28 November 2012

Mull it over

I've mainly only had mulled wine at Christmas markets or as Vin chaud on the side of a mountain. But I'd never made it myself or revealed the mysterious mix of spice, fruit and wine.

So for Christmas last year, I threw a mulled wine and mince pie party with a twist. I made a selection of mulled wines and asked my guests to blind taste the various blends in order to crown the Queen of mulled wines.

All the ingredients for a drunken party!
 My main aim was to test the difference between the shop bought pre-mixed blends and spice sachets and the recipes from scratch, mixed with real spices and fresh fruit. So these were the blends my guests taste tested:


So, who was crowned the Queen?


The outright winner was the mulled wine sachet from Tesco, followed by the bottle of blended mulled wine from Waitrose. The least favourite option was the Delia recipe.

Personally, my favourite my guest's last choice! Probably because it contained some cherry brandy, so was a bit more potent. Plus, for my personal taste, it had a stronger and more natural flavour than the sachet or the blended bottle.

Overall, it was a brilliant party and my house smelt wonderfully of spices and alcohol for several days afterwards. Much better than a candle or a Christmas smelling air freshener.

Top tips for throwing a mulled wine party


1. If you're short on time, the bottled version was the simplest and quickest to prepare. Although I did chop in some slices of orange, so my testers couldn't tell the wines apart from appearance, this isn't essential. From a preparation perspective, the Jamie Oliver recipe was the most time consuming as you had to dissolve some sugar in a small amount of wine and vanilla pods before adding a whole ensemble of ingredients

2. If you're on a budget, then again, the preblended bottle works out the most economical at around £4.00 a bottle. Otherwise, if you're making the stew yourself you can get reasonably priced, strong red wine from Aldi and Lidl. And, since you're adding spices and fruit, I'm not sure the quality makes that much difference

3. If you have fussy tasters, lay off the star anise. I personally love the aniseed taste, but it's not to everyone's palette, so if you're making the Jamie recipe, leave it out

4. Don't over stew the lemons. If you're adding lemons to your liquor, put them in about five minutes before the end. If they cook for too long, they can make the wine bitter

5. Serve your wine in style. I got some pretty Russian tea glasses from Ebay, they really made a difference to the presentation and only cost around £15

6. Don't throw this party if you have a cream carpet

7. Drink sensibly. If you can.


10 November 2012

The Francais from the flames

When Charter 1227 restaurant in Salisbury went up in flames a few years ago I was so sad.

I'd love to say it was due to my disappointment for the owners and the loss of a historic building in Salisbury. Nope! I was mostly sad because Charter 1227 was supposed to be one of the best restaurants in Salisbury and I had never been. And partly sad as the fire also took the best fish and chip shop in Salisbury with it, Stoby's. Yes I know. The pain was all mine!

So you can imagine my self-centred delight when the restaurant reopened earlier this year, with the same owners and a new and improved menu!

As it was our anniversary, we thought we'd go and have a try. You know, to support the regeneration of Salisbury and local businesses....

The restaurant didn't look much from the outside. But up a fairly steep set of steps (yes I was worried about falling down them!) we found an open plan restaurant, with a modern, fresh feel, yet with a nod to the past.  Our table had a great view overlooking the market square and, as we were in the corner, the rest of the diners. I love to sit "eyes out" in a restaurant, although I occasionally get told to stop staring.


 

Our waiter was really friendly and took the time to chat and make us feel welcome. We ordered a bottle of Chianti and we were given a delicious slice of olive oil laden focaccia bread (which the squeeze could have eaten three more of, even though it was a generous size!).

To start, I had beetroot and goats cheese salad with walnut dust and raspberry essence. The squeeze had Wiltshire pork ballotine, black pudding and apple and vanilla purée. For main, I had Roast rump of lamb, mint potato croquettes, zucchini topped Provencal vegetables and pea purée. The squeeze destroyed char grilled duck breast with braised leeks, celeriac purée, port and blackberry infused sauce.

Yes, your dribbling mouth is correct. It was all absolutely delicious.

In my opinion, there are no other restaurants in Salisbury quite like Charter 1227. Yes, there are lots of great places to eat, but nothing truly refined like this one.

If you want a huge plate of food, served to you within moments, it's probably not for you. But if you want plates of food that look like works of art, with each morsel tasting delicious and surprising and where you get personal service, then you'll love this place. And, if like me you're into your chinaware, and always turn your side plate upside down to look at the brand, everything is served on Villeroy and Boch.
At the end, Danny the chef and owner popped over to say hello and ask about our dining experience. He seemed so passionate and genuine and it was a cordial touch.

And, I managed to get down the stairs without falling over. Another commendable achievement.

20 October 2012

Vodafone - not a travelling network

I've travelled abroad many times and have never really had a problem using my iPhone for data, messaging and calls. You know it's going to cost you a bit more, but in the past, my network provider, Vodafone, has always sent me clear texts to let me know how much it is all going to cost.

However, on a recent trip to Turkey, both the squeeze (who is also with Vodafone) and I had an absolute nightmare, so I thought I would share our experience in the hope of preventing it from happening again.

Immediately upon arriving in Turkey, I started receiving very contradicting texts from Vodafone. Adam was getting completely different texts so we really weren't sure what the costs were of using our phones there. Some texts told us we were being charged £3 per megabyte, some said we had a 5MB allowance and some said we were being charged £5 for 25MB. It really wasn't clear. Below are a selection of the texts that I received to my phone.

Then, literally on our second day, we both received messages from Vodafone telling us that we had used our allowance of roaming for a trip outside of Europe and that our data roaming had been cut off. Apparently, we had both opted into  a roaming cap (although neither of us had opted into this and this hadn't happened in Australia earlier in the same year). Added insult to injury, the message said that we had reached our "euro" cap, which is utterly nonsensical since we both pay our bills in Sterling and the Turkish currency is Lira. The message said we could respond "stop" to lift the cap, but this didn't work.

Now, some people reading this might think, hey, you're on holiday, don't worry about your phone. However, that very same day, Adam proposed to me and it meant I couldn't share a photo of my ring with my friends and family and meant I couldn't let everyone know on Facebook. I was so upset.

Also, Adam uses his phone for work and urgently needed to access his emails to respond to a customer.

So we ended up having to ring Vodafone on the 191 customer services number. Unfortunately, every time we rang them, we were told that their phone lines were busy and we had to hold. We both tried to book in call backs with Vodafone, where your number is placed in a queue and they call you back when it is your turn. Unfortunately, each time they called us back, we were cut off after one minute.

In total, Adam rang Vodafone nine times and I rang them six times. One time I was put on hold for 16 and a half minutes before I gave up (below). It was so frustrating. When I eventually managed to speak to someone, I was told that I was on a package whereby I spent £5 per day for 25MB of data and they switched my data back on.


However, poor Adam didn't have so much lucky. He spoke to two separate people who informed him that Vodafone don't offer a roaming package for the rest of the world and he had to pay as you go. This is despite this package being advertised on their website and the Twitter support telling us both we should be on that package. Finally, he managed to speak to someone who told us that he could have the "Rest of the world" package which would cost him £5 per day and that to date he had only spent £10 on data.

So, it was all great news. We knew that we were each spending £40 for the whole holiday on data which was fine and Mum received the photo of my ring that she had been waiting for. We could get on with enjoying our holiday.


However, this weekend, we received a massive shock. Absolutely huge Vodafone bills!

We have both been charged for calling the 191 number. At no stage when we spoke to anyone were we told we would be charged for this service, nowhere on their website does it say this service isn't free from abroad and none of the times when we were put on hold or used the call back service were we informed that there was a charge from abroad. In total, Adam was changed £100.65 and I was charged £53.83. All of which was mainly incurred being on hold and all trying to resolve an issue which was due to Vodafone's appalling communication.

We were expecting to pay £40 for data roaming, however, we have both been charged far more than that! Adam was charged £163 and we also discovered that when we were told he had only spent £10, he had actually sent £70! I was charged £128 for my data roaming which is substantially more than the £40 I was expecting.

So my advice would be the following:
  • before you go on holiday, make sure you are completely clear what package you are on and how much it will cost you in your chosen destination. Just because it has been fine before, doesn't mean it will be fine in the country you are visiting
  • never ring 191 from your mobile. It would be cheaper to ring from a land line abroad than from your mobile
  • check your bill when you get home. It probably will be inaccurate as both of ours were
So, thanks Vodafone for making what was supposed to be a wonderful holiday an frustrating experience and stinging us both with killer bills. I've been your customer for nine years. I suspect I won't be for much longer.




14 October 2012

It's nice to be called young again

Some HPB destinations are more popular than others. But HPB Physkos in Turunc, Turkey is notoriously difficult to book. I'm told that some of the villas are booked up at least two years in advance!

Having just returned from a week's stay there, I can completely understand why.

The property is very decadent and luxurious with several large pools and hammocks on the lawn in which to laze in the sun. We had a studio apartment, which the booking staff repeatedly informed us was quite small. However, it was perfectly big enough for our needs with two large balconies, a spacious kitchen-come-living area and a nice double bedroom. As usual, the property was immaculate and equipped with every imaginable kitchen utensil you could ever need. We didn't get round to using the three bread baskets....

View from our second balcony

The pretty town of Turunc is a pleasant five minutes walk. There are plenty of bars and restaurants, a large stretch of beach and a marina with water taxis and day tripping boats to take you around the area. We enjoyed particularly good meals at Tapas Mapas, OBA 09 and Pisces restaurant as well as taking the water taxi to nearby Amos and Marmaris. There is a mini market next door that makes the most amazing pancakes and casseroles that they deliver to your room. You can read about how to get a water taxi on my blog here.

The main appeal, however, has got to be the management team, led by Korhan Demiroz. When we arrived, we had one of the warmest welcomes I have ever received and one of the funniest and useful welcome meetings I've ever been heard (although there was no booze, which for me is a must!). We celebrated a very exciting event while we were there and Korhan even sent a bottle of fizz to our room. A lovely touch from a lovely man.


The best bit however was, we were repeatedly told that "it was nice to have some young people staying at Physkos". Now, being 30 plus some years old, this has got to be one of the nicest things someone could possibly say to me!

And yes, most of the residents were, shall we say, on the greyer side of 50. However, everyone was so friendly and it certainly meant there were no late night parties or loud music!

I've carried on about how great HPB places are on my blog. Having just returned from the nicest one I've ever stayed in, I thought I'd take the opportunity to have another little rave! You can read all about how the HPB system works here and I can't praise the company enough.


The only downside was the naughty old wasps that plagued the pool. But by all accounts they arrive every year at the end of August. There's more about the wasps on my blog here. There was also no free wifi by the pool and since data roaming charges are so expensive in Turkey, this was a real shame.

I will almost certainly return, but next time I will be going in June. And no Korhan, not with children!! Although, who knows what they are doing two years in advance? I barely know what I am doing two weeks in advance so whether I'll be able to book a property may rely on a bit of luck!

I think I hear a buzz.....

We recently returned from an absolutely glorious holiday in Turunc. It's a lovely place, lovely people and overall we had a wonderful time.

However, there was a buzzy little irritant we had for the whole week. Wasps and bees!

They were absolutely everywhere. By the pool, by the beach, in restaurants, on the water taxis. Everywhere! And they absolutely loved everything sweet, so we were dreaming if we thought we could drink fruit juice on our balcony.

And they weren't placid little insects. They were the angry, persistent, aggressive and stinging variety. Everyone we met had been stung at least once and told horror stories of people being rushed to hospital with anaphylactic shock!

The breakfast we tried to have on our balcony which was thwarted by wasps! Look closely, you'll see one in the photo!

We subsequently learnt that the wasps arrive every year at the end of August and stay until the end of October. If you look online, there are quite a few blogs about it in Turunc and the surrounding bays so it is clearly an annual problem.

I have to be honest that, by the end of the week, I had become quite accustomed to them and let them land and zip around me. And the good news is that they go to sleep at night fall. However, the squeeze seemed to go the other way, became increasingly frustrated by the little beggars and was constantly seen swatting and swiping and swearing!

 
When we went to Amos restaurant, I ordered the most delicious red mullet (above). Disappointingly, as it was quite sweet, the wasps absolutely loved it as I was swarmed by them! They had to bring out a little smoke machine to get rid of them! So I ate in a big, plume of smoke!

I can't say it ruined our holiday, far from it. In fact it was one of the most lovely, relaxing, romantic and friendly places I've ever been. I will definitely go back, but maybe I'll go in June next time...

If it was my job, I think I'd enjoy it more!

When we got to Turunc in Turkey, we were immediately told we had to get a water taxi so we could see the coast from the sea.

Having never used a water taxi before, I approached this with a certain amount of trepidation. As someone who suffers from terrible sea sickness, I was worried about how big the taxi was going to be and how much my delicate tum would feel each of the bumps of the sea.

However, the taxi turned out to be more of a fully fledged boat, accommodating around 30 people at a time. Certainly not the intimate, rocky ride I expected it to be.

Turunc Water Taxis

The first water taxi we took was from Turunc to Marmaris. It cost 15 Turkish Lira (which at the time of writing is a around £5) per person for a return journey that took around 45 minutes each way.

Our hotel had provided us with the water taxi timetable. And, since the next one was due to leave at 10.30 we rushed down to the marina to catch it. However, we soon learnt the timetable is more of a guide than a time set in stone. As we waited on the boat for 45 sweltering minutes before there were enough people to merit a trip.


The taxis are run by a large group of swarthy men who stand around smoking, shouting and looking generally quite grumpy. Unlike the many day trip boats that litter the seas around the bay, the boat drivers clearly don't see their role as that of an entertainer or a tourist guide. The boat starts and they drive to the next stop, with barely a look of acknowledgement to their passengers throughout the whole journey. Mostly, they seem to spend their time shouting at other sailors or shouting down their phones.

I really don't understand what they have to be so grumpy about. As the journey and the coastline is absolutely stunning, the sea is fairly flat (to the delight of my stomach) and the air and sea is clean and fresh. Seems like a pretty good job to me!

Despite the stoic old sea dogs, I absolutely loved the trip and we ended up getting two further water taxis to the bays of Kumlubük and Amos. The whole coastline is absolutely stunning and largely unspoilt.

Costing only a few Turkish Lira a trip, it is definitely worth the money and much better than getting the bumpy old bus inland via the treacherous cliffs! Just don't expect service with a smile!

7 September 2012

Must be talking to an angel

I discovered Naked Wines when I went to a marketing event in Norwich. I was supposed to be learning about building successful brands. Instead, this hot, Irish man stood up and started talking about wine. By all accounts I listened to that presentation!

The hot, Irish guy introduced me to the concept of wine buying with a social purpose. I love wine, but unless I'm in a vineyard, eyeball to eyeball with the producer, I rarely think about the people behind the bottle. I guess most wines fall into the category of what I view as the "mass produced wines you see on the shelves of Tesco or Waitrose". And don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with those wines, lots of them taste pretty good.

In England, we often hear about local farmers campaigning about the cost of milk. About how the big, bad supermarkets squeeze farmers to beyond levels where any living can be earned. But it never occurred to me the same could be true of wine. 

Lovely Picpoul and how you rate the wine

Naked wines supports independent wine growers. This means that when you buy wine from them, you'll never have heard of the brand and sometimes the stocks run out of the wines you really like. But each of the wines has been made by a family vineyard or a small, artisan producer. And, by you buying the wine, you are directly investing in that vineyard and personally helping to ensure that winery continues to be in business. And, you pay a fair price for a bottle of wine.

And do you know what, maybe I do feel a bit better about drinking the wine when I feel I am doing good for the world (#fact, by me drinking wine, I am helping someone). But that's not even the best bit.

You know those adverts where you give money to charity and you receive updates from the children, or ponies or forest you have helped to save? Well it works just the same for Naked Wines!

When you invest in Naked Wines, you become an Angel. As an Angel, you receive updates from the growers to let you know how they're getting on. How the grapes are ripening this season, new wines they have on the market and other little things they happen to be excited about.

OK, so I haven't exactly saved a breed of endangered snails, but it makes me feel pretty good.
Another great thing about the site is that you can share your experiences with others. So, if I had a particularly enjoyable session on a case of Picpoul de Pinet, I can let other people know about it. And they can let me know what they liked and didn't like too. It's not even that poncey either, as the people talking about the wines are mainly normal people, like me.

And the wines have been pretty good too. I have especially enjoyed:
My only complaint would be that they claim to be a social brand, yet they are rubbish at acknowledging and responding to mentions on social media. I talk about them all the time on Twitter because I think they are great. I talk about when a new delivery arrives, which wines I've liked, what I'm doing when I drink the wines... Look, basically I love them.

All I ask, is show me a little love in return. Just the odd tweet. Just a tiny mention. Let me know you're listening! After all, you are talking to an Angel.

Disclaimer: drink sensibly n that ;)

1 September 2012

A view that's worth sleeping on the ground

When my brother invited me to go camping with him this summer, I didn't jump at the idea. I mean, I'm not exactly the camping type. I don't own a sleeping bag, I drink expensive wine and I drive a Smart Car.

But the Olympic sailing was taking place down the road at Weymouth and I thought I would rough it for the night. So we stuffed a duvet and a few bottles of plonk into the Smart and set off for the coast.

We were staying at Eweleaze Farm. This is a working farm, but for a few weeks a year, the site opens for campers. You reach the site down a long, dusty farm track (which my Smart didn't exactly love!). At the hill crest, you are presented with the most stunning blue-green view.


The view from Eweleaze Campsite

The camping fields are situated in a secluded valley, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It includes ½ mile of private beach and cliffs, which now forms part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. So the view from your site will be nothing but beautiful beaches and craggy coastlines.

We were lucky because it was a clear weekend and from the site you could see right across the bay to Weymouth. You could actually see the Olympic sailing from our tent!

The squeeze drinking Pinot Noir from a blue, plastic cup!

My brother had already set up the tent (thank goodness) so all we had to do was build the fire, heat up the chilli and pour the wine. I'd brought with me one of my current wine favourites from Majestic, the Barista Pinotage 2010. It tastes of coffee, chocolate and berries and is even delicious drunk out of a blue, plastic beaker!

I've mentioned my brother, Bordeauxboy, before on this blog. He has and Advanced WSET qualification so always brings a good drop to the party. He had a lovely bottle of Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir which was peppery, fruity and delightfully dry. Again, drunk out of a plastic cup!

Me cooking chilli by the sea!

Although I slept on the floor, had to walk up the hill to the showers and use a long drop for my lady business, the view we woke up to over the blue bay in the morning was completely worth it (together with the bacon sandwich the squeeze fried up).

I wouldn't say I'm exactly a camping convert, but if you are going to sleep outside, it doesn't get much better than the serene charm of Eweleaze Farm.

26 August 2012

A bit of PYO in the sunshine

I have lots of fond memories of PYO from when I was young. (That's Pick Your Own for those that don't know!) Spending hours rummaging through bushes to find strawberries and raspberries which rarely found their way into the plastic punnet and going home with red fingers and a sore belly.

Beautiful Ansty's PYO farm

So on a sunny Sunday a few weeks ago, I headed off with the current squeeze to forage for some fruit. We chose Ansty's Pick Your Own which is on the A30 about 10 miles outside of Salisbury.
 
The photos on their website don't do this place any justice, because it is absolutely stunning. The PYO is set at the foot of some very steep hills which are littered with huge, white regimental badges which were carved into the chalky hills by soldiers during the First World War. The rows of fruit are beautifully maintained and the whole place felt a bit like some of the vineyards I have visited.

The lovely farm shop at Ansty's

The farm has a lovely little shop and cafe with all sorts of cakes and organic produce for sale. We went home with more fruit than we could possibly ever have eaten and a selection of treats from the shop. It wasn't cheap, but it was very, very good.

Before we headed to Ansty's we went to a Pick Your Own place near Salisbury called Bake Fruit Farm. However, when we got there it was closed! On a sunny Sunday, we couldn't believe there wouldn't be enough trade to merit opening.


It's sad that more people don't do PYO. You get to choose the best fruit, you know it's ripe and fresh and it is certainly more rewarding than pushing a trolley round the supermarket. Essentially, it's like a workout and a picnic rolled into a shopping trip.

The only thing missing? A spot of champagne. It would have been amazing to sit in the sunshine, look out over the lovely view whilst dipping strawberries in a glass of fizz.

7 June 2012

Wine tasting, Lanzarote style!

Whenever I go on holiday, I try and fit in a trip to a vineyard for a spot of wine tasting. It gives you an introduction to the types of wines the region produces, gives you the opportunity to buy local wines straight from the producer and, frankly, is a great excuse to get tipsy!

So on my recent trip to Lanzarote, I was keen to go to one of vineyards on the 2,000 hectares of land cultivated for wine growing. However, it transpired that my hotel was around 20 kilometres from the nearest vineyard and my brother kind of put me off going.

An example of a Vineyard in Lanzarote

An example of a Vineyard in Lanzarote

I think I've mentioned my brother, Bordeauxboy, on here before. He is basically the biggest wine snob I've ever met. He is the sort of person for whom you spend ages choosing wine, which just goes straight in the rack! He has an advanced WSET Qualification though, so I trust his opinion. So when he said it was too warm for decent wine in Lanzarote, I figured he was probably right. Considering that Lanzarote has around 100 mm of rainfall annually, it is amazing that anything grows there at all.

However, I was delighted when we managed to book a tour to the Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote that included a trip to one of the vineyards. It meant I got to visit a vineyard without too much hassle or making a specific journey. 

On the tour, I learned that the wine grows, thanks to the unique way they cultivate their vines. Each plant is grown in a hole that is about a meter deep and wide and surrounded by a small protective wall called a Zocos. The pit protects the plant from the constant winds that blow across the island and helps create humidity around the plant, meaning it receives enough water to grow.

Barrels outside the Bodega Barreto in Lanzarote

Barrels outside the Bodega Barreto in Lanzarote

So the vineyards are really striking to look at. Bright, green plants growing out of the black grains of lava. For the sight alone, I would urge you to take a look at the vineyards. However, the wine tasting experience I had was pretty disappointing.

The tour took us to the Bodega Barreto and we were told we would be trying two types of wine. Apparently this family run business has been producing wine for over 100 years and several of their wines have won prizes. Most of their wines are produced from the Malvasia grape, which I had never tried before and which grows very well on the island.

The Malvasia at Bodega Barreto, Lanzarote

The Malvasia at Bodega Barreto, Lanzarote

However, when I say "trying" I mean we were literally given a thimble full. How can you get a taste for the wine when you have barely a mouthful? And I'm never going to be drunk enough to buy a case of wine based on a small dribble.

We tasted the Masdache Malvasia Seco and the Masdache Moscatel. There was also a Masdache Tinto and another couple of wines that we were not permitted to taste. The Malvasia Seco was not that dry and had quite a strong taste of vinegar, whilst the Moscatel had a nice taste, but was slightly grainy. Needless to say, I didn't buy any and I didn't see anyone make a purchase, even though they were quite reasonably priced.

I feel a bit guilty about this review, as probably, if I had gone to the winery directly as an individual, I would have got a different experience. But on this particular tour, it really wasn't great.
Enjoying a glass of El Grifo wine in Teguise, Lanzarote

Enjoying a glass of El Grifo wine in Teguise, Lanzarote

I'd pretty much given up on Lanzarote wine after that experience. But we then went for lunch in Teguise to this lovely little place called Bodega de Santa Barbara. We sat in the sun trapped courtyard, served by handsome Italians and had a platter of sausage and goats cheese whilst sipping on a delicious dry, white wine. 

When I asked the waiter what it was, I was expecting it to be Italian. However, it was a local wine called El Grifo and it was the Colleccion Malvasia variety, which the waiter assured us was the best. It had an almost green, pale colour and a very dry, floral taste. Absolutely delicious!

So, if I went to Lanzarote again, I would definitely visit a vineyard. However, I wouldn't do it as part of a tour (you don't get enough wine!) and I would pay a visit to the El Grifo winery.   

31 May 2012

A Classier Canary

I was pretty snobbish about Lanzarote before I went. I kind of imagined a scene from Benidorm with Brits throwing up on street corners, party games by the pool side, promoters dragging you into bars to drink from fish bowls and restaurants with pictures of full English fry ups outside. Yes I have been to Magaluf!

However, Costa Teguise in Lanzarote was nothing like that. In fact, I was pretty impressed.

Accommodation

Overall the resort, compared to some of the huge Spanish mega builds, is pretty attractive. There are a few ugly 70s and 80s style block hotels, but in the main there are lots of pretty, white buildings interspersed with the black, lava gardens for which the island is renowned. We stayed at the HPB Santa Rosa hotel, which is on the South West of the resort, very near to the Playa Bastian Beach. It's a great hotel. No animation teams organising club 18-30 type games, no loud music and nice and peaceful at night (yes, I am pretty middle aged!)

Playa Cucharas, Costa Teguise
The view from Hennessey's Bar, by Playa Cucharas

Restaurants

The Santa Rosa hotel has lots of bars and clubs nearby. But for me, the nicest bars and restaurants are over to the South East of the resort, just up from Playa Cucharas. 

If you like Tapas, I would really recommend El Bocadito which has an amazing selection, although you might want to bring your Spanish dictionary otherwise ordering can be guesswork! We had a delicious bottle of wine at this restaurant too, Emilio Moro 2008, which I would heartily recommend. The 2007 version is available from Majestic in the UK. Portabello is great for Italian food and if you like nutty, Italian waitresses! If you want to eat by the sea front, El Maestro and La Pesquera share the same owner, and have a lovely chilled out vibe, with cool Spanish music. I had paella and sangria for just 7 Euro. 
Enjoying a cocktail at the Captain Hook Bar, yes, they do come with sparklers!

Nightlife

This isn't the sort of place you'd go for a stag weekend or to dance the night away. Overall, its pretty quiet, principally populated by families and couples. There are lots of bars with fairly naff pub style singers, crooning along to a Casio or a laid down track, and the odd karaoke night. 

For me, by far the nicest cluster of bars is around the Pueblo Marinero area. Built by Cesar Manrique (people are pretty obsessed with him in Lanzarote), the area is a cluster of typical canary style buildings, all white, simple and archy, and designed to look like a Canarian Fishing village (even though it is nowhere near the sea!). We had a drink at the Captain Hook bar, where you can get lots of nice cocktails and they give you a blanket if you get too cold! They have music playing most nights, and the first time we went, we enjoyed lovely live Spanish Guitar music.  

There are also some nice bars down by the Playa Cucharas. We had a very OTT cocktail at Robinson's Bar, and also Hennessey's is nice for a more traditional pint. Both have spectacular views out to sea, but can be a bit windy!

Beaches

El Jablillio beach
Costa Teguise has five beaches. Probably the nicest one is the Playa Jablillo beach which is a small, horse shoe shaped beach with beautiful turquoise water that's perfect for swimming in. It's a bit more sheltered from the wind too, which seems to constantly blow in Lanzarote. Playa Cucharas is a larger strip of white sand that has more bars and restaurants nearby, it also has a public toilet (but no loo roll!). You'll also be able to watch lots of hot windsurfers charging through the waves! 

It's free to lie on the sand, but to hire two sunbeds and an umbrella costs 10 Euro.

Getting there

The main Lanzarote airport is about a 20 minutes drive away and is called Arrecife airport. By far the highlight of the airport is that you can sit outside at the Carling pub, enjoy the sunshine with a glass of wine and watch the planes land. All airports should have an outside terrace, the perfect way to end a holiday!

Nearby

Most of the hotels organise day trips, you can also hire a car or book something through the many Last Minute Travel stores in Costa Teguise. There's lots to do and the costs can vary from a few Euro to around 100 Euro depending on the scale of the trip.
Timanfaya National Park, Costa Teguise, Lanzarote
Timanfaya National Park, it's beautiful
I'd recommend a visit to the Timanfaya National Park, where you can see the bizarre looking lava fields and volcanoes. If you love a glass of wine, it's worth going to look at one of the wineries purely because of the unique way they grow their vines. 

Finally, the Sunday market in Teguise is pretty good for a visit. Alongside the usual fake Fendi Bags and belts are artisan foods and wines, and local arts and crafts. Teguise is also a really attractive little town, and quite different to the beach side holiday resorts. If you do stop for lunch in Teguise, I'd recommend Bodega de Santa Barbara as they have a sheltered sunny terrace, where we enjoyed a platter of salami and goats cheese, accompanied by a super cold glass of El Grifo Malvasia Colleccion white wine.

A vineyard in Lanzarote!

Downsides

Nowhere is perfect, and there are some downsides to Costa Teguise. The main one is the fact that you can't lie on the beach without getting hassled. Whether from the man selling the sunglasses (and other illegal substances!), the people offering massages or those wanting to braid you hair, it is really irritating and incessant. You get it the most in La Cucharas beach from my experience. 

It's also impossible to get a decent breakfast there, unless you buy it from a supermarket. I love a Spanish style breakfast with meats, cheeses and fresh fruit, or a lovely piece of crusty bread topped with ripe tomatoes. When I went to Ibiza, I found somewhere that did fruit kebabs and champagne for breakfast, which was amazing. However, this is impossible to find. You have a choice of Full English Breakfast, Vegetarian English Breakfast or Superior English Breakfast!

I'd love to hear if you've visited the resort, and what your favourite parts were. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog.

29 May 2012

It's HPB darling....

I've just come back from a week's holiday in Lanzarote, staying at the HPB Santa Rosa resort, and I thought I would share with you my experience of travelling HPB style. 

Until a few years ago, I'd never heard of a Holiday Property Bond. I'm not a financial expert, and I am not FSA regulated, but this is how it works as I understand it.

You basically invest in a life assurance bond with HPB and this gives you a financial interest in a portfolio of villas, cottages and apartments across Europe. Your investment gives you a certain number of points a year (depending on how much you invest), meaning you can go on holiday as many times a year as you like, until your points run out.

The next year, you get your points back, and you can start holidaying all over again. Some properties cost more points than others, and certain times of the year cost more points than others. But if you invest a good amount of money in your bond initially, and you are clever with when and where you go, you can enjoy lovely holidays a couple of times a year. And, if you want to take your money out, you can, and if you die, the money is gifted to your relatives (jolly!).
The view from our balcony at Santa Rosa in Lanzarote. The HPB terrace is in the foreground.
So, with HPB, you get an alternative to a fixed timeshare. Instead of going to the same place, year on year, you can go to a range of places with a range of accommodation types. In fact, they apparently have over 1,000 properties! The only costs, after your initial investment, are your flights, a small maintenance charge and of course your drinking money! 

And, although it means that you get a fairly cheap holiday, the accommodation certainly is not cheap. To date, I've only been to two and I've been impressed with both.

Before we went to Lanzarote, we looked at the reviews on Trip Advisor of the Santa Rosa resort. Quite a few of them mentioned that the HPB apartment and pool were much nicer than the non HPB accommodation which is situated on the same site. So much so that the phrase of the holiday became "it's not HPB darling" to describe a second rate experience or person.

One of the beaches in Costa Teguise, Lanzarote, a few minutes walk from the HPB site
Our poolside area could not be accessed by the not "HPB darling" people, which made us feel most superior! On the first day, there was a Paella cookery demonstration and we all had Paella and sangria by the pool whilst sneering at the "other" people over the fence! And every now and then, we would pop over to their side, just because we could!

When I booked the room, I was told how many steps there were to my front door, the size of my balcony and also whether I had twin or a double bed. The self catering apartments had every single utensil you could possibly require - more than in my house! There was even a wine cooler, for my El Grifo Malvasia Colleccion wine that I drank while in Lanzarote. Amazing attention to detail, and very HPB.

Oh, and did I mention about the free wifi?
The HPB St Brides property with its sweeping driveway
I've also been to a property near St Davids in Wales called HPB St Brides. We went for a family Christmas and it was lovely to stay in 99 acres of parkland, by a castle which you reached via a long, sweeping driveway, flanked with spectacular views of the sea.

As you can see, I'm a bit of a fan! I've just booked Turunc in Turkey for October, which also looks lovely so I'll let you know how I get on.

Please note. I do not work for HPB and I am not FSA regulated. Therefore, if you are interested to invest in HPB, I would suggest you visit their website or ring them to talk it all through, as I am sure there are a range of exclusions such as minimum investment etc they would have to go through with you: http://www.hpb.co.uk/howitworks/

11 May 2012

A welcome change to a traditional curry

I've always loved going for a curry. Traditionally, this has been at the end of a night out, accompanied by several pints of lager with the food temperature as hot as possible!

Don't get me wrong, I still have a lot of time for that sort of curry experience, and sometimes, there is nothing better than a lamb rogan josh and a pint of Cobra. Recently though, I've been introduced to the world of gourmet Indian dining, which is a completely different way of enjoying Indian cuisine.
chickpeas and baby aubergine curry in gujrati spices

Chickpeas and baby aubergine curry in Gujarati spices from the menu at Anokaa

I've been to a few of these restaurants near where I live in the South of England. Included among the best is Kuti's Brasserie in Southampton which is on Oxford Street and serves great food with a friendly atmosphere. Hox Brasserie near the train station in Salisbury is excellent. I would recommend the Goan Fish Curry as it is exquisite. And you generally get a free liqueur (fake Baileys) at the end of the meal at Hox, which I would never turn down!

However, for me, there is nowhere like Anokaa on Fisherton Street in Salisbury, and it is probably my favourite restaurant in the area. 

Their strap line is "Style. Sophistication and Sheer Seduction" and Anokaa apparently means "exceptional" in Hindi which may seem a little over the top. But this place holds a special, little, romantic place in my heart, so for me, couldn't be more accurate.  
soft shell crab - with kumquat chutney

Soft shell crab - with kumquat chutney, from the Anokaa menu

The restaurant is modern in decor, but in an interesting juxtaposition, the staff all wear traditional clothing. The food is a fusion between Indian flavours and spices, and British classics. So think steak cooked Asian style, or Welsh lamb in a stir fry. And all the food comes beautifully presented, like a piece of artwork on your plate, with an array of saucy chutneys, dips and drizzles. 

Whenever I go, I either have the soft shell crab, or the mixed fish platter for starter. And last time I had the aubergine and chickpea curry which was so beautiful it seemed a shame to eat it, and I would also recommend the char grilled halibut with tomato and shrimp broth served with curry leaf quinoa. 

Often you think beer is more suited to a hot curry, but I think a good red can go really well. There is a wide selection of wines at Anokaa and this time we had a lovely bottle of MAN Vinters Pinotage from the Stellenbosch region. I promise myself that I will only have one bottle, but I always end up having another and they never rush you though your meal so you can sit back and slurp away.

MAN Vinters Pinotage, enjoyed at Anokaa

One restaurant that I thought was very disappointing was the Coriander Lounge in Southampton. I'd been recommended to eat there by several people and was looking forward to going. However, despite making a reservation, we had to queue to be seated, and there was no area for waiting in, so we were literally had to stand in a line by the door. When we were finally shown to our table, we were asked what we wanted to drink before we even opened the menu. This set the precedent for the rest of the meal, where we were rushed through service, which offered a thoroughly uncomfortable dining experience.

Having said that, I must concede that the food was delicious. I enjoyed the Tandoori Mackerel and my friend had the coriander monkfish which was also exceptional. Just sort out the service.... please! 

CFTFF7ECA5GU

12 April 2012

A pint worth walking two hours for

I’m not exactly a rambler. I’m no good at reading maps, panic if I lose phone reception and have no appropriate “outdoors” clothes. However, I can be persuaded if there is an offer of food or booze (or both!) at the end of it, and if it isn’t too long or hard.

So the walk along the Clarendon Way from Salisbury to Pitton is perfect for me. You can do it in under two hours, and one of the nicest country pubs in the Salisbury area is at the end of it, the Silver Plough.

 










The walk is quite interesting as it takes you past the Clarendon Palace which was a favoured hunting lodge for Norman Kings and the Plantagenets. Not much remains of the Palace now, apart from a few flint walls and a herd of random alpacas.

I’ve done this walk a couple of times. Well I should probably say that I’ve got lost on this walk a couple of times, and I’ve never found an article or website that gives a good, detailed description of the walk. So I thought I would provide my account of how to walk along this section of the Clarendon Way. I hope this helps prevent you from getting lost!

When you get to the Silver Plough, you’ll definitely deserve a bite to eat and a glass of something nice.

For a village pub, the food has quite a gastro pub, bistro feel to it, and they have a great selection of wines. Last time I was there, I enjoyed Bream from the specials menu with a nice glass of Shiraz. There’s a good selection of Real Ales, I am a fan of the Fursty Ferret. The pub also has free WIFI which means you can check in on Four Square or upload pictures of your energetic walk to Facebook!

Directions from Salisburyto the Silver Plough, via the Clarendon Way:
  • Walk out of Salisbury via Milford Street towards Laverstock
  • You’ll cross the River Bourne at the Milford Bridge before carrying up Queen Manor Road
  • Once you get to Rangers Lodge Farm, you’ll see the first signs for the Clarendon Way Walk. Keep your eye out for these, and the arrows pointing you along the route
  • Continue through the farm until you get to a large field where there is a sign post directing you diagonally across it
  • At the end of the field, you’ll find a defined road/path which will take you gently up the hill
  • Near the top of the hill, there is a look out point, which it is worth climbing up to, as it has excellent views over Salisbury and the Cathedral, and gives you an idea of how far you have walked
  • You’ll then pass Clarendon Palace itself, which has a herd of alpacas in it (be careful if you have dogs, as the alpacas can chase them)
  • After the field with the alpacas in it, you come across or defined path that has recently been upgraded
  • After a short walk of around 60 metres there is a turning on the left that is easy to miss so look out for it!
  • Continue on the path through the trees and log piles until you come to four cottages
  • Go straight over here, while keeping the cottages to your right, when you follow the path, it will bring you to a road
  • Turn left on the road past the red phone box, and then turn right up the hill until you reach the Silver Plough
If the urge takes you, the Clarendon Way then carries on for 24 miles to Winchester. There is a popular charity walk that takes place every June in aid of the Naomi House Children’s Hospice where you walk from Winchester Cathedral to Salisbury Cathedral. Now, there must be more than one pub along that route…..