Walt Disney inspired setting for Cross-country skiing!

Last week over 1 meter of snow fell up in the Italian Apennine mountains, and you know what that means right?!

Yeah you guessed it.  Fresh, deep, crunchy, powdery white stuff!


Luckily (although it didn’t feel that way at 06.15 on Sunday morning when the alarm clock went off!) I had my third cross-country ski lesson at the Boscoreale Ski Centre so I got the opportunity to enjoy the beauty!

Boscoreale is a paradise for cross-country skiing, immersed in the middle of a stunning forest it becomes a winter wonderland postcard when it snows, and with more than 50km of tracks suitable for all levels from beginner to expert it is challenging too and never gets dull to explore.

The centre also runs snowshoeing (ciaspolata) and much much more.  You can check out more details at their facebook page (in Italian only).


First time trying cross-country “off-piste”, felt so soft and fluffy I even thought it would be a good idea to fall over once or twice (lets be honest, I face planted the white stuff a record breaking seven times this weekend!!)




“When snow falls, nature listens” Antoinette van Kleef



Cross country ski virgin

Last winter I decided to try a new ‘sport’ or perhaps more accurately ‘outdoor activity’ as it really is open to all (yes even me).

It is where I am pretending to be sporty with the sole objective of justifying drinking a hot vin brule apres ski guilt free!

I was hooked at first ‘glide’ and so last week I had my first lesson of this season.  Officially this year we are in the ‘advanced’ group, not quite sure I have the same confidence in my ability as the instructors but heck it sounds good to me!

I’ve always been curious about cross-country skiing as I had never been a natural downhill skier.   I guess growing up in Ireland I learned it too late, so was always a little nervous about going to fast and falling.  So I was keen to try cross-country skiing but was afraid it looked a bit tough!

The reality is that it challenges your co-ordination, i felt like a duck on ice . My teacher Giorgio assures me that I will find my ‘harmony’ and rhythm sooner or later, but he’s clearly never seen me on a dance floor.

Even this week I fell flat on my face at least twice, very gracefully of course!

Chiseled men in tights slide past you.  They are mysteriously elegant and have the most wonderfully toned thighs . I mean let’s be honest ladies, why else do we drag ourselves out of bed at 06.30 on a cold dark Sunday morning?! Finally no need to go to the gym as it is really a workout in itself.

But i love it.  You are immersed in a breathtaking winter wonderland, silence, fresh crisp air.  It’s challenging but you go at your own pace.

There is a camaraderie in the group, as we push ourselves onwards in the middle of the forest.  By the way, no one told me you also have to go UP HILL on skis…. we climbed around 500m to reach the cutest little shelter (where you can sleep for the night and eat home cooked polenta).


We even saw a wild boar run across our paths, lucky he was fast otherwise he would have ended up in a nice red wine and tomato stew…..

Looking forward to next week!



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

Google+ Bloggers

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.

FullSizeRender (3).jpg
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

FullSizeRender (6).jpg
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.

FullSizeRender (10).jpg
The Redboot Band – These English gals know how to have fun


FullSizeRender (8).jpg
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.

FullSizeRender (9).jpg
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!

FullSizeRender (7).jpg
Kenta Hayashi


FullSizeRender (4).jpg
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!

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!

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!

Canyon Adventures in Tuscany

This weekend was a women’s only fun packed adventure fest.  We nicknamed ourselves the ‘spiderwomen’ due to our newly discovered ability to stick to walls in a bid to (a) not get our feet wet or (b) fall to certain death …..ok so I exaggerate a little, but we did feel euphoric on our canyon adventures and to us it felt like we had real super powers.

We started by driving into the heart of Tuscany and found ourselves near Bagni di Lucca where we embarked on our first stop, Canyon Park.  This is Italy’s first adventure park where you zip, fly and climb inside a canyon.

The canyon is quite small, but because of this it is extremely intimate and inviting.  It doesn’t take long to feel like you really must be a long lost decedent of Tarzan and Jane.

The canyon experience is guided, and all equipment is provided at the site. Hard hats and harnesses for everyone.  Just don’t eat a heavy lunch before hand as they are well tightened ….looking on the bright side I finally had that 36-26-36 Lara Croft body i’ve always wanted.  Trust me the snug fit is very welcome when you’re swinging above the canyon river.

Our guide was very professional and we were given a good safety briefing at the start. Then the fun begins! There are numerous zip lines and climbing sections, wires and Tibetan ropes to walk along.  The course gets progressively more challenging as you move through the canyon.   You build your confidence quickly from those tentative baby steps across the first wire and soon every section is a real thrill!  Its exhilarating and super fun lasting an intensive 1.5 hours and at 23 euros, well worth the experience!

At the end of the adventure we devoured our picnic lunch soaking up some sun rays beside the ‘blue lagoon’.  The place is magical and really a world apart.  ThIMG_3061.jpge water is the most incredible combination of emerald green and blue sapphire.

We took the opportunity to rent a stand up paddle board (SUP) and paddle in between the steep canyon sides.  I imagine this is what it feels like to be an amazonian goddess …… I mean its not everyday you get to glide along the river in the midst of the forest, with only the silence and beauty of nature overpowering your senses.

Recharge & Relax

No girls weekend would be complete without a little pampering and obligatory spa visit.  We arrived at the spa Terme Bagni di Lucca still sweaty from the canyon adventure to be greeted with a surprised ‘welcome sporty ladies’ (I think the usual clientele are a little less rustic)! As we relaxed our tired muscles in the spa, our hosts at the hotel offer complementary aperitivo (prosecco and finger food). What a treat to walk around the hotel lounge still snuggled in the big white hotel dressing gown, grab a naughty prosecco and gossip in the gardens ….all while watching the sun go down. Pure luxury!

Another day another Canyon – Orrido di Botri

Day 2 we headed to  Orrido di Botri, Tuscany’s largest canyon, carved out of the limestone rocks over millennia.  This time we would be walking with our feet firmly on the ground …. although they wouldn’t always remain dry!

This place took my breath away.  With the narrow river bed and the high imposing canyon walls, I was transported into another realm.  Every angle, every rock and every pool of water is in itself a piece of art.

FullSizeRender.jpg          FullSizeRender (3).jpg

You have to pay a small 2 euro fee to enter and with this the park rangers also give you a helmet which is obligatory to wear in the canyon.

The trek itself lasts approximately 4 hours, so slip some easy snacks and water into your back pack as you’ll need to recharge on the trail. However as you are walking in the cold river for most of the trek, picnic time is best left for when you return to camp!

So pack your bags and head to this incredible corner of Tuscany, away from the typical tourist trails to discover a slice of the wonderful and exhilarating nature that Italy has to offer.  After all at the end of this adventure, there is always a bottle of Italy’s finest red wine waiting for you as a well deserved reward!








10 reasons to vacation with your scooter


10 reasons to vacation with a scooter

  1. Free parking: An unexpected bonus of travelling on two wheels – where would you display the parking ticket and would people be honest enough not to steal it if we left it on the windshield?!!  Fortunately in Italy, scooters and motorbikes (in most cases) get a free pass. At an average €1.50/hour this little trick paid for our nightly aperitivo!
  2. Parking in the best spots: all the towns and parking areas in Italy generally have specially designated  spaces for scooters and motorbikes.  If none exist you can still scooter on up as close to your destination as possible and squeeze in a tight spot somewhere – beating the chaos and saving a valuable 10 minutes walking time to the beach everyday – priceless!
  3. Top up your sun tan while on the move:  Not being enclosed in a metal box for your journey means you freely bask under the golden sun while you clock up those kilometers – warning – sunburnt arms and t-shirt tan lines a risk you need to be prepared for!!
  4. Breathing fresh air and escaping the air-conditioning: Now I understand why dogs hang their heads out of car windows!
  5. Minimalist packing: No room for a suitcase. Period. Prepare only what you need and then halve it – seriously, I still don’t use a third of the things I bring with me.  Back to basics and easy living is one of the best things about things about travelling this way.
  6. Skip the queues: Who enjoys sitting in a long traffic jam under the blazing summer sun when the beach is waiting?! The nimble scooter zips easily past all the stationary traffic – and it feels so good to feel that engine rev under the seat!
  7. Best way to enjoy the views: Road-tripping in a car is like travelling inside a giant goldfish bowl.  On the scooter there is nothing between you and the world.  You look around with brighter eyes, you travel a little more slowly drinking in the scenery.  You feel every curve – and every bump!
  8. Journey ‘off the beaten track’: On the scooter you choose the scenic route -after all whats the hurry? I’ve discovered many hidden wonders and seen beauty in every angle of the Italian countryside on our travels.  Just don’t let your vertigo get to you on the mountain trails!
  9. You feel free: you feel connected to the world.  After all, when its just you inside your helmet and you are surrounded by the wonders of nature, and there is the comforting sound of the engine beneath you its easy to find your zen.
  10. Its not your average road-trip: With a scooter, you don’t just travel to reach your destination – the journey is the destination, the experience, the adventure. Now go do it!


There are many more reasons to vacation on a scooter, what are your favorite ones?