ARUBA

I first discovered Aruba via Instagram having seen a picture of a blogger alongside flamingos on the beach and I knew I had to go!! Flamingos have long been one of my favourite animals and they also have a strong family significance, as my Gran and Granddad founded ‘The Flamingo’ ballroom in Northern Ireland in 1960 which hosted iconic acts such as The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Dusty Springfield and Lulu but to name a few. I was so excited to visit the exclusive Flamingo beach on the Renaissance Private island and it didn’t disappoint!

Getting there

We booked our trip via Destinology https://www.destinology.co.uk (I’ve used this company for a couple of multicentre trips and they’ve been fantastic!) They booked our flights via Miami (where we stopped for 3 nights) with American Airlines.

Stay

Oranjestad is the main town in Aruba and it is here where the Renaissance hotel is located https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/auabr-renaissance-aruba-resort-and-casino/ This hotel owns the Renaissance private island, (where flamingo beach is located) so as a resident here you get complimentary and unlimited access. There is no beach at this hotel so a boat runs regularly back and forth throughout the day directly from the hotel to the island. You can still gain access to the island as a non resident, however, there are a limited number of island day ‘passes’ which cost $125 each. Residents are prioritised and you can’t book in advance so you can turn up on the day but there’s no guarantee you will gain access.

Dine

There are lots of reasonably priced casual dining options around the marina and in the main town. There is also a bar/restaurant on flamingo island (that do amazing frozen mango margaritas!). My three favourite dinner dining options were Pinchos restaurant (my absolute favourite-a romantic restaurant situated on a boardwalk out at sea), L.G. Smith’s steak and chop house which was situated in the Renaissance Hotel and Wilhemena’s in the main town, an eloquent restaurant, offering simple but delicious options.

 

Explore

We spent the majority of our time on the Renaissance Private island as it was just so beautiful-don’t forget to check out iguana beach too! We also enjoyed wondering around the main town, with its Dutch inspired colourful buildings. It’s also not short on designer shops too.

We visited the Eagle beach area which Conde Nast Traveller named one of the world’s top beaches. It was easy to see why with its pristine white sand and turquoise waters. There are plenty of low rise top hotels along this beach, so this would also be a great area to stay if you didn’t wish to stay in the main town.

Essentials/tips

Book a private cabana for the day on the Renaisaance island for the VIP treatment.

Take some change for the flamingo feed machine.

Get there early-its worth getting the earliest boat (around 7-7.30am) to get pictures as the beach can get crowded (also the flamingos may not be as interested in being fed later on in the day as they will have had their fill provided by the earlier visitors!)

On your boat trip over to the island, make sure you sit in the covered area on the boat, otherwise it can’t be guaranteed your hair won’t be ocean sprayed and soaking wet by the time you get there!!

Ios

I first saw Ios on a TV programme and it struck me how pretty it was. On further research I discovered that this is considered a party island amongst the Greek 20 somethings. Don’t let this put you off though (if like me you’re no longer a 20 something!). Out of peak season, it’s a stunning unpopulated island with gorgeous secluded little coves just waiting to be discovered. Ios has no airport so with it only being a 30 minute ferry journey directly from Santorini, it meant it was rude not to hop foot it over for a few days to check it out.

 

Getting there

The only was to Ios is by ferry from other neighbouring islands. We flew to Santorini via Easyjet and stayed there for a few days before setting off down to the port. The ferries can get booked up to reserving in advance is recommended. The whole process is extremely easy though. I was left quite bemused as everyone turned up with their suitcases, wheeling them up the ramp and onto the ferry-quite a slick and fast turnaround (to say this is Greece!)

 

 

Stay

We stayed in the main port in the 5 star Liostasi hotel https://www.liostasi.gr. The pool area/bar was fabulous with sweeping views over the bay. It was absolutely stunning to sit in the outdoor bar area and watch the sun setting over the ocean. If you fancied a hotel right near the beach I also really like the look of Hideout suites overlooking Mylopotas bay.

 

 

Dine

We were only there for 3 nights, so chose to eat in the Michelin starred Grandmas hotel in our hotel, down in the marina at the Octopus Tree (think freshly caught, hung and cooked octopus!) and in the main town at Agosto, food and service here was excellent so would recommend.

 

Explore

We spent our first afternoon/evening exploring the pretty little streets of Ios town. It was relatively quiet and in comparison to Santorini, much smaller than the main town Fira but plenty of photo opportunites in front of pretty churches colourful painted doors. Head to the top of the town to see the windmills.

 

The second day we hired a quad (I would definitely recommend doing this). It was relatively inexpensive  ($35 for the day) and meant we could go off and explore the island under our own steam. There are very few roads on Ios and barely any traffic so its very easy to get around. We picked up our quad in the marina in Chora and drove south to Manganari beach which took about 45 minutes. The views are spectacular from the mountainous roads. Be prepared to stop multiple times on the road side for pictures of dome topped churches in the middle of nowhere and spectacular views of the coastline.

 

We got lunch at Manganari at an authentic little beach taverna then set off on foot to find the elusive Neverbay. I saw this spot on Instagram- a secluded picturesque cove and was determined to find it! The lost boys on Instagram kindly sent me a map and we painstakingly orientated our way over the hill to try and find it (a lot harder than it would first appear!). I’m thankful to say we did find it and well worth the trek! For the stunning views and pictures!

 

On our last day we jumped on the bus from the marina to Mylopotas beach which took about 15 minutes. This is a gorgeous beach which wasn’t too busy when we visited. We got beds outside ‘Salt’ and the staff waited on us from our beds, serving us refreshing inexpensive cocktails and beers all day. We also ate in the restaurant for lunch-food was delicious so would definitely recommend if you head down to this area.

 

 

Essential tips

 

Definitely get a quad (we’ve never got one before on holiday so don’t worry if you’re a novice! But it is definitely the best way to get around and really see the island).

 

Make sure you book your ferries in advance as they can get busy especially in peak times

 

If you decide to try and find Neverbay, make sure you take plenty of water in case you get lost or it takes longer than you anticipated (also wear sensible shoes!)

 

Head to Ios out of season to avoid the teens/college party goers!

ROME

Rome has been on my city wish list for ages now, having visited other Italian cities and loved them. Renowned for its history, ancient landmarks as well as its incredible culinary delights (wine and pizza, hello!), I couldn’t wait to go immerse myself in the culture and find out what this amazing city had to offer!

 

Getting there

We opted for a long weekend (Friday to Sunday). We flew pretty inexpensively with Easyjet from Manchester first thing on Friday morning, flight time was 2.50hrs. From Rome airport, the city centre was a dream to get to! There is a train station in the airport itself which takes you straight into the city centre. We were there in time for beers at Friday lunchtime!

 

Stay

For this trip we stayed at The Boscolo Exedra Roma, which I would highly recommend; a luxury hotel situated curving around the landmark Piazza della Repubblica fountain. A fantastic location situated near to all the iconic landmarks but providing a calm retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the city.https://www.marriott.co.uk/hotels/travel/romex-palazzo-naiadi-the-dedica-anthology-autograph-collection/

Dine

So many amazing dining opportunities in Rome:

Oppio café: A fanstasic spot overlooking the majestic collesium, where you can relax over an inexpensive lunch whilst enjoying the view. They also provide an amazing Aperitif (the Italian version of the Happy hour) which takes place between 6pm and 9pm. You simply order a drink for E10 and you can help yourself to an array of complimentary light snacks from the buffet!

 

Trevi fountain area: This is the ideal area to come around 9pm for a relaxed and informal dinner (and you can also get some great pics in front of the fountains crowd free at this time! Explore the cobbled streets and you’ll be spoilt with intimate cafes with cosy tables.

 

Imago at the Roma Hassler: A luxury Michelan star dining experience not to be missed with stunning views overlooking the city and even more stunning food to be enjoyed and savoured. https://www.hotelhasslerroma.com/en/restaurants-bars/imago/

Explore

Where to start, there are so many amazing sights to see in Rome! Vatican city is incredible-although not usually one for a walking tour (bear with me here!), I actually recommend you book one, we used City Wonders who were fantastic., knowledgeable and really help you understand the history behind the landmarks. The tour took us to Vatican city, Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica, all of which were incredible. The Trevi fountain is a sight to behold, but would definitely recommend going very early or very late to avoid the crowds. It also goes without saying you should visit and walk around the coliseum and appreciate the architecture and history. We were very lucky with the weather in February, it was cold but sunny the entire time so we were able to walk pretty much everywhere however, we did get on the underground to Vatican city which was very easy to do (nearest underground stop right outside our hotel)

Essentials

Sunglasses/umbrella-weather can be a little unpredictable

Heels for nice dinner/bars

Comfortable boots/trainers for walking

Selfie stick for all the photo ops!

Map

Underground day ticket if you don’t fancy walking everywhere (but it’s a great way to see everything!)