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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Travel Guide to Marrakech



WHERE TO STAY 

When I travel I tend to try and stay in affordable accommodation, and luckily for me (and perhaps eventually you ), Marrakech is full of that. After some investigation and instagram planning I found two really incredible Riads to stay in for our 4 days in the city. Riads are beautiful traditional homes that are built around a large courtyard and are usually  right in the centre of the medina, but you trust me when I say you are not heading to a loud, busy B&B type place, quite the opposite actually. Riads are actually known for their peace and tranquility away from the madness of the main square Jamaa el Fna and souks and with prices starting at £40 you really cannot say no.





The first Riad we checked into was in the Jewish quarter of the city which was a little outside of the main hustle and bustle (maybe a 20/25 minute walk to the main square but still a really interesting area to explore. When we arrived, our car (which collected us from the airport) dropped us off at a parking spot where we then had to walk  a few minutes to our Riad through the tiny walled streets of the medina. It was such a weird experience weaving in and out of tiny streets which all resembled one another until finally we came to a little door with the sign saying Riad Chamali. When the door opened  we were then led us into the most beautiful open courtyard and our accommodation for the night. 









It was so beautiful, the intricate details of the tiled walls, the bright blue colours of the painted door
the smell of fresh mint tea it really was incredible. Our host was also beyond friendly, they even sang me happy birthday, in Arabic French! Our room was on the ground floor over looking the open court yard where an orange blossom tree offered a little shade from the glaring sun beaming into the yard. Our room was small but perfect for our one night stay but quite honestly we spent a lot of time on the next best thing about Riads which is their rooftops. In the morning we were able to enjoy a delicious traditional Moroccan breakfast on the roof of our Riad with the bright blue sky as our company. 


After breakfast at our first Riad we were collected by car to head to our next stay at Le Riad Berbere which I was very excited to see having stalked it on Instagram when planning our trip. When we arrived the first thing I noticed was how much busier and more bustling this area of the medina was, in fact it was a little overwhelming at first. There we're people everywhere, not to mention fruit stalls, butcher shops homeless people and even donkeys (more on the donkeys later) it was truly wild.


But again, as a young man kindly wheeled our bags as we followed him again weaving in and out of tiny streets we finally arrived at our second Riad which was equally as beautiful and peaceful as the first. When you walked in through the door there was a beautiful smell of fresh roses  and the walk into the courtyard was equally as mesmerising.  The place had a smaller pool and courtayrd than the first but that was made up for by the gorgeous decor and the four beautiful cats that also take up residence here. 




Our host was wonderful, she gave us a map of the area and took us through all the major places we would like to see. Our room, was quaint but perfectly sized for two of us and what I can only describe as decor goals with a pink and copper bath tub and sink. Flowers were even left in our room each day which added a lovely touch. The rooftop at this Riad was also incredibly special, scattered with these huge cloud like cushions and giant lanterns, it was the perfect place to enjoy breakfast or to relax after a long day. After our first day of exploring Dan and I enjoyed a bag of juicy sweet strawberries watching the sunset from the roof which was just so perfect.


I will talk more on food later but most of the Riads will offer to make dinner for you in house and although you might think you would rather eat out at a restaurant I urge to consider trying a dinner at LeRiad Berbere. We paid £15 each for a three course traditional Moroccan meal of filled pastry starters, Tagine with homemade cous cous, vegetables and freshly baked bread and a delicious chocolate and orange marmalade dessert made from the famous morracan oranges you see all around Marrakech. It was the best meal we ate whilst we were there, so much so that we ordered it again the next night.

WHAT TO DO


Visit Jardin Majorelle gardens

The famous Yve Saint Laurent gardens are the perfect way to spend a morning or late afternoon in Marrakech. With just a 30 Dirham entrance fee you are free to walk the length of the gardens and sit and enjoy the peaceful space. If you want to make more of the day you can pay a little more to enter the museum which displays photos and art work of Yve Saint Laurent. We actually skipped this because we were in a rush but from what I did see it looked really interesting. You don't need to spend a whole day here an hour is plenty of time, but make sure you get a photo by the glorious blue painted wall which it has become so famous for.



Try a traditional Hammam

I tried my first Hammam when on holiday in Turkey a few years ago and bloody loved it so I knew I wanted to try another one whilst in Marrakech. Hammam's are a huge part of Morrocan culture and is a place where you can relax in a traditional style steam room and experience a scrubbing ritual to help cleanse the skin. I should warn you here that if you are shy and don't like being naked or at least part naked in front of people then this might not be ideal for you. Les Bain de Marrakech is one of the few places in Morroco that allows a joint Hamman experience (even though you still have separate changing spaces) so Dan and I were able to enjoy this experience together. The process of the Hammam involves relaxing on marble beds in a hot steamed room before being oiled and then scrubbed with a traditional mitt to remove dead skin cells from your body.



 Expect to be asked to remove your top and expect to have the person doing the scrubbing scrub you in places you might not expect. But oh boy is it good when you see the dead skin come off, equally disgusting of course but still I took enjoyment in feeling squeaky clean and glowing. Dan and I also paid for a full spa experience with a mud wrap and a one hour massage which was deliciously indulgent and relaxing. Although Dan and I found being wrapped in what is essentially adult tin foil for the mud wrap far too hilarious to fully get in the relaxation zone.

If you fancy something more luxurious then I without a doubt would recommend a visit to Royal Mansour for a spa experience. Whilst they are on the higher price end, you can truly see that you get what you pay for, using high end Sisley Paris products and indulging in the indoor heated pool is just one part of the Spa, although we didn't get to experience it ourselves it is definitely on my list for next time.


Shop till you drop



If you love to shop then you are in for a treat in Marrakech! The souks are full of treats and treasures, from bags, shoes, kitchen goods, home wares, rugs... You name it and they have it! First piece of advise I need to give is that at first the souks can be a little overwhelming, people pull you from left right and centre to get you into their shop, they drive a hard sell and for some people that is really not enjoyable. Dan is super polite and he kept replying and answering every single person that tried to get him to shop, and in the end it became incredibly draining when they just would not let us leave, we even had someone follow us around for a little bit trying to take us somewhere to buy a bag. Which brings me to my next tip DO NOT accept directions from anyone who offers to walk you somewhere them self, it is a known scam, one we nearly got ourselves into. Just firmly but politely say 'no
Je vous remercie' and carry on walking away, I got myself in a really fuss over this to which point I realised was a waste of time. These people are trying to make a living, yes they are pushy, yes some are rude but getting stressed isn't going to change that, remain firm and as the lovely host at our riad advised 'When things feel stressful go and enjoy a mint tea and relax'. This piece of advise, (as simple as it was) was really helpful to us. Whenever we got lost we just found a cafe nearby, enjoyed a delicious mint tea and got our bearings again.

Next on my tip list is to always barter! No seriously it is part of the culture in Marrakech to barter for a deal and not take the first price. I went in lower at over 50% on their offers, if it is too low, they will tell you eventually you will meet somewhere in the middle. I would also advise to not buy the first thing you see, every shop has a version of what you want trust me! Wander, take a look, ask for prices and then when you have gathered a rough idea of the price find the one that works best for you. One thing I will say is don't be unreasonable with the prices especially on furnishings like carpets or cushions, I actually found this amazing mixed print pillow case amongst this huge pile of small rugs and it was so gorgeous, lots of different colours, hand sewn and good, thick fabric. In the end I got it down to £14 and for the quality and craftsmanship I believed it was worth it, Pillows in Habitat are three times that and this item was unique and one of a kind, sometimes you can't put a price on that. 



Visit Ben Youseff Madrasa 



Ben Youseff Madrasa is an old Islamic college found in the Medina and one of the biggest in North Africa. This was just a 4/5 minute walk from our second riad so we decided to do both this and the Jardin Majorelle Gardens in one day. Again you it wont take you longer than an hour to see this but it is a really beautiful place to take some photos and look at the century old architecture.  

WHAT TO EAT 

You cannot go to Marrakech or Morocco and not try a traditional Tagine, the North African Berber dish made in a clay pot is so delicious and rich and filling and is the perfect evening meal after a long day of exploring. For my birthday Dan and I went to Nomad a place that many people recommended we try, it is a beautiful restaurant over looking the square Cafe De Espices. Although they don't serve alcohol here (actually they hardly sell alcohol anywhere) For our mains we went for lamb tagine and chicken skewers with a starter of Moroccan filled pastry. It is simple food, nothing too fussy and I will be honest it didn't blow me away as such, but it was tasty and fresh,  The view of the sunset over the Medina (the first photo of this post) however more than made up for this, it really is a lovely spot to relax and take in the views. 



 If you want to experience a meal is out of this world then I would 100% recommend taking a day out to visit the Royal Mansour Hotel and book yourself in for lunch at their new concept restaurant Le Jardin. Dan and I were kindly invited for the day for lunch and I honestly cannot praise it enough. First off  Royal Mansour is a 7* boutique hotel something I have never experienced before and it more than lived up to it's stars. The restaurant Le Jardin, which is only recently opened is a perfect place to enjoy a relaxing lunch, poolside. Enjoying lunch you are surrounded by beautiful orange and lemon blossoms and incredibly stunning gardens, the space itself was designed by famous landscaper Luiz Vallejo. The  menu at Le Jardin devised by Yannick Alleno the three Michelin star chef is beautifully thought out, he takes much of his inspiration for the 60 piece menu from the writings of Ibn Battuta and was particularly interested in mixing old and new cooking methods. The menu is a mix of Charcoal cooked and raw foods and the menu is perfectly thought out and separated in areas such as Earth and Sea and From the flames.


The open grill which serves freshly grilled vegetables, meat and fish leaves a wonderful smoky aroma which is delightful to smell whilst you wait for your lunch. The chef of the day kindly prepared a tasting menu for us to try made up of fresh seabass Nigiri, Salmon Sashimi and King Crab special rolls as well as Cockerel grilled with mustard, diable sauce, Squid, parsley and cumin and finally hay crust vegetables to accompany. To top it all off we were also kindly served three different kinds of desserts which were out of this world wonderful, my particular favorite being the coconut ice cream with lemongrass. Overall it was a wonderful experience that I would truly recommend to someone looking for something a little special on their trip.


Final tips and tricks


1. You can only take out £300 of cash each upon entering Marrakech, so if you want more than that just take out money in the airport on arrival at the exchange desk.

2. Taxi's around Marrakech should really be no more than 40 Dirhams, we only found this out from our host after we had been stung with double that amount the day before. Start off at 20 and then they will meet you at either 30 or 40. 

3.  If you are sensitive to animal cruelty be mindful that you may be exposed to it in Marrakech. As mentioned above you will often see overworked and tired looking donkeys. This made me really sad to see but they are still used as methods of transport and for carrying goods. Secondly there is a lot of animals used for shows in the main square, small and large monkey's as well snakes, do not engage with these people in anyway as you will be contributing to horrible animal tourism.

4. Always carry small change, so that if you do get in a tricky situation and need to tip someone you have something to give at hand.

5. Wear sunscreen! It can be very hot in Marrakech and even on a cloudy day you can get stung with the strong sun rays.   

6. Be mindful of dressing appropriately, Marrkech is a Muslim city so it is best to always cover your shoulders and avoid wearing low cut tops (especially in places like Ben Youseff Madrasa) 

7. Hope you have enjoyed this post! I know it was a biggun' but if you have any more questions please feel free to leave a comment or send me a tweet.


SHOP MY MARRAKECH STYLE


Off the shoulder dress - ASOS
White summer top - Matalan
Boyfriend Jeans - New Look
Sandals - River Island similar here 



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Friday, 10 March 2017

Notting Gill Chippy


Is there anything more enjoyable than a good chippy dinner? Salty chips with vinegar, cod with crunchy batter and flaky fish all ready to dipped into a nice dollop of Tommy K. Well it certainly is my idea of heaven, especially as a Friday treat. So I was very delighted to be invited to try the new Notting Gill Chippy, a pop up as part of Notting Hills Kesington Place restaurant. Following its success as a pop up last year they decided to bring it back from February 4th to April 4th for all fish lovers out there to enjoy. The menu consists of some fancier pimped up chip shop items such as Tempura Tiger Prawns, Crispy Squid, and Soft Shell Crab Burger. Whilst this isn't like your regular chippy supper wrapped in greasy news paper, it does still offer simple fish and chips with tartare sauce for all you traditionalists. Here is what we ate.

Soft Shell Crab Burger 

I have never tried soft shell crab before and this was a real treat, coated in this delicious light batter the burger had so much crunch and flavour with an added sweetness from the brioche bun. It was also topped with a delicious salsa and a generous topping of avocado it was incredibly fresh and enjoyable. Although it could have done with a little less salad as it was a little overpacked and I don't think the lettuce added anything particular to the flavour.


Crispy Monkfish Cheeks with Aioli & Fish a Chips with all the trimmings 

Monkfish is one of my favourite types of fish, it is so meaty and tasty but again I have never had monkfish cheeks.  They had a stronger flavour than monkfish tail which I have tried but they had much of the same texture. Fried in a crispy crumb these were like delicious fishy nuggets and were made even better with the garlicky aioli to dip.
Now to the classic, The Fish and Chips. The batter was crispy the fish was tasty and fresh, if I am honest the chips were more crunchy than what I consider a usual chippy style chip but I think that is more of a personal preference and they were still good. We also had a side of mushy peas which had a lovely minty twist and a side of fresh green slaw. It was delightful and salty and vinegary, and went down a treat with a refreshing Aperol Spritz. All in all a thumbs up from me!


What do you think, does the Notting Gill make your London Foodie visit list?
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Thursday, 9 March 2017

A travel guide to Tulum


Tulum is one of the most amazing places I have ever visited, perhaps being on my honeymoon helped it feel that little bit more magical but overall I just can't praise it enough. A small town in the Quintana Roo area of Mexico and us just one hour from Cancun which is where you will find Tulum. Mexico was never really a priority on my list of travel destinations, I always just assumed it was going to be built up, over touristy and resort only, boy, was that a mistake. Mexico is so incredible, there is just so much to do and see. the food is out of this world and the people may just be the friendliest I have ever encountered. Bold statement, I know but seriously they were genuine, kind and friendly people that really left a mark on Dan and I. There is something for everyone to do in Tulum, first of all it is an Instagrammers dream destination, every where you turn there is something beautiful to take a photo of, lush greenery, beautiful beaches and colourful design you are literally spoilt for choice. Today after numerous requests on my Instagram I thought I would share a few of my personal recommendations for things to do when in Tulum.

Where to Stay


Without realising it we actually didn't book to stay directly in Tulum, our hotel Catalonia Royal Tulum was actually based in the area of Xpu-Ha and about a 20 minute bus ride into the town. As it was our honeymoon we opted to go all inclusive, something I personally wouldn't do again, not because it wasn't good quality or a good option of choice, but because it just isn't mine and Dan's kind of thing. We like to explore, try new food and different restaurants and bars and when we were in all inclusive we missed doing that. That said the if it is your kind of thing The Catalonia Royal Tulum was such a beautiful hotel with the most stunning beach front, wonderful staff and perfect beach front. The food was really lovely too, lunch being a particular favourite of mine with fresh paella and tacos made on the beach front!  If you want to stay somewhere directly in Tulum my advise would be to check out the ever affordable Air Bnb or if you after something a little more luxe try some of the local boutique style hotels. Some that came highly recommended:




Hire a bike

The first thing you should know that Tulum town is not where the beach is, if you aren't staying directly on the beach and decide to get a bus in they will drop you off in the Town area not the beach which can be confusing if you don't know in advance. If you want to then get to the beach you can take a 10 minute cab or do what we did which was hire a bike. There are a few bike rental shops on the Tulum shopping strip and they are very reasonably priced, we hired ours for just 400 pesos a day ( £4 in English money) If you get there early you can get a really cute looking vintage bike, but if you arrive after the morning rush you may be left with something a little rickety. For the price you are given the bike and a lock and usually you have to leave a passport or driving licence as a deposit or if you aren't comfortable with leaving that you can leave a cash deposit. Hiring a bike was one of the best things we did on the holiday, there is something so lovely about slow cycling down winding paths, with the refreshing breeze offering a wonderful cool down from the intense Mayan sun. Plus when you cycle you can go at your pace and can hop on and off when you want to get where you want to go along the beach. Places to hire a bike from:




Get a massage

I mean why would you say no to an afternoon massage on the beach? Reasonably priced at as low as $15 for an hour it is a deliciously indulgent way to spend an afternoon. You can find a number of massages on the beach. Or if you after something a little more luxurious you can always book into one of the snazzy hotels on the beach too. One place that I would have loved to have had one was Coqui Coqui a stunning spa and perfumery (which has design to die for ) although do note it is on the higher end price wise. 


Visit a Cenote

Cenotes are naturally formed swimming pools found in many areas of Mexico they vary in size and types. Some are open like this and some are cave like and underground, but what can't be denied is how amazing they are. I mean guys,  this was real life paradise, just look at that water! This particular Cenote is called Casa Cenote and was located just outside of the main Tulum town. There was a small entry fee of I believe 100 pesos and you could pay to hire snorkels or a kayak if you didn't fancy just swimming for an additional amount. We arrived super early in the morning to avoid the rush and hired a couple of sets of snorkels to explore the area, it was so much fun and incredibly clear   making the experience even better. Just across the road from the Cenote was a small beautiful little beach where we enjoyed a delicious lunch of fresh fish tacos and home made margaritas, when in rome aye. Other Cenotes to check out:



Wander and Shop 

After a lot of beach lazing and cocktail drinking Dan and I enjoyed walking along the beach strip exploring all the kitchy shops in Tulum again an intagrammers dream with boho beauty at every turn. The design and the style in Tulum is exquisite and quite honestly exactly how imagine my dream home to be, tropical prints, dark woods, natural tones urgh just perfection. I'll keep it real with you though, some of the stores did sell items at a higher price point but so many of the products were hand crafted and unique you can completely see why. My biggest regret was not buying this amazing bag I spotted in this cute store but hey, ho there is always next time ;) 




Next up I will be sharing all the best things to eat when in Tulum, don't miss it!

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Thursday, 26 January 2017

How to make Life Lovely


Hello everyone, and happy belated New Year to you. Gosh, I can't believe that we are nearly one month into 2017 and this is the first time we are chatting I've missed you all! I thought when planning my content before Christmas that my first post back would be some kind of 2016 round up or a post sharing with you my New Years resolutions, but to be honest, I don't really want to make resolutions this year. Setting un-realistic goals is so 2001 so instead this year I am working on simple, achievable goals and targets. So with that said today I am sharing with you my personal 5 goals to make every day a little bit, more lovely. All the clothing I am wearing in this blog post are from the plus size range 'Papaya' at Matalan who kindly collaborated with me to bring you this post. As you can see, the items are a little more colourful than my go-to but that is exactly what I want for my life this year, more brightness, more colour and more loveliness. So without further ado here are my goals for making my life lovely.

1. Making time for reading 

When on my honeymoon, throughout the day (when not exploring Mexico) Dan and I sat by the pool or at the beach and enjoyed reading our books for a few hours in the sunshine. It was so lovely to have quiet time and to enjoy the peace and I want to make that part of my normal routine, be that over a weekend or reading on my commute to work. I also read some empowering, business books that made me feel ready to take on 2017 and my goal is to include more of these style motivational books into my reading schedule. Girl boss mode is on!

What I am wearing:  Long line Floral Shirt


2. Work/life balance

Last year my work life balance was way off and by the end of the year I was both exhausted and unhappy. Blogging is such an important part of my life but, as you may know I work another full time job, meaning sometimes I can overwhelm myself with too much work and not enough play. This year I am going to work on a better work life balance starting off by finally going part time in my full time job to dedicate more time to my passion with blogging and my writing with Marie Claire. Secondly I I plan on taking time to switch off and learning to understand when enough is enough. Last year I found myself procrastinating a lot and that was because I was simply overworking myself and I was losing all my creativity. Forcing yourself to do work is counterproductive, so this time I am going to call time on myself, step away from my laptop and come back to it when I am in the right frame of mind.

What I am wearing: Ripped Skinny Jeans and Embroidered cold shoulder  


  
3. Positive Vibes, Positive Mind, Positive Life 

This one may seem pretty obvious but, you will be surprised just how much we let negative thoughts get to us and effect our life and those around us. Nearing to the end of the year, everything felt like it was going wrong, and I was in a constant state of sadness and anger and that reflected not just in my work life but in my personal life. When I flew off on my honeymoon, the moment I stepped off the plane, I felt a release of stress and that was because I told my mind, 'Right this is going to be a lovely, special, relaxing break for Dan and I. Our minds are powerful tools and if we surround ourselves with positive people, and particularly positive women we will see a change in ourselves. So, no more listening to Negative Nancie's, or thoughts about self doubt. Good Vibes only for this gal.


Item in image: Slogan T-Shirt


4. Be Bold 

As women we sometimes teach ourselves to shy away, to stay quiet and to not stand out, this is something plus size women in particular do because they have always been told that they are not good enough. Well I say no to all of that. Be bold, be colourful, stand out of the crowd. If you want to wear a dress over a pair of jeans (like I have in this look) do it, if you want to wear head to toe pink - go for it. We only get one life and I think we have to live it as authentically as we can.



5. Find time for yourself 

Last but by no means least, I am going to work on some more 'me time' this ties in with my work life balance tip a lot. Sometimes you need to give yourself some time to enjoy life in order to get those creative juices back flowing. Self care is important, so this year I want to make some more time to enjoy a hot bath with a face mask, spend one weekend of a month enjoying a Netflix binge on the sofa or going to the cinema with my hubs or my friends. Or even something as small as popping out for a walk and grabbing myself a coffee before work, all these small things will help to make my life a little bit more lovely and that my friends, is all I want for 2017.

What I am wearing: Khaki Printed Jacket 


Thank you Matalan who worked with me to bring you this post, I hope you do check out their new pieces they are really lovely! Tell me below what lovely things you want to bring into your life? 

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