Relaxing in Lloret de Mar

Today has been super duper relaxing and the perfect end to our three week journey, which ends tomorrow as we (hopefully) arrive in Valencia: our home for the next 5 months! Today I had a much needed lie-in while James went for a run, then we ate a nice lunch of omelette, sausage, and cheese on the balcony of our lovely Airbnb rental.

Afterwards we took a wander into town to see what Lloret de Mar is all about. It’s basically your bog standard coastal tourism resort I suppose. Big nightclubs with posters advertising names like Sean Paul and Snoop Dogg (gutted I wasn’t here in August), shops selling cheesy t-shirts, and tattoo parlours with photographs of drunken body art that their customers have opted for: such as “property of Karlo” tattooed above a lass’s lady garden. Lovely.

Lloret Collage

Underneath the cheesy surface I spotted a few hidden gems. There was a shop selling ice lollies made from fresh fruit juice, some cute little tapas bars with nary a drink deal in sight, and of course a beautiful palm fringed beach. Being October I suppose this is the town’s off season, but I reckon it’s a great time to visit. The temperature was hot enough for me to walk around in a vest top (and catch a tan), while the streets weren’t crowded with rowdy lager louts.

We were planning on going to Bagua Lounge for dinner tonight but our eyes were bigger than our bellies in the supermarket last night and we have some supplies left to use up. Next time, perhaps.

All in all I think Lloret is a pretty beautiful place, and I wish we’d only done one night in Marseilles as I imagine a Friday night here would be anything but boring.

Hello Catalonia!

After our depressing Friday night of no food, alcohol, or any sort of action, I woke up this morning with a splitting headache. Thankfully James is an absolute legend and he agreed to drive us all the way to Lloret de Mar. What a star!

FranceCatalonia collage

We stopped off at an Intermarche to pick up some picnic supplies (rotisserie chicken, baguette, crisps, and tangerines- what more do you need?) then ate it in the sun at one of the lovely aires (road side stopping areas with toilets, picnic benches, and so on).

For some reason driving through France always feels really boring, and like it takes forever. Even when you’re driving past the Cote d’Azure and the Pyrenees. We made it into sunny Spain (more precisely Catalonia) eventually, and stopped again so that James could have a coffee and so I could grab a water for my headache.

I found a much better headache cure once we arrived at our apartment
I found a much better headache cure once we arrived at our apartment

Our first night in Lloret was pretty low key. We ate some chorizo and drank cerveza on our balcony and felt happy to be back in Spain.  Once we arrive in Valencia (our next stop!) that’s us settled until March. Considering we left Berlin on the 1st, we’ve definitely taken our time. I’m excited about being able to un-pack and finally get some washing done.

As for the crisps I won in our wager, well, we shared a packet of chevre flavour in France and some garlic & parsley flavour in Lloret.

France: it’s good to be back!

I spent the best part of 2012 and a quarter of 2013 house sitting in France, and to say I have mixed feelings about the place would be… wrong. Basically, I kind of convinced myself that I didn’t like it. I seemed to inflate a few bad experiences I’d had while house sitting in the Pyrenees and a few excruciating long drives into a kind of almost… hatred for the land of pastries and turtlenecks.

Collecting holy water in Lourdes, a statue in Paris, and a stall at the Laruns cheese festival
2012: Collecting holy water in Lourdes, a statue in Paris, and a stall at the Laruns cheese festival

After popping back in for half an hour on our way to Switzerland I felt a pang as I was reminded of some of the things that make France wonderful. The light and crisp baguettes, the fantastic selection of cheeses, and the September/October wine fair, for example. The great memories started to come flooding back. Then I started to remember how friendly the people are.

I’d convinced myself that French people were rude, but the more I thought about it I realised that actually all the French people I’d met during my time in France were lovely. Henri, the toothless farmer who lived just outside Salies de Bearn and took the time to chat to us during our daily dog walks; our neighbour who looked after us during the hunters dinner; our regular checkout girl in Super U who used to practice her English on us. All welcomed us into their country with open arms.

2013: Skiing in La Mongie, wine tasting in Toulouse, and Jardin Massey in Tarbes
2013: Skiing in La Mongie, wine tasting in Toulouse, and Jardin Massey in Tarbes

When I think about it I realise it was the English expats that really soured my experience of living in France. The woman who asked me “how old are you, fifteen?” in a derisive tone at a Franglais meeting; the girl who completely blanked us in our local supermarket car park; all the crazies who messed us around. None of them were French, but their unfriendly attitude put a nasty filter on life in France for me.

I had some amazing experiences living in France, so why have I been wandering around like “pah, France!” for the past year and a half? I honestly have no idea. But I do want to issue a formal apology to France and her people for any badmouthing I may have done. France, you are wonderful.

Our drive from Pieve di Teco to Marseilles certainly confirmed that in my head. We might have been on a motorway, but with views like this most of the way it was anything but dull.

Bellano to Marseilles (8)

France, I love you, and I’m so glad to be back. Even if it is just for two nights.

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.

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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!

There’s More to House Sitting than Cheap Accommodation

When we quit the nine til five-thirty to go travelling two years ago, we weren’t entirely sure what was going to happen. We had a few ideas for how to make money while on the road, but we weren’t sure how good they’d be. In the meantime we didn’t want to spend our life savings, and I didn’t want to stay in hostels.

That’s when we discovered house sitting.

Seventeen cats, eight dogs, two terrapins and a herd of alpacas later, we’ve learned that house sitting isn’t for everyone. 

Don’t get me wrong, house sitting is a great way to travel. It’s the best way to integrate into a community, discover what life really is like in a country, and a lovely way to meet new people. During our house sitting adventure we got to experience things that we’d never have been able to otherwise: such as sitting down and enjoying a hunter’s dinner in a small farming village in the Pyrenees, learning how to handle alpacas, and getting some really sage advice from expats who have “been there, done that.”

While there are plenty of upsides, I don’t believe house sitting is right for people who are just looking for cheap accommodation.

If you’re thinking of becoming a house sitter so that you can “see the world for hundreds of dollars less” you need to understand that it’s not just about budget travel: it’s about  serious responsibility.

Would you stick your hand in her mouth to pull out a stick wedged between her top row of (very sharp) teeth?

Without getting on my high horse, being a house sitter is hard work. Although James and I took a couple of day trips during our five month stay in a village 35km outside of Tarbes, we couldn’t leave Cassie alone for more than a few hours at a time. She needs to go out to pee, she needs two walks a day, and most importantly: she loves to spend time with her humans.

As a result, the house wasn’t just a base for exploring: it became home. We had to clean the oven, clean the shower, and basically do all of the gross nasty stuff that you need to do when you own a house.

In a hostel the cleaners do that for you, but when you house sit you’re on your own.

Would you clean gunge out of her eye every morning?

In Salies de Bearn we had to get up at 6am every morning to take two big dogs on a six kilometer walk before the sun got too hot. We love animals, we love walking, so this didn’t bother us. It does eat into a working day, especially when you have to clean the swimming pool too. It definitely takes it out of you, and means a lot of late evenings burning the midnight oil if you’re a digital nomad like me.

If you need peace and tranquility to work remotely, then house sitting isn’t for you.

Would you clean his poop off the rug when he eats food that doesn’t agree with him?

What I’m trying to say is, if you don’t like animals, then house sitting definitely isn’t for you. If you like rushing off on adventures, house sitting is not for you. If you like having your own routine, then nope: it’s not for you.

However.

If you want to immerse yourself in a new culture while living a pretty settled life (i.e. house work on a Sunday, curling up with the pets in the evening), then house sitting is for you.

If you work remotely and want to base yourself somewhere interesting, while enjoying a few home comforts, then house sitting is for you.

If you understand the full responsibility of looking after someone’s home and pets, then house sitting is for you.

What do you think? Have you ever tried house sitting?

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.

 

REVIEW: Chalet Betula, Schwarzenmatt

Today was an absolute scorcher of a day! I couldn’t resist sitting outside with a cuppa, gazing over the mountains, before starting work. I even had a quick browse through the copy of Lonely Planet Switzerland that was sitting in the chalet. I wish I could have sat there all day, but work was beckoning and those bills don’t pay themselves you know.

That view... swoon!
That view… swoon!

At around 4pm we decided to make the most of the last remaining hours of sunshine and drive down to Spiez, which has a gorgeous lake and quite a nice castle. We jumped in the car and drove down off the mountain. Unfortunately the roads round here are very wiggly-woggly. Which is lovely, if you don’t get car sick like I do. I spent most of the journey trying not to be sick, while trying to explain to James why one doesn’t slam on the brakes and speed round corners. Finally we got to our destination, without any vomathons. It was totally stunning!

Spiez Collage

We leave for Italy tomorrow, so I want to quickly tell you a bit more about the amazing guest house we’re staying at, Chalet Betula. I’m not the kind of blogger who goes around asking for freebies. Joy (the chalet owner) has no idea that I even have a blog. We paid full price for our stay. And honestly? We’ve been treated like absolute royalty!

On arrival we found a beautiful bottle of Chianti, and a fridge stocked with local delicacies. And when I say stocked, I mean stocked. Swiss chocolate, local cheese, local charcuterie, local yoghurts, local milk, choccy biscuits, orange juice, and even some home-made jam… I’m probably forgetting something. Oh yeah, fresh bread rolls and sliced bread for toasting.

Basically our every need and whim has been catered for, and Joy is such a lovely woman and made us feel so at home. She has completely given us our own space, but it’s good to know she’s just upstairs in case we need anything. I snapped a few pics of the chalet: excuse the poor lighting! Not pictured are the comfy couch as James is lounging on it, and of course the kitchen.

Betula Collage

If you’re looking for self catering accommodation in the Bernese Oberland I cannot recommend Chalet Betula highly enough. There’s a real log fire for cosy winter evenings… I can just imagine it, all snuggled on the sofa drinking red wine…. ahhh! There’s a telly with Sky too so you don’t even have to miss Strictly. What more could you ask for a pre-Christmas break?

They don’t have a website (!!!) but we found and booked through TripAdvisor. Alternatively you can drop Joy an email. As I said before, we didn’t stay here on a freebie and Joy has no idea I’m a blogger, so I have no ulterior motives in posting this review. I just had a bloody amazing few days here and I’d love to pay it forward!