Destination Guide: Sestriere, Italy

As you’ll know from my snowy outfit pictures yesterday, last week I was in Sestriere, one of the Italian resorts that make up the Milky Way (or Via Lattea) ski area. I’m always on the look out for a good ski area so I thought I’d share and hopefully you guys can tell me your favourites, although I think I’d be hard pushed not to return to this one someday!

I’ve skied twice in France (Les Arcs) and more recently twice in St Anton, (Austria) better known as St Lash-ton for the apres ski, which I didn’t really take much note of until contrasted with Sestriere. Sestriere is definitely a much quieter resort but the slopes were nothing short of fabulous.

From the top: The pistes down into resort, quiet runs in Sansicario and looking back down onto Sestriere.

Both Pete and I could not believe how quiet the pistes were. Of course it helped that the snow was great, but there were times when you could be literally the only two people on a particular part of the slope. The runs are super wide and over all, I’d say the grading of the runs was on the generous side. It’s a great resort for intermediates and has plenty of off piste to challenge more advanced skiers.

My Ski instructor, Davide, our boozy lunch with Pete’s instructor too, and the view from our hotel balcony.

For the first time in years I went back to ski school. I’ve only ever had 3 mornings of lessons after a rather traumatic experience of being left behind by my instructor on my first ever trip! Thereafter, it was Pete’s job and as a result, although I can tackle the majority of slopes, it wasn’t with any great finesse or elegance! I have to say, the instructors were a world away from any others I’ve met, being very relaxed and super friendly, despite my inability to lean forwards! Pete was ridiculously lucky and was the only advanced boarder in the ski-school, so basically got his own guide for the week and spent the whole time off piste in the expert hands of Andreas. We also had one day where they charged an extra 15 euros and spent the whole day with the group taking us to a mountain restaurant for lunch, even liaising between themselves so Pete could join us!

Ah, the food! My reason for wanting to try Italy was the food, I love ski-ing, I love Italian food, and as that’s usually the main gripe in ski resorts I figured we couldn’t go wrong. Our hotel was half board so we ate a four course meal of anti-pasti, pasta, then meat or fish followed by dessert EVERY evening. The absolute highlight though? The Chocolatta – Italian hot chocolate that resembles more of a pudding it’s sooooo thick and gorgeous. I had far too many, but you only live once, right?

My only complaint about Sestriere would be the Apres Ski – it was really unusual in that there wasn’t a stream of people off the slopes at 4 hitting the bars. However, we found that if we went back to the hotel and showered first, then went out, the bars were busier, perhaps to do with the later start to the evening in general in Italy. Once we found the right places (the Napapijri cafe and Pinkys,) we stuffed our faces a little bit more with all the delicious bar snacks they put out during the happy hour. Nom Nom Nom.

We stayed at the Hotel Biancaneve, a clean but basic hotel with rather too much yellow paint in the interior for my liking. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for style or atmosphere but we ended up meeting some great people and you wouldn’t go hungry. The best local hotel is reportedly the Cristallo, directly overlooking the piste, but I also heard good things about the Du Col. We chose a bargain deal with Neilson (who were great when it came to arranging trips etc) as we plan to take more holidays than usual this year, fingers crossed and figured you spent a limited amount of time in the room on a ski holiday if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be 😉 which was certainly true.

Top right: The olympic downhill ladies run (you could also ski the downhill mens) and me before tackling it, and a view over ‘the bowl’ in Montgnevre, France.

Ski-area wise, Sestriere hosted the Winter Olympics in 2006 producing a purpose built resort, originally created for the Fiat employees in the 1930’s. On your lift pass you can access Sauze D’Oulz, Sansicario, Cesana, Claviere and you get one day on the pass in which you can go to Montgenevre in France, just across the border. We skied all of them apart from Claviere and went on a ‘ski-away day’ on the bus to Montgenevre, as although you can ski there, there’s a lot of wasted ski time on gondolas etc and we wanted to enjoy ‘the bowl’ – a massive area of runs with great vistas.

Over all? I would definitely go back. The ski-ing couldn’t be faulted for the wide empty pistes and we were blessed with great snow and off piste conditions too. Apres ski-wise was a little quiet but when we made friends it was anything but, and the food was immense!

Have you skied in Italy and what was you experience of it? Or have you got any other great resorts to recommend?

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Florence’s Book Club: The Help and Sacred Hearts

This afternoon it’s Florence’s book club and a huge thank you goes to Anna for stepping into the breach with her fabulous review. (Yes, Anna of the Edwardian kitchen make-over – this girl’s multi-talented!)

It’s over to Anna before we introduce our next book – Sacred Hearts below.

I picked up The Help at the airport as my holiday read eighteen months ago. I’d not yet come across the hype that now surrounds this book and the film that followed it, so had very little in the way of expectation.

I think I read it in a day. It may or may not have been the first day of my holiday. From the very start I was totally hooked.
As you are transported to 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, you know what you are reading holds more than a hint of truth, yet you just don’t want to believe it. The unjust treatment of the black maids is hard to stomach, however the compassion they show for each other is humbling. There is a huge depth to each of the main characters. It is impossible not to completely warm to Aibileen; to want to see Miss Hilly get her comeuppance and to stand at the sidelines cheering Skeeter on.

As the stories unfold, it becomes clear that the race divide is not the only pressing theme in the lives of the women we meet. Embedded within their community are more important relationships that transcend the colour of their skin.

The most apparent is that which develops between Aibileen, Minny and Skeeter. Skeeter must work hard to win the trust of the two women, but once she has it, they are willing to risk their lives in the belief that she will make the world a safer and fairer place for them and their daughters. Does this say more about the injustice of the Deep South at this time, or the bond of friendship that can be built in the most unlikely places?

I’ve painted the story as a serious one which focuses on the plight of marginalised women 50 years ago. This it is. But at the same time, it is a truly heart-warming tale with some real ‘laugh out loud’ humour in it. Never more so than whenever someone pulls a fast one on Miss Hilly. We have all known a Miss Hilly, the do-gooder who deep down, and for whatever reason, is really not very nice. She holds dear to her heart the belief that black people are inferior. (and she is not alone in this belief)

She symbolises all that is wrong with this society in the author’s eyes. She is portrayed as a bastion of negativity, and not just from the point of view of the maids. Likewise her refusal to welcome Miss Celia into the community shows her as small minded and snobbish. It is difficult to warm to her at all, but should we have more sympathy for such a character? After all, she is doing nothing more than acting on the beliefs instilled in her by the society in which she has been brought up?

There are so many themes running through this novel. The history of black maids in the Deep South; the prejudices faced by them on a daily basis; the expectations of white women to marry and have children, and to forego any kind of career. For me, the biggest theme was change. Change for the better that can be brought about by people, in this case women, working together for a common cause.

A powerful, funny and inspiring read.

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant (recommended by Jo Norman)

I think this would seem to be a perfect book for Florence Finds as it is essentially a love story but is also about the strength of love between women obliged to live together. Set in 1570 in an Italian convent it is the story of the young Seraphina sent to the convent under duress and Zuana who has been in the convent for a number of years intermingled with the stories and politics of cloistered life.

It is a story of a forbidden love, loss of loved ones, the machinations of convent life and repressed passion. Don’t be put off by the religious nature of this book as it certainly doesn’t preach, it just gives you an insight of 1570s life in Italy without feeling like a history lesson. This book does require a little bit of perseverance at the beginning but by the end you won’t be able to turn the pages quick enough.

(Here are some ‘reading notes’ to consider if you want to:)

  • Did you like it?
  • Did it take you a while to really get into it?
  • If you were a woman with few options, would you prefer to go into a convent or to be married off to someone you had no knowlege of?
  • Do you think convents are/were subject to political wrangling?
  • Did you like the ending?
  • Did you think Zuana should have kept the secret?
  • Did you feel sorry for the Abbess?
  • Did you get much sense that it was set in 1570 or was it timeless?
  • Was it a shame that Zuana was there – would she have been happier “outside”?

Will you be joining in with this read along and have you read The Help? I’m really enjoying my copy so I’d love to hear what you all think?

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Giveaway: Mr & Mrs Smith Italy Guide

Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of the latest Italy travel guide from Mr and Mrs Smith. I’m a big fan of their concierge standard service and luxe edit of boutique boltholes, ranging from budget to blow-it prices.

I’m an even bigger fan of Italy and hope to visit later this year for one of our holidays (NY resolution #1: Travel more) so it made for enjoyable browsing.

The book however was another thing all together. In signature witty style and a touch of subversive naughtiness The Guide takes you through all the top destinations in Italy, of course also recommending a selection of Mr and Mrs Smith getaways for you to choose from at each stop on your travels.

The crowning glory however is the stunning photography featured throughout the book. I defy you not to want to book a get-away immediately after even the most cursory flick through its pages. Just leafing through made me desperate to get started on my travel plans and due to its size and weight it also makes a beautiful coffee table tome- the perfect reference point before you book or reminder of a special trip.


From Top: Villa Arcadio (Lake Garda) Ca Maria Adele (Venice) and Bellevue Syrene (Amalfi Coast).

And the best bit? Mr and Mrs Smith have kindly provided one of the new Italy Guides for one of you lucky things to win. And I’m not going to make you work too hard for it either…

Here’s what you have to do:
1. Head on over to Florence’s Facebook page and ‘like’ us (if you don’t already) to be eligible to enter.
2. Click through to Mr and Mrs Smith and leave a comment below telling us where your dream destination is in Italy.

The competition will be open until Sunday evening at midnight so get entering and if you’re not lucky enough to win you can purchase one here, they make a fabulous gift.

Buona Fortuna!

Love,
Rebecca
xo

Amendment! I’ve been reliably informed this morning by Mr and Mrs Smith themselves that Blacksmith membership is now free to everyone, which means you can all get the exclusive extras that Mr and Mrs Smith bookings come with. Great news!

L’italiano guida regalo di Natale – Florence’s gift guide #6

Ciao Bellas! Gemma here, with a little bit of Christmas chat inspired by my love of travel.

Ever since I visited Italy for the first time at 15, I’ve wanted to go back there for Christmas. I feel like the yuletide season in Italy would be like Christmas to the power of 3 – I mean, even the Italian flag is in Christmas colours! I’d love to go to a Christmas service in one of the beautiful ancient churches for hymns and carols sung in Italian and mass in Latin. To gorge myself on Italian Christmas delicacies like il torrone (Italian nougat) and Panettone, (Italian Christmas fruitcake, baked in a tall mould with light buttery dough and filled with candied fruit, raisins, ginger, honey, almonds and hazelnuts) and to wander the winding, snow-covered streets cradling a caffe corretto (that’s coffee ‘corrected’ with a shot of cognac or another spirit 😉 hand in hand with a handsome man.
However. This year the handsome man and I are staying at home for Christmas in our new rental flat in London, so instead, I’ve come up with an Italian-inspired gift guide which hopefully includes something for everyone.

First up, for the tree (considering we had the Christmas tree up in our house before we had plates or cutlery it’s safe to say I prioritise ‘decking my halls’!) this stunning decoration from Versace. I know that the price of it is a little bit ridiculous, but that’s what makes it so fabulous and it would definitely become a family heirloom.

Cibi e Bevande (Food and Drink)

  • Toast the season with a traditionally Italian tipple – Prosecco. And if you’re after a gift for a wine buff, you could give them a bottle with some Riedel Prosecco glasses (I know Riedel is Austrian but they went to a LOT of trouble working with Italian Prosecco makers to design this glass which directs the drink to the right part of your palate so that it maximizes the sweetness and fullness of the wine while minimising bitterness… it would be scrooge-ish of me not to include them, no?) Panettone: this amazing cake, which is similar to brioche in texture, can be eaten on its own, smothered with nutella (what? It’s an example..) or used in any recipes that call for bread – once you’ve tried bread and butter pudding made with this you’ll never go back.
  • Italian coffee: this is self explanatory. I’m name-checking Lavazza here. They’ve been making the stuff since 1895, and am I the only one who loves the styling of their ads? Giving a pack of ‘posh coffee’ along with a stove-top Espresso maker like this beauty from Bialetti can be a truly life-changing present for people who’ve only ever had instant at home before.
  • Italian food cookbook – The Italian Diet, Gino Di Campo. For anyone who thinks Italian cooking is; a, too easy, b, too fatty and carby, or c, boring, this is the book. Lots of fresh ideas that are healthy, and lots of unusual dishes that go past the basics like lasagne. I picked up a friend’s copy and went to write a few dishes down, then I realised I liked the sound of so many I might as well get the book.

Per la casa (for the home)

  • Alessi Stovetop kettle: I have wanted one of these for a vairrrrrry long time, but as I’ve just bought an enamelled grey whistling kettle that was more ‘in-budget’ please let me know if any of you are getting this for Christmas or indeed already own one. I like the pale blue/burgundy colour combo best, and yes I’d like to see home photos.
  • MOR Italian Blood Orange candle
  • Venetian mirror – in my quest to make our rental flat homey and livable (at the moment it’s homely and laughable) I am after a statement mirror. I have bored many people, including Rebecca, with mirror-chat. So to shut me up, someone please direct my long-suffering husband to this Laura Ashley Valencia mirror.
  • Murano glass paperweight – yes, a paperweight, potentially the world’s most-given, least-thought-about gift. Except that if someone gave me this I would so totally put it on my desk, stat. (Well, if they gave me a desk to go with it)

Divertimento (entertainment)

  • Ok, so her mother is Icelandic but she obviously gets her name from her Italian father, and if you’ve never heard Emiliana Torrini you might want to keep one of her albums for yourself. My fav of her tracks? Jungle Drums, Heartstopper and her exquisite cover of Tom Wait’s I hope that I don’t fall in love with you. This Rarities
    vinyl is also frameable.
  • In my Christmas day schedule I’ve set aside time for film watching in my pjs. First up is Life is Beautiful, (which is not to be confused with A Beautiful Life) an Italian film that will make you laugh and cry, and then I’ll be sighing over polka dot dresses with La Dolce Vita.
  • Having learnt to speak Spanish in the last year and wishing with all my might that I’d payed attention to Italian lessons at school, I think the Rosetto Stone Italian lesson program is a fab gift. Rosetta Stone really works, too.

Vestiti (clothes)

  • Oh, Italian fashion, how I love thee. Maxmara reversible cape? I’m talking to you. Oh, hello there Missoni sweater – I do agree you’d be trans-seasonal and therefore a justifiable expense and Miu Miu calf leather boots and coat, why, it’d be a crime to buy one of you without the other. Sigh.
  • However, back here in the real world, I do like the look of this Italian Silk scarf for men which is very, um, stealable borrowable… I mean, only when he’s not wearing it…

I’d love to hear from anyone who has spent a Christmas in Italy – what have I missed? Do you have a dream Christmas destination?

Gemma x

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