Tag Archives: travel tips

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 sun and more importantly tapas bars! The charm of the 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, Madrid makes for a cultivated break.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Travel Tips: My packing basics

Here are a sample of my stylish ‘must-haves’ when I travel…

I wish I could count myself as one of those uber fashionable travelers that look ever so chic catwalking down airport lounges in well put together outfits while traveling. I really try, but given the amount of walking I do when on trips, and limited packing space there is only so much a girl can do when on the road. Yet I am not one of those back-packing, wear only two outfits girl either. I like to look put together, especially for city travel. This means I pack some modern basic pieces that are classic in style but at the same time dashing and comfortable. I want to look good when I am on tour.

Pick your base colour – I tend to stick to black as it doesn’t show dirt, but if you prefer navy blue, beige, or white, by all means use that as your ‘base’ and work around that. So I have basic pieces in black and work a travel wardrobe with those basics.

Stylish Coat or Jacket – If there is one piece of clothing that should make a statement it should be your outerwear.  A leather jacket, a wool coat in winter or a lightweight jacket in Spring is a must. A knee length wool coat can go day to night, and a classic Mac jacket works perfectly in any situation.

Cashmere –  A classic crew neck with jeans or trousers is one of the most timeless looks around. It can take you day to night, casual to elegant. And a cardigan, even in summer makes a lightweight item to pack and wear on the overly air conditioned plane flights.

Scarf – Takes up no room and can transform your look and change your base outfit with a dash of colour. I like to take at least two of different sizes and wear one on the plane so to have added warmth but also it makes you look a bit more put together at airport check in.

Wrap – On a recent trip to Capri where the locals are very chic islanders I noticed every woman wore a stunning wrap in the evening. It gave the ladies a very dressy edge to even the simplest of outfits. I went straight to Missoni and picked up one of their bright, multi-coloured wraps to enhance my travel wardrobe.

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Missoni knits

Say ‘no’ to shorts in the city – Unless you are on the beach, on a boat, or by the pool, wearing shorts even when it is hot makes you stand out like a tourist. Not only that, going into some places such as churches is not allowed in shorts (and skimpy tops). Even if you are young and having fun, you do better wearing skirts of all lengths to keep cool. City shorts are fine if they are dapper, but skirts are still better.

Long skirt – Especially in the warmer months, I find this a more elegant and fresher look then trousers or jeans. It is nice to have a feminine touch and very easy to pair with a t-shirt for a comfortable day look. Can double for an evening look when paired with a silk top.

Shoes – Thankfully in the autumn and winter months I can get by with some flat, simple leather ankle boots that go with just about everything. In the warmer months this can prove more challenging if you are trying to find something with support to walk endlessly, yet look fashion forward. I cannot pull off the chunky sneakers, so I resort to a pair of athletic ballerina slippers or espadrilles and a pair of low heeled sandals. I’ll also take a pair of Capri sandals but those are for destinations by the sea. For evening I do love Aquazzura shoes as they have some embellished styles on lower heels. I do love their low block heel sandals in a variety of fun finished like coloured pom-poms or fringed suede. I can easily walk around in the evenings while still being au courant fashion wise. For colder destinations, again it is much easier with a pair of lower heeled boots. A pair of classic pumps always work well no matter where or what season.

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Accessories – Always pack an umbrella! As a matter of fact I have a small, collapsible umbrella I just leave in my suitcase ready to go when I travel. Purses take up a lot of space so while I like to have choices I might prefer to leave room for some shopping in my suitcase. I take a tote or larger bag for day, that way I can throw my camera, and any small items I might buy along the way. For evening a simple embellished envelope clutch packs well and looks elegant for evening, or a small evening bag that you can throw a credit card, lipstick, and go.

Evening – While I tend to do ‘smart-casual’ for most of my restaurant choices, meaning a lively but popular brasserie, or a trendy trattoria, I still take one piece for that possible nicer night out. My rule of thumb is to take a couple pair of black trousers, and around 4-5 silk tops that I can rotate with the trousers, one of those tops a bit more embellished for the possible fine dining evening. All easy to put on if you are rushing to dinner after a day of sight seeing, and easy to pack. I also tend to have a polished black on black ensemble, of a classic top such as a sleeveless simple silk tunic, button down shirt, or vest, with slim black jeans or trousers. Can be worn more than once, changed up with a scarf and will always look chic.

That perfect travel handbag – After years of searching I have found the perfect bag to suit my needs when I travel. It is a black leather Hogan bag big enough to throw my ipad and book in, and four large zipper pockets on the outside for my passport and ticket, iphone, and compact. It is city chic cool, has a strap to wear cross body, and handles if you want to carry it. Had it for years and is my biggest go-to item when I travel.

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Hogan bag

No matter the destination do check the weather the day before you leave. Even the warmest of destinations can suffer from cold fronts and you don’t want to spend your travel time shopping around for warmer clothing. Also, I always pack an extra top or one outfit and an extra pair of knickers in my carry on just in case my suitcases are delayed somewhere. That way I have a change of clothes. And don’t forget to pack knickers and pajamas!

Where to eat and drink on Corfu

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.

Drinking

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

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Eating

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

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Stylish Hotels in London

London is the capital of style and luxury accommodations. Whether its a big hotel or something more boutique, London offers grand choices.

The Berkeley  The freshly refurbished Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge feels brand new with its new glass front and art deco inspired pale marble floors with touches of silver. Incredibly fashionable, it boasts the ideal location for shoppers being close to both Harvey Nichols, Sloane Street and Harrods. In house the Pret-a-Portea afternoon tea should not be missed, and cocktails at the trendy Blue Bar offers a modern and exciting cocktail menu by some very innovative mixologists. Wilton Pl, Knightsbridge, London

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The Connaught A baby grand dame in the heart of Mayfair is the epitome of old world mode. Dark wood and gilded interiors are more subtle than overpowering.  A very fashionable address, one does feel very special inside this London establishment. Enjoy a martini made right at your table at the world famous martini bar, and follow up with dinner at one of the best restaurants in the world at their Michelin starred restaurant by Helene Darozze. The best of the best. Carlos Pl, Mayfair London 

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11 Cadogan Gardens It doesn’t get more boutique then this bijoux hotel in the heart of Chelsea. This discreet hotel is in a period brick house right behind Sloane Square has opulent interiors like those in a country estate, indeed you do feel as if you are in a private home. A plush sitting room bar and an in house restaurant dedicated to Truffles does make this hotel quite posh. 11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea, London

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Brown’s Hotel One of London’s original hotels, Brown’s is quintessentially British in the best possible way. While the Rocco Forte group have given it a freshening up with some modern flair, Brown’s remains classical and traditional. Steps from Bond Street in Mayfair, its location is prime for shops, restaurants, sights, and nightlife. The hotel serves the best traditional afternoon tea in their English Tea Room, not to mention their chic Donovan Bar serves up some sexy cocktails. The famous Hix is the resident restaurant so even with the great location there is much to entertain at the hotel. It really doesn’t get more English than Brown’s. 33 Albemarle St, Mayfair, London

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Rooms with Views: Il Salviatino

Overlooking Florence in the Fiesole hills, villa Il Salviatino is an oasis of tranquility…

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A mere 15 minutes from the center of Florence, the villa hotel of Il Salviatino is close enough to enjoy all that Florence has to offer while feeling a world away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist crowds. The villa itself offers old world elegance with modern touches and very fashionable details.

From the moment you wind your way up the gated road towards the villa you realise this is not going to be a typical hotel stay. You are greeted not at a desk, but in the foyer of the grand house and offered a restorative glass of prosecco. A quick tour of the villa leads you through sweeping doors to a grand terrace overlooking renaissance gardens, cypress trees, and an impressive view of the Duomo of Florence in the distance. Indeed everything about Il Salviatino’s property is is styled straight out of a photo shoot. On the terrace is the restaurant area, though calling it a restaurant might be a bit provincial as it is more an open outdoor living space with comfortable table and chairs where you can sit and take in the view over a glass of rose, or have a bite to eat. There is a casual ease to life here at Il Salviatino, without forgoing the mannered expectations. Should you want to spend time indoors a huge grand library is filled with wonderful books, including art books on Italy and Tuscany that one could happily spend an afternoon getting lost in pages. Further afield there is a pool area opened in the summer months and a spa area as well where one can relax with a massage using local Tuscan products. The vibe is chic indeed.

 

Every effort has been taken to preserve the original structure of the villa, wooden floors and ceiling beams, and a marble staircase have been restored. Yet modern creature comforts are combined into the room’s living space such as glass tvs that double as mirrors. Rain shower showers make for heavenly bathing, and the most plush bathrobes imaginable. The waffle imprinted linen towels feel luxurious and the white leather on dark brown wood decor feels very opulent without being too over the top. All rooms offer Tuscan views, a few offer views over Florence, either way every room gets a spectacular view.

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Life at the villa is lighthearted. At night the whole property becomes aglow with candle lights streaming up staircases inside and out, through the gardens and into the view. Twilight feels magical. In the garden aperitivo arrives with the sunset while dinner can be taken al fresco on the terrace. Dinner has an a la carte menu and they do have a very impressive wine list. Breakfast is a little more unique experience than your normal continental. The waiter brings you a large prepared tray of the days breakfast offerings. You choose what you want from the tray and if there is something else you might want they are happy to make it for you. All the food no matter what the meal was delicious.

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Should you even want to leave the property a shuttle service into central Florence leaves you near the Duomo. So you can take in all the best of Florence yet escape the crowds when they get oppressive. You can be both in Florence and in the Tuscan hills in one stay.

You are staying at a grand house at Il Salviatino, but like all exceptional hosts, you are made to feel at home. It was very hard to leave!

Rooms: Stylish, elegant with a bit of restraint opulence. Quiet and very comfortable. Rooms even come with their own lending library bookshelf, along with in room Nespresso coffee machines. TVs were modern doubling as mirrors and were personalized with a greeting. And all rooms offered views over the Tuscan hills or Florence.

Bathrooms: Love when a bathroom has a privacy room for the toilet, as was the case here. Sink space did have limited storage areas for toiletries but some rooms come with small vanity spaces to put items on. The only disappointment in the whole property was that my room did not come with a bathtub and I had a suite. Some rooms do come with a tub, just make sure and request it before check in. There are heavenly sit down rain showers in all rooms.

What’s on the property: A secluded pool with poolside service of drinks and snacks, lounge chairs and towels. A spa offering a variety of treatments. Ample manicured gardens and a terrace to dine outdoors. A small bar area along with a walk in wine cellar, and should you wish to relax indoors, there is the formal library for conversation and after dinner drinks.

Extras: Complimentary shuttle service to and from the villa to central Florence.

Something Special: Should you have a bathtub in your room, the villa offers a champagne “bubble” bath service in the grand suites. Chose from prosecco to champagne, prices vary, but around $10,000 for this real bubbles bath!

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Please note, I paid for my own stay and my review is based on my personal experiences while staying at Il Salviatino

Il Salivatino Via del Salviatino, 21, 50137 Fiesole FI, Italy tel. +39 055 904 1111

Shared Link: Why Noto, Sicily is our Italy destination of the summer

Conde Nast Traveler (US) highlights the glories of little Noto. A jewel box town in the heart of Southeast Sicily. One of my favourite places, read my reviews on the region for more travel ideas.

Why Noto Sicily is out Italy destination of the summer

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