Wonderful Wednesday: November 2018

5 December 2018

Sneaking this post in at the beginning of December because I wanted to include the very last day of November, which fell on Friday. How quickly is this year disappearing? I'm hugely busy, which is making the weeks fly by but I love this time of year so much so I'm still desperately clinging to these last few weeks of 2018.


♥ Spontaneous days off... I've somehow ended up with a couple of days of annual leave left. While I could carry them over until next year, our summer holiday was a long time ago and it's been a busy few months so I've decided to book some days off here and there to give me a few surprise long weekends in the weeks leading up to Christmas. I enjoyed two this month - on the first one I took myself into London for the day, meeting my husband for lunch and then headed to the Tate to see the new Burne-Jones exhibition, which I'd been excitedly looking forward to for months. I might do a separate post on the exhibition actually so I won't comment on it here, save to say that it was everything I was hoping for - I loved it.

Some of my colleagues just couldn't get their heads around my choosing to spend time on my own, not at home but going out to tea or to an exhibition. They just couldn't understand it. Of course it's always good to share experiences with people you love, who are enjoying it too, but sometimes there's just something so freeing about taking yourself out and just spending some time on your own doing whatever you want to do. Perhaps it's something I couldn't have done when I was younger and granted, I wouldn't want to do it all the time but I enjoy my own company or just relaxing with a book and a cup of tea. It's not to be feared. 

On Friday, I hopped on the train to Cambridge to visit one of my oldest and dearest friends, and her beautiful new baby. We went out to lunch, cooed over the newest littlest member of her family and I read endless stories about trains to her (slightly) older kiddo. It was fun to catch up but equally fun to escape to my aunt's that evening, who lives close by, for dinner and lots of red wine. I even managed to start my Christmas shopping the next day, a very productive trip!

♥ Autumn walks... We've enjoyed some quintessentially-autumn walks over the course of the last few weeks - kicking our way through the fallen leaves on a crisp day before heading home to enjoy something deliciously warming from the oven. It's stew season and I couldn't be happier!

♥ The first frost... Another highlight from this month, waking up and opening the curtains to see frost glittering across the grass and the hills in the distance covered in the most delicate of white sheens. Leaving the house to walk to work, I noticed my breath clouding in front of me and my eyes stung. I snuggled deeper into my scarf and curled my hands in my pockets as I trudged along. I really need to dig my gloves out from wherever I packed them earlier this year...

♥ Internet meet-ups... At the beginning of November, I was able to meet up with the lovely Sam who was visiting London for a few days. We went to Honest Burger and spent an enjoyable few hours putting the working world to rights and laughing a lot! It's so great that the Internet, which is so huge, can enable you to meet some like-minded souls. I've met some dear friends through the magic of my little circles on social media, it's a special thing and worth remembering when the algorithm continues to kick you on a regular basis and it can feel like you're looking into a void at times!

♥ Netflix Christmas specials... I know they're cheesy (beyond cheesy really!) and if you drill down into the storylines, they're not the stuff of Booker prizes but they're warm and cosy and comforting, which is a lot of what Christmas means to me. I've just watched one so far (The Christmas Switch) but I've book marked the others to enjoy in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

♥ Getting in the Christmassy mood... Along with my deep-rooted love of Netflix Christmas specials, I've slowly been marking off other little Christmassy snippets to  build up the enjoyment and anticipation. I visited the Country Living Christmas fair at the beginning of November with my mum and we enjoyed it so much we've decided to make it a yearly event to visit together. I think I was most excited about visiting the food suppliers - sampling heaps and heaps of cheese, along with a cheeky few festive beverages. I opted for some amazing cheddar and two delicious chutneys, which I'm really excited to bring out on Christmas day...along with a fair few more cheeses that I need to pick up in advance. Pickled onions too, as if there was ever any doubt.

We've bought our Christmas cards and I've written the list of people I want to send them to. Now I just need to find some time to curl up and write them. I've picked up a few Christmassy CDs and we've planned our epic food shopping list. Dare I say it, I'm starting to feel a little organised? Here's hoping...

Hope you all had wonderful Novembers and that the next few weeks are full of love and laughter - the next time I sit down to write this list, the new year will almost be here!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week/month a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJo, LauraSarahPetaElMimmiLynseyKatie and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

A festive to-do list

11 November 2018

Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Yesterday my Mum and I visited the Country Living Christmas Fair in London where we spent a wonderful few hours browsing all the festive goodies, picking up some treats and enjoying planning the weeks to come (primarily food-related!) I treated myself to a Christmassy candle, some new decorations for our tree (I do this every year!) and some amazing cheddar and chutneys, which I'm already excited about digging into on Christmas day.

I love this time of year, it's my favourite. As Autumn gets colder and crisper, the leaves change colour and fall, and then the nights get darker but interspersed with the festive lights twinkling from windows and trees. This year will be our first Christmas in our own home so it feels extra special.

A few years ago I sat down and wrote a wishlist of things I wanted to do over the festive season. It was a really good chance to reflect on what's important to me and all the little things that I look forward to this time of year, so I've decided to do it again this year.

Here are a few things that I'd like to spending some time doing over the course of the weeks leading up to Christmas and the festive period itself:

  • Write Christmas cards while listing to my favourite Christmas songs.
  • Crafting some more Christmas decorations - last year I made reams of paper chains and it was so fun to do and they looked wonderful!
  • Go out to look at some Christmas lights while sipping on something hot and preferably mulled!
  • Visit a Christmas tree farm and choose our tree.
  • Buy a tub of Christmas chocolates (we're a Cadbury Roses household!) to enjoy over the Christmas period.
  • Decorate the tree by candlelight - bring on all of the hygge cosiness. 
  • Bake some festive treats.
  • Donate to our local Foodbank and Toybank.
  • Enjoy my favourite Christmas films - Gremlins, White Christmas, Home Alone, Muppet Christmas Carol, The Holiday, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Scrooged...it's a long list and that doesn't even include the cheesy holiday specials on Netflix, which I looooved last year.
  • Attend a carol service.
  • Partake in some favourite festive foods - mince pies, cheeses accompanied by chutney and picked onions (I could eat them on their own really!), sprouts, bread sauce and allll of the chocolate. 
  • Go to the ballet - this one's already booked, we're going to watch the Nutcracker!
  • Wrap presents by the tree.
  • Jólabókaflóð - this is the Icelandic tradition of exchanging books on Christmas Eve before spending some time together reading. Isn't that a lovely idea? Apparently people tend to take their books to bed with some chocolate, which sounds extra cosy. We'll probably be very busy on Christmas Eve as we're hosting this year (eep!) but I'm hoping that we can make the time to do this.

Do you enjoy this time of year? What would be on your festive wishlist?

Wonderful Wednesday: October 2018

31 October 2018

I can't believe that a whole month has passed since I last down here and opened up a new tab on my blog page but just like that, I've blinked and it's the end of October. Autumn is properly here, the nights are colder and darker, and I'm ready for all of the cosy things.

I've had a really productive day today (I'm typing this intro on Sunday) - there's something about having that extra hour in bed after the clocks go back that really encourages me to make the most of the day and still feel rested. We've decanted all of our grape vodka into bottles ready for Christmas, I cleaned the bedding and washed the windows - only inside, mind, I didn't go full Mary Poppins but I now feel extra ready to curl up for the rest of the evening with a book and all of the tea.

And without further ado, here are some other October highlights...


♥ Watercolour painting... Did I mention that I signed up for an art class? I've been going for a weeks now and I love it so much. I haven't really done any drawing since school, not properly, and it's something I always enjoyed but wanted a little tutoring in basic techniques to give me the confidence to do a little more. I've always wanted to bring a sketchbook with me when I go on holiday and do a little sketching but then get scared at the last minute.

I've been going for a few weeks now and for the last few weeks, I've been able to try watercolour painting which is so difficult but I love it. I love the different shades and textures you can achieve with just the smallest amount of paint. I need to practice more and am hoping to have a real chance to play over the Christmas break but for now, the classes are the highlight of my week - which is saying something for a Monday night! And actually having a proper excuse to buy art supplies is everything I've ever wanted.

♥ A weekend in Derbyshire... At the beginning of the month, we got up far too early for a Saturday morning to make it into London for an 8am train from St Pancras up to visit friends in Derbyshire. Breakfast-less arguments on the tube aside, it was completely worth it. We arrived in Derbyshire mid-morning to be met from the train and we headed to our friends' house via the Chatsworth farm shop to pick up some supplies before heading back to the House itself that afternoon. I'm absolutely fascinated by the Mitfords so it was supremely exciting to go on a Debo-pilgrimage and walk halls she would have walked but even if I didn't have that, I would have still loved every moment we spent at glorious Chatsworth. The leaves were just starting to change colour and it was a beautifully bright day so we spent a good few hours just exploring the grounds (some of that time may also have been spent getting lost in the maze). By the time we stopped for some fortifying tea and cake and wandered over to the house itself, they were letting in their last few visitors of the day.

To be honest though, the timing worked out really well. Have you ever visited a beautiful country house just before they're closing up, as the evening's drawing in on an autumn day? I hadn't and it was perfect. We had so many of the rooms to ourselves and the silence behind us as the lights were being switched off and the doors closed made me imagine, just for a moment, that I was living there. It was such a beautiful house. I want to go back and spend more time looking at every picture and all the stunning sculptures too.

The rest of the weekend was spent catching up over a lot of delicious food and cosied up in front of their woodburning stove. The cosiest time with good friends.

♥ Autumnal cooking... And on the subject of delicious food, I'm so excited about all the tasty treats ahead as the weather's colder. We came home to an amazing beef stew on Saturday after a long walk - my husband had made it in readiness the night before, so it tasted even more delicious the next day when we got home. We served it with some creamy mashed potato and red cabbage cooked in butter and balsamic vinegar, and it was perfect food for a cold day. I've also enjoyed my first roast dinner of the season this month and here's to lots more, followed by an apple and blackberry crumble please. I think this might be my favourite season for food!

♥ Gothic fiction... When I visited my brother a few weeks ago, he was raving about a book he'd just started called 'The Haunting of Hill House'. I hadn't heard about it but as we happened to pop into an amazing bookshop near their house, I picked up a copy, read the back and had to buy it straightaway. (support your local independent bookshops, folks!) I had a couple of books to finish initially and wanted to save it until the nights got a little colder and darker anyway. Saving it until October also meant that I managed to coincide with Jenny's gothic fiction read-along on Goodreads.

My goodness, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book but was completely unnerved by it at the same time. I would usually read at least a chapter each night before bed but at one point, when I was close to finishing it, I had to hide the book underneath by bedside table because I was too scared to even glimpse the cover during the night! This book really plays on your imagination and the fact that, for most people, all the terrifying things are already there inside your heads just waiting to be let out. As I said over on Instagram, I read an article about this book recently and one particular quote stood out - "houses aren’t haunted – people are. All the most terrible spectres are already there inside your head, just waiting for the cellar door of the subconscious to spring open so they can get out, sink their icy claws into you". That summed this book up completely for me and is why I can't stop thinking about it after turning the final page.

After finishing 'The Haunting of Hill House', I picked up 'The Silent Companions', which is another piece of gothic fiction and equally gripping. I devoured it over the course of a few days and, while I don't think it'll stay with me as long as Hill House will, it was still deliciously creepy. I think the author has a new book coming out soon (if it hasn't already been released?) and I'll definitely pick it up at some point. 

♥ Gilmore Girls... I know they've made one of these lists before but as the weather started to get a little cooler, I decided to start working my way through the series again. There's something about autumn and Gilmore Girls that goes hand in hand for me. It may raise my coffee-craving levels but that's not really a bad thing, right?!

♥ Autumn spotting... When we visited Derbyshire at the beginning of the month, we went on a mud and mushrooms walk on the National Trust's Longshaw Estate. I don't think I've ever looked so closely at the ground around me on a walk before but we spotted so many different kinds of stunningly-beautiful mushrooms. I'm looking out for them wherever I go now, although it really put me off ever wanting to do any kind of mushroom foraging - there are too many poisonous types, I don't think I'd ever trust myself to get it right!

And that's it for my little October round-up. Happy Hallowe'en to you all - stay safe and warm if you're out trick or treating, and here's to fireworks, spiced hot drinks and the countdown to Christmas during the month ahead!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week/month a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJo, LauraSarahPetaElMimmiLynseyKatie and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

Wonderful Wednesday: September 2018

26 September 2018

How is it the end of September already?! This month has been particularly splendid, which is probably why it has flown by. I've gathered some of my favourites below so read on for tasty treats, autumnal revelling and some house planning discussion.


♥ Anniversary... Beginning with September is a particularly special month for me because our wedding anniversary falls almost mid-way through. It feels so odd to think that our wedding day fell three years ago already - which isn't a long time at all but at the same time, feels like a lifetime ago (in the best possible way!)

We were both working this year unfortunately (boo to mid-week special occasions and not enough annual leave!) but went out for a lovely meal in the evening at a local restaurant we'd been saving for this very occasion. It turns out going out on a Wednesday evening makes for a very quiet and cosy night, and the food was amazing. I've been waxing lyrical about the smoked haddock risotto I had ever since too. Yums. 

♥ Neighbourly adventures... We've been lucky enough to have good neighbours in the last few places we've lived but we're so lucky to get on really well with the lovely lady next door at our new place - and she's remarkably tolerant to how fond I am of her dog too! We went blackberry picking last month and she came over for dinner a couple of weeks ago - a late night with lots of good food, conversation and a few too many glasses of red wine. It also gave me the chance to make my favourite blueberry cheesecake, which always goes down a treat and makes for a tasty dessert over the course of the following days too (if it lasts that long).

♥ Autumn-spotting... Autumn is here at last but I've been loving spotting all the little signs of it over the course of the last few weeks, from the blackberries and sloes dotting the hedgerows to the slightly crisper mornings and the bite in the air. Bring on all the woollens, I'm ready to get cosy!

Autumn, for me, is also about curling up with something darkly gothic - not too scary, mind, I'm not good with things that are too frightening. But a good old fashioned gothic novel or film, there's nothing cosier. This weekend, we braved the cold and the rain and headed into London to watch 'The Little Stranger' at the Barbican cinema. It was wonderful - beautifully shot and deliciously eerie. I loved it. Full disclaimer though - I did have to turn to my husband at the end and say "you know that bit where I had my hands in front of my face/fingers in my ears, what could you see/hear?" See what I mean, very eerie!

I think I did push the experience too far though by agreeing to watch 'The Woman in Black' the following evening. I've seen it at the theatre and found it terrifying but thought, I coped with that so this will totally be fine. It was not fine. I've barely slept since. There's a fine line between pleasantly chilling and cosily gothic, and giving yourself a stress headache because you're so terrified. Walk that line carefully, my friends.

♥ Pinterest moodboarding... We're not going to get a chance to do anything major with our little cottage this year but to be honest, that was never really the plan. I have started making plans for next year though and Pinterest is so helpful with that! I'd like to tackle our bedroom first and have been scrapbooking colours, beds (and bedding!) and storage options. I think I need to get a bit of a floor plan going too to plan where things are going to go and maximise some storage. Where do you like to look for homeware? Any recommendations?

♥ Family catch-ups... One of my favourite things this month was finally going to visit my brother and his girlfriend at their new flat in south-east London. We had lunch at the flat before heading out to explore nearby Crystal Palace. The sun was shining, so we took pedalos out on the lake in the park before spending a little while pottering around all the antique shops, going for a few drinks and then enjoying an amazing dinner at an Iranian restaurant you find by disappearing down some steps through a very unassuming doorway. It was one of those weekends in the best of company when you're devastated that it's come to an end! Need to get more of those in the diary - long train journeys, be damned!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week/month a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJo, LauraSarahPetaElMimmiLynseyKatie and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

Review: Lunch at Indigo at One Aldwych, London (gluten free)

6 September 2018

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to be treated to a three-course meal at Indigo at One Aldwych by my husband for my birthday. It was so delicious that I thought I would do a short write-up of our meal (with apologies for the photos, which were just snapped on my phone), particularly because it's an entirely gluten free and dairy free restaurant and so it was extra special to have the freedom to order absolutely anything from the menu.

One Aldwych is a hotel located right in the centre of London - along the Strand and a stone's throw from Covent Garden. We started the day with a stroll around the Southbank and a visit to the Hayward Gallery, before crossing the river ready for some lunch. The hotel itself looks gorgeous, a real treat of a place, with a spa on site too. There's a cocktail bar on the ground floor, with amazing floral displays, and Indigo is located above this with a balcony area (where we were seated) from which you can look down to the bar below.

We started off with some cocktails while we browsed the menu - a strawberry and basil mojito for me, and a Rob Roy for my husband who likes his cocktails a little old fashioned (read: a little less fruity!). The menu itself changes seasonally, with the ingredients sourced from the British Isles. It was a really difficult choice! When we had chosen our starters and main courses, we were brought some freshly-made gluten free bread with a little bottle of rapeseed oil to dip the bread into. Oh that bread. It was still warm and seasoned with fresh herbs, and like no bread I've eaten at any hotel I've been to recently. In fact, it was particularly sweet as the memory of a hotel we stayed at after a wedding last weekend was still fresh in my mind - where they brought me three slices of burnt stale bread at breakfast, two of which were the ends of the loaf. Bread this good is a life-changing experience for a coeliac!

I opted for the cured Loch Duart salmon to start, which was served with grapefruit, coriander and puréed avocado. It was absolutely beautiful - so fresh and light. We both opted for fish to start, with my husband choosing the seared Orkney scallops served with sweetcorn, apple and truffle.

Although I was tempted by the fish and chips because I'm aaaalways tempted by fish and chips, based entirely on the fact that I was going to have a glass of red wine I opted for the Bavette steak instead with hand cut chips. It's not often that a coeliac can have those kinds of chips in a restaurant because they're usually wheaty (for no good reason!) so that was another major factor in the reasoning behind my decision. It was amazing - so tender and accompanied by a salsa verde that added a whole new layer of flavour to the dish. I inhaled it and only then remembered that I should have snapped a photo (hence that's the only one missing here!)

After much deliberation, my husband chose the Brixham plaice, served with Scottish langoustine, preserved lemon and fennel, with some Cornish new potatoes on the side. He was as happy with his choice as I was with mine - the plaice itself was particularly delicious, which I can attest to having snaffled an eager mouthful. 

The courses weren't overwhelmingly huge, which meant that we comfortably had room for dessert and after much deliberation, I choose the strawberries and custard with a digestive biscuit. I was really not picturing what arrived, which was more like a strawberry and custard tart. One taste of it brought me back to holidays in France when I was small and the strawberry tarts I used to love there - a taste I really thought I'd never get to experience again. My husband selected the custard tart with pear and, having experienced a great amount of really unfortunate gluten free pastry, he polished this off. Gluten free dining has come a long long way in recent years but this was another level altogether.  

We finished the meal with coffees, which arrived with petits fours. Somehow, we managed to fit them in and were very happily full as we walked back to the station through a very sunny London. 

If it wasn't clear from the above, I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Indigo. It's not cheap but for a special occasion, it's a real treat. The staff were lovely and you don't feel rushed in the slightest. I loved every moment. Bearing in mind its location, it would be perfect for a pre-theatre meal and there were so many groups enjoying afternoon teas too (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-themed, with some impressive candy floss!).

Do let me know if you've visited One Aldwych or if you're planning to go after reading this! Bon appétit!

One Aldwych
1 Aldwych

Wonderful Wednesday : August 2018

29 August 2018

It's been a while since I last sat down at my computer and tapped out a Wonderful Wednesday - life gets in the way, as always, and then it turns into a cycle of feeling guilty that I haven't taken part in weeks when I should just take this time for myself but then I don't because it's so much easier to pick up my phone or watch another episode of something on Netflix and then, another week has passed. 

But I do want to keep up with this tradition because it's a really lovely opportunity to sit and reflect on the good moments, so I've decided to follow Lynsey's example and opt for a monthly round-up - all of the wonderful but once a month and something that, no matter how busy I get, is completely manageable. All of the goodness and less of the guilt - I'm in!


♥ Cooler weather... While the sunshine was lovely at first, it was quickly *too* hot for this pale, freckly creature. This month, for the first time in a while, I've felt a cool breeze on the air when watering my little plants in the evening and it's been wonderful. And as August comes to an end, there's been a bit more of an Autumnal chill going on and I'm excited for it (although slightly scared by how quickly this year is flying by!) Here's to candles, scarves and walks through the woods crunching through the fallen leaves. And on that note:

♥ Noticing the seasons... Since moving out of London, I've really stopped to notice the seasons more. Everything was green when we first moved in - the crop fields were lush and budding, and all around were grazing fields full of buttercups and wild flowers, with blossom in the trees. We've noticed the crops continue to grow and over the course of this month, be collected in. Last week, as I left the house to walk to work, there was a powerful smell of manure in the air (that one, perhaps not such a positive) and traces of straw along the side of the road as it had blown off the back of the trucks transporting the bales. Although the year is flying by, I really do feel that I'm stopping to savour the passing of the seasons as I see what's happening around me. 

♥ Visits from friends... One of my friends came to stay in the middle of August and it was such a highlight this month. She arrived on Friday evening so I met her in town after work, giving her a little tour which coincided with a visit to one of my favourite old pubs. A few drinks and the world put to right later, we headed home to show her the house and to order a curry - the perfect Friday! The next day, we headed to the V&A for a few hours, then grabbed dinner before going to the cinema to watch 'Heathers'. I haven't watched that film in years and had forgotten how much I loved it - there's also something really special about watching an old film at the cinema, surrounded by people who love it as much as you do. Such a great weekend. 

♥ Long weekends... I'm going to struggle in Autumn because this week is actually another short week for me, falling immediately after the August Bank holiday. I'm not working Thursday and Friday because tomorrow's my birthday, so I've booked the time off! Tomorrow's going to be spent with my Mum - lunch and the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A, and then celebrating with my husband on Friday. I actually cricked my neck last weekend so here's to a long weekend in excellent spirits and no injuries! 

♥ Blackberry picking... I haven't done this in yeeeears but last weekend, I went for a walk in the woods with my neighbour and her dog, and we brought bags and boxes to collect some of the blackberries dotted all around the woodland. I collected two pots' worth and have frozen them all in readiness for a few crumbles as the nights draw in. I also collected more for my neighbour to add to her collection and this morning, she presented me with a jar of blackberry jam which I'm so excited to tuck into this weekend with breakfast!

Last night, we decided to harvest the bunches of grapes that have been merrily growing on our grapevine. A few bunches turned into a few more and it quickly became clear that we had vastly underestimated the sheer quantity of grapes that have been growing! The plan is to turn this vast array into grape vodka, which should keep us going for quite some time...

August, you've been super. Here's to an even better September!

♥ Do let me know what's made your week/month a little rosier by leaving me a comment below or dropping me a tweet (I'm @happygoluckycat) or better yet, why not join the fabulous bunch of #WonderfulWednesday bloggers? Pop over to their blogs for a dose of mid-week happiness - SallyMichelleHelenKateJo, LauraSarahPetaElMimmiLynseyKatie and Em (I think that's everyone - shout at me if you're not on the list!) - and then join me in counting down the days until the weekend. It's in sight! 

A week in Ortygia, or why everyone needs to plan a holiday to Sicily

12 August 2018

Next year we're absolutely going to travel somewhere different. Absolutely. Maybe. Well, if I can find somewhere just as beautiful, fun, relaxing but cultural, and with such good food as you find in Italy.

Back in July, we hopped on a plane bound to Catania. My husband had just celebrated a milestone birthday (it's still a few years away for me - phew!) and I was determined to do something really special to celebrate, despite the fact that buying a house earlier this year was also a wonderful achievement and one which used up a fair amount of annual leave (and those all-important pennies).

After some to-ing and fro-ing, we decided to go back to Ortygia - the old town of Syracuse, on the south-east coast of Sicily - where we went on honeymoon a few years' ago. It's quintessential Sicily - historic buildings overhanging tangled alleyways, romance and bustle, and food to make your heart sing. But at the same time, the atmosphere is a world away from rambunctious Palermo, which we visited last year. With our last visit to Ortygia not being too long ago, we knew it would be comfortingly familiar while at the same time opened up options of new things to discover and the promise of a bit of a break as we didn't have to worry about fitting everything in as we'd already done that not too long ago.

Where we Stayed

We did something we've always wanted to do in Italy throughout all of our previous trips - we decided to opt for an Airbnb to enable us to cook some of the amazing food that you see in all Italian marketplaces.

We chose an apartment that was incredibly central, on the Via Maestranza, but really Ortygia is the perfect place to discover on foot so you'll never be too far away from anything. We popped to the market on the first day and picked up an array of treats, and developed a bit of a morning ritual of waking up to fresh coffee, succulent doughnut peaches and a fresh caprese salad. I also found delicious gluten free sliced brioche in the supermarket, which I enjoyed with very liberally-applied Nutella, which is a bit of a holiday tradition for me.

In the evenings, we enjoyed some fresh swordfish - simply fried with a squeeze of lemon juice, a rocket salad and the best aubergine I think I've ever tasted - honestly, anyone who's asked me about the holiday has heard me wax lyrical about this aubergine but unless you tried it you just don't know...

We didn't just eat at home though - having been here before, we had some favourite restaurants to go back to and I've mentioned them below, just in case you ever find yourself in Ortygia at a loss for where to eat.

What we Did

Ortygia is best discovered on foot - its maze of tiny backstreets and its winding paths along the seafront with rusting rails that look fit to crumble at any moment. It's not a 'beachy' location. There are a few tiny little beaches and more further along the coast but the sea front of Ortygia is quite rocky and there's one particular spot where people like to sunbathe/swim from the rocks and a platform is set up there each summer for people to swim from more easily. One morning, we got up early (around 7) and walked down to the seafront. There were just two old chaps there, taking in the early morning sun before going for a swim. The water was slightly chilly to start but you soon got used to it and it was like a delicious bath. We swam out and floated on our backs, looking back at the old city walls and the buildings above us with their faded shutters and peeling-painted fronts. I think I was happier at that moment than I've been in a while. The sea is always my happy place.

We also went back to the Duomo - the cathedral at the centre of the city, in a beautiful piazza that's particularly stunning to walk through at night. The Duomo was a 5th century BC Greek temple that was converted into a church and you can still see the huge Doric columns inside and outside the church.

One thing we didn't do this time but I'm mentioning it here for anyone taking a trip to Ortygia is the miqwe - an ancient Jewish ritual bath that lies buried beneath the Alla Giudecca hotel in the told Jewish ghetto, called the Giudecca. It's absolutely fascinating - three deep pools that were only rediscovered relatively recently. They were once connected to a synagogue but were blocked up when the Jewish residents were expelled from the island in 1492. 

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

For me, a holiday isn't a holiday unless it includes a visit to at least one historical place and you're spoiled for choice in Sicily. We visited the archaeological park during our last visit to Syracuse and it was top of my list of must-revisits. There's a Greek Theatre, which this time was set-up for its annual season of classical theatre, the Latomia del Paradiso, deep limestone quarries riddled with catacombs, and the Orecchio di Dionisio or Ear of Dionysius, an eerie grotto hewn into the rock. For a few blissful moments, we were in there on our own without any tourists and it was like stepping back in time. 


On our list visit to Ortygia, we took the train to Noto - a historic little town with stunning red-gold buildings, baroque churches and the best granite (drinks made of crushed ice). Taking the train in Italy is an experience in and of itself so we decided to use one of our precious days to visit the town of Modica - a hill town famous for its chocolate and churches. (I'm a big fan of an old church!)

Modica has two distinct areashigh Modica, where most of the churches are, and low Modica, where most of the restaurants (and the station) are located. I think our trip to Modica fell on one of the hottest days that we were there and it was a long climb and a lot of steps to get to the Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista, a wonderful baroque church which is itself located at the top of its own sweeping staircase. It was so worth it though - the church was beautiful and the views over the countryside were stunning.

What we Ate

Oh Italian food, how I love you so. I know I must have mentioned this about a hundred times before too but Italy is fantastic for us gluten free folk. There's an array of choice in the supermarkets and most restaurants have at least gluten free pasta in the kitchen and generally speaking, a much better understanding of what a coeliac can and can't eat than I've found here (although that is improving every day).

The Syracuse region is famous for its seafood, meaty ragus, lemons and tomatoes. If you pop to Noto, you'll get some of the best granite and Modica is famous for its chocolate.

I would particularly recommend the following restaurants in Ortygia:

Trattoria la Foglia, Via Capodieci 21
This is the oddest little place - mismatched tables with crocheted napkins, porcelain dolls sitting in the window and a huge old wadrobe are just some of the decor choices making this more Edwardian drawing room than restaurant at first sight but this place is always busy for a reason. The food is amazing - cosy, comforting and very reasonably priced. I opted for the mackerel pasta on our first visit (this time) but the ragu is delicious and the local chilled red wine slips down a treat. Don't miss the local cheese platter either.

Taberna Sveva, Piazza Federico di Svevia
This little restaurant is tucked away in a quiet piazza near the castle and is hugely popular with the locals so I'd recommend arriving early or booking a table. It serves traditional Sicilian food. (I went with the sea bass and we shared the house antipasti to start - olives and cheese and meats, oh my!)

In Modica, we chose the Osteria dei Sapori Perduti, Corso Umberto I 228-230 as it was recommended for its Sicilian specialties and it was very meat-heavy. We didn't have too long there unfortunately because we were keeping a close eye on the train times but it was full of local families enjoying a long lunch. It's one of my favourite memories from our trip though because they made me homemade gluten free ravioli with a simple tomato sauce and it's one of the best things I've ever tasted. It was exquisite, I wish they delivered to England.

There are lots of bars in Ortygia but our favourite from our honeymoon (and we were so pleased to see it still running and very popular) was Solaria Vini & Liquori on Via Roma 86. It's a small place, with a few places to sit inside and about 4 or 5 tables outside but the wine list is extensive and it's a wonderful place to sit and people-watch, while enjoying a glass or two of a particularly fine wine. You can also get small platters of food too - cheese, olives, prosciutto and the like. I can wholeheartedly recommend the dessert wine from Noto.


And with that, I'm practically booking my next trip again... Do let me know if you're planning a visit to Sicily anytime soon, or where I should visit next!

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