What to do in Paraty, Brazil

This autumn I had an opportunity to visit South America for the first time. I don’t need to tell you how excited I was! My discovery of this amazing continent has started with Brazil.

After spending 5 days in Rio de Janeiro (a separate post coming soon), I headed to Paraty. Perched between the sea and the mountains, 125 miles south of Rio de Janeiro, this charming town is not to be missed. Its historic centre is quite small so you can easily explore it in a day. I wouldn’t normally stay longer than a day but since I didn’t organise this trip myself, I was offered to spend two days there and thanks to this have fallen completely in love with this place.

I was fascinated by the colonial architecture of Paraty’s historic centre but the locals were the reason this experience was so special. As the town is a popular tourist destination, everyone speaks English (that’s not the case in bigger cities) and is super friendly!

Paraty

Things to do

Take the time to admire Paraty’s Portuguese colonial architecture with its 17th and 18th century buildings with colourful doors and windows dating back to the time when it was an important port during the Brazilian Gold Rush.

After the gold rush, the town became the centre of the sugarcane production and later the coffee production. Paraty is still well-known for its cachaça, a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice, most famous outside of Brazil as the main ingredient of caipirinha cocktail. Make sure to visit local distilleries to sample some locally made cachaça.

Paraty

Take a boat tour to discover some of the area’s most idyllic islands and beaches. Most of the tours start at around 11am and takes about four hours. Alternatively, take the time to wander around and absorb the town’s history while the majority of its visitors are away on one of the tours.

Paraty
Paraty sea

Try locally roasted coffee at cafe Montanita and chat with their friendly baristas.

For an unforgettable local experience, learn to cook Brazilian dishes with the wonderful hosts Yara Castro Roberts, a Brazilian chef and author of the book The Brazilian Table, and her husband Richard Roberts at their Academy of Cooking & Other Pleasures. They will welcome you to their beautiful home for a magical evening of cooking, chatting and eating while learning about Brazilian culture, food and the couple’s international experience.

Paraty old town
Paraty church

Where to stay

There are a few hotels, hostels as well as bed and breakfast in the historic centre. I stayed at the Porto Imperial, a charming hotel located in a former commercial warehouse, dating back to 1804, right in the historic centre, where boats used to dock to transport goods arriving or departing from Paraty.

Porto Imperial Hotel Paraty

Paraty is also home to a lovely puppet theatre - Teatro Espaco where you can enjoy an incredibly touching performance. The puppets are so real that almost look like humans!

Teatro Espaco Paraty Puppet theatre

If I ever go back to Brazil, I hope I will have an opportunity to return to Paraty but for now I’m looking through those photos that are bringing back warm memories.

Paraty
Paraty

48 hours in the most beautiful parts of England with MGallery by Sofitel

I am often asked about the best day trips from London. This trip was slightly longer than a day but it should give you plenty of ideas for a day trip or even for a week of travel around England. As I am based in London I usually travel only for a day but thanks to MGallery by Sofitel this time we had an opportunity to stay a bit longer and explore more.

The first stop of our trip was Windsor for an afternoon tea at Castle Hotel Windsor.

Windsor Castle

On Sunday Windsor was incredibly busy so we were glad to find a moment of calmness over a delicious afternoon tea in the Castle Hotel. The pale green elegant Georgian building is located right in the centre, just around the corner from Windsor Castle. The hotel has been in service since the 15th century and has been awarded eight Royal Warrants.

Afternoon tea at castle Hotel Windsor

After savouring all the treats we headed to the Cotswolds and, of course, we couldn’t miss a quick visit to Castle Combe. The day was a bit rainy but the village looked even more authentic with an overcast sky. If you haven’t been to Castle Combe yet, you definitely need to add it to your list as it’s surely one of the prettiest villages in England!

Castle Combe

We got there in no time thanks to our trusty companion, Mini 3-door Hatch that was kindly provided to us for the trip. We had so much fun driving this little beast!

You don’t need more than couple of hours in Castle Combe as it’s so tiny.  And it’s only 30 minutes away from Bath where we were staying for the night.

We arrived in Bath just in time to see the lovely Francis Hotel in the daylight. The hotel is located in the very heart of Bath and occupies seven of the original 18th-century townhouses on the Queen Square. The city of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the hotel is Grade 1 listed. Throughout the 18th century, Queen Square remained a residential district of Bath. Soloman Francis, a local builder, first opened a hotel at No.10 in 1858. Later, the hotel has expanded.

Francis Hotel Bath

Taking the advantage of staying overnight in the city we decided to pop in the Roman Baths, a well-preserved Roman site for public bathing. It is now open as a museum, you cannot bath there anymore but there are plenty of other spas in the area if that’s what you are after.

Roman Baths in Bath

If you are planning to visit Bath you can also check out this post from my previous trip.

I can talk about Bath forever as it’s one of my favourite cities in the UK (and if you are visiting for the first time you need to allow at least a day to see everything) but it was time for us to head further.

Having initially planned to spend more time in the Cotswolds, we realised that we could also visit Frome and Wells in Somerset so we decided to make a little detour.

Packed with historic buildings and lovely independent shops, Frome is worth visiting for a few hours.

Wells Cathedral

I loved Frome but a real discovery of this trip was Wells. Most known for its Cathedral, Wells had city status since medieval times and is now considered to be England’s smallest city.

Vicar's close in Wells

After admiring Vicar’s Close, claimed to be the oldest purely residential street with original buildings surviving intact in Europe, it was time to head to Cheltenham where we were staying for our second and final night of the road trip.

Cotswolds

Passing through the pretty villages of the Cotswolds we have arrived to the Queens Hotel in Cheltenham.

Impressed by the grand white (Grade II listed) building of the hotel we had a really warm welcome with cocktails waiting for us in our rooms. The hotel has recently undergone a complete restoration but it still retains many of its original features including the wallpaper designed by Augustus Pugin, a key feature in 19th century architecture and design. We loved the gorgeous Georgian staircase too!

That was the end of our exciting girls’ road trip but I will surely return to those beautiful areas of England and will hopefully stay at MGallery by Sofitel hotels again.

Queens Hotel Cheltenham

In partnership with Mgallery by Sofitel and Mini. All opinions are my own.

2 days in the French part of Switzerland with Nespresso

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by Nespresso to spend 2 days in their headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland to learn everything about their coffee production process and sustainability initiatives. 

JM4A2915.jpg

I am very excited about the opportunity to work with Nespresso over the next 6 months as I've been an active user of their products for a few years already, and it's always fascinating to know more about the brand you encounter with on a daily basis.

For me coffee drinking is a serious business - I usually only drink one cup a day (2 cups max when I'm on holiday) so I want to make the most out of it! 

view of Lausanne from Nespresso campus

We started the trip with a tour of the campus that has this gorgeous view. We then learned about the sustainability program that the company has implemented on all levels - starting from the coffee farms to the factories and finishing with the packaging - Nespresso capsules are made of 100% aluminium which is fully recyclable (more on it later).

After a delicious lunch and coffee, we set to explore the factory where the capsules are produced. No pictures at the factory are allowed but I can assure you it's made up to all the possible standards of Swiss efficiency - the factory is a closed loop system in terms of energy consumption. Factory tour followed by coffee tasting and we even had an opportunity to channel our inner baristas (not as easy as it seems!).

coffee tasting

The day finished with a wonderful dinner at Lausanne Palace Hotel where we stayed for the night. It was really interesting to try the whole menu inspired by Nespresso coffee.

Dinner at hotel Lausanne palace

Next morning I set my alarm early to have some me time to wander around the beautiful Lausanne. I stopped in the old town and then made my way to the lake.

Lausanne lake Leman

The morning officially started at Nespresso boutique with a coffee recipe workshop. We tried a few coffee cocktails based on unexpected flavour combinations and saw a latte art demonstration just to realise once again that it's not as easy to make as it looks.

The day continued with a visit to the capsule recycling plant in Moudon where we saw with our own eyes that not only the aluminium capsules are fully recyclable but the coffee grounds are too - they are being separated at the facility and are later used for green energy and compost, so nothing goes to waste. 

When I shared stories from the trip on my Instagram I received many questions about the capsule recycling. There are a few options that are currently available in the UK:

- take a full recycling bag to your local Boutique

- request a collection when placing an order online 

- drop off your bag at any CollectPlus point (in case your Boutique is far away) with a dedicated label - more information here.

Did you know that Switzerland produces some delicious white wines? During the trip, we had an opportunity to meet Blaise Duboux, owner of the vineyard in Lavaux region and 8th generation winemaker. Blaise uses recycled coffee grounds to fertilize and nourish the soil in his vineyard. Not only the wines taste amazing but the views are incredibly beautiful too!

Lavaux vineyards

I was a guest of Nespresso. All views are my own.

What to see in Japan in March - my trip highlights

Japan is charming, exciting and overwhelming. You visit once and become a fan forever.

It's impossible not to fall in love with its traditions, temples and people. No matter if you prefer discovering cities or nature - Japan has it all. 

This trip was my second time in Japan and I'm really hoping not the last one as I still have a long list of places I'd love to see. There's a lot to cover so in this post I'm going to share the highlights of my recent trip to Kanto region. 

As my trip started in Tokyo here's a photo of the beautiful Imperial Palace - a separate post on Tokyo is coming soon. 

Tokyo Imperial Palace
Tokyo crossing

Sadly, the weather wasn't great on arrival but that view from Tokyo City View in Roppongi hills is still amazing - offering wonderful skyline perspective of this buzzing city.

Tokyo Roppongi hills view

Shousenkyo Ropeway

Having left Tokyo and moving further north we got lucky to be able to see Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan and one of its well-known symbols. This view is from Shousenkyo Ropeway, where you go up on a funicular to get to the top of the observation deck.

Mount Fuji

Matsumoto

The following night we stayed in Matsumoto and couldn't miss an opportunity to take an early morning walk to Matsumoto Castle, the oldest castle donjon remaining in Japan. Because of the elegant black walls, Matsumoto Castle is sometimes called 'Crow Castle'.

Matsumoto Castle

Jigokudani monkey park

Our next stop was the famous Jigokudani monkey park. Jigokudani means "Hell's Valley". The name derived from the very steep cliffs surrounding the area with the steam and boiling water coming from the hot springs.

The park is famous for its wild Japanese macaques, more commonly referred to as snow monkeys, that come to bath in the hot springs. It wasn't snowing when we visited and not very cold so there were not too many monkeys bathing but they were still so fun to watch!

Jigokudani Snow monkey park

Zenkoji temple

It was sad to say goodbye to the monkeys but we had to move on with our packed programme. Zenkoji Buddist temple is located in Nagano, the city you might remember as 1998 winter Olympics host. With Olympics coming back to Japan in 2020 (summer Olympics in Tokyo this time) it was even more interesting to see this city. 

Zenkoji temple

I love visiting Japanese temples and shrines - it's so great to see how Shintoism and Buddism peacefully coexist together with many people following both religions at the same time. Next to the temples you can see omikuji - fortune-telling paper strips that can range from having a great blessing to a great curse. Many Japanese people carry the good ones with them but leave the bad ones hanging on the trees or next to the temples.

Plum blossom

Japan is famous for its sakura blossom but not many people know that plum trees bloom before the cherry trees and are popular in Japan too! 

We got lucky to visit Akima Bairin plum farm in Annaka that has 35000 plum trees. As you can see, the flowers were just starting to appear but it was still impressive to see. Plums are grown to produce plum wine, to be eaten pickled or in those sweets that we tried in the plum farm's shop (pictured below).

Akima Bairin plum farm
Akima Bairin plum farm

During this trip, I got to try a lot of traditional Japanese food I haven't tried before. It's very common to have lunch or dinner consisting of a few small plates. Pictured below is okkirikomi - hand-kneaded flat, wide udon noodles and seasonal vegetables, simmered in plenty of broth seasoned with soy sauce or miso that are popular in Gunma prefecture. I loved this lady working in the restaurant and asked to take her portrait. She didn't speak any English but our guides helped me to translate.

Another interesting experience was the stay at the traditional Japanese hotel - ryokan Nikko Hotel Seikoen. There are many ryokans across the country and they usually include a hot bath (onsen), sleeping on a tatami on a futon bed on the floor and set traditional Japanese breakfast and dinner menus. I loved the colourful kimonos we all got to wear too!

Ryokan Japan

Nikko Toshogu

It was raining and the trip was almost coming to an end, but one of the most wonderful places was still waiting for us to be seen. Nikko Toshogu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a beautifully decorated shrine complex consisting of more than a dozen buildings set among the old cedar trees. The atmosphere there is truly magical and I highly recommend adding this place to your travel list. 

Nikko Toshogu
Nikko

Tips before you go

If you are planning a trip to Japan I recommend downloading Japan Official Travel App that is packed with tips on places to see, best ways to travel and loads of other useful information.

The best way to travel across the country is with the JR Rail Pass, available to tourists only, it has to be purchased before travelling to Japan. You can buy it for 7, 14 and 21 days and it's valid on most trains, Tokyo Monorail, some buses and ferries.

Not everyone speaks English but public transport signs and announcements are available in English - so I didn't find it a problem. Most restaurants have menus with pictures so you can always point out a dish you'd like to order. I'd recommend taking the medicines you know you might need as finding your regular medicine in Japan might be a little tricky. 

I was a guest of JNTO, all opinions are my own.