Tag Archives: hotel
May 2, 2017

Flamingos and cocktails on Renaissance Aruba Resort private island

Flamingo in front of Mangrove Beach Bar - Renaissance Aruba

Luxury hotels around the world vie with each other for a Unique Selling Point that differentiates them from the rest of the very luxurious herd. Well, the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino has an ace up its highly-coutured sleeve. Its very own private island … with its very own flock of flamingos. And Flamingo Beach on Renaissance Island is adults-only so the kiddies don’t pester the birds. I have been fortunate to stay in some of the loveliest hotels in the world but this one tops them all for sheer gorgeousness with a quirky twist.

Hotel Renaissance Aruba flamingos - photo zoe dawesThere is something delightfully bonkers about flamingos. With their spindly legs, sinuous necks, hooked beaks, salmon pink plumage and weird yellow eyes, they look like something designed by Salvador Dali. I first remember seeing a picture of a flamingo in Lewis Carrol’s surreal story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; she had a large flamingo tucked under her arm. It was looking understandably cross as she was using it a croquet mallet. I’ve seen them in zoos but never, until a truly memorable holiday in Aruba, had I seen them in their natural habitat.

Flamingo on Renaissance Aruba island - photo zoe dawes

Well, actually it’s not really their natural habitat as they have been brought in by Renaissance Aruba to add some quirky colour to the island. There were seven of them when I visited, very tame and very fond of cocktails! They seemed especially fond of Aruba Ariba, a heady mix of local liquer Coecoei, Caribbean rum and a lot more. Visitors can buy flamingo food from the beach bar and it’s a novel experience to sit in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean sipping a cocktail and have a flamingo peck from your hand 🙂

Feeding flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Island

Renaissance Aruba has two hotels on Aruba; I stayed in the adults-only Renaissance Marina Hotel in downtown Ornajestad, the island’s capital. The Renaissance Ocean Suites across the road, has comfortable suites perfect for families or couples. Both hotels have access to Renaissance Aruba Private Island via the hotel launch which runs regularly from morning to evening. It’s a real treat to step onto the boat INSIDE the Marina Hotel lobby, emerge into the Caribbean sunshine, pootle past the millionaire’s yachts to the Ocean Suites to pick up more guests then whizz across your every own private island.

Renaissance Aruba Private Island paradise

There are two main beaches; Iguana Beach is for families and Flamingo Beach is for adults – and flamingos. Sun beds and hammocks entice visitors to relax and forget about everyday cares. Spa Cove is ideal for full-on pamper sessions and Papagayo Bar and Grill serves simple meals, including excellent wood-fired pizzas with beach waiter service.  At the Mangrove Beach Bar you can get one of those popular Ariba Aruba cocktails the flamingos are so fond of. (You can watch one necking back a cocktail in the video at the end of this article …)

Ariba Aruba Cocktail

Ariba Aruba Cocktail

Renaissance Island offers a range of water sport activities, beach-tennis courts and a fitness facility. You can even watch the planes land at Aruba Airport opposite. The 40-acre island has mangroves all around and a nature reserve at one end. I saw lots of iguanas including a bright blue bobby-dazzler and a friendly pelican perched very close to my hammock one day.

Hotel Renaissance Aruba Island pelican

However, it’s the flamingos that make the island so special and the reason I’d book to stay at the Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino, as opposed to any of the many other excellent hotels here. There are plenty of things to do on Aruba but without doubt, my favourite was relaxing on a beach with a little flock of quirkilicious flamingos …

Watch Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Island

Want to see the flamingos up close – and quaffing a cocktail? Here you go!

Special thanks to our host Amayra Boekhoudt, who looked after us on behalf of Aruba Tourism. If you’d like to find out more, visit Aruba website and follow their hashtags #discoveraruba and #onehappyisland on Social Media.

Find out more things to do on Aruba here

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Flamingos on Renaissance Aruba Private Island

April 4, 2017

A fabulous night to remember at Cumbria Family Business Awards

Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton - Cumbria Family Business Awards

CFBA organisers Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton – photo Victoria Sedgewick

‘I gotta feeling’ by the Black-Eyed Peas rocked out from the speakers as Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton stepped onto the stage to announce the start of the very first Cumbria Family Business Awards. Sue, whose company, Coulson Associates was one of the CFBA  sponsors, Janett and Sophia had worked tirelessly for many months in the run-up to the ceremony in March 201 7.  “From over 100 applications we had to whittle it down to about 30 finalists. The judging panel really had their work cut out!”  The tone for the evening was set as they held up the ‘Wrong Envelope‘; a reference to the recent Oscars fiasco when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read out the wrong name of the Best Picture winner!

Cumbria Family Business Awards - the Wrong Envelope

Sue, Janett and Sophia with the ‘Wrong Envelope’

An audience of 250 people, including the finalists, their families and friends plus sponsors, judges and the media, enjoyed a fabulous evening with delicious food, plenty of drink and a fair smattering of gossip. As Sister Sledge belted out ‘We are Family’ the celebrity host stepped up to the mike …

Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017

Dave Myers opens Cumbria Family Business Awards

Dave Myers introduces the finalists

Let’s face it, you don’t choose to have a business in Cumbria to make millions. You do it because it’s a great place to live and work.” So said TV chef Dave Myers as he opened this glittering event at the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal on the edge of the Lake District. All the businesses nominated for the Cumbria Family Business Awards are family-run, and many have links with the area going back for generations. Some could move away from the area and probably be more profitable, but choose to stay in and around the Lake District because of its inspirational landscape and local links. There were 12 categories plus Ones to Watch. Finalists included well-known names such as Hawkshead Relish, English Lakes Hotels and The Herdy Company as well as lesser-known but equally significant business including The Churchmouse in Barbon, West Coast Composting and JB Banks, as small ironmongers in Cockermouth. Winners included Zeffirelli’s Restaurant and Cinema (Food & Drink Establishments), PHX Training Providers (Professional Business Services), Sally’s Cottages (Smalle Leisure and Tourism Business) and Bells of Lazonby who won Food and Drink Producers AND Outstanding Cumbrian Family Business of the Year.

Winners Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017

Zeffirellis, PHX Training, Sally’s Cottages and Bells of Lazenby

The beautiful glass awards were made by local artist Jo Vincent, ‘…. designed to reflect the intimate relationship between family businesses and Cumbria.’  The ‘star prize’ was an enormous ceramic bowl, created by Siobhan Newton. ‘It combines three iconic Cumbria materials: Egremont Haematite, Coniston Slate and Shap Granite – along with Cumbrian rainwater!‘ Full list of the Winners of Cumbria Family Business Awards here. I was seated on the Lamont Pridmore table, main sponsors of the event, along with Bells of Lazonby, who were clearly overwhelmed at winning both their category and the overall award. “It’s such a great honour. We really had no idea we’d win, especially against such strong finalists.”

Cumbria Family Business Awards Dinner - Castle Green Hotel Kendal

Dinner at Castle Green Hotel

Earlier, as guests arrived, a welcoming Drinks Reception Market served up sparkling wine and got us all in the mood. Photographer Victoria Sedgwick had us all posing for glitterati photos and Castle Green Hotel did us proud on the hospitality front.  We ate very well on local produce that night. I had Cartmel Valley smoked salmon, smoked salmon rillette, beetroot, horseradish and rye bread, followed by Eden Valley chicken, fondant potato, shallots, wild mushrooms and broad beans, finished off with delicious Windermere Ice Cream and Grasmere Gingerbread. All served with excellent wines – thank you Graham Lamont! Every table had Wax Lyrical candles, bottles of Hawkshead Relish’s new product, Black Garlic Ketchup, prints by artist Daniel Cooper and also signed copies of books by Cumbrian authors to take home. I chose Dances with the Daffodils by Matthew Connolly.

Paula Scott, Sue Coulson and Zoe Dawes at Cumbria Family Business Awards

Paula Scott, Sue Coulson and Zoe Dawes at CFBA Awards – photo Victoria Sedgwick

Dave Myers was an excellent host, bringing his inimitable humour and a local awareness that was much appreciated by everyone. He stayed on until every award had been given, every hand had been shaken and every selfie had been taken. A real gent and a great Barrovian ambassador. This photo of the winners sums up a great evening of fun and laughter, business excellence and Cumbrian friendliness.

Cumbria Family Business Awards winners 2017

Cumbria Family Business Awards winners 2017

Many thanks to Sue Coulson of Coulson Associates, Janett Walker of Make it Happen and Sophia Newton, The Good News Girl for inviting me join in such a wonderful celebration. More CFBA photos by Victoria Sedgwick here.

Castle Green Hotel

I stayed overnight in the Castle Green Hotel, a four star hotel on the outskirts of Kendal, in one of their very luxurious Executive Bedrooms, complete with a huge four-poster bed. See what the room really looks like; watch this short video recorded on my arrival, before the CFBA evening started.

For many years I was a member of the hotel’s excellent gym; use of their Health and Fitness Club with swimming pool and spa was included in my stay. Breakfast was delicious and I was pleased to see local produce including Hawkshead Relish sauces, Cumberland Sausage, Lakeland Mues muesli, organic milk and bread from More Bakery in Staveley.

Breakfast Castle Green Hotel Kendal

Breakfast at Castle Green Hotel

Find out more about Cumbria Family Business Awards and Cumbria Family Business Network here.

September 27, 2016

An ideal walking holiday on the Yorkshire coast

Surfer walking along Whitby Cliffs, North Yorkshire - zoedawes

Surfer on Whitby Cliffs

Striding along the cliff top, the surfer added a somewhat incongruous element to this view of Whitby by the North Sea on the Yorkshire coast. I was here on a walking holiday with HF Holidays, and enjoying the great weather before going to Larpool Hall, where I was staying for 3 nights.

Whitby Abbey Yorkshire - walking holiday - photo zoedawes

Whitby Abbey

Walking Holiday: Day 1 – Whitby

Famous as inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, dramatic Whitby Abbey dates back to the 13th c. I spent an hour wandering about and taking photos, watching children having a go at archery and listening to the excellent audio-guide. Then I headed off to Robin Hood’s Bay, one of the North Yorkshire Coast’s most popular tourist spots.

Robin Hoods Bay Yorkshire - zoedawes

The tiny harbour marks the end of the Coast to Coast Walk, which starts near where I live, on the Cumbria coast, at St Bees. It was lovely to see so many people enjoying the summer sun, sitting outside the pub, dabbling in the rock pools, paddling in the sea and sunbathing on the beach. A perfect summer’s day.

HF Holidays - Larpool Hall - Whitby Photo zoedawes

HF Holidays – Larpool Hall

I arrived at Georgian Larpool Hall in the late afternoon and was welcomed by friendly Assistant Manager Sally who showed me around. My en-suite single bedroom overlooked the courtyard and had everything you’d want for a few days’ stay.

Larpool Hall - Whitby - HF Holidays

Larpool Hall

I had missed afternoon tea but was in time to meet fellow guests and go for the introductory walk with Christine Brook,  our guide for the next few days. HF Holidays runs with a large team of volunteer guides who play a huge part in the success of the company. Christine gave us a bit of history of the Larpool Hall, then we went along the railway trail which goes past the back of the house.

Hf Holidays walking group on Whitby Viaduct - photo zoedawes

Christine and walking group on Whitby Viaduct

We stopped at the local secondary school which has a replica of a Celtic Cross to commemorate Anglo Saxon poet Caedmon, who looked after the animals at Whitby Abbey in the 7thc AD. On our walk back we saw the abbey silhouetted  in the evening sun and caught a glimpse of a North Yorkshire Moors Railway steam train puffing into the town centre.

Whitby Harbour, abbey and steam train - yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Whitby Harbour

Back at Larpool Hall, there was just time to get changed before Christine gave us a briefing about the next day’s walk, along the coast. I was a bit unsure of the protocol for dinner but a helpful waiter explained it was free seating so I joined one of the circular dining tables. The food is excellent – I can see why guests love it here. I’ve been on a number of group holidays and sometimes the food lets it down. Not at Larpool Hall.

Meals at Larpool Hall HF Holidays Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Meals at Larpool Hall

Table-talk was convivial and everyone was very friendly. I was there on my own but not for one minute did I feel lonely. After dinner about 40 of us took part in a lively General Knowledge Quiz, ably chaired by Christine. Every evening there was an organised activity but they’re not compulsory; I spent one evening chatting with fellow guests at the bar. There was a stunning sunset; sadly the maxim; ‘Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight‘ was not so accurate.

Sunset at Larpool Hall Whitby - photo zoedawes

Sunset at Larpool Hall

Walking Holiday: Day 2 – North Yorkshire Coast

The Cleveland Way - Runswick Bay to Staithes - Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

The Cleveland Way – Runswick Bay to Staithes

The next morning was overcast but dry. After an excellent cooked breakfast, I collected my packed lunch. The day before, I’d ordered a sandwich from a list of fillings and bread; it was waiting in the dining room, along with a tempting selection of ‘ingredients’ which include fresh fruit, raw vegetables, cheese and crackers, dried fruit, hard-boiled eggs, cake, biscuits and loads more.

Packed lunch selection at HF Holidays Larpool Hall Whitby - image zoedawes

HF Holidays Lunch

Our mini-bus took us to Runswick Bay, the starting point for our coastal walk to Staithes. Originally a fishing village, now it’s a very popular tourist destination. The quaint fishing cottages are mostly holiday homes and it has one of Britain’s few independent Life Boat Stations. It was misty so the views across the Bay were limited but it wasn’t raining and we were all in very good spirits.

Runswick Bay Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Runswick Bay

We set off along the Cleveland Way, following a well-marked path that took us along what would be a spectacular coastline, had the sea fret not rolled in and obscured our view. Access to the little bay of Port Mulgrave is currently closed due to erosion of the cliffs. Christine explained the old harbour was used to transport iron ore, which was mined locally and taken to Jarrow for processing. Through the mist we could just make out some old buildings and the remains of the pier.

Port Mulgrave on Cleveland Way - Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Port Mulgrave

We arrived in Staithes in time for lunch, which we ate on the attractive harbour front. Formerly a mining/fishing village, Staithes is on the way up, as can been seen in the rebuilding and new shops opening up everywhere. BBC TV children’s series Old Jack’s Boat, starring Bernard Cribbins, is filmed here and there are plenty of souvenir and craft shops, plus an Art Gallery. Staithes was home to the Staithes Group, a 19thc art colony.

Old Jack's Boat Staithes

Old Jack’s Boat banner

The quirky little Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre has a comprehensive collection of  Cook memorabilia, collected by the owner in charming higglede-piggeldy displays. There’s also a unique exhibition of photographs and objects telling the story of Staithes. It’s one of the best small museums I’ve ever seen.

Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre

Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre

It started to rain as we got into the mini bus to take us back to Whitby. Some went back to Larpool Hall and a few of us joined Christine for an afternoon walk round the town. Even in the pouring rain, Whitby has an evocative charm all its own. We saw Captain Cook’s statue, the Whalebone Arch, the hotel where Bram Stoker wrote ‘Dracula‘, the jet shops along the little lanes and the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey.

Whitby in the rain - HF Holidays - Yorkshire - photo zoedawes

Our group in Whitby rain

Our walk back took us through Pannett Park, where we stopped off at the Art Gallery and Whitby Museum. We got back to Larpool Hall in the late afternoon, nicely worn-out after our day’s walking and ready for another delicious dinner.

Walking Holiday: Day 3 – Castle Howard

Castle Howard and Atlas Fountain - Yorkshire - zoedawes

Castle Howard and Atlas Fountain

The sun shone throughout our final day of the walking holiday. Our coach driver dropped us off on the edge of the Castle Howard estate and we took a leisurely stroll past the Temple of the Four Winds, the Mausoleum and the Pyramid – and a very fine herd of Angus cattle.

Yorkshire HF Walking Holiday - Castle Howard - photo zoedawes

Our day was spent exploring the grounds and interior of Castle Howard, built between 1699 and 1702. The top of the famous dome is being re-gilded but the beauty of the house is still apparent, especially when viewed from the splendid Atlas Fountain. I ate my packed lunch in the delicately scented Rose Garden.

The Rose Garden - Castle Howard Yorkshire- photo zoedawes

The Rose Garden

Every room in Castle Howard is a treasure trove of beautiful paintings, impressive sculptures and exquisite furniture, much dating from its heyday in the Georgian era. The interior view of the dome (restored after a serious fire) is breathtaking and there is an interesting display of photographs from the filming of Brideshead Revisited. The Howard family Chapel has lovely Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows designed by Edward Burne-Jones.

Inside Castle Howard - collage zoedawes

Inside Castle Howard

On our way back to Larpool Hall we crossed the North Yorkshire Moors which were flooded with purple heather. That evening dinner was very lively as we shared our favourite parts of the walking holiday. Christine organised a little quiz for those staying in and took me down to the town centre for the last night of the Whitby Folk Festival. Listening to sea shanties and blues music sung in a traditional pub seemed a very fitting end to a very memorable few days on the Yorkshire Coast.

Singer in pub Whitby Folk Festival

Singer in Whitby pub

Many thanks to HF Holidays for inviting me. You can find out more about their Walking with Sightseeing Holidays here. Thanks also to Christine for cheerful guidance on the walking holiday and to Sally and the team at Larpool Pool for being so helpful and friendly. Finally, a special mention to the friends I made during the trip and to my feisty fellow walkers. It was a real pleasure to spend time exploring the Yorkshire coast and surrounding area together.

In front of Temple of the Winds, Castle Howard - HF Holidays - zoedawes

Our walking group in front of Temple of the Winds, Castle Howard

March 29, 2015

Food and Drink in Dundee – a city of delicious surprise

Historic Dundee on the Firth of Tay on the east coast of Scotland is having a renaissance after a tough period of change. I’d only been to Dundee once before, in the 1990s, so when Visit Scotland invited me to return as part of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, I was interested what improvements had been made. Dundee is the first UNESCO City of Design in the UK and in 2018 the new V&A Museum of Design is due to open. There are plenty of things to see and do, including the McManus Gallery, Jute Works Museum and fascinating Discovery Point, home to the ship in which Scott and crew explored the Antarctic.

Dundee City Riverfront - image Zoe Dawes

Dundee Riverfront

Food and Drink in Dundee

In the past, Scotland suffered from a rather poor reputation for food and dining experiences, but things are changing, as I discovered in tasty style during my weekend in Dundee. Aitken’s Wines, established in 1874, stocks an extensive selection of wines from around the world. They import very special German wines from Bürgerspital in Würzberg, Dundee’s twin town.

Aitken's Burgerspital wines Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

Aitken’s Burgerspital wines

Of course there’s also an excellent collection of whiskies but it was other spirits that surprised me. Director Patrick Rohde said, “Whisky may be what Scotland’s best known for, but we’re now producing some really excellent gin and vodka too. We’ve also got quite a few local micro-breweries producing award-winning beers.” I spent a very enjoyable hour tasting some very fine gins and vodkas – all in the spirit of research you understand …

Aitkens - Wines and Spirits Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

Aitkens – Wines and Spirits

The pub, bar and restaurant scene is really thriving now. With two top-class universities and a reputation for world-beating medical and technology research, there is a young population, adding to its diversity. On Friday night I had dinner at the very popular D’Arcy Thompson with Dundee City PR Jennie Patterson. She explained that in the past few years the number of places to eat out has more than doubled and that the standard is really high. My starter of Arbroath Smokies, beautifully presented followed by Black Isle ribeye steak certainly set a very high standard.

Arbroath smokies D'arch Thompson Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

Arbroath Smokies starter

I loved the quirky surroundings of the bar. D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson was a Scottish biologist and mathematician whose writings on the mathematical beauty of nature influenced such diverse people as Alan Turing, Henry Moore and Jackson Pollock. The bar has an intriguing collection of memorabilia related to this famous Scot.

Taypark House Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

Taypark House

I stayed in comfortable luxury at elegant Taypark House, on the Perth Road, once one of the Jute Baron’s houses.  The Eggs Benedict I had for breakfast was quite simply one of the best I have ever had. The poached eggs softly broke over the heaped pile of spinach, melting into delicious salmon chunks. With a bowl of fresh fruit and a big cup of strong coffee, a great way to start the day.

Eggs Benedict Tay Park House Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

Eggs Benedict

A burgeoning café culture is bringing in visitors from the neighbouring villages and towns, including pretty Newport and posh St Andrews. Jennie took me into quite a few but the one that gets my top vote has to be The Parlour Cafe.

The Parlour Cafe Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

The Parlour Cafe

Situated just over the road from D’Arcy Thompson, it’s a (mainly) vegetarian café serving truly scrumptious cakes, rolls, biscuits, muffins and tarts and lots of other freshly made food. Jennie insisted I try the frangipane tart. For a few moments I was in sublime foodie heaven – worth a visit to Dundee just for a slice of this meltingly divine treat!

Slice of frangipane tart at Parlour Cafe Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

Slice of frangipane tart

The culinary highlight of my weekend was learning how to make the classic Dundee Cake with Alan Clark of Clark’s 24 Hour Bakery, a long-standing institution in the city. Alan explained how the cake got one of its key ingredient. “A local marmalade company called Keiller’s is supposed to have produced the first mass-produced cake in the 19th c, using left-over Seville oranges from its production of the popular marmalade. We use a traditional recipe, including top quality sultanas and local eggs.”

Dundee Cake ingredients Clarks - image Zoe Dawes

Dundee Cake ingredients

Alan used a small machine to mix the ingredients but it was placed into the tins by hand. It was great fun getting hands-on to put the gloopy mixture into the tins and place the requisite almonds on top.

Dundee Cake Mixology Clarks Bakery Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

Dundee Cake Mixology

The finished cakes looked, and tasted, delicious. They are sold locally and around the UK, whilst individual slices are packaged up for cruise ships.

Dundee Cakes at Clarks Bakery Dundee - image Zoe Dawes

Freshly baked Dundee Cakes

Saturday night out in Dundee provides plenty of eating and drinking choices. I went to the Italian Grill on the City Square, not far from the statue of Desperate Dan and Mini the Minx. DC Thompson & Co Ltd, creators of the Dandy, Beano, Bunty and many more magazines, is based here. The lively restaurant offers a wide range of Italian and Continental food with friendly service and birthday sparklers. I enjoyed the seafood linguine and amaretto cheesecake. There’s also outdoor seating for balmy nights and sunny days.

Italian Grill and Dundee City Square

Italian Grill and Dundee City Square

A short drive from Dundee centre is Broughty Ferry, an attractive village on the banks of the River Tay, with good eateries and pubs including the Anchor Bar, Ship Inn and Sol y Sombra Tapas Bar. After a quick drink in the quaint Fisherman’s Tavern, Jennie and I met Marco Caira at Visocchi’s, an Italian ice cream parlour and café here since 1954.

Marco at Visocchi's Gelateria Broughty Ferry - image Zoe Dawes

Marco at Visocchi’s

Of course we had to have an ice cream. Spoilt for choice, I went for Marco’s recommendation of their award-winning pistachio flavour, made with real nuts and Jennie chose limoncello. We ate them on the riverside, overlooking Broughty Castle.

The Quirky Traveller at Broughty Castle - image Zoe Dawes

Which one do you want?

On my final night at Tay Park House, I relaxed in the lounge with a wee dram. I was recommended to try the Balvenie, a 12 year old single malt whisky which went down a treat. As I relaxed in front of their cosy fire in the warmth of the lounge, I reflected on the varied and flavoursome food and drink I’d had during my visit. There’s absolutely no doubt it – Dundee is well and truly on the foodie map.

Dundee souvenirs - image Zoe Dawes

Dundee souvenirs

Many thanks to Visit Scotland for hosting me in Dundee, Jennie Patterson for showing me round and sharing her passion for the city, the owners and staff at Tay Park House for their hospitality and Dundee City for a great taste of Scotland!

More on Dundee:

Visit the Verdant Works Jute Museum

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Top Tips for food and drink in Dundee Scotland

March 1, 2015

Top travel safety tips for holidays

Going on holiday abroad or in your own country can be a joy, but it’s always sensible to take a few precautions to ensure you say safe, don’t lose precious possessions and return home in one piece.

Holiday hat and suitcase

Here is some practical travel safety tips based on personal experience. Make sure your luggage has secure locks. I once had a load of CDs stolen from an unlocked suitcase in an African airport whilst in transit. Keep an eye on all your belongings, especially on public transport or in open places. My purse was nicked whilst celebrating New Year’s Eve in Trafalgar Square. Avoid ‘dodgy’ areas of cities – ask a local if you are not sure. I ended up staying in a ‘short-time’ hotel  ie brothel in Singapore and found myself in a very dodgy situation that night! Don’t take your favourite/most valuable jewellery away with you. I left my engagement ring on a hotel bedside table and checked out. Only realised it had gone the next day – too late.

Sharon Matthews Travel CounsellorTravel Counsellor Sharon Matthews provides a wide range of leisure and business travel services to her customers. She very kindly agreed to share her top 5 travel safety tips from over 15 year’s experience in the retail travel industry.

Use a Safe

Hotel Safe Box

If you have the option to use a safe in your hotel room, take advantage of this. I would always recommend you don’t travel with unnecessary valuables but ensure any jewellery you aren’t wearing is tucked safely away with cash, currency cards, phones, cameras, tablets, tickets and passports. If not you can usually give it the hotel for safe-keeping.

Be accessible

More than ever before we seem to want to be in contact with home or work whilst we are away. Call your mobile provider before you travel to see what bundle deals are available to you before you go. Sometimes for just a few £’s a day you will be able to access your voicemails, make and receive calls and text messages that would otherwise add an additional unwanted cost on your holiday. Always use free wi-fi where you can to avoid downloading emails at a high cost.

Get your EHIC (European Health Insurance Card)

Passport and EHIC - image Zoe Dawes

Passport and EHIC

The EHIC (formerly E111 card) does not replace travel insurance but you may be asked to produce it in European Economic Area countries as it may give you access to state provided healthcare at a reduced cost. There are obviously conditions applicable to this so it is equally important to have travel insurance too as well.

Take a copy of your passport

Make a copy of your passport/s before you travel and email it/them to yourself. In the unlikely event your passport is lost or stolen this inconvenient event will be made simpler if you have a copy of your passport available. If you’re travelling as a family or group make sure someone has a copy of all of them.

Be aware of where you are

Quebec City, Canada in the evening - image Zoe Dawes

Quebec City in the evening

In most tourist destinations you will find your bearings pretty quickly, but if you are travelling alone, or just have a couple of nights in each destination, it pays to have a map and seek advice from your accommodation on what to see and do, both day and night. Do not head off the beaten track at night, stay in well-lit areas that are busy and plan your route back to your hotel in advance. Always have the number and address of your accommodation on you (often you can pick up a card at reception) in case you find yourself disorientated plus local currency ’emergency funds’ should you need to get a taxi.

London street scene - image Zoe Dawes

London street

So, wherever you go this year, follow these simple travel safety tips and you should be fine and dandy 🙂

February 6, 2015

Cocktail hour at the Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

You know that feeling when all is right with the world? Yes, that one we don’t often get but when we do, we appreciate it in our very soul … Well, I had one of those moments sipping a vodka cocktail in the divinely decadent surroundings of the Chateau Frontenac Hotel in historic Quebec City, Canada.

Vodka cocktail at Le Chateau Frontenac Quebec City - image Zoe Dawes

Vodka cocktail at Le Chateau Frontenac

The bar, reminiscent of an English Gentlemen’s Club with big leather sofas and high-backed armchairs, has been renamed the 1608 Wine and Cheese Bar – a VERY mundane name for such opulent surroundings IMO.  Le Rene Levesque Cocktail is made with top quality vodka and chicoutai, which is a tasty little cloudberry liquor. A couple of these little zingers will make you pleasantly at peace with the world. I suspect three would probably knock you out.

Annick at Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Annick brings the cocktail

Annick, smartly attired in natty waistcoast and gold tie, explained that the cocktail was named after René Lévesque, premier of Quebec province. I had spent a delicious day eating out in Quebec City so I was ready to unwind and relax for the evening. Le Chateau Frontenac was directly opposite the charming Auberge Place d’Armes, where I was staying, so it wasn’t far to totter for cocktail hour …

Chateau Frontenac at night, Quebec City - image Zoe Dawes

Chateau Frontenac at night

This was my first time to visit Canada. I’d already had a couple of days in Montreal and was now enjoying exploring this intriguing city, crammed full of fascinating places to visit and things to do. Compact, friendly and easy to get round, it’s a joy for tourists, and the French language adds a quirky familiarity to those of us from Europe.

Quebec City and Le Chateau Frontenac - image Zoe Dawes

Quebec City and Le Chateau Frontenac

That hour spent watching the St Lawrence River flow darkly past the Chateau Frontenac windows as I sipped my cocktail stays with me as a perfect little moment in time…

September 25, 2014

Traditional South Tyrol food and wine with a gastronomic twist

“You may not remember the name, but you will certainly remember the experience.” So said Karl Meir as we stood outside his large wooden farm house, gazing across the green ribbon of Val di Vizze/Pfitschertal in South Tyrol (aka Alta Adige), sheltered by steely grey mountains and ancient trees.

View of Val di Vizze from Pretzhof restuarant, South Tyrol, Italy - by Zoe Dawes

South Tyrol valley from Pretzhof restuarant

He’d just shown off four huge pigs, not in clover but lying flat out in their stall after a very hearty breakfast of freshly-cut grass threaded through with colourful flowers. “We’ve over 60 varieties of wild flowers here. We look after the land and the land looks after us.” Karl is a very passionate man. He doesn’t just believe in ecological farming, he lives, breathes and sermonises about it a very infectious manner.

Karl and Ulli Mair - Pretzhof Restaurant, South Tyrol, Italy

Karl and Ulli Mair

Pretzhof has been in the Mair family for over 300 years and is now almost fully sustainable, with its own hydro-electric power and the majority of the restaurant’s food coming from their land. Karl gave me a quick tour before lunch. In keeping with the listed status of the farm buildings, the underground cheese and meat stores have been designed with the care and consideration. His superb wine cellar reflects not only the fact that South Tyrol is one of the top wine-producing regions of Italy, but also Karl’s extensive and knowledgeable love of the grape.

Lunch at Pretzhof restaurant, South Tyrol, Italy

Lunch at Pretzhof restaurant

Lunch in the tastefully decorated wood-panelled restaurant was a mouth-watering medley of traditional dishes, all local produce, well-cooked by Karl’s wife Ulli and beautifully presented. Not only did we have their own speck (smoked, cured ham) and a wide variety of mountain cheeses, but venison and chamois meats (Karl is also a hunter), melt-in-the-mouth crepes, seasonal mushrooms, richly flavoured shoulder of pork with shards of translucent cabbage and tiny roast potatoes, all served with a glass of ‘Comitissa’ sparkling wine and St Magdaler red wine. I had to decline a dessert but did manage a little cup of coffee to round of a sublime gastronomic experience. And yes, of course, I will always remember the name Pretzhof !

Fresh flowers on the Pretzhof bar, South Tyrol, Italy - image Zoe Dawes

Fresh flowers on the Pretzhof bar

I was on a long weekend in South Tyrol to discover the gastronomic delights and cultural attractions of this intriguing region of Italy. The previous evening, fellow travel bloggers and I had been driven by our local guide, Deborah, up a narrow winding road to another little farmhouse, high above Bolzano. This was our introduction to the traditional cuisine of South Tyrol, in the charming (and untouristy) surroundings of a Tyrolean Stube (parlour) at Patscheider restaurant. We decided to have a platter of cheeses and meats, including speck, of course, so we could taste a bit of everything. Flavoursome stuffed artichoke hearts made an unusual accompaniment.

Dinner at Patscheider Hof, South Tyrol, Italy

Dinner at Patscheider Hof

A basket of different breads included Schuettelbrot, a crisp rye flatbread flavoured with caraway seeds. We had to try the South Tyrolean dumplings, Spinatknädel, made with spinach, cheese and breadcrumbs. These were delicately flavoured in a light sauce and absolutely nothing like the stodgy dumplings I remember from school dinners.

Zmailer Hof above Merano, South Tyrol, Italy - by Zoe Dawes

Zmailer Hof

The 3rd traditional treat took place in Zmailer Hof (hof = farm), a place you would never stumble upon by accident, but is well worth getting lost for, through Alpine pine woods above pretty Merano. Travelling around South Tyrol you very soon realise what pride everyone takes in their appearance – and I mean the buildings, the streets, the land, as well as personal dress. Virtually everywhere is pristine, beautifully looked-after with rainbow of flowers cascading from window boxes and around doorways.  Our hostess Martha Thaler welcomed us into her kitchen with its curved, smoke-darkened roof. Ruth, from South Tyrol Tourism, translated as Martha spoke German. Although this autonomous region is in northern Italy, it was Austrian territory in the past and many people still speak German rather than Italian.

Apple strudel ingredients - Zmailer Hof, South Tyrol,Italy - by Zoe Dawes

Apple strudel ingredients

Laid out in front of us were all the ingredients to make one of the most well-known desserts in the world – apple strudel. Apples are one of the main crops grown here, along with grapes, and fruit-laden trees were a big feature of this September break. During the next 30 minutes, Martha assembled it all and popped the creation into her wood-burning stove. Ruth and I went outside to enjoy the spectacular views across the valley and the fresh, warm Alpine air. 45 minutes later I was able to taste the most sublime, fluffy, light apple strudel in idyllic setting. And, because I know you’d love to try it too, here is a short video of how to make Martha’s perfect apple strudel.

During our long weekend in South Tyrol, there were other opportunities to try the superb local food and wine, including a memorable wine-tasting at the uber-cool Hotel Miramonti. Christine Mayr, President of the Sommelier Association of South Tyrol, shared her enthusiasm for the excellent Alto Adige wines; this region grows about twenty different grape varieties. I was particularly taken with the Gewürztraminer Nussbaumer from Kellerei Tramin, with a delicate rose-flavour vaguely reminiscent of Turkish Delight, excellent with Asian foods and, of course, the regional dishes served throughout this part of north Italy.

Alto Adige - South Tyrol wines

Alto Adige – South Tyrol wines

On our last evening we drove from Bolzano up the mountains through at least 18 tunnels for dinner at Bad-Schöergau Hotel, in the Sarner Valley. In a replica of a stube we were served an innovative procession of tasty treats prepared by Michelin chef Egon Heiss. He’s a culinary magician, taking many of the Tyrolean food we had been eating over the past few days, giving them an innovative twist. The evening was a feast for all the senses, as the delicious smell of exquisitely cooked and presented food permeated the room. Meat, fish, vegetables and cheese featured in a number of unusual guises, the quirkiest being ‘speck perfume’ to be sprayed over pine risotto.  A dainty platter showcased Egon’s mastery in a variety of delicate desserts all made from local milk, which took him over 3 years to perfect.

Egon Heiss Michelin desserts - Bad Schoergau South Tyrol

Egon Heiss Michelin desserts

Back home I tried making the apple strudel. It didn’t look nearly as nice as Martha’s, but it tasted almost good. However, the view from my kitchen is not a patch on the majestic mountain vistas that added so much this memorable gastronomic weekend.

We stayed at the More Magdalener Hof in Bolzano and I’m most grateful to everyone from the South Tyrol Tourism for a really pleasurable trip.