Need to find the UK’s best bites? Then @europcar has just the map for you #travel #map #food #drink #foodanddrink

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Ever wanted to take a trip around our great British Isles and find out where the best food from each region comes from? Then forget your conventional map because Europe’s leading car hire service Europcar has the solution – its a map called Britain’s Best Bites.

Whether you’re packing a picnic or shopping for the best ingredients for the Christmas table, you won’t go hungry with Europcar’s map of nibbles. so not only can you rent a cool car to see more of Great Britain, you can now enjoy the food along the way too!

So what is this map really like? 

Europcar’s Britain’s Best Bites is a scrolling parallax map which allows customers to take a journey down the country, from John O’Groats to Land’s End. Charmingly illustrated, with famous landmarks and images of the food in each region, the map features a green Europcar car, which can travel from place to place, unveiling gastronomic delights on its trip.

The route is 874 miles in total and covers key areas, including Edinburgh, the Highlands, Carlisle, Manchester, Stroud, Bath, Exeter and Cornwall.

Here’s some of Europcar’s top tip locations for yummy cuisine! Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 22.55.35

Caithness Smokehouse

At the tip of UK mainland, you’ll find the award-winning Caithness Smokehouse. Sample the mouth-watering smokey flavours of its locally sourced North Sea fish.

Tebay Services

In rural Cumbria, even the motorway services have farm shops. Stop at Tebay to fill up on hand-reared meat, homemade pies and relishes.

Lancashire Cheese

A trip to Lancashire isn’t complete without tasting the creamy, mild, crumbly cheese. Travellers looking for something to showcase on their cheeseboards should head to

Dewlay cheese-makers of Gartang, who have been making award winning Lancashire cheese for almost 60 years.

Stop for a coffee

Exeter’s Exploding Bakery is an original, no-nonsense bakery.  Order one of their ‘full-on-flavour’ tray bakes made with local Devon butter and free range eggs served with a relaxing cup of coffee.

With over 250 locations across the UK, there’s a Europcar branch along the whole of the Britain’s Best Bites route, meaning travellers can book a vehicle, wherever they are. It’s flexible and affordable car hire saves wear and tear on the family car, as well as added comfort for longer journeys. With additional items, such as baby seats, additional drivers and GPS, Europcar caters to every traveller’s needs, with the widest choice of vehicles, all on average less than six months’ old.

To find out more visit http://www.europcar.co.uk

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Planning a trip to Italy, you wouldn’t want to miss this relaxing spa weekend in Lake Garda! #travel #health #spa #beauty

Once again our European travel and beauty writer Kat Baron is on the road giving us the low-down on the best places to stay, indulge and relax in Europe, this time its the turn of a spa retreat in Lake Garda. To read more of Kat’s adventures, check out her own blog Katscapades.

So in the last few weeks my husband and I had the special birthday treat of visiting one of the world’s fashion capitals, Milan! An amazing city and I had a fantastic time, but after the hustle and bustle of bumping into fashionistas and models everywhere I turned, I needed a break!! So I found a mini-spa break just 60mins from Milan, my destination: Lake Garda!

Living in Nice, Lake Garda is nearly a 5-hour drive from our home. We are already used to long drives this time last year, we drove from Nice to Barcelona (about 7-8hours) but its incomparable to our 12-hour snowy journey from Geneva last winter. We’d been to a lot of places around Italy and France in our used and abused blue car! Too bad I can’t drive, but I know, deep down, I’m meant to be driven, lol).

My holiday checklist

Anyway, as I was sat in the passenger seat for the journey, I was able to collect my thoughts of the do’s and don’ts of a long drive to a fun destination:

  • Good night sleep prior – check.
  • All essentials stuff packed – check. (It’s very irritating knowing that you left something at home)
  • Filling breakfast – check. (We had freshly made orange, apple, carrot juice at home followed by egg-cheese-muffin sandwich and pain au chocolat pour moi! I know it’s buttery but one won’t hurt!)
  • Cash, cards, and coins – check.
  • Water – check.
  • Comfy clothes – check.

I was set and ready to go! See:

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I had no make-up on, just my usual moisturizer with SPF 24 and I just pinned my long grown fringe with hair on one side.

Are we nearly there yet?! 

After driving on the autoroute (fr) /autostrada (it) for hours, we knew we were getting near our destination as we drove through the gorgeous grape vineyards. We left Nice at 9ish and arrived in Cola’ Di Lazise, a small province of Verona southeast side of the lake at around 2ish. We booked 2 nights at the lovely Villa Dei Cedria Veneto villa designed by Luigi Canonica of Milan (the architect whose works include Foro Bonaparte, the Milan Arena and the Carcano Theatre) and built at the turn of the nineteenth century (the villa is more or less 200 years old). When the villa was restored, rooms of various sizes were created on the upper floors. As a result, it can host even the most demanding customers in an exquisite and elegant setting. In 1943 Field Marshal Erwin Rommel took it over as his residence and used it as the German headquarters for all of northern Italy.  The halls on the ground floor of the villa welcome guests in an aristocratic yet relaxing setting.

Upon entering the gates, we parked our car infront the main door and we were welcomed by their friendly staff. The reception has a huge table and what caught my attention was the elegant lobby (as seen on the left photo) with a well-preserved chandelier (other parts of the villa like the grand dining area as seen on the right has chandeliers), high ceilings and antique but chic furniture. image_3

The villa even preserved some of the original furniture dating 150-200 years old!

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This chessboard was amazing! The statues on the lower left side are 400 years old!

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The staff took care of our luggage and we were taken to the admin office just few steps from the reception (y’know, the usual check-in process). After that, one of the staff took us to our room as the others took care of our luggage. When we entered the room, I got even more excited!

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Our room was just lovely, with satin brown and black bed covers and curtains with a hydromasssage pool in our room – YES, IN OUR ROOM. I knew it before but I wasn’t expecting it could be this nice. Amaze balls.

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As explained by the staff, the pool has 3 different types of massages and it has speakers for CD, radio, tv and there’s even an iPhone (4) dock! Annoyingly we weren’t able to use this as we both have an iPhone 5, but anyway, it was just fab. The purple lights hanging from the high ceilings as you can see on the upper left photo change colours to give a more romantic, relaxed ambiance.

I also love the bathroom. It has a starry-effect ceiling, his and hers basin over a wooden drawer with white bathroom accessories, towels and toiletries.

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Oh, look at the shower – it also changes colour!

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The Villa dei Cedri is situated in an enormous park and its windows overlook the grounds.

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The park will charm plant lovers because it has rare species of trees that are easy to identify, as there are detailed signs under the most important ones (posts are available in Italian and German only).  There are also several sun beds which you can rent for €4 (you can ask the hotel reception for the wrist bands or pay cash at the park). Look at this fitting room, isn’t that cute?!

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Before heading back to the room, we dropped by at the Centro Benessere to book our treatment and massage for the following day. There are few golf cars in the park, not sure if hotel residents can rent it to tour the grounds but I borrowed it anyways.

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It was drizzling and a bit cold (about 14C degrees) so we headed back to the room. But who cares about the cold rain when we had a hot tub in our bedroom?!

We chilled out for a bit having drinks (btw everything in the minibar is free), watching movies on Sky and really just relaxing and enjoying our time.

For dinner, we tried going back to the Trattoria but it’s fully booked – so make sure you book ahead! So we decided to try the restaurant inside the park just next to the villa called Ristorante Villa Moscardo. According to the staff, it dated back 400 years!

We made a good choice. The food was just so delicious! We skipped the hors d’oeuvres and started with the first course. I had Paccheri “Villa Moscardo” basil-tomatoes-parmesan cheese-pecorino cheese and Mark had Tortiglioni alla carbonara with zucchini flowers, zucchini julienne and crispy leek. For the Main Course, I had Beef fillet grilled and Mark had Slices of beef on a bed of Rucola and parmesan cheese.

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The food was really good and we were so stuffed that we just shared Crema Catalana for dessert.

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All of these with half a bottle of house wine and water came to €67.

Oh, before I forget, look at this garden view from our bedroom window:

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Day 2!

Surprisingly, I woke up early the next day (5am but I tried to sleep and got up just before 7). This was not normal! We headed to the breakfast room at 7:30 but went back to the room since breakfast is not served until 8am. We’re early birds I know!

Breakfast’s served in one of the villa’s beautiful rooms. There was a variety of cereals, cooked breakfast, bread, cold and hot drinks and Italian cakes!

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There were also tables and chairs outside, perfect on a sunny morning. It was a bit chilly at 11C degrees so we were sitting near the fireplace.

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After breakfast, we plunged into the hydromassage in our room for about 30 minutes…why wouldn’t you!

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Then we got ready and walked towards the lake. The villa is located at Parco Termale Garda and this park has two small lakes.

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It was 14c degrees outside but the lake’s temperature is about 34-36c degrees and the hydromassage pool on the lake was 39c degrees. Imagine floating on the thermal lake and seeing the beautiful skies and trees as you open your eyes. That’s what I did. I was floating and swimming almost all over! I just love it! There wasn’t many people as well so it kind of felt like we’ve got the whole place to ourselves!  It was a refreshing feeling and I didn’t feel cold at all. The lakes are open from 9am and also open for night swimming on certain days.

We stayed at the lake for about 2 hours and went back to the room to get ready for the next treat in the spa. We didn’t really feel hungry for lunch after the big breakfast – which is surprising for me!

The Spa!

Our spa experience started with a body treatment for 60 minutes. I wanted to try the Grape Treatment (regenerating massage rich in antioxidants) but I had Spice Treatment, a tonifying and relaxing massage with essential oils of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and myrrh as recommended by the staff. My husband had a Fango Treatment described as, “The Dead Sea salt scrub is a skin exfoliant made of salt crystals from the Dead Sea, a body of water renowed for its healing, mineral infused waters. This treatment stimulates the skin, muscles and nerves, cleanses the pores and improves blood circulation and the texture of dull, bumpy and tired skin“. After the treatment, we both had a Tibet Massage for 60 minutes- holistic massage during and after which you will experience a pleasant feeling of warmth, lightness and deep relaxation. Himalayan stones and bundles filled with Dead Sea salts combined with almond oil give you a feeling of well-being and regeneration. This massage has naturally exfoliating, toning, draining, oxygenating, anti-cellulite functions. It was just sooooooooo relaxing….

After the 120-min treatment and massage, we wanted to maximise the spa’s facilities after having a cup of tea in the relaxation room overlooking the indoor pool, we tried the sauna.

The spa also has other services from mani / pedi, facial treatments, waxing and tanning.

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Hair/Skincare tips when spa-ing

After this amazing day of pampering, my skin felt so soft and my hair a little bit oily. But seeing that we spent a lot of time on water prior to our spa treatment, it is important to keep our hair and skin healthy and hydrated not just during holidays when too much time on water’s involved but also on our day-to-day life. I’d like to share some hair/skincare tips:

  • Apply sunblock (well it wasn’t sunny when we were at the lake so I didn’t) and moisturizer or body oil after dipping
  • Wax unwanted hairs the day
  • In case you’re over excited in the hydromassage like moi, do not exceed over 20 minutes dipping into 39c degrees; use aroma therapy oils for indoor hydromassage (the villa provided a tropical scent one which we both love)
  • I usually tie my hair up when swimming so it doesn’t go all over the place. I also make sure I use hair conditioner especially after dipping into water.
  • I had no make-up (no edit, no filter) on most photos I took and posted on this  blog. I give credit to having a healthy lifestyle (eating clean, juicing and exercising) for bringing great results to my hair, skin and even nails.

That evening, we drove to Verona city-centre, 30-min from Villa Dei Cedri) passing thru the green vineyards and few outlets. We wanted to see the famous Romeo and Juliet’s balcony but we got there a bit late (it closes at 6:30 pm). It was a lovely way to finish off our trip to Lake Garda!

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We walked around the lovely town and sat in one of the restaurants for dinner.

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We had the typical Italian dish – pizza, pasta and risotto with drinks for about €50 🙂 Eccellente!

The next day, we had a quick walk around the park after breakfast, packed our stuff and we hit the road to Milan… Say Ciao Milano!

Thanks for reading. If you are looking for a relaxing, romantic, thermal-water-experience and close-to-the-nature break with your loved one, family, kids or friends, I highly recommend this place.

Villa Dei Cedri S.p.a. Piazza di Sopra, 4 – 37017 Cola di Lazise (VR) Italy | http://www.villadeicedri.com

Standard Rooms (Bed and Breakfast) starts from €180 per night at The Villa. There are also residences inside and nearby the park. For more photos, please click here.

The perfect sunny mini-break Majestic Gorges de Verdon #travel #holiday #france #placestovisit

Thinking of that perfect mini break away? Well, our travel writer Katrina Santos Baron shares her tips for a fantastic trip to the sunny and picturesque Majestic Gorges de Verdon.

You can find out more about Katrina and read oodles of her fantastic writing on her own blog Katscapades.

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Gorges de Verdon is a river canyon that is often considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful. It is located in the midst of the region of the French Riviera and Provence, about 2 hours drive from Nice or from Marseille. I’ve just ticked another item in my bucket list as we spent our whole Saturday at this majestic place. Five of us left Nice early in the morning, packed our food and mats for picnic and had our wishful thinking that the water’s gonna be warm enough to swim as it is not yet summer. We were lucky with the spring weather, sunny at 20ish degrees but the water was still ice cold.

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Crossed on foot by hikers all over the world, the Verdon has become a natural site protected since 19901. Although it’s much smaller than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, the Gorges du Verdon is deep, compact, wild and beautiful. From Castellane to the village of Rougons, the Verdon river flows clear and swift, and the road follows along the banks. At Rougons, by the Point Sublime, the river plunges into the narrow rock walls, and there’s no escape until it comes out the western end before flowing into Lac de Ste Croix2.

The place offers various activities for all ages to enjoy whether you’re with family, friends and/or partner. You may explore the area by hiking or cycling, look at the specular view from above through paragliding, climb the world-famous rocks, or camp amongst one of its sites. Water sports lovers can go canoeing, rafting, stand up water surfing, water bike paddle boating (like what we did) and others. Of course, swimming is a must if the water’s warm enough. We’d love to go back in few weeks’ time and try paragliding!

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If you would simply like to relax and enjoy nature’s picturesque view whilst having a picnic, Lac de Ste Croix is a perfect spot.

I’ve also put together some outdoor skincare tips plus quick-fix hairstyling for women:

I used Avène’s sunblock (from the goodiebag I got during my last visit at the Hydrocentre) and I must say it is the best sunblock cream I’ve ever tried. It Screen Shot 2013-05-10 at 13.25.00is non-greasy and has a pleasant smell unlike other creams I used in the past. I love the composition, spreads easily without leaving white marks on my skin and it is very light considering its high SPF protection and water resistance. Of course my skin got oiler in the afternoon as I had a good-paddle-workout through the river so I sprayed Avène Thermal Spring Water and wiped my face with a clean tissue. I’m not a fan of make-up when actively doing outdoor stuff. For quick-fix outdoor hairstyling, I just braided my hair in the morning (it works better if you sleep with your braid overnight), loosened it in the afternoon and tied it back with a simple ponytail as it got warmer. Viola, no need for electric curlers! 🙂

For more information on how to visit the Gorges de Verdon, see below:

Information

Here are the principal places for information about the Verdon Canyon. The Office de Tourisme or Mairie in other villages of the region also have information on the Gorges de Verdon.

Aiguines (83630)
Tel: 0494 70 21 64; Fax: 0494 70 20 41
Email: verdon.accueil@wanadoo.fr
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon
Tel: 0492 74 63 95; Fax: 0492 74 63 94
Castellane
Tel: 0492 83 61 14; Fax: 0492 83 76 89
Email: office@castellane.org
Web: http://www.castellane.org


Transportation Verdon Gorges

Bus

Marseille – Gréoux – Riez – Castellane Bus FH-27

LER line 27 (part A): 3 buses/day, between Marseille and Riez, trip time 2 hrs. Stops: Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Venelles, Meyrargues, Peyrolles, Pont Mirabeau, St Paul-lez-Durance, Vinon, Gréoux-les-Bains, St Martin-de-Bromes, Allemagne-en-Provence, Riez.

LER line 27 (part B): 1 bus a day between Riez and Castellane (via the Gorges-de-Verdon), trip time 1h30. Stops: Riez, Roumoules, Moustiers-Ste-Marie, Lapalud, Rougon, Pont de Soleil, Castellane.

• On the LER website (http://www.info-ler.fr/fr/lignes-horaires/carte-et-fiches-horaires-n287. , select Ligne 27: Marseille / Greoux / Castellane to display the bus schedule PDF.

 

#competition Celebrate Grosvenor House Apartments 1st Birthday & win a wish a week! @GHA_JumeirahLiv

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Ever wondered what it would be like to live the high life? Would your ultimate indulgence be a swanky dinner at a top restaurant? A shopping spree at a shop on Bond Street or maybe one of the ultimate spa treatments – the key to relaxation… Everyone’s perception of luxury is different, so its time to get your thinking caps on and think up your wish list as you may be in with a chance of winning one of these stunning prizes.

Its time to wish our friends at Grosvenor House Apartments on Park Lane a very Happy 1st Birthday. And to celebrate they want to share some of the excitement with you!

As part of the celebrations this month, Grosvenor House Apartments is going to bring the amazing knowledge of its expert concierge team to the lovely people of London! This team will be granting ‘one wish’ a week for members of the public where the lucky weekly winner will have a chance to win one of these ultimate luxury prizes!

–          Dinner at…(the restaurant of your choice)

–          Shopping spree at… (the shop of your choice)

–          A relaxing Spa Illuminata treatment

–          Your suggestion

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So how do you win…its totally simple! All you have to do is tweet @GHA_JumeirahLiv , post your wish on their Facebook wall or visit the lobby to fill out a ‘wish card’, and fingers crossed you might be the Londoner that wins the wish you’ve always been after! 

So who are these lovely people giving away this amazing prize? 

Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living is centrally located in one of the most exclusive areas of London on Park Lane in the heart of Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living - Penthouse Study1Mayfair, opposite Hyde Park and close to Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel and Knightsbridge.

The property’s 131 apartments range from studios through to a five-bedroom penthouse (over 450 square metres), providing the largest serviced luxury accommodation in London in a prime and exclusive area. Apartments may be reserved for either short or long stays and are priced accordingly.

Grosvenor House Apartments by Jumeirah Living - Penthouse study

If you decide to stay at one of these AMAZING apartments this month, you’ll have an extra chance to win a fabulous prize! Each arriving guest will have the chance to unwrap one layer of a giant ‘pass the parcel’. With the opportunity to win luxurious spa treatments, bottles of champagne, exclusive dinners or a fabulous holiday, this is one party game not to miss out on!

So there you have it – its so easy to enter, its just not worth missing out on, so make sure you get your wish over to them today!

Happy hoteling everyone!