GT Approved: SCRUBD Men’s Soap

A new product has forced it’s way into our washbags and it’s worthy of introduction for yours too.

It’s a soap and the new bar on the block is by a British company called SCRUBD.

I have dabbled with soap bars like Clinique in the past and while a good product they seem to feel a little feminine and never make it back onto my shopping list. The bar I have in my bag is anything but, scented with Oakmoss and Spearmint it has a distinctively masculine pre and post shave appeal.

The product was conceived by the company founder Mark Helvadjian who wanted to create an all-natural bar of soap made specifically for men – he suceeded.

If you like the sound of this the range below is available in harvey Nichols.

Full Range

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Casa Amate – Mayakoba, Mexico

I would like to share my experience of dinner in Casa Amate at Mayakoba. This was quite simply the best experience I had at the magical Mayakoba and follows on from my earlier post about the resort.

Casa Amate is the lead dining experience at Andaz Mayakoba offers excellent food and drink in a very impressive homely space with the best service I have experienced for a very long time.

When you are in the restaurant it is very easy to feel like you are in the home of a well-traveled friend, who has invited you over to choose from a very appealing menu of delicious Latin American specialties which borrow ideas from their travels around the globe.

My recommendation would be to pre-book the outdoor terrace which offers a beautiful setting at dusk and do take their drink recommendations particularly for the local Mexican wines and tequilas. The barman makes a mean cocktail too.

Casa Amate Salad DishCasa Amate Octopus Dish

The standout dish was their Octopus as pictured above which was simply outstanding and the best I have ever eaten, and believe me I have eaten a lot as ‘Pulpo’ is a favourite wherever I travel, to be honest I am mildly concerned about sprouting tentacles.

What capped off eating the best ‘Pulpo’ to date was the friendly staff who have real charm and were genuinely delighted with our praise and couldn’t have done more to make sure we chose well and enjoyed the experience.

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Cost of a 3 course dinner and bottle of wine:
£85 per person

Food:
8 out of 10 – difficult to choose from a menu in which all dishes appealed

Atmosphere:
8 out of 10 – the restaurant wasn’t busy on our visit but when buzzing would be 10 out of 10

Service:
10 out of 10 – warm, genuine, attentive, perfect

Overall:
9 out of 10 – a near perfect experience that will live long in the memory

Summary in seven:
The highlight of our Mayakoba resort experience

Details:
Carretera Federal Cancun-Playa Del Carmen Km. 298
Playa del Carmen-Solidaridad
Quintana Roo
Mexico
77710

Open every day 06:00 til 23:00

Website: Andaz Page for Restaurant
Phone: +52 984 1491234
Email: reservations-mayakoba@andaz.com

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Mayakoba – Riviera Maya, Mexico

With direct flights from London and good weather awaiting you, Mexico and the Mayakoba resort are a wise choice if you are contemplating guaranteed sun, thanks to temperatures that rarely drop below the low twenties.

Getting to the Mayakoba from Cancun airport is easy and convenient with a short drive of less than an hour along a very straight road. It’s worth noting that I encountered minimal hassle at Cancun airport aside from a customs form you have to complete (and retain for the return). In fact I don’t think I have had an easier journey from plane to hotel.

Arriving in Mexico under the cover of darkness I felt the reassuring warmth in the air from a hot summers day. Sadly it was almost pitch black outside as our driver proudly told us about the 200 miles of Caribbean coastline we couldn’t see to our left as we travelled along Highway 307, a long straight coastal route to Playa Del Carmen, the coastal town on the Riviera Maya in which Mayakoba is located and my home for the next 10 days.

The Riviera Maya is a tourism resort district beside Highway 307 and part of a region called The Yucatán Peninsula which juts out of mainland Mexico like a thumb separating the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, therefore you can expect the same glorious Caribbean weather as I found in Grenada, with great beaches and the worlds second largest coral reef.

Not only is the weather great here but the region also contains the unique feature of well over a thousand sinkholes, known as ‘Cenotes’, which in some cases have been turned into swimming parks such as the popular Xcaret, one of many in the area. Apparently these drains were carved out of limestone over centuries through the erosion caused by the natural water drainage running out to sea. More are being discovered regularly which leads me to imagine the ground beneath your feet being quite possibly like swiss cheese in substance.

The other big attractions to this coastline area and worth a trip are Tulum beachside resort area, the ancient Mayan city ruins of Tulum and the Mayan pyramids of Coba.

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None of this however is quite as remarkable as the resort of Mayakoba; an eco-friendly, both architecturally and naturally beautiful resort created as a passion project by a Spanish construction company in a swamp.

Now, leave your initial thoughts for a moment, because this is no ordinary swamp. I am aware the word conjures up all manner of negative thoughts from muddy and smelly waterways to alligator death-traps. The reality of the swamp here is rather different to any preconceived notions.

The water is mostly gin clear and often a brilliant turquoise blue. That in itself sounds ideal but what makes Mayakoba really special is that you are literally surrounded by nature and the lagoons and trees are simply alive with indigenous flora and fauna. The design is so carefully thought out that when in your villa the resort feels empty despite occupancy fluctuating between 60-90% during my visit. Exactly what you would wish for on a holiday.

Mayakoba has it’s own beach and almost all accommodation is facing the water whether it is a lagoon or the sea, mine was facing the lagoon and I really enjoyed early mornings in the garden with a spiced Mexican coffee while I watched a variety of wildlife swim past me in the swamp, including whole families of turtle, tilapia fish and all manner of song birds through to herons and ducks. One of the most fascinating things I saw was a skinny looking version of perhaps my least favourite bird of all, the cormorant, in this environment the bird was extremely graceful to watch as it hunted it’s prey down under the clear water.

Opportunities to spot wildlife are abundant here and during my visit I saw several Iguana’s a Spider Monkey, A Coati (type of Mexican racoon) and a small Crocodile. I was reassured to know the the crocodiles are kept under observation and removed before they start to see you as on the menu!

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Mayakoba is a luxury resort with a first class level of service throughout however what makes Mayakoba more special than resorts of this type I have visited is because within it’s boundaries it offers accommodation with four recognised hoteliers; Banyan Tree, Rosewood, Andaz and Fairmont.

Each hotel has the ability to cross-payment so the whole resort is open for exploration wherever you stay. Now rather than be limited to four or five dining options and just one spa you have a multitude of dining options and four spas so there really is zero excuse to struggle for options during even the longest of holidays. Some lucky residents have seized this opportunity for a lifelong holiday purchasing homes within the resort.

Map Of Mayakoba

Most importantly Mayakoba offers fishing excursions and hosts two outstanding golf courses: El Camaleón an 18-hole golf course designed by PGA legend Greg Norman and The OHL Classic at Mayakoba, the latter of which made golfing history in 2007 when it became the first PGA TOUR event ever contested outside of the US and Canada. This is a truly stunning location for golfing, where else in the world can you play golf amongst beautiful turquoise blue lagoons? The stunning contrast between golfing greens and bright blue waters I have captured below in this picture but only the natural eye can really do them justice.

The golf course has an excellent restaurant called Koba with a large full fronted outdoor terrace looking out over the course, there truly has been no better way to relax after a game of golf than with one of their margaritas and outstanding octopus panucho dishes.

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Within Mayakoba there is also the opportunity to visit their very own sinkhole Cenote Burrodromo and ‘El Pueblito’ a rather tastefully newly-built version of a classic Mexican village square complete with a marketplace which hosts a farmers market on Sundays, a cafe, boutiques and an art gallery, most impressive was a beautifully decorated Catholic chapel as pictured below.

I stayed in Banyan Tree and Rosewood but had my favourite meal in Casa Amate at Andaz, a review of all these to follow soon.

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Mayakoba Residences
www.mayakobaresidences.com
info@mayakobaresidences.com
Tel. +(52) 984 8734920

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The Signature Collection at Celtic Manor, Wales

Celtic Manor is an interesting part of Welsh history going back to at least 1634 when it was recorded as the the residence of the High Sheriff of Monmouthshire, Lewis Van. Following this The Manor House itself was built over two hundred years later in 1860 by Thomas Powell then the world’s most prominent exporter of the black gold Wales is famous for, coal, he was also the first coal millionaire.

The current owner Sir Terry Matthews was actually born here as it had changed use to become the Lydia Beynon Maternity Hospital in 1940, he then purchased the Manor house in 1980 spending over 100 million converting the residence to accomodate 17 bedrooms.

Celtic Manor today boasts some 70 rooms, a spa, several restaurants and 10 lodges. However most notably the resort is now a world-class destination for golf, with three championship courses, The Twenty Ten course built to stage The 2010 Ryder Cup, Roman Road and The Montgomerie as well as a Golf Academy and two clubhouses.

I was invited by my guests to experience the very latest chapter in their history; The Signature Collection, and I was eager to see what Wales has to offer Golfers having enjoyed a recent trip to Gleneagles.

First impressions are quite breathtaking as the hotel gradually appears on the horizon then in no time at all looms above you as you approach from the M4 motorway down below appearing like a colossal man made mountain, albeit one with red awnings. Once inside the building the lobby you are presented by an impressive light open glass lobby space which is somewhat undone by two of the only odd things I didn’t enjoy during my stay; plastic flowers and dated looking wooden dragon sculptures.

The Signature Collection of rooms can be found at the top of the hotel up on the sixth floor along with the hotel’s best views but what sets these rooms apart from the rest of the resort is that extra slice of luxury we found, each room was designed for adults only and finished to an impressively high standard with a relaxed modern ambience. All rooms have a 6ft king-size double bed, sitting area, a really nice marble bathroom with a large vanity unit, bath and separate shower.

All guests here have access to the Signature Lounge a stylish bar which made a great location for our first Gin & Tonic courtesy of the stunning views from the balcony and Breakfast is served on the same floor so any early morning stress can be avoided.

Signature Collection

Most importantly there are many great dining options at Celtic Manor:

Steak on Six – a steak restaurant and part of The Signature Collection described as “showcasing signature steaks from around the British Isles, Steak on Six offers contemporary dining with a relaxed, rustic flavour“. We ate a fabulous t-bone steak here which was cooked perfectly medium rare and the restaurant had a great wine menu to choose from.

Epicure by Richard Davies – a modern European dining option also part of The Signature Collection described as an “exquisite modern dining experience is sure to impress with its intricate menus and fresh, intense flavours“. We did not eat here but shall do if I return.

Cen at Celtic Manor – Asian fusion cuisine by Larkin Cen a 2013 finalist of BBC’s MasterChef UK described as “from delicious fluffy steamed bao buns to slow cooked oriental pork belly and succulent sharing platters of Cantonese duck, savour this sociable dining experience bursting with authentic pan-Asian flavours“. This was perhaps the highlight of our stay, we all thoroughly enjoyed the Asian dishes, excellent cocktails and relaxed restaurant ambience.

Rafters – a restaurant set within the prestigious Twenty Ten Clubhouse, the cuisine here is described as simple and elegant “from the finest locally reared beef to fresh fish and seafood, Rafters’ talented chefs use some of the best ingredients Wales has to offer to create succulent steaks and grills with a uniquely Welsh flavour”.

The Grill – another clubhouse restaurant offering relaxed informal dining of honest and simple food described as a “tempting menu of wholesome ingredients mixes distinctive flavours and textures offering a mouthwatering selection of comforting favourites including succulent steaks, pasta, fresh fish, salads and burgers”.

Olive Tree & Garden Room – the resorts family friendly dining option.

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Something very rare happened at Celtic Manor which surprised me: We didn’t eat a bad dish during our stay! I can therefore say on behalf of a group of four quite demanding customers that I can recommend visiting the resort purely for dinner.

There is plenty to do besides golf, too many activities to mention in one post, particularly if you have kids.

The activities I spotted and took part in include:

  • Forest Jump – I tried my hand at this treetop assault course and sadly have to admit I was truly terrified! The logo is deceptive rather than being an activity for kids it really puts your bravery to the test. There is a lower version for kids also.
  • Laser Clays – Having done quite a bit of clay shooting recently with the outstanding Phillip Thorrold Shooting Academy I enjoyed having a go at this activity which I found surprisingly realistic and much less noisy!
  • Fishing Excursions – Sadly I didn’t have the time but the river Usk is definitely worth a trip as is Wales for fly fishing in general.
  • Shopping – a couple of clothing boutiques and gift shop with a nice selection of designer labels.
  • The Forum Spa – the staff here were truly great and I would definitely visit again for another massage which really helped ease my aches and pains from the assault course.
  • Above all what impressed me the most during my stay was the relaxed atmosphere and warm welcome from all of the staff which made me feel very much at home in Wales. I will definitely be returning here for dinner again soon on the way back from one of my fishing trips to the River Usk.

    The Celtic Manor resort
    Coldra Woods
    The Usk Valley
    Newport
    South Wales
    NP18 1H2

    Tel: +44 (0) 1633 413 000
    Travel Info: Driving M4 (J24) Trains from Newport Rail Station or 90 minutes from London Heathrow and 45 minutes from Cardiff and Bristol Airports.
    www.celtic-manor.com

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    GT’s Best Of 2015

    Best Of 2015 is a retrospective look back at my favourite items and experiences of 2015, an excellent year in which has seen much exploring as well as the opportunities to brush up on sailing, golfing and fishing.

    Best Hotel Experience

    The Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire Scotland. Quite possibly best place in the UK to learn to play golf with excellent rooms and faultless service.

    Best Dining Experience

    Dinner on the beach at Four Seasons, Koh Samui. An evening of spectacular entertainment including fire dancers and superb seafood and Thai cuisine.

    Best Experiences

    Catching my first Grayling on the river Itchen in Hampshire. Boating on The Norfolk Broads. Sailing from Athens through the Corinth canal to Kefalonia.

    Favourite Clothing Brand

    Our Legacy. Yet another Scandinavian clothing brand which consistently produces great quality casual clothing. I particularly like their Oxford Shirts which are near perfect.

    Favourite Destination Visited

    Kefalonia, Greece. A beautiful island with many hidden charms and lots of sailing opportunities.

    Favourite Album

    Alabama Shakes ‘Sound & Colour’. I first saw the Alabama Shakes on The Jools Holland show a few years ago and was impressed but didn’t get around to following it up. This year was a different story with another live performance and their latest album ‘Sound & Colour’ which is often on my stereo.

    Favourite Single

    Glass Animals ‘Gooey’. A dreamlike song which best captures the bands unique sound and lingers in your memory.

    Favourite Photograph

    Banks of the river Tweed in October. A stunning Autumn shot with the rusty, orange and yellow leaves at their most magnificent. Pictured Above.

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    The Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire Scotland

    I was recently invited to attend a short Golf 101 break at The Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire. My first thoughts were of trepidation due to the fact I haven’t picked up a golf club in a decade, shortly followed by anticipation for the opportunity to visit such a revered and famous resort that has recently celebrated a 90 year anniversary.

    I am what you might call quietly competitive by nature, in fact I have up until this point deliberately avoided opportunities to play golf with friends as I don’t like the fact I am unable to compete and ultimately lose. The opportunity to learn correct golfing techniques from some of the UK’s best instructors was the perfect tonic to my avoidance.

    Not sure what to expect from a hotel that is setup for golfers I chose to discover upon arrival rather than my usual approach of researching to near fatigue. I suppose this can either make the discovery more exciting as you refrain from anticipation or highly disappointing if your destination doesn’t live up to your hopes. Fortunately I can state wholeheartedly that I am glad I chose to discover instead. As soon as you arrive at The Gleneagles gates you can instantly tell that you are in a special setting as you take in wonderful views of the Ochil Hills behind you and the stunning landscaped grounds around you that feature a lake, club house and immaculate golfing greens.

    The greeting at check-in was friendly and the atmosphere in the hotel can best be described as warm, mildly informal yet classy which pleased me instantly I can recall golfing friends complaining at length about how stuffy the atmosphere can be in golf clubs. I was surprised to learn that the hotel was purpose built for golfing retreats in 1924 rather than a re-imagining of a country estate as with most grand buildings of this size.

    My double room was suitably luxurious with a small lounge area including it’s very own fireplace and view out onto the golfing greens. For a Bed & Breakfast rate of £335 per room the bathroom in particular was better than many I have stayed in at this level with a double sink area, bath and shower. Being brought a tin of good quality Scottish shortbread on arrival was a nice touch and made a great gift upon my return (albeit with one missing). The fabrics in the room included tartan and tweed and featured their Scottish roots very tastefully, many places I have visited can go a bit over the top on tartan which can make you feel like you are trapped in a giant game of chequers.

    Having browsed the welcome pack I think it is fair to say that you could have a very enjoyable time at Gleneagles without ever picking up a golf club, in fact the hotel is perfect for a leisurely short break for either groups or couples with mixed tastes.

    Aside from the golf there are also the following activities:

    • Fishing: Gleneagles has six trout lochs and offers lessons from skilled ghillies and the chance to have your catch cooked, also Salmon fishing trips can be arranged with a weeks advance notice.
    • The Spa by ESPA: Massage, facials, treatments, detox, tropical shower, crystal steam rooms and swimming pool. There is also a nail bar for the ladies.
    • Horse Riding: From beginner to advanced including an introduction to Polo.
    • Gundog and Falconry: Introductions and lessons are available and dogs are made very welcome at the hotel.
    • Indoor Tennis: Four acrylic courts with a good choice of professional lessons.
    • Off-Road Driving: Gleneagles has two purpose built off-road courses and offer lessons for anyone, a good chance to actually use your 4×4!
    • Shooting: Clay pigeon, archery and air rifle.
    • Programme of kids activities: From horse riding, mini athletics and air gun shooting to movie nights and arts & crafts.
    • Shopping: wandering the corridors of the hotel there are numerous shops selling whisky, cashmere, leather goods, jewellery, sports and lifestyle clothing and tweeds of which the focus is on quality Scottish items and produce.

    As you can see these are mostly aligned to Scottish field pursuits but there really is something for most tastes on that list and talking of taste the hotel really delivers on the food and drink front with five superb dining opportunities.

    Visitors can choose between the following restaurants:

    • The Bar: The bar is avery comfortable space which also offers light lunches. I haven’t eaten here but I can tell you as you would hope in Scotland their whisky selection is second to none and we enjoyed two evenings sampling whiskies recommended to us and my personal favourite Lagavulin 16 years old from the Isle of Islay.
    • The Dormy Clubhouse Bar & Grill: A classic all day menu of favourite dishes from sandwiches and burgers to fish and chips with a tandoor grill. I opted for their tandoori chicken dish which was cooked and presented beautifully.
    • The Strathearn Restaurant: This is one of the very largest grand dining rooms I have eaten in and has a tangible air of nostalgia about it. Sitting at the table gazing into the open floor ahead of me I could easily picture the scenes of past decades and I doubt very much the piano playlist or the ceremony behind the crepe suzette the table next door ordered has changed in all the dining rooms 91 year history, a wonderful site to behold. I ate a very decent Crab starter and Halibut main course here and at least one meal in this restaurant is a must for any visitor
    • Deseo: a relaxed Mediterranean restaurant serving classic holiday style dishes. This was perhaps my favourite restaurant which I would choose even over The Strathearn Restaurant, mainly because their choice of dishes is almost a checklist of things I personally like to eat on a European holiday. I chose to sample their gazpacho which was every bit as good as in the Mercado de San Anton in Madrid and a Scottish beef Rib eye steak which I can honestly say nudged ahead of Hawksmoor for the best steak I have eaten this year.
    • Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles: This is a two Michelin starred restaurant and unfortunately I haven’t eaten here as you would expect you need to book.

    The main reason for my visit however was the golf. During my short two night break we had one and a half hour lesson with with Andrew MacRae a PGA Senior Golf Professional and very pleasant and patient coach. In our first session we received coaching on the correct stance and how to strike the ball correctly. Having mastered the stance we had varying degrees of success with striking the ball which we recorded on video and quickly analysed before returning to the driving range to see a marked improvement and further fine tuning from Andrew as he watched our progress. My main issue it seems and where I have been going wrong in the past is leaning backwards as I strike the ball, to quote the famous phrase “it’s all in the hips” and rotating them effectively. I managed to iron out my poor swing by keeping my eyes firmly on the ball and my chin up which I then practised for a while after the coaching ended aided by enthusiasm from the afternoons progress.

    The following day we had a one hour morning session where we learned how to pitch and putt. I managed to make good progress on putting but the pitching eluded me somewhat as the technique of cutting dead your swing was an entirely new discipline from driving the ball. Following the session I stayed behind with two enthusiastic members of our group and we practised pitching for quite a while with Andrew’s tips still fresh in our memories until we had improved quite considerably.

    After a long lunch in the Dormy Clubhouse we all played the “Wee Course”, a short nine hole course amusingly endorsed in the hotel by Ronnie Corbett himself. The course was great fun and there were plenty of oohs and ahhs as we moved from great shots to howlers as our old habits crept back in, however the marked improvement in our group in just two sessions was clear for all to see. I personally fared very well, even surprising myself by managing to par one hole.

    Having only just learned the basics I will need to get some practice in on smaller courses before attempting a full round of golf at Gleneagles but should you already be an accomplished ‘swinger’ you have the chance to play on three of Europe’s very finest championship golf courses.

    Gleneagles offers three full size courses:

    • The PGA Centenary Course: The host venue for last years Ryder Cup.
    • The King’s Course: Gleneagles world famous course opened in 1919.
    • The Queen’s Course: A secluded course in a woodland setting with many water hazards and favoured by legendary golfers such as Greg Norman and the one I remember the most Seve Ballesteros.

    Enthused by my very rapid progress in just two days I am now looking into my first set of golf clubs and my next golfing invitation which this time will not be declined.

    PGA Centenary Course

    The Gleneagles Hotel
    Auchterarder
    Perthshire
    Scotland
    PH3 1NF

    Tel: (0)1764 662231
    Email: resort.sales@gleneagles.com
    Travel Info: Simply within one hour of either Edinburgh or Glasgow airport and train stations.
    www.gleneagles.com

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    Boating On The Norfolk Broads

    Since my childhood I have always wanted to spend a weekend boating on the Norfolk Broads

    My appetite for travel has made that seemingly easy feat near impossible as each time a free weekend comes along I am instead gripped with my next destination abroad or fishing trips to Scotland to catch the ever elusive Salmon.

    My desire to visit The Broads in particular above other domestic boating destinations is down to the man who essentially sparked my lifelong love of fishing, John Wilson. From an early age my brother and I religiously recorded John’s ‘Go Fishing’ TV series onto video tape. Each week we learnt about a new and exciting species of fish and the fishing techniques to catch it, it truly was a great programme to watch with all disciplines of fishing covered from seas to rivers and lakes including fly, lure and coarse fishing even trips abroad to catch river monsters. I was hooked! And above all the place I liked the look of the most was the Norfolk Broads which John sold so well with his often mentioned passion for these inland waters.

    If you are wondering what exactly The Broads are then quite simply a ‘Broad’ is a broad open expanse of water; essentially a lake. What makes this area so special is that these Broads are all joined together by rivers and canals to become ‘The Broads’ a unique environment containing 125km of waterways. The Broads were formed initially by the flooding of ancient peat excavations from the middle ages run by nearby monasteries. The ruins of one of these monasteries called St Benet’s Abbey which has escaped the complete destruction from the dissolution of the monasteries in the 15th century can still be visited from the banks of The Broads today with it’s chimney stack clearly visible as pictured below.

    With slightly more refined tastes than in my formative years I wished to travel in style and we chose to hire a quite luxurious boat aptly called ‘Royale’ from the company Herbert Woods in Potter Heigham. We were all really impressed by the standard of cleanliness of the vessel and the instruction we received that allowed us to set off on our trip with the minimum of fuss. GT would happily recommend this boatyard as a great choice to book with.

    The weather in Norfolk is perhaps the best in the UK and despite this mass of inland waterway Norfolk as a county is officially the driest in the UK and therefore in my opinion offers the best weather all year round. The county is much flatter than the rest of the UK so you are always greeted by beautiful wide sunrises and rich pink sunsets but unfortunately for us this weekend was mostly cloudy with some rain, however we did enjoy two spells of glorious sunshine which was much hotter than it has been back in London for some time.

    Our trip was split over two days a Saturday and Sunday and our very loose weekend itineray consisted of the following:

    Saturday

    We decided to cruise along away from Potter Heigham to the West where we passed lots of neat riverside homes and the jaw dropping site of a traditional Wherry boat with it’s enormous sail before we stopped to take a look at the first notable feature in our Norfolk Broads guide, the St Benet’s Abbey ruins. At this point in the trip we had all managed to shake off any London related stress and it has to be said being on the water has an almost magical ability to take your mind away from daily life, by this point we were all sporting broad grins as we sipped champagne and cruised along gently.

    We then visited our first Broad which was Ranworth Broad shortly followed by Malthouse Broad where we saw all manner of wildlife including Kingfishers, Swans, Grebes, Herons and my least favourite the Cormorant which i’m not a fan of as they are far too good at fishing. Most impressive was a Marsh Harrier circling it’s prey and a water vole which swam at us very fast indeed to try and get onto our boat.

    Following this we headed North along the River Ant and under Ludham Bridge which proved to be the first small test of our boating skills made rather easy by Royale’s bow and stern thrust which I would have dearly loved on my recent sailing trip from Athens to Kefalonia.

    Once we had passed underneath the bridge we went past some majestic looking windmills onwards through Barton Broad which is home to a sailing club and it’s peaceful sail boats making lazy turns as they tacked back and forth in what little wind they had. Once through Barton broad we decided to look for somewhere to moor our boat up for the evening and settled for a quiet spot in a wide stretch of the river Ant.

    We were well prepared for dinner having stopped at an impressive Farm shop in Pulham called Goodies Farm Shop where we bought some rib eye steaks and said from the local butchers along with locally produced cheese and an array of snacks and essentials. We also managed to pick up a bottle of English Whisky from the imaginatively titled ‘The English Whisky Company’ which I know has won some awards and hails from Norfolk, it was quite smooth and received favourable praise from our group.

    Sunday

    We woke up to a misty fog over the water which soon dispersed giving us some fabulous weather and after a breakfast of delicious local bacon and eggs which eased our whisky heads from the night before we formed a plan to visit the nearest pub.

    In order to get to the pub we cruised back down South into Barton Broad and West into the narrow Lime Kiln Dyke which presented us with a view of the nicest riverside properties we had seen all trip with their own boat sheds and sprawling lawns, giving us all a little riverside home envy.

    The moorings for the pub were a little bit of a tight squeeze but provided us with water and facilities for the boat, so we tidied up and got ourselves ready for a Sunday lunchtime in a countryside pub.

    A short walk from the moorings we found Neatisham a delightful small village with a friendly village store called White House Stores and the ideal country pub The White Horse Inn that was near perfect offering house brewed Neatishead Brewing Co ales, my Norfolk favourite Woodforde’s Wherry, a decent menu, period features, beer garden,I could go on, suffice to say it helped make our trip that little bit better.

    After lunch our only plan was to finally go fishing and motor all the way back to the boatyard before dark. We managed to execute our plan perfectly despite the good weather finally turning bad and raining throughout the rest of the day.

    We dropped anchor by a very promising looking reed bed in Turkey Broad opposite Barton Broad and baited a swim to entice a shoal of fish along. At this point my fishing companion and I were getting absolutely soaked by the rain, we did however persevere and were rewarded after an hours fishing by getting into a good shoal of fish and we started catching several roach, rudd and bream of which John Wilson himself would be proud.

    We did however endeavour to make it back to the boatyard before dark and with our by now well honed boating skills we managed to guide our boat through the narrow yard into the very same spot we left from.

    All that was left of our weekend was a sleepy car ride back to London during which we all agreed to do this again soon!

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    Athens To Kefalonia By Sail

    Join me day by day as I embarked on an exciting journey from the East of Greece (beside the Aegean islands) directly through the centre of the country’s mainland and out to the West side and the Ionian islands to Kefalonia.

    My journey below has now been completed. Below is an illustration of the path we sailed.

    Map

    The purpose of the journey is to help bring a recently purchased Beneteau sailing yacht from current mooring just outside Athens on the island of Poros to her new home in Kefalonia. My trip will be aided by author Rod Heikkel in the excellent book Greek Waters Pilot.

    Ever since knowing I would be taking this trip I have been really looking forward to the passage through the Corinth canal, a four mile narrow stretch of man made canal started in the 1st century AD and completed in 1893, it is to this day the only waterway which provides passage directly through mainland Greece.

    As well as looking forward to travelling through the canal I am also intrigued by our imminent passage through the Gulf of Corinth which we drove alongside for the majority of our journey back from last years visit to Lefkada, in order to experience the different views of this beautiful mountainous area by both sea and land.

    Poros Island

    Poros Island and Church Tower

    Day 1: Athens To Harbour On The Island Of Poros

    After an early morning flight from London Stanstead to Athens we managed to take a quick trip to the summit of The Acropolis, the ancient citadel of Athens. I visited last year and wanted to return as it offers a quite breathtaking 360 view over the entire city of Athens standing at 150 metres above sea level.

    Following our brief excursion we took a short taxi ride onto Athens port to catch one of their regular island hopping Hellenic Seaways ‘Flying Seacat’ catamaran type ferries to the Aegean island of Poros where our sailing yacht was waiting patiently for collection.

    Upon arrival I was pleasantly surprised to find Poros had plenty to offer; the dockside was well serviced with tavernas and there appeared to be several shops with plenty of sailing related equipment all of which sat infront of a steep facing hillside layered in a patchwork of white washed homes with a beautiful church and bell tower at the summit.

    My travelling party of four just had time to unpack and eagerly inspect our new yacht before evening set in, the harbour at Poros looked just as appealing at night turning into a beautiful scene of starry sky, twinkling lights and neon restaurant signs.

    We managed to find a popular nearby taverna where we ate a very pleasant dinner sharing a large seabass along with our hopes for the trip ahead. The highlight of our meal was perhaps the best yoghurt I have tasted, fresh that day it was served in an ice cold aluminium pot with a topping of quince compote, simple but delicious.

    One thing which took me quite by surprise that evening was discovering the Greek obsession with basketball, nearly every taverna and bar in Poros was playing a match which the locals were eagerly watching with the fervour we Brits enjoy football.

    Canal Entrance

    The entrance to The Corinth Canal is in our sights

    Day 2: Poros To The Entrance Of The Corinth Canal

    Today we spent an industrious morning washing the decks, safety checking our equipment, tidying up all stored items, fuelling the yacht, filling our water tanks and stocking up on supplies for the journey ahead.

    In the new light of day I was very pleased to be in such an appealing place and felt like we could have comfortably lingered a little longer here. The locals appeared very friendly in contrast to Athens where there seemed little good will, perhaps understandable given current tensions and the fact we were no longer in a busy city.

    After a light lunch of Greek salad, freshly cooked local bread and a delicious medium hard cheese like Gouda (the correct name I will post soon) from a local deli we set sail for the Corinth canal.

    Our path took us East around the mainland past a few unspectacular but pretty small and uninhabited islands towards the entrance of the canal which we reached comfortably by late afternoon.

    It was a very pleasant start to the journey and great to finally have the wind in our sails. I managed to spot a flying fish at one point which was quite exciting as I hadn’t expected to see something quite so unusual.

    Passage through the canal is controlled by an office which we contacted by CB radio ahead of arrival to check the available slots, we needed to do this as the canal is very narrow so vessels can only proceed in convoy in one direction at a time. We found the next crossing was going to be first thing in the morning and we were happy to sail to a nearby anchorage and toast our progress with a much deserved gin and tonic.

    Day 3: Passage Through The Corinth Canal To Moorings In Kiato

    We set off early today to make our way to the canal guards office which we moored beside and went in to show our paperwork and pay the passage fee which goes towards the rather expensive upkeep of the canal.

    After a mere 15 minute wait we were ready to make our passage through the canal, which was just enough time for a brief chat with a friendly French family who we had anchored beside last night.

    We agreed to follow behind them as we made our passage and you can see their yacht ahead of ours in the images above. It was a beautiful bright sunny start to the day as we made our progress through the canal. The water was gin clear in the shallow depths at the sides of the canal creating beautiful green and blue opaque windows where the occasional fish could be seen swimming along.

    The real beauty of the canal however are the huge high narrow walls which make it appear as if you are sailing into a triangle and looking above to the bridges created some excellent photographic opportunities also pictured above. On several occasions we passed items of significant historical note including a small temple carved into the side and ancient foot holes towards the West Ionian side where you can imagine excavation of the canal began all those years ago. It is recorded historically that the Greeks and Romans drew up plans for the canal at the height of their empires only to be thwarted in their efforts by the difficulty of the task. The journey as a result feels a bit like visiting an ancient site and quite fascinating to see.

    The journey through the tunnel was smooth and good progress was being made until we were around 5 miles out into the Gulf of Corinth when the weather turned for the worse and we were sailing directly into very strong winds. It was a bit of a reminder how fierce the weather can become and we were forced to motor to the nearest substantial port in front of the town of Kiato which fortunately has a significant sea wall for shelter.

    Having driven past this substantial town before I was quite intrigued to stop here and have a look around. As we entered the port we could see a large modern Cathedral with a red tiled roof and quite a busy port with lots of yachts and locals out fishing.

    I took a walk into town and found several nice cafes, deli’s and fruit and veg stalls which we bought some fresh supplies from but it isn’t really a place for tourists. On my return I walked past the cathedral just as people were leaving and it was nice to see lots of happy locals and a friendly community atmosphere.

    We ate a very pleasant early dinner of chicken and vegetable casserole and hoped for better weather in the morning. If the weather is good i’m told it will be a 5am start so I need to stop writing now and get this posted.

    Day 4: Kiato To Poros in Kefalonia

    Having forecasted good weather ahead we had a really early start to the day setting off under the cover of darkness at 5am.

    Our aim was to make as much progress as we could and despite the early start we were in great spirits with our adrenaline going for the exciting journey ahead.

    The first hours sailing was eerily quiet with a gentle rising fog and quite poor visibility, the water was as flat as glass and the moon reflected in the water like it was a big mirror. My friend remarked this was the apparent cause of abandoned ships as delirious sailers began to think they could walk off the boat to their freedom. I thanked him for the encouraging chat and was pleased when the sun started to make an appearance closer to 6am.

    Despite the rising sun the water still as flat as can be had a persisting fog but landmarks on either coastline were starting to come into view to give us something to look at as we motored along.

    By 8am visibility was much better, I realised then that in the past three hours we had made significant progress already, largely helped by the calm waters. At this point we hadn’t past a single vessel and I was wondering when we might expect some company when all of a sudden a family of dolphins appeared in the distance jumping and playing together. It was a beautiful sight to behold and we were very fortunate when they decided to swim around us for what must have been at least 15 minutes. I managed to take some great pictures including a young dolphin leaping right above the surface.

    Our journey continued largely peacefully as we took it in turns to helm the wheel until the afternoon when we began to approach the Gulf of Patras and the main Rio-Antirio bridge which links the Western side of the Greek mainland together.

    By this point in the afternoon the wind had started to pick up a bit and we were now able to get our sails out which sped up our progress even further. By late afternoon we had passed under the bridge smoothly despite a much increased wind speed which caused us a few issues and having to navigate safely out of the path of a large shipping container by contacting the bridge office.

    Once we had passed under the bridge we found the wind behind us to our stern which increased our progress yet again. At this point we had made such great progress that we found ourselves in the position of deciding whether we would like to continue out past the mainland all the way to Kefalonia or find somewhere to drop anchor.

    After double checking the weather forecast was favourable we were all buoyed by the decision to press on and the excitement of reaching Kefalonia a day early. We therefore continued on out past the tip of the mainland which seemed to linger with us for a long time as we rounded it but great progress was being made on our charts.

    As soon as we got into open water Kefalonia appeared on the horizon looking like a big black rock ahead to our bow. By this point it was around 7pm and it had already been a very long day but we were given a big boost by the sight of land.

    Unfortunately by 8pm the wind direction had changed into a quite severe side wind which was pushing us North and slowing our progress. Nevertheless our yacht was having no issues with the now much more bumpy ride and we had committed to it so we just enjoyed the adrenaline ride.

    Just past 9pm it had fallen quite dark and we still had around 6km to travel to the port also called Poros, coincidentally the same name as the island we started our journey from. By 9:30pm we spotted the flashing port lights which guided us safely in past the sea wall.

    The port was very busy so we had to make do with mooring up stern to bow alongside the outer port wall but it was a great sigh of relief to be able to stretch our legs on dry land and go to a local taverna for a pint of Mythos beer and a late but well deserved dinner.

    Day 5: Poros To Argostoli

    After a decent nights rest from such a long sail we were happy to take a leisurely morning in Poros which was a pleasant place to stop with picturesque hillside views and a handful of restaurants, cafes and supermarket.

    We set off around lunchtime for the final part of our journey which took us around from Poros on the East side of the island to Arostoli on the West.

    The weather was much better today and we were really happy to get the sails out again and enjoy sailing. Kefalonia immediately provided more coastline scenery than our previous days with several beaches and mountain side villas to gaze at as we travelled.

    We arrived in Argostoli by early evening with time and the light on our side and found a good spot to moor in the marina. Argostoli is sheltered naturally by the landscape and was immediately striking by how much larger it appears than any of our previous destinations.

    From the marina we could see many restaurants and we also spotted a cruise ship so it became quite clear we had very much arrived in a holiday destination. On a quick stroll around the marina we managed to see some large turtles swimming along and speak to our friendly English neighbour who was sailing around the world but reluctant to leave Kefalonia which I thought to myself bodes well for our holiday ahead staying in Villa Kalliste known as arguably one of the best on the island.

    Villa Kalliste Kefalonia

    Villa Kalliste

    Day 6: Villa Kalliste

    Having now spent a full day at Villa Kalliste I can thoroughly recommend it to anybody seeking a luxury break in Kefalonia.

    The villa is in a stunning position with elevated views out into the Ionian waters across a nearby vineyard and fields.

    The garden and pool area is very tastefully manicured with herb beds, cyprus pines, honeysuckle pots, grasses and flowers and there is a separate terraced barbecue area away from the villa which will be perfect for late dinners and reading during the day.

    View To Sea

    The Villa Kalliste view to sea

    Inside the villa there is an open plan kitchen, dining and living area which is well furnished with modern and Greek items. There are 3 large bedrooms 2 large bedrooms upstairs including a master bedroom and one smaller room downstairs also as well as a guesthouse which sleeps 4 so we are extremely well catered for.

    The upstairs rooms in which I am staying has a generous balcony which was a lovely setting for this mornings coffee.

    On arrival we met the expat owners Vincent and Denise who are really friendly and passionate about Kefalonia. They have a highly efficient team to look after guests and were seemingly able to cater for any request so I managed to obtain the most important details from them which to me were the names of all the best local restaurants. We started off by visiting one of the very best called Avithos Preview Taverna which had already been highly recommended to me during our trip.

    The unassuming looking restaurant is situated overlooking Avithos beach a popular destination beach and is run by a friendly local called Panos Sarris and his family who serve fresh seafood and really authentic Kefalonian dishes of which my favourite was a simple but delicious dish of fresh prawns cooked in a well seasoned tomato and feta cheese sauce.

    Panos is a trained sommelier and produces an excellent white wine, look for the Sarris label if you visit which has a large finger print on the label and their own Panchori olive oil which is also very good.

    Panos proudly gave a copy of his family recipe book ‘Tastes of Kefalonia’ which has some wonderful recipes and explains the subtle differences with Kefalonian cuisine due to the islands history. I have had a quick browse and didn’t realise that he island wasn’t ruled by the Ottoman empire like the rest of Greece but by the Venetians and Francs so many of their dishes have some Italian and French influence which can be no bad thing.

    No summer holiday related post would be complete without my top Summer 2015 essential fashion picks so I will leave you with an image of my favourite items this summer.

    My favourite is a pair of swim shorts from impressive British designer Leo Joseph, this seasons range was inspired by his travels in South Africa which you can see with the elephant and tree pattern, the full range is available to purchase online.

    The other essential item is the pair of sunglasses I took on the journey, I still don’t think you can do any wrong with the brand Illesteva and their Leonard frame, so I have swapped last years mirrored lenses which are now definitely off trend for a more subtle clear white tortoiseshell frame and dark lenses, available at Opumo.

    Leo Joseph

    Leo Joseph swim shorts and Illesteva sunglasses

    Thanks for reading this post, I hope you enjoyed it and I will be happy to answer any queries about Kefalonia and the sailing route we took via twitter @travellinggent

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    4 Things To Do In Lefkada

    1. Sunbathe on Egremni Beach

    Perhaps the highlight of our visit to Lefkas was the stunning Egremni beach. Having left behind not so pleasant weather in the UK it was simply breathtaking and hard to believe I was still in Europe to see such striking clear blue water and unspoilt sand.

    Egremni Beach is located on the far South West tip of the island and was by far the most beautiful of Lefkada’s beaches. Driving in Greece alone is not for the faint-hearted but the island of Lefkada is something else, prepare yourself for the road to Egremni Beach. There are frequent winding cliff-edged roads just to get to the car park and for anybody scared of heights like myself there is nothing quite like driving towards the edge of an open cliff in order to park a car – I can assure you!

    Once you are at the car park there is then the fairly substantial task of a 300 step railing path down to the beach itself. It is worth mentioning you really need to bring your own supplies as there is only one small beach bar and they have to go back up the path to bring you any food from the restaurant at the top.

    Egremni Beach

    Egremni Beach: Acres of perfect sand and crystal clear water

    2. Lunch at Dimitri’s Taverna

    Almost half of the male population on Lefkada seemed to be called Dimitri, in fact I saw another Taverna also called Dmitri’s the same day I visited here but you will know there is only one Dimitri’s when you visit here.

    The taverna is not so easy to find and was a welcome tip from a friend, this is a family run restaurant located opened in 1973 in Paleokatouna near Nidri on the South East coast. Dimitri goes fishing every day and brings back his catch the menu is authentic Greek, simple, fresh, mostly seafood dishes which are well cooked and the service is extremely warm.

    What is special about this place is that half of the restaurant dining room is on decking which juts out into a sheltered cove of flat sea which provides quite an intimate setting. A quiet lunch of freshly caught rock lobsters and Champagne with your lady would be a very romantic gesture indeed.

    For bookings call the restaurant locally on 2645092227 or email dim taverna_geni@hotmail.com

    Dimitri's Taverna Lefkada

    View of Dimitri’s Taverna from the decking

    3. Dinner in Sivota Bay Fishing Village

    Sivota Bay is a beautiful small fishing village located towards the South East corner of the island which is extremely popular with the salty sea dog yachting community as it is a great place to moor up for the evening. There are several restaurants to choose from however we would recommend Spiridoula Taverna, known to have the best food and atmosphere. Just follow the deck shoes if you are unsure.

    Sivota Bay

    Sivota Bay early evening

    4. Visit Land of Lefkas Wines

    Worth visiting early on your travels to stock up on supplies is the vineyard come museum Land of Lefkas Wines.

    This vineyard produces both dry and sweet white, red and rose wines using the native grape varieties Vardea and Vertzami which are only grown on the island.

    There are daily tours and they have their own wine museum where you can see their antique wine production equipment. It is quite interesting to see how hand made but effective the tools were. Much of the island is very unspoilt and many people make their own small batches of wine so you can imagine similar tools are probably still in use today.

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    GT’s Top 5 Make Your World Bigger 2015 Pledges

    GT are delighted to help raise awareness for Discovery Channel’s Make Your World Bigger campaign by supporting their www.mywbcompetition.com microsite.

    As part of their #MYWBPledge philosophy Discovery Channel is asking people to make a pledge to do something unfulfilled. Once you’ve drawn up your list visit www.mywbcompetition.com and you may see it realised.

    Here at GT we support this campaign as it is encouraging the discovery of new things. Travelling plays a large part in that and Discovery Channel has long provided a brilliant platform to show people what the world has to offer. Who better to trust to realise desires that are often put to one side?

    To help get the ball rolling here are GT’s Top 5 Make Your World Bigger pledges:

    1. Take a trip across a desert
    2. Dinner at Ferran Adria’s new London outpost
    3. A visit to Berlin for the nightlife
    4. Weekend Break in Dubrovnik, Croatia
    5. Catching my first Grayling on-the-fly

    Make Your World Bigger

    Visit www.mywbcompetition.com now to submit your entry and be in with a chance of having your pledge fulfilled.

    All words by David Hamilton. This is not an advertisement feature.

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