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discover the island of elba in style

Discover the island of Elba in style

When emperor Napoleon was exiled to Elba in 1814 he didn’t exactly have to live in squalor. He was allowed a personal guard of 600 men and lived in a rather sumptuous villa. After 300 days though, he managed to escape.

See for yourself what a ‘royal exile’ looks like , explore the many attractions of this beautiful island off the coast of Tuscany and do so in style in this fabulous hotel. You might not want to leave any time soon.

 Lying just off the coast of Tuscany, the glorious island of Elba is little known to visitors beyond Italy. Famous mainly as a place to where Napoleon was exiled, its medieval towns and villages, pristine bays and secluded beaches, and verdant interiors, dotted with craggy peaks and wooded slopes, have long been protected by the Tuscan Archipelago National Park (the largest marine park in Europe), leaving the island in a welcome time capsule. The charming family-run Hotel Ilio (www.hotelilio.com), which has opened for the summer season, is the perfect base from which to explore this hidden gem.

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With just 20 rooms scattered through the village of Sant’Andrea, located on one of the prettiest coves in the north-west of the island, Hotel Ilio owner Maurizio Testa, who was born and bred on the island, knows every nook and cranny so can provide the inside track on Elba. His concierge service is an intrinsic part of a stay at this enchanting little property.

On arrival, guests receive an Elba guide carefully curated by Maurizio that provides a wealth of insider information, including details on the best places to eat (as well as the best table to book) and a map. He’s also on hand to tailor a personal itinerary. He’ll arrange boat trips for snorkelers and divers to explore the crystal-clear waters off the tip of the island, where the wonders of the underwater world are especially striking. Or conjure up a guide to take guests out sea kayaking along the coastline.

Inland, he’ll organise mountain biking, rock climbing and trekking – on foot, by horse ‒ in the bird-rich maquis just a few kilometres from the hotel or a round of golf on one of the island’s three courses. He’ll book guests vineyard tours and private guided tours around the island in a vintage Fiat 500 to take in the Medici’s Forte Falcone in the capital of Portoferraio, Napoleon’s Villa dei Mulini, the Ginevro mines (which it’s possible to go inside) and thermal baths at San Giovanni. For those looking to add a little bit of glamour to their holiday, Maurizio will organise heli-taxi services and boats to take guests to romantic dinners beside the sea.

Hotel Ilio is a supremely relaxing haven from which to enjoy all these activities. An intimate property with 20 individually decorated, spacious rooms that reflect the colours of the island and surrounding sea, with an emphasis on comfort and simplicity. There are doubles and family rooms, as well as one very special room, the Mediterranean Suite, is particularly popular with honeymoon couples and those celebrating a special anniversary, as it is set apart from the main hotel and is located right on Sant’Andrea’s beach.

The accommodation is scattered through two beautifully lush gardens, one more landscaped with palms, banana trees and exotic flowers, the other more natural among an olive grove beside the vineyards. Both have a range of chairs and loungers, many tucked away in hidden corners, providing the perfect place for sunbathing, a peaceful read or quiet afternoon nap.

Breakfast ‒ an epicurean delight of local produce including hams, cheeses, fruit, pastries and home-made jams ‒ is served on the hotel terrace, from where the waves can be heard breaking on the beach. Other facilities include a wellness area (where treatments can be booked on request); a bar serving a variety of drinks and snacks during the day; and a wine-tasting cellar.

Rates start at just Euros 70 for two people sharing an Essential Double Room, including breakfast, wifi, parking and VAT; book online atwww.hotelilio.com,

The extraordinary richness of its landscapes, on land and at sea, make Elba a unique destination in Tuscany that is well worth visiting. Get more information on the Tuscan island of Elba at www.visitelba.com.

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Tempted? Then do as the Italians do: visit Elba in the summer.

Eat like the locals in Lisbon with this authentic food tour

Eat like the locals in Lisbon with this authentic  food tour

When your travels take you to Portugal’s capital Lisbon you’ll be busy visiting all the amazing sights the city has to offer.

Like always, this is best done on foot which, in turn, will make you hungry. To round out a wonderful experience, you want to eat and drink not in tourist traps and fast food joints, but  to sample some of the best Portuguese food, guided by people who are in the know.

This is how to do it with the latest tour of Eating Europe: https://www.eatingeurope.com

During the “Eats, Street Art and Undiscovered Lisbon – A Walk Through Baixa & Mouraria”, guests will enjoy six culinary tastings from typical street food to comfort treats like the peixinhos da horta (deep fried green beans), Portuguese classics accompanied by wines from different regions in Portugal, and a beer from one of the country’s former African colonies. The gastronomic journey begins in Lisbon’s historic heart, the Baixa district, before it continues to Mouraria, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and survivor of the 1755 earthquake. True to its signature theme, to take travelers off-the-beaten-track, the new Eating Europe experience introduces guests to a restaurant resembling a hidden Moorish palace, a fado (mournful form of music born in Lisbon) house, and the pastry shop voted to have the best pastel de nata (custard tart) in town.

Tours run daily, 1 – 5pm, €69 adult, €56 adolescent, €42child.

As you can see, this amazing tour not only takes you to places to eat but also interesting parts of Lisbon to see.

More complex impossible.

Just learn a few essential words: bom apetite and, of  course obrigado (thank you) and you are all set.

Become your own sommelier on this exclusive river cruise

Become your own sommelier with this exclusive river cruise

Have you ever felt in awe when a dignified sommelier presents you a bottle of wine wishing you really knew what he/she  was talking about?

Here is a great opportunity for you to learn the finer points of oenology whilst at the same time enjoying the luxury of a Burgundy and Provence River Cruise with Emerald Waterways ( http://www.emeraldwaterways.co.uk) for eight glorious days.

Prices start  from £2,195 per person sharing a double Emerald Stateroom (based on 4th and 11th July or 1st and 8th August departures). If the city of love is a must see on this French trip you can enjoy a three-night extension in Paris from an additional £750 per person including three nights’ accommodation, breakfast, guided city tour.

This exclusive river cruise is the perfect choice for wine-lovers looking to learn more about wine, as we open the doors of world-renowned wine estates like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Château de Meursault for private tastings. Witness the stunning vineyard-laden vistas, with plenty of opportunity to sample the local wares, while enjoying the company of our special guests, all of whom will bring favourite wines from their mothering countries

Highlights include a Provençal dinner, hosted by Chef Fabien Morreale, complete with wine pairing, wine master classes, Q&A sessions and tastings hosted by international wine experts including Tim Atkin and Robyn Stark. As well as, a guided tour of Valrhona Cite du Chocolate, hunting for truffles with a local farmer in Tournus and a gourmet walking tour of Avignon all part of included  EmeraldPLUS, EmeraldACTIVE and ‘Uncorked’ Hosted Wine Events experiences.

The eight-day cruise departs from Marseille and heads to Arles, Avignon and Vivers before moving onto Tournon, Lyon, Chalon-Su-Saône before ending in Lyon  (all France) where guests disembark for the flight home.     

Guests also have the choice of a no-fly option on this particular itinerary and can opt to travel via Eurostar at no extra charge. The no-fly option offers guests a great alternative to flying, as well as a quick and easy way to get to the Star-Ships docking location.

All prices include return flights, transfers, seven nights on board, six EmeraldEXCURSIONS, four EmeraldACTIVE and two EmeraldPLUS highlights. 20 on board meals with selected *drinks and even all tips.

Regional departures available include London Heathrow and Manchester.If you come from other countries than the UK, as most of my readers will, look into flights to Marseille to join the cruise.

Imagine, the best wines plus gourmet meals and a chance to learn about truffle hunting, a more complete cruise is hard to imagine.

A German May tradition: Der Maibaum

It’s nearly the 1st of May and therefore time for a tradition in Germany, which dates back as far as the 16th century.

All over the south of Germany, but in other parts of the country as well, rural communities get ready for the celebrations revolving around a tree: the Maibaum or May tree.
Traditionally it’s the village square where a specially selected tree, often a birch and sometimes up to 15 or more meters high, is ‘planted’. The Maibaum symbolizes a lot of things: the arrival of summer, fertility, unity, rural pride and even love.
As you will see, a lot of traditions, customs, superstitions and, of course, celebrations evolve around the Maibaum. Once selected, the tree needs to be decorated. In many parts, the bark is removed. Why? To eliminate beetles or other insects which may hide behind the rind. These creatures are considered evil spirits which would only bring misfortune to the place where the Maibaum is erected.
In Bavaria, the trunk is painted blue and white, then adorned with hand crafted often very valuable figures, ribbons and, most importantly, the green and flower crown at the top.
First festivity is to parade the Maibaum around the village, accompanied with music and…this is Germany, remember… rivers of beer and mountains of sausage. It takes a lot of locals to carry the heavy tree around and even more to finally put the thing up. Traditionally this was done by the strongest guys with ropes and sheer muscle power, but nowadays machines such as cranes help to anchor it securely.
And here is another rather funny custom to do with the Maibaum: theft. Believe it or not, it’s a sport, a tradition and well regulated. It’s also absolutely not against the law, provided the thieves play by the rules. The Maibaum is guarded and as long as one of the guards has a hand on the tree, it isn’t permitted to steal it. Therefore, potential thieves revert to cunning to distract the guards and to make off with their prize.
The purpose? To initiate negotiations with the thieves to get the tree back. Successful negotiations include more and even vaster amounts of beer and food, happily consumed by both parties.
If for some reason negotiations fail, the tree is erected as a trophy in the village where it has been carried to and the loser is shamed. Bad luck for that particular village and good luck for the thives.
Another variation has to do with love. Small Maibaums are often placed by young guys at the house of the love of their life. If they are lucky and the lady in question lkes them, they are rewarded with a kiss and, of course, more beer and food.
All month long, dancing, singing and general merry making revolves around the Maibaum..until the following year.

Maibaum Viktualienmarket Munich
Maibaum Viktualienmarket Munich

Finns trick or treat at easter

Finns trick or treat at Easter

Easter is near and it’s always interesting to see how other countries celebrate. Finland has a very special way , a mixture of religion, festival and tradition. We usually associate ‘trick or treat’ and the accompanying costumes with Halloween, but the Finns do it at Easter.

FILE–In the Finnish version of trick or treat, on Palm Sunday, thousands of children dressed as witches go door to door offering pussywillows as a token of goodwill in exchange for payment in this April 1995 file photo. The three small Finnish witches are, from left, Mia, Marjukka and Jenna, were photographed on the April 1995. (AP Photo/Sari Gustafsson).

Come Palm Sunday and you happen to be in Finland, you’ll see kids dressed up as witches, carrying willow sprigs and going from  house to house. Dressed in colorful outfits, with a scarf around their head, blood red painted cheeks and dotted on freckles, the little witches have nothing scary about them, contrary to their Halloween ‘brothers and sisters’. They do cast a spell when knocking on people’s doors, but it’s a benevolent one, wishing you health and happiness for the year and presenting you with a decorated willow branch as a symbol. In return, they expect a small treat, a chocolate egg or a coin.

This custom goes back to ancient times, when witches and evil spirits were believed to roam the street, causing mischief just before Easter. It’s not surprising to find tales of witches and spirits in a country so cold and covered in so much dense and often impenetrable forest.

After the long, dark and cold winters in Finland, Easter is the much longed for beginning of spring. Often, grass seeds are grown in shallow bowls and, when they are long enough (at Easter) decorated with willow twigs, spring flowers or chocolate eggs.

Roast lamb is the traditional hot meal and then there are two deserts, only to be found in Finland. One is brown and looks like sludge, but don’t turn up your nose. Mammi  is delicious once whipped cream and sugar are added.

Pasha, cream colored and a calorie bomb, looks a lot more appetizing, cooked in a form which gives it the shape of an inverted pyramid.

Probably the number 1 destination in Europe for Easter is Semana Santa in Seville, Spain, a very somber and solemn affair. So why not do something different and mingle with the cute, little witches of Finland?

World travels of a chic granny