Exploring The Cotswolds without a Car

The romantic Cotswolds are a perfect weekend getaway from London, where you can immerse yourself in all that the British countryside has to offer. By which I mean, long walks, cozy pubs and (you know me, Nomads) a local gin. It’s difficult to pick a spot but as we wanted to travel from London by train, Charlbury seemed a great option and it didn’t disappoint.

The romantic Cotswolds are a perfect weekend getaway from London, where you can immerse yourself in all that the British countryside has to offer. By which I mean, long walks, cozy pubs and (you know me, Nomads) a local gin. It’s difficult to pick a spot but as we wanted to travel from London by train, Charlbury seemed a great option and it didn’t disappoint.

Saturday morning began with a direct train to Charlbury from London Paddington and a cheeky sweet treat from Patisserie Valerie upstairs. The train is quicker than driving – just an hour and a quarter. Our first impressions of Charlbury were entrancing; stone cottages and a train station from other age. After leaving our bags at the delightful Bell Inn, we made our way to Blenheim Palace, the grand familial home of Winston Churchill. The stately home is a 15 minute taxi ride away and also reachable by bus.

 

The exhibits on the house, the family through the ages and Churchill himself were fascinating. The UK really does do museums and exhibitions very well, with lovely interactive touches, and Churchill is an inherently entertaining figure with his wit and achievements. I mean, there’s a weird interlude in the middle featuring mannequins and projected storytellers but that’s amusing in it’s own right too, huh? The grand home has rolling gardens, a mini waterfall and the pagoda where Churchill proposed and the front with its mighty columns is a spectacular view to approach from the entrance.

We dragged ourselves away and back to the Bell for a pre-dinner drink in front of the roaring fire, before moving through to the dining room for an excellent meal. After dinner, we strolled through the quiet streets to The Bull pub with it’s fabulous door knocker, great pastels and mood lighting for a nightcap – Cotswolds Gin, no less.

We were wonderfully comfortable at The Bell. The manager made sure to provide us extra heaters and blankets in case it was a cold night and the room was beyond cute.

The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we pulled on our wellies and set off on a cathartic countryside amble to the local village of Finstock. We’d found a great website for walking routes and spotted a promising looking pub for a spot of lunch. Sure enough, we stopped in at The Plough Inn to eat and were delighted to find a very upmarket country pub with farmhouse décor and a cheese plate to die for.

And our weekend in the Cotswolds was at an end. We hopped back on the train to London, already nostalgic for the countryside. I heartily recommend this getaway, Nomads, and I’d love to hear more of your ideas for city escapes in the comments below.

New Openings & Discoveries in Addis Ababa

Highrises are shooting up the city over, the stadium is taking shape and there are a blissful number of new cafes and restaurants opening in Ethiopia’s capital. Here’s my September roundup of the newest or hottest spots in Addis Ababa.

Highrises are shooting up the city over, the stadium is taking shape and there are a blissful number of new cafes and restaurants opening in Ethiopia’s capital. It slightly lessens the blow of beloved institutions that are no more. And it’s great fun checking them out! Here’s my September roundup of the newest or hottest spots in Addis Ababa.

Lime Tree Bole

Bole Rwanda

Lime Tree has returned to Bole and in almost the same spot. The new location teams its inspirational quotes & calligraphy with dark walls and high tables, giving a more modern and chic  interior. The inside is spacious and relaxing. The ever evolving menu of refreshing juices, wholesome and safe salads and fun theme days is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve been to the Kazanchis location. The antipasti selection is a steal and the falafel wrap also highly recommended. A great addition to this area of Bole.
(Same building as Boston Day Spa, directly behind the spa, entrance on the left-hand side of the building).
A plate of salad and antipasti at Lime Tree Addis Ababa

Steam Cafe

Opposite IEC, Old Airport

It’s not brand new but Steam Cafe is a rarity in Addis and definitely warrants some space on this blog. This small boutique type cafe is something straight out of the pages of a design magazine. There’s even a powder blue coffee machine. It’s not style over substance though; the coffee was first rate and the fasting banana muffins too tempting to resist. Rumour has it an outside deck overlooking the river will be ready for the end of the rains. Some well needed green space in Addis.
The lovely interior of Steam Cafe Addis Ababa

Revolver Restaurant

Top of the Intercontinental Apartment Building, Kazanchis 

Though the interiors are nothing to write home about, the views and food are what really make this new restaurant a stand out. We arrived at opening time so we’d get views across the city in both the light and the dark. A full loop of the gently revolving platform which all tables sit on takes a little over an hour. The international buffet features an excellent salad and antipasti bar, a live wok / pasta station and a solid variety of tasty hot dishes. The dessert table was almost too pretty to dig into, but we did and were glad. Go quickly before everyone finds out about it. Particularly a good spot to take visitors.

Olivia’s

Tele Bole, next to Eastridge Church Addis / Addis Fine Art

Opened at New Year, Olivia’s is a large, stylish cafe, right by Edna Mall on a blessedly quieter side street. Masses of windows and fabulous lighting makes this new favourite light and airy. The pastries were top notch with thick custard and a fruity top and they serve a good strong and smooth macchiato. The cinnamon rolls were delightfully sticky. The colourful petit fours selection was very tempting, were it not 10am on our visit. As a nice touch, your bill comes in a blue and white enamel mug. Snatch a sofa spot and you won’t be moving any time soon.
Olivia’s has opened with a focus on doing coffee and cake well but plans are to soon expand to a full cafe menu. The planned breakfast includes waffles, french toast and omelettes and lunch will follow shortly after with pizza and burgers. We will definitely be back to try.

 

What to pack in your carry on for a better flight

Having spent a significant amount of time at 40,000 feet, what goes into my carry-on for flights has become a finely tuned list, which I’m willing to share with you to make your flying experience just that little bit sweeter. Sleep and hydration are the goals and I’ve got some goodies for you…

Travel Hack - What to pack in your hand luggage

Having spent a significant amount of time at 40,000 feet, what goes into my carry-on for flights has become a finely tuned list, which I’m willing to share with you to make your flying experience just that little bit sweeter. Sleep and hydration are the goals and I’ve got some goodies for you.

1) Noone needs a stiff neck, Nomads, and a neck pillow is a necessary precaution. I’ve tried many; I like a memory foam or microbead pillow but I’ve recently switched to this little stroke of genius (not pictured) that wraps your neck up like a fleecy supportive hug.

2) I’m not a great fan of sleeping pills on flights as this Concierge likes to keep her wits about her. But Nomads, I do need a little something something to help me drop off onboard and that something is tea. I know, I know, I’m living the British stereotype but I recently discovered Sleepytime Extra, which sounded just like my jam. I always have a teabag or two tucked away in my tote so that I can nod off without too much tortuous tossing and turning.

3) This Concierge is not as young as she once was and, whilst most of my travel beauty regime can wait until I’ve tapped into my hotel room, these eye treatment masks are discreet enough to pop on during a long haul flight and prevent scaring the immigration officials with Extreme Panda Eyes on arrival. As long as you remember to take them back off again. These are a little cheaper.

4) Cabins have the driest air in (/above) Christendom, so I always pack a lip balm or vaseline.

5) This Concierge loves to coo over a baby but also really needs her peace and quiet to catch 40 winks. Noise cancelling earphones are an investment but if you are a regular traveller, definitely feel like a luxury. Plantronics Backbeat Pro, Bose Quiet Comfort 35 and the catchily named Sony MDR-ZX770BN come recommended. (Looking for in depth reviews? Try out my fellow blogger’s round up.)

6) We’re almost there, Nomads, conditions are almost perfect to fall asleep right before the cabin crew come and wake you up for duty free shopping… REALLY, JUDITH? Next step, complete darkness. My recent discovery is a moulded eye mask, which cunningly solves the age old problem of eye masks squishing your peepers.

7) Did I mention the extreme drying effect of planes, Nomads? I love a witty water bottle or travel mug to fill with water once I’m through security so I keep hydrated even if the drinks trolley gets caught up in a mid-aisle traffic jam.

8) My burden to bear in life is Cold Tootsies Syndrome, so I’m never without a thick pair of socks to warm up those feet mid-flight.

9) We’re finishing on a high, Nomads, and a life-changing invention that I want to introduce you too. This travel sling hangs off the tray table in front of you and provides a cosy hammock for you feet, so you can stretch out and get comfy. Do it, you’ll thank me later.

Any additions for me, Nomads? Comment below!

48 hours in Barcelona

Oh, Barcelona. A weekend here combines romance, style and food to die for… The Holy Trio. A perfect city in which to float between amazing architecture, restaurants and galleries. Your weekend there could be any time of year as this city is always idyllic. But for me, sangria and sunshine go hand in hand, so why not time your trip for late Spring or Summer.

Oh, Barcelona. A weekend here combines romance, style and food to die for… The Holy Trio. A perfect city in which to float between amazing architecture, restaurants and galleries. Your weekend there could be any time of year as this city is always idyllic. But for me, sangria and sunshine go hand in hand, so why not time your trip for late Spring or Summer. Avoid Easter itself, as many things are closed.

A great option for your Barcelona lodgings is one of the many boutique hotels. We chose Casa Mathilda for affordable luxury and it stole our hearts from the moment we saw its well-preserved vintage elevator! First floor, please! The en-suite will bring on tile-lust and the restaurant is a cozy, intimate and yet modern space for breakfast.

We also stayed at the H10 Cubix, which is a little pricier but achingly cool. We’re talking robots in the lobby and a specialist gin bar on the roof. Well worth it.

For your first meal in the city, try Can Paixano (La Xampanyeria), where you’ll be sat almost on top of your neighbours, munching fabulous and thrifty tapas, whilst you sip cava for something bubbly. It’s fun, it’s social, it’s Barcelona.

Situate yourselves over another glass of cava or switch to a pint of Estrella at Bar Oviso, choosing a table outside in George Orwell square for a prime people watching spot.

Saturday morning must start at the beach, then a stroll up to Barcelona’s most famous street, Las Ramblas. Stop for a café con leche at the Café de l’Opera before detouring off to the Gothic quarter to get lost in the streets and stumble upon Barri Gotic, the beautiful partially ruined cathedral with a wild cloister-lined garden.

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Head back towards Las Ramblas and make your way to Barcelona’s premiere food market, La Boqueria, which will soon have you salivating. You can’t go wrong here – bar-hop and grab a snack from each or install yourself on a stool to enjoy hippest buskers and premium tapas. We propped ourselves up at Bar Central and high-recommend. Try the calamari, king prawns, peppers, any of the pintxos, just all of it. In fact, consider a foodie tour.

From here, head over to Park Guell for all the fabulousness and fantasy of Gaudi’s public garden works. It’s a beautiful way to walk off the tapas and make room for your next meal. From here, head to your pre-booked slot at the Sagrada Familia for Saturday afternoon (at least a week in advance). The modern cathedral is simply breath-taking… and it’s a work in progress! We spend hours walking around the exterior alone. Despite the crowds, the vastness and the detail to get lost in provide a serene experience. The mid-afternoon light is a beautiful time to be there.

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You are spoiled for dinner options of course, but Viana is a wise, wise choice. This is gourmet Spanish food with all the right international influences and atmosphere. Again, it mixes cosiness with industrial décor and the tables are crammed in for a buzzy atmosphere. Everything is recommended but the pork was incredible.

On Sunday morning, admire Gaudi’s most magnificent buildings, mixed into Barcelona’s streets like their part of the furniture. Start at Passeig de Gracia and walk down to the wavy-walled apartment block, La Pedrera, before reaching Casa Battlo. If I’ve one top Barcelona tip, Nomads, it’s to GO INSIDE Casa Battlo. Built as a family home, this incredible building is now an incredible museum which uses VR handsets to literally bring the house and Gaudi’s designs to life. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is an unmissable on your itinerary. If it’s lunchtime afterwards, try out Tapas24 nearby for delectable tapas.

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From here, head over to the Picasso Museum to see an amazing display of how the artist’s work evolved from boyhood to old age. My top tip, Nomads, is to skip the main queue and go around the corner to where they sell annual memberships. It’s a fraction more expensive but skips the entire line.

If you haven’t eaten yet, stop in at Quimet & Quimet on your way to Montjuic for some grade A tapas. Then on to Montjuic, for a wonderful Sunday afternoon up on the hills of Barcelona. You take the Barcelona Port Cable Car up with great views across the sea. At the top, you can choose to visit the Olympic stadium and the Palau Nacional. Be back in time for the Font Magica fountains for a wonderous display of light and water. The times vary during the year, so be sure to check.

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For your last meal in Barcelona, I’ve kept a gem for you, Nomads. Jai-Ca is boisterous, family-filled and fabulous. There’s usually a waiting list, so go before you’re famished and get a drink. There are actually two locations close to each other. They’ve been making cheap, melt-in-the-mouth tapas since 1955 and it is FUN with black and white tiles and diner tables. A visit here guarantees you’ll be planning your text trip over the dinner table.

Let us know your plans, Nomads! Did you stumble across some top tips for me? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

24 hours in San Francisco

San Francisco had long been on my bucket list and so when I could make it work to fit in a weekend there before a Californian wedding… it was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, a flight cancellation made it into 24 hours. But what a 24 hours; all the food trends, instagrammable houses and tram-filled streets and THE COFFEE! This itinerary is ideal for the active city-explorer or could be spread over two days for the city-stroller, adding in a few other gems I didn’t have time. Get planning, Nomads!

San Francisco had long been on my bucket list and so when I could make it work to fit in a weekend there before a Californian wedding… it was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, a flight cancellation made it into 24 hours. But what a 24 hours; all the food trends, instagrammable houses and tram-filled streets and THE COFFEE! This itinerary is ideal for the active city-explorer or could be spread over two days for the city-stroller, adding in a few other gems I didn’t have time for like the zig-zagging Haight-Ashbury or a boat trip.

I stayed at the Cartwright on Union Square to be super central and for easy access to the shops, where I could stock up on Benefit products etc. The Cartwright had a roaring logfire and comfy sofas in the foyer and the rooms were all dark wood, tufted headboards and ceiling fans. Just my aesthetic, Nomads.

After enjoying your hotel breakfast, head straight off to the Golden Gate Bridge to start your day in the most iconic way possible. It absolutely lives up to expectation; take the time to wander across the bridge and admire the scale. And take a million photographs, let’s be straight about this, Nomads.

From here, head back into the city down Divisadero Street, stopping in at The Mill for some excellent Four Barrel coffee. If you didn’t manage breakfast, the Bi-Rite Market is closeby for deli and snacking goodies. This area has some great little boutiques in this area, but I was saving myself for Mission District.

Make your way to Chinatown and enjoy getting lost amongst the hub-bub. Find the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory down Ross Alley (the city’s oldest street) and watch the gentleman making up the cookies before leaving with a big bag. Wander down Jack Kerouac Alley, named after its most famous loiterer, and enjoy the mix of East and West poetry decorating the pavements. At the end, you’ll find the City Lights Bookstore, which will through you straight into the Beat Age. Pick up a book and take a seat.

It’s probably time for some food, so if you’ve resisted the Chinatown smells, head over to Dolores Park for an al fresco lunch. The Tartine Bakery has a wonderful selection or try the incredible Rebel Within from Craftsman and Wolves (it’s a trendy scotch egg and I LOVED it.) Dolores Park is an attraction in and of itself; bringing to mind the summer of love and LGBTQ movement. Take your time and enjoy it, definitely with an ice-cream from the nearby Bi-Rite Creamery to finish off your picnic. It’s so worth the queue.

Spend a good chunk of the afternoon lusting after Mission’s pastel homes and darting in and out of the range of boutiques in this area. I loved Gravel and Gold for beautiful interiors.

Late afternoon is a great time to make your way to the Marina District and Fisherman’s Wharf for a walk along the sea front and a view out to Alcatraz. For dinner time views, I headed to Boudin’s, an old bakery which is now a large restaurant for a bread bowl of chowder and a huge glass of good local wine. A dreamy end to a dreamy day.

I’d love to hear your extra tips, Nomads – shopping, eating, evening entertainment. Drop them in the comments section below! 

48 hours in Oslo

Oslo is a fantastic weekend city break; even the public toilets radiate style, there’s plenty of pretty town to wander through or fascinating museums to dot into when the cold gets too much. Autumn and winter are chilly but atmospheric times to visit and seem to be how the city was built to be appreciated. Notoriously a pricey location, there is an alternative to make Oslo an affordable getaway without returning to your backpacker days of by-gone. Read on and make your bank manager happy!

Oslo is a fantastic weekend city break; even the public toilets radiate style, there’s plenty of pretty town to wander through or fascinating museums to dot into when the cold gets too much. Autumn and winter are chilly but atmospheric times to visit and seem to be how the city was built to be appreciated. Notoriously a pricey location, there is an alternative to make Oslo an affordable getaway without returning to your backpacker days of by-gone. Read on and make your bank manager happy!

We stayed in an AirBnB because all Norwegian homes are hella chic and having a kitchen meant we could avoid high restaurant costs. The Grunerlokka area of town is young, artistic and where you’ll want to be. Luckily, there are a tonne of great AirBnB options to pick from.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If you share our dramatically disgusted reaction to the idea of a weekend sans gin, duty free is your best friend as be warned of the high alcohol prices at your weekend destination. [Our current favourites often available at duty free are Bloom and Caorunn, but mini bottles of the major brands are great if you’ve only got hand luggage.]

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An excellent starting point for your Saturday explorations is Oslo’s magnificent and modern Opera House on the waterfront in Bjorvika. After climbing the encircling ramp to the top and making friends with the seagulls, be sure to venture into the lobby and ogle the avant-garde costumes on display. Of course the costumes and set design in Norway are like nothing you’d be able to conjure up. *Sighs at the lowkey coolness*

From the Opera House it’s possible to wander into the delightful city centre, using Oslo’s main shopping street, Karl Johans gate, as your plumbline. The Cathedral and its accompanying coffee shop are worth a brief visit. Don’t hold back popping into a Fjallraven Kanken shop, if anything to admire the rainbow display of bags available. EVERY. DARN. COLOUR.

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From here, we walked up to the Royal Palace, however with experience of numb extremities under my belt, I’d say it would be far more sensible to jump on the tram from Stortinget to the National Theatre, and get a far more pleasant view of the city from the warmth of a carriage. The main attraction at the Palace is all the pomp of the changing of the guards and if you can time it right (1.30pm at time of writing), it’s well worth the trip.

There are many galleries and museums on every topic from the resistance, so choose to suit your taste. We opted for the National Gallery, enticed by the offer of seeing The Scream by Edvard Munch. Once there, I loved the series of paintings by the naturalist artist, Christian Krohg, as well as the diversity of the museum and creative spaces for sketching and trying out displayed techniques.

We also chose the Nobel Peace Prize museum, which now ranks amongst my all-time favourites. The interactive design could keep the attention of someone with only the most of shaky of interests and it was fascinating to read and watch the stories of inspirational peace-makers, some well-known, others brand-new to me. And of course, there’s a fabulous gift shop, which puts to shame souvenirs in all other museums, period. I’m still using my epic Nobel Peace Prize Winners gift wrap.

Did I mention our AirBnB had an awesome TV room, complete with a huge screen with Netflix on? So essentially, we just made food, binge-watched Elementary and drank our imported gin. Ideal.

A perfect Sunday brunch or lunch spot is Mathallen, a foodhall close to Grunerlokka. Though set in a trendy renovated warehouse, Mathallen maintains good natural light and high ceilings, so it’s a relaxed and buzzy environment to wander through. Atelier Asian Tapas, seafood at Froya Sjomat or the confit duck sandwiches at Ma Poule are excellent choices, but really just walk around until you spot something you can’t resist / get too hungry to walk anymore. Alternatively, pick up some deli items for your home cooking. Reindeer sausages with a side of sriracha popcorn, perhaps?

Your Sunday afternoon must include a visit to the Vigeland sculpture park in Frogner Park. Gustav Vigeland was a much-lauded Norwegian sculptor and his work in the park in particular is something to behold. His creations link human bodies in realistic, tender and often comical ways, for their playfulness and reflection of relationships. The bodies don’t just sit on plinths but make up an obelisk, bridge and wheel.

Finish your weekend with another of the plethora of Oslo museums. Wanting a relaxed afternoon, we selected the Doga – Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture – housed in an old power station. We whiled away the afternoon, geeking out on the kind of well-made documentaries that have you obsessed with a topic you didn’t know existed, and lusting over exhibit rooms filled with design items throughout the modern age. There’s a great little organic / vegan café next door called Funky Fresh Foods.

So there’s your affordable weekend to Oslo on a design-conscious plate! Go, enjoy and give your tips and feedback below!

10 days in Malta [Part 2 – Gozo]

Being on Gozo doesn’t feel like you’re still on this planet, let alone in Europe. So I hope you can butter up your bosses for a few extra days of leave, Nomads, because you won’t want to miss it. I’m trusting your appetite should be suitably whet after last week’s blog on the main island.

Being on Gozo doesn’t feel like you’re still on this planet, let alone in Europe. So I hope you can butter up your bosses for a few extra days of leave, Nomads, because you won’t want to miss it. I’m trusting your appetite should be suitably whet after last week’s blog on the main island.

Boss-buttering dependent, you’ll land in Mgarr, off the ferry from Malta, where you can stock up on wringlingly-fresh fish for the BBQ at the Bugeja market if you’re cooking yourself or head to Tmun Mgarr for a taste of the island’s best restaurants.

We stayed in closeby ix-Xaghra, a pretty little town with a scenic central square for convenient and tasty restaurant options. Our AirBnB was stellar; a serene villa with plenty of zen Asian influences, great communal space for cooking, relaxing and a dainty pool to cool off from the hot Gozo heat. Each room is rented separately, so we got the benefit of great facilities without having to book out a huge space.

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Use your first day on the island to explore and pick out where you want to spend some good quality sunning time. If you thought Malta was small, Gozo is teeny tiny so you can jump in your car rental and feel like a very accomplished Nomad with minimal effort (and fuel costs!)

From Xaghra, drive up to Marsalforn and follow the coastal road until you reach the salt pans at Xwieni Bay. You’ll spot the shallow rectangular pools with a white gleam, slowly drying out into that wonderful artery-clogger, the same way they have since the Knights first established them. From there continue to Wied-il Ghasri for some premium wild swimming in the picture-perfect cove. After winding down the steep staircase, you appear at a narrow shingle beach – enough for just a few people. But from there the heavenly water stretches out into a long corridor towards the sea, flanked by high rocks on either side, making a unique swimming experience. You can clamber up on to the rocks to sun yourselves in between and bask in your cleverness for finding something so beautiful and secluded.

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When you’re ready to move on, head inland along the road to Ghasri, turning off on Triq il Fanal to the Basilica of Ta’Pinu, a huge remote church with 360’ views and landscaped gardens.

Stop in for lunch at Il-Kunvent in the sweet little town of Gharb. Father and son were holding fort on our visit and the local pizza pie filled our starving stomachs.

Carry on towards San Lawrenz and find the Ta’Dbiegi craft village, where you can see the artisans and work and purchase their finest lace, glass and pottery. Our spare room has benefitted from a beautiful hand-woven rug in colours that take me straight back to Wied-il Ghasri. It’s the kind of place with quality souvenirs that’ll finally shame your brother out of buying you the novelty t-shirt from his next trip.

Your last stop is Dwejra, whose geology is straight out of a fantasy novel. In fact, the Dothraki wedding in GoT season 1 was set at the Azure Window, a natural arch at sea. Though it lives on in many people’s DVD collections, the Azure Window is sadly no more, having come to an end worthy of GoT, as it fell crashing into the sea in real life in 2017. You can read the news story all about it. It’s still an incredible area, which well deserves your time though, if only for the Blue Hole underneath, a 25m deep swimming hole for you to float about in.

After the day’s exertions, head back to Xaghra for a well-earned dinner at Oleander on the market square, with great ambience and delectable local food and wine.

Your second day should definitely be a beach day. After a leisurely morning by the pool, call and place your order at Maxokk Bakery for one of the ftiras they’ve been making since the 1930s. You won’t regret it. If you can’t wait long enough to eat it at the beach, the market square in the day is a beautiful spot for a bench-based picnic (and a sneaky ice cream afterwards).

There are a myriad of beaches to choose from for your afternoon jaunt; the rocky red sands of San Blas Bay or the smoother silts of Ramla Bay.

Country Terrace in Mgarr is a wonderful spot for your last dinner in Gozo. Set above the town, a terrace table provides a stunning view across the water, all with the backlighting of Narnia-worthy lamp-posts. The fresh fish and produce makes for a tasty meal… and of course, we didn’t forego the bruschetta.

For your last day on Gozo, a popular day trip is to the island of Comino, sandwiched between Gozo and Malta. The turquoise waters of the Blue Lagoon draw in the crowds during the summer months, with shallow clear waters and white sandy seabeds. Full disclosure, Nomads, that the idea of many people and little shade made us miss out on this particular attraction… so there’s no judgement from me if you spend the time on the beach finishing that novel instead.

It’s impossible to write about Malta and Gozo without it becoming a semi-evangelistic endeavour, but Nomads, you will love it and I can’t wait to hear your tips below.

10 days in Malta [Part 1]

Malta is absolutely the destination for your 10 day break if you love a mix of classic beaches, wild swimming and picture perfect towns to get lost in. For anyone like me, who can’t sit still on the beach for an entire fortnight, Malta offers cobbled streets and film-worthy history as well as other worldly landscapes.  Best of all, its teeny tiny size means you can base yourself wherever you like and still have countless adventures each day with the aid of a hire car.

Malta is absolutely the destination for your 10 day break if you love a mix of classic beaches, wild swimming and picture perfect towns to get lost in. For anyone like me, who can’t sit still on the beach for an entire fortnight, Malta offers cobbled streets and film-worthy history as well as other worldly landscapes.  Best of all, its teeny tiny size means you can base yourself wherever you like and still have countless adventures each day with the aid of a hire car.

1 week on the Island Malta

Malta’s capital is enchanting. You can stay in a whole host of beautiful hotels in Valletta itself, but why not stay in the historic Three Cities, which neighbour the capital and are a delightful ferry ride area. Gliding in Valletta by boat definitely sets the slower holiday pace for your gentle meandering around the city streets and still doesn’t take too long. We stayed in a historic stone townhouse, converted with gorgeous interiors and rented out on AirBnb.

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Your route into the city.

Take at least a day to explore Valletta itself. Grab a map from tourist information and admire the beautiful buildings, instagrammable door knockers and picturesque piazzas. We loved the intimate Manoel Theatre, with all the beautiful opera costumes throughout the ages. I took a million photos on Strait Street, the old red light district, which has preserved many of the vintage signs. There are also a plethora of 5D experiences popping up, which for a novelty fiend like me, is the ideal. Summer is HOT aka the perfect excuse for many iced coffees. Our favourite was definitely Caffe Cordina in the prettiest of the piazzas, where we discovered the Crema Fredda Al Caffe. Friends, it may not look like much, but HEAR ME, this was created by some sort of alchemy (and addition of ice cream, naturally).

Two other highlights were the War Museum and the Upper Barrakka Gardens. Turns out that Malta’s war history is fascinating – tales of resistance, spirit and amazing community. The Upper Barrakka Gardens are accessed by the most picturesque lift (/elevator) I’ve ever seen. The Gardens themselves are stunning and offer some of the best views in Valletta. Spot the cruise ship you’d like to join! If you time your visit for 12pm or 4pm, you’ll witness all the pomp of the cannon firing.

Valletta (and Malta in general) is a foodie paradise. It’s the best of European food with exotic Arabic influences and pasta to die for. Fresh seafood abounds. There are a whole selection of bistros down the back streets. Sit with an Aperol Spritz (perhaps at Artisan Cafe & Craft Beer) and decide on your nightly pick. We went for D’Office Bistro with a charming bicycle outside. The pinnacle of Valletta dining is absolutely Guze Bistro with a cosy interior like you’re in a chic converted wine cellar. We ate Trio of Pork and lamb shank and died a little. Delicious.

 

You can while away a perfect half day getting lost in the lanes of the Three Cities. Grab lunch at the waterside Tas-Serena, where the Maltese platter is divine. There are plenty of beautiful dinner options too, where you can sit and people watch whilst those on yacht holidays try out dry land for the evening. We loved the ravioli, tortelli and atmosphere at Il-Hnejja.

An easy half-day trip from Valletta is the Blue Grotto at Wied iz-Zurrieq, which is also achievable by public transport (details and timetables at tourist information). As you join a boat trip, you’ll motor out towards the impressive natural arch towering above you, before dotting into different caves where the shades of blue will have you trying to capture each of them in photos, inevitably just emerging as a bunch of very similar looking photos that baffle your friends and family. *Sigh* We stumbled upon el Patron for amazing coffee milkshakes. For those interested, there are neolithic structures close by which would be easy to tag on to a visit.

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Another wonderful day trip from Valletta is the ancient walled city of Mdina, the Silent City. Phoenicians, Romans, Medieval Arabs… A day spent wandering the red streets and frozen in time residences is like being on the set of an Indiana Jones film. Lunch on ftiras (Maltese sandwiches) on the rooftop of Fontanella Tea Gardens & Vinum Wine Bar, overlooking the city walls.

If you’ve got a car, start off at Dingli cliffs (where The Cliffs is another great food option for farm-to-table delicacies.) The cliffs are the perfect spot for a short hike. Be sure to stop off at Ta’Qali craft village to stock up on nougat, lace, rugs and hand-blown glass (you can watch them in action). The village is made up of old corrugated iron Nissen huts on a former airforce base, which definitely adds to the charm.

If you’re not hiring a car, you might want to move up towards some of the northern beaches at this point. Avoid Bugibba and St Paul’s Bay, but do stop in at Cafe del Mar (with an advance reservation). Heck, make a day of it. It is delightful – what could feel more luxe than sipping prosecco in an infinity pool with a glamourous soundtrack and poolside snacks like sushi.

You’re due a beach day. On Malta, you don’t have to settle for one beach in one day. They are so close together, that you can move as often as the shade does. Golden Bay and Ghajn Tuffieha Bay are next door neighbours and many rate them as the best beaches on the island. To go further off the beaten track, head up to Marfa Peninsula (stopping in at the iconic Red Tower for a minor detour) and explore Armier Beach amongst others. When you need refreshment, Baia Beach Club is there waiting for you with a cocktail outstretched and even gourmet restaurant fare.

And there you have it. You won’t want to leave, believe me and if you’ve another few days, well don’t worry because I’ve got another post for you on Malta’s second island, Gozo, the quirky little sister who listens to bands you’ve never heard of and wears your clothes better than you do. Read on, Nomads!

48 hours in Nairobi

Nairobi might not be the most convenient weekend getaway, unless you’re in the region like us, but if you’re planning a Kenyan safari or trekking trip, it’s well-worth scheduling in a relaxed weekend in Nairobi. Relaxed, you say? In Nairobi? Despite the traffic and the hustle and bustle, I’m here to tell you that a zen state is possible, and here’s how, dear readers.

Nairobi might not be the most convenient weekend getaway, unless you’re in the region like us, but if you’re planning a Kenyan safari or trekking trip, it’s well-worth scheduling in a relaxed weekend in Nairobi. Relaxed, you say? In Nairobi? Despite the traffic and the hustle and bustle, I’m here to tell you that a zen state is possible, and here’s how, dear readers.

Arriving on Friday night, arrange an airport pick up with your hotel and head over there. Instead of picking a spot downtown, plump for the leafy suburb of Karen in the South-West, where the green space and plethora of bon-vivant venues will equip you well for a weekend of kicking back. The Nomad’s Concierge loves The Purdy Arms for a mid-range option, or the inimitable Hemingway’s if you can stretch to it. In any case, once you’ve unpacked and freshened up and made sure you’ve got Uber on your phone, head to Hemingway’s for a relaxed cocktail amongst the tufted leather seats and marble fireplace.

On Saturday morning, head over to The Purdy Arms for a hearty brunch that’ll set you up for the day. The veranda looking out over the hotel’s luscious garden is perfect for people watching and getting a sense of life in Kenyan suburbia, as there’s always something on. The sports bar inside usually provides the right amount of banterous background noise. There’s a whole range of fun activities from paintballing to archery hosted from the gardens but they’re perhaps not in line with the relaxation aim. However, don’t leave without visiting the artisan shops that flank the drive. I fell in love with the quirky BBQs in the shape of buses and all sorts, but after 20 minutes making no headway on how to get one home, I reluctantly admitted defeat. Some day, BBQ, some day.

From there, head to the Giraffe Centre to get up close and personal with the most graceful of beasts. You’ll be given a handful of feed that you can offer up to a giraffe for them to extract from your hand with their extravagantly long tongues. A totally unique experience! The place isn’t huge, so no need to schedule more than an hour there and be warned, there’s no WiFi here, so don’t rely on Uber for your return trip unless you’re free and easy with roaming charges.

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At the Sheldrike Wildlife Trust, you’ll meet orphaned elephants, who you can see playfully jumping about and loving their safe and cared for life. At 5pm each day, you can visit to adopt one of the elephants, committing to financial supports its care in exchange for photos.

Stop by The Hub shopping centre, choosing one of their large range of restaurants for some lunch. We opted for Picazzo for tapas, churros and sangria in stylish surroundings. The shopping centre itself has many global brands alongside some fabulous local shops for souvenirs you’ll actually use in your home. My favourite of these was Blue Rhino, where I got some great candles, batik style placemats and had to resist any more of the beautiful handmade soft furnishings.

An unmissable Karen experience is Escape Room Kenya, around the corner from The Hub. If you don’t know the premise of an escape room, your group will be thrust into a locked room and you have an hour to solve the puzzles and escape. The Karen version is very well done. It’s not high-tech but the scenarios are fun and convincing, the plotlines get you in the mood and the puzzles are well-thought out and really enjoyable. Best of all, you can play from two players to a bigger group. And the props for the photo at the end are fabulous. It’s good, clean fun.

As night falls, the perfect Karen dinner spot is The Talisman restaurant, right next door in the same compound. Book an outside table ahead of time, where you’ll be supplied with blankets and your own fire in the shape of a rot-iron frog. The restaurant has a sumptuous menu of gastro-delights and a whole separate sushi menu to choose from. This is relaxed elegance at its finest.

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Sundays are made for hiking and being at one with nature, so after fuelling with your hotel breakfast head over to the Ngong Hills. A well-prepared Nomad would be wise to take water and snacks and beware it can get quite cool and windy. After hiring a ranger / guide for peace of mind at the front gate (or KFS opposite the Ngong Police Station), you can set off along the seven hills, which will take about 2.5-3 hours to reach the furthest point (Kona Baridi). Arrange a car to pick you up there – after all, this weekend is about relaxing, not exhausting, ourselves. Of course, there’s no need to go the whole way if you prefer to walk a little way there and back. In any case, along the way you’ll chat with Maasai herdsmen and spot buffalo, all the time with a stunning backdrop.

After earning your lunch, head to Matbronze Museum to visit their well-served café, before wandering around the fabulous array of bronze animal sculptures set amongst pristine gardens.

Depending on how leisurely your day has been and the timing of your flight, perhaps there’s time to fit in the nearby Karen Blixen Museum, the well-preserved home of the Out of Africa author. Much of the film adaptation was set there and it’s an intimate look into the author’s life. The Coffee Garden restaurant comes well recommended too for some refreshment.

And that is your 48 hours in Karen, Nairobi! I’d love to hear how it goes, Nomads, and any of your other discoveries. Let me know in the comments section below!