Head for the hills with a stay at the ultimate Maui hideaway and a Wailea hidden gem
On the recommendation of my friend Bal, who raved about the luxurious resorts in Wailea, I decided it must be THE place to stay if you’re visiting Maui. What he didn’t warn me about was the scale of them. Wailea is full of huge hotels (and I mean HUGE) facing out on to the beach. Perfect if you’ve got kids, or are happy to just stay in the main tourist drag. But not quite so ideal if you’re trying to find a Wailea hidden gem, or you’re after more of a secluded romantic Hawaiian break for two. And certainly a bit of a shock to the system after the relative solitude of Kauai.
Thankfully for us, we were staying at the Hotel Wailea courtesy of Travelbag and Discover America, which without a doubt is a Wailea hidden gem. Set back away from the main strip, the Hotel Wailea in Maui is nestled up in the hillside. This means this Wailea hidden gem is away from the throngs of tourists. Plus, you also have pretty impressive views while you eat breakfast.
What makes the Hotel Wailea, a Wailea hidden gem, also stand apart for me is its size. The Hotel Wailea has an intimate, boutique hotel feel. Part of the AQUA Hotel chain, the Hotel Wailea is smaller and more contemporary than some of its grander neighbours.
The hotel is more like a series of apartments. Each room has its own lounge area and kitchen, equipped with utensils, dishes, fridge and freezer, coffee machine, stove and microwave/oven. Maui is expensive. If you’re on a budget the Hotel Wailea is a great option as the facilities give you the choice to go self-catering. Our room also had a patio so we could sit outside on the sofa and chairs and appreciate the hotel’s immaculately manicured grounds.
As we were shocked to discover, it seems the norm that at most luxury hotels in the US breakfast isn’t included. The Hotel Wailea is an exception, offering guest complimentary banana bread, muffins and Hawaiian coffee to kick start the day. As well as views like this one.
What I also loved about this Wailea hidden gem is its swimming pool. I’m not usually one for lounging around a hotel pool but I have to admit this one was hard to resist. It was far too easy to wile away a few hours in one of the comfortable cabanas near the poolside bar (open from 11.30am) which serves up incredible frozen cocktails to order (it was tough to choose between a refreshingly fruity drink or one that tasted more like alcoholic ice cream).
The Hotel Wailea is about a five-minute drive to the beach. But it really isn’t a big deal as this Wailea hidden gem operates a free courtesy shuttle bus (it’s actually more of a big car). The bus drops guests off right at the beach, and it’s also only a five-minute drive to Maui’s main shopping precinct. This means you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything, giving you the best of both worlds. The Hotel Wailea also has an agreement with the Grand Wailea meaning that guests are able to use its beach club so you get access to beach towels, water and umbrellas free of charge. Wailea Beach is relatively crowded but given it’s proximity to all of the resorts it’s to be expected.
Luckily the Hotel Wailea’s shuttle bus also operates along the Wailea coast. Not only will it drop you at Wailea Beach, or any of the local restaurants, shops etc you can also ask to be dropped at some of Wailea’s less touristy beaches. Following a tip from one of the hotel staff we asked for a lift as far south as the shuttle bus would go to. From there we walked for about 20 minutes until we hit Makena Beach (Big Beach), more of a local beach with golden sand and not an umbrella or hotel in sight, just surfers. Sandwiched in-between we also came across some of Maui’s best beaches, Little Beach and Black Sands Beach, the only beach that has black sand on the south of Maui. Then, after an afternoon of chilling out you can just give the Hotel Wailea a call and they’ll head straight out to pick you up and take you back home to this Wailea hidden gem.
Why veggies should head to Warempel, the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent
Belgium isn’t the easiest of countries to visit as a vegetarian so I was quite excited when someone recommended that I check out Warempel, the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent. I have to admit that after a stay in Antwerp I was pleasantly surprised that Ghent seemed to offer a much wider choice of options for non-meat eaters.
As usual with lots of my hidden gems my first obstacle was actually finding Warempel. Although the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent is relatively central to all of Ghent’s main tourist attractions it’s tucked away down a little side street which explains what makes it so popular with locals. It’s so well hidden that we almost missed it (there was lots of building work going on down the street during my visit) but thankfully someone pointed us in the right direction.
Sharps usually complains that it takes me ages to decide what to order. Luckily then for him the menu at Ghent’s best vegetarian restaurant is quite small. There’s the option of a starter of the soup of the day (mushroom the day we were there). Then there’s a choice of two main courses, one of which changes on a daily basis and the other being a vegetable lasagne.
We decided to order one of each and share and we weren’t disappointed with either dish. A huge portion of creamy, tomatoey vegetable lasagne was served with various salads on the side. The dish of the day, vegetable samosas, consisted of spicy vegetables wrapped up in a fried, flaky pastry that wasn’t too greasy. Beautifully presented, it also came with a veritable feast of sides including a serving of saffron rice with sultanas, cauliflower florets in a mildly spiced tomato sauce, sweet carrot with flakes of coconut and a cucumber salad.
It ‘s not just the food that makes De Warempel the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent. Service was friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was quite laidback. I spotted a few solo diners as well as a mix of couples and friends out for a casual (and delicious) lunch. The only down side is that the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent is only open between 11.45am to 2pm on weekdays, with the exception of Fridays when it opens from 6-9pm. Evenings, De Warempel is open but just for group bookings from 20 people, which is a real shame. I’ve no doubt a dinner menu at the best vegetarian restaurant in Ghent would be equally as tasty as lunch here.
For more info on Ghent check out visitghent.be
I’m always on the lookout for hidden gems so the quirky Maastricht monastery hotel, Kruisherenhotel, invited me to be their guest for the night I was delighted. It seemed the obvious choice to me for a stay on a visit to Maastricht. The Kruisherenhotel was formerly a 15th century monastery and the outside of this unusual Maastricht hotel alone is pretty impressive.
Even before I’d gone through the cool metallic tunnel which is the entrance to the hotel, I was in awe. Stepping inside I was greeted by a mix of original Gothic features and cool, contemporary artwork (there was a temporary exhibition on when I was staying there featuring the work of a contemporary Dutch artist. And I was secretly thanking the Lord we were staying here.
The interior of the Kruisherenhotel, created by reknowned Dutch interior designer Henk Vos with the lighting by German lighting artist Ingo Mauer, really is a work of art. As well as the reception area on the ground floor there is also a library and a chic bar with lots of red velvet and dark wood. If you prefer the hotel also has a lovely little courtyard where you can sit outside and have drinks on the terrace, or lunch, instead.
Our room was on the ground floor (we walked through a large wooden door and along a corridor to get to it) but was still surprisingly quiet. And I loved that this monastery hotel has retained all of its features. Each of its 60 rooms has been uniquely designed by international designers that include Philip Starck and Le Courbusier. With its white walls, white tiled bathroom and big windows our room was light, airy and modern. There was a huge painting called children in the pasture on the wall facing our bed by artist Jonkheer Robert Graafland. And our room also had its very own individual poem entitled a man sleeps in the house.
What I also liked about this Maastricht monastery hotel is its feeling of seclusion. It’s only about a five-minute walk to one of Maastricht’s main squares, the Vrijtof Square, and Maastricht’s hidden gems but because it’s slightly set back from the town centre it feels more private making it ideal for a romantic getaway in Maastricht.
Breakfast is served in the Kruisherenhotel’s restaurant, upstairs on the mezzanine in the cloisters. If you’re not lucky enough to be staying as a guest it’s still possible to eat lunch or dinner here, though it’s advisable to book. The Dutch aren’t generally known for their breakfasts but the one at the Kruisherenhotel was a lavish affair.
It took all my willpower to stick to the selection of smoked fish and cheese, averting my eyes from the rows of cakes and pastries as I knew we were going to stop off for afternoon tea later in Maastricht. The Kruisherenhotel describes itself as designed between heaven and earth but personally I’d go with the former. My stay at the Kruisherenhotel Masstricht was out of this world and I pray I’ll be lucky enough to be back again some day.
The last time I went out for dinner with my brother Darren (who’s a bit of a food snob) I came up trumps. We went to The French, Simon Rogan’s award-winning restaurant in Manchester. Having set the bar pretty high, I was determined to find another of Manchester’s hidden gems in its vastly improving food scene. Just one little problem. We were in Prestwich, North Manchester, not exactly known for its culinary prowess, aside from one of Manchester’s best foodie hidden gems, Aumbry, and some great kosher delis. Fine if you’re after fine dining or a snack. We just wanted a nice relaxed dinner out without having to trek too far.
As another of my favourite foodie hidden gems, Slatterys patisserie, is just down the road in Whitefield I thought I’d extend my search to there. I’m glad I did as after a bit of research I came across The Parkfield Inn Whitefield, voted number one place to eat in Whitefield by Tripadvisor. Judging by the menu (although you can’t always rely on what you see online) it sounded like a winner so I suggested we go and check it out.
Located in a quiet suburban street, The Parkfield Inn Whitefield is definitely a Manchester hidden gem. Opened in 1864, this gastro pub is the oldest surviving pub in Whitefield. That may be the case but there’s nothing tired about the Parkfield Inn Whitefield’s menu which serves up dishes made from fresh, locally sourced produce. My starter at the Parkfield Inn Whitefield of oak smoked haddock took me by surprise. Mainly because it wasn’t in the least what I’d be expecting. Smoked haddock, combined with a pea risotto, pea puree, fish volute, pea shoots and Welsh rabbit glaze was a glorious version of kedgeree which, as I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m a huge fan of. Darren didn’t fare quite so well on the starter front. He fancied the BBQ ribs with piccalilli but they had run out of piccalilli so he changed his order to the scallops. They were served with a confit of pork belly which he said slightly overpowered the delicate flavour of the scallops and the hazelnut foam if you put too much of it on a forkful.
For my main event at the Parkfield Inn Whitefield I chose Indian spiced fillet of cod, served with sea asparagus, coriander potato rosti, onion bhaji and a tomato and raisin dressing. The potato rosti was just the right balance – a crisp shell enveloping soft potato. Likewise moist chunks of cod were underneath the crispy fish skin. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was the addition of capers to the mix, they clashed with the sweetness of the raisins. And the onion bhaji was overly salty, hard and chewy.
Darren decided on lamb in a red wine sauce with bacon, shallots and mushroom, topped with rarebit. Unfortunately when it arrived it was minus the rarebit so he had to send it back. But the waiter was apologetic and they did deduct the meal from the bill at the end which was a nice gesture. He said it was worth waiting for the rarebit as it added a creamy texture to the powerful red wine sauce, binding all of the elements of the dish together. My biggest letdown was dessert. Describing my pudding as a rhubarb and Bramley apple crumble was false advertising. To me that conjures up an image of rich, sweet chunks of soft apple, pieces of tart pink rhubarb with a bit of bite topped with a stodgy crumble, crunchy on top. What I actually got was more of a portion of stewed fruit covered in a thin layer of cinnamon crumb. It didn’t help that I don’t like cinnamon, and there was no mention of it on the menu.
Perhaps I was just unlucky in my choice as Darren’s gooey hot chocolate orange fondant pudding was faultless. I couldn’t help but cast envious glances over at the next table who had ordered sticky toffee pudding dribbling with butterscotch sauce. While a couple of the dishes at the Parkfield Inn Whitefield may need a few tweaks at least they attempted to be inventive and I’d still highly recommend this as a Manchester hidden gem. The quality of the produce is excellent at the Parkfield Inn Whitefield, as is the execution, and we were both impressed by the standard of the service too. Plus you get to dine in a relaxed atmosphere, the Parkfied Inn Whitefield has more of a country pub vibe about it. The Parkfield Inn Whitefield isn’t cheap but you get what you pay for and hopefully the oldest pub in Whitefield will be around for many more years to come.
I’ve previously posted about the gorgeous Bay of Kotor, Montenegro’s hidden gem, and my favourite part of the country but I also wanted to share another part of undiscovered Montenegro, Lake Skadar. In a bid not to take over while planning our trip to Montenegro I asked Sharps is there was anywhere in particular he wanted to go to. He pointed to the opposite side of Montenegro from where we were staying and asked what the expanse of water was. I didn’t have a clue. The answer, it turns out, was Lake Skadar National Park, a freshwater lake bordering Montenegro and Albania. It sounded pretty cool. All I had to do was work out how the hell to get there from our base in Muo in Kotor Bay.
As luck would have it I managed to find a tour company, Undiscovered Montenegro, who operate from Lake Skadar. Undiscovered Montenegro is run by an English couple Emma and Ben. They fell in love with Montenegro, in particular Lake Skadar and decided to set up their own tour company offering activity holidays in the region. As well as booking a stay through them it’s also possible to do day kayaking trips through Undiscovered Montenegro out onto the lake.
Emma, who was incredibly helpful, said we’d need to get to Virpazar, the main tourist point for boating and kayaking trips. She sent me over suggestions for how to get to Virpazar by taxi or by bus. The later seemed like a bit of a faff (it was about two-and-a-half-hours including various changes) given that we needed to be there for 9am. Rather than call it ourselves I asked the owner of our Airbnb rental the night before if he could book it for us. This saved us a fortune (he told us it would be €40 as opposed to the €120 a taxi driver had quoted us) so it’s worth asking a local to order a taxi for you if you can. By cab the journey from Kotor to Lake Skadar took just under an hour, passing through Budva. Considering Lake Skadar is relatively undiscovered Montenegro, I was a bit surprised by how touristy the main little square in Virpazar was. It had an array of stalls (out of peoples’ car boots) and little cafes.
Before we set off we were given a demonstration of how to use the paddle and various strokes by Ben (who was ex-army), which we had to show him we were able to do before we were even allowed in the water. It was definitely a case of Ben making it look easy. We were constantly steering off course into mangroves and getting stuck in branches. Sharps and I felt like naughty school children, lagging behind the rest of the group. Probably a good thing as otherwise they would have heard our non-stop bickering as we paddled furiously and moved nowhere. The tours are aimed at all levels but we did think it was a bit hardcore (though to be fair we probably aren’t exactly in the peak of fitness).
Lunch was a welcome respite from all the paddling. My arms were seriously knackered. This much-needed pitstop also gave us a chance to mingle with the rest of the group, a mix of couples, singles and friends, who were all lovely. They had all booked a week-long holiday with Undiscovered Montenegro, giving them the chance to more fully explore the beautiful Lake Skadar region. They were all staying together in one of the villas. It turned out that they didn’t all know each other before the trip. Booking through Undiscovered Montenegro ensures a sociable holiday as you’re all thrown in together.
After lunch we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were pretty useless at kayaking and gave up any pretence of trying to keep up with everyone else. Instead we took a more leisurely pace, laughing to ourselves at our futile attempts and allowing time for Sharps to take a few photos of the majestic landscape, a real Montenegro hidden gem. Then we were given a reprieve. The group was asked if they wanted to chill out on a beach for a while and get driven back by car or continue kayaking all the way. Apart from one couple, everyone opted to stay on the beach. I realise it’s hard to cram everything into a day but it just seemed a shame there weren’t more opportunities like this along the way to enjoy our surroundings. If you’re after undiscovered Montenegro Lake Skadar is certainly it. We just wish we’d been able to relax a bit more and soak up the scenery, as opposed to ourselves.