My favourite cooking school in North Thailand

Baan Thai Cookery School, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Picked up in a sawngthaew from your hotel, once at  Baan Thai Cookery School you don pretty aprons and bandanas, and head straight  to the local markets to buy weird and wonderful fresh ingredients. On return to the cooking school, prepare to eat! To start, a Thai “welcome pack” consisting of chilli, peanuts, coconut, dried shrimp, ginger and shallot self-assembled in a cone leaf of some sort, accompanied by some sticky rice and banana and mangosteen. Next we cooked up one of my favourites – chicken and cashew nut, immediately followed by a spicy noodle salad and chicken in coconut milk soup. We used little green chillies for this, how many was up to the individual punter. After a brief 30 minute break which involved lying on the floor under the fan propped up by those Thai triangular pyramidal cushions, soon enough it was back to the grind to make some red curry paste. This involved finely cutting up heaps of herbs and roots and then grinding them up in a heavy duty mortar and pestle until we had dead arms. Before we knew it we were back sweating up a storm in front of an oil-filled wok frying up fish cakes and cooking red curry chicken. A kilo or 2 heavier, we were then escorted home. Fantastic day, but my hot tip is: Don’t eat the day (or 2) before.

Advertisements

My favourite beach in Morocco

Paradise Beach, Asilah, Morocco

Asilah (or أصيلة، أرزيلة‎ in Arabic) is an attractive fortified town in northwest Morocco which still has all ramparts and gateworks fully intact. Dating back to 1500 BC when the Phoenicians used it as a base for trade, Asilah is now a popular seaside resort town, hosting annual music and arts festivals. Approximately 3 km south of Asilah lies Paradise Beach, a wonderful wide stretch of sand and surf. For some peace and quiet head to this tranquil and pristine spot which  really does live up to its name, especially if you have it all to yourself in the off season.

My favourite boutique Champagne house

Paul-Etienne Saint Germain, Epernay, Champagne, France

One lovely sunny afternoon while wandering the length of perhaps my favourite street in the world, Avenue de Champagne, past the large Champagne houses of Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger and Perrier-Jouët and toward the vineyards that lie at the end of the avenue, we stumbled across a cute Champagne house called Paul-Etienne Saint Germain. Encouraged by the small sign outside simply saying “Tastings” we knocked on the large front door and were greeted by a friendly man, Jean-Michel, who took us inside to an intimate little tasting room where he and his wife, Agnes, told us the story of their dream to one day make their own Champagne. Having grown up in Epernay and spending 20 years working in the Champagne industry for others, they have worked hard to build their business from the ground up. With dreams fulfilled, their Champagne is now served in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world. Both them and their story were so adorable that it was a pleasure to walk out of there with one of their delicious magnums under my arm!

My favourite trek in Vietnam

Sapa, Vietnam

At China’s door step, 2000m above sea level in northwest Vietnam lies the quiet mountain town of Sapa. Surrounded by spectacular scenery of mountains shrouded in mist and sloping rice terraces cascading down the hillside, Sapa is also home to a great diversity of ethnic minority groups. Now a popular spot for treks, these excursions can vary from reasonably easy one day hikes to harder multi-day treks with overnight homestays in the villages surrounding Sapa. Whether it is a clear day enabling amazing views of the valleys below, or a crisp misty day amongst the trees in the clouds, the beauty and rich culture of this corner of Vietnam is a special experience.

 

My favourite snorkelling spot on the Great Barrier Reef

Cape Tribulation, Queensland, Australia

Cape Tribulation is located within the Daintree National Park an hour or so drive north of Cairns, where the rainforest meets the sea. With a population of only around 100 or so people, Cape Tribulation has more of a quiet village life with a number of small eco lodges, hostels and resorts, and has only been accessible by a sealed road since 2002. Aside from crocodile cruises, 4WD tours, horse-riding and kayaking, Cape Tribulation is the perfect launch point for visiting some of the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef, with only a few dozen visiting divers and snorkellers each day, unlike the crowded dive tours leaving from nearby Port Douglas or Cairns. We took the Rum Runner catamaran, which seems to be unfortunately currently out of the water, for a perfect day on the reef. Snorkelling or diving, everyone got to see an amazing array of fish, turtles and reef with colours I have never seen before nor knew existed. My only tip is to pop a sea sickness tablet before you head out…