Live like a local in Sala Comacina

A few weeks ago Mr TBST and I headed to the pretty, sleepy village of Sala Comacina on the edge of Lake Como. We’ve been crazy busy since our honeymoon, and it was finally time to rejuvenate in one of my favourite places in the whole world – Italy. Each region and city is different from the last, but will greet you like an old friend you can’t wait to join for chilled wine on a beautiful terrace. This year I wanted to explore somewhere new, and if it’s good enough for Mr Clooney…

We found our perfect hide-away on Air bnb – Suite Regina in Sala Comacina offers guests a floor to themselves; a large bedroom with balcony overlooking the lake and a fridge complete with bubbly and bottled water, and a huge bathroom with claw-foot tub and waterfall shower. Hello serenity!

To reach Sala Comacina, we flew into Milan, took the airport express train as far as Saronno, then hopped onto a regional train to Como itself. From there, Sala Comacina is a C10 bus ride away. This post-flight trio took us about 2 and a half hours, but was super easy and the bus tracks the edge of Lake Como, so it’s a very special introduction to the region.

On arrival, our lovely host Wendy gave us a tour of the village’s bars and restaurants, some of which get booked-up for dinner several days in advance, so I’d recommend planning and pre-booking if possible. One of my favourites was the Lido Di Sala Comacina, where you can dine al fresco from a simple but delicious home-cooked menu, with a gorgeous house wine. Locals in every bar and café in the village greeted us with “ciao” and a nod when we walked in, giving us that cosy feeling of familiarity, and plenty of opportunities to try out our Italian lingo (and gesture wildly while speaking loudly in English).

The Italian lake-side streets are incredibly narrow and parking in the villages is limited, so trains, buses, lake ferries and water taxis are the best way to get around, and make it very easy to explore further afield. A ferry-journey away, the “Pearl of the Lake” town of Bellagio offers a panoramic view of the Lake, and its narrow, cobbled streets are full of boutiques, wine bars and tucked-away roof terraces. Isola Comacina is the only island on Lake Como, and its historic ruins, picnicking spots, and viewpoints make it worth a visit. The island can be reached by water taxi from Sala Comacina, or by lake ferry from many of the other towns. Tip: Take your own refreshments onto the island, 2 cans of soft drink and 2 small ice creams cost us almost £20.

Lake Como is naturally and unapologetically romantic, with the kind of distracting beauty that grabs your attention and won’t release it. Waking up beside the Lake and eating fresh pastries on the balcony feels like pure indulgence, but budget airlines and self-catering accommodation make Italy a great, flexible option for couples on a budget, and whether you visit for 3 days or 3 weeks you’ll take something indefinable away with you.  I would visit again tomorrow, and the next day, and for the rest of my life.

Ciao!

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Above: Beautiful architecture in Sala Comacina

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Above: Bellagio

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Above: Sala Comacina village, as seen from the lake

 

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Glamping

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I discovered this Shepherd’s Hut on the Canopy & Stars website (which probably deserves a post all of its own – I could spend hours gazing at the tree-houses on that site and it’s great when you’re in the mood for procrastinating!). West Town Farm, in Ide, is just an hour and a half from Bristol, and not only is the farm is the perfect backdrop for romance, the idyllic Shepherd’s Hut is pure bliss.

This place is the best of both worlds – secluded and peaceful, but with the bustling farm just two minutes’ walk away. The ‘bathroom’ hut with electric shower provided a touch of luxury, and the hand-delivered freshly cooked breakfasts gave me the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten. Those eggs certainly came from happy hens! You get a real sense that the farm is a big part of the local community, and everyone is happy to show you around, or you can simply explore to your heart’s content.

And my birthday treat for The Boy – a Segway Rally through Haldon Forest. If you’ve never experienced Haldon Forest, it’s worth a visit, and while you’re there a Segway-ing is an absolute must. The beauty of the Segway is that pretty much anyone can ride one, there is very little falling off involved, and once you’ve mastered the balance you can feed the adrenaline junkie within you. Just as I considered trading in my car, I sadly discovered that Segways aren’t road-legal in the UK, so my commute isn’t about to get interesting.

If you’re ever in Ide (not a sentence I ever knew I’d use), I wholeheartedly recommend dinner at The Huntsman Inn. We loved this place! Great food, friendly team, and my personal favourite feature was a huge blackboard on the wall that listed the source of every ingredient on their menu, right down to the artichokes.

 And if I know where my artichokes have come from, I can sleep easy in my Shepherd’s Hut.

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A nod to the Welshman.

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I fell a little bit in love with these gorgeous piglets.

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 Oh, look, it’s the Hut again, but this time she’s made it look rustic.

 Check out: http://www.canopyandstars.co.uk/ @canopyandstars http://www.westtownfarm.co.uk/ http://www.go-segway.com/ @Go_segway http://www.thehuntsmaninn.com/ @THEHUNTSMAN_INN

This post is a cheeky re-blog from my original Cocktails & Chutney blog… hope you enjoy!

5* South Wales

When the post-festivities January blues kicked in, The Boy and I opted for flight not fight, and made the 30-ish minute journey to The Celtic Manor Resort. I’m not a golfer, neither is The Boy, so Celtic Manor might not seem the natural choice for a get-away, but ohhhh my goodness this place is about so much more than golf! It’s a gorgeous place to rejuvenate, with a stunning spa, and plenty of scrummy choice for foodies (and yes, apparently it has some golf courses – I saw a lot of grass, so I’ll believe it).

Despite its proximity to the doom and gloom of the M4, once you reach the grounds of the Celtic Manor, you pretty much forget the outside world. It’s a resort, so once you’re in, you can (metaphorically) emerse yourself in a little bubble of slightly smug contentment. From the moment the private taxi collects you from the car park, you know you’re going to be well looked after.

We opted for the dinner, bed and breakfast package, with an upgrade so that we could indulge at Rafters restaurant – There are several plush eateries to choose from. If you’ve an eye for a bargain, join Celtic Manor’s mailing list, so that you are notified about upcoming packages – The mid-week deals are particularly good, and it’s a brilliant gift for someone you want to spoil rotten.

The standard rooms at Celtic Manor are tastefully decorated (more corporate than boutique, but none-the-less delightful for that) and a decent size, with a mini bar, good-sized bathroom and huge comfortable beds. Inclusive breakfast is a buffet, with the option of cooked-to-order extras, and the attention to detail considering the number of guests is fab! There is a mouth-watering selection of continental and cooked food – I’m a big fan of blueberry muffins followed by Glamorgan sausages for breakfast, mmmm!

As for dinner… Rafters can be found in the Twenty Ten Clubhouse (golfing reference…) and our package included 3 courses. The chef kindly whipped up an off-menu tomato tagliatelle dish for me, and The Boy put two fingers up to his enforced anaemic vegetarian existence at home, and predictably chose a steak. The wine list is extensive, and I opted for a new world Sauvignon – I’m no wine expert, but wow this was good. We both went for the aptly-named Chocolate Heaven dessert, and the brownie was out of this world. I can remember every mouthful and I’d return for that alone! The lovely, attentive waiting team and charming ambience help you to forgive the slightly slow service, and the free taxi back to the comforts of the resort hotel all add to that feeling of luxury.

This won’t be our last visit to The Celtic Manor Resort, and although we’ve only experienced a tiny piece of the resort, I know we’ll be back for the food and drinks, and to ignore the golf once again…