Category Archives: Travel

Italia Quattro: Lombardy


Having previously posted a blog in 2013 about our trip to Switzerland (Cœur des Alpes), it was remiss of me not to complete the story. Since – following our time in the Alps – we had continued into northern Italy for a few days in the Italian Lakes. I am righting that wrong now. It helps that I have plenty of time on my hands, stuck as I am nursing a painfully-situated (ahem) hematoma. The result of a tumble down our stairs. Given it doesn’t seem to be subsiding, I’ve succumbed to a couple of duvet days. Writing this felt marginally more productive than continuing to binge-watch Riverdale.


So… After a last breakfast on our glorious hotel terrace in Zermatt, we got the train back to Täsch, retrieved our hire car and drove through the stunning mountain and valley scenery to Stresa, a small town on the shore of Maggiore. La Palma, a grande dame of a hotel, is situated right across the road from the main promenade, and we spent our first afternoon getting our bearings, strolling in the sunshine, and lunching in the main square: Piazza Cadorna. As the sun set, a refreshing swim, followed by a stint in the rooftop jacuzzi and a poolside cocktail was a fantastic prelude to a delicious meal in town at Lo Stornello and a drink (or three) at what was to become our favourite wine bar, Al Buscion. I distinctly remember thinking, as I walked home hand-in-hand with Paul along the shore, listening to the lapping water and swaying slightly from the bottiglia di vino rosso, that I am incredibly lucky indeed. I don’t ever want to be complacent or think otherwise.

IMG_4327The next day, we jumped on a boat to the Borromean Islands in the middle of the lake. Isola Bella, our first stop, is home to an imposing palazzo, majestic gardens and a cute fishing village. And, more importantly, the most beautiful white peacocks you’ve ever seen (check out some photos in my ‘Cocks & ‘Hens post). We spent hours exploring the tiered Italianate gardens, stalking the birds and enjoying views across the lake, stopping to find shade whenever possible. There were also plenty of water lilies to divert my attention…as I realised when I edited my photos back in England! The second island – Isola Madre – is bigger but much quieter and, in my view, less impressive. After a speedier look around Palazzo Borromeo and the pretty Giardini Botanici, we boarded the boat to Isola dei Pescatori, our final stop. “Fishermen’s Island” is the only one of the three still inhabited and has a gentle yet bustling vibe. We ate a very late seafood lunch on the shoreside terrace of the family-run Trattoria Imbarcadero and visited the church of San Vittore, before returning to our hotel for a well-earned siesta by the rooftop bar. Paul discovered the joys of floating his glass of beer in the pool, whilst I read under the canopy of lemon trees and admired the sun setting over the islands we’d spent the day exploring.

Lake Orta was our destination the following day, the route ably navigated by Paul, a comfortable continental driver by this point in the trip. We’d read about Orta in a magazine article that had promised a “hidden gem”, a pleasing counterpoint to Maggiore. And we weren’t disappointed. IMG_0807The Milanese call it La Cenerentola (Cinderella) because they consider it the secretly superior sibling to the larger neighbouring lakes. It gets far fewer visitors and the main town – Orta San Giulio – is a gentle, authentically homely place. The lake has always been popular with writers – in the 19th century, Nietzsche, Byron, Samuel Butler, Honoré de Balzac and Robert Browning all spent time there, and poets still visit from around the globe for inspiration. It’s steep, elegant streets invite exploration, and the 21 chapels of St Francis are certainly worth the short pilgrimage. Of course, you must also cross to St Julian’s Island. We ate lunch at the island’s only restaurant, Ristorante San Giulio, a somewhat disappointing meal but worth it to admire the ceiling frescoes and to sit on the vine-covered lakeside terrace. Captive audience. A single path leads you round the circumference of the island, skirting the vast Benedictine monastery, a journey you are encouraged to take in silence. Meditative signs line the route, beseeching quiet reflection. It is a wonderfully peaceful experience. By the time we left, the golden hour light casting enchanting shadows on the villas that line the shore, I sighed happily as we sailed back to the town. Another trip to Al Buscion and a far tastier meal of chargrilled squid followed by ravioli swimming in sage butter rounded off a pretty perfect day.

IMG_2466The final couple of days of our trip were spent in the brasher, but still attractive, Como. We stayed in the Air BnB apartment of artist Walter Riva, a warren of rooms filled with ethnographic objet and photographs hung from string criss-crossing the walls (long before it became fashionable). A great little place, which I’d highly recommend – if he’s still letting the space. The little alleys were, however, stifling in the summer heat, and after a brief walk and too much wine at the delightful Osteria del Gallo I became dehydrated and had to rest back at the flat. Recuperated, we then managed to enjoy the old town properly and visit the impressive Duomo. Como is larger and more cosmopolitan that the other towns we’d stayed in, and I personally found it less seductive as a result. My impression probably not helped, admittedly, by the abrupt change in weather at the end of our stay. Grey clouds rolled in and our boat trip on the lake was marred by drizzle. Still, my mood was lifted by an amazing evening meal (isn’t it always?) at Ristorante Cibooooh on Via Adamo del Pero. Octopus with purple potato and pickled fennel, followed by perch risotto. Yum, yum, yum. Will just have to return one day to give Como a second chance!

“Sii semplice, sii te stesso”


The Magic City

Uh, uh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, uh
Miami, uh, uh
South Beach, bringin the heat, uh
Haha, can y’all feel that
Can y’all feel that
Jig it out, uh

Here I am in the place where I come let go
Miami the bass and the sunset low
Everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day
No work all play, okay
So we sip a little something, lay to rest the spill
Me an Charlie at the bar runnin’ up a high bill
Nothin’ less than ill, when we dress to kill
Every time the ladies pass, they be like “hi Will”
Can y’all feel me, all ages and races
Real sweet faces
Every different nation, Spanish, Hatian, Indian, Jamaican
Black, White, Cuban, and Asian
I only came for two days of playing
But every time I come I always wind up stayin’
This the type of town I could spend a few days in
Miami the city that keeps the roof blazin’

Party in the city where the heat is on
All night, on the beach till the break of dawn
“Welcome to Miami”
“Bienvenidos a Miami”
Bouncin’ in the club where the heat is on
All night, on the beach till the break of dawn
I’m goin to Miami
“Welcome to Miami”

Will Smith, 1998











Italia Tre: Firenze

Been neglecting this blog of late, so thought I’d do a bit of catching up. Plus, it gives me something to do on a wet bank holiday! Nothing I like better than sorting through, editing and categorising photos. And, actually, when it’s been a while since a trip, I also enjoy the research that is inevitably required to jog my memory. You wouldn’t think that would be needed for a long-weekend in Florence, taken as recently as last autumn…but my brain cells are clearly not what they used to be!

IMG_0793What certainly took no recollecting was the amazing sandwich shop All’Antico Vinaio, just around the corner from our Air BnB apartment on Via dei Neri. The queues for panini can be a little ridiculous, but – wow – those full-to-bursting lunch snacks are definitely worth the wait. Tip: you may want to share one between two. The shop is only a stone’s throw from Piazza della Signoria, one of the main squares in the city and a popular meeting point for local Florentines. Amongst the numerous statues and sculpture in the square, you’ll find a copy of Michelangelo’s David, the four cardinal virtues (Fortitude, Temperance, Justice and Prudence) by Agnolo Gaddi in Loggia dei Lanzi, Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa, and the more modern giant bronze turtle by Jan Fabre. As well as being a perfect place to hang out eating focaccia, the piazza has sights to explore, foremost among them Palazzo Vecchio – the fortified structure with it’s much-photographed clock tower. Definitely worth a visit for the frescoes, ceilings and views. A hop-skip-and-a-jump and you’re at the Uffizi Gallery, filled with treasures from the Medici family and priceless works of fine art. I’ve got to admit, the Uffizi doesn’t feature at the top of my personal ranking of the world’s best galleries – it’s too busy and features too many works by ninja turtles for my liking. But, having said that, I could have stood looking at Boccaccino’s Zingarella for a long time…far superior to the Mona Lisa (imho).


Another day saw us concentrating on the numerous sights in Piazza del Duomo, home of Florence’s gothic cathedral. The enormous Santa Maria del Fiore stands tall over the city, with its magnificent renaissance dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi. We, of course, climbed to the top of the cupola – what self-respecting tourist wouldn’t? And you have to get up close to fully appreciate Vasari’s disturbing fresco of the Last Judgement on the inside the dome. It’s a really exceptional building and – another tip – if you buy a timed ticket for the dome, you get to jump the queue. The combined pass will also get you into the museum, Giotto’s Tower, and the sublime Baptistery of St. John. The octagonal baptistery was built over the ruins of a roman temple dedicated to Mars and dates back to the 4th century A.D. The ceiling inside is breathtaking, but it is the enormous gold doors with their intricate reliefs of the Passion, including Ghiberti’s famous Gates of Paradise, that people flock to see. You know how much I like a good door! And whilst we’re on the topic of religious buildings, I would also recommend visiting the Basilica de Santa Croce and the wonderful San Miniato al Monte with its green and white marble, dark crypt and beautiful 12th century mosaic.

IMG_41551After all this sightseeing, you’ll want to head to Piazzale Michelangelo for a stunning sunset view over the city. Yes, it’s full of tourists and overpriced cafes. But there’s a reason for that…the view really doesn’t disappoint! And now seems to be a good time to talk food. Don’t eat up at the viewpoint, when there are so many amazing places in the city. We really enjoyed Mercato Centrale, with its numerous food stalls and restaurants. The truffle pappardelle and wild boar tagliatelle are both delicious local staples. We also ate one night in a lovely seafood restaurant, Fishing Lab Alle Murate on Via del Proconsolo. But you can’t go to Florence without trying Bistecca alla Fiorentina, the to-die-for rare T-Bone steak from the local chianina cattle. We had ours at Le Fonticine on Via Nazionale, a superb family run restaurant dating back to 1939. Which made a pretty good setting for my dad’s 60th birthday treat. However, whilst I usually make a point of trying all local delicacies and am not usually squeamish when it comes to food, I drew the line at lampredotto (tripe). No. No, thank-you kindly.


I will finally mention the other side of the Arno river, where the impressive Pitti Palace can be found. The vast renaissance palazzo, a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio, is certainly worth a visit. There was also a Karl Lagerfeld exhibition on when we visited, which was an added bonus. However, unless you’re in the mood for a hike around pretty barren terrain, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Boboli Gardens. We may have been unlucky – maybe all the gardeners and fountain mechanics had just come back from an extended strike. But otherwise: could-try-harder.

All-in-all, though, a wonderful weekend of culture, food and sunshine. Definitely ticked all the boxes.




Wine and Other Pursuits

Factoid alert! South Africa is the only country in the world to contain a whole floral kingdom. It’s the smallest and richest of the six kingdoms, with over 6,000 species that are found nowhere else but on the western cape. Table Mountain alone supports over 2,000 species; more than the entire UK!

Fynbos, the name of the shrubland found along the garden route and throughout the peninsula, is absolutely beautiful. So stunning, in fact, that I decided I really had to dedicate an entire collection of photos to it. But I’ll take the opportunity to also pick up the story of our South African trip…


So, after our time in Kruger and Mthethomusha, we jumped on an internal flight down to George, jumped in a hire car and drove to Knysna. Our accommodation – a ’boutique’ hotel overlooking the lagoon, with culinary-adept but eccentric and borderline alcoholic hosts – was a great base, but unfortunately we experienced the worst weather of our trip – an incessant, damp greyness that lasted the duration of our three days – so were unable to take advantage of the inviting infinity pool or enjoy the usually breathtaking view of the sea. Accepting we’d have to flex our plans, we jettisoned walks around neighbouring Wilderness, canoe trips through the lakes and ice-creams on the beach in favour of indoor activities.

Birds of Eden, the world’s biggest bird sanctuary, was worth the visit. Set within a vast gorge of indigenous forest under a domed net, it boasts over 3,500 birds, including toucans, flamingos, spoonbills, parrots, cranes and ibis. I got all junior ornithologist, ticking off species in my guide book with enthusiastic abandon. Next door’s Monkeyland, with it’s collection of howlers, lemurs and gibbons, was also good fun, though – being a guided rather than self-navigated tour – provided less opportunity for Miss Attenborough to do her thing.

We did manage a stroll around the headlands, a visit to the local farmers market and dinner at the fabulous Pembreys, but we left feeling disappointed not to have seen the Garden Route at anything like its best.


Our time in the Winelands, however, couldn’t have been more different. Glorious sunshine ensured we experienced the valleys, lakes and vineyards in all their splendour, and enabled us to get out for some fantastic walks through the fynbos. We’d chosen to stay in Maison Chablis, a really lovely BnB in the Franschhoek valley. Close to its more famous cousin, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek was originally settled by the Huguenots in the 17th century and has a lovely collection of Cape Dutch architecture and art studios. It’s also renowned as the gastronomic capital of South Africa…by-the-by. Over four days, we visited some of the best restaurants we’d ever eaten in. Highlights included the tuna carpaccio at Le Bon Vivant; Mozambique chicken at Roca on the Dieu Donne wine estate; suckling pig at Foliage; and the gruyere soufflé at Le Petite Ferme. My mouth is literally watering at the memory as I type!


And of course we visited a range of amazing vineyards and farms, sampling the produce as we went: Shiraz and chocolate at La Bri; Cabernet Sauvignon and charcuterie at Grand Provence; Chardonnay at Chamonix; Pinotage at Eikehof; Merlot and cheese at Jordan; and pretty much anything at La Motte. I’d recommend the ‘wine tram’ as an easy way to get around…with the advantage of not needing a designated driver. A lot of the bigger estates have galleries, restaurants, shops and sculpture gardens, so you need a decent amount of time at each place. A day in Stellenbosch is also a must, with its craft shops, gardens, little churches, and easy access to the Jonkerschoek National Park. We had a fabulous few days in the region and could have happily sold our flat and returned to plant up grapes.


Finally, we ended the holiday in Camps Bay, just outside Cape Town. Our BnB – the Bay Atlantic – has been run by the same family for about twenty years and the owner and staff are incredibly friendly and helpful. On our first day, we called in for lunch at La Colombe on the Silvermist Organic Wine Estate, another food highlight of the trip. The springbok and the scallops were divine! I should point out that, as extravagant as it sounds, we weren’t breaking the bank by any means – thanks to a favourable exchange rate, practically every meal came in at under £20 a head…including wine. It’d have been rude not to, really. After lunch, we visited Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in the country, and then onward to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, where I spent a happy hour chasing guinea fowl chicks with my camera, as well as exploring the striking flora.


Day two saw us on a ferry to Robben Island, escorted by ex- political prisoners. It’s incredibly humbling to see where Mandela and fellow leaders of the anti-apartheid movement were jailed for such long stretches of their lives. We saw the small block where Robert Sobukwe was kept in solitary confinement, as well as the quarry where prisoners were made to mine unwanted limestone in forty degree heat and which Mandela appropriated for his “university”. Back in the city, we took a boat tour of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, drank craft beer in the food market and then hung out on the beachfront before having seafood in Camps Bay.


On our third day, Paul drove us around the spectacular peninsula. We called in at Hout Bay, then travelled the gorgeous Chapman’s Peak Drive to Noordhoek Beach – which is possibly the most stunning stretch of sand in existence – before going onward to Cape Point via Kommetjie. The weather was fantastic and standing atop the lighthouse, looking up at the dramatic coastline and out at the endless sea was amazing. Almost as amazing as seeing the penguins at Boulders Beach, on the east side of the peninsula just outside Simon’s Town, on our way home. I think I almost filled my memory chip with photos. We finished the day with burgers and soft-shelled crab back at Hout Bay Street Food Market, with massive smiles on our faces.

IMG_0421Of course, no trip to Cape Town is complete without a visit to Table Mountain. It’s always touch and go whether you’ll make it up, since more often than not the flat-topped mountain is swathed in a blanket of fluffy white cloud. Luckily, on our final day, we spotted an opening and hot-footed it to the cable car. You’d be forgiven for wondering if it’s worth the long queue, given the views are already pretty stunning from the base of the cable car, which is perched 300 meters above the city. But at over 1,000m, the summit provides unparalleled panoramic views and affords a unique opportunity to stand on top of the world. Plus, there’s all that beautiful fynbos… The only way to round off a day like that is with ten courses at The Test Kitchen, San Pellegrino’s No.1 restaurant in Africa. Yeah, no complaints here!

[Credit: Golden Starling photo by Mr P Adnitt]






Mthethomusha Safari

I’ve just returned from a fantastic 17 day trip to South Africa and, as always, my first priority – to the chagrin of my long-suffering boyfriend, who would rather I was emptying my suitcase or helping to clean the flat – has been to edit down my several hundred photos. Here, I present to you: Part I. Yes, that means there will be more to follow.

The trip started with four days on safari in the Mthethomusha game reserve, just outside Kruger National Park. We stayed in Bongani Mountain Lodge, perched high above the valley and enjoying breathtaking views across to the Drakensberg mountain range. Impala and baboons were frequent visitors around the lodge, elephants roamed the hills, and from the lookout you could often see zebra and wildebeest drinking from the watering hole. We even saw two male giraffes fighting whilst relaxing one day by the pool – David Attenborough eat your heart out!

Our regular guide was Johnson, a big, serious guy, who insisted on running through umpteen safety procedures before each drive and yet had no qualms about taking himself off on foot into the bush in search of lions. He was an excellent tracker and got us up close to rhino, buffalo, kudu, giraffe, nyala and a whole host of other animals, as well as spotting much smaller creatures…such as the tiny chameleon he clocked on a tree branch from a fast-moving jeep one evening, after the sun had already set! Yeah, he was impressive. The drives themselves, all off-road on bumpy, dusty tracks at dawn and dusk each day, were fantastic. I never want to forget how it felt to climb to the highest point in the area to stop and stretch our legs, taking in the incredible views and listening to the stillness as the sun rose.

The lions eluded Johnson though, to his frustration. It wasn’t until our trip into Kruger itself that we managed to see them up close: three males and a sleeping female. Seeing them in the wild is actually a little scarier than I was expecting; you realise how exposed you are in a topless jeep! Kruger was mind-blowing. Bigger than Wales (why is it always Wales?), the flat landscape stretching into infinity in all directions and the undergrowth teeming with animals. In addition to what we’d already encountered in Mthethomusha, we saw elands, hyenas, hippos, warthogs, bushbucks, vultures, tortoises, purple starlings, lizards and vervet monkeys. It was such an exciting and memorable experience.  And that evening we returned to the lodge for a braai (Afrikaans for ‘barbecue’) in the boma, a large circular eating space with open fire. Perfect!

So, four out of the ‘Big Five’ ain’t bad. Here are a small selection from my ridiculous number of photos…























The Sherry Triangle

The most important thing I learnt from my recent trip to Andalucía:

– if it swims, drink fino
– if it flies, drink amontillado
– if it walks or runs, drink oloroso

Basically, there’s always an occasion to drink sherry!


I’ve delayed writing this blog, nervous that one of my more knowledgeable trip companions will laugh at the doubtless errors. But here’s my attempt to describe a relaxing weekend in Spain’s sherry triangle… Actually, that’s the first mistake already. The ‘triangle’ (or denominación de Jerez, to use its proper name) comprises the three towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, but we only visited the first two in that list. The third, being smaller and less attractive, was dropped from our itinerary in favour of sight-seeing trips to the small white-washed hilltop villages of Vejer de la Frontera and Medina-Sidonia.

IMG_9409We stayed in the small coastal town of Cádiz, right at the bottom of Spain. It’s a pretty place; one of the oldest towns in Europe, with an impressive cathedral plaza and nice seafront promenade. Notable eateries include the interesting Spanish-Asian fusion bar La Candela, where we ate delicious pork bao and boquerones, and the traditional tapas bar Atxuri, one of the many places to indulge in large plates of delicious jamón ibérico. We spent some time there, wandering the narrow streets, visiting the small art gallery and sitting in cool garden squares. Some of us even dipped our toes in the sea. But most of the time, we journeyed out to the aforementioned sherry hotspots and rural villages.

In Jerez, we visited a couple of the well-established and most famous bodegas. First up was Lustau, founded in 1896 by José Ruiz-Berdejo. It started exporting sherry in the 1940s and has continued to expand ever since. In 2000, the company bought and renovated six 19th century winemaking buildings in the centre of Jerez, covering a total area of over 20,000m2, and it was around these buildings that we toured, learning about the process and methods of sherry production.

Sherry is made almost exclusively from the Palomino grape. The key difference between wine and sherry production is the layer of yeast known as ‘flor’ that prevents oxidation in the barrel. Fino, the main type of sherry produced in Jerez, is kept fresh, pale and dry by the flor, while amontillado and oloroso are exposed to oxygen during the ageing process, which makes them richer and darker. All sherries are aged using the ‘solera’ method, where rows of barrels are stacked on top of each other, the youngest (criadera) on top and the oldest (solera) on the bottom. As the sherry from the bottom is removed for bottling, the wine stored on top is moved down to the next layer, eventually making its way to the bottom.


After taking the tour, we took the opportunity to taste eight different sherries, including a very nice pala cortado, a rarer variety somewhere half-way between an amontillado and an oloroso, and two varieties of pedro ximénez, the dark, sweet dessert sherry. We then had a long and very tasty lunch at La Cruz Blanca – the arroz negro with cuttlefish was amazing! – before joining the Gonzalez Byass tour. Byass is one of the oldest and most established family-run bodegas and their most famous fino, Tio Pepe (Uncle Joe), is known all over the world. It’s not a great sherry, but their buildings are vast, their tasting room elegant, and it was worth the visit for the little tractor-train alone.

Our trip to Spain coincided – and not by accident – with Feria de Caballo, the Jerez horse fair, an event whose history goes back five hundred years to the time of Alfonso X El Sabio. Parque González Hontoria, a vast area on the outskirts of the town, is filled for a week with hundreds of casetas (little ‘pop-up’ restaurants and bars). Horses are paraded in their finery during the day and the evening is given over to drinking, eating and flamenco, with fireworks and impressive light displays. The only shame was that we hadn’t managed to find accommodation in Jerez itself, and the last train to Cádiz saw us leaving the festival before midnight, sullenly suspecting that the locals were only just warming up.

IMG_9430In Sanlúcar de Barrameda we visited La Cigarrera, a much smaller bodega that gets its grapes from local co-operatives rather than keeping its own vineyards. The sherry in Sanlúcar is manufactured using the same methods as for fino, but the cooler temperature and higher humidity creates a thicker layer of flor yeast than in Jerez, resulting in a fresher, more delicate flavour. The sherry is called manzanilla and has a slightly salty flavour due to its proximity to the sea and Guadalquivir river estuary. It turned out that our guide book was out of date and we arrived late for the once-daily tour, but we were happily shown around anyway by an informative woman on the front desk and actually learned more about sherry making than at any of the bigger bodegas.

After a ‘light’ lunch at Casa Balbino, which turned out to be anything but by the time we’d had second helpings of Galician pulpo, prawn tortilla, croquettas and jamon, we took a boat trip up the river into Doñana National Park. This turned out to be disappointing. Despite boasting a wide range of fauna (red deer, wild boar, mongoose, badger, lynx), as well as a variety of bird, including the imperial eagle, we failed to spot anything and only got a far-off glimpse of the highly-anticipated flamingo. Furthermore, the temperature had risen to around 34°C, resulting in some burned shoulders. I’d recommend skipping the boat and devoting more time to tapas!

Whilst nowhere near as grand as some of Andalucia’s highlights – Seville, Granada, Córdaba – the sherry triangle is certainly a lovely area to explore and a nice change if you’re seeking a more relaxed weekend.