Lagacio Mountain Resort – San cassiano in Badia

What a trip ! After a couple of days spent in Verona ( a post on that city will soon follow ), we headed 200 km North to the Dolomites region. In san cassiano in badia to be precise. The first excellent surprise was the hotel we picked up called Lagacio Mountain resort, recently opened in December 2009. They indeed do not offer rooms as a typical hotel but apartments. The smallest being 42sqm. We opted for the 47sqm one. Room 602 exactly. 

Bar at Lagacio
View from room 602 terrace
Their website is perfectly designed and really does reflect accurately the spirit and the architecture of the place. What i can add after 6 days spent there is that the staff is extremely well prepared and very friendly. Always with an “anything is possible” approach. The apartments do mix modernity and Alpine standards perfectly. The breakfast is amazing, serving exclusively products from the BIO farms around. The spa and massages ( from Evelyne ) are also of very high standard and affordable ( 65€ an hour ). Within the resort you will find a top end bike shop and rental, which turns into ski/snowboard from November onwards. This is very convenient and quite cheap actually. We’ve paid 23€ for the entire day for an excellent mountain bike + safety equipment.
1 hour walk up in the mountain from San Cassiano
Lagacio is situated at the very heart of the beautiful village of San Cassiano. And is a great base for hiking, cycling or riding your car or bike. However you will decide to move yourself, you will be amazed by the majesty of the Alta Badia and Dolomites region. All in all a place and destination that we cannot recommend enough to escape the brutality of our world sometimes.
Just breath the fresh air and relax. 

Bruges, the city of tastes !

We’re just back from a long weekend in Bruges, Belgium. The best way to reach this UNESCO protected town is with no doubt by train. From Paris it took us around 2H30 mn and you can easily book your tickets on SNCB network. I will not here detail how beautiful and charming bruges is. You will find that on so many other blogs or websites. But it is indeed very true and a stop there when visiting Europe is a must.

You will find dozens of boutique hotels, luxury ones or bead & breakfast. We did stay at Bedandbruges , a lovely B&B ran by Louise and Francis Hardy. Should you go there, stay in “La tour” which is a medieval tower completely restored in 2009. You will enjoy the entire place for you ( 2 people ) at a bargain of 95 € per night breakfast included. The owners do also offer to swap their personal home and that could be an option for large families and a week stay.

"La tour" at Bedandbruges

Peaceful Bruges

This B&B is situated slightly off the touristic heart of the city and you will need a 10mn walk to join the most visited monuments. Which for us was a plus as we could stay out of the crowd. Another possibility is to rent a bike at around 10€/day as this is the perfect way to discover the city and its surroundings. We would even suggest you to bike along the canal from Bruges to Damme ( 7km away, a lovely medieval village ) and then to Sluis ( Holland, 18km from bruges ). You will need around 3H back and forth. We’d suggest to stop for lunch at Damme which offer various excellent options. We personally ate at “Restaurant ZuidKant” whom the chef has been working quite some time with the famous Thierry Marx chef in Cordeillan-bages.

ZuidKant terrace
Langoustines marinées, crème d'avocat et fines herbes
Cappuccino et ravioli de Homard, parmesan et huile de basilic

One of the best and most creative cuisine we’ve experienced lately. By far above most of the 1 or 2 star michelin restaurants we were lucky to taste in France those past years. Count on 50€/person with 1 glass of wine. Another option when in Damme is to eat at “De Bonheur” which has been indicated to us by several locals. The next day we went to have lunch at the Refter which is ran by the son of the nextdoor 3 star michelin “De Karmeliet”. Should you have the choice, eat in the patio. We ate twice there for around 40€/person. Excellent products in general, succulent fish. I personally recommend the fish soup which beats easily many of the ones i could taste in sunny southern France.

La carte, Refter Bistro
Soupe de poisson et sa rouille
Velouté d'asperges, crème de brocolis
The kitchen , Refter Bistro

We also had excellent dinner at Rock Fort ( likely to be rated soon 1 star michelin ). Really amazing quality and very good and affordable wine list. But quite disappointed by the atmosphere ( we were at the bar, not in the main dining area ) and more problematic by the time we had to wait between each plate ( around 30mn ).

All in all we spent a wonderful time and discovered new flavors and tastes, met passionate and friendly people. Without a doubt, the belgian gastronomy is about to play a major role and taking over its French neighbour ( if not already the case ).

Some other places where to SLEEP : B&B Côté canal and B&B number 11

Enjoy bruges !

Hotel Ravesi – Malfa – Eolian islands

We’ve seen many places in Southern Europe the past years. But this one is likely to be our best discovery so far. The Eolian islands are located North-East of Sicily. Approximately 2 hours cruise from Milazzo harbour. The archipel is composed of 7 islands. All being wether former volcanos or still very active ones. The most famous being Stromboli.

We opted for Salina island. The pictures will tell more then hundred words. But here is a non exhaustive list of adjectives i would use to describe it : suprising, impressive, wild, generous, authentic, beautiful, unknown, preserved, different.

We ended in a boutique hotel named “Ravesi” in Malfa, a small village in the Northern Part of Salina. Also one of our best stay so far. The owner, Carolina, will welcome you very warmly. She is also personally cooking both breakfast and lunch. Do not expect any gastronomy there ! But we promiss you will eat fresh, simple and enjoy ! At the reception desk is Giuliana. She is absolutely perfect and will make sure your experience in Ravesi remains unforgetable.

Book in advance as Ravesi does only propose few rooms. The one we had and the others we’ve seen are very nice. Recently remodeled with simple furniture. Most have sea view. From the terrace you will enjoy clear view on the islands of Panarea and Stromboli.

How to get there : by speed ferry’s from Milazzo harbour. Ustica line is one of the company’s which will bring you there in around 2H for 17€/person.

Where to eat : by far the best restaurant is Portobello which is located in Santa Maria, the main island’s harbour. 7KM’s away from Malfa. The fish and sea food are simply amazing as they all come from around the island. Rather expensive at around 50€ per person. But worth especially at night on the terrace. Some other options in Malfa but nothing that spectacular worth more lines. Ah yes ! Avoid the restaurant of the hotel Signum which is clearly over rated and clearly targeting the few VIP’s visiting the island.

We do have many other tips for you on what to do and see when in Salina. Just email us and we will help the best we can.

Enjoy the Eolian islands !

Villa Carlotta – Boutique Hotel in Taormina

We’ve picked up this hotel after having read many good reviews about it. After 5 nights spent there in various rooms we can confirm this is likely to be the best choice. Let me give you a couple of good reasons  :

  • the location is just perfect : 5mn walk up to the historical part of Taormina, 15mn down to Isola Bella beach ( worth out of peak season ).
  • the staff is very friendly and helpful. A special mention to Tea from the reception desk and Maria who works at the roof terrace restaurant.
  • the rooms have been redesigned 2 years ago. They are quite large and with very good taste. Do not spend your money in  a Junior suite. Better book a deluxe room with clear sea view. The 202 and 204 are just very nice. You’ll pay around 200 to 270€ per night breakfast & taxes included.
  • the roof top terrace is spectacular with amazing view on the sea and the Etna
  • the breakfast is homemade 100% and offers a very wide range. Excellent products.
  • We’ve had dinner twice at the hotel and were very happy with local specialties of the day. Cheap.
All details can be found on their website
A post is following soon with restaurant recommendation.

A real boutique hotel in Saint Germain des près

We did discover the hotel “Saint Vincent” close to where we live last year as we were looking for rooms where our wedding guests could stay. The hotel is situated in the very heart of Saint Germain des prés while being on a very charming and quiet road. Which is not that common in that district. So do not fear to book a room on the street side. The rooms are very well decorated and you will be able to enjoy in most of them very high ceiling, except on the 3rd floor which is just below the roof. Those latter will indeed offer you a small balcony. One main advice : book a couple of months in advance whatever the period. ( Small capacity + High demand ) * great location = Fully booked. 

They increased pricing last year but at 220/250€, this is an excellent choice you will not regret. Next door you will find their sister hotel “Saint thomas d’Aquin” which is also a very good choice for around 150€ ( on promotion at 129€ for this summer ).

I will dedicate my next post to eating out in Saint Germain des près. So stay tuned and enjoy that magical place for those visiting Paris soon.

Week end in Colonia del Sacramento – Uruguay

Last week end my wife invited me for a journey in Colonia del sacramento, just on the other side of the Rio de la plata when in Buenos Aires. Best to go there is by express boat from Buquebus whom terminal in Buenos Aires is located in Puerto Madero’s harbour. After no more then 45mn to an hour of cruise you will reach this small colonial town which was registered in 1995 by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Colonia was discovered and settled by the Portuguese in 1680 before to be disputed by the Spanish. During more then a century it kept changing hands through terrible battles and treaties between the Portuguese and the Spanish. It even belonged to Brazil twice as was the North of uruguay. 
When in Colonia, there is not much to do but spending your time walking through the preserved old town ( better known as “el casco historico” ). We found it so beautiful that we could hardly stop taking pictures during those 2 days.

The visit of Colonia is proposed now by many tour operators when in BA. And many “portenos” are spending their weekend there during the spring and summer time. Go there during the week if at all possible. Be aware that many of Colonia’s old town restaurants are tourist traps and will serve very average quality and charge a premium price. 

Here is our recommendation depending on your mood and the time of the day so that you can be sure of what lands in your plate and actually discover new flavors and tastes : 
  1. “El drugstore” for lunch to enjoy an excellent “Chivito“. Uruguay national sandwich. Together with a Pilsen beer. Uruguay national sandwich. Budget 15USD per head. 
  2. “Lentas maravillas” in the afternoon. Colonia’s best kept secret. Santa rita 61. Excellent tea collection, home made pastries, great garden and delicious argentinian owner maggie. 10 USD.
  3. “La bodeguita” at night where you will find excellent home made and fresh pasta. Very good pizza as well as delicious “postres”. More importantly it offers a sea side terrace. Perfect for sunset. 15USD.
Colonia is absolutely worth a day or 2 during your trip to Uruguay or Argentina. Leave your blackberries and iPhone home, and just accept to switch off your mind. 
Hasta pronto mi querida Colonia !

Bienvenido a José Ignacio, Uruguay

Our Argentinian adventure indeed started with 10 days spent in Uruguay ! To be precise in José Ignacio, a former fishing village now turned into one of the top places in South America. From Buenos Aires you have several options to travel there. You can wether take the boat, cross the « Rio de la Plata » and reach the harbors of Colonia de Sacramento ( 1H cruise , very nice colonial city ) or Montevideo ( 3H ). Book your tickets at buquebus .

Then you can rent a car in both places and drive north to José Ignacio ( count 3H from Colonia or 1H30 from Montevideo ). Be aware that car rentals are not cheap at all in Uruguay and very comparable or more expensive then what you’d experience in Europe or in the US.
The second option, and by far the best for short stays, is to fly from BA to Punta del Este. Then your hotel can arrange your transfer to José Ignacio ( 40mn / 70 USD ). Several airlines do fly to « Punta » from the BA city airport. Our recommendation is to go for PLUNA . Count on average 200 USD for round trip. Be aware Pluna will charge you with 20 USD per luggage ( 10 USD should you check in online ) and you will have to pay the aiport tax when returning from Uruguay which amounts to 31USD.
Punta del Este area, and in particular José Ignacio, are not cheap places where to stay during the December – January summer peak season. Our recommendation is to travel there in March. You will enjoy fantastic weather, hot water, empty beaches and much more affordable pricing.
That was to cover the practical part about « how to get there ». As this is done, let me tell you one thing : Uruguay is a fantastic place to discover. Very friendly and service oriented people, much preserved sea and country sides, excellent food and more to discover in the upcoming posts.
We had a great time. Hope you will too Reading our story. Enjoy !

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