autumn to summer
autumn to summer
a blog about food, culture and travel

Photos courtesy of Visit Helsinki | Photographers: Rooftops Seppo Laakso, Design Museum Jussi Hellsten, HAM Matti Tirri, Chappel of Silence Kaisa Luukannel, Kapahalli Juho Kuva, Kiasma Sakke Somerma


Grand, genteel, maybe even a little conservative, first impressions of Helsinki can lead you astray. The city is a master class in understatement compared with its Scandinavian neighbours. The architecture is a mix of neoclassic, art nouveau and functionalism. It is solid, functional, understated – and beautiful. Once you’ve settled in and started to explore a bit further, the city’s vibrant, design centric culture begins to reveal itself. With heavyweight names like Marrimeko, Iittala, Arabia and Alto to throw around, this is a city that takes design seriously.


With over 200 shops, themed trails and covering four separate districts in the centre of Helsinki, the Design District is a trip in itself. It features shops galleries, design studios and design hotels and showcases the best of Finnish design all in one area. Events include outdoor design markets and late night shopping. 

Some highlights:

Pino for household items, recycled lightshades
Johanna Gullichsen - sophisticated, classic woven textiles
Formverk - furniture and lighting
Granit – functional home and office products with a focus on storage


Arabia centre and Iittala outlet - north east of the centre of Helsinki is the Arabia area, an area of old Helsinki where the Arabia factory and museum is located. Famous for timeless tableware designed by a stable of designers, many of whom studied in the University of Art and Design Helsinki.
Mon – Fri 10.00 – 20.00  Sat-Sun 10.00 – 16.00

Marimekko – iconic design house, famous for its bright, bold, instantly recognisable textile designs and homeware. The outlet store on Kirvesmiehenkatu has some good pieces.

Artek – at the intersection of architecture, design and art, Artek was set up to showcase the work of Nordic designers. The collection in the flagship store includes furniture, lighting and accessories by Alvar Aalto, Ilmari Tapiovaara, Tapio Wirkkala, Eero Aarnio and Yrjö Kukkapuro. 
Mon-Fri 10-19, Sat 10-18


Studio Alvar Aalto

Architect, designer and the father of Finnish Modernism, Alvar Aalto’s studio is situated in Munkkiniemi. It was designed and built in the 1950s when Aalto outgrew his home office and is classic Aalto. There are no street facing windows. Instead, windows face an internal courtyard amphitheatre where staff could come together to hear lectures or watch slide shows projected onto opposite walls. The building’s clean, minimal lines lead the eye along its L-shape design. Inside it is open, spacious, airy and light filled.

Kamppi Chapel of Silence

Spirituality meets consumerism, meets design and architecture. The Chapel of Silence is in the Narinkkatori Square at the entrance to Kaampi shopping centre. It is a stunning, warm minimalist peaceful space in the centre of Helsinki. Designed by architects Kimmo Lintula, Niko Sirola and Mikko Summanen of K2S Architects Ltd, the alter cross is sculpted by artist Antti Nieminen and textiles are created by Tiina Uimonen.

Monday to Friday 08.00–20.00, Saturdays and Sundays 10.00–18.00


Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma

The striking glass and steel curve of the Kiasma is a study of natural Finnish light. Designed by New York architect Steven Holl, it is designed to capture natural light at all times of the day. On the outside, it reflects the seasons – soft and sometimes dull greys in winter, transitioning to bright reflections of sunlight as the seasons change. Part of the Finnish National Gallery, Kiasma shows changing contemporary exhibitions by international artists and houses a theatre for contemporary and performance art. Furniture in the cafe is designed by Vesa Honkonnen and Samuli Naamanka.

Tue 10–17, Wed–Fri 10–20.30, Sat 10–18, Sun 10–17, Mon closed

Helsinki Art Museum

Helsinki Art Museum, HAM spreads across the first floor of the Tennis Palace or Tennispalatsi, a building that resembles a huge aircraft hangar and sits right next to Kaampi shopping centre. The building was originally designed by Finnish architect, Helge Lundstrom to service cars during the Helsinki Olympic Games planned for 1940. Due to the war, the games were postponed and the upstairs rooms were used as Olympic tennis courts. The name Tennispalatsi has remained. On the ground floor, the cinema complex throngs with families on a Saturday afternoon movie outing. High art meets popular culture or an example of how art in Finland isn’t actually high brow but democratic and accessible. The collection not only belongs to the people of Helsinki but is exhibited publicly in parks, health centres, schools and hospitals as well as in the museum.

Tues – Sun 11.00 – 19.00

Design Museum

Anyone interested in Finnish design should make straight for the Design Museum. Set up by the Finnish Society of Crafts and Design to serve the needs of the Craft School of Helsinki, the museum presents the history of Finnish design through its design classics. In addition to the permanent collections, a series of themed temporary exhibitions is programmed throughout the year. Highlights include The Torsten and Wanja Söderberg Prize winner Ilkka Suppanen’s amazing work.

Winter: Tues 11.00 – 20.00 Wed – Sun 11.00-18.00, Summer: Mon – Sun 11.00 – 18.00


The Helsinki food scene isn’t as famous as its Danish neighbours, but it is starting to take off. Here are some that are worth a visit.

Vanha Kauppahalli –old market hall

The Old Markethall sits right on the harbour, looking out at the Gulf of Finland. It is one of the first indoor markets in Helsinki, built in 1888 and has over 100 stalls selling everything from coffee, traditional handmade rye bread, smoked and cured meats and fish and the ubiquitous dried reindeer. It’s the perfect place to pick up supplies for a picnic before getting on a ferry to Suomenlinnaor Porvoo. 

Mon – Sat 08.00 – 18.00

Heitalahden Kauppahalli

Heitalahden Kauppahalli is the second oldest market hall in Helsinki opening its doors in 1903. Despite its architecture and interion, in contrast to Vanha Kauppahalli, it has a more modern street food vibe and hosts pop up and more established food stalls serving everything from Japanese sushi to pizza. It’s a good place for a pit stop on the Design District trail. A highlight are the sandwiches from Street Gastro – pork, chicken, beef or seitan sandwiches stuffed with herbs, horseradish mayo and salad.

Mon, Tues 08.00 – 18.00, Wed – Sat 08.00 – 22.00

Teurastamo – the abattoir

Street food is starting to take off in Finland. Since the inauguration of Restaurant day, one day in May when anyone can sign up and set up a pop up restaurant for the day, started, the street food scene has burgeoned. Teurastamo is the place to find it. Set up on the grounds of Helsinki wholesale market, Teurastamo is home to a distillery, a coffee roastery, a pasty factory and a flavour school. 

 Kafe Mockba

Part of the Andorra Culture and Entertainment centre once owned by the legendary Kaurismäki brothers, Kafe Mickba is a Helsinki institution. It feels like walking into a film set – womb like red walls on three sides and a wall of off white ruched curtains covering a shop like window are the set for a kitsch display of football trophies and a retro juke box. It’s the perfect spot on Saturday night place to drink cheap champagne and people watch and if you need a game of pool, nip next door to Corona Bar and Billiards. 

rooftops_500res_Seppo Laakso.jpg

barcelona - El raval

Once a down at heel district with an underworld feel to it and providing the setting for Jean Genet’s A Thief’s Journal, Barcelona’s El Raval district was cleaned up in the eighties and is now a cultural hub. Read the full guide in my Culture Trip article.


24 hours in Malaga

Culture and gastronomy are two words, which until recently, you would struggle to find in the same sentence as this regional coastal hub. Traditionally seen as the gateway to the Costa del Sol and for a long time synonymous with tourist blocks, packed beaches and flamenco, Malaga is undergoing a renaissance and offers a masterclass in the art of reinvention.

When carving out a new identity, culture is the obvious choice. Malaga is the birthplace of Picasso and a new Picasso Museum heralded a wave of new museums in the last 15 years under the steer of city mayor Francisco de la Torre. Currently, the town is home to 30 museums. In a city of just over half a million people, that’s a significant cultural investment.

Gastronomically, Malaga sits in a region which produces quality olive oil, tropical fruits and grapes. A new wave of chefs and restaurateurs are celebrating local produce and raising the profile of the city in food circles both regionally and internationally. From Michelin starred restaurants to good rustic tapas, Malaga caters for all budgets. I visited Malaga in January and I’ve curated a tour of my highlights. 



Right in the heart of the renovated harbour district sits the Rubik’s cube of coloured transparent glass, known as El Cubo, that houses the pop up Pompidou Centre. It’s the museum’s first satellite outside France and will stay in Malaga for five years. Over those five years, in addition to the main collection which includes work from Sophie Calle to Tony Oursler to Francis Bacon, there will be a programme of temporary exhibitions. The underground galleries are generous and spacious and it’s perfect on a Saturday afternoon in winter when it’s quiet.
09:30 - 20:00 everyday; summer (del 16 de junio al 15 de septiembre): de 11:00 a 22:00


The Picasso Museum was a long time in the making. The project started in the early fifties with donations from Picasso’s daughter in law, his grandson and the Junta de Andalucía which created the collection. The project was shelved until 1993 when the widow of Picasso’s son took it on and it was another ten years before it was finally realised. The collection is housed in the Palacio de Buenavista, minutes from Plaza de la Merced, Picasso’s birthplace. The collection spans his lifetime and showcases his creative sensibility, experimentation and aesthetic. The Palacio de Buenavista is a beautiful building in itself with the perfect courtyard to stop and reflect in and a good cafe. 
March-June:open daily 10am-7pm,July-August:open daily 10am-8pm, September-October:open daily 10am-7pm,November-February:open daily 10am-6pm


Also opened in 2003, the Contemporary Art Centre has gained an international reputation for its exhibitions. The collection spans the fifties to the present and includes work by international artists like Louise Bourgeois, Juan Muñoz, Olafur Eliason and Damien Hirst. It’s an exciting, dynamic contemporary centre modelled on the German Kunsthaus with a mission to respond to the evolving nature of contemporary art. As well as permanent and temporary art collections, there is a good programme of events from film to workshops and talks.
Winter (Tuesday to Sunday: 10.00 - 20.00), summer (June 20 - September 7 inclusive) - Tuesday - Sunday 10.00 to 14.00 and 17.00 - 21.00



Fresh, local, produce with fish obviously a big focus. 14th century Moorish architecture meets 19th century industrial design. It’s steeped in history with a past which includes former lives as an arsenal, a shipyard, a hospital and a medical school. Big stained glass windows create a cathedral like vibe, but it doesn’t have a reverential atmosphere. It’s a bustling, lively working market and used by locals and Malaga’s chefs and worth a visit.
Open 08.00 – 14.00 every day except Tuesday


A good place to start the day. The breakfasts served in this cafe / gallery / chic hostel are good – toast with a range of good toppings from avocado, ricotta, to the traditional Spanish olive oil and tomato. It’s a good pit stop too. The organic coffee and cake is a good excuse to stop for elevenses or afternoon tea. It’s a nice, fresh, laid back space to watch the world go by and see work by local artists.


In the heart of the old town, a few steps away from Picasso’s birthplace is Mercado Merced. It perfectly fuses Malaga’s two new identities – it’s a buzzing gourmet food market with 22 different food stalls serving traditional tortilla fare to fusion and international. It’s the perfect place to eat your way around. There is a good events programme too from exhibitions to music to add a dash of culture to your eating experience.
Sunday – Wednesday 11am – 12am, Thursday 11am – 1am, Friday & Saturday 11am – 2am


You can find all the mainstream brands on the main shopping drag, Calle Marqués de Larios. It comes alive in the evening when the Malagueños come out to pasear along the glistening marbled street



This is the ideal way to end the day. An hour and a half of pampering in a traditional Arab style Hammam. The Hammam Ándalus offers massage and bath packages or you can just spend the time moving between the three water rooms and two hot rooms. 
Open every day 11am – 12am





A tale of two cities, Ronda is physically divided by the Guadelevin River which separates La Cuidad, the old town, with the new. The Puente Nuevo (new bridge), straddles El Tajo gorge plunging a dramatic 100 metres to the river bed below and joins together the two separate parts of the town. Ronda is one of Spain’s oldest and most dramatic towns, perched 750m above sea level in the Serranía de Ronda Mountains and rich in heritage and cultural history. I explored Ronda in December and I’ve curated some of my highlights of this beautiful and historic mountain town that attracted literary giants like Ernest Hemingway and poets like Rainer Maria Rilke.


Coming into Ronda by bus, there isn’t really any evidence of the town’s dramatic setting. It’s almost nondescript. The bus lets out at the north end of town on the edge of the industrial area. Calle Virgen de la Paz leads to the Puente Nuevo, and as it descends, takes in leafy parks, churches and the whitewashed walls of the bullring, before opening into the Plaza Espana where you can see the sand coloured stone of the bridge just beyond the square.

It’s only when you stand in the centre of the bridge and look down to the river below, you can get a real appreciation of the drama. The river below has dispassionately, over hundreds of years, cut a narrow gash into the rock to create the gorge. The buildings lining the edges of the gorge look precarious; at any moment, they could silently and without any fuss, just slide off the edge and drop into the chasm below. Over the course of the day, the bridge swarms with lines of tourists slowly marching back and forth along the footpath on both sides of the road between the old and new town. 


There are many little meandering paths leading to the bottom of the gorge, passing over the Arab Bridge and the Puente Viejo and the view looking up is breathtaking. La Mina is a more direct route. Three hundred steps, dating back to Islamic times, are cut into the rock face leading down to the river.

There are many little meandering paths leading to the bottom of the gorge, passing over The Arab Bridge and the Puente Viejo and the view looking up is breathtaking. La Mina is a more direct route. Three hundred steps, dating back to Islamic times, are cut into the rock face leading down to the river. 


Cross the Puente Nuevo into La Ciudad and the bustle subsides and the pace slows down. Morning is the best time because it doesn’t take long before the streets fill, even in December. For me, the highlight of the old town was getting lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets, absorbing the details of the architecture and emerging onto a plaza or at one of the city gates.


Ronda’s museum selection is eclectic and a reflection the history and traditions of the region. The Museo de Caza celebrates hunting and El Museo del Bandalero covers the history of banditry. Rondan artist and scenographer Joaquín Ruiz-Peinado Vallejo’s life and work is archived in his eponymous museum and is as much a history of 20th century art as a collection of his life’s work.

I am a big fan of a Hammam and love the baths at York Hall and Ironmonger Row in London (which were once brilliant examples of traditional Turkish Baths and institutions in London, if a bit grubby, but they’ve have now been refurbished and become contemporary day spas). The Baños Arabes, dating back to the 12th century, are worth a visit as they are some of the best preserved examples of Arab Hammam baths in Andalucia and reflect the sophistication of Islamic culture. 


Ernest Hemingway is synonymous with Spain and bullfighting. Ronda will be on the list of places of pilgrimage for fans of his work and anyone generally interested in the history of bullfighting. His enthusiasm for bullfighting features in many of his novels and he wrote two nonfiction books about it, Death in the Afternoon (1932) and The Dangerous Summer (1985). He spent many summers in Ronda and writes of it in Death in the Afternoon, "There is one town that would be better ... to see your first bullfight in if you were only going to see one and that is Ronda".

Ronda is the birthplace of modern bullfighting and the bullring of the Plaza de Toros has one of the largest circles of sand in Spain. It is no longer in use with the exception of the annual Feria Goyesqua bullfighting festival in September. This is when Rondeños dress in the type of costume immortalised by painter Goya and four days of bullfights unfold. Hemingway’s legacy is captured in the Paseo de E. Hemingway, the street named after him, which runs between Plaza de Toros and Plaza de Espana. 


There has been an artisanal tradition in Andalucia since the end of the 19th century. Ronda is renowned for its metalwork and saddlery. Traditional crafts of woodcraft, ceramics, leatherwork and embroidery though have lost their place in contemporary life and generally have been consigned to tourist areas of Andalucian cities and towns. There are many shops in La Ciudad with brightly painted ceramics, lacework, leather goods. Occasionally in the new town, you can see a pop up woodcraft shop with the craftsman out on the street working on a project. 


For non traditional goods, Calle Espinel is the main shopping street. It’s almost a kilometre long, pedestrianised and is a mix of high street fashion shops, independent shops, cafes and an abundance of shoe shops. Off Calle Espinel, Ronda Gourmet Foods is a good place for foodie items and presents and stocks a big range of cheese, wine, olive oil, jamon and many other foodie things. Queso Curado Cabra Payoyo is worth buying. It’s an artisan organic cheese made with rare breed, Payoyo, goat’s milk.


There are many restaurants in Ronda both in the old and new town and they range in quality from the high end, well known tapas restaurants and the more touristy places around the main square with a menu del dia in all the main European languages. A couple of tapas bars up near the bus station stood out for me. Gastrobar Camelot and Bar la Sacristia next door, were full at lunchtime. The atmosphere was buzzing and seemed to be full mainly of locals. Go to Gastrobar for its miniburgers and La Sacristia for fresh fish. Another place worth trying is in the old town. At Casa Maria, a menu of authentic Spanish tapas is created using local, seasonal ingredients and the menu is different every day.