Earlier this year we travelled to Vilankulo. A small town situated along the Mozambique coastline that acts as a gateway to the ever so epic Bazaruto Archipelago. Originally called Vilanculos during colonial times the town was named after local tribal chief Gamala Vilankulo Mukoke, the name was changed to Vilankulo when Mozambique become independent 1975.
The beaches run endlessly up the coastline and are wild in nature with the each palm tree adopting their own personality. During low tide the ocean mysteriously hides itself leaving the once bobbing dhows stranded on the white sands longing to be rescued against a seamless African sky dotted with cotton-candy clouds.
Each morning we would explore the wonderfully wide shores and sand-blasted hideaways that the coastline of Vilankulo had to offer us stopping from time to time to hide beneath a mangrove tree from the summer heat. We found plenty of washed up coconuts and mountains of wild oysters shells glistening in the sun.
All walks were proceeded by fresh coconut water that our chef at Vila La Mar, Ernesto, would prepare for us by effortlessly scaling a six metre palm tree out back with his machete, followed by a quick education about the three stages of coconut maturity.
We stayed at Vila La Mar for the week we spent in Vilankulo. A beautiful self-catering luxury villa situated on the beach and set back in lush tropical gardens. There’s not much to do at the villa besides soaking up the sun while reading endless summer novels. Which to be honest, suited me just fine.
As for Vilankulo itself there’s plenty of activities to keep you entertained during your stay:
– Day trips to the nearby islands in the Bazaruto Archipelago. (Detailed blog post to follow soon about that.)
– Go for a sunset horse riding safari. Your guide will take you along parts of untouched beach for a real ‘island hideaway’ feel. You even have the option of going swimming with the horses.
– Explore the small (only 5km) town of Vilankulo. The town shuts down on Sunday’s so make a plan to visit during the week.
– Go shopping for fresh fish for dinner. Every afternoon, around 4pm at the beach near Oddysea Dive, the fishermen beach their motleyed dhows. Women and children load the fish and seafood into colourful plastic buckets and a pop-up auction follows. This is a small glimpse into the daily lives of the locals.
– Visit local beach bars such as Casbah, Samara or Archipelago Resort for lunch and cocktails.
– Go diving/snorkelling. I have never seen so many colourful fish in such close proximity. I’ve snorkelled in a lot of places around the world and the Archipelago still wins hands down. The Bazaruto islands and its surrounding coral reefs were declared a national park in 1971.
– If horse riding isn’t for you there’s always the option to go on a sunset dhow safari.
– Vilanculos is the perfect place to learn to kite surf.
Vilankulo has been growing extensively over the last decade with a considerable inward investment into its tourism infrastructure. It is home to a new international airport which has daily flights to several regional destinations.
With that being said the town is still very rural with most of the locals living a very simple life either farming or fishing while most homes are built out of dried reeds and tin. Colour is embraced throughout the town with the colour blocking of buildings and handmade garments. Games of informal football take place on the beach while fisherman mend their nets nearby or play a game of cards.
A special shoutout to two of my very best friends Marius and Paul for introducing us to Vilankulo who unfortunately had to drop out of our holiday due to medical reasons. They always used to tell us stories about this small Mozambique town and how special the place was but I never fully grasped it’s magic until I got to experience it for myself.
An untouched coastline, thousands of wild palm trees, a preserved coral reef still abundant with sea life, azure blue waters with deserted islands scattered throughout, simple living consisting of fresh coconuts and omega rich fish. What’s not to love?
Till next time Vilankulo.
orange swimsuit – Sommer Swim
white flare trousers – H&M Studio
cat eye sunnies – Le Specs
mini fang necklace – Missoma
black dress – H&M Trend
stripped espadrilles – H&M
wooden bag – Shop On Y Va
tortoise shell sunnies – Miu Miu
lace lingerie – Cotton On Body
white tee – Mango
yellow jumper – Holiday Boileau
denim shorts – Zara
round basket bag – Shop On Y Va
rope sandals – Nomadic State of Mind
yellow floral dress – Mango
yellow dress – Free People
maroon sandals – Trenery
stripped shorts – Billabong
stripped silk set – H&M Trend
flat sunnies – Celine
white shirt – H&M Trend
basket shopper – Cotton On
* All photos taken by myself and Justin Polkey
I’m slowly getting back into the swing of things, work wise and all, and making my way through the thousands of images I took while traveling through Europe this Summer.
First up (and totally not in chronological order) is my week spent in Barcelona. The cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region known for it’s art and memorable architecture.
With countless activities, events and attractions to see, Barcelona is a bustling city with a world class drinking and dining scene.
First things first…
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Catalan and Spanish are the two official languages in Barcelona and like most countries attempting a few words while ordering your food or paying for your cab will only earn you brownie points. Especially if you attempt a few words/phrases in Catalan.
The Euro is used throughout Spain and as for tipping, 10% is expected when dining and a general round up is fine for bartenders and cab drivers.
Barcelona does not yet have UBER however we used myTaxi while we were there. Why not rent a bicycle or a scooter for the day? The city has 180km’s of bike lanes!
We had amazing weather while we were there in the beginning of September – sunny all week long with one major downpour. Spain’s warmer months are from June to September with July having up to 10 hours of sunshine a day.
WHERE TO SLEEP
We spent our first few nights at the ever so stylish Casa Bonay. A hotel set up in a neoclassical building from 1869 in the center of Barcelona and a space that is truly designed and curated for locals not just foreigners.
The interiors are minimal with playful touches such as Casa Bonay’s collaboration with local designers Batabasta who created exotic fruity prints that appear throughout the hotel. A sophisticated space with one of my favourite rooftop gardens – herbs for days! (I even picked some to take back to my room for my afternoon tea.)
The hotel is also home to two restaurants, a rooftop bar, a miniature bookstore and one of my favourite coffee shops in Barcelona, Satan’s Coffee Corner.
Double rooms cost from €130, excluding breakfast, per night and my absolute favourite part about Casa Bonay… they pet friendly!
The hotel offers beds for small–medium sized dogs, they also include a dog bowl and will put treats inside the room for your pet. This costs €20 per night. Dogs are also welcome in the Libertine lobby bar. Isn’t that the best!?
For the rest of our stay in Barcelona we stayed at Room Mate Anna which was situated right across the road from one of Gaudí’s grand designs, Casa Batlló.
Room Mate Anna is a modern design hotel decorated by the antique expert and interior designer Lorenzo Castillo that pays his particular tribute to the sea, the sun, tropical and the Mediterranean.
The hotel has a rooftop pool (which I made good use of during our stay) and luxury amenities throughout. Its perfectly located in the centre of Barcelona and close walking distance to most attractions.
Double rooms cost from €130, excluding breakfast, per night. However they have a slightly cheaper sister hotel in Eixample called Room Mate Emma.
Otherwise Airbnb is always a great option too. The Spanish have impeccable interiors.
WHAT TO SEE & DO:
Barcelona is the kind of city where you’ll never run out of things to see, eat or partake in. Our first night in this bustling city was an absolute treat.
After dinner at La Xampanyeria (more on that a little later) we headed to Casa Milà for a rooftop jazz session with some friends of ours. What a treat it was to sit on a Gaudí rooftop sipping bubbles and star gazing while listening to a jazz quartet. If you a jazz fan or simply love an outdoor music experience I highly recommend booking tickets to the Summer Nights Festival.
Barcelona’s architecture is practically ruled by Gaudí, so there’s no way you can travel to Barcelona without seeing a few of his masterpieces.
I adored Park Güell. It’s the perfect spot to just wonder around, have a picnic or read your book under the trees. I recommend pre booking your tickets online beforehand and if you wish to avoid the hoards of tourists book the earliest slot possible. We were fortunate as Justin was shooting a watch campaign while we were there and had the park to ourselves. What a pleasure and perfect for picture taking. (Because we all want that insta shot).
We also visited Casa Batlló, apartment blocks that look like something straight out of a Grimms fairy tale book, Sagrada Família which we unfortunately only saw from the outside and what a breathtaking piece of architecture. Construction on this masterpiece started in 1882 and is still being built to this day!
Walk, walk, walk, walk. I say this every time, but there’s no better way to experience a city then by foot. Each day we explored one of Barcelona’s popular hoods: The Gothic Quarter, El Raval and El Born.
The Gothic Quarter is made up of narrow, winding streets in the oldest part of Barcelona dating back to early 19th century. If you walk the streets in the early hours of the morning you’ll find lovers kissing in the street as the sun begins to rise. Must see’s include the Cathedral of Barcelona, Roman and Medieval walls and my favourite square in Barcelona – Plaça Reial. (Reminds me of something out of a Hemmingway novel.)
El Ravel, also known as Falafel Town, was my favourite neighbourhood in Barcelona. I found myself returning to the hood countless times over my week stay. A multicultural district filled with skaters, vintage shops and some of the best restaurants and bars. Must see’s for the neighbourhood include Museo d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Rambla del Raval, La Boqueria (popular fresh produce market), embrace the vintage shopping, buy some beers and hang out with the skaters outside MACBA. Oh and of course, eat some falafels.
El Born is a vibrant neighbourhood and comes across the most modern of the three hoods. With countless squares the neighbourhood streets are always filled with people spilling out of their apartment blocks or the local tapas spots. Great neighbourhood for boutique shopping and hanging out with the locals in one of the various public squares. Must see’s include Palau de la Música Catalana (we were fortunate enough to have a private tour of the concert hour with an epic rendition of Bach), El Born Culture Centre if you want to learn a little about the history of the neighbourhood (entrance is free), an absolute must is the Picasso Museum and The Market of Santa Caterina (I actually prefer this market to the more popular La Boqueria market in El Ravel).
Apart from the above some other must see’s and do’s in Barcelona include:
Watch a football match at Camp Nou. Try catch a FC Barcelona match.
Take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea. The beaches of Barcelona are great for people watching or join the locals for a game of volleyball or football. There’s also heaps of water sports on offer. Fun fact: Barcelona’s beaches are man made, up until 1992 Barcelona didn’t even have a beach!
See a Flamenco show. Barcelona isn’t the best place in Spain to watch a Flamenco show but if you happen to be in the city it’s worth watching one anyway. We watched an incredibly passionate performance near Plaça Reial at Los Tarantos for €15 p/p.
Take a day hike up the magical Montjuïc Mountain. A beautiful leafy hike that requires a little legwork but definitely worth it for the views it has to offer of Barcelona. Also home to the 1992 buildings of the Olympic Games.
If you have the time take a day trip to Montserrat. Montserrat is outside of Barcelona and requires a full day but the place is rich with history and is home to the most beautiful old monastery where you can listen to the famous boy’s choir at 1pm every day. It’s a quick train ride from Barcelona yet feels like a completely new world. The town is filled with countless hiking trails, or you can catch the cable car up the mountain.
Visit the Arco de Triunfo and Park Ciutadella.
WHERE & WHAT TO EAT:
Yay, finally. What’s a travel guide without a decent food guide right? Did you know that barcelona is home to 24 Michelin starred restaurants and 1 of the World Top 50 Restaurants? (Tickets was just named number 25 in the world.) Below are some of the various spots I ate at and loved during my stay.
A small family run restaurant with no tables or seats hidden in an alley way near the harbour and my absolute favourite ‘dining’ experience in Barcelona. Be prepared for festivity, this place ain’t for the faint hearted. Tapas is cheap and so is the ever flowing bright pink cava, I’m talking 5 euros for a bottle of cava kind of cheap. The tapas is uncomplicated and delicious. Ordering is a little tough as no one speaks English but that’s part of the fun. Expect for it to be loud and boisterous and to be bummed from time to time but I promise you it’s worth it.
A refined gastronomic experience for visitors serving some of the best Catalan. A spot for a special “splurge” meal that’s not overly formal. The wood oven-roasted scallops are a must try. Also, ask your waiter to be put on the list for post-dinner drinks at Mutis.
El Nacional is a Spanish version of New York’s Eataly. An incredibly designed and decorated space featuring 4 culinary areas and 4 specialised bars, there’s something for everyone. We ate a delicious dry aged steak at La Braseria. Cooked to perfection, served with various side dishes and a exquisite bottle of Spanish red. El Nacional is a must try. I would of loved to have gone back and tried one of the other culinary experiences while I was there.
Elephant, Crocodile, Monkey (ECM)
Situated right below Casa Bonay, ECM was our first foodie stop in Barcelona. I had one of the best bowls of Pho to date at ECM with fresh herbs picked straight from the hotel rooftop. They have a fantastic selection of natural wines to choose from that pair perfectly with their dumplings on offer.
A cute tapas spot right on the beachfront with a Mexican twist. All the ingredients are freshly sourced and you can taste the difference. They allow you to take your drink to the beach, so order a cocktail or two and get your toes sandy.
Flax and Kale
I practically lived at Flax and Kale during my stay in Barcelona. A beautiful, multi storied restaurant in El Ravel that serves nutritiousness meals without skipping on heartiness or tastiness. If I wasn’t stopping by for my daily green juice I was either having breakfast, lunch or dinner there. Do try their red thai curry and their kale salad.
Some of the other spots we ate at and enjoyed:
Brunch and Cake for the prettiest looking breakfasts, Cotton House for afternoon tea, Cafe de L’Academia for a late night dinner, El Xampanyet for incredible tapas, Las Sorrentinas for a cheap set menu meal, Bar Lobo for drinks in the courtyard and all the fresh produce markets particularly Santa Caterina Market in El Born.
I wish I had had the chance to experience Albert Adrià ‘s Tickets but unfortunately they were closed over the period I was visiting. Definitely worth booking in advance for, Tickets was recently awarded the 25th best restaurant in the world. If you can’t get into Tickets try booking at Bodega 1900.
Barcelona has a number of rooftop bar’s with incredible views to sit back and enjoy a cocktail or two while watching the sunset with your friends or loved one’s.
If you consider yourself a wine connoisseur make sure to visit Monvinic while in Barcelona. Considered one of the best wine bars in the world, Monvinic boasts a mind-boggling selection of wines along with a host of knowledgeable sommeliers.
Surf House is the perfect spot for post beach drinks. A relaxed environment with a seaside ambience and killer views.
Otherwise check out Bar Oviso the quintessential relaxed, people watching bar with great prices.
I didn’t do much shopping while I was in Barcelona, food kind of had me distracted however I did find some amazing vintage shops in El Ravel. If vintage is your thing make sure to pop in to Holala! and Flamingos Vintage Kilo for a great selection of worn out denim jackets and silky island shirts.
Barcelona is a great place to fill your suitcase with local threads so take a slow walk through El Born and stop at all the local gift stores. I picked up some cute postcards to send back to my family, a cookbook and coffee table book, the world’s most perfect sun hat and some straw baskets.
After spending a week in Barcelona you can see why Barcelona is such a desirable travel destination for so many people. An enchanting seaside city with boundless culture and a bubbly personality.
*All images taken by myself and Justin Polkey.