It’s never been easier to get a healthy breakfast and restaurant lunches are typically lighter and brimming with salad options. But when it comes to date night, catching a friend or a group event, dinner is a time where good intentions can be derailed. I love going out, exploring new venues and drinking a good glass of wine – my fitness routine is never going to stop that! But I don’t want to undo all my efforts at the gym by overindulging when I’m dining out. I don’t feel good after I eat greasy or carbohydrate-heavy meals (hence the lack of pizza or pasta in my posts – gnocchi with lots of tomato sauce excepted!) and too much wine makes my 5.30am alarm a struggle.
While the definition of healthy food is subjective, I consider it as anything that’s minimally processed and eaten in moderation. I try to avoid anything from a packet and instead eat a variety of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables daily with nuts, wholegrains and proteins. Dark chocolate and occasional home-baked treats like banana bread are all the sweetness I need. Thankfully, perhaps in reaction to fast-food and convenience meals, restaurants are increasingly focusing on fresh, seasonal produce. Whether you have specific dietary needs such as gluten free, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or simply want nutritious yet delicious meals, these restaurants are for you! Options range from casual to special occasion, and all but one venue serves meat and alcohol.
1. DeJa Vu tapas restaurant, Northbridge
Comprising a rooftop venue and a restaurant, a first glimpse of Dejavu‘s menu reveals cocktails, sliders, and pizza – where’s the healthy you ask? Look closer. The pizzas are on activated charcoal bases. The hummus is made from carrots and served with vegetable sticks. Slider options include free range chicken and shredded jackfruit (vegans rejoice!) on house-made buns. There are also distinctly Australian flavours – think lemon myrtle, macadamia and damper. As for the cocktails Dejavu uses essential oils and coconut sugar syrups, and you’ll again find activated charcoal… in its tequila! The romantic rooftop setting and stunning service make this a magical night out.
Cost: Tapas plates $8-16, sangria $8 and cocktails from $17. Address: 2/310 William St, Northbridge | Website
2. New Normal, Subiaco
From the outside, this venue doesn’t look overly healthy. You’ll see wine, a rooftop bar and waitstaff with plates of delicious looking food. But on closer inspection, New Normal completely embodies my idea of healthy eating. The focus is on fresh, seasonal produce and it’s entirely sourced from Western Australia’s South West (drinks menu included). The menu changes so often, they don’t have paper copies (but if you’re shortsighted like me and can’t read the blackboard, you’ll be kindly given a chalkboard at your table). My boyfriend and I dined just before Christmas, choosing plates of tomato, golden beetroot, octopus and rosemary potatoes. I felt like we were in a renovated farmhouse, eating exceptional flavours picked straight from a garden. The atmosphere was intimate, wholesome and just lovely. Don’t wait another minute. Book your table now!
Cost: Approx. $60 per person, including a bottle of wine. Address: 2/23 Railway Rd, Subiaco | Website
3. The Raw Kitchen, Fremantle
Remember that time before bliss balls and coconut wraps were widely available in supermarkets?The Raw Kitchen opened in Fremantle eight years ago, pioneering healthy eating in Perth. Today, it’s evolved to beautiful warehouse venue that offers yoga, healthy living workshops and even a zero-waste store. But back to the food. Despite its name, not everything is raw. Think yellow tempeh curries, raw nachos with ‘cashew cheese,’ and a ‘live’ pizza with dehydrated buckwheat base. There’s no dairy, gluten, refined sugar or additives. The wine list has preservative free, organic and biodynamic options too! Eating out never felt so good.
Cost: Entrees/shares from $7, mains from $19, wine from $36 per bottle. Address: 181A High St, Fremantle | Website
4. Post, Perth CBD
I’ve only been to Post for breakfast but it’s open for lunch and dinner, so it’s going on this list. Set in the city’s stunning State Buildings, the menu features several dishes designed by its Como Shambhala spa, aimed at being light and nutritious. Enjoy dishes such as quinoa spaghetti, salads with carrot top pesto and plenty of local seafood in a beautiful heritage setting (how long can you stare at that ceiling for?). I’ll be returning for Post’s Champagne brunch served Sundays from 11.30am – nut seed ‘real toast’ with avocado, buckwheat cannoli cacoa dessert and a glass of champagne of course! Post perfectly captures indulgence without excess and you can even get a spa treatment before or after, if you wish.
Cost: Starters from $18, mains from $24. Address: State Buildings, corner of St George’s Tce & Pier St, Perth | Website
5. Hanami, Mt Lawley
With a focus on simplicity and minimal cooking times, Japanese is a great option when looking for healthy dining options. But I specifically keep coming back to Mt Lawley’s Hanami because it’s always so fresh. Sure, there are spring rolls on the menu and you could choose fried chicken with a pile of white rice. But there’s also edamame, endless seafood, cold tofu, and the option to have 5 or 10 pieces of sushi (thumbs up for portion control). The ambience is lively and casual, the food is delicious and you can’t beat the prices. Japanese is also the perfect opportunity to skip the beer or wine and drink green tea all night too.
Cost: Starters from $6, sushi from $6, mains from $17. Address: 685 Beaufort St, Mt Lawley | Website
A new year. A new calendar. A lot of empty spaces… for now! Perth’s glorious sunshine and mild winters means there’s never long between food and drink events. I love checking out new festivals but there are some events I look forward to every year. They’re consistently well organised, have a great range of stallholders, a good atmosphere and don’t cost a fortune. Grab a pen or for digital types, grab your smartphone and save the dates for my favourite food and booze events happening in 2018!
Araluen’s Chilli Festival, Perth Hills
This festival has travelled around, appearing at Fremantle’s Esplanade and last year taking over McCallum Park in Victoria Park. In 2018, Araluen’s Chilli Festival returns to where it all began – Roleystone’s Araluen Botanic Park. I love chilli and my man does too, so the festival is a great day for sampling chilli-flavoured sauces, snacks, baked goods, and alcohol! If you (or your mate) can’t handle the heat, there’s typically a few ice cream trucks and plenty of beer to cool things down.
Why I love it: A diverse range of stallholders and punters, united by their love of chilli.
Tip: Check out the chilli plant displays to learn about some seriously hot and rare varieties.
City Wine, Northbridge
Winter in Perth can be pretty miserable. It rains, it’s dark by 5.30pm but it’s never cold enough to snow. So it’s always a magical time when City Wine takes over Northbridge’s Urban Orchard. Rugged up with a wine glass in hand, you can wander from stall to stall and experience the best of West Australian wine. Tastings are free but wine is also available by the glass or buy a bottle to take home. The green surroundings, live music and of course, the vino make it the perfect catch up with friends or solo night out.
Date: TBC, usually a Friday and Saturday night in June.
Why I love it: It’s like visiting Margaret River, but with one metre between wineries.
Tip: Stallholders will look after any bottles you buy so you don’t have to carry them all night.
Good Food & Wine Show, Perth CBD
Don’t let memories of your last work conference put you off heading to the Perth Convention Centre. The Good Food and Wine Show is the biggest event of its kind in Perth, with food stalls covering everything from cheese and antipasti to desserts and health food products. There are huge areas dedicated to wine, beer, cider and spirits too. There’s also a strong local presence – last year I discovered Noshing Naturally vegan cheese and also met the founder of Turban Chopsticks meal kits! Tastings are free and there are plenty of bargains if you’re buying products to take home.
Date: 24 – 26 August 2018, various day and night sessions.
Why I love it: One ticket, hundreds of exhibitors. I’ll be honest. It’s pretty boozy.
Tip: Bring a reusable bag for all your shopping, or buy a trolley from the merchandise stand.
This is hands-down one of the most organised and well-curated events in Perth’s food and drink scene (congrats JumpClimb!). Held at Birdwood Park near the Brisbane Hotel, your ticket includes four hours of beer, wine and cider tastings. Each year I discover a new winery or find a new beer at an old favourite stallholder. There’s a big emphasis on local producers with a few east coast surprises too. Food options are equally boutique, with pop-ups from some of Perth’s best eateries. It’s outrageously good value if you get pre-sale tickets.
Date: TBC, usually a Friday night, Saturday day/night and Sunday day in October.
Why I love it: Meet the smaller brewers and producers in a hip but not too crowded space.
Tip: Bring a hat and sunscreen, as there’s serious competition for shade during the day.
WA Beer Week, various locations
This massive celebration of WA craft beer has been happening since 2002. I’ll confess, last year was the first time I got involved with WA Beer Week but I’m already excited for 2018! This 10 day festival features events across the state, including beer launches, masterclasses, dinners, quizzes and even a beer run (yep, the exercise kind). It’s a great chance to visit bars and breweries beyond Perth too, with events held in regional Western Australia too.
Why I love it: It’s a huge celebration of WA’s beer industry, no suits or heels required.
Tip: Get your tickets early! Events will sell out.
Ones to watch…
From the team behind Beauvine, Kegs by the Quay gets underway at Elizabeth Quay next week featuring more than 20 breweries and cideries.
Seafood lovers can rejoice as Fish and Sips Festival makes its debut at Port Beach in early February. If you prefer sweets, De Lish Expo takes over Crown Perth the same weekend.
South West in the City was a huge success on the South Perth foreshore in 2017 and has promised a return in early 2018.
I’ll be closely following Perth Craft Beer Festival, which last year swapped the awful token system at Northbridge for the much friendlier PayPass at Claremont Showgrounds.
I’m still yet to make it to the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, but with the State Government renewing funding for another year and the promise of it expanding to Perth’s Swan Valley – 2018 may finally be my chance!
For too long I’d scrolled through social media and been tormented by friends travelling through the Greek islands. My only visit to this Mediterranean nation was as a backpacker in 2005, when I revelled in the culture, kebabs and affordability of Athens for a week. Aside from the couple in my hostel room who got intimate most nights, I adored Greece and vowed to return when I got the chance. While I made several trips to Europe in the following years, Greece never quite happened. It was in fact only earlier this year that a friend’s wedding in London prompted a five week trip across the continent with my boyfriend. It was game on, Greece!
If you regularly read my blog, you’ll know we found a seemingly excellent route from Italy’s Cinque Terre to Santorini but our flight was diverted at the last minute. We instead spent the night in Athens and caught the eight hour ferry to Santorini the next morning. We arrived exhausted, mid-afternoon in the middle of May. In one direction were extraordinary views of the Aegean Sea, and in the other was a parking lot filled with taxis and travellers moving towards a single road up a rocky, barren hill. Our four night holiday had become just two full days, but we met our driver, checked in to our villa and opened a bottle of wine. Let the holiday begin!
Santorini is the largest of a small group of Greek islands called the Cyclades, about 240 kilometres (150 miles) southeast of Athens. The island is just 20km (12 mi) long, almost a crescent shape with the caldera (volcanic crater) on western side. The three main villages of Fira (also called Thira), Imerovigli and Oia are in the island’s north and on the western side, hence have “caldera” views. The resort-style beaches are on opposite side in the south, with archaeological sites also in the southern half. Santorini has a local population of just 15,000, but numbers swell during the peak summer season (June – August).
Did you know Santorini isn’t the island’s official name? It was given to the island by the Venetians in 1153, who arrived and saw a chapel for Saint Irene (Santa Irini). The name stuck, but the island remains Thera on all official documents. The capital Fira is a variation of Thera.
what to do
Sweeping views of the Aegean Sea and the distinct architecture are arguably the number one reason people visit Santorini. From the whitewashed buildings of Fira and Imerovigli to the more colourful townscape of Oia, seeing these villages against the backdrop of the water is unforgettable. Appreciate the different views during the day, sunset and at night when the pools shine turqoise. You can take in the views poolside, over drinks or a meal, while hiking or on a cruise (more details below). Be forewarned – the majority of Santorini is rocky, barren and doesn’t appear on postcards.
If you’re feeling energetic, there’s a range of walks on the island. The rocky but flat path between Fira and Imerovigli is an easy 45 minutes (no shade) and you can continue north on the more challenging path to Oia. The total walk from Fira to Oia is 10km (6 mi) and takes around 3 to 4 hours. Bring water and sunscreen as there’s little shade unless you retreat to a cafe. My boyfriend and I were still fatigued from hiking in Italy, so we just did the short Fira to Imerovigli section on our first day.
Those who are more adventurous should head to Skaros Rock, accessed from Imerovigli. We didn’t have time during our trip but the hike takes around two hours, and is reportedly challenging at times due to steps and some climbing to reach the top. Only about half the groups we saw from our villa during our stay reached the summit. Bring sunscreen and water, and possibly snacks if you’re going to stay out there.
Take a history lesson and visit Santorini’s two archaeological sites, Akrotiri and Ancient Thira. Akrotiri is in the island’s south-west, near Red Beach. Entry is €12 or there’s a combined pass with other attractions for €14, although there are some free admission days throughout the year too. Read more here. Ancient Thira is on the top of Mesa Vouno mountain, in the south-east side of the island near Pirassa Beach. Entry is €4 or you can also get the combined pass. Click here for more details.
We lost a day in Santorini because of our flight diversion, but otherwise I would’ve been cruising! While there are mixed reviews online, a work colleague who’d recently been to Santorini highly recommended my boyfriend and I see the island from the water. There are a few companies offering tours of the caldera and hot springs before finishing in Oia for sunset. One for next time!
amoudi bay (oia)
If you cruise the caldera, there’s a good chance your vessel will end in the port of Amoudi Bay at Oia. But you can also walk or drive down from the village and enjoy fresh seafood or a drink. I’m told this is one of the best swimming spots in Santorini. We only had time to gaze down at Amoudi Bay from Oia, and my heart broke a little. I told myself there’ll be other islands.
I love the water and desperately wanted to be beachside after a mostly chilly month in Europe. You’ll find Santorini’s most popular beaches along the eastern (non-caldera) side, near the Ancient Thera site. There’s Kamari Beach, and then the resort-like strip of Perissa and Perivolos with sun beds lined up on black sand. We spent several hours lazing by Perivolos Beach but the water was too cold for me! It wasn’t busy, however it a cooler day during the shoulder season.
Less for sunbaking and more for sightseeing are Red Beach and Black Beach. We followed signage while quad biking to reach the parking area for Red Beach, which is then a five minute rocky walk to a viewing area before another 10 minute walk to reach the beach itself. I don’t recommend the path for the frail or elderly. Black Beach is also in the south of the island, however we relied on Google Maps because there was no signage. We gave up after making a few wrong turns.
Being wine lovers, my boyfriend and I weren’t going to miss the chance to drink Greek vino! We booked a tour of Santo Wines weeks in advance and added on six glass of wine tasting and a food platter for sunset (€38 each). The walking tour was around 30 minutes and we learnt about the island’s unique grape growing method, where vines are woven into a basket shape to protect the grapes. Our group then watched a short video about Santorini’s history, which was interesting if a little cheesy. The best part was sitting outside and simply admiring the caldera views with my boyfriend while we enjoyed our enormous trays of wine samples and local produce.
The wine itself was average and we weren’t tempted to buy any, but the overall experience was magical. Bring a jacket for when the sun goes down and also some spending money, as there’s a sizeable store selling pasta, olives, tomato paste and other produce. Our hotel arranged transport which was €20 return for the two of us.
The biggest collection of shops I saw were in Thira, but they were very touristy. Sometimes that’s fun though! There are plenty of stalls selling dresses, shoes and hats plus standard souvenirs. I was much more interested in the stores in Oia, which looked more artsy.
Visiting Santorini is like an immersive in the Mediterranean diet, albeit with more wine. Local highlights include:
fava: a dish made from split peas, similar to Indian dal or hummus
sesame stick: breadsticks coated in sesame seeds
capers: edible flower buds from the caper plant
olives: and luscious olive oil
Seafood lovers will be in heaven and there’s no shortage of cheese or salads either. During our three night trip, we had everything from beachside pitas, grazing boards and wine, to fine dining with caldera views. The latter was a brilliant coincidence, as our accomodation Kapari Natural Resorts (see “where to stay” below) boasted one of Santorini’s top restaurants. It was too cold to sit outside, however we spent several hours enjoying three courses and a bottle of white wine recommended by the in-house sommelier. The bill came to just €110, including €45 for the wine. Excellent value – but be sure to book ahead!
Everyone we spoke to (hotel staff, other guests) recommended a different bar but they can be tricky to find in the village mazes. In the end, we just drank whenever and wherever the mood struck us. The warm days called for Mythos beer while we drank local white wine at night.
As mentioned under things to do, head to Santo Wines and do wine tasting at sunset. This was one of the most memorable experiences during our three night stay. If we’d had longer, I would’ve spent a day simply reading and drinking while occasionally looking up at the sea.
where to stay
There are three main options if you’re visiting Santorini for the first time:
Fira (Thira): the island’s capital and the biggest of Santorini’s three towns. Good for shopping, nightlife and central location. Closest to the airport and port.
Oia: the northernmost and second largest town. It’s artsy, colourful and boasts Amoudi Bay. About 30 minutes (15km/9mi) drive from Fira.
Imerovigli: the smallest of three villages, but walking distance (45 mins) from Fira. It’s more like a cluster of cliff-side villas and restaurants than a town, although you’ll find a convenience store and some cafes at the top. In my opinion, it’s the most romantic of the three.
Here are some crude analogies if it helps. For those familiar with the Indonesian island of Bali, Fira is like touristy Kuta, Imerovigli is like the romantic and relaxed Seminyak while Oia is like the artsy and further away Ubud. For those who know New York City, you’d call Fira midtown, Imerovigli Chelsea (close by but less hectic) and Oia would be the East Village or Soho (further away but distinctive vibes). Feel free to dispute these or make your own suggestions in the comments section below! There are other towns to stay in of course, however if you’re visiting for the first-time you probably want to be centrally based with the greatest number of amenities and attractions.
We splurged for the final leg of our Europe trip, staying at Kapari Natural Resort in Imerovigli for €330 (AU$510) per night. The price included a delicious buffet breakfast with made to order dishes as well, which we enjoyed outside overlooking the caldera. Our villa was spacious, cool and well equipped. The kitchen had a stove, kettle and refrigerator although no tea or coffee was supplied. The cavern-like style meant there were few windows, so we couldn’t see the caldera unless we stepped outside. Staff greeted us by name when we arrived and gave us a brief overview of the island and facilities. They continued to welcome us back each evening.
We booked through boutique hotel website Mr & Mrs Smith which secured us free hotel transfers and a bottle of wine and welcome platter. The hotel’s pool was very small (but we soon saw this was the norm) and cold, but again, it was mid-May. Next time, I’d try find a villa with views from our room or stay in Oia for something different.
It’s easy to walk around Santorini’s villages, but the winding paths can make trying to find a specific location difficult. This is especially the case in Imerovigli, where the nearly identical white properties and low-lying walls can feel like a maze. As mentioned, Fira and Imerovigli are walking distance while Oia, the beaches and archaeological sites will require transport. Your options are buses, taxis and minivans although we only saw cabs around Fira’s main square. We were quoted €40 for a return trip from Imerovigli to Oia in a minivan, which seemed outrageous for a 15 minute journey. We declined.
Rather, the best way to get around the island is to hire a quad bike (or “ATV” as they’re called locally). We arranged ours through our hotel for €56 for the day, which included a few Euros for insurance. There were cheaper bikes but we paid more for a sturdier option. We rode to the southern tip of the island, checked out Red Beach, had lunch on the eastern beaches before heading to Oia in the late afternoon. It was a memorable day, although the weather turned cold and rainy at the end. Be warned there’s no gas station in Oia so fill up at Imerovigli before going further north.
Santorini Airport is very basic. There’s a cafe inside but after clearing security, you’ll have a kiosk and plastic chairs with one lonely person in passport control. The day we left, our flight was delayed two hours because airport workers were on strike.
Greece is part of the European Union and therefore uses the Euro (€). We paid by cash and credit card, only using an ATM once (there was one at the top of Imerovigli next to the convenience store). Santorini isn’t as cheap as you might assume. For example, I got a manicure and pedicure for €45 (AU $70) while my boyfriend got a 60 minute massage for €60 (AU $95). As mentioned, transport can also be expensive.
English is widely spoken but be polite and learn some Greek. My head was already filled with French and Italian, but our waitress at Athens was kind enough to teach me the following:
efcharisto (ef-ka-RIS-to): thank you
parakalo (parra-kar-lo): you’re welcome/ please
Don’t expect all of Santorini to look like the postcards. The three main villages are small and beyond them, you’ll find mostly barren rock and the occasional industrial area.
There’s not much privacy either. You’ll be able to see the rooftop, paths and balconies of almost every other property around you from your doorstep.
Dress codes are very relaxed. Think maxi dress and sandals for ladies, while guys will be fine in button-up shirts and shorts even for higher-end places. Leave the heels at home.
There’s no shade and the sun will radiate off the white buildings. My boyfriend and I can handle sunshine but we got seriously burnt on the return leg of our Imerovigli to Thira walk.
I didn’t want to leave Santorini, and losing a day of our trip meant we barely saw Oia. The weather in mid-May was also too cool at times to lay by the pool. If we had more time, I would’ve climbed Skaros Rock, cruised the caldera, dined at Amoudi Bay and explored the beautiful art stores of Oia. But I’m grateful we made it to Santorini at all! It was 12 years since my first visit to Greece but I loved it just as much. And I guarantee there’ll be a third visit, although I’ll head to different islands and stay much longer!
I’d heard the most wonderful things about Florence. Called Firenze locally, the capital of Italy’s Tuscany region is 280 kilometres (170 miles) or three hours drive from Rome. Friends everywhere had told me how beautiful the city was, filled with Renaissance architecture, paintings and sculpture. I was therefore thrilled when my boyfriend and I’s journey from Italy’s Cinque Terre to Santorini, Greece would include a night in Florence. To be precise, we’d have just 12 hours to see all we could.
Given we hadn’t planned on stopping in Florence, I considered any sightseeing a bonus. However, the city is easy to get around on foot and lots of attractions are open until 9pm or later making it surprisingly easy to see a lot in a short amount of time. Here’s what we covered in one night:
2pm – hotel check-in
A friend who’d lived in Florence recommended we stay around the Duomo area as it was central, there were lots of eateries and attractions nearby, and it was close to the main train station. Given our short stay, we booked the mid-range Residenza d’Epoca Borgi Albizi (AU$190/night) just 15 minutes walk from the train station. We found the address without any problems but inside it was a little tricky to find reception. Our room was also up several flights of stairs (post-Cinque Terre hiking!) but such is Europe.
The room was spacious although it looked partially refurbished – the wardrobe was modern and huge, while the bathroom revealed the building’s true age. Staff were helpful in recommending good nightlife spots (see ‘dinner’ below). Address: Borgo Albizi, 14, Firenze | Website
2.15pm – sandwich
For every person who raved about Florence’s art, there was another who said our visit had to include a Tuscan sandwich. Think of a thick slab of focaccia stuffed with as much antipasti as you can handle. We’d been recommended the famous All’Antico Vinaio in “sandwich alley” (Via dei Neri), but told to expect long lines. Instead, we went to the less busy but (according to our hotel) equally as good Pana e Toscano (Borgo Degli Albizi 13). I was ecstatic to see a vegan sandwich on the menu (€5) while my boyfriend went for more traditional fillings. Either way, you’ll be stuffed!
2.30pm – Duomo
The Duomo is the most famous landmark in Florence. The 15th century cathedral dominates the city’s skyline and is the third largest church in the world. It’s free to visit the cathedral or for €15, you can access all areas (the dome, museum, crypt etc). If you want to climb the dome’s 463 steps, you’ll need to make a reservation (free). Visiting in mid-May, there were long lines everywhere so we simply walked around the outside. It was still impressive! There were lines gathering at another nearby attraction too – you can create your own ice cream at the Magnum Pleasure Store for €4.50.
My boyfriend and I were still full from our lunchtime focaccia, but we wandered to the Mercarto Centrale anyway. The first floor is full of Italian meats, cheese, pasta and fresh produce. There’s a few liquor outlets too. The second floor is a vibrant food hall, complete with wine bars and a flash cooking school. This place was a gastronomic heaven! I made a note to book a class if I’m ever in Florence again (and to get accommodation with a kitchen!).
Address: Via dell’Ariento, 50123 Firenze | Website
4pm – Ponte Vecchio
Everyone said I had to see the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge. Honestly, I wouldn’t bother unless you’re seriously into medieval history or architecture. It’s not particularly attractive from a distance and the walk across is brief, crowded and lined with jewellery sellers. I had a much better time two minutes away at Il Papiro. This paper store has several outlets across Europe but the Florence store has been in the same family for five generations. Be sure to visit the room at the back for a paper printing demonstration. You can buy hand printed paper by the sheet, or grab a packet of offcuts for €17. Address: Via Guicciardini, 47r | Website
5pm – Aperitif
By now, my boyfriend and I were pretty tired. We’d drank a lot of vino on our last night in Cinque Terre and then caught a 9am train and travelled five hours to reach Florence. We rested our feet and minds at Signorvino, overlooking the river. The venue sells take away wine as well as a range of wines by the glass and bottle. Staff didn’t judge me for ordering a much-needed Diet Coke before returning to wine. Its location between Pinto Vecchio and Piazza Michelangelo (see below) makes it an ideal stop before sunset. Make a reservation if you go at dinner time as the venue is relatively small and got busy as we left.
Address: Via de’ Bardi, 46R, 50125 Firenze | Website
6pm – Piazza Michelangelo
One thing I seek in every city is a lookout. Florence boasts Piazza Michelangelo, a large open air area on a hill where you’ll find performers, a restaurant, some souvenir stands and a few food vans. It’s a beautiful spot to watch the sun go down and enjoy an Aperol Spritz. I’m sure you could bring your own beers and picnic if you wanted. To get there, follow the signs along the river and roads. When you see steps, you’re close! There’s also a rose garden next door that’s free and pretty.
8pm – Hotel
We walked back to our hotel to change before dinner. It was only 30 minutes walk from Piazza Michelangelo and we could walk to our next destination too.
9pm – Palazza Vecchio
A friend in London had given us the heads up many Florence museums and attractions were open until 9pm or later. Perfect for a couple trying to see it all in a night! We reached Palazza Vecchio (Town Hall) just in time for a 9.30pm tour of the ‘Battlement,’ a fortress on top of the building. The nighttime views of Florence were a beautiful contrast to the scenes we’d seen from Piazza Michelangelo just hours before. You can peer five floors below through glass too and imagine medieval knights and battles. After our rooftop tour, we wandered through the museum for another 45 minutes. The map room, showing continents as imagined in the 15th Century was an absolute highlight, as was the elegant ceiling in the main hall. The museum (“museo“) entrance was €10, with an extra €4 for the battlement. Address: Piazza della Signoria | Website
10.30pm – dinner
Both our hotel reception and a friend had recommended we head south of the river for dinner and nightlife. We literally had a map with a circle drawn on it, but it’s roughly an area just below Ponte Santa Trinita (or around 10 minutes walk from the Ponte Vecchio). We followed the sounds of people and music and grabbed a table at Borgo Antico, facing Piazza Santo Spirito. It was perfect for people watching!
We ordered a bottle of white wine (€19.50) and scanned the food menu. There were big pizzas, plenty of pastas, large salads, and seafood and meat dishes. My boyfriend chose pizza with spicy salami, capers and mozzarella while I ordered a main of grilled vegetables (exactly what I wanted after days of spaghetti!). Our meals came with delicious wheat bread, olive oil and black olives. The bill was just €51 including the vino. Nearby restaurants began to wind down at midnight although the square stayed busy with people drinking and chatting. I can’t remember whether we caught an Uber or walked back to our hotel, so clearly it was a good night!
With our stomachs full of wine, pizza and vegetables, we packed our bags and collapsed. It wasn’t easy when the alarm went off five hours later, but I’m glad we had a night in Florence! It’s a gritty city excentuated by a lot of smokers, but its rich and prosperous history is evident everywhere. I would’ve loved to visit more museums and art galleries, and more wine bars! But we had a 6.45am cab booked for our 7.30am train to Rome Airport, so we had to say farewell to Firenze. You can read what happened next in How To Get From Cinque Terre to Santorini.
As with most European cities, you can reach Florence by air, rail or road. Florence Airport is 10km (6mi) from the city centre or around 30 minutes drive. An alternative is to fly to Pisa which is 80km (50mi) or about 90 minutes from Florence. As mentioned, it’s about about three hours drive from the capital Rome. We caught a train from Cinque Terre to Florence via Pisa, pre-booking through the excellent ticketing website Loco2. The fare was €18.30 each (Monterosso to Pisa €9.90, Pisa to Florence, €8.40).
It’s easy to get around Florence on foot, otherwise taxis and Uber are readily available too. The main train station is Firenze Santa Maria Novella (often “Firenze S.M.”). It has a restaurant, several cafes (including an allergy friendly one!), and a great bookstore. See my post Getting From Cinque Terre to Santorini for full details.
It’s helpful and polite to know some Italian before you go, although not essential to navigate the city or order food. Check out my post Italy’s Incredible Cinque Terre for some handy phrases, or download the free language app Duolingo to practice your Italian before you go!
Have you ever had a travel vision you desperately wanted to make reality? For a year, I’d dreamed of cycling through French villages and drinking chardonnay. Yes, I’m utterly city-centric but vineyards don’t grow downtown. When my boyfriend and I had the chance to spend five weeks in Europe earlier this year, experiencing regional France was at the top of my list.
I didn’t know much about French wine or whether small towns even existed nowadays. I googled France’s best wine regions (particularly for chardonnay) and cross-referenced a few wine websites. The town of Beaune, Côte-d’Or in east central France was repeatedly mentioned. To be sure this is where I wanted to holiday, I typed Beaune into Google Images and immediately liked what I saw. Vineyards, villages and greenery. There wasn’t a single skyscraper in sight!
My holiday dream was edging closer but the final element was cycling. I searched for day tours and found a highly rated company offering a full day of biking through local wineries, along with lunch. It looked perfect! We booked a three night stay in Beaune and three months later, my holiday dream became reality.
Beaune is the wine-making capital of Burgundy (Bourgogne, in French). The town is semi-walled, with most hotels, restaurants and attractions contained within or close to its 2.5 kilometre ring road. The town centre loosely comprises Beaune’s famous Hospices (also known as Hôtel-Dieu), Place de la Halle (town square) and nearby Place Carnot (park). From here, you’ll find Rue Monge and Rue Carnot with cafes and shops, while Avenue de la Republique and Rue de l’Hotel Dieu are direct routes out of the town.
Beaune’s train station (Gare de Beaune) is outside the walled section, about 10-15 minutes walk from the Hospices.
Beaune is two hours by train from Paris, stopping in Dijon (€23, 90 minutes, first class) then transferring to a regional train (€4.40, 20 minutes, to Beaune). When transferring in Dijon, don’t be alarmed if your train isn’t listed on the display boards. Ours left from a separate platform outside the station. An information officer pointed us to an exit, and told us to follow the orange line on the ground for two minutes. Sounds odd, but this will be helpful if you visit! We pre-booked all our tickets before leaving Australia via the excellent website Loco2.
When in Beaune, it’s easy to get around on foot as the town centre is flat and fairly compact. If you’re towing a suitcase, be aware of cobblestones and high kerbs. I didn’t see many taxis, however we never had a need for one. There a few car hire companies near the train station which we considered, but ultimately didn’t need.
What to do
1. Wine tasting/education
Wine is the key industry in Beaune and you’ll see it everywhere – from vineyards to wine bars, the heavy concentration of wine stores and even a wine museum! However don’t expect to visit wineries or vineyards without a tour or appointment. Many are family-run and they don’t have the facilities or time to open to the public. This is slowly changing, but like much of France, tradition here is very strong.
My favourite experiences were:
If you want to immediately immerse yourself in wine, visit Domaine des Vins in the town centre. There are six red and white wines available by the glass, or just browse the extraordinary range. We got a crash course here on local wines the first day we arrived, with one of the owners explaining the different villages and characteristics of the wines they each produced. There are many other wine stores in Beaune, but Domaine de Vins is the only one I saw offering tastings. Prices varied from €6 to €15 for a glass. Address: 16 Place de la Halle (near the Hospices).
Bike & Wine Tour
We booked a full day cycling and wine tour with Bourgogne Evasion (€137/ AU$200 each). After some difficulty meeting our guide Florian (we didn’t realise the tourism office had temporarily relocated as the confirmation email went to my junk folder), we were driven 15 minutes to the top of a hill for our briefing and bike set up. It was a beautiful sunny Friday and we were lucky to be the only ones booked on the tour that day.
Over 24km, we cycled through towns including Meursault and Pommard, getting a fascinating political and social history along with wine education. We learnt about viticulture, the strict French regulations and the different appellations from regional to Grand Cru. It was like we’d biked into the National Geographic channel.
We saw a castle, had wine tasting plein air, enjoyed a leisurely two-course lunch at a restaurant and visited two wineries. An unexpected highlight was stopping at a vineyard along the road and comparing the different rows – you could see the varied approaches taken by different winemakers.
There were one or two steep hills and while the website says it’s an easy ride, I would rate it as moderate. However, there was no pressure to rush your day. The number of people who greeted our guide Florian as we cycled through the villages is evidence of his popularity and experience. For both myself and my boyfriend, this tour was one of the best days of our entire five week trip. I highly recommend it! More info & bookings: http://burgundybiketour.com
Wine Tasting – La Cave de l’Ange Gardien
This was the most wonderful and surreal afternoon. For €10, my boyfriend and I sampled three whites and three reds over three hours with a fascinating lesson in the art of wine tasting and French wine. We booked almost by accident, walking downstairs into the modest cave and being told they could do a lesson on Saturday at 3pm. Our teacher Nicola was witty, charming and extremely knowledgeable. If you’ve got the time, do it! Address: 38 Boulevard Marechal Foch.
Of course, you could educate yourself in Beaune’s wines simply by drinking them! There are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants offering a wide variety of local wines. It was common to be given complimentary nuts, chips or other small snacks with your drink, especially when ordering a pichet (250ml). Prices varied greatly, so there’s something for every budget. See the drink section below for specific recommendations.
Lastly, we didn’t make it to the Musee de Vin (Museum of Wine) or the labyrinth wine cellars of Patriarche, which our tour guide had recommended. But they’re on my list for next time!
2. Hospices de Beaune (Hôtel-Dieu)
You can’t miss the hospices in the centre of Beaune. Built in 1443 as a hospital for the poor, l’Hôtel-Dieu is the heart and pride of the town. I was skeptical – how interesting could an old hospital be? But my expectations were greatly exceeded. After buying our tickets (€7.50 adult), my boyfriend and I walk through the hospices using the free audio guide and map. The history, architecture and artifacts such as uniforms, tapestries and equipment were impressive. The insight into medieval medicine was also an eye-opener. We spent just under an hour here.
Buying a baguette in France has been one of my life goals. I bought one at a supermarket in Paris, but the experience didn’t feel very authentic. I’d made sure our stay in Beaune included a Saturday so we could experience the weekly market! On a Saturday morning, the town centre is taken over by sellers offering everything from meat, cheese and fresh produce to baskets and clothing. The produce was excellent quality. We enjoyed fresh mandarines, berries, olives and bread along with sun-dried tomato tapenade and pastries.
If your French is rusty, some sellers speak English but you could equally say Bonjour and point at items with a polite s’il vous plait. Nothing was too pricey, although we did pay €10 for a large handful of tapenade. The ensuing picnic in our hotel room was magic. Bring cash.
4. La Moutarderie (Mustard Mill)
The last thing I expected to do in France was a mustard degustation but given Beaune’s proximity to Dijon, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d actually walked past La Moutarderie without realising it on our first day, as the exterior is quite modest. There are three spaces inside – the old mill, the current production area and the tasting zone. We tried to book a tour but the times didn’t work for us, so we just did mustard tasting instead. What an experience! The range of flavours and chatty, happy staff member explaining the varieties were excellent. While I was disappointed we couldn’t do a tour, the tasting alone was worth it. And it was free! There’s also a vending machine wall of mini mustards for €1 each – perfect souvenirs or gifts! Address: 31 Rue du Faubourg.
French cuisine dominates most of the eateries across town – this is serious meat and cheese territory. Being a lactose-intolerant vegetarian was a challenge (which I’d expected), especially as most menus were in French. As my bike tour guide explained “We are happy to do vegetarian and no dairy… but we just don’t know how to do it!.” Thankfully, the French do beautiful big salads with luscious dressings. If you’re picky or have allergies, try connect to wifi and Google Translate menu ingredients. Anchovies were quite common, as was raw salmon and of course, cheese (fromage)! The bread baskets filled with slices of fresh, delicious baguettes were constant, and quite a lifesaver.
If you’re not familiar with French food culture, there aren’t many places with ‘grab and go’ options. I didn’t see takeaway coffee during our entire stay, and you won’t find fast food outlets or sushi to go. Bakeries are the exception, and I did surprise my boyfriend by bringing him a lemon tart one morning.
Dining out can therefore get a little expensive with restaurant salads around €12-18 and mains from €15. Meat and cheese platters were prolific and good value for two people grazing. I saw one sandwich shop which was probably more casual and affordable, but the cooler weather meant getting take away and sitting outdoors wasn’t an option for us.
You’ll find plenty of dining on Rue Monge and around Place Carnot, as well as all along Rue Jean-Francois Maufoux, which becomes Rue Maufoux and eventually Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière.
La Lune (32 Rue Maufoux): It’s not your typical French fare, but this was one of the most memorable meals during our entire five weeks in Europe. La Lune is Japanese and French fusion: think asparagus with sweet miso, grilled mushrooms and an excellent wine list of course! Book ahead as the venue is small – you can contact them via Facebook.
Les Negotiants (7 Petite Place Carnot): This venue in the centre was packed with people drinking and eating on a sunny afternoon. The staff were so happy and helpful (they smiled at my mediocre French) and service was prompt. We returned a few days later for a casual lunch on a rainy Sunday and enjoyed the cosy atmosphere indoors, along with seeing local families and friends dining.
If you need groceries, there’s a small store in the centre called Casino Shop and there’s an Aldi within walking distance too.
We drank a lot of wine, by the glass and by the bottle! As mentioned, you’ll often be given bread or small snacks such as nuts or chips with your order. We found this was most common when ordering a pichet (250ml) of wine. I wish I could return to Beaune just to experience its wine lists all over again!
La Dilettante (11 Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière): this wine bar was full at 2pm when we arrived thirsty and a little hungry. We tried again 15 minutes later and got a table, and spent an hour or two sampling most of the wines available by the glass. There was a limited afternoon food menu – I had a simple green salad while my boyfriend had a chicken gratine, and we shared the bread basket. It was a fun spot with plenty of take away wine too.
Brasserie Le Carnot (18 Rue Carnot): a large bistro with a large undercover, al fresco area too. Again, it was the staff who made us feel welcome here. We ordered a few pichets and enjoyed the generous complimentary snacks.
Most retail is concentrated along Rue Carnot, Rue Monge and surrounding Place Carnot. The majority of stores were closed on a Sunday, but you’ll otherwise find some homewares, souvenirs and small clothing stores. Sephora is the most commercialised store you’ll find, while Minelli is a French shoe franchise (where I picked up some great ankle boots in Paris!). Of course, wine stores are everywhere.
For food shopping, the fromagerieAlain Hess boasts 200 types of cheeses, along with condiments, crackers and other gourmet items. I was astounded at the variety and would have purchased so much if we had a bar fridge or extra suitcase! As mentioned under food, you can get general groceries at Casino Shop (4 Rue Carnot) and there’s an Aldi.
Where to stay
We stayed at Hotel Abbaye de Maizières (19 Rue Maizières), a 4 star hotel in the town centre for about €200/AU$300 a night. I’d been immediately enchanted by its striking cellar and history – the property was owned by monks from the 13th Century until the French Revolution! The luxury linen, plush robes and Clarins toiletries were lovely. If the room had a bar fridge and wine glasses, it would’ve been perfect!
The location was ideal with most attractions, restaurants and cafes within five to 10 minutes walk. We’d hoped to dine in the restaurant, but found it was mostly quiet. The hotel is about 10 to 15 minutes walk from the train station which we handled fine with our large suitcases.
Do yourself a favour and learn a little French before you go. Sometimes, I would speak French and receive a response in English but my efforts were always appreciated. Here are some basics, remembering the French don’t usually pronounce the last letter or two of their words.
Hello/good day: Bonjour
Hello/good evening: Bonsoir
Yes/no: Oui (“we”)/Non (“no”)
Please: S‘il vous plaît
Thank you: Merci
I would like..: Je voudrais… (“voo-dreh”)
What is..?: Quell est..? (“kel-eh”)
Have a nice day: Bonne journée (said as a farewell)
Do you speak English? Parlez-vous anglais? (“on-glay”)
Lots of businesses will close for lunch between 12pm and 2pm, including the post office La Poste. Many of the shops in the town centre close on Sundays too. Opening hours are usually in 24 hour format, such as 900 h to 1730 h. If you want to make the most of the Saturday market, get accommodation with cooking facilities. I desperately wanted to roast asparagus!
Overall, Beaune was everything I’d hoped for and it was refreshing to spend time in a place which hadn’t succumbed to modern pressures. The French approach to dining – quality produce, smaller portions and taking time to eat is a lesson we could all embrace. I loved learning about French wine, viticulture and the history of the region. After my wine tasting lesson, I’ve never looked at a glass the same way again! Merci Beaune pour une parfait vacance!.
I’m a city-dweller. I like to holiday in big cities. I like exploring the complex jungles of concrete, bars and metro systems. Nature is something I find in city parks or on a day-trip before returning to the sanctuary of my apartment at night. I run but I can’t ski, and I certainly don’t snowboard.
Needless to say, New Zealand was not on my travel radar. As I boarded my flight to Queenstown in 2015, I felt like a foreigner. I was surrounded by people with chunky knit beanies and snow bags. I was an imposter. A city-dweller! But two beautiful friends were getting married in the snow, so to Queenstown I went. At least I could hike!
It turns out, I got struck with a horrible mystery virus and was bedridden for most of the holiday. But the few days I ventured out in Queenstown have stuck with me ever since. I was enchanted. There’s something magic about the city, with its pristine lake, distant snow-capped mountains and streets of adventure seekers. I missed the chance to experience the party-side of Queenstown (which I’m told is wild), but even the wine bars with log fires were gorgeous and cosy. Queenstown, you won me over!
Getting there is a short 3 hour flight from Melbourne or Sydney or 10 hours from Perth (via Sydney, Melbourne or Auckland). It’s not exactly a weekend away, but it’s a winter wonderful that makes for a special week’s vacation.
Here’s my guide to Queenstown!
Queenstown sits along the shores of the mighty Lake Wakatipu, about 15 minutes from Queenstown Airport. It’s hard to take your eyes off the stunning water views, but if you gaze up you’ll see snow-capped mountains forming an almost distant fort around the town. The city centre is small and fairly flat, with just a few main streets and a pedestrian mall where most eateries, shops and hostels are. A little further around the lake (between 10-30 minutes walk) is a stretch of hotels, including Rydges and Mercure. You’ll quickly hit inclines once you leave the lake and CBD area.
Where to stay
My first instinct was to book a five-star hotel along the lake. However my boyfriend, who’s been to Queenstown before, said the majority were slightly out of the CBD (up to 30 minutes walk). Not far, but not ideal for a group or walking home from the pub. Instead, we booked Novotel Queenstown Lakeside for four nights (NZ$200/night). It was perfect! Just metres from the lakefront, and you literally cross a street to hit bars, dining and shopping.
The hotel itself was modern, clean and staff were fantastic. It was no problem to park our hire car but from memory, it was cheaper to park it on the street if we had multiple trips out. I didn’t eat at the bar or restaurant but everything looked good when I walked past. Being ill, I was so grateful for room service and free wi-fi! I had the minestrone soup delivered most days which helped bring me to back to health. But the absolute luxury of this hotel? It had a laundry!
What to do
1. Hit the Snow
The long, skinny bags carried by many as they touch down at Queenstown Airport gives you a good idea of why people come here. Whether you ski or snowboard, you can easily spend a week in Queenstown hitting plenty of different spots. The bigger mountains are Cardrona, Treble Cone, Coronet Peak and The Remarkables. The ski season generally runs from early to mid June until October, but of course each year will vary. To get to the snowfields, you can hire a car and drive or catch one of the buses that leave several times a day from central Queenstown. Some offer hotel pick up too.
If you want to splurge, go heli-skiing. You’ll be flown to a spot only accessible by helicopter, have a guide and be spoilt with untracked runs. You want to be at least an intermediate to advanced snowboarder/skier to do this. The price varies on how many runs you want to do in a day, but it’s around NZ$1000. My boyfriend went with a group to Wanaka and he was ecstatic (and exhausted!) when he returned. If you can afford it, it’s a must-do.
Not a skier or snowboarder? Neither am I! My plan was to hike and trail run in Queenstown while my boyfriend was on the slopes all day. That didn’t to go plan, but I did manage to hike the Tiki Trail on my final day. The trail starts in central Queenstown at the bottom of the Skyline Gondola. Just follow the signs and walk up! It’s fairly steep most of the way and took me around two hours, but I was still sick and took it really easy. The highlight (apart from reaching the top) was seeing snow. The sun was out and it was maybe 6°C (42°F) – I didn’t expect snow at all! Clearly, because I was wearing Lululemon crops and sneakers.
Once you reach the top, there’s a cafe, restaurant, restrooms and a souvenir shop. Grab a cup of tea and take in the expansive views of Queenstown and The Remarkables mountain range! There’s outdoor seating too. Don’t want to hike? For NZ$33, you can catch the gondola to the top and back. I took the gondola down the mountain, but it was nowhere as rewarding as the hiking feeling!
I was sick as a dog, but I still got my retail fix! With The Remarkables as your backdrop, shopping in Queenstown is a unique way to spend a few hours. You can find plenty of stores selling New Zealand artisan foods and wine, along with retailers like Lululemon, Peter Alexander, Witchery and Quiksilver. You can also pick up hiking or snow gear from places including Kathmandu and Macpac. There are bigger shopping centres on the city’s outskirts too. You wouldn’t visit Queenstown solely to shop, but I happily enjoyed an afternoon exploring the stores.
4. Day trips
There are some cute towns near Queenstown and you’ll encounter spectacular views throughout the journey. I’d recommend Arrowtown (20 mins) for an afternoon or drive through the stunning Crown Range to Wanaka (1 hour), where we stayed three nights. On the way to Wanaka, stop at the Cardrona Hotel for lunch (40 mins from Queenstown). It’s one of New Zealand’s oldest pubs and one of only two remaining buildings from the Cardona Valley gold rush era. You probably need to double these travel times though, because you’ll constantly stop to take photos!
food & Drink
What do tourists do after hitting the snow all day? Shower, eat and drink! There are heaps of dining options in Queenstown, from classic pubs to Mexican, Japanese and Starbucks. I didn’t eat out much (like I said: room service minestrone) but the few places I did go were reasonably priced with very sizable portions.
Do NOT leave Queenstown without having a Fergburger! My sensational man delivered one to me at our hotel room when I was bedridden, insisting it was a must-have Queenstown experience. He wasn’t kidding. My ‘Holier Than Thou’ (NZ$11.50) with tempered tofu, coconut satay sauce, bean sprouts, fresh cucumber and tomato was truly a spiritual experience. O-M-G.
While my trip to Queenstown was tame, I did make it to a few wine bars. It was heavenly to sit by a log fire, in dim lighting with a glass of a New Zealand white. You’ll smell the distinctive woody smoke in almost every place you go to. It’s easy to bar hop across the city as you’re never far from a drop!
If you’re staying centrally, you can get around Queenstown on foot. We booked a hire car and collected it at the airport, as we needed to get to Wanaka for our friends’ wedding. It was handy for checking out nearby towns but certainly not essential for Queenstown. As many people come to New Zealand to explore the landscape, there were plenty of hire cars at the airport and largely affordable. As mentioned, there are regular buses to the snow fields and some offer hotel pick ups.
The New Zealand Dollar (NZD) is pretty close to the Australian dollar, with NZ$1 buying about 90 Australian cents. I convert it mentally by adding 10 per cent to the Australian figures. Here are some examples (as at March 2017):
AU $10 = NZ $10.80
US$10 = NZ $14.50
EUR 5 = NZ $10.60
GBP 5 = NZ $8.80
While I didn’t explore as much of Queenstown as I wanted to, my limited trip was still magnificent. New Zealand is truly a land of jaw-dropping beauty, and the areas I saw were pristine, clean and sparsely populated. I’ve already recommended Queenstown to family looking for a week long holiday somewhere different, and who can resist a winter wonderland with wine? I’m looking forward to returning and conquering those trails – and experiencing the party town vibe!