Sunshine in San Diego

I awake to the warm glow of the morning sun striped across my face. As my consciousness steadily brightens from a sedate state, a wave of adrenaline rushes through my veins bursting in my core, rendering me coherent. A shock to the senses can only be aroused by the allure of one thing, the sweet promise of Mexican food.

With a leap from bed, followed by some incoherent mumbling of protests from unimpressed companions, we eventually head for Highway 101 and race down the coast. fullsizeoutput_8588fullsizeoutput_858dWe pulled up a stool at Bull Taco, a casual beach bar serving “inauthentic” (average) tacos with an outstanding view of the San Diego surf. fullsizeoutput_858cThe perfect accoutrement to the salty sea breeze are fluffy, crispy nuggets of fried tater tots, dipped in Sriracha ketchup. fullsizeoutput_858eHaving had our fill of salt and surf, we headed farther south to La Jolla and walked along the shore. fullsizeoutput_8592We spotted a seaside wedding, with a seriously stunning backdrop. fullsizeoutput_8593fullsizeoutput_8595And found some of my favourite sea creatures, sunbathing in the cove. fullsizeoutput_8597After establishing I could not sneak a seal into my sweater, we decided we were in need of something sweet to cleanse our salted palates. We wandered over to Bobboi’s Natural Gelato for just the treat.  fullsizeoutput_8598They offer really interested flavours made with natural and organic ingredients, making the selection process all the more difficult. I went for Mediterraneo, a delicious blend of almond, hazelnut and pistachio, and Chocolate Milk, having already tasted five other potentials. fullsizeoutput_859aThere’s nothing like a day of sunshine in San Diego to leave you feeling like: fullsizeoutput_859dLet me know your favourite places to eat, treat or explore.

Hash House, San Diego

HI! How are you? I’ve missed you!
I’ve seen you checking and checking and to your dismay, there hasn’t been a peep out of me in months. It wasn’t intentional, I assure you. I had a little fight with WordPress, but after a bit of a battle, I won. And here I am!

I have quite a bit to catch up on, so I thought it best for us to go to brunch: a meal of savoury and sweet delights specifically created for a leisurely waffle, both verbally and edibly.

Let’s try Hash House A Go Go. They started in San Diego back in 2000, and after great success, decided to take their “twisted farm food” and excessive portions across the US, ensuring doctor’s appointments for all. But, if you grab a group of hungry friends and promise not to over order, a veritable feast is sure to be had.
P1040770Here, have a look at the menu, what should we share? P1040756 Sage fried chicken Benedict with split biscuit, fresh tomato, spinach, bacon, mozzarella, chipotle cream, scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes? Are you sure? Seems a little excessive, but… IMG_0592 Oh. my. Benedict. What have we done? P1040761 This monstrosity along with everything else on the menu, should come with a warning. Don’t worry! That little wedge of fresh fruit will counteract any damage this edible mountain inflicts upon its consumer.

You want something sweet? Now I can’t argue with that notion, but after this? Maybe there’s something reasonable we could sugar up on.
P1040757This, my friend, is possibly the most decadent trap of a flapjack and waffle menu I have ever seen. Snickers pancakes, you insist?
P1040765 Sold. P1040767Cue the food coma and slow creep of remorse that blankets your immobile body only when tempted by delectable options of vast food items. Having pried ourselves from the table, we made our way to the ocean, ready to join a passing pod of humpbacks.P1000188With no signs of our massive, blubbery friends, we walked along the coast instead. P1000192 P1000199 P1000204If you’re in San Diego and have an obscene appetite, give Hash House A Go Go a go…
They’ve branched out at an alarming rate, so check out their site as there could be a bountiful brunch near you.

It’s good to be back. Consider the following posts as a succession of throwback Thursdays that fall on any given day of the week, and I look forward to catching up with you soon!

South of France: Because I Cannes

We bid au revoir to our French Riviera retreat, and drove the scenic, winding road towards Le Pont-du-Loup. South of France South of France Tucked into the mountainside on the bank of Le Loup river is the Confiserie Florian, France’s answer to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. At the original Confiserie Florian in the Nice Old Town, traditional candies have been cooked down and created since 1974, following the purchase of the former Florian chocolate factory. South of FranceTo this day, traditional practices are followed, specialising in candied fruit and crystallised flowers. But, this isn’t all that’s cooking in this sweet shop.
South of France South of FranceThey’re well known for their jasmine jam, and I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful the smell coming from the hot, floral liquid was.  South of France South of France Trays of crystallised candies sat drying until ready to be packaged. Here they make use of flowers and herbs already being used in the profitable perfume industry in a more edible sense. South of France Fruit sweets and jellies surround the workers in bucket loads, ready to be put in their pretty packages and sold across the world. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to control myself should I work behind the glass. In fact, I think I would go full blown Augustus Gloop on my first day. South of France South of France South of France The sweet shop above the factory is bursting with any sweet tooth’s every desire, including floral jams, chocolate candies, toffees, sweets, crystallised flowers and their famous candied fruit.

Positively buzzing and seriously sugar high on samples, we left for Cannes, the resort town synonymous with the flashing lights and glamour of its world-famous film festival. South of France Infinitely more calm than red carpet season, we wandered the picturesque little port town, soaking up the sunshine and salt air. I’ll let you explore the streets with us, but you have to imagine a buzzy atmosphere of lounging locals, meandering tourists and warm sun on your skin. South of France South of France South of France South of France South of FranceSouth of France South of FranceSouth of France South of France

If you know me at all, you’ll know all three reasons I took this shot ^ 
South of France South of France South of France We eventually reached the port for some sea-shopping of enviable variety. South of France South of France South of FranceSouth of France South of France South of France South of France Each as beautiful as the last, we gave up admiring the port-candy for some edible entertainment: fromage.
South of France South of FranceCheese shops in France are nothing short of heavenly, filled with angelic assortments of aromatic offerings. South of FranceSouth of FranceHardly able to contain our hunger much longer, we sank our toes in the sand at Plage Goeland, a beachside restaurant, for some lunch.
South of France South of France To start, an avocado and prawn salad. South of France Followed by a rib steak served with pepper sauce and a mountain of frites. South of France And a sweet finish of panna cotta topped with strawberry sauce. The view, surrounding scenery and sound effects were far better than the food itself, but we happily wiggled our toes in the sand and absorbed every last drop of Vitamin D before leaving for London.South of FranceA sensational trip of sensory indulgence. Mille fois merci, France, for another fabulous escape. Á la prochaine!

South of France: A Taste of Mougins

We woke up early and headed for Cannes. Rid your mind of a glamorous day of seaside shopping and designer fare – that’s for tomorrow. Today was an adventure of epicurean delight, starting in the Forville Provencal Food Market. South of FranceAccompanied by Head Chef David Chauvac, we searched through tables of bountiful produce, all seasonal and sourced pretty close to home. South of France We watched merchants and locals interact like old friends, swapping stories, explaining recipes and bargaining for better prices. South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France I then fell completely and utterly, head over heels in love. No, not with more cheese – with this guy. South of France Just look at his little ears! He was curled up under a table of fish, waiting patiently for someone to play with. It took a lot of self control to not scoop him up and take him home with me. South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France Having snagged the best produce, freshest fish, and other incredible ingredients, we headed back for the kitchen of Le Mas Candille to get cooking. South of France South of France South of France South of France South of FranceHere, Chef David began by dipping courgette flowers in a light batter and frying them, before sprinkling with sea salt and chilli. South of France South of FranceHe began to cook down artichoke with onion, thyme and citrus, filling the entire kitchen with its aroma.
South of FranceA meaty beef tomato was paired with a langoustine and topped with basil oil.South of France The artichoke and onion was then ready to be plated, the delicate flavour of citrus pairing beautifully with the tender vegetables. South of France South of France Beetroot and monkfish were cooked together, giving it a pink presentation and deliciously sweet flavour. South of France Seared tuna with broccoli and a teriyaki glaze hinted at Chef Chauvac’s love for Japanese culture. South of France Followed by a Japanese stir-fry with massive, perfectly cooked scallops. South of France Having spent the afternoon grazing on Chef Chauvac’s creations, showcasing his talent for inventing dishes on the spot from whatever local produce looked best, we were thoroughly impressed and incredibly full. But, when in France, temptation is always around the corner, or rather, on your plate.South of France Just look how perfectly soft and slightly melty this goats cheese is!South of France

Chef relieved us from our sous chef duties, and we sat on the terrace, spreading cheese on bites of grilled baguette. I even cheekily asked for more of the fig compote from last night – one of my favourite snacks in the world. 
South of France
A surprise soon emerged from the kitchen – a pear and chocolate tart topped with a white chocolate disk for a satisfying crunch.
South of France I leaned back on my chair, replete with French fare, ready for a chat-nap. Instead, I snuck off to the Shiseido Spa for a unique Qi treatment, a massage that incorporates tsubo point stimulation, leaving the body and mind with a sense of well-being. Feeling completely revived, we took a walk to the hilltop town of Mougins. South of FranceFor the culturally inclined, this is a true haven. In modern times, Mougins has been frequented and inhabited by many artists and celebrities, including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Fernand Léger, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Arman, Yves Klein, César Baldaccini, Paul Éluard, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Winston Churchill, Catherine Deneuve, Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel, to name a few.
South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France South of France As if the streets themselves weren’t stunning enough, the view of the Côte d’Azur between rooftops was simply breathtaking. I can see why so many have fallen for the allure of Mougins.South of France South of France South of France South of France I can’t recommend a trip to the Mougins Museum of Classical Art enough. A British businessman became enamoured by Greek armoury. His collection eventually grew to hold ancient Greek and Roman art and armoury, and had expanded so much, that he decided to put all his pieces in a museum, and open it to the public. It’s unlike anything you’d expect, and the way that the collected pieces are juxtaposed with modern art makes the perspective truly remarkable. South of FranceWe watched as the sky put on another show, filling with vibrant, pink lines, highlighting clouds in yellow. This was the sun signalling it was time for yet another feast. South of FranceWe stayed in Mougins for dinner at a little local restaurant. To start, I had creamy slices of foie gras, paired with winter berry purée and brioche.
South of France My main was… interesting, to say the least. Apple tarte tatin topped with beef and seared foie gras – not something I’ll be ordering again in future.
South of FranceDessert of moelleux au chocolat was a sweet saviour, ensuring I never end a night in France feeling less than satiated.

If you can believe it, tomorrow is even sweeter! I can’t wait to take you to France’s own Willy Wonka-esque chocolate factory – only it’s Florian’s, and very French and much more refined.

À bientôt!

South of France: Making Scents of It All

We descend from the clouds, gliding over mountains, vineyards and vibrant shades of neatly fenced acres of property.
South of France South of FranceThe stretch of land leads to the ocean, impossibly blue with small fortunes of super yachts rocking in the harbour. South of France South of FranceGreeted by a warm rush of sunshine and salty air, we made our way across winding countryside to the enchanted village of Mougins. Nestled on a hilltop, this cultural town has played host to a collection of artists, designers and celebrities, including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and Winston Churchill.

Just below the hilltop haven is Le Mas Candille. Once through the iron gates, follow the trail of Cyprus trees leading to the stunning 5 star hotel, tucked into the mountainside. The expansive property is guarded by a main 18th century converted farmhouse, with 19 traditional Provençal styled bedrooms. With guestrooms and suites set in neighbouring houses, the Relais & Châteaux hotel has classically styled rooms with luxurious interiors.

A tree shaded path leads away from the main house of Le Mas to La Bastide, where my room was located. With homely, but chic interior design, the room was fitted with modern amenities and a stunning white marble bathroom. But, I had more pressing desires than interior design.

Desires easily fulfilled when in France – I was starving, and couldn’t have been more delighted to settle down in the sunshine for lunch on the terrace of Le Candille Restaurant. South of France We started with delightfully autumnal-coloured welcome snacks: A sphere of pumpkin, a savoury macaron of carrot & cumin, and a delicate roe-topped smoked slamon sandwich.South of FranceSouth of FranceThis was followed by a starter of langoustine with artichoke puree and lemon foam.
South of FranceAnd a main of perfectly cooked scallops in a coconut and lemongrass foam.
South of FranceWhen in France, any chance to showcase sweet or pastry skills is appreciated – especially by my sweet tooth.
South of France

A decadent chocolate torte filled with cream and orange was a delightful ending to a less than light lunch. 
South of France Feeling close to the point of bursting, the hospitality continued with tea, coffee and a tower of treats: homemade wine gums, lemon macarons and delicate walnut cakes. Although I could barely breathe, who can deny the art of patisserie?! It would be rude not to just taste, wouldn’t it? I indulged.

Satisfyingly filled to the brim, we left our new home on the Côte d’Azur to visit the neighbouring town of Grasse, known as the world’s capital of perfume.

Before exploring the museum, we wandered the slightly scented streets.
South of France South of France We ambled through 17th and 18th century buildings, up and down ancient steps, and through towering arches, which opened onto squares or stunning views. South of FranceSouth of FranceSouth of FrancePeaking out behind the tower is 11th century Notre Dame du Puy cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 17th century. This houses three paintings by Rubens, which you’ll have to visit for yourself, should you be a fan. 
South of France As one would expect in a quaint hillside town such as Grasse, there were plenty of stray cats meandering through open legs near market stalls, hoping for an offering of fish. This one retired his efforts and found a comfortable perch to carry out his chat-napSouth of FranceWe returned to the Musée du Parfum for a tour of this town’s most influential export.  South of FranceAnd amongst beautiful collections of bottles, old machinery and historical processes, were shown the herb garden that inspires the perfumes. South of FranceThe indoor herb garden has a rainforest like climate to house tropical plants and herbs, where the outdoor enjoys a normal climate. The smell of jasmine perfumed the air, as well as citronella and lavender. South of FranceWe then visited Parfumerie Fragonard, where we saw the modern day production of Fragonard Parfum.
South of France South of FranceAnd were then invited into the perfume lab to create our very own scent with one of the experts.
South of FranceThis was a bit like revisiting my chemistry class, having to measure and distribute different quantities of base, middle and top notes into my beaker – creating such a lovely reminder to leave with.
South of France We made it back to Le Mas Candille in time to watch a brilliant display of colour from the setting sun over the hotel’s grounds. South of France South of FranceIsn’t the infinity pool stunning? Especially with the towering Marion Burkle statue adding an alluring element to the view. South of FranceSouth of France South of FranceWith the sun sinking beneath the horizon, it was time to entertain our palates with yet another gastronomic feast. Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Candille, headed by Chef David Chauvac, has a classically designed dining room, with views of the French Riviera countryside. We were the first to try the newly-created autumnal menu, and despite some minor teething issues, enjoyed an incredible dining experience.
South of FranceWe began with an amuse bouche of truffle and mushroom mousse, topped with bacon.
South of France Pan-fried ceps on toast with a Vitelotte potato foam covering more ceps underneath. South of France

And to finish, monkfish stuffed with black garlic, steamed fennel, rockfish jus and olive oil. 
South of FranceAfter finishing our feast, with wine, bubbles and conversation flowing, my French fantasy came true. I considered requesting the cart, s’il vous plaît. Instead, I modestly sampled 6 different French cheeses, with the most beautiful fig compote, all smothered on freshly baked baguette.South of FranceDessert, (yes dessert! have you learned nothing?), was a grapefruit, citrus and orange surprise, topped with a meringue sphere and tangy citrus sorbet. This had a pretty presentation and was certainly palate cleansing.

Tomorrow, we get a behind the scenes look of a different sense.

South Tyrol: Day 4

Wait! I didn’t finish telling you about Day 3!
We left the peace and quiet of the countryside and headed for Bolzano, the capital of South Tyrol. City life here, however, isn’t what you’d expect.
South Tyrol A quaint town with an outstanding quality of life, ranked highly amongst all of Italy, with a combination of youthfulness from the University and cultural influence from the older generations. South Tyrol South TyrolAlthough there is a busy atmosphere amongst the presence of mingling locals and striking architecture, nature still has an influence as you look up beyond the buildings to find you are completely surrounded by lush, green terrain.
South TyrolWalking the shaded streets, the Italian-Germanic mix of architecture is everpresent, with Roman and Bavarian influence lending a medieval look.
South TyrolSouth TyrolSouth Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol We retired our city explorations and headed for dinner. I’m devastated to admit that I absolutely can’t remember where this was – so if anyone recognises the dishes, please pop the name in the comments! (Lighting was difficult, apologies for the low budget foodporn)
South TyrolI started with the interestingly named millefoglie (Italian for mille-feuille) of calf saddle with truffle and endive salad. South Tyrol A neighbouring dish of risotto was too beautiful not to snap, and too cheesy to resist trying. South TyrolA very modern take on deer fillet was sous-vide and served with a soufflé of polenta, parsnip cream and Tahitian-vanilla oil. Overall, we enjoyed a beautiful take on traditional dishes, served in a warm atmosphere with friendly service. But, my sweet tooth had yet to be satisfied, and when in Rome Bolzano…
South Tyrol I bullied everyone into joining me for some gelato – my favourite way to end any evening spent in Italy. (It didn’t require full use of my persuasive powers if I’m honest)

-Intermission- Now I can tell you about my fourth and final day spent in South Tyrol. You probably need something sweet after that fine bit of foodporn – go grab a snack and we’ll continue. South TyrolOne of the favourite autumnal activities South Tyroleans enjoy is chestnut picking. The “Keschtnweg” or Sweet Chestnut Trail runs along a line of chestnut groves, providing views of the Asarco Valley.   South Tyrol We ventured the trail, admiring rustic inns and farms in the shadows of the Dolomites. South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol I loved this: tree turned fence.South Tyrol South Tyrol The hike is mild and scenery is beautiful, traversing through vibrant green meadows and shaded forests, past bountiful chestnut trees and even vineyards.South Tyrol There’s also incredible apple orchards lining the trail, providing colourful South Tyrolean apples ready to be pressed into fresh juice. South TyrolWe walked through the forest, where I was lucky to have watched where I stepped, as I very nearly flattened this guy. South TyrolHe was about the size of my hand, and is obviously now named Chestnut.
South Tyrol The trail opened onto farmland, with ears of corn bursting from their stalks, to the delight of the crows. South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol We made our way back to Radoar, a farm turned vineyard, with a variety of products on sale. We sat down in the sunshine and enjoyed a glass of the freshest apple juice I’ve ever tasted.
South TyrolTell me your mouth doesn’t water imagining the sweet-sour taste when you scroll down.
South TyrolHaving worked up an appetite from our afternoon stroll, we were ready for a truly South Tyrolean feast. There’s an old custom in South Tyrol called Töggelen. As autumn approaches, winegrowers open their cosy parlous and cellars for visitors to sample their home-grown wine and home-cooked local fare, including the beloved roasted chestnuts. We cosied up at a table in Glangerhof, 1,000 meters above sea level with a stunning open-air view of the Dolomites, and prepared for a memorable feast. 
South Tyrol
Local breads, including the traditional Schüttelbrot, were served with a cheesy chive spread and fresh butter.  South TyrolSoon came local cheeses, meats and boiled potatoes, begging to be loaded with butter and salt.
South Tyrol Tirtlen, or savoury fried pastries, were a fast favourite. We shared and teared the hot, fluffy pasty and piled each bite high with tart, cooked sauerkraut. Our eyes may have been bigger than our stomachs, and we soon regretted the fervour with which we devoured these deceitful pastries. South Tyrol More meats, onions and potatoes arrived as we groaned with concern at our tightening trousers. South Tyrol The arrival of our much-anticipated roasted chestnuts soon alleviated any memories of overeating. We greedily peeled back their warm, flaky shells to devour the sweet meat hiding inside; a true taste of autumn in Italy. South TyrolAs the krapfen were placed on the table, we almost wept in surrender. I had to at least try the deep-fried pastry pockets stuffed with tart cherry jam, and I can tell you, it was worth my near-demise.  South TyrolA delicious memory to end such a soul-indulgent trip in South Tyrol. If you’re thinking of giving the area a visit, I would highly recommend visiting during Autumn. Although the Dolomites are popular for their snow-covered offerings, an autumnal visit is beyond pleasurable.

Grazie and danke you multicultural delight!

South Tyrol: Day 3

For a better view of our stunning surroundings, we decided to take a hike. A moderately challenging hike up Alta Pusteria on the Stoneman Trail ascends 120km, and is more than worth the climb for the view from the top.
But we’ll start at the bottom, where we made our first friends. South TyrolFluffy sheep traversed the terrain with ease, stopping to nibble along the way. (my kind of hiking)South Tyrol Once making it more than half way, we spotted the most beautiful Haflingers running free, eyeing us suspiciously as they crossed the mountain. South Tyrol South TyrolTheir golden chestnut fur and blonde locks stood out prominently against the blue sky, patiently playing follow the leader.
South TyrolEven the cows looked on with admiration. South Tyrol Just look at those ears! Don’t you just want to snuggle her?!South Tyrol South Tyrol At random, they turned and came charging across the mountainside, bullying the cows into moving from their slumber. They seemed quite pleased with themselves, like a clique of blonde mean girls harassing the Tyrol Greys. South Tyrol A panoramic view from the top doesn’t do much to help catch your breath as it is beyond breathtaking. South TyrolSouth TyrolSouth TyrolNamed for the stonemen guarding the mountaintop, an eerie display of endless stacked stone piles stand as eternal marks left by those that have journeyed to the top.South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol It’s sights like these that really make you stop and think. A little mental pause button is hit as you inhale the clean air, clear your mind, and try to take it all in. South TyrolSome of the structures were really impressive, considering piling rocks on top of each other sounds much easier than its execution.
South TyrolNote child for scale. South Tyrol South TyrolI think he was trying to choose where to build his StoneDog.
South Tyrol South Tyrol This one was by far my favourite – especially the extra two little ones piled on top, as if the gargantuan rock wasn’t enough.
South Tyrol On our descent, we stopped in a mountain hut we had spotted on the way up. South TyrolBy now we were starving, and happily rested our feet in the sunshine with farm-fresh food and plenty of drinks.
South Tyrol South Tyrol This mezzeluna pasta was thick and stodgy, filled with local goats cheese and topped with Parmigiano, sweet grapes and strawberries – an odd, but delicious combination. South TyrolI quickly made a friend and snuck her grapes under the table when no one was looking.

South Tyrol has a bit of a reputation for the South Tyrolean apple, which, when paired with Austrian-style strudel, is a winner amongst anyone with a sweet tooth… including the bees!
South TyrolWe couldn’t resist a slice of this homemade strudel… South Tyroleven if the bees had other ideas about sharing. South Tyrol South TyrolThis was paired with fluffy, doughnut like balls of pastry covered in cinnamon and sugar, a well-earned treat.

South Tyrol The hut was home to a few other animals, including this large rabbit. (who wouldn’t let me pet himSouth Tyrol And the biggest pig I’ve ever seen, snuggled up with her baby. South Tyrol We finished our decline with full stomachs and wide grins, sad to be leaving the raw elements of nature, but looking forward to discovering Bolzano, the capital city of South Tyrol.

South Tyrol: Day 2

There’s an energising effect about fresh mountain air that awakens the soul. A morning spent on the balcony, filling your lungs whilst taking in the view of vast mountains is more stimulating than any cup of coffee.South Tyrol South Tyrol

After a quick fill of the extensive offering of the breakfast bar, including goats milk yoghurts, mountain cheese, meats, cereals and omelettes, we were ready for an adventure.

This is the first time I’ve spent my days in Italy without being slathered in sun cream, running around in bikinis and sundresses, diving into bodies of water to escape the adored Italian sun. Instead, I was snuggled up in thermalwear, absolutely frozen. South Tyrol

We were off on a mountain bike ride across the normally snow-coated landscape of Alpe di Suisi for a thrilling start to the day. We raced and rode up and down sloping hills, speeding past dotted lines of hikers enjoying the luscious greenery, stopping to snap postcard-like pictures.
South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol Each mountain in the Dolomiti mountain range has a name, this one being Marmolada. It’s the highest in the range, and on a clear day, you can spot Venice in the distance. At the time, it looked to be home of a villain, with an evil cloud looming overhead.South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol See the brown buildings in the middle? That’s Adler Mountain Lodge, the hidden oasis of luxury. South Tyrol We stopped to make friends with those responsible for the endless tinkling sounded in the distance, caused by their cowbells. Tell me these aren’t the happiest looking cows you’ve ever seen?! Note the one on the right is smiling at me.
South Tyrol We carried on through the forest, with a strong scent of pine filling the air. South Tyrol Having had our fill of adventure for the day, we said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts at Adler Lodge, and made our way to Bad Schörgau. Named South Tyrol’s hidden gem, this is a much more rustic experience, proudly nestled into nature with a cosy atmosphere.

We headed to the spa for a treatment unlike any I’d ever experienced, a wellness ritual of ancient German farmers. Wooden baths were filled with steaming water, sea salt and natural oils.

I want you to imagine the hottest bath or hot tub you’ve ever submerged yourself in. Now double that temperature, and imagine having to lie in there for 20 minutes. A bag of soaking Sarentino pine needles is rested on your chest in order to aid the respiratory system.
South Tyrol A bag of soaking Sarentino pine needles is rested on your chest in order to aid the respiratory system, and after 10 minutes, a spa attendant brings natural, local honey for you to slather onto your open pores, before returning to your cauldron bath.
South Tyrol Squirming in the excessive heat and steam, your only relief is a tall jug of cold water, which I sipped greedily to keep from completely melting. After our 20 minutes were up, I leapt from the steaming tub, considering streaking through the mountainside to cool down, but instead, was asked to lay on a bed of hay.  South Tyrol I was tucked in with a sheet, expecting lingering stress to release from the body as it returned to its natural temperature. Instead, I mulled over medieval decisions of hay-filled mattresses and how long it took for this practice to be questioned and improved, whilst my heart pounded working to keep my body from spontaneously combusting.

If you’re one of those extreme temperature (torture-inclined) kind of people, go for it. You’ll love it. Regardless, my skin felt incredibly soft and my aches from the morning’s bike ride had melted away. But, I was ready for a more pleasurable experience: dinner at Gourmet Restaurant Alpes.

Here Chef Egon Heiss makes mountain meet Michelin. The menu takes elements of nature, elevates them with experimentation and finesse, and serves in a rustic dining room. The lighting was terrible and the pictures didn’t come out, but I want to share the pine risotto with you. South Tyrol An oversized white plate was sprinkled with speck dust, pine powder, pine nuts and a few drops of dwarf pine essential oil. South Tyrol Our server then appeared with a rustic, wooden pot holding a vibrant, lime-coloured pine risotto, which was spooned theatrically onto each plate. We were then asked to take the little spray bottles nestled into pieces of branch on the table (scroll up to the first picture) and spray the risotto with speck oil for a salty, meaty finish.South Tyrol Don’t tell anyone, but I may have sprayed this directly into my mouth… repeatedly. What?! Wouldn’t you? South Tyrol Following dinner, we were served an incredible bowl of pastry for dessert. I can’t remember what they were called, but they were fluffy, cakey bites with a crunchy, sweet glaze, served with strawberries, fresh cream and berry compote to top each bite. South Tyrol A sweet ending to another day in South Tyrol, an eclectic province slowly seducing me with its charm.

South Tyrol: Day 1

Over the past year+, I’ve been on a collection of life changing, memory making trips around the world. But, I’ve been too busy to properly tell you about them. I know I’ve shared tidbits and some of them are published, but I’d love to sit down with a cup of tea and share some of these adventures with you.

We left at the crack of dawn. I awoke at the sort of ungodly hour which makes you question where you are, and possibly even who you are. I crawled into the awaiting cab with a driver far too spritely for this time of morning. However, I sort of love being awake and out at this time. The city is sleeping, calm, with uninterrupted streets and the faintest hope of sunrise teasing the sky. We drove down the abandoned motorway towards an infamously distant Gatwick, discussing food, of course, in between intermittent gazes out the window. It’s at this time I find I contemplate deep, boundless ideas and notions, my mind too tired to process realistic limitations.

The following blur of dragging suitcase, queuing at check-in, creeping through security and hunting for nourishment is far too familiar for me to recount. We made our way to the gate, boarded the plane, and then it hit me: I was on my way to Italy.

Italy is special for most people. The culture, the scenery, the people, the wine, the history and most of all, the food, is all intoxicating. But for me, I feel attached, enamoured, indebted and in love. I spent my childhood visiting Tuscany, spending mornings on the beach, afternoons in the pizzeria, late afternoons by the pool, evenings in the Trattoria and night-time walking down the promenade with an overflowing handful of gelato. My late grandfather, my Nonno in Italian, imparted the culture, my heritage and the intense passion for food that runs deep in the country’s veins.

South Tyrol

I was now on my way to South Tyrol, also known as Alto Adige, soaring above the clouds with no knowledge of the region, limited information of my itinerary and fading worries of deadlines drifting away in the jet stream. I had been invited to South Tyrol for the weekend to visit their mountains, eat their food and experience their culture. We entered the airport to a typical Italian affair: curious customs practices and confused baggage claim standards. We successfully managed to gather our cases and meet our driver, ready to begin our trip in Italy’s most northern region.

South TyrolThere’s something about South Tyrol that must preface your preconceptions. Rid your mind of terracotta rooftops, swaying Cyprus trees and the glittering Mediterranean. South Tyrol is an Italian Germanic mix of architecture, culture and language. All signs, ads, menus, instructions and packaging are listed in both German and Italian, and architecture is a curious mix of both, resulting in a feeling reminiscent of medieval times.

We drove for an hour and a half, through valleys, past vineyards, over rivers, through villages, past cities and eventually, up a winding mountainous cliff towards the Dolomites. We raced past descending cars around sharp corners on a terrifyingly narrow road, secretly gripping the seat with white knuckles when an impossibly large truck would careen past. Reaching the top was reminiscent to films portraying a character arriving in heaven, *ahhhhhhhhhhh*.

South Tyrol Doesn’t this look like a Land Rover ad? South Tyrol

The road evened and and we had arrived at an endless plateau of green grass and rolling hills, surrounded by immense, impressive Dolomites. This area is protected as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, providing the perfect haven for fervent walkers, hikers and mountain bikers. We pulled into what can only be described as a luxury log cabin.

The Adler Lodge
sits impressively guarding the hillside. We entered the hotel to young, friendly faces, adorably dressed in traditional outfits. Picture innocent beer maids, only instead, wielding room keys rather than bountiful brews. The interior is remarkable, seamlessly syncing traditional with modern. Attractive wood creates a majority of the structure, with modern additions of glass and touch screen technology introduced for convenience and an additional feeling of luxury.

South Tyrol

The rooms were darling, with a separate bathroom, rainfall showerhead and even a heat lamp. Reusable wooden bottles were filled with the most divine smelling shower products, scented with lavender and white musk. This and the three sections of recyclable trash bins furthered the eco-friendly ethos seen throughout the hotel. The room was cosy, but spacious with a Bavarian lodge theme, including a mini bar inside a trunk and plaid chaise lounge.

I stepped out onto the balcony, greeted by the picturesque view of massive, imposing Dolomites. The air was crisp, freezing and noticeably clear – filling my polluted London lungs with fresh oxygen. I could hear the charming sound of tinkling cowbells, and quite literally, nothing else. The stillness of the mountain and breath-taking view is something I’m sure I’ll never forget.South TyrolHaving to peel myself away from my view, I traipsed upstairs to the spa and wellness area. The relaxation room makes for the cosiest of pre-treatment places, with rocking beds by the fireplace, and a glass ceiling trapping sunlight. I enjoyed a thorough sports massage using mountain-inspired elements, before being released into the Alpine Spa for a swim in the heated panorama pool, and steam in the sauna filled with mountain hay, both with spectacular views of rolling hills and rugged mountains.
South Tyrol South Tyrol You’re supposed to rub this ice on your body to cool your core temperature… Where’s the sauna?  South Tyrol South Tyrol Imagine inhaling the smell of heated, sweet hay whilst staring out at The Dolomites. South Tyrol South TyrolSouth TyrolCompletely refreshed and feeling at one with nature, we sat down to dinner at the panoramic restaurant. Tribal designs peeked from the wooden ceiling, and a roaring fireplace enhanced the cosy atmosphere. More than ready for some nourishment, we tucked into an evening of indulgence at Mountain Lodge. Paired with local wines, the specialities of Alto Adige were expertly embodied across a superb six courses. Local meats and herbs provided a fine taste of the area, with polenta dumplings and braised veal cheek serving a heartier representation. Coffee parfait with cooked plums was a sweet pick-me-up before greedily sampling local cheeses.

South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol South Tyrol
South Tyrol South TyrolSouth TyrolSouth Tyrol You’re supposed to ask to sample one of each, right? I didn’t want to be rude.South TyrolThis gourmet experience was an exceptional ending to a day spent relaxing in this mountainous paradise, leaving me more than ready to see what else this region had to offer.

Washington DC: Iron Gate

Pinch and a punch for the first of the month!
I have a restaurant to tell you about – but, it will definitely leave you with a growling tummy. Snack advisory** retrieve nourishment now!

Tucked away in downtown DC lies an evening of epicurean delight.
Iron Gate DC We entered Iron Gate through the glowing entrance of the bar, a long corridor with high ceilings, which was once a carriageway.

Iron Gate DC

This leads to an outdoor patio, with twinkling lights, roaring fires and a charming living wall, perfect for a summer’s eve under the stars.

Iron Gate DC This, however, was the dead of winter, so we continued on into the restaurant and happily took our seats next to a cosy fireplace.

Iron GateAfter defrosting slightly, we took in our surroundings of a reconverted classic, initially serving as stables in 1875. Having played host to a number of venues, purposes and people, the restaurant was most recently reopened by the Neighbourhood Restaurant Group in 2013. With Exec Chef Anthony Chittum behind the pass, a menu of mid-atlantic ingredients is prepared with influence from Southern Italian and Greek cuisine.Iron Gate

Here, the kitchen buzzes, topped with pickled treats and various, colourful ingredients. Iron GateThe ambiance was dark, but lively, with a happy murmur of friends catching up, dates getting to know one another and diners cutlery clinking away as they got stuck in. Iron Gate With a grumbling stomach, and one of my favourite dates (my Mama), we plumped for the tasting menu, each of us ordering a different dish so we could taste them all.
Iron GateThis began with a ‘taste’ of seasonal sharing plates.

Iron GateThis should really be referred to as ‘miniature feast’, as a collection of small plates arrived, decorating the table with pickled vegetables, fried Jerusalem artichokes, cheesy bread topped with fried onions, heritage carrots, roasted cauliflower and more.

Iron Gate DC

Iron GateIron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron Gate Iron GateThe plates were seemingly endless, a delicious introduction of the dishes to come.
The next section of the menu was inspired by the garden, starting with kuru squash tortellini with brown butter, almond cookies and vin cotton.
Iron GateThe other garden dish was a warm beet composition with sesame feta, roasted treviso and pistachio.
Iron GateWater was the next influence, with a seared tuna crudo served with pomegranate, baby fennel and horseradish providing a refreshing taste of the sea.
Iron Gate This was accompanied by a cauliflower soup, with Maine lobster and curry froth. This was a tasty, hearty dish – but, and you’ll probably never hear these words from my lips again, didn’t actually need the lobster. The soup was great on its own, and the tender chunks of shellfish were lost amongst the comforting cauliflower flavour.  Iron Gate For our mains, inspired by the pasture, we shared veal sweetbreads with local carrots, hazelnut and agro dolce. Iron Gate An incredibly heart portion, but great flavours! Iron GateFollowed by grilled Berkshire pork belly with charred onion, potato fritter and dippy egg. Iron GateThe pork belly was beautifully tender and dippy egg made a nice addition, both visually and flavour-wise.
Iron GateHaving stuffed ourselves to the brim, we relaxed by the frequently stoked fire, sipping tea and Irish coffee over conversation.
Iron GateEventually ready to further our gluttony, we enjoyed Tumbleweed 5 Spoke Creamery Cheese with semolina crostini, honey crispy apple topped with local honey.
Iron GateBefore finishing with dessert of apple strudel with kiln-dried cherries and pumpkin ice cream.
Iron Gate And chocolate wanna cotta with winter citrus and toasted pistachios. Iron Gate

Sweet, honey flavoured Greek donuts, known as loukomades, were a welcome, final temptation, finishing off the sweet ending to our meal. 
Iron Gate

Iron Gate boasts a cosy atmosphere, with phenomenal, friendly service, and a menu of interesting, well executed dishes. I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area, but be sure to book, as we’re not the only ones that enjoyed it!