Weekend Getaways: Torino ITALY Part II

A weekend away in Torino is made easier with these tips and ideas!

My little family recently had the good fortune to spend a long, sunny weekend in Torino, Italy falling in love with its character, people, food and culture. As promised, I said I would follow up our visit with a list of What To Do and What to Eat in Torino. Although we were a family travelling with two kids (5 and 8) and yet I can just as easily see many of the things listed here as being fun for couples, friends, etc.

Here we go!

What To Do:
With no end of things to do in Torino, everyone in your group from the sports fan to anciet Egypt fanatic will be pleased. While not listed, I challenge you to count the number of Fiat 500s you see rolling through the small streets of Torino. A local car to Torino, it has never looked better than in her hometown! 

Egyptian Museum/Museo Egizi0 di Torino

-Parco del Valentino (Excellent spot for a run, walk, picnic or kick around with a ball. You can rent bikes in the park and there are a couple little cafes selling sandwiches, beer and gelato, of course)

-Market at Porta Palazzo/Mercato di Porta Palazzo (Located at Piazza della Repubblica, this is Europe’s largest market with 800+ venders and seemingly endless stalls to cruise past. Everything from fresh fruits, meats, cheese, clothing, home appliances and take-away food are for sale here. It can be a bit overwhelming but it is worth a nose around)

-Run/walk/cycle along the Po River (The Po River is the longest river in Italy and sparkles beautifully through the heart of Torino).

-boat tour along the Po River (you can either take a cruise along the Po river – departures near Parco del Valentino – or rent a kayak to go at your own pace. Times and departures are weather and season-dependant so please do some research on this one before adding it to your list. It is HIGHLY worth a tiny bit of effort!)

-Eat (see below)

-visit the Royal Palace 

National Museum of Cinema (a very different take on a museum but worth a visit – located inside Mole Antonelliana)

Juventus Stadium (home to the Italian Champions League 2015-2016 winners Juventus F.C., the stadium is a must see for sports fanatics and soccer/football fans. There are daily tours and a Juventus museum located inside)

-Mole Antonelliana (the official monument of the Torino 2006 Winter Olympics, this impressive monument is also featured on the Italian 2cent Euro coin)

-Eat more (see below)

-Palatine Towers (remnants from the Roman era, the Palatine Towers or Palatine Gate are an architectural must-see)

-Via Giuseppe Luigi Lagrange (shopping district – think high street to higher end)

What to Eat:
Take note: avoid the tourist trap restaurants. Piedmontese cuisine is so fresh, varied and exciting that despite potential language barriers in understanding menus in Italian,  I promise whatever you order will NOT disappoint. Give in to the local flavours and try something new and exciting. I understand many people are upset about the idea of veal but I included it in this list as it is a very proud dish from this region and at least now if you ARE anti-veal, you know what to avoid on the menus (which are often not translated or poorly translated in the better restaurants).

-Risotto (the main ingredient in risotto, Aborio rice, hails from this region)

-Gelato (ice cream of the best quality and the most amazing flavours)

-Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna mayonnaise and capers)

-Antipasti (my favourites being misto-mixed antipasti and Tomini-creamy cheeses served with chilis)

-More gelato 😉

-Agnolotti (traditional meat stuffed ravioli)

-Cheeses (so many to choose from but I highly encourage that if the restaurant you are dining in offers a cheese plate, you should order it)

Good To Know:
To anyone that likes an early dinner, I’m afraid Italians aren’t prepared for this. Most places don’t start opening for dinner until 7:30-8pm. If you can’t deal with this, perhaps stop by somewhere and ask them if you can get snacks for aperitivo. This way you can satisfy your earlier need to eat without sacrificing on taste! 😉
The buses and trams in Torino are EXTREMELY easy to use and clear. We walked almost everywhere we went but took both bus and tram at other times to see things further afield.  We bought 2 day travel cards for sale at any tobacco shop / tabacchi (welcome to Europe, right?). These shops are easy to spot with the following on display outside each one.

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Tobacco / Tabacchi where you can buy your public transport tickets

 

Photo credit: Jennifer Hart

 

 

What to do this Weekend: Street Food Festival Lausanne

I don’t even know where to start explaining what a good idea a street food festival is. With something for everyone, ranging from vegan cuisine to cocktails to the ultimate in BBQ eats, street food festivals are a great place to try a lot of different foods in a festive atmosphere. We recently took a tour around the Lausanne Street Food Festival and enjoyed it so much I thought I’d put together a a photo tour of our night of tasting, laughing and fun. If you are in Lausanne this weekend, you can enjoy the festival tonight, Saturday 30th April (even with the rain) or all day tomorrow (1st May from 11h00-20h00).  Entry is free but bring cash and an open mind to try as many things as you can!!  Some of the cocktail stands and bigger food trucks accept payment by credit/Maestro cards but I think you are safer assuming you will need to bring real money with you 😉

Good to know: The festival is definitely family-friendly.

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Ha!
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Fish burgers and more!
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The gourmet hot dog stand!
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Yours truly sampling a hot dog with Japanese bbq sauce, coleslaw and chips!
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Fresh chips/crisps made on site!
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My daughter checking out the donut stand
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Smoked salmon (made on site)
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My son was happy with this1
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See? Happy!
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Aperol. I love you.
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Long shot down one side of the festival
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For the vegetarians (and vegetarian-friendly folk 😉 )
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YES!!!! Arepas and tequeños! Love Venezeulan food!
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Upcoming tour dates for Switzerland
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BBQ Burgers
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Mountains, lake, sunshine, food, drinks…bliss!
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Lots of places to lounge, talk and eat on the lawn
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The bars were particularly busy !

 

Thanks for the memories, Lausanne! We’ll be back next year!

PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer Hart

Weekend Getaways: Crans-Montana

Earlier this winter, Mr H and I were cuddled up on the couch one night watching the BBC 2 programme Ski Sunday. On this particular evening they were discussing Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant return after missing the 2013 and most of the 2014 seasons due to a horrible accident. If you don’t know who she is, I highly suggest you take some time and watch the RedBull documentary The Climb and get to know what a phenomenal athlete she is. Anyway, the hosts of Ski Sunday made a comment about looking forward to seeing her race in a few weeks time at Crans-Montana. That was all I needed to hear and within 10 minutes we had a weekend booked to see the Audi FIS Ski World Cup – Women’s event!

The excitement in our household was pretty high as we packed up the car to head to the event. The kids were honestly buzzing with energy. We discussed all the kick-butt skiers we were going to see: Lindsey Vonn(USA), Lara Gut(SUI), Larisa Yurkiw(CAN)…! Unfortunately for everyone involved, the unthinkable happened: winter was too wintery for the world cup. The races were cancelled under a high risk level of 2 metres of fresh powder!  Mother Nature wasn’t playing around! However, it did leave us lots of time to get to know Crans-Montana and enjoy our weekend in this charming alpine location.

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The lone Canadian flag in a sea of Swiss flags!
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Free local bus/navette

Crans-Montana:
Made up of not one but two neighbouring ski areas, Crans and Montana, the region has everything you would need for a ski trip to the Swiss alps. Situated around 1500m/4900ft, the villages are both distinct in their nature and yet there is space enough for families, the jet-set crew and everything in-between. The shopping is out of this world, ranging from local artists to the most luxurious of luxury goods. If the thought of Switzerland conjures up images of luxury and snow, then you must be thinking of Crans-Montana. I am not sure whose life sees them arrive at a mountain village needing t0 purchase an Omega watch but I am certainly NOT going to criticise! 🙂

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That view!

Points Forts/The Good Stuff:
Located in the bilingual canton of Valais (French) or Wallis (German), Crans-Montana is a sunny resort that offers not only great skiing and impressive mountain views, on clear days you can catch a glimpse of the neighbouring Matterhorn. Crans-Montana is easily accessed in about 2hours by car from Geneva airport. Train accessibility is excellent and a funiculaire/cable car taking you straight up the mountain can be found in the lower altitude town of Sierre. Parking in both Crans and Montana was extensive and the free interconnecting buses/navettes can see you going from your car to the gondola/télécabine in minutes.
Like many alpine resorts, Crans-Montana is an all-season location with a reputation for some of the best golfing in Europe. Every September, the Omega European Masters is hosted in Crans-Montana, drawing fans and sports enthusiasts from around the world!

What To Do in Crans-Montana?

  • skiing/snowboarding (children under 5 and under are free)
  • ski/snowboarding school (multilingual)
  • tobogganing/sledding/winter tubing at Snow Island
  • snowshoeing
  • skating
  • indoor golf
  • cross-country skiing (gorgeous pistes!!)
  • hiking
  • paragliding
  • snow park
  • rock climbing
  • VTT/Mountain biking (117KM of marked trails)
  • outdoor swimming (summer only)
  • canyoning
  • golf
  • lake activities (summer)
  • tennis
  • Nordic walking
  • host town of world sporting events both winter and summer
  • Late shopping every Friday night for those that arrive at the mountain having forgotten something…like a diamond necklace! 😉
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What snow?! Cortège/parade of cowbells.

Skiing in Crans-Montana:
Located between 1500m (villages) and 3000m(Plaine-Morte glacier) Crans-Montana is well situated for snow-seekers. There are over 140km of groomed trails, many of them wide and long to allow for more time on the slopes and less time on a lift! There is a mix between easy, intermediate and advanced allowing everyone to find what they are looking for. For those looking for a bit more of an adrenaline rush, the Snow Park offers a chance to try rails, backflips and everything in between.

Dining in Crans-Montana:
The international nature and appeal of Crans-Montana is evident by a small wander through town. The restaurants are just as varied as the languages you will hear. This was the first time I have ever seen an Indian restaurant at altitude before and we were tempted to try it but I already had my eye on something even stranger: Restaurant Chez Chico: a popular Argentinian local haunt. It was too tempting not to try and I am so glad we did!!! The owner, Chico, and his wife are simply amazing and if you are in the Crans-Montana region you simply MUST try their restaurant. The empanadas alone will have you swooning with love.

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Chez Chico – Delightful Argentinian restaurant located in Montana

Where to Stay:
There is no shortage for places to stay, from high end luxury hotels to Airbnb rentals, in Crans-Montana. With the abundance of parking and free bus/navette system, you are pretty much guaranteed almost any spot you find will be a fast link up with the ski departure zones. The Crans-Montana website offers both special offers and accommodation suggestions so feel free to check that out here. If you have the means and feel like having a luxurious getaway, I suggest booking yourself at LeCrans Hotel & Spa.

Points to Consider:
Crans-Montana is a VERY popular destination so book early! When looking for a hotel or an apartment rental, if parking is not listed and you know you will need it, don’t dismiss the location before you check and see if it is near one of the numerous parking lots available. Check with your hotel location to see if they offer any discounts on lift tickets as some do offer this service. In addition, if you are worried about skiing at higher altitude please see my previous post on Les Diablerets where I discuss what to look out for.

In the end, we didn’t see the women’s world cup but we did participate in the festivities and get a real feel for Crans-Montana. We will be back!

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The junior Harts bringing some spirit!
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Walking on stilts attached to snowshoes – BRAVO, guys!!
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Lindsey Vonn at the drawing of the order ceremony – before everything was cancelled. Oh well! 

 

Thank you, Crans-Montana for an excellent weekend. It wasn’t the one we were expecting but we left happy and excited to return. A big thank you, also, to the staff of Chez Chico for such a delightful experience. Mountain dining has never been so fun!! 

Photos: Jennifer Hart, Chez Chico, Fotolia

Weekend Getaways: Leysin Part II Hôtel Central Résidence

We all love a vacation, right? But I am sure that I am not the only one out there that stresses over the actual planning of it.  Picking a hotel turns into a checklist of dread: family-friendly, quiet, free wi-fi, parking, pool, proximity to restaurants/activities/event, cost, cleanliness…the list goes on and on. Thankfully, for the most part, I have always had great success in choosing a place. There was a one-off in France that was so bad we checked out at 5am but that remains a sole blip on an otherwise clean record of location-choosing. Yet, because of that blip, I panic whenever we check-in somewhere new. Without a doubt, I can say that our recent getaway to Leysin was made even sweeter by the location of our stay.

After pouring over places, I finally booked us a family room at Hôtel Central Rèsidence. I gathered from the research I had done that Leysin was going to be a bit of a hilly experience. As I was travelling with an 8 and 5 year old, I chose to find us a place close to the télécabine/gondola departure. Upon arrival, I was very happy with that decision! To say Leysin is ‘hilly’ understates it by a LOT!

Hôtel Central Résidence

A 3 star hotel, Central Résidence is well-situated in sunny Leysin, located approximately 300m from the ticketing and télécabine/gondola departure area. This makes it incredibly convenient for anyone hoping to hit the slopes for a fun day of skiing or snowboarding.

First Impressions and Check-In:
I knew from photos online that Central Résidence looked a touch ‘retro’ from the outside. I am not someone particularly fussed about that but I did want to mention it for the high flyers who might find their trip affected by aesthetics 😉

Check-in was a breeze and took roughly 2 minutes. You are given a proper, old school key that you MUST leave with the front desk staff when you leave the premises. Imagine how many keys have been lost out in the mountains and you might see the reasoning behind this. There is outdoor parking but next time I would definitely call ahead and book an underground spot (over 2m in height) for the extra few Francs per day. There was plenty of parking available outside but to say everyone who was there knows how to fit a car into one spot would be a lie. This makes it tight if you are an SUV family like us. My husband did manage to park the car and we did not use it the entire weekend except when we left as it wasn’t necessary for us.

The Room:
We booked into a family room and were pleasantly surprised by the space (ski accommodations can often be TIGHT). I made the rookie mistake of forgetting my Canon on this trip so you will have to see the hotel through the lens of my iPhone. Apologies.

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King Size bed for us and bunkbeds for the juniors

The room was clean, warm and spacious. We had LOTS of closet and shelf space for our things and the bathroom was both large in size and clean. There was a random flower on the ceiling in our bedroom and I’m not sure what that was about but the kids loved it! We had two very peaceful night’s rest here. The rooms are definitely quiet and although the beds were a bit soft for my liking, my tired post-skiing body didn’t seem to mind!

I know that television in another country can be a concern for foreign travellers but it needn’t be here. The TV came with a channel list that was colour-coded based language. How very organised and how very Swiss!

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Plenty of choices on TV!

The Restaurant:
We did not partake in the half-board option for the hotel. My only reasoning is that I tend to avoid half-boards for places I don’t know. It’s a personal thing and I have nothing negative to say about the half-board on offer having seen it now, I just have a little quirk on this one!  That said, we were able to purchase breakfast and have dinner at the restaurant nightly. Our children loved the breakfast buffet (a mix of hot and cold items) as well as the night buffet (Saturday was raclette night!). My husband and I opted to order à la carte and try the famous ‘charbonnade’. Charbonnade is a dinner of meats (or meats and fish) served and cooked at your table on a hot copper grill. Served with six sauces, a side of grilled vegetables and super crispy shoestring fries, it is one LARGE but hearty mountain meal!

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The hot fire heating up the individual carbonnade grills (you can see above each table is a copper vent to diffuse the smoke from grilling at the table)
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la charbonnade

Amenities and Features:
For a 3 star hotel, we were pretty impressed at the amount of amenities offered to guests. From the pool with the most amazing view to the ski lockers, the weekend was both fun and functional.

  • Access to skiing 300m from lobby
  • Heated ski lockers (either rental private lockers or one large room with ski storage – at your own risk)
  • Pool
  • Jacuzzi
  • Sauna
  • Gym
  • Hammam
  • Massages
  • Games room (baby foot, video games)
  • Billiards table
  • Reception area bar
  • Fireplace
  • Vending machines
  • Coffee machine in lobby available any hour of the day
  • Multilingual staff
  • Private function rooms (a wedding was happening while we were there!)
  • Library
  • Elevators big enough for baby strollers 😉
  • Apartments on-site for rent for longer stays
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Heated ski lockers (we rented one and it was definitely big enough for all 4 sets of boots, poles and skis)
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Pool area
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Chilled out by the fireplace

While this wasn’t a luxury weekend away for us, we were definitely happy with our choice. Hôtel Central Résidence definitely made our weekend a hit by being such a surprisingly charming alpine hotel. The kids were disappointed when it came time to check-out and I will admit that even though I was telling them it was OK, I felt the same. We would definitely return.

Thank you et merci to the staff at Hôtel Central Résidence. We had a great weekend and will definitely return!  For information on Leysin in general, please click here to read my review of the ski area and town.

Photo credits: Jennifer Hart, Hôtel Central Résidence

Where to Eat in Suisse Romande: A Journey of Food, Wine and Cocktails.

Before we moved here I must have listened to at least two dozen (if not more) unsolicited opinions on how awful food is in Switzerland. Knowing I am a total foodie, some people even laughed at the idea of me ever going out. “Good thing you can cook!” I was told more than once. So imagine my surprise when that turned out to be complete and utter nonsense. I think people confuse the rustic mountain food of charcuterie and cheese with refined city dining. Therefore, my dear readers and friends, allow me to take it upon myself to travel around Switzerland and debunk that myth. Over and over again.

For the most part, I will be focusing on the area that is called Suisse Romande. If you are new to learning about life in Switzerland, allow me explain what that means. Suisse Romande is the predominantly French-speaking area that stretches from Geneva, across Vaud, to the Jura mountains, includes Neuchâtel and extends into parts of Fribourg, Valais and Bern. It represents an area where 2 million people live and either speak French exclusively or are bilingual/multilingual including French as one of their languages used. This is where were live and this is where I will be focusing my dining experiences on. I will do my best to keep you up to date and informed of the foodie scene in Suisse Romande so keep a look out for these posts at least once a month on Thursdays.

Schweiz

As for what kinds of food I will be focusing on, all I can say is being new to this country I want to sample as much as possible. I am not a vegetarian or vegan but I’m very friendly to the veggie way of life and i will do my best to keep an eye out for places that would suit your needs.

Our first dining experience as a couple was at this great place called Osteria Balsamico in Lausanne. I vowed not to work that night as we were celebrating our move and finally settling into Swiss life. Some nights the camera has to stay home and the brain has to shut down. What I CAN say about Osteria is that it was so good I have not stopped thinking about when we can go back. The location was nothing to write home about but it did not matter once you were inside, being cared for by the staff and dining on their amazing Italian fusion menu. For my main dish I had a risotto made with mascarpone cheese and blood oranges. Paired with the Brunello di Montalcino that Mr H ordered put me in sheer heaven. If that was my introduction to dining in Suisse Romande, I cannot wait to see where we go from here!!!

The playful menu with Italian stars featured inside.
The playful menu with Italian stars featured inside.
Hello gorgeous.  Brunello di Montalcino.
Hello gorgeous.
Brunello di Montalcino.

So kids, I may just be getting started here in Switzerland but stay tuned for more foodie news!!

Photos: Fotolia, Jennifer Hart