My favourite local escape

Everybody has their favourite place. Some people may even have more than one. A place that puts a smile on your face when you just think about it. A place that makes you feel welcome no matter the season or weather.

When I was younger I could never understand why do some people go holidaying in the same place every year. Like what’s the point?

Now I finally get it. When you go to a new palace you have to do your research, find a good beach/mountain, good restaurant etc. But when you already been in that place then you don’t really have to do any preparations. Just book your favourite hotel and cross your fingers for the weather.

After all “The real voyage of discovery consist not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” M. Proust.

Going to the same place every year is like rereading your favourite book or rewatching your favourite movie. Even tho you know the ending ever time you discover a new character or a new plot twist that somehow you missed before.

One of my favourite places is the beautiful Isle of Wight.

I discovered it by a chance when I put off booking my Easter holidays till the last minute. And I’m so glad I did. I try to go at least once a year but usually end up going more often.

Getting there couldn’t have been easier. Trains to Portsmouth harbour tan from either London Waterloo or London Victoria. Price depends on time of the day you are going and of course day of the week. Once I managed to book a return ticket for my friend for £5:)

From the harbour you have to jump on a ferry or if you are feeling a bit more adventurous, you can get off at Portsmouth & Southsea and hop on a hovercraft.

I’ve been on both and have to say I prefer the ferry. Less bouncy:) time travel for ferry is 20 mins whilst the hovercraft takes only 10 mins.

If you arrive by ferry then your next step is to hop on on an inland train.

Be prepared, the ride will be rough. You can buy the ticket on the train and the time table is synchronised with the ferry time table so you should never find yourself stranded.

The bus link on the island is pretty amazing and you can literally visit the whole island.

SHANKLIN

That’s where I’m usually based during my visits. Instead of explaining why, may I just suggest looking at those pics:

If someone would blindfold me and brought me to this place without telling me where I am, I would argue to death that this can’t be in UK! Water this clear??? Streets this clean???

This places amazes me every time. And by now I have visited 5 times:)

There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to accommodation: hotels, b&b, caravans.

The sunrise it’s pretty spectacular and well worth waking up for.

Plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants to choose from when it comes to food. And the food is just delicious. One of my favourites is the Veggie Sizzler

They serve it Sizzlers restaurant at Holliers hotel in the old village. I totally recommend checking it out but the truth is, you won’t be disappointed with the food wherever you decide to eat.

To burn all those calories or simply make room for more, why not take a coastal walk from Shanklin to Sandown? There will be plenty of cafes on the way so you can always top up on some more delicious food.

VENTNOR

If you are a fan of walking like me, then you will be pleasantly surprised with Isle of Wight. There are over 800km (500miles) designated footpaths ranging from clif top hikes with stunning view, trails through forests and wetlands or simple walks through the village and countryside. One of my favourites is a walk from Shanklin to Ventnor.

You can say I was lucky since the weather was always spectacular whenever I was in Isle of Wight so the views I get to experience were always magnificent. Last year I even swam in the sea!!

You have three options when it comes to making your journey to Ventnor. The coastal walk is about 6km (3.8 miles) long and it takes you through Haddon pits and Luccombe Chine. It is a very nice walk indeed but please remember to wear appropriate shoes. The path can get very muddy and can be very narrow sometimes.

Another option is to just follow the main road. You will be walking slightly higher than on the coastal walk so your view will be much broader. Also I visited in almost every season and never seen the road very busy. It is a stunning road I have to admit.

The third option would be to climb to Shanklin down 235m (770ft) and just follow the path. The views from there are the best plus the path is mostly levelled except for the first hill.

Once in Ventnor I think the Esplanade is well worth visiting.

And remember that you don’t have to take the same route back as you can turn it into a circular walk.

The one following the main road would be the longest but with the easiest terrain.

THE NEEDLES

Based in Alum Bay, the Needles are not only an attractive landmark but also a great destination for the whole family.

It’s like a mini amusement park with 4D cinema, spectacular chairlift ride to the beach and the sand cliffs, a sand shop where you can make your own unique souvenir and plenty of children attractions including Victorian carousel and Games kids.

How to get there? If you don’t have a car then please follow this link , where you can find the local bus schedules and routes.

http://www.islandbuses.info/servicelisting.shtml

Bear in mind, that unless you are based in Yarmouth or Freshwater, the bus journey will be rather long. Especially if you decide to take the Island coaster. Cheapest way to travel by public transport is to buy a Daily Rover:

It works across the whole network.

FRESHWATER BAY

I visited the place last July and was incredible lucky as it was almost 30C so I get to swim in the sea:) amazing experience.

I came with a friend as she wanted to see the place I’m raving about so much. She was not disappointed. We took the Island caster to and got off at Compton farm. Frankly at this point I was very close to getting sick as the journey takes over 90 min (I have motion sickness).

The walk to Alum bay is about 3km (1.9miles) long and the views are just stunning.

Yes that tiny dot is me swimming:

I even saw a jellyfish!

RED SQUIRREL TRAIL

The popular trail is 51km (31 miles) long and takes you through some breathtaking scenery. You can either walk it or cycle it. I did the second and loved every minute!

Of course I started from Shanklin as that is where I was based. I rented my bike from 1st call cycle hire in Sandown.

You will ride trough variety of terrain so please be prepared.

The trail can be broken down into 4 sections: East Cowes to Merstone (via Newport), Merstone to Sandown, Sandown back to Marstone and finally Merstone back to East Cowes.

When you are in East Cowes I recommend riding to Cowes and sample some food at The Red Duster. The service is superb and so is the food.

The route can easily be done in one day but if you really want to enjoy the views and maybe try some different pubs and restaurants, then split the journey over two days. That way your bum won’t be too sore either:)

Haunted forest

Romania has been on my bucket list for two reasons: bears and haunted forest.

No, I’m not a big fan of bears. I actually suffer from a massive fear of bears. Watching a YouTube video featuring those massive animals can spread up my heart rate and make my palms sweaty. Ask any of my friends, I’m not exaggerating… but anyone who loves hiking has to come to terms with a simple fact that sooner or later one finds themselves on bears territory.

Romania has the biggest population of bears in Europe. I simply was trying to convince myself that bears aren’t that scary nor it’s easy to meet them.

My second reason to visit Romania was famous haunted forest, Hoia Baciu, which is why I flew to Cluj-Napoca.

Cluj-Napoca is second biggest city in Romania and full of universities, landmarks and vibrant nightlife. Not that I tried any of those:)

I personally love travelling to Eastern Europe because of how cheap and diverse it is.

Because my flight arrived quite early and after checking in into my apartment I had almost the whole day left, I decided to go straight to Hoia Baciu. I did a little bit of research on the subject and have to say it sounded awesome. My enthusiasm went down a little bit after I spoke to my Romanian friend and she said she never heard of that forest.

Panic! Oh no! What if it’s all just a hoax? To attract tourists?

I inquired some info from my host and she didn’t help either. She said it’s just a normal forest and many locals go there on weekends to have picnics etc.

And indeed it does look like a normal ordinary forest.

I’m not sure if there is one particular part of the forest that is meant to be scary, but I didn’t stumble upon it. It is quite a big place.

I made it to the place which my map referred to as “Hoja timegate”. Clearly it was very known place as I wasn’t the only one curious about it.

Perhaps that is the place where all those mysterious disappearances took place? Of course I walked across the field just see if I can feel anything. I even took a video of the whole place.

I didn’t experience anything supernatural and out of the ordinary but that does mean this place isn’t haunted?

I think everyone should find out for themselves.

On my second day in Romania I visited beautiful forest in Faget.

It was bank holiday weekend so the place was very popular but not to the point that you would feel it. If you are like me and prefer places with less people, then Faget it’s a good choice.

Once you come out of the forest, the views are spectacular:

On my last day I decided to see some city views and learn a little bit of the history.

There is a free walking tour of the city centre daily at 6pm. Before that I visited Alaxandru Borza Botanical garden. There is a small fee at the entrance.

There is a museum, Japanese garden and also an amazing elevated platform, similar to the one in Kew Gradens in uk, from where you can see the layout of the gardens. Very lovely place.

The only thing that is still lacking in Eastern Europe is vegetarian cuisine. I mean you will find the basic like pasta with tomato sauce or salad, but other than that it’s a meat orientated cuisine.

The tour of the city lasts about an hour and all you have to do is to show up at Unirri Square in front of the Mathias Corvinus statue. The guide will have an umbrella so it’s easy to spot him/her. (You can see the statue on my first pic at the top of the post).

Couple of notes about the airport: Cluj-Napoca airport is quite small and although the official currency of Romania is Romanian Leu, make sure you have euros at the airport. I wanted to buy water and was told they only accept euros. So hey, if anyone is going to Romania anytime soon I got some spare Leu:)

Travelling around the city is quite simple. Lots of buses to choose from just make sure you will buy the ticket upfront from a kiosk. You can also pay for the ticket using your mobile phone:

Cluj-Napoca also has quite few cycle lanes so if you are a fan of two wheels, go for it.

Happy travels!

Lake Como

The more I visit Italy the more In love I am with that country. For me Italy spells love. I love the food (who knew there were so many types of pasta???), the weather, the cars and of course the mountains.

Mountains means lakes, waterfalls and rivers. I spent my childhood swimming in a lake so I’m very fond of this type of past time. If the lake is surrounded by stunning mountains, like lake Como,even better:)

If you aren’t based in Italy then the best way to get there is to fly to Milan and then make the rest of the journey by train or a car. I will focus on the train journey because that’s how I did it.

You can take a train from Milano Centrale or Milano Porta Garibaldi Passante.

I took a train from Milano Centrale to Varenna. The journey take about 1hr and return ticket costs around €10. There are up to 3 trains per hour during the week.

Varenna is very charming little town with a beautiful Castle di Vezio which is placed on a little hill. The hike isn’t the easiest one as it’s quite steep and can be slippery. There is a small fee to enter and the surrounding grounds are a breeding ground to few species of birds. Sadly I visited in January therefore couldn’t access it. The castle is closed during winter and reopens in March.

If you like quiet destinations and don’t need much to entertain yourself except for hiking poles and proper walking shoes, then Lake Como in winter can be a heaven.

Since I only had a day to visit I decided to see as much as possible. I jumped on to a ferry to take me to my next town: Bellagio.

The ride takes roughly 15mins and costs around €5. You can pay on board by cash or buy ticket at the port office.

Bellagio looks across northern arm of the Como lake. It has a population of 200 but can accommodate up to 900 tourists. It’s a beautiful, charming town with lots of small boutiques and cafes. It also has two gardens to visit but they are closed during winter season.

I loved walking amongst those little cobbled roads. Felt like I was transported to another century.

My speed boat ride wasn’t until late afternoon so I had a bit of time to explore this beautiful town.

I took a walk to a place called Punta di Spartivento which turned out to be a little harbour.

From there I made my way back to the main road and then decided to just follow it and see where it will take me. I’m really glad I did because I stumbled upon this little church:

That’s another reason I love Italy so much. One could spend whole life just visiting all those little cathedral spread all over the country. Each one with its own charm.

The Cimitero del Borgo was pretty as well.

Villa Melzi with the spectacular gardens was very tempting as well but as you can already guess, it was closed to the public.

Maybe that’s just another reason to visit the lake again?

Just before the villa you can see Porto di Loppia pictured above. I can only imagine how busy this place gets in summer, since they have so many ports.

As awaiting me was a speed boat ride to Como, I decided to have something to eat and maybe a little drink for courage (I’m not too fond of boats).

So I chose one of the local restaurants and had just what I needed: a glass of Port and plate of local brown pasta with potatoes, spinach and cheese. Delicious.

The speed boat ride to Como lasts an 1hr and single trip costs €15. The schedule in winter is a little bit less frequent so plan your visit well. I actually regret not staying over at least two nights. That would give me the opportunity to do some hiking as well.

Como was very busy and lively. Reminded me of Innsbruck a little.

If you are looking for a place to see the sunset from, then I would recommend taking the funicular from Como station to Brunate. Spectacular view. The train from Como to Milano Centrale takes an 1hr and costs €5 for a second class ticket.

I can see why George Clooney decided to buy a house there:)

If you want to find out the schedule for ferries, just follow those details:

Happy trekking:)

Amongst the red kites

Living in London means I don’t really have mountains on my doorstep, but when you don’t have what you like you like what you have.

England is full of National Trust trails ranging from abandoned railway tracks to walks through farmers fields full of grazing sheep and cows. Some of those trails are well designed long distance treks.

The Ridgeway is 140km (87 miles) long. For an intermediate walker who can manage 22km (13 miles) a day it would take roughly a week to finish the whole trail. There are lots of camping stops along the way. You can also did the walk in segments, like I do.

The trail leads from Overton Hill 174m (571ft) at the southern edge of the Marlborough Dawns in Wiltshire, to Ivinghoe Beacon 233m (764ft) hill in the Chiltern Hills. There are two car parks or you can take the train to Tring. It takes as little as 35 mins from London Euston and you can buy a return ticket for £10 providing you have a discount railway card or use the group saving.

I did the circular walk from Tring to Aldbury and it took me a little over 4hrs to do it. I wasn’t in a hurry, took lots of pictures and generally just enjoy the hike at my own leisure pace.

The path is well marked with signposts and makes for a pleasant way to spend an afternoon with a family or friends. However it’s not the easiest terrain for a buggy as it can get super muddy.

The views are quite spectacular I must say. Especially on a clear sunny day which didn’t happen when I was there but I still enjoyed it.

Some parts of the trail include “common land” which means the owner gave permission for people to pass through. There may be some cows or sheep grazing so make sure you will close the gates behind you and keep the dogs on the leash.

The area is also abundant with red kites. I love how graceful they look soaring the open lands with their majestic wings wide open.

Just to give you an idea of the whole trek, here is a pic of my route:

I use MapMyHike to mark the route. All you have to do is to download the app, allow the location tracking and remember to start recording as soon as you hit the trail and then finished it when you reach your end. The app runs in the background so no need to constantly have the screen open etc.

If you worry about trails visibility etc you can always use a gps device or a gps app. I have MapsMe and it shows me all the paths available in my trekking area.

Happy trekking:)