Tag Archives: culture
July 15, 2015

5 must-see cities in Italy

5 must-see cities in Italy

There are hundreds of interesting, historic, vibrant villages, towns and cities in Italy. Their very names resonate in our shared cultural knowledge – Rome, Venice, Florence, Bologna and so many more. Here are five other fascinating places to add to your list of ‘must-see’ cities in which to enjoy a luxury holiday in Italy.


Castello Sforzesco Expo Milano Italy - photo zoe dawes

Castello Sforzesco and Expo Milano

Nowhere near as alluring as Rome, the vibrant city of Milan is fashion-crazy and has many attractions for a short stay, especially this year for Expo Milano 2015. Top of the list has to be Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ on the refectory wall of 15th c Santa Maria delle Grazie convent. (Don’t make my mistake and just turn up expecting to get in to see it! You must to book in advance.) Make sure you go inside the magnificent ‘Il Duomo’ which is truly impressive. Look out for the rather gruesome statue of St Jerome with his flayed skin flung over his shoulder like a macabre wrap. Nearby is the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a cathedral to fashion and uber chic. Home to all the luxury fashion labels, the beautiful ones parade around looking stylish as only the Italians can. Order a Campari at Camparino and look out for Borsalino’s the renowned hat-maker. Leave time to wander round the Renaissance Castello Sforzesco, originally owned by the ruling Visconti family and now home to some seriously impressive artworks, including Michelangelo’s last piece sculpture, the unfinished ‘Rondanini Pieta’.

Search out Trattoria Burlagio for a delicious lunch with the Milanese – I loved it!


Genoa-Genova Italy - Collage by DanieleDF1995

Genoa-Genova – collage by DanieleDF

Crucial to Italy’s seafaring might, Genoa (Genova) has been an important maritime port for thousands of years. The Greek and Byzantine empires based their navies here and the powerful Lombardy families gave it prominence in the Middle-Ages, gaining serious strategic importance during the Renaissance. Christopher Columbus was a native of Genoa and donated 1/10 of his income from the discovery of the Americas for Spain to Genoa for the relief of taxation on food. Garibaldi left from here to conquer Southern Italy. The Port area gives a flavour of the city’s ongoing relation to the sea with its ancient lighthouse, modern marina and annual Boat Show. There are a number of impressive edifices including the Porta Soprano (East Gate), near where Christopher Columbus was born, 13th c San Lorenzo Cathedral, Palazzo Ducale and the huge fountain in the Piazza de Ferrari.


Neapolitan Pizza Margherita Naples - photo Valerio Capello

Neapolitan Pizza Margherita – photo Valerio Capello

I visited Naples many years ago when, as a teacher, I accompanied a group of rowdy school kids around the city during a cruise aboard SS Uganda – and I long to return. It’s got a raucous, edgy, rawness to it that other more sedate Italian cities lack. Renowned for its food, pizza is at its best in Naples. I still remember the flavours of a simple Margherita, with slightly charred crispy crust, fresh tomato base, curves of mozzarella and a scattering of basil leaves served at a rickety table in a narrow backstreet.  One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, Naples oozes history.  The Archaeological Museum, housed in a lovely building, has many treasures from the nearby sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. There are plenty of luxurious palaces and castles to explore including medieval Castel Nuovo, Sant’Elmo, imposing Palazzo Real and Castel Capuano, now used as a courthouse, plus lots of attractive churches. Piazzas, parks and promenades provide places to walk and sit. Find a little trattoria off the beaten track, order a local dish, a glass of crisp white wine and follow up with a Neapolitan ice-cream – perfect …


Palermo Siclly - collage by DanieleDF1995

Palermo – collage by DanieleDF

I’ve never been to Sicily but as an ardent fan of ‘Montalbano’, the Sicilian detective and Giorgio Locatelli, the exuberant chef, I feel I know the island and will certainly visit one day. My father went once and talked of baking hot streets, sand-coloured buildings slowly crumbling in the relentless sea air, Roman and Arabic ruins, all with a laid-back air of ennui, laced with a very faint dash of menace. It sounded exotic and enticing. Mount Etna provides a fertile land of luscious citrus fruits, abundant vines, walnuts and – aubergines. Palermo’s port is a busy hub of ferries, container ships, cruise liners, excursion boats, luxury yachts and fishing boats. The city has a wealth of galleries, museums, villas and of course, churches. Top of my list would be the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia, with its comprehensive collection of Sicilian art, housed in the Palazzo Abatellis. One day …

Bolzano – South Tyrol

 South Tyrol Italy - photo zoe dawes

Piazza Walther Bolzano

Also known as Bozen, Bolzano is the capital of Italy’s most northerly region, German-speaking South Tyrol (Alto Adige/SudTyrol). The impressive Dolomites gaze down onto the city, giving it a strong Alpine atmosphere. The open space of the Piazza Walther (named after a medieval troubadour) is the perfect place to grab an expresso and do a little people-watching. With its combination of Italian style, Germanic orderliness, Gothic and Baroque architecture, Bolzano is a delight for all the senses. The 15th century Cathedral has beautiful mosaics and down the road you can marvel at the well-preserved ‘Iceman’ in the Archaeological Museum. The colourful street market displays local South Tyrol food delicacies, including speck, mountain cheeses and fragrant honey. Alto-Adige is famous for its top-notch wines. Make sure you try the Gewürztraminer – like drinking the scenery in a glass.

Dolomites from above the city of Bolzano - phot zoe dawes

The Dolomites from above the city of Bolzano

This article on cities in Italy is written in collaboration with Original Travel.

June 28, 2015

Paloma Faith wows at the ASUS Eden Sessions

Paloma Faith wows at the ASUS Eden Sessions
Paloma Faith at Eden Project - photo The Eden Sessions Twitter

Paloma Faith at Eden Project – photo @TheEdenSessions


“We’re here at the Eden Project and we’re ready to go! I’m completely blown away by this place. Met Tim Smit today – what a guy. This place is the future …”  There was no doubting the enthusiasm of quirky songstress Paloma Faith for her ASUS Eden Sessions concert in the unique setting of the Eden Project. Nor was there any doubt about the welcome she was given by the 6000 of us who enjoyed her music so much on a clear June night in Cornwall.

Paloma Faith and band ASUS Eden Sessions Eden Project

Paloma Faith and band – ASUS Eden Sessions

Paloma belted out many of her hits from the past six years, accompanied by two fab backing singers dressed in 1950s frocks, and a splendid band. She wore a gorgeous Nicolas Jebran mini-dress which seemed to be made from thousands of sequins and flourescent orange bands that glittered and shone as she danced around the stage.

Paloma Faith - Eden Sessions Concert

Paloma Faith – photo Eden Sessions

Before the evening kicked off I went into the Arena for a pre-concert interview about the new ASUS Transformer Book Chi, the Eden Project and Paloma Faith. ASUS, a computer hardware and electronics company, is sponsoring the Eden Sessions and had invited four of us ‘lifestyle’ bloggers to the concert.

We had to move from the Arena when the Eden Sessions’ first act, Liam Bailey, started his sound checks and it got a bit noisy. My video interview took place in the quietest corner we could find in the Eden Project! I talked about the versatility and elegance of the ASUS Chi. I’ve got the 10″ version so it’s easy to carry about, has a really strong aluminium body, is extremely thin and looks very stylish.

ASUS Transformer Book Chi Zoe Dawes

ASUS Transformer Book Chi

However, its best feature is that the screen splits from the keyboard so it can be used EITHER as a laptop OR a tablet. For a blogger this a real advantage; tablets are all very well but it’s not easy write at length on them. I’m getting into making short videos so the camera is a big plus as is the large memory (64GB), perfect for storing lots of photos and videos.

ASUS Eden Sessions interviews with Zoe Dawes

Video interviews before and after ASUS Eden Sessions

Once the interview was over, we had a delicious dinner in the Med Terrace Restaurant and then out into the arena for the concert. As you can imagine, the front area was heaving so a few of us pushed our way towards the back where the raised bank meant we got a great view. I’m not a huge fan of big crowds, but everyone was really friendly, all ages and just out for a good  time.

Eden Sessions audience Paloma Faith concert

Eden Sessions audience

Singer-songwriter Paloma Faith, from East London, was named Best Female Solo Artist at the BRIT Awards this year. Her 3rd album, A Perfect Contradiction, got to number two in the UK charts and went double-platinum. Her distinctive voice had been compared with classic soul singers such as Etta James and Billie Holiday, as well as more contemporary artists like Adele and Amy Winehouse.

Paloma Faith singing Eden Sessions

Paloma Faith – photo Eden Sessions

Her most successful song, ‘Only Love Can Hurt Like This’ took on a huge resonance as thousands sand along and she threw her powerful voice into the sky and brought us all to a resounding climax … (If you haven’t seen her wonderfully steamy video, have a look here.)

I loved her joie de vivre, (belied by the rather poignant lyrics of some of her songs) and she connected to the audience with her humour and obvious delight at performing in this unique concert venue. Singing ‘Can’t Rely On You’ she changed the lyrics to, ‘We’re at the Eden Project, we can rely on you’  and as evening got darker, the huge Biomes behind the stage lit up and changed colour in time to the music. Magical …

Eden Sessions Biomes and Paloma Faith

Eden Project Biomes lit up at night

She finished off the night with a wonderful version of ‘Take Me’ and the resounding applause at the end showed we’d all taken her to our hearts. A fantastic evening of superb musicianship in an exceptional setting – to paraphrase Paloma, that’s The Truth AND Something Beautiful …

Paloma Faith in concert at Eden Sessions

Paloma Faith in concert at Eden Sessions


Here’s the video we recorded that evening – hope you enjoy it :-)

I stayed onsite at the YHA Eden Project in one of their ‘Snoozeboxes’, which are containers converted into comfortable en-suite bedrooms, about 15 minutes’ walk from the main entrance.

YHA Eden Project Cornwall - Zoe Dawes

YHA Eden Project Cornwall

It’s excellent value and ideal for a night or two so you can enjoy the concert and have plenty of time to explore the Eden Project at your leisure.

June 16, 2015

Plan your trip to France the easy way

Plan your trip to France the easy way

My very first trip to France was with school to Paris many years ago, where the boys went off and got drunk in a bar that was perfectly happy to serve 15 and 16 year olds. The girls kept wandering off to look in shops and giggle at the handsome French guys. The teachers struggled to herd pupils round sights they weren’t that bothered about seeing and at night went to each other’s rooms to drink cheap plonk and try to unwind … I know that because I was one of those teachers and I vowed one day to return to Paris and see the sights properly, without playing the role of reluctant sheep dog.


Eiffel Tower – photo France-Voyage.com

It was 20 years before I got back to Paris and this time we did all the sights without student distraction. The Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, the Tuilleries Gardens, Notre Dame and even out to the glorious Palace of Versailles – all magical and beautiful even with lots of other tourists around. Another time we took the car over and explored charming Northern France, with its lush pasturelands and historic towns. More recently I went to see World War One sites in the footsteps of WW1 poet Wilfred Owen.

wilfred owen house maison forestiere france

Wilfred Owen Maison Forestiere

If you plan a trip to France, you may be wondering how on earth to organise what to see, when to go and where to stay in such a diverse and big country. There are lots of guidebooks and websites, blogs and articles for you to trawl through, but ideally what you want is a one-stop solution, where everything you need to know is all in one place. Well, I came across France-Voyage.com recently and it’s perfect for planning every aspect of a trip to France, whether it’s French chateaux, ancient cathedrals or to follow the Tour de France.

Chateau la Rochefoucauld - photo France-Voyage.com

Chateau la Rochefoucauld – photo France-Voyage.com

As well as lots of information on all the regions of France, it’s a goldmine of practical and cultural tips to help make the best use of time on holiday. Other plus points include:

  • Complete, detailed content for tourists covering the whole country;
  • Daily updates in cooperation with official organisations;
  • Multiple illustrations and virtual tours;
  • Easy planning with creation of tailor-made itineraries and mini-guidebooks;
  • Ease of access via an intuitive, user-friendly interface that works on all devices, from smartphones to desktop computers;
  • Geolocated, personalised mobile interface;
  • Multilingual information giving easy access to foreign tourists;
  • Completely free for holidaymakers.
Cannes beach, cote d'azur, france

Cannes beach – photo France-Voyage.com

My favourite trip to France was staying with my boyfriend on a yacht in Cannes; we spent three weeks exploring the south of France. Antibes, St Tropez, Villefranche, Monaco – evocative names on the French Riviera. The smell of lavender takes me back immediately to that lovely holiday. I’m hoping to return for a long weekend on the Côte d’Azur in the autumn  so decided to use the site to plan a long weekend in the Alpes Maritime. As a foodie I love the tips on regional food as well as recommendations for places to eat and drink. There are helpful suggestions for coastal and inland walks and so much info on each village and town that I think we’re going to need a lot more than a weekend to see it all.

villefranche-sur-mer cote d'azur france

Villefranche sur mer – photo France-Voyage.com

This article was written in collaboration with France-Voyage.com. Check them out and let me know what you think :-)

May 25, 2015

A quintessential corner of Canada in British Columbia

A quintessential corner of Canada in British Columbia
Grizzly Bear - Great Bear Rainforest British Columbia image CTC

Out for a walk in the Great Bear Rainforest – image CTC

I’m going on a bear hunt – (with camera only of course!)

Wide open spaces. spectacular wildlife, exciting sports, contemporary architecture, adventurous cuisine, intriguing history and diverse culture. Everything you can think of when you hear the word ‘Canada’ all in one state – British Columbia. With a population of about 4.5 million and an area of almost 950,000 sq km that’s a lot of country with a plenty of room for manoeuvre.  To be honest, I wasn’t really sure where exactly British Columbia was when I was invited on a Travelator Media trip to #exploreCanada in late spring. A few years ago I had the pleasure of discovering the culinary delights of Montreal and Quebec City on the east coast, and I knew BC was on the other side of the country – that was about it. If you’re not sure either, have a look at this map.

british columbia canada map

British Columbia – maps.com

Whistler for skiers, Alaska Highway for petrol heads, the Yukon for gold diggers, Victoria for Anglophiles and Vancouver for just about everyone. Nature red in tooth, claw, beak and fin can be found here – bears, beavers, eagles, whales, moose, deer and much more. The more I read about Canada’s ‘Adventure Playground’, the more appealing this place became, until now I can’t wait to go …

Hotel Grand Pacific - Victoria Canada

Hotel Grand Pacific and Inner Harbour – Victoria

We’ll be exploring a relatively small but diverse area at the southern end of British Columbia. First stop is Victoria, historic capital on Vancouver Island. Named after Queen Victoria, it’s apparently redolent of ‘olde worlde Englishness’ in the nicest possible way. We’re staying in the elegant Hotel Grand Pacific overlooking Inner Harbour, slap bang in the heart of downtown Victoria. The highlight of our brief visit here will undoubtedly be going out on the Prince of Whales tour in the hopes of seeing orcas, humpback whales, sea lions and eagles.

Orcas in Victoria with Prince of Whales tour - British Columbia Canada

Orcas in Victoria with Prince of Whales tour

From Victoria we transfer to Campbell River and more sightseeing around Vancouver Island. It’s largest island off the North American coast, renowned for its colourful, quirky villages, superb fishing, tranquil forests and deserted beaches. The climate in this part of the world is temperate and on a sunny hillside in the Cowichan Valley (First Nation for ‘land warmed by the sun’) is Blue Grouse Winery; delighted to say we’ll be sampling a glass or two of their wines along the way.

Vancouver Island - image Harbour Air Seaplanes

Vancouver Island – image Harbour Air Seaplanes

Then comes the main reason for going to this part of the world – we’re going to find BEARS. British Columbia has the world’s largest concentration of grizzly bears, as well as black bears and the unique Kermode (Spirit) bears. For three nights I will staying at world-renowned Knight Inlet Lodge where we are almost guaranteed to see grizzly (brown) bears in one of the most remote and spectacular landscapes in Canada.

Dave Campbell grizzly bears Knight Inlet Lodge

Grizzly bears in the river – image Dave Campbell www.knightinletlodge.ca

Knight Inlet Lodge is situated in the Great Bear Rainforest on a river platform; to get there we’ll be arriving by float plane. Not only should we see the bears but hopefully bald eagles and maybe pods of orca whales. In spring the grizzly bears come out of hibernation and I’m crossing fingers and toes that there will be a number of bear cubs. It’ll be photography heaven and yes, I’m definitely after the ‘cute bear’ pic! Find out more about Knight Inlet Lodge here – as you can see it is a very special place!

Grizzly bear cubs Knight Inlet Lodge british columbia canada

Grizzly bear cubs – image www.knightinletlodge.ca

The final destination on this unique Canadian adventure is Vancouver. I’ve wanted to visit this city for many years, since I worked in Hong Kong a few years before the handover from the British to China in 1997. At that time, many colleagues at HSBC were planning to move to Vancouver and from what I heard, it sounded like a beautiful, vibrant and diverse place to be. I’m about to find out …

Cycling in Vancouver

Cycling in Vancouver – image CTC

With just one night at ‘retro boutique hotel’, The Burrard we’ve got to make the most of our time. I’m looking forward to getting a real taste of the city on a foodie tour of ‘Vancouver’s breakfast, coffee and food truck culture’ – sounds suitably quirky! Think I will then need the City Cycle Tour that follows to work off some of that breakfast fare … Our final stop on this whirlwind trip of a lifetime is Sandbar Seafood Restaurant on Granville Island, where we’ll be able to try some of the fresh seafood for which this area is famous.

Sandbar Restaurant view of Vancouver

Sandbar Restaurant view of Vancouver

Inspired? Discover more about what Canada has to offer at www.keepexploring.ca  Join me from May 29th – June 7th 2015 on my trip to Canada’s two Cities on the Edge of Nature and the Great Bear Rainforest via Social Media including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #exploreCanada for updates – and lots more.

May 18, 2015

Granada – A destination for multisensory discovery

Granada – A destination for multisensory discovery

With city breaks becoming even more popular in 2015 and with travellers eager to pack the maximum amount into the minimum time, new research from American Express has found that holidays that stimulate all the senses are the most fulfilling.

Grenada street art Spain

Grenada street art

There are many destinations in Europe where travellers can fulfil their appetite for travel that stimulates all of the senses – one in particular is Granada, located within a close enough proximity to the Mediterranean to experience the crisp, salty air of the coast and next to the blissfully peaceful Sierra Nevada mountain range. This stunning geographical location combined with the heady scents and tastes of the traditional Arabo-Andalucían cuisine, the beautiful colours and patterns of the city’s surrealist street art, plus views of the stunning Alhambra, make this city in southern Spain an excellent place to indulge the senses.

Alhambra Palace Granada

Alhambra Palace Granada

The research from American Express also showed that while Brits find multisensory holidays the most stimulating, we also have particularly strong noses for travel, with over three quarters (79%) saying that a specific scent has the ability to transport them straight back to a happy holiday. In fact, not only does smell have the ability to create happy memories, but ones that last longer as well; nearly a third of us (31%) say a scent has triggered memories of a holiday they went on as long as 15 years ago.

Sierra Nevada Spain

Sierra Nevada Spain

Amex have worked with Professor Barry Smith, the founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses who commented: “Although sight and taste play a large role in creating memories, physiologically smell is the most powerful sense when it comes to evoking strong, positive memories. Whole scenes of people, places and things can be immediately brought to mind because in the brain, smell is connected to memory and emotion.”

Grenada street art

Grenada street art

With that in mind, Amex Insider Alex Zane travelled to Granada in Andalucia to find out more about all of the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures that this ancient and exquisite city has to offer.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with American Express.  Discover other sensory European destinations with Amex Insider Alex Zane

May 3, 2015

The everyday magnificence of Magna Carta

The everyday magnificence of Magna Carta
Magna Carta Chapter House Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawesthequirkytraveller.com

Salisbury Cathedral Chapter House displays Magna Carta

Now how to put this diplomatically? One doesn’t want to offend, but at the same time, one doesn’t want to eulogise without meaning it … The truth is, when I finally got to see the best-preserved copy of the most significant document in this sceptr’d isle’s history, in beautiful Salisbury Cathedral, I was somewhat underwhelmed.

Magna Carta display Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes thequirkytraveller.com

Magna Carta display

I know, Magna Carta is a corner stone of democracy, influencing not only the rights of man in this country, but also many other countries including the United States of America, but … well, it is rather a mundane-looking document, with lots of tiny, neat writing on a fairly big piece of parchment with a lighter mark at the bottom where the Royal Seal was originally placed.

Magna Carta Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes thequirkytraveller.com

Magna Carta Salisbury Cathedral

So, with my philistine credentials well and truly established, let me to encourage everyone who can, to visit Salisbury Cathedral and see its Magna Carta. Why? Because it is displayed in the most magnificent setting, the glorious 13thc Chapter House. Because it has interesting exhibits illustrating many aspects of significance related to the charter AND because Magna Carta is celebrating its 800 anniversary this year, 2015.

Chapter House Magna Carta display in Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes thequirkytraveller.com

The Chapter House in Salisbury Cathedral

As you enter the medieval Chapter House light cascades down from the red and blue geometric mosaic of huge stained glass windows. With its intricate carvings and octagonal walls it cocoons the visitor in medieval loveliness, attracting the eye every upwards.

Chapter House medieval stained glass windows Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkkytraveller.com

Chapter House stained glass windows

I like my history in small doses, easily digestible and this is the perfect place to get a ‘feel’ for Magna Carta’s importance without being overwhelmed. A computer screen gives locals a voice to express what ‘My Charter’ means today. Quills, ink and parchment shows how the documents were created whilst political symbols and Eleanor Roosevelt demonstrate its global significance.

Magna Carta displays Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkyttaveller.com

Magna Carta displays

Very impressive was the informed passion with which the Salisbury Cathedral guides shared the story and significance of Magna Carta. Effervescent Rodney, he of the gorgeous waistcoat, gave a simple, easy-to-understand explanation of how Salisbury Cathedral got their copy of the charter, outlined how it differs from other copies and answered many questions with in-depth knowledge and humour.

Magna Carta guide Rodney Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes

Magna Carta guide Rodney

In the cloister corridors around the cathedral there’s a small exhibition of objects to bring history alive. Wooden figures of King John and some sheep weighed in the scales (of justice?), a banner summarising the story of 2015 and an enormous metal gauntlet, a copy of one which would have been worn by 13th c knights in battle, giving rise the the phrase, ‘throwing down the gauntlet.’

Magna Carta history exhibition Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkytraveller.com

Magna Carta history exhibition

To find out more you could read this ‘Idiot’s guide to the Magna Carta by Dan Johnson’; the things you didn’t know. Even if, like me, ancient parchment, however important, leaves you rather underwhelmed, I guarantee you will enjoy the whole ‘Magna Carta’ experience, and leave Salisbury Cathedral wiser and enriched by your visit.

Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral - photo Zoe Dawes www.thequirkytraveller.com

Magna Carta in Salisbury Cathedral

I was in Salisbury with other travel writers and industry specialists for the Social Travel Britain 2015 conference. We stayed at Sarum College opposite the cathedral and Visit Wiltshire organised a tour of the ancient city and an awe-inspiring dawn visit to nearby Stonehenge.

Travel bloggers in the Chapter House Salisbury Cathedral - image Thomas Dowson

Travel bloggers in the Chapter House – photo Thomas Dowson

Here’s a short photo slideshow of Salisbury Cathedral and Magna Carta  …