Sunday, 6 July 2014

48 Hours In Madrid

48 hours in Madrid
When you only have 48 hours in a huge City like Madrid you have to hit the ground running, or  perhaps hit ground  on the dorkiest  two wheels on the planet????  .... Don't mind if I do!!

It wasn't a decision we took lightly, we generally  prefer to blend in with the locals in our destination of choice, but the idea of getting a quick snap shot of Madrid in 90 minutes within two hours of arriving was just too tempting.  So, at 4pm on our afternoon of arrival we had a quick "how to" on our Segways before heading off for our quick tour of Madrid.

We soon learnt that the Segway was a smart choice.  Madrid is incredibly hilly, with even the local cyclists opting for the electric version.

Despite some early rain on the tour, we managed to take in some of the winding streets of Madrid before taking in the beautiful gardens surrounding the Palace,the largest in Europe. Our guide discussed various attractions along the way.  The Temple of Debod (picture below) is the oldest building in Madrid, presented to Spain by the Egyptians as a gift of thanks for Spain's assistance in the building of the Aswan Dam.  The views from here are spectacular.

The tour takes in various aspects of the castle, steering clear of the busy castle itself,  but rather taking in various aspects of it and it's surrounds.

This tour is an inexpensive way to get a glimpse of Madrid in a short space of time - recommended.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon in the hotel.  We stayed at the Hotel Emperador, on the Grand Via.  We got a bargain in a Junior Suite (huge) on the third floor which included breakfast each morning.  The room had a balcony overlooking the heart of Madrid and we never felt far from the action.  Be warned, don't stay here if you require peace and serenity to get a good night sleep.  The sounds of a bustling, vibrant city can be heard through the night, but there's nothing like the sound of When The Saints Go Marching In being sung in Spanish to make you smile at 4am in the morning.

The Hotel had an old world charm, seemingly stuck in somewhat of a time warp, with just a hint of the Grand Budapest Hotel about it.  That said, it was well maintained and we found it charming.  Our room was quite lovely with a large, pristine bathroom and wonderful amenities.  It has a rooftop pool (one of the few in Madrid) which was pumping like a Seminyak beach club the afternoon we visited.

As evening approached, The Husband announced that he knew just where to take me.  A couple of minutes walk away, was the El Corte Ingles, a department store.  As I was led in I had visions of a food court with sloppy food in bainmarie!!!! We don't eat in department stores in Madrid!!  Actually we do, and it was fabulous.  Better than fabulous.  The Husband had been reading about a food outlet on the top floor of El Corte Ingles called StreetXO.  The food here was so spectacular ( I can't recall having a more enjoyable meal any time, anywhere, ever!!)

In fact the food here was so good, that we committed the cardinal sin of "48hours in one destination".  We came back the NEXT NIGHT!!!!

This was Asian fusion tapas at its best, all cooked by a mohawked maestro right in front of us.  He and his team were spectacular to watch as they prepared us dishes such as: roasted Chinese BBQ butter fish with aniseed and yuzu salad; Pekinese dumpling with pigs ear with strawberry hoisin and Ali-oli and pickles; pork belly with pickled mussels and shiitake with XO tartare plus many more, all pictured below.   On our second visit, the mohawked maestro insisted we try (with his compliments) his Asian version of the Paella, made with noodles and wrapped in a fine skin of omelette.  Clever!

The next day we spent the morning working up an appetite taking in the sights, all within walking distance of the hotel.   We started withe the museum Prado, famous for its artworks by Greco, Velazquez, Merillo, Goya and many more.  The gallery possesses more than 7500 works of art.

Following this we decided to get some sunshine and took in the stunning gardens of Buen Retiro Park. It is a delightful park with is manicured trees, abundant gardens, statues and waterways.  We grabbed an icecream and strolled about.

Following this we visited the queen Sofia museum and visit the Richard Richard exhibition (including some interactive art - fun) as well as the works of our favourite, Salvador Dali.  If you enjoy the more modern art, like myself, this is a "must do" in Madrid.

By 2pm we were starving and headed to Mercardo de San Miguel, also a short walk from our hotel.  The food here is an extravaganza for the senses.  It is best appreciated by grabbing a glass of sangria or San Miguel and indulging from stall after stall of fresh delights from savoury to sweet and everything in between.  Croquettes in every flavour; pintxo's; empanadas; fresh fruit; paella; and an array of desserts from all corners of the world.

Our last night was spent at StreetXO with baklava Dessert at Mercado San Miguel - good times.

Pics below:
The sights on Segway tour
The Gardens
The Reina Sofia Museum (including Richard Richard and Dali)
The Mercado San Miguel

Friday, 19 July 2013

Villefranche to St Tropez...

We decided that no trip to the south of France was complete without a trip by boat along the Riviera.   I did a bit of research (ie looked at every boat hire company on the planet)  a couple of months before we left Perth and found one through  They were great to deal with and even booked our lunch and sun lounges at Le Club 55 in St Tropez. Le Club 55 is the original private beach club on the Riviera, opening its doors in 1955 to provide food and beverage for the cast and crew of the Brigitte Bardot flick, And God Created Woman.  Since then it has formed the hub of the St Tropez beach club scene, where it plays host to the rich and famous on their summer holidays (not to mention the odd Aussie tourist).

We met our skipper Stefan in Villefranche at 9.15 and advised him that we had banana lounges booked from 11am and lunch at 1pm.  He said something about needing to get a move on as we got on to our boat for the day.  After a few minutes cruising out of the harbour (and the obligatory photo session) , our skipper suddenly hit full throttle.  As all thoughts of a leisurely champagne brunch vanished from our minds, we braced ourselves for what became a rather bumpy ride to St Tropez.  We later found out that our lovely skipper Stefan simply wanted to ensure that we arrived on time.  WE DID!  With promises of a leisurely ride back after lunch, Stefan handed us over to the Club 55 staff who took us into shore on their small "tender".

Soon after arriving we were set up on our shaded banana lounges.  After the bumpy ride in the boat, I sank into my lounge and wondered if I could ever extract myself to go swimming.  It was so relaxing,  and with my lounge buddy Cicci beside me, I was rather a bit partial to some social commentary of the eclectic bunch of people that surrounded us.  Bit of bling here, bad plastic surgery over there, sugar daddy over to the left.   But alas, one was at a beach club and the turquoise water was inviting, and we had just enough time for a frolic in the Mediterranean before lunch.  It was a delight, and it was from this point that the day just got better and better!

Lunch at Le Club 55 was a real treat.  The surroundings are understated and despite it absolutely heaving with diners, the service was friendly and prompt.  We had heard that the food was overpriced and overrated.  We did not experience this at all.  Husband ordered mussels to start and it was one of the better mussel dishes I have tried.  We all had veal Milanese for main and it was quite good.

Before we knew it, 3pm came around and it was time to rejoin Stefan on the boat (cutely named the "lollipop").   Eating and drinking at the club had got us all hot and bothered so as soon as we got on board, we peeled off the layers and were once again frolicking in the Mediterranean Sea. It was so deep it was impossible to see the bottom, bliss!

Soon after we headed back along the coast towards Villefranche, this time more leisurely, and hearing more about the sights we passed, and Stefan taking us for another swim in an alcove along the way.  We arrived back, sun kissed and satisfied, another memorable day on the south of France.

Pics below of a great day...check the first one with my name on the place card at Le Club 55... I have decided its my European royalty name. Xoxo.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

From Riviera With Love...

I've arrived, I have found the meaning of life, I understand what the fuss is all about..... Hello South of France!!!

As we disembarked the A8 motorway, four and a half hours after leaving Lyon, we caught our first glimpse of ocean since leaving wintery Perth some weeks before.  The heart swelled a little at the sight of it, then sank a little at the sight of Nice, a drab and unsightly city from behind, rather grubby and killing my buzz in an instant.  Thankfully I had heard that this place was not a true reflection of the region and held hope for what lied ahead.  To be fair, I later was afforded the benefit of some of the prettier parts of Nice.

Our destination was St Paul De Vence, some 5 or so km from Nice, as the crow flies, but 20-30 mins by car (summer traffic permitting).

Saint-Paul or Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a commune in the Alpes-Maritimes department in southeastern France. One of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it is well known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries such as Foundation Maeght which is located nearby. It is a postcard perfect village with cobbled walkways lined with quaint shops, flower boxes, and stunning sculptures around every corner.  

Our villa Mandarinette is literally at the doorstep of the village, with stunning views across to the village and beyond to the Mediterranean Sea.  It's location gives us the perfect combination of village and coastal lifestyle in this most beautiful part of the world. 

The villa, designed by the "queen of white interiors" Jacqueline Morabito, is everything we had hoped for and more.   Over three levels, we and the kids have the top level consisting of three rooms each with ensuites and views to the village and ocean.  The mid-level (street level) consists of open living space with chefs kitchen, dining area, and versatile living space and terrace.  The lower level consists of large studio with ensuite, stunning gardens, and pool all overlooking the village and the ocean, complete with multiple garden "rooms" and hot/cold outdoor shower.  Upon settling in, we wondered if we might just stay right there in the confines of our villa for the week, blissfully unaware of the world outside.  This is living.... Xoxo

See below pics of the villa and the stunning village just a few steps outside.