The Magic of Northern Ireland

Truth be told, I probably wouldn't have ever ventured across the water to Northern Ireland if it hadn't been for my friends wedding this spring in her home village - a beautiful little place called Cushendall. But I am soooo glad I did - everything about this place is magical and it has some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen. So I am Northern Ireland's number fan at the minute and telling everyone I can to go and let this little part of the world shine! 

First Stop - Belfast 

 Belfast Street Art

Belfast Street Art

The first thing that strikes you about Belfast is the street art. It's everywhere. Vibrant striking images of Belfast's history adorn walls on every building. It reminded me a lot of Manchester and Liverpool, quirky industrial streets now filled with bustling cafes and bars. I could definitely live here, we all felt right at home. 

 The National & Sixty 6, Belfast

The National & Sixty 6, Belfast

One of the must do's, in my opinion is a Black Cab Tour. I love history, I always have so anything to do with past or present troubles really interests me. We pre booked Paddy Campbell's Famous Black Cab Tour and was met promptly by our driver Damien. The history of Belfast and it's on going struggles with religion were fascinating and although being old enough to understand at the time, the troubles in Northern Ireland really passed me by as a child ashamedly and I never realised the severity of it all. This tour was so informative, humorous and sensitive - it really captured our attentions. 

 The Peace Wall, Belfast

The Peace Wall, Belfast

Of course Belfast is also renowned for a good night out and it didn't disappoint. Being the foodies we are, we dined at The Ox and then headed into the Cathedral quarter for as much Guinness as we could handle. One of my favourite memories is sitting in the Duke of York pub with a session band singing "Galway Girl", everyone was merry and loving life at that moment. It was just like I imagined!  

 The Crown Pub, Belfast

The Crown Pub, Belfast

 Established Coffee, Belfast. Eggs & Avocado. 

Established Coffee, Belfast. Eggs & Avocado. 

Our second day in Belfast consisted of a fabulous breakfast at Established Coffee - the orange juice was to die for - and then on to the famous Titanic Museum. I actually really enjoyed the museum, it's great for kids or a rainy day and the chance to reenact the famous "King of the world" scene means it's a 100% winner in my eyes! Plus there's the geeky photo op moments you can't resist! 

 Titanic Museum, Belfast

Titanic Museum, Belfast

 Titanic Museum Belfast

Titanic Museum Belfast

From Belfast to Cushendall

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For our trip, we hired a car. It's probably the only way to get around if you plan on heading further north from Belfast. The Coastal Causeway route is spectatular and if you can drive, then I highly reccommend you do it because it gives you total freedom to just pull over and go wherever the scenery takes you. Some of our best moments were off course, randomly stopping and letting curiousity take over. 

 Glendales BnB, Cushendall

Glendales BnB, Cushendall

Cushendall is a gorgeous little seaside village, nestled in between three glens of Antrim and in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and it is where my friend grew up and returned home to get married. Having everyone descend on this village from all over for the weekend was fabulous and it was so good to see so many old faces. Our group staying in the wonderful Glendale BnB where the home cooked Ulster Fry was second to none! 

 Glendales famous Ulster Fry!

Glendales famous Ulster Fry!

We spent 3 nights in Cushendall, with the main event being on Saturday. The weather was gloriuous and everything about the wedding day was amazing. The whole village was so accomodating and you couldn't meet friendlier people. 

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The day after the wedding, we dragged ourselves to the beach to blow the hangovers away and boy did it blow. That's the unpredictability of Northern Ireland and the weather I guess, but being Manchester folk it didn't phase us. I always have an umbrella with me, no matter what the forecast! 

 Cushendall Beach 

Cushendall Beach 

 Best Selfie Ever

Best Selfie Ever

 Cushendall Beach 

Cushendall Beach 

Up North along the Causeway Coastal Route 

 Glenariff Nature Reserve & Waterfalls Walk

Glenariff Nature Reserve & Waterfalls Walk

Relunctantly we said our goodbyes to our friends and to Cushendall and headed even further north along the Coastal Causeway Route. There are so many beauitufl places along this route, Game of Thrones has filmed lots of scenes in these parts and there's also loads of fun things to do. First stop, about 10 mins from Cushendall was the Glenariff Waterfalls which was a gorgous little walk down into the valley. Next was the tiny village of Cushenden where we stopped for an hour to have tea and cake and hide away from the wind. 

 Cushendun 

Cushendun 

 Cushenden Beach 

Cushenden Beach 

We braved the weather and climbed the path to Torr Head along the way, which had more amazing views. The headland was important in the 1800s for recording the passage of transatlantic ships and also has ruins dating back to the 6th Century. 

 Torr Head 

Torr Head 

Another stop off on the way to our third stopover was the Dark Hedges, famed by Game of Thrones. We excitedly blasted the theme tune as we pulled into the car park and followed the scores of tourists to the tree lined avenue. In truth, it was pretty underwhelming and being around so many tourists was off putting but at least we ticked it off the list. 

 The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland. Games of Thrones tourist destination - I have edited out all the people!

The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland. Games of Thrones tourist destination - I have edited out all the people!

And finally we rewarded all the outdoor activity with the last tour of the day around Bushmills Whisky Distillery. I personally hate whisky so this was one for the others but the tour was interesting enough and it was nice to be warm! 

 Bushmills Whisky Distillery Tour 

Bushmills Whisky Distillery Tour 

We finally reached our AirBnB in Port Stewart which is another coastal town and were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset. If it wasn't for the coats and lack of music, we could basically have been in Ibiza! 

 Sunset at Port Stewart 

Sunset at Port Stewart 

Giants Causeway & Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge 

Our second to last day was spent doing the big Tourist attractions that this part of Northern Ireland boasts about. The first was the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge which I didn't even attempt to cross. Too many scars from playground rope bridges and an over zealous brother - yep I'm a wimp! But the others all did it, rather easily if I might add, and I took photos from a brilliant vantage point. 

 Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland. Ben crossing solo! 

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland. Ben crossing solo! 

 The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland 

The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland 

The Giant's Causeway has always been a bucket list destination for me since a high school art project and an unhealthy obsession with Westlife! It was everything I dreamed of, although sadly Shane Filan was not waiting for me but nevertheless I loved it. I really liked how you could just wander onto the rocks and find your own little spot. Yes it was busy but you could escape some crowds and get those all important photos if needed. 

 The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland 

The Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland 

The Last Day 

Because we were a group of nine from different bits of the UK, the last day meant various departures at different times, leaving 5 of us for the last flight of the day. We slowly made our way back to the airport via various points along the Coastal route which we hadn't yet seen. The sun had also come back so it was perfect! 

 Port Stewart, Northern Ireland 

Port Stewart, Northern Ireland 

We headed to White Park Bay, which is where a herd of cows can be seen lazying around on the beach. There are google images to prove it. Unfortunately I didn't see any cows building sandcastles but the beach was absolutely stunning and the dunes were full of rabbits which kept us entertained in the sunshine. 

 White Park Bay, Northern Ireland. Sadly no cows....

White Park Bay, Northern Ireland. Sadly no cows....

 Ballintoy Harbour 

Ballintoy Harbour 

Next stop was Ballintoy which is another Game of Thrones filming location. It's a tiny harbour with the cutest ice cream cafe which makes it the perfect pit stop. 

 Mint Choc ice cream, Northern Ireland

Mint Choc ice cream, Northern Ireland

And that's it, the Northern Irish adventure is over. We ended the day with a gorgeous meal at Billy Andy's on the way back to the airport and 40 minutes on a plane we were back home in Manchester. I honestly couldn't recommend Northern Ireland enough, the scenery, the people, the atmosphere - it's all brilliant. 

P.s. This isn't sponsored in any way - I just had the most amazing time!!! 

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Italian Adventure

So a little break from Interiors and Manchester but I just have to write about my amazing adventure in Italy. I had been planning this trip for a year and had waited ever so patiently (or not in the case of my friends and workmates!) for September to arrive. The main reason for visiting was for a wedding of our close friends, for whom I was honoured to be bridesmaid. We decided to combine this with a road trip around Northern Italy. 

Stops covered were Lake Como, Milan, Parma, Modena, Portico & Florence and these are just a few snippets of the journey... 

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First stop of the trip was Lake Como. We arrived late at night after driving from Milan Airport and the crazy winding roads in the pitch black meant we didn't have a clue where we were, or what our surroundings looked like. It meant the best surprise first thing in the morning though.

 Waking up to this! 

Waking up to this! 

Our apartment was found via AirBnB - Residence Le Terrazze. You definitely need a car to get up here but it is sooo worth it. The views are insane and there's a private spa with a hot tub and pool which was right up our street! 

I don't think I've ever been somewhere so beautiful, I just couldn't get over the view. No wonder all the celebs including George Clooney call it home. 

 Breakfast with a view!

Breakfast with a view!

As I mentioned before, staying up in Perdelo, you would be wise to hire a car. But everywhere else in Lake Como is pretty accessible using the lake ferries. We only had 3 days to explore and managed to see Bellagio & Varenna. It was pretty tough prizing ourselves away from the apartment if i'm being honest. 

 Varenna

Varenna

 View from Vezio Castle

View from Vezio Castle

One top tip if you are staying in the Varenna area is to go and eat at Crott Del Meo. It was the first and best meal of the whole two weeks. Authentic Italian cooking that served whatever chef was cooking that evening. Absolutely delicious. 

Stop 2. Milan

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It was a whistle stop tour of Milan as we did it in less than 24 hours. We stayed in the Navigli district which is a bit Northern Quarter-esque in the sense that it was once run down and has now become the trendy area to drink and eat. Set on a series of canals, this is the home of Aperitivo time. Most of the bars have a massive buffet selection which you have access to when you buy a drink. It was a really cool atmosphere and definitely reminded me of home. 

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 Air BnB Milan Style 

Air BnB Milan Style 

Next Stop: Parma 

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Parma was a pretty surprise and a lovely afternoon was spent wandering the peaceful streets en route to our next accommodation. I just loved the coloured buildings - they were so cheerful basking in the sun. The churches were also some of the most beautiful that we saw throughout the whole trip. It was so non touristy and quiet on that random wednesday that I wouldn't want to stay there longer than a day or two but who knows it might come alive when the sun goes down. 

 Chiostri di S.Giovanni Evangelista

Chiostri di S.Giovanni Evangelista

Home for the night : Al Vigneto Farmhouse

We had pre-booked a farmhouse in the Emilia Romagna hills over looking Parma for an authentic foodie evening. After a slight mix up, we were greeted by the owner who looked after us extremely well. He fed us his own vineyard Lambrusco (3 euros a bottle!) and hooked us up to a local restaurant - Trattoria Leoni where no one spoke any English but we got by with a little help from google translate and our foodie instincts. The food was insane and we had such a lovely meal on the terrace overlooking the city. 

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The night spent in the wilderness alone was a little spooky for me and the lack of air conditioning combined with a mosquito fight meant an unsettled sleep but waking up to another amazing view was totally worth it. The breakfast was also delicious, setting us up for the next destination. 

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Stop 5 : Modena

We went on the hunt for a balsamic producer and accidentally stumbled across the world's oldest. Acetaia Giuseppe Giusti is a unconspicious building in the middle of the countryside. The family has been making balsamic vinegar since 1605 and you can just turn up and take a tour for free. It was so informative and the best bit was being able to taste all the different products they produce, including the 100 year balsamic which would set you back 500 euros!

  Giuseppe Giusti  balsamic factory

Giuseppe Giusti balsamic factory

Ciao Bologna - Stop 6

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Bologna was probably the least researched part of our trip - we knew very little and to be honest I wasn't that fussed about going. By this point most of our friends had made it to the wedding venue and I was desperate to see them and celebrate. But boy am I glad we stopped here. Beautiful Bologna, full of life and vibrancy. This is clearly a student town which meant it was bustling with bars and restuarants and shops. It also has the most covered walkways in Italy which was handy for the afternoon downpour we experienced - if only Manchester city council would take note! 

 Terrazzo Love on my Air BnB bedroom floor 

Terrazzo Love on my Air BnB bedroom floor 

We had a great day exploring and an even better evening soaking up the nightlife. This was also the first place we had a proper espresso martini - I rate places on how good they are! We had the real bolognese which doesn't involve an inch of spaghetti and drank excessive amounts of Limoncello. Perfect!

 Bologna's answer to the leaning tower - The Two Towers

Bologna's answer to the leaning tower - The Two Towers

Wedding Destination - Portico Di Romagna 

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This tiny Italian village in the heart of the hills was invaded by the Brits for a weekend and for that I apologise! Portico was founded in ancient times along the road to Florence and came to be known first as a market place during the Roman times. It captured my friends hearts so much that they decided to get married here and invite us all along for the ride. 

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The hotel that looked after us all was Al Vecchio Convento and I cannot recommend this place enough. Marisa, her family and her staff attended to our every whim and made sure we were well fed and drunk at all times. This place is truly magical and I cannot wait to return. 

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It was the best weekend filled with love and happiness and it was beyond perfect.

 Photo courtesy of Roaming Rooney

Photo courtesy of Roaming Rooney

Last But Not Least : Florence

 View from our rooftop terrace - absolutely noway sponsered by Nutella!!!

View from our rooftop terrace - absolutely noway sponsered by Nutella!!!

Florence was by far the busiest place we'd been for the last two weeks and seeing lots of tourists was a shock to the system! Our group had now grown from 4 to 8 plus my friends adorable baby so we needed a good base in the heart of Florence. AirBnB provided the most beautiful apartment in the heart of Florence. Saverio and his wife were the best hosts, providing us with everything we needed. Their apartment is gorgeous and I even debated not writing about it to keep it our little secret so we can back again and again! 

 Bedroom details

Bedroom details

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Florence itself was just how I imagined it - beautiful historic buildings wherever you turn. We took a free walking tour on the first day which is something I've never done before but our friends highly recommended them. It's a great way to get your bearings and see some things you would never normally see. And all for free! 

After that our days were spent wandering the city, stumbling on random streets and enjoying the sunshine. We climbed the Duomo and admired the amazing 360 views but to be honest, the view from our own private roof terrace was second to none!

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One of the guests from the wedding party recommended we go to the Sculpture museum whilst in Florence - The Bargello. It's way quieter than the Uffizi museum so if you don't fancy the queues and the crowds, this is the one to go to. It has a beautiful central courtyard which is really peaceful and the sculptures are memorizing. 

 The Bargello Museum 

The Bargello Museum 

The last night of our trip was spent on the roof terrace, drinking prosecco and reminsicing on everything we'd experienced over the last two weeks. It was the most full on holiday I'd ever done - i've never been struck by the travelling bug and the thought of backpacking round Asia has no pull whatsoever. This was absolutely perfect for myself - I saw so many beautiful places just two hours from home that will stay with me forever.

Thanks for reading, apologies for straying away from the interiors theme but I just had to document it all! 

 Too much food, too much prosecco and too much love - perfecto!

Too much food, too much prosecco and too much love - perfecto!

Interior Inspiration - Manchester

Whenever I get stuck on the creativity front - I always head out and try and find inspiration from my home city. There are gems everywhere you look and Manchester really is becoming a hot trendy place to be. Here's my top 10 (for now)...

No.1 Leaf On Portland Street

Leaf is rather unexpected as it sits along the huge row of Bruntwood buildings on Portland Street, in fact it wraps around an office building splitting into two spaces. This is a hidden gem that is not yet so well known so it's perfect for admiring the interiors and having enough room to wander. It used to be the old Cube Gallery that I frequented as a graduate so has a special place in my heart. There are so many gorgeous details here, it is sympathetic to it's history whilst being bang on trend and current, mixing the old with the new perfectly

No.2 The Lost & Found Knutsford 

Technically not Manchester but close enough and just 20 mins on the train. This place is absolutely gorgeous, every single detail has been thought of - from the floor to the stairways to the fabrics. Set in an old church, the high ceilings and arched windows are perfect for statement chandeliers and bold patterns. There's a sense of fun in the little touches - neon lights, colourful flowers and vintage propping that gives this space the edge.

No.3 The Refuge

Probably one of Manchester most Instagrammed spots - the Winter Garden is everything you'd want it to be and has probably been the source of inspiration for a few of Manchester's latest spots. From the monochrome tiles on the floor to the deep green velvet sofas, I adore everything about this space. The tree in the middle wrapped in fairy lights is a real showstopper, and the marble table tops and floral patterns work so perfectly together. Set in the Palace hotel, you really feel the grandeur of the past whilst being completely in the now. 

No.4 Chapter One Books

This was an unintential find one day wandering around the Northern Quarter but definietly one I'm glad I stumbled one. Chapter One Books is an independant bookshop/coffee shop in such a lovely space, it makes you want to stay here for hours. The decor is so eclectic with random bits of furniture used to display books, chairs for lounging and the most gorgeous green vintage reading lamps I have seen in a long time! It feels like stumbling into someone's very eccentric lounge but immediately feeling at home! 

No.5 The Refinery 

Nestled behind all the major tourist spots in Spinningfields, The Refinery sits quietly and unexpectedly. This is the ultimate "Hygge" and Scandi Chic spot in Manchester complete with fur throws and candles. The soft greys and warm yellows make this space the ultimate place for bottomless brunch with the girls or even somewhere you can take Mum and make her feel special. It also hasn't been tainted by the alchemist crowd so get there whilst it's still relatively unknown. Anywhere that offers blankets with a cocktail becomes my favourite place immediately. 

No.6 Grand Pacific 

For all the old school colonial glamour, head to Grand Pacific. It is glam and grand, with high ceilings and parquet floors, peacock chairs and huge palms. It is the perfect escape to have a cocktail or two and soak in the surroundings.

The toilets are also the stuff of dreams, starting my silly back & forth with a few fellow Instagrammers over great toilet designs. #ihavethisthingwithrestaurantloos may take off one day! 

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No.7 Suri

This place is probably the most brand new of them all. It is everything that is on trend at the minute. I'm in love with the soft pinks and rose golds contrasting against the deep blues and black marbles. It screams luxury and you can tell the designers have really thought about creating an 'on trend' cool vibe. 

No.8 - Randall & Aubin

A newbie to Bridge Street, just off Deansgate - Randall & Aubin is the most stylish fish restaurant I have ever been in. Not only was the food delicious but the atmosphere was lovely. The space is very long and narrow with mainly big tables for groups and lots of sharing dishes, inviting you to get stuck in and really enjoy one another's company. There are a lot of patterned tiles everywhere with accents of brass to keep it classy. 

The toilets are something else too - pink, greens and that wallpaper is just amazing! So vibrant and fun yet also maintaining the level of luxury. 

No. 9 The Wonder Inn

The Wonder Inn is a magical place on the edge of the Northern Quarter, nestled in an derelict warehouse that Manchester is rich beyond belief with. It's a wellness centre dedicated to the community and houses a cafe, bar, yoga rooms and workshops. The low key styling of this space is just wonderful, who doesn't love fairy lights up against stripped walls with umbrellas hanging from the ceiling? The sense of history is fantastic with most of the original features remaining as well as peeling plaster and wonky ceilings! We stumbled on a Brass Band Gig here and it was absolutely epic. 

 

And finally...No.10 Alabamas 

The pancakes here alone are enough reason to visit but the decor is pretty amazing too. It's very American Eatery but with a David Hockney colour palette and will brighten up your day immediately. You might have to queue to get in but it is 100% worth the wait. The zebra wallpaper in the bathrooms is also well worth a nosey. I can't resist a Zebra theme! 

As I am writing this, there's at least 1 new place popping up on my radar everyday. Leaving the possibility open for a version 2 of this post - and also plenty of opportunities for me to go wandering, drink and eat!