite farmers market in Australia. Come here on a Friday morning (the market runs from 7am-11am) for some of the best and freshest produce, amazing food stalls, and brilliant buskers. We are obsessed with the omelettes by the Nomadic Kitchen, and the Doma sushi hand rolls (if the Doma stall is there). Head into town for great coffee at Punch and Daisy (and their cute sunny courtyard), and Milk and Honey (for their wood-fired pizza).
Visit Brunswick Heads: another one of our favorite little towns, its full of Aussie beach town charm. Situated between the river and the ocean, its a pretty little spot which is starting to burst with some amazing food spots and a creative energy. If you only do one thing, eat at Fleet (but book WAY in advance). This is the best dining experience in Australia. Hands down. Grab coffee, flowers and snacks from the gorgeous team at Jones and Co. Check out the Picture House. Eat middle eastern food at Yami. And sleep at the newly renovated Sails Motel.
New Brighton Farmers Market: a smaller version of the Mullum Friday market, this Tuesday morning market is set under the trees and is equally as wonderful. Grab coffee and brekkie at the Yum Yum tree cafe after the market.
Protestors Falls: my happiest place. There are so many falls in the hinterland surrounding Byron, but Protestors is definitely my favorite of them all. It takes about an hour to drive there from Byron, but the drive itself is magical. Once you arrive in the Nightcap National Park, the falls themselves are just a short walk from the carpark. Its very beautiful here.
Visit crystal castle: up in the hills. As the name suggests, its home to plenty of crystals and spirituality, and its a peaceful getaway from town in amongst the rainforest.
Climb Mt Warning: about an hour’s drive from Byron Bay, the hike up to Mt Warning is about 8.8km return. If you can get up early enough, its an incredible spot from which to watch the sun come up. A stunning journey through lush rainforest.
Snorkeling or diving at Julian Rocks: located within the Cape Byron Marine Park. Home to hundreds of marine species including stingrays, turtles, fish and leopard sharks.
You only need to wander around the centre of town to find heaps of good little stores and local labels. Keep an eye out for: Auguste, Liberty Trading Co, Ahoy Trader, the new Aje store, Island Luxe, Spell, Tiny People, Mister Zimi, etc.
Also, check out the Industry Estate - now home to Yoli and Otis (the most beautiful organic childrenswear), We are Pampa, Pop and Scott, and more.
28 Degrees: this bright and breezy “barefoot luxury” guesthouse is the new kid on the luxury accommodation block in Byron. Instantly calming, this bright and breezy beach house offers three garden rooms (with private gardens and heated plunge pools), and (my favourite) the upstairs Lighthouse room with distant views of Byron Bay’s lighthouse. Each room has been thoughtfully fitted out with the most beautiful interiors; think king-sized beds, beautiful French linens by Cultiver House, dusty pink sofas by MCM House, mandala-looking wall hangings by the Dharma Door (amazing!), and the best bit, a claw-footed bathtub in the Lighthouse Room’s bathroom with bath products by MILK and the most-perfectly dim floor lighting. Another favourite, the well-curated and generous mini-bar which showcases locally sourced products. Delicious Byron Bay bun coffee (From the industry estate), teas by ‘Mayde’, granola by the Belle General (in Ballina), pete evans raw C coconut water, Stone and Wood beers and more. There is also a bose sound system, a well-considered collection of books, and a lovely woven beach bag in each room to use for your stay. Owners Deb and Lindon, who moved north from Sydney as part of a seachange four years ago, have done a wonderful job in creating an elegantly relaxed oasis in the centre of town.
Pips Tree House: this is one of my favorite airbnb finds ever. The most magical location - smackbang on Belongil Beach - high up in the trees. A beautifully and architecturally designed treehouse home, consisting of two bedrooms (you honestly feel like you are sleeping up in the trees), antique pieces of furniture and artwork (some done by the owner himself), and a beautiful big deck from which you can bbq and eat brekkie on the beachfront. Its amazing. We love it here so much. A short 20min walk into town along the beach.
Cape Beach House: an old favourite, we have been coming to the Cape for over 10 years. Staying at the Cape is like coming home. A beautiful light and airy beach house, with wooden floorboards, and five bedrooms coming off an communal dining/living space. The location is hard to beat - directly opposite Clarkes Beach, and perfectly nestled in between Tallow and Wategos beach. its also an easy one hour return trip up to the lighthouse and back. More than anything though, its the Cape’s delightful owners - katie and marc - which make this place so special. So friendly and welcoming, Katie is the most divine host, and happily prepares a healthy breakfast spread each morning (including her own freshly baked granola and muffins). It is this that keeps us coming back for more.
Atlantic Byron Bay: another old favourite. We love this beautiful boutique beachhouse in the center of town. Light, bright, beachy interiors amongst a quiet and tranquil oasis of palms. Come here for classic and stylish beach house accommodation, communal kitchens, bbqs and outdoor decking. A super cute store as well. Kimberly, Deb and the rest of the team are beyond wonderful. We love it here.
Secret Garden Byron Bay: a private and hidden oasis in the heart of town, this beautiful property was once home to legendary Australian artist David Bromley. Surrounded by palm trees and artistic treasures, it is a perfectly private garden wonderland. There are three types of accommodation on offer. The artist studio (where Bromley once worked), which is a gorgeous self-contained cottage that sleeps two (with an awesome outdoor bath). The Boat Shed, a colorful space that also sleeps two. And the Artist House which has three bedrooms and Bromley art everywhere. The whole compound can sleep 10 and includes a vintage Airstream caravan, a Swedish hot tub, wood-fired pizza oven, and veggie garden. Its very beautiful here.
Gwinganna, a lifestyle retreat tucked away in the Gold Coast hinterland of Australia, had been on my radar for a very long time. It was about 6 or 7 years ago while living in Sydney that my best friend Liv went along and came back raving about her life-changing experience. I lived vicariously through her stories and the lessons she had learnt (stuff about sleep and stress and sugar etc). I felt enlightened based on what I had learnt secondhand. For whatever reason though, I never found the time to visit before moving to the US in 2012.
So back in August, when Gwinganna invited me to come and stay, I made getting there a priority.
Opening in 2006, Gwinganna (meaning “lookout”) is a wellness destination designed to “soothe your soul and inspire you to live a healthier life”. I was on the back of a 6 week trip - a big, fast, crazy rip around the States, from Melb-LA-SF-NY-LA-and then into Brisbane-Byron - when the invitation came through, so the timing could not have been more perfect. A couple of days to slow down and reset.
Driving up the long (and very steep) driveway into Gwinganna, you are surrounded by outrageously beautiful Australian bushland. A nature playground. It is this setting, high on a mountain-top in the Tallebudgera Valley on the Gold Coast, that makes Gwinganna so instantly calming.
Gwinganna offers a diverse range of wellness programs and packages. I was part of the gwinganna wellness weekend experience. Not as full on as one of the week-long detox programs, this retreat still allows for coffee and tea to be served until 11am each morning, and also for 100ml of organic wine to be served with dinner each night. The boundaries around what you can bring to retreat remain the same though: you must leave your cigarettes, drugs, food, alcohol and any caffeinated drinks behind. A visit to Gwinganna is a “commitment to stay on retreat”, and they urge you to respect this philosophy, giving the Gwinganna team an opportunity to help re-evaluate lifestyle habits that do not serve you in terms of wellness, energy and calmness.
The gwinganna wellness weekend consists of early morning wake-up calls, sunrise Qigong (an ancient Chinese holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing and meditation, not dissimilar to tai chi), lots of delicious herbal teas, plentiful organic wholefoods, nature hikes, workout classes, pool time, massage and other spa treatments, seminars on wellness topics, and early nights.
Unlike Aro Hā (the New Zealand health retreat just outside Queenstown that I attended last year) - groups here are on the larger side. Where Aro Hā can only accommodate a maximum of 14 guests at any one time, Gwinganna can accommodate up to 60. While I initially found this larger group size to be a little overwhelming, it seemed to work well. It was so interesting to learn for what reasons people were there. While some it seems are there to seek help getting through difficult personal times, others are there for health reasons and to lose weight, while many are corporate types desperately trying to slow down and find balance in their busy lives. I loved meeting a bevy of interesting people at the communal dining tables each day - a super-sweet mother and daughter combo from Sydney, two girl friends (young mums who had left their kids and husbands behind) who make an effort to get away together for some downtime a couple of times a year, a lovely man from the Northern Rivers who was seeking respite after a stressful year opening a new caravan park, and so on. Everyone is there for their own reasons, and on their own journey.
For me, I was excited to use the weekend to regroup and reset. Spending so much time on the road, I find it important sometimes to consciously slow down - catch up on sleep, be in nature, and be more mindful about nutrition and digestion. I found the food at Gwinganna to be one of the highlights of my stay. Fresh, local, organic, refined sugar-free whole food - most of which comes straight out of the on-site garden and orchard. With a daily changing menu, you are treated to wholesome and nutritious dishes at every meal time. The menu is designed to ensure you receive the required nourishment for optimal energy and vitality, while also helping to support and improve digestion and liver detoxification, reduce inflamation, improve gut bacteria and balance blood sugar levels. Mindful eating is encouraged. An interesting lesson was around chewing. We were each given a brazil nut in one of the wellness seminars, and told to eat it - slowly and mindfully - counting the number of chews. I was done after about 30 chews. A woman next to me chewed her nut over 90 times! I couldn’t believe it! I thought I had done well. Sadly not, my mere 30 chews was considered quite deplorable! It was a good reminder of how we should slow down and be more mindful and aware of what we are eating. The session also covered the importance of digestion, and the impact it has on your health and wellbeing. I found the information in these sessions to be welcome reminders of habits I know about and love to apply, but sometimes let slip when spending so much time on the road without any set routine.
With accommodation, there are a number of different options. I was lucky enough to experience one of the new Boorabee Villas and these I can highly recommend. Effectively your own private house, the Boorabee Villas (there are two of them) are tucked away in the mountains and are surrounded by native plants and trees offering ultimate privacy. Contemporary in design, they are light-filled and come with a large deck looking over the hinterland and out to the ocean, as well as your own private plunge pool. Not only that, you also get the use of a golf buggy for the entirety of your stay. It was an incredible treat to wake up here, and more luxury than I could have ever expected.
If budget allows, I would also recommend the Moonarie Villas (perched on the edge of the mountain ridge, with views over the valley and ocean) which also come with use of a buggy. And lastly, the Peel House, a fully-restored heritage cottage which features two ensuite bedrooms, a shared living space, a buggy and breathtaking views out over the gold coast.
The Dreamtime Spa was another major highlight for me. A calming oasis surrounded by palms, this is where you really come to relax and unwind. Inspired by the Aboriginal dreamtime, my 2.5 hour tribal dreaming session began deep in the forrest with a special ceremony to “release the past by setting an intention for welcoming new abundance into all areas of your life”. After the traditional smudging ritual of burning native leaves to clear the air of bad energy, I was taken into a treatment room for a didgeridoo healing, ochre clay dot painting and a customized 80-minute massage drawing from KaHuna, Myotheraphy, hot stones and Chi Nei Tsang elements. My soulful therapist (and founder of the treatment) Stephen explained that the idea is “to light the fire of creativity and energy in each person, to help them reach their full potential”. The journey “delivers a powerful mix of movement, voice and deep stillness”. It was an incredible experience. I was in a total state of bliss (as I was flung around the massage table half naked!). I was sent away with a stone of my choosing to help remind me to carry through with my intention. And another (not so pretty) stone to bury when the time was right - as a symbol of the things in my life that do not serve me. A truly magical experience (but maybe not for everyone. If you are open-minded though, you will surely enjoy the ride).
There are plenty of activities to choose from each morning, and you can choose to do as many or as little as you like. If you would prefer to lie by the pool while everyone else is in a boxing class, you can. If you would prefer to meditate while others are hiking, you can. If you would prefer to read a book in your room, you can. I loved the daily Qigong (while watching the sun rise over the valley), and the boxing classes. Even more so though, I loved the Nia dance class. Another friend of mine Doggy, who had recently been to Gwinganna, had told me that this had been her favourite activity of all and that I should definitely give it a go. She said she felt so invigorated after the class, and so full of energy, that she ran out of the class screaming, arms flailing in the air, and jumped straight into the pool fully-clothed! I was obviously intrigued. A freestyle dance class, Nia is a unique combination of martial arts, dance and healing arts. Some of it is choreographed, other parts are completely freestyle. Our gorgeous teacher, with the most beautiful and generous energy, encouraged everyone to relax to the beat of the music and really embrace the space and energy around us. It was so awesome to see everyone let go. There were all sorts of weird and wonderful moves going on. It was so inspiring, and so much fun. I loved it.
Last of all though, and probably my most favourite part of the whole weekend, was time spent with John Palmer - Gwinganna's resident botanist and social ecologist. I have never met a more knowledgeable and passionate person on all things nature, mother earth and fostering the traditions of our indigenous people. John is like no other. Full of quirks, his morning chat - while escorting us around walking tracks throughout the property - was by far the most entertaining part of my visit. The world needs more characters like John. Also passionate about recycling, John helps inspire guests to adapt new habits to enable us to reduce our impact on the environment. He’s a good egg John, and he helped bring a smile to my face each morning.
It’s the combination of everything above that makes Gwinganna such a special experience. And really, your Gwinganna experience can be whatever you want it to be. For me, it was: downtime, nature, exceptionally good food, hiking, massage, and more nature. Two days was perfect; just the right amount of time. There is something for everyone, and you are guaranteed to leave feeling happier and healthier no matter what the circumstances are that led you there in the first place. The magical energy of that beautiful bushland alone will ensure that is the case.
Known as the spa capital of Australia (thanks to the hundreds of naturally occurring mineral springs in the area), Daylesford is only 90mins from Melbourne - making it an easy weekend getaway. A little more touristy now than I once remember, it still retains an element of charm. Most importantly however (aside from its hot springs, the nature, the great local produce, and its art scene), it is home to an incredible vacation rental by the name of St.Etienne. This gorgeous home popped up on my radar only recently, and when its very kind and fun owners - Steve and Lina - invited me to stay, I jumped at the chance. In their words, “we wanted to create a home for us and the tots to enjoy, as well as like-minded travelers who appreciate design”. I saw some pics (their website is a beauty). I was sold.
St. Etienne is a Federation home from 1912 located right in the heart of Daylesford. Perfect for a getaway with a group of friends, or with a small family, this three-bedroom home can happilyaccommodate everyone. Maintaining its period features whilst adopting a minimalist and contemporary style, St. Etienne is surrounded by a native woodland garden, making it a perfectly quiet and peaceful corner of the world.
An easy five minute walk from Lake Daylesford and only 450m from the heart of town (Vincent Street), St. Etienne also includes a few creature comforts should you decide to stay indoors. We fell in love with some of the countless and well-considered personal touches. Some of my favourites - the welcome hamper full of locally made treats; the denim SMEG fridge in the kitchen; the “simplemente puntos” pegboard-looking wallpaper by brisbane-based designers milton and king, and the light, bright plywood vibes in the front bedroom; the personal iPhone chargers beside each of the beds; the Byron Bay Hanging Chair looking out to Wombat Hill from the other front bedroom (with the giant ‘mortadella’ print looking down over the bed, by south australian artist billie justice thomson); the ridiculously awesome kaare klint safari chair and freestanding tub in the bright and airy bathroom; and all the perfectly curated mags and books in the living area. Its cosy and perfect. Seriously perfect.
It would be easy to bunker down in the house all weekend (we pretty much did - only leaving for a coffee run each morning, or to stock up on produce for the kitchen). We did find a few cute things in town though, if you feel like popping out for a moment or two.
To eat and drink.
It literally takes 5mins to walk up to the main street of Daylesford - Vincent Street - where you will find some good coffee. We chose Larder as our go-to.
Daylesford Health Food + Organics became another go-to. A cute little organic food store that also does healthy sandwiches, salads and smoothies. Perfect for something quick and easy to grab on the go.
The tea and scones at the little cafe within the Convent Gallery are definitely worth hunting down (check out the art there too, and the lovely tranquil surrounds).
Wine and Country (as recommended to us by our Castlemaine insider, Tim Sproal) is a really cute little boutique wine shop, showcasing some of the best low-intervention produces both locally and afar. You can buy bottles of awesome local wines and beers to take home, or you can choose to sit and have a glass of wine and a cheese board while you wait.
The Farmers Arms for dinner - a local favourite - and a favourite of ours, as well. We like to sita thte bar (more atmosphere than the dining room), chat to the barman, order a glass of wine, and then a big medium/rare eye-fillet steak. Perfect on a cold wintry night.
Mercato (a Daylesford institution) if you’re in the mood for some fine-dining, or The Argus Dining Room in nearby Hepburn Springs as well.
To do.has recently styled the boathouse cafe and worth a look during a morning walk to the lake. It's 450 m away if you walk down to the start of West st and follow the track down.
Farmers Market: if you happen to be in town on the first Saturday of the moneth, this is a really cute little local farmers market (held between 8am-1pm).
Head up to the Botanical Gardens (which are equally beautiful in summer or winter), and stop by the Wombat Hill Cafe up there too - warm and friendly.
If you are a fan of Australian artist David Bromley, check out his retail design store. Bromley recently styled the Boathouse cafe, so its worth having a peek there too, while doing your morning walk around the lake.
Visit the Convent Gallery for some lovely art in tranquil surrounds. Be sure to try their tea and scones as well, they are to die for!
For your afternoon walk, head down Central Springs Road to The Mills Market for some vintage treasures (only 450m from St.Etienne).
If you like cider, head out to the Daylesford Cider Company (who specialize in traditional craft cider using English heritage-listed apple varietiess grown organically out there on their farm) for a pot of cider in the sun (they do food as well).
For some pampering, pay a visit tothe Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa for a traditional communal bath, or spa treatment. We love their hydrating facial.
Lavendula is a pretty place for a wander, surrounded by olive trees and lavender fields, and a great little petanque field.
Look out some of the nearby local providores nearby: Holy Goat Cheese at the Sutton Grange Organic Farm, and Istra Smallgoods for cured meats (in Musk) for example.
And visit some of the region’s cellar doors: Curly Flat in Lancefield; Captains Creek Organic Wines in Blampied; Passing Clouds Winery in Musk; Ellender Estate Winery in Glenlyon.
Day trip to Kyneton, Trentham and Castlemaine (*see our separate guides for each - Kyenton now live, Trentham and Castlemaine coming soon).
St. Etienne (obviously).
Or, Lynda Gardner’s most fabulous White House. We are so inspired by this woman (one of our Melbourne insiders). Everything this very clever cookie touches, turns to gold. But more on that later…
Satellite Island, located in the heart of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel of Tasmania, is “an island, off an island, off an island”.
Off the coast of Bruny Island, there is a magic here. I cant even remember how or where I first heard of this special little place, but it kept popping up on my radar and I knew that I had to visit.
I was invited down by the island’s lovely owner, Kate Alstergren, in September 2016. My dear friend Lucy Laucht just happened to be back visiting from New York at the same time, so I asked her to be my wingy and together we set off on a brilliant adventure.
Kate was amazing in prepping us for our island visit. We landed in Hobart, rented some wheels and then drove into the city centre to stock up on supplies. Kate had loaded us up with a list of all her favorite local suppliers and producers, so we set about ticking off all the places on her list - bread from Pigeon Hole Bakers, meat from Vermey’s Quality Meats (the french lamb cutlets) in Sandy Bay, local wine from Gasworks Cellar Door (we picked up a bottle of Parish Vineyard 2014 Riesling (amazing!) from the Coal River Valley, a bottle of OUSE 2014 Chardonnay from Tasmania’s Central Highlands, and a Stoney Vineyard 2015 Pinor Noir), and then closer to Kettering (the departure point for the Bruny Island ferry) we stopped at Kate’s favourite roadside farm stand to stock up on fresh fruit and veg. We were ready!! The thing is, if you forget to take something with you, you’re kind of in trouble. There is no way you will be wanting to leave the island once you get there…
After arriving at the Kettering car ferry, its just a short 15min ferry ride over to Bruny Island from there. Once on Bruny, you then drive 40-minutes south to reach the tiny hamlet of Alonnah. It is at Alonnah that you will be met by Satellite Island’s friendly manager, Richard Roe. Richard, who kindly lugged our bags on to his little tinnie, then putted us over the little channel to reach the island. We were giddy with excitement as the boat pulled in - views of the boathouse (one of the sleeping options down on the jetty), the sheer cliffs, and the untamed Tasmania wilderness beyond it - we knew we were in for a treat.
Richard talked us through the ins and outs of island life. He explained the sleeping options (either the boathouse, the summer house (the 3-bedroom house on top of the island), or the luxury bell tent). Lucy and I were keen to be in the boathouse. It was the middle of winter, but we opted to sleep in the same room, in the same bed, with the roller doors wide open, so we could both fall asleep and wake up each morning listening to the water lapping up on to the island’s edge below us!!! It was incredible.
It is hard to describe how special this place really is. So remote. So quiet. So much raw natural beauty. The whole entire island to yourself.
The island can accommodate up to 12 people at any one time. The interiors, all done by Kate herself, feel Scandinavian-inspired (Kate’s husband is Norwegian) and are perfectly simple and stylish. You can find everything you need inside the main house, including Aesop skincare in the bathrooms, beach towels, a bose sound system, board games and a fully stocked kitchen. For outdoor activities, there are fishing rods, kayaks, snorkels, or even a beautiful old-school wooden rowing boat named Pearl. We loved walking around the island - there are a couple of walks to choose from - and spotting birds and the roaming deer.
Richard introduced us to Bert the stag. He also took us around to meet Rodney the rooster (a gift from The Agrarian Kitchen’s legendary Rodney Dunn) and the rest of Rodney’s free-range friends. We had fresh eggs to collect each morning, should we wish; fresh organic herbs and veggies from the garden; and plenty of provisions in the well-stocked kitchen as well. Oh and on top of that (and probably what we got most excited about) was the fact that we could carve our own oysters off the rocks and then shuck and eat them then and there. It couldn't get much fresher than that!!!
We lit bonfires each night while listening to the wind howling around us and the water lapping up on the rocks. We ate our freshly shucked oysters. We drank our local wine. We cooked our lamb chops and sausages on the raging fire. We were happy.
Time stands still here on Satellite Island. It is a truly unique and secluded getaway and one that I can highly recommend. I really am desperate to return (maybe next time with a big group, and for a few extra days). It’s so outrageously beautiful here.
There are so many awesome little weekend getaways out of Melbourne, and the historic town of Kyneton in Victoria's Macedon Ranges is just one of them. Located 85km north-west of Melbourne, Kyneton is an easy hour (ish) drive from the centre of Melbourne, or an even easier train ride. If you are really organised, take your bikes on the train (catch the Bendigo Line) from Spencer Street station - because once in Kyneton, you will be able to bike almost everywhere, and its the perfect way to get around.
Like its neighbors (Castlemaine, Trentham, Daylesford and even Bendigo), Kyneton is a hub for good living - with access to fresh and seasonal produce, local farmers markets, great coffee, impressive dining options, and an inspiring art scene. These small towns seem to attract a whole host of makers, creators and innovators, and the vibe here is friendly and welcoming. You will love wandering along its pretty streets, surrounded by impressive 19th century bluestone architecture.
We recently had the pleasure of spending the weekend in Kyneton - courtesy of the wonderful team at the Flop House. Genevieve and the Flop House crew look after a number of beautiful vacation rentals in and around Kyneton, and their HQ can be found tucked away at the top of some stairs off the main street in a gorgeous interiors store.
I had had my eye on the Flop House’s Harpsichord House for some time (it was the Scandi-inspired design that got me!), but given the house was already booked over the weekend I was going to be there, Genevieve instead recommended the brand new and luxe River House instead. We were in for a serious treat.
The River House is Flop House’s latest venture and offers a new level of luxury for the Macedon Ranges. Opening in April 2016, we were one of the River House's first set of guests and were lucky enough to spend a weekend relaxing in this modern home situated on 2 acres of bushland, with private river access. The house, located in the little town of Lauriston, is just five minutes from Kyneton, and twenty minutes from Daylesford.
With a large infinity pool, tennis court, fishing rods, bikes, picnic baskets, wood-fired pizza oven, and an awe-inspiring veggie garden, it's the perfect place for a group getaway. There were only four of us this time, but the house can accommodate up to six. To make guest’s feel grounded Flop House provide their signature summer breakfast hamper with locally made preserves, Grist sourdough, bircher muesli, yoghurt and poached fruits. A heartier breakfast of locally produced, McIvor free-range bacon and Hand to Ground eggs can also be arranged. Not only that, a complimentary bottle of local sparkling was waiting for us on arrival.
It was tempting not to leave the house all weekend, but when we did, we managed to find a few wonderful little things in town we can happily recommend for your next weekend away in Kyneton.
Coffee and breakfast from Little Swallow Cafe.
Lunch (or to grab supplies for your picnic) from Monsieur Pierre food store (coffee by Allpress).
Pre-dinner drink at Midnight Starling.
Dinner (or lunch) at Source - an incredible local and seasonal menu (the beef fillet was a stand-out).
Dinner at La Bonta (for something a little more formal).
A pub meal at the New Keynote Hotel (formerly the Newmarket) - bar at the front, restaurant out the back.
Or a drink and pub meal at the historic Royal George Hotel.
Grab a bottle of wine from Banks Fine Wine in Mollison Street.
kabinett: our favourite shop of all. A perfect mix of vintage pieces, taxidermy, art, Indian textiles and ceramics. This store is made for foraging.
mulch: new to kyneton, this little store is home to locally made ceramics, letterpress stationary, homewares and fashion. You can also find an awesome selection of Aesop products as well.
stockroom: an impressive and unique space that is part real (showcasing local artists and makers), and part gallery space as well.
upstairs with grandfathers axe and flop house: home to the flop house HQ and an impressive range of antiques and interiors as well.
lauriston press: home to sarah gabriel’s original drawings, prints and art supplies.
rundell & rundell chairmakers: for lovers of handmade chairs and other furniture classices, as well as handmade leather bags.
Ride bikes (Flop House can recommend some great biking trails).
Wander along historic Piper Street - checking out all the stores mentioned above.
Check out the Farmers Market (2nd Saturday of the month from 8am-1pm).
Picnic in the Kyneton Botanical Gardens.
Wander or bike along the Campaspe River trail.
Visit the Black-Hill Reserve - for a lovely nature experience (you are almost guaranteed to see kangaroos, and the giant granite rocks make for a spectacular picnic location).
Visit the Flop House’s communal vegetable plot that is part of a new initiative by A Plot in Common (contact Flop House to arrange a visit).
Take side trips to:
daylesford (guide to follow)
castlemaine (guide to follow)
trentham (guide to follow) - but don't miss coffee and breakfast at our favourite, The Trentham Collective.
Oh, San Francisco, you beautiful thing. We always liked you, a lot, but it was really on our most recent trip that we truly fell in love (perhaps it had something to do with the week-long sunshine, but in any case…). We love how compact you are (7miles x 7miles), but still how incredibly diverse, creative and inspiring you are as well. We love your many differing neighborhoods – all so close – but all so different. We love that every second person here describes themselves as a “burner” (regular Burning Man-goer, of course), and that good live music is so easy to find. And we love how naturally beautiful you are. We visited Ocean Beach for the first time, and then witnessed the sun setting over the Sutro Baths – feeling more like Ancient Greece than downtown California – it was then that we were sold. Not to mention how easy it is to get out of town – over the bridge, and up the coast (for oysters in Tomales Bay, through Point Reyes) and into wine country. You are a nature wonderland. You are wonderful. We like you a lot.
Here we list some (but not all) of our favorite things. There really are too many to mention! But this should get you started…
Along with Portland and Seattle, San Francisco is definitely home to some of the best coffee in the US. You are spoilt for choice here. We like…
Four barrel: one of our favorite brews. You can find their coffee at The Mill. We also love their roasting space in the Mission.
Sightglass: the coffee is good, and the space is exceptionally beautiful (those windows! Wow). We also loved the music playing the day we visited. We asked who the artist was, and turns out it was a local guy named Young Moon (keep an ear out – he’s good :) ).
Blue bottle: lots of locations around town – we like the one downtown (in an old bank building) and the one in Oakland (see our Oakland guide).
St Frank: a beautiful light-filled space, with good coffee, and also a place to work (where wifi is available).
Ritual: a cute shipping container pop up in Hayes Street.
Front: this garage-esque space, in an industrial part of town, does a great coffee.
Hollow: more for the cute little green shopfront than anything else! So freaking adorable.
Samovar (tea): not coffee, but tea, in a stunning space. Try their signature chai.
The Mill: for their big chunky, lusciously-topped toasts (and Four Barrel coffee). You can also take home loaves of their amazing bread. Look out also for their pizza nights on Mondays.
Lolo: a fun, colorful, buzzy space that’s great for ceviche and margaritas (two locations – both good).
Outerlands: for anything and everything. Outer Sunset. We love it here.
Nopa: a mainstay. Always great. Expect to wait if you don’t have a table reservation (can grab a seat at the bar). The burger is infamous. We love the fish.
Nopalito: for totopos and carnitas tacos. Cute neighborhood spot.
Bar Agricole: for a fancy weekend brunch or dinner.
izakaya rintaro - quiet, tranquil little spot, hidden behind a big wooden fence (look out for the big number 82 painted in white). we love the miso black cod.
Flour and Water: for exceptional pasta.
Central Kitchen/Salumeria: for a casual meat and cheese board (at Salumeria), or something delicious in the more formal restaurant.
Marios: for their meatball focaccia sandwich and homemade Campari.
Baretta: cosy, corner neighborhood spot doing exceptional cocktails and great homely Italian.
Craftsmen and wolves: for their “rebel within”. That’s all you need to know.
Pizza from pizzeria Delfina: the best spot on a sunny afternoon for pizza and prosecco. Sit in the sun, watch the world go by. You can also eat in the more formal restaurant part next door if you would prefer. Just down the road from our favorite supermarket (Bi-Rite) and ice cream shop.
Bi-rite creamery and supermarket: loveliest little gourmet supermarket around (specialising in local, organic and sustainable). Amazing produce. Great for grabbing picnic stuff and taking it to nearby dolores park (for long lazy days, people watching and stunning views of the city). Their ice creamy across the road is next level. We like the hard scoops and the soft serve as well. All so good.
Zuni cafe: a SF institution (been around for 20+ years). Come here for Zuni’s roasted chicken and bread salad (and some oysters).
Tartine: probably the most famous bakery in the city. They serve Four Barrel coffee as well.
Mr holmes bakehouse: for Cronuts and other sweet things.
Plow: wood and white dining room. for breakfast.
Slanted door: in the ferry building. very san francisco. vietnamese. fresh and organic.
Zazie: in cole valley for cosy french bistro vibes.
20th Century cafe: on a sunny corner in Hayes Valley. For Eastern European-influenced eats.
Souvla: this was only newly opened when we visited last year. awesome souvlakis, big salads, and wait for it…olive oil and sea salt greek frozen yoghurt. omg.
little gem: a new one in hayes valley - for healthy eats.
Green heart foods: for health-conscious eats in the mission.
Cala: for mexican seafood.
Locanda: for their delicious gnocchi.
Tosca’s: innovative and fresh italian from famed chef, april bloomfield. dark and moody. we like it here. great cocktails, too.
Trou Normand: if you are into meat. This place specialises in whole animal butchery! Try the Trou lamb burger.
Okoze: in Russian Hill. Eat at the sushi bar only. For dinner. Order scallops. And sake.
Blue Plate: in the mission. A bit of an institution. Come here for american comfort food.
Foreign Cinema: for california-inspired food and film screenings on their outdoor patio.
Foreign cinema: for foreign films.
General store: our favourite store in California (the one in Venice Beach used to be our local). Bright, light and airy, and full of amazing brands. It also comes with the most beautiful, sunny, cactus-filled courtyard and glasshouse out the back. The best.
Case for making: studio supplies for a creative life. Super cute bibs and bobs.
Gravel and gold: clothing, accessories, home goods.
Aggregate supply: literally an aggregate of three shops - Heliotrope, Turk + Taylor, and Acacia. Amoeba records
The Perish Trust: a teeny tiny shop filled to the brim with vintage pieces and other random finds.
Mollusk in Outer Sunset.
Hayes street: poke around the cute boutiques on this sunny street.
Golden gate park: absolutely huge, green and incredibly beautiful.
Sunset at sutro baths: dont miss this. Follow it up with dinner at Outerlands (in Outer Sunset).
Check out China Beach: peaceful, quiet and definitely one of SF’s hidden gems. Tucked in the Presidio across from Robin Williams’ old home (rip).
Picnic in Dolores: grab goodies from bi-rite first.
Check out the murals: they are everywhere.
Farmers market at the ferry building: touristy, but definitely worth a visit.
Catch a live show at the Fillmore.
Farmers markets: so many on offer.
Ferry to Sam’s (touristy, but fun) - oysters and wine.
Brunch at Salito’s. Amazing spot on the water in Sausalito. Order the crab omelette in a skillet.
Hike around Muir woods national monument.
Head up to wine country. Visit Sonoma. Spend a night at the Farmhouse Inn (see our separate guide) - an exquisite barn-like farmhouse property, set amongst the vineyards.
Stop in Inverness - for oysters at Saltwater Oyster Bay, or Hogg Inn. And if you are lucky, spend a night at Mankas. Heaven.
Hotel G: we were so happy to stumble across this gorgeous boutique hotel on our most recent trip to the city. Located smack-bang in the heart of the city - one block west of union square - this 153-room boutique hotel fills up the very stylishly-refurbed 1909 Fielding building. With two restaurants and a gorgeous cocktail bar, Hotel G makes a very convenient base for exploring SF. We love the design - the old wooden and tile floors have been perfectly revamped - and we especially love the artwork. Hotel G has cleverly partnered with a San Francisco nonprofit arts centre for developmentally disabled adults called Creatively Explored. All the artwork you see - in the guest rooms and shared areas - is by these artists. And the best bit, the artwork is for sale, with all proceeds going directly back to Creatively Explored.
Other sleeping options:
Airbnb: one of the most beautiful Airbnbs we have ever stayed in. Beautiful design, exceptional location, and Zoe (a fellow Aussie!) is a kind, loving and energetic host. Look no further than this.
The Battery (boutique hotel/members club, right in the heart of downtown).
We didn't realize before visiting, but while on Kaua’i we learnt that the Hawaiian islands are the most remote islands in the world - the furtherest away from any continental land. Kaua’i, the ‘Garden Isle’, is the oldest of them all and has some of the most unique geographical natural beauty on any island on earth. Here you will find lush green jungle and mountains, pristine beaches, endless waterfalls, the jagged Na Pali coast, and even desert as well. Kaua’i’s Waimea Canyon is like a mini-version of the Grand Canyon. Its like a journey back in time; to prehistoric times. Full of raw natural beauty, it is hard not to fall in love with this magical place. Not only that, the aloha spirit gets under your skin.
We found so many things to love here. We could have set up shop and stayed awhile (a really long while)…but instead we are excited to share with you some of the favourite things we found in our short 4 days bopping around this island wonderland.
First though, a couple of (random) things we found interesting and some which took us by surprise:
- The roosters. Kaua’i has an insane amount of wild roosters!!! They are everywhere. And the little buggers crow ALL through the night. So be prepared.
- There is only one main road around the island, and it gets busy. Be prepared for it to take a lot longer to get anywhere than you might have first thought.
- We were a little shocked to learn that four of the biggest chemical companies are based here on the island. About 90% of industrial GMO corn grown in the US was originally developed in Hawaii, and Kauai has always hosted the biggest area. The good news though is that there is a small pocket of the North Shore who are trying to promote a non-GMO island. They are currently working towards banning all GMO products - and there is a real focus on healthy living and living sustainable off the island (currently the island still imports 90% of its goods).
- There is a little local bird we loved called the red-crested cardinal, which can be identified by its (surprise, surprise) red head; we also found some cute geckos as well - the gold dust day gecko (a bright green or yellowish green colour, and sometimes even in blue).
Sushi girl: a totally awesome find (thanks for the reco, Eddi) - a tiny little hole-in-the-wall sushi joint sandwiched between a couple of shops on the road to the Na Pali Coast State Park. The perfect place to stop for a quick lunch to-go before or after your hike. Fresh and delicious Japanese maki rolls, wraps and salads with fresh ahi tuna. The serves are big (we ordered the kids maki roll and it was huge).
Healthy hut: for everything! We love it here. We would stop by each day for healthy snacks, juices, even some organic wine (and the taco truck next door is good if you are just wanting a quick and cheap dinner on the run. We had a grilled fish taco and the carne asada taco and they were both pretty good - the meat one definitely better though).
Barracuda: for a really beautiful tapas dinner. Grab a seat at the bar (but get there early, they open at 5:30pm but there will likely be a queue out the door from 5pm). They do also take reservations though if you are wanting a table.
Hanalei Bread: for seriously good artisanal sourdough bread. We were so happy to find this place. The bread is delicious and just the way we like it. They do a decent coffee and good breakfasts as well.
Harvest Market Hanalei: a great health food store for smoothies, salads, and a whole bunch of organic, gluten-free, raw and local products.
Lighthouse Bistro: the setting is nothing to write home about, but the food is pretty good. Come here especially for their free-range pork steak (another good reco thanks Eddi).
Mermaids: for their ahi nori wrap (seared ahi, brown rice, cucumber, nori, wasabi cream and shoyu, rolled in a spinach wrap). Open until 9pm.
Kalalea Juice Hale: this became our daily fix. The cutest little orange food stand just off the main road heading north out of Kapaa. Family-run and super friendly, come here for their Acai bowls and delicious smoothies (with homemade nut and coconut milks).
Kauai Juice Co: for great organic, cold-pressed juices in cute glass bottles. Two locations: Kapaa (next to Rainbow Living Foods), and Kilauea (right by Metamorphous Yoga).
Rainbow Living Foods: for all things local, organic, vegan, gluten-free and raw. Fresh juices and smoothies, local coconuts, kale salads, raw falafel, and delicious raw desserts. Closes at 5pm.
Wishing Well shaved ice truck: for coconuts, smoothies, ace bowls and shaved ice.
Java Kai: a cute cafe that is connected to the Shipwrecked lifestyle boutique next door (we like to sit on the tables out the front of Shipwrecked). We tried their ‘power’ bowl one morning and it definitely filled a gap. Juices, smoothies and sweet stuff as well.
Hukilau Lanai: come here if you are in the mood for some old-school Hawaiian. Using local ingredients and products from Kaua’i and the other neighbour islands. We were needing a meat fix and were recommended their filet mignon. Delicious.
Hoku Foods Natural Market: this is another really great healthy and organic food store, perfect if you are in need of some fresh produce, healthy snacks, drinks, or raw food.
Ha Coffee Bar: in Lihue, for undoubtedly the best coffee on the island. Worth driving 20mins from Kapaa for. Owner Jeff, ex-Seattle, even serves an 8oz cup. We were VERY happy to find this place.
Anatta’s Authentic Thai: this food truck was such a lovely surprise. We were wanting a quick and easy dinner while we were in the area and found this place on Yelp. Holed up in the ACE Hardward parking lot, these lovely Thai women make really tasty, really authentic thai dishes. Fresh, delicious and super cheap.
Eating House: traditional and modern, locally-sourced asian-inspired food.
Pizzetta: we stumbled across this place by accident one night when we were coming back from Waimea Canyon. We were on our way to Eating House, but ended up going here instead. Craving a spaghetti bolognese, we grabbed a seat at the bar and were suitably impressed with the authentic bowl of pasta that was put down in front of us. A decent selection of beer and wine as well. The pizza looked totally legit, and the gelato was also great.
The Scorpacciata pizza truck. We never made managed to find this pizza shop on wheels before leaving the island, but oh how we wanted to. If you look at their Instagram you will soon see that their neapolitan-style pizzas look completely authentic and amazing. Using only local ingredients, they do breakfast and lunch pizzas only.
Shipwrecked: this cute lifestyle store next to Java Kai is full of cute summer clothes, swimwear, jewelry and our favourite (Australian-made) clutches by @happytiff.
Kiko Kauai: for “simple goods”. Homewares, cards, gifts and other random bits and pieces…tucked down a laneway off the main street of Kapaa.
Hunter Gatherer: this is a gorgeous, cosy store in Kilauea full of eclectic art, homewares, jewelry, books, letterpress stationary, and other local artisan gifts. Its a really cute space.
Check out the Friday market at Warehouse 3540: held in Lawai on every Friday from 9am-1pm. A bunch of different vendors including those selling fresh produce, coffee, clothing, and food (the pizza truck might be there)!
Farmers Markets: there are so many amazing farmers markets on the island - pretty much a different one on every day. Check out tastinekauai.com for the weekly line-up. We loved the one in Waipea on Tuesday afternoon.
First things first, rent a car. It is essential here for getting around the island. It would be impossible without one.
Hike: there are endless options, but don’t miss the infamous Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast - an 11 mile trail that takes you from Ke’e Beach (at “the end of the road”) to Kalalau Beach along the Na Pali Coast. The trail traverses 5 valleys before ending at Kalalau Beach where it is blocked by sheer and rugged cliffs. If you are just wanting a short day hike, take the 2 mile trail to Hanakapi’ai beach (it took us 45mins each way). The scenery is absolutely, mind-blowingly spectacular. The trail is dusty (and often muddy), steep in parts, and so incredibly beautiful. Otherwise, pack a bag, check out the camping permits, and stay awhile. Camping is only allowed at Hanakoa or Kalalau.
Check out all the beaches…some of our favorites include Secret Beach, Molooa Bay, Ke’e beach.
Take a helicopter ride over Waimea Canyon State Park. Or drive up into the canyon around sunset. Often described as ‘the grand canyon of the pacific’, it might not be as big or as old as its Arizona cousin, but we found it to be just as enchanting. Stretching 14 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep, the views here are over rugged rocky cliffs, deep valley gorges and tumbling waterfalls. Its breathtaking. There are some great hikes you can do around here as well. We recommend doing any of the trails between mile marker 14 and 18 (you will see cars parked on the side of the road near these areas). You will hike through forrest and then pop out into the canyon. Amazing! And if you are lucky, you will also stumble across a waterfall or two.
Surf. Again, plenty of options. But Poipu Beach or Hanalei Bay are probably the most popular.
Swim at Wailua Falls.
Yoga in Hanalei (Yoga Hanalei) and Kilauea (Metamorphose).
Eat acai. And lots of it. And shave ice. And poke. And try as many food truck as possible (our favourite ones are listed above).
Visit Anaina Hou (meaning “a new gathering place”): 500 acres of land in Kilauea that was purchased by Bill Porter, the E-Trade founder, and his wife Joan back in 2004. Bill (who sadly passed away last October) funneled generous portions of his fortune into businesses and nonprofits benefiting organic farming, recreation and community building on the North Shore of Kaua’i. Within Anaina Hou you will find the serene Stone Dam, a 5-mile Wai Koa Loop hiking trail, a skate park, playground, nursery and also (the crown jewel) an 18-hole miniature gold course. Not your average mini gold course, this is one that blends water hazards and other tricky terrain with a tour of Hawaiian ecology and culture in the lush botanical garden setting. You can rent bikes and tour the farm. There are 3 waterfalls scattered around the property. Buddhist statues. A thatched balinese hut. And you can also visit their organic and hydroponic salad greens farm. Its a beautiful place to visit.
Another hidden favourite (that you definitely wont find on the tourist map) is the Kauai Dharma buddhist sanctuary. Tucked away at the bottom of a lush green hill somewhere between Kapaa and Kilauea, we were lucky to get a tip off about this special place from our host Eddi at The Palmwood. We would have otherwise never found it on our own. A place for peace and calm, this is a magical place in the middle of the forrest. A beautiful Buddhist stupa (which the Dalai Lama has visited) sits amongst the pretty grounds.
The Palmwood: one of the most magical guesthouses we have so far had the privilege of enjoying. Firstly, it’s on Kauai (enough said really). Secondly, the setting is absolutely enchanting. The 3-suite guesthouse is set high up on a ridge (between the towns of Kapaa and Kilauea), overlooking lush green jungle and coconut palms, with uninterrupted views of the mountains. And thirdly, The Palmwood is run by the ever-so-lovely ‘Aunty’ Eddi and her son Mychael (both kind, friendly and exceptional cooks). There is a true feeling of warmth and aloha here. Eddi (an American of Korean heritage) grew up in Japan and this, she says, influenced her diet and cooking. She grew up on a healthy and organic diet, and this too is what she therefore brought her family up on - nothing processed, always fresh, local, seasonal, sugar-free foods. Eddi's daily breakfasts reflect this. You can taste the love that goes into her cooking. Every day, something different; something healthy; and something beautiful-looking. On our first day, Eddi had bought blue oyster mushrooms from her neighbors (who call themselves “fun guys mushrooms”) and together with organic kale from her garden, some bacon, parmesan and oven-roasted tomatoes, Eddi made an incredible open-faced omelette. Following that was a pretty looking fruit salad made from grated apple, banana, macadamia nuts, local honey and sesame seeds. We also had a fresh berry smoothie. Thinking it could surely not get any better on day two, we were quickly mistaken. Eddi served us organic scrambled eggs with homemade Kona crab cakes, roasted tomatoes and a kale (from the garden) and apple salad. Following that, a sweet dish of roasted organic pairs, figs and a grilled banana, in a ginger and coconut reduction, with yoghurt. It was mind-blowing stuff. Breakfast is served from 8am-9am, but Eddi has the tea and coffee brewing from 6:30am for those who like to start the day a little earlier (and the roosters might make sure that’s the case). Formerly a very senior banker in LA, Eddi enjoys a much slower pace now. Healthy eating and healthy living are her passion. As is her family. We had so many interesting conversations, and Eddi was a constant source of fantastic local recommendations - helping curate and tailor our days to include hidden and off-the-beaten-track local favourites. So many of the amazing things we found can be attributed to Eddi’s suggestions. It wasn't easy though. Always torn between wanting to get out and explore the island as much as possible, but also wanting to stay and chill and enjoy the peacefulness and the magic of this special place. We became addicted to the light at sunrise, and then again at dusk - full of beauty and magic. You feel a million miles away from anything here. And its wonderful. The Palmwood left a huge impression on us and we cant wait to return.
If The Palmwood happens to be full, check out the Hanalei Surfboard House as another option.
[o'ahu soundtrack. your rocky spine]
We were pretty damn excited when Jetstar invited us to go with them to Hawaii last week. An easy 10ish hour direct flight from Melbourne to Honolulu, we would be there in no time. On a mission to find some beautiful off-the-beaten track places and things, we were pumped. Hawaii had always been high on our travel wishlist (well, Kauai anyway), but we had still never been.
So we were excited, yes, but admittedly a little nervous as well. Didn't Oahu just equal Honolulu which equaled Waikiki which equaled some kind of Disneyland meets Vegas/Cancun-touristy wonderland??? We were worried that there might not be too much to find beyond the ritzy beachfront resorts and a sea of Hawaiian shirts…
How wrong we were.
Not only did we fall madly in love with the North Shore (hello hot surfers, big waves, chilled vibes, and delicious food trucks and farm stands)…but Honolulu stole our heart as well. With so many cool little pockets, there are fun adventures to be had everywhere - culturally, in the arts, in nature, and on the food scene as well. Jogging along the Waikiki beachfront path at sunrise (or sunset) was pretty hard to beat as well.
We love the way the locals use the mountains and the ocean as a point of reference. When asking for directions for example, you might be told something is MAUKI (mountain side) or MAKAI (ocean side). They use Diamond Head (on the east) and Ewa (a town on the west) as well, “its the Diamond Head side of Cook St”. People here are incredibly friendly. They truly appreciate how lucky they are to live in such an idyllic island paradise.
The iconic Royal Hawaiian (where all our pink dreams came true) and the Halekulani (if you’re in the mood for fancy, pop up to the very formal Le Mer for a pre-dinner cocktail) were our pick of the beachfront hotel bunch.
Here are some more of other favourite things (and hopefully enough to get you started)...
To eat/ drink.
ARVO: a brand new, bright and friendly space. We love it here. A super sweet aussie/Hawaiian couple doing really good Aussie-style coffee (serving Sightglass from San Francisco) and toast - they even do avo and vegemite. they share their space with a beautiful flower store, paiko, in kaka’ako - the arts district of honolulu.
Marukame udon: the thread of Japanese culture has been tightly woven into Hawaiian culture, and as a result, the Japanese food here is some of the best you will ever eat. Marukame Udon is a Waikiki institution. Known for its handmade and freshly cooked udon, you’ve got to get here early. The queues become massive and wind all the way down the street. We like going bang on 7am for breakfast (trust me).
For poké (hawaiian raw fish salad - the most common kind is tuna - don't confuse it with sashimi, tartare, or ceviche though!): found a great spot (a recommendation from the young kid at the bike rental shop) called Ono Seafood in Kaimuki. It was a 20min bike ride from Waikiki beach and its a tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of place in a parking lot. No frills, but the ahi is fresh and cheap. Also try 21 Mart - a bit further out - but its renowned as having the freshest of fresh fish. Ask for the Hawaiian style poke. They don't mix it until you order (unlike most of the others). And for those who are not familiar, Ahi poke is an amazing combination of tuna, soy sauce, sea salt, green onions, maui onions and limu.
Peace Cafe: for breakfast, lunch or dinner - friendly, vegan and wholesome. we loved our nori bowl - black rice, sautéed greens, coconut kale, beans, tahini and sprouts. We hear the Kinako (a japanese powder) iced latte and avocado sandwich are both good as well.
Brue bar: before we found arvo, we found Brue bar. With a couple of locations around town, they do a decent coffee as well.
Any of Ed Kenney's restaurants in Kaimuki. We ate at TOWN (the food was amazing - order the gnocchi), but we preferred the feel of Mud Hen Water across the road. It has a cute fairy-lit outdoor courtyard. Kaimuki Superette is next to that, and is daytime only.
Kim Chee 2: for cheap and cheerful, no-frills bibimbap (next to Peace cafe).
Lucky Belly: a relative newie in Chinatown. Go for the ramen. Fun vibe.
L’aperitif: the fancy cocktail in La Mer, upstairs at the Halekulani hotel. Its quite formal, so leave your flip flops and t-shirts behind.
Wing ice cream: for delicious handmade ice cream (We like the vegan flavors best) with not-so friendly vibes!
Musubi & Bento Iyasume: for a quick bite on the run. This was our favourite hole-in-the-wall find. Super fresh (the rice is still warm) japanese rice balls - pick your filling (we like salmon) and then wrap in nori. They do a few bowls as well. Cute and friendly.
Pig and the Lady: try the pho french dip sandwich, and the sprouting seed salad.
Livestock Tavern: american plates and classic cocktails in chinatown.
Beerworks: a microbrewery in kakaako. Plenty of beer and good vibes.
Pioneer Saloon: a really cute Japanese spot (think big windows and lots of potted plants) in Diamond Head that does great ramen burgers.
Diamond Head Cove Health Bar: for great salads, smoothies and big cups of acai.
Sunny Days (next to the Diamond Head Cove Health bar): for an absolutely gorgeous and sunny cafe doing great breakfast and lunch food.
MONO: a well-curated design store with books, bags (fallraven), and japanese notebooks and stationary.
Paiko Flowers: a beautiful flower shop (which shares its space with ARVO coffee).
Chinatown: a fun place to wander. There are a bunch of cute stores. We like Owens and Co.
Creative Nails: if you need a mani/pedi…this no-frills nail bar in Diamond Head did a great job, and waxing as well.
Diamond head crater hike: this is a steep, but simple hike that is less about nature and more about the views (back over Waikiki). It gets pretty hot, so take a hat and water.
Likeke Falls hike: for a beautiful waterfall hike hidden deep in the rainforest (its 4miles return).
Rent a surfboard, paddle board or bikes.
Check out Lana Lane Studios: an artist collective in Kakaako full of designers, fine artists, photographers, videographers and more. Amazing street art in the nearby laneways as well.
Elephant truck: for thai. This was our favourite food truck on the North Shore. Some of the best thai we have had.
Haleiwa Acai Bowl: for awesome acai bowls out of a cute little beach shack hut.
Pukukea Grill food truck: for their ahi tuna poke bowl.
Acai from the Brazilian food truck opposite Pipeline beach.
Giovanni's Shrimp Truck for their shrimp scampi plate (add a side of hot sauce).
Bonzai Sushi: for really fresh and delicious sushi in a little Haleiwa strip mall.
Celestial Natural Foods (a gorgeous and cosy health food store), and the beet box cafe: for healthy lunches, juices and smoothies.
Surf (if you’re really good, or brave). Or just watch instead. Mind-blowing stuff.
Check out the local farmers markets and farm stands. They’re everywhere.
Hit up the food trucks.
Hang on Sunset Beach - our favorite.
Watch the gun surfers at Pipeline.
Swim at waimea beach, quieter and more calm.
Yoga (a few different options around Haleiwa).
We headed east to Kailua to hike the Lanikai Pillbox trail. We only had half a day there, but found a few cute things.
Nalu Bowls in Kailua (funnily the same name as our favorite acai bowl spot in bali) -same kind of deal. Acai bowls, smoothies, salads and other healthy stuff.
Wholefoods: one of our favourite places in the world, haha. This is a small one, but perfect if you need to grab some snacks, a smoothie, or a lunch on the run.
Oliver: this tiny little men’s store is perfect. Jam-packed full of some of our favourite brands, its a must-stop when passing through Kailua.
Olive: the little sister to Oliver. This is their women’s version.
Aloha Beach Club: great street wear, and a little coffee counter as well.
Hike pillbox trail: the trailhead starts in the backstreets of Kailua and takes you up a steep rocky climb to some amazing views over Lanikai Beach. Dont stop at the first pillbox. Dont even stop at the second. Keep hiking up. The trail goes on for miles.
On the western side of the Bukit peninsula (just 45mins south of Bali's Denpasar airport) lies Bingin Beach. This quiet and enchanting pocket of the Bukit quickly became our favorite place on the island. Sheer cliffs that swamp lush green vegetation and coral reefs, stretch far and wide, straddling a spectacular beach - white sand, and clear turquoise water (so different from not even comparable to the beaches further north in Seminyak and Canggu). Home to one of the Bukit’s classic surf breaks (we heard it being called “one of the most beautiful waves in the world”), you scramble down a whole bunch of steep and dusty stairs to reach this paradise. Charming little Warungs and guesthouses dot the cliffs and the beach itself. You can surf. You can swim. You can paddleboard. You can do absolutely nothing at all. We loved getting up at sunrise, walking the beach while the tide was out, around to nearby Padang Padang (best before the crowds arrive).
We found our Bingin days to go mainly like this: eating a homemade Balinese breakfast at our villa (this was by far the best nasi goring we had on the trip), followed by morning yoga at The Temple Lodge (the most magical and mystical place of all) - and breakfast (if we hadn't already had it back at the villa) of their insanely good raw muesli with homemade cashew nut milk, followed by smoothies at the Cashew Tree, beach time at Bingin (or we would jump on the scooter to cruise around to our other favorite spot (near Thomas Homestay) - now this is paradise), a bit of paddleboarding or surfing for a bit, then lunch at one of the beach warungs (we love Sun Surf Stay for their nasi goring and Swamis for their hobo salad), followed by massages and facials ($17…whattt???) at Mick’s Place (followed by snacks of organic Balinese chocolate or popsicles - details below!) and a swim in their infinity pool, and then aperitivo at MU (they even do apertivo snacks like you would find in italy like mini bruschetta and roasted peanuts), and dinner most likely back at the Cashew Tree for one of their soul bowls (or maybe The Temple Lodge). You really don't need to leave a 500m square radius all day! Its all there. And its all absolutely magic.
The Cashew Tree: for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. This is a must (and only 100m walk from the Fraser Baye villa if you are staying there). They do amazing, healthy vegan and vegetarian meals. Its a big, spacious outdoor set up. Lots of comfy bean bags and different little seating nooks to choose from. They do a mean Acai bowl, some super wholesome soul bowls for lunch and dinner, beautiful salads, amazing smoothies and so much more. We love their frozen margaritas as well. Oh and their brown rice nasi goreng. So damn good. Thursday nights are always a fun hang too. Live music sometimes, and yoga too.
Fraser Baye: the super sweet staff here at the villa get extremely excited to prepare breakfast for you each morning. there is no obligation to eat there, but their food is so authentic and delicious and really shouldn't be missed. their nasi goring was the best one we had all trip. great fresh juices as well.
The Temple Lodge: we are totally in love with this magical place. Walking in, you feel like you’re entering the magic faraway tree or somewhere equally as mystical. Through hanging vines and gorgeous flowers, you arrive at a cute little dining area around the pool, with stunning views over the cliffs to the ocean. We had our favorite post-yoga breakfast here - a raw muesli bowl that was filled with grated apple, raw granola and topped with dragon fruit and honey - covered in homemade cashew nut milk. when we ran out of milk, we kindly requested some more. taking awhile to come out, we could hear a blender working frantically in the background, and we then realized that the cashews were actually being blended then and there to be turned into milk. Fresh to order! We almost wet our pants with excitement. such a special touch. italian-owned and run, the food here is healthy and delicious. we only wish we had have had time to try their dinner menu as well, which changes daily.
MU: we never got around to trying their dinners, but the daily set menu always looked pretty amazing. French-owned, this place is full of charm and is perfectly located on the cliffs. The views are spectacular and they do a delicious fresh juice or cocktail (we love their aperitivo snacks that come out in time for your sundowner).
Sun Surf Stay: for really, really good Balinese food. We love this place smack bang on Bingin Beach. Super friendly vibes. Cheap rooms (from $40 a night). Great food. Its simple done well - light, bright, breezy, beachy perfect.
Mick’s Place: we came here to check out their amazing day spa (on the back of a reco from Fraser Baye) and while doing so found (and fell madly in love with) a balinese brand of organic dark chocolate. so much so, we looked into importing it back to australia!!! thick, dark, and really textural (with a coconut and almond butter base, and full of almonds and some spices as well). its amazing! we would stop past Mick's each day to stock up again. you can also find it at the bali buda health food stores. try some! the other snack we discovered at mick’s were the #madpopsbali. now officially our favorite popsicle brand, they not only have a very cool website (madpopsbali.com) but they make awesomely delicious flavours like banana/dark chocolate, raspberry/dark chocolate, mango/ coconut, coffee coconut/vegan chocolate crunch, and mango/banana/dragon fruit. so good.
Bukit Cafe: owned by a friendly Australian/Brazilian couple - come here for smoothies, salads and other good stuff. Its on the main road between Bingin and Padang Padang.
swamis: another one of the beach front Warungs (“great surf, yummy eats, clean rooms”) the food here is organic, vegan, healthy, vegetarian, gluten-free, and raw!!! Try the hobo salad.
Kelly’s Warung: another beachfront warung and a bit of a surf institution. Check out the Pitaya bowls and watch the waves.
Bumba Bali: not in Bingin, but (as recommended by Fraser Baye) ask their driver Wayan to take you to Nusa Dua for a very real-deal balinese feast at Bumba Bali. Only 25mins drive, the food here is traditional and authentic. They also run unreal cooking daystaking you to the market early int he morning to buy all the ingredients. If you eat meat, be sure to try the sweet soy port and the young chicken wrapped in banana leaf.
MU: our favorite place for a sundowner. We would come here each night for our campari spritz overlooking the ocean at sunset. Its beautiful here. Great little bar snacks as well. One night we met the cutest little 3 year old girl there - bronzed, blue-eyed, and the whitest of blondes - "Poppy" was such a character, so full of wit and charm and intelligence and humor (at only 3!). A wise little thing. We were loving eavesdropping on her conversations with her dad and his friend in the pool.
The Cashew Tree (always): for their frozen margaritas (or just a healthy juice, smoothie or coconut).
Suarga: on the road out of Bingin, just before the Padang Padang bridge, is this pretty spectacular looking restaurant/hotel. Having only recently opened, it took five years to build. The bamboo structure - the largest on the island - is completely sustainable and very impressive. The bar and restaurant here is definitely on the more fancy side of things, but its worth checking out - for the structure alone, and some pretty lovely sunset views. We hear the villas are amazing as well.
El Kabron: if you like gin, this is your place. the vibes are somewhat strange, but the paella is amazing and their gin menu is mind-blowing (but not cheap). Great for sunset drinks and dinner.
Yoga: so many options. We loved our 8am morning class at The Temple Lodge (the open-air space is stunning). The same teacher then takes a 9:30am class in the open-air Shala at MU. The Cashew Tree also sometimes holds a morning class (but the teacher was away when we visited).
SUP: we rented a board from one of the Warungs on Bingin Beach. Its a fun ride if the swell isn't too big!
Massage: again, lots of options. But we absolutely loved our facial at the day spa at Mick’s Place. For only $17, its a steal!! The open-air treatment room, smack bang on the cliffs, looks out over the ocean. Its amazing.
Padang Padang Beach: always nice (if not a bit busy sometimes) for a bit of a hang time during the day. A little cove where a stream flows into the sea. Park your scooter in the carpark off to the left of the main road, and grab a piece of grilled corn on your way down to the beach. Good surfers flock here for the tubes.
And check out some of the quieter, more untouched beaches nearby: the impossibles (between Bingin and padang padang) - for its outside reef break, balangan (so pretty), and dreamland (for surfers, this is a short, sharp right break and a longer more tubular left!). ha. i probably sound like i know what i am talking about???!!!
Bali Buda: our favourite little Balinese health food store. With a few locations, there is one not too far from Bingin on the road back to Jimbaran Bay. Buda means Wednesday in Balinese, “just as good a day as any other to begin a business”. A supplier of organic food and other conscious living products, Bali Buda makes delicious wholesome bread (and cakes and pastries) each morning, plus a whole host of other insanely healthy stuff. They also stock our favourite chocolate! And plenty of kombucha and kefir drinks as well.
Innika choo (@innika): this was another favorite tip-off by the team at Fraser Baye (terima kasihhhhhh). innika’s dresses are not only beautiful (and so totally up our alley!!), but her photos are amazing as well. Her children make for the most gorgeous and unassuming models, and her shoots are always jam-packed full of color and patterns and fun. One of our new favorite instagram feeds for sure.
Fraser Baye: this is the most perfect sleeping option for a group. two lovely villas on the same leafy property, surrounding a cute pool (you can book both at the same time, or just one if you would prefer). there’s a gorgeous little poolside kitchen, which is staffed all day and acts as your own private cafe. the local girls who work there are sublimely sweet and friendly. their food is fresh and delicious. we loved their generous and healthy fruit platters each morning, their fresh juices and smoothies, and my favorite - their nasi goring (for breakfast). the villas themselves are two-story, and light, bright and spacious. the bathroom and living areas are all outdoors - we loved showering outside each morning, and jumping in the big stone bath! its amazing. it might not be bang on the cliffs, but its only a short 500m walk down from there down to the beach…and even better, its pretty much right next door to the cashew tree. a great sleeping option. we loved our time there.
If its just two of you, we would recommend any of the cliffside options: Mick's (check out their honeymoon suite), MU (likewise, ask to see their honeymoon suite, or the suite that's built into the cliff-face itself), The Temple Lodge (pure magic), Sun Surf Stay (beachfront and crazy cheap), and another favorite of ours, the all-white, all bright, hidden little beachfront spot, Sal Secret Spot. Just remember though, for the guest houses on the beach (Sun Surf Stay, Sal's etc.) you will have to carry your luggage and boards down a million and one steep dusty stairs...so keep that in mind when packing. Soft shoulder bags better than wheelie suitcases for this one, thats for sure.
And finally…if you are looking for a really really budget option, we can recommend the Bingin Inn. We ended up staying here very randomly and very last-minute when we decided to return to Bingin for an extra night, and everything else was full. We were in a cab driving past and it looked quite leafy and cute, so we stopped and asked about rooms. For $25, you get a simple, clean room. You can also rent scooters for $6 a day. And there is even a little pool. Its basic, but its friendly and its on the road to Bingin - so its close to all our favourite things.
Before arriving in Bali we were told by more than one friend that Canggu is probably the hippest (as much as we don't love that word) place to be right now. In amongst the lush green rice paddies, and between all the awesome waves, are tonnes of young, fun, interesting and creative people - from all over the world - who are flocking here to live the good life in this friendly corner of Bali. There is definitely a good energy here. We felt it immediately. So much so, that after spending our first night there…we then made sure our last couple of days would be spent here too. Only 20mins from busy Seminyak (far too busy and built up for us), Canggu is much quieter and less developed (so far, anyway). There are stacks of healthy and amazing food places, great coffee joints, cute interior stores, boutiques, old refurbed motorbikes, surf shops, bars, yoga studios and plenty of massage places to be found. We like the vibe here, a lot.
Here are some of our favorite things:
Crate: seriously good coffee, the way we like it at home (in melbourne). Friendly vibes and always busy. Amazing food as well. Open every day from 7am-3pm.
Peloton: only two months old, but so slick and professional it feels like they've been there forever. The coffee (by Revolver) is good, really good. They are vegan here though - so don't come looking for cow’s milk! Try their coconut milk latte. Delicious.
Quince: our all-time favorite Canggu find. Run by the most delightful Australian/Balinese couple, Quince is not only aesthetically stunning…but every single thing that comes out of their loving kitchen will blow your mind. The love that goes into each coffee can be tasted in every sip. This is a really special place, and our absolute favourite.
Betelnut: we ate here three times in three days! We cant get enough of this place. A rustic two story restaurant that is packed to the rafters every night. Its healthy, its amazingly fresh and delicious, and its crazy affordable. We love their Gado Gado, their Nasi Campur, their great salads, and their wraps. Try their delicious fresh juices and their raw desserts as well. In fact, try everything on the menu. We love it here.
Peloton: try this awesome new vegan cafe/artisan cycling store/event space for some seriously delicious, fresh and healthy vegan food. We love their Pantani Porridge (coconut and quinoa porridge served with sautéed banana, berry coulis, coco-nut nectar, fresh strawberries, and toasted coconut flakes) for breakfast, and their Fuel Good salad for lunch (Kale, Spinach, Purple Cabbage, Capsicum, Broccoli, Mild Chillies, Carrot, Beetroot, Green Onion, Toasted Pumpkin & Sunflower Seeds, Sesame, Smashed Pumpkin and Hummus.
Crate: for coffee, breakfast and lunch. Its not only the coffee that is delicious here. Try their delicious (and big) breakfasts. We loved all their breakfast bowls (and their hilarious names). The egg dishes looked amazing as well. Its always busy and vibey and fun.
Quince: for their EVERYTHING - but especially for their coffee, their homemade lemonade, their quinoa porridge and their chicken baguettes (the best french baguette you will have this side of paris!). And their lovely chats.
Roti shop: we actually ran out of time to try this cute spot, but we hear its quite the bomb. We like roti. We like curry. And they apparently do both exceptional well. Very legit we hear. You might even think you’re in Sri Lanka. Worth a shot.
Bu Mi: get to this buffet type set-up on Batu Balong really early if you want to nab the freshest and best selection of their daily food offering. Traditional and delicious balinese options - we love their nasi campur.
Boulangerie Paris Baguette: now this - a french bakery in the heart of bali - was another one of our favorite local finds (and one we are somewhat reluctant to share)!!! A little slice of Paris in Canggu, seriously. We were given the tip-off by Michelle and Armed - the kind folk at Quince - as these are the baguettes they use for their lunch menu. So perfectly french (the owner apparently imports the flour from France), their baguettes are crunchy on the outside and soft, chewy (and hopefully still warm) on the inside. They are honestly heaven. Get there early - you wont want to miss out. And make sure you try the homemade baguettes at Quince as well - like i said earlier - they will not only be so aesthetically pleasing on your eye, you will also be able to taste the love in the incredible ingredients and delicious combos Michelle and Armen put together.
Old Man’s: for beachy vibes at sunset. Head here for a sundowner and a bit of live music if you’re lucky.
Lacalita Bar y Cocina: this super bright and colourful bar on Batu Bolong caught our eye on the first day we were bopping around Canggu. All open-air and delightfully welcoming, Lacalita Bar y Cocina is a fun and friendly mexican joint (and sister to Seminyak’s Lacalaca Cantina Mexicana) that does a seriously mean Jalapeño Margarita.
The Deus Temple of Enthusiasm: for a drink on Sundays. This motorbike workshop/surfshop shaping house/gallery/bar/retail store has live music on Sundays and good vibes.
La Laguna: another one that we ran out of time to test out, but we hear its a bit of a boho beach bar kind of situation and one worth checking out.
Massage: day and night. On repeat. Our favorite (but certainly not fancy) massage was at the Canggu Day Spa - a very little and unassuming place on Batu Balong. Its not fancy, but our 1hr massage was heavenly (and only 100,000 rp or AUD10). Ask for Iluh. All the girls there are just the biggest darlings. They do a mean mani and pedi as well (for 170,000 or AUD17).
Another great option is Gold Dust. We didn't get a chance to try it, but we hear their 24K Gold Leaf facial is an absolutely heavenly indulgence.
Massage at Desa Seni: now this is a dreamy experience. Desa Seni is just a dream to begin with, but the spa itself is so lovely. Wonderful therapists and lovely, simple treatment rooms. You choose your oil at the beginning of the massage and then enter into an hour of bliss. Try their signature treatment, its brilliant.
Private massage with Era from Pineapple House: another awesome option. If you are lucky enough to snag a room at the Pineapple House, you might also be lucky enough to lock in a massage with lovely Era.
Yoga: so many options. We really enjoyed our class at Serenity. We also did a great Hatha 101 class (with Antonio) at Desa Seni. And don't miss Rachel’s (from Pineapple House) yin yoga class at Bali Fit (and if you are brave, do one of their other workouts below - see below).
Surf (of course). Not much to add here. Go down to Echo Beach. Get a board. Try your luck.
Workout at Bali Fit: we walked past this Aussie-owned gym on the first day we were in Canggu and admittedly we were a little frightened by what we saw. This is hardcore. But if you are brave, get in there and try one of their infamous workouts (we hear the hurricane session is the one to go for).
You will find lots of cute little boutiques along Batu Balong. We bought a cute beachy dress from Melbourne designer Shakahachi. Deus has lots of great tees for guys. Closer to Batu Belig, our favourite store is Quince - for all things home and textiles (not only that, it is home to our favorite cafe as well).
Hotel Tugu: this is our favourite place to stay in canggu. Perfectly located at the very end of Batu Balong, right on canggu beach, this romantic hotel has an old-world charm and is filled with Indonesian antiquities. Its 22 villas and suites, bursting with colour and character, are set amongst lush green gardens and lotus ponds. The service here is incredible. Staff are so attentive and kind. On arrival, not only were we offered a welcome drink of our choice, but we were also gifted with a beautifully handmade flower arrangement (so cute!). There was a little welcome note waiting for us on our arrival into our room, and we were also offered a complimentary head and shoulder massage shortly after checking in. The location could not be more perfect. Opposite Old Man’s (a great spot for sundowners), right on the beach, and only 5-10mins walk up Batu Balong to all our favourite cafes and stores. This is our first choice when choosing somewhere to stay in Canggu.
Desa Seni: is an absolutely gorgeous and relaxed village resort set amongst the green rice fields of Canggu. A true cultural experience, and one that showcases all things eco, organic, health and wellness. There is a lovely energy here. Choose from all sorts of cute and charming accommodation houses (traditional “joglo” and “gladak” houses), do some incredible and uplifting yoga classes (multiple times daily) in one of their open-air yoga shalas, eat in their deliciously healthy and organic cafe, and try out some of their beautiful spa treatments at their onsite spa. Its a really lovely bali experience (just make sure you rent a scooter, as its quite far from the beach and all the action on Batu Balong).
Pineapple House (“rumah Nanas”): we loved finding this laid-back and super friendly beachy retreat on our last day in canggu. We know where to come back to next time! Designed especially for surf, yoga, wellness and creativity retreats, Pineapple House is a big, open Balinese house with 3 bedrooms, situated right next to Desa Seni (so perfect for joining in their daily yoga classes). Run by an incredibly warm and friendly Brit - Rachel - and managed by the ever-so-lovely Era from Bali, this is a really awesome place to stay. With a big open kitchen and living area, around a sunny pool, its a really friendly place to stay. Era is also an expert masseuse, so don't leave without trying one of her massages. And make sure you rent a scooter. Like Desa Seni, its a little far from the beach (too far for walking anyway) and the action along Bat Balong. Oh and try Rachel’s yin yoga class at Bali Fit on Mondays!
Uluwatu, meaning ‘top or tip’ (ulu) and ‘rock’ (watu), is the famed surfing mecca located on the south-western tip of he bukit peninsula. Home to the Para Luhur Uluwatu Temple, it is equally known for its waves.
Gerry Lopez, aka Mr. Pipeline, the well-known American surfer and shaper (now 67) first surfed Uluwatu back in ‘74. Back then the fabled wave was apparently pristine, magical and empty. Gary returned some 40 years later to discover it was no longer so. Bustling, over-developed and a different scene altogether - but not one to deter the throng of surfers from around the world who still hit these shores today to enjoy Uluwatu’s famed left hand breaks that seem to go on forever. It’s beautiful here.
Like its neighbor Bingin, Uluwatu also boasts a whole bunch of Warungs and little stores that are built into the cliffs (the Pecatu Village). They sell and rent out boards, paddleboards, touristy stuff, and provide food, drink, repairs and even massage - whatever you’re needing first.
In terms of accommodation, there is plenty on offer and something to suit every budget.
On this recent trip though, we were very fortunate to be staying at Alila Villas Uluwatu. Perched on top of limestone cliffs, high above the Indian Ocean, the views from here are absolutely spectacular and the hotel itself is outrageously beautiful. From the moment we got out of the cab on arrival (Alila provides complimentary transfers), our jaw was permanently dropped. Exquisite clean lines and minimalist design. Lots of white. Manicured gardens. A stunning infinity pool. But quite possibly the most impressive of all, the cabanas - constructed out of flat black lava slabs - these “bird-cage” like structures jut out over the ocean and around the swimming pool - perfect for lounging around in (and endless photo opportunities). Sunbathing inside one is like “sunbathing inside a giant Jenga game”, we heard someone say! But more on the villas below.
Here are a few of our favorite things for Uluwatu (please also refer to our Bingin guide for more to do on the Bukit)…
Nalu Bowls: at Single Fin (they have two other locations as well - Seminyak and Canggu). Hawaiian for wave, Nalu here in Uluwatu is the perfect place to come and enjoy your Acai bowl while watching the surf below. Nalu's bowls are full of local ingredients, homemade granola (baked fresh everyday) and lots of fresh fruit. Great smoothies as well.
Finns Beach Club: catch the inclinator down, and stay awhile. The beach club is located on a private beach that is part of the Samara Resort, you will be asked to pay about $30 to enter, but you can then redeem some of this back on your food and drink, your sunbed, towel etc. Be sure to visit at low tide. Bonfires sometimes, and good beats as well.
Karma Kandara: a day well spent. As is the case with Finns at the Samara, you will have to pay an entry fee to gain access to the Karma Kandara resort beach (around $30) but this will also be credited back to your food and drinks. A cable car will take you down the limestone cliffs to the beach, where its an awesome spot for lunch and a drink.
Bulgari Resort: for the perfect sundowner. Before arriving, we thought it might be a little too fancy for our liking, but how wrong we were. The Bulgari is an absolutely stunning resort - opulent and tranquil. A golf cart will escort you from reception down to the clifftop bar, where you can choose your day bed or bar stool and menus will be promptly offered and snacks delivered as well. I’m not sure if its just because it was rainy season (January) when we were there, but it was quiet and chilled and super laid-back and friendly. The views are incredible. The service was impeccable. A really beautiful place to watch the sun go down.
Sunday sessions at Single Fin: something we were told not to miss. We liked it here - yes, the views are awesome (especially at that magic hour), but it was very touristy (largely jam-packed full of Aussies (not that we have a problem with that!!!)). Its by no means classy, but fine for a couple of coronas or a jug of margarita to watch the sun go down. You cant argue with an Uluwatu sunset!!!
Suarga (see Bingin guide).
El Kabron (see Bingin guide).
Go beach hunting. Uluwatu is home to many of the island’s best beaches. Jump on a scooter (these can be easily hired anywhere) and explore. Our favourite…the beach down the cliffs from ‘Thomas Homestay’. This was the best tip we received all trip. A hidden little spot that we definitely wouldn't have found on our own. Look out for the Thomas Homestay sign on the road between Uluwatu and Bingin. Park your scooters outside of the homestay and then take the (hundreds of) stairs down the cliffs. Here you will find the quietest, dreamiest beach we found during our time on the Bukit. Its truly paradise (…so keep it on the down low ok?!!). Check out Balangan, Dreamland, Padang Padang as well.
Hang out in bingin (see our Bingin guide for more details).
Uluwatu Temple (Pura Luhur Uluwatu). Set atop the edge of a rocky cliff on the Bukit, this temple was founded by a Javanese Hindu priest in the 10th century. Considered one of the nine directional temples on the island, the temple sits 70m above the ocean below. Look out for the monkeys (we really cant stand those pesky monkeys!!! Sorry).
We must admit, we didn't actually see the temple ourselves! We attempted to…but the day we got there, it was super busy, and there were so many busloads of tourists and queues, and monkeys everywhere, and it was exceptionally hot and it was just all a bit much! We decided the Temple wasn't going anywhere in a hurry, and we would one day return to see it in the flesh. But for sure its something you should do!!!
Alila Villas Uluwatu: to say we were rendered completely speechless on arrival to Alila Villas Uluwatu would be the greatest understatement. Designed by Singapore-based architects WOHA, nothing can prepare you for the view that awaits you as you first walk into the circle-shaped lobby.
A super contemporary and architecturally-astonishing design hotel perched atop the rugged cliffs of the Bukit peninsula, the Alila experience is one that will stay with you for a long time. With exceptional views over the Indian Ocean, Alila’s design is both dramatic and eco-friendly, housing over 80 spacious villas across 14-hectares, surrounded by terraces, pools and manicured gardens. The harmony with nature is expressed in everything from the locally-sourced and reclaimed building materials, to the seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor living and dining. The most dramatic (and most-photographed) of all - the bird-cage like cabanas - made out of flat black lava slabs - that jut out over the cliffs and swimming pool.
Your own private villa comes complete with a plunge pool (which you can literally jump into straight from you sofa), a deluxe double bathroom (with a set of tailored bath products for him and her - we were obsessed with the lip balms), indoor and outdoor rain showers, and king size beds. The interiors are modern and minimalist, with traditional Balinese touches perfectly incorporated as well - recycled wood, stone, bamboo and rattan. Not only that, you are also allocated your own personal butler who is basically available around the clock to cater to your every whim.
Dine at both the Alila restaurants - The Warung (for traditional and wholesome Indonesian food) and CIRE (for East Asian flavours married with Western cooking techniques). The food is almost as impressive as the design. We had a 6-course tasting menu at Warung one evening which was exceptional. The Warung “Megibung” is a traditional Balinese dining experience in which people share a meal on a plate in a festive feast. The purpose being to strengthen a social tie amongst the village members. Our feast started with minced fish sate on lemongrass skewers, followed by all sorts of other wonderfully flavored and colored delights. Our favourites - the tuna salad with shallot and lemongrass dressing, and the green bean salad with chicken and grated coconut. So fresh, so much colour and so full of flavour. It was an amazing way to experience so many local dishes (we were bursting afterwards).
Breakfast each morning is served at CIRE, and is an indulgent feast. Each dish is tasting plate-sized, with the aim being for you to try as many dishes as possible. With both western and asian influences, it was fun to try some local Indonesian dishes we had never heard of (as well as old favorites such as nasi goreng). We loved the Kolek Pisang- finger banana in coconut milk, and the Pisang Bakar Coklat Keju - grilled bananas with chocolate and cheese (trust me). There is always a healthy daily juice and smoothie, and the coffee is good as well.
Book in for a treatment at the day spa (or try a few). Spa Alila engages holistic and organic health and wellness principles, putting a contemporary spin on ancient Asian healing techniques. The space itself is luxurious and inviting. We sank into a world of bliss with a totally sublime 4-handed massage. Two therapists, synchronized movements. The ultimate indulgence.
Rent a scooter. Alila can organize for a scooter to be delivered to your doorstep (and this was the nicest scooter we had in our time in Bali - a brand new scoopy). They also provide lovely new helmuts, bottles of cold water, maps etc. Everything you’ll need for a day out and about on the Bukit.
Check out Alila’s private beach (at low tide). Take the 600-step descent down a rocky cliffside path from the hotel to the beach below. The perfect way to work off your breakfast. Its a bit of a mission getting down, but probably a little harder getting back up! Its a beautiful beach, and it will likely be completely yours. The currents can be strong, so just be a little careful if you’re going to swim.
Rent bicycles and ride out to nearby rice paddies or beaches.
Take a tour of the temples - the ‘Journey of Enlightenment’ is just one of seven customized activities that are designed for guests to integrate indigenous nature, traditional culture and local community for an unparalleled guest experience. This tour affords guests privileges access to five of the holiest and lesser-visited temples on Bali's south coast.
And yoga. Make sure you check out the daily yoga practice that is held in the lovely glass box (it does get a bit hot though!) yoga shala at 9am each morning. This was the best start to our Alila day.
“Positano bites deep…it is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” — John Steinbeck.
This glittering chunk of the southern Italian coast stole our heart back in 2000, when we first visited as young backpackers. We were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and totally fell under its spell. So much so, Positano ended up playing home for a couple of months that summer (while we romanced local boys and rode around the cliffs, barefoot and free, on the back of scooters). We were 21. Not a care in the world. We had one local friend (our Positano insider, Raffaele Mandara) who we had met in Melbourne earlier that year, who took us under his wing. Positano born and bred, Raf introduced us to his town - his family, his friends, their way of life. The rest is history. We have flirted with the magic of the Amalfi Coast for 15 years now. It is also the place we met one of our best friends, our Toronto insider - Amanda Blakely - a Canadian backpacker, also bopping around Italy as a 21 year old. We met on the street, as a local friend was recruiting cute girls to come to his birthday party that night! It is home to countless special memories. Last summer, we were back there again - firstly with Amanda and some other Canadian friends; and then with family. The first time my two sisters and i had been there all together at the same time. Positano is nothing short of breathtaking. We love the trellised walkways covered in vines and lavender flowers, the colored buildings jutting out of the jagged cliffs, the countless stairs (a serious workout), the hot blazing sun, the crazy views, the sight of lemons - everywhere - and limoncello, the smell of wood-fired pizza, the striped sun lounges, the sparkling blue waters of the mediterranean, the hidden coves and private beaches, Da Adolfo (one of our favorite places on the planet), and just the Italian way. The food. The Spritz’s. The music. The feeling of old-world romance. Its our everything. We have kept our recommendations to just a few, but hope it will guide you on your way on your next visit to this magical part of the world.
Da Adolfo: our number one. See below.
Il Capitano: for dinner (go early, around 8ish, for the best sunset skies). Book a table on the edge of the terrace. Its heaven. Start with Campari, and then try the tuna tartare (wow). You cant go wrong with any of the pastas, as well.
Delicatessen: when you want a low-key lunch, grab homemade sandwiches to-go from the deli in the centre of town (up the stairs) - out of control goodness - big ciabatta rolls, ham, buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, basil, all lathered in a big dollop of olive oil. There is also another great deli opposite Hotel Poseiden on the main street into town.
Buco di bacco: this spot is always good for pizza and gelato (any time of day), but for dinner, go up to the very top floor. Not many people know about this spot, as it is generally reserved for hotel guests. Quiet, private, and spectacular views over the beach - more heaven. The food is excellent.
Casa e Bottega: this charming little cafe is a welcome addition to the Positano food scene. When you need a break from your daily pasta/pizza routine, come here for fruit salad, smoothies, healthy sandwiches and salads. Finish with a (not-so healthy) freshly baked dessert. All so good.
Case Mele: for something more fancy. Raf is an expert chef who has been cooking up a storm in Positano for over 20 years. His new space (summer 2014) is super modern, and a big departure from the traditional Positano-style restaurant aesthetic. He has an open kitchen, where he also hosts cooking courses. Try the raw fish plate, or any of his pastas. Raf is also a dessert whiz, so definitely try his trio of chocolate mousse, and the semi freddo. Tell him we sent you! Our Positano insider is quite the character.
Valle dei mulini: Raf’s original family restaurant. Good for pizza in a nice courtyard garden setting. You will often find live music. It can be found just down the road from Parcheggio Mandara (the garage).
Bar Buca di Bacco: for coffee.
Cafe Positano: a great spot for aperitivo. Beautiful views. The food is good as well.
Le Sierunse: our favorite spot for something fancy. Stunning views from their pretty terrace, and some fancy people watching too.
Music on the Rocks: Positano’s one and only nightclub. This is a must.
A day trip to Da Adolfo. This is also a must. Come here once, twice or as many times as you can. Our best recommendation for Positano. A super laidback seafood shack on a private beach (Laurito) a few beaches south of Positano. Jump on the little wooden boat (with the red fish on its mast) from the jetty on the main beach. It generally runs between 11-1pm each day. Spend the day eating mussels, drinking Campari, and sun baking on the rocks. Also try One Fire Beach in Praino - for the same kinda deal.
Hike/walk. Try ‘The Path of the Gods’: a simple walk, from Positano to Bomerano , with spectacular and awe-inspiring scenery all the way.
Day trip to Ravello (see below).
Day trip to Capri (see below).
Shop: at Lo Scrigno di Brunella for all kinds of linen. Locally produced, unique designs.
Residence La Tavolozza: our favorite place to stay while in Positano. We stumbled across this cute Bnb by mistake last summer. It is just the best. Basic and simple, and affordably priced. A great location (right next to Le Sirenuse). Breakfast is not included (but the delicatessen is just down the road) and our bathroom was just across the hallway from our room (but it was exclusively ours) - but some of the ones have private ensuite bathrooms, if you would prefer. We paid 95 euro per night (summer 2014), which is an absolute steal for Positano. Its literally smack bang next to La Sirenuse which is prob the most exclusive hotel in town, where rooms go for 800+ euro per night.
Villa Maria Antoinetta: if you cant get in to the Residence La Tavolozza, another good one (at the same kind of level) is Villa Maria Antoinetta. Run by a super cute brother and sister - Giuseppe and Carla - its also right in the centre, and they serve a great breakfast each day on the terraCe.
La Casa di Peppe: this beautiful guest house and villa is one of the oldest places in Positano. In a beautiful location, a little bit out of town, the private oasis is surrounded by a lush botanical garden surrounded by bougainvillea trees, hibiscus flowers, banana plants and tropical palm trees. La Casa Di Peppe is nice and secluded, offering a very private getaway.
Le Sirenuse: a luxury Positano institution, with a swimming pool and Michelin-starred restaurant. Only 10mins walk downhill to the main beach, this is a beautiful (high-end) place to stay. Gorgeous details throughout including handpainted Italian floortiles, an incredible line of fragrances made just for the hotel, beautiful linens on the beds, turndown service with chocolates, and a thoughtful handwritten nightly weather report, and a delicious breakfast each morning, served on the terrace.
We generally spend most of our time in Positano, so we only have a few recommendations for nearby Sorrento…but we can happily suggest the following things:
Gelato. On repeat. And we can recommend Primavera. There will most certainly be a wait, but don't let that deter you. They offer over 30 flavors, and they are all life-changing. Make this a must-do while in Sorrento.
Book a boat trip with Sorrento Experience. Old-school Italian wooden boats (think George Clooney), this lovely family business (run by our Amalfi Coast insider, Carla Celentano) has been in the boating game for years, and know all the best places to take you. We used them for a trip from Sorrento to Capri, and were not disappointed. Highly recommend.
Villa Serena: one of many beautiful properties listed through the Inspirato Collection, this large and luxury home - perched high on a hill just outside Sorrento - has views of the Med from every room. Perfect for a group, the property sits among a manicured garden, and is surrounded by a beautiful pool.
La Minervetta: a spectacular boutique hotel (originally a restaurant built in the 50s), sitting on the seacliff overlooking the Marina Grande. This breathtaking spot offers only 12 Mediterranean-style rooms and is a beautiful, modern, design sleeping option.
We only had one day in Capri, and were lucky enough to be accompanied there by the Sorrento Experience. We can recommend these things while on the island..
La Fontellina: book ahead to spend a day at this beach club. Its lunch only, and reservations are a must. Our favorite beach club on the island.
Da Luigi ai Faraglioni: if La Fontellina is full, this is your next best option. Lunch (lemon risotto) and lounging on the rocks. Book in advance. An amazing spot to set up shop for the day.
Al Piccolo Bar: for aperitivo (and amazing people watching in the Piazzetta). Grab a front row seat.
Buonocore Gelateria: for the best gelato in town, served in house-made waffle bowls. Join the queue! Their pistachio cookings are amazing, as well.
100% Capri: for linen everything. Caftans, sheets, homewares, and more.
La Minerva: a beautiful 18-room hotel, located on a quiet street just minutes from the main shopping streets of Via Camerelle and Via Tragara, overlooking the beach of Faraglioni.
A day trip here is essential. If its in the budget, you will not regret (or easily forget) lunch at Hotel Caruso.
Hotel Caruso: lunch here, beside the spectacular infinity pool, looking down on to the mediterranean is an incredible treat. The comprehensive menu offers a perfect example of southern Italian cuisine. Order seafood. Or pasta. Or anything. And start with Bellinis. This is an amazing eating experience.
Ravello Festival: if the timing works, be sure to check out one of the outdoor concerts, as part of the Ravello Festival. The tiny village welcomes all sorts of musicians - big or small names - who perform on a stage jutting out over the sea.
Hike/walk: There is a great 2+ hour walk that will lead you from Ravello to Atrani. Its steep in parts, but wonderful.
There is really no urgent need to spend any time in Naples, but if you do happen to have some time to kill (like we did before our train back to Rome), head to Pizzeria Pellone for some of the best (sloppy) pizza you will ever eat. A quick 5min walk from the train station (it is worth lugging your bags here - trust me), this pizza will stay in your mind forever. A Capricossa so saucy and cheesy and sloppy. The menu is Italian, and there will be a massive queue out the door, but do whatever it takes. You should not miss this.
Perisco Car Service: to get you from Naples along the coast (less hairy than the public buses). Friendly and efficient. They will sort you out with whatever you need, transport-wise.
It may at first seem somewhat intense and over-crowded, but there is a lot of richness to be found here in Greece’s capital if you have some time to get down and dirty. Unfortunately for us, we landed at 10pm and had to be out again by midday the next day, so there wasn’t a lot of time to really give this Greek Goddess a good go…but thanks to some awesome recos from our local friends – including our Athens insider– Fanis Fragoulis – we have managed to pull together a bunch of great little spots to give you a good kickstart for your visit to this city full of history and secrets.
Known for its vibrant nightlife, there is also an amazing creative energy here, a cultural edge - one that is even said to rival that of Berlin. Best to see for yourself...
Grecotel Pallas Athena: this is where we spent our sleeping hours, and we can absolutely vouch for this being the most perfect, and affordable sleeping option in the city. To be completely frank, we were a little concerned as we rolled up from the train station. The hotel building, with its super modern and shiny façade, was not our usual style….but once inside, it was a different story. We were greeted by the friendliest staff and shown to our room, which - complete with a ginormous blue hippo (!) - was light, bright and sparkling clean, with all the modern amenities and some great little design features as well. Perfectly located right next to the Athens City Hall, the Grecotel Pallas Athena is just a 5min walk from Omonia Metra Station (where the airport train pulls into), and only 10mins walk down straight down Athinas Street to the famed Acropolis. Each floor of the building has cute and unique design features – some amazing photography by an old Greek celebrity photographer (whose name we were unable to track down), and some great paintings on the wall. The highlight though – the breakfast! Possibly one of the best hotel breakfasts we have had to date. Plentiful options – Greek, Meditterean and Western – unlimited freshly squeezed orange juice, barista-style coffee, and amazing food (prepared using fresh products from the property’s farm, Agreco). A fabulous outdoor terrace as well. Concierge were super willing to help with directions, taxis (to Mount Lycabettus at sunrise; and also to the central bus station for our bus to Lefkada), recommendations, and printing services as well. It’s beautiful here.
Leather sandals: they are everywhere. And they are cheap (especially having come from the Amalfi Coast where they will set you back 80 euro a pair. Expect to pay no more than 15020 euro here – different colors, different styles. Perfection.
Sunrise at Mount Lucabettus: start your day at 6am by getting a taxi to the base of Mount Lycabettus, and then walk the short distance to the top of the hill. This is Athens highest point (at 277 meters above sea level), and a beautiful place to see the sun rise over a new Athena day. Watch as the colors change, and the sun illuminates ampitheatres, the 19th century Chapel of St. George on the top of the hill, temples, green pines, and mountains. And of course what we came here for, to see the Acropolis shine. A beautiful, and peaceful, start to the day.
Visit the colorful Central Market on Athinas Street (the same street as our hotel). An amazing array of delicious food – fruit, nuts and spices, meats, cheeses (try all the Greek favorites – feta, graviera, kefalotyri). Its hectic, its buslting, and its lots of fun. You can also enjoy a meal at one of the small tavernas tucked into the market, and hang out with the locals. We love seeing all the old Greek men sitting on the sidewalk enjoying their morning coffees.
Visit the Greek Gastronomy Museum: located in a 150-year-old townhouse just behind the central food market, this museum of Greek cuisine was started by four young locals and is run by volunteers. There is a lovely courtyard café, and part of your admission price includes a half-hour cooking lesson. For reservations call +30 210 321 1311.
Yoga with Melina: if you are feeling like a good stretch, Ashtanga Yoga Kifisia is the only place to go. Melina is the queen of ashtanga, and offers a range of different classes at her lovely studio in Kifisia – a space dedicated to the teaching and practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
Haircuts and shaves at Barber Stories. Cute retro barber shop on Kountouriotou street, Piraeus. Panagiotis the barber pumpes out old-school British haircuts, and traditional shaves as well.
Other recommendations we were given, but alas, had no time to check out:
Amin’s Falafel (Tsamadou 15): we ran out of time to find this friendly Iranian - Amin, but we have heard good things about this guy who sets up his stand on the pedestrian zone outside the Immigrant’s Lodge (near Eksarheia Square) and pumps out late-night falafel. Perfect when you are needing a break from gyros, but need a feed after a fun night drinking beers - Eksarheia style (i.e. buying them from a kiosk and drinking them in a park, or other outside place). Always packed. Serves from 1030pm until 2am on weekends. Not always there though. Risk it.
Santorinios (Dorieon 8): this beautiful taverna is located in a small enchanted garden, tucked away in the midst of the Petralona’s urban sprawl. You could easily forget you were in Athens here, more likely on some beautiful Greek island. Super friendly owners, service, lovely design, and great food (and prices) – this place is perfectly authentic, and a great spot to visit. Try the ‘fava’. Open Tuesday-Sunday.
To drink (these recommendations come from the king of cocktails – Spiros – owner of 155 Cocktail Bar in Vasiliki. The man can certainly be trusted when it comes to where to find a good drink.
42 Bar: one of the best cocktail bars in the heart of Athens. Amazing cocktails. Anything you can think of. (Closest Metro station: Panepistimio or Syntagma Station).
Baba Au Rum: this cute retro bar pumps out jazz and old “pop” tunes, and classic cocktails. An impressive list of non-alcoholic ones as well. (Closest Metro station: Panepistimio, Syntagma or Monastiraki Station).
And a couple of drinking spots we were recommended:
Tailor Made: one of the newer bars downtown. A special Micro Roastery serving some seriously good coffee, great teas, and beautiful cocktails as well. (Closest Metro station: Monastiraki Station).
Romantso(Anaxagora 305): right off Omonia Square, this is a cool modern bar and culture center named after the magazine that was printed in the same old industrial building for 60 years. The original neon sign still flashes on after dark. Also check out their other venue – an alternative arts space in Keramikos – Bios.
The train from the airport takes about one hour into the center of Athens and costs 8 euro. They only accept cash. There are no atms at the airport train station, so make sure you have cash on you, otherwise you will have to go back into the airport to find an atm (what we had to do)!
Also, Greeks have a bit of a habit of underestimating the time it will take to do things, or get places. So if you ask a local how long it will take to get from the hotel to the airport, and they say 30mins, always allow 45mins-1hour. We got caught out a few times because of this! Greek time. Got to love it.
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