Tag Archives: Travel

The photo guide to the Basque Coutry

The most frequent question I am asked is recently is: “Where are you travelling these days?”. But at the moment, I am not travelling because it so happens that several of my closest friends decided to visit London at the same time and I have the pleasure of hosting them here. While I am enjoying spending time in London with my wonderful friends, a little part of me is missing travel.

As I go out for Spanish food third time in the past four days, I can’t help thinking it may be time to go for a weekend break in Spain. My last trip to Spain was in summer (seems like a very long time ago), when I visited the Basque Country, but for some reason I only got round to organisimg my photos from this trip last weekend. This brought back a lot of beautiful and tasty memories. I decided to share these on my blog.

For those who don’t know it, the Basque Country is very different to the rest of Spain. To begin with, the climate reminds me of mild, foggy and ever changing British weather, even in summer. The language is very different too; although Spanish is widely spoken, the official Basque language has no resemblance to Spanish.

While sunny weather may not be the main reason to go to the Basque Country, there are many other reasons to visit this part of Spain. And the good thing is the Basque Country has a lot to offer all year round.

Art and architecture is definitely one reason to visit the region. You will have heard about the Guggenheim in Bilbao. This should be enough to convince anyone the city is worth of a visit. But Bilbao also has many other beautiful examples of modern architecture – I particularly like the bridges that connect the city’s two parts, divided by the river. Bilbao has an equally impressive old town. It is a city with a lot of character and a great architectural variety.

For those who prefer art nouvea architecture, I definitely recommend San Sebastian, a nearby seaside resort town, perhaps the Basque Country’s most famous attraction. I had fallen in love with this town even before I visited it for the first time after reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”. This book was recommended to me by my friend Ashlea before our first trip to San Sebastian many year ago. It beautifully captures the town’s 1920s atmosphere – one of my favorite periods in history.

But the main reason to visit this part of the world is food, in my opinion. And I am not alone in thinking this; many claim the Basque cuisine is one of the best in Europe. The region is known for one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-star restaurants per person in Europe. From traditional pintxos (Basque version of tapas) to experimental dining – the Basque Country is a gastronomic paradise.

Visitors and locals are spoilt for choice. Practically everywhere you will find tasty local food. The biggest challenge is making a choice. I think a good place to start is to decide whether you want traditional food or nouvelle cuisine. It is worth noting that the Basques eat later than many other European countries; you are unlikely to find a restaurant that is even open between 3pm and 8pm.

San Sebastian

San Sebastian has a certain elegance to it but the vibe is fun and relaxed. I love taking a walk along the sea during the day, especially on Paseo Nuevo, and walking around the old town, going in and out of pintxos bars, at night. Here I captured some of my favorite places in San Sebastian.

Bilbao

Bilbao has an equally impressive food scene. It is a bigger city, distances are longer and people look busier, but there is still a friendly vibe to it despite the industrial exterior. There is an ample choice of stylishly designed restaurants serving new Basque cuisine.

Advertisements

Exploring fashion and design in Antwerp

For a small historic European city with medieval architecture Antwerp is surprisingly cool and avant-garde. Belgium’s second largest city and Europe’s second largest port, Antwerp is rightfully referred to as the fashion capital ever since the 1980s when it was put on the international fashion map by the “Antwerp Six”, six Belgian fashion designers – Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Marina Yee, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene – who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and shook the fashion world with their avant-garde designs. Today, the Royal Academy in Antwerp is one of the best in the world. And this, in my opinion, has a major impact on this small city and its eclectic style.

I discovered Antwerp in 2000 when I moved to Belgium. One thing I immediately noticed was Antwerp’s very distinct character and attitude that makes it stand out among all other Belgian cities in term of atmosphere and style. Antwerp’s style is bolder, brighter, edgier. For years, I have been visiting Antwerp like a local. First, when I lived in Brussels, I went there for shopping or clubbing, two things Antwerp is known for in Belgium. Then, after I moved to London, I came back regularly to visit friends. But during these visits I rarely took the time to explore the city, as it often happens with cities we know, preferring house parties and dinners to discovering new places. So this year I decided to see this beautiful and vibrant city as a first time visitor.

There are many reasons to visit Antwerp: classical Flemish art, beautiful architecture – from medieval to baroque to art deco and modern – vibrant café culture and nightlife, delicious food, chocolate and, for some, hundreds of varieties of Belgian beer.

I went to Antwerp several weeks ago intending to explore its unique fashion and design scene and get fresh style ideas. By “fashion scene” I don’t mean high street shopping; Belgian fashion often resembles creations of art and shopping is similar to walking into art galleries.

My Antwerp shopping experience definitely felt more like a gallery crawl. Most of the fashion scene is clustered in and around Nationalestraat, where Dries Van Noten’s Het Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) is located. His beautifully designed hand finished pieces decorated with feathers and embroidery gave me an impression I was in a Belle Époque period shop.

Modepaleis
Het Modepaleis
Dries Van Noten's embellished pieces
Dries Van Noten’s embellished pieces

Ann Demeulemeester’s shop is a dramatic space in monochrome colours with an occasional splash of colour breaking into the black and while palette from one of the clothes rails – a completely different feel to van Noten’s boutique.

Ann Demeulemeester's creations
Ann Demeulemeester’s creations
Leather necklace
Leather necklace

Anwerp has several very interesting concept stores. I came across one of them – Seven Rooms – completely by accident. Bright and spacious, this is the space where I could easily spend an afternoon looking through carefully selected pieces by international fashion designers, beautiful furniture, and even food and wine.

Furniture pieces at
Furniture pieces at Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms

Another beautiful concept store worth a visit is 13 GraanMarkt. It also has a lovely restaurant inside.

If you are planning to visit Antwerp I highly recommend going to these shops, if only to look at design and fashion as creation of art. If your budget does not allow you to buy avant-garde creations of the famous Belgian designers, but you are keen to add a bit of Antwerp style to your wardrobe, try these shops.

Essentiel, Antwerp fashion brand that for me really reflects the city’s bold, colourful, sometimes edgy style.

Bright accessories at Essentiel
Bright accessories at Essentiel

Jutka and Riska, a boutique in trendy South part of Antwerp selling a mix of vintage, own design by the shop owners and creations by young designers along with accessories and occasional interior design pieces.

On Lombardenvest (one of the streets off Nationalestraat) you will find a good selection of European labels, such as A.P.C., Les petites…, Fillipa K, Acne, Maison Sctoch.

Taking a break from shopping (or visiting design spaces as I call it) is easy with a vast choice of cafes in nearly every street.

At night, head to Marnixplaats, a square in trendy Anwerp Zuid (South) area. It has a very lively restaurant and bar scene where stylish locals meet for a bite to eat and drinks.

Sunday, when most shops are closed, is a good day to visit Antwerp’s museum. Recently opened MAS museum in the port area with its own Michelin-starred restaurant is definitely a must-see. Not only is it the largest contemporary art space in the city, but also it has a unique and striking architectural style.

And if you are still in need of fashion and design inspiration, then MoMu, the fashion museum, is the place for you.

Last but not least, I recommend staying at South Side Suite. This tastefully decorated spacious apartment that sleeps up to three people is located in the trendy Zuid area. The location is ideal: it is central enough to explore the city by foot, but far enough from the main tourist attractions to experience a local vibe and enjoy a vibrant food and nightlife scene together with the locals. The hosts, a young Belgian-Brazilian/Angolan couple will pamper you and make you feel at home. I speak from experience, I have stayed with them many times! Book early as it usually gets booked quickly.

20130919-190343.jpg
Enjoying afternoon sun in the trendy Zuid area
Antwerp style - not afraid to stand out with bright colours
Antwerp style – not afraid to stand out with bright colours
Bright accessories...
… and bright accessories
Unusual design
Unusual design
Art deco building
Art deco building
20130919-190404.jpg
Street art

Travelling light

I am a big fan of short breaks. This allows me to satisfy my craving for travel without using all my annual holiday allowance in the first two months of the year. However, as much as I love travelling and everything that comes with it – eating delicious local food, slowing down, enjoying local culture – there is one aspect of frequent travelling that I am not very excited about – packing.

As an experienced traveller I should be very quick and efficient when it comes to packing but my love for choice and variety often results in over-packing. I still remember the shock on people’s faces in March this year when I was getting on a boat in Bali to travel to another island with my huge and very heavy suitcase (probably more than half my body weight) while everyone else had compact backpacks. What can I say, I am a maximalist when it comes to packing. There is nothing wrong with this approach in my opinion. Airlines, especially the budget airlines, tend to disagree and continue to reduce their luggage allowance and charge us more for travelling with bigger bags. Even BA now has no checked in luggage fare.

On my recent trip to the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria I was faced with a challenge. Wizz Air, the only airline with direct flights from London to my chosen destination, has a new cabin luggage policy meaning my cabin size suitcase was too large to take on board.  Of course I could pay the extra fee and bring it onboard. But it was a matter of principle rather than price. Plus, I felt ready to open my mind to new ways of travelling (and packing). So I boarded Wizz Air flight to Burgas with only one small piece of hang luggage and discovered that travelling light has its benefits (spending less time in airports) and can be quite liberating.

But is it possible to feel stylish when travelling with only one small piece of hand luggage?  I think yes!

Here is what I packed to maximise the space and still be able to have a bit of variety. I hope these tips are helpful for other over-packers.

packinglight.jpg

  1. Travel bag, Paul & Joe, can be used as a beach bag too
  2. Multiway wrap dress in sapphire, Butter by Nadia . I love this versatile dress, bought in New York last year. It can be worn in a variety of ways and works as both a day and an evening outfit, I even wear it as a midi skirt. It is a must pack item for most of my summer trips. Tip: choose multi-tasking items in your wardrobe.
  3. Cropped leather jacket, Twenty8Twelve
  4. Three white t-shirts. Tip: simple basics, such as white t-shirts, can be matched with almost anything. If an outfit feels a bit boring, it can be livened up with a scarf or an accessory.
  5. Denim shorts, Roxy
  6. Turquoise jeans, Lui Jo
  7. Fold up shoes, BCBGMAXAZRIA – so compact they can fit into a small handbag
  8. Flip flops, Havaianas
  9. Silk dress, bought in Ubud, Bali earlier this year. Tip: I really love silk, not only does it feel and looks great, but also it is very practical for packing light as it is almost weightless and takes very little space
  10. Animal print sweat top, Baum und Pferdgarten
  11. Blue cardigan, Kookai to cover up in the evening
  12. Beach sarong, made from very thin cotton that takes little space when folded and can also be worn as scarf, Enfasis  Beachwear
  13.  Two bikinis, the one above is from Liberty
  14. And a couple of scarves in different colours to accessorise outfits with and cover up in the evenings and during the flight.

Wearing my silk dress to the beachwearingshorts

The Black Sea
The Black Sea
Delicious fresh local food is reason enough to visit Bulgaria
Delicious fresh local food is reason enough to visit Bulgaria

Summer trips photo diary

As the summer is coming to an end I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic. Every year, I like to look at my photos, taken during summer holidays, and remind myself how much I enjoyed discovering new places and re-visiting the places I love.

Here are some of my favourite shots from trips to the Basque Country in Northern Spain, Provence in South of France and Devon in England. Travelling this summer has been a real treat for all the senses: beautiful old and modern architecture, scenic views of the countryside, sunsets on the beach, smell of the sea and fragrant flowers of Provence and taste of incredibly delicious and artfully presented food. My reviews of where I liked staying, eating and shopping will follow in the coming days.

Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian
Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian
Eduardo Chillida sculpture, San Sebastian
Eduardo Chillida sculpture, San Sebastian
Views of the city before sunset, San Sebastian
Views of the city before sunset, San Sebastian
Experimental pintxos
Experimental pintxos
Combination of old and new in Bilbao
Combination of old and new in Bilbao
Picturesque L'Isle sur la Sorgue
Picturesque L’Isle sur la Sorgue
Enjoying summer style in a maxi dress during an impromptu photoshoot
Enjoying summer style in a maxi dress during an impromptu photoshoot
Views of olive tree garden that inspired a famous Van Gough painting in St-Remy-de-Provence
Views of olive tree garden that inspired a famous Van Gough painting in St-Remy-de-Provence
Delicious local food
Delicious local food
Window shopping in Marseille
Window shopping in Marseille
20130827-234809.jpg
Lavender…
Warm rich colours of Provence
Warm rich colours of Provence
Stormy sky in Devon
Stormy sky in Devon
Salcombe
Beautiful shades of blue, Salcombe
Showing off new buys from a lovely local boutique
Showing off new buys from a lovely local boutique
Evening sky after sunset in Brixham
Evening sky after sunset in Brixham
IMG_3233
Hard to believe this is England