Best Castles In Scotland To Visit

Scotland is such a beautiful country to explore, and with so much to see and do, you’ll be wanting to stay for a longer trip. This is especially true when seeing all the best castles in Scotland that are dotted around the country.
You see, it’s not only, Scottish culture, music, or Scottish food that makes this country amazing. It’s the history and stunning buildings, with the castles being no exception.
Take a look, below, at the best castles in Scotland to explore. Have the best trip.

Edinburgh Castle

Okay, let’s start with one of the most famous and best castles in Scotland, Edinburgh Castle.
Perched right in the heart of Edinburgh, the castle sits on top of the plug of an extinct volcano with the Royal Mile close by. Once here, make sure to spend some time exploring all the things to do in Edinburgh, see the Old and New Town and explore the castle grounds themselves.
It really is a special place.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle (in Stonehaven) was a total surprise to me and easily one of the best castles in Scotland to explore if you’re on the east coast.

Once here, take a ramble down to the rugged shoreline, explore the old castle grounds and buildings and learn more about a lion that once lived inside the castle walls. Yup, it’s true… this once used to be home to a lion.
Come rain or shine, this medieval castle is stunning to see and always looks so dramatic on the east coast.

Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle is situated in Royal Deeside and probably one of the most famous castles for royalty in Scotland. Not only that, It’s one of the largest (in use) and best castles in Scotland to see when you’re in the east of the country.

A favourite of the Royal Family, Balmoral Castle is a regular retreat for the Queen to escape the hustle and bustle of Buckingham Palace. Nowadays, you can head in on tours of the castle (at certain times) and learn much more about the history of this stunning spot.

Drummond Castle & Gardens

Drummond Castle and Gardens is probably one of the best examples of formal terraced gardens in the whole of the UK. This alone makes it one of the best castles in Scotland to explore on a lovely summer day.

Take some time to wander around the grounds, see the gorgeous terraces and enjoy the beauty of this place.

Stirling Castle

One of the largest and historically important castles, Stirling Castle is one of the best castles in Scotland that’s easy to visit.

After heading to Stirling, head into the castle grounds and explore more of the medieval rooms, the families that lived here and learn more about the region itself.

Craigievar Castle

Once home to the Clan Sempill and Forbes family, Craigievar Castle is now a beautiful example of a harled castle in Scotland. Now, before visiting Scotland, I had no idea what ‘harled’ actually meant.

Thankfully, you need to look no further than Craigievar as it’s easily one of the most iconic. Now, if you’re already around the Aberdeen area, it’s really easy to drive and visit this castle for a day trip. You won’t be disappointed.

7 reasons to Visit the Brecon Beacons in Spring

The Brecon Beacons becomes a patchwork of colour during Spring, with Daffodils, lambs and lighter evenings making it a wonderful time of the year to visit our National Park!

1. Meet the Lambs!

Get up close and personal and feed fluffy little lambs at Cantref Adventure Farm! Bottle feeding the lambs is a hands-on experience you will never forget making magical memories from your family day out in the Brecon Beacons.

Between Easter and the end of July, you can bottle feed our cute fluffy baby lambs and from the beginning of the summer holidays until the end of October half term you can bottlefeed our cheeky kid goats.

2. Go out for a walk

We have plenty of great places to go for a walk in our National Park,  check out our Spring walks with breathtaking views for some inspiration.

3. Surround yourself with the Butterflies at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales

Visit the National Botanic Garden of Wales and immerse yourself in the blooming beauties. Some plants have come as far as California, Austrailia and Chile – find out more here! You’ll find an inspiring range of themed gardens, the world’s largest single-span glasshouse, a new tropical Butterfly House, play areas and a national nature reserve, all set in a Regency landscape which provides the stage for a packed programme of events and courses throughout the year.

4. Go Underground

If the Spring weather isn’t quite what’s expected (it is Wales!), why not escape the rain and head underground? There are beautiful natural playgrounds to be found in the Beacons, hidden from view…The caves and mines underneath the hills are waiting to be explored! Visit Dan Yr Ogof Caves, Dolaucothi Gold Mines or go caving with your friends with one of our activity providers . If you’re looking for a free day out Big Pit is the place to go!

5. Visit our Towns and Village

The Brecon Beacons is ringed with characterful market towns while, further inside our Park, the River Usk, the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal and the shores of Llangorse Lake are dotted with pleasant country villages and sleepy hamlets.

Together, our towns and villages reflect our history and heritage as a mining, quarrying and farming region and our role as custodians of a beautiful region of hills, valleys, lakes and waterways. Our towns and villages also offer great places to stay, eat, shop, fix up outdoor activities and chat about things to see and do.

6. Come and enjoy Cycling and Mountain Biking in the Brecon Beacons

Our National Park is a great place for a day out on two wheels, or even a cycle touring or mountain biking holiday. Cycling and mountain biking is a fabulous way to experience the Brecon Beacons glorious countryside. It gives you good exercise, relieves stress and allows you to spend time in the fresh air with family and friends. Cycle Across the Beacons, this route runs from Llandeilo in the West to Abergavenny in the East, following a Roman Road with panoramic views of the Central Beacons, winding along lovely country lanes before joining the pretty towpath by the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal!

7. Simply enjoy the Wildlife and Scenery!

Our National Park contains some of Wales’ most spectacular scenery and rarest wildlife. Go quietly and you may see our key species – otters, great crested newts, marsh fritillary butterflies, bats and reed warblers – along with a host of other mammals, birds, amphibians, fish and insects.

3 Of The Best Road Trips in The UK

There is something about a road trip that creates a state of heightened excitement. No matter the destination, a road trip unfolds at the same, ascending rhythm.

Prepping for your trip

It’s important to prepare carefully for a road trip – it’s no fun being stuck roadside because you’ve run out of fuel, or getting a puncture with no spare wheel. If you’ve not got a banger of your own, that’s no problem: there are plenty of rental companies offering competitive deals. Better still, hire an electric car and help protect the pristine landscapes you’re driving through. Be sure to check charging points along your route, or – if you’re car isn’t electric – fill up the tank before you leave.

If you’re taking your own car, it’s worth a trip to the garage before you leave to check it’s in good shape. Make sure you’ve got all your car documents on hand, as well as a spare tyre in the boot. It also pays to pack a first-aid kit and some non-perishable snacks, just in case.

North Coast 500, Scotland

This circular route is a greatest hits of Scottish icons, stretching across 805 km of back roads. Skirting the coast from Inverness and the Black Isle, past the seaboard crags of Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross, it offers up gothic ruins, rugged fairways, historic castles, shingle-sand beaches.
Along the way, the road becomes a symphony, building note after note, bend by bend, from its rallying start through the east coast villages of Dornoch and Wick to Aultbea, Poolewe and Gairloch on the savage west coast. Here, it reaches a crescendo below the impregnable peaks of Loch Maree.
Finally, the road reaches the brilliant Bealach na Bà, which loops up and over the Applecross Peninsula like a piece of gigantic spaghetti. It could scarcely be more isolated or awe-inspiring.

The Atlantic Highway, England

A storied ribbon of tarmac and maritime history, this 275 km road has the wild beauty that has become the hallmark of southwest England: it’s all about the big views.

Sandwiched between barley fields and a succession of bays and beach breaks, the A39 from Bridgewater to Bude is a magical concertina that creases and folds along the Devon and Cornwall coasts. Beyond the roadside hedgerows, the windswept dunes become the territory of shaggy-haired surfers, where foaming waves beat the shoreline.

Stop off at Exmoor National Park for hikes across the hilly moors, before driving south from Barnstaple through the salt-tanged seaside towns of Bude (for surfing), Padstow (for seafood) and Newquay (for weekend partying). Then it’s onwards to Land’s End – the place Cornish residents once thought was the end of the world.

Coastal Circuit, Northern Ireland

Plan a journey around the knuckle-shaped fist of the Northern Irish coast and you won’t regret it. There’s a hypnotic quality to this 195 km route from Belfast to Derry/Londonderry, one that can see you detour off the road to find smaller villages. It’s one of the most varied road trips in the UK in our list.

First, head for the Gobbins Cliff Path, an ambitious walkway chiselled out of basalt rock with hammers and rudimentary tools. North of Belfast, it carves a path through caves, over bridges and gantries, and down steep drops.

3 of the best day trips to Wales from London

A day trip to Wales is sure to be unforgettable and, despite what you may think, trains from London to Wales can be as quick and simple as the daily commute. A day trip to Wales from London can whisk you away to an awesome new destination and just as easily get you back home for bedtime – so what are you waiting for? Enjoy a change of scene for one magical day, all without having to worry about packing!

1. Cardiff

The Welsh capital is every bit as cosmopolitan as London town, with the benefit of being a bit more compact, a touch more laid back, and friendlier. Trains from London to Cardiff take just 2 hours so you can enjoy some downsizing in your capitals without losing any of the city conveniences (or much of your day).

There are plenty of things to do in Cardiff to fill a whole day and night, but we reckon most Londoners ought to start with the things that the UK capital just can’t get, and in this case, it’s stunning sea views. A coastal city, Cardiff Bay is the place to head so you can appreciate your new seaside location. Featuring a marina, chic coffee shops , the area is home to The Welsh Millennium centre, a building that’s iconic of the city. If you’re very lucky you’ll be able to catch a performance here, it’s the shining jewel in Wales’ creative crown.

Hop on a water taxi from here and arrive in Bute Park, one of Cardiff’s best parks with plenty of open spaces, winding paths and the epic Cardiff Castle towering over it all. If the weather isn’t permitting, the National Museum is nearby , offering plenty hours of exploration with exhibits that range from dinosaur bones to Greek pottery to a more local taste of history with ancient Welsh artefacts. If museums aren’t your thing, Principality Stadium is equidistant from the park and is where sports lovers will surely want to head. This hallowed ground is home to the mighty kings of rugby that Wales is so well known for and tours of its inner sanctums run daily.

2. For Sea and Surf – Swansea

We’re keeping things coastal and heading for Swansea, home to some of the best beaches in Wales. While Cardiff Bay was a lovely touch of ocean charm for those looking for a city break, a day trip to Swansea is the preferred stop if you’re intent on a real day beside the seaside. Of course, it’s not all about kiddies, buckets and spades here, Swansea is a student town, and there is a definite cool vibe in the air – one that extends to the beaches. Swansea Bay Beach is a leading spot to enjoy some surfing with plenty of like-minded locals.

Just off the waterfront is the Wales National Waterfront Museum, a glass and metalwork building set around an old warehouse, it’s a fitting home for its exhibits that centre on the industrial history of Wales. It’s a great place to spend a few hours, with interactive and beautifully presented displays that will keep visitors of all ages enthralled.

3. For Glorious Nature – The Brecon Beacons

For many, Wales = nature, so where better to head than The Brecon Beacons? This stunning mountain range will surely take your breath away. Set in a designated national park area, this is one day trip from London that may make you never want to go back. The park is pretty immense, so you’re best to plan your trip before you head off and ensure you can make the most of every moment.

With rolling hills to ramble, rivers to raft down and caves to crawl through, lovers of the great outdoors will be hard pressed to find any better example of just how great outdoors can be. History lovers will find plenty to enjoy too, as will avid explorers of any age, as you can don a hard hat and head into the Dolaucothi Gold Mines, the only known Roman gold mines in the UK. And how could we not mention the national park’s very own train? The Brecon Mountain Railway is a steam train every bit as charming as the surroundings it passes through. Even if you want to do nothing more active than sit with a book, this is one of the most beautiful places in the UK to do just that.

How to plan a day trip to Stonehenge from London

London has its fair share of tourist attractions, museums, galleries and historic sights, making it a top destination for visitors from all around the world. However, for tourists and natives alike, there is one national monument that people from everywhere flock to see – Stonehenge.

This mystical prehistoric monument nestled in the Wiltshire countryside was erected in 2,500 BC, yet the site itself dates back even further to 4,500 BC. As such, it’s an incredible part of living history and a true engineering feat that you must visit at least once in your lifetime.

Some believe that the giant stone ring formation was once a religious site or perhaps an astronomical observatory. There are even theories that it was used for healing, burial and acoustics, due to its excellent sound reflection.

With some 1.3 million visitors a year, the area is well equipped for tourists, making the journey from the capital entirely do-able. Taking one of the first trains of the day, it’s easy to take in the sights of the wider Salisbury area and get back home in time for tea. So, if you’re planning a day trip to Stonehenge from London, here’s a useful day guide to make the most of your visit.

Getting to Stonehenge from London

Nearly 90 miles from London, situated close to historic Salisbury, the landmark site can be visited by train, car and bus. However, the train is often the preferred route for a day trip, taking just 1h 23m from London Waterloo on the direct train to Salisbury.

09:20 – Arrive in Salisbury

Since Stonehenge doesn’t open until 09:30, there’s plenty of time to make your way from the city on a scenic journey through the rural countryside.

The 07:50 train from London Waterloo is perfectly timed to arrive at 09:20, allowing you to make the most of your full day out.

A fitting setting for such a mysterious sight, many believe Wiltshire has a unique energy attached to it. Some suggest that its ley lines are associated with sacred sites, and many have been wowed by the crop circles and other unusual activity over the years. Put simply – a day trip to Stonehenge from London is a must.

There are plenty of taxi options available from the station when you arrive. From here it’s a quick 15-minute journey to the Stonehenge Visitor Centre, operated by English Heritage since it is a protected site.

09:35 – Arrive at Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Upon arrival, you’ll come into the Stonehenge Visitor Centre. This can be enjoyed at your leisure – it usually takes an hour or two to look around.

The virtual stones experience is a good place to start. This exhibition will teach you about the monument and its ancient history. Bringing it to life virtually, you can ‘touch’ the stones in a 360-degree audio-visual experience. This is great for children but no less informative for adults.

In the Stonehenge exhibition, there are more than 250 fascinating archaeological treasures on display, which were discovered on site.

The final part of the tour is a visit to the Neolithic houses. Reconstructed to reflect life 4,500 years ago, they are impressively built using authentic materials and original techniques, in keeping with the integrity of the exhibition.

11:30 – The Stone Circle

And finally, here it is – thousands of years of history standing in front of you. It’s quite a sight to behold! Upon arrival at the Stone Circle, take time to wander around this iconic symbol of mankind, taking it all in. It’s hard not to reflect on the enormous engineering effort that went into creating this solid structure that stands before you today.

The stones are said to have been constructed in parts – there are lots of information points dotted around the site that explain the stones and their roles in more detail.

Since it’s a protected area, you cannot touch the stones, and there is some distance between visitors and the formation. However, even with these protective measures, visitors get a full sense of the scale and magnificence of the site. Join the hundreds of visitors vying for the best position for a photograph, and of course a mandatory selfie before you leave.

12:45 – Lunch

After working your way back down to the visitor centre, there’s an opportunity for lunch in the café. There are sandwiches, soups and pastries along with a choice of coffee to choose from.

Before leaving, be sure to visit the gift shop. There’s plenty of brilliant merchandise you won’t want to leave without!

14:20 – Head into Salisbury

With plenty of time left in your schedule, it would be remiss not to take a detour into Salisbury. A taxi into the centre takes a further 17-minutes, arriving at 14:20.

This medieval city is brimming with historical significance and sights to see. At its centre is Salisbury Cathedral, a beacon in the skyline, inviting worshippers since the late 12th-century. It’s also home to the original copy of the Magna Carta written in 1215 AD, which is not to be missed.

A gentle walk back to the train station takes less than 15-minutes and allows you to take in the sights and streets along the way. This includes a number of National Trust buildings, including Mompesson House, as well as the natural beauty of Queen Elizabeth Gardens.

16:47 – Return to London

Of course, all good things must come to an end. Beat the early evening rush by catching the 16:47 train to London Waterloo, which takes 1h 34m. Arriving back in the city at 18:21, you’ll have enough time to enjoy a refreshing sip before the sun sets.

Reasons why you should book a tour to Europe

Travelling to Europe is such an adventure! Why is it not a rite of passage for every single person around the world? Travelling is educational, inspiring and just plain fun! Here are some of the reasons why so many travel packages around Europe…

You get to walk amidst living history

Civilisation in Europe has been around for many years and the continent has the buildings to prove it. The cities are old, REALLY old. Some of the buildings date back around 2000 years, especially in places like Rome. Take note of the buildings around you, visit the museums and take loads of pictures! These cities are living, breathing reminders of the past. They are filled with stories just waiting to be heard. Europe culture has so much to offer. You can walk up the Acropolis and think as Socrates once did. Or, you could get lost along the cobblestone walkways of Prague’s Old Town. Why not hike among the UNESCO-accredited Italian fishing villages of Cinque Terre in Italy? Wherever you choose to go, you’ll enjoy a historical experience like no other.

It’s undeniably gorgeous

The Europe attractions do not hold back! From the snow-capped mountains of the Swiss Alps, to the golden charm of the Italian coastline. Europe is filled with jaw-dropping views. Even the urban scenery has its own unique charm! No matter where your European travels take you, you are bound to stand in awe at the beauty that surrounds you.

One word: CULTURE

Europe has some of the finest theatres on the planet. Not to mention art museums! Did you know that Italy has more masterpieces per square metre, than any other country in the world? Or that the Musée du Louvre contains more than 380,000 objects and displays 35,000 works of art? That’s a lot of culture waiting to be explored!

It’s easy to get around

European countries have had time to perfect urban planning and get public transport under control. This makes getting around so easy! Travellers can enjoy a variety of sights in a relatively short space of time.  A single day could include: artworks, shopping, famous landmarks, delicious foods, medieval architecture and relaxing.

Europeans celebrate EVERYTHING

Europe is known for its one-of-a-kind festival calendar. From the historically important and cutting-edge. To the ridiculous . You can enjoy the company of like-minded locals and visitors at festive events throughout the year. Music, film, comedy, food , fashion… You name it, Europe has a festival that celebrates it!

Travelers are welcomed with open arms

For most Europeans, hospitality is a way of life. No matter where you travel, you are sure to be welcomed with open arms. The locals will always be pointed in the direction of the best attractions.

The shopping is phenomenal

Europe is home to some of the world’s fashion capitals. This makes high street shopping even more exciting than usual. Travelling on a basic budget? You are sure to find some well-priced keepsakes at markets and small, local vendors. Visiting during winter? You are in for a treat! Europe has some of the most magical Christmas markets you’ll ever encounter.

Top 6 coastal towns in Italy

Hilltop villages, clear water, beautiful beaches, and good food. These are all things you can expect to find in our top 6 Italian coastal towns. You can reach all of them quickly and easily by train from all over Italy – in fact, for some of them, the scenic train journey to get there is half the reason why you should go.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Representing the beautiful Cinque Terre on our list, Vernazza packs a lot into one tiny, colourful village – an authentic marina, brightly coloured houses, dramatic rocky coastline, a historic bell tower, even a secluded swimming hole and cliffside restaurants. Doria Castle, clinging to the rugged hillside, is a local highlight. The railway line connecting the Cinque Terre is one of the most spectacular journeys in Italy. And Vernazza is a convenient starting place for hiking to the other Cinque Terre villages. Especially Corniglia and Monterosso, which have the best swimming beaches in the area!

Vietri sul Mare, Amalfi Coast

The Amalfi Coast is the epitome of what beautiful Italian coastal towns can be. While many Amalfi Coast towns have come to rely on tourism, Vietri sul Mare has remained a traditional fishing village. That has helped this quaint but vibrant seaside town retain a high level of authenticity. In cliffside restaurants, you can taste possibly the best tuna and sardines you’ll ever try. Stroll the winding old streets up to the town’s central beacon, the Church of Saint John the Baptist, for incredible ocean views. The only Amalfi Coast town with a train station, Vietri sul Mare is a mere 8 minutes from Salerno and 53 minutes from Naples on Trenitalia trains.

Rimini, Emilia-Romagna

With impressive historical buildings to match its 10 miles of sandy beach, Rimini has long been a favourite among Italian coastal towns. It is Italy’s biggest beach resort – you could spend all day every day in different parts of the beach, and after a month you might still be discovering new spots. It’s not all about swimming and sunbathing here, though, as Rimini’s nightlife scene is almost as famous as its beach. And only an hour away from Bologna on Frecciarossa or Frecciabianca trains, the capital of the region that gave the world Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar and so much more, Rimini is a gastronomic paradise. On Frecciarossa trains you can enjoy plenty of high-quality services, including free WiFi and onboard entertainment Le Frecce portal, large leather armchairs, at-seat power sockets and a welcome service with complimentary snacks in all classes except for the Standard one.

Polignano a Mare, Puglia

Think turquoise waters and white-pebble beaches, Roman ruins and whitewashed houses. Puglia, wrapping around the heel of Italy’s boot, is loaded with beautiful beach towns. And Polignano a Mare may well be the best of the lot. The town’s iconic abbey and 16th-century tower, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic Sea from the top of a cliff, offers a photo opportunity you won’t want to miss. Polignano a Mare is less than 40 minutes away from Bari on a regional train.

Sorrento, Campania

Looking back towards the ancient city and Mount Vesuvius from across the Gulf of Naples, the location of Sorrento is enough in itself to warrant its status as one of the finest Italian coastal towns. So the fact that it throws ridiculous historical beauty and otherworldly rugged landscapes into the mix is just unfair. Given its topography, it’s a tricky place to drive – but it’s easy to walk around. And its central train station, located near Piazza Angelina Lauro in the centre of the city, is well serviced by commuter trains from Naples as well as trains from other towns and cities.

San Remo, Liguria

Compared with its much noisier neighbours over the border on the Côte d’Azur, San Remo feels humble and understated despite its historic grandeur. That’s not to say that there isn’t glitz and glamour here. There is – epitomised by its imposing architecture. But there’s also a lot more to this Italian Riviera gem. San Remo hosts a range of global events year-round, from the International Rally Challenge to the wildly popular Sanremo Music Festival television song contest. Oh, and did we mention that the train journey to San Remo, hugging the coastline between Imperia and Ventimiglia, is one of the most beautiful in Italy?

Here are the top 6 tourist attractions to see in Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome Overview

Hailed as a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, the Piazza Navona is bristling with life in a hundred shops, restaurants and eateries that surround this historical place.

The Piazza Navona was worked on by Borromini and Bernini. It is populated by street cafes and open air performances and a very festive atmosphere. You could go there to wonder at the architectural magnificence as you sip on the best coffee in your life, while a local street performer plays the most melodious tunes in the background. This is a great place for history buffs, families, couples and even solo travellers!

Colosseum

This was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre, and was mostly used as public entertainment arena.

The Colosseum is one of the most famous attractions in Rome, and is where most gladiatorial fights took place. Today, actors in gladiator clothes stand outside the Colosseum, where you can take pictures with them. The Colosseum is a testament to the ingenuity of the builders, having stood the test of time. While parts have been damaged, the Colosseum still remains standing in most of it’s original glory today. It is advisable that you buy your tickets in advance to skip the ticketing queue, which can be quite the time saver!

EUR, Rome

One of the most chilling yet underrated attractions of Rome, the EUR houses works by famous architects like Marcello Piacentini, Giuseppe Pagano Pogatschnig, Luigi Piccinato, Luigi Vietti and Ettore Rossi. If you do visit, do not miss the Palazzo della Civiltö Italiana, the Fascist answer to the Colosseum.

Vatican Museums

Founded in the 16th century, the museums are one of the best in the world.

The Vatican museums feature 7 km of historically and culturally significant artefacts. Their acquisition of everything from Egyptian mummies to modern paintings is as impressive as their labelling is not. Hire a guide, take an audio guide or buy a guide book to get the full impact of the centuries of history in these hallowed halls.

Galleria Borghese

The Galleria Borghese is one of the most extensive and impressive private collections in the world. If they had to choose one museum to visit during your Roman vacation, many people would choose this over the Vatican!

The Galleria Borghese is filled to the gills with Bernini, Raphael and artefacts like floor tiles from the Colosseum that are directly lifted from the blueprints of history. The galleria allows only 300 odd people to enter it every session, with every session lasting 2 hours. Buy your tickets in advance! The approach to the Galleria Borghese is the Villa Borghese, which can also turn into a beautiful stroll if you plan your day accordingly.

The Pantheon

One of the most culturally significant and most well preserved buildings in Rome, the Pantheon houses the remains of several illustrious figures, including Raphael.

The origins of the Pantheon are contested, with some claiming that it was a temple dedicated to the pagan gods of Rome while others say it was the sacra privata of the original builder, Agrippa. In any case, the Pantheon is currently in use as a church, and you can even participate in Mass, held there every Sunday. The pantheon currently also houses the remains of late Italian Kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, along with the latter’s wife, Margherita; along with them, the tomb of the artist Raphael is also located in the Pantheon.

charred cauliflower quesadillas

Last week* I mentioned that we’d been on a big breakfast-for-dinner spree this winter, less out of a noble desire for inexpensive, balanced, wholesome meals and more because scrambling eggs at the last minute allows us to go all the way to 15 minutes before dinner to come up with an idea for it, which is meal-planning equivalent of the heavens opening up and glorifying all of my late-afternoon lethargy at last.

The other kick we’ve been on since the beginning of the year is passing off anything we can put in, on, or near a tortilla as dinner, leading to a steady rotation our go-to fajitas, beef tacos, black bean tacos and, in a mash-up of both the breakfast and tortilla benders, scrambled egg tacos. Many of you asked “how” I got my son to eat such foods as scrambled eggs and tacos, and while I’m tempted to take credit for it (“it’s the rainbow of local organic produce and definitely not the daily succession of pb&j sandwiches I ate while he was in the womb!”) it would be dishonest when it’s been more due to random outside influences. The grandmother of one of my son’s classmates brought in warm — warm! freshly cooked! how I long to be a kindergartener most days! — quesadillas for snack a few weeks ago, and it’s all he’s talked about since. Plus, since it fit into our all-tortillas-all-the-time meal plan, I set about finding a way to pass it off as dinner.

If we’re being honest, it got two cranky thumbs down from the kid** but we adults loved them so much, we are placing this in the permanent rotation and think you should too. First, char a mild-to-hot pepper or two and while it’s steaming its way out of its skin, cook a head of cauliflower at a blistering high heat in a big skillet and until your smoke alarm maybe goes off (sorry) and it’s equal parts tender, crisp and totally worth it. Mix this with the pepper, scallions, lime juice, salt and an unholy amount of shredded cheese, fry it between two small tortillas, make a lazy slaw (or whatever your salad of choice is) and wonder why you’re not eating “taco grilled cheese” (the kid’s words, not mine) for dinner more often. Seriously, why aren’t you? I think you should fix this tonight.

* before I lost a few days work when an unfortunate interaction between my laptop and a glass of water taught me some Very Important Life Lessons about file storage, p.s. you are owed banana pudding.

One year ago: Garlicky Party Bread with Cheese and Herbs and Fennel and Blood Orange Salad
Two years ago: Pasta and White Beans with Garlic-Rosemary Oil
Three years ago: Cheddar, Beer and Mustard Pull-Apart Bread
Four years ago: Mushroom and Farro (or Barley) Soup
Five years ago: Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes and New York Deli Rye Bread
Six years ago: Flaky Blood Orange Tart and Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad
Seven years ago: Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree and Candied Grapefruit Peels
Eight years ago: Icebox Cake

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Three-Ingredient Summertime Salsa and Blueberry Crumb Cake
1.5 Years Ago: Banana, Nutella and Salted Pistachio Popsicles and Charred Corn Crepes
2.5 Years Ago: Zucchini Rice Gratin and Pink Lemonade Bars
3.5 Years Ago: Sugar Plum Crepes with Ricotta and Honey

Charred Cauliflower Quesadillas

Poblanos are very mild hot peppers. You could use fewer or swap them with a small bell pepper for less heat, or swap one or both with a hotter jalapeño or other chile for more heat.

Yield: 6 quesadillas, serves 6

2 small or 1 large fresh poblano chiles
1 small head cauliflower, cored and cut into rough 1-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking quesadillas
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 cups (about 8 ounces) coarsely grated monterey jack cheese
12 small (7-inch) flour tortillas

Char peppers: Over a gas burner turned to high, hold the poblanos over the flame with tongs and char them until they are black and blistered all over. Alternatively, you could do this under a broiler, turning them frequently for even blistering. Transfer hot chiles to a bowl and cover tightly with foil. Set aside to steam and let their skins loosen while you cook the cauliflower.

Char cauliflower: In a large bowl, toss cauliflower with 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, until it’s evenly coated. Heat your largest heaviest frying pan over high heat until almost smoking, add cauliflower, and let it cook until each piece has a few black spots but is not mushy, turning and moving it frequently to ensure even cooking. This will take 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer florets to cutting board to rest.

Mix filling: When poblanos are cool enough to handle, peel the charred skin off with your fingertips or a paring knife. Pull out and discard stems and seed clusters, and slice peppers into 1/4-inch wide strips. Add to cauliflower on board and give both a rough chop together, reducing the cauliflower to no bigger than 1/2-inch chunks. Return cauliflower and peppers to the large bowl, add scallions, lime juice and salt to taste. You should have about 2 cups of cauliflower filling.

Assemble and cook quesadillas: Lay out 6 tortillas and spread 1/3 cup cauliflower filling and 1/3 cup shredded cheese to each. Place second 6 tortillas on top as lids. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, coat lightly with olive oil and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook quesadillas until browned underneath, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully a flip — a large, thin spatula like my favorite kind helps here — and repeat on the second side. Repeat with remaining quesadillas.

To serve: Cut quesadillas into wedges and serve with your choice of fixings. Two of my favorites are below.

Cumin-Lime Crema

1/2 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
A few gratings fresh lime zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of salt

Combine, adjust seasonings to taste, and serve alongside quesadillas.

Lazy Taco Slaw

1 bag coleslaw mix or (as used here) 3 cups finely shredded red cabbage and 1 coarsely grated carrot
Coarse salt
Juice of half a lime
2 scallions, sliced thin
A dollop of mayonnaise, sour cream or plain yogurt
A dash of hot sauce (optional)
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley leaves

Toss cabbage mix, salt and lime together in a large bowl; set aside for 5 minutes. It will shrink down a bit. Stir in scallions, then mayo and hot sauce. Adjust seasonings/ingredients to taste, then stir in cilantro leaves. Serve alongside quesadillas or any of your favorite tortilla-clad meals.

caramelized onion and gruyère biscuits

We’ve been on a huge breakfast-for-dinner kick this winter and while I’d like to tell you it has been triggered by earnest, respectable inclinations such as the fact that scrambled eggs, toast, and whatever vegetables or citrussalad we can scrounge up from the fridge for dinner is budget-minded, high in protein, fairly balanced and wholesome, the truth is that it’s been mostly about laziness. Once we figured out that our kid would now not only eat scrambled eggs but be excited to see them on the table [although, let’s be honest, doubly so if he can also talk us into freshly squeezing orange juice or a few slices of bacon], a whole world of unplanned dinners were opened up to us. We now can go all the way to 15 minutes before dinner to come up with a plan for it, which for me is meal-planning equivalent of the heavens opening up and glorifying all of my late-afternoon lethargy. I knew this day would eventually come!

It’s also led to all sorts of diversions, usually in the quickbread department. Last week, I unearthed a recipe for caramelized onion and gruyère biscuits — that’s right, the butter, buttermilk and baking soda equivalent of French onion soup — I’d bookmarked last year and couldn’t find a single reason not to make them once I realized that they’d be a pan of eggs and a small salad away from a completely respectable weeknight dinner. Nobody warns you about this, but sometimes the problem with ostensibly passing as an adult is that there’s nobody there to question you when you decide everyone can eat biscuits for dinner.

I regret nothing. These are as amazing as you’d expect from something with diced bits of cheese that trickle out during the baking time and occasionally land in crispy frico puddles on the baking sheet. The onions are dark, sweet, intense, and briefly soaked in buttermilk before winding themselves through the biscuits. And although these make excellent breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner companions, they’d also be wonderful alongside the kind of hearty winter meal — Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew or Mushroom Bourguignon, anyone? — this blizzard brewing outside will require, nay, demand .

Some biscuit/scone kin: My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits, Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits and Jalapeno-Cheddar Scones

One year ago: Homemade Dulce de Leche and Cheese Blintz
Two years ago: Intensely Chocolate Sables
Three years ago: Potato Chip Cookies
Four years ago: Roast Chicken with Dijon Sauce
Five years ago: Ricotta Muffins and Mixed Citrus Salad with Feta and Mint
Six years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake and Chicken Milanese and an Escarole Salad (still a favorite meal, both parts)
Seven years ago: Leek and Swiss Chard Tart and Key Lime Cheesecake
Eight years ago: Pasta with Sausages, Tomatoes and Mushrooms and Sweet and Spicy Candied Pecans

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Bourbon Slush Punch (mid-January Bourbon Snow Cone Punch, anyone?)
1.5 Years Ago: Mama Canales-Garcia’s Avocado and Shrimp Salsa
2.5 Years Ago: Zucchini Bread Pancakes
3.5 Years Ago: Corn, Buttermilk and Chive Popovers

Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Biscuits
Adapted just a tiny bit from Alyce Shields at the late Pronto by Bar Bambino in SF, via Tasting Table

I made a few small changes to the original recipe, which you can see above. I halved the sugar, skipped the honey altogether, prefer to caramelize onions my own way (I find a lid in the initial stage helps the final outcome) and do better with a 1-inch vs. 1.5-inch dough, but otherwise found these to be pretty much perfect the way they were originally made. I froze half and will let them thaw for a bit before baking them, the next time the urgency strikes.

Yield: 10 3-inch (big!) biscuits

9 tablespoons (127 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 3/4 cups (345 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
4 ounces (about 1 cup or 115 grams) gruyère or another Swiss-style cheese in 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk (or make your own)
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and add olive oil. Add the onions, reduce the heat to low and place a lid on top, letting them steam for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they’re deep brown about 10 to 20 more minutes. If, for whatever reason, your onions need more time, up to 10 minutes more, don’t fret, they’ll only be more delicious for it. (Mine took a total of 22 minutes, but my stove at the lowest setting is closer to what I’d call medium, so things cook/brown too quickly.) Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl or the workbowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Dice 8 tablespoons remaining cold butter into 1/2-inch bits. If proceeding by hand, use your fingertips or a pastry blender to work the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture is crumbly with butter in pieces no larger than a small pea. If proceeding in a food processor, add the butter and pulse the machine in short bursts until you get the same texture, then transfer the butter-flour mixture back to a medium bowl.

Stir in diced cheese. Pour buttermilk over cooled onions and stir to combine. Add buttermilk-onion mixture to bowl and stir until combined. It’s going to seem a little dry and will help to use your hands to knead it together a few times in the bowl; don’t worry if a couple floury spots remain. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and roll out to a 1-inch thickness. Use a floured 3-inch cutter to stamp out circles and space them apart on prepared baking sheet. Gather the scrap and re-roll them as needed. Sprinkle biscuits with sea salt and pepper and bake until the scones are deep golden-brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges, 20 to 23 minutes.

Eat warm. They’re best on the first day, but if any survive it, they will taste better re-warmed on day two.