We drive for hours and hours through uneven terrains. Roads are built into the sides of sandy cliffs and nothing but desert stretches out for miles all around us. When it gets to the point where we have to drive off-road and directly through the sand, our driver turns the air conditioning system off so that all the 4×4’s power is going to the brakes and engine. It’s a rocky ride.
After 15-20 minutes, we stop in what seems like the middle of nowhere. I ask Jamal what we’re waiting for, and he replies that we’re waiting for the local guide who knows where the Zagora sand dunes are today. I gaze back at him in confusion. Today? “When there are sandstorms,” he says, “the dunes, they move around.” I nod sheepishly. I should really get my desert knowledge up to scratch.
The local guide arrives and we reach the camp we were aiming for shortly afterwards. I had imagined tiny tents, a real ‘roughing it’ experience, but the tents are more like gazebos with decent beds inside and some very questionable ‘en-suite’ facilities that I won’t go into. The guys running the camp prepare us an enormous meal of olives, cous cous, salted lamb and more. When we’re finally stuffed, somebody starts a bonfire and it’s not long before we’re all sitting around it singing and talking and laughing.
We lay around under the stars relaxing, until finally it’s time for bed. In the middle of the Sahara, I get the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages.
We rise early in the morning on our first day and enjoy a Moroccan breakfast, complete with traditional mint tea and talkative little birds flitting about in search of edible scraps. Jamal tells us that Ouarzazate is primarily a Berber town and that its name means ‘without confusion or noise’.
We head out soon afterwards, and our adventure begins with a visit to the Kasbah Taourirt. This tantalising construct was built by the El Glaoui chiefs, who are better known to Westerners as the Lords of the Atlas. The El Glaoui controlled most of North Africa until Morocco gained independence in 1956.
The imposing yet charming palace contains 300 rooms, each with its own unique scattering of ornate ceilings and wall tiles. Most of it has been created from simple clay and straw, the parts that are visible outside inspired by the colours of the surrounding Saharan desert.
After a short walk around the winding maze of streets that make up the town, we depart for nearby Aït Benhaddou – a ksar (literally ‘castle’ but more like a handful of houses that make up a closely populated village) between Marrakech and the Sahara that has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987. Just 11 families remain here now as the ksar suffers terrible damage with every rainstorm.
Aït Benhaddou is notable for its connections to the international film industry. Films such as The Mummy, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven were all shot here, and the local families who live close by find work when crews move in to make a new movie. It’s strange to think that most of them will have never actually watched a film.
My travelling companion Rosie (a.k.a. The Londoner) was pretty excited about Russell Crowe having armour on…
After being away in China over the Royal Wedding in 2011, it felt distinctly unpatriotic to arrange a trip over the Jubilee Weekend last year. But when dates line up and an opportunity presents itself, sometimes you just have to go with the flow. It was this philosophy that saw me trekking through the Moroccan desert in 35-40°C heat in June 2012, while London turned into one giant street party and my friends and family prayed for good weather.
Flying out of London Heathrow in the late evening, we reach Ouarzazate in the early hours of the morning. Even though we arrive under the cover of night, heat still lingers in the air, and I’m left with the familiar sensation of being far from home. Jamal, our guide, warns us that rabid mosquitos roam in the air outside, but it’s far too hot even at this late hour to sleep without all the windows flung wide open.
In the haze of heat and excitement, I find it difficult to sleep, but aware we only have time for a few hours in bed, I stare at the ceiling and think about what the next few days will bring. Eventually, I fall asleep.
You wouldn’t think such a quirky and cosy nook of a basement venue was hidden beneath The Angel Hotel in Bury St Edmunds, but if there’s one place you want to grab a drink this summer, it’s the Wingspan Bar. Suffolk’s luxurious and intriguing new venue is just charming.
I descended the brightly lit staircase downwards, joined by daughter Lauren (you all know her) and my husband (also known as Daddy Razavi to regular TOTR readers). None of us knew quite what to expect, but I was most impressed as my eyes adjusted to the dim atmospheric lighting of the basement bar. Tastefully adorned in vintage style and located in the vaults beneath The Angel, the place is just lovely.
The night got off to a great start when I was introduced to fellow blogger Sarah Gibbs of Finishing Touch Interiors. I felt immediately at home, chatting away while we enjoyed pink champagne and were joined by more and more interesting folks in the cellar. Before it got too crowded I took advantage of irresistible photo opportunities as a little passion of mine is vintage décor.
Once all the guests had gathered, enjoyed a drink and mingled around the room a little, a delectable buffet was served up. And there was a lot of it. Quail scotch eggs, mini fish and chips, oyster shooters and Asian-infused wraps were on offer to begin with. And then an extremely welcome treat: mini bacon and maple syrup donuts. Luscious.
The final course of the evening came courtesy of the just fabulous Miss Sue Flay. Her “tuck shop” cake was the naughtiest, yummiest and downright most beautiful sugary treat I’d ever seen. Daddy Razavi was particularly impressed as the night coincided with his birthday – I don’t think he thought his ‘birthday cake’ would be quite so divine!
We had a fantastic evening at the Wingspan Bar and plan to go back as soon as we can. The 4-star Angel Hotel itself looks stunning too from the photos. For more information about both, visit the website here.
You’ll find a few more photos from the night over on Lauren’s Instagram page here.
I’ve been stuck in the university library for days revising for my final exams this past week, and I can’t stop daydreaming about all the delicious meals I’ll be creating when the studying is finally over. In that vein, here are my favourite kitchen gadgets to get you inspired too…
Tefal Steamer from Littlewoods
I can’t get enough of this ultimate compact Tefal steamer from Littlewoods. It’s perfect for apartment living because it collapses down into something the size of a casserole dish. Add that to the fact that steaming is one of the healthiest ways to prepare food, and grabbing one of these bad boys from Littlewoods is an investment everyone should be making. Expect some steam-inspired recipes on TOTR over the summer.
Pasta Maker from Hifi-Tower
I love making my own pasta; I’d never done it before this year, but watching the wonderful Chiappa sisters do it with such ease on Channel 4 show Simply Italian inspired me to give it a go. It’s so much easier than you think, and a pasta maker like this makes it easier still. This model also doubles up as a meat mincer if you’re feeling especially creative. As a sidenote, Hifi-Tower also specialises in Disco Equipment.
3-in-1 Avocado Slicer from OXO
Avocados are possibly one of the yummiest foods in the world, but it can be a bit of hassle to get into them. OXO have the perfect solution to this problem; say hello to their 3-in-1 avocado slicer which will get you munching quickly and seamlessly. Definitely worth grabbing one if you’re an avocado addict like me. (NB: The green one isn’t available in the UK, but you can still get one in white from the site above).
Kitchen Knives from Kitchen Devils
Kitchen Devils are the foodie kitchen item that everyone should have in their collection. They’re dishwasher-safe and each knife comes with a 10-year guarantee. Not that you’ll need it; my parents still have a set they got as a wedding gift 26 years ago. Just one cooking sesh with these knives and you’ll feel like you could rival Jamie Oliver – and I guarantee you’ll never want to use another knife again.
Herb Seeds Starter Pack from Seed Pantry
I’m a huge fan of all things fresh and self-produced. I had been wanting to try growing my own herbs in my flat for ages, but kept forgetting to go to a garden centre and get the bits and pieces you need to get started. Then I discovered Seed Pantry, who do all the hard work for you and make it ultra-easy to start growing your own herbs, veg, chillis and more. Grab yourself one of these starter packs and you’ll soon be enjoying the fruits of your labour.
Travelling is really the best. Exploration, new friends and the best memories go along with the first footsteps out a front door. However, you have to give due consideration to what’s left behind. It’s one of those cliché’s, “Did I leave the back door unlocked?”, “Did I leave the gas on?” and so forth. One way to take some of the worry away is to buy some unoccupied home insurance, which will cover damage from the obvious worries like fire or theft, to perhaps rare occasions of flood or escaping water. Of course, a lot of damages are preventable, so here are some tips on what to do with your home, while you aren’t in it.
Hide your valuables – It’s very easy to lock up and think everything will be where it is when you left, and by all sensible likelihood it will be. But just in case, hide your valuables. Don’t leave the Tablet PC on the table, but put it in a drawer or cupboard where it normally wouldn’t be found. Same for laptops, wallets. If you can afford such a luxury, deposit any real valuables in a safe, either at home or in a bank.
Double/Triple check – I’m a sucker for checking all the time on locked doors, where my keys are, etc. But for those who aren’t in frankly over the top habits, perhaps it’s a good idea to keep a compartment in your luggage for all the important gear, so you won’t lose it (this includes keys, passports and wallets).
Make it appear you’re at home – There’s nothing more preventative from theft than the appearance of life in the building. Set a timed light to come on at certain times of the day. Leaving a radio on also suggests someone would be listening. You can also go as far as to buy TV light emulators, that beam out light like a T.V. Of course, I don’t suggest leaving a tap running, or a fire going, as that could compromise your property in other ways
Housesit – Know someone happy to check on your property once in a while, use the utilities in the winter, and give a dust every so often? Good, they’ll be your new best friend. You can rest assured that with people watching over your valuables while you’re gone. Neighbours are also very helpful in this regard, just inform them of your departure and they’ll likely make sure that everything is ok.
Written by James Haslam. Accompanying image provided by author.
Everybody’s familiar with that old proverb that mum used to come out with…”Breakfast: it’s the most important meal of the day!” It’s one that many a family member in the Razavi clan has offered throughout my life as justification for a little bit of overfeeding in the AM. However, years of grooming has done nothing for my regular breakfast habits. I’m a terrible writerly cliche; my breakfast often consists of a cafetiere full of black coffee and a cigarette or two. Considering cooking and eating are two of my favourite things to do, this is probably a little bit surprising…
To try and conquer the breakfast blues, I’ve been exploring some excellent new culinary offerings, so I thought I’d share a few of my favourites with you…
Yoghurts from Tims Dairy
Tims Dairy offer such a gorgeous selection, and their yoghurts might just be the best I’ve ever tasted. From their super-creamy Greek yoghurt – perfect to combine with muesli or fruit for an all-natural breakfast – to their little pots of fruity goodness, toffee flavours and the one my dad likes best, the Greek yoghurt with honey, there’s something for every taste here, and they are all just fantastic. You’ll taste just one and never want to turn back. Om nom nom. Check out Tims Dairy and order yoghurts straight to your door here.
Fruit Compote from Bonne Maman
Bonne Maman is already one of my favourite brands, and their new range of fruit compotes are just divine. My favorites are the peach and the apricot – both are lovely on toast. It just goes to show that basic breakfasts can be made that much more exciting and delectable by adding in a delicious extra ingredient. Get your own Bonne Mama compotes, jams, marmalades, conserves and more from your local supermarket or find out more online here.
Porridge from Grasshopper Foods
Crafted from 100% natural ingredients including British-grown oats, the new porridge pots from Grasshopper Foods are very yummy indeed. Grasshopper offer Plain Porridge with Cane Sugar, Fruity Porridge with Coconut & Date and Fruity Porridge with Cinnamon & Raisin, and each is absolutely delicious. Another very fine example of making a simple breakfast much more exciting – and even better on this occasion, there’s no work involved for you! Grasshopper have already taken care of everything. Grab some porridge pots of your very own right here – you won’t be disappointed.
And, of course, to go with your glorious new breakfast, what you really need is a cup of something warm – especially in this unseasonably cold weather. I have a couple of recommendations for you right here on that front.
Geisha from Sea Island Coffee
I’ve featured Sea Island Coffee here at TOTR before, and I’m still a big fan. This new blend is causing quite a stir (please excuse the pun); sourced from Costa Rica, it’s incredibly sought after. Delicate in flavour and aroma, with hints of lavender, cocoa and molasses. A cup will certainly lead to another cup, and before you know it, Geisha will become a necessarily part of your day, and a staple part of your beverage cupboard. Divine. Buy your own here.
I love, love, love tea. I never go a day without a good few cups. I’m always searching for new brands and new infusions, and I’m just loving Tregothnan Tea at the moment. I have their Classic Tea and their Earl Grey blends at the moment, and both are just divine. They come in lovely little teabag pyramids making every cup you brew just a little bit more special, and all packaging is very quirky and brilliantly British. Buy your own tea and tea accessories here - if you’re anything like me, you’ll want one of everything.
The infamous Mummy Razavi guides us around Bruges after our recent mother-daughter trip to the city. Over to you, Mummy Lynne, for part two of our adventure…
Although walking tours are available at certain times on certain days, today, we decided to take ourselves around some of the monuments and shops selling lace and chocolate. Oh so much chocolate, it was unbelievable! Last count there were almost 50 chocolate shops in Bruges, many of them being based around the main square.
Surprisingly some of them do not make their own chocolate though. If they do they will be displaying a little ‘handmade’ sign in the window. There is everything you can imagine from rich truffles to little ducks, mice, flowers, even real orange segments dipped in the beautiful dark stuff. Truly scrumptious!
We devoured some of the local waffles for lunch and enjoyed more than one of the local beers – how could you not?
We continued on despite the rain which started up pre-lunch, and soon decided on a horse drawn carriage ride (cost in the off-season is 39 Euros for 4) we chose to share, cutting the cost but not the leg room as the carriages are quite spacious and covered so the weather was not an issue.
The coachman took us along Bruges’ medieval centre along the canals and gave us information in our own language, taking in several of the museums and historical sites along the way. It lasted about 35 minutes and halfway we stopped at the Beguinage for the horse to take rest and water, which allowed us to explore for a few minutes and take a look at the Lover’s Lake.
I felt this mode of transport really took us back in time and made for a really enjoyable experience of the city.
Our last night was spent devouring more of the lovely of the lovely local delicacies.
Thank you to the friendly inhabitants of the city of Bruges. At times it really was like being in a fairy tale.
To read Beautiful Bruges Part I, click here.
The infamous Mummy Razavi guides us around Bruges after our recent mother-daughter trip to the city. Over to you, Mummy Lynne, for part one of our adventure…
After a very pleasant journey on the Eurostar to Brussels Midi, we got on our connecting train to Bruges, viewing some spectacular countryside and local dwellings en route. Our room turned out to be one of many recently renovated apartments adjacent to the Hotel Aragon with kitchen facilities included.
After a quick freshen up we walked through the city admiring the beauty of the buildings and shop windows after dark…
…stopping after much deliberation as we passed the many interesting eating establishments close to the hotel we settled for The Matinee Restaurant. Where we enjoyed some of the local dishes, served by the friendly restaurateur.
Our first full day started with the Historium, which is a very different type of attraction taking you back to Bruges Golden Age, where film, music, sets and special effects merge into a 35 minute magical experience. Throughout the 7 thematic rooms, our senses were stimulated. We found ourselves carried away by a love story based around a painting by Jan Van Eyck (Madonna with Canon Janis Van Der Peale).
We visited 3 of the 4 main churches in the city, the most impressive of which was the Basilica of the Holy Blood. This was the chapel of the Count of Flanders, which dates back to 12th century. It is renowned for holding what is said to be a vial of some of the blood of Jesus brought home from the crusades.
We also walked through the markt, a must see in the Main Square which contained the most wonderful fresh fruit, vegetables and many vividly coloured plants and fresh flowers too.
We then had a wonderful opportunity to see Bruges from a totally different angle, which could not be experienced by walking, on a half-hour canal boat tour. We were treated to same fantastic views of the historical buildings and monuments. The jovial multilingual driver also gave us an amusing talk including a brief history and plenty of interesting little facts. This tour enabled us to take many photos we were unable to from the street.
Look out for Beautiful Bruges Part II on TOTR tomorrow!
Photo borrowed from the amazing kayadeola.blogspot.co.uk (click to visit)
An easy pizza recipe to make for the whole family
For the dough:
350g strong plain bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp easy blend dried yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
200ml luke warm water
For the tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
227g canned chopped tomatoes
1 tsp paprika
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp fresh chopped oregano
For the pizza topping:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow pepper, cored, deseeded and sliced
1 orange pepper, cored, deseeded and sliced
1 red onion, sliced
200g herby black olives
75g sliced chorizo
1 – 2 x 120g packets Boursin Minis
4 medium tomatoes
1 x 50g packet wild rocket
Serves: 4 Prep: 30 mins plus rising Cook: 30 mins Method:
1.For the dough: mix together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Stir in the oil and water to form a soft dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead dough for 10 minutes. Return to a bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for around 1 ½ hours until well risen and doubled in volume.
2.Meanwhile for the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion for 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil and cover and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes, until thickened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
3.For the topping, heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the peppers for 10 minutes, over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until softened. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
4.Divide the dough into four and roll into balls on a floured surface. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise for 10 – 20 minutes. Roll out each to a 23cm circle. Place on baking sheets and leave for 10 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 220C/fan200C/Gas 7. Divide the tomato sauce between the pizza bases spreading over evenly and leaving a 1cm gap around the edge. Then top the pizzas with the prepared peppers and remaining topping ingredients except the rocket. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately and scatter with rocket.
Calories per portion: 915 Cost per portion: £3.20
Many thanks to Boursin for letting us use this recipe here on TOTR.