A Scottish Adventure - Exploring the Highlands With The Mazda CX5


A few weeks back Josie and I set off on a true Scottish adventure, leaving London for a trip around the beautiful Scottish Highlands.  With it's breathtaking views and rugged landscapes, the Highlands has forever been on my list of places to visit and with just a short 1hr flight into Inverness it's extremely easy!

Given the industry that we both work in, it can be extremely difficult to switch off from things and this trip presented the ideal opportunity to 'digitally detox', putting our phones (most importantly social media!) to one side and just enjoying the views and each others company.

There's only one way to explore the north of Scotland and that's via car - ideally an SUV.  The roads snake around the coastline and provide the perfect viewing platform, with the added bonus of being very quiet and tranquil.

In partnership with the newly launched Mazda CX5, Josie and I planned out the route, following the now famous 'North Coast 500' - a 500 mile drive around some of the most stunning areas in the United Kingdom and possibly even the World.

Day 1:

Having landed in Inverness we picked up the Mazda CX5 in a vibrant red colour and set off on the first leg of our journey.

Within an hour of leaving the airport you are met with some impressive landscapes, some of which even Daenerys Targaryen would be impressed by - in fact the whole of the Highlands region is like something of out of Game Of Thrones or Lord Of The Rings!

From a driving perspective the Mazda got a big thumbs up from both Josie and I.  With incredibly comfortably seats making the initial 5 hour driving stint bearable to the impressive 'dynamic stability software' ensuring the forever winding country roads were no issue, it really was a joy to drive.

I was also hugely impressed with the navigation system in the CX5.  It's one of the few 'integrated' systems that actually gets you to where you want to be going! It's sleek design and easy operating system make trips with very few road signs (!) that much easier.
Another added bit of tech is the mirroring of the sat nav above the steering wheel and within the windscreen itself - a really nifty addition and it makes following the route that much simpler, no excuses for missing a turn (as I found out on a number of occasions..!)
Upon hitting the coastline it was time to locate the World famous 'John O'Groats', one of the most northerly points in the United Kingdom.  It's well worth a visit if not just to take an Insta shot of the sign and to take a few moments walking at what is the very tip of the UK!
Next up was a late lunch and we stopped off in a small town called Kylesku, another place I would strongly recommending on visiting.  Kylesku is the definition of a British seaside town with small shops, cobbled streets and a huge supply of freshly caught fish.

We pitched up at the Kylesku Hotel in the centre of the town, a huge wooden structure that looks out over the beautiful lake and wilderness.  The food is of a very high standard, with lots of fresh fish dishes on offer alongside some Scottish classics and all in all, good value.

The menu itself changes daily and highlights were the squid, stuffed with an olive tapenade and the sticky toffee pudding, an absolute triumph!  It's the perfect spot to stop off, recuperate after the drive and take in the beautiful surroundings of the Scottish countryside.
After an epic feed it was time to get back on the road and drive the near 100 miles to our final destination of the day.  Just driving on the open roads that carve through the mountains and rugged landscape, it's easy to get lost in ones thoughts.  

Every 30 minutes or so you may come across a group of sheep or wild deer, but aside from the wildlife you are likely to be completely alone, which as you can imagine is very peaceful and a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of London.

As we neared our destination for the night the sky shifted from pinks to oranges and finally to a deep red, at which point we had to pull over and get some photos and enjoy the moment.  I've never experienced a sunset quite like it and even when the sun has dropped it seems to hang for hours after, with the sky still semi-light at 11pm that evening.
Driving with this one made the journey that much more special and without mobiles to distract us it was nice to just enjoy being in the moment and in one other's company.

The combination of waterfalls in the background and the subtle noise of the wind blowing across the moors, made for a really special evening.

Day 2:

Day 2 started with one serious lie in!  Josie and I both tend to wake up pretty early on a regular working day, but a combination of being exhausted (driving is strangely tiring!) and the lack of any road noise (or any noise in fact) made for one of the best night's sleep we've probably ever had!

We stayed at the Loch Assynt bed and breakfast, a secluded old farmhouse on the top of a hill, with views all over the north-eastern Scottish countryside.  The house itself is quite special, with high ceilings, old oak furniture and a very homely feel about the place.  If you are looking for a real hideaway to escape to, this is it, with the nearest town, village or even house over 5 miles away.
As many of you may know, breakfast is my undoubtedly my favourite meal of the day and a hungry Charlie in the morning is never a pretty sight! After this epic 'Highland Breakfast' we got back on the road, with over 100 miles to cover and much still to explore.

We chucked our luggage in the very spacious boot (anyone who knows Josie will know we didn't travel 'light'!) and then it was on to the next destination.  One feature worth highlighting is the powered 'boot lid' - a handy button that powers the hydraulic boot and making life ten times easier when it comes to packing and unpacking the car.
With DJ Josie on the decks and a Spotify playlist throwing it back to the early 90s, the drive passed quickly.  The CX5 has an amazing sounds system designed by the sound-gurus over at Bose that incorporates 10 individual speakers with impressive sound quality.  

With Akon blasting out, we set our sights on the beaches and specifically Achmelvich, which we had been told was quite something.
Arriving at Achmelvich it was immediately apparent as to why so many people speak so highly of this beach.  With it's sandy beaches and crystal blue waters, it could easily be mistaken for somewhere in the Caribbean or the Maldives!

It's a great place to bring a picnic or go for a quick dip if you feel brave enough...
Next up it was time to take the car for a spin around the straighter roads in the Lochinver area.  With so few cars (or people) around, we took the opportunity to get the Drone (Dexter mark 2!) up in the air and capture some amazing footage from above.  You can check things out here.
I can safely say that the CX5 is certainly one of the most photogenic cars I have come across, with a 'shark-like' front and slim headlights, it really stood out amongst the Scottish landscape and the stunning lighting in the region.
After a few more hours exploring the countryside and it was time to head on back to Inverness on the final 'loop' of the route.  Despite all the driving on this trip it never felt excessive and I would strongly recommend as the best way to fit as much exploring in as possible. 
We returned from the trip feeling the most relaxed we've felt in a long time - there's something about the open road and driving together that is very soothing for the soul and refreshing for the mind.

The lack of phone signal in deepest Scotland made 'switching off' that much easier and whether it's taking a few days to escape London or even just a day without your phone, there's a alot to be said for a 'digital detox'.

For more on our adventure and the places we visited, head over to Josie's YouTube channel and check out our Vlog.   

What are your favourite places to escape to?

C.

To learn more about the Mazda CX5, it's specifications and any offers, head here.

*This blog post was written in collaboration with Mazda, however all views and opinions shared are my own.

Experience The Best Of Italy Without Leaving London

One of my favourite things about the arrival of the Summer is undoubtedly the change in food.  Restaurant menus suddenly become a whole lot more interesting and plates become more colourful and vibrant! 

Italian cuisine is one of my favourites all year round but when the temperature is a tad warmer there is simply nothing better than some freshly prepared pizzas and a suitable beer to accompany the flavours.

The kings of Italian beer, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, have recently launched Peroni Ambra, an exciting brand new drink.  Inspired by the classic Italian aperitivo, Peroni Ambra combines crisp and refreshing Peroni Nastro Azzurro and the sharpness of Italian Chinotto – a rare citrus fruit, grown and harvested in the region of Liguria, North West Italy.

To mark the launch they have opened a fantastically photogenic pop up; The Somerset House Terrace presented by Peroni Ambra, serving up the finest in authentic Italian cuisine alongside their new and unique creation - a great place to visit with friends for a couple of pre-drinner drinks in true 'aperitivo' fashion!


There's something about sipping on an ice cold beer when the sun is shining that's quite special and Peroni Ambra really hits the spot.  It has a unique flavour with the freshness of chinotto combined with the citrus of the orange peel - in my opinion a great bittersweet alternative to sugary Summer cocktails and the ideal pre-dinner drink.


There is a great array of authentic Italian cuisine on offer, from stone-baked pizzas and freshly prepared salads to sharing platters and Italian snacks.

My personal highlight was the Pizza Ortolana, with tomato, mozarella, grilled Mediterranean vegetables and oregano - simply one of the best pizzas I've eaten in London! Another 'must-have' is Carasau e Formaggio - a combination of Italian soft cheese, mixed herbs and crunchy 'Carasau' bread.


Head on down to the Somerset House Terrace this Summer to taste the rare and authentic Peroni Ambra, open until September! Be sure to book in advance as it can get rather busy on sunny evenings - you can find out more here.


Where are you favourite lunch spots for when the sun is shining?

C.


*This post was written in collaboration with Peroni, however all thoughts and opinions are my own.*


5 Reasons The Greek Islands Should Be Top Of Your List This Summer

With Summer now officially upon us and the UK weather becoming predictably hit and miss, it's time to get planning a last minute break away!  You needn't frantically hunt on Google for holiday deals and the ideal Summer destinations, look no further than the beautiful Greek Islands.

Here are a few reasons why you should seriously consider the Cyclades this Summer!

1. They are an Instagrammer's Dream:

The Greek Islands are some of the most photogenic places on Earth, with bright blue waters, almost guaranteed sunshine and very 'Insta-worthy' side streets.

Mykonos and Santorini are particularly stunning with their white buildings and blue roof tops - it's pretty easy to head off and explore to get that stereotypical rooftop shot.

With stunning interiors and lots of pale blues and sandy pinks, if great photos are what you're after, you won't be disappointed! Top tip, get up a bit earlier (I know...!) to beat the crowds and get the ultimate shot.  Things get very busy and crowded from 10am, so aim for 7.30/8am and you'll be winning!

2. The Beaches & The Sea:

The Aegean sea is one of the 'bluest' in the World and quite spectacular when the sun is shining.  Aside from their photogenic qualities, the clear blue waters offer great snorkelling opportunities and the temperature is just perfect for a dip after working up a sweat in the sunshine.

Greek beaches are another plus, with a combination of pebbled and sandy beaches spread across the Islands.  Primarily beaches are of the pebbled nature, but personally this is a plus for me, less messy and arguably more comfortable for sunbathing (!!)

Top tip, be sure to grab a pair of 'water shoes' before your trip, making navigating the beaches that much more comfortable.  Check out one of my favourite brands here.

3. The Food:

Undoubtedly the main highlight and major reason for me! As a big food lover, the local cuisine plays a huge part in any holiday and trip abroad for me.  Greek food is very special if cooked right and authentically.  Ideal for sharing, it's a very social experience and a perfect way of tasting a number of different local dishes.

All the Greek Islands are fantastic exponents of the local dishes, but I would always check a few places and 'shop around' before deciding on where to dine.  Try and pick the more authentic, 'rustic' looking tavernas, the family run ones are always the best and often the real hidden gems of the Islands.

Top tip, many local tavernas will host a 'Greek Night' once a week and it's an evening well worth experiencing, with traditional music, dancing and most importantly wine and ouzo on tap! Ask at a few of the local tavernas when you arrive to get a table booked - you won't regret it!


For me there is not better place on Earth for freshly caught and prepared squid - this one in particular was NEXT level!

4. The Weather:

It may seem like an obvious point but if you are looking for consistent sunshine and warmth, Greece is undoubtedly the place for you.  I can think of nothing worse than travelling half way across the World to be met by drizzle - you could have just driven to Cornwall!  The weather in Greece is notoriously reliable and the perfect escape from the UK.

During the British Summer months temperatures can hit 40 degrees plus, so if you aren't a serious 'sunworshipper' like me, best to look at early June or September when temperatures are a tad cooler.  Top tip is to stay in a hotel nearer the coastline where there is likely to be a cooler breeze.


5. The Greek People

The impact of the locals is often underestimated when planning a holiday, but the people often make the place and are integral to the atmosphere and general vibe!

Greece has some of the friendliest locals I have come across, whether it's a smiley 'Kalimera' (good morning) or help with directions, Greek people are very welcoming and make visiting the Islands all the more enjoyable.

Last Summer Josie and I visited 6 of the islands within the Cyclades with Variety Cruises, travelling on the beautiful and very traditional Galileo.  Flight time to Greece from the UK is under 3 hours and you can get some great deals flying from London to Athens with Aegean Air.

If you are keen to experience lots of different places within a relatively short space of time, I would strongly recommend looking into a trip!


Have you visited the Greek Islands before?

Which are you favourite Islands?

C.

For more information on Greece and the Islands, visit www.DiscoverGreece.com

Man About Town's Guide To Whitstable



There's no better way to celebrate the start of the British Summer than a trip to the coastline and with the Weather here in the UK seriously hotting up, the time is now!

Whitstable is the seaside town that every Londoner needs to visit this Summer.  Forget Brighton and it's overpriced ice creams and crowded cafes, Whitstable is a relatively untouched gem of the South-East and MUST visit this year.

A few Weekends back Josie and I decided we needed a break from the City and having discovered Whitstable can be within an hour on the train from London with Southeastern Railway it was an easy decision.  The huge benefit of travelling via train as opposed to flying is that the 'pack' can come with us and so we hopped on a train from St Pancras International with the two dogs in toe.

The scenic journey allowed Josie and I to catch up on emails and then there was a 10 minute stroll from the station in Whitstable to our Hotel, the Marine, our home for the next 3 days.

It didn't take long for both of us to fall in love with Whitstable, with the beautiful beaches and stunning ocean views, it really is a real gem of a place. 

It was a timely reminder that we really must make the most of the places on our 'doorstep', it's all too tempting to look abroad for Weekend getaways, but with such beauty within an hour from London, why bother with the expense and stress of a trip to Gatwick! 
Nothing beats an ice cream whilst sat on the sunny British shores! 
The two handsome chaps had the time of their lives chasing seagulls on the beach!

Where To Stay:

The Marine Hotel:

The Marine Hotel is a short 10 minute walk from Whitstable station and ideally placed for exploring the town.  The biggest plus is they are dog friendly and so both Dexter and Dickens were allowed to camp out in our room! 

Comfy and clean rooms, with a very homely and British feel - coupled with a great brekky and friendly staff, the Marine was perfect for what we needed.

The Hotel has some spectacular views of the coastline and with the sea in touching distance, it's the ideal base from which to explore Whitstable.

Where To Lunch:

The Forge Oysters:

Whitstable is renowned for it's fresh fish but in particular their oysters, farmed and caught locally. Oysters divide opinion, but if fresh and served up with a slice of lemon and drop of Tabasco, they are quite delicious.

With lots of oysters available in Whitstable, be sure to read the signs and visit a registered vendor of Whitstable's own oysters.  There are lots of vendors selling oysters from further afield, which I am told are less fresh and less authentic.

The Forge is nestled in amongst the quays just off the beach and has a very rustic vibe.  It's a family run affair with Mother and Son serving up some of the finest oysters around, alongside some fantastic fish and chips.  
You simply can't leave Whitstable without trying one of these bad boys!
Alongside the oysters, I went for some freshly battered scampi and chips, Josie went for her usual battered sausage! The chips could have been a little crispier, but otherwise it was the perfect fuel for a day exploring the coastline.

Hidden Gems:

Ossie's Fish Bar:

I know, I know.. more fish and chips?! But seriously, a trip to the British seaside is never complete without a good fish and chips and with so many great options here, we decided to 'sample' some chips from the local chippie and sat on the beach, basking in the sunshine.

Ossie's Fish Bar is 5 minutes from the beach on Whitstable high street a great option for a quick snack or for a takeaway lunch to be eaten right by the sea, a real hidden gem!

Whitstable Castle & Gardens:

When visiting Whitstable it's easy to concentrate on the beaches and coastline, but when venturing into town we stumbled across Whitstable Castle & Gardens, a stunning set of gardens surrounding the castle and spot of tranquility.

Whitstable Castle is an impressive structure dating back to the 1790s and houses a quintessentially British tearooms - an ideal place for an afternoon cuppa.

The gardens themselves are well worth exploring with a variety of flowers in bloom this time of year, they are incredibly 'Insta Worthy' !

Where To Dine:

Birdies Restaurant:


There is an abundance of seafood restaurants in town, many of which looked very nice, but we decided on Birdies half way up the main high street, a french inspired bistro.

Birdies had a great vibe and atmosphere, with only a few covers it was buzzing with people and the smell of homely food.

The menu is written up daily on a couple of chalk boards scattered amongst the place and with new dishes added daily, it's a proper bistro.


To start, Josie went for homemade meatballs with breadcrumbs, grated parmesan and chopped chives, her dream starter! I decided on the king prawns and they definitely didn't let the side down, some of the freshest prawns I have eaten within the UK.


When it came to the mains it was a real toughie, both Josie and I were immediately drawn to the beef wellington, but confident she would struggle to finish and that I would still have my 'taste', I went for the fish stew. 


The beef wellington did give me food envy and was delicious in every way.  I guess the only criticism could be the lack of real sides, with only roast vegetables on offer, it was screaming out for a good old fashioned mash potato!

The fish stew was a combination of king prawns, mussels, smoked haddock and salmon and was a real winner.  It felt like the 'taste of Whitstable' in every mouthful and I can honestly say some of the freshest fish I have eaten.

A sharing dessert of Eton Mess really hit the spot and was the perfect finish to a great evening!

Whitstable Essentials:

Any Weekend trip away requires some thought in terms of packing and what to bring, here are my essentials for any trip to the British seaside:

1. Swimmers - Even if the sea is a little chilly, you can't visit the beach without a quick dip! My go-to brand this Summer for some real 'stand out' shorts is Leo Joseph London.

2. Sunnies - Wishful thinking I know, but don't get caught out if the British Summer decides to make an appearance! Current favourites of mine are from Oliver Peoples.

3. Trainers - With so much to see and explore in Whitstable, pack a pair of comfy trainers for all the walking.  Especially handy when trying to navigate the pebbly beaches.

4. Layers - With the weather being unpredictable as ever, be sure to pack a light jumper.  The sea winds can pick up and you don't want to be caught cold.

5. Beach Towel - Sun or no sun, it's worth bringing a towel for a chill on the beach or even a seaside picnic.

6. Day Bag - An essential for any Weekend break, a backpack to carry all the above and more.  Check out a new favourite of mine, Made In Global.


Weekend retreats are a great way to switch off and there is a lot to be said for some fresh seaside air and homely food! For me, Whitstable remains one of Britain's hidden gems and is a fantastic alternative to the much busier beaches of Brighton and Eastbourne and arguably more accessible, under an hour with Southeastern from London.

If you fancy booking a trip to Whitstable or somewhere else in East Sussex or Kent, check out the advance purchase day return offers from Southeastern this Summer, starting from as little as £10! Find out more here.

Where are your favourite places for a Weekend retreat?

C.

*This Blog Post was written in collaboration with Southeastern Railway, however all views and opinions shared are very much my own*

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