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August 29, 2017

Visit Ottawa and discover Canada’s capital city of colourful charm

Visit Ottawa and discover Canada’s capital city of colourful charm

Discover Ottawa - capital city of Canada

Haunting sounds evocative of another continent drifted around the busy streets, bringing a touch of the Orient to Canada’s capital city.  Strumming a curious-looking stringed instrument, the woman in the Japanese kimono seemed oblivious to the people scurrying past. She sums up Ottawa; a colourful mash-up of diverse sights and sounds in a historic setting.

Japanese musician at Byward Market Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

I was here for a week, part of a group of 14 UK Travel Bloggers spread out across the country, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday. Staying at the uber-cool Andaz Ottawa Byward Market put me slap bang in the heart of the city’s bodacious beating heart. On the evening of my arrival, I’d seen dozens of cool ‘hipsters’ ascending to the hotel roof bar to enjoy a Saturday night of cocktails and chat with one of the best views of the city spread out in front of them. Fortunately I had a very similar view from my bedroom. Dominating the skyline, the Parliament Building is the democratic symbol of this relatively young and very exciting country.

Ottawa at sunset from Andaz Hotel - photo Zoe Dawes

Ottawa at sunset from Andaz Hotel

On my first day out, Jantine Van Kregten, Director of Communication for Ottawa Tourism, took me out to Ottawa’s Farmer’s Market at Lansdowne Park. We stopped on the way to see the locks on the bridge  over the famous Rideau Canal, reminders of love and the bane of city officials as they weigh down the bridges around the world.

Locks on bridge over the Rideau Canal

Locks on bridge over the Rideau Canal

Lansdowne Farmers’ Market is a part of the Savour Ottawa initiative that bring together local farmers and producers with chefs and consumers. Savour Ottawa works to develop and promote Ottawa and area as a premier, year-round culinary destination, with robust offerings of local culinary products and experiences for both locals and visitors.’ It’s everything you’d hope from a Canadian market, showcasing delicious produce, including fresh asparagus huge tomatoes, crispy apples, luscious rhubarb, early strawberries, artisan bread and cheeses, meat, pies, honey, spicy mixes and, of course, maple syrup in various guises.

Maple syrup stall Ottawa Farmers Market

Maple syrup stall

The Aberdeen Pavilion, built in 1898, is now a huge exhibition space. There was a Latin American festival going on in another hall, with salsa dancing lessons and lots of laughter.

Watch video – Lansdowne Farmers’ Market (spot the Huskies)

The following day I went on a boat trip on the Rideau Canal. In spite of torrential rain, I thoroughly enjoyed drifting along the canal, learning about its history from our guide, who injected plenty of humour into his informative spiel.

Rideau Canal boat trip Ottawa

Rideau Canal boat trip

The Rideau Canal freezes over in winter; people skate to work as well as enjoy it for recreation. In the summer pleasure boats cruise its tranquil waters. We motored alongside the University of Ottawa and luxurious mansions waved to people out jogging and dog-walking, passed by Lansdowne Park and turned round in the large basin of Dow’s Lake. I sat next to an American couple who had come to Ottawa specifically to ride on the Rideau Canal; it’s a well-known World Heritage site. They were staying at the Chateau Laurier, overlooking the canal and were clearly very impressed with the city. “A friend recommended we visit and we’re so glad we did. There’s so much more to see and do than we’d expected.

Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier Ottawa

The Rideau Canal, Bytown Museum and Chateau Laurier

Being the capital of Canada, Ottawa has a world-class collection of museums and art galleries. You can read about the Canadian Museum of History and the National Gallery of Canada here. One of my favourites was the Bytown Museum. It’s housed in The Commissariat, the oldest stone building in the city, beside the lower locks of the Canal. An eclectic mix of exhibits tells the history of Ottawa and how it became the capital of Canada. There’s a copy of Queen Victoria’s Proclamation for uniting the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, into one Dominion under the name of Canada. It’s dated the 22nd of May, 1867 . Bytown, the original name for Ottawa, was clearly a bit of a ‘wild-west town’ in its early days, notorious for the riotous behaviour of the European settlers who came for the lumber trade.

Lieutenant Colonel John By - Bytown Museum Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Lieutenant Colonel John By

An imposing bust of Lieutenant Colonel John By lords it over the gallery. In the British Royal Engineers, he was,  ‘instrumental in the construction of the canal. The name “Bytown” came about, somewhat as a “jocular reference” during a small dinner party of some officers, and it appears on official correspondence dated 1828.’ [Wikipedia]

Byward Market Neighbourhood Ottawa

Byward Market and Andaz Hotel

I spent a lot of time exploring Byward Market neighbourhood, a popular hub for bars and restaurants, excellent foodie shops and cafes, performance artists and people watchers. I met up with Canadian travel blogger Cindy Baker (check out her blog My Travel Bliss which has a lot more on Ottawa), who showed me round. I especially loved the indoor market, originally built to provide supplies for the lumber trade. Suspended over the stalls is very quirky sculpture, McClintock’s Dream by Hungarian artist Victor Tolgesy. A lumberjack in a plaid shirt lies below a giant cloud, dreaming of all the thing he will buy from the market when he gets back home to Ottawa. Hanging over the cloud, vendors tempt him with strings of sausages, poultry, garlic cloves, apples and much more.

Byward Market sculpture McClintock’s Dream Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

McClintock’s Dream

During my week in Ottawa I did so many more things, including a C’est Bon foodie tour of hipster Hintonberg and a bus tour of the city, ate out in some of the best restaurants in town including Play, Food and Wine, listened in on politicians exchanging gossip and mingled with the beautiful people at the opening of a new bar. I admired street art in lively neighbourhoods, watched the Changing of the Guard at the War Memorial, had a guided tour of the Parliament Building and watched the sun go down over the Rideau River. Keep an eye out for my article on the food and drink scene.

If you’re going to Canada, make a date with Ottawa; you’ll be seduced by its friendly charm, low-key sophistication, impressive architecture and exuberant joie de vivre.

Ottawa city sculpture

Uplifting Ottawa

Visit Ottawa

Visit Canada Keep Exploring to discover more about where to go and what to do in Ottawa. Return flights from Gatwick to Toronto from £346 (October 2017) and £349 (May 2018) per person with Air Transat. Canadian Affair offers an 8-day package tour Ontario Taster Holiday which includes 2 nights in Ottawa.

Many thanks to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit to Canada. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Find out more about Canada in these articles

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the capital city

Top 10 Memorable Moments in Canada

Vancouver in 24 hours

A Digital Detox with the Grizzly Bears of British Columbia

Top tips for a motorhome trip across Canada

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Discover the delights of Ottawa, capital of Canada

 

August 5, 2017

The Langdale Valley, majestic heart of the Lake District World Heritage Site

The Langdale Valley, majestic heart of the Lake District World Heritage Site

Blea Tarn Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The hard work and commitment of a great many people has paid off and the Lake District World Heritage site now joins other renowned UNESCO WHO places such as the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia, Mount Teide in Tenerife and the Rocky Mountains in Canada. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know how much I love the Lake District and also visiting World Heritage Sites, so to have this on my doorstep is VERY special. A few days after the result was announced I went to be stay in the very heart of Lakeland, in the Langdale Valley. Here are some of its highlights.

Great Langdale Valley

Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The Langdale Valley includes some of the most impressive mountains (called ‘fells’ in the Lakes) in England. These craggy peaks provide a dramatic backdrop to an area where man, beast and nature live together in relative harmony. Langdale means ‘Long Valley’ in Old Norse, a hint to the ancient history of this quarrying and farming area. Very often the fells are shrouded in mist in this valley, adding to its moody magnificence. Dry stone walls ribbon across the mountain sides, sheep meander willy-nilly and picturesque farm buildings create its architectural charm. The peaks of Crinkle Crags, Pike o’ Bisco and the jagged ridge of the Langdale Pikes are the grand masters of this landscape.

Elterwater

Elterwater Common Langdale Valley Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The village of Elterwater (meaning Swan Lake) spreads out across valley, vying for space with the Herdwick sheep which wander its lanes and graze on the Common.  An easy stroll takes the walker to Elterwater tarn; good flat path but can get very muddy if it’s been raining recently. The Britannia Inn is the hub of the village, serving excellent ales, an interesting choice of wines and superb food. There’s also a cafe and a bus stop, a couple of hotels, a large time-share property and plenty of self-catering cottages for all the visitors who come to stay here. Good Life Lake District Cottages has their main office here, housed in a quaint stone building which usually has a Herdy wandering about outside the door.

Chapel Stile

Chapel Stile village in Langdale Valley, Lake District World Heritage site - photo Zoe Dawes

The Langdale Rambler (Bus 516) stops on the main road through Chapel Stile, dropping off visitors and locals in this tiny hamlet. A narrow lane of old quarrymen’s cottages wends it way up twards Silver Howe. The 19thc Parish Church of Holy Trinity was built on the site of the original chapel, in the local green slate which has been quarried here for centuries. Chapel Stile is well-served by the excellent Langdale Co-Op. This shop sells absolutely everything you could wish for, whether you’re camping, self-catering or out for the day. Tasty Cumberland sausages, Hawkshead Relish (I can highly recommend their Black Garlic Ketchup!), micro-brewery beer, tent pegs, wet-weather gear, fridge magnets, tea towels and oh so much more. Upstairs in Brambles Cafe, gossip is exchanged and walkers rest their feet whilst having a cuppa or more hearty meal. Every year they hold the Langdale Gala here, a classic Lake District show with Cumberland Wrestling, fell races and dog show.

The Old Dungeon Ghyll

Old Dungeon Ghyll, Langdale Valley in Lake District World Heritage site

Towards the end of the valley lies the Old Dungeon Ghyll, one of the most famous pubs in the Lake District. Tucked right up against the mountain side, this venerable old hotel was the meeting place for climbing clubs from around the country, drawn by the challenging peaks outside the door. I love the Hiker’s Bar, which has remained unchanged for decades and features the original cow stalls and stone floors.

Hiker's Bar Old Dungeon Ghyll - Langdale Valley

You can get a great pint, a coffee, lunch, dinner and if you’re lucky with the weather, sit outside and enjoy the scenery.

Little Langdale Valley

Little Langdale Valley in the Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

From the Old Dungeon Ghyll the road winds up towards Blea Tarn and into the charming Little Langdale Valley. Driving up here takes nerves and good brakes as the road has some steep, sharp twists and is very narrow. Kamikaze Herdwicks wander out in front of the car and the view is most distracting.

Blea Tarn

Blea Tarn Langdale Valley Lake District - photo Zoe Dawes

There’s a National Trust car park for Blea Tarn (tarn = little lake); it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with brown pike in the water, alpine flowers in spring and tiny orchids in summer. However, it’s the view of the Pike o’Bisco and the Langdale Pikes laid out for your delectation that tops all that. I’ve walked here a few times but Blea Tarn has never looked as lovely as it did that July afternoon with marshmallow-soft clouds reflected in the shallow water and sunlight flittering across the peaks.

Three Shires Pub

Three Shires Inn Langdale Valley

Voted Cumbria Tourism’s Pub of the Year 2017, the Three Shires Inn is at the conjunction of the three old counties of  Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, now bundled together as Cumbria. It’s a pretty pub with decent food and lively atmosphere, though limited parking which meant on this recent visit I had to give it a miss. The road heads off towards the twin passes of Wrynose and HardKnott; not for the faint-hearted. A short walk brings you to one of the most photographed sights in the Langdales, Slaters Bridge, an old pack-horse bridge and also enormous Cathedral Cave.

Stay in Church Gate Cottage

Church Gate cottage in Chapel Stile Langdale Valley Lake District

I stayed in Chapel Stile with Good Life Lake District Cottages in a charming holiday home called Church Gate. Tastefully restored and attractively decorated, it sleeps four people in two bedrooms. The kitchen has a large fridge-freezer, dishwasher and large oven. A cup of tea tastes so much better in one of the cute Herdy mugs. There are games and books in the dining area and a wood-burning stove for cosy nights in. The back door leads out to a sheltered little cottage garden, ideal for evening drinks outdoors. Impressive views can be seen from the bedrooms across the village towards the mountains. I slept really well in the very comfy double bed and on Sunday morning woke to the sound of church bells and sheep bleating in the field opposite – perfect.  More details and how to book Church Gate cottage here.

With the village shop just down the hill and a pub, Wainwrights Inn, five minutes’ walk, Church Gate is the ideal place to stay and enjoy the Lake District World Heritage site. Many thanks to Natalie and the team at Good Life Lake District Cottages for another very enjoyable weekend.

More lovely places I’ve stayed in and around the Langdale Valley.

Daw Bank Cottage, Chapel Stile

Jonty’s Cottage, Elterwater

Braegarth Cottage, Elterwater

Knipefold Barn, Outgate 

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Langdale Valley in the Lake District World Heritage Site

 

July 18, 2017

Check out 7 romantic hotspots for couples in Croatia

Check out 7 romantic hotspots for couples in Croatia

Croatia, being one of the world’s most most romantic destinations, is sure to offer you the romantic break you and your partner deserve! Adventure into paradise and explore the wonders Croatia has to offer; from beaches to skilled winemaking, Croatia will not disappoint.  

1. Zesty Zagreb

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Zagreb

Located in the heart of Zagreb lies Kava Tava, home to the freshest pancakes, homemade burgers, and a variety of Italian and Argentinian foods. Kava Tava invites you to indulge in a burst of flavours to excite your tastebuds with your loved one, at the end of a day of exploring the stunning city.

2. Pula Paradise

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Pula

Discover Ambrela Beach, packed with adventure and excitement. Why not travel around the vast beaches of Pula and take a plunge in the cool waters? Alternatively, there’s plenty of fun to be had on a paddle boat or banana boat, ensuring an unforgettable day with your partner. Top it all off with a scoop of Croatia’s finest flavours of ice cream.

3. Riding the Waves in Dubrovnik

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Dubrovnik

Open a new chapter in your life by finding a new passion sailing the seas and riding the waves, with Dubrovnik Daily Sailing. Take your partner to the islands and sail the shores around Dubrovnik to find the perfect spot for a delicious homemade picnic. Why not have a peaceful swim and enjoy breathtaking views of the vast landscape, before enjoying refreshing drinks at D’Vino Wine Bar located right by the sea.

4. Pure Relaxation in Split

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Split

Indulge in a soothing spa retreat at the Radisson Blu Resort in Split. From swimming pools and stone beaches to a fitness gym and treatments, Radisson Blu is your own personal utopia awaiting your arrival. End the evening with an exotic cocktail at the late night bar, followed by a comforting stay at the hotel itself.

5. Fairytale Fortress in Hvar

Romantic hotspots in Croatia - Hvar

Climb to the top of the town and experience a bird’s eye view of the vibrant city Hvar. The enchanted fortress has been around since 500 BC and is a popular destination for tourists, so why not spend a romantic day there with your partner?

6. Kistanje Kiss

Krka Monastery Croatia - photo Sonjabgd

A guided tour around the Krka Monastery, 3 km east of Kistanje, in central Dalmatia, will leave you breathless in awe of the tranquil lifestyle the monks live. Take an eye-opening day somewhere unexplored and so peaceful with your partner. It’s definitely a place like no other and and you can be sure that the two of your will enjoy it together.

7. The Island of Love

Galesnjak

Galesnjak is one of the most romantic places in Croatia, due to the fact that the island itself is shaped like a heart. Attracting a lot of attention from tourists and locals, Galesnjakknown as the ‘island of love’, is the perfect location for couples to spend quality time together.

Visit Croatia, the heart of romance and love, for the ultimate couples break away. Whether you’re looking for exciting explorations or a gastronomic adventure, Croatia is a magical and magnificent place to be with the one you love. 

This article is brought to you by TruTripper, where you can find amazing deals to get a romantic holiday for less.

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7 Romantic Hotspots in Croatia

June 19, 2017

A quartet of very different Lake District books

A quartet of very different Lake District books

Four special Lake District Books Cumbria

“I’m coming to the Lake District on holiday. What book would you recommend?” Well, that really depends on what kind of book you’re looking for. There are so many Lake District books: traditional guide books, walking books, novels, biographies, photography books, children’s books … Here are four of my favourites.

Lake District Books

I Never Knew that about the Lake District - Christopher WinnI never knew that about the Lake District by Christopher Winn

Did you know that Fletcher Christian, he of Mutiny on the Bounty, was born in Cockermouth? Or that the ‘Yellow Earl‘, past owner of Lowther Castle, was the only man other than Winston Churchill to have a Cuban cigar named after him (the Lonsdale Cigar)? Well, if you read ‘I never knew that about the Lake District‘ you’ll find out hundreds of fascinating snippets and facts about the area. The book is divided up into geographical sections ie The Central Lakes, The Lakeland Coast, Windermere, so it covers Cumbria, not just the Lake District National Park. Charming illustrations by Mai Osawa add to the this delightful book’s appeal. It would make a great gift for a fan of the lakes; I was given it as a birthday present and regularly dip into it. Note to the author: the 201o edition could do with updating as a few things have changed eg many more local breweries and visitor attractions now.

More about I never knew that about the Lake District and other books by Christopher Winn

 

Dances with the Daffodils - Matthew ConnollyDances with the Daffodils by Matthew Connolly 

I chose this book from a host of books by local authors laid out on our tables at the Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017. (Well done to the organisers for an original way to support Cumbrian writers.) Author Matthew Connolly explained how the novel was inspired by the story behind one of the most famous English poems, William Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The poet’s sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, wrote an entry in her diary on April 15th 1802 referring to a walk she and her brother took beside Ullswater where they saw daffodils that ‘tossed and reeled and danced’ in the wind. In the book, Luke, who’s returning to the area after 20 years of travelling, visits the lake and sees a ‘thin, gypsy-tanned woman … hopping along the lane like a chaffinch,‘ admiring the daffodils, beside ‘… a tall and ugly mantis of a creature.’ (William). Luke is immediately attracted to Dorothy, ‘as she knelt among the daffodils like some pagan goddess.’ I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant love story, especially seeing Dorothy in a different light, as a feisty young woman, torn between her love for her brother and another. It’s also a love story to south Lakeland, its local culture and heritage, which the author clearly knows well.

More on Dances with Daffodils here

Photographer's guide to Lake District by Ellen BownessThe Photographer’s Guide to The Lake District by Ellen Bowness

‘The Lake District is a beautiful part of the UK and it’s jam-packed with photogenic locations, from lakes and fells to waterfalls and caves.’ The opening to this gem of a book says it all; here is a comprehensive guide to the best places to get the perfect photo of the top sights in the Lakes. Local Ellen Bowness is a self-confessed travel photography addict who shares her professional knowledge of the area so the rest of us can find the perfect location. The book includes directions, maps, parking and satnav information as well advice on the best time of year to visit. Many popular sites feature, including Cat Bells overlooking Derwentwater, Grasmere and Castle Rigg Stone Circle, but also lesser known gems like Innominate Tarn,a favourite of Lakeland walker Alfred Wainwright and Ritson’s Force at Wasdale Head. One for photographers of all levels from beginner to expert.

More on The Photographer’s Guide to the Lake District here

Small island by little train - Chris ArnotSmall Island by Little Train – a narrow-gauge adventure by Chris Arnot

OK, this book is not only about the Lake District; it’s a journey round the nation’s narrow-gauge railways, but it has a very interesting chapter about one of this area’s most popular tourist attractions. In a chapter entitled ‘Return Ticket to Red Squirrels’ author Chris Arnot travels on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Light Railway. which runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in England. He also meets some of the enthusiasts who run L’al Ratty, as it’s known locally. He talks with Peter Van Zellar, who sums up the appeal of this country railway. “You are conscious of being part of the scenery but, beyond the track, that scenery changes every day. You might see a buzzard one minute and a herd of red deer the next.” The author shares some local history and has a humorous style reminiscent of Bill Bryson and his Notes from a Small Island, on which this book is vaguely modelled.

Disclosure: I was sent this book by publishers The AA for review. It fits very nicely within into the Quirky Travel niche.

More on Small Island by Little Train here.

I hope you have enjoyed this review of some Quirky Travel Lake District Books. What’s you favourite book about where you live? Please leave your thoughts and any recommendations in the Comment Box below 🙂

May 12, 2017

5 tasty dishes that go perfectly with Black Garlic Ketchup

5 tasty dishes that go perfectly with Black Garlic Ketchup
Black Garlic Ketchup - in Menorca

Black Garlic Ketchup – on balcony of my brother’s flat in Menorca

 

Have you tried Black Garlic Ketchup yet? Not heard of it? You soon will. Award-winning Hawkshead Relish have taken one of the latest must-have ingredients, Black Garlic, and turned it into a taste-bomb sauce that goes with a wide variety of dishes. They use only the best Spanish black garlic, made by ‘baking whole, fresh garlic bulbs for 40 days at a very low temperature creating an extraordinary flavour; rich, smooth & bursting with a balsamic sweetness.’  On a recent trip to Menorca I bought a bulb of Black Garlic; not knowing about this ‘baking’ process, I had a surprise to find its cloves a dark gooey texture.

Spanish Black Garlic - photo zoe dawes

I got my hands on a bottle of Black Garlic Ketchup a few weeks ago and have been experimenting with it ever since, including taking it out to Menorca for my brother to try. I’ve had it with a wide range of dishes, including steak – perfect, risotto – OK and pork casserole – different. All the dishes were cooked at home, although I also tried a couple on holiday. Here are my top 5 plus recipe tips (no measurements or detail) for your delectation.

5 ways with Black Garlic Ketchup

 1.  Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips with Black Garlic Ketchup - photo Zoe Dawes

Fish and Chips with Black Garlic Ketchup

The umami-taste of the ketchup really enhances the flavour of beer-battered cod and goes beautifully with home-made chips and frozen peas.  I’m not a fan of tomato ketchup and usually have mayonnaise with fish and chips, but from now on I’ll be having it with Hawkshead Relish’s Black Garlic Ketchup. Try it with different fish; it could be too overpowering for more delicate types. A glass of chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was my tipple of choice – because that’s what was in the fridge …

Cooking Tip: Perfect chips. Use a floury potato like King Edwards or Maris Piper. Cut into whatever shape and size you like. Par-boil them with their skins ON (for added fibre), pat dry then put them into very hot oil. Reduce the heat and fry for about 10 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon or basket, turn up the heat again and flash fry the chips for a minute or so to crisp them.

2.  Jerk Chicken with new potatoes and asparagus

Jerk chicken, new potatoes, asparagus and Black Garlic Ketchup - photo zoe dawes

My son really loved this combination. The slightly spicy flavour of the grilled chicken was enhanced by the ketchup and the buttery new potatoes got an extra oomph. It would also go well with Canarian Patatas Arrugudas (wrinkled potatoes)The steamed asparagus (which I have with just about everything when it’s in season!) coped well.  We also tried the ketchup with unspiced chicken which was fine, but preferred the Caribbean version.  I had it with a glass of chilled French Reserve de la Saurine white wine.

Cooking Tip: Jerk chicken. Coat chicken breasts with Jerk seasoning – buy it or make your own with dried chilli, ginger, garlic, onion, cumin, thyme. I use a tasty one from Aruba, a Caribbean island I visited last year. Heat a griddle pan until very hot and place chicken onto pan. Quickly sear one side then turn over and cook for about 3 minutes, depending on thickness of chicken. Turn over again and cook for a further few minutes. Serve immediately.

3.  Sausage and garlic mash with peas and sweetcorn

Sausage and mash with Black Garlic Ketchup - photo zoe dawes

Sausage and mash is my ultimate comfort food; I’ve loved it ever since I was a child. I prefer local Cumberland or Westmorland sausages, but any good-quality bangers will do. Hawkshead Relish, based in Cumbria, add tomatoes, spices and Anglesey seasalt to this ketchup, which may explain why it goes so well with this meal. I prefer my sausages well-grilled, not fried. My brother gave me a very special bottle of Gran Reserva Spanish Rioja 2005 which was just divine with this dinner.

Cooking Tip: Garlic mashed potatoes. Boil floury potatoes for about 20 minutes until almost falling apart. (I prefer to cook them with skins on.) Drain and put into a bowl with a little milk, butter and a few garlic cloves. You could use black garlic for a twist. Use an electric mixer (be careful not to over do it or the mash becomes gluey), a potato ricer or hand masher and mash until it’s voluptuously smooth.

4.  Black Garlic Ketchup Bolognese with Pasta

Black Garlic Ketchup Bolognese with pasta

For this dish I used Black Garlic Ketchup in my regular bolognese recipe. I also replaced the garlic I’d usually include, with black garlic cloves. THis definitely changed the flavour, adding a depth and intriguing sweetness to the sauce. I loved it but my son and his dad preferred my usual recipe so I will leave it to you to decide. Argentinean Malbec goes down a treat with this meal.

Cooking Tip: Black Garlic Bolognese Sauce. Fry the onions until golden. Remove from pan. Fry minced beef until browned all over. Drain any excess liquid and add fried onions along with a few black garlic cloves and red peppers. Stir in passata or tomato puree, a good glug of red wine (any plonk will do) and fry for a few minutes. Add some chicken stock and a hefty dollop of Black Garlic Ketchup. Cover pan and simmer for about 30 minutes. Serve with pasta and grated cheese.

5.  Spanish Omelette with salad and sourdough bread

Spanish Omelette and salad with Black Garlic Ketchup - photo zoe dawes

A marriage made in heaven; Spanish omelette, salad and fresh sourdough bread. Eating it reminds me of happy family holidays in Spain. Serving it with Black Garlic Ketchup brings together all the flavours in one deliciously harmonious plate of food. Of course, you should have it with Spanish beer, but I like Peroni from Italy. Any chilled white wine goes well too.

Cooking Tip: Spanish omelette, quirky style. Cut waxy new potatoes (skins on or off) into thick slices and fry gently in olive oil with thinly sliced onions, for about 30 minutes. Strain and return to the pan. Whisk eggs (one per person) and pour over potatoes, with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes then, if you feel brave, turn over omelette and cook a couple more minutes. I finish it off under the grill and serve with a grating of Menorcan cheese.

Spanish omelette in frying pan

Finally, for something quite different, check out this recipe for Aubergine and Black Garlic hummus. You can buy Black Garlic Ketchup online or at their Hawkshead shop in the heart of the Lake District. Many thanks to Maria at Hawkshead Relish for giving me a sample to try; the views (and recipes) are my own.

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5 ways with Hawkshead Relish Black Garlic Ketchup

Read more food-related articles:

Tasty Fun at Kendal Food Festival

Delicious Food and Drink in Dundee

Food Photography Top Tips

February 10, 2017

5 romantic experiences with a difference in Scandinavia

5 romantic experiences with a difference in Scandinavia
Snowmobile on frozen lake in Finland Scandinavia

Snowmobile in Finland

You may not automatically think of Scandinavia when you the consider things to do around Valentine’s Day. A proposal on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a romantic dinner in Rome, a luxurious hotel in the Lake District or maybe a gentle stroll along a beach in Spain? However, there are many lovely experiences to be had in the Nordic countries of Europe, especially in winter; here are 5 of my favourites

Scandinavia – Norway

Take ‘the world’s most beautiful voyage’ to the Arctic Circle

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour Norway Scandinavia

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour

The famous Hurtigruten Ferry may not be the most luxurious of cruise ships but what she lacks in grandeur she more than makes up for in romantic adventurousness. Still running as a postal service, ferries sail daily from Bergen via deep Norwegian fjords up to Tromsø and Kirkenes in the Arctic Circle. You pass some of the world’s most stunning scenery and in winter the snow-clad landscapes are truly breathtaking. Stops include Havoysund and Honningsvag from where you can get off to visit the North Cape. It’s an unforgettable voyage.

Melt the ice in a Snow Hotel

Moomintroll and Snork Maiden in Kirkenes Snow Hotel - Norway

Moomintroll and Snork Maiden in Kirkenes Snow Hotel

On the outskirts of Kirkenes, 250 miles into the Arctic Circle, you will find a very special place to stay. Snuggle up together in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel and you’ll feel on top of the world – literally. Every year tons of ice are used to create a unique hotel which positively encourages togetherness. When I was there, two couples were on their honeymoon and there’d been an engagement party the night before. Each ‘bedroom’ has a different theme with beautifully lit ice-sculptures throughout. The temperature is a regular -4 degrees Celsius and there are lots of activities including husky and reindeer rides. Scandinavia accommodation doesn’t get ‘cooler’ than this …

Sweden

Get away from it all with Greta Garbo

 Ystad Saltsjöbad Hot Tubs Sweden Scandinavia

Ystad Saltsjöbad Hot Tubs

To be precise, stay in the hotel where Greta Garbo, the reclusive Swedish actress, went to get away from it all in her homeland. The Ystad Saltjöbsad Hotel in the Skåne region of south Sweden has everything you want from a luxury break in Scandinavia. Gorgeous beach setting, gourmet dining, classic Swedish design and the indulgent spa are all highly conducive to romance. Enjoy a bottle of champagne in a double bath or relax together in one of the outdoor hot tubs – perfect any time of year.

Have fika – anytime, anywhere

Fika in Malmo Sweden

Fika in Malmo

Share a big piece of chocolate cake or light-as-a-feather lemon sponge in a cosy cafe with the one you adore. The Swedes love their coffee and cake; you can get great bakes all over Scandinavia but in Sweden they make a big deal of Fika. It’s basically ‘coffee and cake with friends’ (or lovers!) and in most workplaces throughout the country they stop for fika everyday. I had the most divine brownies in a greenhouse at Malmo Castle – simple pleasures in Sweden.

Finland

Cuddle up on a husky ride through the frozen north

Husky sleigh in Finland

Husky sleigh in Finland

Wrapped up in reindeer furs, dashing through the snow on the husky sleigh in the north of Finland – magic. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to visit Finland as it’s covered in snow and there are lots of wonderful outdoor experiences for you to try. You could try reindeer racing or maybe a snowmobile safari across a frozen lake. In the evening sample local delicacies like Finnish meatballs, moose casserole, sauteed reindeer or Rönttönen, a pastry filled with lingonberries.

Iceland

Get hot and steamy with an old geysir

Geysir Hot Springs at Haukadalur

Hot Springs at Haukadalur

For a romantic break with a real difference, visit Iceland. This is definitely the quirkiest of the Nordic countries and can be very romantic. Stroll round the little streets of historic Reyjavik with its wooden houses, quaint museums and trendy bars. Take a tour of the Golden Circle to see the steamy geysirs and thundering Gulfoss Waterfall or go for a dip in the thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon.

And finally …

Kallbadhus Malmo 03 photo Oskar Falck c Malmö Turism Sweden Scandinavia

Kallbadhus Malmo – photo Oskar Falck c Malmö Turism

There are plenty more romantic things to do and places to see in Scandinavia. You might see the Northern Lights at any time in winter, or maybe discover Norse heritage in Greenland – more info here www.best-served.co.uk/destinations/greenland – or get even more off the beaten track in the Faroe Islands. Without doubt, Scandinavia has something for all lovers of romantic travel.

This article is in collaboration with Best Served Scandinavia, specialists in tailor-made holidays.

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Romantic Scandinavia Experiences by Zoe Dawes

January 21, 2017

Top 10 Tips for Food and Drink in Rome

Top 10 Tips for Food and Drink in Rome
La Renella Bakery in Trastevere Rome - photo zoe dawes

La Renella Bakery in Trastevere

Food and Italy; they go together like cheese and wine. With a culinary heritage going back centuries, Italians pride themselves on their knowledge and love of good food and drink. Rome’s historic sights attract visitors from around the world but the way to its heart is through its food and drink. Here are my top tips for making the most of Rome’s foodie scene.

Eating out in Rome

1.  Ask a Roman

Rome Restaurant L'Arcano

Ristorante L’Arcano

Rule Number One is always ‘Ask a Local’. Of course, you can use websites, blog posts, guide books and people who have visited but to discover the best places to eat and drink in Rome ask a Roman. It may be the hotel receptionist, someone you meet in a cafe or a friend of a friend. I got excellent tips from Citalia Rome Concierge Dany, who loves his city with a passion and was able to give me some very useful insider foodie tips. They included suggestions places for quick snacks, traditional meals, fine dining, good wines and local markets.

2. Try street food including ‘pizza al taglio’

Pizzarium Bonci Rome - photo Carlo Pesacane

Pizzarium Bonci – photo Carlo Pesacane

Pizza is Italy’s most famous export and Rome is renowned for the quality of its wood-fired pizzas. Search out the ‘hole in the wall’ pizzerias to try ‘pizza al taglio (a slice of pizza)  You can find these pizzerias all over the city. Da Remo (Piazza Santa Maria), Pizzarium Bonci (Via della Meloria) and La Boccacia in Trastevere come highly recommended. Eat on the hoof or sitting beside one of the historic sights.

Pepy's Bar Pizzeria Rome

Pepy’s Bar

I got a tasty artichoke and mushroom pizza to take-away from Pepy’s Bar on the Piazza Berberini. Their sandwiches are works of art. Other street food includes delicious pastries and pies; check out La Renella, one of Rome’s oldest bakeries, founded in 1848 (see photo above.)

3. Explore Trastevere by night

Papa Re Restaurant, Trastevere

Papa Re Restaurant

The narrow streets of Trastevere (across the Tiber) are crammed with excellent bars, cafes and restaurants. It’s difficult to get a bad meal here but rule of thumb says the more Italians there are and less tourists, the better the restaurant will be. Down a tiny lane away from the main area, I saw about 20 people (looking Italian) waiting patiently for a simple restaurant called da Enzo to open.. That’s a good sign. Wandering about in the early eve, I found a tiny bar buzzing with lively chat, serving a good selection of anti-pasti and simple main courses.

Aperol Spritz in Trastevere Bar, Rome

Aperol Spritz in Trastevere

I sat outside with an aperitif, Aperol Spritz (prosecco and Aperol), a dish a VERY fresh pistachios and watched the world go by. I can’t remember its name, but it was just round the corner from Le Mani in Pasta which is on Via dei Genovese (see Tip 4).

Rome at Night

4. Eat like a Roman

Artichokes in Trastevere Rome - photo zoe dawes

Artichokes

Seems obvious but so many people go abroad and then look for food they have back home. Search out Rome specialities like carciofi (artichokes) cooked in various ways, saltimbocca (veal escalope), gnocchi (potato dumplings), bucatini all’amatriciana (tomato-based sauce with pancetta, chilli and cheese) and suppli (fried rice balls coated in breadcrumbs with cheese or other filling) similar to arancini found in other parts of Italy. Freshly baked Italian bread such as focaccia with goat’s cheese is a simple treat.

Italian food in Rome - collage zoe dawes

Italian Food

5. Understand the Italian menu

Le Mani in Pasta menu Rome

Le Mani in Pasta menu (English translation)

The majority of restaurants in Rome will have menus in English but it is worth understanding the different courses. Antipasti (starter) may include cured meats, cheese, bruschetta (toasted bread with toppings), olives. Primi (first course) is usually a pasta dish or soup. Be warned, this may fill you up so much you won’t have space for Secondi (second course). This consists of either fish, meat, chicken and more commonly nowadays, a vegetarian option.

Fontana di Venere dinner Rome

Fontana di Venere dinner

Contorni are vegetable or salad dishes. Dolci is dessert, which could be tiramisu (coffee and cream), gelato or maybe panne cotta (cooked cream). Finally you may have a Caffè (coffee) or Digestivi (liquor such as grappa or limoncello) or both. Lunch is from around 12 noon – 2.30pm and dinner from 8pm – 11pm. (Adapted from Walks of Italy How to Read an Italian Menu.)

6. Eat well in in a Trattoria

Chef cooking spaghetti carbonara at 'Le Mani in Pasta' Trastevere Rome

Chef cooking spaghetti carbonara at ‘Le Mani in Pasta’

If you want simple food, served with (usually) friendly service, look for a trattoria, or osteria. These traditional restaurants, usually family-run, can be found all over Rome, but especially in Trastevere. They often have tables outside and offer a decent range of ‘home-made’ dishes and wines. The Menu de Dia, is good value, with a basic choice of starter, main and often dessert, plus a drink included in the price. One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at Le Mani in Pasta a stylish osteria in Trastevere. (See menu above.) The starter was sublime: bresaola (cured beef) with soft, creamy buffalo mozzarella and grapefruit slices. The sharpness of the fruit cut through the cheese and, despite it being such a large plate, I ate every divine mouthful.

Bresaola, mozarella and grapefruit - Le main in pasta restaurant, Rome - photo zoe dawes

Bresaola, mozarella and grapefruit

The waiter recommended house speciality spaghetti carbonara; I watched the chef cooking it through the kitchen window. It was glossily rich and went very well with Le Rubie, the house red from Lazio region. (See photo of spaghetti carbonara dish here) For dessert I had a refreshing lemon sorbet and finished off with an espresso.

7. Visit one of Rome’s markets

Cheese counter at Farmers Market Rome

Cheese counter at Farmers Market

One of the best ways to get a flavour of Rome is to wander round one if its markets. Here you will see the Romans doing one of their favourite things; debating which is the best meats, cheese, vegetables, fruit, flowers, wine, pasta, pulses, olive oil and flowers to take enjoy at home. Campo de’ Fiori is the best known, but for a quieter experience, try Circo Massimo Mercato di Campagna Amica (Circus Maximus Farmer’s Market.)

8. When in Rome – eat gelato

Pistachio Gelato in Rome Italy The Quirky Traveller

Enjoying my pistachio gelato in Rome

Italy has the best ice-cream in the world. Well, to be accurate, gelato is not ice-cream. It has a lower fat content but more sugar with fruit or nut flavourings . So when in Rome, eat gelato. Virtually every street in the main tourist areas of the city have a gelateria (ice-cream parlour) and it’s difficult to get a bad one. The best-known is Giolitti (Via degli Uffici del Vicario), a 19th c café near the Pantheon. One of my favourite flavours is pistachio; go for the sludgy green, not bright green, as it will be natural not artificially coloured.

9. Avoid the worst pizza in Rome

Rome's worst pizza at L'Ottagona

Rome’s worst pizza at L’Ottagona

A tip from Dany, the Citalia concierge; avoid cafes, bars, restaurants and shops right next to the famous sights like the Colosseum, the Parthenon and the Forum. Common sense, yes, but let this be a warning to you. I was joining a Grey Line tour of the Vatican City and we met beside cafe bar L’Ottagono, in Piazza del Risorgimento. I’d not eaten so for speed, even though Dany had told me to avoid it, I ordered a pizza. Don’t. It was as bad as it looks here; overcooked, flabby, salty ham and stringy cheese …

10. Shop for food and drink souvenirs

Panetteria Romana in Rome Italy

Panetteria Romana

Take home a flavour of Rome (import regulations permitting!) from one of the many foodie shops, delicatessens or wineries in Rome. Olive oil, fresh herbs, cheese, olives and pasta are all easy to pack and will remind you of Rome. Lazio region wines include some very good whites, including Orvieto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and reds from such as SangioveseMontepulciano and Merlot grapes. I brought back a rope of garlic bulbs and some fragrant rose-flavoured biscuits from the market and crunchy almond biscotti from Paneterria Romana in Trastevere. Delicious flavours from a tasty weekend in Rome …

Italian delicatessen Rome

Italian delicatessen Rome

Many thanks to Citalia, leading specialist in Italian holidays, who organised 48 hours in Rome weekend. They earned the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula for six consecutive years. The Citalia team are friendly, expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Rome page. This trip was a Travelator Media world-wide campaign. Find out more about Travelator Media here.

I do hope you have enjoyed this taste of Rome – leave a comment here and if you have any tips for where else to eat in Rome I’d love to know.

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Top 10 Food and Drink Tips - Rome Italy

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