Tuscany

I wanted to visit Tuscany for our honeymoon. We had researched a stunning resort in the Tuscan countryside but we never ended up booking it because my husband wanted to complete a short course in luxury marketing in Paris so Paris it was! Nine years and two kids later, we got the time to visit our dream destination. And I was not going to let go of this once more.

We had just 5 days off so we had to use them wisely. Of course we had to see Florence for all its history and fashion. We spent 3 days in Florence and 2 in the countryside. It was one of the most memorable holidays for me. The tiled roofs and yellow houses is how I remember Tuscany. Florence is a big city full of tourists any time of the year. Hence, it is better not to visit Florence in the summers when there is a sea of tourists. We went there during Easter and it was perfect. The weather was also superb-not too hot to be sweating in those beautiful dresses and not too cold to enjoy an ice cream! We were walking with our two young kids for 5 to 6 hours everyday and they hardly complained. The children were high on gelatos, my husband on espresso and I just couldn’t get enough of the beautiful clothes!

Florence-Best streets to shop

Florence is a type of city where one can always find clothes to your taste. Two of the streets I particularly enjoyed were Via dei Calzaiuoli and Via del Corso. They both had lovely boutiques ranging from high end to modern styles. You are sure to find something of your choice.

Florence-Must visit places

I did not visit any of the museums because the queues were a little too long for children but if you are travelling on your own, you will find a plethora of museums to visit. We took a walk around the Ponte Vecchio. It’s the stoned arch bridge built over the River Arno. It’s a beautiful walk with street artists painting sketches of people and sights all over. As you keep walking you will end up at the Piazza della Signoria which has always been considered as the political hub of the city. This Piazza also houses the ostentatious Gucci garden, which comprises of the Gucci store, Gucci museum and the Gucci café. I loved the store and the museum but the café failed to impress me too much. We continued walking down from there and ended up at the Duomo, which stands out in terms of its architecture. It is a must visit when in Florence. The next morning we thought of visiting a beautiful Renaissance garden, opened recently to the public. It’s called the Giardino Bardini. It is a lovely walk up a small hill. You have one of the most amazing views of the entire city from up there. The children really enjoyed the garden and the lavender flowers blooming everywhere. You can do an amazing photo shoot up there!

Florence-Where to eat

My list would be incomplete if I do not mention about the coffee scene in the city. To be honest I expected it to be bustling with interesting cafes. On the contrary, it was bustling with coffee but not many new ‘3rd wave’ cafes. The one that my husband had researched on was called Ditta Artigianale and it had very good coffee and a great selection of food including many vegan options. There are two outlets of this cafe in the city and we spent a good amount of time in both of these on our short 3-day visit here.

The countryside

This is the part I was most looking forward to! Usually when you are coming from a different country, you don’t always think of visiting the countryside. You do the big cities with all the famous places and go back home. However, I have always wanted to see the vineyards and the quaint little towns of Tuscany. So we hired a car for two days and started our drive from Florence to a beautiful resort tucked away somewhere in the vineyards. On our way we visited many remarkable little towns but one of the more beautiful ones was certainly Siena. It has an exquisite piazza. This is the same piazza that holds the much-loved Palio horse race twice a year! I can’t believe how lucky the people living there are. The town had everything from Michelin star restaurants to amazing high end fashion stores. I was totally in love with this place. We had planned on spending a couple of hours here but ended up spending more than double the time. 

We headed towards our resort right after. Instead of taking the highway, we took the country roads and it was one of the most memorable drives for me till date. The vineyards go on till the horizon. There were hardly any other cars in sight. I think we chose the right time of the year to be here. We did not get traffic at all apart from the high on adrenaline bikers zooming past. We drove through the Chianti region and it was magnificent. I wanted to stop in so many towns on the way but we would have never reached our resort had I been driving! Finally, we reached our hotel and I was in heaven. Its called Hotel Villa La Palagina.  Vineyards and the gorgeous Tuscan hills surrounded us and the hotel itself has absolutely 5 star service. We tried out all the beautiful house wines and even got them packed to bring along for our friends in Switzerland. We swam in the large infinity pool followed by a meal in their outdoor restaurant next to the fountain. In the morning we had breakfast in the indoor restaurant with complete glass walls all around us so that it feels like you are a part of the nature even on a cold windy day. It was really an experience. I did not want to leave that place but as they say, all good things come to an end and so we drove straight back to Florence to catch our flight! One thing I know for sure is that we just have to go back to Tuscany.

I will come back soon with my next adventure. Till then keep exploring and bon voyage!

Gstaad, Switzerland

Switzerland is full of untouched natural beauty. However, once in a while when I get an overdose of the simplicity and the nature, I rush to Gstaad for my quarterly dose of glitz and glamour. It is undoubtedly my favourite town in this lovely country.

Every time I visit Gstaad I feel like I’ve been transported to another time period. It has this old world charm which stays with me the whole day, even when I’m back home. I am a very dreamy person so this place is the perfect place for me to romanticize about. It is typical Switzerland in terms of its beautiful chalets, a lovely little train station and the gorgeous mountain range. However, unlike the rest of Switzerland, which is so simple and natural, Gstaad is really very chic and glamorous. It is like a timeless piece that never goes out of fashion. Name a fashion brand and you will find a store hidden in one of the lovely little chalets. I was particularly struck by the Dolce and Gabbana window display. It was really so dramatic and glittery that I felt everything that shines in Switzerland was all in here! But the store was housed in a typical Swiss chalet. Nothing fancy about the exterior of the store. Here’s what I love about this place. It is so refreshingly modern and fashionable but still in touch with its roots and tradition. It is still so Swiss!

The tourists on the streets certainly outnumber the locals living there. However, it is never overcrowded. Maybe because not a lot of people know about it. It is still in a way a hidden gem.

Where to eat

As I have mentioned in my earlier blog, with children, food is a key part of our every travel. In Gstaad we have this one bakery that we always visit. It’s called the Early Beck café and it has a good selection of chocolates, pastries, sandwiches and cakes. It even has a little play corner inside. It’s the ideal place for us to take a break with the kids. I love my desserts so I mention the bakery first. However, there are two lovely options for the main course. You have the choice of authentic Swiss cheese fondue and other Swiss delicacies at the Posthotel Russli café or delicious Indian food at the Mango restaurant. There are of course many other restaurants in the town but we always tend to go to one of the fore mentioned. Personally, I love the ambience inside the Posthotel Rossli café. It is a very charming little restaurant and oh so Swiss! Mango restaurant, on the other hand, has the option of vegetarian, vegan, gluten and lactose free food. My husband being a vegetarian particularly enjoys his food here. My market research on restaurants of Gstaad cannot be complete without mentioning the Gstaad Palace hotel. The 5 star luxury hotel frequented by celebrities from all around the world. Be it movie stars or sports stars, they have all at some point visited or stayed in the Gstaad palace. So if you are in a mood to splurge, you head to the Le Grand restaurant for a cup of tea and some nibbles. The restaurant’s terrace is really so picturesque. You do not need to be formally dressed for the afternoons but evenings (7pm onwards) the men need to be in a jacket. In case you need some pampering, you must visit!

Things to do

There is just so much to do in Gstaad that I am sure I cannot possibly cover it all. In the winters, it looks stunning with the snow all over and the chalets beautifully lit up in the dusk of evening. A lot of people go to Gstaad for the skiing and the snow sports. And in the summers there is loads to look forward to. I remember watching the Swiss tennis open last summer and it was the first time my kids watched live tennis. It was quite an experience. Then there are the beach volleyball and polo matches. You must check the Gstaad website before you visit because there is always something happening in the summers.

How to reach

Before I forget I must mention how to reach Gstaad. We don’t live very far from the place so we always take our car. I find taking the car most convenient when it comes to travelling with kids. Also, the route to Gstaad is so breathtaking that I want the freedom of stopping and taking pictures. However, if you don’t want to drive, there is the option of taking the beautiful Golden Pass panoramic train, which starts in Lucerne. It is indeed a very scenic trip.

Hope I have given you enough reasons to travel to this beautiful town. I promise it won’t disappoint you.

I will come back soon with my next adventure. Till then keep exploring and bon voyage

Swiss Coffee Festival, 2019, Zurich

Living in Switzerland over the last few years has given me a deeper perspective of this beautiful country. If it were a person, Switzerland would definitely come across as introverted, but then that is what makes it so attractive. It is so breathtakingly gorgeous that it doesn’t need to sing its own praise.

While Switzerland is a relatively small country in terms of size, it still has a lot of diversity and can broadly be divided into three parts-the German, the French and the Italian- each adjoining the respective namesake country. Now, this is something I didn’t know before I moved here. In my naivety I always felt that the people there would probably just speak one language (Swiss!). And I certainly did not expect them to speak French! As you would have guessed, I live in the French part of Switzerland (also known as the Swiss Riviera – but lets save that for another story). The other languages spoken by the Swiss include German, Italian as well as Romansh, which is a form of Latin.

Most tourists generally visit the Swiss German part and pass by Zurich, which is the largest city in Switzerland. I’ve been to Zurich 3 or 4 times since I started living here –often just to visit some of the touristy sites. This time, however, I was there for the first ever Swiss coffee festival. While my husband has been to a few of them including the last year’s World of Coffee festival, 2018 in Amsterdam, it was my first time at a coffee festival!

So if you’ve never been to a coffee festival this piece would be a good introduction to the world of coffee and if you have been to one, I’m sure you would be able to relate to it and perhaps compare how the Swiss chapter is similar or different. 

Imagine being in a train station but except that no one seems to be in a hurry to leave. Big banners hanging from the ceilings with names you have never heard of-at least I hadn’t heard of.. So just like a train station has different platforms, the festival had a number of kiosks showcasing various elements of coffee. The main platform was the coffee championship where they were currently competing for the best latte art in a cup.  My children especially enjoyed this part. There were a number of kiosks showcasing and selling various coffee equipment targeting the ‘home barista’ such as the Italian made Single Group coffee machines, state of the art coffee grinders and even café style cups and saucers to complete your experience at home! Then there was the coffee cupping stall where you could go and try different coffees. To make things more interesting, you could test your coffee palette to guess the origin of the coffee and even win a prize! Throughout the day there were also guest lectures addressing different topics on coffee from green coffee to roasting and even running your own store. The whole place smelled of freshly brewed coffee with little steam engines working on tiny magic beans spewing refreshing hot drinks! That’s exactly how it looked like to me. The steam engines were the coffee machines and the magic beans are of course the coffee beans collected from different parts of the world if you hadn’t guessed it already. My reaction to all this was a bit like Harry Potter when he first discovered the platform nine and three quarters!

If you are a coffee enthusiast you must visit a coffee festival to get a deeper insight into coffee from all the experts. Also, if you are not yet a coffee fan you should still just go to get a feel of the place because it is indeed a whole new world. The next world of coffee event for the year 2019 is happening in Berlin this June!

After spending three whole hours at the coffee festival we realized that we had spent the majority of the day at the festival and it was nearly time to head home. However, we managed to squeeze in a café on our way back home. This was the Monocle café in Zurich. Many of you might be familiar with the Monocle magazine – it’s my lifeline for English language publications here in Switzerland – and every month I wait for my subscription to turn up in the post! For those who aren’t – I highly recommend it for the unique perspectives on host of topics from political affairs to fashion and design and even culture. The cafes are a manifestation of the Monocle experience – each tastefully designed and decorated, and only in 6 locations around the world (including London and Hong Kong). So back to the one in Zurich. With options for both outdoor and indoor seating and an eclectic mix of magazines and newspapers on display, the Monocle café is a great place to spend some quality down time. And they have the shopaholics covered too with a curated selection of men’s clothing, some stylish stationery, very well designed bags and of course their own books on different topics. Even I couldn’t help splurging and among my purchases was the ‘The Monocle Guide to better Living’- a book that gives you an insider’s perspective on where to live around the world based on the business opportunities, quality of life, culture etc. And as with all Monocle publications, the paper and print quality coupled with their attention to design, makes reading an absolute joy. But I digress…. The café serves tasty coffee from a local roaster. It even got my husband’s approval as he was quick (and eager) to point out that the baristas were pulling espresso shots from a La Marzocco machine (the ‘one’ in his opinion). The afternoon quickly turned to evening and I felt like trying one of the signature cocktails on the menu before we hit the road – while our designated driver has to content himself with another shot of espresso. Overall a very ‘chic’ experience. Well done Monocle!

I will come back soon with my next adventure. Till then keep exploring and bon voyage!

Lyon, France

A city of restaurants..yes, that would be the right description! Every street I walked on I would come across a café, every time I turned a corner I could find a Michelin star restaurant..and every time I ate (delicious) savoury food, I could always find a bakery next door to gorge on the yummiest desserts!

I’ve been to Paris maybe 7 or 8 times in my life and I always considered it to be The food capital of France. This was my second time in Lyon and I was forced to change my mind. My first trip to Lyon was a short stopover during our honeymoon and I didn’t get the chance to discover its secrets. Fast-forward to the present, as a mother of two young kids, my perspectives on travel and food have changed a bit (as I imagine it has for you in some form over the years) and food has become an integral part of our lives. I have to say that Lyon is an amazing experience with children. I found the people here very friendly and surprisingly chatty. I say surprising, as I don’t speak French (hmm maybe un petit peu) and the French – hmmm… let’s say they prefer their own language (J). So it came as a pleasant surprise that every local we interacted with – from the waiter in the restaurant suggesting local wines to the cab drivers showing us the trendy places- they were all eager to share wonderful insights on their city.

As I mentioned before, there are a plethora of Michelin star restaurants in Lyon. You would literally be spoilt for choice. However, I am not writing about one of them in this piece. One place that caught my eye was a place called Anticafe. It was a very unique concept. You basically pay for spending time there. They had a simple salad, cereal and coffee buffet. Eat all you want (or not) during the time that you are there. There was a fixed hourly rate, which was surprisingly affordable (EUR 5/hr). They even had a few games for the kids. You can visit this place if you would just like to spend some time working on your own or need to spend a few hours without stressing over what to order. It might not have the best tasting coffee but it certainly does have its USP.

My husband is truly passionate about coffee. He likes to taste coffee like some like to taste wine. Now there are coffee lovers and there are coffee lovers…he falls in the second category. Actually the word that describes him best is a coffee stalker. And I mean that in the best sense possible! He eats, breathes, reads, and dreams coffee. So we had to of course visit this ‘3rd wave’ café called Diploid. And it wasn’t serendipity that landed us there – it was carefully researched on 10 different attributes before it met my husband’s approval. Fortunately for us the coffee met its expectations. The in house barista, after having a long conversation with him, prepared a Costa Rica coffee brewed with a ‘V60’. In his words the coffee was “sweet, fruity with a lot of body”. Meanwhile the kids and I had some yummy banana bread and a delicious creamy cheesecake. It was delightful. The place itself though not so large, had the option of indoor and outdoor seating. I particularly loved the fun and cosy ambience of the place and it was completely packed with people on a Sunday afternoon. We had to make two rounds of the place just to get a seat!

Now, we always try to do one thing special for the kids wherever we go. This time we chose to visit the grand Musee des Confluences. It came highly recommended from our French friends and it did not disappoint! It was as if we were watching the story of the earth unfold. Starting from the evolution of the earth to the progression of humans, animals and technology. In addition, there was a Japanese art exhibit in one of the non-permanent halls which was very intriguing. I find art is a very nice way of introducing the children to a different culture. Our daughter (5 years) and son (3 years) both loved the visit. Our son particularly was fascinated with the fossils and the animal exhibits in the museum. Even I felt spellbound while walking through this section! My daughter loved the story of evolution. She still talks about it at home on some days. I would highly recommend putting the museum on your To-do list if you have children and if they happen to be of a slightly older age they would appreciate the different themes across the halls even more. It is definitely worth spending a couple of hours if not more.

Overall, this city had something for each one of us. You can definitely spend a lovely weekend here!

I will come back soon with my next adventure. Till then keep exploring and bon voyage!