I love a cold bedroom and living in the UK that is a very easy thing to achieve just open the window and you rarely have a night over 10 degrees. So when on holiday in the sun I suffer at night if there is no air con. These are my top tips for staying cool when trying to sleep
- get a sarong soak in cold water and lay it over you
- large bottle of cold water to keep hydrated
- water spray bottle filled with ice cold water to spray through the night
- if really hot put cold water onto your pulse points – wrists, neck, back of knees
- keep windows open in the day with curtains/shutters closed
- electric fan next to a bowl of ice
any other top travel tips?
Paradors in Spain are a great find. Sometimes I look at holidays as being like recipes you need a bit of this and a bit of that to make the dish perfect. A very basic dish can be brought to life with a few star ingredients. Paradors are the star ingredient.
So first steps were to get a cheap two week villa in Andalucia from thomson holidays. Car hire, flights and villa for £400 for two then we booked a tour of paradors. Paradors are a bit like a cross between the National Trust and Landmark Trust they have preserved buildings of historical importance often in areas with low levels of tourism (though not always!). The food they serve there is always local to the area and they are very proud of the sourcing of the food. The Paradors vary in price and they often have really good offers. We paid £90 for Ronda, £60 for Jaen and £150 for Granada. This added another £300 to our holiday bringing the total to £700 for two weeks for two people (bargain) and I would say it was almost honeymoon standard.
Our trip consisted of staying in between Nerja and Frigiliana which was good, a few nice villages nearby for food , a beach front down the road and it made a great base especially for the first few days where we just wanted to chill out (remember this is a holiday). The villa was clean, though dated and the swimming pool as big as a postage stamp. We planned to go to Parador Ronda, Parador Granada and finally Parador Jaen. First two were picked as we had always wanted to go, the last was picked because of the accommodation an 18thC Arabic fortress. The thing about Paradors is that you can guarantee you will have a good meal there and it will be completely different food at each one – so this is a gastronomic tour as well.
Our first stop was Ronda, this is a modern parador in the old town Hall and is a bit bland inside but OMG could you be any closer to the gorge? and it was a wonderful start to our adventure. We loved wandering around Ronda at night and the bar in the hotel was very good fun.
The second stop was Granada, but this being a Parador it isn’t any hotel in Granada, no you get to stay in the 15thC convent inside the Alhambra Gardens. Not only that but you get views of the Generalife from your bedroom. The restaurant is on the terrace and is one of the most romantic places in the world to eat.
Truth be told we booked all the other accommodation around this as Granada Parador is often booked up a year in advance. We just asked if there was any availability in the two weeks we were there and booked the other Paradors around it. You do need to buy a ticket to get in to see all the Alhambra but do this in advance.
Jaen Parador, who hasn’t dreamed of being a princess in a medieval castle. So when I saw this place with its Arabic fortress and four poster beds with tapestry’s I knew we had to stay. The Fortress stands on a hill and you can see for 40 miles all around the flat landscape (probably why they built it there!) The building’s majestic appearance continues inside with the impressive 20 metre high arches in the main hall, the dining room with its distinctive Arabic character, and the bedrooms with their magnificent views. The soft interior decoration of the building is complemented by a varied gastronomic menu: ajo blanco (chilled almond and garlic soup), ensalada de perdiz (partridge salad), pipirrana (typical salad) and espinacas a la jienense con huevo (Jaén spinach with egg).
Jaen is like the Pontefractof Spain once important but now in decline and not generally considered a tourist spot but look at the accommodation when have you ever stayed in a castle, and the interior was just as grand it was like a fantasy.
All Paradors were booked with Keytel who are the only UK representatives, really helpful and charming.
Having enjoyed Tuscany so much we decided to holiday in Umbria specifically Spoleto. We flew into Rome and then drove up to Umbria. This is not as scary as it sounds if you are used to driving in UK cities and busy motorways such as M62, M1 or M25. The airport leads straight out onto the motorway then it is interesting landscape all the way.
Spoleto was around a 2hr drive, we were staying at Wallace’s Arthouse. Wallace is the most entertaining person, he is a textile designer for Pringle and welcomes you as a friend to stay in his home Wallace’s Arthouse – a rather grand tower in the center of Spoleto. The views from his living room are fantastic.
Breakfast was served intimately in the kitchen – with Wallace bustling around making fresh coffee. All the interior of the house is great, I was a particular fan of the coffee cup lights and the living room cum gallery. In the evening he had many recommendations to eat, our favourite being the restaurant of the mad or Osteria del matto to give its Italian name, which is just off the square with the fountain. Here you have no choice or menu. A series of dishes created from the best produce in the market that day are cooked for you. We sat outside underneath the romantic vines at a shared table – divine.
Would definitely get this book appetite for Umbria before going – Wallace had a copy and we based a few days out around it – including a memorable trip to a river for fresh trout stuffed with truffles. Which reminds me everything in Umbria is about Truffles.
On the same square with the fountain is a very old grocery store, piled high with cured meats, cheeses and if you are lucky fresh truffles (black summer truffles which are a lot cheaper than white truffles). He packed some truffles in some oil for us to take back to England as gourmet presents for lucky friends.
I am going to find some photos for this post – but in the meantime check out the links
Since first visiting Italy I am continually amazed by how beautiful it is. Tuscany with its mix of sunshine, greenery, and medieval towns makes for a perfect holiday.
Most recently we flew to Pisa, hired a car and drove down to Voltera. The drive was peaceful and scenic taking about an hour. We were going to stay at an Agriturismo which are farms with rooms. We had selected this one because it was near to a town (so meals out rather than cooking) and had a swimming pool (got to have somewhere to sunbathe and cool down after a day of site seeing) and wasn’t too big. Podere Il Poggino, looked okay on the site, however we were amazed when we arrived. It is about a mile along a dusty track, climbing up the hill until you come to an electric gate – they buzz you in and greet you at the most wonderful hilltop location ever. All around us were rolling fields of green and standing there was a smiling Isabella to show us around.
We stayed in the Cypresse apartment (there are three in total) it has a large airy white bedroom simple with a lovely en suite bathroom. There is also a tiny little kitchen which reminded me of being on a boat and a sitting room which we never used as we were sat outside all the time.
The creme de la creme was the swimming pool , clean large with great quality sun loungers and umbrellas. We were the only people staying there so we got the pool to ourselves, though it was more than big enough to share. The views from the pool were breathtaking. What made this even more fab was the price we paid 60 euros a night for two (£50) and stayed for four nights (wish we had stayed longer). Podere il Poggino is a farm but they make wine, olive oil and honey all available to buy.
A weekend city break in Seville is a great idea. Seville is home to Flamenco, bullfighting, Carmen the Opera, the Alcazar, and my favourite the Tapas. Tiny bars packed to crushing point with people spilling out onto the streets. Instead of a waiter taking an order, you tell the barman and he/she chalks it on the bar where you are sat. If you don’t like a bar move on, if it shuts move on, there are always other bars just round the corner.
We flew direct to seville airport (thankyou budget airline) and then a quick cab to stay at San Andres Apartment which is in the centre of the old part of Seville but tucked away which made a great oasis from the hussle and bustle.
One of the things we always like when on a city break is a place to go and chill in the sunshine. This apartment has two terraces, a roof top hot tub, as well as a lovely shady day bed area we were in heaven.
In the evening wandering around eating tapas seems to be the best thing to do, it suits the temperature, you are on holiday so go to the places with the best ambiance. The apartment has a great list of all the best tapas bars but remember it is a weekend break not a treasure hunt! I have made us walk miles from one end of the city to the other just because they serve better meatballs only to find them shut.
In the evening, once the tourists have gone home, head to Santa Cruz, with its pretty old streets and hidden bars. One of my favourites claims to be the oldest bar in seville (has a plaque outside) and is no bigger than a shop window it sells vino de naranja which is dark brown, sweet and tastes of oranges. Served in shot glasses, staring up at the cathedral sipping orange wine is always a favourite for us.
Top Tips – take a horse and cart around the city it is a lovely way to travel a big distance without getting too hot! Go to the Cathedral and of course the Alcazar.
Cost – Well I think we managed to get the flights for about £70 each (check the link on the right for latest deals) and the apartment was 95 euros per night (min 3 night stay) so roughly about £340 for two (or £170 each for three nights of bliss in Seville)
Best time to go – April, May, September, October, November