Posts Tagged With: emilia-romagna

Discovering chillies at the San Salvador Hotel…

Buongiorno a tutti,

How is everyone?

Well, I had a busy weekend up in Bellaria Igea Marina on the Emilia-Romagna coastline (on the calf of Italy’s boot) where the San Salvador Hotel had teamed up with Alba Peperoncino to introduce me and some wonderful fellow bloggers to the world of chillies.

Alba Peperoncino

Alba Peperoncino are a small agricultural company specialising in chilli plants, using dozens of different types to make oils, seeds, jams, condiments, dried peppers, chilli powder…and more recently and somewhat unrelated, hemp! (See here for the full product list). I was struck by their passion and knowledge of their industry. We went to visit their farm and greenhouses to see them in action.  You can see from their farm and talking to them that they’re a very ethical company; having a “bio” certificate to prove it, meaning their processes and products are all natural and organic. There’s an emphasis on sustainable, high quality produce and the majority of their products are suitable for vegans and are gluten-free.

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Chilli plants as far as the eye can see! The top right picture which you might think looks a bit suspicious is hemp. This is a new area for them and it’s become quite the top seller on Amazon. We actually tried the hemp in the form of tea one evening – it’s renowned for is relaxing properties. Despite being a bit bitter, I think it’s fair to say we all slept very well after!

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend going to visit them at their base and organise a tasting session. We tried many of their products over the course of the weekend and I have to say, all of them were absolutely delicious. I bought quite a bit: 3 jams (savoury and sweet with a mix of different peppers combined with figs, onions or strawberries), some diced chillies in oil and a massive jar of ginger and pepper jam. The chillies in oil go amazingly with cheese and pasta and the jams are great with bread or again, with cheese.

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My haul!

You can buy their products online through amazon.it.

A bit about Chilli Peppers

I have never before delved into the world of chillies. I was vaguely aware there were different sorts (long red ones, fat red ones, short red ones…) and varying heat levels (ow, ow-ow, ow-ow-ow) but I had never imagined there were thousands of them and the categorisation is a bit more advanced than the number of “ow’s”.

We had a talk from Claudio Dal Zovo from the Pepperfriends Association who’s literally written the book on chillies (or at least one of them!). The book is an 80 page delve into the world of chillies called Peperoncino: Dalla semina al consuma (loosely translated as “Chilli: from seed to plate”)! He was one of the first to discover some of the super-hot chillies. He gave an excellent introduction, focusing primarily on the chilli flowers which are as varied in terms of size, shape and colour as the chillies themselves.

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Claudio in action…

I learnt a lot this weekend! Here are ten things about chillies that you might not know:

  1. There are thousands of different types of chilli plant – the plants themselves can vary between 15cm and 7 meters and grow in all manner of climates.
  2. Chillies aren’t physically hot of course (unless you heat them!). They feel hot because they latch onto the pain receptors that are responsible for feeling heat. Odd that we would eat something that causes us pain isn’t it? But the brain’s reaction to this process is to send out endorphins, an internal pain-killer and a natural high. That’s presumably why we keep eating them!
  3. Chillies have an anti-bacterial quality, killing 75% of bacteria. In pre-refrigeration days adding chillies to your food was a way of keeping it relatively germ free.
  4. The general consensus is that chillies evolved their heat to protect them from getting eaten by animals. This seemed odd to me – surely it’s advantageous to have animals eat them and spread their seeds? Well only specific animals it turns out. Seeds ingested by mammals tend to be chewed up and damaged and thus not as fertile as a result. Seeds ingested by birds however are not damaged at all by their intestinal tracts. It’s emerged birds can’t detect capsaicin, the ‘hot’ chemical in chilli so the clever chilli plant, by protecting itself with capsaicin ensures mammals don’t ruin the seeds whilst maintaining a convenient seed flight-delivery system.
  5. They have the most beautiful flowers…

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    …Like this one from the Rocoto chilli plant taken by Claudio Dal Zovo

  6. It seems relatively easy to interbreed chilli plants – you can just have them next to each other and they seem to cross fertilize. I’m sure there must be something more to it than that but occasionally that’s how it works!
  7. A chilli’s heat can be measured in Scoville Heat Units (SHU) – that’s the degree of dilution required of the chilli extract before its heat becomes undetectable to a panel of tasters.  The higher the rating, the hotter the pepper. It’s not a precise science as people vary greatly in their perceptions of capsaicin.
  8. The “hottest” pepper is the Carolina Reaper from the US at 2,200,000 SHU. To put that into perspective, Tabasco sauce is about 5000 SHU. The Scotch Bonnet (which before this trip I thought was the hottest) is a measly 100,000 – 400,000 SHU! It made me wonder if eating enough hot chillies could kill you. It turns out it could, but you’d require so many of them that it would be nigh impossible. Our bodies have a way of rejecting things that are bad for them (here is an excellent example by some nutcases).
  9. There’s also a whole host of health benefits. Chillies are packed with vitamin c and other goodness. There’s a multitude of websites (this one is very complementary of the chilli) reporting how it can help with dieting, digestion, reduce the likelihood of heart-attacks, high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, migraines…  I’m not entirely sure all of these are backed up with scientific fact but certainly adding a bit of additional spice to your diet seems like it can only be a good thing.
  10. Having a passion for chilli peppers is an excellent hobby. You have an excuse to go all around the world in the search for rare chillies (trekking Bolivian forests in the search for rare or undiscovered chillies sounds like a very cool thing to do!). You can spend your free time growing them. You can experiment with lots of different recipes and preserves. You can hang out with other chilli aficionados at fairs and talk about them online in various forums. So all in all, it fulfills everything that a good hobby should! I’m going to start my budding chilli hobby career by buying a plant I think.

 

Cooking with Chilli Peppers

During the weekend we made all manner of things with chilli. We made biscuits with chilli, a cake with chilli and er, more chilli not to mention having various chilli sauces and spreads on piadinas and bread, chilli jams with cheese…  In summary, you can add it to basically anything. Why would you want to? Well despite the tasty kick, the health benefits I mentioned above seem to make it worthwhile.

The cooking extravaganza kicked off with biscuits. We made several different types with bloggers bringing their own favourite biscuit recipes to the table and adding a hint of chilli powder.

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All the biscuits were delicious and not overly “hot”. My favourite of the biscuits were these Spicy Ciambelline, courtesy of my friend Elisa…

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Ciambelline means donuts in English. The Italians have a very loose idea about what constitutes a donut. These are clearly not donuts at all – they’re knots! However, it’s an Italian recipe so I guess we should stick with the name!

Spicy Ciambelline

125g sugar + roughly 100g for coating the “ciambelline”
125g wine
100g sunflower oil
400g plain flour                                                                                                                                       8g of chilli powder (roughly half a teaspoon)
8g of baking powder (roughly half a teaspoon)

Mix it all together. To make the “ciambelline”, make little rolls, coat them with sugar and then make a knot with them. Put them on a baking tray, bake at 200°C for 15/20 minutes until they’re golden. Delicious!

Next up was a cooking demo with our fellow blogger, Bettina, who’s blog BettinaInCucina is a great success over here with tons of great recipes. She showed us how to make:

 

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Top: Pineapple and Artichoke Salad. Bottom left: Gazpacho soup. Bottom right: Houmous with peas and thyme. Of course all the recipes had a spicy twist and we used Alba Peperoncino’s chilli powder for all the recipes.

 

 

 

Naturopathy

We also had a talk from Naturopath, Francesca Rifici who spoke about how we can take care of our bodies naturally using some key principles of Chinese medicine. We just touched on the surface of this alternative medicine but essentially, we humans can be split up into 5 types (or we can consist of a couple of types): Wood, Earth, Fire, Metal and Water. Our characteristics respond to our type. We have different nutritional requirements depending on which type we are. This is further complicated by the time of year as each type corresponds to a season (with earth representing the beginning and end of each season). The theory is that illness comes from a disequilibrium within our systems and we need to make sure what we’re putting into our bodies is what it needs at the right time.

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I’m intrigued by the idea of naturopathy. I’m apparently a mix between wood and earth and I’d love to hear more about what that means in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be eating. The key aspects I took away from the session were that sugar is the root of all evil and I should occasionally try to fast. I’m factoring them into my diet as we speak!

The session finished with Francesca showing us a recipe for a cake using coconut sugar as a replacement to regular sugar. It’s inspired me to look at more nutritional and healthier alternative flours and sugar to use in my baking.

Hotel San Salavador & the blogging team!

We were hosted by San Salvador Hotel who I was fortunate enough to stay with last year on another blog tour. Read about it here. San Salvador is one of my favourite hotels and I’m not the only person to think that either – it’s got 5 stars on Tripadvisor with many rave reviews.  The hotel is run by the Poggi Family, specifically Federico and Stefano. Their father who started the hotel is still a familiar face in the building along with Sabrina on reception.

Apart from being made to feel so welcome, the hotel stands out for me because of their values – everything is carefully thought through in terms of the impact on the environment. They’ve got a whizzy little electric car, the produce for the breakfast, lunch and dinner is organic and picked from their own fields. The wheat is their own and ground in-house for use in bread making in the hotel. Though they provide meat dishes, they’re very vegetarian and vegan friendly, something close to my heart.

They are just a few meters from the beach and right next to a big park, which is great for children.

So all in all it was an excellent weekend shared with some great bloggers. Check out their blogs here to see what they’ve had to say about the weekend…

21Grammi: Alessandra who has a passion for all things Romagna focussing on art, culture, food and drink.

Forchetta & Valigia: Headed up by Tonia and Valeria both of whom have a love of food and travel. In particular thanks to Tonia who was our ringleader for this blog tour!

Bettina in Cucina: Bettina who shares her passion for food and travels on her blog.

Big Shade: Stefania who has a ton of great recipes on her website and enjoys discovering new recipes from around Italy too.

Finally a big thanks to Federico, Stefano and Sabrina at San Salvador Hotel; Roberta, Sara, Angelo and Marco at Alba Peperoncino; Claudio dal Zovo and Francesca Rifici for making my venture into the world of chilli’s not only interesting but great fun too 🙂

A presto…

Sue x

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Ravenna and Cesena

Buongiorno a tutti!

How are you all? It feels like ages since the blog tour- I feel like I should go back for a refresher! So, I’ve talked about places to stay, places to eat and food/wine production, and the city of Forlì, but we also managed to add in a few other activities and cities to our agenda that were totally ‘up my alley’: art, exhibitions, sculptures, nature and a million and one photography and drawing opportunities!

See flamingos at the Parco del Delta del Po

Did you know there were wild flamingos living in Italy?! I didn’t! I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. They fly up from Africa and ‘hang out’ in the Parco del Delta del Po as a stop-over to other climes but they have been known to stay for much of the year. We had a lovely boat trip  up the river for a spot of bird watching. As soon as we started off in the boat a massive heron swooped over the river in front of us above a cormorant who was demonstrating his wing drying technique to us.

Our very knowledgeable English-speaking guide, Andrea, provided us with binoculars, pointed us in the direction of the local wildlife and gave us a commentary of the birds and plants that can be found there as well as the history of the park.

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FLAMINGOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I could just spend all day on this river. If I lived in the area, I’d be permanently out there on a canoe with my camera. What makes it so interesting to photograph were these weird little houses on stilts with fishing nets. They’re called “casoni” in the park, but elsewhere in Italy they’re known as trabucchi. It’s the lazy mans way of catching fish. You basically sit on the deck with a beer looking at flamingos, lower the net into the water and wait for a few minutes, raise the net and voila, you have fish (sometimes).

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I’m trying to get as much sketching done as possible at the moment – my theory is that if I’m painting or drawing something every day, I’m going to improve quickly… we’ll see! Anyway, this was my very quick 10 minute watercolour sketch of the casoni.

The park office itself is very geared towards education, particularly children, where you can learn about how ox-bows are created and how the local water pumps work (the water pumps are essential to the area as a lot of the land in the area is actually lower than sea level). They also have ‘The Magic Box’ – a sort of virtual reality room which makes you feel like you’re in a lift and where you can navigate through the different strata of the Earth’s crust and learn about them as you go. It’s very clever; it really does make you feel like you’re in a lift!

Ravenna Street Art by bike

One of my other favourite activities of our blog tour was a bike trip to see Ravenna’s Street Art led by our guide Marco Miccoli who organises a Street Art Festival which takes place every September. I’ve never seen such an array of impressive murals before. There are a lot to see and you can find guides and hire bikes at the tourist information office in Piazza San Francesco. The locals have a healthy respect for the art and we didn’t see any of them painted over. It’s a beautiful way of giving a new lease of life to boring old buildings though I think there’s been some mixed reviews from the residents! This was one of my favourites…

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There is such an array of styles and techniques – not just the more typical ‘spray paint’ variety. It’s certainly worth a look at  and it’s all free!

Learn how to make a mosaic 

Ravenna is famous for its mosaics. It has an incredibly high percentage of the world’s mosaics and they are everywhere. Have a look at one of my previous posts on Ravenna to check some of them out. Our bike tour took us past Koko Mosaico  where we saw some mosaic artists in action. I really fancy doing some mosaics – they run courses one a month for a week. I’d love to give it a go! These are some of the mosaics that were on show at Koko Mosaico…

 

Visit the ID Dante exhibition

There’s not much time left to see this exhibition – it’s in the Biblioteca di Storia Contemporanea “Alfredo Oriani” and it closes on the 23rd October so if you’re in the area, get a move on! The exhibition shows the works of 33 artists all with a common theme: Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy. The classic image of Dante (check out the Wiki link above to see it) is one where he seems to be wearing a red night shirt with matching nightcap adorned with a sort of leafy halo (as you may be able to tell, I haven’t studied Dante or the Divine Comedy but from a novice perspective, that’s his image and it’s a well known one across Italy!). This exhibition had artists interpreting Dante’s portrait in their own style and using their own techniques. What a great idea – providing a common theme and seeing how different people interpret it. Seeing and hearing about the artwork was fascinating. I quite fancy having a go at Dante’s portrait myself now!

And why Dante? Dante is more associated with Florence but in fact, he had a big presence in Ravenna. Ravenna is where he died, his tomb is there (though I think there’s some question mark as to whether his body is?!). This project was designed to bring his presence in Ravenna more to the forefront. Here are my favourites from the exhibition. Guess which one of them gives me the creeps and makes my eyes hurt?

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Cesena

Our final destination for the Blog Tour was Cesena. It was the first time I’d been to Cesena and I have to say, it’s my favourite of the cities we visited, mainly because it seems to be able to combine a ‘hip and happening’ vibe with quaint cobble-stoned streets! Cesena is characterised by the imposing ‘Rocca Malatestiana’ a fortress built by the Malatesta family (the governing family of the region between 1295 and 1500).

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This is the Rocca Malatestiana. I still laugh when I think of the name of this family. “Malatesta”, the name of the family, sounds a lot like “mal di testa” when said quickly. “Mal di testa” means headache. During one tour of a castle years ago in Gradara, also inhabited by this family, I was struggling for ages to understand how headaches had such a prominent part to play in the history of the castle…

The city was surrounded by a wall, much of which still exists today and was designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. I was struck by how unimpressive the wall was – I mean, even I could have scaled it I think! However, it emerged that it was once surrounded by a moat and it rose further in my esteem when I learnt it was in the shape of a scorpion. Cesena is also the home to the Biblioteca Malatestiana which was the first municipal library in Italy and has been granted “Memory of the World” status by UNESCO for the building itself and for the books it contains. The old part of the library hasn’t changed from when it was built almost 600 hundred years ago and it’s still possible to visit. To best explore Cesena, it’s a good idea to do it by bike. Everything is flat so it’s a good way to discover the city. There is an amazing free online audio guide that you can listen do on your way around.

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Our first stop on our bike tour was the studio of  Leonardo Lucchi in Piazza del Popolo where there is also a permanent exhibition of his sculptures. His sculptures are brilliant – the work is mainly females in bronze with a sort of characteristic ‘balancing’ component which makes you wonder how on earth the sculpture is staying upright. All of them have a real delicacy about them.  Here are some of my favourites. The exhibition is free so pop in if you’re in Cesena…

Then we went outside of the city walls to follow the river

But my favourite part of the Cesena tour was inside the city walls. Cesena has all these quaint pretty painted houses and cobbled walkways. It really is a lovely city.

We planned our trip to Cesena perfectly in time for their International Street Food Festival which has been going for 9 years or so. I was so thrilled! In Italy, you get a choice of Italian restaurants or Italian restaurants, or sometimes Italian restaurants!  I mean, I love Italian food so it’s not a problem, but sometimes I just hanker after food that’s not Italian. So I was ecstatic to be able to eat a burrito (Mexican food for the Italian’s reading this!). I haven’t had one for over 3 years! And there was curry… mmmm curry! It’s definitely worth coming to Cesena just for this festival to be honest. The chefs are from all around the world and cook their own traditional food. Brilliant!

I could sit and have a drink in Piazza del Popolo, the main square in Cesena, for hours. In fact, we did. I managed to fit a drawing in too!

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So that about sums up my Blog Tour week. I had the best time with some lovely fellow bloggers who were incredibly patient with my Italian (I become monosyllabic after about 9pm) and I’m so pleased I had this opportunity to explore the area “off the beaten track” and meet some wonderful characters in the process.

Have a look at what my fellow bloggers had to say too:

Meanwhile, as ever, I am always available to be wined and dined on a blog tour in any hot, sunny country, perhaps by a beach (Maldives: You need me!). For any questions about what we did or for any corrections, drop me a line in the comments 🙂

A presto,

x

 

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Forlì

Buongiorno a tutti!

I hope you’re all well and have been waiting with baited breath for the fourth part in the Settimana del Buon Vivere Pentalogy! We went far and wide during our week away in the search to discover why the region of Emilia-Romagna has come to be known as the region of “good-living”. We went on bike rides, boat trips, art tours and explored Forli, Ravenna and Cesena so all in all, it was a packed schedule! In this post I’ll write about some of the hidden gems we discovered in Forlì.

Waterworks of Forli

Forli is a comune and city in Emilia-Romagna and is the capital of the province of Forlì-Cesena. It comes from the Latin name for the town “Forum Livii”. I suspect in the UK, not many of you will have heard of Forlì but it played an important role in Italy’s history and has been the home to some of their more famous and forward-thinking people. In fact, the squares and roads are dedicated to one of the citizens they’re most proud of, Aurelio Saffi, a Politian active during the unification of Italy in the 19th century. More on him later…

The theme of the Settimana del Buon Vivere this year was ‘Water’ so with that in mind we had an ‘urban trek’ organised in partnership with the Municipality of Forlì to discover ‘Forlì, the city of water`. Now to be honest, when you walk around Forlì the first thing you think is not “wow, look at all this water” so I was intrigued. However, it really is a city of water; it’s just that you can hardly see any of it!

We started off at the Rocca di Ravaldino (also known as Rocca di Caterina Sforza) where our excellent tour guide, Gabriele Zelli, gave us an insight into how important water was for Forlì in the past.

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Rocca means ‘stronghold’. Here’s the Rocca…

Gabriele told us about the past lives of the castle which was a defensive home of Caterina Sforza (the Countess of Forlì – have a look at her Wiki page, she was quite a character!) and its subsequent takeover by Ravaldino and then eventually its use as a prison. A moat ran around the castle which is now filled in and canals ran very close to it, and in fact still do, underneath roads and houses.

The canals were essential for farming and industry. A number of mills and tanning factories were set up along the canals.  Forlì also has a long history of making sugar from a type of beetroot (sugar beet) which needs a lot of water which was why the canals were so important to the city. Along the canals there were also public wash-houses (lavatoio) where people washed their clothes. However it wasn’t always an easy relationship Forlì had with water; poor quality drinking water led to thousands falling ill each year from typhoid and dysentery etc.

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Today, after further development of the city the canals are almost totally covered, apart from this part in the main city. They are still in use though by the farming industry.

Forlì has a diverse range of architecture, demonstrated perfectly in Piazza Saffi, the main piazza. Here you can see buildings from both the renaissance period, the fascist period and the 1960’s (what were those architects thinking?!)

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A romantic scene snapped under the arches of the Post Office, in Piazza Saffi, constructed during the Fascist era!

This is Piazza Saffi with its eclectic architecture…

And these were some snaps taken during our tour. I loved this beautiful image painted on the side of a building near the San Giacomo church.

 

The Risorgimento at Villa Saffi

Villa Saffi is on the outskirts of the main town of Forlì and was the home of Aurelio Saffi, the Italian Politician that the Forlivese (residents of Forlì) are very proud of. He was an active protagonist in Forlì’s ‘Risorgimento’ (the fight for the liberation and unification of Italy between 1750–1870) and was a good friend of Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini led the movement. The Risorgimento was unsuccessful and they were exiled to the UK where Aurelio met his wife, Giorgina Craufurd (the least sounding English name ever – I assume she got fed up of Italian’s trying to pronounce Georgina Crawford and changed it!)  Years later they moved back to Forlì and lived there until their deaths. It is possible to take a tour around their house and see where secret political meetings were conducted, the ice-house, a lovely wall mural in the “table tennis room” and some of the niftiest furniture I’ve ever seen. In fact, there’s barely an item of furniture in the house it seems that doesn’t have some secret compartment, trick to using it or can turn into something else entirely.

Look at these signatures below. My photos are a bit blurred unfortunately but aren’t they beautiful?! There is a remembrance book full of them for those that came to the funeral of Giorgina. It’s made me realise just how awful my signature and general handwriting is. Even the recipe below, an original from the kitchen, looks elegant!

 

Restoring books at the Laboratorio del Restauro Libri

We also went to the Laboratorio del restauro libri in Forli to see how books are restored. This isn’t a tour open to the general public but for those interested in how the process works, tours can be arranged (see contacts in the link above). This was definitely one of the most fascinating parts of our week. I am just absolutely gobsmacked by the work they do here. If you saw the state of the books they restore, it’s amazing the team aren’t rocking back and forth in the corner of the room having gone completely mad! I don’t know of any other job where you would need as much patience.

They carefully number the pages which is a challenge in itself because often the pages are all stuck together. Then they wash each page in a large sink and carefully dab away any mould in the corner and then they reassemble it using traditional bookbinding techniques. When parts of the pages become separated and they don’t know where they’re from, they collect the pieces together and it becomes like a sort of mammoth jigsaw puzzle to work out which one of the hundreds of pages the missing part came from!

The amount of work and dedication involved is enough to make your eyes water. The restoration work for one book can take weeks, if not months. Books come in from private collectors or libraries around Italy and the team provide a quote for the clean-up operation. (Forlì is lucky that I’m not managing this team – I like books and I think it’s great to preserve our history but my patience is such that I would have written back to the library or private collector to suggest they just preserve it in its current state as a hunk of mould!) So, in summary, I’m full of admiration for this team and if you fancy doing something a bit ‘off the beaten track’, an organised tour here is absolutely fascinating.

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Check out the Biblioteca Saffi

Continuing with the book theme, Biblioteca Saffi is also definitely worth a visit (visits should be organised in advance – contact details in the link). Biblioteca means library (confusingly “Libreria” means bookshop!) and this one is located a short walk from Piazza Saffi. It houses the most amazing collection of books, paintings and other objects donated by Carlo Piancastelli, a collector with a passion for……..well, everything! The collection includes old letters, books, score music, maps, portraits and sculptures and spreads across a number of rooms. To me a “collector” implies someone that collects for a hobby but I think it was akin to a full-time job for Carlo. It’s certainly an impressive legacy to leave.

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If you want to read more about Forli, have a look at my previous blog post Touring Forlì and tune in for the next blog post about other things you can do in the area!

A presto,

x

 

 

 

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Part 3 – Cantinas and Ciambellas!

Buongiorno a tutti!

Part 3 of the Settimana del Buon Vivere Pentalogy covers the preparation side of food and wine in Emilia-Romagna. The thing that struck me most about our tour around the region’s cities and countryside is just how passionate everybody we met was about their area of expertise. Italians love good food and they love their wine. There’s a growing trend for eating locally sourced, organic foods that have been farmed using traditional methods where possible to produce top quality ingredients. The Settimana del Buon Vivere really focused on that during their programme of activities for the week and we saw it in practice out in the field…

San Biagio Vecchio Cantina

Lucia, our host for one morning and early afternoon, owns the San Biagio Vecchio Cantina with her husband Andrea. The cantina is in the most perfect of perfect settings: resting on a hill, surrounded by miles of vineyards in all directions and across the next valley is an old church and tower perched on a neighbouring hill. There’s a restaurant on the property where you sit overlooking the vineyard and ponder just how many vines they have. They even have a couple of geese!

We sat down at a table at about 11.00 and started sipping wine with a delicious array of accompanying nibbles from the restaurant. Very decadent!

I won’t describe the wine too much. My level of expertise only enables me to answer the following questions: What colour is it? Do I like it? All I can tell you is that we had two wines (SabbiaGialla and MammaMia) which were both white and I liked them both. I was endeared by the story of their Mamma Mia wine which has a cute picture that their young daughter had drawn of Lucia on the label. The wine is made from the Albana grapes.

In addition to grapes they also harvest grain and I do love a good discussion about bread, particularly sourdough bread which is made using a sort of “home-made” yeast  – not these little sachets of dried yeast like I used in the UK! Sourdough bread is a bit more of an art form in my opinion and requires a bit more love and attention. I started making bread almost two years ago and never buy it now. I learnt on my own so it was really lovely to have a discussion with Lucia, a fellow bread maker about how she maintains her “starter” (that’s the name for the sourdough yeast mix which can sometimes be years old – in fact hers was originally given to her and is about 28 years old! It’s much less disgusting than it sounds, I promise!). Not only is it satisfying to make a loaf of light spongy bread out of just flour and water but what an amazing thing to be able to use your own grain in the production too. The grain they cultivate at San Biagio Vecchio is an old variety of grain, little used these days, called “Gentilrosso” which grows to well over a meter high.

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Here’s the bread with the flour, sourdough “starter” and grains…

Lucia and Andrea have not selected the easy route to success. Lucia described how they harvest their grapes- this particular type is harvested up to 3 times a year as opposed to many others. (I had the good fortune to be involved in a grape harvest this year -I’ll write about that in a future blog post – but it’s exhausting work). Their wine is also biological – the vines aren’t treated and they don’t use weed killer. It’s basically very hard work! And it took them a few trial attempts to get the old grain right too.  These people are not out to ‘make a quick buck’. They have a passion for what they do and they want to do it properly.  It really is very inspiring!

Il Piccolo Forno Marziali

Later that day we went to see how some of the traditional Romagnolo baked goods are made at the quaint “Piccolo Forno Marziali”.  Daniele, the owner, is a well known “Fornaio” – he makes sweet things using the oven – a baker (not to be confused with a Pasticcere, someone that makes sweet things in more of a general sense). Daniele is easy to like – he’s a passionate whirlwind of creativity – flitting from one end of the kitchen to the other, gesturing wildly whilst talking about how making a cake is like making love to a beautiful woman. He makes a couple of traditional “romagnolo” (Romagna) recipes from the region but everything else is basically of his own creation. His passion for the local Sangiovese wine which features in some of his “wine dipper biscuits” (as I’ve dubbed them  – they’re not like our tea-dipping biscuits!) results in some interesting tastes!

Daniele showed us how to make a ciambella in the traditional Romagnolo way (a bit too Romagnolo in my opinion as traditionally it is made with lard! I’m determined to make a ciambella with a lard substitute instead!). I was disappointed to note how he mixed up the ingredients on the table rather than in a bowl, and then scraped it all onto metal trays for cooking… where’s the fun in that?! This technique means there’s no bowl to lick! Far too efficient for my liking!!!

He told us how in the past when mothers wanted to check the suitability of a woman for their sons, they’d watch them make a ciambella or something similar so they could check their movement from behind, and from that apparently you can tell whether they’d make a good wife or not. One’s bottom must sway apparently.

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One’s bottom should move like this…

Once they were cooked, we tried our efforts with some pre-prepared ‘Wine Dippers’ (I hope this name catches on!) which certainly hit the spot: light, crispy and flavour-some!

All in all, it was a lovely day and I was absolutely stuffed by the end of it.

Watch this space for Part 4 where I’ll talk about some of the things you can do in Emilia-Romagna….

A presto,

x

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Part 2 -Restaurants

Buongiorno a tutti,

I’ve decided to split up part 2 of my Blog Tour having two food and drink sections, one dealing with place to eat and the other dealing with the manufacturing side of it. I acknowledge this is quite a bad trilogy strategy, given Part 3 is yet to come and may also be broken down into a couple of manageable chunks! My Trilogy is fast becoming a Pentalogy…

Now as a precursor to this section – I will mention that we got all of our food free for this blog tour and whilst there was absolutely no mandate saying we should only write nice things about the restaurants, it’s difficult not to feel obliged in some sense. However, I have not sold myself to the devil… I feel like I can honestly say that all the food we had over the course of the blog tour was excellent whilst maintaining my honour and integrity! I mention this because…

CambioLogico – Forlì

… is probably the best restaurant I’ve ever been to. And I’m going to say something now, but you must promise not to skip this review out of some ill-informed and misguided stereotype…  It’s a vegan restaurant. I’m vegetarian. It’s not actually too difficult to find vegetarian food in Italy – there will always be a pizza or a pasta with tomato sauce that I can eat.   The same goes for restaurants in the UK – there’s always something to eat but it’s never very imaginative. To be honest, in my opinion, the “meat” options aren’t either so I never feel any great loss.

But this restaurant is ALL imagination. We had a taste of some of their most successful dishes and each one was incredibly impressive. Being vegan forces a creativity that the meat eating community can usually only ever dream of. In fact, I was recently at a Michelin star restaurant and as interesting as it was, I don’t think it had anything on this restaurant, even the meat courses from what I could see. Given the amount of thought and effort that went into the preparation of each dish, well, I’m quite frankly stunned that the prices are no higher than any other restaurant you can find in town.

The menu changes regularly and includes raw food dishes as well, but they were so well prepared you wouldn’t even notice.  These chefs are more like chemists of nature, mixing organic and locally sourced ingredients together in a way to produce something which seems completely unrelated to the original elements! We had courgette spaghetti with a lemon and ginger cream, tartlets, the nicest burger I’ve ever had made with beetroot and rice of all things, crackers and “cheese”, ice-cream, “cheese”cake and about a million more things. We were all completely stuffed by the end of the meal and even my slightly more carnivorous fellow bloggers were thoroughly impressed. I only had my camera phone so I haven’t done the meal the justice it deserves but here’s a peak…

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The music was great (in fact, it’s as though they hacked into my personal playlist!), there was a great ambiance, and I’m really pleased to say that it was incredibly popular too with most tables booked out.  We met the chef who, together with our waiter,  were incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about their work.

So in summary, if you’re ever in Forlì, go to this restaurant!

Casa Spadoni – Faenza

One evening we had a “cena di solidarieta”, a dinner of solidarity as part of the Settinama del Buon Vivere where there must have been well over a hundred guests, all in formal evening wear (I had to ‘acquire’ formal evening wear the previous day! There is limited scope for going to balls, living in the middle of nowhere, so my gala dresses were somewhat non existent).

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These are some snaps from the night with myself and fellow bloggers!

Casa Spadoni itself is a great venue – very elegant, nicely decorated and quite frankly, massive. The food was also good, particularly considering just how many people they had to serve at the same time. The dish in the bottom right hand corner of the photo below was cheese, cheese and more cheese. I love cheese, I hadn’t thought it would ever be possible to have enough cheese – but in fact, I found my limit!

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Osteria Nascosto –  Forlì

An “Osteria” is a place to eat where they serve simple, home-cooked traditional meals. “Nascosto” means hidden and I can confirm, it really was hidden but well worth finding. The décor was rather basic with tiled walls and bright lights – certainly not a romantic setting, but I really liked it. There clientele are locals and when that’s the case, you know you’ve hit upon a good place. It felt a bit like we had been let it on a secret!  The food is very much traditional from the Romagna region.  I ate passatelli – a type of very short fat spaghetti made with eggs, bread crumbs and parmesan. You don’t find it anywhere else in Italy and so it was my first taste. Once you get over the fact it looks a bit like worms, it really is very tasty. I might have a go at making some myself!

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I loved this cup, saucer and jug “objet d’art”.  I might have a go at doing that too!

Amburgheria Creativa – Forlì

I have been known to complain about the lack of international food in Italy. I miss curry, chinese and mexican… and I miss burgers! I think it’s probably different in a city, but certainly where I am, you can’t get a burger. So I was pleased when I heard we were going to check out a new burger place in Forli that opened recently.

These are burgers with a twist – using ingredients sourced locally, cooked in-house and with a ‘Romagnolo’ feel – in fact, that was even the title of one of the burgers! The staff here are proud about their heritage and their ethics and it comes together really well in the form of a selection of, I must say, very tasty burgers. I think it’s fair to say that in Italy vegetarians are often an afterthought but here the first part of the menu was dedicated to vegans and vegetarians. Their attention to detail was excellent – for each burger there was even a recommended beer. Burgers to me have a bit of a junk food reputation – the kind of meal you have when you’re tired and just don’t care whether you’re going to be eating a million calories. However, this burger was so light that I left feeling healthier than when I went in.

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The decor is young and hip – I loved their rope light. The only downside, but also it’s upside I guess, is that it caters more for takeaway (takeaways are few and far between in Italy! Particularly ones that deliver and don’t just do pizza!). There isn’t a lot of space to eat inside and although there are tables and chairs outside, winter is coming!

So all in all, I’ve eaten so much good food that I will need to diet until Christmas in order to lose the weight I think.

Watch this space for part 3 of the Pentalogy!

A presto,

x

 

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The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Part 1 – Places to stay

Buongiorno a tutti!!!!

How is everyone?

I’ve been on a blog tour in honour of the “Settimana del Buon Vivere” (the Week of Good Living) in Emilia-Romagna, a region of Northern Italy. I’m going to write it up as another Blog Tour Trilogy. In this post, I’ll give you a bit of background and focus on places to stay, Part 2 will cover food and drink and in Part 3 I’ll talk about things to do and  see in the area. There is a small chance that like all good trilogy’s I might split the final Part into two sections as there’s so much to talk about!

The Settimana del Buon Vivere is a yearly event at the end of September (this year’s event ran from the 25th September to the 2nd October) based primarily in Forlì and it focuses on health, culture, well-being and the environment. To that end there are: art exhibitions, concerts, shows, workshops, seminars… you name it, the list goes on!

There is a 43 page programme / newspaper listing the events for the week so all in all, an impressive programme and although there was a general theme in relation to “Water” this year, the festival covered a vast range of topics. To give you an idea of the events: There were free lessons in yoga, talks on mindfulness, seminars on how to use water responsibly (including how to grow plants with as little water as possible – this seminar is perfect for me!), mobile theatre events that took place in a truck and bus and discussions about sourdough bread… I picked out my personal favourites for these examples but to check out the full range, have a look here.

However, our particular blog tour only touched briefly on the official activities of the Settimana del Buon Vivere as our primary aim was to explore Emilia-Romagna as a whole: uncover some of the cities, learn about their traditions and culture, their food and wine and see for ourselves why the region is Italy’s capital for “good living”. We did, however, attend one of the official events – an Instagram Academy held in what used to be a church, San Giacomo in the city of Forlì.

The talk was interesting, covering how Instagram has come to be, how it can be used, particularly as an aid to tourism and it’s benefits. I have to admit, I do not utilise Instagram to the max, in fact, even to the minimum. I hadn’t quite worked out what point it serves over and above all the other social media which I already struggle to update! I know, I know… what kind of blogger am I?!! Anyway, I left the presentation relatively sold on its benefits. I shall aim to post regularly. If you want to follow me, I’m “lemarchescape” and as an aside, on Twitter I’m @suzzec (long story!).

During the presentation I drew the Instagram Academy team, and posted that up on Instagram there and then –  the two guys presenting “liked it” shortly after – oh the power of social media!

instagram

 

Exploring Emilia-Romagna

Emilia-Romagna covers a large area – it’s one of Italy’s 20 regions (just north of Le Marche where I live), and has a population of almost 4.5 million people. It is over 14 times bigger than Greater London to give you an idea of its size, with mountains, plains, lagoons, sea and one of my favourite cities, Bologna, which is the region’s capital.

You can appreciate that it would be a challenge to experience and write about everything there is to see and do in the entire area during the course of the week we were there. However, we did our best! We had a whirlwind tour of some of the region’s cities, seeing them in a new light, learning about the traditions and culture in Emilia-Romagna and discovering the Delta del Po park. We went on a water-based tour of Forli, a street art tour of Ravenna and a tour of Cesena by bike. We went wine tasting, ciambella making (a traditional cake of Emilia-Romagna), bird watching, art and sculpture exhibition visiting, not to mention eating vast amounts of the local delicacies in an array of restaurants. I know, I know… it’s a hard life this blog tour business! I felt like quite the celebrity. In fact, I was even interviewed by the local radio station! To check out the interview click here. I can’t bring myself to listen to it. My Italian is just awful!

B&B Calicanto

We stayed at the Calicanto Bed and Breakfast run by Andrea and Anna and their family. Like it says in their kitchen, it’s a home from home (which is not totally true in my case, the rooms here are much more luxurious!

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A home from home!

The bedrooms are well decorated – a good mix between modern and traditional. Breakfast was served in a little dedicated kitchen area and amazing breakfasts they were too. Anna is a brilliant cook – she really should be running cake baking courses! There’s something different to look forward to everyday.

They have a large outside space, complete with sun loungers at the guests disposal where we spent most of our first day ‘chilling out ‘ before the blog tour commenced in earnest. If we hadn’t been jetting around the region for the tour, I could happily have spent the entire week relaxing at the B&B!

I think my favourite aspect of the B&B though was the ever faithful Mutley, the excellent and affectionate guard dog!

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I’m trying to get in as much drawing and watercolour practice as I can at the moment so with that in mind, I spent our first afternoon with the sketchpad…

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Ca’ Bevilacqua

To have a look at other options available to tourists coming into the area, we also visited Ca’ Bevilacqua in the evening for a buffet meal. Ca’ Bevilacqua is a B&B with three guest rooms and an area for events such as birthdays or weddings. The property is surrounded by a large hedge and a rather sturdy gate and in consequence you feel totally secluded – a real haven for relaxation. They have been featured in Country House magazine. We ate in the very atmospheric event area, a large almost open “barn” area with vines intertwined amongst the beams and falling down in cascades. Quite a romantic room that makes you feel like you’ve just come across it in the middle of a forest. This is where they host events – holding a wedding recently in what I think is an idyllic setting! Our hosts, Loretta, Vidmer and their daughter provided us with a lovely buffet meal and great company after a long and tiring day of exploring. These are some snaps from the evening but check out their website to see the B&B in all its daylight glory!

Ok, that’s it for this post. Tune in for Part 2. If you want to check out what my fellow blog tour buddies thought about our tour, have a look here:

A presto,

x

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The Malocchio (Evil Eye)!

Buongiorno a tutti!

How is everyone? I have (as have many of the locals) had a challenging few weeks! The aftermath of the quake has been terrible. There are so many people without homes and who have lost love ones. The last count was 295 people dead. The damage here in Sarnano was obviously on a completely different scale but still substantial. There are 250 people here alone who have had to move out of their homes as they’ve been classed as “inagibile”, basically unsafe to live in.

Alas this list includes my neighbour. I don’t live in a sort of abode that any English person has probably ever come across! It’s a very odd set up. Perhaps the nearest description would be a “terrace”. Basically it’s a large house divided into 4 separate abodes, one of them being mine. My house covers 3 floors and is over and under other bits of the other people’s houses. It’s certainly not a neat divide. In fact, to give you an example, one of my bedrooms was acquired years ago by a previous owner who bought it from my neighbour. Any of you thought of selling your bedroom to your neighbour?!! Anyway, a dividing wall between my upstairs bedroom and my neighbour’s is now in danger of collapse – and no matter which way it falls, it makes it too dangerous for her to live there so she’s moved out. Apparently to fix the damage it isn’t enough to rebuild the wall and the neighbour’s ceiling which has always been rather weak. The amendments will need to be made in an anti-seismic fashion. Alas, it turns out this is actually a lot of work and is likely to take months and cost thousands – during which time I won’t be able to live here. Hopefully the government will pay for the repairs but it could take years for that money to come through.

After a week of aftershocks and not really sleeping very well, I decided to get away from it all and spend a couple of days at the beach up north in Rimini with a friend. Alas whilst there, someone stole my bag with my wallet, telephone and everything else in it so it wasn’t as relaxing as I would have liked! The hotel, Hotel Luigi deserves a medal – they were so kind, helpful and generous. If anyone goes to Rimini, I would highly recommend them, not only for their lovely rooms and excellent location but for their sheer niceness! I would also recommend that you never leave your things unattended anywhere in Rimini not even for a second. It seems dozens of bags are stolen every day.

I had to buy a new mobile phone to replace the one that was stolen. I use the term ‘phone’ loosely as it turned out that once I got home it couldn’t receive or make calls or messages apart from within the bounds of the shop where I bought it from. The shop owner was incredulous and thinks I’m insane. Anyway, we agreed he’d send it off to be repaired and he gave me a totally different replacement phone. Such was my luck, it had exactly the same problem!!!

……And the bad things continued: The car passenger window has broken, the car steering wheel freezes randomly, the spark plugs have been a problem even though I’ve just replaced them, and the tax man (well I don’t know where to begin with that but suffice to say it’s a good job I’m not a suicidal sort of person) health issues (that are all resolved but I can confirm that the Italian Health Service seems to be about a million times more efficient than the English health system on the face of it) etc etc etc…

It was also a horrible few weeks on the cat front. Two of Pelosina’s kittens went mysteriously missing. Pelosina died during the local ‘Slug Pellet Cat Massacre of Spring 2016’. She left behind 3 adorable little kittens. Two of them went mysteriously missing and a few days later I discovered a cat shaped body floating in a water butt. I put two and two together and decided they must have fallen in. Meanwhile, the remaining kitten, Pepper, wouldn’t leave my side. I missed her brothers and I think she did too and we snuggled up each night watching TV with her kneading my stomach and giving contented little meows. Then a week or two back, I woke up and found her dead outside where she’d been hit by a car. I shouldn’t get attached to these cats, bad things always happens but she was such a character and was so affectionate that she really wheedled her way into my heart. I do miss her.

So all in all, there has been an unwieldy amount of misfortune. I’m not remotely superstitious but in the event that it was due to the mirror I broke a month or so back, I set about researching methods of how to resolve a curse, just to cover my bases! And there is nowhere better to resolve a curse! The Italians, it turns out, are quite a superstitious nation. I bought a keyring with a four leaf clover and a red squiggley horn thing which they call a “cornetto rosso” which fends off bad things (although not that well in my case unfortunately). And the other week my friend doused me in oily water to fend off the “malocchio” (the evil eye!) and muttered something under her breathe. Apparently she can’t tell me of her mutterings until Christmas Day which is the only day where the tradition can be passed on. I can’t wait!

Anyway, perhaps because my friend actually managed to lift the “Malocchio” (!) or simply because life has temporarily run out of ways to be spiteful, things are on the up again now and I don’t feel quite as blighted with bad fortune!!! In fact, the turning point was when I discovered that our two missing kittens were alive and not in the water butt after all, albeit 3km away having found another English couple to take care of them. Alas, my neighbour didn’t want them back so they’ve been relocated to another home which is sad for me but great news for them, so I’m really pleased about that.

So good things have started trickling through again 🙂

  • I went away for a couple of days to Passo Corese. Nobody will have heard of this place but it’s not that far from Rome. I went with a friend who was studying for an exam and whilst she prepared for it, I painted. It was a lovely couple of days really and I feel I’m gradually developing my own “watercolour” style. And to say thank you for keeping her company, as if she needed to thank me, my friend gave me a lovely replacement purse to replace the one that was stolen (I think she got fed up of me fishing around in the bottom of my backpack for loose coins!). However it wasn’t all good – I’ve just received a massive speeding fine and three points taken off my license (I don’t know quite how that works in conjunction with the English system where you gain points if you’re bad rather than the Italian system where you start off with points and they take them away. Perhaps I’ll end up in a better situation!!!).
  • I’ve bought a digital piano which is just excellent – I’m trying to learn the song from The Piano which is a bit tricky but very absorbing!
  • My parents have been here which has been nice so we’ve been doing some sight seeing. We have been to, Civita Bagnoregio which is a very attractive little town, perilously perched on a large hilltop and can only be reached by a footbridge.img_20160917_150728096_hdr-effects And Assisi

 

And then, given that Dad is very interested in photography, we did some photography sessions around Sarnano. These are my attempts but my father’s will be significantly better!

  • And my painting is going alright! I’m just on the cusp of starting a new blog called “A Painting Occasionally”. When it’s ready / I build up the courage, I’ll add the link! I’m still procrastinating at the moment 🙂

Next week I’m on a Blog Tour “Buonvivere 2016” to the wonderful town of Forli so stay tuned for that. Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a cinghiale – a wild boar, my first ever close up and I thought he was rather sweet!

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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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Suspended armchairs, joining clubs and stormy skies…

Buonasera a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been a busy couple of weeks here as ever it feels! The weather hasn’t been that great which has been good for the photography – stormy skies are definitely more dramatic than gorgeous blue cloudless ones! I apologise in advance for the abundance of photos in this week’s blog post 🙂

The ruin of UK roads…

I popped back to the UK for a whistle-stop tour. It was lovely to catch up with people that I managed to see, though this trip seemed shorter than ever. This visit included a journey up north to see my friend so there was also a fair bit of driving involved. I never thought I’d say this but I actually prefer driving in Italy. The number of variable average speed checks in the UK these days makes for very painful car journeys! Oh how times have changed from when I was so terrified of driving here that I used to message my parents to tell them that I was going to the shops in the car and, fearful I might not make it back alive, that I loved them.

IMPORTANT TIP FOR BIKE RIDERS!

I am also now fully equipped for bike riding! I have lights, a bag, a pump and a water bottle. I also discovered an interesting tip for bike riding: sometimes, one should pump up ones tires. Who knew?! (Yes yes, don’t be mean! For some reason it just never occurred to me). I have never pumped up my tires. Anyway, I’m pleased to confirm it goes like a dream now, though alas, I do not. It seems pumped up tires do improve things a bit but the whole experience is still unfortunately exhausting. I’m hoping to do my longest, highest ever bike ride in the next couple of weeks so I shall keep you posted on that. If I manage it, I might actually order myself some sort of medal.

Street Performers of Pennabilli

In the last few days there’s been a reasonably well-known festival called “Artisti in Piazza” in a little town called Pennabilli, in the Emilia-Romagna region. From Sarnano, where I live, it’s a bit of a trek but definitely worth a visit. The festival is very impressive – it runs for 5 days and street performers from around the world come to demonstrate their skills, whether that’s singing, acrobatics, comedy, magic, dance etc. It reminded me a bit of Covent Garden in London with the street performers – though these ones generally had a lot more apparatus. In London, you wouldn’t get an acrobatic performance complete with people doing handstands on suspended armchairs so there was definitely an extra dimension to the performances in Pennabilli. It was great to see performers from all over the world; it really was very international!

Unfortunately it rained for the first part of our visit but it didn’t spoil the atmosphere. People still stuck it out with their umbrellas!

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I think probably my favourite bit though was just Pennabilli itself – the town is lovely and set in the most beautiful countryside.  I could definitely live there!

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Club Alpino Italiano (CAI)  Membership!

I have joined a club! I like clubs! This one is a walking club. Club Alpino Italiano has lots of different offshoots across the country and I’ve joined the Sarnano one. They go walking every Sunday around the mountains. It’s great! Everyone seems really nice too.

About this time every year the mountains are covered in flowers and Sunday was a local “fioritura” (flowering) walk to learn more about them. Look at how pretty my local mountains are…Pennabilli and Sassotetto (27 of 35)Pennabilli and Sassotetto (28 of 35)

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We had a guide who told us about the flowers when we came across them and if they had any interesting features. One of my favourites can be set on fire and used as a torch whereas others you can use to poison people (beware those who cross me). Here are some of the flowers that are in the area at the moment…

In other news, I went to a concert a couple of weeks ago to see Niccolò Fabi perform in the theatre at Assisi. Niccolò is a local musician who’s made it reasonably big in Italy so the venue was completely packed out with almost everyone able to sing along to his songs. I think I stuck out like a sore thumb, I only knew the chorus of one of his songs! It’s a good one though with a nice sentiment. If you want to hear it, have a look here.

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I think that about sums up the last few days. I hope you’ve all had good weeks too 🙂

The next update will be about by upcoming blog tour! I’ve been invited along to Hotel San Salvador in Bellaria Igea Marina to spend a few days checking out the hotel and the local area. I can’t wait. Watch this space!

x

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