Villa Barranco, Lima, Peru

Located in the heart of Barranco, Lima’s most artistic and cultural neighbourhood, Villa Barranco is a beautifully restored former colonial mansion house. This nine-bedroom boutique hotel opened in March 2017 and immediately grabbed the attention of travellers and the travel industry alike, including being named on Conde Nast’s Hot List of 2018.

Villa Barranco

The villa has been tastefully decorated in muted shades with antique wooden furniture and vintage ornaments. As well as the nine bedrooms, Villa Barranco has a communal dining/sitting room, ground-floor patio for al fresco breakfasts, and a peaceful rooftop bar. Guests can borrow the villa’s bikes to explore the local area and staff are knowledgeable about the best things to see, do and eat nearby.

Villa Barranco

Our ground floor junior suite (room number 1) featured a comfy king-size bed, an Art Deco daybed-cum-armchair, and antique wardrobe and writing desk. The ensuite bathroom centred around a deep freestanding bath and was flooded with natural light. Our junior suite also included a small, private outdoor terrace, as do all bedrooms on the ground floor.

Villa Barranco

Each room in the villa is unique and they differ in size and layout. Many rooms can be presented as either twin or double, and there are conjoined rooms available for groups or families larger than two people. Some of my favourite rooms were Room 8 – with its hanging square light above the bed – and the Master Suite (room 9) which is spread across two floors with a 2nd bed on the mezzanine, a private rooftop terrace and a pyramid rooflight that bathes the bathroom with daylight.

Villa Barranco

Breakfast is served either in the communal dining room or, in nicer weather, on the patio outdoors. The food is simple but well executed; hot options include omelettes made to order, eggs as you like, and waffles or pancakes with a range of toppings and sides. The basic buffet comprises bread and pastries, jams and spreads, cereals and granolas, fresh juices and a coffee machine. Guests can also have lunch and dinner at the house, with a simple “home-style” menu on offer.

Villa Barranco

Villa Barranco is part of the up-and-coming Ananay Hotel group who have grand ambitions for transforming the offering of boutique hotels in Peru. They have three properties in Cusco and openings planned in other locations. A refurbishment of the neighbouring house to Villa Barranco is also underway, which will transform the property into hosting 18 rooms in total.

More information and book a room at Villa Barranco here.

Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, Taormina, Sicily

Taormina is a picturesque hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily, and though it may not be the easiest destination to reach, the beauty of its location more than makes up for the journey. Belmond’s two hotels here, Villa Sant’Andrea and Grand Hotel Timeo, are the most special places in stay in Taormina. Sant’Andrea is perched at the sea’s edge, surrounded by the rippling Mediterranean sea, while Timeo is found in the town next door to the ancient ancient Greco-­Roman amphitheatre with impressive views of the actively smoking volcano, Mount Etna.

Sicily

We spent a couple of days at Villa Sant’Andrea, enjoying the Sicilian way of life and visiting nearby towns in search of the best pasta and granita! Unfortunately, the weather was unusually wet for mid-September but the air was still warm and the landscape equally beautiful.

Sicily

There are 71 rooms to choose from at Villa Sant’Andrea, each is decorated in a bright contemporary style with a fresh pale blue and beige palette. In our spacious Junior Suite the big windows opened out onto a balcony that offered stunning views of the sea and town. The relaxed living area, with Matisse-inspired prints, was a pleasant place to enjoy breakfast, while our table by the window had a delicious offering of fresh fruit and Sicilian Almond wine.

Sicily

The plush King-sized bed was extremely comfortable, topped with a cashmere blanket and the softest cotton sheets, ensuring a restful night’s sleep. The large bathroom – complete with bath, shower, dual sinks and separate toilet – featured generous bottles of Ortigia toiletries, a range that is inspired by the Sicilian flora and fauna. My only annoyance in the bathroom was the overly complicated geometric tap system, which we found to be a bit of a challenge to master!

Sicily

Leave plenty of time for breakfast, it is a feast of local delicacies and international wonders. We feasted on courgette flower & ricotta omelette, fresh juices, and granita with brioche and whipped cream. It was all absolutely delicious.

Sicily

There are plenty of perks to enjoy on site at Villa Sant’Andrea, including a complimentary two hour boat tour to see the nearby islands and secluded coves. You can also hire a beach cabana for the day, with a stocked minibar, dedicated service and your own extra luxe sunloungers. There is a complimentary shuttle service between Belmond’s Villa Sant’Andrea and Grand Hotel Timeo hotels so you can hop between the two for mealtimes and experiences.

SicilySicily

If you have a spare day and fancy venturing further afield I highly recommend spending a day exploring the nearby towns… Noto is particularly beautiful and the famous Caffe Sicilia is a must for foodies and gelato-lovers. If you are in need of a comforting Italian meal in Noto head to Manna for unmissable classic pasta dishes. The quaint island of Ortigia is also lovely for an afternoon of strolling and sightseeing.

Sicily

Even after just a few days Sicily captured my heart, it is such a beautiful island with a strong culinary culture and some of the most brilliant architecture I have ever seen. For a luxury getaway in the sun, Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea will look after your every need, ensuring you get the most of your Mediterranean minibreak.

I was a guest of Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, more information here.

Things to do in Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, is not the most obvious of city break destinations, but it should be! Just a two hour flight from London, this charming Baltic city is filled with Baroque architecture, lust green spaces and an exciting culinary scene. I was lucky to spend a couple of days exploring some of the highlights, from climbing old clock towers to sampling speciality coffee, I was amazed by all that this city has to offer. But perhaps the most memorable part of the weekend was a hot air balloon ride over the nearby old town of Trakai, a rare chance to see the spectacular city from afar in a moment of total calm.

Lithuania

To Stay

Hotel Pacai – As demand grows for accommodation in Vilnius new hotels are beginning to pop up all over the capital. Hotel Pacai is perhaps the most exciting recent opening, a design hotel set in a 17th-century mansion in the heart of the Old Town, with beautiful, modern, stylish bedrooms. An exciting gastronomic restaurant is coming soon…

Lithuania

To Eat

Amandus – This modern restaurant in the Old Town is led by chef Deivydas Praspaliauskas. The menu focusses on Lithuanian ingredients but uses modern techniques to create imaginative dishes. We particularly loved the beetroot bread and whipped butter!

Sweet Root – Located in the heart of the bohemian Uzupis district, this chic high-end eatery is only open in the evenings and serves a meticulous tasting menu. The beautiful local cuisine is inspired by the seasons and uses ingredients from Vilnius and the surrounding area. It is widely regarded as the city’s best restaurant.

Sugamour – A patisserie heaven for those with a sweet tooth. This speciality dessert boutique makes elaborate cakes that are served alongside good quality coffee and tea. I can particularly recommend the honey cake and the mango and coconut mousse, equally beautiful to look at or taste!

Ertlio Namas – Ertlio Namas is a step back in time, with a menu of recipes that are inspired by past centuries. We were treated to four delightful and delicious courses, each served with a matching drink. Every dish had a story, which the waiter described while we waited patiently to eat the food!

Theobromine – Tucked away down a side street in the Old Town, this is an emporium of chocolate treats. Theobromine makes artistic chocolates with quirky, sometimes experimental flavours and also has cakes to eat in store. I tried the very decadent white chocolate and salted caramel tart.

Hales Market – For an immersive foodie experience head to Hales Market on the outskirts of town. The iconic building has housed a market since the 15th century. Today it offers locally grown produce, speciality meats and cheeses and stalls for snacks on the go. For a more leisurely lunch head to Hales Deli and choose from the regional daily delicacies.

Lithuania

To Drink

Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories – This coffee bar and microroastery is one of the most interesting caffeine stops I have ever discovered. The minimalist cafe is decorated with plants and niche magazines. Choose from the selection of special roasted beans (sourced from around the world) and enjoy a perfectly made pour-over coffee.

Coffee 1 – This friendly cafe is a great place to stop for a good coffee if you are wandering round the Uzupis area. Order a flat white and a piece of Lithuanian lazy cake, a simple but tasty chocolate biscuit cake.

King and Mouse – This whisky-dedicated bar serves well-made cocktails and also has a great selection of craft beers. The current menu features a drink called ‘3 Suns’ – a delicious take on an Old Fashioned.

Lithuania

To Shop

House of Naive – House of Naive was set up by a local couple who produce organic minimalistic women’s clothing in natural materials and organic bean to bar chocolate. I particularly loved the chocolate bars, which are made in intriguing flavours and packaged up in stylish boxes.

Ramune Piekautaite – Ramune Piekautaite is one of the best known Lithuanian designers. Her striking luxury collections are renowned in the Baltic region but have also travelled further afield. Her smart, centrally located boutique gives an insight into her imaginative designs.

Lithuania

To Do

Hot Air Balloon Ride – Vilnius is one of the only European cities with permission to fly hot air balloons and so it has become known for this special pastime. Head to the Trakai region and if the weather is right you can float over the beautiful Trakai Island Castle and surrounding forest. It is completely magical.

Bell Tower – For panoramic views of Vilnius old town head to the Bell Tower, dating back to the 13th century.

Non Museum – This tiny museum is a great place to get an overview of Lithuania’s history. Watch the whirlwind 10 minute film and have a go on the interactive headsets to see some of the country’s most spectacular landscapes.

Trakai – Trakai town is just west of Vilnius in southeastern Lithuania. Wander through the multi-coloured wooden Karaim houses and take a boat trip out on Lake Galvė to see Island Castle, a magnificent 14th-century fortress in the middle of lake.

I was a guest of the Lithuania Tourist Board, more information about Vilnius and Lithuania here.