Newly-opened (June 2012) bed and breakfast in a hamlet in the south Lakes. Watch the weather change over Blackcombe, stroll down to the standing stones pictured on their website before dinner cooked with ingredients from the garden or other local sources, or head off to the beach. This is walking, cycling, riding territory. Oh, and there's a good pub in Kirksanton too. Run by Kev and Rachelle, who know how to put you at ease. Lovely, comfortable bedroom, instant relaxation. Close to Muncaster Castle, Ravenglass and other Lakes attractions.
How about this for a perfect day out with three children: we rented Assunta Maria, accommodation with a delightful mix of old meets new, with a very modern lamia and traditionally restored Trulli - which keeps cool in the sun so it is brilliant for when the children need shade from the pool.
Head early to ZooSafari in Fasano and make sure your first stop is the Monkey Train. You sit in cages(!) as passengers on a train and you head into the monkey reserve. The monkey's then crawl all over the cages, right above your head and squawk at you until you feed them monkey nuts! The kids are either roaring with laughter or stunned into silence with fear.
Chill out in the afternoon by joining the old men in Ceglie Messapica town square, walking up and down, repeatedly, until those stomach's start rumbling and Aldo's Pizza is just round the corner - the best Pizza in Italy (says my 5 year old nephew Huey - and he is always right!)
Assunta Maria is just outside of Ceglie Messapica:
+44 (0)1386 710630
ZooSafari is in Fasano:
Via dello Zoosafari, 72015 Fasano Brindisi, Italy
Google map: bit.ly/RGxaAu
Aldo's Pizza is just outside Ceglie Messapica's town square
Trulli are typical of the region, circular limestone buildings with a conical roof, each slightly different, kind of resembling a Moor's turban from an Aladdin film. They are dotted around the area, and come in different levels from basic to luxury. Rent one near Ostuni (The White City), only about 10km from the crystal Adriatic, visit different villages for dinner every night from Locorotondo (great outdoor club called Mavu) to a meat feast at Ceglie Messapica, or passegiata at Martina Franca. But maybe best of all is to go to the market in the morning to buy fresh Buratta, Altamura bread, Primitivo wine and orechiette. I'm dreaming again ...
It's a hotel in a cave! The Sassi in Matera is a UNESCO world heritage site, a stunning collection of cliff side cave dwellings with ornate carved stone frontages. Best viewed from the ravine opposite the town, the scene is positively biblical. Indeed, Mel Gibson used the Sassi as Jerusalem's double in The Passion of the Christ, but don't let that put you off.
The area was run down and basically a slum until the 70s, but the last ten years have seen the unique charms of the Sassi finally receiving their dues. And the jewel in the crown is Le Grotte della Civita, a boutique hotel where Philippe Starck bathtubs stand proudly in bare limestone caves, the sparseness of the setting is uniquely romantic, artistic and beautiful. The breakfasts are delicious as well, and it's a brilliant spot from which to explore the vast charms of Italy's most neglected region.
Puglia is great for cycling. Get a flight to Brindisi and head inland, find one place as an HQ and then go for meandering circular rides in the countryside. The coast is a great place for a day trip but the hinterland is more chilled and has less traffic.
One thing to remember: it's a myth that Italians drive like crazy but they do have a habit of giving the car horn a little bib when they are about to overtake cyclists; they do this as a courtesy to let you know that they are coming but at first I kept stopping and looking back to see if there was a problem. Once you've got used to that you'll find Puglia a very safe and relaxing place to go biking.
I'm not a vegetarian but I did notice that there were plenty of tasty vegetable based dishes in this region perhaps in reflection of poorer times when meat was not so readily available. There is an 'old world' feeling to this part of Puglia, which reminds me: if you're over 35 and you just have to wear Lycra shorts, the locals will greatly appreciate it if you put on something a little less revealing before you enter into a cafe or a bar.
I won't suggest a bike route because I believe it's best to just head off aimlessly and see where the road takes you, it's all good.
I've been cycling (aimlessly) around the Brindisi region of Puglia many times and the one place I recommend as a place to stay is a holiday villa called Rustic Puglia near Ceglie Messapica. It is run by a young English couple, Claire and Andy. They run the villa as a separate property while they grow organic fruit and vegetables on the land. This is a great base from which to explore the rolling countryside and nearby ancient towns such as Cisternino and Locorotondo.
I got chatting to a local (well, he was from Milan originally) and he asked if the area reminded me of Ireland and it occurred to me, that with all the stone walls and cottages, it is just like Ireland - but without the rain. The Milanese gentleman suggested a disused aqueduct for cycling along. I still haven't found that aqueduct. Next time perhaps.
+39 327 2398484
Nearest town is Ceglie Messapica, nearest airport is Brindisi.
Otranto is an ancient port on Puglia's Adriatic coastline and the perfect seaside getaway. We booked into the family run Bellavista hotel on the seafront and were given an 'Otranto card' which entitled us to use the city's bikes free of charge. Cycling down to Porto Badisco, a rocky, lagoon like swimming cove, nine kms down the coast, proved a real treat. However there is heaps to enjoy in Otranto itself. The Romanesque cathedral in the old city is full of ghoulish surprises. A medieval monk called Pantaleone clearly had a lot of fun designing the cathedral's mosaic floor which contains a plethora of weird and wonderful pictures from Noah's Ark and Alexander the Great to King Arthur. And after roaming about, exploring Otranto's delightful nooks and crannies (or sitting under the trees on the seafront with a coffee or ice cream) where better to finish off the day than dining on gargantuan portions of pizza and seafood at La Bella Idrussa, which must surely rank as one of the best value restaurants in Puglia. Get there early if you don't want to queue.
Via Vittorio Emanuele, 18 73028 Otranto
Google map: bit.ly/QtYLRx
La Bella Idrusa
Via Lungomare Degli Eroi 73028 Otranto Province of Lecce, Italy
Google map: bit.ly/MSzW6S
Beautifully converted farm houses in a stunning olive grove 10 minutes from the lovely fortified port of Otranto. Rooms are cool and elegant, private garden and pool in courtyard. Short drive or cycle to Otranto and surrounding secluded rocky coves. Swathes of fresh fruits and pastries for breakfast and unbelievable selection of antipasti and pastas served at lunch.
Located conveniently and in a quiet location just off the main highway at the mid-point of Bari and Brindisi, Borgo San Marco is a Masseria uniquely restored to capture its originality as a small walled enclave. The details are exquisite without being forced or artificial and there is style. Stay on the upper levels and you can sun or read on private roof terraces or swim in the adjacent infinity pool in the gardens. There is also Borgo Aqua, a private wellness centre but it was summer, so our priorities were elsewhere. You are close to Savelletri, Torre Canne and the undeveloped beaches close to Rosa Marina. Eat in or at one of the fabulous sea-side outdoor restaurants on this side of Savelletri, it is a perfect base to explore this region of Puglia and works for couples and families.
Lovely trip of the Greek Islands and parts of Turkey in celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary. Valide Sultan Hotel was to be our treat at the end of this lovely vacation.
Front desk Bunyamin clearly went above and beyond the call of duty. Once we had checked in, he invited us to the rooftop lounge and began our visit with a detailed conversation to discover what we would like to get out of our Istanbul experience. Once armed with this information he made a number of suggestions of things to do and see during our stay in Istanbul. From his selection of a guide to take us on a historic walking tour, to his personal tutelage in negotiating with shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar his recommendations were flawless and his personal assistance was unparalleled.
Our room, The Marmara, was gorgeous in its extravagant fabrics and detail. The views were breathtaking; either experienced from our room, or the hotel’s excellent rooftop restaurant. There is no better location in Istanbul to enjoy the views of the many historic sites including the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque or the endless ships on the Sea of Marmara entering and exiting the Bosphorus.
The staff at the Valide Sultan was equally committed to the best overall experience for their guests. This hotel is small and intimate and while there, we felt like we were part of the family. They were consistently attentive whether servicing a request for our room, or suddenly appearing with a beautiful woven shawl to ward off the autumn evening breeze on the rooftop.
Valide Sultan was indeed the jewel that capped a most memorable holiday for us.
Torre dei Preti is an agriturismo located 2km outside the beautiful coastal town of Peschici, on the north Puglian coast on the Gargarno peninsula. It's a family-run business, and owners Oscar and Lucrezia are fantastic hosts, and even more fantastic chefs.
Rooms, mostly apartment-style, are located out in the well-kept grounds, are spacious, modern and comfortable, and are kept spotlessly clean. Balconies have a view out to the ice-white buildings of Peschici framed by the blue sky and olive trees. Near to the main house is a large, well-maintained and heated swimming pool with a sun-terrace and loungers, so while Torre dei Preti is a great base from which to explore the Gargarno, it's also a lovely place to spend time relaxing.
And of course, the food, the food, the food! Half-board at Torre dei Preti is a gastronomic experience, with almost all of the food being locally sourced and expertly cooked and served with love. Breakfasts are buffet-style, with a vast array of fruits, breads, yoghurts, cheese, meats and preserves, plus juice, coffee and cake, yes, cake - and all homemade. Dinner offers a table groaning with fish, meat and vegetable antipasti, followed by a choice of primi (usually pasta or risotto) and a choice of meat or fish secondi - again, everything is local and super-fresh. If you have room after all that (which you may not, but Lucrezia will convince you otherwise) desserts are homemade and generous, or you can simply enjoy a plate of fruit and an excellent coffee. Wine, all local, is superb.
All in all a stunning find, well-priced in comparison to other agriturismi in the area - an absolute gem.
Palazzo Siena is a truly hidden gem, which I can't recommend enough. On a hot summer day we drove through the sleepy town of Minervino di Lecce. We pulled up outside a hotel that looked practically desolate. But when the doors opened, Palazzo Siena was revealed in all its glory. Opened in the summer of 2012, it's a family-run boutique hotel and a food and design haven. The owner, a chatty lady from Naples, has an incredible attention to detail and she has decorated the hotel throughout with a very sophisticated taste, blending an Italian old fashioned style with modern accessories. That doesn't mean you don't feel at home, in fact, I have never experienced a hotel that makes you feel so welcome. The patio has a beautiful swimming pool, filled with sea water, and is surrounded by comfortable sun loungers. If you sit down, I promise you that you never want to leave. Palazzo Siena grows their own food, so if you want to disappear into the shade you can grab a basket and pick figs, lemons, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, beans and strawberries. In the country-style kitchen you can cook your own food, unless the owner has already beat you to it and has prepared typical Puglian treats such as Friselle bread with olive oil, oregano and tomatoes. The eight individually decorated rooms are spacious and comfortable and there's not a sound from the street. This is a sleepy village, after all. The hotel is close to the crystal clear waters of Salento if all the quietness gets too much. Although the hotel comes with a price, it's a price I'm definitely willing to pay to feel so totally relaxed. And did I mention the food?
The best place to base yourself in Puglia is a trulli and I think you would be hard pushed to find one more idyllic than Trulli Stella. It's a little off the beaten track and surrounded by farmland, olive groves and locals escaping (from nearby Ceglie) to the country for the weekend. More importantly it has it's own fully equipped outside kitchen and pizza oven and if you like, Maria, the trulli's manager, will visit with her mother, and cook you an amazing meal with enough food to last you for the entire week using ingredients from the garden and the local market.
When you can bring yourself to leave the tranquility of the trulli you are truly spoilt for choice as to where you head. There's the market cafe at Locorotondo where you can pop in for a sweet cake and deliciously strong espresso, before heading into the market to buy more ingredients for cooking those long leisurely lunches in your trulli. You can join the locals doing their morning shopping in nearby St Michele, but be aware you need to be assertive in the bakery queue if you don't want all the good bread to be sold before you get your turn.
A trip to the coast is essential and Villanova di Ostuni has some of the best local beaches: crystal clear waters, acres of white sand and a sweet marina where you can choose between a glass of icy cold rose at the local bar or a gelato on the other side of the square.
The white washed, hill top town of Cisternino is not to be missed; head to Pizzeria Da Angelo for some delicious wood fired pizza, sitting down to eat among the local teenagers, young families and grandparents alike. Take a stroll after dinner to listen to music playing in the piazza, or come back during the day to explore its warren of back streets and alleyways.
Finally no trip to Puglia is complete without participating in the evening passeggiata and there is no place better for this than Martina Franca with its mixture of shops and wonderful architecture. Sit with a glass of beer in the main square and absorb the wonderfully convivial spectacle.
The Masseria Fumarola is a converted masseria, now a beautiful boutique hotel. Every room is unique in its style and decoration and trully delightful. The outside space at the Masseria is fantastic, from a drink on the terrace, al-fresco eating, to the beautiful pool and the surrounding fields. It all adds to your feeling of well being.
But most importantly, the food there is divine!! From the breakfast offering which I still dream off; the amazing cakes (you have to try the carrot cake) to the best ever antipasti buffet ever seen in my life. If I could only eat Masseria Fumarola's antipasti & cake selection, I will have reached heaven.
The whole town of Alberobello is lit up for the festival and the atmosphere is electric. From the stalls selling enormous tasty olives, to the fun fair, to climbing to the top of the hill past the quaint trulli to watch the magnificent firework display, it is all a feast for the eye. Trullo degli Alberi is on the outskirts of Alberobello with fantastic facilities to keep the whole family entertained (pool, games room and we even had pasta and pizza lessons arranged for us) and the owners will even act as taxi drivers so you don’t have to worry about finding somewhere to park during the festival.
Stay near Alberobello at the Chiusa di Chietri. As well as the excellent restaurant and pool, you can choose to stay in a genuine trulli house which is part of the hotel grounds.
The atmosphere is enhanced by the local weddings held there (judge the amount of money they cost by the size of the fireworks!
Visit Craco, an abandoned hill town that you can climb all over.
Matera is fascinating (used for fiming The Passion of the Christ).
Don't miss out Lecce, if not for the Roman ruins, for the relaxing and shady park and the fabulous Gelateria Natale!
The Lazy Toad Inn, in Brampford Speke, a village some 15 minutes drive from Exeter city centre, serves excellent food and drink at reasonable prices. Much of the food is locally sourced, including some produce raised in the Inn's own garden.
The Toad also offers accommodation, with the usual facilities, including Wifi access, flatscreen tv, radio alarm, and iPod dock.
It has an attractive interior, with a decorative emphasis upon the eponymous Toad, plenty of space between tables, and a small garden close by with tables for eating and drinking outside in good weather.
The chef/proprietors, Mo and Clive Walker, offer a warm welcome, and the staff generally are knowledgeable and cheerful. The atmosphere combines informality with elegance. It is no surprise that a number of worthwhile awards for quality food have been garnered in recent years. They are highly deserved.
Nafplio is an amazing city, the architecture especially can amaze you. It was occupied through the centuries by Venetians, Ottomans and many more and it is something you can see at the style of the buildings. You can see old Mosques standing next to neoclassical buildings. While walking to the narrow streets, it feels like living to another century! While at Nafplio, we stayed at beautiful Pension Dafni. A nice pension hidden in the streets of the old city. The room was clean and stylish and breakfast was delicious and fresh. The staff were helpful and made us feel like we were at home. I would totally recommend Nafplio as a stop and Pension Dafni the place to stay.
A delightful little B&B (only three rooms), the decor is superb (we stayed for an extended weekend in the Suite Framboise, meaning the Raspberry Suite!) with breakfast on the sunny private terrace. The hosts are really lovely and can tell you a thing or two about antiques and collectables, which was very handy as we came down to Provence also to look at antiques for our house back in England. A really lovely place to stay and not too expensive as I recall.
Set in the old part of Arles, this family run hotel is a real gem. Complete with swimming pool, and generous rooms, and a really excellent buffet breakfast. The amphitheatre and all sites of the old town are within easy walking distance. Being family run you get a more friendly service from the staff, recommending local restaurants (the hotel has no restaurant) and other useful information on the area.
A lovely little riad, in the medina, very pleasant staff. Respite from the chaos outside, and the hard sell. And a great breakfast.
DB Tbib, N° 46, Riad Zitoun Jdid Marrakech 40000 Maroc
+ 212 5 24 39 04 25
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