Christmas Vibes in Lecco, Lake Como






A pre-Christmas visit to Lecco, located in the eastern branch or “foot” of Lake Como pampered us with sunshine, tasty pizza and the beautiful combo of the lake and the mountain range in the background. The highlights of our extempore yuletide visit included:

A long and sunshine filled Saturday outing which began as a jog, continued as a stroll by the pretty waterfront, turned into an afternoon coffee moment by the lake (tasty freshly squeezed orange juice and espressos in a small café at 6 Lungolario Piave) and culminated in sharing two juicy slices of pizza on a park bench – with the appropriate gelato for dessert. My favourite kind of a workout.

The Xmas spirit created by abundant Christmas light decorations all around town, the  Christmas market on Piazza Mario Cermenati – with booths selling roasted chestnuts, thick hot chocolate, Italian cheeses and ham and knitted wear – and as the most  impressive sight: creative light projections on the facades of the houses in the town centre. And not to forget the classic lake boat ride in Santa’s sled.

And third, feasting on Italian treats, of course. Yummy pizza was found at Il Forno di Nonna Pallina (Piazza Venti Settembre 35). And the best seafood dinner at Mamaioa Bistrot (Via Carlo Cattaneo, 80): fresh and purely delicious. The menu varies according to the catch of the day.

Lecco really delivered. A delicious and sunny getaway on the base of the Alps.


Discovering Antwerp, the Hotspot of Chocolate, Diamonds and Fashion


The city of chocolate, diamonds, fashion, art, antique and architecture. And beer! That’s quite a list of highlights for one city. We visited this Belgian gem two weeks ago and now I’ll share my selected tips.

Antwerp is convenient when it comes to getting there: a 2,5 hour flight from Helsinki and then a half hour train ride from the Brussels airport. We took the afternoon flight on Friday and were strolling along the cobbled lanes of Antwerp in search of an atmospheric mussels restaurant during (late) dinner time. And found a tasty one (Xaverius, Oude Koornmarkt 21)! Let’s dive into the culinary delights shortly.

First, must say that on Saturday, November 16, it was slightly tricky to find a nice and cosy late breakfast spot with two available seats as that day marked the yearly arrival of  Sinterklaas to Belgium,  an occasion we were utterly unaware of. The streets around the Bonapartedok were packed with families, strollers and children who had exceeded their sugar overdose for the upcoming week as well.

The Sinterklaas festivities begin in mid-November as he arrives by boat from Spain. In Belgium he always arrives in the port of Antwerp. Then he parades through the streets, the children are singing and the assistants of Sinterklaas, the Zwarte Piet, throw small spiced biscuits and candy to the cheering crowd. In the coming days children leave a shoe out by the fireplace or on the windowsill in hope that Sinterklaas will come and bring some presents during the night time. The anticipation culminates on the eve of the Feast day when the main Sinterklaas parties take place. This tradition has received criticism because of the Zwarte Piet character but based on what we saw that Saturday, the tradition, or at least the parade, is still very popular.


Now, back to my Antwerp favorites. The best restaurant, without doubt was Fiskeskur (Kattendijkdok-Oostkaai 20b). This place is excellent. We both had a fish curry: super rich and delicious, fireworks for the palate really. The wine list was delightfully impressive, the service was warm, and the mood was cosy and laid-back. Extra points for the Latin rhythms. We found the place by following the tempting fish aroma when we were walking towards the Port Authority.

The architectural wonder: the Port Authority Building. Its architecture combines tradition with futurism. The building is captivating, a real eye-catcher, and the stroll to see it makes for a good (and windy, in November) afternoon walk. Antwerp is Belgium’s biggest port and infact world’s fourth largest port complex and back in the day (like more than 400 hundred years back) it was one of Europe’s most important cities. On the way back the yummy fish curry awaits. Architecturally impressive is also the Antwerpen-Centraal train station, check it out!



The most interesting chocolate experience was the Chocolate Nation (Koningin Astridplein 7), which manifests itself as the Valhalla for chocolate lovers. The visitors are taken on an audio-guided journey to the history of Belgian chocolate. It was quite exciting: the execution was creative and interactive and I bet it appeals to both children and older chocolate aficionados. And, as one would expect, in the end we got to taste many different flavors, in liquid form. As they say, the only thing better than chocolate is more chocolate.

As for the diamonds, didn’t buy any (I’d rather save up for the next adventure, be it big or small); antiques (carry-on baggage pretty much excluded purchasing any antique dressers or mirrors) and fashion: I bought one beautiful leather hand bag from the Old town, an item which I’ll very likely use for years. And the Leonida’s chocolate ended up in a very safe place as did the Belgian waffles: the best one was purchased from a tiny cart on the street while we were on our way to the Grote Markt (market square).

Hiking under the Andalusian Sun: A Day Trek in Sierra Nevada

Sweat is the gift from the body to the soul.

I really agree with that line, by the Finnish writer Kari Hotakainen. Add gorgeous scenery, fresh and crisp mountain air, a great adventure buddy (aka my husband), new trails waiting to be explored and the possibility of spotting baby alpine goats and you get to the very core of the allure of hiking.

There are different kinds of hikes: those which offer visual treats and spectacles on almost every step you take (thinking about Matterhorn last summer). And then there are hikes which add up to be rewarding but maybe don’t scenery-wise offer such landscape fireworks from the start as you were set out for.

So, we went trekking to the Sierra Nevada National Park in Southern Spain, in Andalucía. We we’re staying at Almuñécar, a nice small city by the sea at the Costa Tropical. The previous evening before the hiking day we browsed the hike suggestions at treksierranevada.com and decided to go for the route Canal de la Espartera. We were drawn by the length of the walk (14 km, suitable for us for an enjoyable day trip), the profile of the trek (moderately challenging) and the lush vegetation, crashing waterfalls and wide variety of scenery depicted in the hike description.

The starting point of the hike is near Fuente del Hervidero, a traditional country-style restaurant, which can be accessed from the town of La Zubia. We travelled there with our rental car and left the car to the parking field near the restaurant.

Indeed, the hike was varied, gratifying and good, as an entity. The first bit (the first two hours) of the actual hike was made up of a wide gravel track and rather desert-like views: the land was dry and dusty and the Andalusian sun was keeping us nice and warm (or hot – not too hot, but definitely hot enough). A baby alpine ibex peaked timidly from behind the bushes and dashed quickly out of sight.


Then, at about halfway of the trek the scenery started to become lusher with green hills, coniferous trees, long grass, butterflies swirling around us and pretty yellow flowers. The mountain stream burbled in the background.

The route was marked with wooden signposts with a yellow and white stripe. The posts occurred often enough, but a kilometre indicator on each of them would have made the poles even more helpful.


A few notes about the hike and tips for your trek:

If you want peace and quiet, this is your trek! We encountered maybe three people there during the entire hiking day. Don’t start your hike too late, so that you’ll find your way back in daylight (we started around 2 pm and finished at 8 o’clock and the sun began to set after 9 pm).

Snacks! The key to happiness. There are no mountain huts on this route (selling abundant pieces of apple strudel like in the alpine huts in Switzerland, says she wistfully), so pack a big water bottle and snacks that will keep you energized along the way. Granola, bananas, chocolate (won’t deny it, the hike menu might have included some pringles as well). Also, remember a hat and sunscreen.

The attractions of Granada and the spectacular palace of Alhambra are close by (around 25 minutes by car), so after the sweaty fun and some refrehing up you can enjoy some cultural delights.

Enjoy your trek!