Isola Bella and its peacocks and unicorns


You know the feeling when you’ve had a small and futile argument with your special loved one about something utterly unnecessary and then you come to a place that is breathtakingly mesmerizing or beautiful and so skillful. The sun is shining, the warmth of the sweet summer day caresses your cheeks and the lake water sparkles as the sunrays dance on its surface. Very soon you come to realize that you really don’t want to lose any time from experiencing the beauty, the gorgeous day, the efforts of the gardener and moments of this life that we have. Perhaps a bit sappy but actually very true once you start thinking about it.

One place that has this effect is Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore in North of Italy. And in there particularly the blooming baroque garden of the Palazzo Borromeo.




The island got its name from Isabella D’Adda, the wife of Carlo Borromeo III, when the spectacular palace was built for the aristocratic family in the 1600s. The high rooms of the palazzo include for example the decorative Ballroom, the ornamental throne and the Sala di Napoleone where the French emperor stayed with his wife. Not to forget the numerous artworks from old masters, the ornate grand piano decorated with a painting even from the inside, the magnificent halls, the detailed ceilings and in the bottom floor the impressive grottoes, with walls made of pebbles and lava stone. The palace is still the summer home of the Borromeo family.


When we step outside to the palace gardens we see first the gallant white peacocks strutting on the green and well-attended lawn. They don’t care about the visitors but are wise enough to escape the sticky hands of an energetic toddler who sweeps past us reaching towards the fascinating white birds.


The gardens include well-kept verdant boulevards, tall obelisks, a unicorn statue, geometrically trimmed trees, many terraces, ponds with water lilies, a parrot house and the imposing Teatro Massimo. And a myriad of flowers.


Isola Bella can be reached easily with ferries from the cities of Stresa, Laveno, Pallanza and Intra. The last ferry back to Pallanza goes quarter past seven. After the palace has closed the island quiets down quickly. The entrance fee to the palace is 15 euros.


Isola Bella is definitely worth visiting but I wouldn’t opt to have the accommodation there. It is beautiful, crowded on the small streets during the day and a fine place to spot skilled Italian style gardening. And oh yes, a lunch spot tip is Il Fornello Bottega con Cucina: a beautiful terrace, friendly service, quality bubbles and a tasty antipasti plate.

Two Gorgeous Beach Discoveries on the Atlantic Coast



Salty sea water in my hair, grains of sand on my skin dried by the sun and the mighty sea that opens in front of us. The one who said that salt water is the cure to anything was on to something very essential.

There are plenty of beautiful beaches by the Atlantic Ocean in Portugal and in Spain. What I really value are specific beach tips and coordinates when it comes to the best of the best beach gems. I want to share two beach recommendations with you from our road trip along the Atlantic Coast in Portugal and in Andalucía in Spain.

The first one is Praia do Malhão around 2 hours (186 kilometres) by car from Lisbon. The beach is located 7 kilometres north of the town Vila Nova de Milfontes and it is best reached by your own (rental) car or by bike. The beach is beautiful, natural and peaceful (read: remote, no masses here), and the sea is quite wild. The best thing definitely was jumping against the mighty waves. The second best thing was having fresh and juicy cherries for lunch on the beach while sunbathing. A lunch tip: keep your eyes open for fruit stands by the roads: you can find such ripe and luscious fruit (cherries, watermelons, peaches and tomatoes) for a very affordable price.


The coastline is rocky with dunes and in the sea there are some large basalt rocks. The beach is situated next to the Sudoeste Alentejano natural park and therefore the coastline is empty of development. Hence there are no facilities (apart from the car park area). This suited us perfectly but might not make for an excellent beach day for someone who gets a craving for some snacks or wishes to rent beach tennis equipment, a body board or a sun chair.

The town Vila Nova de Milfontes was nice, peaceful and relaxed. We did a little stroll there and then around 4 pm were wondering if we could find a place for a late (second) lunch. And after a quick search we found the bistro Stress Free (on Rua Sarmento Beires 28). To me, one of the lovely joys of being on holiday is that we can live in a vacation rhythm that is rather different from the office life rhythm. Hence gotta love places that serve delicious lunch until the late afternoon and dinner until midnight. I’ve come to learn that I am a late (emphasis on late) Mediterranean diner. The lunch spot choice, Stress Free, served good food with laid-back vibes.


The second beach find is the Playa de Mazagón on the Costa de la Luz (the Coast of Light) in Huelva in Southwest Spain. Loved it during the day and especially loved it at sunset. The beach is long and beautiful, and in the evening you can walk a long way right toward the sunset. On the beach you can find a zone of sea shells of all shapes and forms.


We stayed at the Parador de Mazagón (on Carretera San Juan del Puerto-Matalascañas), overlooking the ocean. Parador in Spain refers to a certain kind of special accommodation where an old historic building (for example a castle) is turned into a hotel. If you’re looking for a pleasant place for relaxation, a game or two of tennis, dips in the ocean and watching the stars on your own balcony after dinner, then this might just be the spot for you in Huelva, the strawberry province of Spain.




Strolls around Lisbon




There is this green, verdant and exotic oasis in the heart of Lisbon I want to tell you about. The Estufa Fria in Parque Eduardo VII, near the Marquês de Pombal, is a grand greenhouse with three gardens. The three parts are the cool, hot and sweet greenhouse. In the three large rooms you’ll find gigantic ferns, different cacti, vines, a pond with mesmerizing white water lilies, mango and banana trees and exotic flowers.

We started our day with strong espressos and rich, creamy and cinnamon-dusted pasteis de nata pastries and then headed to the estufas to enjoy the exotic verdancy. There is something very captivating about this place. The mood is both tranquil and historical. I felt just a bit like an explorer who was discovering new tropical species.

The Estufa Fria opened its doors to the public in the 1930s and even though this place probably is well-known among the locals, I bet many visitors don’t know about this gem. There is also a conference room right next to the greenhouse, which hosts different types of events. If I were to organize a work conference in Lisbon I would opt for this place: how brilliant would it be to admire this green splendour while having a coffee break amid the meeting day.

The entrance fee to the estufas is three euros and they accept cash only. A big green heart to this place.






Continuing with the theme of strolling around Lisbon, here are two other favourites. The curving streets of the Alfama district: narrow alleys and cobbled lanes, the yellow tram number 28  approaching around a steep corner, beautiful old facades, a fado performance in a street corner, large murals and the views over the tiled rooftops towards the river Tejo.



And third, the waterfront promenade Ribeira das Naus: buy a litre of juicy strawberries from the street vendor and sit down on the stone paving by the water to watch the river, boats, seagulls and people. And then just enjoy, summer, Lisbon and life.