Lake Maggiore

We’ve just returned after a rather spontaneous trip to Italy. It took us about 5 days beforehand to come up with the idea, or to be precise, it was my sister who came up with the idea of us all together going to Lake Maggiore. So we did, and even ended up also going through some parts of Switzerland, as we were near by and thought why not to explore further on. As a result, it proved once again, that deciding and planning things on the spot, it’s not always a bad idea. Sometimes it’s necessary to forget all the travel books and just drive where it takes you, discovering the things as you go along.

Magnificently scenic, Lake Maggiore has a unique geographical position: it borders with Piedmont, Lombardy and Ticino canton in Switzerland. It is the second largest lake in Italy, it stretches nearly 50km and has a depth of 372m. It’s a great destination for someone who’s interested in enjoying the harmony of peaceful atmosphere, Italian food culture and historical sights.

Along the lake there’re numerous villages and cities worth visiting. Below there are just few of them, which were particularly highlights for us. On the first day we visited Laveno Mombello, Ispra, Arona and Stresa. Most famous of them are two below:

Laveno Mombello, Italy

In the 19th century, Laveno Mombello was home to important ceramic industries. Today, it is a port town that connects the province of Varese with Verbania and the famous Borromean Island across Lake Maggiore.

Stresa, Italy

Once a fishermen’s village, now a popular tourist attraction, mainly because of descriptions of famous writers such as Stendhal, Byron and Dickens.

Town prospered in the 1800s with two noble families in town, the Borromeo and the Visconti. When steam ferries and rail lines increased in this zone, tourism traffic to Stresa and Lake Maggiore increased as well. Some grand hotels were built and famous travellers followed, like Rockefeller, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, George Bernard Shaw and Hemingway. Stresa became known as a spa center.

On the second day we drove to Switzerland and visited Lugano, Bellinzona, Locarno and finishing our day back to Italy in Luino.

Lugano, Switzerland

Lugano is the largest town in the region of Ticino, it is not only Switzerland’s third most important financial, banking and business centre, but also a town of parks and flowers, villas and other important historic buildings. The two closest mountains to Lugano, Monte San Salvatore and Monte Brè, give you an outstanding panorama of the town, Lake Lugano and the alpine scenery.

Below there is a mix of our highlights in pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Road trip through Somerset & Raspberry Oat Slices

Over the Easter break we spent two nights, three days in rural Somerset, having a little road trip and visiting National Trust places. I know it sounds very grown-up, but we find it very therapeutic after a busy and sometimes stressful week to get away from towns, shops, news, chores and reconnect with the nature and simple things.

For some of you who are not familiar with National Trust, it is charity that works to preserve and protect historic places, spaces and historic landscapes.

Our fist stop was Montacute House, a grand Elizabethan mansion house with what used to be described as an ‘Elizabethan garden’.

Then we moved on to Lytes Cary Manor, which is much more intimate medieval manor house with its beautiful Arts and Crafts-inspired garden, was once family home to the Elizabethan herbalist Henry Lytes.

Next day we visited a place called Tyntesfield, a Victorian country house and estate, which serves as a backdrop to the story of Gibbs family who built their wealth from the guano trade. They transformed a Georgian house to a Victorian Gothic masterpiece and filled the house with the incredible collection of more then 60,000 objects.

This paces is amazing and so different from any other NT places we’ve been, it’s huge and packed with so many interesting things, that one visit is not enough to fully appreciate and experience everything this house has to offer.

On our last day before coming back home, we went to Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum and Lacock Village. The Abbey itself has almost 800 years of history of previous owners with sophisticated taste, who turned it from a nunnery into a quirky family home, furnished with well-loved mementoes and furniture. It was also a home of William Henry Talbot, creator of the first photographic negative and now this place counts as a birthplace of photography.

I also want to mention the place where we stayed for two nights. I found it on airbnb the night before we left, what luck it was. It is a small converted barn at Amberwell, small village of Alhampton, run by a lovely couple Jeffy & John. This place is perfect for the people who appreciate a low key country retreat, but at the same time Jeffy and John made you feel like a very special guests, providing everything you need for your comfort and more. The weather wasn’t great during our stay, but we didn’t mind at all, because after our day of the house and grounds trotting we were coming back to most comfortable and relaxing place with the log fire.

If you are in UK the and looking for the week-end away, I can not recommend this place enough: https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/23850201

While we were there Jeffy treated us with tea and homemade raspberry slices. They were so good, that  I had to ask for the recipe and make them as soon as possible. It turned out to be one of this very uncomplicated bake, which proves again, sometimes less is more. And thank you again, Jeffy, for introducing these to us.

These oat slices are something in between flapjack and biscuits, and absolutely delicious. The original recipe asks for raspberry jam, since we arrived I already made them twice, once with the raspberry jam and another with homemade blackberry and apple, and the next time, I’d like to try them with the apricot jam. So here is the recipe (originally came from allrecipes.co.uk):

RASPBERRY OAT SLICES

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons light brown soft sugar

125g plain flour

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

pinch salt

100g porridge oats

125g butter, softened

250g good quality raspberry jam

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C. Grease one 20cm (8 inch) square cake tin and line with baking parchment.
  2. Combine brown sugar, flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt and porridge oats in a large bowl. Rub in the butter using your hands to form a crumbly mixture.
  3. Press 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared cake tin, reserving the rest for the topping. Spread the jam over the base, but not quite to the edges as it will spread.
  4. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top and lightly press it into the jam.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes in preheated oven or until lightly browned. Allow to cool before cutting into slices.
  6. Enjoy with a cup of tea!

 

 

Gubbio, Umbria, Italy

Lots of people I recently talked to, even some experienced travellers, never heard of town called Gubbio, one of the great Medieval stone towns in Italy. I don’t know why it gets overlooked by all sorts of tourists guides?

If you like history, Medieval architecture, Gothic palaces and churches, cobblestone streets, markets and good food, plus all in a beautiful natural setting, but far from the mainstream tourist flows, you don’t need to look any further. Go to Gubbio!

 

Bellagio, Lake Como

Lake Como is a timeless classic. For hundreds of years it’s been a popular destination with the rich and famous but there are plenty of things to do at Lake Como for the humble tourist. I found that it doesn’t matter how lavish looking are the hotels and restaurants around, the natural beauty of the Lakes and surroundings are taking advantage and overshadow everything else. So much beauty in one place!

Lots of people can be put off by thinking it’s the exclusive place of holidaying oligarchs and film stars (George Clooney has a place there). I also thought initially that it’ll be too much for our budget. But if you opt like we did for self-catering, it can be very affordable, because all the best things there, like breathtaking scenery, fresh air, swimming in the lakes, wonderful walks around are FREE!

We stayed in Bellagio – perhaps the most well known town on Lake Como, but the house we rented situated just outside of city centre, perched on very VERY steep hilltop. And although the walk to the town and back required physical effort at least twice a day (well, we have to burn off all these Apperitivi and gelato some how!), we were rewarded with peaceful surroundings and the most stunning views.

 

Ortigia, Sicily

Ortigia island is the oldest part of the beautiful city of Syracuse in Sicily. It is rather small and best enjoyed by foot. Perfect for strolling through the narrow lanes, admiring the buildings and sea views, dropping into churches, stopping for a drink or a great meal. There is so much to see over there, the place is packed with hidden gems and usual finds. The layers of history are everywhere  – Greek & Roman ruins, the great Duomo, ancient baths below ground, Baroque buildings and some modern addition architectural pieces are fun to explore.

We stayed in a district of Guidecca, with very narrow streets, typical medieval houses and clothes hanging from the balconies. This district used to be a home of Jewish community. Many buildings were built around a courtyard, which had a palm and citrus tree in the center. You can still see someone of it. The local people of Ortigia are very friendly and welcoming, the tourist traffic this time of year was light and the experiences were unforgettable!

Be aware: pictures overload!

 

Taormina, Sicily

‘Taormina’s past is Sicily’s history in a microcosm: Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, the French and the Spanish all came, saw, conquered and left.’

Taormina has been the most popular tourist destination in Sicily for a couple of hundred years.  Although normally, we try to avoid too touristy places, this time we couldn’t possibly miss this little place. If it was worth visiting for Oscar Wilde, Goethe, Alexander Dumas, Truman Copote, Greta Garbo and many others, it should be worth visiting for us too. So we did, we visited and liked it a lot.

Taormina is home to one of the most famous Greek Theatres in the world. Here, in summertime the main events of the International Film, Music, Dance and Theatre Festival of Taormina Arte take place. Hence so many celebrities gather here. Besides the ancient Greek Theatre, it has many old churches, lively bars, fine restaurants and all sort of shops(mainly expensive!).

Taormina is not by the sea, it is above the sea, at 200 meters. You can walk up to the top or take a cable- car. To be honest, it is usual to find an absence of any signs in Sicily, here was the same. So we didn’t see the cable-car straight away and decided to take a walk. Luckily it wasn’t a mid summer day, however, it still was rather warm and it took us nearly an hour to climb up there. We recuperated after with a large drink… Aperol Spritz. 🙂

Catania, Sicily

We’ve just returned after our week-long holiday exploring the east coast of Sicily. What a great country, full of surprises. Before we even left, we had a surprise – Etna started to erupt the day before our departure. Luckily, it didn’t affect out flights. Actually it was just a bonus for us, to see it quietly bubbling away, spitting the lava it was something magical. (Note: it wasn’t bad eruption, no-one injured, so it’s all good!)

Our trip started in Catania, Sicily’s second city. Catania is vibrant, loud, full of traffic, shabby but beautiful! It is like ginormous hot pot, with Etna on top, literally bubbling at the time we were there.

I read somewhere an interesting fact that Ancient Greeks believed Mount Etna to be the home of Vulcan, the god of fire. To the Ancient Greeks, every time Mount Etna erupted, it was merely a sign that their god of fire Vulcan was creating weapons for their God of War, Mars. Despite the frequent volcanic activity, people still choose to live in the vicinity of Mount Etna though.