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Lighthouse in Croatia

Lighthouse living

We love client Croatian Villa Holidays’ new collection of lighthouse villas, available in Zadar, Istria and on several islands. Villa Adventure is on a Crusoe-style island off the island of Vis, while the gorgeous eco Beacon Retreat, featured in last Saturday’s Times, is slightly more luxurious, with mountain bikes for everyone, a private boat mooring and a chef on request.

Click here for the Times‘ coverage.

Villa Elena, dining room

Start planning Christmas 2014 now!

Are the Christmas festivities already beginning to get to you?  Is it all feeling a little claustrophobic even before Christmas Eve has arrived?

It’s never too early to hatch an escape plan for next year, particularly if you’re tempted by the idea of ditching the turkey and trimmings in favour of pizza made on your own wood-burning oven.  December temperatures in Sicily can be mild and it’s also a great month for some serious sightseeing, minus the tourists and with the added attraction of twinkly lights and nativity scenes in many of the local villages and towns. 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

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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

Brac - translucent sea

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.

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Sicily blooms …

While we struggle to save our gardens from drowning, Sicily starts to prepare for this weekend’s Infiorata di Noto which transforms Noto’s main street, the Corrado Nicolaci, into a flowered carpet of petal filled mosaic-style pictures.

The final effect, which is similar to a stained glass window, is created by artists who outline scenes with a special organic soil then fill them in with specially prepared flower petals and seeds.   Let’s hope it doesn’t rain ….

Visit soloSicily for holiday ideas around Noto and other baroque towns in SE Sicily.

Villa Cordevigo

Romancing the Bard

Could Shakespeare really have been Sicilian?  And when we’re listening to da Mosto’s dulcet tones, do we even care?

OK, so some of the details in the first of Francesco da Mosto’s two-part BBC2 series, Shakespeare in Italy (Thursday 3 and 10 May, 9.00 pm), were slightly far-fetched but the credibility factor was completely overshadowed by views and scenes from some of northern Italy’s most glorious towns and cities and da Mosto’s unnerving ability to bring out everything that’s good about his native country.  This was just one stop short of actually being there.

See it all for yourself on an ExpertoItaly two-centre trip to Verona and Venice, with a stop in Padua.

Read more in the The Times and Sunday Times .

baby

Hush little baby …

Vote for Babycalm in the Barclays ‘Take One Small Step’ competition and get entered into a draw for a short-break at the Sands Resort Hotel in Cornwall – the perfect option for a hassle-free family holiday!

Babycalm offers baby calming solutions for new parents through a unique blend of early parenting classes, literature and babycare products to empower new parents to enjoy the first few months with their newborn baby.

Click here for link to Babycalm website

mountain-bound

Hit the slopes driving

Self-drive ski … how much do you really save by driving to France?  Actually, quite a bit if you’re hitting the slopes in peak school holiday weeks and planning to self-cater.  By the time you’ve factored in the cost of flights and transfers and the value of packing a box or 2 of food, there are some big savings to be made.

More to the point, can you squeeze in some extra skiing?  By setting off on a Friday and arriving in resort on Saturday morning, then departing on the following Saturday early evening for a Sunday arrival in the UK, you can enjoy 2 glorious crowd-free Saturdays on the slopes while everyone else is trying to catch a plane.  Visit www.WakeupinFrance.co.uk for more self-drive ski holiday ideas.