Pieve di Teco

I spent most of today working (got to fund this lavish lifestyle of mine somehow, eh?). While I do have deadlines to meet, it was so sunny outside that I made the effort to tear myself away from the screen for a wander through the atmospheric streets of Pieve di Teco.

Sunny Piave

It’s a very small place, but there’s plenty to love about it.

My favourite thing is the architecture, which is so breathtakingly beautiful and rustic it’s hard to believe I’m not on a film set. I read on a sign that most of the centre dates back to 1400! Back before Henry VIII was around, and when Scotland had over 300 years left of being an independent country. Ahhhh…

Old Piave

It’s a lovely place to walk through, with shops spilling onto the pavements with their big crates of heirloom veggies and dried beans. The restaurants looked particularly alluring too, as locals sipped wine and ate big plates of pasta. Even if it was mid-day, I was tempted to join them. In the end I settled for buying a big ball of fresh mozzarella from the deli and resigning myself to a glass of water.

We took our cheese home and ate it as it was. It was absolutely heavenly. If you’ve never had fresh fresh fresh buffalo mozzarella I suggest you go to your nearest Italian deli right now and buy some. It will totally change your life, I swear.

IMG_0635

We ventured out again this evening for a quick wander, but decided against hitting the bars. After all, we’re driving to France tomorrow… Marseilles, here we come!

From Lombardy to Liguria

Our stay at Verginate Village is finally over! In all honesty it was one of the most romantic places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The old stone house with its roaring fire, massive bed, and hand selected wine cellar makes an ideal getaway for couples who just want to escape from civilisation for a bit and enjoy each other’s company. As long as you’re not averse to walking up huge hills, or driving up them. Still, if you’re a couple seeking romance and adventure then I’d definitely recommend this wee gem*.

Verginate Village

*As with Chalet Betula, the owners of Verginate Village have no idea that I’m a blogger. They didn’t ask me to recommend them, and we paid full whack for our stay. 

Speaking of driving… I made a little video of the drive down the hill. Just so you know what you’re getting into if you do decide to book a stay at this wonderful hilltop retreat! We’re not too good at tackling hair pin bends, as you can see. The  video is silent because:

  • I didn’t want you to have tp listen to me havering pish
  • I’m too lazy to find some free music for a soundtrack
  • I personally don’t like noisy videos

I also cut it down from 5 minutes and sped it up a bit because really, who has time for watching long vids?

The next stop on our epic drive to Valencia is Pieve di Teco, a beautiful wee town nestled in the hills near Imperia. Our road trip took us through the centre of Turin, which was absolutely beautiful but I didn’t manage to get any photos because I was too busy trying to navigate us back onto the motorway.

On the road we encountered a hobo who washed our windscreen, an automated toll booth which spat my €10 note out (I had to chase my money down the motorway like Mr Bean), and we had to stop for diesel three times because the pumps are manned and the only large number we know in Italian is “Venti” (20) (thank you Role ModelsPaul Rudd, and Starbucks).

Pieve de Teco

We arrived just before 5pm and soon met our wonderful Wimdu hosts, Simone and Italo, who are letting us stay in their gorgeously elegant rental apartment. Not only is it a beautiful space, it also has a real coffee machine: and Italo brought us some farm-fresh eggs for our breakfast. Not bad at all.

James went for a run (he’s doing the Valencia marathon a month tomorrow- good luck James!) then we went for a wander down the medieval main street. We ended up popping into a lovely deli to pick up some gnocchi, shallots, and bacon as the kitchen here is great and we thought it would be a waste to dine out.

Only two more stops between us and Valencia!

Orrido de Bellano: The Gorge of Terror

According to TripAdvisor there are two things to do in Bellano. One of them is La Ca Di Radio Vecc (a TV and radio museum) and the other is Orrido de Bellano, or as I like to call it, The Gorge of Terror.

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The entry to the Orrido de Bellano

We decided that a wee hike around a gorge would be a lovely way to spend a Sunday, so descended from The Eyrie. Finding the Orrido wasn’t hard: there are signs for it all over town. The first surprise was that the gorge has opening hours. I was expecting a hike into the hills, not a locked door. There was also an entry fee of €3, another surprise.

We arrived just after 1pm, and found the Orrido closed for lunch until 2:30pm. We ended up with a bit of time to spare, so we wandered off in search of pizza. After stuffing our faces we hung out by the lake shore for a while making silly time-lapse videos on my iPhone.

Bellano Collage
Bellano isn’t a bad place to kill time in

 

Half two rolled around and we wandered back up to the Orrido, paid the man, and wandered in.

The first thing we noticed was the weird games they had set up, presumably for Halloween. We have no idea what the games were supposed to be. The Mummy one was particularly weird. I think you go in a door and then come out of a coffin? I honestly have no idea. I wasn’t prepared to find out. I considered borrowing a child from one of the families that were milling about but I thought the parents might frown upon me sending their little darling into the dark unknown.

Scary Monsters
We made some new friends at least

The scarier stuff was yet to come, as we discovered that the whole point of this gorge thing was walking along on very thin catwalks made of wood as torrents of water rushed over the rocks far below. I’m really not a big fan of heights, but I kept my chin up and managed not to complain.

Terror aside, it was pretty lovely looking down and seeing the turquoise pools and white rapids. It’s also pretty amazing to think about the way the gorge was created. Over thousands of years the water eroded the rock, for those of you who didn’t pay attention during standard grade geography. It’s just maybe not a fun thing to think about when you’re standing on a slippery wee platform quite far above it!

Gorge of terror
The gorge of terror: a hundred times more terrifying (and beautiful!) in real life

The catwalk itself isn’t very long, thankfully, and eventually you find yourself on dry land. There arebenches and a patch of grass so you could spend some time chilling out looking at the waterfall, which would be lovely on a sunny day. Today was a bit rainy and crap so we decided just to climb back up our mountain and retreat indoors.

Still, it was a fun thing to do on a Sunday. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to visit the Orrido, but if you’re in the neighbourhood it’s a decent thing to do. If you play The Mummy game come back and tell me what it’s all about!

Lazy Saturday in Bellano

After struggling with the uphill climb and nearly getting lost in the dark, I’d made the decision that I wouldn’t be leaving our mountain side retreat (which I’ve dubbed The Eyrie) until Tuesday, when our stay ends. After wonderfully cosy day of reading, eating, watching films, and chilling out in front of a roaring fire I felt pretty good, and thought “hmmm maybe the walk into town wasn’t so bad after all!”

Como walk

I took my phone this time and managed to get a few snaps of the precarious wander. The town of Bellano is so beautiful with its narrow winding streets and inviting delis, pizzerias and winebars, but last night we just decided to pick up some snacks from the supermarket and then climb back up the hill.

We enjoyed a lovely bottle of Sicilian Syrah, as the lights of the towns on the edge of Lake Como glittered around us. It was a pretty nice way to spend an evening, although when I realised we might be the only people up here I started to get super paranoid. Think I’ve seen too many horror films.

Goodbye Switzerland: Hello Italy!

Today we waved goodbye to the beautiful Chalet Betula (and my walking shoes- unbeknownst to me at the time) and drove off towards Italy. We’re taking a leaf out of George Clooney’s book and staying at Lake Como for a few days. The drive down was absolutely stunning: although I could have done without the 17km long tunnel. I ain’t even joking. Neither is this sign.

Chortle
Chortle

We’d been in Italy for about 10 minutes before making the executive decision to find a pizzeria. Unfortunately it was about 3pm at this point and the guy in the restaurant didn’t seem as happy to see us as we did to see him. He still served us, and the pizza was absolutely delish: although a bit pricey at €22 for two pizzas and a big bottle of fizzy water.

Italy Pizza

Our next stop was catching the ferry from Menaggio to Varenna. Our apartment was across the lake, and our lovely host told us that he’d meet us in Belleno and show us the road up to where we’d be staying. Alarm bells should have started ringing then, but we were too busy enjoying the amazing ferry ride. As you can see the weather isn’t that great here at the moment…

On the Ferry

Okay so we’d been warned that the road up to our apartment was going to be winding and steep. We hadn’t been told that we’d need to bring a Land Rover! We thought it would be a bit like what we experienced in Switzerland. Nope. It was like an off-road experience up Mount Everest, with our poor wee Renault’s suspension taking a right beating . We almost ended up rolling down the hill once or twice on a few really steep sections, which was bloody terrifying. Once we reached the top we decided that we wouldn’t be driving down again until we really have to.

We found a footpath leading down to Belleno, so we decided to wander down it because we needed to get some shopping and there was no way we were going to be moving our car from its perch. Unfortunately we were a bit tired anyway so it was a bit of a saga. The path was basically a slippery staircase through the woods, which didn’t help.

We eventually got into town and picked up some pasta, cake, fruits, and veggies. The walk home was insane, though. I definitely don’t recommend climbing uphill through the woods in a foreign country with no idea if you’re going in the right direction. To make matters worse I hadn’t brought my phone and we couldn’t quite remember the name of the village…. and it was getting dark and starting to rain.

As you can tell since I’m writing this, we eventually made it home safely.

Como apartment

After a quick shower and a hearty meal we can actually appreciate the lovely touches that Luca (the owner) has put together for us. For example there’s a bluetooth Bose speaker so we can get our groove on, a gift box with cosmetics, tea and liqueur made with herbs from his garden, plus a cellar packed with delicious hand-picked Italian wines. They all have a price-tag on them, but I’m already eyeing them up like Bernard Black.

So today. Beautiful mountains, beautiful lakes, one near death experience*

*That might have been me overreacting.

 

How (Not) to Gut a Fish

I must apologise for my lack of posts recently. I’ve been struck down with the lurgy- my boyfriend thinks I’ve defeated science and somehow contracted man flu, despite being a laydee.

Being choked with the cold has it’s benefits, however; on the flight back from Portugal I had a spare seat as nobody wanted to sit next to a snot-nosed dying girl.

I’m feeling much better now, thanks to some spicy food and red wine; while I catch up with emails/comments/writing more posts for you lovely people, here is a video of the first time I gutted a fish. In the small open plan kitchen of a holiday apartment in Sardinia.

(If you’re squeamish you probably shouldn’t watch. Also I should mention I’d had a few glasses of the cheap local wine and thought that gutting a fish looked like ‘fun’).

The reasons the fish wasn’t gutted by the fishmonger;

1) We don’t speak good enough Italian to ask for it, and
2) They were going to charge an extra Euro and a half for the privelege.

If I had to do it again, I would recommend a very sharp knife. And it’s probably prudent to cut away from oneself rather than towards like I do in this video, but I just don’t seem to have the strength to do that properly.  If I die with a vegetable knife plunged through my heart then I guess at least I died doing what I love.

(I’ve already lost the tip of a thumb to a salami machine… long story, perhaps for another day!)

Replace guts with lemon and put under the grill. Good as new!

RECIPE :: Whore Pasta

Puttanesca and Vinho VerdeJames gave me a pasta maker as a housewarming present. Although he was worried that I’d never use it, I’ve really enjoyed making my own pasta over the past few months. I do need to trouble-shoot my recipe as it can be a bit too sticky and wet sometimes, and it does make an almighty mess of the kitchen (flour everywhere!) but after eating fresh home-made pasta I don’t think I could go back to eating the dried stuff again.

One evening when planning dinner, I found a few recipes online for a pasta sauce I’d never heard of before. Puttanesca; a fiery sauce made with anchovies, olives, capers, tomatoes, garlic, and chilli. The sauce is so salty and flavoursome that it doesn’t need the addition of salt, pepper, or cheese. But what really attracted me was that the name ‘puttanesca’ is derived from the Italian word for whore. There are loads of rumours of how it got it’s name but my favourite is that a woman could spend all day in bed with her lover then whip this up in 10 minutes and convince her husband she’d been slaving over a hot stove all day.

This is the second time I’ve made it, and after seeing a wine recommendation from Guardian Wine columnist Fiona Beckett to try it with a Vinho Verde, I thought I’d invite my fellow blogger Regular Wino over for a bit of a tasting session. You can read all about the wines on his blog (we went to Tesco and got one bottle of their cheapest Vino Verde and a bottle of the pricier one).

The sauce doesn’t take long to cook, so I like to prep my ingredients first. (like peeling the garlic, and opening the tin of tomatoes instead of scrambling for the tin opener while everything’s sizzling away).  Chop up some olives, too; I used a mixture of black and green olives cos I’m fancy like that. I’d probably recommend green ones for the saltiness, if I had to choose one.

Olives
Olive Olives

Start off by frying a couple of anchovy fillets until they start to break up. These add a slight fishiness but that’s not the point; the point is the salty tang. Pro-tip; when you’re buying your anchovies get the jar instead of a tin. You only get around 6 fillets in a tin but you get about 20 in a jar, and you can keep the jar for later.

Anchovies
Bigger fish to fry?

Once your fillets have started to break up, grate in a few cloves of garlic. We love garlic here so I used about 4 but if you aren’t planning on scaring Edward Cullen away then maybe just go for 2.

Garlic
We had *awesome* breath later

The next step, once your garlic starts to go golden, is to toss your tomatoes in. Add the olives, a teaspoon of capers, and a pinch of chilli. I used chilli flakes, but if you prefer it fresh then go for it. I don’t often use chillis to cook so I know that having a fresh one around it wouldn’t get used, but a jar of flakes comes in useful. Put your pasta on to boil now.

puttanesca sauce
Chuck it all in
Puttanesca
Stirring it up

Leave the sauce to sizzle for a few minutes so that the flavours can infuse. Once your pasta is cooked, drain it and toss it in with the sauce. Give it a good coating, and then serve it up.

Pasta
Stir it together

Preferably with an ‘astringent red vinho verde’, but if you can only get white then so be it. Puttanesca is a very strong and flavoursome sauce. If you want to beef it up a bit, I’d recommend adding seafood like scallops or other shellfish. Avoid putting cheese on top as it’s salty enough already, but as an accompaniment we had garlic baguette with chevre.

pasta puttanesca
Dinner is served

Yum!

Sardinian Food I Have to Try: Next Time

Although I had some truly delicious food while I was in Sardinia, I was slightly disappointed that there were a few local delicacies that I didn’t get the chance to try. I’m going to put it down to being on the wrong part of the island for some of them,  and not having the right transport to venture into the hills (the Sardinian countryside does not lend itself well to pedestrians: the only argument we had on the trip was whether to walk home down the side of a motorway with no pavement, or to walk home along an unlit country road that we’d only used once before, in broad daylight).

I’ve already decided that I want to go back to Sardinia, this time armed with a camper van.

So what will I be trying to get my lips around next time?

Source: Wikipedia

Cazu Marzu

I had wanted to try it this time around, but was too scared to ask any of the locals about where to get it from! Cazu Marzu is probably the most famous Sardinian food, for all the wrong reasons. The regional D.O.C cheese, Pecorino Sardo Maturo, is left to fester well beyond the stage of ‘fermented’ and onto ‘decomposition’. Disgusting enough, but then add in the live cheese fly larvae writhing around and it takes it to a whole new level!

Apparently you have to shield your eyes when you’re eating as the little blighters can jump up to 6 inches! If you’re too much of a wimp to eat live larvae, then apparently you can put your cheese in a bag and suffocate them. You’ll hear a sound like popcorn as they try to escape, and once that stops you can eat. Gnarly.

The one thing that freaks me out most about Cazu Marzu is that the larvae can survive the digestion process and set up home in your intestines. Which is fine until they start boring through your intestinal wall, leaving you with bloody diaohroeah.

Porcheddu

I’m really not making any friends in the vegetarian sector, am I? Porcheddu is little baby piglets, roasted. Traditionally this is done over oak chips in a hole in the ground,  with the local herb mirto. Apparently this is eaten all across the island, although I can’t remember coming across it in Posada or La Caletta (then again we didn’t eat out very much; with our self catering holiday and a basic grasp of Italian we managed to live like royalty on a very small budget).

I love a good hog roast, so I’m afraid to say porcheddu will be on the list. Sorry PETA.

Source: MySardinia.com

Sea Urchin

They might look spiny and scary, but sea urchin

s are apparently rather palatable. A traditional Sardinian dish is pasta al Ricci, which involves a sauce made from sea urchins (and tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, etc). According to Travel Food Phil, it tastes the way that sea air smells.

The best way to try sea urchin is attending the sea urchin festival, Sagra Del Bogamari, which is held in Alghero during January and February.  I’m definitely adding it to my bucket list; the thought of standing on the lido tucking into a halved sea urchin with a slice of bread and red wine during what would be the height of winter in Scotland seems far too tempting.

Bottarga

More commonly known as ‘Sardinian caviar’, bottarga is pressed and dried smoked mullet roe. From the sounds of it, locals treat it in a similar way to parmesan or truffles and grate it onto salads and pasta. It’s mostly produced in the South, around Cagliari, but a quick Google search shows me that there’s a big export market for this delicacy. Of course this piques my interest, so next time I jet off to Sardinia I’ll be keeping an eye out especially for it.

Myrtle liqueur

We actually saw this in a few shops, but never got around to trying it. The Myrtle, or Mirto, seems to be very popular in Sardinia. Although it’s not strictly a food, I reckon it will be worth having a little sip. Particularly if I want to wipe the memory of eating live maggots out of my mind. Yeuch!

I’ve since learned that most Sardinian restaurants are happy to provide some local delicacies: just go in and ask for the Menu Degustazione which is what I’ll be doing the next time I visit this wonderful island.

Sun, Sand and Sardinian Wine

I’m sure regular readers will have noticed that while I love me some wine, I don’t really like Italian wine that much. It puts me in mind of the little girl who has a little curl right  in the middle of her forehead, from the old nursery rhyme; When Italian wine is good it is very, very good but when it is bad it is horrid.

Like most wine producing countries, I reckon they keep the very best for themselves. On our first day in Posada we headed along to the local supermarket and were pleasantly surprised by the cheap price of big bottles of wine: this big bad boy only set us back a few Euro.

Big bottle of local table wine (boyfriend used for scale)

We were pretty impressed by this purchase, but we soon discovered that it was nothing.

A few days later we ventured to the old town and stumbled into another small market to pick up some water so that we wouldn’t become dehydrated. Here we found a big vat of wine that looked a bit like a boiler. There were empty plastic cartons on a shelf to the side. You can buy the wine in a 3 liter container, or a 5 liter container.

We got 3l of tasty local wine for just under 5 Euro.

It took some effort to pour!

Three. Litres. of wine.

It wasn’t the best wine I’ve tried by a long shot, but combined with the hot sun,  delicious food, and beautiful scenery I’d count it as one of my favourite wine drinking experiences.

Whispering sweet nothings to my canister

We soon found that this was the norm in a lot of shops. On an evening jaunt to nearby seaside town La Caletta we found a little booze shop that sold a couple of D.O.C reds and a white. I managed to snap a pic of the shop owner filling up a container for us.

The wine came out of what looked like a petrol hose

The next morning we wandered along there to pick up a big bag of crisps to accompany our lunch of bread rolls and Pecorino sardo. While in town we picked up some D.O.C red wine. Fried potato snacks, three litres of vino, and lovely hot weather: you can imagine my reaction, right?

Although the D.O.C wine was a little more expensive, seven Euro really wasn’t much to sniff at! We would have the wine with most meals, although we did restrain ourselves at lunch-time and only had one glass (evenings were a different story: our apartment was in a very secluded area and there wasn’t much else to do!)

Al fresco lunch of red wine, bread and olives

To get to the beach we would wander through a nature reserve with lots of farmland. There were some animals, like cows, goats, and guard dogs,  and a big lake in the middle. This was always an interesting walk as the farmers would sell their wares by the side of the road including (you guessed it) their own wine!

a rather windswept looking James!

We were never brave enough to follow the sign, as our Italian is less than perfect, but I reckon if we go back to Sardinia we’ll just have to give it a shot. We’ll also have to try finding the local cheese cazu marzu; the wine went perfect with the other pecorinos we picked up so I’m curious to see how it will fare against cheese fly larvae!

Some cheese with that whine?

It was a pretty sad moment when we had to leave a bit of wine so that we could fly home.We had a little family of empty plastic bottles by the last day!

Our babies!

It was also sad that I’d drunk so much on our penultimate night that the last day of my holiday was spent shivering, vomiting, and convinced that I was going to die of Malaria!

I’m looking forward to my next adventure to a wine producing region, and am hoping it will be just as productive.

7 Great Reasons to go Self Catering in Sardinia

In my very early twenties I made the mistake of booking an all inclusive trip to Spain with my friend Sarah. We ate in the hotel buffet once and found the food to be utterly disgusting. Tepid meat sat in trays next to dried out chips and plastic cheese.

After that we dedicated the rest of our holiday to finding cheap bars and restaurants to dine in,  or buying bread and cheese from the Spar across the road to take back to our room (where we proceeded to watch Springwatch. Rock ‘n’ roll!)

Following such a terrible experience,  it was a no brainer that when James and I booked a romantic trip to Sardinia we decided to go self catering.

If you’re still debating the merits of all inclusive vs. self catering, here’s my handy guide to the benefits of going it alone!

  • You’re more likely to pick up the language. When we arrived in Sardinia we couldn’t speak a word of Italian, but a few days in I was sauntering up to the butchers counter asking for “due salsicce pollo per favore.”
  • You have more control over what you eat. You can still go to restaurants if you want, but you also have the control to cook your own food the way you like it best. Don’t like spicy food? Don’t add spice. Don’t like salt? Leave it out.
  • You have more control over when you eat. Going full board or all inclusive means that your meal times are dictated by the hotel. If you want a midnight snack or a 5am breakfast then forget it.
  • Sardinia is expensive. Granted we stayed in Posada, which was actually cheaper than Edinburgh in some instances, but if you want to stay in uber trendy Costa Smerelda going out every night will see you burning through traveller’s cheques pretty quickly
  • You can try local produce. Some of the awesome things we tried include blue pecorino cheese, thin crispbread called pane carasau, and local wine sold by the bucket. It’s unlikely that these would have appeared on a hotel all-inclusive buffet.
  • You really live the local culture and lifestyle. We’re used to 24 hour supermarkets here in the UK, but in Sardinia local shops close for 2 hours in the afternoon for a siesta. We found ourselves getting up earlier to get supplies, and then retiring to our apartment when the hot sun was most punishing.
  • You explore more of the area. My parents have always taken me on self catering holidays, and every time my dad will get up early and scout out the area for bakeries, supermarkets, and street markets. We end up seeing a lot more than we would if we headed to a restaurant every night, and my dad even has a pet favourite supermarket (the Portuguese Pingo Doce).

Those are just a few reasons off the top of my head, if you can think of any more please leave a comment. Suffice to say, I’m definitely into self catering holidays and am yet to be convinced otherwise.