Category Archives: You can take the girl out of London…

Travel – Non-London trips both in the UK and abroad

Back to the White Isle: Relaxing and partying in Ibiza

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

San Antonio draws 100s of holidaymakers to watch its beautiful sunset from the seaside cafes

For anyone who likes clubbing or dance music, Ibiza is a must do at least once in their lifetime. I have been twice and am definitely planning to return. I have clubbed in London since the late ‘90s and noticed a huge decline in clubs over the years. Most of the superclubs have closed down, with Fabric one of the few exceptions, so no wonder so many people are drawn to the Balearic Island every summer. While I’m usually a lover of culture and sight-seeing when I go abroad, my recent holiday to Ibiza was strictly partying, eating and chilling out.

In June this year, I spent a week on the White Isle. My previous visit two years ago was very fleeting, so I was looking forward to exploring more of the island’s resorts and nightlife. The three main resorts for those looking to party are Ibiza Town, Playa d’en Bossa and San Antonio. Ibiza Town is the island capital and includes a huge range of restaurants, port side bars for pre-clubbing drinking and is home to the iconic Pacha – the original Ibiza club which has been there since 1973. It also includes the UNESCO World Heritage Site old town with the cathedral, museums and a necropolis for those looking for some history.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Check into the Hotel Es Vive for some R&R in between partying

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Vista: The rooftop terrace at the Hotel Es Vive was a relaxing place to finish the day

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Café Mambo is a good place to eat, watch the sunset and start off your evening

A great place to stay near all the action is Hotel Es Vive – a boutique hotel located just west of Ibiza Town and near Figueretas beach. The hotel provided a perfect place to unwind after the hedonism of the night before. Es Vive is designed in an Art Deco style with swimming pool, spa, restaurant and bar. The food and cocktails were delicious and the service was top-notch. The staff throughout the hotel were incredibly friendly and had answers to any question you had. As well as giving you all the clubbing information you need, there was often an on-site DJ playing tunes as you sunbathe around the pool. However, as you may have noticed in previous posts, I’m a sucker for a rooftop venue so was particularly drawn to the rooftop terrace at the hotel. Including comfortable sunbeds and chairs, it’s a great place to catch some late afternoon rays and watch the yachts on their way to Ibiza Town. Although I didn’t get one myself, my friend had a body massage at the on-site spa and said it was incredibly relaxing and good value.

On the opposite side of the island is San Antonio – a popular destination for package holidays. Admittedly Ibiza can be expensive for nightlife, however San Antonio is the place to go for more affordable drinking. Some of the drinks offers were incredibly cheap for large quantities of alcohol if that’s what you’re looking for! We only visited San Antonio once during our trip – the main draw being to watch the sunset. The famous Café Del Mar and Café Mambo are situated side by side with great views of the sunset. If you can’t get a table at either, there is plenty of room on the rocks below. On the night in question we went, the DJ at Café Mambo blasted out a classical song as the sun sank into the sea, prompting a huge round of applause and cheering from the crowd as it finally said goodbye until tomorrow. I have watched many sunsets in my time, but that was one of the most enjoyable. It became an event and the atmosphere was brilliant. We ended up eating at Café Mambo – the tacos were particularly yummy and were washed down with a bottle of Cava. Following our dinner and drinks, we headed to nearby Es Paradis – one of the island’s big superclubs. The venue has an airy outdoor feel and plays host to its famous water parties and Kisstory on Thursday nights. Not forgetting Amnesia and Privilege, both located on the road to San Rafael.

Read the rest of this entry

Venice Carnival 2013: A masquerade on the City of Water

Sexy Sydney: There’s more than you think to Australia’s harbour city

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

What a view! Vista of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge from the Botanical Gardens

It’s known for its golden beaches, harbour and iconic architecture. Sydney has always been a big draw for visitors to Australia, with many travellers starting and ending their journey in the Harbour City. With the city centre situated in the picture perfect harbour, it’s a rarity that a city has an ability to combine urban living with the beach.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Iconic: The shells of the Opera House

Like Melbourne (see Marvellous Melbourne: There’s so many reasons to visit Australia’s cosmopolitan city), I also lived in here nine years ago as a backpacker and loved it for very different reasons than its Victorian rival. As I returned to New South Wales, I found the city hadn’t changed as dramatically as Melbourne in the intervening years. Like always, the watersides of Circular Quay and the Botanical Gardens proved the draw they always were and I found myself attracted to both like a magnet frequently during my trip.

This isn’t supposed to be a comprehensive guide to Sydney (we’d be here all day!), but this small guide gives an introduction to the city and a few tips and places that I recommend for visitors. Just like Melbourne, I highly recommend picking up some of the free Sydney city guides, which include money off vouchers to many attractions. I found Sydney an expensive city (and this is coming from a Londoner!) so every little helps. A good place to stop by is the official tourism offices in Darling Harbour and The Rocks, which have a wealth of information, leaflets and helpful, friendly staff. The Darling Harbour one also sold disposable rain ponchos should you need to buy one for the whale watching tours which depart from here.

City Centre

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Retail therapy: Shop till you drop at the Queen Victoria Building

The city centre is bordered by Circular Quay, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House to the north and Darling Harbour to the west. Not quite a traditional grid system, the main roads of George Street and Pitt Street are the ones to head for if you get lost.

Sydney city centre is great for shopping. Near Town Hall station are Paddy’s Market – a great place to find tourist bargains – and Queen Victoria Building, an 1890s Romanesque shopping mall which continues underground all the way to Pitt Street Mall so you can shop until you drop without having to waste time at the slow pedestrian crossings.

Anyone travelling into Sydney via train or plane can’t miss the Sydney Tower – the tallest building in city. Located on Market Street, visitors can whiz up to the Sydney Tower’s Eye‘s Observation Deck for 360 degree views of the city. Booking online is a lot cheaper than the walk price – AU$18,20 compared to AU$26, or some of the tourist info booklets have discount vouchers too. Or if you’re feeling a bit braver, partake in the Skywalk, an open-air moving platform, an experience which starts from AU$48.50 (online adult ticket). Alternatively, you could book a table at one of the restaurants in the Tower, including the Sydney Tower Buffet or 360 Bar and Dining.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Harbour sights: Inside the Opera House (left) on the tour and enjoying
some bubbly at the Searock Bar (right)

Circular Quay

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Brunch with a view: Scrambled eggs on sourdough toast at the
Sydney Oyster Bar

As well as being the departure point of most of the ferries, Circular Quay is also a good meeting place, with some of the city’s most iconic sights in walking distance. A short walk to the north east is the Sydney Opera House, which has stood on Bennelong Point for 39 Years. There are several productions on every day so try and catch a show or take the Opera House tour, which I can highly recommend. I did the one hour ‘Essential tour’ (AU$29-35) which gave you the history of the design and building and the chance to visit the building’s many theatres and studio spaces. Although I had a discount voucher from the official Sydney guide, I did think it was expensive for an hour tour. However, the building is so unique and iconic and the tour guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, it was worth it.

On the western side of the quay is the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is free. In the same building as the Overseas Passenger Terminal are various restaurants giving a fine view while you dine of the Opera House and Harbour, including Ocean Room and Quay.

MOAMG likes: Searock Bar on the eastern side of Circular Quay. With seating both inside and out, Searock has a brilliant happy hour with beers, wine or bubbly for only AU$5 from 5-7pm every night. I must confess I ended up here often either alone or with friends to sip a glass of bubbly after a long day sightseeing as I gazed at the Harbour Bridge.

Sydney Oyster Bar. Another alfresco bar/restaurant on the eastern side of Circular Quay. I had brunch on a sunny Friday lunchtime of delicious scrambled eggs on sourdough toast and a pot of Earl Grey tea.

Opera Bar. Located on possibly one of the best spots in Sydney, the Opera Bar includes both indoor and alfresco dining and drinking on the lower concourse on the lower concourse of the Royal Opera House. The views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House are stunning. Great spot for lunch or pre-dinner cocktails. Also features live music.

Read the rest of this entry

Marvellous Melbourne: There’s so many reasons to visit Australia’s cosmopolitan city

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Marvellous Melbourne – the skyscrapers of the CBD overlooking the Yarra River

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Head for heights: Check out the view from the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower

Many visitors to Australia tend to spend their time in Sydney, Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) or the Gold Coast. To a majority of overseas travellers, they’re on a limited timescale to see so much of a huge country so many miss out on Melbourne – the capital of Victoria.

Having previously lived in the city for five-six months as a backpacker nine years ago, I recently returned to Melbourne for the first time as a holidaymaker for a friend’s wedding. With other friends also in the city for the same event, I was able to use my ‘semi-insider’ knowledge to show them the Melbourne I love. While things had certainly changed a lot since I had lived there, the cosmopolitan city has retained the laid back, friendly atmosphere and gastro delights it has always had.

While researching Australia, many holidaymakers may find not many sights drawing them to Melbourne. While the city is lacking in architectural wonders like Sydney’s Opera House or Harbour Bridge, there is a certain ‘something’ in the air which makes Melbourne a great place to visit. Melbourne’s big attraction is its numerous cafes, bars and restaurants – you’ll be hard pushed to find a bad meal. Depending on what you like and the prices you’re prepared to pay, there’s the upmarket brasseries of Toorak and South Yarra or the chilled out cafes in Collingwood and Fitzroy.

Before I go into details with my tips of things to see and do during your trip to Melbourne, I highly recommend picking up the official visitor guide to Melbourne, which can be found at the airport and other tourist hotspots. It has extensive maps, information, listings and vouchers giving you discount to Melbourne’s many attractions. While this blog post isn’t an extensive guide, it includes what I personally love about the city and includes many sights I believe should be top of your list while visiting Melbourne.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Shop till you drop: Royal Arcade (left) off Bourke Street and Queen Victoria Market (right)

CBD (Central Business District, aka the City Centre)

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Get your bearings: Hail the free City Circle tram looping the CBD

The CBD, like many Australian cities, is laid out in a grid system so is easy to get around. Among the main streets to look out for are Flinders Street by the Yarra River, which includes Federation Square (a good meeting place with cafes, events and free wi-fi), Swanston Street, Collins Street and Bourke Street – some of which is pedestrianised for the city’s main shopping area. To those first arriving in Melbourne, I recommend hailing the free City Circle 35 tram, which does exactly what it says on the tin. The vintage tram gives information about the city’s sights and history and can help you get your bearings.

Melbourne is renowned in Australia for its museums with the Immigration Museum, Old Melbourne Gaol (which includes Ned Kelly’s death mask as he was hanged there in 1880) and the Melbourne Museum all located in or just outside the CBD. Just north of the CBD is the Queen Victoria Market, which has been open since the 1870s. The expansive market is helpfully divided into sections for food, with Victoria’s best cheese, meat and fish to be found here. In the northern section of the market is a host of tourist and fashion stalls, which tend to be better value than similar shops in the CBD so it’s a good place to pick up souvenirs.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Melbourne’s street artists have decorated Union Lane (pictured) and Hosier Lane

In terms of shopping in the CBD, the main areas are Bourke Street – which includes department stores Myer and David Jones and the GPO Mall – the former Post Office which has been converted into a mall. Collins Street is the most upmarket address in the CBD and includes a host of designer stores and ‘Australia on Collins’ – a modern multi-storey shopping mall. For those looking for more atmosphere, check out the classic stores and cafes of the Royal Arcade (b.1839) and The Block (1890s) which run off Collins Street and Bourke Street.

The CBD is also famous for its many pedestrianised lanes joining the streets. Many of the CBD’s hottest bars can be found down the lanes, with another attraction (to those who appreciate that kind of thing) is the street art – in particular Hosier Lane and Union Lane.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Yummy: Apple pancakes at the Riverland Cafe

Metro Girl Likes: The Riverland on the banks of the River Yarra just south of Federation Square. After ordering at the window, you find a table at this alfresco café and enjoy great views of the river and Princes Bridge. They serve brunch until 2pm and I can particularly recommend apple pancakes with rhubarb compote, cream and mint for AU$18.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Different perspective: Check out the sights of the CBD from the Southbank with a riverbank walk, sculptures and plenty of food and entertainment


Southbank has rapidly grown over the past 10 years and is a big draw to visitors thanks to the new Eureka Tower, which includes an observation deck on the 88th floor. The Crown Casino complex is also a popular spot and includes shops, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and of course, plenty of opportunities to gamble. The paved area along the river has rapidly improved over the years and provides a nice place to stroll in the sunshine, with plenty of sculptures, benches, greenery and spots for alfresco dining. Further west is the South Wharf – a new development – including the DFO South Wharf, an outlet mall with plenty of bargains to be found. Near the DFO is the new Webb Bridge, which links the Southbank to Docklands, a new development encompassing offices, housing, restaurants and bars. The 35 City Circle tram also ends at Docklands’ Waterfront City. Read the rest of this entry

Do the Cannes-Cannes: Living it up on the French Riviera

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Sun-worshipping: The busy beaches along the Croisette

As much as I adore my beloved London, I’m also a huge travel junkie and aim to see the world as much as possible. After managing to get a week off work on the week of my birthday, I decided to sneak in a three night mini break to the French Riviera. Initially booking a cheap Easyjet flight to Nice, my friend and I only settled on Cannes as our resort of choice about a week before departure.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Hollywood is here all year round: Marilyn Monroe mural on the side of the Cannes Riviera Hotel

Surprisingly in August, there was a wealth of choice of hotels, self-catering apartments and B&Bs available. After finding a relatively cheap rate on a holiday search engine, we ended up visiting the actual website for the hotel and managed to get a deal for €105 per night for a double ensuite room with buffet breakfast included at the four-star Best Western Riviera. There are several Best Westerns in Cannes, but this one was near to the train station (good insulation so noise is not a problem) and only a five minute walk to the beach. A 24 hour bar and rooftop pool was part of the appeal I must confess…

Having spent many holidays on the French Riviera and inland Provence as a child, I was looking forward to seeing it as an adult and it would also be my first trip to Cannes. The one thing that appealed to us to choose Cannes over Nice was the fact it is a smaller resort, whereas Nice is a city. Arriving at Nice airport, we got the bus to Cannes which only took about 30 minutes and dropped us off at the Hotel De Ville (City Hall), which was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel. The receptionist Arnaud was very helpful and gave us a map and what to do in Cannes and our room was clean, contemporary with good amenities.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

High life: People waiting for their red carpet moment at the Palais Des Festivals (left) and shopping at designer boutiques on the Croisette (right)

A few hours after being in Cannes, one of the main things which struck me was how compact it was. Every night, we ended up walking along the Croisette (the seaside avenue), taking in the many movie references dotted around, the designer boutiques, palace hotels and the famous Palais Des Festivals, where all the main premieres take place during the Cannes Film Festival every May. Like many others, we waited our turn to have our own red carpet moment, posing on the same stairs where A-listers including Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, etc have worked their magic over the years.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Charming: Lots of bars and restaurants on the winding alleys of Cannes’ old town Le Suquet

Given the history with the festival and wealth of designer boutiques, unsurprisingly a lot of the restaurants are quite expensive. However, for something with a bit more charm and better value, I would recommend going up to Le Suquet (Cannes’ old town). On Rue Du Suquet, a winding pedestrianised alley, there are lots of charming restaurants and bars. For our first dinner we had a €25 three course menu at L’Enoteca. The service was friendly and efficient and we got to sit outside on a balmy summer evening. I opted for a fish soup to start with, then Moules farcies au beurre persillé (stuffed mussels) and a pannacotta for dessert. All three dishes were delicious and was a perfect start to our mini break. Had I been staying in Cannes a bit longer, I would have certainly gone back. On our second night, we went to Le Marais – a few doors down from L’Enoteca on Rue Du Suquet. Again we were treated to an outside table with equally good service. We opted for the €27 menu with tomato and mozzarella to start (an old favourite of mine), seabass on seabream for main (gorgeous, the fish literally melted in my mouth) and ice cream to finish.

When it comes to beaches, a lot of Cannes’ sands are owned by the palace hotels, with entry restricted to hotel guests or you can pay roughly €20 per person. However, even during busy August, we managed to find places on the free beaches just across the road from the Louis Vuitton store on the Croisette and on the west side of the harbour in front of the Radisson Blu Hotel. Alongside all the seafront are plenty of food and drink stands selling crepes, sandwiches, cold drinks and ice cream should you need some refreshment. For those with children, if the beach isn’t entertaining enough, there’s rides, including several carousels, along the waterfront.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Glamour: The water feature at the entrance to Le Bâoli nightclub

Cannes has a lot to offer for the shopaholic. For those with no credit limits, there’s every big fashion house in existence – Marc Jacobs, Chanel, D&G, etc, but for those with more humble budgets, there are plenty of French high street stores too. I was particularly humoured to see La Boutique Du Chien (dog store!) on the Rue Hoche. Besides the obvious daytime activities of the beach and shopping, there are also a few museums in town. We went to the Picasso exhibition at La Maimaison – what’s left of the Grand Hotel which was demolished in the 1950s.

When it came the nightlife, there’s also plenty of choice. There’s lots of bars dotted around Cannes town centre and in Le Suquet, but for some late night action on a grand scale, head to Le Bâoli and Gotha nightclubs, both situated at the far Eastern end of La Croisette. I would highly recommend getting a taxi there, as turned out to be quite a long walk in high-heels from the centre of Cannes! Both were free to get in, but the drinks are very expensive. In both clubs, the cheapest drink tended to be a glass of champagne at €18 a pop so bring a wad of notes with you! At Le Bâoli, the music was a mix of hip-hop and house, with a large seating area outside. As with Gotha, if you want a booth or table inside, be prepared to pay a lot. Gotha was on a much larger scale and has attracted some big names over the summer, including Chris Brown, Pharrell Williams, Jamie Foxx, Beth Ditto from The Gossip and Ne-Yo. On the night I attended, U.S. rapper Fabolous was playing, attracting a big crowd to the T-shaped dancefloor.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Only the fabulous allowed at Gotha: Rapper Fabolous performs

Before we hit Gotha, we popped into the Black Pearl bar – on Rue Mace, just off the Croisette. Although there was a large, sleek, dark bar inside with a DJ playing, I opted for seating outside again and enjoyed a Porn Star Martini – one of their extensive cocktail list. For those who prefer their nightlife more casual, a popular spot is Morrison’s Bar and Lounge on Rue Tesseire, which is more laid back and has a wide selection of beers. As well as clubbing and bars, I also had a flutter on the roulette table at the Casino Barrière Les Princes, one of several casinos in the town. Sadly I didn’t win anything and decided to be sensible and leave before I lost any more money!

When I left Cannes after three nights, I felt like I needed more time there, but have to say I was totally charmed by the town. Everyone I met in hotels and restaurants were so friendly. I attempted to utilise my rusty French GCSE, but was always replied to in English. While I’m definitely not in the same spending leagues as many of the holidaymakers, even those on a budget can’t help but feel glamorous. I can’t wait to come back…

For Metro Girl’s blog review of Paris, read Le week-end à Paris: Disney, landmarks and laughs in the City of Lights.

For Metro Girl’s other travel posts, check out the You Can Take The Girl Out Of London section.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Sunset from the rooftop of the Cannes Riviera Hotel

Not just for petrolheads | Goodwood Festival Of Speed 2012 review

Goodwood House © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Festivalgoers at the champagne and salmon bar outside Goodwood House and the Lotus Sculpture

Chrome BMW © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

BMW M3 Chrome Bullet

I’ve been a qualified driver for many years and love to drive, but would never describe myself as a petrolhead or car fanatic. In fact, at this current moment in time I don’t even own a car as I can’t justify the cost with such good public transport links. So when I was given the opportunity to go to the Goodwood Festival Of Speed I was curious, but not sure what to expect.

To those who may be reluctantly accompanying a car fanatic friend, relative or boy/girlfriend to the festival, do not fear. The FOS is more than just cars, it also has planes, bikes, live music, food and drink, celebrities and lots of fun activities for the children too. Billed as ‘the largest motoring garden party in the world’, the event attracts an estimated 50,000 people a day and past and present stars from the racing world – this year included Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Sir Stirling Moss.

Volvo V60 BMW M3 Matte © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The new Volvo V60 Hybrid plug-in (left) and a BMW M3 Performance Edition in blue matte (right)

Mercedes SLS Coupe © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Mercedes SLS Coupe in ‘Le Mans Red’, a snip at £178,790!

The Festival Of Speed has been going since 1993, founded by Lord March at his family seat, Goodwood, just north of Chichester, West Sussex. As you may know, Goodwood has a horse racecourse, airport and circuit. Throughout the year there is also the Glorious Goodwood, Vintage At Goodwood and Goodwood Revival festivals. The stunning centrepiece of the festival is the regency Goodwood House and the huge drive in front, which provides a showcase of the old and new cars to drive around. This year, Lotus created a large white sculpture in front of the house with race cars hanging off it – must have used some good glue!

Mini dodgems © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Fun for all the family – Mini Cooper dodgems!

Chevrolet abseiling © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Hang off the side of an abseiling wall with a Chevrolet!

Throughout the four-day ‘weekend’ festival, cars from across the ages are given the opportunity to show off their moves on the racecourse. Even those who aren’t petrolheads can appreciate the power and style of some of these vehicles. I particularly liked the classic cars, some dating back decades and still looking brand new.

As well as watching the cars on the track, there is also an aspirational side to the festival where you’re given the chance to sit in some pretty expensive cars. All the main car manufacturers – Ferrari, Jaguar, Renault, Volvo, BMW, Lotus, Audi, etc have showrooms with plenty of staff members on hand to tell you all about the latest models or show off a vintage piece from the archives. I’m sure it was pretty obvious I couldn’t afford the red Jaguar XK RS Convertible I had a little sit in – a snip at £123,000+, but the Jaguar adviser happily chatted to me about the features of the stunning machine. During my two days at the festival I got to sit in some beautiful chrome and matte-wrapped BMWs and a convertible Audi, even a Harley. On the opposite end of the car scale, there were lots of compact, hybrid cars. I was stunned by the size of the Renault Twizy – which is really a one seater, I think the ‘seat’ at the back would probably fit a small child or dog!

Mercedes Benz 300SLR 1955 © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

A beautiful Mercedes Benz 300SLR 1955 in very good nick!

View of race track from Goodwood House balcony © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

View of race track from Goodwood House balcony

Aside from cars, there were also plenty of non-petrol related things to do, including abseiling down the Chevrolet wall, Mini Cooper dodgems, live music in the Cartier Style Et Luxe garden and enjoy the air display by the talented RAF Red Arrows in their noisy and powerful Tornados.

For those who weren’t driving there was plenty of choice of refreshments, with a champagne and smoked salmon tent or Veuve Clicquot bar, or for those on a budget the usual festival food stands serving Chinese, Mexican, fish ‘n’ chips, etc.

Fortunately the weather was pretty sunny so combined with all the activities and escapism of sitting in Jaguar, I had an amazing weekend and can thoroughly recommend the Festival Of Speed as a great day out for the family – petrolheads or no.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Vintage race car on the track

Austin Princess Vaden Plas Limousine © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Royal car collection @ Cartier Style Et Luxe – 1969 Austin Princess Vaden Plas Limousine involved in the 1974 kidnap attempt of Princess Anne

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

1929 Daimler Double Six 30HP Brougham @ Cartier Style Et Luxe.
Purchased by King George V for personal use. Returned to Daimler after service, before being presented to the Queen in 1968.

For Metro Girl’s other travel posts, check out the You Can Take The Girl Out Of London section

Move over Capri, Ischia is the island to go in Campania (with better beaches too!)

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

View of Ischia Ponte (old town) from Castello Aragonese

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Walking down Via Gian Battista Vico to the old town

Most Brits who fly into Naples airport, head for the resorts of Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi Coast or to the spectacular ruins of Pompeii. Or those looking for some island fun head for lavish Capri.

Although I have wanted to visit many of the above resorts, I wanted an affordable mini-holiday in the area and its safe to say they aren’t exactly renowned for being cheap… in fact quite the opposite. I like to travel off the beaten track and prefer to spend more time surrounded by locals of a destination, rather than being surrounded by fellow tourists. As I booked a cheap last-minute flight to Naples, I discovered an island in the Gulf Of Naples called Ischia. Despite having backpacked around Italy 12 years ago, I must confess I had never actually heard of it, nor had anyone I spoke to. I was intrigued. After some research I found out it was near Capri, but with better beaches and frankly a lot cheaper. Ischia is also home to an international film festival in July, which has been growing in popularity every year. I have always wanted to visit Capri, but have been put off by the extortionate prices. Definitely a destination for the rich so I’m told. Ischia is only a 50 minute hydrofoil ride or 90 minute ferry ride via Procida (another island) from Naples’ port Beverello (takes 30 minutes to get the Alibus from Naples airport), with prices ranging from €14 to €19. I personally would recommend the Alilauro Hydrofoil as it was a more pleasant journey and a cleaner vessel than the ferry.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Seaview from Hotel Parco Cataromana

From Naples, you can get ferries/hydrofoils to the ports of Forio (resort on west coast), Casamicciola (north coast) or Ischia Porto. After plumping to stay in Ischia Ponte, when it came to looking for accommodation, we were spoilt for choice to find a range of three star hotels for around the £35 (€40) per night range (Early June 2012 rates, including B&B), most boasting swimming pools and sea views. My friend and I ended up booking a twin room at the Parco Cataromana Hotel in Ischia town. Main Ischia town includes Ischia Porto (the port and where the nightlife is) and Ischia Ponte (the old town with the Castello Aragonese), near our hotel. We arrived at Ischia Porto via ferry and it was a short walk to the bus station (the smallest and most chaotic bus station I have ever seen!), where we boarded a No.12 bus only 10 minutes ride to right outside our hotel. You must buy a ticket before getting on the bus or risk getting fined (we saw plain clothed inspectors travelling on the buses so be warned!). A 90 minute ticket costs €1.40 and should be validated when you get on the bus (or 24 hour ticket for €4.60).

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Negombo thermal park

Our hotel was situated on a high hill, 10 minutes walk from the old town Ischia Ponte below. The views were stunning – the main reason we chose the hotel. Hotel Parco Cataromana is spread across several terraced levels on the steep hill above Cataromana Bay and included two outdoor swimming pools (one thermal) and one inside. It also includes a sauna and spa, 24 hour bar (!) and restaurant. Our room included two very comfortable twin beds, lots of storage and ensuite, with doors opening to a shared patio with our own deckchairs. As well as surrounding the two pools, there were plenty of sunbeds to go around. The hotel clientele appeared to be predominantly German and Italian, which was reflected in the food selected for the continental breakfast. The spa was very good value – I got the Venus package for €25 which included body massage with chocolate and a mud facial.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Ischia Ponte at sundown – with Coco restaurant on the left

Anyway, not to linger too long on the hotel, what has Ischia got to offer? Being a volcanic island, Ischia has lots of thermal waters and its many thermal parks are one of the main attractions. We spent the day at Negombo, one of the most popular thermal parks. It included swimming and thermal pools at varying temperatures spread over terraces overlooking a secluded bay with its own beach. Although it costs €30 to enter, ask your hotel as they may be able to do a deal for reduced price tickets, or if you arrive later in the day it’s cheaper. The beach was lovely and the pools were a great way to relax and soothe any aches or pains you may have.

Ischia Ponte was a 10 minute walk from where we were staying and a very charming place. We loved ambling around the cobbled streets and looking at the old buildings of the town, where we ate dinner most nights. I can recommend the Cocò restaurant, situated at the beginning of the causeway leading to the Castello with great sea views, good seafood pasta dishes and nice house wine. However, my favourite was the family-run restaurant Al Pontile, located at the end of the old town’s main road Via Luigi Mazzella. Although it looks tiny from the street, it opens out on the other side to a terrace by the sea. We were impressed by the affordable and tasty menu. I ate pomodoro and mozzarella to start (simple starter, but the best) and spaghetti with tuna and tomato sauce. I have to mention the Quid prosecco they served us, which was only €16, quite possibly the best prosecco I have ever drunk in my life.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Castello Aragonese

Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

View on pathway to Church of S. Maria delle Grazie (left) and the ruins of Cathedral of the Assunta (right), both on Castello Aragonese

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The picturesque fishing village of Sant’Angelo

The main focus of the old town is the Castello Aragonese, a large rock covered in ruined and restored houses, churches, cathedrals and prisons from the 12th to the 18th century, which is joined to the island by a causeway. We paid €10 for a ticket to the Castello and spent four hours on the rock. It was fascinating and had stunning views of Ischia Ponte, Mount Epomeo and the Gulf of Naples. It also includes the Il Terrazzo restaurant with an amazing vista of the sea.

Sant’Angelo on the south coast is probably the most picturesque place on the whole island. An old fishing village split in two by a small causeway with beaches either side of it. Similar to Positano on the mainland, the village includes lots of building of different colours, including lovely boutiques, restaurants and hotels. We got the CD bus (took an hour due to winding mountain roads) from Ischia Porto to Cava Grado, from there is a short walk downhill to Sant’Angelo.  We got there just in time for sunset and were not disappointed. When the village starts to turn its lights on, it really is stunning. The night in particular we were there was a low, orange moon – I don’t think I have ever seen a moon so low. We ate at Il Pirata – one of the island’s most renowned restaurants. It was slightly more expensive than average prices on the island, but the food, service, setting and seats (very comfortable!) made it worthwhile.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

View of Sant’Angelo from the bus stop

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Citara beach on Ischia’s west coast

Ischia has beaches all over the island, but Citara on the west coast is generally regarded as the best. We took a 30 minute bus ride there from Ischia Porto – which also stops at Casamicciola, Lacco Ameno and Forio on the way. The beach is a long, slim strip of golden sand with several restaurants and cafes nearby, as well as the thermal park of Poseidon. The day we were there, the waves were particularly high and the sea was rather choppy, so I was a bit scared of swimming.

Although many claim Ischia is for more mature holidaymakers due to the thermal pools, there is a lot of young adults on the island too. For those wanting a nightlife, Ischia Porto is the place to be. A string of restaurants and bars are dotted along Via Porto on the east of the port. This is where all the yachts park up so is a great place to people watch. We ate an amazing meal at La Bitta, before sinking a few cocktails at the ZeroOttoUno 081 bar a few doors down. We also enjoyed some cocktails at the Alchemie Friends Club bar on Corso Vittoria Colonna – the main shopping street in Ischia – which had a very good soundtrack.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Beautiful Positano approaching from the sea

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Duomo di Amalfi

And if there’s not enough to keep you occupied on the island, there are also plenty of excursions to the islands of Capri and Procida or trips to Amalfi, Positano, Sorrento or Pompeii on the mainland. We used Ischia Sea to do a day trip to Positano and Amalfi Coast for €40. As the two destinations are quite far, we had two hours at both so it’s not very long, but enough to get a flavour of the place. Both were beautiful, scenic towns, but were incredibly touristy and the higher prices in restaurants and bars reflected this. An ice cream in the main square in Amalfi cost me €5 for two scoops, compared to €2 in Ischia Ponte – quite a difference!

As we were only on the island for five days, we didn’t get the chance to hike up Mount Epomeo. It is apparently only a 3km (30 minute) walk from Fontana and you can get 360 degree views of the island and the Bay of Naples. A company also does horse-riding trips up here.

So if you’re looking for an Italian holiday a bit off the beaten track and not so touristy, I would highly recommend Ischia. The islanders were very friendly, the food and views were amazing, and it is very good value compared to other resorts and cities in Italy. I can’t wait to go back…

Grazie per i bei momenti passati insieme!

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Beautiful Amalfi

For Metro Girl’s blog post on the Venice carnival, read Venice Carnival 2013: A masquerade on the City of Water.

For Metro Girl’s other travel posts, check out the You Can Take The Girl Out Of London section