Flying pandas!

Laugh. | March 31, 2015 | By

This is still one of my favorite videos to this day.  They just can’t get enough and I can watch them on repeat.  Wheeee!!!

 

 

 

 

Nutty Paleo Granola

Breakfast, Recipes | March 29, 2015 | By

Crispy, crunchy, golden, nutty, sweet and salty granola…who doesn’t like that?  Someone who doesn’t like the saturated fat and sugar that comes your traditional granola, that’s who!  Make this granola with all of the texture and flavor of store-bought granola with none of the bad stuff.  Not to mention the fact that it’s jam packed with fiber and protein.  Try adding 3 teaspooons of almond butter to the granola mixture before baking for extreme nuttiness!

Nutty Paleo Granola
Yields 4
Crispy, crunchy, nutty, sweet and salty granola.
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
50 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
40 min
Total Time
50 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 cup walnuts, raw
  2. ½ cup cashews, raw
  3. ½ cup almonds, raw
  4. ½ cup pepitas
  5. ½ cup sunflower seeds
  6. ½ cup shredded coconut, unsweetened
  7. ½ cup blueberries or cranberries, dried
  8. 1 egg white
  9. ¼ to 1/3 cup honey
  10. 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  11. 1 tbsp water
  12. ½ tsp vanilla extract
  13. ¼ tsp cinnamon
  14. ¼ tsp salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Chop walnuts, cashews, almonds, pepitas and sunflower seeds in a food processor.
  3. Beat egg white with water in a large bowl then whisk in coconut oil, honey, vanilla exact, cinnamon and salt.
  4. Pour chopped nuts into the egg white mixture and stir in shredded coconut and dried blueberries or cranberries until mixture is evenly distributed and coated.
  5. Spread mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until crispy and golden.
  6. Remove from oven, flatten granola and let sit for 15 minutes to harden.
  7. Use a spatula and/or hands to break into chunks and devour!
The Paleo Panda http://www.thepaleopanda.com/

Best Highlighter in the World – Sun Beam by Benefit

Sun Beam highlighter by Benefit

Beauty | March 28, 2015 | By

I have found the best highlighter in the world.  Technically speaking, it’s an iridescent complexion enhancer.  Sun Beam by Benefit (or liquid sunshine in a bottle) is a golden bronze highlighter that will give you a natural sun kissed complexion!  I hate the highlighters that look cakey and fake but this one makes you look like you just got out of the sun.  A little dab under the brows and along your cheekbones gives you an instant beautiful glow.  Dot and blend for a gorgeous natural sheen.

The golden glow of Sun Beam

The golden glow of Sun Beam

I have naturally tan skin so the golden bronze color complements my brown tones perfectly.  If you have fairer skin, try Benefit’s High Beam with slightly pinker undertones or Moon Beam that is better for yellower skin tones.

Sun Beam High Beam Moon Beam

A bottle runs for $26 but will last you for a very long time.  Take a look at the subtle, soft and ethereal glow it gives!

Dot and blend under the brows and along the cheekbones

Dot and blend under the brows and along the cheekbones

Love the sun kissed glow!

Love the sun kissed glow!

Hot Thai Kitchen – Garlic Pepper Chicken and Shrimp

My boyfriend found an awesome blog and youtube cooking channel while looking for a delicious Thai recipe to make this weekend…Hot Thai Kitchen!  Pai has the best authentic Thai recipes with cooking videos to walk you through each step.  He attempted, and very successfully so, the mouthwatering garlic pepper chicken (and shrimp) and it was absolutely amazing.  He infused olive oil with garlic then sprinkled the leftover browned garlic on the chicken…you cannot even imagine the explosion of flavors!   Click here for Pai’s Hot Thai Kitchen Garlic Pepper Chicken recipe.  Here’s my paleo version of this awesome recipe!

IMG_7151

Browned garlic and infused olive oil, yum!

Garlic Pepper Chicken and Shrimp

The final masterpiece! 

Hot Thai Kitchen - Garlic Pepper Chicken and Shrimp
Serves 4
A deliciously Thai garlic pepper chicken and shrimp sprinkled with a golden garlic crunch.
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Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Prep Time
5 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 1-cm cubes
  2. 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  3. 1 10 oz. bag of spinach
  4. 1 tbsp Ty Ling oyster sauce (loosely paleo-friendly with some fermented soy and corn but wheat-free)
  5. 2 tbsp liquid aminos
  6. 1 tsp Red Boat fish sauce
  7. 1 1/2 tsp coconut palm sugar
  8. 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  9. 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  10. 8 cilantro stems, chopped
  11. 8 garlic cloves, chopped
Instructions
  1. Mix chicken with Ty Ling oyster sauce, liquid aminos, Red boat fish sauce, white pepper and black pepper.
  2. To make the garlic infused olive oil, place the garlic in a small pot or wok and add just enough olive oil to cover the garlic. Fry garlic over low heat until the garlic turns golden brown and the bubbling has mostly stopped, about 5 minutes. Drain garlic from oil, reserving the oil.
  3. In a wok, add 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil and heat over high heat. Pour a tablespoon of the remaining garlic oil into the marinated chicken and stir.
  4. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and coconut palm sugar and stir until chicken is cooked.
  5. Add shrimp for the last 2 minutes of cooking and mix in half of the fried garlic and chopped cilantro stems and remove from heat.
  6. Sauté spinach with olive oil and garlic and serve with the chicken and shrimp (sprinkling the remaining fried garlic all over)!
Adapted from Hot Thai Kitchen
Adapted from Hot Thai Kitchen
The Paleo Panda http://www.thepaleopanda.com/

Hvar, Croatia

Croatia, Travel | March 27, 2015 | By

Hvar is the longest and sunniest Croatian island, and arguably one of the most beautiful and glamorous islands in the world with its lavender fields, hillside vineyards, medieval stone and swanky nightclubs.  The small bay town of Hvar is set against the beautiful Adriatic Sea with 13th-century walls surrounding beautiful Gothic palaces and marble streets.  Visitors love to wander the winding stone streets and explore the beaches by day and party here until the sun comes up!

Hvar Boats

Hvar Boats

Best time to visit…

Croatia’s climate is Mediterranean on the coast with warm summers and mild winters and continental inland with slightly hotter summers and extremely cold winters.  July and August is peak season with the beaches packed with tourists and locals fleeing to the coast.  You’ll still get the nice weather but a fraction of the crowds and prices…Hvar Town is estimated to draw around 20,000 people a day in the high season!

Pulling into Hvar Town

Pulling into Hvar Town

Getting there…

The easiest way to get to Hvar is to fly into Split airport (Croatia Airlines and EasyJet fly into Split) and take a high speed catamaran to Hvar Town.  There is a local bus (#37) that runs every 20 minutes from the airport to the ferry or you can take a taxi.  Hvar has four ferry ports: Hvar Town, Jelsa, Sucuraj and Star Grad.  There are two companies, Jadrolinija and the Krilo company that offer fast catamaran sailings between Split and Hvar Town.  The trip takes approximately an hour and it leaves from the first pier closest to the harbor waterfront promenade (less than a 5 minute walk from where you purchase tickets…buy your tickets ahead of time as they tend to sell out)!  You can buy tickets at the kiosks at the Croatia Airport bus stop, in front of the Ferry Terminal and inside the Ferry Terminal itself.  Look for the blue Jadrolinija signs.  You can check the ferry schedule here.  It is also possible to fly into Dubrovnik but the airport is 100km to the Drvenik ferry station.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, you can charter a yacht and sail from Split directly to Hvar 🙂

Our spot docked right in the heart of town

Our spot docked right in the heart of town

Where to stay…

Villa Nora Hvar is a new hotel situated in the heart of middle of Hvar old town, about a minute walk from the main square.  Housed in a former palace from the 14th century, the hotel is near the beach and within walking distance of restaurants, shops and nightclubs.  The owner’s daughter, Natalia, is beyond hospitable and attends to your every need!

Villa Nora Hvar (3-star, Hvar)
Frane Primija 2, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 21 742 498

Hotel Park Hvar is located in the center of town and overlooks the harbor with sea view suites and a leafy terrace restaurant, Central Park Club, that serves breakfast with a view by day and turns into the town’s hot spot at night with live music and a lively bar scene!

Hotel Park Hvar (4-star, Hvar)
Hotel Park Bankete, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 21 718 337

Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel is located beside the throbbing Carpe Diem nightclub and is one of the best hotels on the island (and pricey).  For the best views in town of the ocean, request suites 306 and 314.  The hotel has a spa, salon, 25-metre infinity pool, large balconies, and a vivacious glass-fronted bar with wrap-around views of the harbor.

Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel (4-star, Hvar)
Obala Fabrika 28, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 21 750 555

A weekend in…Hvar, Croatia

Friday

The view pulling into Hvar

The view pulling into Hvar

Head straight to Hula Hula Beach Bar, the best spot to watch the sunset with house music playing in the background and a sundowner cocktail in your hand.  Hula Hula is just a short walk along the forested promenade just past the Amfora Palace Hotel and the place to be as the sun goes down.  You can also order food from the bar’s adjoining sister bistro Bubba Gump.  Wolf, the owner, has lived all over the world and has brought his own concepts to Hvar to create one of the top 10 world’s best beach bars.  Hula-Hula is known for its après-beach party from 4 pm to 9 pm.  Make sure to be there by 6pm to catch the breathtaking sunset over the Adriatic and the best DJs every day at the world’s best sunset party! 

Hula Hula Beach Bar (Hvar)
Sentica, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 95 911 1871
www.hulahulahvar.com/

Hvar’s best restaurants lie in the narrow streets between the castle and the main square.  Order the famous spageti sa jastogom (lobster with spaghetti) at Macondo, a standing favorite Hvar restaurant located down a cobbled alley from the main square known for its fresh seafood and old-fashioned atmosphere that echoes its ancient Groda neighborhood.  The restaurant has a fireplace and a few tables outdoors.  Make a reservation for a table outside to people watch while you enjoy your meal.

Macondo (Hvar)
Groda bb, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 21 742 850
$$$

If you’re up for a little adventure, take a 15 minute taxi-boat to Zori, an exquisite restaurant on the nearby island of Palmizana with a beautiful outdoor terrace that overlooks a truly gorgeous and secluded bay.  The fact that you can only get to this restaurant by boat adds to its charm.  The location is simply stunning and the food is lovely!

Zori Restaurant (Palmizana)
Palmizana 19, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 21 744 904
$$$$

End the night with a drink at the rooftop bar at the Adriana hotel with a wrap-around view of the city, harbor and islands or move to live music at Central Park Club at the Hotel Park Hvar!

Saturday

Exploring the winding medieval streets of Hvar

Exploring the winding medieval streets of Hvar

Wander around St. Stephen’s Square, one of the largest old squares in Dalmatia and the center of town.  Marvel at the Cathedral of St. Stephen that forms a stunning backdrop to the square whose bell tower rises four levels.  The square is rimmed with trendy open-are cafes and the labyrinth of narrow stone alleys is filled with chic eateries and shops.  Walk north from the square, passing the main city gate and ascend the stairs through the old part of the city and through the network of tiny streets through a park to the Fortica Španjola built on the site of a medieval castle that defended Hvar from the Turks.  The fortress was built at the beginning of the 16th century and was reconstructed in 1579.  Today it holds a collection of antiques from the Middle Ages.  It’s a nice walk up to the fort and you’ll be able to experience an unforgettable panoramic view of the city of Hvar and the Pakleni islands.

Climbing to Hvar Fortress

Climbing to Hvar Fortress

Beautiful view from the fortress

The view from the fortress

Head  to Bonj ‘les Bains’ beach club, a 1930s white stone colonnade to sunbathe where you can rent sunbeds and parasols, private stone cabanas and even a wooden pontoon for up to six people.  Lounge all day in ultimate luxury, sunbathe and take a dip in the sparkling Adriatic sea!

Dine at Restaurant Divino, located on the Riva in the heart of the city with a breathtaking
view of the Pakleni islands, which boasts the best location and wine list on the island.  Enjoy the homemade seafood ravioli and exquisite desserts created from Michelin star chef Tea Mamut.  The view from the terrace cannot be beat!

Divino
Put Kriza 1, 1, Hvar, Hvar Island 21450, Croatia
+385914377777
$$$$

Grab drinks at Carpe Diem Bar then take a taxi-boat to its legendary sister club Carpe Diem Beach, the trendiest club on the nearby island of Stipanska.  During the day the club is a lounge where you can sunbathe and sip on cocktails and hands down the #1 hot spot by night.  Carpe Diem Beach has two fine pebble beaches, a scuba diving club, beach volleyball, a restaurant, lounge, pool, open-air massage pavilion and dance floor so you can dance the night away under the trees until the early morning!  Both are open only in the summer months.  Big DJs from all over the world pack Carpe Diem Beach (open 10 am until 5:50 am).

Carpe Diem Bar (Hvar)
Obala Riva bb, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 21 742 369

Carpe Diem Beach (Stipanska)
Stipanska, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 21 742 369

Day party Carpe Diem Bar

Day party at Carpe Diem Bar

Carpe Diem!

Carpe Diem!

Sunday

Hire a boat and hop the Pakleni Islands, a gorgeous chain of 21 wooded islets with crystal clear waters, hidden beaches and deserted lagoons.  These fabulous islands represent natural beauty at its finest with clear lagoons for swimming and amazing fresh seafood restaurants.  You can hire a boat easily from the Hvar pier for approximately 10 euros.  Explore Dubovica, a cozy beautiful beach 8km east of Hvar town.

Exploring the beaches of Hvar

Exploring the beaches of Hvar

We found this little guy on our beach day...he should be happy!

We found this little guy on our beach day…he should be happy!

Venture on the 2km walk from the town center to Falko, an adorable hideaway in a pine forest just above the beach.  Have lunch at Falko Beach Bar, only a 15-minute walk along the stunning seafront from Hvar town yet you feel as if you’re a world away.  Relax in one of the hammocks in the sea breeze before making your way back to town!

Falko Beach Bar
Šetalište Tonija Petrića 22, 21450 Hvar, Croatia
+385 21 717 503

Crystal clear Hvar water

Crystal clear Hvar water

Panda’s tips for Hvar:

  • Croatia Airlines provides a $6 shuttle bus service that meets every plane that will take you directly to the Split waterfront (approximately 30 to 40 minutes).  As you exit, look straight ahead down the ramp and there should be a large bus and vans with the Croatia Airlines logo.  Place your bags underneath the bus and hop on!
  • Buses meet the car ferries that arrive at Stari Grand that run to Hvar town.  Don’t take taxis from the ferry port, they are a rip-off!
  • You can easily rent a car to explore the island with a one day minimum rental.  You can also rent a scooter or mopeds by the hour.  The roads on Hvar can be steep and windy and there are no guard rails so use caution when navigating the roads.
  • Hvar is famous for its lavender, used to make aromatic oils for massage and to relieve stress and headaches.  Bring a few lavender bags home for souvenirs!

 

London, England

London

Blog, England, Travel | March 17, 2015 | By

Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Marble Arch, Big Ben, the iconic red double-decker buses…London has no shortage of tourist attractions and architectural treasures.  It also has the best people watching with its 7.5 million residents speaking more than 300 languages between them.  Standing on the River Thames, London is truly an international city.  The City of London is the main financial district with Canary Wharf and Docklands to the east.  London’s vast urban areas consist of Bloomsbury, Mayfair, Wembley and Whitechapel, amongst several other districts and the West End is where you can find most of London’s main entertainment and shopping districts. 

Best time to visit…

For decent prices and lighter crowds, visit London in the spring or fall.  April and October seem to have the best confluence of mild weather and tolerable crowds.  Rates are generally the cheapest during the off season from late October to mid-December and from January to mid-March.  Rates generally increase between March and June and hit their peak in the high seasons between late June and September and for the holidays in December.

Getting there…

The fastest link between Heathrow airport and London is the Heathrow Express.  Non-stop trains run directly to Paddington every 15 minutes (journey time is 15 minutes).  Heathrow Express trains stop at Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 & 3 and Heathrow Terminal 5.  Tickets are available online, at the station or on the train.  The standard-class single fare is £26.50 on board or £21.50 in advance. Returns are £40 on board or £35 in advance.  Once at Paddington station, you can take the London Undergound’s District, Circle, Bakerloo and Hammersmith & City lines.  You can find out more about the Heathrow Express by clicking here.  

Where to stay…

Citadines Trafalgar Square London is located in the heart of Trafalgar Square and a short walk from the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.  The Apart’hotel has 187 air-conditioned apartments with fully-equipped kitchen areas.  As you know, London can be insanely expensive so a nice affordable room in a fantastic location like this is quite a gem!

Citadines Trafalgar Square London (Trafalgar Square)
18/21 Northumberland Avenue, London, WC2N 5EA, UK
+44 20 7763 3700

Citadines Trafalgar SquareCitadines Trafalgar Square

Citadines Trafalgar Square

Kitchenette area

Kitchenette area

A weekend in…London, England

Friday

Get an oyster card!

Get an oyster card!

Your first item of business is to purchase a three day Oyster card from the nearest Tube station.  Take the Tube to Tower Bridge and see the Tower of London.  The Tower of London is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames and was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952, although its primary purpose was to serve as a royal residence.  The Tower of London has an enduring reputation as a place of torture and death, popularized by 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century writers, and is the source reference for the term “sent to the Tower”!

Tower of London

Tower of London

Prisoner torture secrets of the Tower of London

Prisoner torture secrets of the Tower of London

Stroll along the Thames and up Ludgate Hill to St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of London’s most famous and recognizable sights.  St. Paul’s Cathedral’s dome, framed by the spires of Wren’s City churches, has dominated the London skyline for 300 years.  Visit the Tate Modern, Britain’s national gallery of international modern art that forms part of the Tate group, or the Millennium Bridge, a modern work of art in its own right.

Take the Tube to the Piccadilly Circus Underground station.  Piccadilly Circus, famous for its neon billboard signs that rival Times Square, is central to the main shopping, entertainment and nightlife areas of the city.  Piccadilly Circus is surrounded by several major attractions including the Shaftesbury Memorial, Criterion Theatre and the London Pavilion. 

Explore the unique boutiques and flagship stores of Soho’s Carnaby Street, one of London’s most popular and distinctive shopping destinations.  Newburgh Quarter is located just a step away from Carnaby with additional boutiques, restaurants and iconic brands.  More than 50 independent restaurants, cafes, bars and quintessential English pubs are found in the area serving more than 15 different cuisines from around the world.  Carnaby is a five-minute walk from Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus Tube station.

Shopping the funky and unique boutiques on Carnaby Street

Shopping the funky and unique boutiques on Carnaby Street

West End shopping!

West End shopping!

Walk to Leicester Square and explore the restaurants, nightclub and theater district.  Leicester Square is the center of London’s cinema land and the prime location in London for world leading film premiers.  Buy cheap last minute theater tickets at the Official London Half-Price Theatre Ticket Booth and catch a matinee or evening musical!  Visit the booth on the south side of Leicester Square (Monday to Saturday 12:00 pm – 6:30 pm, Sunday 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm) for same-day bargains. All the other booths are phony!  Grab a quite bite beforehand at my favorite London chain, Wagamama.  They serve delicious modern pan-Asian cuisine (noodles, dumplings, rice dishes, etc.) at large shared tables.  I can’t leave London without getting the Prawn Chilli Men, stir-friend prawns in a spicy chili men sauce served on top of soba noodles.  An amazing explosion of flavors!

Wagamama Leicester Square (Leicester Square)
14 Irving Street, London, WC2H 7AF, UK
+44 20 7839 2323 
$$

Take the Tube to Covent Garden Underground Station to check out the pubs at Covent Garden.  Forgo the 193 steps to the top by taking the elevator out of the underground.  Covent Garden, an affluent area of London, is a maze of narrow streets and arcades filled with shops and street performances.  Within its network of entertainment, Covent Garden has 13 theaters and over 60 pubs and bars, with most south of Long Acre around the main shopping area of the old market.

Saturday

Start your day taking the Tube to the Charing Cross station to explore Trafalgar Square.  Trafalgar Square is in the heart of London and one of the city’s most vibrant open spaces.  Be sure to visit the National Gallery, a free art museum that has paintings from many famous artists such as Da Vinci and Rembrandt.

Exploring the streets of London

Exploring the streets of London

Exit Trafalgar Square to the south and walk down Whitehall Street towards Big Ben.  Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster.  The Palace of Westminster continues to be the seat of Parliament and is one of the most significant monuments of neo-Gothic architecture.  You’ll see Westminster Abbey, a church where all the sovereigns since the 11th century have been crowned and where royalty is married and buried (cost of entrance is £15.00) as well as Saint Margaret’s Church, a small medieval church built in perpendicular gothic style that continues to be the parish church of the Palace of Westminster.

Big Ben and Westminster AbbeyBig Ben and Westminster Abbey

Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

Cross over Westminster Bridge and take a ride on the London Eye, the biggest Ferris wheel in Europe, for fantastic views of the city.  A ride will cost you £17 but the ride lasts for a full 30 minutes and the views are fantastic.  I recommend riding it at night for a clearer view of the beautifully illuminated buildings.

The London Eye

The London Eye

Cross back over the bridge, walk northwest and pass St. James’ Park (the oldest park in London) on your way to Buckingham Palace.  Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the British Monarch and is used to receive and entertain guests on state, ceremonial and official occasions for the Royal Family.  There is an entry fee and tickets are limited so book ahead if possible.  The Changing of the Guard ceremony takes place in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace at 11:30 am every day in summer and every other day in winter and lasts for 45 minutes.

Walk west on Constitution Hill until you reach Hyde Park, one of the largest parks in London and one of the Royal Parks of London.  Hyde Park is famous for its Speakers’ Corner and is divided in two by the Serpentine and the Long Water.  The park is contiguous with Kensington Gardens, together giving an overall area of 625 acres.  Kensington Palace, the Italian Gardens, Albert Memorial, Peter Pan Statue and the Serpentine Galleries are all located within Kensington Gardens’ 242 acres.

Make a dinner reservation at The Ledbury, a discreet and welcoming but quietly outstanding restaurant tucked away in a corner of Notting Hill on Ledbury Road.  The Australian-born chef-patron, Brett Graham, opened the restaurant in 2005.  Since then, the restaurant has earned two Michelin stars and has been featured in S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants.  Try the 6 or 8 course tasting menu for an exquisite dining experience!

The Ledbury (Notting Hill)
127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 2AQ, UK
+44 20 7792 9090
$$$$

Sunday

Make your way to Camden Market by taking the Tube to the Camden Town Underground station.  Camden Market is the largest street market in the U.K., attracting over 100,000 visitors every weekend.  You’ll be able to find souvenirs, old music records, jewelry, clothing, trinkets, food and more!

Ferris wheel at Brighton Pier

Ferris wheel at Brighton Pier

If you have the time, take a day trip to the charming seaside town of Brighton on the south coast of England.  Brighton has a 5.4 mile shingle beach with a seafront packed with bars, restaurants, nightclubs, sports facilities and amusement arcades.  The most popular area is the central section between the West and Palace Piers.  Daily visits here can exceed 150,000 on weekends in high summer.  Stroll down to the end of Brighton’s Victorian pier, browse the antique shops and boutiques and visit the Royal Pavilion, the splendid summer house built by George IV when he was Prince Regent. 

Brighton station

Brighton station

Charming Brighton town

Charming Brighton town

Work of art by Banksy in Brighton

Work of art by Banksy in Brighton

Trains depart every 15 minutes from either the London Bridge or Victoria station and the journey takes about an hour.  Round trip tickets are £25 from Victoria but you can get cheaper advance off peak tickets from London Bridge station.  For the best burger of your life, go to Burger Brothers….explosively good burgers at low prices.  Try the Benneton Burger with chorizo!

Burger Brothers (Brighton)
97 North Road, Brighton BN1 1YE, England
01273 706980
$

Panda’s Tips for London:

  • Carry both sunglasses and an umbrella…just in case!
  • Consider purchasing a London Pass, a sightseeing card that covers over 55 attractions.
  • Never take a minicab.  Only black cabs have a meter so you know how much you’re paying and they usually know the best routes.  The Tube is usually the fastest and cheapest option!
  • If you’re staying for an extended amount of time, you’ll want to get a weekly Travelcard (you’ll need a passport photo to get one).  It covers the underground, red double-decker buses, and British rail trains.  If you plan to explore only central London, buy a Zone One unlimited travel pass for £15.30 ($22.25); other passes cover up to six zones (£35.40/$51.50), but four will get you pretty much anywhere you’d want to go except Heathrow. The cards are available at all train and tube stations and tourist offices.  The cards are cheaper after 9 am!
  • The only legitimate booth for discount theatre tickets is the London Half-Price Theatre Ticket Booth.  Don’t trust the other booths!  Visit the booth on the south side of Leicester Square (Monday to Saturday 12:00 pm – 6:30 pm, Sunday 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm).

 

Capri, Italy

Italy, Travel | March 11, 2015 | By

Capri is an island in the Bay of Naples, close to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, that has always been synonymous with beauty, stars, style and impossible glamour.  The island is comprised of three main areas: Marina Grande, Capri and Anacapri.  The Marina Grande is the main port of the island with easy access to the hydrofoils and near the funicular railway.  The town of Capri is the island’s main population center with its designer shops, nightclubs and the famous Piazzetta.  Anacapri is situated high up on the slopes of Mount Solaro and is much quieter (and less crowded) than Capri. 

Best time to visit…

April, May, September and October are the best months to visit Capri due to the gorgeous weather (warm enough to swim but not unbearably hot) and significantly lower hotel rates.  The summer months of June through August are the busiest of the year.  August registers the greatest number of tourists on the island, with an average of 20,000 arrivals per day to the 10 square km island…avoid August at all costs.

Getting there…

Arrive at Capri by sea!  There are daily ferries from Naples and Sorrento to the island and additional ferries departing from Positano, Salerno and Ischia during the summer months.  If you are arriving from Rome, be prepared that the journey will take you approximately 3 hours.  Take the Leonardo Express from Rome’s Fiumicino airport to the city’s main “Termini” railway station then take the Eurostar Frecccia Rossa (TAV) train to Naples.  This is the fastest and most expensive train with tickets costing 40 euros each for the one hour journey from Rome to Naples.  Tickets for the intercity train are 20 euros but the trip takes two hours.  Once at Naples’ main Piazza Garibaldi railway station, your best option is to take a taxi to the port of Molo Beverello for a fixed rate of 10 euros.  The high speed ferries depart from Molo Beverello with single tickets costing 18 euros (40 minutes).  The slow ferries depart from Calata di Massa and single tickets cost 13 euros (80 minutes).

Where to stay…

In my opinion, the hotel Relais Maresca has the perfect sea front location 50 meters from the port with 27 elegant rooms and fantastic views across Marina Grande with Mount Vesuvius in the distance.  It has an unbelievable terrace overlooking the marina where they serve complimentary breakfast every morning and exquisitely refined Mediterranean cuisine for lunch and dinner.  There are also chaise lounges set up on the terrace for sunning and relaxing.  The hotel offers a bathing area situated in a small bay of Marina Grande from early May to late September.  The hotel is steps away from the marina where the hydrofoils arrive so you don’t have to travel far or deal with hauling your luggage up to town!

Complimentary breakfast on the rooftop terrace at the hotel Relais Maresca

Complimentary breakfast on the rooftop terrace at the hotel Relais Maresca

Hotel Relais Maresca (4-Star, Capri)
Via Provinciale Marina Grande, 284, 80073 Capri, Italy
+39 081 837 9619

Capri Wine Hotel (3-Star, Capri)
Via Provinciale Marina Grande, 69, 80073 Capri, Italy
+39 081 8379173

A weekend in….Capri, Italy

Friday

Settle in and buy a round trip ticket for the funicular train to take you through the island’s lemon gardens and up to the buzzing Piazzetta, the heart of Capri.  The funicular railway is by far the quickest way to travel to the center of Capri from the port.   The 3 minute trip departs every 15 minutes and is closed from January through March for maintenance (substituted by bus service).  The ticket office is located to the right of the arrival dock and the cost is 1,80 € for a single ticket. 

In the heart of the Piazzetta

In the heart of the Piazzetta

Once you reach the Piazzetta, relax with gelato or coffee while you gaze at the sea and the boats.  The Piazzetta is a tiny square but always bustling with every seat of the four bars (all open until 2am or so) packed to the rafters.  Stroll down Via Camerelle and browse its famous luxury shops and designer fashion boutiques.  Continue along Via Tragara until you reach the breathtaking Punta Tragara Belvedere overlook facing the Faraglioni rock formations, Capri’s famous three towering rock formations that jut out of from the Mediterranean just off the island’s coast.  The best view of these stacks is actually from the sea and you will have the opportunity to see this on your boat tour tomorrow.  Have a drink at La Pergola bar at the Hotel Punta Tragara and enjoy the beautiful panoramic views. 

La Pergola at Hotel Punta Tragara (Capri)
Via Tragara, 57, Capri, Italy
+39 081 837 0844
$$$$

For a dip in the sea set against the Faraglioni, take the footpath from the Tragara scenic overlook to the two beaches on the island shore directly opposite the sea stacks: La Fontelina and da Luigi.  Afterwards, there is a ferry service that will take you back to Marina Piccola.  If you prefer to head back to town, retrace your steps back along Via Tragara but instead of continuing on Via Camerelle, take the road uphill on the right (Via Padre Reginaldo Giuliano) until you come out on Via Fuorlovaldo and Via Le Botteghe.  Take the funicular train back down to the marina and get ready for dinner!

Find limoncello made from the island's lemons in the Piazzetta to bring home.

Find limoncello made from the island’s lemons in the Piazzetta to bring home.

Situated on the ruins of the Greek walls in the heart of the old town center, Ristorante Buca di Bacco is a great place to eat grilled fish without breaking the bank.  The restaurant also has an extensive wine list.  Reserve the table next to the panoramic window for a fantastic view and order the famous pizza “sfilatino”!  From the Piazzetta, walk through the passageway to Via Longano and you’ll find the restaurant within just a few steps.  Open Thursday through Tuesday. 

Ristorante Buca di Bacco (Capri)
Via Longano, 35, 80073 Capri, Italy
+39 081 837 0723
$$$

Saturday

From the Marina Grande, board a bus to Anacapri (a 20 minute ride on a minibus).  Buses run every 15 to 20 minutes and a single ticket costs 1,80 €.  From here, take the chairlift to the summit of Monte Solaro for the most spectacular views of the Bay of Naples and Salerno from 589 meters above sea level.  You’ll be able to see the historic center of Capri, the Faraglioni, Mount Tiberus, Punta Campanella and the Sorrentine peninsula.  The chairlift takes 12 minutes to reach the summit and costs 10 euros to ride.  It runs from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm from March to October and 10:30 am to 3:00 pm from November to February.

Enjoy lunch at Il Riccio restaurant, the beachside restaurant of the Capri Palace Hotel on Anacapri, approximately a 20 minute ride from Capri and a 10 minute ride from Anacapri.  The restaurant is right near the Blue Grotto with a homey picturesque atmosphere and breathtaking views over the sea.  The food is exceptional and only the freshest local ingredients are used.  Enjoy the dessert buffet while basking in the gentle sea breeze!

Il Riccio (Anacapri)
Via Gradola, 4, 80071 Anacapri, Italy
+39 081 837 1380
$$$

You can either ride the chairlift back down or make the 30 minute walk on foot, stopping to visit the hermitage of Cetrella (the site of what was once the writer Compton Mackenzie’s home).  Before taking the bus back to Capri, make sure you visit Villa San Michele, the house museum created by the 19th century Swedish writer and physician Axel Munthe, that boasts one of the island’s most panoramic and beautiful views from the terrace.  In addition to being a beautiful place full of light, it also houses Munthe’s collection of art, archeological treasures and a sphinx that looks out over the sea.  It’s truly a magical place that needs to be experienced!  The entrance is 6 euros and is open from 9:00 am until an hour before sunset.  Concerts and cultural events are held in the evenings in the chapel or the gardens.

Walk through the center of Capri town along a series of scenic lanes with a sweeping view from the Marina Piccola Bay at Via Krupp to the Faraglioni to the Augustus Gardens, panoramic gardens and incredible feat of engineering.  The Augustus Gardens are in a historic property adjacent to the Charterhouse of San Giacomo, purchased by the German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp at the beginning of the 1900s to build his residence on Capri.  Entry to the Augustus Gardens costs 1 euro from the beginning of April to the beginning of November.  The best times to visit are early morning and late afternoon due to fewer crowds.  Venture up to Via Krupp, a historic switchback paved footpath connecting the Charterhouse of San Giacomo and the Gardens of Augustus area with Marina Piccolo, for an amazing view of the cliffs and water.  Commissioned by Krupp, the path covers an elevation difference of 100 meters.  Via Krupp is currently closed due to the danger of falling rocks but can be viewed from above from the scenic overlook in the Augustus Gardens.

Be prepared for a dining experience unlike any other!  Tucked away in the side streets and alleys above the marina is an enchanting, romantic, fairy tale of a restaurant that is Da Paolino Lemontrees.  The tables are nestled under the lemon groves so you feel like you are sitting in your own romantic garden while you dine above the lemon trees.  The food is divine and the portions are very generous.  The servers bring you complimentary homemade limoncello and it was so good that we bought two bottles to bring home with us.  My personal favorite was the complimentary dessert buffet with anything and everything your heart would desire, complete with a gelato bar!

Dining under the lemon  trees at Da Paolino

Dining under the lemon trees at Da Paolino

Complimentary dessert buffet...yes, please!

Complimentary dessert buffet…yes, please!

Da Paolino Lemon Trees Restaurant (Capri)
Palazzo a Mare Street, 11, 80073 Capri, Italy
+39 081 8376102
$$$$

If you want to sample the nightlife but don’t want to get caught up in the “touristy” bars of the Piazzetta, check out Quisi, the terrace bar of the Grand Hotel Quisisiana.  Anema e Core (“soul and heart”) is the best known club on the island is where you can grab a drink while listening to the band.  Panta Rei is a relatively new club that has a restaurant, bar and spa area with pool that was created by owner/architect Massimo Esposito who also designed the newest 5-star Villa Marina hotel on the island. 

Quisi (Capri)
Via Camerelle, 2, 80073 Capri, Italy
+39 081 837 0788

Anema e Core (Capri)
Via Sella Orta, 1, 80073 Capri, Italy
+39 081 837 6461

Panta Rei (Capri)
Via Lo Palazzo, 1, 80073 Capri, Italy
+39 081 837 8898

Sunday

As soon as you wake, head down to the private jetty in Marina Grande, the departure point for boat tours for the Blue Grotto (on the same dock where most of the hydrofoils from the mainland arrive).  You’ll want to purchase a ticket for the full circle island tour by sea that will take you to the Blue Grotto and sail you through the arch in the Faraglioni rock formations.  The Blue Grotto is a remarkable cave through which sunlight passes through an underwater cavity and shines through the seawater, creating a blue reflection that illuminates the cavern.  The cave extends some 50 meters into the cliff at the surface and approximately 150 meters deep with a sandy bottom.  Entrance to the grotto is 13 euros.  The tour lasts approximately two hours and costs 15 euros.  These tours tend to book up quickly so morning is your best bet!  You can also hire a private boat which is more expensive but you can stop wherever you want to swim.

Beautiful Marina Grande

Beautiful Marina Grande

Panda’s Tips for Capri:

  • A coffee served at one of the tables in the Piazzetta costs 4 euros but only 1 euro if you drink it standing at the bar.
  • If you want to take the bus from Capri to Anacapri and the line is too long at the stop in Piazza Vittoria, walk back along Viale De Tommaso and wait for the bus at the previous stop so that you can board the first bus that arrives.
  • If you want to save money, dine in Anacapri where the eateries are generally less expensive than in Capri.
  • The island is known for its ravioli capresi, insalata caprese, and torta caprese.  Be sure to try Capri’s legendary limoncello, a sweet liqueur made with the island’s lemons.
  • The tip is generally included in the price of the meal (especially if you see a cover charge) but some people choose to round the bill up and leave extra.
  • The house wine in Italy is amazing!  Simply ask for red or white wine.
  • Significant discounts are often available if you purchase your train tickets in advance online here.

 

 

Positano, Italy

Panda in Positano

Italy, Travel | March 9, 2015 | By

Glamorous with its celebrity-packed beaches, lively historic center and breathtakingly gorgeous seascapes and view, Positano is the most sought after destination on the Amalfi Coast and the most photographed fishing village in the world.  With Positano’s breathtaking natural beauty, high craggy cliffs and calming sapphire-blue sea, it is truly the jewel of the Amalfi.

Best time to visit…

Given Positano’s mild Mediterranean climate of warm summers and mellow winters, there is never a bad time to visit.  The best time to visit the Amalfi Coast is from May to June when the flowers are blooming and sun is already warm enough for swimming in the crystal clear waters.  The ideal month to travel here is May due to the mild climate, beautiful colors and the absence of crowds.  Prices in May to June are lower than in July and August.  September to October is also a great time to visit.

Getting there…

You can arrive in Positano either by land (train, bus or private transfer) or by sea.  Naples, Sorrento and Salerno are the main transportation hubs for the Amalfi Coast.  Positano is a 75 minute drive south of Naples.  On your drive, you’ll pass Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius, the beautiful town of Sorrento and down the mountain coastline until finally descending to the town.  Just a warning, the roads are quite windy with hairpin turns and can get quite crowded during the summer months.

If you’re traveling to Positano from Rome, be aware that the journey takes at least four hours.  From the Rome Fiumicino Airport, take the Leonardo Express to the city’s main Roma Termini railway station and take the Eurostar Freccia Rossa (TAV) train to Naples.  This is the fastest but most expensive train (40 euros) with the journey taking a little more than an hour with trains departing every hour.  Train tickets can be purchased in the station at the ticket office or automatic dispensers or online at the Trenitalia website.  Significant discounts are often available if you purchase your tickets in advance online here.

Once you arrive at Naples Stazione Centrale – Piazza Garibaldi railway station, follow the signs to the Circumvesuviana (the regional railway line situated under the main railway station) and take the one hour train to Sorrento.  From Sorrento, take the Sita bus to Positano.  Sit on the right hand side of the bus to get the best view on the 30 minute ride to Positano…the road to the Amalfi is a series of stomach churning curves!

If you are arriving in the summer months, you have the option to take a hydrofoil operated by Metro del Mare from Naples (or Sorrento) to Positano and Amalfi which makes for a beautiful and scenic tour of the coast.  Take a taxi (or Alibus) to Molo Beverello port in Naples.  The trip takes approximately 40 minutes.

View of Positano from the hydrofoil

View of Positano from the hydrofoil

Where to stay…

Residence Villa Yiara is an adorable boutique hotel housed in an 18th century building on top of a hill with spectacular balconies overlooking the bay of Positano.  Every room features a sea-view terrace and the friendly staff serves you continental breakfast complete with cappuccinos, fresh squeezed orange juice, fruit, pastries and NUTELLA on your balcony every morning!  If you don’t mind climbing the stairs that lead straight into town (and it is a climb), you will love this hotel.  All rooms, with their charming white and yellow décor, have been recently refurbished and offer free Wi-Fi.  This was by far the largest hotel room we stayed in throughout our entire stay in Italy and our stay was an absolute delight.  If you’re arriving by sea, hire a porter to take your bags as you walk through the town to the taxi station then taxi up to the hotel. 

Our room at the Residence Villa Yiara

Our room at the Residence Villa Yiara

Complimentary breakfast on our balcony each morning

Complimentary breakfast on our balcony each morning

Residence Villa Yiara (Positano)
Viale Pasitea, 294, 84017 Positano SA, Italy
+39 089 812 2379

Hotel Buca di Bacco (4-star, Positano)
Via Rampa Teglia, 4, 84017 Positano SA, Italy
+39 089 875 699

A weekend in….Positano, Italy

Friday

Get settled and stroll into town to explore the central Spiaggia Grande with its boutique shops, restaurants, bars, wine bars and cafes near the marina.  Visit the beautiful domed Church of Santa Maria Assunta and its famous Byzantine Madonna painting that dates from the 13th Century, the beautiful Positano Botanical Gardens with panoramic views of the Amalfi Coast, and the Grotta la Porta cave where prehistoric remains have been found.  You can also take a ferry to Via Positanesa d’America, a stunning walkway on the cliff.

Have a drink at Buca di Bacco Bar, a meeting point for both locals and tourists alike and the clear hotspot of Positano.  Enjoy panoramic views of the azure waters and mingle with the locals and people from all over the world!

Buca di Bacco Bar (Positano)
Via del Brigantino, 35/37, 84017 Positano SA, Italy
+39 089 811 461
$$

Head up the hill for dinner at Ristorante Caffè Positano for an incredibly romantic dinner on a balcony perched on the edge of a cliff.  The views from the terrace are absolutely breathtaking and the food is fresh and local.  The best part is that the prices are very reasonable for a restaurant with these spectacular views!

Ristorante Caffè Positano (Positano)
Via Pasitea, 168/170, 84017 Positano SA, Italy
+39 089 875 082
$$

View from our table at Ristorante Caffè Positano

View from our table at Ristorante Caffè Positano

Our table for the evening!

Our table for the evening!

Saturday

Rise and shine ready to tackle the Sentiero degli Dei (“the God’s Pathway”), a breathtaking and extraordinary panoramic 8 km (3 hour) footpath above the Amalfi Coast.  A must-do for any visitor to the Amalfi, the walk from Agerola to Nocelle feels like you are walking through paradise with its stunning views of the coastline and the island of Capri.

Begin the walk in Bomerano, a fraction of Agerola.  Catch the Sita bus from Amalfi to Agerola and ask the driver to let you off at the Bomerano stop.  From here, follow the road signs that lead you to the start of the walk.  You will end the walk in Nocelle, a fraction of Positano nestled on the slopes of Monte Peruso.

The path is marked by white and red signs with “02” written on them.  You will pass the Convent of San Domenic, the Vallone grarelle, caves and terraces dropping from the cliffs to the sea and vineyards before reaching Nocelle.  You can then decide whether to make your way downhill by bus or on foot via the 1500 steps that lead to the district of Arienzo.  If you descend 300 steps further, you can take a quick dip at Arienzo beach before walking back to the center of Positano.

Agerola is famous for its fiordilatte, a particular type of delicious fresh mozzarella cheese.  Stop in one of the town’s salumerias before you start the hike and buy some fiordilatte to try with focaccia bread to eat along your walk.  If you’d rather have a sit-down meal, have lunch at La Tagliata restaurant which is located 1 km past the village of Nocelle.   Eat on one of their three terraces where you can enjoy a fantastic view of the water, Positano, the Galli isles and the island of Capri.  The restaurant has organic vegetable gardens on each terrace so you can even select your own produce for them to cook.  There is no menu – mama cooks it all for you!

La Tagliata (Positano)
Via Tagliata, 32b, 84017 Positano SA, Italy
+39 089 875 872
$$$

If you’re in the mood for a pricey but remarkable experience after your long hike, make a dinner reservation at La Sponda restaurant at Le Sirenuse hotel.  A Michelin star restaurant, La Sponda boasts the best view in all of Positano.  The spectacular views and unforgettable atmosphere are enhanced by the four hundred candles that are lit at dinner in the restaurant.  Enjoy the cuisine inspired by Mediterranean tradition created with only local, fresh ingredients set against the stunning sparkling sea. 

La Sponda (Positano)
Via S. Sebastiano, 2, 84017 Positano SA, Italy
+39 089 875 066
$$$$

If you have a wild hair and are looking for some fun on the town, check out the town’s only nightclub Music on the Rocks.  The legendary nightclub on the Spiaggia Grande beach is literally built on the rocks and carved out of a waterfront that offers a beach club by day and disco at night.  The inside of the club looks like an actual cave with exposed rock walls and ceiling with white columns and illuminated pottery.  Rada restaurant sits upstairs, a beautiful but expensive restaurant with gorgeous waterfront views in a posh setting.  We dined at Rada then had a fun limoncello-filled night with the pirates at pirate night until the wee hours of the morning! 

Music on the Rocks (Positano)
Via Grotte dell’Incanto, 51, 84017 Positano SA, Italy
+39-089-875 874

Dinner at Rada

Dinner at Rada

Pirate Night at Music on the Rocks

Pirate Night at Music on the Rocks

Cheers to limoncello shots!

Cheers to limoncello shots!

Sunday

You deserve a beach day today!  Spiaggia Grande, Positano’s main beach, is one of the liveliest and most glamorous beaches on the Amalfi coast.  Lined with a string of bustling restaurants and bars, the three hundred meter long beach has two bathing establishment and a free area.

My personal preference and favorite beach in all of Positano is Fornillo Beach.  Fornillo Beach is accessible from the center of town via a short and lovely walk between the sea and the cliffs.  It is close enough to town so it’s not difficult to get to yet far enough that is much more peaceful with cleaner water than Marina Grande.

On the beautiful walkway to Fornillo Beach

On the beautiful walkway to Fornillo Beach

Fornillo Beach

Fornillo Beach

Laurito beach is a small little beach that can be reached via a flight of stairs that starts in the small square opposite Hotel San Pietro.  Laurito has two casual restaurants, a free beach and a private beach that belongs to a small hotel.  The beach gets its name from the many laurels growing in the area and is beautiful as well!

Arienzo beach, or 300 steps beach because of the impressive number of steps you need to climb down to reach it, faces the south west so it enjoys the sun longer than any beach in Positano.  The beach consists of private and free areas.  On your way down to the beach, you’ll be able to see some of the most luxurious villas on the Amalfi Coast, including one that once belonged to Franco Zeffirelli!  Sita buses and buses operated by the Flavio Gioia Coach company stop at both Laurito and Arienzo beaches and depart from the center of Positano.  A shuttle boat service is available from both Positano and Praiano to the beaches.

Have lunch at Lo Guarracino restaurant with its breeze-kissed shaded terrace draped in bougainvillea, gorgeous views of the water and the freshest seafood that is located along the seaside path that leads you to Fornillo Beach.  The seaside path starts near Covo Dei Sarceni Hotel at the town dock.  Walk 10 minutes down the path until you see the restaurant to your right. 

Lo Guarracino (Positano)
Via Positanesi D’america, 12, 84017 Positano, Italy
+39 089 875 794
$$$

If you have the time, I highly recommend day trips to Ravello and Pompeii.  Ravello is situated in a more elevated position than the other pearls of the Amalfi Coast and boasts the most picturesque and exceptional views of the coast from its marvelous villas and gardens.  Don’t miss Villa Rufolo, famed for its beautiful cascading gardens and divine panoramic views, a villa built in the 13th century for the wealthy Rufolo dynasty.  You can hire a private driver or take the Sita bus to Ravello. 

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city that was destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  The objects that lay beneath the city have been well-preserved for centuries due to the lack of air and moisture, providing a detailed insight into the life of a city during the time.  During the excavation, plaster was used to fill the crevices in the ash layers that once held human bodies so you can actually see the exact position the person was in when he/she died.  Take a ferry, bus or taxi to Sorrento.  From Sorrento, you can take the Circumvesuviana train to the Pompeii Scavi station.  Some people actually now prefer visiting Herculanium which is smaller than Pompeii (take the Circumvesuviana train in Sorrento to the Eculano station).  Herculaneum has not been fully excavated and some consider it better preserved.  If you have the time, visit both!

Panda’s Tips for Positano:

  • Sit on the right hand side of the bus to get the best view on the 30 minute ride to Positano from Naples…the road to the Amalfi is a series of stomach churning curves so be prepared!
  • If you visit Positano during the summer, the Feast of the Assumption (feast that centers around the famous Madonna icon) is held on the 15th of August and is an important event for the city!
  • The tip is generally included in the price of the meal (especially if you see a cover charge) but some people choose to round the bill up and leave extra.
  • The house wine in Italy is amazing!  Simply ask for red or white wine.
  • Significant discounts are often available if you purchase your train tickets in advance online here.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Beautiful and charming Vernazza

Italy, Travel | March 3, 2015 | By

The Cinque Terre is made up of five main fishing villages – Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore (from north to south).  The villages are set against some of the most beautiful and dramatic coastal scenery in the world with its steeply terraced cliffs.  The best way to travel between the villages is by train as the travel time between each village is mere minutes.  If you prefer to take on the 12 km hike through all five villages, start at one end and then take the train back to your starting point!  I prefer to stay/start the hike in Monterosso al Mare and take the train back from Riomaggiore.  The nearby villages of Levanto and Portovenere aren’t technically part of the Cinque Terre but are breathtaking and worth checking out if you have the time.

Best time to visit…

The ideal time to visit the Cinque Terre is mid-May to mid-September.  If you want to hike, the ideal season is mid-March to mid-October.  Some of the hiking trails may not be accessible due to heavy rainfall in winter and fall.  Cinque Terre is famous for the biggest Presepe in the world in the winter (located in the Manarola).  Avoid traveling here at all costs in August which is peak season…you’ll end up paying three times as much!

Getting there…

The best airports to fly into are Pisa (easiest), Genoa or Milan.  Monterosso is approximately 1.5 hours from Genoa and La Spezia is the closest city of any.  La Spezia station is the main transport hub and you can reach any Cinque Terre town via train from there.  It takes approximately 10 minutes to get from La Spezia to Riomaggiore and less than 5 minutes in between each town.  The trains generally run once an hour and the train tickets are cheap (Vernazza to Corniglia costs €1.80).  Make sure you validate your train ticket at one of the small yellow machines located on the train platform to time stamp your ticket and avoid a hefty fine!  Private vehicles are not allowed beyond village entrances so if you’re arriving by car, you may need to pay to park in designated car parks (€2.30 per hour or €19 per 24 hours) then hike 1 km or more to the villages or take the minibus shuttles (if offered in your village).

From late March to October, daily shuttle boats run between all of the Cinque Terre villages with the exception of Corniglia (€16 one way including all stops, €21 return on weekdays and €23 on weekends).  This is a fabulous way to see the coastline and view each town entering from the sea!

Where to stay…

Monterosso al Mare is the northernmost village and the largest of the five villages so most of the larger hotels are located here.  You’ll find an old town, a new town, a nice sandy beach and a long seaside promenade.  The La Spiaggia Hotel is a family run hotel right on the beach in Monterosso al Mare.  Like all hotel rooms in Italy, the rooms are small but you can’t beat the location.  The owner, Andrea Poggi, has quite an interesting personality…you may love him or hate him.  The hotel is steps from the train station and offers free parking at the property.  Get off the train at Monterosso al Mare, turn right and walk for 1 minute past the restaurants and cafes.

La Spiaggia Hotel (2-Star, Monterosso al Mare)
Via Lungomare, 98, 19016 Monterosso al Mare, Italy
+39 0187 81 75 67

Hotel Pasquale (3-star, Monterosso al Mare)
Via Fegina 4, 19016 Monterosso al Mare, Italy
+39 0187 81 74 77

A weekend in….Cinque Terre, Italy

Friday

As soon as you step off the train in Monterosso al Mare, you’ll immediately find yourself on the Ligurian seafront of the Fegina promenade.  Monterosso is divided into the old town and the new town by a single tunnel used by pedestrians and the few cars that are in town.  You’ll find a free small pebble beach right in front of the train station with beach resorts to the right and the left (the only beach resorts of the Cinque Terre).  Monterosso’s sandy beach is also the biggest of the Cinque Terre so if you’re a beach lover, you will love it here.

Stepping off the train in Monterosso

Stepping off the train in Monterosso

Check into your hotel then head through the tunnel to wander the streets of old Monterosso.  The old town is made up of pedestrian cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants.  Visit the medieval historical centre which lies on the summit of the hill of San Cristoforo.  Marvel at the castle that overlooks the sea with its three round towers, the Aurora Tower which is the only surviving tower out of thirteen towers that protected the village, and take in the panoramic view from the Church of St. Francis.  Afterwards, go to Bar Bagni Alga, a great little beach bar serving snacks with beautiful views of the sea from the patio, for a pre-dinner drink while you sit just above the beach and watch the breathtaking sunset over the water.

Bar Bagni Alga (Monterosso al Mare)
Località Corone, 19016 Monterosso al Mare, Italy
+39 338  889 9326
$

Drinks and snacks at Bar Bagni Alga

Drinks and snacks at Bar Bagni Alga overlooking the beautiful sunset

View from the bar

View from the bar

After you enjoy your sunset drinks, head to dinner at Gastronomia San Martino.  This little family run cucina restaurant is off the main walkway with the most magnificent food!  The menu changes every night and you order at the counter then sit at one of the 6 small tables in the restaurant.  Grab a table set in the alley to people watch then head to the mellow, pub-style bars on Via Roma for an after dinner drink.  I clearly am enjoying the seafood spaghetti and the delicious bottles of wine (8 euros each).  Yum!

Gastronomia San Martino (Monterosso al Mare)
Via San Martino 3, 19016 Monterosso al Mare, Italy
+39 338 569 9017
$

The best seafood spaghetti in Monterosso

The best seafood spaghetti in Monterosso

Saturday

Cinque Terre is famous for its walking paths and trails.  Some people hike all five villages but if you would like a taste of the hike and don’t want to commit to the 12 km hike, try the Monterosso to Vernazza trail which is 3.5 km long and takes a little under two hours.

Start your journey in Monterosso al Mare after your complimentary breakfast and latte in the lobby of the La Spiaggia Hotel.  The first town you will arrive at is Vernazza, a magical one street town built on the water and situated on an impressive cliff.  I find Vernazza to be the prettiest of all five villages with its beautiful harbor and cobblestoned main street.  The small alleys and colorful houses give this village its beautiful charm.  You’ll want to visit the church of Santa Margherita of Antiochia, a 1318 church built on sea rock with its back to the piazza and the lookout towers of the 11th-century Castello Doria with its stunning aerial views of the region (1.5 euro fee).  Hike to the tree-lined square of Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Reggio or enjoy a drink on the gorgeous waterfront piazza!

Walking through the town to the viewpoint

Walking through town to the viewpoint

The view overlooking charming Vernazza

The view overlooking charming Vernazza

Stop for a drink or gelato in the piazza

Stop for a drink or gelato in the piazza before leaving Vernazza

You’ll then reach Corniglia, the only town in the Cinque Terre that can’t be reached from the sea and situated on a cliff 100 meters high.  Climb the 365 steps up to the center of town for an amazing sweeping panoramic view of the coastline.  Pass the Gothic church of San Pietro and walk through the 18th century square “Largo Taragio” (the main square of the village) with the Oratory of Santa Caterina that stands over the houses.  Continue to the scenic terrace of Santa Maria to be rewarded with glorious uninterrupted views of the entire coast of the Cinque Terre.  If you’d rather sunbathe than climb, discover the clothing-optional private beach of Guvano that only locals seem to know about.  Head down a narrow flight of stairs above and to the right of the train platform and follow a brick coastal wall and turn right until you come to a tunnel with a metal gate.  Ring the bell to the left and wait to be buzzed in.  Walk down the path for 10 minutes until you arrive at a private vineyard overlooking two breathtaking beaches.  Pay the gatekeeper 5 euros and enjoy paradise!

The 365 steps to the top of Corniglia

The 365 steps to the top of Corniglia

Beautiful view from Santa Maria Terrace

Breathtaking view from Santa Maria Terrace

Beautiful Corniglia

Beautiful Corniglia!

You’re next village is the medieval town of Manarola, the smallest village of the Cinque Terre and the oldest!  Manarola is a one street town with a small harbor for swimming with a long tradition of producing wine and olive oil which come from the hills above Manarola.  This area is known for two specialty wines: Cinque Terre white, a dry, tangy blend of three different grapes and sciacchetrà, a super-sweet late-harvest dessert wine generally reserved for special occasions.  Historians believe that the name from this town comes from “magna rota” meaning “big wheel” for a wheel of a water mill.  You can still see the old mill that was recently restored in the lower part of the city.  In the upper part of the city, you will find the Gothic church of San Lorenzo which was built in 1338 with three beautiful naves and baroque interior.  Visit the white bell tower, an ancient watchtower, the ancient San Rocco Hospital and the Oratory of Disciplinati della Santissima Annunziata that dates around 1400.  Manarola is one of the most picturesque villages with its brightly colored tower-houses and steep, narrow alleyways leading to the sea.

Your last and final village is Riomaggiore with its one main street, a harbor, rocky beach, castle, church, pharmacy and a dozen restaurants.  The houses on Riomaggiore have two entries: one at level of one street and the other at the level of the upper street.  The houses were built this way in 1500 when a quick escape route was necessary in case of Saracenic raids.  Take in the panoramic view from Castello sul colle di Cerricò and visit the church of San St. Lawrence with its 14th century bell tower behind it that was once used as a watchtower.  The Via dell’Amore (“Lovers Lane”) is a wonderful paved and flat path carved into the mountain that begins in Riomaggiore and ends in Manarola that takes you on a relatively easy 30 minute walk along the water and rock and provides inspiring views and romantic nooks.  The Via dell’Amore is also the first segment of the Sentiero Azzurro or the Blue Trail, a five-hour and somewhat challenging hiking trail that connects all five villages (5 euros for a daily pass). 

View of Riomaggiore from the sea

View of Riomaggiore from the sea

Take the Cinque Terre train back to Monterosso.  Rest and clean-up for the best meal you will experience in Italy.  Michelin recommended Ristorante Miky is hands down one of the best restaurants in the Cinque Terre.  Their ingredients are top notch, as is their menu, presentation and service.  What makes their dishes stand out is that they serve most of their main courses baked in pizza dough so that the flavors steam and meld inside until it’s time to eat the delicious pizza crust!  Make a reservation for a table on the outside patio and enjoy the view of the ocean with a good Borolo or Barberresco wine.  The restaurant is closed on Tuesday nights.  Make sure you make a reservation in advance, when we arrived for our reservation they were turning away EVERYONE without a reservation.  You cannot go wrong with the seafood risotto and ravioli!

Ristorante Miky (Monterosso al Mare)
Via Fegina 104, 60015 Monterosso al Mare, Italy
+39 0187 81 76 08
$$$$

An amazing seafood risotto and experience at Miky

An amazing seafood risotto and experience at Miky

Sunday

Take the morning to sleep in as you’re most likely exhausted from your day of walking!  You’ll want to stop in at Nuovo Bar Eden for a cappuccino or a snack.  Nuovo Bar is perfectly located above the golden sand in the new part of Monterosso with a terrace that feels like you are sitting right on top of the water.  The prices are great and they serve a variety of dishes from snacks to substantial meals.  The service is wonderful and you can’t beat the free Wi-Fi that they offer to catch up on e-mails or current events! 

Nuovo Bar Eden (Monterosso al Mare)
Via Fegina 7, 60015 Monterosso al Mare, Italy
+39 0187 81 82 56
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Sitting on the terrace at Nuovo Bar Eden

Sitting on the terrace at Nuovo Bar Eden

View of Monterosso Beach

View of Monterosso Beach

Head to the beach for the remainder of the afternoon and enjoy your last few hours in the Cinque Terre.  You can rent a beach chair with an umbrella for an hourly fee at the Bagni Eden beach club or take advantage of the free beach (albeit pebbly).  Find a sunny rock from which to read or write or just stare at the sea and take in the beauty!  If you have room for a last meal, have lunch at one of the three tables overlooking the sea at L’Ancora della Tortuga, a new restaurant housed in a converted bunker that was used during World War II.  The kitchen specializes in fish and houses spectacular views from its location on a cliff.  Simply divine!

L’Ancora della Tortuga (Monterosso al Mare)
Salita Cappucini, 6, 60015 Monterosso al Mare, Italy
+39-0187-80-00-65
$$$

Panda’s Tips for the Cinque Terre

  • Bring mosquito repellent if you are planning to walk on the trails!
  • Book hotel reservations and train tickets in advance as they tend to sell out especially during high season.
  • There are markets in La Spezia on Fridays (bargain clothes and shoes), Forte Dei Marmi on Wednesdays (designer discount clothes) and Levanto on Wednesdays (food and clothes)
  • Take a day trip to Portovenere on the ferry if you have the time!
  • The tip is generally included in the price of the meal (especially if you see a cover charge) but some people choose to round the bill up and leave extra.
  • Liguria is the birthplace of pesto, try a pesto pasta!
  • The house wine in Italy is amazing!  Simply ask for red or white wine.  Try a glass of the Sciacchetrà, the local sweet wine, with a biscotto cookie for dipping.
  • Significant discounts are often available if you purchase your train tickets in advance online here