Rome has more than its fair share of gems. We’d booked a whistle stop 3-night stay and we were practically running from place to place to make sure we didn’t miss any of the many delights of this iconic city.
We’d planned our visit with almost military precision and much of what we saw took our breath away. Just as we’d anticipated from all we’d ever read, seen or heard about this amazing place.
But what we weren’t expecting was this. A 10 second glimpse through a keyhole that rewarded us with a stunning view spanning 3 countries – Malta (the door belongs to the Knights of Malta) Italy in the middle ground and The Vatican* in the distance. The splendour of St Peter’s Basilica framed by the unmistakeable shape of the keyhole was a sight to behold. And of all the wonderful sights we enjoyed during our visit to Rome, this few minutes spent at this magic door on the Aventine Hill is the one that’s been our
abiding take home memory.
Truly a hidden gem and one not to miss if you’re ever in Rome.
(*Me to Son: ” What’s that building you can see in the distance?”
Son to me: “I know. It’s the Trafford Centre” Bless! 🙂
Today I cranked up the heating, pulled on a jumper and started thumbing through virtual holiday brochures. Winter has officially arrived! Time then to pop back in my memory to a better place, and where better to head off to for a dash of golden sunshine than St Tropez. It’s hard to believe that in the capital of glitz and glam there still exists a rather understated but absolutely fabulous Hidden Gem of a hotel.
What’s the betting you’ve never heard of Pavillon De Pampelonne? Yet it’s Number 1 of St Tropez hotels on Trip Advisor – and this little jewel of a place also happens to be just a short promenade away from its namesake the world famous Pampelonne beach and the celebrity hangout, Club 55. It’s one of those places that once visited you can’t get it out of your mind – and oh to be so torn between telling your friends all about it the minute you get home or keeping this very beautiful Residence De Charme a closely guarded secret. Much as you love your mates, with just 11 rooms and a race for bookings, do you really want to find they’ve thought ahead and bagged your favourite room for next year’s Summer escape? (it’s happened before!).
I’m still not entirely convinced I really want to share the love – but in the quest to bring you my favourite discoveries I have to come clean. Pavillon De Pampelonne is a top place to stay!
For owners Peter and Alison Dow it’s been a passion of theirs for the past 10 years and we’ve been visiting since almost Day 1! They know the area like the back of their hand and they’re very happy to let you in on all their top tips for eating, drinking, more drinking and great things to see and do.
The hotel itself is truly a home from home .. well better than home, in fact. At home we don’t have the amazing sea view, the great location, the beautiful pool, the outdoor cinema, the beautifully served breakfasts, St Tropez on the doorstep … oh, or the sunshine that P de P seems to enjoy for most months of the year.
If you’re lucky enough to get a room there, the drinks are on you, all conveniently on tap at the honesty bar, Sante. See you at Pavillon De Pampelonne.
I put my hand up. I partied like it was 1999, a few years before it actually was 1999! And there was, and still is, nowhere better to party than Ibiza. Fast forward to a new century and complete with husband and two children in tow, I decided to revisit my old stomping ground.
This time around I was a Grown Up and without an itinerary that involved clubs and copious cocktails, I wasn’t sure quite what the White Island would have in store. Back home I burnt the midnight oil Googling “family things to do in Ibiza”. I didn’t find much to inspire. Slightly apprehensive, we boarded the plane with very few plans for the coming ten days – but I needn’t have worried. Ibiza has something for everyone. It’s just a well kept secret.
Apart from the volume of its signature music, still waters actually run deep in Ibiza. Away from the party scene, this beautiful island doesn’t shout out loud but it has a charm that is hugely addictive. I loved it back then – but I loved it even more this time around. And so did my family.
I’ll share more details of our trip next time around, but for anyone who loves a good sunset – and who doesn’t, especially in Ibiza – here’s a hidden gem. Head to the North West of the island. Keep going past the madness that is San Antonio and you’ll find yourself at Santa Agnes (Santa Ines to locals). Eventually if you keep your eyes peeled you should notice a white stone bearing the hand-painted sign Can Pujolet. Head up the track and 900 metres later you’ll come across Can Pujolet, a fine example of one of the island’s responsible tourism fincas.
We were lucky enough to have booked in for the night ( I’m not sure what the policy is if you’re not staying over). Our sole mission was to check out the sunset from one of the highest points of Ibiza. Everywhere else we’d been to enjoy the sun going down we’d found we were sharing the experience with every man and his dog and paying a premium price for the pleasure. But here it’s just you, the friends or family you choose to take with you, a 180 degree view of Ibiza, the sea crashing on the rocks far below you and the most amazing sunset imaginable.
You have to walk around 20 minutes to reach the viewing point and there’s no bar or food when you reach your destination. But that makes it all the more special.
A night at Can Pujolet watching the sun go down couldn’t be further away from Pacha or Space. Which, as a self-confessed party person who’s morphed into a Grown Up mum of two, has got to be a good thing.
Back soon with more on Ibiza.
Don’t Leave Home Without: Comfy flats (no-one will see you here anyway!) and a better camera than I took with me. Optional extra – a bottle of something chilled and lovely to toast the view.
To celebrate the launch of my new Hidden Gems Worldwide blog, readers are being offered 15% off for breaks at this fantastic Andalucian boutique retreat for stays taken during May. Read all about it below.
How lucky am I to represent this truly beautiful hidden gem! When I first arrived at DDG Retreat as a paying guest last Summer I was blown away with the place – not just because of its obvious natural beauty but because the more I delved, the more I found to love about it.
Aesthetically it’s got everything going for it; this bijoux bolt-hole, nestling amongst the trees, is perched high above the Med just outside one of Andalucia’s very pretty white villages with stunning views over to Gibraltar and North Africa. Five individually designed casas, with Asian and African-inspired decor, have been built to blend perfectly with their environment and the attention to detail, with all the little touches awaiting us, was impressive.
The ambience is truly one of peace and absolute tranquility. I’d defy anyone to stay here for more than an hour or two without getting into the DDG groove and feeling totally relaxed. For good measure I’d booked myself a double whammy of spa treatments just to set me on my way and from glorious start to sad-to-leave finish it was impossible, whilst there, to let any of the stresses and strains of home stand in the way of a full recharge.
This is a place where time really did drift by in a haze of birdsong, pine scent, and a myriad of lounging places – the day beds here and there, our own private plunge pool, the hammocks just perfect for an afternoon siesta , the chill zones that are scattered around the 4-hectare estate, the gorgeous spa cabana in the woods. No fighting for sun-beds here! Wherever we laid our hats (kindly provided for us by our hosts), literally became our home.
And then there were the other touches that warm the heart. Books to-die-for in the pool pavillion if you enjoy, as I do, glossy books full of images of tempting places. If travel, architecture, design and all things luxe are your bag then there’s more than enough to keep you reading when you’re not too busy snoozing the day away.
And did I mention your personal Nespresso machine in your casa? And the pretty restaurant with beautifully cooked meals using vegetables from the Retreat’s own garden and fresh locally-sourced ingredients?
Beneath all the lovely touches though, what drew me most to DDG Retreat, were the owners Alex, Olga and daughter Daria, who clearly have poured their hearts and souls into creating a place that’s very special to them. Having travelled extensively they’ve set out to incorporate here the very best of the places they’ve stayed at in more than 60 countries – but what they were most keen to include were elements that reflected their own personal principles of protecting the environment.
In building the Retreat, for example, they made sure the five casas, the spa, the pool and pavillion, the stunning tennis court and their own villa, were all positioned in locations that meant no disruption to existing trees – quite a challenge in this woodland setting! For good measure they planted 100 new ones during the course of construction and from this year will plant a tree for every booking taken.
Sustainable materials have been used where possible, the infinity pool is filled with (naturally blue, quality-certified) water from their own underground well, they use biological tanks for waste water, rainwater is used for plant irrigation. So fantastic as it is for a whole host of reasons, this is also a place we can all enjoy with a clear conscience.
I could go on and on – but the best way to get a true flavour is to go and see for yourself. I loved the Retreat so much I persuaded Alex and Olga to let me share their story – and I do so with pleasure. I’d now like to share the love and DDG have agreed to offer my readers and Twitter followers 15% off their accommodation and breakfast tariff (www.ddgretreat.com) during May breaks, subject to a minimum 3 night stay and excluding flights.
DDG is situated at Casares, about an hour’s drive from Malaga airport. Transfers or car hire can be arranged. Please contact me for further info or to book firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t Leave Home Without: It’s a packer’s delight here. Most of what you need is supplied courtesy of the owners. Sarongs, check; Sunhat,check; Bathrobe,check; Toiletries (organic), check. Just bring the suncream, your sunglasses and a travelling partner who wants to unwind as much as you do.
The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page – St Augustine
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
And so here I stand at the starting line, slightly apprehensive but hugely excited to be embarking on the virtual trip of a lifetime. It’s taken me a while to get here. Working my way through the widgets and whatsits of my new WordPress world has caused a few unavoidable delays along the way but running shoes (and my signature high heels for good measure) at the ready and I’m off.
My mission is to share the globe’s hidden gems, partly because don’t we love that “Wow” feeling of having just unearthed somewhere that’s unexpectedly, deliciously, wonderfully somehow special – but also because I wholeheartedly hope to support and champion the people behind these places; often unsung heroes who pour blood, sweat and a bucketload of passion into pursuing and delivering to us their dream, whether that be literally on a plate or in the bijoux bolt-holes that they create for our leisure and our pleasure.
The hidden gems I bring to you are ones that have astounded, amazed, intrigued or caused joy in some small way to those who savour the experience. It may be a hotel or a villa; a restaurant or a bar; a view or a trail; a special service; a unique person; a breathtaking painting; a little known hamlet – in fact anywhere, anything or anyone who makes you go OOHH with that sense of discovery.
As for the rest, they are really the best and I can’t wait to share their stories. Looking forward to digging to find those hidden gems and putting them on the map – where they truly deserve to be.