The Most Instagrammable Christmas Locations in London

Everyone will have different favourites, but my favourite city to walk around at Christmas is London. Okay so it might not be known for its quaint Christmas markets (Winter Wonderland stresses me out due to crowds…), the decor on shops, restaurants, and even homes, is some of the best in the world.

So, where can you find the most Instagrammable locations in London at Christmas time?

Somerset House

Located between the River Thames and the Strand, Somerset House was designed in 1776 and further extended by the Victorians. This beautiful Neoclassical building is stunning all year round but really comes alive at Christmas with the addition of a popular skating rink and Fortnum and Mason Christmas tree.

Carnaby Street

Decked to the nines and Christmas time, Carnaby Street is making a powerful message this year. Sustainability is at the heart of this festive installation with twinkly sea creatures all created from recycled or reusable materials.

Annabels

Annabels prides itself on being one of the most elegant clubs in the world, it has a long and fascinating history with celebrities but also has an incredible Christmas tree facade each year…



Cartier

All wrapped up with a bow, that’s how we like Christmas isn’t it?

Natural History Museum

This was my favourite place as a kid, I remember hunting for dinosaurs. This year the Natural History Museum tree and skate rink is back and beautiful as ever!

Leadenhall Market

Visit the city on a weekend and it will be eerily quiet. But it means you might just get this gorgeous Christmas tree all to yourself!

34 Mayfair

Have you ever seen a restaurant covered in so many baubles? Me neither.

Regent Street

Beautiful every year, Regent Street at night time is even better.

Kew Gardens

This year Kew Gardens is hosting a light trail with a new route and even more beautiful installations

Top 5 Winter Getaways in England

When winter arrives it can be hard to enjoy it. Dull skies. Breezy. Cold. No sign of a holiday anytime soon. Sound familiar? It’s not all doom and gloom though, yes it might be bloody chilly but doesn’t that add to the quaint English ideal? Luckily for us, the country is full of pretty little bolt holes that provide the perfect cosy surroundings we all need during sub-zero temperatures.

Lord Crewe Arms, Northumberland

There is a reason Northumberland has the word ‘north’ in it. You actually can’t get more north, unless you end up in Scotland. The county of Northumberland is beautiful, with green hills, lots of sheep, a bit of wind and a sprinkling of picturesque stone villages.

The Lord Crewe Arms is a popular pub and hotel located in Blanchland, a honey-coloured village nestled in the rolling hills just 30 minutes from the historic town of Durham. The hotel itself is the beating heart of the village with 21 guestrooms, a snug bar and delicious food. Even better is the incredible history behind the place, the entire village was built upon the foundations of an ancient monastery. If you are interested in learning more, a local historian will take you around the village on a private tour.

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Dormy House

Where better to spend the festive season than in a beautiful hotel tied up with the perfect red bow? Dormy House in the Cotswolds is a traditional English farmhouse with a variety of different room types, including your own cottage. Dogs are more than welcome here and there is an entire estate (and beyond) where they can run around freely!

The award-winning spa is the cherry on the cake, but make sure you book early, this place is popular for a reason!

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Kilworth House

Kilworth House will always have a special place in my heart as this is where I got married, but no hotel will beat their Christmas decorations! In fact, I once spent the period between Christmas and New Year here and it was the most lovely stays I have ever had.

Kilworth House is located between Market Harborough and Lutterworth in Leicestershire. There isn’t too much going on around here but I would recommend just having a relaxing stay in the hotel, however, if you did want to go out and about, there are some great country walks, particularly the area around Foxton Locks.

The hotel is situated in a large country house with a beautiful orangery, small spa, private dining areas and a lovely option for afternoon tea! Did I mention Christmas decorations in abundance?

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Ebrington Arms

I swore to myself I wouldn’t let this get too Cotswold orientated but I had to include the Ebrington Arms. Located on the outskirts of the Cotswolds, the Ebrington Arms is the perfect place to stay if you want cosy country surroundings but the opportunity to explore the historic cities of Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.

This genuine pub as a small selection of country chic rooms, and with the opportunity to soak in a roll-top bath before heading downstairs and enjoying dinner by the roaring fire, this is a place you can really relax in.

Low ceilings, ancient beams and an Instagram worthy village right on your doorstep, the Ebrington Arms is worth a visit in all seasons but is particularly special in the winter.

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Lord Poulett Arms

Have you ever heard of a pub with such a fancy name? I definitely haven’t. The Lord Poulet Arms dates back to the 1600s so of course it’s oozing in historic charm. Being two and a half hours away from London this hotel guarantees countryside relaxation and is surrounded by some of Somerset’s best.

Due to its relatively small size and the fact this place is indeed ancient, there are just 4 en suite bedrooms and 2 smaller bedrooms with bathrooms across a corridor. With a roaring fire downstairs, delicious food and good drink, you might not want to step outside whilst you’re here!

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My Bristol Microgap

We have all heard of a gap year right? Planning away for a year abroad in the most amazing of places you have always dreamed of! But what about a ‘Microgap‘? Fitting in one of your favourite places in just a few days. Why would you take one? It would be nice if we could leave our lives behind for a year and explore the world but that is costly and for those of us in our late 20s and above, it can even be frowned upon (although I say we should ALWAYS ignore the frowners!). Realistically we can work with our weekends and limited holiday days, so what better than to escape for a couple of days and squeeze in as much culture as possible?

The thing I love most about the UK is that we play host to an array of cultures other than our love for tea I would say each region, city even, can be totally different. This is most definitely true for Bristol, which even boasts its own currency, the Bristol Pound.

Bristol is a beautiful, vibrant city with an excellent uni, great nightlife shopping, restaurants and parks. But it is also the street art hub of England, this is where THE Banksy came from. And thanks to Visit England, I got to see a Banksy piece with my very own eyes.

Bristol is easily accessible by train from London and many other UK cities such as Cardiff, Reading and Birmingham. The city is served by Great Western Railway, London Paddington to Bristol Temple takes just and costs around (cheaper if you book in advance.

On arrival in Bristol, it takes just minutes to walk into the city centre. We met a guide from Where the Wall who offer Bristol street art tours. Where the Wall has been consistently running now for 6 years, 52 weeks of the year over each weekend and during the school holidays. If you are interested in going on the tour, please click here to find out when the tour is running and how you can book.

The Where the Wall Bristol street art tour was set up to promote and support rising street artists as well as established ones. Most interesting to me was the history behind Bristol’s art scene, how it started as a city so against street art and has developed into one that embraces and even encourages young people to get out and paint on the walls!

This tour has even now introduced a stencil session where visitors can create their own pieces, as you can see from mine, I went for a pink and purple number! Don’t ask about the yellow… I was annoyed at myself for that!

After our street art walk, we enjoyed lunch at The Canteen which was located directly under Where The Wall which was pretty handy! The Canteen serves delicious, affordable vegan food in a welcoming community space.

After lunch came my favourite part of the day… gin tasting! I fell in love with gin during a trip to Edinburgh a few years ago. Whilst gin originated in the Netherlands, it became a huge part of the UK’s history, at one time the people of London were drinking on average half a pint of gin a day, even the kids were drinking it!

Our gin experience was hosted by The Milk Thistle, a cocktail bar spread over 4 floors hidden inside a historic building in central Bristol. If I lived in Bristol this is where I would celebrate my 30th birthday! We had our own personal bartender, Michael, who knew everything you needed to know about gin and Bristol.

The difference with this gin tasting session was that we poured our own gin, the only rule was you had to finish what you poured…. fair enough! Let’s just say I was very merry by the end of things!

Once our gin session was over it was time to go home sadly, we had a quick drink at the pub before boarding our train back to London!

 

Disclaimer: Please note this trip was a paid collaboration with Visit England

10 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Japan

Travelling from London to Japan takes around 12 hours and spans half the globe so there’s no surprise that it is a very different country with different customs. Below are 10 things that are helpful to know before you travel.

Bring cash

Japan may be technologically advanced but don’t let that kid you into thinking it’s easy to use your card. Japan is mostly a cash-based society, there were a number of occasions where we could not even attempt to use our cards and many occasions where our international cards were not accepted, even in ATM machines.

I would recommend converting some money before you travel! We found it best using the ATMs in 7eleven, there is a small charge but our cards were all accepted.

Buy a Japan rail pass

The best way of getting around Japan is by train and if you plan on visiting a number of locations it tends to be easier and cheaper too. The Japan Rail Pass offers a number of different options, we opted for the 7-day pass but they also have a 14 day and 21-day option. Our pass cost just over £200, this included the Shinkansen (bullet train) as well as the ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima, it also included all travel on JR trains.

Don’t expect large rooms

Tokyo is the most densely populated city in the world so it’s no surprise hotels cram a lot of rooms into a building. Space = money so if you want a room you can do backflips in, you need to check out the more pricey hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental or the Shangri La. If you prefer to spend your money on experiences rather than a hotel (you probably won’t even spend much time in), you need to prepare yourself for a very cosy room. Our hotel in Tokyo, The Premier Cabin Hotel, was so small we could barely fit two suitcases in. You could brush your teeth, sit on the toilet and shower all at the same time. We got by but it must have been a serious fire risk as my suitcase had to be left right in front of our door! That being said, we were located in the heart of Shinjuku and the rooms were silent with a great blind, so no regrets there.

Other cities are a little more spacious but Japan is very populated as a whole!

No Diet Coke

This might seem like a very trivial issue, but I found it hard to find Diet Coke (or Coke Zero) anywhere! There’s plenty of normal Coke but I just don’t like the taste as much and honestly, I just started to miss it!

Prepare for the crowds

As I mentioned above, Japan is one of the most densely populated nations in the world and there has been a huge tourist boom in recent years. The most popular time of year to visit is April during cherry blossom season, then it’s November as this is the peak of the autumn foliage.

Annual arrivals have increased by 23 million visitors a year, making it the fastest-growing destination in the world by a long way. Since 2010 tourism has risen by 263% and boy can you feel it…

Kyoto was by far the busiest and you won’t have anywhere to yourself unless you rise very early. This did take the charm out of some places, especially the Bamboo Forest but knowing this in advance means less disappointment when you get there.

Smoking is legal in small restaurants

Something that really took me aback was the fact smoking has not been banned in all public places. Smoking indoors in public places in the UK was banned in 2007 and you get so used to it you completely forget it could be legal somewhere else. Whilst smoking indoors in Japan is illegal in many instances, this rule is based on the square footage of a business. The majority of authentic Japanese restaurants have space for around 10 people (sometimes less), meaning it is small enough for them to miss the law. I absolutely cannot stand the smell of smoke but hey, what can you do about it?

Large groups can’t fit in restaurants

Following on from above, there are many wonderful bars and restaurants in Japan that are minuscule. We travelled as a group of 6 and it was near impossible finding places that could seat us all. Japanese dining is very authentic and an experience in itself. It is much easier when travelling as a two that’s for sure!

Jaywalking is illegal

Back home in London most people completely ignore the red man on the traffic light and cross anyway (when there are no cars of course). In Japan, this is illegal and if the police catch you they can fine you! If you aren’t spotted, you will feel eyes burning into the back of your head by commuters as you skip across the road.

Carry your passport for tax-free shopping

Did you know when you buy goods abroad you are entitled to claim back the tax? I had no idea until I bought a camera lens and they asked me for my passport. I asked them why they needed my passport and they told me it was so they could remove the tax from the bill (10%). Had I known this I would have brought it with me! Unfortunately, my passport was safely locked away in our hotel room, but if this does happen, you can claim the tax back at the airport.

No tipping

This one will be the most difficult for those travelling from the US… Forget everything you know about tipping culture, it does not exist in Japan and it is offensive to do it. In the UK you tip when the service is good, I found it difficult not to tip all our lovely waiters and waitresses during our travels!

 

I hope that helped! Let me know in the comments if you have any other must-know tips!

Travelling Abroad: Why phones CAN be good

Rewind 10 years ago and I would never have imagined browsing the internet whilst abroad, it would have cost me an arm and a leg! I will never forget accidentally wracking up a bill of over £200 and feeling like my parents would murder me!

A few years ago a new EU law meant we could finally roam abroad in Europe with our phones at no extra cost, that coupled with the fact Three were offering a wealth of countries now in my plan, it has been a Godsend.

Whilst many people said the phone should be put down when on holiday, and I mostly agree, there have been times when I have really needed it!

Firstly, I travel solo a lot! My phone offers me a safety net, the ability to order a taxi, navigate and even translate when the need arises. Without all this, I would not feel comfortable going away by myself, I don’t know how they ever did it in the 70’s!

Why else would I use my phone abroad? Had you asked me a year ago I would have told you it was to keep in touch with Alex, and of course that’s true, but more importantly? Baxter updates! When I travel, Baxter spends time with his very loving grandparents, and like any dog mum, I worry about him when I’m not there. I insist on photographs and updates throughout the day so I can relax. Overprotective? Yes, but he is my pride and joy!

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, travelling with a phone means I can do work on the go. Remember when we had to go to cyber cafes? Ok, I was a bit young when cyber cafes were a thing, I just used them to email my friends or check my Neopets… Some may say you shouldn’t work when you are away, but a lot of the time I am in a location because of work, so I have no option. I am self-employed so don’t get paid leave! Even when I am holidaying with Alex there are times I need to spend a bit of time on my phone getting my work done, how else would I pay for Baxter’s toys?

My Favourite Travel Apps

Facetime: This one is a given, I need to coo over my puppy each evening! And make sure Alex is getting to bed on time of course.

The Trainline: When travelling in Europe I use the train a lot. This app means I can check the times and costs of trains all over Europe.

Instagram: How else would I keep you all updated?

Whatsapp: Did you know you can send your live location to a friend and they can track your movements for up to 8 hours? Pretty handy when I am walking around an unknown city by myself, I feel happier when Alex can see where I am.

Google Translate: Not every menu is English, Google Translate means I know exactly what I am about to order at a restaurant!

Sit or Squat: “What on Earth” you cry? No this isn’t a fitness app, squats are not a necessity on holiday! This app will tell you where the nearest public toilets are, surprisingly handy.

Tripadvisor: Just because a restaurant has a great smell wafting out from it, it doesn’t mean it will be any good. McDonald’s smells delicious but it doesn’t mean I went to eat there when I am trying to immerse myself in a new city. I always check Tripadvisor to make sure restaurants (and hotels) get decent reviews. Whilst I take all reviews with a pinch of salt, I tend to go with the advice of the majority.

Lightroom CC: This is one for the photographers. I use Lightroom CC that syncs with Lightroom CC on my laptop. This means I can edit my photos on the go without bringing a heavy laptop. All the photos are uploaded to adobe’s cloud so if the worst happened and you lost your phone, you wouldn’t lose these images.

Podcast: This app comes with all Apple phones, I am sure there must be one for Android too! If you haven’t gotten into podcasts before then this is about to change your life. No more boredom on flights, car journeys or trains. You can download podcasts and listen to them offline so if you are 40,000 ft in the air, that’s no problem either. If any of you, like me, love true crime, then I would highly recommend ‘To live and Die in LA’ and ‘Vanished’.

XE Currency: Make sure you aren’t getting ripped off. XE will give you real-time currency conversions.

Kindle: I’m going to be honest, I prefer reading on an actual Kindle than on my phone, but if I want to travel light then I don’t have the luxury of this option. Books are just one of the ways to pass the time when I am on a long train journey. I can read multiple books in the time it takes to fly to Japan.

Trip It: Trip It will pool hotel, restaurant and transport confirmations from your email and put them into an itinerary for you so you have all your confirmations on the go. I can’t be the only one who panic searches through my emails for a confirmation or booking number at the last minute and never finds it!?

Around Me: Ever needed to find a supermarket or a bank whilst overseas? The Around Me app identifies where you are and lists the nearest amenities such as hotels, banks, taxis, petrol stations etc.

Candy Crush: Just kidding, it will take over your life and before you know it you are 2000 levels up but 10 weeks behind on your work.

So, whilst I hate my addiction to Candy Crush, my phone is my best friend when travelling… other than my passport of course! If you manage the time you spend on it, it doesn’t have to interfere with anything other than helping your trip run smoothly!

 

This is a paid partnership article with Three, a mobile phone supplier in the UK as part of their Phones Are Good Campaign. Three believe that phones have been getting too hard a time recently. Far from bringing the end to humanity, they think they bring people together. Think about it. These pocket rockets help us plan our social life, find love, build relations, run businesses and make memories. They also keep us connected on the go, including 71 destinations worldwide with Three’s Go Roam proposition. As part of the paid article, Three asked me to share my personal experiences on why phones are good. These opinions, stories and images are my own.

How To Make Instagram More Fun

I think we have all hit a brick wall with Instagram, a lot of the same content being churned out, over-tourism in the prettiest of places, seeing the same old people on our feeds and watching a rapid decline in engagement. All this added together has turned some people against the platform completely. But it doesn’t have to be this way… Instagram was launched as a fun app, one to take photos on and play around with filters, share personal photos with friends and family. I doubt the founders ever dreamed of it becoming the commercial platform it is today.

What can we do to make it more fun and support each other?

Sprinkle likes

It’s pretty easy, you see a photo you like? Double tap and watch that little heart pop up. Likes are free, why are we so stingy with them?

Share your thoughts

Ever seen a small creator ask a question in their caption and not get a response? Respond to that person! They are reaching out, give them something back and you might make a new friend. Instagram is great for discussion.

Share what you want

Not what you think people want… Instagram becomes SO much more fun when you share new types of imagery! Not only does it freshen up the feed but it freshens the soul, we don’t all have to be the same. Who cares if it gets half the engagement? People are still liking what you put out.

Follow new people

Instagram limits the number of people we can follow, and rightly so, there is no way you would be able to keep up with over 7,500 accounts anyway! Actually, I think 7,500 is very generous! But if you are feeling uninspired, change up the people you follow.

Mute, block or unfollow

Love your friend but hate their content? You don’t have to unfollow, you don’t have to look at their content every day if it makes you feel bad either. Instagram brought in a ‘mute’ button and it’s brilliant! When you see someone on your feed and want to take a break from them, click the 3 dots on the upper right-hand side of their content and click mute, you can mute their stories too. I tend to do this to brands I want to support but not see every day (shopaholic problems…).

Curate your own feed

The Instagram feed is based on what Instagram THINKS we will like, and whilst they don’t always get it right, you have a higher chance of seeing the people you engage with regularly. Want to see someone on your feed more? Go to their account and engage with their content, send them a message and say hi! Hopefully the next time you login they will be at the top.

Turn on post notifications

How many of us miss content from our favourite Instagrammers? I definitely do, and it usually takes a while of thinking they have dropped off the face of the planet before you see them ago. Go to the profile of your favourite accounts, click on one of their photos and top the 3 dots in the top right-hand corner, click ‘turn on post notifications’ and you will be notified as soon as they post! Pretty nifty.

Use hashtags

Who stopped searching through hashtags a long time ago? People seem to be tagging their posts but not actually looking through the hashtags they use! You can find some great content in there.

Engage with others

Why sit back and wait for the world to find your photo? Isn’t everyone doing that? Seek out content you love, like and comment as a sign of appreciation. We all know the effort people put in, make them feel good about it, you might just gain a new follower or two!

 

I hope some of these tips will make Instagram a more enjoyable place for you and make it that little bit more fun! Let me know your ideas in the comments 🙂

2 Day Ligurian Coast Itinerary

Depending on where you live, travelling around Europe is pretty easy. In fact, really easy! Now I’m a proud dog mum of Baxter, I don’t like going away for too long, so more recently I have been researching places to visit that aren’t too far away. However, it’s not just distance that’s important, it’s flights too, I always look at how to maximise my time in any area, and that is how I found myself back on the Ligurian Coast.

Liguria is in the north-west of Italy, the largest town is Genoa. I have been a few times, and last year I was lucky enough to explore Genoa with the tourist board, so I knew I would love coming back!

I spent just 2 nights here, staying at the beautiful Il Leccio Luxury Resort 5 minutes from Santa Margherita. But was this enough time?

I’m not sure about the rest of Europe, but from the UK there are pretty regular flights to Genoa, so I booked myself an Easyjet flight from London Luton Airport, departing at 6:05am on Tuesday 24th September. 6:05am.. that meant a very early rise on Tuesday morning, 3:15am to be exact. I only live 25 minutes from the airport but I always get paranoid I will be held up and miss my flight, so I ended up arriving just after 4am.

Our flight was less than half full, I’m guessing this is because of the early morning time and people weren’t as willing to drag themselves out of bed before the sun had even started to make an appearance. I believe there are also flights from Stansted and Gatwick Airports, later in the day.

I booked a super early flight on purpose, it meant we landed around 9:15am (Italian time), we booked hand luggage only, we didn’t have to wait in a queue to get through passport control, and we had picked up our hire car all within 30 minutes. Ah yes, a hire car. Italy is well connected by train, however, in order to save time I decided to hire a car. This is partially because Genoa Airport does not have a train stop, I didn’t fancy wasting time getting a taxi into the city to then get a train. It was also because the hotel we were staying at was 10 minutes from Santa Margherita and again, I just didn’t fancy getting a taxi. Our car hire ended up costing £26, we paid €36 for insurance when we got there. This turned out being cheaper than getting return taxis and trains anyway, also it meant we had more flexibility.

We drove straight to Il Leccio Resort, this meant driving around the city of Genoa and along the autostrade (motorway), before turning off and driving along the coastal road, which was beautiful! There are tolls on the autostrade, it cost us €1.60 one way.

We arrived at Il Leccio Luxury Resort at around 11am. This beautiful hotel is perched on a hill overlooking the glitzy town of Santa Margherita, the gateway to Portofino! Because of its location it meant driving up a steep hill on a narrow road, around 7 hairpin bends. This didn’t bother me, although I burnt the clutch out once or twice. The road is VERY quiet so we never met a car along the way.

Il Leccio is a boutique hotel offering a quiet alternative to staying in Santa Margherita or Portofino. It is easily accessible and a great base for exploring this part of the coast. We were pretty much in the middle of Genoa and Cinque Terre. Both Santa Margherita and Portofino are well known for their high prices, Il Leccio starts at around £280 a night including breakfast, so whilst it isn’t the cheapest place, it is less daunting than spending £500 a night in Portofino itself.

My sister and I were met on arrival, quickly checked in and shown to our room which had the most beautiful view over the coastline, it had its own balcony. If we had more time it would have been a nice place to sit and chill for an afternoon!

Portofino

Our first stop of the day was Portofino. It took around 15 minutes to drive in Santa Margherita and join the narrow coast road to Portofino, we parked midway between the two towns (free parking!). We then walked the rest of the way into Portofino, you can either walk alongside the sea on the road, or you can walk around the cliff edge, both are lovely!

Portofino is a well-known destination among the ultra-rich, the harbour is full of yachts, celebrities visit every summer, and there are some beautiful hotels. However, it is opening up to the more regular members of society (like me!). You don’t need to have millions of pounds to enjoy this place.

The town is built around a small harbour of colourful buildings housing designer shops, seafood restaurants, gelato shops and souvenir shops. If you are on a time limit, you can explore the whole town fairly easily in the morning or afternoon. If you have time I would recommend having a drink on the terrace of the Belmond Splendido Hotel, this place is iconic and you can sit back and watch the boats coming in and out of the harbour. Just be warned, it is a bit of a climb!

Tip: For the best view of the harbour head up to Castello Brown, for just €5 you can head into the villa and out onto the terrace where you can enjoy a view you will never forget.

Camogli

We left Portofino around 16:30 so had enough time to drive to Camogli (around 25 mins) and enjoy golden hour here. Camogli is less known than other towns and villages along Liguria’s beautiful coastline, this is great as you are much more likely to bump into a local than a tourist, here you can enjoy a real authentic Italian experience.

We parked up near the train station and walked down to the seafront, the amenities are similar to Portofino but less glitzy, not that this is a bad thing! There are some lovely beachfront restaurants and bars, gelato shops and is home to not one, but two bays.

Tip: If you are having a weekend break in Genoa itself, Camogli is so easy to reach by train in less than an hour, make sure you enjoy a sunset meal here!

Cinque Terre

You have probably heard of Cinque Terre, it’s not surprising, for these villages are some of the most beautiful I have ever been to. The negative? Unlike 5 years ago, everyone knows about this place, and often it feels like half the world’s tourists. This place is now so popular, authorities are wanting to cut annual visitor numbers by 1 million! However, as long as you are prepared for crowds you can still enjoy it quite easily!

I would set aside a whole day to see the villages, in fact, you could probably do with a couple of days! But I have visited before and I wasn’t hugely bothered about visiting Monterosso so we ended up skipping this one, and also Corniglia.

Cinque Terre is a national park comprised of 5 colourful fishing villages. Monterosso is the largest and the place where you will find the majority of accommodation, it is also the one village that allows vehicles. It also has a small pebble beach which is lovely to relax at on a sunny day. Each of the 5 villages are commutable via a regular train service, there are just a few minutes between them, however, if you have the energy, you can hike between them!

Vernazza

Vernazza is my favourite of the villages, to me, it has the most character and the nicest viewpoint. You may well have seen this place on Instagram, including the gravelly lookout adorned by many in nice dresses. I would just like to point out that this has now been fenced off, and to access it from the village you must go past a ‘checkpoint’, it is free to go past if you have a Cinque Terre national park pass (we bought one with our train ticket), if you don’t have one, it is €7 to go past. You also must be wearing suitable footwear! They do check… If you are an idiot like me you can climb through part of the fence, walk along a narrow wall (with a drop on one side) and get to the viewpoint. I wouldn’t recommend this though unless you want to risk falling down a rocky cliff face, I accidentally flashed my pants to a bunch of French and German tourists, my nip popped out and I lost my ponytail. You can see the view just as well from behind the safety barrier (I am aware I am being a hypocrite on this one but it would be stupid of me to encourage the scramble).

Tip: For a different perspective of the village, walk up into the village and past the train station, there is a pathway on the right signposted to Corniglia. After a short climb, you will find a stunning view.

Manarola

Manarola is probably the most photographed of all the villages and it is my second favourite after Vernazza. The way the pink houses cascade down the cliff face is incredible. Make your way down to the waterfront where you will see locals diving into the sea!

Tip: Walk up to Nessun Dorma, a restaurant overlooking the whole village. Not only can you treat yourself to a frozen pina colada, but the food is really well priced too. At popular times you may have to wait for a seat, but it is worth it.

Riomaggiore

Riomaggiore is my sister’s favourite village, it is brighter than all the rest. I do think this is the prettiest one when viewed from the sea! The waterfront is my favourite, this is where I got my ice cream! The village dates back to the 13th century and produces its own wine. The main street, Via Colombo, is where you can find restaurants and small souvenir shops.

Tip: Take a ferry into Riomaggiore and drink in the view.

Using the train

To get the train into Cinque Terre from Santa Margherita is simple, there are direct trains (you need to take the train south towards La Spezia) and they stop in each of the villages. To get to the first village (Monterosso) you are looking at a journey of just under an hour and a half, it goes quickly though, the views are gorgeous! Train tickets cost us €4.60 each way which is a bargain compared to the UK train system, however, we would suggest getting Cinque Terre park passes which cost around €16. This means you will have the option of walking the trails and not having to pay when you are there.

Train staff are really helpful, not all trains to La Spezia will stop at the villages so please check when you are buying your ticket. Sometimes you need to go direct to La Spezia and change where you can go back north into the villages, this doesn’t take too long. Travelling home the trains back to Genoa (our direction) were only every hour so it is worth keeping a timetable on you so you aren’t hanging around, my sister and I missed the train by around 2 minutes as we hadn’t checked. You don’t need to go all the way to Genoa, Santa Margherita is a few stops before.

Tip: Make sure you check each station when you arrive, there were no announcements whilst we were on the train and we almost forgot to get off the train. I tend to get google maps up on my phone (if you live in Europe your data should be included in Italy) and see where I am. The trains stop at each station for a few minutes so you have time to get off even when you don’t realise at first that it is your stop.

Coming home

So, after a fleeting couple of days in my favourite country ever, it was time to go home. There were a few flight options back that day, however, it was easiest for my sister and I to go back to Luton. Our flight was at 10:05, so not quite as early as flying out. This suited us as Ellie wanted to get back to pick her daughter up from school and I wanted to get back to pick Baxter up. I prefer earlier flights when coming home as I always think the day is wasted, you tend to hang around waiting to leave for your flight as you become paranoid if you do too much you will be held up and miss it… that’s if you’re me anyway!

We left our hotel at around 7:15am, my worry was we would hit rush hour traffic. Due to the bridge collapse in Genoa a few years ago, more traffic is now diverted through the city. However, we didn’t have an issue with traffic at all other than a 5-minute hold up because someone broke down. We took a couple of wrong turns but made it to the airport by 8:30am (originally it was going to be 8:10am, but like I said, we aren’t the best navigators…).

Part of the agreement with the car rental company is that we had to fill up the petrol tank, conveniently there is a petrol station right by the entrance to the car rental car park so I popped in and filled up. It cost me €19, I thought this was pretty good considering the number of hills we went up!

Security at the airport was pretty busy and I did have a few panics in the queue. We didn’t have time to sit down at breakfast but we did make our flight! We were back at Luton and out of the airport within 2 and a half hours, pretty good if you ask me. We saved a bunch of time (and money) by using hand luggage only.

All in all, we loved our trip! Would I go back to Liguria again? Of course I would, it’s my favourite region. However, I have done Cinque Terre 3 times now and I think that’s it for me, I don’t want to ruin it for myself, so now I will have a look at some other places to visit!

Travelling on a Budget

I am frequently asked how I afford to travel so regularly, and the truth is, it’s all I spend my money on really (except my nails…). I have been obsessed with travel for as long as I could remember, way back when I went into the travel agent with my mum and we booked a holiday to Disney World. I was 9 at the time. It was at that point I decided I wanted to BE a travel agent, and then my ambitions led me to the dream of building my own tropical eco hotel. Of course, the latter idea never came to fruition (one day maybe?), but I did become a travel agent. Well, a ‘Personal Travel Expert’ for a luxury tour operator based in the UK.

I have learnt a lot along the way, the best ways to save money, and how to travel within my budget and not miss out on what I want.

Consider Working Within the Travel Industry

If you are really serious about wanting to travel regularly, I would recommend working within travel. Not only do you receive some very good staff perks (flight vouchers, hotel discounts, free nights), but you can often be the first to find out about specific deals. If you work for a tour operator or agent you will often find yourself being sent on ‘fam trips’ – these are familiarisation trips where you get to visit hotels and destinations so you can sell them better. Whilst I was working as a PTE I went to Antigua and Mexico, staying in 5* hotels at no expense to myself, it was fab!

Travel Off-Peak

So many people make the mistake of thinking you can’t travel to a destination at certain times of the year. For the last ten years, Alex and I have been visiting countries ‘off-peak’. This is often when there is more rain, humidity, or it could be really cold! However, so far we have never had our holidays ruined by the weather.

By travelling in the rainy season we often save 50-70% on accommodation, we once went on a 6 week trip through South-East Asia, paying just £1,500 (including flights), in nice hotels too! We saw lots of nice weather along the way too, often these tropical destinations see plenty of sun through the showers.

For those who are very weather reliant on their travels, it is worth considering travelling in the shoulder season, rather than completely off-peak. This is when the seasons are shifting so you will get plenty of good weather too. Not only can you save around 30% on accommodation, but destinations are also much quieter so you can enjoy yourself more!

Join a Hotel Rewards Programme

Whilst in Kuala Lumpur, Alex and I managed to enjoy 5 nights at the 5* Aloft Hotel for free, thanks to his SPG points. There are many hotel chains that come under the same conglomerate and you can collect points for each night you stay! Not just that, many hotels will offer rewards if you don’t ask for your towels and linen to be washed every night, these can all add up to a good amount of points. Make sure to stick to the same points system when you travel, the points will go further.

Get a Debit/Credit Card with no Internation Fees

There are so many cards out there which will not charge you fees when you use your card abroad. If you travel regularly these can save you so much money! Some will charge a small fee annually or monthly, and some are completely free of charge. Please click here to read an article by money.co.uk comparing your different options.

Fly Indirect

No, you don’t have to fly via 3 different cities before reaching your final destination, but by adding one stopover you can save over £100 on flights!

Use Price Comparison Websites

If you know exactly where you want to fly and who flies there, it can be tempting to search for flights directly through an airlines website. However, you can save a lot of money by using websites such as Skyscanner or Kayak which will show you all your different options and airlines and which is the cheapest.

It’s not just flights you can save on, you can compare prices of hotels and car hire too! My go-to hotel price comparison website is hotelscombined.com.

Fly on a Week Day

From my experience working in travel, flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursday tend to be cheaper. I could go into the technicalities behind flight pricing, but to put it in simple terms, the flights with the least seats booked will always be cheaper. Flying on Fridays and weekends are always more popular!

Keep Up on Social Media

In the last year or so I have found great sale prices for hotels and flights, through their social media accounts! Many hotels will offer flash sales and these are a great time to book. Alex and I are off to Thailand this week and our first hotel was offering 60% off on the weekend we booked it, this saved us over £400 on a four-night stay! We wouldn’t have known about this offer had I not been following the hotel on Instagram.

Use Airbnb

There have been times I have trawled through price comparison websites and still not been able to afford a single thing on there! On these occasions, I have always found great accommodation through Airbnb for way cheaper than any of the hotels, and often in a better location too!

If you want to receive £25 off your first stay, you can sign up using my link here.

Use Your Legs Instead of a Taxi

Not only is walking great for your physical and mental wellbeing, but it’s also free! It can be so tempting to take a quick taxi journey across town, but not only does this cost money, you miss out on so much. Walk instead and see what you find.

Eat Locally

There are many cities across the world that have tourist hot spots in each area. Restaurant prices are far higher in neighbourhoods popular with tourists, why not get to know the more local areas and eat there instead? Your wallet will be much happier for it.

Don’t Buy Currency at the Airport

Just don’t do it! The rates are awful. If you get to the airport and realise you have forgotten to buy foreign currency, wait until you reach your destination and just head for the nearest ATM machine. If the ATM gives you an option to have the money converted by the machine or your bank, always choose your bank!

 

6 Epic Houses for Sale in the Cotswolds

Maugersbury

If I had to draw my dream home on paper I am pretty sure it would be this. Located just a few miles from Stow on the Wold, this 7 bedroom home offers sweeping views across rolling green hills. Grade II listed yet recently renovated, I really question why anyone would want to leave these walls, I would even be happy just living in the 2 bedroom annexe!

Neston

Located right on the edge of the Cotswolds, close to the honey-coloured town of Corsham, this 6 bedroom house could be yours for a cool £2.6 million. The traditional farmhouse is surrounded by almost 12 acres of your own land and even comes with an indoor swimming pool and all-weather tennis courts.

Stanton

Stanton is one of my favourite Cotswold villages and this house offers a more modern twist on a traditional country home. You will need a good pair of green fingers to keep up with this landscaped garden if you want to keep it in tip-top shape! My favourite part of this house is the new orangery that floods the property with light.

Chedworth

Well if there was ever a house that made me want to go buy a lottery ticket, this is it. Set amongst immaculate grounds with a stone annexe, stables and paddocks, Salters Barn is the perfect example of a beautifully refurbished barn.

Sandford St. Martin

Have you ever wondered who actually needs a 7 bedroom home? Me too. But really, there are people out there with a lot of kids, so maybe this one is for them! This home has 16th-century origins, it was further extended in the 18th century, so it might come with a spooky story or two… I think that’s a sacrifice most would be willing to make in order to live in a home with a bespoke handmade kitchen, a master bedroom with its own dressing room, a spare cottage, outdoor heated pool and a hot tub. Did I mention the gym, sauna and steam room?!

Woodstock

Home to Blenheim Palace, Woodstock is an easy commute to Oxford and it’s on the edge of the stunning Cotswolds so there is no surprise there are people queueing up to live here. Little Manor (although there is nothing little about it), is in a village just outside of Woodstock, and with 7 bedrooms you can sleep in a different room every night of the week, and this isn’t even the main selling point!

This family home offers over 10,000 sq foot of living space, 9 acres of gardens, a swimming pool, paddocks, and even converted stables.