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Highlights of 2016 for Binny’s Kitchen & Travel Diaries

2016 has been a whirlwind year where plenty of Mojitos were consumed, lots of new friendships were made, several destinations were visited, both in the UK and abroad, and lots of dining out occurred at various new and classic restaurants!

Best Mojito of 2016

First things first! My favourite Mojito was at the Langham hotel. Trust me I have had a lot of Mojitos in the name of research to come to this conclusion 😉

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Now we can carry on to the rest of the year. Here is my round up of my year with lots of photos.

January

The year started quietly as we had just returned from a trip back home in Kenya which had been pretty hectic with a wedding to attend and some family time split between Mombasa and Nairobi. The highlight of January however, was getting to meet Jason Atherton and getting a signed cook book. I somehow managed to win an Instagram competition on Jason’s feed and had won a meal for 2 at his restaurant Social Wine and Tapas, which was brilliant. I didn’t take my camera though and didn’t blog about it. A lesson I learned from and didn’t repeat for the rest of the year. That camera is permanently in my handbag!

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February

The shortest month of the year and we had our first staycation of the year in Nottingham. It was fun exploring the city and visiting the castle. The highlight of the staycation was visiting the Kitty Café because if you know me you know I am a super crazy cat lady!

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In London we also visited the Magic lantern festival and that was quite spectacular! I hope that there is something similar to see next year!

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March

March was the only month where I seem to have stayed in and cooked more than I went out for some bizarre reason. I did however go to Hoppers London for some Egg Hoppers, which has definitely been a very fabulous experience.

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I also had Bao, and fell in love with the Horlicks Bao. It is heavenly!

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April

April was a month of celebrations with my Blog having its first year anniversary as well as it being our sixth wedding anniversary! We celebrated both and went for meals to Bob Bob Ricard, famous for its “Press for Champagne” button/switch as well as one of my favourites, and evidently a favourite of Michel Roux Jr too, Michelin starred Gymkhana.

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With spring settling in we also visited the Cotswolds for a weekend trip and stayed at The Falcon, in the very cute and quaint town of Painswick.

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We also celebrated our anniversary with a long haul trip to Mauritius where we stayed at the St Regis, which was out of this world.

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May

May was the UK Blog Awards 2016 ceremony for which I was a finalist in both the Food & Drink and Travel categories. My work bff Anne came to stay the night with me to attend the ceremony, along with Mandy, and we went to the ceremony in a chauffeur driven BMW 7 series which had massage seats! Thank you to BMW for that little treat!

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The next day we went on a road trip to Liverpool, and Amit and I explored the city and had a memorable meal at Mowgli Street Food. If you go to Liverpool it is a must try!

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I went on my first ever press trip abroad too and to a destination I had visited when I was 15! It was to St. Malo in Brittany and it was such a lovely trip and I ate all the Salted Caramel I could, as well as some delicious pancakes. I got to go with my blogger friends Sandra, Omo and Eulanda and we had such a fabulous time.

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June

June was the start of good weather and I enjoyed the Taste of London festival, a food festival where you can try dishes from most of the restaurants in London.

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Got to catch up with one of my faves – Chef Vivek Singh too and got a copy of his book.

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I also got to meet one of my food heroes in June and had the opportunity to have a short interview with him – the legendary Antonio Carluccio. He is such a cutie! He did answer a very important question I had for him too. Click on the link on his name above to find out what!

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I also went for a fix of Asma Khan’s delicious food at Druid Street Market, where proceeds of her food went towards charity. Excited to have more of her amazing dishes in 2017.

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June was also the month I worked on my first big campaign with Nescafe! It was such fun to shoot and it is my favourite brand of coffee too so worked out perfectly.

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July

In July we made the most of the gorgeous weather and visited Rye, were we stayed at the marvellous Gallivant hotel. If you are thinking of visiting Rye, it is such a gorgeous hotel!

I also took a day out to volunteer at the charity I wholeheartedly support, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Amit and I make it a point to do this yearly. To find out how you too can help have a read about it here.

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I had my fix of summer ice cream in Suffolk too with a dose of some much needed beach time and some fantastic Indian food at Sea Spice restaurant in Aldeburgh.

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The highlight of the month, however, (and I probably am showing my craziness here), was meeting Grumpy Cat! I stood by myself in a queue for an hour and a half and no I am not ashamed to admit it lol.

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August

August started with a super fun tea-athon with Starwood hotels and I later returned to review my favourite afternoon tea venue at the Sheraton Grand London.

The launch party of the much anticipated Symmetry Breakfast cook book was also in August and could not be happier for Michael Zee. It was an extra special evening as Michael proposed to Mark in the book and at the launch party and a few tears of joy were shared.

Amit’s birthday is in August and this year I treated him to a 3 Michelin star meal at the Waterside inn. We loved our meal and even had the opportunity to meet Chef Alain Roux as well as get a sneak peek into the kitchen.

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September

September was a month of travel for me and we started off with a Mediterranean Cruise with P&O where we sailed to Cadiz, Barcelona, Monaco, Rome and Naples. I also got to meet the lovely Karen from Lavender and Lovage as well as Amanda from Glamourous Glutton on the trip and we all had such a fantastic time!

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As part of the cruise, we had a dinner date with THE James Martin and I am sure everyone is sick of me gushing about him now but I can’t help it. I love the man and especially love his monkey bread and snickers ice cream too.

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I bravely went to Mexico City by myself too to attend the Latin America 50 Best Restaurant awards and this was such a wonderful experience and such a superbly organized press trip. I got to experience the food, culture, arts and main sights in Mexico City.

October

I went to the glitzy Sheraton Grand London relaunch party with my blogger friends Em and Aftab and had a fun filled evening of champagne, good chat and fantastic food.

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I also went to a pasta making masterclass hosted by Theo Randall which was great fun. Most of the month was spent planning our upcoming trip to Dubai and India.

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November

November is always my favourite month as it is my Birthday month! This year I decided to have my birthday meals at Michelin starred Kai in Mayfair, a birthday brunch with my favourite bloggers Angie from Silverspoon London and Aftab from Fresh and Fearless in the Mirror room at Rosewood London and a very special meal with Amit at Vineet Bhatia London.

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We then flew to Dubai, where we stayed at the Sheraton Dubai Creek, and spent a few days on a family holiday.

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We then went onwards to India where we visited Bhuj and my husband’s ancestral home, followed by a luxurious break in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which had been high on my list of hotels to visit.

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December

December kicked off with one of my favourite meals of the year at Jamavar. If you haven’t been yet it is a must! I have already been twice and already looking for excuses to go back. If anyone wants to go with me let me know!

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I was also lucky to meet another food hero, Eric Lanlard at his Patisserie ,Cake boy thanks to Meantime Brewing Company. To kick off the festive period we made some Mince Pies with a special ingredient – Cake Boy’s Hazelnut Ale. Utterly scrumptious!

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For the rest of the month I have spent some much needed time relaxing, catching up with family and friends and spending some time getting to know my brand new godson.

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2016 has been a wonderful year and I am so grateful for all the experiences I have been fortunate to have, especially in terms of travel, and for the fantastic friends I have made along the way. I am really looking forward to 2017, which is set to be a year of change for me in terms of career.

As for New Years Resolutions, I want to continually improve on my blog, spend some time improving my photography and getting to use my Canon 760D better and learn Spanish (Geri if you are reading this I am learning Spanish for my return to Mexico one day).

The travel priority is going home to Kenya as I didn’t manage to make it home this year. We have also booked a weekend in Paris so am looking forward to that too.

What have been the highlights of 2016 for you? I would love to know in the comments section below.

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Packing more efficiently for a weekend away or a short break

Packing for a weekend away or mini short break can be harder (well at least I find it harder), than packing for a long haul trip.

Here are some ideas on how to pack more efficiently:

  • Pick the right bag! I love the Antler backpack as it has so many compartments, spacious, and so convenient as you can carry it like a backpack and leave your hands free. (This is not a sponsored post I bought this bag for my weekend trip to St Malo)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • It is worth having a rough idea of what you’ll be doing. This will make it so much easier when it comes to getting the balance between smart, casual and comfortable clothing and shoes right.
  •  â€˜Team work makes the dream work’ – Avoid packing too much by  thinking about pieces that can easily be teamed together.
  • Check the weather beforehand as it will be a good indicator of what to pack for long weekends.
  • Wear your bulkiest items, especially shoes!
  • Only pack what you need. Avoid the temptation to pack “just in case” outfits.
  • Put toiletries into smaller bottles to save space.
  • Roll your clothes when packing. Not only will this save space, it will avoid your clothes getting creased too.
  • Make the most of your technology. If you are planning to read, download the book on your tablet or phone instead.
  • Take screenshots of maps and save them on your phone. This is so useful especially if you are in an area with limited data coverage and means you don’t need to pack additional things.
  • Utilize the space inside your shoes â€“ you can stuff them with things like phone chargers, socks, nail polish, and extra pairs of sunglasses.
  • Check if your hotel already provides a hairdryer and if so, don’t take yours.
  • For bulky items such as camera chargers, pack a spare camera battery instead.

Do you have any tips on packing more efficiently? Would love to know in the comments below.

For more information on the Antler range of bags go to: https://www.antler.co.uk

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Conquering my fear of heights at the ArcelorMittal Orbit Slide #RideTheSlide

For someone with a phobia of heights and not a daredevil by any means, going on the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide, designed by Belgian artist Carsten Höller, as part of a team afternoon, with R, M and P, filled me with dread and when the day arrived I was a bundle of nerves.

What didn’t help was I read reviews that stated “not for the fainthearted” and for “adrenalin rush seekers.” I am a wimp.

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The ArcelorMittal Orbit, which is Sir Anish Kapoor’s sculpture in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to me, looks like a giant Shisha pipe, and the slide looping around it from a ground level view is slightly terrifying. You can even choose to abseil down it but I personally don’t have the courage to go that far! It is pretty new, having opened towards the end of June.

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Once we took the short DLR ride from work to the park, we first went to the viewing platform, which has an alternate view of the cityscape of London, the Olympic park and Stratford in general. It is lovely up there and you can even walk on the outside bit with a mesh floor. Just don’t look down if you are scared of heights!

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We then walked down the mesh stairs to the floor where the slide starts from and joined the queue of excited people waiting their turn, as well as onlookers watching each person take the plunge. You could hear lots of screams, but it was unclear whether they were of terror or excitement.

It is said to be the world’s tallest, longest and fastest tunnel slide and guaranteed to give you a hair-raising London experience. It definitely did do that.

The scariest bit is when it is your turn to go,  you have to push yourself down the slide into the unknown and as each person took their turn, most let out a scream or gasped, which really did not help mine or M’s fear, and the closer we got to our turn the more I was starting to chicken out.

M even almost gave her ticket away to another lady at one point who wanted to go but the tickets were sold out. So glad she didn’t and lesson from this is really recommend booking in advance!

We were soon kitted out in dodgy looking head gear, tight arm pads, and if you weren’t wearing trousers, you were given knee pads too.  I am so glad we weren’t allowed our phones or cameras up there so there is no evidence of how bad we looked!

You can store your belongings safely in lockers as I am sure you don’t want to lose anything in that slide.

Once it is your turn to go on the slide, you are given a upmarket version of a helter skelter style mat, that you have to keep your feet firmly in and hold on to.

We sent R, our manager first, as we were still so scared, and he didn’t even scream as he descended down the structure, absolutely loved it and waited for each of us to arrive at the end.

M went next and it took her a few minutes to pluck up the courage to go through with it and in the end the attendant pushed her down. She let out a scream initially, and as I was going next, I could see her arrive at the end on a screen next to where I was lying down and waiting my turn, and she looked terrified, which made me more nervous so I said to P, that I couldn’t go through with it.

A few words of encouragement later from P, and there I was, lying down ready to experience the slide. I couldn’t bring myself to push myself down as I was totally freaked out at this point and so I asked the attendant to push me while I shut my eyes.

In order to go down the slide correctly, you have to lie down, tuck your chin in and keep your elbows in.

After 178 metres of scary but exhilarating twists and turns, loops,  jumps and a little bit of throwing around whilst weaving 12 times around the structure at rapid speed,  I arrived at the bottom, having absolutely loved all 32 seconds of it.

I won’t lie, the scariest bit is right at the start when you are initially about to go down as you have no idea what to expect, but after a few seconds it is amazing! You can get glimpses of the city and Olympic stadium as you go down if you haven’t closed your eyes, as the top part of the slide is clear.

The last stretch is a 50m drop named the  “the bettfeder” (bedspring in German)  for a final bit of butterfly inducing fun, before you finally come to a stop into the bright open.

It is less scary than a rollercoaster, and you definitely do get an adrenalin rush, which I discovered, I was actually fine with.

I was left wanting to go straight back up on it, and as I chatted to M and R, while waiting for P to arrive at the finish line, we all felt “euphoric”, word of the day by M. I would definitely go again and next time it will be less shrieks and more attempts to catch glimpses of the views as you go down the structure.

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I really recommend booking tickets in advance. The Slide cost £15 for adults, £10 for children. Even if you are scared of heights, it is so worth it, not that bad at all, and so much fun! Something to do at least once 🙂 You can go grab food or drinks in neighbouring Westfield after, meaning you can make a day out of it.

For more information and to book tickets go to: http://arcelormittalorbit.com

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Coconut Water and Mint Ice Cubes 

In the heat it is so important to keep hydrated and if you don’t like drinking plain water, here’s an idea to spruce it up in a healthy way without cordials or mixers.

I have simply filled an ice cube tray with Innocent coconut water with a pinch of chopped fresh mint leaves in each slot and frozen these.

All you then simply do is pop a couple of Coconut Water and Mint Ice Cubes into your glass or bottle and not only will the ice keep your drink cold, it will infuse the water with the flavours of the coconut water and mint. Delicious!

Keeping hydrated is very important because, aside from preventing you from getting dehydrated:

  1. It boosts your mood
  2. It prevents headaches
  3. It helps keep your mind sharp
  4. It helps digestion
  5. It helps keep your blood pressure relatively normal

What are your favourite ways to stay hydrated?

This post is in collaboration with Innocent Coconut Water, which is best served chilled.

 

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Sea Spice Indian restaurant- Aldeburgh 

I love discovering  hidden gems and reviewing an Indian restaurant in the seaside town of Aldeburgh turned out to be just that – it was the most amazing food in the most unexpected location.

I have to admit at first I was dubious as to how the flavours would be executed comparative to North London. However, it blew my expectations totally and this is a restaurant which I truly believe will one day be awarded with a Michelin star so definitely one to keep an eye on!

Under the helm of Head Chef Pratap Singh Rabat, who has worked at popular restaurants in his career including Chor Bizarre in London (which used to be a favourite of mine), Tamarind and Atul Kochhar’s Benares, Sea Spice combines authentic Indian flavours with local Suffolk coastal produce.

Starting off with some bubbles, we read through the really interesting but really fantastic menu, trying to decide what we wanted to eat.

For nibbles, I went for the Crispy coated Okra. I love Okra but Amit doesn’t go anywhere near it so I was really pleased to have these crunchy morsels of delight all to myself.

Masala Peanuts is the perfect nibbles, especially having grown up in Kenya, where we enjoy it in a similar way. This invoked such amazing nostalgia and was rather addictive.

Our third selection from the nibbles was Mixed Bhajis, which were perfectly cooked and served with a delicious tangy chutney.

For starters I went for the Jhinga Dakshini, which was Tiger prawns cooked  in crunchy chickpea flour. I love chickpea flour, also known as besan, and this was so unusual and a real delight to eat. This was definitely a dish that married Suffolk sea food with Indian cooking styles and it was definitely a match made in heaven.

Amit went for the Gilafi Seekh Kebab, which he absolutely loved. He thought it was marinated really well and full flavoured and had a melt in your mouth texture.

For mains, to accompany my choice of dish, I went for fluffy and light butter naan, which were served hot, with melted butter and dreamy.

I chose the free range butter chicken, for my curry dish, and it was rich, superbly flavoured and indulgent. Lip smackingly good.

Upon recommendation, Amit went for the Braised Suffolk Lamb Shank, which was served on Pilau Rice

He really enjoyed this dish, especially the flavours, which came through so well, highlighting the amount of time this had been marinated and cooked for to perfection.

Dessert was exciting! Having spotted Masala Creme Brûlée on the menu, there was no way I was going to have anything else! It was bursting with flavour, garnished beautifully and sensational.

If you are visiting Suffolk, this restaurant is so worth the trip! I recommend booking in advance as it was really busy and popular and can’t even explain how good the food was. Just really urge everyone to go try it!

For more information go to: http://seaspice.co.uk

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Pretty Aldeburgh & The White Lion Hotel

A few hours drive from London is the gorgeous tranquil seaside Suffolk town of Aldeburgh. It is just so pretty!

One of very few places to have conserved their heritage and there is a distinct lack of high street shops and chains and an array of artisan and cute independent shops everywhere, which was really refreshing to see.

It is a very friendly town with a community feel and feels super safe.

Fish huts dot the sparkly shingle coast and I just adore the small town feel and the quaint and pastel colourful houses everywhere.

We were visiting for the weekend to stay at The White Lion, a 38 room hotel with a fabulous seafront location and fabulous views from 12 of its rooms, one of which we were lucky to stay in. There is just something special about having a sea view.

 

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White Lion Hotel, Aldeburgh, Suffolk - 2
Photo credit: The White Lion
We arrived and parked behind the hotel as there was lots of parking available on the streets, although the hotel does have its own parking area too.

The staff were very welcoming and check in was a smooth and quick process. Our room was on the first floor and had a superb sea view. Just loved hearing the waves and the aroma of the salty seaside air.

The room was large and spacious, with a large, very comfortable bed with an ensuite airy bathroom which had both a tub and shower.

There was a small TV in the corner of the room and a dressing table. Coffee and Tea making facilities were also available which pleased me as I need a coffee as soon as I wake up in the morning.

The hotel has 2 restaurants, an Indian one called Sea and Spice, which I will be reviewing separately, and Brasserie Bleue, which has fantastic food and an extensive wine list. It is also the venue for breakfast.

We really enjoyed our breakfast and had some fresh grapefruit and apple juice and delicious home made toast. I went for Eggs Benedict while Amit went for the The Lion’s Share which was bacon, sausages, grilled tomato, mushroom and egg cooked in your preferred way. He went for scrambled eggs.

On the two days we were there, we walked around the town and ate lots of  ice cream because…seaside…ice cream. Perfect combination!

I would really recommend two ice cream shops, the first (pictured below) is The IceCreamery, run by a family and with an amazing choice of flavours available.
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What I loved best about them was Amit wanted mint and they didn’t have it in their main selection, so they created it for him by mixing aero mint chocolate with vanilla on a swanky cold metallic surface with a cold blade. Genius!

I went for a fruity banana flavour as it was a really hot day and it was so refreshing! We took the obligatory instagram photos because I adored all the different coloured walls in the town. This blue wall matched my outfit :p

We then went and sat at the beach for a while and relaxed. It is a shingle/pebble beach and it is so lovely and tranquil. Although kids can’t play with buckets and spades, it is great for swimming and relaxing.

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It was time well spent as I totally relaxed and enjoyed basking in the glorious sunshine we were lucky to have that day.

It is worth mentioning that phone reception is really bad in Aldeburgh (GPRS) so I could totally switch off when I was away from the wifi connection available in the hotel and so had a bit of a social media detox for a few hours, which was very welcome.

The beach is perfect for families and picnics and there are nautical remnants everywhere, which I loved seeing, having grown up in a coastal city myself.

The town is so pretty with lots of flowers and plants dotting the coastline. I just couldn’t help snapping away.

It is a working fishing town and there are shacks everywhere along the coast selling smoked and fresh fish, and the seafood is incredible.

On our second day, before we left I had ice cream again, and this time I chose Ives Ice Cream Parlour, which also sells coffees and teas alongside ice cream. The couple running the shop were lovely and put up with me photographing everything.

But how stunning is this ice cream?

I went for the roasted coffee (I know) flavour! I am craving it as I type it was ridiculously delicious! This is my second recommendation for ice cream in Aldeburgh. It is literally a minute’s walk from the beach so perfect to get an ice cream and then go enjoy it watching the waves crashing at the shore. My favourite thing to do!

Aldeburgh is so romantic, cute and peaceful and the perfect setting for a relaxing weekend break. I can’t believe how little of England I had seen until now and there really are lovely gems to escape to away from the hustle and bustle of London. There are lots of cafes, restaurants and really interesting shops close to the hotel.

I purchased lots of nautical themed home accessories for our flat which I was really delighted with.

The White Lion Hotel is in a fantastic and prime location facing the sea and the rooms are really comfortable, reasonably priced (Doubles from ÂŁ95 in low season; rising to ÂŁ195 in high).  Breakfast is included which is fabulous and more importantly there is free and vert good Wi-Fi throughout the hotel.

This is a dog friendly hotel and we saw lots of adorable pooches, staying over for a supplementary ÂŁ10 a night.

For more information on the hotel go here: The White Lion

Disclaimer: My stay was complimentary and all views are my own.