Saturday, October 19, 2013

Yoga and Wine on Italy's Amalfi Coast... with Essential Yoga Studio, Fernie, B.C.

Yoga & Wine on Italy's Amalfi Coast.....

View from Ravello, Amalfi Coast

Everyone said we were crazy to mix these two "opposite" activities on a retreat to Italy... But who knew?  Our 8 travelling yogis found that yoga and wine went VERY well together...   
Guru Francesca's lesson beside the Gelsomina Pool
The ladies at Vietri sul Mare

What a fun way to spend a week with other dynamic and like minded ladies from... Vancouver, Toronto, Fort MacMurray, Los Angeles, New York and our hometown of Fernie. 
 Francesca ter Poorten from Essential Yoga Studio in Fernie had been talking about doing a retreat together with VM Travel Adventures for some time.  Her focus, of course, was yoga, being a teacher of the practice for nearly 20 years.  I asked, "Can we add a wine component?" and the first ever yoga and wine tour planning had begun!   
This tour took us from Naples, under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, on to a little wine farm called La Vecchia Quercia.  Anna was our host for a cooking lesson with a focus on ingredients from Campania - she shared with us the recipes from her heart. We also tasted some very nice wines from Montevetrano Vineyard, right on the property of our villa, this time hosted by Sylvia, female winemaker and also Anna's sister - all of this female entrepreneurship was a perfect reflection of our group of women travelling, eating, drinking, practicing yoga and revelling in Italian culture together!  We got to spend a day near Avellino where Roberto from Di Meo showed us his family estate from the 1700's and took us through his array of whites from the region, Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino. After a flambeed lunch of orichiette pasta, we met Taurasi's most famous wine character, Antonio Caggiano.  He was so enamoured with our group of ladies that he even, ehum, turned on his bottling line for us!
Cooking in Anna's Kitchen

We said goodbye to Anna after three days spent conquering the Montevetrano Casltle in the Campania hillside, and jumped in the van with our driver, Giancarlo, who escorted us on to our next adventure. In our little van, we navigated the narrow path they call a highway through the towns that dot the Amalfi Coast.  We shopped, hiked the winding staircases, toured the Cimbrone Gardens, ate caprese salad and pastries....  all before getting stuck behind two large and locked busses that were heading in opposite directions.  Giancarlo got out to help the drivers negotiate the tight corner, but instead decided to make a break for the space between them with OUR van!  Grazie Giancarlo!  In his own words, "Driving the Amalfi coast at an easy pace takes one hour.  Driving the Amalfi Coast when you're in a hurry..... takes one hour."

Mount Vesuvius sunrise over the harbour

 Next on the agenda was a three night stay in Anacapri, the more tranquil side of the Isle of Capri, that had long been inhabited by emperors, prisoners, poets and currently, the super-rich.  At the Villa Ceselle we enjoyed morning yoga practices on the terrace and in the gardens while Francesca gave us 1 on 1 time to perfect our poses.  During the day we made our way around the island, first by boat where we dipped into the caves that await under the rocky precipices of the island.  Our boat captain, Fernando was VERY thankful to us for boarding his comfy boat that day, while we jumped off for a swim, jumped back on for sunbathing... and he was not surprised when we decided to swim in the mysteriously blue waters of the famous Blue Grotto.  I could not believe our luck when we swam through the small rocky entrance, just a few of us, into the prohibited cave that is lit from underneath by the sun hitting the azure water of the Tyrrhenian sea.
Karen and Francesca lounging on our private boat
The Grotto of Love with Mieke

Sarah likes the Taurasi wines
 We felt like queens while being escorted around the island in convertible taxis.  We took time to lunch, shop, get lost and found again... some of us took the Monte Solaro Chairlift to the top of the island for a view of the whole bay of Naples.  The weather was on our side, right up until our final meal outdoors in the Anacapri square where we shared a diverse array of antipastas, seafood and pasta dishes, not to mention a few bottles of Taurasi Mastrobernadino, 2006 offered to us by Paolo da Franco.  Again, we yoga gals received special treatment... guitar serenades, feather boa gifts and the nice prosecco that kicked off the best, however final, meal of the tour at Melos Osteria della Musica.

Tracey in the Castell del Ovo
Next thing we knew, it was time to board the 'aliscafo' hydrofoil back to Sorrento for some shopping and a stop at the Pizza University, the home of the best pizza Napolitana.  On to Naples where some of us went to the museum, and others got a city tour and coffees offered by Giancarlo.  Despite the stormy day, the pink sunset came out to say goodbye to us as we climbed to the top of the Castell del Ovo above the port. A stunning end to a stunning week!

Ciao bellas, and thanks for sharing your holiday with us.  See you next time for our next yoga and wine adventure!!

Life is too short NOT to have this much fun!
xx Natascha

Friday, October 11, 2013

Learning Italian at the Beach!

Hello fellow travellers! 

Since we are travelling to Italy with our VM Travel Friends so much lately, I finally decided that it was time, once and for all, to focus on learning Italian.  Where better to do it than in Bella Italia!! 

Versilia is the region in northern Tuscany where the beaches reign supreme!  The strip of sand is lined with 'bagno' after 'bagno', private beaches that rent umbrellas, and will sell you a cold "Aperol Spritz" on a hot day!  Luckily my school, the Centro Giacomo Puccini Institute gave us a lovely spot at the 'Bagno Italia' in order to sunbathe and do our homework in the afternoons.  

The fishing village of Viagreggio is flanked by two pine forests and cut through the middle by a canal - one fit for schooners and trawlers, but a bit too skinny for the big yachts to get through.  I rented a beautifully decorated, lofted apartment with an Italian family - who spoke to me only in Italian. This was great practice, although I frequently ended up at home with my brain full of new Italian words, exclaiming, "Sono a la fruta!" or 'I'm at the fruit' - the last course of a big dinner where you just can't jam any more learning in for the day!  Elisabetta and Carlo gave me a bike to get to school and I found myself weaving through oncoming traffic and dodging market goers, just like the locals!

Classes began at 9am with Grammar lessons, then we had a conversation class, where we met many friends from all over the world.  The school has a reputation, and foreign students from Switzerland, Germany, USA, France and even Lichtenstein came to get their credentials in Italian language.  My private language tutor, Alessandra was wonderful, and since I was doing an intensive wine, food and tourism course, she even took me to her favourite restaurant in Pisa - and I got to invite some fellow Canadian students and friends! The food was meraviglioso, all local products from Pisa paired with Vini Lucchesi  - wines from Lucca - delicious!

We were so lucky to be situated only a short train ride from Pisa, Lucca, Cinque Terre so we took advantage and bopped around the countryside on the notoriously late Italian trains.  I was told by a local octopus fisherman who was also on the train, that he no longer wears a watch because nothing in Italy starts on time. So very true.

With a Swiss friend we climbed the Torre Guingi in Lucca to hang out amongst the 7 trees on top, then we had a wine in the amphiteatro antico and truffle pasta at the local Osteria Baralla, serving up fresh porcini mushrooms and hand made pastas since 1860!  Priska showed me the nonchalant exhilaration of getting lost in the narrow cobbled streets, then finding our way again, usually by asking directions from local cute Italians... we may have gotten carried away, and had to take the midnight train home!
Once cannot live on the northern Italian coast without visiting the Cinque Terre.  From Viareggio it was an hour train ride to the end town of Monterrosso, the one with the best beaches!  From there we hiked the cliffside path to Vernazza along the rocky steps and over the bridges, all with stunning views!  A well deserved lunch which included the regions specialty... pesto, was washed down by a Nastro Azzuro.  The sea was calling our names so Robin and I boarded a boat to Manarolo and we sailed with the wind in our hair!!  As the sun was setting we had a sundowner prosecco before jumping on the train back to our beach town home.

I am pleased to say that my study abroad was successful.. ho imparato tantissimo! I am already planning a trip back to further my Italian language experience.  I can't wait to practice while on the next adventure, Yoga and Wine on the Amalfi Coast! 
See you soon on our next adventure together... in Italia!  Natascha xx

Thursday, October 10, 2013

This Fall a group of adventuresome artists from Saskatchewan joined instructor Cecelia Jurgens and Corinne of VM Travel Adventures on a Sketchbook Workshop Tour of Europe’s best “fairytale” countries. The Wiechmann Hotel in Amsterdam situated on a corner of one of the 9 little streets gave us lots of sketching opportunities: crooked houses that looked like they were going to topple into the canal, bicycles and geraniums that decorated the bridges.  Of course our day in the countryside to visit the windmills at Zaanse Schans and taste some cheese in Volendam gave a different perspective to this flat country called the Netherlands, most of it below sea level.  The Van Gogh museum was a delight as we had a close up look at his Sunflowers and Apple blossoms. Some shopping time too as we dared to be pedestrians on the streets where most Dutch were on bikes with children and groceries as their cargo.

The fast train transported us to Frankfurt, then Baden Baden and finally Offenburg in the Black Forest where we unpacked for a whole week in the Stadt Hotel. The village of Gengenbach is 1280 years old! Yes, lots of history here including the statue of a knight from 1571 in the town market square.  Robert, our bus driver spent the first 5 days confusing us as to which country we were in. With the Alsace, France being just across the Rhine we spent a few glorious, sunny days painting the half timbered houses and vineyards of this unique region that has been handed off between France and Germany many times over the years. This accounts for its unique culture and interesting food. We enjoyed a lovely French meal in Mittelbergheim, a restaurant that Corinne knew of from her days as a teacher in Lahr. A somber moment was at the Studhof Nazi Concentration Camp in the Vosges Mountains, but the mood was soon lifted with an impromptu stop at a winery in Ottrott. 

Our days in Germany were sunny and warm as we painted the massive Black Forest Houses that had family, beast and fodder all under one roof. The Gutach Open Air Museum was a tranquil setting for sketching. This was followed by a meal of freshly caught trout at the Gasthof Kreuz in Prinzbach. Yes, for some the heads and tail had to be removed before it was consumed.  Eight of us had the energy to climb to the top of the 13th century Geroldsech castle ruins for more sketching. Our final day was a drive through the Black Forest to stop for Black Forest cake and yes, more shopping before visiting Triberg Falls and Villigen. It was a holiday in Germany on this day and thus the stores in Villigen were closed. This probably saved a few overweight charges for the return trip home.

With 6 sketching sessions and 2 critiques, Cecelia managed to encourage us all on our journey to become artists!  Danke schoen!