Travel: 4 pristine beaches that are worth the extra mile

I like to work for my beach breaks. Beaches that are easy to get to are just the more likely to be overrun by fellow tourists and are easy targets for litterers. And obviously, being forced to walk that extra mile means that I could compensate in extra food later. Here are my top 4 picks of gorgeous beaches that make you sweat getting there, but are totally worth the walk (or cycle).

Tai Long Wan, Hong Kong

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Where: Sai Kung, Hong Kong

How: Hiking, 4 hours from end to end of the trail starting at Sai Wan Pavilion

Difficulty: 5/5

Facilities: Restaurant and toilets at the beach

This is the ultimate “walk-for-me” beach, smack bang in the middle of the Hong Kong countryside. Tai Long Wan literally means “big wave bay”. Make sure you don’t mix it up with the Big Wave Beach down south on Hong Kong Island – that one you can take a minibus from Quarry Bay to. But this Tai Long Wan, you have to walk for it.

How do I mean by walking for it? Oh, just a casual 4-hour hike. It was the most gruelling hike my delicate constitution has ever endured. To make it slightly easier for yourself, take a taxi from Sai Kung centre to Sai Wan Pavilion, which takes. From there, you start your hike, and there’s no turning back.

It took us about 2 hours to get to the actual Tai Long Wan beach (there are a couple of crappy, dirty ones before the main event). The good news is that Tai Long Wan actually has a small village population, so there is a full-blown restaurant right on the beach which serves up simply and delicious food Hong Kong style. And beer, you might need it.

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Tai Long Wan is unquestionably the most beautiful beach in Hong Kong. It stretches on pristine and soft sand, and the water is very clean by our city’s standards. The catch is, of course, that to get out of there, you either retrace your steps (up some VERY steep slopes) back to the Pavilion, or you follow the rest of the trail, another 2 hours through dense woodland which doesn’t offer as many views as the first leg. And bear in mind that you can’t stay for the sunset because the trail would be too dark. Not to mention walking pass that abandoned village near the end of the hiking trail would be really freaking creepy.

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If you really want to cheat, especially in the height of summer when you could actually die from heat stroke, you could also rent a boat out to Tai Long Wan.

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca, Spain

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Gorgeous lookout from Cala Macarelleta

Where: Menorca, Spain

How: Hiking, 2 hours from Cala Galdana

Difficulty: 4/5

Facilities: No facilities at Cala Macarelleta, but there is a small stall selling food at Macarella (it was not open the day I went)

I love Menorca. I went there alone to escape a miserable May just before the final project for my Master’s programme was due – I had to go just to preserve my sanity. Southern Menorca has the best beaches the island has to offer, sandy and crystal blue waters compared to the rocky shores of their northern counterparts. The great thing about the beaches? There is no way of getting there other than on foot.

Many of the trails to the south’s lovely beaches start at Cala Galdana, the slightly soulless resort town with a beautiful, gigantic shallow beach. Facing the sea, you could go to Cala Mitjana to your left, which is a much more relaxing 20-minute walk through the woods, but you don’t want to take the easy way out. Turn right, and start the hike to Cala Macarelleta.

I made the hike in sandals, which nearly ended in tears and a sprained ankle at more than one point, so make sure you wear decent shoes. The hike isn’t difficult, but it is long, and the views improve massively once you reach the first beach, Macarella. It’s a lot of stairs down this way, so yes, it will be a lot of stairs back up on the return leg. Don’t stop here, but walk straight across Macarella and start the ascent up towards Macarelleta (which means “little Macarella”).

Views of Cala Macarella on the way to Macarelleta

Views of Cala Macarella on the way to Macarelleta

Up here, the views are absolutely breathtaking. It’s also a lot of fun clambering over boulders. It’s only about another 20 minutes on the trail before Macarelleta appears, all turquoise waters and golden sands, to your left. It’s a steep descent to the beach, so be careful and take it slow. It’s such a beautiful place, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Be aware that it is a nudist beach, so try not to stare when middle-aged hikers strip straight down to their birthday suits and make for the water.

The Marina, Corniglia, Italy

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Where: Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy

How: Hiking down the stairs next to the main piazza

Difficulty: 3/5

Facilities: No facilities at the Marina, but restaurants very close in the main piazza

It’s slightly embarrassing that I’ve been to Cinque Terre twice, but I’ve never spent any time outside of Corniglia, the smallest out of the five picturesque towns. The first time round I had just finished my A-Levels, on my first trip to Italy, and I was absolutely besotted with Corniglia. The second time round, I was no less besotted and abandoned plans to go to the other four towns.

The main event really, is the Marina. It’s a punishing walk (mainly on the way up) to the rocky shores, but it is quiet and the perfect getaway from the daytrippers that swarm Corniglia during the daylight hours. Climb over the big boulders (be careful, they’re slippery) and lie on the flat rocks that carve out a little lagoon by the cliffs, and you can easily spend the day there. The waters are crazily clear and clean, but be careful walking into the waters as the rocks are slippery and some are sharp. If you don’t want to walk back up for food, make sure you bring a picnic – there are no facilities at the Marina. The walk back up is always hell, but it’s definitely worth the legwork.

Cala Rossa, Favignana, Italy

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Where: Favignana, Aegadian Islands, Sicily

How: Cycling, 30-45 minutes from the port

Difficulty: 4/5

Facilities: No facilities at the beach

I love, love, love Sicily. It is so vividly different from the rest of Italy, in food, in its people and beauty, and so affordable compared to other parts of the country. We stayed in Trapani, a major port with convenient ferry routes to the many charming Sicilian islands. We chose to go to Favignana, one of the three Aegadian Islands close to mainland Sicily that was easily manageable as a day trip with many fast boats during the day.

Favignana’s main square is nothing to write home about. So I’d recommend renting a bike as soon as you get off the boat, and cycle to the most beautiful beach on the island – Cala Rossa. Legend has it that Cala Rossa (“red cove”) is named as such because a battle between Carthaginians and Romans turned the water red with blood. Okay, so it’s not true, but it’s a good story.

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Cycling was mainly on sandy tracks

Cycling on Favignana is not difficult, though I did fall off my bike (it hit a big rock wedged in the sandy ground). Get a map from the rental store and have them mark out the route to Cala Rossa for you. It took me around 45 minutes (including a detour at the island’s beautifully peaceful cemetery) to get there. After you put your bike away, you have to walk pass the abandoned quarries that frame the shores, and then it’s another rocky and at times, steep descent to the actual shores where sunseekers set up camp. It’s manageable in flip flops, but try not to run towards the amazing water.

The waters are probably the clearest I have ever seen, anywhere. It was the height of summer and it was crowded, but nothing can take away the beauty of this place. As with rocky beaches, beware of slippery rocks and sharp shells when you get into the water. But seriously, just get in there. It’s quite shallow for a while and you can see straight to the white sand at the bottom, with fishes and shells all around.

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The raddest, baddest dinosaur cake stands

I’ve been on the prowl for cool tableware lately, and I came across the best cake stands at a local homeware store, Homeless.

How cool are these dinosaur cake stands by Seletti? They are eye-wateringly expensive starting at US$90 for the smallest one, but who doesn’t want a Triceratops or a T Rex gracing their cakes? These are going on my birthday wishlist.

Sauria - Seletti

Sauria - Seletti

Source

If you’re not into pre-historic creatures, Urban Outfitters are selling some awesome cake stands in the form of more cuddly animals, though sadly no less expensive.

Rabbit cake stand, £80

Cat cake stand, £80

Horse cake stand, £100

Travel: The Pools of Mandarava Resort, Phuket, Thailand

Mandarava is probably the best resort I’ve been to, ever. It’s the perfect size, just big enough to be able to have a meaningful wander around it, but definitely walkable (with some good cardio opportunities up the stairs and slopes).

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Enjoying a late afternoon poolside mojito at Pomelo Pool

The best part of Mandarava is the choice of pools. There are 3 gorgeous infinity pools, all accompanied by a poolside bar, and there were always loungers available.

The main event is at the Mango Pool, which has a bar right in the pool. It looks glorious in the morning light and it gets sun throughout the day.

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Pomelo is definitely a close second. It is the only pool from which you can see the sea, even though it’s quite far away. It’s also lovely at sunset.

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Sunset at Pomelo pool, Mandarava Resort & Spa, Karon, Phuket

The only con is that the pools don’t officially “open” until 10AM, as the pool towels don’t get delivered from the laundry until then. So the best thing to do would be to cheekily keep a towel from the day before, or bring your own!

Review: Mong Kok, Hong Kong Cat Cafe – Cafe de Kitten

Address: Shop 701, 7/F, Pakpolee Commercial Centre, 1A Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Mong Kok Closest MTR station: Yau Ma Tei, Exit A2 Nearby: The famous Ladies Market and Sneakers Street are just down the road from Cafe de Kitten Minimum spending: $80 per person between 18:00 to 22:00, $40 otherwise Hours: 13:00 – 1:00 Best time to go: The waitresses said that the cats are most active around 13:00 and 14:00.

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This is Fei Zai, he’s the troublemaker!

I used to be a dog person, but my boyfriend converted me to a cat lover as well. We’ve been talking about going to one of Hong Kong’s cat cafes for ages, and we finally took the plunge when I surprised him with an after-dinner hangout at Cafe de Kitten on his birthday. Located in the bustling area between Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei, Cafe de Kitten is an upstairs cafe. They are open until 1:00 AM, which is great for a post-work hangout. IMG_4322 Minimum spending is extremely reasonable (HK$80 per person at peak times 18:00-22:00, HK$40 otherwise) and the waitresses are in no rush to get you out of the cafe. There are plenty of board games to entertain yourself with. And of course, the cats! Beautiful, well-groomed cats snooze and roam the cafe. We were there from 21:00 till 23:00, and while the cats weren’t particularly active, they did do their rounds and were happy to be petted and fussed over.

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Oh, you beauty!

One highlight of Cafe de Kitten was the relationship the waitresses have with the cats. It’s adorable watching them fuss over the cats, and they were happy to chat with customers about them. I particularly loved how they playfully berated Fei Zai (Fat Boy) the orange tabby cat for being a bully to his friends! The cafe only has less than 10 tables, so there was plenty of space and photo opportunities with the kitties. We didn’t try the food this time, but from what we saw it looks pretty good! We were sorry to go at the end of the night, but with its central location, I can totally see us going back some time soon, perhaps sometime in the afternoon when the cats are more awake.

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Isn’t he just adorable?

Recipe: Brownie stuffed chocolate cupcakes with Guinness frosting and Mars bar sauce

This is what the week of baking has been leading up to – the ultimate boyfriend cupcake (well, at least for my boyfriend, who’s all for chocolate and beer!). The drama queen in me calls them the Seven Sins Cupcakes. In a nutshell, they are:

  1. Chocolate cupcakes
  2. Stuffed with Ferrero Rocher brownies
  3. Topped with Guinness frosting, and
  4. Drizzled with Mars bar sauce
  5. Finished with smoky peanut butter cookies
  6. Chopped up Malteser’s
  7. And peanut Smartie’s

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Too much? Oh well, t’s too late to turn back now! Here’s the full recipe for the brownie stuffed chocolate cupcakes with Guinness frosting and Mars bar sauce. It’s such a long post!

Brownie stuffed Chocolate Cupakes Recipe (makes 9-12 cupcakes)

Just a note: I don’t make chocolate cupcakes. In fact, these were my first batch. I still prefer butter-based cupcake recipes, but these aren’t bad and they’re very easy to make. I’ve converted the recipe into cups.

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  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (i used Valrhona cocoa powder)
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 40g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste)
  • Ferrero Rocher brownies, broken up in chunks

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Method

  1. Cream room temperature butter until loosened up and creamy in a large bowl.
  2. Sieve flour, cocoa powder, caster sugar, baking powder and salt into the butter. Mix until incorporated and sandy in texture.
  3. Mix milk, egg and vanilla extract together. Pour into the flour mix and beat until everything is just incorporated. Do not overmix.
  4. Line 2 cupcake pans and fill cupcake cases with 1 ice-cream scoop of batter. Break up chunks of Ferrero Rocher brownies and put one piece in each scoop. Top up with batter until 2/3 full.
  5. Bake at 150C for around 18 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

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Guinness Buttercream Frosting Recipe (for 9-12 cupcakes)

  • 227 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 1 cup Guinness Extra Stout

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Method

  1. Boil Guinness on medium heat until it reduces to around 3 tablespoons, about 10 minutes. Stir every now and then to make sure it’s not sticking to the pan or burning. When done, the Guinness should be like balsamic vinegar in thickness.
  2. Cream room temperature butter until soft and fluffy. Scrape down the sides.
  3. Add alternatively the icing sugar and the milk. With the mixer on low, start with sieving 1/3 the icing sugar into the butter, then 1/2 of the milk, and so on. Crank up to high speed and mix until the frosting just turns creamy.
  4. Mix in the vanilla paste until blended in.
  5. Lastly, add in the thickened Guinness a tablespoons at a time, paying attention to the texture of the frosting to make sure it doesn’t go too thin.
  6. Pipe the cupcakes when they have completely cooled down!
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The Guinness reduced should be like balsamic vinegar

Mars bar sauce recipe (for drizzling over 9-12 cupcakes)

I had this for the first time the other night at my South African friend’s house with vanilla ice cream. So GOOD. Apparently they have Mars bar sauce with everything in South Africa, can’t wait to check that out when I’m in the country in a few short weeks!

  • 1 Mars bar
  • 1/3 cup milk

Method

  1. Break Mars bar into small chunks.
  2. On low heat, add the Mars bar and half of the milk. Stir constantly.
  3. As the chocolate melts, add the remaining milk.
  4. Pour the sauce into a bowl and let it cool down, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t solidify.
  5. When it’s reached room temperature, drizzle the sauce over the Guinness frosting.

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Assembling these bad boys

The fun bit is finally here! Drizzle the Mars bar sauce generously over the frosted cupcakes. The tidiest way to do this is to use a piping bag and just snip off the tip, then squeeze the sauce in a criss-cross pattern.

Then in goes the rest of the sweet treats. Give the Smarties and Malteaser’s a very quick whizz in the blender, or just chop it up, and sprinkle over the cupcakes for great neon colour. Lastly, stick the smoky peanut butter cookies in.

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And there you have it. They certainly are the most decadent cupcakes I’ve ever made. They sure went down a treat!

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Recipe: Easiest 3 ingredient smokey Peanut Butter cookies

This is my favourite peanut butter cookie recipe. It’s chewy, peanut buttery and the brown sugar gives it a unique smoky tang. So if you’re looking for sugary sweet cookies, these aren’t for you!

Ingredients (for 12 regular cookies)

1/2 cup soft brown sugar

1/2 peanut butter (your preference chunky or smooth)

1 small egg

Method

1. Mix all 3 ingredients together with a fork until well incorporated.

2. Line a cookie tray with parchment paper and drop small spoonfuls of the dough, leaving more room between each spoonful than I did with my batch!

3. Bake at 160C for 8 minutes. Cookies are ready when they spring back when you poke them.

4. Let cool completely before carefully removing them using an offset spatula.

Isn’t this just the easiest recipe? If you don’t have brown sugar, you could go ahead and use normal caster sugar, but it will not have the smoky flavour the brown sugar gives.

Review: Cheeva Spa, Mandarava

Cheeva Spa is in the Mandarava Resort, a 15-minute walk uphill from the northern end of Karon Beach. It’s a lovely little spa with a picturesque jacuzzi that overlooks the main pool.

Note that I said: a little spa. Book early. Unfortunately the spa doesn’t open until 10 AM, which means that the evening slots are pretty rammed when hotel guests come back from the beach.

Here’s the Cheeva Spa Menu. They also have offers exclusive to hotel guests, so keep an eye out for them. The prices are extremely reasonable compared to Hong Kong. Plus the spa is spotlessly clean, the masseuses are fantastic, and you can have the jacuzzi on the terrace to yourself if you book in advance. It is a cold jacuzzi though, which gets a bit chilly in the evening!

The three of us tried most things on the menu while we were there (our room was right next to the spa!). The Cheeva massage (1600 THB, 60 minutes) was my favourite, a combination of Balinese and more traditional aromatherapy massage. The Hot Stone massage (2500 THB, 90 minutes) was another highlight, it helped that the air conditioning was on!

Complimentary ginger tea at the jacuzzi after our massage

To top it all off, the views of the sunset at the jacuzzi are just marvelous.

Cheeva Spa Menu (update 31 Jul 14).

Recipe: Perfectly chewy Ferroro Rocher brownies, no joke (with adorable DIY birthday bunting)

My favourite April Fool’s stunt is not showing up to class. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in a full-time job situation, so there’s not much to celebrate this year.

It’s the boyfriend’s birthday this week, so I’ve been baking up a storm at home – there’s a big post coming up over the weekend!

Anywho, I haven’t made brownies in years, but yesterday, I found the perfect brownie recipe. It’s perfect, full stop. And I kicked it up a notch with a cheeky sprinkling of Ferrero Rocher on top. Hello gooey chocolatey hazelnutty heaven.

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Recipe (12 regular brownies)

  • 1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1⁄3 cup cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 cup flour
  • 4-6 Ferrero Rochers

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Method

  1. Sieve together baking powder, cocoa powder, salt and flour.
  2. In a separate large bowl, vigorously stir together oil and sugar until blended. It will look like lemon sorbet when it’s done!
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla to the sugar mixture and give it a good stir until incorporated.
  4. Tip the dry ingredients into the wet mixture. Stir until it becomes a rich, thick batter.
  5.  Grease your baking pan. Pour in the batter and spread evenly with a spatula.
  6. Here’s the fun bit! Cut up or crumble the Ferrero Rochers and sprinkle over the top of the batter. I only used about 4 but it was plenty.
  7. Bake at 160C for about 18 minutes. You  might want to take it out around 15 minutes if you want it very gooey.
  8. Hold your horses and let it cool before you dig in with plenty of milk.

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I love these brownies. They are ridiculously easy to make and so chewy, especially around the edges! The Ferrero Rocher gives it a nice hazelnutty kick. Next time I’ll add in some nuts for extra crunch as well!

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Since these are birthday brownies, I took it further with some DIY cute birthday bunting. It’s so easy to do!

What you need

  • String
  • Toothpicks
  • Old magazine pages

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I just got a gorgeous Pottery Barn summer catalogue in the mail, and it’s a goldmine for colourful patterns for the bunting!

Very simply, draw 2 parallel lines across a print you like. Draw triangles between the lines. When you’re done, fold the paper along the base of the triangles. Then simply cut out the triangles, and you have your bunting!

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Write on the bunting should you want to, position them on the string, and glue together the pointy end. Tie the string to the toothpicks, and set them on the brownies. Ta-da!

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