THE WHITE COAST OF SPAIN | ALTEA

Standard

No doubt it’s the Mediterranean climate that makes the Costa Blanca such a popular destination. Throughout the year you’re guaranteed many hours of sunshine and pleasant temperatures. During the winter, it’s remarkably hotter than anywhere else in Spain. The summer months don’t have real ‘hot’ outbursts in store that make it an unbearable destination. And thus perfect and to be remembered for your next trip, even in winter months.

Don’t let (very) negative messages about the Costa Blanca and especially the big cities like Benidorm hold you back. Benidorm indeed equals mass tourism, however, fortunately, Costa Blanca is more than Benidorm. For those who prefer peace and authenticity, there is also Moraira, Altea and other small and cozy seaside resorts.
No review about hotels or B&B’s this time. S&B is staying with friends who ventured the permanent relocation to Spain. Especially for the climate described above. As well as peace and nature, great food, beautiful views. In short, the good life. Let that also be our S&B life motto… we feel at ease here pretty quickly. We let ourselves be guided with pleasure by our two imported, semi-locals who like to show us ‘their’ Costa Blanca. Starting with Altea.

IMG_6663

You never get a second chance to make a first impression
This must be Altea’s credo. Streaky blue skies against azure blue waters and white (stone) beaches…Altea makes a serious first impression. Also the well-preserved historic city center is very inviting. A must do. Blissfully strolling around is therefore one of the most important activities you can and should do here. Although the strolling may also be related to the hillside the town is built against…the best pace to not end up totally sweaty and purple. Stony cobbled narrow streets, traditional whitewashed houses, and different viewpoints for the best photo and a well-deserved ‘catch your breath’-moment…that’s Altea!


Rarely ate such delicious tapas!
Catching our breath we do in Xef Pirata…a tip from a true local 😉 And what a tip! A golden one. Xef Pirata offers high-end tapas in a cozy setting. Located just on the edge of the Old Town, it’s easy to pass this cute little gastro bar. Please don’t. You cannot experience Altea’s best without stopping here. The tapas are not only original and homemade, but the presentation is innovative and photogenic. This little tapas bar became so popular with the locals (always a good sign!) and tourists so making a reservation is an absolute must. Also check the opening hours upfront!

IMG_5734


Where|
Carrer de l’Àngel 22, Altea
Phone | 00 34 966 88 58 55

LONDON’S CALLING |LONDON

Standard

It’s not our first time in London. But in a world city like London, there is always something new to experience and discover. Museum lovers can choose between 100 musea. New areas are constantly being baptized into the most recent place-to-be. Enough shops to shop for bankruptcy. London is constantly on the move. This time, we discover Borough Market & Barbecoa by Jamie Oliver.

Borough Market
It served as decor for one of the Harry Potter movies, however, that was not our reason for dropping by. The great smell of the many food stalls was. Borough Market is a great location, which is best visited with an empty stomach. This cozy market offers a variety of stalls and food. You’ll find everything that’s delicious, from bread to pastries, coffee and the most exotic dishes.

IMG_5081
Granted, Borough Market is not a new place to be. It exists since a tiny 1000 years. The exact start date is actually unknown. There’s no documentation available about an official opening. The best available date, used as the basis for the Millennium celebration of the Market, is 1014.

IMG_5082

The market lies in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, and in the immediate vicinity of the London Bridge. From here, you can walk off the accumulated calories towards Millennium Bridge. This suspension bridge, made of steel and hanging over the River Thames, connects the Bankside with the City. It’s only accessible for pedestrians. From the bridge you have a magnificent view of St Paul’s Cathedral, the perfect next stop!

IMG_5080

Barbacoa by Jamie
In the St Paul’s Cathedral area you can find Barbacoa by Jamie Oliver (note there’s also another Barbecoa restaurant at Picadilly). The restaurant entrance seems hidden in a shopping mall…Eventually, we’re able to locate it and do find it a pity. It’s absolutely no honor to the restaurant! Fortunately, that’s soon forgotten as upon entering Barbecoa, you can gaze at the iconic dome and imposing baroque architecture of St Paul’s Cathedral. Our charmes work on the waiter as he provides us with a table with direct view on the cathedral. No interior designer can create a better decor. Although the same stylists have delivered a nice result with the rest of the interior: sexy red leather sofas, golden surfaces (e.g. the imposing bar) and floor-to-ceiling windows for the best city view.

The restaurant is buzzingly busy. For a romantic rendez-vous you can probably find better alternatives. But for those wanting to kick off London for a weekend or have a nice evening with friends, it’s definitely the right place. Gin Tonic to start – always good. Chateaubriand for 2 with truffle butter, cooked to perfection. Our side dish with broccoli is also super delicious.

IMG_6649

For dessert we let ourselves be convinced by the waiter and go for Snickersphere (dessert with peanuts & salted caramel). Heavenly! And…straight to the hips… We try to make up with a fast & long evening walk along the Thames back to Doubletree by Hilton at the Tower Bridge.

IMG_6647

Where | 20, New Change Passage London
Phone | 0044 20 3005 8 555
Open | From Monday to Saturday 11:30am – 11:00pm – Sunday & Bank Holidays 12:00pm – 10:00pm

NOPI BY OTTOLENGHI | LONDON

Standard

Oh how we have looked forward to this one – hard to describe 😉 Yotam Ottolenghi pinned the Israeli / Middle Eastern / Mediterranean fusion cuisine on the culinary world map as well as in numerous successful cookbooks: Sweet, Nopi, Plenty More, Jerusalem, Plenty and Ottolenghi. These cookbooks are also the source of kitchen inspiration for several Ottolenghi restaurants in the London area: Belgravia, NOPI, Spitalfields, Nothing Hill, Islington. With very tasty results, we can assure you. A visit to NOPI is hence a must on our London city trip. Our expectations are sky high.

IMG_6620

Make a reservation as the restaurant, like the other Ottolenghi London restaurants, is popular. NOPI’s decor is sober with a golden touch and understated oriental accents. Nothing over the top, simple and good. Pure. Freshly baked bread and some deliciously filled large plates help you feel welcome. All looking and smelling very promising.

IMG_6618

Those who enjoy kitchen action while eating, can opt to reserve at the large table downstairs. We would definitely recommend it…provided there is no chaos in the kitchen. Unfortunately on the day of our visit, so is chaos. Not the orchestrated chaos from a top notch kitchen, but disorganization and things that clearly fail.

We dive into the menu and order a number of different dishes for sharing. Including burrata, with coriander seeds, roasted eggplant with tamarind yoghurt, seared tuna with celery, broccoli and a perfect seasoning ….The tuna is our absolute favorite. It melted on our tongue. All other dishes are definitely good, but not top. Not the plus 100% we expected and hoped for. We missed seasoning… and let that be the term that we associate Ottolenghi with.
IMG_5129

We call it a bad day in the kitchen. That can happen to everyone, right? We remain convinced that Ottolenghi is the taste-bomb-star and not victim of its own success. We promise ourselves to try again on a next visit to London.

Where | 21-22 Warwick Street | London | UK
Phone | +44 20 7494 9584
Online reservation through website http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/nopi
Open | MONDAY TO FRIDAY  Breakfast 8am-12pm | Lunch 12pm-3pm**  | Dinner 5:30pm-10:30pm (**Fridays 12pm-5:30pm)
SATURDAY  Breakfast 10am-11:30am | Lunch 12pm-5:30pm |  Dinner 5:30pm-10:30pm
SUNDAY  Breakfast 10am-12pm | Lunch 12pm-4pm

 

 

UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE ROADTRIP | PUGLIA

Standard

Scheduled on day 2, after a delicious breakfast, is a small road trip towards the Itria Valley, where we’ll visit a few of the main sights: AlberobelloLocorotondo and CisterninoWe decide to visit them in reverse order.

Cisternino
Together with Locorotondo, covered laterCisternino is best described as a historic small village, with beautiful white houses. Inside the old city walls you encounter a maze of alleys, columns, squares, narrow passages. It’s authentic beyond imagination. The busy tourist season at the time of our visit is obviously over…it gives the place a somewhat desolate impression. On the other hand, we don’t have to fight with other tourists for a spot on a terrace. Every disadvantage has its silver lining.

IMG_4038

Locorotondo
Trattoria Al Vecchio Arco is our best discovery in an also desolated Locorotondo. Curiosity – a few tables with blue white checkered tablecloths in a forgotten alley – and a starving stomach are what makes us end up here. Enthusiastic greeting by the man of the house – he reminds us of “Allo Allo“-Rene- who immediately informs us that his wife and mother serve the kitchen and he’s to serve us. Plus, that there is one set menu. We eat what is being served! We like the direct approach! Eggplant parmigiani as an appetizer, simple and traditional. But if simple equals delicious, we surrender. Tasty & typical sausages of the region as main course.

IMG_6313

IMG_6312

For dessert there was – technically speaking – no more space in our belly… However, would we be serious bloggers if we were to say ‘no’ to an Italian home made tiramisu? Obviously not! We take this very seriously and end up being seriously rewarded for our unremitting efforts.

IMG_6311

Alberobello
Capital of the trulli. A trullo is a typical building of this region: small round limestone houses with a conical roof, often decorated with Christian or magic symbols. In Alberobello you’ll find most of this trulli, hence the village was declared Unesco World Heritage. Where the trulli used to be the houses of working people, nowadays you’ll find restaurants and even B&B’s in them. Alberobello had to be our apotheosis of the day however, we feel a bit disappointed…for some reason we expected bigger & more impressive.

IMG_4037

Italian wine to he rescue
Fortunately nothing that cannot be solved with a good bottle of Italian wine. And this awaits us in our B&B. Harvested and bottled by the owner himself. Is it the warm glow of the evening sun, or because it’s vacation or the spirit of the wine maker…the wine tastes delicious and is the perfect closing of our day!

IMG_4047

P.S. Alberobello remains a must-see. After all, it’s Unesco World Heritage. Just manage your expectations 🙂 

 

THE UNSPOILED HEEL OF ITALY | PUGLIA

Standard

 

For many travelers, Italy is no more than Rome and Tuscany…but rest assured, there are still a lot of other gorgeous places to discover in this beautiful country. One of which the region of Puglia. A region that stretches itself all the way down to the heel of Italy. The area where the Italians themselves would like to live…

Puglia is indeed the region where many Italians go on holiday. It’s still pretty untouched. You’ll find beautiful beaches, idyllic bays, cliffs and caves, Unesco World Heritage Site(s), typical & traditional towns and typical cuisine. Enough elements to take a closer look at, was S&B’s thought.

 

IMG_6159

We land on Bari, but for the sake of sea and sun we leave immediately to Polignano à Mare and our B&B Echi di Puglia. The latter seems to be brand new, recently opened in June 2016. Absolutely recommended…located outside the center of Polignano, quiet in a small green oasis with swimming pool. Nice rooms, spacious bathroom and a friendly owner who works very hard to make himself understandable (without too much English but with a mix of French/Italian) and pamper us during our stay. Yes, we landed in Italy!

IMG_6155


A 10’ walk brings us to the old town of Polignano. Built on and against steep cliffs, you’ll find beautiful views of parts of the city in many places against a clear blue Adriatic sea. And caves…of course caves too. One of the best known caves in Polignano must be Grotta Palazesse. Here you’ll find an exclusive restaurant. The tables are inside the cave and you have a view of the sea (you even hear and smell it). We would have liked to take a look, but the not so friendly ‘bear’ at the entrance barked us back outside. You have dinner here for the setting, not so much the food itself…a comment heard multiple time from the locals themselves. The price doesn’t justify the quality on your plate. A warned man is worth two, right?

In the middle of the historic center we go for a late lunch in restaurant Bella ‘Mbriana, on their super cool outside patio. The food and the rosé are great! That great that we go there for dinner two days later and order the oven eggplant again as an appetizer. Pure joy!

IMG_6154

The Sweetness of doing nothing
‘Dolce far niente’ is exactly what we do the rest of the day. After all, Polignano a Mare has a beautiful historical center, rich in culture and history and well preserved. It is a labyrinth of narrow alleys between the typical white houses. We go up and down many stairs, and wherever we go, we always end up with a beautiful view over the sea. And the real dolce (meaning sweet) we find in a delicious ice cream on the way back to our B&B.

IMG_6157

Great, Greater, Greatest | Dubai

Standard

On day 3 we take the taxi towards Cove Beach and Sunset Beach. The first a tip read on the airplane, the second as one of us wants to go surfing and this is supposedly the place to be. The taxi driver doesn’t know any of them so thank god for Google map offline directions. We’re dropped off at Sunset Beach. So where is Cove Beach? Luckily we look behind the fence that seems to separate the two and it seems Cove Beach is a club for the local and tourist mas-tu-vues on the site of the 7 star Burj al Arab hotel. We take a peek however decide this is a bit too much for our liking.

IMG_0484[15086]

 

We do have lunch at Jamie’s Italian and then head back to Sunset Beach. White sand, turquoise water, in the middle a drink- and snack bar, a path for disabled people (they seem to be very considerate across when it comes to facilities, which is great), toilets and the rest just sand and sea. So pretty ‘underdeveloped’ for Dubai standards but for the better. It does not always have to be over the top. No waves at all though. So no surfing. But the view on the Burj al Arab makes up for that!

IMG_0485[15087]

After having enjoyed the evening sun, we take a taxi towards Dubai Mall, the biggest mall in the world. When in Dubai you just have to see it. It hosts amongst other things an ice rank, an arty farty in-house waterfall, cinemas, the world biggest aquarium and underwater zoo including multiple (real ;-)) sharks in the water, all the shops you’ve ever seen in your entire life including the ones you would not expect in UAE, Dubai. 1200 in total and they are still extending. 70 million visitors per year working up to 100 million when the extension is done. Basically, if you don’t have a shop in this mall, you don’t count. And outside the best view on the Burj Khalifa that rises as the world’s tallest Christmas tree in the dark sky and is integrated in the most amazing fountain light and music show you’ll have ever seen. Classy, not cheap. It’s pretty surreal. Also the mix of Arabic (men in white dress, women in black dress mostly only their eyes uncovered…with the most expensive purses hanging of their shoulders and shoes on their feet…come to think of it, that and the underwear underneath is we guess the only items they need to spend money on) and Western people. Very rich people, by the valet parked cars in the front ranging from Ferrari to Bentley to Rolls Royce, medium rich people, the ones that take black taxis going in and out, to ‘normal’ people, the ones taking a regular taxi going in and out or the metro or driving themselves and tourists, of course.

It’s pretty different than anything you’ve ever seen. And it seems to be normal around here. Las Vegas is nothing compared to this.

According to our taxi driver, only 20% of people in Dubai are locals. The other 80% are expats, taxi drivers from all over the world keeping the 10.000 taxis in Dubai on the road 24h per day, construction workers, housekeepers, hotel staff and many more that are the hands of Dubai.

A glass of wine in a restaurant costs about €15. Alcohol is not served across. So if you plan to take a cheap holiday that mainly consists of party and booze, go to Las Vegas 🙂

Dubai also has some wildlife on show: birds and more specifically, lots of flamingo’s. You can visit the wildlife sanctuary which apparently has 3 stations you can watch wildlife from. We only visited the first as it’s not clear at all there are 3. We didn’t really know we were at the right spot as it’s pretty deserted off the highway without too much signage. You can enter a sort of cabin from where you can watch birds and most prominently flamingo’s. Only when we were on our way back (by calling a taxi as there was no other way to get back to the real world) did we notice the two other spots which took you a bit deeper into the area than the first spot. Only the next day did we notice the pink route on the BigBus map. So, if you want to watch flamingo’s, buy a BigBus ticket and take the pink route 🙂

IMG_0490[15089]

After our flamingo adventure, we head towards the Old Dubai, Creek side. We take a 1 Dirham traditional abras, a small wooden boat, to the other side of the creek, on the Gold and Spice souk side. Upon a tip of fellow travelers we have lunch at the Bayt Al Wakeel. Yummy local food, definitely worth to put on your to do list when in Dubai. When strolling in Old Dubai, definitely take some side streets as it’s there were you encounter most of the nice buildings, off the beaten track.

IMG_0489[15090]

Dubai is big so traveling the entire week by taxi can become expensive. The metro is convenient but doesn’t take you to everything and distances are too long to walk in between in close to 40 degrees. So we decide to take the BigBus for 48 hours which takes you across on the red ‘city’ route, green ‘beach’ route or blue ‘marina’ route. And as mentioned above you also have the pink ‘flamingo’ route. This is how we get to the Grand Jumeirah Mosque. If you want to visit the Mosque inside, you need to be there at 10am in the morning which is the only time they allow visitors.

IMG_0493[15094]

We also drive on the Palm Islands towards the Atlantis hotel and back. Quite amazing to drive there and see the vast amount of beach view apartment blocks, or houses with private beach, or houses with communal garden, or hotel resorts on the crescent. And the building is still ongoing. Next to the Atlantis hotel, which holds 1539 rooms, an even bigger and better hotel is being build. There must be so many wealthy people in this world to fill all this, unbelievable. And they are just starting with building the World Islands which is even bigger than the Palm Islands. This one however is for the real big and famous as you will only be able to get there by boat or helicopter and you can buy your own island. In front of the Marina they are also building a project called Blue Waters with even more housing and malls. As well as what must become the world’s biggest Ferris wheel. And we guess that won’t be the last of it.

IMG_0491[15096]

Funny that when you walk the Jumeirah Beach promenade, you come across stalls where you can buy an apartment. We also came across a stall that sells 3 level houses on the water, with one of the levels underwater, the bedroom. They call it The Floating Seahorse.

All in all, we’ve been very pleasantly surprised by Dubai and especially the weather, great food and nice sites to enjoy the Dubai life have contributed to making it a great destination for a week of sun in between our Belgian/Dutch spring.

Tall, Taller, Tallest| Dubai

Standard

On our second day we discover the Dubai metro. We cannot take the taxi every day to the Marina. Apart from the cost, they also seem to be driving recklessly on the 5 lane highway towards it. Thus checking out the cheaper and safer option. The closest metro station is a 10′ walk from the hotel: GGICO. Huge impressive station. It costs about 10 Dirham per person to go to the opposite site of Dubai, takes around 35′ and is fast and clean. Meticulously clean. Women are queens. They even have their own coach: women and children. Luckily, as a woman, you are allowed also in the other coaches. Would have been just weird to be ‘segregated’. And the good thing is: men stand up to give you their seat. Pretty gentlemen like. If they catch men in the women’s coach they can get a 100 Dirham fine.

IMG_0483[15097]

We return to the Marina as we noticed you can take the Dubai Ferry in different routes to show you Dubai from the water. We took the long route, all the way to Dubai Creek, Old Dubai. Leaving the Marina you pass all the creative, the one more special than the other, taller than the other, 200 skyscrapers so you get a nice view on the Dubai skyline. My favorite building is the twisted tower, nice piece of work!

IMG_0480[15098]

Along the trip you pass a yacht here and there, the Palm Islands (although you can of course not at all see anything from the shape), the 7 star Burj al Arab hotel which is pretty amazing…we’re told the biggest suite in this hotel is a little over 700 square meters and when staying here in any room/suite, a helicopter shuttle picks you up…it’s like a giant spinning out of sea, compared to everything around it that is already tall, the Burj Khalifa in the back, beach hotels with private lounge beaches, work in progress on the World Islands. It’s on this trip that you realize how huge everything is here and the vast amount of buildings not even in quantity only but also in volume. You do wonder how this can be, who is able to afford all this luxury, who lives here, works here, which companies are located here, what do they all do in this Las Vegas like dessert?!

IMG_0481[15100]

Back in the hotel, if we can point out one superb restaurant on Le Meridien site, it’s the Chinese one, Long Yin. Probably the best Chinese food we’ve ever tasted!