If you’re looking for the authentic Caribbean experience, I can recommend a visit to St Kitts, one half of the island federation of St Kitts and Nevis. The fields that once grew sugar cane are lush and undeveloped while the island capital of Basseterre has a laid back and slightly scruffy charm. Yet if you know where to look there are plenty of places to delight the stylish traveller. If you enjoy great design, delicious local food and places that are stylish without being stuffy, read on my recommendations on St Kitts.
Stylish shopping in St Kitts
The Gallery on the square
I loved The Gallery on the Square in Basseterre, where I was tempted by beautifully designed gifts by local artists. Set on the north side of Independence Square, you’ll easily spot it from the colourful paintwork and shutters. It’s one of the oldest houses on the square, and was owned by one family since it was built, until artist Rosey Cameron Smith bought it in 1978 and opened it as an art gallery.
Rosey is known for her large, colourful paintings with scenes from life on St Kitts, featuring the vervet monkeys, vibrant carnival figures and abstract views of the island. She’s brought together the work of many other artists; pottery by Dale Kelley, glass plaques by Calvin Delpeche and scarves by Kate Spencer, another well known St Kitts artist.
While the walls are covered with larger pieces, there are plenty of affordable watercolours, small prints, gift cards and glassware, to bring home a stylish souvenir of St Kitts. I couldn’t resist treating myself to a large, flowing scarf with abstract designs by Kate Spencer, which doubles up as a beach wrap.
Stylish places to stay on St Kitts
Caribbean hospitality at Rockhaven B&B
I loved the colourful Caribbean vibe at Rockhaven bed & breakfast, a private home with just two bedrooms set on the hill above Frigates Bay near Basseterre. The owner, Judith Blake showed me to my room, with an ornate carved wooden bed and cheerful flowery curtains and bedcover. Judith and her husband lived in Canada for many years and when they returned to spend time in St Kitts, Judith told me she wanted to create a vibrant Caribbean feel, choosing a bright pink for the sitting room, and sunshine yellow for her kitchen. With dark hardwood floors, rattan mats and colourful paintings on the wall it all works to make a harmonious whole that’s both elegant and homely.
I took breakfast on the covered terrace, with the breeze rustling through the palms and a view of the Atlantic breakers. My delicious fresh fruit salad and spicy eggs with a chappati were served on colourful painted china with madras checked mats using the yellow, red and green St Kitts check. Set on the top of a hill, Rockhaven bed and breakfast has beautiful views in both directions, although you will need a car to get around if you’re staying there, as there are no shops or restaurants close by. Rockhaven is ideal for independent travellers who want a stylish base to return to after a day out exploring St Kitts.
Colourful contemporary style in Basseterre – Ocean Terrace Inn
If you’re looking for a stylish hotel in Basseterre, I recommend Ocean Terrace Inn which has recently gone through a refurbishment and re-opened with spacious, contemporary style bedrooms. The hotel is set on the side of the hill looking towards the port with the green slopes of Mount Liamuiga beyond. On the lower level are the landscaped gardens and pool area with colourful shrubs and enticing pools and waterfalls with plenty of sun loungers. In the evening try the hotel’s Fisherman’s Wharf restaurant which is set just across the road and overlooks the waterfront. As the name suggests, they specialise in seafood such as grilled snapper or Mahi Mahi and I really enjoyed my lobster with a ginger and lemon butter sauce. Read my full review of Ocean Terrace Inn
Atmospheric plantation style at Ottleys’ Plantation Inn
For old style luxury, Ottley’s Plantation Inn was my favourite hotel on St Kitts and I stayed in one of the cottages set in immaculately tended gardens around the Great House. In my charming bedroom with dark wood furniture, flowered bedspread and plantation shutters I felt like a heroine in Gone with the wind and could throw open the shutters in the morning to look across the gardens towards the ocean. The property borders the rainforest and there are walks through the grounds where you can spot the vervet monkeys with a pretty little spa cabin tucked away in the trees. The inn feels very tranquil and private although you are just a short drive from Basseterre but you’ll need to hire a car or taxi for the days you want to go sightseeing around St Kitts.
Luxury on the beach – coming soon at Park Hyatt St Kitts
Look out for the new Park Hyatt Hotel that is opening in late 2016 on the south-east peninsula on one of the most beautiful beaches overlooking the sister island of Nevis. I had a look around the site when I was there and although it was far from complete I could see that this could be perfect for the stylish traveller looking for a luxurious hotel right on the beach in St Kitts.
Stylish Places to visit on St Kitts
The batik at Romney Manor and Caribelle Batik
I enjoyed visiting Romney Manor, the site of the plantation owner’s house for the nearby Wingfield Estate, which is also worth a look around to see the ruins of the old sugar plantation and rum distillery. Up on the hill above the estate are the lush gardens surrounding the manor with a majestic 400 year old Saman tree spreading its wide branches over the lawn.
Inside the manor house is Caribelle Batik, where I watched the ladies demonstrating how the batik is made, in a painstaking process of painting the wax design and dying the cloth many time in different colours. Outside the batik cloths were left to dry in the breeze in what must be the most photogenic washing line in the Caribbean. After taking a look in the shop, I relaxed with a fruit punch on the terrace looking down on the plantation just as the overseer would have done, to keep check on the activities of the sugar mill.
The canons at Brimstone Fortress
Our minibus wound up the narrow road through stone gateways just wide enough for one car, finally reaching the fortress at the top of Brimstone Hill. The fort is a UNESCO world heritage site which dates back to the 18th century when the English and French were fighting to control the sugar-rich islands of the Caribbean. There are plenty of different parts of the fort to see, but the best bit was climbing up to the stone citadel, where canons pointed in all directions, guarding the coastline with stunning views across the island.
Fairview Great House
This is an easy stop when you’re visiting the historic attractions of St Kitts as it’s on the same road as Romney Manor and Brimstone Fortress as you drive out of Basseterre. It’s an 18th century plantation house, where you can see the dining room table set with antique silver and the bedroom with the four poster bed where Prince Charles stayed when the house was a hotel. There are lovely botanic gardens too, surrounding the house with flowering plants and shady trees and they sometimes host rum tastings as part of a guided tour.
Stylish places to eat in St Kitts
The Gallery Cafe
For coffee and cakes in Basseterre: head to The Gallery Cafe on the north side of Independence Square. I loved this small cafe at the back of the art gallery featuring the work of local artists, that’s run by the painter Rosey Cameron Smith. Her daughter Leah bakes the cakes and cookies while her boyfriend fishes for the wahoo which is smoked and served on a bagel with a spinkling of paprika – utterly delicious.
There’s a charming garden at the back where you can sit in the shade with a glass of freshly pressed juice or a coffee, as if you’d just popped in to a friend’s house for a chat.
For an organic vegetarian lunch and fresh pressed juices: stop at Ital Creations on By Pass Road road near the airport. The food trailer is open throughout the day to buy a bottle of juice and sit in the shade eating a baked veggie wrap with salad and hummus. While your thick green Moringa smoothie is being prepared, wander around the small organic farm run by Judah Fari and his wife Yayah where they grow papaya and pineapple, salad plants and the medicinal herbs used to make bush teas and flavour their dishes.
The Kitchen at Belle Mont Farm
For an elegant lunch of small dishes: call in at Belle Mont farm, the luxurious hotel built on the slopes of Mount Liamuiga in the northern part of St Kitts. Parking your car, you’ll be taken up in the electric buggy that winds on a narrow path through the forest to The Kitchen where lunch is eaten in the open sided dining room with views down to the sea.
The menu is made up of small plates, each designed to be a taster of local produce from the 400 acre organic farm and from the sea. I tried the lobster salad, almost too pretty to eat with artfully strewn herbs and dots of passionfruit and sorrel sauce, and the tasty ginger, pumpkin and spinach soup. You may not leave full to bursting but your taste buds will be tingling.
For drinks and bites on the black volcanic beach: stop at Arthur’s that is also part of the Belle Mont Farm development. It’s a stylish beach bar that was only just open when I stopped by, but the setting was lovely, on a black volcanic beach where the fishermen pull up their boats. The menu is based on traditional beach bar dishes such as conch fritters, grilled lobster and Mahi Mahi rillettes for elegant but casual dining at lunchtime and in the evening.
For cocktails at sunset to a cool Reggae beat: you can’t beat Salt Plage for a drink as the sun goes down. This trendy beach bar is part of the Christophe Harbour development with a deck beside the water and a jetty that also has comfortable seating to snuggle up for a romantic evening a deux. They serve drinks and cocktails every evening as well as small plates of favourite dishes such as coconut shrimp, chicken wings and market fish with garlic butter and island herbs. There’s often a DJ or live reggae music which really adds to the atmosphere as the sun sets and the coloured lights on the jetty reflect in the water lapping below.
Reggae Beach Bar
For lobster and a beer on the beach: try Reggae Beach Bar on Cockleshell Beach which serves drinks and food all day and into the evening. It’s a great place to base yourself for a day on the beach with plenty of sun loungers for hire (although they may get crowded when there are a few cruise ships in port) and the watersports hire next door. This is a local’s favourite, where you can try all the typical seafood dishes such as conch chowder and grilled lobster, with the sand between your toes.
Boozie’s on the beach
For a beach bar to relax with friends: try Boozie’s on the beach at St Frigate’s Bay strip. “The Strip” is a favourite area for locals and visitors in the evening when all that bars along the beach are open for live music, food and drinks. The menu features well cooked hearty Caribbean favourites and there’s a sports bar atmosphere with flags and number plates that happy customers have sent from around the world. This is the place to crack open a bottle of Carib beer or order a ‘Ting with a sting’ and relax with friends.
Delicious street food on St Kitts
As you wander around Basseterre you’ll find plenty of street food vendors, especially at lunchtime when they cater to office workers and on a Friday and Saturday when the locals like to buy jerk chicken and pork or grilled fish to take home for dinner. It’s not always obvious what’s offer but be adventurous and ask the vendor to show you what’s cooking under the metal covers. You may find the traditional St Kitts favourites like salt fish and Johnny cakes or goat water, which sounds disgusting but is actually a tasty stew.
Stylish places to relax on St Kitts
If you need a place to unwind and relax for the day, try Palm Court Gardens which is a favourite for cruise guests in Basseterre. The gardens are beautifully kept, there’s an infinity pool with views over the bay and you can swing in a hammock and buy lunch and snacks in the small cafe. To add to the charms there’s a vintage Rolls Royce parked in the drive, a children’s playground if you have little ones and a workshop where they make beautiful shell jewellery and ornaments that are sold in the shop.
A cool rainforest walk on St Kitts
Over a third of St Kitts is covered with rainforest, especially on the slopes of Mount Liamuiga, which you can climb for an adventurous day trek. For something a bit gentler I went for a forest walk from the Wingfield Estate with expert guide O’Neil Mulraine who learned about the plants and wildlife from his grandfather. We took the easy forest trail alongside a trickling stream as O’Neil pointed out the different trees of the forest such as the African tulip with vibrant orange flowers that was often used for shade on plantations and a tree trunk with needle sharp spines that the monkeys will climb, but only if they are desperate! Overhead we could hear both the cries of the vervet monkeys and the shrieks of the people as they whizzed by on the zipline above our heads.
Begin and end your visit to St Kitts in style at YU Lounge
On my arrival at the airport I was treated to the VIP service that’s available through YU Lounge which can be booked individually or used by business class passengers for some airlines. As I walked down the steps of the plane a car was waiting to whisk me the short distance to the private YU Lounge terminal where I could relax while the staff took care of immigration formalities and retrieved my luggage. I lounged around on the rattan sofas while nibbling some delicious canapés and sipping a cooling drink, thinking that I could get used to the millionaire lifestyle!
While St Kitts has been an unspoiled corner of the Caribbean, there are plenty of new developments that are putting it on the map for the stylish traveller. The Christophe Harbour marina, new luxury Park Hyatt Hotel and Kittitian Hill organic farm and hotel that are all nearing completion will soon provide even more to enjoy for the stylish traveller. Perhaps it’s time to start planning your relaxed but stylish holiday in St Kitts?
Have you been to St Kitts and if so did you discover any stylish places to eat or stay?
Visitor Information for St Kitts
To plan your visit to St Kitts check out the tourism board website at www.stkittstourism.kn or follow their social media channels: Twitter @StKittsTourism | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | Pinterest |
British Airways flies to St Kitts from London Gatwick twice a week on Saturdays and Wednesdays with the flight going on to nearby Antigua. There are regular ferries every day to Nevis, with a journey time of 45 minutes from Basseterre, making it easy to plan a combined stay on both islands.
To start and end your holiday on St Kitts in style, the YU Lounge offers a private terminal at the airport. A private car will meet you from the plane and whisk you to the luxurious lounge where snacks and drinks are available. While you are waiting your luggage will be picked up and you’ll be cleared through security by the YU Lounge staff.
Thanks to St Kitts Tourism for hosting Heather’s visit to St Kitts.
The warm wine fragrance of glühwein, the waft of woodsmoke and roast pork and the shouts of excitement from the children on the old fashioned carousel. The evening may be chill but the atmosphere is convivial, as families and friends enjoy time together. Somehow there’s nothing better than a German Christmas market to start the festive season! Last weekend we spent a few days in Heidelberg at the beginning of Advent and experienced many German Christmas traditions that were both familiar and new to us. Here are some of the memories we brought home with us;
How many Christmas Markets are there in Heidelberg?
In December, there’s a Christmas market wherever you look in Heidelberg! Bounded on one side by the river Neckar, on the other by a wooded hillside, the pedestrian Hauptstrasse runs through the heart of the old town. Along this strip of picturesque houses and cobbled streets are small squares, each with its own Christmas market. Up on the hillside there’s a Christmas market in the grounds of Schloss Heidelberg and another down the river at Neuberg Abbey. After a while we stopped counting and just meandered through the streets and stalls, soaking up the atmosphere.
While I’ve visited the larger Christmas markets in German cities such as Munich, I really enjoyed the smaller scale of the Heidelberg markets set in such pretty surroundings. The town still keeps its medieval charm, since the Americans in WW2 planned it as their headquarters after the war and so held off the bombing. During the day things are quiet but as dusk falls the squares become festive as friends meet for a glühwein and a bratwurst and families enjoy the lights and entertainment.
I hope you enjoy the video below about Christmas in Heidelberg
At least half the stalls seem to be selling delicious things to eat and drink, while the rest sell candles, christmas decorations and other handicrafts that will make perfect gifts or souvenirs to bring home.
“Christmas time in Heidelberg is truly magical with Christmas Markets that dot the gorgeous Old Town and create a wonderful holiday spirit. My classmates and I would use our 15 minutes class breaks to run to the Christmas Markets for a mug of Glühwein. For me, it isn’t officially Christmas season until I have my first Glühwein! When in Heidelberg, make sure to check out the Christmas Market at the castle. It is the best and most authentic one in the city.”
Jordan B Wagner of Beer Time with Wagner
Take a boat trip to the Neuberg Abbey Christmas Market
Late in the afternoon, we took a river boat for a 30 minute ride along the Neckar to Stift Neuberg, the Benedictine Abbey where a Christmas Market is held on each weekend of Advent. As we climbed the worn stone steps from the landing stage and walked through the gardens, we could just make out the wicker edged herb beds, shrub roses and statues in the dusk. Now the smell of woodsmoke reached our nostrils and we turned the corner to see a tall pine tree festooned with light bulbs and the stalls of the market in the Abbey courtyard.
The air was damp and cold, but we found the wood fire that was roasting a suckling pig on a spit and stood nearby to keep warm. Guy ordered a firewürst, a sausage spiced with chilli, while I went for the roast pork in a bun with lashings of mustard. An upturned log with the heart cut out in a starburst was burning as a natural brazier with tables nearby to rest your food and drink.
In the wooden barns were plenty of stalls selling crafts. I had my eye on some felt slippers in a strawberry pattern, but settled on a toadstool Christmas tree decoration, while Guy discussed beekeeping at the stand selling honey and beeswax candles. In the monastery window we could see a single candle burning, and speculated about the shadowy hooded figures we saw walking up the path until we realised that this was the way to the Zum Kolosterhof restaurant and brewery!
“I love the German tradition of meeting friends at a Christmas market for a mug of Glühwein. The focus is on spending time together and enjoying each other’s company in a way that involves very little cost and gets back to the real spirit of Christmas.”
Laurel Robbins at Monkeys and Mountains
Find out more about the Neuberg Abbey on their website here (German) or on the Heidelberg Marketing site here . The Abbey can be reached in a walk along the path by the river from Heidelberg, by the No 34 bus from Heidelberg or by boat as we did from the Weisse Flotte pier near the Old Bridge. This trip (€7 return) runs on the weekends in Advent timed with the market but other cruise trips are available depending on the season. The Abbey can be visited year round as there is a farm shop, organic brewery and restaurant with a beer garden.
Enjoy a Glühwein at the Christmas Market
As the afternoon turns to evening in the Christmas Markets of Heidelberg, friends meet for a drink and a chat, resting their mugs on the bar tables beside each stand. You’ll smell the Glühwein of course, the spiced mulled wine that is guaranteed to chase away any chill, especially when you’ve had a few! Each stand has a decorative Christmas mug to serve their Glühwein and you pay a small deposit which is refunded when you return the mug, or you can keep it as a Christmas souvenir.
Another of the Christmas traditions in Germany is the Fuerzangenboule, a stronger version made of spiced wine with a sugar cone soaked in rum which is flamed in front of you and drips into the mixture. Be sure to let the blue flame subside before you take a sip! While we are glued to old Bond movies on TV over Christmas, the Germans enjoy watching the 1944 movie Der Fuerzangenboule, in which the actors drink their Fuerzangenboule while recalling nostalgic memories of their schooldays.
“Lovely Christmas time! Every year I am looking forward to it as it is my highlight of the winter here in Munich. I usually meet with friends and colleagues at the Christmas market to have Glühwein or hot chocolate with rum which keeps you warm in the cozy evenings.”
Matthias Derhake at Travel Telling
Make or buy some traditional Christmas biscuits
Baking special Christmas biscuits is a German tradition that families enjoy at home during Advent, but those of us just visiting can find them in the Christmas markets and bakeries of Heidelberg. Everywhere we noticed Zimsterne or cinnamon stars topped with white icing, but there are plenty of other varieties and of course each family has their own recipe.
Also popular is German gingerbread or Lebkuchen, a biscuit made with honey and nuts as well as Christmas spices including ginger. The large heart shaped Lebkuchen decorated with brightly coloured icing are on sale in every Christmas market but I think I’d rather leave these for decoration and stick to the smaller varieties sold in the bakery to have with my coffee.
“For us the time before Christmas is the nicest season of the year, when we can relax and do things we never find the time for during a busy travel year. One of these is to stand in our kitchen and prepare christmas cookies together. That is a christmas tradition I have loved since I was a child in my parents’ home. My sister and I used to ‘help’ my mother prepare cookies which were then hidden until a few days before Christmas, otherwise they would never have survived until the holidays! “
Monika Fuchs at TravelWorldOnline
Another Christmas favourite are the Springerle biscuits with their pressed relief designs. We loved those at Cafe Gundel in Heidelberg with charming antique motifs such as angels, hearts or historic scenes. The designs are made by pressing the biscuit dough into moulds or by rolling a sheet of dough with a special rolling pin that has the designs carved into it.
“During weekends we get together and bake biscuits with our loved ones. My favourite Christmas biscuits which I highly recommend to try are the traditional Nuremberg Lebkuchen (Ginger Bread), Spekulatius (speculoos), Zimststerne and Domino Steine which you can buy at every Christmas market and even supermarket.”
Matthias Derhake at Travel Telling
Taste some hearty German Christmas dishes
We couldn’t visit Heidelberg without trying a hearty German dinner in one of the restaurants of the Old Town. Our choice of Goldener Hecht, was right beside the Old Bridge with an outdoor terrace that would be a prime people-watching spot in summer. Inside we settled for a table in the cosy dining room with wood panelling and painted murals.
The hotel’s claim to fame is that the revered German poet Goethe ‘almost’ stayed here in September 1815 – apparently he called in to enquire about a room but all were taken. Personally I think it’s stretching the connection a bit, but then Goethe is held in as high regard as we English hold Shakespeare. I ordered the goose breast served with red cabbage and dumplings, which is often served at a German Christmas eve dinner. Like our own Christmas meal of turkey-with-all-the-trimmings it was most enjoyable but I’d be happy to save this for a treat just once a year.
Guy decided to try another traditional German food, the boiled veal with vegetables served in a copper pan of bouillon which he highly recommended. There was apple sauce on the side and a dish of roasted potatoes, cripy with onions.
Christmas Chocolates to take home
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without us stuffing ourselves with too many chocolates and ruining our appetite for the Christmas Turkey. Of course we had to make a trawl of the best chocolate and sweet shops in Heidelberg to bring back a few stocking fillers. We found the ultimate souvenir at Chocolaterie Knösel where they sell the ‘Students Kiss‘ chocolate truffles.
These were invented over a hundred years ago when the male students of Heidelberg University might admire the young ladies from the local colleges. They could buy a box of Students Kiss chocolates to present to the object of their affection, even if the presence of watchful chaparones meant they could not steal a real kiss.
For fruity candies we enjoyed watching the lollipops being made in the Heidelberger Bonbon store near the Old Bridge, where you can buy a Darth Vadar lollipop as well as the traditional candy hearts and Christmas canes. Also look out for the boxes of Advent chocolates at Vorbach in Kornmarkt where there is a numbered chocolate for each day of Advent – sweet anticipation indeed!
“One tradition that Jim and I always loved was on December 5th putting out the kids’ shoes so that St. Nikolaus would come by and fill it with candy or coal, depending if they were good or bad. We also enjoyed the Advent calendars where you get to open a door to a tiny treasure each day leading up to Christmas which puts everyone in the spirit.”
Corinne Vail of Reflections en Route
An Advent wreath for your home
As we were in Heidelberg on the first weekend of Advent we noticed many Advent wreaths on sale. The wreath of pine foliage is decorated with ribbons and four candles, one for each of the Sundays of Advent. The tradition of the Advent wreath was started by the German Lutherans in the 16th century when a candle would be lit for prayers and carols on each Sunday of Advent, but now it has been adopted as a German Christmas tradition by everyone.
Advent seemed to be a much bigger deal in Germany than in the UK and is marked by Advent calendars in many different forms. It might be the chocolates, each in a numbered box for a different day of advent, or calendars which have a small door behind which is hidden a tiny gift or treat. In Germany it is more typical to put up your tree on Christmas eve so the wreaths and calendars create anticipation in the weeks running up to Christmas before the house is decorated.
A Christmas Nativity scene
In German churches and homes it is traditional to have a Christmas crib with figures of the holy family, shepherds and wise men, often beautifully carved in wood which is an art form in Germany. But at the Jesuit church on Universityplatz in Heidelberg we spotted a Christmas crib with a difference. The large papier-mâché figures had been made in the nearby prison and included not only figures of the Holy Family but many other scenes from German life.
Below the Holy Family, the German football team was celebrating their World Cup win and while the Pope seemed to be blessing the baby Jesus, other parts of the nativity included prostitutes, cripples and even a tragic scene of drowning refugees. “Jesus was born to save the whole of mankind” seemed to be the message. He’s here not just for the powerful but for the poor and downtrodden, the weak and the disposessed in our world.
Christmas is all year round at Kathe Wolfhart
If you long for the magic of Christmas to stay with you all year round, I have good news for you! The Kathe Wohlfart shop in Heidelberg sells Christmas and festive decorations throughout the year, so be sure to pay a visit to soak up the atmosphere, even if it feels a little incongruous in summertime.
Over the years we have collected many different souvenirs on our travels and lately we’ve taken to buying a Christmas tree decoration wherever we go. When we put up our Christmas tree, we love to remind each other of where and when we bought them to relive those holiday memories.
Kathe Wohlfart is also a great place to buy cuckoo clocks, although since they cost hundreds of Euros it’s not a cheap souvenir!
I’m sure readers from Germany or those who’ve lived there will remember many other German customs they enjoy as part of the Advent season. Please do share your own family favourites with us in the comments. While we love to spend Christmas in Bristol surrounded by family and our own Christmas traditions, our visit to Heidelberg was a great start to our festive season, and I hope to yours. Read about more fun things to do in Heidelberg here.
More about Heidelberg
Plan your visit to Heidelberg
For more information about planning your trip to Germany, visit the Germany Tourism Website and read more about German Christmas Traditions | Follow them on Social Media | Twitter @GermanyTourism | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube |
You can also find information about Heidelberg on the Heidelberg Marketing website.
Compare prices and book Hotels in Heidelberg through my Hotel Booking page powered by HotelsCombined.com – see below for my hotel recommendations.
If you need a guide in Heidelberg, we highly recommend Susanne Fiek who runs culinary and other tours of Heidelberg.
Where to stay in Heidelberg
Heather and Guy stayed at Qube hotel, a stylish boutique hotel that was a 20 minute walk or short tram ride from the Old Town. Our room was in Villa Qube, a large townhouse next to the main hotel, on the 4th floor under the eves. Our windows faced the gardens at the back and was quiet, with sloping ceilings and a grey linen sofa and desk as well as a huge comfy double bed.
There were interesting lighting effects which bathed the room in a purple glow and the bathroom was huge with both walk in shower and bathtub. The Qube restaurant has an excellent reputation (although we didn’t eat there) and in summer you can reserve a table on the rooftop terrace with views towards the river.
How to get to Heidelberg
Heather and Guy flew from Bristol to Frankfurt and took the train to Heidelberg. Trains run around every hour from the Frankfurt airport station with a change at Mannheim. On arrival in the airport follow signs for train station and then Fernbahnhof ( long distance train). Tickets can be bought from ticket machines as you reach the Fernbahnhof. The cost is €25 one way or €19 for a saver ticket which must be purchased 1 day in advance. The journey takes around 1 hour.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
After braving the crowds on Santorini and Mykonos it was a relief to arrive at the quiet and charming Greek island of Patmos on Day 3 of our Azamara Cruise. Because the island has no airport, the ravages of mass tourism have passed it by and most visitors come in on the ferry from Athens or via the nearby islands of Kos and Samos.
On Patmos we tried one of the Insider Access tours that are offered by Azamara Club Cruises which give insights that are a bit more unusual than the typical tourist sights. With our guide Carolyn we took the coach up the hill to the village of Chora, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, perched on the hill around the St John’s Monastery. On the way we heard a bit about the history of Patmos which is a site of pilgrimage for Christians, since it was here that St John the Evangelist was exiled from Ephesus and lived for 18 months, during which he wrote the Book of Revelations. In recent years, island has become popular with wealthy Europeans and celebrities who value the quiet and seclusion of the island and have been buying up the old houses of Chora.
Visiting the convent of Evangelismos
The monastery of St John was built in the 11th century and on the hillside below there is a much visited cave which is thought to be where St John went to pray and meditate and perhaps write the Book of Revelations which he dictated to his scribe Prochorus. We visited the nearby Convent of Evangelismos or Annunciation, where the Sunday service had just finished as we arrived and the congregation were enjoying a coffee after the service.
The convent is a community of 40 Greek Orthodox nuns who offer religious retreats, grow their own food in the gardens and carry out their other duties of religious work and prayer. We took a walk around the vegetable gardens with fruit trees of pomegramates, figs, lemons and other fruits which are made into the ‘sweet spoon’ preserves that the Greeks offer to guests with coffee. In the gardens we saw the beehives for honey and wax candles and in the gift shop were examples of the ‘Spitha’ or Spark embroidery made by the nuns, with stitches so fine that they are like tiny sparks.
Although the small church looked old and was filled with beautiful icons and frescos it was actually built in the last 10 years to replace a smaller chapel built in the 1930s which in turn had been build on the site of the original monastery founded in the 1600s. We saw a few nuns, dressed in their long black robes, going about their business and chatting with the congregation. One of the sisters came with us to see the church but seemed happy to stay in the background and let our guide, Caroyn do the talking. When told that were were journalists who would write about the convent she was distinctly unimpressed. “It doesn’t matter”, she said ” we depend on God not man”. The frescos and icons inside the church had been created by one of the nuns who was a skilled painter, although unfortunately no photos were allowed inside the church.
Dressing modestly for visiting a Greek monastery or convent
If you visit a Greek orthodox monastery or convent you need to dress modestly;
- Men should wear long trousers with shirts that cover their shoulders and no hats inside the church.
- For ladies shoulders and knees should be covered. In the strictest places such as the convent skirts must be worn but in other places trousers are allowed.
- If you are not suitably dressed, usually wraps or shawls are provided outside the church to cover bare legs and shoulders.
- The nuns do not wish to be photographed and so you should not point the camera in their direction.
Visiting a traditional house on Patmos
After our visit to the convent we made made the short drive back to Chora and walked through the narrow streets to visit a local house. The village was built between 1500 and 1800 when many seafarers and merchants settled on the island from Crete and Asia Minor and built fine mansions here. These are now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site and behind the high walls and small windows are surprisingly large houses and gardens that you don’t see from the street.
The island was subject to pirate attacks in the past, so the high walls and small windows were there for protection. When a pirate ship was spotted in the bay, the house owners would cross the interconnecting flat roofs to make their way to the protection of the monastery of St John.
The house that we visited was owned by a lively lady aged 92 called Morfousa Simandiri whose family had owned the house for eight generations. There was a portrait on the wall of her ancestor, a wealthy merchant who had built the house, with many beautiful antiques, paintings and lace on display as we walked through the rooms of the house.
After our walk around the streets of Chora we returned for lunch at a nearby restaurant with a fantastic view from the terrace, overlooking the bay where we could see Azamara Journey. Here we were able to try many of the tasty Greek specialities such as small stuffed pastries, Greek salad and the local fava bean hummus.
After our tour we were dropped off in the harbour and wandered around the streets of Skala, the main harbour town of Patmos. The town had a charming, relaxed air that was a world away from the crowds and commercialism we had experienced on Santorini and Mykonos. Since there is no airport on the island, most visitors have to take a long ferry ride from Athens or a flight to one of the neighbouring islands of Kos and Samos and then a ferry from there.
It was interesting to compare the distinctive architecture of each of the Greek islands we had visited on our Azamara cruise. The houses on Patmos had patterned white plasterwork that followed the lines of the stones underneath, often with natural stone corners and window facings and paintwork of washed blue compared to the intense turquoise of Santorini. Since it was Sunday afternoon, I imagine that everyone was home having a siesta and we walked along the harbour to have a sit and a swim on the town beach.
Returning by tender on board the Azamara Journey we relaxed and changed ready for the White Night dinner which is a tradition each cruise and the closest that the relaxed Azamara Cruise gets to a formal night. The tables were set out around the pool area and guests dressed mainly in white enjoyed their dinner in the warm night air.
We were entertained by the Azamara singers and dancers as the sun set over Patmos, a lovely end to a relaxing day and the end of the Greek island portion of our cruise, as tomorrow we head to the Turkish port of Kusadasi.
About Azamara Club Cruises
Azamara Club Cruises is a small luxury cruise line with two ships; Azamara Journey that Heather and Guy sailed on and Azamara Quest, each with a capacity of 686 guests. The smaller ship size means you often visit destinations that larger ships can’t get into and the ships can dock in more central locations. The emphasis is on destination immersion; enjoying the destination to the full, arriving early and sailing late so that guests can enjoy nights and cool places ashore, with insider access programmes and a unique AzAmazing evening included in each cruise. No itinerary is the repeated and each year the ships visit different destinations around the world. Azamara is part of Royal Caribbean Cruise group. Visit the Azamara Club Cruises website more information about a Mediterranean luxury cruise like the one Heather and Guy enjoyed.
Joining your Azamara Club Cruise
Heather and Guy flew from London Heathrow to Athens and back from Istanbul using British Airways, although obviously each cruise is different in the best way to get there.
Heather used the Meet and Greet Parking Service booked through Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who offer airport parking at a range of airports across the UK as well as travel extras such as airport lounge booking and airport hotel stays.
Both flights and transfers from the airport to your cruise ship can be arranged through Azamara Cruises.
Thanks to Azamara Club Cruises who hosted Heather and Guy for their 7 day Greek Island Cruise and to Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) who provided their airport parking at Heathrow.
Read More about our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Sailing into Santorini – Day 1 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Windy Mykonos – Day 2 of our Azamara Greek Island Cruise
Visiting Kusadasi and Ephesus – Day 4 of our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise
Istanbul the golden – final stop on our Azamara Greece and Turkey Cruise
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