The Frescoes of Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of Draguć, Istria

In northern Istria, is the small village of Draguć, somewhere I’d never heard of, let alone been to, until this summer. That’s the beauty of Istria. It’s a small peninsula and so I guess that once people who visit have been to the big-hitters – Rovinj, Porec, Pula, Motovun, Grožnjan, Rabac, Opatija – they might think they’ve “done” Istria. Not at all. The surface hasn’t even been scratched. There’s no denying the places mentioned above are stunning and all are well worth a visit, if not an extended stay. But sometimes, it’s the little towns and villages, high up in the hills, or tucked away on winding coastal roads, that are the real jewels in the crown.

In the summer we were driving back from the eastern coast towards Pazin, and saw in the distance, a village perched at the top of a hill. We see lots of these and you can’t stop at them all, but my eagle-eyed sister felt there was something a bit special about this one and so did a quick Google search – resulting in the car being turned around.

When we arrived, although it was the height of summer, it wasn’t thronged with tourists. A few people were wandering around, snapping away at the historic buildings, the Croatian cats curled up in planters, or stretched out on the cobbles, the painted shutters etc. All was quiet – and very, very beautiful. We’d read on Google about the House of Frescoes and were intrigued. Although it wasn’t quite what we’d imagined when we visited it – we thought it would literally be a house, full of frescoes – it was very informative and led to us stumbling upon something so spectacular that I still can’t believe we got up, so close and personal, to it.

The House of Frescoes was opened in the old school building in Draguć, a combined project of the Istrian Region, the Cerovlje Municipality, the Italian Veneto Region and the Croatian Ministry of Culture. They all recognized the importance of mural painting in Istria, a specific phenomenon of cultural heritage whose preservation and presentation requires significant effort and particular expertise. Although there is much more to the building, we were fascinated by the virtual tour of the churches in Istria, which were covered in ancient frescoes, quite a number being in the Draguć area. These churches, for obvious reasons, aren’t open to the general public as a matter of course, but you can have a guided tour, free of charge. Imagine that back in the UK – free of charge! And this was how we got to see inside the Church of St Roc, built at the beginning of the 16th century.

The entrance to the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The interior is completely decorated with frescoes, painted between  1529 and 1537 by  a local painter, Anthony from Padova – not Padova in Italy but Kašćerga, a small village you can see from the church door if looking out across the lake. Before our guide arrived we could only peer at the frescoes through the bars on the windows – and this was awesome enough. Once inside, our minds were blown!

The church is tiny – another small group had joined us, and with twelve of us inside, it was quite packed. So, for somewhere so small, to be covered from floor to ceiling in frescoes, was something else…

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The Frescoes of the Church of St Roc, Draguć, Istria

The fact that these ancient works of art are just there – no roping off, not behind glass, no photography restrictions, completely accessible to the public – is incredible. There is such a feeling of trust and a desire to share these masterpieces with people, and I think this instils in people a sense of responsibility and utmost respect.

This tiny church in a very small, hilltop village in the Istrian countryside could so easily be overlooked – so I guess the message is, get off the main roads and explore. Take those roads which look as if they might up in someone’s farmyard. They often do, but just as often, they end up somewhere like Draguć.

This village is less than 30kms from our village, and there are many, many more like it, all waiting to be discovered. If you have a sense of adventure and want a life more peaceful, but still withing striking distance of every amenity you could ever need, as well as two international borders in less than 40 minutes – Slovenia and Italy – have a look at this website. As we’re hoping to sell our beautiful home, so that we can begin on our next renovation project, not too far away. In fact, if you bought this house, we could be neighbours…

 

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

Hotel Navis, Opatija Riviera, Croatia

Hotel Navis, Opatija Riviera, Croatia

What a treat, a day and night away at Hotel Navis, in Opatija, is. Built into a cliff-face, and with all rooms overlooking the sea, it is situated between Rijeka and Volosko, on Preluk Bay – and for us, not too far away from our home in Istria. We spotted the hotel on one of our first drives back from Rijeka when we moved here, and vowed that we’d investigate it – which we did recently, with friends who were visiting from England. The hotel is very cleverly designed. From the road, only the sign can be seen. A steep drive takes you down to the entrance and the reception and it is only when you get out of your car, that you really appreciate how beautiful it is. Glass walls form the shell of the hotel on the reception level, creating such a feeling of light and space, and bright pops of furnishing colour add to the overall wow factor…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

We’d arrived quite early, much earlier than the check-in time, and our rooms were still being prepared. How lovely then to be greeted by one of the owners, who chatted to us about the hotel and the gorgeous Opatija Riviera – and who also brought us complimentary pink fizz, whilst we waited. Not a bad way to begin a Tuesday 😉 It was almost a shame when we told our rooms were ready, as we weren’t quite ready to leave the little terrace above the private beach…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

All rooms have balconies and all face the sea. We had a room on the first floor – Room 101 – and our friends had a similar room, on the fourth floor. You can’t miss your room – super-sized room numbers guide you easily, along the corridors. If you like your decor to be neutral, Hotel Navis may not tick your boxes, but we loved the bold colours and designs, and especially the purple, black and red patina walls, the famous coloured concrete Venetian technique.

When we stay somewhere, my rule of thumb is that I want it to be at least as nice as where I live – otherwise I could stay at home. Often, though, our expectations are exceeded – and they certainly were at Hotel Navis.

Rooms have been meticulously designed in this hotel. Dark concrete walls contrast with the floor to ceiling glass doors which slide back, to reveal a balcony and sweeping views across the bay. Our room was perfectly positioned, just above the little pebbled private beach. Rather then sunbeds, this beach has big squishy beanbags which look super comfy – so comfortable that even when some quite unexpected waves rolled in, literally no-one moved. Although that could also have been to do with the waves providing some respite from the searing heat.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Minimalist accessories and furnishings give the room an uncluttered, spacious feel…

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

Hotel Navis, Opatija

The bathrooms are also a delight. As well as L’Occitane toiletries – a class act – and big fluffy towels and robes and slippers, most rooms have a bath, as well as a shower. And, given that we have tiniest bath ever, anywhere that has a big one, gets a massive thumbs up from us.

The attention to detail continues in the hotel corridors and stairways. Huge glass and concrete planters and vases, filled with greenery (and wine corks), dominate corners and add real interest to what would otherwise be dead space. The dark colours continue – but the hotel is not dark, simply because of the expanse of glass, which reflects the sunlight and the turquoise sea.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

The hotel has, as well as the cute little private beach, a spa and treatment area, and a large sun terrace with a pool and a very stylish bar. It was a luxurious treat to just lounge around the pool, sunbathing and interspersing this with swimming in the sea. The location is so peaceful – nothing beats being able to lie in the sun and just watch boats bobbing about on the water.

Breakfast is amazing. I think it’s probably one of the best breakfasts we’ve experienced, simply because of the range and choice. As well as the location of the restaurant, which literally overhangs the water.

Hotel Navis, Opatija

As well as an extensive cold buffet – with cheeses, meats, breads, fruit, youghurts, cereal, croissants, cakes – there is also a cooked breakfast menu, with so much choice. The consensus amongst us was that we had all made the perfect choices – the lightest, fluffiest omelettes, and poached eggs with avocado and the other with truffles. Breakfast is available until 11am, and with check out until midday, it meant that we could enjoy a long, leisurely start to the day. Although perhaps not as leisurely as those who were opting for the Prosecco with breakfast. Think we missed a trick there 😉

The location of this architect designed hotel really is quite stunning – situated where it is, clinging to the rocks below a road which snakes around the Opatija Riviera, it is very remiscent of the Amalfi Coast. Although without the hoardes of tourists, coaches and back to back traffic, which makes it all the more special.

Got to be honest and say it definitely wasn’t the cheapest hotel we’ve ever stayed in – but you certainly get what you pay for. And as a treat, it was absolutely perfect. Just perfect…

 

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

After spending time on the western side of Mallorca, we decided to explore the eastern side of the island and found a gem of a hotel, called Petit Sant Miquel in the very pretty and very traditional village of Calonge. Renovated and opened in August 2018 by a Mallorcan couple, it is the epitome of relaxation in contemporary and very stylish surroundings. We stayed right at the beginning of the season, which for us was fabulous, as it meant that we literally had this small, but  perfectly formed, boutique hotel almost to ourselves.

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

The interior of the hotel is spotlessly clean and well thought out, design wise. Furnishings and accessories are subtle and stylish, in the colour tones we love – blues, greys and whites with natural touches. The ever-present Spanish floor tiles are much in evidence and as ever, just very beautiful. We stayed two nights and chose to have breakfast outside, in the internal courtyard, because the weather was gorgeous – just like the courtyard, in fact. As with the interior, the exterior just oozes calmness and effortless style. The owners certainly have good eyes for design detail. Marble topped tables, olive trees, lanterns, candles, palette planters and well thought out lighting all create an environment where it’s impossible not to feel completely chilled out. Breakfast is simple but again, well thought out – there are the usual cold cured meats and cheeses and breads and pastries and juices but these are all of a very high standard. We didn’t check, but wouldn’t be surprised if everything was sourced locally. Eggs, to your taste, can also be prepared – always a nice touch.

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

The hotel also operates an Honesty Bar, with very reasonably priced wines and beers and snacks – and the lit up courtyard is a perfect place to enjoy a drink at the end of the night.

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

So, to our room. Well, it’s no surprise it was rather gorgeous. Not huge in size, but the space had clearly been really well considered. With a big double bed, a very sizeable (and very pretty vintage vanilla coloured) wardroble and a table and chair, it had everything you would need for a short stay. The toilet and walk in shower were housed in separate areas within the room, divided by opaque glass – the rainhead shower was powerful and the cubicle was spacious. This gets a big tick from me, as there’s nothing worse bathroom-wise, than a cramped shower area. But the best thing of all – always a bonus if you want a relaxing experience – was the free standing bath. Utter luxury, especially when travelling…

Petit Sant Miquel, Mallorca

We also had a tiny little balcony (although still with two sun chairs and a table) overlooking the courtyard – and it did look as if all rooms overlooking this area had a balcony too.

But perhaps our favourite part of Petit Sant Miquel, and what originally caught our eye online when we were booking, was the rooftop terrace, with views overlooking the rooftops of Calonge, the mountains and the shimmering sea. We spent quite a lot of time on this balcony and because no-one else was using it at the same time, we had it all to ourselves. That meant no fighting over the great big sunbed, with billowing side panels. And it also meant that we had the gorgeous plunge pool to ourselves. It was absolute heaven, soaking up the sun, with a cold bottle of dry Spanish white wine…

The hotel is located in a sleepy (at least when we were there in mid-May) village, although it does benefit from two superb restaurants. Restaurant Bona Taula is a traditional Mallorcan restaurant, specialising in meat and fish. The menu never changes – it doesn’t have to as it is excellent. We had a tapas style meal of whitebait, padron peppers, cheese and potatoes, followed by the most delicious Creme Catalan I’ve ever tasted.

And the second restaurant we tried, and thoroughly loved, was Pizzeria Nou which served amazing pizzas. We ate outside in the vine and honeysuckle and wisteria covered courtyard which was just so pretty. Great food, excellent wine and wonderful service. Both restaurants are highly recommended.

We definitely think we found a bit of a gem when we discovered Petit Sant Miquel, and although we definitely preferred the west side of Mallorca to the east, next time we visit, we will be making a return to this lovely boutique hotel. (This is NOT a sponsored or paid for post. Simply our experience of our visit).

 

Hotel Grand Wiesler, Graz, Austria

Hotel Grand Wiesler, Graz, Austria

Sometimes, you see somewhere online and you just have to go. No matter what. This happened recently when I discovered the website for the Hotel Grand Wiesler, in Graz, in the Styria region of southern Austria. When we lived in Manchester, the thought of seeing a hotel online, in another country, and planning a spontaneous trip, would have been fairly unthinkable, given that we’d have had to have found flights, hired a car and generally have taken a lot more time to do the trip. But now, we can just get in the car and drive – and that’s what we did recently.

In just over three hours, from leaving our house in northern Istria, we were checking into Hotel Grand Wiesler, on the banks of the River Mur, in Graz. The website gave us an idea of what the hotel would be like – it’s a stylish website and ticked all of our We Are Life Design boxes. Recently refurbished, the building was originally five separate guesthouses which were bought by Carl Wiesler in 1870 and turned into one hotel. It’s still a very grand building, with an imposing entrance, but not at all stuffy. In fact, it’s very contemporary and extremely quirky in places. There are apparently 102 rooms, but it seems very small and boutique-like and we definitely didn’t feel as if we were sharing the space with lots and lots of other guests. High ceilings and large open spaces give the impression of plenty of space and so even when we had drinks in the bar, and ate in the restaurant on the Saturday evening, we felt that we had space to breathe and soak up the surroundings. This is the hotel entrance, with  “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” by Austrian artist, Clemens Hollerer.

The Speisessal Restaurant, which is open to the public, and clearly a popular place to dine, is a real visual feast, with bold artworks and installations. When we checked out on Sunday, the Soul Brunch was in full swing, with a DJ on the decks playing some very laid back afternoon tunes. Food, by the way, is exceptionally good – and definitely not overpriced.

Our room, on the first floor, overlooked the street behind the hotel – and what a pretty street it was too. Gorgeous shops including a florist and furniture & interiors and very interesting looking bars and restaurants, with much outdoor seating (rooms have double glazed windows so sound is not an issue) lined the street, and above, residential apartments. The pistachio coloured buildings are very old and very grand, and so for a nosey person like me, it was a thrill to be able to almost peek into them, when dusk started to fall and lamps were lit…

Our room was in the Independent Comfort category and it’s safe to say, it was large. With two huge windows, the room was flooded with light – blackout blinds ensure that no early morning rays waken you too early, though. The bed was super comfortable, and again, probably given the size of the room, very big, with gorgeous white bedding. Furniture is pretty simple – mostly white washed wood, again giving the room a very airy and spacious feel. It had everything you’d need for a short stay – fridge, safe, hanging area for clothes, a low cupboard with drawers, plenty of good lighting options (lamps and dimmers) and sockets and excellent wi-fi. The toilet was in a separate (very) small room, with a hand-painted Mexican Talavera sink sitting on a concrete plinth just outside. A very large walk in shower – and very, very powerful – was partitioned off by glass bricks and perspex door. This could be off-putting if you wanted to shower in privacy, but the size of the shower meant you could be behind the glass bricks and therefore obscured.

Although possibly not to everyone’s taste, one of the features I really liked, was the deliberately exposed plaster in places on the walls. This does seem to be a feature in all of the rooms, and works really well, against the minimalist furnishing and largely white plasterwork.

There are seven different categories of rooms in the hotel, ranging from Tiny Independent to Grand Suite. (Montage images : Booking.Com)

Secure parking is available in a public car park, at Griesgasse 10, which is conveniently located right behind the hotel – the guest rate is €15 per day, and tickets are issued at reception and paid for on check-out. Another bonus is that the hotel also includes a sauna, outdoor area, workout equipment and an Arabian tea room. The wellness areas is open daily from 7am-9pm and the sauna is open from 5pm-9pm, but you can use the wellness area outside of these hours, by prior arrangement with reception. Bathrobes and towels are available.

And, if your criteria for staying somewhere, is knowing that a few famous names have also stayed there, then Hotel Grand Wiesler is definitely the one for you – Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Rolling Stones, David Guetta, Marianne Faithfull, Billy Idol, Joe Cocker, Deep Purple and the Dalai Lama to name but a few.

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!