48 hours in The Hamptons without breaking the bank

Mentioning The Hamptons conjures up a strong association for most people… New York’s summer playground, the watermelon incident in SATC, a couple of Kardashians… All of which are tied together with a big bow of glamour. Of which I am a fan. The Hamptons is notoriously pricey but going just off season, right before many establishments close and the weather is still luscious, can make all the difference…

Mentioning The Hamptons conjures up a strong association for most people… New York’s summer playground, the watermelon incident in SATC, a couple of Kardashians… All of which are tied together with a big bow of glamour. Of which I am a fan. Plus – this Concierge, living in landlocked Ethiopia, was craving the beach and some excellent seafood. So when Concierge Hubby began planning a special 30th birthday trip for me Stateside, a few days in The Hamptons just had to be on the agenda.

The Hamptons is notoriously pricey but going just off season, right before many establishments close and the weather is still luscious, can make all the difference. We hired a car from JFK (Nomads, watch out for deals with air miles as many car hires are associated with airline alliances) and set off in the opposite direction to NYC, right to the end of Long Island. We chose Montauk as our destination – the grounded sibling of the Hamptons family. On our way, we drove through village after village with pretty ship-lap homes and the manicured high streets. There were even windmills, Nomads! From the get-go, this was entirely what this Concierge had hoped for.

Our dinner stop was Springs Tavern, which combined the feel of a down to earth diner with stylish Hamptons furnishings (I see you, ceiling fan, wooden floor and warm grey hues). Locals lined the bar, whilst relaxed groups of sun-seekers occupied the restaurant and we filled our boots with an excellent burger, mac ‘n cheese and a craft beer that slid down very easily. Hello ‘Merica!

Our hotel was an inspired choice by Concierge Hubby, the Hero Beach Club. This was Boutique with a Capital B; art scattered throughout the hotel and grounds, branding to die for, an iPad in the room to connect you with reception, local rose on tap in the bar, swing chairs on the porch, pool furniture from Bali… Our veranda looked out directly over the sea with an enticing beach just feet away. No white noise machine needed for a deep sleep when the waves are that close!

Room in the Hero Beach Club Montauk

After a restful night, our morning began with a swim in the beautiful pool, a stroll down said beach, and a veer off course in the direction of coffee and pastries. Left Hand Coffee provides excellent caffeination – drip coffee, a multitude of single blends… These people know coffee. The pastry was a secondary event but hit the spot. It’s definitely a solid Montauk option for a grab-n-go breakfast.

Beach and sea outside the Hero Beach Club Montauk

After a wander through Montauk, we headed on to our lunch spot (a day revolving around food = a good day), the incredible Clam Bar. It feels exactly like being on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, as you pull up to the high-class shack on the side of the highway and park up on chucky stones. This is where one of the Hamptons’ most loved Lobster Rolls can be found and, therefore by default, me. This roll was so stuffed full of lobster, it overflowed and was totally fresh. Concierge Hubby had heard that sometimes the lobster has literally been on the seafloor hours before. The bun was light, sweet and fluffy. I was in Seafood Heaven, Nomads! Add to that a glass of local white and this was one happy Concierge.

Lobster roll from the Clam Bar on the Montauk Highway

Post-lunch, there was a definite need to walk off the lobster and so we headed into East Hampton and then Sag Harbor to peruse the shops and dream of living the other side of one of those white picket fences. J-Crew, Brandi Melville and a Maple Pecan Frappuccino (FINALLY) were excellent features of the wandering. Not to mention getting up close and personal with one of the aforementioned windmills! We soon scooted off for the next item on our Hamptons agenda – wine tasting! At the Wolffer Estate, there’s no long tour with a blow-by-blow account of how every grape was smushed – it’s all about the tasting. We ordered a flight of wine and set about testing Wolffer’s best offerings. As you try, you sit on a sunny patio with the vineyards and blue skies right in front of you. It’s a perfect afternoon. The sharing platters looked very tempting were it not for the amount of lobster already consumed and the prospect of a fancy dinner in a few short hours. There’s a shop inside to purchase anything you’ve particularly enjoyed (alongside a range of ciders and a gin!) but refreshingly, we happened upon it by chance! There was not a single sales pitch, nevermind the reminders ad nauseam that can be part and parcel of a wine tasting. We returned to the hotel thoroughly relaxed.

A flight of wine to taste at the Wollfer Estate in the Hamptons

We headed up to the North Shore to find a perfect spot for sunset. A few of our potentials were closed for the season but we found the wonderful Montauket, a pub full of character (and people) with a great buzz and good beer & wine for sunset-watching. The North shore of the island is where to catch the sunset from and it was breath-taking. Just see for yourself…

Sunset from the Montauket in Montauk

We moved on for dinner at Scarpetta Beach, set inside the luxurious Gurney’s Resort that oozed elegance and Hamptons charm. This is perhaps the part of the post that (despite the title) could break the bank, Nomads, but it was the day of my 30th Birthday and Concierge Husband is very good to me. The lighting was low and romantic, the tables were spaced and intimate, the food was beautiful and refined. As we waited for a taxi to collect us, we sat under blankets at the most well-appointed fire pit I’ve ever seen and floated away home happy, happy, happy.

Hero Beach Club Montauk's smiley face

Waking up to the lapping of the sea, we set off for a healthy breakfast at Naturally Good Foods, with all the superfoods and wondergrains your heart could desire. From there, it was finally time to explore Montauk’s lighthouse *over excited squeal due to girlish love of lighthouses*. The light house is right at the end of Long Island (an area innovatively named called The End) and set in an area filled with nature and protected reserves. We strolled on the beach before clambering up the rocks and lapping the light house.

Montauk Lighthouse

It was time for us to start making our way back to JFK to get a shuttle into the city but we took our sweet time about it. We stopped off at Vicki’s Veggies, a picture perfect stall in Amagansett for some farm-fresh fruit for the road and then perused the town and did a little more shopping. We headed to The Village Gourmet Cheese Shoppe and sat people watching in Southampton with incredible soups, salads and cheese. And we once again lusted after all the beautiful homes and houses of the Hamptons’ villages.

Pretty street with movie theater in East Hampton

We reached New York easily after dropping off the hire car and completely relaxed after a perfect Birthday retreat in The Hamptons. Try it out, Nomads!

DAY 1

10am – Stroll on the beach and coffee & pastries at Left Hand Coffee

11am – Walk through Montauk

12pm – The Hamptons’ best lobster rolls at the Clam Bar

1.30pm – A wander through East Hampton and Sag Harbor, checking out the marina & the windmill

3.30pm – Wine tasting at the Wolffer Estate

5.45pm – Sunset at a North Coast pub like the Montauket

7.30pm – Dinner at Scarpetta Beach, Gurney’s Resort

DAY 2

10am – Healthy breakfast at Naturally Good Foods

11am – Discovering the Montauk Lighthouse and some of the surrounding trails

12pm – Explore Amagansett and stock up on fruit snacks at Vicki’s Veggies

1pm – Lunch at the Village Gourmet Cheese Shoppe

2pm – Explore Southampton and then on to JFK

Windmill in Sag Harbor, The Hamptons

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.

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.

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!

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!