After four amazingly nice days in beautiful Inverness, visiting the famous Loch, Isle of Skye and eating plenty of delicious food, and drinking semi-plenty amounts of local whisky, it was time to hit the rails one last time.
LNER first class to Edinburgh
We had booked two first class tickets (£70 in total) for the three and a half hour trip to the Scottish capital, onboard the highspeed Azuma train of the LNER (London North Eastern Railroad), that continues all the way down to London, stopping at Edinburgh and a couple of other places along the way. This is of course also a way of doing London-Scotland by train, if you don’t want to catch the night train, as we did a few days prior to this trip.
We had a quite early departure at around 8 in the morning, and walked to Inverness Station from our nearby hotel, River Ness by Radisson, about 20 minutes before the train was due to leave. The station wasn’t really up and running yet, but it was open so as you could enter the waiting areas. The train was already at the platform, and about 10 minutes before boarding we were allowed to get on. A nice feature of booking with the LNER was the possibility to pick your prefered seats, ’airline style’ using a seating map of the train on their website. We chose a one-to-one facing seat pair as we’re asocial Scandinavians and don’t really want to make conversation with any strangers. 🙂
Shortly after departure, the onboard staff handed us menus for breakfast. Food and drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are included in First Class tickets, and you could choose from a few different meal options. We went for the Full Scottish Breakfast, as well as a smashed avocado toast with a poached egg.
The food arrived quite quickly and came with coffee and orange juice. Quality was quite good to be honest, possibly slightly better than on the Caledonian Sleeper that we tried a few days earlier.
As the landscape passed by outside we enjoyed our breakfast with both the full Scottish’s sausage, hashbrown, bacon and eggs as well as the avocado toast’s creamy spread of avocado and eggs. Extra marks for the eggs being surprisingly well-cooked and delicious.
After breakfast we just relaxed watching the beautiful landscape changing into more cityesque as we approached Edinburgh’s Waverley station.
The trip and the train is really comfortable, and I wouldn’t at all have minded to stay onboard longer to for example continue on to London. But, it was time to get off the train for a final time for a few days of eating and drinking in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, before throwing in the towel and fly back home to Stockholm.
After four days of eating, drinking and walking our way through a surprisingly sunny London, it was once again time for the next part of the journey. And this time, it was for the first time of the trip on a night train, the night train that pretty much was the reason for the whole trip, as since I first saw a Youtube video of it I’d been wanting to go.
The train is called the Caledonian Sleeper and serves two routes: The Highlander route, that goes all the way to Fort William in Scotland, and the Lowlander route that goes to Glasgow or Edinburgh. It offers a sort of hotel experience onboard the train with nice bedding, pillow spray, a sink, bathroom and shower in the compartment (if in a Club Room), included breakfast and a nice dining car, or Club Car as they call it, where you can have both dinner (at a cost) and breakfast. There are also regular seats onboard, but that won’t get access to the Club Car, or any of the sleeping perks mentioned, of course.
We were on a Highlander that finished in Inverness, which was our final destination, and opted to book a Club Room, as the Caledonian Double, which as the name implies has an actual double bed in the compartment was a little bit too pricey for us, but we wanted to have our own bathroom.
Our train left from London’s Kingscross, as the usual Euston Station was closed for renovation when we travelled during Easter 2022. The departure time was in the evening, around 8.30 p.m. so we were quite tired after a day of walking around town when we arrived the lounge – included in club rooms – around 7. The lounge was maybe nothing to elaborate too much about, but was nice enough with tea, biscuits (of course, we were in the UK), crisps, sparkling water and decent seating as well as electrical outlets where you could charge your phone. There was also beer and wine available from the reception at a cost. Around 8.15 it was announced it was time to board the Caledonian Sleeper, and we walked straight to the platform through a little ‘private’ walkway.
We had to stand for a few minutes on the platform waiting for something before they let us onboard, but it wasn’t too long before we were in our small but cozy Club Room. The beds in the Club is bunk bed style and there is a toilet and shower combination in the bathroom. Floor space is quite tiny, but we managed fine with our two relatively large bags. Unfortunately (or actually not so unfortunately) we soon discovered that our toilet couldn’t flush. So we used the in-room intercom to call the staff to let them know. A staff member soon showed up and after some work, he concluded that our toilet was broken and we had to move.
The room offered to us as compensation for the inconvenience was the famous Caledonian Double which, without being huge, probably was twice the size of our Club Room, with a decently sized double bed, a painting on the wall as well as a nice amenity kit. It of course also had the in-room toilet and shower like our last room. Super nice and the first time ever I’d slept in a double bed on a train.
Happy with our fortune we went for dinner in the Club Car. The Club Car was decently busy (picture taken when boarding), but we found a nice table for two and were handed a menu each – it’s table service in the Club Car which felt extra luxurious. The food and drink offering onboard is heavily focused on local Scottish produce, which I loved. It really felt that we entered a tiny bit of Scotland just by getting on the train. Fun and adventurous. We ordered both the Scottish salmon with lemon sauce, as well as macaroni and cheese made with local Arran and Orkney cheddars, both were quite delicious considering it was on a train. We also ordered a whisky each from their quite (again, for a train) extensive whiskey menu, as well as a beer and a glass of wine. Price was around £45 for the two of us with drinks and food.
After this we went back to our Caledonian Double and tucked in for the night. Maybe having a glass of wine, and some crisps we accidentally brought with us from the lounge, while watching a dark United Kingdom pass by outside the window. Sleep quality wasn’t fantastic as the journey was a bit bumpy, but the bed was very comfortable so at least we managed to sleep for a few hours.
When getting on the train, the first thing we did was so select what kind of breakfast we wanted, there were a few options; larger and small; healthier and unhealthier, as well as if we wanted to eat breakfast in the Club Car or in our compartment. We went for the Highland breakfast, meaning a full Scottish breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, beans and black pudding, as well as the Eggs Royale and chose to have it in the Club Car.
The breakfast, as mentioned included in the price, came with additionnal coffee and orange juice, and an amazing vista over The Scottish Highlands, as we approached Inverness. The views just before arriving Inverness was really beautiful, so we were lucky with the timing of our breakfast. Breakfast food quality was decent, better than you would get on a plane, but less good than in a restaurant.
Shortly after we finished our breakfast, it was announced that we approached Inverness, 30 minutes ahead of schedule (boo). As it was the final stop, we didn’t have to hurry to get off, but it felt weird to just sit around, so we got off pretty much upon arriving. Inverness has a small Caledonian Sleeper lounge just next to the station building, and we managed to get there exactly as the manager started his shift. We were early, so he got a little surprised we had already arrived, but quickly invited us in and offered us coffee and a nice little chat about Scotland, and gave us some recommendations for how to spend our next few days. There was a also a small but decent snack assortment, much like in the London lounge, of biscuits, crisps, soft drinks and water.
From the lounge it was just a short walk, Inverness is not a big city, to our very good hotel The River Ness hotel by Radisson where we based ourselves for the next four days, before the final train of the Stockholm-Scotland by train trip.
When I was around 10 years old, the Eurostar opened and for the first time in history, people could travel by train from the United Kingdom to the rest of Europe. I don’t really remember how I got this information, probably from tv as the internet took another year or two to reach my 1990s family home. Anyway, since then, I’ve dreamt of going with the Eurostar, through the Eurotunnel, and finally, after stuffing our faces in Amsterdam food for three days, it was time.
We had booked tickets in Standard Premiere, which is the Eurostar’s middle option, where you get better seats than in Standard, as well as drinks and a meal onboard. But you don’t get access to the extra benefits of Business Premiere such as lounges, fast track and a nicer three course meal with champagne served onboard.
As we lived basically in Amsterdam’s Centraal station, at the very comfortable Ibis Amsterdam Centraal, we had just a few meters walk to reach the station. Upon arriving the correct platform we entered a quite long que to reach safety control and immigration. Since train travel until this point had been basically to just jump on and off trains, this was the first time since leaving Stockholm we actually had to wait. We did not mind though and everything went quite smoothly and I think we waited for maybe 20 minutes or so to get into the waiting area. The waiting area consists of a few chairs and benches, and not everyone was able to find a seat. I don’t think there was even a cafe in there, but there were a few vending machines for the hungry. The most interesting part of our waiting experience was a couple of Dutch ladies that cracked open a bottle of sparkling wine to kill some time. Reasonable!
After a while we were let out to the same platform that we had queed on to get in to the waiting area, and finally our Yellow ride arrived. I tried to go and take a picture of the locomotive, but a staff member told me (nicely) to get on the train instead. Fortunately there was plenty of opportunity to take pretty train pictures in London later on.
Our carriage on the train was probably half full (or was it half empty?) and we were told to put on face masks because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Netherlands had just scrapped mandated face masks shortly before we arrived, as had the UK mostly, but not onboard trains.
We were welcomed personally (nice touch) by our carriages attendant and shortly afterwards presented with drinks and some snacks. We were given the option to have either white, red or rosé wine, beer or softdrinks, and went for wine. Throughout the trip they were quite generous with wine, and we, being in holiday mode, probably had 3 or 4 “mini bottles” each before arriving in London. After stopping in Rotterdam, the train started to fill up, and we were served a ‘light lunch’. I opted for a leek, Red Leicester cheese and rosemary tart together with a sticky date pudding with butterscotch cream. The tart aka pie was served with a little bit of coleslaw-y root vegetable salad as well as a bread roll. Maybe the wine and views of rural Belgium had a little bit to do with it, but it was really good.
So, after a few hours of wine drinking and European landscape watching it was time. We entered the legendary tunnel. I thought it would take a longer time beneath the sea, but it was probably 15 minutes or so until we popped out on the other side of the channel and could continue to watch the landscape go by for a while before reaching London’s St. Pancras International station, and our next stop on the way to Scotland.
In conclusion I really loved the Eurostar. Comfortable seats, friendly onboard staff, great food, and a generally nice modern train. And of course it was also very convenient being able to go directly from Amsterdam to London instead of having to first go to Brussels or Paris. Price was a little bit high as we waited a bit too long to book. When we started checking, a one way ticket in Standard Premiere was €120 per person, but we booked them at €180 due to our own laziness. Despite this, and compared to flying, 180 euros for four hours in a comfortable seat with views of four European countries, free-flowing (at least basically) drinks and a nice meal felt very much worth it.
As we lived super close to Hamburg’s central railway station, we checked out around 30 minutes before our departure and took the quick walk there to find our first train of the day.
Unfortunately there aren’t any direct trains from Hamburg to Amsterdam, so our first trip of the day was with the sleek German highspeed ICE (Intercity Express) train, that reaches speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour, from Hamburg to Osnabrück in Western Germany.
The station in Hamburg was PACKED, but inside the train, we chose to go in first class, it was quite empty. This first leg of the Hamburg to Amsterdam trip was quite short, and since we couldn’t find any information of whether there was an onboard restaurant on the next train we where taking, our priority was food, as we wanted to try German train food.
In ICE’s first class you get food and drinks served at your seat, if you prefer, but it’s not included in the fare, so you still have to pay for it. We had relatively recently had breakfast, so we decided to share a German currywurst with fries, as well as a fassbier (draft beer) each, because draft beer on a train! Unfortunately they had run out of fries and offered us bread instead. Oh well. 40 minutes or so before us getting off the train, the food arrived. I think the quality was quite good to be honest, tasty, hearty and decently priced.
After lunch it didn’t take long before we arrived Osnabrück, where we had a 15 minute wait before our Intercity train to Amsterdam was to depart. The station was quite small and it was easy to find our way and walk to the platform.
After a short delay, the train arrived and we hopped on the super busy train. Once again we were in first class, but gone was the calm, the plush leather seated ”couple seats” and table service, and instead we joined a group of people in a 6-person compartment, where two (very friendly) ladies had our seats. Just like in the Danish train you could travel without a seat reservation, which also on this train led to sort of chaos. After a few minutes of moving bags and people around, we were fortunately seated however, and the trip to Amsterdam could commence.
As the train approached Amsterdam, it was approximately 3,5 hours from Osnabrück, the train got less and less busy. As in Denmark, as fast as the train staff announced that we had entered The Netherlands, everyone removed their masks, as they had just removed most Covid-related restrictions there. To celebrate the border crossing, we headed to the onboard restaurant and, to our sort of sadness, found it identical to the one on the ICE train, meaning we could’ve had our lunch here on this slow train, instead of rushing it earlier on the ICE. Oh well, we had a glass of German bubbly each which we sipped on watching the Dutch countryside go by outside the window.
Then, a canal or two appeared outside our window, then another, then a tall building, and a futuristic museum. And a couple of skyscrapers. We were finally in Amsterdam, after our five our trip through Germany, and this time we were actually stopping for a while for some eating, drinking and exploring. *Speaker voice*: “More on this in the next episode of Train to Scotland”. Tot ziens!
After a quick walk from our hotel to Copenhagen’s railway station, we reached our platform where the next train was due to leave for Hamburg. We had booked DSB (Danish Railway) 1’, which is their first class, via Deutsche Bahn’s website, and because of that we couldn’t choose our seats beforehand. I’m not sure that you can if you book directly through DSB, but I would guess so. Anyway, we were lucky and got a 1 to 1 pair, eg. facing each other with a table between us and no one sitting next to us. Not so lucky were all the passengers boarding the train with ”open” first class tickets, as the train was fully booked. On SJ you need to have a seat when you board the high-speed trains, but apparently not on the Danish trains. This caused a trip-lasting chaos with the non-reserved passengers jumping back and forth around the carriage, alternating between for the moment empty-seats, and sitting on the floor. Must have been quite stressful for them.
Apart from that, the seats were comfortable, there’s a self service bar with coffee and sweets, and the views were at times stunning. Last time we went we used the now terminated train ferry, but I’d say this train was more comfortable as you did not have to get on and off, and could just relax in your seat for the entire trip.
Just before we entered Germany there was an announcement that face masks are still mandatory in Germany due to the Corona pandemic, so the totally maskless carriage suddenly masked up as we crossed the border which was a little bit funny.
The trip lasted about four hours, and we rolled into Hamburg Hauptbahnhof railway station with no delays. The station is quite big, but we found our way and walked to our nearby hotel, Intercity Hauptbahnhof in a few minutes. The hotel was nice, and had what you would expect in terms of a nice bed, a tv and a decent bathroom. But mostly it’s convenient if you’re using the train station, if I’d stay longer in Hamburg, I’d stay in a nicer area. After settling in, we took a walk to the nearby Poggenmühlenbrücke (say that fast 10 times), with its famous canal view.
On the way back from the canal we picked up kebab from a place called Salli’s Döner. It was pretty good, although not fantastic. Tasty meat, decent bread, okay fries and good sauces. It costed us something like €20 which included two beers each to go. We finished our kebab and beers in our hotel room, and then went to bed.
We had no breakfast included in our room, so next morning we took a walk to a small coffee place we’d seen the day before when walking to the bridge-with-the-long-name. The place was called The Bakery and was also very close to the kebab kiosk where we bought dinner the day before. The coffee was really good and we also had a yoghurt with mandarins and ’homemade’ granola that was delicious.
The first part of this year’s train trip (I think I might start doing this every year from now on because train travel is very fun) was, in contrast to our southern-bound trip to Malta a few years ago, going west. All the way from Stockholm, Sweden, to Scotland in the United Kingdom, via Copenhagen, Hamburg, Amsterdam and London.
X2000 in first class, Stockholm to Copenhagen
During a light snowfall in Stockholm, we jumped on the X2000, which is what we call our highspeed trains. They are not overly high speed, but reach about 200 kmph, and the trip to our first stop, Copenhagen in Denmark, takes around 5,5 hours. The train is quite comfortable and the fare isn’t that expensive if you book early. We paid 700 sek per person for first class tickets, which gives you a slightly better seat, free coffee and some small fika, eg. sweets or fruit, that you help yourself to in the carriage, as well as a breakfast box if your departure is before 09:00 (9 a.m.). You can also use the lounge in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg if open (opening hours aren’t great though).
The breakfast box was quite good. A very Swedish, which I like, selection of breakfast toppings such as cheese, vegetables, butter, an egg, locally made apple juice, yoghurt and muesli and a tiny Finnish Marianne mint chocolate sweet (nostalgia). They also served bread from a basket so you could pick your favourite out of a few options, as well as tea or coffee. After breakfast there is no service, so if you’d like something else you need to go to the bistro and pick it up (and pay for it).
After about 5,5 hours, the train rolled into Copenhagen’s Hovedbanegården main railway station, located next to Tivoli amusement park in the city center. We had a few minutes walk to our hotel, Comfort Hotel Vesterbro which was surprisingly nice, for labeling itself as a budget hotel.
For dinner we opted to go to Surt, a 25 minute walk from the hotel. Surt is sort of a trendy-yet-casual pizzeria and gastro restaurant in Carlsberg Byen, a historical fermentation site in Copenhagen, hence the name Surt, meaning sour.
We tried a bunch of different dishes paired with local craft beer and negronis. We had their steak tartare with salsify, coal emulsion and parmesan, as well as their amazingly tasty pizza (the dough!) with local Hindsholm pork sausage, ramson, ramson capers, mozzarella and pecorino. Both were outstanding. Among the best I’ve ever had. Especially the pizza dough and toppings were really something else. So light, fluffy and airy. Pizza perfection. We also had their foccacia with pork rillette & quince mustard, and charcuterie with pickled vegetables that were also great.
After the dinner we walked back to the hotel, and instead of going to nearby Mikkeller Bar, like we did last time, we opted to go to the hotel, and have a bath and a beer in the room instead.
The next morning we had a 11:30 (a.m.) departure to Hamburg, which gave us plenty of time for breakfast and post-breakfast lazying in the room. The breakfast was, as the hotel itself, again over expectations. Lots of different both hot and cold items. Fresh bread with cheeses and cold cuts, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, coffee and juices, and everything was of quite good standard too.
I’ve been wanting to visit Bulgaria for quite some time, and after some decently thorough research, I found the Melia Varna maybe a year ago, and started looking into when to go. Fortunately prices were quite good in early June this year, and we decided to book the trip.
The hotel is all inclusive, and on top of that there is an extra fancy all inclusive concept that is called The Level, which we opted for since it wasn’t that much more expensive.
The Level comes with room category, and the rooms are larger, has more amenities like free minibar (beer, snacks, water and soft drinks which are replenished daily), robes and slippers, a welcome amenity and a couple of chocolates on arrival. Our room was on the 8th floor, but I’m not sure that all Level rooms are high up in the hotel. You also get access to a private restaurant which serves both breakfast, lunch and dinner; as well as a Level pool area and garden which is less busy and noisy than the main hotel pool. It also has it’s own bar.
Because our tour company, Swedish Vingresor, cancelled our first trip, we had to rebook to a week where the sea facing room we had initially booked was already sold out. So instead we booked a Level ‘park view’ room, which meant a view of the hotel’s entrance and the surrounding hills. This was definitely not a bad view, but the ocean vistas are definitely nicer and since the price was just a little bit more I’d book an ocean facing sea view room next time.
We flew from Stockholm Arlanda airport to Varna airport, a trip that is perhaps shorter than most people expect, with a flight time that is only 2 hours and 45 minutes. After picking up our bags we took a pre-arranged bus to the hotel where we arrived around 10 pm or 22:00 o’clock. The Level has it’s own reception area, but it was closed due to the late hour, and we used the regular reception to check in. We were handed, or rather they put on, our all inclusive wristbands, and we also got a sandwich pack since all the restaurants had closed. A top tip at check in is also to make sure that you receive towel cards. They forgot to give us ours, which took us on a 30 minute hunt the following day trying to find out just how to get pool towels.
Level park view room
The room was quite large and as mentioned earlier had a minibar where soft drinks and beer was free of charge. The bed was large and quite comfortable, there’s a flat screen tv, air-con which worked very well, wifi, and a large bathroom with both rainhead shower and a bathtub.
Restaurants in the hotel
There are quite a number of bars and restaurants at Melia Varna if you read on their website, but a few of them aren’t open that long – there is a German bierstube with German beers and dishes, but they close early, I think it was 5 o’clock so we never tried it. There’s also a paella restaurant, but it wasn’t open at all when we visited. This gives you two options as a non-Level guest, and three options when staying in a Level room for dinner: their main buffet restaurant, their Italian restaurant (also buffet), and the Level restaurant, which also is a buffet. Hence, no other choice than buffets are available and as far as I could tell, the food on offer was quite similar in the main buffet and the Level buffet. Although we heard from others guests that the main buffet ran out of food and was quite chaotic, and that did not happen to the Level restaurant during our visit.
The Level restaurant
There is no need to make any reservations and you just show up when you like to eat. The staff were generally quick to offer you drinks, and there were usually glasses of sparkling wine already poured and ready for you to pick up when arriving the restaurant. When it comes to wine, you select red, white, rosé or sparkling. There’s never a bottle, and you don’t have any say in brand or grape for instance. The wines were in our minds generally fine though and worked with the food. But this is not a place for fine wines (or fine dining).
The food is quite decent, and I appreciated that there was lots of Bulgarian food. During our week we tried both Black Sea mussels in dill, grilled kebapche – minced pork skewers with cumin – although I suspect these weren’t made in the hotel, and various grilled meats, as well as salads with sirene cheese. They also had made a dill, mayo, yoghurt, and garlic sauce, I guess based on the Bulgarian Tarrator soup, which was really good paired with their local dishes. There were also bread, fries, rice, charcuterie, vegetables of varioús kinds and desserts. Some of the desserts were of a much higher standard than the food, so I’m guessing there’s a very talented pastry chef hidden somewhere in the hotel.
The Italian restaurant
The hotel’s Italian restaurant is open to all guests, but requires a reservation. When we visited it was only open on certain days. We booked through reception a few days before, and got handed a small ticket that we brought with us to the restaurant. The food is served buffet style, but the main event is pizza that comes pizza for pizza from the kitchen. So they run out quite fast, but are never cold, and get replenished quickly. The pizza was decent, as was the rest of the food. Apart from pizza there were a few pasta dishes, salads such as tomato and mozzarella, Italian charcuterie and cheeses, and a few desserts.
The pool and the beach
As mentioned there’s a private pool garden for Level guests. It’s not very hidden or hard to reach, you just walk down a set of stairs from the main pool area. But since the main pool area is quite busy and there’s a lot of sports and events going on all day, I found it quite nice as it is much quieter and relaxed. There is a small bar, and the staff occassionally comes out and pick up orders or hand out little treats such as ice cream. The pool is smallish, but since it’s a lot less guests using it, it was usually more accessible than the large main pool that was constantly packed with people, rubber toys, and volleyball nets.
From the hotel, there’s a short walk down a slope to the private hotel beach. It’s not very hard to find, but can be a little bit tricky. Fortunately there’s a sign from the main road to “Melia Beach”, just walk in there and you’ll find it. There’s no separate area for Level guests here, you just walk in and pick any sun lounger that’s available. There was usually available sun loungers as the hotel part of the beach is relatively large, but at one time it was completely full and we had to give up and walk back to the hotel. There is also a beach bar which is included in all inclusive which serves drinks and ice cream. In my mind the hotel beach was one of the best aspects of the hotel, very clean, good facilities and super pretty.
The Level Lounge
The last one of the perks for Level guests is the Level Lounge on the top floor of the hotel. It’s a quite small lounge with a concierge and a bar tender that serves cocktails and afternoon tea from 3-5 pm, or 15-17:00. Again, odd hours and I can’t understand why they don’t offer this between let’s say 5-7 p.m. instead. We usually arrived 4.30 p.m. for a quick (and very early drink) before dinner. Because this was the only bar that you could sit outside without having to enjoy it in paper cups. There is also a quite spectacular view over the beach, ocean and area. And in contrast to the bars and restaurants below, they use “premium” spirits instead of local ones. They have a set menu of a few classic cocktails, wines and beers. But they made anything you’d like if they had the ingredients. I for instance guided the bartender to make me a negroni that wasn’t on the list, but they had campari, gin and vermouth.
During our visit to Tenerife and Costa Adeje, we visited a few nice restaurants outside of Guayarmina Princess where we stayed on a halfboard package. Despite that the food there was really good, we wanted to sample some really local food as well.
Picamar tapas Bistro
Picamar is a small restaurant located up a few escalators in a sort of a shopping mall next to Playa de la Pinta. Service is super friendly and the food was mostly really good. We had local cheese and serrano ham with local honey, super crispy yet creamy croquettas with beef, octopus and cod; octopus potato and lemon salad bathing (in a good way) in grassy olive oil, we also tried the meatballs that were a bit *meh*, and finally their fusion-y tuna tartare with guacamole and soy sauce which was nice. Bread was like 50 cents each and came with a very tasty whipped garlic butter. Prices were decent and we paid approximately €50 for two for all the mentioned food, a bottle of wine and water.
The name El Makami comes from the first letters in the three owner’s Matteo, Cassandra and Amir’s first names. El Makami serves up a varied menu of tapas dishes on the beach walk next to Playa Fañabe and hence also provides a nice sunset view of the ocean. We tried a little bit of everything such as their garlic prawns, their grilled octopus, wrinkly salt cooked papas arrugadas potatoes with the best mojo sauce I’ve had, crispy croquettas, padrónes with sea salt and palm honey as well as a baked goat’s cheese. Like Picamar, service was super friendly and prices very affordable with less than €50 for us both spent on all the food plus drinks.
I had promised my mother’s husband to have a dry martini for him during the drip, a mission I of course worked hard to complete in the best possible way. After some researching we found Café Steps, and while not a mixology kind of place, a nice little bar with great friendly service, massive cocktails and free ”aperitivo-style” (the owner’s from Milan) snacks. With our approximately €8 drinks we had both crisps, olives and delicious mini Italian sandwiches with gorgonzola and ham. Mmm.
After two years of covid restrictions, cancelled trips and spending almost all of our time at home, we decided to try out how it was to travel in a changed world.
We decided that we wanted to stay in the EU for our first post-covid trip, and decided that Spain, and more precisely Tenerife, offered the weather, the travel rules (only covid passport when we went) and also the direct flights we were after.
Stocholm Arlanda – Tenerife South with Sunclass Airlines
Tour operator Ving’s airline Thomas Cook Nordics has changed their name to Sunclass Airlines (but why?!), but except for the new name I didn’t notice any difference. We booked their premium class onboard their A330, which to the Canary Islands just came with an extra 700 SEK price tag, for a 5 hour return flight! Super deal. When booking premium class you’ll get around 15 cm extra legroom, free checked in luggage, free headphones and a free meal. Not sure what these cost in regular class, but those 700 extra is probably just 3-400 extra after add-ons. We also decided to splurge and upgrade to their premium meal for the return leg for 195 SEK each, but that includes a drink which is ~70 SEK if you select wine. The meal which consisted of salmon mousse and smoked salmon, beef fillet with potato gratin, cheese and a tarte, was decent, but like many airplane meals, the meat had been cooked too long and was super dry. Last time I ordered the premium meal, on my way to Gambia, it was much better.
Entering Spain with our health control forms and Covid rules
After our flight had landed we showed our Health Control Forms that we had filled in online before the trip, these are currently mandatory for entering spain when travelling from a country at risk, but was quite easy (and free) to complete. We had printed our forms and just showed the QR-code which was then manually scanned.
While we visited in December 2021 there was an indoor mask mandate, meaning you’ll have your mask on basically everywhere when you have passed a doorway, doesn’t matter if the area has a roof or not. Shopping malls, inside the hotel, even in the outside pool area you wore a mask if moving around. Only time you took it off was when you sat down in a restaurant or on your sun lounger, or went for a swim. Apart from (almost) always wearing a mask the atmosphere was very relaxed, all stores, bars and restaurants seemed to be open and people both behaved and seemed to enjoy themselves.
Vacation time at the Guayarmina Princess in a Platinum room
When staying in a platinum room you have a separate check in desk that also works as concierge. It took a little time to go through all details, but you got a glass of complimentary cava (or orange juice) while waiting, which was nice.
Junior suite with side sea view
We didn’t really care for size of the room, but wanted the Platinum perks which starts from junior suite, and since the price was almost the same for a ”side sea view” junior suite compared to one without a view, we decided to go for that room category.
The room was quite cool with a free standing bath tub in the middle of it, almost next to the bed. The minibar was stocked with both beer, white and sparkling wine as well as soft drinks, and the first round was free when in a platinum room. The room was situated next to a slope, so despite being on the fourth floor people walking by outside were quite close. The sea view was angled but quite good and we could see both the ocean and the neighbouring island of La Gomera from our balcony. We did not spend a lot of time there however as views are everywhere in the hotel.
Cocktail hour with sunset and volcano eruption views (at least in December 2021)
One of the nicest perks with Guayarmina Princess’ platinum concept is the daily cocktail hour between 17 and 18 o’clock (5-6 p.m.). it is pretty much what it sounds like, each day you’ll be served a couple of different drinks (as many as you like) and snacks for an hour. There was beer, soft drinks, rosé, red, two kinds of white wine and bubbles the days we went. The snacks were usually olives, something deep-fried like croquettas, and small canapes with for instance tuna. The cocktail hour is held adjacent to the platinum restaurant which has a terrace with amazing view over the ocean, La Gomera, and the sunset. In December the sun went down a few minutes past six, so each day offered a great sunset paired with your drinks. And we got to see the last puff of the volcano eruption on La Palma while sipping on our drinks on one of our first nights, but probably not something to expect for the next 100 years or so.
Due to covid, Guayarmina Princess’ Restaurants are booked by a super convenient new service, they call it an app, on their website. You log in, pick a time slot and then you have your allocated time. This works (and is mandatory) for breakfast, dinner and the pool chairs. Me being a planner, and someone that also gets stressed by the constant ”hope it’s not too busy at breakfast” and ”hope we’ll be able to get a sun lounger before other guests claims all of them with their towels”, thought this was amazing. You could sleep until late breakfast at 10, then after finishing you’d go back to the room, relax for an hour and then rock up by the pool and your reserved lounger at noon. Like a holiday always should’ve been. Great concept indeed.
Restaurants in Guayarmina Princess (with platinum full board)
When we booked our stay, our plan was not to eat that much in the hotel. But the price for what we thought was daily buffet was about €10 each, so we thought we’ll book that and then we use it to eat in on some nights and go out on some. When we arrived however, we were told that we as Platinum guests could choose any restaurant we want when on half board. Meaning we could opt for full a la carte meals in both the Roast steak restaurant and the semi-fancy Platinum restaurant as many nights as we’d like.
The buffet ”Food market”
You can have both breakfast, lunch and dinner at Food Market, and while we only tried breakfast and dinner, I’m sure their lunch is good too. I’ve had quite a number of buffets in my life, eating the smörgåsbord on the ’Finland ferries’ from Stockholm to Helsinki crossing the Baltic Sea to visit relatives, more times than I can remember.
Despite not being a huge buffet fan, I can happily say that Food Market is really good. Maybe not ”a gastronomic dream for true foodies” as their website discretely states, but still very good for a hotel buffet. The selection is huge, the quality is of quite a high standard, food is replenished often, and there are several stations where they make a la carte stuff as you order it. Also extra marks for local Canarian dishes such as rabbit, the classic wrinkly papas arrugadas salt boiled potatoes with delicious mojo sauces and fresh sea food. It’s also nice that you can sit outside which makes the experience a little less busy. It’s not super tranquil inside.
Breakfast is also good and of the same quality. The amount of choice is borderline spectacular, and they have (nice) oddities like fries, which one headachy morning (damn you Café Steps dry martini) gave me the opportunity to make a BLT breakfast sandwich with a side of fries. There are two egg cooking stations for freshly made eggs and omelettes, there’s churros and a nutella pump, good bread, yoghurt, fresh fruit, and lots of other stuff.
One night we decided to visit The Roast, the hotel’s ’modern’ take on a steakhouse. They have a semi-a la carte concept at The Roast, where starters and dessert are served at a buffet but mains are ordered a la carte. We tried a few starters which featured items for making your own salad, a bit surprisingly sushi (not great, but not terrible) and a few others. The roast also differs a little bit from the other restaurants as they have a couple of dishes that, like the other restaurants, are included, but they also have a few premium cuts that comes with an additional fee. We were a little bit tempted to try, but being cheapskates we went for the included-in-half board mixed grill instead, which featured a quite generous plate of grilled meats and sausages; pork, chicken, entrecôte/rib-eye, chorizo, morcilla blood sausage as well as a few fried pimientos de padrón. This came with chips, and we picked up a couple of sauces from the buffet since we like sauce. We really like sauce. Desserts? Can’t honestly remember, but they were probably alright.
The Platinum Restaurant
Like Food Market buffet restaurant, the Platinum restaurant serves both breakfast and dinner, both inside and outside on the amazing cocktail hour-terrace, mentioned earlier. Bookings for dinner are open from 6.30 by the way, so if you get a last order of drinks a few minutes before six, you might be able to stick around until dinner time if you ask nicely.
The breakfast includes a small buffet with slightly fancier ingredients and items than in the ordinary buffet, such as freshly squeezed orange juice, pastries, and on some days sparkling wine. The selection is much, much smaller though if that is important to you. The main difference however is that you also can order a la carte breakfast dishes, as many as you like. We usually went for their delicious pan tomate; Spanish bread fried in olive oil topped with grated tomatoes and a slice of serrano ham. There is also a fresh fruit platter, full English breakfast since many (most?) of the guests are from the UK, Spanish tortilla omelette, eggs to your choice, pancakes, and a few other dishes.
Dinner is, as mentioned, served from 6.30 and is a la carte except for starter which, like at The Roast is served at the buffet. The Platinum restaurants starter buffet is much nicer than in The Roast though, some nights there was all you could eat shrimps and langoustines and while I still would’ve prefered starters a la carte too, the quality was very good and you always found something you liked.
There was about six or seven main courses to choose from each day, and on top of that they also had a few extras such as a daily pasta and special meat dish. The quality is not amazing, but good. Think cruise ship. Our favourite of our three visits was the Iberian pork. Super juicy grilled fillet with red wine sauce and roasted potatoes, that we changed to fries since we are heathens. As in Roast restaurant you are free to complement your main course with items from the buffet, we could, for instance, not have enough of their mojo sauces, and the aioli was decent too.
Like the mains, there was a decent selection of different ones to choose from. The quality was, again like the mains, quite good, and we particularly liked their homemade flan with cream. There is a Nespresso coffee machine which you can use (whenever during the day, but also at dinner) if you’d like coffee with your dessert. There is also cheese, crackers and jam in the buffet if you want something less sweet to finish. Or both, as our waiter advised us.
The Platinum swimming pool
The last one of the perks, and booked through the Guayarmina Princess web app, is the amazing Platinum pool. Amazing in terms of views, mostly, as the pool itself, while heated and pretty is quite small. The area around the pool with the bar and the incredibly views over the Atlantic Ocean and La Gomera is spectacular. A top tip is to check the numbers on the sun loungers your first day to see which one you prefer. You can only reserve chairs for one day at a time though. We usually picked one by the pool, but there are also cabanas/day beds that looked really nice. If you get thirsty there’s a bar and there are also bathrooms at the end of the area, away from the bar, close to the stairs/fire escape.
One of my favourite Swedish dishes, and probably one of the few Swedish dishes non-Swedes have even heard about, is the famous Swedish meatballs. I’ve seen a few crazy interpretations over the world, but these are quite genuine. 🙂 There’s a crazy twist with these meatballs, and that is that you make them in the oven before finishing them in the frying pan. I did not really believe this would work before trying it myself, but they turn out super juicy and perfect.
Ingredients for approximately two or three persons:
250 grams minced beef
250 grams minced pork
1 onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
1/2 stock cube
~ 1 deciliter of water
Neutral cooking oil
1. Fry the finely chopped onion in butter on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes. Do not burn, but it’s okay if it’s a little golden. Set aside.
2. Heat the water in a microwave or on the stove. Add the half stock cube and use a spoon to stir until completely dissolved. Add the breadcrumbs to this and stir again. It will look like some weird savoury porridge (which it is) but trust me, this is an essential part of the process. Let the breadcrumb stock cube porridge sit for around 10 minutes.
3. Put the minced meat in a bowl and add a deliberate sprinkle of salt to this. It’s hard to say exactly how much, and the stock cube will be going in too, but trust your instincts. If you like it salty like I do, add more. If not feel free to add less. Let the salt marinate the meat a few minutes before adding the breadcrumb mix and the fried onion from earlier.
4. Wash your hands, nanananana, wash your hands nanananana, wash your hands nanananana, wash your hands. I’m sorry. But this is easier with your bare hands, and especially so with wet hands. So with your hands, combine everything together – you can use a fork if you really don’t want to do this by hand, but it’s harder to evenly mix the meatball mixture if so.
5. After everything is mixed thoroughly, it’s meatball rolling time. A top trick is to use an ice cream scoop to get even meatballs. Wet your hands again and roll between the palm of your hands until they are round. Put on an oven proof dish and set your oven to 175°C or ~ 350°F.
6. Put the meatballs into your oven and let them bake for 10 minutes.
7. Frying time. Add butter and neutral oil to a frying pan on quite high heat. I use 7/10. when the butter stops sizzling it’s time to add the meatballs. Fry until golden brown and cooked through, if you’re unsure pick one up and cut in two to check that it’s fully cooked. Watch out so they don’t get overcooked though, we want juicy, not dry, meatballs.
8. When meatballs are done, let them rest for a couple of minutes before serving. The Swedish way is to eat them like in the above picture with mashed or boiled potatoes, cream sauce, pickled cucumbers, and sugared lingonberries. Or just with macaronies and ketchup. We never use sour cream, at least I’ve never in my life heard of anyone doing that in Sweden. But maybe we should try?
If you read this and want a recipe for the cream sauce, drop a comment and I’ll add a recipe for that too. Smaklig måltid (enjoy your meal)!