Friday, 24 November 2017

My Dream Winter Destination - Cortina D' Ampezzo Italy

Italy is my dream winter destination. I was lucky enough to spend some time in the Italian Dolomites last year just before Christmas and I wished I had stayed longer. Snow topped mountains, warm friendly people, amazing food, this is why it is my ideal winter destination.

Cortina D'Ampezzo Italy

The Dolomites is a beautiful range of mountains and home to some lovely towns like Cortina D'Ampezzo.

Cortina D' Ampezzo, is a great place to go skiing, but over 70% of Italian visitors don't come here for skiing, they come for the glamorous life. Corso Italia is the main pedestrianised street lined by chic shops selling clothes, jewellery, delectable food, a couple of wonderful cafes selling THE BEST hot chocolate and a smattering of restaurants.

The soaring church at the heart of the town is picture book perfect and adds to the atmosphere, at Christmas, it is lit up with luminous stars and snowflakes.

I love the hotels here, all gorgeous inside and out like the amazing fashion boutique hotel, Hotel Ambra Cortina, I stayed at last year. My dream would be to have a home here, in a destination remote enough to have some peace but close enough to the nearest restaurants and bars to have fun!

Now I thought long and hard about how I would decorate it, but in some ways, I'm a traditionalist at heart, so I've gone for muted tones, and a classic style with white, beige, faux fur and silver. A sort of Scandi style, but also fitting with a modern chic chalet in Italy. Think whitewashed walls, white floorboards, with the odd rustic touch.

I love this Julian Charles, white wish tree reversible duvet. In a brushed cotton, it would keep me cosy when it's cold outside. and what a beautiful design too.

For my lounge, I would choose a lovely faux fur throw and some fluffy faux fur cushions. The mix of grey, brown and cream cushions fits perfectly into a chalet and the Scandi design. I adore snuggling under a faux fur throw when it's snowing outside, drinking a cup of hot chocolate and eating delicious cookies. Do you?

This Christmas star tea light glass jar is super cute and adds a Christmassy touch, whilst being an amazing bargain at only £3.50 too. Even though I like a lux lifestyle I always keep my eye out for a bargain.

All that is left is to get some delicious foodie treats, like some Italian panettone, and then it's time to cuddle up to my husband on the sofa watching It's A Wonderful Life.  

You can read my review of Hotel Ambra Cortina here, and find out what we got up to in Cortina D'Ampezzo, on the travel blog I write with my husband Fly Drive Explore.

Cortina D'Ampezzo is my dream winter destination, what is yours?

Tell me how would you #EscapeForWinter?


Thursday, 23 November 2017

Pay It Forward With A Random Act Of Kindness

At Christmas especially, I am always aware of how lucky I am. When my family has so much - a roof over our heads, appropriate clothing for the weather, plenty of food in the cupboards and love and affection it makes me think of those less fortunate. 

Generally, we are lucky on the whole in the Western world. Our countries may not be perfect, certainly, there is still poverty and there is homelessness, and health care may not be free in some countries, like the US, but we can access clean water, we don't have to worry about drought and hunger generally or affording a basic level of education. 

Because I feel so lucky, every so often, I like to 'pay it forward'.  The 'pay it forward' concept means doing a good deed for someone as you have had a good deed done for you. A random act of kindness so to speak.

Once upon a time when my son was small I was going through a divorce and a rough time. One day, just before Christmas, I had a knock on my door. A lovely hamper of goodies appeared on my doorstep and a note from the Christian playgroup he attended.  They knew we were going through a difficult time and gave us a gift which really helped. The playgroup was an excellent playgroup and helped my son so much, that is why I picked it, not because of the Christian ethos. Actually, I am not a religious person really but this concept, of 'pay it forward', isn't about religion, it's about caring for other people, about making them smile, about giving them a treat and about providing them with something unexpected, and/ or providing them with something that is really needed.

Since then I have tried to pay it forward by doing a random act of kindness now and again. So this Christmas why don't you start your own 'pay it forward'? Instead of buying an advent calendar, why not donate something to the local food bank, instead of giving an expensive gift to your husband, give a smaller gift and make a regular donation in his name to Oxfam. Even something small like leaving enough cash to buy a coffee for the person behind you in a cafe queue can really brighten someone's day. 

Let me know, have you ever paid kindness forward? 

*PR collaboration


Throw a Handyman Into the Fray While You’re Away

We’ve all got that little something we’d love to change about our homes – whether it be a new kitchen, roof repairs, a leaky tap or a minor electrical fault. There’s a catch though; you’re constantly on the move, and you’d rather not have the time you do spend at home interrupted by noise or hassle.

It’s a common problem nowadays, and one that’s only worsened if you travel a lot. Many people don’t want the hassle of getting out the tool kit, or worrying about their DIY ventures being inadequate. If you want to kill two birds with one stone, however, the most efficient way to go about it, is to organise your jobs around the home to coincide with the time you spend away from home.

Handy Squad is an experienced team of professionals devoted to a wide range of home-improvement practices; no matter the task, the best handyman in London are Handy Squad plumbers, electricians, carpenters and decorators – all ready to handle a massive selection of tasks and odd jobs in and around the house.

Whether on business or pleasure, the time you spend away is the perfect moment to have jobs like these done. Handy Squad can handle anything you throw at them since no job is ever too big or too small. If you have any doubts, check out the Evening Standard’s take on them.

Best of all, everything can be arranged to be completed before you arrive home, which gives you more time to relax in your spare time. After all, to arrive home with the job complete is the ultimate hassle-free lifestyle. has a brief rundown of some services offered by Handy Squad, so if you’re interested in having a handyman solve your home-related issues while you travel, see their article for more details. And if you don’t mind having work done while you’re present, they’re a lovely, efficient bunch who won’t steer you wrong.

This article was written by David Newman, owner of Ad Lab, a digital marketing agency specialising in eCommerce and company expansion. David enjoys perusing lifestyle topics, and regularly contributes to blogs like these with a strong cup of coffee close by.

*Guest post

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

How To Prepare For Guests Over Christmas

Christmas is a truly magical time of year until you remember that everyone (and their dog) is coming to your home. Whilst we’re sure you’re looking forward to spending time with your guests, it can be very easy to fret when you wonder if you have space for everyone.

The host has a lot to do, from somehow conjuring up a Christmas feast (usually catering to multiple dietary requirements) to making sure everyone has a comfortable bed and everything they need.

With that in mind, we advise that you plan ahead, but don’t get carried away. The essentials will be covered in the next 6 points, and going beyond that is entirely up to you and your commitments. Your guests are here to see you, so don’t fall into the trap of working so hard to make your home into a hotel that you are too busy to relax!

1. Check in with your guests before they arrive

As well as the time and day of arrival, check in about food likes and dislikes, allergies and sleep preferences. It doesn’t need to be an interrogation, but it will help you plan.

If one visiting couple get up at 6am every day, and another are late risers, then which one would you choose to give the sofa bed in the living room and which the spare room? It would make more sense to give the late risers the living room - they are less likely to be frustrated about not being able to go to bed earlier if the living room is still in use in the evenings.

Knowing about food preferences and allergies is a simple thing, but it can really take the pressure off of you. Nothing worse than realising that you’ve made mac n cheese for someone with lactose intolerance!

2. Do a quick clean

Don’t feel like you need to go into full spring cleaning mode, but do make sure you have vacuumed and dusted in the rooms that will be used, especially if they are spare rooms and don’t get used too often.

Consider some scented candles or flowers (make sure you’ve checked for allergies, first!) and make sure the place looks and smells clean. If you have time a tray of tea and biscuits are always welcome.

3. Think about space

We’ve already talked a little about how to decide where your guests should sleep, but don’t forget about storage! If they’re in a living room or office, is there space for them to store their bags?

If you have a spare room, is there a little space in a wardrobe or chest of drawers for guests? Even if you normally have it full of things, see if you can clear out some space for your guests to organise their belongings and hang up clothes to avoid creasing.

4. Do a little meal planning

Whether you’re an expert meal planner, or normally just plan on the go, you will need to consider a plan for Christmas dining. This is especially true when you are expecting guests!

Any good Christmas cookbook usually contains helpful plans to help you have as much of Christmas dinner ready as possible before the big day, but don’t forget about all the other, more ‘normal’ days your guests will be there for.

What do your visitors like for breakfast, for example? Some people have cereal, others like toast, and it is a great idea to check in and ask about these things, especially if you wouldn’t normally buy breakfast things at all!

5. Final Touches

Make sure you have fresh bedding and lay out plenty of blankets. Some people are cold sleepers and will be grateful for them.

In the bathroom that the guests are using, make sure there are plenty of towels (and guests know which ones to use) and if you can, make sure that toiletries are on display too - things like toothpaste, shower gel, face wipes and hand lotion.

If your spare room doesn’t have great curtains, consider also a couple of eye-masks for sleeping. However, if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, a surplus of daylight at this time of year is, unfortunately, not usually a problem!

6. And now, allow yourself to relax!

You have done all the prep you can, so don’t worry about whether your living room is looking outdated or if you have enough crockery. Get some paper plates for emergencies, pull a few crackers and raise a toast to yourself, because you are doing a fantastic job!

Are you hosting this Christmas? What are your top tips for welcoming guests into your home? Let us know in the comments!

Bio: Sara works for Storage Vault, a Scottish self-storage company. We love helping you organise things, from Christmas decorations to summer clothes. For more top tips on storing and planning, check out our blog.

*Guest post


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Want That Must Have Gadget This Christmas? Try The Extreme Beast RC Car

Getting a cool gift as a present for that gadget lover in your family can be difficult. Maybe it's an older child and they've written you a Christmas list or given you some heavy hints.  Perhaps they've asked for that must have console game, a new smartphone, or that must have brand of clothing. But you want to give them a surprise.  Maybe it's your partner and they just love playing with gadgets and they're a child at heart.

So to stop you wracking your brains, I have the ideal present here, something that's fun, something that the whole family can enjoy too, and the perfect surprise gift - a remote control car. However, this is not any remote control car, it's an EXTREME beast RC car from Hawkins Bazaar.

The Extreme Beast RC car looks the business. Firstly it has big sturdy wheels, then it has a bumper of flashing lights and lastly, it comes in some great colours, namely bright orange or luminous green and orange.

Just by looking at it you know it will be fun to drive!

It goes off-road like a dream, due to its spring suspension, and huge sporting TPE tyres. The tyres are pretty good, and the car will go over grass, rocks and through light puddles. Perfect for racing around on most terrain.

Using the controller which has a piston grip, this proportional speed control is so easy to us and the grip has a quick response so that novice drivers can learn to control the car in no time.

Battery charge is good, it has a 7.4ah rechargeable battery pack, and it charges from flat in about 2 hours and then an hour for subsequent charges. Pretty decent for an RC car.

They say that this car has increased protection from signal interference. What that means is that it can run alongside up to 16 other RC vehicles so if you want a 'car off' - a race with other RC enthusiasts, then there should be no problems encountered.

Manufactured by Maisto Toys, a specialist in die-cast collectables and radio control vehicles, the car is of good quality for the price and a cool design.

The Extreme Beast RC car, is great fun, performs well off-road and is a bargain on sale at £39.99. 

I think this is a remote control car that all the family will love and a car that is great for gadget lovers and speed freaks everywhere this Christmas. It's the sort of car that mums, dads, granddads and grans can have fun with, on Christmas morning, showing the little ones how it works.  Just be sure to get it back from them, eh kids?! It's not too expensive either. Check out the video below to see how it performs.

If you are looking for that surprise gift, I have just two words to say "Buy it!".

*PR collaboration

Best Christmas Markets in the UK

Can you believe that it’s almost Christmas? It won’t be long until you’re popping up the Christmas tree with your little ones and cleaning up the mess made by your devilish elf-on-the-shelf. But Christmas isn’t Christmas until you attend some Christmas markets, although sometimes it can be a struggle to find the best ones.

Remember to wrap up warm when venturing out to some of our top picks! You’ll be singing some of your favourite carols in no time!

With the help of Stagecoach, who offer cheap bus fares, here is a look at some of the best Christmas markets in the UK.

Newcastle upon Tyne

Newcastle transforms into a winter wonderland at Christmas time, with decorations travelling down the long and narrow street to create that festive feeling for the people of the city. The market is located at the top of Grey Street, just under Grey’s Monument where you can find wooden huts that are built and decorated specially for the Christmas period.

But what does the market have on offer? What makes it different? The Newcastle Christmas Market brings cultures together and celebrates differences, perfect for small children wanting to experience a big world. Tradesmen and women from across Europe come to bring a touch of their country to Newcastle – you’ll get to witness one of the best atmospheres in the country during this festive time. From foods to ornamental items, you’ll be spoilt for choice with what you can purchase. You might even find the perfect gift for that special person. If you’re into Ice Skating, head down to the Centre for Life to show off your skills in Times Square!

Open: 11th December – 17th December


For 12 years now, the German Christmas Market in Birmingham has been a top attraction to those wanting to venture outside of their own city and travel to a spectacular Christmas market. Located in Victoria Square, it makes a beautiful setting for any family photograph – lights descend down the centred fountain and the iconic carousel is at the top of the steps creating an uncanny version of Santa Claus’ Village.

With a collected 180 stalls, you’re bound to see something unconventional. You might even be able to snatch up a unique gift for your little one, whether this is a piece of jewellery or a handmade toy – make sure your other half distracts them whilst you make the purchase. Grab a hot chocolate with marshmallows and have a stroll around the village.

Open: 17th November – 29th December


Indulge yourself in the historic culture of Lincoln by attending their Xmas market or over 280 stalls surrounded by the iconic castle and cathedral – allowing your little ones to have a real sense of magic on your family trip out. From freshly cooked food to some of the most exceptional gifts, you’ll be able to experience something different from this market that will make you want to return the next year.

Not only are new stalls put up outside, but shops along the cobbled streets come outdoors to sell their products too! Creating the perfect atmosphere up the steep bank. Not only can you shop in the market, whether this is for hot food or baked treats, you can also take a trip on the big wheel and other fairground rides – once you get high enough, you might be able to spot one of Santa Claus’ elf in the crowd – so make sure you’re on your best behaviour to remain on this year’s good list. Although the duration of this market isn’t long, it’s worth going!

Open: 7th December – 10th December


Take a trip to Exeter this year to discover the magnificent Christmas market on the West Front of the Cathedral – creating an enchanted atmosphere. With the Cathedral towering over, you will be able to take a long walk around the different wooden huts and experience something from each continent of the world – perfect for introducing your kids to different cultures.

Unlike previous years, the Exeter Christmas Market will now have a bandstand which will host the entertainment for the evening – with local bands, singers and choirs spreading the magical spirit by singing some of our favourite Christmas carols that allow the kids to get involved. If you can’t get enough of Christmas markets in Exeter, there’s two more – one on Castle Street and Fore Street – don’t be afraid to pop down and indulge yourself in more Christmassy treats and I’m sure your little ones would be more than up for it.

Open: 16th November – 17th December


If you’re heading to the capital this Christmas, why not take a trip to the Winter Wonderland situated in Hyde Park. Full of festivity, there’s nothing that you and your family can’t do at this market, from ice skating to circus’ and even Cinderella on Ice, whatever your family desires is available here – although booking is strongly advised as there is a high demand of certain activities and attractions.

There’s no excuse not to attend the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland as it remains open after Christmas has ended! Remember to take your camera and capture plenty of selfies, you don’t want to miss the moment where your little's one’s face light up when meeting Santa Claus himself. Once you’ve tackled the magical kingdom of Winter Wonderland, why not take a stroll to Buckingham Palace to take photographs outside of the iconic landmark – you might even see the Queen if you’re lucky!

Open: 17th November – 1st January

So, what Christmas market will you be heading to this year? 

*PR Collaboration

Monday, 20 November 2017

Five Reasons To Visit Dundee Scotland

Are you thinking of visiting Scotland for a long weekend? Or perhaps you've been to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and you're looking for another location for a holiday in Scotland. If so, have you thought about paying a visit to Dundee?

Dundee is the fourth largest city in Scotland, and there's plenty to see and do while you are there. Here are just five of the many reasons to visit Dundee:

It's easy to travel to Dundee

Dundee is about an hour away from Glasgow by rail, and there are trains every hour from Glasgow's Queen Street Station. Glasgow airport is served by flights from many UK airports, making Dundee a really easy destination to get to.

Once you get there, you'll find plenty of hotels to suit every budget, including brands such as DoubleTree by Hilton, Malmaison, and Apex.

History around every corner

There is history literally around every corner when you visit Dundee. Take a walk through the city centre, and you'll come across a plaque marking the site of Dundee Castle, an important location in the story of William Wallace and Scottish history.

Near the train station, you'll find the Discovery Centre. There, you can go aboard the RSS Discovery which took Captain Scott and his crew on their expedition to the Antarctic. Or go further back in maritime history when you visit the 19th Century warship HM Frigate Unicorn in the City Quay. Dundee has plenty of other museums to keep you occupied, such as the McManus art gallery and museum and the Verdant Works. And Scotland's first design museum, the V&A Museum, will be opening in Dundee in 2018.

A touch of childhood nostalgia

Dundee is the home of The Beano and The Dandy comics, both of which were published by local publishers DC Thomson. While you're walking around the city centre, keep an eye out for Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx. You may also spot a sign for Bash Street, in honour of the Bash Street Kids.

The View from the Dundee Law

During your visit to Dundee, don't forget to take a walk up to the Dundee Law, an extinct volcano which overlooks the city.

It's around a mile from the city centre and is quite steep if you walk straight up it. For a gentler but longer walk, there is an alternative pathway which takes you around the hill. When you make it up to the top of the Law, you will be rewarded with a wonderful view. Look out over the city below you, the Firth of the River Tay, and the countryside beyond.

Fantastic Scottish Food

After all that walking, you'll definitely deserve to treat yourself to some of Dundee's fine food. Scottish beef is famously excellent, and you can enjoy a wonderful Angus steak while you are visiting Dundee. You'll find everything from fine dining at Collinson's, to fish and chips at Murray's in Broughty Ferry.

And if you feel like indulging in a sweet treat, then head to The Parlour for coffee and a slice of chocolate cake!

And there's so much more to explore while you're visiting Dundee. It's a great location for a long weekend or a perfect stop on a longer visit to Scotland.

* Guest post by Sally Akins. Sally writes at, a travel, food and lifestyle blog for the over-40s.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Car Safety And Maintenance In Winter

Now that the winter months are rolling in, it is important to be vigilant about a number of things. This includes car safety and maintenance - roads can be much trickier to drive on during the winter so you want to make sure your car is 100% roadworthy before taking it out. You also don’t want to be stuck on the side of the motorway in the freezing cold just because you have forgotten to do some simple checks. Here are some quick tips on car safety and maintenance for the winter months.

Check the condition of your tyres

It is essential that your tyres are in good condition no matter what time of year it is but you want to be sure they are in perfect condition when it comes to winter. Driving conditions can often be wet and icy and you don’t want your tyre condition to be the cause of an accident. The legal minimum depth is 1.6mm but most places recommend a minimum of 3mm during the winter months, just to be on the safe side.

Is your battery ok?

Batteries can be the banes of our life - running out and leaving us stranded in random places. It would be horrid to get stuck in the freezing cold with no battery to drive anywhere or even heat up the car. Give your battery the once over to check it is running as it should be. If you feel you couldn’t be too sure if your battery is ok, perhaps take your car to your nearest Kwik Fit and they will be able to help you out.

Antifreeze is your friend

Make sure you always have antifreeze to hand. Top up your engine coolant with antifreeze as topping up with water dilutes the engine coolant over time. During winter, the diluted mixture will freeze so adding some antifreeze should stop this happening. Also top up your screen washer fluid with some antifreeze too.

Be prepared

Should the worst happen and you do get stranded, make sure you at least have a winter breakdown kit to hand. This should include a shovel in case you need to shovel snow, a torch, blanket, hi-visibility vest, extra screenwash, a scraper and some de-icer. Maybe also pack some food and drink supplies in case you are there for longer than expected. Make sure you have at least half a tank of fuel in case of any delays and enough oil too. Also, make sure your phone is fully charged whenever you set off on a journey.

Check your windscreen and other parts

Make sure there are no chips in your windscreen as these can grow in the cold weather. If you know how to (some people don’t), check everything brake related to make sure they are working to full functionality too.

Finally...know what you’re covered for

You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who don’t know what their car insurance covers them for. With winter being a prime time for accidents and damage to motor vehicles, ensure you know just what your insurance will and won’t pay out on. Comprehensive cover should, as the name suggests, be comprehensive - but so many people go for third party, fire and theft and then wonder why they aren’t covered in certain occasions. Be completely sure of what policy you have.

Do you have any more tips for car safety and maintenance during these cold winter months?

*PR collaboration

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Group Activities In Bath And The Surrounding Areas

Bath is a city that needs no introduction, but it's such an awesome destination so I am going to provide you with one anyway!

Bath is a historical Georgian and Roman city situated in the West of England approximately 100 miles west of London. As a weekend getaway destination Bath packs in a serious amount of sights and activities. It's not surprising that Bath features on many itineraries of overseas visitors to the UK. It's a must-see place after London! The focus of this article will be on group activities.

Situated where it is, close to the larger regional capital of Bristol, but also surrounded by gorgeous countryside, Bath is a great base for fun activities that lie just a few miles outside of the city. For instance, if you are looking for Bath activities that are active as well as fun then consider a local outfit such as West Country Games, more information later.

In the city itself, one of the must-do activities is a visit to the Thermae Spa, which happens to be the only place in the UK where you can bathe in hot natural waters. The spa is situated near to the original Roman baths which made Bath so famous. The Thermae Spa has an indoor and rooftop pool, the latter of which is particularly popular in the summer months and comes with an amazing view of the city. Packages for adults start at £26 with group discounts possible too.

When it comes to tours then Bath truly reigns supreme! As one might expect from a city that receives millions of visitors, tours come in all shapes and sizes. There are of course the ubiquitous open top bus tours which will take you around the main sites. However, there are also numerous other specialist tours, such as pub and bar crawls, historical tours and even spooky ghost tours (particularly popular with groups).

Some tours go beyond the city boundary such as day trips to the World Heritage site of Stonehenge. If you are in a group then you can always go on a customised tour somewhere like the nearby Cotswolds area. You could perhaps spend half the day touring the chocolate box villages and then go for something more active and visit The Cotswold Water Park where you'll find various aquatic activities.

Another out of town activity and an excellent idea for a group would be partaking in the crazy activities hosted by West Country Games. WCG are based just outside Bristol but are easily accessible from Bath too. The locally run outfit provides nine different activities all packaged up in an It's a Knockout style bundle. Games are on a West Country theme with prizes awarded. They are particularly popular with Stag and Hen weekends and booking far in advance is recommended, particularly in the summer months.

Back into the city now and one popular Bath activity is cycling. Okay, I confess there are plenty of hills in Bath, so it might not be everyone's idea of fun, but there are plenty of routes that won't leave you gasping for air! One of the most popular rides to undertake is the Bristol and Bath Railway Path which journeys through several villages between the two cities.

The distance one way is around 13 miles but don't despair, the popular thing to do is to travel back on the train with your bike. The route follows an old railway line and is mainly off road outside of the cities. It's a superb group activity because there are numerous places to stop off and relax including some very nice country pubs!

If cycling 13 miles is far too energetic for you then why not get yourself along to the Bath Rugby ground. Bath RUFC play in the top English division, the Aviva Premiership, and often compete in European games too. The venue is very atmospheric and is situated right next to the River Avon close to the heart of the city.

Matches are played most other weekends from roughly October through to May. Game tickets start from a very reasonable £15 and can be booked in advance online. Indeed if you are taking a group then you should book as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment as matches are often sell outs.

I can certainly recommend Bath as an action-packed destination. The city will appeal to everyone and on top of lots of activities, there are also heaps of bars, pubs and top class restaurants galore.

Bath itself is very compact and easy to get around on foot and the main train station is right in the City Centre.

As you'd expect Bath is not short of places to rest your weary head. Everything from backpacker hostels to world-class luxury hotels can be found in the city. If you are planning on going in the high season then book as much as possible ahead, particularly hotels and activities.

*Guest post by Anthony Page

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Antwerp - The City Of Diamonds - Part 1

There are a lot of diamonds in Antwerp. In fact, I could probably say it’s the diamond capital of the world. So when I was invited to visit Antwerp to celebrate the city as being part of the diamond trade worldwide for more than 500 years, I could hardly say no could I?

This year there are a number of initiatives to celebrate the history of diamonds in Antwerp since 1447. So I flew over to Antwerp as part of a press trip with the tourist board Visit Antwerp to find out more.  Those of you that have been readers for a while may know that I used to own a third generation family jewellers and that is how The Diary Of A Jewellery Lover blog came about. So with my love of diamonds and also travel I was in the lucky position to be chosen for this trip. 

So a quick 55-minute flight to Amsterdam from Cardiff and then a two-hour journey on the train to Antwerp meant it was almost quicker to get to Antwerp than to go to London by car for me from South Wales. There are flights direct to Antwerp from London City Airport so if you live in this part of the world it is even easier to get there, and of course, you can also get there from London on Eurostar.

Did you know Lonely Planet's Best In Travel 2018 named Antwerp as one of northern Europe's best-kept secrets? So I was excited when I arrived for my two-night stay.

I got to Antwerp late on a Saturday night and walked the short 15-minute journey to my hotel. I felt totally safe walking to the hotel, but I obviously kept my wits about me in an unfamiliar place.

My stay for the trip would be at Hotel Franq. This boutique luxury hotel really has the wow factor when you enter. A gorgeous lobby with beautiful flowers, comfortable sofas and chic decor greets you. Check in was quick and efficient and before long I was in my room.

The room at Hotel Franq are well appointed and exceptionally comfortable. A large king sized bed graced the room, which also had a desk and chair, as well as a comfortable armchair. The bathroom had double sinks, a rainfall shower and luxury toiletries as well as a large flat screen TV. Little touches in the room such as complimentary water, an espresso coffee machine and a Marshall Bluetooth enabled radio set the room apart from other boutique hotels I have stayed in recently. 

The decor was simple but very well done, and the quality of the furnishings appeared to be exceptional. A dash of colour added some vibrancy to the room which was in muted shades of cream and beige.

That night I slept well and in the morning went down to breakfast.

Hotel Franq prides itself on using high quality and local ingredients in its restaurant. Continental breakfast was included and involved a variety of bread, homemade jam and homemade granola, whole yoghurt, meat and cheese, boiled eggs, and fresh orange juice with tea or coffee. If you wanted something more substantial then you could choose from avocado on toast, smoked salmon and other delights at an additional charge. If you want to read more about my review of Hotel Franq be sure to check it out.

The morning was at leisure so I decided to just wander the city and to take in some of the sights. When people in the UK think of Belgium we often think of Bruges with its magnificent architecture or Brussels being the centre of the EU, well I know I do, but Antwerp appears to have some great sights too and gorgeous architecture. One of my first stops was at the Grote Markt in the heart of the old city. This large public square is lined with picturesque traditional buildings including the City Hall. The City Hall is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. In front of the City Hall is a statue of Silvias Brabo. 

Legend has it that Silvius Brabo put an end to a giant that was terrorising Antwerp by vanquishing the giant and casting his hand into the river by way of revenge. According to the legend, this is where Antwerp got his name ‘hand werpen’ literally meaning “to throw a hand”. A fountain and statue in front of the City hallmark the importance of this story in the founding of the city of Antwerp.

As I strolled around Antwerp, I came to the main shopping street called Meir. As it was early on a Sunday most shops were closed. However, the shopping area looked great and contained a number of household names such as Zara, and H & M.

Just behind the main shopping street, I came across a large open-air market selling all manner of items, from fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables to stalls selling delicious smelling waffles and distinctive smelly cheese, as well as clothes, bags and other items.

Belgium is known for its waffles so I was keen to try these out later in my trip. 

Close to this area was the world-renowned Rubens House, a museum of the artwork of Peter Paul Rubens, known for his Baroque style of art. Admission costs 8 euros to get in for adults 25-65, concessions 6 Euros and free for certain groups. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit but I thought the cost was reasonable.

Time to return to the hotel before meeting everyone for lunch, but on my way back I saw the most wonderful chocolate shop called The Chocolate LineIt certainly looked THE place to go for artisan chocolates. I mean look at the cake above and the chocolate frog below!

A leisurely stroll back to the hotel and before I knew it I was back. Sylvia and Anja from Visit Antwerp had arranged to meet the press here and had arranged lunch for us all. 
Lunch was seafood bisque that was full of flavour followed by poached salmon in a light hollandaise sauce, that was utterly delicious and beautifully presented.

All finished with a selection of petit fours, all utterly delectable in their own way.

After our lunch, we took a short 15-minute walk to the MAS Museum

The MAS Museum otherwise known as the Museum aan de Stroom is a museum located along the river Scheldt in the Eilandje district of Antwerp, Belgium. It opened in May 2011 and is the largest museum in Antwerp. We were here to visit the newly open Dazzling Desire exhibition, which looks at how diamonds are linked to our emotions. 

 Diamond boots believed to be the worlds most expensive valued at 3.2 million dollars in 2014
Designed by Belgian fashion label AF Vandevorst

Themes of status, power, love, eternal life and wealth are woven throughout the exhibition. Stand out pieces include Mary of Burgundy’s engagement ring, the impressive Our Lady’s Jubilee crown, and the Cartier tiara worn by Queen Elisabeth of Belgium. 
Some beautiful original pieces also included these diamond boots above believed to be the most expensive in the world.

C.B. II by Subodh Gupta, 2009. Materials: Stainless steel, stainless steel utensils, neon, lightbox, fibreglass
Private Collection Switzerland

With a mix of original precious diamonds as well as models of diamond jewellery, showing incredible detail, make this exhibition well worth visiting if you have an interest in fashion, jewellery or diamonds. The admission price of between 8 and 10 euros is affordable too. Catch it when you can until 14th January 2018.

Crown of the Infant Jesus, Antwerp, 1899 Gold, Emerald, pearls, Ruby and diamond
Cathedral-Chapel of our Lady of Praise Antwerp

While you are here you can also see the other permanent exhibitions, and don't forget to go to the top floor and take a panoramic photo if the weather is good, which unfortunately it wasn't when I visited. 

A quick stop next to the Brilliant Foodies festival with stalls of street food, then back to Hotel Franq.

That evening we ate at restaurant RAS. This modern chic restaurant is perfectly positioned overlooking the water and designed by leading architect Bon Van Reeth. 

My starter was croquettes which are a speciality of the restaurant, made with tiny brown shrimps, onto a prawn linguine in a tomato sauce and then Creme Brulee.

The food was delicious, tasty and well presented and I have to say I really enjoyed my meal. The ambience of the restaurant was lovely too. Upscale but relaxed. It was busy but service was efficient and staff were welcoming, helpful, and explained any queries we had with smiled all around.

As I was in Belgium I had to try the local beer too! Considering I am not a beer drinker it went down well and was a great end to the meal.

pin for later

So it was with full stomachs, our party returned to our hotel to rest before day two tomorrow, where we would visit a high-end jeweller and the Antwerp Diamond Centre as well as hear about the new Diva diamond exhibition. 

There was so much to see in Antwerp in one day, so be sure to catch my day two very soon on my blog.

*I was a guest of Visit Antwerp. Silvius Brabo statue CC Wikimedia 


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