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Flashback Friday | What we wore in Paris

An entire year (it feels like yesterday!) has passed since sauntering the streets of beautiful Paris and sipping on sangria in Madrid. We often find ourselves reminiscing about the vivid memories we have of both cities, and how we wish we could relive the incredible moments we experienced. 

Being a ‘girl’s holiday’ meant planning our outfits for the trip was a full- time task; it consisted of daily back-and-forth whatsapp messages, email lists, wardrobe capsule plans, a few (okay, many) shopping excursions and several discussions around every possible scenario we may encounter and how we could ensure we looked semi-decent and not-so-tourist-like in the style capital of the world!

It’s common knowledge that Parisian women know the true meaning of effortless style; it was incredibly daunting for us newbie bloggers – planning to showcase the entire trip on our new blog – to ensure that we managed to look somewhat chic throughout the trip. We will admit: it definitely resulted in over-packed luggage for both of us.

Without going into too much detail, we aimed at making sure that we were dressed appropriately for each occasion of our holiday; whether it was climbing the Eiffel Tower, sipping red wine in a Parisian bar or enjoying some casual tapas on the bustling streets of Madrid.

Prior to leaving for our trip, we posted an article on what we would be packing for our trip and – with a year to prepare ourselves for this moment – we have created a photo flash back of what we actually ended up wearing. We posed during some cringe-worthy moments of taking these ‘style’ pics (on that note: how do style bloggers do it all the time?!) in the hope that one day we may end up posting these pics on the blog…

No – we are not fashionistas, but we did have a ball playing real life ‘barbies’ on this trip – we loved paying attention to each outfit and considering the overall look we were trying to achieve. Travelling with our better partners has never let us indulge in make-up, hair and outfit trying on sessions to this extent!

So without further ado – our look-book from the streets of Paris – we would love to know what you think: love the post, or “ladies, don’t go here again!”?

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Paris Highlights: Vol II

There is always a risk, I think, in returning to a place you loved so much the first time: the risk that perhaps you remembered things too favourably, or upon one’s return the clichés of the place seem true. It is with utmost certainty, however, that I can say my second time in Paris resulted in an even deeper love for the city.

Ilaria blogged about her highlights a few of weeks ago -and how she fell for the city of lights. Now it is my turn to share my highlights of our four days in Paris:

Our Walking Tours

Officially, we did two walking tours: The Taste of the Marais, and the free Paris highlights tour led by Sandeman. I have a growing appreciation for walking tours – I find it fascinating to hear bits and pieces of information (whether it be history, food or random facts of knowledge-related) whilst walking past historic structures or significant places.

We arranged a food tour for the day we arrived, which turned out to be one of our best decisions of the holiday. I doubt there is a better way to appreciate French culture than eating it; we savoured the most wonderful cheeses, terrines, rillettes, charcuterie and baguettes on our tour of Le Marias. Each shop was filled with its own character, talkative owners and specialties; a reminder to me to continue in the quest for finding those specialty shops that exist here in Jo’burg.

After two hours of collecting our delights, we were led into a small wine shop for our tasting. The wine shop, a specialist in box wine, may have caused my inner (and sometimes, very outer) wine snob to cringe initially but Bibovino is about creating good-quality, drinking wine that doesn’t spoil (like opening a bottle would do). This idea is actually exceptionally clever and one I hope adopted by our own wine industry.

The tour ended at the Jacques Genin chocolate shop, where we tasted delectable truffles, caramels and pates de fruits. And while I enjoyed the sweet ending, it was the cheese that was my favourite part of the tour – we tasted cow, sheep, goat varietals from very young to very-aged. Our guide was a young Irish girl, Clare, who expertly took us through the tasting notes of each cheese and gave us a bit more insight into the cheese industry. In case you weren’t aware, the French take their cheese very seriously!

The sunny afternoon gave way to a gentle evening light as we wandered the quaint streets of the area, before spotting a low, red door: the entrance to a cute cocktail bar called the “Little Red Door”. We ended our first evening in Paris with a couple of cocktails, a few laughs and toast to the trip ahead. It was the perfect reunion with Paris.

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Grand Boulevards (8th Arrondisment) and Our Hotel

You may have read my disappointment about the serviced apartment I stayed at in Sydney last year, and thankfully I managed to pick a winning hotel for this trip. Being slightly OCD in selecting a hotel (preferably no carpets being one of the requirements) I have managed to develop a “talent” for choosing the right hotel, for the right price. This time, however I outdid even my expectations!

The Madeline La Roblin – located in the heart of the 8th arrondisemont – was the perfect base for our Paris leg of the trip. Our room was surprisingly spacious – Parisian hotel rooms are notoriously cramped – clean, and very comfortable. I don’t know how else to describe 165 euros a night for 4 star accommodation as anything else but a bargain. Every time we returned to the hotel (despite getting lost more than a couple of times), I felt a massive sense of respite from the hustle and bustle of our days and could not wait to rest my head – and feet – on the soft bed.

The area was an experience in itself; surrounded by every high-end boutique imaginable, wide boulevards and beautiful arcades – it was the quintessential experience of Paris. We were close enough to walk to the famous Printemps department store, right by a metro station (these smelly beasts will become your best friend in the city) and while we could scarcely afford more than a cup of coffee from the cafes around the hotel, the location was an absolute dream making every part of Paris accessible to us.

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Laduree Afternoon Tea

My love for desserts extends to sweet nibbles like macaroons and I have yet to try one better than the Laduree version. What I had not done on my previous trip was visit one of the tea rooms, thus I made sure this was included on our to-do list.

Paris – being the sprawling city it is resulted in us continually running out of time to get through to all the things we had wanted to do. Thankfully, on our last day Ilaria insisted we had to visit the tea house – and given our walking tour of Paris had taken place in a sharp, cold wind this was the ideal way to end our afternoon.

The décor of the tearoom elicits a sense of opulence – gilded walls, silver teapots, embellished crockery – I almost felt as if my sparkly Supergas were out of place against the traditional elements of the room.

With the help of our excellent (and very friendly) waiter I experienced the most delicious tea I have ever tasted in my life.  The Marie Antoinette blend is described as a “delicious black tea mixed with essential oils of subtle citrus fruit, rose and jasmine flowers flavor, scattered with small pieces of dried fruit and honey” . It was the flawless accompaniment to the macaroon and other citrus meringue dessert we ordered. We relished each moment of that afternoon. Yes, London, New York and Dubai have Laudree too but there is nothing quite like visiting the tea room in the city it is famous for!

As a memento, we both purchased a box of the Marie Antoinette tea to bring home. I have not yet opened the box – I guess I am waiting for the right opportunity to relieve the tea experience (and to find a beautiful teapot the tea demands).

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Four days in Paris went by too quickly – after two visits there are things I still want to see, do and experience. I feel this dull ache every time I think of Paris: the light green of the spring leaves, the cobbled streets and narrow lanes across the city, the confident style of the Parisian woman who I so admire; the list of all the things my eyes devoured in Paris is endless.  

As Henry Miller said: “When Spring comes to Paris the humblest moral alive must feel that he dwells in paradise”.

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Paris Highlights Vol. 1

Trying to convey the immense number of thoughts and experiences of our trip into one single blog post is close to impossible. We also did not want to flood the blog with a million trip posts, so we thought the best way around this would be for us each to write a personal highlights piece for each of the cities we visited, in seperate blog posts over some time.

First up are Ilaria’s highlights of Paris; we hope you enjoy reading this as much as we have enjoyed looking back on our holiday!

The Streets of Paris

This was my first time visiting Paris and, if you hadn’t picked it up yet, I have never been so excited. That said, I didn’t quite know what to expect – my only thought was that it was bound to be like most other European cities. I WAS WRONG. To me, Paris is unlike any other city I have been to – an amalgamation of beauty, history, allure, people, style, cuisine and mystery all rolled into one. It is so difficult to articulate exactly how I felt about it, but I will start by highlighting one of my favorite parts of the trip – walking the streets of this magical city.

We left the airport on the metro, and the first time we stepped foot onto the road was coming up the famous metro stairs. We were welcomed with the most beautiful crisp morning, blue skies and tranquil early morning streets. It literally took my breath away – this continued with every step we took over the next four days – and boy did we walk! According to Sam’s clever app, we averaged around 10km per day which really allowed us to see so many different parts of the city.

Paris is rare in the fact that it is designed in a spiral form as opposed to a grid, and each distinct area or “arrondissement” is unique with its own characteristics. From the magnificent Grand Boulevards around the city centre, to the tiny cobbled streets in the beautiful St Germain and Montmarte, the luxurious parks around the city and the picturesque banks of the River Seine – wondering around them was my absolute best. I even managed to squeeze in a walk in the rain with my umbrella while Sam caught a nap – the experience was magical.

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This specific picture was the moment that I realized that Paris had stolen my heart – we had just left a late night cabaret show, and were waiting to catch a taxi back to the hotel – it was around 1:30am; the streets were empty, the Eiffel Tower was perfectly lit, and the iconic lamp posts were standing proud. This is one of my favorite photos because, for me, it was a moment in time that I appreciated that Paris was now a love of mine. I will treasure that moment forever.

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The Eiffel Tower

Yes, it may be the most “touristy” thing to do in this iconic city, BUT it was something that was on my non-negotiable list and it was worth every second. Seeing this structure in pictures cannot ever capture what it is really like seeing it in real life – I was completely overwhelmed by its magnificence.

They say the French hated the structure because its industrial character sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the classically historical buildings around it, but for me, it seems like it just cements the idea of taking big risks. The impressive Eiffel Tower is proof that they really do pay off! (Even more impressive knowing it was built in the late 1800’s)

Being in Paris in Spring meant that the queues were a little less hectic than in the summer months. There were however still hundreds of tourists waiting to get up so we decided to take the stairs up to the second level. We really took time to take it all in – the views, the structure, the air, the 1000 attempted selfies, the look-see’s through the famous brass telescopes and even the gorgeous tourist shop. As amazing as it was to be up there on the second level, we kept noticing the lift going up to the top and we both became adamant about getting up there.

I definitely had a small massive freak out in the lift all the way up to the 300m meter mark, but once we were there it was spectacular! The weather played so well – the sky was a mix of light and dark shades of grey, while the sun peaked out from time to time, gently lighting up the golden rooftops in the city.  It was so spectacular that we thought a EUR14 flute of champagne was a good idea – and in hindsight it really was. We do only live once, and it was the cherry on top to the most perfect experience. A must do! #cheerstogustaveeiffel

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Le Crazy Horse

I’m definitely not the travel organiser in the Sam/Ilaria friendship; Sam is far too good at it 🙂 I did however do a little bit of research on a few things I wanted to do – one that stood out for me was to go to a Cabaret Show. I mean, when in Paris!!

Sam had mentioned to me that the previous time she visited Paris, they had gone to the Moulin Rouge but she wasn’t that impressed – so I dug a little further and found, what I now consider to be an absolute gem, Le Crazy Horse.

Le Crazy Horse – popularly known as Le Crazy – was founded in Paris in 1951 by Alain Bernardin, an avant-garde artist and insatiable admirer of women. The idea that drove him like an obsession was to build his cabaret around women and design. He gradually developed a genuinely distinctive artistic form featuring dancers with perfect curvaceous bodies – clad mainly in projections – and the latest musical and fashion influences

This is such a great description of what we experienced at this late night show. After sprinting through the metro turnstills and finally getting to the address (sweaty, flushed and anxious at the thought of missing the show) we were greeted by doormen dressed in tuxedos, who took us through the alluring dim red entrance which then lead onto an intimate theatre filled with small tables and luxurious red velvet booths. It felt like we were transported to another world – a world of glamour, taboo, beauty, mystery, music, fashion, art and irresistible charm. All the words I now associate with the city.

The show was about 2 hours long, and was made up of a few different “scenes” of cabaret – all directed and choreographed by different people – thus creating a completely varied  mixture of creative displays with the use of lights, sound, music and visual effects. Something so different to anything I have ever seen before. To top things off, the little clothing that the performers were wearing, were designed by the best of the best; including  shoes by Christian Louboutin. (unfortunately photos were not allowed during the show)

The likes of Elvis Presley, Liza Minnelli and Dita Von Teese are amongst some of the names that have visited this famous venue.

For me, this was one of the best things I have ever done – at a steep EUR85 per ticket, it was money well spent and something that I would recommend to anyone visiting the city.

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I feel like I could go on forever writing about the many things we saw, did and felt but I will save some of that for Sam’s post 😉

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Packing for Paris

Since booking our flights to Paris and Madrid, we have exchanged around 100,000 whatsapp messages and emails discussing what we plan on wearing on the trip. This involved lists, outfit try-out sessions, dashed visits to shopping malls and finally… we each had the basic outline of a holiday wardrobe. We could not visit Paris, or share any photos of ourselves in such a magnificent city, looking like typical tourists. So when we stumbled upon this article, we were somewhat relieved to find a guideline for ‘what to wear’ in Paris, and to see we were on the right track:

http://www.parisescapes.com/paris_wear.htm

1. Neutrals are key

The article advises: “You can never go wrong with black in Paris” and to “aim for subdued approach”. Guess that means leaving any Hawaiian-printed shorts at home…

What is true is that Parisian women are noted for their elegant, pared down style. Paris is not the place to experiment with bold colours and patterns. Also as a rule, it is generally better to pack a wardrobe of neutrals (black, white, navy and grey); there is nothing worse than getting to end of the holiday with a pair of printed pants and bright top! We both have planned outfits for our stay in Paris that incorporate mainly classic, neutral items. Here is a sneak peek at both of our key items: 

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2. Leave the leisure wear at home

Hoodies, sweatpants, trainers and flip flops are best left in your wardrobe at home according to the article. Europe – and particularly, Paris – is notoriously snobby. Dressing like you are on the way to gym will usually result in being ignored (especially when speaking English) in restaurants and cafes.

That said, we are making one exception here – on Saturday morning, we plan to walk up the Eiffel Tower (the tickets were sold out it’s good exercise!). We need to be comfortable, so are both packing an ‘athletic chic’ look for that morning.

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3. Make a statement with scarves and necklaces

Packing light has been the goal for both of us since booking the trip – given we will be lugging our own baggage up the metro stairs, and that we intend to shop – so including only basics in neutral colours will help us ensure we don’t over pack. Not that Ilaria ever needed the advice from the article, but it is reassuring to know the approach of wearing ‘plainer’ items accessorized with beautiful scarves, necklaces and earrings is welcomed in Paris. Given the fickle spring weather, scarves are also a great way to add layers and are easily slipped on and off.

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There is nothing that screams tourist as much as a pair of battered takkies – one can always point out the American (bright white tennis shoes), the South African (dishwater-grey takkies) and the German (socks and sandals) while travelling. But… our feet need to be comfortable with all the walking we will inevitably end up doing. Our solution is stylish sneakers – like Supergas – which are both comfortable but also quite stylish However, ‘just in case’ flat pumps will be included in our handbags if we find ourselves taking tea, or a glass of champagne, at the George V hotel.

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5. “Jeans are ok”

Thank goodness! Jeans are always a best friend whilst travelling – if you have brought along the right pair they can be re-worn several times without losing too much shape, and can transition from day to night with a simple change of a shoe. While we will both be packing a couple of pairs of jeans; the article advises to rather go for a darker skinnier cut, and to leave the jeans for the day rather than the evening.

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6. Don’t worry about your hair and make-up (too much)

This one really seems out of a place, but apparently the ‘au natural’ look is preferred by French woman. The focus is on a glowing complexion and subtle make-up – picking either an eye-shadowed eye and nude lip, or bare eyes and lipstick.

This sounds perfect to us; we don’t want to spend the entire morning preening ourselves in the hotel room but don’t want to look completely barefaced. Key to achieving this will be a good foundation, a great mascara and bright lipstick.

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If you want to see how our packing has panned out for Paris, and Madrid, make sure you follow us on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook – and expect a full report back on our return! We have lined up a couple of posts for next week so the blog won’t be in holiday mode, however, from us it is “au revoir, nos amis” – WE ARE OFF TO PARIS, BITCHES!

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ASCO Fragrance Launch SS 2016 | Ilaria’s Favourites

I was lucky enough to attend my first fragrance launch recently, courtesy of ASCO, and my word, was it a sensory overload (in the best way possible)! From the incredible array of fragrances and the sensual campaign models to the delicious and decadent food, it was a day to remember! And we all have something to look forward to this Spring/Summer – the fragrances launching in the next few months are exquisite and there is most definately something to suit every individual taste.

Our day started at the Smelt Glass Studio in Norwood. Ummm – this is a pretty underrated little spot, and one which I would highly recommend in order to witness the intricate and labour intensive process of making beautiful glass features. This venue aligned itself perfectly to the first fragrance launch of the day – Missoni, and it’s exquisite Murano-glass inspired bottle which seems to be just the right casing for this punchy, floral and womanly scent for summer days. We were taken through the mesmerising process of replicating the multi-coloured bottle – it makes one realise and appreciate just how much work goes into something that we consider small or insignignificant.

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Instead of going through each fragrance, I will give you my favourite picks of the day; from both the women’s and men’s categories.

Women: (I can’t only choose one)

Chloe’s ‘Love Story’ Eau de Parfum was my absolute best on the day – the fragrance and bottle are both inspired by Parisian romance –  it is clean, fresh and lightly floral with the perfect amount of sweetness. It is infused with its signature orange blossom scent with hints of jasmine and in my mind, is effortlessly beautiful. It pairs perfectly with warmer weather as it is light and wearable daily.chloe_love_story_1024x1024

Calvin Klein’s Euphoria is magnificent, and the more I wear it, the more I fall in love with its addictive, almost oriental, scent. I personally prefer lighter perfumes, and this encompasses everything I love about a fragrance. It is clean, fresh and crisp but beautifully seductive at the same time. The scent does not over-power you, yet I find it lasting well on my skin throughout the day. It helps that the bottle is ridiculously good looking too! (The upcoming CK Euphoria launch is focused around ‘Deep Euphoria’ which is in the same bottle, just an aubergine colour. It is a slightly heavier and more provocative scent – perfect for the evenings, although my favourite is the original Euphoria.)

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Men:

Tabac has extended its range, and the Gentle Men’s Care line is coming in hot! Including a fragrance (Eau De Toilette) as well as eight other grooming products, it is the epitome of cool, sophisticated and fresh and encompasses everything a well-groomed, modern day gentleman should be. The rose-gold and grey packaging is an ideal casing to this dynamic fragrance and as a whole, the line stood out for me on the day. I think this will fly off the shelves – ladies, this is a great gift idea for the men in your lives!

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I was spoilt with a gorgeous gift of some of the fragrances from the day; but unfortunately between Sam and I, we will never be able to get through them all.  So we decided that it would be a much nicer option to spoil a reader with two stunning fragrances; as a thank you for being a loyal reader of Spruce. The two perfumes up for grabs are:

  • Kenzo Jeu D’Amour l’Elixir – this brand new fragrance is a limited edition Eau de Parfum Intense. It is deep, sensual and magnetic with hints of mandarine, blackberry and middle notes of jasmine and tuberose. The mysterious dark red fuchsia twisted glass bottle is the perfect housing for such a decadent scent. 
  • Marc Jacobs Decadence – the casing alone is enough to drool over; it is inspired by one of Marc Jacob’s iconic handbags. If you are after a bold, opulent and glamorous scent, this one is for you! It is infused with hints of Italian plum, Bulgarian rose and liquid amber – a sensual, woody and feminine fragrance which oozes indulgence. 

If you would like to stand a chance to win the brand new Kenzo Jeu D’Amour l’Elixir (50ml) and the stunning Marc Jacobs Decadence (50ml), make sure to do the following:

  • Share this post and tag us on Facebook or Twitter (you have to be following us already to qualify)
  • Subscribe (if you haven’t already) to our blog by clicking here
  • Complete the below quiz

We will announce the lucky winner on the 7th September, so you have a week to make sure we have your entires! 

A big thank you to ASCO for putting such a beautiful launch together, we are so glad to have been a part of it. 

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Afternoon Delight | Tea Time and Carrot Muffins

Most people probably think that we see each ALL the time; but that actually could not be further from the truth! While we may speak to each other every day, weeks will often go past without us seeing one another. Besides shopping and good pamper, one of our favourite ways to spend time together is over a cup of a tea and a chat. It is our quality time together 🙂

This past Sunday, we had made plans to meet up at Sandton for an afternoon cuppa when Sam had a brainwave: why not sit down and enjoy a pot of the Laduree tea we both lugged back from Paris last year. Neither of us had found the occasion yet to open the box!

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And because we would be drinking such a fabulous cup of tea, these probably needed a companion…but without the excessive calories (because: winter and pregnancy). And so the mini-delights idea became a ‘healthy-delights’ when we stumbled upon a bag of MojoMe Carrot Cake Mix – a gluten-free, carb-smart mix with no added sugar or preservatives.

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We decided to make carrot muffins and they turned out so well that one can imagine a full carrot cake with a form of healthy icing (if this exists?!) would be even more delectable.

The pre-made mixture contains no grains (replaced by nut flours) or sugar (substituted with xylitol) meaning it is perfect for banters and health nuts alike. To make the muffin recipe, all you need is:

  • Bag of MojoMix
  • Greek yogurt (we used the double thick variety – yum!)
  • 3 whole eggs
  • Coconut oil (melted)
  • Vanilla extract
  • Grated carrot
  • Zest of one lemon

To add some extra zing to the mix, we added some extra cinnamon, ginger and all spice to the mixture, as well as some goji berries.

Mix together and place in a muffin pan and bake at 170 degrees for approx. 40 minutes.

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This was the result: even better when served warm with some butter and jam on the side 🙂

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Now go make yourself a cup of tea, because that’s what afternoons are for! 

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Greek Island Holiday | Highlights

I have a particularly bad habit about not blogging about holidays – much to Ilaria’s dismay. During 2015 I ran out of steam to write about a few weekends away and our December break to the bush and dreamy Mozambique; however, the one post Ilaria would not let me ‘off the hook’ was the one from August: holidaying in the Greek Islands.

And regardless of that fact, Greece was THE destination of the year for me (and it was a fairly good year of travel, involving amongst others Paris, Madrid and Turkey) so it really does deserve to be blogged about, even if it has been six months in the making!

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To re-cap, Sean and I started my big birthday holiday with a weekend in London, followed by 10 days in incredible Turkey; visiting Istanbul, Cappadocia and Bodrum. Our final stop in Bodrum (along the beautiful Turkish coast) was intended to make the passage through to Greece an easy one and yet, what developed was a round-about detour via Thessaloniki (best one don’t ask about these things) to arrive in Santorini at 9pm. Arriving in the dark meant we were truly not ready for how spectacular the next morning would seem; emerging from our room to the caldera view, an endless blue horizon and the traditional postcard-view of white Cycladic houses. I don’t think I can articulate how magnificent the outlook was, particularly on that first morning.

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Obviously, I had spent a significant amount of time researching where to stay on the island before settling on Imervolgni. The choice of this village, and our hotel (the seriously incredible Kaparai Natural Suites) ‘made’ Santorini for us. It was small – really a gathering of a handful of boutique hotels and petite restaurants scattered across the balconies of the town – quieter in its presence than neighboring Fira (the main town), and equipped with some of the best views on the island. While Oia is known is known for its sunsets (to which thousands of boat tourists flock every night), Imervolgni’s position on the island means the views are as special but significantly calmer. On our arrival night we dined at our hotel restaurant (outstanding, FYI) and marveled at the absolute stillness of the evening.

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I can sum up Santorini in one word: magical. I have travelled to some really superb destinations in the past few years; each with its own charms and mystique, but Santorini quite easily comes in my top 3 places. It was also the point in my three week holiday that relaxation mode really started to kick in. We did do some very cool things during our stay: wine tasting IN the vineyards, a beautiful morning aboard a catamaran and a morning hike up Skaros rock, but it was the lazy tanning sessions around our pool with breathtaking views that I reminisce (often!) about.

  • My travel tip: If you do go stay in Imervlogni, extend your stay to five nights and see as much of the island as you can – on foot or four-wheeler; there really is a lot to see/do on such a small island.

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After our three short nights in Santorini we caught a ferry to our next Greek island: Naxos. My sister, Ali, and her husband Phil had flown from London to join us for a few days of island-hopping. In contrast to the commercialized nature of Santorini and Mykonos, Naxos felt like the ‘typical’ Greek holiday-island: more rugged, less stylish but as geared up for summer tourists. Our hotel’s location was fantastic – as close as you can get to the beaches of Agios Prokopios (according to the hotel’s reception the “third best beach in Europe”) which featured almost real sand – although that is where I will end any sort of review for the hotel. Besides tanning and checking out the Temple of Apollo (Portara) there was not a huge amount to do on the island.

DSC_0974 IMG_2091 IMG_7349IMG_2092 IMG_2115 IMG_2116 IMG_2121On our second and final night, we made our way to the Old Market of the town, which turned out to be the most surprising thing about the island. Tucked behind the ‘strip’ of the marina area lies the Old Market complete with cobbled market lanes and drooping bougainvillea, traditional tavernas, a multitude of small stores and winding pathways. After some fairly average food on the island, we stumbled into a delightful little courtyard for an updated take of traditional Greek food. Although I doubt I would ever return to Naxos, I am glad we went there; it showed more of the ‘real’ side of Greek islands and what some of the other small islands of the region resemble.

  • My travel tip: Naxos is known for its windsurfing so budget some time to try this out (we didn’t, sadly). Enjoy the freshly-baked breads and other goods from the traditional bakeries around town: beats a hotel breakfast hands down!

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Mykonos was our final island stop; and one where I had booked a hotel in January given the popularity of the island. My, increasingly, not-so-trusty, guide book had called Mykonos “the ultimate victory of style over substance” and yet, the infinite blue views and expanseless ocean was more than enough to satisfy me. Mykonos has been dubbed the ‘new’ Ibiza by many; the up and coming party capital of Europe. Despite this title, I feel like Mykonos can be whatever you want it to be! Our hotel’s menu was reflective of that; one could order poached salmon on herbs (which I did on our first day), junk food (pizza and burgers which we did on our last day), the most indulgent breakfast pastries or fresh fruit and boiled eggs.

I loved how glitzy and glamourous Mykonos could seem; but at the same time remaining true to what the island first started out as: a gay party island (see photo below!)

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One of the highlights of our stay in Mykonos was the day spent to Scorpios Beach Club. We booked a private beach cabana for the four of us and spent the doing nothing more than one should on a beach holiday: swimming, tanning, drinking cocktails and relaxing until sunset. Although the island is very windy, the little bay of Scorpios was completely sheltered that day: hellooooooo tan lines! The natural décor of the restaurant and club was stunning; the perfect complement to the rugged, dusty nature of the coastline. After sunset, the music switched from the chilled lounge music of the day into an upbeat party under the stars.

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I could not have asked for more in what we did in Mykonos; our first evening started off at Buddha Bar (sensational sashimi tacos), progressed into town and ended up at another party somewhere on the island (which only ended at 7am the next morning for the guys). On our last day we didn’t make it to the most famous of all beach clubs (Nammos) due to one team member being totally “manned down” so we simply spent the day around our hotel’s pool. I know there are some people who believe a hotel should be nothing more than a rest station, but for me, I love being able to relax at my hotel while on holiday.

By the time it came for us to say goodbye to Mykonos and my sister, I was in complete island mode; tanned (well, as tanned as my sallow skin will allow), bikini-kaftan-slops-hat and utterly rested; the internal battery restored for the rest of the year.

  • My travel tip: Do Mykonos your way! Whether its five-star all the way, yoga-retreat style or a backpackers in the middle of town there is something for every budget accommodation-wise; although it is easily one of the most expensive places I have visited in Europe, so make sure you budget accordingly. If you love your music, try planning your trip to coincide with the big DJs visiting the island.

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Before heading home, we caught the ferry into Athens and spent two nights in the capital. I was not expecting much at all; having heard how dirty the city is, and has become since austerity measures were introduced in 2009. And while it was dirty, along with a few homeless drug-addicts wandering the streets, and graffiti-ed (lots of anti-German sentiment), we ended up really enjoying our stop-over. A spot of cheap shopping, seeing the Acropolis (just amazing) and a meal at Michelin-starred restaurant on our final night turned this pit stop into a destination.

  • My travel tip: Get to the Acropolis super-early; we headed up shortly before lunch time in sweltering heat and *nearly* died of heat stroke. Also, book Hytra. Still one of the best meals I have ever experienced!

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Besides the fact that I do have a tiny amount of Greek heritage (my maternal great-grandfather arrived in South Africa after World War I), there was little not to love about the country: the food, the people (significantly more friendly than the neighboring Turks), the varied island scenery and even the slow pace of the locals as later afternoon approaches. It is definitely the type of place to include on any travel list – there were way too many islands to see in one visit (don’t underestimate the travel time between islands!) and, maybe, one of the few places left to travel into Europe that won’t kill a tight budget (if you avoid Santorini and Mykonos). While all three islands we visited were in the general Cyclades region, each was so different (architecturally, scenically and even, culturally) that I can’t say I have truly ticked Greece off the travel-list; I will just have to return one day and see more of this incredible country 😉

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