How I Discovered Tranquility in Verona at a 19th Century Villa

Italy’s major cities are cracking down on tourist-led misbehaviour. Milan, Rome, Florence, Venice and Verona have seen a wave of bans including and not limited to bottles, selfie sticks, picnics and food trucks. The bans stem from the general decay of urban centres as much as their visitor led debris.

Anyone who travels to Italy in the summer months will agree that its cities are overrun by tourists. I spent last summer in Florence and was astounded by the number of people in its main square – Piazza della Signoria. The waiting time for entrance to the Uffizi Gallery was SIX HOURS and yet I, like everyone else, queued up to enter. What drove me to stand in line for six hours ask the sane amongst you? It’s worth it. Totally and utterly worth it. Herein lies Italy’s double-edged sword.

So, late this summer when I visited Verona I was desperate to avoid tourist traps. Even in October the city was packed with hordes of visitors. It’s easy to see why. The simple formula of great weather, good food and rich history literally sit side by side. The 1st Century Roman amphitheatre dominates the city and all the al fresco dining and coffee drinking happens around it.

However, this time round I  approached Verona the Italian way. At the recommendation of a good friend (who happens to be Italian) I made the wise choice of staying at a villa away from the city centre. This meant that each evening when I was at the end of my tether being a tourist I could steal myself away to an authentic and far more satisfying Italian experience.

Al Giardinetto

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I stayed at the magnificent 19th century Italian villa, Al Giardinetto, in the quiet neighbourhood of Borgo Venezia. It was just 15 minutes from the city centre but far enough away from the crowds that I could still enjoy tranquility. The villa is owned by Rosanna Rossi who purchased it in 1985. Everything about its rustic charm appealed to the romantic in me. High ceilings, tiled floors and lace curtains that fluttered in the breeze as you flung open the deep green shutters was a far cry from what I encountered in the city.

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Entrance to the villa was through its pretty giardinetto (little garden) complete with olive trees and a swing. It was perfect for a quiet coffee with my host before I set off for the day.

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Inside, every detail was a nod to this home’s history. Watercolour pictures of flowers in the garden, the home and Verona adorned the stairway and the muted colours faded into the wall.

The Rooms

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My double room up stairs was as rustic as I expected it would be. Twee pillowcases, quilted sheets and more hand painted pictures complimented the terracotta tiles on the floor and the windows rose from the floor all the way up to the ceiling. It was warm and comforting and  I certainly had a  feeling of home.

The Food

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In keeping with the homely feeling of Al Giardinetto you can expect lots of home cooking from Rosanna. Starting with a home-baked chocolate cake dusted with icing sugar on arrival to a hearty Italian breakfast with coffee. It begs the question – why would you want to breakfast in the city.

Three Things You must Do in Verona

Visit the Amphitheatre

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A short taxi or bus ride from the villa brought me straight to the busy heart of the city. The Verona Arena (Arena di Verona) is enormous and on the outside appears to be crumbling. However, this 1st Century AD Roman amphitheatre is the world’s third-largest to have survived and is still used today. I have it on good authority that during the Opera season it hosts magnificent performances. 

Piazza delle Erbe

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By all means stroll around the city and through the market. It’s a pretty town with lots of places to eat, fountains and medieval buildings covered in ancient murals. However, I covered it all within half an hour. So I recommend not spending more than 30 minutes here. After I’d seen the market and amphitheatre there was little to keep my interest. Save the day and head out of Verona to Lake Garda.

Lake Garda

Stock photo

From Verona Porta Nuova the train to Dezenzano del Garda arrived here in under 30 minutes. After my decision to stay at Al Giardinetto this was the second best decision I’d made. It would be a waste to visit Verona and not visit the largest lake in Italy. Its name evolves from Germanic word warda, translating to place of observation. It is certainly that. I arrived here in time for the sunset and dinner. As it was October I did not have any difficulty finding a place to eat. However, if you’re visiting in summer I imagine you would need a little more time to get a table.

It is undoubtedly popular with tourists and there is no way around this. However, the lake itself is magnificent. Clear, blue and surrounded by villages and mountains. Its vastness reduces the human impact in that I failed to notice anything or anyone else other than the lake. This is one not to be missed.

 

 

 

Al Giardinetto is located at Via Tiberghien 11, 37132 Verona.

For bookings visit www.bnbalgiardinettoverona.com

 

 

 

 

Iconic Musée du Louvre Arrives in Abu Dhabi

It was a historic day on 11th November as Paris’s iconic Musée du Louvre  opened its satellite in the Saadiyat Cultural District of Abu Dhabi. Louvre Abu Dhabi will stand as a symbol of accord and unity between Abu Dhabi and France.

2. Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo Courtesy Mohamed Somji
Courtesy of the Louvre Abu Dhabi

Architecture

Designed by Pritzker-prize winning architect Jean Nouvel the building was inspired by Arabic architecture and culture. A series of 55 pristine white buildings consisting of 23 permanent galleries pays homage to the traditional Arabic medina and low-lying Arab settlements.

The project is also based on a prominent symbol of Arab architecture: the dome. The “museum city” sits under a low silver dome almost 180 metres in diameter. The design is constructed of four outer and four inner layers of stainless steel separated by structures of five meters high. A geometric pattern is repeated at varying angles and sizes forcing each ray of light to infiltrate the layers before it enters the building. Thus creating a “rain of light” effect which has been a labour of love and serves as one of the defining features of the building.  The result is a tranquil space to relax, socialise and enjoy.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi will be in good company. It’s the first of several planned cultural and architectural institutions for Saadiyat Island. We can expect a Guggenheim from Frank Gehry, a performing arts centre from the late Zaha Hadid, a maritime museum from Tadao Ando and a museum of the history of the UAE and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (the driving force in the formation of the UAE) from Norman Foster; all are on course for the region.

4. Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo Courtesy Mohamed Somji
Courtesy of the Louvre Abu Dhabi

What’s in the Collection

Louvre Abu Dhabi emphasises the shared human experience which transcends geography, national identity and history. In contrast to other museums the collections are presented chronologically. Objects from early civilizations as well as world religions are presented together thus illustrating the diverse and yet extraordinary affinity between people and places. 

In the opening year, approximately 300 artworks on long-term loans from 13 key French institutions will be displayed alongside the museum’s permanent collection. They include Leonardo da Vinci’s La Belle Ferronnière, Claude Monet’s Saint-Lazare station and Edouard Manet’s The Fife Player and Henri Matisse’s Still Life with Magnolia (1941). 

Other notable artworks include one of the finest examples of a standing Bactrian Princess from the end of the 3rd millennium BCE, Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece Children Wrestling, René Magritte’s The Subjugated Reader, a 1928 collage by Picasso titled Portrait of a Lady and the earliest known photographic image of a veiled woman. The museum’s own holdings which exceed 600 pieces includes a Piet Mondrian (Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black, 1922) acquired as far back as 2008 – 2009.

With such an exemplary collection, temporary exhibition space, a children’s museum, 200-seater-auditorium, restaurant and café Louvre Abu Dhabi promises to take visitors on an unparalleled historical narrative through art. What an exciting time for Abu Dhabi and what an incredible time for art lovers in the East! Does one need any further encouragement than this to visit Abu Dhabi?

12 Reasons to visit Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is currently one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. It’s impossible to curate a few reasons to visit the island. For a tiny country with magnificent beaches, all year round tropical climate, wildlife, heritage and incredible food the challenge was listing just 10 reasons. So here are 12 reasons to visit Sri Lanka.

  1. Beaches

Beachhuts

Hikkaduwa beach, Southern Coast.

Sri Lanka boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. With miles of golden sandy beaches lined with palm trees leaning towards the sun it is a paradise as you could never imagine. From lively beaches of the southern coast to the surfers’ haven of the east coast and the tranquility of the north, beaches are the island’s greatest allure.

2. Dutch Colonial Architecture

Galle

“Ceylon” as Sri Lanka was previously known was part of the Dutch governorate between 1640 – 1796. The Dutch East India Company established itself on the island and as such Dutch colonial buildings stand to this day. They are scattered all around the island. From the old Dutch Hospital in Colombo to the Groote Kerk Church (pictured) in Galle many of the buildings are still in use and visiting is free.

3. Mangoosteen

mangooseteen

Mangoosteen is one of the quirky fruits that grow in Sri Lanka. They grow in season between May – September. The fruit is opened by squeezing it between the palms of your hands. The soft white segmented pulp is sweet and juicy. It can get a little messy but they’re worth it!

4. King Coconut

thambili

Locally known as ”Thambili” (meaning “orange” – a reference to its colour), King Coconuts are native  to Sri Lanka. They are widely available on make shift tables on the road sides as in any restaurant. The fruit is traditionally opened at the top in two strokes with a knife. Once you’ve drunk the water, it is cut in half and a slice of its husk cut off to use as a spoon. What’s inside is the best bit – the translucent white flesh. Slurp up every bit of it’s jelly sweetness.

5. Seafood

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Seafood in Sri Lanka never travels far. It is usually sea to plate within a couple of hours or less. Crab in particular tends to be a popular choice. Ask for a moronga crab curry –  generally eaten with bread, kick ass spicy and delicious!

6. Hoppers

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Hop to it!

Eaten for breakfast or dinner (never for lunch) hoppers are the answer to your taste buds’ prayers. Made of fermented batter hoppers maybe sweet or savoury. Savoury hoppers are served with curries at dinner. They are light, crispy and inexpensive. Don’t leave without trying them.

7. Temples

temple
Gangarama Temple, Colombo.

From cave temples in Dambulla to a temple on a mountain top at Adam’s peak, Sri Lanka doesn’t disappoint. Every village you encounter is likely to have a worshipping temple attached to it. From Hindu temples in the predominantly Tamil speaking north and east to Buddhist temples around the rest of the island they are incredible examples of what faith moves people to do.

8. Elephants

elephants

It is estimated that the island has the highest density of elephants in Asia. So it would be impossible to leave without encountering an elephant or two. However, the species is listed as endangered. So avoid any experience which encourages rides or getting too close to them in captivity. Visit one of the 5 national parks instead – Udawalawe, Yala, Lunugamvehera, Wilpattu and Minneriya. You will never regret seeing them in their natural habitat.

9. Train journeys

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Train journeys in Sri Lanka are safe and remarkably hassle free. The Kandy – Ella – Badulla route is impossibly scenic and also the most popular amongst travellers. However, the recently restored Yal Devi (Queen of Jaffna) which connects the commercial capital Colombo to the northern city in Jaffna promises to be spectacular. Get it on your bucket list.

10. Scenery

scenery

No road trip in Sri Lanka is complete without more than a few toilet stops. Travelling by road is often time consuming and hazardous. Many roads on the island have remained undeveloped. However, for me at least, this means it has retained a wonderfully authentic and romantic charm which becomes evident once you leave  the city. Stop by little tea houses for snacks.. Tea houses tend to be set in some of the most rural yet scenic spots along the roads. You will have the chance to sip your black tea served with ginger while you take in a spectacular view.

11. UNESCO World Heritage Sites

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Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

With no fewer than eight Unesco World Heritage sites (Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Golden Temple Dambulla, Galle, Anuradhapura, Kandy, Sinharaja Forest, Central Highlands) in a land of just 65, 610 Sqkm, Sri Lanka is a culture vulture’s dream. Climb Sigirya rock for breathtaking views of the jungle below or attend a ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. You’re simply spoilt for choice.

12. Sunsets

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Sunset – Mount Lavinia

New Year’s Eve 2012, Kayts, Jaffna, Sri Lanka; the most memorable sunset I have ever experienced. Sat on the side of a dirt road overlooking a paddy field I watched the sun dip against a crimson sky. A purple haze enveloped and immersed everything it touched, including me. The most remarkable feeling however, was knowing that the sun had set over this paddy field every day just as colourful, just as bright and just as magnificent during  Sri Lanka’s 30 year civil war when no one noticed it.

So now as the island enjoys a time of peace and prosperity it’s a great time to visit and enjoy all that it offers.

12 Reasons to Visit Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is currently one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. It is not possible to curate merely a few reasons to visit the island. For a small island with magnificent beaches, all year round tropical climate, wildlife, heritage and incredible food the challenge was listing just 10 reasons. So here are 12 reasons to visit the island.

  1. Beaches

Beachhuts

Hikkaduwa beach, Southern Coast.

Sri Lanka boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. With miles of golden sandy beaches lined with palm trees leaning towards the sun it is a paradise as you could never imagine. From lively beaches of the southern coast to the surfers’ haven of the east coast and the tranquility of the north, beaches are the island’s greatest allure.

2. Dutch Colonial Architecture

Galle

“Ceylon” as Sri Lanka was previously known was part of the Dutch governorate between 1640 – 1796. The Dutch East India Company established itself on the island and as such Dutch colonial buildings stand to this day. They are scattered all around the island. From the old Dutch Hospital in Colombo to the Groote Kerk Church (pictured) in Galle many of the buildings are still in use and visiting is free.

3. Mangoosteen

mangooseteen

Mangoosteen is one of the quirky fruits that grow in Sri Lanka. They grow in season between May – September. The fruit is opened by squeezing it between the palms of your hands. The soft white segmented pulp is sweet and juicy. It can get a little messy but they’re worth it!

4. King Coconut

thambili

Locally known as ”Thambili” (meaning “orange” – a reference to its colour), King Coconuts are native  to Sri Lanka. They are widely available on make shift tables on the road sides as in any restaurant. The fruit is traditionally opened at the top in two strokes with a knife. Once you’ve drunk the water, it is cut in half and a slice of its husk cut off to use as a spoon. What’s inside is the best bit – the translucent white flesh. Slurp up every bit of it’s jelly sweetness.

5. Seafood

IMG_1625

Seafood in Sri Lanka never travels far. It is usually sea to plate within a couple of hours or less. Crab in particular tends to be a popular choice. Ask for a moronga crab curry –  generally eaten with bread, kick ass spicy and delicious!

6. Hoppers

Processed with VSCO with a7 preset
Hop to it!

Eaten for breakfast or dinner (never for lunch) hoppers are the answer to your taste buds’ prayers. Made of fermented batter hoppers maybe sweet or savoury. Savoury hoppers are served with curries at dinner. They are light, crispy and inexpensive. Don’t leave without trying them.

7. Temples

 

temple
Gangarama Temple, Colombo.

From cave temples in Dambulla to a temple on a mountain top at Adam’s peak, Sri Lanka doesn’t disappoint. Every village you encounter is likely to have a worshipping temple attached to it. From Hindu temples in the predominantly Tamil speaking north and east to Buddhist temples around the rest of the island they are incredible examples of what faith moves people to do.

8. Elephants

elephants

It is estimated that the island has the highest density of elephants in Asia. So it would be impossible to leave without encountering an elephant or two. However, the species is listed as endangered. So avoid any experience which encourages rides or getting too close to them in captivity. Visit one of the 5 national parks instead – Udawalawe, Yala, Lunugamvehera, Wilpattu and Minneriya. You will never regret seeing them in their natural habitat.

9. Train journeys

cropped-img_2324.jpg

Train journeys in Sri Lanka are safe and remarkably hassle free. The Kandy – Ella – Badulla route is impossibly scenic and also the most popular amongst travellers. However, the recently restored Yal Devi (Queen of Jaffna) which connects the commercial capital Colombo to the northern city in Jaffna promises to be spectacular. Get it on your bucket list.

10. Scenery

scenery

No road trip in Sri Lanka is complete without more than a few toilet stops. Travelling by road is often time consuming and hazardous. Many roads on the island have remained undeveloped. However, for me at least, this means it has retained a wonderfully authentic and romantic charm which becomes evident once you leave  the city. Stop by little tea houses for snacks.. Tea houses tend to be set in some of the most rural yet scenic spots along the roads. You will have the chance to sip your black tea served with ginger while you take in a spectacular view.

11. UNESCO World Heritage Sites

 

IMG_2371.JPG
Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

With no fewer than EIGHT Unesco World Heritage sites (Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Golden Temple Dambulla, Galle, Anuradhapura, Kandy, Sinharaja Forest, Central Highlands) in a land of just 65, 610 Sqkm, Sri Lanka is a culture vulture’s dream. Climb Sigirya rock for breathtaking views of the jungle below or attend a ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. You’re simply spoilt for choice.

12. Sunsets

 

sunset
Sunset – Mount Lavinia

New Year’s Eve 2012, Kayts, Jaffna, Sri Lanka – the most memorable sunset I have ever experienced. Sat on the side of a dirt road overlooking a paddy field I watched the sun dip against a crimson sky. A purple haze enveloped and immersed everything it touched, including me. The most remarkable feeling however, was knowing that the sun had set over this paddy field every day – just as colourful, just as bright and just as magnificent during  Sri Lanka’s 30 year civil war when no one noticed it.

So now as the island enjoys a time of peace and prosperity it’s a great time to visit and enjoy all that it offers.