Mandria Del Dottore Toscano : Tarsia : Calabria : Italy

Mandria Del Dottore Toscano : Tarsia : Calabria : Italy

On our road trip around Italy, driving in the Calabrian south was tiring, so we needed to break the journey up from Villa San Giovanni (where you cross to & from Sicily) to Matera and so consulted our trusty oracles – a well thumbed road map and google. Tarsia seemed to be a place that was just about equi-distant, but very remote. As boutique style hotels seemed to be a bit on the sparse side, we plumped for the agriturismo option.

We found Agriturismo B&B Mandria Del Dottore Toscana through a series of internet searches – although it has to be said, finding it online is MUCH easier than finding it in reality. We got to Tarsia relatively easily, then the trail went cold. One thing we have realised is that Italian road signage, once you’re off the main roads, is pretty rubbish. Road  signs are often covered in vines/foliage, or twisted, or burned, or simply not there. After about an hour of aimless driving around, we gave up and asked for directions in a very small bar. We clearly weren’t the first to do this as a call was made and 15 minutes later, a car arrived, we followed & after many twists and turns across hilly countryside, arrived at our destination.

Mandria Del Dottore Toscano, Tarsia, Calabria

Mandria Del Dottore Toscano, Tarsia, Calabria

This was definitely a very rural location, so if you’re after a wild night of clubbing, this farmhouse won’t appeal. Set in acres of rolling hills, there is literally nothing else around you – apart from horses, olive groves and beautiful silence. We felt the need to whisper until we realised that actually no-one else was around to hear us. I think the owners clocked on that we were a little bit stressed when we arrived, and a bottle of their own wine was put out on the table in front of us, with two glasses. Very little communication as they spoke no English, and our Italian, at the time, was pretty basic – but a generous gesture is a generous gesture in whatever language.

A welcome drink. Much appreciated...

A welcome drink. Much appreciated…

The owners live on the farm, and it is a working farm. It’s rustic and rural and although not full of the most modern amenities, it’s perfect for a bit of a get-away. Most importantly, the bed was super comfortable – something that Italians do hold in high regard as we have not slept in anything other than VERY comfortable since we’ve been away. The bathroom was spotless, with a great sized shower, too. A definite plus point.

Splendid isolation, especially after the hustle & bustle of Sicily.

Splendid isolation, especially after the hustle & bustle of Sicily.

An abundance of prickly pears.

An abundance of prickly pears.

Winter preparation well under way.

Winter preparation well under way.

Autumn sunset in Calabria

Autumn sunset in Calabria.

We could have had dinner (with everything being sourced from the land we were staying on), but as we had a kitchen in the apartment we chose to cook & eat on the terrace. We’d picked up some supplies on the way – it’s worth having some staples to cook with, as if you don’t fancy what’s on the menu that night, you’re stuck. Breakfast was very simple – bread, cheese, preserves, proscuitto – but ALL locally sourced.

There are four apartments. We think we might have had the largest as it was the most expensive, and had a terrace, but it was still only 68 euros to stay the night – worth every cent for the solitude and peace. There is also a swimming pool – although this had just been covered up when we arrived (mid-October), but would imagine this is a welcome relief from the Italian sun in the height of summer…

 

 

 

 

Vatican Museums : Rome : Italy

Vatican Museums : Rome : Italy

The Vatican Museums are the public museums of the Vatican City, displaying works of art amassed by the Catholic Church and papacy throughout the centuries, including several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and some of the most important Renaissance artwork in the world. There are 24 galleries in total, with the Sistine Chapel, being the last room visited within the Museum. We booked our tickets online, having read about the queues which can develop, and this proved to be a very good thing to do. Although you do still need to queue to collect the actual tickets – and don’t forget ID to prove who you are – it’s a whole lot quicker than joining the snaking queue around the building. It’s important to know that the following items of clothing are NOT allowed – shorts, short skirts and sleeveless shirts. And even more important if you visit in the hotter months as you’ll need to be prepared clothing wise. All visitors must pass through airport-style security, and during high season, the wait at security may be up to 30 minutes – and this was guidance when we visited a few years ago, so it may be even longer now. I guess, the rule of thumb is, if you want to visit the Vatican Museums is be organised and get online to make a booking.

So, is it worth it?

Yes, yes, yes, absolutely, yes. It’s a long day – because to even touch the sides, you need to set aside a day. You definitely won’t see everything, although you will probably go through all of the galleries, to get to the end goal. The Sistine Chapel. More of which later.

If you specifically want to visit the Gardens, then make sure you buy a ticket which includes this, as not all do. Ours didn’t, but I don’t think we missed out, as doing the gardens as well, would probably have been totally overwhelming. We started in the Cortile della Pigna (Pine Cone Courtyard), where the bronze Sphere within a Sphere – Sfera con Sfera – sits. Created by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, its meaning isn’t clear, but consensus seems to be that it can be read as a symbol of the emergence of a new world from the old. I don’t think you are supposed to touch it, let alone spin it, but we did see a number of tourists giving it a whirl. And very impressive it was, too…

From the Cortile della Pigna, you begin the tour of the galleries. Be prepared – selfie sticks seem to still be a big thing, so watch where you’re going! The galleries are a bit of an onslaught, visually, so you will definitely miss a lot. Depending on your interests, some will be much more interesting than others, but even the ones that you take a quicker pace through, are dazzling and exhausting in equal measure. I have no idea of the names of the vast majority of the galleries, but I do know that I definitely wanted to see the only painting by Caravaggio in the Vatican Museums – The Deposition of Christ – in the Vatican Pinacoteca, and the Gallery of Maps. Two things ticked off my bucket list. So, what did we see?

Greek demigod Perseus holding the head of Medusa, by Antonio Canova

Greek demigod Perseus holding the head of Medusa, by Antonio Canova

The boxer Damosseno, by Antonio Canova

The marble sculpture of the boxer Damosseno, by Antonio Canova

Statue of a Roman holding a scroll.

Statue of a Roman holding a scroll.

Roman mosaic floor : Vatican Museum

Roman mosaic floor : Vatican Museum

Ceiling frescoes : Vatican Museum

Ceiling frescoes : Vatican Museum

Sala della Rotondo & its Roman mosaic floor : Vatican Museum

Sala della Rotondo & its Roman mosaic floor : Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum Ceiling : Virgin Mary, Angels and the Holy Spirit

Vatican Museum Ceiling : Virgin Mary, Angels and the Holy Spirit

Child strangling a goose sculpture : Vatican Museum

Child (apparently) strangling a goose sculpture : Vatican Museum

The Resurrection of Christ by Raphael Sanzio, in the Gallery of the Tapestries

The Resurrection of Christ by Raphael Sanzio, in the Gallery of the Tapestries

Italy : Gallery of Maps, Vatican Museum

Italy : Gallery of Maps, Vatican Museum

The Martyrs of Gorkum by Cesare Fracassini

The Martyrs of Gorkum by Cesare Fracassini

Too much to take in, in one room...

Too much to take in, in one room…

The Room of the Popes : Vatican Museum

The Room of the Popes : Vatican Museum

Out of everything we saw in the museum, the ceiling above is one of the things I remember most. If you are fascinated by the history of The Borgias, then this part of the museums might interest you, as its only the Borgias’ Apartments! Imagine that! The ceiling above is in The Room of the Popes and owes its name to the scrolls with the names of popes on them in the room. It is the largest of all the rooms and the pope used it to host official ceremonies, audiences, and solemn banquets.

Image : https://www.museivaticani.va

Image : https://www.museivaticani.va

So, above, the one I wanted to see – and I was so taken by it, that I completely forgot to take any photographs so this is one is credited, in the caption. The Deposition of Christ, painted in 1603, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. I have no background in art and am not an artist, in any way. But I have always been intrigued by historical figures who led lives that were full of danger and intrigue – and immense talent. So, although I couldn’t appreciate Caravaggio’s work as an art historian might, his life is more than enough to intrigue me and make me interested in his art…

…with his unruly black curls and unkempt black beard, the artist was known to wander the streets of Rome dressed in black, accompanied by his black dog, Crow (the bird-harbinger of death), and brandishing swords and daggers at the slightest provocation.

He and his motley group of friends took as their motto – “without hope, without fear,” – and these were the words they lived by. Caravaggio had a police record many pages long filled with stories of assault, illegal weapons, harassing the police and complex affairs with prostitutes and courtesans. Caravaggio’s numerous legal problems often meant that the artist would suddenly have to flee Rome or be otherwise unable to complete a commission. Caravaggio’s brawling, trouble-making tendencies reached a whole new level on the 28th of May, 1606. On this date, following a disputed tennis match, Caravaggio and his friends were involved in a street brawl with Caravaggio’s young foe Ranuccio Tomassoni and his gang.

Caravaggio ended up dealing the young Tomassoni a fatal stab wound in the groin. With a price on his head, Caravaggio was forced to flee Rome for the last time. The artist’s last years were spent desperately running from one city to another, all the while trying to get a papal pardon to be able to return to Rome. After stopping by Naples, he travelled to Malta to try to gain the influence of the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John, Alof de Wignacourt. The Knights were so pleased with the works the artist executed while on the island that he was accepted into the Order, only to get into trouble after yet another brawl. Caravaggio was imprisoned by the Knights in August 1608 and later expelled from the Order “as a foul and rotten member.”

The artist escaped once again and was back on the run. During this period, an unknown assailant attempted to murder Caravaggio during his sleep, only succeeding in disfiguring his face. Contemporaries described the artist as a madman during this time, exhibiting increasingly strange behavior such as sleeping fully clothed and armed and exploding into a violent rage at the slightest provocation. The artist desperately continued working, sending paintings to influential figures like Cardinal Borghese and Alof de Wignacourt in order to secure their influence to procure his pardon. Finally, in 1610, Pope Paul V began the process of granting Caravaggio’s pardon and the artist boarded a boat to return home to Rome. He was never to return, however: Caravaggio died under unknown circumstances around the 18th of July, 1610, after only a decade-long career. His body was never recovered….

Last stop on our whistle-stop tour of the Vatican Museums, was obviously The Sistine Chapel. Having heard all of the myths and stories about visiting here, I was prepared to be blown away. And, prepared to not take any photographs, of course. But, all I was left with was a feeling of total disappointment and being underwhelmed.

The Sistine Chapel. Image credit : www.theromanguy.com

The Sistine Chapel. Image credit : www.theromanguy.com

Perhaps I should have read this brilliant article first, but I didn’t, and so my experience was one of being rushed through a massive crowds, with security guards barking instructions from raised platforms. It was horrible. There was no sense of awe or serenity. It was like a cattle market – and if prods had been available, those guards would definitely have used them. It was so crowded that there was literally no point in looking up, to see the ceiling, as you’d have been knocked off your feet if you stopped. Other visitors were really, really frustrated and there was a general sense that we just had to get through as quickly as possible, to allow the next crowd in. I’m going to have to do it again, but I honestly think that next time, I’d opt for one of the small guided tours, as explained here. Well worth the extra expense, I’d say, to get up close to the art. And, not be shouted at by security.

If there’s one way to exit the museums, it’s via the famous Bramante Stairs. These really are a spectacle and rather than leaving on a disappointed downer after the Sistine Chapel, this staircase was a bit of treat.

Image credit : www.romeprivateguides.com

Image credit : www.romeprivateguides.com

Top Tips

So, our top tips for visiting the Vatican Museums :

  • Book online
  • Don’t forget your passport or ID
  • Wear trainers
  • Have a phone charging pack so you can recharge for all of those photos you’ll want to take
  • Be prepared to be pushed through the Sistine Chapel – OR, book a guided tour
  • Don’t expect to take it all in – there’ll be so much you’ll see online afterwards that you weren’t even aware of as you walked around
  • It’s a good few hours to do all of the museums, so set aside a day
  • Have a glass (or two) of refreshing Italian wine after it all…

Hotel Heritage : Ljubljana : Slovenia

Hotel Heritage : Ljubljana : Slovenia

According to the website, the recently renovated Heritage Hotel is…

…one of Ljubljana’s finest boutique hotels. It combines the rich cultural heritage of a Renaissance bourgeois building from the 16th century with the luxury of modern architecture and the prestige of residing in a listed building within the cultural and historically-protected part of the old city.

The building is on the riverside, nestled behind another amazingly renovated heritage building, and is close to everything you’d want to explore in the centre of the old city.

Image : https://hotelheritage.si

Image : https://hotelheritage.si

The restoration and renovation of the building is really quite beautiful. The integrity of the building has been retained, but enhanced with contemporary features and heritage colours.

Hotel Heritage, Ljubljana

Hotel Heritage, Ljubljana

The reception area is more like a cool lounge, with funky, but understated, seating areas and window seats, coupled with clever lighting to create a welcoming vibe. Forest green walls, tangerine orange and baby blue soft furnishings and gold accessories create a feel of opulence. And, it also helps that when you are checking in, you are offered a complimentary drink. Great attention to detail.

Reception area

Reception area

The hotel has twenty unique rooms. The Atrium style room is a cosy and quiet room in the heart of the house with a view of the internal atrium or, if you look up, the starry sky. The Old Town Rooms have views of the medieval buildings which line the river and The Superior Rooms are spacious and exquisitely furnished, with a views of the old town, Ljubljana Castle or the Ljubljanica River. We’d booked an Old Town View Room and were delighted with the facilities and the decor.

Old Town View Room

Old Town View Room

The deep, heritage colours of the communal areas give way to softer colours in the rooms. Crisp white walls and beddings are complemented by the deep mulberry and plum shades of the velvet chairs and woollen bed throws, complete with the hotel logo. The original ceilings and beams, and the parquet flooring, add a touch of heritage to the contemporary design of the rooms.

Bedroom & ensuite bathroom

Bedroom & ensuite bathroom

The large ensuite bathroom is behind a glass wall – perhaps not ideal if you don’t like seeing yourself, but a really good way of bouncing light around the room and creating a feeling of space. The bathroom itself is well though out, design wise, and with marbled walls, a white floor, a wooden ceiling with beams and matte gold taps and rainshower, creates a feeling of luxury Like the bedroom, the bathroom is also scrupulously clean.

Sleek & contemporary styling in the ensuite bathroom

Sleek & contemporary styling in the ensuite bathroom

Matte gold

Matte gold taps

Heritage & contemporary styling

Heritage & contemporary styling

Breakfast area

Breakfast area

A very substantial breakfast fare is served in the room through the crittal doors, but we chose to eat in the atrium. Light and airy, because of the glass lantern ceiling, it’s not only well designed and very tastefully decorated, but full of nods to the history of the building. The wall display of hexagonal shapes takes you through the historical owners and events over the years, rooting the hotel firmly in its past and present.

Historical details...

Historical details…

Heritage details...

Heritage details…

Everything about Hotel Heritage oozes class and understatement. From the decor to the staff to the soft furnishings and bedding, to the colour palettes, nothing is showy or over-the-top. Whilst it’s not overly expensive either, you do see exactly what you are paying for – and with its location, right on the banks of the river, on the cobbles of the old town of Ljubljana, it’s definitely somewhere to go when you want to just decompress, and breathe. And not pay silly money.

Hotel Heritage : Čevljarska Ulica 2, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

Exterior : Hotel Heritage, Ljubljana

Exterior : Hotel Heritage, Ljubljana

 

 

Puglia : Italy

Puglia : Italy

Living now in Istria, the tiny heart shaped peninsula, right up in the north of Croatia – bordering Slovenia, close to Trieste and across the Adriatic from Venice – we are very lucky that we can now travel to Italy very easily. Muggia is our closest Italian town, and we can be there in about half an hour, taking the coastal route along what’s called the Slovenian Riviera. Previously, when we lived back in Manchester, Italy was a flight away, and certainly not somewhere we’d have considered driving to. But, we did drive around Italy, on a road trip in 2013 and this cemented our love of this country. And, nowhere more so than in the south, an area undiscovered by us previously. The furthest south we had been before had been Naples and Pompeii and we’d not ventured over to the other side of the heel of Italy. But, in late summer/early autumn of 2013, our adventure took us over to the Apulia region and we found our love of this amazing country, strengthened even further.

From the beautiful coastline of the Adriatic and the bustling cities of Bari and Brindisi, to the iconic whitewashed hill towns, to the incredible architectural spectacle of Alberobello, we loved everywhere we visited. And, nearly ten years later, we’re planning a return. But for a very different reason, this time…

A tiny bay, just outside the beautiful town of Monopoli

A tiny bay, just outside the beautiful town of Monopoli

Morning stroll, the Monopoli way...

Morning stroll, the Monopoli way…

The photo, above, is a real stand out memory from our time spent in Monopoli. We were there mid-October, but it was still warm enough for people to be on the beach over the weekend, and like these two women, taking their morning stroll in the shallow waters of this Adriatic bay. It’s something we still talk about and this obviously made a real impression on us, as our thoughts do keep returning to this area.

Fishing boats : Monopoli

Fishing boats : Monopoli

Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia, Monopoli

Cattedrale Maria Santissima della Madia, Monopoli

Airing the bedding...

Airing the bedding…

The trulli of Alberobello

The trulli of Alberobello

Alberobello

Alberobello

Alberobello

Alberobello

Alberobello houses about 1500 trulli in its historic centre. With their circular shape, the trulli had to be built dry, without mortar, in order to allow them to be easily dismantled and reassembled and therefore avoid paying the ‘building tax‘ imposed by the Kingdom of Naples. It also is the only town whose historical centre is made up of trulli. It’s as magical as I always imagined it would be. Conical roofs – pinnacoli – are often adorned with a painted symbol. Their origin is unknown but they usually have a religious or astrological meaning, and may include planetary signs, the malocchi (evil eye), crosses, hearts and stars.

Trulli symbols...

Trulli symbols…

Many of the trulli have now been renovated and provide tourist accommodation. Some are now shops, selling traditional wares from the area, including the most gorgeous hazelnut liquer, which will definitely be on our shopping list when we return. We did stay in a trullo, but ours was about ten minutes from Alberobello, in the countryside, with amazing views down to the Adriatic. With hindsight, we’d probably not stay in a location quite as quiet, and would probably opt for somewhere like Locorotondo, Ostuni or Martina Franca. But, it was a real experience. We had a self-contained trullo, with a large living room and kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom – and those all important pinnacoli. As well as a large terrace, there was also a swimming pool – a real bonus as I’m guessing pools are at a premium in the towns.

Trulli Pietra Preziosa

Trulli Pietra Preziosa

Trulli Pietra Preziosa

Trulli Pietra Preziosa

Traditional repair of a conical roof

Traditional repair of a conical roof

So, plans are afoot to do another road trip down to this region of Italy, but this time, with a very different purpose. Not just a nice holiday jaunt – although we’ll make sure that we do enjoy ourselves – but with a view to looking at properties. We are spending the winter focusing on the renovation of our home in Istria, and when we are happy that we have done everything that we need to do it, we will start to market it again. And, by that time, we feel that we will have done our time in beautiful Istria, and be ready – and very prepared – for our next European adventure…

sperlonga : latina : italy

sperlonga : latina : italy

We’d not previously heard of this place, but now we know about it, it’s very definitely somewhere we’d revisit next time we’re in the province of Latina. Halfway between Rome and Naples, the very pretty village, perched high on a hilltop overlooking the sea, is a welcome break from the monotonous road south from Rome. Apart from gems like Sperlonga, this coastal stretch, down the west coast towards Naples is not particularly one for sight-seeing, so finding this village was a real treat. Like a lot of Italian towns, the newer part sprawls out below, with the historical centre much higher up.

Sperlonga is a warren of narrow alleyways and steep steps that often open out onto small piazzas. If you’re a bit unsteady on your feet, or with small children, you need to be prepared for a bit of an uphill climb, but it’s worth it. It’s more of a very large village, than a town, but has all of the essential ingredients of an archetypal Italian town – churches, pealing bells, small but upmarket boutiques (Sperlonga is a getaway for Romans…), very chic restaurants & bars, and stunning cliff top views of the (very well regimented) beach & sea, far below. There’s a small port which we took a stroll down to – think Monaco in miniature! There were serious boats moored up, as well as the odd speedboat zipping around the coast. All very nice!

We visited in late September – it was still very warm (air con was needed), but not stifling. The beach was beautiful – long, expansive and like I said before, very well regimented. But that’s generally Italian beaches for you. I’m not sure how I’d like Sperlonga in the height of summer and I imagine it would be very hot and very packed, but it’s a definitely a place to visit if you like history, beauty & out-of-season visits.

A friend recommended a hotel – Hotel Corallo – and we were so impressed by it, that we’d definitely recommend it ourselves. For just over 80 euros, we had a very large double room, with a large en-suite bathroom and a small balcony. Our lack of sea view (obscured by beautiful medieval buildings), was made up for by a stunning view of the sunset. Breakfast was included – if you’re not a sweet-tooth you may struggle with breakfast here, as it was a bit of a saccharine overload, but the coffee was very, very good.

Cake, cake and more cake, for breakfast...

Cake, cake and more cake, for breakfast…

Our stay in Sperlonga was short – an afternoon and an overnight stay, but because we were based in the old town, it was sufficient time to get ourselves familiar with it. It really is a beautiful hilltop town, close to Rome and it definitely does break up that very monotonous SS7 road down the west coast. And, soon, we were back in the car, leaving Sperlonga and back on that road, heading south, on the next part of our Italian road trip.

Zadar : Croatia

Zadar : Croatia

Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West in Florida, applauded at every evening.

So said, Alfred Hitchcock, on a visit to the stunning Dalmatian coastal city of Zadar. And, if he said it, it must be true…

We are now very, very lucky that we can reach Zadar quite easily. Living in Istria, it’s a beautiful drive down the Adriatic Highway – or, the Jadranska Magistrala – the 650 km long road which runs just a few meters parallel to the Adriatic sea, Running from Rijeka on the Kvarner Gulf to Karasovići on the border with Montenegro, this road is one of Europe’s most unforgettable journeys. As it it weaves its way around deeply indented turquoise bays or skirting scree-covered mountains, there’s scarcely a single boring stretch along its length. Especially when you are driving alongside the northern islands of Krk, Rab and Pag, rising like sleeping elephants out of the sparkling sea. This summer, family flew into Zadar from the UK and so we took the opportunity to spend a couple of days here, to introduce them to one of our favourite Croatian cities.

The name Zadar, means gift of the sea, and located where it is, on a peninsula surrounded by the Adriatic, it’s name makes perfect sense. As well as being beautiful, it is ancient and full of history, as explained by Boutique Hostel Forum :

The heart of Zadar, a location where it all began, is a street known as Kalelarga (Široka ulica). The people of Zadar will tell you it’s older than the city itself. Even though Zadar was mentioned already in the 4th century B.C.E. as the settlement of the Liburnians, it was the Romans who started forming the city two thousand years ago on the peninsula with Kalelarga as one of the main streets. The city was built like a typical Roman city with all its amenities. As the Roman Empire started falling apart, so did Zadar deteriorate in particular during the Migration Period, with low point in the 5th and 6th century. From the 6th to 11th century Zadar was a part of the Byzantine Empire. It became the administrative centre of Dalmatia and Venice’s equal on the Adriatic sea. And Venice sure didn’t like that becoming one of the most fierce opponents of Zadar and trying to overpower it for centuries to come. In the 11th century Zadar formed part of the Croatian lands for the first time, with Croatians becoming the majority population. The period between the 11th and 14th century, when the first Croatian university was founded in Zadar, is considered Zadar’s Golden Age. Despite constant threats and occasional pillages, Zadar flourished in every aspect during that period.

The Venetians finally managed to get hold of Zadar in the 15th century and it remained under their rule until the end of the 18th century. Zadar’s economic role was diminished and the city had to face two additional threats: the plague and the Ottomans (Turks). After a brief French rule beginning of the 19th century, Zadar became a part of Austrian (-Hungarian) Monarchy turning into a splendid, vibrant Dalmatian city yet again. Another round of ups and downs was in store for Zadar in the 20th century, with Austrian-Hungarian, Italian, Yugoslav and finally Croatian rule superseding one another. Heavy bombardments during the WWII destroyed more than half of the historical centre. The second half of the 20th century saw tourism-related rise which was again interrupted by a series of attacks during the Croatian War of Independence.

The historical centre of Zadar is small. Concentrated on a tiny peninsula, it can be walked around in a couple of hours. Of course, proper exploration will take a whole lot longer because of the labyrinth of marbled streets, opening out onto squares and parks and the coastal esplanade (The Riva), which is currently being redeveloped in places (summer 2022), ensuring that wide pathways make walking and cycling a much more pleasurable experience. The centre is a traffic free zone, but there are large, and accessible outdoor car parks, around the city. We spent two days there recently, and car parking was easy and inexpensive. There’s much to recommend in and around Zadar, but highlights have to be The Sea Organ and the Salutation to the Sun, both designed by renowned Croatian architect, Nikola Basic.

Both a piece of art and an experimental musical instrument, The Sea Organ creates beautiful chimes, using only the rolling power of sea waves. The installation looks like a series of broad steps leading down into the sea, hiding clever engineering beneath their surface, producing ever changing syncopated sounds. Close by, The Salutation to the Sun represents the solar system, with the sun and the planets in their proportionate sizes, featuring a series of circles made from photovoltaic glass panels set into the pavement. The panels gather energy from the sun throughout the day, and come evening, lighting elements beneath the glass create a mesmerizing display that simulates the solar system. The solar energy collected by Sun Salutation also helps power the entire waterfront.

Photo credit : bestofcroatia.eu

Photo credit : bestofcroatia.eu

Zadar is a city of significant historical influences, including reminders of Venetian rule, but perhaps more obviously, Roman rule. From The Riva, you can walk a short distance and be in the centre of The Forum – no roping off, no entrance fee, no restrictions. Just ancient reminders of a past, right in front of your eyes. We’ve visited Rome and Naples and Athens and other historical sites, but there’s something that’s very special about this part of Zadar. Maybe because when we first visited, we didn’t really know anything about Croatia, lets alone its history, but now we live in the middle of it and it feels so real. Not just a holiday experience, any more…

Zadar is located on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, north of Split and Dubrovnik, making it accessible by road (if you are on a Croatian road trip) or by air, having its own international airport. As well as the historical sites and architectural structures, the city is full of fabulous restaurants, cool bars, boutique accommodation – and of course, the turquoise Adriatic which wraps itself around the peninsula. A much recommended Croatian destination.

Boutique B&B Mali Pariz : Marušići : Crikvenica : Croatia

Boutique B&B Mali Pariz : Marušići : Crikvenica : Croatia

Every now and again, you stumble upon the most perfect place to stay. It happened to us last year when we discovered The Dolphin Suites, on the beautiful island of Veli Lošinj. And it’s happened to us again this year, having discovered the most wonderful little boutique B&B, in a renovated villa, high up in the hills above Crikvenica on the Adriatic coast of Croatia.

We finally had family out to visit us for three weeks – the first time since 2019 – and when we took them back down south to Zadar to fly home, we decided to do a stop over, to break up the journey home. However, my chosen hotel – the Almayer Art & Heritage Hotel – in the historical centre of Zadar, was fully booked, so the search was on to find something as unusual and special. And this was when we stumbled upon Boutique B&B Mali Pariz (“Little Paris”).

Coming off the coast road – The Adriatic Highway – we wound our way up into quite hilly territory. Renovated villas nestled next to very contemporary new builds, all with spectacular views across the bay to the northern Croatian islands. Tiny villages emerged around hairpin bends, with the obligatory abandoned houses and churches, being reclaimed by nature. We climbed higher and higher, not sure what we were going to find at our destination – but we need not have been concerned, It was just gorgeous.

A very elegant, pale pink early nineteenth century, with shuttered windows and a huge double wooden front door revealed itself as Mali Pariz, with the the hand-painted signage on the side of the building. Through the grey iron gates, the prettiest courtyard was revealed. Pea-gravels paths, lots of plants in terracotta and zinc containers, established fruit trees and creepers, growing across the walls. Hanging baskets and pots on window sills. A raised area with different sized tables and chairs. Candle holders. Hurricane lamps. Strings of lights in the trees. And, a tantalising glimpse of a upper level, with sun umbrellas and loungers – and hidden from view, so completely private, a swimming pool.

There are only seven rooms available in this boutique hotel – two family suites on the ground floor, two doubles on the first floor and two doubles in the eaves of the house, as well as a stand alone annexe in the garden. Our room was a deluxe double in the attic, up two flights of wooden stairs and through very pretty landing areas, with lots of French style furnishings.

Being right at the top of the house, the ceiling could be an issue as it sloped down, almost to ground level on both sides. It’s probably best to remember, at all times, that there are low beams, both above the seating area and the bed. As cute as our room was, the jewel in the crown of this little hotel, is definitely the outside space. Hidden behind the big gates, it’s completely private and as pretty as picture.

Breakfast is included in the room rate, but for an additional (very reasonable) charge, Martina, the owner, will prepare an evening meal, which we were very grateful for, not arriving until 7.30pm. The nearest large town, Crikvenica, is a drive away and we didn’t fancy heading out again, especially as the garden looked so alluring as dusk set in. I think because we hadn’t pre-ordered, we largely had to take what was on offer and we were offered pasta, which was fine with us. However, we definitely didn’t expect such a simple dish – spaghetti with tomato, garlic and basil – and a rocket salad, smothered in nutty olive oil, to be quite so delicious. This is our staple kind of week night dinner, but whatever Martina did with it, it was super gorgeous. Maybe it was a combination of the setting and her excellent white wine…

Self service breakfast was simple, but substantial – meats, cheeses, bread, juices, coffee – and eggs. We opted for an omelette, which was perfect – light and fluffy but browned, just right. And again, sitting under a fig tree, and surrounded by oleanders, as the hot sun shine down on the terrace, was lovely. However, the best thing was the relaxed approach to the morning. Although check out is stated as 11am, I got the distinct impression that if you were a little later, there would be no problem. And with breakfast being served until 11am, it all felt very laid back. We had the most amazing weather – in fact, the whole summer in Croatia, has been amazing – but this little boutique B&B is also well set up if the weather is a little more inclement, with a very pretty glass walled internal dining room.

If you are looking to stay somewhere that is right in the centre of the action, with bars and restaurants on the doorstep, we definitely wouldn’t recommend you book a night or two here. But, if like us, you’re looking for peace, quiet, relaxation and somewhere that is beautifully quirky, we definitely would recommend Mali Pariz. A little bit of French chic, up the hills, on the Adriatic coast.

 

 

 

nerja : andalusia : spain

nerja : andalusia : spain

We’ve not visited Nerja for a while, but when we still lived in Didsbury, we did visit often. We were very lucky that we had a friend with a family apartment there, and so if there was availability, we could make a booking and do a quick getaway from Manchester. We tended to visit in the spring and autumn, as we found it to be much less crowded and temperatures were much better for exploring the region of Andalusia. When we go abroad, we’re not keen on two weeks on a sunbed. Although we do relax, we also like to get to know places, and Nerja is a great base for getting out and about. From here, we’ve explored Almeria, Granada, the Sierra Nevada, Malaga, Seville, Cadiz and Tarifa. All not to be missed.

But, we’ve also made sure we’ve explored Nerja and got to know it well. And, the more we’ve got to know it, the more we’ve really grown to like it. Initially, we thought it would largely be an ex-pat community, and so not somewhere we’d keep going back to. It obviously does have a large Brit community, but it’s also much loved by Scandinavians, Dutch and Germans – if licence plates are anything to go by – bringing a much more cross-cultural feel. And whilst there are bars by the beach, showing football and serving all day breakfasts and Sunday roasts, these don’t dominate. If you want this you can have it, but there’s also so, so much more. And that’s what we like about Nerja. It’s easy if you want it to be, but if you want to absorb a bit more of Spain, you can do that too.

There are lots of urbanisations, up on the surrounding hills – typical modern, white washed town houses, with balconies and roof terraces if you are high enough. And, because they are built on hills, most aren’t overlooked and all will have some kind of a view of the sea, even if you need to stand on your tip toes and squint. But, from wherever you are if you are up here, it’s only a shortish walk down to the beach and the old town. There are buses, and if you take the car, plenty of car parks. The old town, with its large plaza, winding cobbled streets, white washed buildings and the famous Balcon de Europa, is very, very beautiful.

Balcon de Europa

Balcón de Europa is a beautiful pedetrianized balcony, from where you can look over the Mediterranean sea, and is one of the most popular places in Andalucía. It has spectacular panoramic views of the Sierra Almijara mountain range and the coast with its beautiful beaches, sandy coves and rocky outcrops.

Beach Life

The main beach in Nerja seems to be Burriana. It’s extensive and is large enough to accommodate lots of people without the feeling of being hemmed in. Multiple bars, restaurants, shops (selling everything you could need for a day at the beach as well as many, many clothing stores) and estate agencies, line the road along the beach. And, on the beach, there are even more bars and restaurants. Our favourite part of Burriana is to the far right as you look in from the sea. The bars are a bit more chilled and laid back, and the restaurants not lined with staff trying to persuade you to come in. The kind of places where if you do come in, great. If not, you’ll probably come in, on your next visit. The final bar is definitely our preferred one – very Moroccan in feel, with big sofas, lanterns, throws and a feeling of space. The added advantage is that just in front, but far enough away to stop you feeling over-crowded, are super comfy sun loungers and big cabana beds, with billowing curtains. Maybe because this is right at the end of the beach, and so not in the melee of volleyball nets and water sport hire cabins, it always seems quite empty when we go. Perfect!

It’s definitely not always sunshine on Burriana Beach – we have experienced torrential rain and flooding, too…

There is another beach – Calahonda –  underneath Balcon de Europa, which is very pretty, although more of a large cove than a beach.

Nerja Old Town

Like all Andalucian towns and villages, white is the predominant colour for buildings, with the odd pop of colour here and there. And, like all Andalucian towns and villages, once off the main plaza. the streets wind up and around and down, making them a pleasure to explore, especially when it’s cooler. As Nerja is quite large, there are a lot of shops and restaurants, so if you want retail therapy followed by a slap up meal, it’s the place for you.

 

 

The Dolphin Suites : Veli Lošinj : Croatia

The Dolphin Suites : Veli Lošinj : Croatia

After a long hiatus from travel, and after getting our second vaccinations, we decided to do a bit of exploring this summer. Croatia has managed the pandemic well, so far and so we felt comfortable about beginning to explore where we live. Travel in the past has usually involved flights, ferries and/or long car journeys. This one, in August, involved a car journey and a ferry – although to be fair, we’re now located right next to the northern Croatian islands, so a ferry to Cres island, lasting only 20 minutes, was more than bearable.

The kind of accommodation was really difficult to secure in August. I have a rule of thumb – if where we are intending to stay, doesn’t look at least as nice as where we live, we look elsewhere. And, with travel having recently opened again up to Croatia, a lot of European travellers clearly had the same idea. Lošinj was our island of choice as we’d heard great things about, but were beginning to think we’d need to change our plans and look elsewhere as good availability was a real scarcity. Then I found The Dolphin Suites, in the very picturesque harbour town of Veli Lošinj and made a booking immediately, for The Garden Suite, a self contained apartment with outdoor space and access to the main pool and gardens. It’s definitely been one of our better finds!

The old schoolhouse has been beautifully, and very sensitively, renovated. Now an elegant villa style building, it is enclosed by a a high wall and therefore is very private – despite being in the centre of the small harbour town. The outdoor areas are immaculate. Scrupulously clean red sun loungers, and umbrellas, fringe the pool. Which is one of the prettiest pools I’ve seen. It’s an original tiled pool – very retro – and so lovely because it doesn’t have that false bright blue hue to it. There’s an Indonesian vibe going on, with Buddha statues half hidden behind huge potted plants. At night, this area is particularly pretty, as it’s lit up.

Technically bed and breakfast, this boutique accommodation also offers evening food – more of which later, as it deserves a paragraph of its own. Breakfast is buffet style, but because of ongoing Covid restrictions, it actually became a very leisurely affair. A daily menu (which doesn’t change but doesn’t need to as it is very extensive) of what is available is delivered to your breakfast table – on the terrace, above the pool – and you just tick whatever you want. However much you want. And, as often as you want. The breakfasts we had here were up there amongst the very best we’ve had. Options included smoothies, fresh juices, teas, coffees, granola, cold meats, cheese selection and fresh fruit. The hot selection is quite simply, outstanding – particular favourites of ours were the smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and the avocado. Both are served on homemade granary/nutty toast and garnished with thin slivers of tomato and spring onion. And, the portions are large. Very large.

So, to that evening food. Because we found The Dolphin Suites to be so utterly relaxing, on a couple of occasions we left the pool area quite late and didn’t fancy moving too far from our little Garden Suite. I was told that they offered a “bar snack” selection in the evening and so on the first night we chose to opt for this, we thought we’d get not much more than crisps, nuts etc.

Oh, my word. How wrong were we?

Forget bar snacks, and think more exceptionally well cooked, innovative and beautifully presented street food. Over the course of our stay, we actually ate here three nights – obviously meaning that we do need to return to Veli Lošinj, to closer explore the restaurants. The manager – a lovely, lovely Dutch guy called Marnix – has completely nailed it, we think, on the food front. We tried a variety of dishes. On the first night, we went a bit tapas style with mixed cheeses, olives, veggie nachos, potatoes and dips, and it was more than enough. But our interest had been piqued by the mention on the menu of Flammkuchen, described to us as kind of German pizza. A bit more delving and we discovered that flammekueche, or tarte flambée, is a speciality of the region of Alsace in France, on the German border. It is composed of bread dough rolled out very thinly in the shape of a rectangle or oval, which is covered with fromage blanc or crème fraîche, and then toppings added. Similar to a white pizza, but also very different. The toppings we chose were rocket, rocquefort & pear and proscuitto, feta & rocket. Astoundingly delicious. And, absolutely nothing what we imagined a “German pizza” was going to be…

As were eating our Flammkuchen, a couple at a nearby table were served something with such a delicious aroma that we had to ask about it. “Stew”. Now, I love a stew, so I was sold on this and decided on our last night, we’d eat here again and try this. Also on the menu was Indonesian Chicken Soup, so we thought in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound. We do largely stick to a vegetarian diet but can sometimes be swayed by a good meat dish – and these were very, very good. The soup was wonderfully spicy, with lean, lean chicken fillet pieces – replicated a few times since we’ve returned. And the stew – oh, wow. The tenderest, tenderest cubes of beef, in a rich wine sauce, with potatoes and carrots – and served in a hollowed out bun. A great touch, as it soaked up the juices. No photos of these dishes however, as they were wolfed down so quickly. Testimony to how good they were. So, there you go – “bar food”…

The privacy afforded by the Garden Suite was perfect for us. All other rooms are accessed via the main reception, but we were able to just head around the corner and into our own space. No meeting other people, unless we wanted to. And with a little outside area, with very comfy furniture, which was perfect for an early evening vino and a listen to our own music. The room was spacious and like the rest of the accommodation, sparklingly clean. The shower was powerful and very spacious and the toilet was separate to the washing area. We have absolutely no complaints about the level of accommodation – and we (“I”) am very fussy – and would more than happily return to this suite.

Photos : www.booking.com

Photos : www.booking.com

Parking is free of charge, in a public (but very safe) car park nearby, and the harbour is a ten minute walk away from The Dolphin Suites. Veli Lošinj is tiny – the port, which is where you’d want to be, can be explored in under an hour. But you would then want to re-explore and re-visit as it’s just so very beautiful. We’re now looking forward to returning to the island in the autumn, to discover what life is like, when it’s not quite as hot…

frigiliana : pueblo blanco : andalusia

frigiliana : pueblo blanco : andalusia

The small white village of Frigiliana – one of the famous pueblo blancos – is in the Axarquia region of the Costa del Sol, and regularly features in lists of Spain’s most beautiful villages.

This pueblo blanco is distinctively Moorish in appearance, with the old quarter made up of narrow, winding, cobblestone streets full of small shops, tapas bars and restaurants well worth exploring. The village is actually divided into two neighbourhoods, with the upper quarter – the Barrio Alto – being where you will find the winding maze of cobbled streets filled with Mudéjar and Moorish architecture. Mudéjar is an architectural style produced by Christians but with heavy Islamic influence, and it is evident around every corner.

This upper part of town is really only accessible on foot, so trainers – or very comfy footwear – is much recommended. Your feet won’t thank your strappy holiday sandals if your wear them to explore. Allow for at least several hours to visit, because although it is small, there is endless history, a labyrinth of white washed streets and unique places to discover throughout the town. And you will keep stopping to photograph the beautiful Andalusian house and shop facades, decorated with ceramic pots and tumbling flowers in bright colours which pop against the white-wash. Arriving by car is easy, because Frigiliana is well sign-posted and the roads to the village are very accessible. There is a large underground car park at the foot of the village, so you will need to do a climb to get to the top.

We have visited Frigiliana out of season – either April or October/November and these are perfect times of year. Temperatures are warm, but bearable and the village is so much less crowded that it would be in the height of summer. Meaning that at certain times, you can find yourself complete alone and able to drink everything in, with out anyone else around you. Perfect.

Of course, Frigiliana isn’t the only pueblo blanco in Andalusia, and this article gives some good guidance to others. We haven’t even scratched the surface of these beautiful white villages, but have every intention of getting to know them a whole lot better.