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How to Spend a Festive Weekend in Riga, Latvia

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I returned from my last trip of the year (and the decade, which sounds WEIRD!) after visiting the beautiful Baltics for the first time with my sister. We spent a festive weekend in Riga exploring the cobbled streets of the Old Town, wandering around the gorgeous Christmas markets and enjoying some traditional Latvian food which made for a fantastic weekend getaway before the madness of Christmas was here! I actually won this trip as a competition prize from Traverse Events and Magnetic Latvia when I was in Italy attending Traverse 19 in June, so it was a great way to end my wonderful year of travel and made a change from heading to sunnier climes! Here’s what I got up to on my festive weekend in Riga, and what I’d recommend you do there too…

 

Check out the Christmas Markets

 

With not one, not two but THREE Christmas Markets dotted around the city, it’s not hard to see why you’d opt for a fantastic festive weekend in Riga. The biggest (and best) ones are located in the Doma Laukums (Cathedral Square) and are breath-takingly beautiful. Situated right in front of the impressive Cathedral, the wooden markets are decorated in traditional European style and sell everything from mulled wine and hot chocolate to gingerbread houses, sweets and hog roasts. Christmas music fills the air, with live folk dancing and carol singing occurring daily, and there’s often real snow falling from the sky as Riga is notoriously cold in December! The entrance arch, with Christmas trees and twinkling lights lining the opening really makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into a scene from Narnia, and its such a magical place to walk around at any time of day, but especially in the evening when the skies are dark and the lights are out in force! Take a walk over to the Esplanade to check out one of the other markets, located just in front of the striking Nativity of Christ Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church which is free to enter and definitely worth a visit. At these markets you’ll find stalls selling similar products and a real life rabbit village (yes, you heard me right) where super cute fluffy bunnies are kept in a huge pen complete with Lego houses, toy buildings and more. What a place!

 

Try traditional Balsam at Black Magic

 

 

 

I had heard lots about Balsam before my festive weekend in Riga and knew that it was a ‘rite of passage’ when visiting Latvia, so where better to try some for ourselves than in Black Magic, a beautifully medieval café/bar which was a former apothecary selling all sorts of lotions and potions back in the 1700s, and in particular black Balsam which was used to treat ailments and made from 24 different ingredients. Inside, the lights are dimmed and you are served by candlelight – choose from a range of delicious chocolate truffles, cakes and sweet treats, all made from the traditional black Balsam, or just order shots or cocktails of it at the bar if you’d rather taste it that way (and if you’re made of strong stuff!) If, like me, you’re a bit of a lightweight, I would suggest ordering a hot blackcurrant drink with Balsam as it’ll warm your cockles slowly and allow you to taste it a little more gently than just ordering a hard core shot which is full of alcohol! Black Magic was a hidden gem and even had a secret room behind a bookcase which you pushed open to enter – I had read a few blog posts recommending this place and I can agree that it is definitely worth a visit during your festive weekend in Riga! 

 

Wander around the Old Town

 

 

Probably our favourite thing to do during our festive weekend in Riga was simply just to walk around the Old Town soaking up the festive spirit in the air and admiring the historic buildings that were dotted around. I felt the cobbled streets and red coloured buildings were reminiscent of Prague and other European cities, but Riga is much smaller and I felt had much more character too. Whenever I visit somewhere new I always make a point of learning as much as I can about its history, so we paid a visit to the War Museum and the Museum of Occupation, both of which gave a fascinating insight into Latvia’s history. I was absolutely shocked and saddened to learn that Latvia has only been ‘unoccupied’ for 50 years of its 800 year history after the city was founded in 1201, and it was very moving to read stories of occupation from older times, as well as more recent times in the Second World War, right up until Latvia was listed as Independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The House of the Blackheads is well worth a visit if you are interested in learning more about this – the building was destroyed in World War Two and only reopened in 1999, so it is literally only 20 years old and the restoration is remarkable. Tickets cost just 6 Euros for entrance to all parts of the House, including the original cellar and the grand ballroom.

 

Climb St Peter’s Church Tower

 

I have climbed many a Church Tower in my time, and have seen some epic sights from up high whilst on my travels, but the views that greeted me from the top of St Peter’s Church were truly breath-taking and really made our festive weekend in Riga extra special! Taking an elevator 123m up to the top made a welcome change from climbing god knows how many hundreds of steps I usually have to tackle when taking part in this kind of thing, but the views at the top were one of the most rewarding I have ever witnessed! You could see for miles in every direction from the top of the Church, and we were able to spot the red roofs of the buildings below, the blue waters of the Daugava River in the distance and the various landmarks and sights that make Riga so special from up high. Tickets cost 9 Euros but they are definitely worth it for the incredible panoramic views you get from the top – just don’t forget to hold on to your hat as it is ridiculously windy up there!

 

Have lunch at the Centralais Market

 

 

We did this on our last day once we had seen all the sights so that we could spend a bit more time and really enjoy our visit to the Centralais Market! Brimming with food, drink, arts and crafts stalls, as well as fantastic places to sit down and eat lunch/ dinner or have a drink at the bar, the Centralais Market was a great place to warm up from the cold and while away a few hours. We wandered around the stalls, tasted some samples of cheese and other yummy delights and enjoyed lunch from one of the food stands – delicious potato rosti’s with amazing toppings which were sooo good! I think in the evening this place really comes alive and is a great place to party, but we were just happy to find somewhere warm for a few hours and enjoy some fantastic food during our festive weekend in Riga!

 

Where to stay

 

We stayed at the Wellton Riga Centrum Hotel and Spa during our festive weekend in Riga, located on Kaleju Iela, just opposite the Galerija shopping centre and within striking distance of the centre of the beautiful Old Town. Café’s, bars, souvenir shops and supermarkets lined the streets surrounding our hotel, which were super handy and being just a few minutes’ walk in any direction from the Old Town meant we were in the perfect location for being able to get around and see all that the city had to offer. The train station was just a 10 minute walk away, as was the nearest bus stop which served the 22 line, making it super easy for getting to/from the airport (tickets can be bought on the bus for just 2 Euros each way!) I think there are 3 Wellton’s in Riga, and I would highly recommend the one we stayed in as it had a fantastic Spa which was sooo needed after a busy day of sightseeing in sub zero temperatures! Our room was clean, spacious and modern and breakfast was served until 11am which was perfect for us as we struggled to wake up early what with the 2 hour time difference from the UK and the lack of daylight that saw the sun rising much later than we were used to!  

 

Where to eat/drink

There are an abundance of quirky restaurants, bars and cafes in Riga serving a mixture of traditional Latvian food and modern, Western menus as well as chain restaurants including Costa and TGI Fridays if you like your home comforts! Classic Latvian dishes include stewed sauerkraut, potato rosti’s, meats marinated in rich sauces, soups served in bread bowls, dark rye bread and of course the famous Balsam which Riga has become so well known for. We chose to eat our evening meals at traditional restaurants during our festive weekend in Riga, including the legendary Folkklubs, one of the most popular places in the city which serves classic Latvian dishes alongside live folk music as you dine! I would highly recommend Folkklubs on Peldu Iela for an authentic Latvian dining experience, but be prepared to wait ages for a table, and even longer for service as the place seems to be super busy every night of the week! For something more modern, head to OGLE restaurant near the House of the Blackheads where you’ll be treated to pizzas, pastas and dishes from the woodfired grill as well as delicious cocktails at great prices.  

 

As you can see, my sister and I had a magically festive weekend in Riga and we came home feeling full of Christmas spirit! I would highly recommend visiting Riga at any of time of year as it is super interesting to learn about its history, see its beautiful landmarks and indulge in its traditional Latvian food, but all of this is heightened at Christmas, so December is a definitely a great time to be heading over there. Have you spent a festive weekend in Riga before? Or have you got plans to head up to the Baltics any time soon? Vilnius and Tallinn are next on my bucket-list, so I’m sure I’ll be planning trips there for 2020 very soon – send me allll your travel tips please!

NB. I won this trip as part of a competition prize with Traverse Events and Magnetic Latvia with no obligation to post. All words and photos are of course my own.

 

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A Festive Evening in the Cotswolds at the Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light

 

 

On 1st December I was invited along to Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire to experience their Spectacle of Light event which had a special Peter Pan theme this year. Located in Winchcombe in the Cotswolds, just a 30 minute drive from nearby Cheltenham, Sudeley Castle boasts a history spanning 1000 years and its onsite chapel is the burial site of Queen Catherine Parr, sixth wife to Henry the Eighth, where her marble tomb resides. Sudeley Castle dates back to the 1200s, but the current structure was built in the 15th century, with its ruins and gardens being well looked after and kept to an incredibly high standard. Recognised as a Grade II listed building and an internationally important structure, Sudeley Castle is one of the few castles left in England that is still a residence and is only open to visitors on certain dates throughout the year, with the family’s private quarters totally closed to the public.

 

The lights  on the Castle

 

The Peter Pan laser display

 

The Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light is now in its fourth year and it seems to be getting bigger and better with each year that passes. The Peter Pan theme this year was really well put together, with character appearances from Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Pan himself, as well as a light/laser display in the main courtyard. The beautiful castle and its ruins are lit up in the night sky, whilst the stunning gardens are adorned with dazzling lights, water fountains and sparkly props designed to make them look extra special.

 

The Castle ruins all lit up

 

The sparkly fountains

 

Wonderful music from Peter Pan fills the air, and you can follow the illuminated trail the whole way around the castle. I particularly loved the way the Castle was lit up with different colours, the way the fountains were glistening with sparkly lights, and the positioning of the big illuminated star that made it a great place for taking those all important Insta shots! We really loved the illuminated lights trail and the Peter Pan theme, but I do think that there was a distinct lack of Christmas music which would have made it feel more festive. Having said that, I think the music that was present did add to the Peter Pan theme and perhaps Sudeley are aiming for the event to be more about the storybook feel rather than just churning out the Christmassy sounds of Shakin Stevens on repeat!

 

More illuminations with the Castle in the background

 

Enjoying a mulled wine on the terrace

 

Every evening the Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light has six entry time slots from 4:45pm onwards. A typical visit to the Spectacle lasts around an hour to an hour and a half, but you can spend as little or as much time onsite as you wish! I went with my parents and my sister and we spent around an hour there in total as we stopped to enjoy a mulled wine on the terrace, bought some little presents from the gift shop and were taking lots of photos as we wandered round.

The Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light runs on selected evenings until 30th December 2019, so be sure to book your tickets promptly as slots for the final days are filling up fast with Christmas just around the corner now! It is best to book your tickets in advance, as they are a little more expensive on the gate. Advance adult tickets cost £16.50 whilst child tickets are £9.90 with under 3’s going free of charge. Make sure you turn up at the correct entry time as stated on your ticket though as tickets are only valid for that time and are not transferable.

 

Sparkling lights in the Castle gardens

Sparkling lights in the Castle gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had a wonderful evening at the Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light and it certainly got my December off to a festive start! I’m so lucky that living in the Cotswolds means places like this are right on my doorstep, and I definitely need to make more of an effort to visit them throughout the year, rather than just at Christmas! Have you been to the Spectacle before? I would love to know what you thought of it!

NB. My tickets for the Sudeley Castle Spectacle of Light were gifted to me and my family for the purpose of this review but, as always, all words and photos are of course my own.

 

The star of the show!

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Travel guide to Vilamoura: Planning your trip to The Algarve

 

The beautiful Algarve, one of Portugal’s most visited regions and one of the most popular beach destinations in Europe. I visited Portugal for the first time back in September when I spent 5 days in Vilamoura on a girls holiday – how it took me 26 years to visit Portugal I will never know!! I absolutely fell in love with the Algarve during my trip; the weather was amazing, the beaches were stunning and the food was incredible! If, like me, it’s your first time visiting the Algarve or you’re planning a return trip there for 2020, here’s my travel guide to Vilamoura, and how I would recommend you spend your time there…

 

Wander around the marina

 

The beautiful Vilamoura marina

 

The marina is without doubt THE place to be in Vilamoura, with a wide range of shops, bars and restaurants lining the harbour. Sip cocktails as you watch the mega dollar yachts bobbing up and down in the harbour, or take your pick of some of the Algarve’s best restaurants and enjoy lunch or dinner by the sea both day and night. There are plenty of lively bars (including at least three Irish bars!) that are open until late, offering lots of places to enjoy a few drinks. The marina is the hub of Vilamoura and has a real buzz about it, so you’ll definitely find yourself spending lots of time here during your holiday, and no travel guide to Vilamoura would be complete without it!

 

Go to the Aquashow Waterpark

 

The Aquashow Waterpark

 

Located in Quarteira, just a 10 minute taxi ride (or short bus ride) away from the marina, the Aquashow Waterpark is a fantastic day out for all the family and offers something different on my travel guide to Vilamoura. There are huge water slides for the thrill seekers, smaller rides and flumes for the less adventurous and even land rides for those not wanting to get too wet. An onsite café and shop allows you to purchase food, drinks and souvenirs, and there are lockers available for a small charge. There’s a lazy river, wave pool and large swimming pool if you’re looking to have a more chilled out day instead of going on ride after ride. We spent the morning on the big rides and then the afternoon on the smaller rides and had an amazing day doing something different that didn’t involve the beach or the marina, but whatever your reasons for visiting, you’ll be sure to have a fun filled day out at Aquashow – an absolute must see on your travel guide to Vilamoura!

 

Hop on a dolphin watching boat tour

 

Photo courtesy of www.tripadvisor.co.uk

 

I reeeallly wanted to do this during my time in Vilamoura but sadly we ran out of days and didn’t manage to squeeze it in! There are plenty of boat trips to take in Vilamoura as the area is fantastic for dolphin watching, with the Atlantic Sea being one of the best places to spot them in the wild. Some trips take you out to the middle of the sea and into the Benagil Caves for a fantastic experience, whilst others just focus on offering amazing opportunities to see some brilliant marine life. Next time I am in the Algarve I will definitely be taking a boat trip as I have only seen dolphins in the wild a handful of times and they are my favourite animals in the world so you can imagine how gutted I was that I didn’t get chance to try and see them this time round!

 

Explore the two long sandy beaches

 

Having fun on Praia de Vilamoura beach

 

There are two beaches at the heart of Vilamoura, Praia de Vilamoura to the east – the most well known as it is right by the marina – and Praia da Falesia to the west which is located a little further away. Both beaches are equally as beautiful, with long stretches of golden sand and deep blue waters that are perfect for swimming in. I was really apprehensive about swimming in the sea as Portugal sits on the Atlantic Ocean which is notoriously chilly and no where near as warm as the Med, but once I got over the initial shock of coldness and started swimming properly I completely forgot I was in the Atlantic and enjoyed spending plenty of time in the water! Both beaches have sunbeds and umbrellas to hire, and there are small beach bars too, with the luxurious Puro Beach on Praia de Vilamoura being part of the Anantara Vilamoura hotel (more info below) and THE place to sunbathe if you’re looking for VIP treatment.

 

Get involved with the golfing

 

Photo courtesy of www.anantara.com

 

Known for its excellent golfing facilities, home to no fewer than 40 golf courses across the resort, no guide to Vilamoura would be complete without mentioning the G word, even though I am quite possibly the least likely person in the world to play golf! I think September must be big in the golfing calendar because there were sooo many groups of men there who were either on stag do’s or group golfing trips – the majority of which were taking over the Irish bars night after night! The Portugal Masters, held in October, are a super popular time to visit, so I would avoid going to Vilamoura at this time if you aren’t bothered by the golfing as accommodations are more expensive and restaurant capacities are limited as they are often inundated with groups.

 

Where to stay

 

Our hotel, Dom Pedro Portobelo

 

We chose to stay at the Dom Pedro Portobelo Hotel, which is in a perfect location for exploring all that Vilamoura has to offer. Just a 4 minute walk away from the marina, the hotel is close enough to the action without being right on the harbour and offers fantastic value for money. There’s a restaurant and large pool onsite with accommodation options ranging from standard double/twin rooms to spacious 1 or 2 bedroom apartments. We had a 1 bed apartment that slept 4 of us comfortably, and our spacious balcony had views overlooking the pool and the sea in the distance. Faro Airport is a 25 minute drive away, and I would recommend booking a shuttle transfer before you travel as they are so cheap (£13pp return) instead of just jumping in a taxi when you get to the airport. The Dom Pedro Portobelo is one of many hotels in Vilamoura from the Dom Pedro brand and I would thoroughly recommend them to anyone looking to enjoy a fantastic stay in Vilamoura without the hefty price tag that comes with staying on the marina!

 

Hanging out at Anantara Vilamoura

 

If you have a bigger budget, you’ll be spoilt rotten at the Tivoli Marina, right at the heart of the resort and commanding some of the best views in the area! The excellent location, top notch restaurant and spa and the exquisite rooms with stunning marina views will give you a fantastic stay at any time of year. Alternatively head to Anantara Vilamoura, located a 15 minute drive from the marina by complimentary shuttle, which is a world away from Vilamoura’s buzzy atmosphere but amazing for golfers and those who want luxury, privacy and peaceful surroundings. There are 4 pools, 3 restaurants and 2 bars as well as a spa and state of the art gym with a world class golf course home to the Portugal Masters directly opposite the hotel. I was lucky enough to see both of these 5* hotels during my time in Vilamoura as I was doing some site inspections for work (even whilst on holiday – dedication or what?! ) and got to really experience the luxurious nature of them both, so can whole-heartedly recommend them if you’re looking to splash the cash and I definitely wanted to include them on my travel guide to Vilamoura.

 

Where to eat/drink

 

The glitzy Vilamoura marina

 

The marina is really the only place to go in Vilamoura to ensure you get a top notch meal, and I have to say we were blown away by the quality of food night after night during our holiday here. The meat and sea food dishes were amazing, with fresh produce and eclectic menus to choose from no matter which restaurant you ended up at. We ate at Italian, Portuguese and Mediterranean restaurants during our holiday and certainly weren’t disappointed. For drinks, I would head to the cocktails bars along the harbour front if you’re looking for something sophisticated and casual, but if you want somewhere a bit more lively I would definitely choose one of the Irish bars to get you in the mood for dancing!

As you can see from my photos, I had an absolute ball during my time in Vilamoura, and I definitely could have spent another few days lazing on the gorgeous beach, admiring the glitzy marina and swimming in the deep blue sea. With so much to see and do, the Algarve provides the perfect place for a week long holiday or a weekend escape for couples, families and groups alike. Hopefully my travel guide to Vilamoura has shown you that this part of Portugal is perfect for all types of travel, but if you need convincing further, take a look at this gorgeous candyfloss sky which lit up the marina night after night once the sun had started to set – truly magical, am I right?!

 

Candyfloss skies

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How to Spend a day in Verona

 

Fair Verona. Home to Romeo and Juliet, the second oldest Colosseum in Italy and excellent pizza, pasta and gelato. Well known for it’s excellent location close to Lake Garda, Verona makes the perfect place for a city break during your travels to Italy. I visited Verona for the first time back in June whilst I was in Italy to attend my 4th annual Traverse conference which was being held in the small city of Trento, nestled in the Dolomites. I only had time to spend a day in Verona but still managed to tick off most of the sights and get a real feel for the city during this short time. The city centre is pretty compact and is super easy to get around on foot, with all the major attractions in walking distance of each other, so only having a day in Verona really isn’t a problem and is actually doable! Here’s what I got up to during my visit, and how I recommend you spend a day in Verona too…

 

Check out the Verona Arena

 

me in front of verona arena

The historic Verona Arena

 

This was the first thing I did when I spent a day in Verona and it was a great way to get my bearings and to kick-start my time in the city learning about some of its fascinating ancient history. Tickets cost 10 euros and offer access into the main Arena as well as the tunnels surrounding the amphitheatre. The inner part isn’t huge and is a bit underwhelming if you have been to the iconic Colosseum in Rome, but I would say it is still worth a visit if you want to learn more about Verona’s history during Roman times. Built all the way back in 30 AD, on a site which used to be pas the city walls, the Arena is in fact one of the best-preserved ancient structures in the world. Nowadays, the Colosseum is used to host concerts, shows, sporting events and plays throughout the year in Verona and is a great hub seating up to 30,000 guests in the middle of the city, with the surrounding restaurants, bars and café’s in Verona’s main square being great places to people-watch.

 

Climb the Torre dei Lamberti tower

 

verona rooftops from the top of the tower

The amazing views over Verona from the top of Torre dei Lamberti

 

Located behind Piazza dei Signori, the Torre dei Lamberti is one of the tallest towers in the city at 84 metres high and is definitely worth a visit if you’ve only got a day in Verona. Construction first began in 1172, with the bell tower being added in 1295. Some 110 years later, the top of the tower was struck by lightning and remained damaged until restoration works began 16 years later in 1448. For just a couple of euro’s you can either hop in an elevator or walk the staggering 368 steps to the top of the tower, which in my opinion is a much more exciting option, especially when you are rewarded with stunning panoramic views over the city below! Catch a glimpse of the iconic terracotta rooftops, the winding river Adige and some of the beautiful houses and courtyards that can be found across the city, making your journey up to the top well worth a visit, especially at sunset or after dark when the city is lit up and dazzles below you right before your eyes!

 

Visit Juliet’s Balcony

 

me in front of juliet's statue

Well it’s worth a try, right girls?!

 

Definitely one for the Verona bucket list, but beware of the crazy amounts of tourists all flocking to do the exact same thing! Located on Capello Street, Juliet’s Balcony is perhaps one of the most famous tourist attractions in Italy, and for good reason. Based on the iconic Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s Balcony is said to be the place where Romeo declared his eternal love for Juliet, and you can visit the onsite museum which allows you to take photos on the world famous balcony. Although ridiculously busy, I still think it’s worth stopping by to tick this one off your list of things to do if you only have a day in Verona. There’s a life-size bronze statue in the courtyard garden below and, according to legend, if you touch Juliet’s right breast you will be granted eternal love! I’m not sure how accurate it is though gals – I tried it and, guess what, I’m still single 😉

 

Take the cable car up to the top of Castel San Pietro

 

the views from the top of the castel san pietro

One of the best viewpoints in Verona!

 

This is an absolute must see when spending a day in Verona, and the best time to visit is at sunset so you can watch the city turning a vibrant shade of orange as the glow of the sun reflects off the red rooftops below. A trip in a cable car up to the top of Castel San Pietro, part of Verona’s castle complex, will set you back just a couple of euro’s, and you can take a slow walk down the sloping hill afterwards if you prefer to return on foot instead. The views from the top of the hill are breath-taking, and especially good during sunset – I would recommend taking a good hour or so out of your day in Verona to visit this so you have enough time to go up and down and take in the amazing views as well!

 

Walk along the River Adige

 

the beautiful ponte pietra bridge

The best known bridge in Verona, the Ponte Pietra

 

The Adige is the second longest river in Italy, flowing over 400km through the northern part of the country towards the Adriatic Sea, and it is the same river that runs through Trento, the place that I was visiting next after spending a day in Verona. Cross the many bridges to see the city from both sides as the river runs below you, and walk the as far along as you wish to explore some of Verona’s beautiful surrounding countryside away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Verona’s most famous bridge, the Ponte Pietra, is a Roman arch bridge which provided the city with access to the Arena and was completed in 100 BC, making it the oldest bridge in the city. The arch nearest to the right bank of the Adige was rebuilt by lord of Verona Alberto I della Scala in the 1200s and sadly four of the arches were destroyed in world war two but rebuilt in 1957 using original materials.

 

Where to stay

 

the exterior of stravagante hostel verona

StraVagante Hostel Verona. Image courtesy of booking.com

 

I was on a budget so stayed at the brand new StraVagante Hostel which had only recently opened and really enjoyed my stay as the hostel was clean, comfortable and central, with much more of a hotel feel than a hostel which I really liked. The hostel is in a great location for both the airport and train station – I arrived by plane and found the Aerobus super easy and cheap to use (make sure you buy tickets – 6 euros each way – at the ticket office or on the bus using cash) and the train station was just a 10 min walk away too. If you’re looking to spend a little more, there are plenty of great hotels to choose from in central Verona, including the Grand Hotel des Arts and Hotel Milano and Spa.

 

Where to eat/drink

 

piazza bra in verona

Piazza Bra, a great place for food and drinks in Verona

 

Unfortunately I didn’t eat out much at all during my day in Verona as I wasn’t there for very long, but I did manage to have a fantastic pizza in Piazza del Signori, right near to Juliet’s Balcony. Verona has a fantastic foodie scene and there are plenty of restaurants serving pizza, pasta and gelato so you can indulge in alllll the Italian food; I’d recommend eating in Piazza Bra and Piazza delle Erbe as well as the areas by Torre dei Lamberti and the Colosseum for a brilliant choice of authentic Italian restaurants. I was actually pretty gutted that I didn’t eat out anywhere else during my time in Verona, but I guess that’s just another excuse to go back, right?!

As you can see, I had a great time soaking up the ancient Roman feel about this beautiful city, and what Verona lacks in size it certainly makes up for in charm, culture and history! If, like me, you only have the time to spend a day in Verona, I would definitely recommend you see these main sights as they are all totally doable. I would definitely return to do a day in Verona if it was planning a trip back to Italy, which I am sure I will do in the next year or two, and I would try and visit Lake Garda next time too as that place has been on my bucket list for soooo long. Have you ever been to Verona before? I’d love to know what you thought of it!

 

stood in front of the river adige in verona

Saying a fond farewell to fair Verona – I will certainly be back!

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3 Nights in Trento: Exploring The Dolomites at Traverse 19

 

Earlier on this summer I spent 3 nights in Trento (Northern Italy) as part of my fourth annual Traverse conference weekend. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been a07ttending Traverse conferences for the past 4 years now, travelling to Cardiff, London and Rotterdam, so I was super excited when The Dolomites was revealed as the location for Traverse 19! Despite visiting Italy numerous times before, I have never been to the northern part, and was particularly excited about the prospect of exploring the Dolomites, which are home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe! After enjoying 2 nights in Verona, I was super excited to hop on a super quick 1 hour train and spend a further 3 nights in Trento exploring everything that this pretty Alpine town had to offer. Here’s what I got up to during my 3 nights in Trento, and what I would recommend you see there during your visit too…

 

Wander around Buonconsiglio Castle

 

The beautiful views from the castle balcony

 

The most important castle in Trentino, Buonconsiglio Castle is the residence of the Prince Bishops and an iconic symbol of Trento. Built in the 13th century, the castle is split into three different parts, reflecting different historic eras of the city, showcasing arts and incredible frescoes from the Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic ages. Nowadays, the castle is an open air and indoor museum, with visitors able to access almost every part of it, and every year an excellent summer exhibition runs activities and workshops for schools. I would definitely recommend climbing the stone staircase towards the upper part of the castle, where there are some seriously stunning mountain views from the top balcony!

 

Take the cable car up to Trento Alta

 

Just look at that amazing landscape!!

 

This was probably my favourite thing about my 3 nights in Trento, and it was the perfect way to get my bearings and start exploring the city as this was the very first thing I did when I arrived (after devouring some pizza, of course). From Piazza del Duomo, a few other bloggers and I made the short walk across the River Adige over to the Trento Alta cable car, located at the foot of one of the enormous mountains that dominated the Trento skyline. As we had Trentino visitor cards, our cable car journey was totally free, but otherwise it costs just a couple of euros for the return trip. A rapid ascent will see you reach the top of Trento Alta in just a matter of minutes, and believe me when I say you will be totally mesmerised when you see the breath-taking views that are waiting for you when you get there! I’ll let the photograph above do the talking…

 

Walk inside Trento cathedral

 

Trento Cathedral

 

Trento Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of San Vigilio, is located in Piazza del Duomo, right at the heart of the city, with the majestic Fountain of Neptune in front of it. Built in the 6th century, over an ancient temple dedicated to the city’s patron saint, the cathedral as we know it now wasn’t constructed until the 11th century, when the Prince Bishop Uldarico II started work on it. The Roman Catholic cathedral is decorated beautifully inside, with Gothic architecture, ornate frescoes and a stunning rose window at the front, also known as the Wheel of Fortune. I admired the Cathedral from the outside many times when I was passing by the main square, but it wasn’t until I went inside on my last day that I really appreciated it’s true beauty – this place is an absolute must visit during your 3 nights in Trento!

 

Base yourself at Piazza del Duomo

 

The glorious main square, Piazza del Duomo

 

The focal point of the entire city, Piazza del Duomo is at the core of Trento and is the main square from which everything leads off. The surrounding cobbled streets are home to numerous bars, cafe’s, shops and restaurants, with the glorious mountains providing an impressive backdrop. The main part of the Traverse 19 conference was set up in Piazza del Duomo, and it’s a great place to base yourself in order to get your bearings of the city. Enjoy lunch and dinner in one of the many restaurants surrounding the piazza, or simply people watch whilst sat at the Fountain of Neptune to enjoy the views from wherever you’re positioned.

 

Where to stay

 

My balcony at Hotel Albermonaco

 

I stayed in the quirky Hotel Albermonaco during my 3 nights in Trento, located near the train station and directly adjacent to the castle. My room had a spacious balcony with amazing views of the mountains and castle which was a pleasant surprise as I hadn’t expected any view at all given that the price I paid was super cheap! Along with tonnes of other travel bloggers who also attended Traverse 19, I recently contributed to this accommodation guide to Trentino, which was put together by Teresa from Brogan Abroad. As Trento is a fairly small city, you’ll be able to access pretty much all of it on foot no matter where you choose to stay, but I found being close to the castle and the train station super handy at the Albermonaco, and it was just a 10-15 minute walk away from the main square too!

 

Where to eat/drink

 

Traditional Italian gelato in Trento

 

Fortunately, my Trentino visitor card and my Traverse 19 ticket came with some complimentary/discounted food and drinks vouchers that I could use throughout my visit during my 3 nights in Trento, but I did get to sample a lot of different meals and check out numerous restaurants and bars during my trip too. A few fellow bloggers and I decided to head for dinner at local restaurants most evenings, whilst lunches and evening drinks were generally included at the conference days. Particular restaurants which stood out to me were Uva e Menta and Ristorante Antica Trattoria, which served excellent pastas, pizzas, meat and fish dishes. Pretty much anywhere around the Piazza del Duomo is recommended, and it’s really not hard to find good food in Trento!

 

Trento really is a hidden gem at the heart of the Dolomites, and a fantastic place to base yourself if you want to explore more of northern Italy. As I mentioned, Verona is just an hour away by train, and is in close proximity to Lake Garda too – somewhere that has been on my bucket list for soooo long! I’d definitely suggest giving yourself at least 3 nights in Trento to spend time exploring everything properly, but you could easily spend a week or two using the city as a base and then discovering plenty of the surrounding areas nearby too. Have you ever been to Trento before? I’d love to hear what you thought of it!

 

Walking along the river Adige