Budapest ruin bar

Times Insider City Guides: Budapest’s top five ruin bars

Budapest is one of my favourite cities for a weekend break and – I’ll be honest – that has as much to do with its, erm, lively ruin bars as it does with its hot baths and stately architecture.

I returned to Budapest earlier this summer to drink palinka in courtyard gardens, sip beer beneath boar-shaped disco balls and live to regret slamming slots of Unicum under two watchful bright green eyes.

Yep, one of the best nights out ever, that one. Read (almost!) all about it on the Times Insider City Guides site.

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Pearlshare guide: the best London restaurants with a view

Eating out is not just about the food, is it? It’s about so much more, the service, the decor, the atmosphere and, for me, the view.

I love dining overlooking my favourite city in the world, London. And for me this is one of the best things about eating out, that it gives you the chance to sit and look out over a view you would otherwise never be able to enjoy. The perfect steak or a tasty lobster is always made better by a view of an iconic building such as St Paul’s Cathedral or Tower Bridge I find and there are restaurants around the city that offer diners just that.

Whenever I’m celebrating a special occasion I head to one of the city’s rooftops. I’ve toasted my wedding anniversary with a view over the Square Mile and celebrated my birthday in a Kensington rooftop garden. My husband even proposed on a rooftop – though where exactly remains a secret!

I love London’s rooftop restaurants and I’ve written a guide to my favourite London restaurants with a view for the fabulous Pearlshare app. For a taste of this guide check out my top three below – special occasion excuse optional!

Duck and Waffle:

This upscale City of London restaurant never closes – so if you fancy sushi at 3am this is the spot! The menu features the eponymous dish, a sweet and sour creation that I highly recommend, as well as numerous small plates focused on fresh seafood and high quality sushi. Come with a group and sit at one of the round tables in the dining room’s centre or visit a deux and ask for one of the small corner tables for views in two directions.

Oxo Tower Restaurant:

Everybody knows this building on the River Thames, and at its top is a brasserie, cocktail bar and formal restaurant. The restaurant is worth splashing out on, though be sure to ask for a table in the row next to the windows for the best view north over the city. The all day dining menu includes dishes such as seared scallops and Welsh lamb rump and there are great steaks too.

Aqua Shard:

Ok, so it’s not at the top of Europe’s tallest building (you’ll have to pay for View from the Shard for that view) but you’re still on the 39th floor here and the views back over London are epic. Watch the latest City of London skyscrapers taking shape and wonder at the majesty of St Paul’s Cathedral as you dine on high quality mains such as roasted monkfish with Morecambe Bay shrimps and slow-cooked Blythburgh pork belly.

Pearlshare is a travel resource for travellers who want independent information on where to go and what to do on their travels. With guides written by locals and by experienced travel writers, you can trust Pearlshare to offer you a guide for your next adventure. Download the Pearlshare app here and see my full guide to London’s best restaurants with a view here.

 

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Weekend in Sark: piece for the Times

I first went to the Channel Islands as a child and I remember being blown away by them – especially Sark, with its horse and cart rides and its bicycles.

There are no cars on Sark. But there are fabulous hotels, an abundance of fresh lobster and numerous secluded beaches to explore.

I returned to Sark to write an article the Times on how best to spend a weekend here. Check it out here.

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Pearlshare guide: the best patisseries in Paris

Paris has an overwhelming number of patisseries, from classic stores selling crisp baguettes and macarons of every colour to truly modern temples to all things cake.

Because choosing where to go for your pain quotidian can be so tricky, I’ve been working with new travel app Pearlshare to put together the definitive guide to the very best of Paris’s patisseries.

You can see the full guide to all 11 of my choices on the Pearlshare app and website here but to whet your appetite here are a few of my top picks:

Foucade Paris: Paris’ very first self-styled “patisserie positive” is a beacon for those with dietary requirements as well as a sweet tooth. Here you’ll find a selection of gluten-free, lactose-free and low-sugar treats, including a delicious chocolate mousse on a bed of buckwheat and chia seeds. That almost sounds healthy, right?

Ladurée: Ok, I know, you’ve heard of this one. But just because it’s well-known doesn’t mean it’s not one of the very best – in fact, that reputation is well deserved. You’ll find every flavour of macaron you can imagine here. I love the caramel with salted butter flavour and has a soft spot for the rose petal flavour, but also love to try whatever is in season (which keeps me coming back time and again!).

Cake Shop: It might be in a five-star hotel but that doesn’t make this patisserie any less authentic. You can take the cakes away in designer boxes, eat them in the flower-filled lobby or take a seat in the elegant Camélia restaurant to enjoy delights such as Le Mandarin, a 62% dark chocolate mousse. Yum!

Stohrer: This is Paris’ oldest patisserie (dating from 1730) and said to be the original home of the rum baba. The kitchen here once produced desserts for the Great Court and if it’s fit for a king it’s good enough for me! I particularly love the chocolate eclair, one of Paris’s best.

To read more about Paris’s best patisseries download the Pearlshare app and check out my guide. The app always knows where you are, so you can find my recommendations easily – and add your own finds too.

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Secret Spain Matarrana: piece for the Times

Spain is the most popular destination for British travellers, with visits there in 2015 numbering some 13 million.

That’s a lot of towels on the beach – or is it? Not everyone who heads to Spain is seeking a beach holiday after all, and if you want to get away from the crowds this summer it’s very easy to escape, simply head to a region that is still largely undiscovered.

I’ve written several articles for The Times on Secret Spain – the bits the Spanish have been keeping to themselves. My latest is on Matarrana, a region that can be reached from Castellon or Barcelona airports easily and explored with barely another English accent in earshot. Here you’ll find the bizarre mountain scenery that inspired Picasso, vultures by the hundred and some of Spain’s best wild swimming spots. Not to mention plenty of olive oil, tapas and local wine, of course.

Many thanks to Real Holidays for hosting my trip to this fabulous region.

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Budget Balearics: piece for the Times

As the Balearics continue to head steadily upmarket, it can be hard to find budget hotels and places to eat, right?

Not if you know where to look. If you’re heading to Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza or Formentera this summer, check out my Budget Balearics guide for The Times, which features the 20 best places to stay for under £100 and the 20 best value places to eat across all four islands.

 

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50 best secret beaches in the Med: piece for the Times

Finding a quiet spot on the Med come summer… that’s the stuff that travel dreams are made of.

But although it can be tricky to find a place to call your own, there are plenty of beaches across the Mediterranean that remain off the beaten track and – largely at least – secret.

Along with four other lovely travel writers I contributed to the Times’ roundup of the 50 best secret beaches in the Med, which published this weekend. Check it out for our recommendations in France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Malta and Cyprus.

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Travel writer, editor and broadcaster