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.

16 November, 2011

The undisputed King of Chicken Piri Piri!

If you like chicken, and haven't yet tried Piri Piri, I have to break it to you.....you're missing out big time! The dish is traditionally made from Piri Piri peppers which originated in South Africa, and were imported to Portugal from Angola and Mozambique. Restaurants across Portugal have their own individual recipes for the dish; but the Algarve town of Guia is said to have the most authentic Piri-Piri houses, and I am quite confident when I say I think I have found the best.

O Teodósio (otherwise known as King of Chicken) opens for lunch at 12 noon; and 6pm for evening meals. Trust me, it pays to get there just before it opens. Long queues of people soon build up, and every time I've eaten there it has been mobbed - quite impressive when you consider it seats nearly 700! Although they do serve other dishes, you never see a menu being handed out - you simply order "Frango piri piri, batatas fritas e salada" (chicken piri piri, chips, and salad). It's not overly spicy, but you can order it without piri piri if you so wish. 

They start cooking the chicken just before the restaurant opens, so you don't have to wait long for your food to turn up. It is chopped up into pieces, which allows the flavours to run right through the chicken, and the spices are so good it would be a mistake if you didn't spoon a little of the oil over your deliciously crispy chips! The tomato and onion salad combats the spices, and cools the mouth down. It really is the perfect combination. 

The recipe is an old family secret and they have been awarded for their quality several times. Not only is it delicious, but the prices are also very low. The great thing about arriving early is that you not only get speedy service, you also get to appreciate the noise levels rising as the place fills up. The locals love this place, and within half an hour of opening, it is buzzing, and the atmosphere is fantastic!

The food may be seen as simple by some, but if you have your own transport, a trip to the undisputed 'King of Chicken' is a must if you want to sample the food that gets the locals through the door in their droves. I've been going to this restaurant for about eighteen years, and even writing this post has made my mouth water!  Trust me, eat here, and chicken will never be the same again! 

If you want to go to the restaurant, the address is: Rua do Emigrante 50, 8200 Guia. It's about 25 minutes  from Faro airport, and you can find a good map here courtesy of www.goodmorningalgarve.com. If your flight time would get you there for lunch or dinner, it's the perfect start to a Portuguese holiday!

14 November, 2011

Christmas Markets - get into the festive spirit!

With dark nights and chilly mornings upon us, you can't help but think of Christmas, as it draws ever closer. Forget the panic of shopping; and the stress of cooking, and instead why not plan a last minute trip to the Christmas markets. Some of the most famous markets in Europe have been running since the middle ages, and today they can draw around two million visitors during December. With less than six weeks until Christmas day (apologies to those who haven't done any shopping yet!), I decided to give you three suggestions if you fancy travelling to get some last minute bits and pieces for your loved ones, or just going to enjoy the mulled wine and festive atmosphere!

Basel Christmas Market
A few years ago, I visited the Christmas market in Basel, which is located in the three countries corner of Switzerland, France and Germany. It is a stunning city, and even more pretty when the markets make its Old Town come alive. It has the longest illuminated Christmas street in Europe, and is the largest and most traditional Christmas market in Switzerland. Well worth a visit.

Basel Christmas market
Berlin Christmas Market
Berlin is the capital city of German Christmas markets, and this year the city will offer a choice of sixty (yes sixty!) Christmas markets. The one taking place at Charlottenburg Castle is one of the most famous; and for thirty five days, the castle and its park are transformed into a winter wonderland with around 150 vendors from all over Germany. If you want winter thrills; the city also has an ice rink, and Winter World which guarantees fast fun on the largest mobile toboggan run in Europe!

Berlin Christmas Market
Prague Christmas Market
The Czech capital hosts many cultural events with concerts and theatre performances throughout December. The Christmas markets are low-key but family friendly, and there are several dotted around town. The biggest is in the Baroque setting of the busy Old Town Square, where the main attraction for kids is the 'petting zoo' with ponies, goats and sheep.

Prague Christmas market
Christmas seems to be creeping up very quickly this year, and although I've started my shopping, I never really feel Christmassy until I've visited my own local market and had a warm mug of mulled wine! I couldn't think of anything nicer than planning a last minute trip to a European city to do exactly that.

If you want information on the markets I have featured above, and many other amazing Christmas markets around the world visit: http://www.christmasmarkets.com/

09 November, 2011

An Airstream caravan in the Welsh countryside

Outdoor life is all about taking in beautiful scenery; and the best thing about glamping is that you don't have to give up all your luxuries, and can still enjoy the rustic feeling of camping. The county of Carmarthenshire showcases some of the most diverse landscapes in Wales; with spectacular mountains; rolling landscape, and sandy beaches. The last thing you would expect in the middle of this stunning Welsh countryside is an American caravan!

Photo courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk
The 76er - named after its vintage, is as far removed from its original American roots as you can imagine, but somehow the way it reflects the countryside on its aluminium exterior just works. The enthusiasm for Airstreams has surged in recent times; and now it's not only cool surfers that want them, but there are also millionaire owners such as Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks.

Photo courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk
The trailer sleeps two (it has a king sized double bed); and there's still plenty of room inside it for a kitchen; lounge areas; a small dining table, and a sofa. There is even a DVD tv so you can watch movies! There is an adjacent shower room, which has a separate toilet and hot water shower.

Photo courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk
The 76er is in a fantastic location in a corner of the Brecon Beacons National Park; and the land adjoins a woodland nature reserve; with deer; badgers; and foxes. If you fancy venturing further afield; then there are several ruined castles in the area; the National Botanic Garden is also nearby, and the ancient town of Llandeilo is only a stroll away.   

Photo courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk
I love the idea of a retro caravan being plonked in the Welsh countryside. Airstream caravans have become design icons, and to be able to spend a few nights in one when the surrounding area is so beautiful seems very cool!

For more information, go to the Canopy and Stars homepage, or click to read more about glamping.

07 November, 2011

Glamping - The Curve, Cornwall

If you popped in to check out my blog on Friday, you will know, that I'm dedicating this week Travel Lightbulb 'Glamping UK week'! The idea of camping with luxuries seems to appeal to you all, as I got a lot of feedback on my post 'Sydney under canvas' back in August. So I decided to feature two locations in the UK this week, as I appreciate Australia isn't accessible to everyone. 

Photo courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk
The Curve, Ekopod in Cornwall, is a fascinating concept by Simon Cathcart, who wanted to come up with a luxury, low carbon holiday solution. It provides open plan luxury under canvas, and its design echoes the nearby Eden project (an eco visitor attraction).

Photo courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk
The Curve features a king sized bed, which has incredible views onto the secluded tree lined meadow with a moorland stream. There is a flushing toilet (a definite bonus when camping!) and a wood heated bath tub. While there are certainly lots of luxuries; you should note that there is no mains power in The Curve. So you can make the most of the day time; and cuddle in to enjoy the dark nights with the board games, and cards that are provided.

Photo courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk

When you do wake up after a peaceful night's sleep, a breakfast hamper will be waiting for you in a wooden chest which lies just down the path from the Ekopod, and you can enjoy it on your own little deck. Evening meals can also be delivered, but there are also pubs within the vicinity if you do want to venture out. 

Photo courtesy of www.canopyandstars.co.uk 
There is stunning scenery in the surrounding area, but if you want more than just walks, then the aforementioned Eden Project and Tintagel Castle are just two of many places to visit nearby.

For more information, go to the Canopy and Stars homepage, or click to read more about glamping.

04 November, 2011

A week dedicated to glamourous camping

Those who have followed my blog for a while may remember my post on glamping in Australia - a super place which combined luxury, and camping perfectly. It proved very popular, with many people who lived in Oz even getting in touch to say they'd never heard of it, but they were going to check it out!

Photos courtesy of www.lcrtp.com.au/tandara-sydney
For me the joy of that style of accommodation is being able to make the most of your surroundings, and I thought that it as time to see if anything similar existed in the UK. I was stunned to find that there are lots of unique accommodation choices, and have decided to dedicate next week 'Travel Lightbulb Glamping UK week'!

If you love spending time outdoors, but don't want to give up on life's little luxuries, then don't miss next week's blog posts, starting on Monday with a visit to Cornwall. 

If you have any suggestions for places, bars, restaurants, and hotels that Travel Lightbulb should feature, then please get in touch by clicking here or using the contact form below. Many thanks for your contributions.

02 November, 2011

A cottage with views - the Greek islands

Staying in a villa on holiday gives you the freedom to do what you want; when you want, and if you fancy Greece as a destination, I have found a stunner! This pretty little two bedroom cottage stole my heart when I came across it, and if you were going to the Greek islands, don't you agree this would be the perfect place to stay?

Having had a look at lots of private rental accommodation in Greece, it seems unusual to find places on the beach, and you have to admit its location alone is stunning. Alonissos is the sleepiest of the four Sporades islands in the Aegean, and while there is no airport on the island, you can fly into Skiathos and take a ferry from there (approximately two hours fifteen minutes).

The extra travel time is well worth it, and while Sea Horse Cottage was once a fisherman's cottage, it is now a comfortable two bedroom retreat. Although the accommodation is very comfortable, the outside space and views are what you come for. Just imagine being a few steps away from your private terrace to the beach.

The cottage is in a secluded location, and shares the beach with just one other house (which can also be rented). It is in a secluded location; and car hire is recommended, but that isolation is the beauty of this place. If you do crave company, the pretty port of Steni Vala is only ten minutes drive away, and has waterfront shops, tavernas and cafe bars. You can also hire a local boat to explore the island's coastline. The Greek islands are all about enjoying island life, and there's no doubt the cottage provides a dramatic vantage point for watching the yachts and fishing boats pass by.

Have you ever stayed in a villa or cottage on the beach? Tell me about it below.

Sea Horse Cottage is a two bedroom cottage available to rent on www.HomeAway.co.uk. For more information, click on the direct link: www.HomeAway.co.uk/p833656