The chocoholic’s travel guide

If you’re regretting that Easter bunnies only arrive once a year, it’s the perfect time to consider some chocolate-themed travel (before egg overload puts you off).


I’ve actually managed to line mine up already with a trip to St Lucia planned next month, and May’s part of the Take12Trips challenge. Yes, that’s right, the Caribbean island is home to chocolate plantations, Hotel Chocolat’s Boucan hotel and even a chocolate trail.

And of course, there’s always Belgium a short Eurostar trip away. But you needn’t even venture that far afield…

If you haven’t spent a weekend break in a chocolate-themed hotel, you can’t call yourself a true chocolate lover. The Chocolate Hotel in Bournemouth has 15 chocolate-themed rooms that can even come with chocolate fountains, plus they can arrange kids’ chocolate parties.

There’s chocolateries and then there’s Choccywoccydoodah, with locations in central London and its new Brighton site. The stores’ bar du chocolat is basically sugar-coated heaven for chocolate lovers. From the fantastical cakes to truffles, hot chocolate and chocolate figurines, it’s grown-up indulgence that’s just as good for kids.

Take a Chocolate Ecstasy walking tour with ‘certified chocoholic’ expert guides as they point out the capital’s best chocolate stores and experiences as you wander the city’s side streets and alleys. Although they’re aimed at adults, the company says accompanied children are welcome and there’s no more than 15 minutes’ walking between stops. Oh, and there’s discounts if you’re not full at the end.

Never be short of chocolate again – learn how to make your own. Artisan chocolatier Jane Williams, who’s created chocolates for the Queen, runs masterclasses at her studios so expect expert tips and creations including strawberry and Champagne truffles or decorated heart-shaped chocolate lollipops. Best for adults, but for other chocolate courses check out suggestions on Chocolate Tourism.

If you’ve grown up (or are growing up) in the UK, Cadbury is likely to be part of your heritage and childhood memories. The Cadbury World tour traces chocolate’s history and arrival to Europe, plus seeing liquid chocolate, watching chocolatiers at work and chasing a giant Crème Egg… There’s also the Bourneville Experience, where you can design your own packaging.
Or if you’re in Wales, go behind the scenes on a tour of Michton Chocolate Factory in Swansea – no under-threes.

And if it’s the bunnies you prefer, there’s always Japan’s rabbit cafes


Image: Jonathan Reyes/Flickr

Tapas and paella: eating in Granada

Granada has the reputation for being one of the last Spanish cities to give you free tapas with each drink ordered. Alas that seems to depend where you go… but whether you’re paying or getting it gratis, there are some great places to eat.

For tapas
Al Sur de Granada
At the end of Calle Elvira, near the huge gate in the ancient city walls, this deli-cum-bar is for tapas with a difference. Not only are the ingredients for sale, so you can stock up on jamon, cheese and olive oil, all the products are organic or from artisan producers.

Which also means you’ll get a more interesting range than you might find elsewhere. We ordered wines by the glass, although you can also get local beers – organic vintages can sometimes be a bit hit and miss but both white and red (from a large selection) were fantastic.

Try a bit of everything by picking a few of the mixed plates – we had one of cheese, with half a dozen different types, another with ham and sausage, plus some spicy black pudding and artichokes, a tomato and avocado salad, and finished up with coffee and an orangey cake. I could quite happily have ordered another dozen things from the menu but had to be able to walk afterwards…


Even the staff get a rave review – our friendly and knowledgeable waitress Rebecca was encouraging and patient with our attempts to speak Spanish, and fluent enough in English when needed.

Also recommended
For the classic tapas experience, Los Diamantes near Plaza Nueva and Bodegas Castaneda on Calle de Almireceros both came very highly recommended by guidebooks, travel features and the locals… which is probably why both were absolutely packed to the rafters when we tried to visit.

As a result, we ended up in La Palatina on Calle San Jeronimo near the cathedral where some mildly confused ordering ended in us getting dish after dish after dish of tapas for a measly six euros each. With plenty of locals and decent wine by the glass, it was a happy plan B.

For fish
Restaurante Oliver
The best fish restaurants cluster around Plaza Pescaderia, unsurprisingly, so it’s a good place to start. But Oliver’s was worth the recommendations. Bustling and busy by 9pm, practically tea time by Spanish standards, it had as many local families as tourists and couples.

We sat at the outside tables, tucked helpfully away in a marquee with very welcome under-table heaters during March. I suspect the tent vanishes during the summer months and it’s even better.

More friendly service, bilingual if needed, and a fantastic garlic soup including plenty of sweet roasted garlic, chunks of bread and a rich egg yolk tucked at the bottom. We followed up with a seafood paella, something which turns up on a lot of Granada menus. As usual it’s for a minimum of two people and you’ll have a half hour wait (which proves it hasn’t been stewing under a hot lamp), but order it if you can.


Perhaps skip the soup first though, gorgeous though it was, as there was easily enough for three in the vast paella pan, plus plenty of seafood. We devoured it so quickly, I all but forgot to take a photo…

Less impressive
With so much focus on tapas, Granada’s restaurants seem a slightly mixed bunch – if you’re splashing out, there’s Restaurante Damasqueros in Realejo with a tasting menu that’s flagged as one to watch by Michelin and Mirador de Morayma, which would be high up my list for next time. At the other end, there are a few places that rest on their laurels.

Ruta del Azafran in Albaicin has spectacular views up to the Alhambra at night, including riverside tables. But while I don’t have first-hand experience, the reviews seem to agree that service is pretty dire, and food can be mixed. Lovely though the view may be, it wasn’t a risk I wanted to take.

Restaurante Sevilla, which we did visit, is famous for being something of a celebrity hotspot after opening in 1930, including Federico Garcia Lorca. These days, it just looks slightly tired. Most people there were obviously tourists, service was efficient but perfunctory, atmosphere was almost entirely absent and the food was a bit hit and miss – there was free tapas to start, but it was a slightly odd potato salad. Oxtail stew was lovely but came with half a dozen greasy undercooked chips, and nothing else. Most of the tables had reserved signs so it’s evidently popular – but I couldn’t help wondering if it pulled in the crowds on the basis of its reputation.


All images copyright MummyTravels/Cathy Winston

Royalty, Rothschilds and Ealing comedies: Gunnersbury Park

Since starting the Take 12 Trips challenge last year, I’ve managed to keep to my goal of at least one trip per month, packing in Copenhagen and the Caribbean along with Portugal and Granada.

But part of the point of the challenge is a reminder that you needn’t necessarily travel far to explore. We’ve also headed down the road (in UK terms) to the London Wetland Centre in Barnes.


And last weekend, we discovered another patch of previously unexplored London even closer to home – Gunnersbury Park.

I’m lucky enough to live in a very green suburb of West London, with two parks and the open space of our local common within a 20-minute walk.

So perhaps that explains why, in the decade I’ve lived in the area, I haven’t managed the half hour stroll to Gunnersbury Park. But even our first visit has made me certain I want to go back… not least because there’s just so much of it to explore, with 75 hectares of a Grade 2 listed landscape.


A couple of lottery grants mean there’s some big plans underway as well, to restore both the park and the buildings, currently in the top 12 ‘at risk’ properties in England, according to English Heritage.

There’s plenty to be done to return it to its original splendour, but even the peeling paint and underused structures are impressive to wander around on a sunny day.

gunnersbury-park-mansion-restorationA quick bit of research showed its history is far more fascinating than I’d realised too. Its name alone is intriguing, apparently deriving from Gunylda, the niece of King Canute, who lived in the area until begin banished from the country in 1044.

The first notable mansion was built during Cromwell’s time, by the son-in-law of Inigo Jones, and the land later passed to George II’s daughter Amelia in 1760 before finding itself in the hands of the Rothschilds the following century.

Some political wranglings later, it became public land co-owned by Ealing and Hounslow councils, featuring in Ealing Studios’ classic The Lavender Hill Mob and hosting the London Mela since 2003.

gunnersbury-park-temple-historicStill home to the free local history museum for the two boroughs (closed last weekend in some unfortunately timing on my part) in Gunnersbury Park House, the grounds also include an Orangery, Princess Amelia’s Bath House, Gothic Ruins plus the peaceful formal Italian Garden.

More prosaically, there’s also a playground, pitch & putt golf, a small cafe with a huge queue for ice creams and a lake overlooked by an 18th century temple, where ducks ignore the endless succession of visitors throwing them bread.

Even wandering around for an hour meant we’d barely scratched the surface before a tired and hungry toddler meant it was time to head home.

But it’s the perfect reminder that you can discover some unexpected gems by looking just a tiny bit further afield.


Roma Granada: Sacromonte

The views from Sacromonte, the hill overlooking Granada, are as stunning as you’d expect – its vantage point looks down onto the Alhambra, the river valley, the twisting streets of the Albaicin and the tiled roofs stretching down to the city centre.


But gorgeous though they are, it pays to turn your back on the vistas. The area is the heart of the city’s Roma community, its hills are dotted with cave homes and the origins of flamenco lie here, where whitewashed buildings stage flamenco shows to this day.

Wandering up from the Albaicin on a Sunday morning, we managed to time our visit to coincide with an organised race or fun run so half the streets were shut (although Alhambrabus routes 31 and 35 can normally take you there if you don’t fancy the hills).

From the silence behind the shutters, I got the feeling this sleepy atmosphere wasn’t a one-off though.

Our quest was to find the Sacromonte Cave Museum, a recreation of the way the cave homes would have been 100 years ago, showing the living spaces, crafts and culture of the inhabitants.


Other sections have been used to show the plants grown, many medicinal and herbal, along with mini exhibitions on cave-dwelling culture, the Roma and flamenco inside as well.

Managing to avoid the endless other spots randomly marked ‘museo’, after some intensive Google mapping we discovered the usual entrance was closed but a series of diversion signs took us a different route – it started to seem like a mild initiative test, following them round corner, up slope and with no evident sign of a museum.

Then suddenly, there we were. And it was worth the climb.

It’s a quirky little museum, but with plenty of information tucked into the caves – the living spaces, inevitably, more fascinating to me than the huge loom and large pieces of ironwork.

There’s something about a bed tucked away in a mini cave within a cave which makes me wonder if I could ever live somewhere like this – having stayed in a cave hotel in Matera, southern Italy, I suspect the novelty would wear off after a few nights.


But it was the small exhibitions which were best, looking at the part these caves have played throughout history. The art of flamenco grew up around here, and it’s still one of the best places in Granada to see dancers perform.


And the Reconquista led to a string of legends associated with the area. After the end of the Moorish empire, with the court’s aristocracy fleeing Spain, stories tell that they buried their treasure in the hills of Sacromonte.

Their slaves or servants, released by the conquest, headed into the hills themselves to search for this hidden gold. According to some versions of history, the treasure found its way into Ferdinand and Isabella’s hands, financing the voyage of Christopher Columbus and the discover of the New World.

In others, it’s still buried in the hills…

Need to know
The museum costs 5 Euros to enter. Opening times are 10am to 8pm from March 15 to October 14, 10am to 6pm from October 15 to March 14.

Enjoyed this blog? Got a minute to spare? Excellent – because nominations are open for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards 2014 if you fancied nominating me in the Travel category. Just click here before April 12… Or this post has more details Thank you!


Images copyright MummyTravels/Cathy Winston

Road trip to Scotland

‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’*. Well, sometimes.

I wouldn’t say I’ve totally overlooked Scotland’s attractions, but the chance it might be leaving a disunited kingdom before too long has certainly got me thinking it’s past time for another trip.


There’s the possibility I might be heading to Glasgow with Minnie later this year, a city I know far less well than Edinburgh and one I don’t particularly associate with toddlers.

Like any large city, there must be plenty of under-twos around, so I’m betting there’s a lot of family-friendly gems to discover with a whole string of suggested places to visit on Kidding Around Glasgow.

At the moment I’m also debating whether to drive the whole way (I have done Staffordshire to Edinburgh before but not London to Glasgow, and not with a toddler) and take the chance to stop off at one of my favourite northern English cities en route.

Alternatively the thought of a fast train or plane is distinctly tempting, then looking at hiring a car if I want to explore the countryside near the city with Loch Lomond less than an hour away then onwards to Oban.

Because the Scottish scenery is just astonishingly wonderful. Taking a train to the Isle of Skye a couple of years ago, I couldn’t take my eyes off the landscape on the last stretch from Inverness – all greens and soft purples, heathered hills and shimmering lochs as far as the eye could see.


On the mainland west coast there’s Bealach Na Bà, a mountain pass with a steep winding climbing road leading to stunning views – although that’s one I might prefer to be in the passenger seat for, rather than behind the wheel of a hire car.

Further south runs the Road to the Isles, as the stretch from Fort William to Mallaig is known, where you can see beautiful Loch Shiel, the occasional steam train on the Glenfinnan viaduct and stop to wander the beach or enjoy fresh fish by the sea.

‘I am on a lonely road and I am traveling’*. Tempting isn’t it.

*With thanks to Joni Mitchell…

Compiled in association with


Enjoyed this blog? Got a minute to spare? Excellent – because nominations are open for the Brilliance in Blogging Awards 2014 if you fancied nominating me in the Travel category. Just click here before April 12… Or this post has more details Thank you!

Images: Jim Nix/Flickr; Alan/Flickr