Discovering Antwerp, the Hotspot of Chocolate, Diamonds and Fashion


The city of chocolate, diamonds, fashion, art, antique and architecture: that’s quite a list of highlights for one city. We visited this Belgian gem two weeks ago and now I’ll share my selected tips.

Antwerp is convenient when it comes to getting there: a 2,5 hour flight from Helsinki and then a half-an-hour train ride from the Brussels airport. We took the afternoon flight on Friday and were strolling along the cobbled lanes of Antwerp in search of an atmospheric mussels restaurant during (late) dinner time. And found a tasty one (Xaverius, Oude Koornmarkt 21)! Let’s dive into the culinary delights shortly.

First, must say that on Saturday, November 16, it was slightly tricky to find a nice and cosy late breakfast spot with two available seats as that day marked the yearly arrival of  Sinterklaas to Belgium,  an occasion we were utterly unaware of. The streets around the Bonapartedok were packed with families, strollers and children who had exceeded their sugar overdose for the upcoming week as well.

The Sinterklaas festivities begin in mid-November as he arrives by boat from Spain. In Belgium he always arrives in the port of Antwerp. Then he parades through the streets, the children are singing and the assistants of Sinterklaas, the Zwarte Piet, throw small spiced biscuits and candy to the cheering crowd. In the coming days children leave a shoe out by the fireplace or on the windowsill in hope that Sinterklaas will come and bring some presents during the night time. The anticipation culminates on the eve of the Feast day when the main Sinterklaas parties take place. This tradition has received criticism because of the Zwarte Piet character but based on what we saw that Saturday, the tradition, or at least the parade, is still very popular.


Now, back to my Antwerp favorites. The best restaurant, without doubt was Fiskeskur (Kattendijkdok-Oostkaai 20b). This place is excellent. We both had a fish curry: super rich and delicious, fireworks for the palate really. The wine list was delightfully impressive, the service was warm, and the mood was cosy and laid-back. Extra points for the Latin rhythms. We found the place by following the tempting fish aroma when we were walking towards the Port Authority.

The architectural wonder: the Port Authority Building. Its architecture combines tradition with futurism. The building is captivating, a real eye-catcher, and the stroll to see it makes for a good (and windy, in November) afternoon walk. Antwerp is Belgium’s biggest port and infact world’s fourth largest port complex and back in the day (like more than 400 hundred years back) it was one of Europe’s most important cities. On the way back the yummy fish curry awaits. Architecturally impressive is also the Antwerpen-Centraal train station, check it out!



The most interesting chocolate experience was the Chocolate Nation (Koningin Astridplein 7), which manifests itself as the Valhalla for chocolate lovers. The visitors are taken on an audio-guided journey to the history of Belgian chocolate. It was quite exciting: the execution was creative and interactive and I bet it appeals to both children and older chocolate aficionados. And, as one would expect, in the end we got to taste many different flavors, in liquid form. As they say, the only thing better than chocolate is more chocolate.

As for the diamonds, didn’t buy any (I’d rather save up for the next adventure, be it big or small); antiques (carry-on baggage pretty much excluded purchasing any antique dressers or mirrors) and fashion: I bought one beautiful leather hand bag from the Old town, an item which I’ll very likely use for years. And the Leonida’s chocolate ended up in a very safe place as did the Belgian waffles: the best one was purchased from a tiny cart on the street while we were on our way to the Grote Markt (market square).

Hiking under the Andalusian Sun: A Day Trek in Sierra Nevada

Sweat is the gift from the body to the soul.

I really agree with that line, by the Finnish writer Kari Hotakainen. Add gorgeous scenery, fresh and crisp mountain air, a great adventure buddy (aka my husband), new trails waiting to be explored and the possibility of spotting baby alpine goats and you get to the very core of the allure of hiking.

There are different kinds of hikes: those which offer visual treats and spectacles on almost every step you take (thinking about Matterhorn last summer). And then there are hikes which add up to be rewarding but maybe don’t scenery-wise offer such landscape fireworks from the start as you were set out for.

So, we went trekking to the Sierra Nevada National Park in Southern Spain, in Andalucía. We we’re staying at Almuñécar, a nice small city by the sea at the Costa Tropical. The previous evening before the hiking day we browsed the hike suggestions at treksierranevada.com and decided to go for the route Canal de la Espartera. We were drawn by the length of the walk (14 km, suitable for us for an enjoyable day trip), the profile of the trek (moderately challenging) and the lush vegetation, crashing waterfalls and wide variety of scenery depicted in the hike description.

The starting point of the hike is near Fuente del Hervidero, a traditional country-style restaurant, which can be accessed from the town of La Zubia. We travelled there with our rental car and left the car to the parking field near the restaurant.

Indeed, the hike was varied, gratifying and good, as an entity. The first bit (the first two hours) of the actual hike was made up of a wide gravel track and rather desert-like views: the land was dry and dusty and the Andalusian sun was keeping us nice and warm (or hot – not too hot, but definitely hot enough). A baby alpine ibex peaked timidly from behind the bushes and dashed quickly out of sight.


Then, at about halfway of the trek the scenery started to become lusher with green hills, coniferous trees, long grass, butterflies swirling around us and pretty yellow flowers. The mountain stream burbled in the background.

The route was marked with wooden signposts with a yellow and white stripe. The posts occurred often enough, but a kilometre indicator on each of them would have made the poles even more helpful.


A few notes about the hike and tips for your trek:

If you want peace and quiet, this is your trek! We encountered maybe three people there during the entire hiking day. Don’t start your hike too late, so that you’ll find your way back in daylight (we started around 2 pm and finished at 8 o’clock and the sun began to set after 9 pm).

Snacks! The key to happiness. There are no mountain huts on this route (selling abundant pieces of apple strudel like in the alpine huts in Switzerland, says she wistfully), so pack a big water bottle and snacks that will keep you energized along the way. Granola, bananas, chocolate (won’t deny it, the hike menu might have included some pringles as well). Also, remember a hat and sunscreen.

The attractions of Granada and the spectacular palace of Alhambra are close by (around 25 minutes by car), so after the sweaty fun and some refrehing up you can enjoy some cultural delights.

Enjoy your trek!

Have You Heard of a Pearl Called Pallanza?




I hadn’t, not before last summer. We we’re wondering what to pair with the hiking trip to Matterhorn in Switzerland: key words for the search were Italian lakes, Italian food, sunshine and beautiful views. And, after some google maps and image browsing, Pallanza popped up! And what a delicious and pleasant little pearl by Lake Maggiore it turned out to be.

What made me fall for Pallanza? First, the extra wide jogging and cycling road, which follows the waterfront and leads to the next district, Verbania Intra. There was such proper road width reserved for the runners, so delightful! The morning run from Pallanza to Intra and back with a stop for some stretching, (catching one’s breath) and a water break took around 50 minutes. Our plan on the first morning was to enjoy espressos after the energizing run on the terrace of the café right next to our hotel, but this proved to be a utopian idea since we were sweating like two little piglets and the salt was stinging our eyes. But, anyhow, it was a good workout in a pretty setting.


What I also didn’t know beforehand was that Pallanza is quite the culinary hotspot. The stylish aperitivo in the lakeside garden of Ristorante Milano, the superb and nocturnal Spaghetti allo Scoglio (spaghetti with seafood) of La Tentazione by the market square (nocturnal because we are quite late eaters and their kitchen was open a bit past 9:30 pm), the rich ravioli of Ristorante Il Portale… Il Burchiello was also delicious but during the holiday season remember to book in advance.


And what would be sweeter for an Italian food lover than an Italian food festival taking place right outside our doorstep by the lake. It was sotto le stelle, a dinner and a gastronomic taste journey under the stars. You could buy the tickets either at the entrance or beforehand in the local restaurants. The long tables were covered with white tablecloths and flower compositions and there were candles placed in white paper bags waiting to be lit up after sunset. We got a stamp card with which we could get an apertitif, 5 different small dishes, two glasses of wine and a desert from the different stands of the local restaurants. A local elderly lady who apparently knew everyone in town was kindly pointing us towards the wine and food stands to ensure that we got the hang of it. The evening was tasty and bustling and a good gastronomic dive to the offerings of the district.



Pallanza has its own ferry stop and after some running and culinary delights I recommend you take a lake cruise to the islands (Isola Bella being the botanical crown jewel) and to the city of Stresa: a stroll by the beach promenade, marvelling at the extravagant luxury hotels, a cone of creamy pistachio ice cream, doing some bric-a-brac discoveries in the shops of the old town and sipping a strong espresso on the terrace before heading back to the boat, the components of a happy day trip.