Travel Diary – Tunisia Part Two

Tunis is one of North Africa’s most cosmopolitan cities – bustling and brash but friendly and laid-back at the same time, it is a city of contradictions.

The city’s 8th Century Arab Medina (Old Town) is an exotic labyrinth of twisting streets and alleyways. The 19th century French Colonial new city with its sprawling palm lined boulevards, cafes and trams, is orderly and calm in comparison, and both equally have their charm.

Here are some of my favourite things to do in Tunisia’s capital and the surrounding area.

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Visit Carthage – Take the train from Tunis Marine TGM Station to Carthage, Hannibal Station to visit the ruins of ancient Carthage. Although the ruins are quite scarce in comparison with some sites I’ve visited they are still well worth a visit, with their seafront location and stunning views over the area. The on-site Carthage Museum houses many of the finds from the excavation of the site.

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000028The ruins are located in an idyllic spot, overlooking the seaTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Explore the ancient Medina – In the centre of Tunis the 8th century Medina is a fascinating place to spend a day exploring. With its tangled alleyways it is easy to get lost, but you will always find your way back to the Great Mosque – Djemma ez Zaitouna (Olive Tree Mosque).

Shop for souvenirs including colourful carpets, spices and leather goods in the bustling Souq, and don’t forget to bargain. Whilst Arabic and French are the main languages, English is also widely spoken and understood.

The Medina is also home to enormous key-lock shaped doors, inquisitive cats, and restaurants serving traditional Tunisian dishes.

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogGiant key-lock shaped  doors are a dominant feature throughout MedinaTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogColourful souvenirs on offer in the SouqTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Djemma ez Zaitouna (Olive Tree Mosque) – While non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the prayer hall of the Medina’s great mosque, you are able to visit the exterior courtyard. Organised tours are also available.

The rooftop of a nearby shop offers stunning views over the mosque and the Medina below.

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogIntricate tiles on the rooftop of a nearby shop frame the Great Mosque Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogColourful carpets provide contrast to the whitewashed walls of the Medina Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Spending a day exploring the charming seaside village of Sidi Bou Said – just 20 minutes from Tunis, the seaside village of Sidi Bou Said is easy to reach by train, or as part of a day tour.

Perched on cliff tops above the Mediterranean, this pretty blue and white village is home to many local artists and is also a favourite getaway for city-dwellers over the weekend. Read more about Sidi Bou Said in last weeks post here.

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogBougainvillea draped buildings are characteristic of the blue and white village of Sidi Bou Said 

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogColourful studded doors line the streets of the village Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Follow in the footsteps of the stars and visit Fella Boutique – Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Greta Garbo have all shopped in Fella Boutique at some point. Run by world renowned designer, Samia Bin Khalifa since the 1960’s, this small boutique in Tunis is a treasure trove of intricate handmade Tunisian dresses, colourful kaftans and jewellery.

Location: 9 bis Place Pasteur, Tunis Belvédère 1002

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part 2 |Gypsy Rova BlogThe Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul on Avenue Habib Bourguiba

Have you visited Tunisia? I’d love to hear about your experiences and favourite spots in the comments below!

 PRIVATE PROPERTY-5

Travel Diary – Lake Como

 

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Lake Como, or Lago di Como in the North of Italy, had always been somewhere I’d wanted to visit, so given a spare day in Milan I took the opportunity to jump on a train and explore the area.

Arriving in Como, I decided to take the 2 hour ferry trip to Bellagio passing the pretty towns lining Lake Como along the way. You can buy a whole day ‘hop on and off’ ticket allowing you to explore the various towns around the Lake.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

With its flower lined promenade, stately hotels, and historic villas its easy to see why Bellagio has been a popular spot amongst artists and writers over the years.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

The deep blue shores of Lake Como are truly stunning on a summer day and a walk in the afternoon breeze is a great way to cool off from the hot Italian sun.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Exploring the cobbled streets and alleyways of Bellagio is intriguing. Around every corner there is something new to find.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Private gardens and tree filled courtyards are hidden behind iron doors and gates, evoking the feeling of having stumbled across a secret garden.

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With galleries, antique stores, boutiques and delicatessens brimming with local produce, there is something for everyone.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Local artisans showcase their wares from silk scarves and ties, to leather goods and colourful ceramics.

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Stop and relax in one of the cute cafes lining the backstreets. Gelato anyone?

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

The views back out to the Lake are dreamy in the late afternoon sun.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

My day of exploring Lake Como came to an end, as all good things do, but if you’d like to visit the area, here’s what you need to know.

Getting there: Como is easy to reach from Milan by car or train. Trains depart regularly from Milan’s Stazione Centrale and Stazione Porta Garibaldi, and arrive at San Giovanni, Como’s main station. The journey is approximately 40 minutes.

Getting to Bellagio: There are frequent boat services from Como to Lenno, Mennagio, Bellagio and Varenna, including a car ferry. There is also a less frequent but faster boat which travels the full length of the Lake from Como.

Como City: This is definitely the liveliest of the towns around Lake Como. It would be a good base if you have longer to explore the area. There are a variety of restaurants,shops and boutiques, as well as a good choice of accommodation. In the day time you can visit the Cathedral, stroll around the town and explore its historical squares, or enjoy a walk or a boat trip along the Lake. There is also a Funicular which runs up the mountains to the small town of Brunate, offering breathtaking views over Lake Como and out to the Alps.

PRIVATE PROPERTY-5

 

The hills sweep upward from the shore, With villas scattered one by one
Upon their wooded spurs, and lower
Bellagio blazing in the sun
I ask myself: Is this a dream
Will it all vanish into air
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?
H.W.Longfellow

A week in Corfu

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 


“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.” Gerald Durrell

Having already visited the Greek Islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Ios I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the Ionian island of Corfu. I had heard varying reports of a lush green island with stunning beaches, crystal clear waters, and fishing villages as well as tacky beach resorts, and a less charming side. As always I decided to try to set those aside and form my own opinion when I got there – which I am so glad I did.
We visited in May right at the start of the season, which meant long sunny days without the scorching heat of summer, and cool breezy evenings. Without the full onslaught of tourists, it still had that laid back ‘island paced’ feel and the locals were relaxed and friendly. We based ourselves in the North of the island on the outskirts of the village of Sidari – about 45km from the airport. Truth be told, if it had been peak season we would have stayed elsewhere, but we were concerned about having enough facilities open for business in some of the less frequented villages at that time of year.

In the interest of transparency I will say that our first impression of Sidari was mixed – it seemed to be a little run down in parts. It was evident that the tough economic climate had hit hard, however there was a steely determination amongst the locals that it certainly wouldn’t stop them and they would pick back up. Putting all of that to one side our location on the outskirts of the village was quiet and peaceful yet a short ten minute stroll had us on the main strip with a huge choice of tavernas, cafes, bars and restaurants, along with various shops and travel booking offices.

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

Most of the beach side tavernas offer a great breakfast selection, and sitting in the sunshine, overlooking the sea every morning we really did have to pinch ourselves. A stroll through town past the famous Canal d’Amour and into the countryside was the perfect way to work off breakfast and blow away the cobwebs – especially if you’d overindulged in the widely available 3 euro cocktails the night before. Walking down the rural lanes you really see the traditional Corfiot way of life – farmers with sun lined faces and toothy grins full of character would wave as we passed, and women sat gathered in the shade of olive trees going about their morning chores. Farm houses – their terraces draped with bougainvillea, fragrant orange and lemon groves, peaceful country tavernas and endless blue skies all worked their magic and the distant pressures of home soon seemed to fade away. On the way back into town there are several sandy paths winding their way down towards the limestone cliffs which drop into the turquoise waters of the Ionian sea. Steep trails take you down to small secluded coves which are perfect for a refreshing dip as the heat of the day starts to settle in.

 

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog
 
A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

If like me, you’re not content to sit by a pool for your entire holiday there are plenty of excursions which are well worth doing and offer really good value for money. A day trip into charming Corfu Town is in my humble opinion a must do. Also know as Kerkyra, UNESCO world heritage listed Corfu Town is enchanting with its Old Fortress, historic cobbled streets lined with faded pastel Venetian mansions, old churches and sun-dappled squares. There are plenty of shops selling ceramics, leather goods, clothing, jewellery, local crafts and produce. If shopping isn’t your thing relax in the gardens of the Esplanade (Spianada Square), or visit one of the many cafes in the Parisian influenced Liston building with its arched terraces – a great spot for people watching. With a huge variety of restaurants to choose from you can easily spend the evening here and enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere as the sun starts to dip.

 

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

Also a must do is the idyllic village of Paleokastritsa. Start with a visit to the 13th century Byzantine Monastery, perched high on the hills above the village. With a beautiful bell tower, stunning ocean views and tranquil terraced gardens complete with sunbathing cats, it is well worth the effort. In the village itself there are several turquoise bays to cool off in, boat trips out to explore the caves along the coastline and plenty of options for lunch and refreshments. About 4km from Paleokastritsa is the traditional mountain village of Lakones. Its narrow roads are lined with 18th and 19th century stone houses, and if you are travelling through by bus you will find yourself involuntarily holding your breath while the driver navigates the road. From the vantage point of Bella Vista, a little further along, there are endless views down to the bays of Paleokastritsa and out across the Ionian Sea. For me standing there soaking up the views in the afternoon sunshine with Greek accordion music gently wafting on the breeze will be one of those memories that stays with me forever.

 

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

In summing up Corfu, like most destinations is what you make of it. Yes, it is true, times are tough in Greece and you can see this in areas. However, for me the positives far out-weighed any negatives. With only a week to explore we barely scratched the surface of what the island has to offer. The true test is always ‘would you go back’ and for me the answer is ‘in a heartbeat’.

 

TOP TIPS

Talk to the locals – the Corfiots are genuinely some of the friendliest people I have ever come across. If you need advice on what to do and see, how to get there, where to eat, etc. they are happy to help. Their warmth, sense of humour and generosity of spirit made our trip and we left feeling as though we had friends in Corfu.

Eating out – there are a huge variety of places to eat with something to suit everyone. Family run Greek Tavernas are well priced and I have to say serve some of my favourite food on the planet. Greek salads, tzatziki, saganaki, calamari, kebabs, moussaka, fresh seafood – I could go on forever. My personal favourite, and a first for me was the ‘baked feta’ which I will try to replicate on the blog in the future. If, however Greek food isn’t your thing there are plenty of other options from steakhouses and American style diners to Mexican and Italian restaurants.

Self catering – Most accommodation also has limited self catering facilities – great for lighter meals and snacks on a budget. The local stores sell a wide variety of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables, freshly baked bread and pastries, yoghurt, deli meats, olives, sun-dried tomatoes,  and of course feta cheese all of which are great to have on hand.

Vegetarians – As a vegetarian, I sometimes struggle when eating out abroad. However, in Corfu there were plenty of options and I felt spoilt for choice.

Visit out of peak season – I would highly recommend visiting in May, or late September to October if you can. From June – August it can be very crowded and the temperatures also soar. If you are visiting in Spring or Autumn pack some warmer items for the evening as it does get chilly, especially by the sea. A light waterproof jacket and decent walking shoes are also a good idea.

Departing Corfu – when leaving Corfu the queues to pass through customs can actually get so long they go outside of the terminal itself. This can mean long periods of standing in the sun waiting, so make sure you apply sunscreen before you go and take water with you. You will thank yourself for it believe me. Apart from a small stall across the road from the terminal, there are limited places to eat until you get through customs, so it pays to have a small snack in your bag to keep you going as well.

Sunset or Logas Beach – if you are staying in the Sidari area it is definitely worth a visit to Panorama Restaurant/7th Heaven Bar in Logas Beach on a clear evening to watch the sunset. A taxi from Sidari will cost you around 10 euro. Try to arrive a bit early to get a seat with a view in the bar/restaurant. It is a bit pricier than some other places but the views and chill out music are worth the premium. When you’re ready to return to Sidari the bar staff will call you a taxi.

Day trips – at the time of our visit a day trip to Corfu Town was around 10 euro per person. Paleokastritsa and Bella Vista was around 15 euro per person. There are a large selection of other trips on offer, including a day trip to Albania, water parks, horse riding and various cruises.

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A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog