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…

 

Venezia Carnevale

Venezia Carnevale

 

Apart from Easter in Seville – Santa Semana – we’ve not witnessed a spectacle quite as amazing as the Venice Carnival. We arrived in Venice on a cold, misty February morning, having booked two nights in Venice. Not even considering what time of year it was. We stepped off the water taxi, not really taking in what was happening around us, but something caught our eyes…

Mingled in with the tourists and Venetian residents rushing around, doing normal things, were figures like the one above. Some posing elegantly, clearly used to being a part of this spectacle. Some were strolling along in pairs, groups. Some had even been doing their shopping – I’ll never forget the sight of a Casanova type courtesan, carrying his evening meal supplies in a Conad supermarket shopping bag. And then it dawned on us – it was February. Carnival time!

As we headed away from the Grand Canal and further into the maze of streets and alleyways and bridges, more of these astonishingly beautiful beings appeared. We were utterly mesmerised. Initially, it felt a bit intrusive taking photos, but we quickly realised that the whole point of the promenading was to be seen and photographed, so a simple “Posso?” generally resulted in a very striking pose…

And, just to debunk the myth that Venice is prohibitively expensive, especially over the Carnival, we also enjoyed an afternoon of free theatre and opera in St Mark’s Square. An absolutely exhilerating experience, and definitely one we won’t forget…

 

 

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

Flooded Venice…

Flooded Venice…

The first time I visited Venice was on a school trip, back in 1977. We’d been on a ski trip and spent a day on the way back to the airport, in the city. It was January. It was cold. And, the city was flooded. St Mark’s Square was like a pool – I remember splashing about, as water sloshed around our ankles, so looking back, it can’t have been that flooded. I also remember the smell. It was very stinky! But, luckily, every trip since, we’ve avoided conditions like this and to us, Venice is always blue skies and sunshine.

On Monday, we set off for Venice, as family visitors were flying back to England the next day, from Marco Polo. We decided to make a bit of a trip of it and booked an apartment. We knew it was going to rain, but as all of northern Italy, and into Istria, had the same forecast, we didn’t pay too much attention to the forecast. Until we got a text from a friend who was already there. It just said…

OMG! It’s awful!

To be fair, the weather as we approached Venice, looked a little ominous.

Because we were in the car, we had to park in the usual car park – you know, the one where you have to leave your keys on the dash board! – and were greeted by attendants, clearly ready for wet weather. And a ground floor that was already flooded. Once out of the car park, it didn’t  look too bad, but everyone seemed to be wearing plastic style wellies. Or, and I kid you not, waders. (And, as we saw later, flip flops or even barefoot, as people just abandoned soaked footwear). So, four pairs of wellies were bought, and donned, and off we set for the water bus. Not a chance, as these were cancelled – and this made us realise that things could actually be a little bit bad.

The further into the city we walked, the clearer it became that this was quite serious flooding. Gangplank style platforms appeared and snaked their way through the narrow streets, with people trying to get to their destinations. To either side, people were wading through increasingly deeper floodwaters – tourists, porters from hotels (holding luggage aloft), business people.

 

 

The apartment where we staying was near the Rialto Bridge, and we can usually walk to this area, from the car park/station area in about 30 minutes. However, it took over an hour and a half as we precariously picked our way through streets which were becoming increasingly submerged. To each side, we could see shops, bars, restaurants and hotels becoming more full of water – and workers frantically trying to sweep, or pump out, the water. When we arrived at our apartment, which we chose because it was located in a beautiful little piazza, with a tiny theatre in the courtyard, the water outside was about 50cms deep and the reception area was full of water, which became deeper and deeper as the night went on. Like every other place with an entrance at street level.

However, unlike in England, where the country would have ground to a halt, life goes on in Venice. People have to work and eat and do normal things and so the city continued as normally as possible. We decided we had to venture out and eat, so the wellies were put on again and this time umbrellas were up, as it had also started to rain. Just to add to the mix! We didn’t go too far, as the water was seriously rising, but we were luckily staying near a few good restaurants where we had eaten before. Although never in circumstances like these…

At the start of the meal, the water wasn’t *too* high…

Welly wearing waiters…

Al fresco dining wasn’t too popular on the night we visited…

 

As we ate, the flood waters rose and rose…

When it’s this wet, you have to improvise…

It was quite amazing to see things just carry on as normal. Restaurants were still full – after all, Venice is mostly made up of tourists and people have to eat. Staff were clearly used to events like this (although, with hindsight, perhaps not on this scale and speed), as they deftly carried plates of food, whilst navigating the rising water. The food was super delicious, and I have no idea how the kitchen coped, but it was a very strange feeling to be eating indoors, with water lapping around your shins. And rising.

When we woke on Tuesday morning, the waters had receded, and although it was still raining, the streets were no longer flooded. Shops and cafes were open for business – and although there was a massive mopping up/drying out operation in progress, people just seemed to be getting on with it.

And, within an hour, Venice was back in business…

Water. Where water should be.

The clouds parting over St Mark’s Basilica.

The Doges’ Palace, Venice

San Marco Campanile

The morning after the night before.

Venice is always a spectacular place to visit. We are so, so lucky that we are now so close to it and never tire of exploring – and I have to say, this was one of those visits we won’t forget for a very long time. But, checking the weather, we don’t think we’ll be heading back over the next few days, as more flooding looks imminent…

 

Travels With Our Guests

Travels With Our Guests

We’ve just said goodbye to our second set of friends who’ve been staying with us for a few days. Amanda and Steve had a few days in Italy first – they flew to Venice Marco Polo from Manchester and then spent a couple of days 30km north of Venice, in Treviso and then took the train to Trieste, where we picked them up. We can be in Trieste in 45 minutes so it’s a great place to meet visitors and it’s a great introduction to our new part of the world. Although we live in Istria, which is part of Croatia, it was, until not long ago (1947), a part of Italy – and it certainly still feels very Italian.

We left Trieste in baking sunshine and arrived in Istria under dark, threatening thunderclouds. Note to visitors – bring something waterproof!

We’ve become used to our weather now – we get torrential rain and insane storms, but give it a couple of hours and we can be back out on the sun-loungers. Amanda didn’t quite believe it when I told her this, as we left them to relax for a couple of hours, while we did a supermarket run. However, when we returned, where were they? On the sunbeds 😉

As we had a few trips out planned, we spent a leisurely Friday evening, catching up. We’re getting used to the quirkiness and eccentricities of our house now, but it’s always a real delight to hear what other people think. We’re used to our Well, now re-positioned outside the front door, but every now and then, it’s good to remember that this is such an unusual and beautiful feature. It’s also very lovely when people see familiar things around them, that they know from our West Didsbury home and so very quickly relax into their new surroundings. And, have a very comfy night’s sleep…

We want people who visit us to get an insight into where we now live. It’s such a beautiful part of the world and we want to share it. We also try to think about what each visitor would like to see or experience – some people love water parks, some lovely cycling trips, some love hilltop villages, some love cities, some love some or all of these, but we’ll always try and find out what you like so that you have the best experience possible.

Saturday saw us heading over to Rijeka, on the eastern side of the peninsula, a journey which cuts through the mountains, via the Učka Tunnel. We wanted to come to Rijeka to see the Stadion Kantrida. Until July 2015, Rijeka football club was based at Stadion Kantrida, their traditional home ground for over 60 years. With Kantrida now awaiting demolition and reconstruction, Rijeka have been based at the newly-built Stadion Rujevica, part of the new training centre and the club’s temporary home ground. Following the demolition of old Kantrida, a new, state of the art, 14,600 all-seater stadium will be built at the same location. And what a location! When we take people to see it, they are always a bit wowed…

Yes, that is The Adriatic, with Krk Island shimmering in the distance.

Next stop was Opatija, a beautiful resort, much loved by the Austro-Hungarian nobility and very different in architectural style to the more Venetian/Italian style of the Istrian side of the peninsula. As it was a whistle-stop tour, we just stopped for a drink in the grounds of a hotel where The Rat Pack would entertain. Sounds swish – which it is, but very inexpensive for a round of drinks, sipped whilst overlooking the sea. As a birthday was being celebrated, we felt that a perfect spot to do so, was in a gorgeous sea-front restaurant we’ve found in the little fishing port of Mošćenička Draga – and no, we can’t say it either 😉 The beach is white pebbles and the sea the bluest of blue – and we were lucky to get a table overlooking the beach at the lovely Konoba Zijavica.

Next stop was a drive inland, to the medieval village of Gračišće. Miss the turn off for this village and you will miss something very special indeed. It’s a sleepy little village, where everything seems to move at a very slow pace – but is just one of the most picturesque places we’ve visited. Some of the houses date back to the early 1400s (dates inscribed on crooked stone lintels above tiny doorways) and the sense of history is palpable. The church sits high on a hill and the views of the Istrian countryside are jaw-dropping…

We don’t have a *local* restaurant or bar, in the sense that we used to in West Didsbury. Our local is about 4km from The House, but it is our local – because we are treated as such. We’re not treated as tourists any more. The owner greets us with “Hello, Neighbours” – we’re sure he’s actually forgotten our names, but we love it nevertherless and we want our visitors to experience it too. When we arrived, it was clear that it had been raining, very heavily too – although we’d had glorious sunshine on the east coast. In fact, the weather had been so extreme, one of the guys we know, whose English is very good, just said, “I have no words to describe it!” Well, the sun was shining now, so all was OK with the world and we were able to enjoy our sunset drinks in the warmth.

To illustrate how mad Istrian weather can be – and no wonder he had no words to describe it – we returned home to find carnage in the garden. Plants had been ravaged – the hostas which I was delighted had not been eaten by snails, looked as if a razor had been taken to the leaves. All due to a hailstorm – the pile of hailstones, which had obviously shot out of the gutter, being evidence of the ferocity of it all. And all while we basked in east side sun…

When we collect family or friends from Pula Airport, we can’t resist a quick detour into Pula. Anyone who hasn’t witnessed the spectacle of the amphitheatre is really blown away as it’s the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved, and the best preserved ancient monument in Croatia.

Next stop was Rovinj – a must for anyone who comes to visit us. We enjoyed – and all agreed – the best lunch of freshly caught sea-bass. HUGE fish and just so, so tasty, in one of our favourite restaurants, Rio, right on the harbour. No photos of said fish, as we wolfed it down 😉 However, if you’ve not seen photos of Rovinj or been before, here you go…

One of the best things about where we now live, is our proximity to other places, especially in northern Italy. Amanda and Steve were flying back from Venice and not having been before, wanted to spend a bit of time there – so we offered to take then there and stay overnight with them. What a hardship 😉

The drive across the SS14, the main route from Trieste to Turin if you want to avoid the madness of the A4 motorway, is stunning. The Veneto is really flat and you can see for miles and miles, way up to the snow peaked Dolomites. We were a bit concerned weather-wise as the rain had started, but as we approached Venice – and you always know you’re near as you can see the planes taking off from Marco Polo airport – the sun started to break through and that was it. Sunglasses back on!

Rather than walk from the car park – the one where you have to park and where you have to leave your keys on the dashboard – we thought that a water bus would be the most spectacular way for Amanda and Steve to see Venice for the first time. Nothing beats seeing it from the water. A water bus isn’t expensive – 30 euros for four of us and the journey lasts a good 40 minutes if you’re going right round to St Mark’s Square, as we were, because we’d found a great value apartment, not too far from this famous landmark.

Anyway, Venice – it just really speaks for itself…

Rialto Bridge, Venice

San Simeone Piccolo Church on the Grand Canal, Venice

San Simeone Piccolo Church on the Grand Canal, Venice

Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia

Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia

Walled courtyard overlooking The Grand Canal, Venice

Walled courtyard overlooking The Grand Canal, Venice

Approaching St Mark’s Square from the water bus

Approaching St Mark’s Square from the water bus

St Mark's Basilica, Venice  St Mark’s Basilica, Venice

St Mark’s Basilica, Venice

Cruise ship, almost dwarfing St Mark’s Square…

Cruise ship, almost dwarfing St Mark’s Square…

Venice

Venice

St Mark’s Square & San Marco Campanile

St Mark’s Square & San Marco Campanile

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice

The Bridge of Sighs, Venice

The Arsenale, Venice

The Arsenale, Venice

Those windows…

Those windows…

The colours of Venice

The colours of Venice

Washing day in Venice

Washing day in Venice

Nothing says Venice quite like a mask...

Nothing says Venice quite like a mask…

 

We were so lucky to stumble across this workshop in Venice & watch a real craftsman making the Fórcola, the typical Venetian gondola rowlock

We were so lucky to stumble across this workshop in Venice & watch a real craftsman making the Fórcola, the typical Venetian gondola rowlock

We found new places to eat on this trip too – although we did try to eat at a favourite restaurant, Al Buso, which is directly under the Rialto Bridge. The location is amazing and we’ve had great food and service there before, the last time being during the Carnival, where we had very delicious pizzas. We’d eaten lots of fish and pasta over the last few days and all were in the mood for a pizza, so we reckoned this would be a good choice. Menus were presented and the waiter (who had served us before), told us about the daily fish specials. Unfortunately, on this occasion, his mood wasn’t as customer focused and when we asked for the pizza menu – and there definitely is one – he replied by telling us if we wanted pizza, we should go to St Mark’s Square. Given that we would have spent quite a lot of money – given its location, it’s not the cheapest option – we found his attitude to be rude and condescending and left. And I vowed that I would never set foot in there again, and would tell everyone to avoid it. So, if you do ever find yourself in Venice, please join my boycott of Al Buso, located at Centro Storico fondamenta del Buso No. 5338 – right under the Rialto Bridge. We found two very lovely places and would heartily recommend these – Osteria il Milion, where the Spaghetti con le Cipolle is literally to die for, and Ristorante Marco Polo on Salizzada San Lio, where got the pizzas we wanted, and very nice they were too 🙂

So, there you go – a four day whistlestop tour of Istria and Venice.

Practicalities for Visiting

Our friends flew from Manchester to Marco Polo Venice, a flight of under two & half hours. We’ll always pick up visitors – unless you intend to come over and do lots of travelling, there’s no point in hiring a car, as we can always visit places with you. Or, we do have a Fiat Punto, a very sturdy & reliable car, which is insured for visitors to use. The only thing we’d advise you of, is that the house will seem, when you first visit, to be quite remote. However, as we – and everyone who has visited – quickly realise, Istria is a VERY small peninsula, and you very quickly get used to where we are in relation to other places, and pretty soon a 30 minute to the supermarket doesn’t seem that long at all. Especially when the road takes you through rolling hills and vineyards. Idyllic 🙂

If you’re only travelling with hand luggage, we have stocks of suncream & mosquito sprays, so you don’t need to weigh yourself down. You’ll obviously have fresh towels and bedding & the washing machine/dryer/iron etc are all there at your disposal. Consider it a home from home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vineria Cozzi, Citta Alta, Bergamo

Vineria Cozzi, Citta Alta, Bergamo

If you follow this blog or our Twitter feed, you’ll probably we know love Bergamo in Northern Italy. And Vineria Cozzi, on via Bartolomeo Colleoni, the beautiful cobbled thoroughfare off Piazza Vecchia in the old, upper town, is just stunning. It’s a family run restaurant, that is just an utter delight, decor-wise. And that’s before you’ve seen the menu…

The menu is innovative – although not pretentious so you do feel as if you actually being served a proper hearty meal. Given the standard (and quantity) of it, it’s also inexpensive. So, if you are ever in Bergamo, do yourself a favour & go visit Vineria Cozzi

 

Castello della Botta, San Pellegrino

Castello della Botta, San Pellegrino

Nothing excites us more on our travels than finding unique and unusual places to stay, and Castello della Botta, high up in the hills above San Pellegrino Terme, is very definitely both!

We were staying in Bergamo but decided to check out the spa town in the Brembana Valley, just 40 minutes away and we found Castello della Botta online. It’s located high up above the town, so a car is quite necessary – but the views down, are spectacular.

The property is described as a 16th Century former castle – maybe not quite on the scale of castles we’re used to here in the UK, but impressive nevertheless. Every room seems to tell a tale – and you can actually see the history of the building in the frescoes in the Library. Original, antique furniture fills the rooms – but because they are large, the decor isn’t over-powering.

Our room was huge, with a four poster bed, a balcony overlooking San Pellegrino in the valley below, and large bathroom with a jacuzzi bath. All making for a very relaxing stay 😉 Breakfast is served in a large dining room – and is delicious. Fresh, local produce and lots of it! We were the only guests staying at the time and this made it even more special.

We visited in April, and although the skiing season was coming to an end, there were still opportunities for a bit of snow – as well as sunbathing – action in the tiny resort of Foppolo. (A place we’d tried to get to in January but the snow was so bad, that a snowplough was stuck in drifts, blocking the mountain road and we had to turn back to Bergamo, so nice to see it. Eventually!)