Baked beans on toast: a humble British classic with a tasty Italian twist The perils of waking up at 6am on a bank holiday! Was so looking forward to a lazy lie-in this morning after a slightly gruelling week, but … Continue reading
A showstopping baked cheese starter that makes for truly delectable dipping! There’s nothing better than curling up on a Sunday night with a glass of red, a few slices of succulent French saucisson and a beautiful baked camembert, particularly … Continue reading
Discover a hidden foodie gem on the Caribbean island of Aruba
Starting to get sick of Britain’s bitterly cold winds and icy temperatures? Although December was bordering on balmy this year, January and February has certainly made up for the winter season’s lack of cold weather, in one fell swoop.
February is by far one of the best times to escape the UK’s winter chill. The romantic allure of winter starts to dwindle, with skies painted a constant shade of charcoal grey. New Year resolutions are all but obsolete and your mind begins to wander with flashing images of winter sun and far away beaches. If you’re desperate to escape the daily grind, a winter escape could be all you need to get your mind back on track and bursting with energy.
So if you’re dreaming of flying off into the sunset in search of sunshine and white sandy beaches, the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba could be all you need to shake off those gloomy winter blues.
Aruba is an idyllic former Dutch colony located just 15 miles off Venezuela’s Paraguana Peninsular, boasting stretches of azure waters, pristine white sands and glorious, blazing sunshine.
If you’re after a holiday in the sun that offers a little more than your average beach break, Aruba is the place to visit. The island gets guaranteed sunshine every single day and with soaring temperatures to boot, it’s the ideal holiday hotspot for beach and sun worshippers.
But Aruba isn’t just about the beaches – beautiful they may be – there is so much more to the island than very first meets the eye.
Like many Caribbean islands, Aruba is geared up for flocks tourists. It’s probably worth noting that at some point during your trip, you’ll encounter swarms of American families and package deal holiday groups. In truth, this is my idea off hell on earth. On holiday I relish tranquility. The last thing I want is to be crowded by troupes of tourists when I’m beach-bound and supping on cocktails.
But if you venture off the beaten track, avoiding the larger chain hotels, you can easily avoid the hordes of holidaymakers and explore the cavernous creaks and hidden treasure troves Aruba has to offer. Quite quickly you’ll see Aruba in a very different light.
Explore the real Aruba
One thing that will undoubtedly take your breath away is Aruba’s jaw-droppingly beautiful beaches. With pristine aquamarine waters and soft white sands, Aruba plays host to some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Boasting spectacular skylines with towering palm trees, immaculate blue skies and a blistering tropical heat, Aruba is an unparalleled picture of pure paradise.
Aruba is such a charming island that has so much more to offer than your average beach dweller’s break. Boasting beautiful, balmy weather, dramatic coastlines, natural scenic wonders, exceptional dining, luxury shopping malls – you name it, Aruba’s got it.
But the key to uncovering the real Aruba is to explore the island’s many hidden gems. Immerse yourself in the island’s friendly culture and you’ll witness a rare sight of untamed, natural beauty.
What to do in Aruba
Just 19.6 miles long and six miles wide, the island of Aruba is fairly easy to navigate around – even for those (like me) who seem to lack any sense of direction. We hired a car for a day to explore the island’s recommend hotspots, and we were hard pushed to get lost along the way. The few wrong turnings we did take, the friendly locals were more than happy to help with directions to get us back on the right tracks.
The main focus for hiring a car was to explore the infamous National Park. Aruba boasts surprisingly arid landscapes with widely sculpted backdrops of rocky deserts, cactus clusters and hidden coves, surrounded by a sea of crystal turquoise seas stretching as far as they eye can see. Having the freedom to explore the park’s scenic views and vast array of wildlife is a great way to spend a morning, but it’s worth noting that a number of the trails are only accessible by off-road vehicles, so if you’re planning a whole day, you might want to consider hiring a 4×4.
Then, once the mid-morning heat has died down, you can follow it with a trip to the nearby Baby Beach to stretch out weary legs and bask in the balmy sun.
If you’re a bit of a thrill-seeker, then another way to explore the island’s desert-like terrain is by open-air jeep, where you can go off-roading until your heart’s content. ABC Aruba Tours offers an exhilarating jeep adventure where you can explore some or Aruba’s secluded spots. Surprisingly the island boasts an array of jagged volcanic rocks covered in cacti – a bumpy ride to say the least!
We stopped off at a few historical sites including Blackstone Beach, Twin Bridges, Eyes of God, Natural Bridge, Andicuri, Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, Wish Garden and the famous California Lighthouse.
Other beaches on the island that are well worth a visit include award-winning Eagle Beach and the secluded Catalina Beach.
If tropical beaches are high up on your holiday checklist, then Aruba will tick every single box. The beaches are everything you’d expect from a Caribbean island, and so much more. The glistening seas will take your breath away, and the blazing sunshine warrants nothing but pure relaxation – oh and a few cheeky cocktails of course.
Baby Beach is a gorgeous half-moon sandy expanse in a beautiful lagoon on the Southeast coast of the island. The waters are shallow so the beach is ideal for families with young children, and the snorkelling area is perfect for those who are afraid of deep unknown waters.
For the more intrepid traveller keen to try out the water sports on the island, the list of activities are endless. With stretches of crystal clear waters, you can snorkel in almost any of the beaches, but in truth the waters are so unbelievably clear you can just peek through the rippling waters and you’ll be able to see swarms of fish without even dipping your head.
If you really want to make the most of the perfect diving conditions, you can head off by boat and snorkel around the Antilla ship wreck – the island’s notorious snorkelling hotspot. Here you can look forward to a wonderland of tropical fish including angelfish, stingrays and parrotfish swimming amidst a carpet of colourful coral. And there are plenty of diving schools to choose from if you want to take your snorkelling skills to the next level.
For something decidedly different, you can always try your hand at one of the various watersports to pass the time – there are plenty to choose from. We decided to spend an afternoon attempting to windsurf. ‘Attempt’ being the operative word. It really is harder than it looks! During a two-hour lesson you may just about master standing up on the board, but trying out a turn was near enough impossible, so if you’re keen to excel, I’d recommend booking a half day lesson instead.
To book visit Aruba Active Vacations
Where to eat
One thing that took me completely by surprise was the island’s vast of array of worldly culinary delights. If you’re a fanatical foodie, then you are in for a real treat. Not only does the island serve up some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted, there are endless restaurants and seaside shacks offering up the most delectable dishes from all over the world. But unlike other tourist traps, Aruba really does it well. Even the Italian, Spanish and Belgian dishes we sampled were impeccably authentic.
Pinchos Grill in particular was a favourite of ours, not only because of its incredibly romantic setting – it’s located on a private pier overlooking the water – but because the food was also devilishly delicious. Think Caribbean seafood with lobster tails and juicy sirloin steaks – divine.
Another popular evening haunt is the Screaming Eagle, which serves up a fine selection of local seafood – the swordfish was exquisite.
For a romantic evening of intimate dining, you simply must try The Wine Room. A rustic and homely wine bar that serves up local and world wines paired with plates of cheese and charcuterie.
Hosted by the lovely and very knowledgable owner Monrick, prepare to be taken on a tantalising tour of world wines and tasty cuisines with his food and wine pairing package. The package includes 6 small dishes of home-cooked rustic food each carefully paired by Monrick himself, and served with an accompanying complementing vintage. Dishes include garlic and herb escargots, steak strips cooked in blue cheese sauce and gooey chocolate truffles that are perfect served up with a rich, bold port. It’s an intimate venue and only open a few days a week, so booking in advance is highly recommended.
And finally, if you’re hankering for a hungry breakfast, start your Sunday with a champagne all-you-can-eat brunch at A Taste of Belgium. For just $42 you can enjoy 3 hours of bottomless bubbles and an entire menu of brunch and lunch dishes that you can order until your belly is about to burst!
For a less indulgent affair head next door to the Pancake House to enjoy an array of traditional Dutch pancakes with gloriously moreish toppings.
Where to stay
There’s a swarming sea of hotels and apartments to choose from on the island, so it really depends on what you’re looking for. There are the usual chain hotels like the Marriott, Holiday Inn and Ritz Carlton but if you’re looking for a hotel that has a little more character, then head to the Renaissance Hotel.
With pool parties, casinos, shopping malls and its very own private island, the Renaissance really is a hotel fit for the most glamorous of Hollywood celebs.
As a guest, you can take a short boat trip to their private island and languish on the sand with flocks of flamingos resting at your feet. Sun, sea and endless pina coladas – pure island bliss.
But if you’d prefer to escape the tourist bustle in the heart of Oranjestad, opt for a self-catering apartment instead. We stayed in the charming Paradera Park resort; a small boutique gem hidden away in the middle of the island. The spacious villas offer a private haven and perfect base for travelling around the island. Bursting with charm there’s a private pool festooned in tropical flowers, with loungers and hammocks to relax in and the friendly owners Deborah and Henk are always on hand to help with any recommendations or requests.
The one-bedroom suites are complete with kitchenettes, air con, wifi and a pleasant outdoor veranda that’s perfect for supping on sunset cocktails or to wake up and relax with your morning coffee.
Be sure to check out Deborah’s beautiful collection of handmade glass-blown jewellery, which is available to buy from the main reception.
Paradera Apartments offers 7 nights for two people from £860 in a Deluxe Studio including breakfast paraderapark-aruba.com
Flights can be booked with KLM via Amsterdam at klm.com
Decadent Downton-style dining in Knightsbridge, London
With the final series of Downton Abbey swiftly coming to a close, it’s with a heavy heart we bid farewell to our favourite aristocrats. With this imminent ending in the offing, we pose one simple question: what on earth does one to do following the sad departure of Downton? Sunday nights will never be the same again.
It’s been an eventful five years for the glamorous Crawley family and this Sunday will deliver their long awaited final chapter. Anyone else on the edge of their seats bursting with anticipation? So with this in mind, I thought I’d go all out Lady Mary Crawley style, and give the Downton gang the luxurious send off they so deserve.
We all long for a little glitz and glamour at some point in our lives, and what better way to do it than with a decadent afternoon tea in the heart of West London? The perfect afternoon pastime to break up a quiet Sunday stroll. Rest weary feet with fluffy scones, cream cakes and elegant finger sandwiches, all washed down with a glass of fancy fizz. After all, in the word’s of Virginia Woolf: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” A Crawley family classic, one would imagine.
Located a stone’s throw away from bustling Knightsbridge and Hyde Park, the Gore hotel is a beautiful bolthole offering a little bit of luxury and a touch of relaxation. Whether you want to curl up away from the chaos of vibrant Chelsea, or if you just fancy an indulgent treat, the Gore is the perfect haven to relax and unwind in.
Renowned for playing host to a number of A-list rock and roll celebs, the Gore has welcomed the likes of Mick Jagger through to Queen Victoria, and of course the recent star of Downton Abbey, opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, who used to frequent the hotel regularly after her performances at the Royal Albert Hall.
It’s not difficult to see why this stylish sanctuary became a popular haunt for Dame Nellie. The reception is lavish, decorated with gilded accessories, oversized paintings and a sumptuous red carpet falls elegantly from the towering, winding staircase. We’re greeted by the friendly reception staff, who swiftly usher us inside the dining area.
Designed to resemble a French-style bistro with a touch of quintessential British glamour, the Bistro One Ninety is full of quirky personality. There are high ceilings, shimmering chandeliers, oversized brass mirrors and an eclectic collection of artwork displayed in ornately sculpted frames. It’s the perfect setting for refined Downton-inspired dining. I can envisage Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lord and Lady Grantham daintily supping on afternoon tea in these sumptuous surroundings.
Playing homage to Downton and of course Dame Nellie’s famous Peach Melba dessert, the Gore has combined the classic British afternoon tea together with a touch of Downton decadence. Beautifully presented cakes, sandwiches and aromatic teas, accompanied by a refreshingly light, sweet peach bellini. Floral, light and elegant, this is by far the best bellini we’ve have ever tried, so good we simply can’t resist ordering another (beware it will disappear in a flash!).
The tea selection is synonymous with our surroundings; elegant and luxurious. We certainly do feel like ladies what lunch as we peruse the extensive tea menu. Such a tough job on a Sunday afternoon, but someone’s got to do it! Choose from spicy Darjeeling to sweetly scented Rose tea. We decide on sampling the Earl Grey, which is beautifully aromatic with subtle hints of citrus, and compliments our peach-infused bubbles perfectly.
The selection of finger sandwiches accompanying the tea are simple, flavoursome and wonderfully British. Tuck into silky smoked salmon with crème fraiche, cucumber with cream cheese, thick slathers of honey roast ham with sweet wholegrain mustard and a deliciously creamy egg mayonnaise with crunchy cress.
The towering sweet treats are delicately placed in front of us presented on a tiered ceramic cake stand, decorated with light, fluffy English scones and clotted cream, a selection of mouthwatering carrot cakes and chocolate brownies, topped with a creamy peach trifle and extravagantly chic, gilded macaroons, to add a little more decadence to our Downton dining experience.
The three tiers of rich, creamy cakes are difficult to devour after a serving of tasty sandwiches so the waitress kindly boxes up our lonely leftovers. (There aren’t too many though I assure you!). As it’s still relatively early on a Sunday afternoon, we pop into the bar to have a sneaky peek. Be warned – the candlelit, sultry setting is a little too inviting, so we’re tempted to order yet another beautifully presented peach bellini, whilst we relax, admiring the bar’s rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame.
This gorgeous afternoon treat will make the perfect girlie gathering, or a romantic afternoon date with the man. If you fancy going the extra mile, make the most of the experience and stay the night in the hotel’s luxurious Dame Nellie Melba suite.
Prices for the Dame Nellie Melba afternoon tea start from £30.00 per person.
Prices for the Dame Nellie Melba experience (stay and afternoon tea) start from £280 per room, per night inclusive of two Dame Nellie Melba afternoon teas.
To book The Gore’s Dame Nellie Melba afternoon tea and or an overnight stay, visit gorehotel.com or call 020 75836601.
A rich and robust Italian classic, this aubergine parmigiana packs a hearty punch! This bubbling aubergine and parmesan bake is one of my all time favourite dishes. It’s hearty, stodgy but oh so delicious. Chargrilled softened layers of aubergine cooked … Continue reading
A gorgeously healthy, summer quinoa salad topped with gooey griddled halloumi and a zesty lemon and thyme dressing Who doesn’t love halloumi when the sun comes out to play? This simple, summer salad recipe is so easy to make and … Continue reading
A beautifully spicy, creamy baked eggs brunch with peppers, crispy kale and chunky chestnut mushrooms – brunch recipes don’t get better than this!
Weekends are built for brunches. Whether it’s devouring a crispy bacon sarnie slathered in HP sauce or tucking into deliciously decadent, creamy Eggs Benedict, indulgent brunching never gets boring. It’s one of my favourite meals of the day − especially when it comes to lazy weekend lounging. So naturally I’m working on building up a moreish selection of brunch recipes to add to to my culinary kitchen collection.
This is a little leftovers classic, using up whatever I could find in the fridge − turns out it was a good ‘un! I’m a little obsessed with kale at the moment, so threw in a handful to add a splash of colour and texture, but you can use spinach, rocket or any other greenery that takes your fancy. You can also add a little more or less spice, depending on how much your tastebuds can handle. I finished with a dollop of crème fraîche for extra creaminess, but again if you don’t fancy this, the baked eggs will taste great on their own.
This serves one but just up the ingredients depending on how many you’re cooking for.
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Half a red onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp paprika
- Half a red pepper
- 2 chestnut mushrooms
- Handful of kale
- Salt and pepper
- 2 eggs
- A spoonful of crème fraîche to finish
- Chopped fresh basil to garnish
1) Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2) Finely slice the onion, garlic, peppers and mushrooms.
3) Place the onions and garlic in the oven in a heat-proof dish, with a good glug of olive oil, for around 2-3 minutes.
4) Remove from oven and mix together the peppers and spices. Place in the oven for another 2-3 minutes to heat through. Make sure the spices are coating the veg evenly.
5) Remove from the oven and mix in the mushrooms and kale with a little seasoning of salt and pepper, making sure to mix the ingredients well so the spice mixture evenly coats the vegetables.
6) Place back into the oven for around 1o minutes. Take out after 5 minutes and give the veg a little stir.
7) Remove from the oven and break two eggs on top of the pepper mix. Place back into the oven for 10 minutes.
8) Spoon a generous dollop of crème fraîche on the top of the eggs, sprinkle with a delicate dusting of paprika and a scattering of fresh, chopped basil leaves. Eat on their own or with crusty baked bread. Delish!
Marvel at the rich, cultural delights Spain has to offer on a weekend city break to Málaga
Sitting on the beach devouring freshly caught fish is one of life’s simple pleasures, and the Southern Spanish region of Málaga is a marvellous place to do it. Málaga’s stunning coastline provides a beautiful backdrop for laid-back beach basking, alfresco seafood suppers and romantic sunset strolls. With rustic beachside eateries offering deliciously fresh seafood and local Spanish delicacies, Málaga offers an authentic taste of traditional Spanish culture.
As a renowned ‘Brits abroad’ destination, most British beach dwellers flock to the Costa del Sol in search of sun, sea and sangria. But with many holidaymakers herding to the popular sandy beaches of Marbella or Torremolinos, Málaga is often overlooked as a city break mainstream holiday destination. Wistful wanderers in search of lively Spanish culture, fabulous food and beautiful architecture will be overwhelmed by Málaga’s rich delights. From flamboyant Flamenco street dancing to Pablo Picasso’s inimitable works of art, there’s a wealth of history and culture to be discovered in the heart of Málaga’s bustling city centre.
What to do
There’s nothing more relaxing than sprawling out atop soft, golden sands serenaded by the sound of breaking waves. Málaga’s beautiful beaches are family friendly and brimming with character. It rarely gets cold in Málaga with temperatures seldom dropping below 17°C. With an average of about 300 days of sunshine each year and only 50 days of rain, it’s often dry and warm enough to sit outside during the day even in January and February. But the spring and autumn are ideal times to visit if a beach break is on the agenda.
The lively city centre is vibrant and picturesque with beautiful marble walkways paving the pedestrianised car-free streets. You’ll find a plethora of traditional taverns, sleek boutiques, cafés and trendy gastrobars hidden amid winding lanes in the heart of the city. Families and friends gather together to share platters of tapas and sumptuous Spanish wine whilst locals twirl gleefully to Flamenco music in the streets. It’s the ideal spot for aimless wandering; a place where you can really kick back and relax whilst soaking up the city’s vibrant atmosphere.
Take a stroll through the city’s ancient Roman fortress. Built between the eleventh and fourteenth century, the Alcazaba served as a defence aid for the city as well as a grand palace for Muslim rulers. Discover magnificent archways, lush greenery and marble pillars as you roam through the cavernous walkways of the towering Roman ruins.
Adjacent to the fortress lies a traditional Roman ampitheatre, which is still used for theatre and musical performances. If you’re lucky enough to catch a performance, the setting is stunning and well worth a visit.
The Museo Picasso boasts an enviable collection of work dating from the late 19th century up until his death in 1973. A truly fascinating collection illustrating the versatility and progression of his extensive body of work.
The city’s towering Cathedral is another breathtaking sight not to be missed. A combination of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, the intricately carved exterior is a true spectacle to marvel. Inside is equally as grand, with two enormous 18-century organs stretching high into the ceiling as far as the eye can see, as well ancient religious artworks and beautiful sculptures.
For a touch of rest and relaxation, a gentle stroll around the Botanical Gardens should set the mind at ease. This tropical paradise is one of the largest gardens in Europe and takes around an hour and a half to walk around, although you could easily spend all day there. With gorgeous greenery and vibrant blooms, it’s an easy place to lose an afternoon to.
If you find yourself with a few hours to spare during your trip, a visit to the Automobile Museum is great fun. Admittedly, we were a little sceptical about the venture, but the hordes of classic cars are well worth a peek. The kids will assuredly have great fun here. But the museum is more than just cars and engines. There’s also a collection of vintage designer fashion pieces to drool over, if the cars don’t quite provide enough entertainment.
If the trek across the city starts to take its toll, rest weary feet at the Málaga Hammam Arabian baths. A tranquil retreat tucked away from the bustle of the city, where you can relax in steaming saunas and hot baths, take a dip in the pool or indulge in a blissful massage. A bath and massage experience costs 38 euros and lasts for one hour.
Where to eat
For spectacular panoramic views of the city and delicious, local food head to the Parador de Gibralfaro Hotel. A delicious selection of sharing tapas plates will be served with freshly baked bread and exquisite local wine.
For lunch al fresco, a visit to the Pedregalejo area is an absolute must. Brimming with locals, there’s a vibrant, buzzing atmosphere with fishing boats moored along the sand serving up freshly caught barbecued fish.
The Atarazanas food market is well worth a visit. A vast labyrinth filled with sumptuous Spanish delicacies. Be sure to save some room in your suitcase to take some tasty titbits home!
For an even sojourn, El Pimpi Bodega bar serves up gorgeous tapas with local wine. The building is a cavernous warren of rooms adorned with historic posters and enormous wine barrels, all signed by a catalogue of famous folk. A seemingly popular haunt for Antonio Banderas.
For a more formal evening affair, venture to the swanky Patio de Beatas restaurant. A trendy wine bar and restaurant with a fusion of Spanish and European cuisine.
Where to stay
For a central location that’s within walking distance of the centre, stay at the Hotel NH. Elegant and contemporary in style, the rooms are spacious and comfortable with beautiful city views overlooking the river. There’s also a gym and sauna facilities for guests to take advantage of.
Monarch airlines operates flights to Malaga from Birmingham, East Midlands, London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £32.99 one way (£60.98 return)
For further information or to book Monarch flights, Monarch Holidays or Monarch hotels visit monarch.co.uk
A sizzlingly spicy homemade pizza with creamy mozzarella, Italian sausage, kalamata olives and fresh basil leaves There’s nothing more delightful than a quiet, cosy weekend night in curled up in front of the TV with a freshly baked, crispy pizza. Homemade … Continue reading
A killer breakfast or brunch recipe of sticky, smoky beans with griddled sausages and poached eggs
Nothing tastes better on a Saturday morning than sizzling sausages paired with perfectly oozy poached eggs and gorgeously sticky, saucy beans. This punchy Boston beans recipe combines all my favourite flavours. Smoky pancetta, piquant chilli, tangy Worcestershire sauce and a drizzling of indulgently sweet, sticky treacle. Divine! So naughty but oh-so-nice. A weekend breakfast or brunch recipe that’s set to wow.
- 1 x 400g tin of cannellini or butter beans
- Drizzle of olive oil
- 1 x red onion
- 2 x garlic cloves
- 70g pancetta, diced
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 heaped tsp hot smoked paprika
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 tbsp dark treacle
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- Fresh parsley (to garnish)
- Salt and pepper
- 2-4 x good quality sausages or chorizo sausages
- 2 x eggs (or more, depending on your appetite!)
1) Lightly boil the beans in water for about 5 minutes, just to heat them through and soften.
2) Fry the garlic and onion in the olive oil on a medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the onion has softened.
3) Add the pancetta and cook until browned.
4) Add the sugar and wait for the onions to slightly caramelise.
5) Add the paprika and cayenne pepper, together with the treacle, mustard and Worcestershire sauce and give it a good stir. It should have a thick, gooey consistency.
6) Add the tomatoes, warmed beans and a little salt and pepper. Pop a lid on the pan and leave to cook on a low heat for about 15-20 minutes and the tomatoes have reduced by half.
7) Heat the griddle pan on a high heat and start to griddle your sausages, turning often. You want a smoky, chargrilled finish so a little blackness is fine! You can grill or oven cook the sausages if you’d prefer.
8) Poach the egg in some boiling water and a little vinegar. (Here’s how to poach the perfect egg)
9) Once the beans are cooked (they should be sticky, gloopy and delicious) serve with one or two chargrilled sausages, a poached egg and a sprinkling of fresh parsley, and devour!