Saturday, 28 January 2017

Costa Rica - Pura Vida

Well what can I say?  Costa Rica really does do what it says on the tin; Pura Vida means pure life and it definitely is.  Whatever it is your looking for in a vacation I'm certain that Costa Rica has it.  It's hard to explain in words exactly what it is about this small Central American country but it just grabs you by the heart.  

I could go on & on for hours but I'll try to keep it brief......

For us, this was a very last minute decision with hardly any prior knowledge of the country at all, but just a real need & desire to get away to find some sunshine and enjoy some local activities.  After reading a little bit about the place I decided to go for it!  I booked a 2 week all inclusive holiday to Costa Rica for the 4 of us, 2 adults and 2 children (12 & 7).  We arrived on the 12th Dec and departed on the 26th Dec, so we had Christmas day out there which really was lovely.

Our location was Riu Guanacaste on Matapalo beach & it was amazing, can't fault it all.  The beautiful gardens led down to the public beach which was never busy.  It's a beautiful natural cove with a fairly calm Pacific Ocean rolling on to a dark sandy, very clean beach which we also shared with the Riu Palace next door.  There are plenty of things to do from the beach: jet skis, scuba diving, canoeing, paddle boarding, snorkelling, boat trips and also other activities that could be booked from the beach vendors - who I have to say were lovely and very reputable, they took very good care of us at a very reasonable price. 

We booked 2 activities with them: horse riding & quad biking, and would have done a lot more if we had realised sooner.  Both these activities were in the forests close by our hotel for ease and they were amazing.  We encountered 3 types of Monkeys up close on the horse riding: White faced Capuchin, Howlers, and Spider which was fantastic, then we ended the ride with a canter along the beach which was a real bucket list thing for me, absolutely beautiful as well as funny - we all had a really good giggle, such great memories.  Then the quad biking was awesome we drove them through many rivers where we had water up over our knees, through all sorts of terrain in the forest  & up to a beautiful waterfall with a deep splash pool at the bottom.  We took a break here and the brave jumped into it from the top of the waterfall but unfortunately this was 1 thing I couldn't do - it freaked me out standing at the top.  Afterwards we then made our way back through the rivers again - this time a bit more aggressively making way more splashes and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.  

Just next door to our hotel was an Eco Adventure Park which is home to the longest ocean view dual zip line in Costa Rica, the Superman.  So obviously us 4 being a adrenaline junky family had to give that a go.  It's 4,461 feet high, almost a mile long and its fast.  

We have all done various other zip lines and we all agreed that this one was the best.  If you get the chance - do it, it's awesome.  The views from up there are stunning too, you can see the Arenal volcano fairly well on a good weather day.

From the Dive centre on site we also booked a sunset cruise on a party catamaran.  Originally we had chose this because we had heard that you could possibly see Humpback Whales but subsequently we found out that it was the wrong time of year sadly, but it is true they are found in this bay.  It was a great afternoon sailing around some of the many islands in the area, one of them we moored at so that we could all go snorkelling but the visibility was poor with lots of tiny jelly fish in the water, nothing painful but irritating.  So we went on to the beach to see the White faced Capuchin's who were hanging around.  We had taken bananas with us for the fish but we fed them to the monkeys instead.  They were so cute how they come up to take them from you.  Obviously you need to be very careful as they can be nasty and carry disease.  It was a fantastic experience though.  Once back on board we
had a lovely dinner with lots of drinking, dancing and everyone having fun whilst watching the stunning sunset - priceless.

A couple of times we took a small boat taxi round to Coco beach for a change of scenery.  This is the closet town to our hotel for all your souvenir shopping and everything else too.  A great local place, very real, another great experience.  

On another note we also chose to a book a day trip excursion through our reps in the hotel thinking that these would be the best trips on offer but after our experience I would most definitely  say - Shop around before you book anything!  
We booked their Villa Verde trip which was sold to us as a full day experience at a cost of $130 each which we thought was expensive, but hey we are only here once and we wanted to see Sloths.  

We were made aware that it would be about a 2 hour drive so that wasn't the issue but unfortunately we got caught up in a road closure which meant we were stuck in the minibus for over 3 hours, but that was just unfortunate.  The real issue was that all in all between the guided tour around Villa Verde (which was very good don't get me wrong & we did see Sloths in the tree tops) lunch & then onto a beautiful waterfall that you could
swim up to and get behind (again very lovely) but it was all too brief.  The so called full day ended up being about 2.5 hours of experience which I think is stretching it to say the least.  If only we had found the beach vendors or similar sooner.

One thing that became very clear when we ventured outside of the hotel was that Costa Rica is not a cheap place to buy anything, but if you shop around you can barter.

The range of excursions and activities in Costa Rica is amazing and it caters for everyone from adrenaline junkies, nature lovers to sun worshippers.  The wildlife and rain forests are stunning, you can actually experience a lot just from the beach and surrounds of the hotel, you don't need to go far.  The scenery, landscapes and views are picture perfect and something that will stick in my mind forever.  With the sights, sounds, smells & everything we experienced it really felt like we were in one of Sir David Attenborough's nature programmes.

 As I said earlier my knowledge of this country was seriously limited before we went but it has so many islands, volcanoes, waterfalls, beautiful beaches and it also has the National parks, it does just keep giving.  
In my opinion this is a country that you need to visit more than once as you really can  not do everything in 1 visit, you just literally scratch the surface. 

Next time, we have already decided that we really want to tour Costa Rica with a hire car using B&B or small hotels to get a much deeper experience of the country.  Don't get me wrong the all inclusive hotel was wonderful but you are detached from a full on rain forest experience.  While we were there we were never warned about going outside of our complex, or any trouble in the area, and we spoke to lots of people who had been backpacking and touring around so I am confident in saying that it is very safe to do so.  The only thing you have to worry about is the wildlife as they do have many dangerous/poisonous species out there, but it is about using your common sense. 

It really was a perfect holiday and perfect Christmas with no hassles, no family issues, no stress just glorious hot sunshine, pool swim up bar with cocktails and such a great choice of delicious food.  One that we will treasure forever.  

Writing this just brings it all back so vividly and I just so want to be back there right now, it really did steal my heart x

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

My guide to eating out in Lyndhurst part 2

It's been 2 years since my previous guide to eating in & around Lyndhurst, so I thought it was time I followed it up as some places have now gone and also we have tried some very nice new places.

I guess I should start with what has changed:

Imperial China - Very sad to say it's closed & still currently empty
The Curry Leaf - Closed but re-opened as Indian fusion - haven't tried it yet
The Haywain - The price of the carvery has increased to £4.50 now.

Special offers/news:

The Waterloo Arms - now participating in the Brand New Forest scheme offering 20% discount on food.
The Mailmans - participating in the Brand New Forest scheme offering 15% discount on food excluding Sun.
The Fox & Hounds - participating in the Brand New Forest scheme offering 15% discount on food.
The Oak - participating in the Brand New Forest scheme offering 15% discount on food.
The Swan - participating in the Brand New Forest scheme offering 10% discount on food Mon - Fri.
The Drift Inn - now participating in the Brand New Forest scheme offering 20% discount on lunch Mon - Fri.

So where else is good to eat in Lyndhurst ....

Anissa's Thai Kitchen (restaurant)

Situated in the High Street, at the bottom end opposite the Post Office.  This place is amazing, the staff are so welcoming and can't do enough for you.  The food is delicious, well presented and good value for money.  It's all in door seating and it's not huge so I would recommend booking at weekends as they do get very busy.  This is one of our favourite places in Lyndhurst.

The Stag Hotel (pub & restaurant)

A very prominent position on the High Street with its very distinctive curved turret like frontage near to the Ferrari garage. We eat and drink here a lot - the staff are always lovely, the food is great value and delicious with lots of tasty specials as well as a varied menu.  They have a lovely rear garden which has a couple of swings tucked up one end.  They have live music every Friday night & some times on a Saturday too, occasionally they have extra things like bouncy castles in the garden for kids.  They participate in the Brand New Forest scheme offering 10% discount on food Mon-Fri

Del-Rio (Tex-Mex restaurant)

The newest eating place in the village - I think they opened in Nov 2016.  This is a Tex-Mex restaurant with a good variety of spicy and mild dishes to suit everyone.  It's located near the traffic lights at the top end of the High Street.  We have already eaten here 3 times in 1 month as we all love it - even the kids.  They are very accommodating, the decoration is great, the food is well presented with very good sized portions and reasonable prices.  All in door seating.  They have lots of Facebook special offers for you to look out for.  Definitely gets our thumbs up.

Berties Fish & Chips (take away & restaurant)

Situated mid way in the High Street opposite Budgens.  Can get extremely busy so be prepared to wait in the take away.  The chips are hand peeled and chopped meaning that you only get the good bits of the potatoe.  They do all the usual chip shop options and it's always fresh.  The size of the fish is good and the chips are really good quality.  A real bonus for me is that they do gravy and it's yummy.  Just so that you don't get caught out, the opening hours do vary between summer & winter.

Close by in Brockenhurst

The Huntsman - formerly the Rose & Crown (pub)

This pub had a massive refurb & name change at the beginning of this year and although it was a bit controversial I think it does look lovely.  Its always had the best pub garden in Brockenhurst anyway but the new decor really is lovely.  A new addition which seems to be extremely popular is an in the pub pizza bar where you can see your pizza being cooked.  Several of our guests had said how delicious the pizza's are.  We are still waiting to try it as one of our kids is extremely fussy about pizza and we are still trying to persuade her to give it a go.

The Pig (restaurant)

This place is probably my favourite place to eat in the New Forest.  It's located just outside of Brockenhurst in it's own beautiful grounds.  It's an old country house that's been transformed into a very popular shabby chic restaurant & hotel, a sister hotel to the prestigious Limewood Hotel on the out-skirts of Lyndhurst.  This place is a MUST book venue if you want to eat in the main restaurant.  You can eat out on the patio or in one of the informal rooms without booking - if you can find a seat.  It's a little bit expensive, but really for the quality of the food and the amazing setting it's well worth it, especially as a treat.  The food is sourced either from the kitchen gardens which are immaculate or within a 25 mile radius.  The menu changes by the moment as they really make the most of what is available in the garden daily and then when something runs out they just switch to something else.  The food is amazing and you really should take the time to walk through the garden or even book yourself a pamper

We are always trying different places and will recommend when we feel its deserved, so look out for any future additions.