Five days in Chianti, Italy – medieval cities hopping with the baby in tow

Italy is always a sure bet with me. If you read my earlier posts, you already know that I have a love-love relationship with this country that started back in 2004, when I did my Erasmus studies there. Now, fast forward to July 2016, when our LO was 8 months and I was in search of a trip to celebrate my husband’s birthday. I looked in particular for a place outside the city, that has its own vineyard in the midst of green scenery. We had a great experience in Apulia with the masseria stays. (you can read about it here) so I was looking for a similar feel in the North of the country. After a few searches on Tripadvisor and local blogs, I found Salvadonica in San Casciano in Val di Pesa. I then booked our flights to Florence.

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A roadtrip showcasing great wineries, medieval fortresses and the Caucasus

On our third day in Georgia, we had our Guide/driver ( see here how we found him) waiting for us at the hotel and started our tour of the Eastern part of the country.

First on the list was a visit to the David Gareji monastery. It is located in a semi-desert area in the South East of the country and close to the border with Azerbaijan ūüá¶ūüáŅ. The drive from Tiblisi will take about 2h30. We stopped in the way at Telliani Valley (an important exporter of Georgian wines) for a quick tour of their factory and some wine sampling.

We followed the concrete road for about 50 km East of Tiblisi and an unpaved road after that, all the way South. If you self drive, you should get a good map and clear indications as there are not many signs once you leave the main road. Do pack water and some snaks as this is going to be a long day hiking in the border area and other than a toilet, there is limited access to food or water once you get there. It was only us and a National Geographic vehicle when we arrived but in Summer it should be quite popular.

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If you enjoy nature and good wine, you will fall in love with Georgia – first impressions

In Summer 2017, we were looking for a destination that was not yet firmly on the travel radar of Western Europeans to satisfy¬†our thirst for off-the-beaten-track adventure. It was a trip for me and Mr only, so we were ready to step up the physical activites, be less picky about hotel ¬†accomodation¬†as well as¬†cover more ground in a shorter time. As we only had a week of holiday available, we focused the search on the Middle East and Central Asia. Georgia seemed to tick all the right boxes. So, even before we saw Lonely Planet’s list with the top countries to visit in 2018, we had bought plane tickets to Tbilisi.

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Back in Portugal – 3 days at the beach and a taste of Lisbon

I have been to Portugal a few times already. First, about 8 years ago, I travelled with my best friend to Porto and Lisbon. I have then spend a couple of week- ends in Lisbon with friends. And of course, the Azores in 2011.  But in the August of 2017, looking for possible destinations for a sort jaunt from Brussels, I stumbled on the coastal town of Sesimbra. It is then that Mr happened to mention he was never to Portugal. The decision was made. He received a trip to Portugal as his birthday present.

As Lisbon was my husband’s treat, I kept it for the end. Upon arrival we rented a car and drove down to Sesimbra, about one hour south of Lisbon. Potuguese colleagues recommended it for the nice, wide beach, fresh seafood and being popular with locals mostly. As we were travelling mid-August, there were bound to be people on holidays, so any tips to less travelled places were well appreciated.

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Discovering the European South – Beaches and mountains of Cyprus

We travelled to Cyprus last year, in September. For residents of the European North, September is the month when we start to become itchy for another break in the Sun. This is especially when summer means two weeks with temperatures above 20 in June and two weeks again in August, if we are lucky. September is also when prices start to get back to more reasonable levels as most of schools holidays draw to a close.

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The Bump, the Temples and the Beach – our babymoon in Sri Lanka and the Maldives

In the beginning of 2015 we found out that our family was getting bigger. We were very happy that we will soon get to introduce him to the world and show him all the amazing places out there. But before that, we were ready to enjoy a few more trips together. During my pregnancy we went to a few places in Europe and I also took a girls trip to Israel and the Czech Republic but we wanted something a bit more ‘special’. I was very curious about Sri Lanka after my trip to India in 2014 but my husband was there already so we added Maldives to the mix.

Given my ‘situation’, this trip was planned a bit more in detail throughout. After buying the plane tickets (Brussels -Doha – Colombo, Colombo-Mahe and Mahe-Doha-Brussels) with Qatar Airlines, I looked for a driver/guide to accompany us in out tour. I already had a good idea of what we wanted to visit but still needed somebody with local experience to make sure the trip was doable in terms of distance and road conditions as well as weather. There are plenty of local travel companies on Trip advisor. I wrote to a few and asked a quote for the tour I had in mind. We went with Sri Lanka Personal Drivers and were very happy.

We had 8 days in Sri Lanka and 6 in the Maldives. As we had planned some beach time at the end of the trip, we focused our time in Sri Lanka on visiting temples and the natural scenery in the country.

If you are considering Sri Lanka as a destination, have a look at our itinerary packed with great sightseeing opportunities:

Day 1: arrived in Sri Lanka and arranged with our accommodation for a transfer from the airport. We decided to stay outside Colombo as we wanted to have the opportunity to relax as we arrived. We were based in Kotugoda, about 20 min from the airport. We stayed at the Wallawwa, a small hotel set in a restored colonial manor with a beautiful 3 acres garden that provided much needed respite after our travel. Highly recommended for couples and if you are looking for a secluded retreat.

Day 2, we started early and our driver was waiting for us at the reception. We went for a quick trip through Colombo and continued on to Kandy, in the Hill Country, our base for the next 3 days. We also stopped at the Millenium Elephant Foundation to see rescued elephants. They were offering rides but we didn’ t enjoy seeing the elephants ferrying visitors around and did not take the ride.

Day 3: Kandy. We kicked off the day with a visit to the¬†Peradeniya Royal Botanical Garden. They are renowned for their collection of orchids and a great collection of indigenous plants. The afternoon we spent visiting the city. Our driver/guide took up up the hill above the city where we had the best panorama of this green city and the lake in the middle. In the evening, we saw a traditional dancing show at the atmospheric Red Cross building. After the show we visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic. It houses the country’s most important religious relic, the tooth of Buddha. We were in time for the evening ceremony or Puja which involved a lot of drumming and excitement. At the end of the ceremony, the relic is open to the public. It was a great experience!

Day 4: We explored more of the city,¬†we walked the shopping streets leading to the lake, visited the old railway station and central market. Our hotel, the Kandy House was a great treat. Breakfast was brought to the patio in front of our room and they did a great cake for my husband’s birthday. Their dinners we superb as well. I never knew there were so many types of curry. Absolutely delicious!

Day 5: We left Kandy for Sigiriya. We stopped at the Dambulla Cave Complex on the way, about 3h away from Kandy. The caves are located on top of a hill and are more than 2000 year old. The are crammed with statues and murals of Buddha. On a clear day, you can see Sigiriya rock from the hill top. Our accommodation in the Cultural triangle was at the Wild Grass Nature Resort. This place is set amidst the forests of Sigiriya. We had a spacious villas with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a great way to enjoy the sunset.

Day 6: Visiting the Sigiriya rock and museum. Maybe the most impressive site of Sri Lanka, this is going to take the best part of a day and involve some serious climbing for about 1h. I took it easy, as I soon became out of breath and there are many things to see in the extensive gardens. Do not miss the museum explaining the history of the place and the original settlements. The rock is better climbed in the cool of the morning.

Day 7: We went for a safari in the¬†Minneriya Natural Park part of the ‘elephant corridor’. We did not see that many elephants but it a nice experience reminding us of our African safari. In the afternoon, we went for an Ayurveda treatment in a village nearby :¬†-Thrimal Ayurvedic Treatment Centre. The massage was great. However, you should count on smelled like curry spices for a few days.

Day 8: we started early to catch our plane from Colombo to Mahe. Once we arrived in Mahe, a resort representative was waiting for us at the airport and we boarded a small boat that would take us to our island.

The place we stayed at was called Baros Resort and it was probably the priciest hotel in all our travels around the world. It was also the most amazing, secluded escape with morning yoga and a house reef that you could access from the beach. Everything was top notch from service to the pregancy massage I got at the spa. I could not dive on that occasion but my husband went and he was quite impressed. I went on a couple of snorkelling trips and a night snorkelling trip. Do give night snorkelling a try! They have special lights that reflect on the colours of the marine life. It was surreal to swim in the black water, with a sky full of stars above and plenty of little fishes swimming on the bottom. I do hope we will go back one day.

If you consider the Maldives, do not be put off by the Summer in the islands. The climate in July and August are very similar in the Maldives. Humidity and rain do increase over these months, but as the islands are so low-lying, rain clouds blow over very quickly so rain will only be short lived. There are also usually less travellers during these months so that is a plus. We still had plenty of sunshine.

Happy Travels!

September is the best time to visit Southern Italy – Top 5 things to do in Apulia

If you are still in search for some sun bathing opportunities¬†and warm weather in September head to the South of Italy, in Apulia region! You will love the food, relax in the true ‘Dolce vita’ style on the Adriatic coast and most importantly, pay half the price of a holiday in August.

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Best 5 restaurants for traditional Romanian food in Bucharest

I know Bucharest well as I used to study there before moving to Brussels. Now still, I often travel back and forth between the two every other month or so. Living abroad, I learned to appreciate a good Romanian restaurant, not only for surprising the occasional friend after a long sight-seeing day but also to indulge in some tasty cooking myself.

As with many Eastern European capitals the food scene is constantly evolving but there are a few places that have been now around for some time and I consider them to be a reference when looking for a good traditional meal. Spoiler alert, this post will make you hungry and maybe even make you reach for a credit card and book a flight to Bucharest.

So here it is:

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Just back from a road tripping week-end in the North of France – Le Touquet, Hardelot-Plage and Boulogne-sur-Mer

Against my own best advice as regards travelling in August, the weather in Belgium just managed to chase us out of the country once more. This time direction France, Nord-pas-de-Calais region. Now, this is not exactly the European South so we did not expect 30 + degrees and warm seas but we did want some sun and a change from the grey Brussels scenery.

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A chill out August break in Copenhagen 

This week-end we visited friends living in Copenhagen. For us, visiting people living around the world is the best way to combine our two favourite things: travel and spending time with friends. Also it has the perk that you do go out with a local which is often much more interactive and informative than going out with the Lonely Planet guide. So, we try to do this quite often, especially around Europe.

Going back to Copenhagen, Continue reading