A weekend on Hvar

Hvar town on Hvar has something special. In the night, it’s full of life – pumping music from the bars around the harbour’s edge, megayachts parked up right outside. Carpe Diem and BB (Bad Boys? Big Boobs? you get the idea of the sort of place) are where most of the action is for drinking and dancing. If you follow the path around past what looks like the end of the harbour you’ll find some great restaurants where you can get fantastic lobster and fish.

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But for me, Hvar is at its most beautiful in the daytime. The Suncani Hvar Amfora hotel, 5 minutes walk around the corner from the harbour, is a great place to stay – away from the nightlife and the view is superb. From here, take a walk around the bay past little stalls selling lavender and jewellery and local art, to the main square and then up up up the street called Kroz Grodu, past some lovely little boutiquey shops (Tanja Curin etc) and onto the path leading up to the Spanjola fortress. It’s a beautiful walk with agaves, olive trees, cacti, and an incredible view from the top.

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During the daytime, pick up one of the boats (from outside BB) that shuttle back and for to Palmizana (60HRK per person return). Palmizana is one of those places which somehow has a hippy, laid back vibe whilst (at Meneghello at least) still serving top class food and wine. Hang out on the rocks tanning or in Laganini beach bar, and swim in the clear blue water, taking care to avoid the sea urchins.

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If you don’t want to go far from your hotel, head to Bonj les bains, where you can get loungers on the seafront and order fantastic steak tartare and club sandwiches and mohitos to be delivered to your side, and have a snooze or waddle to the edge and down the ladder for a swim.

The Ultra music festival just had it’s inaugural event at the Amfora (the first 2 nights of the festival were held in Split) and is due to feature every summer. Worth going to if you like house music and a chilled, friendly, extremely international beach party vibe. See the pictures here.

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Tanja Curin

A great friend took me to this fantastic little shop a few steps up from the main square of Hvar town, the shop of Tanja Curin. And my great husband bought me a beautiful 3rd wedding anniversary necklace there! Featured here. The shop blew me away. I just had to do a post on it, I felt her work was so special and gorgeous. Really worth going if you’re ever in Hvar on Hvar (no, that’s not a typo.) The shop assistant, Ana-Maria, was super nice too. And also gorgeous!

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Mini break in Zagreb

It’s probably not the first place one would think of coming, but Zagreb, Croatia is a good destination for a minibreak. Especially in the Spring, or in the run up to Christmas for a mulled wine and craft stalls vibe. Smart Austro-Hungarian buildings, more good cafes than you can shake a stick at, excellent restaurants, lovely parks, and a central area which is compact and simple enough to navigate without getting stressed, Zagreb is super clean (except for the graffiti problem), organised, and very, very safe. Don’t expect crazy hedonistic nightlife or too much of a buzz (except during špica on Saturdays, see below), but do expect a stress-free time, outstanding wine and food, and friendly people, most of whom speak incredibly good English and who are proud of their country and happy to talk about it (just don’t try to tell them that any seaside exists other than the Croatian coast, it’s futile and is the one thing that’s sure to offend) and help you with recommendations on what to do / see / eat / drink

Logistics:

Croatia Airlines flies most days of the week either from Heathrow or Gatwick, but if you want to mix and match, BA (from Heathrow) and Easyjet (from Gatwick) also fly frequently and are extremely reasonable.

A taxi from the airport costs around 150HRK and takes around 20 minutes. On the way back to the airport, it costs around 90HRK. In my opinion, it’s really not worth the faff for the saving, but you can get a bus from the airport into the bus station, then a tram into town, if you’re so inclined. Generally taxis (look out for the stands on street corners) are very affordable and won’t rip you off, and nothing in Zagreb is that far away

The Regent Esplanade, a smart hotel just a short walk from the main square, is probably the best place to stay (Mihanoviceva 1, www.esplanade.hr)

On one of the four corners of Trg Bana Jelacica, the main square (don’t bother trying to pronounce anything, you’re doomed to failure) you’ll find a tourist office which is very helpful and gives out excellent (and free) concise colour maps, so this should be your first port of call. This map also clearly shows the tram routes (just buy a ticket at the kiosk before you board and punch it on entry)

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Don’t miss:

Wandering around the peaceful old (upper) town – Gornji grad – and its views over the city, seeing the cathedral and the Church of St Mark with its blue and white and red tiled roof

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Using the old funicular (only 66metres long and 5kuna per person one way) – linking the lower centre of town (Ilica, precisely) to the upper town (Strossmayer Promenade) – alternatively you can walk up the steps beside it

Cvijetni trg – a great place for coffee and people watching, and the flower stalls (after which it is named) are really beautiful

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Špica – on Saturdays from 10am til 2pm, when it’s nice weather, locals like to hang around the centre (Bogoviceva, Preradoviceva) drinking coffee, seeing and being seen

Mirogoj Cemetery – a short taxi ride from the centre and worth a trip if like me you love cemeteries (does that make me sound weird?)

cemetery

Dolac (marketplace) – just off the main square (pictured below). Follow the line of flower sellers, and walk up the steps. Pretty much all foodstuffs imagineable: fruit and veg and fish outdoors upstairs, meat, more veg, pasta, inside downstairs

main square

Britanski trg Sundays bric a brac and antiques until 1400 – a lovely buzzy market to wander around. Our best find? Fantastic quality retro handbags

britanac

Tkalciceva, a pedestrian street tailor made for mooching – 19th century hobbit type houses and many inexpensive bars and cafes, as well as some little arty shops

Zrinjevac – a small but extremely pretty and atmospheric central park with a bandstand

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Maksimir park and Maksimir zoo – only around £4 in a taxi from the centre of town is this fantastic zoo and huge park, both well worth a visit. The ‘park’ is not a formal one, but rather a huge expanse of woods and meadows, with lovely tree lined walkways. Take a picnic (and ideally some bikes) and you could easily spend the whole day here

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Botanical gardens – depending on the time of year you go, it’s worth a little stroll through these gardens, very close to the centre of town

Seeing the theatre from the outside:

theatre

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Good restaurants abound in Zagreb, here are a few of the best:

Appetit – right in the centre – smart, modern, with excellent quality meat and fish

Carpaccio – again right in the centre – again, excellent quality meat and fish. Delicious pasta dishes. And lovely waiters

Takenoko – Kaptol centar – Japanese, modern, romantic atmosphere – try the spring rolls (nothing like any you’ve ever tasted before and not a vegetable in sight) and the monkfish wok

Mano – unmissable. And try the steak tartare, even if you think you don’t like raw meat

Pod grickom topom – for traditional Croatian food, a comfortable atmosphere and a fantastic view over the city, you can’t go far wrong with this failsafe option that’s in all the guidebooks

Lari + Penati – a small, quality place to drop in for a bite to eat and a glass of wine. Popular with locals and rightly so

Didov San – literally round the corner from St Mark’s Church is this little ‘local’ gem with a friendly, rustic ambience, serving hearty Croatian fayre. We were tipped off about it by a lovely local lady we met in town and were very thankful as it would have been easy to miss

didov san

Oranz cafe, just a little way along Ilica (West) from the main square, on the corner leading down onto Cvijetni trg – very reasonably priced cakes and quiches to die for

Some places to try in the evening: Bulldog, Bacchus, Pepermint, Hemingways, Jabuka, Maraschino, Sirup, Route 66

Pingvin – the place for after hours takeaway food (open 24/7). Not too classy but a godsend if you’ve been out drinking and need to fill your tummy in the middle of the night

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Museums. Zagreb has a plethora of them. A few to try:

Museum of Contemporary Art

Mimara

Museum of Zagreb 

Galerija Klovicevi Dvori - currently has a Picasso exhibition but we enjoyed much more the (free) “ Aftermath – changing cultural landscape” photography exhibition

Museum of Broken Relationships (Cirilometodska 2, www.brokenrelationships.com). Not quite sure what to say about this one. Kind of kitsch, but an original idea. At only 25HRK entrance, you don’t have much to lose and it will give you some conversation fodder (what would YOU donate to the exhibition?…)

Strossmayer Gallery of Old Masters

And a few more: Museum of Arts & Crafts, of Hunting, of Peasant Riots, of Naive Art, of Blindness, the Technical Museum, the Archaelogical Museum

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For a pampering break: (tips from a part time local, ie me)

Massage -  Kresimir Abidic who used to be head masseur at the Mandarin Oriental in NYC now has his own salon (called New York) in the centre of Zagreb

Tony + Guy on Gajeva – excellent and much cheaper than Tony + Guy in London. You can usually get an appointment last minute if you’re not fussy who does you. A blow dry here is much more reasonable than at home, so why not treat yourself and look fab during your mini break

Adam i Eva beauty salon – the best in town and just a few minutes walk from the main square – but you need to book in advance as it’s (unsurprisingly) super busy

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There are many music / outdoor / cinematic events and so on happening throughout the year; if you really want to research the stay to death (but I think this article will keep you more than busy and you won’t miss any of the best bits) try:

Time Out Zagreb Visitors Guide for the year (50HRK – available at bookshops in Zagreb)

Spotted by Locals – a downloadable guide (www.spottedbylocals.com/zagreb)

Belgrade

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I like Belgrade. I like that it’s colourful and urban and shabby and cool somehow, ugly and scruffy and noisy. I like that the dogs are naughty and numerous and not as a rule pedigrees. And I like that at the same time as it’s very no frills, it has a certain grandeur.

Belgrade is a big city and the initial impression is that it’s hectic, messy, traffic-y. But you just have to find the little tree heavy backstreets and the huge ‘central park’ and you might just fall in love with it. It’s a shabby, arty, interesting, lively, relaxed, live and let live kind of city now, where people like to eat. That there’s poverty is evident, but you get that in any big city. I like the juxtaposition of visually extremely interesting (imposing, in your face and ugly sometimes yes) buildings and the smattering of discreet ground level posh shops, the graffiti (more like wall art actually), the fact that the pavements are in many places erupting with tree roots. The prevalent dog poo, the same kind of down at heel grandeur as San Telmo, Buenos Aires.

Orientate yourself by finding the main, wide, pedestrian street Knez Mihailova where you have a lot of mainstream shops like Zara, Diesel, Adidas as well as pavement cafes – it has a definite ‘ramblas’ vibe to it. Just below the left end of this street is a huge statue of a horse, and at the far right end of it, over the road and tram tracks, is the ‘central park’ I mentioned, Kalemegdan. It’s built around a fortress and they put on concerts at the base (we saw poor tragic Amy Winehouse here in the last concert before she died). Kalemegdan gives you a feeling of space, it has a great view over the city beneath, and the river. It’s a conker collecting, dog walking, elderly people gathering, souvenir buying, bench sitting, initials scratching, city watching, lovers smooching, cigarette smoking, females gossiping, kids playing kind of park. A park with soul, a park for all.

Walk down the hill from Knez Mihailova to Jovanova and Strahinjica bana and you’ll find some great restaurants and cafes – one particularly cool one at any time of day is Supermarket, another is Homa. Homa restaurant’s food is out of this world and not to be missed. In fact, if you’re a meat eater, I’d say that Belgrade is worth the trip just for the food. Taxis you can just hail off the street like in London – but they’re quite different beasts; beasts being a misnomer here (don’t expect to travel in luxury or particular safety – it’s more of a Flintstones vibe) but (assuming of course that you’re not fussy about comfort or safety) they’re perfectly serviceable, and cheap. And if it’s nightlife you’re after, Belgrade’s got it. But I’ll save that for a second Belgrade post, once I’ve summoned up some energy and inclination to explore it…. anyway there’s loads more to say than the above about Belgrade.

Best place to stay? Square Nine hotel with its great 50s style lobby.

 

La Folie Douce, Val d’Isere

La Folie Douce*. Like anything that’s a hit, it inevitably with time becomes a bit commercialised, a bit formulaic. The upside of this is that it has honed its act impressively in the two years since I last went. The undisputable stars of the show are a guy called Kely Starlight and a magnetic, reminiscent-of-Blondie type character who plays the electric violin and seems to be perpetually cracking up. She has the entire male population (and a fair amount of the females to be fair) in thrall – a combination of her infectious laughter and her uninhibited aerobics-y dance moves. Oh, that and a rocking, curvaceous body. But back to Kely… his personality permeates the whole place. He’s camp as Christmas and just as popular, and as soon as he grabs the mike and clambers onto the bar, he commands the place. Diminutive as he is, everybody watches, everybody waits. There’s magic in him, and the crowd – and his team – feed off it. From a style perspective there seems to be some sort of tiger theme going on across all the Folie Douces (there’s one in Meribel and one in Val Thorens) but Kely is the one with the real flair.

folie girlsaxophonistviolinistkely

Looking at it objectively,  ’Ooooo, sometimes, I get a feeling...’ ‘My feelings for you will always be free‘  etc only have so much mileage and could get repetitive. In practice, they seem to work every time. The enthusiasm of the ‘cast’ (it’s after all a kind of show) is infectious, and you can’t help but grin.  The saxophonist dude, the supporting female vocalists, and the all important DJs are no less responsible for the euphoric vibe, and the cute barmen sporadically breathing fire and spraying champagne certainly don’t hurt either.

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My jury’s out on La Folie Douce though. It’s becoming a little bit overloaded with sloane clones – all this year wearing Onesies, and slopping champagne about dancing on the elevated VIP area behind the bar (where else?). We went 3 times last week. Sunday and Monday were unbeatable: a really fun, friendly crowd of all ages and we skiied back ‘home’ on a high, my husband in circles (and me suitably impressed by the backwards skiing) vowing to go there every day. But Wednesday was awful – packed out and that ‘verging on agression’ feeling (the ubiquitous beefed up security guys attesting to our not imagining it). We still laughed a lot in the 15 minutes we stayed – at a table dancing ‘crackhead’ (a too-skinny middle aged lady who was having a great time but looked liked she’s partied once too often and needed a damned good meal and some dental work) and at a lot of the guys who were to be fair good looking, but too cool to smile. (SO uncool, how do they not get that?) Least liked outfits: pale pink onesies. Best liked: the odd few wearing bandanas or arabic scarves round their necks, which looked kind of incongruous. And I always like a bit of incongruity.

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La Folie Douce is definitely the place to see and be seen, and it’s a big lot of fun, which is made to feel even more special by the fact that you know the time is precious (it closes with the ski lift, @ 4:30pm, so once you factor in a day of skiing before that, it’s a small window). Oh, and it also has a cosy indoor space for eating (the usual on-the-slopes fare – spaghetti bolo, roast chicken & frites, tartiflette) and a quite smart outdoor dining area if you want a ‘posh’ lunch on the slopes. But if you ask me, it’s best in small doses and there’s just as much to be said for laid back meals at bistrots in town and falling into bed replete with foie gras, steak tartare, potatoes dauphinois, and a nice large dose of vin rouge.

* Sweet Madness would be my translation but I could be wrong.

Supermarket – bar, cafe, restaurant – Belgrade

This place has an open kitchen, floor to ceiling windows, exposed brickwork, industrial concrete and at least one hot waiter. It’s trendy but not annoyingly / intimidatingly so and seems like the kind of place you can drop in and out of at any time of the day. The music (jazzy, chill out) is good but calm enough to brunch/lunch without shouting, and the tables are nicely spaced out. Oh yes and it’s interconnected with an ‘Urban Outfitters’ style shop, with cool toilets evocative of a psycho killer’s house. They could do with some upkeep mind as the fact that a lot of the mirrored doors are broken adds to that vibe maybe just a little too much. Supermarket also apparently has a live jazz quartet every Sunday afternoon. My thanks go to Vuk Vukovic for the recommendation, I’ve spent many hours here recently blackberry-ing, waiting, watching, reading, recharging, and refuelling.