Tag Archives: Italy

Ca’ San Sebastiano wine resort and spa: where gourmet and luxury meet agriturismo

When planning the second part of our summer holidays, we looked at the map and asked ourselves what options we have besides taking the usual “Autoroute du Soleil” from Paris to the south of France. We have taken that highway dozens of times, and yet there obviously are a lot of sightseeing along the route, we wanted something new. We had four nights to spend somewhere before our arrival in the French Riviera.

Upon a friend’s suggestion we decided to make a small detour and cross the Alps to the Italian side and head toward Piedmont, home to the Slow Food movement, Eataly, truffles and Unesco World Heritage sites.

I had made some inquiries about what to see in Piedmont and everyone had told us to head “south-east of Turin” because this is where the famous wine-producing area called Langhe is. It almost seemed as if outside Turin and Langhe there wasn’t a lot to see… However, we had found on Internet a very charming small boutique-like hotel in the north of Langhe and wanted to stop there. And what a pearl we found!! Our first stop in Piedmont, Italy was Ca’ San Sebastiano, a fantastic wine resort and spa. Look at these photos and the colours –no Phohoshop needed! IMG_7802.JPG

IMG_7803.JPGWe fell in love with the style, described as “…an almost Provencal style with the addition of some charming details and authentic objects, mainly found in the various Italian and French ‘brocante’ and antique markets” in the hotel’s website.IMG_7783

At arrival we were taken to our room, the Lavanda Apartment. When we had called, we  had just made a general booking for two adults and a four-year old without asking too many questions, so what we walked into was better than we could have expected. The apartment had a big bedroom with a fireplace and an even larger living room with an equipped kitchen, a sofa bed and a balcony facing the garden.

The pool area where we spent the rest of the day was overlooking the hills, wineyards and Medieval churches. It was serene and pleasant. There were mainly Italian tourists, a nice mixture of couples of all ages and families. IMG_7815For dinner the hotel had suggested a buffet table that we had prior to the arrival been hesitant about (mainly because of the price, 25€/person), but it was so worth it. It was straight from an Italian movie featuring romantic life in the countryside: fresh homecooking dishes with tons of delicious vegetables, pasta of course, fresh herbs, dark red wine from the local grapes… Our daughter, a big fan of grissini, spinach and olives, was in heaven.IMG_7773The next morning we had a breakfast (a combination of homemade cakes and cookies, jams, cold cuts and cheese etc.), purchased some wine to take home, said hi to the swimming pool, and hit the road. We did not try the spa and its famous vinotherapy and hay bath, and missed the wine tasting and cellar visits, but we will definitetely be back. Maybe we will rent bikes and tour the nearby hills.

I think in future we would fly from Paris to Turin, visit some of those famous museum including the famous Egyptian Museum, rent a car and drive to Ca San Sebastiano, located only one hour from Turin by car.

This was our first-ever agriturismo* experience,  and we now regret not explorig the concept before but better late than never, right!

TIPS:

  • There are many differents kind of accommodation options: mainly rooms and apartments but there is also an other apartment called Orangerie located 8 km from the hotel that can host up to 5 people. I personally thought the booking options were not that simple to understand, so best to call the hotel directly and tell them what you need. And if the hotel is not full, visit different options like we always do! E.g. we saw a family with a baby on the ground floor and their apartment had a small terrace where the baby could play.
  • There are mosquitos in the evening -a lot of them!!- so be prepared.

CA’ SAN SEBASTIANO: Via Ombra 10 -12 Fraz. Castel San Pietro – 15020 Camino.

Phone: +39 0142 469595 Cell: + 39 339 5030545 info@casansebastiano.it

PRICE:  70€/room including breakfast (such a great deal, especially considering this was in early August!) and 25€/buffet dinner/adult (our four-year old didn’t pay). 

*Agriturismo: the word basically means “farm stay” but in practise the concept goes beyond that. Here is a great article to learn more about agriturismo: https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/hotels/what-is-an-agriturismo

Palermo with a baby?

Prior to booking tickets to Sicily we were hesitating between the western and the eastern part of the island. We would not be able to do everything Sicily has to offer, so better stick with just one side of the island we thought. After a brief (read: shallow) consideration, we bought tickets to Palermo. Delicious, distinctive street food and a bit of history, here we come! So we thought.

Palermo

Antica Focacceria San Francesco, a Palermitano institution, is a wonderful place to taste local delicacies.

In total, our trip in Sicily was going to last 12 days. We reserved two first nights at Grand Hotel et Des Palmes (a local institution, right in the center of Palermo), assuming that we will definitely want to stay longer. The plan was to eventually continue by a rental car from Palermo to one or two other destinations, preferably by the sea. After we had seen “everything” in Palermo…..

Palermo is a city full of history and art. Be prepared for a lot of walking!

Palermo, the capital of Sicily, is full of history and art. Be prepared for a lot of walking!

One week later (am writing this from San Vito Lo Capo) I am sorry to acknowledge that our two-night stay in Palermo was more than enough. We are very happy that we hadn’t reserved more nights. In fact we could not wait to leave Palermo behind us. Why? Do not get me wrong, Palermo surely offers a zillion things to do and see, but it was not the right choice for us traveling with a five month old baby. Below is a list of my/our impressions!

Only crazy tourists in Palermo with an ultra-Parisian stroller? (ok, we had a baby carrier too)

Only crazy tourists in Palermo with an ultra-Parisian stroller? (ok, we had a baby carrier too)

  1. Palermo is much bigger (and chaotic) than I expected. The greater Palermo has over one million inhabitants, making it the fifth most populated city (with its surroundings) in Italy. My fault, didn’t do my research well enough. I expected more small streets leading to cute piazzas, but streets we saw were big, noisy and very polluted. The potential of the seaside in Palermo is not used as it could be argues the urban architect in me.
Streets of Palermo are busy. Humidity combined with pollution makes walking quite unpleasant...

Streets of Palermo are busy. Humidity combined with pollution makes walking quite unpleasant…

2. In order to really understand and enjoy Palermo one needs to visit museums, churches, historical monuments etc., but how many museums do parents with a (crying) small baby usually visit…? Trying to get a feel of this fascinatingly multicultural city just by looking at the walls didn’t make us much more knowledgeable about Palermo’s rich past.

See the names? Signs like this show the rich and complex history of Palermo.

See the names? Signs like this show the rich and complex history of Palermo.

3. Our hotel choice was a big mistake. More about that later, but we should have searched outside the city, for example in Mondello, a nearby beach town, and just do day trips to Palermo.

This said, our stay in Palermo was not a great success. I am still beating myself up while asking “what did you think of bringing a small baby (with precious lungs) into a big city like Palermo?”. One week later I am still wondering how much of this feeling comes from the fact that we are very tired (accumulation of months’ fatigue…) and how much of it really is because of Palermo. Would I have liked Palermo more should I have gone there before the baby? Who knows. I think someone once called Palermo a rough diamond and I could not agree more. Just that when traveling with a baby one normally looks for smooth and not rough places (lol).

Da Vito: Cool and Affordable Pizzeria

Since its opening in summer 2013, we have visited Da Vito several times. Their pizzas have a very unique taste that we would recognize even eyes closed (quoting my husband), prices are very affordable (pizza prices start at 10€) and the decoration is cosy and cool (I love the floor tiles!). In addition, there are big windows that stay wide open during the summer, some tables are available outside, and two large doors next to the cashier lead to a secret bar… Da Vito, ParisWe have always been welcomed very well and the service has been efficient and friendly. I don’t think we have ever reserved in advance, but one should –there is always a line! In case you decide to arrive without a prior phone call, you can always have a drink at the bar. Da Vito, ParisLast night we had our usual choice, Vegetariana, and a new discovery, Napolitaine. We loved both pizzas. Da Vito’s tomato sauce is simply from heaven, the quality of mozzarella is excellent, and grilled vegetables are some of the best I have ever had. Pizzas are quite minimalist but when top-notch ingredients are used, this is just fine!

We chose to drink Italian wine from Veneto region (14€ a bottle!!) and highly appreciated this well-balanced and elegant rosé we have had before.

Da Vito restaurant and Moonshiner bar: 5 rue Sedaine, Paris 75011. Metro Bastille and Bréguet-Sabin. Tel: 09-50731299
Le Fooding review: http://lefooding.com/en/restaurants/restaurant-da-vito-moonshiner-paris
Pinot Grigio Ramato, Il Barco wine: http://www.ewwines.co.uk/italy-rose-pinot-grigio-ramato-il-barco.html

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Other pizza reviews by Pearlspotting:  and 

 

Helsinki by Food

So much has happened on the Helsinki food scene since the ’90s that some call it a revolution.

All current Michelin-star restaurants in Helsinki have been created since 2003 and none of the current Bib Gourmand restaurants existed before 2009. In addition to Russian, Tex-Mex and Mediterranean restaurants, which were some of the first international cuisines to arrive in Helsinki, choices keep growing. There is now a Kosher deli. A Peruvian restaurant opened earlier this year. Two young chefs mix Korean, Japanese and North-Chinese flavors. Hakaniemi neighborhood has turned into a bazaar of ethnic grocery shops. The Restaurant Day concept, born in Helsinki in 2011, has now spread to more than 30 countries. The first street food event was organized in March this year. And the list goes on. Indeed, Helsinki has never been as welcoming to foodies as it is today!

As someone who left Helsinki in the mid-’90s, I am intrigued by the latest food scene developments of my old hometown. During my last visit to Helsinki in May this year I took this passion even further and spent an entire day touring the Finnish capital with a professional food guide. Read further to see why this day was fantastic!

I met my lovely guide Veera in front of the Hietalahti Market Hall, which was our first stop. According to an urban legend, this 110-year-old covered market was used as a horse stable during the Russian rule.As visiting Finland is nothing without discovering local fish, our first stop was Fish Shop Marja Nätti. We had a chance to run into Petri, Marja’s son, who proudly explained to us that the sandwich we are eating is their newest recipe: cold-smoked salmon and asparagus on malt bread topped with caviar-infused Hollandaise sauce. Wow. It was as delicious as it sounds like and yes, it was eco-friendly caviar grown in the heart of Finland’s lake district.

Indeed, respecting the ecosystem, traditions and small fishermen were the words that kept appearing in Petri’s talk. He revealed that this summer Marja Nätti will co-run a fish and chips restaurant at the entrance (outside) of the Hietalahti Market Hall. One of the items on the menu will be a fish burger made of those Finnish fish (roach, pike, etc.) that have been ignored for a long time by chefs.fish skinJust as we were leaving, Petri grinned and asked “are you adventurous“? Curious as we are, Veera and I responded yes and Petri brought us another new product: fried salmon skin, a Finnish delicacy from the ’60s and the ’70s. I was a bit skeptical before tasting it, mainly because I am not a big fan of fried food, but it was lighter than I thought. And very tasty. My guests in Paris, are you ready for fish skin starters?

Our second and third stops were chosen by Veera because they are true representatives of the classic Helsinki: Lasipalatsi and Fazer. She explained to me that in spite of all sorts of exotic tendencies that hug Helsinki at the moment, these two places have maintained the market position thanks to their excellent, traditional products and loyal customers. At times when so much new comes to the market every week, people like to return to the roots from time to time, she added.

Lasipalatsi is an architectural masterpiece, a perfect example of Finnish Functionalist architectural style from the ’30s. Originally built as a temporary office building, Lasipalatsi is today one of the main landmarks of Helsinki and home to a well-known retro restaurant and a busy cafe, as well as other businesses.LasipalatsiThe best cafes of Helsinki are located in the residential neighborhoods but Café Lasipalatsi in the heart of Helsinki is one of the rare exceptions” Veera told me. She continued to explain that helsinkiläiset (residents of Helsinki) are very fond of this institution, making Café Lasipalatsi a meeting point of different generations. As we were walking out, I snapped some quick photos that in my opinion portray well that particular atmosphere (very Kaurismäki some may say).Cafe LasipalatsiOur third stop, Fazer, needs no introduction to Finnish readers. To my foreign readers, let me start by saying that Fazer is a confectionery and food company, created in 1891. Whenever there is a ranking of the most-loved Finnish brands, Fazer and its products are on the top of the list. For example, if you ask a Finn living abroad what she misses about Finland, she/he will probably tell you “Fazerin Sininen” (Fazer’s most popular milk chocolate).Fazerin SininenWe stopped for a cup of coffee but Veera reminded me that I should try to come back to enjoy Fazer’s famous brunch. Apparently reservations are sometimes needed a month in advance but this seemed understandable to me. Who would not salivate over these sandwiches? FazerFrom the city center we moved to a charming neighborhood called Kruununhaka, and this is where I got a little bit lost. I know Helsinki very well, and could have guessed the previous stops, but suddenly I had no idea where I was walking. Suspense!Anton & AntonAnton & Anton, where we stopped, is a lovely grocery store created out of love. The founders, previously unknown to each other, met and decided to create a super market that specializes in personalized service and sells the kind of food they would want to eat themselves. Conveniently, they both had a son called Anton, and that resolved the problem about the shop name. Cute, isn’t it!Anton&AntonWhile we were tasting different types of cheese (with fantastic fig and rhubarb jam!), I learned more about the everyday business of Anton & Anton. Veera told me that the idea of Anton & Anton is not to sell exclusively organic food, but simply good food: seasonal products, handpicked artisan products, food that comes from respected origin, grown by passionate small farmers, etc. Some products come from Finland –many from the Åland Islands I noticed– but there are products from abroad, too. Before we left Anton & Anton I made a note to self: fill your picnic basket here next summer.

Our next and last destination required catching Helsinki’s funky orange metro. It was a nice ride by the sea and this time I knew where we were going: Teurastamo alias the Abattoir. Yes, this lovely ’30s building made of brick was indeed a place of blood until the early ’90s. The Abattoir HelsinkiVeera was taking me around the Abattoir complex but I had to stop her to confess something. “Veera, I do not understand what the Abattoir is about. It seems to be work in progress but where is it heading to?“, I asked her. Veera laughed and said it was well said. She continued that indeed the Abattoir is an urban concept still looking for its identity, but that basically its role is to provide premises for different activities (often ad hoc) including city gardening, food-related lectures and festivals, flea market, concerts, exhibitions, etc. One can also book a sauna (of course, after all we are in Finland!) or simply use the premises for a private barbecue party. The main guideline of the Abattoir is to keep it easily accessible and available to everyone.

In addition to aforementioned activities, there are a wholesale market and some restaurant-bars. We visited Jädelino, an ice-cream bar run by a Finno-Italian couple. JädelinoValerio, the Italian side of the love story, served us amazing pistachio and divine chocolate ice cream. He explained that he has no previous experience in ice cream making but that a kind man in his home town taught him all the tricks. Last November Valerio was ready and Jädelino opened its doors to serve ice cream and sorbet of Finnish and other flavors. When Valerio mentioned that some customers come from really far away just for his ice cream I was not surprised –I will return from Paris for his pistachio! And I will definitely return to the Abattoir. For me, it is one of the most interesting things happening on the Helsinki food scene at the moment.

My guide: 

Veera Teppola
Facebook: Helsinki Bites / Blog: http://food-fetish.com / Email: helsinkibites@gmail.com
Visits are tailor made and languages spoken include Finnish and English.
Highly recommended!

… places visited during the tour:

The Hietalahti Market Hall: http://www.hietalahdenkauppahalli.fi
Fish Shop Marja Nätti: http://www.kalaliikemarjanatti.fi
Lasipalatsi Restaurant: http://www.ravintolalasipalatsi.fi
Café Lasipalatsi: http://cafelasipalatsi.fi
Karl Fazer Café: http://www.fazer.fi/kahvilat-ja-leipomot/kahvilat–ravintolat/karl-fazer-cafe/karl-fazer-cafe/
Anton & Anton: http://www.antonanton.fi
Teurastamo (The Abattoir): http://www.teurastamo.com
Jädelino: http://www.jadelino.fi

Franco-Italian cheese platter

Eating cheese in France is a true geographic journey! Every region has its own specialties and in total there are more than 500 types of cheese in France. One will never know all 500 types. But this –at least to me– is part of the fun. We go and buy cheese and every time there is so much to discover! No two cheese plates are alike. And in order not to be too nationalistic, we try to add one or two cheese from abroad.

Our last cheese experimentation created this kind of a platter: Cheese platter

  • Bethmale: French cow-milk cheese from the region of Midi-Pyrénées near the Pyrenees mountains
  • Banon: goat cheese from the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in the southern part of France
  • Ossau-Iraty: sheep-milk cheese from the Basque country (French side)
  • Gorgonzola: Italian blue cheese from the northern part of the country, near Milan
  • Pecorino with Black Peppers: Tuscany, Italy

To complete the dinner, we also had dried beef (Noix de Bœuf Séchée) and a green salad with avocados.  Not the lightest and healthiest dinner, but once in a while just perfect!

Note: For the sake of comparative studies, this was our precious cheese platter: Cheese platter

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PS Do you stick to the same old cheese all the time or do you prefer changing? If yes to the last question, then what is your latest discovery…?

The man who lived

I know I am very late with this post. And I apologize to those concerned. But how do you write about people who are not here any more? It is a difficult task and a big responsibility.

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I don’t remember how I met Maurizio but the expat community is small in Sudan, so it was probably through a common friend or at an expat party. Maurizio was an outgoing and charming Italian gentleman, who spent his life on a boat sailing between the Mediterranean, Yemen, Djibouti and Sudan. I met him in 2001, by when he had been based in Port Sudan repairing his boat for almost one year.Boreas of KatharinaFollowing Maurizio’s invitation, I flew to Port Sudan for a long weekend and he came to pick me up at the airport on his motorbike. I was properly dressed, as one needs to be in Sudan, but we were stopped at the exit gate of the airport by a young boy pointing his gun at us. To be precise, the gun was pointing at my head. Apparently it was too sexist that a man and a woman sit on the same motorbike. While I kept looking at the gun, hoping it will not explode by accident, Maurizio talked his way out of the situation. Off we drove, to the harbor where Boreas of Katharina, his boat, was waiting for its first guest.

What a holiday I had! What a pleasant time we shared! It was one of the happiest weekends of my life and I am sure it was for him too. Maurizio was the captain, and in addition he had two Yemeni assistants. And then there was me. A young girl from Finland. Out in the big sea with strangers. With strangers who treated me like a princess. And that’s how everyone called me, The Princess of Katharina.Maurizio and the teamEvery morning after breakfast we had our first dive. Turtles, wrecks, sharks, big fish. One of us always stayed on the boat to prepare food, which was usually sushi as Maurizio called it. Fresh raw fish from the Red Sea. Delicious. After a siesta we continued diving. One time we went very deep. Very, very deep. It was to watch hammerhead sharks. An other time we descended to the bottom of the sea and stayed still. A dozen of sharks were circling us. I will always remember those eyes looking at me.the red sea SudanMaurizio was a very happy man. He loved his boat and his life. He knew how to live. He appreciated every sunrise and every sunset. Every sushi meal was a blessing. He dived as I have never seen anyone else dive. Skillfully, carefully but fearlessly. He loved the Red Sea and the Red Sea loved him. At least that is how it seemed. Port SudanEventually my weekend came to an end. And a bit later, my work contract finished, too, and I left Sudan. Maurizio and I stayed in touch by email and telephone, and he would always tell me stories about fishing and diving trips. He sounded very happy. Like a man who lives as he always dreamed of living. Until The Storm came.

Last year I started noticing something strange on his Facebook page. I don’t speak Italian but I could sense that something is wrong. Eventually, I got in contact with Maurizio’s sister who told me about The Storm.

Like in 2001, Maurizio was again returning to Port Sudan to have his boat maintained. The Storm came and his boat lost a mast. Maurizio kept diving very deep to find it and during one of the many attempts, the bubbles stopped. And that’s it. The bubbles stopped, period. Difficult to believe, even more difficult to accept.

Until today, Maurizio has not been found. How awful and haunting that sounds like.  But as his sister wrote to me, “he died in the way he would have chosen”. I know it brings little comfort to his family and loved ones, but I agree with this sentence. I have rarely met a happier person, and I will always be thankful to Maurizio for that amazing long weekend I spent with him, his team and precious Boreas of Katharina. Good bye Maurizio. I am sure you are a happy man wherever you are now. sunset Sudan

PS If you read Italian, you can find articles here:

http://www.ilrestodelcarlino.it/macerata/cronaca/2013/07/05/914998-skipper-maurizio-pazzelli-scomparso-mar-rosso.shtml

http://www.cronachemaceratesi.it/2013/07/05/skipper-maceratese-scomparso-in-mare-mau-e-felice-dove/348188/

Cheese platter

It has been a long time since we had a full-blown cheese platter for dinner. Last Saturday it happened again, and this is what we did: seafood for the first course (What is a whelk?) and cheese with salad for the second course. It does not get better than this, does it?

This time we did a bit of experimenting and did not stick exclusively to French cheese. Cheese platter

Clockwise from the top right:

  • Boutton de Culotte (France): Goat milk cheese from Bourgogne. Semi-hard. Best when it is even harder. Lovely, balanced, medium strong taste.
  • Salers (France): Cow milk cheese from the center part of France (Auvergne). The region is also known for volcanoes and Cantal cheese. One of my favorite cheeses of France.
  • Bethmale (France): Soft cow milk cheese from Midi-Pyrénées near the Pyrenees mountains. My husband’s favorite cheese. Strong cow taste and smell! Also exists made from goat milk.
  • Shropshire Blue (UK): I wanted to find Stilton, but fromagerie didn’t have it. So we had Shropshire Blue (cow milk), which is considered a cross between Stilton and Cheshire. Strong and soft at the same time, but perfect for blue cheese lovers.
  • Pecorino with Black Peppers (Italy):  Semi hard cheese from Tuscany. Pungent. I loved the black peppers. Also loved the texture. Perfect in salads (I put cubes of it today in my chicken, tomato, avocado and artichoke salad. Yummy).

As there are hundreds of cheeses in France (some say 500 different types), I guess I will be posting many cheese platter photos!

PS What is your favorite French cheese?