30 December, 2011

Travel Photo Friday - End of the line?

As we approach the end of the year, I thought this was an appropriate photo to feature! I took it on a hot summer's day in Portugal. The Algarve railway line runs just behind one of the main beaches just outside the pretty town of Lagos, and when I was crossing to get to the beach, I couldn't help but stop and take a photo. Now it's your turn to decide - is this the end of the road, or the start of the tracks of a journey - a bit like whether your glass is half full or half empty!

I welcome photographic contributions from any of my followers, so if you have a cool photo you would like to send, e-mail it to: travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk - all I need is your name, and a little bit about where the photo was taken. You may see it on Travel Lightbulb in the near future! I look forward to your contributions!

28 December, 2011

Escape to the Northern Highlands of Scotland

As we approach New Year (or Hogmanay as it's known in Scotland), I thought it was only right to feature a place to stay in the country that celebrates New Year more than any other nation. Scotland has so many beautiful places to visit; and so many great hotels, so to win Scottish Hotel of the Year 2011, The Torridon Hotel has to be pretty special. It is located in the Northern Highlands; and is perfect for both a romantic getaway, or a fun filled family weekend.

Photo courtesy of www.thetorridon.com
If you like the great outdoors, the spectacular scenery of the Scottish Highlands should not be missed. Whether the weather is good or bad; there is something about the rolling mountains that looks good in both blue skies; or the more typical moody, unpredictable Scottish weather.

Photo courtesy of www.thetorridon.com
Torridon itself is a tiny village beside a loch and mountains. Tucked behind forest is the Torridon Hotel which dates back to 1887 when it was build as a shooting lodge for an English nobleman. It has 19 bedrooms with stunning views; king-size beds, and cast-iron free standing baths.

Photo courtesy of www.thetorridon.com
There are several attractions close to the hotel including Eilean Donan Castle, and Beinn Eighe Nature reserve; and if you want to go further afield and explore the Highlands; it's about a 90 minute drive to the Isle of Skye, and two hours from Loch Ness.

Photo courtesy of www.thetorridon.com
For those who can't afford the luxury of the hotel, the Torridon Inn is in the hotel's grounds, so you can still enjoy the scenery. 2012 will mark 20 years of The Torridon, but having read about the hotel do you really need an excuse to visit? If you do, then the photo below may inspire you to visit for "a wee dram"!

Photo courtesy of www.thetorridon.com

25 December, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Travel Lightbulb would like to wish everyone out there a very Merry Christmas, wherever you are in the world. I've loved every minute of writing this blog over the last few months, and it gives me so much pleasure to get feedback from all my readers out there.

So, while this time of year is all about reflection, I can't help but get excited about where to feature on my blog in the upcoming twelve months. If you've been to a fabulous place that you'd like to see on Travel Lightbulb, then please let me know - I'd love your input.

In the meantime, enjoy every single moment of your Christmas Day with your loved ones whether you're in the sunshine, or the snow. Thanks for your support. x

23 December, 2011

Travel Photo Friday - Snowy Scenes

As it's only two days until Christmas, today's photo had to have a snowy theme! I took it out of a car window on a journey from Edinburgh to Manchester. I left a very chilly but sunny Edinburgh, and within 30 minutes, the snow was blanketing the fields. It's never nice to drive in those conditions, but doesn't it look pretty?

If you have a photo you'd like to see featured on Travel Lightbulb, then please send it to me at travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk. Please include your name, and tell me where, and when the photo was taken. All contributions are welcome!

21 December, 2011

Trekking through the Sahara Desert

A couple of years ago, I came up with a fundraising idea at work, and several months later, ended up on a trek across the Sahara desert. It was such an amazing experience, that I would highly recommend it to those who want a bit of adventure during their holidays.

I can't even begin to explain how beautiful the scenery is in the desert - it almost looks fake, it's so stunning! I travelled with Charity Challenge, who were fantastic at both organisation, and looking after everyone on the trek itself. We trekked 110km over 5 days; had sore muscles; blisters, and sleep deprivation, but despite all that I have to say it was one of the best experiences of my life!

One thing that did shock me was how much of the terrain was rocky, and not sandy. I think everyone has the image of sand dunes when they think of the desert, and the rocks were totally unexpected, and it proved tricky to trek for 8 hours whilst looking at your feet the whole time.

When our group of 23 trekked, we did so in almost total isolation. All we came across was the odd house in the middle of nowhere, with kids who would just pop out to see us and say hello. I guess we were the highlight of their day.....possibly their week...as they really do live in the wilderness.

I've been to countries where the sunsets have been amazing but somehownothing beats sitting feeling the temperature cool down after a long day of trekking, while watching the sun dip down under the sand dunes. My top tip if you do this trek? Spend one night sleeping out under the stars...with no light pollution, it is absolutely incredible - you can see the milky way, and satellites floating past all with the naked eye. It makes all the pain and blisters worthwhile, and the sense of achievement at the end has to be experienced to be believed. For anyone who wants a bit of adventure in a place you wouldn't normally experience, I'd recommend it in a heartbeat.

Have you ever done a trek for charity, or have you done a challenge like this simply for fun?

For more information on this particular challenge, go to: http://www.charitychallenge.com/

19 December, 2011

Rosslyn - a chapel of legends

If you've read the book or seen the film, 'The Da Vinci Code', then you've probably heard of Rosslyn Chapel. It was used as the location for the plot climax, and has become famous worldwide, and attracts massive visitor numbers. It's so beautiful that I think it deserves a mention.

The chapel is located in Roslin, which is a small village seven miles from Edinburgh. It has been described as an architectural wonder, as practically every surface is covered with carvings of individual figures and scenes. It is truly stunning, and has to be seen to be believed! The chapel has a great history, and lies at the centre of numerous legends (some even claim the holy grail lies buried beneath the building!) but it is the story of the "Apprentice Pillar" that interests me. It gets its name from a legend dating from the 18th century.

A master mason, who was in charge of the stonework in the chapel, didn't believe his young apprentice could carve the column without seeing the original which inspired his design. The master travelled to see the original, but on his return, he finds the young apprentice has completed the column anyway! The master mason was so jealous that he struck the apprentice on the head with his mallet, killing him. As punishment for his crime, the master mason's face is carved into the opposite corner to forever gaze upon his apprentice's pillar.

It's a small but fascinating place, and was a hidden gem until the popularity of Dan Brown's novel and subsquent release of the film. It's still stunning, and you do get the feeling that while many of the stories surrounding the chapel are rumours and legends, if there's a place to hide the holy grail, this would be it!

Have you been to Rosslyn? Did you discover a great location somewhere before it was used in a film?

16 December, 2011

Travel Photo Friday - Carnage

Another Travel Photo Friday to get you thinking about any upcoming journeys you may have planned, and today is a bit of an odd one but I like it! A couple of years ago, I took a road trip through Europe, and drove back to the UK through France. This photo was taken after driving some of the famous mountain passes of the Tour de France - just after the descent from the Col du Tourmalet.

We came around the corner to be met with these guys sprawled across the middle of the road - some looking like they'd been shot, and none of them in a rush to go anywhere! So there was only one thing for it - to get out of the car, and take a photo!

If you have a photo you'd like featured here on Travel Lightbulb then please send it to me by email: travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk. If you have your own blog I'll happily link to it, but it's not just for bloggers. Let me know where the photo was taken, and a bit about the location and it could be your photo on here soon!

14 December, 2011

Off the beaten path on the Caribbean island of Saba

Having been to the Caribbean over twenty times; I like to think I know the islands well, but I recently discovered one I'd never even heard of! Saba (pronounced say-bah) is the perfect place if you're looking for a secluded haven in peaceful and friendly surroundings. While some islands are now becoming a touch overdeveloped, Saba seems to have retained the feeling of the ''real Caribbean', and would be the perfect place to escape the buzz of bigger islands for a few days. You get to the island via St. Maarten - it's a fifteen minute plane ride; but if you don't fancy the slightly scary take-off and landing (at around 400m long, the airport has been compared to an aircraft carrier!), there are two ninety minute ferries that run visitors between the two islands.

I stumbled upon the island after reading a review of The Cottage Club Hotel which is in a central location in Windwardside. This is the main tourist hub on the island - nearly all the shops and restaurants are located in this small town. It offers 10 private cottages; all built in the Saban tradition, and all with great sea views.

Each cottage not only has a living area; bedroom and bathroom, but also its own private balcony facing the sea. The nice thing is they have fully equipped kitchens so you don't have to head out for meals if you don't want to, but they do offer a breakfast service at the hotel. Relaxation is the key word here and the hotel amenities include a sea facing swimming pool; free coffee and tea in are always available in The Grand House where guests can connect to the hotel's free WiFi, and an honesty bar can also be found there along with a small gift shop and book exchange library.

So why should you visit Saba itself? It offers some of the best scuba diving in the world; hikers from all over the world visit to explore the 18 recommended botanical trails, and the four villages on the island are well worth exploring with their white wooden facades and green shutters. For a tiny island, it has a superb array of around 15 restaurants to suit every taste and budget. Most importantly the fifteen hundred locals will always welcome you to the island; and anyone that has visited the Caribbean before will know that can sometimes be the highlight of your trip.

If you want more information on The Cottage Club Hotel, click here, and if you want to know more about Saba itself, you can find the official tourism bureau here.

Top tip: If you choose not to walk or hike, transportation around the island is easy with taxis readily available, or you can rent a car and explore on your own if you dare - the roads are narrow, steep and winding.

12 December, 2011

Quality London accommodation at a reasonable price - Z Soho

It's no secret that London is one of the UK's top city break destinations. In fact there's so much to do in the English capital, you could easily spend longer discovering the city. One of the biggest difficulties many people have when planning a visit to London is finding quality accommodation at a reasonable price. I recently stumbled upon a hotel that I think ticks both of those boxes. 

When I checked the website, I could find a smaller room without a window for just £66, and although the prices do rise for larger rooms and last minute bookings, I reckon you could get a real bargain here by booking up in advance. When I've paid around £100 for cheap London hotels in the past, I've always had a poor experience (awful single rooms, shared bathrooms etc.), but it seems this newly opened hotel is offering something others can't.

As well as an en-suite wet room in each room; you can expect complimentary Thierry Mugler toiletries; 40" HD televisions, free Sky programming (including the bonus of Sky Sports and Sky Movie channels), an iPod docking station, and free Wi-Fi. Despite all of these mod cons, I think one of the best things about this hotel is the individual temperature control in each room - most budget hotel rooms I've stayed in are either far too hot, or freezing cold!

The Z Hotel Soho has everything you need for a few nights in town, and its central location is just perfect for exploring the city. Step outside and you're immediately in the buzz of London's West End, with theatres; Chinatown, and the shops and street theatre of Covent Garden on your doorstep. Charing Cross Station is a five minute taxi ride away, and you're just minutes from the Piccadilly, Northern and Central underground lines.

If you're looking for a great value hotel and are willing to accept the fact that your room will be small, then I challenge you to find a better option than the Z Hotel Soho. As their website says, this is designer label without the designer price tag.

Top Tip: Due to the central location, some guests have reported hearing noise in their rooms, so take ear plugs - it has to be said though, that I would recommend this for a stay in any London hotel!

09 December, 2011

Travel Photo Friday

Last month I started a new segment on my blog called 'Travel Photo Friday'. Each week I'll be featuring a photo on the blog to get you in the mood for the weekend; and I'm also looking for contributions from you. So if you have a travel photo you'd like to see featured on here, then I'll tell you at the bottom of this post how to get in touch!

Today's photo was taken in September on Meia Praia beach in Lagos, Portugal. It was a scorching hot day and as the sun got lower in the sky, I noticed the shadow of the rope in the sand - I had to grab my camera! The beach is 5km long, and curves its way from Lagos to the Alvor estuary. While some sections of the beach can get busy in peak season; it is so big, you can always find a more secluded spot to sit and chill out with a picnic - which is exactly what I did the day this photo was taken!

Share your own travel photo with me, and I'll feature those I like on this page in the future. Just use the email address on my contact page, and thanks in advance for your contributions.

07 December, 2011

Perfection in the Maldives

I try to make Travel Lightbulb accessible to everyone, whether you can afford a luxury holiday, or a budget backpacking experience. I hope everyone finds something that suits them. However, I also want to feature places we all dream about, and decided to blog about one of the most exotic places I've been to...the Maldives.

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in the Indian Ocean islands back in September 2010, and it was totally stunning. We stayed at Veligandu Island Resort, and were lucky enough to be upgraded to a jacuzzi water villa - on stilts above the ocean - it was complete paradise! I spent a long time researching various resorts in that part of the world, but this one stuck out a mile because it was a small island, and also because of the rave reviews it had received.

While our weather was unusually wet for that time of year, it didn't spoil our trip, and the staff could not have been more helpful. There is a 'no news, no shoes' policy at Veligandu which (in the most pleasant of ways) forces you to relax; clear your head, and feel more rested than ever. It also leaves you with incredibly soft feet - after all, the last time I spent two weeks without shoes, I was still in nappies!

The food was outstanding. There are two restaurants on the island - one included in the price of your stay, and one you can pay extra for. The food was so good at the inclusive restaurant that we ate there every night, and didn't have the same meal twice in our two week stay - fabulous. The snorkelling was five star - think turtles, the most colourful fish you can imagine, and sharks. While white tip reef sharks may not be dangerous, nothing prepares you for the feeling of seeing a 6 footer - yes, the 'Jaws' music was running through my head at the time, but wow, what an experience!

If anyone is thinking of a trip to the Maldives, you could not go wrong with Veligandu. It's simply stunning, and I hope to be lucky enough to return one day, and chill out in paradise once again!

Have you been to the Maldives? Would you recommend the island you stayed on to others? What was your own experience like?

05 December, 2011

Fantasy Island

As always on the first Monday of each month, it's time for some travel ramblings, and today I'm encouraging you to dream! Do you ever imagine waking up on your own private island? I do! Sometimes I wish I had enough money to be able to buy my own little piece of the Caribbean and REALLY get away from it all!

Marlon Brando owned an island in French Polynesia, and was once quoted saying: “I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I first stepped ashore from the motor launch. The sand was pristine, not even a footprint. I walked around that whole island and couldn’t believe what I saw…that first walk was one of the big moments of my life.” Can you imagine that – stepping onto your own piece of sand, and knowing that you are the only one who’ll make footprints in it? Wow!

We all know of multi-millionaires like Richard Branson (Necker Island, the Caribbean) and Johnny Depp (Little Hall’s Pond Cay, Bahamas),  who have successfully purchased islands,  but how realistic is it for the rest of us?

It seems like a complete fantasy, until a internet search reveals that’s not necessarily the case! There are plenty of websites with incredible islands for sale not only in the Caribbean, but also in Europe, South America, and the United States. The best thing is that many are not totally unreasonable in price! With a quick search, I found at least three islands under $150,000 - wow...have you started dreaming yet?!

It’s lovely to fantasise, but think about it…could you live in isolation with no restaurants or supermarkets within walking/swimming distance? Would you be prepared to travel by boat just to get supplies? And what if the weather was bad – would you be able to handle being stuck on your island for days at a time? I don’t know about you, but if money was no option, the answer to the above questions is still yes! Imagine the amazing privacy, the prestige, the romanticism. Well………..one can but dream!

Could you cope on your own private island? Where is your favourite island in the world? Let me know about it!

02 December, 2011

Travel Photo Friday - Champagne in Cyprus

Last week I started a new segment on my blog called 'Travel Photo Friday'. Each week I'll be featuring a photo on the blog to get you in the mood for the weekend. Not only my own photos, but I'm also looking for contributions from you. So if you have a travel photo you'd like to see featured on here, then I'll tell you at the bottom of this post how to get in touch!

Today's photo comes from Nicky Sterland, and I love it! It was taken at Aphrodite hills in Cyprus; and I'm not sure about you, but it makes me want to be there watching that sunset right now! Thank you Nicky, and I hope this encourages the rest of you to get snapping, and send your photos to me at the e-mail address on my contact page.

Thanks in advance for your contributions, and have a great weekend!

30 November, 2011

A rental apartment in the 'real' Paris

I absolutely love visiting Paris; but every time I go, I always have a problem deciding which area of the city to stay in. There are so many amazing districts and hotels to choose from, but today I am featuring somewhere that will give you a bit more freedom in a city that can be very pricey. 

Photo courtesy of Paris Saitonge apartment
I came across a superb little studio apartment in the heart of the Marais district, which many feel has a similar feel to the West Village in Manhattan. It may have different architecture (with small medieval lanes) but like Manhattan; it comes alive with bars, restaurants, and shops. The area is very quiet, so no noise problems, but you can find everything you need nearby. 

Photo courtesy of Paris Saitonge apartment
The apartment is a short stroll away from several sights (such as Notre Dame Cathedral), and is also within walking distance of several Metro stations. It has a double bed in a mezzanine (an air bed in the living room can be used for a third guest); a wireless internet connection, and there's a fully equipped kitchen and dining area with a bar table.

Photo courtesy of Paris Saitonge apartment
The best thing about this is that you can get some supplies in for breakfast (there's a market just downstairs!) instead of spending money eating out. On my last visit, I found the costs really mount up if you have to buy breakfast on top of your other meals.

It's tricky to avoid the tourist traps in Paris, but staying in the Marais is a great start - it definitely feels much more Parisian, and far less touristy. If you want more information on the apartment, click here.

Do you have any tips for staying in Paris? Have you found an amazing bar or restaurant that you'd like to see featured here? Please leave your thoughts below, or use the contact form to send me a private message.

28 November, 2011

Martinhal Magic in Portugal

As regular readers of my blog will know, I am a big fan of Portugal and I love to discover new places I think my followers will love. A couple of months ago, I visited a stunning beach hotel that Tatler magazine describes as the "hottest ticket this year" - a description I find hard to disagree with. Hotel Martinhal is located in the south of Portugal near the town of Sagres, in the western Algarve.

Positioned within the grounds of Martinhal Beach Resort it is the first five-star property in the Sagres region; and has just 38 rooms (including two beach suites), all with private balconies or terraces with impressive ocean views. Hotel guests have full access to all the other resort facilities; but even if you're not a staying here; the staff are very welcoming if you pop in for a meal, or even just a drink.

The hotel sits in a beautiful location looking onto Martinhal beach, which is large enough to still feel uncrowded in the busy summer months. It can be a wild stretch of sand, with the Atlantic battering the shore, but even in high season, I've always managed to find a grassy sand dune to shelter in.

It has to be said that the hotel's designers have made the most of the scenery, and I loved sitting on the large terrace sipping a cocktail and taking in the view. The cocktail bar and lounge are located on the hotel's first floor, alongside a Portuguese fine dining restaurant (O Terraço) which is gorgeous as the sun sets. There are also two beach bars. 

The interior of the hotel and rooms are striking. Furniture was commissioned from Michael Sodeau, whose work features in London's Victoria & Albert museum. His designs use Portuguese cork and wood, and give a modern but comfortable feel to the interior. 

I was originally drawn to this area for its stunning beach; but will now return and use the hotel facilities, whether it be for a cocktail as the sun goes down, or to try a local delicacy in one of the restaurants or bars. Stunning, and very special....trust me - this is a serious find!

For more information on Martinhal Beach Resort, please visit www.martinhal.com/hotel-martinhal

25 November, 2011

Travel Photo Friday

As you may have noticed, I normally publish my blog posts on Mondays and Wednesdays, and now it's time to add something new to my blog! So, today I'm launching a new feature...Travel Photo Friday! As most of you will have realised by now, I love my photography and find myself most inspired when I'm travelling but even at home in day to day life, I can't resist picking up a camera, and snapping away. So....from now on, I'll be posting a photo each Friday to get you in the mood for the weekend, and I'd welcome any comments on both my amateur photography, and the locations I feature!

Even more exciting though, for the first time on Travel Lightbulb, I'd also welcome contributions from you guys out there; so if you have a cool travel photo of a location you love; or have just snapped something when you're out and about and think I'll like it; please send an e-mail letting me know your name; where the photo was taken, and you may see it featured on Travel Lightbulb in the near future!

If you want to send me your e-mails, the address is: travellightbulb@hotmail.co.uk. I look forward to receiving your photos!

23 November, 2011

An Italian villa in the hills

If you haven't experienced a villa holiday, then I have to say you're missing out! There's nothing better than having the freedom to go out when you want; stay in when you want, and relax as you would in your own home. However if you're going away as a couple rather than a family, it can often be difficult to find villas that sleep two, but I may have found the perfect pad on the Italian riviera.

Photo courtesy of http://www.invitationtotuscany.com/
Ameglia is an ancient village in the Italian region of Liguria, about ninety kilometres southeast of Genoa, and Casa Guelfi is in a quiet hillside position opposite the village. It has beautiful views, and a swimming pool and patio from which to marvel at the scenery.

Photo courtesy of http://www.invitationtotuscany.com/
On the ground floor, there is a sitting room; kitchen (which leads to a furnished pergola); and a bathroom with separate shower. Upstairs is a double bedroom with upper terrace, complete with sunbeds and umbrella - perfect for afternoon snoozes!

Photo courtesy of http://www.invitationtotuscany.com/

The owners live in a pink house below the pool which can be handy if you have any questions about the surrounding area. Speaking of which, the house is situated on the edge of woods. A five minute walk takes you to the village of Ameglia; a ten minute drive takes you to Bocca di Magra, where the owner's restaurant sits on the estuary overlooking the sailing boats in the small port.

Photo courtesy of http://www.invitationtotuscany.com/
In terms of getting there, Sarzana is about 15 minutes from the villa, while Genova, Pisa and Lucca are all about 40 minutes away. With so many airports nearby; this villa is in a quiet location but is also very accessible. It's sometimes hard to find villas with villages within walking distance; but here, you can either hide yourself away in this beautiful spot, or explore the local area - the choice is yours.

If you want more information on the Casa Guelfi, visit: http://www.invitationtotuscany.com/

21 November, 2011

A modern mansion on the outskirts of Dublin

Dublin is one of the liveliest cities I've visited. There is always something going on, and I love the buzz of the bars and restaurants in the city centre. However just under an hour from Dublin centre and airport, on the banks of the River Boyne in County Meath, is a stunning Georgian mansion. If you want to escape the city vibe, this could be just the place to do it. 

Bellinter House has all the typical features you'd expect of an 18th century mansion; with a gated entrance, and tree-lined drive. However after a three year restoration the inside retains the traditional feel; but is also very much up to date; with modern art, and contemporary furniture.

The main house has five bedrooms (four original Georgian rooms, and one modern attic conversion), with more accommodation available in the East and West pavilions, and duplex apartments in The Stables. All the rooms are gorgeous but it has to be said, the views from the main house rooms through the huge sash windows are stunning.

Each of the bedrooms are individually styled with luxury bathrooms, LCD screens, DVD players and top of the range music systems. If you can tear yourself away from your room, the hotel's Eden Restaurant (the sister to the award winning Eden in Temple Bar, Dublin) serves international cuisine, with generous Irish portions, and a lovely relaxed atmosphere.

Owned by three of Dublin's hippest club and restaurant owners, Bellinter House has been injected with a cool contemporary style, while still maintaining the luxurious feeling you want when you stay in a mansion like this. The only problems you'll have are the difficult decisions you have to make - whether to have a drink in the wine bar, or the bar overlooking the river. Whether to enjoy the delights of the spa, or the comfort of the amazing rooms. Life's tough isn't it!

For details on Bellinter House, visit the official website here.