Friday, 15 June 2018


OFF ON OUR TRAVELS IN SEARCH OF......
'THE MOST BEAUTIFUL LAKE IN EUROPE'








When somewhere is described as 'The most beautiful lake in Europe', how can one resist putting it high on a travel wishlist?

Lake Orta (or Lago d'Orta) as the Italians call it, is the smallest of Northern Italy's 'Italian lakes' and is a near neighbour to Lake Maggiore in the West and is in the beautiful Piedmont region.

Lesser known, even to many Italians, Lake Orta was so named in the 16th Century, but was previously called Lago di San Giulio, after Saint Julius (4th Century) who was patron saint in the region.  Measuring just 8.3 miles long X 1.6 miles wide, with the magical small central 'island' of Isola San Giulio set in the middle.






After a rather early start (yawn!) Mr. W and I flew to Milan where it was an easy 45 minute hire car drive to San Giulio, the picture perfect small town on a peninsula projecting from the east shore of the lake.  After checking in quickly to our little hotel, lunch was our priority, so we headed around the corner to the pretty central square overlooking the water.



It was hard to believe that just a few hours earlier we had left home, and here we were sitting overlooking the most stunning lakeside view, eating a platter of delicious local Piedmont cheeses and cold meats, and sipping a glass of equally delicious local white wine.  My idea of heaven!




Beautiful mainly 17C houses line the shores of the lake, many with their charming boathouses and terraces.  




 San Giulio is a haven of pretty cobbled back streets with beautiful architecture to admire.....























Pretty courtyards...









...and romantic balconies aplenty!




A trip to San Guilio would not be complete without making the effort to make the steep climb up to 'Sacro Monte di San Francesco'....





The view alone out to Isola San Giulio is worth the climb...





...before finding Sacro Monte, an amazing collection of 20 small chapels dedicated to the life of Saint Frances.




Some chapels simple and modest, and others boasting spectacular frescoes....











Back to the water's edge, a boat trip out to Isola San Giulio was a must.  Just a few minutes across the water to this tiny island, which is home to the spectacular Basilica di San Giulio and an old seminary built in the 1840's which is home to an enclosed order of Benedictine nuns.  A request for 'quiet' while walking around the buildings and cobbled alleyways, added to the beautiful and mystical atmosphere of this holy place.




Back over to San Giulio main land, beautiful walks around the lake are perfect for 'dream house' spotting! (oh and also for walking off all the delicious pasta dishes too...)





I rather liked this beauty, right on the water's edge....just imagine taking breakfast on that balcony each morning? Sigh....





...and hopping on to your speed boat to head out for lunch across the lake?



There are a number of hotels to stay at around the lake, but for our little two day break, we stayed in a charming b&b called 'Al Dom' which felt more like a boutique hotel.  Owned and run by the charming 'Massimo' who spent five years painstakingly restoring the property a few years ago.  Original features restored throughout and lovely attention to detail.  Its lake front position was wonderful, with access to a pretty garden with sun loungers taking in the spectacular views.





A simple but stylish interior, filled with charming antique pieces....



Doors leading to a pretty outdoor courtyard garden at the back....



...with access to a private lake front garden too.  Just perfect!



Such a pretty room and this stunning view to wake up to!  The breakfasts too were just wonderful, so I would highly recommend!





These are just a few highlights of our short but sweet stay on lovely Orta.  Really very uncrowded compared to the neighbouring Lakes and unspoilt by tourism.  A truly magical place.
Only three days away, but it felt like a longer holiday!  

If you enjoy beautiful scenery,  pretty architecture, art, history, walking and good food and wine, then a visit is a must!

***

Wishing you all a lovely weekend,

Sophia xxx

Tuesday, 10 April 2018


A DELICIOUS SPRING TREAT...





Good morning!
I'm not sure where the last week vanished to, but I do hope you all had a lovely long Easter weekend?
Ours was a particularly relaxing one, with no large scale entertaining this year, so a chance to get some projects done, take things easy and of course, prepare some delicious food!




When I shared on Instagram that I was making a 'Baked cheesecake with rhubarb', I received so many messages requesting the recipe, that I promised to post it here on the blog, so here it is finally!





Taken from the March edition of 'Waitrose' magazine, I would highly recommend this delicious desert...less rich than a classic cheesecake and with the addition of tangy Spring rhubarb it is fresh and absolutely delicous.  Perfect for this time of year when the first forced rhubarb is appearing.

BAKED CHEESECAKE WITH RHUBARB

SERVES 8-10
PREP: 15 MINUTES PLUS COOLING
COOK: 1 HOUR 15 MINS.


ROASTED RHUBARB
400g rhubarb, cut into 5cm lengths
75g caster sugar
3 cardamom pods, crushed
1tsp finely julienned fresh root ginger


BISCUIT BASE
125g amaretti biscuits
125g digestive biscuits
125g unsalted butter, melted and cooled 
plus extra for greasing

FILLING
4 eggs
115g caster sugar
600g ricotta
15g mascarpone
50g plain flour
1tsp vanilla extract
1 lemon, zest of all, plus a squeeze of juice


Preheat the oven to 160 C, gas mark 3.  For the roasted rhubarb, put all the ingredients in a roasting tin.  Stir in 3 tbsp water and toss together.  Bake, uncovered, for 15-20 mins until the rhubarb is just tender. Take out of the oven and set aside to cool in the tin.

Turn the oven up to 180 C (gas mark 4), lightly grease a 23cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.  For the biscuit base, put the amaretti and digestives in a large, sealable bag and crush with a rolling pin into fine crumbs.  Tip into a bowl, add the melted butter and mix until the crumbs are coated.  Transfer to the prepared tin, spread evenly over the base.  Bake for 10 mins then set aside to cool  Reduce the oven temp to 160C (gas mark 3).
For the filling, lightly beat the eggs and sugar umtil the sugar has dissolved.  Add the remaining ingredients and beat until well combined.  Pour over the base, then bake for 45 mins or until just set with a slight wobble in the middle.  Switch off the oven, open the door a little and leave the cheesecake to cool completely in the oven.  Serve with the rhubarb and some creme fraiche, if liked.

Bon appétit!

***

Sophia xx





Thursday, 5 April 2018

A VERY SPECIAL PLACE....


VAL D'AOSTA SKI REGION


If someone was to ask me where my 'Spiritual Home' is, it would certainly have to be the mountains, and more specifically, the Alps.  Clean air, raw natural beauty, and mother nature at its finest.




Each year, Mr. W and I have the greatest pleasure of spending a whole week with our brood in this snowy paradise, which now they are young adults who have left home, is particularly special.  With the addition of the eldest two's other halves and a great friend of our youngest son, we are an enthusiastic party of eight who love our skiing and partying alike!







We have skied in many places over the years, but for the last few years (and no doubt for many years to come hopefully) our hearts have settled on the lovely unspoilt resort of Champoluc in Italy.  Nestled in the Aosta Valley with the magnificent Val da Ousta ski area to enjoy, it's an absolute gem.  What makes our visits so particularly special, is a magical little hotel called 'Frantze'.  




Positioned up in the mountains, high above the village, it is reached only on skis, by foot or on scadoo.  Owned by the lovely Francesca and her wonderful family, whose warmth and hospitality is beyond touching.  Each year greeting us as family and taking care of our every need.  




'Frantze le Rascard' was originally built in 1721 and the family have in recent years, lovingly and sympathetically restored this wonderful former mountain farm and hunting lodge.  Now a charming and very comfortable nine bedroom hotel, but without losing any of the original history and character of its past.









Sadly I have no photographs of the cosy bedrooms and interiors, or the charming warm dining room which is built in to the rock face or of the maginificent four course dinners prepared for us by 'Auntie' Antonella in the kitchen and served by the lovely 'Nona' Simonetta and her assistant Maddy, but I'm sure you get the picture of this very lovely and personal place.






Above is one of the unconverted outbuildings, left untouched for decades since someone once lived and worked here....if only those walls could talk?






How beautiful is this little heart shaped window in our bedroom?  Leading the eye towards the magnificent view down the valley.




The food in this region of Italy is second to none...although I think it's probably fair to say that it's probably near impossible to get a bad meal anywhere in Italy!




Lovingly hand made pasta dishes and as you can see, the most incredible charcuterie and cheese boards.  All beautiful quality local mountain cheeses and air dried meats from the Aosta Valley.



With my 'Snow girls"



We were blessed with amazing snow and blue skies and sunshine....




Special time with our family...

OUR BROOD


...and wonderful memories.

Do you have a special place you call your 'Spiritual Home'? 

 I would love to hear!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

AN AUSTRALIAN INSPIRED BRUNCH RECIPE...





PHOTO: SOPHIA HOME




'BRUNCH'....that lovely, yummy mix of breakfast and lunch, that for me, conjures up thoughts of lazy weekends after a bit of a lie in, with no rushed agenda.  A meal to linger over with the weekend papers and to savour. A touch of breakfast but combined with lunch, and substantial enough to combine the two and keep you going until supper time. A chance to experiment with ingredients that cross the two perfectly.

On my recent trip to Australia at the start of the year I had brunch inspiration aplenty.

  Noone does brunch quite like the Australians, and combined with sunshine and ideally a beautiful ocean view, you have pretty much a meal experience made in heaven!

Of course, no good brunch menu would leave out the holy grail of ingredients (in my book anyway!) that is the Avocado.  The Australians invented Avocado on toast and introduced the rest of the world to the idea.  Putting all jokes aside about 'Millenials spending all their money on Avocado on toast rather trying to save for a house deposit' (as a mother of three of them, I think this comment is grossly unfair!), Avocados are not only delicious and versatile, but jam packed with nutritional goodness. Containing more potassium than bananas, loaded with heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids and fiber, cholesterol lowering, packed with vitamins K C B5 B6 and E and minerals.  Avocados really are a power house of goodness.  Also amazing for the complexion!  There are just too many reasons not to include them in your daily diet.

So back to my recipe!  
Mr. W and I came across this delicious dish on our first morning in Sydney, while staying at 'The Establishment Hotel' and went on to have it three times in the five days we were there. Yes, it was that good! So was the hotel by the way...

If you love Burrata, the silky smooth and fresh Italian cheese made from Mozzarella and cream, you're going to love this even more.

AVOCADO, BURRATA AND CHILLI TOMATO SALAD

Ingredients:

(For two people, but just double up or halve as appropriate)
Sauce:
200g tinned tomatoes
I garlic clove
1/2 fresh chilli or teaspoon dried chilli flakes
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of sugar

To accompany:
One ripe Avocado
2 fresh Burrata cheeses
Cherry tomatoes
2 slices pancetta or other cured italian ham
Pinenuts
Coriander or herbs of choice
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Fresh chilli or chilli flakes
Toasted sourdough to serve.


Start by simmering tinned tomatoes with crushed garlic and chilli to reduce.  Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. When cool, drizzle around the outer edge of two plates or wide bowls.  Place halved cherry tomatoes on top of sauce around outer edge. Place burrata in centre of each plate, along with avocado cut in to slices.   Fry or bake pancetta slices until crisp and place on top and scatter pine nuts and coriander sprigs. Finally drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and extra chilli if you particularly like things spicy.  Toasted sourdough slices are particularly yummy with this, especially for when you break in to that amazing gooey burrata!

So there we are....so simple and absolutely delicious.  Not just for 'brunch' but perfect for any time of day....

Bon appétit!

Sophia xx


Friday, 9 March 2018

 MOTHER'S DAY...
with the 'White Company'





Happy Friday everyone!  
Always a good feeling when you know that the weekend is in sight!

I am particularly looking forward to this weekend, as it is my daughter Georgie's 27th birthday.  With her older brother having turned 29 earlier this week...it has been a nostalgic few days, with us wondering where on earth the years have disappeared!  One minute they are babies, and the next they are all grown up and out in the world.  

Alongside birthday celebrations for her on Sunday, we shall be joined by my lovely mother for a Mother's Day celebration too.  We three girls have been promised a work free day from the kitchen, feet up with a glass of something bubbly and 'Mr. W' and youngest son cooking up a feast in the kitchen....I can hardly wait!  Eldest son is sadly not with us this year as he lives in Singapore, but not long now until a special family holiday reunion coming up!

So what do we Mums really want gift wise for this special day?  I think that if you ask any of us, we truly just want our families with us, or to at least know that they are healthy and happy, and of course, a heartfelt card is always lovely!

  If however you would like to spoil your lovely Mum on Sunday, here are a few last minute gift ideas from 'The White Company' that I for one would be thrilled to receive!

Above is the beautiful Porto Stoneware collection and what better way to show someone you love them, than with a heart shaped dish. Perfect for so many things in the kitchen, but would also make a beautiful accessory on a table top, perhaps filled with those special treasures?



How lovely is this Cotton Pom-Pom Scarf?  The perfect Spring accessory that's both fun and stylish.  In a beautiful pale grey, it is perfect with most things in your Spring wardrobe, and well, who can resist a pom-pom?




Something pampering is always a lovely choice.  Making time for a long hot soak in the bath is something that mothers at all stages of life truly appreciate!  Not always easy, especially with little ones growing up, and busy lives, but something we should all make time for.  The White Company Spa range is just gorgeous, with delicious oils of Neroli, Geranium and Eucalyptus.  A real treat, and a lovely way to bring that Spa experience in to your own bathroom.




This gorgeous Leather Crescent Make-up Bag certainly caught my eye and is so lovely that it would also make a pretty clutch or jewellery travel case.  Such a gorgeous shade of blush pink too!






Lastly candles....can we ever have too many?
I particularly love the new season's Spring candle, with beautiful notes of honeysuckle, rose, jasmine and lilac with a hint of mown grass.  A gorgeous aroma of my favourite season and perfect for any room in the house I think.  

I do hope that you all have a lovely Mother's Day on Sunday.  Even if you are not a Mum yourself, or yours is sadly no longer with you, why not show yourself a little self love and treat yourself anyway or a special friend, just to show how much you appreciate them?  Whatever you have planned, have a lovely relaxing and spoiling day!

Until next time....

Sophia xxx

Ps.  The White Company also have some very special offers with up to 50% off....just press the link in the right hand side bar.  Happy shopping!