Lake Fiastra – a cool, emerald haven from the summer crowds.

Lake Fiastra in Sibillini National Park, Le Marche, Italy. The mountains are named after the Sybil who lured people into her fairy cave for evil purposes and the area is filled with Devil’s grottos and ‘witches’ streams. The lake is deliciously cool, trimmed with green trees and white chalk beaches. There is an area of green grass (Le Marche is verdant with clover fields that remain lush even in the heat of the summer) where you can rent umbrellas and sunbeds for a few Euros which seemed surprisingly free of crowds of people. We spent a glorious afternoon reading, chatting and playing with the kids.

We stopped to buy salami and ham on the way home. The mountain air contributes to the wonderful cured meats of the area – pork loin hams, coppe and capocolli, salamis. Other local delights include: Pecorino Di Grotta (matured in caves), truffles, wild mushrooms, chestnuts, lentils, chickpeas, and ancient apple varieties; not to mention the peaches, which are so perfumed I practically swoon when I eat them.

Painting Holidays – Marche, Italy

At last, after a total of 19 hours driving ( with stops) we have arrived at our friends farm in the Marche region of Italy. Caroline and Andrea moved from Hackney in London to set up a business running painting holidays at their farm near the town of Camerino, check out their website http://www.paintingholidaysitaly.com Caroline is an experienced artist and teacher as well as being witty and fun, and Andrea is a master craftsman and fantastic cook (he is also witty and fun) what better combo could you get? The farm is set in the hills below the university town of Camerino with stunning views in every direction. Le Marche is my favourite region of Italy, unspoilt by mass tourism with all the beauty of Tuscany but peopled by farmers rather than rich second homers. Here are some early morning views from the house.

Velleron Farmers Market

Velleron Farmers market is held every evening from 6pm. It’s considered one of the top 100 markets in France for the quality of the local produce all brought in by small producers. After a 7 hour drive from Paris, we stopped to visit my sister and she took us here to shop for supper. What a treat to see such quality food producers selling out of their goods (sold at extremely reasonable prices) no be-ribboned fancy specialty food here just excellent seasonal produce. We came away with crusty (still warm) bread, sausages, fresh cheeses, salads, aubergines, tomatoes, apricots, peaches and delicate chanterelle mushrooms for a few euros. A feast was had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are lovely villages nearby

 

What to do with Kids in Paris for Free

What to do in Paris with our two girls (9 & 10) in 24 hours (without spending a fortune)? Well, first we arrived and took them for an evening drive around the major sites like the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de triumph before dumping the car and heading off for dinner. The next day we started at The Shakespeare Bookshop where we stocked up on reading matter in this extremely child-friendly classic literary hang-out. We followed this with a walk around Notre Dame and along the river. Then onto Luxembourg Gardens for a read, a picnic and a run in the extensive playground. The Pantheon came next, then a short siesta before an evening of window shopping and more food, a classic dinner at L’Ecurie (see previous blog post). Oh yes, and we finished the evening by popping into a little music bar near the restaurant where they allow would-be singers and musicians on an open mike.  Musicians played or sung two songs and then it was onto the next. We stayed for an hour or so before meandering home.

The kids thought all the Parisian buildings “looked like palaces and castles” and enthused about the window displays in the food shops. They particularly loved the bakeries and cake shops. There is a Parisian craze (that has been going for some time) for delicately flavoured macaroons which the kids just adore. I think they like the surprise element as you never quite know what flavour you are going to savour as you bite into these little pastel coloured delights.

Macaroons – beloved by all the family

Chocolate Bars

A classic Paris bistro – L’Ecurie

Our road trip to Italy begins. We stop in Paris for 24hours. A friend recommended L’Ecurie a tiny old style bistro on 2 rue Laplace 5th arr. John has written an excellent and extensive website on Paris restaurants and more, http://www.whitings-writings.com which is well worth a visit if you come here to eat. L’Ecurie has a kitchen the size of three bath mats laid end to end but within that space they manage to fit a wood fired bread oven, a charcoal grill and a gas stove (for the sauces). We ordered the basic menu for 17 euros – country pâté with their own bread and divine aioli, steak and frites, local light wine and creme caramel, the kids had a trio of homemade ice creams (mango,passion fruit & black currant) perfect, unfussy local fare served by a jovial waiter and finished with a free glass of calvados.

Hog and haggis

We have just been in Scotland for a family wedding, always fun with my husband’s lively Irish/Scottish relatives, held in the garden with the backdrop of the lowland hills. Here’s the hog roast man standing by his prize pig but the best food was served later at 11 – yes you guessed it – haggis, neeps and tatties Haggis ” is a kind of savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.” Neeps are turnips (but more often swede these days) and tatties, potatoes. Oh yes, I almost forgot, all this is then doused in whisky gravy. A perfect dish to re-energise the guests so we could continue wildly reeling to the kale band ( which was alternated every hour with a groovy funk DJ – fabulous idea). All that offal helped my head the next morning too.