A gluttonous weekend at Cesenatico’s fish festival.

Italian Riveria you say? Yes please!

Especially for me when its autumn and ‘fuori stagone’ (off-season)…..because traditionally the Italian coast of Romagna looks a bit like this:

See the source image

Which while might be for some the ideal of complete relaxation, indulgence or party (depending on your age group and marital status) …… has always been my idea of a nightmare.  Blame it on my country bumpkin girl next door upbringing if you will.

However, out of season, well that is altogether a very different story ……it is then that we truly experience something magical with the Italian Riviera its unique brand of charm.  It is for me at once relaxing yet charming in its very special way.  Long walks along the pristine beaches.  Fresh sea air.  Long lazy lunches.  Sand dunes.  A special seaside feel to the little town and canals which are filled with fishing trawlers.  It doesn’t get much more authentic than this.

Just before the Christmas craziness kicks off Cesenatico (Emilia-Romagna, Italy) hosts an almost week long event called “il pesce fa festa” … which literally translates to, ‘the fish make party”.

il pesce fa festa

Our weekend started with a stroll along the canal.  Where the life of the fisherman becomes apparent ….

The Cesinatico Canal



The fisherman’s home


Inspiring art

Once you have strolled along the banks of the canal a few times.  It will be time for lunch.  On this occasion, we travelled a few kilometers to Milano Marittima where we dined at the fabulous Mi.Ma restaurant.  Positioned right on the sand dunes and with a genuine Italian ‘Mamma’ in the kitchen we couldn’t go wrong!

Lunch started with a few plates of ‘Primi’ (or pasta dishes), followed by a fried seafood platter (fritto misto)…. which by the way is not optional when at the Italian seaside! Then heaven knows how but we found we found enough space to manage dessert! This was all washed down with a strong espresso.  Otherwise we would have needed to take an hour long siesta!

So what is a girl to do if she has just eaten 1 million calories in one sitting?!! Why stroll along the beach of course!

The wine keeps following us!


Pretending to exercise and walk off lunch


The romantic in me

The fish festival is an opportunity for all to set up their market stalls and sell their wares.  Food and wine, arts and crafts, food and toys …. the list goes on.

We have been firm favorites of Claudia and her very special brand of art for a long time now. Claudia is one of the founders of rici-CLA-rte. So who is Claudia? Well Claudia strolls along the beach, but not just for the sake of walking….. but with eyes wide open.  She sees pieces of beautiful, natural or abandoned man made materials in the sands and decides to give each piece a second life. Rici-CLA-rte, is the name Claudia gives her master pieces.  Wall or table art, each piece unique and authentic.  Channeling the ocean.  Lighthouses.  Small seaside villages. Majestic fish.  The list goes on.  But most importantly, Claudia has a good heart, and you feel this in her work. She remembers all of her customers, and we cherish her!


If you ever get the chance to dine in Romagna, I suggest you try a spot in Cervia.  Away from all the tourist spots, you will find yourself with plenty of local eateries to choose from.  This weekend we opted for the traditional Osteria Il Cantinone.  One word of advice. Please do not eat lunch first , but save yourself for this place:

Cheese filled pasta, served with a healthy helping of ragu!

At this point a quick stroll in between the local alleyways and beautiful architecture is a must… even if we know it is to ease the guilt and to ‘help the digestion’ as Italians are so fond of saying!

Good night my fellow food travelers!

Sleep well and dream of the sound of ocean waves crashing on the beach…….while you look on with a full belly and happy heart!





A(nother) weekend of foodporn in Modena

The other weekend Modena hosted the latest edition of La Bonissima.  According to legend “Bonissima” which translates to “Well-known” was a noble woman who helped the people in a time of great famine in the 13th century.  So it only seems appropriate that a festival celebrating the local food, its tradition and heritage is named after her.

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La Bonissima

At this annual festival you will find cooking shows and market stalls.  Aceto Balsamico. Parmigiamo Reggiano.  Tortelli. Tortellini.  Biscotti.  Proscuitto.  The list is endless.  But what caught my eye this year was Panino. To be exact Da Panino.

In Italian the noun panino (Italian: [pa’ni:no]; plural panini) is a diminutive of pane (“bread”) and literally refers to a bread roll. Panino imbottito (“stuffed panino”) refers to a sandwich, but the word panino is also often used alone to indicate a sandwich in general

Source: Wikipedia

Ok, so we know that panino is the fancy word for toasted sandwich.  However, did you know that in Modena it is considered an art form?

There is even a local eatery called Da Panino , which was the brain child of Beppe Palmieri. Better known as the sommelier of the Michelin starred Osteria Francescana.  (Which is only a few meters away – in fact even Massimo Bottura and his kitchen crew have been spotted here grabbing a quick bite).

So at this years La Bonissima Christian di Asmara put on a real show in Piazza Grande , with a live cookery demonstration showing us how to make Italy’s best Panino!

We were shown how to create two masterpieces:

The first is the prize winning “Lo Speciale” (no surprise that it translates to ‘the Special’….see you will be speaking Italian in no time!).

Lo Speciale won the coveted Gambero Rosso prize in 2015 for ‘Sandwich of the Year‘.  It goes like this:

Oven baked ham from Langhirano, served with a jam of bitter cherries from Modena Igp, a sprinkling of almonds from Toretto and bread from Matera.

The second was a dream:

Gorgonzola whipped together with Mascarpone cheese, Mostarda (a mustard flavoured syrupy jam) from Voghera, walnuts and iced celery served between two slices of toasted bread.


Unfortunately the sandwich did not last long enough for its photo op! Oh well I will just have to make another one….

Christian di Asmara of Panino making a masterpiece
Modena’s Ghirlandina the backdrop for our food market

Sailing in the Golfo dei poeti 

Autumn weekends. The warm long hazy days of summer are over. Evenings are getting shorter. The colours are changing in the trees and there is a fresh crispness in the air. It’s time to pull your jacket out from the depths of your wardrobe.

Or is it…..?

When it came to the weekend, we decided it was time for ‘one last sail’ for the year before it got too cold and miserable (yes I hear you , I am becoming more Italian by the day….my Irish girl toughness is softening ever so slightly!).

We grouped up with some friends and charted the wonderful beauty that is 45” Botep and her captain Mike for the weekend.  We all jumped aboard on Friday evening in the Port of La Spezia.

After finding our cabins and exploring our new home for the weekend, on the Friday evening we walked across the bridge to the marina of mirabello to do some serious yacht watching.

photo-3 The stunning bridge to the Marina

Beauty in everything (this is part of the bridge!)
Giorgio Armani’s floating Palace

What followed was a delicious dinner of pasta with sausage and cream (I hear you light dining!) washed down with a few glasses of wine.  Lucky to have a chef with us on board!

It’s no surprise we slept like babies.

Which was needed as just after dawn on Saturday morning we set sail in the Gulf of La Spezia , venturing to the stunning harbor of Portovenere and circling around the Island of Palmaria.

When the wind is in your hair, and the sun is kissing your cheeks ….the whole world melts away.

How can you explain what the sea is to someone who looks and just sees water?


​Lunch time arrived and some crazy fools went swimming.  I on the other hand got shivers just watching them and took a much needed siesta!

Then more sailing and then another indulgent evening ensued with large plates of pasta served duck Raghu (yes heavenly). We ate like kings, and slept like babies (again).

Sunday was a day of sailing practice with a gusty breeze.  We worked up and sweat and enjoyed the wind blowing in our hair.

It is always simply a marvel to watch in wonder the waves caressing the bow of the boat.  Even some curious dolphins came to playfully say hello in the bow waves!

If you ever want to switch off from the world and view the majesty of Italy from a new perspective..,,, come ride the salty waves with us!

I promise you won’t be disappointed.


One of the most incredible spots in nature to have a church – Portovenere


I hope you are curious to experience the beauty of Italy from another view point and be serenaded by the wonderful Captain Mike, you can find him at his webpage Nema Vela or on facebook.



Ferrara Street Buskers Festival

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Colour, energy, passion, creativity.  These are the words that describe the world of the street artists we call ‘buskers’


a noun  busk·er \ˈbəs-kər\ 

:  a person who entertains in a public place for donations

It derives from the Spanish word buscar, which means to seek. Seeking interpretation, appreciation,  emotion and wonder.

Where better to see the flamboyant costumes, fire eaters, jazz bands and mime artists than at Ferrara Buskers Festival, which this year is celebrating its 30th Edition.

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Sunset in Piazza Trento – Trieste

It’s little wonder as it has grown to become the most widely celebrated street artist festival in all of Europe attracting performers from

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Ziggy McNeill with Castello Estense as a backdrop

as far away as Australia and Japan.   Over 800,000 visitors every year come to see the sights and hear the sounds created by 1000 different artists filling the streets – and what wonderful streets they are.  The setting of the festival is in the historical centre of Ferrara (a UNESCO world heritage site) with the majestic castle as its back drop certainly one of its charms (yes it even has its own moat and I am sure I saw Prince Charming hiding from me in the shadows).

When the street becomes the stage for these artists, thats when the magic really happens.   The beauty of busking is that you can find everything from jugglers with their comedy acts to musicians and artistic dancers.

Paradoxically this is what makes the street one of the hardest and possibly most rewarding stages in the world.  The audience can be fickle. But this is one of the attractions of the busker.  Jostling to grab the attention of the passerby.  The busker is gregarious, noisy, with a booming voice and commanding posture.  The urgent rhythm of the busker pulls you in.  Into another world.  Full of magic and joy.

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The Redboot Band – These English gals know how to have fun


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Gamberini Danza – feel the rythmn and just do it


One of my favorite acts of the night was performed by Alessio Burini and his partner. Just when I thought yoga couldn’t be any more challenging Alessio gives a 30 minute spectacular of AcroYoga and the amazing Cyr Wheel.  I have to admit I was more than impressed by the teams agility, strength and sheer power that their bodies possess (not to mention the chiselled 8 pack abs Alessio has, truely a work of art). The best part for me however was seeing the beaming smiles from them both as the audience showed its appreciation.  It was sooooo clear that they passionately love what they do and were immensely proud to be able to bring us into their world if even for a short while.

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Alessio Burini – AcroYoga and Cry Wheel phenomenon

Turning into another alleyway we come across Kenta Hayashi.  Kenta hails from Japanese and was performing tracks from his new album Loop444.   So called because his music is created using a loop station;

A loop station: a music device which allows artists to build layers of music.  Live looping is the method of recording and playback of music in real-time.

The 444 is as he is playing the guitar tuned to the reference pitch A444 (rather than the standard A440).  Kenta then went on to explain that this pitch was famously used by John Lennon for the song Imagine and that it resonates spirituality.  Sounds good to me!

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Kenta Hayashi


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Magic bubbles in the air

I’ll leave you with a YouTube video of Ziggy McNeill.  Who travelled the furthest distance to entertain us in Ferrara – all the way from Sydney Australia…….now that reminds me, I must hop to the travel agency to book my Australia flights!

Things I learned with a broken ankle

  1. People are kind and generous. Accept help from friends, family and everyone else who offers it.  You become reliant on other people.  Simple tasks become herculean. For me, someone who is fiercely independent I have to admit that this was a refreshing experience.  Saying yes please.  Thank-you. Instead of the so often used, no thank-you I can manage on my own.  Offers to bring me shopping, help wash my hair. Carry my bags. Drive me to places.  Being together, being with other people makes you feel closer to them.   I am eternally grateful for all the amazing people I have the pleasure of knowing in my life whether its for a fleeting moment of for a lifetime.
  2. There are people out there with feet fetishes.  #Instagram #feet #feetporn . It all started innocently enough when I uploaded a photo of my leg in its cast while I was lazily lounging by the pool.  I have never gotten the level of interaction and interest from a photo as I did for that one.  Who knew?!  Suddenly I was ‘making it’ and finding my 15 minutes of fame!  foot-fetish-TOPSo many people have been messaging me, asking how I am, keen to exchange stories of accidents and recovery.  The kindness of strangers again. There is a real community and solidarity in the knowledge we are a not so unique bunch of accident prone plaster casts owners!  What really surprised me though was as I exchanged messages of support with people in similar situations, the questions started getting more and more intimate.  Asking me to send photos of my feet! Of my toes.  To zoom in closer.  Were my toes dried out?? No please a photo of the bottom of the feet! I recommend checking out @feetsoleimage or @lifewithcast on instagram and unite with your tribe!
  3. Attitude of gratitude.  I am thankful for the friends and family who have been so generous, kind and supportive during my recovery.  My Mr Spaghetti returned home from a business trip to great me in my plaster cast………with a wheelchair. One of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received from someone!  Really!  It meant we could go out together, do evening drinks, shopping and even road trips!  Who says romance is dead? Wheelchairs are the new dozen roses! On a more serious note, as i was being pushed around in my chariot, I became hyper aware of wheelchairs everywhere.  I hadn’t noticed that there were so many people needing help with their mobility. From elderly people too weak to walk long distances on their own, to people with broken bones. And yes young people who had no use of their legs through disability.  It made me grateful on so many levels.
  4. Strangers want to reach out, talk and connect.  Every day we go through life in our little bubbles.  Focussed on our own plans, where we are going, who we are meeting.  Even when we are alone we are glued to our screens not even looking where we are walking.  So I found it incredibly refreshing that everywhere I went everyone wanted to speak to me. Having a leg in a cast was the ultimate ice breaker.  It made me think that people genuinely want to reach out and connect with others.  Care and kindness and curiosity in abundance.  What normally stops this?  Do we not know how to open conversations with strangers? Are we afraid? We are closed to others with invisible walls?  Mental note to self.  Reach out and connect more. Be more human. et8242.jpg
  5. Patience. Patience. Patience.  
  6. DIY solutions rock.  Improvisation is key.  First thing I realised whilst hobbling around on crutches is that it isn’t so much the lack of mobility.  Ok its not easy to move (read: ‘hop like a drunk kangaroo’) from A to B for sure.  And to begin with I was never blessed with the worlds greatest co-ordination (Zumba class still haunts me).  What is really tough, is having both your hands occupied with your crutches.
    • Dilemma number 1. How do I get my water / beer / wine / coffee into the living room so I can drink while sitting watching the TV?  Solution: Have you ever seen a horse eating from a bag around its neck? Well this is easily adaptable for human use by placing required item into said sack and hanging it around your neck.  Very comfortable carrying device, to be recommended also for normal humans.
    • Dilemma 2: is similar – eating in front of the TV.  Solution: Place meal on tray and push along the floor until you reach nearest soft cushioned landing pad also known as my sofa.
    • Dilemma 3: Showering. This brings two problems.  The first is obvious enough – plaster casts don’t mix well with water.  Solution: Giant plastic bin bag and lots of scotch tape, until the professional alternative arrives. The second problem is finding the balance to stand perched on one leg long enough to wash hair and body without falling over and breaking your one good leg.  This we solved by placing a giant can of paint in the shower and covered it with a plastic bag. No lack of prizes for sexiest spa atmosphere in our house!
    • Dilemma 4: Surviving crutches without blistering my hands. Or that other curse of summer – sweaty hands – which makes grabbing a baby eel while covered in soap suds look positively easy compared to gripping crutches in 40 degree heat. Solution : cotton wool wrapped with medical tape (then quickly order a soft neoprene grip from Amazon).
  7.  This crutch business is harder than it looks. 
    Dergin Tokmak in his show Stix

    We’ve all seen young bouncy teenagers swing around on crutches like they were just playing in an tree canopy adventure park.  In my naivety I thought in no time I would be just like them.  Cool.  Fast. Fit. No problem.  Able to swing to the town center for a lazy breakfast and cappuccino or visit the hairdressers and be a lady of leisure while I was in my plaster cast.  Little did I imagine that as someone approaching the end of her thirties, (which honestly is traumatic enough) would be hit with the stark realisation that flabby untoned underarm bats wings do not take kindly to suddenly having to support your entire body weight.  Here is a video of Dergin Tokmak who is truely inspirational.  Dergin contracted polio as a child which left him with limited use of his legs.  This didn’t stop him. Look at this video and be inspired to be your best.

    Personally I set myself little challenges.  First taking the bin outside (100m), then making it to the icecream store (300m).  At the beach, day one, just make it to the pool.  Day 3 just a little further, make it to the sun umbrellas on the beach. Day 4, from the sun umbrella to the waterfront!  Little rewards and little steps build up strength, independence and confidence. You can do it!

    The beach (waiting patiently for Leo DiCaprio)
  8. Slow down, relax and take one step at a time.  Our lives are soooooo connected.   There is always somewhere to be, something to do, someway to connect.  Constantly running from one place to another or searching for the next thing to do.  Rarely do we have time to sit down relax, breath and just simply be.  Having a broken ankle and limited mobility forces you to just sit.  Take it easy.  There is no running, no stress…..and absolutely no multitasking!  Not that I had ever mastered it in any case! Just chill and do what makes you happy.  Life is the little pleasures, the micro moments.

    “Lord, give me coffee to change the things I can, and wine to accept the things I can’t” Or as we are in Italy in summer a refreshingly large glass of spritz will do nicely!

    Bloggers on Google+Let me know your summer tales of mishaps and adventures please in the comments below!

Oops ….. the plaster cast!!!

Well ok.  So this happened……

Yes that is Kung Fu Panda in the background!

I would love to tell you it was a great story.  Dancing on the tables until midnight.  Falling from a great height whilst climbing a mountain.  Or during a daredevil stunt on skis.  But no, it wasn’t any of those things.  In fact it’s ironic really (and no not in the Alanis Morissette way) that i broke my ankle in the most un-elegant and un-dramatic fashion whilst turning a corner in – the office – i still cant believe it happened that way!  All i can assume is that I turned the corner too quickly. I heard a crack and promptly fell to the floor.

I was quickly surrounded by twenty curiously concerned colleagues who thankfully didn’t choose to follow a career in the medical profession.  The generous prognosis was ‘don’t worry its just twisted’ and ‘if its swollen its not broken’.  Don’t you just love the wise medical diagnosis from the masses?  I guess I have google to thank for that.

Anyway turns out I was not so lucky and it is in fact broken. So i am learning how to hop around on my crutches like a drunken kangaroo on one leg.  You know i’d always seen teenagers flying around on crutches like it was no big deal, a rite of passage even, only for the brave and fearless.  I on the other hand struggle to make it anywhere further than 100m, and don’t ask me about finding the co-ordination for making a cup of coffee……..

All of this happened of course when my beloved was away on a business trip.  He rushed home and the first stop he made was at the medical supply shop where he picked up my new chariot!

Hoping that the breaks are strong enough!

Ladies, never, ever underestimate the usefulness of a practical man!!

Now we are free to exit the house, stroll (wheel) around the city to enjoy a refreshing aperitivo (spritz with lots of ice please) and even take our first road-trip adventure on crutches!  Forget the dozen red roses….. this I tell you is true romance!!

The first night we escaped the four walls of the apartment, was into the sticky, humid sauna like air (no that’s being too kind, saunas have DRY heat, turkish bath would be more accurate) of a typical summer Modena evening.  It felt so liberating to be out of the house and seeing people! My knight in shining armour wheeled me around in my chariot and all was going well until the thunderstorm arrived.  Yes. Thunderstorm. Now normally this is a blessing and we yearn for the skies to rain to clear the air and make the city more tolerable.  That all changes when you are in a plaster cast 20 mins away from home! We were on hold with the taxi for an age, only to be finally told ‘we can’t find any’.  Plan B?  Well we waited until the rain eased just enough to be able to make a not so speedy dash for home. Improvising the worlds most genius rain cover for my cast.  You guessed it, the ever versatile black plastic bin bag wins again.  With a good helping of sticky tape!

Very proud of our handy work!

When it’s 40 degrees and rising outside, it can get a little uncomfortable at the best of time.  Now as I have this new fashion accessory attached to my leg for a wonderful 35 days, there is a new meaning to the word.

Firstly after a week, my leg muscles have got a bit weaker and the cast feels heavier and heavier every day.  It’s nicely padded for comfort inside, but its like having a lead soled Ugg boot attached to your leg at all times.  Cosy it isn’t.  Mean temperature inside the cast? I shudder to think.  But I’m probably slow cooking my leg……. so at the end of the month a will if nothing else have a nice juicy Irish leg to eat with my mashed potatoes and mint sauce!

The heat has one other draw back.  Swelling of all limbs in general.  My toes turned blue the other day, yeah and they were a bit tingly.  Just like when you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweaty panic with a dead arm.  You all know the feeling. After a quick check at the hospital, where the amazing doctors of Modena’s Policlinico assured me it’s not serious enough for amputation.  I returned home with the strict instructions to keep the leg – often – above my heart level to help the blood run back to the heart. Apparently blood circulation is a bit lazy when the leg is snuggled nicely in a cast.

I’ll keep you posted on my one legged adventures over the next weeks!

That reminds me, I must stay out of the sun as torturous as it is this month.  Otherwise I will end up turning a nice golden brown all over …..and when the cast comes off??? Hairy albino Gorilla leg is haunting my dreams!!

Super Sailing on Lake Garda


I grew up on the sea.  My first memories are of being on a sailing boat coming into a small picturesque Scottish harbour……and then being hauled up the ladder by my harness like a wet sack of potatoes! Sounds romantic right?

Sailing is in my blood, but if i was to tell you that it was warm, sunny and pain free I wouldn’t be being entirely honest with you.

How things have changed now.  Although I am no longer by the sea, with the fresh salty breeze in my hair, and the soft sound of the waves breaking on the shore, I have the good fortune to live close to Lake Garda.  The largest of the Italian lakes, and she is marvellous.

Whatever your imagination can dream of,  it is a reality there.

You can windsurf, kite surf, paddle board, sail: catamaran or monohull.  We’ve seen olympic sailors and Americas Cup team members all train here. Oh and i shouldn’t forget to mention foiling!

Innovation is alive here and the limits of technology are being pushed every day.

So i was really excited to see the launch of Super Sail Academy on the lake this summer where the team are bringing the formula one of sailing, the Extreme 40 to Lake Garda.

What you may be asking is an Extreme 40, so here are the stats:

  • hull 12 meters long
  • mast 19 meters high
  • displacing 1250kg of water (constructed in carbon fiber)
  • Sail area 200mq
  • Speed more than 30 knots

The Extreme 40 was designed to bring sailing to the public in the form of a fast, high performance, inshore catamaran.  The boat has been used since 2007 in the Extreme Sailing Series™ stadium events where the worlds top professional sailors battle it out in fast paced, adrenalin filled races.

From this year, 2016, the extreme 40 racing boats for the Extreme Sailing Series ™ have been replaced with the hydro-foiling GC32s. Which means that us mere mortals now have the opportunity to hop on board one of these beasts and experience the thrill for ourselves!

Its a strange experience as you step on board, yes the hull is 40 feet but for a boat this size it for sure is no floating caravan.  There is no ‘below deck’ , no kitchen (galley for those true seafarers) and all other luxuries you would expect on a boat of this size.  Its like an overgrown dinghy, pumped up on steroids.  You are on a catamaran built for speed.  Hydraulics are everywhere so it is as nimble and quick to handle as a dinghy.

The crew are well experienced sailors.  A mix of true professionalism and a relaxed confidence which made us feel immediately at ease.  Taking the time to walk us through the manoeuvres and explaining the technical aspects of the boat.

You can simply enjoy the ride or as we did actively participate in the boat handling.  What an unforgettable experience to take the helm of a super boat that this, simply amazing!

The helm was light to handle and very responsive and boy does she fly!  Sitting up on the side of the hull, watching the water speed under you is incredible especially when the hull and daggerboard lift out of the water!  It really feels like flying or gliding, as the boat is so fast the hulls slice through the water with ease.

For those wanting to train their muscles there is also work to be done on board, trimming the sails and grinding the winch don’t happen by themselves.  Throwing up the gennaker and gybing downwind is so much fun, if a little sweaty!!

Here is a video of our day, i hope it conveys the emotion we felt!

Thank-you Super Sail Academy!

Gelato is good for you!!

No you are right Mr Trump, global warming doesn’t exist.  So please can you explain to me why in the second week of March I am sitting melting my pretty ass under a blazing sun drinking spritz?!! Would you believe the thermometer has already spiked 23 degrees here in Modena!!

The unusually warm weather got me thinking of another reason why I love Italy.  GELATO. No, gelato is not just a fancy word for icecream.   It is very much different, here are the basics:

  • it is churned more slowly
  • contains less air = more yumminess (denser I believe is the technical term)
  • is served at a slightly warmer temperature which means a silkier and softer texture
  • has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream

And as if Italians weren’t already living the ‘dolce vita’ they also have proclaimed that eating this heaven on a cone is actually good for you.

You don’t have to take my word for it, find out more via Why Gelato is Good For You – Perché il gelato ti fa bene | ITALY Magazine !

Lake Garda off season treasures

What do you think of when you think of Italy? Sun, sea, lakes and crowded beaches lined with umbrella’s?  Classical postcard Italy and the dolce vita.  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, what is Italy like when all the tourists go home?  I hope to paint you a picture of Italy behind the scenes.  When lady Italy herself takes a little vacation, stops to recharge her batteries, unwind and breath.  I promise you will relax with her, time will stand still and you will be rewarded in an altogether different way.  So join me, put your feet up, sip on a good glass of red wine and say ahhhhhh…….

The light is different. The lake is always beautiful, and photo opportunities are all around.  In the winter however, there is what i can only describe as a magical haze over the water.  The sun is low and the trees have lost their colour.  The result is that the imposing mountains that frame the north end of the lake have a wonderful grey and purple tint to them. The natural canvas of the lake needs #nofilter here.  On this trip we decided to trek around Lago di Ledro which is a short 30 min car trip from Riva del Garda.

Lago di Ledro – yes the lake is frozen!

Snow crunches underfoot on the hiking trails.  The lake has endless hiking trails.  However as it is the first trek of the season (read: post Christmas feasting) we take it easy and keep the distances short and not too strenuous.  Normally hiking at the lake results in sticky sweaty bodies (no thanks to the melting sunscreen).

Hiking around Lago di Ledro

So for me to hike in the hills at this time of year is like being transported into a magical parallel world.  The air is clean, fresh and crispy.  You can wear thermal clothing and great comfortable trekking pants and keep your body temperature just right by dressing in layers, or as I say in my very technical way “dressed like an onion” (trust me it sounds much sexier when you say it in Italian “vestito come una cipolla”!  The best gift for me is to see the mountain trails dusted in crisp fresh white snow.  The crunch under foot is magical and sooooo satisfying. Its soothing just popping bubble wrap!

The sales in the mountain gear shops will melt a hole in your wallet.  Just a few kilometres north of Riva del Garda you step into another world.  Arco is the Mecca of rock climbing.  Just about every shop here sells mountain climbing gear. Clips and ropes, jackets, shoes, backpacks, the list goes on.  I will be the first to admit that I am no climber, but I love trekking and have climbed a few “via ferrata” in Italy.  These are hiking trails which are sufficiently challenging that you require a harness and helmet to clip you safely on to a metal cable on the rock face.  I’ve convinced myself that this is adventurous enough to justify shopping in the coolest mountain gear shops I’ve ever seen.  Outdoor clothing now has come a long way from my girl scout days, and to me now the colours and styles are simply glorious!

Its tough to find a coffee.  Ok, so this is Italy, which means a good coffee is never that far away, but in the off-season many shops, restaurants and bars take
the opportunity to re-charge their batteries by taking some much needed time off.  Its not unusual in the tourist spots to see a sign posted on the door “reopening the end of March”! So you have to search a little more than usual.  However when you stumble upon an open bar, you have the undivided attention of the barista and a whole selection of hand baked cakes to try.

Time stands still at this time of year, so its even acceptable to skip the coffee and order a warm ‘punch’ which is a sugary fruit flavoured liquor served with warm water.  It’s like drinking a warm hug, which especially after a long trek outside makes you go ahhhhhhhh….. after all we come to the lake to relax don’t we?

I will leave you with the question “why are all of Italy’s best drinks are orange?” and I promise to rise to the challenge and investigate further (through tasting)  and let you know the answer!  In the meantime if you have any theories, or better still any tips on off-season lake life, let me know!