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Top 4 museums you might not know in Paris

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Every tourist has heard of le Louvre, le Musée d’Orsay or le centre Georges Pompidou. Though they are among the top world museums, you might wish during your stay in Paris to discover less famous and less crowded places. Here is our selection of four of the best museums in Paris that you might not know about yet.

The Musée de la Marine (Maritime Museum)

It is based in the Palais de Chaillot and looks out over one of the most extensive panoramic views in Paris, opposite the Champ de Mars. It is one of the largest maritime museums in the world, due to the age and range of its collections which include models from every era, warships built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, models of the last sail ships, explorers, tradesmen, fishermen, soldiers and freebooters to have sailed the seas, weapons, uniforms, maritime instruments and more. And of course there are the museum’s two star exhibits: Napoleon’s imperial barge built in 1810 and the ornate stern of Louis XIV’s Réale galley which was launched in 1694. Finally, magnificent paintings of the major naval battles recall the Homeric clashes which have been played out on the seas. I would recommend visiting this quite remarkable museum. But avoid taking along young children, even if it may seem like a good idea, as they are likely to become bored easily. And despite the fact that the seas create links to the outside world, don’t expect to find any signs, captions or descriptions in any language other than French.

Musee de la Marine

The Palais Galliera

Paris is bursting with mysterious spots, and there are infinite architectural exploits and places imbued with history to discover amidst its streets. The Palais Galliera is one such place. We already know the capital’s renown as a global influence on fashion; now the museum is contributing to making it sacred. It was on the initiative of the painter, historian and collector Maurice Leloir that the Société de l’Histoire du Costume was created in 1907. In the 1920s, the society made a donation to the City of Paris in the hope of obtaining a museum where it could display its creations. The Musée Carnavalet housed part of the 2,000 costumes in the society’s possession and dedicated some of its exhibition rooms to the collection. But they had to wait until the 1950s and, most importantly, the precious help of the Taylor Foundation before a decision was taken to transform part of the Cercle Volney’s historic salons into a costume museum. After successful lobbying by all involved, the museum took up quarters on the ground floor of Paris’ Musée d’Art Moderne.

Pallais Galliera

In 1977, the museum spread its wings and moved into the Palais Galliera, thereby joining the select group of the 14 museums of Paris. This museum’s distinguishing feature, apart from its various exhibitions, was its restoration workshop, where identical copies of unique fashion items were made. The museum’s curators understood the importance of this element and gave priority to restoration, introducing a veritable laboratory for garments and accessories in a room spanning 4,800m2. In 2009, the prefecture ordained that the museum be closed for embellishment work on the courtyard, sculptures and offices and for the refurbishment of the exhibition rooms. When the brand new museum opened its doors again in September 2013, it underwent a third name change to become the Palais Galliera once again

Petit Palais

The Petit Palais was built on the eve of the Exposition Universelle of 1900 along with its big brother, the Grand Palais, and made its name as a renowned museum from 1902 onwards. Located on Avenue Winston Churchill, which links the Champs Elysées to the Esplanade des Invalides, this major architectural structure is the work of Charles Girault, whose aim of embellishing Paris by creating a building in the style of an official palace resulted in this sparkling gem. The chief architect wished to make the building an ideal venue for housing the world’s most beautiful works of art. Two decades of thorough planning and meticulous work later, the magnificent décor, which remains the palace’s pride and joy today, was complete.

Petit Palais

From 2001 to 2005, the palace was refreshed by way of renovation work aiming to restore the building’s original beauty and modernity. As well as using the latest technology to allow as much light as possible into the Petit Palais, the curators took advantage of the renovations to create new spaces within the building, such as the auditorium underneath the inside garden and the two basement floors that are used for control rooms and storage. Beyond all this pomp, the Petit Palais is crammed full of curiosities and unexpected spots just waiting to be discovered. The Palais café is just one of these spots. Before you can enter this tropical garden sanctuary, you must procure a « free entry » ticket that grants access to the permanent collection and cross the first wing of the building. There, you will discover a beautiful garden with a pond surrounded by wild plants. With little tables that are perfect for reading or pondering and a menu offering organic smoothies and teas, the café is an ideal for spot for relaxation. There’s nothing quite like a springtime stroll to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capital.

Carnavalet Museum

I really like the Carnavalet, managed by the City of Paris and the setting for the museum dedicated to its own history. This mansion dating back to the Renaissance era is famous for the three great names associated with it: the sculptor Jean Goujon, the architect François Mansart and the Marquise de Sévigné. But, first of all, where does the curious name ‘Carnavalet’ come from? The explanation is that, in 1578, the mansion was bought by the widow of François Kernevenoy, a gentleman from Brittany. The Parisians transformed this name, which was hard to pronounce, into ‘Carnavalet’. Now let’s go slightly further back in history. The mansion, situated 23, rue de Sévigné in the 4th arrondissement of the capital, was built as of 1548. The façade of the main building (opposite the entrance porch for those interested in visiting it) is decorated with famous bas-reliefs representing the Seasons sculpted by Jean Goujon. In 1660, François Mansart renovated the mansion.

Musee Carnavalet

In 1677, the building was rented to the Marquise de Sévigné and the famous letter-writer lived there until her death. When the City of Paris bought the mansion to establish ‘its’ museum there, it restored the entire building. I think that it was a good municipal decision to integrate elements taken from the demolition of Vieux Paris, such as the Nazareth arch and the façade of the Bureau des Marchands-Drapiers. But enough with architecture, let’s move on to the plants and flowers that grace the gardens. Although very little is known about the original gardens of the Carnavalet, three of the courtyards of the museum today are taken up by French style ‘parterres’ or knot gardens. These gardens were created in the 20th century and depict stylised patterns surrounded by flowers and dotted with yew trees. Two of these gardens are open to the public and I adore coming here occasionally to appreciate the peacefulness of the setting, worlds away from the frenzy of cars not so far away.

Finally, in the entrance courtyard a bronze statue of Louis XIV welcomes the visitors. Such royal bronze statues were symbols of the Ancien Régime and many were melted down during the Revolution but this one was one of the rare few that were forgotten by the revolutionaries and are still standing today. It just goes to show, even statues must be ‘forgotten’ sometimes to have a chance of survival. A lesson in humility to meditate upon in this beautiful setting…

Didier Moinel Delalande is a Director at Hotel Mathurin.

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Europe

5 experiences not to miss in Hungary's Budapest

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Often referred to as the Pearl of the Danube, or The Heart of Europe, these warm and rich labels sit at the core of Budapest. It’s rich in history and heritage, yet full of a youthful energy and vibrancy. A fizzing nightlife, great restaurants and a diversity of activities that include relaxing river cruises and thermal baths, ice skating, exploring cave systems and live action games.

Budapest City

Here are the 5 experiences you cannot miss during your stay in Budapest:

1. Budapest’s best view

The guide books of Budapest usually write about the views from the top of the Citadel, from the castle hill and from the top of the Saint Stephan’s Basilica. But you don’t need to climb up so high for an eye-catching view! Just walk to the middle of Margaret Bridge and be astonished by this gorgeous city! Another great spot is on the Buda side at Batthyány square – looking back at The Parliament house over the river is a sight you’ll never forget!

Budapest's best view

2. Ship ride and walk at Rómaifürdő

A ship ride on the Danube river to Rómaifürdő is a must. Ask a friendly local on the ship to show you the tourist attractions on your way. In summer time take a leisurely stroll at Rómaifürdő. It’s where the locals hang out, escaping from the city for a few hours rest under the shady river bank trees. There are many restaurants and bars but, if you’d like to taste something typically local, buy a lángos at one of the buffets!

Ship ride

3. Special vehicles tour in the Buda Hills

Start your tour at Széll Kálmán tér and take a short ride on tram no. 61 to Városmajor. From here take the Cogwheel Railway train to Széchenyi-hegy (Széchenyi Hill). Then take the Children’s Railway to János-hegy (János Hill), the highest peak in Budapest. The Erzsébet lookout tower offers panoramic views of the city and the Buda Hills. Finally, take the two-way Chairlift (Libegő) system, which offers a beautiful panorama along the way from János-hegy down to Zugliget.

Buda Hills view

4. Live action games

Live action games inspired by computer games and horror movies are mushrooming in Budapest. The mystic atmosphere is spooky but not frightening. The games combine riddles and physical tasks with the aim to escape from a room. To find your way out you need to solve various puzzles using creativity and common sense. The adrenaline kicks in as soon as the time starts. Few succeed but it’s real fun and an unusual way to spend an hour!

Live action games

5. Vibrant club and pub life

Kazinczy Street is not to be missed… beer gardens in inner atmospheric courtyards, tiny bars, and ruin pubs (which are unused, deserted buildings that have been turned into pubs). Don’t be afraid of the shabby exteriors… Lonely Planet voted Szimpla Kert the third best bar in the world! Also pop in to Kőleves, Mika Tivadar, Ellátó Kert and Bobek. And don’t miss Gozsdu Udvar’s trendy scene that’s bustling with life.

Bar

Now those are some pretty awesome and unique experiences! And, if you have time, there are many more. The outdoor ice rink at Heroes’ Square? One of the many thermal baths? Or the Christmas markets which run from mid-November to get you in the festive mood? Have fun and fall in love!

Andy McNulty is the Co-Founder of Vacation Insiders.

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Europe

5 reasons to choose Marseille for photography tourism

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Marseille, a little rough round the edges but ebbing with charm – this cultural melting pot has long been the centre of controversy with its crumbling facades, hints of danger and throngs of people from every corner of the globe. Yet these factors also bring beauty, color and style to the sprawling city. Perched on the shimmering blue of the Mediterranean, this is far from your average romanticized cookie cutter seaside town; this is Marseille, a city with edge, attitude and a flaring artistic temperament. All these characteristics make it a world class spot for photography tourism, enabling the adventurous to get off the beaten track and into a hidden side of France.

It’s not as bad as you think

The streets of Marseille have been touted as being ravaged with crime, drugs and poverty and whilst you can catch glimpses of desperation on the fringes, the city is a thriving hub of culture, class and abundant energy. For keen photographers there is a world to capture and you will never fall short of inspiration upon the shore. From shooting hordes of locals wading into the water to old men drinking pastis on the sidewalk cafes, scores of bright walls adorned in graffiti and hidden stairwells, the city is overflowing with remarkable sights, the scent of spiced meats and a hodge podge of roof tops wrapped in vines.

Marseille vieux port

It’s a cultural capital

The once underdog of the French shoreline is rapidly undergoing an exciting transformation and finally the clash of cultures is to be celebrated rather than swept under the carpet. The old port is pulling out the stops and the result is dazzling with its chic and trendy bars, yachts sitting prettily in the harbour and the abandoned docks of La Joliette have been renewed and regenerated to be the heart of this cultural revival with the gorgeous latticed glass building of the Museum of European Civilizations and of the Mediterranean (MuCEM), Michelin inspired restaurants and sublime new art exhibitions. Culture vultures will find the city of Marseille a real treat and your lens will never stop for a second.

Marseille Mucem Cathdrale

It retains its own unique character

Despite the facelift and the sweep of redesigning the crumbling fancy facades, Marseille hasn’t lost touch with its roots. The city remains true to its old heart particularly in the charming neighborhood of Vieux Panier. The labyrinth like streets take you through a maze of Mediterranean pastel homes with peeling paint on the shutters, you can hear life rumbling behind the rows of tall windows and take lazy lunches beneath the bougainvillea filled courtyards hidden down a narrow alley. The markets are far from your Parisian artisan fanfare, offering instead crammed stalls overwhelming in African color and spice reminding you every second that this is Marseille.

Marseille panier

Location, location, location

Marseille is a divine destination in its own right, particularity for adventurous photographers seeking to capture the rawness of the world, the humanity in life and the beauty of multicultural living. Yet few other destinations can boast such an incredible location as Marseille. Being only a stone’s throw away from the balmy beauty of the Côte d’Azur, the glitz and glamour of the French Riviera makes for an incredible contrast to the gritty city. Slightly to the north you will find the sweet scented lavender fields of Provence, the fairy tale castles of Avignon and the seaside charm of Cassis with its glistening oyster dishes, peaceful coves and white cliffs set against the sparkling sea is a short drive away.

Marseille cliffs

Incredible food

When you infuse several stunning cultures on one shoreline you are bound to get an array of flavors that take dining to the next level. Photographers need fuelling before they explore and Marseille’s foodie scene is simply bliss. Bouillabaisse is the star of the show with its rich briny flavorings, freshest fish, gorgeous saffron coloring and thick wafting scent. For something lighter you can eat your heart out when it comes to truly authentic North African food like couscous topped with pearly chickpeas, summer vegetables and a succulent spiced broth. From dressy brasseries with Michelin chefs to street food ladled out in the back alley, every morsel of Marseille is sure to linger in your memory.

Marseille soup

Jerroid Marks is Founder of Band of Light.

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Europe

Suite of the week: The Royal Penthouse, Corinthia Hotel London, UK

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Suite name: The Royal Penthouse, Corinthia Hotel London
Location: London, UK
Size of accommodation: 395 sq m
Cost per night: £18,000 + VAT per night
What makes it special: The panoramic view of London and the walk-in wine cellar.

Standing on the roof terrace, taking in the unique 180-degree panoramic view of London, residents may believe they are monarchs of all they survey. Stepping inside, this glorious feeling will continue.

Royal Penthouse Suite

The ultimate London address offers a majestic array of features and facilities. Spread over two floors connected by a private internal lift, The Royal Penthouse includes an imposing entrance hall, an expanse of living space, a study and an oval 10-seat dining room. Continuing the palatial theme, a grand staircase leads to two bedrooms with king-size beds and bathrooms of honey onyx and Skyros marble. Connecting doors open-up the option of two further bedrooms.

Royal Penthouse Suite

Royal Penthouse Suite

From the private spa suite and hidden den to the butler’s kitchen and walk-in wine cellar, the suite’s design proves that lavish opulence can be delivered with dignity. Mirror-panelled walls, leather-lined shelves and oak parquet floors create a sumptuous yet sophisticated backdrop for the hand-made furniture. Each piece, including the dining table of highly polished Makassar ebony, the bed frames of walnut with leather detailing and the goatskin bedside tables has been designed and crafted for this space. Here, refined elegance reigns supreme.

Royal Penthouse Suite

If you would like to be featured as ‘suite of the week’ on A Luxury Travel Blog, please contact us.

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Europe

Experiences worth bragging rights!

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It’s all about the experience. That’s what we are told. With reports coming from BCG and American Express, consumers are spending their money on luxury experiences instead of premium goods. The UK has recently looked into Britain’s ‘Super Rich’ where Jacques Peretti investigates how the super-rich are transforming Britain and where they spend their money. A vintage Ferrari, Yachting holidays, champagne lifestyle all go without saying, but what can one experience once these boxes are ticked?

Well, if you have a helicopter or private jet at your fingertips you need to know the best ways to use them:

Heli golf

Arrive at the green in your own private helicopter, play the 18 holes, enjoy some quaffable wine, dine like royalty and jump back on board to be flown back to your yacht or private villa. Forget any golf experience you have had before and forget the UK. Think Hawaii – Maui golf or Lanai golf, two of the most luxurious courses, flying over the amazing vistas. Or how about the South of France, Terre Blanch Golf, flying from Monaco whilst experiencing the French Riviera – this would be the perfect break from the Monaco Grand Prix.

Heli-golf

Heli offshore

Sail the sea and touch the sky whilst you combine yachting and helicopter flights. Available throughout the Monaco Grand Prix, this is a perfect add on and something your guests or business partners will never forget. Relish in the adrenaline whilst each participant experiments racing by boat and helicopter. 20 mn on the Offshore and 20 mn on board of a helicopter (10 mn race and 10 mn panoramic tour or cruise on the sea).

Safari and private islands by private jet

Have Champagne delivered by a sky diver, dine in the desert and make friends with the elephants. This is the new way to ‘do safari’ for the super-rich. Experience Giraffe Manor near Nairobi where guests can feed the animals from the bedroom window. You can visit different countries with the click of a finger; think gorilla trekking in Rwanda one day and private island hopping in Mozambique the next. When you are aboard your own private jet even the ‘impossible’ is possible.

Safari

Heli skiing

Flying to the Italian Alps and chartering a helicopter for a few vertical drops is certainly a luxury, but heli skiing is pushing the boundaries. My favourite is Bighorn in Revelstoke. Revelstoke as a resort has miles and miles of terrain, perfect for that once in a lifetime powder ski. The lodge has its own heli pad and is minutes away from Revelstoke runway where one could land their private jet. The chef of the lodge has released his own cook book and gone to extreme lengths to source the best produce from local suppliers and create a never before dining experience – often flying out to meet guests on the mountain and cooking from a ‘pop up kitchen’. Bighorn Lodge has won ‘World’s Best Ski Chalet’ at the World Ski Awards.

Heli-skiing

Celine Renaud is Head of Sales for Leo Trippi.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Europe

5 luxurious activities in Barcelona

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Barcelona is one of the most attractive cities in Europe for travelers. Its Mediterranean character and gastronomy, the spectacular architecture of Gaudi, the sea and its beaches or the famous soccer team FC Barcelona makes Barcelona more than just a lovely town.

Barcelona changed (a lot and for the good!) with the opportunity of the Olympic Games of 1992. Before 1992 any visitor to Barcelona could perceive its industrial past and the close connection to cargo harbor.  A grey city? To a certain extent we could say that it was somehow grey at the time. The Olympic Games were the perfect opportunity for change. The investment that came to the city improved many spaces, buildings and public areas. The Games also put Barcelona in the map… and this served to improve tourism figures.

An increase in the number of flight connections and of low cost flights increased the overall number of visitors. And as a consequence of the above the supply of services and products grew significantly. Among other things, Barcelona offers an outstanding hotel network. It has many luxurious hotels. Some of these are new hotels, with fascinating designs. As for restaurants, Barcelona is a city with many options, and among them a fairly good number of Michelin-starred restaurants.

The development of luxurious activities has also grown. It took a bit more time than for restaurants and hotels, but it is there to stay, glow and grow in the coming future. In this post we want to show five VIP activities that can be enjoyed in Barcelona.

Monvinic

Monvínic is a pioneering space dedicated to wine and wine culture. It has a wine bar, a wine cellar with over 3,000 different wines from around the world, a classroom dedicated to group and private tastings and lectures, a terrace where people can enjoy wine in a relaxed atmosphere and, above all, excellent service. The different spaces can be rented for private events.

Wine bar, Barcelona

Helicopter flight to a winery

A 10-minute helicopter ride from Barcelona can take you to wine country. Wineries in this region offer sometimes sea views from their vineyards. Once in the winery, premium activities can be organized: cooking lessons, premium tastings, horse riding, etc.  Barcelona is famous for the production of Cava, the famous Spanish sparkling wine, but local still wines are also increasing their reputation., with great attention being put to ecological farming.

Heli bodega

The Camp Nou

The stadium of FC Barcelona offers VIP spaces perfect to enjoy the show offered by a good soccer game. Iberico and excellent wines can be tasted whilst Messi scores…. Few events in the world offer the status for a corporate event as a VIP box to enjoy “EL Clasico”  between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The Nou Camp is a spectacular stadium. And on great occasions the atmosphere is simply unique.

Camp Nou

The Teatre del Liceu

This theatre has one of the most brilliant – and at the same time, sad – stories of Barcelona. The original theatre burned down in a fire. It was then entirely reconstructed and brought back to the splendor of its past times. Its rooms can be rented. Few places in the world offer the elegance for a reception or a corporate event as the main theatre hall of the Liceu.

Liceu

Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya

Speed is a passion shared by many people. The Circuit de Barcelona offers the possibility to drive F1 cars as well as classical or superb powerful sports cars. This venue is perfect for incentive trips. Many spaces can be booked for private meetings.

Circuit de Catalunya

Luis Lechuga is Managing Director at Winetourismspain.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Europe

Sicily: a tantalising combination of food, wine, history and culture

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It is hard to think of anywhere that food, wine, ancient history and culture can be found in such abundance as in Sicily, from its cities right down to the smallest villages. Every season offers chances to participate in ‘sagre’ local festivals, to taste local delicacies, enjoy cultural events in ancient Greek amphitheatres, admire colourful ceramics and flowers, or even attend a traditional ‘palio’. Here are some suggestions for catching some memorable festive experiences if you are in Sicily over the next few months.

April

Ricotta cheese is a traditional Sicilian speciality, and provides the primary ingredients for two classic local dishes, cannoli and cassata. The very best is produced in the city of Vizzini, where there is a three day Ricotta Festival, between 23rd–25th April. As well as sampling the cheese, there are also other local dishes available and plenty to enjoy in the way of cultural events and music.

Ricotta Festival, Vizzini

The ‘sagra’ also provides an opportunity to discover the history of Vizzini, one of the oldest cities on the island with many wonderful buildings. Situated near Catania, in the Hyblaean Mountains, the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. The earliest documented record of Vizzini goes back to the Greek period, then the Romans, when it was mentioned by Roman authors Pliny and Cicero. The modern city was founded in the Middle Ages around a noble castle.

May

The Infiorata and Baroque Spring Festival in Noto, in south-east Sicily, takes place during the third weekend in May. With origins going back to the 13th century, it is a festival to welcome the Spring, and is celebrated with flowers, music and exhibitons. Flowers are laid by artists along the main street, Nicolaci Street, in different themes, also using earth and wood cuttings to create their ‘pictures’.

Infiorata and Baroque Spring Festival, Noto

The entire town of Noto takes part in the design of these beautiful flower creations which have only a life span of 48 hours. They are prepared between Friday and Saturday, and showcased on Sunday, when there is also a Baroque procession.

In May and June, Greek dramas are performed in their original site, the Greek amphitheatre in Syracuse. Syracuse has a fascinating history as one of the most important cities in ancient Greece, both commercially and culturally, and much evidence of this remains in and around the city. Syracuse had one of the most impressive theatres in the Greek world, and as a part of the Unesco World Heritage Site of Syracuse, it is one of Sicily’s most visited attractions.

From around mid May to the end of June, three classical Greek tragedies and comedies are performed each year, providing visitors with a unique and memorable experience.

June

In beautiful Taormina, further north, the Taormina Arte is celebrated from June to September. Daily performances of rock and classical concerts, opera, dance and theatre take place in a stunning hilltop Greek amphitheatre.

Moreover, from 14th–21st June, this includes the Taormina Film Festival, with plenty of VIP glamour and a prestigious awards’ ceremony. The setting in itself, with views from the Mediterranean sea to Mt Etna, is worth the visit in itself!

Taormina Film Festival

July and August

La Scala Illuminata in Caltagirone, taking place from 24th-25th July and 14th–15th August, is another famous Sicilian festival, held in honour of St James, the patron saint of the city. Ceramic production here is a thousand year old tradition, and can be seen everywhere, from buildings, to churches, monuments and parks. The famous ceramic staircase of Caltagirone, Santa Maria del Monte, built from 1608, connects the old part of the town with the new city built on top. With 142 steps, the staircase is lit with thousands of candles in different colours for the festival, creating an absolutely stunning spectacle.

Scala Illuminata, Caltagirone

Also not to be missed, if you are in Sicily in August, is the Palio dei Normanni in Piazza Armerina (14th-15th August), one of Sicily’s oldest events. A summer pageant, it includes equestrian games and costumed parades, as well as a competition of horsemanship and knightly combat, chronicling the Norman invaders who ousted the Arabs from Sicily.

The city’s four districts (‘contrade’) are represented in the competitive events of the Palio, with four standing and equestrian events. There is also music, dancing, demonstrations of medieval arts, and the sale of arts and crafts. And, of course, plenty of delicious food!

 

September

Food and wine festivals abound in September, with some very original choices! These include the Sherbeth Festival, a gelato festival in Cefalù, from 15th – 18th September, attended by ice cream and granita producers around Sicily.

Otherwise, there is the Couscous Festival at San Vito Lo Capo, near Trapani, from 20th–25th September. As well as enjoying the delights of one of the southern Mediterranean and North Africa’s most popular dishes, there is a competition with chefs from many different countries, including Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Turkey. The festival also includes evenings of live music from Sicilian and international artists, and open air markets.

Or, you could try the Sausage Festival (‘Sagra della Salsiccia’) on the second Sunday in September at Aragona near Agrigento, or the Rice Festival (‘Sagra del Riso’) in Canicattini Bagni near Syracuse on 11th September.

If you need something to wash down all this food, it is also the grape harvest season, so plenty of wine festivals to choose from as well. On the eastern side of Mt Etna, the ViniMilo Sagra dei Vini dell’Etna takes place on the first two weekends of September, and Festa della Vendemmia in Piedimonte Etneo from 28th -30th September.

Enjoy!

Susie Marquis is Owner of The City Apartment Book Ltd.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Europe

Special feature: Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK

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Just before Christmas we decided to have a short getaway in North Yorkshire, staying at the Ox Pasture Hall Hotel, a small country hotel just a few miles out of Scarborough. Not only was this my first time in this part of the country – despite it being only about 3 hours’ drive from home – it was also our first time away with our new puppy, George, a 6-month-old English Springer Spaniel.

Arriving a little early for check-in, we decided to stop in Scarborough to walk him. Visiting out of the main season meant the beach was largely deserted as we strolled along the South Bay against the backdrop of Scarborough Castle.

Walk on Scarborugh South Beach

Playing in the sea on Scarborugh South Beach

From there we drove to the hotel, checked in and were shown to room 29 – a first floor, two-bedroom family suite – located in a courtyard that forms a new wing of the hotel.

The rooms are tastefully finished with neutral tones – so tasteful, in fact, that it was the exact same bedding as we have in our own holiday rental property – along with quality fixtures and fittings. They are beautifully finished, pristine and yet pet friendly too – a difficult combination to get right but somehow they’d managed it.

Ox Pasture Hall master bedroom

Ox Pasture Hall second bedroom

In addition to the two bedrooms was some living space, along with some nice touches such as fresh flowers and complimentary chocolates by the bedside.

Ox Pasture Hall living space

Ox Pasture Hall fresh flowers

The shared bathroom was spacious and modern with walk-in shower/wet room, twin basins and a lovely deep bath, along with Gilchrist & Soames spa therapy toiletries.

Ox Pasture Hall bath

Ox Pasture Hall toiletries

After settling in, we headed for the cosy atmosphere of the hotel lounge for the very British tradition of afternoon tea, consisting of sandwiches (smoked salmon and cream cheese, roast beef, egg mayonnaise), fruit scones, a variety of cakes and the added benefit of a lovely, toasty fire. Knowing that dinner was yet to follow, we skipped lunch and had our afternoon tea quite early and dinner quite late, and were glad we did!

Ox Pasture Hall afternoon tea

We dined twice at the hotel and enjoyed both meals, with my personal favourites being the starter of wild mushrooms on toast with a truffle mayonnaise and the deliciously succulent halibut with a crab crust, heritage potatoes, oven dried tomatoes and brown shrimp butter.

Ox Pasture Hall dining room

Ox Pasture Hall mushrooms

Ox Pasture halibut

Ox Pasture dessert

The hotel also has ample grounds, allowing us to stretch the dogs’ legs from time to time, an inviting bar, a bistro area for less formal dining and free WiFi (which we couldn’t get to work in the room, but found it to be usable in the public areas).

Ox Pasture Hall bar

The other great feature about the hotel is its location. In addition to Scarborough, we ventured south to Cayton Bay where we found an even quieter beach and one that is about double the size of the beaches of Scarborough’s North and South Bays put together. There were a few die-hard surfers braving the sea’s December currents but hardly another soul in sight.

Cayton Bay

A couple of scattered pill boxes – remnants from World War II – that had toppled from the nearby cliffs served as a stark reminder of times gone by as well as of the cosatal erosion that this side of the country faces.

Cayton Bay pillbox

We ventured further to Filey and visited a spot where my wife had holidayed as a child; had we had more time, we could have explored Flamborough Head and Bridlington also, but will save that for another time. To the north of Scarborough, we explored Whitby on our way home (tip: head to the Magpie Café for fish and chips!)

Magpie Cafe fish and chips

Highlights of the hotel for us were the comfort, the homely atmosphere and the front of house staff who were so welcoming and couldn’t do enough to help. This made for a totally relaxed atmosphere with no stuffiness – just what you need when you’re looking for a quiet, out-of-season break.

Ox Pasture Hall

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Europe

Top 10 experiences for food lovers

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Food and travel are the two loves of our lives, and there’s nothing quite like the appetite to ignite that spark of wanderlust, from the incredible street food in Mexico’s bustling capital to uncovering the hidden local hotspots in Vietnam. So we’ve scoured the globe searching for our favourite culinary experiences, from truffle hunting in Italy to tasting the freshest ceviche in Peru. Bon Apetit.

Vespa food tour, Saigon

We all know there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing, but what about the motorbike capital of the world, Saigon? Rumour has it that there are 4 million motorbikes whizzing round the city, meaning over half the population owns one, so what better way to see it than by joining them on a vintage Vespa. Saigon showcases an exceptional mix of ancient Vietnamese and French colonial culture as you zip through the streets where you can’t help but notice the delicious aromas wafting through the streets. Add in a couple of expert tour guides who know the roads and foodie hotspots like the back of their hand – and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable private food tour of Vietnam’s most enchanting city.

Vespa, Saigon

Fish market, Tokyo

It’s no surprise that Tokyo is home to the world’s largest and biggest fish market with such a love for sushi and sashimi. To make the visit worthwhile you simply must go in time to catch the 5 am live tuna auctions, where one of these rock-solid frozen fish, looking like steel torpedoes can sell for £6000. Master the arts of sushi-making and test your culinary creations in time for breakfast. The market is split into Inner and Outer markets, those willing to brave the extra fishiness will find themselves dodging fish laden trucks in the inner market whilst the rest might stick to the Outer where you’ll find every type of sea-food imaginable as well as the Real Wasabi.

Fish market, Tokyo

Pasta making, Tuscany

Italy’s 20 provinces undoubtedly offer a rich and diverse selection of scrumptious food, so learn how to cook like an Italian and be the talk of the town. Tuscany is famous for its extraordinarily beautiful rolling hills as well as its mouth-watering pasta dishes. Getting the know-how from a chef that learnt from their mother and grandmother is certainly the way to master Nonna’s touch. You’ll learn how to make dough from scratch using a traditional pasta maker to stretch out the dough. Then it’s time to get creative and make your own shapes, either carefully by hand or through the pasta machine. And as a reward for all your hard work, sit back and relax with a glass of wine and a delicious dish as you take in the lush countryside around you.

Pasta in Italy

Piedmont truffle experience, Italy

Step into the heart of the truffle county to learn about and sample the most expensive ingredient in cooking. First you’ll want to submerge yourself in la dolce vita and wander through endless stalls laden with the freshest produce in Acqui Terme market. The ‘Alba Madonna’ truffle is the holy grail of fungi so get ready to be introduced to one of Italy’s oldest traditions; truffle hunting. Not only is it a great way of discovering the surrounding countryside but with an expert guide (and his loyal dog) in tow, you will gain a unique insight into how these amiable villagers help fuel the global obsession with these little white fungi. After becoming a master in truffle hunting, become an expert in cooking the fungi with a personalised cookery lesson in La Villa.

Truffles in Italy

Oysters and whiskey in Hobart, Tasmania

After nothing but biltong and bush food to feed your hungry stomachs, head to Hobart for world-class oyster and mouth-watering whiskey. The island produces 4 million dozen oysters each year and each oyster growing region, like wine, has a distinct flavour, colour and appearance.  An education in Barilla Bay will give you a knowledgeable introduction to oyster farming in Tasmania in an exceptional setting, which has certainly come a long way since its humble tin-shed beginnings.  Take the whiskey trail to the Coal River Valley to learn about the history of single malt whiskey and be taken through the brewing process in this sumptuous sojourn. You’ll be rewarded along the way with a selection of creamy oysters and oaky whiskey to satisfy your taste buds.

Wine in Tasmania

Street food in Mexico City

In a nutshell, Mexico City is a must visit gastro-jungle. Learn how to tell your tacos from your tlacoyos in a tour of Mexixo City’s best street food hotspots. We just love the names rolling off the tongue of the Chicharrones, flautas, camotes, and tlacoyos. And they taste even better in the mouth. Especially the Pambazo, a Mexican sandwich made from hard white bread rolls soaked in guajillo chilli sauce, filled with generous portion of diced potatoes, chorizo, lettuce, sour cream and sprinkled queso fresco. You’ll be left scooping the remains with your fingers as it’s just too good to waste. Spot the masters of the tortillas flipping the corn treats straight from the tortilla press. Try everything, but don’t blame us if your diet feels somewhat mundane upon arriving home.

Mexico street food

Sample succulent steak in Buenos Aires

Argentina is home to the most talked about steak in the world, so you’ll just have to hop on over to form your own opinion. Head out late for dinner as the party doesn’t get started in BA until well past midnight so you’ll need to stay awake somehow. Steak and Malbec really does the job.  There are plenty of other foodie experiences to enjoy. A cooking lesson with local chef Ezequiel Gallardo will get you whipping up tasty empanadas after choosing the ingredients in the fresh food market down the road.

Steak in Argentina

Napa Valley food and wine tour

Enter the sun-kissed wine valleys of Napa for an ultimate food and wine jaunt. In a private tour it’ll just be you and the winemaker himself knocking back a glass or two whilst learning lots of very important things about wine. Food and wine is definitely a winning combination at the award winning Kendall Jackson Vineyard with the food and wine pairing menu. Ever wondered what goes hand in hand with a chilled Sauvignon Blanc? Fresh oysters of course. And that hearty Pinot Noir? It has to be the rich crème brûlée with white chocolate.

Wine in Napa Valley

Gourmet tour of Lima

Lima is fast becoming one of the most cosmopolitan and sophisticated cities in South America and is experiencing a gastronomic boom to match.  An evening food tour will see you learning to prepare the refreshing national dish of ceviche under the watchful eye of an award winning chef, and shaking pisco sours on the beachfront – definitely a dinner party staple for when you get home. Experience a flavour explosion with dinner at Ámaz which is a traditional Amazonian restaurant, before being whisked off for a Peruvian dessert in the bohemian Barranco district. It’s a hard life.

Peru food tour

Eat like a local in Georgetown, Penang

Earning the title of being the street food capital of Asia is surely a good enough reason to go and check it out for yourself, right? Navigate the bustling streets of the UNESCO world heritage site and ‘hawker’ food heaven, Georgetown, for a culinary extravaganza. Your expert guide will take you where the locals go for the best ‘Char Koay Teow’ a delicious Malay rice noodle dish, which will leave you scrambling for more. After really adopting that grazing mentality (trust us you will need to), have a break from eating and visit a heritage coffee shop.  Sample the delights of the evening hawker food and all that Malay, Chinese and Indian fusion cuisine is in full force until the small hours – who knows, you may even make breakfast.

Street food in Penang

Tom Marchant is Co-founder of Black Tomato.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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Europe

24 hours in Lecce: 10 things to do and see

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Lecce is an ancient and beautiful city known as the ‘Florence of the South’ because of its ornate Baroque buildings made from the pale-coloured local stone, called pietra leccese. It is one of the most important cities of Italy’s Apulia (Puglia) region, and also the capital of Lecce province. This lively city is buzzing with life every hour of the day. Its compact historical centre is easy to explore on foot and there’s a surprise at every turn, be it a bustling market, a fabulous Baroque building, or a piece of street theatre underway on one of the city’s many lovely squares.

Lecce

The region of Apulia in Italy’s deep south is attracting more and more tourists every year because of its laid-back way of life, excellent local cuisine and beautiful white-sand beaches. Charming Lecce is definitely worth a stop… here are some of my favourite things to see and do:

1. Just a few steps away from Sant’Oronzo square, is the ‘half-buried’ Roman amphitheatre which was built in the century. It is ‘half-buried’ because it is now surrounded by other monuments, but it is still used for a variety of cultural events.

2. The Chiesa di Santa Croce is another important cultural and historical landmark. It has a beautiful rose window and a richly decorated façade. Have a closer look to spot all the fabulous sculpted details of animals like lions, dragons, and horses, as well as angels, shells, birds, shells and flowers.

Basilica detail

First built in 1144, this is an imposing cathedral with a 210-foot bell tower, one of the most important in the whole of Italy.

3. You can see skilled local craftsmen working the local stone “pietra leccese” in their workshops along Via Palmieri, in the old town. Beautiful statues, jewellery, lamps and other objects skilfully crafted out of this malleable material.

4. The Botanical Garden on Via Provinciale Lecce – Monterone is maintained by the University of Lecce and covers an area of over 5 acres with several hundred species of plants, trees and flowers.

5. La “passeggiata” is a late afternoon ritual across Italy, when the heat of the day has finally subsided and locals emerge to enjoy the remaining hours of the day. In Lecce,stretches late in the evenings, giving the city’s streets and squares an animated ambiance.

6. Lecce is known for its traditional handicrafts, especially the art of ‘papier maché’, known as ‘cartapesta’ in Italian, which dates back to the 17th century. There are many small shops selling paper statues, masks, dolls and toys made of this versatile material.

7. Apulia is known for its fabulous regional cuisine, and with Lecce’s many rustic restaurants and eateries, foodies are spoilt for choice. Try local specialties like fava beans pureed with chicory, and hand-made orecchiette (“little ears”) pasta with ‘cime di rapa’ (a type of green). Experience eating in a “norcinera”, or artisan butchers, at Il Simposio (Via Dei Veradi, 7, Tel: +39 0832 277 819), or have a meal in a typical macelleria at Pio Bove which is known for its meat dishes. An excellent place for breakfast. brunch or lunch in the heart of the historic city centre is Doppio Zero (Via Guglielmo Paladini, 2). Its interior is a mix of modern and classical, with a couple of long convivial wooden tables for those who don’t mind sharing a meal with others. On the menu are excellent cured meats and cheeses, organic breads and homemade pasta.

8. Of course no visit to an Italian city is complete without gelato. The place to go in Lecce is Pasticceria-Gelateria Natale (Via Trinchese, 7), the city’s finest and most popular ice cream and cake shop, located just off Piazza Sant’Oronzio. Open from early morning until late into the night, this is a veritable temple of chocolate, gelato and pastry delights.

9. This region is also famous for its excellent wines, like Primitivo (similar to Zinfandel) and Negroamaro, a red wine grape variety grown almost exclusively in Apulia.

10. Must try: The Lecce specialty called caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla (espresso with ice and almond milk).

Not to be missed events

Festival del Cinema Europeo (European Cinema Festival): 13 – 18 April 2015.
Locomotive Jazz Festival: late July / early August.

Best time to visit

Easter and the Holy Week; during the months of September and October.

Paola Fiocchi Van den Brande is Director of Passepartout Homes Ltd.

If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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