Wednesday, 27 February 2019

A Weekend in Manchester

Being an adult is complicated. Just when you think you're nailing life, with all its attendant concerns - work, parenting, finances - something knocks you sideways and you realise you'll probably never really know how to truly do life right. Which is possibly why I spend quite a lot of time reminiscing about more simple times: a time when work was just about financing the rent cheque and going out dancing; when weekends were for sleeping in and hanging out, not about trying to pack in as many mundane domestic tasks as possible in 48 hours just to feel slightly on top of things at the start of the new week. When I think of that pre-home-owning, child-rearing period, I always think of Manchester, of being young and in love, of having limitless time to just, well, be. 

A teenage love affair with New Order set me on the path of discovery to this great northern city. Evenings ensconced in the family living room, watching things like The Tube and Old Grey Whistle Test, made me fascinated by life Up North. Having never been further than Birmingham, I became enthralled by the idea of this mythical land that lay beyond the Midlands. Home to amazing music, charismatic impresarios like Tony Wilson and era defining clubs like the Hacienda, 'Up North', or rather Manchester in particular, had a magnetism that I found intoxicating. 

Features on upcoming bands like the Stone Roses, of 'Madchester' fashion and acid house in magazines like The Face lured me in even further. I became friends with a guy from Bury at Sixth Form and realised that I loved the self-deprecating, no nonsense attitude of Northerners, and their wit and sense of humour. It's no wonder, really, that, within months of starting at university, I met a young man who hailed from just outside the city...we're still together today.

I fell in love with a Mancunian (well, someone from Saddleworth, but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it) and Manchester. Weekends at uni were frequently spent zooming up the M1 to hang out in the city. I'm sure it wasn't the case, but I always remember those days as being sunny - a far cry from the grey landscapes that come to mind when you think of the industrial North.
In those days, we'd scour the stores at Afflecks Palace, buy records at Eastern Bloc (owned by a member of 808 State) and hang out in cool stores, picking up club flyers to paste to the breeze block walls of our halls of residence. We'd go to the Hacienda and dance to Italo House and acid. Owned by New Order, I had my tiny mind slightly blown on passing Bernard Sumner in the club one night - he even said "Alright, mate" to my other half, an event that still crops up in conversation to this day: "Remember that time when Barney from New Order said hi to you in the Hac?!"
But that was a long time ago, and we don't go to Manchester much anymore. So with half term rolling around, and February always being a tricky one to get right in terms of travel plans - UK beaches seem too unpredictable - I decided we'd make a long overdue trip, with the kids, to a city we both hold with affection in our hearts. 

It's a great destination for families - easy to get around, with lots of free attractions and plenty of things to do indoors when those Northern skies, inevitably, open. It would be hard to describe Manchester as 'pretty' - it has photogenic corners, for sure, but this is a city that encapsulates the concept of Northern grit, with its imposing Victorian architecture and hints of its industrial heritage around every corner.  

There are graceful squares and smart streets here, such as St Anne's Square and King Street, while the revived Northern Quarter has brought a vibrancy back to the city that reminds me of my visits here back in the '90s. Back then it was all about the aforementioned Hacienda (now luxury apartments), Man U footballer's hangouts along Deansgate and the pre-club scene at the Dry Bar. But today the Northern Quarter draws the cool kids to hang out at its cafes, bars, vinyl stores and boutiques. 

We loved mooching about this area, stopping at amazing homeware store Oklahoma and Evelyn's, a gorgeous cafe-bar blending industrial-style fittings with a profusion of overhanging greenery - it's a great spot for breakfast, brunch or cocktails. We also loved Federal Cafe, just up the road. Plenty more hip drinking spots vie for your attention in this area; if we'd been visiting without kids we definitely would have hung out here come nightfall - I loved the look of some of the drinking haunts in the area, including Cane & Grain, The Abel Heywood and Trof.


Shopping comes in all shapes and sizes, from high-end fashion at Harvey Nichols and Selfridges (these are big stores rather than provincial concessions) to vintage pop-ups, with the huge Arndale Centre featuring all the usual high street stalwarts. But more interesting shopping lies back in the Northern Quarter, where you'll find independent boutiques and streetwear stores filled with hard-to-source Nikes and Vans in all colours and styles. 

We dragged the kids around Afflecks, our go-to shopping destination in the old days. Yes, they're still flogging 'And on the Sixth Day, God Created Manchester' t-shirts, alongside a proliferation of bee embossed merchandise (the bee is the symbol of the city) but there are lots of specialist, niche things to be found in this treasure trove of the weird and wonderful. Housed in a grand old department store, which started life as a drapery called Affleck & Brown, it's a maze of eclectic indie shops, selling everything from rare vinyl to American candy. You can pick up vintage curios, get a tattoo or a piercing, or enjoy vegan coffee and cake. It's a ramshackle feast for the eyes, with retro arcade games in the corridors and old band posters plastered to the walls - an absolute must-visit for soaking up Manchester's unique vibe.

Child-friendly all-weather entertainment can be enjoyed at the Football Museum (£25 for a family ticket) or the excellent free Science and Industry Museum - this is a brilliant collection of exhibits that trace Manchester's industrial history, taking in steam engines and locomotives, as well as textile machinery (more interesting than it sounds - this part of the country was built on cotton wealth) and early computers. The adjoining Air and Space hall is closed at the moment but will hopefully reopen soon, allowing access to a fantastic collection of planes and vehicles. An interactive science area is filled with stuff for kids of all ages to play around with. 

Manchester Art Gallery is another cultural highlight in the city. Entry is free and there's lots to see, including evocative paintings of the city by LS Lowry which are a highlight. On our visit there was a brilliant Martin Parr exhibition, featuring photos of Manchester from the 60s up to the present day, as well as a great collection focusing on Nordic Design. It's a lovely place to hang out, with a pleasant cafe and shop to explore, too.

If architecture is your thing, you're truly spoilt in this city. I love the contrasts that decorate the skyline in all directions here; it's a place where cranes abound and sleek high-rises stand next to squat old Victorian pubs and there are lovely gems all around if you look a little more closely. You can stumble upon unexpected loveliness in Manchester's urban heartland - the Peveril of the Peak pub, a beautifully tiled building and the only detached pub in the city - is a wonderful relic of Manchester's bygone days. 

Take a wander to the cathedral and stop by Shambles Square, home to the Old Wellington pub, built in the 1500s and the oldest building of its kind in the city. If quirky bookstores, housed in buildings that wouldn't look out of place in Brooklyn, are your thing, be sure to pop by Paramount Books on Shudehill. 

The sweeping square that houses the city's town hall is also worth a look, while Barton Arcade, just off Deansgate is a lovely place for a coffee - its tiled floor and glass dome is lovely. While you're here, if you have football fans amongst your number, don't miss a quick stop at the Classic Football Shirts shop.


Indoor child-friendly entertainment abounds in the cavernous Printworks complex, where you'll find a cinema, adventure golf and lots of family-orientated eating options. If you're playing it safe with food, try an find one of the chain restaurants that's housed in an interesting venue - thanks to the proliferation of vast, grand Victorian buildings in Manchester, many fail-safe restaurants have taken up residence in old banks and other impressive buildings. 

The Zizzi on King Street is a perfect example - if you must keep the kids happy with pizza, it's nice being able to do so in such impressive surroundings. If you do have more flexibility on the restaurant front, I highly recommend El Gato Negro, also on King Street - it serves exceptional tapas in a lovely setting. 

Music and football are defining features of this city; you can go on a The Smiths tour or make your own pilgrimage to key locations synoymous with this legendary Manchester band - we'd been wanting to visit Salford Lads Club for some time and did so on this occasion. With its dedicated The Smiths room and interesting history, it's worth a little detour if you want to see an old school lads club in action (it remains a working facility) and have an interest in Manchester's musical history. 

On this side of the river you'll find Salford Quays too - home to MediaCityUK, this area is well worth a visit. Kids will love seeing the buildings where their favourite CBBC and Cbeebies shows are produced. You can also visit the Blue Peter garden and check out the stars honoured in the walk of fame. ITV also has a base here, and tours of both respective broadcasters HQs are open to the public (the ITV tour focuses on its classic Northern drama Coronation Street.)

Look over the water and you'll catch a glimpse of Old Trafford, a reminder that this city is passionate not just about the arts and music but football too. I'm not really a football fan, but we did go on a tour of the stadium a few years back and I found it much more entertaining that I expected. 

But for me personally, Manchester is about music - it's might be a very long time since Voodoo Ray blared out of car stereos or members of New Order said hello to us in the Hacienda, but this city will forever remind me of my musical awakening and the vibrancy of Northern club culture, of kids wearing Stone Roses-style bucket hats and baggy flares. It's changed a great deal in the intervening years, but Manchester remains a defiantly brilliant counterpoint to its southern counterparts. And I remain in love with it.

For budget-friendly accommodation in the city, we stayed at the perfectly located Premier Inn Manchester City Centre (Arena/Printworks)

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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

A Weekend in Bruges

Despite what you may have seen on film, you're pretty unlikely to meet a couple of hit men in Bruges. Or a dwarf. You might, however, stumble upon a moustache convention, as we did on a previous trip - yes, a moustache convention, i.e. big groups of men walking around the city with incredibly coiffured facial hair. But that, I have to say, is about as edgy as things get in this most genteel of northern European cities. 

I love Bruges. I've visited the city countless times over the years, first on a school coach trip, then at regular intervals throughout my twenties as my boyfriend's dad lived in the city for 10 years. I know it pretty well, but that's not a difficult task given its size and manageability. And that's the first thing that makes Bruges the perfect place for a long weekend - you can easily cover it in 3 days. Add to that the fact that it's regarded as 'The Venice of the North' thanks to its pretty network of canals and elegant architecture, as well as a being a famed producer of some of the world's most delicious chocolate, and you have two more reasons for planning a visit. And did I mention the beer?

You won't find Bruges listed on the EasyJet destinations list; the nearest airport is Brussels, but most people arrive in the city via cross-channel transport. The Hull to Zeebrugge crossing makes the city accessible if you're travelling without a car; Bruges is about 25 minutes away from the port by shuttle bus. We usually travel on the Tunnel as the journey from Calais is quick and easy. The motorway deposits you in Bruges in just over an hour when traffic is clear. We financed this trip thanks to our Tesco Clubcard Vouchers, a brilliant way to make your money go further and redeeming your vouchers is really simple. And it's so wonderful to get some payback on all those long hours spent trawling the supermarket.

Hotels and B&Bs can be expensive in Bruges so I wouldn't even bother looking into these if you're travelling with children. One thing to note when choosing your Airbnb accommodation is that if you're based in the heart of the old city, parking might be an issue. Staying just outside the main hub, as we did, should mean you can find street parking (but you'll still need a permit or blue badge; our host supplied the latter)

We stayed at a brilliant Airbnb about 10 minutes from the city centre - owned by a super friendly and efficient host, it was the best accommodation of this sort we've stayed in. Modern, incredibly well equipped, sparkling clean and spacious. I can't recommend this place highly enough - take a look here.


As I've mentioned, Bruges is a supremely walkable, accessible city. You won't need your car to get around - walking and cycling are the preferred modes of transport here (cycle hire is readily available across the city.) The main sights are in a small cluster, running form the Markt and Belfort (the main square and bell tower), through the Burg (a smaller, picturesque square) and across to the canals. There are no expensive, must-see sights here - Bruges is more about strolling through squares, crossing bridges and finding quiet corners to drink in the typically Flemish ambiance of the city. 

It's a place to visit throughout the year; summers can be very pleasant and warm, and tend to be more reliable than the UK. The winters can get very cold - I've visited when temperatures have dipped so much that the canals have frozen over. Autumn is a lovely time to visit; during our stay we had bright, chilly days, which ended each evening with a spectacular sunset. When night rolls in, Bruges' special atmosphere really comes to life in its cosy bars, cafes and restaurants. You'll always find a log fire burning somewhere, the perfect accompaniment to enjoying a glass of Belgian beer.

Start by getting your bearings at the Markt, the city's main hub which is lined with colourful buildings, overlooked by the towering Belfort (bell tower) which you can ascend for unbeatable views across Bruges. The city's key shopping streets lead off this square. You won't really find cutting-edge fashion, or hipster cafes here; the vibe in Bruges is rather conventional and unchallenging. I always refer to it as more staid but no less charming Amsterdam. 


But what Bruges lacks in the hipster stakes, it makes up for in chocolate - virtually every other shop features mouthwatering displays of the sweet stuff to tempt you in. Be warned that some are very much tourist fodder and don't really offer the most authentic creations. Try The Chocolate Line, The Old Chocolate House and Depla for a more interesting experience. The Chocolate Line is an amazing shrine to all things cocoa-based and you can also see chocolates being made here. Everything from chocolate pills to chocolate lipstick is on offer, as well as a sublime selection of imaginatively flavoured truffles.

Other stores worth a visit include Hema, a sort of Tiger meets H&M meets Ikea, with a bit of Wilkos thrown in. It's great for good value stationery, homeware and kids clothing. And don't miss Be in Bruges, a collection of rooms dedicated to all things Belgian. As well as housing a beer wall and bar, it's a must-visit if you have children in tow - you'll find the 'Tin Tin Chapel' here, a lovely collection of models, books, posters and other memorabilia dedicated to Herve's legendary creation. Including obscenely expensive collectibles, it's perhaps not a place to spend your pocket money but you're free to browse (Belgium's other big names - the Smurfs and Rene Magritte - also feature.)

A little more tranquil than the bustling Markt is the Burg, my favourite square in Bruges. This picturesque spot is lined with ornate buildings, including the spectacular town hall (Stadhuis), a gold-encrusted gem of a building (and the venue of my sister-in-law's wedding) that epitomises the golden age of the Low Countries. But my favourite building in this square is the small but perfectly formed Church of the Holy Blood, particularly the beautiful Romanesque lower church, a simple, unadorned but atmospheric place that offers some respite from the bustle of the city. It's a truly lovely place.

Carry on beyond the Burg and you'll soon hit the canals, a defining feature of this pretty city. Crowds tend to monopolise the most picturesque views, eager for selfies overlooking the water, but Bruges never feels too invaded with tourists. I particularly love to wander around the canals in the evening, when the buildings are spot lit, casting stunning reflections on the water. I also love the stretch on the Djiver, a tranquil, tree-lined street where you'll find a flea market at weekends.

As I mentioned, the beauty of Bruges is in the wandering and seeing where you end up; if you pass the Fish Market and just keep on going, you'll eventually wind up near the pretty Astrid Park, a lovely haven, particularly in the summer. My father-in-law used to live in this area and it's one of Bruges' loveliest quarters - a little off the beaten track, you'll find some authentic bars and restaurants here, including the cosy L'Estaminet (one of my favourite bars in the city) and the Belleman Pub. 
A little further on again is a bit of a locals' secret - the excellent Bistro De Schaar. It's not cheap but the food here is delicious, with expertly cooked meats and seafood the speciality. Small and intimate, it's one of my favourite places to eat in Bruges. Also recommended, and in the same area of town, is the Nieuw Museum, another authentic place to eat in cosy surroundings.

You can, of course, see all the main sights from the comfort of a canal boat - these operate in key locations along the river and aren't expensive. It's a must-do during any trip to Bruges, taking in all the main historic buildings. Other must-sees include the fairytale-esque Bonfaciusbridge which can't fail to make you feel like you've been transported to medieval times, and the Beginhof, a collection of exquisite traditional white houses, once home to the city's unmarried, pious women and currently inhabited by an order of nuns. This quiet corner of Bruges leads onwards to the lovely Minnewater park, where the Lac d'Amour provides the city's most romantic beauty spot. 

To complete the Flemish idyll, you'll also find a collection of windmills on the edge of the city. At the other end of the scale, the busy Zand offers a more modern perspective - it's a large square lined at one end with restaurants and is home to a bustling weekend market. But it's the quieter corners of the city I enjoy most, particularly when it's a lovely day and you've found the perfect cafe where you can sit back and soak it all up. 

There are literally hundreds to choose from, from traditional creperies and pancake houses, to more contemporary espresso bars. We liked the quirky Li o Lait and the gorgeous Juliette, the perfect place to enjoy a waffle in the sunshine. Incredible patisseries and bakeries are also in abundance - Bruges isn't an easy place to watch your waistline. 

Museums and more churches vie for your attention amid the chocolate and beer shops but it's the latter we spent more time indulging in on this trip. Bruges isn't the cheapest of cities for eating out but you'll find plenty of places to refuel hungry kids - think cones of 'fritures' (rather than the French 'frites' - this is the Flemish part of the Belgium) served with a dollop of mayonnaise to keep them going. We also found a brilliant takeaway pasta place called Bocca - brilliant for cheap and tasty food on the go. There are also plenty of supermarkets across the city. For restaurant dining that won't break the bank, try the quirky The Hobbit - you can enjoy hearty meat dishes, including all-you-can-eat ribs and delicious kebabs. 

If you have room for beer, directly opposite lies the atmospheric Brugs Beerjte, the perfect place to sink a Brugse Tripel or two. In my days of visiting Bruges pre-kids, trawling the city's bars featured heavily, but it's not a place to come expecting much in the way of nightlife. But that's what's so appealing about Bruges - it doesn't demand anything too energetic of you. I can't recommend it highly enough for a truly laid-back city break. 


For more information about Bruges, take a look at the Visit Bruges website.
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Sunday, 7 October 2018

A Tour of Thatchers Cider

So, a little disclaimer at the beginning of this post: I'm not really a cider drinker. I know; it's hard to comprehend how you can have grown up in the West Country, live in Bristol and not be into the region's legendary beverage. But as someone with a low alcohol tolerance and an inability to drink pints, I've always assumed cider wouldn't be my tipple. Add in a 'memorable' experience at a cider festival during my university days (it didn't end well) and I've pretty much avoided the stuff ever since, bar a few underwhelming experiences that failed to convert me from my regular drink choices.

But of course, like wine, there is cider and there is cider. So when I got the opportunity to take a tour of my local producers, Thatchers, with a bit of casual cider tasting thrown in for good measure, I was keen to see if my mind could be changed. And everyone I know seems to be a Thatchers aficionado, so I had been wondering if I might be missing out on something. 

Furthermore, the company itself is one that interests me. I love producers that have a heritage like Thatchers. Based in the Somerset village of Sandford, and surrounded by the gently rolling hills of this lovely county, the Thatchers orchards have been in the care of the same family since 1904 and the business is currently under the management of the fourth generation of owners. 

I've been past the factory and orchards on many occasions during cycling rides along the Strawberry Line so the chance to actually step inside and have a wander around the farm was an exciting prospect. Anyone can do so - guided tours of the orchards and mill take place every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. At just £12 for a 2-hour tour, it's a great value experience for the cider lover in your life (you can also buy vouchers online.)

Annoyingly I'd been hoping for some early Autumn sunshine to complete the vision of bucolic Somerset that is presented to you on reaching the orchards, but sadly they were rain-soaked rather than sun-dappled. As such, I'd recommend coming with weather-appropriate clothing so you can enjoy the fascinating insights into how the orchards are managed and how the cider apples are cultivated; on a sunny afternoon I can't think of a nicer place to hang out for a while. 
Our friendly guide explained how Thatchers cultivates and tends its 100-year-old orchards which are home to no less than 458 apple varieties - that's possibly the biggest collection of cider apples in England.

Despite apple cultivation being a pretty intensive and time consuming process, Thatchers prides itself on innovation and a dedication to creating new apple varieties that bring something fresh to the cider market. Our guide also explained that the company partners closely with other farms both locally and further afield, helping to keep their farms flourishing as they supply the highest quality apples to Thatchers to top up the their own supplies. 

From the orchards, we were then led into the mill, a state-of-the-art processing factory where the apples go through the washing, grinding, pressing and fermentation stages. Huge 160-year old oak vats store the cider until it's ready to be canned; at the tasting at the end of our tour I particularly liked the 'Redwood' cider, a blend of Harry Masters, Dabinett and Yarlington Mill apples, which is fermented in the oak vats alongside an infusion of oak chips - you can really taste that gorgeous oaky flavour in this cider variety.

I love the feeling of heritage and the combination of traditional and high-tech processes on show at Thatchers. Alongside some impressive modern machinery, it's great to see these vast oak vats - dating back to a pre-mechanised era - still doing their job with the help of a once-yearly visit from a cooper (to be honest, I didn't even think they existed anymore!) But if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and these massive vessels remain perfectly suited to the important task of holding up to 135,500 pints of cider. 

A quick look at the canning floor - and you'll be pleased to know that Thatchers are dedicated to keeping their packaging plastic free (which means no more plastic 6-pack surrounds) - and then it was on to something a little more interactive; the chance to sample some classic and newer cider blends coming out of the factory. This is included in all tours, you'll be pleased to know. For the record, I DID come away feeling a bit more converted to cider. I really liked the oaky Redwood cider, which was light enough (6% alcohol) and dry enough to put thoughts of sickly super-sweet ciders out of my mind. 
The crisp and balanced Katy was another favourite. Some of the draft ciders felt a bit strong for my uninitiated taste buds but there wasn't one cider I actively disliked. I've never really considered cider being paired with food before or as a basis for a cocktail (there are some recipes here) so I'm keen to try experimenting on that front. Oh, and Thatchers also makes a sparkling apple wine (a bottle of which came home with me) and a gin. So there really is something for everyone in their range.

An absolute must-do is to combine your tour with lunch at the Thatchers-owned Railway Inn, a cosy pub and dining room that serves fantastic food, much of it using cider as a cooking ingredient. Really friendly service and a nice setting accompanies pub grub favourites (cider battered fish and chips, for example) with more unusual choices. I had a gorgeous butternut squash risotto with truffle and goats cheese. 

Puddings, unsurprisingly, heavily feature apples - my apple sticky toffee pudding was insanely good, while the apple crumble also looked delicious. If you haven't had quite enough cider after your visit to the farm, you can opt for a Haze sorbet, the perfect palette cleanser after your main meal. 

There's also a shop on site where you can buy the full Thatcher's range, as well as other locally produced foods. Choose from freshly filled cider kegs, limited edition Special Vintage ciders, mix and match options or special occasion gift boxes, as well as books and merchandise.

With really friendly and knowledgeable guides leading you through your visit, one of the main things I took away from my visit was that Thatchers is doing great things in the world of cider - I'm big on supporting local producers and while the company has come a long way since 1904, when William John Thatcher's farm was just a small, cottage industry, it's a company with an ethical outlook and dedication to keeping centuries-old traditions alive. 

With the Thatchers family very much still involved in the day-to-day running of the farm, it's a business that is both progressive (it has an award-winning graduate training programme) yet keen to keep its integrity and character intact. And while I'll possibly never be a huge cider drinker, sampling its products definitely swept away my uncertainties about cider. And I know plenty of people who will be keen to follow in my footsteps and take their own tour of this brilliant company...

For more information about Thatchers Cider, visit the website here. You can also check out the Railway Inn website here

I enjoyed a complimentary tour of Thatchers with Bristol Bloggers. All thoughts and words are my own. 

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Saturday, 22 September 2018

My Definitive Family Guide to Ibiza

Despite bombarding my Instagram account with pictures from our Ibiza holiday, my friends and followers seem - quite genuinely - to be interested in my posts. After each holiday we've taken on the island, I've had several emails and messages from people considering their own adventure there too, asking for help on where to go, where to avoid and how to experience the more authentic side of Ibiza.


So, may I present my personal guide, a round-up of tips and recommendations garnered from four trips to the White Isle over the last few years. 

I certainly can't claim to be an Ibiza expert and this isn't intended as a definitive guide. But it's written for those people who are intrigued by the possibility of an adventure on this small island but just don't know where to start with their research. 
Hopefully my tips will help you dispel some myths that might colour your impression of Ibiza; it's all too easy to think of a tabloid vision of high rise hotels and San An mega clubs when considering a holiday here, but that image just isn't representative of this magical place at all. 

But all good holidays start with some thorough research - I hope this offers a useful starting point if you've turned your mind to next year's holiday destination...

Great Family-friendly bases
Santa Eularia promenade
Santa Eularia

I think this town is the perfect base for a family holiday in Ibiza. We stay on the outskirts of the town in a lovely little area called Siesta. It's about 10 minutes walk to Santa Eularia itself. As well as a pleasant sandy beach, the town has a lovely harbour and a promenade lined with cafes, bars and restaurants. There are plenty of shops and and other amenities too - supermarkets, bakeries and chemists, for example. Development has been kept relatively unobtrusive and low key - while there are hotels here the resort feels predominantly Spanish.

San Joan

I love little San Joan, in the North of the island. Villas abound in the countryside around the town, offering easy access to the gorgeous beaches in this part of the island. Tranquil and infused with the hippy spirit of Ibiza, San Joan makes a perfect choice if you want more of a get-away-from-it-all experience. 
San Joan
Cala Llonga

The most developed of my four main suggestions for a base in Ibiza. Rather too built up for my tastes, I think this spot makes a good choice for families with younger children as you have literally everything you might need close to hand, as well as direct access to a sheltered sandy bay. You are also close to some other lovely beaches in the East and the North, plus Cala Llonga is home to one of my favourite spots on the island - the gorgeous Amante, a must-visit if you want to treat yourself to cocktails with a view.

Cala Nova

A great option for a budget-friendly holiday - Cala Nova has a campsite offering a selection of traditional tents, yurts and bungalows. It looks rather lovely and is situated directly on the beach. With its surfy, unspoilt vibe, this is a cool spot, ideal for those with older kids (the water can be quite choppy here so perhaps not so good for those with younger children in tow) plus there are some really interesting bars and beach clubs lining the sand - Aiyanna is a particular favourite.
Cala Nova

Worth considering:

Portinatx - another large resort in the North of the island with a lovely sandy beach. Quite built up but with pleasant corners, particularly the amazing Los Enamorados boutique hotel which is located on a pretty beach at the quieter end of town.

Playa d'en Bossa - I wouldn't recommend staying here at the height of the season if you're travelling with children as this is very much the party side of the island with a suitably youthy vibe (the beach is home to both Ushuaia and the Hard Rock Hotel, as well as numerous beach clubs). But we based ourselves here for a visit at half term and it was perfect for our needs. Out of season, when the crowds have gone, you'll have the long sandy beach to yourself, plus you can easily reach lovely Ibiza Town which lies just around the headland. There are also lots of good amenities, though the resort itself is a little charmless in places.
Cala Vadella
Cala Vadella - a lovely spot in the West of the island. Small, it may be crowded in high season but makes a great choice at other times of the year. A very charming place with a lovely sandy beach, there are some hotels and villas dotted around the hills. Also offers easy access to some lovely spots in this part of the island, including the gorgeous sunset beaches around Cala Comte and the bustling village of San Josep.

Favourite Beaches - East

Cala Llenya

A wide sandy cove with plenty of room to spread out on. Lovely clear water lined with dramatic red cliffs, this is a very family-friendly spot with good amenities including a beach bar. Another bonus - there is plenty of free parking. 

Cala Mastella

A gorgeous little cove with sheltered swimming and crystal clear water for snorkelling. Plenty of parking but the beach can get busy - come early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Definitely try and get a table at the rustic El Bigotes restaurant, an Ibizan institution. 
Cala Mastella
Cala Nova

Surfy beach with a hippy vibe and a great place for breakfast, lunch or cocktails at the gorgeous Aiyanna beach restaurant.

Cala Pada

Unpretentious and family-friendly spot that never gets too busy. Sandy and with great swimming, it's ideal for little ones. I like to walk around the headland to discover little hidden coves where you can have a moment of undisturbed peace. There's a great fish restaurant overlooking the beach and a cafe where you can enjoy a cafe con leche with a sea view.

Favourite Beaches - North
S'illot Des Rencli
S'illot Des Rencli

Exquisite little cove with the most amazing snorkelling. You have to get here early (we usually head out first thing and eat our bakery breakfast on the beach) as the beach itself is tiny but it's well worth a visit as it's a truly lovely spot. There's a good seafood restaurant overlooking the beach and you can walk across the fisherman's shacks to get a bit of privacy and space if it's crowded.

Cala Xuclar

Another gorgeous spot with a very Northern hippy feel about it. Unspoilt and quite tucked away, there's a cute little chiringuito here and that's it - no other development gets in the way of this magical little beach. Another great snorkelling spot.

Cala d'en Serra

Hard to get to (we thought our hire car might not make it back up the steep and pot-holed track leading to the beach) and totally unspoilt, this little cala is perfection. It did get invaded by jellyfish when we visited, however, but on a jellyfish free day, I can't think of a nicer spot to soak up the bohemian Ibizan vibe. 
Cala Xuclar
Favourite Beaches - South

Ses Salines

I can't claim to like the South so much - perhaps I feel a bit too old for this area which tends to be a bit too populated by Ibiza's beautiful people to make my middle aged self feel truly comfortable! But for people watching and sundowners, Salines beach is worth a visit, particularly if you're craving to hear some tunes - it's home to two great beach bars, Sa Trinxa and Jockey Club. Es Cavallet, around the headland, is worth a visit for the lovely El Chiringuito, the perfect place to nurse a cocktail and watch the beautiful people party.
S'Estanyol
S'Estanyol

Located on the South East, this spot is gorgeous. We arrived early in the morning and had the beach totally to ourselves - and it never really got busy as the day went on. Although it's just moments from the busy town of Jesus, this beach has a hidden feel to it. We had a lovely but ruinously expensive lunch at the beach restaurant, Cala Bonita. If you're on a budget, go for drinks or tapas - the decor here is absolutely divine.

Talamanca

Ibiza Town's nearest proper beach. It's not particularly scenic but there are far worse places to spend a morning - the sea is lovely and its a long, wide sandy beach so ideal for children. Lined with beach cafes, bars and restaurants and within spitting distance of Ibiza Town marina.

Favourite Beaches - West
Cala Comte Beach

Cala Vadella

An idyllic sandy beach with a family feel. Lined with a small collection of cafes and restaurants, it's a lovely place to while away a beach morning. The pizza place overlooking the beach - Bon Sol - is the perfect place for a lazy family lunch.

Cala Comte

Spectacular sunsets come as standard on this stunning collection of beaches. Be warned it gets incredibly busy here during high season; in October we had far fewer sunset watchers crowding our view. Overlooked by the bohemian Sunset Ashram bar (lovely but be aware that a sundowner bought here isn't cheap!) the water here is all kinds of turquoise and the vibe is quintessential Ibiza - very cool if you can cope with the crowds.
Sunset Ashram at Cala Comte
Cala Salada and Cala Saladeta

Two linked beaches close to San Antoni but as far from its tackiness as you can get. Truly stunning beaches, they do get busy with the clubbing set who come here to sleep off their partying excesses. Great people watching but the smaller Cala Saladeta is quite tricky to access, especially for little ones.

Eating and Drinking

Bar Anita

The very essence of old school Ibiza. No nonsense, hearty home cooking is order of the day here, and the atmosphere is great, particularly on the little vine covered terrace. I love this place - it fills the kids up and is kind on the wallet, plus it feels very authentic. A lovely spot for a drink after a wander around the pretty village of San Carlos.
Bar Anita 
La Paloma

Quite possibly my favourite restaurant in the world. Set in a stunning garden in the heart of the Ibizan countryside, La Paloma is a wonderful experience, day or night. Lunch is a more affordable option with healthy, delicious food on offer but it's the setting that blows me away every time. I absolutely adore this place.

La Bodega

A great tapas bar in Ibiza Town. The staff look like they've walked out of a Pacha advert from the '7os but while the vibe is cool, service is friendly and efficient, and the food is really good and very affordable for Ibiza Town.
La Paloma
Giri Cafe

Gorgeous cafe and restaurant in San Joan. Breakfast here is affordable and a real treat while lunch is also not quite as expensive as you might expect for somewhere so lovely. Served in a gorgeous garden, surrounded by sunflowers and daybeds, it's a wonderful place to enjoy food mainly grown on site. Service can be a little slow but it's not the sort of place you want to rush through.

Macao Cafe

Outstanding Italian food in the upmarket village of Santa Gertrudis. The pasta here is divine, plus they do kid-pleasing pizzas and meat and fish dishes. Not a cheap option, but the cooking is very good here and the setting - a fairy-light strung garden - is sublime.
Giri Cafe
Bar Costa

Simple food served overlooking the bustling square at Santa Gertrudis. If you just want something snacky - as kids often do - this place is ideal; they only serve cheese, cured meats, pan con tomate and rustic sandwiches. Cheap and cheerful, there's often a queue for a table but get here before 8pm and you shouldn't have to wait long. A great spot for a beer and a perfect bocadillo as you watch the evening unfold.

Los Otros

Branches in both Sant Joan and Santa Eularia harbour. The San Joan branch has a lovely terrace and concept store, with DJs and live music on offer some days. Very friendly service, it's a lovely place for a coffee or a healthy juice - come on Sunday when the hippy market is on so you can soak up the atmosphere while you take a pit stop.
Los Otros at Santa Eularia
Aiyanna

I love this beach bar overlooking Cala Nova. With plenty of room on the terrace if you've got kids, it might feel quite sophisticated but it's very welcoming and friendly. The cocktails here are delicious. Free morning yoga sessions take place and it's also a great spot for a pre-beach breakfast.

Amante

Owned by the same crew as Aiyanna, this restaurant and bar has a priviledged position overlooking a stunning beach that feels private but is actually a public beach. The restaurant is expensive so we've never eaten here but have enjoyed many an evening watching the moon rise over the water from the comfort of a daybed. An absolutely gorgeous spot.

Amante
Beachouse

The classiest place to hang on Playa d'en Bossa. It's not open outside of the main season, but if you visit in the summer and fancy treating yourself, this beautifully designed beach bar and restaurant in the middle of the bay is pretty special place to do so.

S'Escalinata

My favourite place for a glass of Cava in the old part of Ibiza Town, Dalt Vila. Named after the cascading steps that form the bar's outside seating, this lovely place is so atmospheric at night and offers a great place to soak up the bustle and excitement of Ibiza Town.
S'Escalinata


Pizza Enfarinarte

A useful option for families when you don't want to spend out on an expensive meal but don't fancy cooking - this excellent take out pizza place in the village of San Carlos is a lifesaver. Great value and good quality pizzas - you can sit in the little square in the heart of the village, before enjoying a glass of wine at Anita's or an ice cream from gelateria Viccio.

Must do experiences

Boat Trip to Formentera

Big disclaimer - it will be mega busy in high season but to visit Ibiza and not go to Formentera would be a shame. The beaches here are spectacular. There are lots of regular shuttle ferries from Ibiza Town harbour, as well as services from other key spots on the island (we went from Cala Pada, though some options take longer - check before you buy if you want to ensure you get a direct 30 minute crossing)
Formentera
Yacht Spotting in Ibiza Town

My kids could have spent hours gawping at the outrageous yachts lined up along Ibiza Town's harbour. Incredible vessels owned by the world's mega rich make their way to the island in the summer - this year we spotted one owned by Giorgio Armani but all kinds of ridiculous wealth is on display on the strip. It's all very ostentatious but offers a fascinating insight into another world.

Snorkelling

Don't forget your snorkel! The waters in Ibiza are swimming with fish and it's wonderful to see your children exploring the world under water, especially as many beaches are quite shallow and very sheltered, offering safe conditions for little ones. We found that buying a full face mask was a great investment - they're much easier to use if you have young children.

Hippy Markets

My favourites are Las Dalias at San Carlos and the Sunday market at San Joan. The former operates at day and night - come in the evening and you get a full 360 entertainment experience, with shopping, food, live music and DJs on offer. This is one of my favourite things to do in Ibiza - the atmosphere at Las Dalias is really fun, really colourful and the music policy feels very authentic. The central bar area features old school Ibiza DJs who play brilliantly eclectic music a world away from the EDM churned out by the likes of David Guetta and co. And you can drink cocktails and buy amazing things. Finally, there is a kids area featuring the most amazing carousel you're ever likely to clap eyes on. 
Entertainment at Las Dalias
The Sunday market at San Joan is also a must-visit if you want to experience hippy Ibiza at its best - you'll see outdoor yoga sessions, live music and get to peruse some lovely stalls selling everything from organic beauty products to exquisite jewellery.

Concept Store Shopping

Staying with the subject of shopping, two shops must get a mention. For a shopping experience like no other, visit Sluiz, a vast emporium filled with amazing interiors and fashion items; it also houses a stunning bar. My idea of heaven. Over the road lies the smaller, more bohemian La Galeria Elefante, a stunning treasure trove of gorgeous things from around the world. From hand-embroidered cushions and throws to ceramics and books, there is something truly magical about this shop, housed in a traditional finca on the way to Santa Gertrudis. 
La Galeria Elefante

Sunset Watching

Oh, Ibiza - your sunsets are so incredible! Take your pick from a number of places to watch the sun dip into the sea, from the buzzy sunset strip of San Antonio to the more tranquil spots in the North. My personal recommendations are Benirras Beach (but not on a Sunday when parking is a major issue), Cala Comte and from the car park above Cala d'en Hort where you can watch the sun slip into the sea by the mythical Es Vedra rock. You can also get a good sunset experience from Dalt Vila in Ibiza Town - the pink skies cast a gorgeous glow over the church and crumbling old houses.

Wandering around Dalt Vila and Sa Penya

Ibiza Town's old walled city is an atmospheric place for an evening wander. By day, start with breakfast at Croissant Show (great people watching) before walking around the ramparts and taking in the views over the lower town and harbour. In evening, the place really comes to life with shops open till late and people tumbling out of the bars and getting in the mood for a night at Pacha. Everyone from elderly couples to drag queens take to the streets, which are colourful and carry a real buzz of excitement for the night ahead.
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It's edgier around Sa Penya and very sophisticated around the main Dalt Vila square. Back in the lower town you might still catch a club parade or see some interesting street performers. There are some truly interesting shops to pop into - I love Vicente Ganesha for properly Bohemian Ibizan clothing that captures the essence of pre-commercialised Ibiza.

You can read my previous blog posts about Ibiza here and here.

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