London tours and royal weddings

So Saturday was a big day in the UK, what with Prince Harry getting married to his American actress bride Meghan Markle. It was also a sunny day, hooray, as we embarked on our morning walking tour of Westminster in London. Destination, a pub in Whitehall to watch THE wedding. What a perfect London day lay in store.

We signed up for a Strawberry Tours free walking tour which was given a bit of extra royal and wedding flavour to celebrate the day. Starting off in blue-skied Leicester Square we met our guide Alex. He entertained us with stories of London’s Westminster and regaled us with Royal tales through history. Like how King James I invented the Union flag by combining the three flags of England, Scotland and Ireland – as I’m helping to demonstrate here.

Strawberry tours: Union Flag

Learning all about the Union Flag

Strawberry tours: regent street

The reds and blues of beautiful Regent Street

The grandeur of Buckingham Palace

We meandered down the Mall towards majestic Buckingham Palace. On the golden-topped statue in front Queen Victoria sits proudly like she’s guarding her domain. Which she is really as she was the first Monarch to really live in the Palace. When she and Prince Albert got married they renovated the building and turned it into a place for entertaining friends and even the general public. More about Victoria later and her contribution to today’s wedding traditions.

Strawberry tours: Buckingham Palace

Welcome to the grandeur of Buckingham Palace

Strawberry tours: Union flags

Draped Union Flags with Hyde Park behind

From Buckingham Palace we strolled through beautiful St James Park with its magnificent trees and sparkling lake.

Strawberry tours: St James Park

Looking back over the lake in St James Park to Buckingham Palace

Strawberry tours: pelicans

Pelicans in the park – who’d have thought?

And then it was on, past Westminster and Trafalgar Square to Whitehall. We settled in the pub to celebrate their wedding day with them while sipping on Prosecco. Any excuse to celebrate…and any excuse to share some fascinating facts…here goes.

My fascinating royal wedding facts

Queen Victoria is credited for starting the tradition of the bride wearing a white dress. She did so in a time when colors were much more usual.

Queen Victoria was also the first bride to place figures of the bride and groom on top of the cake. Her cake is said to have had a diameter of nine meters – now that’s a giant cake!

In 1840 Queen Victoria’s bouquet included a sprig of myrtle, picked from her garden, symbolising love and fertility. Since then every royal bride has had a sprig included in her bouquet – still picked from her garden at Osborn House on the Isle of Wight.

Meghan’s bouquet included forget-me-nots (Diana’s favorite flowers), sweet peas, lily of the valley, astute,  jasmine and astantia as well as those sprigs of myrtle and some blooms picked from the gardens of Kensington Place by Harry himself. Aah, how lovely.

The wedding bouquet at royal weddings doesn’t get thrown to the single ladies attending as I’ve experienced at not-royal weddings. It is laid on the Grave of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. This follows a royal tradition that dates back nearly a century, starting with the Queen’s mother in 1923.

Meghan had 10 bridesmaids and pageboys. Four-year-old Ivy Mulroney didn’t have a bouquet like the others as she had the honour of holding Meghan’s bouquet. Meghan didn’t have a Maid of Honor. It’s British royal tradition to have children as bridesmaids and pageboys, not adults. Kate did break with this when her sister Pippa walked down the aisle with her.

Meghan walked herself halfway down the aisle before being met by Prince Charles. If her mother had taken on the role, because her father couldn’t, she wouldn’t have been the first woman to fulfill the role. Queen Victoria walked two of her daughters down the aisle after the death of Prince Albert.

Harry and Meghan broke with the traditional wedding fruit cake, opting instead for a lemon and elderflower sponge cake with buttercream frosting made by Claire Ptak of London’s Violet Bakery. Yummy!

And finally, here’s a picture of the happy couple…may they always be this happy. Gotta love a fairytale story.

Strawberry tours: Harry and Meghan

Congratulations to the happy couple

Strawberry Tours offers a range of interesting London tours. All tours operate on a pay-what-you-feel basis which means that you will definitely get the best out of your guide! There’s a Jack the Ripper tour that I have my eye on next – I am somewhat obsessed with that tale, so watch this space.

Our weekend getaway to picturesque Paternoster

The joys of pretty-as-a-picture Paternoster

Today we’re heading up South Africa’s West Coast to the seaside village of Paternoster. It’s about a two-hour drive from Cape Town to one of the oldest fishing villages in the country. Legend has it it’s called Paternoster (our father in latin) because of the prayers said by shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. Luckily for us there was no risk of shipwreck, just beautiful beaches, amazing food and chill time.

Paternoster is literally dazzling with its white-washed fisherman’s cottages, wide sandy beaches and sparkling azure seas – and that perfect light. Definitely a feel of the Greek islands here. It’s known for its crayfish and is a pillar in the South African commercial fishing industry. It’s also known for the Paternoster Hotel which was built in 1863, and its infamous Panty Bar.

Paternoster: Hotel

Quick beer stop at the Paternoster Hotel

Cheers from the Panty Bar

The Panty Bar once served as the town jail before becoming a bar. In 1974 Johan Carosini started his collection of ‘Honeymoon Panties’, suspending panties in all shapes and colours from the ceiling.

In 1983 the collection was taken down after a priest reported it to the police as an unholy practice. The unfortunate policeman responsible for confiscating the collection quickly became known as Panty Basson! I can almost hear the villagers chuckling!

Giorgelli Carosini (son of Johan), who now co-owns the hotel, started collecting again in the nineties. As you walk into the bar you can’t miss the impressive range of panties hanging from the ceiling. It’s slightly disconcerting and you don’t want your imagination to wander too much as to where those panties may have been! Rather order a glass of Castle Light draught and head outside to get in a Paternoster state of mind. Well, that’s what we did.

Paternoster: panty bar

The panties are displayed hanging from the ceiling

It doesn’t take long to ease into that Paternoster pace. Or long to find your way to our next stop – Gaaitjie. Just head for the sea and you’ll see the signs and find a gorgeous, rustic white-washed restaurant on the edge of the beach. Gaaitjie is a heavenly place for lunch – you can read more about the delicious seafood we enjoyed by clicking here.

Paternoster: Gaaitje

The stunning view from Gaaitjie

Paternoster: Gaaitje

Rose by the beach at Gaaitjie

Home from home at Smuggler’s Cottage

Replete after our beachside repast we headed to our home for the weekend – the delightful Smuggler’s Cottage. (Smuggies as we now affectionately call it). The attractive guesthouse is set a couple of minutes walk from a beautiful beach. It has a lovely pool area where we soon settled in with a bottle of chilled Rose for some sunshine hours. And I posted this picture on instagram posing the question ‘Where in the world am I?’. I got wide range of suggestions. Greece, Spain, Cape Town (close – though I suspect that was from someone who knew I was in Cape Town), Portugal, the Med, somewhere in the Aegean – even Cornwall(!). My favourite response, however was: ‘I don’t know where you are but I wish I was there!’ Yeah, get that.

Paternoster: Smugglers Cottage

Chilling out pool-side at Smuggler’s Cottage

Smuggies has comfortable ensuite rooms with  tea and coffee making facilities, hairdryer (and hair straighteners, too – a first for me) and lovely large bathrooms. There’s a wonderful warm welcome and friendly efficient service. And we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast on the terrace framed by the beautiful bougainvillea.

Paternoster: Breakfast

Enjoying breakfast under the bougainvilleas

Creative dining at Wolfgat

The main reason for this foray westwards was to eat at Wolfgat restaurant. It’s ranked 13th in South Africa on the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes Benz Restaurant Awards. A huge achievement considering it’s not in a major city and South Africa’s restaurantland is incredibly competitive.

The restaurant is in a 130-year old building with fabulous views across the sea. The seven-course menu is inspired by the weather and the surrounding landscape. Dishes include local seaweed,  seasonal veldkos (basically food growing wild that’s been foraged locally) and plants from the garden. Chef Kobus van de Merwe is keen to showcase ingredients gathered from around Wolfgat’s beachside location.

All this certainly makes for an intriguing dining experience. The restaurant seats a maximum of 20 diners (it’s the size of a small house) so there’s an intimate atmosphere and you can easily watch the intricate dishes being prepared.

Paternoster: Wolfgat

Chef Kobus creating another innovative dish

What’s on the menu

There’s a lot to take in and I was certainly challenged with flavours and textures I’d never encountered before. Not all of them were good and I balked at the sight of succulents growing beside the beach the next morning, fearing I may have to eat them for breakfast. Dishes were heavy on the succulent/seaweed front which is certainly novel, if more disconcerting than pleasurable. And some of the flavour combinations tasted decidedly weird to me, like the mussel dish served with a seaweed broth and papaya.

I did really love the bread course which consisted of home-made breadsticks (in a sack) served with a pan of bubbling butter infused with bokkoms and seaweed. Bokkoms are a type of salted and dried local mullet (know as harders). So this was like the best anchovy butter you’ll ever taste – and I love anchovy butter.

Paternoster: Wolfgat

I wanted to lick the pan of bokkom butter

The final course was a wild sage ice-cream with sage ash and nectarines. The nectarines were suspended from a foraged bush which was set on fire at the table. A great piece of theatre unfortunately not backed up with great flavours – it just tasted very ashy. As a result we left with a bad taste in our mouths. Not a good way to end dinner.

Paternoster: Wolfgat

The ashy nectarine tree

Paternoster: Wolfgat

The dessert didn’t look great or taste great either

Eating at Wolfgat is undeniably a memorable experience. The menu changes frequently – obviously I guess as they are dependent on what they find around them to some extent. Perhaps we visited on one of the stranger days. Because let’s be frank, it was all a bit weird – though certainly an entertaining and educational experience. One we are still talking about.

Go and try it for yourself if you dare!

Wolfgat only seats 20 guests – as a result you need to book and pay in advance. Dinner costs R750 (around £44 at today’s exchange rate).

Take me to the beach

There’s no shortage of sandy shores in Paternoster. You can walk to a selection of them from anywhere in the town. We couldn’t resist driving to the more remote Tietiesbaai (for obvious reasons, who can resist such a name). Along a dusty road over the hill you get to this beautifully unspoilt beach which is a favourite camping spot.

Paternoster: Tietiesbaai

The blue bay that is Tietiesbaai

Paternoster: Tietiesbaai

Always happiest in the sun on the beach!

Feet in the sand at Seekombuis

On the way back from Tieitiesbaai to Paternoster town you pass Seekombuis (it means sea kitchen in Afrikaans), a ramshackle building on the beach – another place that seemed to be calling our names. Whatever you do, don’t pass it, you simply have to stop for a while and chill at this beautifully basic beach bar.

Paternoster: Seekombuis

Welcome to the rustic, beach-side Seekombuis

We sipped chilled beers in the sunshine with our feet in the sand, wishing we had time to stay for lunch and didn’t have to head back home so soon. A blackboard advertised Kreef (crayfish) salad for R65 (£3.80) and Peri Peri kreef starter for R70 (£4.00). I’m still regretting missing out on such a bargain kreef experience.

They’ve converted little row boats into seats and it looks so pretty and everything’s so peaceful with its beautiful sea views and not a building in sight. Seriously hard to tear ourselves away.

Paternoster: Seekombuis

Boat tables and benches on the beach

Paternoster: Seekombuis

Even in the bar you have your feet in the sand

We found it so hard to leave Paternoster – it just felt like we hadn’t spent enough time. Luckily there were several shops on the way out so we had an excuse to stop and prolong our stay, even if  only for a little longer.

Die Winkel Op Paternoster (a winkel is a shop in case you hadn’t gathered) has a quaint collection of souvenirs, clothes and random stuff and is great to browse in. All the shops have a certain charm, so I’d pop into them all. I guarantee you’ll find something that you didn’t know you needed and just have to take it home.

Paternoster: Die Winkel

Pop in to the shop for some souvenirs

I bought some beautiful shell hearts which I’m looking forward to hanging in my garden in London. Because I know every time I look at them I will be transported back to happy days in Paternoster. And reminded that I need to organise my next trip there – and this time it will be for longer, that’s for sure.

Have you been to Paternoster or somewhere similar? Did you discover some magical place that brought you such happiness and made you promise to return? I’d love to hear about it. 

 

 

Tasty seafood and stunning views at Gaaitje in Paternoster

The beach-side charm of Gaaitjie

Today we’re heading up South Africa’s West Coast to the charming seaside town of Paternoster at Cape Columbine. Known for its crayfish and white-washed fisherman’s cottages it’s a picture perfect little spot that appears in the distance as you come over that final hill. More about what to do in this beautiful place later. But first we are getting down to the important business of lunch. After our two-hour drive from Cape Town we were ready for some refreshment so we headed straight for the sea in search of Gaaitjie (which mysteriously means little hole in Afrikaans).

Gaaitje is quite simply the perfect restaurant for me. A basic white-washed fisherman’s cottage right on the beach serving food made using fresh local produce. And no holes in sight. Just expansive beach and ocean views.

Gaatijie: view

Welcome to Gaaitjie, beautiful in shades of blue and white

What’s on the menu

We settled in happily on the verandah with a bottle of Rose to peruse the menu which offered a lot of delicious fishy favourites. The local calamari came with charred corn, pickled red onion and garlic aioli. The prettiest of plates with calamari that literally melted in the mouth. Wow! Calamari will never taste like this again…

Gaaitjie: Calamari

Beautifully tender calamari with a slight crunch

My Saldanah Bay mussels were in a white wine broth with cumin and lime leaves, garlic and onions. I’ve eaten so many mussels in my time in Cape Town I’m thinking of writing a guide to mussel dishes around the peninsular! They are so tasty at this time of year and so versatile. Today’s choice came in a curry-style broth which I’ve never had with mussels before and it worked beautifully. I mopped up all those juices with our wonderful rosemary pot bread.

Gaaitjie: mussels

Plump mussels in a curry-flavoured broth

The special of the day was written up on the board as we walked in – Masala prawns. No need for Terry to look at the menu then, Indian flavours are his favourite. The prawns were enormous, juicy and beautifully spicy and served on the tastiest of savoury rice.

Gaaitjie: prawns

Giant masala prawns with savoury rice

To complement our meal these delightful little pot breads were delivered to our table piping hot from the oven. Soft and delicate, the fresh butter melted in creating little bites of heavenliness – all flavoured with fresh rosemary. It’s almost worth going to Gaaitjie just for the bread!

Gaaitjie: tin bread

Stunning little loaves of tin bread

The food at Gaaitjie is both simple and perfect. The best ingredients wonderfully cooked, a warm welcome and great service and those views! I want to go back there right now!

Gaaitjie: front

Gaaitje in its shades of blue

Gaaitjie: boat

The Gaaitje boat at the front of the restaurant

 

Gaaitjie: interior

Inside there’s a lovely beach-house feel

Today’s price point

Lunch for three which consisted of two starters, a main course and a bottle of Rose cost R565 (£34 at todays exchange rate).

As a general guide starters are around R80 (4.80) and main courses up to R200 (£12).

Gaaitje is off Sampson Street on the beach in Paternoster.

Mexico City and lunch at the San Angel Inn

Happiness is…chilling out at the San Angel Inn

I visited Mexico City on my way back from a wonderful trip to the stunning resort of Grand Velas Los Cabos. You can read all about my time on the beach there by clicking here. I was excited to be seeing my friend Lupita who I met on a cruise of the Baltic a couple of years ago and who had promised to show me around her home town.

Mexico City is a sprawling, bustling metropolis with a population of over 21 million which makes it the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. As you fly in it seems to go on forever and when you’re on the ground so do the traffic jams – there are a lot of cars in Mexico City and I mean a real lot of cars. Consequently, be prepared to spend time in the traffic – it’s certainly part of the city’s personality.

Mexico City: landing

Coming in to land in Mexico City

The city certainly has a unique energy – somewhat frenzied but with a laid-back, Spanish undertone. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming and there’s so much to see and do. Oh and the food is incredible!

It also seems like a grand city with wide avenues, a stylish mix of old and new architecture – some of which is simply dazzling. And it’s great to walk around with monuments and statues around every corner.

Mexico City: Angel wings

Me and the angel wings

We took a slow meander through the magnificent  Chapultepec Park. Mexico City has plenty of trees and green spaces making it easy to get away from hectic city life and chill out. This strikingly enormous structure is the Monumento a los Ninos Heroes – honouring six young men who were killed while defending Chapultepec Castle – the last major resistance to US troops who invaded Mexico in 1845.

Mexico City: Monument

The striking Monumento a los Ninos Heroes

This stunning monument perfectly lines up with Chapultepec Castle down the Paseo de la Reforma to the Angel of Independence. The Angel is a tribute to the heroes of the Mexican war of independence from Spain.

Mexico City: angel of independence

The beautiful, shiny Angel of Independence

There’s so much to discover in this glorious city. I also explored the stylish Polanco neighbourhood which is where I stayed. It’s often called the Beverley Hills of Mexico City and is a  joy to walk around with the seemingly endless upmarket shops, hotels and restaurants.

The San Angel neighbourhood

On my second day in town we headed somewhere completely different. San Angel is a short drive away in the south-west of the city but it  feels like you’ve been transported to another world. The quaint, narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with elegant homes and an abundance of trees and flowers. There’s very little traffic, making it a joy to meander around.

Mexico City: San Angel

There are many beautiful homes in San Angel

There are plenty of lovely shops to browse through and the incredibly peaceful ex-convent of El Carmen to visit.

Mexico City: El Carmen covent

Take time out to enjoy the tranquility of this covent

You’ll also find Frida and Diego’s house, where famed Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived and worked. It’s been left as it was when they lived there and is fascinating to explore.  Plus you get the chance to see some of their work.

Mexico City: Frida and Diego's house

The brilliant blue that is Frida and Diego’s house

The San Angel Inn

One of the reasons for visiting San Angel was to have lunch at one of Lupita’s favourite restaurants, the San Angel Inn.

It’s loved by locals and tourists alike and you can see why as soon as you walk in – It’s the sort of place that instantly lifts your heart. The hacienda dates back to the 17th century and was originally a Carmelite monastery. A beautiful courtyard is surrounded by an expansive verandah and you’re basically in a tropical garden. I can think of no place I’d rather have lunch.

San Angel Inn: verandah

The beautiful verandah, the perfect spot to spend an afternoon

When in Mexico, drink margaritas. And this could be the best margarita in the world. Served in a little jug nestling in a mini bucket of ice you pour a little at a time ensuring your drink is always super cool. Heavenly.

San Angel Inn: margarita

The best margarita in the world? Possibly

As we sat on the verandah sipping on our margaritas we snacked on a delicious bowl of crunchy vegetables which we dipped into the beautifully creamy, cheesy dip.

San Angel Inn: crudités

Deliciously crunchy snacks with the creamiest of dips

What’s on the menu

As we pored over the menus soft warm rolls were served on one of their beautiful blue plates. I loved all the crockery here so much – how I would have loved to slip some into my handbag! No, of course I didn’t.

San Angel Inn: bread and butter

Bread and butter served on crockery in beautiful blues

I started with the Aztec tortilla soup. A rich tomato-based soup with crunchy crumbled tortilla and fresh chopped avocado sprinkled over. A wonderful combination of flavours and textures – and even more of those delicious Mexican avos.

San Angel Inn: Soup

Wonderfully rich soup topped with tortilla and avo

The caesar salad is for two and is made table-side. Quite a ceremony with the dressing also lovingly mixed in front of you. Seeing it being made with such love and focus makes it taste even better as a result.

San Angel Inn: Caesar salad

There’s plenty of activity as your salad’s prepared at the table

San Angel Inn: Caesar salad

Even the dressing is freshly made in front of you

Flaky white fish came with a hearty tomato and olive sauce.

San Angel Inn: Fish

The sweetest of local white fish in a rich tomato sauce

I tucked into the flavoursome grilled Mexican steak served with savoury rice, a sticky sauce and guacamole. Yes I am getting as much avocado in as possible while I’m in the land of the avo!

San Angel Inn: Mexican beef

Tasty beef with a side of extra guacamole

After mains the dessert trolley appears. What joy to see all those delectable dishes laid out – making it almost impossible to choose.

San Angel Inn: blackberry pie

Pie made with the plumpest of blackberries

San Angel Inn: chocolate cake

Chocolate cake to indulge in

I went straight from the San Angel Inn to the airport to catch my flight home. Which was all a bit surreal. It certainly was a whirlwind trip. Thank you Lupita for showing me around your wonderful city, I fell in love with beautiful Mexico and know there’s so much more I’d like to explore. Take me back soon!

Mexico City: Lupita

Here we are, reunited after two years

The San Angel Inn is at Diego Rivera No 50 y Altavista, San Angel, Mexico City.

Where to stay in Mexico: Grand Velas Los Cabos

Loving life at Grand Velas Los Cabos

I’m still slightly reeling from my fabulous year of travel in 2017. I visited eight new countries, two new continents and completed my full house of seven continents visited when I set foot on magical Antarctica. What a trip that was, you can read more about it by clicking here.

And one of my new countries was fabulous Mexico. An overnight flight to Mexico City, a short hop to the little airport of Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsular and a drive through the cactus-lined desert and we arrived at the glorious Grand Velas Los Cabos.

This five-star all-inclusive resort overlooks the sparkle of the Sea of Cortez and has everything you could possibly want for a heavenly beachside escape.

Here’s what I loved about it.

The views

The hotel is designed so that no matter where you are there’s always a stunning azure sea view, punctuated by the blue sparkle of the pools, the greens and vibrant colours of tropical plants and palm trees and of course the perfect white sandy beach. What a combination!

Grand Velas: pool and sea

Views in different shades of blue

I even found myself up early in the morning (extremely early) watching the golden sunrise from my balcony and taking endless sea vista pictures. Views don’t get better than this for beach babies like me.

Grand Velas: balcony view

The stunning view from my balcony

The beach

The beautiful white sand was perfect for early morning meanders – especially as often I was the only person around. How I loved leaving the first footprints of the day in the sand.

Grand Velas: beach

The pool leads on to the quiet beach

And little cabana-style beds on the beach are the perfect place to chill and enjoy a cocktail or two.

Grand Velas: Beach beds

Chill out on your private beach bed

Grand Velas: Beach

My footprints on the beach early in the morning

The pools

There are plenty of beautiful lounging opportunities at the cleverly designed beachside infinity pools with their tempting, comfy beds. And of course the chance for an instantly refreshing dip any time of day.

Grand Velas: pool and sea

Escape to a land of blue sparkle

My personal concierge

Grand Velas Los Cabos is all-inclusive and that includes all food and drink and your own personal concierge. We swapped mobile numbers at check-in and I was instructed to text or call her if I wanted anything. Not that I ever needed to as she seemed to appear as if by magic every time I even thought about asking a question. These angels will make all your wishes come true, bring you food and drink anywhere on the resort, book spa sessions, print out boarding cards (and anything else you may need printed)…generally make sure you want for nothing. Superb.

The suites

The rooms are beautifully decorated in shades of blue and white with huge beds, a desk and seating area, great wifi and a large balcony with totally stunning sea views.

Grand Velas: Room

How I loved my beautiful, spacious room

The mini bar

And a mini bar…worth a mention on its own. Constantly restocked, it has a wide choice of liquor and soft drinks, tea and coffee making facilities (with a wide range of beautiful teas to choose from) and a stylish bottle of local tequila. Delicious it was, too!

Grand Velas: Mini bar

Happiness is…a fully stocked mini bar

The fabulous food

Grand Velas Los Cabos is culinary heaven. It has seven restaurants – yes seven, and eating at all of them is included. You’ll find Mexican, French and Italian cuisine as well as fabulous seafood and steaks. Cocina de Autor does an amazing tasting menu with some truly inventive dishes inspired by local ingredients. The presentation was a sight to behold and the flavours so beautiful. Plus we had the chance to try plenty of Mexican wine – a first for me. I’m now definitely a fan.

Grand Velas: Cocina de Autor

Delightfully exotic dishes at Cocina de Autor

Grand Velas: sole

Delightfully sweet sole in a delicate foam

If you can’t drag yourself out of your stunning suite you don’t have to! Of course you wouldn’t have to – Grand Velas Los Cabos is that sort of place. It’s like they have anticipated every wish you could have and are ready to make them all come true. The 24-hour in-suite dining menu offers so many choices. I couldn’t resist this beautiful tuna tartare served with guacamole, salsa and tortillas. Every fish dish I sampled was out of this world – and as for the guacamole. Mexican avos rock.Grand Velas: Room service

Room service for tartare and guacamole

The food by the pool is also fabulous. There really is something special about lying on a sun lounger looking at the ocean and tucking into a fabulous fresh ceviche while sipping a mango daiquiri. Really – does life get better than this?

Grand Velas: poolside food

More fresh tuna, this time at the pool

The breakfast spread in Azul is jaw dropping. I can’t say I’ve ever seen a bigger array – it’s seriously a three-course breakfast type of place. And with more spectacular views it’s the ideal way to start your day.

Grand Velas: Azul

Sunny breakfasts on the terrace at Azul

The spa and gym

After all that breakfast feasting it’s just as well there’s a superb gym. Large, packed with equipment and with blue views over the sea to keep you motivated to work off some calories so you’re prepared for your next foodie treat. And yes, I did use it.

Grand Velas: Gym

The view from the gym makes exercise more enjoyable.

There’s also what the hotel describes as a lavish Water Ceremony. It’s basically the biggest jacuzzi I’ve ever seen with plenty of clever ways to massage different parts of your body and loungers to relax on if it all gets too much for you!

Grand Velas: Spa

The best jacuzzi in the world in the stunning spa

And the spa is like paradise within heaven. We had amazing massages and lay back afterwards with warm pillows and the softest of throws. Boy was it difficult to get up off that bed.

The sunsets and sunrises

How I love a good sunset (or rise), though being more of a nighttime sort of person I don’t see many of the rises. However at Grand Velas Los Cabos I found myself awake and ready to witness the dawning of the day before my early-morning walk on what felt like my private beach.

Grand Velas: sunrise

The best sunrises and sunsets ever

The excursions

Grand Velas Los Cabos is halfway between the towns of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. Both lovely places to visit with trendy shops and boutiques, bars to try and lots of water-based activities to enjoy. We went sailing out into the blue, saw amazing jumping manta rays leaping all around us, plunged into the balmy waters for a swim and sipped myriad cocktails as we sailed into the wind. Tequila Sunrise anyone?

Grand Velas: Sailing

Sipping cocktails while sailing the ocean blue

Grand Velas: Arches of Cortez

The Arches of Cortez against the azure sky

The Spanish-ness

Okay here’s a different one. Of course I was aware that Spanish is the language of Mexico but I guess I hadn’t computed that it would remind me very much of Spain. And my love of Spain is well documented – I visit at every opportunity I get. So I immediately felt so at home in this beautiful Spain-like country on another continent. And fell in love with its people too.

I really, really loved the paradise that is Grand Velas Los Cabos. Here’s my happy, sun-kissed  selfie to prove it.

Grand Velas: Beach selfie

And of course…a beach selfie

I flew to Mexico with AeroMexico, direct from London to Mexico City with an easy connection to Cabos San Lucas.

Check out the website at grandvelas.com

Peninsular touring and seafood at Live Bait

Cape Town is frequently ranked one of the most beautiful cities in the world in those never-ending Best of… lists that pop up everywhere. I’ve spent a lot of time here – I know, lucky me – and it’s pretty much impossible to beat, there’s so much going for it. .

It’s scenically stunning and diverse with myriad beautiful beaches, the ever-present majesty of Table Mountain, forests, mountain trails and gardens and some of the most stunning drives you’ll ever experience. It has a warmth to its soul, a great energy and welcoming people. There are hundreds of fabulous restaurants which are great value – and of course there’s all that wine that has to be sampled.

I was recently reminded that African penguins live here (I didn’t mention the wildlife yet, did I?) so the purpose of today’s outing was to say hi them at Boulder’s Beach in Simon’s Town. I think I’ve been suffering from penguin withdrawal!

Our journey took us from Sea Point to the other side of the peninsular. It’s a magnificent drive through Camp’s Bay, past Llandudno and over Chapman’s Peak. The road clings precariously to the mountainside –  an amazing feat of engineering – and the sea shimmers down below.

Live Bait: Chapman's Peak Drive

Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the most stunning drives ever

Once you start your descent Noordhoek Beach appears on your right. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen it, and even though I know it’s coming, the view elicits an involuntary gasp. And I always wonder who lives in that house! What a view they must have.

Once you’ve crossed over the peninsular it’s a slow meander through sleepy seaside towns to penguin-land on Boulder Beach. Hello little penguins! I felt instantly happier on seeing them.

Live Bait: Penguins

African penguins lap up the warmth of the sun

Penguin fix sorted we headed back towards Cape Town Central following the coast road until we got to Muizenberg. Famous for its beautiful beach and warm Indian Ocean (the other side of the peninsular sits on the Atlantic and is decidedly chilly), Muizenberg is considered the birthplace of surfing in South Africa. There’s a big surfing community here all centred around Surfer’s Corner. Which is where we’re headed – for a spot of beach-side lunch at Live Bait.

Live Bait is right in the middle of all the action with a long glass front looking out over the sea. It’s a beautifully blue view and there’s plenty of surf-related action to observe. Inside it has a rustic beach house feel which so perfectly matches the surrounding seaside vibe. There’s a lot of fish on the menu and a great selection of sushi which is freshly made in front of you.

Our delectable light lunch today started with a portion of Thai fish cakes to share. Shaped more like fish balls, they were lovely and light with well-balanced Thai flavours and a nice crunch.

Live Bait: Fish cakes

Soft and flavourful fish cakes with Asian flavours

For mains we shared a portion of tempura prawns – and a very generous one it was, too. Served with crispy fries, the prawns were perfectly cooked in the light batter and served with a dipping mayo. We asked for some chilli and mixed it into the mayo, making for a delightful spicy hit.

Live Bait: tempura prawns

The large pan of juicy tempura prawns

Live Bait: Prawn tempura

Close up on the delicious prawn crunch

There’s a relaxed vibe at Live Bait, it’s the sort of place I could see myself spending many an hour drinking wine, feeling fine and absorbing some of that Muizenberg chilled-out surfing attitude.

Live Bait: Interior

Beautiful blues and whites inside and out

Live Bait: Beach house

There’s a beach house feel throughout

This is your sea view. Which goes on  much further on both the left and right of this picture.

Live Bait: Muizenberg beach

Looking out at beautiful Muizenberg beach

While Muizenberg is great for swimming and surfing, it’s also home to Great White Sharks (more wildlife)! The area is well monitored though with shark spotters on high and at the beach who seem to know where the sharks are. I’ve been on the beach when the shark siren goes and it is a bit of a scary experience if any of your party happen to be in the sea. That Jaws music creeps into your subconscious! There are experts on hand to tell you about these powerful creatures and there’s plenty of shark-related advice posted all over the place (in several languages). Like how to be shark smart – do remember not to swim at night or if bleeding! The presence of the Great Whites certainly adds to the Muizenberg adventure.

Live Bait: Sharks

Beware of the sharks!

Oh and before I go, here I am with my latest penguin friends.

I can’t imagine there’s another journey more filled with beautiful views, lovely food and exotic wildlife. What joy – Cape Town I love you!

Live Bait: Boulders Beach

Me visiting the African penguins on Boulders Beach

Today’s price point

Starters range from R45-R85 (£2.70-£5.10)

Main courses range from R99 to R225 (£6.00-£13.60)

White wine starts from R125 (£7.50) a bottle and red wine from R130 (£7.85)

All conversions are at the today’s exchange rate.

Live Bait is at 70 Beach Road, Muizenberg