Festival Review- Victorious 2015.

We went, we saw, and to coin Primal Scream, we ‘got our rocks off’ to some of the most amazing bands you can shake an umbrella at.

Victorious Festival did it again, and this time it was bigger, better, and more amazing than ever. Stretching across Portsmouth’s beautiful seafront, and only in it’s 4th year, the guys and gals running the show put together a line up that some more established festivals in the world would be proud of. Adding an extra stage this year to extend the festival to almost a third bigger than before, was a brave move that could have failed, yet worked better than even the organisers probably could’ve imagined.

With headliners such as Ray Davies, Tinie Tempah, Basement Jaxx, and a now personal favourite The Flaming Lips, with their mesmerizingly wacky live show, what’s not to like? Admittedly, we never knew much of The Flaming Lips back catalogue, but had heard that their live show is something to behold. And we heard right. Confetti, inflatable beasts, and a crowd surfing singer in giant hamster balls, contrasts the beautiful melodic songs with a juxtaposition that will stick with us for a long time to come.

As the rain fell on Saturday, the ponchos came out, and shoes got muddy, but we didn’t care. We got our faces painted (I was a tiger naturally) and headed to the Seaside Stage, to enjoy a soundtrack from Portsmouth’s own Southsea Alternative Choir, as well as crowd favourites Cadet, and Gilkicker.

The Seaside Stage is (as the name suggests) set up right on the sea, with amazing views over the water, it is the best place to dance away as the sun sets. It is dedicated to showcasing the very best that the local and unsigned band scene has to offer. Portsmouth based Kassassin Street did what comes naturally to them, and amazed the crowd, whilst Rhythm of the 90’s, smashed out all the classics, getting the whole crowd bouncing, so that hundreds of festival goers danced and sang at the top of their lungs to songs like Faithless’ Insomnia.

Speaking of cover bands, have you ever heard a hillbilly version of Bohemian Rhapsody? Well we have, and it was as epic as you can imagine. Hayseed Dixie was high on my list of bands I definitely didn’t want to miss, and they certainly did not disappoint, and the main man’s banter with the crowd had everyone in stitches. A surprise delight was The Darkness’ set, as they have never been a favourite of mine before, yet their flamboyant ridiculousness created quite an atmosphere. I had a stupid smile on my face the whole time, and even caught myself shamelessly singing along.

We ended our weekend on the walls above the beautiful illuminated Victorious sign at the Castle Stage, enjoying Basement Jaxx, who’s set was filled from start to finish with top-hit after top-hit. The tide of dancing people below in their thousands was a magical and lovely sight to behold.

It is a shame that we never got to experience the fun of the Silent Disco, as it must have been quite the party. Every time we tried to get in it was completely packed out with wave after wave of queues eagerly awaiting entrance. We humbly recommend that next year they make the capacity a lot bigger.

Also included in the admission price, you get entry into the Blue Reef Aquarium, D-Day Museum, Southsea Castle, the kid’s-field and Southsea Skate Park, so families are well catered for.

As you’d expect from a festival, the food and drink wasn’t cheap, but it in no way ruined the weekend. One thing that wasn’t ideal was the strict no bringing food policy, as the lack of options for those with say allergies was quite difficult. Being Gluten Intolerant, Mrs Biscuit struggled to find more than plain chips or crepes to buy. We have been informed now however, that those with dietary requirements can contact the team to request to bring their own food. Yet if next year they choose to extend to camping, it could become a problem for people visiting from out of town who generally wish to bring their own picnics.

This was one of those weekends that you just don’t want to end, and the post Victorious blues are still with me today. It makes us proud of the people who go out of their way to organise events like this, especially as tickets are quite simply about the price of going out for a curry with the missus!

We can not wait to see what they have in store for 2016, If the last four years has taught us anything, is that the Victorious Festival team aren’t done surprising us yet.

Early bird tickets are on sale HERE for just £20 per person per day, and we suggest you don’t dawdle!!

Pics copyright of @WhimBiscuit 2015.

Where to stay in Dubrovnik part-3 - Hotel Excelsior.

Upon entering Hotel Excelsior, many things become very apparent. The most significant of which, are that it is clearly in an optimum position in the city, walking distance to the Old Town, and overlooking some beautiful coastline. Plus that it is a very beautifully designed hotel, exuding 5* luxury. Since it's opening in 1913, it has been a landmark venue for Dubrovnik, welcoming VIP guests, including royalty, famous stars, and celebrities.

We arrived at midday, a few hours early for our 3pm check in, so we went for a light lunch on the hotel terraces, and they are certainly something to behold. Indeed, it was a very welcome rest and quite delightful area, especially as this was actually the first hotel we visited after we arrived in Dubrovnik. The views are spectacular and stunningly picturesque, and every other guest we happened to chat to, said exactly the same. With 158 rooms and suites, all recently refurbished, it is the ideal place to relax, feel spoilt, and even indulge in a few spa treats.

We should have perhaps taken our swimming stuff out of the case so we could enjoy the private beach while we waited for official check in, but we simply reclined under the parasols, and worked our way up to the lobby to wait. We were initially concerned that our luggage and many others were just sat at the front door, but we soon noticed a member of staff watching them. Indeed the staff were polite and considerate, but perhaps not as efficient as possible, as we, and a few other couples we noted who were also waiting around in the seating area a few feet from the desk, kept checking on the status on our rooms every twenty or so minutes, for roughly an hour after the original time stated. The women who eventually gave us a key, was pleasant however, and when we went to the suite, it totally made up for any delays.

Spacious, luxurious, and totally gorgeous, our executive suite was really very lovely. The balcony that stretched the whole length of both the bedroom and lounge was wonderful, and the amazing bathroom (1of2) was outstanding with its views from the tub. It is quite simply really well designed, and quite homely. Only a few times on holiday have we been so in awe of a suite that we wished to spend more time in it than exploring, but we really did have to leave, especially as the sea looked so magnificent.

The private beach is a platform that sits adjacent to the sea, with steps going into the warm waters. There are plenty of sun loungers, and every now and then a helpful waiter will pass and take drinks orders. We spend a good while there, and loved chatting with fellow guests, before we went and admired the spa, indoor pool, and browed the various restaurants. We opted to go the short distance to the Old Town that evening, and had a meal out, but due to the ideal location, it was very easy to find when we wandered back in the moonlight, past the popular neighbouring sand and pebble beach.

Breakfast was included in our stay, and we thought the spread provided was really impressive. Whilst it was self-service, there was an array of cooked and continental options, including champagne should you wish to indulge. The staff were lovely and really looked after the guests, getting teas and coffees, and wishing everyone well. All in all, the hotel is really just great. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, and recommend staying there if you feel like a special vacation, or city break.

Reservations can be made through their website here.

Pics copyright of @Whimbiscuit 2015.

Where to stay in Dubrovnik part-2 - Hotel Dubrovnik Palace.

The second hotel on our review schedule, is on the peninsula of Lapad, a mere 10-15mins from Old Town by car or bus- namely the resort of Hotel Dubrovnik Palace. Newly renovated, it's modern architecture and interior, oozes sophistication and elegance. The view from the lobby is breathtaking, with glass lining the whole back wall. With 308 rooms and suites, each with a sea view and balcony, it really is an exceptional venue for your stay in the city. Where it is slightly away from everything, it is the perfect 5* retreat for a professional couple, or business executive.

Award winning and packed with amenities, this hotel boasts x4 pools (both indoor and outdoor options), private beach (patio areas onto water), spa, tennis courts, Diving centre, and range of dining facilities.

When we arrived, as we were travelling from hotel to hotel, our check-out times from the previous hotel differed to check-in times to allow for cleaning. As such, if you are intending to tour like us- do ask if you can leave your luggage at the front desk safely. At Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, they have a store room just for this, so we felt happy to then relax by the bar, and quickly get our swim suits out of our case.

It wasn't the best day weather wise, but this was an anomaly in our week, and it was by no means cold. As you can probably note by the view of the sea below, it was a tad too rough to use the private beach patio area, although I did try, but only managed about half a minute of swimming into a rock. I then noticed the red flag on the shore and promptly returned slightly bewildered. There are lifeguards, however I am not sure if they monitor the beach. I had actually asked for directions to the sea steps, and they simply pointed and let me go on my way without mentioning it shouldn't be used. I was at the time, sporting a rather 'chic' snorkel set, so I presume it was rather obvious I was set on a swim.

We retired to the outdoor pool itself, which included a swim up bar- something Mr Biscuit always get strangely over-excited about, so we ordered some cocktails. Unfortunately compared to the wonderfully put together drinks we later tried from the lobby bar, these were a bit of a disappointment- especially with the grumpy staff- but none the less it does not detract really from the lovely pool itself, and general calm atmosphere. Indeed, we also adventured the indoor spa area, as we heard about the sauna, and we really enjoyed the great ambiance and quiet pool.

Our suite was set to be ready for 3pm, which is usual for most hotels, and it was delayed slightly so we waited in their tasteful minimalist reception. The staff were polite, yet did seem rushed and distracted, something that was consistent over our stay. None-the-less, they answered any questions we had, and we were soon given our room key.

Our executive suite was, quite simply, a delight. It was a mix of modern and retro, and had a choice of x2 bathrooms depending on whether you wished to use the walk in shower, or enjoy a relaxing bath. We loved the comfortable lounge and dining area, and the bed was just superb, like ridiculously comfortable, and it had such wonderful views of the coastline that we actually had an afternoon nap gazing out to the ocean. Unfortunately, the TV did not work (not that bothersome considering we weren't there to watch tv, but with 5* you expect everything to function), and the showers alternated between ridiculously hot and cold by themselves. The TV was fixed by a staff member who came up from reception, however we never did find out what was going on the the showers.

The views speak for themselves, so it made sense to utilise the waterside restaurant for dinner that night. The Maslina Tavern is just the first of the dining options available, but we wished for an a la carte experience overlooking the sea, especially as it happened to be Mr Biscuit's Birthday. We were well and truly spoiled by the wonderful staff team there- so much so, that we wrote all about it separately here.

Breakfast was included in our rate, and it was possibly the most abundant spread we ever did see. A full variety of continental options are available, from cereals, yogurts, fruit, and cakes. To cooked options and even an omelette station. It is self-service, but staff wander the tables to bring you fresh tea and coffee upon request.

Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, is a beautifully designed venue in a blissful location. There is a local bus stop directly outside the hotel which you can buy tickets for from the reception. A service runs every quarter of an hour during the day to get you to the Old Town promptly.

For more information, and to make reservations here is a link for your convenience.

Pics copyright of @whimbiscuit 2015.

Where to eat in Dubrovnik.

When enjoying a holiday in Dubrovnik, you of course wish to experience the delights of their local cuisine. These were our top choices from our visit of the restaurants we were invited to, and we hope you enjoy them too!
Got any more suggestions? We'd love to hear! Tweet us @whimbiscuit.

Ideal for lunch when exploring the Old City- Restaurant Kopun.

In the heart of Old Town, up the Croatian equivalent of the Spanish Steps, is a rustic square that homes the St Ignatius Church, and a few choice places to dine. One of which, is Restaurant Kopun, with its canopies and umbrellas shading a large outside eating area, adjacent to a quaint, traditional building. It prides itself on its commitment to local delicacies. Croatia, they say, was the meeting point of many civilisations and cultures, and as such, historical influences have created a very diverse cuisine. Restaurant Kopun seemed very reasonable from the menu, and we ordered a very pleasant wine spritzer, and local beer, both of which were chilled and refreshing whilst we perused the menu. We read about the ‘Kopun’ chicken, which is actually a rooster, and highly recommended, yet none the less, we both opted for the light lobster salad, something that was lovely and fresh in the humidity, and very tasty indeed. The salad was seasoned well, and scattered with avocado, and we glanced at fellow diners choices too which seemed equally well presented.

From a scan of the typical eateries in Dubrovnik, you will see common themes to many of the dishes. The most popular food is seafood- particularly oysters, octopus, sea bass, and lobster. Yet veal and beef are featured heavily in main meals. Black risotto, coloured with squid ink is a speciality, as is a form of calamari. You tend to find, like most heavy tourist areas, that the Old Town is more expensive to eat in, than that of places outside.
We were told before that the oysters from Croatia are some of the best in the world, and even if you haven’t liked oysters before, to try them there before you completely decide- so they were next on our list! We were lucky enough to be accompanied by a local, who told us of how they were very fresh, and from a town very near by. She showed us how they are best served-  simply, and with a dash of lemon, then try not to chew. They were actually wonderful! We rounded up the meal with a superb chocolate fondant pudding, which were melt in the middle perfect, and worked perfectly with the scoop of ice cream they came with. 
Rated well on Trip Advisor, this is an ideal spot to relax after a hectic day sightseeing in the cultural centre of town.
A two course meal for two with a drink each, would on average cost around 500HRK/ £50.

The perfect romantic dinner- Maslina Tavern at Hotel Dubrovnik Palace.

In this luxury x5 star hotel, you will find a few restaurants to choose from, yet one very beautiful clear evening, Mr Biscuit and I were fortunate enough to dine in their traditional style, water-side restaurant. The menu pays homage to Dalmatian cuisine, with distinct Mediterranean flavours, accompanied by a spectacular view, and a comforting sea breeze.  The décor is relaxed yet modern, with hints of fisherman culture. The staff are welcoming and friendly,and we started our evening with a light and fruity sparkling wine aperitif, and pondered over our meal choices. There was a wonderful trio of musicians, serenading us with soft lounge music, and we chatter with the waiter, who helps us with a difficult choice between beef and lamb for our main.
Starting with a scallops gratinated with grana padano, I revelled in the delicate tones of this carefully cooked seafood, served beautifully on a few classic shells, whilst Mr Biscuit exclaimed over his superb smoked ham wrapped black tiger shrimp- but I feel I had the best option for once! We choose a smooth yet slightly oaky local chardonnay to accompany our choice of meal, and take in the soothing ambiance, and warm night air.
Our mains arrive, and we are glad that the knowledgable waiter persuaded us to opt for the tenderloin of beef. It is cooked to perfection, even with each of us preferring almost opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to serving steak, and the truffle sauce is exemplary. We request a break before deciding on dessert, because the food has been so good we’ve literally eaten every scrap, including the delicious home-baked bread, and quite frankly, we need a rest.
Not wishing to be disappointed and miss out, where we would have usually retired, we sample the baileys cheesecake, and we are certainly not disappointed. The balance of flavours, even with this strength of the liqueur, is so good mixed in with the smooth, thick cream texture.
The Maslina Tavern can be found inside Hotel Dubrovnik Palace, in Lapad, Dubrovnik. A x3 course meal with a bottle wine for x2 people, would on average cost around, or over 1000HRK/ £100.

Honourable mentions to go-

-The Taj Mahal restaurant. Surprisingly not an Indian restaurant, but actually focused on Bosnian cuisine. They have x2 venues in Dubrovnik, their first being in the centre of Old Town, and the second adding to Hotel Lero, and very close to Hotel Bellevue which we review in other posts.

-Restaurant Panorama, situated at the top of the Dubrovnik Cable car. It has the most spectacular views, and is ideal at sunset. Book ahead and request a table at the front.

Pic of Restaurant Kopun copyright @whimbiscuit 2015. Other pics courtesy Adriatic Luxury Hotels

Where to stay in Dubrovnik part-1 - Hotel Bellevue.

This is the first of our Dubrovnik hotel reviews, as we were fortunate to stay in a number of venues under the fabulous Luxury Adriatic Hotel group while we were there, so that we might best highlight the variety, and excellent accommodation that is on offer. 

Hotel Bellevue is situated literally on a cliff leaning over a bay, quite near to Old Town. It is a great location, mere minutes from the hustle and bustle of the tourist attractions by bus or taxi, yet the ambience and its positioning, makes it seem to be a quaint exclusive resort, or a more substantial boutique hotel. With 91 rooms, it is not a towering presence, but what it lacks in size, is made up for in amenities. It is one of a few hotels lucky enough to have a proper private beach. By that I mean that the coast line of Dubrovnik is mostly large rocks, and thus many other venue's private beaches are areas of rocks with steps lowering into the turquoise depths, rather than sand for example. 

We had checked in early, and rushed off to get some more attractions in over the morning, and we were delighted to find that our suite was prepared for us, and we didn't have to just leave our luggage by the desk. The reception staff were very friendly and polite, and when we finally did explore our rooms, and discovered the air conditioning to be broken, they sent a caretaker up within minutes to make it work. Every room has views over the bay, and is decorated in cooling creams and browns, scattered with eclectic artwork. Our balcony was a welcome relaxation break for the day after some hectic sightseeing, and we peered out over the the beach, and watched locals dive from the neighbouring cliffs. We stayed in an executive suite, which was compact for a suit, but reflective of the size of the hotel in general. It was however, well arranged with a lounge separate to the bedroom, and bathroom furnished with an in-bath shower. All of the Luxury Adriatic Hotel group seem to provide lovely L'Occitane toiletries, which I adored, Hotel Bellevue, offers a turn-down service, 24hr room service, mini-bar, and safe. The only thing missing, which really isn't an issue when you are on holiday, was a TV in the bedroom, but there was a TV in the lounge.

We were thrilled to have a treatment booked in the Energy Clinic spa, which is located in the wellness centre of the hotel, and we felt comfortable casually strolling along the corridors in cover-ups over our swim wear. Hotel guests are invited to use the indoor pool, jacuzzi and fitness studio for free, and we loved this idea for after the sun had set. Our treatment was a couples full body massage, which was a treat as in many spas, you and your partner have to go into separate rooms, so this is ideal for romantic breaks where you wish to enjoy as much time as you can together on holiday. We were welcomed by a couple of very friendly staff, who took us to the soothingly decorated spa room, and discussed our massage, before leaving us to get ready. It is sometimes difficult to review massages, as they tend to be a time of ultimate relaxation, a time when you can just switch off. Indeed, if you find yourself thinking about work and writing when at a spa, then really that is testament to how effective it is. About half way through, Mr Biscuit more or less voiced his opinion of the treatment, when I heard some quiet snoring from his side of the room, and I also started to feel any knots of tension fade away. Afterwards, in the fading sunset, we took in the horizon from the sand and pebble beach. The views are quite lovely, but there did seem to be a problem with rubbish floating in the sea. There were vast stretches simply filled with junk, all floating towards the shore, something we can only assume is due to the tides coming into the bay, and not really reflective of the hotel's cleaniness. By the morning, when we went for an early pre-breakfast swim, it was bright, clean, and clear again. 

Later that evening, we chose not to dine in any of the x3 hotel restaurants, and chose instead to book into a local place we'd heard great things about on trip advisor. The 'Taj Mahal' is not, what you would assume it to be- an Indian cafe perhaps? But instead is a venue specialising in Bosnian cuisine. It is located literally moments away from the hotel, with another popular branch being in the centre of Old Town. 

Breakfast includes continental and cooked options. There are some lovely additions like smoked salmon, and baked breads and muffins, but get there early to avoid missing out on most of the spread.

Hotel Bellevue, has the vibe of a venue suited to perhaps a demographic of young professionals, or families who still want a luxury vacation, with the amenities of a resort, but without the crowds or noise. The addition of the private beach means the water is shallower for a more nervous swimmer, as you'll find with other hotels, whilst the sea is still lovely, literally jumping in from rocks or a patio into deep water can be daunting to some. It is in an idillic location, and the service is very efficient and professional indeed.

You can find out more about the hotel, and make reservations here.

Pics copyright of Whim Biscuit 2015.

Game of Culture- Things to do in Dubrovnik

So you have a break, or holiday booked in lovely Dubrovnik, and you’ve spent hours on Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet already, you've come to right place. Below, what we have tried to do whilst collaborating with the lovely Dubrovnik tourism board, is pull together a few recommendations, of what to do in this picturesque city, particularly if you only have a couple of days.

Do check out our top tip travel guide, as well as our hotel review posts, and Restaurant guide- all designed to save you a lot of time and confusion.

None the less, whether you only have a few days there, or a fortnight in the city- here are the things you just should not miss in scenic Dubrovnik.

Things to do, places to go….

The City Walls.

Surrounding the rustic splendour of Old Town Dubrovnik, are the series of stone walls that were built to defend and protect the city between the 12th-17th Centuries. A World Heritage Site, they span over 6000 feet in length, both tower over, and encircle, the multi-story townhouses within, and overlook both the sea, and the rest of the city. 

In peak times they can be very busy, and it is recommended you avoid the rush of cruise ship tourists, and the midday sun, with the best times to visit being either early in the morning, or after 6pm (shuts at 7.30pm). They take between 1-2hrs to go around on average, and there are a considerable amount of steps at nearly all of the points- more perhaps on the city side where you climb the initial wall height, and then continue upwards towards the Minceta Fort (known to be the location for the House of The Undying in Game of Thrones).  

It is possible to only tour half the walls at a time, and there are places to rest continuously along the way, should you so wish. It costs 100HRK (approx. £10) per person per visit. We could elaborate, but really the views speak for themselves.

The Island of Lokrum.

Just a pleasant 15-minute boat ride away from the city walls of Old Town, is the beautiful island of Lokrum. Uninhabited by anything aside peacocks and rabbits, this peaceful isle is an idyllic getaway from the hustle and bustle of tourist areas.

For around 80 HRK (approx. £8) return, it is a wonderful and convenient choice for those travellers who love the idea of island hopping off the coast of Dubrovnik, but perhaps just don’t have the time. We spent several wonderful hours roaming the wilderness, exploring the botanic gardens, and finding the Benedictine Monastery. There is also the Dead Sea lake, Fort at the the top of the hill, and even a nudist beach. There is a café for refreshments and light meals, and a hut selling swimming essentials and ice-creams.

Our favourite thing to do here was to wonder along the rocky shore, find one of the many stairs that lower into the sea, and enjoy what seems like your own private bay to snorkel for a few hours. We also bought sea shoes from the hut, as the rocks are quite rough, and sometimes you need to jump from one to the other to reach the sea. All in all, this was possibly our favourite excursion of the holiday, and it is highly recommended.

Cable Car.

Looming over the City nearly 800 metres up, is Srd Hill. The Cable cars are a regular service that for 108HKR return (roughly £11) will transport you to the most incredible views of Dubrovnik. 

Once again, we recommend you wait until the evening to visit to avoid the crowds. We choose to get there just before sun-set, and we enjoyed the best of the sunlight pouring over the city views, then the wonderful light of it setting, followed by admiring the bright twinkling of the evening street lights below while we ate dinner in the ‘Panorama’ restaurant. 

We haven’t included it in the top places to eat guide below, because the food is not amazing, but its generally quite nice, and the views at their tables with a coffee or cocktail are totally worth it. It was Mr Biscuit’s birthday while we were there, and we called ahead to book a table, they were really lovely and saved what we felt to be the best table on the cliff for us.

Game of Thrones City Tour.

Now obviously Dubrovnik, and certainly the Old Town are enriched with history and cultural tales, but thanks to the success of the TV show Game of Thrones, it now has an abundance of fictional history as well. Fans of the show delight in finding locations of the sets, but with the magnitude of wonderful sights, and hidden areas, it can certainly be difficult to get a grasp of where everything is. Mr Biscuit and I had watched a few series of the programme, and we were keen to explore the city and learn more about its past regardless, so this seemed like the ideal option. We were booked onto the tour by www.dubrovnik-tourist-guides.com with expert guide Ivan Vukovic, and we met him just by Pile Gate. 

From the moment we met Ivan he whisked us down a seemingly hidden path to a cove that had wonderful views of the wall forts, and what we later heard, was the building known as the Red Keep on the show. His incredible knowledge of both the real history of Dubrovnik, and the complex stories of every character in Game of Thrones was quite impressive. He intertwined real culture, with stories of both cast and crew, pointing out how they utilized the locations. 

Literally every question we could think of, from asking who the statues and building engravings were of, to what venue particular scenes were set, were all fielded with a sense of professionalism. We also thought it was great that he brings with him a clip-board of stills from the show, so you can directly see the comparison of the location how it is, versus on the show. It doesn’t really matter if you have watched it that much either, as the interesting details about the old town, finding hidden view points, and recommendations for cafes was a real treat. With it being between 1-2 hrs in length, it was an ideal time to spend exploring the often uphill, humid city, without really desperately needing a cup of tea.

To find out more about Dubrovnik, please read our Top tips guide, and www.tzdubrovnik.hr for more information about summer festivities and future events.

We recommend travelling with British Airways, who made our journeys there and back very pleasant. Particularly as we found their business class fares very reasonable for the return journey, and the service was just excellent.

Pics copyright of Whim Biscuit 2015.