Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Amanda and Steve, friends who come and visit us from Manchester, usually fly into Treviso, north of Venice, spend a couple of days there and then hop on the train to Trieste where we pick them up. They keep telling us that we must visit Treviso, because we’d love it. Additionally, my sister and family visited a friend of theirs who was living in the city – and she has also told me about this wonderful city and how she’s always surprised, given our love of all things Italy, that we’ve never been there.

It’s easy to get to from our base in northern Istria, as the SS14 (we tend to try and avoid the motorway as it’s, well – mad…) runs straight to Venice, so it’s just a turn off before hitting the canals. But that’s been the issue so far – every time we’re on this road, we’re either heading to Venice with friends or meeting them, or going further west to Verona or Brescia or Bergamo. Or, back to the UK. So the turn off to Treviso is never really convenient – until this weekend.

Amanda and Steve were flying out for a short break with family and they invited us over, to join them. We always get excited at the fact that we can do this now. Just get in the car and drive and meet friends in another country. It’s what we always dreamed – and it’s now happening!

We left our home in Istria at 11am and taking the more scenic route, and we were parked up in Treviso at 3pm. Just driving through the centre of the walled medieval town blew us away, because it wasn’t at all what we expected. I’m not sure what we expected, but it wasn’t what we found. With its Venetian walls, and red bricked buildings, and many bridges over the river, and winding alleyways with tall, overhanging, balconied buildings, it is very much like Venice. But it’s also like Padua and Cesena and Bologna – but with a feeling of real identity. It’s really difficult to describe – it’s like lots of Italian cities, but like none at all.

Our apartment, Rialto 13, was situated just off Piazza dei Signori, so very central. It was on the fourth floor of a very old building, so no lift – just lots of stone steps. But, once inside it was a haven of modernity – a really, really well equipped separate kitchen which would be perfect if you were staying more than one night, a large bathroom with a washing machine (again, a plus point for longer staying guests) and a big bedroom, which was very tastefully furnished.

The Blue Apartment, Rialto 13, Treviso

Our overnight trip was unfortunately all too short on this occasion. We had a date with IKEA, the following day – and unlike when we lived in West Didsbury, it’s now not as easy as popping over to Ashton or Warrington. From Treviso our choices were east to Padua or west, and back homewards, to Villesse, just outside of Trieste. So we had to hotfoot it through Treviso to get back to Villesse – but not before we’d savoured some of the some amazing sights that the city has to offer. Enough for me to have already been looking at a return trip…

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

Treviso, Italy

The Backstreets of Bergamo

The Backstreets of Bergamo

Bergamo, located west of Milan, in the region of Lombardy, is beautiful. Often overlooked for the more glitzy (and possibly more brash) Milan, it has everything. There is the lower, more modern town (Citta Bassa) – although, as well as your retail therapy kicks, you can still soak up the history of the town. Wide thoroughfares are home to a host of familiar shops and stores – Benetton, Zara, Coin etc – as well as churches, grand residences now converted into boutique style hotels, theatres, museums, elaborate government buildings, and many, many coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Like many Italian towns, it also has a fortified upper town, Citta Alta, reached either by a very pleasant walk uphill or by the easier Funicular, which is great if you want expansive views of Bergamo and way, way beyond, to the snowy peaks further north.

Citta Alta is a walled town in its own rights – more than 4kms of walls, built by the Venetians. A couple of days of leisurely strolling and you’ll be familiar with Piazza Vecchia, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, next to it the Cappella Colleoni, and next to it, The Baptistry. You’ll walk through the impressive entrance to Citta Alta at some point – Porta San Giacomo. You’ll also inevitably walk along the main cobbled thoroughfare – Via Bartolomeo Colleoni, from Piazza Vecchia to the arch which takes you to Piazza della Cittadella and beyond to the next funicular, up to the upper upper part of Bergamo – San Vigilio.

But, you also need to take the time to look up and look around you – because as well as the more obvious beautiful sights, you’ll start to see some real hidden treasures…

Vineria Cozzi, Citta Alta, Bergamo

City Walls Topiary : Citta Alta, Bergamo

Religious iconography – make sure you look up as these pieces of artwork are all over Citta Alta, Bergamo…

Original exposed frescoes under the eaves, Citta Alta, Bergamo

I love these huge, wooden doors, with the tiny door and the big wrought iron knocker, Citta Alta, Bergamo

This wall is on a back street, in Citta Alta – just look at what has been revealed as the plaster & render falls off…

Letter box : Citta Alta, Bergamo

Gorgeous Juliet Balconies, above eye/street level. Always look up! Citta Alta, Bergamo.

Gothic glory… Citta Alta, Bergamo

Even in restaurants, you need to look up!

Through a doorway in Citta Alta and this…

More exposed frescoes : Citta Alta, Bergamo

One of Bergamo’s many, many churches : San Vigilio

Hope you’ll agree that Bergamo is pretty special – and if you’ve not been before, that maybe we’ve inspired you to investigate it, especially as it’s the perfect destination for a weekend break. Previously, we used to catch a later afternoon flight out on a Friday from Manchester and return early evening Sunday. The airport is only about 6kms from the city, so you can really squeeze out every single minute!

Officine Cavour, Padova

Officine Cavour, Padova

Our second accommodation on our weekend stopover in Padova was an apartment, slap bang in the historical centre, called Officine Cavour. Directions to the car park were great – but we struggled a little bit initially to find the actual apartment. It’s located in a small square called Piazza Camillo – perhaps the easiest way to locate it is to stand in front of the statue of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, and it’s just behind him, to the left. We stayed on a rainy Sunday in early February, so the square wasn’t exactly alive. However, there was plenty of evidence that it’ll be a different story later in the year, as plenty of very nice looking bars and restaurants were in the immediate vicinity.

The actual apartment is located on the first floor of one of the historical buildings facing into the square. We’d exchanged emails with the owners and had actually arrived much earlier than the stated check-in time, but via the magic of remote access, we were able to get in, and out of the rain, and get warm. Always a good sign, when owners take into account circumstances and don’t stick to rigid rules.

We were super impressed by the apartment. Although not huge, it had everything you would need for a few days. There were only two rooms – the main area and the shower room, and both were so stylish. The attention to detail was fantastic and it’s clear that the owners have really thought about how to create ambience and comfort.

Anyone who’s had peeks of our renovation project in Istria, will have an idea of our taste, and this apartment ticked all of our boxes. We’ve painted our interior stone walls white, simply because it would have been a mammoth task to have them all cleaned up and looking like the one above. A little bit of me does wish I hadn’t been so impatient with the white paint, and given at least one of the walls a chance, but too late now. I’ll have to get my bare brick kicks in places like this! The bed was super comfy, and with that lovely velvet wrap around headboard, was a bit sofa-like when you re-arranged the pillows and cushions. Lighting was all very well thought out – dramatic spotlights in the ceiling and cool industrial lamps, dotted around the room. I also love a bit of faux foliage. I mean, what’s not to like? No watering and no maintenance and they live forever, so these big green plants did it for me, softening up the exposed brick wall and the industrial style furnishings.

The fridge was stocked with a little mini-bar, operating on an honesty bar policy – the welcome pack just asked that anything you took, you paid 3 euros for. We *think* the bottle of water was free, as it wasn’t in the fridge, so apologies Officine Cavour, if it wasn’t. We’ll pay next time we stay 😉 There was also a generous stock of tea bags and coffee, with a Nespresso style machine. The kitchen area is well equipped – as well as the coffee machine, there’s a toaster, small hob with a couple of rings, kettle, dishwasher, plenty of very clean and well cared for crockery, glasses, cutlery and pans. Drawers were pristine – no crumbs, or signs of other visitors. Clearly somewhere that places hygiene and excellent cleaning high up on the agenda. There’s also a small table and two chairs, so if your stay is  longer than a couple of nights, and you fancy rustling up a simple meal, it can be done.

This is not an impersonal apartment. As I said earlier, the owners have clearly injected personal style and have thought about adding details to create something very lovely. Additions like the glass jar, the Moroccan style rugs, tealight holders, mis-matching lamps all add to the decor and sense of individuality. Also, I have that glass jar, so big tick!

So, two things I love about the above photo. 1. The beams and 2. the hanging plants. Again, my boxes are ticked! Having spent the best part of the last year, treating, caulking and filling, undercoating and top coating, our wooden beams (and still not finished), it’s great to see old beams looking very pretty. Most of ours were far too knackered to ever have ended up looking this good in their naked, natural state. We do prefer ours now, in the soft cool grey satinwood finish, but a good old wooden beam is hard to beat. And, from our beams, I am creating, in various parts of the house, hanging gardens. These green glass globes are gorgeous – they are all over Istria (originally used for wine, people like wine here!) and so rather than having them as floor ornaments, I’m getting my macrame head on, and making hanging globes out of them. My beams aren’t going to know what’s hit them!

I really liked this cute desk set up in the window. How simple? But how effective? A shelf and a chair, with the long curtain pulling across in front, so when it’s time for bed, you can just switch off.

Bathrooms are often the make or break for me in apartments and hotels. I’ve been known to, at best, request a room change. And also, walk out. My maxim is, if it’s not at least as good as what we have at home, I’m not staying in it. (Which is why I really do my research before booking anywhere. Multiple walk outs, and I’d be walking home). But, like everything else at Officine Cavour, my boxes were ticked. Power shower. Separate rain shower head and additional removable shower head. Long shower trap (like I insisted we have), rather than plughole. Tadalak style walls and flooring. Underfloor heating. Everything white. Big sink. Gleaming taps. Good toiletries. Great towels – I even got over the two colours 😉 Super, super clean.

This was a proper home from home. I like seeing things that I have, in places I stay – it’s always nice to see your taste reflected back. Like the tealight holder and the concrete apple. Like I say, a home from home.

Because we were only staying a night, we definitely weren’t going to cook. So, as we do in most places we stay, we decided to find an Indian/Nepalese restaurant – and Buddha Restaurant came out as the stand out place to visit. Reviews were amazing and it was only a ten minute walk from the apartment. Worth every step of the way – not a grain of rice was left at the end!

Buddha Restaurant, Via Giotto 31, Padova

Mixed veggie platter starter, goan fish curry, lentil dahl, paneer masala, garlic naan, cumin rice and a bottle of Pinot Grigio – just over 50 euros. Utterly delicious. Could not recommend Buddha Restaurant enough.

 

Best Western Plus Net Tower, Padova

Best Western Plus Net Tower, Padova

We often drive around the outskirts of Padova (Padua) when we travel back to Istria from Italy. We’ve always found it – even with Google Maps – quite a perplexing city to get out of. It’s not a big city, but the outskirts are a bit on the confusing side, so we generally use the big red tower as a marker. We’ve never really looked that closely at this tower, because it didn’t seem as if was of any relevance. Until very recently…

We’d booked tickets to see Massive Attack and they were playing at a sports arena on the outskirts of the city. Too far to walk to, we didn’t want to negotiate public transport or book taxis and we definitely didn’t want to drive, so accommodation in the centre – about 5kms away – wasn’t really an option. However, a quick search of hotels near the Kioene Arena included the red tower, above. Turns out it’s a Best Western hotel – the Plus Net Tower Hotel. We usually avoid chain hotels if we can. Not that we’ve anything against them – it’s just that there’s always so much other choice. But, this hotel was a 6 minute walk from the Arena, and reviews were really, really good so we booked a superior king room for € 89.25. To be honest, we weren’t expecting too much – so were absolutely delighted when we arrived and realised what we’d actually booked.

Parking is often an issue when staying somewhere – it’s pretty rare to find free on-site parking, and so we often have to do street parking or a car park. This isn’t a problem, as we do expect to pay if we are using our car and want to park it up somewhere – but, being able to do it for free, and not having to fight for a space, is a definite bonus. As well as lots of space at the front and to the sides of the hotel, there is also an undergound car park. All free for users of the hotel. We’ve definitely noted this, as we drive back to England fairly regularly and always seem to return – usually via Padova – with a haul of goodies, meaning safe parking is sometimes a real consideration for us.

Check-in at The Best Western Plus Net Tower Hotel, Padova

The hotel entrance is very stylish – spacious, with big, soft loungy sofas and cool lighting. I’m not sure how long this hotel has actually been open, but the interior is absolutely pristine. No suitcase scuff marks on the walls. Door handles and light switches were positively sparkling. All very impressive so far.

Room 507 – one of the superior king rooms – was quite beautiful, with caramel and cream interiors. The corner room was huge, with floor to ceiling windows on two sides, so it was light and airy. The bed was very big and super comfy, and additional bedding was stored in a cupboard. For anyone wanting to work when staying, there was a very cool desk, with an additional table and designer chairs. The bathroom was large and exceptionally clean, with a separate walk in shower.

We chose to eat in the hotel restaurant as there wasn’t anything else nearby, so we were taking our chances. However, this was in Italy where food is king. We’ve stayed in hotels in the UK, which were much more expensive than this one, and had food which could best be described as bland. This food was excellent and of a really high standard, with great choice. Not too much choice, which might have suggested that a lot of dishes were possibly frozen. Just enough to know that everything on the menu was fresh. A big basket of warm, freshly made bread was delivered to the table with oils, for us to snack on as we perused the menus. Always a good sign for me when a restaurant has the uber stylish Dag-Style menu covers…

Pumpkin Risotto and Three Cheese Macaroni, with a crisp bottle of Pinot Grigio went down very well. Incredibly tasty and just the right size portions. And for just under 40 euros, an excellent meal.

So, there you have it. A night in a chain hotel – great value for money, extremely comfortable, well designed rooms, an excellent restaurant and superb location for the Kioene Arena, where we had a date with Massive Attack…

 

Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo

Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo

On trips to Bergamo, we’ve regularly meant to eat at Il Circolino, just off Via Colleoni, up in Citta Alta. But, we’ve never done it. It’s always looked interesting. The menu has always appealed. It’s definitely inexpensive. But, in such a small city, with just so many options to explore, there’s always somewhere else to go. We always say, “We must go!” but every time we’ve decided to go, somewhere else turns our heads. Until our last trip, a couple of weeks ago.

And, do you know what, we’ve been missing out on one the best experiences we’ve ever had in Bergamo. That is how good it is!

Once through the big old wooden front doors, you enter a large-ish dining/bar area. When we visited – a Wednesday lunch time, in early January, this room was packed with locals. Some eating. Some drinking coffee and reading the day’s paper. Some with a glass of wine. Because we’d decided that this time we had to eat here, we were a bit crest-fallen, as it didn’t look like we’d be getting a table anytime soon. However, we were immediately whizzed through this room, and around a corner and into a number of cavernous dining areas. We simply hadn’t expected anything of this size – and again, all areas were packed, largely with locals – and we were lucky to get a table for two. Once seated, we were able to appreciate the amazing surroundings. If I’d had been told the building used to be a convent or a monastery or a church, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Ancient frescoes, which had clearly been uncovered during a renovation phase, were clear to see on the ceilings…

Frescoes : Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo, Lombardy

And under the frescoes, tables and tables of chatting Italians, all clearly completely familair with the surroundings. (Tourists, like us, were easy to spot, with phones held aloft, snapping away at the interiors and the food and the general buzz).

Proof they are locals – no-one else taking photos. Il Circolino, Citta Alta, Bergamo, Lombardy

This bar/restaurant is a co-operative, founded in 1981 by Aldo Ghilardi and fourteen others. According to the Bergamo website,

Il Circolino is the historic headquarters of the Città Alta Cooperative, born as a meeting place and then became a real social enterprise with the aim of keeping the community united in the light of the new economic and social transformations. Il Circolino is recognised as an Aggregation Centre for Seniors, who can frequent without any obligation to consume in a climate of conviviality. The Cooperative is committed, with the profits made from the restaurant, to multi-sport activities, job placements, cultural events, and volunteering.

We really liked this and dug a little bit deeper, to find out what the building had actually been. And what a surprise. Not a church, or a covent. A prison! And even more ticks, when the menus arrived, as just a look at them, told us that they were DagStyle menus. A bit of We Are Life Design geekiness, there – but we just know that if a restaurant has DAG menus, the food will be good. We’ve never been disappointed so far!

Italian DAG Menus – this bodes well…

The menu, it’s fair to say, was absolutely fabulous in terms of choice and price. All produce is local – I’d guess the provenance could be traced to almost the immediate locale – and we were amazed at the prices. In fact, so amazed, that had the food been a bit average, we’d still have been impressed. But, it was AMAZING. And judging by the turnover of diners, we’re not the only ones who thought this. A daily set menu is available, but I like a little bit more flexibility sometimes, and so we ordered off the normal menu. A huge basket of warm fresh bread and delicious olive oil was delivered quickly, with the house wine we’d ordered. And when I think what we paid for this house wine, compared to the rubbish you get back in the UK, for a comparable price, it makes me so happy that we can get to experience things like this, as the norm, now.

Polenta Taragna with Porcini Mushrooms // Scarpinocc de Parr with Melted Butter & Sage

Says it all really…

The turnaround in this restaurant is incredible. We certainly didn’t feel we were being rushed, and so it was clearly testimony to the efficiency of the operation that as soon as one table was finished, it was cleaned down, set up and the next diners seated. Sometimes lunchtime meals can be a bit soulless, especially if in a cavernous setting – but the buzz of chatter (no music) meant that this was a lovely experience. In fact, so lovely was it, that we didn’t want to leave. Even though tables were being turned around quickly, the staff never made us feel as if we couldn’t just savour the moment. So, more wine was ordered and the dessert menu perused. We’re not greedy, mind you. It was only lunchtime (and we still had evening meal to consider!) so it was a dessert with two spoons…

Apparently, in the summer, this place is just even more wonderful, with a fabulous outdoor terrace. So, whatever time you might go – day/night, summer/winter –  we cannot recommend this hidden gem any more highly.

Il Circolino, Vicolo Sant’Agata 19, 24129 Bergamo Italy