Quoting from a famous 90’s girl band, “Spice up your life’ with this simple recipe for a condiment that is both attractive, tasty and should pack a punch on your feeble tastebuds! Whether it be for personal use or as a great gift idea, this handy little bottle of spicy bliss can take you from the kitchen to the table in only a few delicate drops!
The humble Chilli Oil should be a staple in any cooks kitchen. Popular on the tables of pizzerias around Europe, or found on the shelves of exotic delicatessens, this aromatic and viscous potion can be generously glugged onto nearly any meal or used as a delicious and piquant alternative to plain olive oil.
I have made many bottles of this and given them away to a select few as gifts of homemade love and of course have a huge bottle of my own which stands proudly on my tiny kitchen bench! Use a little or a lot and keep topping her up and adding more herbs and chillies throughout the year and this precious addition to your pantry will never let you down!
1 x pretty clear bottle (any size) that you have recycled or have lying around. One with a screw top or glass stopper is ideal or ﬁnd a cork that ﬁts snugly (I’ve used an old Aperol bottle).
2 x long sprigs of rosemary
4 /5 x small hot red chillies(or more depending how spicy you want it)
3 x large chillies- any colour
2 x whole garlic cloves – skin on or oﬀ or a mixture
6 whole black peppercorns
2 x star anise
2 x dry bay leaves
Olive oil of any type
Bundle of string or ribbon to decorate bottle
WHAT TO DO WITH IT ALL
First start by splitting the most of the small chillies in half, leaving the top of the stalk intact, so as to release the heat from the seeds into the oil. Leave about two whole ones for ‘interior bottle presentation’.
Split one large chilli and leave the others whole.
Simply grab your beautiful bottle and put in all the dry ingredients – except of course the string and ribbon unless you’re into things like that!
Fill the bottle with the olive oil, replace the lid or cork and give it a few gentle shakes to mix all the ﬂavours and release the chilli seeds.
When all combined to your satisfaction and you can visually see some chilli seeds ﬂoating in the mix, grab your ribbon or string and tightly wind around the neck of the bottle for that rustic ‘just found at the local market in Naples’ look.
Et Voila! It’s as simple as that and takes less than 5 minutes to create! Dribble generously over pizza, risotto, pasta or bruschetta. Why not use it as a base for that perfect paella or frittata or just sprinkle a little on some roast potatoes – the ideas are endless! Go crazy and enjoy your new found fragrant friend and be excited as you relish the new tastes this beautiful amber liquid can produce!
**Bestow upon friends as a dinner party gift or make little bottles for everyone at Christmas and I’m positive that you will bring a smile to someone and make their day! Nothing says love more than a thoughtful, homemade ‘gift that keeps on giving!’
… “He who controls the spice controls the universe “… Frank Herbert
Hooray for Byron Bay! This quintessential Australian beach on the southeastern coast of New South Wales is all that and more if you are after a laid back but luscious lifestyle combined with a bohemian vibe. With her chilled out locals and an exotic array of international backpackers and wanderlust seekers, this tiny piece of beach heaven draws you into her soul and is only a 2 hour drive from Brisbane or an easy 1 hour drive from her high rise glitzy neighbour, the Gold Coast.
Cute and quaint with colonial style buildings, shops, pubs, restaurants and bars and of course a golden beach which stretches to beyond where the eye can see, this famous spot well known to celebrities from around the globe and a bucket list highlight for many tourists, is just ‘up the road’ really from my home town and I’m one helluva lucky girl to be able to trek there at any time of the year!
Whether it’s a day trip, weekend vacay or ‘staycay’ or a long, much needed holiday that you’re after, this naturally beautiful little slice of Australia has much to offer. Nut brown bodied nordic folk, surfers and dreadlocked dudes and dudettes roam freely and happily down the main streets or are scattered, lounging lazily like sun drenched lizards on the grassy dunes or the white squeaky beach sand. Everyone is smiling and relaxed and there is a distinct and genuine ‘happy and spiritual’ feel to the area and a real sense of community here, which is lovely. Even the shopkeepers are there to please you and have a chat and no one feels rushed or pressured. No wonder this is a haven for yogis, wealthy retirees and Europeans with working visas all hankering after the ultimate cool hood! I would live there too if I had half the chance… who wouldn’t?
Accommodation is easily found for all types of holidays, be it hotels, hostels, apartments or homes but be warned, prices can be quite eye watering at peak times of the year of course. Why not go all wicked and wild and hire a camper van to park near the beach or even rent a cabin in one of the many caravan and camping sites! Next time for us maybe, but this visit saw MB and I staying two glorious nights at the iconic and centrally located Beach Hotel (beachhotel.com.au) in the ❤ of Byron Bay. With a balcony overlooking the glorious main beach, a small in ground rock pool and a huge, comfortable room, we were not disappointed. The pub attached to the hotel is famous in its own right and offers fabulous and casual meals and drinks available day and night all delivered with upbeat and friendly service and a view to die for! What more could one desire?
View from our room
Byron’s Main Beach is long and wide and finding your own patch of sand is never a question. No squashing together like sardines here! The tourists must be gob smacked at all the space! The ocean is surf and hard waves so watch out if you’re not a swimmer. Saying this however, red suited supermodel/ Baywatch babe lifesavers are on hand till late afternoon everyday so you are always in ultra safe, strong Australian hands. Just be sure to ‘stay between the flags’ at all times! Tallow Beach, Belongil Beach, Clarkes Beach and Wategos Beach are the other popular swimming and surfing spots. Post card perfect and picturesque, they are all just a leisurely stroll from each other. None are crowded and all are the epitome of unblemished nature at her finest.
View from Cape Byron
Apart from soaking up the sun’s rays and perfecting your golden tan, there are many things to do here in this little area. Take the famous Byron Bay Lighthouse for example. Said to be Australia’s most powerful and built in 1901, this striking white structure is set on a rocky point in Cape Byron, which is the most easterly point of Australia and just up from sexy Wategos Beach. With breathtaking views of Cape Byron and the bay, spectacular sunsets and also a top spot for whale and dolphin watching when in season, this is the best stop for that ultimate photo! The walk there from the town centre is just over 4 kms round trip following the Cape Byron WalkingTrack and is a great excuse to move your body and feel slightly healthy all whilst discovering the National Park and other places like Fishermans Lookout along the way.
For more of an adrenaline rush or just a bit of adventure, try a guided Kayak Tour around the Cape or if you’re brave enough, enrol in a Surf lesson …I wasn’t! (No need to see a half drowned rat being pulled form the waves by muscular Aussie lifesavers …tempting as it may sound… with a surfboard wrapped around her head! ) No… I would rather locate my internal Zen by indulging in a bit of calm and peaceful Yoga, or fossicking amongst the funky shops downtown! Awesome little original boutiques and shops are everywhere in Byron Bay and it would be just rude not to buy even just one tiny treasure from the smorgasbord of stores that are around every corner! Beach babe bliss!
Now for food, the choices here are endless. No matter your palette preference or budget, there is everything from fine dining – think Rae’s @ Watego Bay to ‘late night walk of shame’ kebab shops, even operated by authentic Turkish people! Who knew! MB and I dined at the very new Bang Bang modern Thai restaurant on night one. It was fabulous. Chic and groovy all at once with a rockin’ French Dj, the food was spicy and on pointe and worth the wait ( as it was busy), with great service and an electric atmosphere to match. Night two had us savouring the delights of The Balcony, a well respected balcony bistro that has been there forever and the roast shoulder of local lamb was a treat! For a night cap, head across the road and upstairs to The Loft, a new kid on the block in Byron which makes the best Espresso Martinis in town. For more of a grunge/local feel, try out the Great Northern Hotel in the main street for a beer and a boogie or relax beachside at the Bay Hotel. There are so many fantastic eating houses around and this is just the tip of the iceberg, but we could not sample them all unfortunately!
Delicious local Lamb Shoulder
Day trips around Byron are a fab idea too as there are many wonderful, quaint little towns to explore on a rainy or sunny day! Bangalow, a small Australian, colonial inland village renowned for its famous organic pork (do yourself a culinary favour whilst you’re there and buy some); Ballina, the original old town; Brunswick Heads – the laid back beach town/ little sister of Byron Bay; the ultra hippy, rainbow coloured harem pant hubs of Nimbin and Mullumbimby and Lismore, Lennox Head and Yamba are all just a wonderful scenic drive away, either along the winding coastal road or inland past lush green, cow filled pastures.
Quirky Brunswick Heads
Before you sadly depart this mini heaven on earth, check out some of the local markets! Thursday in Byron Bay offers the small 8-11am Local Farmers Market (near the railway) and is perfect for fruit and vegetables, cheese and of course pork and lamb. Bangalow Farmers Market is every Saturday, Mullumbimby is on Friday’s and the Byron Flea Markets ( just imagine what undiscovered delights you could find here) are held every second Saturday of the month, just to name a few!
Bus @ the Farmers Markets
The ultimate time of the day in Byron Bay is early morning. What could possibly beat a croissant and a coffee on the beach made with a wink and a warm smile by a local laid back, blond bronzed barista, whilst watching the soft morning waves roll in and feeling the suns light rays stroke your back. Diving into the cold surf and feeling the salt dry on your skin is the best wake up call you can get and I honestly hope that, one day, YOU will get to experience this moment too. It is one of life’s simple pleasures and that in my mind is called Perfection.
…”May every sunrise hold more promise and every sunset hold more peace”… Anon
After deciding to spend 10 days in August visiting some of the unique towns along Turkey’s very own riviera, The Turquoise Coast, MB and I were in for some struggles! A combination of factors including a lot of driving, accommodation issues and packed towns and beaches made this journey a ‘challenge’ in some respect, but overall gave us some funny stories, great times and a chance to encounter some amazing scenery and history that this magnificent stretch of coastline had to offer! And of course a very long blog for you!
Since it was to be our last stint in Turkey together, we decided to go out with a bang and join the masses in the decent upon these colourful seaside towns. Being the most popular time to go for the majority of Turkish folk as it was their annual summer holiday time and also their national religious holiday period of Bayram we had been warned that this would be a rather ‘busy time’ in all areas! Adding to this, however, was the summer silly season for about two thirds of Britain and what with the Turkish Lira at an all time low and the popularity of Turkey as a holiday destination in general, we were not expecting just how many people there were at every turn! Word of warning… I suggest maybe not to go during this time if you hate crowds or the English as neither can be
escaped at any turn!
We took a quick 45 minute flight from Istanbul to Izmir as we had decided to hire a car from Izmir airport and drive along the coast starting in Çeseme and retuning the car and flying out of Antalya back to Istanbul. Having only booked accommodation for Çeseme and deciding to ‘wing it’ (as usual) for the remainder of the journey, also deciding on which towns to visit along the way, we maybe didn’t plan the best course of action here, but nonetheless and in true travellers form, we made the utmost of our time and managed to sleep in some rather ‘interesting’ places (Bodrum hotel room had fluorescent lime green walls and bars on the windows) along the way! Touching base on only four of the main places of attraction, we unfortunately had to miss out on many of the wondrous areas along this coast but will definitely return again to explore these and maybe re-visit some of the other towns at a more leisurely pace in the future!
Çeseme (pronounced chez-mah meaning fountain),was our first port of call. She is a very pretty, tiny resort town popular with locals, on the Aegean sea and only an hours drive from Izmir airport. We booked a lovely room at the Kaplan Butik Hotel, a small affair run by a very hospitable and kind husband and wife team. Perfectly clean and quiet and with individual balconies overlooking a small marina and local seafood restaurants (we visited the same restaurant, Vantuz, twice as it was right in front of our room and we could reserve the best table with the waiter whilst enjoying our aperitif). Situated about a ten minute scooter ride from the city centre, it was a pleasure to escape the hustle and bustle of holiday makers at the end of an activity packed day and just relax whilst watching the breathtaking sunsets from our little balcony of bliss!
View from our balcony
There are some great beaches in Çeseme and we managed to visit the most popular ones during our time. Altinkum Beach aka Golden Plaji is loved for its golden stretch of sand and clear cool water. A free public beach (near a camping site that was, unfortunately, overrun with rubbish) is available for you to plonk your sarong down or a numerous variety of ‘pay for the day’ private Beach Clubs are there for the wild at heart. These charge for entry and parking, a sun lounge and an umbrella and a free drink. Packed with families and the cool crowd, they are not bad for a day, but party hour time starts at 430pm most afternoons and dance music is blared from the enormous speakers situated around the ‘club’. We tried Copacabana which was ok. Very low key and not a rave at sunset!
The longest and most popular stretch of beach is Iica Beach( Plali ) and is home to a large variety of five star hotels and resorts and is the closest beach to the upmarket neighbouring town of Alaçati. Similar to Chewang Beach in Koh Samui (refer to ‘Best beaches in Koh Samui’ blog), it is packed to the rafters with sun loungers, umbrellas and people and not really our scene. Small pockets of pebbles and sand are overcrowded with sun worshippers of all ages with burnt or tanned flesh, all squashed together like sardines! The water here was not that great either, having lots of rocks and coral to gingerly walk over in the attempt to reach water that was no deeper than your knees. Not a big fan of this style of precarious swimming activity, we only visited here once and didn’t go back. We did see a guy though who was the spitting image of George Michael (maybe an impersonator) so that was worth it! Thermal springs and mud baths are also an attraction here, but we gave those a swerve too due to the hordes of humans. Give it a try when it’s a quieter season and maybe it is lovely. We just couldn’t stand the over crowdedness and brashness of it all.
For those of you who love wind-surfing, there is a special beach dedicated just to you and this activity! Diamond Beach or Pirlanta Plaji is great for kite and wind surfing or just lazing around. Not overly crowded, it was a nice change from the usual style.
We went all out posh one day and treated ourselves to a VIP style of experience at the Paparazzi Beach Club. Situated on the quieter side of Çeseme and not far from our hotel, it has a fantastic restaurant with great service and a huge wooden pontoon that stretches into the perfect turquoise water. We were fortunate enough to get two sun loungers here and spent the day diving off the pontoons edge into the clear sea which was overrun with tiny fish. With no sand or pebbles, rocks or coral, it was a lovely change to our usual routine of plonking down on the ground and no beach bags full of sand to sprinkle all over your hotel room floor when you got home!
Us at Paparazzi
The town centre is lovely and full of authentic little Turkish bistros and winding, skinny streets to meander through and of course a multitude of shops and stores offering everything from blow up beach toys to knock off designer handbags and clothes. It is worthwhile indulging in a few hours here just poking around whilst licking a creamy, local gelato and buying some knick knacks that catch your eye. Along the water front is a fantastic marina area with million dollar powerboats and yachts to drool over, a long promenade to stroll along with restaurants and bars of all varieties and also some ‘reasonably priced’ high end boutiques in which to splurge and spend your Lira!
Take an hour out of your beach schedule to explore the famous Çeseme Castle and Fort which dominates the skyline. At only 8TL (AUD $2) per entry, it is a bargain and well worth the climb to the top just for the 360 degree panoramic views of Çeseme alone! Built in 1508, it has undergone some renovations of course, but now houses a large museum dedicated to the story of the Naval War between the Russians and the Ottomans displaying many rare artefacts including coins, pottery and maps.
If you are fortunate to have the time, take the 20/30 minute ferry ride (there are two per day) from the Port to the nearby Greek Island of Chios. MB and I didn’t get the chance to do this but next time definitely! Instead, we walked up the steep roads to get a glimpse of real life around the interesting back streets of the town, taking in the architecture of the ottoman houses from a bygone era and also the newly renovated, original Caravanserai (roadside inn) next to the castle which is now a five star boutique hotel!
Overall, Çeseme was a fabulous little place with so much to do and see! We were only there for two days/ three nights, but we crammed a lot it in as usual! I highly recommend a visit here if you love tranquility, fun, good food and a bit of history!
Street in Alaçati
Alaçati (pronounced alachater) is a breathtakingly quaint, blue and white grecian-style upmarket town about 25 minutes drive inland from Çeseme. Renowned for its ancient stone houses which have now been converted into luxurious boutique hotels, an expensive shopping precinct, narrow cobblestone streets and numerous windmills, it is a MUST to visit when in this beautiful area!
Deciding on a whim to stay here only one night so as to get a real feel for the place and a good look around, we miraculously found a room in a small B&B called Elā Otel opposite the ancient graveyard (it was very quiet) near the main street entering the centre! Score! Blue and white with fuchsia bougainvillea cascading from our intimate little balcony, it was both simple and central if not a tad overpriced, but that’s high season and demand for you!
Our B@B in Alaçati
Trust me, Alaçati is so damn pretty it’s ridiculous! With photo opportunities at every turn, it is an instagramers paradise! Originally settled by the Greeks in the 17th century, the vast number of Aegean style bistros and bars pay homage to the history of this blue and white tinted tiny town. Being a popular tourist spot for people from all over the globe, locals and celebrities it was indeed extremely busy the day/night we were there. The small streets were overflowing with people from late afternoon till the wee hours of the morning and the atmosphere was both electric and overwhelming all at once!
We had a good look around on the afternoon of our arrival and walked to the famous windmills for a photo and also to check out the view of the flat surroundings of this area. If in need of a slice of Turkish retail therapy, the shopping here is fantastic! If you are particularly lusting after some designer sunglasses, this is the place for you as there are a ridiculous number of Optical stores here (for some reason) all offering state of the art and top of the range styles at exorbitant prices! Worth it though for an enviable pair of European shades! Petite stalls and chic boutiques are everywhere selling anything your heart desires and the jewellery is amazing. I picked up some lovely little bracelets featuring the traditional Blue-Eye and Hand of Fatima symbols and a flamboyant coloured kaftan and MB went crazy in a local designer mens store where everything was 80 percent off! Kah-ching! Antique and second hand furniture and design shops are popular here too with Indian, Arabic and art-deco pieces on offer and I could have gone door and chair crazy if our budget and suitcase space had allowed us!
A delicious meze and seafood dinner in one of the little restaurants on the street and a nightcap in a small intimate bar near our Otel rounded out our fleeting visit. Mornings are very quiet here in Alaçati and is the best time, I think, to find your way around and sit for a quiet espresso or çay in one of the little cafés and observe your surroundings.
Street in Alaçati
All in all, Alaçati is both beautiful and homely and worth the trip even if it’s for only a day or a night. You never know, you might even spot a celebrity wandering down the street as it is said that many of the huge houses in the surrounding area are owned by some of the most rich and famous in the world!
Typical houses in Bodrum
Now beautiful Bodrum is a very different story as we only managed to stay here one day and two nights and even THAT was a miracle! Having booked a lovely place on AirB&B two days before (get a load of us being organised) we left Çeseme early for the 4 hour drive or so to Bodrum. Stopping along the highway at a huge local lakeside restaurant, we decided to give our owner of the AirB&B a quick call to tell him our estimated arrival time. Lucky we did, as we were then informed that indeed we DID NOT HAVE A BOOKING for our three night stay but he had reserved it for September instead as his place was not available now! Even though we had paid and reserved and had a booking reference number, it was not to be as there had been some communication breakdown along the way. Now we were stranded! No hotel or booking and two hours away from the busiest place in Turkey AND on a Saturday night! Lord help us! I spent the next two hours in the car frantically trying to find a room… anywhere …even for just one night! Not to be…. EVERYTHING and I mean everything was either booked or was so damn expensive for one night (think no less than AUD$1000 on some sites) that it was ridiculous. Also it became apparent that most hotels were ‘inclusive’ package deal style, which meant that all meals and beverages were included in the price! We found this very odd, as why would you want to spend all your time at the hotel when there was a beautiful town to explore with lovely restaurants etc of its own! We gleaned that a lot of British people used this system for a ‘one stop shop’ budget style of accommodation for holidays. Not for us though I’m sorry! So…what did we do I hear you ask?
Well basically we just had to get into Bodrum itself and stop at any hotels we could find along the streets and ask if they had rooms. The traffic upon arrival into here was bedlam and bumper to bumper and this proved to be an extremely trying time for both of us! Two hours later after arriving in Bodrum and driving up down and around the city centre we finally found a funny little hotel (aptly called the Second Best Hotel, with the green walls and bars ) on the side of the road which had a room for two nights! Not that great a deal and ugly as well, we leapt upon this chance like we had scored a suite at the Ritz! By 8pm that night…only 10 hours after leaving Çeseme, did we plonk our weary bodies down in our ‘cell’ – shower, change and head out into the balmy night!
Bodrum, or ancient Halicarnassus is in the Mülga province. It is a very unusual, pretty place renowned for its Arabic/grecian style of architecture. Houses are usually white or cream, some with blue accents and square in shape and with flat roofs. Stunning to look at, you could be excused for thinking you were in Santorini or somewhere in the Middle East! I loved them! At one stage, MB and I came across a deserted suburb full of these wonderful little houses all left to go to ruin! Such a shame as they had such potential for renovation and promise for a new life.
Gümbet, the main town centre is probably not everyones desired ‘cup of çai’ (pronounced chai) as it is packed to the rafters with tourists, shops, traffic, kebab stores and general hustle and bustle on a regular day. The main bus terminal is also situated here alongside the main taxi rank! Think chaos and you are getting the feel of it I’m sure! It’s ok of course for a look around and a spot of shopping or a quick coffee/kebab but it is better to head down to the water and stroll the very long promenade crammed with restaurants and bars all eagerly vying for your patronage or take a walk out to visit the Castle protruding into the sea. At night, the beach here transforms into a wide, twinkling dining area with Nargile (Turkish water pipe) cafés for you to relax and puff away to your hearts content. This is an extremely popular pastime for both locals and..
Baklava… not to be confused with ‘balaclava’ (which is a head covering mostly used in robberies), is the sugary, sweet, honey drenched dessert of Turkey and its counterparts Greece and the some parts of the Middle East! It even has its own national day, which is the 17th November! Who knew?!
Consumed and enjoyed by people all over the globe, I wanted to uncover the reasons why these parcels of perfection are still as popular as ever in our society today and have not changed throughout the centuries. Also, it was a great excuse to show fab photos of one my favourite sweet treats!
Both the Greeks and the Turkish people still stake claim as to who invented Baklava first! History has that it that it was first developed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul during the Ottoman Empire! It was said that the Sultan ‘presented trays of Baklava to the Janisssaries ( a word meaning new soldier and who were the elite infantry which formed the base of the Ottoman troops ) every 15th of the month in Ramadan during a ceremonial procession called Baklava Alayi”. Go Turkey!
However, one of the original and oldest recipes, think 2nd century BCE, featuring a honey covered layered dessert called Placenta, began in Roman times, which makes sense as both the Greeks and the Turkish have their cuisine built during the Byzantine Empire which was founded on the Roman Empire style of cookery! Confused yet? I am!
Containing chopped nuts (walnut or pistachio), honey or sugar syrup and filo or flaky pasty, it is a glorious mouthful whatever the region or origin! In Greece it is said to be made with no less than 33 layers of pastry! Served cold, at room temperature or slightly warmed through, it can either be an accompaniment to Çay (Turkish tea) or coffee anytime of the day or a heavenly dessert. Displayed throughout Turkey in many various forms, I have had the decedent pleasure of sampling many! I am also a huge fan of the Greek triangle version sitting in viscous pools of honey that still make my mouth water.
Trays of Heaven
Having assisted my beautiful mother (who was a fantastic cook in her own right) once many years ago in making the Greek version of this treat ( taught to her by a real life Greek chef back in the 70’s) and also creating a ‘mock up’ style when living in Madagascar (not all ingredients were available but I made do and it tasted and looked ok), I am not claiming to be an expert on Baklava by any means! I just really wanted to spread the love, the taste and the word about this ancient delicious delight that has divided two of my favourite countries for thousands of years.
Baklava boutiques are everywhere in Turkey and are the epitome of exotic style and elegance. Just walking past these beautiful shops with their window displays stacked perfectly, are an instant drawcard for both tourists and locals. These warm and friendly stores instantly ignite the senses and take you back to happy childhood memories of sweet and cake shops beckoning with trays of tasty, pastry morsels and the promise of a heart-warming, tooth achingly good time!
A Typical Turkish Tile
So next time you order baklava in a café or when travelling, take a moment to reflect on not just the sensations your little mouth will encounter with glee, but also the complex and interesting history of these intricate morsels of gooey pleasure!
…”Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”…
Anthony Bourdain (RIP)
“To Hamam or not to Hamam”? That is the question and the answer is a big, soapy YES! Now let’s be perfectly honest, a visit to the former birthplace of the Ottoman Empire would not be complete without the unforgettable experience of a traditional Turkish Hamam!
If you are anything like me, when it comes to thinking of a Hamam or Turkish Bath, you immediately conjure up images of skin scrubs, soap suds, steamy marble rooms, water and lots of slippery wet Turkish women! Well the famous and luxurious KILIÇ ALI PASA HAMAMI (kilicalipasahamami.com) in the very hip neighbourhood of Karakoy in funky downtown Istanbul, does not disappoint!
Featured in Luxe Magazine as ‘the best Hamam in Istanbul’ I decided (along with my sister ZB) to go along and give it a try to see just what all the fuss was about and weren’t we in for a super deluxe treat!
Outside of Hamam
Having chosen to book by phone a few days before as there were two of us (you can also book online and it is a very straight forward procedure) we were given an extremely professional response to my enquires. A backup email was sent confirming date, time and what would be required during the visit and all this was done through an English speaking representative from the Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamami team. First impressions were excellent. Now, let’s talk about the hamam experience!
Priced at TL270 per person (approximately AUD$57) for the all inclusive 1.5hr session, it is fantastic value for money! Extra services are offered at an additional cost. You each have your very own natir (attendant) for the entire time and the episode was nothing short of perfect from beginning to end. (FYI: This particular hamam has women and men only times. Women in the mornings from 8-4pm and men in the afternoons from 430 -1130pm. Arrive 15 minutes before appointment).
The Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamami is set in an ancient majestic marble Mosque dating back to 1580 and has carefully been restored to its former glory and is said to be amongst one of the most ‘symbolic buildings in Tophane’ (Istanbul’s harbour district). The sheer opulence and grand beauty of this imposing building itself makes one feel like the Queen of Constantinople even before entering!
Escaping the oppressive 35 degree heat and mayhem of the street, we were quietly ushered into the tranquil, cool and serene surroundings of the hamam’s luxurious marble interior with its huge dome and relaxing, trickling water feature. We were Immediately set at ease by a lovely, hospitable member of staff who set us down and offered us a very much required refreshing welcome drink of Erik Serbeti or Plum Sherbet. (This is a cool drink prepared in a traditional method which has been passed down through generations and has medicinal purposes. The ‘sherbet ritual’ was a big part of palace life, but also enjoyed on occasion by the general public or just a couple of ordinary gals like us!) Whilst sipping on our delicious sherbet, we were given a detailed description of what would take place during our visit.
We filled in a medical form and were assigned personal lockers and given a rubber wrist band with our key which you keep with you at al times. (Mine was ingeniously used as a hair band throughout my session!) All belongings are kept in the locker area on the first floor (easily visible from the relaxation floor) above the main entrance area and safes are available for valuables if required.
Thoughtfully placed in our lockers were rubber sandals (our size was determined at reception), a traditional Turkish cotton towel in which to wrap yourself (all linen used throughout was traditional Turkish cotton), hangers and baskets for your belongings. We quickly changed into our bikini bottoms (no top is required but it’s totally up to you and if necessary, disposable g-strings are offered if you don’t have swimmers). It was all very straight forward, simple and organised!
Lockers above relaxation area
We made our way down to the hamam floor and were guided through to the steam room. Upon entering this seductively warm and pleasantly scented area filled with women of all shapes, sizes and nationalities, we were then introduced to our individual natir’s ( a pair of 30-40 year old Turkish women who were lovely) who sat us on the outside marble benches and proceeded to douse us in warm water! Strange but pleasant all at once! After about 2 minutes of having bowls of water sloshed all over you, one then moves to the heated, oversized, round marble slab in the middle of the domed room to lie down and let the heat and water combination do its job and soften the skin in preparation for the full body scrub routine!
Laying out our drenched Turkish towels and flopping down on the slippery, warm slab, you can’t help but feel like someone from the Ottoman past and can understand just how addictive this style of personal bath service could become! I lay staring up at the great dome with its beautiful amber glass bubbled inlay and just allowed the waves of heat and cool to sweep over me. (FYI: It can become quite overwhelming, so I suggest to just relax, breathe and stay calm throughout if possible. Large plastic glasses of cold water are also given to you to sip at anytime throughout the session).
After approximately 10 minutes, your personal natir comes for you and takes you over to the washing side of the great marble room. This is a specific area (sluiced down thoroughly after each woman) and you even have your own marble wash basin! Cool! ( I wish I had photos but cameras, of course, are not permitted in the hamam room!) You are sat down and saturated with water again, first warm then cool and constantly asked if “everything is ok?” which is nice! My natir ( probably thought I was drowning as I kept gasping ) then dons a huge, white, roughly textured mitt and proceeds to literally scrub vigorously my ENTIRE body! Arms, legs, bum, face, boobs, you name it, lay prey to the constant wielding of the mitt as I watched in horror as years and years of dead skin rolled off in minutes ( gross but true) to reveal my baby soft new dermis!
After the scrub, in which you to stand so your back, the backs of your legs and your bottom can also be scoured, you sit and are once again doused with warm water to wash away the visual sins of your old skin! Next comes the complimentary massage of your back, neck, arms, legs and feet! Magic! It is thoroughly invigorating and performed very professionally and I was continually asked if the pressure was ok. It was perfect…tesekkür ederim!
Products near boutique door
Now…the washing of the hair ritual! This is optional (but included in the price) and all locally produced organic shampoos and conditioners are provided. This is also a fantastic addition to the whole experience and I would highly recommend it. No hair follicle was left untouched and even my scalp was begging for more after the head and face massage! After which comes the ‘bubbleshower’ using an ancient technique of blowing up a cotton bag with air and emptying it by hand to allow the soap suds to cascade down your body! I have never seen this before and was quite impressed as was ZB! Quite a highlight of the day! The soap suds are then washed away by yet more bowls of water that are poured over you till all evidence of soap, skin and dirt have disappeared, slithering down the marble drains.
Literally squeaky clean, shiny, warm and relaxed, your head is wrapped in a Turkish towel turban and your body in a clean cotton cloth and you are lead out to the beautifully decorated ‘drying room’ where your natir ( poor woman) dries you down thoroughly, including your little feet and are then escorted back out to the relaxation area in the main room of the hamam. Phew!
Fountain and relaxation area
Stretching out like satiated cats on the beautiful Turkish upholstered banquettes, we are left to just relax and ponder on the entire experience whilst listening to softly piped music. (FYI: No Çay (Turkish tea) was presented, which I found odd as this traditional beverage is offered to you at all times of the day and night complimentary in every store or shop you enter in Turkey as part of lifestyle and kindness to others) and you had to purchase your drinks. We decided that we both fully deserved some ‘aprés hamam refeshment‘ so chose our drinks from the little menu thoughtfully placed on our ottoman. A cup of Japanese Matcha green tea for me and a glass of freshly pressed lemon juice for ZB was the perfect conclusion to our heavenly hamam sessions.
ZB and I reluctantly departed approximately 40 minutes after our wind down, but you are made to feel free to remain as long as needed ensuring you are out before the men’s session commences. For your convenience, hair dryers, combs and moisturiser are available in a little salon adjacent to the locker rooms. Photos are permitted to be taken in the main area of the hamam and their bathhouse boutique is open next door for you to browse and contemplate various bathroom adornments to complete your very own personal hamam at home.
Products from the boutique
Stepping forth into the cruel light and heat of the hot afternoon, we were a pair of thoroughly clean, toxin free, sister machines! All ready and relaxed for what the night ahead had to offer, we both agreed that it was one of THE BEST experiences ever! It was exceptionally clean with highly professional and friendly staff on all levels, organised and unobtrusive all wrapped up in peaceful, luxurious and comfortable surroundings and of course, EXCELLENT value for money, I highly recommend indulging in a Turkish hamam if you are ever in this part of the world. I would honestly have one a week if I was fortunate enough to call Turkey home. So say ‘Hooray for the Hamam! Let it live on for another thousand years and continue to scrub us westerners clean!
…”Soap is to the BODY what laughter is to the SOUL”… Anonymous
Nice is definatelya ‘nice’ word when referring to the azure waters and heat haze of the main city on the French Riviera. This fabulous town holds a special place in both my heart and my passport and I have had the great pleasure to have spent a lot of time here over the past few years. So much so, that I am beginning to feel like a local in some respects as MB( Monsieur Bleu) and I have our favourite haunts now and we are just beginning to get remembered and recognised! Ooh la la!
Now to set things straight…I am going to write about the real Nice and her counterparts along the French shoreline, not something out of a Jackie Collin’s novel! Nice is not all Manolo’s and Maseratis my friends…NON! The glitz and glamour of heels and Hermes is not for me and I have never even stepped a sandy foot into any of the many designer boutiques located here or even dined in a Michelin star restaurant (and believe me, there are plenty of both)! No, my world is one of real life and like many of you I’m sure, I thought visiting this jewel of a place meant going bankrupt to have a meal or only stepping out in the latest designs, but both are extremely untrue and I wanted to restore your faith in the belief that even people like moi can live large without breaking the bank, a heel or a nail!
The first thing you follow when you enter Nice from the airport, is the very long, palm lined boulevard called the Promenade des Anglais. Facing the Baie des Anges, famous for its superior stretch of pebble beach with water so turquoise it hurts your eyes, beach restaurants with their blue and white striped umbrellas and sun lounges lining the waters edge, you can imagine why so many of the world’s rich and famous flock here during the summer months. Across the road there are charming Niçoise style apartment blocks with sun kissed balconies and many hotels with breathtaking views of the sea. All of this splendour however, is just the tip of the gelato when it comes to Nice and delving into her inner streets and exploring the local side of town is just as beautiful.
Promenade des Anglais
Promenade from the Fort
Allow me to warn you that Nice is a huge spread out city, so finding exactly what area to stay in is very important when it comes to accommodation and entertainment. Having the largest International, Domestic and Private airports on the French Riviera, it is always busy and bustling, even in the cooler months. Transport is easier now due to the introduction of Uber etc, but being too far out of the main area and excitement gets to be a drag if you are on foot. Taxi’s (normally a prestigious style of vehicle but still reasonable prices, I once hailed a Porshe 4WD to get me to the aiport), local buses and the excellent new tram system are all viable options.
STAY: May I be honest and suggest not to stay in the area near the airport (unless absolutely necessary). Known as Californie, there is not much around here except for a huge Casino shopping centre and um…the airport! Make sure you find your way to area’s such as The Port (my personal favourite), Old Nice (Vieux Nice), the Carre d’Or (centre), Carabacel near the Acropolis, La Buffa and Musiciens or stay on the Promenade des Anglais, more pricey as you have the million dollar views (but only from the middle part starting at the famous and expensive wedding cake/belle Époque stye architecture of the Hotel Negresco). The area near the main train station or Gare has more of a local vibe and is quite good as it’s cheaper and not too far a walk from the popular pedestrian shopping street of Avenue Jean Medicin. (FYI: All these neighbourhoods have many hotels or rentals that can be found on websites such as AirB&B, Homeaway, booking.com etc and can you have you ‘living it up like a local’ in no time! ) It’s totally up to you, but do your research!
OLD NICE: One of the most popular areas to visit upon arrival and that has something for everyone is Old Nice or Vieux Nice. A magnificent maze of narrow, cobblestone streets with traditional Niçoise style pastel coloured buildings with their famous green shutters, fantastic boutiques, cafés, bars, pubs, restaurants and of course the bustling Marché aux Fleurs in the Cours Saleya has you in French raptures immediately! This fresh produce and flower market is on every day except Monday when it turns into an antique / brocante market (where you can find a treasure or ten to marvel over) and even just being near the former house of Matisse in all its distressed-yellow glory, whilst munching on ripe strawberries, smelling fresh lavender and inspecting the many cheese stalls, is well worth the trip!
House of Matisse
Visit the main cathedral, Eglise St Jaques and marvel at the baroque style interior or just get lost amongst the many winding streets and steep stairways. If you love cooking, like me, make sure you pick up a can of the famous olive oil made only in Nice from Nicolas ALZIARI from their concept store near the Cours Saleya. This oil is so damn good and inexpensive that even my French mother in law buys it in bulk whenever she gets the chance and its pretty blue/ red or yellow cans are adorable! Afterwards, take time out and taste some of the unusual ice-cream flavours from the famous gelateria Fenocchio or just sit, sip and relax over a cafè or aperitif( normally a pastis or glass of rosé) from one of the many cafés or brasseries and indulge in a bit of people watching to perk up your morning! (FYI: The last café opposite the courthouse or Palais de Justice has 1 euro coffee’s which are the cheapest we have found! There is also a small post office here too if you need to send anything home.)
NEW NICE: Personally I refer to the area starting near Avenue Jean Medicin and the Promenade du Paillon ( an enormous green park area, completed a few years back and fantastic for families and children as it has an architecturally designed play area, trees and mini water fountains that send anyone from toddler to teens into raptures) to Boulevard Gambetta up to Avenue Thiers… New NIce! I find this area the most popular for tourists as it encompasses the three main walking streets of Rue de France, Avenue Jean Medicin, and Rue Messéna which are lined with shops and restaurants. It is also home to a mini Notre Dame Cathedral, Alliance Française School of Language ( popular for those who wish to come and do a speedy one or two week French course) and the opulent area of the Carre d’Or.
Promenade du Paillon
LOCAL FOOD: A trip to this beautiful city wouldn’t be complete without indulging in fantastic local food and wine… my favourite things! Nice, being so close to the Italian border has a specialised style of cuisine. Pizza, of course can be found around every street corner, but the 3 x best places we have tried are: La Pizza Cresci in the New Town, Spizzico (cheap and cheerful) and Vieux Four, both at the Port. Find your favourite and let ME know!
pizza at Le Vieux Four
Socca, a type of chickpea flour pancake with herbs is trés popular as a snack or with a glass of rosé and the best place to sample these are in the Port area at Chez Pippo. Farci is another traditional dish. Farci, meaning stuffed or filled, can be found on many menu’s around the town and they are usually tomatoes or a vegetable of some sort stuffed with rice and mince. Delicious. Another personal favourite ‘only to be found street food in Nice’ of MB and I is the growingly popular Pan Bagnat.
Basically a round bread roll stuffed with Niçoise salad and drenched in olive oil, it is a must for that cheap day on the beach and a tasty alternative to the never humble baguette sandwich! Drool! Don’t leave without trying one! Speaking of Niçoise Salad, this light dish is also everywhere around town and can vary somewhat in ingredients. Make sure you drown it in olive oil and balsamic vinegar before eating or can be a bit dry. Tasty, tiny black olives, fritters, tapenade, Ratatouille, Pissaladiere and fish soup are all other specialties of Nice and my two best best picks of restaurants for this style of cuisine are both located in the Old Town. Safari and L’escalinada. Bon Appetite!
Pan Bagnat on the beach
ROSÉ: A special mention must go to this heaven on earth, sunshine in a bottle beverage that is the other bloodstream running through this town and her people! Rosé wine is undoubtedly the most common drink consumed in vast quantities on the Cote d’Azur! Just take a look at the huge area dedicated to this peach coloured liquid heaven in the supermarkets to prove my point! Walls of rows upon rows of pink bottles take up most of the liquor shelves and prices vary from very cheap to over the top! I’ve tried a range of these over my time, but the cheaper versions are just as good as any of the expensive counterparts. Consumed at any time of the day, usually over ice, it is the perfect accompaniment to any meal! Santé!
Wall of Rosé
BEACHES (La Plage): The beach in Nice is basically one long stretch of smooth, grey pebbles facing cool, aquamarine coloured water. There are many ‘Private Beach’ areas which offer sun loungers (chaise) and umbrella’s for a price and you can stay all day. These are all located off the Promenade des Anglais starting from the airport all the way up to Castel Beach opposite the Fort and there are many to choose from. Miami Page, Hi Beach, Neptune Plage and Castel Plage to name a few. These are available to anyone and you don’t have to break the bank here either to enjoy them!
You can enter anytime of the day and you will be offered a chair either in the front line right next to the sea (most expensive) or the rows at the back which are cheaper. All day dining is offered either sitting in the restaurant or choose to eat at your chair! Cool! They are all great and you will be welcomed and set at ease when entering. Be aware though that the pebbles are quite tricky to walk on in and out of the sea so purchasing a cheap pair of rubber beach shoes (available at any tourist shop) is advised! (FYI: Don’t bring your own food to these places as it is
an insult and frowned upon.)
Private Beach on the Promenade
For the budget conscious, there are many Public Beach’s to access dotted between the private beach areas and you can stay all day and take your own food and drink ( Pan Bagnat time people) or sometimes there are beach guys walking along offering cold drinks and fruit to purchase at anytime. There is even a specialised disabled beach for those needing wheelchair access and also a non smoking beach ( but everyone smokes anyway!)
Past the Port and the ferry terminal, there is an area called Mont Boron, and opposite this there are beautiful rocks that you can dive from if you are game and two little beaches that are frequented by the locals. This is my favourite place. The water is cold and the sun is warm and you sit amongst all the older crowd who go swimming in the mornings. Get there early as it is a very popular spot. Pick any of the beaches you may want to visit and just enjoy your day!
Local beach opposite Mont Boron
Local boats at the Port
VISIT: In amongst all the eating, drinking, sunning, swimming and shopping, there are also many activities to choose from whether they be cultural or physical. I recommend visiting the amazing art museums of Chagall, Matisse and Modern and Contemporary Art. Buses are available to take you there and it is quite simple. Check out the huge stone head located near the Acropolis and the Modern Art museum, as it is a huge Public Library and very beautiful. Want to burn off some of those croissants, take the plunge and walk up the 1000 steps to the top of the Fort or the Colline du Chateau, located at the Port and inspect the ruins and the cemetery where the car pioneer Emil Mercedes is buried. Enjoy the parkland area and the fountain or just take in the magnificent view across the Baie des Anges. Spectacular!
Picasso Sculpture at Matisse Museum
Or how about hiring one of the many Velo Bleu, pushbikes for a few hours?These ‘pay as you go’bikes are available all round Nice, so take a long ride along the entire Promenade and get a photo at the “#I LOVE NICE”..
Do yourself a favour and make your next holiday destination Magical MONTENEGRO! Never heard of it? Don’t know where it is? Thought it was somewhere in South America or Italy…Get ready, because I’m going to let you in on a secret…this little package of surprises is the hottest up and coming place to visit that is entirely ﬂying under the radar and it would be madness not to make your way there NOW!
Montenegro meaning Black Mountain and founded before 11AD, is in Southeastern Europe bordered by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Albania and is on the Adriatic Sea. Her capital city of Podgorica (pronounced Pod-gor-it-sa) is a bustling urban metropolis with multilevel shopping malls, tree lined, pop-art decorated streets dedicated to cafés, restaurants and bars, a variety of hotels, a central square, park, jogging/walking/cycling tracks and even a sports stadium! This is all bordered by an extremely cute and liveable Old Town, vineyards, farms and historical bridges over the Morača and Ribnica Rivers.
Street in Podgorica
If ever there was an undiscovered place with so much to oﬀer, this has to be up there with the best! I am quietly pleased that it has not been overrun with tourists as yet but her coastal counterparts have already, unfortunately, been inundated with the likes of large cruise ships and double decker tour buses. But…(sigh)… it was due to happen sooner or later and is excellent for the Montenegrin economy.
The former royal old capital of Montenegro is Cetinje (about 30 minute drive from Podgorica) and is home to the President and also many imperial and noble former parliamentary buildings and houses. Surrounded by leafy parks and mountains, Cetinje is an absolute delight with cobblestone streets, trendy boutiques, quirky slavic architecture, ice cream stalls, cafés and restaurants. It truly looks like a pretty little gingerbread town from a children’s story book! A few hours roaming this historic centre is wonderful and if that’s not enough to tempt you, it has also featured in the Bond Movie ‘Casino Royale’ with Daniel Craig! Too cool!
You will never be bored here in Montenegro, as there is so much to do and see along with such diversity that it does indeed oﬀer a melting pot of memorable moments! You like to ski? TICK
✔ Popular in the colder months, there are ski slopes and Swiss inspired chalets, ski lifts and tobogganing facilities set amongst the natural beauty of fragrant pine forests. Love wine? TICK✔ There are a multitude of diﬀerent wineries on the outskirts of the city oﬀering tours and tastings and I’ve become a huge fan of a drop of Montenegrin red which is, bizarrely, undiscovered and hugely underrated. Taste the ﬂavour and be converted!
Montenegro is dripping in history and even a walk around Podgorica can reveal monuments such as the Clock Tower and the Turkish church in the Old Town, dating back to the Ottoman empire. Even checking out the Communist neighbourhoods with its cold, hard grey apartment blocks and architecture makes this little city interesting! Take a short drive out of town to soak up some religion and visit the many ancient Monasteries built into the side of the mountains.
Old Town Podgorica
Foodies and party people are not left out and will revel in the trendy, fashionable area of Bokeška Street with its crammed bars and eating joints, complete with resident DJ’s spinning funky tunes every night!
Also on the ‘must-do’ list is a drive along the ‘Montenegrin Riviera’. This picturesque part of the Adriatic coastline begins in Ulcinj, travels past Bar and the very posh Sveti Stefen all the way to beautiful Budva where you will encounter pockets of sun kissed, summer seaside towns to explore along the way.
Beach in Budva
A special mention goes to Budva which has the gorgeous medieval Old Town of Stari Grad and a huge citadel by the sea and is popular because of the bustling night life, high rises and high end boutique shopping precinct. It’s fantastic. For even more eye-popping sites, turn inland to see the breathtaking villages around the magniﬁcent town of Kotor ( a personal favourite place of mine ever visited and which another blog is dedicated purely to this little slice of heaven alone), Tivat and Bijela set around the Bay of Kotor which oﬀer the captivating beauty and diversity of quaint Old Towns, pebble beaches and azure water.
Citadel in Budva
Bay of Kotor
Unbelievably great value for money (they use the Euro), friendly locals, great food and amazing scenery from a bygone era, this little country oﬀers many unique experiences with a chilled out vibe. Take a chance on your next ‘explorative vacay ‘ and visit this sleepy little slice of beauty tucked away on the Adriatic and savour the calm before the tourism storm.
“Montenegro…am I in Paradise or on the Moon?”…George Bernard Shaw