Category Archives: European

Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti and 53 Degrees North opening in Leeds, by Lucy Reynolds

Nestled on the corner of Infirmary Street, the opening of Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti and 53 Degrees North has been something that most foodies in Leeds have been waiting for with baited breath and salivating tastebuds. Restauranteur Michael Ricci, after gaining acclaim with his Halifax based restaurant and bar of the same name, is branching out into the opulence of the grade 2 listed building Goodbard House in Leeds, bringing a fusion of experimental Mediterranean tapas and exciting mixology. 

Arriving at the restaurant for their press launch evening, we were stamped with the phrase #diehappy, which also adorned the back of the t-shirts that all the staff wore. Quite a bold claim there, but I do like the confidence that comes with that statement and when you are handed a glass of elderflower champagne the minute you walk in a place, it sets off the tone of the evening nicely. 

Being eager beavers, we arrived dead on 6.30pm, which meant that there were still work men busily making final touches to the restaurant, which I quite like. It makes the anticipation even more heightened and really does show the huge effort that goes into the preparation of a place for its first public showing. The staff were brilliant, being incredibly attentive to us and always checking if we wanted another drink (the answer is always yes). When the launch finally got started, at around 6.45pm, the waiting staff began circulating with some incredibly tasty tapas treats, which are going to be on the regular menu from the 11th, which is when they open to the public.

Our first taste was salmon tartare, with miso creme fraiche, cucumber and capers on a soft tortilla, which was a wonderful, fresh mouthful. The caper’s salty zing worked well with the creme fraiche and the natural flavour of the salmon. We also had some deliciously seasoned squid, with a squeeze of charred lime, which is always a crowd pleaser and delightfully moreish.

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We managed to foster a friendship with some of the waiting staff, who obviously realised how greedy we were, as they made a beeline to us with each new plate of tapas, which were then greatly received with our NSFW groans and moans when we saw each new plate of food porn laid out in front of us. Our next offering was manchego cheese and bittersweet figs wrapped in Serrano Gran Reserva, dressed with a touch of balsamic glaze. It was delicious, and would be perfect with a cool crisp glass of Estrella. My friend Michaela loved this salty sweet mouthful so much that she near enough offered to sell her kidneys to the waiting staff to get them to bring her more. I suppose #diehappy doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all!

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We also greedily devoured a bowl of smoky chorizo slices and some beautifully arranged crab and avocado mousse treats, served inside a cherry tomato. These were bursting with flavour and again showcasing how fresh and seasonal the produce is, a factor that Ricci’s prides itself on.

Whilst my friend kept a beady eye out for more manchego cheese wrapped in Serrano ham, we were treated to a bowl of sweet potato wedges, figs, goat cheese, chilli, honey and pomegranate seeds. This was a real trip to the Mediterranean, with the heat of the chilli perfectly balancing with the sweet fig and potato wedges, the vibrant burst of pomegranate and the creamy, earthy cheese as a cool background note. 

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As I mentioned in my previous blog about the opening of Ricci’s, it currently holds the prestigious honour of being the only place in the UK to serve Estrella Galicia 1906 Reserva Especial on draught. 


From tasting the food, I can tell that most dishes would be perfectly paired with Spanish beer or wine, blending the citrus notes of the alcohol and the vibrancy of the flavours being used in the kitchen. In particular, the fried Padron peppers with Ibizan salt would be a perfect pairing with a cold glass of Estrella – close your eyes and imagine yourself in the sunset of Ibiza (blocking out the traffic of West Yorkshire, that is!)

Next up was an Iberico pork and Riojan chorizo burger, which was absolutely divine – juicy, well seasoned – a carnivore’s dream which elicited more inappropriate moans from my friend and I ( a must-try if you go in). If we weren’t yet on the edge of a hashtag happy death, we were just about finished off with a seared pigeon breast bruschetta, with pea and broad bean cream fraiche, and a dairy cow aged fillet bruschetta with sweet onions and peppers. Whilst my friend wasn’t too keen on the gamey pigeon, I enjoyed the flavour along with the creamy pea bed it was perched on. The aged cow fillet was definitely the show stopper though. It was so tender it would probably try to seduce you with a Barry White medley. The sweet onions and peppers complimented the joyous savoury smack of the beef – if I hadn’t already eaten myself close to a food coma, I would have had many more of these. 

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After nearly eating our weight in tapas, we decided it was time to experience 53 Degrees North, Ricci’s cocktail bar which is joined to the restaurant by a shiny lift style set of door, which offers a ‘sound scape’ whilst diners wait for one set of doors to close and another to open. Inside you are treated to a visual exploration through a field of greenery, whilst ambient chilled house music plays. An unusual and entertaining experience, but I do wonder what it will be like when it is 11pm on a Saturday night and, if it is anything like the lift doors in my apartment block, they jam, leaving you to hammer desperately on the doors whilst chill- out tunes drown out your cries. Sorry – got a bit carried away with myself there…and there is a corridor that joins the two buildings together too so my vision of claustrophobic panic needn’t be a reality. 

When we entered 53 Degrees North (named after the line of latitude that the original bar lies on in Halifax), the atmosphere seemed much more relaxed – that Balearic sound scape must have worked a treat. The bar is central and open, offering a 360 degree view of the surroundings, with DJ booth in one corner, and a fringed off area in the other, possibly for VIP seating/ private parties when the bar opens to the public. There is a sense of eclecticism to the furnishings, with luxurious beige velvet booths to sit in around the bar, and exposed brick work and metal pipes which seem to be de rigueur in most trendy bars nowadays. If you take a little walk around the building, and down to the hidden gin bar near the bathrooms (and a private boardroom and dining area) you experience some amazing graffiti art by Ben Allen. I’m a massive fan of street art and often prefer to search for this when I travel instead of looking at the tourist favourite art works in galleries. Allen’s work is fantastic and deserves more than a moments consideration when you are on your way down to the bathrooms after one too many cocktails. 

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Talking of cocktails, we managed to have a look at the menu and were blown away by the range on offer. Due to this being a launch night, there was a limited selection on offer to the press (fair enough) so we plumped for a passion fruit champagne cocktail and a Bull Dog G&T. The passion fruit cocktail came with a shot of champagne, which was an unexpected but lovely surprise, and the G&T came festooned with a smattering of lavender on top (not such a lovely surprise). Now, don’t get me wrong – these two things are a joy to behold. Gin and tonic is one of my favourite drinks and lavender is one of my favourite scents, and I understand how lavender could really compliment some of the botanical undertones of the gin. But when I have the insides of a potpourri bag emptied into my glass, it just means that I have to spend the next ten minutes pulling lavender buds and stalks from my teeth as I try to drink. My friend even laughed at me until she tried to do the same thing, which I caught on camera for comedic value. Maybe the lavender, if so essential to that brand of gin, could have been made into a syrup or sugar that could have been mixed in with the drink or placed around the side of the glass? As lovely as a shower of lavender looks in a glass, it doesn’t enhance the drinking experience and means you end up having to drink with a straw, when I feel G&T should be sipped, especially when in such lovely large glasses. 

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Aside from lavender stalks in my teeth, I think that Ricci’s pairing of innovative cocktails and exciting Mediterranean cuisine is a real boon for Leeds. Yes, Leeds is bursting at the seams with similar places, but Ricci’s has a unique identity all of its own and most importantly, the food is amazing and the price is reasonable. Set in the financial heart of Leeds, I can see many suits clamouring to get a seat in here, and with the added bonus of the Ibizan DJ booth in 53 Degrees North, it holds the potential to be an up and coming music venue in the future too. You could go for a meal then transport yourself, via the soundscape lift, into the cool interior of the cocktail bar, without stepping outside into the inevitable Yorkshire rain. Now that’s got to be worth a few sprigs of lavender in your teeth. 

Ricci’s Tapas & Cicchetti

Goodbar House

15 Infirmary Street

Leeds

LS1 2JS

http://riccistapasandcicchetti.co.uk/leeds/

Photos by Lucy Reynolds and The Influencer  Group. 

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Ricci’s Tapas & Cicchetti and 53 Degrees North launch, by Lucy Reynolds 

My oh my, am I excited about this launch! On the 7th July (press launch) and the 11th July (public launch), Leeds will get to experience the already well established and acclaimed 53 Degrees North, which had risen to attention in the grounds of the Dean Clough building in Halifax, along with the experimental tastes and textures of Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti, courtesy of restauranteur Michael Ricci. With the offer of soft shell crab, goats cheese churros and a DJ set from Tom Findlay of Groove Armada, it looks like Leeds will experience what Halifax has held so dear for all this time.

Whilst Ricci’s Tapas and Cicchetti will offer the diner a gourmet range of tasty delights, it sounds like 53 Degrees North will offer the same quality in beverages, with eclectic cocktails, sophisticated mixology and the only place in the UK to offer Estrella Galicia 1906 Reserva Especial on draught. My tastebuds and alcoholic tendencies are tingling at the thought. Blog to come soon…after I’ve slept off the effects of the amazing cocktails.

Chicago

Ok, so why visit Chicago?? It’s probably not the first place that springs to mind when picking a North American holiday, but as we found out it’s got lots going for it. Before the trip my knowledge of the city came from stuff like the Chicago marathon, their love of deep dish pizza, Edward Hopper’s painting ‘Nighthawks’, being called the Windy City and watching The Good Wife. Fairly standard stuff, apart from that I was a bit clueless. 

Here’s some great things about the city:

It’s so flat!!

Chicago’s dead easy to get around on foot, but if walking big distances aren’t your thing or you want to venture further afield, the L (elevated train system) is cheap and straightforward to use. On our walkabouts we found Chicagoans so likeable and friendly, the city was far less crowded than New York and I’d say a lot more relaxed too.

Make the most of FREE stuff!!

One of the best things was the amount of free stuff to enjoy, including:

Millenium Park 

A public park slap bang in the Loop where you’ll find Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavillion and the Crown Fountain. Definitely a tourist magnet, Cloud Gate’s seen from North Michigan Avenue and is a landmark that just lures people in.

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Free views anyone?!

As much as I wanted to experience the Sky Deck in the Willis Tower, I didn’t like price tag, especially when I found out a well known ‘secret’ spot with a fantastic view for free in the John Hancock Centre. Venturing up to the Signature Room on the 95th floor rewarded us with a great view for nowt, in our case we nipped into the ladies toilets where the photo was taken, as the restaurant wasn’t open yet. 

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We got another free view at Cindy’s in the Chicago Athletic Association, this cool bar has a terrace overlooking Millennium park and cracking cocktails to go with it!

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Chicago Cultural Centre

We loved its Tiffany-stained glass domes, marble lobbies and mother of pearl mosaics. 

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Lincoln Park Zoo 

Easy to get to, lots of different animals (200+ species) to see and free to boot; what’s not to like?! We spent a couple of hours there easy!

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Museum of Contemporary Photography

Centrally located, just off Millennium Park and the Chicago Institute of Art. It was one of our lasts stops before our plane back to the UK and I’m glad we managed to fit it in as this small but perfectly formed museum likes to show contemporary work from new national and international photographers.  

Public art 

The city has so much free art on display, some donated by world famous artists, such as Picasso, Miro, Chagall and Henry Moore. We saw many wandering around the city, whilst many were in the city’s municipal buildings. 

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Garfield Park Conservatory 

Easily reached with a trip on the L, this is one of the largest conservatories in the country and was well worth a trip out. There’s a beautiful palm house, fern room, dessert house and tonnes more. If you LOVE succulents, cacti, ferns and palms you will absolutely LOVE this place!

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National Museum of Mexican Art

Another highlight reached by a trip out of town on the L, this museum’s located in the Pilsen neighbourhood. The area itself has lots of character with street art and this gem of a museum, full of thought provoking and beautiful pieces. I wished we’d been able to spend more time to really explore Pilsen, in particular see the colourful murals and try out some of amazing Mexican food we kept smelling. 

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Explore the outer neighbourhoods

I kept reading about Chicago’s hipster suburbs and in hindsight we should’ve done more of it. The 606 is a useful stretch to consider – an elevated park trail linking four neighbourhoods together (Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Bucktown). A couple of hours spent in Wicker Park before our flight home were definitely well spent, soaking in a bit of suburban culture and a tasty Furious Spoon ramen feed en route.

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Chicago by night

Many of the buildings become illuminated and bring the city’s skyline to life at night. 

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Obviously not everything’s free (shame), here’s some of our favourites:

Chicago Institute of Art 

A place I could’ve stayed all day – their collection of American Art, Impressionist and Post Impressionist pieces were plenty to satisfy my artistic needs. One high point was seeing Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, I was like an excited child when I spotted it from afar! 

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Architecture boat tour

This was one of the best things we did – learning about the history of the city, the architects and their buildings that shaped the area after the Great Chicago Fire from interesting and knowledgeable guides. I can’t recommend doing this more, 75 minutes well spent!!

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Great food scene

Maybe it doesn’t possess the reputation of other cities, such as New York and San Francisco, but Chicago has plenty going on. With lots of fantastic independent restaurants and bars, the city has a great food and drink scene to brag about, it’s not all deep dish pizzas and hotdogs either! 

Some of our food highlights included:

Minghin Cuisine – this all day dim sum joint was our first port of call after landing in the city. With lots of dim sum classics and roasted meats to choose from, I was completely in my element and ordered far too much (no surprise there!), and ended up being so full I couldn’t manage any more food until the following day!

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Korean at Crisp was a great lunch stop – quick service, inexpensive menu choices (korean burritos, bibimbap, sandwiches, fried chicken etc) and really tasty food. My Seoul steak bowl of bulgogi beef and rice, paired with two awesome sauces was particularly good, inparticular their mayo based ‘atomic sauce’ and ‘smoky spicy BBQ,’ a spicy gochujang sauce.

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Japanese at Momotaro was booked weeks in advance after reading fab reviews. The restaurant, located in popular Fulton Market District had an interesting cocktail list and mixologists who definitely knew their stuff. Waiting staff were helpful, which was much needed as the menu covers a lot of bases, so even for those knowledgeable with Japanese cuisine it may take of bit of deciphering. For me the hot dishes stood out more compared to the sushi, but on the whole we enjoyed the experience.

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The Publican in Fulton Market District is one of the city’s current hotspots (along with Momotaro), it’s basically a large beer hall serving great food and lots of it! Expect a menu heavily laden with seafood and pork dishes, brought to diners sitting at long communal tables stretching across the hall from end to end.

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Tanta, this Peruvian restaurant really showed off the art of fusion food, with a concoction of European and Asian influences their menu makes a point of the cuisine’s diversity. I really liked the helpful serving staff, great cocktails; the Pisco Sour is recommended, great plates ideal for sharing and a lively atmosphere. We really loved the anticuchos skewers with New York strip, potatoes, corn and huacatay and the chafe aeropuerto, a side dish  of pork fried rice in a hot bowl, topped with a shrimp tortilla and a huge smack of spicy garlic in there for good measure. Enough to get scare off vampires! 

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Frontera Grill (N. Clark Street) was our Saturday brunch spot. A popular haunt with locals and tourists alike, it soon became full after we arrived and I’m not surprised – great brunch cocktails, lots of choice on the menu, really friendly staff and tasty food.

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Coffee 

Chicago has great specialty coffee shops committed to serving direct trade coffee, we visited a few whilst we were there including Bowtruss, Intelligentsia and Asado. These three are definitely worth popping into with skilful baristas and great coffee!

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Doughnuts

I had no idea Chicago had a thing for doughnuts, but the city has shops aplenty with a huge variety for anyone with a sweet tooth to try! We saw many people going in for breakfast, one with a coffee seemed the done thing, from a long list we tried Firecakes, Do-Rite and Glazed and Infused, our favourite was definitely Firecakes. Personally I  found many just too big and too sweet (emphasising my lack of a sweet tooth), however saying that I still wish we’d managed to try The Doughnut Vault and Bombobar also.

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Have you been to Chicago, what did you make of it?

Is there anything we should’ve done that we didn’t?! 

Norse, Harrogate 

Norse has become one of the North’s best restaurants over the last couple of years, earning a fantastic reputation for quality. If you haven’t heard if it, it’s basically located in Baltzersens  – a cracking Scandinavian cafe in the heart of Harrogate, North Yorkshire. The place produces food influenced by Nordic cuisine and places great importance of the provenance of their ingredients, making the most of the fantastic produce the local area has to offer. 

After being lucky enough to try their food a couple of times, once at a taster event and at the Leeds Indie Food festival last year, for some reason my attempts to get back there never materialised and then being based in the South, I could only get there on trips back up which are never as often as I’d like!

A few weeks ago, we had a few days back in Leeds and took the opportunity to go for the other half’s birthday. Now even though he’d loved their food at Leeds Indie Food festival, he couldn’t remember it! So when we walked passed he said ‘so where’ve you brought me this time?’, like it was some sort of random place I’d conjured up. I was more than confident that he’d love it and couldn’t wait to get stuck in! The staff are very knowledgable and happily offered advice and explained ingredients and other questions. All done without being stuffy, just dead relaxed and informal. We picked four dishes, all clearly marked as gluten free so we could share freely, without any worries of later discomfort etc! Their drinks menu is also well worth a look, all carefully sourced, lots of care and attention is taken into partnering drinks with food.  

Here are photos of our experience, I won’t go into stupid detail about each dish and why I loved all the intricacies etc, but I will say that the food is such high quality, the ingredients work so well together that any curiosities there may have been all paled into significance on eating. The place deserves all the praise it gets and I hope to get back a lot sooner next time. Oh yeah, even my husband really enjoyed it too! 

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Bread and grains, pea and mint, and beetroot and ginger schnapps

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Top: slow cooked pheasant egg w/ broad beans, pickled eryngi mushrooms and sprouting rye. Bottom: cured mackerel tartare w/ beetroot, fermented red currants , ransom skyr and squid ink crisp.

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Top: Cornish turbot w/ roasted salsify, hay-baked mussel sauce and pickled clams. Bottom: Loin and BBQ lamb shoulder w/ Yorkshire peas, garlic, celeriac and lamb sauce.

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Norse

22 Oxford St

Harrogate

HG1 1PU

http://www.norserestaurant.co.uk

 

Dubrovnik

Recently my Instagram page has been filled with photos of Dubrovnik, the place had been on my list for ages, so after plenty of to-ing and fro-ing about the idea, we finally visited during the school hols. We’d arrived with high hopes after positive reports from mates who’d fallen in love with the place, and for us the place didn’t disappoint – it was beautiful and relaxing, easy to get around, with lots of cultural sights, decent local wine and tasty Mediterranean food. Our apartment was literally a few metres away from the Stradun which was perfect for us, we could explore to our hearts content and pop back for a bit of a siesta if we needed to.

Here’s a run down of a few must do’s I’d recommend in anyone’s itinerary:

Stroll down the Stradun

The old town’s famous street stretching between the city’s two main gates is probably one of the world’s most photographed. Luckily it wasn’t as crowded as it can be in the most popular months of peak season, being common place for waves of coach parties bringing tourists from the multiple boats that visit the city. It’ll probably be the first thing that catches your eye as you walk through the Pile gate, believe me!

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Walk the city walls

The most touristy thing to do here, with fantastic ever-changing views, at a steady pace with time to take in your surroundings and the odd photo or two, it’ll take 2.5 hours or so. There’s lots of opportunity along the way to break the journey up, either have a cold refreshment and a sit down or come down and fit in other sights en route. Safe in the knowledge your ticket allows you to hop on and off the wall, (not literally, but you know what I mean!).

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Explore the Old Town’s nooks and crannies

Meandering in and around the narrow streets and alley ways let us gauge a sense of the areas character; where locals go about their daily business, be it hanging out their washing (often in-between houses), chatting in the streets or selling handmade souvenirs. Easy to navigate around, one way or another they seemed to work their way back to Stradun every time.

Visit some churches and monasteries 

Some of the highlights include the 14th Century Franciscan Monastery, with a beautiful and tranquil cloister and it’s pharmacy still in use today. 

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Cloisters of the Franciscan Monastery

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Another monastery of note is the Dominican Monastery, built at a similar time to the city walls. A dominant structure, it’s exterior seen to the fullest when walking the city walls, it’s cloisters are peaceful and the church possesses some artistic gems. 

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Dominican Monastery 

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In close proximity to each other on the Stradun are the Church of St. Blaise, the Sponza Palace and the Rector’s Palace. 

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Church of St. Blaise
Sponza Palace
Rector’s Palace 

Explore Dubrovnik at night 

With many of the highlights lit up and on show, a stroll through the old town is worth while a portion of your time with many restaurants, wine bars and musicians to entertain. Our apartment was just off the Stradun, so a few times I tried to capture a shot of a empty street, and was finally successful at 4am.

Treat yourself to ice-cream, sorbet or both!

Before we’d even arrived in Dubrovnik, I’d been given the heads up of how yummy the ice-cream was and it didn’t fail, completely living up to expectations!! With plenty of ice-cream parlours lining the Stradun, we found ourselves spoilt for choice, do the right thing and get a couple of scoops for yourself!

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Take the cable car up Mount Srd

In a matter of minutes, four to be exact we had panoramic views of the Old Town, it’s neighbouring islands and the Adriatic.

Watch the sunset at Buza Bar

Stepping through a hole in the city wall, some steps lead to a bar that seemed to hang off the side of the cliff. Timing it so we could get a table (it can get busy), the bar has an inviting atmosphere to enjoy the view of the Adriatic sea, Lokrum island and the glow from the sunset.

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Visit an island or two

A great way to avoid the crowds on really busy days was a boat trip to one of the neighbouring islands. With only a 10 minute boat ride from the Old Port our jaunt to Lokrum gave us a botanical garden full of cacti, succulents and lots of other species of plants, lush forests, a secluded salt water lake (The Dead Sea) perfect for a cooling swim and local inhabitants peacocks and rabbits.

Lokrum Island

Dinner at Taj Mahal

Yeah, the name may not sound very Croatian and when I first read it I stupidly had second thoughts about going there. However, after looking at the menu of traditional Bosnian food I was won over and my meat loving husband needed no convincing after that!! The service from the get go was spot on and the food awesome – I can highly recommend the Genghis Khan platter!!!

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Have you been to Dubrovnik, what did you make of it?

Was there anything we should’ve done that we didn’t?