31 August, 2011

Sydney under canvas

Glamorous camping (or glamping as it has become known) is a relatively new phenomenon; and for those who are fed up with sodden clothes and pitching tents, it means you no longer have to rough it to enjoy the outdoor life. That said, you perhaps wouldn't expect a glamping location in Sydney, just ten kilometres from the famous Harbour Bridge! Nestled within the 700 hectare Lane Cove National park, Tandara (meaning 'here we camp') is in an enchanting location, and it's safe to say there's nothing else quite like it in Sydney.

Photos courtesy of www.lcrtp.com.au/tandara-sydney

Officially opened in January 2011; it was built to offer something a bit different, and as you can see by the photos, it has certainly achieved that! It's designed for two people and, unlike any tent you may have stayed in before - it has a king size bed, wi-fi, and a flat screen TV!

Photos courtesy of www.lcrtp.com.au/tandara-sydney

Tandara has a BBQ kitchen and dinner hampers can be provided, but if you don't feel like cooking yourself, it can be arranged for a chef to come in and cook for you - well, who wouldn't want to make the most of these surroundings?

Photos courtesy of www.lcrtp.com.au/tandara-sydney

Tandara is perched on the western side of the Lane Cove River Valley, and is in a very private setting. It faces East so the deck gets the morning sun, but the accommodation area is shaded by the bush and trees. The downside to camping for many is the toilets, but take a look at the photo below - a tent with a full size bath, and shower with dual controls to enable two people to shower at the same time? Very, very cool!

Photos courtesy of www.lcrtp.com.au/tandara-sydney

Tandara is unique, and has quality finishings you would expect in a five star hotel. The secluded location offers an 'under the stars' camping experience, but with a whole lot of class thrown in too. If you're spending some time in Sydney, you could treat yourself to a night or two here - it would certainly be a unique experience. If you don't fancy the more traditional holiday under canvas, then maybe this is for you!

For more information on Tandara, click here.

29 August, 2011

Casting off the anchors in the Grenadines

One of my favourite things in the world is the feeling of sailing on the open water; with the sea wind blowing in my hair, and the sun beating down on me. My number one place to do this? The Grenadine islands in the Caribbean. When I was a little girl, my parents took me on a day trip from our base in Barbados on a traditional wooden island schooner called 'The Scaramouche'. It is one of my favourite childhood memories, and I am lucky enough to have been able to go back and experience the trip again since.

There are many ways to tour the Grenadines, but it feels so much more authentic doing it on a traditional boat, rather than a modern catamaran. The Scaramouche is a 60ft vessel which was used in the movie 'Pirates of the Caribbean', and is also one of the last working schooners in the West Indies. After a fifteen minute flight on a small aircraft from Barbados to Union Island (the southernmost island of the Grenadines), you board the Scaramouche, and your perfect day begins.

Sailing smoothly through the islands, you stop at places like Mayreau (the smallest inhabited island of the Grenadines - about 1.5 square miles!), and the Tobago Cays to indulge in a spot of snorkelling - if that's not your thing, then you can either stay on the Scaramouche, or head to the beach. An incredible lunch is served on board, and copious amounts of rum punch, and other drinks are available if you so desire - well...it would be rude not to, they are included in the price of your trip! The crew really can't do enough for you, and with numbers limited, it's never busy. On the three occasions I've been on this trip, there were less than ten guests on board.

My top tip? Get yourself out to the front of the schooner; lie back and chill on the rope nets. It's here where you can fully appreciate the creaking of the rigging; the sound of the Caribbean sea below, and the pure majesty of sailing in such an amazing piece of craftsmanship.

Does this sound like your perfect day trip? Have you experienced a sailing trip that lives long in the memory? If you want more information on the Scaramouche, click here.

24 August, 2011

Cave living in Spain

You may never have heard of Guadix (I hadn't until I was on a driving holiday through Spain), but it's an old Moorish town in the province of Granada. It's a fascinating and unusual place, because almost half of the town's inhabitants live underground. Picture Fred and Wilma in The Flintstones, and you're pretty much there!

La Barraida de las Cuevas is situated in the Northern part of the town. There are around four thousand caves dotting the bizarrely shaped countryside - the biggest concentration of inhabited caves in Europe. It's like entering the set of a Star Wars movie, completely bizarre but enchanting all the same! You see whitewashed facades on almost every hill, with little windows and chimneys rising from the hillside.

Not only do the local residents live in caves; but you can also experience what it's like, as many of them have been made into small apartments/hotels. I stayed in Cuevas Pedro Antonio which is a little out of town, as it suited me to be close to the main routes for my onward journey the following day. There is a swimming pool and restaurant on site - the roast lamb is delicious.

You may expect the caves to be basic, but as they're decorated in a very traditional style, they're quite charming. If you visit in the summer, you'll really appreciated the benefits of cave living - they stay at a constant temperature all year round, and it's so nice to go to bed in a cool cave away from the heat outside! The cave district is signposted on the main street of the town as the 'Barrio Troglodyte', and it really is worth taking a wander around - it really has to be seen to be believed.

If you fancy staying in a cave for a night, check out: Cuevas Pedro Antonio

Have you stayed in a cave like this? Do you fancy The Flintstones lifestyle for a night or two?

22 August, 2011

Footprints in the sand

Travel Lightbulb isn't just about fabulous places to stay - I also have lots of restaurants, bars, and attractions to suggest to you that I think you'll love. Sometimes you don't have to travel very far to get a moment of inspiration, or see something unique. On a summer's day last year, I headed to Crosby beach on the Merseyside coastline to see 'Another  Place' - a large scale installation by London born artist Antony Gormley. It consists of 100 cast-iron life-size figures which face out to sea, spread out along a two mile stretch of shoreline. 

In common with most of Gormley's work, the figures are replicas of the artist's own body, and as the tides ebb and flow, the figures are revealed and submerged by the sea. Up close each figure has been worn by the elements - some still in their original iron state, and others covered in seaweed and barnacles.

'Another Place' went on show at Crosby in July 2005, and was supposed to move to New York. It turned out to be so popular that in March 2007, the local council voted to keep the statues there permanently!

They're well worth a look, or even a feel....spot the cheeky sandy handprints in the photo above!

Crosby is just North of Liverpool. Once you get near the town, 'Antony Gormley's Another Place' is well signposted. There is a car park at the beach.

Have you seen 'Another Place', or anything like it? Tell me about it below!

17 August, 2011

Guest post on Porto

This is a very exciting day for me - having started Travel Lightbulb at the start of the month, I have now written my first guest post! It went live on the easyJet holidays blog today, and features Portugal's second city, Porto - a fantastic place for a city break.

Here's a sneak preview:
The Hilly City on the River of Gold
Most people picture the pretty fishing villages and beaches of the Algarve when they think of holidays to Portugal, but there's so much more to discover in this diverse country....
To read the post in full, click here.

Many thanks to the team at easyJet Holidays for giving me this opportunity, and I hope all my followers enjoy the guest post.

Baroque beauty - Ragusa, Sicily

Ragusa is one of the most stunning towns in Sicily, and you can't help but feel your jaw drop when you first set eyes on it! While most travellers on Italy's largest island are drawn to the capital Palermo or the coastal resort of Taormina; they really are missing out, because Ragusa is absolutely breathtaking. It's located about an hour's drive from Syracuse, the nearest large city, and is in the south east of Sicily.

Ragusa's population is just short of seventy thousand, and that's one of the main attractions. While other parts of the island can be filled with tourists, this town still seems to be a hidden gem. In 1693, most of the eastern side of Sicily was razed to the ground by a horrendous earthquake. In the aftermath, public opinion was divided on where to rebuild the town, so a compromise was made. The wealthier citizens built a new town (Ragusa 'Superiore') while the other half decided to rebuild on the original site at the bottom of a gorge (Ragusa 'Ibla'). 

Both are stunning, and when you initially approach Ragusa, you are totally blown away by the jumble of houses, and churches clinging to the walls of the gorge. It's only when you get closer that you notice the amazing Baroque architecture. The Basilica di San Giorgio (above) is just one of the many highlights in Ragusa Ibla, which is where I stayed. The square in front of the cathedral is full of aristocratic buildings, and a walk around the town takes you through a labyrinth of narrow streets with palaces and churches all around. It is picture postcard beautiful everywhere you look.

I stayed in a simple B&B called "Le Fioriere", which has just two bedrooms. It's in a perfect location for sightseeing in the heart of Ragusa Ibla, and guests have their own parking space -  a real bonus in these winding streets, trust me! While you could easily spend a few days getting to know Ragusa, you'd be missing out, because the baroque towns of Modica and Noto are within a short drive, and are also a real treat.

Sometimes it's the little details that make a place, and that's what I found in Ragusa. While the architecture itself is amazing, you see little bits of magic in every building - a dragon door knocker, or an old rusting door with double letter boxes! Ragusa is just spectacular, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It may be off the beaten track, but the rewards for that extra bit of travel time are well worth the effort.

Have you been anywhere that has unexpectedly blown you away?

15 August, 2011

Boutique Barbados

I often think about winning the lottery (don't we all!), and where I would stay if I was lucky enough to hold the winning ticket. I'd want to get away from it all, and chill out in a special place where I could think of how to spend my money. The great thing is, I know exactly where that place is! The Lone Star - a boutique hotel, restaurant and bar on the West Coast of the Caribbean island of Barbados. 

Photo courtesy of Lone Star
Constructed in the 1940's, Lone Star was originally a garage - at the time, it was the only garage on the West coast that was licensed to sell petrol! In 1996, the building was sold to the present owner. The building may have been completely changed in the redevelopment, but it is still possible to make out the original name on the façade of the garage. The restaurant staff also wear mechanics’ overalls and baseball caps - a nice touch!

Photo courtesy of Lone Star
The hotel and restaurant sit on a stunning white sand beach, and it really is a location where James Bond would feel right at home! The restaurant itself is equally stunning at both day and night, and serves everything from crispy aromatic duck to lamb shank. As delightful as the restaurant and bar are, it's the hotel that really grabs my attention.

Photo courtesy of Lone Star
There are only four large suites, and the present owner has continued the garage theme by naming them after cars; Cord, Lincoln, Buick and Studebaker. All rooms have shady terraces, and direct access to the beach. They're decorated in contemporary style; have king sized beds; Philippe Starck fittings, and, of course, the sublime view out onto the Caribbean sea. So, I know where I'd stay....now all I need is the winning ticket! For more information visit the official website here.

If you won the lottery, where is the first place you would go to decide how to spend your winnings?

10 August, 2011

Cala Deià - a piece of heaven in Majorca

When you think of Majorca, what images do you conjure up in your head? Is it that 18-30 holiday in Magaluf that you can't believe you went on all those years ago?! Do you think of the bustling city and port of Palma? Or have you discovered the REAL Majorca like I did a couple of years ago? I stayed in Port de Sóller, which is a lovely little village and port with some fabulous restaurants. However, that wasn't the real discovery on our holiday. That came when we we took a day trip to the stunningly picturesque village of Deiá. When you drive through the village, towards Sóller, there is a little turning to the left just outside the village. You have to drive very carefully down the winding lane, and then park up and walk the last 600 feet or so, but this is your reward.

Cala Deiá is a very small cove on the steep northwest coast, which has fantastically clear water. Rocky cliffs curve around the bay, making it feel like a hidden paradise. Now I'm not a huge fan of shingle beaches, but it's such a stunning little cove that you can't help but move the pebbles underneath your beach towel and ensure you find a comfortable little spot for the day.

If you can pull yourself away from the beach for a spot of lunch, there is a superb beach bar nestled into the cliff on the left hand side of the beach, which is run by three generations of fishermen. The food is surprisingly good, and there's something fabulous about the ramshackle appearance of the place!

The sea is a wonderful sapphire colour and snorkelling here is excellent as the water is so clear. It's a very peaceful place, and you benefit from going early and slightly out of season (I went in June) so that it's not too crowded - after all, why would you want to share this piece of heaven! 

Have you been to Majorca? Please share your experiences below!

08 August, 2011

The Tree Hotel

I stumbled across this crazy futuristic hotel project the other day, and knew I had to feature it on Travel Lightbulb! There's no better way to introduce it, than to show you a photo.

Photo courtesy of www.blessthisstuff.com

How amazing is that? The hotel is located in the town of Harads in Sweden, which is just 60km below the Arctic circle. It consists of completely crazy individual rooms, each designed by a different Swedish architect. It has been named on the prestigious Conde Nast Traveller Hot List for 2011, and perhaps the most stunning room is the mirrorcube (pictured above). It reflects everything from the forest around, making it almost invisible. The idea of the owners is to create a comfortable, well designed hotel which allows visitors to live in harmony with nature - and they certainly seem to have achieved it.

Photo courtesy of www.blessthisstuff.com

The room pictured above is another of my favourite rooms - imagine sleeping in your own spaceship! Within five years, the owners hope to have even more rooms, each by different architects. If they're anything like the structures that are already there, this will be a totally inspirational hotel. Wow.

Photo courtesy of www.blessthisstuff.com

For more information on the Tree Hotel, click here: Tree Hotel

So do you like the look of this hotel? Have you stayed in a treehouse? Where is the most obscure place you've stayed?

03 August, 2011

Awesome Alentejo

For those who haven’t been, the Alentejo region of Portugal extends from the unspoilt beaches of the West coast, through vineyards, to the rugged hills on the Spanish border. It’s full of fascinating towns and villages, but the best bit of all is that it is totally unspoiled….and I mean totally!

A few years ago, I discovered a boutique B&B that seems to capture the feel of the region ~ Herdade do Reguenguinho. It lies ten miles inland from the surfers beach at Malhao, but this is no ordinary bed and breakfast.

When you arrive, you're drawn in by the beautiful flowers, and the orange walls that stand out from the surrounding countryside. The B&B is made up of two converted barns, with a cool courtyard in-between. The rooms (there are only eight) are good enough to move into – they make you ask “why haven’t I done my bathroom like this” or “we could do this with our lounge”! Stylish simplicity. The best bit of all is the infinity pool which overlooks the rolling fields, with day beds and bean bags to lounge around on. Ordering an ice-cold caipirinha to sip whilst completely chilling out is the best way to spend the afternoon!

Breakfast (a delicious range of fresh fruits, bread, hams, cheeses, yoghurts, cakes and homemade jam) is served either in the dining room or on the terrace, and light meals (amazing toasted sandwiches, salads and steaks) are available throughout the day. No evening meals are served, but there are some great restaurants nearby – in both nearby Cercal, and slightly further afield in Porto Covo. There's also an honesty bar, so you can fix yourself a drink, and lounge around reading the books left for the guests to ponder over, or head back out to the pool.

Stunning beaches litter this coastline, and there's a lake a couple of kilometres behind the house, so there's plenty to do if you want to get out and about. To be honest though, you can quite happily spend a couple of days totally chilling out without getting the least bit bored. You will need a car to get to Herdade do Reguenguinho, but that is the joy of this amazing B&B, and the Alentejo region itself - its isolation. You are delving into somewhere that very few people seem to know about, and life's all about discovering somewhere new, and very special.

For more information see: www.reguenguinho.com.pt

Have you discovered the Alentejo region of Portugal? Do you like the look of this funky B&B? 

01 August, 2011

Life is not a dress rehearsal

Ever since I was a little girl, my dad told me "Life is not a dress rehearsal". While it was a phrase that stuck in my mind, it didn't resonate with me until I got a bit older, and realised that he was totally right! We spend so much of our lives at work; in meetings, and sometimes doing things we don't always enjoy. So when we have time off and go on holiday, we have to make the most of it. Take time to look up at that blue sky, breathe in that fresh air to give us new energy for when we have to return to reality!

One of my passions is travel - another is research, which combine to make a brilliant partnership! I love finding places off the beaten track; hotels that make you go 'ooooooh'; B&B's that make you feel you could just unpack your suitcase and stay forever, and attractions in different countries that you may not find in your guide book! 

This is why I decided to start Travel Lightbulb - I want to share some of the great things I've found on my travels. I also want to know about the places you've been that you're passionate about. I want you to get involved by commenting on the places I feature, and telling me about the ones that you've found yourself. As well as all that, I will no doubt be rambling about travel in general, and I hope you enjoy my endless chatter! After all, life is not a dress rehearsal - we need to make the most of our lives, and if we can do that through travelling, then all the better!

Life is not a dress rehearsal is my motto for life - what's yours? Post your comments below - get involved, and welcome to my blogging journey!