PB Travels… Kyoto

Ideally, I would like to spend at least 6 months in Japan, spending weeks in each city and town, taking it all in at a slow and steady pace, not rushing around madly. Sadly, that was not the case this time. It was time to move on to Kyoto – the next stop on my whirlwind Autumn tour of Japan. And the best way to travel? My favourite way, the Shinkansen. I had bought a Japan Rail Pass – which you can not only use when travelling between cities and towns, but on all JR Lines, making it great value for money. There are trains every 15 minutes and if you haven’t reserved a seat, you can jump on any train – and in less than 2.5 hours, you are in Kyoto.

I absolutely love Kyoto – it has a different energy, it is FULL of things to see and do, and a great place to people watch.. All cliches? Yes. But all true! And once again – you cannot get lost here. Great train, subway and bus systems – effortless to get around.

Where am I staying?

Normally I would stay in a hotel in the centre of Kyoto, but while planning my trip, I came across a site advertising a vegan bed and breakfast which was 2 stops away from Kyoto station, a 15 minute bus ride/30 minute walk from Yasaka Shrine. I was so glad I stayed here. Vegan Minshuku Sanbiki Neko, run by Craig and Helen, a laid back, lovely couple from Australia, only opened last year. They picked me up from Kyoto station which was great as I don’t think I would have found my way there on my own. They showed me – literally guided me – to the closest bus stop and train station, and patiently gave me loads of advice, information and tips on how to get around. Their hospitality and breakfasts were second to none, and for that reason I will recommend this place to everyone. A bit out of the way, but in a good way as it was conveniently located to explore not only the sights in the centre, but also those further out, where I wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t been staying there!

Ratings:

  • Grubbiness factor: non existent – brand new and spotless, and it showed!
  • Bed = 10/10, a super comfy futon, warm duvets and being exhausted from walking around all day meant my sleep was perfect!
  • Shower = 10/10, super cute dinky bathtub and shower combo with very hot, high pressured water. Exactly what I needed.

Please stay here – it is the perfect little B&B and you will get to see a side of Kyoto that you normally wouldn’t!

What did I do?

Temple hopping! That is what I came to Kyoto for, and that is what I did. I don’t get tired of visiting temples here as they are all so different and quirky. But first – I had to get a Goshuincho. What is that I hear you say? It’s literal translation is ‘the honourable red stamp notebook’. But what is it really? An empty book with concertina pages that you take to every temple, and get it covered in stamps and beautiful calligraphy. Each temple has it’s own set of stamps, and the calligraphy – which is done in front of your eyes by very talented individuals – is essentially a prayer that you take away with you. My book was decorated with autumn leaves, perfect for the time of year I was there.

First temple, which was on the way from the B&B to the city centre was Chishakuin Temple, a Buddhist temple. I wouldn’t have visited it otherwise, and I am so lucky I did. Not only did it have maple trees dotted around the place, the buildings were massive and well maintained, there were stunning gardens with beautifully manicured greenery and zen rock gardens. So full blown autumn leaves, beautiful gardens and temple buildings – perfect combo! A highlight was the onsite museum, which housed beautifully painted panels of trees – pine, cherry, maple and plum, said to be painted by Hasegawa Tohaku. The icing on the cake was the sound of Buddhist chanting – I got to the temple around 4pm, must have been time for their afternoon prayers, which could be heard all around the complex. It was definitely a highlight for me.

Another temple that everyone visits in Kyoto is Kiyomizu Dera. I say that, but it was my first time – I hadn’t been before, and the main reason I went is because of the hype regarding the views. The temple itself is shrouded in scaffolding as it is undergoing renovation, but that isn’t the main attraction. Well, it wasn’t for me. Too many tourists, screaming and running around. BUT the grounds, the walk up to the main temple and the views are stunning – both of the city and of nature. To top it all, so many tourists are in kimono, it just adds to the magic of the temple – it was so utterly autumnal and colourful.

Other temples on the list were Kodaiji Temple and it’s sister temple Entokuin Temple, two unmissable temples. Kodaiji is as popular as Kiyomizu Dera, and although busy, it was calmer and more zen like. I spent about three hours in both temples – it was so easy to pass away the time, and they had nooks and crannies everywhere to sit and take in the stunning scenery. What I also loved was that there were dedicated rooms where one (me) could do their own calligraphy by copying prayer sutras with a calligraphy pen – I loved it, and I kept my piece of paper – a lovely souvenir of the day. A must visit, and don’t forget to get your book stamped with all the stamps dotted around the place! Walking out of the temple, I came across what looked like a geisha on a traditional rickshaw. Now I’m not sure if she was authentic or a tourist. Either case, it made for a great picture!

I joined an evening tour one night – a night walk in Gion, and it started at the Yasaka Shrine. Now I’ve visited this shrine on a previous visit, but this time I got to see it at night – less busy and with a lot more character. The tour guide lead us around Gion – 5 minutes walk from the Shrine, where we learnt about how to identify Okiyas – the houses where the geisha, or geiko and maiko live. It was fascinating to learn how old this tradition is, the misconceptions, and how they function in today’s society. The maiko, or trainee geisha, have to train for 5 years in the arts – dancing, playing instruments, singing, etc. and they are not allowed to have a phone or access to much technology! Walking in Gion at night was like being taken back in time, I loved it. And we saw (real, this time) geisha – not one but two!!! Result! Only problem? They move, rather, glide at breakneck speed, getting a photo of them is a challenge! So this tour cost less than £10 (via Get Your Guide) and it was totally worth it – a nice break from all the temple hopping.

Chion In Temple is another beautiful temple. I’ve been to it before, but what I didn’t do that time was visit the gardens attached to the temple. After walking up to the temple complex, I was pleasantly surprised to also find a tree – a plum blossom – in full blossom! Apparently there are certain varieties of blossom trees that do flower in the winter. Wow! And double wow for the gardens. Where as there is no fee to get into the temple, the gardens cost 500 yen (only) and are. so. worth. it. Autumn in full glory – and there were almost no people there which, for me, was perfect!

No trip to Kyoto is complete without a visit to Fushimi Inari. Yep, this is the one you see in all Kyoto travel guides, also made famous in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. And no, it isn’t as empty as you see in the glossy pics. It is JAM PACKED. The trick is to get there as early as possible or as late as possible, or find a different way of getting in – which is what I did. My B&B hosts recommended an alternative way of getting there – the Kyoto Trail, which was up the road from the B&B. It was a quiet walk, going through woods and greenery as opposed to walking on the main road. Clearly marked, I have to admit I thought I got off track the whole time – but I persevered and was rewarded with stunning views, community shrines, a stunning temple and great shots of Fushimi Inari without the hordes of people!

Temple hopping involved walking all around Kyoto – my preferred means of transport, which meant finding little surprises here and there – a secluded shrine, a tiny teashop selling the most amazing matcha and hojicha tea, to finding a Ghibli shop – which was massive and full of stuff that I did not see at the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo! It was a great find. And yes. I spent almost the same amount I did in Tokyo for more stuff. And the best find – a Yayoi Kusama exhibition! It was at the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art (love that name) and it was amazing – right from the giant pumpkin outside to the shiny pumpkin room to the life size pictures of all the swirls, pumpkins and flowers she had drawn. Loved loved loved it!

I saw quite a few other temples, walked around Teramachi trying the free samples of pickles, mochi and green tea and basically chilled in the amazing city that is Kyoto – if I had to choose to live in any other city than London, it would be Kyoto, I just love it!

PB Eats… Kyoto

If it was easy to find good food in Tokyo, it was even easier in Kyoto. There were so many options I didn’t have enough time or space (in my stomach) to fit them all in. I started enjoying good Japanese food even before getting there. I searched for #veganekiben – or vegan train bento box to see if any existed. Lo and behold! Not only did it exist, but I also found a website that showed were exactly I could pick one up in Tokyo station. There were multiple locations, one of them being Ekiben Matsuri – a massive shop specialising in hundreds of different kinds of bento. Like with anything that needs to be found in a Japanese train station, this was an epic task. And once again, a task that was much easier due to the kindness of strangers and station staff pointing me in the right direction. Hello Vegetable Bento! Clearly marked as meat, fish, dairy and egg free, it cost 900 yen. It was a little beauty – 2 kinds of rice, decorated with a carrot autumn leaf, bits of vegetables – lotus root, bamboo shoot, pumpkin, asparagus tips – and a lone, but gigantic broad bean. There was also tofu – fried and some other kind, and even a little cup of pickles. It was superiorly (is that a word? it is now) satisfying, adding to the authentic Shinkansen experience.

Other highlights were my breakfasts at Vegan Minshuku Sanbiki Neko, the vegan B&B I was staying in. Freshly cooked by Craig, and different every morning I was there, the food was authentically Japanese and seriously seriously tasty. Tofu with a teriyaki sauce with stir fried lotus root. Mixed rice and an aubergine soup to wash it all down. The next morning he made tofu and carrot stir fry with this stunningly good green bean and sesame dish. It came with brown rice (sprinkled with seaweed) on the side and was served with miso soup this time. Final breakfast was a beautiful buddha bowl – soba noodles and vegan sausage topped a mountain of veggies – carrots, bean sprouts, asparagus, tomatoes, cucumber, mange tout and sprouts, covered with a ponzu dressing. And I also got vegetable gyoza on the side. Bliss. All the dishes were all so filling, fresh and seriously tasty – this B&B needs to print a cookbook of all their recipes!

Ain Soph Journey – now I intentionally didn’t go to any of the branches in Tokyo as I knew there would be one in Kyoto. I know everyone raves about the pancakes but I just wasn’t in a sweet mood so instead went for the tofu rice and a pot of tea. First impressions? I thought oh well, just a mound of salad and a ball brown stuff. But the flavours were really good and the salad surprisingly tasty. It was a massive portion! Only downside, it was a bit cold – I think it would have tasted better at room temperature. My chosen dessert, the chocolate cake with soy cream made up for it though – super dense, fudgy and oh so chocolately – it was excellent.

Mimikou – was an unexpected find. I had literally spent hours walking from temple to temple and was pretty hungry. Looked on Hungry Cow and found a place minutes down the road. It serves meat but has clearly marked vegetarian dishes – and and English menu! The service was so so friendly and they were so chatty and lovely. I got to practice my (limited) Japanese and learned a few more words. I went for the kitsune (literally means fox, but in this dish, it means bit of fried tofu) curry udon with kakiage – fried carrot, onion and cabbage. I knew when they gave me a paper bib and a tray of chilli powders to sample that this meal was going to be good. O M G. It was epic. The udon was thick and chewy, the curry sauce was thick and full of umami. The kitsune tofu soaked up the sauce and added another dimension to the dish. The tempura was also excellent. And the chilli powders – excellent (and they were also for sale). Excellent Excellent Excellent. This is one of those dishes that I still think about – I would eat it again and again.

Coco Curry – this is the same chain restaurant that I visited in Tokyo. I had the same – vegetable curry and rice (smaller portion) with extra sweetcorn and aubergine. Just as tasty and filling as the last time. I LOVE this place!!. I have also found out that they recently opened a branch in… wait for it… London!! WHOOO! I will be going to check it out soon…

Mumokuteki – Now this is one of the most popular restaurants that vegans/vegetarians visit in Kyoto, and rightly so. It is an omni restaurant, but with excellent options for all. Once again, I got there pretty late in the day (4pm, after temple hopping), and there were no queues, and no waiting for a table (contrary to what I read on the internet). The English menu was extensive and clearly marked – what had fish, what hadn’t. The set meals were what I had my eye on – and they all looked so good I took a while to decide which one I wanted. I chose well. Panko encrusted seitan fillets coated with a miso sauce (crispy and delicious), red rice (nutty and filling), cold mushroom salad (tasty, albeit a bit slimy), tomatoes (sugar bombs), pumpkin (comforting), pickles (nice and pickle-y) and really good miso soup. I couldn’t eat more even if I wanted to – it was so filling and super tasty and oh so Japanese tasting. I could live on this stuff.

Temple watching in Kyoto is serious business and takes up a lot of energy. Thankfully Kyoto is a city of snack lovers – including vegetarian friendly ones – and they are everywhere! Each temple has a tea house, and for a modest amount – between 500 – 1000 yen, depending on the popularity of the temple, you could bag yourself a cup of green tea and snack. Kiyomizu Dera’s green tea was mild and their snacks were 50/50. The mochi ball was yummy, the other sweet looked, felt and tasted like a sponge you use to wash dishes with. Horrible!.

Kodaiji Temple’s offering was so so much better. A cup of strong, tasty green tea and a beautiful adzuki bean mochi, embossed with an autumn leaf. I was sitting in a garden surrounded by autumn leaves – so corny, it but was the perfect setting, one of those ‘It can’t get any better than this’ moments.

Another very memorable snack was a matcha parfait from Kyo Cafe, down the road from Kiyomizu Dera. A combination of matcha and vanilla ice cream, pieces of matcha and vanilla cake, topped with a cinnamon flavoured roof tile cookie (seen all around Kyoto). This was a dream to eat, the matcha strong and the ice cream creamy. YUM!

Still on the search for a matcha ice cream to beat the one I had in Tokyo, I bought another one when I had finished trekking up and down the Fushimi Inari Shrine – it came close – it was super creamy – and oh so pretty! Loved it! Don’t think there is bad matcha ice cream in Japan, especially in Kyoto!

Another really great stomach filler was just outside Fushimi Inari station – Senboninari, selling inari sushi. They were little monsters (the biggest inari I’ve ever seen), and once again, there were clearly marked vegetarian/ vegan options. With the risk of sounding like a broken record – oh, so delicious, so tasty and this is another thing I still think about..

All the other foods I tried were excellent and perfectly suited to the cold weather – it was at least 5-7 degrees colder than Tokyo, at around 15 degrees. I had Dango – freshly grilled soft mochi. Warm chewy goodness with this with this sticky, miso sauce. Perfect. I also had a freshly baked doriyaki stuffed with azuki bean paste – anko. More perfect. And finally, the go to Japanese snack this is available everywhere – sweet potato. It comes in all forms – steamed, roasted, fried, sweet, salty. My version – plain, fried chips with nothing else – they were excellent again.

As ever, I could have gone to so many more restaurants, eaten so many more snacks, but I ran out of time. But if anyone ever tells you that there isn’t anything for vegetarians and vegans to enjoy in Japan, Do Not Believe Them!!!!!!

PB Travels… Amsterdam

With my upcoming surgery, I knew that I would be out of action for a few weeks – eating simple food and definitely no travelling! So a weekend break in Amsterdam before hand sounded like the right thing to do.

Eurostar now goes direct to Amsterdam from London – but only one way, the return is via a stop over in Brussels.  Wanting to experience the direct option, we booked our one way tickets.  It was effortless going through security at St Pancras, a complete change from airport security.  Word of advice – if you want any food and drinks – get them before going through security as the options once you’re inside are quite limited.  There was a lounge though – Eurostar’s own lounge.  My American Express credit card gave me free access – but a catch – it has to be an AMEX from Europe only, there were some Americans before me who got turned down as their card was issued in the US!  The lounge was a small space, usual breakfast items (i.e. nothing I could/wanted to eat), but I did enjoy an excellent Americano.

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But onto the train journey… whoo!  We had booked Standard Premier seats, which boasts spacious seats and a light meal.  The seats were indeed spacious, and the meal indeed light.  I had gone for the vegan version (love the fact that they offered it as a special meal when booking the tickets) fruit, a roll, spread, jam, soya milk for tea/coffee and a Doves Farm chocolate chip oat bar.  Now I haven’t come across this particular bar before, it was delicious!  Enough to fill me up before reaching Amsterdam… but it didn’t stop there.  An hour or so later, we also got offered another round of drinks (I went for a crisp beer) and a (large and tasty) packet of nuts.  Overall view?  A decent amount of food, good service, a super relaxed way to travel – we got into Amsterdam feeling refreshed and ready to rock and roll.

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Where am I staying?

We opted for an Airbnb, a 25 minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal.  The honest truth?  I wasn’t impressed – I didn’t even take any pics.  It was advertised as a 2 bedroom cottage, erm, I don’t think so.  Not if you count a loft that has a mattress that you have to crawl around in a bedroom.  At least it was clean.  Even though we were just there for a few nights, the distance started to take it’s toll – if I go again, I would get a place closer to all the action.

What did I eat?

Amsterdam is like London – it has virtually every type of cuisine available.  I didn’t really get the impression that there is a cuisine/dish specific to the area, other than stroopwaffels, which were everywhere. What I ate though, I did enjoy.  I haven’t listed each and everything that I ate and drank, just a few of the most memorable restaurants and eats.

Sham 

So we made the classic tourist mistake of finding a restaurant on the main tourist strip.  In our defence, we wanted food and Tripadvisor did rate it highly.   It wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t the best either.  What did I have? Red Lentil soup, which was OK, it needed a bit of lemon to jazz it up.  It went well with the fattoush salad, which was really moreish with the tangy pomegranate dressing.  I finished off with a mint tea and it gave me the fuel I needed for the rest of the afternoon.

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BLEU Bistro Brasserie

We walked past this place earlier in the day when and it was super packed and decided it would be a good place to eat at.  We tried our luck and lo and behold, after a 15 minute wait we got a table! To drink, Gin Mare with 1724 tonic water with basil and black pepper.  WHOA.  What a stunning combination of flavours – I loved this and I think I made that very clear (after every mouthful!).  There weren’t any dairy free vegetarian or vegan options on the menu, but they kindly agreed to make me a salad with white asparagus.  Well seasoned, fresh and tasty with soft white asparagus.  Yum! If you’re an omni I highly recommend this place – excellent food and service.

The Lobby, Hotel V Frederiksplein

I’ll tell you now – this meal gets a 10/10. One of the best meals I’ve had this year.  I called to reconfirm the booking and to make sure there were vegan options, and the lovely manager not only confirmed that they have them, but that I will be taken care of.  The Lobby is part of a Hotel V, a 10 minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal station.  The decor was just how I like it, exposed pipe work, quite masculine with pretty lights and candles.

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I had decided already that I’m going to have a 3 course meal here, kicking off with, yes of course, a G&T served in a heavy crystal tumbler.  And I got to try yet another stunning tonic water that I’ve never seen before. I must say, I have thoroughly enjoyed by G&Ts in Amsterdam!

Bread arrived next, with butter and olive oil, and a little dish of pickled onions. Yep.  This is how The Lobby rolls, adding their own touch to everything. Turmeric tinged pickled onions – who would have thought.  Subtle and crunchy and oh so tasty!

My starter was asparagus – green this time, accompanied with seaweed, cucumber, coriander seeds, hazelnuts with a light dressing.  So many flavours, all dancing with each other.  I LOVED IT. The plating, the colours, the taste, the texture. And it was a decent sized portion – bring on the next course!

The main course was just as substantial and just as pretty.  A square of potato cake was elevated to the heights of tastiness with charred leeks, tomatoes, watercress and this intense umami filled, thick, unctuous sauce.  How something so simple could taste so rich and fancy is beyond me.

Oh. And dessert. Sweet, delicate dessert.  The base was a creamy coconut yoghurt with strawberries, honeycomb, micro basil and crunchy, sweet rhubarb chunks.  Classic flavours that go together and that sorbet completed the dish.  I think this would be my go to dessert at home – I might not be able to put it together with the same flair and finesse, but at least the flavours will be there (I’ll leave out the rhubarb as I just don’t know how they got to it be sweet yet crunchy yet yielding at the same time!).   I finished off this wonderful meal with an excellent cup of coffee.

The service from start to finish was excellent, super attentive and polite.   They even let me wander to the kitchen to give my thanks to the wonderfully modest chefs.  I’ve already decided… next time in Amsterdam? I’ll be staying in the hotel and eating in this restaurant every night!

A few other mentions – a quick lunch in Juice by Nature in between sightseeing.  I had an easy greens juice which hit the spot – very nice.  The hummus wrap had a great filling of spinach, fresh juicy tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and hummus.  I just found the wrap a bit too doughy.   I didn’t take a photo, but PLEASE go to Vegabond for their absolutely amazing, scrumptious donuts.  Soft and fluffy and super excellent.  YUM!

What did I do?

I’ll get it out of the way now – I didn’t go to the Anne Frank House.  I didn’t realise that we needed to book tickets in advance – as in – when we were in London!  Saying that though, we did have the option to queue and get evening tickets – but I wasn’t interested in waiting in line for hours to see a house full of other tourists.  I’ve read the book, and the house in my imagination is enough for me.   Other attractions I wanted to see? In terms of museums, due to the limited amount of time I wanted to be picky about where I went.  The list was long to begin with but I quickly had to whittle it down.  Rjiksmuseum was first on the list.  If you are short on time and want to have a good smack of culture and art under one roof – do not miss this place! We paid for the audio guides – another excellent choice and one that I think everyone should do.  They even had suggestions on routes around the museum.  We spent about half a day there, but could have easily been a day if I had more time.

Other than the classics, this was my absolute favourite painting.  A Windmill on a Polder Waterway, Known as ‘In the Month of July’ by Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriel.  I found it so calming and thought provoking.  Luckily for me, the museum shop had postcards, posters, bookmarks and mint tins all with this painting… naturally I bought them all!

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The other museum that I really enjoyed was one that was talked about on a walking tour.  Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder or ‘Our Lord in the Attic’ is a Church spread over the top three floors of a 17th century canal house in the middle of Amsterdam.  It was a clever way of the Catholics getting together to pray as they weren’t allowed to do so in public.  We got there an hour before closing – perfect! Why? It was virtually empty and an hour was long enough to go around the whole place.  Like with the Museum, get the audio guide – useful and informative.

Seeing Amsterdam from the water was also on the agenda – so one of the other activities we did was a canal cruise one afternoon  It actually turned out to be a semi private tour as we were just 4 people and a guide in a big boat.  For me, this tour was right for me – a relaxing way of seeing Amsterdam and definitely worth it. However if this doesn’t.. erm.. float your boat, there are literally hundreds of boat tours, including some that offer ‘free’ (cheap) booze.

Next activity? A couple of walking tours. We found a free walking tour. Every big city has these free tours, where the tour is free and you choose to tip how much you want to. I think they are so worth it and the company we chose, Freedam Tours, was excellent. The tour was the Absolutely Amsterdam Tour, covering everything from history, drug culture, red light district and the Royals. The guide was bubbly and full of personality. It was a nice way of learning about Amsterdam at a leisurely pace – the tour was about 3 hours. Thumbs up and a definite recommendation if you are there. We also went for an afternoon tour about the Red Light district with Red Light District Tours (apt company name, you know what you’re getting!). This was an afternoon tour – they do night tours, but we didn’t really want to be walking around the place on a Saturday night. The plus point – we got to see a few places that would normally be closed at night. This tour was good in its own way BUT there was a lot of overlap with the Freedam Tour AND this one was paid for. My opinion? Go with the free one!

My most favourite thing I did? Cycling!! I love me a bike ride and where better to ride a bike than in Amsterdam? I went with Mike’s Bike Tours, a company I’ve used before in Munich. I chose the countryside tour – a bit of the city, a lot of the countryside ticking all the tourists boxes – windmill, check. Working farm, check. Clog making, check. Cheese making, check. Stop for a cheeky beer, check. If you like cycling, this is another must do. It isn’t even cycling – all flat, super relaxed and a lot of fun. A few people We were a great group and our guide Patrick was a right laugh. I loved it and if I had more time I would definitely have hired a bike to explore more of Amsterdam.

Getting around Amsterdam was effortless, we walked everywhere and all the touristy bits are close to each other.  It was a great place to spend a few days.  The only downside? I could have spent a week here, effortlessly.  There are lots of places I want to visit (via a bike I’m going to hire :), more places to eat, and I want to experience the luxury of Hotel V too.  Can’t wait!

PB Travels… Conil De La Frontera

One of the breaks I took earlier this year was to a lovely part of Spain, Conil.  The trip started off on a manic note – a 7am flight from Gatwick to Gibraltar with Sleasyjet.  We had a couple of hen parties on board with one group sitting right in front of us.  I must say, boarding a flight at that time in the morning with full make up, heels and party clothes? Really?! And they started drinking too (a wonderful concoction of white wine, gin and every other alcoholic beverage they could get their hands on?) Sheesh.  To top it all, Gibraltar was having a wind storm so after two failed attempts (and the drunk hens becoming hysterical), we were rerouted to Malaga, put back on a coach to Gibs (as it is affectionately known) and after yet another 1.5 hours we finally got to our accomodation.  Double Sheesh.  The one redeeming grace – stunning views!

So I am not going to say anything about where we stayed as I don’t want to advertise the place, but I’ll show you what I ate and what we did… the latter being not much to be honest – exactly how I wanted it to be!

What did I eat?

Conil is like any other seaside town, a lot of hit and miss places.  I was worried whether I was going to find anything plant based to eat, but to my surprise, it wasn’t bad at all. Breakfasts included the normal stuff, excellent bread, avocado, fruit salad, yummy marinated tomatoes, enough to keep me going until lunch.

Bar Ligero

We came across this little place in Conil when we went there for dinner.  The main reason why we chose it? There was a blackboard with the heading ‘Vegetables’ :).  I ordered a glass of wine (only about EUR3 and really nice!).  We also got some bread (ok) and a little shot of gazpacho (yum).  I only ordered a main – quinoa with vegetables and tortilla crisps.  Interestingly enough, I had almost the same dish when I was in Spain last time, and this also hit the spot.  Really tasty, and that reduced balsamic glaze added another dimension to the dish.  The whole meal cost less than EUR20 – not bad!

El Jardin Del Califa

A few people were raving on about this place, so when we were in Vejer, this is where we ate.  The decor was very pretty, all exposed stone and middle eastern lampshades.  Even the water bottles were eye catching!  The menu was very extensive and lots of options to choose from.

In a place like this, I wanted to go as authentic as possible, so for starters, I wanted the falafel (how could I choose anything else!) and beetroot hummus.  I chose a vegetable tagine for my mains.  The hummus was creamy enough, but I would have liked a stronger beetroot kick. As for the falafel – m m m m m.  Crispy on the outside, enhanced by the sesame seeds, smooth, zingy, soft insides. They were perfect!  The tagine looked simple – an assortment of veggies with some almonds scattered on top.  These looks were oh so deceiving.  I was surprised at how tasty this was (once I had impatiently waited for it to cool down).  Veggies cooked perfectly, there was a bit of tartness from the preserved lemons, a hit of chilli, the crunch of the almonds – simplicity at it’s best.  Delicious!  This place was on the pricier side, but I think it was worth it.

Las Delicias Costa

One of our beach walks was from Conil all the way to El Palmar, another seaside town a couple of miles down the…beach.  The initial plan was to grab a cool drink in La Torre, a restaurant that was recommended.  My recommendation? Don’t go there.  Shocking service, we were literally passed around from pillar to post and when we got a table, the service or lack of it was pathetic. We left and found this pretty restaurant literally a minute’s walk away.  Gin and tonic, check.  Cool and refereshing, exactly what I wanted, needed and had to have.  The tonic water was particularly nice! We also ordered a snack – fried aubergines which were quite nice and crispy, just a touch oily for my liking.  Overall though, a much nicer restaurant and level of service, and I got my G&T, so no complaints!

What did I do?

We had already lost a full day with all the travel shenanigans, so with only 2 and a bit days and not a lot on the agenda, we walked barefoot for hours on the seashore.  Cool water, warm sand and a beautiful breeze – lovely.  Thankfully, Conil isn’t a touristy place – well, it is, but more of a local getaway destination, as opposed to ‘I want to lie on the beach, get sunburnt and drink myself silly’ getaway.

We also visited Vejer one night for a (quick) walk around town and dinner.  I absolutely LOVED the vibe of this place.  It was laid back and chilled, cobbled hilly streets, a beautiful square, whitewashed buildings and independent jewellery and clothes shops.  All the trees in the area were loaded with oranges (that nobody was picked because apparently they are so bitter).  If I had more time (or if I came back to this part of the world), I would definitely spend it here…

We also wandered to Conil town centre one evening and it was just as quaint, but a much smaller version of Vejer.  The loveliest part was that there were only a handful of tourists like us. Niice!

The highlight of the holiday? A trip to Bodega Sancha Perez, a fantastic farm and vineyard about 15 minutes out of Conil.  A stunning little farm/vineyard/olive garden – it was a beautiful space, owned and run by this larger than life personality, Ramon.  He built it up from scratch and you could see how much he loved it and treated it like his baby. He was so passionate, entertaining and oh so funny.  You can book tours that last about an hour and a bit.  It was mainly in Spanish, dotted with English words here and there.  Even if you don’t understand Spanish, it is so worth it for his sheer showmanship and the stuff you see and drink and eat!

There was a small organic orchard with figs, plums, nectarines, peaches – sadly still not ready for picking.    But we did manage to find random ripe ones, I was was handed a peach.  OH MY WORD. Luscious and juicy!  And when I say organic, I mean organic – bugs galore, snail central… and they all had a place to stay – a bug hotel!

After a walk around the olive garden and vineyard, Ramon led us through the production process through – all small scale, all with love and without any crap or chemicals – excellent!  He then led us to this little shop where we could buy both the oil and the wine.  We didn’t buy any stuff for ourselves as we only had hand baggage, but we did buy a bottle of wine, a Merlot, to have there and then. Ramon also supplied us with some stunning olives to go with the wine.  Hands down the best wine I have had.

I would never have gone to this part of Spain, but I’m so glad I did.  There are a whole load of smaller towns all around that I would love to come back and explore… will add them to the list!

PB Travels… Mallorca

OMG. I can’t believe I have neglected my blog for so long! I blame work entirely. But thankfully I had a week off in Mallorca (Majorca?) for a Pilates and Hiking Retreat. The teacher was excellent at Pilates, but useless at leading group hikes. I still enjoyed myself and managed, with the ever supportive M, to eat some decent vegan food. I stayed in Port de Soller, in the north west.  Beautiful, quaint and I would highly recommend a visit there.

The flight was only a couple of hours long from Gatwick.  But before the flight, a lounge to chill in.  There are numerous to choose from in Gatwick North, I was told by a lady in another lounge which one to head to – and it wasn’t the one she was in! I went to the No 1 lounge.  A nice space, free flowing drinks, but no decent vegan options when it came to food.  I ordered a flatbread, sans feta and yoghurt dip – so basically salad on doughy bread.  I just had the salad, and compensated with a few glasses of prosecco.

Where did I stay?

Hotel Es Port, a pretty town minutes away from the seaside in Port De Soller.

A very picturesque hotel I must say.  The gardens, reception, common seating areas were stunning and rustic.  In comparison, the rooms were pretty simple – especially in the ‘newer’ part of the hotel.  I was clearly not in blog mode so didn’t take pics of the room.  There was also a lovely spa, free to use for hotel guests – pool, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and therapists too – if you could get an appointment. I did have a 1/2 hour back massage, and it was excellent.

Ratings:

  • Grubbiness factor: non existent – nice and clean, absolutely no issues
  • Bed: comfortable, did the trick when we weren’t chuckling looking at dodgy photos or awake due to indigestion. HAHAHA.
  • Shower: nice and clean, good power shower (which was lovely after the hike and being out in the heat) and beautiful Ritual toiletries.

What did I eat?

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of food I encountered.  It definitely did get better as the week went on, and Happy Cow did come in handy when looking for a few restaurants around the port.

Breakfasts were included as part of the hotel stay – and as you would expect, a pretty extensive spread, perfect for omnis – lots of eggy and meaty options.  There were a few things I could eat, but after a few days it became a bit monotonous.  Orange juice that you press yourself and fresh warm bread were the highlights.  When beans were on the menu, they were on my plate, sitting on top of that glorious bread – brown, rye, it was all good.  The fruit salad was yummy too, and they had soy milk!  So not all bad, but what also helped with the variety were those fabulous chia puddings.  I don’t travel without these any more, they are so handy and super tasty, both the vanilla and chocolate flavours are excellent.

Breakfasts were big and they kept me going through the day when I was hiking.  When I wasn’t, well, they still kept me going 😝. As for lunches, a few of them were mainly on the go while hiking .  As expected, I had a decent snack pack I brought with me – nak’d bars (lemon drizzle – my new favourite) and Clearspring nuts and seeds (all of them are FAB) mainly.   I did find a little place on Happy Cow – Petit Cafe Frozen Yoghurt. What did I find there? Not the frozen yogurt (they didn’t have any vegan ones!) or the coffee (they did have soy/almond milk but it was too hot to have any) BUT the vegan croissants!! Flaky, crumbly, tasty – they made me very happy.  They also had croissant sandwiches which were excellent for lunch.

There were only 2 restaurants I tried out for lunch…

Sa Gavina

We stumbled across this restaurant after our hike on the first day – I think it was part of a hotel but I can’t remember now.  The menu was luscious sounding if your a seafood lover, but I did see gazpacho – perfect to have in the sun – and patatas on the menu. Expecting bravas I got fritas – and limp ones at that. They came with a ‘spicy sauce’ – mayo I think, which I left to one side.  The gazpacho was flavourful but a bit watery.  A meal for the stomach if not the senses.

NONAME

Now this was one delicious meal.  Once again, thank you Happy Cow for this suggestion.  Interestingly enough it only had one rating (mine is the 2nd :). But what sold me is it was the only place I had come across that had a vegan section on the menu. A cute little restaurant with a small indoor space and a massive outdoor seating area, I loved it.

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It was a hot day so I went for a Hugo – lovely and refreshing.  Choosing a main on the other hand? It was either the gazpacho or the aubergine salad.  The latter was recommended and oh my word.  Was I glad it was.  I usually have this dish warm – but cold, with all the garnishes and this sensational miso dressing – heavenly.  And not only that, there was dessert!!!!! Strawberry soup, yuzu sorbet, bits of crumble, coconut milk cubes, edible flowers.  Beautiful and super tasty. A wonderful wonder dessert and a lovely end to a really great meal.  This place was utterly great – I SO recommend it.

Dinners were more interesting – had some really fab food.

Sa Figuera 

First night dinner was in the hotel – top hit on trip advisor and a classy little outdoor joint.  What I loved about this place is that when they found out I am vegan they made an effort throughout the meal to make sure I was happy. And I was.  The amuse bouche was this pumpkin concoction, whetting the appetite.  The bread basket had bread made with eggs/milk, so they went out of their way to bake me a baguette so I didn’t miss out. Warm, fresh bread with grassy earthy local olive oil. LUSH.  My main? Quinoa with vegetables.  Boring I hear you say.  Boring is what I said when I saw it – but it was jam packed with veggies and flavour – I enjoyed every mouthful.  I’d go back.

Es Raco de’s Port

Trying to find a place for dinner on the port was quite difficult.  Restaurant after restaurant, all targeting tourists.  We went to one that was full of people, we even had to wait 1/2 hour for a table.  A proper Spanish restaurant, we ordered vegetarian paella.  But before that – bread, olives and pardon peppers as we were starving. The peppers were yummy (can’t really go wrong).  The paella was ok – yummy to start off with but it did get quite oily towards the end.  I wouldn’t go back to this one.

NONAME

Having tried out NONAME at lunch, I wanted to try it again for dinner.   Not that there was a different menu, i just wanted to try more of the options available.  We sat outside this time, just as lovely as inside.  We started off with some lovely glasses of good quality of cava, and a few nibbles. Guacamole with cassava and plantain chips, and hummus with crisps.  But not any hummus, curry flavoured hummus.  Moreish, tasty and very different.  Most enjoyable.  For mains, I decided to try the tagine with veggies and cous cous, and M went for another veganisable option, wok fried veggies (but she had some chicken if I remember).  Mine?  Looked very tomatoey but was super delicious – the chef in the kitchen definitely knows what he’s doing.  I had a bite of M’s veggies – nice variety but waaay to sweet.  Would definitely go back… a really wonderful restaurant.

Restaurante Luna 36

This has got to be the best restaurant I went to.  It wasn’t in the Port, but rather in the town centre, Soller, a tram ride or a 10 minute cab ride from the hotel.  We discovered it by accident.  We were looking for an early dinner, but in Spain, that is unheard of.  So we walked into a hotel hoping to eat in their restaurant – which was closed! But the lovely people at reception recommended a few other decent places to eat – including this one.  We walked past just before 7, and grabbed the last table available.  A really really pretty space, lovely lovely service and very knowledgeable about what I could eat – a lot it turns out.

The first time I went (yes, we went again on our last night too), I just chose 2 dishes, the padron peppers with a romanesco sauce, and utterly delicious vegetable tempura.  Yes yes, not your typical tapas, but super amazing. Crispy as hell, with this stunningly good sesame seed dipping sauce.  SO GOOD.

I could NOT not order the vegetable tempura again, and it was just as good.  I also ordered the vegetable escabeche, crunchy, pickled, flavourful vegetables and the gazpacho – presented very prettily in a giant wine glass.  I couldn’t fault any of the dishes..  The bread was also delicious and went down well.

The omni dishes – tuna, prawns, ham and the spaghetti with truffles – were also very good.  No complaints there either.

We went the whole way and indulged in desserts.  The omni option looked fab – chocolate and ice cream and biscuity, cakey, meringue things – went down well, M polished it off even though she should have stopped after 2 bites when she was truly full.  Mine? Simple, clever and I am so stealing this idea to use at home – lemon sorbet with rose cava. Not much to look at but it tasted sooo good.  Try it – such a brilliant idea.  An espresso completed this excellent meal.

Other memorable things that went in my mouth? Orangey treats – all local!  I had an orange sorbet – good, but I would have loved it more if it was more bitter and less sweet.   And more fresh orange juice.  More so because of the situation as opposed to the juice. I went for a solo hike one day and I was almost at the end, my water almost finished, hot, sweaty and I spot this man on the way down – selling freshly squeezed orange juice for eur 1.50.  Cool, refreshing, hydrating – talk about being at the right place at the right time!

All in all, I enjoyed some pretty good food on this trip, especially as it is getting easier and easier to find vegan food.  Whoo!

What did I do?

Pilates, hiking, chilling by the pool, swimming and reading.  We also went up to a sunset spot and saw a glorious sunset.  Perfect! The hikes were really scenic, the views were stunning, regardless of where I was walking – to Soller, Fortnalux, the refugi maleta lighthouse – truly wonderful.   All the routes are very well marked, so if you are out with a guide who has no regard for health and safety for the group or goes at her own pace and not the group’s (sheesh.  Passive aggressiveness in all it’s glory!), you can go out on your own and not get lost.

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Port De Soller is a beautiful place, with lovely hikes, stunning scenery and great restaurants.  A wonderful holiday 🙂