Brondo Architect Hotel, Palma

Brondo Architect Hotel, Palma

Over the last few years, we’ve been very lucky to be able to pack in a huge amount of travel – as well as actually move abroad, relocating from Manchester to Istria, in northern Croatia. We’ve spent the last couple of years renovating a stone house and exploring our new environment. But, one place has so far eluded us – Mallorca. Even though it’s always been on our radar, we’ve always found ourselves plumping for somewhere else. Until now. A combination of being very busy with our design business, cracking on with the house renovation and some pretty unseasonal weather – rain, rain and more rain – made up our minds and we booked flights to Mallorca. First port of call was Palma, and a night in the absolutely beautiful Brondo Architect Hotel.

There’s so much choice, accommodation-wise in Palma, but we have a very clear idea about the kinds of places we want to stay. Wherever we stay must be at least as nice as our home. It must be unusual. It must give us interiors inspiration. It must also be mid-range, budget wise. Too cheap, you get what you pay for. Too expensive – just silly. We’ve not got a bottomless money pit. So, Brondo Architect Hotel seemed to tick all of our boxes when we spotted it on Booking.Com.

Tucked away down a cobbled side street, but less than a 10 minute walk away from Palma’s iconic cathedral, the hotel is set in a 17th century Mallorcan building. From the moment you step into the reception area, you know that this is going to be a special experience. A huge eye-catching mural, featuring Rubenesque women dominates the entrance – it is bold and brassy and totally in keeping with the style of this unusual hotel. Public areas feature quirky artwork, astonishingly beautiful Spanish floor tile, exposed brickwork and copper piping with striking lighting features.

Our room was more of a junior suite, with a large bedroom and seating area, and a big separate bathroom, with an adjoining corridor. The decor and furnishings were really lovely – a super comfy four poster bed, two squishy armchairs, great artwork, map wallpaper. A stylish mix of retro and modern.

Our stay was short, unfortunately – but, we will return as we genuinely loved this hotel – so we didn’t get to experience the roof terrace. There’s also a gym, and massages can be arranged. However, we did enjoy a welcome drink (a nice touch) on the terrace outside the restaurant. We stayed early season, so there didn’t seem to be too many guests, which was lovely as we largely had this decked courtyard area to ourselves. Eclectically furnished with low sofas, brightly coloured parasols, big cushions, olive trees and bouganvillea and mis-matched tables and chairs, this is the perfect spot for an early evening drink, before heading out into the bright lights of Palma.

Morning coffee, in the warm May sunshine, was an absolute treat on the terrace. Those colours. And that sky…

The restaurant is quite simply, stunning. Packed full with interesting and unusual objects and pieces of furniture – and a very pretty cherry blossom tree – it’s the perfect place to enjoy breakfast. And, what a breakfast! There’s a huge choice – pastries (sweet and savoury), pies (yes, pies for breakfast!), cold meats, cheeses, fruit, youghurts, juices, breads and a really good hot selection. I always tend to avoid the hot options, which have usually sweated all morning in silver catering trays. But this one was exceptional – the food is obviously refreshed regularly, rather than allowed to sit and become rubbery, and we enjoyed a Spanish style full English. Very, very tasty.

Communal areas are filled with quirky artefacts and artwork.

The hotel is located on a pedestrianised side street, but we found a car park, just a 5 minute walk away which meant that we could dump the car and not worry about parking restrictions etc. Brondo is also really centrally situated, so wandering the labyrinth of Mallorcan streets is a joy.

I’m delighted that we opted for this hotel for our first night – and by sheer coincidence, as we had absolutely no idea when we booked that they were connected, our next stop was the exquisite Lluna Aqua Hotel in Sóller. The sister hotel of Brondo, and the second in the tiny chain of Unusual Hotels…

This is NOT a sponsored post. We paid the full price as quoted when we booked & have received no payment for this blog. We just wanted to share this lovely find of a hotel in Palma.

Mallorca : One To Avoid…

Mallorca : One To Avoid…

It’s hard to imagine that there could really be anywhere to avoid on Mallorca. We’d discounted Magaluf, as unfortunately we’re no longer in our early twenties, and so, when booking places to stay, we were pretty confident that every place we chose, would be a winner. When we travel we do our homework. We read reviews, check out websites, look at the area etc. My rule of thumb is, if it’s not at least as good as our own home, we’re not staying there. So, Brondo Architect Hotel in Palma, Lluna Aqua Hotel in Sóller and Petit Sant Miquel Hotel in Calonge were all amazing, and we’d highly recommend.

We decided that we wanted to have a few days doing absolutely nothing, apart from lazing around a pool. We quite fancied a hotel on the western side of the island, so we could catch the sunsets. We definitely wanted a pool. Somewhere that played quiet, chilled out music. Somewhere a bit funky. And we definitely thought we’d found all of this when we discovered La Concha Soul Boutique Hotel, in Paguera.

Now, we’d not been to Mallorca before and so had no idea what Paguera was like. Not that it really mattered when we were looking for accomm0dation, as the plan was to pool lounge for a few days. For those of you who know Mallorca well, you’ll probably know what’s coming, as we checked out of the beautiful Lluna Aqua in Sóller after two amazing days, and set off for Paguera. Looks pretty snazzy, doesn’t it?

The website certainly suggested it was a cool, laid back, chilled out kind of place and the photography certainly reinforced this. Reviews were promising. Just what we’d been looking for.

The first sign that things weren’t going to be as expected, was as we entered Paguera. Gone were the beautiful Mallorcan townhouses, and individuality and beauty, of Sóller and Palma. Instead, a long beach front strip of fairly down-at-heel hotels, souvenir shops, bars, fast food joints and hoardes of tourists. Now, nothing wrong with any of this, IF this is what you’ve come for. But we hadn’t. And I was already beginning to wish I was somewhere else.

However, we’d already decided that we wouldn’t really be investigating Paguera, as we were going to be relaxing around the pool, so all would be OK. Only, it wasn’t. The hotel, on arrival, definitely did not look as pristine as the one we’d been seeing online. A hunch told me that this wasn’t going to be a long stay, so the suitcases remained in the boot of the car as we went to reception. The main entrance – at least we think it was the main entrance, as we couldn’t find another – was around the back of the hotel, where the car park was located. Plus point – free parking. You’ve got to find these plus points somewhere. The entrance was in need of some TLC – peeling paint, scuffed door, neglected plants. However, we decided to give it a chance – even though the reception area had the feel of a youth hostel…

See, I wasn’t exaggerating. This is the main entrance. OK, that tree to the right looks OK, but I mean, look at the plants on the balconies…

We were advised we’d been allocated a superior room on the top floor, with a view of the pool area. Unfortunately, this was where it all started to go really wrong. There’s no lift in the hotel – not a problem at all, as we’d left our luggage in the car – but it did mean that we got to see the communal hallways in all their glory. Filthy. Scuffed walls and ripped wallpaper. Cleaning was still going on – a plus point, because at least we witnessed that cleaning of sorts happened – but on one of the landings, dirty towels were all over the floor. So many of them, that we couldn’t step over them. There was no way I was moving them, so we had to walk over them. The cleaner wasn’t arsed in the slightest. Unreal. And then, the room. The superior room…

Yep, this is what we walked into.

Above, was the window ledge. Below, the shower cubicle…

We weren’t sure if the bed had actually been properly made, or if this was how a previous guest had left it…

Word to the wise, guys. If you include the word “Boutique” in the name of your hotel, understand that there will be expectations from guests. Shoddy, shoddy paintwork…

Our superior room, with a view of the bins. Sorry, pool…

Safe to say, the receptionist seemed not in the least bit surprised when we headed back down and told her we wouldn’t be staying, and exactly why we wouldn’t be staying. Because we’d booked through Booking.Com, the payment for four nights had already been taken – at this point, we didn’t care. We just wanted out and away. She was very understanding regarding what we were saying about the filthiness of the room, and the hotel in general – she couldn’t really argue once we showed her the evidence. However, she did want us to give the hotel a chance and offered us another room. We politely declined. The manager was called. He too seemed completely unsurprised by what we were saying. Although he also wanted us to look at another room. There would also be a free BBQ that evening and if we left, we’d miss that. He (and the receptionist), to their credit, took everything we were saying on the chin, and finally accepted that we would absolutely not be staying. We were most surprised that the manager agreed to refund three nights – we definitely did not expect this, and certainly didn’t expect that he would do it as quickly as he did. So, another plus point for La Concha Soul Boutique Hotel – but unfortunately, a hotel which was not boutique, and with no soul. We’ve since looked back at the hotel website – and yes, it does make the hotel look better than it is, but look closely and the tell-tale signs are there. We just didn’t spot them, which is unusual – so maybe, good on whoever designed the website or took the photos. They’ve certainly done a good job of glossing over the fact that this is a pretty dire hotel. Although, we seem to be in the minority having this view – as rave reviews are still coming in for it. Maybe we’re over-fussy. Or prefer to stay somewhere that is clean and isn’t the standard of a hostel, but the price of a hotel. Or maybe, we just arrived on the wrong day, at the wrong time. But, we don’t think so. That grime on the window, and around the door and in the shower, had been sitting there, for quite some time.

But, all’s well that ends well – and very fortunately, the Lluna Aqua Hotel, back in Sóller, had one room left. Which unsurprisingly, we booked. And got out of La Concha and Paguera as fast as our car could take us! An hour after taking the above photographs, we were delighted to be back *home*…

The difference between that awful, slapdash paintwork and these beautiful Mallorcan tiles. Attention to detail = a boutique hotel.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Lluna Aqua Hotel would be a much more expensive a hotel to stay in. It was more pricey, but definitely not at the kind of prices you’d blanche at. And, it was very, very clear what you were paying for.

A real boutique hotel. Full of soul. The real deal.

Vrbnik, Krk Island, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk Island, Croatia

This was originally posted in August 2019, so all pre-Covid, when we could all travel much more freely…

As well as family and friends coming out to visit us in Istria, we now have the opportunity to meet up with people who come to Croatia on holiday. We still find this very exciting as we get the best of both worlds – entertaining and travelling. Good friends from Didsbury were returning to Croatia, this summer, for the second year running and their final destination on their island hopping trip, was Krk. As we can reach Krk in about 90 minutes, we arranged to drive over and spend an evening with them, in the beautiful little town on Vrbnik, on the eastern side of the island.

Krk is a very accessible island. It can be reached by one of the many ferries which cross between the northern islands, or from Istria, there is a roadbridge from Rijeka. You pay to cross to Krk but not when you leave. Once on the island, roads are very good and because the island is small, you can tour it quite easily in a day. On this visit, our destination was Vrbnik and the road took us through vineyards and crop fields and around the bay of Soline, famous for its salt pans which date back to the pre Roman period, and healing black mud. It’s quite a sight to drive around the bay and see people wading ankle-deep in the shallow waters, plastering themselves in the mineral-laden black mud…

Vrbnik was first mentioned in 1100, and is thought to be one of the oldest towns on the island. Its inhabitants were mainly farmers, then navigators and fishermen, but today the most important product is its golden yellow wine – the Žlahtina. Originally a walled town, it is situated 50 metres above the Adriatic Sea on a dramatic limestone outcrop – and now is a labyrinth of winding cobbled streets. Including, allegedly, the narrowest street in the world – Klančića passage – only 17 inches wide…

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

There are approximately 1000 full time inhabitants in Vrbnik, as well as numerous holiday apartments in the middle of the old town – but we have absolutely no idea how anyone manages to get any furnishings into these properties. I imagine even getting back from the car with a load of shopping would prove to be a challenge! However, the narrow streets and tiny doorways and windows and quirky architectural features, make this town an unmissable delight.

Many of the beautiful old dwellings have been refurbished and are now boutique style accommodation or very pretty shops, many selling traditional arts and crafts, olive oils and the famous Žlahtina wine. We bought a couple of litres of this from a very tiny winery, straight out of a cooling stainless steel wine tank. Can’t say it lasted too long, but it was very nice!

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Because Vrbnik is perched on the top of a cliff, the drops down to the sea are stunning. As with most of Croatia, there are very, very few sandy beaches. Most coves and beaches are either rocky or pebbly and many are only accessible by boat. Even if you don’t get down to any of these beaches, we’d recommend just soaking up the azure blue waters below. As clean as a whistle and supposedly populated with dolphins. Although sadly, they didn’t make an appearance when we were there.

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Every corner you turn around, reveals another sight to behold. I loved this door, with the utterly gorgeous metal frame, affording both beauty and privacy. I think it’s an idea I might like to incorporate somewhere along the line…

Vrbnik. Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

Vrbnik, Krk, Croatia

The city walls are still remarkably intact in places, with fully formed turrets, reminding you that this was obviously once a town which was in danger of attack. Also within the city walls, you can still walk through the doorways – which are so small. Hundreds of years ago, people must have been very short of stature.

Whenever we used to go on holiday, usually to Greek islands and so islands quite like Krk, we always used to wish we could stay and not have to return to the rainy north west. Now, that has become a reality. It is now very surreal leaving such an idyllic location and knowing that we are now returning to the house we’ve been renovating. Sometimes dreams do come true…

property for sale in istria, house for sale in istria, renovated stone house for sale, istria

And, if you have dreams of moving somewhere idyllic – or owning a holiday home – you may be in luck, as we have now found another property, very close by to renovate. Meaning that our current home (above), located in northern Istria near the borders with Slovenia and Italy, is for sale…

 

 

 

Lluna Aqua Hotel, Sóller, Mallorca

Lluna Aqua Hotel, Sóller, Mallorca

When we last visited Mallorca, one of the hotels we booked was the Lluna Aqua Hotel in Sóller. Housed in a traditional Mallorcan townhouse, which we were told had been empty for over eighty years, the renovation had only recently been completed and the hotel only opened a few months previously. It’s located on the bustling main thoroughfare of Carrer de sa Lluna, but once inside the cool interior, it’s peaceful and restful. The renovation has been beautifully done, with as much of the original interior retained and restored. Original Spanish tiles are very much in evidence, elaborate ceilings and beautiful dark wooden furniture. The main wall behind the reception area has been taken back to the the plaster, which looks lovely – and with the addition of suspended bird cages, full of fluffy clouds…

A lovely touch on arrival greeted us – a welcome Cava, meaning that check-in is a much more leisurely process. The reception staff are just lovely – Catarina especially, gave us lots of information about good places to eat (off the tourist trail). If you stay here, and she recommends places to you – go to them! She’s a mine of priceless local information and every single place we tried, that she recommended, was faultless.

We had a perfect start to our stay as we were advised we’d been upgraded. The room we had originally booked had a problem with the shower and so as well as an upgrade to the only room with a terrace, overlooking the mountains, for our “inconvenience” (!) we were also informed that during our stay the mini bar would be entirely free. A marvellous start to our stay in the Lluna Aqua Hotel. Even the tonic bottles are a class act – obviously now back at home in Istria, filled with flowers.

Our room was a bit of a stunner. It was unusual in that the room you walked into was the dressing room/bathroom which were separated by luscious navy velvet curtains. A big tick here – they were exactly the same as ours at home. Unusually, the bathroom was wallpapered – even inside the huge shower. I’m not sure if this was special wallpaper, or had been treated but during our stay, it all seemed OK when showering.

The bedroom area was just oh-so stylish, with the original tiled floor, navy velvet drapes, cool lighting and doors opening out onto the terrace.

The terrace was a perfect size, with a couple of sun loungers and an ornamental wood-burner. Another tick here as it was very similar to the vintage one we own, which we’ve just sprayed gold. It was a perfect place to pop a glass of cava on, too. And those views! Across the rootops of Sóller to the mountains beyond.

The communal areas of the hotel were again, so well thought out, designed and stylish. Deep, rich colours, metal balustrades, quirky pieces of artwork, tiles, original artefacts repurposed to bring new life to them. Just lovely – a rich source of inspiration for me to bring back to Istria 😉

We were quite sad to leave Lluna Aqua after two nights, but by another twist of fate – horrible next hotel – we were very lucky to find that they had one room available for the next two nights. And so, hours after checking out, we were checking back in again – and this meant we got to see another room. This room unfortunately didn’t have a terrace, like we’d gotten used to, but it was as cute as a button. Maybe not for those who want absolute privacy though, as only a pair of those lovely navy velvet curtains are there to protect your modesty 😉

And, again those tiles. And attention to detail. Loved the quirkiness of this place.

When we stayed, because the hotel has only recently opened, they were still in the process of adding the final touches to the breakfast room (which was due to open within the week), so we were given vouchers for breakfast at the beautiful bakery just next door. It’s worth a visit, just for the pastries and coffee – as well as the gorgeous interior.

And, what really caught our attention, was the exposed well – just like ours!

As usual, this is not a sponsored or paid for blog post. It’s just what we thought of a very nice place we found – and maybe it’ll inspire you to check out Lluna Aqua Hotel, too

 

Cathedral Tours

Cathedral Tours

It wasn’t intentional, but over our Christmas roadtrip, we seemed to visit quite a few cathedrals. Not for spiritual reasons, you understand. We love a cathedral for its architecture and gloriously over the top rich interiors. First stop was one we know very well – Durham Cathedral. Having grown up near here, it’s a place we’ve visted often – and definitely think winter time is by far the best time to visit. Lighting is much more evocative, with lots of candlelight and shadows. The Norman pillars are utterly majestic, as are the stained glass windows. The construction of the cathedral started in 1093 – 1093!

Over 900 hundred years ago!

Today, it is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe, and in 198, along with Durham Castle, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Durham Cathedral holds the relics of Saint Cuthbert, transported to Durham by Lindisfarne monks in the ninth century, the head of Saint Oswald of Northumbria, and the remains of the Venerable Bede – and if you went to school in the North East, you definitely who this lot are and how important, both historically and, in religious terms, they are. In addition, its library contains one of the most complete sets of early printed books in England, the pre-Dissolution monastic accounts, and three copies of Magna Carta. So, it’s a bit of a wow. It’s been used as a film location on many occasions, most recognisably probably in the first two Harry Potter films. Scenes from Elizabeth 1, starring Cate Blanchett were filmed here, as well as interior views which were featured in the 2019 Marvel superhero film Avengers: Endgame, as the indoor location of Asgard. (We had no idea about this, until the day after our visit, watching the film with our superhero-mad nephew, we spotted the Norman pillars).

DURHAM CATHEDRAL

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Replica of the infamous Sanctuary Kocker, Durham Cathedral. Under medieval English common law, these instruments supposedly afforded the right of asylum to anybody who touched it.

Replica of the infamous Sanctuary Knocker, Durham Cathedral. Under medieval English common law, this knocker (and others like it) supposedly afforded the right of asylum to anybody who touched it.

The beautifully weathered pillars at the entrance to the cathedral.

The beautifully weathered pillars at the entrance to the cathedral.

Christmas in the Cathedral

Christmas in Durham Cathedral

The Rose Window

The Rose Window

The Pieta, Durham Cathedral

The Pieta, Durham Cathedral

The Chapel of Saint Cuthbert

The Chapel of Saint Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral

The Astronomical Clock, Durham Cathedral

The Astronomical Clock, Durham Cathedral

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL

We first visited Canterbury over twenty years ago, but it’s become a bit of a go-to stopover when we travel to and from England on our regular roadtrips back from Istria. It’s so convenient for Dover and such a lovely place that we did it twice on this Christmas trip. And because we had two full days on the return trip, we decided to spend most of it investigating and exploring the Cathedral. When I did A’Level English Literature, we studied the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales – a nice do-able introduction to medieval English – and was fascinated by Canterbury and its Cathedral, so I was keen to get to know it.

Now, I thought that Durham Cathedral was impressive age-wise, but it’s just a baby cathedral, compared to Canterbury. Founded in 597, it was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077. Perhaps the most famous moment in its history was the murder of the archbishop, Thomas Becket, on Tuesday 29 December 1170, by knights of King Henry II. The king had frequent conflicts with the strong-willed Becket and is said to have exclaimed in frustration, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights took it literally and murdered Becket in his own cathedral. After his death, the cathedral became a place of pilgrimage.

An impressive entrance into the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral

An impressive entrance into the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral

Intricate detailing. Canterbury Cathedral.

Intricate detailing. Canterbury Cathedral.

Even with renovation work being carried out, this is one impressive interior...

Even with renovation work being carried out, this is one impressive interior…

Murder in the Cathedral : Thomas Becket

Murder in the Cathedral : Thomas Becket

The Shrine of Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral

The Shrine of Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral

Waving us off...

Waving us off…

We spent a good few hours mooching around the Cathedral and its Cloisters and it was pretty magical. Not for the religious experience though – what blew us away was the architecture and historical significance. And, so across the channel and onto our next Cathedral…

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL, STRASBOURG

We were entirely unprepared for this Cathedral, not even knowing that there was a Notre Dame here. We saw it first, late at night, after dinner, when it was bathed in a golden light – the Christmas lights were still very much up in Strasbourg, despite it being after the 6th January and the golden lights were for the festive season. To say it’s a jaw-dropping structure is an understatement…

The Rose Window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

The Rose Window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

We were due to leave Strasbourg early the next morning for Brescia, but felt we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a visit when we were in the city, and so squeezed one on before we left.

The Cathedral, in miniature, in front of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral, in miniature, in front of Strasbourg Cathedral.

We expected to pay an entrance fee to get into the Cathedral, but after a brief security check, we were in, no charge. A bonus.

The impressive main entrance to the Cathedral

The impressive main entrance to the Cathedral

Christmas wreath...

Christmas wreath…

The Story of the Nativity

The Story of the Nativity

Gothic Interior : Strasbourg Cathedral

Gothic Interior : Strasbourg Cathedral

The Cathedral toweing over the oldest building in Strasbourg, La Maison Kammerzell, constructed in 1427

The Cathedral towering over the oldest building in Strasbourg, La Maison Kammerzell, constructed in 1427

So ended our Christmas Tour of Cathedrals. Completely unintentional and not pre-planned, but wonderful. Three gorgeous cities, full of history. A perfect way to bring our roadtrip to a conclusion.

Salts Mill, Saltaire, Yorkshire

Salts Mill, Saltaire, Yorkshire

It turns out Christmas Eve was just about the most perfect time to visit Salts Mill, in Saltaire, on our way up to the North East for our festive break.

Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, like the very beautiful Port Sunlight on The Wirral, Saltaire was an industrial village, purpose-built in 1851, by philanthropic industrialist, Titus Salt. The village’s huge factory was once the largest in the world and Saltaire was created as a model village of neat, honey-coloured cottages, leading down to the River Aire, intended to create a close and upright community of workers. Its name is a combination of Titus’s surname and the nearby River Aire.

Image : visitengland.com

Image : visitengland.com

Now, Salts Mill is a bright and airy cathedral-like building which houses a permanent exhibition of works by Bradford-born artist David Hockney, as well as being a wonderful opportunity for some pretty amazing retail therapy, with an excellent and vast book shop, and a fabulous homewares area, packed full of unique and exquisite furnishings, fabrics, accessories for the home and just general loveliness.

We didn’t have time to visit the Hockney exhibition, sadly, so made the decision to explore the bookshop an,d interiors areas and have a spot of lunch in Salts Diner, more of which later. The renovation of the mill has been extremely sympathetic, with many of the original features and much of the layout, retained. It is definitely cavernous – and amazing photographs illustrate what the mill would have been like in its heyday, full of people and noise. Today, it is a whole lot more tranquil – or at least it was on Christmas Eve. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to wander without throngs of frantic Xmas shoppers – most people seemed to be visiting on this particular day to have “a day out”.

Just look at those beautiful pillars. Tall and imposing, now looking almost delicate in crisp white, with the intricate detailing at the top picked out in a beautiful blue. And, because it was Christmas, complemented with subtle, colour co-ordinating decorations.

We rarely now get a chance to visit bookshops, so it was a sheer delight to just browse the shelves, leafing through books. It would have been very easy to spend a fortune, but I managed to just about restrain myself, justifying purchases on the fact that I couldn’t buy the books I wanted in Istria. And, because we are giving the big bedroom a complete make-over, I couldn’t resist three Scandinavian Swan mobiles and a butterfly pop-up…

Scandinavian Swans : Flensted Mobile

Scandinavian Swans : Flensted Mobile

Message In A Bottle : Pop Up Butterflies

Message In A Bottle : Pop Up Butterflies

The homewares section is truly fantastic. From small tealight holders to incredibly expensive pieces of one-off, bespoke furniture, there is definitely something for everyone and I would defy you to make a visit here and not spend a few pennies. Again, because it was Christmas, it was exquisitely styled – and I have to say, I’ve returned with a heap of new ideas. As a well a few bits & bobs to help the make-over along.

Salts Diner reminded me very much of the lovely Tebay Services on the M6. Well thought out in terms of industrial design and interiors and with fresh food, largely made on the premises – the open kitchen is huge and you can see exactly what’s going on. Its reputation obviously precedes it, as it was very, very busy even with early closing on Christmas Eve.

The food was amazingly delicious – so much so that it was snaffled away before anything could be captured for posterity!

We absolutely loved our short, but sweet, visit to Salts Mill. There’s so much more to see than we experienced and so we will, on our next visit up north, take the opportunity to stop and get to know this wonderful place a little bit more.

Christmas in Metz, France

Christmas in Metz, France

Metz Cathedral, France

We first discovered the beautiful medieval city of Metz, two years ago, on our first road trip from Istria to England, for Christmas. Positioned where it is, in north eastern France, it was a good place to stop and break up the journey to Calais. We’ve stayed a few times since – and although there are undoubtedly many fabulous places to rest our heads, we now just opt for Hôtel de la Cathédrale, which, as stated on the website, is very definitely, a hotel full of charm and character, in the beautiful heart of Metz. Housed in a 17th C building, the hotel is utterly charming, full of French antiques and, certainly in the variety of rooms we’ve stayed, oozing with vintage vibes. I’ve never stayed here and not returned home with a few ideas…

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

We arrived earlier this trip, and so took advantage of the additional time we had, to take in the festive atmosphere in Metz. There’s something about being abroad at Christmas – especially if it’s quite cold and everyone is wrapped up. It’s also really lovely seeing how other places “do” Christmas – I’ve yet to see anything on our travels, that’s not utterly exquisite. See for yourself – this is how Metz does Christmas…

Festival of Lights, River Moselle, Metz, France

Festival of Lights, River Moselle, Metz, France

Metz, France

Metz, France

Metz, France

Iconic city centre buildings, such at the Cathedral (right opposite our hotel), were illuminated at night, to stunning effect…

Metz, France

Metz, France

Another advantage to staying in the hotel we stay in, is that literally next door, is the most amazing restaurant – La Cucina di Casa. Always packed with locals – no English voices, all French. Always a good sign when the locals chose it! Not only is it sumptuously decorated with rich red velvet drapes, deep red and navy blue walls and packed full of gorgeous French paraphenalia, but it also serves the most mouth-watering pizzas. Thin bases, with just the right amount of toppings.

La Cucina di Casa, Metz, France
We do keep promising ourselves that we’ll make the trip to Metz in the spring or summer as it will be beautiful, but for us it’s just such a Christmas city, that I don’t want to break the festive spell, just yet…

The Falstaff, Canterbury, Kent

The Falstaff, Canterbury, Kent

When we drive back to England, we tend to do a much needed stopover in the south-east after the ferry crossing from Calais. This year, we plumped for The Falstaff in Canterbury, which, according to its website

…has been a focus for hospitality in Canterbury for over 600 years. A traditional 15th century coaching inn, the hotel is steeped in history…

Only 30 minutes from the Port of Dover, we found it to be absolutely ideal for what we wanted. As we were travelling for a few weeks, and therefore staying at a quite few places on our travels, we couldn’t splash out on the most expensive rooms. The hotel (the rooms are situated above a bar and restaurant, more of which later) offers rooms called “Cosy Doubles”, and we decided to book one of these, knowing that it would probably be a bit on the small side, especially given the description on the website –

Our cosy double rooms comprise one small double bed and are all ensuite. All rooms have baths and integrated showers or walk-in showers, hairdryers, tea and coffee making facilities and flatscreen televisions with Freeview. They are best suited as double rooms for single occupancy, but do make for very cosy double rooms also. If you require more space we recommend booking one of our traditional double rooms. Cosy double rooms cannot accommodate extra beds and cannot be used as twin.

We were prepared to be a bit cramped but it was only for one night, so weren’t overly concerned. But, we definitely weren’t expecting what we were actually allocated.

Westgate Towers, Canterbury, Kent

First impressions of the hotel were excellent. Located just outside the famous medieval gateway, known as Westgate Towers, it was clear immediately that a lot of thought and creativity had gone into the refurbishment of The Falstaff. The reception area is a beautiful room in its own right, and I think we were lucky to visit just before Christmas and see it in all of its festive glory.

The Falstaff Hotel Canterbury, Kent

Room 1 (take note of that number if you want a room that doesn’t break the bank, is much larger than you might think it will be and doesn’t scrimp on design details) is up in the eaves of the building – it’s called one of the Turret Rooms. If you are tall, you need to be aware that the ceilings are low, with exposed beams – there are notices alerting you to this, but best to just watch out. Once inside the room, we were really, really surprised at the size of this cosy double. The bed was definitely not small – it was more than spacious and super comfortable, with gorgeous white Egyptian cotton bed linen. Sumptuous velvet cushions and throws, in pale pinks and greens, added texture and colour. The room had everything you would need for a stay – excellent wi-fi, wall-mounted TV (so out of the way), a good size table/desk & chair, ample storage, soft lighting with switches next to the bed (always a plus point!), tea and coffee making facilities and a really good selection of said teas and coffee. Thick curtains and a double glazed panel, which slid across the old leaded windows, kept the heat in and the noise out.

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent

If you like your rooms to be on the toasty side, then the cast iron radiator will definitely warm your cockles. However, it was just a bit too toasty for us and we actually turned it off completely – and the room was still warm enough.

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury. Kent

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury. Kent

When we are travelling, we usually accept that if a room we book, offers a bath or a shower, we’ll end up with the shower, unless we specifically request a bath. We didn’t on this occasion, and so expected a teeny weeny bathroom with a shower shoe-horned in. Wrong! The bathroom was huge, with a great bath and a very powerful shower. Double treat!

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
think you can tell a lot about a hotel from the attention to detail in the bathroom. It’s easy to bung in a relatively inexpensive white bathroom suite and for it to look OK, but when you can see that what has been installed isn’t budget, it does make a massive difference. A heavy ceramic bath and sink, beautiful waterfall taps, rainhead shower. And metro tiles.
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury. Kent
Plus, another leaded window. And the fluffiest, whitest, cleanest towels.
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
As mentioned previously, downstairs there is a bar and restaurant area, with a number of interesting rooms, perfect for groups of friends or cosying up by one of the log fires. Again, Christmas time definitely lent itself to a more cosy look, but I’m guessing The Falstaff gets it right all year round. (And, with it being Xmas, the bar was busy, but we didn’t hear a thing once we’d retired to our room).
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
A big plus for us, as we don’t travel light, was the secure car parking (for an additional £10 per day), at the rear of the hotel. Easily accessible and as far as we were concerned, super secure. Breakfast was another plus. Buffet style, and in a lovely dining area, there was more than enough choice. Cereals, cheeses, hams, bread, fruit, juices – as well as a hot breakfast, with excellent quality produce.

We actually rated The Falstaff so highly that we chose to reurn, this time for two nights, on our journey back to Dover. Booking directly via the hotel (as opposed to Booking.Com) meant a discount was applied to both the room rate and the breakfast. And we got Room 1 again. Just like a home from home 🙂

PS – the bar has a very extensive cocktail and gin menu. I’d like to personally recommend the Salted Caramel Martini. Probably the best I’ve had…

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent

The Village in Istria That Time Forgot…

The Village in Istria That Time Forgot…

We had hoped that over Christmas we’d be beavering away, updating our websites and that we’d jump into the new year with a whole new look. Well, you know how these things go – a road trip back to England, much catching up with family and friends, and far too much excellent food and wine – and things website wise haven’t quite gone quite to plan. Yet. But, we’re now back in Istria and it’s full steam ahead – but until all is ready to go, we’re still blogging about our favourite things here…

So, jump back to the beginning of December and we decided to explore a track, off the road down the mountain from Oprtalj to Livade. We’ve been seeing a bit of action recently on this track – new signs, trucks, evidence of the road being improved so guessed there was something interesting at the end of it, or that it might actually lead somewhere. And, wow, it certainly did! To an abandoned village, where there are most definitely signs of new life emerging.

Electricity connections are in evidence, as are water connections and a couple of the properties have clearly had work done on them recently. One house has a completely new red tiled roof, and another seems to have had new windows fitted fairly recently. But, and it’s a big but, the village is a long way from being habitable. So, on the day, we explored, we had the village completely to ourselves…

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

The houses aren’t roped off. There are no health and safety signs. So, being very, very, very careful you can get to see them very close-up. Floors – where they still exist – are very precarious – but it was just too tempting not to get inside and take some photos. If nothing is done to restore these properties, in the not too distant future, they won’t be standing anymore, and so it feels important, in a very small way, to get a record of them. Now.

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

And, when you do get close up, you see the faded paintwork. You can only imagine how vibrant the blue must have been when this house was alive and full of people.

Abandoned village in Istria, Croatia

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

The houses in the village are huge. They must have been lived in by wealthy people – people who could afford to build halfway up a mountain with vistas across the Istrian valleys, up to Motovun and away to the Adriatic. People who then left. Or were forced to leave…

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

One of the houses was a little safer than others, to get inside. The floors were mostly in place and something caught my eye, so I couldn’t resist a sneak peek…

Abandoned village, Istria, Croatia

Just look at that elaborate paintwork and frescoes! Astonishingly well preserved given the state of the building. It was amazing actually being inside and looking up, down and all around. The ceiling was beautifully painted with delicate patterns and with an almost intact ceiling rose – although I couldn’t get a decent enough photo of this, as the floorboards in the centre of the room looked a lot more precarious.

So, my hunt is on to find out about this abandoned village. You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard given that some kind of renovation work has started, but it’s not marked on any local maps and google maps doesn’t throw up any obvious clues. I will find out about its history but if anyone reading, knows anything about this abandoned village, I’d love to know.

Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Although it’s been a while since I lived in the North East, we do still get to experience it when we visit family. It’s become a bit of a tradition that we do a bracing post-Christmas walk, usually on the coast, and this year was no exception. On the day after Boxing Day, we headed to Tynemouth. The weather was as we expected – windy, cold and drizzly. But that didn’t stop people being on King Edward’s Beach, under the imposing priory.

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

The Priory, Tynemouth, England

We decided that the weather was just perfect for a fish lunch. This being the hardy north east, where a blustery wind from Scandinavia doesn’t stop things – you just adapt and do them differently – Riley’s Fish Shack was open, and a very long queue starting to form. If you’ve not heard about this place, where have you been? Snuggling in under the cliffs – if you don’t peer over the Edwardian railings at the top, you’ll miss it – is the most wonderful eatery, we swear you’ll ever encounter. Constructed from two open-fronted shipping containers, this is steampunk heaven. With fish. The best, freshest fish you can imagine.

Riley's Fish Shack Menu, Tynemouth, England

Riley’s Fish Shack Menu

The menu is simple. It consists of what fresh fish they have, at the time you arrive. When it runs out, it runs out. Everything is sourced locally – I mean, how could you source from anywhere else other than the North Sea, when it’s literally lapping around the containers? There’s always a buzz in the queue – and there is *always* a queue as this place is beyond popular – about what’s on the menu. Listen to what other people are drooling over, because if they’re in the queue ahead of you, they’re watching their fish being prepped and cooked. We knew on our last visit that the Goan Monkfish Curry and the Monkfish Tail Kebabs were dead certs – more of the food later, but wowsers!

If you like your interiors to be pristine, with bookable tables and table service etc, this may not be for you. But, if you like quirky surroundings, where you sometimes need to table-share with strangers, and be warmed up with throws and by woodburners, this place is probably right up your street. There is bench-like seating at the front, overlooking the beach and three or four larger tables inside, behind glass doors. For the super-hardy – of which there were many on this very brisk December day – there are groups of canvas deckchairs, around a number of firepits on the beach itself. So, plenty of seating options, but you need to be prepared to be flexible as you might not get exactly where you want.

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

Looking out to Denmark from Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

As you can see, it was a cold day, so we were very lucky to grab a table indoors, with a woodburner in a little nook, at the end of it. Although we did have to share it, as you can see…

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

I think the interior has been really well thought out – very industrial and very raw, with some beautiful touches to soften the edges. Just like its surroundings.

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

Riley's Fish Shack Tynemouth, England

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

King Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth

Deck chairs and fire pits, King Edward's Bay, Tynemouth

Deck chairs and fire pits, King Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth

But, what about the food?

Well, let’s say, we’re on the same page as Jay Rayner and GQ Magazine on this one. The menu, on the day we visited, was extensive –  sea food wraps, mackerel, cod, monkfish, kebabs, lobster, squid and side dishes such as Brussel Sprouts (it was still Christmas!), garlic potatoes and breads. The choice was amazing, but monkfish can never be resisted, so the curry and the kebabs were ordered. With drinks, the bill came to £48, so not cheap, BUT the portions were huge! The chunks of monkfish were plentiful and succulent in the Goan Curry and this dish came with jasmine rice and a very large flatbread. Be aware, though, this dish comes with a kick…

Goan Monkfish Curry : Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Goan Monkfish Curry : Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

The monkfish tail kebab dish was equally as huge. Again, big, fat, succulent chunks of fish accompanied by salad, rice, flatbreads and lovely garlicky potatoes with relishes.

Monkfish Tail Kebabs, Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Monkfish Tail Kebabs, Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Over Christmas we travelled from Istria in northern Croatia, through Italy, Austria, Germany and France on our way to and from England. And, without a shadow of a doubt, our meal at Riley’s Fish Shack was miles ahead of anything else we ate in the various restaurants we visited, on our trip. We cannot recommend this little slice of culinary heaven enough. Just don’t forget your hat & scarf!

Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

Image : https://rileysfishshack.com

Image : https://rileysfishshack.com