Day trips from Paris that avoid the crowds

I’ve been living in Paris for over 2 years now, going to new museums, restaurants and hidden corners whenever I can. I’m still discovering hidden treasures even now! Many people who come to France stay in Paris for the duration of their trip, it’s easy to see why as there’s plenty to keep you busy here for a week or more. However, taking day trips out of the city allows you to experience the country’s rich heritage, impressive buildings that form the legacy of its legendary monarchy, now a republic and therefore open doors. Castles, forests and palaces all beautifully preserved and waiting to be explored. Most people automatically head for the Chateau of Versailles which is a beautiful palace, but hoards of crowds can make it difficult to enjoy. I can of course offer advice on avoiding the queues and busy times, but I also have some alternatives to present you that I myself have enjoyed more than Versailles. Continue reading “Day trips from Paris that avoid the crowds”

Thailand without the Tourists

You’re probably already doubting whether this is even possible. Thailand is one of the most popular destinations in the world, how could it possibly be visited without the tourists in this day and age? Well of course, the aren’t many parts of this massive country that haven’t been discovered, but there are definitely quieter corners to explore that are still beautiful and still unspoiled. The treasures of the country like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Kho Phangan still merit a visit, they’re popular for a reason! But mixing it up with some of these gems will give you a well rounded holiday where you can relax and feel like you’ve discovered the real thing. Continue reading “Thailand without the Tourists”

Our adventure-style Honeymoon in Japan

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Ishigaki Island

Judging from my previous travels it probably comes as no surprise that when deciding on our honeymoon destination, we were looking for something a bit different.

Unlike our round the world trip, this one wouldn’t be on a shoestring (thanks to our generous wedding guests!), so the only limit was our imagination! Well that, and the fact we wanted somewhere with good weather in late September, beaches, mountains, culture and great food. So rather a lot of criteria actually.
Luckily there was a country waiting for us to discover that matched our criteria perfectly. Welcome to Japan: the ultimate adventure holiday destination. 
In 3 weeks we explored ancient capitals, modern metropolis’, secluded mountain valleys and remote islands closer to Taiwan than mainland japan. It never felt rushed or stressful, it was in fact the easiest holiday I’ve ever been on. This is a country where everything just works, and the people go out of their way to make you feel welcome. A country as diverse as japan has something for everyone in every season, here are my best bits to get you started but you can of course get in touch if you’re looking for something different.

Tokyo

This is where most people start their holiday in Japan, but not everybody stays long enough to soak in the vast amount of diverse experiences it has to offer. It is a sprawling, mysterious metropolis full of numerous microcosyms just waiting to be explored. You could easily spend a whole week here, but if you don’t have that much time I recommend doing some research and prioritising areas to go to, spending half a day in each if you enough energy. As this post is about our trip in general i’ll just highlight some of the lesser known delights that we enjoyed:

Yoyogi Park and the surrounding Kawaii culture 

Walking into this park makes you feel like you’ve entered an enchanted forest, surrounded by ancient looming trees it’s a wonderful place to catch your breath after wandering the streets of neighbouring Shinjuku and Harajuku. I recommend checking out the Hedgehog Cafe nearby and wandering down Takeshita Street for a look into the cute kawaii culture.

Continue reading “Our adventure-style Honeymoon in Japan”

Dine like a local in Paris: Best restaurants for the real Parisien experience

Le cafe du commerce

Living in Paris is a dream for a foodie like me. I’ve been here for 2 years now, so have plenty of great restaurants and bars to recommend that I go to on a regular basis. They are enjoyed by tourists and locals alike, and fit in well with sightseeing as I often go to these places when I have friends in town. Enjoy!

A special evening out 

Le Relais de Venise is à parisien institution, serving only steak frites and 2 rounds of it to boot! The only question you’ll have to answer is “quelle cuisson?” (How you want your steak cooked) to which you should probably reply “saignant” or “a point” (rare or medium). You’ll have to queue but I promise it’s worth it for that special secret sauce! Make an evening of it by visiting the Hyatt Regency Hotel for cocktails before dinner and the best view of the Eiffel Tower. 

The details: Le Relais de Venise, 271 Boulevard Pereire, 75017 

Laid back French style 

For something more simple, head for great happy hour cocktails 5-9pm and the best cheese and meat board (planche) at “La Comete” and over to the famous (and cheap!) restaurant “Chartier” nearby (you need to queue for the restaurant)

The details: La Comète, 19 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009
Le Bouillon Chartier, 7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009 

Local music scene

Gypsy jazz bar ‘l’apostrophe” on a Thursday or Friday night will give you the pleasure of listening to the best gypsy jazz musicians around. The food there is nothing special, but worth it if you like live music as you have to eat there to get the good seats where you can see, but you should either arrive early (8pm) or reserve. You can also go after dinner and stand and have drinks. It’s near Republique where there’s lots of interesting bars. Or if you fancy trying some excellent cheese and wine head to La Vache dans les Vignes first, through they do have cheese boards at l’Apostrophe too.

The details: L’Apostrophe, 23 Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010
Listings on Facebook here.
La Vache dans les Vignes, 46 Quai de Jemmapes, 75010 Paris

The ultimate “cute French terrace” in Montmartre

This place is perfectly placed for a glass of wine of lunch when exploring Montmartre, it’s a touristy area so good to think about where you’re going to eat first to make sure you never waste a meal!

The details:  Le Relais de la Butte, 12 Rue Ravignan, 75018

Le bistro thats full of charm in Le Marais

No trip to Paris is complete without a wander in the streets of Le Marais, it’s full of great shops and restaurants, you’ll be spoilt for choice! This one takes the biscuit for me as its on my favourite street, and will reward you with views (and photos I’m sure) of a quaint pedestrianised avenue so quiet you’ll forget you’re in Paris! 

The details:  Les Philosophes, 28 Rue Vieille du Temple, 75004

The Latin Quarter

Fancy a crêpe on a quintessentially Parisien market street after walking in Jardin du Luxembourg and through the Latin quarter? This is the place. There’s a ton a creperies on this street including a famous greek one with queues out the door throughout the day, but who comes to Paris for a greek crepe? Come here to get the real thing from a Brittanic restaurant, and make sure to wash it down with some of Brittany’s finest cider or apple juice.

The details: La Petite Bretonne, 48 Rue Mouffetard, 75005 

The ultimate Parisien brasserie near the Eiffel Tower

Saving the best until last, this is on the road where I live and one of my favourites it’s where we had our wedding lunch. The service is impeccable as is all the food, not to mention the giant tree in the middle of the restaurant viewable from the 3 floors of balconies. It’s a special place indeed. Great for lunch or dinner, it’s located on a nice shopping street to enjoy as you walk off your meal. Try to book in advance:

The details: Le Café du Commerce, 51 Rue du Commerce, 75015, +33 1 45 75 03 27

 

Weekend City Breaks: Porto or Lisbon?

After a week in Portugal I was totally in love and already wondering when I could come back, or even if I could feasibly move here! The ancient culture, fresh flavoursome food, gorgeous architecture and laid back culture are just a few reasons why it’s easy to fall in love with this country. 

Most people visit either Porto or Lisbon on weekend city breaks, with both cities well suited to such a trip. We on the other hand decided to do a 8 day long holiday visiting both cities for three days each and 2 days in Sintra. Both have different activities to offer and different cultural identities, read on to find out my top tips for both. 

Lisbon 

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Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and as a gorgeous ancient city, sees many more tourists visiting per year than Porto. You can spend your days exploring the various neighbourhoods all of which have very differeIMG_5023nt atmospheres. We stayed in Alfama, the ancient heart of Lisbon and home to the Fado music culture. The area is teeming with little bars and restaurants tucked away on cute streets where you can enjoy dinner, drinks and heart wrenching Fado performances. The singing is intense and transports you to a different world. In this area you will also find the ancient São Jorge Castle on the hill and a tramway line 28 you can ride through if your legs aren’t up to the march!

In Barrio Alto you will find endless bars and restaurants to keep you entertained at night and of course the famous time out market to sample all sorts of Portuguese and international food. Head to Belem to visit the famous monastery, Belem tower and taste the best Pastel de Nata in the world at Pasteis de Belem. Eat in their cute and sprawling cafe instead of taking away- their coffee is delicious!

Pastel de Nata

Sintra 

There is easily enough to keep you entertained for three days in Lisbon but I highly recommend taking a day trip, or even better and overnight trip, to Sintra just 30 minutes away by train and home to countless castles, palaces and gardens. By taking an overnight trip you can visit some of the lesser known but equally beautiful sites (like Monserrate Park) and avoid the mid-morning crowds at the National Palace who are visiting as day trippers by visiting first thing in the morning on your second day.

Eat a hearty Portuguese lunch at Don Pipas or an elegant dining experience at A Reposa

No crowds at 9am!
No crowds at 9am!
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Monserrate Palace is not to be missed, along with its stunning and vast gardens.

 

Porto 

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Just three hours away by train from Lisbon you will find the second most popular destination in Portugal to visit for city breaks. Porto is the birthplace of Port, a delicious fortified wine that you can sample here in various breweries and bars for next to nothing. This city also has numerous winding streets full of gorgeous architecture but is much more rustic and rough around the edges than in Lisbon. You can happily spend two days wondering around discovering little bars and restaurants amongst the crumbling churches and shops.

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If you want to head out of town a trip up the Douro river will give you unparalleled views of the steep streets of Porto and vineyards clinging to the banks further up the river. As with Sintra, this can be done as an overnight trip if you fancy getting out of the city and spending some time in the cool mountain air.

 

Where To Get The Most Out Of Patagonia

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Perito Moreno Glacier, El Chalten by Nestor Galina on Flikr

Whether you’re visiting Argentinian or Chilean Patagonia, this area is sure to be a highlight of your trip to South America. The scenery is mesmerising, with rolling hills, jagged peaks and best of all, gigantic glaciers. They are an outstandingly beautiful natural wonder and this is the most accessible place in the world to view such big ones. My tips are for Argentinan Patagonia as this is where I travelled to last Christmas (and after extensive research the side that looked like it would be the most rewarding), it was an incredible trip and I can’t wait to go back and visit the Chilean side!

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A quick run down of where the highlights are

El Calafate

It’s not a particularly cute town but it serves it’s purpose of being a good base to explore the surrounding glaciers, and for getting to El Chalten and other areas. Food and drinks are overpriced but tasty. We stayed at Rincon Hotel which was absolutely wonderful and very cheap, because it’s a 15 minute walk out of town. If you don’t mind the walk, you’ll get a gorgeous room with great service, a lovely lounge with a fireplace and delicious breakfast.

There are plenty of tour agencies in town that offer a huge variety of tours of the surrounding glaciers, mostly the same stuff for different prices as usual. You can do anything from boat cruisesice treks and even kayaking. There’s loads of options to suit every budget, the cheapest being a short trek on the Perito Moreno Glacier ($100) and the more expensive being kayaking through ice caves ($400). You don’t need to book tours before your trip starts, unless you want to reserve a space on the Big Ice Trek (7 hours on the ice as opposed to 2) or kayaking, but this is weather dependent anyway so just because you book ahead it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go. High season (November – January) might see some tours selling out quicker, on Christmas eve we managed to get on a mini trekking tour the day before, but not big ice trekking.

The mini trekking was excellent and more than enough time on the ice. It included a boat ride, trekking on the ice and time on the incredible walkways to view the glacier which is an activity in itself and well worth doing even if you don’t do the ice trek. There is a public bus that goes here to view the glaciers from the walkways so you don’t have to book a tour necessarily. If you can get onto the ice for a short trek, I highly recommend it, it’s the only way to see the true blue of the glacial crevasses and it’s truly unique.

The glacier museum is excellent, very informative and engaging with excellent information that really puts into context just how incredible glaciers are. There is a free shuttle from town to the museum, and an ice bar there if you fancy it too.

El Chalten

El Chalten by by Nestor Galina on Flikr
El Chalten by by Nestor Galina on Flikr

There are dozens of treks you can do here by yourself lasting from 1 hour to a few days (take good camping gear!) The tourist information point at the bus station will give you a clear map and advise you on the best treks based on your fitness level.

You can get a bus independently from El Calafate to El Chalten, it takes about 3 hours, you can usually book it the day before but they’re always full so don’t leave it until the last minute!

There’s plenty of other activities to do here including rock climbing and kayaking, you can easily spend a week here soaking up with chilled out atmosphere and stunning views. Don’t miss a meal at the cute cafe Mathilde.

Ushuaia

Ushuaia Pier by David Stanley on Flikr
Ushuaia Pier by David Stanley on Flikr

It’s a long way down to Ushuaia but it’s worth it if you want to feel like your at the edge of the world, in fact it’s the most southern town in the world so you literally are. This is the place to come if you want to visit Antarctica but it doesn’t come cheap, and to say it’s cold would be an understatement so make sure you’re prepared!

Boat tours to see penguins, orcas and sea lions are popular here, you can book tours from any one of the huts at the port. Shop around for the best deal and make sure you know what type of boat it is and what wildlife you’re going to see. Patagonian Adventures is around $56 USD for a 4 hour trip.

You can also visit Tierra del Fuego national park here which is full of beautiful scenery, though in my opinion it pales in comparison to that of the glaciers in El Calafate.

Accommodation here must be booked in advance, its incredibly expensive no matter which season you visit in.
For more ideas on where to travel in Argentina, get in touch! 

The Alternative Guide to Northern Vietnam

Going on holiday to a popular country always poses the same problem: wanting to see the very best sights the country has to offer whilst not feeling too much like a tourist on the same tourist trail as everyone else. Balancing these two desires can be somewhat of a nightmare and at times is unavoidable. This is certainly true of Vietnam, an incredibly popular country to visit with some striking attractions including Ha Long Bay, the rice terraces of Sapa and the enchanting historic town of Hoi An. However this is a also a country well versed in tourism which unfortunately can result in a lot of scams, overcrowded attractions and pushy agents. This should absolutely not deter you, this is one of my favourite countries with so much to offer, you just need to know how to handle it! That’s where I come in.

Visit Bai Tu Long Bay instead of Ha Long Bay

Bai Tu Long Bay by Adam Straney on Flikr
Bai Tu Long Bay by Adam Straney on Flikr

Whilst Ha Long Bay is beautiful, many agents will fail to mention that it’s often overcrowded with boats and has a real rubbish problem. You can still find unspoilt corners of this adventure playground if you go with the right agency, but I preferred Bai Tu Long Bay just next door. It’s much quieter, cleaner and very impressive despite the limestone karsts being slightly smaller.

Avoid Sapa and head to Pu Luong National Park

Pu Luong by Nguyen Vinh Quang on Flikr
Pu Luong by Nguyen Vinh Quang on Flikr

Sapa is a truly unique destination for the impressive rice terraces that cling to the mountainsides. However to visit in peace is unheard of. The local Hmong People are infamous for their pushiness and guilt trips and you must be prepared to be firm. Personally I decided against visiting here because of this well oiled tourism racket and the fact that in May it wasn’t the best time to see the rice terraces anyway. For a more peaceful experience of the rice terraces my first recommendation is actually India, on the roads leading the Himalayas from Rishikesh, a dazzling experience that surpasses that of Vietnam by miles. But as this is a post about Vietnam, I suggest heading for Pu Luong National Park, lower in altitude and less mountain clinging, but impressive all the same.

Stay in Tam Coc instead of Ninh Binh

Tam Coc by Tuan Mai on Flikr
Tam Coc by Tuan Mai on Flikr

Another popular place to visit in Northern Vietnam is Ninh Binh, known for it’s limestone karsts that lie amongst the rivers ad rice paddies nearby. Traditionally people stay in the closest town of Ninh Binh which certainly has a rustic charm to it if you take the time to cycle through the back streets. But if the real reason you’re here is to experience the natural wonders, stay in Tam Coc instead which boasts much more beautiful natural views and direct access to the network of caves and rivers you came here to explore. With no ATMs nearby we cycled to Ninh Binh one hot afternoon (you must know where to go to make this a gorgeous ride instead of a life threatening one down a motorway!) which we thoroughly enjoyed but without a doubt, the experience was far more magical because we woke up each morning surrounded by lush green jungles and bird songs.

Stay on the outskirts of Hoi An

The ancient town of Hoi An by Chris Hoare on Flikr
The ancient town of Hoi An by Chris Hoare on Flikr

This UNESCO World Heritage ancient town is stunning, but completely crowded most of the time. This should absolutely not deter you, although I usually despise tourist traps this place is an exception. It’s like a fairy tale it’s so beautiful! To get some respite from the madness though, I suggest staying on the outskirts of town half way between the old town and the beach. This of course makes it easier to get to the beach if you desire, but also gives you wonderful views of the surrounding rice terraces (if you pick the right hotel and room), and a lovely bike ride into town each day which takes you through some of the more authentic parts of town.

Hanoi

Hanoi by Adam Straney on Flikr
Hanoi by Adam Straney on Flikr

This will most likely be the start or finishing point of your journey, and is abundant in delicious food. If you want to create your own food tour here instead of doing an organised tour (which I highly recommend!), simply take some of my recommendations from this previous blog post and download a maps.me vietnam offline map to mark all the places you want to go. It’s an easy town to get around, if not a bit chaotic, just keep your wits about you and savour the wonderful tastes!

The Real Sydney in 3 Days

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My last travelling adventure in 2010 ended in Sydney, Australia and I ended up staying a lot longer than I’d planned. Like, a year longer. It’s a captivating city, one you fall in love with more the longer you stay. It has plenty of distinct neighbourhoods to wander around, beautiful beaches to suit every taste, classy bars, dirty drum and bass clubs and heavenly food. I was never bored here, I just always wished I had more money to burn. Returning here with Mickaël, I was determined to show him my Sydney and show him why I loved it here so much. So naturally, I planned the perfect itinerary each day to take us on a 6 day journey of food and frolicking.

Continue reading “The Real Sydney in 3 Days”

The 6 Best Places To Eat In Singapore

One of the main activities in Singapore is eating. I learned this on our first day when we arrived at our first Hawker Centre, completely bemused by the sheer amount of stalls serving up all kinds of dishes I wanted to try. A family sitting near by sensed my curiosity and asked us to sit down with them and try their breakfast. A sort of crispy pancake that you dip into sugar and coconut. Delicious. The old grandma in the corner started motioning with her walking stick for her daughter to go and buy us a plate, she willingly obliged and a lovely brunch ensued. We were quite taken aback by their hospitality, and ever so grateful for it. I’d like to pay it forward and tell you about the most wonderful eating experiences I had in Singapore so you may enjoy it as much as we did. Continue reading “The 6 Best Places To Eat In Singapore”

Getting off the Beaten Track in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand

Courtesy of Kirk Gillock
Courtesy of Kirk Gillock

When we arrived in Thailand last year we were faced with the same problem many tourists find themselves faced with when planning a trip to Thailand. We wanted a relaxing beach to go to that wasn’t too far away from Bangkok, that wasn’t too touristy (you can cross Pattaya off your list straight away) and not too expensive (that cancels out Koh Samet too!) Where could we go?

Continue reading “Getting off the Beaten Track in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand”