The Madonna Inn in Central California Revels in its Quirkiness

The Madonna Inn in Central California Revels in its Quirkiness

“What would you recommend for lunch?”

“You mean, here?” The waiter responded as if startled by the question. “To eat?”

Considering I was sitting in a booth in his restaurant at lunchtime, it was my turn to be bemused.

After a pause, he said, “The breakfast here is really good.”

I did not find his opinion very helpful since I was at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo at lunchtime. Maybe he was feeling stroppy because he was not wearing lederhosen unlike the waitresses who were outfitted in drindl dresses.

visit Madonna Inn in san luis obispo

Visiting the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obisbo which is quirky and fun for the whole family

I was at the Madonna Inn because so many people have Inn on their bucket list that I thought I really have to see it.   So my husband and I went with another couple on a mini road trip from Santa Barbara where we were staying.  We were so entranced by the experience that we took our children there for a meal when we visited the area again.  Clearly, the dizzy waiter was part of the places’ oddball charm and did not affect our opinion of the place.

Boy is it odd. My experience with the waiter was just the beginning. Of course, the hot pink Mock Tudor exterior of the building was a dead giveaway that we were entering a different world.

The Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo

Despite the concerns over ordering, our lunch was excellent. I had a tuna melt sandwich in sourdough bread which was crispy and fresh. My husband’s pastrami on rye smelled equally delicious.

The Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo

On our first trip, we didn’t try any of the cakes (available for take out) but they looked suitably over the top as well.  Despite my love of cakes, I felt these looked sugary enough to send non-diabetics into a coma.

Bakery at The Madonna Inn
When we went with our children, there was no way my kids were passing up on dessert.  We had a selection of sundaes, cakes and pies.  After the taste-testing, we agreed that the carrot cake was superb.

Cake at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo

clockwise from top left: carrot cake, cherry pie, lemon cream cake and a strawberry sundae

We sat in the bar area which was red leather booths with time-weathered copper-topped tables.  The walls were decorated with a drawings that would not be out of place in The Museum of Bad Art.  There was lots of Pepto-Bismol pink everywhere.  Even the salt shaker held candy floss pink salt.

The Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo
The women’s room was a riot of color too. The men’s room is famous for its fixtures and fittings. We saw a group of women exiting the men’s room. They had gone in en masse to check it out.

The Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo
This place definitely believes too much is not enough. The Inn, opened in 1958, is an homage to vintage decor.  Lots of vintage decor, in one place, with sparkle thrown in for good measure. Sort of like if Vegas went vintage.

The Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo
The restaurant has a party room in full scale hot pink with mirrors and fake flowers. It’s the sort of place Barbie would host her wedding reception. There’s lots of pink, red, flowers, sparkle and mirrors.

the madonna inn in san luis obispo

cuteness overload! welcoming piglets, and my daughter deciding to take a bow at her imaginary wedding reception

Although my daughter thought it was very cool, she admitted that if she were five years old, she’d have thought she had died and gone to heaven.

The Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo
The Madonna Inn itself is further up the hill. It is famous for having 110 rooms each with a different theme. Sadly my husband was done with kitsch and I couldn’t convince him to take a look. Beer tasting in San Luis Obispo took priority over seeing the fuchsia-coloured tennis courts.

The Madonna Inn San Luis Obispo

Some postcards of the individual Inn rooms.

You can check out the individual rooms online before you book.  All the rooms are pictured and have associated whimsical names to match their look.  I liked the Yahoo room (the bed is a golden carriage on wheels), the San Francisco (red/gold bordello theme), Oriental Fantasy (you can guess) and Krazy Dazy (70’s psychedelic).  It’s the sort of hotel that you’d want to hop between rooms if you are staying more than one night.

Visiting the Madonna Inn:

The Madonna Inn is considered a landmark resort in Central California. It is located in the outskirts of San Luis Obispo at 100 Madonna Road.  The Inn has a spa, wine tasting room and boutique as well as the restaurant facilities.

The Good, the Bad and the Fantastic at Lloret de Mar

The Good, the Bad and the Fantastic at Lloret de Mar

The lurid neon sign above the entrance to the club in Lloret de Mar on the Costa Brava shouted total striptease and for added emphasis, “sexy sexy sexy.”  Presumably the inebriated punters the club was trying to lure needed help in equating striptease with sexy.

I find the main drag in Lloret depressing. You may have seen any number of similar towns along the Spanish coastline – a brash, budget beach town for sun-starved Northern Europeans with an unlimited appetite for drink.

lloret de mar cocktails

Pick your poison!

I had to laugh when my friend, Rachel, who blogs at Rachel’s Ruminations, showed me the sign in her hotel room which stated clearly that the hotel would need to be compensated for any towels ruined by tattoo ink.  And, this hotel is billed as one of the luxury options in town.

In case you are wondering, I found myself in Lloret de Mar for a few days in May for the TBEX conference.  Deciding to explore further, I wondered if there could be more to Lloret than a cursory first look would suggest?

What’s Good About Lloret de Mar?

I tried dinner at, La Lonja, a restaurant recommended by a friend.  The restaurant appears charming with its blackboard menu and cheerful blue tables on a little stone side street in the centre of town.  Some of the charm is ruined though if you look further down the street and spot the sign that says “sex shop.”

Sort of like your family, you really have little control over your neighbour’s choice of retail operation.  For all I know, the restaurant was in place long before the other store opened.

The owner of the restaurant was behind the bar ringing up the tapas orders of which there were plenty.  The waiters served up the food fast and furious. The small tapas portions fuel communal sharing of plates and convivial talk all washed down with jugs of wine.  I ogled a paella being served to a neighbouring table and felt a slight pang of regret that I did not order it. In all honesty, though, I was very happy with the tapas I ordered.

La Lonja lloret de mar

Charming but don’t look further down the street.

Lloret de mar La Lonja paella

A delicious pan of paella

Lloret de Mar La Lonja owner

The owner chats with customers.

The cliff walks starting from the beach at Lloret are handy to walk off any big meals. Rocky outcrops, crashing waves, and seagulls flying overhead create an idyllic stroll.  The attractive contemporary villas lining the cliff walk suggesting a more genteel clientele than along the main strip.

lloret de mar castle

You have a choice of beaches at Lloret from the wide coarse sandy one in the center of town to the little coves such as Santa Cristina.

lloret de mar beach

The parish church of Santa Roma is a surprising burst of colour in the centre of town. Originally constructed in the Gothic style in the 16th century, the church was rebuilt by wealthy citizens in the early 20th century.  The church became a frothy confection influenced by Modernism and Byzantine elements as well as the original Gothic.

Lloret the parish church of sant roma

parish church of sant roma lloret

What’s Fantastic About Lloret de Mar?

The Maritime Museum, located in a former mansion built by one of the town’s returning sons who made their fortune in Cuba, weaves a rich tapestry of Lloret’s history.  The museum describes the town’s early years as a humble fishing village, the building of frigates for the Spanish trade with the New World and the influence of the Americanos who flaunted their wealth.

With explanations in English, Catalan and Spanish, the museum is a fantastic multimedia look at Lloret. This museum is so great it deserves its own future post.  I don’t know how many of Lloret’s package holiday visitors will visit this museum (a real shame in my opinion).

Lloret’s days as small fishing village and then a chic home for the returning nouveau riche are long gone.  I was heartened though to see small pockets of beauty amidst the sun, sea and party atmosphere of the town.

Fine Dining Where Two Oceans Meet

Fine Dining Where Two Oceans Meet

It’s not often that you find a gorgeous view and great food in a restaurant at a tourist destination.  We accidentally stumbled onto the gem of a restaurant that is the Two Oceans Restaurant because our fabulous tour guide made us a reservation.  Needless to say we were very appreciative!

The Location

The Two Oceans restaurant is at Cape Point near the area where you can take a funicular or hike up to the lighthouse which still serves as a navigational beacon for South Africa.

We opted to sit inside the restaurant because we were tired of being buffeted by the wind outside.  The view to the outside is just as fabulous with floor to ceiling glass windows.  The views are of False Bay (so-called because ships in historical times would sail into False Bay thinking they had finally sailed around the Cape of Good Hope only to realise they were mistaken).

photo 3

The terrace outside though is sheltered  and it really does depend on how windy it is on the day. I kid you not, that Cape Town wind can be vicious especially in the afternoon.

2 oceans terrace

The Lunch Options

The food was just as excellent – lots of fresh fish and seafood.  Being South Africa, there is an extensive wine list that was also really good.

2 oceans restaurant fish restaurant

Expertly presented, the food looked so good that it seemed almost a shame to disturb the plate.  The whole experience was our idea of a perfect holiday lunch –  hanging out with our family in the sunshine with a gorgeous view over a delicious, relaxing lunch.

photo 4

The children’s menu is somewhat limited, and caters to a slightly more sophisticated palate than the usual kids’ menu.  For example, there is mushroom crostini and calamari.  The simplest plate was the honey chicken kebabs which my daughter loved. They also seemed to have baby food on offer.  My son was fine with the extensive choice of sushi.

2 oceans restaurant

California Roll

I should mention that there is a full sushi menu.  I absolutely loved that Cape Town restaurants have such a good selection of delicious sushi and Japanese food.

2 oceans restaurant

Tempura prawns

The desserts did not let us down either.  As usual, we shared a couple of plates because we were full after such a big lunch.  The quality of the desserts seemed too good though to pass up.

2 oceans dessert

lemon tart

2 oceans restaurant

chocolate & pear

I wish I could say that after lunch, we worked off our extensive lunch by hiking all the way up the cliff to the top of the Cape of Good Hope.  Nope.  Not our style.

Good to Know:

You need to make reservations at Two Oceans because it is very popular.  If you don’t, you will wind up at the little cafe next door with its standard menu of pizza and sandwiches.  It looked somewhat dire in my opinion.  Alternatively, you can bring a picnic.  The Cape Point nature reserve is somewhat large and you’ll be hard pressed for dining options otherwise.

The Legendary Bleeding Heart Restaurant in London

The Legendary Bleeding Heart Restaurant in London

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day which like many married couples my husband and I will ignore. If you are in London, however, and feeling loved up, I have got a gem of a romantic restaurant for you.

bleeding heart yard sign

image credit: notcub

The Bleeding Heart Restaurants

The Bleeding Heart Restaurants are a group of restaurants set in Bleeding Heart Yard in Clerkenwell.  There is a tavern, a bistro, a restaurant and private dining.  My husband and I tend to go either to the bistro or the restaurant.  We have had many meals at the Bleeding Heart because we used to live around the corner.  In fact, I met my future in-laws for the first time over dinner at Bleeding Heart.  My heart at the time wasn’t bleeding so much as panicking.

bleeding heart restaurant

Image credit: Martyn Jenkins

It’s got all the ingredients for a perfect romantic evening:  French (check), off the beaten path (check), great food and wine (check), great name (check), cobblestone courtyard (check) and an associated romantic legend (check).

As you would expect from a French restaurant, the steak with béarnaise sauce is superb.  Actually, I can’t remember having anything else in all the times I’ve been there!  Why mess with a good thing?

steak frites

Image credit: Ewan Munro

The Bleeding Heart Tavern is open for breakfast and licensed from 7 A.M. to serve liquor. They serve the usual continental fare (croissants) but also a full English breakfast (bacon, sausage, eggs, toast and grilled tomatoes).  You can wash all that grease down with a glass of champagne.

The Bleeding Heart Legends

According to legend, in Elizabethan times, Lady Elizabeth Hatton was a young, society beauty who was famous for throwing great balls.  She was the widowed daughter-in-law of a merchant and so very wealthy and eligible.  She was hosting her Winter ball at her mansion in Bleeding Heart Yard in 1662 when a dark, handsome man swept into her ballroom.  No one knew who the handsome stranger was but they all thought he was a foreigner (of course!).  The stranger danced with her and twirled her straight out of the door. The next morning, Lady Elizabeth’s body parts were found strewn in the yard with her bleeding heart still pumping blood.  The locals surmised that the dashing stranger was the devil.

Charles Dickens had a slightly less gory legend attributed to the place.  In Dickens’ version, a father locked up his daughter in the attic for refusing to ditch her one true love.  The bleeding heart presumably in this story is just a metaphor.

heart dessert

Image credit: Bleeding Heart

Isn’t this dessert beautiful?  Complete with bleeding heart shaped strawberries.

Which bleeding heart legend do you prefer?  I must be macabre because I quite like the version with the beating heart pumping blood in the yard.  It reminds me of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell-Tale Heart.

 

It's Very Easy to Love The Big Easy

It's Very Easy to Love The Big Easy

One of the best dinners we had in South Africa was at The Big Easy in the charming town of Stellenbosch.  Stellenbosch is located near Cape Town and is a famous wine-growing region.

The Restaurant

The restaurant is located in a gorgeous 210 year old Dutch-era house which had formerly belonged to the minister for the town of Stellenbosch.  The house was named La Gratitude – frankly I’d be grateful for such a beautiful house too!  It’s a mixture of Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture and locally known as The Grand Old Lady.

La Gratitude door knocker

The restoration is beautiful and you really get a sense of how gracious the house is. Many of the original features have been kept such as the sash windows, the stone floors and the fireplaces.

The Big Easy Window

The diners are seated in different rooms which I assume would have been the reception rooms and dining rooms of the old house. Having several tables in different rooms makes each room feel cozy and you don’t realise that it is actually quite a big house.

The Big Easy Dinner

The library is a cosy lounge area for pre or post dinner drinks.

The Big Easy Library

We were seated in the beautiful conservatory area. The restaurant thoughtfully had air conditioning and heaters installed which kept the temperature just right throughout the evening.  The conservatory was open to the small but romantic garden.

The Big Easy Conservatory

The Big Easy is owned by South African golfer Ernie Els and several other investors. The bar area had many photographs devoted to Ernie’s golfing career.

The Big Easy Gallery Wall

We were told the upstairs of the house is a private members’ area for the owners benefit.  Ernie is also interested in wine production. Check out this massive bottle of Ernie Els wine.

Ernie Else wine bottle

The Meal

And the food? Delicious. I had the fresh fish of the day served over linguine. My husband had venison loin. Needless to say, the wine selection is both extensive and excellent.

The Big Easy Dinner

Venison loin

There was no children’s menu as such. Assuming your child is not too fussy eater, you will be fine as do things like chicken and beef burgers or fried calamari. We saw several families with children in the restaurant.

As we usually do, we ordered dessert to share amongst the four of us. One was a trio of chocolate while the other was a trio of cake and sorbet specialties of the restaurant. They were delicious!

The Big Easy chocolate dessert

We thought the service was excellent as well. In fact, it was the best service of our trip. The hostess and the waiters were genuinely friendly and pleasant. Overall, this restaurant was a big hit with us.

Details:

The Big Easy is located in the center of historic Stellenbosch on Dorp Street, famous for being South Africa’s second oldest road.  Reservations are highly recommended as it is a popular restaurant.  The restaurant is open for breakfast, late afternoon tapas and dinner.