Travel

+ Split, Korčula & Dubrovnik: Croatia Travel Tips

Split, Korcula and Dubrovnik Travel Guide
I planned our Croatia trip almost a year in advance - we had no big plans to look forward to and Croatia was always on our bucket list so it made sense to get something in the diary. It was a daunting task - there's so many must-see places that it's futile to try to tick them all off in one week, so we settled on an itinerary of five nights in Split (to include day trips to nearby gems), two nights in Korčula and then two final nights in Dubrovnik before flying home. See below for my Croatia travel tips based on my first taste of this gorgeous country!

Tip #1: Don't spend more than two or three nights in Split, and instead spend more time in Korčula or a more peaceful island such as Hvar or Brac.

Split

Diocletian's Palace

I came across Apartment Luxury Palace No.1, a beautiful one-bed apartment right in the heart of Diocletian's Palace with its very own hot tub and terrace. You might think that staying within the confines of a UNESCO World Heritage site would be peaceful, but on a Friday night in peak tourist season the palace is less royal and more rave! The Diocletian's Palace was absolutely heaving with people when we arrived, so we were perked up to see that the apartment owner had left us some freebies:


Complimentary fruit, biscuits and wine from the owner of our Airbnb

The main living area
The main living area

The master bedroom
The master bedroom

Breakfast on the terrace
Breakfast on the terrace

The hot tub with a glimpse of the Saint Domnius Bell Tower

The hot tub with a glimpse of the Saint Domnius Bell Tower

Walking around the Roman ruins is captivating; every time you look up you'll find gorgeously worn shutters, intricate chimneys  and columns, or a cloudless sky framed by the opening of a vestibule.

Tip #2: If you're short on time and money, Diocletian's Palace has reams of cheap pizza stalls and well-priced gelato.

We only ate out one evening within the palace grounds, at a place called Appetit - my steak was good but Ned wasn't so convinced about his braised beef! It didn't help we were there super early and the place was artificially forcing an atmosphere with electronic music despite there only being three tables' worth of punters. I'd also thoroughly recommend Buffet Fife, quick, cheap and unbelievably tasty Croatian cuisine.

Tip #3:  Don't be fools like us and withdraw lots of Euros for your Croatia trip - even though some places accept them, it's technically illegal to use as currency so it's best to get a small amount of Kunas and then top up as and when you need to. Another tip we were told by a fellow traveller was to choose the option that lets the bank set the conversion rate on ATMs to get a better deal.

Split's Coastline

Bačvice Beach

Bačvice Beach

It's a truth universally acknowledged that sandy beaches are better than pebbly ones, and the good news is that there's the golden Bačvice beach just a few minutes' walk from the main town centre. However, this beach is REALLY busy (Costa Del Hell) so  (Tip #4) I'd recommend walking along the coast towards Radisson Blu, as the beach there is less hectic.

We stopped walking once we reached the Mistral Beach Bar & Restaurant. The food here was pricey but tasty with the fluffiest home-baked bread rolls I think I've ever been lucky enough to try! You can also rent a sun lounger at their beach bar.
Lunch at the Mistral restaurant

Plaza Kasjuni

The next day we tried out Plaza Kasjuni. You can either spend 45 minutes walking along the coastal road from the Riva of Split (bearing in mind that the pavement stops at one point) up towards Joe's Beach Lounge & Bar, or get the No.12 Bus from here.

You can rent a sun lounger for 100 Kuna, overlooking the beautiful Kasjuni bay. The water is so salty you can almost float but be warned - the seabed is very, very jagged! Unfortunately for us, one of Joe's restaurants didn't serve food(!) and its sister restaurant had a big birthday group reservation and so there was a two-hour wait. My advice is to reserve a table before you go!

Joe's Beach Bar & Lounge at Plaza Kasjuni

Bene Beach

Our first encounter of this quiet little beach was on our Split Sunset Sea Kayaking Tour. The no.12 bus also takes you there directly. We got into our kayaks (much to the disapproval of a local self-entitled idiot who harassed our tour guides for ruining 'his' stretch of sea) and set off towards an old military posting, past The Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences and then onwards to a quiet bay. En route, we spotted a couple of nudists who really didn't expect thirty kayakers to glide past!

Most of the group posed for Go Pro shots as they jumped off a jagged boulder, whereas Ned and I opted for a few moments chilling on a more attainable rock on the shore. We then headed back and watched the sun set from our kayaks before the tour officially ended.

Krka Waterfalls - Day Trip

Although we technically booked a tour, it was really just a return bus journey with a brief river cruise from Skradin to the park entrance. Tip #5 - Buy your tour ticket as part of a special offer bundled in with the sea kayaking tour. On the cruise we were treated to the most stunning views of untouched nature, as if humans had never discovered this slice of the world before. It was only when we got through the entrance that we started to appreciate just how busy the place was!

Once you've bought your ticket and walked into the park, (tip #6) is to turn left towards the wooden walkway rather than going straight to the waterfalls. That way, you're going 'against' the majority of tourists as they loop along the path.

Following the path around, there's various little pockets of water bordered by rugged bushes to explore, very much like tiny secret gardens! Come lunchtime, food at the Buffet restaurant near the Mill was good if slightly overpriced, and unfortunately we didn't get to go too close to the waterfalls as it was packed with people :(

Marjan Mountains

To start your ascent up this hill, walk past Buffet Fife up Solurat Ul. and then turn right up the stairs when you reach Hotel Garden Apartment. Once you reach the top of the steps, you'll find a viewpoint to your left (opposite Cafe Bar Vidilica) where you'll see a gorgeous view of Split, as seen in the pic below:

From what we could see, there's no real end point to the trail but we continued past Bene Beach and towards a marina full of yachts. The dense forest offers a lot of much-needed shade, and en route you'll also find the odd secluded cove - (tip #7) definitely seek a space there to bathe rather than walking all the way to Prva Voda plaža, a distinctively average beach. Next time I go I'd also consider paying closer attention to this blog post by Becky Snyder detailing the best way to explore the mountains.

Korčula

Getting there from Split: First of all, getting the ferry from Split was a bit of an ordeal - the Jardolinijia website doesn't say which part of the port to go to, and all the ferries look the same and are a long way apart from each other so tip #8, leave yourself plenty of time to find/board the ferry. We booked the 9.15am ferry (via Hvar) but narrowly avoided missing it thanks to running about like headless chickens with a broken and far too heavy suitcase! We got to the old town port just in time for midday, where we were easily able to find a taxi to get to Tara's Lodge.

Tara's Lodge

Snapshot of the bay and the food served at Tara's Lodge

It takes about 10 minutes to get from the port to the lodge by taxi, and upon arrival you're greeted with a complimentary drink each :) The resort is located in a pristine bay minutes from the old town of Korčula, with units decorated in a minimalist Nordic style. FYI, we had room #20 and the panoramic sea view was slightly obscured by the main restaurant building.

Tip #9 Visit the beautiful Zrnovska Banja bay while it's still wonderfully undeveloped! The lodge is essentially the only touristy place we could spot which means you feel like you're a true local while lying on Tara's bean bag beds, but there's lots of new buildings being built and I suspect it won't stay this preserved forever. The only drawback is that there's not many other options for food or drinks unless you're willing to go to Korčula old town or explore further inland.


Every Thursday they hold a big barbecue on the shore. It's over £35 (350 Kunas) which is ridiculously overpriced, but you are a captive audience. The food was awesome though - we could choose from traditional skinless sausage, pork shoulder or chicken kebabs.

Korčula Old Town

We walked towards the old town in time for sunset. Along the coast were some secluded beaches and stunning views to boot of the mainland. For me, the old town is reminiscent of Cartagena in Colombia with its brightly painted houses and palm trees lining the roads.

Tip #10: Sit atop the town at Massimo Cocktail Bar in time for sunset. The bar offers 360 views from a medieval tower. To enter, you have to climb a ladder to get to the main bar, where poor Ned and I had to cover our eyes as dozens of girls with tiny skirts made their way down to leave! Finally we were able to get our seat, and before I could question how they get the cocktails into the bar, I noticed the little basket being raised up by a pulley system! The waitresses shout down the orders to the barmen downstairs 🍷🍸🍹

Šetalište Petra Kanavelića has arguably the poshest restaurants, all with reserved tables along the shore. You can easily find a bite to eat by exploring the walled town, and luckily we found an empty and deceptively average-looking place called Fundamentum. I tried the seabass with roasted vegetables and Ned opted for a Korčula speciality called Korculanski Scartocet (marinated baby beef filled with cheese and prosciutto, with homemade macaroni). This was the best introduction we had to Croatian cuisine throughout the entire trip!

Dubrovnik

Tip #11 Rather than rough it on the usual ferry, you can pay just 22 Euros (paid in Kunas) for a transfer onwards to Dubrovnik via the Korkyra travel agency. The cost includes hotel pick-up, then drop off to a boat at the Old town port which then takes you to the mainland before a very rocky and white-knuckle drive through the mountains towards Dubrovnik.

Once there, must-see attractions include walking the city walls, taking the cable car and sea kayaking at sunset. As we plan to come back to this beautiful place again soon, we decided to take it easy and spend most of our time at our hotel, the only 'activity' we did was City Walls:

As we plan to come back to this beautiful place again soon, we decided to take it easy and spend most of our time at our hotel, so we only tackled the City Walls! To get there, you can enter via Pile Gate and entry costs 120 kunas per adult. There's also plenty of stops along the walls to get an ice cream or a snack so don't worry about bringing too much with you. To get to the entrance, you can enter via Pile Gate and entry costs 120 Kunas per adult. There's also plenty of stops along the walls to get an ice cream or a snack so don't worry about bringing too much with you.

Villa Dubrovnik

Tip #12 to infinity: One day, you HAVE to visit Villa Dubrovnik. It's seriously a place you'd think only exists in dreams. OK, it's ridiculously expensive which is why we only stayed two nights as the cherry to top our trip. The hotel itself is made of Brac stone and designed by two Croatians to a stunning finish, making Ned and I feel like we were being entertained at someone's Venice Beach mansion!

Villa Dubrovnik

Villa Dubrovnik

We plumped for room 201 (executive suite) as it included a hot tub, and according to Trip Advisor was the best suite to watch the sunset. It's a shame that this was overlooked by anyone taking the lift of chilling near the swimming pool, doubled with the fact that there was no curtain for us to bathe privately. The suite has a well-sized bathtub, his-and-hers sinks and a large bed with silk sheets. Because we chose the executive suite, breakfast delivered to our room was free of charge too! The lunch menu was reasonably priced (compared to the eye-watering amounts I imagined they'd charge) and you get to experience a gorgeous view of the walled city across the ocean.

The grounds also included:
* Swimming pool with choice of indoor or outdoor sunbeds
* Spa (if you book with Mr & Mrs Smith they give you a 30-minute 'Diamond Bed' treatment, but don't bother!)
* Free gym with reasonable choice of equipment
* Concrete beach with private swimming area
* Numerous luxury lounges with a wide range of books
* Prosciutto Wine Bar (amazing view of the walled town at sunset)
* Vaporetto boat service to the old town. The boat had technical issues during our stay so we had a free taxi shuttle instead

To wrap up, this truly was a trip of a lifetime and it blows my mind that Croatia is less than 3 hours to fly to from London. No need to fly long-haul to find paradise ever again! Ned and I have already decided that we'll head back next year and visit Hvar, Brac and spend more relaxation time in Korčula. All I know is that I can't wait to write up my next Croatia travel blog post in 2017 :)


+ A Guide to Angel: Interior Shops on Cross Street

Cross Street - Angel
I've lived around Angel on and off now for 4 years and I've never paid too much attention to what's on offer in Cross Street, although Get Stuffed, a quirky taxidermy shop at the junction to Essex Road, piqued my attention on many a bus journey!

Fast forward a few years to when I have a flat in need of a few home improvements, and I've lost count of the number of trips I've made to this little street. The main reason for my visits is Funktional Kitchens, the kitchen supplier we've decided to go with (due Feb 2016)! See below for a quick rundown of places worth a visit:

Funktional Kitchens - 42 Cross St

Before ending up here we had tried a couple of kitchen showrooms in Essex Road, but their designer Andrew was so warm and friendly and really helped us in his walkthrough of what each step in the process involves.

They predominantly offer German or Spanish kitchens, such as the Häcker range. I particularly love the wooden worktop range they supply from Spekva, which is what we plan to install in our kitchen.

The first step is sending a basic floorplan and some photos to Andy, who will then mockup his ideas for the space in a digital render. The tools they use allow him to make large changes (colour of units, chimney hood, switching out appliances) in a matter of seconds.

Once you're happy with this free consultation, you put down a deposit of £500 and that's when he comes to your flat to take accurate measurements of the space. You can find out more in my blog post here.

Tribe Rugs - 52 Cross St

Tribe Rugs - Cross Street, Islington, London
Ned and I had promised each other we'd hold off on too many home accessories until after the kitchen's done. But, after leaving Funktional, we took a detour to Tribe London. They source rugs from as far afield as Turkey, Iran and Nepal, and our eyes wandered to a multi-coloured Afghan rug.

After seeing us ooh and aah over it, the friendly owner said 'you can take it home and try it for free if you like?' No deposit needed - he trusted us with our name, address and phone number!

Needless to say his approach works, as days later to transferred the cost of the rug. He then popped over to our flat to supply the complimentary non-slip mat for underneath the rug.

Fired Earth - 34 Cross St

Obviously these guys are the créme de la créme of tiles, although customer service is rather lacklustre. Anyway, I'm particularly in love with their Shelter Island range and we plan to have these Harbour View herringbone marble tiles as our splashback in our new kitchen.

Tiles Etc - 4 Shillingford Street

OK, so technically it's just off of Cross Street, but it counts! Tiles Etc have stiff competition from the established and well-known Fired Earth, but their range of tiles is second to none. The range that particular caught our eye is the Italian Ca'Pietra and we've now settled on their slate Shepton flagstones.

Tiles etc. and the nearby Farrow & Ball shop (image courtesy of Google Maps)
Tiles etc. and the nearby Farrow & Ball shop (image courtesy of Google Maps)

Farrow & Ball - 38 Cross Street

Wow this place is heaving at weekends! So far we've purchased some beautiful sample colours for our living, including the exotic wildcard Brinjal and the soothing Stiffkey Blue. Staff here are super friendly, with one member of staff sharing with us a great tip of painting a large sample piece of wallpaper to trial colour. This is better than just lobbing different colour swatches on the same wall as it ensures you're not tricked by contrasts between the swatches themselves.

LivingSpace - 36 Cross Street

So our budget doesn't quite stretch to getting our house improved via these guys, but regardless we had a look around their showroom. LivingSpace UK not only supplies designer furniture (mostly from Italy) but they also manage small to full-scale interior design projects. They are my dream designers for whenever Ned and I get round to doing our bathroom!

Living Space UK - Bathroom Design featuring the Lago transparent Depth Basin
Living Space UK - Bathroom Design featuring the Lago transparent depth basin

Pret a Vivre - 69 Cross Street

This elegant showroom hosts only the very best fabrics (exclusive to them), offering custom-made blinds as well as installation for a fee. We've recently ordered some beautiful mango roman blinds for our spare bedroom as well as some wooden venetian blinds in time for our new kitchen, I cannot wait to see how they turn out!

Wooden venetian blinds from Pret a Vivre

And if that's not enough, Cross Street's neighbours Upper Street and Essex Road have SO much to offer. Except more in a future blog post!


+ NEW Escocesa Restaurant - Stoke Newington

After a lazy weekend hibernating in the warmth of our flat, we decided to go on a little jaunt to Stoke Newington. We live five minutes' walk away but this was our first visit there in months. What remains the same is the pace at which new places open up there, and the brand new Escocesa restaurant caught our eye. We knew it was new but hadn't realised it was less than a month old! Many of the staff from Escocesa  (according to this Instagram post) are from Barrafina, one of the top 100 restaurants in ALL of London. We weren't disappointed!

The interior:

Rugged with exposed brickwork and uneven plaster on the walls, the restaurant is stripped of  too much fess with exposed lightbulbs and heavy industrial pendants above a showstopping diner-style bar. From here, you can watch the chefs hard at work, or you can sit at the benches in the mid-section of the restaurant, or make your way to the dining room at the back.

Escocesa bar seating area.
Escocesa bar seating area.
Escocesa dining room at the back of the restaurant
Escocesa dining room at the back of the restaurant

The Food:

The brunch menu had an amazing selection of meat dishes, egg plates and did I mention the specials?! I hope the rib-eye with potatoes and padron peppers  is available one night soon as it seemed a tad too OTT for my Sunday brunch choice.

Weekend Brunch Menu at Escocesa, Stoke Newington (click on image to see larger, zoomable version)
Weekend Brunch Menu at Escocesa, Stoke Newington (click on image to see larger, zoomable version)

To start, we decided to share the jamon croquetas. I loved the presentation of them, resembling little lollipops thanks to the cocktail sticks, accompanied by finely sliced chives. I've tried my fair share of croquettes at Spanish restaurants and these surpassed any I've tried before!

We shared the jamon croquetas to start
Jamon croquetas
butifarra with white beans - catalan sausage
Butifarra with white beans - catalan sausage

For the main, Ned and I shared two dishes together - the butifarra with white beans and ali oli (catalan sausage), and then the revuelto de gambas (scrambled eggs with prawns).

revuelto de gambas
Revuelto de gambas on toast

Each dish was better than I could have imagined, and the staff were all really friendly and conscientious. This far surpassed Sunday brunch at other local places like The Tea Rooms. My next plan is to try out Escocesa one evening when their main menu is on offer. I'm particularly keen to try out the fried aubergine with walnuts & honey and the beetroot and smoke salt cod salad.

New Eateries on Church Street

There's an explosion of new restaurants, coffee shops and cafés on Stoke Newington Church Street, all of which I'm eager to add to my London bucket list:

Good Egg - Walking past here today, there was a queue of about 8 people waiting. Their weekend brunch menu is to die for, featuring the breakfast burrito, an Iraqi aubergine pitta and challah french toast with date syrup.

Fox & Pie - The red Fox Reformed wine bar shut down earlier this year, but walking past today I saw the Fox & Pie sign proudly up on the window. Snooping their Instagram feed it's looking like a 3rd December opening! According to The Dalstonist, "The pub and pie restaurant will be a new iteration of the Newman Arms & Pie Room in Fitzrovia".

Foxlow - We've been once in their opening month, but it was a bit chaotic (although the food was nice) so I'd love to revisit and assess them now that they've been up and running for a while.

The Teahouse Stokey - I walked past the Daniel Defoe pub today and it was covered up with scaffolding. Imagine my surprise when after a quick Google I find out that it's actually going to be a Teahouse. Thankfully, their website says that they'll offer "craft cask ales, a large selection of booze, a fantastic walled garden and some secrets we’re not telling anyone about yet"...  can't wait!


+ Istanbul City Break: The Walks of Turkey Tour

Walks of Turkey

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to attend a work offsite in Istanbul. Naturally I accepted the offer, although my excitement dipped a bit when I realised I'd have to wake up at 4am on my birthday to fly out! Ned came out to visit me the day after so that we could enjoy an Istanbul city break together.

I bagged a room at the Raffles Hotel in Istanbul, complete with a giant balcony as well as his n' hers sinks and the comfiest bed I've ever laid in. Downstairs there's a gorgeous spa area with a vitality pool, indoor pool and a row of loungers with complimentary Egyptian cotton towel to dry off.  Visiting Istanbul in October wasn't ideal with the rain only ceasing on our final day. But, it did mean we were lucky enough to take in a view of Bosphorus Bridge from our balcony:

Bosphorus bridge as seen from our Raffles hotel room

In order to see as much as possible with the one full day off while out there, we decided to take Walks of Turkey's Istanbul in a Day Tour which is essentially two of their tours rolled into one. You can easily see the sights without a tour guide, but the benefits are numerous:

1) They buy all tickets in advance so you can stroll past the queues

2) No need to worry about checking directions

3) The tour guide is on hand to answer any questions you have - our guide was extremely knowledgeable and helped really bring to life each attraction

4) Small group tour size of no more than 15. Ours was just five people!

Hagia Sophia

What an experience it is to step inside Hagia Sophia. The building (bear with me) is a church built on top of a church built on top of a Pagan temple, then turned mosque, now a museum.

Our guide was extremely knowledgeable of this architectural beauty and told us many, many facts about its history which really helped to bring it all alive. What really captured my imagination was how in one building I could witness Islamic influences such as the minbar (pulpit found in a mosque), mosaics of Jesus Christ, Greek graffiti and Viking scripture all at once! It also bore the scars of changing times - you can still see the crevices where gold plating was ransacked by 13th-century crusaders.

A great fact was how the portraits of seraphs (positioned in the arches underneath the domes) were painted in that position to symbolise the weight of the universe they carry on their shoulders. During the Muslim occupation of the space, the faces were actually covered. The faces we now see today were painted by the Fossati brothers from Switzerland in 1847.

Tip #1: Head to Hagia Sophia before 9am and make sure you're first in line. After security, walk straight into the main building before it gets clogged with other tourists

Tip #2: Don't forget to rotate your thumb inside the wishing column and make a wish while you're there!

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)

Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
This is a few minutes' walk from Hagia Sophia and is still in use by Muslims to this day. Because of this, you have to time your arrival at the Mosque so that it doesn't clash with prayer times.

Tip: Go on a weekday as the weekends see if fill up with lots of tourists.

Basilica Cisterns

Basilica Cisterns - Istanbul, Turkey
Again, we waltzed past the queues thanks to our tour guide and went underground to take in the sight of 336 illuminated pillars in a body of water. When the cisterns were first built, the faces on the two Medusa pillars would have been submerged under water. It's only now the body of water has decreased that we can see the faces.

Fuego Restaurant was our next step for a buffet lunch. The Turkish bread was still warm from the oven, and they served us stuffed aubergine and chicken and lamb kofte accompanied with some superb sauces. The cost of the lunch was included as part of the tour which is a nice bonus.

Grand Bazaar & Spice Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar hosts over 3000 stalls, selling gold jewellery, fake designer handbags, trinkets, lanterns, scarves, copperware ... the list goes on. We spent over an hour walking through both bazaars and surrounding streets and only really had five minutes to stop and purchase anything.

We did get a 10-minute reprieve to try out some pomegranate tea and various Turkish delights. After the spice bazaar, we walked down a hill and were then escorted up a flight of decrepit stairs towards a rooftop! The exact location (based on my phone GPS) is here on Google Maps if you want to discover it for yourself.

Tip: Visiting the place on your own (with the help of this map) and NOT as part of a group tour.


Staying in the brand new Zorlu Center, it was even more apparent to me what a city of contrasts Istanbul is. I can't wait to visit again one day so that I can hopefully to see it in warm weather, under a blue sky. Oh, and buy myself a Turkish rug. Thanks to The Blonde Abroad for her write-up of the tour - this actually convinced me to go with Walks of Turkey!


+ Malta Travel Tips: Blue Lagoon, Valletta, Mdina & More

Malta Travel Tips
I swear the best holidays are the kind you book last-minute and barely have a plan for! My friends sorted everything for this trip, but I almost redeemed myself with my incessant use of the Malta Travel Guide app by Triposo (Android/iOS) for the amazingly helpful offline maps and short summaries of local attractions. For my spin on Malta travel advice, keep on reading.

Sliema

This area is ideally situated to visit the cultural hotspots of Valetta and Mdina, and it was also just about walking distance to St Julian's, where all the nightlife happens. This AirBnB served us really well, if you ignore the slightly crap shower. Our AirBnB host also recommended eCabs to get there from the airport and the journey was barely 20 minutes door to door.

Tignes Point

This is the peninsula of Sliema and it's where you'll find all the main ferry services to Valetta, Gozo, Comino Bay as well as Sicily, which is apparently only an hour and a half away. If you're already starting to miss good old Britain, well fear not as there's a Marks & Sparks and BHS... not to mention a huge shopping mall called The Point on the peninsula (ironically full of winter clothes).

The real highlight of Tignes Point has to be the legend below - Mr Cocktail Van!

Mr Cocktail van at Tignes Point

As we walked down the harbour with a (slightly weak but nevertheless much appreciated) cocktail in hand, we had the pick of dozens of cruises. In the end we handed over 30€ to Supreme Cruises for a traditional harbour cruise and the Gozo, Comino, and Blue Lagoon Cruise. The traditional harbour cruise was a 'freebie' thrown in and we were super excited to set off, despite the 45-minute delay.

Another tip for you - don't bother with the traditional harbour cruise as one of the highlights of this cruise was the majestic cluster of oil rigs to which the guy with microphone commented 'we haven't found oil yet'.

Eating Out in Sliema:

Ta' Kris - What an epic last supper this place was. We found this gem of a place tucked away in a side-alley, we had no ides what food orgasm awaited us! My perfectly cooked rib-eye steak was washed down by a glass (or two) of my fave  Nero D'Avola red wine. Side note: the staff were really chatty and welcoming. The Irish waitress told us to say to her lovely son Donovan if we see him, as he's recently moved to London and is working at a wine bar near Borough Market. Well, we can't go back on our word so me and my friends  have a drinks date scheduled for "Operation Find Donovan" in Borough market very soon!

Surfside - probably one of the worst pizzas I've eaten in my life but it's a good place to catch the sport, and they also hand out cards to get a free bottle of wine with every 2 mains ordered.

Il Gabbana - This beachside bar is picture-perfect and does amazing smoothies, providing me a much-needed cure for my hangover! However, they served the french toast on what was essentially a hamburger bun, and my poached eggs were rock hard.

Valletta

Wow, what a beautiful gem this place was. Super quiet but everywhere you turn you see elderly people staring our of their windows as the world passes by, stairs arching off into the horizon and LOTS of galerijas (wooden balconies) to add some colour to the setting.

Republic Square

Once you get off the cruise, the best thing to do is aimlessly wander the cobbled streets. We did this and ended up in Republic Square where we swiftly stopped at Eddie's Cafe for a round of aperol spritzes and a quick bite to eat. The square itself has lots of space so worth stopping for an al fresco snack here.

Upper & Lower Barrakka Gardens, Valletta

Upper & Lower Barraka Gardens

This place offers a stunning view of the Grand Harbour, as well as some great photo opportunities among the arches with the ocean in the background.

There's a whole army of cute little cats and you'll also spot some rare tropical plants within the garden itself.

Top tip - get to the Upper Barrakka Gardens for midday so that you get to watch the saluting battery.

St. Julian's

Based on my stay, I can safely say that this place is the nightlife hub of the island.

  • There's some really fun Irish pubs. At The Dubliner we scored some amazingly cheap wine, and Cork's Irish Pub provided some of the most enjoyable karaoake sessions I've ever witnessed :)
  • If you have the energy, Triq San Gorg provides several nightclubs. The choice of establishments were a bit too "Magaluf" for us so we hastily departed and sought refuge in an Irish pub.
  • We ate out at Cafe Bocconchino but if we'd had a bit more spare dollar The Barracuda is meant to be one of the best for fine dining.
  • For balmy evenings, Piazza Cascata has an open-air bar but the cocktail we had was pretty weak :/

Mdina

Mdina is a medieval walled town that is at once rugged and beautiful. We were SO certain this was the place Cersei Lannister did the nude walk of shame in Game of Thrones, but turns out that was filmed in Croatia. Even so, the Mdina city gate is actually used for the King's Landing Gate:

Mdina doubles up as a filming location for King's Landing's Gate

The old city has such narrow cobbled streets that cars can barely fit round it, meaning your entire time spent in the walled city is super quiet and calming - its nicknamed the 'silent city' by the locals as a result. You can make like a medieval traveller and pay for a horse and carriage ride around too.

Mdina Cathedral took my breath away, taking centre stage in the quiet St Paul's Square. Even more amazing for us, a wedding ceremony was taking place and so the cathedral had a beautiful white carpet rolled out. A few tourists (us included) also poked our heads in to see the stunning bride and groom.

St Paul's Square, Mdina

Gozo, Comino & the Blue Lagoon

Malta's sister island Gozo has some areas of natural beauty to offer, but a few hours there as part of our sightseeing bus tour did the job. The main sight we saw was the Azure Window, as well as few derelict houses along the way... nothing else was all that memorable to be honest.

According to Trip Advisor there are only three attractions on Comino Island, with the Blue Lagoon being the #1 choice. For me, it's the standout destination from my whole Malta trip, despite the fact it's full of tourists and we only spent an hour or two there. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Blue Lagoon, Comino, Malta