Summer Favourites: Top 5

Monday 31 August 2015

In honour of the last day of summer 2015 I want to recap on some of the spectacular places I visited this summer. Hopefully my top five summer destinations of the year will inspire you to start planning for summer 2016 - it's never too early to dream and plan for those desireable summer holidays!

1. Siena for Il Palio

The highlight of my summer this year was attending the unforgettable horse race, Il Palio, an event which has been in people's calendars for over 500 years. Il Palio transports you back to medieval times; the customs and traditions surrounding the event have not changed since the 14th century. The spirit and energy emanating from each neighbourhood (contrada) is palpable and emotions of the local Sienese run high as they passionately show pride for their contrada. The flags, emblems, contrade colours, songs, banquets and general merriment {and rivalry} leading up to the event make stunning Siena even more magical than normal. We decided on a whim to watch the race from the Torre contrada and I will never forget the moment when they actually won! Were were so overjoyed to be part of this crazy occasion and feel like family to a contrada that erupted into tears of joy and celebration that lasted through the night. It was one of those bucket-list moments collected on your travels that you can share with family and friends for years. Il Palio is a must-see event and be sure to choose your contrada wisely because watching the race from the winning neighbourhood will make you feel a sense of patriotism for an obscure neighbourhood in Siena that you didn't even know existed. If you want to get an authentic idea of the fierce passion and unabated sense of pride held by the Sienese people for their beautiful city then add Il Palio to your to-do list for summer 2016. 

2. Paris

I've always had a love affair with Paris since spending time there with my family during the summer holidays when I was little. As I've grown up and got to experience Paris on my own and with friends, the magic of the city never ceases to amaze me. Paris is bursting with such happy energy during the summer; people dine and drink coffee outside, the gardens are in full bloom and watching the Eiffel tower light up at dusk fills my heart with so much happiness. The long summer nights are perfect for exploring the different arrondissements and watching the moon reflect off the Seine as you stroll along the river. The beautiful red roses in Square Rene Viviani provide the perfect backdrop for a summer picnic full of eclairs and other French treats. Everything about summer in Paris is so dreamy and magical, if you haven't experienced it yet then definitely add it to your list for next summer. 

3. Monaco

My visit to Monaco was brief {1 day & night} so this is as much a reminder for myself to plan another trip possibly for next summer. From what I saw of Monaco, I think the small Principality has a lot to offer for a summer destination: beautiful beaches, stunning views, people/car/yacht watching and plenty of yummy spots to dine and drink. Basically, it ticks all the boxes for a European summer destination. 

4. New York City

Summers in New York City are blissful, fun and busy {in a good way}. Despite the sweltering heat, I've always enjoyed spending time there during the warmer months. It's true that my trips to NYC are made better by the fact that my best friends lives there and she always introduces me to new restaurants, bars and cool places to visit. This July I walked across Brooklyn Bridge for the first time and felt inspired to be walking across such an iconic landmark and seeing the stunning view of Manhattan that people often dream of. I ventured to the top of The Rick to watch the sun set over Manhattan on a warm summer night and to feel the buzz and vibe of NYC, a feeling that can't be replicated anywhere else. My favourite parts of the city are the West Village and Soho. I love getting lost amid the quaint brownstones and stumbling upon little coffee shops and delicious ice creameries {Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream *drool*}. Not that I need an excise to visit NYC but since my sister will also be moving there soon I'll most certainly be spending more time in NYC next summer. 

5. Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen is one of those places that can't be describes on paper and photos only give people a small glimpse into the city's character and profound beauty. If I had to pick a favourite destination for this year, this would be it. Chefchaouen soothes the soul with the calming power of the city's powder blue walls and breathtaking scenery of the Rif mountain range. I would recommend visiting in early summer before the heat becomes too harsh and it's still pleasant to walk around outside. My number one tip for visiting Chefchaouen would be to charge your cameras beforehand. This is the most photogenic city and a perfect summer destination for all the adventurers, foodies and photographers out there. 

Marrakech: Top 10

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Simply uttering the name Marrakech sends ones senses into overdrive by invoking memories of the sounds, smells, tastes and sights of this enchanting city. The Medina is a kaleidoscope of bright and beautiful colours. I loved the contrasting blue sky against the terracotta Medina walls against green cacti and palm trees: layered colour blocking, a photographer's dream. I loved getting hopelessly lost in the labyrinth of  alleyways and souk stalls, buying dried fruits {and eating my body weight in dates} and taking in the hustle and bustle of life that vibrates at a different frequency in a city that makes chaos seem exciting and strangely alluring. 

1. Souks
Explore the maze of covered souks and embrace the art of haggling, it will inevitably happen. Also, keep an eye out for treasures and leather goods for a bargain price. I made the mistake of carrying only hand luggage and regret not checking in a suitcase stuffed with exotic carpets, lanterns, cushions and leather poufs, ideal for re-creating a Moroccan-style haven back home. 

2. Nomad
We came here several times during our stay in Marrakech, we were drawn to the 360 degree views of the Medina and the exquisitely tasting food and wine. Nomad is a quiet retreat from the madness of the souks downstairs and the perfect spot to watch the city turn a golden hue as the sun dips below the horizon.

Nomad, 1, Derb Aarjan, Marrakech Medina

3. Minaret & Jardin Koutoubia
This is the tallest landmark in the Medina and while non-Muslims cannot enter inside the mosque I would recommend walking around the gardens and admiring the architectural beauty from the outside.

4. Jamaa El-Fna
Blitz your senses with a visit to the main market square which comes to life after nightfall. It is filled with food stalls galore {a cheap and tasty dinner option} offering everything from sheep heads to kale smoothies, lots of options for the adventurous foodie. After food-stall-hopping, check out the snake charmers or listen to traditional Berber music by one of the many live performers in Jamaa El-Fna. If the chaos proves to be too much, opt to watch from a distance at one of the many rooftop restaurants surrounding the main square.

5. Palais de la Bahia 
The Palace is a beautiful example of Islamic architecture with several long courtyards surrounded by thick columns. The simplicity of the symmetrical layout combined with the intricate Moroccan-style carvings and tiles will leave you speechless. The detailing in impeccable.

6. Kosy Bar
A rooftop cafe close to Palais de la Bahia, Kosy bar has a wonderful view of Marrakech with a bonus view of nesting stalks on the adjacent building. The cocktails are a little pricey but the fresh mint tea is a delicious and refreshing alternative.

Place des Ferblantiers, Rue de Berrima, Marrakech

7. Jardin Majorelle
A tranquil botanical garden located in the new city and painted a vibrant cobalt blue, Majorelle gardens is a peaceful retreat from the hectic Medina. It is one of the most colourful and beautifully-kept garden oases I have visited on my travels. Take your time strolling amid the cacti, towering palm trees and exotic flowers or sit under the gazebo to admire the pretty, pink water lilies.

8. A Day Trip to the Atlas Mountains
I've always been an advocate for escaping the city and connecting with nature even if only for a day. The Atlas Mountains are a short drive from Marrakech and an excellent way to experience Berber culture and see a glimpse into rural Moroccan life.

9. Traditional Hammam
Despite popular belief, stripping down to ones skivvies is not compulsory when attending a traditional Moroccan Hammam. I adopted the awkward Western bikini-wearing approach, which will attract some looks from the locals, but saves you the mortifying experience of being exfoliated by a small Moroccan lady whilst also being but-naked in a hot, confined space with your close friend and sister. I'm far too British and bashful for that kind of nonchalant nakedness. However, it's an experience one cannot forgo whilst in Morocco, you will leave feeling refreshed, exfoliated, smelling of argan oil and with silky smooth, cherub-like skin.

10. Mamounia
One item on my list which I didn't get to experience and which I'm saving for my return trip to Marrakech is a day at the luxurious Mamounia. I dream of exploring the palatial hotel {spa, gardens, pools & cuisine} and feeling like an Arabian princess.

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