[Video] My Croatian Days

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I sip my coffee and soak up this lazy early afternoon, while the scent of lavender and dry citrus zest from the local market tingles my nose. Dubrovnik is even better than I remembered. And what a fool I’ve been: I thought for a long time that I was only drunk in love when I was here last, six years ago… I was drunk on this stunning blue vault of sky instead, and on the green hues of this sea. “Croatia redefined the colour blue”, I write down on a paper napkin: I guess this would make the perfect caption for one of my Instagram posts.
I’m sitting here at a bar in the old town, gathering my thoughts about the few days just spent in this country, exploring and discovering gems I hadn’t even heard of before.

Starting with the village of Trogir, Unesco World Heritage site since 1997, sitting on a tiny island on the Split riviera. Minuscule and still so enticing, built almost entirely with a particular, precious kind of limestone that looks like marble. A strong wind called ‘Bura’, typical of this season, cleared the sky completely and created a crisp and inebriating air that married the bright sunshine perfectly, reminding me of those early October Sunday mornings of my childhood in Rome.

The perfect symbiosis between the ancient and the new was the element I liked the most in the renown summer destination that is Split, along with its beautiful waterfront and its cheeky cocktail bars.

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The biggest surprise for me was definitely the island of Hvar, with its luxuriant green mountains and rustic villages (like Starigrad and Vrisnik). If you visit Hvar you definitely must experience a Croatian Konoba: a typical family ran tavern, where to enjoy authentic olive oil, home-made cheese and ham and delicious wine (the rosé I tried in Vrisnik had a silky aroma of chestnut honey and fruits, and tasted heavenly). Highlight of this gorgeous island was the view from the top of the Spanish Fortress (‘Spanjola’), which is a silent and peaceful place, rarely invaded by big groups of noisy tourists and therefore really enjoyable.

At last, I’ve spent a beautiful morning in Rovinj, having breakfast by the pier where boats and yachts shelter in the sunshine, and exploring the stunning rocky coastline that peeks between this city’s colourful buildings, creating sudden glimpses of infinite blue.

My coffee and cake rest now peacefully in my belly, as I look up to the clock tower and smile lovely Dubrovnik goodbye, until we meet again. And for all you Wanderers, here’s my little video diary divided in two parts, so you can see the beauty of Croatia through my eyes… I hope it makes you feel the itch to visit this awesome country, because I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it.
Enjoy all this fantastic blue, and see you again soon!

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A weekend in Bruges

 

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Oh, Bruges.

Definitely one of those cities that you can’t help reminisce about with a little sigh, a comma and its name. Oh, Bruges… (yes, feel free to add an ellipsis as well, for extra drama.)

Romantic European getaway, relaxing and unusual hen-do destination, family friendly location or lone traveller’s mind-clearing retreat, this Belgian gem of a city needs to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. First of all, it’s the perfect city to see in a two-days weekend (even better if you have three days, of course). Really, you don’t need more time than that to soak up all Bruges’ beauty. Choose springtime, because of the good weather and because it tends to be packed with tourists in high season.

Bruges oozes with character. Think of Venice meets Siena, with bold brushes of colour and a lot of chocolate. Tons of chocolate.

From London St. Pancras, Eurostar trains take you to Brussels (so, if you have time, you can combine these two very different cities in the same holiday and it’ll be totally worth it!); from there you can continue your journey on a national train and it’s only 40 minutes more. Although Bruges is not exactly cheap, visiting on a budget is still possible, taking advantage of the Ibis Budget Hotel (located just outside the station, a short walk to the city centre and a good abundant morning breakfast!) or opting for an Air BnB dig.

What to see –  Everything! Just walk and lose yourself, you’ll always find your way to beautiful views. One of the two main squares is Markt (Market Square), famous for its unique and colourful pointy roofed buildings and for the Historium, museum that offers virtual historical tours and a wonderful view from its rooftop. Burg, the other one, is more tucked away, but it’s home to the magnificent gothic City Town Hall. You probably have seen a place called Rozenhoedkaai in the pictures of all your friends who visited Bruges before: this famous photo-spot overlooking the canal, with a suggestive weeping willow and typical architecture as background, is the main area for cafes and restaurants, you are really spoilt for choice. You can also visit Saint-Janshospital, which is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe, with its own museum of artifacts not for the faint hearted. In the late afternoon (or at any time, really) don’t forget to have a long and relaxing stroll across Minnewater Park: expanding around what is known as the “Lake of Love”, this beautiful park will soothe your eyes and make you want to kiss a stranger on a bridge. Well, don’t. (Joking, follow your heart, sweetie).

What to eat  – You definitely should try the Flemish Stew (or Carbonnade Flamande), a stew of succulent beef chops slow cooked in dark beer and onions, served with crispy fries. Oh, so good. Or the famous Moules-Frites, delicious mussels cooked in wine, beer or cream and paired again with a rich side of fries. Fries and potatoes in general are massively present in Belgian cuisine, and you can try different kinds of mash as well as an alternative to the crispy sticks. Of course, being in Belgium, you have to indulge in the wonderful chocolate creations that this country provides. Go to Neuhaus (or to Elisabeth if you have time to kill when you’re in Brussels) and stock on the gorgeous assortment of lush pralines, truffles and bonbons that combine the finest Belgian chocolate with creams, fruit and nuts beyond your imagination. It’s pure sex. Another unmissable dessert in Bruges is Belgian waffles, fresh from the iron cast and topped with voluptuous mountains of cream, ice cream, fruit and/or flooded with thick melted chocolate. Delicious and quite filling. You can’t leave the Belgian border without having experienced a food baby from waffles. And of course be adventurous with the selection of crafted Belgian beers from the many beer bars in Bruges. I went for wine. I know: “Italians”.

What activities to do – Visit the many museums that Bruges offers! At the moment two big exhibitions of Picasso and Salvador Dali are snatching all the attention, but if you’re bored with Art you can find an Archeological Museum, a Chocolate Museum and even a Fries Museum! Pay a visit to the Brugs Biermuseum if you are fascinated by the whole process of creation of beer (and go wild on the sample tasting area!). Boat tours along the many canals in Bruges are another option that allow you to embrace the spirit of this lovely city. Or you can venture just outside the city centre and visit the windmills of Bruges, some of them still working and open to the public after three centuries.

What’s Instagrammable – Basically the whole city. But if we want to point out some highlights from Bruges let’s say that your Instagram feed can’t do without

  • the doors and the houses (with infinite colour combinations and quirky decorations);
  • weeping willows (really, they are so poetic);
  • strawberries dipped in chocolate;
  • the thousand small statues that you can spot on corners of buildings;
  • Tintin memorabilia;
  • waffles, waffles, waffles like there’s no tomorrow;
  • you on a bridge. And of course you and your loved one with the backdrop of Rozenhoedkaai (not going to share that one with you, hope you don’t mind 😀

I hope this post and my photodiary enticed you into visiting and discovering this precious city, that surely will stay in your heart much, much longer after the chocolate praline box from Neuhaus is finished. (Which usually happens on the way back to the hotel, it rarely survives one day. Mine didn’t, ça va sans dire.)

Have you been to Bruges? What did you love the most?

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Yoga, wellness and healthy food at LEVELSIX Peckham!

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London has a brand new place for those who love body and mind wellness, yoga practice and healthy living. It’s for those who want to join a friendly and caring environment with an artistic edge, made by people who absolutely love what they do and offer a full experience that goes beyond the simple ‘hour of yoga class in a crowded gym’. A place to leave the stress of the city life behind, nourish our spirit and reconnect with ourselves in the best way possible. This place is called LEVELSIX Peckham.

The brand new yoga studio was founded by the combined forces of yoga teacher Will Wheeler (read his lovely interview for Wandertalks here), with lawyer Ben Rose, project manager Tania Eber and chef Woody Pike. The four decided to make their vision come to life by joining the vibrant and interesting hub of Peckham Levels, a beautiful project to transform an unused multi-storey car park into a creative space for artists, new businesses and for the community to come together, in a new and organic exchange of energy, art, good vibes and… good food! “It took a year and a half to go from concept to the official opening” says Will Wheeler, while we sit at the big table in the warm and cosy café area at LEVELSIX, “and it was so exciting to see the project come alive bit by bit, month after month: it required – and still requires – a deep commitment and a lot of energy, listening and engaging with what people want and look for, to be sure we are shaping our project in the right direction… But when we finally launched LEVELSIX back in December we were amazed and happy with the great response we got”.

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What makes LEVELSIX different from the other yoga studios in London?

The answer is pretty simple: LEVELSIX offers a wholesome experience of yoga, wellness and healthy food for EVERYBODY. It’s an inclusive environment, familiar and accessible, with a timetable that collects the finest yoga teachers in London. “Everyone is nice!”, Will says with a smile, and I can confirm it after attending a lovely class of Vinyasa Flow with the extraordinary Mischa Varmuza, who shared with us her passion and knowledge of mantras and yoga culture. There’s a clean and incredibly bright atmosphere at LEVELSIX, and you breathe it as soon as you walk in. The two studios, spacious and open, offer the perfect dimension for practice, whereas many other yoga places in London tend to fill up their timetables with tons of classes, crammed in minuscule rooms, missing the point of yoga entirely. There’s also a room for wellness treatments, such as acupuncture, sport massage, therapeutic massage and energy healing, that will be launched this week.

The experience at LEVELSIX is enriched even more by the partnership with some of the best brands in the sector: you practice on yoga mats by Lululemon, shower with a fresh and voluptuous bergamot shower gel by Malin+Goetz and sip on the hot premium teas of Rare Tea Company.

Another important factor that contributes to the success of LEVELSIX is the beautiful café and the healthy food offering. And we are not talking about pre-packed protein bars and bottled juices here: at LEVELSIX, chef Woody Pyke combines the best seasonal, fresh and organic ingredients (as local and km zero possible) creating a varied and brilliant vegetarian and vegan menu that nourishes your body and spirit. Breakfasts, soups, lunch bowls, smoothies… all prepared with art and care in front of your eyes. The café area has an industrial vibe, made homely and eclectic by colourful printed cushions, candles and yellow daffodils, and it really invites you to take your time before and after attending the class: you can sit down anytime and indulge in one of the heartwarming bowls of gorgeous food (I highly recommend the chickpea tagine with quinoa, labneh and rich creamy yoghurt, and the turmeric latte, which is the tastiest I’ve ever tried) and relax your mind (or nose around the big jars of sauerkraut, kombucha and yoghurt that chef Woody prepares and ferments in-house).

Attention to the yoga practice is the strong backbone around which LEVELSIX is structured. The studio offers Vinyasa Flow (gentle & dynamic) classes, Pilates, Restorative, Kundalini, Hatha and Yoga Nidra. Every Friday evening yoga teacher David Kam teaches an unmissable Candle Lit Vinyasa Flow class, and more events, Yoga Brunches, workshop and day-retreats are on the schedule for the near future. We talked about ‘inclusivity’ as a key element of LEVELSIX, and this translates practically into the aim of shaping up their classes around the needs of all levels (beginners, intermediate, experienced), offering a community programme with deals and promotions, and classes especially designed (yoga for kids, classes for sight impaired, and more).

On the 16th of March, LEVELSIX will host a delightful event, a Mythical Flow Workshop and Dinner with Tanja Mickwitz. Incorporating storytelling into the asana practice, mentor and teacher Tanja will take you for a journey through Indian mythology, mantra and mudra, providing you with a deeper understanding of yoga, as well as yourself. After the workshop, you will be served a freshly prepared organic seasonal supper in the LEVELSIX café. For more information you can visit the event section on the LEVELSIX website or call 020 39411950.

I’m already looking forward to my next visit to this gem of a place. I recommend you to take advantage of the great introductory offer for newcomers at LEVELSIX: 2 weeks of unlimited yoga (14 calendar days) for only 20 £, a price that is lower than a dinner out in London, to enjoy the City’s latest and hippest yoga place to the fullest.

See you all at LEVELSIX Peckham!

[LEVELSIX Floor 6, Multistorey Car Park, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London SE15 4TG]

 

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Photodiary of a weekend in Bath

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Some weeks ago I had the pleasure to spend a lovely weekend (despite the weather, it basically rained the whole freaking time) with friends in Bath, in the countryside region of Somerset (UK). It’s the perfect weekend getaway from London! Easily reachable via train (but we went by car, which is cheaper and gives you more freedom of course), Bath is famous for its natural hot springs and it still preserves a bath system built by the Romans in the 2nd Century! And every thing that the city has to offer is within walking distance from the station and from the main street. This is a photo-diary of those two days, enjoy and… go visit Bath!

The river Avon, which crosses the city and has a walkable promenade.

Parade Gardens, with a beautiful flower sculpture dedicated to the novelist Jane Austen, who spent in Bath five important years of her life and career. At 40 Gay Street you can even visit the Jane Austen Centre, a picturesque permanent exhibition where you can go back in time to the beginning of the 19th Century.

IMG_20170725_075549_831If you like whiskey you can’t miss this place called The Hideout, a stone-walled bar for real connoisseurs, with a warm and friendly atmosphere!

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Bath Abbey and the Pump Room, where you can have a good afternoon tea right next the Roman Baths.

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The experience of the Roman Baths is a must-do, especially in the evening when the torch lights enhance the magic of that place. The path describes very well the everyday life of the Romans, and you can see perfectly preserved objects and architectural structures. A company of actors recreate scenes from the Roman age and accompany the tourists on their walk.

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We stopped at Boston Tea Party for cakes, coffee and herbal tea, and it was very nice!

More views of the city, walking towards The Circus. The umbrellas installation is located just inside Southgate Shopping Center (Southgate St, Bath BA1 1AQ).

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Dinner time! Probably because of the Roman origin, Bath is full of Italian restaurants 😀 We chose Nonna’s Cucina Italiana, very stylish place and delicious food! I had Insalata di Mare (seafood salad) as starter, and a rich mushroom risotto, all accompanied by an Apulian wine called Primitivo. Highly recommended if you fancy an Italian dinner!

The morning after we had a good breakfast at Rosarios, and then we visited the Victoria Art Gallery . We crossed Pulteney Bridge and we went exploring the other side.

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We stumbled upon a rugby field! I thought it was a croquet field. I’ve never been too good at sports.

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What a great surprise was The Holburne Museum! Full of art and antiques, with a gorgeous park attached. We had a nice wander through the building and enjoyed the green surroundings… and we got caught in the rain again!

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I definitely want to visit Bath again soon. Probably in springtime, hoping to find a drier weather 🙂 On my bucket list for next Bath weekend:

  • Experience the open-air rooftop pool at Thermae Bath Spa
  • Visit Alexandra Park for more spectacular views
  • Have a traditional full afternoon tea

and….

…visit Stonehenge on the way back to London (this time it wasn’t possible due to limited time)!

Have you been in Bath? What are your favourite spots? And what do you suggest for my next trip?

 

Oh, you’ll love cozinha portuguesa, com certeza!

If anyone hasn’t noticed yet, everytime I talk about travelling I talk about food. It’s kind of an automatic reflex, I guess it comes from the fat kid trapped in my body. So, after talking about the magical Lisbon and before I dedicate another post to the stunning coast of Portugal, let me start a brief insight into Portuguese food. Fasten your seatbelts, these are my suggestions:

Lunch and dinner

Meals in Portugal usually start putting on the table various petiscossmall bites to open up your appetite. Usually it’s a basket of sliced bread along with butter and spreadable pâtés of tuna, sardines and/or cheese, accompanied by a pot of good olives. Often you can find quejo fresco (fresh firm cheese with a very delicate flavour) or other kinds of cheese (I’m a big fan of the cow and sheep milk one, which is still soft but cured and creamy).

As a starter I suggest you to try the appetising croquetes made with chicken or pork meat (or the gorgeous version with codfish), or the rissóis de camarão, deep fried satchels stuffed with creamy shrimps… an absolute delight.

The typical Portuguese dish is bacalhau (salted codfish) cooked in many ways. My favourite recipes are bacalhau com natas (baked with potatoes, onions and a delicious cream, with a layer of cheese gratin on top… My tastebuds just had an orgasm. A multiple one) and bacalhau à brás (prepared in a casserole with eggs, onion, a fine julienne of potato fries, olive and parsley).

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If you are visiting the coast of Portugal don’t forget to try cataplana de mariscos (a casserole with yummy seafood in tomato and garlic sauce) and the already mentioned (in my previous post) grilled sardines, and especially if you are in Portimão I suggest you the zapateira (a giant crab with a tender and juicy meat).

As an option for those who don’t like fish and seafood (really? why? have you tried to seek professional help?) there’s a very simple and rustic dish that I like to order, called bitoque: it’s basically a pan fried steak of beef or pork with an egg on top, served with chips, rice and salad. A full meal in one plate that will keep you going all day!

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Originary from the area of Porto is the francesinha, a cube shaped club sandwich with ham, meat and cheese, all coated in cheese and sitting proudly in a beef gravy. They certainly know how to make a sandwich sexy.

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Street food 

Portugal has a nice selection of street food that you can devour during celebrations, city fairs or summer seasons. If you’re particularly hungry try the bifana, a soft bread bun filled with grilled pork meat, or the appetising pão com chouriço, a roll of bread dough wrapped around the good Portuguese spicy salami: during the baking process, the chouriço releases juice that infuses the bread, maximising the flavour.

Sweet treats

My favourite paragraph! Portugal is famous worldwide for its pasteis de nata, custard tarts of crunchy puff pastry with a caramelised sugar layer on top, served sprinkled with cinnamon. It’s tradition, when in Portugal,to have at least one pastel de nata per day (it’s my tradition, to be specific). But the country has a whole rich array of pastries that are absolutely gorgeous. Bolas de Berlim are big balls of fried donut dough filled with doce de ovo (a custard made mainly with egg yolks and sugar) or chocolate, or, in some heavenly occasions, with doce de leite. Travesseiro is a puff pastry cilinder with icing sugar on top, typical of the Sintra region, and queijada is a baked little milk cake (also available in a version infused with orange juice, called queijada de laranja). Speaking of proper cakes, my favourite is undoubtedly pudim, a light flan made with eggs, sugar and milk, cooked in bain-marie or oven baked, in a caramel sauce. Ok, I need to have my glycaemia levels checked now.

Drinks

In Portugal, sangria seems to be the refreshing drink of choice, available in various versions (try the muscatel one!) all over the territory. Of course you can’t leave the country without having tried Porto, the characteristic fortified wine, or the Vinho Verde (young and lightly bubbly). But above all, what I strongly recommend you is to enter the seductive and magic world of Ginjinha. It’s a sour cherry liquor, sweet and voluptuous, served in little cups made of dark chocolate: you drink the shot and you eat the cup straight after. It’s pure sex. Tradition wants that everytime you see the word “ginjinha” written outside a bar you must enter and have one (again, it’s my tradition, of course).

I hope this little smattering of Portuguese food was helpful! Tell me about your experience, what are your favourite things to order when you’re in Portugal?

 

[Note about the pictures: the images in this post are pictures I took during my stay in Portugal, along with some other ones I found on Pinterest. If you own any of the latter please let me know and I’ll credit you properly, or remove them if you don’t want them to feature in my post 😉 ]

Lisbon: a tale of love and life portrayed on blue tiles

 

Lisbon is always a good idea. I’ve just come back from the third Portuguese holiday of my life and it confirmed my thoughts firmly. Lisbon welcomes you wrapping its warm and strong arms around you, then it takes your hands, looks into your eyes with a cheeky grin and spins you in a twirl, before taking you out for one of those fresh, magic summer nights that you would never want to end.

“It’s the weather. It’s always sunny and that reflects on people, people are nice” says Ricardo, who grew up in Lisbon before moving to London fourteen years ago. “It’s the display of the city, it’s old and new at the same time and these two aspects seem to cohabit perfectly with each other”. Like a song by Ana Moura, that’s what I think while he continues talking about his hometown. “Lisbon is a capital, but you can still relax… It’s not overcrowded with people in constant rush, numbed by their daily routines, and the pace is much slower than London…”.

That’s exactly the first impression that strikes when we get off the train in Cais do Sodré, once we manage to leave the station full of vacationers heading to the beach at this time of the year, and while we walk on the lush promenade along the riverside. The area has been renovated in the past five years and now it’s the perfect stroll path to enjoy the sun, the drinks and the suggestive view of the bridge, before arriving to the spacious and central Praça do Comércio.

Passed the Arco de Rua Augusta you are ready to see the core of Lisbon, walking on the beautiful cobbled streets and enjoying the colourful tiled facades of the buildings. The traditional Portuguese tiles used to decorate public and private spaces since the 13th century are called azulejos, from the word “azul” (the colour blue, dominant tone of the tiles).

On the left you’ll soon meet the imponent Elevador de Santa Justa, a big metal elevator designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel: it connects the “low” part of Lisbon to Largo Do Carmo, in the Bairro Alto district. Arriving to the gigantic square of Rossio you can see, on the right hand side from a distance, the beautiful Castelo de São Jorge. Rossio is paved with black and white cobbles in a wave pattern, which brings my mind back to when I was in Rio De Janeiro, walking along the coast of Copacabana. The decor of pavements and buildings in Lisbon is so unique, and it certainly plays a big role in making this city memorable, together with other elements like the traditional trams on railway, the radiant bouganvillea plants, the old shops selling salted codfish and sardines, the pastelarias (bakeries and pastry shops, pure heaven for a sweet tooth like me), the melancholic fado music that echoes from cafes in the evening… Well I could go on for pages and pages, but instead I will let some of the pictures I’ve taken do the talking.

One of my favourite places in Lisbon is surely Alfama. Probably the oldest part of the city, it miracolously survived the great 1755 Lisbon earthquake, managing to mantain all its pitoresque beauty: with its narrow streets and white houses and stairways it reminds you of some Greek island or South-Italian village, but still has its own special feel. One of the best areas to stroll and shop for wonderful pieces of local craft. The little shops and ateliers will delight your eyes with gorgeous pottery, azulejos, art prints and blown glass creations. Do like I did: buy yourself a beautiful red fish made of glass. (Don’t do like I did: don’t break it while you’re doing the dusting at home because you’re clumsy like an elephant smeared with butter on a crystal stepladder). Around the 13th of june, when Lisbon celebrates St. Anthony, Alfama’s streets are decorated with multicoloured buntings and you can indulge in lovely street food (don’t forget to try the grlled sardines, one of the typical specialities of Portoguese cuisine). This part of the city is ideal to experience the fascinating world of fado music. I suggest you to have a nice dinner at a “casa do fado” and even if you don’t speak Portuguese I’m sure you’ll go home at night singing a couple of those tunes you’ll hear, guaranteed! But before dinner, don’t forget to enjoy a stunning view on the city from the Miradouro da Graça.

My Portuguese holiday included some other places, at a reasonable distance from Lisbon, really worth seeing. Here we go!

Belem – It’s the area where you can have the most fresh and delicious pasteis de nata (see next post about Portuguese food)! Have a walk along the riverside and you’ll find the amazing monument called Padrão dos Descobrimentos. Take pictures from different angles, the results are always stunning! Climb to the top (there’s a lift actually) to take beautiful panoramic shots and enjoy the mosaics on the ground below. Don’t forget to visit the Tower of Belem and Geronimo’s Monastery if you have time between pasteis de natas. I barely had any. (Time, not pasteis de nata.)

Cascais – Take the train from Cais Do Sodré to reach this lovely summer retreat near Estoril. Visit the old Fortaleza and the Boca do Inferno (a cliff with an open cave in the rock formed by the ceaseless pounding of the Atlantic waves), enjoy the beauty of the views and stop in a cafe called “Sacolinha” for a lush breakfast with the best pastries and sweet treats ever! (Yes I know, sugary food again… Well, don’t forget to brush your teeth, kids.)

Sintra – Perched upon a hill, Sintra is a really fascinating city and UNESCO World Heritage Site: walking in its natural parks and gardens opens up your lungs and the views are spectacular. Visit the Moors Castle, and try a sandwich with presunto e queijo da Serra from the stalls of local products that you find in front of Palacio Nacional.

Obidos – If you have a car, go and visit this lovely village, home of the delicious ginjinha liquor (see next post)! Very suggestive especially in the evening, with an unmissable Medieval Fair occurring every summer between July and August, where you’ll see a real Palio at sunset, and you’ll drink sangria in characteristic clay mugs that you can take home with you! You’ll absolutely love the experience, guaranteed.

Well… I can’t wait for my Portuguese holiday number 4! This time, if everything goes according to my plans, I’m going to see the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 live! I will keep you updated with news! 🙂

Rome wasn’t walked in a day but…

Rome wasn’t walked in a day but f**k it I’m gonna bloody try.

Ready. Set. Go. Start having a good breakfast. Have a cappuccino or an espresso and indulge in croissants and pastries without worrying too much about the sugars (you’ll burn plenty of them and anyway holidays are not made for fasting). Take the A Line tube and get off in Flaminio, which will be the starting point of our itinerary. Cross the arches and walk through the beautiful Piazza Del Popolo, absolutely at its best in the early morning. From there you’ll notice in the middle the big Via del Corso, main street for shopping, but I suggest you to walk instead on the parallel street on the left hand side, Via del Babuino: this will lead you straight to Piazza Di Spagna/Trinità Dei Monti (the Spanish Steps).

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Once you took a lot of pictures in that lovely spot, walk along Via dei Condotti (if you already need another coffee pop into Caffè Greco, the oldest bar in Rome!) and admire all the posh shops that us poor mortal people could never afford, then turn left to re-enter Via del Corso. Soon on the right hand side you’ll find Palazzo Chigi and Piazza di Montecitorio, the headquarters of the creme de la creme of the current Italian political class… which makes them totally avoidable and unworth seeing. Cross the road instead and enjoy the fresh shade of Galleria Alberto Sordi. Exit at the back, keep on walking straight ahead in that narrow street and you will soon magically find yourself in front of the marvellous Fontana di Trevi, finally free from scaffoldings after its renovation and now whiter than white. It always takes my breath away.

 

Throw a coin backwards right into the water (tradition wants this is the ritual to assure yourself a comeback to the Eternal City) and walk back to Via Del Corso, turn left and follow the signs to reach the immortal Pantheon, colossal Roman temple lit by natural light coming from a circular opening on the ceiling. The area around the Pantheon is nice to have a lovely ice cream to refill your sugar levels after the walking. Three suggestions: the traditional and evergreen Caffè Giolitti, the exuberant Della Palma (150 different flavours of gelato!) and Venchi (specialised in sumptuous chocolate creations).

 

Now take the road on the right hand side of the Pantheon and walk all the way to Largo di Torre Argentina; after watching stray cats sunbathing on the ruins, walk towards Piazza Navona, where you can admire the wonderful works of Bernini and Borromini, and sit on a bench to give your legs some relief. Once you’re ready go back to the main street were you came from, cross the road and walk until you find yourself in the buzzing and coloured market of Campo De’ Fiori. Here you can find delicious Italian products (fruit and vegetables, but also cheese, cured meats, liquors, sauces and preserves… don’t be shy and ask to try some, they give free shots of Limoncello very often!). This can be a good area where to have a food pit-stop: enjoy some pizza by the slice, a focaccia with mozzarella and Parma ham or mortadella, or go for a mix of fried snacks as arancini, supplì, stuffed courgette flowers (I go crazy for them) or filetto di baccalà (battered cod fillet). Head back to Largo di Torre Argentina and enter inside the lovely area of the former Jewish Quarter.

 

Keep walking until you reach Portico D’Ottavia (it’s partially covered by scaffoldings but it’s always very suggestive). Dont forget to buy jewish biscuits or a cherry tart at the bakery near the restaurant before you head to Piazza Venezia. You are ready now to experience the core of Ancient Rome: from Piazza Venezia you can access Via dei Fori Imperiali, a long boardwalk that exhibits the ruins of temples and foras from the age of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, etc…, and ends right in front of the famous Colosseum! The next stop from the Colosseum is Circo Massimo (if you’re tired you might consider taking the B line tube for a stop. But you will lose points on my walking challenge :D).

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Circo Massimo is a spectacular ancient stadium, once used for chariot racing and mass entertainment, with beautiful tall pine trees… On your way to the Lungotevere (the side bank of the river Tiber) don’t forget to pay a visit to the Bocca della Verità, location became famous for the movie Roman Holiday . Put a hand inside the mouth and be sure you say the truth or it will be brutally chopped off (no it won’t). Walk along the Lungotevere until you find Ponte Fabricio, cross that bridge and you’re on the Isola Tiberina, a real island right in the middle of the river, which lights up during summer nights with lively bars, restaurants and market stalls (and even an open air cinema arena). Once crossed the bridge on the other side (Ponte Cestio) it’s time for a very important stop: you are ready to be initiated to the Roman summer ritual of grattachecca. At this traditional kiosk called La Sora Mirella (which along with La Sora Maria in Prati represents the temple of Roman grattachecca) you can see these guys hand-scratch big blocks of ice in front of you, filling big cups with that ‘snow’ that will be topped with fruit syrups and chunks of fresh fruit as you desire (my favourite ones are the Preziosa and the SuperFrutta, I’m literally mouthwatering while I’m writing). Sit on the fence and enjoy this simple yet luxuriously refreshing thing, while you rest your legs a bit.

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At this point the evening is probably approaching, but before the sun starts to go down you can enjoy a stroll along the narrow streets of Trastevere, heart of what is called the “Romanity” and one of my favourite areas in Rome… If you feel like you’ve seen enough and you’re ready to sit down for a well deserved dinner or an aperitivo (the ritual of having drink and nibbles with friends) you can find plenty of places here, otherwise I have two more suggestions, depending on your energy levels:

  • “I still feel like Iron Man” – …then climb up the Passeggiata del Gianicolo until the top, where you can embrace an uphill view of the city, lovely at sunset;
  • “I can still walk but I’d rather french-kiss Theresa May than walk uphill” – …then keep following the Lungotevere until you reach Ponte degli Angeli and Castel Sant’Angelo (splendid setting of Puccini’s opera Tosca), another beautiful place where to savour the light of the end of day.

 

You may have noticed that I haven’t included in this itinerary St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican Museums. Well, that part belongs to Vatican City, so it’s technically not Rome, and the visit to the Vatican Museums would take a considerable chunk of your day, so I suggest it if you have more time in your hands, not if if you want to grasp the spirit of Rome in one day. But sure, both from Castel Sant’Angelo and from Gianicolo it’s very easy to take Via Della Conciliazione and reach the magnificient St. Peter’s Square in the evening, when it’s not packed with tourists and you can enjoy its splendour.

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An alternative lovely spot where to bathe in the Roman sunset is the Terrazza del Pincio of Villa Borghese. Take the tube back to Flaminio (which is were this tour has started, so it makes perfect sense!), climb the stairs and hug your beloved one watching the sun go down on Piazza Del Popolo.

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This itinerary has been consciouscly made very extreme: it covers an insane amount of kilometers, so you might consider skipping something or take advantage of the tube service. And there is still so so much I’ve left out of this list of places… You never finish to see Rome, that’s the truth. Born and bred there, I still haven’t and my eyes still widen with marvel at every corner. My final suggestion, if you have more than one day of time: just wander and lose yourself. And when you see something that looks like an ordinary church or a normal building from the outside don’t trust the book by its cover, go inside instead: Rome is full to the brim of beautiful surprises that you don’t find on the guidebooks.

Have you ever been to Rome? What’s your most amazing memory?

 

One weekend ago in Rome

Last weekend was quite intense. Everytime I go back to Rome I get assaulted by an army of mixed emotions… My hometown squeezes my heart in its hand, it seduces me, it scares and surprises me, it makes my blood race and my forehead sweat… It makes me cry for what I’ve left behind and makes me understand what I’ve actually never left… It makes me anxious because I would like to see the people of my family happy and with no struggles… Rome feeds me high carbs until my belly aches and then sings to my sleep, just to wake me up all of a sudden with rays of sun that sting my eyes.

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So, what did I manage to do last weekend in the tiny space of those three very sunny days? First of all I had the pleasure and honour to be best man at my best friend’s wedding! Fabio tied the knot with the beautiful and lovely Cristina in the gorgeous scenery of Borgo Le Grazie in Manziana, a countryside borough near Bracciano. The wedding was perfectly planned and curated by Serena and her team at Italian Event Planners, here are some pictures so you can have an idea of the wonderful and detailed job that made this day even more memorable!

 

When I visit Rome I usually try and see as many friends as possible, running all over the city and grabbing a coffee with each of them (which makes my liver beg me to stop), but this time the available hours were definitely not enough. I managed anyway to see a bunch of the loveliest people, with some newborn additions as you can see in the pictures, and it really warmed my heart. Although I love my independent life in London, my Italian friends and family will always be that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

 

My sister Silvia organised a brunch at her house for us three siblings and she decided to cook more than all the contestants of a season of Masterchef put together. Savoury muffins, baked pasticcio, gratin veggies, puff pastry twists, breaded chicken goujons, spinach and potato tarts, Ascolan olives… Carbs galore accompanied by prosecco, and after half an hour we became the humans of the last part of the movie Wall-E.

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Yes I’ve eaten a lot, but I’ve walked a lot too (oh, the sweet ethereal illusion that it could have possibly counterbalanced…)! It’s basically impossible too see Rome thoroughly in a week holiday, let alone having only one day and wanting to see the most of it, but if you are keen on walking until your Fitbit combusts spontaneously and enjoying practical and delicious street food instead of sitting down for lunch, then you’re ready to jump to the next post called…

Rome wasn’t walked in a day but f**k it I’m gonna bloody try.

Greek food: a story of love and lust

I’m not only writing a post, I’m actually baring my heart with this and I hope my other half doesn’t mind if I say that I’m desperately in love with Greece. Like I passionately want to make love with her islands, one by one. And send them flowers and open the car door for them and spoon with them at night. Ok stop, weirdo.

Before writing about my two favourite Greek islands, Rhodes and Santorini, the food lover in me wants to dedicate a special post to the Greek cuisine, because no travel experience can overlook the importance of the food component. I’m Italian, and I know it might sound cliché but I love good genuine food and all the memories I have of the places I’ve been are tightly intertwined with my gastronomic experiences.
I don’t how many of you are familiar with Greek food… so, before exploring the wonders of the two pearls of the Aegean Sea I’ve mentioned earlier, here is a quick gastronomic guide which includes some of the dishes I madly stuffed my face with during my Greek days.

Tzatziki. It’s an entree dip, usually served with pita bread or sourdough bread, prepared with Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic, extravirgin olive oil, mint and dill. I’m literally salivating like Pavlov’s dog while writing this, I think I might have to wipe dry my laptop keyboard. Anyway, tzatziki is delicious and sexy. Even though it gives you a garlic breath that can linger for days, compromising your social interactions, but it’s a risk worth taking.
Taramosalata. A pink (but the colour can be paler, it depends on the type of ingredients used) paste made of fish eggs (carp or codfish, usually), lemon, olive, garlic and onions. Another one of my favourites. This kind of appetizers in Greece are called “mezze“, and you can often find restaurants that serve a mix of mezze including tzatziki, taramosalata and other dips like hummus, aubergines paste, feta and peppers paste, etc..
Talking about appetizers and small bites, make sure you try Saganaki (a slice of gruyere cheese battered and fried, often finished with honey and sesame seeds. Holy Mary mother of Christ.) and Tomatokeftedes (tomato fritters with a delicate taste of origan and mint, that will literally serenade your tastebuds before disappearing and leaving you heartbroken like your best Tinder date).

Main dishes. Definitely the Moussakà (the stress is on the second ‘a’ if you want to pronounce it correctly) is a must: a bake of layered sliced eggplant and potatoes, a rich tomato sauce, pork minced meat and bechamel sauce. You can even choose to indulge in any kind of Souvlaki (marinated and grilled meat on skewers) or try the Stifado, a beef stew with shallots and wine. If you are on the go or you’re looking for a filling snack, the Pita Gyros is the answer: a rolled pita bread filled with pork or chicken meat, tzatziki, onions, tomatoes and french fries. It’s highly addictive. No joking, I once had three in a day. ‘Cause I’m worth it.
Of course you always have the light option of a traditional Greek salad, made with feta cheese, black olives, tomato, cucumber and onion, which drizzled with a robust cold-pressed Greek olive oil is simply heavenly.
While in Greece, make sure you don’t miss the amazing seafood, even just some simple fried calamari sprinkled with black pepper and a few drops of lemon juice. So good.

Dessertwise, you can’t end a meal without a taste of the house’s Baklava or Halva (both desserts are originally from Turkey)… and make sure that all your meal is accompanied by several glasses of Retsina, a delicious white wine flavoured with natural pine resin. (I don’t want to be the one who encourages alcohol consumption, but may I suggest a sip of Ouzo or Metaxa as well, at the end of the meal? There’s even a version of both spirits blended with coffee, what more can you ask for?)

Ok, now I’m hungry like a fasting sumo wrestler, so I’d better stop. Hope I made you curious to try this gorgeous cuisine, keep watching this space for my travel experiences and tips about Rhodes and Santorini!