Saturday, 29 April 2017

ITALY | 10 places to eat and things to do in Catania, Sicily (in partnership with HomeAway)

me and my awesome crazy pals in Catania, Sicily

I've wanted to visit Sicily for as long as I can remember. Partly because of the story my mum loves to recount, from when she spent her early twenties living there (in Catania, specifically), working as an au pair for a family that was, unbeknownst to her at the time, very much central to the Sicilian mafia. She wasn't made aware until one morning, after my mum had fed the children breakfast, the family matriarch ominously advised quietly in her ear to 'get out', while she still could. 

And that time when my mum had an actual real life gun fired at her through the back window of a car she was in, due to mistaken identity. Again, mafia related. It missed her, thankfully. But I'm sure it was all mega lolz at the time. 

Couple all of the above with the fact I also love The Godfather, and you have yourself a bonafide Sicily fan.

South Italian stereotypes and lores from the 70s aside, Sicily probably isn't quite like any of that anymore. But what it has undoubtedly retained is its majestic beauty, and the friendliness of its people. Not to mention, there's something deliciously dangerous about living in the shadow of a tremendous volcano (the most active in Europe), that could blow its top and rain down all iterations of hell at any given moment. I even went hiking across an active volcanic range in Iceland once, whilst it was on red alert. That was fun.

scenes from Catania in Sicily

So when the fine folk from HomeAway got in touch one day, with one of those emails that makes you air punch so hard you end up pulling something, I was thrilled. It went along the lines of, "Hi Leyla, we really like your stuff. Can we send you somewhere in Europe, with a few of your friends, to experience one of our properties? We'd like you to explore the area, and also really make use of the kitchen. Where would you like to go?'

To which I said, yes you absolutely may. And Sicily it must be.

The particularly good thing about the listings on HomeAway, compared to other holiday rental platforms or old school hotels, is you only ever get the whole property – kitchen, lounge, dining room, the lot. And you only share it with the people you choose to. 

My chosen squad for this trip? None other than some of my London Cheap Eats team members, the awesome Steph Chan, Ed Tan and Bisi Bajomo. Because whilst I may not be able to pay the team for all the incredible work they do on London Cheap Eats, I can sure as hell get at least some of them to join me in Italy.

Palazzo Asmundo

Allow me to first dedicate some space to the property in Catania that HomeAway booked for us. It's called Palazzo Asmundo, and in case you're wondering, yes, palazzo in Italian does mean palace. And palace is the exact correct word for this place.

downstairs at our HomeAway property in Catania, Palazzo Asmundo
A high-end five bedroom, five bathroom, luxury penthouse palace, right in the heart of Catania, set over two floors, with a roof garden and terrace, two huge kitchens, full of art, and an outstanding view of the mighty Mount Etna. There were only four of us, which meant we could keep one bedroom untouched for ample Instagram photography purposes. Very important.

If you check out the Part 1 video below, you'll see a speeded up run through of the whole property, which will give you a real feel the place.

upstairs at our HomeAway property in Catania, Palazzo Asmundo
Not to mention the place comes with a maid who services it for two hours each day, much like a hotel. So you come home to plush beds, pristine bathrooms, and more importantly, no washing up. Here's the listing on HomeAway.

The property can sleep up to five couples and is around £500 a night. If you can fill it, that works out as a mere £50 a night per person, for unrivalled grandeur. That is great value.

What to do and where to eat in Catania, Sicily

Catania isn't a place with a huge amount of sightseeing to be done. But, it is exceedingly pretty, and full of great food. Which is perfect, if like me, your trips away are centred around where you'll be having your meals, punctuated with gleefully aimless wandering and picture taking in between. Rather than, say, queuing up for hours to see big hitters, surrounded by endless hoards of tourists *shudders*.

With that in mind, I've pulled together a loose guide on what you could get up to, and where you should eat it, if you were to find yourself in this gem of city for a couple of days.

But before that, here's the first of two videos I made from our long weekend there. It ends in some questionable dance moves, meaning it's worth watching. I'd also love to know what you think of it in the comments at the end of this blog post, or under the video itself on YouTube. Part 2 will follow soon!

1) VISIT | Catania Fish Market

This is the one thing you really must visit in Catania before you leave, especially if you're into your food and/or photography. Even British chef and fish fiend Rick Stein described Catania Fish Market as one of the best fish markets in Europe.

Expect cheery bunting, majestic architecture, and incredible produce, both from land and from sea. The fish come from Mazara del Vallo, Italy's largest fishing port, in southwest Sicily, as well as smaller ports famed for specific things, like anchovies from Sciacca, and swordfish from Favignana. It's a spectacle, everyone is exceedingly friendly, and it's where we bought all the ingredients for the home cooked Sicilian lunch we made that Sunday (more on that below).

The market as a whole is referred to as the Fish Market, but it does also sell plenty of fruit and veg. It's open during the morning every day of the week, lasts a little longer on Saturdays, and is closed on Sundays. 

Located off Piazza Duomo near the cathedral and fountain ("dell'Amenano"), between Via Garibaldi and Via Pacini, extending along Via Gemelli Zappalà.

Catania Fish Market

2) DO | Make use of local produce, and cook!

One thing we certainly did quite a bit of in Catania, was unashamedly bask in the grandeur of our HomeAway property. Understandable. 

On the terrace we enjoyed all our breakfasts, a couple of great lunches, and marvelled at the fact we could spot red filaments of lava flows against a silhouetted Etna once the sun went down.

During my eight month travel stint back in 2015, our accommodation was almost exclusively rental properties, and absolutely always with access to a kitchen. Being at the mercy of noisy neighbours and hotel breakfast buffet timings, has never been something that appeals to me. 

The freedom the HomeAway properties give to enjoy what you want at your own pace, with the people you want, in a space you don't need to share, is pretty much my exact checklist when it comes to choosing where to stay while travelling.

the fantastic breakfasts we enjoyed on our terrace

And then there's cooking. Where I can, I always like to get into the spirit of local life by raiding a glorious market for fabulous produce, and rustling up a dish traditional to the area I'm staying.

For Sunday lunch, we made two Sicilian staples: pasta con le sarde (sardine pasta) and caponata, a type of aubergine stew. We furnished the meal with fennel and blood orange salad, steamed artichokes, huge roasted onions, cured meats, and bread. All the ingredients were bought from the market on Saturday, and we cooked up a storm on Sunday. It was a glorious feast; props to Ed, Bisi and Steph who did all the hard work while I was busy taking pictures and nibbling on olives. 

And endless thanks to lovely Guenter, the property owner, who stocked the place with so much booze for us, that we had no need to buy any alcohol.

the epic Sunday lunch my friends cooked in our HomeAway property, Catania

3) EAT | Snack at Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab

You'll find this little hole in the wall in the midst of the fish market, on the site of an old butcher shop, with white tiles on the walls and meat hooks still on view to the public.  

These guys fry the best of Sicily's seafood on the spot, wrapped in traditional straw paper cones, enjoyed amongst the heady mix of an Arab and Mediterranean market atmosphere. Full of flavour, really moreish, and very fresh - it's easy to get carried away and keep ordering more cones.

It also overlooks the spot where the smaller boats display their catches, with lots of tables loaded with all things fresh and silvery from the sea.

Piazza Alonzo Di Benedetto n.7, 95121 Catania

the really very good fried fish from Scirocco Sicilian Fish Lab in the fish market, Catania

4) EAT | An al fresco lunch at Razmataz

This is the place our HomeAway host recommended, when I asked where locals eat for lunch. Wines by the glass, draught and bottled beer and an ample cocktail list are offered at this dreamy wine bar, with tables invitingly spread out across the tree-shaded flagstones of a quaint backstreet square. It doubles as a café in the morning, but really gets packed with locals from aperitivo time onward.

Check the blackboard for a daily-changing selection of light meals; it was great to see local Sicilian dishes other than pasta. We enjoyed black rice with Jerusalem artichokes, peas and leeks; orange and fennel salad; roast chicken and potatoes; a whole veal rib; seriously great veal meatballs with lemon leaves; and a bottle of red from a vineyard on the slopes of Mount Etna. 

Do not miss eating here if you find yourself in Catania. And check out the video above for some behind the scenes from our meal at Razmataz.

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Via Montesano n.17, 95131 Catania

a fabulous lunch had at Razmataz Wine Bar, Catania

5) EAT | Gelato at Savia

Obviously when anywhere in Italy, one must seek out gelato. Which is what I always do, with much gusto. But the hazlenut gelato from Savia in Catania, is hands down the best gelato I've ever had. 

I even popped over to Bologna and Florence on a separate trip, straight after Sicily, and shovelled in as much gelato as I could find; nothing came close. And nothing has before.

This was another recommendation from our HomeAway host, but it also came up in our pre-visit research. She did, however, specifically single out the hazelnut gelato as the best in Catania. I reckon it could well be the best on the island. Outstanding texture, intense hazelnut flavour, and even the thin wafer waffle cone was a total delight.

Savia is in fact a pasticceria - a pastry shop - that happens to sell gelato. In a brioche bun too, if you're feeling fancy. Which means this is also the place to buy pastries, cakes, Italian biscuits, and also arancini, which was very tasty. Check out more of our verdict on Savia in the video further up.

Pasticceria Savia, Via Etnea n. 302/304, 95100 Catania

the best gelato I've ever had (specifically the hazelnut), from Savia in Catania

6) EAT | All the pasta at Al Tortellino

This is a very casual, friendly, brightly-lit spot, regarded by locals as the home of homemade pasta in Catania.

Don't come here for a romantic dinner by candlelight, but do some for a range of great value pasta dishes. Expect tasty Sicilian classics like pasta alla norma (pasta with aubergine), pasta with pistacho sausage and a cream sauce, gnocchi with buffaloo mozzarella, and the rest.

They also serve pizza, which we started with, and totally didn't need. Along with four plates of pasta, and a large bottle of beer, the bill didn't come to much more than 20 Euros for four of us.

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Via Simili Giuseppe n.20, 95129 Catania

lots of local pasta dishes at Al Tortellino, Catania

7) VISIT | The glorious piazzas

Head to the Piazza del Duomo at the heart of the city, for a splendid circuit of Sicilian Baroque masterpieces. The square is a major meeting point for both people and the city's principle streets, which converge at the piazza. Which makes it difficult to get too lost. It's also worth strolling through in the evening, when the restaurants are busy and the cathedral is lit.

The modest ruins of a Roman theatre, below street level in Piazza Stesicoro, discovered in the early twentieth century, are certainly worth a look. You can do so from street level, admiring it from over the fence, or pay to descend and have a wander through the ruins themselves.

Piazza Stesicoro, 95100 Catania

Piazza del Duomo, central Catania

 Piazza Stesicoro (with the ruins) and Piazza del Duomo, Catania

8) DO | Get off the beaten track

If you explore heading south from the city centre, you'll come across neighbourhoods that I took to be where the majority of Catanians actually live (as opposed to the city centre). It has a rugged beauty; what you might expect southern Italy to look like in your mind's eye.

There are a lot of opportunities for great photos here, and we spent a good half hour getting a group shot of us jumping around like loons, thanks to a spider tripod Ed brought along (this blog post's main picture was the winning shot, mostly because of Bisi's mesmerising levitation skills).

On our wanderings south, we also came across the only real street food we found in Catania. In both cases, men were barbecuing meat out on the pavement. Punters were buying it straight up, only sometimes between some bread. We had some sausage, and it was really very good indeed. More on that in the part two video coming soon.

getting off the beaten track in Catania

9) DO | Check out the night life

Mercati Generali is probably the island's most influential club, spread out over the warehouses and pressing rooms of a restored 19th-century winery, in the distant southern suburbs of Catania. In summer, the scene moves outside into the palm-shaded garden courtyard. We didn't go there, as it was a little far out from where we were staying. But if you're the raving type, it sounds like it shouldn't be missed, frequently playing host to some of Europe's top DJ's

Instead, we strategically kept our Saturday night within stumbling distance from the palazzo. We started off with a few Negronis at Gammazita, an urban space and open-air library devoted to cultural sharing, which also has a DJ playing some banging tunes in the evening.

And then we ended up at Mingo Lounge Bar, quite literally around the corner from where we were staying. All I really remember from there is that we had the whole place to ourselves, and made damn good use of that dance floor. Plenty of evidence in the video further up.
Piazza Federico di Svevia n.92, 95121 Catania

Mingo Lounge Bar
Via Auteri, 95100 Catania

10) VISIT | The slopes of Mount Etna 

a spectacular smoking Mount Etna
on the flight into Catania

One thing we didn't get a chance to do, which I would absolutely prioritise on a return visit, is head out of the city, especially closer to the volcano. 

The slopes of Etna are home to wineries, wine festivals, restaurants and hotels. And places like Taormina, about an hour and a half drive up the coast, are meant to be quite spectacular.

What really appeals to me is trekking for a few hours along a nature trail - of which Mount Etna has many - and soaking up those glorious views. This website seemed quite useful.  

Note: This is a sponsored post in partnership with HomeAway. It's been great fun and a pleasure to collaborate on - thanks very much for the opportunity. All views remain my own, as always.

Another note: the imagery used in this post is a combination of mine, Ed's, Bisi's and Steph's. Thanks for the great photoraphy skills guys!

Monday, 20 February 2017

CANADA | History, wildlife & the great blue yonder: 3 days in the Avalon Penisula, Newfoundland's East coast

Larry and I flying the flag at Signal Hill in St John's, Newfoundland

A little about how Newfoundland came to be

One of the first things the effervescent Larry Hann - our guide from McCarthy's Party during our time in Newfoundland - first told us in his delicious Irish / Canadian hybrid accent, was that "cod is king in Newfoundland." In fact, if you say the word "fish" in these parts, it's automatically assumed you mean cod. The reason? This humble creature can be traced back as to why Newfoundland is here today.

The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador is the most easterly in the country (outlined in red on the map below), and in it you'll find Newfoundland. An island, built much like an iceberg with most of its mass beneath the water, it used to be its own self-governed country and Britain's oldest colony, with locals even driving on the left, until it joined Canada as the tenth province in 1949.

The cold Atlantic waters around the island don't get above 10C, and the nutient-rich soil that was once on the land, gradually migrated into the sea over time, thanks to the slow grind of glaciers. These nutrients, combined with the cold ocean, made the fishing areas around Newfoundland one of the richest in the world. And it was mostly cod.

the location of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada
This abundance of fish drew a big crowd. The English and Irish would travel across the ocean on contracts to haul it. But over time, rather than risking their lives with the treacherous journey there and back each season, and to protect their fishing rights, they eventually decided to just - stay. And thus, the first permanent European settlement in all of Canada came to be (more on that below).

Newfoundland's unique location as the point of the New World that is closest to Europe, has also meant it's been the site of many transatlantic firsts, such as flying, and communication cables (more on that below too). And during the 9/11 attacks, any aircraft that was heading west over the North Atlantic during that time was told to make for the airport in Newfoundland, the point of land they could reach the quickest. So many craft were grounded in the city that day, that schools were open to house the thousands of stranded passengers.

Newfoundland has that winning combination - unique history, extraordinary wildlife, and a stunning setting - that makes it such an ideal place to visit. I knew nothing about this province before my trip, and given that it's less than a five hour flight from London, and the prospect of successfully swimming with whales is pulling me back, hard (more on that below), I can't imagine it will be my last. 

Larry even did a private tour with Canadian rock legend Bryan Adams once, who reckoned Newfoundland and Labrador should be declared as the 7th wonder of the world. It really is that beautiful.

Here's my guide on how you could spend a terrific three days around the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland's East coast.

around St John's in Newfoundland



Today's full driving itinerary on Google Maps 

1) Soak up the views whilst driving the coastal Baccalieu Trail

Take the scenic route from the capital of Newfoundland, St John's, to Cupid's Cove Plantation, along the spectacular coastal drive know as The Baccalieu Trail. You'll pass bucolic fishing villages and sensational scenery - be sure to stop for photo opps.

While you're on the road, keep a look out for moose. They're not native to the island, but there are a heck of a lot of them - around 125,000. Introduced in 1904 from New Brunswick province, they're mainly around for their meat, and 25,000 big game licenses are issued each year, allowing locals to hunt them. But what's comforting to know is this isn't a sport - moose are only ever killed for their meat, a popular source of protein for the locals. It can even be preserved in a can or bottle. 

It's also worth noting that these huge beasts cross roads, and when they do, it can be a very dangerous thing indeed. Many people are killed each year from vehicle collisions with moose, and Newfoundlanders will rarely drive after dark for this reason.

scenes from Trinity Bay and Bay Roberts, Newfoundland

2) Visit the site of the first permanent English settlement in all of Canada

Cupid's Cove Plantation is the fourth oldest permanent European settlement in North America, and the oldest in all of Canada. In 1610, a British fellow called John Guy brought a small group of colonists to this protected harbour, turning Newfoundland from a seasonal fishing ground into a home. And the rest makes for some great history.

The migrants from England and Ireland were attracted by the abundance of cod in the surrounding waters. They would lightly salt it and take it down to the Caribbean to trade for sugar and Jamaican rum, or what the locals coined as 'Newfoundland screech'. And getting 'screeched in' is a Newfoundland right of passage. Something about drinking rum and kissing a dead fish. Sounds like a good night.

The original site of Cupid's Cove was rediscovered in 1995, and active archaeological work continues to this day every summer. It's a fascinating place to visit, and the archaeologists there will happily show you around, and maybe even tell you a folktale or two.

368 Seaforest Drive, Cupids, NL

archaeological excavations at Cupids Cove plantation, Newfoundland

3) Explore the Bay Roberts shoreline and visit the Cable Museum

Meet up with the lovely people at Bay Robert's Tourism, who will gladly take you on a saunter around the beautiful bay. We got some great insight into the history, nature and culture of this thriving community by
 Lois Dawe, and also popped into the Cable Building for a meander around the museum and galleries.

These guys also do a lot of culinary events, including the Newfoundland Fishcake Championships (HELLO). Plus, they have a very tempting Toutons and Tunes tour, which involves enjoying toutons (fried bread with a slick of molasses or jam) with capelin (little silver fish, the same ones that attract puffins and whales) - a picture of that above - whilst listening to some traditional folk music, and having an all round good jolly.

Cable Building National Historic Site, 321 Water Street, Bay Roberts, NL A0A 1G0

4) Local lunch at Skipper Ben’s, Cupids

This is a lovely spot. A very quaint restored 1890's seaside property in the heart of the oldest English settlement in Canada, right next to the water. With very welcoming owners. Get the fishcakes. And the chowder.

Skipper Ben's, 408 Seaforest Drive, Cupids, NL A0A 2B0

lunch at Skipper Ben's in Cupid's, Newfoundland


5) Visit Heart's Content, where the first transatlantic telegraph cable was pulled ashore

Back in the old days, getting news from North America to Europe took at least 10 days by boat. But then, in 1866, the first transatlantic telegraph cable, a tangible and physical thing connecting these two continents, was pulled through the Atlantic and hauled ashore at Heart's Content. The first morse code message was sent through this cable, and global communications changed forever. 

Just imagine; a great big ship, dragging a cable through the ocean, from Ireland to Newfoundland. It's an incredible feat. There were nine years of several failed attempts prior to this, and the story behind it is a terrific one. 

That was 150 years ago, and I attended the anniversary celebrations. A monumental milestone that Newfoundlanders are rightly proud about. It's humbling to think just how far communications technology has progressed since then.


Highway 80 | Heart's Content, Heart's Content, NL A0B 1Z0

views from Heart's Content, Newfoundland


6) Doctor’s House Inn and Spa, Green’s Harbour

Just an hour from St. John's, and a million miles from anywhere. That's the strap line for Doctor's House Inn and Spa, and it's spot on. This is an elegant Tudor mansion, with a 100 acre ocean-front estate, and could possibly be Newfoundland's best kept secret.

There are glorious grounds and gardens, along with several barns, chicken coops and outbuildings, with Newfoundland ponies, cows, sheep, goats, and other very happy animals, roaming the property.

At check-in, the very lovely owner (pictured below - I forget his name - drat), mentioned Newfoundland is one of the best places in the world to spot whales, from land. He told me guests often see them from their room balconies. And he wasn't kidding. Like clockwork the next morning, I woke up, pulled back my balcony door, and heard the unmistakable spout of a whale. I looked across into the bay, and in the distance saw two dark shapes slipping in and out of the water, spouts occasionally spraying with abandon. 

What a way to start the day.
21 Old Hopeall Road, Green's Harbour, NL, A0B 1X0

the beautiful property and grounds of Doctor's House Inn and Spa, Newfoundland



The full day's driving itinerary for Option 1 on Google Maps here.

1) Go find those whales, puffins and seabirds

Around a one hour and ten minute drive from Doctor's House Inn and Spa, you'll come across Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, a place alive with the rhythm of 400 million beating wings, along with 40 tonne whales pulsing through the clear blue waters.

Get out onto the ocean with Gatherall's and their Puffin and Whale Watch Tour. We were out in the morning on a foggy and very atmospheric Atlantic, with the dramatic granite rock islands of the reserve appearing through the mist. The whales were being shy, but boy, I've never seen (or smelt!) so many sea birds. 

A blizzard of puffins with their colourful beaks, as far as I could see into the mist. Did you know, they're only about 10 inches tall - pictures are often zoomed in and people tend to think they're as big as penguins. There are 300,000 pairs of Atlantic puffins in this reserve, and 2.5 million seabirds in total. They were flitting about in the sky above us, clumsily and hilariously landing and taking off on the water, diving into the deep, and darting through the ocean beneath on the hunt for capelin.

If you look up, don't open your mouth!

90 Northside Road, Bay Bulls, NL, A0A 1C0

puffins, puffins everywhere, with Gatherall's in Newfoundland
2) Have a picnic lunch at North America's most easterly restaurant 

If you start your morning with Gatherall's, head 40 minutes south to enjoy lunch by a lighthouse.

A Newfoundland picnic, made in North America's most easterly restaurant, found inside a lighthouse built in 1870. Expect the likes of fabulous daily baked molasses bread made on site, chutney-glazed ham and Brie sandwiches, orzo salad, freshly squeezed lemonade, and homemade cakes and tarts, with local Newfoundland berries. 

You'll find it at the end of a 1km walk along a natural isthmus, with the Atlantic surrounding both sides of the path. You'll have the company of whales, seabirds and a view that goes on forever. Unless it's foggy, which made for some atmospheric eating.

Point to note, these guys are very popular and get booked up well in advance, so do plan ahead with your reservation.

Lighthouse Picnics, Ferryland, NL A0A 2H0

an atmospheric Ferryland Lighthouse, Newfoundland


The full day's driving itinerary for Option 2 on Google Maps 

1) Snorkel ALONGSIDE whales. Maybe.

How brave do you think you are? Would you get in the water alongside a 40 tonne whale?

If the answer to that is HELL YES WHERE DO I SIGN UP (along the lines of my response), then you have got to do this. Around a one hour and fifteen minute drive from the previous night's accommodation, very close to the capital of St John's, you'll find the guys at Ocean Quest. Their big draw? They offer a three hour close encounter Snorkelling with Whales tour. Watch the video at that link for the type of experience that is very possible, and often takes place. It looks INCREDIBLE.

When it comes to the natural world, as much as it's one of my greatest passions, I believe I am mostly jinxed. I've never seen the Northern Lights, or whales in the water from a boat, despite several previous attempts at both. So, despite my visit timing with peak whale season in Newfoundland, I didn't actually get to snorkel with whales. We didn't even spot any. They were clearly otherwise engaged. Or more accurately, the silver capelin fish the humpbacks follow and feast on, had probably moved on by that week, and hence, so had they.

But we did see speedy dolphins. And snorkelling in the 5C Atlantic as a whole was a pretty awesome experience. Check out the video below.

40 O'Leary Avenue, St. John's , NL A1B 2C7

2) Cod and chips lunch at Chafe's Landing, Petty Harbour

What to do after a foggy morning snorkelling in the freezing Atlantic on the hunt for mammals? Get fish and chips from Chafe's Landing, a 25 minute drive away. Newfoundland cod, skin-on fries, a dressing of bread crumbs, locally grown savoury (a herb), and onions. Gravy for the chips. A cup of tea. And vinegar out of a Corona bottle. It totally hit the spot and warmed the cockles - fantastic.

11 Main Road, Petty Harbour, NL A0A 3H0

pre-snorkel with Ocean Quest, and post-snorkel cod and chips at Chafe's Landing, Newfoundland


3) Drive back to St John's

my room view of St John's harbour from
Sheraton, Newfoundland

Head back to Newfoundland's capital, and use this time to do some exploring at your own leisure.


4) Dinner at The Reluctant Chef, St John's

These guys offer a "set" 5-course meal that changes completely every two weeks. Their Red-Seal chef works with the sommelier to create food with a unique and local flare, designed to be enjoyed with the wine pairing.

290 Duckworth Street, St. John's, NL


5) Sheraton Hotel, St John's

A very comfortable stay was had at the Sheraton, and my room had some glorious views of overlooking the historic St. John's harbour. Watching the fog roll in and obscure everything, then roll out again within half an hour, was very cool.

115 Cavendish Square, St. Johns, NL, A1C 3K2



Today's full driving itinerary on Google Maps 

1) Hike the trails around Signal Hill, the highest point in the capital  

Work up an appetite at the historic site of Signal Hill, by hiking the five kilometres of trails. Especially the famous North Head Trail, boasting a unique traverse along the Narrows of St. John's Harbour, and into a colourful community called the Battery.

It's worth noting in the winter, this part of the world can reach -20C, or -30C with wind chill. The salt water in St John's harbour freezes, but all the ships that pass through it keep it open. In September 2015, icebergs actually made it to St John's - it's very unusual to see them so far south. A huge piece of ice, the size of Manhattan, had broken off from Greenland, and fractured off into smaller pieces. Global warming...


230 Signal Hill Road, St. John's, NL

fabulous views from the top of Signal Hill, Newfoundland

2) Lunch at Signal Hill Chocolate Cafe

You could take a packed lunch, or make a pit-stop at Newfoundland Chocolate Café, inside the Signal Hill Interpretation Centre.


Signal Hill National Historic Site Visitor Information Centre, St. John's, NL


3) Visit 
Cape Spear, the most easterly point of North America

Head to the place where the sun first rises in North America, Cape Spear. It's at the most easterly point of the continent, and is home to the oldest surviving lighthouse in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Time this visit with a good weather forecast. You'll have some stunning views of the Atlantic, and can enjoy the many walking trails. You might even have some better luck than me, and actually spot a whale in the water.

Cape Spear Drive, NL

views from Cape Spear, Newfoundland

4) Sample the favourite local tipple at source at Quidi Vidi Brewery 

Quidi Vidi is a great name. It's also a place that's been brewing world-class beer for the past fifteen years. They've got eight brands at the moment, and their most recent is the Quidi Vidi Iceberg beer. Can you guess the unique ingredient? It's pure, unsullied iceberg water, harvested from ones that break off Greenland and drift south towards Newfoundland. Now that's pretty cool.
oysters at Blue on Water,
St John's in Newfoundland

You'll be hard-pressed to find Quidi Vidi beer outside of Newfoundland, as they only really make enough to just about meet the local demand. Those locals like a tipple or two.

Quidi Vidi Brewing Company, 35 Barrows Road, Quidi Vidi, St. John’s, NL A1A 1G8


5) Dinner at Blue on Water, St John's

A hotel with a fantastic restaurant attached, we had a great meal here on our first night. Including some very fine oysters from PEI (Prince Edward Island).

319 Water St, St. John's, NL A1C 1B9

Note: I visited Newfoundland as a guest of Newfoundland Labrador Tourism, as part of a media package. All views remain my own, as always.

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