On the way to the airport on our last day in Peru, we stopped off at a cooperative weaving textiles from Alpacas raised and reared at the same place. Called Awana Kancha, it sits in a village within the Sacred Valley. It was great to see how natural dyes are made and how they're used to colour the yarns. Here are a few images from the stop off.
Southern France is best known for it's rolling granite mountains, bountiful farms, underground caves, plenty of heritage and let's not forget chestnuts and vineyards. Our destination was The Gard and Ardeche, covering Drome, Gard, Ardeche, Vaucluse Provence, Vallee du Rhone and Cotes du Rhone wine. This autumn, I took the 'slow' travel route with a group of friends, starting with an early morning Eurostar from Ashford International. Within a few hours, we arrived in Lyon and then a further 30 minute train to Valence, picking up a car rental and driving to our first destination, the small village of Uzer. Thanks to a dodgy navigation system, we took an unexpected detour through the perched village of Montreal, a beautiful village synonymous with this particular area with tiny roads and typically French houses. Continuing to the top of the hill to turn around, we stopped to witness grand views over 36 villages. Sometimes its worth getting lost. Avoid the hordes in Summer, the best time to visit is May or October and you'll fall in love. Here's my pick of things to do once you're there.
1. Stay in a 12th Century Castle
Chateau d'Uzer is a 12th century castle with a rich history, now owned by the throughly French Veronique and Eric. Over the last 5 years, they've turned it into a hidden gem of a guesthouse. Five intricately designed guest rooms, each one different to the other, show a couple with a talent for interior design and exceptional taste. The garden room, one of the many wonderful features, was added in 1925. Jutting out the first floor of the house, it has quirky design quips and is a restful place to enjoy a pre-dinner drink. There are no TV's and deliberately the only place to receive internet are in the main communal areas. For 35 euros, Veronique will rustle up a delicious 3 course dinner (with cheese) and local wine. As much produce as possible comes from their organic garden. What's more, there's an outdoor pool with ample room for decent length swimming and room for sunbathing in the summer months. Eric took great pride in showing us the cinema room they'd built too. The couple are involved in the local art scene and regularly change the paintings in the hotel plus they host cultural evenings. It's a brilliant price starting at 150 euros per night and worth coming to this little town just to spend the night here.
2. Uzes markets and a horse and cart ride through vineyards
I fell in love with Uzes, it's gorgeous cobbled streets full of quaint shops offering local arts, crafts, fashions and intricate patisseries. There's a fabulous market at the Place aux Herbes where local artisan producers sell honeycomb, olive oil, goats cheese, fruit, vegetables, flowers, fresh meat and even fresh fish (one stall has fish still swimming which is then killed straight out of the tank!). I came back laden with honeycomb, olive oil, dried girolles and goats cheese ready for my Friday night dinner guest back home. One of the best things to do here is explore the local area by taking a horse and cart. Emmanuelle Pedeneau was our competent horse wrangler, taking us on an autumnal jaunt through vineyards and farms. Wine harvest was early in France this year due to lack of rainfall but it was glorious to see the bright russets and coppers of the vineyards. The cart ride took us out to AOC Duche d'Uzes and the vineyard of Domaine Les Lys, where they're confident that 2017 will be a good year for their crop. Over a delicious gastronomic lunch on their covered terrace (including a hazlenut macaroon dusted with the finest copper sprinkle, a mini lime meringue tart and a Paris Brest which deserves a mention), I tried a delicious slightly oaked Chardonnay, a 100% Syrah blend that was like drinking a soft alcoholic berry juice and a 100% Grenache. Suitably full, slightly tipsy and tired from the heat of the midday sun we jumped back in the carriage back to the farm. We all left Uzes wanting to come back for the quaint peacefulness and authentic French vibe.
One night in Uzes isn't enough, but it's perfect for a long weekend. Book into the l'hotel Entraigues which is a great little base at an affordable price. It has a cute swimming pool (accessible from room 104 in case you want to take a dip straight out of your room) and a small but effective roof terrace with views out to the cathedral opposite. If you love buying food at markets, remember to bring zip lock bags to stop the pong of goats cheese stinking the train carriage out on the way home.
3. Go Caving...with a twist
The drive across the gorges of Ardeche is stunning and amongst some of the best road journeys I've taken for views alone. Knowing there are also over 2000 caves under these gorges is quite humbling. If you'd have told me by the end of this trip that I'd of gone caving, into what I consider being the deepest depths of the centre of the earth wearing a boiler suit and head torch as my only source and light I'd have told you to get out of town. Instead, I found myself conquering my fear of the dark and confined spaces for the sake of wine. Actually it was great to face this fear and also bonding experience with those you share the experience with. Accompanied by master caver Nicholas Bransolle and winemaker Raphael Pommier of Norte Dame de Cousignac vineyard. We were guided into the depth of Grotte de Saint Marcel d'Ardeche for a couple of hours in pitch black. Losing all sense of sight, we stoped for a wine tasting, the idea being that by losing sight, your other senses come alive. I'm not sure it worked for me as my imagination runs riot in the dark but the rest of the group enjoyed it. What's more, the 'expedition' involved a zip wire across the caves and a tightrope walk with just our torchlight on our hats for vision. It was one of the most terrifying things I've ever done. At the time, I hated it but I felt a big sense of achievement afterwards.
Keeping to the caving theme, and one that's nowhere near as taxing, is a visit to the Pont d'Arc cavern and the Chauvet Cave, a UNESCO heritage site showcasing the first known art dating back 36,000 years. Although, for conservation reasons, the original site isn't accessible to the public, there's an exact replica very near to the original. Viewing the impressive cave art created by our ancestors from the Ice Age is quite overwhelming and a surprisingly unforgettable experience. As with everywhere in France, the main tourist attractions are throughly mobbed during the summer months. The best time to see the Pont D'Arc / Chauvet Caves is out of season. October is a great time to visits when it's not as hot and crowded. Tours are guided with headphones but an unguided visit can be arranged in the evening; a good way to enjoy view the cave art at a more leisurely pace.
4. Enjoy local food
A stop off at Auberge la Farigole in Biden for the local dish of Brouffado is a must. A hearty meal of slow cooked beef with capers and anchovies accompanied by earthy potato gratin with ceps washed down with a local beer flavoured with chestnut flower and honey is the perfect way to refuel. Perched on the side of a popular cycling route, locals take a leisurely lunch on the terrace overlooking a vast vineyard. As part of the Bistrot de Pays initiative, a collection of restaurants dedicated to only using local produce, I was suitably full and happy, knowing my food was from local farms.
For a guaranteed dining experience in this area, seek out a restaurant that's part of the Bistrot de Pays initiative, a collection of restaurants dedicated to only using local produce, you're guaranteed good food and produce here.
5. Get on a bike
Just a 30 minute drive from Uzes is Remoulins, also a stones throw away from the Pont du Gard, the UNESCO Roman built viaduct/bridge. We hired some electric bikes (to help with some of the hill climbs) from a place near to the river and took a guided tour through the area, up to the beautiful mediaeval village of Castillion, built using honey coloured stone, complete with the regulatory winding cobbled roads. We caught our breath at the Hotel Vieux Castillion, and from the poolside terrace, took a drink overlooking the Remoulins. We cycled the bikes over rugged rocks, a little too advanced for me, so swiftly made haste for the road after viewing the Pont du Gard from a distance. For a small entrance fee, visors can spend all day amongst the landscape, bathing in the river, lunching in the restaurant and soaking up the atmosphere. For electric cycling try and bring some padded shorts as the seats are quite uncomfortable especially when going over uneven ground. Last admission for the Pont du Gard is 6pm but when you're in, you're in. Bring a picnic and watch the sunset through the arches along the river. Stay into the night if you like. The Pont is also very busy in the summer so the best time to visit is out of season in Autumn or Spring.
6. Finish off at a top class restaurant
Our final night was spent in Nimes, checking into the Aparthotel right next to the train station so we could maximise our time here as much as possible. Restaurant Vincent Croizard is one of the best in the area. Entrance is through a small door in a house with no front windows; it's discreet entrance gives it the exclusive feeling of a private club. Service is spectacular, food is special. We were served a soft steak Tartare followed by Red Mullet cooked in a bouillabaisse with beans, chorizo and beans; delicate with a hint of warming spice. The main dish of Fillet of beef was cooked to perfection with umami flavours coming from the Girolles and Shitake mushrooms. Dining here is a slow experience, best reserved for special occasions and a great way to finish off a visit to the South of France.
HOW TO DO IT:
Voyages-sncf.com - Fares from London to Valence start at £111 standard class return. All fares are per person and subject to availability. For bookings visit www.voyages-sncf.com or call 0844 848 5848. For more information visit www.tourismegard.com and https://en.ardeche-guide.com
Thrilled with my Yosemite Feature in the January 2018 issue of Psychologies Magazine. Thank you to Lynne Lanning, Psychologies Art Director, for a lovely design.
I’m the epitome of the perfect guest The Pig could hope for; I wallow in my room, I relax in the bar, I drink and eat far too much plus I'm happy to roll around with a full yet healthy belly.Read More
At the end of January this year, I took a trip to Sacramento in North California as I had a commission from Olive Magazine to investigate this very foodie town. Olive published the feature online which can be seen here. Below is my original unedited text:
I'm drinking a Bloody Mary inside an old converted garage in midtown Sacramento with owner of Preservation & Co, Jason Poole. Having only checked into the Citizen Hotel downtown an hour ago, I wasn't expecting such a rapid foodie onslaught but Jason's a snappy character, full of energy so I do my best to keep up as he opens jars of preserved vegetables to garnish my drink. Who knew a Cayenne Carrot stick would go so well with an alcoholic drink? He's just taken a delivery of pressed tomatoes from a local Californian company, from the field to his store in 4 days, ready to add to the next batch of his infamous Bloody Mary mix, hitting 30 bars in Sacramento and 700 more across the US. Jason is keen to show me some popular bars and life after dark which wasn't on my agenda but I roll with it, for all the best things are found when you hang with a local. Jason doesn't just have one of the best examples of farm to fork businesses in town, he's also incredibly connected. For the next few days as I eat my way through this 'farm to fork' city, a place where the mentality of the people is always farm based and a farmers market is normal, it seems everyone knows him. And, I later realise, everyone in the food business here knows everyone else in the food business. It makes for a community that has food right at it's very heart.
Leaving the preserves behind, I'm pleased to tuck into dinner at Hawks, a relatively new hip restaurant on Alhambra Blvd with an open bar and kitchen. The vibe is buzzing, the menu looks incredible and I dive right in. I decide to try a few small plates that feature a few ingredients I've never heard of so I go for the Point Reyes Toma Cheese, a semi-hard buttery cheese that rubs along nicely with the lavender black pepper honey it's served with and the locally grown Coraline Chicory turned into a lighter version of a Caesar salad with crunchy breadcrumbs, bacon and parmesan all washed down with delicious Californian wine, of course. I didn't mean to go vegetarian but I was drawn in by the lure of freshly picked, locally grown vegetables. This place has impeccable service, knowledgable staff and it's packed out on a Wednesday night.
From here, it's a short Uber ride to Folsom Blvd to check out one of the hottest new and innovative openings in town, already working it's way to a Michelin star. Kru is a contemporary Japanese restaurant complete with a designated sushi bar and an enviable Japanese whisky selection. With sake on the menu too, I continue the theme, taking advice from the head barman whose knowledge of Japanese drinks is astounding. I eat sushi at the bar and indulge in huge, freshly flown-in scallops from Japan coated with foie gras, not the best example of farm to fork cuisine but rest assured the sushi rice is produced in Sacramento. Ready to move on, the hot spots are The Shady Lady's on the Historic R Street for the best cocktails in town and B Side, the 'barman's bar' across the road both with a great evening vibe lasting long into the early hours.
The next morning calls for a coffee and nowhere does it better than Temple. There are a few branches in Sacramento but the best one is at 22nd and K Street. Not only is it set in a gorgeously restored building, it's also at the cutting edge of coffee; its Japanese 'Kyoto' slow-drip is like something out of a chemistry class producing a complex finish cold-brew coffee after an 8 hour drip process. My favourite is the Nitro Cascara tea which contains less caffeine but produces a refreshingly fruity peach flavour. The 'Afogato' is essentially nitro coffee over gelato and is really popular. Their coffee is more than fair trade; it's purchased from Africa and Central South America direct from the farmer and brought based on cup quality. In keeping with Sacramento's foodie ethos, they roast their coffee just 5 blocks away, and not only do they supply the majority of Sacramento restaurants, they also supply most of California.
I can't resist ducking into Ginger Elizabeth's, the best place in town to buy chocolate. I break my 'no chocolate until 3pm rule' and get stuck into one of their incredible hot chocolates lightly scented with Rose and their Lavender Caramel chocolate 'Bon Bons'. The chocolate here (only Valhrona) also has the farm to fork ethos; chocolate is flavoured with Del Rio botanicals from West Sacramento, the lemons from Ginger's backyard and strawberries are from Terra Firma, a community based farm in the Bay area; if in doubt, the labels tell you where everything's from. The flavours and textures are superbly smooth, the predominant flavour of chocolate followed by a delicate but punchy kiss of secondary flavour. Ginger herself worked as an executive pastry chef in restaurants all over America before opening Ginger Elizabeth's in 2007 with her husband Tom, ex chef at The French Laundry, and as one of the tasters, you can rest assured the flavours are out of this world.
Lunch is just over the road at Mulvany's, a well-known and respected eatery set in a former Firehouse, famous for it's double-cut brined pork chop. Owner Patrick and his wife Bobbin are known throughout Sacramento, having been here for 26 years and one of the driving forces behind the farm to fork culture. Over a delicious lunch of super light minestrone soup and meatballs with a garlicky homemade fettuccine, he tells me about his ingredients; "Everyday there's something new and cool and I get to sell it. It keeps me interested. A customer might call up with peaches from his gardens and my neighbour could bring lemons from her house.” The couple are so passionate about their home town, sustainable food, education and non-profit work, even running an International Mentoring Women's programme and various food events throughout the year. Staff have been with them for years and there's really a close-knit community feel to their restaurant. Mulvany's is THE history of food in Sacramento so it's a must.
Sacramento is easy to navigate so walking is the best way. I really enjoyed a saunter through the park at Capitol with its great variety of labelled trees and with citrus season in full swing, I was never far away from a juicy orange. Despite Sacramento's city status, it feels quite suburban. Cute prairie style houses, reminiscent of the gold rush times, sit alongside quirky bars and restaurants; there's never a corner without something fun to see or try - none more so then Ruhstaller beer hidden downstairs in a speakeasy style bar, complete will doorbell. Owner, Jan-Erik Paino, is passionate about his beer and confirms my thoughts about Sacramento; “There's not a city mentality here, it's a slower way of life”. Sacramento was, once upon a time, the largest beer brewing and hop growing region in the world, but that sadly ended after WW2. Ruhstaller has a large, unusual space with a pool table and plenty of room to house the artistic nights they like to put on throughout the month. There are at least 8 beers on at any time so there's something to fit every palate but my go-to would be the Triple Crown, a beer featuring the blackberry grown alongside the hops. The terroir just outside the city gives their beer a different taste then other American States making for some unusual flavours.
The perfect follow on from a few pints is a pizza. Paving the way for a new breed of restaurant is The Federalist, a vibrant community feeling pizza restaurant housed in a shipping container. The concept was thought up in 2014 by architect Malvin Maldonardo who lives next door in his Federalist house. He wanted to open up quickly, so using his knowledge, he built this cost-effectively and essentially by himself although the opening was supported by many of his fellow restaurateurs who helped kit him out with the produce and support he needed for a successful evening, once again showing how supportive Sacramento is. The Federalist is a triumph and a lot of fun where everyone sits on communal benches. I firmly place myself next to the pizza oven where his head chef speedily knocks up some Neapolitan style sourdough pizzas (it takes 3 days to produce the dough) with American style toppings whilst people play Bowles at the makeshift 'green' alongside the restaurant which makes for a totally relaxed atmosphere. Beware the beer sizes though...they are huge.
No trip to Sacramento is complete without at least a day over in the old town, an original historical district dating back to the GoldRush era of 1848. Of course, should you wish to stay here then why not spend a few nights onboard the Delta King, a 285 ft riverboat. There are several museums, all worth a look at least just to get an understanding of the city but there are also a few interesting eateries and plenty of sweet shops. I loved the classic burgers at Ten 22. Wine enthusiasts should head to The Underground Tasting Room to sample some 'boutique' style wines without having to leave the city. There are two vineyards represented here, 'Rendezvous' whose vineyard is 20 miles South of Sacramento in Clarksburg and 'Twisted Twig', situated East into the foothills of the Sierra in El Dorado. Twisted Twig makes a limited amount of red wine, around 1000 cases a year but the wine is very good quality and is a great way to showcase what smaller vineyards can produce. The bar is situated on the original level of the Old Town (which is lower then it is now) and is a great pitstop to sample some very local wines, cool down in it's courtyard and soak up the atmosphere of this fascinating place.
The next morning, I went to see just how close farm to fork is for Sacramento, I take a short drive out of town to Soil Born Farm, a non-profit organisation home to 55 acres of certified organic farm. Behind this brilliant concept are two young organic farmers with no previous farming experience, just a strong conviction to give back to the community. In particular, their concern was to ensure vulnerable people could get easy access to healthy food, via donation to a Food Closet or the Sacramento Food Bank.Their vision for a farm and education centre is now in full-swing; starting from the root by educating children in their summer camps and teaching basic cooking. In May up until November there's a farm stand open every Saturday for people to buy vegetables. Chefs from Sacramento have supported them too; Malvin from Federalist has brought out his pizza oven numerous times for events they run on the farm.
Before I leave this brilliant foodie city, I check out the unassuming Kim's Vietnamese restaurant just a few doors down from the hotel that I've been keeping my eye on especially since I peeped through the window to see four Vietnamese ladies taking charge of the kitchen. It's brightly lit, and not entirely inviting but it's full of diners and many Vietnamese, which is a good sign. Needless to say, it's here I consume the best Beef Pho I've ever tasted. I leave Sacramento completely blown away by it's sense of community, the quality of the restaurants, cafes and bars and, of course, all the people I've met. Watch out New York and London, you have a new city to compete with.
Here is my feature for Good Things Magazine, due for release at any moment now. The feature was supposed to be long captions with images but in the end they decided to just run the pictures.
January. Cold. Epic. Out of this World. A moment in Life. No picture can say what it's like.
I've fallen in love with Puglia. It's the large stretch of Italy that reaches down into the heel of it's famous boot and runs alongside the Adriatic sea. A land where olive trees are like the Ents in Lord of the Rings, gnarled and rugged, holding the mysteries of the past in their roots, some for 1000 years. It's where the Itria Valley stretches down into rich farmland producing some of the best crops in Italy. Let's not even talk about the gorgeous oilve oil, most of which is produced in Puglia. Forget an overrun Rome...this has it all. Space, peace and one of the most beautiful hotels I've ever stayed in.
The hotel is the Borgo Egnazia, a magical place in the heart of Puglia and I'm actually here on a Balance Magazine commission, sampling one of the 14 programmes on offer at their drop-dead incredible spa. 'Fure' is a 3 or 6 day programme, a great kickstart for those who've fallen out of love with moving their body, like me. In this glorious Puglian landscape, it's easy to find motivation. Patricia Bortolin is the creator of the Vair Spa, a unique and transformational space in the basement of the hotel, evidently more then just a place to feel good; it's where many come when stress is on the horizon, to put preventative measures in place. Or if stress has already set in, the right environment to do some really deep inner work with one of the more intense programmes. The spa menu reads more like a book – on my first night here I settle in my favourite place, the bath, and read through. Comprehensive explanations of all treatments means everything sounds amazing, quite frankly. As it was dark when I arrived, I simply came to my room and scoffed the cold meats platter laid out for me, dunked my bread into the olive oil and moderna vinegar combo and then ordered a plate of local pasta, to satisfy my craving for local food. Unlike dried pasta rubbish we're mostly used to, this had a firmer, chewier texture. Yum!
It's hard to imagine this place has only been here since 2010. The mystery of the land informs the entire design of the property; which has been done to an exquisite standard. It elegant. Sophisticated. I want to waft around in a long floaty dress. More then anything, it's ridiculously romantic. Everyone who works here is from Puglia and most speak English, in fact, a fair few of the staff I spoke to have worked in London hotels but there are a few, mainly behind the scenes, who don't speak English. Entering the reception area of the main hotel, the part known as 'La Corte', has an instantly calming influence. It's all creams and whites and flickering candlelight and sereneness. The smell of a special fig blended with other smells is probably what i'll always associate with this place. In fact the scent can be brought in the on site shops but, not only am I here with hand luggage, I also kind of only want to retain the scent for future visits. Because i'm going to come back here, 100%. Without a second thought. Everything is like a dream here. Even the gorgeous tree in reception, made from a discarded olive tree trunk from the golf course and the leaves made from old books is stunning. Apparently it's due to change so let's see what replaces it!
My room is out of this world, a sensory calm haven, almond oil scent in the bathroom, subtle lighting, the texture of the tuffi rock walls, the sheer fabrics, the comforting throws, the sound of the running water from the balcony. When I came back from the spa before heading out to dinner, housekeep had been to do turn down service and had put some Johnny Lee Hooker on the TV radio and I was overjoyed. It's made for couples! Everything at Borgo Egnazia was created by local designer, Pino Brescia who clearly knows this land well, taking inspiration from the ancient town of Egnazia, the ruins of which can still be seen in the gardens. Instead of paintings, there are lengths of tied up rope hanging on the walls, piles of old books bundled together set into crevices, a nod to Puliga's rich farm history and respectful knowledge of it's elders. I have the La Corte Magnifica room which is huge – a seperate living room off the main bedroom and bathroom and it's own large terrace area. There are smaller rooms that are equally as gorgeous. To be honest, it was extra space I didn't really need as I was out for a large portion of the day but I wouldn't turn it down again. Alternatively, out into the Borgo (meaning 'village') there are cute little Casetas if you'd rather a more private experience or if there's 6 or more of you, there are villas with private pools that are gorgeous. Some come complete with a Massaia, which is basically a private housekeeper who also is an amazing cook. The villas are huge so there's plenty of room for private dining. Borgo Egnazia is a resort, but it's not a resort. It's so cleverly designed that it doesn't feel like a resort, rather like a little village. There are 4 pools, 1 outdoor heated, 1 inside heated, 2 out of the Borgo by the main hotel. Children are very welcome here, there's even a great kids club, but some areas are restricted which is a good thing. There are several restaurants on offer all with amazing food, so you need not leave the hotel but i'm told there are some brilliant Trattorias in neighbouring villages so always worth venturing out if you feel to do so. One must is lunch in the Golf Club (which i'm told is fantastic by the way and quite first class, especially as Italy isn't known for it's gold at all) which is ultra traditional, all food cooked by the Massaia who I thought was in her 70's but turns out she's about my age. And the restaurant on the beach which specialises in fish. In season, they set out a stall like a fishmarket, you pick your fish, have it cooked however you want before tucking in. Sea Urchin is popular here...i couldn't think of anything worse personally! I had dinner in the Egnazia restaurant which is about to change into a fine dining restaurant as they aim for a michelin star. Judging by the food and service I sampled, I'd say they won't have to wait long. I will always remember the bread gnocchi with mushrooms and a really REALLY thick sticky mushroom sauce that was utterly delicious. And the wine menu is full of italian wine, as you might expect. It's my favourite so I was happy. The bar is rather swish with a great spirits selection, knowledgable bar staff and relaxing places to sit. It's all about the 'nook and cranny' here.!
There's lots to do nearby and although the hotel can arrange a hotel transfer I would suggest hiring a car so it's easier to explore local areas as it would be a waste to come all this way and not go to nearby Alberobello, the cone-roof houses known as 'Trulli' or a spend a day in Lecce, known as 'the Florence of Southern Italy'. There are UNESCO sites here and everything is within driving distance. I'm told the streetfood scene in Bari (you can fly here via Ryanair or to Brindisi, Bari is 50 minutes and Brindisi about 30) There's so much to do here, from olive oil making, cycling around the groves, cooking with a local I could go on. There are what's called 'local advisors' here who are a bit like a concierge, but more. Not just limited to men, they are also women. The idea is they fix up anything you want to do locally, make suggestions and all via the wonder of Whatsapp. They are like a personal servant. What's not to love?!
Back in the spa there are some really unique treatments. I can only talk about the ones I had. I tried the 'Astrignul' a unique hour that fuses movement with the Apulian love of Pizzica, an Italian folk dance, something still common in all villages across Puglia. Giuseppe led me into this with a tambourine beat, singing an Apulian working song, enjoying his voice, surprising myself by joining in, following his movements, copying his breathing technique, singing my heart out. I totally loved it but I imagine the shy wallflowers amongst you might find this a challenge...like being the first one to dance at a club and not wanting to because of fear of everyone watching you. But it's totally liberating so i'd give it a go. There was the Spirit V, designed to be had after exercise, which can last for up to 2 hours in Roman Thermal baths, a journey through the different heat stages using the different bathing pools (so up my street!) before a scrub using sea salt, olive oil soap and rosemary water. I guessed the right scent as I smelt like fresh Foccacia bread! There are a range of facials but I had the 'Abbel Bel' a fluid facial massage, layer upon layer of angelic hand movements with natural scents of lemon and rosemary wafted in front of your nose, beauty rituals influenced by the Apulian women of the past, set to the soundscape of birdsong and traditional music of Puglia that works with the brainwave. I get slightly irritated at regular facials following the regime of 'cleanse, tone, scrub, mask etc etc' so this was very refreshing.
Then there was the very intriguing treatment called 'U Se Ca Si Crisuse' which translates to 'do you know you are weird?' quite amusingly. It's a bit of a reading, like tarot card, where you smell lots of aromatherapy oils, say what you like and don't and your palate is then 'read' to create a profile of you. It's rather difficult to explain but it's very interesting and quite accurate.
As well as a brilliantly equipped gym with personal trainers, there's also Iyengar yoga sessions with the most graceful teacher I've ever come across, either in a class or one to one, which I really recommend. My body is in a bit of a mess, put simply. I have really tight hamstrings, calf muscles and I can't straighten them at all. It's rather embarrassing, but he tailors the class to me rather then ignoring my cries of pain, tells me to do these stretches everyday and my legs will get better, as will my flexibility. Now I just need to find a clear piece of wall I can prop my legs against! At least one session of this is a must. It's a very precise form of yoga, and all the specific movements can be a little frustrating at times but it's essential to get it right.
By the way, you'll want to steal the dresses off the girls who work in the spa. They're coffee mocha coloured long maxi dresses and I coveted them. The girls are all gorgeous but also very skilled at their craft. In fact, most of the staff here are gorgeous. The men all smell amazing. So up your game and come prepared. It's not a place where you have to dress up, but the kind of place where you want to dress up.
In my opinion, this place is worth every penny. Depending on what level of accommodation you go for and the time of year, the price can vary BUT Healing Holidays have some great deals that also incorporate a spa journey so this is worth checking out for sure. It's offset with the flights being operated by Ryanair, cheaper the further ahead you book. Oh and make sure you bring proper luggage as you'll want to at least bring back olive oil, wine and maybe the scent of Borgo Egnazia.
I've been to India a couple of times now. Each time I feel uncomfortable yet completely mesmerised by everything about this country. I particularly love photographing the people; what photographer wouldn't? My favourite place from my last trip in November 2016 was the day in Karauli, still a little untouched by tourism. I was totally enchanted by the City Palace, especially just seeing a few locals sitting around the grounds and carrying out general work to keep the place looking tidy. It felt a little like a 2D city in 3D. I'm not sure how else to describe it apart from full of texture, peace, greatness and a real sense of a past. If Tim Walker could get his hands on this place it would make for the most magnificent fashion shoot location. Although I'm not sure what the locals would make of it, but, by far they were the most friendliest village on this tour. There are many pictures from this trip i want to share but here are just a few.
I came across this wonderful Magnolia tree at the weekend, in full bloom, slightly ahead of season. It was a dull, grey day for the most part, with a little blue seeping in but considering the bland light, it helped create these rather lovely graphic shots of one of my favourite flowers. I particularly love the rain droplets on some of the petals.
At the start of 2017, i joined Scott Bentley, Creative Director and Founder of the brilliant Caffeine Magazine on a very early morning shoot in Borough Market to capture him with the guys from Flat Cap Coffee. Scott braved the cold in the name of journalism (and coffee) to see what it's really like working on a coffee barrow. Here are the results of the shoot in the form of a layout.
On the south-western tip of the island of Menorca is El Castell, a small town with a picture-postcard harbour, lined with low-key atmospheric restaurants and bars with a sense of sophistication. The area doesn't have any of the spacious sandy beaches Menorca is famous for; this part has a rugged landscape and a fortress that served to protect the island back in it’s Military days, but none the less, it’s still beautiful. Many boats sail through the estuary on the turquoise sea to settle in nearby Mahon, the capital, there’s even room for gigantic cruise ships to dock.
The Barcelo Hamilton Hotel happens to be one great place to watch some of the majestic sail boats glide in. It’s one of Menorca’s five adult-only hotels on the island, a place to escape in the summer holidays without children running riot and dive-bombing the swimming pool. Having been to Mallorca many times, Menorca is a first. My auntie, who regularly takes a boat over from Mallorca, where she lives, told me it had wonderful beaches reminiscent of the Caribbean and she’s not wrong. Hire a car for the best way to explore the beaches and hidden coves such as Cala Mesquida, the nearest to El Castell. Then there's Alcufar, a good spot for locals and the slightly larger Punta Prima. Walkers might want to try a trek to Steven’s Cove from Es Castell where it’s great to swim from the rocks.
The hotel is at the higher end of luxury for the Barcelo brand although still at an affordable price point, it's bright welcoming entrance is modern in feel; sleek corrugated steps leading to the spa and SA Cova restaurant below and a fully glass entrance with picturesque views to the water directly opposite. As well as the grander classic hotel entrance there's also a route in via a backstreet, which directly takes you to the hotel's more traditional feeling restaurant. It has a disguised domestic entrance and like many of the houses on the island, great things lie beyond a seemingly modest front door. Within the central part of the hotel are the swimming pools (one with a cover for not so good days) surrounded by sun loungers. The area is a little too small and claustrophobic for my own personal liking, surrounded by hotel balconies but it's defiantly a heat trap for sun worshippers. Snaking through the loungers it's dead quiet; most people reading, taking a nap or cooling off in the pool. Without the trampling noises of kids, it's heaven. But it's on the rooftop where the real appeal of the hotel lies; a large sunbathing deck complete with Balinese beds, cold whirlpools and a beach bar. At night time, the DJ sets the mood, the multicoloured chairs add some drama and the sunset paints the whole landscape a fiery red. You can even organise a spa treatment up here.
Rooms are sleek, functional and comfortable. A junior suite with balcony is recommended. They are hot from the sun in the morning (el Castell is the first place on the Island to see the sunrise) and cooler in the evening. The bathrooms are cleverly designed with seemingly separate pods for the toilet, shower and sink area, and a double mirror. Only a few hotel rooms have baths so do ask for one if this is preferred. The main suite has its own hot tub. There are 4 deluxe suites with floor to ceiling windows and views to the coast although not with a balcony.
I recommend lunch and dinner at the quaint SA Cova restaurant; a fisherman a style set-up with turquoise blue touches in the crockery reflecting the colour coming from the sea that's pretty much right next to you. Food has a tapas feel, the freshest calamari I've ever had. The setting is peaceful and special. On the roof terrace at night, try the 'Brinner'. A strange concept that I still can't get my head around but fun and suited to the vibe of the restaurant. Our waiter, Bobby, recommended a delicious gin served with strawberries and we sat on the roof on fun light- changing chairs and dive into our food.
As Menorca is a small island it doesn't take long to drive out in any direction for a day trip. Wine lovers should absolutely head to the Binifadet vineyard for a tour and tasting. It's drop dead beautiful, wisteria clad archways that shield tables from the heat of the sun. Coincidentally, my boyfriend’s mum also came here recently and they decided to visit a few times. They loved the outside bar at the entrance, a casual laid back yet cool vibe where locals gather early evening for a sundowner.
Speaking of which, if you can put up with a slightly crowded sunset stop then you must head to the Cova D’en Xorxoi, perhaps Menorca’s coolest bar. Not only is it nestled in the side of the cliff edge it's also achingly hip and at the right time of year the sunset casts a golden glow over all those selfie images. Yep...people really do go a bit mad with the selfie sticks here and it's a little irritating but they can be forgiven; it’s really quite special. My top tip? Make sure you reserve a seating area or you’ll be pining enviously at those seats all night.
I fell in love with Menorca. It's relaxed vibe, brilliant weather and marvellous scenery meant it pulled at my heart strings. And I can't wait to go back.
Rates at Barceló Hamilton Menorca start from €102 per room per night on a bed and breakfast basis. For further information or to book visit www.barcelohamiltonmenorca.com | +34 971 362 050
We arrive at Corvara in the dark. The plane was delayed due to a massive dumping of snow on Friday and Saturday morning so visibility was poor. This was just as well as the ski community were waiting patiently for this to happen. In the 2 hour drive from Innsbruck airport to our destination in the South Tyrolean Dolomites, North Italy, the temperature plummeted and a good spread of snow had covered the valley. It wasn't until the next morning, from the terrace of the restaurant at The Sporthotel Panorama that I was able to see this chocolate-box scene. Thousands of pine trees dusted with ice, skiers already whizzing past making the most of the virgin slopes.
At this point I should tell you I don't ski. A ridiculous injury 20 years ago ensured that I'd never be able to wear a hard boot again. My travel companions were the specialists; I thought I'd leave that part up to them. The skiing here is really pleasant, depending on which run you go for of course, but generally it's pretty undulating, easy and great for the novice. The advanced might find the regular runs a bit frustrating but head to the Dolomiti Superski area where 1200km of off-piste awaits you. The skiing is divided up into four main areas and taxis are probably necessary so research your base well beforehand to make sure you're staying where you want to ski most, although there is a 'gondola' between Colfosco and Corvara that you can hop on. Skis firmly left in the rental shop, I dusted off my walking boots and took to the slopes on foot. Taking a ski lift up to Las Vegas (also a great hotel and the perfect place to stay if you want to sleep in the mountains) and walking across to Piz La Ila, there's never a stop off too far away. Although this is one of the lower points, the altitude may still hit you if you're not used to it. I'm a keen walker but even this made me stop and catch my breath a fair few times. Next time, I would take a balaclava as the -4 temperature when the wind stirs even a little really makes your face numb. Wear several layers top and bottom, not forgetting the thermals, and most importantly, don't forget some insulated ski trousers...something I failed to bring. The scenery is amazing and is what skiing here is all about. It's a UNESCO site after all. The views out to the Dolomites are magical and on a clear day the panoramic photo opportunities are endless. Walking alongside skiers and snowboarders tackling the slopes with an easy grace made this a pleasant experience. It was quiet, peaceful, and aside for some tracks made made by a small fox or rabbit, not a living thing in sight. Aside from humans, of course.
Only here for the Apres Ski? Well, Corvara is the place for you. 'Sommelier on the Slopes' priced at 25 euros each, is one of the food and drink initiatives available during ski season. We all know Italy for producing some of the best wines available, but here in the South Tyrol region, they grow the Lagrein grape, the only place it can be found. They've produced wine here for ages, 3000 years to be kind of exact. So why not celebrate this by learning about wine as you ski? Of course, the aim is still to be sensible but with ample rest in between skiing to the next hut you'll be ready for a little more to taste at the next one. Hubert Kastlunger, ski instructor by day, whizzed up to hut number one (you visit 3 huts in a day) in ski gear only to reveal his alter ego as Sommelier, unveiling a dickie bow and apron, although still keeping his ski trousers on, you'll be pleased to know. Hurry as there are 6 dates this season where it's taking place (26 January, 9 & 6 February and 9 and 16 March) and it must be booked in advance with the Alta Badia tourist board. Www.altabadia.org If you happen to be around on the 19 March then join in the Ski Safari where you can try up to 50 wines (yes...really) with a tutored tasting. I'm not sure how you'll manage to ski and drink sensibly so good luck with that one. Don't like wine? Then you can still join in. The popular drink of choice is either an Aperol Spritz or a Hugo, which is prosecco with elderflower and hugely popular. Make sure you accompany this with a classic apple strudel.
Alta Badia also runs a Michelin star dining incentive during ski season. I wasn't sure how this would translate but it turns out the normal food in the huts is pretty impressive so bringing in a Michelin star chef to create a dish is a genius idea. Known as the 'Taste for Skiing' it's now in it's 9th year and judging by the amount of people walking through the door, these huts continue to be full of skiers in need of sustenance. At our time of lunch in Pralongia hut, a man had just been taken ill so the atmosphere was more buzzy then usual as a helicopter landed right next to the hut, whipping the snow into a frenzy and helping the guy out. Here the chefs dish was 'Tartare al coltello di filetto di manzo Vallese bio', which is hand chopped tartare made from Valais organic beef fillet to you and I. You can ski between all 14 restaurants and sample what's on offer. And food isn't just for the daytime, Corvara, and it's neighbouring towns Colfosco and San Cassiano have some great restaurants offering traditional Ladin and Italian cuisine. We had a tasting menu at the Hotel Gran Ander, run by the cheery chef, Andrea Irsara and his wife, they've transformed this cute chalet style hotel into a sleek, glass fronted restaurant complete with an impressive modern wine cellar. The menu we had was quite experimental; hemp tortellini anyone? Or perhaps the slow cooked veal lasagne made from cannellini bean? Over at La Sieia, also in San Cassiano, sit in one of the many differently designed areas (it used to be a Sawmill) and enjoy a cheese tasting followed by dinner. My choice is the calf shin cappaletti, it's to die for. Breakfast with a view in Alta Badia is something worth getting up early for. Get picked up in a skidoo and watch the sunrise over breakfast in one of the mountain huts, either Col Alt or Las Vegas. Book directly with each hut. Cost is 28 euros. Www.lasvegasonline.it www.rifugiocoalt.com
Corvara is sophisticated. It's elegant and super stylish but not in a pretentious way. Even the streetlights are sleekly designed. The cedar wood huts are gorgeous hue of brown and work perfectly against the andscape. There's no garish neon lights, no drunk skiers causing problems (none that I saw anyway) and it's all pretty relaxed plus it's one of the most prestigious destinations on the World Cup circuit. There are no chalets in this region, purely hotels and apartments only. As one of my companions said, “it has all the style of the Italian with the efficiency of an Austrian”. I couldn't have put it better myself.
Rooms at Sporthotel Panorama start from €134 per person per night on a bed & breakfast basis. sporthotel-panorama.com / 00 39 0471 83 6083
Airlines including easyJet, BA and Thomas Cook Airlines fly from London Gatwick to Innsbruck, from £26 return, including taxes and charges, with regional departures also available.
Alta Badia is a two hour drive from Innsbruck, with private transfers costing €250 each way for up to five passengers. See: http://www.altabadia.org/en/info-service/getting-to-alta-badia/getting-to-alta-badia.html . It’s also possible to hire a car, or there are group transfer services available with ‘Südtirol/Alto Adige Bus’, costing €90 per person each way, from Innsbruck to Alta Badia. See: http://www.altabadia.org/en/info-service/getting-to-alta-badia/info-service-getting-to-alta-badia-airport-transfer.html
Ski Solutions offers packages to Alta Badia, with a seven-night stay at Sporthotel Panorama from £945 per person, based on two sharing on a half board basis and including return flights to Innsbruck and transfers. Skisolutions.com / 0207 471 7700
An Alta Badia Skipass costs from €121 for a three day pass, or from €213 for six days. This gives access to over 130km of slopes and 53 lifts. There is also a Dolomiti Superski pass which connects 500km of slopes in Alta Badia and the surrounding valleys.
For further information Alta Badia, including details on all events, visit the Alta Badia Tourism Board
Days 4 and 5 have kind of moulded into one long day. When you're by yourself going through a physical healing process that involves a drastic cut in your average calorie intake, everything feels very monotonous, and as Dr Eric Rauch says in his book, "monotony is an important factor for respite and healing". This might be the case but it can also make someone who is naturally not a fan of routine, go a bit stir crazy.
Yesterday's activities involved another check up with the doctor who informed me my stomach isn't as hard as it was on day one, which is good news by the way. He also told me i only have a very very mild intolerance to cows milk so there's nothing too drastic i need to cut out of my diet. My skin, on the other hand, is proving harder to find a cure for. He suggested a histamine test and cutting out gluten and dairy for 6 weeks to see if my skin improves, but it might not, so i shouldn't take it too seriously (his words, not mine!) and it's up to me if i do. I have noticed that certain foods can trigger it (especially combinations of food and i know that white things are not good for me), but i'm wondering if they're more mental then anything else, brought on by stress but weeks after the stress originally occurred.
The stomach treatment itself is known as MAT (manual abdominal treatment) and in my case anyway, only lasted 5-10 minutes. A technique developed by Dr Mayr, my doctor seemed to know what he was looking for upon applying pressure to parts of my abdomen i guess to check if there are any weak points in my intestines. If there were, he didn't say, instead saying 'good' after the quick process that i'm assuming all is working well down there. The benefits of this massage are quite profound; it can make the abdomen tighter and nutrients are more easily absorbed into the bloodstream. In turn, this helps the body to remove waste. The circulation in this area gets better, helping with inflammation (the biggest problem we face in our stomachs) plus the blood gets a good ol' cleaning and the digestive glands can recover. That's not to say you should prod and poke your own stomach (or get someone else untrained to do it for that matter) and all the above will happen. it requires a well trained professional in tandem with all the other treatment being given. Everything works in harmony, you see.
After this was deep tissue massage time - those words fill me with horror where most people would be in a state of elevated bliss. I have a really sensitive back you see, and a plate in my right leg. Some therapists forget about those things even though i've told them, proceeding to make me wince in pain and then act surprised. The only way the tense back can ease off is if heat is applied. Even so, the therapists here are second to none and despite me flinching in some areas, i was able to take more pressure once the heat had built up. The most interesting part was the chest cavity massage. It was utterly excruciating yet somehow it seemed to push back my shoulders and give me a better posture. Even so, i think one of these massages will be hard to find on any massage menu back home so i'll file that one away in the memory bank of interesting yet never to be repeated experiences.
I don't know if it's the massage or the food intake or being on my own or the combination of all of those, but i reached a bit of an emotional boiling point after my evening dinner of soup and some dried buckwheat crackers (yep, i've gone up in the world) as i started to get really emotional; anger over a particular relationship issue building up to boiling point. it's just as well i'm unable to make calls to the UK on my phone. I distracted myself well enough but when it came to sleep, my brain just went into overdrive and i couldn't nod off. The hunger pains and rumbling stomach didn't do much to help, nor did the soaring heat nor the useless pillows they seem to have in European countries. I woke up this morning in a crying mess, even crying at breakfast and really not wanting to be in the dining room with a few other people (but i had no choice). I came back to my room, trying desperately to sleep but my stomach was reacting to the Epsom salts more then usual (was this emotions triggering this reaction? I strongly suspect so). Sleep evading me, i got up, grabbed a sun lounger by the pool and absorbed myself into a book instead (The Girls...it's new, and brilliant) which seemed to help. i had no treatments today. i'm not sure if that was a good or bad thing. On another note, the hotel has filled up since yesterday with more people coming to the hotel and not for Lanserhof treatment. Seeing people sitting by the pool eating a throughly inviting lunch isn't the easiest thing to watch, or even smell.
To brighten my spirits and getting a bit hot lying about, i decided to venture out the hotel to check out the Botanical Gardens up in the mountains. Easy to access via a cable car (it's a good job i love heights) right the way up to Kitzbuheler Horn. I figured immersing myself in nature might do the trick. Off i set, the sun shining but a looming dark cloud starting to circle above; how so? the weather has been crystal clear for the last few days, i thought it would just blow over. I can see the cable car from my room so i knew it wasn't far away. i paid my €22.50 and felt like a giddy kid as i got in my own cable car, all by myself! I could simply enjoy the view and not have to talk to anyone. As the car ventured up, i was able to hear the sound of the town mute yet hear the tinkle of alpine cow bells followed by the static murmur of the fir trees rustling in the wind. A change in car and up i go to the highest point where i could get out and explore the flowers...oh hang on, what's that big black cloud heading my way? Oh dear. As soon as i got to the top, the torrential rain started and i could only just catch a glimpse of the epic looking snow-capped mountains in the distance and i was summoned back into the car to get back down, all the while, Phil Collins' 'Another Day in Paradise' playing out the loudspeakers (why have music on when the sound of nature is enough, right?) I could now hear a storm rumbling away, reminding me of my stomach. Oh well, my one decent attempt to get out and explore was thwarted by the rain.
So here i am with just one full day to go, having just eaten ginger soup with dry crackers followed by a swim and steam with only my book, BBC player and a bath for company. I'm already wondering if i should get a packet of crisps at the airport. No one will know. As long as i eat them slowly, i'm sure it won't hurt.
One of the principles of life here is getting plenty of sleep. That means going to bed before midnight, probably somewhere between 9.30-10.30pm. Anything earlier is just ridiculous especially when it's still light. Well, for me it is anyway. Since being here, i've been napping mid morning and afternoon. It's only ever been 20 minutes or so but i've felt my eyes go heavy whilst reading and relaxing on a sun lounger. So why is it, when i get into bed, I'm just not tired? However, i fall straight to sleep and don't wake up until my alarm goes off at 7am. You see, back home we eat far too late and we eat far too much and we also eat things we shouldn't late at night. After a nutrition session today, I can see why sleeping on a relatively empty stomach is a good thing but i'm a little worried about how i'm going to integrate this principle into my daily life. As i've said in previous posts, because there's so much time to NOT think about food here, you realise just how much time you do give to thinking about food. Or maybe that's just me. Having that control stripped away from you is rather liberating, especially if you're mad busy with kids and a family to feed because normally, you just can't do this. I can see it's a tough one for most people. But, if you don't really have to give much thought to what other people are going to be eating that evening then there's more time to do the things you love. And if one of those things happens to be cooking, then you're a bit buggered.
Having gone through my eating patterns with the nutritionist today, he said it wasn't too bad in general but there are some tweaks I need to make. And the difficult part is not what I eat and when, it's about everyone else around me, which i'll come back to in a moment. What my new diet should boil down to is this:
1. I should eat a bigger breakfast consisting of protein, carbs and fats. So the egg on toast I currently have is fine, but it's not enough because, come evening, my diet should be very light indeed. And to not feel hungry, I should eat breakfast like a King.
2. My regular unhealthy snacks are what's contributing to my weight/fat gain. They probably equate to easily around 300 calories extra and if you total that up over the course of a month and over a year, that means weight gain. Unless i do adequate exercise, but then I should still try and opt for things like yoghurt (protein) nuts (protein) and fruit or vegetable sticks (yuck. that's one thing i won't be doing, the veggie sticks that is). As exercise isn't something I can always do, cutting down it'll have to be. And at weekends, I'll push myself to do some activity.
3. Lunch should be my main meal of the day, in an ideal world. But that's not always possible, especially in some offices i work in. To prepare my own meal and to take to work most probably requires some kind of reheating to make it taste nice, and that's not possible in some offices, plus I'm not a fan of salads especially wilted ones in lunch boxes, nor am I able to eat so much bread. And eating a substantial lunch in London can get mega pricey, although if there's an Itsu around, the nutritionist said this is the healthiest bet. But excuses aside, i need to try and integrate this as best I can. you see, this is what's going to make the fat come dropping off. Providing i choose the right proportion of protein, carbs and fats.
4. Dinner should be small and consist of protein and fats. No carbs. And this goes back to the earlier point i made about sleeping. You see, the problem when we have a carb heavy meal at night time, our bodies just can't break it down and digest it. The same can be said for red meats. Similarity a raw food diet is also not good for you, especially if eaten to excess, lots of fruit, salads and raw veggies can simply decompose in your intestine and cause horrid side effects such as flatulence, damage to the vessels such as widened capillaries, irritated intestines and terrible formed and smelling stools. Not nice. And as for eating late, Dr Mayr says "Eating a substantial meal before going to bed is like a train conductor who stokes up his engine and then puts it in the round house". Basically, the body, when sleeping, shuts down and anything happening in the organs is stopped or reduced, the digestive system therefore slows right down. All that late night food simply doesn't get digested, it just sits in the tract fermenting and what-not. It also causes you to not have a proper nights sleep - tossing and turning, bad dreams and waking up feeling sluggish and totally unrested are just some of the side orders of this. Of course, this isn't always easy to remedy, especially when you're out for dinner with friends. As i can testify, i'm going to bed on pretty much an empty stomach but i'm sleeping like a baby and waking up feeling refreshed. There is a method in this madness. The problem is, dinner is my favourite meal of the day. Not only do i love cooking it, i love to make food for others but it does tend to be rather late. Which leads me nicely onto my next point.
5. The nutritionist advised me to try the 5:2 approach. Be strict with yourself for 5 days a week, lenient for 2 days. The body probably won't be able to eat as much and may bulk at certain foods that were once a delicacy in my mouth anyway. But if you have a blow out one day, reign it in the next. This approach isn't rocket science but it does mean that totalitarian mindset doesn't have to total make your life a bore.
Anyway, this morning's activities involved further lactose testing (which meant a late breakfast, late epsom salts again) and a rather wonderful reflexology session where i could feel my adrenals and stomach areas are quite painful. Sadly, this only lasted 25 minutes and was over as i was just falling asleep but it was brilliant all the same. This afternoon, i felt i had enough energy (ok, i lazed about by the pool for a bit but you're not made to feel guilty about this as calorie intake is only about 600 a day anyway) to join two of the fitness staff on a Nordic walk, complete with sticks, to the forest. I always thought the nordic sticks were rather the same as using a walking stick but actually, that's not the case. Instead, i had to use them to the back of my arms and in turn, the power from my arms propelled me along. I may not be describing this in the best way but let's just say, it's more tiring then it looks. From my bedroom window, i can see the woods we walked in. They were pretty breathtaking; Jack and the Beanstalk like alpine trees, the smell so captivating and invigorating; we stopped for a moment and i could hear the gentle life of animals taking place behind the scenes. Some people have chosen to live in the foothills, and those classically stunning wooden alpine houses are top notch in this area. The staff confirmed my suspicions, that this is indeed a wealthy area, But then i could see this for myself with the vroom of a Ferrari here and there, like it's a completely normal thing. I managed a good 1.5 hours walk but the heat (it's 36 degrees today) left me feeling a little light headed so we went back. After just myself for company for the last 3 days, it was really nice to get out and talk to people.
Before ending todays post, I just wanted to mention that I broke the rules today. No, i didn't cheat and head to the Spar for a packet of crisps. I spoke to someone over lunch. Gasp! This isn't really allowed but she was eating her pudding (carrot cake? A pudding? O.M.G!) and i'd finished. Anyway, this lady was telling me this is her 4th visit to Lanserhof. It literally changed her life. And the reason why we got talking in the first place is because she apologised for her sitting next to me as at every meal, she's been eating 3 courses. The reason? She's pregnant. Still, her diet is healthy and, i noticed, totally free from dairy. She told me upon her first visits 4 years ago she was literally riddled with problems, namely allergy issues. Really bad ones. One's that made her so ill. And she had no idea what they were. She spent an entire week feeling truly awful with really bad detox side effects (too much coffee is NOT good for you kids!) because of her diet. At one point, she almost left. in the years she's been coming as a repeat customer, she's met lots of other people who can't hack it and who leave after 3 days. their systems are in such a state that the detox is just too much for them. Ironically, these are the kind of people who need to stay. Similarly, she's also met people who have been in and out of hospital, who don't feel any better and who've never got any answers, coming to Lanserhof as their final attempt to feel better and they leave feeling like new people. Amazing! Anyway, she told me the staff at Lanserhof left no stone unturned to try and find out why she was in such a mess. And that's the beauty of this place; everything they do is for a reason and that reason, you should trust. So tonight, i didn't have soup like i was expecting. I was met with tea, honey and orange wedges. Ok, i felt a little disappointed but i know this has been prescribed for a reason. As i write this, I'm feeling a little hungry but I know in a few hours I'll go to bed and have another glorious sleep.
Back to other people. This is what the pregnant lady also said. That it's going to be others who may find it hard to adapt to not only your new diet but also your new way of eating. So she gave me a tip for when i'm eating dinner with others and is one i can pass onto you...you can fake it. Make it look like you're eating at the same pace...but take far smaller mouthfuls. Chew your food in the new way, move your food about a bit and don't feel you have to eat everything on the plate. With a bit of luck, they won't notice.
It's been a scorcher of a day here in Kitzbuhel; the hottest day of the year I'm told. But whilst it's been beautiful outside, the last thing I've wanted to do today is be outside. At some point on the journey of a detoxer, they inevitably reach a 'crisis point'. In medical terms this means that during a cleanse such as this one, it's possible for all those toxins to re-enter the bloodstream, otherwise known as 'retro-intoxication'. In everyday terms, it simply means 'feeling utter crap'. For some, this might manifest as nausea or numbness, some even lose their appetite or have an aversion to eating, but for me, it's been about the dizziness, fatigue and a slow building headache over my left side. I had every intention of getting out and about today and joining the mountain bike group for a pootle around the local area but the mere thought of exercise made me come out in a hot sweat. Still, it's good to know that once the toxins leave my body, i'll feel sprightly again. Probably even more so.
That's not to say I didn't start the day off well; I rose early to take part in the group morning exercise but was a bit late so I did a little cycling on the indoor bike followed by some weights, so I was rather pleased with myself. I was gasping for some water but was 'nil by mouth' until my first round of tests were through. On my health plan, I was scheduled for a fructose test at 8am lasting for 10 minutes, according to the time on the sheet. But this wasn't so, I had to do the test 4 times over the course of 2 hours which meant no breakfast and no water. I was weak from not eating since 12.30pm the following day and the blowing into the fructose test pipe thingy meant it left me even more light headed. When the nurse said I would have to forgo breakfast I felt myself well up..i'd been looking forward to that meal all night. I kept quiet but I think she could sense my sadness, especially when i dropped the blow pipe thingy, so said she would arrange for me to have breakfast after the test had finished. I could've kissed her.
Before eating, I had to down a mixture of Epsom salts in lukewarm water, a process to be followed everyday, in the morning, half an hour before eating. To say they taste vile is an understatement, but it's the aftertaste that's particularly gruesome. But these bad boys do a whole world of good to your intestine. The concentration of the salt solution is of a similar feel to the blood so upon drinking, it works it's way into your digestive tract in a trickling motion and doesn't irritate any of the mucas in your intestine. It then gets to work by dissolving all the manky old residue as it works through your system towards the finish line. I don't need to tell you what that is. This is such a good treatment because it works on your entire body including the kidneys, skin and areas containing other potential nasties like your mouth and other 'mucous membranes'. I have to say, i expected a massive wave of a diarrhoea-like effect to come over me, but that wasn't the case, you just go when you need to go, without any drama or pain. These powerful little crystals are a lot more subtle then a full on onslaught but my word, do they really make your poop stink when it eventually comes out. If you think about it, there's probably years of undigested food sticking to your digestive system, especially food that's been consumed late at night or that's been shovelled down when you're in a rush. So all of that is going to smell quite putrid when it eventually leaves your system (if at all!) and for some, this may happen 3 times for a period of a few weeks, depending on how long you're on the cleanse for, or I guess, how bad your internals are. For me, it happened just the once. But trust me, once was enough. And the joy is...I have to do it all over again for the next few days. Oh well, at least it was done in the solitary confines of my own room and I know it's doing me the world of good.
Breakfast was eaten with a calm gusto, still chewing every mouthful a million times, but i enjoyed this simple meal. I could taste the sweetness coming from the buckwheat bread as I chewed, the flavour of this simple thing changing. My taste buds are starting to reset themselves already. Even the mineral water i'm drinking is starting to taste sweet. Does the damage we do to our gut really change the things we taste, meaning that we have to satisfy our sugar cravings more and more to compensate for the fact that we can't simply taste sweetness?
Next up was another session with the doctor who gave me a rather nice stomach massage, but something vital to my progress here (more of which tomorrow). He himself does the process every year for around 2 weeks. Each time, he rediscovers the quality of food simply by the chewing action. For example, a sausage might normally taste great but when you have to chew each mouthful of sausage numerous times, that sausage ends up not tasting so good. You can almost feel the quality of it diminishing on every chew. So much so...you simply spit the thing out. Where as a good quality piece of meat gets tastier every chew. do you get my drift? So your body naturally starts to reject that which isn't serving you well, and gives the thumbs up to those that are.
We discussed the results of the fructose test (all fine, i'm free to eat fruit) and blood test, which was also all fine and healthy. We looked at the results of the body mass test from yesterday. Turns out my resting calories (the calories my body needs to get me through the day) is 1,503. If i go over this without any form of exercise, i'll start to put on weight. Here, i'm on about 600 calories a day, so if i don't see any weight loss, i'll eat my own arm. The good news is the kind of fat i have is healthy as it's all over my body, not just concentrated in one spot. As my muscle mass is above average, he advised cardio fitness only, i don't need to put on more muscle for the time being. Of course, this could all change but it was reassuring to know i don't have to give myself a hard time for not lifting weights. My ideal weight should be around 10kilos lighter then I am and because of my muscle mass, I shouldn't drop any lower. In terms of food allergies, the only things i need to watch out for is cows milk and rather weirdly, cashew nuts. I can have these but not all the time. Tomorrow I have a lactose test, so let's see if other dairy products are the suspected culprits for some of my ailments.
Today's treat was a rather lovely body treatment involving a body mask slathered all over me containing honey and olive oil before being wrapped up and left to bake in a rather hot water bath. I did fall asleep, and it was rather lovely but i did start to get a bit too hot and claustrophobic 5 minutes before the therapist came to rescue me. It has a deeply detoxing effect on the skin, helping to draw out more crap from my body, so I didn't mind too much. And i did feel rather soft and smooth.
Lunch was eventful because I was allowed sheep's cheese AND turkey with the standard potato. Ooh the excitement! I took a while to eat it, following the chewing rules, and felt nicely full. After lunch, I braved the heat and took a stroll around the town with my camera. It's actually quite affluent here with a Rolex shop taking centre stage amongst other high-end stores. I purposely left my money in the hotel so i wouldn't be tempted to buy some crisps! It was a bit hot and i started to feel dizzy so i went back to the hotel and laid by the rooftop pool in the shade and read for a few hours before having another snooze.
Aside from the early dinner time (i was allowed a simple soup this evening), evenings here are totally uneventful. I have caved in and am watching my iPad or else I'd go nuts. And early bedtimes are encouraged as the sleep you get before midnight is the most important. All those clothes I brought with me seem like a total waste of time as i'm just sitting about in either my gym kit or my swimming cossie and dressing gown. I could think of worse things however.
I've wondered about the state of my gut health for some years now. Why has my stomach always been so bloated (apart from when i wake up and lying horizontal when it's beautifully flat). Why do i fart like a beast after eating and beyond? Why is it so tricky for me to lose weight (ok, perhaps i do eat too much) And surely the redness of my skin is down to more then just choosing the right creams for my skin? I know i've had a red chin for as long as there are pictures of me as a kid looking like i've stained it with Ribena (partly true) but can this also be down to genes, or is there really something up with my digestion?
I started to look closely at the state of my skin last year when i had an appointment with a well-known dermatologist. i left with a 'prescription' for suitable SPF skincare but felt dissatisfied, like i'd been cheated out of a more in depth discussion because the consultation was so superficial...my diet wasn't even brought up I was sure my sometimes sore and inflamed cheeks were due to what was going on inside my body. And then when my Nan, lying in her hospital bed recently asked me why my skin was so red, i knew it had reached fever pitch. My skin was the worst it's ever been and something needed to be done about it.
From that first dermatologist appointment a year ago, my life has changed considerably and i've been through a few stressful patches in the last 6 months or so, perhaps that's the reason why. At the end of Summer 2015 i took the career jump i needed to without any financial back-up...it was just something i had to do with the biggest leap of faith i could muster. I spent the rest of last year and the beginning part of this year building up my new future, often with slight concern but never any real doubts. There were many moments of extreme financial worry in that time, which, i'm learning, goes hand in hand with being freelance. And then, as life tends to throw you all the curve balls it can muster at the same time, there was an unexpected relationship split that sent shockwaves through every inch of me, rocking me emotionally for around 5 weeks (it felt like 5 months), testing me beyond measure but also, on a positive note, paving the way forward. This time now was all about me, my wellbeing and love for myself, above all else.
I'm a great believer that life might throw you stones at times but amongst those hard-hitting, bruise-causing moments are glimmering gems waiting to be discovered. I guess a not so chance encounter with the PR for the Lanserhof Lans in Innsbruck, a brilliant health clinic dedicated to curing all manner of gut issues, was presented to me and here i am, months after our initial meeting and again, having a few more life changes in that time, finding myself here, at their temporary home in Kitzbuhel, Austria, on day one of my epic gut detox.
I already realise this is the place to come for some profound physical and emotional healing. Yes, there are yoga retreats across the world and other medical companies offering all sorts of fixes, but aside from the famous Mayr Clinic, this is one of the best. i knew the bare bones of what it offered some time ago, but i didn't go into too much detail, worried it'd put me off. You have to to commit to a hardcore detox regime. But until i got the brochure through last week and needed to fill out a health questionnaire, i didn't quite realise just how in depth this process actually is. The idea that the small intestine is the root of all health concerns sat well with me. I'd recently realised the emotional trauma i've been feeling led to a decrease in my appetite and not great toilet habits - it was a sign of a totally out of whack sacral chakra. i could even feel it was out of control. and if you really do have a second brain in your stomach then mine was on overdrive. I was interested to see if clearing the gut would also clear my mind and give me a total sense of inner strength.
The original Lanserhof Lans is in Innsbruck but it's undergoing a snazzy new refurbishment and rather then turn guests away, the company decided to relocate for the summer and bring the institute, and it's long-serving staff (some have been with them for 25 years) to Kitzbuhel. Like many people i suspect, i've always tried to detox at home but the temptations of being able to go out when you like, enjoy lunch at a cafe, dinner at a restaurant and even tuck into my own fridge proved too much of a temptation and i would fail after a couple of days. it doesn't help that i'm a total foodie too, but was i really lacking that much willpower? It's thought that to really detox and work on issues, one has to change their surroundings. if those surroundings just happen to be in a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains then so be it.
First up, breakfast. I was led past the breakfast buffet and thought my luck was in when i saw pastries and cold meats displayed, thinking i'd be eased in gently, (especially as i hadn't eaten since a tiny scone on the plane quite some time ago) but it turned out this was just for the rest of the guests (at the original Lanserhof, this torment wouldn't even be there). instead, i was led to my own table, dedicated to me for the duration of my stay, and could chose between porridge or buckwheat toast with a protein and tea of coffee. The protein i opted for was a soft cream cheese. tomorrow i may go for the avocado, or the turkey breast; there is actually a protein menu. Tea was the Lanserhof blend without a black tea nib in sight. Detox tea. Coffee is a malted version; not a variety that would get die-hard espresso fans salivating, i'm sure. On my table was a book about eating at Lanserhof and from now on in, i'd have to chew every mouthful 30-40 times, MINDFULLY (in other words, with no distractions, no talking, no reading and another important thing, no phone) before taking a small sip of water, masticating the food in my mouth further, before finally swallowing. I quickly realised that not only could i NOT take a large portion of food (because my mouth would then be over-stuffed and i would swallow some accidentally therefore, breaking all the rules) but that i often ate far too fast. This is a form of eating therapy and one we should practice at every meal time. The thorough chewing activates your saliva glands (which takes a lot of concentration) but as this isn't practiced by most people, you lose the ability to exercise this muscle. Basically, the saliva glands re-learn how to produce saliva of a certain quality and quantity to properly digest food. Food that doesn't then sit in your gut for YEARS (yep...this is so!) fermenting away. My portion of food was tiny, but with this proper chewing method, i felt full. it is like learning to eat all over again.
Next up was my first consultation with Dr Georg Kettenhuber. We discussed my issues, my targets and he had a feel of my belly. Turns out that hollow noise upon tapping my stomach is a lot of trapped gas (that explains the farting!) and the issues with my skin are most probably down to food intolerances as well as a need for a bloody good clear out. thankfully, he didn't see any real need to put me on the tea only diet (hooray!) but i'm allowed a small breakfast and lunch and that would be it. For the entire day. To supplement my plan, i have a range of supplements including liver bitters (the strongest bitter taste ever) some acid-base balance capsules and some other gut strengthening stuff (i'm putting my full faith in the doctor!) and tomorrow, i start the epsom salt drink upon waking. Which should yield some interesting results...eek.
After a dip in the pool, a bit of an explore of the facilities and a look at a daily programme i could join in with, i fell asleep for 30minutes, deciding day 1 should just be about resting and documenting my experience and thoughts. Soon enough, Lunch. again, at my table, taking my prescribed supplements just before eating, as directed, a fairly sizeable boiled potato was served with sheep milk cheese and linseed oil; never has such simple and bland food tasted so good. Such a small portion would normally be gone within 2 minutes. But, thanks to the chewing action, it took me half an hour. And i was full up.
After lunch, i had a blood test to detect certain intolerances and then a Detox Drainage session which involved some neck massage, small and large intestine massage and then cupping which i'd never experience before. it was quite painful especially along my collarbone and up my spine. But the therapist seemed happy and i clearly wasn't retaining too much water. Then i was hooked up to a fandango machine and my body composition analysed...my body fat is too high, which i suspected anyway, but it was actually quite satisfying to know that i have the body basis an athlete has with a very good muscle mass and water levels plus good cells. if i really wanted to train, i could achieve fantastic results. i just need to work on getting my fat levels down, do whatever exercise i can fit into my lifestyle, and i would be reasonably fit. Tomorrow, i believe i'll get the results of the tests back so this might tell a different story altogether so i'm not on the home run just yet.
I went for a short walk in town but started to feel a bit weak and dizzy plus, as the doctor warned, Kitzbuhel is full of temptation with it's cute restaurants and bars so i've decided to reserve exploring the local area until Saturday when i should feel so much better. I decided to read by the rooftop pool before falling asleep again. The sun was out and it was rather glorious being surrounded by mountains normally covered with snow.
Dinner is served between 5.30 and 6.30pm so very very early. And dinner was a small serving of honey, and yep, i had to chew this 30 times (so difficult as there's not much to actually chew) and 'eat' my tea with a teaspoon. Pudding was 2 slices of orange. Lucky me. And here i am, in my room after an evening swim and steam, trying not to crawl the walls. TV is discouraged, and i'm thinking that includes pre-downloaded programmes from the BBc on my iPad, as is work. But i need something to distract me from this really empty stomach feeling. However, knowing this fasting is doing me the world of good is enough to keep me going, for the time being at least.
I admit it. I've been neglecting my blog for far too long. There are many excuses but all very reasonable ones...honest! Actually, I've been busy organising travel features for Wylde Magazine. So much so, I now have the grand title of 'Travel Editor'. It's by no means a full time job and is more of what I like to call a 'Passion Project'. The best thing is I can fit it around the rest of what i do. I love to work on brand new projects and this is one I can really get my teeth into.
I have a sample feature in this issue but look out for the September 2016 edition for a better representation.
I've recently been travelling to Switzerland and Sweden with spain next week - all the 'S' locations. I'm also off to Greece soon and a few other bits and pieces in between with Sri Lanka, Oman and Cambodia maybe on the cards, all countries bringing big things to the travel market this year. Stay tuned for more! I've also had a fair few hotel visits in the UK and i shall be posting about them as soon as i can.
In other news, it's almost the start of wedding season and I have my first two in May. These weddings are both in Kent so I'm really looking forward to something closer to home.
...a bit of glamour in their lives. So that's why 17 of us decided to celebrate Cathryn's birthday onboard the Great British Pullman. When the day trip was booked, we had no idea where the train was going to take us, so it was a bit of a busman's holiday traveling back to Whitstable, where most of us live. It felt like the most comfortable commute ever, albeit with familiar sights and no 'ooh' and 'aah' that most people make when arriving in Whitstable (that sweeping coastline, the colorful beach huts...we see it all the time). The night before our early morning alarm, i arrived back from Italy rather late so was feeling quite sleepy. Once i'd finished my camera duties, i took a quick snooze and sadly, evidence was taken! We stopped off at Folkestone for oysters and a bit of a bop to a brass band, a good way to stretch the legs. It was glorious to see everyone in their 20's finery especially the woman wearing the amazing Peacock feather head dress...i got a serious case of clothes envy. What was the Great British Pullman like? Extravagant. Expensive. Luxurious and heaps of fun. What a perfect treat for a special birthday.
The end of 2015 turned out to be a little busy. I had some last minute commissions to Parma in Italy and a christmas Shopping trip to Basel, Switzerland. Sadly, I've neglected my blog a little whilst I've been juggling the commitments of travel and all it entails afterwards (8 hours sitting at my computer writing the first draft of each feature and that's before I've even downloaded the pictures) but I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm attempting to post twice a week for the time being...so let's see how that goes!
As the year closed, I realised that actually, I've got a few nice projects in the pipeline so there's plenty to be getting on with! 2015 was a wonderful and very exploratory year where I completely stepped out of my comfort zone. The lure of the 9-5 with it's early morning commute and no time to myself didn't appeal to me anymore. Yes, I miss the regular income but things always work out. I am traveling, photographing and writing and nothing makes me happier. I can spend blustery mornings on the seafront with my dog. I can work from 6am-9pm if i desire. I can nip out for a long lunch if I want to. These kinds of things are priceless so...if you have a dream then make it a reality in 2016.
Here are a few images from Parma...Switzerland hasn't been edited yet!