A BEAUTIFUL RIVIERA AND MISTY DAYS: A chilly break in Rimini and San Marino

RIMINI

We were going to visit San Marino, so we decided to spend a couple of days in nearby Rimini.

Rimini is a riviera with sandy beaches overlooked by cool modernist hotels.

The Old Town is beautiful and includes a good collection of Roman and Medieval landmarks. It is also the birthplace of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini.

For lunch we visited Bar Lento, a cool cafe serving delicious vegan snacks and drinks (lunch for two including tip for 18.50€).

Rimini is definitely a good place to visit and relax for a couple of days!

SAN MARINO

San Marino was one of the few European countries we hadn’t visited yet, so we decided to check in out in January.

It is located high up in the mountains, giving it amazing views over the region. Unfortunately when we visited the place was right in the middle of the clouds, and we couldn’t even see further than a few metres ahead.

We spent a few hours exploring the narrow roads and visiting the main towers, even without being able to see much.

For lunch, we stopped at Laminona, which serves piadinas and offered a few vegan options.

San Marino is picturesque and I’m sure we would have enjoyed it more on a sunny day!

  • Go: We flew to Bologna, where you can get semi-frequent buses from the airport to Rimini. You can reach San Marino from Rimini taking a regular bus which departs just outside the train station (return for 10€ per person). The trip takes 50 minutes each way.
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GREAT FOOD AND BEAUTIFUL SITES: Christmas in Rome

I decided to go to Rome for Christmas to eat yummy food and enjoy some of the sites. Rome is an easy place to visit, as you can pretty much just walk anywhere and stumble upon ancient Roman monuments and great gelato spots.

  • Trevi Fountain: I wanted to visit the Trevi Fountain which recently reopened after a huge restoration. I knew it was going to be busy, so I arrived early and beat the selfie crowds – definitely worth it.
  • Colosseum: I’d been to the Colosseum before, but not for many years, so decided to visit again. As expected the place gets packed, so the best option is to buy tickets at the nearby Roman forum and arrive early (tickets for €12). The place is huge and impressive as you’d expect.
  • Maxxi: this modern art museum is a great place to spend a few hours, as it’s full of interesting displays. It is a bit far from the city centre (but only a few stops on the tram) which means that not many tourists are around (tickets for €12).
  • Testaccio: I heard about this neighbourhood in this Instagram account. It’s away from the centre, so you can join the locals at the pretty piazza Testaccio to enjoy the winter sun, where kids in scooters play around. There is also a cool local market. Stop for potato pizza at Forno Assoluto (a generous slice for €3.65) and try the yummy desserts at Pasticceria Barberini (two small desserts and a cappuccino for €3.60). It’s a great area to get a few for local Rome.
  • Christmas Day: when I was deciding where to go for my Christmas trip, I did plenty of research and was reassured that in Rome most places are only shut on Christmas day itself. In fact, in the most popular areas there are plenty of restaurants and shops open, as there are always plenty of tourists around. A good plan is to stick to the beaten path.
  • Stay: I stayed at Exe in Monti. The area is super convenient, located within walking distance of most sites. Monti itself is a nice area, with plenty of nice restaurants and cafes in each of the little backstreets.

AMAZING FOOD AND BEAUTIFUL DAYS: A week driving around Sicily

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PALERMO

Palermo’s centre is easy to navigate on foot and on a sunny day you can cover many of the main sights on Via Roma and Vittorio Emanuele. Stop by Teatro Massimo to reenact the famous last scene from Godfather 3, or wander around the park by the Norman Palace.

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Palatina Chapel: This famous chapel located by the Norman Palace is full of intricate details and beautiful mosaics. Tickets for 10€.

Pizza Frida: I was looking for recommendations of good pizza places in Palermo (of course there are plenty) when I came across Pizza Frida. This place is popular so it’s best to book in advance. They have lots of different options and they’re all AMAZING. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 90€. Highly recommended.

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Villa San Giovanni Degli Eremiti: a great local restaurant where large families taste the local fare. Meal with drink and tip for 15€ per person.

L’Antica Focacceria San Francesco: This popular place serves yummy street food, like arancini and aubergine caponata. Portions are huge. Dinner with drinks and tip for 15€ per person.

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Haiku: The only vegan place in Palermo is located in a nice area to the north of the city centre. The menu is varied and includes a mix of Italian and international dishes. The gnocchi had the best tomato sauce, and their famous pistachio tiramisu was definitely worth trying. Lunch for two including drinks, dessert and tip for 55€.

Stay: This Airbnb is great for a family trip. Each of the four rooms has its own bathroom and Giovanni, the host, is super helpful.

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ERICE

This little medieval town over the hills is a great place for a day trip. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the little alleys and stop around for lunch at one of the many restaurants.

Follow that with a stop for dessert at Pasticceria Maria Grammatico, which serves yummy boozy pastries.

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CATANIA

From Palermo to Catania by car it takes about three hours through the countryside. You get amazing views of Mount Etna with its snowed peak along the way.

Catania’s centre is a combination of mismatched grandiose buildings and areas that have seen better days. You can spend a couple of hours exploring the fancy Corso Italia with lots of high end shops, or explore the Old Town, with its busy street markets and lively piazzas.

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Savia: This is a great stop for lunch. They are famous for serving the best arancini, for just 2.50€. Portions are huge and everything is delicious.

Nievski: This cool bar and restaurant with a revolution theme is a good place for a relaxed meal in an area where there are lots of nice restaurants. Dinner for four including drinks and tip for 88€.

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MOUNT ETNA

About one hour off Catania, Mount Etna provides the impressive backdrop for the city. You can take a cable car up the mountain, then get on a 4X4 bus and finally walk around a couple of the highest craters.

The trip costs 64€ per person and can be booked directly at the cable car entrance. Go early before it gets busy.

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TAORMINA:

A good stop after visiting Mount Etna, Taormina is rightly regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in Sicily. The small centre provides scenic views over the sea and there are lots of cute restaurants around serving delicious pizza and Aperol.

The main local attraction is the Ancient Theatre (tickets for 10€) with beautiful ruins and panoramic views of the sea and mountains.

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AGRIGENTO:

Located on the south of Sicily, Agrigento is home to the Valley of the Temples, an impressive collection of ancient temples and ruins overlooking the Sicilian countryside and the Mediterranean sea.

You can spend a couple of hours exploring the site before driving on to Catania or Palermo. Tickets for 10€.

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ITINERARY PLANNING:

There’s plenty to do in Sicily, and you can spend lots of time exploring the coast, the countryside and historical sites.

The best way to travel around is to rent a car. Navigating is relatively easy with Google Maps but traffic can be a bit crazy, especially around big cities.

We spent seven days in Sicily, staying in Palermo and Catania and exploring from there.

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ART IS NOT AN END BUT A BEGINNING: The Venice Biennale in pictures

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This was our third time at the arts Biennale in Venice (we went in 2013 and 2015 as well).

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As ever, there was absolutely loads to see.

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And the two days we had to explore just flew by.

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Long days of art-spotting…

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…followed by nights of sipping Aperol spritz by the canals.

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I could do this for a living!

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But as I can’t, at least I know I can come back for more in two years.

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As Ai Weiwei, said…

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“Art is not an end but a beginning”.

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DELICIOUS PASTA AND MARBLE STEPS: A lazy weekend in Pisa

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This year we hadn’t had as many holidays as we usually do, so I was looking forward to a nice little weekend away in Italy.

We arrived early afternoon, and headed straight to our flat where our host welcomed us with a delicious bottle of local wine. After stocking up at the supermarket (and buying way too much pasta to bring back home), we went out for a walk around the leaning tower. It was a beautiful afternoon, and the light was amazing!

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We had dinner at Da Antonio, a restaurant which is among the touristy area close to the tower. Despite the location and the fact that staff was not at all Italian, the food was great. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 40€. We went for a nightcap at Mani’Omio, a cocktail bar which served aperitivi for 6€.

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The next morning we had tickets to visit the leaning tower. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the site wasn’t particularly busy, which was really good. We visited the Cathedral and then started climbing the tower, which is a strange experience as the building pushes you around as you climb the steps.

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The view from the top was beautiful, with a nice contrast between the red roofs and green mountains – the kind of thing you can take for granted in Tuscany. We took some silly photos and headed for our next stop: delicious ice cream at La Bottega del Gelato, which had the best fiordilatte gelato I’ve had in a long time (two scoops for 2€).

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In the afternoon we took the train to nearby Lucca, a walled city which is really cute. We had lunch at Nanda’s, a vegan place that served yummy (if a bit cold) food (lunch for two including a drink for 20€). We stopped at the local cathedral (tickets for 3€) which has impressive artworks, including a large panel by Tintoretto.

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We spent a couple of hours exploring the narrow roads, and finished our visit by climbing another tower, Giunigi, which is unique because it has trees planted at the top (tickets for 4€ per person). Again the views from the top were really amazing.

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We headed back to Pisa where we had a dinner reservation at Vegusto, an amazing vegan place that had a gnocchi with lemon and ginger that was just the best (dinner for two including drinks and tip for 50€).

The next morning it was time to leave – this was a nice and chilled little trip, the perfect little break from my usual routine!

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: There are direct flights from Gatwick with BA, and they take about 2h. The airport is really close to the city centre, only 10 minutes by bus (a single ticket costs 1.30€).
  • Get around: Pisa is a nice base to explore Tuscany. Lucca is a 30 minute train ride away (tickets for 3.50€ each way), but there are many other nice places around: Cinque Terre is 1h30 away, and Florence 1h – all reached easily by train.
  • Stay: We stayed in this cute Airbnb which was just what we needed – well located but with a local feel, and there were tons of tips by previous guests and our host.
  • The Leaning Tower: Tickets can be booked online up to 20 days before your visit, and cost from 16€ (depending on what is included). You need to leave your bag in a cloakroom before you go up, so make sure to leave plenty of time as lines can be long.

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SIPPING APEROL SPRITZ IN THE SUN: A chilled weekend in Milan

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In my first time in Milan it rained the whole time, so it was great to be back when the weather was nice.

As I expect everyone does, our first stop was the Duomo and surrounding areas. The Duomo is very impressive, and on a sunny day it made for great photos. There are many options for tickets, but we chose the one which only gave access to the cathedral itself as it only cost 2€.

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We then visited the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, reaching the Teatro alla Scala right behind it. We had a quick gelato stop at Cioccolati Italiani, where service was confusing but the gelato was delicious.

Our next stop was the unique Sforzesco Castle and the beautiful Sempione Park behind it, where we sat in the sun watching buskers entertain the crowd.

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We got on the metro to Navigli (Porta Genova metro stop), a nice area absolutely packed with cool bars and restaurants. All the bars offered aperitivi, a great deal in which you buy a drink (about 10€) a get lots of nibbles alongside it. We had Aperol Spritz (my favourite!) and many other delicious cocktails, then headed back to the hotel at midnight, when the area was still buzzing.

In the morning we headed to Brera, a bohemian neighbourhood not far from the city centre. Brera Palace hosts the famous Pinacoteca and it’s also a great place for a drink in the sun at one of the many cute cafes in the area. We had an Aperol Spritz or two before heading back to the airport.

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HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Flights from London take about 2h, so you can easily go after work on a Friday.
  • Stay: We Stayed at Zambala, a place with serviced apartments which was a good option. We paid 158€ for two people for two nights.
  • Transportation: Milan has a good network of metro and trams. You can buy a 48h travelcard for 8.25€. Taxis from the airport are expensive, but frequent buses to and from the Central station cost only 8€.
  • Do: Leonardo’s Last Supper is a big draw, so it’s imperative to book in advance as tickets sell out weeks before your visit.

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COMING BACK FOR MORE: Places I visit again and again

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My current travel objective is to visit all European countries. And although I’m only (or already, depending on how you look at it) halfway there, I also keep coming back to my favourite places – it’s hard to find a balance! These are some of the places I want to visit again and again:

1. Berlin

I’ve been to Berlin three times already, but I think I haven’t even scratched the surface yet! Berlin strikes the perfect balance between having lots for tourists to do while still being cool and modern.

I’m looking forward to my next trip in August!

2. Paris

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Paris was the first place I’ve ever visited in Europe, and I’ve been there eight or nine times, spending whole months there. I still visit almost every year: it’s very close to London and wandering around is always great.

It’s just so scenic… you can’t really go wrong in Paris.

3. Rome

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I went to Rome for the first time in 2003, and only returned (twice) this year. Rome is, in many ways, the birthplace of western civilisation, and just by walking around you grasp the importance of the place – the architecture is absolutely awe-inspiring, and history is everywhere.

Plus the food is probably the best in the world. I’m not a foodie in any way, but as soon as I get to Italy all I can think about is food!

4. Marrakech

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My dad is always asking if I work for the Moroccan tourist board (I don’t, but I’d definitely take that job!) because Marrakech is the first place I suggest whenever people ask me where to go on holiday.

Somehow it really feels like home to me, which is weird given that it’s completely different from anywhere I’ve ever been. I love the food, the people, the architecture, and, most of all, the bustling atmosphere. I don’t know when I’ll be going back, but it’s just a matter of time!

Where do you want to go back to?

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