Sicilian Charm (Part 2)

DSC04770

Highly recommended in Sicily is exploring – be curious and lead with your nose! This intoxicating destination has views, architecture and floral delights in abundance at every twist and turn that you simply must investigate.

www.siciliywithsebastian.com
http://www.siciliywithsebastian.com

Therefore leaving our base station at Catania behind we engaged the exceptional services of our tour guide, namely Sebastiano Melita, proprietor of  Sicily With Sebastian. Personable and charming, as only a Sicilian named Sebastiano can be, he entertained and informed us with local details whilst the pristine mini-bus wended its way along the intoxicating coastline to Taormina.

Winding roads opened up views that can only be described as mesmerising, making the journey a highlight of it’s own. The sun glinted across calm water over the bay, lighting up azure tones resplendent against the lush backdrop of verdant hills. Our colourful day of adventure was only just beginning!DSC04703

Taormina is snugly set into the hillside, elevated above a horseshoe bay, gazing out over distant Mount Etna, fields, hills, farmhouses and villages: on a clear day the view just goes on and on. The town is quaint, immaculate and delicately picturesque. Obviously its a big tourist pull, due to the cute factor, so I’d imagine in high season it is bustling to the max. However we were lucky that on a warm Saturday in late Spring it was gently swaying with pedestrians and tourists, inhaling the irresistible charm.

DSC04711

Welcoming cafes and restaurants throng the Corso Umberto and spidering alleyways, all with a charm of their own, exhibit even more. Pre-lunch delicious aromas drifted in the warm air with a heady scent of gorgeousness. Everything about Sicily seems to play heavily on the senses, certainly food always smells amazing there!

Stop for relaxed coffee on the terrace of the Grand Hotel and you’ll be guaranteed the experience of a lifetime.

DSC04747
Entrance Grand Hotel

Step back into days gone by of white gloved waiters, chequerboard floors and silver sugar tongs. Frothy coffee in delicate porcelain, floral etched cups, mini-sweet treats served on impeccable basamento della torta and a view you could never tire of.

DSC04748
View from Grand Hotel Terrace

A true classic gem providing a haven of cool tranquillity and venerable ambience in this busy town. Wander through the nearby botanic gardens; immaculate with carefully planted arches of delicate shrubs giving shaded relief in the midday sun and take in more views the defy worthy superlatives.

Amble amongst the myriad of shops offering endless souvenirs mixed with stunning leather goods, neat lacework, bright designer items and the quintessential pasta assortments. One delightful local store worth visiting is Il laboratorio Dell’Arte Taormina. From exquisite ceramics to delicately homemade lemon soaps, this little treasure has a treat for everyone; especially if you are frantically seeking gifts as proverbial holiday to home offerings.

Lunch at Granduca did not disappoint. A modest entrance, that must have seen a wealth of customers over many years, opened to a stairwell belying what awaited us.

DSC04772
Granduca view from the terrace

Walking through the main restaurant, the shaded terrace with panoramic view over the whole bay stops you in your tracks. Picturesque, tranquil and simply beautiful – this is a recommended spot to enjoy after exploring and shopping excursions.

Crisp white table linen, wine chilled to perfection in capacious glasses and a delightful breeze from the sea lifted heat-weary spirits – moreover the food to come was sublime. Homemade pasta, just as mama makes it, al dente to perfection, with seafood to make your soul smile. Clams in delicate broth, local sardines barbecued yet moist, grilled fish from the boats that morning – flavours so erudite the chef practically danced on your tastebuds.

Replete yes, but always a space for something sweet, you cannot leave Taormina without a visit to one of the delicious Gelataria’s to sample creamy-heaven. O’Sciality  did not disappoint in flavour nor portion – some of the best ice cream I have ever tasted – lipsmackingly delicious!

DSC04719

Sebastiano was reinstated for info-duties as we travelled to the next DSC04780instalment of our adventure towards Mount Etna; who was kindly sending out smoke plumes to signal our arrivalAs Europe’s highest and most active volcano it is basically awe-inspiring to get close to something so naturally unpredictable. With soil rich in nutrients due to fallen ash, farming is exceptionally productive and vineyards thrive.DSC04805

Our stop here was at the renowned Planeta Vineyard, nestled in Etna’s foothills set in a juxtaposed landscape of lush vegetation and stark larva rock. Met by a charming Planeta guide we were first given a comprehensive vineyard tour, hearing about soil, production schedules, variety of crops and grape picking – it was fascinating!DSC04796

Afterwards tasting a selection of their premium wines and learning about matching for occasion and cuisine was really personal, as though chosen members of an elite club. An added bonus was the olive oil tasting afterwards: who knew flavours varied so much from different methods of production. It was truly  fascinating to explore the origin to creation of both wine and oil – and indeed delectable to sample! (if visiting do purchase and bring home if you can, it is absolutely worth it!)

So our time in Taormina was done and Hotel Romano beckoned for more delicious Prosecco to start the night off – well how better could you possibly end such an accomplished day?

DSC04779

 

 

Mexican Wave

fringe

Fun & Tostadas….

May in Brighton is a lively month with the advent of The Fringe. Enthusing all festival goers with a sense of alternative experience, it’s a great opportunity to get out and about, enjoy the quirky, unusual and often chaotic fare on offer! This phase of tangible madness lasts only a month (6th May to 5th June) so get a move on to join upcoming frivolities!

With a view to some laughter and possible cringe-moments, myself and four friends hit the Revolution pop-up venue on Brighton seafront, near the Volks Railway to encounter Comedy in the Dark.  Interestingly enough the “dark” didn’t quite hit the spot and wasn’t dark enough, which launched a wave of hilarity among the audience on viewing the second act. Not wanting to spoil this for any future “dark-goers” it involved scant clothing and a furry animal – just use your imagination (we did). Needless to say the show was a mix of quipping one-liners, amusing anecdotes and a few head in hands stingers! Typical of the Brighton Fringe scene – fun melange of unusual venue, left field theme and a host of out-there individuals!

Emerging to a beautiful sunset over Brighton Pier was indeed food for the soul…..and thinking of that – restaurant o’clock.

Wahaca, the new Mexican squeeze in town, is a refreshing venue ringing out a high energy vibe and funky interior. Happy, welcoming staff, cocktails to get your taste-buds tingling plus food that will make your tummy smile. Linger in the bar or challenge your team to table football pre-munch, then embrace the comprehensive and inventive menu -it will not disappoint! Sharing is caring and streetfood portions for a group offer everyone a choice of mouthwatering Wahaca fare. Overall a simply delicious experience that needs to be regularly repeated – its highly recommended!

 

Relax & Unwind

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Get in a flip flop state of mind …..

holiday-714156

The Caribbean islands epitomize what many believe is the ultimate yacht charter destination; home to some of the most beautiful places on earth. You are guaranteed breath-taking tropical islands, swaying palm trees and fascinating coral reefs galore. The climate is warm and welcoming with gentle winds, encouraging that special rum cocktail overlooking the sea at sundown. This combination makes sure the Caribbean islands are at the top of so many people’s go-to list. To be honest, wherever you go in the Caribbean, you are guaranteed to find the perfect island that fits the bill. Each group has its own distinctive characteristics – there are subtle differences but each has unique appeal.  With great international transport links across the majority of the islands it means that it has become a breeze!

In the Bahamas take time to take a trip over to Pig Island, or Big Major Cay as it’s official name. Being blessed with a natural water spring and gaining shelter from neighbouring islands, pigs swim happily in the sea and sunbathe on the white sands! Thought to have been introduced to the island by passing sailors, they have set up home very happily here and are regularly fed by passing boat crews.

grenada_spice3.jpg

Beautiful Grenada is known as the Spice Island. Main exports are nutmeg and mace, supplying around 20% of the world’s market together with vanilla, clove, cinnamon and ginger. The intoxicating fragrance of spices seems to linger in the air wherever you go.

Everybody has an opinion on who makes the best rum cocktail, of course, but a Killer Bee from Sunshine’s in Nevis is a sure candidate. It’s made from a very secret recipe that seems to include rum, oh and more rum!

Why not go diving in crystal clear waters to explore one of the world’s most famous shipwrecks, the Royal Mail steamship, “Rhone” off Salt Island; featured in the movie The Deep. She sank in the area in 1867 and was one of the first propeller driven vessels – apparently, according to recent divers, the huge propeller is still intact!

grenadadiving2.jpg

Within just a 37-square-mile dual-sovereignty area there is an island of two halves – St Maarten is Dutch and St Martin is French. Abundant with tempting beaches, outstanding restaurants and enticing shopping, amazingly enough there are 17 casinos – all based on the Dutch side!

Can you feel the sun on your face and the sand beneath your feet yet?

accessories-84528_1280 - Copy.jpg

Flip flops endorsed here: https://twitter.com/CaptainObvious !!

 

Culture, Music and Cigars in Cuba

Without visiting you cannot anticipate the allure of Cuba: it is too daring, too contradictory, and despite years of casual abandon, far too appealing. Perhaps it is the exciting history, maybe some incorrigible essence, or the unfaltering energy that echoes off walls and springs ardently from it’s people. Arrive with an open mind and get ready to slowly fall in love with Cuba.

girl-575286

Visiting Cuba is almost like stepping back in time, a country currently undergoing change, but for the moment still the Cuba of our imaginations.  Beautiful, rich in history and culture, time worn but dignified, economically poor but friendly and, at times, frustrating, Cuba should always be appreciated as she is.

cuba-229356

Located 90 miles off the coast of Key West, Florida, Cuba is the largest of the Caribbean island nations. Neighboured by the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Haiti, Cuba covers some 44,200 miles. The diverse landscape features undulating farmland, rugged mountains, urban metropolises, charming colonial villages and some impressive white sand beaches. Cuba’s population is rich in variation, with 11.2 million residents. Despite its native roots, the most profound effects on Cuban culture are the result of European, African and North American influences.

restaurant-690444

The island is divided into 15 provinces and one special municipality, Isla de la Juventud. Some notable areas of Cuba include rural Piñar del Rio, where tobacco farming continually adds to economic impetus. Then there is the seaside town of Santiago de Cuba, actually the country’s second largest city next to Havana and overflowing with colourful Afro-Cuban inspiration. Not to forget very colonial Trinidad, a quiet town that is a nominated UNESCO world heritage site cushioned between imposing mountains and the sparkling sea.

cuba-1233126

Getting around Cuba is not for the faint hearted and travelling with a local guide is highly advised. The roads whilst almost empty are not always in great condition away from the main cities and there are often few sign posts along the route. Getting lost is almost inevitable but if you do happen to venture inland, lose your way and speak a little Spanish, the friendly locals will always try to help you!

The old American cars from the 50’s and 60’s are everywhere, especially in the larger towns, whilst in the countryside and poorer villages, horse and cart still seems to be the most popular mode of transport.

oldtimer-642929

In Havana let loose your imagination; stroll the oceanside Malecón boulevard and feel sea water tingle on your skin as the waves crash on the walls. You may hear guitars and voices harmonizing over a hypnotic drum rhythm or notice sunlight slanting across peeling paintwork. You will encounter tourists sporting Hemingway-esque beards and often a glimpse of Che Guevara on a billboard.

Havana Town is a must and is best seen on foot over a couple of days to experience the colonial style buildings, musicians, open-air bazaars and wonderful atmosphere.  Pop in to the Floridita Bar in Havana Town, an old haunt of Hemingway, for a refreshing Daiquiri and some live music. The rum museum is an interesting tour, remarking the history of rum-making in Cuba from sugar cane to distillery and of course there is an opportunity to sample and buy at the end of the tour.  Cigars are one of the island’s most iconic exports and during your time in the city you can visit a factory to discover how they are produced, with of course the opportunity to buy some famous Cuban cigars.

smoking-886540

If you’re keen on nature and want to get away from the hustle of city life, visit the Topes de Collantes nature reserve. The drive up to the park beautiful, taking you through traditional Cuban villages and up in to the Escambray Mountains. The highlight of the park is definitely the El Nicho waterfalls and the absolutely crystal clear pools; simply perfect for a refreshing dip. Do note that the climb up to the waterfall is a little steep and uneven in parts so you need to be-sure footed.

Sancti Spíritus, the colonial town of Trinidad, is definitely worth a visit. After walking the cobbled streets, with locals selling souvenirs of Cuba from front rooms converted into little shops, or visiting local attractions, you may be ready for a visit to La Canchanchara bar, where they serve the traditional drink of the same name made from rum, lime and honey.

cuba-75600

Santa Clara, is located in Cuba’s heartland and the site of a decisive battle of the Revolution won by Che Guevara and his contemporaries in 1958. The Plaza de la Revolución hosts Che Guevara’s monument, vast mausoleum and museum. Here you can learn all about the life of this much revered Cuban revolutionary icon.

Excellent dive sites are numerous in Cuba. A tip would be to focus on the area you want to dive rather than trying to cover multiple locations. Most notable are the Jardines de Reina, María la Gorda and the Isla de la Juventud; are all fairly isolated so good pre-planning is essential. The more sheltered south coast probably has better water clarity and more dependable weather, though the north coast, offers easy access to one of the world’s largest reefs, the choice is yours.

scuba-diving-1211601

A great visit is to Playa Giron, which is more famously known as the Bay of Pigs.  There is a great diving area and it is charmingly picturesque sitting on the beach soaking up the relaxed atmosphere. To see more of this underwater world, view some footage here.

Cuba has so much to offer visitors, it has something for everyone – a place to explore, enjoy, relax and experience.

musician-1153064

 

 

 

Venice – where time stands still

Venice is one of the prettiest and most fascinating places in the world. Amazingly enough it has changed very little in some six hundred years. Although it is visited by over 20 million tourists every year, this slice of paradise has truly kept hold of its romantic charm.

venice-1276664

Renowned for the beauty of its setting, Venice is lucky to possess several marinas located near to its historic centre and a great location to berth if you arrive by yacht. Having your own yacht it also makes it very easy to visit the numerous less visited islands within the Venetian lagoon.

venice-938663

“Must do” historical places to visit in the centre include: The Doge’s Palace, which is a palace built in Venetian Gothic style, and one of the main landmarks of the city; The Piazza San Marco, the principal public square; and Saint Mark’s Basilica, the most famous of the city’s churches and one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture.…or maybe you would prefer to just relax, chill out, sip an espresso and appreciate the wonderful views at one of the many cafes and restaurants offering spectacular waterside terraces?

st-marks-square-470561.jpg

It goes without saying that a mini cruise around the canals on a gondola, whilst being serenaded by a gondolier, against the stunning backdrop of Baroque buildings, is something not to be missed! If you are feeling energetic, a shopping trip could also be in order. Whether you are looking to buy some Murano glass, Burano lace, a new handbag or a carnival mask you’ll be delighted to know that you will be spoilt for choice.

carnival-411494.jpg

 

Ultimate divetime – Hawaii

sea-931165

Whether you’re a seasoned scuba diver or a holiday snorkeller, Hawaii offers a wonderful world to explore under the sea.

South Kona is sheltered by the mountainous Maunaloa, making the waters on the south west side of Hawaii Island calm and clear. A perfect example of this is at beautiful Honaunau Bay, also called Two-steps. This refers to a spot on the shoreline where volcanic rock has been neatly worn away into a convenient “two-step” entry point for divers and snorkellers. An abundant variety of fish and honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) can be seen in the warm waters. Honaunau Bay is also located nearby Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park. Once a place of refuge for Hawaiian lawbreakers; this expansive historic park offers an intimate glimpse into the fascinating local culture.

hawaii-1034546_1920

Molokini is a small, crescent shaped volcanic atoll off the South Maui coast, accessible only by yacht. The waters here offer bustling, colourful reefs, perfect for diving; in fact, they are so rich with life, the Molokini Crater was titled a State Marine Life and Bird Conservation District. Here divers can visit a sunken Carthaginian replica of a 19th century supply vessel, specifically placed to create an artificial reef for underwater creatures. It is popular with reef sharks, stingrays, countless schools of fish and even has an eel living on the bow!sea-931164

surfer-731482_1920

Winding down the Amalfi Coast

amalfi-coast-862299_1920The Costiera Amalfitana offers an exceptionally picturesque stretch of coastline to stir the senses. Lying along the southern borders of the Sorrento Peninsula, the Amalfi coast is a cliff-lined headland, proudly jutting out from the mainland at the southern end of the Bay of Naples. Explore pastel-hued towns cleverly terraced into hillsides, drive corniche roads with a backdrop of verdant mountains and drink in the expansive vistas across turquoise waters.

cinque-terre-332960_1920

Drive from Salerno, enjoying amazing viewpoints of the dramatic shoreline along the weaving coastline, visit gorgeous sandy beaches (the best at Maiori) and fascinating ruins of a 1st century AD Roman villa (Minori); before heading inland towards Ravello. Considered to be one of southern Italy’s most romantic and beautiful small towns it is perched on terraced slopes adorned with lush gardens, sun-drenched corners and sensational views from its lofty setting.

logopicture

Situated off the main square, home of Ravello’s music festival concerts, The Villa Rufolo and gardens are splendid; the panoramas superlative.

Nearby, take lunch on the terrace at the exceptional Al Ristoro del Moro to enjoy exquisite local cuisine, outstanding service and a sublime view of the bay below.

egadi_food

Set course to the coast on the corniche road to celebrated Amalfi, one of the world’s oldest maritime sea trade ports. Enjoy the cosmopolitan seafront setting with buzzing cafés and enticing boutiques. Culture abounds: but do not miss the Duomo di Sant’Andrea, Amalfi’s magnificent cathedral complete with 11th century byzantine bronze doors. Continue west along the corniche road where stopping at the Grotta dello Smeraldo, a charming marine cave with luminous emerald waters, is recommended. Travel on past the impressive Vallone di Furore gorge, where precipitously scenic Positano awaits you, strewn with top restaurants, sparkling hotels and kaleidoscopic villas. Journey’s end is the bustling coastal village of Sorrento, straddling the majestic cliffs, looking over the sea towards Naples and Mount Vesuvius where you can immerse yourself in a final taste of Italy’s la dolce vita.

naples-881106_1920