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Amaltea - garden leads down to sea

Montalbano’s Sicily

Hurray for the return this Saturday of the charismatic Inspector Montalbano – even if it’s in the form of a prequel to the main series as a young Montalbano is posted to a remote village in the Sicilian mountains before being promoted and transferred to Vigata.

Hard to say whether it’s the early morning swims, the almost tangible smell of coffee on that beachfront terrace or the steaming platters of  ’pasta alla norma’ that make you long to be there … but there are few better adverts for south east Sicily and the baroque towns of Ragusa, Modica and Scicli than this series. Read more here

Gianduiotti

Chocs away in Europe

Grab a quick European break this Easter and do your own research into local ‘choco’ traditions.

Spice up your life in Sicily: Famous for its extraordinary spicy chocolate and its colourful Easter processions, Modica produces amazing chocolate made using a 16th century Mexican technique. Visit the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto chocolate shop, in situ since 1880, to sample it at its best.  Villa specialist soloSicily has several properties nearby that are perfect for exploring the heart of baroque Sicily.

Read more here

Etna

Family breaks

If your thoughts are turning to holiday plans but you’re restricted by school term dates, now is definitely the time to set those plans in concrete.   Significant special offers and discounts during peak periods don’t tend to happen unless you’re prepared to be very flexible in terms of dates and where you go.  If you have to stick to specific dates and have a good idea of what you want to do, book now to get the best choice of accommodation and the cheapest flights.

Saturday’s Times newspaper may help kick start the process with their own ‘School’s Out’ suggestions, including a soloSicily holiday in a large country estate, with accommodation for up to 17, on the slopes of Mount Etna.  Click here to read the The Times article.

Istanbul spice market

Top city breaks for street food

Sampling local food can be one of the best bits of any city break and grabbing a quick bite from a stall can be even more tempting (and certainly cheaper) than de-camping to a restaurant.  These are some of our top tips for authentic street food.

Istanbul … given the city’s geographical position, straddling two continents, it isn’t surprising that Istanbul ranks high when it comes to street food.  Start your day with ‘simit’, a ring-shaped bread topped with toasted sesame seeds, before progressing to a roasted corn on a cob and then munching your way through a fresh fish sandwich near the Galata Bridge in the Eminonu area.  Colourful arrangements of spices and Turkish delight invariably attract tourists to the Spice Market but wander slightly off the beaten track and you’ll stumble upon market stalls displaying freshly-caught fish and supersized local vegetables.

Read more here

The Times 29.12.12 - Copy

What’s new for 2013?

Back to the top of the calendar … and with it the prospect of a year of new exhibitions, hotel openings, flights and events.  Check out the Times’ preview of the latest trends in travel, including BA’s new flight to Zagreb to coincide with Croatia’s entry into the European Union in July, and the centenary of the Verona Opera Festival.

In London, the opening of the Life and Death in Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum (28 March -29 September) is likely to generate considerable interest in southern Italy’s Bay of Naples.  Details of specialist tour operator, ExpertoItaly’s tailor made packages to the Amalfi coast, with tours of Pompeii and the Phlegrean Fields, are also included in the Times‘ article and in the Guardian’s round-up of 20 best bargain beach breaks.

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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.

Chocolate sunflowers - Cioccolart

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 http://bit.ly/RzzC9p

View, Mezzatorre - Copy

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.

Cantine Virzi - cellars - Copy

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.

Family fun

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