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Travel FOMO

Last month we spent our Easter holidays in Copenhagen. We love Copenhagen, in fact our first slow-paced weekend guide was dedicated to this delightful city. We rented an Airbnb and we ate in our favourite resturants, we took long walks in our favourite parks and we went back to our favourite pastel coloured streets. We had a fantastic time! It was our 13th visit Copenhagen.

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Fast forward one month. We are planning a few leisure days on the beach, trying to decide on the destination. Sardinia is high up in our bucket list, Santorini has been under our radar for a couple of years as well, Maldives sounds like paradise… but finally we choose to go back to Ibiza.

What can we say? We love what we love. However, there’s always that question: Should we explore new places or should we come back to the destinations we already know and love? We have to choose: we are normal people and we don’t live in a perpetual vacation. Besides, do you know how much a trip to Maldives cost? I looked it up because, judging by Instagram, everyone and her mother has already been there so I thought it had to be pretty affordable. Turns out, it isn’t. I don’t know how people do it. Are we missing some kind of secret about travelling?

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Back to our travel planning. We have to admit that deep down we suffer from travel FOMO. Even more when it comes to blogging. Inevitably, every time we travel we think about the content of the blog and we always fear that another post about Copenhagen or Seville won’t be interesting for our readers (hi, readers!!!!)  but at the same time, we want to stay true to ourselves and to our lifestyle. We have corporate jobs, we are expats, hence half our holidays involve travelling back to Spain to visit family and friends… again, we are normal people. We love blogging and while we always think about new interesting content, we don’t travel to get the perfect Instagram shot or to attract more readers. However, we are humans and everytime we see a fellow blogger checking a new country out of his or her bucket list we wonder: should we be more adventurous?

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But, let’s be honest: now that everyone seems to be living out of a suitcase and a trip to Maldives is the equivalent of a weekend getaway… who doesn’t suffer from travel FOMO? We surely do. But, have you seen a sunset in a small cove in Ibiza? Have you spent a sunny morning having a delicious breakfast in Atelier September in Copenhagen? Have you felt the joy of flying back to your country and hug your mum after a few months apart? Have you seen the impressive Dolomiti Mountains in Cortina d’Ampezzo? Then you will understand why we forget our travel FOMO and go back to our favourite places again and again!

Chocolate and mascarpone pots

This week has been particularly long. It has been one of those “just give me a pint of ice cream and a Big Bang Theory marathon every night” kind of week. But since everytime we buy our favourite ice cream we eat in in one sitting, we decided to create our own substitute for ice cream. Just to keep fitting through the doors, basically. Fear not, we are not going to give you a recipe with frozen banana / stevia / avocado cream / black beans / whatever “healthy” ingredientthere’s left in the market. These chocolate and mascarpone pots are as naughty as it gets, but we’ve tried to minimized the damage (and the guilt) by using skimmed milk, bio yogurt, dark chocolate and just one tablespoon of sugar. And no palm oil, the latest enemy of human health. Is this good for you? Well, it’s better than supermarket bought ice cream, that’s for sure. You can lick a pear if you want to stay skinny, but we need our chocolate fix no matter the muffin rolls.

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You will need:
100 ml skimmed milk
100 g dark chocolate (we used 85% cocoa dark chocolate)
5 bio chocolate yogurt
250 g mascarpone
1 tablespoon sugar

The steps are ridiculously easy: first melt the chocolate using a bain marie. In case you don’t master this easy technique, you can find this video very useful. Once the chocolate is melted, pour the skimmed milk in the same pan and mix well until you get a smooth, creamy consistency. Remove from the heat and let it cool down for a few minutes. Then pour the chocolate in your pots to create the base for this delicious dessert. Let it cool completely.

In the meantime whisk the chocolate yogurt and 125 gr mascarpone together. In a separate bowl, whisk the rest of the mascarpone (125 g) with one tablespoon sugar for just a few seconds. It’s important that the mascarpone keeps a creamy, heavy consistency.

Finally, it’s time to assemble the pots: with the help of a spoon pour your chocolate yogurt and mascarpone mix over the chocolate and then add the creamed mascarpone over the top.

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It’s messy, it’s fresh and it’s delicious. Bear in mind that it’s not overly sweet, so you might want to add more sugar. But remember, according to the news, sugar is the devil. It’s up to you…

You can serve it in a huge pot and share it like you would share a pint of ice cream or you can prepare five to six smaller pots and serve it as individual dessert. We prefer the two spoons, just one pot with a touch of Netflix serving method. But if you want to control your portions or serve it for pudding when entertaining, go for the small pots.

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The best thing about this recipe is that it admits all kinds of variations. You can change the chocolate for strawberries, banana, mango… be creative. You can use jam as base, mix a fruit yogurt with the mascarpone and then top it with the creamed mascarpone and some fresh fruit. I personally always go for chocolate, but if you want a fruitier version, the sky is the limit!

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Capsule wardrobe: one month, one piece

During the last couple of years I’ve been reading about the capsule wardrobe concept. It’s something incredibly simple but it attracted my attention from the beginning. However, my interest was not achieving the perfect wardrobe or being more conscious about what I was shopping. Not at the beginning, at least. It sounded appealing to me because everytime I looked at our walk-in closet I would get scared thinking that eventually we will move away from Germany or relocate. And the mere thought of such a big move gave me the heevie-jeebies. So, during the last year we’ve been donating lots of items: from homeware to, of course, lots of clothes. We owned too many things, everything looked untidy and I hate moves.

But in January I really thought about how I was going to approach the capsule wardrobe trend. It’s a trend, yes, but I find that it’s a very clever one. I really wanted to reduce the amount of things that I was purchasing, I wanted to own just a few edited pieces of clothing that I would really use and that resonated with my lifestyle. Of course, I wanted a better looking wardrobe as well, with more quality and less quantity.  I’m in my late 30s so by now I know that I won’t wear heels even if our best friends get married and put together an ultraglamorous wedding (that happened and I wore flat sandals because I wanted to dance all night long, run to take lots of pictures and be super comfortable. I had a blast), I know that in my line of work jeans and sweaters are office appropriate pieces of clothing and I know that if there’s no food involve, I won’t get out at night. So I only need casual, comfortable clothes with the occasional nice dress for special occasions and the basic monochrome blazer to make the jeans + sweater combo more office-like in case I have a meeting.

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And since I’d rather spend my money in boutique hotels, flight tickets and breakfasts in cute cafes, cutting down my clothing budget was the logical thing to do. So I came up with the idea of buying just one piece of clothing per month and do so only if I really needed it and the piece fitted in my new, edited wardrobe (bearing in mind my needs and lifestyle, obviously). I started by making a list of the things that I’ve always wanted to own and the brands that I really love. The list was surprisingly short.

Five months later this is all I’ve bought:

January: I have a thing with sneakers and I wear them a lot. They make almost every outfit look cooler and they are the epitome of comfortable. So, why spend money in pretty heels if I don’t wear them? I’d rather spend my money on sneakers. I’ve always wanted a pair of Adidas Gazelle and when I found this grey pair in our local Adidas outlet, in my number and 30% off, I knew I had to buy them.

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February: a black, soft, comfy turtleneck has been a basic in my wardobre for years. So when a washing machine accident left my beautiful COS black, soft, comfy turtleneck looking like a Barbie-size sweater, I decided it was about time to give in and buy what I really wanted from the beginning: a black, soft, comfy cashmere turtleneck. I made the most of the sales and bought this amazing cashmere number from The Kooples, one of my favourite brands (fortunately, it was on sale).

March: I’ve always wanted an Equipment shirt. Shirts are one of my favourite pieces of clothing and I find them very stylish paired with jeans and sneakers, with power suits or even as beach coverup. Since I had an Equipment shirt on my radar for a long time, I had been browsing the web to look for a reasonable priced one (they are quite pricey, to be honest). And one day of March I saw the perfect white and blue striped Equipment shirt in The Outnet. Score! As a little review, I have to say that the quality of the fabric is outstanding and the cut is tremendously flattering. So if you want to invest in a shirt, let it be an Equipment one.

April: on April we went to Copenhagen. That was dangerous. Copenhagen offers the best shopping in the world, I think. Everything is stylish. However, by then, my one month/one piece mindset was going strong, so no temptations. Besides, we wanted to spend all our money in incredible food (#priorities). But I did buy something in the end. A wonderful white Spring/ Summer dress. It checked all the boxes: midi, with sleeves and timeless. I believe I will use it a lot over the years. You might think that living in a cold weather country this could be a not very sensible buy. On the contrary, since I moved to Germany I own an extremely edited Summer / holiday wardrobe because I don’t feel the need to buy a thousands of cute sandals or flowy Summer dresses like I did when I was living in Spain. In my opinion, this dress looks very nice paired with boots or sneakers and a denim jacket as well, so when German Summer hits (usually a Tuesday in the middle of June), I’ll be prepared.

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May: no shopping done for the moment. However, I’ll be spending a few days in Spain at the end of the month so I might find one of the items of my shopping list, who knows. I’m looking forward to lots of meetings with friends and family, so I don’t think I’ll have time for shopping, though. No complains: Spanish food, sun and my family is all I need right now!

This wardrobe and shopping analysis has completely changed the way I shop. First, reducing my pruchases hasn’t been difficult at all. I have to admit that shopping for clothes has never been easy for me. I’m kind of amoeba shaped, so shopping usually ends up with me swearing I won’t eat a carb ever again (but heading for pizza afterwards to make me feel better) and cursing my 155 cm height. But I love fashion and I’m human and addicted to Instagram, so I thought it would be more difficult.  It turned out it only made the experience more exciting! Knowing that I have to select carefully what I purchase whenever I want to buy something, forces me to spend a fair amount of time browsing possibilities, choosing the right pairings to the clothes that I already own, making lists and… well, that’s pure fun for me. Besides, if I’m buying just one piece, I’m making sure it’s timeless, good quality and, therefore, I will wear it for a very long time. The result: my wardrobe is indeed better looking and more concious.

Another perk: following sales and new collections is easier when you already have something in mind. Browsing online shops or shopping the traditional way can be really overwhelming, at least for me, because there are too many options, brands, sales, shops… argh! But when you know exactly what you want, everything makes more sense and shopping is way easier. By the way, you can find the links to the pieces I’ve bought (or to similar ones) in our shop!

But most importantly: in case we move (and I really hope we do one day) all my clothes would fit in one tidy, edited box! Mission accomplished.

PS: I’m planning on writing an update on this extremely fascinating and important matter, probably in November. Let’s see how it goes…

The slow-paced weekend guide to Lake Como

Our slow-paced weekend guide to Lake Como is live! We’ve put together all the information you need to enjoy a fantastic weekend in the heart of Lake Como, full of great food and long, serene walks in the most beautiful gardens and promenades. If, like us, you just want to relax and eat well while travelling (granny style much?) and you’ve always wanted to visit the area, you will love it. Check the Weekend Guides section in our front page… or just click here!

Broad beans and mozzarella toast

This time of the year is the best to have colourful, bright and light dishes on the table. Going to the farmers market is pure joy and we try to make the most of the seasonal produce we find every Saturday. It’s our very own tradition: on Saturdays we go out for breakfast and then we visit the farmers market. And those simply things make us happy. Like finding the first green, fresh, sweet broad beans of the season.

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A couple of weeks ago we prepared these broad beans and mozzarella toasts for dinner, inspired by the chef Martín Berasategui. He has been a source of inspiration lately, as you would have seen in one of our latest recipes: this mushroom and Parmesan rice. We loved the result so much, that here you have our take on the recipe:

You will need (Serves 2):
150 gr fresh broad beans (the smaller, the better)
Mozzarella cheese (the amount depends on how much you love mozzarella)
2 slices of your favourite bread
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 head lettuce
2 spring onions, finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
A pinch of fresh thyme
Sea salt
Pepper

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First you will have to blanch the broad beans. It’s a very easy procedure, don’t worry. Have ready a large bowl of ice water and a plate lined with a cloth or paper towel. Then, bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the broad beans to the pot. After about 90 seconds quickly remove them from the boiling water and plunge them into the ice water bowl to stop the cooking process. When the broad beans are completely cool, remove them from the ice and drain on the towel-lined plate.

Now wash your head lettuce, strip the leaves off and tap them dry with towel paper.

Shred the mozzarella and mix it with the broad beans and the finely sliced spring onions in a bowl.

Prepare your dressing: combine the lemon juice, salt, thyme and pepper. Whisk in one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Pour over the mozzarella, broad beans and spring onions salad and mix well.

Finally, toast your bread in a griddle pan. Once they are done, lightly rub your bread a couple of times with the clove of garlic and drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Now you just have to assemble your toasts: begin with the lettuce, then add the seasoned broad beans salad with your hands, sprinkle a little bit of pepper on top… and serve.

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Fresh, light, delicious and ready in the blink of an eye! And if you are in the other hemisphere, we have an Autumnal toast for you. Go check this mushroom and mountain cheese toast!

Spring vegetables salad

We love a good salad. It’s been years since we forgot the boring tomato and lettuce “I’m on a sad diet” kind of salad and we started incorporating lots of delicious ingredients that made salads complete meals full of nutrients and flavour. In this blog we have shared with you a few salad recipes, always seasonal, including our very favourites like this mango, avocado and chicken salad, this white beans and tuna salad or this amazing peach and chicken salad. Now that Spring is here and Summer is around the corner there are lots of great vegetables in season and that means colorful, delicious salads with juicy vinaigrettes.

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Today we bring you a recipe with one of our favourite Spring ingredients: asparagus. Lately, we’ve been having grilled asparagus for dinner every other day and while we love this simple way of eating our veggies, we wanted another alternative to enjoy them. We’ve already shared with you this wonderful asparagus and potato tart and this brunch salad, but we wanted something different. Enter this spring vegetables salad…

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You will need (serves 2):
5 or 6 small new potatoes, scrubbed clean
2 eggs
A bunch of asparagus, ends snapped off
A bunch of watercress
4 cornichons, chopped
1 tablespoon little capers
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh parsley, leaves picked and chopped
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijo mustard

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Preheat the oven to 220ºC/ fan 200ºC. Put the potatoes on a baking tray with a pinch of sea salt and pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Roast for 15 to 20 minutes.

In the meantime boil the eggs just for 7 minutes. Take them out of the heat, run them under cold water and once they are cool, peel and put to one side.

When the potatoes have had about 20 minutes in the oven and they start looking golden, throw in the asparagus, toss to coat in the oil and roast for a further 15 minutes.

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While the potatoes and asparagus are in the oven, prepare your vinaigrette: add 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, the red vinegar and the Dijon mustard and whisk to mix. If you are preparing this salad for more than 2 people and you need more vinaigrette, just remember this proportion: two tablespoons of olive oil per one tablespoon of vinegar. You can apply this rule to all your vinaigrettes, by the way.

Now put the watercress, cornichons, capers and chopped parsley into a serving dish. Take the asparagus and potatoes out of the oven, cut the potatoes in halves and chop the asparagus. Add them into your serving dish. Finally, chop the eggs and add them to the salad. Pour your vinaigrette and toss gently to combine. Serve while the potatoes and asparagus are still warm.

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We love this salad for dinner: it’s very comforting. The sweetness of the new potatoes and asparagus and the sourness of the cornichons and strong vinaigrette create the perfect contrast. It’s light but fulfilling and, even though it’s really easy to prepare, feels like a gourmet delicacy. If you are having guests and you want to impress them with a different salad, this is your recipe!

PS: This is our take on a recipe by Anna Jones. We can’t recommend her book A Modern Way to Eat enough.  Our favourite recipes by Anna Jones include this spicy muhammara, this coconut and vanilla cake, this guilt free blondies and my wife’s favourite: these salted caramel dark chocolate brownies.

Face masks

Everyone knows I have a soft spot for everything beauty but, surprisingly, it was my wife who wanted to do this post because recently she has developed an addiction to face masks. Not that I complain! I’m more than happy to try as many face masks as she wants. And since we have a long weekend ahead and there’s nothing better than a pampering session in your pajamas on a Saturday/Sunday/bank holiday night, we thought you might want to read about our face masks discoveries.

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We bought six masks, three for her and three for me,  and we’ve tried them during the last weeks (one mask each per week). They were all different because we have different skin types and therefore different skin needs. We chose three brands that we’ve never tried before: Dr. Jart+, FaceInc and Starskin. They all were inspired by Korean beauty and we found them at our local Douglas (for those who don’t live in Germany, it’s a chain similar to Sephora). We thought some of them were nice, others not so much but there was one mask that blow us away. And without further ado, here’s our experiment:

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Dr. Jart+
Both face masks had a soft texture, similar to a smooth, cottony fabric. They felt expensive although they were just 7€. The first thing that surprised us was that they were made for people with small noses and our noses, which are not particularly big, weren’t completely covered. But apart from that, they weren’t slippery and they stayed put for the 15 minutes that we had them on. Even if we laughed the whole time because who doesn’t laugh hysterically when applying a face mask? It’s absolutely silly but so much fun.

I chose the Brightening Solution face mask, which promised a brighter skin tone and youthful and radiant appearance. My skin tends to look dull, with a touch of “you haven’t seen the sun in six months, haven’t you?” touch, so a brighter and radiant appearance sounded fantastic. It had a nice minty scent, really spa-like, and the mask was soaked in a creamy solution that felt fresh and moisturizing. The result? My face looked clearer, even whiter but in a nice way. It did felt a little bit sticky afterwards so I didn’t use my night cream that evening because my skin was still covered in the solution.

She chose the Clearing Solution that promised an improved texture of the skin and fewer blemishes. This masks was definitely more liquidy and the solution felt like a gel. It was quite refreshing and her skin surprisingly absorbed all the gel! However, since the nose is a problematic area for her and the mask didn’t covered it, she felt like it could have worked better. The result: smoother skin and uniform skin tone. But the blackheads on the nose were still there afterwards.

Verdict: nice but not incredibly so. Hadn’t we tried the week after the incredibly amazing Starskin masks (there you go, a spoiler) we might have had a better verdict. Do we recommend these masks? Yes. But only as a nice extra treatment to your skin, not to achieve an impressive result. Great for the average weekend, not so much for the day before an important event. Yet again, they were just 7€ each, so you get a nice value for your money.

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Starskin
THE BOMB. These masks were the bomb. We liked them so much that in a recent layover in Amsterdam airport we literally run across the terminal to buy more Starskin face masks (they were on sale at the Duty Free!). The only drawback is that they are a nightmare to put on. We had to help each other because there were plastics that had to be peeled off, the face masks are divided in two parts, there is clay involved, the holes for your eyes are kind of downwards… It was all a bit messy but the result made all the process worth it.  Oh, and the instructions come in lots of different languages. That’s handy.

She chose the Starskin Detoxing Master Cleanser Mask. The mask was actually quite rigid and didn’t stick to the skin, so she had to lay down while she wore it. But I guess that adds a relaxing feel to the experience. Before putting on the mask she washed her face with a cleanser that came with it. That was the best part of all. She loved that cleanser and she swears that’s the cleanest she had ever felt her face. The mask smelled like green tea, in case you are picky with scents (she is). It promised a glowy, detoxified, softer skin. And it was supposed to attenuate first lines (I already have second or third lines, so that’s why this mask was for her and the antiaging one was for me). The result: the combination of the cleanser and the mask felt really detoxifying and calming and her skin looked clearly juicier.

As I mentioned before, I went for the Anti-aging Silkmud Green Tea Clay Mask. This masks clearly made a difference. It was one of those wow! moments that rarely happen when it comes to beauty products, at least for me. I needed help to put it on, but afterwards it adapted perfectly to my skin and was actually very comfortable at the beginning, though it started getting tight as the 15 minutes passed by. The brand recommends leaving the mask up to 40 minutes for a better result but I wouldn’t have tolerated it more than 20 minutes. It smelled clean and slightly sweet, very nice. It promised glowy, younger looking skin and tighten pores. I initially doubted that my pores would improve because it’s one of my biggest skin issues but when I peeled off the mask I HAD NO PORES. I swear, they were gone.  My skin was like porcelain, it was gleaming, glowing, brighter… it was unreal. I also noticed that the lines around my mouth had vanished (I do have chubby cheeks and apparently I smile a lot, so I have noticeable lines that go from the side of my nose to the corners of my mouth). The result: incredible skin.

Verdict: go try these masks. Run across an airport to find them if you have to. In fact, we have bought a ton of different Starskin masks to try and we will make a huge post about them next month. We are so looking forward to trying them! Specially my wife who has bought a bunch of them, including the anti-aging one because she was jealous of my skin when I tried it! And by the way, prices go from 10 to 15€ so they are a bargain bearing in mind the incredible results.

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FaceInc
These masks were… meh. We bought them because we absolutely love the NailsInc nail polishes and we were excited to try them but the results were a little bit disappointing. Both masks had a very chemical-ish smell and the texture was quite synthetic. However both masks hat fun designs, mine was pink with a colourful flower crown (much like a Snapchat filter) and her was green, which reminded us of The Mask (insert Cuban Pete song). Again, laughter guaranteed.

I chose the Flower Power mask. The solution, which has botanical flower extracts and vitamin E, was really liquidy but the mask adapted very well to my face. It felt cold on the skin, but it wasn’t unpleasant. The result: my skin felt moisturised and after peeling off the mask I massaged the excess of solution into my skin, which felt fresh, nice and comforting so I skipped my night routine that evening.

She chose the Instant Balance mask, which also felt quite cold on the skin. Not much to say here. The result was moderately juicy skin.

Verdict: meh. They are just 5€ each, so they are fun and nice for a pajama party or as part of any afterparty kit kind of goodie bag, but we wouldn’t recommend them if you are looking for a real improvement on your skin.

Have you read all the post? We applaud you. I can speak about beauty products for days #sorrynotsorry. If you can speak about beauty for days too and you have any face masks recommendations to share with us, please write them down in the comment section. Let’s nurture my wife’s addiction to face masks!

Lenno and Villa del Balbianello

Today we bring you the last instalment of the series that we’ve dedicated to the most beautiful villages around Lake Como. And we’ve saved the best for last. Our day trip to Lenno and the incredibly beautiful Villa del Balbianello was the most special highlight of our days in Lake Como. Finding the words to describe how magnificent the gardens of the Villa are is going to be difficult, but we are going to try. Just in case, we’ve added tons of pictures in this post.

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Lenno is a quiet village a short 10 minutes away from Bellagio. However, it’s not one of the preferred destinations in the lake. Most people come to visit the wonderful Villa del Balbianello and that’s about it. And while the Villa absolutely deserves a visit, Lenno can be a fantastic destination on its own. Quiet, with lots of hidden alleys to explore, a lovely oh so quintessential Italian main square, the beautiful church of S. Stefano, the Acquafredda Abbey and a breathtaking view over the Golf of Venus, Lenno could be perfect for an understated holiday overlooking Lake Como.

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We said goodbye to the still asleep port of Bellagio and, defying the gloomy weather, we seated in the outside area of the boat, letting the water mess with our hair and feeling a little bit scared of falling overboard but refusing to seat inside. We passed the crowded Tremezzo and arrived to the deserted, tiny port of Lenno. Once we recovered movement (we seated outside but it was freezing, to be honest) we followed the adorable promenade towards Villa del Balbianello and enjoyed the wonderful views of Bellagio and Lezzeno, just in front, on the other shore of the Lake. We bumped into a couple of kids riding their bicycles and a few local women power walking and laughing but apart from that, the village was extremely quiet. Maybe it was that calm atmosphere what made us felt like we were the first tourists to ever set foot in the village.  We passed by refined, elegant villas still closed, waiting for the season to start. It gave us the impression of a place where Italians, maybe Milan urbanites, head to on weekends and where big Italian families spend their Summers.

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We decided to walk towards Villa del Balbianello. Or should I say hike? There were water taxis available, but we wanted to enjoy the luscious vegetation (palms, pines and a surprising amount of bamboo) and chose to walk through the scenic path. There was another route through the woods for experienced hikers. Since that route was one kilometer longer and bearing in mind that we almost needed oxygen to arrive to the Villa with the “easy” route, I will recommend the longer, harder route only if you are used to climb like a goat. If you are more a “I prefer grazing like a cow” kind of person, choose the scenic path and stop every few minutes with the excuse of admiring the breathtaking landscape. After a good 20 minutes walk up and down the track we arrived to Villa del Balbianello.

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This Villa dates from the 12th Century and while there are different buildings (Loggia, Library and Museum) open to visitors, as soon as we laid eyes on the gardens and the incredible views, we knew that we wanted to stay outside. The gardens of Villa del Balbianello are just perfect, no wonder numerous directors have chosen this location as setting for their films. You might have seen these gardens in one of the Star Wars movies (that explains the tourists dressed as Spacetroopers) and in James Bond’ s Casino Royale.

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If we were to get married again, this would be the place. It’s too beautiful. Stendhal Syndrom beautiful. The wisteria, the camellia, the groomed trees…. the smell was so fresh, flowery, dreamy… we didn’t want to leave. Every corner was picture perfect. We specially loved the small but elegant pier, where the most sophisticated tourists were disembarking from shiny Riva yachts. Seeing their faces when they saw the gardens was like seeing someone admire the Fontana di Trevi for the first time. Pure astonishment. However, we were lucky because we were alone most of the time. It was just the lake, the perfect gardens and us.

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After a glorious morning in the gardens, we headed back to Lenno. 20 minutes of trekking later we found ourselves in the heart of the village. The adorable square dominated by the Italian flag was almost empty but we noticed some families all dressed up heading towards the restaurants dotted along the promenade so, even though we had other plans, we decided to stay in Lenno for lunch. Sometimes the best way to chose a restaurant is just by looking at the customers and when we saw a group of bikers, a few local families and a Japanese couple eating big plates of risotto on the terrace of a traditional and unpretentious restaurant we chose a little table and sat down knowing that our lunch was going to be perfect. The restaurant was called Plinio and it offers simple but friendly service and idyllic views over the lake. We ate an amazing risotto with persico and grilled trout fresh from the lake with grilled vegetables. Our lunch was just as we had thought it would be. We skipped dessert and headed to the local ice cream shop. We chose chocolate and stracciatella and walnuts and white cream with figs. That first ice cream of the year under the Spring sun was the epitome of happiness. We walked along the promenade and sat down on a bench next to the pier. And there we were: two happy tourists, eating their ice cream in silence, admiring the water, so clean, so peaceful… Enjoying life. The moment was so perfect that we ended up running because we almost missed the boat that would take us to Varenna.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed these series and that if you ever plan a visit to Lake Como you think about staying in these little villages and avoiding those one day tours that show you the lake in a hurry. Take your time, explore the alleys, spend lots of time admiring the flowers, get lost in the beauty of the mountains reflected on the water… Be present and make the experience yours.

PS:  Explore Varenna and Menaggio with us here and discover the über charming Bellagio here.

Mushroom and Parmesan rice

As much as we love rice ( and we do love it) we don’t cook it that often since we try to eat mostly protein and vegetables and cut the carbs. But sometimes you just need a warm, comforting meal. Specially if it’s Sunday, it has been raining the whole weekend and you are just tired of seeing Instagram pictures of palm trees, lively beaches and drinks al fresco while you are wearing a fleece-lined jacket over your pajamas. I know that comparison is the thief of joy but it’s hard to believe that we live in the same hemisphere as half of the population currently wearing bikinis in social media.  Silver lining? This mushroom and Parmesan rice.

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This recipe is our take on a light risotto version by Martín Berasategui, our favourite Spanish chef. He actually has 7 Michelin stars (fancy!), but he has lots of books with simple traditional recipes that are very easy to recreate. This one, for instance, gives you the illusion of eating risotto but doesn’t have as much cheese, so the result is much lighter.

To serve 2 hungry people (and have some leftovers) or 4 people that want to have a second course or dessert you will need:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
300g mushrooms
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
One big onion, sliced
250 g white rice
750ml vegetable stock (you need it hot, so keep it warm while you prep your ingredients and start cooking)
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon cream
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

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Start by washing your mushrooms thoroughly. Tap dry with a paper towel and slice them. Heat the only pan you are going to use (great to avoid lots of washing-up!), pour two and a half tablespoons of olive oil and add the mushrooms. Stir and toss constantly because you don’t want them burnt or dry. After a few minutes pour them on a plate and set aside.

Now turn down the heat and add to that one pan the garlic and the onion. You don’t need to add more oil, don’t worry. Fry very slowly for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon. Now add the mushrooms and season. Beware! If the vegetable stock that you are using already contains salt, there’s no need to add extra salt here. Besides, the Parmesan is already salty. Our advice would be: don’t add extra salt to your food, but do as you please.

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It’s the moment to add half of your vegetable stock. And let the real stirring begin! Let the rice cook for 8 minutes but stir, stir, stir. After those 8 minutes, pour the rest of the vegetable stock and, again, stir away for another 10 minutes. By pouring half your stock when the rice starts cooking and the other half in the middle of the process you make the rice loose the starch progressively and with the constant stirring you will get extra creamy rice, soft but with a slight bite.

Finally, remove the pan from the heat, add the Parmesan, cream, parsley and two and a half tablespoons of olive oil. Keep stirring until that all the ingredients are combined perfectly. And serve immediately!

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The result is not as rich as your average risotto, but it’s creamy, comforting and delicious. In case you want to try the real deal with tons of cheese, butter and dry white wine, try this recipe of Risotto ai funghi porcini, that was one of our first recipes published on The slow pace!

Bellagio

For the second instalment of our Lake Como series we bring you the most photographed village of the lake. Located at the very heart of Lake Como, Bellagio epitomizes the Italian glamour and charm. Full of steep streets, cobbled stairways and little sorbet colored corners, Bellagio is the most visited destination in Lake Como.

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The truth is that Bellagio is the best starting point to explore the area: all the ships and ferries stop in its little port, what makes it the best connected village of the lake. Besides, its beautiful buildings, lively cafes and restaurants and incredible180º views of the lake guarantee an unforgettable experience. However, peak season can be a nightmare precisely because of those narrow alleys that, on the other hand, make Bellagio so very charming.

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We visited Bellagio at the end of march, so it was almost empty and we could enjoy the quiet atmosphere before both the village and the lake woke up to the season. It was especially beautiful in the mornings, when we would wait for the boat to take us to whatever village we had chosen to visit for the day.  The area closed to the port is full of cafes under a gorgeous portico with theatrical curtains, white blazer and black bow tie waiters, and counters full of cornetti and other sweet pastries. With the smell of coffee and sweet almonds in the air, the first hours of our mornings couldn’t have been better.

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Bellagio looks like a film setting, specially the stairways that go from the lake shores to the highest parts of the village. If you look up you will see cute buildings, picturesque trattorias, lush green mountains… but if you look down, the sparkling lake will appear magically. The first thing we did when arriving to Bellagio was looking for a place to eat. Obviously. We had done our research, but we forgot our notes in the hotel, so ended up at Bilacus, a lovely restaurant with the most romantic terrace overlooking the gorgeous Salita Serbelloni. Vine climbing up a terracotta wall, blooming magnolia, a delicious garlic and olive oil scent that promises authentic and traditional Italian cuisine…  This restaurant was the perfect introduction to Bellagio and it reflected its personality to perfection. We ate fragrant grilled vegetables, creamy mozzarella, sea bass with fresh herbs and swordfish with tomatoes and capers. The gentle Spring breeze and the warm sunshine made that al fresco lunch even better, because our muscles, all tight and tired from the cold Winter, finally relaxed. With a deep breath and a huge smile, we ordered one of the best tiramisu that we’ve ever eaten, with a thick dark cocoa powder layer that ended up all over our happy faces.

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And speaking about food, you can’t miss pizzeria La Grotta. We discovered this place by pure chance and we loved its local atmosphere, huge simple wood stove pizzas and discreet service. When we saw that the workers of the port were eating and waiting to be seated in this small establishment, we knew it was going to be good! Don’t expect anything fancy, this is pure everyday, local life.

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Bellagio is a destination to be discovered slowly. Those stairways are steep! But that will give you an excuse to stop, rest and admire the pastel pink, ochre and vanilla houses. The charming light grey or deep green wooden shutters make a beautiful contrast in every façade. Be curious and explore the side alleys, the stairs that go nowhere, the little shops, the porticos…  And let the vibrant, energizing Alpine air mess with your hair. Breath in and let your sorrows out. That’s what Italy does best.

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One of the most surprising aspects of Lake Como is its luxuriant vegetation. Everywhere you look you will find a green mix of palms, pines, camellia and even bamboo. As a matter of fact, what is said to be the most beautiful garden in Italy is located in Bellagio: The gardens of Villa Melzi.  Walk along the flowery Lungolago Europa and you will arrive to the modest entrance of these spectacular gardens. The lake is the perfect background to this unbelievable stunning display of nature. Every image, every detail of the landscape is like a painting. Seat in one of the benches facing the lake, admire the views, feel the breeze and the scents of thousands of flowers, plants, trees and listen to the bells of the little church located in the premises. For us, the moments we spent wandering through the gardens and soaking in the calming and beautiful atmospehre were precious.

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During our last morning in Bellagio we were lucky enough to witness a glorious sunrise after a night of storm. The rain had cleaned the atmosphere, the sun seemed to shine brighter and the ducks and swans played happy in the water.  We had a lovely ice cream as a second breakfast because, why not? and we went up and down as many stairs as possible. Bellagio is perfect to get a sense of place, to live a true Lake Como experience with its majestic buildings, select atmosphere and the hustle and bustle of the lake. But please, choose low season to visit. Bellagio deserves to be savored slowly and you deserve the luxury of having one of its corners on your own, at least once in a lifetime.

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PS: read the first instalment of The most beautiful villages in Lake Como here and the review of the boutique hotel we stayed in here.