The Mango Place, Broome – Review – 5*

Lot 4, Kanagae Dr, 12 Mile, Broome WA 6725
(08) 9192 5462

If you’re searching for a slice of paradise then look no further than The Mango Place, Broome. Secret-recipe jams and chutneys, woodfired pizzas, delicious pies, homemade cakes and their famous mango smoothies – what more could a foodie ask for?

It seems to me that artisan cafes and markets seem to have been popping up all over the place for the past couple of years. More and more people are starting to appreciate the quality of homemade food and handmade items and The Mango Place has plenty of both. On top of this, they pride themselves on not only being Australian built and run but also supporting other Australian artists and companies, providing sustainable and ethical products, using native ingredients to showcase the diversity of The Kimberleys.

We all know nothing compliments good grub better than a great atmosphere, which is easily found in this relaxing sun spot. Take a seat underneath a mango tree, pull up a chair in the shade and cool off with a mango ice cream. Enjoy the curious music of the friendly butcher birds, who will certainly try and join you for lunch, and sit back and soak up the atmosphere.

Starting out in 2005 with little more than a tin shack to cook up customers’ lunch, Julie and Geoff Weguelin have built their own piece of heaven. Julie’s reputation as an incredible cook has had people flocking to this idyllic lunch spot for years but they have come a long way since then. From two humble jam recipes they have flourished and now boast an extensive menu of curries, paninis, pizzas (including gluten free), pies and sweets – oh so many sweets! – all alongside a tasty drinks menu including such items as Mango Madness, a sweet and fruity cocktail, and their pink and sweet Kimberley Sunset. There’s alcoholic and soft drinks available but if you’re inclined to sip a cocktail with lunch, and if you’re over 18 of course, I implore you to try a Bloody Ruby. It uses mixed berries and their home-made Rosella Port which create a deliciously fruity delight.

Which brings me on to their wine and port selection. They make their own (surprise!) Mango Outback Dessert Wine which contains no less than 1.5 kilos of mango. Its sweet and syrupy texture compliments both sweet and savoury dishes and is a must-buy to take home as a present or a treat for yourself to remember your trip to The Kimberleys. Their other ports, made from native Australian plants and trees such as the local wattle trees and rosella plants and Queensland lemon aspen, add something special to cocktails, over ice cream or as flavourings in your favourite recipes. The knowledgeable staff are full of ideas and serving suggestions for any items you buy from the adjoining shop.

Said shop, however, does not just sell the condiments and foodstuffs I’ve mentioned so far (which reminds me, you must try the teas! The rosella is my favourite with a spot of honey but you must try the mango tea with a slice of one of their delectable cakes…), it also sells soaps, lotions, mozzi repellant, aloe vera soothing gel and more, all homemade, of course. On top of that, they often sell items on behalf of local artists such as Damien Kelly, a Broome photographer who captures the colours and intensity of The Kimberleys beautifully.

All in all, if you’re looking for something cute, quirky and which really represents Broome lifestyle and culture then The Mango Place is the place for you. Sundays are my favourite day as local musicians play in the afternoon and they are open ‘til late. BYO and stay until sunset with friends whether it’s a speical occasion or just because.

 

Room in Broome

In the North Western corner of Australia lies unsuspecting Broome, a small beach town full of character, sunshine and mangoes.

We arrived in Broome in the evening of June 14th. After leaving wet and windy Sydney I was surprised to feel warm even at 7pm. It was a good start to our regional work, escaping a New South Wales winter and experiencing the mild, dry season in Western Australia. Our destination? The Mango Place. This is where we would be spending the next 88 days, undertaking agricultural work in order to apply for the Second Year VisaMy first impression was how small and pretty the area is. The population for most of the year is just 15,000 but this goes up to around 65,000 in the busy season. Visitors from all over Australia, as well as hundreds of international tourists and backpackers, flock to Broome around June to September as the winter months provide dry days that generally sit around 26-30 degrees Celsius.

We didn’t see much for the first week, mostly just spent the time getting settled in to farm life and meeting our fellow WWOOFers (technically that’s Willing Workers On Organic Farms, but it’s come to mean any person who works voluntarily on farmland). By the end of week one, the count was two Germans, a Canadian couple, a Frenchman, a Japanese girl, a Tawainese boy and three Brits, ourselves included. People were nice, life ran at a relaxed pace and the work was fun, easygoing and social.

After throwing myself into Project Veggie Garden (more on that later) I made friends with aforementioned Frenchman, Olivier, otherwise known as Zitoune. He sits with us on the veranda outside our accommodation and plays guitar as we make up silly lyrics to match his rhythms. An enthralled audience, he teaches us how to make Psy-Trance on the jaw harp. I have heard of neither in my life, but it’s incredible impressive nonetheless (why don’t you head to his Facebook page!). After planting for hours in the garden we became good friends, he is a soft soul, and I ask if he will be my guide in Broome in exchange for petrol money.

Being the kind man he is, he agrees and after work one day I see Broome for the first time. It is exactly what you think of when you image Aussie life – palm trees, campervans full of hippies, beautiful people sitting in the sand who have been surfing since the crack of dawn, sunshine, happiness. After visiting the campsite and a stop see another friend of his (he has many friends, this Zitoune, his busking has afforded him many new relationships with people who cannot help but admire and like him) we head to Cable Beach. It is just as beautiful as the rumours would have it and we get there in time for a jump in the waves before sunset. Sitting on the beach with a new friend and watching a famous, colourful sunset makes you happy to be alive and I wrote a little in my journal for the first time in a long time.

I came home to my room in Broome with salty skin, damp hair and full of excitement for the next 11 weeks.

Beyond Bondi

Bondi Beach is probably Sydney’s most famous sandy shore but there’s so much more to see. This guide will take you beyond Bondi to discover some of the other beachy beauties Sydney has to offer.

1. Manly

If Bondi is the young hipster’s choice then Manly is its cool older sister. It plays host to festivals such as Manly Jazz Festival in the Spring, markets every weekend and Friday evenings until 28th March you can head to the Manly Food Markets and enjoy some good grub, live music and the sea breeze in your hair. Besides always having something on (check out the range of events it has to offer hereit is a beautiful area all year round.

If you’re travelling by ferry you’ll land in the wharf area where you can pop to the art gallery and museum which is open Tuesday to Sunday and completely free. Discover some of the cafes and restaurants around this area or walk up The Corso to find yourself on the beach. Along your walk pop into one of the many hotels for a beer avec sea view or a surf shop if you want to find out about lessons and equipment hire.

Although it can get pretty busy, especially on the weekends or at festival time, it’s a quieter and more laid back vibe to Bondi. There’s still plenty going on, and lots of beautiful beach bums and backpackers, but it doesn’t have the party scene that Bondi is famous for.

If you’re one for walking, think about doing a coastal route up to…

2. Curl Curl

Only a 45 minute walk from Manly, this pretty little beach is perfect for families and beach bums alike searching for a much quieter and serene alternative. There’s less of a ‘scene’ here like you’ll find in Manly or Bondi but if you’re looking for great views, quiet sunbathing or clambering over some rocks and a sea dip then I can’t recommend it more.

The north end of the beach is great for swimming and bodyboarding and there are life guards on patrol with advice on safety. If you’re living the Australian surfer dream and hoping to catch some waves, the area in front of and south of the lagoon is your best bet.

Although there are no dogs allowed on the beach itself, behind the lagoon there’s a dog exercise area which has great views and is a good place for a picnic if you’re packing your own lunch. From the CBD you could get the ferry over to Manly Wharf then catch a bus to North Curl Curl or hop on the bus direct from the city which goes via Neutral Bay and takes about an hour.

3. Dee Why

I am a little biased towards Dee Why because it is the first place I really felt lost in paradise. The beach was almost deserted save for a few surfers catching the Sunday morning waves. Jumping the waves with my fellow earlybirds then laying on the warm sand is a treasured memory for me; it really hit me that I was living my Australian dream.

Now, a lot of people feel this way about Dee Why and it can get pretty busy. It’s popular with even the most hardcore of surfers but is also lovely for a leisurely day trip. If you’re into your sports, Dee Why plays host to a variety of events such as the Beachley Classic and Ocean Thunder, both surfing tournaments, and the ever popular yearly Sun Run. Warringah also celebrates New Years Eve and Australia Day on Dee Why so if you’re north of the bridge for the holidays, head to Dee Why for sun, sand and scenery.

There are plenty of cafes and restaurants with incredible views over the water, although none of them particularly budget friendly. My advice is pack a picnic and set yourself up and one of the many tables where I’m sure some seagulls will become your new best friends. If you’ve got the kids with you, there’s a fenced children’s playground on the adjoining Ted Jackson Reserve or for big kids, try your hand at outdoor table tennis (hint: the wind is not your friend).

For the wanderers among you, I recommend the walk from Dee Why to Manly. It takes an hour and twenty minutes and passes through Curl Curl (see above) and, depending on your route, Freshwater. There are exquisite views the whole way round and where else in the world can you visit four beaches in one morning then after lunch jump on a ferry and be back in the big smoke in thirty minutes?

4. Balmoral Beach

Balmoral is a small gem. It’s great for families or quiet afternoons and due to its small stature there’s an intimate feel where you can get chatting to all sorts of people whilst munching on some hot chips or an ice cream from the beach-side stall. There’s also an exquisite (but reasonably pricey) cafe cum restaurant called The Boathouse which is worth the few extra dollars for the view alone. There’s other great cafes too with a lot of character and service with a smile!

If you really want to push the boat out and treat yourself or someone special to some divine fine dining, Bathers Pavilion is a must. To really impress, book into the restaurant for delicious French cuisine. Expect to pay $50 for your main meal which can then be walked off along the sandy Mosman shore. If you’re looking for something lighter (and more affordable) they have a cafe where you can sit back, soak up the relaxed atmosphere and tuck in to their wood-fired pizzas, fresh salad or seasonal seafood and meat dishes.

You’ll find that Mosman is an area full of young families so most places cater for children, including the two spots I’ve already mentioned. If your lunch is more of a DIY affair, you can sit in the shade and enjoy people watching whilst white boats bob along in time to the waves or. It’s a great relaxed atmosphere that never disappoints even when it’s super busy!

For more advice on what to do when you’ve run out ideas of things to do with the little ones, head over to my article Seven boredom-busting ideas for kids in Sydney.

5.Maroubra, Bronte, Tamarama

The famous Coogee to Bondi walk spans between two beautiful and famous beaches in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Crowds flock to walk along the scenic coast and look out over the Pacific Ocean, trying to spot dolphins along the way. Some of the beaches you pass along the way, including Maroubra, Bronte and Tamarama, are beautiful in their own right. Head there for a beach run, coffee by the ocean and watching the locals surf and skateboard.

Maroubra has a kilometre stretch of beautiful sand and is popular with visitors and locals trying to catch some waves. One of Australia’s only National Surfing Reserves, it was named after the Aboriginal word for ‘like thunder’, which is describes the sound of the waves thumping against the shore. There are cafes, picnic spots, surf rental and BBQ facilities as well as the added bonus of being so easily accessible from Sydney CBD via bus or car.

Tamarama is a cute oasis nestled between two headlands. Coveniently located between Bronte and Bondi, this little alcove is rarely as busy and is usually a stop of for people taking the walk. The surrounding parklands are really peaceful and play host to the annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition.

Bronte is probably the busiest of these three Sydney beaches, but for good reason. Popular with surfers and swimmers alike, this smaller gem is great for getting into the ocean. If the surf proves too much for you, there are two rock pools, one natural and one man-made, which are ideal for kids or less confident swimmers and snorkellers. There are plenty of cafes and kiosks around for a bite to eat but there’s certainly something to be said for just sitting back and soaking up the scenery.

Short break destination: Verona, Italy

Ancient and artistic Verona offers a quiet alternative to Italy’s crowded cities. Here are the secrets of making the most of this picturesque, peaceful destination

Where? Northern Italy
Why? Underrated Italian culture hub
When? May/June for warm weather; Sept-Oct for fewer people

Nestled into the shadow of the Italian Alps, Verona is somewhat understated despite an interesting history and a cracking location. It’s the less-talked-of filling in a tasty Italian sandwich between Milan and Venice and although it doesn’t enjoy the same glory as its neighbours it certainly deserves to. On its left lies the grand Lake Garda and the famously beautiful Lake Region of northern Italy, to its right sits the charming city of Padua and, within an hour’s drive, two national parks.

Verona’s location has been an important factor in its somewhat tumultuous history. The city has changed hands many times, lying as it does on an intersection of important trade routes. During the 18th and 19th centuries it also passed as Austrian territory. This lengthy, riotous ancestry, however, has left the city home to incredible architecture, museums, culture and churches.

Verona’s historic centre is surrounded by ancient walls, following a tight curve along the Adige River. The winding waterway is punctuated with pretty ponti (bridges), to connect the centre with the rest of the straddling city. Listed in 2000 as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s not surprising that city officials want to preserve the unusual and brilliantly preserved monuments from antiquity, medieval and Renaissance periods. UNESCO described it as: “an outstanding example of a town that has developed progressively and uninterruptedly over 2,000 years, incorporating artistic elements of the highest quality from each succeeding period.”

Shakespeare certainly appreciated its loveliness, although from afar as, alas, he never actually made the trip over to Italy. He set three of his legendary plays in this region – The Taming of the Shrew, Two Gentlemen of Verona and last, but by no means least, Romeo and Juliet. This theatrical history is just one reason people flock to Verona: but it’s also an elegant, romantic city, overshadowed by Venice leaving it less crowded.

Verona is relatively small with a population of just over 250,000 (although the province holds a further 600,000) and much quieter that its famous neighbours: Venice and Milan. It’s the perfect location for travellers who want culture, art and history that Italian cities have to offer but without the flocks found elsewhere. City-breakers can explore on foot or by bicycle with ease thanks to regulated traffic zones. For those looking for day trips, there are beautiful lakes and awe-inspiring Alps nearby, easily reachable by train, car or bus.

Who could ask for more?

Essential info

When to go: For a warm, spring atmosphere choose May or June. Alternatively, for a quieter, cooler visit try September or October. Avoid July and August when Italy heats up and it’s peak time for tourists.

Getting there: British Airways flies direct to Verona from a number of UK airports for around £80 return. There are airport shuttle buses to the city for €6, which run every 20 minutes and take 15 minutes. The train station (Porta Nuova) connects to all major European cities and is conveniently located close to the centre.

Getting around: Travel on foot. Home to just over a quarter of a million residents, Verona is compact. The street layout is unexpectedly straight forward for a historic centre so finding your way around is easy, even if you’re trying to get lost. There are good bus and train connections in the province for those wishing to explore further afield.

Where to stay: Antica Dimora Abitare da Adele B&B (from £82pppn) is a family-run business 50 metres from the Arena in a former noble residence. For a night of luxury book into the grand Palazzo Victoria (from £240pn), with slick interiors, welcoming staff and belly-filling breakfasts.

Where to eat: This country is world-famous for its food so make the most of it and head to one of the city’s two famed hubs for restaurants and bars: touristy Piazza Bra and laid-back Piazza delle Erbe. Take your pick of classic Italian cuisines with a glass (or two) of vino.

Top tip: Shoulders and legs should be covered when entering any of the city’s churches. Dress accordingly or carry a shawl with you to cover offending body parts.

Top tip: There is a VeronaCard (€15 for two days, €20 for five; www.veronacard.it/), which allows entrance to churches, museums and most tourist attractions.

Verona: day by day

Travel back in time, take a hike, become a pilgrim

Day 1: Soak up Italian culture

Visitors could spend an entire week simply walking through the back streets uncovering the city’s hidden gems. For those who want to pack the Old Town’s main sites into one day, here’s where to start…

Some of the most popular churches for travellers are Sant Anastasia (Piazza S. Anastasia), San Zeno Maggiore (Piazza San Zeno; the setting for Romeo and Juliet’s wedding) and Duomo (Piazza Duomo) but because of Italy’s Catholic background, dozens of secret beauties are nestled in nooks and crannies.

Art galleries and museums are in plentiful supply in Verona. One of the most famous is Museo di Castelvecchio (entry €6), home to traditional sculptures, paintings and ornaments. For a gruesome glimpse into the city’s history, there’s an exhibition of weapons from the 14th-18th centuries. Alternatively, for art-lovers, an array of Veronese paintings from the medieval epoch are on display or, for the architecturally intrigued, there is a collection of works from Carlo Scarpa, a prominent 19th century architect.

To experience the modern city’s art scene, track down galleries such as Fama Gallery (entry free) or Galleria dello Scudo (entry free), which have great contemporary exhibitions. Expect anything from photography to abstract painting and metal-work to installation pieces, as the shows change periodically.

The touristy hotspot Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s mansion) is worth a visit for Shakespeare fans; although it’s quite cheesy, it’s also a bit of fun. The building’s gates are filled with padlocks symbolising the enduring love of lovers on the same route.

Summer visitors can spend an evening at the Opera Festival  (prices range from €10- €219) from June through to early September in the Arena.

Day 2: Off the beaten track

Leave the historic centre and head further afield. Cycle tours (from €35; April-October) promise to take you to “the most curious and unknown places of the city”. Lasting up to three hours, you’ll get insider tips on the urban area’s highlights. When the tour returns at midday, grab picnic goodies before the shops shut around 1pm for siestas.

Head to the grand Ponte Scaligero and cross over on foot. Walk for around a mile, following the pretty river, until you get to Teatro Romano (€1), an ancient wonder dating back to 1st century BC. The site is home to countless artefacts and relics for an interesting stop on your walk. Climb the never-ending steps up to Piazzale Castel San Pietro and soak up the unbelievable panoramic views of the city while you catch your breath. With your photos taken, pop back down and find Giardino Giusti. This serene garden is the perfect picnic location with impeccably-kept lawns and spectacular views.

Cross the river over the Ponte Nuovo to find Caffe Tubino (Corso Porta Borsari, 15). Although it looks like an unusual, pokey hole in the wall, the intoxicating smell of warm coffee is a tempting welcome. Even if the kitsch interior isn’t your cuppa, it’s worth it for the coffee. Located just off Piazza della Erbe, which itself has a great atmosphere for an apéritif or sit-down meal.

Day 3: Explore the Lakes

Once you’ve had your fill of city life, head west to Lake Garda. There are ample opportunities for sailing and water-sports, while the sleepy towns dotted around its banks are popular for a lazy lake-side retreats.

Jump on a bus and be at the northernmost point of Lake Garda in less than two hours or, alternatively, the east coast towns are less than an hour away. There are trains too but your best option is to rent a car or invest in a day pass with ATV, Verona’s public transport service. Costing €13, it allows you to ride any ATV bus in the whole province of Verona (that’s pretty huge) including a shuttle bus between Verona airport and Verona Porta Nuova train station.

On your explorations of the area, stop by the Madonna della Corona, a church sanctuary literally embedded into the side of a mountain. The unusual site is a popular choice for local pilgrims, who take an hour-and-a-half walk every Saturday ascending from the town of Brentino up to the shrine for mass then back down again. If you can’t face the steep walk, there’s a shuttle bus from nearby Spiazzi.

After winding through Verona’s cosmopolitan streets, the open space will be a welcome surprise for travellers wanting to enjoy walks and hikes in the countryside. Ringed by vineyards, olive groves and mountains, it’s not surprising the ethereal area has been a source of inspiration for writers such as Ernest Hemingway, DH Lawrence and poets Shelley and Byron.

Honeymooning in Italy

Honeymoon in Italy for the beauty of the Amalfi coast, the glories of Rome, the romance of Venice and much more. Here’s everything you need to know for courtying somebody special in Italia

Italy is famous for its incredible coffee, gelato and cuisine but it is also home to some of the most romantic and beautiful destinations in the world

There’s so much to see in Italy that it hardly seems fair to pick just one place to visit. Our guide to honeymoons in Italy will provide you with travel tips for the country on the whole as well as insider info on some of the most popular travel spots it has to offer.

Where to go on a honeymoon in Italy

Flickr: Pontes de Verona by Camila Pastorelli

Verona

The home of one of the greatest love stories in the world, Verona proves to be just as romantic as Shakespeare would have you believe. Visit the famous balcony to which Romeo called and the accompanying statue of a young Juliet, then add a padlock onto the gates as a symbol of your own everlasting love. Love this idea? Check out other places to hang a padlock of love.

To get away from the hustle and bustle, roam the cobbled streets of Verona, taking in the history of the city as you go, popping by its numerous churches and Roman ruins. Even in the summer, Verona is much quieter than Rome, Milan and Venice. Next to the impressive Arena there’s a small courtyard and garden where you can sit in the shade with some fresh peaches (almost) the size of your head and enjoy getting messy while people-watching.

Flickr: Venice Night by Iselin

Venice

This sinking city is one of the most timeless places in the world. Little has changed in the city so you can drink in the history and typically Venetian architecture that you’ve seen in all the photographs. There are no cars in Venice but you can jump in a water taxi or for true luxury enjoy the city by gondola. If you’re lucky, your gondolier will share a typically Venetian tune or two with you.

I recommend entering the city by foot and getting totally lost in the winding cobbled streets, finding odd coffee museums, waterside cafés and unusual mask shops before stepping back into the touristy areas of the bridge and San Marcos square.

It can get hot in the summer but there’s usually a light breeze from the ever present water surrounding the city. Spring and autumn are better if you enjoy milder climates but its most popular time, in February for Carnival, is also its rainiest. Be aware of high tide (aqua alta) when the streets can flood and you won’t want to be wearing flip-flops.

Although the festival of Carnival only comes once a year, the masks worn at the masquerade ball have become synonymous with Venice. In both shops as well as on market stalls you can find the classic painted varieties, the somewhat unnerving plague-doctor mask as well as unusual leather varieties moulded into piece of art rather than masks to be worn. Don’t be afraid to barter for a good price.

Tempted to explore? Check out our detailed Venice city guide

Flickr: Cetara, Amalfi Coast - set for Galaxy Chocolate Advert by Michael Jones

Amalfi Coast

With its Mediterranean beaches and medieval cliff-side fishing villages, it’s not surprising that the Amalfi Coast (a UNESCO world heritage site) is getting more popular year on year.

The Mediterranean climate offers opportunities for water sports and sailing for the majority of the year. The weather warms to about 18C in April, rising to 30C in July and August before returning to a steady 17C in November. There are regular boats running trips to Naples, Positano, Capri, Salerno and Sorrento; travel in June or July to avoid getting caught in the rain.

The closest airports to the Amalfi Coast are Salerno or Naples, with transfers and public transport runs to the coast regularly.

Flickr: Rome by Moyan Brenn

Rome

The country’s capital is full of famous travel icons such as the Colosseum, the Pantheon and St. Peter’s Basilica so history-lovers rejoice. There’s plenty to see in the Eternal City; you’ll find impressive reminders of Rome’s ancient legacy around each corner. Many of these must-see destinations are churches so the covering-up rule is enforced. The most famous of these religious centres is Vatican City. The papal state boasts a mind-blowing art collection as well as an intense and interesting history and the glorious Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s famous fresco.

Dive head first into some culture and visit the various museums Rome has to offer. If you’re full to the brim of history and art and you’ve already thrown your coin into the Trevi fountain, sit back and enjoy La Dolce Vita with a delicious Italian cannoli outside in the warm Roman air.

Flickr: Tuscany: rooftop view by Dympna

Tuscany

The rolling hills of Tuscany are famous for their olive gardens and vineyards, so take a tour then tuck in. The famous Tuscan countryside is also home to some beautiful art and history so for a real European getaway it’s hard to beat Tuscany’s hilltop towns.

One of the driest places in Italy, you can expect mild to warm climates all year round. A great place for renting a scooter or bicycle and enjoying the scenery slowly, stopping for indulgent focaccia and prosciutto and a guaranteed incredible view. If you’re wondering where exactly to go, check out Daisy Cropper’s tips for romantic things to do in Siena.

"Südtirol - South Tyrol" by Dieter Müller

“Südtirol – South Tyrol” by Dieter Müller

South Tyrol

Wine, dine and mountain climb. This region is known in Italian as Aldo Adige and in German as Südtirol. Due to the history of the region, the whole area is bilingual in both German and Italian and so the culture and cuisine is a strange and delightful mix of the two. Once belonging to Austria, visitors can find fantastic beer and sausages on the same menu as Italian classics like lasagne and melanzane e formaggio, an aubergine and cheese bake that I cannot recommend more!

The orchards and vineyards of the smaller villages and towns provide some of the best cooking ingredients and wines in the country. Those looking for some adventure can take to the Alps or towering Dolomites for hiking, mountain climbing and winter sports. There are guided and independent options, so you’ll find something suitable even if you’re beginners.

Whilst there are beautiful hotels in the main cities and towns of Bolzano/Bozen and Trentino/Trento, if you’re looking for a getaway love-shack, take a trip up the Passo della Mendola/Mendelpasse where you can hire a cabin in the woods. Usually family owned they can range in price depending on their location to the shopping facilities but one nestled in the centre of the woods is great for hiking and walking trips.

Flickr: Lake Garda by Mike Fleming

The Lakes

The Italian Lakes District is a stretch of Northern Italy from Piedmont to Lombardy that boasts some of the world’s most beautiful lakes. With nine main lake regions nestled into the Prealps, they have a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and lush green valleys all in one.

There are private villas for rent buried in the mountainside overlooking the lakes, popular with the likes of George Clooney and Richard Branson. Such a tranquil and beautiful setting is perfect for a quiet, romantic getaway with the possibility of venturing out to the cities or towns should you feel like it.

With connections to Milan, Verona and then Zurich if you fancy a bit of Switzerland too, you can get into the city for the day then retire the tranquil lakeside hotels for the evening on the shores.

Flickr: Milan by Tony Stevens

Milan

The fashion capital of the country – or world to an Italian – doesn’t disappoint when it comes to shopping. The label conscious can find high-end boutiques whilst bargain hunters can visit one of the many markets and street stalls for finance friendly fashion.

One of the most modern cities in Italy, visitors will find a stylish metropolis that still manages to keep its historical roots. Visit the Duomo di Milano for some really impressive architecture but don’t forget to cover those legs and shoulders if you want to peek inside.

Milan doesn’t have the same ancient atmosphere that you’ll find in the rest of Italy so it may take some exploring to find some really good gems but it’s a great stop on your Italian tour, particularly for some music or theatre from international artists.

Flickr Naples by Stacey Kizer

Naples

Get into the nitty-gritty of Italy with Naples, a city like no other. Although steeped in history and full of great food, this city doesn’t have all of the same quaint charm as you’ll find in the cities further north. For sandy beaches and incredible pizzas and caught-that-morning seafood dishes it’s a quirky destination.

The nearby city of Caserta is a must see if you’re in the area. As the original home of the Italian royal family, the city’s regal legacy is obvious in its vast, green parks and impressive architecture. The Reggia di Caserta was the 18th century home to the Bourbon king of Naples and the nearby the Anfiteatro Campanio – what the locals like to call ‘the real Colosseum’ – is a great quiet alternative to its busy counterpart in Rome. The amphitheatre claims to be where Spartacus and the gladiators trained but now they hold an art show amongst the ruins in late September.

At night time, drive, cycle or walk up the hill to Caserta Vecchia (Old Caserta) which has cosy cafés and a great view over the city. Providing a real escape from Napoli city life, this city gives you the warm southern welcome that the Italians are proud of.

Ready to pack your bags? Here’s what you need to know before you go:

Learn some Italian phrases

Even in the biggest cities it’s not always easy to find English-speaking help at hand so learn the important things such as the obvious toilette (toilet), ristorante (restaurant) and caffè (coffee) as well as the much needed biglietto (ticket) and parlare inglese? (speak English?) – note that they pronounce every single letter. The Italians famously speak with their hands so communicating via gestures will often suffice if your language skills fail you.

Manners also go along way so per favore and grazia (please and thank you), buongiorno or buonasera(good morning/good evening) or a simple ciao will put you in good stead with the locals who you’ll find have all the best tips on where to eat and drink.

Eating and drinking

When it comes to food, we have a lot to thank the Italians for. Each region has its own specialities and the Italians really do know how to cook, eat and drink. Expand your pallet and make it an aim to sample something special from each region. It would be a crime to go to Naples, the birth place of pizza, and not tuck in to some of the best local ingredients around or to the Strada del Vino (literal translation: Wine Road) – in South Tyrol without having a little tipple.

Take home a taste of your honeymoon by cooking up some delicacies at a cooking class. They’re available in each region and the best ones will use locally sourced ingredients to make the final product as delicious as possible. Try a side of tender prosciutto and creamy mozzarella followed by a glass of vino for a real taste of Italy.

Vegetarians can find a multitude of mouth-watering choices wherever they go, but be warned, they often use meat in the sauces so be sure to make a point of what you do and don’t eat.

The Mediterranean climate also allows for some of the worlds most delectable fruits. Market stalls are the best place for the freshest produce; few things are better than sitting in the sunshine, enjoying the view, and munching your way through a bag of cherries with an ice-cold lemonade each.

Getting Around

Public transport in Italy is not cheap. Trains and buses will set you back a fair amount even for small trips so consider buying seasonal or multi-trip tickets which could save you money in the long run.

  • Bus and train tickets must be bought in advance and are widely available online or from newsagents and ticket points (this is where biglietto per bus/treno comes in very handy) to save you incurring a hefty fine of up to €100 each if you’re found without one. Make sure you clip your ticket to validate it at the yellow/orange machines as you board. If your ticket is not clipped, you’ll be faced with an invalid-ticket fine.
  • If you are planning to travel from city to city by train, invest in an interrail country pass. They can be much more economically friendly than buying tickets as you go, although require more planning as you have to book seats in advance. Prices start from £164/€187.
  • Alternatively, you can hire a car (auto) from around £13 a day and if you go with a large company they’ll have offices in all the biggest cities. (You won’t need a car in Venice.)
  • If you’re sticking to one area or region, live life in the fast lane by travelling like the locals and rent a scooter (motorino). There will probably be a cheap rental place locally but if you want to plan in advance prices come in at about €35 a day or €150 for the week along with a hefty deposit.

Getting There

Most international flights land in Rome, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Naples and Bergamo but Pisa, Verona and Florence are all easily accessible too. If you’re heading to South Tyrol, consider flying into the nearby Innsbruck (Austria), Zurich (Switzerland) or Munich (Germany) before getting the train down to Italy.

Weather

Whilst the temperature varies from the north to the south, you can expect warm summers iitboth. Between June and September the whole country sees highs of 27-31C but whilst Tuscany has very little rain, in Venice you can get caught in a summer shower. In the winter temperatures go down to about two degrees in the north whilst the south stays a mild seven or eight. The Alpine regions in the north of the country get cold and snowy in the winter which is great for those wanting to hit the slopes.

Handy tips

  • It is usual to find a tip already added to the bill but just check at the bottom (look forservizio) otherwise add 10-15%.
  • If you are sitting in a café or restaurant, be aware that the price does not always include the ‘coperto’ which is an extra charge for the tablecloth, silverware etc. Restaurants will often advertise the fact that this is included in the price, especially if it is in a touristy area, but check with the server if you are unsure; it can add quite a sum to your bill. This charge may be avoided in cafés if you stay at the bar to drink your coffee, as most Italians do. If you want to sit down, choose a place where you don’t mind spending a while enjoying your drink so that the extra couple of Euros is worth it.
  • Many people still tell you that you must keep your receipt because if a police officer asks to check it and you don’t have it you can be fined. This is not true and you are not even under obligation to show them!
  • Those famous siestas are not a myth. For a couple of hours in the early afternoon the whole country gets a little sleepier and many shops and cafés shut for lunch. If you’re planning on a picnic, buy your goodies before midday to avoid disappointment.
  • Cover up to visit churches or cathedrals; shorts, short skirts and bare shoulders are not allowed. Scarves are often sold on the streets nearby for visitors who forget, but they can be pricey.

Fly cheap, stay chic

Save in the air to spend while you’re there! Savvy British couples are saving money, opting for short-haul European honeymoons. Cheaper flights with budget airlines means more cash to splurge on boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants and extra-special experiences to make extra-special memories.

Netherlands – Amsterdam

This friendly and quirky city is especially great for art lovers and history buffs. A great cafe culture for relaxed afternoons as well as fine dining for getting glammed-up; you couldn’t possibly be bored.

Fly cheap… from £61 return (with EasyJet from London Gatwick or Luton to Amsterdam Schiphol in August)

Stay chic
Sleep: Stage a bed in! The Hilton Amsterdam helped make musical history so recreate the famous scene and splash out for the famous ‘John and Yoko Suite’ where the loved-up couple urged the world to give peace a chance. If the €1400/£1190 a night price tag is a little too hefty, rooms like the King Dulux with a canal view costs from €179/£152 a night.

Eat: The Dutch do things a little differently but there are plenty of options for haute cuisine. If you can trust your sea legs, why not rent out a private boat for a romantic dinner. Costing €300/£255 for two hours, you can dine in a traditional Venetian saloon boat and enjoy your privacy. Opt for a gondola for €140 for an hour and take a bottle of fizz with you. If you prefer your meal on solid ground, Ciel Bleu(Blue Heaven) is a two-Michelin-star restaurant with views over the city.

Do: Find a horse and cart for an alternative tour of the city or choose the canal belt for a nighttime stroll and let the lights and water set the scene for exploration. Revel in the scents and colours of the Bloemenmarkt and shower your lover with petals from the floating flower market.

Portugal – Algarve

A beautiful and historically interesting region famed for its white sandy beaches. An all-year-round warm Mediterranean climate for alfresco dinners and romantic evening walks on the beach. Head to the hills for walking and trekking or to the cities for churches, castles and cathedrals. There’s also watersports and sailing, sunbathing and spa treatments by the coast.

Fly cheap… from £196 return (with Ryan Air from London Stansted to Portugal Faro in August)

Stay chic
Sleep/Eat/Do: For those who want intense relaxation, there’s barely a reason to leave the Blue&Green Vilalara Thalassa Resort (West Algarve). An on-site restaurant, luxury suites, Turkish baths, six outdoor pools, 12 hectares of gardens and a spa for pampering treatments. Sounds divine. More active couples can make use of their tennis and golf facilities or for a roll in the sand there are lovely beaches nearby. Their Junior Suite averages €300-360/£254-305 or upgrade to the Prestigue Suite for €810-950/£687-805 per night.

Or…

If you fancy some history on top of your Mediterranean beaches, Pousada de Tavira, Convento da Graça (East Algarve) is a converted convent in the small city of Tavira. Explore churches and the castle for a culture fix then pop over to Isle de Tevira which is a popular beach destination.

Prices range from €150-400/£128-340 depending on room choice but all have access to the outdoor pool and there’s a restaurant on site specialising in locally caught seafood dishes. Sit on the terrace for views and alfresco dining.

Italy – Rome

It’s amore in the Eternal City. Rome fulfills its full-frontal, sexy reputation so don’t be embarrassed to steal a kiss or two (or ten) in public. This city is all about extravagance so treat yourselves to some of the best food, wine and romance in Europe.

Fly cheap… from £137 return (with Ryanair from London Stansted to Rome Ciampino)

Stay chic
Sleep:
What better setting for a honeymoon a la ‘Roman Holiday’ moda than a rooftop terrace? We LOVE the look of Residenza Napoleone III. For your own quaint apartment, prices in peak season average €731/£620 a night. Grandeur comes in the form of the Residenza Napoleone Suite to make you feel like royalty. Cook up some breakfast in your very-own kitchenette then sit and admire your art-filled apartment. Expect to pay around €1416/ £1200 per night in peak season. Perfectly located next to the Villa Borghese for romantic strolls galore.

Eat: Imàgo sits on the sixth floor of the five-star hotel, Hassler Roma. Diners can experience panoramic views of the city whilst tucking into Michelin star cuisine. If you can tear your eyes away from your loved one, the rich history of the city allows for some breathtaking sights. Both daytime and night create “a beautiful life-size painting that fills each window”. Combined with candle-light, soft music, elegant décor and seasonal Italian food and wine, you’ll be falling in love all over again. (Price ranges from €110-140/£94-120  for a set-menu dinner)

Do: Go for a stroll along the river Tiber until you come to the Ponte Milvio. Add a padlock to the bridge to symbolise your enduring love and let it sit beside countless other lovers’ promises.

Poets amongst you, visit the Keats-Shelley House, asmall museum next to the Spanish Steps. For intellectual lovers, the restored house in which the poet John Keats lived, worked and died, is home to manuscripts, paintings and a library of Romantic literature.

Spain – Barcelona

Barcelona has all the history and culture of a European city but with the added bonus of sensational beaches. A city break with a side of sun, sea and sand? Sounds like the perfect match.

Fly cheap… from £112 return (with Ryanair from Stansted to Barcelona in Ausust)

Stay chic
Sleep:
Smack-bang in the middle of the action, stylish and modern Grand Hotel Central is an idyllic retreat from the busy streets. Their eighth-floor terrace gives unbelievable views across the city to enjoy whilst you sit back and have a glass of vino or two. Its minimalistic style, popular with upmarket hotels in Barcelona, still retains some of its original 1920s design features for relaxation in style.

Eat: It would be somewhat rude to travel all the way to Spain and not indulge in some tapas, little dishes of traditional Spanish food, bursting with flavour. You can find them all over the city but for an avant-garde, Michelin star choice, the Comerç, 24 is a boutique bar in the trendy and very pretty area of El Born.

For a dress-up sit-down affair, head to the Mardarin Oriental which is home to Moments, a two-Michelin restaurant run by chef Carme Ruscalleda. The only woman in the world to achieve six-Michelin stars, the menu offers traditional Catalan cuisine including locally-caught fresh seafood.

Do: Once you’re done with the narrow streets and designer bars of fashionable El Born, head to Museu Picasso for an injection of art.  Montjuïc is a hill-top history-lover’s dream with castles and museums alongside an incredible view over Gaudi’s legacy. Consider hiring a boat and go rowing in the lake after a picnic in the Parc de la Ciutadella.  The sandy beaches will beckon on lazy days so you can work on your tan.

Italy – Venice

The Republic of Venice is also known as La Serenissima, literally meaning ‘most serene’. In typical Italian style, Venice knows how to do classic luxury but it’s also a fun and vibrant city. This beautiful, historic island is all winding, cobbled streets and cosy hidden gems for cuddling over coffee.

Fly cheap… from £102/£148 return (with Ryanair from London Stansted to Venice Treviso/ London Gatwick to Venice Marco Polo in August)

Stay chic
Sleep: Looking for opulence extreme? Stay at Ca Maria Adele. Boasting its own private dock just around the corner from the Grand Canal, you’ll be in a central location whilst simultaneously avoiding the rambunctious, tourist-filled streets. Bare stone walls and marble create an elegant backdrop for dark wood and rich tones screaming Renaissance. If you can drag yourself from your suite, head to the terrace for an Italian espresso with views over the city. The perfect a way to start the day (even if it’s mid-afternoon).

Eat: Oh Italia! You do tickle our tastebuds. For designer dinner with a view head to Risorante Lindeadombra, their terrace provides a panoramic picture over the water and city skyline. The locals head to Impronta Cafe for traditional Italian food with hearty Italiano service and there are gelaterias across the city for something sweet before bed.

Do: You could spend hours getting lost in the Venetian maze. Take your time to drink in its unusual culture and admire the mix of Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

Lazy daydreamers climb aboard a gondola for a tour of the city from the water. Prepare a champagne picnic or just enjoy the gentle ride with one another. Barter with the gondolier for a good price (the average is about 100 Euros an hour).

Culture vultures head to the Guggenheim for a mind-blowing collection of priceless art works from Picasso and Andy Warhol to Dali and Man Ray (and evenWish Tree, a present from Yoko Ono to Penny Guggenheim.)

 

You might notice that Italy features a couple of times in the article, and with good reason. It is one of the most romantic and breathtakingly beautiful countries in the world, just look at my article on courting in sweet Italia.

Macau Destination Guide

Tiny Macau, an enclave on China’s Pearl Delta, is best known for glitzy casinos but also offers a fun fusion of colonial style and Asian flavours

Macau, upon first sight, seems to be all urban glitz and glamour with giant casinos and vibrant light shows. The Las Vegas of the East, however, holds much more culture and adventure than you’d think.

Founded by Fujian fishermen and farmers from Guangdong, this small island started life as a port called Ou Mun or ‘trading gate’ because of its proximity to the Silk Road where ships would load with silk bound for Rome. This business and trading history brought the Portuguese merchant explorers to Ou Mun, today known as Macau.

This Portuguese influence can still be seen across the whole island with historical European architecture on every street intermingled with Chinese culture and temples. Although Macau may be known for its casinos, it is the history of the autonomous region that draws visitors from across the world.

Take a stroll down the main thoroughfare and sample the cuisine for sale on the street stalls. Squeeze through the crowds to find knick-knacks in the market stalls and souvenir shops before enjoying an ice cream at the Venetian hotel, sampling a taste of Italy in the middle of Asia.

I recommend:

1. Eat local There is a multi-storey marketplace with different floors for different wares. Although by no means pretty, this market, used by the locals, has everything you could possibly need. The fish floor, if you can stand the smell, has fresh seafood for sale. If you’re not in the mood for cooking, a little further up in the never-ending maze of market stalls there’s a place to eat. Although it looks like a British greasy-spoon cafe, the locals recommend this place for a real taste of Macau. Portuguese spice paired with Asian style cooking, large portions  and a cheap price make it an unmissable stop. If you can find it!

2. Soak up some history Visit the ruins of St Paul’s and discover what lies behind – and beneath – the ancient façade. Below ground level lies the previous church’s crypt where relics of Japanese and Vietnamese martyrs lie as well as a museum of Sacred Art exhibiting paintings, sculptures and liturgical artefacts from the island’s various churches and monasteries. Free maps can be found all over the tourist areas of the city which will show routes to all of the main churches and museums.

3. Take in the view Macau is a maze of winding back alleys and you can’t predict what will be around the next corner. Colourful Portuguese architecture and Chinese temples can be viewed from above, if you want to tackle the steep steps to the top of Mount Fortress. It gives spectacular view over the city, including the gaudy Grand Lisboa which dominates the skyline in its pineapple-esque stature. Take a seat and read about the history of the fortress whose numerous cannons have only been used once in 1622 when the Dutch invaded Macau.

4. Go Italian The Venetian casino is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Although the attempt to emanate Italy in the middle of Asia doesn’t sound like it should work, the gelato is surprisingly good and it’s a cooling stop off if you’re visiting in the heat of summer.

Here’s a tip…

Try some of the meats on sale in the street food stalls. Most places will allow you to try a certain type before you buy as they vary in flavour and spice level. For vegetarians, the Portuguese egg tarts are a must!

While you’re in the area, take the short boat ride to the nearby island of Hong Kong for some more East meets West adventures.

I wish I’d known…

Get a map straight away. Your hotel or hostel will probably have one for free but there are so many bits and bobs dotted around the island that it would be impossible to experience everything without one. Although the best way to find a hidden treasure is to get lost and stumble upon it, a map will be able to point out historically interesting  destinations and tourist information points should you need them. It’s a complicated city – you will get lost.