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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

6 Christmas markets to visit in Europe

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas with the traditional European markets opening from mid November. The chalet style wooden stalls selling gifts and edible goodies, perhaps with the addition of ice skating rinks and carol singers, put the magic into the festive season. Here’s Chopstix pick of the best.

Prague Christmas market - credit Prague Tourism

Prague Christmas market credit: Prague Tourism

Prague, Czech Republic

Held, appropriately enough, in Wenceslas Square as well as the Old Town Square, a fairytale backdrop for the stalls selling local handicrafts such as Christmas decorations, carved wooden toys and glasswork. Treats included trdelniks (a distinctive looking dough rolled around a stick then grilled and coated with sugar), barbecued sausages and hot honey wine as well as Czech beer. A highlight is the nativity scene in the Old Town Square featuring live animals where children can stroke sheep and a donkey.

November 30th 2019 – January 6th 2020

Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg is known for making gingerbread so you can literally smell Christmas when you visit here (along with roasted almonds, gluhwein and rum punch). Possibly the most famous of all the markets, the Christkindlesmarkt here has been going since the 16th century and now spills throughout the charming medieval streets selling arts and crafts from the region. Take a ride around the market on a horse drawn, bright yellow stagecoach. Nuremberg is also well known for its bratwurst so you can sustain yourself with grilled sausages served with sauerkraut or potato salad or both.

November 29th  – December 24th 2019

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels Plaisirs d'Hiver - Winterpret - Winter Wonders_EDAN0296_© - Eric Danhier

Brussels Christmas market © – Eric Danhier

Belgium’s biggest Christmas market covers various squares throughout the city centre with some 200 stalls as part of its Winter Wonders festival. It also features a giant Christmas tree and sound and light show at the stunning Grand Place, an ice skating rink at Place de la Monnaie and traditional fairground rides such as a carousel and huge ferris wheel as well as choirs singing at the Black Tower. There’s plenty of Belgian grastronomy to sample too including warming waffles and hot chocolate of course.

November 29th 2019 – January 5th 2020

Vienna, Austria

Elegant Vienna has Christmas market stalls sprawling throughout its pretty squares with the biggest and most colourful outside the town hall (Rathausplatz). As well as Christmas gifts and decorations to buy expect sweet treats such as pastries and doughnuts, roasted chestnuts and confectionary to feast on and plenty of hot punch as you listen to the carol singers. In the adjacent park the trees are draped with lights and a 3,000 metre squared ice rink is in place. For the little ones there’s a reindeer train and sleigh rides.

Dates vary for each market, the Rathausplatz is November 15th – December 26th 2019 and the ice rink is open until January 6th 2020 (closed December 31st.)

Copenhagen, Denmark

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Copenhagen Tivoli Gardens Christmas market Anders B ggild

Copenhagen is another city that goes large on the festive period and is home to several Christmas markets. The best is considered to be at Tivoli Gardens, not hard to imagine when you consider this picture perfect Victoriana amusement park which is lit up after dark inspired both Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney. As well as the usual rides expect countless fairy lights, snow covered trees, and Santa’s reindeer. Better still, among the decorated wooden huts, there are Scandi-chic gifts to buy plus honey cake and mulled wine.

November 16th – December 22nd 2019

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg in the Alsace bills itself as “the capital of Christmas” and has the oldest Christmas market in France. Held over several locations including beneath the striking cathedral, it goes all out with over 300 stalls, a huge Christmas tree and shows and concerts. The area is also known for vin chaud and Bredele cake – biscuits that are traditionally baked at Christmas. They come in different shapes and flavours such as almond, orange or cinnamon and are given as gifts or even used to as tree decorations.

22nd Nov – December 30th (closed December 25th) 2019

A version of this story was originally published in the Robb Report Singapore

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Countdown to Aman Kyoto

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Living Pavillion at Aman Kyoto

Aman’s third hotel in Japan is on course to open on November 1st 2019.

Aman Kyoto, designed by Kerry Hill Architects who also designed Aman Tokyo and Amanemu, is set within 29 hectares of forest and three hectares of exquisite gardens. Stone pathways and steps meander through the garden leading to upper platforms bordered with yama momiji maples and kitayama-sugi (Japanese cedar).

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Exterior of Living Pavillion at Aman Kyoto

At the heart of the resort is the Living Pavillion opening up onto a terrace overlooking the gardens. The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, to guests and non residents with advance booking.

Executive Chef Kentaro Torri will serve home cooked Kyoto style cuisine as well as innovative Western chef using local, seasonal produce, many sourced from the hotel’s garden.

Taka-an is the resort’s Japanese restaurant. Here, seasonal, local produce will be prepared and served with meticulous precision in keeping with the Japanese art of hospitality.


TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto Taka-An restaurant at Aman Kyoto


TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto

TAKA-AN Restaurant, Aman Kyoto

Aman has 26 guest rooms housed in six stand alone pavilions designed as contemporary versions of traditional Japanese ryokans. The rooms have floor to ceiling windows showcasing the spectacular surroundings and come with tatami mats covering the floors. Large bath tubs in each guest room have been crafted from the native hinoki cypress wood.

Two presidential suites, the Washigamine and Takagamine Pavillions, are set within the most secluded and highest part of the property with expansive views. Both pavillions have two bedrooms, living area, dining room, kitchen and tatami room.


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Living room in Suite at Aman Kyoto


The bucolic grounds at Aman Kyoto provide a serene setting for the spa. The natural spring water that flows underneath the resort provides traditional onsen bathing facilities at the spa with both an indoor and outdoor hot water spring.


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Outdoor onsen at Aman Kyoto

For more information and bookings visit

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Belmond Mount Nelson – the Cape Town hotel with a nod to British Royalty

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Belmond Mount Nelson

Where Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are staying while visiting Cape Town is being kept closely under wraps. It’s thought to be an official residence but if so they’re missing out on the best hotel in town that’s hosted Nelson Mandela, John Lennon and one of the Duke’s ancestors.

The Belmond Mount Nelson stands at the end of a grand palm tree lined avenue, reached through a colonnaded entrance, that was created ahead of the Prince of Wales’s visit in 1925. From the saluting guard at the entrance to the top hatted doorman at the front door, guests will have the unmistakable feeling that they’ve arrived at somewhere special. A sugar pink building with white gingerbread trim, the glorious shade dates from just after the First World War when the then general manager decided to paint the hotel a cheerful hue in celebration.


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Belmond Mount Nelson


With its enviable position at the foot of the iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town’s most recognisable landmark, there’s no mistaking the location when staying at the Mount Nelson. Should guests wish to hike or cable car to the top of the famous flat topped mountain they couldn’t be better placed. And they’ll find the buzzy Kloof Street right on their doorstep. Both the stunning beaches and wine regions of the Western Cape are an easy car ride away from the hotel.

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Belmond Mount Nelson

The warm climate from November to May has long made this Coastal South African city and the Mount Nelson a magnet for visitors escaping colder climes. The eye catching gardens, filled with verdant trees and bright flowers, were first developed in 1843. Now they include two outdoor swimming pools – one family oriented and the other for guests aged 16 upwards.

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Belmond Mount Nelson


The Mount Nelson was opened in 1889 to provide a suitably first rate hotel for first class passengers disembarking from the Union Castle luxury liners at Cape Town. There was nothing of its standard in the area at the time and it was the first hotel in Cape Town to offer hot and cold running water. The owner also happened to own the Union Castle Shipping Line. The wooden chairs in the Lord Nelson restaurant today are the original deck chairs used on some of the Union Castle ships.

But the hotel’s name derives from much earlier. When the property was advertised for let in the newspaper in 1806 it was referred to as “Mount Nelson”, thought to be a reference to both Table Mountain which it stands in the shadow of and the then ubiquitous Lord Horatio Nelson who died the year before.

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Belmond Mount Nelson

A young Winston Churchill stayed at the hotel as a war reporter during the Boer War  and deemed it “a most excellent and well appointed establishment which may be thoroughly appreciated after a sea voyage”. Almost a century later, and a few months before his death, John Lennon checked in under the pseudonym Mr Greenwood. Staff remember him as exceptionally tidy and said he mediated on Table Mountain.

The hotel has seen some intriguing dramas over the years. The imposing grandfather clock that still stands in the lobby is said to have enraged one guest so much with its loud chimes at midnight that he hammered two six inch nails into the hands. The clock remained silent for 20 years until another guest repaired it (these days, the chime is a lot quieter). Guests were also reputedly outraged by Sherlock Holmes author and keen spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle holding public séances in his room.

More recently, Nelson Mandela dined regularly at the hotel. Margaret Roberts a waitress at the hotel for over 30 years remembers he had a favourite table in the restaurant and he would always chat to all the staff including in the kitchen.

Afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson, fondly nicknamed “tea at The Nellie” by loyal locals, is an institution. So popular is the tea that the number of sittings per day has been increased from one to four. A morning tea and an evening tea have been added as well as a second afternoon sitting. The morning tea is a little lighter and the evening tea features more cold cuts like smoked ham and biltong and a selection of cheeses.


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Belmond Mount Nelson


Even the standard Deluxe rooms at the Mount Nelson come with a sitting area and most have balconies. The impressive number of suites range from Junior to Presidential, the latter featuring 1930s Baccarat crystal light fittings and a desk dating back from when the hotel opened in 1899. The spaciousness is evocative of the colonial guests from the northern hemisphere who often stayed for months at a time – bringing their own bone china and fine crystal with them. And many present day guests stay for a week or more.


Mount Nelson Pool

Belmond Mount Nelson

Offering the ultimate in luxurious seclusion, there are eight Garden Cottage suites housed in perfectly restored Victorian cottages, each set in its own rose garden with a white picket fence, and right next to the adult’s swimming pool. The sumptuousness is further emphasised by the décor of toile wallpaper, Venetian mirrors, four poster beds and working fireplaces. Not surprisingly they are highly sought after by honeymooning couples and guests seeking privacy.










What to do in Tokyo when you’re not watching rugby

Me and my “chocolate sundae”


I’m standing at a kitchen sink in Tokyo shaping a sheet of submerged plastic into a “lettuce”. Fake food samples are a familiar sight in the windows of restaurants in Japan. They entice customers into the eateries and simplify menu ordering for foreigners. And I’m learning to make them – thanks to The Peninsula hotel’s Fun With Faux Food academy programme.

There are some 200 food sample factories in Japan but Yamato is one of the few making small batches by hand. Second generation owner, Mr Yuichi Ito, was born in Gujyo-Hachiman in the Gifu prefecture, birthplace of the food sample industry in the 1940s, and still known as “wax food town”.

The windows of his workshop are packed with incredibly realistic replicas of sushi, yakitori, grilled fish and Western dishes. Originally they were made from wax but now they are more durable PVC that won’t melt in restaurant windows.

I’m feeling intimidated but my teachers, Yuichi, his son Ryo and their assistant, Aomi Chino, couldn’t be more welcoming with beaming their smiles.

We start with tempura – or more precisely its side serving of lettuce. Ryo had made it look so easy: a scoop of white liquid lowered gently into the warm water then spread into an oblong with the spoon, three scoops of green liquid gently lined along three sides. The oblong I’ve made is not as uniformed as Ryo’s so I fear my lettuce is going to be a giant monstrosity unlike Ryo’s neat baby one.

Then the fun begins. I’m told to dip my hands into the water and pull the plastic downwards. Remarkably, a definite lettuce texture and colour emerges. Suddenly I’m directed to scoop the sides of the oblong together. It’s all quite frantic and I keep scooping away. Then something miraculous happens: a lettuce shape appears. “Cute!” says Ryo.

The experience reminds me of the retro British TV show, The Generation Game, where hapless contestants attempt to make something after a talented pro has demonstrated. They usually failed woefully much to the hilarity of the audience but with the Itos at hand there’s no chance of any disasters here.

On to the tempura. A plastic “shrimp” and “pumpkin” are waiting on the table, it’s my job to make the batter. Having watched Ryo’s demo I drip yellow liquid into the warm water in a zig zag to make a Jackson Pollock like pattern. Then I repeat in reverse, careful to get the height right: not too high or low. The resulting bubbled matter definitely resembles batter. I’m getting into this.

The Fun of Faux Food Hands-on Plastic and Wax Modelling (1)-2

Next is ramen. I could have made curry or pizza but have chosen Japanese dishes. Frankly I’m nervous about attempting this one, eying the realistic example next to me. But it’s more straightforward than I imagined.

I’m instructed to pick up a batch of “noodles” and place them, vertically, in a bowl of warm water then wrap them centrifugally. Easy peasy I think, but there’s more to come. I’m told to pick up three strands at a time, form a circle with them in the air, followed by a figure of eight then place them in another bowl. It’s fiddly and I’m painfully slow but I find it strangely relaxing.

Task eventually completed I pour a golden gelatin over the whole lot to form the broth. I’m pretty pleased with this but Ryo has spotted several air bubbles so patiently flicks a cigarette lighter over each one until they’re dispersed. Meanwhile, I soak some ready made, plastic spring onions, meat, spinach and bamboo shoots and, to use the technical term, knock-them-about-a-bit to look more realistic. Then I place them, artfully I think, on the top of broth. Et voila, ramen!

As a finale there’s an ice cream sundae to make but first my Peninsula guide, who’s driven me here in the hotel mini and is translating, proffers a packed lunch; great timing as I’m strangely ravenous due to the tempura and ramen making.

Sundaes are made with silicon so the tops – the “whipped cream” – are surprisingly bendy. I choose chocolate ice cream so Aomi adds a brown dye to the silicon in a piping bag. Home bakers will come into their own here for I’m to pipe the mixture, circular wise, into a glass to create a chocolate and vanilla swirl. Then for the tricky bit: piping the whipped cream topping. The results are impressive but I must admit to getting a lot of help from Ryo.

The chocolate in the chocolate sundae

The chocolate in the chocolate sundae

The “whipped cream” topping

Yuichi presents a tray jammed with hand made, plastic accoutrements: wafers, cookies, strawberries and cherries. It’s refreshingly fun to choose from, thinking about the different heights for the design and then placing them strategically. I must admit to being tempted to tuck into my creation. I go back to the Peninsula and order a real chocolate sundae at Peter.

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Where to stay when you’re visiting Downton


The Old Swan

[UPDATE: IRL the village of Downton is actually filmed at Brampton, Oxfordshire. Our pick of where to stay if you want to visit is the Old Swan in nearby Minster Lovell. The hotel will arrange a guided tour of Brampton.]

The Old Swan, Minster Lovell

Imagine the ideal country inn and you’ll picture The Old Swan. Exposed beams and brick, flagstone floors, log fires, cosy nooks, inviting bar… this is a wonderful weekend retreat in the Cotswolds countryside.

When it comes to eating, choose between the more formal restaurant with vaulted ceiling and rich wool tapestries or the pub like but equally appealing dining room.

Old Swan & Minster Mill

Old Swan

Settle down by the fire for a nightcap (the snug is for residents only) before climbing the wooden stairs to one of the most comfortable beds you’ve ever slept in.

Bring your hiking boots as there are walks aplenty almost from the front door.

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