Friday 31 May 2013

Idrija Lace Festival 2013

Every year in the middle of June the Slovenian town of Idrija becomes the center of the lace world for a few days. This year's lace festival is going to be the 32nd in a row. It will be taking place from 14th to 16th of June 2013.

The main event of this annual festival is the national competition in lace making. Every year it is especially nice to see many youngsters competing for the prestigious title alongside seasoned veterans.

There are also many other interesting things going on besides the competition. For instance there is a lace fair with loads of different lace products, but also materials and patterns used for actual lace making.

Even if lace products are not your thing, there are many alternatives to keep you occupied. Every evening of the festival there will be local bands performing late into the night on the central town square.
Locals also take care that no visitor leaves with an empty stomach. There are many local specialties to choose from. One that should definitely deserve your attention is called žlikrofi. Žlikrofi are small boiled dumplings (similar to ravioli) filled with potatoes, onions, lards and seasoned with local spices, offered as a side or main dish. Simply delicious!

For the nature lovers there is a hiking trail waiting in every direction. You will probably encounter some of the vast variety of wildlife species roaming through the nearby forests. Unspoiled nature can actually be found everywhere in the surrounding rolling hills.

A lot could also be said about the rich technical heritage this town has to offer but I will write about that in a separate post. There is another recently made video about the town of Idrija and the surrounding area included within Geopark Idrija worth checking out.

If you are in (or near) Slovenia, you should start planning your visit as soon as possible. If you need any local advice you are welcome to contact me - there are many opportunities to stray away from the beaten path.


Wednesday 29 May 2013

Underground world of Principe Pallavicini winery

These photos were taken on a wine tasting tour just outside Rome, Italy. If you find them interesting, you are welcome to check out a detailed review of our visit to the Frascati wine region (just follow the link).


Monday 27 May 2013

Crete: an ancient Greek treasure

I was truly shocked when a couple of days ago I realized 18 years has passed from my first visit to Greece. It was a week long trip to the country's largest island - Crete. I have visited Greece since then - most recently it was a trip to Corfu.

Crete is a brilliant location to take a holiday, particularly if you’re after somewhere with loads of history and culture, as well as pretty much guaranteed good weather most of the year round. All though it’s a Greek island, Crete is more like a little country of its own, with so much to offer in terms of sightseeing. It’s the largest of the Greek islands and there’s bags to do here, whether you’re after a family holiday, a couple’s romantic getaway or a break in the sunshine with a group of mates.

So, what exactly is on offer in Crete in terms of history and culture? There are the many Byzantine monasteries and ancient mosques to start with, then the Venetian fortress of Rethymo and of course the legendary cave said to be the mythical birthplace of Zeus, Greek king of the gods. If you’re after somewhere to stay in close vicinity to historical sights, Aphrodite Beach Club is a recommended choice, sitting just a short drive away from Heraklion, which houses the fabulous ruins of the Minoan Palace of Knossos. If Greek history and a bit of myth and legend float your boat, Crete won’t disappoint in terms of fascinating stuff to see and do.

Of course, there’s not just historical beauty here, Crete is well known for its stunning natural beauty too. The island is covered in a rugged landscape of wonderful mountain ranges scattered with caves and gorges spilling out to sea. The interior of the island is dotted with fertile plains, as well as Europe’s only palm tree forest beach and some truly gorgeous beaches and coves along the south coast in particular.

When you visit, look out for Cretans in authentic Greek dress and keep your ears open for some traditional Greek music on your holiday here; Crete is a place which has managed to hold on to lots of its culture and tradition, which makes for a really nice change to some of the more touristy-fied holiday spots.

When you come to Crete don’t forget to sample the gorgeous Greek cuisine too. There are loads of restaurants taking advantage of all of the fresh produce Crete has on offer, from olives, to fruit, fish, seafood and a whole host of other tasty treats. No wonder nearly a quarter of all Greece’s tourist choose Crete! Don’t worry though, you can escape the hustle and bustle by simply coming out of season; the good thing about Crete is that you don’t have to visit in the height of summer to get decent weather.

I suggest you pack your bags and visit Crete the moment you see a good holiday deal somewhere out there! You will probably like it. A lot!


Friday 24 May 2013

Frascati Wine Tasting from Rome

A couple of posts ago I already mentioned a great wine tasting experience we had while in Rome, Italy. We really enjoyed it and decided to do another similar thing. Since not many such opportunities are available in Rome, we chose to go outside the city.

I saw the fact this wine tasting was taking place in hills not far away from Rome as an opportunity for a getaway trip from the city. Since this time we were not travelling by a car I looked at our options and decided a guided tour might be our best choice. Since usually we are not too fond of mass guided tours I really looked into it before booking.
It was not long before I realized Frascati Wine Tasting Tour from Rome was what we were looking for. We liked the fact that pickup and drop-off in the center of Rome was taken care of as a part of this tour.

We started the trip from our meeting point at Piazza Re di Roma. Since it is not a very busy square but still has good public transportation connections it was just perfect. As our group of 16 random wine enthusiasts gathered, it started raining. Since I was hoping for a few nice photos I was not too happy with that.

During about an hour long drive to Frascati hills our guide for the afternoon shared some interesting facts about the history of wine. In the meantime rain picked up but eased to a drizzle just upon our arrival. It did not bother us too much during the tour of the winery. Unfortunately weather was far from ideal for photography.

The Principe Pallavicini winery is the largest privately owned vineyard dedicated to production of Frascati, boasting 50 hectares of white Frascati DOC grapes. They have 80 hectare of vines in total.
The place has been renovated but still has lots of original character since new buildings have been perfectly integrated with the ancient ones. A section of an authentic Roman subterranean aqueduct serves as a charming cellar and antique stables are now used for drying grapes.

After the tour of the estate we continued to Osteria della Colonna for the actual wine tasting. The tasting was led by Mauro de Angelis, Principe Pallavicini's agronomist and wine connoisseur. Our guide Massimo took care of necessary translations between Italian and English.

We got to taste four of Principe Pallavicini's many excellent wines :

  • Poggio Verde 2012, Frascati DOCG Superiore. Grape variety: Malvasia di Candia (50%), Malvasia del Lazio (20%), Trebbiano Toscano (10%), Greco e Grechetto (20%).
  • Soleggio 2010, Lazio IGT. Grape variety: Cabernet Sauvignon (100%).
  • Casa Romana 2006, Lazio IGT. Grape variety: Petit Verdot (60%), Cabernet (40%).
  • Stillato 2011, Lazio IGT. Grape variety: Malvasia del Lazio aka Malvasia Puntinata (100%).

All of the wines we tasted were really great - each one in its own way. First was a dry white, quite typical for the region but the carefully chosen grape variety contributed a special note to it. The Cabernet Sauvignon was good but not all that special - the 2010 we tasted still has plenty of time to mature. The last two were definitely special and worth taking home - Casa Romana 2006 is a perfectly mature dry red with complex flavour and lasting aftertaste, while Stillato on the other hand is a macerated white desert wine with perfectly interwoven flavours.

During the wine tasting we also had an opportunity to taste some locally produced olive oil. It was quite mild (not as spicy as are most Sicilian varieties) and very delicious. As was the case with wine, we could also buy some olive oil.

As you have probably guessed by now, we enjoyed this wine tasting experience a lot. In my opinion it was just the right combination of things. Our guide was really knowledgeable and shared interesting information about local wine history, the chosen location (the estate of Principe Pallavicini) delivered just what one would expect from a place with centuries of history and finally, the wine we got to taste was excellent.

During this tour we were also offered to join the same company on a full day trip to Tuscany which also includes a wine tasting. Since we have been to Tuscany many times before, we decided to skip it.


Wednesday 22 May 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Dusty wine cellar


Monday 20 May 2013

Wine tasting in Rome

If you are a frequent visitor to this blog or even know M. and me in person, you probably know we love to drink a good glass of wine once in a while. That is why we also see every trip as an opportunity to widen our wine-tasting horizons and try some local wines.

Since Italy is among the top class wine producers of the world we thought there would be many opportunities for some serious wine tasting when in Rome. In spite of Rome being the capital of the country, it is definitely not its wine capital.

As we learned during our visit, there are a few wine producers based in the nearby hills and the whole Lazio region is home to roughly 30 DOC titles. Three of them really stand out: Castelli Romani, Frascati and Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone. Local wine producers are mostly famous for their dry whites.

Our idea was to join a guided wine tasting where we could bump our amateur wine knowledge up a notch, learn a thing or two about local wines and taste some great wine samples in the process. I expected to find many companies and wine bars offering such tastings but to my amazement I could only find a small variation of suitable offers.
One of them is Vino Roma with a wine studio located just minutes from the Colosseum on Via In Selci 84/G.

We booked their My Italians wine tasting and were not disappointed. It was not so much locally oriented as we would have liked but since this particular tasting is advertised as "an overview of Italian wines", it was pretty much expected.

The tasting was led by a sommelier speaking perfect English (he is actually an American living in Rome) and he took that night's group of 6 wine enthusiasts on a great wine trip around Italy. Everybody else but M. and me were Americans. After speaking with some of them about European wine prices across the Atlantic our guess was that visitors from the US might be quite frequent at such events.

In the tasting we got to sample a variety of six wines from various Italian wine regions. This is our wine list of the evening:

  • Zamo Bianco 2011, produced by Le Vigne di Zamo in the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia (Venezia Giulia IGT). Grape varieties: Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Trebbiano Spoletino 2011, produced by Antonelli in the region of Umbria (Umbria Bianco IGT). Grape variety: Trebbiano Spoletino.
  • Greco di Tufo 2010, produced by Dell'Angelo in the region of Campania (Greco di Tufo DOP - DOCG). Grape variety: Greco.
  • Vigna del Forno 2010, produced by Cascina Gilli in the region of Piemonte (Freisa d'Astri DOC). Grape variety: Freisa.
  • Malandrino 2010, produced by Cataldi Madonna in the region of Abruzzo (Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC). Grape variety: Montepulciano.
  • Caselle Riserva 2006, produced by D'Angelo in the region of Basilicata (Aglianico del Vulture DOC). Grape variety: Aglianico.

Although this wine tasting was not cheap by our standards, we still thought it was very good value. Wines were not all that special but we liked most of them (Greco di Tufo and Caselle Riserva were our favourites).

We felt the real value was in the knowledge passed to us - there were moments when it felt like an excellent wine tasting school. In my opinion the event was just that - an enjoyable wine school evening. Among other things we have also learned how to guess the age of wine and the amount of alcohol in it by just looking at the glass. The sommelier in charge of the tasting was really knowledgeable and could basically answer all of our questions.

The atmosphere was really relaxed and I think it is fair to say everyone was really happy in the end. We definitely enjoyed the two and a half hour event. If you are curious about a particular wine from the above selection, you are welcome to leave a question in the comments section below the post.

Since we liked this wine tasting so much, we decided to also try a little different approach and taste some local wine directly at the source. That is why we also visited one of the famous local producers at the very place, where the (wine) magic happens - their wine cellars in the hills just outside Rome.

You can read more about our visit to the Frascati region in one of our next posts.


Friday 17 May 2013

How expensive Rome really is?

During preparations for our recent trip to Rome, I was constantly wondering how expensive this world famous city really is. From various blogs I mostly got the impression I might be going on one of those terribly expensive adventures.

Fortunately, as I have soon discovered, everything was not so bad. From transport expenses, accommodation, entrance fees, food and drinks to everything else, the same story repeated all over again. In the end it all comes down to investing a little time, doing at least some research, following basic rules of travelling and using some common sense. If you are prepared to keep these things in mind, you are on the right way to getting good value for your money. Rome is no different.

Since accommodation can easily prove to be one of the most expensive things on such a trip, I spent quite some time trying to get the most affordable option. Since M. and I usually do not expect many things from places we are staying at, I soon narrowed our options to a few hostels. Accommodation for us is basically a place where we sleep. We usually do not need much more than that and we try to save our budget for things that mean more to us.
However, there are a few things we find essential when it comes to choosing accommodation:

  • it has to be in a good location (or at least near some affordable public transport options) so we do not waste valuable time sitting on some public transport,
  • it has to be super clean (fresh linen and a spotless bathroom are essential),
  • the place has to have free WiFi or at least some kind of internet access.

I was lucky to find an affordable centrally located accommodation that offered all things mentioned. Four Seasons Hostel Rome provided everything listed above for a very reasonable price. Since it had been opened only for about a month it was obviously in a very good condition.
The only two things we have missed were a kitchen, where we could cook something ourselves and a hangout room. There actually is a small lounge area/reception room available, but since hardly anyone hung out there, it obviously lacks something (a bar would probably make all the difference).

Apart from those two minor things I can only say good things about the place. Staff was always ready to help us out and offer valuable advice. We would easily go back any time.

Since Four Seasons Hostel Rome is located just next to Termini train station we hardly used public transportation. We mostly walked around the city and loved every step of it.

Another thing I was pretty skeptical about were admission costs to many attractions on our list. I knew what to expect at a few major sights (like the Colosseum and Vatican Museums) but was not sure about all the rest. It all turned out better than I expected - most attractions had free admission or a very reasonable one.
Also if you take your time to really take in the couple attractions mentioned above, you will probably run out of time to see anything else. I have got a feeling one could spend years wandering around Vatican Museums and still not see everything - the place is huge and stuffed with numerous priceless artifacts.

When it comes to food and drinks it is usually also worth doing at least some research in advance - for instance Tripadvisor can be a useful tool for avoiding the worst kind of tourist traps.

While in Rome we ate well and usually for a very affordable price. If you look around a bit you can find a good pizza or a hand-made pasta first course for under 5 EUR.
On the other hand, if you are not careful, you might also end up paying 16 EUR for a cone of ice-cream. More about that in one of the following posts.


Wednesday 15 May 2013

Blooming poppy in Roman Forum


Monday 6 May 2013

From Venice to Rome

My "Wordless Venice Week" is over and I hope you all liked it! I have not received many comments but there is still time for that. So if you have a favorite photo from this Venice series I would love to hear about it. Also, if you think there is some unexploited potential in those photos, some constructive criticism is always appreciated.

In the meanwhile I did not spend much time at home. As those of you who follow me on Instagram know already, I just came back from a trip to the eternal city of Rome. It was great - M. and I both enjoyed it a lot.

I have a bunch of posts ready for you. They will be packed with useful travel information and great photos. It might take a while for me to actually write them and make a selection of photos that actually deserve to be published but I am sure I will get it done. I hope you enjoy the ride!

Oh, and if you are wondering what those letters on the above shield are all about, let me shed some light on the subject. SPQR is an acronym from a Latin phrase, Senātus Populusque Rōmānus - "The Senate and People of Rome". It is widely used even today on numerous emblems (e.g. Coat of arms of the modern day municipality of Rome).


Friday 3 May 2013

Venice in photos - Before and after sunset

If you like these two photos, you are welcome to click on the Venice label to see some more. Photos look better in higher resolution - by clicking on any of them you will let them shine in all their glory.


Thursday 2 May 2013

Venice in photos - Beautiful bridges

If you like these two photos, you are welcome to click on the Venice label to see some more. Photos look better in higher resolution - by clicking on any of them you will let them shine in all their glory.


Wednesday 1 May 2013

Venice in photos - Coffee break

If you like these two photos, you are welcome to click on the Venice label to see some more. Photos look better in higher resolution - by clicking on any of them you will let them shine in all their glory.

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