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Buy This Whiskey, Own A Land In Scotland!

Planning to get a land in Scotland? Why not buy a bottle of whiskey instead! Yes, you read it right. Scotland’s one of the finest single-malt whiskeys, Laphroaig, offers a lease on a square foot of land with the purchase of each bottle. When you buy one, you lawfully become a ‘Friend of Laphroaig’. And, as a ‘Friend’ you will be given a numbered plot (one square foot) of the distillery land, represented by your own little flag!

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Currently owned by Beam Suntory (American subsidiary of Japan’s Suntory Holdings), Laphroaig was founded in Scotland in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnson. It is the only Islay Scotch whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales.

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Talking about the rates, a ten year old Laphroaig can cost you around US$50 (approx. ₹3344), an eighteen year old bottle can cost you around double of that (around ₹ 6688) and the 25 year old one will lighten your wallet by approximately US$ 400. (approx. ₹26755). So, once you get your hands on any of these three, just register the bar code placed on the bottle to the Laphroaig website. And that’s it! You will, then, be a proud owner of a piece of land in Islay, Scotland.

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My Travel Secret – Aditya Verma

How do I Get a Better Hotel Room Without Paying Extra?

Superior Seafacing Room

Scout for soft openings: New hotels are generally keener to please, so check out hot new properties on hotelchatter.com, and pick up the phone!
Time your trip right: big city hotels have lower occupancy on the weekend, so that’s when your chances of getting an upgrade are higher. In leisure properties, weekends are packed, so try and travel mid-week.
Do some research and call the hotel in advance: Check out the property on-line, and identify the rooms and suites you like. Then write an email or make a phone call to request one of those rooms, even if they show non-available on-line. Remember, cancellations happen all the time.
Spell out exactly what you’re looking for: Don’t vaguely say, ‘May I have a better room.’ Much better to ask for a room with a view, or a bigger suite, or whatever it is that you’re looking for.
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Don’t book the cheapest room: go for a mid-range suite, so that you can be bumped up to a really nice one.
Check in between 3 to 5 pm: Most rooms are given out during this period, so the front office is surer of cancellations and availability.
Dress to impress: No need to turn up in a tuxedo, of course. Just be well-groomed—it will earn you more points than a sloppy, bedraggled appearance.
Be Nice: Hotel staff get to deal with some really pesky and nasty sorts. Strike a difference with your politeness. If the manager does award you an upgrade, let him/her know you’ll be happy to commend them in the Feedback Form.
pillow menu

Play the emotional card: tell them you’re visiting on a special occasion. Tell them you love the hotel, and that it’s your third visit here (they’re not going to pull out records). It works like a charm. (Just don’t tell them you read it here).
Turn a glitch to your advantage: Baggage reached your room late? Faucet leaking? Request management to upgrade your room, in exchange for a No Complaints.

What exactly is a champagne breakfast?

Image Source
Image Source

It is, well, exactly as luxurious as it sounds: Breakfast served with champagne or sparkling wine and fruit juice, usually orange and/or peach.

This special treat is generally reserved for special occasions such as an Anniversary, Mother’s Day or a holiday. High-end hotels and vacation resorts often serve champagne breakfasts served in three elegant courses: bread, cake and fruit, followed by the main course, and finally, coffee, cheese and biscuits.

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To give you a clearer idea, here’s the romantic champagne breakfast menu at the Governor’s Suite in Hartness House, an Inn in Vermont, USA.

Ice-chilled Champagne in a bucket with two crystal flutes;

Freshly-squeezed Orange or Carrot-Apple Juice;

Freshly baked Crumb-topped Blueberry muffins
and Orange marmalade;

Strawberries with Framboise Creme Parfait;

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Your choice of:
Smoked Salmon and Green Onion Omelet, or
Almond and Graham Crusted French Toast; or
Governor’s Eggs Benedict

French Press Columbian Coffee with Cream

Decorated with a beautiful silk Rosebud in Vase and newspaper

This indulgence for two can be yours for an extra $75 USD!

Chef’s Secret: An offbeat potato recipe!

In the first edition of  our Chef’s Secret series, Tanveer Kwatra, Executive Chef, Le Meridien Gurgaon, takes us beyond French Fries.

Watch his interpretation of comfort food with this easy-to-make potato dish, in 90-seconds flat!

Bon Appétit!

Hand Me Some Useful Street Photography Tips

Take these tips from ace street photographer Arindam Mukherjee, and shoot!

If you stand at a broad way crossing from morning to evening you will find how the emotional landscape changes. Every city has its own character at different times of the day. So shoot both during day and night.

A woman working at Grover Vineyard in Bangalore
A woman working at Grover Vineyard in Bangalore

While travelling, carry light equipment. High speed lenses are important for low light situations. Set your camera according to the light of the day before you start walking—you don’t want to miss great moments.

Indian people celebrating Holi at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan. Holi is the Hindu festival of colours. Every year at the begining of spring this festival takes place throughout India.The biggest celebration takes place in Banke Bihari temple Vrindavan.
Indian people celebrating Holi at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan. Holi is the Hindu festival of colours. Every year at the begining of spring this festival takes place throughout India.The biggest celebration takes place in Banke Bihari temple Vrindavan.

 

Walk slowly, rather wander, it allows you to observe.

Strap all your stuff with your backpack so you don’t lose anything.

Experience new things, meet new people. Try to trigger a conversation with the locals that will give you knowledge, it adds context in your picture. I listen to them; try to understand their point of view which helps me bring layers in my picture stories.

A Bhutanese man in western outfit surfs his mobile at Ura valley, Bumthang. Effect of globalisation is now getting strong hold in rural Bhutan as well.  Arindam Mukherjee
A Bhutanese man in western outfit surfs his mobile at Ura valley, Bumthang. Effect of globalisation is now getting strong hold in rural Bhutan as well. Arindam Mukherjee

Monochromatic pictures focus on the emotive part of photography. I feel comfortable with black and white as too much of colour surrounding the main subject may distract the viewer.

It is very important that a photographer should know what he/she wants to make their viewer “FEEL”. Monochrome and colour photography need different ways of looking at the same subject. Practice seeing things in black and white when you shoot.

A sadhu (Indian Holy Man) changes his clothes at a ghat in Varanasi.
A sadhu (Indian Holy Man) changes his clothes at a ghat in Varanasi.

A tip I always share is to be safe when it comes to copyrights and illegal photography. Do not shoot private places without prior permission. You can shoot anything and everything in public place without hurting anybody’s sentiment. Don’t forget to look for “Photography Prohibited” boards around you. And do not under estimate common people’s knowledge.

A kashmiri lady prays at Jama Mosque in Srinagar.
A kashmiri lady prays at Jama Mosque in Srinagar.

Go with the flow and enjoy clicking pictures rather than making it an assignment.

ARINDAM MUKHERJEE

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Based in Kolkata, this renowned freelance photojournalist started his career as an advertising photographer where he worked with advertising agencies, fashion designers, graphic designers and NGOs. But he always loved street photography and photojournalism. Apart from hosting several exhibitions, he has written and photographed a book called ‘The Wave that Shook the World’, produced by Hope Foundation.

All pix in this post courtesy Arindam Mukherjee.

Input: Travel Secrets Intern Aarohi Roy

3 Great Breakfast Options in Mumbai

Kala Ghoda Café

Mumbai Breakfast

With Rs.200 to spend, Kala Ghoda Café is the place to go for Veg Morjim Sandwich and a glass of fresh orange juice or Waffle with chocolate sauce and

Where: Ropewalk Street, Kala Ghoda, Colaba.

Prakash

Photo Courtesy
Photo Courtesy

Their sabudana vada and Dahi Misal are a foodie’s delight.

Where: Shiv Sena Bhavan, Next to Kithe Hall, Gokhale Road, Shivaji Park, Dadar

Café Madras

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy

For pineapple sheera worth Rs.35, plate of idlis worth Rs.20 and filter coffee worth Rs. 15, Café Madras is the place to go for an authentic south Indian

Where: 38 -B, Circle House, King’s Circle, Matunga

Inputs from Sarita Santoshini

I am in Segovia, Spain. Where can I go shopping?

Start at the large and leafy Plaza Mayor, surrounded by boutiques and pubs.

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Image: travel.nationalgeographic.com

 

Any which way you go, up or down the cobbled lanes, you’ll find interesting things to catch your attention. Be it top brands or local lace, there’s a lot to tempt your wallet. Shops in this and other small Spanish towns shut down between 1 pm and 4 pm for lunch, but the really cool thing is that they stay open until 8 pm or slightly later, unlike in some other European nations.

What are some of the best Monsoon getaways in India?

We took your question to Aloke Bajpai, Founder Partner of The Explorers India, a travel organisation that specialises in experiential tourism and adventure.

Over to him:

Come monsoon and most people begin to dread endless traffic and having to wade to office through water logged roads. But you only have to travel a short distance from the cities to soak in a light drizzle, the sound of a gushing waterfall, the sight of abundant greenery, and the monsoons don’t seem so bad at all.

Monsoon getaways 1 - by Aloke Bajpai

Pack a light lunch, put on a trench coat and head on a monsoon hike – it’s the best way to welcome the rains. To begin with, those in Mumbai could trek from Vasai to the waterfall in Tungareshwar. The flattish path lies between thick woods and is a great way of being close to nature without being too far from the city.  The adventurous can either consider Chanderi for a difficult but worthwhile two-day hike or embark on the gradual climb to Kalsubai, Sahyadri’s highest peak. If you’re considering a trip to the hill station Matheran this season, skip the toy train or road and trek through the Garbett Plateau instead. You’ll be rewarded with great views as soon as you begin.

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As most national parks close entry to visitors come rains, you could drive to the small town of Ramnagar in Uttarakhand from Delhi and hike through the buffer zone of Corbett National Park. It’s highly recommended for wildlife enthusiasts who can learn about the flora, spot birds and animals from a close distance, and enjoy the trek all the way till Nainital. Rishikesh and Kasauli are great bases for some short monsoon treks as well and so is B.R. Hills in Karnataka.

Monsoon getaways 2 - by Aloke Bajpai

Another activity that is best enjoyed in the monsoons, especially in Mahrashtra, is Waterfall Rappelling. Kune waterfall near Lonavla can be accessed after a two-hour long trek and once there, through a certified agency and guide, one can start rappelling at a height of 75-80 feet. Kondana caves near Karjat are a good spot too. For those interested, rain-fed rivers like Kundalika and Pej offer opportunities of rafting.

Cycling through the countryside also makes for an extremely pleasant activity during monsoon. Karnataka provides plenty of traffic-free, scenic routes to cyclists. The Bangalore-Mysore Highway is a great way to start and you can cycle onwards to Ramnagara, a small town about 50 km from the city known for its 400 year old Big Banyan Tree, and Manchinbele Dam. Those in Mumbai can consider cycling towards Vasai to the beachfront of Arnala or you could take the route from Alibaug to Murud Janjira that goes through Korlai fort and small hospitable villages.

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If you can, however, manage to take a few days off work, skip all the above options and escape to Wayanad in Kerala instead. Whether it be a trek in the drizzle from Kalpetta to Soochipara falls, gliding through the backwaters or cycling across stretches of tea gardens and forests – you’ll have plenty to do and thank the rain gods for.

 Aloke Bajpai spoke to TS Correspondent Sarita Santoshini.

Photos courtesy The Explorers India

What is “shoulder season” and why is it good for travel?

Shoulder Season falls between peak season and off season. So, you get many advantages. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold. The crowds have thinned out but are not absent. Airfares and hotel tariffs tend to dip slightly, so you have more money for shopping! The local tourist industry is now free from the pressure of catering to throngs, and you can expect better service.

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According to Rick Steves, “Shoulder season varies by destination. Because fall and spring bring cooler temperatures in Mediterranean Europe, shoulder season in much of Italy, southern France, Spain, Croatia, and Greece can actually come with near peak-season crowds and prices. For example, except for beach resorts, Italy’s peak season is May, June, September, and October, rather than July and August. Paris is surprisingly quiet in July and August.”

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We at Travel Secrets try and stay away from even the best destinations during peak season, because the crowds can be simply too overwhelming. Last year in Florence and Venice, we found ourselves jostling and gasping for the most part. Taking photos ended up being a Click-and-Move affair in places, with the next person breathing down your neck.

A shoulder season trip to Switzerland, on the other hand, was pure relaxation. Under the mild September sun, it was blissful to walk down the quiet streets of Basel, taking in the crisp cool air and lazing by the Rhine. We could feel our lungs turn pink again:)

Basel by the Rhine River (1)Posted by Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan

Pix: TS Photo Editor Nitin Gopal Srivastava

 

I’m in Madrid, Spain. Lead me into an offbeat tavern.

maderid old quarter tavernFollow us into Meson del Champignon, an enchanting taverna in the Old Quarter of Madrid.

Located beside the grand Plaza Mayor, this cobbled medieval stretch of lanes and bylanes houses some of Spain’s oldest taverns and restaurants. The tradition is to go tapas hopping here, washing them down with wine and beer. By the end of the trail you are sure to be loosening up your belt.

At the Meson del Champignon, it’s everything mushroom, down to the art on the walls. The place is shaped like a cave.

To us, the de-stemmed mushrooms were presented as caves, too, into which went extra virgin olive oil, garlic, herbs and a little pepper. That’s it. The simplicity was what blew us away.

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Grilled or filled: every mushroom tapas here is an absolute treat.

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An elderly gentleman provided song and music to deepen the Spanish effect.

Website: http://www.mesondelchampinon.com

How Not to Eat in Florence, Italy

Posted By Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan

As someone who believes in stumbling upon great places, I decided to ditch the guide books/blogs/local advice, and plunged straight into Florence.

Big mistake.

Stepping out of the magnificent Santa Maria Novella Railway Station…

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I wended my way through the crowded streets of the city…

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asking for directions to  The Gallery Hotel Art

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Along the way, hunger pangs hit. Hard. And since I was in Italy, the fragrance of herbs and the aroma of baked bread was everywhere. Honestly, I could hardly wait to drop my bags at the hotel and get back on the streets for a bite.

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Strung along a pipe-thin lane, I spotted a string of eateries that promised big meals at incredible deals. Smiling restaurant staff stood outside their outlets, handing out colourful pamphlets that promised a free drink with pizza and seemingly endless menus.

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Photo: thepodanys.blogspot.com Used here for representational purposes only

 

I succumbed.

And regretted it minutes later. The pizza was cold and leathery, with about 3 olives that tasted as if they had been glued atop the bread a month ago. Sure, it cost me “just 4 euros” for pizza and coke, but I would rather have spent a few bucks more to get a better bite.

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I am sure the giant plastic chef standing outside the restaurant, holding that huge menu card, giggled a little when I walked in.

Moral of the story: do your research when you are going to Florence. Read helpful advice such as this. And this.

Bon Appetit!

 

Tell me about the white nights of Saint Petersburg.

Travel Secrets Serbia Correspondent Anna Rostokina reports:

“One of the greatest Russian marvels, Saint Petersburg is at its best in summer, when the sun dominates the usually rainy city providing for enjoyable walks and boat rides.

Saint Petersburg

June is the famous “white night” season. In summer in this part of Europe the sun does not descend below the horizon enough for the sky to grow dark, so it is basically a no-night period. This natural phenomenon has inspired great writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, but more importantly it inspires millions of citizens and tourists to literally explore this vibrant city 24/7.”


000065Anna Rostokina:
a Moscow girl, Anna settled down in Serbia a few years ago following her love to the Balkans. She works as a translator and a language teacher and enjoys exploring her beloved city of Belgrade, the region and beyond. She also takes great pleasure in writing and translating poetry, doing yoga and hiking.

The DUBLIN PARK(ING) DAY sounds like a cool green idea. Tell me more!

Once a year in the month of September, Dublin’s car parking spaces turn into public parks, games or art installations. Park(ing) Day is “intended to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play.”

Team TS happened to be there last September, and we couldn’t stop marvelling at some of the creative ideas on show at the parking lots.

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(Image source: weburbanist.com)

Get all the details on this fun concept here.

Take me to an Irish cafe that the locals love!

Just a few minutes out of Belfast airport, and you have a fiesta of Irish treats laid out for you. Rhubarb pie with homemade ice-cream, to begin with. At a pretty tucked-away place that overlooks the endless sea, and doubles as a local nursery. Called Harrisons, quite simply. Harrisons-Restaurant-201207280453 DSC00590 That pie. It alone is worth a trip to Northern Ireland. The rhubarb is nice and tart, and the pie crust is perfectly crisp. And the ice-cream, it tastes like the cow was milked a few minutes ago and the hens just laid their eggs and all of it was churned quickly together and frozen swiftly up to create this fresh, fantastic dream in cream. Sorry, it’s easy to get carried away when you’re reminiscing about a treat so delicious. DSC00591 Many days after I arrived back in India and Googled it, I was blown away by the story of Harrison’s! It is owned by a family that lives on 90 lush acres of land. The location is called Ards Peninsula, one of Northern Ireland’s most picturesque locations. (But then, I was there for nearly a week and did not see one spot that would not qualify as that! All of Ireland, Northern or not, is an ode to natural beauty.) And I am not the only one determined to go back for that ice cream. Apparently, 30 per cent of its customers drive more than an hour to come and eat at Harrisons. I suspect that statistic will quickly crawl upward soon. I have to admit I wolfed down the entire pie and ice-cream, and those calories were worth lunch and dinner both. And I was too hungry to take photos of the treat! Shubhra Krishan

A good dhaba in Amritsar, Punjab?

Located a short walk from the Golden Temple, in the Town Hall, is Bharawan da Dhaba, where we ate a hearty meal of chana masala, paneer kulcha, sweet lassi, and have never quite forgotten the taste!

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This divine food is reason enough to go to Amritsar, and no, the dhaba hasn’t paid us to write this for them!

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The name literally means “Restaurant of the brothers,” and whoever they are, they deserve a collective pat on their backs for dishing up such amazing food.

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The dhaba is always crowded, and that is a good sign. It only serves vegetarian food, but even if you are a meat lover, it is hard not to fall in love with the hearty Punjabi flavours here. Those lachcha paranthas topped with big dollops of butter…mmm!

Address: Hall Bazar, Golden Temple Out Road, Town Hall, Katra Ahluwalia, Amritsar, Punjab 143001

Phone:0183 253 2575

 

What’s socca, the famous French street food?

Team TS first heard about–and tasted–Socca in Nice, France.

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(Image: www.thegoodlifefrance.com)

Made primarily with chickpea flour and olive oil – ingredients plentiful around the Mediterranean – Socca  is a quick, cheap, and delightful snack served along the French part of the coast and all the way into Liguria in Italy, where it goes by the name Farinata.

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Image: www.myfrenchlife.org

To be authentic, socca should be baked over a fire. It is best served piping-hot, and raked as it is baked, which makes the surface extra-crispy. When the giant disk is yanked from the oven, it should arrive at your table or in your hands seconds later. Don’t wait—dive right in! Pair with a chilled rosé.

And now, a little secret of our own: in India, we make something very similar to socca. It is made with chickpea flour, and we call it cheela or poora. To make this, we make a thinnish batter composed of chickpea flour, water, salt, red chilli powder (we’re Indian!), powdered cumin. It’s cooked like a pancake and best enjoyed with mint and cilantro chutney. 

Something fun for Harry Potter fans visiting Edinburgh?

Of course! 

Let’s take you to The Elephant House Cafe in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland’s pulsating capital city!

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It looks like an unlikely spot for the blockbuster it secretly housed. But yes, J.K. Rowling sat here, scribbling furiously over cups of coffee and we are sure, Scottish scones.

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(Image: pottermore-news.com)

Do visit the loo here: the walls are filled with ‘letters’ scribbled to the author from women across the world!

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Image: niamhinlondon.tumblr.com

Besides inspiration, the Cafe also serves full breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the menu are pizzas, salads, pasta, Haggis, Neeps and Tatties (Scotland’s national dish), and something called Lucas of Musselburgh Ice Cream which we did not taste but are sure is a delicious secret in itself!

http://www.elephanthouse.biz/

21 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EN
Tel. 0131-220-5355
Fax. 0131-220-4272
contact@elephanthouse.biz

Tell me a Venice, Italy secret few know about.

If you are a book lover, here’s a secret you are going to love!

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy: The translation is “library of high water.” It’s spread out through various rambling rooms; one room with a gondola stacked with books, other rooms are packed with rowing boats & bath tubs full of old second hand atlases, dictionaries, art books, biographies and history books.

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There’s something for every one, you just have to look long enough. In the back room you can look out to one of the channels, which makes this place even more special.

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Location: Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa

Hours: 9.00 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Point me to Sicily’s most exciting cities.

Tough one, considering how vast and wonderful Sicily is. Laid-back and lush, this is a land that enjoys the best of earth and sea.

Team TS was there last week, so we do know the right places for you to explore in Sicily.

The queen of the region is Palermo, a gorgeous city that offers everything that a good city should: lots of shopping, serious history, and abundant nature just a heartbeat away. Our first impression when we hit Palermo was one of pure surprise. Here is where the rural-at-heart Sicily suddenly turns glam girl, and seduces you with street style and nightlife that can compete with the best of Europe.

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Just a few minutes away from the city, you stumble upon scenes like this! Postcard views, daring your fingers to stop clicking:

 

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Our wonderful and well-informed guide Andrea Calabrese of Mosaica Travel, himself a Palermo man, told us how the people of Palermo like to spend their entire day by the sea, enjoying the delicious Mediterranean weather and home-cooked lunch. Sure enough, we saw scores of happy families dotted across the golden sands, taking their fill of the stunning land they inhabit. Only a sprinkling of these were tourists, which in our book makes a place even more charming.

After all that driving, we were hungry, and the good Andrea knew just the place to take us to. The heart of the city, where locals sat enjoying street food.

The words stop in my mouth when I try to describe those flavours. Being vegetarian, I tried potato and chickpea-based snacks, named Cazilli and Panelle respectively.

 

The potato fritter is light and fluffy, and the chickpea pancakes are soft and pillowy. They are gently salted and absolutely divine. For meat lovers, of course, this is paradise. You MUST read this blog entry before going to Palermo; it will tell you all you need to know about the street food of this wondrous city.

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Time to let you into another secret here: do not miss walking down the open farmers’ markets in Palermo: they house some of the freshest and most prized herbs and spices, and you won’t find those friendly prices anywhere else in Italy!

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Then there is Catania, sitting under the moody Etna. While the volcano fumes, the city rocks. The nightlife here is high-octane, and during daytime, you can drive up to Etna where the landscape is dramatic and sobering.

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And Taormina, a short drive up from Catania, will charm you with its winding lanes and vibrant shopping. It’s the quintessential European town, best explored on foot. It is ridiculously easy to fall in love with the delicately named Taormina, which drapes itself sinuously up on the Tauro mountain. The climate is beautifully balmy, and the views of the sea are exceptional.  Taormina lies on a terrace, with a view of the ancient Amphitheater against a backdrop of citrus groves with Mount Etna close by and the Ionian Sea beyond.

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We have so much more to tell you about Sicily’s secrets. Watch this space!

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