Friday, 13 June 2014

Bank Holiday Escape - To Vilamoura

I decided to skip the uncertainty of UK bank holiday weather and head off for some (hopefully) more guaranteed sunshine in the Algarve.

Centering around the so called 'millionaire's marina', Vilamoura is my resort of choice. It's my fifth trip to Portugal and my third visit to Vilamoura specifically, which I think says something about my feelings for the area.

While I am still a little way off becoming a millionaire (ok maybe a lot) it's a great place to sit back and admire the stunning super yachts in the marina and get yourself lost in thoughts of what it might be like to own one!

That one's mine!
I'm here with my mum for a long weekend and we find it's the perfect place to spend the days basking in the sunshine and wandering leisurely along the vast stretches of golden sandy beach; and the evenings relaxing with a cocktail at sunset and watching the world go by over a usually delicious meal around the marina.

Cocktails at sunset in the Tivoli

Vilamoura, where to sit?
We stayed at the Dom Pedro Golf Hotel, which is just a few minutes’ walk from the marina. It's a good hotel with simple but clean and perfectly adequate rooms, a spacious lobby and bar area, restaurant and spa facilities.  In the large gardens there are plenty of sunbeds, volleyball and tennis courts, a play area and a good size (of not still a bit chilly in May) main pool as well as a kid’s pool.  Rooms have either a garden view or, like ours, a sea view - you can't beat waking up to a sea view each morning!

Dom Pedro Golf Hotel
There is an abundance of eating and watering holes around the town in a variety of world cuisines, however we chose to mainly eat around the marina because... well why not really? 

Here are some suggestions of places we visited and liked - these are all (bar one) located around the marina:

Located in the bottom right corner of the marina (based on the marina entrance being the too) the Italian food at Lamparo's is delicious.  Since our last visit the marina has added a jetty around the edge giving the bars and restaurants extra capacity and diners the opportunity to right by the water’s edge. They bring you a cover of bread, olives, mini pizzas, crostini (puff pastry sticks) and (still unidentified) battered rings of some sort so unless you're super hungry you can get away with not ordering a starter (there is a small charge of €2.50 pp for the covers). 

We had four cheese risotto and chicken alla siciliana both of which were especially tasty, followed by  Dame Blanche and Coupe Saison ice creams - beware they are fairly sizeable ice creams and while I couldn't quite finish it all I did of course give it a good go! This restaurant scored highly on both taste and presentation!  Two courses plus wine costs around €35 a head for 2 courses plus wine.

One of my five a day
Nosolo Italia
An Italian and gelateria - we made the mistake of ordering two meals here when we could probably have shared just one as the portions were all pretty sizeable! Melon and Parma ham and a garlic bread to start, followed by a pizza each then a pannacotta and another huge ice cream - although the ice cream did have fruit in it so obviously it was good for me!  Three courses and half a bottle of wine set us back around €30 a head.

Buzios Beach Club
This cute little beach bar is on the beach (as you would imagine) just near the Vila Gale hotel. All decked out in blue and white this is the ideal location for a leisurely lunch while taking in the amazing view of the golden sands and clear blue skies. We ordered Pimms a couple of sandwiches and some fries which cost around €15 each.

News Bar and Restaurant
We had brunch here on the terrace overlooking the marina and also an evening meal inside the restaurant, which cost around €30 for two salads a desert and wine.
Not a bad way to spend a Friday lunchtime
Tai Tai
This Chinese restaurant does a great set menu - only €48 for two people, includes four courses and a drink.

Sandbanks - Vale do Lobo
Another reason I like Portugal is because my friend lives there, so whenever I go I always try to meet up with her.  This time we met for lunch and she took us over to nearby Vale do Lobo, which is a very nice area and also happened to be where the England football team were on their pre World Cup training camp!  We went to a restaurant called Sandbanks and enjoyed lunch, a glass of wine and a well deserved catch up overlooking the glistening sea.   Unfortunately no footballers spotted! 

Did someone say footballers?
Another thing to mention is the touristic train. We picked it up from outside the Vila Gale hotel and it takes you around Vilamoura, to the old town, which didn't look so old but had some very fancy villas and hotels such as the Four Seasons. It cost €2 for a one way ticket, €3.50 for a round trip and €5 for an all-day ticket. We got off at the Lakeside Resort and strolled along the beach and then back around the marina.

Finally, we took a Dolphin Safari (€35 each).  After boarding the small rib speedboat boat we headed off with the wind in our hair (literally) along the coast towards Albuferia and the Sea Caves.  After pootling around the Sea Caves, along with a number of other boats full of holidaymakers, we turned back and sped off out to sea in search of dolphins.  After many 'is that one? oh no its just a wave' moments we eventually found a whole pod who happily swam alongside, underneath and in front of us popping in and out of the water as they went.  It's quite a sight to see dolphins out in the wild and I actually managed to get a picture or two (well as good as I'm ever going to get I think!).

..that's the best I'm going to get!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Cyprus Adventure - Part 2

After a few more days of soaking up the sun in our fabulous villa we decided to venture out and take a day trip on Saturday to Nicosia.

We got up early in an attempt to beat the peak mid day sun.  Turns out its just hot all the time (not complaining though!).

We headed east across the island and up to the centre to the walled city of Nicosia. Nicosia is the capital of the island and the only divided capital in the world.  Divided by a ‘green line’ it separates the southern Greek Cypriot side from the northern Turkish Cypriot side.

The wall
We parked up just outside the city walls and headed towards the old town.  We entered through the walls near to the Roman Catholic Church, which was as far as we could go without crossing the border.
We wandered around the mixture of old and new streets and found a pleasant little cafe for some well needed brunch.

After brunch we went in search of the Harley Davidson shop (apparently the only one in Cyprus is in Nicosia) but to no avail. We actually found it as we were driving out but it looked like it had shut down.

Aphrodite’s Birthplace
We drove back along the coast to Pissouri where we pulled off the motorway and headed to Aphrodite's birthplace.  Legend has it that Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, was born from the sea foam at this spot and the popular conception is that if you swim around the rock three times you'll get eternal youth and beauty.  I’ve just looked this up and it seems that you actually need to swim around the rocks naked and in the night on a full moon, which may explain why none of us look any younger!

Before we went down to the beach we stopped at the local restaurant for an ice cream.  The restaurant, and ice cream were slightly questionable, but it did have fantastic panoramic views of the coast and Aphrodite's rock.

Ooh look at the view
Not content with this spectacular view we decided to head further up the hill/mountain to see what was up there.  As our car, while fine on a straight flat road, struggled with some of the short steep hills around Paphos it was touch and go if we were going to make it.  We eventually got up the hill until the road appeared to come to an end, to a scene reminiscent of the film 'The Hills Have Eyes'. There's no doubting that it was an equally spectacular view however we had a slightly hairy moment trying to turn our people mover around on a cliff edge with large pieces of the dirt track road missing.  Alas, we made it and headed back down to the beach. I'm sure the restaurant owner was thinking 'see tourists, I could have told you there was nothing up there!'

The beach, a pebblely one, at Aphrodite's birthplace was strewn with hearts made out of pebbles. And although it was a bit painful underfoot to get into the sea it was refreshing and perfectly clear.  There were a number of visitors who managed to clamber up the rock for a photo opportunity before jumping off into the sea.

Hmm how am I going to get down from here now??
We dried off and headed back to Villa Bella, stopping off to say hi to mum and check out all the weddings going on at her hotel.

Another restaurant recommendation:  Fat Mamas on Tomb of the Kings Road, Paphos.  Advertised as huge portions we weren't disappointed. With two different menus to choose from – the Italian American Fat Mamas menu or her cousin Cowboy Willy’s Rib Ranch menu - the food and cocktails were extremely tasty.  I recommend the Hunky Pizza Boy.  That is a cocktail by the way. 

On Monday we drove down to Paphos to hire some jet skis from the Paphos Watersports centre. They seemed to be cheaper here than some of the other rental places nearer to the harbour and in Coral Bay. A bit of haggling and the nice lady on the desk gave us a good deal on 4 jet skis.  The boys had one each while Katie and I got on together (I was the designated driver) and after a quick safety and instruction lesson we jetted out to sea.  

With both of us holding on for dear life we whizzed, bounced and splashed our way up and down the bay. The screams and giggles were a sign of how much fun we had!

After docking up the jet skis we teetered back over the gang plank and sat down in a nearby restaurant for a cold drink to wash away the sea water taste.  A quick discussion about how much we'd enjoyed the jet skis and we were back at the desk getting ourselves a good deal on a speedboat.  Off we went again, this time altogether and in the words of LonelyIsland, 'on a boat' and hit the big blue watery road for another 20 minutes of thrills and spills.

Another restaurant recommendation: The Gourmet Taverna in Paphos.  Serving local Cypriot dishes as well as international cuisine the food was absolutely delicious.  The meze cheese starter was extremely tasty and the local Cypriot wines were delightful.  It’s an excellent restaurant and although looked like a more expensive restaurant it was actually fairly reasonably priced.

Final restaurant recommendation: Tea for Two in Paphos.  There are two of these in Paphos, one of Tomb of the Kings Road and one in the town near the sea front.  A great place for breakfast (they do lunch and main meals too) especially the one near the sea front which we visited a couple of times. 

Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end and it was time for us to get back to business and go home.  But we’d had a ‘stonking’ holiday – great respite from the stresses of work and life in general!  Villa Bella was an excellent choice and the owners, Marilyn and Dermot, were very helpful.  I would defiantly recommend this villa for anyone looking for somewhere quiet but not too far away from the local amenities and action.  Stevies Taxis were excellent – especially being one of the few taxi companies who knew where Villa Bella was.  Not very expensive to get into Paphos or Coral Bay of an evening and the drivers had some good tips and recommendations for us.      


Home time........

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cyprus Adventure

After a few taxi debacles at 3.15am (taxi's breaking down, not arriving, getting petrol, imobiliser issues) we finally made it to the airport. A quick bit of shopping and some dodgy Eggs Benedict then we were on the plane, albeit a rather warm plane (broken air con). 
We touched down in Cyprus to be met with glorious sunshine and a very nice man called Napoleon (of U2 car rentals) who whisked us off to the villa we're calling home for the next 11 days. Turns out Napoleon, an avid olive oil maker, used to live round the corner from us.

We're staying in Villa Bella ( ref cy1788) which is inbetween Paphos and Coral Bay. It is absolutely lovely! Its on the end of a small row of villas so is fairly private. With its landscaped gardens, pool and jacuzzi outside and high spec kitchen and lounge area inside its got everything we need.

Days around the villa are never dull. With swim club (run by ourselves) in the morning, we then keep ourselves amused with table tennis, swingball, lounging in the hammock, bobbing around the pool on the numerous lilo's and sitting in the jacuzzi until the afternoon water volleyball tournament starts around 4pm.
The outside bar also comes in handy both throughout the day and of an evening when we're firing up the bbq.
And luckily the full sky package has allowed us not to miss the first double bill of X-factor!

Although it could be very easy to just hideaway here and not leave the villa we do have to go out to stock up the fridge and bar occasionally.

We have also ventured out into Paphos to have a look around the market and Coral Bay to check out the beach.  While in Paphos, the Starbucks was spotted so that has now become part of the morning routine too.
On Tuesday we even had visitors round for dinner! It was my mum and her friend Gill who are also on holiday here staying at the Rui Cypria Bay hotel in Paphos.

Last night was our first evening away from the bbq and we'd got a friendly glaswegian taxi driver called John to take us into Coral Bay. After a cocktail in Blazin Saddles cocktail bar we crossed the road and went into Samisen, a Japanese tepenyaki restaurant.  We all sat round the hot plate while our chef tossed and chopped our food around the hotplate amid cries of 'woopaaa' 'woopaa'. We all had a go at throwing eggs, catching food in our mouths and trying not to drop the bowls of rice being thrown at us.  The food (I had goyoza's and sirloin stripsteak teriyaki) was absolutly delicious and cooked perfectly (the meats were all just how we'd each requested them). It was all in all a fun and entertaining experience.

Another quick drink in Kleo's cocktail bar while waiting for John to pick us up, before being dropped off back at the villa for a few late night rounds of cards (mostly cheat/bulls**t).

I've woken up to another glorious day. The boys are on a Starbucks and supermarket run (I can't believe we've let them go unsupervised!). With the mercury around 30 degrees C already and its only 10am (it topped around 46 yesterday) its now its just a question of deciding what to do first, pool or sunbed??......

Villa Bella - pre volleyball tournament

Sunday, 24 July 2011

What happens in Lloret.....

......goes on the blog.

Day one:
So the annual girls weekend away has begun. After a few disputes with my friends trying to find the Travel (space) Lodge with the sat nav and me not being at the right pick up point from the Stansted Express we all finally convened at the Travel (space) Lodge and settled down in the bar.

I don't mind flying Ryanair but I do find it really unecessary and slightly irritating when they make you put literally everything into your case. I mean by making me stuff my jumper, purse, drink etc into my case at boarding not only holds things up there but also once I actually get on the plane the queue is starting to form behind me as I scrabble around in my case trying to get my jumper, purse, drink etc back out of my case!

On this occasion we had an incredibly rude and annoying man at the gate. After finally managing to wedge one of our bags into the case measurer he finally agreed we could take it on (it was just a slightly different shape to the measurer but still a small bag). We just had to get the bag out of the measurer first!  

Landed in a nice warm Lloret. We found a taxi and were just discussing how nice the taxi was and how much safer the taxi driver was than in some other places we'd been when the taxi driver proceeded to smash through the toll booth barrier. Yes, literally smash through. As the alarms started ringing we turned to see the barrier laying in the middle of the road. Luckily the second toll booth barrier went up quickly and we managed to get through it without it even touching the car.

We're staying in the Gran Casino Royal. Not quite a Bond set and no casino in sight but more of a German 18-30 venue.

Some of the staff are fairly friendly the others are not so. Our room wasn't going to be ready until 1pm so we trekked up the stairs (there seems to be a lot of stairs here and I don't even know where to start on the lifts) to the terrace and soaked up a bit of sunshine while we waited for the all inclusive to start.

The afternoon was spent mostly on in this same position on the terrace (apart from a short break to check into our rooms) before we decided to take a stroll to the beach.

At the beach we found a tropical looking cocktail bar.  Settling into the large wicker chairs we ordered our cocktails and shortly after two extremely large and lavishly decorated cocktail glasses appeared. It's a good job we only ordered two between the five of us as they fairly potent. I think this was the point when we finally felt relaxed and were ready to start enjoying our holiday.

With all the excitement of it being the first day we made our way back to our rooms to get our gladrags on and head out early.

Hitting the old haunts we started off in the Queen Vic before heading round to Rockafella's. Most of the evening was spent in one of these two places, with a short trip to Collosus and the golden arches inbetween. There was drinking, dancing and laughs galore and after being awake for 24 hours (what did we expect when vodka redbull is sold in litres) the bed, albeit a fairly firm one, was a welcome relief.

Day two:
Waking up to beaming sunshine everyone is a bit more subdued than yesterday. In a scene reminiscent of The Hangover, we look through the pictures of last night with amusement, surprise and shouts of 'delete'.

A day by the pool is called for today. We slap on the sun cream and park ourselves up on five particularly uncomfortable sunbeds. The pool is freezing but is quite refreshing when ones feeling a little dehydrated. 

In the afternoon we rolled off our sunbeds and headed to the beach with the intention of hiring a pedelo.

The beach was heaving. It's also a pebblely beach so not that comfortable to walk on.  We bypassed the cocktail bar today.

Deciding against a pedelo (we weren't sure they'd let all five of us on one boat and it looked a bit choppy!) we found a spot to sit and began taking in the sights of the beach. We had a dip in the sea, it was quite wavy and got deep almost as soon as you stepped in. Getting out was not a graceful affair - the trick seemed to be to wait for a wave to wash you in! 

We decided to go out a bit later today so after a quick nap we got ourselves ready and ventured to the hotel bar around 10pm. We made the most of the all inclusive for an hour before walking down to The Queen Vic.  The bar staff in the Queen Vic are all English and we also found our Welsh friends, that we befriended the night before, in here.Again the night was spent laughing, dancing and being merry in either The Queen Vic, Rockafella's or BK.  

Day three:
It's a bit cloudy today. After a slightly earlier to bed night last night most of us made it to breakfast. For me it was the first time I'd sampled the hotel food. A reasonable selection so I opted for egg on toast which was actually quite nice.

I think the last couple of days have begun to catch up with us so we've had a very lazy day involving a lot of napping, a quick trip to the beach, cocktail of the day (I have no idea what it was but it tasted like traditional lemonade!) and another round of flicking through the various photos to see what we got up to last night. It seems we did actually meet Stu from The Hangover!

I'm writing this from our seventh floor balcony, which has reconfirmed that I do have a small fear of heights, especially as the balcony appears to be on a slight slope downwards.

I'm off to wake up the girls so we can go and sample the delights of dinner! 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Fab 5's - WIN stuff!

Apologies for the lack of posts of late, time has run away with me!

I thought I'd start a series of quick posts entitled Fab 5's.  It'll have a different theme each time and I'll give you five of my favourite films in that category or genre and you can tell me if you agree, think they are rubbish or have any better recommendations!

And to get things started I'm going to giveaway a little prize!! 'Oooh' I hear you say!  

So as it is wedding season (although I only have one wedding to go to this year) I thought we'd kick off with.....

Fab 5.... Wedding Movies

1. Wedding Crashers - First rule of wedding crashing, never leave a fellow crasher behind

2. My Best Friend's Wedding - I was visiting Dionne War Wick

3. Muriel's Wedding - 'You're terrible Muriel'

4. Bridesmaids - 'I'm not even confident which end that came from'

5. Four Weddings and a Funeral - Hugh Grant in all his floppy haired glory

Now I'm thinking of them there is confetti flying everywhere in the film world - The Wedding Date, 27 Dresses (I'm almost catching her up with my bridesmaids dresses!), The Wedding Planner, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mama Mia to name but a few!

So what's the prize and how do you win it??  

The prize is (drumroll) a copy of Muriel's Wedding on DVD (region 2)!

To win it all you need to do is leave your comment and name in the box below (you can say what you like but preferably something to do with this post would be nice!) and then I'll put all the names into a hat a draw a winner at the end of the month (31st July).

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Travel News Roundup

It’s that time again for the quirky, interesting, useful (or not so) travel news!

Disney Deal
If you fancy heading off to Orlando for a trip to Disney World you can now stay twice as long for free!!  FloridaTix has extended its 14 days for the price of 7 ticket offer until the end of September 2011.  It’s was a long long time ago that I visited but I’d definitely go back and this is a great money saving deal. More info on
The Ultimate Relaxing Holiday
The 5* Aldemar Royal Mare hotel group, on the Greek isle of Crete, is offering visitors complimentary Yoga classes during their stay at any of their four hotels on the island.  More info on

Stag Alert
Apparently Europe is still the top spot for stag party destinations.  According to stagweekendblog, popular with the rowdy crowd are Krakow, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Ibiza and Dublin.  Research by UK based Tour Company Chillisauce also claims that Amsterdam has one of the highest Fit Blond Per Capita (FBPC) indexes in the known world. Hmmm
Image from
 Summer Stinkers
According to washing detergent, Boost Stain Remover, in a survey of UK adults, 14% admitted to wearing their pants up to three times before washing them! (who are these people?!).  It seems people are sacrificing their personal hygiene in order to fit everything in their 55x40x20 cabin luggage!

French Cookery
Former Masterchef finalist, Jim Fisher, has set up his own cookery school in the beautiful Dordogne.  Having worked with the likes of Rick Stein, Tony Tobin and Alistair Little, Jim has developed a new series of cookery courses based around famous ‘Last Suppers’.  You can tackle the 10-courses of the ‘Titanics Final Banquet’, Elvis Presley’s Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich or Will and Kate’s Royal Wedding Canapes.  Sounds delicious and all set in the idyillic Dordogne.  More info here

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Hotel Review – Ramada Jarvis, Manchester Piccadilly Gardens

On my recent trip to Manchester for Bon Jovi, my friends and I stayed in the Ramada Jarvis in Piccadilly Gardens. The hotel had an onsite car park that is only £12 for 24 hours. 

We were about an hour early as check wasn't until 2pm, but we thought we see if our rooms were ready anyway.  The lady on reception was friendly and helpful and was able to check us in to one of our rooms so we headed up to the room to drop our bags off.  

The room was not as I would expect of a Ramada, given both the price we paid and the photos on the website. It was small, muggy (health & safety prevents the windows being openable) and had a distinct musty and damp smell. 

We headed back down to reception to try and change the room. The man on reception was superbly helpful. He went what I feel was above and beyond what most hotel staff/reception staff would do. He looked at all the options available, showed us a number of different rooms all with a chirpy tone in his voice and a smile on his face. It's a shame the duty manager was not of the same ilk. It seems the only decent rooms in this hotel are on the 5th floor as this is the only floor has been refurbished recently.  

So after the duty manager had vehemently denied any of the rooms had mould or damp (although upon further investigation in the room we had found this to be the source of the smell) the only option left available to us was to have one standard room on the 5th floor and pay for an upgrade to an executive room also on the 5th floor. This fee was unable to be waived because the hotel was so busy and they could have easily sold the room at full price. So this is clearly a hotel of quantity rather than quality.

The hotel was conveniently located at Piccadilly Gardens, right next to the tram and bus stop with lots of shops, bars and restaurants nearby.

Apart from being rudely awaken by housekeeping walking into the room at 9am or the very loud voiced neighbours, we had a fairly decent nights sleep (the tiredness and beers probably helped with this too). Breakfast was thankfully really good. There was a good selection of the much needed cooked items as well as fruit, cereal and pastries and juice.