Top 5 Unmissable Durban Experiences

Durban is the South African city where I was born and raised. I’m so proud to call this friendly, permanently-sunny place my home. More laid-back that Johannesburg, and perhaps not as vibey as Cape Town, Durban has its own beach culture going on and is the perfect place to grab some rays on the golden mile.

With various attractions and must see museums on the Durban must-see list, here are the top five experiences that shouldn’t be overlooked when in the city.

1. Get a bird’s eye view at the Moses Mabhida Stadium

The gorgeous (yes, I said gorgeous when referring to a piece of architecture) Durban stadium, built for the memorable 2010 Football World Cup offers a series of activities regardless of your age, or interest in physical activity for that matter. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can try the Big Swing; which allows only the very, very brave to bungee jump from the centre of the stadium’s impressive arch. If you prefer something a little tamer, that will still get your heart racing, why not give the Adventure Walk a try? Tackling the zillion (it must be, right?) steps up the arch isn’t for the fainthearted.

Then, if you’re like me and breaking a sweat isn’t really your thing, why not get the same incredible panoramic views by opting for the Skycar. A two-minute journey in the Skycar takes you to the very top of the arch where you’re presented with unparalleled 360° views over the city.

durban stadium Top 5 Durban

(Source: e-architect.co.uk)

For more information and pricing: http://www.mmstadium.com/

2. View an eyeful of birds at the Umgeni River Bird Park

Situated, as the name suggests, along the banks of the Umgeni River, the Bird Park is an ideal family activity that is fun as well as educational. From bird feedings, to interactions with friendly Lorikeets, there are a variety of activities arranged on a daily basis. With a collection of over 800 birds from more than 200 species, the bird park is a must do when in Durban.

umgeni river bird park Top 5 Durban

(Source: umgeniriverbirdpark.co.za)

For more info: http://www.umgeniriverbirdpark.co.za/

3. Get your shopping on at Gateway Theatre of Shopping

With an abundance of stores ranging from quirky boutiques to designer labels, from monstrous supermarkets to jewellery outlets, Gateway is the perfect place to shop when in Durban. But it is so much more than just a mall. Having coined the term “shoppertainment” for good reason, the centre provides fun-fill activity choices including one of the largest indoor climbing mountains, a videogame arcade, a Wavehouse and a skate park. The centre offers 18 movie theatres and a variety of restaurants and coffee shops. Prefect way to spend a Sunday (or any day, in my humble opinion).

gateway durban Top 5

(Source: southafrica.net)

http://gatewayworld.sourcecloud.co.za/

 4. Bike the Golden Mile

The golden mile (actually longer than your typical mile) is a paved stretch of promenade along the golden sandy beaches of Durban.  Craft markets, fisherman, surfers and beachgoers line the coast and make for an interesting ride along this route. Numerous bike rental companies offer fantastic rates, so there is no excuse not to enjoy a leisurely ride along this track with the sun on your back and the warm Indian Ocean breeze in your face.

durban bike Top 5

(Source: south-african-hotels.com)

 5. Spice things up at the Victoria Street Market

There aren’t too many places in this world where you can buy a sari, get a henna tattoo and scoff down a deliciously hot curry in a day. Not outside of Asia anyway. So with one of the largest Indian populations outside of India; Durban is by far one of the Rainbow Nation’s most multicultural cities. The Victoria Street Market is a homage to Indian culture, with almost 200 stalls bustling with oriental products. From spices to clothing, from souvenirs to fresh fish, the lively market is one stop that shouldn’t be overlooked when in Durban.

victoria street market Durban Top 5

(Source: snapflycook.wordpress.com)

The Great Torte Debate

In Vienna, there is a cake so celebrated that for decades, a legal war has been waged between two well-established bakeries about who gets to call their version the ‘Original’.

I am of course speaking about the Sacher Torte, created by a humble kitchen helper in 1832 when he, at the last minute, became charged with making a dessert fit for the prince.

The son of said kitchen helper, Eduard Sacher, perfected his father’s recipe while working at the bakery Demel. Legal battles ensued when the Hotel Sacher trademarked the name ‘The Original Sacher Torte’.

Hotel Sacher Torte Cafe

Both Demel and Hotel Sacher laid claim to the original torte, so on a blustery day in Vienna, I set about on a quest I like to call ‘The Great Sacher Torte Debate’. Never mind whose torte was the ‘original’, I wanted to know whose torte was the tastiest.

I started off at Hotel Sacher, and was not surprised to join the line of tourists outside the door. Thankfully, the queue moved steadily along, and about 15 minutes later, we found ourselves seated at a cramped little table inside the famed Sacher Café.

Hotel Sacher Torte CafePictures of celebrities who had, in their heyday frequented the Sacher Hotel, lined the walls. We ordered: two slices of original Sacher torte with whipped cream and Sacher hot chocolates to wash it down. (All in the name of research, of course!).

Hotel Sacher Torte Cafe

The cakes and drinks arrived within minutes (to assist a speedy turnover rate, I presume). It was beautifully presented with the famous Sacher chocolate medallion on top. The first bite, my introduction to Sacher torte, was good. Not excellent, but good.

Hotel Sacher Torte CafeHotel Sacher Torte Cafe

The cake was not as rich as I expected. The middle part – which was soaked in marmalade – was delicious, but the cake itself was a little dry to be honest, and the whipped cream was certainly a good idea. The icing was lovely, and the quality of chocolate used was of course of highest standards. Yet, I could not see what the decades of fuss were about.

Hotel Sacher Torte CafeSacher Hotel cafte Torte

Afterwards, we bundled up in our coats and scarves and walked the 10 or 15 minutes it took to get to Demel. Also full of tourists I immediately noticed the glass paneling opened into the bakery at the back of the shop where we could actually see the Sacher tortes being made.

Demel Sacher TorteDemel Sacher TorteDemel Sacher Torte

The line to be seated in Demel was absurdly long; we waited well over 30 minutes. The seating areas upstairs are wonderfully decorated with pastel paints and large chandeliers. The ambience though, like in the Sacher Café, is ruined by harried waiters and waitresses, aiming to turn over the tables as quickly as possible.

Demel Sacher TorteDemel Sacher Torte

Demel’s torte did not have the marmalade layer in the centre, yet the cake was deliciously moist and silky. Demel’s answer to Hotel Sacher’s chocolate medallion is a triangular chocolate seal on top of each slice.

Demel Sacher TorteDemel Sacher Torte

We left, buzzing on a chocolate high, pondering the question of the day. Who does Sacher torte better?

I would say that at Hotel Sacher, the tortes are presented much better, and boxed to perfection if you’d like to take them away as gifs.

Sacher Torte Hotel CafeAlthough it was at Demel, that the taste won hands down. Sacher Torte DemelBut since I like to play fair, I’m going to give Hotel Sacher a chance to change my mind – which only means a trip back to Vienna in the very near future.

7 Things Travel Has Thought Me

It’s that time of the year again when everyone’s reflecting on the twelve months gone by – the highs and lows; and are earnestly making resolutions that they fully intend to keep.

I’ve been looking back at the past year, thinking about my travels and making my dream ‘bucket list’ for 2014. However, I feel hesitant to close the book on 2013 just yet because my travels in the year, have brought me so much joy.

My birthday trip to Mexico was one of the best vacations I ever experienced. Sunshine in February? What’s not to love!?

A memorable trip to Vienna, staying at the incredible Sofitel Stephansdom is another cherished memory.

I enjoyed gallivanting in Berlin for a couple of days in August; and setting foot in Hungary for the first time just before Christmas.

But above all, I managed to squeeze in not one but TWO month-long trips to South Africa this year (not an easy feat with a full time job!), and I loved every moment spent with family and friends back home.

There have been so many highs and lows I’ve experienced while travelling, but my love for getting on a plane/ boat/ car in a quest to discover a new place will never diminish.

So, while I’m reflecting on this year and feeling all philosophical, here are 7 things my travels in 2013 have thought me.

1. Getting lost can help you find yourself

Whether it be missing the bus on an organized tour, or straying from the well-signed path to find the perfect gelato…getting lost in a foreign country can be a frightening experience. First, think cloud. Then, think silver lining and let yourself discover what would have never been if you hadn’t strayed.

7 things travel taught me

(Source: iwantcovers.com)

2. Attitude is everything

It’s been said a thousand times, but the attitude in which you approach any situation can spell the difference between a great day or a bad one. This is especially true when travelling.

7 things travel taught me

(Source: engineerleader.com)

3. Language barriers are just an excuse

Yes, no one there speaks English. Yes, Mandarin may very well be the world’s most difficult language. But you know what? People will find a way to communicate when they need to. Be it wild hand gestures or good ‘ol Google translate – language barriers should never be the reason not to travel.

7 things travel taught me

(Source: izta.org)

7 things travel taught me

(Source: bestworldtraveldestinations.com)

4. My <insert issue here> problem is really insignificant

Travel opens our eyes to the real issues of this world. Typically if you’re fortunate enough to be able to travel, you’re probably better off than a vast majority of the world’s population. Complaints about the weather or traffic somehow get put into perspective once you’ve spent some time outside your comfort zone.

7 things travel taught me

(Source: loveparkhs.blogspot.com)

5. People are inherently good

Sure I’ve been a victim of crime – I’ve had my bag snatched right in the middle of a bustling Champs-Élysées. I’ve seen more than my fair share of tourist traps and scams aimed at unsuspecting travelers. And yet, I know that generally speaking, most people are inherently good. Maybe it was that stranger in Berlin who took a full ten minutes to give me directions to the East Side Gallery, and then went on to mark all the appropriate metro stops on my map. All I know is, I’ve stumbled across far more good people on my travels than bad, and at the core, we all just want the same thing: to live and let live.

7 things travel taught me

(Source: fentonreport.com)

6. Patience is a virtue

You’ve heard the old adage before, and as a traveler the words should be etched onto the cover of your passport. Waiting for planes, waiting for buses, trains or boats, waiting in line at the temples or museums…put a smile on your face and live in the moment.

7 things travel taught me

(Source: affirmyourlife.blogspot.com)

7. Plan, plan, plan – and then leave room for the unexpected

I’m a control freak. There – I said it. I like to plan everything down to the last detail, and rarely leave anything to chance.  And while most of the time I do enjoy the fruits of my planning labor, I am all too aware that even the best laid plans can go awry, and the unexpected can be just around the corner.

7 things travel taught me

(Source: mentalpilote.com)

So armed with these 7 travel life lessons, I’m ready to conquer 2014, and all it has to bring!

7 Things travel taught me

See you here in 2014?

Happy New Year and Bon Voyage!

7 Things travel taught me

(Source: thlvacations.wordpress.com)

Designer Deluxe

Hotel Review : Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, Vienna – Austria

Located along the banks of the Danube canal, the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is rightfully described as a living work of art. All geometric slants and angles, the building appears sloping, as if to give its neighbor a peck on the cheek. A skyscraping structure of sleek glass paneling, this spunky hotel designed by French architect Jean Nouvel is a contemporary haven.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

From the onset as you enter the hotel – your eyes are drawn to the illuminated ceiling, and you know immediately that it’s going to be a very special stay. The first ‘bonjour’ of the day comes from the handsome bellman as he ushers us inside.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe check in (preceded by quite a few more ‘bonjours)’ is seamless, but since our room was not yet ready, we are taken on a guided tour of the spa and fitness area. Presented with two exotic fruit smoothies, we perch awkwardly, fully dressed, on the enormous white geometric loungers in the spa’s relaxation room for a few minutes before we were quickly whisked away to our suite on the 15th floor.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Jean Nouvel chose three monochromatic palettes for the rooms; black, grey and white. Our room happens to be grey. And I mean really grey! The floors are grey, as are the walls. The bedside cupboards are grey, the desk and chair are grey, the large modern seating area is, yep, you guessed it: grey.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe bathroom comprises of a walk-in shower, large rectangular bathtub (grey, obviously) and his and hers vanities (also grey!). We find an abundance of sumptuous Hermès bath products and well appointed toiletries including a nail kit.Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Looking back I can see that the monochrome design may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we loved it. The room was sleek and modern, well designed and spacious.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

You would think the best part would be the view; staring directly over the canal and onto St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Even the (grey) window blinds could be geometrically opened to allow you to select the size of your window depending on your mood.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

But no, the best part for me was the SoBed. A celebration of all that is heavenly, this bed is virtually indescribable. But I’ll try: It’s large. So large in fact that it’s easy to lose yourself amongst its pillowy softness. That secret of that softness? The SoBed’s additional layer of plush called the ‘Featherbed’ that lies on top of the SoBed, creating that ‘sleeping on a cloud’ feeling. Along with a pillow menu of various choices (synthetic or real down) and a crisp white duvet, it made for the comfiest bed in the whole entire world.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

That evening we slip on our waffle robes and head for the spa. Not exceptionally large for a hotel of this size, the spa area is nevertheless as sleek and modern as the rest of the hotel.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomTwo black slate Jacuzzis are bubbling quietly on either side, surrounded by large slanting windows. There are two hammans filled with eucalyptus steam. The atrium houses a relaxation area with aforementioned geometric loungers, while a state of the art gym caters to those so inclined.Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomWe eat dinner at the hotel’s famed Le Loft occupying the 18th floor, and have the most memorable meal in the glamorous restaurant whose chef was awarded three Michelin stars. You can read about that experience here.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The location of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom could not be more perfect for visiting the city’s sights. Its namesake, St Stephan’s Cathedral, only a short walk away, and other major attractions are easily reached by foot or public transport.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomBreakfast is a casual affair, also served at Le Loft. The restaurant is starkly beautiful by day, the views just as impressive without the golden glow of the ceiling’s illumination. We enjoy fresh mixed berries, Greek yogurt and honey; followed by deliciously cooked scrambled eggs on seeded bread rolls. Sipping on French-pressed coffees and flutes of champagne, we take in the stunning 360° vistas le Loft offers.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Again that evening after a long day of sightseeing, we head to the spa to unwind and relax. A full range of spa treatments are on offer (at a fee), and while I’m tempted by the 24 carat old massage, due to time constraints, I reluctantly refrain from making a booking.

We dine in-room, and the speed and quality of room service is exceptional. My order of risotto arrives piping hot, with a fresh bread basket, butter and condiments. The room service prices are outstandingly good value for a hotel of this standard.

Of course, wifi is complimentary, and we never had any issues, irrespective of the number of gadgets we connected.

But for me, perhaps the most enduring memory of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is hotel’s façade at night, with the two illuminated ceilings creating a breathtaking silhouette after dark. Each evening after dinner we head out and stroll along the canal to admire the hotel’s design.

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Two days later, when it’s time to check out I have to dig deep and find superhuman strength to leave the blissful cocoon of the SoBed.

All in all, the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is one of the most spectacular hotels I’ve stayed at. The service is second to none and the daring design and glamorous details will surely see us heading back in a few months (and this time I will ensure enough time to experience the spa treatments!).

Sofitel Vienna StephansdomSofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The prices are as expected, hardly cheap, but for those seeking contemporary luxury in the heart of Vienna, for whom great service is non-negotiable – the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom is well worth the indulgence.

Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

 Rates from 200€ to >3000€. For more information and special offers, visit the hotel’s official website.

 

 

The day I said ‘Goodbye’ to Madiba

We arrived in South Africa early in the morning the day before Madiba’s state funeral was to take place.

As an expat South African living in France I really miss my home country and each trip back home is profoundly anticipated. We normally choose to fly with Air France on their overnight flight from Charles de Gaulle to Johannesburg.  I quite enjoy the extreme culture shock of leaving Paris, with its distinct flair, the French language being spoken everywhere, and the unmistakable aroma of macaroons as I walk pass the airport’s Ladurée cart – and waking up in Johannesburg.

Although I grew up in Durban, the minute I get off the plane in OR Tambo, I instinctively feel as if I’m ‘home’. I don’t know what it is; perhaps it’s not anything quite tangible or maybe it’s a combination of factors. Maybe it’s the sunshine that is so typical of our country, or hearing Zulu and Xhosa being spoken along with the distinctive Gauteng accent.  It’s seeing familiar brands; the dark green and white of the airport’s Mugg and Bean or the ‘W’ of my much-missed Woolworths.

But on this day, something was noticeably amiss. And I knew right away what is was. For the first time in my life, I set foot on my country’s soil, but it was a Madiba-less South Africa I had come home to.

The next day the Rainbow Nation mourned. Each in their own way, they paid their last respects to the man we had come to call ‘Father’. Our Tata.

Some wept openly in their grief. Others danced and shouted. Some somberly sang Nkosi SikeleliAfrika –God bless Africa. Others toyi-toyed to chants of Shoshaloza.

I knew I too had to find a way to come to terms with his loss. I needed solace, as much as solitude. So I headed to the one place that had always been a comfort to me.

I arrived at the beach on Durban’s famed coast as the sun was low in the sky. Having come unprepared, I placed my sweater on the warm sand and sat down.

I was much too young to have felt the true scourge of apartheid in my lifetime, but I have one lingering memory of being at this very beach at the age of about 5 or 6. My dad very sternly warned me not to make too much noise, and to remember to pick up any trash we leave behind, as we were not really ‘allowed’ on this beach, and could get in trouble for being there.

Looking around now I saw people of every creed and colour occupying that sunny stretch of beach. There were a group of teenagers riotously jumping around in the waves, and next to them a couple with their arms around each other, venturing deeper for a swim.

On the water’s edge there was a young father dipping his baby girl’s toes into the foaming water. The toddler squealed with joy at each new wave.

Under a distressed gazebo I spotted a cluster of old ladies having a boisterous conversation and laughing loudly.

Every colour, every creed, occupied that golden beach that day and I realized with a sharp intake of breath: Madiba may have achieved more than anyone could have imagined politically – but right there in that moment, on that beach: his legacy could be found.

I do not know what the future holds for the Rainbow Nation without our Tata. Some critics preach gloom and doom, while others are optimistic. Only time will tell.

All I know is, I did a lot of things on that beach that day.

I wept.

I prayed.

I reflected.

I remembered.

I said ‘thank you’.

I then; I said goodbye.

Nelson Mandela RIP

(Source cited in photo)

Sky-High Dining Splendor

Restaurant Review: Le Loft – Sofitel Stephansdom Vienna, Austria

Located on the 18th floor of the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom hotel, with ceiling-to-floor glass windows on all sides; restaurant Le Loft makes it easy to imagine you’re suspended in the air, floating above the beautiful city of Vienna.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomI’m not sure if it is unbelievable vistas in every direction that make my jaw go slack; or if it is the vibrant, illuminated work of art designed by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist that stretches across the ceiling, creating a sublime contrast with Jean Nouvel’s minimalist interior. Perhaps I will never know.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Its 8:30 pm and Le Loft is buzzing. The raised bar at the centre of the restaurant is awash with beautiful people sipping even more beautiful cocktails. The decadent pops from champagne bottles being open and wine corks being pulled create the background music. The tables along the gargantuan windows are by now, all occupied, save for one – right in front (or so it seems), of the gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, for which the Sofitel Vienna is named.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomAnd as luck would have it, we’re escorted to the lone free table by the friendly maître‘d. I sit down with a sense of reverie. The ceiling is alive. Animated with eccentric videos (I’ve read that in the videos, Rist aims to capture the viewpoint of a child looking up into the world). The crispness of the autumn leaves on the ceiling canvas casts a golden glow around the restaurant and onto the surrounding glass panels. The view! Oh the view! Breathtaking and unparalleled, the sights stretch well over the city and is sure to provide one of the most memorable dining experiences ever.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Le Loft’s French head chef, Antoine Westermann grew up in the Alsace region of France and his dishes are a delicious fusion of Alsatian and Viennese influences. In a rather unprecedented move, after being awarded a highly prestigious three Michelin stars for his Strasbourg restaurant Le Buerehiesel,  he shortly thereafter chose to hand over the reins of the restaurant to his son Eric.  The French chef remains ever nonchalant about his success, recognition and his choice to leave the Michelin star hype behind him. In an interview with FooDiva he explains: “It’s another life after the three stars. I am really, really happy without having to think about Michelin. My priority is making my customers happy, finding the right produce and offering a great price.” 

At his side, is his protégée Raphael Dworak, who he worked with at Le Buerehiesel, and the two continue to collaborate closely at Le Loft.

At our table, we scan the menu and are presented with crisp bread basket (of which the olive bread is to die for) and beurre Charentes-Poitou. The chef’s suggested four and six course tasting-menus look well-defined and impeccably planned, but a little too adventurous for my tame palate (I dont eat red meat or chicken). I stick to a traditional three-course a la carte preference, while Mr. Wolf is positively salivating at the prospect of patés, foie gras and beef filets.

We each commence with an aperitif of kir-royale whilst still staring, speechlessly at the view that lay before us.

Le Loft Sofitel

Le Loft’s sommelier is knowledgeable, and suggests an impeccable white wine to pair with my fish appetizer and mains, whilst Mr. Wolf is presented with a Austrian burgundy to complement his menu choices.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomThe chef’s amuse bouche – a lobster cappuccino is presented in espresso cups. The soup is frothy, creamy and deliciously decadent.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

For the appetizers I decide upon the poached pike served with crayfish, pumpkin purée, parsley coulis and jus vadouvan. The pike is cooked to perfection and the pumpkin puree melts like butter in my mouth.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomMr. Wolf enjoys paté en croute, which consisted of foie gras and pigeon breast served with elderberry gelee. I can’t comment much on the dish apart from its excellent presentation, but I safely say from the decadent sighs of satisfaction coming from the other end of the table that is was delicious.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomLe Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomIf you’re expecting a quick meal, I’d advise you not to book at Le Loft. The service at the restaurant is incredibly slow. And rightfully so! Each dish, a work of art, is consumed slowly and celebrated bite by bite. In between courses, the view itself will provide endless distraction between soft chatter and clinking glasses.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

For my main dish I select the pan-fried lake char with porcini mushrooms, homemade tortellini and mushroom sauce. The char is fried crispy on the outside and soft and delicious through the center, while the porcini mushrooms add an earthy, nutty flavor to the dish.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

My dining companion has chosen the beef fillet. The dish is typically served with brussel sprout ragout, potatoes gratin and truffle jus. However, being allergic (self diagnosed!) to brussel sprouts, Mr. Wolf kindly requests an alternative. He’s pleasantly surprised when his fillet is served with the potatoes gratin, but instead of the ragout, there is a side of soft, buttery gnocchi. After having a bite of the gnocchi, I can honestly attest that it was the best I had ever eaten.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomLe Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

Selecting dessert is the most difficult part of the evening for me. Each mouth-watering option holds its own merits, but in the end my love affair with chocolate dictates my choice.

Mr. Wolf concurs, and we both choose the chocolate and mint liaison: Jivara chocolate mousse and mint ice cream served in an elaborate chocolate cage shaped like an egg.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The mint ice cream is truly impeccable. Forget the mild store-bought variety with prerequisite choc-chips – this ice cream is made from freshly ground mint leaves that give a hint of sharpness to the cream. I enjoy every last bite.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna StephansdomWashed down with coffees and the chef’s beautiful (and ample) mignardise selection, we are completely satisfied.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The dining experience at Le Loft is not cheap, but it is well and truly exquisite, and so worth the splurge. An excerpt from the hotel’s website: “The restaurant exudes exclusivity and extravagance, combining Viennese charm and international flair”.

Le Loft Restauranrt Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom

The hotel, as seen from the street, with restaurant Le Loft illuminated on the top floor

This perfectly sums up our experience of the night, dining on fabulous dishes, in a surreal setting, literally on top of the world.

Disclaimer: Mr Wolf and I were treated to a complimentary dinner at Le Loft during our stay at the Sofitel Stephansdom Vienna, although I hope you will see that has in no way affected my experience or any opinions expressed in this post.

For more please visit the official website.

Booking at Le Loft should be made 3-4 weeks in advance to guarantee a seating.

A Memorable Port Wine Tour

Porto, as the name suggests, is the birthplace of Port Wine. So on a recent visit to Portugal’s second-largest city, I could not pass on the opportunity to tour the famous wine cellars and of course enjoy copious tastings of this delicious grape juice.

Set on the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia, in the heart of the historic area and across the river from the old city centre, the wine cellars of Porto are truly picturesque.

Porto Wine Tour op 10 things to do in Porto

The Famous Port Wine names seen on the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia

With their world-famous names in giant neon signs making it hard to miss, the port wine tasting tours at the cellars have become one of the most sought after attractions in Porto.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

Accessing the cellars is very easily accomplished if you work your way up from the river bank. The Rabelo boats that once brought the wine from the Alto Douro wine region to Porto can still be seen casually bobbing along the banks of the Douro River – a reminder of the days of old. The Porto cable car, brimming with tourists, glides smoothly past overhead. Along the banks, the famous cellars of Sandeman, Ferreira and Ramos Pinto sit proudly, steeped in their traditions.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

If you’re prepared for the uphill climb, you can venture on to some of the other prestigious cellars: Offley, Cockburn and Taylors.

Taylors Port wine cellars sits on Rua do Choupelo, and by the time we reached the vine-covered entrance I was out of breath.

While Taylors have various vineyards across the country, the cellars at Villa Nova de Gaia houses most of the company’s reserves of wood aged Port as well as their Vintage Port, in tunnels below the cellars.

We found a table (cleverly in the shape of a wine barrel) in the Library room, and amidst the dusty books and aging bottles we got to work on the menu. As we waited for the next English tour of the cellars, we ordered some port by the glass; a good mix of the vintage, tawny, ruby, late-bottled vintage (LBV), and dry white.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

SONY DSCTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoWe would have loved to have enjoyed the famed views from the terrace over the city of Porto, but alas, the rain kept us indoors. We did however envy the peacocks lazing about outside.

The tour commenced with some basic history about Port wine, and then delved into the fascinating history of the House of Taylors. We then entered the cellars itself: long cool, dark warehouses with thick granite walls and high ceilings to help keep out heat and maintain temperatures throughout the year.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoSurrounded by thousands and thousands of barrels, our tour guide talked about the conditions under which port wine is made, and the aging processes.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

We learned that ‘casks’ are seasoned oak barrels which usually hold around 630 litres of wine. As cask ageing encourages contact between the wine and the wood, it intensifies the ageing process which is used mainly for Tawny Ports.Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

The most impressive for me was the sight of the giant oak vats which normally hold around 20,000 litres of wine. In these mammoth vessels, there is less contact between the Port and the wood and this ageing method is therefore used mainly for the fruitier styles of Port such as Taylor’s First Estate Reserve or LBV.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

As mentioned, below the cellars, lay tunnels in which the Vintage Ports age in bottle, lying horizontally to keep the corks moist.  While we did get to see some ports ageing in bottles we didn’t get the opportunity to slip into the depths of the tunnels (not sure if I would have enjoyed that!)

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

The entire tour took no more than 30 minutes, and was truly an interesting and informative session where I learned a lot about the history and process of making Port wines.

Afterwards, it was on to my favorite part of the tour: more tastings! As part of the tour, we were invited to taste three very different Port wines: Chip Dry – Extra Dry White, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and the 10 year old Tawny.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour portoTaylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

At 3€ per person, I would highly recommend a tour of the Taylor’s cellars when in Porto. Get there early like we did, and sample your favorite port wines before the tour! The by-the-glass menu is wonderfully priced, and hopefully, the sun will be shining as you take in the terrace views.

Taylor's Port Wine Cellar Tour porto

For more information visit the Taylors website.