A step closer to heaven in Val d’Isere, France

There is something about the mountains – I absolutely adore them. I love being at the top of the world – and I love the peace and quiet. I am a decent skier, but a ski trip for me means more than just that – for some reason, it always gives me the opportunity to clear my thoughts, catch up on my sleep and have a little bit of “me” time.

Val d'Isere in the French Alps - photo by www.vip-chalets.com

Val d’Isere in the French Alps – photo by www.vip-chalets.com

Thanks to VIP SKI, Mr. O and myself were invited to open the 2012-2013 ski season in the lovely resort of Val d’Isere. Mr. O knows the French Alps like he knows me, and was very keen to go back. We never ski in December, so were looking forward to compare and contrast.

We flew to Geneva, and had enjoyed a private transfer to Val d’Isere, which is a little bit under 3 hours away. On the way, we drove past the beautiful city of Annecy – a place I would definitely go back to and spend some time there. We have never really stopped and heard great things. And the lake.. wow!

The stunning Lac d'Annecy

The stunning Lac d’Annecy

Val d’Isere,  often referred to as ‘skiing’s peak of perfection’, is one of the greatest ski resorts in the world, with practically limitless skiing and breath-taking surroundings. L’Espace Killy which comprises Val d’Isere and neighbouring Tignes is the highest extended ski area in the world, with a well-founded reputation for excellent snowfall. Val d’Isere’s 300km of pistes include everything from green and reds to the legendary Face de Bellevarde black run and some of the most exhilarating off-piste worldwide. The 2012-2013 season started with excellent snow – if anything a bit too much, as we only saw the sun on the very last day.

The Aspen Lodge in Val d'Isere

The Aspen Lodge in Val d’Isere

As we arrived, we were greeted by our Chalet hosts, who were to look after us for the next 4 days. When we arrived at the Aspen Lodge, our address in this part of the world, we needn’t have worried – the accommodation was fantastic.

Birch Suite at Aspen Lodge

Birch Suite at Aspen Lodge

We stayed at the Birch suite, also known as the Penthouse Suite, which sleeps 10 guests, in 5 en-suite twin bedrooms. You can certainly tell by the images how lovely it was. Our package included breakfast, afternoon tea and a 3-course dinner – and I can’t tell you how much we ate!

Champagne and a log fire - good enough for Mrs O

Champagne and a log fire – good enough for Mrs O

After the first dinner, where we were treated to champagne and a log fire, it was time for a proper sleep – I am no early riser (even when skiing), and the thought of being up before 8am on a holiday always makes me a bit nervous. But I didn’t need to worry, as the rooms were indeed lovely.

Stylish but super comfortable rooms at Aspen Lodge

Stylish but super comfortable rooms at Aspen Lodge

For 2 days, we were split into groups and assigned a guide – not a “ski instructor”. I loved this concept, which is very different from normal “ski school”. Colin, who owns the business looked after us – boy, was he patient! TDC Ski is all about helping people really improve their skiing in an enjoyable, relaxed environment. Rather than pre-planned lessons and drills, their approach is based around coaching clients on their style as an individual, allowing one to really make a breakthrough in confidence and ability. Having enjoyed all the attention first hand, I can really vouch for the concept. I have never really been a fan of ski school, preferring more 1-to-1 attention.

On the first skiing day, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch with the Mayor of Val d’Isere, who kindly took some time to meet and welcome us to the lovely resort. Lunch took place at Le Signal, at over 2300 metres high. After 4 hours skiing and a hearty lunch, I needed a break. And a little sleep before my pre-booked inroom massage with Pamper off Piste, which was just what I needed, before dinner and a not so early night!

Me and the girls looking very cold!

Me and the girls looking very cold!

Day 2, and time for some more skiing – or staying in bed late, whichever we decided (I dare you to guess what I did). And obviously time for more food. This time, we headed for an incredible lunch at La Fruitière, which is located next door to La Folie Douce, right on the slopes. I loved this restaurant – the food was incredible (I will never forgive myself for not ordering the snail soup, but thankfully Mr. O shared a bit of his) and so was the wine. We were able to visit the wine and cheese cellar (yes, cheese cellar, why not?) and of course I found something I liked!

A decent sized wine bottle!

A decent sized wine bottle!

La Folie Douce

La Folie Douce

The highlight of the day? As Folie Douce was still closed (it opened on December 13th 2012), the fab Kelly treated us to an incredible live music performance over lunch. I understand that this is unlikely to happen again, so I must thank everyone again and again. It was really quite something!

A special performance by Kelly at La Fruitiere

A special performance by Kelly at La Fruitiere

As you can tell, we did have a bit of fun, but after this, it was time to go back to our chalet for the last night, where we were treated to a “pre-christmas” celebrated by our lovely chalet girls. Millie, Laura and Rachel were absolutely lovely and really looked after us. One thing I have to say – these ladies were very impressive. One thing I loved about this trip was how well “matched” they were to the type of guests that VIP usually has. Helen, the Chalet manager was also very nice and efficient and overall, the staff at VIP get 5 stars.

Our lovely VIP Ski Chalet Girls

Our lovely VIP Ski Chalet Girls

One thing I also really liked – the fact that our chalets had no keys. We all know how key cards seem to magically disappear on ski holidays, so having a 4-digit code seemed like the best idea ever. If one remembers it, of course, which can be slightly difficult after a drink or three at Dick’s Tea Bar, where we went for a final drink on our last night.

Good things come to an end, as they say – and I really enjoyed my time in Val d’Isere. I felt looked after, but also super comfortable – everything I need on a skiing holiday.

Lac de Tignes on our way back down the mountain

Lac de Tignes on our way back down the mountain

And with this, it was back to Geneva again – and no shopping this time! Which naturally means, I *simply* need to go back ?

xo

Mrs O

Disclosure: I was a guest of VIP SKI on this trip, who covered my transportation, lift passes, food and beverage, beauty treatments, ski lessons and accommodation, amongst others. Opinions, are as always, my own. I believe the experience I had is very similar to what any paying guest would, and can, without a doubt, recommend this product.

Fact Box:

VIP SKI has thirteen chalets to choose from in Val d’Isere. Aspen Lodge is situated at the centre of the resort and makes up four of the accommodation options in the resort. The Birch Penthouse Suite sleeps ten guests in five ensuite bedrooms and benefits from the large reception area on the ground floor along with its own concierge desk giving visitors the ultimate in location, style and comfort. With sliding glass doors that open from the high street onto a smart lounge area with open fire, giant cinema screen, high tech facilities, pool table, draft beer and coffee bar and lift access to the private accommodation suites above. The suite has its own living and dining area, featuring a south facing balcony, and a dedicated chalet host. VIP SKI prices for seven nights start from £859 per person based on 2 sharing. Included are return flights from London Gatwick, coach transfers, accommodation, catered chalet board of  breakfast, afternoon tea, three course evening meal on six nights followed by cheese board  and coffee and mints, wine, wake up drinks and canapés on the first and last evening. Complimentary ski and snowboard hosting service on three days, towels, mid-week bed linen change, toiletries and daily newspapers. For more information call VIP SKI on 0844 557 3119 or book online at www.vip-chalets.com

VIP SKI’s Platinum Service starts at £1,129 per person based on two sharing at the Aspen Lodge.  This exclusive service includes all the usual VIP SKI features plus:

  • Midweek linen and towel change
  • Valet parking in the UK
  • Private taxi to resort
  • Private chef who phones prior to the holiday to arrange a menu for the week
  • Cooked breakfast and housekeeping all 7 days
  • Canapés on 6 evenings
  • Personally selected upgrade wine
  • Port and handmade chocolates
  • Fresh flowers
  • Unlimited complimentary mini bar
  • Personal in resort chauffeur (8am – 8pm)

 

Ski pack items can be pre-booked: Lift passes for the Espace Killy area (Val d’Isere and Tignes) start from £206 with child and senior lift passes starting at £165.  Ski hire starts at £134 for boots and skis or snowboard with children’s hire starting at £61 for skis and boots.  Group ski lessons with TDC start at €220 for 9 hours of tuition spread over 3 mornings www.tdcski.com.

Check the tourist board’s website www.valdisere.com for the latest news and snow conditions.

Pamper Off Piste www.pamperoffpiste.com offer a range of massage and beauty treatments and a 30 minute massage starts at €52.

La Folie Douce represents the ultimate in Après Ski in Val d’Isère, Meribel and Val Thorens as well as a great mountain restaurant for a leisurely lunch www.lafoliedouce.com.  Also check out Dicks Tea Bar at www.dicksteabar.com with a bar in Meribel as well as Val d’Isère.

Le Signal has been known to gain accolades such as Best Restaurant in the Alps and from its position at 2330m there are commanding views of the slopes and mountains.  For more information visit www.lesignalvaldisere.com

 

My date with the Three Wine Men

You may have heard about how I like a glass of wine, or three. So you can imagine how excited I was when I got my invite to the Three Wine Men event, which took place recently in London. Mr. O was even more excited, as it took place in the home of cricket, Lord’s Cricket Ground.

A general view of the event venue in London

A general view of the event venue in London

The Three Wine Men want to get everyone in the UK tasting, experiencing and enjoying new wines and discovering different foods. Their events bring together wine and food retailers and producers to show you just how much fun your taste buds can have in a day. This sounded pretty much like a perfect day for Mrs. O!

So who are these lovely gentlemen?

The Three Wine Men

The Three Wine Men

They are in no particular order Olly Smith, Oz Clarke and Tim Atkin. They all love wine, they all love talking about wine, they love sharing their knowledge and this is why they have teamed up to become the Three Wine Men.

I had met Tim Atkin briefly on a separate wine tasting event, and we had exchanged some tweets – I was really looking forward to meet this Master of Wine.

Mrs. O meets the master

Mrs. O meets the master

 Exhibitors come from everywhere around the world – from the old to the new world, there was something for everyone. I particularly enjoyed hearing Oz Clarke introducing Wines of Brazil, who apparently started producing some very interesting sparkling wines (like the British). Oz also sold the virtues of Portugal’s Douro region, where Port originally comes from, but also where incredible wines are produced. I was super excited as Douro is one of my destinations for 2013.

 Oz Clarke introducing Spanish Cava and a Barbera from Piemonte, in Italy

Tim asked me to go and say hello to Dawn, at Selfridge’s Wine. We also had a password for her – 30. Whatever that meant, we made Dawn laugh.. a lot! We really enjoyed Selfridge’s selection of wines, and completely fell in love with their own label bottles. How cute were they? Can’t wait for our order to arrive home, just in time for Christmas!

We absolutely loved the Malbec

We absolutely loved the Malbec

Every visitor to this event, sponsored by Riedel (my favourite brand glass in the world) gets one glass, which you are free to take home. Mr. O and I are very keen on the Vinum collection and took the opportunity to stock up on some of their day to day glasses, as they had 50% off!

Mrs. O loves Riedel

Mrs. O loves Riedel

Some of the best we tasted - all the way from California. Cakebread, a firm favourite of Mr. and Mrs. O, and Caen, both from the Napa Valley. We simply need to go back!

The 4 hours, went so quickly, I couldn’t believe it! We really enjoyed our time with the Three Wine Men and are really looking forward to the next event, which will take place in 2013. Will you be joining me? 

And to end on a tasty note, I want to know: what is your favourite wine? 

Cheers,xo

Mrs. O  

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Three Wine Men at this event. Opinions are, as always, my own!

On the trail of Turin’s Contemporary Art by @globalgrasshopr

When I got the invite to go to Turin, I was really excited. I do understand that the thought of Turin doesn’t make people pack and get on a plane, but a recent visit, enroute to Barolo completely changed my opinion about this city. But sadly, it coincided with a trip to NYC, and it just wasn’t meant to be. So then I thought.. who could I send on my behalf? Someone that would totally get this place? How about the lovely Becky and Graham from GlobalGrassHopper? They are one of my favourite websites – their photography is second to none, plus we have met firstly in Girona, and then over drinks with Simon Reeve in London. I hope this article changes your opinion about Turin – a place I will definitely go back to as soon as I can. xo Mrs. O

Turin Streets

Turin Streets

Turin Light Exhibition

Turin Light Exhibition

Turin may feel overshadowed by its big-hitting Italian competitors, Rome, Milan, Florence and Pisa, but as we discovered recently, it has no reason to feel inferior. As capital of the Piedmont region, Turin is a city with a modern art collection to rival any city in the world, and its galleries, museums and architecture make for a wonderful cultural short break. We were invited to Turin by Turism Torino e Provencia, to help promote the city’s contemporary art scene, and spent just over two days exploring the sights and sounds of this underrated destination.

Turin City Centre

Turin City Centre

Turin Chocolates - yay!

Turin Chocolates – yay!

Despite the steep competition, Turin is the 10th most visited city in Italy. Known for its baroque, rococo, neo-classical, and Art Nouveau architecture, it seems equally as proud of its contemporary art galleries of which it has many. The galleries house collections ranging from the works of the Italian masters to stylish modern art and avant-garde sculptures.

Luci d'Artisa

Luci d’Artisa

The annual Luci d’Artisa is an extraordinary open-air exhibition which lights up the city during the long dark winter nights. Lights are hung between buildings, along narrow streets and in piazzas. Some of the work is permanent while others are by invited artists, and are installed every year. A great way to see the lights is to jump on a [TO]Bike (Turin’s cycle sharing scheme) like we did and dodge the traffic and trams. We were allowed to ride specially adapted bikes, featuring the work of artist Martino Gamper – their first official outing on the streets of Turin meant we turned heads pedalling around the city with glowing wheels of colour, and became living works of art.

Mario Merz Foundation

Mario Merz Foundation

We began our city tour at the Fondazione Merz – a trust dedicated to the Italian artist Mario Merz who died in 2003. His legacy lives on in a former Lancia thermal power station that now houses his art (and that of his daughter Marisa) focussing on abstract expressionism and his trademark neon Fibonacci progressions that also adorn many of Turin’s buildings.

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo

We continued on to the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, A stark, neo minimalist-style building which has a large hall for temporary exhibitions, an auditorium and a stylish restaurant. The Fondazione’s main aim is to encourage a greater understanding of contemporary art and of today’s leading trends at an international level. The main display at the time was “For President”, a specially curated collection of photography and objects charting the history of American Election Campaigns. The Fondazione’s unique “art mediator” scheme means that visitors can ask staff to help explain the works, and be guided through the gallery, encouraging a dialogue about the art on show.

Agnelli Art Gallery

Agnelli Art Gallery

The tour moved on to the Lingotto – the first Fiat factory, built in 1923 and renovated in 1989 to maintain the building’s original structure by Renzo Piano. We made our way up to the iconic rooftop test track (seen briefly in The Italian Job) and saw the Giovanni and Marella Agnelli picture gallery housing 25 works of ancient and modern art, from Canaletto to Picasso and Matisse.

Fiat factory turned shopping centre

Fiat factory turned shopping centre

Our tour concluded at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Castello di Rivoli. Easily one of the most impressive art museums, by way of its construction and setting – a fortified 11th century castle perched high above Rivoli and Turin, and renovated and reopened in 1984. The contrast of modern art against the traditional structure and original features make it an inspiring venue with an incredible collection, from renowned names such as Mario Merz, Gilbert and George, Andreas Gursky and Maurizio Catellan.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Museum of Contemporary Art

While many travellers might pass through Turin on their way to ski in the Alps, or bypass in favour of nearby Milan, there is more to this former industrial powerhouse than meets the eye. With wide boulevards that evoke a Parisian feel, and art and design to rival many other cities, Turin is an unassuming but stylish alternative destination that might just bring out the artist in you.

Turin Shopping Centre

Turin Shopping Centre

By Graham Padmore of GlobalGrasshopper.com. All photos were taken by Graham.

Becky and Gray are the UK-based husband and wife team behind GlobalGrasshopper. They love exploring new places, taking photographs and staying at the most unique hotels they can find.

A bit of Lisbon love

My love for Lisbon is no secret. It is my hometown, after all – but I had to move to other places (Spain, the UK) to really start appreciating it, which is a bit of a shame. Nonetheless, I try to go back as often as I can – which isn’t every month (sadly).

This time around, we stayed at The York House, a lovely boutique hotel, located in a different part of town, which totally altered our routine – not necessarily a bad thing! So Mr. O and I decided to go for the longest walk ever, which took us over 4 hours – and loved every minute of it.

A little bit of peace and quiet at The York House's courtyard - perfect for breakfast

A little bit of peace and quiet at The York House’s courtyard – perfect for breakfast

From the hotel, located in Rua das Janelas Verdes, we walked towards the river and enjoyed a bit of winter sun. It was lovely to see this part of town come to life during the morning – people running, fishing (? yes, seriously) or just going for a walk. Not difficult to understand why.

The River Tejo and the traditional ferries

The River Tejo and the traditional ferries

Not quite sure how good the catch of the day can be...

Not quite sure how good the catch of the day can be…

Continuing east on the river, we reached Cais do Sodré, a busy roundabout which actually gives you lots of options: you can take the ferry to the other side of the river, you can take the train to Cascais (absolutely worth it), you can continue alongside the Tagus towards Praça do Comércio, or you can take a sharp left towards Rua do Alecrim, and one of my favourite neighbourhoods: Chiado and Bairro Alto.

Reinventing the old - Rua do Alecrim, Lisbon

Reinventing the old – Rua do Alecrim, Lisbon

I love Lisbon’s architecture and how the younger generations are reinventing the old. New specialist shops have popped up in the area and it is great to see unique retailers, which cater to every taste. An example is this flower shop (the Portuguese are not known for being very flower-friendly, which is actually a shame).

Continuing up the steep hill (one of Lisbon’s magic seven) – perfect for walking off the “robust” hotel breakfast at The York House), we reached Praça Luis de Camões, which works more or less as a hub.

Praça Luis de Camões - still empty at 11am

Praça Luis de Camões – still empty at 11am

This is where you make a choice: by night, you’d go towards Bairro Alto and its many restaurants and bars. If you do (which I highly recommend, has to be done), I would suggest leaving your heels at home. In this square, you can also find the Bairro Alto hotel, which has a fantastic rooftop bar and great Gin & Tonics. Perfect to watch the sunset. It was a tad early for us, so we turned right towards Chiado – it would be wrong not to indulge in a bit of shopping.

I love the variety of this area – still lots of independent retailers, selling unique things, but also with a good mix of more international (and also Portuguese brands). My favourite? The chestnut vendor, which is part of Lisbon’s scenery this time of the year.

Roasted Chestnuts in Chiado, just outside Hermés - why not?

Roasted Chestnuts in Chiado, just outside Hermés – why not?

Paris em Lisboa - Rua Garrett

Paris em Lisboa – Rua Garrett

Paris em Lisboa is one of Lisbon’s oldest shops (Paris in Lisbon, as you could probably guess). I remember going there when I was a little girl with my mother, to buy housewares. It is still going strong, and we couldn’t resist some good sheets and, of course, towels for our new house. Service matches the price (ha) and is absolutely worth having a look.

A recent (not this year) arrival to this area is A Vida Portuguesa which translates as “The Portuguese life”, which recreates old shopping experiences. Its founders went back to our roots and resurrected some of Portugal’s oldest brands. It is so nice – from soap bars to canned tuna, to perfumes and old-fashioned toys. I love this place and always make sure I pop round.

A Vida Portuguesa in Chiado, Lisbon

A Vida Portuguesa in Chiado, Lisbon

Second hand book fair, Chiado

Second hand book fair, Chiado

We continued down Rua Garrett, stopping along a few shops (you are spoiled for choice) but mainly, just enjoying the walk. By this stage we were close to Armazens do Chiado, which were burned down in 1988 and subsequently rebuilt as a little shopping centre, with also a good selection of shops.

A beautiful day in Lisbon

A beautiful day in Lisbon

More shopping at Rua do Carmo, heading towards the Baixa district in Lisbon

More shopping at Rua do Carmo, heading towards the Baixa district in Lisbon

At this time, it was perfect for lunch, so we met my parents and sibblings and headed to the other side of the bridge, where we enjoyed grilled red mullet and other wonderful things. I would love to share pictures with you, but was too hungry, and none were taken!

We spent the rest of the afternoon with my family, just lounging around and catching up. I really miss them a lot – I know I am fortunate that we are only 2 hours and a bit away, but I miss seeing them every day. At least we can talk on the phone etc, but still breaks my heart to this day, when we have to say goodbye.

When it got to dinner time, Mr O and I knew exactly what we wanted: not a fancy restaurant at all. We missed Portuguese seafood and that means only one place: Cervejaria Ramiro. This means Iberian ham, outstanding seafood, beer (which I don’t like, so I will treat myself to a glass of wine) but still eat the lovely yellow thingies. I have no idea what they are called in English – if anyone knows, please do tell me. Mr. O just calls them yellow thingies.

The world famous yellow thingies ;)

The world famous yellow thingies ?

From here, it was time for a drink before a good night’s sleep – and we wanted to try out the specialty cocktails at the brand new Independente Hostel & Suites. I know what you are thinking – Mrs. O went to a hostel? Well, yes. I had read about this place and it seems to combine two extremes of the hospitality market. It has a cool restaurant and a great bar and I can say we had possibly some of the most creative cocktails ever. Interestingly, my friend Fiona Hilliard from Dublin recently stayed and reviewed this property. If you want to know a bit more, visit her blog.

Cocktails at Decadente - the bar at the Independente Hostel & Suites

Cocktails at Decadente – the bar at the Independente Hostel & Suites

These drinks were, without a doubt, the perfect ending to a perfect day in Lisbon, my hometown which I miss dearly. I cannot wait to go back ?

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: on this trip, I was a guest of The York House. I have known this property for many years and really enjoyed staying there. Opinions, are, as always, my own.

Loving Miami, Loving Florida

There is something about South Florida, and more specifically, Miami Beach and surrounding areas. I first visited 10 years ago, and ever since, I have been back every year. I have a problem when I like a place – I love to go back.

My beach in Hollywood... Florida!

My beach in Hollywood… Florida!

I used to stay in South Beach – life was all about going out for dinner and drinks and staying up til 6am was the thing to do. But times change, people change – and we want different things.

When I go to Miami, I know exactly what I need – a fab hotel on the beach (no excuses) with no pool scene (think music, models and the lot), plenty of space between myself and the next person, and peace and quiet in order to catch up with sleep and my reading. And wi-fi doesn’t hurt either.

As we got to know the area better, we started exploring – life would always take us to Bal Harbour, a couple of miles north of South Beach and also to nearby Aventura (because of the shops, I am not going to lie). So how happy was I when I found my perfect hotel? I can’t tell you!

A suite with a fabulous view - Westin Diplomat in Hollywood

A suite with a fabulous view – Westin Diplomat in Hollywood

I am not a huge fan of large hotels – but in the US, sometimes you don’t have a choice. But what I like about this place is the fact that it never feels full of people (even when you know occupancy is at 100%). And that is priceless.

For the past 4 years, the Westin Diplomat has been our home in Hollywood… Florida. I think we must be 10-15 miles from South Beach, which means it is not difficult to go out, when and if we want to.

The pool was all mine :) I love this place

The pool was all mine ? I love this place

Mr O wasn't complaining either

Mr O wasn’t complaining either

So, I hear you asking, why would you go to Hollywood, Florida? And where is Hollywood, Florida? It is a tiny little place between South Beach and Fort Lauderdale (closer to the latter, which is also a place I am keen to explore on future trips). Nice, understated and close to everything I need – read: fab restaurants and shops!

So, in case you find yourself in this part of the world, where is my little guide to the area:

Shopping

First things first. Miami is one of the few places in the US which offers this perfect combination: great beach (with sun loungers, which you can’t find anywhere in the country for some bizarre reason), great hotels, shops and incredible food. Pretty much all I need, I would say.

Bal Harbour Shops - or heaven as I call it

Bal Harbour Shops – or heaven as I call it

– Bal Harbour – aka heaven. Without a doubt, my favourite shopping “mall” in the whole world. Small and compact, super stylish and a great selection of shops. Your bank manager will be delighted with a trip here.

– Aventura Mall – located slightly closer to Hollywood (a couple of miles), this is one of the largest “mainstream” malls I have had the honour and pleasure of visiting. A lot of damage can be done at this place. Has all department stores and is one of the US’s concept malls (i.e. where many new market entrants test new concepts). This time I spent 7 hours here until I could no longer walk.. and didn’t see the whole place!

– Loehmanns Plaza and nearby retail area, in Aventura – this is a huge secret. I sometimes go to Loehmmans – and sometimes I am super lucky. This is like an “outlet” and as I said before, you are either lucky or you aren’t. Nearby you also find DSW Shoes (you may have heard I like them a bit) and Bed Bath & Beyond – one of my favourite shops. I have been known to fill suitcases of every single kitchen/home gadget after a trip. And nothing ever breaks.

– Sawgrass Mills – in Sunrise, FL – a good half an hour away, driving, with isn’t a problem if you rent a car. It is also one of Mrs. O’s spiritual places – a massive outlet with an interesting mix of shops. A recent refurbishment immensely improved the selection of shops available and always worth a visit.

– Village of Merrick Park – Coral Gables, FL – is also a very nice place to shop. Open air (like Bal Harbour) with a good mix of high street retailers. Very handy as it is 5 minutes drive from Miami International Airport.

Shopping in South Beach doesn’t really do it for me anymore. I don’t mean this in a bad way – Lincoln Road has improved dramatically and has some decent shops, but it has so many people, that I do try to avoid it at all costs.

The only place where I will indulge in a piña colada per stay.

The only place where I will indulge in a piña colada per stay.

Restaurants

It kills me when people say that you can’t eat well in America. It is simply not true. Miami (and many other places) has an outstanding selection of places. I now have some favourites – the problem is I can’t hit them in a whole week as they are more than 7!

– Sushi Samba – think sushi and Brazilian caipirinhas. With a side of Kobe beef. I really like this restaurant, despite being located on Lincoln Road in South Beach. There are other locations in the USA and the first London restaurant opened recently. Great value, service and oh, those caipirinhas.

– Asia de Cuba at the Mondrian – facing downtown Miami, Delano’s sister property is still nice after a couple of years. I do love the crab croquetas and the spare ribs. And the coconut martinis (which you can only get in NYC).

– Mr. Chow at the W South Beach – amazing asian/chinese cuisine and good service. Absolutely lives up to its reputation.

Kobe beef at Hollywood Prime

Kobe beef at Hollywood Prime

– Hollywood Prime at the Westin Diplomat – I had never visited this restaurant and was a guest of the hotel. I absolutely loved it and will be part of my restaurant repertoire. I love American steakhouses and this was better than Morton’s, for example, which I also love.

– Texas de Brazil – my guilty pleasure. I love Brazilian steakhouses and sadly there are none (or close enough to me) in England. I found this chain, which has quite a few locations in the area, including one in the new Gulfstream development in Aventura/Hollywood. Great meat and wine selection. A place where I always go back.

I was very keen to try the new Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS, which was one of my most memorable meals in the US. Sadly, I couldn’t get a table, so I had to settle for drinks.

The most beautiful cocktail ever - at the W South Beach

The most beautiful cocktail ever – at the W South Beach

Cocktails and Drinks

Not going out for a drink in this part of the world, would be like going to Rome and not visit the Vatican, even if you are not a believer. It was in Miami that the “going to another hotel for a drink” scene became cool, and something we have always done. The difference? I don’t want to be staying at a hotel where everyone “visits” anymore.

Cocktails are better enjoyed in great company - my friend Leah came and met me in Miami

Cocktails are better enjoyed in great company – my friend Leah came and met me in Miami

Places like the Delano, the Mondrian or the Setai are “classics”, but one place that really really surprised me was the W South Beach. I love Ws, especially in urban locations and I like how “understated” this property is. The bar area is divine, full of places to seat and have a chat and the cocktail list is one of the best I have ever seen. I have visited a few times, and vividly remember meeting a girl who “was working through the menu” during her stay. I could totally do it.

If you are around, do go – it is impressive. My favourite? The Lividus, which is pictured above. I remember I once had something with egg whites which sounds quite revolting but was indeed yummy. This time, I got to meet the bar manager who made sure I tried a few more pretty cocktails. Seriously good!

Another pretty cocktail at the W South Beach

Another pretty cocktail at the W South Beach

After a couple of these, it is time for bed for Mrs. O. I need my 9 (or 10) hours sleep – and I want to wake up in time for breakfast with this view. And spend the whole day at the beach, before a spot of shopping before dinner. And a great dinner.

Happy feet at the beach

Happy feet at the beach

There are amazing places in the world, and this one is one of my favourites. We tend to go in May each year, when it’s still a bit cold in Europe, even if it is just for 3 or 4 days (I do prefer a whole week!). It has everything I need, and more – the memories from previous trips are quite something and I by the time I get on the plane back, I am already plotting my return.

xo

Mrs. O

PS. As this is Mrs. O’s blog anniversary (yes!), I am doing a special giveaway later this week, inviting a very lucky person to enjoy 2 nights at this part of the world. Do stay tuned ?

Related Articles:

Review: First vs Club World on British Airways – my contribution to Civilian Global

8 great hours in Miami – by Leah Travels

Disclaimer: I was a guest of the Westin Diplomat for this trip, having greatly enjoyed my suite, spa treatments and dinner. As always, any thoughts and love professed is honest and real. Or I wouldn’t keep going back for more. My fab car rental (an SUV, of course) was provided by Argus Car Hire, a global price comparison website I have been using for over 5 years and highly recommend.

Meeting adventurer and TV presenter Simon Reeve

Simon Reeve is an adventurer, TV presenter and New York Times bestselling author with a passion for travel, wildlife, history, current affairs, conservation and the environment. Simon is the presenter of the BBC TV series Indian Ocean and has been around the world three times for the epic BBC series Equator, Tropic of Capricorn, and Tropic of Cancer. He has travelled extensively in more than 110 countries.

TV adventurer and presenter Simon Reeve

TV adventurer and presenter Simon Reeve

When luxury travel agent Kuoni called me recently and asked if I wanted to meet Simon, I was intrigued. Really quite intrigued. I had heard of Simon, but hadn’t seen any of the TV programmes that he is known for. Luckily for me, the BBC just started showing his latest series – Indian Ocean – and I was able to get to know Simon’s work. I was really quite impressed – I liked him on camera, and was wowed (not quite sure if this is a word!) by the way he travels and why he does so. I was really looking forward to meeting him in real life, which I did at a private event held to celebrate the launch of Kuoni at John Lewis department store in the UK.

Before the official event, myself and 2 other bloggers were given the opportunity to have a one to one (or a 4 to 1, really) with the man himself. It was refreshing to see how “normal” Simon was, and he did make me laugh…

I really wish I could tell you what Simon said to make me laugh like this!

I really wish I could tell you what Simon said to make me laugh like this!

So, you have been around the world a good 3 times (or so I have read). Which were your favourite and least favourite places?

Hello and thanks for the questions..! Faves for me include Botswana, Bangladesh and Denmark, for all sorts of different reasons, but mainly Botswana for wildlife, Bangladesh for inspiring locals, and Denmark for being a fantastically well-run country.

Plus my wife is half-Danish, so I’m biased. Least favourite? I’m far too diplomatic to risk offending anyone, but I’ll stick my neck out and say I’m not a great fan of Dubai. I don’t like fake states or places where everyone uses air-conditioning to survive.

What is the most unusual custom you have ever come across or been asked to take part in? (this was the winning question)

A quick trawl of the brain suggests it’s probably kokpar, which is a weird custom masquerading as a sport in Kazakhstan. It involves playing polo with the corpse of a headless goat. It’s mad and wrong on many levels, but the locals love it and I was forced to have a go. Other unusual customs would include being smeared with blood and adopted by a tribe of former headhunters in Borneo. That was a strange day.

Seriously, have you been to Portugal? What did you think of it?

Yes! Why would I lie about such a thing? I didn’t get out of Lisbon, but still: I’ve been, and loved it. I was significantly younger and spent most of the time drinking and dancing.

Simon Reeve shares his tales with an exclusive audience at John Lewis

Simon Reeve shares his tales with an exclusive audience at John Lewis

Apart from your passport and money, what can’t you travel without?

Torches, knife, flapjacks and/or shortbread. And tea bags. I need a brew in the afternoon.

Tell us about luggage.. you don’t travel light, do you?

Not really. I’ve tried, but then I curse myself when I need whatever it is I’ve left behind. We have to be ready for anything on the journeys I do – which is part of the fascination, of course. But that does mean lots of bits and bags.

Airplanes, trains, boats and cars – what is your favourite mode of transportation? Any least favourites?

Favourite is definitely by train. For all the clichéd reasons and more. We’ve all got into a mindset that a holiday or adventure is all about the destination, when in fact, it needs to be about the journey as well.

Easy for me to say, perhaps, but I just think people who jet off without even looking at where they’re going on a map are missing out on a huge part of the experience. One of my best journeys was going from London to Istanbul by train with my brother a few years back. The landscape evolves and changes around you when you’re on a train in a completely memorable way. You don’t get that at 35,000 feet. My least favourite mode? Camel. They really don’t like me.

Fiona Harris had a lot of questions for Simon Reeve

Fiona Harris had a lot of questions for Simon Reeve

You cover such enormous distances in your television programmes, and you must be filming for a considerable amount of time, so how flexible do you need to be about what goes into the episodes? To what extent is the content of the series determined before you leave? Do you have a fixed idea of the story you want to tell, or do you set out with a loose outline of what you want to look at, but decide on the narrative direction of the filming once you’re on location?

Yep, we cover huge distances, and we’re spending other people’s money of course, so it would be outrageous if we didn’t plan what we’re doing in advance. I know roughly what I want to do and the stories I want to tell, but I rarely know exactly how we’ll do it. Unlike most other TV shows we don’t have a script or a ‘recce’ – so nobody goes out ahead of me to plan it all like some Hollywood movie. That means we generally arrive somewhere and then we quickly have to assess the best way of us filming a shantytown, a magnificent view, a shocking story, an elusive threatened animal, or whatever it is, and then we have to get on with it. Generally we’re making it up as we go along, which is more challenging but also more fun and interesting than following a script.

What has been your favourite street food and has there been anything you’ve been too squeamish to eat?

Vietnamese street food is amazing and would get my vote. There’s been a few times when we’ve stopped on a long car journey in different parts of the world and the team have spotted that grilled squirrel / fried caterpillars are being sold by the road. Of course my ‘friends’ then start rubbing their hands in glee because it’s part of my daft job description to sample the exotic local grub.

Usually it’s not too bad, although in Laos our driver ordered a plate of steaming buffalo poo, which was awful. The only time I remember turning my nose up was in Borneo many years ago when I was offered monkey by a tribe. That’s like eating my cousin. But you try explaining to famished villagers that they need to preserve their local wildlife.

Apparently we both like blue

Apparently we both like blue

How do you balance travel impact with the need for conservation? This goes both for environmental impact, but also one could imagine that places you show in your TV show, could face an influx of tourists that exceeds their capacity.

Well, I try to tell stories about issues that matter in my programmes, and hopefully there’s a conservation benefit to Brits and viewers globally learning about environmental threats to the Indian Ocean, for example.

I also try to travel with my eyes open, so I learn about the places and countries I’m visiting. It’s really important we do that. And I’m trying to encourage viewers to make a difference when they’re on their foreign adventures by doing things like visiting National Parks and Marine Protected Areas. When we pay our entrance fee and have a memorable day in a protected bit of the planet we’re helping to pay for its upkeep – we’re actually playing a vital role in stopping a forest, for example, from being turned into a palm oil plantation. Or when tourists go out snorkeling with guides who used to be fishermen they’re helping to protect life on our vital coral reefs. So tourism has a crucial role to play in protecting and conserving life on our planet. Yes, of course, there’s an environmental impact to our travels, and we should all do our utmost to mitigate and reduce the damage we cause, but then every aspect of our modern lives impacts on the planet.

Any obvious places you haven’t been to yet? Where are you off to next?

I’m blessed and hugely privileged to have been to more than 110 countries. But there’s lots of places I haven’t been that I’d love to visit: Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Senegal, Benin, Iceland, Canada. I’m not just off to somewhere next, I’m already there: I’m in Australia, filming a new telly series. It’s hot here, and it’s beautiful. Happy travels.

Simon and a special friend during the shooting of Indian Ocean

Simon and a special friend during the shooting of Indian Ocean

And there you go! Something a little bit different on mrsoaroundtheworld.com. This is also a special week, as this little blog turns a year old.. so expect a few surprises!

If you want to find out more about Simon’s TV programmes and adventures, please visit his blog.

xo

Mrs. O

Missing summer, missing the Algarve

It is no secret that summer is, without a doubt, my favourite season of the year. I love the beach, the sun and the long lazy lunches by the sea.

One place we visit every year – and part of my pre-nuptial agreement with Mr. O -, is the Algarve, in the south of Portugal. This is when that as an Englishman, he is glad he didn’t marry a Russian lady (I do not mean any offense by this, Portugal is closer to the UK and has more sun, that is all).

Not a bad view, is it?

Not a bad view, is it?

Every year, we set off for a special week, which pretty much goes like this: we fly to Lisbon (and say hello to my parents) on a Friday evening, have a delicious breakfast (I will spare you the photos), then head for 2 days in Alentejo, which is a region located between Lisbon and the very south of Portugal – the Algarve.

This year was no exception, as we enjoyed a fantastic stay at Convento do Espinheiro and indulged in an incredible wine tasting weekend. We then drove to the Algarve, and spent ‘not’ enough time at the brand new Fazenda Nova, where we hope to go back again, as we loved it so much.

One thing I hate is crowds, and while we can, we avoid school holidays at all costs. This week in the Algarve is about catching up on sun rays (with appropriate SPF protection), sleep and, guess what, endulge in the incredible local food.

When I think of my summer holidays with my family (or weekends, for that matter), I think of 2-hour lunches by the beach. I will help you picture these:

Clams with white wine sauce, coriander and garlic - Heaven as I call it

Clams with white wine sauce, coriander and garlic – Heaven as I call it

Mr. O isn’t fluent in Portuguese, even after almost 8 years, but ameijoas (Portuguese for clams) was one of his first 10 words. I am actually not being condescending – my husband will never go hungry in Portugal.

Grilled Sardines - or summer on a plate

Grilled Sardines – or summer on a plate

Portuguese food is extremely simple – it is all about the fresh ingredients. For me, grilled sardines, boiled potatoes and roasted pepper and onion salad, washed down with sparkling wine sangria is, indeed, summer on a plate. I do not need anything else to be happy.. or maybe I do?

Shrimps with rock salt - kill me now

Shrimps with rock salt – kill me now

Enough food! I am getting very hungry and is not helping my homesickness.

For the last couple of years (and a few more), we have been staying at the Sheraton Algarve – it has a good location between Vilamoura and Albufeira (we do have a thing about driving around and go to different beaches every day. Or almost – don’t ask!), fabulous rooms, views and one of the most beautiful beaches in the Algarve. This year we simply did not go to other beaches. And we missed breakfast everyday. This hotel was simply perfect for what we wanted and needed.

Yay, another day at the beach!

Yay, another day at the beach!

The 2012 beach bag, given to be by the lovely Leah

The 2012 beach bag, given to be by the lovely Leah

Caught by Mr. O tweeting, or checking Facebook. I *did* have wifi at the beach ;)

Caught by Mr. O tweeting, or checking Facebook. I *did* have wifi at the beach ?

An almost empty beach before sunset - time for a gin & tonic

An almost empty beach before sunset – time for a gin & tonic

Mrs. O’s Algarve little address book:

For lunch, we love:

– Golfinho Azul – basically the next beach after the Sheraton (where all the photos above were taken).

– Restinga – at Alvor Beach (still one of my favourite beaches in the Algarve)

– Gigi Beach, at Quinta do Lago – www.quintadolago.com/en/resort/destination/dining/24…/63-gigis

A few of my favourite restaurants for dinner include:

– Akvavit in Vilamoura Marina – www.restaurante-akvavit.com

– Pequeno Mundo in Almancil – www.restaurantepequenomundo.com

– Pássaro Azul in Olhos d’Água

– Vila Lisa in Mexilhoeira Grande

Pássaro Azul, in Olhos d'Agua - perfect for dinner

Pássaro Azul, in Olhos d’Agua – perfect for dinner

The wooden bridge that leads to Quinta do Lago beach - without a doubt, one of my favourite places in the Algarve

The wooden bridge that leads to Quinta do Lago beach – without a doubt, one of my favourite places in the Algarve

So if Portugal, or the Algarve, to be more precise has never been part of your summer plans, I hope I have been able to show you this special part of the world.

No matter where we are fortunate to go, anywhere in the world, we never give up our week here. It is relaxed, understated and no matter what, kind of feels like home.

Until next July ?

xo

Mrs. O

A walk in Milan with Walks of Italy

When I knew I was going to Genova, I quickly looked at the map and realised I really wasn’t far from Milan. I have been to Milan quite a few times, but not in the last couple of years and was really looking forward to it. And a walk in Milan with Walks of Italy plus much was all we had time for!

After a 90-minute drive, my friend and PR-guru Lynsey Devon and I arrived at the city centre on a beautiful sunny day. Ciao, Milano!

Ciao Milano! Our first glimpse of the Piazza del Duomo

Ciao Milano! Our first glimpse of the Piazza del Duomo

When I was in Girona earlier this year, I met one of the founders of Walks of Italy, who kindly invited me to walk with them next time I was in this fabulous country.

I thought that the day we had in town would be perfect opportunity and my friend Lynsey and I were really looking forward to spending 2h30m with Serena, our private guide. We were due to visit the Duomo, the Galeria Vittorio Emmanuelle and the epic La Scala – perfect, because I had never really seen these landmarks as the queues always put me off. Not a problem if you go with a Walks of Italy guide!

The ultimate tourist photo at Piazza del Duomo, Milan

The ultimate tourist photo at Piazza del Duomo, Milan

Despite the big hair (don’t laugh, we had a really early start, after another long night out!), and the crowds, we found the lovely Serena, just by one of the Duomo doors. After a quick introduction, we were told a lot about the history of this incredible building which is now “almost” restored. I particularly liked the bronze doors, which were only added in the 1950s.

Duomo door detail

Duomo door detail

We quickly entered the Duomo (Mrs. O loves the concept of no queues, yes) and were lucky that a mass was being held. There is something about Mass in Italian – it was very moving. We were also quite impressed by the technology used – large screens, slide shows, the lot. It is a large building and I suppose it makes sense.

I loved the candles

I loved the candles

I was raised Catholic and one thing I always do when I go to a church is to light a candle. I don’t think (or at least I can’t recall) seeing so many candles in one place.  I loved it. We were told that different areas where for different “wishes”, so Lynsey and I took no chances – we wanted health for ourselves and our loved ones, and also love and others things. So we lit a few.

Lighting a candle

Lighting a candle

From the main part of the church, we were shown the archeological site which sits below the Duomo. Other churches had been built there before, and they were found in the 1960s when the works for the metro began. It was time to see some sunlight and get to the roof!

Piazza del Duomo as seen from the rooftop

Piazza del Duomo as seen from the rooftop

To get to the rooftop, you can either walk (no, thank you!) or take a lift. There is only one lift and this can take quite a bit.. it was better to wait a little bit than the alternative ?

Lynsey and I at the top of the Duomo (no idea who the guy is)

Lynsey and I at the top of the Duomo (no idea who the guy is)

From the Duomo, we headed to the Galeria Vittorio Emmanuele. It was painful to see the rooftop bar at La Rinascente department store and knowing I didn’t have enough time to visit. Or see Tod’s and all the other shops I loved and not being able to help the local economy. These are first world problems, indeed.

I love the Galeria. It is, of course, one of Milan’s landmarks and I can’t get enough of it.

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle - love the ceiling

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle – love the ceiling

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle - always busy

Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle – always busy

You may have heard about my love for shoes. I tried to sneek into Prada, but Lynsey dragged me out – I just wanted to ‘have a look’. However, as I did the walk of shame, I noticed that my shoes matched the floor (boys, stop reading – only girls will understand this). I am really into bordeaux this season and this was a happy coincidence.

Matching colours...

Matching colours…(no jokes allowed about the size of my shoes)

From here, we walked to the fabulous La Scala theatre. I had visions of myself attending a white-tie event here – I would really like to do it one day.

La Scala Opera House

La Scala Opera House

I know we were not supposed to take photographs inside, but I couldn’t resist. The chandeliers at the foyer (no champagne being served, sadly) were incredible, and so was the theatre itself. I promise I will go back one day.

Loved the chandeliers at La Scala

Loved the chandeliers at La Scala

La Scala - no words needed here

La Scala – no words needed here

We couldn’t believe how quickly time had gone. We were due to meet my lovely friend Clara for lunch at the nearby super fab Excelsior. Getting there is worthy of a blog post alone, so watch out for it.

Some people think Milan is grey and industrial, but I am a believer that it can be a fantastic city break even if you are not into shopping (that would be a totally different story). This little taster really made me want to go back, and spend some quality time in this city, which I hope to be able to do in 2013.

Ciao!

xo

Mrs. O

Disclaimer: Lynsey and I were guests of Walks of Italy and went on one of the many private walking tours offered by this operator. Views and photos are, of course, and as always, my own.

A weekend in Genova, Italy – more than focaccia and pesto

I think it would be fair to say that Genova isn’t on Italy’s Top10 cities to visit, mostly because people know very little about it. I was delighted to be invited to speak at a recent travel blogging conference and have the chance to revisit a city that has definitely grown on me, and spend a nice weekend in Genova. You may or may not know that delicacies like focaccia or pesto are originally from the Liguria region – I promise some yummy pictures later on!

View from the rooftop of the Grande Hotel Savoia, where I stayed and the lovely MSC Splendida, which happened to be in town

View from the rooftop of the Grande Hotel Savoia, where I stayed and the lovely MSC Splendida, which happened to be in town

I went to Genova earlier this year, when I was onboard MSC Splendida. Genoa is one of Italy’s busiest ports, and I did have a chance to see a bit of this city. I loved the old town, but felt that there was something missing. I decided to get lost around the myriad of streets by the port and in the city center, and have good things to report back. There was something about this place – it really grows on you after a while!

Via Garibaldi in Old Town Genova

Via Garibaldi in Old Town Genova

A nice surprise behind a little arch in the Old Town of Genova

A nice surprise behind a little arch in the Old Town of Genova

Genova City Centre

Genova City Centre

The first time I visited, I didn’t find any shops – so I definitely thought there was something missing. Of course this has been corrected on this recent trip, and I can confirm that the shopping district does not disappoint! The nicest part? The locals. They do make the city come to life and it is really nice to be somewhere that most people aren’t indeed tourists. Genova felt very real and comfortable.

Now let’s talk about food and drink. Prosecco, check. Lovely red wine, check. Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco and Soda, originally from Veneto), check. I must confess I had no idea that focaccia and pesto were originally from this part of Italy. It was lovely to find little focaccerias on every corner and very hard to resist trying them all. €1 buys you a slice not smaller than a slice of pizza and as I keep saying, life is all about the simple things.

Are you feeling hungry?

Cheese and tomato focaccia

Cheese and tomato focaccia

My absolute favourite focaccia - cheese, parma ham and rocket. This is foodie heaven

My absolute favourite focaccia – cheese, parma ham and rocket. This is foodie heaven

One other thing worth mentioning, is that Genova has its own Eataly. Not sure if everyone is acquainted with this project – basically, someone very clever came up with this concept, which showcases the best of Italian ingredients – you can buy them to take home, or you can eat them right there. I first came across Eataly (fab name) in New York, and after a bit of investigation, managed to find out that the concept is now being rolled out in key Italian and international cities. I have visited the first one, in Turin and now Genova. I could totally use this as an excuse to travel around the world. If you are curious and want to find out more about Eataly, just click here.

Eataly in Genoa - located by the Port, it also has amazing views

Eataly in Genoa – located by the Port, it also has amazing views

I had a great time in Genova and would certainly recommend a visit. You can now fly direct from some European cities, but I chose to use nearby Milan Malpensa airport. Why? Because I would spend a fab day in Milan! I promise to share our Milanese adventure very soon.

Ciao!

xo

Mrs. O

PS. I would like to thank Michele from Travel Blogger Elevator for inviting me to take part in this conference – it was my first speaking engagement and a lot of fun. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Savoia, which was lovely too. Grazie!

A perfect weekend in Rome by @browsingrome

I love Rome, but it isn’t a place I feel comfortable writing about. Why? I have only been twice – which means I need to go back for a perfect weekend in the Italian capital (hint to Mr. O). Diana and I bonded over our love for ballet flats – and we both know where to buy them. Love Rome? You will love this! Ciao, Mrs. O

I am grateful that Mrs O has invited me to guest post for her blog and I couldn’t be more excited to be writing on “A Perfect Weekend in Rome”.  There is just too much to see in Rome in a weekend and taking this into account, I have written this specifically for Mrs O, keeping in mind what she loves. Hopefully this post will give her a taste of what she can expect on her next visit and encourage her to expedite her travel plans to The Eternal City.

Impressive Colosseum!

Impressive Colosseum!

Friday night

An evening stroll along Via dei Fori Imperiali never fails to impress visitors and residents alike. Starting from the impressive Colosseum and making your way towards Piazza Venezia, you could only feel like you are walking through an open-air museum and what a museum it is with views  of the Roman Forum as well as Trajan’s Forum.

Walking through an open-air museum

Walking through an open-air museum

Before dinner, drop in at Enoteca Provincia Romana for an aperitivo. Situated in front of the Trajan Columns, enjoy a glass of Spritz or Prosecco while admiring the stunning view which is only with a glimpse of the incredible things to expect this weekend.

While it will be tempting to stay put and appreciate the wonderful settings, you wouldn’t want to miss a taste of one of the best carbonara in town at Roscioli (reservations recommended).  A pleasant 15-minute walk from Enoteca Provincia Romana, it will help you work up an appetite by the time you get there.  With an extensive menu, it’s a challenge to narrow it down to a few dishes and some dishes to try include the burrata, caponata and obviously, the carbonara.

The carbonara at Roscioli is one of the best in Rome

The carbonara at Roscioli is one of the best in Rome

There is always room for dessert and this is where you will be spoiled for choice! You could get a dessert at Roscioli or a gelato at Vice Gelateria, which is only a few minutes away on foot. Either way, you couldn’t go wrong and before calling it a night, walk to Piazza Navona, one of my favorite places in Rome that never fails to mesmerize visitors. This would be the perfect way to end you first evening in Rome.

Got to have a gelato!

Got to have a gelato!

Saturday

Get ready for a full day that is all about fun, food and all things fabulous! It will be an early start and although getting out of bed maybe a challenge, the thought of a real cappuccino or espresso may do the trick. While the food tour you’ll join that morning will take you to one of the most popular coffee places in town after lunch, get your morning fix at Tazza d’Oro. It is near the Pantheon and you can then decide which place you like best.

The smell of coffee here will awaken you and your senses

The smell of coffee here will awaken you and your senses

The food tour starts at Campo dei Fiori and if a cappuccino or espresso wasn’t sufficiently satisfying, make a quick run to Antico Forno Roscioli for a cornetto.  To clear up any confusion, this is the bakery while the dinner last night was at the restaurant. However, just be warned that there will be plenty of tastings on your food tour from the classic pizza bianca to salami and eventually to making your own pizza for lunch. Don’t believe me?  This post by our friend Kathryn who was on the tour last month gives you the full details!

One of the many tastings on the food tour!

One of the many tastings on the food tour!

To work off all the food, there’s no better way to do so than a few hours of shopping! Since Mrs O is already an expert on shopping in Rome but other areas worth exploring include Via Cola di Rienzo(Prati), Via Appia (San Giovanni) and Monti for artisanal items.

The Monti neighborhood is where you will also find some fabulous places to eat!  After an afternoon of shopping, take a breather at Al Vino al Vino and enjoy an aperitivo here.  Also, don’t forget to order their caponata which is considered one of the best in town!  Dinner this evening is at the nearby L’Asino d’Oro, a simple yet charming restaurant that offers creative local cuisine (reservations recommended).

Chocolate fountains at Come il Latte

Chocolate fountains at Come il Latte

While you may be filled after the meal, it just isn’t complete without dessert or gelato!  Though there is a good gelateria in Monti, it would be worth the effort to drop by Come il Latte (Address: Via Silvio Spaventa 24-26) where they have salted caramel gelato and faucets with dark and white chocolate flowing out!

Sunday

The modern décor in Eataly

The modern décor in Eataly

With the long day yesterday, it’s time to take it easier today. While it is far from an authentic Italian experience, Eataly is a different experience.  You could easily hang out here for the whole day and surely won’t go hungry as there are over 15 places to eat within this four-storey structure.  Stepping inside, its modern structure and décor could deceive you to thinking that you have been transported to any city but Rome. That said, it offers a huge variety of Italian products and a place to pick up a few gifts or two if you haven’t already done so.

 Told you that you won’t go hungry here!

Told you that you won’t go hungry here!

However, if you prefer an early start on Sunday, you could first visit the Borghese Gallery which boasts an impressive art collection. Tickets are very affordable at €9 but you’ll need to book in advance.  In addition, you can opt to take a two-hour guided tour in English that starts at 9.10am at an extra cost of €5 or alternatively, get an audio guide for the same price. Both options are highly recommended as you’d want to have some historical information on the pieces you are admiring and you will walk away from here astounded. It is an incredible place! (Note: Keep in mind is that you will be required to leave all your belongings including bags, cameras etc in the cloak room)

 The amazing art collection in the Borghese Gallery

The amazing art collection in the Borghese Gallery

While this jam-packed weekend covered a bit of history, art, shopping as well as lots of great food and wine, it barely scratches the surface of things to do in Rome. This is just a peek at what the city has to offer and hopefully entices you to be back again for more.

Diana

Diana and I recently met in Girona, Spain

Diana and I recently met in Girona, Spain

Diana at BrowsingRome.com enjoys sharing what she discovers while browsing Rome and Italy in general. She is a regular on Twitter @browsingrome and also offers a glimpse of life in Rome at http://www.facebook.com/browsingrome