Top 10 things to do in Porto

Portugal’s second largest city is built into its hillside cliffs, overlooking the Douro River. Charismatic and picturesque, with an endless supply of nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered by the avid traveler, the city is best unearthed on foot. Filled with history and monuments, as well as a thriving, cosmopolitan downtown area, the charming city of Porto is well worth a visit.

Top 10 things to do in Porto

Here are the top ten things to do when visiting Portugal’s ‘capital of the North’.

1. Stroll the Historic City centre

The historic centre of Porto is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sits proudly above the Douro River, like a colorful popup town. Portugal’s second largest city (after Lisbon) is characterized by rugged, tumbling houses, baroque churches and faded storefronts piled on top of each other in a seemingly haphazard fashion. Strolling along the narrow winding streets and up and down the rickety staircases is a must, to truly unearth the essence of the city.

Top 10 things to do in Porto Historic centre

The delightful, crumbling facade of the Historic City centre

 2. Cross the Dom Luis Bridge

Opened in 1886, the Dom Luis Bridge once held the record for the longest iron arch in the world. Built by Gustav Eiffel, many people find the bridge reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower itself. The bridge sprawls across the Douro, connecting the historical centre of Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. The upper level is where the metro runs, but cars and tourist may cross on the lower level. Walking across the bridge is an experience well worth the incredible views.

Dom Luis Bridge Top 10 things to do in Porto

Porto’s most famous bridge

3. Tour a port wine cellar

On the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia stand some of the most prestigious Port wine cellars known around the world. Many are open to the public for wine tastings and inexpensive tours that take you into the heart of the cellars. Private tours or those for large groups can normally be accommodated upon request, and if you want to buy port wine, dedicated personnel help answer all your port-related questions as you browse. With the famous names of port wine all in such close proximity, the most difficult part will be choosing which cellar to visit!

Porto Wine Tour op 10 things to do in Porto

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

Porto Wine Tour op 10 things to do in Porto

Port Wine Tastings

4. Beat the photo ban at the Livraria Lello

Certainly the oldest, easily the most interesting, and arguably the most beautiful bookstore in Portugal, if not the world – Livraria Lello is located in the city centre of Porto. The bookstore is widely tipped to have been an inspiration for parts of Harry Potter’s magical world, since JK Rowling lived in Porto prior to writing the books. Taking pictures inside the bookstore is prohibited, and those caught snapping shots are often asked to leave…but that doesn’t stop those hoping to seize a souvenir of the bookstore’s famous staircase.

livraria lello bookstore porto

The wizardly staircase of Livraria Lello (Source: travel.nationalgeographic.com)

 5. Tempt a heart attack with a Francesinha

Porto’s most famous sandwich is quite frankly a coronary on a plate. The name Francesinha literally means ‘Little Frenchie’ as it is thought to have evolved from the croque monsieur. The signature lunch time dish comprises of two toasted bread slices, filled with three types of meat – wet-cured ham, linguica (fresh sausage) and steak. The entire concoction is covered in cheese, drenched in a tomato-beer sauce, and served on a plate of french-fries. Locals and tourists alike will argue over where to find the best Francesinha, often citing the sauce as the key secret ingredient in the success of the sandwich.

Francesinha top ten things to do in Porto

A mouthful of Francesinha (Source: oportocityhostel.com)

 6. Ascend to the heights of Torre dos Clérigos

One of Porto’s most characteristic symbols, the baroque façade of the Clérigos Church and its bell tower can be seen from most places in the city.  Built by Italian architect Nasoni and completed in 1763, the church and its tower are open to the public. Those braving the climb -240 steps in total- are rewarded with breathtaking views over the city. (I recommend the climb after trying the Francesinha!)

Torre dos Clerigos Top 10 things to do in Porto

The dizzying heights of the Torre dos Clerigos

7. Ride Tram # 1

Porto’s tram #1 is one of three heritage line routes (the others being #18 and #22) Line 1 connects the city (at the Infante stop) to the seaside district of Foz do Douro. The ride is almost exclusively along the river bank and makes for wonderful views along the way.  The ride itself – in a rickety antique tram car – adds to the all round experience of the tour. Although the line operates on a schedule, it arrived considerably late during our wait so I’d recommend allowing plenty of time for this activity. The tickets are sold on board and cost 2.5€ per person.

Tram Tour Top 10 things to do in Porto

The charming heritage tram of Porto Line #1

 8. Feel the ocean breeze in Foz do Douro

Foz do Douro literally translates to ‘mouth of the Douro’ and is the seaside spot where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This area is one of the most expensive places to live in Porto and is as such, inhabited by the city’s most affluent people. The main boardwalk is lined with palm trees and upmarket cafes and there is a lively vibe at night with the Felgueiras Lighthouse – which is situated at the edge of the Douro’s river mouth, creating a spectacular backdrop. Also worth visiting in the area is the Castelo do Queijo, a fortress dating from 1661, and Parque da Cidade, the largest park in Porto.

Lighthouse Foz do Douro top ten things to do in Porto

The crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean against the Lighthouse of Foz do Douro

Promenade  Foz do Douro top ten things to do in Porto

The chic promenade of Foz do Douro

 9. Soar above the city in the funicular

With unsurpassable views over the Ribeira, Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia the Funicular dos Guindais is well worth the 2€ price tag. The journey is quite short, approximately 3 minutes – and at the top, travelers are treated to a panoramic view of the city and the Dom Luis Bridge. Whilst the funicular shuttles its fair share of tourists up and down the steep incline from Batalha to the quayside at Ribeira, it’s also frequented by locals who avoid making the steep climb by foot.

Funicular dos Guindais top ten things to do in Porto

The Funicular dos Guindais making an easy feat of a steep climb

Funicular dos Guindais top ten things to do in Porto

The incredible view upon disembarking the Funicular dos Guindais topside

10. Slow it down with a boat tour on the River Douro

Whether it be an hour-long trip along the banks of the city, travelling under the famous six bridges; or a longer cruise from Porto to a nearby town like Regua or Pinhão, cruising along the Douro offers a unique perspective of the Portuguese landscape. Some tours can last much longer – up to a week, and there are various tour operators in the area ensuring that prices are competitive.

Boat cruise Douro River top ten things to do in Porto

An alternative view of the city: from the river looking up

Spa Review: The Spa @ Sheraton Porto Hotel, Portugal

Stepping off the elevator, we’re greeted by the minimalistic lobby of The Spa (aptly named). In case we’ve forgotten which floor you’re on, the words are engraved onto a bronze plaque on the floor.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaA friendly face at the reception desk takes our room number and then shows us the dressing rooms (separate male and female).

The spa at the Sheraton Porto Hotel is a sprawling level, consisting of various water and heat therapies. The dressing room was elegantly appointed with wonderfully lit vanities and digital lockers. I slipped into a soft, creamy toweling robe and donned the rather strange looking rubber slippers. The main room, also the largest relaxation area, contains a wonderful heated vitality pool, big enough to still feel spacious when at capacity. In front of the ample pool are arranged several ergonomic loungers covered in bright orange towels.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

We choose two loungers at the far end and settle into them, adjusting the backrest to our perfect specifications via the handy remote.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaBut it isn’t long before the lure of the tranquil swimming pool calls out. Slipping into the warm waters is heaven. The pool is virtually deserted, and perfect for lap swimming, if you’re so inclined.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

I much rather preferred to try the hot tub. The hot tub was very popular, and several people lazed inside; some applying the traditional jet therapy to their backs and necks, whilst others preferred the more efficient hydromassage from the gushing showerheads at the center of the jacuzzi.

As the crowds in the jacuzzi swelled, we decided to try some of the heat therapies. We made our way to the herbal sauna. The room was dimmed to perfection and eerily quiet. The only sounds appeared, like clockwork, when the wooden bucket tilted to release a burst of water onto the hot stones below creating a hiss of herbal steam.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

There is also the option to enjoy a more traditional steam room, but much preferring dry saunas to steam rooms; we quickly showered and opted to try the salt inhalation laconium next. This was by far my favorite heat experience at The Spa.

Much cooler than the other saunas, the room gave off an oriental feel, and the dim lighting and red mosaic tiled couches welcomed us. Breathing deeply into the salty air, I felt myself totally relax. When too hot, we hosed off with cool water and continued in our meditative state. After 20 minutes in the laconium, I felt completely rejuvenated, and the niggling muscle aches I’d been carrying around that week evaporated.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

Apart from these wonderful water and heat experience The Spa at the Sheraton Porto Hotel also features a fully functional gym with state of the art workout machines. Our time at the hotel did not permit us to try the gym, but I would have loved to have tried one of their Fitness by Core Performance classes.

There is also a yoga room, and a small but beautiful Zen Garden – complete with soft wicker couches and a trickling waterfall to totally relax your mind and soul.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spaThe spa treatments at the Sheraton Porto Hotel are reasonably and wonderfully priced, so we booked massages for the next day. Being a huge fan of the ESPA range we opted to try their ESPA body treatment – an hour long aromatherapy massage.

We arrived at the spa the next afternoon after a very long day of sightseeing around Porto, and we were really looking forward to a relaxing afternoon at The Spa. My legs were sore from walking endlessly around the city, and I felt in desperate need of a good massage. My therapist was simply fantastic. Welcoming and extremely friendly, she led me to the treatment room where I prepared for my massage.

The next hour went by in a blur, but to be honest, as a person who has had her fair share of massages in her lifetime – I can truthfully say this was by far the best massage I had ever experienced. From the perfect pressure to the quick responsiveness of my therapist, I felt complete and utter bliss for a full hour as she worked on my tired muscles. Afterwards I felt like a new person, deeply relaxed and completely peaceful as I sipped on green cinnamon tea. We were shown to the relaxation room were we spent a good half hour, eyes closed, reveling in the wonder of The Spa.

The Spa Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa

11 Reasons to Visit South Africa – Today!

South Africa is a travel destination on the rise. Travel critics have been heaping praise and awards on the country in recent years, and South Africa is increasingly playing host to international visitors from just about every nation on earth. Its dynamic and vibrant cities offer modern infrastructure and the country is known for its incredible natural beauty. If you haven’t been to South Africa yet, here are 11 compelling reasons why you should book your trip – today!

1. Spectacular Landscapes

From the jaw-dropping views at Cape Point, to the incredible vistas over the Valley of a Thousand Hills…South Africa has some of the very best landscapes in the world. There is the glamorous beachfront strip of Durban’s famed Golden mile and the hidden treasures of the St Lucia wetlands. Be it a sunset over Table Mountain, or the rugged splendor of the Karoo – there is breathtaking beauty all over South Africa.

Incredible Landscape of South Africa

Incredible Landscape of South Africa (Source willgoto.com)

Green landscape howick falls KZN South africa

The green canopy of the Howick Falls region in KZN

2.  Beach, Desert, Safari or Mountains? No need to settle!

There are very few places on earth where you can enjoy a swim in the refreshing ocean waves one day and go sand-boarding over pristine dunes the next. It’s worth noting that several South African beaches have been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag accreditation which means they meet the most stringent criteria in terms of cleanliness, safety and water quality, amongst others. Whether you prefer the tranquility of the wilderness, the pulsing beat of a cosmopolitan city, or hiking in the mountains – South Africa can make the holiday of your dreams a reality.

Lion's head Cape Town South Africa

Fancy a hike up the ominously named Lion’s Head in Cape Town?

pristine beach south africa

One of the pristine beaches of South Africa

sand dune surfing south africa

Perfect slopes for sand dune surfing (Source: willgoto.com)

3. Culture and Important Sites

About 50 kms northwest of Johannesburg lies the Sterkfontein caves and the Cradle of Humankind. It was here that human evolution fossils – some of the oldest ever found – have been discovered (including the affectionately nicknamed Mrs. Ples) furthering the belief that Africa is the birthplace of humanity. The Cradle of Humankind is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa.

Cradle of HumanKind Maropeng

Cradle of Humankind in Maropeng (Source: explorertimeslive.co.za)

An extremely diverse country, South Africans express their culture through music, dance and art – all of which are thriving enterprises in South Africa. A competitive film industry, one of the oldest in the world, continues to grow at an exponential rate. But perhaps one of the most enduring images of South African culture is that of the Zulu people, and a visit to a Zulu village is a highly recommended experience.

Zulu Tribe South Africa

Traditional Zulu dancers

4. History

From the colonial era to the Anglo-Boer war, the discovery of diamonds to the arrival of Indians by the boatload; South Africa’s history is rich, although tumultuous. The most well known part of the country’s modern history remains the rise and subsequent fall of Apartheid. While all South Africans today enjoy the freedoms of a democratic constitution, it is our history that has shaped the people we are today. The Anglo-Boer war battlefields near Ladysmith are worth a visit; while the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg provides a poignant reminder and a fundamental understanding of this dark era in South African history. A trip to Cape Town will not be complete without a ferry ride to Robben Island, another UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once used for the imprisonment and isolation of political prisoners – including Nelson Mandela. A sobering tour depicting the arduous conditions of the prison and the tiny, damp cell where Mandela spent 18 years of his life often leaves visitors in tears.

apartheid south africa

Testaments to Apartheid segregation (Source: capetowndailyphoto.com)

Robben Island Table Mountain South Africa Caoe Town

Robben Island as seen from the top of Table Mountain

5. Wildlife and Biodiversity

There is nothing quite like the African bush, and the world over, people will agree: there is no place that provides better game viewing than South Africa.

Safari Zebra South Africa

Grazing zebra

Of course the Big 5 (lion, cheetah, buffalo, elephant and rhino) is the drawing card for most, but safaris in South Africa can also provide incredible sightings of giraffe, zebra, antelope and thousands of bird species. Although, you don’t necessarily need to be on safari to cash in on the wildlife action – we were once enjoying dinner at a restaurant in St Lucia when a herd of hippos decided to check out the vegetarian offerings in the shrubs across the town’s busiest street!

nyala antelope safari south africa

Nyala antelope spotted on safari

Several coasts along the garden route present amazing whale watching opportunities and several spots in South Africa are considered prime diving and snorkelling sites, rich in coral and marine life.

Turtles South Africa

Twins?

If you’re more flora than fauna, don’t let the vast deserts fool you, South Africa is home to about 10% of the earth’s flowering species and is only country in the world with an entire plant kingdom contained within its borders – the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Flowers south africa cape floral kingdom

Blooming fantastic!

6. Sports Fanatics

There is still a lingering glow from the impressively successful Soccer World Cup in 2010 which unified South Africa in the most unexpected ways, and proved the naysayers wrong; and so many South Africans still carry golden memories of the historic moment when then newly-elected president Nelson Mandela, in his Springbok jersey, presented the trophy to our rugby captain in what can only be described as a fairytale ending to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Sports fans will agree: there is definitely no shortage of top notch sporting sports events taking place in South Africa.

Rugby world cup 1995 South Africa

One of the most cherised memories in South African history (Source: rugbyworldcup.com)

The Comrades Marathon and Dusi Canoe marathon are other shining examples of world class events taking place annually on the South African stage. From cycling to surfing, cricket to golf – our country is increasingly showcasing its ability to plan and host successful international sporting events, and inspirational South African athletes in almost every facet of sport are flying the flag high for the Rainbow Nation. And while it may not be the world’s favorite instrument, I think we’re somewhat secretly proud of the vuvuzela!

Vuvuzela south africa

Proudly South African (Source: Heraldsun.com)

7. Affordable

The South African Rand is relatively weak against major currencies such as the Pound, Euro and Dollar, which makes it a very affordable destination. International visitors are often pleasantly surprised at the relatively low cost of hotels, food and transport. While those looking to splurge on the ultimate luxurious vacation will not be disappointed by the 5-star accommodations and cuisine available all over the country, there are plenty of affordable safari or city breaks that can match any budget.

Increasingly, South Africa is becoming a shopper’s paradise. With large malls dotting the country, and international chain stores and designer boutiques setting up shop; locals and tourists alike are finding everything their hearts desire in terms of fashion, accessories and jewelry. Ever-popular flea markets and craft stalls are still found in the cities and along the beachfronts, offering quirky home décor and ideal souvenirs.

Gateway Shoppertainment Centre in Durban

Gateway Shoppertainment Centre in Durban (Source: Flickr – South African Tourism)

Hand-woven wire bowls South Africa

Hand-woven wire bowls(Source: Umkhumbilodge.co.za)

8. Weather

South Africa enjoys a subtropical location, which in weather terms translates to hot, humid summers coupled with afternoon thunderstorms; and cooler, dryer winters that are typically sunny. It is this almost year-round sunshine that is increasingly attracting savvy travelers to South African soil. In my opinion there is honestly no bad time (weather wise) to visit SA, but planning your visit around specific activities and interests is highly recommended. For example, game viewing is normally best during the dry winter months, as the hot summers typically mean animals are seeking respite from the heat in the dense, lush vegetation. However, avid bird watchers will find the summer months the best time to view the migrant bird species. The mild months of autumn or spring can be ideal for mountain hikers, while whale-watching enthusiasts may be rewarded between July to November.

Sunny day Durban Golden Mile south africa

The beginning of a typical sunny day along Durban’s Golden Mile Source: clubviaje.com)

9. Culinary Delights

South Africa may not be the first destination that springs to mind when you think of Michelin starred restaurants, but the culinary scene in South Africa is sophisticated and thriving. As always, the emphasis is on the supply of the freshest possible ingredients of the highest quality, and there is no shortage of that in SA. From incredible seafood to succulent Karoo beef, foodies will find their full amongst restaurants catering for every craving.

Cuisine South Africa

Traditional Prawn Curry with a modern twist

The street food trend may be taking off all over Europe, but South Africa (and Durban in particular) is home to the Bunny Chow – what can only be described as the ultimate street food. (If you haven’t tried it, find our more here). From locally brewed beers, to world class coffees, and not to mention one of the most acclaimed, award-winning wine routes in the world; the South African food scene is evolving, one braai at a time.

cuisine seafood south africa

Freshest seafood, as much as your heart desires

10. Unique and Oh! So Interesting

South Africa is unique in so many ways. For starters, it has special mention in the Guinness World Book of records as the country with the most official languages – eleven! This just represents of diversity of our beautiful land and why the term “Rainbow Nation” is so apt.  Did you also know that Cape Town is the only city in the world to have its coasts in two different oceans? Or that the city which has the most trees in the world is Johannesburg? – Yes you read that correctly! While it may seem unbelievable to many, South Africa even has its own penguin colony at Boulders beach.

cape point south africa

Where 2 oceans collide: Cape Point

penguins boulders beach cape town town africa

The undeniably cute penguins at Boulders Beach

11. People

Courage, hope and perseverance are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when I think about the people of South Africa. Yes, high crime rates are noted, and the ugly shadow of Apartheid may linger; but South Africans as a whole, are a nation of courageous people filled with an insuppressible hope. Almost every traveler I have encountered on my trips far and wide, who has visited South Africa, has had only positive things to say about the people they met there. Stories of good Samaritans and friendly, smiling faces everywhere they went are the norm. For a country whose people have had to endure so much, I am still astounded by the eternal optimism that surrounds me every time I return. It makes me so very proud to call myself a part of the Rainbow Nation.

Friendly People South Africa

The friendliest faces (Source: Powerofpeace.com)

You might also like: 21 Reasons why I LOVE South Africa

Modern Luxury in the Heart of Porto

Hotel Review : Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa, Porto – Portugal

The Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa is a 5-star oasis of tranquility in Porto, a short metro/taxi ride from the city’s attractions. The modern steel and glass structure sits in the heart of Porto’s business district, and from the moment you set foot onto the red carpet, you know you’re on to something special.

SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

We arrived earlier than anticipated, and of course, check in was not for hours yet, but the very accommodating reception staff ensured that our luggage was whisked away, we were given temporary room cards and shown to the club lounge on the 12th floor. Here we enjoyed a drink and caught up on emails thanks to the high-speed, complimentary wi-fi.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The club lounge is an access-limited feature of the Sheraton hotels, giving club member (or guests staying at the club floors) some additional perks such as complimentary internet access, and the privilege of using the club lounge.  In the lounge, you find a little relaxation space, with comfy couches, a computer with printing facilities, and a large screen TV. There are complimentary snacks throughout the day, and we enjoyed an aperitif each evening before dinner of Porto’s signature drink; Port wine.  The club rooms are also typically positioned on higher floors, ensuring sweeping views over the city.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

Club members can also choose to have breakfast in the lounge, although I wouldn’t recommend it if your stay already includes breakfast, as the Porto Novo restaurant, in my opinion is a far superior option. But more on that later.

After spending about an hour and a half in the lounge, I went back to the reception to enquire about the availability of our room. I must add at this point, the elevators in this hotel are truly amazing. So speedy, and so silent, I often got the buoyant feeling of being on a Disneyworld ride each time I went up to the room. By this time, our room was ready, and we headed up to the 10th floor, to find our luggage had already been placed inside. The room was large, airy and bright. Faultlessly clean with white linens, and plenty of soft towels. I found delicious smelling toiletries, the same ones we’ve had at previous stays at Sheraton. However, there was no little bottle of mouthwash this time – I am not sure if they have decided not to leave these in the rooms anymore?

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

There was plenty of closet space, and we quickly unpacked the essentials, getting the suitcases out of the way. It had been a long week, and seeing as the weather was grey and dull, we headed to The Spa to enjoy the heated pools and saunas.  (I’ll be writing a post on our amazing spa experiences soon).

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the comfy day beds in the spa, before heading into the historic city centre (UNESCO World Heritage site) for dinner.

The Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa is not a small hotel – with 12 floors and over 260 rooms, but the level of service we experienced at the hotel was second to none.  I loved the décor, from the use of modern glass and steel that merges effortlessly with the more traditional wood and marble.

Our room was quite large and the king size bed was super comfy. We found enough plug sockets for 2 iPads, both our phones, and a camera, all conveniently located – without having to move a couch or unplug a lamp.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The bathroom was big and wonderfully lit – not the type of hotel where you needed to squint around in a dimly lit space to apply your makeup. His and hers sinks was convenient, and the ample-sized bathtub was a draw card which faced the room via a glass wall. But if you’re not travelling as a couple, fear not, there are blinds that can section off the bathroom to ensure privacy. There is also a separate shower and a separate toilet –which I appreciate.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and SpaSheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The next morning we enjoyed a spectacular breakfast at the Porto Novo restaurant on the lobby level. I loved the breakfast at this restaurant because the food choices were so vast (both hot and cold options) with everything from fresh fruit to made-to-order eggs and omelets. I enjoyed pancakes one morning topped with fresh berries and drizzled in maple syrup. A mimosa added to the relaxing feeling of being on holiday.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The reception staff were ever-willing to hand out maps and point us in the right direction for all the city’s major sights. And after a long day of sightseeing, battling the famous Porto winds a little bit, we welcomed the opportunity to return to our luxurious room ach afternoon, slip into our swimsuits and decompress in the Jacuzzi.

The New Yorker bar located in the lobby is the ideal spot to enjoy a cocktail or three, as the soothing sounds of the grand piano envelopes the room. Plush carpeting, richly textured couches and expertly mixed drinks all add to the feeling of glamour.

SONY DSC SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

All in all, I found the Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa to be the perfect hotel in Porto, whether you’re travelling for business or leisure. The location may not suit everyone, particularly those wishing to stay in the historical centre itself, but I found the location perfect for sightseeing, and enough removed from the city hub to give a sense of calm.

SONY DSC Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

The level of service is what one would come to expect from a 5 star establishment: courteous and highly efficient.

The design of the hotel itself is impressive, and the imposing all glass façade is a feast on the eyes.

Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa

I would not certainly hesitate, for a second, to stay the Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa when in Porto again.

SONY DSCRates from 90€ for a deluxe room, to 2000€ for the presidential suite. Club rooms rates begin at 156€. 1 Night spa packages from 190€ pp sharing. For more information and specials, please go to the hotel’s official website.

Disclaimer: We received a complimentary upgrade to club level at the Sheraton Porto Hotel and spa. All opinions expressed in this review however, remain completely my own.

24 Hours in Paris

Whether you’re just popping in for a business trip with a sightseeing day to spare, or a very short sejour as part of a whirlwind European tour; if you’re hoping to catch the sights and sounds of Paris in just a day, don’t fret: Paris is very doable in 24 hours.

Of course the travel connoisseurs out there will laugh off the idea that a city as complex and mysterious as Paris would reveal herself to anyone in just a day…and I would be the first to agree! Paris, like many European cities, has a rich and extensive history. The best parts of the city are usually found away from the tourist crowds, and I highly advocate getting lost, on foot, to truly unearth her essence.  But if all you have, for one reason or the other, is a mere 24 hours, then well, you’re damn well going to want to make those hours count!

Louvre pyramid

The majestic Louvre Pyramid

The idea of this post came up when a friend of mine wrote me asking for tips on what to see in Paris, noting that she only had a very limited time to spend in the city.

Here’s what I came up with:

If you’ve skipped your hotel breakfast, or if you’ve just got in on an early Eurostar train, the first thing you’d want to do is locate your nearest boulangerie (bakery) to buy some croissant or pain au chocolat, still warm from the morning’s baking. Whilst it quite rare to find a badly baked croissant in Paris, there is still that possibility, so look for boulangeries with a line of locals – always a good sign!

A belly full of authentic (and delicious) French patisserie is the French way to start your day. Seriously, just ask the locals!

With only a little time in this incredible city, you’d probably want to try to see Paris’ most famous sites.

If you’re a museum buff, head for the Louvre museum (metro line 1, 7; Palais Royal Musée de Louvre). While I would personally advocate for a visit to the Musée d’Orsay instead of the Louvre, if it’s your first time in Paris, you should definitely do a short tour of the Louvre that allows you to see the museum’s three famous ladies: Leonardo da Vinci’s “La Jaconde” (Mona Lisa), the Greek statue of Venus de Milo, and the winged Victory of Samothrace. Several Louvre ‘express tours’ are available to ensure you see these three important works of art, but really, the standard Louvre map provided with your ticket will suffice for a quick, self-guided tour.

Louvre three famous ladies

The Louvre’s Famous Ladies

After the Louvre, you’d want to hop back on the line 1, and head all the way to metro stop ‘Franklin Roosevelt’. As you ascend from the depths of the metro, you will be greeted by the swarming crowds on the Champs-Élysées. Stroll up this street, for a little taste of Parisian shopping. The huge chain stores and luxury brands will certainly be tempting, but avoid eating along this street, as the food is a tourist trap. (read more on the 7 best shopping streets in Paris here).

Up ahead you will find the magnificent Arc de Triomphe. To actually wind up under the Arc itself, or to climb to the top for great views of the Champs-Élysées all the way to the Concorde, make your way back underground, to access the entry passage – do not even think about crossing the traffic circle!

Arc de triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Once you’ve snapped sufficient photos, I’d recommend getting back into the metro at ‘Charles de Gaulle Etoile’, and riding the line 2 until you reach ‘Place de Clichy’. A few streets away you will find a restaurant called ‘Le Bouclard’. With the cozy interior and the hearty French dishes on the menu, you’re bound to find the makings for a satisfying lunch. (Le Bouclard, 1 rue Cavallotti, 75018, Paris)

If you prefer something lighter get off at the metro stop ‘Pigalle’ instead, and head for Le Miroir. You will be welcomed into a friendly bistro-type setting where you can enjoy a salad and a delicious cappuccino. (Le Miroir, 94 Rue des Martyrs, 75018 Paris)

Right around the corner, you’ll find the famous Moulin Rouge, and if you follow the throngs of people heading upward, you’ll be on your way to the impressive Basilica of Sacre Cœur, found at the very summit of butte Montmarte. The views over Paris from the courtyard of the church are to die for, and a visit inside the basilica to gaze at the impressive organ and stained glass windows, is a must.

Basilica of Sacré Cœur

Basilica of Sacré Cœur

Afterwards, you could always take the funicular to reach the bottom again – a different experience from climbing back down all those stairs! For a view of a neighborhood that doesn’t conform to picturesque Paris, head for the ‘Barbès-Rochechouart’ metro stop a short walk away where you can take the line 4 all the way to ‘Saint Michel’stop. There are plenty of souvenir shops dotting the streets around St Michel, so if you really need to buy a T-shirt that reads: ‘J’adore Paris’ or a hundred Eiffel Tower key chains, this would be the place. Although I implore you, please don’t buy tacky Eiffel Tower key chains! Local cheese and wine make much better souvenirs, guaranteed to be loved by friends and family alike. There are also some nice clothing shops in the St Michel area, particularly along Boulevard St. Germain; and the Luxembourg Garden a short stroll away gives a welcome break from the pavement pounding.

Saint Michel

Saint Michel

The must-see monument near St Michel is of course the incredible gothic cathedral of Notre Dame. Just cross the Seine on Ile Saint Louis – the impressive spires of the cathedral along with the spooky gargoyles staring incessantly down at you. A visit inside the cathedral is worthwhile if the queues aren’t overwhelming.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

I’d recommend heading back to your hotel at this point, for a little relaxation or a shower before heading down to the docks for an afternoon cruise along the Seine. There are numerous companies that offer Seine river cruises, and these can range from a simple one hour cruise with a guide, to a full 3-course dinner cruise. It’s important to note however that different companies begin their tours at different points along the Seine. While the Bateau Mouches is probably the most famous, I’d rather head over to Pont Neuf (literally translated – New Bridge, but contrary to the name, is one of the oldest bridges in Paris), for a cruise with Vedettes de Point Neuf. There are usually discount tickets available for purchase online beforehand, and these cruises are typically smaller and less crowded that those of Bateau Mouches. I’d also aim to take the cruise as late as possible, to ensure that the most famous attractions of Paris are lit up. It’s not called the City of Lights for nothing!

Bateaux Mouches

Fly Boat? Bateaux Mouches

In a little over an hour you’ll be treated to the amazing sights of Paris’ most iconic attractions, from the Eiffel Tower to the Alexander Bridge, from Musée d’Orsay to the Notre Dame cathedral, which looks even spookier as darkness falls.

For dinner, if you’re looking  for bragging rights, and you’re in a position to splurge, you could always go to the restaurant where King Henri IV supposedly dined quite frequently – the Tour d’Argent, along the left bank of the Seine just near Notre Dame itself. (La Tour d’Argent15 Quai de la Tournelle, 75005 Paris)

la tour d argent

The incredible view from la Tour d’Argent (source: latourdargent.com)

If you’d rather experience authentic Paris with a smaller price tag, head for Place Dauphine as soon as you disembark your cruise. This typical neighborhood with a host of café’s, bars and creperies will leave you feeling immersed in Parisian culture.

My preference though, would be to head for the Marais – Paris’ famous Jewish Quarter, where there are additional dining choices.  The falafels are a must try, and the area makes for ideal people-watching as the city’s trendy population whizzes by. (Metro Line 1, Saint Paul)

Depending on your remaining energy and enthusiasm, you could then put on your dancing shoes and head out to one of Paris’ trendy nightclubs. For my part, I would rather head over to the Trocadero square, bottle of wine in hand, where I’d bid au revoir to the City of Lights as the Eiffel Tower puts on her very best sparkle show.

Eiffel Tower

All that Glitters…

Free First Class? 6 Tips for bagging a Flight Upgrade

In the roaring 90’s when business travelers were regarded in awe, flight upgrades were routinely dished out by airlines to ensure passenger loyalty.

These days, a free flight upgrade comes around about as often as a royal baby. So why then are there numerous ‘experts’ in the industry touting the simple rules of “Be polite and ask” and “Dress smartly” as the answer to a golden ticket?

It goes without reason that being polite is a requirement if ever you were to receive an upgrade. No desk agent would upgrade an abusive, complaining customer. In fact, she would probably try to ensure your flight was as miserable as possible by sticking the largest person, or the crying baby, in the seat right next to you. Being rude is a no-brainer way to guarantee you’d never get a free upgrade, but being polite won’t get you in the 180° reclinable seats upfront.

Dress smart – Again, the shabby gent in the Hawaiian shirt and flip flops probably won’t be dining on free caviar mid-flight, but donning your smartest suit with silver cufflinks won’t open the champagne fountain either -thousands of smartly dressed people fly economy every day.

how to get a free flight upgrade

Source: Quantas.com

Even the once magical phrase “We’re on our honeymoon” doesn’t even warrant the bat of an eyelash from a desk agent these days.

That being said, unless you’re actually flying the plane, if you hope to be turning left when you board, try these ‘expert’ tips:

1.  Join the airline’s loyalty program – and work your way up

You’ve read it a thousand times: loyalty pays. Whilst being an elite member of an airline’s loyalty scheme may never bring you an upgrade, if one were ever available, the list of elite members on that flight would –without fail – be the pool from which the lucky person would be chosen.

As if to make a point: of the hundreds of flights I’ve taken, I was upgraded, for free, only two times, during which I enjoyed privileged status on the airlines loyalty program.

how to get a free flight upgrade

First Class Dining: Source Emirates.com

2. Agree/ Offer to be bumped

With ever-increasing fuel prices, airlines are more pressed than ever to ensure that their flights are as booked as possible. Poorly-sold routes are routinely being cut, and overselling is at a record high. I once heard an announcement, minutes before boarding a flight from Charles de Gaulle to Heathrow, enquiring for passengers who were willing to be bumped onto the next flight (1h40 later) who would be compensated 300€! For some, that was more than the price of their ticket! No doubt, the desk was swarming with volunteers! Agreeing to be bumped allows you the rare occasion to ask for a free upgrade, better yet, let the desk agent know you’d be willing to be bumped even before they make the announcement.

how to get a free flight upgrade

Suites onboard A380: Source Emirates.com

3. Fly popular routes at busy times

Airlines are nowadays under strict rules not to issue upgrades unless absolutely warranted. Seeing that popular business or holiday routes at peak times are on high demand and likely to be oversold, airlines may give the green light to issue upgrades (usually from their list of frequent fliers, see point 1) or this situation may allow the opportunity for you to agree/offer to be bumped (point 2).

how to get a free flight upgrade

First Class Cuisine: Source Singapore Airlines

4. Pay more

This tip may sound counterintuitive to nabbing a free upgrade, but it makes sense that the most heavily discounted economy fare will probably never be upgraded to a first class ticket. The full fare tickets would most likely benefit from an upgrade if it were available.

how to get a free flight upgrade

The privacy of your own Suite: source Singapore Airlines

5. Seat trouble

The is a good chance of being moved from cattle class to the coveted seats upfront if there is an issue with your seat that would make the flight uncomfortable or unsafe. Of course you could just be moved to an alternate economy class seat, but if none are available, then you’ll probably be upgraded. Some examples would be a non functional TV screen on a long haul flight, or a broken seatbelt. That being said, please don’t try to damage your seat deliberately…that could land you in hot water.

how to get a free flight upgrade

Champagne on Tap: Source Capitolife Magazine

6. Go it solo

Even if you followed all the tips above, it would exceptionally hard for a desk agent, or a crew member to offer an upgrade if you travelled with a group, family, or even a partner. Justifying an upgrade is difficult enough, justifying it for more than one person can be more so. Solo travelers are more likely to receive free upgrades, especially if meeting one or more of the criteria above.

how to get a free flight upgrade

Showers on Board for Emirates First Class Fliers: Source Emirates.com

That being said, using miles to upgrade tickets, or purchasing discounted business/first class seats at the check in desk, although not free, may be the more realistic option to ensure you’re sipping champagne before you even take off.

Capture the Colour Competition

With only a few days left to enter, I’ve been nominated by Tiffany Wüest of ‘World Meets Girl’ for the Capture the Colour Competition.

To be honest I had never even heard of this competition before, but after checking it out I decided to enter, for the following reasons:
Firstly, there are some serious prizes to be won from iPads to a cool £3000 travel fund. But more than that, the competition itself sounds pretty awesome, and I can’t wait to see the entries in each category.

Here’s how it works:

Capture the Colour Competition

So I went in search of images representing Red, Green, Blue, Yellow and White from the hundreds of travel photos I’ve accumulated over the years.

But I decided to take my own little spin on the competition by paying homage to my home country: South Africa. Extremely apt, seeing as South Africa is known as the Rainbow Nation…every colour welcome!

So here goes:

Red is… A fiery sky showing off at sunset, Durban

Red Capture The Colour

Sunset, Durban

Caught completely unaware by the setting sun, I managed to snap this photo just as the last of the light was disappearing under the horizon.

Blue is… A lone stingray in Ushaka Marine World, Durban

Blue Capture the Colour

Lone Stingray, Ushaka, Durban

This picture always makes me feel as if he was looking right at me, if only for a second.

Green is… the grass on which lay the baby zebra, Kruger National Park

Green Capture The Colour

Mother and baby zebra, Kruger National Park

I had never seen a baby zebra before; some of his stripes were still brown! Too tired to stand anymore, he playfully fell at the feet of his mother, and rolled over for attention.

Yellow is the fancy headdress of the African Crane Bird, Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park

Yellow Capture the Colour

African Crane Bird, Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Park

Like a golden crown – the African Crane bird is regally clad. National bird of Uganda, but sometimes spotted by lucky safari-goers in South Africa.

White is… powder-soft sand at Clifton Beach, Cape Town

White Capture The Colour

Clifton Beach, Cape Town

There isn’t a shortage of natural beauty in Cape Town. From Table Mountain, to Cape Point – the city is alive with picturesque landscapes at seemingly every turn. This photo was taken on my honeymoon in the Mother City.

Feel free to let me know what you think of my entries!

And in turn, I nominate the following 5 bloggers:

1. Sarah Shumate: @Wanderblogger

2.Jenna Longoria: @Nomad_Notions

3. Shannon Reilly: @wanderReilly

4. Mike Hopkins: @TTMyEyes

5. Houssam Eddine: @tourismhoteltip