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.

Postcards from Zermatt, the village with the chocolate mountain





There are five sounds that really belong to Zermatt and its verdant surroundings: the strong rumble of the river, the chirping of crickets, the hum of electric mini vans, the rustle of the silver-coloured paper of Toblerone packages and most importantly the joyous waus and aahs as the visitors and hikers finally see the mighty Matterhorn after the train ride from Täsch or Visp.



Ah, Zermatt, you are beautiful, a great base camp and starting point for countless hikes on the surrounding mountains, and really expensive. And I don’t just mean Switzerland expensive but an upscale touristic little village amid the mountains kind of expensive. The municipality of Zermatt is located in the canton of Valais. The undisputable star of the place is the majestic and beautiful Matterhorn. And I bet the mountain knows this: during our visit it often veiled its peak in fog and clouds and revealed all of its stunning beauty only on carefully chosen occasions. Luckily one of these moments was when we were enjoying the delicious and plentiful breakfast at the Hotel Ambiance before our hike of the day. But Matterhorn is not the only star on stage: there are altogether 38 four thousand-metre mountains in the area (!)


Zermatt is a great destination choice for those who love to hike (there is a 400 km network of hiking trails), mountain bike, enjoy the outdoors, breathe in the clean and crisp mountain air, marvel at the magnificent views and take a zillion photos. And if you’re looking for a luxury spa experience, you’ll very likely find that too, based on the number of spa hotels in the village.


A word about the hiking: it was no easy peasy light day stroll but really a proper workout with steep ascents in stony terrain. Add a clear blue sky, lovely sunrays, butterflies, the sight of chubby marmots, a piece of rich apple strudel and you will get hooked quicker than you can say One more piece of Toblerone please. I purely loved every minute of it. There’s something magical and purifying about being up in the heights, the sweat running down your back and your head being cleared from everything futile.


I’ll share my Zermatt favourites:

The relaxing heat of the sauna after a long and physical hiking day and sliding into the jacuzzi on the terrace with Matterhorn standing in the background. Bless the nice young lady at the reception who prepared this for us. Warm thoughts to her and the experience.

The gorgeous panoramic hike to Riffelsee: the hike itself was beautiful and it culminated in seeing the reflection of Matterhorn from the mountain lake and of course in taking the must-do chocolate-mountain top photos (a few practice shots were needed here). Indeed, the famous chocolate bar has received it’s shape from the majestic mountain. About the hiking routes: take a compact route map with you either from your accommodation or the tourist info. The routes and their difficulty levels are marked there. The signs along the routes were not as clear as I would have expected, so it’s good to have the map as well.


The luscious piece of Italy in Zermatt: the restaurant Chalet da Giuseppe (Vispastrasse 26, Zermatt 3920). Fireworks for the palate. Try the creamy burrata, the rich truffle soup and nonna’s ravioli. An extra mentioning goes to the warm atmosphere and the singing owner. Note: the door is quite heavy, so pull hard enough. Whatever you do, don’t walk away from this Italian taste adventure.


The hike to and across the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge, the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. The length of the bridge is 500 metres and it hangs 85 metres above the ground. It was a thrill and there’s no way I could have pulled out my camera when I was half way through it. Luckily the other one of us was more daring. The hike is a circular tour which starts from the village of Randa and takes a bit less than 3 hours. An adrenaline rush guaranteed.

The most delicious hit-the-spot pitstop including a club sandwich and a glass of prosecco (and Zermatt Bier for Mr. O) at the sun terrace of the Bar 2’222 m at the Riffelalp resort.

And as the final point, waking up one morning, opening the balcony door and discovering that this hazy mist had covered the village. It was almost like stepping into a cloud: foggy and a bit surreal.

Zermatt is a gorgeous nature paradise for hiking lovers, a strong suggestion. A happy place.

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.