Dubai

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I don’t tend to use this phrase much as it’s so overused but Dubai really is like Marmite – you love it or you hate it. Considering I keep going back, it’s safe to say my opinion is the former! A combination of flashy cars, oversized shopping malls, thrilling theme parks and enough sun to last you a lifetime, Dubai is a place like no other. There’s no denying that the heat can sometimes become uncomfortable, especially in the summer months when it climbs to a sticky 50c at times, but the ice cold air conditioning that blasts you at every indoor opportunity is nothing short of heavenly and makes things bearable. This year, we went away with a big group of my family at the end of July, one of the hottest times of year to visit the United Arab Emirates. A lot of people said we were crazy but with promises of an extensive all-inclusive cocktail list and 5 refreshing swimming pools to choose from at the Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa, we happily took our chances! After a 7 hour flight from London Heathrow, we arrived at Dubai airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. We then had a 45 minute transfer before we stepped into the oasis of the Jebel Ali, around a 30 minute drive from downtown Dubai. Downtown Dubai is not necessarily a very busy city but it was nice to stay slightly further out. I first came to the Jebel Ali with my parents in 2004 and we like it so much here that we don’t tend to stay anywhere else. The staff are friendly, the hotel and grounds are beautiful and with 7 different restaurants to choose from, all serving different cuisine, it’s safe to say we were never hungry! The hotel also has a shooting range where we each had a go at shooting a 9mm pistol with guidance from a dedicated instructor. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet but getting 4 in the bullseye wasn’t bad for my first attempt whilst wearing 6 inch heels! 😜

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Aerial shot of Jebel Ali

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Volleyball on the beach

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Hotel grounds

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Infinity pool

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While in Dubai we went on a couple of excursions, one being a Desert Safari and the other being a Penguin Encounter at Ski Dubai (yes, you read that right – SKI DUBAI – but more on that later!) which were both based outside of our resort. There are a number of things to bear in mind when out and about in Dubai. The culture and religious views of people in this part of the world say that it is unacceptable for women to show their bare shoulders or legs in public. Any public display of affection between couples is also frowned upon. There is no need to refrain from showing a lot of skin or holding hands within your hotel, but it’s important to abide by their laws when at the shopping malls or in downtown Dubai as you may be stopped by police if they feel you are not being respectful. Saying this, it has never affected our time spent outside of the resort and I think in recent years, the people of Dubai have actually become a lot more relaxed and tolerant of the English culture. After reading a lot of great reviews for Desert Safari Dubai, I enquired about a trip for 6 of us via their website (www.desertsafaridubai.com). After a few emails back and forth I decided to spend a little extra and upgrade our ride to a Hummer which in my opinion was well worth the money. All in all, we were in the Hummer for around 4 hours and were grateful for the extra space it gave us. We arrived in the desert after an hour’s drive from the Jebel Ali and were ushered into a row of gift shops while our driver let all of the air out of his tyres before our dune bashing session. There were a number of pushy shopkeepers mulling around trying to get us to buy traditional costume in the form of head scarves and robes which made us all feel slightly uncomfortable. It was a side to Dubai that I hadn’t seen before and it wasn’t a place I would want to visit again. After around a 15 minute wait, we piled back in the Hummer and edged forward into the desert. Our driver wasn’t much of a talker but he sure knew how to ride the sand dunes! We had a 20 minute thrill-ride going up, down and sideways(!) along the dunes at stomach-churning speed before stopping in the heart of the desert for photo opportunities. As we stepped out of the Hummer, cameras in hand, I was surprised at how windy it was. So much so that I lost my sunglasses, hat and scarf all with one huge gust of wind! This paired with the ridiculous heat made it quite an unpleasant environment to be in. Nevertheless, we climbed the tallest sand dune (with much effort I must add) and the view was fantastic, all you could see was desert for miles and miles with no other cars, people or even landmarks in sight. We pumped the tyres back up and drove to base camp, around 25 mins from where we did the dune bashing. Base camp consisted of cushions on the sand for you to sit on, a small shack that served drinks and an undercover area where a lady was carrying out Henna tattoos; not the most luxury of sites but it certainly felt as if you were in the middle of a desert! Here we rode camels and were given the opportunity to do some quad-biking but after an afternoon of adrenaline, we decided to sit this out, choosing instead to get a drink from the shack and wait for the traditional arabic entertainment to start. We watched the blood-orange sun set on the horizon and settled down to watch the dancers, one being a very scantily-clad belly dancer which I was surprised to see in a country like Dubai who impose such a strict dress-code for women. A BBQ was included in the price of our excursion and although it looked perfectly fine to eat, we chose to wait until we got back to the hotel to have dinner. It’s definitely an experience I would recommend, even if it’s just to say that you have spent a night under the stars in the middle of an Arabian desert. It’s certainly an experience I will remember.

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Now onto my favourite experience I had in Dubai…! This took place within the second largest shopping mall in the world – The Mall of the Emirates. The Mall of the Emirates is huge with over 700 shops, an indoor theme park, a 500 seat theatre and of course, the main attraction, Ski Dubai (https://booking.skidxb.com). Ski Dubai is an indoor ski centre, boasting 22,500 square meters of fun in a – 4c environment. With skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and snowy adventures to be had, it’s not an experience you would necessarily associate with the skyscrapers and deserts of the middle east but that is part of its appeal. While we didn’t do any skiing on this trip, we did visit Ski Dubai to meet with the 3 ft tall residents that live there – penguins (Gentoo and King penguins to be exact)! We booked an exclusive encounter, which at just over £100 each, wasn’t cheap but this package ensures that it is a 1-to-1 experience with your group and the penguin trainer (if your group size is 4 persons or more). It’s an experience that can only be done in Dubai and nowhere else in the world gives you the opportunity to cuddle, feed and play with penguins in such an intimate environment. We were first kitted out with Ski Dubai snowsuits before making our way to the Penguin meeting point and being introduced to our dedicated trainer. He then proceeded to take us into the freezing cold habitat where the penguins live, 19 in total including a number of chicks that were born this year. We were given a behind the scenes tour before we were introduced to all the penguins by name (McFatty being my personal favourite!). We were told lots of interesting facts before we were given opportunities to stroke, cuddle and feed the penguins. It was the most amazing experience, all captured by our own personal photographer who followed us around the habitat. As part of the price we paid for the encounter, we received 1 photo per person and then they offer photo packages for you to purchase afterwards. These are not cheap though – before we bartered the price with them they asked us for another £100 for all the photos on a disc! I won’t go into too much detail of what happens during the encounter as I don’t want to ruin the fun for anyone else but it’s something that I can happily tick off my bucket list. Find out more about the Penguin habitat here – http://skidubaipenguins.com. There’s even a package that allows you to swim with them!

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The largest shopping mall in the world is also located in Dubai – The Dubai Mall. With over 1200 shops, an ice rink and an underwater zoo and aquarium (that you can see by going on a glass-bottom boat ride!) among other things, it really is a monster of a mall but a very impressive one at that. Walking through the indoor Souk here is mesmerising with 220 jewellery outlets that are full to the brim with gold and rare jewels (including the biggest diamonds you will ever see) – you’ll be sure to fall in love with something! The original Gold Souk can be found in an area called Deira and is open 7 days a week. This busy outdoor market is the place to go for bargains or if you are in search of a momento to take home with you. Just next door is also the Spice Souk – just as interesting a place with a rainbow of weird and wonderful spices on display for you to purchase or taste. Dubai Mall is also home to the Dubai Fountains, the world’s largest choreographed fountain system in the world set on the 30-acre manmade Burj Khalifa Lake and designed by the same people that built the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas. The shows are scheduled at 1pm and 1:30pm during the day and then every 30 minutes from 6pm in the evening. The musical displays definitely have the wow-factor, especially with the Burj Khalifa soaring majestically above them. The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building (we’re beginning to see a bit of a theme here…) at 830m tall meaning it’s three times as tall as the Eiffel Tower and nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building. It was made famous in the latest Mission Impossible film and believe it or not, Tom Cruise was granted permission to climb up and have a seat at the very top of the spire. Rather him than me! Entrance to the Sky Observation Deck can be accessed through the shopping mall but it is extremely pricey (see prices and information on peak timings here – https://tickets.atthetop.ae/atthetop). However, discounts can be had if purchased in conjunction with tickets to the Aquarium or if you visit outside of peak hours so it is definitely worth looking into this before booking your visit. There is no real need to purchase tickets in advance of visiting the shopping mall as you can book a time slot for entry every 30 minutes until closing. The only slots that tend to get booked up are at the time of the sunset as the views are pretty spectacular. You have to go through a security check, similar to the ones at an airport but this doesn’t take long and the lift travels at 10 metres per second, meaning it takes just under 1 minute to reach the 126th floor! The view is fantastic and as it’s the tallest skyscraper in the world, it’s a must-do in Dubai.

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One thing to bear in mind when you leave a shopping mall – there are organised queues for taxis with staff pointing you to available cars when you near the front of the queue. The staff will automatically point you towards an unmarked taxi who will charge you double the price of a normal one! The staff here obviously have some sort of deal going with the unmarked taxi drivers and although it is perfectly safe to get in one, if you are on a budget make sure you refuse and ask to ride in a marked taxi!

There are a number of different water parks in Dubai but Wild Wadi next door to the Jumeirah Beach hotel is my favourite (http://www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-resorts/dubai/wild-wadi/). It’s not as big as some of the others in Dubai but the rides have got some serious thrill-factor with signs telling you not to ride if you’re the sort of person that eats your pizza with a knife and fork or if you always safely eject a USB!

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View from the Jumeirah Sceirah waterslide – not for the feint hearted!

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If you are staying at the Jumeirah Beach, entry is free. As my little brother was a bit older for this trip, we decided to take him on some rides with a hilarious outcome – our favourite ride being the Burj Surj.

Saying this, the Aquaventure waterpark at the Atlantis hotel on Palm Island is a lot of fun too. Again, if you are staying at the hotel, entrance is free of charge. With a Leap of Faith waterslide that takes you through a glass tunnel within a shark-infested aquarium and a Dolphin lagoon where you can swim with them, it’s a unique attraction to visit. While we didn’t go to the Atlantis during this trip, it’s worth a visit if you’re a bit of a big kid at heart! (https://www.atlantisthepalm.com/marine-water-park/aquaventure-waterpark)

The other main thing to see in Dubai if you’re into ticking off all the sites is the Burj Al Arab. Built in 1999, it has prided itself in being the world’s only 7 star hotel. The distinctive shape of the hotel that mimics a sail is arguably the most recognisable structure in Dubai, known for it’s ridiculously luxurious interiors and services that it offers. It sits on an artificial island that is 280m from Jumeirah beach and you also gain free entrance to Wild Wadi waterpark if you stay here. Rooms can cost from anywhere between £2,000 and £4,000 per night and it seems to be more of a statement to stay here than anything else. When I was a bit younger, I went to the Al Muntaha restaurant positioned on the 27th floor with a magnificent view of the Arabian Gulf. It’s a once in a lifetime experience with menu prices that also reflect this! A visit to the Burj Al Arab should be on your list of things to do in Dubai but take along a credit card with a high limit if you plan on stopping for a drink! This short video uploaded to their official YouTube account should give you a feel for it!

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Dubai is fast becoming a tourist hotspot, especially for the English and it’s easy to see why. When I need to recharge my batteries or fancy a (LARGE) dose of vitamin D, it’ll be my go-to holiday destination for many more years to come.

Romantic Rome

Rome is without a doubt of the most beautiful and picturesque cities I’ve traveled to so far. The whole time we were there we felt as if we were walking around a movie set as we took in sites such as the Colosseum and the Pantheon. The weather was fantastic and at 25c was even a bit too hot at times for our liking! After just under two hours on a very uncomfortable Ryan Air flight (especially for Alex – see pic below!) we landed at Ciampino airport in the early afternoon.
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We had purchased a bus ticket in advance using sitbusshuttle.com for €8 euros which took us right into the city centre, dropping us off at Roma Termini, Rome’s biggest station. The journey took around 40 mins with the traffic but the bus had great aircon and leg room for Alex. It was only a 10 minute walk from the train station to our hotel, Hotel Miami butit was an absolute nightmare! As we’d been in two other cities before Rome we hadn’t packed lightly – I had a handbag and small suitcase and Alex had a heavy large suitcase and a backpack. Let me tell you, trying to navigate through the cobbled streets of Rome with all of that in tow is challenging to say the least! Pouring with sweat and feeling rather traumatised from it all we arrived at the hotel and were shown to our room on the second floor. We always tend to book hotels in a central location when we’re visiting a city so that we don’t have to spend ages using public transport to get around and so were pleased when we found out that all but one sight was in walking distance. However, I’m not sure I would stay at this hotel again. It was perfectly clean and the the receptionists were really friendly and helpful but the rooms are in serious need of a refresh! The shower in particular was a problem as it was so tiny and Alex being over 6ft tall needed to bend his knees and leave the door half open to shower – not what you expect from a hotel that  wasn’t cheap!
The first thing we did was collect our Roma and Omnia passes that we had bought online prior to arriving in Rome (https://www.romeandvaticanpass.com). You can collect them from 4 central locations within the city – we arranged to collect ours from Piazza di Porta S.Giovanni. It is definitely worth buying these passes as they give you entry to all the main sites and attractions in Rome as well as a fast pass to skip the queues. The passes also allow you to ride the yellow open top tour buses and other methods of public transport in the city for 3 consecutive days including the metro which was a godsend on a few days where it got really hot! At roughly €100 per person they’re not cheap but you definitely save money when you add up the admission prices of all the sites. With the passes you also get big map of Rome that shows different routes between different parts of the city as well as a list of all the different places to pick up the open top bus.
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Alex putting his map reading skills to good use!
After collecting our passes we headed towards the colosseum. It was late afternoon by this point and we wanted to try and catch a glimpse of it as the sun was beginning to set. After around a 20 minute walk it appeared as if out of nowhere ahead of us. It was a stunning site, it almost didn’t look real! We walked around in awe. It was around 5pm at this point but there were still lots of people roaming (no pun intended!) around the site so we asked some people to take some pictures of us.
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I already couldn’t wait to have a look inside, something we’d planned for the following morning. We wandered back towards our hotel and found a lovely looking bistro restaurant down a side street where we enjoyed traditional Italian cuisine – pizza and pasta – all washed down with a few glasses of wine!
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On the walk back to the hotel we went via the Spanish steps. I had read everywhere that whatever time of day you visit you need to expect crowds and boy were they right! There were people everywhere and the steps were full to the brim with tourists and locals alike, some reading, some painting but most taking selfies with the selfie sticks that are sold on EVERY corner in Rome! We took some pictures in front of the steps and had a wander around the Piazza de Spagna, one of the most famous squares in Rome that sits at the bottom of the steps.
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The following morning we were up bright and early and headed straight back to the colosseum. My heart sank as we approached the entrance and found a queue that wrapped right around the colosseum and back again! However on flashing our Roma pass we were whisked straight to the front of the queue, skipping the 2 hour plus waiting time that we’d been told! Spending the €100 on the pass is worth it for this alone! We paid an extra €5 for some audio guides and walked up some uneven stone steps to the first level. (If needed there is a step free entrance and lifts to the upper levels which is great if you aren’t quite steady on your feet or have disabilities). I honestly felt as if I was in Gladiator and I would definitely recommend getting the audio guides as it really brought the history to life, telling you all sorts of facts about the building of the amphitheatre and the games that used to be held within it until around the 6th century. After exploring all the different levels, we headed to the gift shop and bought some typically touristy items (although we resisted buying gladiator costumes!). The colosseum is a MUST see for anyone and I’m so pleased I’ve ticked it off my bucket list!
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Next on the agenda was a visit to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, two of the most ancient sites in Rome. Palatine Hill sits 40 metres above the Roman forum and offers one of the best views in the city. After a little hike that seemed to go on forever in the heat we arrived at the top and took it in turns with other tourists to have our photo taken in the best spot. We then took a little stroll through parts of the Roman Forum, a rectangular-shaped area surrounded by ruins of important ancient government buildings. It was really impressive to see. 
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View of the Roman Forum from Palatine Hill

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Selfie in the Roman Forum
That night after heading to dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (you didn’t think we’d forget did you? ;)), we went to find the Trevi Fountain and I can’t tell you how disappointed we were when we arrived to find it cordoned off and surrounded by ugly scaffolding. Even the water had been drained! Apparently it is being restored thanks to a generous $2.1 million dollar donation from Fendi – lucky fountain!
Trevi fountain
We then took a stroll to the Piazza della Rotonda, another famous city square where the Pantheon is located. At night it is illuminated and in my opinion it looks even more magnificent in this lighting. We sat on the edge of a pretty fountain for a while, people watching and observing the many forms of entertainment in the square including singers, magicians and artists. It was so much fun and we didn’t return to the hotel until the early hours of the morning. 
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The Pantheon

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Exploring the streets of Rome in the evening

Rome street

The following day we had booked to visit Vatican City. The Vatican City is mainly made up of the St Peter’s Basilica, St Peter’s Square, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museums. We had booked an afternoon slot to visit St Peter’s Basilica and so took it easy in the morning before heading there on one of the yellow open top buses as it’s a bit further out and not in central Rome.
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Open top bus in the glorious weather!
This was by far the hottest day of our trip but as it is a place of worship we had to cover our legs and shoulders meaning that Alex was in a jeans and polo and I was in a t shirt and trousers – it was hell! (All around the Vatican City are people selling scarves and shawls to tourists that have forgotten to abide by the strict dress code so it’s never a major issue if you do forget). We took the opportunity to have lunch in an air-conned cafe nearby and then headed to join the queue for the Vatican museums. We joined the back of the queue feeling rather sorry for ourselves in the heat but soon discovered that our Omnia passes came to the rescue again and we were transferred to a much shorter queue in the shade – result! We had been told that we would need at least 4 hours in the museums but as both of us are not really lovers of art we visited the main highlights including the Rafael rooms and the Sistine chapel and were out in around an hour.
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We then spent some time taking a look around St Peter’s Square, the design is amazing and we used our Marco Polo guide book to read about the history of it.
St Peter's Basilica
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The best selfie we managed of St Peter’s Square!!
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Fountain in St Peter’s Square
After around 30 mins and several hundred selfies later (trying to get the whole of the square and Basilica in the photo is quite challenging!) we entered the Basilica. It was absolutely stunning and Michelangelo’s dome was beautiful!

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Michaelangelo dome
Michelangelo’s dome
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We then paid an extra few euros to go up into the Cupola but there are two things to bear in mind if you plan to do this:- 
  1. You can choose to take the stairs for 5 euros or the lift for 7 euros but even if you choose to take the lift it doesn’t take you all the way to the top. It’s 871 steps to the top and the lift takes you up to roof level which is 320 steps up – you have to cover the rest on foot! Personally, I think it’s worth paying to use the lift! We were gasping for air when we finally made it to the top – you definitely have to be fairly fit and so unfortunately it means that wheelchair users or people that are not physically fit won’t be able to visit the very top viewing platform.
  2. Climbing the last 551 steps is extremely claustrophobic. At one point you are climbing within the dome itself and it’s very narrow and the ceilings are quite low. I can see how easily people could begin to panic up there, especially when it’s hot.
When you arrive at the roof level you are given the opportunity to explore the walkway that overlooks the altar and is directly underneath Michelangelo’s dome. Being much closer to it really makes you appreciate just how detailed and intricate the art is.
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View of the altar from the walkway beneath Michelangelo’s dome
After more steps than I care to ever climb again, we finally made it to the top. We caught our breaths and took in the famous view which is often portrayed in artwork and photographs of Rome. It was spectacular.
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At the top is also a gift shop where we both bought some rosary beads which now hang above my dressing table at home. We’re not a particularly religious couple but it seemed the perfect thing to buy from one of the most famous religious sites in the world!
After a long (and hot!) day we went back to our hotel and sorted through the hundreds of pictures we’d taken at the Vatican city before heading out for dinner at the Piazza Navona, arguably the most famous square in Rome. Contrary to it being called a square it is in fact an oblong shape and dozens of cafes and restaurant sit around the edges. In the middle are several fountains. We had read in our guide book that in ancient Rome they used the fountains to deliberately flood the square in the summer to create a swimming pool for the rich and wealthy to splash around in! There was something about this square that was incredibly romantic and we watched the entertainers and artists as we enjoyed more pasta and wine. One artist used spray paint to create delicate paintings of famous sites and views in Rome – we were so impressed that we bought a picture of the colosseum at sunset that we watched him paint for €15! Again we didn’t get back to the hotel until really late (or early depending on how you look at it!) as there is so much to see and do at night in the city.
Rome is definitely a city that I could visit again and again and always find something new to see and do. It’s interesting, beautiful and extremely romantic. Although Paris is known as the city of love, I believe Rome could definitely give it a run for its money!
 
M x

Menorca: My favourite island!

I have so many fond memories of childhood holidays spent in Menorca so it will always be one of my favourite places. I was 5 years old when I went with my parents and younger brother for the first time and have returned almost every year since. It’s the perfect destination to unwind for a week or two with it’s beautiful beaches and pretty cobbled streets. Even after all the times I’ve visited the island, I still haven’t seen all it has to offer but below are some of my top things to see and do here:
Binibeca
Whenever I have been to Menorca we have always stayed in Binibeca (or Binibequer as it’s spelt locally), a quiet little fishing village situated in the south east of the island. It’s a 15 minute drive from Mahon airport, costing around 25 euros if you were to take a taxi. However, to see and appreciate the best of Menorca I would highly recommend hiring a car. The public transport links on the island aren’t the best and so unless you are planning to stay in one place for the entirety of you trip, it is essential to have a car. The resort of Binibeca officially spans from Cala Torret, through Binibeca Nou and ending up in Binibeca Vell. There isn’t too much to do in Cala Torret but you must visit Pedros – a family run restaurant in an idilic location (http://www.deanlafosseatpedros.es). It’s positioned high up on a cliff overlooking the bluest of blue seas. The menu is varied with English and Mediterranean dishes available. They also have an extensive cocktail list ranging from Pina Coladas to Pomadas. Pomadas is a drink made from Menorcan gin and lemon – a very refreshing drink but it can be absolutely lethal! You wouldn’t want more than a couple – I speak from experience (See the bottom of my post for a recipe)! Once a week Pedros has karaoke in the bar and terrace area which is great fun and always very busy. EDIT – sadly Pedros moved to another location in Es Castell at the beginning of 2017 and the space where it once was overlooking the sea remains empty.
A diving shop can also be found in Cala Torret as it’s an ideal place to dive and snorkel around the rocky coastline here.
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Popular diving spot in Cala Torret

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Pretty coastal drive from Cala Torret into Binibeca
Binibeca Nou is where you will find Playa de Binibeca Nou – a lovely beach with soft white sand, warm shallow waters and lifeguards on duty so it is especially child-friendly. It’s not the biggest of beaches but it has good car parking and a beach restaurant called Los Bucaneroes which is a converted fisherman’s hut! Ice creams and other food and drink is also available from stalls just behind the beach. The beach is within a rocky cove which means it’s great for snorkelling – kayaks are also available to rent from the beach if you want to get out on the water but don’t fancy a swim.
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Binibeca Vell is a quaint little fishing harbour with a few shops, bars and restaurants. As well as a supermarket, here you can hire cars and mopeds. Tour companies often arrange trips to Binibeca Vell as it is such a picturesque town. Narrow cobbled streets and white villas paint a picture very similar to Greece’s Santorini. It’s beautiful and definitely worth a little wander round, even if it’s just to rehydrate with a cocktail or two in one of the few cocktail bars! Binibeca Vell is where my parents’ villa is located.
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My family’s villa
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Pina Coladas in Binibeca Vell
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For the best Thai food on the island you MUST pay a visit to La Boyera. Decorated with traditional Thai lanterns and even a Tuk Tuk it’s a great restaurant that serves delicious food. It’s the best Thai food I’ve ever had and easily outshines any Thai restaurant I’ve dined at in England. The staff here are extra friendly and go above and beyond to make sure you have a great meal. La Boyera serves beer in Stein mugs, originating in Germany these glasses hold 2 pints rather than the usual 1. Great idea if you like a drink but you have to have Popeye muscles to even lift the glass to your lips!
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Stein beer!
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In high season there is a little road train that takes you from Binibeca to Punta Prima for 7 euros per person. Punta Prima is a little town popular with tourists. There are a few hotels here and 5 or 6 restaurants that sit on the beach. At night time a stall appears adjacent to the restaurants selling the best crepes I’ve ever tasted and as it’s only a 5 minute drive from Binibeca, we have been on many late night trips here!

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Punta Prima
Around a 20 minute drive from Binibeca you will find Cova d’en Xoroi, a bar located within a cave on a platform overlooking the sea. By night it transforms into a nightclub with international DJs visiting regularly.  It’s a great and unusual experience during the day, let alone at night where the music bounces and echoes around the cave creating a unique sound. The views are spectacular and it’s a lovely spot to sit in the sun with a cocktail. During the day packages are available to buy which include entrance to the bar and a cocktail – at around £10 per person it isn’t cheap but worth it for the view alone. (www.covadenxoroi.com)
Mahon
Mahon (or Mao) is the capital city surrounded by the second deepest natural port in the world. Here million pound yachts moor up every night and their passengers get off to enjoy tapas by the water. From the harbour you can also book to go on a glass-bottom boat trip. The trip lasts around 40 minutes and is popular with families and couples alike. The clear waters just outside the port mean that lots of different underwater creatures can be spotted! While on the boat the knowledgeable guides give a brief history of the island including the ruins of the San Felipe Fort and the old town of Es Castell. The port is around 5km in length and is lined with dozens of restaurants with both indoor and outdoor seating. My favourite restaurant here is Pierros – an italian menu with extra friendly staff that speak good English. As well as the restaurants and bars that are in the harbour, a popular place to visit is the gin distillery. Here you’ll definitely be given another taste of delicious local Pomada! Mahon is also home to many shops including pharmacies, gift shops and designer fashion boutiques. In the main town sits Esglesia de Santa Maria, a catholic church built in the 14th century. It’s a nice place to visit. Also be sure to check out the market that runs on a Saturday and a Tuesday. The town gets very busy on these days and parking sometimes is an issue – you will always find a space but as the town sits on top of a steep hill it may mean having to climb a few hundred steps to the top!
charlie in mahon
My little brother sitting at the top of the hill in Mahon

mahon harbour

 A short drive from Mahon is a Lloc de Minorca, a small zoo with a range of different animals available to see and pet. It’s a great place to visit with children, especially when the sun isn’t shining. My 6 year old brother loved it and in the summer there are daily shows including Birds of Prey. Entry prices are 11.50 euros for adults and 7.50 euros for children. Check their website for opening times as it varies through the season – www.llocdemenorca.com.
Cala Macarelleta beach
Menorca is home to hundreds of beaches and small coves including Son Bou beach which is the largest. However, my favourite has to be Cala Macarelleta. The turquoise water that surrounds this beach is comparable to that of a Caribbean beach. The beach is split in two with one side being a nudist beach so make sure you head to the left hand side if you like to protect your modesty! The beach is quite small and I can imagine it can get quite busy during high season but should be okay if you get there early enough. The beach cafe serves lovely food and cocktails and the snorkelling is brilliant. The only downside to this beach is the drive to it. My parents have a Ford Fiesta out there and so it’s hardly a big and bulky car and I’m a fairly confident driver. All was well when we set off from Binibeca, our Sat Nav had told us that it would be around a 90 minute drive but it was a lovely day and driving in Menorca is quite scenic so we didn’t mind. About an hour into the journey we were told to take a turning off the main road and head down what looked like a dirt track. As we drove it got more and more narrow until you could only fit one car through at a time. We were surrounded  by walls built with sharp and jagged rocks and at first it was fine – until we hit oncoming traffic!! This road is the only way in and out to the Macarelleta beach parking and as it’s such a beautiful beach it’s very popular with locals and tourists. Locals were speeding towards me at 30mph and I’m ashamed to say I shut my eyes when they passed me! After around 20 minutes and very close to a mental breakdown I knocked it out of gear and pulled the handbrake up, refusing to drive any further. I honestly felt as if I could cry it was so stressful and so even though he wasn’t insured Alex drove the rest of the way. Thankfully we (only just!) made it there in one piece and it was 100% worth it but nervous drivers – forget it! You can walk to the beach from another nearby cove – Cala Galdana – this takes around 30 minutes but I’ve been told it’s quite strenuous.
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Last year we went on a snorkelling trip from Cala Galdana which was great and I would definitely recommend. A speedboat picks you up from the beach and takes you out to 5 or 6 different coves on the island to snorkel in and around caves and rocks. It was brilliant – even if the water was a little chilly! Blue Islands diving were great and provided all snorkel equipment and wetsuits (http://blueislandsdiving.com/snorkel/).
There is so much to see and do on the island, I haven’t even scratched the surface! Whether it’s lounging on a beach, exploring the old streets of Mahon or learning to snorkel or dive – Menorca has something for everyone and it is my favourite Balaeric island by far! If you’re still not convinced, try out the Pomada recipe below for the true taste of the island. You’ll be booking a flight within the hour! 😉
M x
P.S if Binibeca takes your fancy , take a look at this beautiful villa available for hire this summer – https://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/accommodation/p8158004
Menorcan Pomada recipe
Ingredients:
  • 2 parts Xoriguer gin (or substitute your favorite gin)
  • 1 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 part tonic
  • 3 large mint leaves (optional)

 

Method:

Squeeze one lemon and measure the juice — that will equal one part. Add the lemon juice and gin to a shaker, and shake with ice. Strain into a highball glass, and top off with the tonic. This cocktail tastes tart, refreshingly aromatic and complex. A delight. To give the cocktail a little extra burst of freshness, add three mint leaves to the shaker with the lemon juice and gin. When you shake the cocktail, the ice cubes will bruise the leaves, releasing the essential oils.

Beautiful Barcelona

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Alex and I usually like to plan our trips quite a way in advance in order for us to familiarise ourselves with the top things to see and do in each place. However, last summer we couldn’t decide between visiting Barcelona or Rome. On one hand I’d heard that Barcelona was a beautiful city with gorgeous cobbled streets and lots of rooftop bars serving delicious tapas. But on the other hand drinking wine and watching the sunset over the colloseum was a tempting thought also. After much deliberation we decided that we’d much prefer to visit both! So after much planning we booked last minute flights to spend a few days at my parents villa in Menorca, then flights from Menorca to Barcelona and then finally flights to Rome. I’ve visited Menorca almost every year since I was 5 and it’s one of my favourite places to go and relax for a few days. I’m currently working on a blog post with the top things to see and do on the island so keep an eye out for that!

Barcelona certainly did not disappoint. The weather was perfect for almost the entire time we were there and the architecture was stunning, even if architecture isn’t your thing it’s hard not to appreciate the city’s design.


  

Exploring the Gothic Quarter

After landing in Barcelona we bought a T10 rail ticket for €9.95 (this allows you 10 journeys on all the main transport links which can be shared between multiple people) and took the RENFE train to Passeig de Gracia which is 4 stops. These trains leave the airport around every 30 minutes and it provides a very easy way to travel into the city centre without spending a fortune on a taxi. At Passieg de Gracia you can change for the Metro to get around the city but our hotel was only a short walk from here so we jumped off and arrived at our hotel where we were grateful for the ice cold air con that filled the reception. We stayed at a boutique hotel called the Constanza which was in an ideal location as it was so central to all the major sights in the city. http://hotelconstanza.com

We spent our first day getting to know our way around the city (and eating tapas and drinking wine – come on, we were on holiday!) and started our proper sight seeing on the second day with a visit to the Sagrada Familia. Now don’t get me wrong the Sagrada Familia is an impressive sight to behold as it comes into view but I was slightly disappointed when we arrived to see ugly scaffolding fixed to the upper towers. However as you get closer to the church itself you are able to really appreciate the incredible detail that has been carved into the stone. It was amazing to think that something of this grandeur had been designed and built in the 1800s. After we bought our tickets we had to wait 30 minutes for our time slot and so we took the opportunity to try and get a picture outside that captured the whole church without cutting off the top of the spires – something which proved rather difficult!


  

I had been advised that women must cover their shoulders to enter as it was a place of worship and so even in the sweltering summer heat, I wrapped a cardigan around me. We entered through the front doors and were even more amazed at the inside. The light bounced off the walls and stained glass forming beautiful colours and patterns in the vast space. It was without a doubt the biggest church I’ve ever seen and definitely the most impressive – even more so than the Notre Dame in Paris which I thought couldn’t be beaten. Bravo Gaudi!


  

As mentioned in my previous blog posts, Alex is a major sports fan so it was always in our plans to visit Camp Nou. We bought a ticket that allowed us access to the trophy room, the dressing rooms and all around the main stadium – Alex loved it and it’s a must-do for any football fans out there.


  

Among other things we stumbled upon as we walked around the city,  we found a lovely little courtyard and orangery in a place that used to belong to an old hospital for the patients to use. It’s now open to the public and is a nice place to relax and escape from the busy city streets.


  

The next stop was the famous La Rambla. I’d read up on La Rambla before we got to Barcelona and was slightly wary after reading about tourists constantly being scammed and mugged here. I have to say our experience was entirely different. It was one of my favourite places in Barcelona. The pretty street is lined with various shops, stalls and cafes selling anything from potted plant fridge magnets to fresh gelato. We also went to a food market in a side street just off is La Rambla selling fresh fish, meat, fruit and lots of sweets. 😁


  
  


  

After managing to tear myself away from the various temptations on offer at the market, we carried on walking until we reached the Barceloneta boardwalk. Unbeknown to me before I did my research – Barcelona has a large beach! The sand stretches for miles and by the time we got there at around lunchtime it was packed! There were people sprawled everywhere, lapping up the sun both on the beach and in numerous bars and cafes that sit just adjacent. We managed to find a table and ordered a pizza to share with an Estrella (the local beer out there) and a fruity cocktail – I’ll leave you to decide who had what! 😜

After lunch we took a walk over the bridge to Port Vell, a marina where there are luxury yachts and boats aplenty.


    

We took a walk along and admired them all before heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe (another location to tick off the list!).
Just a couple of tips if you plan to visit Park Guell:

It’s a famous park featuring the work of Antonio Gaudi, the artist that also designed the Sagrada Familia and it’s situated at the highest point of Barcelona on Carmel Hill. We took the Metro to the closest station and were told it was only a 20 minute walk after that. While that was true, what people failed to mention is that the walk is up one of the steepest hills I’ve ever climbed and what with the 28c+ heat and my choice of flimsy footwear, it wasn’t a good combination! About 5 minutes from the top, both of us very sweaty and beginning to get quite moody with each other, a bus with the destination ‘Park Guell’ plastered across the front zoomed past us and straight to the entrance! Lesson learnt – the Metro is not always the best option for travel around Barcelona! There are bus stops at many central locations in the city and it’s definitely the best way to get to Park Guell. Second tip is to book your tickets well in advance as it’s such a popular attraction for tourists and they only allow 400 visitors in every half an hour. We arrived hoping to queue for a ticket but were told that all the time slots had gone and we’d have to wait 3 hours till the next available one. Safe to say we weren’t in the best of moods for the rest of the afternoon as we boarded the bus back to our hotel!

Overall we spent 3 nights in Barcelona and we felt this was right amount of time to enjoy most of the things the city has on offer – sightseeing, tapas and sangria being the main things! 😉 We really enjoyed our time here and would definitely return for a long weekend in the summer.
M x