Christmastime in Florence…
Christmastime in Florence…
Corfu’s charming Old Town offers a very European feel…
When on Corfu it is worth taking time away from the beach and the imperial blue sea to head to the Old Town and enjoy some Greek cuisine. The town square has an elegant vaulted arcade with wonderful cafes and the historical center is filled with delightful places to eat and drink.
Cafe Bristol – Stylishly cool this small but hip locale in the centre of Old Town has a great DJ and flowing cocktails. Evgeniou Voulgareos 49, Kerkira 491 00, Greece
Azur – Right on the water, and just a short walk from the town square, Azur is a trendy outdoor lounge bar with a terrace, great atmosphere and sea breezes. Leof. Dimokratias 1, Kerkira 49100, Greece
Rex – Popular lively and centrally located just behind the main square, this typical taverna serves all the favourite Greek dishes. Corfu 491 00, Greece
Marina’s Taverna – On a discrete side street in Corfu Old Town on the way to the Fortress is this picturesque traditional taverna serving simple but absolutely delicious Greek fare. The baked aubergines with tomatoes and feta was outstanding! Vellisariou 35, 49100
Its always a daunting task to get tipping spot on, but here are my rules of thumb I tend to use when travelling…
Restaurants: This is probably the hardest as it differs from country to country that I have come to terms with the fact I will probably always get it a little bit wrong. I tend to aim for 15% in most places. This is usually more than enough and very well appreciated in every country except the United States where they near bully you into handing over 18% minimum, 20% ‘standard’ on almost all bills. On all bills I take into account items such as for example a more expensive bottle of wine. This ups the total yet it costs the same amount to open a cheap bottle of wine as a more expensive bottle so… many times I deduct a little on the overall percentage of the tip to account for that. The exception here is if the sommelier helps you pick out the wine, and in this case tip on the complete total.
Bars: Again depends where you are as in the United States bartenders too like their waitstaff counterparts are expecting 18% minimum. It doesn’t matter whether they just uncap the bottle of beer or shake a cocktail. And if you expect them to comeback when you want another drink, or pay attention to you again on a night with a full bar, they will be wanting 20% from the first drink in order to make you worth their effort to get back to you for your second. Anywhere else in the Western world, 10% seems just fine. I tend to give more like 12-15% if it involves shaken cocktails, or say a repeat visit where the bartender remembers my favourite tipple. In all circumstances where the bartender buys a round or gives you something fun to try, give a little more then the original tip amount as a thank you.
Taxis: 10-12% on the total in Europe. Round up the amount for a Black Cab in London, so if the fare is 7.50, rounding up and giving 8 pounds is common. Here I give a little more as I think the Black Cabs are the best in the world, so I will be a bit more generous as they get you to your destination safely, quickly, and in many instances wait until you have entered the premises of your destination to assure you arrived safely.
Hotel Doorman: Around 5 Euro/dollars for taxi to room greet and luggage transfer for one bag. Obviously more generous if the bag is heavy and huge or there are multiple bags. I also tip 1 Euro/dollar for hailing me a taxi, or opening the door for the taxi outside the hotel and telling the driver my destination.
Housekeeping: Its easy to forget housekeeping as you rush out the door to check out but if anyone really deserves a tip at your hotel, especial a luxury hotel, it is housekeeping. In top hotels they keep your room fresh, fluff the pillows to perfection, bring in fresh towels, do turndown service with a chocolate on the pillow… They even might deal with seeing your wet washed knickers hanging up to dry over the shower. In European luxury hotels the amount I tend to give around 2 Euro a day minimum. I also leave something for the evening service as well as they tend to tidy up after the pre dinner shower besides turning down the bed. So in other words 2 sets of tips, around 2 Euro a day for the morning staff, and then again 1-2 Euro a day for the night staff and leave it separately, one for the day service right before departure and for the evening service the night before. If there are extras such as wine left in the room (which they will have to set up) or extra soaps given, things like that I am happy to throw in more. At chain hotels, I will leave around 1 Euro a day, or a couple of Euros if I have spent just one night. In the States I leave around $1-2 a day in upper market hotels, and a flat $2 for a 1-3 day stay in a large, chain type hotel. If you are staying at a resort with swimming pools and seaside, do tip a bit more if there has been excessive usage of towels, lots of need for room tidying up due to constant in and out to change, shower, etc.
Concierge: I really value the concierge and his/her knowledge. In a luxury hotel I will tip generously to a concierge who has essentially set up most things during my stay (car, restaurants, tickets, local information). Typically at a luxury hotel for 3 nights, if all that was done was a couple of restaurant reservations maybe I’ll leave 10- 20 Euro/dollars. The difference between 10 and 20 Euro are points such as did they recommend the restaurants and did you like them? Then tip maybe more on the 20 Euro side. Or if I knew the restaurant I wanted and just asked them to book for me, then perhaps closer to 10 Euro. If they have gotten me into an impossible to get table, and done more like arrange transport, well that will all go up to 30-40 Euro/dollars. If they have gotten me the impossible table, booked tickets, reserved not just a car and driver, but a driver who really knows the city to take me around during my stay… 50 Euro/dollars to the concierge for setting all that up to make my stay special. At the end if the day it comes down to the relationship you have with the concierge and how much you use them so really as much or as little as that might represent. Also take into account if the concierge helped you prior to your arrival and set up services and reservations for your stay that should be included. For me the Concierge is the heart and soul of a good hotel. They should know everything about the local hotspots and be excited to share it with you. And if they have made your stay an experience and not just routine, you definitely should thank them.
Please note: These amounts are just guidelines I use for myself, they are not the ‘standard’ or the ‘norm.’ I am also very happy to be more generous and give more than listed above in exceptional circumstances and have tipped less when service was not given. Also there are differences when staying in luxury hotels and top restaurants where more personalised attention is given, and less than listed above for standard service is absolutely fine as well. So bare all that in mind. At the end of the day the most important point is that you leave something to reward good service and how much you enjoyed it.
You can’t go wrong when eating in Sicily. Dishes are rich in flavour and the fish and seafood comes fresh form the sea. And if you like sweets, well then Sicily may become your favourite place on earth with its vast array of treats that excite the eye as much as the palette.. Who doesn’t like a cannoli?
Taormina has some choice restaurants serving up some of the best the island has to offer. Here’s a tasting:
Ristorante Vicolo Stretto -On a slip of a street and up some steps is the cozy local favourite serving traditional flavours and dishes with just a hint of a modern twist. Like the Sicily-on-a-Plate perfect Paccheri pasta with swordfish which takes the traditional swordfish with tomatoes and combines it to coat the wide flat pasta tubes with just a sprinkling of almonds. Quite simply superb. This was followed by a regional flaky light fish encrusted with slivered potatoes a top a bed of spinach and then finished off with chocolate semi freddo and a homemade almond liqueur. I would happily go back and do it all again it was that good!
Paccheri with swordfish
Ristorante Maffei’s -Serving traditional fare, Maffei’s ticks all the boxes. Both indoor and outdoor seating, the later being in a enchanting garden terrace, the service is friendly and has a menu with popular dishes. The marinated anchovies are especially good. A good all-rounder that makes for a very pleasant meal.
Garden terrace at Maffei’s
Villa Sant’Andrea – For a luxurious meal by the sea, head down to Taormina Mare and the Villa Sant’Andrea. Start with cocktails at their outdoor beach lounge before making your way to a very stylish meal in a relaxed setting by the water. On a clear day you can see mainland Italy in the distance. Wonderful fish and seafood dishes with sophisticated presentation, whatever you choose will not disappoint, but save room for dessert and the platter of Sicilian Desserts 5 Ways. Just wow!
Red&White – Part wine bar part restaurant, is a laid back little place that serves good wine and homemade food. The owner is passionate about his wine selections so this is definitely a place for wine lovers, especially if you want to try smaller and not so well known vineyards. Food is simple but delicious.
Grand Hotel Timeo – With the best views of Mount Etna, the restaurant already has a lot going for it. Add some of the best food in town and an outstanding wine selection and you know you are in for an outstanding meal. Very regal and formal, and yes, expensive too, it is however worth every euro and will not disappoint. The menu serves a classic Sicilian selection, including the most amazing Pasta a Saor, a traditional dish made with sardines, sultanas and pine nuts. Savory with just a tang of sweetness it is sea and earth combined. Obviously there is only one way to end such a perfect meal and that is with some mini cannoli and some grappa on the outdoor terrace.
Cannoli at the Grand Hotel Timeo
And a little Bonus…
For a real Sicilian breakfast, head to Bam Bar for the best Granita in the world! Choose from fruit flavours or have a traditional coffee. Sicilians have their granita for breakfast with a brioche pastry.
Foodies rejoice! The Amalfi Coast is packed with some outstanding restaurants and some of the most delicious meals can be had in this glorious, sunny coast of Southern Italy. Whether is is casual dining or elegant Michelin starred restaurants the food of the Campania region of Italy is on par with the sophistication of Italy’s North and Central regions which for years have dominated and overshadowed the rustic cuisine of the South. No longer. The food and wine of the Amalfi Coast is simply sensational. Here is just a taste of a selected few to look for…
Il Pirata (Praiano) In a small fishing village not far up the coast from Positano lies this laid back breezy restaurant. Tables are as close as they can get to being on the water, on the edge where rock meets the sea. And some of the best simple seafood dishes can be had. Local fish dishes are exceptional like the fried anchovies that are so light and crispy. That, a little squeeze of lemon and a crisp glass of wine while the waves lap below is the perfect Amalfi Coast moment. Everything was absolutely delicious, such as the native specialty dish of pasta with octopus in a thick tomato sauce to the fresh desserts like the light and fluffy Delizia di Limone. Such outstanding food and at reasonable prices make this little place a big winner!
Da Gemma (Amalfi) Not far from the church in Amalfi town is a bit of a surprise. Overlooking the main road with all the touristy type places to eat and pizzerias is a choice restaurant serving a bit more of an innovative menu. Based on regional specialties and produce, Da Gemma keeps the food homey while giving it a bit of a twist to make it just slightly more modern. A nice change from the usual while still keeping to that comfort food feel. Starting with the delightful bread basket with a selection made in house, to the squid with truffles everything was exciting and extremely satisfying. Plus with views just above the main street you get an entertaining view of life in the town.
La Sponda (Positano) Serene Le Sirenuse hotel is the epitome of loveliness so it is no surprise that their restaurant is a sumptuous experience. Vines covering the walls and ceilings with hundreds of tea candles giving the restaurant fairy sparkle, La Sponda feels magical. Of course the food is exquisite, Neapolitan influenced cuisine but plated up in refined fashion and served by a polished waitstaff. It could almost feel courtly, but the happy atmosphere and service by some of the friendliest people around make you forget that this place is quite upscale. And to round off the evening, regional musicians play favourite Italian songs as you sip wine and tuck into the divine Lemon Souffle. You leave feeling satisfied and very special.
Cumpa Cosimo (Ravello) Probably one of the most well known and beloved people in Ravello is Neta, the owner and cook of this family run restaurant. Hair pulled back in a bow, wearing an apron, she jovially walks around the cozy restaurant greeting and taking orders as if you were a guest in her home. And in a sense you are in her house and she is a wonderful hostess. Wooden tables and chairs, wine served in jugs and the best homemade food served by an Italian mother eager to spoil you. Hearty pasta dishes are hard to beat, and the Veal with Lemon is scrumptious. This restaurant is everyone’s favourite.
Il Ritrovo (Montepertuso) This small, well respected restaurant has just undergone a bit of a makeover. It is still serving the same traditional menu of beloved dishes, but the decor has been freshened up and given a more artful feel to the establishment. The tone thankfully still remains very homey. The location, high above Positano in the town of Montepertuso is a bit of a hike, but thankfully Il Ritrovo offers complimentary shuttle service from the town of Positano to the restaurant. The Aubergine Parmigiana is some of the best around, while the pasta in walnut sauce, is made from local walnuts and is luscious and lightly creamy. All served in a very laid back and comfortable setting.
Ristorante at the San Pietro (Positano) Fashionable and artful dinning make for an exciting menu at the restaurant in the stylish Hotel San Pietro. Start your meal with a drink, perhaps a fresh Bellini, on the garden terrace while taking in one of the most breathtaking views of Positano. Then move to the dinning room with views high above the sea and enjoy a most agreeable meal. A cultured and imaginative menu with cultivated service make for an exceptional dining experience. First Class all the way.
Da Mare (Amalfi) Located in the gorgeous Santa Caterina hotel in Amalfi, their restaurant by the sea presents some of the best food around. And that is saying something as there is lots of good food to be found on the Amalfi Coast. But for a perfect meal with amiable and friendly service, outstanding location by the sea with gentle breezes, and heavenly food… this is the place to go. If you are lucky you will hit one of the themed nights they host every couple of weeks, such as the Neapolitan night complete with singers and showcasing the best in local specialties. For the best Lemon Pasta in the world, nothing beats the one here. Bar none, absolutely amazing! And the Lemon Profiteroles with a limoncello to round off the meal is total perfection. Sigh…
For those lucky enough to stay on the Blue Isle beyond the crush of the day trip swarm, Capri becomes its best by evening. Free of the tourist groups the island can finally be enjoyed for it’s sophistication and fashionable self. The islanders come out at night to take their walks and catch up. Drinks at the piazzetta, and out for a bit of cultured gathering then on to dinner. Here are some tasty choices:
La Campannina has been around for ages and its frequented by locals and visitors alike. A polished neighbourhood trattoria, serving traditional Italian fare in a light and comfortable decor. Delicious pasta and local seafood, alongside friendly amenable service make it perfect for any situation whether dinning on one’s own or with family. Their home cooked pasta with mushrooms is excellent, and the fact that locals frequent the establishment makes it a sure bet. (Via Listrieri, 32 – 80073 Capri (NA) ITALY)
Da Paolino Where else but in Capri can you have a restaurant in a lemon grove! This excellent restaurant is magical with tables under lemon trees and soft candles so that you feel transported to some secret garden. The food is absolutely delicious, serving many local favourites such as pasta in a creamy lemon sauce, and fried zucchini blossoms. Leave room for their dessert buffet! (Via Palazzo a Mare, 11 80073 Capri (Napoli) ITALY)
I Faraglioni Perfectly located along the main pedestrian shopping street the Via Camerelle, this inviting restaurant makes a great option day or night. The place is divided in two: Cozy covered outdoor tables al fresco with views over the water, or a seashore themed inside. Both serve up great food and a light atmosphere. Menu is reliably classic local dishes and great seafood, with their marinated anchovies and Ravioli Caprese being especially good. Don’t forget the glass of limoncello. (Via Camerelle, 75 80073 Capri (Napoli) ITALY)
Aurora For those who find island dinning predictable, this one is for you. Stylish, a bit trendy, but not off puttingly so, with an outstanding wine list and an exciting menu. Hearty pasta dishes and innovative seafood add a twist to traditional Italian favourites that is a welcome break from the usual menus found around the centre of town. A great place for wine enthusiasts with probably one of the best wine selections on the island. (Via Fuorlovado, 18-22, 80073 Capri Napoli, Italy)
Il Riccio is truly magnificent. A beach restaurant near the Blue Grotto is relaxed and laid back with blue wooden chairs and sea breeze ocean view yet serving exciting food you would expect from the fanciest of restaurants. It is so good it has a Michelin star yet there is nothing pretentious in this welcoming restaurant, expect pleasant service and outstanding food. Everything from start to finish was perfection, beginning with their Capri blue ‘Riccio Spritz’ aperitivo cocktail to the excellent and innovative menu. Three-fish tuna tartare selection was a sensual delight, from the visual presentation to every last mouthful. And if there wasn’t enough to tempt you, absolutely leave stomach space for the ‘room of dessert!’ An elegant buffet selection offering among many temptations the booziest Rhum Baba. An absolutely outstanding dinning experience, complete with glowing sunset! (by the Blue Grotto, Anacapri).
The Fun One: La Coupole (102 Boulevard du Montparnasse, tel. +33 1 43 20 14 20) In vibrant Montparnasse this famed Art Deco brasserie has true Parisian flair. At moments it almost feels like you might be in a movie. The food is good too, serving all the time-honoured menu favourites.
Theatrical Interior at La Coupole
The Elegant One: Les Bouquinistes (53 Quai des Grands Augustins, tel. +33 1 43 25 45 94 ) Modern classic French with flair, the menu is ‘designed’ by famed chef Guy Savoy from daily seasonal ingredients. Small, elegant space reflects the food: sophisticated while still being accessible. On the expensive side but worth it as every last bite is exquisite.
Elegant Chic at Les Bouquinistes
The Neighbourhood Favourite: L’Affable (10 rue de Saint-Simon, tel. +33 1 42 22 01 60) One of those little french restaurants that feels like it is in someone’s house, this is a local favourite for the well heeled neighbours in the fashionable 7th (arrondissement). On a tiny street just off the top end of Boulevard St. Germain, this very pretty eatery, serves modern bistro style food. Menu is small and seasonable but offers good choices.
The Trendy One: Semilla (54 Rue de Seine, tel. +33 1 43 54 34 50): Trendy and of the moment, a little bit funky, this bistro is a hit with the stylish set. Casual and bustling setting the daily menu mixes innovate dishes with wholesome local ingredients.
The Classic One: Brasserie Balzar (49 Rue des Écoles, tel. +33 1 43 54 13 67) It really doesn’t get more ‘Paris’ then this small, bustling brasserie near the Sorbonne. Classic French dishes are always on the traditional brasserie menu and pretty much nothing has changed in this iconic institution. Reliable and always enjoyable.