Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Summer Beauty Essentials

Back in the day, I would cart round ridiculous amounts of beauty products on holidays and trips away from home. Convinced I'd break out in spots or develop some sort of weird skin condition if I didn't stick to my usual regimen while away from home, I used to use up a lot of baggage allowance on what I thought were necessary items. Yes, I'm the person that entered the labour ward weighed down in equal measures by post-birth maternity pads and a toiletry bag spilling completely surplus-to-needs lotions and potions. 

Then, of course, I had kids and suddenly there was no room for all that stuff in the carry-on anymore. Cases stuffed with four peoples' flip-flops, sun hats, swimming masks and all the other holiday paraphernalia leaves little room for complex beauty requirements. Thank god, then, that a) I've become much less high maintenance and b) there are some brilliant multi-tasking, small-size products now in existence that don't take up the size of a small house in the suitcase. 

I'm also a big believer in pre-holiday preparation so you can succumb to a much more relaxed vibe when you've arrived at your destination. Dry body brushing, regular sloughing with a body scrub, followed by copious application of body moisturiser (literally anything - I'm not particularly fussed what I use for this purpose, though I prefer my creams to be fragrance free and hypo allergenic) is something I do religiously the moment I shed my winter armoury. 

After years of undying loyalty to St Tropez, I've been experimenting with a new self-tanning brand, Isle of Paradise, and I cannot recommend it enough. Really easily to apply and with a pleasant fragrance, this product avoids the Love Island look but peps up dull and pale skin a treat. I've been using the Medium option and it's just right.

Summer hair is not my friend, sadly - while I avoid the frizz that plagues my tresses in the damp of the colder months, my hair is dry at the best of times; in summer it can go decidedly straw-like. But I've found a bit of a saviour in the form of NouNou hair mask, available online and, if you're Bristol-based, from the recently opened Trevor Sorbie Salon on Queen's Road. Made from completely natural ingredients, it looks like houmous but does ruddy wonders for dry hair. It contains tomato extract and you simply slather it on after shampooing. 

As with all masks, you're really meant to leave it on for a good 15 minutes but honestly, who has the time? I've found that a quick 3 minutes of massaging in and combing through, leaving the mask on my noggin while I do a bit of body scrubbing, is ample time to see some serious results. In short, I highly recommend this wonder balm.

Now, going camping or to a festival really does test my skincare anxieties. The idea of not washing my face properly before bed is absolute anathema to me; I just can't do it. I've spent many a festival and camping trip stumbling around in the dark, trying to fill a washing up bowl with warmish water so I can do my standard hot cloth cleanse - as you can imagine, it's not usually a successful enterprise. 

But of course, there are wipes and there are wipes. Nowadays, you don't have to use something that feels like it's simply moving the make-up deeper into your pores, or swipe your face with something not dissimilar to what you might use to clean your kitchen table. There are some seriously luxe versions out there, and some are actually very effective. 

May I point you in the direction of the wipes in the Amphora Aromatics range, which - unlike many more obvious options - contain no nasties (parabens or artificial fragrance) and are a very effective way to keep skin clean in challenging conditions. In fact, they're part of the brand's brilliant Festival Kit, including some other fab products I took away on a recent short break to Scotland.

I was only recently introduced to this brand, which has a lovely shop on Cotham Hill, and I've been really impressed with their effective and really affordable skincare. The wipes, for example, come in at just £3.30. Also included in the kit I trialled was a truly life-changing discovery - a wonderfully fragranced shampoo bar that is ideal if you're travelling abroad and need to limit your liquids. Made from natural ingredients and essential oils, the almond bar was ideal for my dry hair.

Sometimes, it's the added extras that get you through a day with limited washing facilities, particularly if you've been doing something energetic, like climbing a steep hill in the Scottish Highlands, for example. I loved spritzing myself with the Rose toner before bed - not only does this product smell absolutely divine, but removing it gently with a cotton wool pad helped to allay any fears about make-up residue resting on my skin. This product would be especially helpful in gently lifting off a day's worth of festival glitter, too.

Finally, summer can mean all sorts of weird things happening to you - allergic reactions to plants, mosquito bites, grass rashes, etc. I've had 'em all. So anything that can help to soothe these holiday-based irritations is always welcome in my luggage - the Lavender Calming Multipurpose Gel was packed for Scotland in view of the possibility of encountering midges. Thankfully we didn't, but on returning home, my son accidentally burnt his arm on the toaster and the gel worked a treat on taking down the sting and redness of the injury. 

Like all the products in the Amphora Aromatics range, it smells amazing too. Practical, effective and nice smelling - all I really want from my holiday skincare. These babies will definitely be coming to Ibiza with me in August...

You can take a look at the full range of Amphora Aromatics products on the website here. You can also visit their shop at 36 Cotham Hill, Bristol BS6 6LA.

With thanks to Amphora Aromatics for the gift of a Festival beauty kit. All words and thoughts are my own.


Thursday, 14 June 2018

Summer Holiday Reading

I've selected some of my favourite reads from the past year which I think are perfect for holiday reading. Yes, they're literary rather than poolside blockbuster as that's just not my style, but I think all of these books are accessible rather than the sort of read that feels like a penance. Starting from the top:

Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale - I was kindly sent a proof copy of this and have really enjoyed it; I've not read Patrick Gale before but I loved this coming of age story, set partly in 1970s Weston-super-Mare (I place I went to a lot as a child too) which follows Eustace and his family and relationships, with music and his passion for the cello as a compelling constant. (do note this book isn't out till mid August)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - moving stories are weaved together in this stunning tale set in wartime St Malo. Both a history lesson and an account of the personal tragedies experienced in occupied France and Nazi Germany. 

Us by David Nicholls - this was so resonant to me as a mother of a teenage son. Both laugh-out-loud funny and unbearably melancholy, it encapsulates the perfect holiday read as it tells the story of a couple on the brink of separation as they embark on one last family trip around Europe. I loved it.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani - comes with a big caveat: do not read if you're currently organising your back to work childcare. Dark and devastating, this is a taut novel that draws on real-life events to bring every parent's darkest thoughts to life. Slimani serves up a truly compelling story of a woman's mental breakdown and its unbearable consequences.

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay - the book everyone's talking about and with good reason. I haven't quite finished this one but it's had me in fits. A must-read for lovers of black comedy who a) aren't pregnant b) don't have any surgeries pending at the moment.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson - a gentle and simple tale, with an almost allegorical feel about it. Set in Finland, it tells the story of a young girl who spends the summer with her grandmother on an isolated island. As the curious girl and independent, sometimes crotchety grandmother come together, a tender tale of family love and relationships is revealed. And you'll definitely want to go to Finland after reading this.

For One More Day by Mitch Albom - I discovered this writer off the back of one of those handwritten recommendations in Waterstones and instantly fell in love with his writing. This is a lovely slice of holiday reading with a very poignant message about mother-son relationships. 

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

A Weekend in North Cornwall

When I was little, I didn't dream of visiting Disney Land or far flung islands. I only wanted to go to Cornwall. To me, a child who was bundled off to Italy every summer for the entirety of the school holidays, this little corner of England lived in my imagination as an unknown, mythical land. Friends would come back from trips to magical sounding places - Porthcurno, Lizard, Menagissey, Tintagel- and I'd be enchanted. 

While a 6 week holiday in Italy might sound the more appealing option, our family excursions certainly weren't glamorous and challenged the common understanding of a 'holiday' - this was in the 80s era of pre-budget airlines, so air fares alone would have crippled my financially challenged parents.  While in Italy, accommodation was courtesy of my aunt's cramped apartment, eating out was confined to long-winded meals at the homes of a variety of relations, and transport to and from the beach was via a packed, non air-conditioned bus that lives on in my nightmares and has given me a tendency to claustrophobia.

Don't get me wrong; I did enjoy some bits of these formative holiday experiences, but when September rolled around and everyone would come back to school with tales of their Cornish adventures, I always felt a little left out and curious to seek out this place that lay temptingly close to home yet beyond my reach. Amazingly, it wasn't until my 30s that my ambitions were finally realised. 
With our 20s spent looking further afield for travel inspiration, it wasn't until our first child was born that we decided to look closer to home for a burst of sea air. While I was sweating it out on that aforementioned bus, my other half was making the long journey from Manchester to Cornwall for his summer holidays - a seasoned visitor to the region, it had been years since he'd dipped his toes in the Cornish surf, so with a young baby in tow and very little money to put towards holidays, everything was set for my for first proper sojourn to Cornwall.
Fast-forward some 12 years, and a couple of weekends back we retraced the steps we took on that first holiday with our young son. On both occasions we were based in Bossiney, just outside Tintagel in North Cornwall. It's a great example of how you don't have to venture too far into the county to experience is breathtaking beauty.

At just over 2 hours drive (on a good day) from Bristol, it's totally doable for a two night stay and it made me realise that we really should take more advantage of the lovely scenery we have just a short distance from home. The exquisite Bossiney Haven is testament to the rugged beauty of this part of the coast; reachable via a steep but lovely descent, this beach is simply stunning. As it can get cut off at high tide, it's important to check the tide times when planning your visit. 

At low tide, a wonderful expanse of sand is revealed, spectacularly framed by the high cliff faces. There's a sea arch and a dark and rather scary sea cave to peek inside; a waterfall at the back of the beach completes the picturesque scene. Given its challenging access I'd imagine you could have this patch of beach to yourself out of season; on our trip we were joined by just a small number of visitors, so this pretty cove offers a real away-from-it-all experience.
We have a collection of photos of our little blonde haired one-year-old tottering about on the pebbles at Port Isaac - some of my favourite pictures of his baby years - so this was a place I was keen to go back to. Thankfully nothing much has changed in the intervening 13 years (aside from the Doc Martin themed tins of fudge on offer in the shops); it's still brimming with Cornish character and is a charming place to while away an afternoon. 
Buy a pasty from Nicky B's Pasty Shop and watch fishing boats arrive with their lobster pots and other treats from the sea. If seafood is your thing you can dine in style at Outlaws (a smart restaurant named after esteemed chef Nathan Outlaw), overlooking the harbour.

With just a cluster of winding streets and a few shops to explore (be sure to check out local pottery Kiln), Port Isaac is the sort of lazy place that doesn't demand much more from you than just hanging out on the harbourside or relaxing with a beer in the sunshine. I love it.

A short walk leads you around the headland to the smaller, equally tranquil Port Gaverne. Last time we were here, we celebrated a new pregnancy at the Port Gaverne Hotel pub, toasting our news while watching the sunset from this lovely spot. On this occasion, we drank Pimms and wondered how despite that previous trip feeling like only yesterday, we were now sitting in a pub with two kids glued to iPhones.

Another fantastic beach just a short drive from Tintagel is Trebarwith Strand. Characterised by beautiful rock formations, it's a rugged and invigorating place to fill your lungs with Atlantic spray and watch the surfers negotiate what can be pretty impressive rollers - the beach is considered by those in the know to offer one of the best breaks in the country.

If - like me - you prefer your thrills to be served in the form of a cream tea, there's a lovely little beach cafe where you can fill up on scones, jam and clotted dairy products. On the subject of cream tea, another place to get your fix is the charming village of Boscastle. 

Walking along its harbour on a sunny afternoon, it's hard to imagine the devastation wreaked on the village during flash flooding in 2004. The perfect place for an gentle amble, there's a National Trust visitor centre and cafe (inside you can find out more about the floods), plus, rather randomly, a museum dedicated to witchcraft. 

Walk along the harbour and take in the view beyond; there are also various coastal walks to explore around the village. Dotted with tea shops, pubs and a very good pasty shop, Boscastle is the quintessential Cornish village. 

As you can possibly tell from my frequent mentions of pasties, food featured heavily on our weekend trip. While chowing down on a pasty (see, I mentioned that word again) on a beach in the sunshine is perhaps one of my favourite things to do in Cornwall, I was keen to stop by another place that charmed us on our previous visit to the area - the village of St Kew, with its pretty church and even more appealing pub. 

The St Kew Inn is a must visit if you're in the area. Brimming with rustic charm and offering a gorgeous pub garden - ideal if you're visiting with little ones in tow -it's friendly and very reasonably priced for the standard of cooking on offer. I had one of the best pub meals I've had in a long while here; a delicious pan-fried hake served with spinach, mussels and bacon cream. It was exquisite. A hearty toad in the hole, bowl of mussels and beer battered cod went down equally well with my fellow diners. 

Fresh fish suppers, invigorating sea air, walks along the coast and cream teas in the sunshine - to be honest, that's all I want from a weekend away. Our trip reignited my love for Cornwall, a place that has perhaps been overshadowed on our recent travels for more accessible areas, or places that don't necessitate a slow crawl along the M5. But after a few years' hiatus, I know we'll certainly be back in this beautiful corner of the UK soon. I'm already planning my next trip...


Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Things to Do in London with a Teenager

While I am still somewhat in denial of the fact I am a parent of a teenager (I feel so old!) if there's one good thing to be said for the experience, it's that travel and days out are a far less stressful experience than they can be with younger children. And if you're travelling with just one of your children, you can look forward to a rather lovely experience. I'm a great believer in one-to-one parenting every so often, particularly during the tricky teenage years when it can sometimes feel like you're losing a bit of a connection to your offspring.
So, with an inset day at our disposal, me and the eldest son decided to take off to London for a couple of days. If I was a sensible parent I might have heeded the fact that Year 9 exams were kicking off the following week and this extra day's leave was most probably intended to be spent revising. Turns out train journeys are perfect for revising, though,  so I didn't feel too guilty about whisking my son off for a break from his books.

The wonderful thing about day trips with older children is the lack of needing to follow any routine or worrying about queuing; we arrived in the capital without any set plan and enjoyed wandering where the wind took us. Which happened to be the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden.

If, like us, you've exhausted all the big museums and are looking for something age appropriate to do indoors, this is a great option. It's free for kids 15 and under and an adult ticket can be used as much as you like within a year. My son isn't too cool to admit he still loves anything to do with transport and this thoughtfully curated space offers an insight into London transport over the centuries, with a heavy emphasis on the Underground. It's way more interesting than you might think - while my son immersed himself in the more serious engineering stuff I enjoyed finding out about the typography and tube map design that has become a gold standard in clear and simple signposting.

With sections on London buses, how the Underground was utilised in the war and the recruitment of women to help keep the city moving while the men were off fighting, there's lots to learn about here. There was also a brilliant exhibition of tube posters created by female artists, spanning the 1900s to the present day.
Another great museum for older children is the Imperial War Museum - we didn't visit on this occasion but it's definitely one to add to your list if you've done London's other free museums and galleries. And the appeal of the Victoria and Albert Museum is something older children will appreciate more than they might do when they're little. With an emphasis on aesthetics that might perhaps be a bit lost on younger kids, it's a brilliant place to introduce teenagers to everything from classic design to vintage fashion. 

Don't miss the opportunity to have tea and cake in the stunning cafe - three interconnecting rooms (the Gamble, Morris and Poynter rooms) offer a cafe experience like no other in the capital and are an absolute must do. The rooms make up the world's first museum cafe, boasting outstanding Arts and Crafts decor that makes for a truly grand cafe experience, without the exorbitant price tag.

Your average teenager nowadays is pretty cosmopolitan in their tastes (if you raise them on babyccinnos and expensive trips to Yo Sushi, they tend to turn their noses up at Burger King) which opens up a whole range of eating options in the capital. Take young foodies to Borough Market or Maltby Street, both fashionable locations that offer a brilliant way to soak up London's inimitable atmosphere while chomping on something delicious from all corners of the globe. On this occasion, we took refuge from the rain in Dishoom, a great option if your teenager is a curry aficionado. The food here is inventive, delicious and filling - the perfect place to refuel for your afternoon adventures. Although there are several branches in London - we visited the St Martin's Lane restaurant - it's nice to venture off the well-beaten Pizza Express/Wagamamas/Nandos path.
We always seem to end up at the Tate Modern but the experience really comes into its own with older kids who can make quite interesting critiques on the assembled artworks. We visited with a friend who's a member, gaining us free entry to to the brilliant Picasso exhibition currently on show. While you're in this neck of the woods, it's only a short hop to the Sky Garden which I've mentioned before on this blog - it's the ideal place to take teens and is free of charge.
Without wishing to make huge generalisations about gender, a trip to London with a teenage girl in tow might focus on its shopping opportunities (I've seen enough bored looking mums with their teens in the Oxford Street Topshop to know that for many teenage girls, this cathedral of fast fashion is high on their list of priorities when visiting the capital) but boys might not be so bothered about this aspect of the city. 

This can be annoying if you were hoping to squeeze in a bit of retail therapy yourself; being the really good parent that I am, I put all thoughts of a mooch about &OtherStories to the back of my mind and took my son to Spitalfields instead. We didn't really shop as such, but I did get a little bit of retail exposure and he was open to a laid back wander around the market and the cool streets around Brick Lane.

With its mix of independent shops (think Rough Trade Records and Slam City Skates), street art and cool cafes, it's a fertile stomping ground for teens looking for something a little less conventional than the West End, with plenty of opportunities to do a bit of hipster watching. Broadway Market and its surrounding neighbourhoods offers a similar experience.
If you've got a book loving teen in tow, Daunt Books in Marylebone is a lovely place to spend some quiet time away from the crowds. Filled with old school charm, it's a shop that provides the perfect antidote to the flashy mega stores of the West End and introduces your child to old school London - the polar opposite of the Apple Store, I defy anyone, young or old, not to be charmed by its calm and genteel ambience.

Finishing off our visit with trip to Carnaby Street and a quick wander through Soho, I was reminded of my teenage trips to London, of visiting Italian delis on Old Compton Street, searching the racks at Hyper Hyper for stuff to go clubbing in and hanging out in cafes at Camden Market. London has changed a lot since those days and while it might not have the unique charm it once did in our 21st-century globalised world, it's still an intoxicating and exciting place when viewed through the eyes of a 14-year-old. And you know what, it's fun hanging out with your teenage kids sometimes, especially when they're happy to indulge you...


Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Healthy Brunching at Beets 'n Roots

As you may know if you've read my posts on Clean Eating and School Policies on Health, I take an unfashionably moderate approach to all things related to health. Having grown up in a Mediterranean household, I'll never be able to omit pasta or ice cream from my diet, and - thanks to relatively good genes and no issues with allergies - I've never had reason to banish them from my kitchen.

I'm a great believer in following your own path when it comes to health and my own experiments with restrictive diets have left me miserable and exhausted. I'm lucky to have grown up in a part Italian household where eating freshly prepared, good quality food was a given; but it just so happened that olive oil-laced focaccia and the odd tiramisu was on the menu too.

In my own kitchen, I've continued the tradition - we never eat processed, ready meals but we also take joy in the odd slice of homemade cake, or an artisan gelato from Swoon. Fresh fruit and veg is also included in every meal and the only drink on the menu is water (and a good Chianti from time to time for the adults.) So yes, it's a moderate approach. But every so often, I do like to give myself a proper dose of the good stuff, be that in the shape of more frequent veg juices, a break from the alcohol and caffeine or going meat-free for a week. 

But as one of my cupboards will attest, this approach can result in an overstock of expensive ingredients that just don't get used (I'm thinking of the coconut flour that I used once in a cake that has remained untouched since about 2016) So I'm always happy to come across a cafe or restaurant that can cater to my wellness needs when I'm feeling a bit low and in need of a boost, without the need for an expensive trip to Holland and Barrett.

Beets 'n Roots on Cotham Hill fits the bill perfectly - it's relatively local to me and nestled in a quiet corner of one of my favourite areas of the city. Close to the bustle of Whiteladies Road, it's got a sun-trap of a terrace ideal for getting your dose of Vitamin D whilst enjoying something nourishing from the cafe's enticing menu.

I visited on a pleasantly warm spring morning, along with some other Bristol bloggers, to trial the cafe's new menu, devised specifically to pep you up and restore some glow after the long slog of winter. Sitting on the terrace, lapping up the sunshine with a delicious cold-pressed raw juice in my hand, I could literally feel the colour coming back to my pale cheeks. 

The cafe offers an imaginative choice of options for breakfast and brunch. As breakfast is perhaps my favourite meal of the day, it took me a while to narrow down my choice from the tempting offerings, from a healthy take on a fry up to virtuous Buddha Bowls stuffed with good stuff like acai, goji berries and quinoa. But it was the buckwheat pancakes that won my heart - laced with maple syrup and a dusting of coconut shavings and pumpkin seeds, they were delicious. 

Catering to the sweet tooth I simply can't fully shrug off (and at pushing 45 I don't think I'll ever lose it now) they felt like a treat rather than a boring healthy substitute for the real deal; rarely does such health food truly excite me, but these pancakes really hit the spot.

I chased them down with a side order of smoothie bowl,  essentially a more filling and interesting take on your standard smoothie that comes with a variety of your choice of topping. Merrily decorating mine with fresh fruit, cocoa nibs, berries, seeds and bee pollen (a first for me - I quite liked it) I felt like I'd been deposited in some kind of tropical health spa rather than a street in central Bristol. 

If we were in any doubt as to the benefits of eating this kind of food, at least every so often, Bristol nutritionist Rosie Letts, who has worked with the cafe to devise their juices, explained the process of cold pressing and the benefits of high quality, veg-based juicing. Again, not being in possession of the industrial-style, expensive kit necessary to do juicing well, it's always good to know you can get your fix easily elsewhere - the juices at Beets 'n Roots are well worth a detour and they tasted a lot better than my clumsy attempts at healthy veg combos. 

Other items on the carefully considered menu include the prerequisite avocado & tahini on sourdough (because you simply can't call yourself a healthy cafe without these three items on offer), soups, healthy burritos and bean burgers. And get this - there are even cakes on the menu too.

There are take-out options too, but if you really want to indulge in some self-care (that's not a word I like, to be honest, but the principle - taking time out, slowing down, giving yourself some small but significant treat each day - is something I can get behind) I highly recommend making a point of eating in, especially if you get the chance to sit on the terrace in the sunshine with your guilt-free treat. 

Beets 'n Roots is a friendly, laid-back cafe, the perfect place to head to if you're feeling a bit lacklustre or low and need some colourful goodness in your life - I certainly left a little lighter, a little more bouncy and a lot less jaded than when I arrived.

Visit Beets 'n Roots on Facebook and Instagram for more information. 

I visited Beets 'n Roots courtesy of the cafe and Socialight. All words and pictures are my own.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A Family Trip To Rome

Over the past 8 years or so I've been on a mission to introduce my children to my favourite places, both at home and further afield. They don't always quite get it; a trip to Soho's Bar Italia - my favourite cafe in the entire UK - left them thoroughly bemused and underwhelmed, not least because, unsurprisingly, they're not too fussed about coffee. Being rather urbane city dwellers, used to state of the art interiors and babyccinos, the rough-hewn, conspicuously outdated charm of the place was totally lost on them - they just couldn't understand why I would like somewhere so obviously behind the times. 

Travel trips have, thankfully, been a bit better received and it's been one of the most joyful aspects of parenting to share my love of certain places with them. This year, it was the turn of Rome to have a go at capturing their hearts as it did mine some 20 years ago.

People often ask me about the feasibility of taking children on city breaks, particularly to places as busy as Rome, and I would recommend you go with the knowledge that your trip won't be in the least bit restful. There are few times you'll feel more aware of the burden of parental responsibility than when trying to navigate the Roman metro system during rush hour - clasping my 9-year-old in an iron grip in fear of being separated on the heaving train, I can't say I was feeling the relaxed holiday vibes.

But the benefits so outweigh those moments of stress. It's important to keep expectations realistic too; in a city such as Rome, there is so much to see and the queues can be insane, so you'd be crazy to expect to try and tick off everything in the guide book. It's also nice to have a bit more time than just a couple of days, if your budget allows. 

We were in Rome for five days which allowed us to explore the city at a more leisurely pace without dashing from one historic sight to another. We made a pledge at the beginning of the holiday to queue for no more than two attractions during our stay, as it was clear that coming during holy week - perhaps the busiest time you could possibly visit Rome - equalled exceptionally high visitor footfall.

If you're visiting Italy for the first time, you might be shocked to find Rome isn't as picture-perfect as you might imagine. It's certainly stunning and heaving with architectural delights in all directions, but it's a working city, and one that often feels a little unable to cope with the impact of the modern world. It costs the guardians of the city huge amounts to maintain and excavate its numerous ancient ruins so the rest of the city can be a little overlooked in terms of infrastructure and amenities. 

But its crumbling chaos is an experience like no other - turning a shabby street corner to find you're standing in front of the Colosseum is really something, as is negotiating the more modern part of the city to suddenly find yourself in the heart of Dolce Vita Rome at the Trevi Fountain. 

We stayed at a great value Airbnb just moments from the Colosseum which made getting to all the city's key sights really easy. Located on a nondescript street off the busy Via Merulana, it offered great value family accommodation and was perfect for our needs. An important thing to bear in mind is that Rome Fiumicino is a bit out of the city so having central accommodation that isn't difficult to get to on public transport is useful if you're travelling with kids. 

Be warned that while shuttle buses are the cheapest way to get to and from the airport, it takes an hour and coming back we were lucky to get a seat - save the stress and pay a bit more to travel on the train. It cuts your journey time by half. 

Once in Rome, I would recommend limiting your use of public transport if you can - the metro system is incredibly overcrowded and very stressful. Buses are plentiful and a bit more comfortable but we ended up walking pretty much everywhere. You'll notice lots of ticket operators promising fast-track access to the key sights but I'd be wary; some may be genuine but there's no easy route to seeing the Sistine Chapel, though out of season queues might not be so bad. 

As I mentioned, we wanted to limit queue time, so we bought an all-in-one advance ticket for the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill which offers a great value option if you want to get your fix of the key ancient sites - look out for the cabin on the road opposite the Colosseum where you can buy tickets before your visit, minimising some of the queueing.

These key ancient Roman ruins are incredible - obviously you'll have to use your imagination for some of the buildings on the Palatine Hill and Forum, but you can't fail to feel the weight of so much history as you wander through the epicentre of the Roman empire. The Palatine is a particularly tranquil spot to recharge and take in Rome's unique atmosphere. I think this trio of sights is a must-see, and - along with the stunning Pantheon - gives young visitors the perfect introduction to Rome's incredible history.

No trip to Rome is complete without a bit of coin-throwing at the Trevi Fountain. Perhaps my favourite spot in the city, I would really recommend going as early as you can as its charms can be tempered by crowds of selfie stick-wielding tourists guaranteeing a return to the city by throwing a coin over their shoulders. Located in an atmospheric square, this iconic fountain is spectacular - grab a takeout coffee and find a perch so you can enjoy its beauty at leisure. 

From here it's quite easy to get to another of Rome's prettiest squares - the Piazza di Spagna whose cascading steps lead to the lovely church of Trinita dei Monti. The views from the top are well worth the climb. From here, you can mooch around Rome's glitziest quarters - the roads off the square are lined with some of the city's most expensive shops and restaurants.

For something a little more wallet-friendly, there are interesting, authentic neighbourhoods to discover in both Monti and Trastevere. The former is just moments from the Colosseum but feels very local; it's a bustling, recently rejuvenated area filled with trattorias, fashionable cafes and cute vintage shops. Trastevere - on the other side of the River Tiber - is Rome's old working class neighbourhood and is said to be the place to experience the authentic Roman identity. 

It's a great place to get some respite from the main tourist areas - we enjoyed sitting in the main square with a gelato, enjoying the sunshine and a spot of people watching. A great place for sundowners, dinner or just an afternoon stroll, Trastevere has plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars to tempt you.

Other must-sees include the graceful Piazza Navona and the Campo de Fiori market, both bustling and colourful squares surrounded by interesting side streets to get lost in. You'll no doubt encounter the Vittorio Emmanuele monument too; it's not to everyone's taste and jars with the city's prevailing architectural aesthetic but it's pretty impressive nonetheless; my kids were particularly keen to seek out the elegant looking traffic controller who stands amid the ceaseless flow of cars and buses, trying to create some semblance of order amongst the chaos.

A bit of a little-known gem lies just behind the monument, on the Capitoline Hill. The Terrazza Caffarelli is part of the museum complex here but can be visited for free. Offering amazing views across the Roman skyline, we had the space pretty much to ourselves during our visit. On a sunny day, it's a restful spot to enjoy a cool drink while taking in stunning views of Rome's rooftops and church domes. 

Talking of church domes, you can't really go to Rome without making a visit to the Vatican City. A very different side to the city awaits you in the world's smallest sovereign state, seat of the Catholic church where papal audiences are held for the public every Wednesday morning. 

On a previous visit pre-kids I failed to see the Sistine Chapel and didn't do so this time either - the queues were insane 20 years ago and they were insane this time, too - I'd love to see it one day but there's so much to see in the basilica itself (which again, you will have to queue for) that we didn't feel too bad about missing out on this experience.

As with most of the key sights in Rome, early arrival is crucial if you want to minimise queueing time. You can, of course, forgo the queues altogether and just enjoy the church from the outside before stocking up on your Pope Francis souvenirs and light-up Virgin Marys.

There are numerous other beautiful churches dotted across the city, from Baroque beauties to less ornate affairs but if the former style is your thing, be sure to add the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore to your itinerary - it's almost as impressive as St Peters but you don't have to queue to get in.

For me, no trip to Italy is complete without frequent coffee stops - I know I've properly arrived when breakfast involves propping up a bar, a perfect cappuccino in front of me and a grumpy old man reading the Corriere dello Sport at my side - quintessential Italy. 

Avoid the main tourist areas if you want to find the best coffee, with the exception of the wonderful Caffe Tazza d'Oro, located in a street overlooking the Pantheon. This place is an absolute must-visit. With its vintage interior, seemingly unchanged since the 1940s, the cafe is a deserved Roman institution and serves excellent coffee. 

Other places we visited for our cappuccino 'n' pastry hit which I'd recommend are the famous Caffe Sant'Eustachio (opt for bar service rather than the pricey seats outside) and Panella, an amazing bakery and cafe on Via Merulana. Heaving with all kinds of delicious patisserie and chocolate treats, this chic cafe was our breakfast stop of choice.

If you find yourself near Campo de Fiori, pop into Caffe Peru, yet another retro-style cafe-bar with amazing tile floors and other 1960s features - the perfect place for an Aperol away from the bustle of the market. 

For eating more generally, Rome isn't quite as renowned as other parts of Italy for its cuisine but it does all the usual standards pretty well. We had a fab pizza at Li Rioni, a stone's throw from the Colosseum. Great value and prompt service, it's the perfect place to refuel hungry kids after a day touring the city. Food on the go is also easy - you're never far from a deli where you can pick up a fresh-from-the-oven slab of focaccia or the local speciality, a 'Rosso' pizza (essentially pizza dough slathered in a yummy tomato paste.)

We had a lovely lunch at Di Qua, a sweet little restaurant we stumbled on while mooching around by Piazza di Spagna - considering its expensive location, we had some great pasta (be sure to try the Roman speciality 'cacio e pepe' during your stay) that wasn't quite as exorbitant as I'd been expecting. 

We also dined in style at L'Asino d'Oro, a place to try more experimental cuisine without breaking the bank, located in the heart of the Monti district, a great place to experience Rome by night. Stop by the bustling Ai Tre Scallini bar, just down the road from the restaurant, the perfect place to enjoy a glass of local wine while you watch the Roman night unfold.

For ice cream, I would definitely put Grom up there with the best - its pistachio is other worldly. There are branches across the city.  

But what did my children make of Rome? And would we recommend it for a family break? A lot might have changed in the 20 years since my last visit - it's a lot busier and dirtier than I remember, and I'm pretty sure we didn't have to queue for anything (there were no metal detectors to walk through at the Colosseum or St Peters - a sad reality of travel in the 21st century). 

But for sheer eye-popping history and a real sense of place, Rome is simply unbeatable. It's a trip best reserved for older children who have some context for Roman history and will get the relevance of the numerous ruins scattered across the city. My boys were, rather surprisingly, swept along with the romance of the Trevi fountain - sitting in the spring sun with them, we had a mutual moment of appreciation for those things that encapsulate the Italian experience: sunshine, history, architecture and beauty. 

I hope they'll remember sitting with their mum by the Trevi Fountain when they're older and make a return trip with their own children one day. We all threw our coins into the fountain, so I think it's a given...

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