A Greek Summer – Island Hopping Around the Cyclades (Athens, Naxos, Santorini & Crete)

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Olympieion: Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens

Touching down for the first time in an unexplored country always holds that magic, a promise of exciting new adventures in store. PB and I chose Greece as our honeymoon destination – it is a land of Gods and stories, romance and blue skies, amazing food and incredible people.

Planning two weeks of visiting the birthplace of Western civilisation is no easy feat. Seeped in history and culture from the 3rd century BC to the present day, Greece offers countless ruins, churches, antiquities, islands, beaches, rugged mountain landscapes, Spartans (although most of them keep their shirts on) …

The Greek Islands number “somewhere around 1,200 to 6,000, depending on the minimum size to take into account”, according to Wikipedia. They are widely scattered across the bright blue Aegean Sea and grouped into 4 different island chains – the Ionian Islands, Cyclades Islands, Sporades Islands and the Dodecanese Islands, and each of the islands has something different to offer

We decided on the Cyclades, not wanting to miss out on the famous honeymoon destination that is Santorini, and for the proximity to Crete, which was our final destination. We settled that we would do a maximum of 4 islands or else it would be too rushed – Naxos, Paros, Santorini and Crete. This was based on recommendations from friends, and also limitations of ferry schedules (we would have loved to go to Sifnos too, well known for its gastronomy!) If you need help choosing your Cycladic islands, here’s a pretty decent summary of them all. Paros turned out to only be an uneventful day trip, and thus is not included here.

When to go: The peak summer season is in July and August, but the warm weather starts from June and goes all the way to October. We went in the final weeks of September – sure it rained for one day, but we preferred it as we avoided all the summer craziness. All of the tavernas and hotels are still operating normally (with low season rates in October), the beaches are less crowded but the water is still warm, and the ferries are regular.

I’ve included our whole itinerary below, including the restaurants we went to, the hotels we stayed at, and the activities we thoroughly enjoyed. Take from this what you will, and have an amazing time!

♥ 2 DAYS IN ATHENS ♥

Walk: If you can stand the heat, Athens is a great city for walking as the city centre is quite a concentrated area with all the sights within general walking distance of each other. Arm yourself with a fan, a hat and sunscreen! We started off at Syntagma Square to watch the changing of the guard at the Parliament building, through the National Park under the trees for shade, a quick look at the Zappeion. Then we crossed over to the Arc of Hadrien and the impressive stone pillars of Olympieion, which loom over you like tall ghosts of history past. The Panathenaic Stadium is well worth a visit. Walk (or run) on the track where the first Olympic greats won their olive leaf crowns, and check out the small museum which displays the torches from some of the more recent Olympic Games.

From here you can head to Plaka, a collection of small streets, quiet alleyways and bougainvillea-covered staircases, where cafés are filled with young beautiful people and there are some cute shops as well. Stop by Thyreos Vassiliki near the Acropolis Museum, to see some interesting Greek jewellery (slash art) – the prices are a bit prohibitive for holiday spending, but it’s still beautiful to behold. I eyed a pair of earrings there that were a bit more than I wanted to spend, and thought I might find something similar later in the trip, but I didn’t and regretted not getting them.

Athens sightseeing (clockwise from top left): the Parthenon, Brettos Bar in Plaka, the Panathenaic Stadium, the Zappeion, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Athens sightseeing (clockwise from top left): the Parthenon, Brettos Bar in Plaka, the Panathenaic Stadium, the Zappeion, a tribute to Maria Callas at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Take in some culture: It’s worth contacting your hotel concierge in advance to see if there is anything special going on whilst youre there, you never know what might come out of it – there is no Time Out Athens or any all-inclusive Athens online guide that I could find. Our highlight was a one-night-only charity tribute to Maria Callas at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the outdoor stone theatre built in 161 AD at the foot of the Acropolis – it was the most spectacular evening!

Check out the National Opera website for events around Greece, or the website for the Athens Festival, which reportedly runs  from May-October. There’s also a great website called Eventful which seems to list every other event apart from opera.

Eat: One thing’s for sure, you will never eat so much Greek Salad as you will in Greece! We didn’t have that much time in Athens to really explore the food scene. The GB Roof Garden Restaurant offers famously great views of the Acropolis, and whilst it tastes just fine, the food is not inspiring. Our favorite restaurant by far was one that we stumbled on by accident. We saw several Greek families enjoying an alfresco lunch at To Kafeneio as we wandered the streets of Plaka, and thought that was a good sign. Their signature meatballs with THE sauce (yes, it was in caps on the menu) were RIDICULOUSLY good. A decent restaurant near Syntagma Square is O Tzitzikas Ke O Mermigkas (reserve a table here), a mezedopolio (think Greek tapas) that is popular with locals and tourists.

Our favourite restaurant experience in Athens

Our favourite restaurant experience in Athens, To Kafeneio

Go ride a bike: If you only have a short amount of time, it’s really the best way to get the most out of it whilst getting some exercise, and if you’re lucky you’ll meet some interesting people too. We booked a 2 hour tour with Athens By Bike –  our guide was Kostas, a history buff, sports enthusiast and general all around great guy. He told us a bit about the sites, tested our Greek trivia knowledge, and told us about his favorite beach in Naxos that we had to visit – all  in all, a very fun morning!

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Athens Graffiti, spotted during out walk and bike ride around the city center

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Les Templiers B&B in Charroux – One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

Summer is well and truly here, and I find myself reminiscing about our last summer in the beautiful French countryside. PB and I together with my family hired a car and drove down from Paris towards Cantal in Auvergne.  This area is well known for some of France’s best cheeses and meat (beef and lamb). It’s one of the least populated departments in France and can get extremely cold in the winter. But in the summer, it is the perfect time to visit Puy de Dome, the town of Laguiole (where those lovely Laguiole knives are produced), and eat at the fabulous Serge Vieira. If it’s your kind of thing, you can also go to Chaudes Aigues , famous for it’s hot spring waters and also the annual Tattoo Festival! Random, but true.

We wanted to break up the 5 hour drive between Paris and Chaudes Aigues, and thought a visit to Vichy might be nice.  Serendipitously, the nicer hotels in Vichy were booked, so we decided on a small B&B in the nearby Charroux. Classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France, Charroux is a former fortified village famous for it’s mustard.  Sometimes you come across the best places by accident, and Les Templiers in Charroux is one of those places.

Charroux

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A magical place, with it’s very own wishing well

Opened in 2012, this 19th century building has been lovingly restored and converted into a tasteful and modern “chambre d’hôtes”,  keeping all of the original wooden floors, stairs, roof beams and stone walls. With beautifully manicured gardens in the back, crêperie restaurant to the side, and the charming little village of Charroux surrounding it, Les Templiers was the perfect place to stop for one night.

Unfortunately we had to leave after breakfast and didn’t have a chance to have a good amble around the village. From the 12th to 14th century, Charroux was fortified by the lords of Bourbon and once protected by a double rampart. Now, only the east and west gates together with 60 meters of the inner wall remains. It’s a fascinating place to walk around and at certain places find pictureque lookouts over the surrounding countryside.

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The courtyard garden of Les Templiers

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Original features of a beautifully restored building

The Combles Room

The Combles Room

We stayed in the Combles Room in the attic, featuring original comble roof beams, a stand alone tub, bathrobes and interesting light fixtures. In fact, the whole property was accented with eye-catching lighting. It is these small details which really make a place stand out, it’s obvious that the owners paid attention to every element of the decor, and I must say they have very good taste.

Breakfast on the following morning was a real treat! Father and son team Rémi and Aurélien are wonderful hosts and are passionate about doing what they do. Aurélien makes his own yoghurt as well as bakes his own delicious almond cake. The jams were supplied by his friend in a neighboring village, and the cheese was the freshest Saint Nectaire I have ever tasted. We had fleeting thoughts about buying a yoghurt maker, but leaving it to sit on the kitchen counter over night is just not a good idea in Hong Kong – maybe in the winter …

A thoroughly homemade breakfast

A thoroughly homemade breakfast

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Falling in Love with The Lombok Lodge

After countless visits Bali, we returned from our first trip to Lombok in May (of which I’m sure will be many more), and I’m compelled to write a post entirely on the subject of the hotel that we stayed at, and yes of course all the trimmings that came along with it.

Lombok is the next island along to the east of Bali, separated by the Lombok Strait. Most tourist activities are focused around the Kuta area in the south, and the north eastern Sengigi area. In Kuta you’ll see lots of surfers, and travelling east up the coast there are beautiful white sand beaches, each one more beautiful that the next. The waves roll quietly and softly onto the sand unlike the huge beastly, crashing waves of Bali, and the beaches are clean! My favourite day in the south was spent on Selong Belanak Beach, about a 25 minute scooter ride from Kuta.

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Selong Belanak Beach

In the north, Sengigi is close to the capital of Mataram and the old airport site and is therefore a larger hub for tourists and local expats, with lots of bars and more hotels to choose from, as well as shops, which you will be hard pressed to find in the south. A little further northwest is the Medana peninsula, where you’ll find a few luxury resorts such as the Oberoi and Tugu Hotel. Nestled in between these two is the loveliest of all, The Lombok Lodge boutique hotel. Believe me when I say that there is nothing else like it on the island, and indeed, with all the travelling that I do, I can honestly say it is one of the nicest places I have stayed at.

It was not just the luxury lodgings, nor the food, nor the attention to detail and service, activities, the smaller details or the beauty of the surrounding areas. What makes this hotel so special is that every single thing is done perfectly, and you are made to feel at completely at home – everyone literally knows your name.

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Poolside at the Lombok Lodge

The design of the hotel is really ahead of it’s time on Lombok, a developing island where high-quality architecture is difficult to come by, as are skilled construction teams and quality materials. The architect is Belgian-based Italian designer Vittorio Simoni –  he has created 9 low rise suites, which are terraced so that each suite has a view of the ocean. It is a truly functional space, and whilst the land on which the hotel is situated is not actually that big, The Lombok Lodge feels quite grand.

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A terrace with a view

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The bedroom, complete with ipod dock, beach bag and sunhats

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Motivational quotes in each room

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The bathroom – Hermes bath products, stand alone tub and outdoor shower. Orchids and frangipani everywhere!

The people are a big part of making this place what it is; some of the staff were trained at the nearby Oberoi Hotel, whereas others had no official hospitality training. Regardless of this, the whole team are super sweet, friendly and eager to help and make your stay as special as possible. What makes a huge difference is that the Belgian owners of the hotel stay there for half of the year, perhaps that’s why the standards are so exceptional.

The Resort Manager, Mangsur Y Wayan, is a true perfectionist, and makes sure that everything is always running smoothly. They contacted us prior to our stay to make sure all was in order, suggested several itineraries of things to do whilst we were there, gave us a late check out when needed, made no fuss when I forgot to cancel my spa booking, left notes on our pillow every night, printed out our boarding passes when we were in a rush and delivered them to us by the pool, and offered to clean our sunglasses whilst we sipped on our complimentary pool smoothies … I could go on and on.

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Traditional rijsttafel dinner

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Some of the breakfast selections at the Lombok Lodge

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7 days in Cape Town: What to Do, What to Eat and Where to Stay

Cape Town has been listed as the #1 place to visit in 2014 by the New York Times, and for good reason. Before my recent trip, I had no lofty expectations of Cape Town. In fact, I thought it would be dangerous, expensive, and unfamiliar. How incorrect I was – apart from a couple of streets in the city (Long Street) where you have to watch your pockets, it is the opposite of dangerous. In terms of expenses, once you get there, it is one of the least expensive places I have visited outside of Asia.

And as for unfamiliarity – well, isn’t that the reason why one goes on holiday in the first place? Cape Town is most beautifully unfamiliar: townships that go on for miles, and reminders of political and racial oppression, juxtaposed with stunning beaches, majestic towering mountain ranges that watch over you wherever you go, antelope steaks, wine for breakfast …

In terms of holiday destinations I’ve been to, it certainly ranks up there amongst the top for me. If you want to arrive with a little less unfamiliarity, I’d like to share with you some of the activities that we did, places we visited and stayed, and food we ate. Take from it what you will, and enjoy your time there! I wish I was going with you…

Day 1 : RELAX

Rent a car from the airport (I highly recommend booking it in advance during the summer period, or else you’ll end up with a manual car – like we did), and head straight to Camps Bay, a 20 minute drive from the airport. It’s been a long flight – set your bags down, put on your swimmers and head straight to the pool. If you don’t have a pool, go to The Bay Hotel and buy a day pass, grab a Windhoek beer, (the Club Sandwich here is awesome too), or the Camps Bay Beach and RELAX.

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The Bay Hotel, with the 12 Apostles standing tall behind it

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Camps Bay Beach, from The Bay Hotel

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The Club Sandwich at The Bay Hotel is particularly good!

PM: Check out Test Kitchen for dinner, voted #1 best restaurant in 2013, or its sister restaurant The Pot Luck Club, located at the very hip Old Biscuit Mill, which also is the venue for a weekend market on Saturdays. Alternatively, you can take a look at Eat Out Magazine’s list of top Cape Town restaurants for an alternative choice.

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Baby Potato Wedges with Smoked Paprika Salt at The Pot Luck Club – one of the best dishes there R30 (HK$22)

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Special of the day: Crayfish with Chilli Sauce. Fiddley and a bit too difficult to eat

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Selection of South African Cheeses R85 (HK$60) –  a great selection and good way to have a taste of what is on offer. The blue cheese was incredible, and I don’t usually like blue cheese! Mild, and creamy.

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Maroccan Lamb Ribs, Harissa Salt, Buffalo Yoghurt w/ Rosemary and Cumin Roti R85 (HK$60). The food at Pot Luck Club, whilst good, didn’t live up to the hype that surrounds this restaurant, and certainly not one of the most impressive meals of our trip.

Day 2: BE ACTIVE

AM: Wake up early (a 9am start is good enough) and drive to the Table Mountain cable car. Park further up the road, and locate the start of the Platteklip Gorge trail to hike up Table Mountain – you’ll find it next to a big green sign and a small house which is supposed to be a tourist centre. There are several popular hiking routes, but we chose this one so we could hike up then take the cable car down, and have easy access to our car. You can also go with a guide if you want, but the trail is pretty straightforward and it’s not necessary.  It will take around 2 hours, and is a medium-level hike. That said, a beginner hiker was in our group, and she did fabulously!

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A panoramic view of Cape Town, from the beginning of the hike

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The hike is choca full of beautiful pathways, lush greenery and it’s a really interesting walk. It’s not for the taint hearted, and whilst not an easy hike, it wasn’t too difficult either.

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Platteklip Gorge – towards the top, the fog started decending; it got quite cold and a bit wet. Definitely take a sweater!

Noon: Drive the Chapman’s Peak road for some stunning vistas of Hout Bay and it’s surrounding coastline. Stop in Kalk Bay for some seriously good mussels at Olympia Cafe and Deli. You can pick up some nice bread here at their Deli also. Continue on to Boulders Beach to chill out with some penguins, and the water is also the warmest here if you fancy taking a dip. Carry on to the Cape of Good Hope – I didn’t manage to make it, but here’s some additional info. There are so many lovely places to stop on the way down to the Cape, and this could easily be a full day adventure.

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A stunning panoramic view of Hout Bay at the surrounding coastline

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A large plate of mussels at Olympia Cafe R96 (HK$68.50) – about 25-30 pcs of the biggest, juiciest mussels I’ve ever eaten, in a nice cream and white wine sauce

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Hanging out with the penguins at Boulders Beach

PM: You’re going to be nackered after your day, so you might want to stay around for drinks and dinner in the Camps Bay area. For sundowner drinksCafe Caprice gets packed full of beautiful people watching the sun go to sleep. Roundhouse offers sweeping views of the bay and nice garden tables, and Bungalow has a huge terrace. You could stay on at both of these places for dinner, or go to Hussar Grill for a mean South African beef steak or game meat steak (you can also buy the steaks uncooked if you have a BBQ in your accommodation), or Col’Cacchio for a superb pizza or pasta! Their full menu is also available for delivery (order 2 hrs in advance) or takeaway.

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Kudu, a species of antelope, is a very popular game meat in South Africa. It’s extremely tender and lean, and very tasty. Kudu Steak at Hussar Grill R169 (HK$120)

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Cream, bacon, petit pois and mint pasta R84 (HK$60)

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A huge choice of superb pizzas at Col Cacchio. This is the Carne (R98, HK$70), La Zizou is also amazing (R108)

Day 3: IMMERSE YOURSELF IN SOME HISTORY

There are so many beautiful things to see, do and eat in Cape Town, and on this day of historical discovery, you will find yourself feeling mixed emotions of disbelief, anger and sadness at the ugliness that people can sometimes show one another.  It is really hard to get your head around the fact that the segregative legislation of Apartheid was only dismantled between 1990 and 1992, and that South Africans of all races only took part in the first fully democratic elections as recently as 1994. It’s difficult to believe that this happened in my lifetime, let alone just several years ago.

AM: Catch the first sailing to Robben Island at 9am (also at 11am, 1pm and 3pm – I advise that you pre-book your tickets) from Nelson Madela Gateway, at the V&A Waterfront. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up on the white cruiser yacht. The tour is very informative and gives insight on how prisoners lived, with special mention of Nelson Mandela and other civil rights activists, of course. You’ll return to the waterfront around 12.30pm.

Noon: Head to the V&A Market on the Wharf for lunch. We started off with wraps from Awe Africa and empanadas from Como, The Fish Box does an amazing seafood platter, and we washed it down with fresh fruit juice from Dr. Juice. Treat yourself to local cheeses from Around Cheese, and for dessert, peanut butter ice cream from The Creamery and frozen yoghurt from Tuttis. There are so many more vendors, and it’s a real treat for foodies. There are are also kitchen demos, live band performances and open mic nights. Walk around the beautiful waterfront afterwards to digest, then onto the District 6 Museum and/or Bo Kaap Museum (or maybe even more if you can handle it!).

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A Tray for 3 at The Fish Box – a must try!

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Grab a healthy juice!

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Love this statement at Around Cheese!

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Babylonstoren, in the winelands of South Africa

Imagine a place where pineapples grow next to zucchini flowers, and row upon row of planters containing brussels sprout and Romanesco broccoli saplings fighting their way sunwards out of the soil, under the protection of a beautiful French greenhouse. Picture chickens scratching around next to ducks and turkeys, before they head into their roost to fall asleep, and then wake in the morning to provide 25-30 eggs in the warm summer days, the freshest eggs you’ll ever eat for breakfast.

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The Green House

Imagine a place where dishes are separated according to colour, where 100% of plant matter on your plate is grown less than 300 meters away from where you sit. Where watermelon sits next to radish, which sits next to plum and then red cabbage.

Imagine waking up in the most incredibly comfortable bed, jumping on your bicycle for a short ride to fresh fruit juices, just-that-morning-baked bread, freshly made preserves, local Serrano-style ham and those aforementioned eggs.

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This is all a reality, and a wondrous one for us city dwellers, for many of whom freshness is more often than not limited to what you see at the supermarket, or at best a farmer’s market. It was also the beautiful setting for the wedding of one of my oldest friends, the image and memory of which will not be easily forgotten. In fact, after returning to a rainy Hong Kong after 10 days in the sunny and warm mecca of decadent fun that is a Cape Town summer, I’m seriously considering going again in a few months time.

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Beautiful views in every directly, with the sun on your face at every turn.

Babylonstoren is the vision of Naspers (South Africa’s National Press) CEO Koos Bekker and his wife, Karen Roos, former editor of SA’s Elle Decoration Magazine. They both grew up on farms, and initially purchased Babylonstoren as a weekend getaway home. It is a heritage site dating back to the 17th century, and one of the best preserved farmyards in Cape Dutch tradition. A place teeming with life, soaked in history, and what a gorgeous weekend getaway it is! If you want a real piece of the action, limited guest accommodation is available.

Eight acres of the estate is under cultivation. The gardens have been so beautifully planned, so if you visit, make sure you allow an hour or so to take a ramble around the farm to fully appreciate everything it has to offer. They offer guided tours if you are feeling particularly inquisitive.

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Zucchini Flowers in the conservatory

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Tumeric

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Preparing for the next planting …

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Did you know that pineapples grew in the soil?

The vegetable, flower and fruit gardens stock Babel, the farm-restaurant that is a number 1 foodie destination for anyone visiting the winelands. It also serves their 14-room farm-hotel, and the beautiful greenhouse, which also doubles up as a teahouse. And finally, there is a farm-shop that sells handmade preserves, breads, olive oil, wines, and more that are made on the premises.

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The Babylonstoren farm shop

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Homemade pastes, preserves, honeys and sauces

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The olive oil from Babylonstoren is wonderful

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Hedonism in Paris

he·don·ism  (hdn-zm)

n.

1. Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses.
2. Philosophy The ethical doctrine holding that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good.

3. Psychology The doctrine holding that behavior is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

Hedonism – isn’t that just the perfect word to dictate what one should do when in Paris? Pursue pleasure, feel pleased when you do it because ultimately, it’s good for you. Well,  perhaps that last statement could be questionable. However, the French Paradox observes that consuming foods with higher levels of saturated fats is not necessarily bad for you, and surprisingly enough, after two weeks in France, I did not gain an ounce of weight.

Le Flaneur, Paul Gavarni

One of my most favorite travel programs about Paris at the moment is Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover – Paris. The backbone theme of this episode is that one shouldn’t go to Paris and plan too much. Visiting all the sights, spending days in museums and galleries, and hours lining up in queues to get into them. The best way to visit this city is to walk around, step into a café here, a bistrot there, buy an ice cream cone, sit in a park, or be a flâneur, and stroll around idly. He proclaims: “If you do nothing in Paris, you can still have a pretty sweet time.”

Two French men then appear on the screen to tell you the following – my favorite statement of the episode: “The real tourist is someone that would arrive totally naked. The good tourist is someone completely open-minded. You have to come naked to Paris and let us dress you. Not completely naked though, you can cover yourself a little bit! If you arrive fully clothed with your scarf, your beanie, your beret, it’s pointless. Stay at home!”

This is pretty much what we did when during our 5 days in Paris, we made no reservations more than a day in advance (even though we did try to get tables at Chateaubriand and Le Jules Verne). It does have to be said though, that it’s always best to get tips from friends about the tried-and-tested places that they’ve been to. It is often the case when we stepped into random restaurants or cafés, that the food wasn’t great, it was a bit of a tourist trap, and prices are a bit high for what you’re paying for. My favorite way to visit Paris is to book the recommended restaurants, and build our activities around the food and wine. Here are some of my Paris food highlights – on this particular trip, we booked places according to the areas where we wanted to go shopping!

Shopping @ Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré

When we arrived in Paris, it was sales time! Sales shopping in Paris is the best and most enjoyable experience for me. I find that they still have the popular designs and sizes in stock, everything is still fairly neat and organised, and the discounts are favorable (with most at an average of 40-50% off, even at the start of sales period). What’s more is that the sales assistants are truly helpful, friendly and efficient, and everyone speak English. If you are looking for the big brand names, then Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré is a good place to start, and they also have a selection of more affordable brands (Maje, The Kooples, Anne Fontaine). Whilst there we stopped off for lunch at Bread & Roses, a modern bakery/restaurant that serves bread, cake, pastries quiches etc., as well as having an a la carte menu. The prices aren’t the best (they aren’t terribly high either), but we were happy with the experience, the food, and the service.

We sat one one of the tables outside and had a good time watching beautiful people in beautiful clothing walk past. I also introduced my brothers to the coffee culture – they remarked at how coffee just doesn’t taste that good in Hong Kong, and from this point on, I could hear them regularly saying “I could do with an espresso right now.”.

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Gillardeau Oysters

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Pastrami Sandwich

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Roast French Chicken with mushroom gravy and the creamiest mashed potatoes – irresistibly good

Dinner at Hotel Le Bristol

Among the best meals of our time in Paris was at 114 Faubourg, located at Hotel Le Bristol, where David Beckham stayed during his short stint at PSG. This restaurant, lead by head chef Eric Desbordes, earned its first Michelin Star this year, and it is a well-deserved star. The Bristol is also home to a 3 star restaurant, but for a more casual experience, this young Parisian chef and his team really surprised us with an incredible meal, and a memorable experience.

Photo from http://www.lebristol.com – this is one of the dishes I wish I had tried – King Crab Egg, ginger and lemon mayonnaise EUR 29

In general, the food is well presented, served with precision and flair – these beautiful little egg cups full of king crab. Beef rib eye, carved elegantly at the table (worlds away from our Jasmine-smoked spare rib carving experience at Hakkasan). There are a couple of items on the menu that are a bit surprising and a touch out of place (the fish and chips, and the beef burger), but I suppose that for a hotel restaurant, they have to have some options that would appeal to guests looking for something familiar and un-fussy.

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Seam Bream Tartare, lime and basmati “blanc manger” EUR 38

The sea bream tartare was light, crisp and fresh – a nice way to prepare the palate for the rest of my meal.

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Andalusian Style Tomato Gazpacho EUR28

This gazpacho was literally bursting with flavour, and was proclaimed to be ‘the best gazpacho [he] had ever had’ by my brother.

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Organic Beef Cheeseburger with Bacon, French Fries, Mustard Sauce EUR31

The burger was less impressive, and left my brother wishing that he had gone for something more adventurous. That’s not to say that it wasn’t tasty – the local beef tasted amazing,  the fries were nice and crispy – but it just didn’t beat the other dishes that were on the table.

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Hand-chopped Beef Tartare with Virgin Olive Oil, French Fries and salad EUR 38

Similarly, my other brother felt like he should have ordered something hot after receiving his main dish. Beef tartare features prominently on a lot of French menus, and this tartare was very nicely mixed, served as a tartare and as a carpaccio.  But after eating a meal at this restaurant, I would highly recommend that you go for something that’s not an easy order – the skills of the chefs shine brighter in the other dishes.

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Orzo cooked like Paella, monkfish and langoustine, slices of chorizo EUR46

I have to say, my main course was definitely the best order out of all! I’m not usually a huge fan of rice-y dishes such as paella or risotto, but the elements in this dish were too tempting to say no to.  The monkfish was so tender, really perfectly cooked, and the broth in which nestled the tender grains of orzo was so packed full of yum that the result was indescribable. It had a strong hint of shrimp stock, but after that, the numerous layers of flavour are hard to guess.

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Roasted cod with verbena, white asparagus, chanterelle mushrooms and fava beans EUR48

This was another beautifully composed dish, but I felt that the cod was perhaps a touch over-cooked.

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Profiteroles with coconut ice cream, Caribbean Chocolate Sauce EUR19

On to desserts, these profiteroles were served by themselves on a white dish, whereupon the waiter approached with a large jug of chocolate sauce and poured it on these chocolate choux morsels. It was decadent, so the coconut ice cream (piped into the choux pastry) balanced out the sweetness. Beware, this is a huge portion! I had told the waiter that I would like to share one portion with my brother, and when it was served I thought there had been some sort of mistake. Apparently not, the original serving is 6 pieces!

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Bourbon vanilla millefeuille, a touch of salted caramel EUR15

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Chocolate Tart

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Incredible India – Love in New Delhi

Do you recall the first time you watched the first “Incredible India” advertisement, broadcasted some time ago in 2006? I certainly do, and I remember thinking that it was possibly the best advertisement I had ever seen for tourism – I really wanted, needed to visit India after watching that. But the opportunity never arose – I always felt like a country as vast as this deserved a decent amount of my time, at least one week, ideally two.

Fast forward 7 years and I was one of the privileged ones invited to the Indian wedding of a lifetime.  Congratulations to the gorgeous couple, to my friends S & A – may love, happiness, respect and understanding be yours forever and always! If you have never been to an Indian wedding, let me tell you, it is an assault on the senses! Smells, sights, sounds, and tastes swirl around you in colourful opulence, and never have I heard so many resonating “WOW”s as I did during those 4 days.

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A gift from the bride – the reflective mirrors, sequins and bright colours on our Sangeet skirts

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Bangles that adorned our wrists at the Mehindi

Henna

Me, all Henna-ed up!

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Flowers lining the pathways and entrances to each wedding ceremony

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Brightly coloured petal and flower arrangements

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Multi-coloured fabrics provide shade and inject colour

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The most beautiful landscaping

My first Indian adventure was to take place in New Delhi, a hectic, dusty and sprawling city, whose tagline should be “organised chaos”. There were a few things that I was a bit wary of prior to the trip, namely the gang rapes that had occurred recently – into my suitcase went all of the long maxi dresses and light cardigans I have, in an effort to keep covered as much as possible.

The other main concern was “Delhi Belly” – I didn’t want at any point have to miss out of any part of the 4 day celebration. Some of my friends brought their own bottled water from Hong Kong, using it to brush their teeth and wash their faces. We wouldn’t eat any peeled fruit (for some reason, all the fruit wallas insisted on peeling everything, from oranges to carrots). Ice was to be avoided at all times. Fortunately, the hotel provided plenty of complimentary bottled water – the TATA brand of Himalayan water was particularly amusing.

#3 Best Water Label

#3 Best Water Label

#2 Best Water Label

#2 Best Water Label

The Winner!

The Winner! I hope you’re thirsty

We had a wonderful first experience of India, and have come away with lasting memories, new friendships, and a desire to see more of the country.  That is not to say that we didn’t have some less-than-savoury or peculiar experiences. Having to pass through a security scanner when we entered the majority of establishments, witnessing a grown adult (even a women in a beautiful sari) squatting and taking a dump by the side of the road. Watching cars reverse back down highway ramps.  Dragging along a car with our tour bus as we drove the narrow streets of Old Delhi, watching as 5 men gather to lift the car to the side so that the bus could pass (this is after our bus had chopped off the cars side mirror and dented the rear end of the drivers side). Our tour guide, who said, “Sometimes bad things happen, like rapes and all, but at least there are very few kidnappings!”.

Hey, I guess it is all part of experiencing a new country, and one is always bound to come away with stories, good, bad or peculiar.

  (STREET) FOOD 

Being cautious about not eating or drinking anything that could have made us sick unfortunately meant not being able to eat the array of street foods that Delhi had to offer. But thankfully the Bride and her mother organised the most AMAZING catered spread of street foods for the Mehindi luncheon!  Those who warned me that I’ll be eating a lot at an Indian wedding were 200% correct – there was food, all the time, in substantial amounts, and at this wedding to such a high calibre (if this can be said about food). In fact, all of the food that we were treated to during this 4 day celebration was out of this world – I have never eaten such outstanding Indian food before.

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Lamb Seekh Kebabs and Murg Kebabs grilling over charcoal

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Beautifully spiced and flavoured

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??

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A close up

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I believe this is Aloo Ki Tikki – a mashed potato and vegetable cakes which is deep-fried, and served with a sweet-spicy sauce

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Frying the Aloo Tikki in a large flat iron skillet

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Piling it high on the edge of the skillet, ready to be eaten

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A huge amount of curry

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An Indian toaster

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Paneer Kebabs – a favorite amongst all!

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The best of Bali – Food

One of my favorite places in the world is Bali, the enchanting island of the Gods. Each time the wheels touch the tarmac, all stress vanishes and I feel instantly lighter. Feeling the coarse black sand squelching in between your toes as you run away from the crashing waves that always approach faster than you anticipated. Driving through paddy fields on pot-holed roads as you watch a large group of children pass by carrying a huge kite over their heads. Kayaking, or white water rafting, or cycling, or climbing, or playing with lion cubs at the zoo. For me, everything about this island promotes peace, tranquility, and a general sense of well being. And the food, oh my goodness, the food! The Balinese put so much emphasis on spices so that myriads of different combinations of them result in such a rich depth of flavour that it’s simply impossible to not be delighted.

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All these reasons and more makes one appreciate Bali so fully, not only for the trendy tourists spots, but also for the small, no-frills restaurants that serve simple, honest and authentic Bali cuisine. I love watching the sun set at Ku De Ta with one of their stupidly expensive (yet amazing) cocktails in hand, just as much as I love to pull the flesh off a piece of ayam goreng and dip it in sambal before placing it on top of my rice and scooping it into my mouth with my fingers at a road-side warung.

So here I give you my Bali favorites, the posh and the plain, the hip and the trendy, the cheap and the cheerful.

THE SEMINYAK/LEGIAN AREA:

 POTATO HEAD/LILIN/TAPPING SHOES 

Potato Head has something for everyone – call ahead to reserve one of their day beds by the pool to enjoy cocktails and snacks in between dips. There is a minimum charge, but with their prices, you’ll have no problem covering it. The cocktails are around the same as HK prices, or you could opt for one of their awesome sangria mixes (around IDR560,000/HK$450 for around 6 glasses), served in large fishbowls. At the Beach Club, the food is of a very high standard and their burgers and desserts are to die for.

Potato Head’s Wagyu Beef Burger – hands down the best burger in Bali. Perhaps even one of the best burgers I’ve had, ever! R120,000 (HK$100)

Check out Lilin in the evenings for Asian Tapas, a wonderful way to try all kinds of South East Asian cuisines in small portions. The grilled fish was great, although for the other grilled seafood options you’re better off in Jimbaran.  I haven’t tried Tapping Shoes yet, their more upscale modern French restaurant (headed by Japanese chef Take Hikaru), but if the other food is anything to go by…

Address: Jalan Petitenget, Seminyak Tel: +62 361 473 7979 Website: http://www.ptthead.com/

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4 tapas (prawn balls, beef rendang, Thai roast duck red curry, fish carpaccio) for IDR 180,000 (HK$145)

 KU DE TA 

In its 12th year as a Bali hot spot, KTC is the place to see and be seen. Indulge in a modern dinner and a really yummy and extensive cocktail list (Rp. 110,000).  A nice place for a special occasion for dinner, but really, I’d prefer to eat locally, you can always eat this stuff at home. Go there to watch the sunset with an awesome cocktail and some cool vibes instead.

Address: Jalan Laksmana, 9, Seminyak Tel: (+62) 361 736969 Website: http://www.kudeta.net/

Ku de ta

 NAUGHTY NURI’S WARUNG

Don’t be surprised if you end up going to Naughty Nuri’s 3 times in a 5 day trip to Bali – their ribs are that good. I’ve heard good things about their pork chops as well – choose from a good range of side-dishes (porn corn, anyone?) as well as a choice of Indonesian dishes. Their slogan is spot on: “A funky streetside food haven, especially for the “naughty but nice!” With wicked ribs and brutal martinis, fun times and smiles are guaranteed.”

Address: Jalan Batubelig, 41 Tel: (+62) 361 847 6722 Website: http://www.naughtynurisbali.com/

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Full slab of the most delicious, tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs! IDR 89,000 (HK$ 70)

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London’s Borough Market

It’s 5am in Hong Kong, and I am wide awake. I’ve just returned from my annual November business trip to London, and it is about 8pm there, so naturally, I am thinking about … food! My most memorable food experience this time is definitely London’s Borough Market, it was an amazing foodie adventure that I would recommend to anyone visiting London. Whilst a trip to the market may not sound like the most exciting thing that one can do in London, you will most definitely be pleasantly surprised.

I don’t know why it took me so long to visit  Borough Market, I have heard about it time and time again, and it’s unlike me to be lazy about this sort of thing. It was only after my friend SN said that she visited during her recent trip to London (her first time!) that I mobilised the troops (me and my brother) to visit on a Friday morning, when all of the stalls are open and the market is teeming with edible temptations. So thank you SN for the inspiration!

Under the bridge, downtown

Part of the market is located directly under the Borough High Street railway bridge, which was completed in 2011 but won’t have any trains running across it until 2016. We hopped on the Tube and went all the way down to London Bridge station, towards the south east on the Jubilee Line. The market is close to the station and really quite easy to locate – just look for the huge railway bridge!

A pan very easily the diameter of a 32″ TV screen

Upon entering the market, the first thing we were greeted by was a HUGE pan of simmering red sauce, next to an equally huge pan of paella. This is Café Brood, one of the bigger cafés which has lots of indoor and outdoor seating.

Eyes wide open and stomachs growling, we went in search for our lunch. It is quite a dilemma to have so many choices with limited-sized stomachs! Whilst there are a few nice cafes and restaurants around, it’s much more fun to get something from a stall and eat it sitting on a park bench, and then go in search for more. Whilst we were walking around, I spotted a lady walking by with a plate of new potatoes and cornichons (mini pickles) covered in a glorious amount of melted cheese – RACLETTE!!! “Follow that plate!”, I said to my brother! We found the raclette stall and joined the line of fellow hungry people.

Raclette!!

The wait passed quickly, as we watched the raclette-makers swing the cheese holder around and out to expose the bubbling half-moon of cheese. As they deftly lifted the huge block of cheese and scraped the top layer onto a plate of tender new potatoes, there were a lot of “oooooooooh”s and “aaaaaaaah”s – and all the tourists (including us) scrambled to take out our cameras to catch the next scraping. Continue reading

The magic of Corsica

It’s September and summer is drawing to a close. Everyone has returned from their long holidays and are settling back into work and school, and you wonder how it is that the summer months have yet again passed so quickly! … Continue reading