Capri: Photo Diary

The Isle of Capri provides an idyllic combination of history, culture and elegance emerging from impossibly blue water and stunning surrounds.

This island has long captivated my imagination, with an idyllic combination of history, culture and elegance emerging from impossibly blue water. Capri also has a reputation for being a little pretentious- it’s touted as the playground for the rich and famous, and comes with a price-tag worthy of this clientele. As such, rather than stay a few night, we opted to spend a day exploring the best parts of Capri.

As it was peak season I booked a boat tour in advance through AirBnB for 40€ pp for 3 hours- you can find it here. This tour was amazing and provided the perfect combination of swimming and snorkeling through several of the famous grottoes (sea caves) and relaxing on board the boat with cold drinks. Compared to some of the other packed tourist boats I saw jetting around, ours was super relaxing with only 7 of us on board. If you want to know some practicalities on how to travel to Capri and around the Amalfi Coast then have a look at this post where I share all the details on getting around.

Here are some photos from my day on Capri.

 

 

Malta: how to make the most of a 4 day winter escape to Europe’s sunniest capital

With nearly 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, Malta’s capital Valletta is the sunniest city in Europe and the perfect destination for a mid-winter mini escape. This 4 day itinerary ensures you see the best of Malta’s highlights whilst soaking up the sun by the intensely blue Mediterranean.

For Christmas last year I made the long trek home to Australia for 6 weeks of summer. Without the luxury of an Aussie beach holiday this year, I decided to add on a little sunshine to my winter Germany Christmas trip. As the southernmost and sunniest country in Europe (with nearly 3,000 hours of sun a year!), Malta sounded like the perfect destination for a bit of Mediterranean sun and some incredibly blue water.

Aside from the red sand beaches, rocky cliffs and sea caves dotted around the three islands that make up the area- Malta, Gozo and Comino, there’s a bunch of cultural activities and historical sites to explore. In fact, Malta has been continuously inhabited for over 8,000 years and boasts 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

However, I feel that I should also mention that there is a little disconnect between the reality of the islands and what you will read about in travel guides. Whilst there are some beautiful coloured doors and window shutters, most of the buildings on Malta are made from the same monotonous yellow sandstone, and after awhile, the towns and streets start to look very similar. There’s also very little greenery/trees on the island, instead sprawling towns and farm land make up much of the scenery. Additionally, the public bus network is crazy slow.

Despite this, if you’re looking for a budget sunny weather escape for a few days, with something for city and sea lovers alike, I highly recommend a visit to Malta.

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Day 1

Fly into Luqa airport and head straight to the capital Valletta, a 15 minute drive away. Here, spend the first day strolling the many stone-cobbled laneways of the compact city. Built in 1565 after the siege of Malta, the capital is elegant, tranquil and full of steps. The lack of buses and most cars in the city lends a peaceful vibe to the captial, rarely found elsewhere in Malta. While the entire city is World Heritage Listed, some key sites include St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the Fort of St. Elmo, the National Museum of Archaeology and the beautiful Barrakka Gardens overlooking the bay.

 

 

Day 2

In the morning walk the short distance to the north-western side of Valletta and take the Sliema Ferry across the bay, where you can hop on a cruise of the two natural harbors surrounding Valletta- Marsamxetto and Grand Habour. In the first harbor you sail past an 18th century fort on Manoel Island, while the second harbor takes in the Three Cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua) on the opposite bank to Valletta. The cruise is advertised at 16€ but in the off season you can usually negotiate a cheaper fare of around 10€.

In the afternoon take the local bus to the nearby Hal Saflieni Hypogeum & Tarxien Temples or further afield to the other side of the island to Hagar Qim & Mnajdra Temples.

 

 

Day 3

Take a day-trip to the islands of Comino and Gozo. Highlights include the incredibly turquoise coloured water of the Blue Lagoon and Dwejra Bay, the red sand at San Blas Bay and the ancient citadel, cathedral and basilica in the capital Victoria. For more photos and information on how to get to the islands from Malta this post.

 

 

Day 4

Take a local bus to the Dingli Cliffs (via Rabat) for some stunning coastal walks. On the way back to Villetta stop at Mdina to explore the enchanting ancient walled city as the sun goes down. Originally founded by the Phoenicians as Maleth in the 8th century BC, stepping through the old gate into the maze-like stone-walled streets feels like you’re stepping through a time-warp.

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Tips and further Advice

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  • To save money stay in St. Julian’s Bay or Sliema. Not only do they have the cheapest accommodation options on the whole island but they’re well connected by buses and boats to other parts of Malta and there’s a lovely rock-pool lined promenade to stroll along, with many seafood restaurants and cafes.
  • The local bus network is slow but cheap. Single tickets are 1.5€ and valid for 2 hours while a 12 pass is 15€. You can pick up a map with local routes at the airport or hotels.
  • Use Malta Transfers to get to and from the airport. At 5€ each way this is a fraction of the cost of a taxi and you can book in advance online. They even picked me up at 3.30 for my early flight!
  • Food and drink is extremely cheap for European standards, especially if you go to local cafes and restaurants. Expect to pay 1-2€ for coffee, 2-3€ for wine and spirits, 3-5€ for sandwiches and baguettes and 10-20€ for dinner.
  • You can’t drink the tap water so be prepared to buy bottled water throughout your stay.
  • There’s a huge British influence (the legacy of 150 years of rule) with phone booths, post boxes, lamps and a bunch of English and Irish pubs and restaurants. This makes for an interesting contrast to the Maltese buildings and weather but also means most people speak fluent English.
  • The British influence also extends to power sockets. While some are adapted to suit European plugs, many are not. However it’s quite cheap to buy an adapter whilst in Malta, my hostel sold them for 3€.
  • The currency is euro, Malta joined the EU in 2004 as the smallest state.
  • The country is 98% Catholic. If visiting one of the many churches be sure to keep your shoulders and legs covered.

 

Gozo & Comino: island hopping from Malta

Full of fascinating history and the bluest water I’ve ever seen, the islands of Gozo and Comino are a must when visiting Malta.

After what felt like seemingly endless weeks of grey, I couldn’t be more excited to find myself in Europe’s sunniest capital- Valletta, Malta! On my first day I dived straight into the adventures and took a boat to nearby Gozo and Comino islands. Home to some fascinating history and the bluest water I’ve ever seen, the islands are a must for anyone visiting Malta. Here’s some images from the day as well as some practical advice and tips on getting to Gozo and Comino from the main island of Malta.

 

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Practicalities:

You can either do this day trip all yourself, which can be quite time consuming and exhausting, or go with an organized tour as we did. In the colder off season there are a lot fewer tours running, so be aware of this when planning.

On your own

  • Take a local bus from your accommodation to the port of Cirkewwa near St. Paul’s Bay, for 1.5€
  • From there the ferry to Gozo is 4.50€ return
  • Once on Gozo you can use the hop on hop off bus for 20€ or use the local bus network (1.5€ per ticket valid for 2 hours). These options can be quite slow, so allow a whole day.
  • If you also want to get to Comino then you need to take the boat to and from Gozo for an extra 3-10€ depending on the company and dates.

As a tour

To make life easier we decided to book a boat cruise and bus tour combination for 30€  pp with Sea Adventure. Initially we visited Comino, where we were able to explore for an hour, then it was onto Gozo where we visited the port of Mgarr, the town of Xlendi and the capital Victoria. As the tour also included hotel pick up and drop off I think it was pretty great value and much less hassle than doing it ourselves.

There’s also the option of a Jeep tour for 42€ pp, however in low season these do not run that frequently.

 

I’d love to hear about your experiences exploring the Maltese Islands!

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Island hopping along Italy’s southern coast

With ridiculously tempting azure waters, rich Roman history and delicious Mediterranean food, it was not a difficult decision for me to book a somewhat last minute summer holiday to Italy’s southern coast last month. As August is peak season, I spent more time than usual planning an itinerary in order to avoid the worst of the crowds and deal withe the heat. The end result was an amazing island hopping adventure, from Naples, down the Amalfi coast to Sicily. Predominantly traveling by sea, we were able to avoid hot, crowded buses, trains and crazy Italian drivers whilst soaking up the Mediterranean sun with a refreshing sea breeze.

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If you’re thinking about traveling to Italy in summer, then I hope this post gives you some inspiration about places to visit and ideas on how to plan your trip to be as hassle-free as possible.

1 week Island Hopping Itinerary

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Start your trip with a few days in Naples to get acclimatized. Here you can visit the famous archaeological site of Pompeii and eat some of Naples’ most popular invention- pizza. Antigua pizzeria Michele is an institution and touted as the best pizza in Naples. Serving the delicious food since 1870, the pizzeria is famous for it’s traditional style of pizza, using only the best quality ingredients and keeping things simple in the way Italians do best. There are only two pizzas on the menu. Unfortunately we decided to visit late on a Saturday night- the busiest time all week, and there were crowds out on the street waiting for the famous pizza. Try to go at a less busy time.

From Naples head out to the island of Procida

By boat:  Naples –> Procida       €20pp for a 30min ferry  

While this island is relatively small compared to neighbouring Ischia, it was packed with history and beautiful places to explore. I loved climbing high above the town to old churches with stunning views and of course, enjoying Aperol Spritzers with a sea breeze and killer scenery. Its size also makes Procida much more accessible and peaceful that Ischia and I would definitely recommend staying several days and then day-tripping to Ischia and Capri.

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Day trip to Ischia

Boat:  Procida –> Ischia       €12pp for a 15min ferry 

By far my favourite thing to do in Ischia was exploring the medieval Aragonese Castle and swimming in the amazingly clear water beneath it. This impossibly picturesque castle is perched on a small rocky volcanic islet just off the coast of Ischia and is accessible by a stone causeway. The original castle dates back to 474 BC, yet it’s peak era was at the start of the 18th century, when the islet housed 2,000 families and included vineyards, farming areas, houses, churches amongst other buildings. While much of the castle was later destroyed by British shelling in the 19th century, it is still an immensely impressive structure with much to explore.

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There are two ways to get up to the main castle, firstly a meandering Game-of-Thrones-esque tunnel climbs up the inside of the castle, and as a second option, there’s a lift to the top, making the castle also accessible to less mobile visitors. Within the castle there are two cafes, both boasting stunning views and cold drinks to refresh you after wandering around the ruins. On the far side of the island you’ll find olive groves and a small chapel with views out to nearby Procida.

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Entry to the castle is 10€, with opening hours from 9am to sunset in summer, which was 8.30pm when we visited at the peak of summer. After exploring the castle, there’s no better way to end a perfect day than a swim in the crystal clear water at the base of the castle. Follow this up by an Aperol Spritzer and seafood dinner at one of the nearby restaurants and you’ll never want to leave.

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A day trip to Capri

Boat:  Ischia –> Capri   €26pp for a 1 hour ferry      

This island has long captivated my imagination, with an idyllic combination of history, culture and elegance emerging from impossibly blue water. Capri also has a reputation for being a little pretentious- it’s touted as the playground for the rich and famous, and comes with a price-tag worthy of this clientele. As such, rather than stay a few night, we opted to spend a day exploring the best parts of Capri.

As it was peak season I booked a boat tour in advance through AirBnB for 40€ pp for 3 hours- you can find it here. This tour was bloody fantastic and provided the perfect combination of swimming and snorkeling through several of the famous grottoes (sea caves) and relaxing on board the boat with cold drinks. Compared to some of the other packed tourist boats I saw jetting around, ours was super relaxing with only 7 of us on board.

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After boating around the island I’d recommend visiting the famous Giardini Di Augusto on the southern side of the island. It’s a brisk 15min walk from the port up a footpath that cuts through the hill to Piazza Umberto. Here you can catch stunning views of the bay amid some ever so trendy cafes and shops. From the piazza it’s less than 10 minutes to walk (slowly so you can take it all in) to the Giardini Di Augusto where the views are unparalleled. The tiny 1€ entrance fee gives you access to the beautiful, vibrant gardens with benches to relax on and terraces to take in the views below.

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The view from Piazza Umberto
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The view from Giardini Di Augusto
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Crazily tempting water

On the way back to the port be sure to stop at the best ice cream place on island- Buonocore Gelateria. My cousin had recommended this place and it definitely did not disappoint! They make the cones on the spot and are famous for their brioche (also freshly made) icecream sandwiches. One of the few places in the world where I liked a flavour more than plain chocolate- definitely try the Fantasia di Capri!

Continue on to the Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi coast is famed for towns such as Positano, Ravello and the eponymous Amalfi town. We decided to skip the overly touristy Positano and Amalfi due to the summer crowds and price tags. It was a great decision because Ravello was my favourite part of the trip and much less hectic than neighbouring towns.

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Boat/bus: Capri –> Amalfi    €26pp for a 1 hour ferry  followed by a rather expensive half hour €50 taxi

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See my post on Ravello to find out what to do and see here and why it was my favourite town in Italy.

If time permits travel on to Sicily

We then continued our seaside adventure on the large southern island of Sicily, where my favourite aspect was a visit to the Aeolian Islands. We took a large ferry from Salerno to Messina in Sicily. Check out my next post for details of getting around Sicily and where to visit.

Practicalities

Getting There and Around: I flew from Helsinki to Naples for around €150 one way. There are many international airports in Italy, so depending where you’re coming from and what you want to see there are numerous options. Once in Italy, we traveled predominantly by boat and I booked all our ferries with direct ferries, with the total for the entire trip around €85 pp. Avoid buses if you can. They are overcrowded, hot and operate on an unpredictable schedule. On the other hand taxis are very expensive, so weigh up what most import for you – saving money or comfort. But ideally walking and boating are the way to go.

Best time to go: While we still had a great time in August, I would recommend going in shoulder season (June, early July, September) when it’s still warm and happening but not as hectic, expensive or hot as peak season (August).  If you do go in August then book well ahead- accommodation, transport, day tours. Things book out.

Length of stay: We spent a week hopping around the coast but you could easily spend two or three times this amount and not get bored!

Language Barrier: Italians are less willing to speak English than many other European countries (Especially Scandinavia where nearly everyone speaks perfect English), and in areas with more local tourism and less foreigners English is not overly fluent. Luckily Italian is a very easy language to learn some basic phrases and your efforts to speak the local tongue (especially with some overt hand-gestures) will be highly appreciated.

Take Cash! Many places (especially taxis) only accept cash (euro) and many ATMs were not working, so be prepared.

Food and Drink: is super cheap and delicious, especially if you can find more local, less touristy restaurants. Naples was the cheapest (Ravello the most expensive) where a (huge) glass of house red was 2€ and an amazing pizza 4€. Caprese Salad is amazing, eat this whenever you can. Same goes for drinking Aperol Spritzers. Limoncello ones are even better.

Plastic is prolific: This broke my heart. So much un-necessary waste. and not many recycle bin options (again, I’ve been spoilt in Finland). Take your own drink bottle to avoid single-use plastic bottle waste and have coffee in real cups- after all on holidays you have time to sit and drink 🙂  Oh and when asking for no straw point and the straws on the counter and make obvious ‘no thanks’ gestures- simply asking for no straw rarely worked for me.

I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Italy!

Aeolian Islands: an unmissable Sicilian adventure

Nestled in the corner of the Tyrrhenian Sea off the north-east coast of Sicily, you’ll find the Aeolian Islands. This volcanic archipelago is comprised of eight main islands; Lipari, Panarea, Salina, Vulcano, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi and Basiluzzo. Named for the demigod of the winds- Aeolus, the islands are famous for their volcanic action and thermal ‘healing’ waters, attracting around 200,000 tourists a year.

 

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Dolphins circling the boat on the way to the Aeolian Islands

 

I first heard about the famous island of Stromboli from a fellow Aussie I met in Naples. She described an island which regularly produced a flow of larva into the sea, creating a spectacular contrast between fire and water and earning the island the nickname of “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. Not surprisingly, the famous eruptions and flow of lava is best viewed in the evening against a dark sky, with several tour companies offering evening cruises. While I didn’t have a chance to visit Stromboli during my trip to Sicily, I did get to two of the other islands in the archipelago and absolutely loved the experience- I can’t recommend the Aeolian Islands highly enough!

Part of the reason I was unable to get to Stromboli was the lack of information or tour options I was able to find online. The only day trip I could find left from the eastern side of Sicily, at Taormina and involved a 1+ hour coach trip to get to the northern town of Milazzo, followed by a full day of island hopping and then another coach back. It sounded dauntingly exhausting.

So we decided to stay in Milazzo for a few nights, where I managed to find an amazing AirBnB directly across from a beach with the clearest green water I’ve ever seen. As is the case in much of Italy, Milazzo encompasses both fascinating ancient history and stunning scenery. Our apartment was also located beneath a large cliff, on top of which  castle ruins perch on a site that was first fortified in 4,000 BC, and has experienced a rich history ever since

 

It was then our AirBnB hosts that then recommended two local companies (Tarnav and Navisal) that offered a range of trips out to the islands from the Milazzo port. These options were not only so much more diverse than the single option I could find online but also so much more affordable. I definitely recommend staying a few days in Milazzo, as the perfect jumping off point to explore the beautiful and varied Aeolian Islands as well as exploring the town, castle and deliciously clear sea.

 

 

Lipari

The largest and most populated of the Aoelian Islands, Lipari is a wonderful spot to spend the day. There’s a charming port town with a plethora of restaurants and cafes offering cool drinks, Italian lunch fare and of course gelato. The castle ruins perched above the town offer stunning coastal views and there’s also a church and museum to explore. The winding streets provide an immersion in the local culture and there are also many shopping opportunities. If you have more time, the further reaches of the island, including four other villages, can also be explored by foot or bus. 

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Vulcano

As you might guess from the name, the big attraction on this island is a volcano crater. This volcano is one of four non-submarine active volcanoes in Italy, with bright yellow sulfur gas and powder visible from the top of the crater. It’s around an hour walk from the port, firstly along a quietish road and then up the side of a mountain to the crater. Here you can spend another half hour or so walking around the crater and taking in the scenery. While I met many other people climbing up the mountain, I only came across one other person exploring the crater itself, adding to the eerie vibe of the place. The climb also rewards you with stunning views of the port town, beach and neighbouring islands.

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I then rushed back down the hill for a quick dip in the thermal ‘healing’ waters of the beach before getting the boat back to the mainland. The water was warm and a little waxy feeling. A one point my foot moved the sand away and the rock beneath was so very hot- definitely an interesting experience! There’s also a sectioned off mud bath area that costs a few euro to enter and a few more if you want a shower afterwards. The mud is purportedly great for your skin and many people slather it on and bake in the sun.

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I hope one day you also get to explore this stunning Archipelago. Next up, Ravello- my favourite town in all of Italy!

 

 

 

 

 

Finnish Island life: a few days spent on Vänö

In the Turku Archipelago, a group of over 20,000 islands scattered off the south-west corner of Finland, you’ll find Vänö, a tiny island where life slows down and nature is paramount. Reached by a one hour ferry from the harbour town of Kasnäs, the island is the perfect escape to the simple pleasures of life.

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The island’s regular population of 12 swells to several hundred visitors during the summer months when day visitors drop into the island for swimming and hiking and owners of summer cottages come to stay for weeks.

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Like many Finnish cottage experiences, the traditional cottage we stayed in was all about getting back to basics and appreciating nature. With no running water, only an outdoor long drop loo and a shower by the sea (with sauna of course), the best way to wash each day was by a swim in the Baltic sea. Sunning yourself on one of the many flats rocks afterwards is the preferred way of drying off.

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The island is small enough to explore on foot but bikes are a welcome way of getting to the only sandy beach in summer. There’s a nature reserve with a clearly marked path and signs along the way to point out areas of interest. There’s also a peaceful chapel, built by a Rotary volunteer project in the 1970s near 17th century ruins, although the original chapel may have been built on the island as early as the 12th century.

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During summer there’s also a small shop by the harbour, with essential food supplies, a little cafe and even one beer tap. There’s also a tiny thrift shop, complete with a rack of second hand clothes, and of course there’s a place for recycling, in true Finnish environmentally friendly style.

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Practicalities

Getting There: A bus from Helsinki or Turku to Kasnas takes around 2 or 3.5 hours, respectively and in peak summer the fare was €25 and €35 pp. From there, it’s a free 1 hour ferry trip to the island.

Getting Around: Walking or bike

Cost: For our basic AirBnB cottage with no running water, outdoor toilet and communal shower we paid €200 for 3 nights. While I think this is quite expensive for what was provided, the experience of staying on such a small island in a traditional setting was well worth the fee. Food on the island is relatively expensive but saves the hassle of bringing much of your own from Turku or Helsinki as the shop in Kasnas is also sparse. Sauna rental is €16 an hour and one free session is included in the AirBnB.

Best time to go: Summer is definitely the best time to visit as the shop is open and the sea is inviting

Length of stay: We stayed for 3 nights and this was the perfect amount of time. However if you stay longer, the free ferries will take you to other islands for day trips.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the little island of Vänö- I’d love to hear about your experiences traveling in Finland.