Posts Tagged With: beach

Discovering Crete…

Buongiorno,

How is everyone? I’ve been to Crete! It was my first holiday to a non-Italian / non-English location for years. It turns out, as an ex-pat it’s quite easy to spend all your holidays going back to your country of origin rather than discovering other parts of the world, something I used to love doing. Deciding it was high time to change that, a friend and I decided we’d go abroad.

Now, I usually try to go somewhere off the beaten track; I’m not a package holiday sort of person. However, my holiday buddy doesn’t seem to appreciate my hour-by-hour holiday itineraries to ensure no potential area of interest is left un-turned and besides, it’s been a stressful few months so why not give ‘relaxing’ a go, I thought. Our criteria was thus: as relaxing, as sunny and as cheap as possible. After an hour or so of trawling websites, we found an all-inclusive deal to the Kalyves Beach Hotel in the north west of Crete. We arrived with me excited but still full of disdain for my own holiday choice and imagining Crete (completely unfairly and based upon no information at all) to be a tacky resort island with no charm at all. I imagined 7 days of lying by a pool, stuffing my face with food and drink until I had to be rolled back to the airport.

I was wrong! (Well, about the sitting by the pool bit at least – regarding the constant eating, well, my prediction was accurate and I’ve pretty much doubled in size). It wasn’t anywhere near as boring a holiday as I’d anticipated, far from it in fact! I’m now actually impressed with Crete as a holiday destination. It’s much bigger than I’d imagined – you need a car to get around it really (about 30 euro a day). There’s lots to see and we didn’t get to see half of the island. It’s got a lot of history with ruins and castles and forts. There are quaint little towns and some spectacular natural wonders to see too.

Kalyves Beach Hotel

The hotel was good – I’d recommend it. The staff were nice. It was clean, bright and well decorated with lots of sofa space inside and lots of sun-beds, tables and chairs outside. The bedrooms were simple and bright with a balcony. The beach is a stone’s throw away from the hotel. It’s a nice beach which you can walk along to a little harbour and have a drink in one of the bars on the beach and watch the sunset.

Crete with Ashley (32 of 68)Crete with Ashley (35 of 68)Crete with Ashley (33 of 68)Crete with Ashley (34 of 68)

The food at the hotel was really good. It had a buffet so you can pile your plates with all manner of things. The salads were many and varied and the hot food was good too.  As a vegetarian it was a bit of a challenge, not because there wasn’t any vegetarian food but because the food wasn’t labelled and meat was often snuck into seemingly safe looking food! There were always people around to ask though so it wasn’t a great hardship. The deserts were great. After having effectively a baklava intravenous drip for the whole week, I’m now having withdrawal symptoms.

Crete with Ashley (36 of 68)

This was the outside part of the restaurant – overlooking a river which fed into the sea a few meters further up.

The bad things were few and far between… I was a little disappointed by our ‘sea-view’ which we were charged quite a bit extra for but was more of a ‘other-side-of-the-hotel-and-pool-and-if-you-looked-carefully-to-the-right-you-might-see-a-bit-of-sea-view’.

The shower ended up being more of a wet-room which meant having constantly soggy feet whenever you went to the bathroom. The complementary body cream smelt like gone-off sewage. You had to pay 20 euros extra for the safe for a week. The bed sheet was just a little bit too small for the mattress and so had a habit of working itself off. I’m a wriggly sleeper and somehow one night I woke up under the undersheet and on top of the mattress itself. Ugh.

If you use the MTS transfer service – be prepared to not know when you’re being picked up to get to the airport until the last minute and be prepared to speak to a very annoyed woman whilst you’re trying to work it out!

Things to do

Samaria Gorge. This was my favourite bit of the holiday. Crete is quite mountainous. The closest mountain range to us were the “White Mountains” which were still snow-capped much to my amazement given it was about 28 degrees every day. In the midst of the White Mountains is the Samaria Gorge. These mountains are spectacular. The gorge is 18km long. To ‘do’ the gorge you really need to go on an organised excursion that takes you to the top of the mountain. We got picked up from the hotel in the middle of the night (well, 5.30am or so!), and then by about 8am we were dropped off at the start. You’re then left to your own devices to get to the other end of the gorge by late afternoon. It’s an easy route but possibly hard going for people that aren’t used to walking a lot. We just had our normal trainers but I’d have felt more comfortable with my walking boots – the path is quite slippy and rocky in places. Be prepared to ache the next couple of days!

I took a million snaps of the Gorge – these are a tiny selection, and still none of them do it justice…

People have passed their time in the gorge creating little rock piles and propping up boulders with small sticks!

And there were some unusual flowers and plants …

But in parts it felt quite dangerous with signs instructing people to ‘walk quickly’ in case of rock falls and there were a few ominous looking river crossings.

Tip: TAKE FOOD! Don’t listen to any crazy person in the excursion office telling you there are taverns. There are none, only at the very end of the walk. (And on that note – if you want to see the a waiter with the bluest eyes known to mankind – go to Taverna Rousios.) We also arrived back at the hotel a couple of hours later than advertised so missed dinner too.

Elafonisi Beach

Elafonisi beach is on the south west of the island. It’s a bit off the beaten track with nothing else much around it. The way to the beach is beautiful, through lots of twists and turns in the mountains and past quaint little towns and bars offering fresh orange juice. This beach has to rate as one of my favourite ever beaches (it only lost out on my top spot of Australia’s Byron Bay because the water was so icy cold!). The beach is wide and long with white and pink sand and cool rocks. The water is a beautiful turquoise and is absolutely crystal clear. Definitely worthy of a visit!

The Cave of the Wisdom of God in Katsomatado

If you’re going to Elafonisi beach, stop at this cave. It’s big, (100m wide, 100m deep) set reasonably high into the mountainside and it’s free to enter (though you have to walk through a taverna to get to the entrance so it requires a bit of courage if you’re not going to buy anything!). There’s lots of unusual stalactite and stalagmite formations and there’s legends going back to 1347AD. One describes how a couple of religious folk were voluntarily decapitated by their son (and nephew) who took their heads to the Venetian rulers at the time to get amnesty (who knows what for but it seems quite a high price to pay!). Their headless bodies were recently discovered in the cave. Back in the Neolithic period there’s evidence that humans used to live in the cave. All in all, very interesting.

Crete with Ashley (49 of 68)

Kournas Lake

This is a lake nestled between some low level mountains. We rented a pedalo (5 – 10 euros an hour depending on who you go to!) and went turtle spotting (they’re near the edges by the reeds). Apparently the turtles are completely native to the lake. On the shores there are tavernas and shops selling tourist paraphernalia. I must say, I was really impressed with the level of craftsmanship to their souvenirs – it wasn’t just the usual tourist ‘tat’. If Easyjet weren’t quite so harsh with their luggage requirements (honestly, Ryanair put them to shame – I never thought I’d utter those words!), I would have bought quite a few things.

Crete with Ashley (1 of 68)

I took this from the lake! I should have taken more pictures of the pedalo and the little town!

Chania

Chania is a town in the north east of the island. We didn’t get to explore the town much unfortunately, spending only a couple of hours there but it had a really nice vibe to it. There are lots of little backstreets to explore and lots of nice things to buy. Head to the lively harbour area where there are lots of bars to relax in and take in the scenery.

Rethymno

Reythymno is also in the north east but inland. It’s quite big and certainly the bit we saw lacked some of the charm of Chania, seeming less of a tourist area. It did have some quaint parts though and we had a look at one of the Greek orthodox churches which was interesting to look around.

However, its big selling point for us was the fortezza and that was definitely worth a visit (4 euro entry). It’s a Venetian fort built in the 16th century and which was captured by the Ottomans in 1649.  Crete has had quite a troubled past seemingly being taken over by people left, right and center.  The fort has a few buildings remaining inside – including a couple of chapels and a mosque, but my favourite part was just wondering around on the grounds. It offers great views of Rethymno and certainly at this time of year, the grounds are covered with wild flowers.

There were a couple of things about Crete that puzzled me. The first being that there is no consistency at all on how they spell any place. It adds a level of stress when trying to navigate as the place names on the maps don’t represent any of the names on road signs. Even the road signs themselves will spell places differently from one road sign to the next. Chania can be Hania, Xania or one or any of those with various accents placed over the letters and then of course there’s the Greek word. The graffiti artists of Crete have gone on a mission to cover over many of the road signs to make them illegible. They needn’t have bothered; bushes and tree’s cover most of them anyway. If you don’t have a sat-nav – be prepared to get stressed!

In towns, people seem to paint the bottoms of their trees white. We uncovered some theories as to why… Apparently some people do it in the belief that it acts as a pesticide (apparently it doesn’t actually work) and it also helps to reflect heat (I’m not entirely convinced about this theory. Whoever heard of a hot tree? And besides, they even paint the bottoms of telegraph poles, you can’t tell me they suffer from the heat!). I think the more likely explanation is that they think it looks nice. It doesn’t look bad, but it was certainly a talking point!

Crete with Ashley (9 of 68)

Anyway, all in all, Crete is a worthy holiday destination and has my seal of approval! Go forth with confidence… 🙂

A presto,

x

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The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 2: Around Monopoli

Buongiorno a tutti!

Following on from Part 1 of the road trip….the next couple of nights of the trip were spent in Monopoli but we had a couple of ‘cool’ stops getting there and a great time the next day checking out a couple of well-known towns. So…

Day 2: Head to Lecce. Lecce is a large historic and important city in the region. It’s got an ‘old town’ with a lot of limestone baroque architecture and an old roman amphitheater. To get to the old town though there’s a regular city like any other – a bit chaotic. We found a good sized park with fountains which made for a good lunch spot. We also popped into a Papiermâché sculpture shop – in Lecce they have a tradition in making very delicate, ‘origami-like’ painted figurines. The woman in the shop told me how her family had been making the sculptures for generations and it seems to have originated out of a need to keep the statues used in processions light weight. Anyway, not my style but very impressive and you can see the craftsmanship involved. I didn’t take any photos unfortunately, but have a look at this great little website to see how they make them.

Tip: Parking in Italy is becoming quite a hassle if you don’t know your number plate. They really don’t like the idea that you could do a good deed and hand your ticket to someone else if you haven’t used up all your allotted time. No no, you must enter your number plate. Or some kind of variant of it. Even many Italians can’t work out how on earth to use these parking ticket machines. Anyway, make sure you make a note of your number plate otherwise you won’t stand a chance and you’ll waste an inordinate amount of time traipsing miles between your car and the ticket machine (ITALY: HAVE MORE WORKING PARKING MACHINES!!!!)

Next…..Look at naked men at the Riserva Naturale Torre Guaceto. After a while in the car leaving Lecce, we thought we’d have a quick walk and maybe a swim at this nature reserve. However it turned out to be an exhausting 3 hour walk in what must have been 40 degree heat! Head to the beach though and you can walk along it to the tower (amidst the occasional naked man!) and the most amazing hideaways made of driftwood. For fellow seaglass fanatics, there’s a lot here 🙂 On the way back, I just don’t know what to suggest. If I were you I’d walk back along the beach. The alternative is to do what we did which was to walk along parallel to the superstrada (Super Road – isn’t that a lovely thing to call your road?) which I’m sure was a lot longer and less interesting than if we had returned along the beach!

Finally, drive to the Santo Stefano campsite in Monopoli. Camping Santo Stefano is a lovely campsite with its own private little secluded beach and I think a lido but we didn’t have time to explore that unfortunately. I understand there are some ruins near to the campsite too. I think you could spend a week in each of our campsites and not run out of things to do. It’s a shame we didn’t have more time! These are some photos taken at the campsite… We had a lovely morning swim there before heading off the next day.

Tip: At the campsite they will ask you how many hot showers you would like! It seems a bit surreal – you get a card with the number of your allotted showers! I think it was 50 cents for a shower. There are free “cold” showers which are actually reasonably warm because it was just so hot but they’re out in the open air so unless you’re a confident sort, I’d pay for the showers.

Day 3: Head to Alberobello. It takes about 30 minutes in the car. If you’ve seen documentaries about Alberobello, then forget them entirely as the drive in will be depressing. Alberobello looks like a completely bog-standard town.  Once you park up and start walking around you might see a ‘trulli’ or two but it’s still a bit of  a disappointment. Alberobello is known for it’s ‘trulli’, little white houses with conical roofs made of stone. After a few minutes of wandering around I was beginning to think I’d been a bit misled by the images I’ve seen! However, then we turned a corner and there were just hundreds of them – a little trulli community! Amazing…   A lot of the trulli have been turned into shops selling local produce, textiles and oddly, millions of whistles which turned out to be a symbol of good luck.

 

When you leave Alberobello, head to Matera, an hour or so away. This was another massive disappointment initially. The documentaries don’t ever give you the impression that you have to search around for a while first before you find these things! Anyway, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover: park up and head towards the old town.  Matera is an old city in Basilicata (not Puglia). It’s known as the ‘subterranean city’ and is famous for it’s ancient town called Sassi, which are houses carved out of the rock.  It’s very interesting and very beautiful!

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Tip: Do not wear flipflops. You’ll need shoes with grip. In fact, almost all the towns in Puglia are a bit treacherous with their shiny marble-like floors but in Matera I actually had to walk bare foot on the scorching pavement to avoid constantly falling over.

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Death trap!!!

Head back to the campsite armed with BBQ equipment and find a gap on the beach to chill out for the evening and look at the stars.

Next up, exploring Polignano a Mare and the Isole Tremiti…

x

 

 

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The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 1: Investigating the coast around Pescoluse

 

Buonasera!

I am thrilled to report I had an amazing holiday in Puglia – it has to be one of my favourite holidays. On the Monday I picked up my friend from the airport in Ancona and we headed seven and a half hours south towards Leuca, the very bottom of the boot of Italy’s heel in the beautiful region of Puglia. Puglia has been on my Bucket List for ages and we only had six nights to fit in everything I wanted to do. Truth be told, it was more of a frog march than a vacation but I did schedule in some relaxation time so that’s ok I think? Anyway, I liked our little trip so much I’m going to write it as an itinerary for anyone wishing to do a similar thing. We camped, which is not as popular in Italy as in the UK, but we stayed in some lovely campsites

Puglia has a completely different feel to it than the Italy I’ve come to know. The landscape is full of ancient olive trees, cacti and bright flowers growing out of red earth. It’s completely unlike my very hilly, mountainous green part just a few hours further north.

I won’t count the day spent driving down so the guide starts thusly…

Day 1: Explore the coast around Pescoluse

Stay in a campsite called Grotta Pescoluse. It’s a nice little campsite set a kilometer or so from the beach. You can camp among the trees and there’s a large swimming pool and bar/restaurant area which we didn’t get time to make use of. You can walk down to the beach in half an hour or so (the walk back is a bit more tiring because it’s uphill).

Tip: Beware of the ants. There are many of them. Some campers sprinkled talcum powder around their pitches because ants don’t cross lines of talc!  And always have toilet paper and soap. For some reason in Italy, they don’t feel like they can stretch to providing toilet paper or soap in any of the facilities. Though in this campsite, they did provide a suspicious looking hose attached to the toilet (some sort of personal irrigation system?)

Drive up the coast to Porto Trecase. Trecase is beautiful and has an interesting history.  Puglia has quite a rocky coastline. The water is so crystal clear that you can see down to the seabed. Trecase has a little beach. Follow the coast around to see some kind of old fortification and then you’ll see puddles of salt where the sea water has dried. The sea seems to be very salty in Puglia – it seems quite difficult to sink (which is great until you want to dive down with your snorkel!) Anyway, I recommend a dip here before heading to the next ‘cool’ swimming location.

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This was the view walking down to the little beach from where we parked the car.

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The beach.

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Looking back at the beach.

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They had this odd little fort type structure – this one looked like it might have had guys inside with guns (bows and arrows?!)  back in the day.

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And lots of salty puddles.

Snorkel at Grotto Verde.  I think this has to be one of my all time favourite places in the world. I was actually searching for another coastline grotto (cave) but we couldn’t find it, and because we were melting  in the heat, and had seen a bunch of people in swimming costumes hanging around a little rocky outcrop we decided to have a swimming break. Grotto Verde just looks like a bit of a sheltered little rocky bay. However, when you get into the water you’ll see that you can swim into the cave – it’s dark but you can just make out a gap on the right hand side where there’s a narrow passage that takes you into another cave. This next cave is AMAZING! At first we thought it had been artificially lit from underneath, in fact on further inspection with a snorkel, the light is coming from a couple of feet under the surface – an underwater link to the outside. Have a look at the link above and check out the photos on Trip Advisor!

Tip: Get a snorkel to enable you to see the submerged rocks and avoid nasty scrapes, and besides it’s so pretty under water, it’s like another world. I also suspect you can swim from the “lit” cave to the outside. However, much to my annoyance I chickened out – it was a bit difficult to tell how long the underwater tunnel was (2 metres?) and besides, I kept floating making any underwater swimming a challenge!

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Drive along the coast to Otranto… stop often to take photos. These are some of the photos I took on the way.

Have lunch and explore Otranto. Otranto is a lovely little village on the coast, complete with castle. Puglia seems relatively well fortified with a number of “torre” (towers) overlooking the coastline. To be honest, I would probably have invaded Puglia too, it’s just so pretty! In Otranto they do Ape tours (pronounced Ah-pay, it’s the Italian word for bee). Apes are cute little three wheeled motorised buzzy things. In my opinion the tours were expensive so we didn’t do it but you probably get to see lots.

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This dog seemed to be having a great time

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One of the large piazzas by the sea.

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Overlooking the port.

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The Car & Castle. I think that would be a good pub name.

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And the castle again. They are showing the Steve McCurry “Icons” exhibition there at the moment which I highly recommend (but I’d already seen it in Forli earlier in the year).

Tip: Go inside the church in Otranto and marvel at the really weird and epic mosaic on the floor. I particularly like the deer with a human face sprouting some sort of vegetable from his mouth.

Head further up the coast to Roca Vecchia and the Grotto della Poesia. There are no signs to it so best of luck trying to find it. Basically go up the coast until you see lots of people walking along the side of the road and stop there and follow them! Roca Vecchia is an archaeological site with old stone buildings from the bronze age. You can just about make out the ruins without going into the confines of the site (which was closed of course!).

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Grotto della Poesia is a couple of hundred meters south of Roca Vecchia. It’s another cave which you enter by jumping into about 3 meters or so of water (or walking down to it from the side – but that’s boring, eh?!). The only problem here was the audience! It certainly means you can’t faff around at the top debating your jump because there’s a queue behind you and dozens of people watching! It was quite exhilarating though and it gave me a buzz for the rest of the day 🙂

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This was the jump and accompanying audience!!!

Tip: Don’t park your car at the side of the road where everyone else is parking their car. It’s a trap – you’ll get a fine!

Go back to the campsite in an exhausted heap and then walk to the beach with everything you need for a BBQ and a night swim!

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Here the beach is sandy and the water is warm. It’s like just walking into a warm bath! It’s just lovely!!!!

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So that was all in Day 1. If you have more time, you might want to space it out a little and spend a bit more time in each location!

Tune in for the next post covering off Day 2 and 3 in Monopoli, Lecce, Torre Guaceto, Alberobello and Matera.

x

 

 

 

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Part 3: Fried Green Sage at the San Salvador Hotel

Buongiorno a tutti,

Well this is the final part of my Bellaria Blog Tour Trilogy! If you haven’t seen the others yet have a look:

The Blog Tour was hosted by the San Salvador Hotel run by the lovely Poggi family. The hotel is practically on the seafront, just a minute’s walk from the beach, if that. The common areas of the hotel are bright, clean and well-maintained and the owners and staff are very friendly and welcoming (and speak English!).  There’s a lounging area outside with comfy seats and swinging chairs where you can relax with a drink from the bar.

The buffet style restaurant is on the first floor. I was really impressed with the quality and range of food and even more so by their vegetarian and vegan friendly dishes. The hotel takes great pride in their cuisine – most of it being freshly made at the hotel using their own produce. In fact, have a look at their own write-up here, their photos are better!

Now, I could turn my nose up at buffet style places – you never know how long the food has been out and it’s a bit exposed to the elements eh? But the food was always obviously fresh and the buffet style meant you could take whatever you fancied and go back for seconds.

These are a few snaps from the restaurant. I was particularly impressed by the juicer which clients could make use of. You can eat as healthily or as unhealthily as you want. They even have chia seeds to have on your breakfast.

Life as a vegetarian in Italy is sometimes a challenge for me – my options can sometimes be limited to just pasta with tomato sauce. At the hotel though they were serving stuff I didn’t think you could actually get over here: different dishes including tofu, soya and tempah.  See below for some of my meals.

The hotel offer cooking courses on occasion and on one rainy morning we learnt how to make biscuits called ‘Gialletti’ (the name coming from ‘giallo’ which means yellow, the yellow tinge coming from the polenta used to make them) and piadinas Emilia-Romagna style. For those that haven’t come across piadinas before, they’re a sort of flat bread – a fat tortilla. Italians heat them up in a frying pan and put tasty thing inside like rocket and squaquarone cheese (squaquarone is a very tasty soft cheese). Our piadinas contained lard so I didn’t get to taste the final result but it did encourage me to give it a go at home (using oil!).  The bottom right hand photo below shows our final efforts with the rocket, squaquarone and slices of meat.  I was particularly impressed with the biscuits – we got to keep them and my pack of 30 or so biscuits lasted for all of about 2 days.

I mentioned above that the food in the restaurant was made using local produce – well the bulk of it comes from the Poggi family’s own land a few minutes drive away from the hotel. On our final day we were given a tour of the estate and given the opportunity to harvest some of the food for that evening’s dinner. It was good to see how vegetables should be grown properly. I’m currently growing just salad which keeps getting eaten by slugs and herbs which are looking suspiciously brown. During our harvest, we collected marigold flowers, fennel fronds, courgette flowers and sage leaves to be fried in batter for our dinner later. In fact, it seems there’s nothing that they don’t fry in batter (I didn’t see mars bars admittedly).

And this is the end result of our harvest – fried things in batter (highly recommended – particularly the sage!) and vegetable pasta with some marigold leaves to garnish and some purple flowers (I can’t remember what they’re called).

The hotel rooms were bright, spacious and clean with comfy beds. My room had a large shower but other rooms had baths.  I had a balcony complete with clothes horse to dry clothes. All in all, a nice place to come back to after a day at the beach or touring around the local area.

The hotel also provided entertainment…. Outside the hotel there are various dance clubs and places running karaoke nights etc. Back at the hotel though, it was nice to chill out in the seating area downstairs. On one night I discovered just how stressful Connect 4 can be – who knew?! It’s very strategic and our ‘board’ was huge!

On our final night a local dance group came along and showed us their moves, and dragged us onto the dance floor with them! It was great fun. Some of the group dances reminded me of Zumba – in fact, it was the same music and almost the same moves! I really should start that up again.

So I think that about sums up my stay. I really enjoyed it and I’m so pleased to have been invited along. Thank you San Salvador Hotel!

If you want to see what some of my fellow bloggers had to say, check out their blogs here:

Forchetta e Valigia

Profumo di Follia

Giorni Rubati

Martinaway

I’ll b right back

21 Grammy

Petali di Margherita

Big Shade

Viagem na Italia

Non Solo Turisti

x

PS. I am available for all blog tours. I would particularly encourage luxury hotels in the Maldives to make use of my reviewing services.

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Part 1: Getting the beautiful air in Bellaria Igea Marina…

Buongiorno a tutti!

I had a wonderful few days in Bellaria Igea Marina on the Blog Tour last week. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a packed schedule. I stayed in the lovely “San Salvador Hotel”, a 3 star hotel just a minute’s walk from the beach.  The tour included tours of Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna, not to mention Bellaria Igea Marina itself. We had cooking lessons, we tried our hand at paddle-boarding, we harvested some vegetables (well, mainly flowers in fact!), we cycled and we danced… All in all, it was a busy week.  So as not to overload you with photos and blurb, I’ll split it into parts!

Firstly, the disclaimer: I do love Blog Tours – they’re like little all-expenses paid holidays where you’re fed and entertained for the duration. Their purpose is to promote the area. However, I’m not obliged by any means to write a good review. That being said, I do really like Bellaria Igea Marina and I think it’s definitely a worthwhile holiday destination. Yet, for us English folk and in fact, probably for many other nationalities, Italy as a beach destination offers a very different kind of holiday to that which we’re used to. Indeed, sadly, there aren’t many English people that visit. With that in mind, I don’t feel like I can properly sell the merits of Bellaria Igea Marina without explaining a bit about the Italian beach culture first.

Why choose Italy as a beach destination in the first place?

We English folk do like our beach destinations. What could be more relaxing that lying back in a little cove or bay, with golden sand and nothing and nobody around for miles? Bliss! The reality of course is that unless you fit within some very specific age ranges (or you’re me), there’s inevitably children or old people in tow that require 24/7 entertainment and relentless toilet trips. Nobody takes a beach umbrella on holiday (hardly worth buying one anyway in the UK is it?) so the true Brit will burn to a crisp within the first hour and spend the rest of the holiday bright red and in pain. There will always be an annoying and stubborn pebbly lump under our towels and if it’s a sandy beach; you, your towel and all your belongings will be covered in the stuff within a couple of minutes.

Italians love beaches too but they do them completely differently. On the face of it, they seem to ruin their beaches by piling them with back to back umbrellas and sunbeds. There are bars every couple of meters, volleyball courts, boules, ping pong tables and pop up market stalls on the beach selling everything from towels and sarongs to sunglasses. There are people that take your children away and entertain them (not in a sinister way I should add!). There are even people that take your bikini clad older people away and make them do “aerobics” (I use the term loosely –uncoordinated joint jiggling? Sadly I was unable to obtain photographic evidence without being obvious. You’ll just have to use your imaginations).

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One of the market stalls looking like it might get rained on soon. It was a wet few days on the whole so my photos all look a bit moody!

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On the right is what I think must be “boules”. This is where the elders seem to hang out!

Italy have commercialised their beaches like nowhere else I’ve ever been to. But the thing is, they’ve made it much more relaxing as a result! It takes a while to get used to and in fact, I was scathing for a long time until I realised that actually, it’s nice to spend time at the beach and drink water without fear of not finding a toilet later. It’s nice to be able to buy something to eat or drink. Or relax on a sunbed and not be burnt to a crisp or covered from head to toe with sand within two seconds of applying sun lotion. Or buy sunglasses because I’ve left mine at home. Women of all ages and shapes parade up and down the beach-front in their bikinis and men do the same in minuscule “slips” (“budgie-smugglers” for the rest of us) and nobody cares! To be honest, I think Italy is a worthwhile holiday destination for that alone! It’s a very liberating experience.  Visiting Italian beaches should be used in therapy. Deep seated paranoia about cellulite or batwings just falls away when you’re just one of a million other people who just seem to be content with what they’ve got, whether that be a “beach body” or a stomach that flops over your knees. In fact, covering up just draws more attention to yourself – you’re sort of forced into being body-confident.

Italians often visit the same “bagno” or “stabilimento” (little patch of sunbeds) every year for a life time. Their parents went, their children will go, and their children’s children will go. It’s a family tradition that seems to be passed down from generations and it brings not only the family together but all the people you’ve grown up with who have the same tradition. If I visit the same place more than once, I feel very guilty – I don’t want to miss out on the rest of the world but actually, what the Italians are gaining by having this tradition and culture is much more important in my opinion: friendship and family, and having a lot of fun whilst they’re at it.

And why come to Bellaria Igea Marina?

For a start, the clue is in the name – Bellaria means Beautiful Air! The beach is golden, sandy and clean. In fact, in the morning someone rakes the beach to clear it of debris. Rock barriers stretch along the coast a few dozen meters from the beach to protect it from large waves. The water is shallow for a long way out making it ideal for children. When I arrived on Wednesday morning it was brilliant sunshine and the water was almost at the temperature I might have a bath!

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See the rock barriers… it’s shallow pretty much all the way out!

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They put a lot of effort into their beach cleaning. Someone comes each morning to rake debris into piles and then this tractor and lorry combo come along to pick it up!

There are plenty of “bagni” to take advantage of – for a few euros you can take advantage of the sunbeds, umbrellas, toilets etc. Here are some photos of the beach…

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The advantage of such a busy beach is that there are lots of well-equipped lifeguards!

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Two ladies having a morning stroll along the beach front. Later on, the beach front becomes a positive super highway of people doing the same!

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As you can see, the beach is well used!

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And taken from the other side.

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This is what I think of as party pier! Boat trips go from the end of it. When I arrived they were on a loud speaker and sounding like they were having a great time!

For anyone liking seafood, Bellaria is THE place to come to for clam hunting. In the morning, the sea is filled with people wandering around knee deep searching for them.

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One clam picker

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This photo is admittedly not a fair representation of the sea being “filled” with clam collectors but I speak the truth, honestly!

And still on the beach theme, you can rent pedalos, canoes and my new personal favourite, paddleboards! They call it SUP here, pronounced “soup”  (apparently it’s an acronym of Stand Up Paddle). Paddleboarding is amazing fun – it was part of the tour so we all gave it a go. I’ve always considered it a sort of surfing for wimps. You have what looks like massive surfboard, and then you stand up on it and paddle your way out using a long oar like you’re a gondolier. It seemed a very ineffective and unstable means of transport and lacks the excitement of catching a wave like in surfing… Oh how wrong I was! It was hilarious! Trying to stand up on this thing is nigh on impossible. You have to make constant little adjustments to your balance in order to remain above water and it uses EVERY muscle! So, it’s actually an amazing workout and I can imagine it must be relaxing when you’ve mastered it and  you’re not in constant peril of falling in.

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Here’s one of our member having a go with Fabio, our instructor, providing moral support.

Bellaria Igea Marina is flat and with large tree-lined roads, it makes for ideal cycling. In fact, everyone seems to cycle everywhere! Our hotel, the San Salvador Hotel, offered the use of bikes and our first afternoon consisted of a cycle tour of the area.

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This was my bike. I loved it! THIS is how bikes should be. Baskets, a saddle bag area, comfortable sitting position, no complicated gear changing (there weren’t any to change!!!).  Alas, it’s a bit difficult to go up hills!

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Lovely tree lined streets pave the way for cycling.

One of our first stops was the La Torre Saracena, one of six towers built in the 17th century to defend the town from pirates and other ‘baddies’. Only two towers exist these days and one is now a private residence so it’s good this one is kept open to the public. Now it’s home to “Il Museo delle Conchiglie”, a shell museum where you can see shells from around the world.

Our next stop was “La Casa Rossa di Alfredo Panzini” (The Red House of Alfredo Panzini). Alfredo was a writer, born in 1863 and who died in 1939. He’s well-known in Italy, although I admit, I hadn’t heard of him before. He was a keen cyclist and once cycled from Milan to Bellaria (well over 300km), meeting people, stopping here and there and writing about his experiences. He bought the Red House in 1909 with his wife, Clelia Gabrielli who was an artist (all the paintings in the house are hers). The house has now been turned into a museum. You can see where Alfredo used to write, his desk, his bike, some of his notes and lots of photos.

On a less cultural note there are some good shopping streets selling all manner of things and wandering around makes for a pleasant evening stroll.

Just a few minutes walk from the hotel is Gelso Park which is a large green park with a lake, playgrounds, a dinosaur area (seriously) and large trees that grow blackberries (in fact, that’s where the park gets its name – Gelso is the name of the blackberry tree).

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These are some of my fellow bloggers taking a blackberry break! You might just be able to see one of our members up the tree.

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Beautiful lake at the park.

The area was affected quite heavily by the war – or at least Rimini was. Our 14 year old Bellaria Igea Marina enthusiast cycle guide showed us one of the last remaining reminders of the war – a bomb shelter hidden behind a fence and sunken into the sand.

So that’s Bellaria Igea Marina itself. The San Salvador Hotel provide a good description if you want to read it here. What makes it such a good location though in my opinion is its proximity to some of my other favourite places (click the links to check out my blog posts about them): San Marino, San Leo, Gradara, Forli, Urbino, Pennabilli to name just a few and then of course there’s Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna which I’ll tell you about in the next post.

Stay tuned!

x

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The Nine Circles of Hell, Sightseeing in Ravenna and Photo Expeditions!

Buongiorno a tutti!

How’s everyone? I’ve had a very good, though largely unproductive, few days!

I shall tell you what I’m supposed to be doing – I’m supposed to be editing my book. And yet it seems I’ve spent most of my time doing more interesting/inspiring things instead. I’ve only managed two editing days in the last fortnight. I must, must, must finish!!!

The weekend before last I went to see “Dante’s Inferno” in the caves in Camerano where I used to live (to be clear, I used to live in Camerano, not the caves!). It was probably one of the most unusual plays I’ve seen – rather than sitting in one place it was a sort of group walking tour of the 9 “circles” of hell. As a quick summary, Dante and Virgil (of Roman poetry fame), take a tour of hell which is divided into 9 circles with increasing levels of torment in line with the increasing seriousness of the sins committed. In each larger cave (they’re all connected by small candlelit passageways), there were two or three actors that would recount what was going on in that specific circle of hell. Anyway, it was very good, though in a very difficult form of Italian (passato remoto – it’s not very common and more often used in the written form!) so I had to fill in the gaps with trusty Wikipedia after the performance.

I was also invited to Ravenna last weekend by my lovely neighbour to stay with her just as lovely family. I think it’s probably my most ‘full-on’ Italian language experience to date. I think I have a sort of weekly brain usage quota and as a result, I feel pretty brain dead – I’m unable to string more than a couple of words together now. Ravenna is absolutely spectacular though. I didn’t know anything about it before I went but it’s in Emigia-Romagna, the region north of Le Marche (the region where I am), and on the coast. It’s well-known because it has an extraordinary number of mosaics, some of the oldest in the world and most of them are in the churches. Ravenna is basically built upon a massive lagoon. If they hadn’t filled it all in over the years and sucked out all the water, it would have been like Venice. As it is they’ve had to keep building Ravenna up because it seems the entire city is suffering from subsidence! As a result, when you go around the old historic sites, you kind of walk down to them. It’s got a fascinating history; all recounted by my neighbour, her niece and niece’s partner. This sort of knowledge and patriotism about the area you live in and its history and artwork is something I love about Italy. Alas I have a terrible “in one ear, out the other” tendency for all things of historic importance, which is un-reflective of my level of interest so apologies for my lack of educational information on this blog but have a look here if you want to look into it! If you visit Ravenna yourself it’s well worth buying a sightseeing ticket which will get you into the main sights (tombs and churches mainly!) for just under 10 euros.

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Mosaic somewhere in Ravenna – I should have made a note! Perhaps we can call it an interactive, “guess where this mosaic is?” sort of competition. The winner gets credited in the caption.

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Now…. this is in the tomb of Galla Placidea. I was thinking about having my tomb decorated similarly. There is solid gold in all of these mosaics. SOLID GOLD!

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SEE THE GOLD!!!!!! GOLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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This is the Mausoleum of Theoderic. He was a big deal in Ravenna. He was worried about getting captured so there’s rumours of a secret tunnel that goes from one of the churches in Ravenna to this mausoleum (they liked to build their mausoleum’s whilst they were still alive – I guess if you want to make sure something is done right, do it yourself!) and at that point, it was right on the seafront so he could have made a quick get away.  It’s very difficult to imagine how Ravenna must have looked a few hundred years back!

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And here there were a collection of mosaics dug up from around the area…

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And, you guessed it, more mosaics – this mosaic covered a massive area in a large church… all telling the history of Jesus.

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And this is in the crypt of another church. I said how Ravenna was built on a lagoon – well you can see here how it’s been quite difficult to keep the water out!!! There’s actually fish swimming around in it!!! It makes me feel better about the damp problem in my house at least.

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And there’s a little ferry that takes you across the river to get to the harbour…

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And this is the harbour…

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And this church is still in Ravenna but further out. It was my favourite – nice setting (you have to pay 5 euros to go in. The churches in Ravenna must make a fortune). The mosaic around the altar was amazing. Still with solid gold – the churches in Ravenna it seems are wealthy!

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This is a close up of above the altar. All these mosaics must have taken decades!!!!

On a different note I was up in the mountains taking pictures of the stars last week. It’s a lovely idea in theory – it’s absolutely stunning up there at night. But there is NOBODY around and the problem with star pictures is that you have to leave your camera out taking photos for half an hour (because it’s so dark you need to have a long exposure so that you can get enough light in). So I ventured into the pitch blackness, set up the camera, waited in the car and then started worrying that there might be an axe-murderer on the loose. Next time I’m going to take a photography buddy with me!

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I also got up at the crack of dawn the other week to take photos at the beach in Civitanova. It feels like I’m always awake at the crack of dawn but I usually stay in bed willing myself to go back to sleep. But the sunrise was so lovely it inspired me to actually get up early again (for all of about half an hour).

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Yesterday I was very cultured and went to a Schubert and Chopin piano concert in Macerata. Very good indeed.

Finally, it’s chestnut season!!!! I’ve been having a great time harvesting stuff this month. My friend who has a house nearby has been visiting for the last week or so and we found a great spot a couple of days ago for chestnut picking. So, inspired by none other than Frank Sinatra, I have been roasting my chestnuts on my (non)open fire. They’re EXCELLENT!!!! I still have to perfect the timings but the recipe largely goes: 1. Score the chestnuts, 2. Put them in a tinfoil little parcel with a spoonful of water, 3. Chuck it in the stufa/wood burner for 20 minutes, 4. Peel and eat them. I think Mr Sinatra would have been impressed. Mmmmmmmm.

I think that about sums it up.

I hope you’re all having an excellent week. Buona giornata da Sarnano!

xxx

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Winter wonderland, attack dogs and cultural evenings…

Buongiorno!

How is everyone? It seems a while again since I’ve written so here’s a quick update.

I went back to the UK for a flying visit. Everytime I go back I never seem to be able to catch up with everyone I want to.  Anyway, before I get to UK stuff, let me tell you about my airport stresses! My weather app had been threatening snow the day before I was due to fly but I didn’t believe it. It had been far too sunny and lovely the proceeding days. And in fact, as I went to put the cat out at 3am (after he insisted that my neck was the only comfortable place to sleep in the entire house), there was no snow to be seen. Four hours later, there was a foot of snow which kept growing throughout the following day.

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Winter Wonderland… I cleared this road.

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And I cleared this road… and there’s another road….

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I did not have my coffee on the terrace that morning.

Now, apparently the snow clearing guys do clear the roads but the day came and went and there was no sign of them. My wonderful neighbour, phoned up everyone that she knew in the comune to get the snow clearers out the following morning so she could drive me to the airport. They did not come! In the end myself and my amazing neighbours cleared the snow from my house to the main road in a joint “get Sue to the airport” effort (hmm, that doesn’t sound like they like me but I think their intentions were good rather than wanting to get rid of me!). Just as we finished, the snow clearer came! Anyway, suffice to say I made it to the airport in the end.

The first couple of days of my visit were spent tirelessly teaching my parent’s new puppy to bite, bark and chase people. It was a slow and laborious job but someone had to do it. (I don’t think I’ll be invited back anytime soon).

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This is Molly the Attack Dog contemplating her next move.

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And this is Molly the Attack Dog in action. Who needs toes anyway?

Then I was in Leamington Spa (henceforth known as L’Spa) to check how Pane Caldo has been getting on in his new non-Italian habitat and how he’s coping with having to get up before 11am.  I’m going to have to review my stereotyped opinions of things north of London that aren’t the Lake District or Scotland. L’Spa is nice with lots of green spaces and shops. It has a large bowling green which makes me want to take up bowling. We popped up to Lincoln for the weekend and went to the beach too before heading to Warwick, a few minutes drive away from Leamington Spa.

 

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One of the many parks in L’Spa

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Erm, somewhere on the East Coast (I admit my geography is bad. However, did you know 85% of British people don’t know where Sheffield is?). Twas windy and cold but lovely!

 

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This is a pretty bit of Warwick. Warwick is an odd mix of absolutely beautiful, and brutally ugly.  I can’t remember what was surrounding it but it could very well have been a block of ugly unkempt flats.

Back in London my DIY mettle was tested when I had to re-hang a door and fit a bath panel in my flat there. I quite like DIY I’ve decided. It’s nice to feel a bit “handy” and all you need is a few YouTube videos and equipment. Having said that, I would not be remotely surprised if the door and bath panel have since fallen off. Luckily I have nice tenants that don’t like telling me if there’s problems. Result.

So now I’m back in Italy. The plan for the next couple of weeks is more DIY – painting the kitchen and finishing the beams (oh the beams).

I made a terrible mistake – I accepted the offer of “free wood” which was basically the remnants of a few small trees. I really like getting wood – it appeals to my hunter/gatherer instincts I think (less hunter, I’m a vegetarian). I even bought massive secateurs for the occasion and everything. However, after maybe 3 hours of chopping up branches, I now resemble Pop-Eye, only the bulging muscle is on my lower arm instead of my bicep.  And whereas Pop-Eye can lift trucks, I can’t even lift a pen without yelping. I ended up with just a wheelbarrow of wood. I could get a wheelbarrow of better and dryer wood without ruining my arm in about 10 minutes wandering up the road. Still, never look a gift horse in the mouth (Italians reading this – good luck trying to work out what that phrase means!).

I’ve been planting things too – the neighbour has given me a number of apparently difficult-to-kill plants so hopefully I can keep them alive. I’m attempting to grow peach and plum trees too – I don’t hold out a lot of hope!

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Yesterday my friend invited me to watch her perform some aria’s (opera songs to you and me) which was interesting. It’s not my kind of music but it was very impressive and I’m really proud of my friend, she was brilliant. After, we went to a restaurant here in Sarnano which I didn’t even know existed! So all in all, a good night.

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It was a good opportunity to see Castello della Rancia in Tolentino which is a bit of an unusual castle to be honest (it’s stuck in the middle of nowhere, not even on a hill)

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The castle is a museum and the upstairs was dedicated to theatre… this is a mask from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats”. You’d have to pay me a lot of money to wear that. I think I’d have to boil my face after.

 

My bread making continues… This time burger baps…

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With a bean burger – burgers are one of those things I miss from the UK. Italy still has some work to do on their veggie burgers so I made an ok attempt at bean burgers. I can’t wait until it’s BBQ weather!

 

Today, I’m going to be experiencing comedy at the local theatre.  Now, I don’t wish to do myself down but I’m not going to understand a thing – I think it’s all in dialect! I’ll report back.

Meanwhile, I’m off to get ready.

Buonasera a tutti and have wonderful weeks!

x

 

 

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