Sunday, 31 May 2015

Beautiful Amalfi

The Amalfi Coast has been on my list of 'must-go-to' places for as long as I can remember. Although we considered it for our honeymoon last year, we eventually decided on Rome, Lake Garda and Venice as those locations made more sense geographically and we were keen to finish our honeymoon in Venice. After an amazing honeymoon, we were determined to return to Italy very soon!

After debating between a few places on the Amalfi Coast and surrounding areas, namely Sorrento, Ravello and Positano, we found a gem of a hotel on Trip Advisor which was situated in Amalfi itself. The reasonable price and the fantastic reviews swung it for us so we booked six nights at Hotel L'Antico Convitto for the end of April. The hotel arranged our transfer from the airport which was seamless (just like all our honeymoon transfers). The drive from Naples airport to Amalfi is unbelievably stunning. You can't get through the mountain that separates the two areas, so you have to drive up the mountain and back down again. We were given a lovely warm welcome when we arrived at our hotel and were shown to our massive suite with a lovely view of the mountains. We'd booked a standard double room so we were very impressed!

I loved everything about this hotel. It's situated barely a minute's walk from Piazza Duomo, Amalfi's main square. It has a tranquil roof terrace with a beautiful view (see photos below), and the breakfast selection was out of this world. This has has been our experience at every Italian hotel we've stayed in. I had a delightfully rich hot chocolate every morning! The hotel staff couldn't have been more helpful, from the kitchen staff to the hotel manager, and they presented us with a bottle of Limoncello when we left. I absolutely love Limoncello so this was a very welcome gift. As well as being very sad about leaving beautiful Amalfi, I was just as sad about leaving our lovely hotel.

Amalfi is a tiny little town with lots of restaurants, bars, bakeries, boutique stores and touristy shops. I love its little narrow streets and the tantalising glimpses of the sea at the end of every street. I fell in love with Piazza Duomo and we spent many hours people watching (and dog watching) in various bars and restaurants in this square. It's a lovely sun-filled piazza with lots of hustle and bustle, but it never felt too crowded. Such a relaxing atmosphere! Everyone we met in Amalfi was so friendly which really added to the experience.

Amalfi Cathedral is situated right in the heart of Piazza Duomo and a few minutes from our hotel. We visited this beautiful location on our second full day in Amalfi. The cathedral is made up of four main components - the Cloister of Paradise, the Basilica of the Crucifix, the Crypt of St. Andrew, and the cathedral itself. The architecture and grandeur of all four components is just awe-inspiring, just like so many other religious Italian buildings. You can see the bell tower for miles and it was a beautiful focal point from Amalfi's many vantage points.

Talking of vantage points, it's safe to say that we spent a lot of time on Amalfi's piers during our stay. We quite often used to grab an ice cream or a pizza slice then walk to one of the piers to have a leisurely stroll or a sit down to gaze at the view.There were three different piers at various locations on the sea front, and there were spectacular views from each one. I took over 600 photographs during our stay in Amalfi and most of those were taken from these three piers. That's precisely why this little paragraph is represented by so many photographs in this blog post! However, it's impossible to capture the true beauty of Amalfi in photographs as there really is beauty all around you in every possible direction. Beautiful mountains, beautiful buildings and beautiful sea views. 

We had initially considered staying in Ravello and we'd heard lots of people raving about its views, so we decided to go on a City Sightseeing bus tour to Ravello on our fourth day in Amalfi. The bus ride was quite an experience as the roads steeped into the mountains definitely aren't ideal for large buses, but the views made it all worth it. It's a shame that it was a little cloudy on the day we visited Ravello, but the views were still breathtakingly amazing. Ravello was even smaller than Amalfi with the same characteristic narrow streets and pretty little piazzas. Although Ravello was really beautiful, I'm glad we chose to stay in Amalfi rather than in Ravello as it had more character and it was a better base from which to travel to other parts of the Amalfi Coast.

On our last full day in Amalfi, we decided to take the ferry over to Salerno to see a different side to the Amalfi Coast. Salerno is a huge city so it was very different to little Amalfi, but it was still a pretty sight despite its obvious industrial nature. Whereas Amalfi is full of independent stores, we found lots of chain and designer stores in Salerno. The streets in the main tourist area of Salerno were very wide and open, but we found the traditional Italian narrow streets in Salerno too at the ends of the main shopping streets. I'm glad we got to experience the ferry ride as well as the city of Salerno... I love a good boat trip and it provided even more photo opportunities. Amalfi looks amazing from a boat, as you can see from the many photos at the end of this post!

I was going to tag our food and drink on to the end of this blog post, but who am I kidding? I'll need a whole separate post for that!

If you're considering visiting Amalfi (or anywhere on the Amalfi Coast) but haven't quite made up your mind yet, I urge you to look at Trip Advisor to find a hotel and an area that suits you then book it as soon as possible. It really is breathtaking and the views are second to none. I desperately hope to go back one day!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Reminiscing about our honeymoon...

I always take part in the Instagram 'Throwback Thursday' hashtag as I love looking through old photographs. Last Thursday, I used a photo from our honeymoon which I hadn't shared on Instagram yet. This led to me looking nostalgically through all my honeymoon albums to remind myself what an amazing holiday it was.

As I take photographs with my digital camera when I'm on holiday rather than with my phone, I realised that there were loads of honeymoon photos I hadn't put on Instagram yet. I consequently decided to spend the bank holiday weekend reminiscing about our three beautiful honeymoon locations (RomeMalcesine and Venice) through sharing new photographs.

I posted nine photos from each location on Instagram as I liked the symmetry of it... I'm a bit pedantic like that. Here's what the end result looked like:




Have you been to any of these locations? Or have you written any posts about your Instagram activities? Please leave your links below if so, I love seeing other people's photographs! 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Who doesn't love a good sunset?

I've mentioned in a previous blog post that I live a two minute walk away from Cosmeston Country Park. I definitely haven't made the most of its close proximity yet so I decided to go for an evening walk a few weeks ago to see the sun setting over the lake.

I took about 30 photographs in half an hour so I thought I'd share a few of my favourites here. You'll already have seen some of these if you follow me on Instagram, but I think they're worth seeing twice. I might be biased of course, but we'll pretend that they actually are worth seeing twice.

Although I was only out for half an hour, the sun was in a very different position when I left to where it was when I arrived. This gave me the opportunity to take lots of different photographs of the varying sky (and to hide from lots of swans).


Have you ever been to Cosmeston? Or do you have any sunset photos to share? Let me know! 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Restaurant review: Llanerch Vineyard

It was my husband's 30th birthday in March and I wanted to take him somewhere special for his birthday meal. After several hours of googling and trip-advisoring (trip-advisoring should definitely become an official verb), I decided to treat him to Sunday lunch at Llanerch Vineyard.

Llanerch Vineyard is situated in Hensol in the Vale of Glamorgan, just off junction 34 of the M4. I'd never been there myself but I'd heard colleagues raving about it, and the reviews on Trip Advisor speak for themselves. I emailed the restaurant to book a table for Sunday 1st March and to order a gift voucher for a three course Sunday lunch for two. I thought it would be nicer to pay beforehand and to give Neil a voucher rather than paying on the day, particularly as he probably wouldn't let me pay for it all myself if I paid on the day! The restaurant staff were really helpful and made the whole booking experience very easy. Now all I had to do was keep the location a secret.

On 1st March, we got into my car and I drove to Hensol. Although Neil kept trying to guess where we were going for the entire journey, I knew he hadn't heard of Llanerch Vineyard so I was pretty confident that none of his guesses would be correct. I put some effort into my appearance for the occasion... definitely the best bun I've ever achieved!

The weather was unfortunately quite dull and dreary, but this didn't dampen the appearance of Llanerch Vineyard at all. The restaurant's surrounding areas were beautiful and I could have taken photos of all the different nooks and crannies for hours. However, I only took a few as I was hungry and didn't want to annoy Neil on his birthday with my incessant photographing. Also, as the scenery outside the restaurant itself was so lovely, I couldn't wait to see what the interior was like. 

The interior of the Cariad Bistro & Restaurant didn't disappoint. It was charmingly rustic but with a modern and fresh twist, and it felt like the perfect place for a nice Sunday lunch. We were shown to our table by a friendly waitress and were greeted by a daffodil on our table to mark St David's Day. 

I ordered the soup of the day to start, then the roast sirloin of beef Sunday roast for my main. I'm a massive fan of Sunday dinner and have had some excellent examples in my time, so this meal had a lot to live up to. My soup arrived promptly with a nice bread roll... 

The soup of the day was carrot and coriander and it was very tasty. I've always liked tinned carrot and coriander soup, but obviously this was ten times better. The roll (Swansea bread, apparently) was also delicious. I usually prefer white bread with soup but this roll was the perfect accompaniment. A good start! I cleared my bowl and sat back to wait for my main course. 

Wow. Just wow. The plate looked a lot prettier before I loaded my cauliflower cheese and vegetables on to it, but still... wow! Massive yorkshire pudding, honeyed roast parsnips, roast potatoes, sprouts, carrots, green beans, cauliflower cheese and the most succulent beef I've ever had. The meal was topped with a lovely rich gravy. I ate every scrap and absolutely loved every  bit of it. Neil doesn't like cauliflower cheese so I had a double helping of that which was a bonus. I also love a good honeyed parsnip and these were roasted just the way I like them. Neil asked for lamb as his meat of choice and said it was the best lamb he's ever had. Top marks from both of us for the main course! I was far too full for dessert, but we had a voucher for a three course meal so we obviously had to finish the meal off in style. 

I ordered the white chocolate and apricot cheesecake with butterscotch cream for my dessert... possibly the most decadent dessert I've ever had. And yes, I include my Italian holidays in that statement which makes it even more impressive. I didn't even know if I liked butterscotch but the little dollop of cream with cocoa dusting was just heavenly. The base was very thick and buttery and the filling itself was so rich and indulgent with just the right amount of apricot flavouring. Absolutely beautiful. I'm also a big fan of round desserts (no idea why) so this bowled me over on all counts. 

The rain cleared up while we were eating so we went outside for a wander after finishing our food. The vineyard itself is just a few metres from the restaurant, and there's a seating area outside ready for the warmer weather. Such a pretty setting for a Sunday lunch! I definitely want to go back during the summer so that we can have a longer walk around the vineyard. 

The restaurant at Llanerch Vineyard definitely lived up to all its hype. Every aspect of our three course meal was delicious and it really felt like an indulgent treat. I paid £45 for the voucher for two which is very reasonable considering both the quality and the quantity of the food. The service was excellent and the views were beautiful, even if the weather wasn't perfect on the day we visited. 

Have you ever visited Llanerch Vineyard? What did you think? We'll definitely be back!  

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Favourite wedding suppliers #4 - Shelley Daniel Wedding and Portrait Photography

Whenever anyone visits our house for the first time, they get given something special to look at as soon as they've taken off their coat and sat down... our beautiful wedding photo book. 

We had some friends around last night which reminded me that I still had one wedding supplier to add to my Favourite Wedding Suppliers series. You can read my previous posts in the series on the following links: Issy Boo Cakes, Cardiff Invitations and Flowers with a Twist. I got married nearly 9 months ago so this post is long overdue! 

A photographer is a vital part of every wedding day as they provide the memories you look back on in years to come. With this in mind, I started doing research on photographers very early on in the wedding planning process. While frantically googling 'reasonable wedding photographers', I came across Shelley Daniel's website. Shelley's prices were very affordable compared to some of the extortionate prices I'd seen on the internet and in wedding fayres, and I also discovered that she lived around the corner from the flat I lived in at the time. I sent Shelley a quick email and she suggested that she should come to my flat to have an initial meeting and discussion.

As soon as I met Shelley and saw her beautiful photo books, I knew I wanted her to be our wedding photographer. She was so friendly and efficient, and I was really impressed that the intricate photo books were all part of the package. It was also immediately obvious that there were no sneaky financial add-ons. Shelley's arrangement meant that she'd be with me from 11am on the morning of the wedding until around 8:30pm (after the first dance). She would also provide a CD with all our photos and a 42 page 30x30cm photo book, all for £750. 

Shelley was so organised right from the beginning of the process. She arranged to meet us a few weeks before the wedding at the church then at the Copthorne Hotel to go through what particular photos we wanted, where the best photographic locations were, how many group shots we wanted and so on. This meeting was also included in the £750 price. Shelley gave me a form to fill in with times, venue addresses, exact photo groups and so on... she really made me feel as if I could relinquish all control over to her. This is exactly what a stressed bride needs just weeks before her wedding! 

On the big day, Shelley came to the house at 11am to take a few photos of me getting ready with my bridesmaids. She also meticulously took photographs of my flowers, wedding shoes and jewellery as a nice keepsake and to form the background for some of the pages in our photo book. 

Shelley then left for the church an hour before the service to take photographs of the groom, the best man, the ushers and the guests as they arrived, as well as making sure she was there to capture the moment when my father and I arrived in our car. 

Shelley stayed with me, my father and the bridesmaids in the church entrance for a few minutes to take some more photographs then disappeared into the church ready for our grand entrance. I have no idea where Shelley was standing when she took all the photographs inside the church... she was definitely very discreet as I didn't actually see her at all. She must have been flitting around all over the place as there are some lovely photos of the service itself. 

After the service, we all went outside for masses of group photos. I'd emailed Shelley a detailed list of which groups I wanted, what everyone's names were and so on, and she took charge from there. There were a LOT of groups so Shelley needed to be very patient as well as authoritative! We had a lovely mix of posed shots and 'chatty' photographs which all looked very natural. 

After finishing all the group shots and taking lots of photos of me and Neil on our own, Shelley then followed us to the Copthorne Hotel ready for the wedding breakfast and evening reception. There were lots more photos at the hotel including some with our wedding car, some on the balcony of the hotel, photos of the guests relaxing before the wedding breakfast, then plenty of photos during the wedding speeches. 

Shelley was so patient during the evening reception... she was an absolute star. The timings slipped quite a bit so the first dance ended up being about an hour later than planned. In spite of the delay, Shelley still stayed to take photographs during the first dance as promised.

Lots of the guests commented on how efficient Shelley was and how hard she worked throughout the day. She somehow managed to be everywhere at once and kept smiling throughout the day. I had total confidence that she was capturing all the moments we wanted to cherish. She also photographed all the little details such as our table plan, table centrepieces and welshcake favours... these were all things that were very important to me but I would never had time to get my phone out and photograph them myself. 

A few weeks after our wedding day, Shelley came around to our house to drop off our photo disk. I was so excited... 701 wedding photos! We proceeded to look eagerly through the photos and chose 100 for our photo book as instructed. I think it's safe to say that Neil got bored of looking through the photos quicker than I did. 

I went to collect the photo book from Shelley a few weeks later and I was so pleased with the final result. The book is of such a high quality and the design of each individual page is just exquisite. I could never have produced something this beautiful myself. We also ordered two smaller photo books for both sets of parents for Christmas as our parents were such an important part of our wedding day. We couldn't even have had such a lovely wedding day without their support. I think the photo book is such a nice and emotive thing to show people rather than handing them a bunch of printed photographs or dragging the laptop out. The photo book tells the story of the day so well and I love going back to look through it time and time again. 

I'm so impressed with the vibrancy of the photos and the way everything has been laid out. The colours all work so well together and I love it that all the family photos, photos of friends, photos of just me and Neil, all our pretty locations and the little accessories that made the day so visually pleasing have been included in such an accessible format. 

Here are a few of my favourite pages from the book... 

I think you'll agree that this is a beautiful keepsake from our special day. I can't thank Shelley enough for all the effort she put in before our big day, on the day itself and afterwards to edit our photos and put the book together. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend her fantastic services. I've linked to Shelley's website at the beginning of the post and you can also view her Facebook page here

I still maintain that Shelley's biggest achievement was making me look decent in my wedding photographs as I'm the most unphotogenic person in the world... I think she rose to the challenge very well!