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Hawaii is one of the most idyllic vacation destinations on the planet. This is why people who live there cannot imagine themselves moving elsewhere.

The Hawaiian Islands boast tropical rainforests with hiking trails that give you sneak peeks of the gorgeous ocean. The marine life is awe-inspiring, with humpback whales, green sea turtles, and dolphins periodically appearing.

Maui, in particular, is one of the most popular tourist attractions. The island is home to Kaanapali Beach and Honolua Bay, two of the most picturesque places you will ever see.

Moreover, Maui is perfect for a sunset dinner cruise, an incredible must-have experience. If you have never sailed out on the Pacific watching as the sky explodes with the last fiery colors of the day, you are missing out.

That is one of many reasons you should book a Maui sunset dinner cruise right now.

Sunsets Are More Beautiful in Maui

You have not experienced a sunset until you have watched the sun go down over Maui. While you can watch a Maui sunset from Kaanapali Beach or Haleakala Summit, there is something extra special about being on the water when the orange and pink shades fill the sky.

Sunset cruises last up to two hours, so while on the water enjoying the natural spectacle, you may even spot a few whales, depending on the time of year.

The Cuisine Is Delicious

All the sunset excitement is going to make you hungry. On a Maui sunset dinner cruise, you will have no end of food choices with freshly prepared traditional Hawaiian dishes. You will also likely find loads of tropical fruits accompanying the food.

Most cruises include open bars that offer premium wines and other beverages. While enjoying these, you will be treated to an authentic Polynesian dance show set to Hawaiian music.

Cruise dinner options include plated meals and buffets so that you can book the most appealing option.

Sunset Cruises Are Romantic

If you have a special anniversary or your partner’s birthday coming, there is no better way to celebrate than with a leisurely sunset dinner cruise in one of the most beautiful locations on Earth.

Sailing out on the Pacific creates a romantic ambiance all on its own, even if there are other guests. The view, the ocean, and the food set the stage for a most memorable evening. The sunset forms the backdrop, and the marine life is the entertainment.

You can even book a couple’s cruise package, which includes cocktails and flowers and allows you to choose your seating.

You Can Explore the Coastline From a Distance

Sometimes, you can only truly appreciate something when you are a distance away from it. The same happens when you are on a sunset cruise. While enjoying the colors of the sunset, you will also appreciate the Maui landscape from a different angle.

As the sun sets behind the mountains in a burst of purples, pinks, and reds, you will see the palm trees swaying as night begins to fall. You may spot spearfishers out in the water doing their thing. You will also see the waves crashing against the shore in the distance, completing the beautiful picture.

You Can Whale Watch While Watching the Sunset

Whale watching is a big deal in Maui. This is not only because it draws tourists like nothing else but also because the humpback whale is nothing short of revered in Hawaii. Humpback whales are known as Kohola in Hawaii. In the Kumulipo, the whale’s birth is stated after the beginning of creation.

The first sighting of a humpback whale in Maui typically indicates the start of the winter season in Hawaii. Over 10,000 humpbacks migrate to Maui’s warm waters from December to April.

If you book your sunset dinner cruise during this time, you will likely spot a whale or two performing a quick aerial dance or splashing their tails in the water. There have even been a few orca sightings in Maui over the years.

Tips On Planning Your Maui Sunset Dinner Cruise

Now that you cannot wait to book your sunset dinner cruise, here are a few tips to ensure you have the best possible experience.

  • Book your trip in advance if you want to set sail during summer. Maui’s summer sunset cruises fill up fast, so you must book well ahead to avoid disappointment.
  • Consider how much money you want to spend. There are lots of options to choose from to suit your budget. You can go for a luxury experience or a casual one. You can also choose between gourmet meals or a buffet.
  • You should find out from the cruise operator beforehand if there is a dress code. Most cruises do not specify a dress code, but it is always advisable to make sure.
  • If your cruise starts earlier in the day and builds up towards sunset, remember to use sunscreen and a hat.

Remember to take your camera along. There will be plenty of opportunities to fill your social media feed with gorgeous pictures.

A Sunset Cruise Will Give You a Much-Needed Breather

Life is full of stress, deadlines, worries, and even drama. You can leave all of this behind, if only for a few hours, when you step on board a boat taking you on a sunset dinner cruise.

These cruises are about enjoying Maui’s splendor and marine life. They also offer an opportunity to switch off and enjoy being with friends and family.

Sail Away in Paradise

A sunset dinner cruise is one of the best experiences you can have in Maui. The calm rocking of the boat beneath your feet, the Hawaiian music playing in the background, and the glorious sunset make for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.

So, do not let the opportunity to enjoy a Maui sunset on a boat pass you by. Embark on your Maui adventure today by booking a dinner sunset cruise and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Like Patricia Schultz said, “Even the sunsets in Maui seem to plead you to stay.”

There aren’t often moments where my breath is taken away. The rooftop of Mona in the centre of ever-evolving & exciting Athens, was one of them.

We entered the intimate and unassuming space and went straight up, noting the marvellous mid-century industrial features (the space used to be a working factory in the centre of the city), billowing linens, cool flooring and artworks. From the rooftop, we took in the Athenian urban scenery, the Acropolis and other sites that had remained in place for centuries, and washed down the sunset with hand-selected natural wines that were on offer at the bar. The rooftop is accessible for hotel guests and members and it features an inviting, communal long table of glass and metal, comfortable sofas, outdoor showers, a bar, and lush plants.

Neighbourhood

Mona is located in the vibrant neighbourhood of Psirri, full of charming contradictions. The delicious smells of mezze and the melodious sounds of live music fill the myriad of streets that surround the oasis which is Mona. The district is moments away from the Acropolis and ancient Agora, while contemporary art galleries, designer shops, gourmet restaurants and hip bars rub elbows with traditional artisan workshops and the buzzing Varvakios food market.

Delicious and dynamic food can however be found within the hotel; talented chefs from across the globe often pop up in the space for supper clubs, adding to the always-evolving nature of the hotel and concept. Mona also offers dynamic event spaces with a raw luxury vibe that fuels social gatherings, pop-ups, collaborations, film and video productions, pop-up supper clubs, private events, wedding celebrations and other milestones.

Rooms

Designed to make you feel at home and yet in a dream-like trance state, the rooms range from cosy to open-plan and urban (some with patios and balconies), to more loft apartment style with floating day-beds. All rooms are lit by vintage custom-made lighting and the natural, high-octane Athenian sunshine. Each of the twenty rooms reveals decades of history, each with its own personality and tone of voice. Many of the bespoke fixtures and objects found throughout the hotel are sustainably created or upcycled with materials that the Mona team first found upon starting the project.

When it was time to leave after a blissful night’s sleep, we looked back at our room and knew this would be the last time we would see it in this state. We knew that it’s personality would change – a new piece of local artwork would hang, a new perfect spot to drape the linens to separate the bathroom, a new chic fixture that caught the morning light just right. All of our senses had been activated, and we revelled in it.

House of Shila

Mona represents a new era for the concept-led city boutique hotel and is the second House of Shila site. The House of Shila philosophy is as follows:

The House of Shila creates boutique spaces and creative eco-systems with boundless imagination. We excel at uncovering unique properties and converting them into aesthetically gratifying vessels for transportive, sensory experiences that inspire intimacy.

We excel at uncovering unique properties and converting them into aesthetically gratifying vessels for transportive, sensory experiences that inspire intimacy.

The opening of Mona marks the continued commitment to the art of living. House of Shila believes simplicity is the ultimate sophistication and this is reflected in everything throughout. Every guest (including myself) wants to take a piece of the hotel’s essence back home. With that in mind, all items are available for purchase – from the furniture and organic cotton sheets, to the exotic plants and custom-knit carpets.

The House of Shila Members Club

In 2021, Shila introduced its first Social Club, via the hotel’s legendary Thursday night gatherings on the rooftop. Shila’s Social Club attracted a following of renowned artists, architects, entrepreneurs, fashion icons and passionate individuals in their own field. An interesting melange of locals, international newcomers, and curious hotel guests that became fanatics of the residence’s understated luxury, entertainment and privacy.

The House of Shila membership has now expanded to Mona, offering the opportunity for both discretion and mingling within both the 1920s townhouse and its urban downtown sister venue. Aesthetic sociability, deep seated passion, real interpersonal connections and creative communality are at the core of Mona, and members there have exclusive access to all its spaces, including the rooftop restaurant & bar.

Members can also enjoy discounts for stays, as well as for any purchases of the art and design objects in the space. Memberships are currently granted by invitation only and applications are accepted here.

How to book

mona-athens.com I Mona, Kakourgodikiou 4, Psirri

Curiosity often sparks when we pick up our favorite products. Where do they come from? Who makes them? It’s not just about the labels or the marketing; it’s about the cities and communities that shape these brands. This exploration takes us across a variety of American cities known not just for their cultural significance but also as epicenters of innovation and manufacturing. From the buzzing streets of New York City to the tech-driven avenues of San Francisco, these cities are not only homes but also the heartbeats of the brands we love.

San Francisco – Tech Meets Gourmet Delights

San Francisco, renowned for its tech industry, also hosts a vibrant food scene that’s an incubator for innovative food brands. This city combines Silicon Valley’s cutting-edge technology with Northern California’s rich agricultural heritage, creating a fertile ground for brands that are redefining snacking, organic foods, and sustainable practices. The entrepreneurial spirit of the Bay Area is palpable, encouraging startups and established companies to push the boundaries of what’s possible in food technology and distribution.

Chicago – The Hub of American Classics

Moving to the heartland, Chicago’s reputation as a food and drink powerhouse is well-deserved. Known for its deep-dish pizza and hearty steaks, the Windy City is also home to some of the most iconic American food brands. This city combines a rich culinary tradition with a robust manufacturing sector.

As part of our food and drink roundup, it’s clear that Chicago’s influence stretches far beyond its city limits, impacting grocery shelves and dining tables across the country with a diverse array of products rooted in Midwestern values of quality and straightforwardness.

Los Angeles – Lifestyle and Health Innovators

On the West Coast, Los Angeles stands out as a trendsetter in health and lifestyle brands. This sprawling metropolis offers everything from cutting-edge fitness equipment to organic health foods.

Influenced by celebrity culture and the wellness movement, L.A. is a launchpad for brands that prioritize sustainability, health, and ethical production. The city’s diverse demographic contributes to a dynamic marketplace where innovative ideas quickly turn into trends, influencing how Americans think about health and wellness.

Atlanta – Crafting America’s Everyday Goods

Atlanta, a key player in the food manufacturing sector, serves as a prime example of how diverse the U.S. production landscape is. Home to some of the largest food contract manufacturers, Atlanta has carved a niche in producing many different products from beverages to packaged snacks.

The city’s strategic location and robust infrastructure make it an ideal hub for distributing goods across the Eastern United States. Brands that want to ensure efficiency and quality often choose Atlanta for their manufacturing needs, benefiting from the city’s skilled workforce and modern facilities. Plus, for local brands, working with a food contract manufacturer helps businesses create and scale their food production and support the economy nearby.

Denver – Brewing and Beyond

Denver is celebrated not just for its picturesque landscapes but also as a thriving center for the brewing industry. Over the past decades, Denver has emerged as a major player in craft beer, with numerous breweries dotting its cityscape.

But it’s not just about beer; Denver is also a hub for innovative food startups, particularly in the natural foods sector. The city’s focus on sustainability and community-centric business models makes it a nurturing ground for brands that are committed to making a difference both locally and nationally.

New York City – A Melting Pot of Global Influences

Finally, the incomparable New York City. As a melting pot of cultures, NYC is a fertile ground for global food brands and fashion icons. From gourmet chocolates to designer wear, the city’s global influence is undeniable.

The diversity here fuels creativity and innovation, making it a top choice for brands aiming to make a mark on international markets. The energy of the city reflects in the brands born here, always vibrant, bold, and trendsetting. For a visit in New York City, you might enjoy anything from a shopping trip on 5th Avenue to a culinary delight in Times Square with amazing local brands to discover. 

Each city has its own story, a unique blend of culture, economy, and technology that influences the brands it births. From San Francisco’s tech-driven food innovations to Atlanta’s pivotal role in food manufacturing and Denver’s commitment to craft and sustainability, these cities not only host the headquarters of our favorite brands; they mold them. They provide the resources, the inspiration, and the community that allow these brands to flourish and, in turn, define our lifestyle and choices. So next time you enjoy a product, take a moment to consider not just what it is, but where it comes from. 

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.

Slowing down in SLO CAL

Having been fortunate enough to partake in a few American road trips over the years, nothing quite prepares you for the change in landscape and climate that you can experience in a relatively short space of time. In a matter of hours you can be instantly transported into another world, the people are different, the air, the food, the roadsides that flash past you in a speedy blur. As we bid a fond farewell to the dry heat and urban jungle of Las Vegas, we settled into our first long drive of the trip. Armed with Twizzlers, Goldfish and a plethora of other American car snacks, we allowed a needed silence to fill the car, the bells and rings of slot machines and roulette tables slowly dimming in our ears and being replaced with woosh of a coastal breeze. 

As we moved further into the Californian coastline it became instantly apparent why West Coasters have a certain reputation of being laid back and carefree. Our weary Vegas bodies began to revitalise. As we put more distance between us and the man made playground, we softened in tandem with the skyline. Sky scrapers and towering hotels were replaced with bloom covered hills and green pastures. The expansive views of city scapes now replaced with blue ocean. Hell, there was even a ‘did that really happen’ moment of a dolphin jumping out of the sea and swimming alongside our car for a stretch of the journey. We had spent our first week rushing in giddy excitement from one experience to the next in a city that makes you think fast and spontaneously, now was the time to slow down and be mindful about our next moves and as we wound our way up the PCH, stopping every couple of kilometres to take in the breathtaking views, we did just that.

Where to stay

The whole coastline of Central California is peppered with accommodations. When conducting some initial research on the Visit SLO CAL website to see the options available it became quickly apparent that tourists from all price points are spoilt for choice.

Fortunately for us our choice had been made for us for one hotel and the second, well that is one I had had on my ‘I have to visit here’ list since the dawn of time.

The Cliffs Hotel and Spa

Picture this, a day on the road in the best possible way. Weaving out of LA and up through Malibu, taking in the elite architecture of the 1%  juxtaposed with surf shacks and surfers vans. Blue waves crashing out to your left, white celebrity homes flash past on your right. Squeals of delight as we see dolphins jump through the surface of the water as if they are racing us, murmerings as we wonder who lives behind those gates – Miley or Gaga? All soundtracked to Hole’s Malibu of course. Then up through the Spanish colonial city of Santa Barabara, backdropped by the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains, a quick stop for ice cream and coffee to fuel up for the final leg up to Pismo – a town known for its surf, beaches and wineries.

There is an old time charm surrounding Pismo Beach, perhaps from the bright lights that showcase the pier or the Americana sign that sits high above the buildings, notifying everyone exactly where they are should they forget. Checking into The Cliffs Hotel, the charm continues. Greeted by an effervescent valet and an even more sparkly concierge, we were ushered to our room. Weary from being in the car for so long, we were now on the hunt for comfort and gentleness. The energy of Vegas had left us, we wanted to hunker down and be looked after, we had come to the right place.

As the door opened to reveal two enormous double beds with a huge jacuzzi style tub perfectly positioned  so you could watch the sunset a wave of relaxation enveloped our bodies. It was as if the hotel new what we needed and was here to look after us, “you’ve had a long few days” she cooed, “come, sit on your private balcony overlooking the ocean with this bottle of red wine and cheese plate, afterwards you can run a bubble bath and rejuvenate”. So we did just that and as we reclined in sheer bliss with wine in hand and cheese on cracker, the sky turned to a fiery orange and a pod of dolphins put on a display, the most magical way to end a magical day. Due to our schedule we didn’t have that much time to explore the hotel but if I am ever back in this area I will be sure to – we only scratched the surface but it was a jolly nice surface to scratch.

Rooms start from £150

The Madonna Inn

A thing of legend and a place where we would be housed for the next two nights of our trip. If you have not heard of The Madonna Inn, look it up immediately. Built in the 1950s, the world famous hotel takes residence in San Luis Obispo. With 110 themed guest rooms ranging from the ‘rock room’ complete with boulders and rock faces to the Sugar and Spice room which literally looks like it has been doused in pink sugar, there is something for everyone. It also has a pool, restaurant, cafe & bakery with its world famous pink Champagne cake, shop (that took far too much of my money, I blame the fringed silk shirts), dance hall, horseback riding and breathtaking views reaching over the Prefumo Canyon. It is truly a unique place, full to the brim with kitsch decor, over the top interiors and camp details and I couldn’t have loved a place more.

The Madonna Inn knows what it is and is totally unapologetic about it. She is bold and brassy and some bits don’t work but everyone seems to be ok with that because what she lacks in blinds that close all the way or aircon that stays on, she makes up for in buckets of personality.

We stayed in the Tack Room – a sexy number. Equestrian paraphernalia at every turn – knee high leather boots, saddles, Stubbs-esque artwork on the walls. Pony skin rugs lined the floor and the walls were drenched in a dark red paint that bled into the equally red leather bed heads. I’m still not entirely sure if this room was meant for two girls sharing a road trip but we had a great time nonetheless. Whilst the walls could probably talk you through far more sordid goings ons, we did the next best thing – ran to the shop, bought matching pink horse print pyjamas and ate bright pink cake in bed – it was glorious.

Propping up the bar at The Madonna Inn is an activity everyone must do at least once in their life, if you are lucky enough to be there on an evening when the famous dance hall comes to life you are in for a treat. But fear not if the calendar doesn’t line up, there is live music most nights and whether you choose to dance or sip your pink cocktail on the sidelines, it is always a hoot. 

Where to eat and drink

As with most things in this region, you are truly spoiled for eateries. Being one of the best known wine regions in the world and having proudly championed farm to table cooking before it was chic, the people of SLO CAL really know what they are doing in the world of food and drink.

Center of Effort

Perched in the foothills of the Edna Valley, this wine estate benefits from the cool ocean breeze and morning fogs rolling in from the Pacific Ocean meaning their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs are some of the best. The private estate is available to book for dining by request only, a pretentious notion some may think but in actuality, once welcomed in, the benefits are understood. A perfectly tailored experience that allows the somme and chef to take you through both the wines produced and the menu – usually derived from ingredients grown on site or very close by resulting in an informative and one of a kind experience.

Copper Cafe

The Copper Cafe sits within the aforementioned Madonna Inn. Adopting its namesake from the large copper sculptures that were created from waste of wiring and piping when the hotel was built. The cafe is fun and fabulous. A huge circular bar takes centre stage with bright red leatherette seating surrounding it. Clashing floral carpets and wallpapers make you feel like you are sitting within the brain of a drag queen in the best possible way. Famed for its baked goods, the cake is served in slices about a foot tall – I was convinced this would be a style over substance situation but lo and behold, it was the most delicious cake I have ever eaten – layers of soft sponge with clouds of Bavarian buttercream icing, the cake alone is the stuff dessert dreams are made of. There is also the classic American breakfast, lunch and dinner available where you can expect things to be just as kitsch – think pancakes with pink sugar and baked potatoes wrapped in gold leaf.

The cafe is open to non residents making it a must for anyone passing through.

The Restaurant at JUSTIN

From the brash boldness of the Copper Cafe to the refined and relaxed sophistication of The Restaurant at JUSTIN – perhaps the most peaceful and tranquil restaurant I have ever eaten at. Another proud Californian winery but this one with Chef Rachel Haggstrom at the helm who has won the place both a Michelin star and a Michelin Green Star for their work in sustainable cooking and harvesting.

Tables are cleverly positioned on the terrace far enough away from each other that lounging labradors have space to stretch – it is dog friendly and it seemed this was the dog of choice on this day – but close enough to create a buzzy ambience, all positioned in such a way that diners can look over the overreaching vineyards. The sommeliers and wait staff are some of the most knowledgeable I have ever come across and move with the energy of worker bees – darting from table to pass to wine cooler, never so much as breaking a sweat, constantly maintaining topped up glasses and brains as they impart their wisdom with their guests. On completion of our lunch and wine pairing, a quick turn around the kitchen garden, the foundation of the seasonal menu and Chef Haggstrom’s pride and joy – herbs and leaves of all descriptions jostled with each other, begging to be picked and plucked ready for the next award winning garden salad. This place is the epitome of farm to table cooking.

Hidden Kitchen

An institution within the surfing community of Cayucos, this laid back breakfast to lunch restaurant is famed for its blue corn tacos and waffles and gargantuan smoothies and with good reason. 

I don’t even surf but after a breakfast of champions here, sitting on the outdoor patio, watching the waves crash, I felt I could take on a barrel as well as the ripped, tanned guy sitting next to me.

The offering reeks of ‘california cool’, dishes such as ‘Reef Rancheros’ – eggs, black beans, green salsa and Hidden Kitchen hot sauce and huge 16oz smoothies aptly named ‘Big Sur Blue’ fly out of the kitchen to be gobbled up by hungry patrons. Nice touches like a vintage clothes rail where people can leave their wares for the next person to pick up and curated merch make this place what it is, an intricate part of the Cayucos tapestry.

Things to do

You will never run out of things to do in SLO CAL – we could have spent a month there and still not covered everything there is on offer and that’s not including all the places to eat and drink. No matter your age, budget, activity preference there will absolutely be something that tickles your fancy here.

Kayaking in Avila Beach

This may have been my highlight of the whole trip. I kid you not when I say tears rolled down my cheeks at one point during this excursion. My traveling companion, a much more outdoorsy type than I, is an absolute sucker for a kayak related jaunt. Knowing she was nearing capacity of wine and tacos and my squeals of excitement that go along with them, I planned a morning on water to soothe her.

Not the strongest of swimmers and with absolutely no hand eye coordination, much to her dismay I insisted we take a double kayak out as visions of me drifting out to sea entered my head. After a quick briefing from the team on the shore about which route to take and what we could expect to see we hopped (slid) in. There had been  mention of sea otters and I may or may not have spent the night previous googling ‘how likely is it to see sea otters at Avila beach’. Imagine my sheer joy when we were told “oh yeah, they’re right over there, you can see them bobbing about”. I should probably backtrack slightly here and inform you that I LOVE a sea otter. And there weren’t just a few bobbing about, hundreds of them. Holding hands, rolling around in kelp, ducking and diving – it was one of those moments where you really question “is this my life?” Or at least you do if you are really into sea otters.  The water here  is perfectly sheltered meaning it was like a mill pond when we wet set sail… paddle (?). After what didn’t feel like anywhere near long enough but was probably nearly 30 minutes of staring at these adorable creatures we moved on to the next wildlife installment, a colony of seals basking on a jetty by the pier, another incredible sight to see up close and personal. We continued our journey to a private beach where we moored up and walked to a lighthouse, very picturesque and nourishing. All round, a fantastic way to spend a morning and something I won’t forget for a while.

SOL Spa and Downtown SLO

If even a gentle kayak is too much like hard work, no shame. May I suggest a visit to the Sol Spa at Hotel San Luis Obispo in Downtown SLO. This cavern of tranquility is ready and waiting to welcome you with open arms. As soon as you step foot in the zen oasis, full of neutral tones, soft music and even softer closing doors, any worries and stresses ebb away before you even make your way onto the massage couch. However, on the couch is where things truly get special. Both my friend and I opted for the signature massage and it was perhaps up there with one of the greatest we’ve ever had. Limbs were manipulated and muscles stretched as the folds and creases of car seats were brushed away from our bodies. From here I would suggest slowly wafting your way to the main hotel for a coffee in the lounge whilst your senses return to your body. Once confident that you can walk rather than float out of the hotel, Downtown SLO is itching to be explored. A university town at heart, full of independent cafes, book stores and record shops – the perfect place to wander around and get lost in. If you can schedule it so you land here on a Thursday then all the better for it as when day turns to night, the town comes alive for the SLO Farmers Market.

Downtown SLO Farmers Market

SLO CAL was doing farmers markets before farmers markets were a thing so it was with excitement and intrigue we parked up ready to immerse ourselves in town’s pride and joy. Every Thursday sees the main street pedestrianised and lined with growers, suppliers and producers of the county’s finest offerings – fruit,vegetables, cheeses, nut butters it was all here. Purveyors have the prime real estate here but they make way for street food vendors and food trucks so shoppers can grab their goods and then have a bite to eat. Shout out to the steak slinging cowboys – a treat for the taste buds and the eyes. Alongside food and drink is live music and street shows ensuring that the whole town is shrouded in a palpable energy. It is easy to see why it draws in crowds from far and wide.

Kiler Ridge Olive Oil tasting

High up in the Paso Robles hills sits Killer Ridge olive oil farm. A family run affair producing small batch Extra Virgin Olive Oil, not something stumbled upon very often on American soil but during a cycle trip through Tuscany, the owners pondered if California could produce wine like Italy, why not olive oil? And so the fifteen acre farm was established and 835 Tuscan olive trees planted. Now there is a real sense of community with the farm as people are invited to help with harvest and come together to try each year’s produce. Tastings are available where guests can try the variations of olive oil available and learn about the process from the growers. 

Sensorio

A short drive from Kiler Ridge lies The Bruce Monro installation : Lights at Sensorio. Another highlight of the trip and something that has been on my bucket list since it opened in 2019. An immersive walk through outdoor exhibit in the Paso Robles hills that is comprised of 100,000 solar powered flickering light orbs. Of all the pictures I had pawed over on Pinterest, nothing could do this spectacle justice. Get here as the sun goes down and prepare to lose yourself in something that feels truly otherworldly.

Hearst Castle

No trip to this region would be complete without a visit to the legendary Hearst Castle. Once home to William Randolph Hearst and now a museum allowing us mere mortals who could only dream of such an estate a look into the inner workings of such an establishment. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I arrived here, I had never heard of it, nor could I find much information online but curiosity peaked and culture vulture engaged, we made our way to San Simeon to see what we could find. If you had told me I would be alighting a bus that climbs the mountain tracks with flocks of zebras either side (yes real ones) I wouldn’t have believed you but that’s exactly what happened. As people congregated at the visitors centre, ready to be ushered on to their allocated vehicle, things started to feel a bit Jurassic Park. The bus heaved its way up the mountain side, through pastures we were told once housed all manor of wild beasts. Past old farm buildings where animals were reared for Hearst’s grand banquets – the originator of farm to table cooking in these parts it would seem, and onto the castle itself. Built in 1947, the complex includes two guest houses, pools and fountains, a cinema and tennis courts. This is where the rich and famous escaped La La land and came to play – if worthy of an invite of course. Designed and curated by one of the first female architects in the US and filled to the brim of wares and finds from travels across the globe, there are seven tours to choose from (it would be near impossible to see everything in detail in one swoop) so choose your preference and prepared to be amazed at what has been created here.

Elephant Seals Vista Point

For our last stop of our trip, we wound down from San Simeon and picked up our beloved Highway 1, stopping at a local fruit stand on the side of the road to grab some locally grown strawberries.Making  the decision to drive as far as we could up the PCH, knowing it was closed about 40 miles north but wanting to take in as much of the breathtaking scenery as possible and comfortable in the knowledge we could pull off in a multitude of vista points along the way, the first of those being home to a huge colony of Elephant Seals. Another example of the multitude of wildlife that resides in this region and the vast variety of things to see and do here.

As we leant our forearms on the fencing and dangled our heads over so we could see the beach below and the odd looking beasts that inhabited it, I drew a parallel as two weeks previous I had stood in exactly the same position on a Vegas balcony. Bright twinkling lights of the strip dots of sunbeams dancing across the Pacific. The ringing and crashes of the Vegas soundscape replaced with crashing waves and grunting seals. The suggestion of a cocktail now and outstretched hand offering the last strawberry. The excitement of two girlfriends about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime now replaced with a bond only brought about by traveling the world together.

We had a clear idea of what we wanted out of this trip and it delivered in spades. We laughed, we cried, we ate, we drank. We reconnected with each other as we connected with the West Coast – from the dizzying heights of Las Vegas to the slow paced ways of SLO CAL. This road trip mimicked our friendship – a whirlwind of excitement that blows out and paves the way for a long and gentle journey together and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Getting there

I will always champion driving through as much of this area as you can. Daily direct flights from the UK are available to Los Angeles and San Francisco, both of which are 3.5 hour drive from SLO CAL.

Should you choose not to road trip, there are daily direct flights to San Luis Obispo Regional airport from both Sand Francisco and LA.

Find our more about SLO CAL

Read all about Part 1 of this trip here.

When you think of the Maldives, what comes to mind? Crystal-clear waters, pristine white sand beaches, and overwater bungalows perfectly tailored for romantic getaways, right? While it’s true that the Maldives has long been synonymous with honeymooners and couples seeking a romantic escape, there’s so much more to this tropical paradise than meets the eye.

While it’s great for relaxing and taking time out, each resort has unique experiences to spark your sense of adventure, stoke your senses and light your imagination.   Two resorts that excel in personalised experiences and deliver in abundance are Gili Lankanfushi and Six Senses Laamu.  Both resorts serve up lashings of luxury, plum sunsets, pink skies and azure waters but what sets them apart from their Maldivian neighbours is the exceptional experiences.  Here’s my favourite things to do in the Maldives.

Discover an underwater world at Six Senses Laamu

One of the things that sets Six Senses Laamu apart from the other resorts is the spectacular house reef that hugs the edge of the island, coupled with a state-of-the-art immersive research facility and you have a unique marine experience that lets you take a deep dive into ocean life.  

The Maldives Underwater Initiative (MUI) by Six Senses Laamu is a collaboration of marine biologists from the resort and three partnered NGOs; the Manta Trust, Blue Marine Foundation and the Olive Ridley Project. The Sea Hub of Environmental Learning in Laamu (SHELL), home to MUI, is a stunning visual and interactive experience that showcases the marine environment.  Here a cool team of marine biologists conduct innovative research in the lab facilities and take guests on an extraordinary journey into the ocean.  This awesome facility wouldn’t look out of place at the Science Museum.  Full sized manta’s hang from the ceiling, while a series of dedicated informative stations are dotted around, jam packed with fun facts and statistics on the mysteries of the ocean and those who inhabit it.

The SHELL is home to an interactive room designed for guests to discover the secrets of Laamu and the underwater world. Highlights include an augmented reality sandbox which allows you to change and redesign habitats and topography using projection mapping technology. There’s a nifty little piece of animation kit that lets you get creative and watch your favourite marine creatures come alive on a large screen and watch them swim in a virtual world.  I came away with a plethora of facts and a better understanding of the ocean.

Following some time exploring the SHELL you can get up close and personal with sharks, parrotfish and green turtles at the house reef.  Private tours are available for beginners as well as seasoned divers and snorkelers.  

The coral reefs of the Laamu atoll are rich in colour and brimming with marine life. I took a snorkel tour with the resident marine biologist who knows all the best spots along the reef to get a glimpse of Nemo and the impressive eagle rays.  I spent over an hour exploring the stunning coral garden coming face to face with oriental sweetlips, a moray eel, schools of needlefish and pretty Moorish idols.  It’s easy to get lost in this breathtaking world.   

Whether you are a marine enthusiast or a novice, I’ll guarantee you’ll quickly fall in love with the ocean and this is without a doubt the most impressive snorkelling sites of the atoll.

Experience your own private jungle cinema

Upon arrival at Gili Lankanfushi you are assigned your own Mr Friday, a dedicated butler service to ensure that your stay and experience is second to none.  I can vouch that this is very much the case, with my Mr Friday going above and beyond to make sure my stay was nothing short of incredible, recommending a series of unique experiences to enhance your stay.  My Mr Friday arranged for a slice of movie magic under the stars, a fantastic way to spend an evening.  Nestled in the middle of the island ensconced in your own private leafy jungle is an outdoor cinema like no other.  Ahead of my private screening I got to request my movie of choice and select from a mouthwatering barbeque menu.  This wasn’t your run of the mill burger and sausage menu, instead it comprised of succulent lobster and fresh seafood with wagyu beef and premium cuts of meat, accompanied by delicious sides and salads.  

After drinks on the beach watching the sun go down, I was whisked to a quiet nook of the island where flanked by tress and foliage was the most fabulous outdoor cinema.  I was greeted with a glass of champagne while a private chef was getting to work on dinner discreetly in the corner.  The set up was nothing short of spectacular.  A large screen played out an action-packed Denzel Washington movie while my date and I were served starters, and our champagne was topped up at an intimate candle lit dining table.  After our main course we retreated to a cosy lounge area, with reclining beds and blankets.  Here we sipped more champagne, indulged in a delicious chocolate treat for dessert and enjoyed the rest of the movie. 

Be warned, once you experience the private jungle cinema at Gili, popcorn and a slushy at the local Odeon just won’t cut it.  It has ruined the regular cinema experience for me!

Indulge in Culinary Delights

Situated amidst the outstanding beauty of Six Senses Laamu, the team at Kaji bring the vibe direct to your dinner. Combining the artistry of Teppanyaki with the stunning backdrop of the Indian Ocean, this culinary gem promises an unforgettable journey for the senses.

As soon as I enter the restaurant, I’m hit by the aroma of warm sizzling garlic that fills the air and entices my taste buds.   

There’s a set menu of five courses, each thoughtfully curated to showcase the freshest seasonal ingredients and bold flavours. From tender cuts of beef to seafood delicacies, each dish is a masterpiece.

The dining experience revolves around the ancient Japanese cooking technique of Teppanyaki, where skilled chefs showcase their talents in an open kitchen setting.   What makes Kaji exceptional, is the theatrical element where right before your eyes, chefs expertly grill and flip.  I get to take a seat around the Teppanyaki grill, where I am treated to a front-row view of the culinary action unfolding before me. The chefs, deftly wield their knives and spatulas with precision and grace, chopping with speed and accuracy, turning cooking into an art form. It’s not just a meal, it’s a performance.

But beyond the spectacle, it’s the quality of the food that truly shines at Kaji. Every ingredient is sourced with care, ensuring the highest standards of freshness and flavour. The chef takes time to talk you through each dish, explaining with passion the process.  Whether it’s the buttery texture of the scallops or the umami-rich taste of the miso-marinated black cod, each dish is a testament to the resort’s dedication to excellence.

And let’s not forget the fun factor. Dining here is not just about satisfying your hunger – it’s about enjoying a lively and convivial atmosphere with friends and fellow diners. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply indulging in a night of gastronomic adventure, you need to book a table at Kaji.

Nightly rates at Gili Lankanfushi start from £1,397/$1,722 based on two adults sharing a Villa Suite with breakfast included. For more information or to book please visit Gili Lankanfushi

For more information on bookings at Six Senses, Laamu please contact reservations-maldives@sixsenses.com or visit the website

House of Coco travelled to the Maldives via Dubai with Emirates.  London Heathrow to Male return is £1,749. This is based on Premium Economy from London Heathrow to Dubai and then Economy from Dubai to Male. Prices subject to change. 

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 –

Home

If you follow travel content creators on social media, there is a very high chance you would have seen the unique town of Guatapé in Colombia. The Rock of Guatapé with the iconic zig-zagging staircase features prominently on the likes of Instagram and TikTok. Surprisingly, the monolithic rock is a natural formation. It takes a short 15-20 minutes to ascend the rock, and climbing the 740 steps to reach the summit will offer a great cardiovascular workout. The panoramic 360º views of Guatape Lake and the El Peñón region as you reach the pinnacle are worth the endeavour.

The town itself is filled with ‘zocalos’, which are vibrant, colourful murals that surround the cobbled streets of Guatapé. The paintings often depict local life or concealed messages about local beliefs and products. This is one town where you want to ensure you have enough storage on your camera phones to ensure you capture countless photo opportunities.

If you want to know where to stay in Guatapé, I would highly recommend booking a glamping experience with Bosko. This is glamping with a capital G. Their ‘tents’, the Mush.Rooms are geodesic structures that resemble globe lanterns in the nighttime.Their concierge service is on par with any 5-star hotel in the country. They can arrange a private transfer for you from José María Córdova International Airport in Medellín. It’s an approximate 2-hour drive through some of the most scenic parts of the country.

On arrival, you are offered a detoxifying welcome drink immediately and this is followed by a coffee exfoliation ritual to cleanse your hands. Unsurprisingly, Colombians are fervent coffee connoisseurs and don’t just use it for drinking but in all aspects of their lives. Next, you are led to your Mush.Rooms, which are scattered throughout the property and provide maximum privacy. The pathways are relatively narrow but thankfully their staff team will assist with luggage transfer. There are three types of accommodation: deluxe, golden and presidential.

If you want a bucket-list experience, I would strongly suggest booking for the presidential Mush.Room. It is surprisingly affordable if you are comparing it to other presidential suites at 5-star hotels. The pièce de résistance is getting your private thermal pool with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding forest and lake. If you enjoy taking selfies, you will be in seventh heaven. Even if you are camera-shy, this is sheer paradise.

The Mush.Room also offers high-speed WiFi, internal heating including an electric blanket on your bed and a fully-stocked minibar including exquisite wines. The dark wood interior is smartly designed and resembles a showroom in a high-end interior design store rather than a camping site in a rainforest. They offer an open-sky shower with luxury amenities from L’Occitane.

For those staying in the other Mush.Rooms, they do have a general sky pool for you to relax and enjoy the surrounding scenery. They helpfully have signs posted throughout the grounds which highlight the animals you might encounter such as the great trush or the sparkling violet ear. There is also a QR code for you to hear what the birds sound like.

Dining at Bosko is a hidden gem, which you won’t read much about even on their website. Breakfast is cooked to order and delivered to your tent at no extra charge. It is delivered in one of those luxurious hampers which you suspect might be floatable in your thermal pool. You can opt for traditional options like sunny-side-up eggs on toast or Colombian specialties like freshly baked arepas with Colombian-style red beans. Naturally, Colombian coffee is served along with an exotic fruit platter selection.

If you don’t feel like heading into town, their restaurant is a superb option for lunch and dinner. They have an eclectic selection that caters for all tastes. Typically, they offer western dishes with a hint of Colombian flavour such as pork tenderloin served with mashed potatoes and a sweet and sour coffee sauce. The dishes are all exquisitely presented and wouldn’t look out of place in a 5-star hotel. For vegetarians, they have stronger options in the starters and finger food section such as empanadas with homemade aji sauce. and creamy sweet corn with cheese and tajin. In your travels in Colombia, you are more than likely to come across their love of cheese. They even enjoy hot chocolate with cheese.

If you want to offset some calories post-meal, they have kayaks and paddle boards for hire free of charge by the lakeside. The vast Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir is a man-made phenomenon rather than a natural lake. It was built in the 1980s as part of a hydroelectric project that powers up to 30% of the electricity supply of Colombia. You can paddle to your heart’s content as long as you return by 17:00, which is when the lake closes for water-sporting activities.

If you prefer the luxury James Bond-style experience instead, you can book a private speedboat tour instead and see more of the lake area. Your guide will show you the famous houses owned by the likes of footballers from the Colombian national team and Pablo Escobar’s former mansion. If you are lucky, you might be allowed to drive the boat at some point during your trip.

Whether you are a nature lover, a thrill-seeker or just want a tranquil wellness break, there is something to offer for everyone in the magical town of Guatapé.

For more information on the hotel, please visit –

https://bosko.com.co/en/home

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/

From quaint brunch spots to unique wineries and Michelin Star dining, Monterey County, CA has a diverse, vibrant culinary scene. Here’s our guide to some of the best foodie experiences in Monterey County.

Best Foodie Experiences in Monterey County

Michelin Star Dining

The cool coastal town of Carmel by the Sea is quickly becoming a firm favourite with foodies.  This postcard-pretty town is home to top-notch wineries and Michelin-starred restaurants.  Chez Noir’s French-inspired menu showcases innovative, seafood-centric dishes that have earned them a well-deserved Michelin star.  The restaurant comes from husband and wife duo, Jonny and Monique Black, both of whom bring their experience of working at Michelin-starred restaurants to the project. Jonny previously cooked at restaurants including Per Se, Atelier Crenn, and Quince. 

Tucked away down a quiet street in Carmel, Chez Noir is a true haven for food enthusiasts seeking a unique and intimate dining experience. The velvet corner booths and open buzzy kitchen set the stage for a memorable meal. 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.

Craft Beer Paradise

For beer aficionados, Alvarado Street Brewery is a pilgrimage site in Monterey. The industrial-chic setting exudes a laid-back vibe, creating the perfect backdrop for sipping on innovative craft brews. From hoppy IPAs to rich stouts, the beer menu is a testament to the brewery’s commitment to quality and creativity. The friendly staff are more than happy to guide you through their extensive selection, ensuring you find the perfect pint to pair with the bar food. Alvarado Street Brewery is a haven for beer lovers and a testament to Monterey’s thriving craft beer scene.

Coastal Elegance with a Culinary Twist

Just a stone’s throw from the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf, Jacks Monterey at the Portola Hotel & Spa, is the epitome of coastal elegance.  Tall bar tables, as well as plush lounge-style sofas surround the full-length bar that stretches across the back of the restaurant.  Unlike some hotel restaurants, this is contemporary and cosy.  At one end is an open fire and the lobby entrance features a tree adorned with twinkly lights.  While the setting is fabulous, the menu and service are excellent.  The menu showcases locally sourced ingredients, transforming them into exquisite dishes that capture the essence of the region. The Jacks Famous Chowder is a standout, a hearty bowl of the local dish is brimming with clams, dungeness crab, organic corn, artichoke hearts and bacon.  For mains choose from fresh salads, pizza or larger plates like their Short Rib Ravioli served in a silky tomato, mushroom and sherry cream sauce with shaved parmesan.  The drinks menu features some fantastic local wines like the Bernardus Griva Sauvignon Blanc and Imagery Pinot Noir.  There is a great selection of cocktails too.   With its stylish interior and prime location, Jacks Monterey stands out as a top-notch dining destination on the Monterey Peninsula.

Sip, Savor, and Cruise

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. Their knowledgeable guide, Steve is full of local tit-bits and banter which makes the tour not just educational but thoroughly entertaining.

Carmel by the Sea is home to husband and wife wineries, Dawn’s Dream and Galante Vineyards.  Jack Galante heads up Galante Vineyards, what Jack doesn’t know about wine is not worth knowing.  He is Mr Carmel by the Sea (the town was founded by his great grandfather) and his knowledge and passion are infectious.  His wines are rich, full bodied and include Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as limited amounts of estate grown Malbec, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and several other blends.  Every bottle has a ‘cowboy philosophy’ on the label, which is very Jack.  He also commissions local artists to create unique pieces of art on bottles which can be refilled or saved as an investment.

Meanwhile Jack’s wife, Dawn, is serving up some outstanding tipples over at Dawn’s Dream Winery which is tied to non-profits for women and children. Her dedication to producing her ‘wines with a purpose’ has been revolutionary in the industry, supporting many great causes each year.  The microclimate in the region is perfect for crips Pinots and Chardonnay.  Dawn has dedicated three of her Pinots to each of her daughters, Rachel, Alyssa and Nicole.  I loved Jack’s style but Dawn’s wines were my favourite.

Just along from Carmel is Corral Wine Co.  Their tasting room has a ‘casual, local wine bar’ feel and this is reflected in their motto, ‘we aren’t fancy, we just make good wine.’  Corral’s young winemaker Adrien Valenzuela is creative and, on a mission, to produce well balanced wine with a lot of flavour. He says that sourcing grapes from some of the regions very best vineyards is ‘key to their success.’ His wines are exceptional, the Sauvignon Blanc is vibrant and crisp with lemon blossom notes and a pleasant minerality.  Their Rose wine is also a big hit, it’s light and delicate, with aromas of strawberry and orange blossom.  

Puma Road Winery is a family operation who use grapes grown in Apex vineyard soil which gives their wines a unique taste.  Expect crisp Blanc de Blancs, cool Chardonnays, and light Pinot Noir.  All their wines are crafted from grapes direct from their own estate and they reserve five percent of the output to create exclusive wines for their label.  Their wine tasting room is close to Fisherman’s Wharf and offers wine by the glass and bottle, small bites, and often has live music.

Whether you’re a wine novice or a seasoned connoisseur, Kombi Wine Tours tailor the experience to ensure you get the most out of each tasting.

Seafood Extravaganza

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 perched above the marina dunes at the Sanctury Beach Resort.    The space is carved out into three distinct dining spaces, a buzzing bar and lounge, perfect for pre-dinner drinks, an expansive dining room that faces an open raw bar and for long summer evenings there’s an al fresco dining patio.

Located a short drive from Monterey Bay, this restaurant 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 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.

Quaint and Quirky Culinary Haven

Tucked five minutes from Cannery Row is Happy Girl Kitchen, a quaint and quirky culinary haven with a focus on organic, vegan and vegetarian options.  The menu, filled with farm-fresh ingredients, reflects the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability and community. The avocado toast is a must-try, showcasing the simplicity and excellence of Happy Girl Kitchen’s approach to food. The team here specialise in making jams and pickles so you can stock up on rich tasty preserves when you visit.  Whether you’re in the mood for a brunch or a take-away lunch, Happy Girl Kitchen delivers a fresh, seasonal menu that celebrates the beauty of wholesome unpretentious food.

Enjoy the stunning Californian vistas

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. 

The main dining room, located just off the lobby is contemporary. French wooden floors, soft cream furnishings, chandeliers and a focal, showpiece fireplace set the scene for a culinary cache.  The patio doors open onto an al fresco dining terrace.

The day I visited the Californian sun was shining so the outdoor terrace was bustling with ‘ladies who lunch’ and while it’s a popular spot, it still has an air of calm and tranquillity. 

Slick, seamless service and a menu dedicated to delicious farm-to-table fare is what sets Lucia apart from other restaurants.  There’s a great selection of small and large plates to choose from.  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.

After lunch you can wander around the gardens or enjoy a game of bocce or croquet on the lawn.

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