sperlonga : latina : italy

sperlonga : latina : italy

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

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

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

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

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

Cake, cake and more cake, for breakfast…

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

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

The Adriatic Hotel is located right on the picturesque harbour of Rovinj, a Venetian town on the south western coast of the Istrian peninsula. It is in the pedestrianised old town, full of pastel coloured Venetian buildings fringing the sea. Cobbled streets, full of the most exquisite shops, bars and restaurants, wind their way up to the top of the hill and the Church of St Euphemia, who from the top of the spire, watches out across the Adriatic Sea to Italy.

It’s one of our favourite destinations – and we know that we are very, very lucky because now that we live in Istria, we can book out of season when prices are much more suited to our pockets. It is Rovinj’s oldest hotel, dating back to 1892, the most recent refurbishment being done in 2015. The original facade has been retained and in its pale grey render, it is elegant and understated. A terrace outside, with big squishy grey and white sofas, which wraps around the front and side of the hotel, is the perfect place to while away a couple of hours, people watching or just being soothed by the sound of small fishing boats coming in and out of the harbour. The wooden shutters above the grounds floor – which comprises the Adriatic Brasserie and Breakfast Room and beautiful, beautiful bar – hint at the luxury behind them.

By hotel standards, it is small – there are fourteen rooms and four suites. All are different sizes and configurations – there is absolutely no “corporate” feel here. The ensuite rooms and suites have high ceilings with the original old-fashioned cornices retained. White walls are hung with big mirrors, wooden parquet floors have that added touch of luxury with modern black-and-white rugs. The beds are huge, with crisp white bedding and lots of pillows. Lighting is subtle (but sophisticated) and individual artworks, by local artists, can be found in every room. Coffee-making facilities are available, with fresh milk delivered and every afternoon, a little treat of homemade chocolates is delivered to your room. One of my favourite touches – as well as the hand written welcome postcard – is the selection of three mood scents by the bed. Grey-marble bathrooms have black-and-white mosaic-tiled floors, rain showers with glass doors, and Molton Brown toiletries, with matte black taps and handles and radiators. Of all of the rooms we’ve stayed in, the bathrooms have been huge and spacious and light. Communal areas are stylish – black carpets (with not a speck on them) fitted onto sweeping stairs, with almost black walls and very subtle lighting. Just gorgeous.

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Hotel Adriatic, Rovinj

Although Rovinj is packed with amazing – but reasonably priced – restaurants, including Monte, awarded a Michelin star – the hotel brasserie is fabulous, and definitely recommended. If you don’t fancy eating in the restaurant itself, room service is quite something too. All off the a la carte menu (although you can order form a smaller room service menu too) and brought your room on a trolley, presented in exactly the same way as would be if you dined in the restaurant. Breakfast too, is a real treat – an extensive menu of hot dishes, plus an array of continental options. And, as you are eating it, you can watch the glitterati of Rovinj, strolling past.

We have always paid, in full, for every stay at Hotel Adriatic and have never asked for, or received, any kick-backs. This blog is based solely on our personal experiences.

 

 

Metz : Grand Est : France

Metz : Grand Est : France

Metz Cathedral, France

We first discovered the beautiful medieval city of Metz, two years ago, on our first road trip from Istria to England, for Christmas. Positioned where it is, in north eastern France, it was a good place to stop and break up the journey to Calais. We’ve stayed a few times since – and although there are undoubtedly many fabulous places to rest our heads, we now just opt for Hôtel de la Cathédrale, which, as stated on the website, is very definitely, a hotel full of charm and character, in the beautiful heart of Metz. Housed in a 17th C building, the hotel is utterly charming, full of French antiques and, certainly in the variety of rooms we’ve stayed, oozing with vintage vibes. I’ve never stayed here and not returned home with a few ideas…

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

Hotel de la Cathedrale, Metz, France

We arrived earlier this trip, and so took advantage of the additional time we had, to take in the festive atmosphere in Metz. There’s something about being abroad at Christmas – especially if it’s quite cold and everyone is wrapped up. It’s also really lovely seeing how other places “do” Christmas – I’ve yet to see anything on our travels, that’s not utterly exquisite. See for yourself – this is how Metz does Christmas…

Festival of Lights, River Moselle, Metz, France

Festival of Lights, River Moselle, Metz, France

Metz, France

Metz, France

Metz, France

Iconic city centre buildings, such at the Cathedral (right opposite our hotel), were illuminated at night, to stunning effect…

Metz, France

Metz, France

Another advantage to staying in the hotel we stay in, is that literally next door, is the most amazing restaurant – La Cucina di Casa. Always packed with locals – no English voices, all French. Always a good sign when the locals chose it! Not only is it sumptuously decorated with rich red velvet drapes, deep red and navy blue walls and packed full of gorgeous French paraphenalia, but it also serves the most mouth-watering pizzas. Thin bases, with just the right amount of toppings.

La Cucina di Casa, Metz, France
We do keep promising ourselves that we’ll make the trip to Metz in the spring or summer as it will be beautiful, but for us it’s just such a Christmas city, that I don’t want to break the festive spell, just yet…

Road Trip : September 18

Road Trip : September 18

We’ve made a few trips back to England since we moved out to Istria, and we’ve just completed our second road trip. Driving is definitely not the quickest way to get back, but it’s surprisingly less stressful than flying. And especially landing in a UK airport. Specifically Manchester…

Last time we drove, we headed across northern Italy, through the Mont Blanc Tunnel, skirting around the edges of Switzerland and up through France to Calais. We decided to try a different route this time and headed north up into Austria, Germany and Holland. We could have chosen a very scenic, mountainous route but that would have added hours and hours to what was already quite a long drive, so we didn’t get to see the best that these countries obviously have to offer. Germany, in particular, was pretty flat for the duration of the route we took and certainly no real Instagramable moments. However, the German motorways made up for lack of spectacular scenery – although very fast, they felt very safe as everyone seemed to really respect the rules of the road. Unlike in Italy. Holland, whilst still very flat – as we expected – became a lot prettier the more north we travelled. It has to be said, all three countries seemed to manage roadworks way, way better than happens in England. There were roadworks along the way, but the traffic largely kept flowing. Until we got to England, and this was what greeted us as we left Harwich, and became almost the norm as we travelled to various points in the country…

You definitely know when you are back in the UK…

This time we decided to try a different ferry crossing, opting for the longer Hook of Holland to Harwich route. This turned out to be a good decision, because finding and navigating both ports was really easy – they are both quite small, compared to Calais and Dover and Portsmouth etc, and well sign-posted. Maybe it was the time of day/year, too but on both journeys, we embarked and disembarked and got through passport control quickly and efficiently.

We didn’t book cabins as the crossings were in the daytime, but did book seats in the Stena Lounge. This was described as a quiet lounge, where you could relax or work, in comfort. In reality, it was a little bit like a lounge in a retirement home – although with the added bonus of complimentary drinks. The crossing was a good seven hours, so for the return journey we decided to book a cabin (see below) – with a 9am departure, it seemed like a good opportunity to catch up on some much needed shut-eye, and before arriving back in Holland at 5pm. We hit very, very lucky with the weather on the return leg – brilliant blue skies and a very calm North Sea…

Now, here’s a bit of a top tip if you ever do this crossing. It does take a whole day – and a whole day sitting in a communal area can go quite slowly. So, once onboard, get yourself along to the Guests’ Services desk and enquire about booking a cabin, because if they’re not all booked, they sell them off. Cheaply. So, we bagged a triple berth cabin which had a double bed, with a single bunk above, sea view, desk area and large(ish) bathroom with good shower, for just over 35 euros. Worth every cent to be able to have some privacy, catch up on sleep and freshen up. We’d also pre-booked lunch in the main restaurant – at 16 euros for two courses it seemed good value. And, we weren’t disappointed. The food was good restaurant standard and the portions very filling. Although it did all feel a bit “Triangle” when the Prawn Cocktail & Marie Rose Starter arrived. No Kate O’Mara though…

Retro North Sea lunch…

We’d never been to Harwich before, and needed somewhere to stay when arrived as we didn’t dock until 7.30pm, but to be honest we struggled a bit finding somewhere that looked appealing. However – and here’s another top tip – Walton-on-the-Naze is only 20 minutes away and I remembered our last stay here, at the beautiful Georgian Townhouse. There was availability on both nights we needed (arrival & departure) so we booked again. It was like a home from home and everything we remembered. Beautiful room, bathroom with a roll-top bath, super comfy bed, excellent breakfast, uninterrupted sea views and wonderful hosting from Chris & Geoff. Do yourself a favour if you’re ever Essex way and make a booking. You won’t regret it.

On the way back, we decided to take more of a tour through Switzerland. A word of warning coming up here – if you are going drive on a Swiss motorway, and you’re only passing through, get on Google Maps or which ever app you use, and find a route that AVOIDS motorways. You have to have a vignette to drive on the motorways – if, like us, you hadn’t realised, as you approach the motorway, the police will syphon you off into a lane where you then have to buy a vignette. At a cost of 40 euros! Once we’d got over the shock of this unexpected expenditure, we realised that actually this wasn’t too bad for us, because we can get to Switzerland quite easily and now having paid to drive on the motorways, we’ll probably explore it more over the next year. But, as I say, if you are literally just passing through, it’s quite a hefty fee to pay – especially if you’re unfortunate enough to join at one junction and exit at the next…

Having said that, and we didn’t even get high up into the mountains, Switzerland is beautiful and it was probably worth the 40 euros to see the little that we saw. I’ve since read this excellent article from The Culture Trip and will be definitely using this as a guide next time we visit, because we were a little bit captivated by Heidi Land.

We sailed a return trip with Stena Line for less than £250 for two of us, plus a car. If you book seats in the Stena Lounge, drinks (wine, soft drinks, water, tea & coffee) are complimentary – and although you could get well and truly sloshed, as there was no limit applied to how many times you could refill your glass, it didn’t seem quite the right thing to do on this occasion. As well as the restaurant where we pre-booked lunch (we didn’t realise the ferry would be quite as quiet as it was, so a booking, post summer, is probably not necessary), there is also another restaurant which serves hot food and when I looked, had a really extensive selection, including veggie options and salads, sandwiches etc.

So, will we be doing a road trip again? Yes, most definitely. It gives us freedom. We can decide how long we are going to be away, plan the route to suit ourselves, and have the bonus of having an empty car we can fill up with goodies when back in England, and en-route. Those French hyper-markets are just too good to not factor in a few wine stock-up stops!