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Blog, Italy, Rome

Atelier Canova Tadolini, Rome – EAT

February 18, 2017
Museo Canova Tadolini, Rome

While I always try my hardest to be as ‘un-touristy’ as possible, especially when in Rome, where I like to consider myself almost a local (shame I don’t speak the language!), sometimes it’s quite fun to do something a little touristy and a little naff.

Having lunch at Atelier Canova Tadolini is one of these things worth doing.   We had a hilarious time, eating between the various classical busts and statues.  It was surprisingly quiet when we had lunch there, and made it almost feel like we had a private dining experience, were it for a charming French family who sat next to us.

Atelier Canova Tadolini, RomeAtelier Canova Tadolini, Rome

The staff were lovely, smiling at us as we took the mandatory photos of us having lunch.

And the food was surprisingly good.  I would stick to the ‘primi’ dishes – the pasta and risotto options – which were very rich but delicious.  I opted for the zucchini flower risotto which was a real hit, and my other favourite was the pecorino and black pepper home made pasta in the parmesan basket which is very typical of Rome.  The prices are also very reasonable.

Atelier Canova Tadolini, RomeAtelier Canova Tadolini, Rome

We left after a strong espresso to give us more energy to continue exploring the city.  While this isn’t on my top places to eat in Rome, I would recommend it, even if you just stop by for a coffee, because ultimately it is a fun and different experience.

Oh, and book ahead.

Ristorante Atelier Canova Tadolini

Via del Babuino 150/A

0039 632110702

Blog, Italy, Rome

The Terrace at Hotel Raphael, Rome – DRINK

February 18, 2017
Hotel Raphael, Rome

When in Rome I am forever trying to find new bars, preferably with good views.  The terrace at Hotel Raphael goes to the top of my recommendations.  Even though it was January and fairly chilly, it was so special having this terrace completely to ourselves.  And with it the most stunning 360 degree view of Rome.

Hotel Raphael, Rome

The hotel itself is Relais & Chateaux, and has a wonderful location right behind Piazza Navonna.  I’m not quite sure if I would recommend staying there though – the interiors were modern and I felt lacked taste.  Even the (vegetarian) restaurant on the top floor lacked character or atmosphere, though it has great views.   But the multi-level terrace is something else.  I can imagine it being wonderful in the summer, where you can enjoy a warm summer evening with a cold glass of prosecco or even have dinner outside (the terrace is part of the restaurant).

Hotel Raphael, Rome

A drink with a view like this comes with a premium.  This is not the place for a cheap drink.  A bottle of prosecco will set you back about 36EUR.  But it’s worth it as the staff are wonderful, friendly and warm, and they also brought out some aperitivo.

Hotel Raphael, Rome

Hotel Raphael, Rome

We had a very special time here, and spent a number of hours drinking and enjoying the view. And watching the sun set over the eternal visit.  I would highly recommend a pre-dinner drink here.

The Terrace

Hotel Raphael

Largo Febo, 2

Rome

Blog, Italy, Rome

Il Tiaso, Pigneto – DRINK

January 29, 2017
Il Tiaso, Rome

I’m a big fan of wine bars.  This might be because these days all I really tend to drink is red wine, but wine bars appeal for other reasons too.  In my mind it attracts a different kind of person than some swanky cocktail bar, and I’ve never met a wine bar owner I haven’t liked.

And this was very much the case of the super charming Andrea, the owner of Il Tiaso in the hip,  former working class district of Pigneto. We walked into this small but fantastic establishment at around 11pm, and it was, of course, completely full.  But rather than turning us away, Andrea made sure he got us a table.  We may have been a little squashed but we managed to get a perfect tiny table at the back, from which we could observe the rest of the bar perfectly.  We also discussed the area with him, and he shared his favourite restaurants with us (Mimi e Cocozza and Mister Manzo).

Il Tiaso, Rome

A large floor to ceiling wooden book case takes up the majority of the space, and I decided instantly I’d love to have a book case like that at home.  Filled with books and bottles of wine (mainly wine) it added a charm to the place, even the lamps were made out of old wine bottles.  The dim lighting helped create the atmosphere, as well as the fact it was packed with locals.  What was even better is that we weren’t made to feel like we were tourists, when it was fairly obvious we were.

Il Tiaso, Rome

We drank another bottle of Barbera here (as well as some prosecco), which my father when hearing it was only EUR 18, feared would be fairly rubbish.  Wrong.  The wine was very good, and we enjoyed a loud and cheerful evening here.  In the summer there’s a terrace, which I imagine fills up quickly too.

While Pigneto has plenty of bars and cafes to choose from, Il Tiaso won for me, and has become one of my favourite wine bars in Rome.

Il Tiaso 

Via Ascoli Piceno, 25

Pigneto

Rome

Blog, Italy, Rome

Primo al Pigneto, Rome – EAT

January 29, 2017
Primo Pigneto, Rome

On my latest visit to Rome we decided to be more adventurous and explore areas outside the Centro Storico (the historical centre).  Last time we had ‘braved it’ for the first time, and taken a taxi to Marzapane, about a 10 – 15 minute taxi ride away from Piazza Navona.  It had been such a success that it gave us confidence to continue exploring Rome’s less central areas.

This time, we started with Pigneto.

Pigneto is an eastern ‘suburb’, though it’s only a 15 minute taxi ride away (or Metro journey) and you could probably compare it to Dalston / Peckham / Hackney in look and feel.  It’s up and coming but technically already ‘up’, all the (hip) restaurants and bars were certainly heaving on the Friday night and while this isn’t really an area you’d come to for sightseeing, if you’re looking for good (and super affordable) food and drinks, then you’ll love it.

The main focus of the area is around the aptly named via del Pigneto, a pedestrianised street lined with vibrant restaurants and bars.  I could easily have stopped to eat at a number of places, but we kept walking until we got to Primo.  While we were pretty much the first people there (at 20:15), it didn’t matter at all. The staff are so charming and welcoming, that you immediately feel at home here.  The interiors are laid back industrial, but with a warmth you tend not to get at places like this.

Primo Pigneto, Rome

We all fell in love with our waiter Leroy (yes, that really was his name), who was beyond helpful and put up with our ridiculous conversations.  And we enjoyed all our food, the highlights being the grilled octopus with horseradish cream to start, and the lemon curd for pudding.  The only dish which was disappointing was the veal sweetbreads with truffle, which were chewy and any taste of truffle was strangely absent.  But the pasta dishes were all excellent, and I liked their original way of doing tiramisu with ice cream.

Primo Pigneto, RomePrimo Pigneto, RomePrimo Pigneto, Rome

The wine menu is wonderfully affordable (we drank an excellent Barbera D’Asti for EUR26 a bottle), and they also have organic wines if that’s your thing (it’s not ours).

And afterwards you can stumble across the street to the wonderful Il Tiaso winebar (or Spirito andCo.So if you want cocktails), and continue to indulge in fantastic Italian wine.

Originally when we got out of the taxi in Pigneto my father asked me why on earth I’d taken him there.  That night he understood why.  And if my Dad can think areas that Pigneto are ‘really cool’, then it’s most definitely a winner.

Primo

Via del Pigneto, 46

Rome

Andalucia, Blog, Bologna, Croatia, London, Mexico, Mexico City, Prague, Rome, Sicily, Spain, Tulum

BEST OF 2016: MY FAVOURITES

January 1, 2017
City Turtle 2016

2016 was another busy year of travel.  I enjoyed a record number of European city breaks (Rome, Prague, Bologna, Istanbul, Marbella, Paris, Amsterdam) and a few brilliant longer trips to Miami, New York, Hvar, Andalucia and Mexico.  Hopefully all my blogs have been useful for those travelling to these destinations.

Here are my favourites of 2016:

Most Spectacular Hotel: Hotel Esencia, Mexico

I promise I’ll stop banging on about this hotel, but this boutique design hotel stands out for me as one of the best places I have ever stayed.  Its stretch of beach is so peaceful, the sand so white and the sea gloriously turquoise. The rooms are white washed, minimalist and super comfortable.  Morning yoga is the best way to start the day there, followed by a delicious healthy breakfast.  It’s no wonder Conde Nast voted it as one of 2016’s best hotels.

Esencia, Mexico

Runner up: Finca Cortesin (and I shockingly still have not written a blog about this place).  Hands down one of Europe’s most beautiful properties, high in the hills 30 minutes from Marbella, with sea and mountain views.  The interiors are so elegant, the swimming pools vast and the spa to die for.

Finca Cortesin, Spain

Favourite new discovery: South East Sicily

A week of exploring all the Baroque-rich towns and cities of South Eastern Sicily is such a treat.  Each of the towns, from Ragusa to Modica to Note are all so individual, with good restaurants, a few fun bars, and lots of pretty streets to explore.  Our seafood lunch at Taverna Cialoma in Marzamemi was one of the big highlights of our trip.  And we learnt that the very underestimated city Catania is also worth a stop.

Ragusa, Sicily

Favourite new London restaurant: Foley’s

With so many restaurant openings in London this year, it’s hard to pick a favourite.  But everything from the divine alfresco bar (with the best Espresso Martinis), to a menu where you literally want to eat every dish (and we did), to the friendly, helpful staff, meant that Foley’s wins the 2016 prize.  A place I know I’ll return to, again and again.

Foleys, FItzrovia

Runner up: The Ninth and Clipstone.  Both of these relatively new openings in London have a lot in common: excellent food, reasonable pricing and great atmosphere.  The Pain Perdu at the Ninth is the best pudding I’ve had this year.

The Ninth, Fitzrovia

Favourite Bar – International: The Living Room, at the Faena, Miami

Wow, the new(ish) Faena hotel in Miami is a true showstopper, rich in colour and gold and opulence.  And walking into its main bar, The Living Room, is like stepping into Gatsby’s 1920s.  I loved every moment of being in this crazy, vibrant, colourful place, where you don’t know where to look or which cocktail to pick from their indulgent menu.  The Faena’s restaurant Pao was also a highlight of my visit.

Photo credit: https://luxuriavacations.com/destinations/usa/faena-hotel-miami-beach

Runner up:  The Bar at the Baccarat Hotel, New York. This hotel is so fantastically blingy, as of course you’d expect considering the owners.  It’s a stunning hotel (the rooms are far more toned down than the public areas), but the bar really stood out.  It’s always packed with very glamorous people, the cocktails are fantastic and the interiors are fabulous.

Photo credit Baccarat Hotels

Favourite English Countryside retreat: Foxhill Manor, the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds is one of my favourite areas of England; the countryside is so breathtakingly beautiful here and the villages are all so picturesque, with so many pretty Cotswold stone cottages, lovely cafes and restaurants and fantastic country walks.  So staying at the exclusive five star Foxhill Manor (Dormy House’s sister property) was one of the highlights of 2016, the ultimate country house hotel.  The food was amazing here, our suite the size of my house in London, and the views of the Cotswolds out of this world.

Foxhill Manor, Cotswolds

Favourite Restaurant – International: Quintonil, Mexico City

Chosen not because it’s voted as the 12th best restaurant in the world, but purely because it was a magical experience, and I’ve never had Mexican food like it.  It’s incredible value for money, and the amuse bouches we had here were some of the best I’ve had.  That said, its Mexico City competitor Pujol deserves a mention too, also for its creative food and noteworthy tasting menu.

Quintonil, Mexico City

Runners up:  This is such a tough one, as I have eaten at some seriously wonderful restaurants this year.  Still, if I had to choose, I loved Marzapane in Rome because it is was so different, so modern and so un-Roman.  At the same time, Sansho’s tasting menu in Prague was exceptional, and fantastic value.  And last but not least, Dalmatino in Hvar, Croatia was unexpected and their squid ink truffle gnocchi mind-blowing.

Marzapane, Rome

Favourite beach: Tulum, Mexico

Who knew Mexico’s Riviera Maya had such incredible beaches?  The beach at Tulum is possibly the most perfect beach I’ve been on.  Lined with palm trees and eco hotels (no building is higher than the tallest palm tree), white powdery sand and warm welcoming turquoise waves, it really is a paradise beach.  Plus, it stretches on and on, and makes for the best walk at sunset, Margarita in hand.  Especially the beach at Nomade (photo below) was phenomenal.

Tulum, Mexico

Runners up: Dubovica Beach on Hvar, Croatia and South Beach, Miami.  These two beaches couldn’t be more different, but each has it’s own bit of wow.  Dubovica beach is small, pebbled and one of the prettiest European beaches I’ve seen.  It has a lovely beach bar too and it’s generally not too full of tourists.  South Beach Miami is of course heaving with people, but that doesn’t stop it from being ‘wow’ in its own way.  It’s one of the most fun beaches I’ve been to, great for people watching, with so much going on.

Dubovica Beach, HvarMiami Beach

Favourite Afternoon tea: Petersham Nurseries

I don’t know how I only managed to visit this heavenly place until so recently, but I fell head over heals for Petersham Nurseries.  Even on a cold (but beautiful) winter afternoon the Cafe was so warm and cosy, the cakes so delicious and the selection of teas ideal.  I can’t wait to return in the spring and the summer.

Photo Credit: http://friendlynettle.com/day-petersham-nurseries-%E2%99%A5/

Favourite city break: Prague

People warned me that yes, the city is beautiful, but it’s touristy and the food isn’t good.  Well, yes, I’d agree that’s it’s busy, but it’s hard to avoid tourists these days.  And, after all, I’m one too.  But I’d disagree that you can’t eat well.  One of my favourite restaurants of the year, Sansho, was here.  Plus Field was excellent too, as was CottoCrudo at the Four Seasons.  There’s lots to do and see, and it’s incredibly affordable too.  Win win.

a-prague-top-ten-sights

Runner up was Bologna, with so much charm and beauty, and excellent Italian food and wine.  Our experience at Drogheria della Rosa was absolutely one of the most memorable of 2016.

Drogheria della Rossa, Bologna

And what has 2017 got in store for me?  Definitely more European city breaks, with Rome and Stockholm already booked, a trip back to Andalucia and Italy this summer for sure, and Mallorca in September.  I’d also really like to return to Vienna, explore Porto and maybe go to some of the Greek islands…  Let’s see where 2017 takes me!

Blog, Italy, Sicily

Catania, Sicily

November 16, 2016
Catania, Sicily

Writing this a few months after my time in Catania, I look back and think of it as one of my favourite places I visited in Sicily.  It was never on my ‘to see’ list, but we purely stayed there because our flight departed from Catania on the Sunday, and we left our villa on the Saturday.  But I’m so glad we did stay here, where 24 hours is plenty to explore this raw, gritty but alluring city.

Catania doesn’t get a lot of great press.  The second largest city of Sicily is often dismissed in favour of Palermo, the grander capital of the island.  And it was perhaps due to low expectations – and having seen so many other wonderful towns in Sicily – that all of us found ourselves really liking it.   No less so because Mount Etna looms behind the city, which remains quite a spectacle, but also because it has character, it feels very alive, very local and very un-touristy.

CataniaCataniaCatania

 

STAY

We stayed in a fantastic and very affordable Grand Tour Bed & Breakfast on the Via Umberto – very centrally located between the new and the old town.   The host was an absolute dream, and put up with all our questions and favours, called us a taxi and was more than accommodating.  If you want something a bit more hotel-like but still affordable there’s the Italian chain hotel UNA Palace Hotel or the smaller Romano Place (which looks rather lovely).

Grand tour, Catania

 

EAT

We got very lucky here.  I’d read somewhere about a new opening of a Slow Food restaurant in Catania called Me Cumpari Turiddu.  We were having drinks around the corner in the afternoon, so decided to walk past briefly and have a look.  It looked fantastic – modern but with an Italian feel.  Different, with character.  A bit like the city.  And we had our best dinner here.  The menu was inventive (we tried donkey here for the first time), everything was delicious, and I loved the interiors!

Me Cumpari Turiddu, CataniaMe Cumpari Turiddu, Catania

Apart from that, we enjoyed a very typical Sicilian breakfast (aranchini, anyone?!) at the popular Pasticceria Savia – again this all day cafe seems to be a place frequented by locals for ice creams, cakes and more savoury pastries.  They do good coffee here and have a large terrace on the street.

Savia, CataniaSavia, Catania

 

DRINK

If you’re looking for a boozy night in Sicily, Catania can certainly offer that.  It is a very lively student city, the streets fill up in the evening, and terraces spill over into the road.  For aperitivo and shaded pre-dinner drinks head to the very popular Razmataz.  After dinner grab a cocktail at the characterful Boheme Mixology Bar, where they design special cocktails specially for you.  It’s not cheap but it’s fun and the drinks are good.  If you’re going for a big night then head to the Nievski bar in the very buzzing gay district for a bottle of Flo Sicilian wine or multiple beers to end the night.

Boheme, CataniaNievski Bar, Catania

For more tips on the beautiful Sicily, feel free to check out this post here.

Blog, Italy, Sicily

Noto, Sicily

November 8, 2016

Noto is generally known as the prettiest of the Baroque towns in the area, and it is undeniably so, in a slightly ‘chocolate box’ kind of way.  It’s richer and more touristy than its neighbours, but also much smaller and felt less ‘local’.  The main sightseeing area is the long Corso Vittorio Emanuele with one beautiful building or church after another.  It’s definitely worth straying from the beaten path and climbing the stairs up (towards Crocifisso).  You’ll get some fantastic views of the rooftops and palaces below.

Noto, SicilyNoto, Sicily

EAT

Noto is known to be quite ‘foodie’ and I was quite excited to explore the restaurant scene here.

We went in search for a recommended restaurant – which took us up steps and more steps (it is a common theme in the area) in the burning sun.  And then we reached Crocifisso.  Which was shut for lunch (don’t believe the websites).  NOTE: It appears that Noto is a better place to visit for dinner, when the likes of Manna (brand new, modern – my ideal kind of place) and Dammuso are open.  Food is meant to be exceptional here.  Having said that, Dammuso is usually open for lunch, just not when we were there.

We did find a place for lunch (Marpessa), where the food and stunning presentation surprised us (the gazpacho was brilliant) and despite the heat we had a fantastic meal.  Though it’s cooler inside, sitting in the shade on their charming little terrace outside is much nicer.

Marpessa, NotoMarpessa, Noto

After lunch we were recommended ‘the best ice cream in the world’ at Caffe Sicilia (it was delicious, but DiVini in Ragusa was still better).  Caffe Sicilia is a quirky, colourful and in many ways very traditional Italian Gelateria, worth grabbing an ice cream for on the go.

Caffe Sicilia, Noto

DRINK

There are plenty of terraces for sundowners, but if you want something different the Anche Gli Angeli concept store also offers a cool bar under red brick arches.  Not only can you have a drink here, but it’s great for a little browse too.  This is not a party town, it’s more cute and sophisticated than buzzing.

Anche Gli Angeli, Noto, Sicily

On a different note, a short drive from Noto (25 minutes) you’ll find some beautiful beaches – and the Agua Beach Bar which is meant to be worth a visit.

Blog, Italy, Rome

Relais Rione Ponte, Rome – STAY

August 22, 2016
Relais Rione Ponte, Rome

Rome isn’t known for it’s hotels.  It doesn’t have a George V equivalent.  There are no Mandarin Orientals or Amans  But what Rome is good at, is its boutique hotels.   I love JK Place, Palazzo Manfredi and the newest (and most modern) G Rough.  Relais Rione Ponte is one I came across most recently, and had the absolute pleasure at staying at.

It’s not really a hotel, it’s a guest house.  It doesn’t boast many facilities or a restaurant, but Relais Rione Ponte is perfect as a base to explore Rome.  So here is what it does have:

Location

Couldn’t be better, a stone’s throw from Piazza Navona and all the other historical centre sights.  We in fact woke up at 6am and walked through Rome as it was waking up, a magical experience and highly recommended.  While Relais Rione Ponte is so central, it was very quiet in the rooms and we were not disturbed by late party animals.

Piazza NavonaRome

Stylish Rooms

As there isn’t much of a ‘central’ area it’s important that the rooms are good, and spacious.  Which they really are.  The beds are super comfortable and massive, the sheets crisp and we had a very good sleep here.  The attention to detail was fantastic: the art on the walls, the Bose sound system, a Nespresso machine in the public area, very good wifi.  The bathroom was beautifully designed, with a huge walk in shower and lovely Nuxe bath products.

Relais Rione Ponte, RomeRelais Rione Ponte, Rome

Service

Our initial experience was not great.  We arrived very late so understandably the host had gone home, and the man on night duty for the whole building was a little odd to say the least.  However, once we got to our room we were greeted by a bottle of bubbles which was more than welcome.  The lady at reception the following morning was nothing but friendly, as was the lady who served us breakfast.  We had a nice but not spectacular breakfast (but excellent coffee, of course) but you could tell that they really cared about their guests, and have city maps at the ready should you want some tips on what to do and see in Rome.

Relais Rione Ponte, Rome

Value for money

Rome is no Venice, but it’s not cheap either.  Finding accommodation this central, where the standard is this high, is difficult.  With small touches like a complimentary glass of prosecco every evening, Nespresso when you want it, good wifi and excellent bath products, it’s really good value for money.

Double rooms from £120 per night

Relais Rione Ponte

Via Giuseppe Zanardelli, 20,

00186 Roma

Photo Credit: Relais Rione Ponte

Blog, Italy, Sicily

Ragusa, Sicily

August 13, 2016
Ragusa, Sicily

Also known as the ‘Grand Dame’, be aware that this lovely town is split in two – Ragusa Ibla (the historical part of the city, and clearly our focus) and Ragusa Superior (the new town, which we just visited for its ‘pescharia’ – fish shop).

Also be prepared to walk up hill (or up steps) – a lot – though you can actually drive to the top and park there (we only found this out after our vigorous exercise on our first visit).   Most of Ragusa Ibla is quiet, the locals only come out after around 6pm, and the few tourists here tend to flock around the Duomo square.  The rest of the town is yours to explore at leisure.

Ragusa, SicilyRagusa, SicilyRagusa, Sicily

DRINK

Aperitivo is a must at I Banchi, down a quiet side street, with tables outside under the shade of white flowered trees.  They’ll bring you a selection of Sicilian nibbles, and some great wines as well. It is in fact a panificio (possibly my favourite Italian word) –  a bakery – but also has an excellent restaurant (it is owned by the famous Michelin star chef Ciccio Sultano).  Apart from I Banchi there are plenty of other terraces to enjoy a cold beer or a glass of wine, but none which really jumped out.

Ragusa, SicilyI Banchi, Ragusa, SicilyI Banchi, RAgusa

EAT

I highly recommend an ice cream at Gelati DiVini (the chilli chocolate was especially exceptional), and they also sell some good wine here too (the SP68 wine is a good, affordable option).  Another place for excellent ice cream and canolo is Pasticceria Giovanni di Pasquale.

DiVini, Ragusa

For more ‘serious’ food, you’re spoilt for choice.  Remarkably Ragusa has two of the best restaurants in Sicily.  The Duomo (2 Michelin star, and Ciccio Sultano’s flagship restaurant) and the Locanda don Serafino (also two Michelin star) constantly compete with who’s got the best restaurant, I’d go for their lunch set menu (far more affordable than dinner, at EUR 45 for 4 courses).  Many locals think the food is overpriced here, as generally the standard of food in most restaurants is very high.  Still, these restaurants remain good value for Michelin star restaurants (especially compared to London restaurants).   If you want something a little more moderately priced, I hear Monsu is meant to be excellent too.

Monsu, Ragusa

STAY

Locando don Serafino also has a small boutique hotel (4 star) very close by, which is the best place to stay in town, quirky, comfortable and right in the centre of town.  If you prefer to stay somewhere more rural, I’d recommend the beautiful Villa Carcara, just 10 minutes’ drive down the road.  Sleeping up to 18 people, with stunning views, gardens and a large pool, this place will make most people very happy.

Villa Carcara, RAgusa

Read more about South East Sicily here.

Blog, Italy, Sicily

South-East Sicily: An overview

July 30, 2016

People underestimate the size of Sicily.  It’s not an island you can cover in a week.  The island needs to be explored in pockets, or else you’ll spend your whole holiday in a car driving from place to place.

We went to Sicily for a long weekend a few years ago, and stayed in a charming Agriturismo in the North East of the island.  Perhaps one of the poorest areas and, while lovely, the poverty was certainly reflected.  An hour’s drive south to Taormina and we were suddenly in a different world, a town of faded glamour but still with a clear beauty, and plenty to do and see.

Sicily

This time we were drawn to the South-East – the Baroque corner of Sicily.  Originally I was inspired by an article written in Conde Nast, and a number of friends had recommended I go.  I read about honey coloured sandstone hill top towns, of cathedrals with stunning baroque facades, of curling alleyways and balconies overflowing with flowers and cacti.

Ortigia, Sicily

Last year our family holiday was in Puglia, a roaring success, and a lot to live up to.  Sicily was very different (though we enjoyed the same balance of sightseeing/food/relaxing) and wonderful in its own way.

Here are my highlights:

RAGUSA

Also known as the ‘Grand Dame’, be aware that this lovely town is split in two – Ragusa Ibla (the historical part of the city, and clearly our focus) and Ragusa Superior (the new town, which we just visited for its ‘pescharia’ – fish shop).  Also be prepared to walk up hill (or up steps) – a lot – though you can actually drive to the top and park there (we only found this out after our vigorous exercise on our first visit).   Most of Ragusa Ibla is quiet, the locals only come out after around 6pm, and the few tourists here tend to flock around the Duomo square.  The rest of the town is yours to explore at leisure.  I highly recommend an ice cream at Gelati DiVini (the chilli chocolate was especially exceptional), and they also sell some good wine here too.  Aperitivo is a must at I Banchi, down a quiet side street, with tables outside under the shade of white flowered trees.  They’ll bring you a selection of Sicilian nibbles, and some great wines as well. It is in fact a panificio (possibly my favourite Italian word) –  a bakery – but also has an excellent restaurant (it is owned by the famous Michelin star chef Ciccio Sultano).  Which brings me on to restaurants here: remarkably Ragusa has two of the best restaurants in Sicily.  The Duomo (2 Michelin star, and Ciccio Sultano’s restaurant) and the Locanda don Serafino (also two Michelin star) constantly compete with who’s got the best restaurant, I’d go for their lunch set menu (far more affordable than dinner, at EUR 45 for 4 courses).   Locando don Serafino also has a small boutique hotel (4 star) very close by, which is the best place to stay in town, quirky, comfortable and right in the centre of town.

Ragusa, SicilyRagusa, Sicily

NOTO

Noto is generally known as the prettiest of the Baroque towns in the area, and it is undeniably so, in a slightly ‘chocolate box’ kind of way.  It’s richer and more touristy than its neighbours, but also much smaller and felt less ‘local’.  The main sightseeing area is the long Corso Vittorio Emanuele with one beautiful building or church after another.   We went in search for a recommended restaurant – which took us up steps and more steps (it is a common theme in the area) in the burning sun.  And then we reached Crocifisso.  Which was shut for lunch (don’t believe the websites).  It appears that Noto is a better place to visit for dinner, when the likes of Manna (brand new, modern – my ideal kind of place) and Dammuso are open.  Food is meant to be exceptional here.  Having said that, Dammuso is usually open for lunch, just not when we were there.  We did find a place for lunch (Marpessa), where the food and stunning presentation surprised us (the gazpacho was brilliant) and despite the heat we had a fantastic meal.  After lunch we were recommended ‘the best ice cream in the world’ at Caffe Sicilia (it was delicious, but DiVini was still better).  There are plenty of terraces for sundowners, but if you want something different the Anche Gli Angeli concept store also offers a cool bar under red brick arches.

Noto, SicilyNoto, SicilyNoto, Sicily

MODICA

 Perhaps because we didn’t have super high expectations, having heard rave reviews of Noto and Ragusa, we were all somewhat surprised by how much we loved Modica.  For some of us, it was the favourite.  Modica is rich in character as well as the signature Baroque churches, beautiful view points and houses built up into the hill side.  There was plenty of grumbling about ‘more steps’, but I loved them!  The higher you get the better the view of course, and we found the charming Rappa Enoteca (turns out it’s number one on Tripadvisor in Modica) where we had delicious aperitivo, rose and beer outside.  We also bought some of their Modica-made chocolate which is a must when here (apparently it’s the oldest chocolate in the world). It’s above the cathedral and very quiet here, away from the more touristy lively streets at the bottom of the hill around Duomo Di San Pietro.   If you’re looking for more of a buzz, then Corso Umberto is where you want to be, with lots of bars and restaurants.  For dinner, Accursio was recommended, which looked sophisticated (if expensive).

Modica, SicilyModica, Sicily

MARZAMEMI

 This fisherman’s village wasn’t really planned into my itinerary, but having been recommended a good local restaurant and having not been to the seaside yet (despite having it as our daily view from the house), we thought we would go for lunch.  Marzamemi is absolutely tiny, and totally charming. During the heat of the day it seems very deserted (most people are probably enjoying the nearby sandy beach of Porto Palo di Capo Passero), apart from the minuscule ‘centre’ – the square with a few cute churches, a few streets which lead off it (with some tempting boutiques), and a row of restaurants along the waterfront.  Taverna La Cialoma is one of them – with a large bright terrace on the square, and then a smaller (more popular) shaded terrace right on the water. Perfect.  And then the food came and we nearly fell off our wooden chairs – it was like being served haute cuisine in a trattoria.  Incredible tuna carpaccio, melt in the mouth aubergine rolls stuffed with mozzarella and sprinkled with chocolate (it works beautifully), fresh prawns, simple but classic pastas.  Expensive, but totally worth it.  Marzamemi also seems to be a great place for sundowners, either on the waterfront (like Calamaro) or on the square at places like Kurabu (which also has some charming looking rooms).  The place really comes to life in the evening, sometimes with live bands or DJs playing on the square.
Marzamemi, SicilyMarzamemi, SIcily

Syracuse (Ortigia)

While the name Syracuse will probably ring more bells than Ortigia, it is the island of Ortigia (connected by a bridge) which is the heart of Syracuse; the historical centre.  Ortigia is where the true beauty of the city lies, and I wish I could have spent more time here than the few hours I did.  It is undeniably one of the ‘must sees’ of Sicily, grand without being pompous, vibrant without being too touristy.  Enjoy a traditional Granita and brioche for breakfast on the Duomo square (Condorelli gets it so right, and the brioche comes fresh from the oven), then wander through the narrow streets and grab a coffee at Movimento Centrale.  It’s definitely worth going inside the Duomo, and the nearby Chiesa di Santa Lucia has a lovely Caravaggio which you can’t miss. Make sure you reserve a table at the modern Retroscena for dinner, and for pre-drinks enjoy a glass of wine on the harbour front at the Marina Cafe. I will definitely be returning.

Syracuse, SicilySyracuse, Sicily

CATANIA

Catania doesn’t get a lot of great press.  The second largest city of Sicily is often dismissed, in favour for Palermo, the grander capital of the island.  But perhaps due to low expectations we all found ourselves rather liking the raw energy and gritty beauty of this interesting city.  No less so because Mount Etna looms behind the city, which remains quite a spectacle.  We stayed in a fantastic and very affordable Grand Tour Bed & Breakfast on the Via Umberto – very centrally located between the new and the old town.  And we had our best dinner here, in the beautiful newly opened Slow Food restaurant Me Cumpari Turiddu, where we tried donkey for the first time.  It is a very lively city, the streets fill up in the evening, and terraces spil over into the road.  For aperitivo and shaded pre-dinner drinks head to the very popular Razmataz.  After dinner grab a cocktail at the characterful Boheme Mixology Bar, and then head to the Nievski bar for a bottle of Flo Sicilian wine or multiple beers to end the night.

Catania, SicilyCatania, Sicily

Further blogs on the individual places I visited to follow shortly, so keep your eyes peeled!

Blog, Bologna, Italy

Restaurante Teresina, Bologna

July 10, 2016
Restaurante Teresina, Bologna

We came to Teresina on our last day in Bologna.  It had been raining all morning and we were departing that afternoon.  So I already had the slight ‘Sunday blues’ feeling.  But then we had lunch here, and the ‘Bolognese’ was so good, it instantly cheered me up!

In the summer, Teresina’s terrace must be a lovely place to enjoy a delicious lunch or dinner al fresco.  While the terrace doesn’t have any views as such, it is set back from the street, so it’s quiet.  Inside is also pleasant: simple like you’d expect from a local trattoria.  The staff are helpful and friendly, and the service quick and professional.

While Italians aren’t known for their bread, the bread here was excellent.  Warm and soft, I couldn’t resist a few slices to add to the carb fest that had been our weekend in this magical city.

Restaurante Teresina, Bologna

They have all the traditional, local dishes you’d expect in Bologna.  The tortellini broth, various fresh pastas, and a few meat and seafood dishes.  While no trattoria would ever serve what we know as ‘spaghetti Bolognese’, they do serve fresh tagliatelle with a Bolognese Ragu.  I’d highly recommend it.

Rob’s parents liked it so much they returned for dinner after Rob and I departed.

Restaurante Teresina 

via Oberdan 4, 40126

Bologna

 

Blog, Bologna, Italy

Caffe Terzi, Bologna – DRINK

July 10, 2016
Caffe Terzi, Bologna

I love scouting out the best places for coffee.  In Italy it’s not hard to find a good coffee.  But Caffe Terzi offers a very cute venue as well as excellent, beautifully presented coffee (or tea, if you prefer).   And you know you’re in the right place when all the locals are lined up at the bar sipping Espressos.

Caffe Terzi, Bologna

But Caffe Terzi isn’t just a place to shot an Espresso and go.  Its colourful red and yellow striped wall paper and small but cosy sitting area makes it a pretty place to stop and rest your weary feet after a morning of sightseeing.  Even the biscuits you are served with your coffee are phenomenal. Terzi reminded me a bit of a cross between a Viennese Cafe and an Italian one.  The staff are all exceptionally friendly and helpful, and I’d happily have stayed here all morning sampling their various coffees and teas.

Caffe Terzi, BolognaCaffe Terzi, Bologna

It’s tiny, so blink and you might miss it.  But make sure you make the effort to come here for at least one coffee, because it truly is the best coffee in town.

Caffe Terzi

Via Guglielmo Oberdan, 10/d

 

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