Travel: What to do in Budapest

Exploring Budapest

So today I’m taking you to the beautiful city of Budapest – the capital of Hungary and home to around two million people. It’s a sprawling and diverse city on the banks of the River Danube which was officially created in 1872 with the unification of three separate settlements – Buda, Pest and Old Buda.

I do love a good city break, there’s always so much to discover but there’s never enough time. So this is a taster (and it is just a taster) of what this amazing place has to offer and my favourite bits on my first visit.

We stayed on the Pest side of the river. It’s newer than the Buda side as it was severely bombed in World War II and it’s a lot flatter, perfect for endless meandering. And the views across to the hillier side of the river are quite stunning.

I travelled with my friend Jules and we visited in early December, ready for chilly days – around 0 degrees (that’s the maximum) – with our favourite bobble hats, scarves and the thickest of socks. We were prepared!

Bring it on Budapest!

Our main goal was to explore the Christmas markets. These markets are famous throughout Europe and I’d never experienced one until my recent river cruise through Germany and Austria (more of that later). They are truly magical with such a range of unique products to buy and warming food and drinks to keep you going. And fairy lights everywhere! Fairy lights truly do make life more beautiful. So that’s number one on my list of what to do in Budapest.

Visit the Christmas markets

Wrapped up warm and ready to shop

On our first afternoon we headed for St Stephens Basilica which is dedicated to Hungary’s first King, Stephen (!) and is surrounded by twinkling stalls.

Happiness is…fairy lights everywhere

The Hungarians love a hot drink – hooray! Plenty of delightful combos to taste – this stall sold hot blueberry punch which was particularly mouthwatering.

There’s a mind-blowing selection of hot drinks to keep you going.

The main market is in Vorosmarty Square, at the top of Fashion Street. The best thing about Budapest’s markets (which they actually call fairs) is that they showcase traditional Hungarian arts and crafts rather than selling the commercialised produce that too often appears everywhere. We were fascinated by the range on offer, some of which, sadly, was too heavy for us to bring home. Like these ceramic pots for roasting chickens (well, that’s what we decided they were for!).

Budapest: ceramics
The ceramics were beautiful and unique
Vorosmarty market shimmers at night

Visit the Jewish Quarter

We went everywhere on foot…my favourite way to explore. There’s so much to see along the way. The old Jewish Quarter (which became the ghetto during World War II) is buzzing with bars and restaurants, including the Gozsdu Udvar – a courtyard filled with restaurants and bars and a lively weekend market.

The twinkle welcomes you in to Gozsdu Udvar

The beautiful Dohany Street synagogue is the largest in Europe.

The majestic synagogue towers over the Jewish Quarter

Take a riverside amble

It’s great when a city has a river running through it – so much easier for finding your bearings. And there’s so much to see along the riverside like The Houses of Parliament. They were inspired by the English ones – there’s a definite likeness. Particularly beautiful shrouded in the early evening mist.

Parliament on a misty evening

Just down from Parliament is the incredibly moving sculpture, The Shoes on the Danube Bank. It honours the Jews who were killed during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes and were shot at the edge so their bodies fell into the water and were carried away. Despite being in the middle of bustling city life, an eerie quiet surrounded this incredible work of art. We loved it so much we had to go there twice.

The impactful sculpture in the atmospheric fog
Budapest: The Shoes on the Danube Bank
The Shoes on the Danube Bank with the Palace in the distance

Walk across the Chain Bridge

The Chain Bridge connects Buda with Pest and may pretty much look like any other bridge (if a grand one), but it’s significant because this 19th century suspension bridge was the first permanent one crossing the Danube in Budapest. Before its existence you’d have to catch the ferry across or travel to Vienna to find the nearest bridge. That’s quite some journey.

The Chain Bridge connects Buda and Pest

There are fabulous views as you amble across, particularly of the magnificent Royal Palace (AKA the Buda Castle).

Visit the Royal Palace via funicular

Okay, so I admit I didn’t actually do this but it’s first on my list for my next visit. The Palace has a history dating back to the 13th century and is home to the National Gallery, Castle Museum and National Library.

The grandeur of the Palace on top of the hill

The precipitous funicular looks like a particularly cool way to get there, soaring steeply upwards to the magnificent monument 150 feet above the city.

Try the local food

Well, obviously. This is my favourite part of travelling. We had our first lunch at Aurum Bistro where we tucked into hearty fare – delectable goose liver, pork and sausages. Hungary is the world’s second biggest producer of foie gras after France – it’s everywhere! And yummy.

Grilled goose liver in brioche with rocket

The country is also a big wine producer – which I didn’t realise – so we made sure to sample the local grapes as often as possible, starting with this delicious Merlot.

As part of our quest to learn as much as possible about Hungarian food we organised a food tour with foodtourbudapest.com Our lovely guide Nora, led us through the streets to fascinating places explaining so much about the Hungarian way of life and its people.

Like did you know the Rubik cube was invented by a Hungarian (Erno Rubik) – drove me mad that thing – as was the biro (by Chaszlo Biro). Famous escapologist Harry Houdini hailed from Hungary and Hungary has more noble prize winners per capita (mainly in physics and maths) than any other country in the world. They are a clever bunch. Just as well. Hungarian is considered by many to be the most difficult language to learn on the planet. Not that it’s a problem for visitors, everyone speaks perfect English.

The clever 3-D rendition of the Rubik cube which was invented here

And of course Nora made sure we also experienced the real flavour of Hungary through its food. At Korhely restaurant we tucked into a feast of Lángos (a type of tasty fried bread) and boar pörkölt (stew), Lecsó (stewed tomatoes, peppers and onions),  túrós csusza (noodles with curd cheese and sour cream, bacon) and Bull’s Blood from Eger. Don’t panic – Bull’s Blood is one of the wonderful local red wines and our favourite of the trip. All extremely satisfying.

The crunch of Lángos and beautifully rich boar pörkölt

Enjoy the cafe culture

Budapest has a truly unique cafe scene. During the time of the Austro-Hungarian empire there were over 400 coffee shops in the city and, open 24/7, they were the centre of intellectual life and frequented by journalists, actors, painters and musicians. In the communist times many were closed down as their leaders believed them to be the centre of underground rebellion. Luckily for us some have since been renovated and restored to their original splendour – and they really do define splendid.

Like Cafe Central (Central Kavehaz) with its high ceilings, gleaming woodwork and plush seating.

The enticing bar at Cafe Central
Classic Christmas pose outside Cafe Central

We enjoyed a traditional Gulyás soup. Yes it’s a goulash – which is more of a soup than a stew if you make it the authentic Hungarian way – well, that’s gotta be the best way to make it hasn’t it?

There is also an incredible cornucopia of tea and coffee places throughout the city. You’re not going to go thirsty in Budapest, no matter what your preferred tipple

Marvel at the Great Market Hall

Okay, more food-related exploration! This market made me want to move to Budapest and start cooking local recipes with all the amazing fresh ingredients.

Hungary is Paprika Land and around 1,000 tonnes of it are produced here every year. One of my best ingredients for cooking I was truly amazed at the shapes and forms they produce it in.

Paprika as far as the eye can see – heavenly

And the pickles! Hungarians do enjoy a good pickle and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them more beautifully presented.

The most beautiful pickles in the world

And then there’s the local liquor. This is Palinka – a kind of fruit brandy that’s amazingly tasty with a good alcoholic hit. We also tasted the unique Unicom – another liquor made using more than 40 herbs – it’s pleasantly bitter (yes, I discovered something can be pleasantly bitter). Both drinks are considered medicinally useful, I certainly felt better after sampling them!

The country grows an incredible range of vegetables, too. I was surprised at the wonderful displays.

Vibrant vegetables topped off with chilli

Shop in Fashion Street

Yes, there really is a place called Fashion Street. It has to be the coolest of the cool streets I’ve ever been to, lined with bars and hotels and shops selling all the world’s top brands. Beware – some serious credit card bashing could go on here. At night it was lit up in all its glory with stunning fashion-inspired Christmas lights. Quite simply breathtaking.

Designer heaven and more sparkle
Loving the fashion-inspired Christmas lights

Where to stay

We stayed at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus which was on Fashion Street and only a few minutes walk to both Christmas markets. Our room was spacious and extremely comfortable and the service was impeccable.

For next time

Okay, before I get a barrage of messages (well, wouldn’t that be nice), telling me all the things I didn’t do in Budapest, I have a plan. Another visit. There’s so much more history and architecture to discover, the incredible geothermal springs under the city, more shopping and eating, the ruin bars and a trip on the wheel. And of course a cruise down the Danube.

Have you been to Budapest? What did you love about it? Where do you recommend I go on my next visit? I’d love to hear from you.

Living the fairytale life at Hotel Chateau du Grand-Luce

Glorious Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé

From the moment I disembarked at diminutive Tours Airport I could feel I was in for something special. Driving through sunflower fields and idyllically sleepy villages I felt my sense of expectation growing as we headed deeper into the verdant Loire Valley. Final destination? The village of Le Grande-Luce.

It’s a dreamy sort of village with a church, two boulangeries, a chemist and, bizarrely, three hairdressers. And the piece de resistance (well, we are in France) set proudly in the centre of the village is the Château du Grand-Lucé.

Built by the Baron de Luce in 1764 it’s had a rich and somewhat turbulent history having survived the French Revolution, a rampant fire in the village and two World Wars. In the second one it became a hospital for wounded British military officers and paintings from the Louvre were hidden from the Nazis in a cellar under the stables. Since then it’s been a cinema, a holiday home and a fabulous wedding venue, and from Spring 2019 it opens for the first time as a hotel.

As the heavy black metal gates slowly opened, revealing the sweeping driveway and the imposing, neoclassical chateau, I breathed in the regal air and readied myself to play my part in its incredible history. And to enjoy living like a fairy-tale princess for a while!

Grand-Luce: me

Loving the chateau lifestyle

Come on in…

The stunning interior shows off high ceilings, sparkling chandeliers and classically elegant decor. There’s a grand pink dining room (you could have some dinners to remember in there), and plenty of plush seating areas for chilling out.

Grand-Luce: lounge

The beautifully stylish living area

Grand-Luce: dining room

The spacious grandness of the pink dining room

And then it’s time to go upstairs. Wow! How I can imagine dancing down that glorious staircase. The rooms on the first floor are all uniquely decorated, no one is the same. I stayed in the luxury of the Butterfly room, home to the antique wallpaper covered in, guess what, butterflies. Living surrounded by these beautifully delicate creatures quite simply makes life better.

Grande du Luce: seating area

My comfy seating area surrounded by butterflies

A large double bed with canopy and luxurious linen led to blissful nights of sleep and awakening in butterfly heaven, refreshed and ready to enjoy a new day in Loire heaven.

Grande Luce: bed

The tempting, luxurious bed

And from the moment I drew back the curtains (some of the biggest (and heaviest) curtains I’ve ever seen) my heart leapt at the view across the sweeping lawns towards the oak forest in the distance.

The magnificent grounds

Château du Grand-Lucé is set in 80 acres and  you’ll find flourishing flower, herb and vegetable gardens, a lake and meadows. The garden is dotted with statues given as a gift from King Louis XV, may of which are exact replicas of statues at Versailles, and crystal chandeliers hang from the avenue of trees. Seriously, chandeliers in the trees – and they come on at night!

Grand-Luce: crystal chandeliers

The trees sparkle with crystal chandeliers

There’s a quirky perfectly round swimming pool beside the orangery for lazy, sunny days.

Grand-Luce: pool

The sparkling pool beckons

With so much outside space, Château du Grand-Lucé is the perfect place for alfresco dining. Which we did a lot of. Long tables set with crisp linen and decorated with fresh flowers from the garden. You’re off to a good start before you even start eating.

Grand-Luce: dinner outside

Gotta love dining alfresco

Grand-Luce: dining table

Beautifully decorated with flowers from the garden

Grand-Luce: fruit and veg

The greenery of the fruit and vegetable garden

Grande Luce: sunflower

Giant sunflowers punctuate the Loire landscape

Grand-Luce: secret spot

One of many secluded spots to relax in

Food glorious food

Okay France is well-known for its stunning cuisine. And the Loire region does offer a lot of local deliciousness. Like these amazing pork rillettes. Melt-in-the-mouth snacking joy! Or how about some pigs in blankets? Impossible to resist.

Grand-Luce: rilettes

Tasty rillettes are a speciality of the area

Here’s a taster of what to expect. I’m warning you…be prepared to salivate!

Perfectly cooked steak served with a creamy Bernaise sauce and roasted vegetables from the chateau’s garden.

Grand-Luce: steak

Tender steak with perfect Bernaise sauce

Grand-Luce: apple tart

When in France eat apple tart tartin

Grand Luce: salads

The freshest of salad spreads

Grand-Luce: cheese

French cheese simply should not be resisted

And here we are posing in our fabulous, huge windows. It was irresistible. Loved those windows.

Loved Château du Grand-Lucé. A truly fabulous piece of Loire paradise.

Grand-Luce: windows

The best windows with the best views

The details

Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé opens in June 2019.

Hotel Château du Grand-Lucé is less than an hour’s drive from Tours Airport. It is also less than one hour from Paris by train to Le Mans which is about a half an hour drive away.

Find out more

Château du Grand-Lucé, le Grand Luce, Loire Valley, France

Visit https://chateaugrandluce.com/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/chateaudugrandluce/  

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/chateaudugrandluce/  

My highlights of beautiful Brighton

One of the many great things about living in London is that it’s so easy to get to so many other wonderful places. Like the stunning seaside town of Brighton. A quick train ride (and I do love a train ride) and you’re in a world of quirky shopping, bracing seaside walks, beach hut posing and of course eating and drinking. It’s become an annual pilgrimage that I excitedly look forward to – here are this year’s highlights. Enjoy.

As well as the classic photo opportunities, there were also snails dotted around the city. Very cute! Here’s the iconic Grand on the seafront, the brightly appealing beach huts and a couple of those sweet little snails welcoming you to Brighton with their snailspace.

Brighton: sights and snails

Brighton is the perfect meandering city. Just remember to keep your strength up with regular refreshment shops. Like at Grow 40 on the corner of Kensington Gardens which instantly became a favourite when they offered me Bailey’s coffee. Perfect for the recovering from the pelting rain and gale-force winds. It is autumn after all.

Brighton: Baileys Coffee

Bailey’s coffee overlooking the streets of Kensington Gardens

We had lunch at the other end of this buzzing road filled with unique shops at the lovely Fatto a Mano. My special pizza was a delight in cheesiness topped with artichokes, olives and pancetta and had one of the best-made crusts I’ve ever had. It’s hard to beat a perfect pizza – and this was perfect!

Brighton: pizza

The most delightful of artichoke and pancetta pizzas

It’s cocktail o’clock

After exploring the streets in more highly unpleasant weather we found it impossible to walk past the newly opened Ivy in the Lanes. And boy were we pleased we did. It’s quite simply stunning.

Brighton: The Ivy in the Lanes

The Ivy in the Lanes is oh-so stunning

And the cocktails! Even reading the menu got us excited. We went for candy floss fizz with fairy floss and prosecco, complemented with rose, lychee, ginger and Havana rum – the pink one topped with candy floss. And the yellow is fresh passion fruit shaken with vanilla-infused vodka and finished with flaming ovenproof rum in a passion fruit shell. Absolutely world class and so beautiful, too. There seem to be Ivy’s popping up everywhere these days but this is one you simply cannot miss.

The Ivy: Cocktails

Mouth-watering cocktails in shades of pink and yellow

What’s for dinner

Now here’s a challenge. Picking a restaurant in Brighton for dinner. It can push you over the edge, there’s just too much choice. My latest trick is to use google maps and find the ones I most like the look of that I am staying the closest to. Tonight that meant we headed for The Gingerman.

It’s a tiny, cosy place off a side street with the warmest of welcomes and a mouthwatering menu. My creamiest of Jerusalem artichoke soup was served with a gruyere, Parma ham and truffle mini toastie. An awesome autumn starter and the best ham and cheese toastie ever.

Brighton: the Gingerman

The creamiest of artichoke soup with the sweetest of ham and cheese toasties

So good I had to show you it up close.

Brighton: ham and cheese toastie

The best toastie in the world

My fish dish was Newhaven landed cod served with the sweetest of crab meat, pineapple, baba ganoush, peanut and a lovely bisque. Wow, such a tasty and exotic mix! And undoubtedly the best cod I’ve eaten this year. A night of bests, how I love that.

Brighton: the Gingerman

My beautifully cooked cod dish

Where to stay

Today we stayed at Artists Residence in Regency Square near the seafront. This quirky little place with narrow stairs and corridors has 24 unique rooms. Setting out to improve the business, co-founder Justin advertised for artists to decorate the rooms in return for their board. And he got quite a response. Each room is decorated with incredible original artworks. We stayed in the lovely Bonnie & Clyde.

Brighton: Artist Residence

The comfy bed against the stunning artwork

Brighton: Artist Residence

Love the novel wall mini bar

And here’s the tea and coffee station backed with more amazing pictures.

Brighton: Artist Residence

Tea time has never been so arty

Artist Residence is a great place to stay. Close to the shops and the seafront, beautifully unique with wonderfully friendly and helpful staff. I suspect I’ll be back.

Time for brunch

That indulgent meal at a time when I never really eat – I love a good brunch. Especially a brunch involving some sort of Benedict. Today I devoured an avocado Benedict at Six. Poached free range organic eggs, avocado and hollandaise sauce on a toasted brioche with extra bacon. The ultimate brunch treat.

Brighton: Six

Avocado Benedict rules

I love Brighton more every time I visit. Have you been there? Where are your favourite places to shop, eat and stay? I’d love to hear from you. 

Where to stay in Murcia, Spain: La Manga Club

So today we’re heading for glorious, sunny Spain to the province of Murcia. The region sits between Andalucia and Valencia on the Mediterranean coast and is one of the truly unspoilt places in Spain I’ve visited. You’ll find plenty of beaches – 250km of them on the Costa Calida and also the fabulous Mar Menor (small sea) which is the largest natural lake in Spain and the largest salty lagoon in Europe. It’s separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow, sandy strip called La Manga del Mar Menor. Manga means sleeve in Spanish and this long-sleeved area is a favourite for holidaymakers from all over Spain.

Murcia is also a major producer of fruit, vegetables and flowers for the rest of Spain and the whole of Europe. This amazing fresh produce means that the food is fabulous wherever you go.

We’re staying at the rather swish La Manga Club at the five-star Hotel Principe Felipe which is part of the resort which covers 1,400 acres (560 hectares) and offers myriad sporting, eating and relaxation opportunities. Here’s why it’s so fabulous.

Five-star delights at the Hotel Principe Felipe

This plush hotel overlooks two of the resort’s three golf courses. It’s one of those places that instantly lifts your spirit as you walk in the door. It’s luxurious, light and glitzy and even smells delicious.

Principe Felipe: hotel

The stylish hotel is set on the golf course

The beautiful, comfortable rooms

I do love a plush hotel room and these are right up there. The beds are large, with crisp linen and squashy pillows leading to the best night’s sleep ever. Bathrooms are large with separate bath and shower and the balconies overlook the peaceful greenness of the golf course.

La Manga: rooms

The comfiest of elegant rooms

La Manga: rooms

The balconies have lovely golf course views

Perfect poolside lazing

So how’s this for a pool? With comfortable loungers, serenity and beautiful views it’s certainly one that’s hard to drag yourself away from. Unless you’re heading for a snack or a drink at the poolside restaurant, Sol y Sombra – which means Sun and Shadow. What a great name for a restaurant.

Principe Felipe: Pool

The sparkle of the pool welcomes you

The Las Lomas apartments on top of the hill also have a fabulous spot for poolside indulgence and a cafe called La Pergola.

Principe Felipe: Las Lomas pool

The crystal, azure water of the Las Lomas pool

Total sporting heaven

La Manga Club is sport…pretty much whatever sport your heart desires. There are three world-class golf courses, a 28-court tennis centre and eight FIFA-standard football pitches. On weekends you’ll see games of cricket being played, there’s a bowling green and a Par-47 golf course to get in some short-game practice. The resort also offers a wide range of sporting academies which also include rugby and mountain biking. Or you could take a boat trip, snorkel, try some kayaking or scuba diving.

La Manga: West Course

The stunning view from the 18th tee on the West Course

And then there’s the fitness centre, complete with a large, well-equipped gym – just what you need if you’re going to do justice to all that fabulous Murcian cuisine.

La Manga: gym

Work off some calories at the impressive gym

There are also whirlpools, an indoor pool, saunas and a spa offering a wide range of extravagant treatments.

The restaurants and variety of cuisine

There are plenty of restaurants within the resort. These include the rustically pretty La Cala, which is on the beach – a stunning and somewhat precipitous drive from the hotel. Their paella is legendary.

Principe Felipe: La Cala

The restaurant at the seclusion of La Cala

Amapola at the Hotel Principe Felipe is their signature restaurant and serves fabulous Mediterranean dishes made using the freshest of local ingredients. Try to get a table on the terrace so you can look out across the golf course and towards the Mar Menor in the distance.

Principe Felipe: Amapola

Enjoy Mediterranean delights on the terrace at Amapola

You can also enjoy Asian delights at Asia, tasty Italian at Luigis, bistro-style dishes at The Village, Indian cuisine at Dharma, tapas at La Bodega and snacks at the poolside bars.

Oh, and although it doesn’t involve any eating, you have to pay a visit to the Piano Bar with a live pianist and plenty of opportunities to sing along to your favourite songs. Just be prepared for a late night and very probably a sore throat the next day.

The surrounding area

Another of the real joys of La Manga Club is that you have the beauty of unspoilt Spain right on your doorstep. Just a short drive away you’ll discover fabulous beaches complete with chiringuitos (my favourite Spanish word – it’s a beach bar) and quaint villages.

Cabo de Palos

Cabos de Palos is a busy little fishing village where you can relax on the harbour with a glass of your favourite tipple watching the world go by. Boatfuls of divers come and go, families fish off the pier and fishing boats deliver their catch of the day to the very restaurants you’re eating in.

On Sundays there’s a fabulous market – my favourite market in the world. An early morning start makes it easy to get parking (this is one popular market) and gives you the chance to take a rejuvenating walk along the beach and over the cliffs, around the coastline as the sun slowly rises higher in the sky. There’s no better way to start the day.

La Manga: Cabo de Palos

Starting the day beachside at Cabo de Palos

The market sells an incredible array of fruit and vegetables – well, it would wouldn’t it – with so much grown locally. You can smell the peaches from 100 metres away, become the proud owner of a large bag of fresh garlic for €1 (seriously, €1 for about 8 bulbs) and sample tomatoes that taste of sweet sunshine.

La Manga: Cabos de Palos market

Cabos de Palos market is simply the best

And don’t forget to search out the other bargains, too. I’ve bought amazing shoes, shorts and dresses for such great prices.

Mar de Cristal

Mar de Cristal on the Mar Menor is another favourite destination – who couldn’t love a place called Sea of Crystal. This little town has a busy beach full of happy families, a lovely little chiringuito and a great beachside restaurant called Arena. It serves a wide variety of tasty local delicacies – including some of the best patatas bravas you’ll ever taste.

La Manga: Mar de Cristal

The view from my sunbed at Mar de Cristal’s chiringuito

La Manga: Bonobo

Beautifully crips patatas bravas with spicy sauce

Or there’s also the aforementioned sleeve with its wide expanse of sand, warm, inviting ocean and fabulous restaurants.

La Manga: The strip

While away hours on the beach along the La Manga Strip

The excursions

If you’d prefer to be guided on your explorations, the hotel offers different excursions every day. You could visit the unique Calblanque Park, get a culture fix in historic Cartagena, check out local markets and beaches or take to ocean for some snorkelling, sailing or kayaking.

If you don’t have a car for your stay the MangaBus is free and will take you anywhere on site on demand.

And finally, here’s an aerial shot of La Manga Club and its incredible surroundings. Now if that doesn’t look like paradise, I don’t know what does!

Principe Felipe: aerial shot

The stunning aerial shot of the resort

You can find out more about La Manga resort by clicking here.

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.

Travel: 24 hours in Brighton

Today we’re heading to Brighton at the seaside, less than an hour by train south of central London. I love train travel and this journey is almost too short, through picturesque quintessentially English countryside to the coast.

I visit whenever I have the chance, which really isn’t often enough. This time it was because my niece Maxine was visiting from Cape Town. Maxine sees a different side of Brighton to me through her dedication to her favourite YouTubers Zoella (Zoe Sugg) and her boyfriend Alfie Deyes who live locally. While I am clearly not their target market I did watch several vlogs with Maxine and can see their appeal.

They have certainly increased Brighton’s popularity among the international youth! And they do recommend places to go in Brighton which makes a good starting point as there are a bewildering amount of establishments to try. There are more restaurants per head in Brighton and Hove than in any other place in the UK with a ratio of one restaurant for every 250 people. There’s also one drinking establishment for every 320 people with over 1,400 licensed premises. See what I mean.

So here’s what we did in our (just over) 24 hours on a bright Autumn day (and night) in Brighton.

Wandered along Brighton Pier

I love the striking whiteness of the Pier which is 524 metres long, though it seems much longer. Some sort of optical illusion?  It was designed by Richard St George Moore and work on it began in November 1881. It finally opened in a grand ceremony on 28 May 1899. The Pier is now a Grade II Listed building that has more than three million visitors a year. It looks particularly sparkly at night – with 60,000 twinkling light bulbs.

The arcade buzzes with people playing games, there are thrill rides at the end and there’s a range of quirky shops. And it’s fast-food heaven – from fish and chips, sausages, hot dogs, burgers, milkshakes, crepes and of course ice cream – there’s plenty to tuck into. The chips are particularly good and it seemed appropriate to wander the pier snacking on piping hot chips wrapped in paper and doused in vinegar. Trust me, you need to do it.

Brighton: Pier

Exploring the pier on a sunny autumn day

The vibrant colours of the carousel looked stunning alongside the blues of sea and sky.

Brighton: Carousel

One of the many ways to keep entertained on the Pier

Enjoyed a beach-side beverage

Brighton Beach is a pebbly one so not so great for walking along. No problem, there’s a long promenade alongside the beach to get a good helping of bracing sea air and some endorphin-inducing exercise.

The arches along the beachfront have been developed into shops selling everything from the work of local artists, clothes, jewellery, and various souvenirs. And of course, food and drinks, from luxury seafood to ice cream. We were there on a beautifully sunny autumn day so ordered coffee from one of the cafes to take away and sipped it sitting on the beach with views across the sea to the pier.

Brighton: the beach

Spend time beach-side enjoying the view

Promenaded the length of the beach

I’m a big fan of a seaside promenade and there’s plenty to see along the four miles between Brighton Marina and Hove Lagoon. Of course there’s the pier and towards the other end of the beach you’ll find the delightfully colourful beach huts that the area is famous for. The huts are much sought after – well, having a place to shelter even in the middle of the English summer makes sense. There are a couple for sale if you have a spare £18,000!

Brighton: beach huts

Its worth walking down towards Hove for a view of the beach huts

You’ll see the Victorian influence in the architecture everywhere in Brighton. I particularly love the seaside bandstand which first opened in 1884. It hosts a variety of bands every Sunday through the summer and is also available for hire as a wedding or party venue. Even when it’s empty I swear you can almost hear the music playing!

Brighton: Bandstand

The beautifully intricate bandstand

Ate lunch at Red Roaster 

Situated at the bottom of St James Street in Kemptown, Red Roaster is a bright, plant-filled contemporary space with a tasty selection of breakfast/brunch dishes, sandwiches and salads – and they serve great coffee.

Brighton: Red Roaster

The trendy, brightness of Red Roaster

Brighton: Red Roaster

Red Roaster’s scrumptious chicken burger with curly fries

Brighton: Red Roaster

Drink up: the freshness of elderflower and mint

Tucked into a luxurious breakfast at The Breakfast Club

So here’s another reason for a long morning promenade. So you have the excuse to tuck into one of The Breakfast Club’s substantial brekkies. It’s their first venture outside of London, like all of them doesn’t take bookings and is extremely popular. The no-booking system is one of my pet hates – but as it happens we only had to wait about 10 minutes before being ushered to a table in this cool venue. The menu makes your mouth water, really – it’s taking breakfast to a different level.

I tucked into this delightful bowl of chorizo hash: chorizo, grilled peppers, mushrooms, caramelised onions and crushed potatoes all topped with a soft poached egg and served with a lemon and feta sauce. Yummy, yummy, yummy, it tasted as good as it sounded.

Brighton: Breakfast Club

And how’s this for the ultimate comfort food. Disco fries! Bacon, beer cheese, fried eggs, skin on chips, chimichurri and spring onions. Seems likely this dish was invented as a hangover cure – think I need to go back with a hangover and test it out.
Brighton: The Breakfast Club

Marvelled at the Royal Pavilion

The spectacular structure that is the Royal Pavilion does look somewhat out of place in modern Brighton. It was built as a pleasure palace by the sea for King George IV and is a mix of Regency grandeur and the style of India and China. It’s said the Germans didn’t bomb Brighton in World War II because Hitler wanted the Royal Pavillion as his seaside home. Can’t blame him – it certainly has wow factor.

Brighton: Royal Pavilion

The sight of the beautiful pavilion always amazes me

Visited doughnut heaven

Dum Dum Donutterie is a sight to behold. There’s a variety of doughnuts and cronuts (a cross between a croissant and a doughnut) beyond your imagination. Like the Galaxy cronut that’s made of butter croissant dough filled with blackberry and lemon butter cream and finished with a swirled fondant. The doughnut selection comes in standard and mini sizes and includes the delectable creme brûlée and chocolate creme options. Eating doughnuts will never be the same again.

Brighton: Dum Dum Donutterie

An array of doughnuts and cronuts to delight

Brighton: Dum Dum donutterie

Ready to go with a bag of tasty takeaways

Meandered through The Lanes

This famous area of the city comprises a collection of narrow lanes, creating a maze of alleyways and small, quirky shops. At first it all seems a bit bewildering but you soon pinpoint landmarks and realise they are simpler to negotiate than you thought. Like Choccywoccydoodah where you can marvel over the fabulously creative chocolate creations.

Brighton: Lanes

A must-visit destination for chocolate lovers

Sampled fabulous ice cream

Well, you can’t go to the seaside and not have some ice cream can you? No matter what the season. It’s no exaggeration to say there’s ice cream everywhere you look in Brighton. We picked Boho Gelateri for its hand-made Italian ice cream and over 20 flavours to choose from.

Brighton: Boho Gelateri

Ice cream is compulsory at the seaside

Indulged in a meaty dinner at The Coal Shed

For dinner we decided on elegant steak restaurant The Coal Shed. They describe themselves as “born from the love of cooking on fire”. Perfect. The focus on top-quality ingredients means dishes are kept simple and arrive bursting with flavour.

Brighton: The Coal Shed

The welcoming frontage of The Coal Shed

The space is contemporary, yet cosy and the menu easy to negotiate. The Black Angus steak burger was served with Bourbon relish, lettuce, pickles, tomato, onion and chunky beef dripping chips.

Brighton: The Coal Shed

The tastiest of burgers with beef dripping chips

I headed straight for a classic – sirloin steak with bearnaise sauce – one of my absolute favourite combinations. The tastiest of sirloins cooked to perfection and the creamiest of bearnaise. What more could you want?

Brighton: The Coal Shed

The perfect medium-rare sirloin with sweet baby potatoes

Brighton’s the sort of place I want to keep going back to. I love exploring on foot and it’s a great town to walk around – and a great town to sit around in too! All those bars and restaurants in such a relatively small area – mind boggling!

Where to stay

We stayed at the New Steine Hotel which is a five storey Georgian Townhouse in central Brighton, only a few minutes walk from the Brighton Pier and city centre. With its French influence and modern chic interior design, it is ideal for all travellers, families or business users alike, and boasts an award winning Sussex Breakfast using local produce, with full options for Vegan and Vegetarian. There are 20 rooms, from modest singles, to Deluxe Twins and Triples, with views over the New Steine Square and the sea.

Brighton: New Steine

The welcoming entrance to the hotel

Our ensuite twin room was very comfortable with modern British-themed decor (love a Union Jack), lovely crisp linen, tea-making facilities and a safe. All the essentials covered there.

Brighton: New Steine

Your comfortable home away from home

Find out more at newsteinehotel.com