Tuscany Day 3: Mist, Medieval Towns and Gelato Dondoli

It’s our second morning (third day) in Tuscany and I popped out of bed at 6am, hoping to catch another spectacular sunrise. Instead, I woke up to this.


Tuscan mist. Wispy, eerie, magical. It blankets the hills and casts an other worldly air over the valley. Like the rows of perfectly coiffed Cypress trees, this is another of those iconic Tuscan scenes. Photographers travel far and wide to capture Tuscan mist so I was more than happy to wander the hotel grounds for a good hour soaking it in and watching it move and shift. I’m now very grateful for the relentless downpour that started at 4pm yesterday. If rain means mist, bring it on!

Here’s the rest of my top 5:

1. Medieval Towns: One of my favourite things about Tuscany so far, is exploring its picture-postcard hilltop towns. Almost all are surrounded by high stone walls and most boast gorgeous views of the rolling Tuscan hills, olive groves and geometric vineyards. Walking around their tiny, cobblestone streets and higgledy piggledy houses, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been transported back in time. We visited Casole d’Elsa, Volterra and San Gimignano today. The former is small and sleepy with some picturesque views while the latter two turned out to be popular spots on the tourist trail and were bustling with activity.

2. Il Colombaio: We had lunch today at Il Colombaio, just outside the town walls of Casole d’Elsa. Don’t be fooled by the random location and the nondescript exterior – the food is excellent (and they have a Michelin star to prove it).  Tuscan cuisine is renowned throughout Italy and the region is blessed with plentiful fish and seafood as well as lamb, game and even wild boar. If you’re looking for a modern twist on the classics, definitely check out Il Colombaio.

3. The Roman Theatre at Volterra: A number of people had recommended visiting Volterra but we arrived to find hordes of people milling outside the city walls. Inside, it was so crowded, it was hard to move. As it turned out, Volterra was hosting a renaissance fair and families had travelled from all over Italy to attend. Luckily, the area also boasts an impressive Roman Theatre just outside the town walls, so we contented ourselves with exploring that instead.

4. Panforte and Aperol Spritz: If I could go back and visit only one town in Tuscany, it would probably be San Gimignano. It’s popular and busy, but for good reason. We stopped at a tiny hole-in-the wall to sample some panforte and ended up sitting outside for a good hour, sipping Aperol Spritz and watching the crowds go by. Despite, the region’s wine fame, the Spritz may be Tuscany’s signature drink. On any given afternoon, you’ll see at least a few of these bright orange glasses on every table. It’s the perfect refresher for the dry summer heat.

5. Gelateria Dondoli: My final favourite for the day is a gelato shop, which also happens to be in San Gimignano. Sergio Dondoli has been running the place forever and has won the ice cream world championships twice (yes, there’s a world championship for ice cream). I’m usually not a huge ice cream fan, but when in Italy…well, actually it came down to the fact that Dondoli is kind of a big deal. The lines outside his shop were insane and he was coming out and personally chatting to every person waiting. When we told him we were from Sydney, his reaction was epic. Of course he’s been there! He’s consulted for Messina, no less… but that’s not his favourite gelato place ;) Picking the flavour was the hardest part and in the end we went for coconut, lime and his signature watermelon and fig. Delicious!

Tuscany Day 2: Montalcino and Montepulciano

Jet lag woke me up absurdly early this morning and I figured I’d make the most of it and fit in a workout and some writing. Luckily I was rewarded with this gorgeous sunrise.


Here are my top 5 from Day 2:

1. Brunello di Montalcino
Our first stop today was Poggio Antico, a vineyard and restaurant in Montalcino. About 60km south of our hotel, Montalcino is home to the famous Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s most revered wines. Montalcino has one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany and, at 450m above sea level, Poggio (literally “knoll”) is one of the highest altitude producers. Over the course of an hour, we learned how the unique soil conditions (volcanic, rocky) and location (high altitude, flanked by the coast on the East and Amiata Mountains on the West) give Poggio wines their particular character.

In order to be called a “Brunello”, wine from the Montalcino region must meet a laundry list of requirements as stipulated by the DOC and DOCG including being made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, containing 12.5% alcohol and a minimum of 2 years ageing in wood and 4 months in bottle. I’m a huge fan of Brunello (as is most of the US apparently — 1 in 3 bottles are sold in America) and it’s always reminded me of French Pinot Noirs. Both are smooth and easy drinking but Brunellos are heavier and have those characteristic tannins. After the tour and tasting, we had lunch at Poggio, all of which I’d highly recommend. You need to book ahead for the tour and they’ll only take groups of up to eight at a time.

2. Tuscan Cypress
Originally from Syria, this evergreen tree was once believed to have supernatural powers, leading the Etruscans to plant it around their burial grounds. Today, it’s hard to think of Tuscany without it — it flanks driveways, demarcates roads and cuts a clean line against the sky on hills and mountains. Tall, elegant and vertical, Cypress trees also impart a distinctive fragrance to the Tuscan air, I can’t get enough of them!


3. Sunflower Fields
The first time we spotted one of these, we had to stop the car and get out for a mandatory frolic. Seeing hundreds of these tall, golden flowers with their heads tilted towards the sun makes for a spectacular sight. They’re past their peak but they’re still gorgeous, and they’re everywhere.

4. Summer Rain
Remember how I was complaining about the heat? Well it rained today. A lot. Fortunately, it’s not the torrential sort of rain we get in Sydney (or New York for that matter); it’s more of a British drip: docile yet persistent. The storm clouds started forming this afternoon and by 3pm it was coming down hard. It’s a welcome respite though; just today someone told us how the week before we arrived, temperatures were in the early 40s!

5. Montepulciano
After lunch we headed 45 minutes East to Montepulciano to sample some delicious Vino Nobile. Montepulciano is another hilltop renaissance town boasting gorgeous views of red-roofed houses, rolling hills, olive groves and of course vineyards. We climbed to the top of Palazzo Communale for some even better views.

Tuscany Day 1: From Bondi to Bagnoregio

Bagnoregio: quintessential Italy

Bagnoregio: quintessential Italy

Ciao from Italia!

At the beginning of this year, I attempted to capture our 11 day trip to Japan in a daily travel journal. I think I published maybe three blog posts and ended up with a folder of half complete musings. This time, I’m going to do better because these posts will be short (I’m limiting myself to an hour writing each day), not-every-day (although if they are, that’s OK) and will capture 5 observations from the day that passed.

Here’s Day 1 (brought to you by 430am jetlag, a Canon 7D and an iPhone 6):

It’s my first time in Italy in 7 years. How did that happen? Italy is one of those countries, like France, that always feels familiar. The espresso, the pasta, the pastries…Italian culture has permeated the world, and its presence is felt no stronger than in Sydney, where the coffee culture, delicious bakeries and creative Italian cuisine is delightfully authentic. 

We landed in Rome in the wee hours. It’s one heck of a flight through Dubai, with more than 20 hours in the air, but the bright sunlight and sheer excitement wiped the sleep from our eyes. After collecting our Europcar rental, a Fiat of course, we headed straight out on our 250km journey to Tuscany.

The plan was to grab a bite and stop at a couple of the towns along the way before heading towards Siena. We’re pretty good at road trips and we’ve recently taken to seizing any opportunity to be in a car to listening to a podcast. Usually, it’s something about tech, occasionally its from the Moth or the New Yorker. Today it was about startups. And so, with Jason Calacanis gushing about the soon-to-be-extinct Zirtual as background music, we made good time to Bagnoregio.

Civita de Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio is a medieval town about 150km north of Rome. It was founded more than 2500 years ago as an Etruscan settlement and sits atop a mountain that is slowly eroding. It was, in a word, breathtaking. 

Like so much in this part of the world, Bagnoregio feels like a perfectly preserved postcard from Roman times. A paved footbridge connects it to “the modern world” and the view from the approach, set against bare ridges, cuts a dramatic scene.

With the sun out in all its mediterranean glory, temperatures had soared to the mid thirties and the 8,000 step round trip was punishing. We stopped on our way back for a refreshing granita and took every opportunity to bask in the shade.

By the time we got to Siena, it was 3pm. We stopped for a quick (late) lunch in town and then drove an additional 20 minutes North to our hotel. Hotel Le Fontanelle sits on a functioning vineyard set against the gorgeous Chianti Hills. Tucked away, tranquil and yet perfectly executed, it’s a beautiful escape and feels unlike anywhere I’ve ever stayed in Italy. By dinner time, temperatures had finally eased and we were able to sit outside and soak in the beauty of the scene…and eat and drink far too much.

Here are my five observations from day 1.

1. So far, Tuscany feels a lot like French wine country: Provence, Burgundy, Alsace. I suppose all wine country shares characteristics but the rolling hills, winding roads and historic townships combine to create something uniquely old world.

2. Speaking of dry sun, did I mention how hot it is? It’s hot as. Coming from the Australian Spring, we’ve been caught by surprise. The Tuscan sun can certainly hold its own. 

3. Italian, the language, is just as beautiful as I remember. I studied French for several years and can rattle off some survival Spanish but I can’t claim to speak much Italian. All I know is it’s music to my ears.

4. People drive fast. Like really fast. And unlike Australia and much of Northern Europe and Switzerland, there’s little concern for speed cameras. We were clocking in at 100kph on the highway from Rome to Siena and were constantly being overtaken. Oh the narrow, winding country roads? The Italians are zooming there too.

5. This one’s a little random but I thought it was really interesting: there are a ton of tour buses with tourists from Mainland China. It might just be the airport and the towns we’ve seen so far, but I thought this was a big shift from the last time I was in Italy. We’ll see if it’s true in the smaller towns as well. 

Skiing in a sunburned country


Threadbo – get amongst it!

Ask people who’ve never been what they associate with Australia, and you’ll hear things like deserts, beaches, surf, kangaroos and crocs. Did you know though that you can ski in Australia? I’m talking real snow, mountains, lifts, boozy hot drinks — the works.

If you’re an Aussie local, you may want to skip this post, but if you’re an expat like me, this could blow your mind.

Ski holidays are amongst my favourites. Slicing through (and falling in) fresh powder on a bluebird day, wintry nights snuggled up in front of a roaring fire eating calorie bomb bolognese, sipping mulled wine and getting overly competitive at charades with a big group of friends… what’s not to like?

When we moved to Sydney a few years ago, ski trips were one of the things we’d reconciled ourselves to giving up trading for the beach. We knew there was decent skiing over in NZ but that seemed nowhere as easy as a roadtrip from NYC to Vermont. Shortly after I started working, a colleague mentioned he was leaving early to drive over to Perisher for a ski weekend. Say what?? Now mind you, this was July in Sydney, a time when the Harbour City is supposedly plunged into the depths of winter (but really it feels like a San Francisco summer). How could there be snow a few hours south, when it’s 20C in Sydney?

We missed that year’s Aussie ski season and the one after :( But this year, we made it!

Last weekend, we drove down to Thredbo. Nestled in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Thredbo is a 500km drive from Sydney and part of Kosciuszko National Park.

Now before I get into it, I should clarify that we didn’t have particularly high expectations. Pretty much everyone we knew had told us that “the snow was crap”, that there were “hills not mountains” and that “everything was twice as expensive”. I’ve never skied in the Pocanos but my husband grew up on icy East Coast skiing and had braced himself for man made snow, thin cover and short runs. To our delight, we couldn’t have been more wrong.

Here are the highlights:

1. The conditions.


Blue skies

For starters, we lucked out with the weather. On an average year, Thredbo gets 196cm snow over a 4-5 month season; the night we arrived, the resort was dumped on with 30cm of fresh snow. Yippee! On top of that, we had blue skies, warm temperatures (barely a few degrees below freezing) and plenty of sunshine. Our second day however, they resorted to making snow and the conditions got a little icy. I can see how a snow dry-spell could wreak havoc.

2. The lifts


Pure magic

The lift situation turned out to be pretty good.  Thredbo doesn’t have a gondola but the high speed quad “Kosciuszko Express” gets you most of the way to the top and it’s only a T Bar or two from there to the bowls. Also, the lines are short and very orderly. Having skied a few times in France, I have a newfound appreciation for Aussie queuing obsessions ;-)

3. The Terrain

This came as another pleasant surprise as we were expecting mostly groomers and some steeps. There’s some great tree skiing, lots of rocks and bumps, a terrain park and, if you take Karel’s T Bar to the top of the mountain, you can ski Golf Course Bowl, a gorgeous powdery expanse.


Hiking down a treacherous section of Funnel Web

Our last run of the day, we made our way down Golf Course through Funnel Web. Not for the faint of heart, Funnel Web is a double black that’s narrow and uneven with rocks and roots poking out the entire way. There are lots of trees, some powder and, at times, you have no option but to take your skis off and walk (crawl?) along the face of the mountain. It took more than an hour to get down and there’s no way I’d go back in poorer conditions / with lower visibility.

4. The Village

Thredbo Village is charmingly European — another surprise, although I wasn’t sure what to expect. Kareela, the mountain lunch spot of choice (if you’re happy to splurge) oozes rustic charm and boasts waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional lederhosen and dirndl serving hearty Bavarian fare.

Apple cider and smores at the Alpine Lodge

Apple cider and smores at the Alpine Lodge

One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the Aussie ability to drink, and Thredbo is no exception! In the time that I’d enjoyed my gluhwein and Niraj had had a beer, the three blokes next to us had downed a ski’s worth of shots — 15 to be precise, that’s 5 shots each. A few other tables were splitting a bottle of wine or doing shots themselves, and this was at lunch time, in the middle of the mountain, with a long run to the bottom. It’s a sight worth seeing!

5. The Skiers


Fresh powder in the Golf Course Bowl

Finally, I was very impressed with the skiers at Thredbo. For a nation with very little snow, the average Aussie skier seems pretty darn good! I suspect it may have something to do with Aussie ski school, which everyone seems to go through. When I learned to ski, I spent three days in ski school and took a couple of lessons after that, but I suspect that’s because I learned as an adult. A lot of my American friends learned to ski pretty much on their own — at most copying a sibling or a friend. It’s harder to nail that perfect form or go nearly as fast without some sort of professional training. The Aussie standard has definitely made me want to step it up!

Overall, Thredbo gets a big thumbs up. It’s definitely pricier than other ski resorts and I can see why, especially as a family, you’d be better off making the trip to Japan (and getting some of that world class #japow!), but it’s not as terrible as people made it out to be. It’s no Utah or Colarado but heck, it’s just as good (better than?) Vermont! I’m looking forward to going back :)

Very Strawberry Pie

Strawberry Pie

Baking is one of those things I love to do but don’t have nearly enough occasion to do so. Naturally then, I jumped on our July 4th BBQ as an excuse to bake some pies, more specifically strawberry pies.

I’m not much of a dessert person but I’m a sucker for fruit. It’s definitely the one food group I couldn’t live without. And when it comes to fruit, strawberries are up there in my top 5. There’s always a punnet of strawberries in my fridge.

This pie is super simple and quick to make. And in the scheme of pies, it’s relatively healthy.

Here’s what you’ll need (one pie serves 8)


  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 125gms unsalted butter
  • 5 tblsp ice water
  • 1/4 tsp salt


  • 2 cups quartered strawberries
  • 2 cups whole strawberries to decorate
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 tblsp arrowroot (or other thickener such as cornstarch)


1. Make the dough per my all butter pie crust. Once ready, flatten into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes. Roll out the chilled dough and place carefully in a 9″ pie dish. You can scallop the edges using your fingers or a fork. Blind bake the shell with pie weights or pennies at 200 C for approx 20 minutes.

2. Toss the quartered strawberries in a saucepan with the sugar and heat on low. Meanwhile, whisk the arrowroot in the water until dissolved. Add to the saucepan and cook on low heat until it reaches a thick, jammy consistency. I like to use arrowroot rather than cornstarch because it gives a gorgeous shiny sheen to fruit fillings as well as a jelly-like consistency.

3. Finally, pour the jammy filling into your baked pie shell and decorate with halved or whole strawberries. Leave to cool and then move to the fridge so it can fully set. Serve with a scoop of vanilla icecream.



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