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Archive for 2012

Elbows at the ready: Sales shopping in Milan

Wardrobe need replenishing?   January in Milan means that sightseeing is out and sales shopping is most definitely in.  Head straight for the very chic Quadrilatero d’Oro shopping district, bordered by Via Sant’Andrea, Via Monzani, Via della Spiga and Via Montenapoleone,  get inspiration from the masters at Gucci, Versace, Prada and Chanel, then follow the locals’ example and elbow your way through the racks of bargains at the city’s many outlet stores. The sales start on the first Saturday of January and continue until mid-February. Stay at the uber-chic Hotel Spadari al Duomo for the best views of the Duomo and quickest sprint to the shops.

Read about sales shopping in Milan, and other bargain searching ideas, in December’s Sunday Times Travel Magazine.

Calling all arty chocoholics

Taormina’s Cioccolart event (20 December – 6 January 2013) brings with it a welcome new dimension on admiring art in Italy.  Forget Michelangelo and Donatello … these sculptures are good enough to eat.   Quite apart from transforming chocolate into some fairly spectacular edible art,  the event offers tastings, cooking demos and some great choco-related creative ideas.

Apparently it attracts some the best pastry chefs from across Sicily, all keen to exhibit their spectacular chocolate sculptures – in addition, of course, to gluttonous visitors and tourists equally keen to lay their sticky fingers on the free samples.  Find out more here

Domestic goddess or frozen food fanatic?

If you’ve given up all hope of becoming a domestic goddess, one option might be to simply pass the buck on to your kids.  Forget slaving away over a hot stove:  book a holiday and while you enjoy the joys of the Neapolitan coast,  let someone else introduce the kids to the delights of fresh ingredients, baking and perfect pizzas.

Client ExpertoItaly’s pizza-making holidays at the Relais Oasi Olimpia in Sorrento are just one of the October half-term options featured in the Independent this week.  Check out the article for more ideas on where to go this month.  

Wheeling and dealing

Check out some of the Telegraph’s Ultratravel deals and discounts and grab a great October holiday at knock down prices.  Top of our list is the heady combination of complimentary spa treatments AND reduced prices at the fabulous Mezzatorre Resort & Spa in Ischia.

Grape escapes

With massive vineyards covering an area even greater than the vineyards of Bordeaux and Chile, experiencing life on a vineyard in Sicily is a must for wine-lovers.

But if your gap year has long passed you by and grape picking is not an option this autumn, you can still find out about wine-making, take tours of cellars and vineyards and indulge in wine tastings during a stay at Cantine Virzì, a working winery producing high-quality wine on the Spadafora estate in the important wine-growing area of western Sicily.

Still on the wine front, this week sees the start of the Bardolino wine festival (4-8 October), and with it the opportunity to sample the new harvest.  Check out the very lovely 12-room boutique style Villa Cordevigo, set in a 500-acre estate close to Lake Garda, where you can indulge in private wine tastings of the villa’s own wines and some great regional vintages.

For more ideas, take a look at the Independent’s traveller’s guide to great wine holidays,  including details of Cantine Virzi.

Need a family half-term break?

Looking for an October half-term getaway?  Read the Times’ recent round-up (including clients soloSicily and ExpertoItaly), check out some great ideas from 101familyholidays or take a look at some of our favourites.

Pizza perfection in Italy:  If your kids think that pizzas come out of the freezer, sounds like it’s time for everyone in the family to learn how to make authentic Neapolitan pizzas.  Book into a 2-hour pizza-making session at the Oasi Olimpia Relais, a hotel and cookery school set in the hills above Sorrento, to find out just how Italians make their pizzas taste so good.  Pizza-making lessons start at £35 per child/adult. Read more here

September events and festivals in Sicily

Visit Sicily in September for a last burst of sunshine and a whole host of lively festivals and events.

Cous Cous Fest (25-30 September): Forget traditional Italian pasta and risotto – if you find yourself on Sicily’s northwest coast in September, you’ll discover that couscous is king. A sharp reminder of Sicily’s north African gastromonic heritage, San Vito lo Capo’s Cous Cous Fest attracts chefs from as far afield as Algeria, France, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia, each competing for the coveted ‘Best Couscous’ title’; a selection of delicacies ranging from Lebanese tabouleh to couscous with coconut milk is served in the gastronomic village; and there are free evening concerts.

One of Italy’s top beaches, San Vito lo Capo sits on the edge of the Zingaro Nature Reserve in northwest Sicily. Prices start at £1020 per week in September at Villa Sirena (sleeps 4).

Read more here

A swimmer’s paradise …

Fed-up with swimming in dark murky waters?  There are still a few places on the short-haul radar where you can plunge into sparkling seas and see every stone, rock and living creature beneath you.

Cyprus hits the top slots in the European commission’s annual report on the quality of bathing water, with Croatia hard on its heels.  Head for the Dalmatian islands where you can slip into breathtakingly clean water from beaches and secluded coves undisturbed by mass tourism even during August.  Jellyfish here are few and far between and for those, like me, who have yet to master swimming and looking ahead simultaneously, the most likely collision is with a floating buoy.

Favourite swimming spot was close to Sumartin on the eastern tip of Brac, where the water was truly translucent and a grand total of 14 people on the beach generated something close to horror on the part of UK-resident Croatian friends who spend every summer on the island.   My advice?  Go before everyone else does.

Car free Sicily?

Do you need a car when holidaying in Sicily?  Or can you get around by public transport?  If driving in Sicily doesn’t appeal, stick to the east or west coast of the island so that you’re in reasonably easy reach of any of the airports – Palermo, Trapani and Catania – and can pick up a bus or taxi to your accommodation and surrounding attractions.

The Times’ Travel Doctor gives a couple of ideas that work well on the island, including a romantic self-catering tower for two in Marsala on the west coast, and, on the east coast, a boutique hotel in Syracuse that’s within easy reach of the wonderful baroque towns of Noto, Modica and Ragusa.

Click here for The Times article.

With Tuscany, once is never enough

Do you really want to stay off the beaten track?   Frederic Raphael reminds us in a Sunday Times feature on Tuscany why beaten tracks are beaten in the first place.

Re-visit classic Tuscany and find out what accommodation’s still available this summer.  Unusually, there are still some good villas around, or, if you want to be closer to town but still enjoy the Tuscan countryside, book in to the family-run Relais Marignolle in the hills outside Florence.

Check out the Sunday Times article to see what’s still available.