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Monthly Archives: August 2016

Top 7 Ice Cream Shops in Seville

The original – Helados Rayas

A long-standing heladeria institution in Seville, founded in 1980, Helados Rayas closes down for the colder months – brave the queue from spring to early autumn, and you’ll be rewarded with cream and pine-nuts, dulche de leche and tocino del cielo (crème caramel). Two locations – in Reyes Catolicos near the main shopping area, and close to the contemporary architecture attraction Metropol Parasol and its mushroom-like shades known as the Setas.

Freskura for the boho scene

Catering to the hip Alameda crowd, Freskura offers favourites including pistachio, chocolate (also available lactose-free) and cremino (mascarpone, hazelnut and cacao); in summer fruit concoctions stretch to passion fruit and pear, while home-made ice lollies in lemon, strawberry and orange will quench your thirst. Take a seat on a bench outside to absorb the vibrant atmosphere.

Coming up (ice-cream) roses at Amorino

With the highest prices of the city’s heladerias, Amorino, the renowned Italian-owned chain (three branches, one built into the old city wall), needs to prove its quality – no problem there. Feast on delicate lime and basil, nocciola (hazelnut), or tangy Sicilian citrus. The pretty gelato rose, with ‘petals’ in different flavours, is a visual and gustatory delight. Opposite the cathedral, you can rest weary feet thanks to ample seating.

Porto Bello on the boulevard

A newcomer on the scene, Porto Bello has around 30 flavours, as well as smoothies and sundaes. Tastes worth sampling include the delectable house combination of mascarpone, caramel and fig, as well as boozy Malaga – cream, vino dulce (sweet Malaga wine) and raisins. Mojito and Sicilian lemon are among the lactose-free options. A big advantage here is the outside terrace with tables on the lively Alameda avenue – perfect for people-watching.

Elhada – market buzz in the Macarena

In a stall on the outside edge of lively Mercado de la Feria, the city’s oldest market, Elhada is probably the city’s smallest heladeria. Speak with Marieta behind the counter to try tastebud-challenging flavours such as black beer, Chinese five-spice, and curry; take her advice and try the latter (coconut-y and mild) together with chocolate and mango – a surprisingly successful combo. She has dairy-free passion fruit, lemon, mango sorbets, plus bitter (Seville) orange in spring. Four outside tables look onto the magnificent 15th-century mudejar Palacio de los Duqueses de Algaba.

Go organic with Puro e Bio

The trendy interior of Puro e Bio, with its mismatched coloured wooden stools and packing-case shelves on the riverfront Paseo de Colon, is complemented by organic ice-creams with unconventional flavours like spicy ginger and cinnamon – one of the vegan options, along with coconut, pistachio and chocolate – as well as classic sweet-tooth favourite dulce de leche (caramel) and almond crunch. Indulge in an ice-cream sandwich using homemade cookies.

Taste the city’s Moorish past at Bolas

Bolas boasts three plum locations in Seville – Calle Castilla by Triana market, next to central Plaza Salvador, and Puerta de la Carne in Santa Cruz. Flavours here range from the quintessentially Spanish (goat’s cheese and quince jam, cream cheese with figs in PX sherry) to international favourites like salted caramel (surprisingly few places offer this), along with no less than six chocolate varieties, including lactose-free and cherries in brandy. You can also taste a nod to history with Sevilla Mora (Moorish Seville – walnut, raisin, orange and cinnamon) and Medina (orange, ginger and cinnamon).

7 Best Spot to See Sunset in Dubrovnik

 Bird’s-eye views from Mt Srđ

Towering 418 metres directly above Dubrovnik’s Old Town, Mt Srđ is perhaps an obvious choice, but the views certainly deliver, stretching all the way across the Adriatic Sea to Italy on clear days. A four-minutecable-car ride, a short twisting drive or a brisk 45-minute hike up a serpentine path brings you to the top of the hill. As the sun begins to set, walk past the Napoleonic fortress to the barren karst plateau, where views of the Elafiti Islands bathing in a pink haze redefine infinity. Then toast the Old Town’s glowing terracotta roofs with a glass of local wine at Panorama restaurant by the cable-car station.

Picture-perfect views of the Old Town from St Jacob’s beach

This west-facing beach boasts full-frontal views of Dubrovnik’s Old Town from its vantage point a couple of kilometres to the east. The pebbles of St Jacob’s (Sveti Jakov) beach sit precisely 163 stairs beneath road level, so for a more serene and stylish arrival, inquire about boat transfers with any of the vendors at the Old Town harbour. The low-key beach restaurant makes St Jacob’s beach a great option for a full day of sunbathing followed by a million-dollar sunset view.

Paddle off into the sunset

If you’re looking for an active way to enjoy the Dubrovnik sunset, kayaking pioneers Adventure Dalmatia have the answer. Their three-hour sunset kayaking tours set out from the small bay below Fort Lawrence (Lovrijenac) and paddle beneath the monumental City Walls towards mystical Lokrum Island, stopping off at the striking Betina Cave beach for a snorkel on the way. The trip includes snacks and a glass of local wine to toast the sunset, and you’ll definitely feel like you earned it.

An evening stroll round the City Walls

Although Dubrovnik’s famous medieval City Walls generally close before sunset (with last entrance at 7.30pm in high summer and 3pm in winter), smart visitors come towards the end of the day when day-trippers have departed and the midday heat has begun to subside. Swallows rise for their last swirl of the day, dotting the Old Town’s red roofs with the hypnotic synchronicity of their flight. Start the two-kilometre anticlockwise walk around the walls at the Ploče Gate entrance to get the steepest climbs out of the way first and finish your visit with the best views out over the sea.

A drink and a dip at a hole-in-the-wall bar

Part of the adventure of drinking at Dubrovnik’s buža bars (literally ‘hole-in-the-wall’ bars) is finding them. After passing through Bošković square, you hit the City Walls and decide whether to turn left along the walls towards swanky Bard or right for the more rustic Buža. Either way, you’ll pass through a hole in the wall and emerge at a perfect sunset drinks venue perched on the rocks above the waves. Don’t forget to bring your swimwear if you want to take a refreshing dip from the rocks.

Sunset cruise aboard a three-masted ship

What could make you feel more like a VIP than sailing into the sunset holding a glass of champagne? It couldn’t hurt to do so aboard a ship that actually starred in hit TV-series Game of Thrones – the Karaka (karaka.info), a faithful replica of a 16th-century merchant ship. The 2.5 hour cruise includes a buffet dinner served at dusk. The route circles around the island of Lokrum and gives great views of the City Walls, all dreamy in the twilight. Departure times from the Old Town harbour vary according to sundown times, so double-check when booking.

Classy cocktails with a panoramic sea view

The Sunset Lounge bar at the Dubrovnik Palace hotel at the southwestern tip of the Lapad peninsula justifies its name in one swift glance. Enormous panoramic windows reveal a blissful backdrop: a vast expanse of deep blue sea, punctuated by the tiny lighthouse on Grebeni Island in the foreground and the Elafiti Islands on the horizon. To enjoy Mediterranean cuisine with your uninterrupted views, head down to the hotel’s Taverna Maslina restaurant. If you decide you’d like to stay, all rooms here come with a sea view. Otherwise, bus number 4 runs between the hotel and the Old Town until shortly before midnight.

Exploring Yekaterinburg

 City life

Although Yekaterinburg is spread out, most of the highlights are located in the historic centre. English-language guided walking tours aren’t mainstream yet, but in 2010 local blogger Dmitry Kalaev asked his followers to vote for Yekaterinburg’s most interesting sites, which resulted in the development of a 6.5km Red Line trail (ekbredline.ru) in 2011.

Starting at Ploshchad 1905 Goda, the main square in town, the walking route passes by 35 attractions as voted by thousands of residents, including beautiful old merchant houses, Russian Orthodox churches (Church upon the Blood is the city’s biggest cathedral, built on theRomanov death site), the first school, the first theatre, the oldest house, the peculiar QWERTY monument, street art, museums and more.

Yekaterinburg’s latest museum isn’t on the route but if voting were to happen again, residents may advocate it be included. Opened in 2015, the Boris Yeltsin Museum (yeltsin.ru) is part of the swish Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center, with quite the impressive (and somewhat unusual) collection of exhibits. There are replica rooms, video clips, sound and lighting effects and plenty of immersive displays spread out across nine rooms. If learning about Russia’s first president isn’t high on your list, head to Russia’s tallest skyscraper outside Moscow for a different perspective. The 188m-tall Vysotsky Tower has unrivalled city views from the 54th floor, and sunsets from here on a clear day are very Instagramable.

Sightseeing will, no doubt, whet your appetite and there’s plenty on offer in the culinary stakes. Russian favourites – such as borsch (beetroot soup) and pelmeni (ravioli dumplings) – are easy to find, with ample restaurants offering a Ural take on the well-loved dishes (try reindeer meat). Pozharka and Dacha are both good restaurant choices. International cuisine is popular too, with everything from Japanese and Chinese to Uzbek and Georgian easy to find.

The Russian banya

One of the top things to do in Yekaterinburg – and all of Russia, actually – is get piping hot, then get whipped and drenched in cold water (or better still, roll around in the snow). Welcome to the Russianbanya!

No bathhouse experience is as talked about as the Russian bath. If you can swing it, your best bet is to get yourself an invite to a resident’sbanya, as there’s nothing quite like the real deal. Your second best option is to book a banya session at one of the many complexes around town, where experiences range from simple home-style bathing practices to out-of-this-world extravaganzas.

Ruskie Bani (bani66.ru) was one of the first public banyas to open in Yekaterinburg in 2002. Here guests can choose to relax in traditional-style wooden banyas or splurge in contemporary fit-outs with fancy showers and Jacuzzis. Pelmeni and other Russian food can be ordered, and staff members are on hand to offer a variety of treatments including massages, steaming sessions, herbal-infusion soakings and… beatings. Visitors can choose from birch, oak, juniper, eucalyptus or fir brooms for the only-in-Russia experience.

Chapaevskiye Bani (m.chapaev-bani.ru) offers a slightly more luxurious option, and guests can stay at the Palais Royal next door if they want a multi-day banya indulgence.

Out of town

Yekaterinburg is perhaps most famous for the Romanov family tragedy. On 16 July 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, their five children and four of their employees were assassinated by Bolshevik troops in the Ipatyev house basement, where the Church upon the Blood now stands. The cremated remains were discarded in a mine pit about 15km out of town, the site now known as Ganina Yama. Today there’s a monastery made up of seven wooden chapels (one in honour of each of the murdered family members) on the site, called Monastery of the Holy Martyrs – a somber reminder of the devastation that took place a century ago.

For something a little less morose, day trips to national parks offer visitors the chance to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Olenyi Ruchyi (Deer Springs; olen.ur.ru), about 90-minutes’ drive from Yekaterinburg, has some fantastic hiking trails that traverse birch forest and lichen-steeped caves. Bachovskie Mesta (бм-парк.рф), less than an hour’s drive from the city centre, is a scenic vastness of pine and birch grove forests, meandering rivers and small calm lakes. Russians come here to hike, horse ride, cycle and drive snowmobiles in winter.

There are plenty of other nature parks nearby, too – after all, Yekaterinburg is located in the heart of the lustrous Ural Mountains. You just need a sense of adventure and a Russian dictionary or a guide, as beyond the main cities (and often even in cities) Russian is the only language spoken. Of course, if you’re travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway you’ll no doubt get some Russian language practice anyway – whether you want to or not.

Catalonia’s Foodie Tour

 While Barcelona is the most-visited part of Catalonia, there is so much more to explore just a little further north. A week would be ideal to explore the broad variety of landscapes, some of which are well away from the tourist trail. Having your own vehicle would be handy – but however you get around and wherever you end up, you’re bound to come across mouthwatering cuisine.

La Garrotxa

Tucked away in the foothills of the Pyrenees is the Parc Natural de la Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa, which boasts over 35 extinct volcanoes, mostly covered with vegetation. The most impressive is Volcá del Croscat (786m), which is the youngest volcano in the Iberian peninsula and has an exposed area down one side that was quarried until the 1990s. After a steep ascent of nearby Volcá de Santa Margarida (682m), you can stand in its grassy crater and admire the chapel at the base, Ermita de Santa Margarida.

Where to eat

This region of Catalonia, known as La Garrotxa, is famed for its uniquecuina volcànica (specialities from the fertile volcanic soil, including bens, potatoes, buckwheat, snails and truffles). Restaurants with this specific designation (founded in 1994) are guaranteed to have traditional ingredients that are sourced locally and used in dishes with a modern twist.

Les Cols is housed in a masia (Catalan farmhouse) on the outskirts of Olot, with twice Michelin-starred Fina Pulgdevall at the helm. Her culinary interpretations of the beauty of the region, such as the slow-cooked lamb shoulder with peach and fennel, are all the more special for being served in a futuristic, shimmering gold dining room.

La Deu is just a stroll from Hotel Can Blanc (see below) and dates back to the 19th century. If you’re lucky, the (limited edition) volcanic beer may be on the drinks menu, but your cuina volcànica experience will be sublime either way. Try a perfectly cooked slab of cod with crispy bacon (meat and seafood are frequent partners in Catalan cuisine), followed by a fajol (buckwheat) cake with ratafia (herbal liqueur made from macerated green nuts) ice cream.

Where to stay

Hotel Can Blanc in Olot has adorable medieval-style rooms (some with spiral staircases leading to attic bedrooms), a traditional buffet breakfast (do rub raw garlic on your toast, mush on some tomatoes, add a sprinkle of salt, and drizzle the excellent olive oil over the top) and also offers bicycle hire.

Hotel La Perla D’Olot has simple but spacious rooms and very friendly, English-speaking staff. The restaurant offers great-value meals and there are also self-catering apartments.

Santa Pau and Besalú

You’re still in cuina volcànica territory in these medieval villages, with Santa Pau particularly famous for its fesols (white beans). If you want to work off a big meal, you can hike between the two, following the relatively straightforward path along the Gran Recorrido-2 (GR-2) route down through the peaceful Ser River valley. The tranquillity of the rolling hills punctuated by the occasional farm or horse stables en route has its own charm.

Where to eat

Can Xel (canxel.com) in Santa Pau is one of the founding members of the cuina volcànica group. Try a hearty dish of Catalan sausage withfesols, followed by truffle ice cream with mascarpone.

Curia Reial in Besalú is in a picturesque spot for more magnificentcuina volcànica. Enjoy views of Pont Fortificat from the flower-lined terrace of a historic building while devouring delicately presented dishes.

Gelatiamo (gelatiamo.eu) is an artisanal ice cream chain in Spain. Pick up a scoop or two of the crema catalana from the Besalú branch while strolling the village’s maze of romantic cobbled streets.

Where to stay

Apartments Can Xel (part of Can Xel restaurant) in Santa Pau has four self-contained apartments and also offers free guided walks of the Garrotxa region to guests.

Casa Marcial in Besalú is an upmarket, stylishly designed hotel in a central location. The nearby Church of Sant Vicenç’s bells can ring all night, so take ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper.

Essential foodie excursions

El Celler de Can Roca in Girona has been voted the World’s Best Restaurant more than once. Book many, many months in advance. Aside from the legacy of Ferran Adrià of elBulli fame, it’s El Celler’s Roca brothers who have put Catalonia on the global gastronomic map.

Rocambolesc, a dessert emporium created by Jordi Roca, is a must-stop for ice cream lovers, and an easier way to access a little of that Roca magic just a seven-minute drive southeast of El Celler de Can Roca.