Where to stay: South Hill in the Elgin Valley, South Africa

Continuing on my series of lovely places to stay, today we’re deep in the Elgin Valley. It’s time to get away from it all.

Just over an hour’s drive from central Cape Town, yet feeling a long way from the bustle of the city, South Hill offers luxury accommodation in their modern five-bedroom guest house. Large en-suite rooms and a fabulous communal living area (both inside and out) offer all the comforts of home and more. There’s a 15m pool to cool off in the garden – and a pizza oven, too –  how’s that for a cooking dream come true (well, one of mine anyway).

And then there’s the Pumphouse, set overlooking row upon row of Shiraz vines, which is where we stayed. A self-contained little cottage, again with cooking facilities, a comfortable seating area and a sleeping area with expansive vineyard views and a large, comfy bed. Outside there’s a verandah and deck overlooking the lake, a jacuzzi and tempting hammock to while away the hours in.

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The peace and comfort of the Pumphouse beckons

South Hill is the perfect place to get away from life for a while. Here’s what I loved about it.

The total tranquility

Seriously, it doesn’t get more peaceful than this. A winding drive off the busy N2 motorway through apple trees and vineyards takes you deep into the valley where South Hill feels like it’s the only place for miles around. You’re surrounded by mountains, vineyards and wide open spaces and pretty much nothing else. Watch the stars light up the night sky (an unusual sight for a city dweller) and open your curtains to the rosy dawn across rows of vines groaning with luscious grapes.

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Vines as far as the eye can see from the Pumphouse bedroom

The views

There’s no doubt that life is better with a view, and there are plenty of stunning ones here.

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Blue skies and green vines viewed from The Gallery Restaurant

The wine

The first thing to do to get yourself into the South Hill state of mind is taste their wine. There are seven of them and they’re all delicious. Four of the reds are named after members of the King family who own the place – nice touch – I’d love to have a wine named after me.  Inevitably we left with a case tucked under our arm…there’s no escaping that.

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The Shiraz grapes look so good on the vine you can tell they’re going to make stunning wine

The food

The Gallery Restaurant at South Hill is open for breakfast and lunch from Wednesday to Sunday. The food is prepared from local, seasonal ingredients. We had a delicious, laid-back lunch which you can read about in a previous post by clicking here.

Beautiful olive bread got lunch off to a good start

Beautiful olive bread got lunch off to a good start

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My wonderful starter with a mouth-watering pea panna cotta

The restaurant is also a gallery showcasing the work of local artists. So great views both inside and out.

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The stylish light-filled restaurant

The activities

There’s plenty to do in the area if you’re feeling active like walking, mountain biking, kayaking or quad biking. Just don’t forget to take your camera as you’ll see endless photographic opportunities. Of course you could just curl up with a book and exercise your mind instead.

The farm stalls

Okay, this is an unusual one, but for me it’s part of the Elgin experience. I love a good farm stall and these are two of my favourites. Peregrine is fabulous, packed with freshly baked goods, preserves, fruit and veg, local produce galore. Also the perfect place to stop for breakfast or lunch – and their coffee is very good. Or just a bit further along the motorway you’ll find Houw Hoek whose pies are legendary.The restaurant at South Hill is only open for breakfast and lunch, so stock up on your way there and enjoy local delicacies in the comfort of your home away from home for dinner. And don’t forget to buy some apples – Elgin is apple country after all.

Try out the delicious local fruity preserves

Try out the delicious local fruity preserves

South Hill is at Valley Road, Elgin. Find out more at www.southhill.co.za

The Blue Train: A fabulously tasty experience

Okay, so you’ve been taken through the journey and sheer luxury of The Blue Train – now it’s time for the best bit (in my opinion)…the food.

From the minute you step into the Dining Car with its crystal glassware, crisp white linen and welcoming waiters, you know you’re in for a real treat. There’s a strong emphasis on local ingredients with some really clever combinations and a comprehensive wine list of  top South African wines.

You can choose from two dinner sittings (6.30 or 8.30) or eat in your suite.

First meal – lunch/brunch. There’s a choice of two starters, a soup affair and three mains as well as dessert and cheese. Service is wonderfully relaxed and friendly, yet efficient and well paced between courses. And the food is certainly something to write home about.

This perfectly pretty starter of goat’s cheese mousse came with grain mustard, compressed melon and micro greens and an aged balsamic glaze. Light and refreshing.

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A beautiful, light plate of food got my dining journey off to a good start

In in-between bowl of cauliflower and truffle soup was beautifully earthy and rich.

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Indulge in cauliflower and truffle soup

When I look back on my menu choices, I seem to have eaten a lot of red meat on this trip. A great choice as it happens as everything was totally delicious. This charmingly named lattice beef loin was amazingly tender, packed with flavour and served on a sweet potato puree with rosemary and mint jus. The perfectly prepared and cooked julienne vegetables were a sight to behold on their own – amazing attention to detail and flavours on this plate. I savoured every mouthful.

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Tender beef, sweet veg and buttery pastry to savour

Between lunch/brunch and dinner there’s High Tea in the Lounge Car. A fine array of sandwiches, cakes and an amazing cheeseboard tempt you. Aware that dinner wasn’t too far away (I was allocated the early sitting), I held back but couldn’t resist one perfectly soft and crunchy, crustless cucumber sandwich. And a glass of bubbles, of course.

Time to get back to the charm of the Dining Car and some amazing dinner choices. First off a really novel foie gras dish – caramelised foie gras served with amadumbe ( a tubular root vegetable much like a yam) oat granola and lemon powder. It was served with beautifully creamy avocado (which also added a lovely green vibrancy) – what an amazing combination of richness, sweetness and tenderness that produced. A dish to dream of.

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Silken foie gras with fresh, creamy avocado

I was still basking in the pleasure of these taste sensations when my main course arrived. Ox cheek covered in biltong powder, served with a potato waffle,  pea puree and marrow sauce. So many local ingredients in a cleverly conceived of dish. Love it!

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Another exceptional steak dish…love the biltong powder

With such exceptional food being delivered to my table I simply had to try out the dessert – in the name of research of course. And because lemon desserts are my one true dessert love. The lemon tartlet was served with a citrus curd and passion fruit jam, topped with a lemon foam and finished off with a lemon macaroon. Beautifully light and zesty, the perfect conclusion to my lovely dinner.

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A fresh, lemony and fruity dessert

I’ve mentioned that the wine list is fantastic…and even better you can order all the wines by the glass. Basically everything is available which makes for the most fabulous tasting opportunity.

Happy and replete I retired to the luxury of my suite for an early night and an early awakening so I could watch more of the South African world go by when it got light. And then to breakfast.

Well, can breakfast be your favourite part of a trip? It’s just that I don’t ever remember being presented with such an amazing breakfast menu, which is why I simply had to include it in all its glory!

Love the selections under the English Breakfast heading – can you imagine what a plate full of all that would look like? There’s two pages of choices…what a way to start the day.

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From page 1 I enjoyed tea, fruit juice (and they had my favourite, guava) and a lovely plate of fruit, which again included all my favourites: mango, pineapple, papaya, watermelon, melon…fresh and juicy.

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The prettiest plate of fruit to start with

And then it was on to page 2: Speciality Breakfast. How to choose, how to choose! Well, I adore Eggs Benedict, so that made it all that little bit easier. But then my lovely waiter asked me if I’d like any extras on the side…and I had to add some peri peri chicken livers!

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I’d say this could be the best Eggs Benedict I’ve ever had (and I’ve tasted my share of this classic dish). Breakfast doesn’t get better than this.

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The best Eggs Benedict with a side of peri peri chicken livers

I had to drag myself out of that Dining Car, and it wasn’t easy. With my love of train travel, the Blue Train’s luxury and incomparable service, the fabulously unfolding South African countryside outside the window and then the truly amazing, creative food with a real local flavour I knew I’d been cocooned in my own special paradise. I still miss it!

And here’s a beautiful fruit display to enjoy – all the food is a word of art to enjoy on The Blue Train.

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Find out more about The Blue Train by clicking here.

 

 

 

The Blue Train: It’s magic in motion

Today I’m embarking on one of the Great Train Journeys – a trip on The Blue Train through the heart of South Africa. I love train travel and this is no ordinary train so my expectations and excitement were high.

I travelled northbound, starting in the Mother City of Cape Town and heading up through the Winelands and the vast Karoo to Pretoria. More of the scenery in pictures on my next blog post – here’s the route marked in solid red that I took. The journey takes 27 hours – 27 hours of the ultimate in relaxation that I really did not want to end.

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You know you’re in for a wonderful experience as soon as you arrive at the departure lounge. It seems like in an instant you’ve been checked in, your luggage has been whisked away and you’re sitting comfortably with a welcome pot of tea in front of you and your journey to ponder.

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You’ll find a warm welcome waiting in the departure lounge

Soon it’s time to embark (not a moment too soon for me, I practically ran onboard)!  Your butler shows you to your suite and explains how everything works. The suites offer a feel of days gone by with their sleek walnut panelling and also all the modern comforts. Gotta love the modern comforts.

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The cosy suites are wonderfully welcome with huge picture windows

Like the ensuite bathroom (not even the Orient Express has these) – cleverly designed to fit the shower, basin and toilet into the smallest of spaces, complete with Italian marble, loads of fluffy towels and remote control blinds.

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The joys of your ensuite bathroom

When you head off for dinner (more about the fabulous food coming later in another post), your butler magically transforms your comfortable seating area into a bedroom, the bed made up with luxury duvets and linen, making it so easy to snuggle down.

While your entertainment is endless – all you need to do is look out the window – the suites also offer radio and movie channels. The perfect indulgence – anyone for the whole series of Grey’s Anatomy? Tempting as that might be, there’s no time for that yet – there’s the rest of the train to explore.

At the front of the train, the Club Car is the perfect place to relax after dinner and the only place where you can smoke. Cuban cigars are included in your price – I almost turned into a cigar smoker for the day…just because.

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Comfortable and relaxing: the Club Car

The dining car sits in the centre of the train and is the scene of absolute delight for the three meals on the journey (more of them later). This was my table where I happily devoured delicious dishes, drank in the view and several different wines from their extensive list.

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Eating with a view…a constantly changing one

At the very back of the train is the Observation Car. A huge picture window means you can look back down the tracks taking in the scenery

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The Observation Car offers the best views from all angles

The Lounge Car is the perfect place to settle down on a comfy sofa and ponder life.

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Feel at home in Africa with the views and the decor

It’s also where High Tea is served…don’t cucumber sandwiches and Champagne go perfectly together?

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High Tea anyone? What a treat

What a train…what an experience! To summarise, here’s what I loved about it.

The service

It’s friendly, efficient and all-encompassing without being claustrophobic or overpowering. Your every need is met in a gentle, welcoming way. I felt immediately at home and found every member of staff helpful, friendly and knowledgeable.

The magic

Okay this is a bit of an intangible one, but it’s there. From the moment I stepped onboard it all felt like a bit of a dream, I even texted one of my friends saying “I feel like I’m in a movie”! Plus a vaguely Hercule-Poirot-looking fellow traveller made me keep my eyes out for any signs of murderous behaviour (of which there was none of course).

The views

Stunning, stunning, stunning and constantly changing. The contrast is huge, too, from the moment you wave goodbye to majestic Table Mountain towering over the Mother City, through vineyards, orchards, farmlands and mountains in the Winelands, the magnificent pass through the Tulbagh Valley and on through the desolation and vastness of the Karoo, there’s something wonderful to behold. Even the [slightly] more urban landscape as you approach Johannesburg has its charm. A humbling experience that puts the vastness of this beautiful country into a clearer perspective. More pictures coming in a later blog post.

The food

This was so amazing I have to blog about it separately (of course)! Safe to say it was magnificent, watch this space to find out more.

The clever effects with space and light

The train can take around 80 guests (plus staff) but it never seems like there’s anywhere near that many onboard. It’s an intimate experience that seems like your own personal journey. Comfort is at a premium, decor is stylish and subtly African and the different carriages provide several separate places for relaxation. Plus the huge picture windows throughout mean the light’s constantly changing with the scenery. Sunset was quite spectacular and it was lovely when I opened my blinds early in the morning. Nothing like harnessing natural light and landscape to enhance the atmosphere.

The attention to detail

So much! Vibrantly colourful fruit platters and flower arrangements everywhere, the box of chocolates on your pillow when you go to bed (yes, a box), top quality duvets and linen, fluffy towels, your butler who’s constantly transforming your suite into a different version of itself, the amazingly relaxing check-in service.

Clearly all this is not going to come cheaply. But the good news is that if you include The Blue Train as part of a package to South Africa from the UK it becomes incredibly good value. For example, African Pride are offering an 8-night Classic South Africa package from just £2,999 per person which includes all flights, taxes, transfers, 1 night in Pretoria, 1 night on the Blue Train, 4 nights at the Victoria & Alfred Hotel on Cape Town’s Waterfront and 2 nights on safari at Motswari Private Game Reserve. Plus a lot of the meals are included. You can find out more by clicking here.

The Blue Train is one of those uniquely magical experiences, the memory will stay with me forever, now all I have to do is ride the train all over again..but this time the other way around.

Watch this space for more about the amazing scenery you’ll encounter and the totally delectable food you’ll consume. The Blue Train rocks!

 

 

Where to stay in Phuket: The Kata Beach Resort

Continuing my series about lovely hotels around the world that you really should stay in, today we’re at the Kata Beach Resort & Spa in Phuket, Thailand.

Phuket is a large and very diverse island. That means if you want to party up a storm, get active with watersports, explore temples and places of interest, indulge in gourmet food, shop, lie on the beach – or any combo of them, Thailand has plenty to offer.

We particularly like the Kata Beach area, having visited a few years ago. The beach is amazing, there are plenty of restaurants all serving great, well-priced food and the shopping’s also good. Plus it’s a bit quieter than some of the more party-focused areas of the island, there are no clubs and after a certain time of night a peace washes over the area. Love the peace.

We’d spotted the Kata Beach Resort on our ambles around the town last time and put it on our wish-list of hotels to stay in if we ever returned to the area. Sometimes wishes do come true.

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A trumpeting welcome to the Kata Beach Resort

So here’s what’s good about it.

The position

Set right on the absolutely stunning Kata Beach (more of that later), the hotel couldn’t be in a more convenient spot. You’re a minute’s walk (if that) from your room to the sand and only a few minutes walk away from a cluster of lovely beach restaurants. If you go in the other direction out the front of the hotel you’re right in the middle of the shops, markets and a generous selection of other restaurants.

Perfect if you love eating out, like us. A short walk, a short inspection of what’s on offer and you settle down to a delicious meal every time. At lunchtime we liked to amble down the beach and sit barefoot looking out at the sea (we soon stopped even taking our shoes with us), tucking into a range of Thai favourites. Top of the list was the spicy green papaya salad which tastes like health on a plate – in a good way.

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One of my very favourite Thai dishes – zesty green papaya salad

The hotel is set back from the main road behind the amazing elephant fountain. So you’re only steps from the buzzy nightlife as well as being able to retreat into the cocoon of peace that surrounds the hotel. The food is really varied in Kata (more so than in many other parts of Thailand I’ve visited) and standards are high (more details coming soon in another post). Here’s a fabulous king prawn dish we had for dinner one night in a restaurant on the main road.

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Giant, juicy king prawns with a lovely red curry sauce

The beach

Kata Beach is nothing short of spectacular and the hotel is right on it. A sweeping bay beckons in front of you with the beautifully blue and warm Andaman sea just waiting for you to plunge into. Here’s a picture I took from my sunbed using my panorama function.

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Take me to the beautiful beach

I love a good daily walk and the extent of the beach meant about 45 minutes of power walking – with some strolling and several stops to take in the sights, of course. This is near the far end where a little house that intrigued me nestled in the trees. I want to know who it belongs to.

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Exercise is a pleasure on Kata Beach

The views

Of course, this is allied to both the position and the beach. Wow! To have views like this right in front of you wherever you look is totally uplifting. Here’s my daily vista through the leaning palms.

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It’s hard to get up from your bed with a view like this

The rooms

We arrived around 8 at night at Kata Beach and the first thing I did was walk through the room to the balcony door and out to the sound and sight of the sea. The perfect inspiration to go to bed and wake up to. The rooms are spacious with extremely comfortable beds. Boy did we sleep well here.

Air conditioning is good and easily adjustable, there’s a safe to leave your valuables in (always vital for me) and there’s a kettle with tea and coffee replenished daily. Plus an extremely chilly fridge to ensure there’s always a cold one to quench your thirst on those sultry Thai days. All the comforts of home, basically. Plus the wifi signal is excellent, another necessity for an internet junkie like me, after all I do have to blog and post on social media, don’t I?

Top tip: make sure you specify you want a sea-facing room. It costs a little more but is more than worth every penny.

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We soon felt at home in our spacious room

Oh and here’s the early morning view from our balcony – before the serious suntanners hit the pool.

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Happiness is a room with a view

The pool and its bar

As you can see our room looked over the pool to the sea. A real indulgence having two swimming areas right on your doorstep. The pool is lovely and warm and big enough to stretch out and have a bit of a swim. And it has the must-have swim-up pool bar. The joy of sitting in the water sipping a cocktail! The bar also does the most wonderful lattes, just what we needed to get our day off to the best start.

The perfect start to the day – at the poolside as the beach wakes up

The perfect start to the day – at the poolside as the beach wakes up

Here’s the view from the bar across the sunbeds to the azure sea. This was just after a rainstorm, which we sheltered from under the bar’s covered area. Very handy.

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Blue and more blue as far as you can see

The breakfast

How I love hotel breakfast. You’ve got plenty of time and you don’t have to do anything yourself, except decide what you want and eat it. Kata Beach Resort’s international buffet took some exploring every morning. Before doing that I helped myself to a huge plate of tropical fruit…I think I ate  more papaya than the average person does in a year!

There was also a good selection of pastries and a range of Western options including, sausages,  tomatoes, potatoes done any way as well as freshly cooked bacon and eggs made to your demand at the egg station. Being in Thailand I embarked on eating the Thai version every day – a helping of noodles or rice (or sometimes both!) sprinkled liberally with fish sauce and chilli. Amazing how I got into this, breakfast doesn’t seem the same anymore!

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Start the day with a plate of fresh tropical fruit

And a few other things

It’s fair to say you’re tripping over people wanting to give you a massage in Phuket, here you don’t even have to go looking for them. At the hotel there’s a little hut right on the beach where you can lie down, breathe in the sea air and listen to the soothing waves while all your cares are massaged away, though it’s hard to have any cares at this stage. An hour of intense massage that leaves you feeling totally revitalised costs 300 baht. That’s about £6. Really!

Then there’s all the beach sellers. You slowly watch the beach waking up as dozens of industrious vendors parade their wares up and down all day. They’re always pleasant, happy and take no for an answer without too much hassle. Needless to say the products are such good value (and there’s always room for bargaining) that I usually ended up buying something anyway. Summer wardrobe replenished!

If you’re more the kind of person who wants things made just for them, you’re also in the right place. There’s a tailor on-site and he’ll make sure your garments fit perfectly. Choose your fabric and he’ll measure you up and provide several fittings to make sure you get exactly what you want. It’s good value, too, my husband had three pairs of trousers made for 3,900 baht which is just under £80.

There is an impressive dinner buffet of changing themes, from Italian, international, seafood, steak and barbecue to classic Thai. Something for everyone. The wine list is extensive (the hotel even has its own wine shop) but like most places in Thailand, imported wines are pricey, especially when you consider what great value the food is. Oh well, treat yourself…

I’ve realised that this all sounds as much like a spotlight on Thailand generally as a review of the Kata Beach Resort. Well, that’s because that’s exactly what you get here. The best of everything that’s great about this wonderful holiday destination. Aah how I miss Kata Beach.

We’ve explored quite a bit of Thailand now and have used a range of tour operators as that’s the best way to get a really good deal. This year we travelled with a company called Eastravel. I can’t recommend them enough. They were friendly, helpful, efficient and went out of their way to secure the room we wanted and make sure all our needs were met. If you’re going to Thailand (or anywhere in the Far East actually) from the UK you really should check them out at www.eastravel.com

Do you have a favourite part of Thailand? Have you stayed somewhere special? I’d love to hear about it as I’m already thinking about my next visit there – so do get in touch.

Find out more about the hotel at www.katagroup.com

Food, glorious food at Borgo Santo Pietro

Our Tuscan paradise Borgo Santo Pietro is bursting with charm, style and natural beauty. This also manifests itself in the amazing food it serves. Food so delicious it’s a blog post all on its own, so here goes. Beautiful pictures for you to salivate over.

There are two restaurants at the hotel. The Treehouse is for fairy-tale-like alfresco dining, open for lunch and dinner every day. It’s a magical place with a beautiful treehouse (at the base of a huge tree) where you can snuggle up beside the real fire on chillier days.

The lunch menu offers simple fare perfectly prepared and served with flair. Like this beautiful beetroot soup.

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A taster to get us going…pretty in pink

There’s a traditional pizza oven which is also used to make bread like this delicious offering sprinkled with fresh rosemary from the gardens. Borgo has a substantial vegetable and herb garden as well as orchards, so plenty of fresh produce to revel in.

Tuscan olive oil is fabulous, too. Borgo Santo Pietro’s own blend has a surprising spiciness, perfect for dipping your warm, straight-from-the-oven bread into.

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When in Italy, sample the Caprese. Well, we are in the land of tomatoes, basil and buffalo mozzarella so it’d be wrong not to. My goal: to sample Caprese in as many parts of Italy as I can, I know I do try to test myself.

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Three fresh ingredients make the perfect lunch

And dessert – yes, even at lunchtime. Italian desserts are hard to resist. This melt-in-the-mouth tiramisu was topped with rich chocolate sauce. Decadent.

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Bring on the dessert…it’s impossible to resist

On Monday nights The Treehouse hosts a Farmer’s Market. Myriad Italian fare is on display for you to choose from. The spread is simply mind boggling…the advice from one of the waiters: “Try everything.” That would take some doing. After polishing off as much antipasto as you can muster, it’s time to choose your meat or fish (or both, or many) which is then barbecued for you. The Iberico pork was stupendous, as were the huge, juicy red prawns.

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A cornucopia of Italian meats and cheeses

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A huge bowl of luscious, fresh prawns

The magical eating area is sprinkled with chimeneas and their warming fires and giant candelabras with candles regularly replenished. Perfect.

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Restaurant Serena is named after the valley it overlooks. A magical setting for dinner with fabulous food to match.

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The twinkling lights of Restaurant Serena tempt you

First up, something from the chef arrived. Amazingly creamy mortadella paste (who’d have thought of making mortadella into a paste, it’s genius) served in little mini cones and crunchy Parmesan crisps on a bed of hay.

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One of the starters was a garden salad, made using ingredients from  Borgo’s very own garden. Here’s a test, I thought to myself…and ordered it with anticipation. This beautiful board appeared and our waiter informed us the salad was made up of 26 ingredients…test passed with flying colours. But then what was I expecting?

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The duck ravioli was mouth-watering with the richness of the duck, freshest of pasta and a smooth herby butter.

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Little parcels of deliciousness

Salmon came perfectly pink inside with crunchy fennel.

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I loved the pork so much at the Farmers Market I had to order it again. And it was stunning…tenderness and flavour packed into every mouthful

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Time for dessert and a stunning chocolate treat with light, yet rich ice cream.

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And then a tray of mini-delights to finish off, all laid out on a bed of coffee beans. Baby macaroons, marshmallows, chocolates and jellies. Love the extra surprises that arrive along the way.

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Another extra served up to complete your dinner

And I mustn’t forget the breakfasts…that ultimate holiday indulgence, and this is one to remember. A spread laid out on the beautiful kitchen counter with fresh fruit, yoghurt, pastries – everything you’d expect – and the most amazing quiches you’ll taste. Plus eggs however you want them. I want this kitchen, too…with its fireplace.

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Welcome to the breakfast spread

Phew, you will eat well at Borgo…no matter what time of day, there’s something delicious waiting to be tucked into.

Read more about Borgo Santo Pietro on my previous post or visit their website at www.borgonsantopietro.com

Where to stay in Tuscany: Borgo Santo Pietro

Continuing my series on beautiful hotels I recommend, we’re visiting Tuscany.

Situated about two hours’ drive from Pisa near the hillside town of Chuisdino, Borgo Santo Pietro is the stuff that dreams are made of. Overlooking the stunning Valle Serena, the five-star boutique hotel is set in huge grounds, creating the ultimate escape. And the food, service, extra activities and amazing attention to detail make for a holiday idyll where you can totally immerse yourself in Tuscan life and the ultimate in luxury.

Here’s what’s I loved about it.

The setting

From the moment the majestic gates open and you drive down the cypress-lined avenue, you’ll be enraptured by this magical place. With the 13th-century villa at its heart, Borgo radiates out into the most beautiful of grounds to stroll around and lose yourself in.

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Welcome to Borgo…you’re not going to want to ever leave

The stylish manor house is the heart of Borgo

The stylish manor house is the heart of Borgo

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The view out over the Valle Serena

The accommodation

Talk about wow factor! Spacious, stylish and stunning, the ultimate in hotel luxury. Twinkling chandeliers, enormously plush beds and large bathrooms with huge walk-in showers and deep  bathtubs. And beautiful outdoor space to chill out among vines and orange trees while inhaling the purity of that Tuscan air.

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The view of the bed from the lounge area. Sparkling chandeliers abound here…

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Luxury bathrooms for your indulgence, time to soak in the tub

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The most idyllic of terraces in the Tuscan sun

The restaurants and the food

The main restaurant, Valle Serena (named after the valley it overlooks) is overseen by Executive Chef Francesco Gasbarro. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect dinner setting and as Borgo Santo Pietro grows its own vegetables and herbs, you’re guaranteed the freshest and tastiest of ingredients. Wonderfully mouth-watering and creatively constructed dishes to enjoy – more to come in a later post (watch this space) – I have plenty to say about the wonderful dishes I sampled.

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How’s this for a charmingly romantic restaurant?

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My beautifully tender and flavoursome pork main course

The other restaurant, The Treehouse, is open for lunch and dinner. And on Mondays it hosts a farmers market, displaying a wealth of Tuscan delights to select from. Again, more on this later.

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There’s plenty to tempt you at the Treehouse buffet

The breakfasts, served in the Manor House kitchen, were fabulous, too…and I’m still dreaming of those cappuccinos.

The attention to detail

The extra touches constantly amazed me. Seriously, they’ve thought of everything. Like supplying books and magazines (in several languages) at the pool – just in case you left yours behind, I guess.

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Reading matter awaits beside the pool and its early morning mist

Some other amazing examples…There’s a mobile phone in your room which you’re encouraged to carry with you around the grounds, so wherever you are you can call up and order a drink or some food. Heaven forbid that you’d have to go and fetch it yourself.

If you take advantage of the hotel’s transfer from the airport, or wherever you are, there’s wifi in the car for you to log on to.

If you sign up for the truffle hunt (and I can’t recommend it enough), you’ll be lead to a walk-in cupboard to select hiking boots supplied by the hotel in your size. No chance of being unprepared for your trek through the forest.

There are fireplaces everywhere…who doesn’t love a fireplace. Even in your room, just call reception to get it lit.

The grounds and spaces

The beautiful gardens are scattered with seating areas. Whether you want to lounge by the pool, meditate on life by the lake or have a cappuccino in a tiny corner away from everything…

garden

Find your own favourite spot…and enjoy

And then there’s what was probably my favourite spot…The Treehouse. It’s not up a tree but at the base and this beautifully welcoming room is the perfect place for a drink any time, or just for a proper get-away-from-it-all chillout.

treehouse

Leather sofas, a real fire and more chandeliers…aaaah

The activities

Once you’ve switched into Tuscan time and shed all your cares, there’s all the lovely activities to contemplate. Try a wine tasting with Simona, the charming sommelier; take painting with the artist-in-residence or flower arranging lessons; enjoy yoga classes or a treatment at the spa. Or as we did, go truffle hunting for those oh-so-precious truffles with local truffle hunters and their dogs. A wonderful experience that you can read more about on another post (you can see, there’s still plenty of Tuscan magic to come). And don’t forget, there’s masses of beautiful countryside and amazing villages to explore: by foot, Vespa or even horseback. Make sure to order a picnic to take with you.

Stella the truffle dog sniffs out the truffles, then waits patiently

Stella the truffle dog sniffs out the truffles, then waits patiently

Any time spent at Borgo Santo Pietro is extraordinarily special. This is a unique experience (which obviously comes at a price) but you’ll be constantly amazed in this little piece of paradise. Start saving now for the experience of a lifetime.

Find out more at www.borgonsantopietro.com