Category Archives: travel tips

Beauty products that will get you ready for Spring and Summer travel

Great to use now or for your warm weather travel adventures…


Sisley White Ginger Leg OilA silky leg gel that invigorates the leg muscles while smoothing the skin. Smells divine of a light refreshing ginger that tingles a bit when first put on. Legs look radiant and even helps with soreness from walking all day long.



Nars WANTED eye shadow palette – The beauty of this makeup selection is not only the range of colours but of the finishes as well. A combination of silky, matte, and iridescent eye shadows in warm pinks and browns can create both dramatic and subtle looks. Great for travel as it gives you many options.



La Roche-Posay sunblock face mist I discovered this last summer and it was not only a life saver but game changer when it came to sunscreen for my face. While I am always diligent about putting on sun protection in the morning I don’t always reapply as often as I should especially on days I am not on the beach but rather just walking around in the sun. Another problem is that many sun products are greasy. But this small spray can of face mist is a sunblock with SPF 50, easy to apply regularly and leaves your face free of the shine that goes along with most sun protection face products.



Tom Ford Neroli Portofino – In warm weather sometimes fragrance can come off too strong yet if you are like me you always want to smell nice. This is where a lighter version of a fragrance comes in handy as not only is it not as strong, it doesn’t contain alcohol that causes skin to burn. For a fresh yet sophisticates summer scent Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino body mist is perfect.



Kiehl’s Butterstick tinted treatment – On the go beauty that adds a bit of colour to lips while providing SPF 25 protection and moisturizing treatment. One of Kiehl’s most popular products, if comes in 3 light shades and clear. My favourite is the Rose which is a juicy pink shade.



Dolce & Gabbana Passionate Eyes waterproof mascara –  Even if you are not swimming or at the beach, warmer temperatures and humidity in the city causes eye make up to run, smudge and come off. Its a good idea to switch in a waterproof mascara on the hotter days and this one by Dolce & Gabbana is kind to lashes while making eyes stand out.


Nars The Multiple – This multi purpose make up stick has been a summer and travel staple of mine for too many years to count. In a variety of colours, this easy to carry, easy to use, cream stick can be applied to eyes, face, and lips with shimmery effect. The silvery Copacabana is the one I use the most, but peachy Portofino is my go to for summer. If you can’t decide on which shade, he iconic Orgasm is a popular favourite.



Luxury oasis in the Valley of the Temples

Wake up with the gods…

The mystical Valley of the Temples in southern Sicily once belonged to the Greek gods.   Centuries old Greek temples still stand majestically in profile on a hill calling to the sea on the edge of the island. Not far from this ancient splendor lies a small luxury hotel fit for the goddess Athena.

viewvaRoom with a view… and what a view!

The Villa Athena is an oasis of comfort right on the archeological park grounds. Obviously the draw is its ease and access to the temples, but its appeal as a hotel is its sumptuous accommodations of airy design with traditional Sicilian accents throughout. Even with upmarket accents of glass and marble you always feel like you are in Sicily.

propertyvaThe hotel Villa Athena

And that view… From the hotel you get the best panorama of the temples. It would be worth it to splurge a little and get the room with the view as it is an incredible vision like no other hotel. Even if your room isn’t privy to the scene, the outdoor terrace is a great place to admire it over a glass of prosecco.

The property has an outdoor pool, restaurant, bar and spa and makes for a wonderful place to kick back and relax, especially if you have been doing a lot of sightseeing along the way. Once you are ready to explore the archeological site, the hotel desk will give you a key pass to access the hotel’s private path to the park. A short walk through groves of olive trees takes you right to the foot of the temples to explore at your leisure.

Lobby at the Villa Athena and private hotel pathway to the archeological park

Back at the hotel the tranquil rooms are comfortable and equipped with luxury bathrooms and in room coffee makers. Airy white linens in a classic but contemporary setting with black and white neoclassical marble bathrooms complete with the hotel spa products make for a crisp richness. It is worth waking up early to watch the sun come up.



The high end restaurant offers a upmarket menu of regional Sicilian dishes with a sophisticated interpretation to pair with a wine list featuring some of the best wines of the island. In good weather cocktails and dinner are outdoors with that magnificent view of the temples. Here you do feel like one of the gods feasting in splendour, drinking wine and watching the mesmerizing colours of the sunset.


This small hotel was such an enjoyable stay I wish I could have stayed longer. One can really relax here and just enjoy the surroundings, very friendly service, and wonderful food and drink. And while one could leave here completely satisfied with just seeing the Valley of the Temples, there are other sights such as the Scali dei Turchi a wonderful natural wonder of pristine white natural “steps” by the sea or the nearby town of Agrigento. The hotel is very helpful in setting up excursions or dispense information on the region. But if all that seems like too much, just lounge by the pool, or sit on the terrace, look at the Temple of Concordia right in front all while sipping a refreshing elixir and just be a Greek god or goddess if only for a day…

sunsetTemple of Concordia


Extras: The hotel has a private entrance and path direct to the archeological park of the Valley of the Temples giving personal access to the site. Please note you cannot take any bags or purses with you to the archeological site. Cameras are of course allowed but you must carry the camera in hand.


Please note I paid for my own stay and my review is based on that stay.

Villa Athena Valle dei Templi, Agrigento

Italian destinations for 2018

Whats on the radar for exciting places in Italy? Here are a few ideas…

As I write this my mood is one driven from emotional and physical exhaustion. I want to travel and itching to get out and go yet somehow I crave a much easier and more laid back kind of destination. Less tourists and fuss, but still charming and visually appealing. Places that have some authenticity in the era of mass travel yet not so off the beaten path that it will take a while to get there. This usually means going to places before they are on the radar and in the mainstream. Let’s face it, by the time a place is being written about in the New York Times as the “new” place to go to before everyone else does that destination is way past its prime. It is about the quiet hum rather than the loud roar so with that in mind here are my choices of travel inspiration…


Bologna Long overlooked by tourists, Italy’s university town is filled with history and most importantly great food. Its not known as the Stomach of Italy for nothing. Rich in culinary history both through its produce and its cuisine, Bologna makes for an alluring destination for that alone but thankfully it has a great deal to enjoy off the plate as well. With vaulted porticoes, medieval streets and bustling cafe life this is everyday living done right. Of course not to be missed are the markets many with their produce tumbling out into the medieval streets and the elaborate food shops showcasing their goods as if in a painting. Less tourists and more local living make it a true Italian experience.

Procida Often ignored because of the popularity of its glamorous neighbour, Capri, Procida possesses local, small town charm. Colourful houses cascade down the island like pastel marshmallows floating on the azure sea. Its fishing port and little boats are exactly how you imagine a small Italian sea village to be.

Catania  Sicily’s other big city and far too often neglected by visitors as a great Sicilian destination. Perilously seated between the sea and imposing volcano Mount Etna it has stood defiantly in the wake of constant volcanic activity. While most people go through Catania on their way to more polished local spots such as Taormina, Catania like much of Sicily’s eastern towns offers grand architecture with decorative baroque polish and a traditional old world Sicilian market. Not as big or overwhelming as Palermo yet possessing true Sicilian spirit.

Ponza Along the west coast between Rome and Naples lies a small island offering laid back elegance. A secret summer getaway known by a few Romans and their friends, Ponza offers a quieter alternative to Capri a bit farther down the coast. It does not offer the glamorous lifestyle because it is not trying to. However that does not mean it is lacking of allure. Its refinement is in the low key, stylishly retro, casual with creature comforts of one staying at an Italian friend’s delightful beach house. If you really want to get away and sleep by the sea, this would be a great pick.

Sorrento Unfortunately many vacationers just drive through Sorrento on their way to more popular Amalfi Coast destinations, which is a shame since Sorrento possesses much to stop and look at. It has more of the energy you find on Capri than other of the towns on the Coast. And when Italians go to the Amalfi Coast they come here, much more going on and equally breathtaking views of the sea.

Matera Last chance to get there before the crowds and the mass tourist push that will come when Matera take on the honour of City of Culture in 2019. Matera is a unique part of Italy unlike any other. A town filled with an almost mythical soul with its Biblical feel in its Sassi cave living and honey coloured streets. Matera is really two parts with an elegant old town that looks over the the ancient Sassi town right below. Together but somehow separate, two different worlds in one town. An easy day trip from Puglia, however Matera really is a jewel lit up at night and merits an overnight stay at one of the Sassi hotels where you can live history.




Where to go next in 2018

New Year and all the new travel possibilities…

Every year there is a buzz about new ‘in’ places to go. Unfortunately by the time they are on the radar they are already ‘discovered’ by hoards of tourists. So this year on my wish list of destinations I’ve picked places often passed over to go somewhere else more popular. Yet all these places are exciting in their own right and will definitely entice travelers in the near future for they are gorgeous destinations with loads to offer. Get there first…


BolognaMany times one goes through Bologna by train on the way to Venice or Rome, yet Bologna offers as much history, charm, and most importantly food! as its more famous neighbours. Medieval streets and historical sights in a town almost free of tourists and crushing crowds. Want to taste the real Italy, this is it, from its locals only atmosphere to some of the best food in the world. They don’t call this region of Italy the “Belly of Italy” for nothing, some of the best produce comes from this region along with a legacy of top notch producers keeping the Slow Food movement alive and well. A must see destination for foodies and historians alike.

AmsterdamIs having a moment, a very trendy moment. And wait too long to go and you will get there when it has already become the hipster destination in every Instagram post. It already has the coffee houses. But Amsterdam possesses romance and magic, canals and delightful architecture that win everyone over with its easy appeal. 

Boston – The first proper North American city, Boston is as American as it comes. From Paul Revere, the Freedom Trail, and the Boston Tea Party, the birth of a nation began here. And it is fun and easy to access in this handsome city.  Often passed over for the Big Apple, Boston while smaller, can boast of its own culinary place with choice restaurants and first class cuisine, much of it local seafood. Some great museums makes Boston a cultural city as well, and the continual variety of events means there is lots to do no matter what you fancy.

Antwerp – Yes Brugges is a gem, but Antwerp too is a jewel of its own. While Brugges has  charisma, Antwerp has elegance and sophistication. Astonishing architecture, the city shows off gilded details of its past while incorporating new and exciting design forward modernity. Definitely a destination for designers.

Milos – The allure of the beauty of Mykonos but on a smaller, less traveled, less partied island of Milos is near heaven on earth for those looking for a quieter Greek holiday. Breathtaking views, all turquoise and white, picturesque stone streets covered with cascading branches and vines is the place of dreams.

Puebla – Two hours outside of the massive Mexico City is a much smaller colonial city of Puebla. The historic center is the essence of Mexico and visions of what most people conjure up when they think of this country. Known for its majolica tiles Puebla is stunningly pretty and a region of over 365 churches, one for every day of the year, most covered in these decorated tiles. Streets are brilliantly colourful from the painted houses to the balloon sellers walking along bustling in clouds of shiny bubbles. It is Mexico like you want it to be.

Sorrento –  Most people forgo Sorrento for the more celebrated destinations such as Positano and Ravello. And you are missing out. Granted Sorrento is a bit more town than village, but it has real charm and character. Also this is where the Italians go when they want to spend time on the Amalfi Coast. So, if its good enough for them…




September getaway…

Once the tourist crowds have left September becomes Summer’s last hurrah!

If you’re like me, you are itching to go away again somewhere by mid August. But that is the busiest time of year for so many European destinations and the last thing you want is to be body checking your way through a sea of people. So if you can hold on just a while longer… long enough for families to return, kids go back to school and high season prices to go down, a September getaway might just be the prefect tonic to get you through the colder months ahead. Here are some suggestions to get you started…

Madrid – A sophisticated metropolitan city with sunshine and more importantly tapas bars! The appealing historic center and the open spaces makes it a great combination of culture both indoors and out. Whether it be taking in a museum or taking in the sun at the Plaza Mayor with a glass of sangria, Madrid makes for a warm cultivated break.


Seville – A two hour train ride from Madrid takes you to the quintessential Spanish city of Sevilla. Decorative tiles, romantic architecture and colourful streets capture the true spirit of Spain alongside its breathtaking cathedral and Plaza de España. Have drinks and tapas at El Rinconcillo before taking in a flamenco show.


Ostuni, Puglia – Sea breezes touch this white washed hill town. Puglia is where Italy meets Greece sharing that same blue Aegean sea. And not far from this sea, surrounded by olive trees is the White City of Ostuni, an almost fairy tale like town with charming small cafes and mystical winding streets. It is quiet, laid back yet stylish. The boutique hotel Relais La Sommitá offers a chic stay with a wonderful fine dining restaurant Cielo that makes it easy to sit back over a glass of wine and look out to the sea in the distance.


Taormina – A perfect late summer escape with the temperatures still quite warm, the seacoast and a charming town to walk in. For cooling off, excellent granita can be found at Bam Bar or an aperitivo on the piazza. Enticing restaurants and choice local wines make it a substantial getaway for foodies, while a selection of refined hotels make it easy to keep everything within walking distance.


Rome – is always a good idea but in late September when the Italians have resigned themselves that beach days are over and normal life continues there is a relaxed hum of people getting about their business just not too quickly yet. Yes there are still tourists but a few less so the line for gelato at Giolitti is not as long if you want an afternoon treat. The weather still allows for a lazy afternoon prosecco in the gardens of the Hotel de Russie while autumn fashion fills the shops in anticipation. A bit of both worlds and changing seasons.



The delightful surprise that is Palermo

Get ready Palermo is about to have its moment…


Long passed over as a tourist destination, this dusty capital city is about to regain its grand status. Palermo is a stage, an opera stage. Decorative buildings, noisy and a bit parched, but stately just the same. Centuries of influences from countries all over the Mediterranean make Palermo a cosmopolitan blend of many cultures. A city dense with stunning attractions,  yet scuffed by years of mafia fears which have driven tourists away. But that is all about to change as Palermo has taken steps to clean up its city and its image in hopes to attract visitors once again to this dynamic historical destination.

Getting ready for my first trip to Palermo I didn’t know quite what to expect. I had both excitement and apprehension as my travel date approached. While I had been to Sicily before, I had never been to Palermo and it felt a bit overwhelming given its unfortunate mafia history, and I was a woman traveling alone in a very old world and traditional part of Italy. I would come to find quite rapidly that this was not something to be overly concerned about, the city is vibrant and quite modern. More importantly I was about to discover just how inviting a city it was.

From the start the city was quite welcoming, pleasant and much prettier than I expected. The grandeur of the city, and the Palermitani are very proud of it. Sicilians can be a bit reserved before you get to know them, and here in Palermo it is no different yet people were helpful and eager to show off their hometown. Taking photographs can be met with a bit of apprehension but if you ask first the people are usually very willing and jovial. It is important that you are always polite when traveling but here especially where old customs remain part of daily life. Always say hello or “buongiorno” when entering a shop as these places are usually family run and it is considered an extension of their homes. All that said, travel freely and explore. Palermo is full of expressive winding streets and a soft dilapidated patina. The everyday feels very much like any small village in Sicily just with more people. The bread gets made and delivered, people linger over coffee and walk together in the piazzas.  Prepared to be wowed and won over…


The travel basics, a general overview:

Hotels: It was difficult to find a hotel I really liked. Unlike most major cities the luxury travel market is sadly lacking in such a choice destination. Many major hotel brands have yet to settle on properties here and the hotel selections are are limited. I chose to stay at the Grand Hotel des Palmes because of its central location and for its historical prestige. It was quite shabby and in need of a serious refurbishment but did capture the essence of a bygone era. (Read my review here Sicily:The tale of two Grand Hotels) But generally speaking this was probably the best I was going to find and it would behoove the city to entice reputable hotel businesses to open new properties in the city.

Taxis: The other tricky situation to maneuver is the taxi situation. There are taxis available but not always where you need them to be. What you mainly find are car services which while safe overall are really interested in giving you a tour of the city or taking you on an excursion to Monreale, the must see church about half an hour out of town. Trying to get them to just take you from point A to point B comes with a discussion (and pressure) of them trying to set up a bigger job with you. Thankfully from my hotel I was able to walk to a great deal, but I did find at the end of a long day of walking the need to jump in a cab and go back to the hotel which is when I was stuck having to take one of these cars. And these cars were the same ‘private car’ the hotel reserved for me on the day I wanted to go to Monreale. And while the driver was charming and got me to my destination I found him insisting on ‘just stopping for a moment’ to show me this or that, never mind that I had made it clear that all I wanted was to go to Monreale and back. I had to finally put my foot down or this would have gone on all day. Alternatively, public buses offer good service and can be fairly reliable.

That established this dramatic city is ripe to be explored with some truly stunning sights to see. Palermo is a stage of delights…

A quick view of the highlights: Start in the heart of Palermo, at the Quatro Canti which is like being in the center of a music box. Thus named because of the four street corners, each representing one of the four seasons and always one corner exposed to the sun. Not far from there is the striking Piazza della Pretoria, with a tiered renaissance fountain in the middle originally made for the city of Florence. While the pride of Palermo is their massive cathedral, the real jewel not to be missed is the Palatine Chapel, a jaw dropping beauty of mosaic work from the floors to the ceiling, this small chapel shines. The walk between the cathedral to the chapel takes you under a massive arch, the former old gate of the city and look at the two whimsical faces carved on the sides. And for die hard Godfather fans the famed opera house is right in the middle of the city. For something truly Sicilian, a visit to the Museo dei Pupi, is a museum dedicated to the craft of wooden puppets, a tradition in Palermo. If there is a puppet show on definitely stay and see it!


The Markets: Like all great Italian towns, food markets are a must and in Sicily they are particularly spirited. Palermo’s oldest and most famous is the Vuceria, a popular street market selling anything from faux antiques, old photographs and of course fruit and veg. Street food and other food shops also abound. The Ballarò offers the best in produce and is a lot more of a true food market.  If you have time visit both.


Monreale: If there is one place you must visit it is the glorious church of Monreale just outside of the city. A bus ride or a short cab ride takes you 25 minutes out of the city to the charming town, which is also worth a look, and the famed church. The church itself is breathtaking. Both inside and out the care and workmanship extends from the intricate designs, to the the mosaic floor and ceilings and the painted woodwork. It is perfection. After seeing the inside do not miss the cloisters and gardens.


Cafes and Restaurants: While I didn’t spend a lot of time there, I did eat at the well regarded Osteria dei Vespri offering an innovative take on traditional Sicilian dishes and flavours. Wonderful place with attentive service and a cozy atmosphere. Antico Caffe Spinnato is Palermo’s Grand Caffe and is great anytime of day for a light bite, coffee, or aperitivo.


Palermo is buzzing… It has been chosen as the Italian City of Culture for 2018 making it a center for Italian tourism. And equally if not more prestigious, the famed Sicilian fashion designers Dolce&Gabbana based in Milan have finally open a boutique in Palermo and to celebrate launched multiple fashion shows around the city of Palermo. Historical sites such as the Piazza della Pretoria and the Cattedrale were the red carpet runways for the latest collection, heralding that Palermo is open for business and an extremely fashionable destination.

A peak at the Dolce & Gabbana fashion show showcased around Palermo