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Foodie City Guides

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Ever heard of Aruba, the aptly named “One Happy Island”? Our very own Editor-in-Chief, Laura Bartlett, is no stranger to the Caribbean. Family roots in St. Kitts and Nevis nurtured a love for the region and countless trips to Barbados solidified her island-loving spirit. Yet, Aruba remained a captivating mystery, a jewel in the Caribbean crown she hadn’t yet explored. Intrigued by its vibrant reputation and undeniable beauty, Laura embarked on a journey to unveil Aruba’s secrets.

Nestled just 15 miles north of South America, Aruba basks in year-round sunshine with average temperatures of 82°F (32°C) and cooling trade winds. This blissful island boasts a nine-mile stretch of pristine, award-winning beaches, where turquoise waters lap against the shore. Charming Dutch architecture adds a unique touch, while the island’s infectious Latin vibe keeps your toes tapping.

From world-class resorts to intimate boutique hotels, exciting nightlife to a plethora of water sports and activities, there’s something for everyone. The island even boasts a vibrant calendar filled with cultural and sporting events throughout the year.

Now, back from her sun-kissed adventure, Laura is here to share an insider’s guide crafted specifically for first-time Aruba explorers. From discovering hidden culinary gems to uncovering the island’s best-kept secrets, this guide will equip you to navigate Aruba with confidence and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Where to Stay in Aruba

Boardwalk Boutique Hotel Aruba

Okay, Aruba newbies, gather ’round! Let’s talk about the hidden gem that stole my entire heart (and maybe a few hours of work time, but hey, #balance, right?): Boardwalk Boutique Hotel Aruba.

This place wasn’t just a hotel, it was an experience. Imagine stepping into a lush, tropical oasis – a former coconut plantation, no less – dotted with charming casitas that felt more like your own private island bungalow than a hotel room. Seriously, mine was gorgeous. Think comfy king-sized bed, a breezy patio perfect for morning coffee (or sneaky afternoon cocktails, no judgment!), and all surrounded by swaying palm trees.

But the real star of the show (besides the resident iguanas, those guys were chill) was Coco Cafe. This open-air restaurant was basically an extension of the whole island vibes. Think colourful seating under a stunning seashell chandelier (seriously Instagrammable), friendly bartenders ready to whip up your favourite tropical drink and a menu that was, well, a total vibe. The protein smoothies became my go-to and the tacos were a no brainer. 

We’re talking local Aruban flavours mixed with Belgian goodness (the owners have some heritage there!), plus a sprinkle of Mediterranean inspiration they picked up on their travels. Basically, it was a party in your mouth, and everyone was invited (except maybe the iguanas, they seemed more into sunbathing).

Here’s the best part: Coco Cafe wasn’t just about amazing food (though the Breakfast Tower – delivered straight to your casita, hello lazy mornings! – was a true champion). It was the perfect spot to catch up on emails (free Wi-Fi, obvs) with the sound of the breeze rustling the palm trees as your soundtrack. Plus, happy hour from 3-5 pm? Sign. Me. Up.

So, if you’re looking for a place to unwind, recharge and maybe sneak in a little work without feeling like you’re in a boring old office, Boardwalk Boutique Hotel is your jam. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to unplug, sip a cocktail and just send “One Happy Email” to the world.

Coco Casita starts from $425 US dollars per night (low season), excluding the taxes. 

Where to eat 

Aruba isn’t just about stunning beaches and turquoise waters (although, let’s be honest, those are pretty darn amazing). To my surprise, it’s also a haven for foodies, with a vibrant culinary scene that reflects the island’s rich cultural heritage. From fresh seafood to international flavours and healthy options, there’s something to tantalise every taste bud. 

During our exploration of Aruba, we discovered a delightful mix of restaurants that perfectly complemented our island adventures. Whether you’re craving a casual lunch by the beach, a romantic beachfront dinner, or a delicious breakfast to fuel your day, we’ve got you covered. 

Honestly, the food on the island surpassed all of my expectations and whilst I was in Aruba, I was able to explore the world through my tastebuds. This list could have been endless so I’ve whittled it down to the top three must visit restaurants when you visit. 

Ever Restaurant 

Forget saving the best for last, Aruba’s culinary scene throws a knockout punch right from the start with Ever Restaurant. This isn’t your ordinary fine dining experience; it’s a freestyle symphony conducted by the maestro himself, Chef Ever de Peña. Picture this: you’re nestled in an intimate dining room with only 13 other lucky souls, the Oranjestad marina twinkling outside the window. Chef Ever and his team, visible through the open kitchen, orchestrating a culinary masterpiece – an eight-course journey through his artistic vision.

Let me tell you, the look of pure artistry and passion on Chef Ever’s face while he crafts each dish nearly rivalled the final presentation. It was enough to make this hopeless romantic sigh and declare, “Until I find a man who looks at me the way I’m looking at his food, I’m staying single!”

But seriously, the food at Ever Restaurant is a revelation. The focus is on fresh, seasonal ingredients, with a menu that changes every eight weeks or so. Expect a delightful dance of flavours, featuring the bounty of the sea, succulent meats and of course, a decadent finale. While dietary restrictions aren’t currently accommodated, trust me, this is an eight-course adventure your taste buds won’t soon forget (and neither will your Instagram followers – the plating is seriously photogenic!).

Just be sure to book well in advance, because with only 14 seats available, this hidden gem gets snatched up fast!

Caya  

Forget your standard restaurant fare; Caya is an electrifying adventure for your taste buds, a passport to a world of international flavours where palm trees whisper secrets in the breeze as you settle into a charming table, anticipation building with every rustle.

The name itself, “Caya” (Papiamento for “street”), hints at the restaurant’s inspiration. Founded by two friends united by a passion for globetrotting and good food, Caya pays homage to their summers spent savouring the hidden gems of Latin America and Europe.

Caya’s menu isn’t a static list of dishes; it’s a dynamic tapestry woven by the visionary Chef Jhon Gomez. Think bold Asian spices mingling with Latin American rhythms, all harmonised with fresh, seasonal Aruban ingredients. One minute you might be savouring a Japanese empanada with a kick, the next you’re diving into a succulent duck dish infused with the smoky magic of a Peruvian mole. Don’t be surprised if a taste of Europe peeks through in a reimagined pasta dish, or the vibrant flavours of the Caribbean take centre stage in a seafood creation. This is the beauty of Caya – a symphony of international influences where every bite is an exciting discovery.

Caya’s Pastry Chef William Herrera is the genius of sweet finales. Using a foundation of homemade bases and fermented sourdough, he crafts desserts that are as delightful as they are guilt-free. Imagine textures that melt in your mouth and flavour combinations that leave you wanting more. 

This, my friends, is Caya.

Olivia Restaurant 

Olivia Restaurant isn’t your typical Aruban dining spot. Launched in 2022 by the celebrated Chef Dennis van Daatselaar (famous for his restaurants Carte Blanche and Wilhelmina), Olivia whisks you away to the heart of the Mediterranean, all under the twinkling Aruban sky.

Imagine a romantic, trendy, yet undeniably cosy open-air setting. Picture yourself escaping the crowds and settling into a comfortable chair, the gentle murmur of conversation and the rustle of palm leaves creating a calming ambiance. This is the prelude to a food adventure that will tantalise your taste buds and transport you to sun-drenched piazzas and bustling souks.

While Olivia’s lighting might be a touch more intimate (perfect for a romantic date!), the true star of the show is the food. You might even be lucky enough to have Chef Dennis himself grace your table, just like we did! During our visit, Chef Dennis personally curated a feast featuring his all-time favourite dishes from the menu.

The result? A whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean, with each bite bursting with fresh, healthy flavours inspired by Greece, Italy, Morocco, Lebanon, Spain and southern France. Think mouthwatering meats, vibrant vegetables and an explosion of spices guaranteed to tantalise your taste buds. And don’t forget to save room for dessert! Olivia’s homemade creations are the perfect ending to this unforgettable food journey.

What to do 

Kayaking and Snorkelling with Aruba Outdoor Adventures

Aruba

One of the most unforgettable experiences on our Aruba trip was venturing out on the turquoise waters with Aruba Outdoor Adventures. Forget battling waves with traditional paddles – these guys do things in style with Hobie pedal kayaks! Let me tell you, after a few minutes of cruising along the stunning southern coast, my arms were thanking me (and secretly judging all those tourists struggling with paddles).

This effortless exploration allows you to truly focus on the breathtaking scenery, from secluded coves to vibrant coral reefs. But the adventure goes beyond the surface. Snorkelling with Aruba Outdoor Adventures lets you dive into a kaleidoscope of colourful fish, revealing the wonders of Aruba’s underwater world. And the best part? Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a complete novice, the stable and user-friendly Hobie kayaks ensure everyone can enjoy this unforgettable adventure.

Aruba Outdoor Adventures is more than just comfy kayaks. They’re all about creating life-enriching experiences that combine adventure with cultural immersion. Our knowledgeable and multilingual guide made us feel safe and secure and this will go down in the memory bank as one of the most enriching experiences of my life. 

Antigravity Aerial Yoga 

Ditch the downward dog and say hello to downward delight! Imagine yourself suspended in mid-air during Maria’s Antigravity Yoga class, held right in her charming backyard garden. The gentle Aruba breeze whispers secrets in your ear as you sway in your hammock, feeling weightless and free like a feather. 

This isn’t just yoga; it’s a full-on sensory experience that will leave you feeling rejuvenated and connected to your inner zen. The best part? Maria’s class is perfect for all levels, from complete beginners to seasoned yogis. Her welcoming personality and expert guidance will have you striking those tricky poses (or simply hanging upside down in blissful relaxation) in no time! 

North Shore Hike 

Ditch the tourist traps and awaken your inner explorer with a trek along Aruba’s dramatic north shore. This adventure is all about immersing yourself in the raw beauty of the island. Imagine rugged limestone cliffs meeting the turquoise embrace of the ocean, the sound of crashing waves filling the air. 

Your journey takes you to hidden coves like Andicuri Beach, a haven for surfers and kitesurfers, and Blackstone Beach, where volcanic pebbles paint a unique black canvas against the crystal-clear water. This north shore adventure is a feast for the senses, a chance to truly connect with Aruba’s wild soul.

Ayo Rock Formations 

Forget souvenir shops and crowded beaches – unleash your inner Indiana Jones with a visit to Ayo Rock Formations. This isn’t your typical tourist attraction; it’s a journey back in time. Scattered amidst the cacti-studded landscape, these giant volcanic boulders stand like ancient sentinels, whispering tales of Aruba’s geological past. 

Clamber through hidden caves, explore mysterious pathways, and imagine the Arawak people who once used these rocks as a lookout point. The Ayo Rock Formations are more than just rocks; they’re a portal to a bygone era, waiting to be explored and best of all, it’s completely free! 

So lace up your walking shoes, grab your sense of adventure, and prepare to be transported back in time – all without putting a dent in your wallet.

Conclusion 

Truthfully, when I touched down in Aruba, I wasn’t sure what the allure was. But with every bite at Ever Restaurant, every colourful fish encountered while snorkelling and every delicious surprise at Caya Restaurant, Aruba’s magic unfolded. The friendly faces, the vibrant culture and the sheer beauty of the island seeped into my soul. By the end of my trip, I wasn’t just leaving with a tan and a camera roll full of memories, I was leaving a piece of my heart on this “One Happy Island.”

Aruba isn’t just a place; it’s an experience. It’s a place where your taste buds take flight, where hidden gems unfold around every corner and where the rhythm of island life washes away your worries. So, pack your bags, grab your swimsuit and get ready to discover your own happy ending in Aruba. 

This island paradise awaits!

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

In this exhilarating tale penned by our very own Hannah Gregory, readers are whisked away on a whirlwind adventure through the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, as she embarks on a girls’ road trip with her beloved friend. As a part of the furniture here at House of Coco, Hannah brings her trademark wit and charm to every word, inviting readers to join her on a journey filled with laughter, exploration, and, of course, delectable culinary delights...

I have a friend, a very special friend. Eighteen months ago she was taken away from me – I’m being a tad dramatic, no one died but her husband works for the American Air Force and the time had come for them to be stationed far away from these English lands. Amid the snotty sniffs and gulpy wails of our goodbye we agreed we would meet every year for an epic voyage. Both avid travelers and the majority of our friendship being made up of random road trips and adventures, it was settled – every year an escape, just us, a time to reconnect and explore whilst belly laughing and telling each other how much we had missed each other in the process and so the time came for the first of these expeditions to take place. 

We knew we wanted a road trip – America for ease. We knew we wanted epic vistas, a mix of bright lights and cityscapes with jaw dropping scenery and coastal roads. We wanted the quintessential experience – nothing but us, the open road and a banging playlist and most importantly we knew we wanted food and lots of it – a firm believer that nothing reinforces bonds than breaking bread I made it my mission to find the best eats, the most sustainable producers and the most exciting offerings knowing nothing brings people together better than good food.

And so it was settled, I would fly into Las Vegas and meet her there, we would spend a few days in Sin City soaking up everything it had to offer, the glitz, the glamour, the decadence. From here we would wind up the Pacific Coast Highway to SloCal – an area of Central California famed for its slow paced living, food and wine and incredible scenery. The perfect girls road trip that reconnects two friends as they connect with the west coast. 

Viva Las Vegas!

Flying into Las Vegas instantly makes you feel like you are the main character of a movie. Forehead pressed up against the glass of the plane window as the iconic strip comes into view, neon lights glowing in popping contrasts against the inky black sky, it’s hard not to daydream about what adventures are about to unfold. Perhaps it’s from watching too many films that site Vegas as their backdrop or maybe the hopeful notion that in a mere few hours maybe, just maybe, you could become infinitely richer. Whatever it is was manifesting itself in a physical reaction – a grin splashed across my face and butterflies doing back flips in my belly, I was ready to revel. 

Where to stay

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas is  an adults playground and  the perfect hotel for first timers – a luxury and decadent offering in the heart of the strip, its location makes for the perfect base to explore everything there is on offer. Feeling like Charlie when he entered Willy Wonka’s factory for the first time, my eyes were on stalks, never mind the fact I hadn’t seen my friend for the best part of two years, I couldn’t stop looking at the lights, the people, the theater of it all. Entering the hotel under giant chandeliers, bouncing light to create a kaleidoscope of colour over the high gloss black floor, the ringing of slot machines buzzing around the space, cheers and whoops from crowds, cocktail shakers adding a rhythmic beat underneath it all, a place for those who are triggered by sensory overload this is not but for those looking to be fully immersed in everything synonymous with Vegas – this is it. 

As the lift whisked us upwards to our Terrace Studio room, the enormity of the hotel became apparent with signs to restaurants, bars, pools and fitness suites flashing past us. You could spend a week here and still struggle to see everything the hotel has to offer let alone what lies outside of it and the enormity didn’t stop there. Opening the door to our studio, the vastness continued – a king sized bed that allowed both of us to fully starfish without fear of punching (very important when spending the next two weeks sharing mattresses), a separate seating area that would have allowed for about fifty people, a bathroom that left me shrieking THAT quote from Pretty Woman and the cherry on top, a private terrace offering views of the strip for as far as the eye could see. As I lent on the balcony, the hot desert air whipping around my face, the colours of the flashing lights creating dancing shadows on the ground below, I thought ‘this is it, this is Vegas’. I could have stayed there soaking it in all night but I was plucked from my neon coloured thoughts by one of my favourite sentences, “shall we go and get a cocktail?” 

As we navigated our way through winding corridors, up and down escalators, around clusters of seating areas that I assume are provided to give explorers a needed rest as they traverse the miles of the hotel, we found ourselves in a bar that sat within the belly of the aforementioned chandelier. Strings of crystals draped around us and we sipped on our martinis, we couldn’t have felt more Vegas if we tried. The balcony bar overlooking the main atrium of the hotel is the perfect spot for people watching or to grab a drink before heading to the many options for dinner. However, in an uncharacteristically sensible turn we decided to call it after one – this was a marathon not a sprint after all – but not before setting out on a mission to find Secret Pizza; a hidden ‘grab and go’ pizza joint that I had noticed doing the rounds on social media. As we wound ourselves through the warren of the inner workings of The Cosmopolitan, the secret spot soon revealed itself through a plethora of excited diners giddily running back to their rooms laden with pizza boxes and a queue of people tumbling out a record lined corridor, try as they might to keep this place under the radar, it’s impossible when the slices they are serving are this good. And so, armed with a pie, merry from a martini, we skipped back to our room and fell into a deep slumber ready for the next day. 

Where to eat and drink

Sadelle’s 

No trip to Vegas is complete without an amble through The Bellagio, the short walk from The Cosmopolitan takes you past the iconic fountains and into the famous conservatory, filled with ornate floral displays themed to the season, nestled at the back of which sits Sadelle’s. Another of those perfect people watching spots (this soon became my favourite activity in Vegas), starched white table cloths, napkins tied with a bow to represent a tuxedo and waiters dressed to the nines, my movie main character feeling continued. You would be amiss to order anything but the French Toast here – it is stuff of legend. Billowy clouds of thick cut, soft bread doused in syrup, adorned with fresh berries and topped with a mountain of whipped cream. It is what childhood dreams are made of. Sipping my mimosa whilst heaving forkfuls of the sweet breakfast into my mouth, I knew it was going to be a good day. 

Best Friend

Our first evening ‘proper’ it seemed only fitting to visit ‘Best Friend’, the brain child and absolute sensation of a place from Roy Choi. A mash up of bodega, bar and restaurant serving his best loved plates from his Kogi foodtruck, as with so many places in Vegas, this isn’t just a restaurant but an experience and an epic one at that. It now proudly sits at the top of my ‘if you go to Vegas you MUST visit here’ list. Entering the ‘bodega’, another sensory overload as eyes adjust to bright lights, walls lined with typical findings on bodega shelves interspersed with merch and artwork, music blares as diners enjoy a quick bite at the bar or wait for their table ‘out back’. It sounds too much but it works, the energy is infectious and even the most weary and jetlagged are instantly recharged. Plucked from the chaos, we were told our table ‘out back’ was ready. Walking through the red plastic butchers curtains and into the restaurant space that could have easily doubled up as a club, the vibe continued with a DJ perched above the tables, playing old school hip hop, watching his audience sway and bounce as plate after plate of glorious food was set down in front of them. The menu here is extensive and everything we tried was fantastic, the slippery shrimp being the hands down stand out dish. It was reassuring to see both tourists (spottable as they couldn’t stop staring in wonder, myself included, at the madness) and residents – yes, those do exist, I know one. A sure fire sign that this is a restaurant worth visiting. This is the kind of eatery that feels like ‘pre’s’, I detest myself for using that word but you know what I mean, you leave high and ready for a party. So we did just that.

Amalfi by Bobby Flay

I have to admit something. Pre this trip I had never heard of Bobby Flay. I have mentioned this to a couple of Americans over the last few months and the look of sheer horror has been intense. I’m glad I didn’t know who Bobby Flay was because had I known I was going to a restaurant of a ‘celeb chef’ I would have probably balked. Big shiny Food Network status aside, this restaurant was OUTSTANDING. Inspired by Bobby’s many trips to the Amalfi coast, you can expect an extensive seafood offering and big Mediterranean flavours. The jewel of the restaurant being the market led fish display, gargantuan turbots and bright red mullets sitting on a bed of crushed ice, lovingly spiritzed every five minutes by a chef (who I am 99% convinced job’s title is chief spritzer). Diners are invited to talk to the fishmonger about the catch of the day, how it’s prepared etc. I was in heaven, potentially asking one too many questions about the catching methods and sustainability of each floppy flounder but nothing was too much trouble for both the wait and kitchen staff alike. They were eager to take us through the menu, making suggestions here and there, recommending wine pairings and giving a subtle nod when we mulled over the thought of having an additional side. Having spent the two months previous to this trip on a Greek island I was a tad fished out so opted for the steak which was perhaps the best steak I have ever had.  My pesci friend devoured the perfectly cooked bass and together we shared plate after plate of pasta, caprese’s and stuffed courgette flowers. Everything about this place was sensational and a complete contrast to the previous night’s Best Friend. Where Roy had encouraged us to dance on the tables (not quite but it probably wouldn’t have been frowned upon), Bobby allowed us to relax in elegance, low level music and the gentle hum of the restaurant allowing for long conversations over plates of pasta and proteins, exactly what was needed for this girls trip. We had danced and now we dined. 

The Barbershop Cocktails and Cuts

When a bar has a queue of about 100 people outside it I instantly have two thoughts. One, that must be a great bar. Two, there is no way in hell I am queuing for a bar. Lucky for me we had a booth reserved and I could be one of those insufferable people that sauntered past the crowd and I can confirm, the queue is absolutely worth it.

Nestled in The Cosmopolitan, a barbershop by day – yes, you can actually get a shave, this speakeasy style affair is everything you want from a bar. Through the janitor’s door and down a staircase you enter a decadent low lit space, all wood paneling and chesterfield sofas with first class whiskey based cocktails and live music that varies from western warblings (in the best way)  to karaoke (I think that still counts as live). 

Making your way down the ‘secret’ staircase conjures feelings of big kid energy, fully knowing what is in store you still can’t help but giggle and feel you are being  led to a secret hideaway. Another fantastic example of Vegas theatre and experiential offerings – a must for anyone visiting.  

Things to do 

The Neon Museum

Determined not to just drink and gamble our livers and life savings away, we took a visit to  The Neon Museum. In hindsight perhaps this would have been better at dark so one could appreciate the iconic signs coming to life but it was still just as wonderful by day. A quick taxi ride to the graveyard of Las Vegas past and present and we were immersed in history and iconography. I would highly recommend to any fellow magpies who are mesmerized by flashing, twinkling things as I am – seeing some of the most recognisable signage up close and personal was an absolute treat, not to mention made for a great backdrop for an impromptu photo shoot.

Agave Bar & Grill

High up in the maze that is Resorts World sits the Agave Bar & Grill, a tropical oasis in the middle of a concrete desert. Vegas pools are often synonymous with party and I’m sorry to say, these 37 year old bodies are just not cut out for it. We wanted relaxed, chilled, cocktails brought to us, massages available on request and Agave delivered. The food offering is stripped back and basic but exactly what is needed to line stomachs before a day of poolside drinking – think burrito bowls and chicken wings, perfect washed down with a Bloody Mary. Perhaps it was due to being ‘off season’ but the pool was calm and tranquil. After two days of heavy drinking and eating, the ability to flop onto a lounger, roll into a pool and have a server bring you a frozen pina colada every thirty minutes was exactly what the doctor ordered and the perfect way to spend a sunny day on the strip.

“O” by Cirque De Soleil

We knew we had to tick the ‘big Vegas show’ box at least once during our time here and so on our last night we opted for “O”. Having never been to a Cirque show but knowing the reputation of them and that housed in Vegas, we were most likely going to be in for a spectacle, so we excitedly made our way to The Bellagio (with a couple of stops on the slots on route). Nothing could have prepared me for the next two hours of my life. As stages magically moved and shifted, floors became pools of water, acrobats plummeted and tumbled not just across the stage but into it, we gasped and cheered along with the rest of the audience. Sitting on the edge of our seats, grabbing each other’s digits, we were enraptured. I’ve heard people say before that going to the theatre or the cinema is a silly thing to do for a date (appreciate my friend and I aren’t dating but same premise) but I firmly disagree. The sharing of  such a spectacle and then being able to dissect it and discuss it afterwards is such a special experience. I would recommend anyone – kids, adults, shotgun weddingers, ANYONE, to go and see this show and prepare to have your mind blown.

Las Vegas reminds me of a festival site. The Cosmopolitan, our very glitzy base camp, the hundreds of activities and eateries all mini stages. Strategically planning days around when we can get back to our room to refresh and rehydrate as you would your tent. Looking at lengths of walk from one area to the other, planning outfits for every eventuality. It was this feeling of play and escapism that captured me, living in your own little man made world that purely exists to provide fun and frivolity. Sure, it’s not sustainable but good lord for a few days it is magic.

And so with that, part one of our girls road trip was complete. Our brief to each other, to eat, to drink, to be merry, to ‘do’ Vegas hard ready for the softness of California and we did just that. Rolling out of The Cosmopolitan car park, a little poorer, a lot rounder and absolutely full to the brim of love and laughter, we were ready to hit the road and Thelma and Louise this trip (minus the murder and double suicide).

Find out more about Las Vegas.

There are daily direct flights to Las Vegas from London and Manchester with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

British Citizens will need complete and Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) to visit the States.

Read part 2 here

Doha was a buzz word and destination for travel in the lead up to the 2022 World Cup. However, a year on, beyond the world of football, there’s so much that the capital of Qatar has to offer. With the fuss that football brings having died down, keen and aspiring travellers alike should keep this city on their radar.

Turkey has enough tourists and Dubai has been done to death, quite frankly – so if you’re looking to explore more of the Middle East and plan a getaway of your own, Doha is definitely a destination to keep in mind. A cultural hub, with an abundance of art and history, the architecture is both an homage to old traditions, as well as a contemporary nod to futuristic endeavours.

Whether you’re strolling along the Corniche or paying a visit to the trendy Mshereib quarter, Doha is ideal for all those who favour a city break – read on to find out why.

Where to stay in Doha

Le Royal Meridien

Shopaholics, pay attention, as Le Royal Meridien in Qatar’s capital is situated right next to the the Place Vendomé mall in Doha. In fact, the hotel is a part of the mall, with its own entrance taking you straight from your slumber to shopping paradise. An undoubtely opulent place to stay during your visit, Le Royal Meridien boasts 377 rooms, suites, and residences – as well as five different eateries, including Anatolian cuisine and a sports bar. The spa offers both classic treatments, as well as an enchanting European bathhouse experience and the gym and swimming pool are also on-site for guests to use at leisure, should an escape from the city be needed. 

Marriott.com

le royal meridien st regis doha hotels
Le Royal Meridien (L) and The St. Regis Marsa Arabia Island (R) are two top hotels in Doha

The St. Regis Marsa Arabia Island, The Pearl Qatar

Think of The Pearl as Qatar’s answer to The Palm – a man-made island full of beautiful hotels, trendy cafes and restaurants and more. As well as this, it has become an increasingly popular residential area, too. The St. Regis Marsa Arabia Island certainly lives up to the lavish lifestyle adopted on this island, offering guests a choice of 193 hotel suites, whose balconies all overlook the stunning Arabian Gulf.

With 11 different eateries (including NAR for your Turkish food fix and Chotto Matte for a more commercialised dining experience), guests are never short of a good meal. Couple that with a luxurious spa and a swimming pool looking out onto the marina and you’ve got yourself a pretty impressive hotel.

Marriott.com

What to do in Doha

National Museum of Qatar

While the inside of this must-see museum is fascinating, the architecture of its exterior is almost a reason to visit in itself. Home to many archaeological and heritage artefacts, photographs and costumes, the National Museum tells the history of Qatar its storytelling relates to the wider region within the Middle East, too. French architect Jean Nouvel is the mastermind behind the museum’s impressive design, with its form emulating the desert rose, which is found in Qatar’s sandy regions.

Nmoq.org.qa

Museum of Islamic Art

The architect of the Louvre, I. M. Pei actually came out of retirement to design the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha – and his signature style can be seen by the floor to ceiling windows and beautiful design throughout. Based on the Tulun Mosque in Cairo, this is I. M. Pei’s only work in an Islamic country. From a beautifully-illuminated copy of the Qur’an written in golden kufic letters on indigo-dyed parchment to a jewelled falcon (symbolic of strength, grace and nobility in Qatari culture), there’s plenty of stunning artwork to see in this museum.

Mia.org.qa

Visit both the National Museum of Qatar (L) and the Museum of Islamic Art (R) during your trip to Doha

Katara Cultural Village

The Katara Cultural Village is definitely worth a wander through during your visit to Doha. Coined as “the point where the Middle East meets Asia”, this space in Doha represents the fact that Qatar has long been a melting pot of different cultures within the region. Must-sees include both the Katara and Gold Mosques, as well as the impressive amphitheatre and various art galleries within the village. A fascinating spot and great during golden hour, as the light bounces off the tan walls perfectly.

Katara.net

Souq Waqif

A stroll to the souq is essential during your visit to Doha – where the market stalls sell everything from jewellery to tapestry-style goods. Around 4pm is a good time to visit, if you wish to avoid the crowds, but if atmosphere is your goal, the space becomes buzzier later at night. While there is something new and toy town-esque about this souq, you’ll find all the essential herbs, spices and more that you’d expect in other souqs across the Middle East.

Explore Katara Cultural Village (L) or stroll through the streets of the Souq Waqif (R).

Msheireb Downtown Doha

Msheireb Downtown Doha is a pioneering urban regeneration project located in the heart of Doha. It is one of the world’s first sustainable downtown developments and represents Qatar’s commitment to modernity, sustainability, and preserving its cultural heritage. The development carefully integrates historic buildings and cultural landmarks with contemporary architecture and amenities, creating a vibrant and authentic urban environment, while also featuring cultural institutions, museums, galleries, and educational facilities. All of these are aimed at promoting art, culture, and knowledge-sharing within the community and serve as focal points for creativity, learning, and cultural exchange.

Place Vendomé

While just shy of Dubai Mall’s 12 million square foot size, this shopping centre in Lusail is still the most magnificent mall opening we’ve seen in quite some time. Inspired by classic French architecutre, the four-floored open concept mall is home to 580 shops, ranging from high-end to mid-range. Add a variety of eateries perfect to welcome tired shoppers in need of a break, the mall also comes complete with mini Bentley and Rolls Royce cars to tour the grand space from.

Doha Corniche

Walk along it or cruise on the waterfront baord a dhow – a classic Qatari boat – either way, the Corniche is not to be missed during your visit to Doha. The Corniche itself is a seven-kilometere stretch of promenade overlooking the beautiful seafront. Forming a half-moon shape around Doha Bay, it offers gorgeous views from every angle.

place Vendomé mall
From a boat ride on the Corniche to shopping at Place Vendomé – there’s plenty to do in Doha

3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum

From learning about traditional sports such as pearl diving to seeing the display hall of all past Olympic torches, the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum is great for any sport fanatic. Here you’ll see a range of displays, as well as hear from guides who share interesting facts such as the history of pearl diving (which was once a huge trade in Qatar). Plus, there’s the more recent addition of the World Cup 2022.

Where to eat in Doha

Yedi by Chef Esat

If you’re in the mood for Anatolian cuisine, Chef Esat Akyildiz’s Yedi restaurant (located within Le Royal Meridien hotel in Lusail) is the spot to book. Here you’ll find authentic dishes, packed full of flavour, such as pastirma pide, adana kebap, kibbeh, pumpkin manti and much more. The atmosphere is cosy and the decor contemporary, allowing this restaurant to offer an experience which transports you to Turkish shores.

Instagram.com/yedi.qatar

ADRIFT Anda by David Myers

Serving up pizza and pasta that even Italians in our group approved of, ADRIFT Anda is the perfect place to ge your Italian food fix. Also located in Le Royal Meridien hotel, standouts included the pepperoni pizza, as well as the creamy (while containing no cream whatsoever) carbonara. A tip from us to you: save space for that tiramisu on the dessert menu.

Instagram.com/adriftanda_doha

doha qatar food turkish italian restaurants
You can find excellent Anatolian and Italian food in Le Royal Meridien in Doha

Saffron

As soon as you enter The Banyan Tree, you feel instantly transported to more exotic climes – and if you’re craving Thai food, you’ll be only too happy to venture high up in the sky to try Saffron. The hotel’s award-winning signature restaurant showcases fine-dining cuisine, keeping to traditional Thai cooking methods and the use of indigenous ingredients, while also adding an innovative twist to certain menu items. From steamed Thai dumplings to crispy rice noodle wrapped prawns to start; baked shrimp with glass noddles and southern style braised beef curry for mains, there’s plenty to choose from at Saffron – as well as a decent vegetarian offering, too (green curry with aubergine and papaya salad popped out at us).

Banyantree.com

Saasna

What is Qatari cuisine, you might ask? Well, we got to try it for ourselves – at Saasna, a restaurant offering a modern take on the country’s food. Key dishes to try would be the matai salad, drizzled in a yoghurt sauce and topped with pomegrantes; chicken majbous – Qatar’s national dish, consisting of rice, meat and vegetables – and lamb badawi (a soft and tender meat dish). When in Rome, right?

Saasnaqatar.com

doha food qatari cuisine turkish
From Qatari cuisine (L) to Turkish treats (R), Doha is a foodie hub

NAR

Another Turkish dining spot for you – but this one is located on The Pearl, within The St. Regis Marsa Arabia Island hotel. While the restaurant itself appears fine dining, the concept of Nar is sharing plates and once you tuck into the variety of dishes ordered to the table, you’ll soon see that dinner at this eatery is a delicious and fuss-free affair. The hummus is exceptional, as is the muhammara; aubergine mutabbal; salt-crusted seabass and (although slightly less authentic) the wagyu tenderloin.

Instagram.com/nar.doha

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

So, recently, my fiancé and I decided to shake mid-week dinners up a bit and dive into the culinary wonderland that is Six by Nico in Leeds.

Leaving the cars at work, it was the full shebang for us- wine pairings, aperitifs,  and all!

Stepping into such a beautifully decorated and friendly restaurant gives you the vibe that even to sit down at the bar you’d get a £100 charge, but Six by Nico exudes quality and luxury without the high price tag.

Greeted by attentive staff in a casual and friendly but ‘we’re on it’ kind of a way, just makes you feel special no matter who you are and what level of luxury you’re used to. It’s 5-star service at Six by Nico.

The Menu

Six by Nico

We arrived during the Street Food stint. So, every six weeks the menu changes, making the experience even more exciting for plebs like us.

This menu was a tantalizing trip around the globe with the best of every country offered up in fine-dining style. The menu promised a global flavour fiesta, and we were totally into it.

This gastronomic adventure unfolded like a masterpiece, weaving together flavours that left us utterly spellbound. We’re talking about a next-level experience that had us, a travel and food-loving couple, laughing out loud as the flavours danced around our palates. 

Course One

Our dining adventure kicked off with the Seoul-inspired Gochujang Pork Steamed Bun. The harmonious blend of flavours from the chilli oil, ginger, and pickled mushroom created a starting point from which we weren’t sure how it could get better… but it did!

Course Two

In Goa, the second course unfolded with a box-office Samosa that captured the essence of spiced onions and pickles, transporting us to the streets of India.

The vibrancy and authenticity of each dish were remarkable, it was now that we understood that this was going to be a hell of a ride!

Course Three

As we journeyed to Istanbul for the third course, the Kebab stole the spotlight. The Lamb Belly, roasted cabbage, pickled golden raisins, salsa verde, and roasted garlic foam culminated in a symphony of textures and tastes. Personally, I don’t know how I’ll be able to live the rest of my life without having that lamb again, I can’t stop thinking about it!

Course Four

Our culinary exploration continued with the vibrant streets of Mexico City, where the Fish Taco emerged as a masterpiece. The coalfish, barbecue corn, smoked jalapeno, and tomatillo salsa melded together in a medley of flavours that left an indelible mark on our palates and memories.

Course Five

The Jakarta-inspired Satay, our fifth course, showcased the kitchen’s finesse with a Chicken Satay leg roulade, shallot jam, satay sauce, peanut crumble, and pak choi salad.

But the main character of that fifth course was the ‘add-on’… the prawns. I CAN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT EATING THE DAMN GRILLED PRAWNS. Stunning. I need these in my life at all times, please.

Course Six

Sadly, this is the only course I was let down on but my Fiancé loved the dessert. Cocoa Mousselline, Coffee, Leche & Buttermilk- all things I love… but all things I can’t have unfortunately. I was given something as an alternative but it wasn’t the best.

Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free

Now, the menu above was all of the things that my fiancé could eat, for me the kitchen prepared a gluten and dairy-free option for every single course, including the mac and cheese starter bites.

When I tell you I had the best dining experience still and the flavours and textures of everything (even the gluten free bao bun!) were insane. Six by Nico I am so grateful to you for that.

Six by Nico

Madly in love with the place after this visit, we find ourselves once again drawn to the allure of Six by Nico, and we’ve booked to go again.

This time indulging in the captivating “Best of 2023” menu. And yes, we’re doing the wine pairing, snacks, and the ‘add-on’ for dish number 5. And in total it’ll probably only cost us about £110 each.

From the accommodating staff to the chic ambience, and the culinary excellence that graced our taste buds, Six by Nico has established itself as a culinary gem in Leeds in our opinion. People of Leeds, please do secure your place for this unparalleled gastronomic journey.

Book now at sixbynico.co.uk.

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 best London restaurants offer a culinary journey through diverse flavors, from traditional British fare to innovative international cuisine. Whether you’re seeking Michelin-starred elegance or trendy street food, the best London restaurants cater to every palate and occasion. Don’t miss the chance to experience the vibrant dining scene that makes these establishments stand out. As the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve you want to be celebrating somewhere in style.  Here’s our roundup of the best restaurants in London to see in the New Year.

Best London Restaurants

A Unique German Festive Experience

German Gymnasium, is set to treat visitors with a uniquely German festive experience, inside their iconic Grade ll listed restaurant. Nestled in the heart of King’s Cross, with its rich history and distinctive interiors, it captures the very essence of German traditions.

For a truly German New Year’s Eve affair, guests can treat themselves to the set menu in the Restaurant. With 8 courses of local favourite dishes such as Seeteufel Rauchmantel, Letscho – (Monkfish, Tyrolean speck, rustic tomato & paprika sauce) or Kalbsroulade, Steinpilzfüllung, Serviettenknödel, Schwarze Nüsse – (Veal roulade with cep stuffing, red cabbage, poached bread dumpling & pickled walnuts), this menu will see the year out with a bang.

Looking for the perfect spot to welcome the New Year in London? Check out our restaurant ideas, offering a delightful mix of flavors and a festive atmosphere for a memorable celebration with friends and family.

A Vintage New Year’s Eve

This festive season, Quaglino’s, the renowned restaurant in the heart of St James’s, has delved into the allure of the Prohibition era, bringing guests a delicious menu specially crafted for an enchanting New Year’s Eve celebration.

Step back in time and welcome in the New Year with an unforgettable prohibition-style party. The evening will commence with dinner service at 5:30pm (with two seating options available), with the celebrations running into the early hours. Guests are encouraged to embrace the vintage flair of the 1920s with music from the Brooklyn Shakers and by dressing in 1920s attire.

A New Year’s Extravaganza by the Riverside

Get ready for an extravagant New Year’s Eve celebration at Skylon with magnificent views of the River Thames, a live performance by ‘The Revellers’ and a seven-course tasting menu designed to keep guests entertained to the stroke of midnight. The evening kicks off with a celebratory welcome Chambord Kir Royale, setting the stage for a lavish night. For those seated in the River View area, there’s a chance to catch a glimpse of the Mayor’s fireworks display, with the option for all guests to head down to the South Bank* for an up-close view. Skylon offers two options for the evening: the Early Bird Dinner, a three-course feast for £125pp, available from 5:30pm to 7pm, and the New Year’s Eve Main Event, priced at £375pp. The New Year’s menu features seven-courses showcasing mouthwatering morsels such as BBQ lobster, Heirloom beetroot, and a delicious trio of duck. The festivities receive an extra boost with a pre-dessert gin and tonic sorbet. When the clock strikes midnight, the fireworks display will light up the London skyline, providing a breathtaking backdrop to the New Year’s celebration. It’s an evening of live music, indulgent dining, and fantastic views – an incredible way to welcome the New Year in London’s prime riverside spot.

(*Weather and security allowing, as organised by South Bank)

A New Year’s Sky-High Celebration

At 14 Hills, guests are invited to reserve their tables for a grand New Year’s celebration, waving goodbye to 2023. Whether seeking a lively party or a memorable dining experience, 14 Hills offers the perfect choice. Indulge in an unforgettable evening with panoramic views of London, exceptional cuisine, dancing, dazzling entertainment, and a resident DJ, all set 14 floors above the City. For early seating between 5:30 pm-7:30 pm, you can enjoy a meticulously crafted Five-Course Tasting Menu priced at £90pp, accompanied by an optional wine pairing at £65. The menu features delights such as Lobster, Langoustine bisque, kohlrabi, blood orange, and Fillet of beef Rossini with wild mushroom and Périgourdine sauce. For the entire evening, 7:15 pm-22:00 pm, the indulgence continues with a Six-Course Tasting Menu priced at £140pp, accompanied by an optional wine pairing at £95pp. This extended menu includes additions such as Scottish halibut, scallop chou farci, caviar fish velouté. As the night unfolds, guests can end the night on a sweet note, with the Valrhona chocolate marquise, yuzu, honeycomb, and sesame.

Celebrate New Year’s in the Heart of Battersea Power Station

Nestled in the historic Battersea Power Station, Fiume extends a warm invitation to celebrate the arrival of the New Year. Guests can bid farewell to 2023 with a crafted four-course menu, priced at £85pp, complimented by a glass of bubbles to set the festive tone. Prepare for an exceptional dining experience featuring dishes that include succulent Beef tartare, Lobster linguine, Roast duck breast or Poached monkfish, and a velvety Chocolate mousse. Fiume is collaborating with Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto this festive season for a delicious cocktail menu. Guests can immerse themselves in the spirit of the season with the Grande Eleganza, a delightful blend of Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto, Malfy Gin Originale, Smoked Rosemary Aroma, Lime Juice, Mediterranean Tonic, Sugar Syrup, finished with a sprig of rosemary. See in 2024 with an Italicus Spritz, a perfect fusion of Italicus Rosolio Di Bergamotto, Prosecco, Soda, and Lemon. The festive cocktail menu also includes the Itoddycus, Negroni Bianco, and Salute!, each offering a unique and delightful combination of flavours. After dinner and cocktails, guests will be only be a short walk from the iconic Battersea Park firework show. A visit to Fiume is not to be missed.

A New Year’s Night to Remember

Embracing the allure of Mayfair, Sartoria invites guests to welcome 2024 with a grand Italian feast priced at £150pp. The journey kicks off with a glass of Franciacorta and a delicious amuse-bouche. The evening features dishes such as a fresh lobster salad, artfully presented in a catalana style with caviar, and an exquisite Burrata Tortelli, generously infused with truffle and grana padano. The star of the night, Black Cod, takes centre stage, accompanied by Tropea onion and liquorice, promising a harmonious blend of flavours. Concluding this feast is a Chocolate cake paired with passionfruit mango sorbet, ensuring a sweet send-off to the year. Over the winter season, Sartoria is partnering with Cambridge Distillery to create a new menu focusing on their Cambridge Truffle Gin, adding a touch of decadence to the festivities. Guests can indulge in truffle-infused cocktails like the Truffle Vesper, Truffle Negroni, Truffle Margarita, and Truffle Bellini.

Spend This Festive Season in Luxury at The Royal Horseguards Hotel

For those looking for the ultimate festive experience, The Royal Horseguards Hotel is offering a luxury New Year’s Eve menu providing guests with the most opulent black-tie experience. Dinner at One Whitehall Place includes a selection of canapes to start, steamed halibut with keta caviar or a pan-fried fillet of beef in Madeira juice with raspberry sorbet or peach puree to refresh. From 7 pm – 2 am, from £450 per person

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.