seafood

Guadeloupe: the other French Caribbean (Part 2)

In my previous post I covered the basics of Guadeloupe or 'Gwada' as the locals refer--how to get there, where to stay, etc.--but this post is about venturing out of your villa. The main island (or two) of Guadeloupe is really big, plus there are several smaller islands off the coast, so you can easily spend a week without seeing most of what the butterfly-shaped island has to offer. Here is a good list to get you started:

 

SEE/DO

Saint François - Located on the Southeastern part of the island is this charming seaside town and marina. It is a popular spot to vacation due to the casino, golf course and white-sanded beaches. And the town itself has a lot of yummy restaurants and bars, some of which offer fantastic ocean views. You can also catch a ferry for the day to nearby islands of La Desirade and Terre-de-Bas.

Cocktails with a view in Saint Francois
Cocktails with a view in Saint Francois
the Gwada gwoup
the Gwada gwoup

La Desirade - About a 45-minute scenic ferry ride from Saint François, this island is worth the choppy seas sometimes encountered on the journey. There is only 1 road on the entire island, about 3km long, on which you will encounter beach after beach, and it is hardly crowded which means you will have a quiet and enjoyable day relaxing on the sand. Rent a scooter and stop at La Plage du Souffleur, the island's prettiest beach, for some swimming and sunning but beware of the spiny sea urchins! Just when you're getting hungry and thirsty, the beach restaurant La Roulotte opens up offering fresh food fared from the sea and chilled rosé from Provence. Grab a spot under a palm tree and let the afternoon slip away.

La Souffleur Plage…simply gorgeous

La Souffleur Plage…simply gorgeous

Just us and the goats on La Desirade
Just us and the goats on La Desirade

Pointe des Chateaux - As the name might suggest, this is the Southeastern-most point of Guadeloupe marked by unique rock formations. Hike the trail around the peninsula and take in the magnificent views and crashing waves around you. When you reach the cross you know you've reached the very top.

The cross at Pointe des Chateaux
The cross at Pointe des Chateaux

Not listed above but deserving of an honorable mention is Plage de la Caravelle at Club Med. This beach is beautiful and loaded with amenities, but comes with a steep sticker price. For 80 euro pp, you get full access to the resort including food and drink (Club Med is an all-inclusive property). So if you're looking for waiters to bring you cold watermelon as you bask in the sun, or you're looking to partake in every watersport imaginable, this is the place and thing to do. To make it worthwhile, get there as early as possible so you can really take advantage of the free food and drink. In my opinion, there are many places just as pretty in their own way that are free (and less touristy!) but to each their own.

Sailboats are just one of the activities at La Plage Caravelle

Sailboats are just one of the activities at La Plage Caravelle

EAT/DRINK

Au Bon Poulet - At first glance this shack on the outskirts of Le Moule doesn't look like much, but the smell wafting from the large grill outside and its reputation for amazing chicken draws the crowd. I recommend getting it to-go  (with a side of frites that come in a paper bag) and bringing it back to the villa for a delicious feast. Be prepared to wait in line. (Rte. N5, Le Moule)

Les Frères de la Côte - An unassuming but delightful restaurant in Saint François with good food and great service. We showed up unannounced, no reservation on a busy night, and the staff set up a table for us outside. Not to mention, our cheerful waitress went out of her way to make sure we understood the French menu. The fresh-grilled fish was tasty but it is for the wonderful service (and the herbal, medicinal digestifs on the house) that I recommend this place. (Saint François)

L'O - For a more upscale yet refined, oceanfront dining experience in Saint François this is the place to go. The prix-fixe menu is filled with good variety (and value) and leaves you far from hungry. Get the tuna tartare as an entreé (in French that is your appetizer, don't be fooled!), you won't regret it. Reservations recommended. (12 Rue de la Republique, Saint François)

Tuna tartare artwork at L'O
Tuna tartare artwork at L'O

I.Pâtes - A small, charming duel restaurant-gourmet shop in Saint François offering imported Italian meats, cheeses and handmade pastas and desserts. Great for take way, either lunch or dinner, and reservations recommended for dine-in. A unique spot on a French island. (5, rue de la Republique, Saint François)

Accras - You can't spend a week on this island without sampling some of the local fare like accras, or salt cod fritters. These little fried balls of fish make a perfect snack and can be found just about everywhere, but they are best from a small streetside shack.

Ti Punch - Incase you were wondering, the drink of the island is ti punch. It is an espresso-sized beverage that is quite potent. Locally-made white rum, sugar cane, and lime juice is all that makes up this cocktail. Proceed with caution.

I should mention that most, if not all, of the above recommendations are located east on the island of Grand Terre but there is a whole other butterfly wing that we can't forget about. Make it a priority to drive over to the other side of the island to experience the golden or black sanded beaches and the lush tropical rainforest that Basseterre boasts. It seems like a completely different island based on the landscape. Specifically, I'd recommend the town of Deshaies in the north for its nice beaches and quaint village feel. I can't say I've been, but I caught a sneak preview via the BBC show "Death in Paradise" which is filmed there. It was actually this show that planted the seed in my head to visit Guadeloupe!

Anyway, it's easy to stay busy on this island or relax at your private villa and have an amazing vacation. Whichever path you choose, you can't really go wrong (we are already scheming our return). And if not, just know that there is always a good baguette, cheese and bottle of wine to fall back on. Bon vacances!

Pretty island palms
Pretty island palms

Ireland Day 4: Dingle & Limerick

Last but not least on the whirlwind tour of Southwestern Ireland is the Dingle Peninsula and the city of Limerick. On our last day, we headed northwest from Killarney (read about it in my last post) and after driving only about a half-hour we were on the must-see Dingle Peninsula. We spent most of the day exploring here but decided to rest our heads closer to Shannon Airport, in Limerick, where we had an early flight home the following day. Here's a recap of these two areas with my recommendations:

DINGLE PENINSULA

Located on the westernmost tip of Ireland, this area is as far as you can get in Europe before reaching the States. On the coast here, the ocean and the beaches, which are great for surfing, are the star attraction rather than cliffs and therefore it has a very seaside-village feel with lots of (green) Irish culture. From Killarney, the R561 brings you along the southern coast of the peninsula where you will find some stunning views of Inch Beach and its strong, rolling waves below. Follow this road until you reach the N86 which will bring you into the town of Dingle.

The view from Inch Beach on the Dingle Peninsula
The view from Inch Beach on the Dingle Peninsula
A few brave souls on Inch Beach
A few brave souls on Inch Beach

SEE/DO

Dingle Town - The only town on the whole peninsula, Dingle is a colorful, vibrant place chock full of cute shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. It has a fisherman's village feel, and seafood is as fresh as can be. The town is pretty small and you can walk it in 15 minutes or less. From the waterfront stroll along Green Street, which is especially quaint, and follow it until you reach Main Street where most of the action lies.

Colorful buildings in Dingle
Colorful buildings in Dingle

Slea Head - If you continue heading west past Dingle Town via R559, you will reach this westernmost tip of Ireland marked by a crucifix. Stop along the way to check out the stone beehive huts and old Dunbeg fort. Once you reach the point, admire the beach with its almost-tropical-like water (in color, not temperature!).

Gallarus Castle & Oratory - Keep on R559 all the way around the peninsula and on the northside you will reach one of the few standing castles on the peninsula and its worshiping house.

Connor Pass - Head back down to Dingle Town, where you can pick up Ireland's highest mountain pass. This lovely passageway, like Healy Pass on the Beara Peninsula, connects the north and south coasts cutting the peninsula in half. It only takes about 20 minutes to drive but on a clear day, expect to make stops to admire the views of Dingle Harbor to the south and Mt. Brandon to the north.

Can't get enough of the sheep and the green grass
Can't get enough of the sheep and the green grass
These sheep must pay a lot for their oceanfront property.....
These sheep must pay a lot for their oceanfront property.....

EAT/DRINK

Murphy's Pub - A traditional Irish pub located in Dingle Town serving up good pub food. Healthy options available. The fire is warm and the atmosphere inviting. (Strand St)

Bean - A delightful coffee shop serving up delicious espresso and fresh baked goods. Don't say no to a cinnamon roll, they are amazing and baked to perfection. (Green St)

The Little Cheese Shop - Exactly as its name suggests, this is a lovely fromagerie selling local cheeses and chutneys as well as those from mainland Europe. Cheese lovers are not to miss this place. (Grey's Ln)

Out of the Blue - One of the best seafood restaurants in all of Ireland, this is a must for dinner. Everything is so fresh that if they are not pleased with the catch of the day, they don't open. Reservations required to avoid disappointment. (Waterside)

 

LIMERICK

A great gateway to County Clare, the city of Limerick is located about 25 minutes south of Shannon Airport. From Dingle, it is about 2.5 hours north. Similar to Cork, Limerick has a very English feel, the buildings reminding me of something I would find in a (very small) neighborhood of London. It is also much less of a tourist town than the other cities of Ireland and many guidebooks skip over this city, but I am not sure why because I found it to be quite enjoyable and charming. It is where the sport of rugby began so if you can catch a match, even if only on TV at a pub, it's a fun way to get a peek into local culture. If you have an early flight out of Shannon, I recommend spending your last night in this city rather than the city of Shannon which doesn't have a lot going on.

SEE/DO

O'Connell Street - The main drag of the city, this is where all the action is. Or a lot of it. You can expect to find the usual shops, restaurants, pubs, etc. On the weekend it seems like everyone is out socializing. It is a very fun, happening scene. During the Christmas season it is all lit up and decorated making for a festive vibe.

King John's Castle - Located a short walk from the city center, this castle overlooks the River Shannon and offers tours for those interested. So easy to get to and doesn't require you to drive through the countryside. (Nicholas St)

EAT/DRINK

Nancy Blake's - A cozy, traditional Irish pub that fills up as the night gets going, on weekends anyway. It has a big outdoor beer garden with heat lamps but I prefer a seat by the fire. (19 Upper Denmark St)

Warming up by the fire with a whiskey
Warming up by the fire with a whiskey

Locke Bar & Restaurant - Closest thing to what we would call a gastropub, this place has a great beer selection and good food. Located on a cute street alongside the canal. It is near the university so the crowd skews younger. (3 George's Quay)

Curragower Pub - A short walk on the other side of the river, this is a traditional Irish pub also with an outdoor beer garden. It is cozy inside and can get packed, especially during a rugby match. Live trad music. (Clancys Strand)

Glen Tavern - Located in the Georgian quarter, this traditional pub offers live music (of all sorts) and a snooker (billiards) table in the back. Makes for some fun people watching. Like the other pubs mentioned, this one also fills up. I think people like to go out and have a good time in this city. (Lower Glentworth Street/ Theatre Lane)

STAY

No.1 Pery Square Hotel & Spa - A 4-star hotel overlooking the park in the city's Georgian quarter, this hotel is a lovely place to stay. From heated bathroom floors, modern decor, freshly-baked scones in the morning, you can't go wrong here. The hotel bar is a fun place to grab a drink before heading out for a night on the town or when you return for a night-cap. Staff was so kind and accommodating. Highly recommend. Rates from 150eur/nt. (1 Pery Square)

Overall, Ireland was definitely not a glamorous or luxurious vacation by any stretch of the imagination and we were constantly on the go. The weather wasn't great either, but let's put it this way, we don't go to Ireland for the weather. It's the friendly people and the beautiful surroundings that we go for (and the fun pub culture, of course). It's a place everyone should add to their bucket list especially if you have ancestry there because it's so cool to learn where some of your family traditions come from. And where the names of all the "Irish pubs" in the States come from.

Lastly, just some suggestions. I really encourage you to rent a car and drive because some of my favorite memories I have of the Emerald Isle are those little towns inaccessible by train and those windy roads in the middle of (beautiful) nowhere. You will get the hang of driving on the left quicker than you may think, so don't let that deter you!

Try some Irish whiskey (Jameson, Midleton, Red Breast) because it's loads cheaper in its native land and some of the aged stuff is actually tasty. Also try a stout on draught like Murphy's, Beamish, and yes of course Guinness to name a few. You might surprise yourself and like it-- I know I did! Sláinte my friends!

Ireland Day 2: Cork & Kinsale

River Lee, Cork City Ireland
River Lee, Cork City Ireland

I feel like Rick Steves saying this, but thanks for joining! For day 2 of the Ireland adventure, we're headed south to County Cork. Cork city is just shy of about 3 hours from Galway (which, incase you missed it, I covered with County Clare in my last post). It was definitely the largest distance we had to cover on our trip so we did it as efficiently as possible and took the major highways. We chose to see the city of Cork and the little seaside town of Kinsale, which I HIGHLY recommend. Here are the highlights:

CORK

Located on an island in the River Lee, the city of Cork is a lively college town with a youthful vibe. Strolling the major roads I could have sworn I was in an English city by glancing at the shops and buildings (a mini London perhaps), but once I tucked away down some smaller streets and alleys I felt back in Ireland again. The city was decorated for Christmas which made for a festive vibe. It was fun to explore and was a nice city but was not my favorite stop just because the culture didn't feel as rich as other places we visited and I tend to enjoy the smaller towns more than the bigger cities. But to be fair, we did not spend a lot of time here.

SEE/DO

English Market - A large, enclosed market loaded with stalls selling everything from the local catch of the day to fresh produce to baked goods. I'm a sucker for a good food market because you get a taste for local culture so naturally I loved strolling this place. (Princes St)

Fish at English Market Cork
Fish at English Market Cork

Stretch Your Legs - Cork is a wonderful city for walking whether it's along the river banks or down the pedestrian-only streets. In particular, the Paul Street/Emmett Place area, Oliver Plunkett Street and surrounding side streets give you a good feel for the city and are loaded with pubs, shops and restaurants.

Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Jessica's shop Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland
Alley in Cork City Ireland

Jameson Distillery - Technically in nearby Midleton, this is mecca for whiskey fans. Take a tour with a tasting at the end or skip the tour altogether and opt for the premium whiskey tasting in which you get to sample some rare reserves. (Old Distillery Walk, Midleton)

Blarney Castle - Located about 15 minutes outside of Cork city, this is the home of the famous Blarney Stone. We decided to skip this because Ireland is full of castles that we were going to see and I really didn't care to kiss a stone that thousands of others laid their lips on! (Blarney)

EAT/DRINK

Farmgate Cafe - Located upstairs in the English Market, this delightful eatery serves up fresh, local food sourced from the market below. Choose a seat along the balcony counter for great people watching. (The English Market, Princes St)

Franciscan Well Brewery & Brewpub - A craft beer delight, this place brews its own beer and has a beer garden for when the weather is nice. (14 North Mall)

STAY

Hayfield Manor - Located about a mile from the city center and tucked away down a residential street, this lovely 5-star boutique hotel is worth staying slightly outside the city for. It was like we were pulling up to an old mansion in the country. The Christmas decorations and fireplace in the lobby were lovely. Rates from 150eur/nt. (Perrott Ave)

Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland
Hayfield Manor Cork City Ireland

Imperial Hotel - This 4-star hotel is a good option if you prefer to stay in the city center. Rates from 100eur/nt. (South Mall)

KINSALE

Located on the coast about 30 minutes south of Cork, is the adorable, charming, little seaside town of Kinsale. The buildings are so colorful and the streets super quaint. We enjoyed how quiet it was when we were there but in the summer it can get pretty packed with tourists, but I don't blame everyone because this town is not to be missed.

SEE/DO

Main Street - The entire town is walkable in 15 minutes or less but be sure to stroll this narrow street which is loaded with cute shops, pubs, and restaurants.

Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Ireland Main Street
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Kinsale Pub Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland
Colorful Kinsale Ireland

Market Square - Marked by a museum with an anchor leaning up against its building is this tiny little square full of charm, color and cuteness.

The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum
The Kinsale Courthouse and Museum

EAT/DRINK

Fishy Fishy - Quality seafood restaurant serving up delicious local fare in an upscale setting by the waterfront. The oysters from nearby Oysterhaven were some of the best we've ever tasted and perhaps the oyster world's best kept secret. This is one of the most well-known and highest-regarded restaurants in all of Ireland. Reservations required. (Crowley's Quay)

The Folk House Bar - Perhaps one of my favorite watering holes we visited on the entire trip, this pub had an impressive list of whiskey and craft brews and had a comfy leather couch by the cozy, warm fire. It was more than easy to pass the time here! Also a good spot for live music. Tip: Try anything by Blacks of Kinsale for a taste of what's local. And delicious.(Guardwell)

Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland
Folk House Bar Kinsale Ireland

So, to summarize. Kinsale-- get there, you'll love it. It's hard not to. Next time I'd like to stay overnight there. Cork-- a college town but good to experience if you're in this part of Ireland. Next up: day 3 in County Kerry, including some beautiful landscapes in the Beara Peninsula, loads of nature in the Killarney National Park & pub crawling the town of Killarney. Stay tuned and in the words of Rick Steves, "keep on traveling."

Amsterdam, the Land of Canals and Pancakes

The next stop after Bruges, on my tour of Northern Europe was Amsterdam. The capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam tends to make people think of drugs and the red light district when in fact it's barely a part of its culture. The "coffee shops" tend to be filled with tourists anyway, doesn't that say something? But those things, if anything else, do signify how laid back this city is. Strolling along the canals I couldn't help but think how cool this place was and everyone seemed to be enjoying life beautifully. Even though I'm sure they have their problems just like anyone else, these people seemed to be so carefree, riding their cute little bikes along the picturesque canals with delicious groceries and colorful flowers in the basket, pretty blonde hair blowing in the wind. I had to wonder, is this place real? Yes, yes it is. Just a few comfortable hours on the train from Belgium and here I was, in never never land. Amsterdam is an easy city to visit. Just about everyone speaks English thankfully (I still can't figure out how to pronounce Dutch words), there are direct flights from the States, and there are so many public transportation options once you're there--the above-ground tram (think Boston's green line but way nicer), the subway/metro, and buses. It is also laid out in a unique way that helps you get your bearings. Think of Amsterdam Centraal train station being the starting point. From there, canals surround the train station in semi-concentric rings and streets and bridges intersect the rings like spokes on a bicycle.

Most of our time was spent walking around the streets and along the canals, stopping here and there for food and/or drink which was a great way to spend our 2 days. Here I leave you with my reccos.

 

5 THINGS TO SEE & DO

  1. Walk along the picturesque canals. They will not disappoint, I promise.
  2. Take a picture in a huge yellow Dutch clog in Dam Square. 'Nuff said.
  3. Browse the local offerings at Amsterdam's outdoor street market, Albert Cuypmarkt, located in a must-see neighborhood --De Pijp, which is the city's Latin Quarter.
  4. Visit old, working windmills like those found at Kinderdijk or Zaanse Schans, both places accessible by bus and/or train. A real Dutch treat.
  5. Admire the tulips in spring. Lonely Planet provides more info here.

 

With all the seeing and doing, one must eat. The Netherlands is not necessarily known for its cuisine but there are plenty of delights awaiting your arrival.

 

WHERE & WHAT TO EAT

Café Bern - Despite not being Dutch, fondue is the star of the menu here. This little place is very unassuming from the outside -- no sign and dark due to some unattractive curtains covering the windows -- but pleasantly cozy, warm and buzzing inside. Be sure to order the fondue, obviously, as well as the house steak (Entrecôte Café Bern) which arrives at the table raw with a burner and pan to cook at your own risk. Also, the garden salad tasted especially delicious and fresh, so get one to balance out all the meat, cheese and crusty bread you'll be eating. A carafe of red wine washes down the meal nicely. Inexpensive dinner but cash only. Reservations recommended. (Nieuwmarkt 9)

Lucius Visrestaurant - This is the place to go if you're looking for quality, fresh seafood in an informal yet tasteful setting. The huge fish tank made for an interesting addition to the decor but provided some entertainment for us as we ate right beside it. You really can't go wrong with what you decide for your meal. I opted for Mosselen-friet (those tasty mussels again) and they were cooked to perfection. Reservations recommended. (Spuistraat 247)

The Pancake Bakery - No trip to Amsterdam is complete without having delightful pannenkoeken, and this is the spot to have them. It is super casual, inexpensive, and open all day. The Dutch pancake is similar to a French crepe but slightly thicker and toppings are piled on like you would do with ingredients on a pizza. In this part of the world, they are ordered at any time of day and enjoyed sweet and/or savory. The menu also offers a special variety called poffertjes, which are like the silver dollar variety we Americans know but a little thicker and fluffier. Regardless, there is something for everyone here on the extensive yet authentic menu. (Prinsengracht 191)

Stroopwafels - Possibly the best cookie in all of Europe is the stroopwafel, which consists of two thin round wafers held together by ooey, gooey, syrupy caramel. They are the perfect size to rest on top of your cup of coffee to get warm and they come in a variety of flavors though the original caramel flavor is the best. You can find them in special bakeries around town like the famous Lanskroon Bakery (Singel 385), but honestly the best ones come from street vendors or, believe it or not, the grocery store. Bring home a stack or two, and you'll be glad you did, since the ones imported in the States taste rather unexciting.

A couple of days here was perfect for us although you will see that it is easy to spend more time. Just some words of wisdom before you go. LOOK BOTH WAYS before crossing the bike lanes. They come out of nowhere and are more dangerous than the cars, in my opinion. And lastly, if Amsterdam is your last stop before heading home, make sure to give yourself ample time at the gate and purchase any snacks and water BEFORE YOU GET TO THE GATE. For some reason, you have to go through a screening process to get to your gate which takes some time and there are no shops or restaurants on the other side. Happy traveling :)

The beautiful canals

The beautiful canals

Being silly with the fishes at Lucius

Being silly with the fishes at Lucius

Dam Square

Dam Square