A wine tasting weekend in Piemonte, Italy

Wine? Check. Italy? Check. Fab food? Check. A wine tasting weekend in Piemonte, Italy away with Mr. O and our closest friends? Absolutely! I love our wine tasting weekends organised by Rebecca sooo much.. I had to ask her to write about our most recent one. When are we going back? Very soon, I hope! Enjoy! Mrs. O

We were delighted to be accompanied by Mr. & Mrs. O and friends, on one of our weekends away in the Langhe, in the wine region of Piedmont, probably best known for its wonderfully complex Barolo wines.

The Langhe, Piemonte

The Langhe, Piemonte

The Langhe hills are in a small basin at the foot of the Maritime Alps (Piedmont meaning ‘foot of mountain’), where we met for a gastronomic weekend visiting local Barolo and Barbera d’Alba producers to taste and learn about how they make their wines and sample the local cuisine.  It was a tough gig, but someone had to do it!  The region is famous for its hearty mountainous cuisine that goes so well with their full-bodied red wines and excellent lesser-known whites.

Friday Evening – Day One: 

Our first dinner was at a local Enoteca (Vinoteca Centro Storico) in the Barolo commune of Serralunga d’Alba or, Alessio’s as it is also known.  Famous locally for its food and wine list (Alessio also has a stunning Champagne list, but we were not here to taste Champagne!).  Here we were greeted by Alessio himself and joined by winemaker Nicola Bianchi of Le Vigne di Cà Nova, a talented up and coming young producer based in Roddino, to taste some of his wines over dinner, all introduced by our generous hosts.

Our Hosts, Alessio and Nicola Bianchi

Our Hosts, Alessio and Nicola Bianchi

An aperitivo to start things off – we drank Rocche dei Manzoni’s, Brut Zero 2002, a superb vintage sparkling made in the classic method.

Le Vigne di Cà Nova’s Le Marne Chardonnay 2009 – a stunning example of an unoaked Langhe chardonnay, was lightly honeyed, fresh, fruity and floral complemented and enhanced by the fresh basil aromas permeating the air from Alessio’s wonderful antipasti, which was a deliciously light airy cross between a souffle and a flan infused with basil accompanied by perfectly seasoned local vegetables Sformato con basilico. 


It is traditional in Piedmont to drink Barbera with the pasta course, so Nicola’s award winning Barbera d’Alba ‘Bric de Maschi’ 2007 with rich full black fruit on the nose combined with gentle spices, and a palate that’s smooth and elegant balancing rich dark fruit and acidity – superb (!) was the perfect accompaniment to the first delicious pasta course of our weekend Tajarin al Pomadoro, (home made by Alessio’s wife that morning) this simple pasta dish with tomatoes (Tajarin is a Piemontese variation on Tagiatelle, with finer ribbons of pasta).

Dining at Alessio's

Dining at Alessio’s

Then the secondi, a rich local dish of Coniglio (rabbit) simply cooked with potatoes and vegetables and to accompany it Nicola’s Acclivio Pinot Noir 2008 – a lovely intense ruby red colour and on the nose there is the classic scent of rhubarb and red berries as well as hints of cinnamon and rosemary (an almost Burgundian Pinot Noir from Piemonte!) the palate was rounded and structured – simply sumptuous with an elegant and full rich red fruit finish!

And then first of our Barolo for the weekend, to go with the rabbit, and also to accompany the cheese course as is traditional in Piemonte.

Piemonte has a rich selection to choose from when it comes to cheese (Slow Food alternates with Cheese, every other year) with each town making its own – we had local cheeses – including a Toma and Castelmagno – from the region.  Both Barolos were from Giacomo Brezza, a traditional producer with vineyards in Monforte d’Alba, made in the traditional style, so matured in old oak botti grandi for 3 years, then a year in bottle before release onto the market.

Piemontese Cheese

Piemontese Cheese

The first was a young Barolo from 2007 Brezza Barolo ‘Bricco Sarmassa’ from their cru Sarmassa vineyard, which although young had an elegance and soft tannins, with full rich red fruits – beautiful – then we moved on to the 2001 Brezza Barolo Castellero all red fruits, roses and hints of aniseed with a full rounded finish – drinking beautifully…

To finish off our feast a dolci – a rich creamy, yet light panacotta followed by a local digestif, or a grappa for the boys, and it was time for us to bid farewell to our generous hosts for the journey back to Brezza for a well earned rest – a perfect end to our first evening in the Langhe!

 

The view from Alessio's

The view from Alessio’s

 

Saturday – Day Two in the Langhe: 

Another stunning day greeted us in the Langhe and after a relaxing breakfast at Hotel Brezza we hit the bus again and back to Serralunga d’Alba to visit Schiavenza’s Cantina and Trattoria.

Schiavenza, Serralunga d’Alba

Schiavenza, Serralunga d’Alba

Walter (the winemaker) is making beautiful Barbera and Baroli in the traditional way, so no temperature control, traditional concrete vats and only using large oak botti from Slavonian oak to age their wines. They are a small family producer and make just 35,000 bottles per annum.  We learnt first hand how they make and age their wines and the passion that lies behind every bottle, on our cantina tour and tasting, followed by a superb lunch in their trattoria.

Schiavenza's Cellar

Schiavenza’s Cellar

Walter then led us through a tasting of six of his wines from his Barbera d’Alba 2008, to Barolo from his two-cru vineyards, Broglio and Prapo (2007 and 2006) from Serralunga d’Alba, this commune is known for its powerful structured Barolo. Our tasting culminated with his most recently released Barolo Broglio Riserva 2004 (only made in the best years).

Barolo Broglio Riserva 2004 – aged for 5 years in Slavonian oak and up to 2 in bottle.   This classic vintage for Barolo with its “bloody lovely nose” (thank you, Miss O’Reilly!). Had a beautiful nose of red currants and hedgerow fruits mixed with cinnamon, which leads to an elegant and smooth rich palate of dried figs, cherries and subtle Indian spices – a structured and rounded Barolo with a long and elegant finish – stunning!

For lunch just a quick four courses…

Schiavenza Lunch with Walter, our host

Schiavenza Lunch with Walter, our host

Two beautiful antipasti – a fresh salad with chicken (a rare thing in the Langhe!) followed by risotto in deep-fried Zuccini flowers, accompanied by a 2010 Roero Arneis, a fresh fruity traditional varietal from Piemonte.

Schiavenza’s Barbera d’Alba 2008, with just a little oak ageing, an elegant Barbera with black cherries and spice on the nose the combination of fruit, spice and acidity complemented the primi perfectly – agnolotti with butter and sage, made that morning by our host Enrica.

Pasta Primi – agnolotti with butter and sage

Pasta Primi – agnolotti with butter and sage

Then, of course, a little dolci… this was gelato served with a chocolate torte, on the side, and Barolo Chinato from Schiavenza over the ice cream, (Chinato is a speciality local digestif made with the bark from the South American chincona tree, steeped in Barolo and each producer has their own secret recipe of herbs (passed down from generation to generation) that are used and guarded closely) – washed down with a glass of Chinato – just perfect!

A brief stop to admire the view over Serralunga d’Alba from the terrace, then a quick hop back on the bus to Brezza, for some relaxation before the evening’s activities.

View from the terrace at Schiavenza

View from the terrace at Schiavenza

 

Saturday evening – dinner and perhaps another glass of wine, or two! 

In the evening we were back on our bus for a longer trip out to Serravalle, in the Alta Langhe, a long steep drive up through Roddino, but worth the wait – we went to simply the best restaurant in the region, Trattoria La Coccinella where we were in for a culinary treat.  We were greeted by the three brothers who run the restaurant, Massimo, Alessandro and Tiziano and we were joined by Alfio Cavallotto from the famous Cavallotto estate in the commune of Castiglione Falletto.

For our aperitivo upon arrival we tasted the Rocche dei Manzoni, Brut Zero Rose 2005, a crisp dry vintage sparkling made in the traditional method.  85% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay.  A wonderful salmon pink colour and on the nose it has wild strawberries, citrus and orange zest with hints of toasted almonds on the palate and a wonderful creamy finish – also paired with the first of our antipasti which worked very well – Antipasti Crema di Pane e Pomodoro con Pescatrice e capesante – a soup with tomatoes, scallops and fish with a cheese amaretto – beautiful.

Our second antipasti was a roasted and stuffed cipolla, or onion, – unexpected and quite delicious! 

Antipasti - Oven roasted and stuffed cipolla

Antipasti – Oven roasted and stuffed cipolla

Primi  “Plin”di Coniglio al suo sugo d’Arrosto for the pasta we were served agnolotti, plin, meaning ‘a pinch’ a smaller version of ravioli stuffed with rabbit.   To accompany this we were treated to Cavallotto’s Barbera d’Alba ‘Bricco Boschis Cuculo 2005 & 2006.   Both superb expressions of this wine – rich dark fruit, floral notes and spice – smooth elegant and beautifully balanced wines – exhibiting the harmony between fruit, tannin acidity, rounded and elegant with a long full elegant finish.  Stunning.   The 2005 was drinking to perfection (I believe the cry from Mr O was “nice” – high praise indeed!) the 2006 superb, but another year needed as it was still a little closed.

Then time for our fourth course of the evening (and a little surreptitious belt loosening) for the Rolata di Capretto dell’ Alta Langa con Patate e Cipollotto goat sourced locally, cooked to perfection, served with potatoes and roasted onions and to accompany it a sublime Barolo:

Rosie enjoying the Magnum of Cavallotto Vigna San Guiseppe Riserva

Rosie enjoying the Magnum of Cavallotto Vigna San Guiseppe Riserva

Cavallotto’s 2004 Barolo Bricco Boschis Vigna San Giuseppe Riserva, en magnum.  As Alfio explained this Barolo spends five years in wood and a minimum of a year in bottle before release – on the nose rich red fruit, dried flowers and more ethereal notes of tobacco and liquorice, as layers of ripe dark fruit blossom on the palate in this powerful expression of Barolo.  Simply stunning!

La Coccinella’s stunning dolci!

La Coccinella’s stunning dolci!

I Nostri Dolci – a trio of desserts – ice cream, berries, chocolate to die for – enough to tempt even those (like me) without a sweet tooth…

Trattoria La Coccinella once again stunned us with food that would not have gone amiss in a Michelin starred restaurant and the evening was rounded off with local digestif – before a quiet trip home contemplating the gourmet extravaganza of the last 24 hours…

 

Sunday – less than 48 hours in and just time for one last lunch and tasting! 

Time to relax and, for some, a chance to experience the historic town of Barolo and the museum… for others a gentle stroll and a caffé or two in the old town, enjoying the local scenery.

Vineyards from Brezza overlooking Barolo

Vineyards from Brezza overlooking Barolo

For our final lunch and tasting, not far to go this time, as it was with the Brezzas who own the excellent Hotel and Restaurant Brezza and Giacomo Brezza the winery where we stayed.  We had a lovely relaxed lunch sat outside on the terrace overlooking Barolo, with Enzo and Charlotte Brezza – Charlotte told us about the history of the estate – established 1885 with the first bottling in 1910.  Enzo’s father and Mama Brezza still both work every day in the winery and restaurant, respectively.  Enzo Brezza is another producer who likes to make wine in the traditional way, so that it reveals the true flavour of the grape, the climate and the soil, or terroir, not of the cellar.

It wouldn’t be a trip to the Langhe without a few last courses and a quick tasting to round off the weekend…

Enzo let us taste Barolo from his two cru vineyards, Sarmassa and Cannubi.  The 2005 Sarmassa was a rich silky terracotta in colour – full of rich fresh berry fruit, aniseed and balsam on the nose, leading to a rich, structured savoury palate with hints of tobacco and spice – 2005 was a more forward vintage so drinking beautifully already.

2004 Brezza Barolo Cannubi – 2004 was a classic vintage and this is also a classic Barolo.   I was surprised just how much this wine had opened up since I last tasted it some months ago – this is a beast of a Barolo – with rich black fruits on the nose and a strong sweet scent of violets and sweet hay. The palate is very full with gentle unaggressive tannins, which give a perfect balance to the fruit and spice with a long and full finish – a perfect wine to end our trip to the Langhe!

View out over the vineyards from Brezza

View out over the vineyards from Brezza

Then after some sad farewells to our hosts, Enzo and Charlotte, and we were off once again through the breathtakingly beautiful Langhe hills, to Torino airport, and then home to London and the UK.

Having been lucky enough to visited the Langhe quite a few times now, each time I visit I’m filled anew with wonderment at the warmth of the people, the richness and contrasts of the heritage, food and the wines, which like the vines run deep into the heart of this beautiful region.  All the producers, like their wines, have very different personalities and philosophies, but their passion for winemaking binds them together. 

As ever, it was very hard to leave and I look forward to seeing you all back in the Langhe again soon – “Bloody marvelous weekend” – to steal Miss O’s phrase!

Our Last glimpse of Barolo from Brezza Terrace

Our Last glimpse of Barolo from Brezza Terrace

 

Rebecca

 

The post A wine tasting weekend in Piemonte, Italy appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Trying new places in Lisbon

My self-confessed love for Lisbon isn’t new to anyone, and admittedly, I confess I have been sticking to a comfortable routine on my monthly visits? Why? I hear you ask – because I miss these places and always want to go back!

Nonetheless, it was time to try something new and on a recent trip to Portugal’s capital city and my hometown, Mr. O and I did just that!

Where to sleep? I love the Sheraton, but recently new hotels have been opening up and I decided to try not one, but two!

The Altis Avenida and one of Lisbon's 7 hills

The Altis Avenida and one of Lisbon’s 7 hills

The chosen one for the first night? The Altis Avenida, bang on Avenida da Liberdade and Praça dos Restauradores. 5-star (of course) and reminiscent of its theatre heritage – the hotel building is back to back with Lisbon’s main theatre – Teatro D. Maria II.

For dinner, we tried and loved Bocca, where Chef Alexandre Silva works mainly with portuguese seasonal products and his menus feature foods of the country’s diverse regions. We thought that the menu was incredibly creative, the service very attentive and the food.. delicious!

 

The chef's amouse bouche at Bocca - now sadly closed

The chef’s amouse bouche at Bocca – now sadly closed

It is worth mentioning about its incredible wine selection (100 wines by the glass), chosen by the sommelier, Ricardo Morais. Never tried Portuguese wine? You are missing out! Sadly, thanks to the economic climate, Bocca closed down in 2012. I could have changed this post, but I really didn’t want to ignore this place. It deserves a mention here.

Saturday

We woke up bright and early to this view – seriously! We were delighted with this hotel and the simple but hearthy breakfast.

 

The terrace at Altis Avenida, Lisboa

The terrace at Altis Avenida, Lisboa

One of the advantages of being in Avenida da Liberdade is, of course, the shopping. I have been known to indulge every now and then, but this time I wanted to treat Mr. O. He was very sad when Labrador closed down, but delighted that Wickett Jones took its place. We loved the shop, the clothes and the stairs (which we are copying!)

 

Wickett Jones - Mr O's favourite shop

Wickett Jones – Mr O’s favourite shop

Time to check out and check into our new hotel – not ideal.. but I was promised it would be worth it…say hello to the Altis Belém!

 

The swanky reception at the Altis Belem

The swanky reception at the Altis Belem

Located near Belem, in the south-west of Lisbon – bang on River Tejo, it is on an idyllic location – it’s like you are on holiday in Lisbon. Look at the view of our room.

 

This is a room with a view

This is a room with a view

I think we just stayed the whole afternoon at the spa and at our balcony enjoying a bottle of champagne and the view – do you really need more? I don’t!

Time for dinner.. and cocktails! I stayed true to my promise and tried yet another new place – Pedro e o Lobo, also known for its cocktails, which I highly recommend!

Pre dinner cocktails at Pedro e o Lobo

Pre dinner cocktails at Pedro e o Lobo

Again, creative Portuguese cuisine at its best, and certainly worth a visit? My favourite out of the 2? Ask me!

 

Sunday

Not much time on Sunday as we slept til 12pm, something that doesn’t normally happen, but I couldn’t resist the beds! We had a lovely brunch at the hotel – and we really didn’t want to leave!

 

The bar at Altis Belem

The bar at Altis Belem

We just had a little bit of time to stop at El Corte Inglés, Lisbon’s only department store (which I love) and buy some interesting things.

As they say, good things come to an end 🙂 but there will always be Lisbon, right? Looking forward to my next trip in July!

Mrs. O

The post Trying new places in Lisbon appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Tales from a weekend in Paris

Paris does not require a proper introduction. Considered by many the most romantic city in the world, it is a city that has grown on me over time. I think I must have visited a good 6 times, but Mr. O and I hadn’t ventured over the Channel for around 5 years, so it was great to go back for a weekend in Paris.

Our daily walk - just past the Arc du Triomphe

Our daily walk – just past the Arc du Triomphe

For the second consecutive time, we stayed at Le Meridien Etoile (Starwood had somehow a limited choice in Paris, but of course that now changed with the recent opening of the W – just the excuse I needed to go back). It’s located not too far from Etoile – Place Charles de Gaulle, possibly a 5 minute walk – and a quite pleasant one, I may add.

For our weekend routine, well, you know the drill. Walk down the Champs Elysées – not one of my favourite places in Paris as it is way too busy, say a little hello to Monsieur Vuitton (if there is no queue, which is pretty standard and ridiculous) and have a nice and pleasant walk down Avenue Montaigne.

This is where you see the impossibly chic Parisien ladies who lunch – and shop of course!

Plaza Athenée, Av Montaigne, Paris - Very Sex and the City

Plaza Athen̩e, Av Montaigne, Paris РVery Sex and the City

From there, we get to the river.. the Seine, of course, and start playing “Spot the Tower”. Have you noticed how in movies, the Eiffel Tower is always within sight? I love playing that game – we are in Paris, after all – and I have no intention of getting any closer to it. It’s Saturday, it is sunny.. and that means queues, which Mrs. O doesn’t care too much for.

It’s approaching noon and I haven’t bought anything yet… so time to catch a taxi and get to my favourite department store in France – Le Bon Marché in the Rive Gauche. It is not a touristic destination, which makes it way more appealing and obviously not so crowded, like Printemps or Galleries Laffayette.

Apologies, can't remember what this place is called...

Apologies, can’t remember what this place is called…

I love the theatrical displays and having a good look at all the best things money can buy, my favourite part being the homewares section. Paris is the home of Frette bed linen and it is really wonderful to see so much of it. Shame it isn’t much cheaper than at home! Oh.. and the shoes aren’t bad either 😉

Le Bon Marché department store

Le Bon Marché department store

From there, we walked down Rue des Sévres, a wonderful surprise on quite a few levels! I found one of my favourite shops in the world – Natura, a Brazilian beauty brand, Princesse Tam Tam (ladies, take note), Repetto (shoes!!) and the most beautiful Hermès store I have ever seen. It is so special, it has a flower shop inside. Sadly, I was too embarrased to take photos.

Hermès - Rive Gauche

Herm̬s РRive Gauche

From there, we kept on walking, all the way to St. Germain. I love getting lost in the side streets and finding a lovely bistro for lunch. We managed to find the place we went to last time, but I couldn’t tell you where it was, even if I tried. I know it is not too far from.. Ladurée!

Ladurée on Rue Royale

Ladurée on Rue Royale

We certainly needed to digest the stunning macaroons (coconut are still my favourites), and isn’t a walk by the River Seine the perfect place to do so?

Mrs. O by the Seine

Mrs. O by the Seine

We crossed a different bridge and loved seeing the love locks – almost gave in to temptation, but didn’t at the end – possibly the street sellers selling them by the kilo may have possibly put me off. But still sweet and a nice kodak moment.

Love is everywhere in Paris

Love is everywhere in Paris

And of course, we couldn’t not walk around the Louvre, could we? And yes.. I did it.. just for Mrs. O’s blog…

Not one of my proudest moments..

Not one of my proudest moments..

Writing about it makes really takes me back to very happy weekends. I always fantasized about spending a couple of weeks in the summer in this city, and get lost everyday.. hum.. that idea seems better and better… let’s see what Mr. O thinks.

Love Paris. Love travel. Love shoes.

xx

Mrs. O

 

PS. I went to Paris again in January 2013 – read about my latest trip here!

The post Tales from a weekend in Paris appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

The mountains are calling! Mrs O loves Val Thorens, French Alps

View from the top - Le Caron - Val Thorens (by Jim Newton)

It used to be a January tradition, but we figured out recently that in March.. a lot more sun can be found in this delightful ski resort, set in the French Alps, in – you guessed it – La France.

I think that 2012 is our 6th year in Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe – standing proud at 2300m. Part of the 3 Valées, the largest ski domain in Europe, which includes Couchevel and Meribel, you are pretty much guaranteed the best possible snow in the area – and some of the most amazing views.

The hills are alive!

Val Thorens isn’t a huge resort, but has everything we need – fantastic accommodation, great restaurants and great ski-in ski-out access. Oh and have I mentioned great skiing instructors?

L' Oxalys

We have made L’Oxalys our home in the mountains – every year we treat ourselves to a lovely 4-bedroom chalet style apartment, and we always go back for more. One of the things we particularly like are the well-kept and stylish accommodation, the great access to the slopes and.. the private pool, spa and steam room that you can book by the hour – for just you and your closest friends. Can it get better than this?

The private spa room at L'Oxalys

Can it get better than this, I hear you asking? Well, how about a 2-star Michelin meal by the fabulous French chef Jean Sulpice? We splashed out for the 5 course menu – which turned out to be a 9 course menu… let’s just say I wasn’t hungry for a while…

The epic starter trio - Jean Sulpice - L'Oxalys

What else need to do to prepare your next skiing trip to Val Thorens? Get skiing lessons. We met David Mitchell, the only British skiing instructor with ESF last year and went back for more again this year. And of course we already booked for 2013! Besides being extremely skilled as an instructor, he is nice, attentive and extremely patient (which you need to be if you are attempting to get Mrs. O to ski). My 2 hours a day with David have gone a long way and I’m almost better than intermediate – but black runs will need to wait a couple more years!

A much deserved rest

One thing I am totally against of is “drink-driving” and really do not understand how people are actively encouraged to “drink and ski”, which seems even more dangerous than actual skiing. I would really like to see people’s behaviour change, as this phenomenon is really visible on the slopes, namely after lunch.

Great atmosphere (photo by Robin Knight)

We have stopped at 360, one of the busiest bars ont the slopes, and had a great time.. over a diet coke and a sprite. Don’t get me wrong, we sampled some of France’s finest wines (and may I add, the new word I learned – Gewurztraminer – from Alsace) , but without skis on, and I even took a picture of what will always be a memorable Gin & Tonic from our balcony:

A gin with a view

As always, good things come to an end. We had an amazing week with our great friends (thank you!!) and as David said, we now have 51 weeks to rest our legs.

Loved this quirky restaurant in Lyon

Loved this quirky restaurant in Lyon

 

For the second year running, we traded the usual flight to Geneva for Lyon, which has been an incredible surprise. A stunning city with great and very local food (we had lunch at the Café des Federations, a traditional bouchon Lyonnaise) and great shops. Well worth an extra night stay, which we are seriously considering in the future.As they say in France, “a bientot”

x

Mrs O.

PS. As always, a huge thank you to Mira Prostick for helping us book our stay at L’Oxalys. You can contact Mira here.

The post The mountains are calling! Mrs O loves Val Thorens, French Alps appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

A beginners guide to Port Wine by @TaylorsPortWine

Sunset at the Douro Valley, Portugal

Sunset at the Douro Valley, Portugal

Port Wine for Under 70s? You bet! I have recently fallen in love with this special grape juice, which comes in many shapes and colours. Obviously, I didn’t know much about it, and always keen to learn. A big thank you to Richard Bowden from Taylor’s who has volunteered to explain to Mrs O and her friends a bit more about Port – here is a beginners guide to Port Wine. Should we raise a glass? xx Mrs. O

With a variety of different styles, Port is the perfect aperitif, a delicious after dinner dessert wine or a fruity addition to a summer cocktail and, as one of the world’s great wines, Port is a must have for any wine lover’s cellar.

If you’ve never tried it or you’re not sure what you’re missing out on, here’s a 10 point beginner’s guide to enjoying Port.

Porto and the Ribeira area seen from Vila Nova de Gaia

Porto and the Ribeira area seen from Vila Nova de Gaia

1.       So what is Port wine?

Port is a sweet, fortified wine which begins its life much in the same way as other wines do, with the crushing of grapes. But it’s distinctive, sweet and fruit-filled taste comes from the way that grape spirit is added during fermentation process, which stops the yeast from turning the natural sugars present in the grapes into alcohol and at the same time, increases the alcohol content of the wine to around 20%.

 

2.       What are the different styles of Port?

Port comes in 4 main styles which suit a variety of occasions and different foods and it is the diversity of these different styles that is one of its greatest attractions:

 

Port goes well with fruit

Port goes well with fruit

Ruby Port

These full-bodied and fruit-laden Ports age for a relatively short period of time in large wooden vats (2-6 years), maintaining their deep red colour and intense flavours which are reminiscent of black fruits and cherry. Ruby Ports, which include Reserve Ports and Late Bottled Vintages, are the ideal partner for a cheeseboard, chocolate dessert and can be used to make a scrumptious Port wine sauce.

Tawny Port

Aged in wooden barrels, sometimes for decades, rich and mellow Tawny Port is lighter in colour and has a delicious nuttiness with aromas of butterscotch and mellow spicy aromas;  characteristics which intensify with age. Served chilled, a 10 year old tawny is a sumptuous aperitif. Alternatively, drink as the perfect accompaniment to crème brûlée, honey and almond cake or hard cheeses such as Parmesan and Manchego.

 

Fancy a bit of Vintage Port?

Fancy a bit of Vintage Port?

Vintage Port

The very best Port wine from a single year and only produced in years when the wine is deemed to be of excellent quality. It’s kept in barrels for only 2 years, and then bottled, unfiltered, where it continues to age and mature over time. The most long-lasting of Port, Vintage can be enjoyed when young and full of red fruits and tannins, or allowed to mellow to a subtler, more elegant finish. Pairs superbly with  Stilton or other salty blue cheeses.

White port on ice? I dare you!

White port on ice? I dare you!

 

White Port

A crisp, fresh Port made from white grapes.  Serve chilled or mixed with tonic water. The perfect aperitif or relaxer  on a hot summer’s day. Try it with almonds or olives for the perfect palate match.

 

I love Rose Port sangria!

I love Rose Port sangria!

Rosé Port

A relatively new style of Port, lighter in style and full of deliciously ripe cherry & raspberry fruit flavours. Serve chilled, straight up, on the rocks or mixed in a variety of refreshing cocktails. Superb with any fruit based dessert!

 

3.       At what temperature should I serve Port?

White and rosé Port should be served chilled (6ºC to 7ºC). Tawny slightly chilled (12º to 16ºC), whilst Ruby should be served at cellar temperature, or 16ºC to 18ºC. At temperatures higher than this, you will start to lose the elegance of the wine and the alcohol will become more noticeable.

 

4.       What’s the difference between Vintage Port and Late Bottled Vintage?

Both Vintage Port and Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV, are made with grapes from a single year. However, whilst Vintage Port is bottled after spending only 2 years in the barrel, LBV stays in the barrel for between four and six years before bottling, or in other words, it’s  bottled late, and hence the name. It is this extra maturation in the barrel that makes LBV more suitable for immediate drinking, whilst still maintaining some of its superior Vintage quality. Vintage Port, on the other hand, will continue to improve with age for years to come.

Taylor's Vargella Estate in the Douro Valley, Portugal

Taylor’s Vargella Estate in the Douro Valley, Portugal

5.       How long can I keep an opened bottle?

With the exception of Vintage Port, all other Ports once opened can be kept for between 2 and 6 weeks, although it’s unlikely you will be able to resist drinking it before that long! Keep it in a cool place out of direct sunlight, or even in the refrigerator to prolong this period and help keep the Port at its best. A young Vintage Port, on the other hand, should be drunk within 2 days to enjoy it at its best and an older vintage on the same evening. It is perfectly safe to drink after this period, but it will lose some of its vintage character.

 

6.       Where does Port come from?

Port only comes from Portugal, and more specifically, the mountainous Douro Valley in the north of the country. It takes its name from the beautiful and historic city of Porto, where Port has been traded for centuries.

 

7.       So it’s been around for a while then. How did it all start?

Wine has been made in the Douro Valley since Roman times, but the first records of the wine which we know today as Port began in the late 17th century. Thanks to the some trade disagreements between England and France, England started sourcing more of its wine from Portugal. To prevent the wine from spoiling on the long journey, shippers fortified it by adding grape spirit. To say the English liked the sweeter style of Port is an understatement and Port sales grew quickly. Port is now sold all over the world and is most popular in the UK, USA, France, Portugal and Canada.

 

8.       Do I serve it in a special glass?

Special glassware isn’t necessary, but do use a – quality glass to get the full Port experience. Giving the Port room to breathe in a glass will enhance the aromas and the taste of the Port. If you don’t have any specific Port glasses, a normal sized white wine glass is fine.

 

Taylor's Tasting Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal

Taylor’s Tasting Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal

9.       Porto sounds great! Can I visit the Port cellars?

Many of the Port cellars run tours, where you can get the full story on how Port is made, and try some Port too. If you’re looking for more information on Porto, check out this post, ‘Glass of Porto, anyone?’

 

10.   I’ve heard enough, where can I get some Port!?

Check out the following sites for more details on Port, where to buy it (Taylor’s Port has a store locator) and further tips and information on how to enjoy Port wine:

Taylor’s Port: http://www.taylor.pt

Fonseca Guimaraens: http://www.fonsecaport.com

Croft Port: http://www.croftport.com

Croft Pink: http://www.croftpink.com

By Richard Bowden, Taylor’s Port

The post A beginners guide to Port Wine by @TaylorsPortWine appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

My super California Road Trip

It was that time of the year again, which means our annual trip to sunny California. With some proper planning, we managed to get away for 2 whole weeks and organise the ultimate California Road Trip, Mrs O-style of course. Roughing it? Absolutely not. As my mother always told me, if you are leaving home, it has to be better.. much better!

Union Square in San Francisco

Union Square in San Francisco

We started our California adventure in San Francisco, taking advantage of BA’s ability to let you fly in and out of various airports, and after touching down refreshed in Club, we were ready to go! The itinerary was exciting and we were even going to new places – we visited San Francisco, Monterrey & Carmel, drove through the Big Sur, Santa Barbara, Palm Desert and finished off in San Diego.

Amazing breakfast pancakes at Sears Fine Food

Amazing breakfast pancakes at Sears Fine Food

San Francisco was exciting as always – and we had the city to ourselves as jet lag was so bad, we were up at 6am everyday – yes, everyday. Even Chinatown was closed.. We stayed, as usual at the Westin St Francis, bang on Union Square, which is where exactly you want to be. We started our days at Sears Fine Food, for the ultimate American breakfasts – 18 Swedish pancakes with buttermilk and maple syrup and couldn’t help but notice that most people weren’t sharing! We had to.

Watermelon, feta and pine nuts salad at Kokkari Estiatorio in San Francisco

Watermelon, feta and pine nuts salad at Kokkari Estiatorio in San Francisco

We rode around town in the trolleys – Tiffany trolleys, I must add and had to make a special stop at the city’s hottest Spa – Mizu (www.mizuspasf.com) where we treated ourselves to mani+pedis and massages – my legs hurt from all the walking! We had crab for lunch, salt water taffy for tea (no comment) and amazing dinners at Kokkari Estiatorio (www.kokkari.com) – my favourite Greek in the world) and the brand new La Mar Cebicheria Peruana (www.lamarcebicheria.com).

Of course, nights were ended at the Clift bar (www.clifthotel.com) – I take my traditions seriously!

 

Stunning view - The Sanctuary Beach Resort in Marina, CA

Stunning view – The Sanctuary Beach Resort in Marina, CA

From SFO, we drove down US1 to the one of the most amazing places I have ever been to – Monterrey and super super pretty Carmel. We stayed on a deserted beach at the amazing Sanctuary Beach Resort  in Monterey Bay. Room with a view? Oh yes. In-room massage? The best hands I had over my body for the last 30 something years.

 

Some pretty fish @ Monterey Aquarium

Some pretty fish @ Monterey Aquarium

The next 2 days were spent lounging around the area, where we visited the “world famous” (my favourite American expression) Monterrey Aquarium.

The highlight of the trip? California’s best wines. Evan Oakes from AG Venture  spent a good part of the day showing us around the best little wineries in the Carmel Valley – Chateau Julian, Bernardus and Joullian. As wine on an empty stomach usually leads to disaster, Evan also took us to Earthbound organic farm in the valley, where we handpicked golden raspberries (and every other berry there was), smelled amazing herbs and even forgot we were in America.

Day 6 and time to get a bit further south. Not blessed by the sun, the drive through the Big Sur was slightly tedious – stunning, but a bit long.

Rooftop pool and bar - The Canary Hotel, Santa Barbara CA

Rooftop pool and bar – The Canary Hotel, Santa Barbara CA

Nevertheless, we were excited to be there, but even more excited to be on our way to Santa Barbara. We didn’t see Kitty McAllister, but we saw a lot of this stunning city which reeks elegance and style. The Canary Hotel is THE place to stay. “Half a block” from State Street, we slept in the most comfortable beds ever (high ones as we needed a step to get on to them!) – but who wants to sleep when you have so many places to see? The shops are of course… fabulous… and we started our afternoon… wine tasting!

The Santa Ynez Mountains also produce some good grape juice – and they are organised in tasting rooms around town.. so you can walk everywhere and look forward to the next pit stop. And food, I hear you say? We had one of the best ever dinners of our lives (I kid you not) at the Bouchon Santa Barbara , which favours Santa Barbara “Wine Country Cuisine”, using an “as-fresh-and-as-local-as-possible” approach, paired with delicious wines. We had an amazing time in Santa Barbara and look forward to going back!

 

Westin Mission Hills, Rancho Mirage, CA (photo from spg.com)

Westin Mission Hills, Rancho Mirage, CA (photo from spg.com)

Next stop? Oh guess… please! One of our favourite places in the world, Palm Desert, of course. At our home away from home (and I don’t use the word lightly), the Westin Mission Hills welcomed us back again for a week of sleep, rest, eating, drinking and… of course, shopping. Speaking of eating, I am no stranger to this place, as we come back year after year, and thoroughly enjoyed returning to the Coachella Valley, which offers the perfect combination for me.

We were there for Labor Day sale… let’s just say that Xmas shopping has been taken care of, and Tumi sold a few more cases, as we had to bring it all back somehow. Energy was restored at some new and old favourites. You are spoilt for choice when it comes to food, and our favourites this time around were Roys Hawaiian Fusion (have never been to Hawaii, but must confess I am intrigued) and 3rd Corner , where you choose your bottle of wine from a choice of… 800, and take it to your table for a corkage fee of $5. Cakebread Reserve for $45? I will have a couple of bottles, please!

 

Mrs O loves California

Mrs O loves California

All good things come to an end, as they say, but in my defence, we ended in style. San Diego is absolutely stunning and the perfect place to end this stylish California adventure. Our stay in town was slightly more exciting than predicted, as we had a 12-hour power outage which led to interesting moments, namely selecting places to eat and drink until the ice was gone. A special mention goes to Eddie V’s (www.eddiev.com) in stunning La Jolla, 5 miles north of San Diego, which feed us (oysters and shrimp), paired with some of finest California’s pinot grigios until they were warm, and had to close down, just before sunset, which was breathtaking. We stayed at the W (where else?), shopped a little bit (not too much) and even had our first California beach visit at Coronado island, but sadly the water was a tad too cold.

The last night was spent awake until the 11th hour – San Diego has a lively nightlife, which may cause headaches the following day! We were due to return home mid-afternoon, but a timely warning from BA allowed us to spend a whole day in town, and enjoy a fantastic last supper at Island Prime, opposite the airport, which was the perfect way to end this trip, with some crab, steak and of course key lime pie. California, I miss you already!

Mrs. O

PS. Will be back

The post My super California Road Trip appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Mrs. O’s Rio de Janeiro address book

We had a bit of fun in Rio de Janeiro – we sunbathed a little, we ate a little, we drank a little.. and we shopped a little (I am a big fat liar, but a lady never tells!)

Here are some of the places we have been to (and many thanks to João, Alessandra and Mariana for the wonderful tips, which we followed literally!). This is my Rio de Janeiro address book.

To make it easier, I have added website links where possible and the neighbourhoods.

FOOD & DRINK

Breakfast

It's always time for Pão de Queijo (bread with cheese inside)

It’s always time for Pão de Queijo (bread with cheese inside)

Mornings start early in this part of the world Рone needs to squeeze in a dip in the sea, a run by the Cal̤aḍo or a full workout at one of the many (seriously many) gyms. It is an iterative process, i.e. you work out so you can have wonderful breakfasts!

– Talho Capixaba – Leblon
– Café du Lage at Parque Laje – Jardim Botanico – very busy at weekends, worth going midweek
– Escola do Pão – Lagoa – weekends only

 

Lunch

Pasteis de Queijo e Carne - Cheese or Meat Pastries.. with a side of Caipirinha

Pasteis de Queijo e Carne – Cheese or Meat Pastries.. with a side of Caipirinha

– Celeiro – Leblon – known for its salads, which are supposed to be the best in Rio

– Gula-Gula – Ipanema – great outdoor space

– Aprazivel –  Santa Teresa – a bit further away from the centre, but worth the cab ride

– CT (Claude Troisgros) Boucherie – Leblon – great executive lunch

– Braseiro da Gávea – Gávea

 

Aprés-beach

It is customary to make a little stop after a day at the beach in one of the “pontos”, which can be quite basic places where people meet up for a “choupe” (a small cold draught beer) and a pastel de carne (meat pastry). Always a good idea before you start with the caipirinhas.They are also good spots to go for a stand-up drink after dinner.

Great atmosphere at Bar Astor

Great atmosphere at Bar Astor

– Veloso – Leblon
– Pizzaria Guanabara – Leblon
– Jobi – Leblon
– Astor – Ipanema
– Bar Urca – Urca

 

Dinner

Please book a couple of weeks before going to Rio or you will be disappointed! The coolest restaurants are limited (in terms of space) and you will have a bit of competition!!

Zuka is one of Rio's hotspots

Zuka is one of Rio’s hotspots

– Zuka – Leblon
– Quadrucci – Leblon
– Carlota – Leblon – doesn’t take bookings, need to turn up before 9pm to get a table 

Carlota is one of Rio's best kept secrets

Carlota is one of Rio’s best kept secrets

– Sushi Leblon – Leblon 
– Gero – Ipanema 
– Al Mare (Fasano) 
– Antiquarius – Leblon 
– Esplanada Grill – Ipanema 

A visit to Brazil without some steak does not count...

A visit to Brazil without some steak does not count…

– Fogo de Chão – Brazilian steakhouse –  Botafogo 
– Porcão – Brazilian steakhouse – Ipanema 
– Venga – tapas bar – Leblon

 

A BIT OF MUSIC

We had a great evening at Rio Scenarium

We had a great evening at Rio Scenarium

Venture out of Ipanema and Leblon and head towards Lapa, the home of samba in Rio. If you want to go to some of the most popular venues, book on the Monday before you intend to go, in order to get a table (usually best tables are on the ground floor, and you need to turn up by 8pm. If you are one minute late, it will (and believe me it will) be given to someone else. Bars as stay open til past 4am, but standing room only.

Carioca da Gema – www.barcariocadagema.com.br
Rio Scenarium – www.rioscenarium.com.br

 

SHOPPING

It would be so wrong to go to this amazing city and not help the local economy! Interestingly, the fashion scenery isn’t the same as in all global cities. There are many local chains which add a bit of variety.

Farm - one of the nicest shops I have been to!

Farm – one of the nicest shops I have been to!

There’s more to Rio than Havaianas and Melissa jelly shoes – which are of course worth a visit! Local brands include Osklen, Cavendish, Richards, Cris Barros, Farm Rio and Schutz to name just a few.

Bikinis are a must buy for the ladies – and don’t worry, they aren’t all tiny. Best brands are Cia. Maritima, Salinas, Água de Coco and Rosa Chá, among others.

Leblon

The main shopping street in Leblon is Ataúlfo de Paiva and its cross streets. You will also find here 2 of the best malls in Rio.

Rio Design Leblon Mall

Rio Design Leblon Mall

Rio Design Leblon – www.riodesignleblon.com.br
Shopping Leblon – www.shoppingleblon.com.br

Ipanema

One of the many Havaianas stores in Ipanema

One of the many Havaianas stores in Ipanema

The main shopping street is Av. Visconde de Pirajá and its cross streets, where you will find many of the above mentioned brands.

Before and after they become precious stones.. at H. Stern

Before and after they become precious stones.. at H. Stern

If you like jewellery (who doesn’t?) it is worth going to H. Stern’s HQ in Ipanema (they do a free transfer to and from selected 5* hotels). It has a duty free shop (excellent!) and some incredible stuff, including a sale counter with an extra 25% off –

Other Malls

Barra Shopping (Barra) – huge!
Rio Sul Shopping (near Botafogo) 
Fashion Mall (São Conrado) – has all the international designer brands

There are plenty more places to go, and I shall be updating this page on a regular basis. We tried, tested and loved all of these – and won’t settle for anything less!

If you want to see some great photos of Rio and how we fell in love with this wonderful city, just click here.

Mrs O.

The post Mrs. O’s Rio de Janeiro address book appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

A luxury weekend in Rio de Janeiro – how I fell in love with the city

Not difficult to imagine yourself living in Rio de Janeiro

Not difficult to imagine yourself living in Rio de Janeiro

I first went and fell in love with Rio de Janeiro some years ago, and was so impressed, I always promised I would go back. It took me 5 years – 5 years too many.

This place is all mine - says Mrs. O on top of the Sugar Loaf

This place is all mine – says Mrs. O on top of the Sugar Loaf

To say that Rio de Janeiro is stunning, it is an understatement – it is sexy, “heartbreakingly” beautiful and elegant. Everything a girl wants to be!

Something changed during the time between my visits – I can’t point out exactly what it is, but it left an incredible impression. So much so, Mr O and I started toying with the idea that “we could really live there”. We sometimes play that game, but not everyday. And we did. Oh yes!

luxury weekend in rio de janeiro lagoa view

The stunning Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon – and Ipanema on the right

We didn’t always see the sun, but it didn’t matter – there’s something about the light in this city that makes you want to start tiptoeing and dance to the bossa nova sounds (it isn’t all about Samba!).

I am a great believer that you should start the year the way you intend to continue, so guess where we landed on the 30th of December 2011? Oh yes, I felt like the Girl from Ipanema (or Leblon, to be more precise!!)

luxury weekend in rio de janeiro ipanema beach very busy

A little too busy for me!

I have so many things to say about Rio, that I will have to write a few posts – one on the address book, so you can just print it and take with you, and others.. well, you will just have to wait! This is the teaser – to give you a feel for the place, its stunning people (I can’t forget the smiles) and the incredible food and drinks (not wine, actually).

luxury weekend in rio de janeiro caipirinhas leblon

Caipirinhas – Brazil’s national drink. Pictured here, my favourites: watermelon with pepper and pineapple with mint!

Rio is divided into various neighbourhoods and in my opinion Ipanema and especially Leblon are the best. You can tell by the lack of English heard in the streets, namely in Leblon, the most upmarket neighbourhood in the city. This is where we stayed for 9 days, which could have easily turned into 90 – there’s a lot to see and we didn’t get a chance. So we have to go back!

luxury weekend in rio de janeiro beach at sheraton rio

Our beach in Rio – need more words?

We stayed at the Sheraton Rio, around 400m from Leblon beach. Why? Because it is the only hotel in Rio that offers you a semi-private beach and is easy to get to anywhere in the city. A small detail – the beach is shared by the hotel guests and the locals from one of the Favelas (Vidigueira). I could swear that we had armed guards on our first visit, but they were no where to be seen this time.

luxury weekend in rio de janeiro ipanema calcadao beach promenade

The “calçadão” – or long sidewalk – by Ipanema and Leblon beaches

The “pacification” of the slums is a great win for the local police, and Rio feels safe – and it is safe, which is possibly why the whole place felt different. Rio will be one of the host cities of the upcoming Football World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, and this is certainly important.

We slept for 10 hours each day, bought way more clothes and shoes than anticipated, ate incredible delicacies – from the “salgadinhos” (savoury pastries) to incredible meat barbecues (“churrasco”), but most importantly, came back to England looking healthier and happy. For Mrs O’s Rio de Janeiro address book, click here.

luxury weekend in rio de janeiro smartfox cocktail sheraton rio hotel

Best beach cocktail ever – The SmartFox (no alcohol)

 

And that’s not a bad way to start 2012, is it?

Me apaixonei (I fell in love)

Mrs O.

PS. To continue and read Mrs O’s Rio de Janeiro address book, click here.

The post A luxury weekend in Rio de Janeiro – how I fell in love with the city appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

The perfect weekend in Bagni di Lucca, Italy

Having had the privilege of visiting this impressive little part of Italy, I have invited an expert, Debra Kolkka from Bagni di Lucca and beyond to share some insiders tips. Tip: fly to Pisa! Ciao, Mrs O

Bagni di Lucca is a collection of pretty villages in northern Tuscany in an area called the Garfagnana. It is roughly 25 kilometres from Lucca, one of the loveliest towns in Italy.

The road to Bagni di Lucca was built by Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bacocchio, who was Duchess of Lucca for a time. She liked to spend her summers in Bagni di Lucca, where she would  ’take the waters’  in one of the many thermal springs in the area.

The road from Lucca follows the winding Serchio river. The spectacular river valley is dotted with small villages and the views of the magnificent Apuane Alps make the drive a delight in any season. About 3 kilometres before Bagni di Lucca, at Borgo a Mozzano, is the stunning Ponte della Maddelena, or Devil’s Bridge.

Just past the devil’s Bridge, the Serchio and the Lima river come together, and Fornoli, the first of the 3 villages that form the main part of Bagni di Lucca, comes into view.

One kilometre up river is the hamlet of Ponte a Serraglio, the most picturesque of the villages along the river.

La Villa, the commercial centre where there are lots of shops and restaurants, is another kilometre up river. There are 25 small villages in the surrounding mountains, making up the wider Bagni di Lucca community.

Ponte a Serraglio is an excellent place to base yourself to discover the area. There is a good selection of hotels, B&Bs and apartments to choose from –  Villa Roselena B&B, Hotel Corona, Bridge Hotel and the Antico Albergo Terme at Bagni Caldi.

I would suggest being up bright and early to start the day with an excellent cappuccino and one of Annalisa’s delicious pastries from Bar Italia or Il Monaco. Take the time to sit at the bar and watch the village come to life.

After breakfast take a walk and discover the sights of Ponte a Serraglio. The first casino in Europe was built here in 1837. It was renovated several years ago and now looks just as it did when Puccini played there and it was visited by the VIPs of the day. There is a cafe and a restaurant and there is often live entertainment in the evenings.

Cross the passerella in front of the casino to Villa Fiori. If you are lucky there will be a local festival in full swing.

Walk up to Bagni Caldi and make an appointment at the thermal springs. It is possible to use the natural steam grottoes, one of which was the personal steam grotto of Napoleon’s sister. Rumour has it that Napoleon joined her on occasion. Follow up with a hot stone massage or one of the many theraputic services on offer.

From Bagni Caldi you can walk through cool chestnut forests and over the hill to La Villa. Wander through the grounds of Villa Ada, once the home of the De’Nobili family. In summer it is possible to swim in the open air pool fed by thermal springs while taking in the spectacular view of the surrounding mounains.

There are lots of choices for lunch in La Villa. Trattoria Borghese is excellent value at about 6 euros for delicious local fare. We also like Osteria della Piazzetta. They specialise in fresh, local produce and have excellent wine.

While in La Villa, call into the information office (open in the mornings, not Sunday) in case there is a performance at the local theatre, or an exhibition at the Circolo dei Forrestieri. It is amazing how much happens in this tiny place.

Then walk back to Ponte a Serraglio for a gelato and a rest, or a treatment at the spa, before an aperitivo at Bar Italia. Ristorante Vinicio, beside the bridge, serves excellent wood fired pizzas for dinner or wander up to La Villa to Del Sonno and try Jayne’s delicious saltimbocca.

The next day you could take a drive to Lucca or some of the surrounding mountain villages. If you don’t want to go that far, the Lovers’ Walk along the river at La Villa is delightful. There used to be a walking path all the way from La Villa to Ponte a Serraglio and recently part of the walkway has been restored. It is dedicated to the Barrett Brownings who spent a few summers in Bagni di Lucca.

 

Go across the walking bridge to visit the English cemetery and wander through the wonderful old headstones. The English church in La Villa now houses a library with some excellent historical material.

These are just a few suggestions on how to spend a couple of days in lovely Bagni di Lucca. Of course, there is much more to see if you have more time, but do take the time to smell the roses – or pansies. There is a reason why Bagni di Lucca has been popular with artists and writers for centuries. Peace and beauty and a sense of history are still drawing people to the area.

Debra Kolkka – http://bagnidilucca.wordpress.com

The post The perfect weekend in Bagni di Lucca, Italy appeared first on Mrs. O Around the World – a luxury travel blog by Ana Silva O'Reilly.

Far away sun and paradise – Moorea and Bora Bora

I can’t believe how quickly time goes by and to how many places I have been to since my fantastic honeymoon. Being a special occasion, we decided (another) amazing trip would fit the bill, and why not around the world for a couple of weeks or so?

Moorea - stunning island

Moorea – stunning island

From Lisbon, where we got married, we flew via London and Bangkok, to Sydney, where we stayed for 4 days. The definite highlight? Our 10-day stay in French Polynesia, where we visited 3 islands – Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora.

Not particularly easy to reach – Air Tahiti Nui (who codeshares with Qantas on some routes from Auckland, New Zealand and Los Angeles, for example) is the national airline and, I have to say, a pleasant surprise. The planes were modern, business class was very comfortable, adored the L’Occitane toiletries but loved the incredible cabin crew outfits (with 5 or 6 changes on each flight!). Very elegant and different from most! For this trip we flew with British Airways, Qantas and Air Tahiti Nui in a handy Oneworld Round-the-World ticket.

A happy landing at Moorea (possibly not international) airport

A happy landing at Moorea (possibly not international) airport

We stayed overnight in Tahiti, and were able to see a bit of what its capital Papeete had to offer.

The next morning, we boarded an Air Moorea flight – which must have taken 15 minutes. Not a fan of smallish airplanes, but the other option would be to swim (or possibly by boat).

We were so happy by the time we landed 🙂 I have no problems with flying, but give me and Airbus or a Boeing any day 🙂

Stunning views at the Hilton Moorea from the Clubhouse

Stunning views at the Hilton Moorea from the Clubhouse

We stayed at the Hilton Moorea, and were delighted with our over water bungalow – the nicest room I have ever stayed in my whole life. Must be said that when we booked our stay, the hotel was managed by Starwood under the Sheraton brand, and in the meantime was transferred over to the Hilton. Having booked with points (part of a Starwood Vacation Ownership super mega wedding gift – for which we will always be thankful), we were worried with what room we would be getting, and were delighted that the Hilton still upgraded us. How good was that?

The sun!

The sun!

The hotel was very nice, having been recently refurbished and not just full of honeymooners, which was great. Not very keen on competitive PDAs and grateful that many French use this territory for their annual holidays. It was indeed a big surprise to find out that French Polynesia is, in fact, part of the EU – and our passports didn’t get stamped!!

The first time anyone called me Mrs O'Reilly

The first time anyone called me Mrs O’Reilly

Most hotel guests go on full board packages and I must confess I am not a great fan of these. The best part of travelling is the ability to get out and about and meet locals, go to restaurants and of course, help the local economy! Hiring a car is particularly difficult (and expensive), so we found a great solution, with the help of the hotel’s concierge. There is a system: from a great selection of restaurants, you book different ones each night.. and the restaurant sends someone to pick you up (and then drop you back). The listings are very straightforward and there are at least 30 options. Chez Roger was our absolute favourite.

A special mention also goes to the Creperie at the Hilton where you dine with incredible views, in the middle of the bungalows and watch the sharks.. and other wonderful fish right below you.

Black pearls

Black pearls

“Tahiti and her islands”, is also the home of something wonderful – black pearls. Tahitian black pearls are  characterised by natural dark colours, with the most predominant being green.  Although reference may be made to a Tahitian black pearl, black is a very rare colour and they are more often charcoal or a dark silver.

After a wonderful 5 days, we moved on to the our next destination, Bora Bora – having flown with Air Tahiti for around 40 minutes.

Always struggled with our luggaage.. on RTW flights we had 3 bags each allowance.. which turned into 20kgs.. painful

Always struggled with our luggaage.. on RTW flights we had 3 bags each allowance.. which turned into 20kgs.. painful

Bora Bora Airport was incredible and very different from the usual suspects.. you don’t actually land on the main island.. make sure you organise with your hotel a boat pick up. We were welcomed by a nice crew from Le Meridien, with flowers too!

Hello Bora Bora!

Hello Bora Bora! You can just see the side of the boat!

As mentioned previously, we stayed at the Le Meridien Bora Bora, which was lovely. Our little water bungalow was outstanding.

We found that the same dining system worked in this island too, but with a slight difference – you have to take a boat transfer every time you leave the hotel.. oh the problems with being on an island! They worked brilliantly there and back.

The turtles were hungry!

The turtles were hungry!

The Meridien had a turtle sanctuary and every day we feed the little buggers – it was a different experience for me and glad I had the chance to try it and learn something about this interesting conservation project.

A word of warning – for which we will be eternally grateful to our travel agent’s advice. Drinks at hotels are incredibly expensive – we are talking around €20 for a gin & tonic… so very pleased we bought a bottle of Bombay Sapphire at Auckland Airport and with some ice, lemon and tonic were able to enjoy incredible sunsets from our private balcony.

Not a bad view!

Not a bad view from our Le Meridien overwater bungalow

We promised ourselves we would go back for our 5th anniversary.. only 18 months to go, but who’s counting?

Mrs O

PS. From here, our last stop was of course California, one of our favourite places in the world. You can read about it all here.

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