Characteristic Doors of Malta

Maltese Summer Days

“With over 7000 years of history and a mixture of cultural influences from the surrounding Mediterranean, French and British it has developed its own unique style…”


On first impression Malta is not a beautiful island in its entirety but look deeper and you will find pockets of interesting and lovely places. With over 7000 years of history and a mixture of cultural influences from the surrounding Mediterranean, French and British it has developed its own unique style and traditions along with what sometimes looks like a hodgepodge of architecture.

We hired a car for the duration of the trip and it certainly made it easier to travel around the island than rely on public transport. As we drove to our accommodation we took in the surroundings which tended to be dry and dusty. The directions to our villa were not exactly accurate and left us in an empty country lane with fields of pumpkins and marrows on either side with no villa in sight. Eventually after numerous phone calls and arranging to meet the caretaker we arrived at our Villa called Samudra, which was like an oasis in this tiny hamlet of Manikata (quite fitting considering Samudra means Ocean).

The owners have done well to keep some of the original features as well as add some modern improvements like air conditioning and an inviting pool without changing the Maltese characteristics. As we were here in Malta for a family wedding, we all managed to stay comfortably at the Villa and enjoy some BBQ’s at the pool and al fresco dining in the converted cave. Throughout our time you could hear the village fireworks as it was ‘Festa’ season when the Maltese hold events to honour the patron saint of the local church – with 365 Churches on Malta, it is not surprising the ‘Festa’ runs from June to October every year.

When we were not at the Villa it was time to go exploring and start finding some of those hidden gems. Our first exploration took us to St Paul’s Bay, previous a fishing village where were introduced to Maltese spicy sausage and Ġbejna (Maltese Goats Cheese) combined in a wrap with Balsamic Vinegar – yummy. It felt great to be out in the warm air and stare across at the ocean. But even though the view across the Bay was lovely it was a pity that the houses further to the north of the Bay were left derelict.

Mellieha Bay was a different story as we come up the hill from Manikata all you saw was a gorgeously blue ocean waiting to be dived into. We were not the only ones that thought this as Ghadira Beach was packed full of sun loungers and umbrellas. The water was warm and clean, well worth a swim but not before having a mouth watering sea food lunch at Point Break. With the temperature reaching over 30 degrees the cool sea breeze and umbrellas gave a welcome break. It was certainly a day for good food as that evening we ventured off to Golden Bay to watch the sunset while drinking crispy white wine and eating a selection of seafood delights at the well recommended Munchies. The manager was extremely pleasant and even told us how to make Mqaret – small packages of sweet pastry filled with a dates and figs that are then deep fried….no wonder we all liked them 🙂

A trip to Malta is not complete without a day trip out to the Blue Lagoon. Situated on the Maltese Island of Comino it is a short ferry ride across from Malta. Having been pre-warned not to go to the Blue Lagoon on a weekend we opted to go on a Friday to miss the local crowds.

Upon entering the Blue Lagoon you are greeted with amazing colours of blue which extend across the lagoon. There is a tiny beach as you leave the ferry for land and hundreds and hundreds of deck chairs and umbrellas covering the rocks. It feels a bit claustrophobic as you walk to find a spot to sit but once you find a place all you can do is see the expanse of blue in front of you. The water is crystal clear and although not exactly a snorkelling haven you do get to see the odd stripy fish further out. Alternatively for a better way to enjoy your time is to grab a lilo and float around…complete relaxation.

Next on the agenda was to visit the Fortress City – Valletta. It was a scorching hot day around 40 degrees, this was mainly due to the fact that you do not seem to get any sea breeze in the city due to the high walls. This made our walk around a bit uncomfortable and I am sure we would have seen more had we not been eyeing out the cold frappuccino in everyone’s hands. Nevertheless it is an old city with meandering narrow streets with a collection of churches, museums steeped in history making this a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main streets are the most interesting as if you tend to wander to the outskirts little has been done to restore the buildings to their former glory.

It was towards the end of our trip that we once again entered Valletta for Lisa and Johns wedding, held in the beautiful Mary Jesus Christ Church for a lovely ceremony. Leaving Valletta behind we all took coaches to the Wardija Hilltop Village where we celebrated at the Palazzo Promontorio while enjoying great food, company, the perfect sunset and a visit from Elvis!

Accommodation: Samudra Villa, Manikata 
Property can sleep 8 people, has air conditioning, a pool and BBQ area. It is close to the Golden Sands Beach, Rivera beach and Ghajn Tuffieha.  You do need a car although the hamlet has a bus stop and it takes about 15-20mins to walk to the beach. Booked through James Villa Holidays.

Black Volcanic Beaches and Fishing Villages

“With an optimistic weather forecast of 24 degrees I was feeling very excited about my trip…”

Playa De Los Cancajos, Spain

The need to leave the cold winds and wet weather in London saw me flying off to one of the smaller islands in the Canary Islands, Isla de La Palma. With an optimistic weather forecast of 24 degrees I was feeling very excited about my trip and I could not wait to touch down on this balmy island.

Our descent into La Palma Aeropuerto was a bit of a ‘heart in throat’ experience and for the first time I was a little concerned while flying. Having looked out the window I was wondering why we seemed to be getting closer and closer to the ocean, with no sign of land in sight. A quick glance to the left at fellow passengers was a good thing as I saw the signs of green vegetation on the island’s coastline.

Isla Le Palma is known to the Palmeros (local inhabitants of La Palma) as the Green Island or the beautiful island. Its mountain slopes are covered in Pine forest and in the North East you have the Los Tilos Rainforest which is abundant with laurel silver trees. Where you don’t have forests you have rows and rows of banana plantations. It has something for everyone from beautiful cozy beaches, natural saltwater pools as well as a large number of hiking trails for those that are looking for a more active holiday.

I was looking for a more relaxing time, mainly to spend most of my time on the beach. Although the weather was warm it was not always beach weather with overcast skies so mid week I decided to take the local line bus to Santa Cruz de la Palma. The main commercial area has been pedestrianized so it was very pleasant roaming around the numerous tourist shops selling volcanic inspired jewellery or gorgeous silk handbags. The architecture in the shopping avenue and along the marina was very pretty with all the traditional wooden balconies painted in warm Mediterranean colours and baskets of flowers. I must warn you though when walking along Avenida Martima to watch out for the waves that sneakily splash up over the wall. It made great entertainment to sit and watch the unsuspecting passers by get a thorough soaking:-)

My next stop after Santa Cruz was to hop back on the bus and head all the way across to the West of the island to Puerto Tazacorte – the sunniest place on the island. The bus trip was only 1hour to Los Llanos but my word, as the bus climbed up the mountain making its way along lots and lots of bends, I felt physically ill. By the time I reached the sunniest place on the island I could not wait to get onto solid ground and breathe in the fresh sea air and take in the colourful character of this fishing town.

The best way to see the island is to either hire a car or catch the local buses. They do offer tours around the island but as there are not many English speaking tourists that visit the island there are not many tour options to choose from. I decided towards the end of my stay to hop on one of the tours as it was going up Los Tilos the Rainforest which can not be reached my public transport. I am not surprised about this as the road up to the North is just one road and in some very tight spots it took about 10minutes just for the bus to make sure it was lined up to cross very narrow bridges.Very scary indeed! The scenery was very picturesque with views of the ocean, salt water pools, banana plantations and very steep ravines. The tour itself was disappointing and the tour guide struggled to get her point across in English, but we did get to sample some honey rum and were recommended to a lovely restaurant in the old town of San Andres, where I leisurely ate Spanish tortilla with a chilled glass of La Palma wine.

My last few days on the island I explored the rock pools , went in search of turtles and dolphins and just simply relaxed on the black volcanic beach enjoying the tranquil life that La Palma has to offer.

Accommodation: El Cerrito Apartamentos  – Playa de Los Cancajos, Brena Baja, Spain

Christmas cheer in the ‘Paris of the East’

Budapest, Hungary

It was a smooth and quick flight from London to Budapest – probably due to the fact that my friend, Sue, and I had not seen each other in ages and had far too much to say. I am convinced the people on the plane where thankful when we landed and they didn’t have to hear us jabber away. Our excited chit chat did however get us more food on the plane!

We arrived at our apartment around 11pm and were pleasantly surprised it was so fantastic. At a bargain of £10 a night each we were not expecting it to be so modern and comfy. We settled in with a cup of coffee before heading to bed in anticipation for exploring this unknown city which is often referred to as the ‘Paris of the East’.

Our first morning the sky was dull and grey but having been informed that that weather was unseasonally warm for this time of year, we could not really complain that it was 8 degrees when it is normally minus 10. Having flicked through the guidebook we decided to head out of town to Statue Park. This historical site displays mementos from the communist era that were once actually displayed around the town. These gigantic symbolic statues are rather impressive and oppressive at the same time, put together with the misty atmosphere it certainly was a chilly reminder of the dictatorship that ruled this country for many many years. It is here that you can see the ‘hero’s’ of the communist world such as Bela Kun, Marx, Lenin, Engles as well as the famous replica of Stalin’s Boots.

After a freezing couple of hours we were more than happy to jump on the bus and head for the Castle District on the Buda side of Budapest. A very picturesque part of the town with beautiful views over the Danube River – even with the mist over the river you could still make out the impressive Parliament Buildings and the Chain Bridge that connects Buda and Pest. The Fisherman’s Bastion was my favourite building on this side of the river followed by the multi coloured glazed roof of Matyas Church.

By 4pm it was starting to get dark so we headed off to the Christmas Markets which was the main reason why we had come to Budapest. The shopping street of Vaci was beautifully lined with Christmas lights leading up to Varosmajor square. The square was decorated with a large Christmas tree and lines of wooden sheds that housed all sorts of Christmas goodies. We got in line at the mulled wine counter to warm up our hands and then leisurely took a stroll around the market looking at the all the local crafts.

There is so much to see in Budapest that we were up early again the next day – this time we got on a hop off hop on bus so we could hear a little bit of the history of the town. I will be honest and say I was disappointed as they had limited buses running and we heard more music on the headphones than we did interesting facts. The scenery made up for it as we took in the Vajdahunyad castle which is a bit of a mismatch of architecture but with it’s medieval looking towers you could see why they refer to it as ‘Sleeping Beauty’s’ castle and the impressive figure of the Archangel Gabriel at Hero’s square.

Included in our hop on hop off ticket was a river cruise along the Danube. Not the biggest boat on the river it meant that some of us had to go and sit on the top deck and gosh was it cold. We grabbed a glass of mulled wine to keep us warm but I don’t even think I was half way through before it got cold. The views were good and the commentary muffled. Keen to warm up it was back to the Christmas market for some more mulled wine and a Hungarian treat – Langos. Langos is like a flat bread covered in onions, bacon and cheese and baked in a pizza like oven. You then get given sauces such as sour cream, ketchup or spicy chilly to paint (yes with paint brushes) on — very yummy.

After looking at the Christmas markets again we got tired of the crowds and headed back to our apartment for dinner before heading out for the evening. There was a bar directly opposite our apartment called the ‘Old Man’s Bar’ which we decided did not look appealing and so we headed for Liszt Ferenc Square where there were numerous bars and cafe’s to choose from. The atmosphere was quite and we had to laugh out loud when we walked back to our apartment and straight into the doors of the ‘Old Man’s Bar’. It’s name was totally deceiving and we throughly enjoyed our evening with new found friends and great tunes!

It did take us a while to get moving on the Sunday morning but I must admit we might have made more effort if we had known that there was going to be hundreds of half naked Santa’s running through the town (I guess we had to make to do with reading it in the Metro when we got back to the UK). The town was very festive being Santa Claus day and we left Budapest wishing we could stay longer.


Champagne Celebrations

“…this year my birthday was no exception with the extra bonus of being taken away for a mystery weekend to celebrate…”

Reims, France

Birthday times are always exciting. It is generally an excuse to hang out with friends you have not seen in a while and have a few celebratory drinks. This year my birthday was no exception with the extra bonus of being taken away for a mystery weekend to celebrate by my two friends, Kerry and Martin. I had no idea where I was going and it was very exciting when I was told that I needed to bring my passport!

Having received my packing list I was all ready to go, wondering where they would be taking me. I was like a little child at Christmas when I was told we were off to France to the Champagne region. What a great way to carry on celebrating my birthday — with lots of sparkles in my glass 🙂

We effortlessly crossed the channel in our car through the Channel Tunnel Within 35 mins of having driven our car onto the train we were in France. To be fair the first entrance to France is not the most scenic but it gets better as you get on the motor way and start to see some of the countryside. It helped that it was a gorgeously sunny day with only a crisp wind. You could see that Autumn was on the way as every now and then trees and bushes had a sprinkling of light gold and orange, making the drive seem more beautiful.

By lunchtime we had reached Reims our destination for the weekend. Reims is considered the champagne capital of France and lies in Champagne-Ardenne region (the official name) in northeastern France some 129km northeast of Paris. The architecture of the city is very Gothic in some parts and modern in others. Unfortunately the city is full of road works as they are currently building the new light train in the city. It is only due to be finished in April 2010, so if you are planning a visit I would make sure it is complete so you can fully appreciate the beauty of the city.

We stopped for some lunch before exploring the city at Ernest Hemingway’s on the main shopping street. A lovely atmosphere bustling with people we spotted the huge hamburgers and made it our instant choice. To be fair with my non-existent french it was the safe choice but word of warning for those not familiar with french cuisine – the hamburger is made of mince meat and generally does not come cooked. So a little disappointing especially as the middle was a bit cold – yuk.

It was then off to explore the city and of course see how champagne is made. I did find it bizarre that a lot of the bigger Champagne house were in the main city as I had expected it to be like most of the wine farms surrounded by vineyards, but here we were in a city walking around unknowingly at first above some of the most expensive champagnes that are stored in the underground tunnels of the abbey. Our first champagne house was Taittinger where we heard all about the art of Champagne making. Made from the Chardonnay grape it can only be classed as Champagne if made in the specified region and according to a set process called ‘methode champenoise’. Their cellars are some 30m below the ground surface and are kept naturally cool due to the chalk rock sediment. Our tour ended with a delicious glass of Taittinger Brut Reserve.

In to the swing of things now, we freshened up at our hotel before making our way to the balcony of Le Lion to relaxingly sip some Canard-Duchene while watching the Golden Angel of the Sube fountain glisten in the sunlight. Dinner at Bistrot de Boucher was a great end to the evening as we sampled Foie gras, honey coated duck and peppered steak but not before starting our dinner the french way with a glass of Kir Royale.

It was our last day in France and our Champagne exploration was not over. We headed off to Epernay the next Champagne capital in France to visit the famous Moet & Chandon, explore the cellars situated on Champagne avenue and of course get a picture with the famous Dom Perignon. No not the prestige cuvee of Moet and Chandon but the Benedictine Monk who doubled the size of the Abbey’s vineyard while it was under his stewardship. Although he has been erroneously credited with being the founder of champagne he must have done something right to get his statue placed just outside the Champagne House.

After tasting a few glasses of champagne after our tour it was off back into the countryside to start to make our way back to Calais and then finally England. We meandered along the country roads and found a picnic spot which looked back on the town of Epernay and the surrounding vineyards to have our lunch.

It was soon after lunch that Ernest Hemingway came back to haunt us. One by one we fell victims to food poisoning and all pointed to those dodgy hamburgers. The drive back to the Channel Tunnel was a bit stop start and I felt sorry for Martin who had to drive us all the way home. We naturally got to see all the service stops on the way back and had further entertainment when rushing into one of the service stations to find police with guns. We were told in French by a policeman that the service station was closed. I of course had no idea what he was telling me and must have wrinkled my eyes in confusion as it was quickly translated into English. It was only then did I spot the four people sitting on the floor handcuffed – I guess that was the reason why it was closed then!

The channel tunnel trip back was not as smooth as the crossing over as we were delayed for a couple of hours – made worse by the fact that all we wanted to do was have a cuppa tea, slice of marmite toast and climb into a warm bed.

Was it a good trip? Naturally – selective memory is a great thing, especially when my most fond memory is watching those delicate bubbles escaping to the top of MY champagne glass 🙂

Accommodation: Hotel Porte Mars – 2 Place de la Republique, Reims, France

Enchanting Lopud Island

It looked like something out of a movie set
Lopud, Croatia

It took a 40 minute ferry ride from Dubrovnik to reach Lopud Island. It looked like something out of a movie set – this little town on the waters edge with sloping green hills behind it. It was very exciting that we – Lynne (sister), Mike (brother-in-law) and I – were to spend our next week here and a bonus for us it has the only sandy beach of all the islands.

The first day on Lopud Island we tested out our Kayak’s before venturing in the water from Lopud to Sunj beach. It was a fantastic feeling to be on the water in the sunshine and for the first time in ages I actually felt relaxed. The day continued that way with a leisurely lunch of calamari and salad and then either floating in the sea or lying on the beach. What a life!

Raring to go the next day we tackled the island of Kolcep – it proved to be both a mental and physical challenge! The sea was quite choppy and we all took strain to keep ourselves focused in paddling in the right direction — lunch could not have come soon enough and we certainly could of had more time to rest before the long haul back to Sunj Beach. We all celebrated our successful 18miles challenge with a drink before tackling the steep hill back to bed!!

For the remainder of the trip we kayaked everyday exploring the islands around Lopud, enjoying some gorgeous sunsets and the company of some great people who were part of our adventure.