cagliari : sardinia : italy

cagliari : sardinia : italy

Cagliari is a city like no other Italian city we have visited. It’s a port city, and it wears its history on its sleeve. Everywhere you go you come across traces of its rich past, from ancient Roman ruins, to museums filled with prehistoric artefacts, to centuries-old churches and and elegant palazzi. It is located on the Bay of the Angels (Golfo degli Angeli) and, like Rome, it was built on seven hills, which identify the historic neighbourhoods of the city. The port area is busy, busy, busy – the main road runs along the sea front and cars and buses and vespas and motorbikes whizz past, so you need to be on your toes. Once on the city side though, it reveals itself as a beautifully elegant place, with imposing, honey coloured buildings, with elaborate balconies and shuttered windows, facing the sea. Wide tree-lined boulevards are packed with cafes and bars, and people catching up, eating, drinking and generally making life look pretty wonderful!

We stayed in an apartment, up the hill from the sea, but still “downtown”, on the beautiful Piazza Yenne. The piazza is bordered by bars and restaurants at ground level, and is lively. But, look up, and you see those beautiful buildings with balconies and railings and shutters. Our apartment was on the top floor of one of these buildings and have been exquisitely renovated – with sound-proofing, too, so we could shut out the noise when we wanted to. Piazza Yenne is the main meeting point for locals, especially during the hot summer nights. People gather here to have a chat before moving on; to sit in the terraces of the many cafes and bars, or simply, to passeggiata. Over the course of two visits to Cagliari we were there for four days in total, and so managed to get out and about and explore quite a lot of the whole city. It’s magical. It’s beautiful. It’s raw and feels real, the kind of city you could actually imagine living in.

You can either climb up to the upper town, or take a glass street elevator (at the top of Piazza Yenne) – whichever you prefer, just do it, because the upper part of town is even more beautiful and the views even more spectacular. It’s also not quite a crowded and busy, so you can feel a little more as if you have bits of the city to yourself, even in the height of summer.

 

 

ca’ amadi : venice : italy

ca’ amadi : venice : italy

One of the joys of staying in Venice, is trawling the internet beforehand, to find where you are going to stay. We’ve stayed in apartments and hotels, and thankfully have never had a bad experience. I do spend a lot of time reading reviews, scrutinising websites, looking a photographs, identifying the location and what’s in the vicinity. I think a bit of homework always pays off, as I’ve seen places we’ve rejected online, in reality, and for a variety of reasons, our research has always paid off.

Ca’ Amadi is a hotel we’ve stayed in twice, and on both occasions, have loved it. It’s initially quite tricky to find, because it’s in a courtyard, off an alley, off a road, but perseverance pays off. Google Maps, in the centre of Venice is a bit hit and miss, but it’s not too far from the Rialto Bridge and so if you keep this as your main bearing point, you’ll eventually find Ca’ Amadi, On our first visit, it was clearly in the early stages of a renovation, as scaffolding was up outside and on the second visit, interior work was happening. From checking out the website recently, it’s clear the renovations have been completed because it’s now even more beautiful than when we stayed. It’s a very authentic Venetian residence, once home to the family of Marco Polo, no less. As stated on the website…

This small boutique hotel is housed in the noble floor of a palace dated 13th century and still preserves many traces of its long history. Entering the hotel, you’ll be welcomed in a large salon with ancient wooden ceilings, facing on one side a picturesque canal and a typical Venetian court on the other. In this place, full of memories and emotions, you’ll be able to relive the splendour of the Republic of Venice and, at the same time, enjoy the most modern comforts. History, culture or just a break in the frenetic daily life: at Ca’ Amadi every traveller can find what he’s looking for.

And, if you are ever in this area of Venice, forget eating out anywhere near the Rialto Bridge – and take our advice and visit Il Milion, reputedly the oldest osteria still opertaing in Venice. With a tradition extending back more than 300 years and a location near the rear of San Giovanni Crisostomo, this restaurant is named after the book written by Marco Polo, Il Milion, describing his travels. In fact, it occupies a town house once owned by members of the explorer’s family, just like Ca’ Amadi, which is literally about thirty metres away.

At Osteria Il Milion, a simple, nine-table restaurant set in a tiny courtyard across from the home of Marco Polo near the Rialto Bridge, you will find some of the finest local seafood. One of the city’s oldest dining establishments, its name is derived from a story about Marco Polo, who was said to exaggerate the millions of things he had seen and the millions of miles he traveled, earning the ironic nickname, “Il Milion.” The food here, most notably the tagliolini with spider crab, risotto with scampi and zucchini, and John Dory and grilled polenta, has clean flavors that are not masked by sauces, butter, or cream. The ingredients are so fresh and intense that there is no reason to hide them. “I eat here every day,” says owner Roberto Bocus, “so it has to be good.”

And, if you take our advice and eat there, do make sure that you order the Spaghetti con le Cipolle – I promise you will never have tasted onions as sweet. We’ve eaten there a few times, and again every meal has been memorable – perhaps none more so than the Aqua Alta of 2018…

 

 

oprtalj – step into the past…

oprtalj – step into the past…

Our nearest town, Oprtalj, isn’t really a town. At least not in the sense of what we’d regard as a town back in the UK. Oprtalj is not much bigger than Burton Road in West Didsbury, but with a couple of restaurants, a wine bar, a school, a food shop, an interiors shop, a gallery, a boutique hotel, a loggia, a church, a campanile, a cashpoint (rare in these parts), a town hall, a post office and a town square, it has plenty going for it. Many of the properties in Oprtalj were abandoned over the years – successive regimes ensured that many families upped sticks and left – and so there are plenty of buildings which are being reclaimed by nature. But, life is being breathed back into Oprtalj. Like much of Istria, tourism is a big industry here (and so the area has been hit hard this year), so many of the properties have been bought and redeveloped. However, once inside the city walls, there are very strict regulations as to what you can and can’t do to one of these old properties – even the external paint colour has to be from an approved list, but it does mean that that sympathetic restoration is ensured.

Sitting on the top of a hill, the town has stunning views across the Istrian countryside – vineyards and forests and small villages and in the distance, the shimmering Adriatic. In the winter, when the clouds are low, we can be shrouded in fog, making it really atmospheric – it’s hard to imagine on days like these, how beautiful the vista below actually is. But during the summer – and especially this summer, when days have been long and hot and lazy – it really comes into its own, especially when the sun shines on the pastel coloured buildings. Being so close to Italy, and having been ruled over by Italy throughout the ages, Oprtalj has a real feel of a Tuscan hill town. It really is our little corner of Italy…

We are hoping to move a little closer to Oprtalj, and so are selling our beautiful renovated Istrian stone house. It is about 4kms from the town, located in a lovely village, which is quiet and peaceful. If you are interested in investigating our house for sale, do visit our website.

waste not want not panzanella

waste not want not panzanella

Waste not, want not.

We’re trying very, very hard to live a much more sustainable lifestyle and to really take note of what we buy. In the past, we might have popped into Manchester and come bag with bags of *stuff* that we just didn’t need. We don’t do this now. Because we’ve kind of had to start from scratch, with our Istria house, we’ve had to be a lot more careful. OK, so we had all of our furniture and boxes of accessories etc from our West Didsbury house, but we also now have a house with a whole lot more floorspace, so we’ve had to think carefully about how we furnish and accessorise it. Upcycling and recycling has played a much bigger part this time around – and it’s very satisfying to see something we’ve actually created.

But this is not the only aspect of our lives, where we’re trying to be more careful. Rather than chucking food which we think looks a bit “off”, we now try to eat what we buy when it’s fresh. Or, certainly in my case, being a bit braver with food and not think I am going get food poisoning if it’s a day or two past its best.

Like the ciabatta loaf that hadn’t been eaten quickly enough this weekend, and was too hard to do much with. Like the tomatoes which had gone a bit too soft. Like the jar of anchovies which had been opened for a pizza a couple of nights previously and needed to be eaten. Then I remembered a dish I had always intended to make – but then never got round to, because I’d always chucked the perfect ingredients for this recipe. Those a bit on the stale side, and just past their best. No excuses this time, as I had everything to hand…

PANZANELLA

Panzanella (or panmolle) is a Tuscan salad, the main ingredients being stale bread, onions and tomatoes, with red wine vinegar and olive oil. We had a few more ingredients to hand, so threw these in, too. The easiest and quickest dish to make – even adding in the additional time to roast the peppers.

Ingredients

  • Stale ciabatta loaf
  • Over ripe mixed tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 handful small capers (drained)
  • 1 small red onion – peeled and finely sliced
  • A couple of red peppers, chopped & roasted – make sure the skin blackens in places for extra flavour
  • About 10 small anchovy fillets in oil, drained and chopped up
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • Torn up fresh basil leaves

And this is how simple it is to make…

  • Chop the red peppers, smother with olive oil and black pepper and roast for about 30 minutes.
  • Place the chopped tomatoes in a big bowl and season with salt and pepper, and then add the red peppers when roasted.
  • Rinse the capers, squeeze out any excess liquid and add to the bowl, along with the sliced, red onion, ciabatta and anchovies.
  • Toss the mixture together with your hands, then stir in a splash of red wine vinegar and about 3 times as much extra virgin olive oil.
  • Taste and add a little more salt, pepper, vinegar or oil, if needed.
  • Tear in the basil leaves, stir together and grate parmesan cheese over the salad.

Serve, with a lovely glass of chilled wine. The perfect Italian salad, using what you probably have in the kitchen anyway.

 

 

 

treviso : veneto : italy

treviso : veneto : 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