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Located along the southern edge of the Californian Central Coast is the super scenic, Monterey County.  This beautiful seaside city was made famous by writer, John Steinbeck whose novel, Cannery Row was inspired by the renowned, waterfront thoroughfare lined with former sardine factories that is now home to hotels, shops, and restaurants.

What makes Monterey worth a visit is the plethora of things to do.   Whether you are looking for adventure, want to explore the local marine life, enjoy a taste of the local wine or kick back with a book on the beach there is something for everyone.

Just further along Highway 1 (which reopens in April) is the neighbouring town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, a charming picture postcard destination that packs some punch for its size. 

Carmel’s romantic cobblestone streets are brimming with art galleries, great places to eat and boutique shops.  The main stretch of road runs from downtown directly to the sugar-white beach.  The town is jam packed with culture, unique backstories and film buffs will also be excited to discover that Clint Eastwood who served as mayor of Carmel resides here, and is often seen dining in Michelin Starred, Aubergine restaurant. 

One of the best times to visit is towards the end of summer. It’s less crowded and you can still expect balmy weather.  Start in Carmel before exploring Monterey Bay and the surrounding area.

Where to stay

Just a stone’s throw from the beach and a short stroll from the shops and restaurants, is the Carmel Beach Hotel.  The hotel opened in 2023 and is one of six new boutique hotels in the town.  The vibe here is laid back luxury, this intimate property has just 26 rooms and three suites.  My room was contemporary and spacious, with fresh whitewashed walls and bedding with accents of marine blue taking inspiration from the ocean.  The large bathrooms comprise of double vanity units, shower and a free-standing roll top bath.  There’s a pretty courtyard restaurant, cocktail bar, spa and gym.  The staff are friendly and deliver a personal seamless service you don’t get from big faceless chains.  During my stay I was running late for a dinner reservation and the manager personally drove me to a local restaurant. 

The breakfast here is fabulous, both mornings I had it delivered to my room.  A cute basket of continental delights are served alongside your preferred hot dish.  The eggs were cooked to perfection, toast still warm and bacon crispy.   

The location makes it ideal for sunset walks and picnics on the beach.  

The Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa sits on stilts directly above the crashing surf of the Pacific and in the prime location of Cannery Row.  The hotel is plush with lots of polished marble, soft carpet, dark wood and large ceiling to floor windows that look out over the bay.  The rooms are spacious and have a similar classic design and décor that continues throughout the hotel. 

When it comes to dining you are spoiled for choice.  There’s lobby café’s, excellent room service and for more casual cuisine guest can head to Schooners, there’s a heated deck and uninterrupted views of the ocean.   The menu includes classic American staples making it the perfect choice for breakfast or a light bite. Coastal Kitchen offers fine dining.  Executive Chef Michael Rotondo serves an ever-evolving tasting menu that showcases the culinary treasures from the region.

The adult only spa is decadent retreat for those looking to relax after a day exploring.  Located on the roof, with dramatic panoramic views from the sundeck, there are two outdoor hot tubs, a steam room and indoor sauna. There is also a gym.

Eat and drink

Chez Noir’s French inspired menu showcases innovative, seafood-centric dishes that have earned them a well-deserved Michelin star.  The menu boasts a fusion of flavours, from tantalizing appetizers to decadent desserts. Highlights include their perfectly seared scallops and the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate fondant. The staff’s knowledge and passion for each dish add a personal touch, making Chez Noir a must-visit for those who appreciate culinary artistry.

Lucia restaurant at Bernardus Lodge and Spa is nothing short of spectacular.  Situated in the Carmel Valley it’s nestled on the grounds of rolling vineyards, olive orchards and 28 acres of fragrant lavender.  With beautiful vistas, tables at Lucia are sought after.  Slick service and a menu dedicated to delicious farm to table fare is what sets Lucia apart from other restaurants.  The wood brick pizzas are divine, the seasonal salads are served like a work of art and the larger plates source prime cuts of meat and market fish. Choose from a selection of wines from the Bernardus vineyard to accompany your meal.

For a seafood feast that celebrates the bounty of the ocean, Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette is the place to be. This award-winning upscale seafood restaurant is a short drive from Monterey Bay, and exudes coastal charm with a menu that pays homage to the region’s maritime heritage. The raw bar is a standout, featuring an array of oysters and an abundance of seafood. The wood-fired grill adds a smoky richness to dishes like the grilled octopus and honey glazed duck. The casual yet sophisticated atmosphere, coupled with the welcoming staff, makes Salt Wood Kitchen & Oysterette a go-to spot for those craving a seafood extravaganza.

What to do

While staying in Monterey you must pay a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium who are celebrating their 40th anniversary in October.  Here, you can see leopard sharks meander through kelp forests and sea turtles bobbing amongst schools of colourful fish.  Floor to ceiling tanks span two floors at one of the largest aquarium exhibits in the world.  There are interactive experiences, a variety of behind-the-scenes tours (some of which allow visitors to feed penguins) and touch pools, where you can get close to sea cucumbers, bat rays and tide-pool creatures.  This is no run of the mill aquarium, and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in the region, it showcases more than 35,000 animals and plants representing over 550 species.   

Embark on a wine adventure like no other with Kombi Wine Tours, where vintage style meets exquisite vintages. Board the classic VW Kombi, ‘Sweet Pickle’ and journey through the scenic vineyards and wineries of Monterey, indulging in a curated selection of wines from the region. You’ll be collected from your hotel by their knowledgeable guide, Steve who will keep you entertained with the inside track on all things Monterey.  Expect to stop off at some of the finest wineries along the coast, make sure you call in to Galante Vineyards tasting room to see Jack!

Monterey Bay is California’s best location for viewing whales, great white sharks and spotting an abundance of marine life including dolphins, jellyfish and sea lions.  Discovery Whale Watch trips depart from Fisherman’s Wharf daily and the team onboard are the best in business for spotting and guaranteeing whale sightings.   The three-hour tour is an extraordinary experience that allows you to get up close to these amazing creatures, I got to witness a humpback breech and a pod of dolphins escorted our boat out of the bay.   Throughout the trip the crew tee up sightings, impart knowledge and facts with passion, ensuring you have a memorable experience.

House of Coco travelled to Monterey County courtesy of See Monterey.

If you haven’t heard of renowned Colombian chef, Juan Manuel Barrientos, you will very soon. He is affectionately known as ‘Juanma’ by locals and at the very young age of 40 is already the founder of a hospitality group that includes restaurants and hotel across the Americas. He was named one of the 50 best chefs in Latin America and there is no doubt you will see his empire extending into Europe in the not-too-distant future.

His original restaurant is based in Medellín. It is now situated inside his boutique El Cielo Hotel. You can appreciate his popularity with a visit to his fabulously inventive restaurant there. With an open kitchen, you can see all the staff in action. They are all dressed in white lab coats with hair nets and meticulously beavering away at their workstations. You can be excused for thinking you’ve walked into the world of Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory.

Their tasting menu includes more than 15 courses or ‘moments’ as they like to call them in the restaurant. They like to create a sense of mystery with their menu. If you look online, you’ll find a long list of mostly single words, which don’t describe the ingredients of the dish. They are in fact, different regions of Colombia and your gastronomic journey at El Cielo is a whirlwind tour of the different regions of the country. What is important to note is this tasting menu is only available at the Medellín branch. If you visit their Michelin-starred restaurants in Miami or Washington DC, only some of the highlights might be on their menu.

The moments are designed to stimulate your senses. The restaurant is well-known for its choco-therapy, so for one course, you’ll be crushing a chocolate truffle ball with your hands. Then you will be enjoying the delights without the use of cutlery. It will bring back innocent childhood memories when dining was less rigid and formal.

This is also the case for another course, where diners are offered edible balloons with helium inside. That is the cue for a chorus of Donald Duck voices reverberating around the restaurant. What makes their concept so successful is they take the seriousness out of fine dining and with every course, they bring a heartfelt smile to everyone’s faces.

Although not advertised on their website, they do cater for dietary requirements. They can readily prep for a vegetarian version of the tasting menu. For example, when they present locally cured charcuterie, they can offer smoked peppers instead.

Dishes are nevertheless always exquisitely presented. The “tree of life” is a case in point, it’s a crunchy canopy of yucca bread presented in a tree trunk structure that made it resemble a bonsai tree.

You might have thought the “tree of life” would represent the Amazonas course. Instead, it is the fish course that contained arapaima. It is the largest freshwater fish in the world and is found in the Amazon River. The dish is presented with burning charcoal and you do wonder whether it is intentional to represent the long-suffering rainforest. The Arapaima has a rather firm texture reminiscent of cod. Another seafood course is the Cartagena-inspired sausage course that is made with crab meat and white fish.

If you are a meat lover, your main course will be paradise. It’s a confit duck served with a peach sauce along with a duck reduction sauce. It’s a surprise you see a lot of menus offering duck and orange but rarely see duck and peach paired together.

The meal is also interactive. For one of the dessert courses, you are a paleontologist looking for an ammonite, as you brush away the edible powder to reveal your dessert. History is never far away from your experience. With the petit fours, it is presented alongside a replica of the Muisca raft, which is the most famous artefact from the Gold Museum in Bogota.

Coffee is an integral part of the Colombian dining experience. The cafetal course includes the use of liquid nitrogen before your coffee is served to resemble the misty conditions of the coffee-growing regions of Colombia.

Throughout the meal, the kitchen excels in showing its mastery of molecular gastronomy. The full experience generally takes at least 3 hours, so make sure you plan either a full afternoon or evening for your meal. ‘El Cielo’ means heaven in Spanish and you will be in gastronomic heaven by the end of your meal.

For more information on the restaurant, please visit –

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It’s no wonder why Cartagena de Indias captivates locals and tourists alike. This medieval walled city on the Caribbean coast boasts charm, culture, vitality, and a vibrant nightlife scene. Explore its narrow, colorful streets lined with boutique shops in one of the best-preserved old cities in the Americas.

Cartagena de Indias

Discover Historic Elegance at Casa San Agustín in Cartagena de Indias

There is a more modern part of the city, filled with glass-laden high rises, which is reminiscent of Miami. However, I would recommend staying in the old city to soak up the magic of Cartagena. Staying in one of the refurbished, grand colonial homes from the 17th and 18th centuries is the best way to discover the city.

Casa San Agustín is one such property and it is situated in the heart of the action at Plaza de los Estudiantes. The refined boutique hotel was created from three meticulously restored 17th-century mansions. It has only 20 guestrooms and 11 suites, so attentive service from the staff is guaranteed. It seamlessly blends modern comforts with authentic Colombian features. You’ll notice the original frescoes in the library where they serve complimentary afternoon tea. In the guest rooms, you’ll see their iconic wood-beamed ceilings that are centuries old.

Accommodations at Casa San Agustín, Cartagena de Indias

The main feature of the hotel is a 300-year-old aqueduct that serves as a backdrop to the main plunge pool. It is precisely because of the existence of boutique hotels like Casa San Agustín that helps to keep these important relics well-preserved. Plenty of greenery such as palm trees surround the public areas to offer a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the old town.

The rooms are relatively spacious even at the entry-level deluxe rooms, which range from 409 and 839 sq. ft. They provide luxurious Frette linens as well as renowned Ortigia amenities from Sicily. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the eye-catching Suite Prestige. They are duplexes with an area between 1539 and 1732 sq. ft. They include two bedrooms which is ideal for families and close friends to share. All the rooms offer a complimentary mini-bar that includes soft drinks and beer. The combination of dark wood, polished marble and ornate painting tiling in the bathroom adds to the colonial grandeur of the surroundings.

Their sister property, Casa Pestagua offers a similar level of comfort and sophistication. It is known as “the most beautiful house in Cartegena”. It belonged to the powerful 18th-century aristocrat, Count of Pestagua. It had undergone a major 15-million-dollar refurbishment and had only reopened last April. Now you can live the life of a count too, when you book in to stay at Casa Pestagua. The hotel is a proud member of the Relais & Chateaux group, the only hotel in Colombia awarded with that honour.

You might feel even more exclusive at this property with only 10 spacious suites and 6 deluxe rooms. The laid-back charm is very similar to Casa San Agustin. The central plunge pool is ideal for escaping the occasional sweltering Caribbean heat. The shaded sunbeds underneath the tropical palm trees are an ideal spot for catching up with your reading list. You’ll notice plenty of Moorish-inspired arches around the boutique hotel that recount the colonial times of previous centuries.

Indulge in Culinary Excellence

The rooms have a light and airy design, no doubt helped by the double-height ceilings and excellent use of natural lighting. You’ll find sturdy-looking light wooden beams on the ceiling of all the rooms. Similar to the sister property, the entry-level room is deluxe and includes luxury linen and ever-reliable Ortigia amenities. Having been refurbished recently, the decor is marginally fresher looking than her sister property but both boutique hotels are maintained to the highest of standards.

The restaurant offering at both hotels is headed by renowned Chef Heberto Eljach, who is one of the most celebrated chefs in Colombia. At Casa Pestagua, we have the culinary delight of AniMare. The menu is a journey of Colombian cuisine with modern touches. It takes in both influences from the Caribbean and the Pacific side of the country. You’ll get to savour local classics such as shrimp and snail cocktail Cartagena style. Typically, such a dish is found as street food in the local streets of the city, but here it is served in a much-elevated format, with avocado and homemade bread. Their seafood casserole main course is equally elevated with treasures of the sea served up in lobster cream and coconut milk sauce along with fried plantain chips. At Alma situated in Casa San Agustín, you’ll enjoy a similarly extravagant fine dining experience. They are particularly proud of showcasing the best of Colombian cuisine and cater for all kinds of dietary requirements from gluten-free to vegetarian needs.

For those looking for a beach holiday, you can enjoy that as well whilst staying at both hotels. They have a private beach club at ACASĪ on Isla Barú. You can immerse your feet on the white sandy beaches and swim in the turquoise waters of the beach. The hotel can arrange a private round-trip boat charter that takes about 45 minutes and you can admire the picturesque coastline along the way. It will be a different experience to the history and culture of the old town.

Photography by stephane louesdon .

Finally, if you want to relax further, they have the Aurum spa. You can enjoy everything from a detoxifying body scrub in the hammam to a gold wrap to help nourish the skin. Aurum is the Latin word for gold.

For a holiday where you can enjoy both a city break and a beach holiday. One where you can embrace history and modernity. Make sure you check out the romantic city of Cartagena.

For more information on the hotels, please visit –

https://casapestagua.com/en/
https://www.hotelcasasanagustin.com/

The vibrant culture scene in Cleveland is a hidden gem even to discerning Americans from other states. Cleveland has been an industrial hub for growth in the 19th and 20th centuries due to its proximity to natural resources like iron and oil. It is also very well connected by rail and water routes, which aided in the city’s growth.

Is Cleveland the culture capital of the Midwest? is a question that sparks debate among enthusiasts of art, music, and history. While the city boasts a rich tapestry of cultural institutions, from world-class museums to vibrant music scenes, its claim to being the definitive cultural hub of the Midwest remains subjective and open to interpretation.

Is Cleveland the culture capital of the Midwest

John D. Rockefeller, widely regarded as the wealthiest American of all time, settled in Cleveland. The city was the richest in the world during the Gilded Age. These industrialists poured their wealth into cultural philanthropic endeavours, which is the reason for the thriving arts and entertainment scene in Cleveland.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Top of the list for music lovers to visit is the rock hall. If you think the pyramid structure looks familiar, it is because it was designed by I.M. Pei, who famously designed the Louvre Museum.

The number of artists on display is breathtaking. Where else will you see Dolly Parton and Tupac Shakur in the same exhibition? Dolly famously wanted to withdraw herself from becoming an inductee in 2022 because she did not consider herself a rock artist. However, the hall responded by saying “Rock and roll has had deep roots in rhythm & blues and country music.”

They currently have a Hip Hop at 50 exhibition. Apart from fascinating memorabilia like LL Cool J’s signature four-finger ring, you’ll also learn about how hip-hop became a groundbreaking cultural phenomenon through the decades.

The visit is also a very immersive experience. You can stand beneath the Pink Floyd tour replica of The Wall. It was designed to mirror the Berlin performance of July 21, 1990.

The Garage on level 2 is where you can evoke the great rock bands of the past. You can jam with real instruments, be it drums, guitar, bass and keyboards. They have dedicated practice stations which will have video prompts to help you create your masterpiece.

Severance Music Center

Countless music lovers have voted Severance Hall as the most beautiful concert hall in the world. The mainly Art Deco design along with elements of Egyptian revival adds to a sense of Gilded Age grandeur.

It is home to the Cleveland Orchestra, informally part of the “Big Five” in the United States. The acoustics have been drastically improved since it first opened in 1931. Whilst the main focus is on classical music, they do offer more relaxed performances such as Amadeus Live. The full film is shown with live orchestral underscore.

They also run community programs that include free annual neighbourhood concerts. And they have a particularly dynamic musical program that celebrates the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cleveland Museum of Art

The breadth and quality of the exhibits at this museum rival the very best of museums from capital cities of the world. Their sparkling 39,000-square-foot atrium has been featured in films like ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’.

In times of considerable global tensions, they’ve managed to curate a blockbuster Chinese art exhibition. China’s Southern Paradise: Treasures from the Lower Yangzi Delta have secured priceless artefacts from leading Chinese institutions.

There are numerous masterpieces on display including The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew by Caravaggio and The Burning of the Houses of Parliament by J.M.W. Turner. However, they particularly excel in their collection of Asian and African art.

In recent years, they’ve engaged with modern technology through their ARTLENS Gallery and app. You can create your own digital artwork with ArtLens Studio. The app allows you to interact with every artwork on display in the galleries and find more information about it. Everything that is viewed is saved on the app, so you can revisit the masterpieces even when you’ve returned home.

Cleveland History Center

There is no better place to learn about the importance of Cleveland than at this museum. The array of antique automobiles might be a surprise to some. Although Cleveland was a major automobile manufacturing hub until Henry Ford perfected assembly line production of cars in Michigan.

The antique planes are equally impressive. Northeast Ohio had one of the busiest and largest airports in the world throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The legendary National Air Races took place on the shores of Lake Erie for 20 innovative years until an unfortunate crash took place in 1949.

Currently, they have a Fashion After Dark temporary exhibition which explores the fashion styles of Clevelanders from the 19th century and beyond. With the adoption of gaslight and electricity in the 19th century, evening wear rose in prominence. Expect to see sparkling sequins, flowing silks and dazzling gemstones. It is the first time an exhibition has taken place in the period building that is The Hay-McKinney Mansion.

Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland

If you are looking for progressive, modern art, this is the place to be. They are not a traditional art collecting museum. They are all about giving a voice to contemporary artists. Since its founding in 1968, they’ve worked with more than 2,000 artists. Often, it is the artist’s first solo show.

They currently have a fascinating exhibition, Don’t mind if I do. It takes the Japanese sushi conveyor belt concept (Kaitenzushi) but puts artwork instead of sushi on rotation. It is all about making artwork more accessible especially for people with access needs. It is about engaging with the artwork and touching all the objects.

They have regular workshops to engage with visitors such as a Day of the Dead workshop and a Pom-Pom workshop.

Flats East Bank Entertainment District

The gentrification of Cleveland is none more evident than in this district. What was once a series of abandoned warehouses has turned into a hub of cutting-edge restaurants, new hotels and residential apartments.

It has brought a hive of activity to the waterfront with the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and the general Nautica Entertainment Complex. It is a shining example of why Cleveland continues to captivate visitors with their countless cultural offerings.

Factbox

Downtown hotels start at around $150 per night.

Travellers can now fly direct to Cleveland from Dublin with Aer Lingus. The flight launched in May 2023 and operates four times a week, with connections from London Heathrow, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Passengers can carry out their pre-clearance in Dublin so that, on arrival at Cleveland airport, they can avoid immigration queues, quickly collect their luggage and start their Cleveland experience immediately.

For more information on flights, please visit –

https://www.aerlingus.com/

For more information on the region, please visit –

https://www.thisiscleveland.com/

The enchanting region known as the Brandywine Valley lies in the picturesque landscape of southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. Renowned for its breathtaking scenery, rich history, and vibrant cultural offerings, the Brandywine Valley captivates visitors with its blend of natural beauty and artistic heritage. From lush rolling hills to meandering waterways, this idyllic area has long been a haven for artists, writers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Whether exploring its charming towns, immersing oneself in its renowned art museums, or simply savouring the tranquillity of its rural landscapes, the Brandywine Valley offers an unforgettable journey through a tapestry of beauty, history, and inspiration.

From botanical gardens to nature parks

Less than one hour from Philadelphia is a lush region of Pennsylvania widely regarded as America’s Garden Capital. The prime attraction is Longwood Gardens. It is one of the largest botanical gardens in the United States and draws millions of visitors each year.

Brandywine Valley

With over 1,077 acres of designer gardens, open meadows and woodlands, this is a horticultural wonder of the world. The botanical garden is so vast, that it is divided into six distinct districts. My recommendation is to head there in the evenings to catch the Illuminated Fountain Performances. And focusing on the conservatory district and the main fountain garden district.

With its 19th-century architecture, the conservatory is considered the crown jewel of Longwood Gardens. You might observe delicate bonsais that have been trained to elegant shapes for over 100 years. They currently have a Chrysanthemum Festival that celebrates the arrival of fall. The dazzling arrangements would make even Marie Antoinette at the Palace of Versailles green with envy.

Their Illuminated Fountain Performances are accompanied by a varied playlist ranging from Madonna to the magic of Mozart. It is a 30-minute show that illuminates the skyline with infinite colours and energetic jets of water that pierce the night sky.

A nature park to consider visiting is Valley Forge National Historical Park. It is under 45 minutes away from Longwood Gardens. The park has over 3,500 acres of meadows and woodlands but more importantly numerous historical monuments.

It was the encampment site of the Continental Army during the winter of 1777-1778. It is widely regarded as the birthplace of the modern US Army. You can visit the headquarters of General George Washington and learn how they ultimately defeated the British army.

They have numerous hiking trails to cater for all levels. Biking or trolley tours are also options. Whilst you can even drive your car around the park on a self-guided audio tour.

Countryside culture

UK and European tourists might not have heard of John James Audubon, but a visit to the eponymous centre will enlighten you about his undoubted importance. His crowning glory was completing the book, Birds of America. It captures 453 life-sized paintings of North American birds with remarkable colours and vibrancy.

At the museum at Mill Grove, there are countless interactive displays to learn about the habitat, nest, and conservation of native birds.
You can enter a sound forest to hear bird songs in different habitats. And you can use a magnifier to examine different bird feathers up close.

You can see a treasured early edition of the Double Elephant Folio of The Birds of America. You can also view the original copper plate that Audubon used to produce his bird print.

What the museum does very well is not to shy away from the controversy of John James Audubon. There is a section explaining that he was a slave owner, spoke out against emancipation, and killed plenty of birds whilst also contributing to the conservation of birds.

One of the finest museums in the United States is the Brandywine Museum of Art. It has an unparalleled collection of Wyeth and American art. N.C. Wyeth House & Studio Tour is the best way to understand why the Wyeth family has contributed so much to American art.

You’ll learn how N.C. Wyeth found fame from his illustrations of The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and Treasure Island (1883). His son, Andrew found even greater success as a realist painter with masterpieces like Christina’s World. The studio has maintained much of its original character, as your guide will explain how the lighting and the painting ladder helped with N.C.’s work.

In the museum, you’ll find numerous fascinating non-Wyeth masterpieces such as Sugaring Off, and Maple by Grandma Moses. She is famously a self-taught artist who started her painting career at the age of 78.

The best places to dine out

Local produce is the key in this region. At Kennett Square near Longwood Gardens, they are the self-proclaimed mushroom capital of the world. Around 50% of America’s mushrooms grow in the vicinity of Kennett Square.

The best restaurant in Kennett Square is unsurprisingly called Portabellos. The restaurant has been run by husband and wife team, Brett Hulbert and Sandra Morris for the last 10 years.

Their signature roasted mushroom soup is incredibly popular with locals. The addition of Madeira wine adds extra complexity to the flavours. Local mushrooms make a guest appearance in a significant number of dishes from their lobster ravioli to their veal forestier.

Finish off your meal nearby at La Michoacana. Their popular homemade ice cream has even drawn visits from President Biden. They have unusual flavours like avocado and cotton candy.

Another restaurant to consider is Founding Farmers at King of Prussia. Their USP is they source all their ingredients and make everything from scratch. This includes their bread to their beers. They have active recycling and composting programs that divert around 90% of their waste from landfills.

The restaurant is at 6 locations on the East Coast and is majority owned by American family farmers. They offer a 5% wellness charge that ensures staff have free mental health resources, access to health insurance paid sick leave etc.

Their signature dishes include American classics like Yankee pot roast and shrimp & grits. However, their most popular offering is their decadent weekend brunch. They offer a generous carving station filled with the likes of herb-crusted roasted turkey and molasses-glazed ham. And before your meal, make sure you check out the spacious King of Prussia Mall. It is the third-largest shopping mall in the country.

Where to stay

For Valley Forge, I would recommend staying at Tru by Hilton Audubon Valley Forge. It is a casual and welcoming hotel. It is within a short driving distance to key sites like Valley Forge National Historical Park and John James Audubon Center. Unusually for American hotels, they offer a complimentary breakfast too.

For Kennett Square, I would recommend staying at the Inn at Whitewing Farm. It is a charming family-run farmhouse hotel. They have 10 romantic guest rooms and suites surrounded by immaculately-maintained grounds. They are situated minutes away from Longwood Gardens.

For more information on the region, please visit –

https://www.brandywinevalley.com/

The contrast could not be greater. Tai Kwun in Hong Kong was formerly the much-loathed Central Police Station, Magistracy and Victoria Prison. It was a symbol of the colonial times back when Great Britain ruled Hong Kong. Nowadays, it has been revitalised and reopened since 2018 as Tai Kwun. A centre of excellence for heritage and arts.

Located at 10 Hollywood Road, Central. It is mere steps away from the likes of Lan Kwai Fong and the business district. It is a minor miracle, that this prime real estate wasn’t sold off to developers but instead turned into a cultural hub for locals and tourists. Tai Kwun Contemporary is a non-profit visual arts program and they try to curate five to eight exhibitions each year to highlight socially relevant issues. This September, they will present “Killing TV”. It is a fascinating, brand-new exhibition on how modern-day artists deploy, disrupt, and deconstruct television as a medium. The different artists involved in the exhibition explore the themes of identity, consumerism, and human connection in society. This is often displayed in a tongue-in-cheek manner.

The venue is also a wonderful performing arts centre. Throughout September, they have the “Chilled Steps” concert series. In their fourth year, they previously the focus was on jazz music. However, this year, they’ve expanded to cover pop, folk, Western and Chinese music. Between September and October, they are also offering free film screenings of classic teen films from the 1950s to the 1980s. The carefully curated films show the youth of Hong Kong from a bygone era as they embrace the increasing influence of Western culture.

A significant part of the Tai Kwun experience is about the heritage of the site. The former Central Police Station compound had more than 170 years of history. This is brought back to life for the audiences of today through interactive tours, heritage storytelling areas, eclectic education programmes and focused heritage exhibitions. The guided tours are 45 minutes long, in Cantonese, English or Putonghua. It runs twice a day Monday – Friday and three times a day during the weekends. It is also free of charge. They have an insightful behind-the-scenes online section on their website where you can visit the hidden gems of the site. You can see the secret underground passage to the Central Magistracy or see how the compound was once a WWII Air Raid Shelter.

Of course, it isn’t all about education and learning. Tai Kwun is also a great venue to savour gastronomic delights, sample innovative cocktails and shop at independent boutique stores. One of the most Instagrammable restaurants in Hong Kong is based in Tai Kwun, Madame Fù Grand Café Chinois. The refined, colonial decor is matched by tantalising dishes such as sautéed diced Angus beef with Yunnan chilli and garlic. Their free-flowing dim sum offering during lunchtime Monday – Thursday is always popular with locals and tourists alike. The art noveau-inspired, Dragonfly bar offers some of the most innovative cocktails in town. Expect to sip on the likes of Hi Lazies, which contains Irish whisky, pineapple, lime, pimento liqueur, orgeat and baby spinach. It might sound peculiar but their talented mixologists know how to serve up a winning concoction.

Numerous world-class art galleries are also based at Tai Kwun such as Kwai Fung Hin Art Gallery and Ora-Ora. The former focuses on 20th-century French art and modern and contemporary art in Asia. While the latter sell groundbreaking, modern art pieces from across the globe. There are also numerous boutique shops on offer such as Pap Studio which sells handmade Turkish-inspired lamps and Touch Ceramics which sells beautifully crafted and handmade ceramics and porcelains.

Although it only opened in 2018, Tai Kwun has rapidly developed into a must-visit destination for tourists when they visit Hong Kong.

For more information on Tai Kwun, please visit –

https://www.taikwun.hk/en/

Hong Kong Heritage Museum has been open since the year 2000 but hasn’t always featured on the tourist maps with visitors focusing on attractions in Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. We’ve mentioned in recent articles, how Hong Kong is rapidly developing into a cultural hub of the Far East. Most of the recent openings have been at the West Kowloon Cultural District. However, if you are prepared to travel a little further afield to Sha Tin, you’ll discover a hidden cultural gem that is a mecca for the Cantonese entertainment industry.

Hong Kong Heritage Museum

Exploring the Vibrant Cultural Landscape of the Hong Kong Heritage Museum

The total exhibition area is around 7,500 square metres and includes five permanent galleries: the Jin Yong Gallery, the Cantonese Opera Heritage Hall, the T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese Art, the Chao Shao-an Gallery and the Children’s Discovery Gallery. On top of that, they have six thematic galleries that show pop-up exhibitions that highlight the diversity of Cantonese cultural offerings.

Their permanent exhibition: Hong Kong Pop 60+ is arguably one of their most popular permanent exhibitions. It highlights how the cultural melting pot that is Hong Kong has created a diverse environment for creativity to thrive. It covers iconic Hong Kong films like A Better Tomorrow and Infernal Affairs as well as Cantopop legends like Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung. The latter has his special exhibition at the moment: Miss You Much Leslie. It commemorates the 20th anniversary of the passing of superstar Leslie Cheung. The exhibition celebrates his tremendous achievement in music and film with countless stage costumes and vinyl records along with his staggering award collection.

Bruce Lee fans will be in seventh heaven with their Bruce Lee: a Timeless Classic and A Man Beyond the Ordinary: Bruce Lee pop-up exhibitions. It is the 50th anniversary of his iconic film ‘Enter the Dragon’ which made him a posthumous superstar and also his unfortunate passing away. The exhibition examines the legacy he has left behind in popular culture, whether it is in film, comics or animation. You might come across action figures based on Bruce Lee in various manifestations, his famous nunchaku or the iconic yellow jumpsuit. The exhibitions include large-scale multimedia and interactive programmes.

Immerse Yourself in the Glitz and Glamour of Hong Kong Cinema

Hong Kong film buffs will be thrilled when they visit: Out of Thin Air: Hong Kong Film Arts & Costumes Exhibition. It celebrates the golden age of the Hong Kong film industry and explores the industry both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. It focuses on the importance of art and costume design in Hong Kong films. As you stroll through the exhibition, you’ll come across memorable costumes, props, set designs, drawing manuscripts, paraphernalia, videos and reconstructed scenes of workshops. Highlights include Brigitte Lin’s smuggler lady costume in Chungking Express (1994) and the set design drawing album of Shaw Brothers Studio. The latter was the largest film production company in Hong Kong. They operated from 1925 to 2011.

Virtually Versailles Exhibition at Hong Kong Heritage Museum

However, not all their exhibitions are Hong Kong-focused. They recently held the blockbuster: Virtually Versailles exhibitions. Using cutting-edge digital technology, the exhibition transported you to the famed Hall of Mirrors. And they also had immersive bike installations where you can cycle around the scenic gardens of Versailles. Visitors got to virtually visit Marie-Antoinette’s bedchamber and discover the splendid history of the Palace. The exhibition was a roaring success and particularly popular with locals who were still cautious about travelling abroad post-COVID but still wanted a taste of foreign adventures.

They run public guided tours of the various exhibitions free of charge throughout the week. Most are presented in Cantonese but some are offered in English and Mandarin. They also have online programmes that let you experience snippets of the museum without having to head out to Sha Tin. This is a must-visit experience for those who are keen to learn more about Cantonese culture.

To find out more about the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, please visit

https://hk.heritage.museum/en/web/hm/highlights.html

Santorini, the jewel of the Aegean Sea, offers picture postcard views of whitewashed villages with iconic azure blue roofs and breathtaking tangerine sunsets synonymous with the island. However, exploring Santorini from the comfort of a luxury boat is an extraordinary experience that unveils the true essence of life in Santorini.

I was staying at Andronis Concept Wellness Resort which arranged for me to join the Santorini Yachting Club at the old port of Ammoudi for a four-hour boat tour of this picturesque Greek island. I was spending the day onboard the Black Pearl, It’s spacious and luxurious, equipped with comfortable seating, shaded areas, and all the amenities you need to relax and enjoy your day at sea. The crew is friendly and knowledgeable, our skipper, a local, was full of insider tips and information about Santorini’s history and knew all the Instagramable spots and hidden gems.

Life in Santorini

As we maneuvered out of the port into the open sea, we were treated to spectacular views of the island’s cliffs, dotted with white and blue villages, a perspective that’s impossible to replicate from land. While the boat sails to the first destination the crew start serving drinks while I kick back on the top deck and soak up some rays and stunning vistas. I already love boat life.

The first stop is the hot springs on the volcanic island of Palea Kameni. These dark, reddish, natural hot springs are believed to have healing and therapeutic properties for various ailments. I was expecting the water to be hot, yet despite its name, it wasn’t. The craggy volcanic landscape added a dramatic backdrop to my swim. After a quick dip, I was back on the boat, and we headed to the white and black beach. There are three stops throughout the tour, and the highlight is undoubtedly the opportunity to visit secluded coves and swim in the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean Sea. Our skipper knew all the best locations, steering us away from the crowds to secluded paradises that felt like they were ours alone.

A delicious Greek lunch was prepared onboard by the attentive crew, including an array of traditional mezze dishes, salad, and a barbeque served with a local Santorini wine. Perched on the top deck, taking in the ever-changing panoramas surrounding me while the golden sun warmed my skin, I was definitely living my best boat life.

The time seemed to sweep by, and before I knew it, we were pulling back into port. For anyone looking to see Santorini by sea, this is a must-do experience. A combination of striking scenery, cultural insights, and great food makes this an unforgettable experience.

I booked the semi-private Majestic Cruise, 190 euros per passenger during high season. The cruise includes:

  • Complimentary transfer to and from your hotel
  • Snorkelling equipment
  • Towels
  • Wi-Fi access
  • Welcome snacks, lunch, and dessert
  • Open bar including wine, beers, ouzo, soft drinks, juice and water

Andronis Concept is £447.95 per night based on two adults in a Cozy Suite and includes breakfast.

The cultural scene in Hong Kong is thriving at the moment. That is in no small part due to the likes of the West Kowloon Cultural District. One of their latest museums to open is arguably its finest: Hong Kong Palace Museum. They house over 900 invaluable artefacts from The Palace Museum in Beijing. Many priceless pieces have never left the capital city or even been shown to the public. They have seven thematic galleries focusing on these items, general Chinese art and modern reinterpretation of Palace Museum culture. There are two galleries with temporary exhibitions showcasing art and treasures from other parts of the world. Currently, they have the blockbuster, Cartier and Women exhibition as well as Radiance: Ancient Gold from the Hong Kong Palace Museum Collection and the Mengdiexuan Collection.

The state-of-the-art building has been designed by Rocco Design Architects Associates Limited. With an exhibition space of 7,800 square metres, it has been designed to offer abundant rest areas both inside and outside the galleries. The facilities are barrier-free and particularly spacious, capable of handling substantial crowds during the holidays periods. You can observe throughout the building, they’ve used contemporary interpretations of traditional aesthetics. They’ve taken inspiration from the architecture of the Forbidden City but also taken care to blend in with Hong Kong’s urban skyline.

The themes of galleries are very well construed. For example, in gallery two, they have “From Dawn to Dusk: life in the Forbidden City”. You can follow the noteworthy events in the daily life of an emperor and other staff members in the palace. You will encounter what the emperor might be wearing on different occasions.

They don’t shy away from using modern technology in portraying the historical details of the period. Expect to see state-of-the-art video walls that will transport you back to the time of the Qing Dynasty. In gallery four, you’ll encounter very impressive portraits of Qing Emperors and Empresses. They’ve also created helpful timelines, where you can follow the imperial lineage. Even the main thematic galleries from one to seven are not expected to be permanent exhibitions and they will likely be rotated out after being on display for over a year.

Hong Kong locals will be particularly fascinated by gallery six, which explores “Private to Public: the history of Chinese art collecting in Hong Kong”. It explores the philanthropy of Hong Kong donors who have chosen to donate artwork they’ve privately collected, so the public can enjoy the beauty of these pieces. Often this has been to help promote Chinese culture at home and abroad. With each display, there is a handy note explaining the original owner of the artwork. For example, there is a wonderful oil on canvas painting of The Matilde moored in Hong Kong Harbour from the Anthony Hardy Collection.

Despite the historical nature of most of the artefacts, the museum is a very forward-thinking and progressive institution. This is very much in evidence in gallery seven “No boundaries: reinterpreting Palace Museum culture”. In this gallery space, they’ve asked six Hong Kong-based multimedia and interdisciplinary artists to create fresh and bespoke pieces of art installations for the museum which takes a fresh interpretation of the art and culture of the Forbidden City. The most impressive installation is without a doubt “A grandiose fanfare” by GayBird. The artwork fuses the atmosphere of Qing court music with modern festive performances through 31 audio channels and kinetic installations. It even includes a special sound installation performance every half an hour.

No modern-day museum is complete these days without world-class dining options and a well-stocked gift shop. Hong Kong Palace Museum has numerous options from the high-end King Lung Heen offering fine dining Cantonese cuisine to the very accessible Chinese teahouse, Xia. Their gift shop, ART EXPRESS by The Commercial Press is a treasure trove of Chinese cultural gift ideas from ornamental trinkets to coffee table books.

https://www.hkpm.org.hk/en/home

This year is the 30th anniversary of the installation of the Big Buddha in Hong Kong, officially known as the Tian Tan Buddha. It’s a must-visit destination for any tourist visiting the enclave, whether they are religious or not. Taking 12 years to plan and build by the Po Lin Monastery, its architectural magnificence has been admired the world over. It might be on the same island as the local airport and Disneyland but you get a sense of what Lantau Island is about when you visit the Big Buddha. The mountainous greenery with breathtaking hiking trails is a far cry from the shopping mecca images frequently used to portray Hong Kong.

Getting to the Big Buddha might seem like a pilgrimage, but is remarkably straightforward especially if you opt for the Ngong Ping Cable Car rather than the winding bus routes through the island. It is an adventurous 25-minute journey ride. They offer crystal cabins with a glass bottom which offer uninterrupted views of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge and the Big Buddha. Once you get off, it’s a 10-minute walk to the monastery.

During the walk, you pass through Ngong Ping Village, a quaint revival of traditional Cantonese villages. You can sample traditional delicacies like egg waffles. You can purchase local handy crafts like Chinese opera accessories and masks. There are multimedia and immersive experiences like the art of chocolate making and a 5-D theatre suitable for the whole family.

The Big Buddha is the second-largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha statue in the world. The statue is 34 metres tall and you’ll need to ascend 268 steps to the base of the statue for a closer inspection. It is well worth the hike as you get splendid views of the verdant scenery surrounding the iconic structure. And if you are methodical, you’ll notice many famous faces having their final resting place including famed Cantonese pop star, Anita Mui.

The Big Buddha Statue was voted as the fourth of the 10 Engineering Wonders in Hong Kong in 2000. The first three were all government works projects. Top of the list is the Lantau Link followed by the Hong Kong International Airport Passenger Terminal, and in third place is the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Extension. In terms of private projects, the Big Buddha statue came out on top.

If you want to escape the hectic city life, the monastery runs a 1-week mediation retreat held on the final week of the first lunar month. Leading monks will lead attendees on meditative walks and also there will be discussions about Zen Buddhism. It will especially help you with achieving clarity of mind if you are lacking focus or are easily distracted.

Chinese cuisine is not always known as the most vegetarian friendly but you can try exceptional Buddhist vegetarian dishes at the monastery. Dishes are designed to cleanse the body and the soul and might include steamed bean curd with olive leaf and asparagus with exotic mushrooms and cashew. There is also a snack shop next to the restaurant for those looking for a quick bite. You can sample the delights of bean curd dessert and glutinous rice dumplings filled with mango. The bean curd is made daily in-house and is known to be especially silky-smooth and inviting. Most of the items are prepared in small quantities and often do sell out.

Apart from the Big Buddha statue itself, there are plenty of other spectacles to behold such as the grand hall of ten thousand Buddhas and the main shrine hall of Buddha. Both of which are extremely busy, especially on religious days. There are plenty of garden areas for people to enjoy all the wonderful outdoor spaces such as the orchid garden and the bauhinia park. There is also the wisdom path, which is an installation of 38 wooden structures carved with the complete verses of the Heart Sutra, written by master calligrapher Jao Tsung-I.

https://plm.org.hk/eng/home.php