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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.

Over 30 makeup tips

I’m a makeup addict, everyone that knows me knows that. My mum always says that whenever I enter a drugstore, beauty department or duty free I’m like a child in a toy store. And it’s absolutely true. My love for makeup started when I was in highschool. I used to play with eye liner and bright coloured eyeshadows. Oh the 90s… Since then my makeup routine has changed a lot. Now I can do my makeup in five minutes, I know what suits me and, inevitably, I have adapted the products I use and the way I apply them to my age. Because years pass, people, and my face shows that. I have this little ritual every morning: I spend ten minutes doing my makeup. It sets my mood for the day, it relaxes me and while I’m blending, tapping and blending a little bit more, I have time to think about what I have to do at the office, I go over the grocery list and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I even stop thinking. It’s my meditation time.

The biggest change in my makeup routine is that now I focus on my complexion. As I mentioned before, I used to spend a fair amount of time on doing the fiercest eye liner or blending colouful, intricate eyeshadow designs and I couldn’t care less about foundation. In fact I used to avoid it because it made me feel greasy and uncomfortable. But now that my 40s are close, I mainly work on my foundation. While lines don’t bother me that much, ugly pores, overall grey/green-ish tone, (lack of) glow and (lots of) redness do. Oh and dry patches are (sadly) my jam as well.

So I prep my skin with my face cream (plus three drops of Clarins Booster Repair every three to five days) and try to use moisturising yet light foundations and creamy formulas that look like skin. Last month I discovered the Yves Saint Laurent Touche Éclat Cushion Foundation (I use shade 30 – Almond) and it has become my favourite makeup product ever. It has a light coverage but that’s precisely why I love it. You can build up or just apply a sheer layer that will make your skin glowy and juicy. It blends beautifully and does just what I want: my skin is my skin, but better. Then I apply a tiny, tiny, tiny amount of Clarins Instant Concealer (02) under my eyes and around my usually red nose. A little goes a long way so with just a teeny bit and your finger (tap, tap, tap!), you will do wonders. And since my skin doesn’t see the sun for months (the joys of Northern European weather!) I rely on Charlotte Tilbury’s Filmstar Bronze and Glow to look healthier and avoid the Morticia Addams look. A look that, by the way, I loved when I was 16 and I had cheekbones. I always try to apply the bronzer lightly and add a tad of the highlighter in inner corner of my eyes to make them look a little bit bigger under my glasses.

Finally I add a touch of blush because everyone knows that’s the trick to look 5 months younger, fresh, awake and just back from a revitalizing run (which I never am because I hate running). I love the Hervana blush by Benefit. I know it’s not as famous as its cousins Galifornia or Benetint, but I swear by it and if you have fair skin I know you will love it too. It’s very subtle, which is perfect because at this age you don’t want to look like Heidi (and I don’t mean Heidi Klum, obviously. I mean this Heidi).

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And now, onto everything else. Brows are important because they lift the face and if you are over 30 and have tried to take a pic with your phone but suddenly the wrong camera has turned on and you have seen your face looking down, you know that lifting is good. But you have to be careful! Cara Delevigne’s brows are beautiful on her, but maybe are not the best option for someone over 30 with fine brows. Filling your brows is great and a process that I truly enjoy (look for IG videos about brows if you are streessed, they are hypnotizing and extremely relaxing!) but be gentle and subtle. Yes, subtleness is the key for everything. I use this Bobbi Brown powder, but I’ve tried this drugstore option and it’s pretty nice as well.

And talking about subtleness, no more colourful eyeshadows for me. I’m all about forgiving neutrals. The best colours are those that are barely there. And matte preferably. If you have greasy eyelids, use this primer. Otherwise your eyeshadow can end up in a fine, sticky line in the middle of your eyelid. The Dior Montaigne palette is my absolute favourite since I saw it on Paule. I can apply it and blend it upwards with my fingers. It takes no time and looks very nice and effortless (mostly because it truly is effortles). And if you don’t want to use eyeshadows, try to apply a little bit of bronzer in the outer corner of your eyes and blend, blend, blend. Beautiful and simple.

Sadly, drawing a fierce eyeliner is not possible anymore. My eyelids are not the ones they used to be. I used to look a little bit Japanese with tight upper eyelids, which I loved. Now my eyelids are more sad Saint Bernard kind of looking. So I just draw tiny spots between the roots of my lashes with the amazing Kat von D Tattoo Liner and create the illusion of fuller lashes while having the thinnest eyeliner. I finish mimicking my longest outer eyelash instead of trying to draw a cat eye flick that will never be even in both eyes (I know that now). Oh, and I use the shade Mad Max Brown, because black eye liner can be too harsh now. Subtleness again. Last but not least, two layers of mascara to open the eyes. Careful, though: spider eyelashes aren’t what you are looking for. I’m currently using this mascara by L’oreal because I think volume is what I need now, not length.

And just two more things: lipstick and nails. Lipstick is problematic now. While I used to love experimenting with all kinds of formulas, I try to avoid most of my lipsticks these days because they start following the lines around my lips and end up in my chin, nose and, sometimes, cheeks. Lovely. Even more if I am wearing a bright colour shade and I realize that while I was discussing things with my boss in that important meeting, my lipstick decided to go for a stroll around my face. Really proffesional. The priority is, more than ever, finding a lipstick that stays in place. So I look for lip stains. I really like the NYX Soft Matte Lip Creams. The price is ridiculous and once they are set, they are set. You don’t have to worry about them. My favourite shades are Ibiza, Sao Paolo, Antwerp and Stockholm.

If you have read so far, thank you. You must be over 30 and tired of makeup fails. Join the club! I have just a last tip for you: while chipped nails were really trendy in the grunge era (paired with flannel shirts and a gloomy attitude), when you are over 30 they just look terrible. So you have three options: don’t paint your nails, get a manicure every week or try the gel couture line by Essie. Whether you like preppy red nails or classic French Manicures, you will forget your nails for about two weeks. The shade in the picture is Fairy Tailor.

To sum up: be subtle and blend, blend, blend. Invest in a good foundation, wear a nice light blush to look fresh, mascara to look awake… and be careful not to have lipstick in your teeth. That’s all you have to bear in mind. You will be fine.

The most beautiful villages in Lake Como

During the next weeks, we will share with you the most beautiful destinations around Lake Como. From glamorous, dolce vita settings to the most authentic Italian towns, there’s a destination for everyone.

Our first installment is dedicated to Menaggio and Varenna, two of the most charming villages located in the heart of the lake. They offer a different atmosphere: Menaggio is perfect for family vacations, while Varenna is the destination for those who want a bohemian experience.

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This village is authentic. It reminded me of the little town in the Veneto region where I spent most of my Summers as a kid. It’s the quintessential Italian feeling: women dressed up to go to church, a main street full of small but well curated shops, a delightful square overlooking the lake with colourful terraces to stop for an aperitivo and a long promenade perfect to stroll at sunset, ice cream in hand.

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Once you get off the boat, Menaggio doesn’t strike as a picturesque village. It even disappoints a little bit, but as soon as you get closer to the lively town center you realize that this is the kind of place that every kid dreams about as a Summer destination. The one you remember with nostalgia when you grow up. Menaggio is more open and flat than other villages around the lake, so there’s more space to ride bicycles, run and play. Easier to navigate, there aren’t as many stairs and slopes as you will find in most of the villages. If you are looking for a family trip in lake Como, this would be a perfect destination to establish your headquarters.

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Full of little alleys with traditional grocery shops and dotted with impressive villas and pastel coloured houses, Menaggio offers the perfect balance between the distinctive majestic atmosphere of the lake and the homey and warm feeling of a family vacation. This is a place to visit if you want to live like a local, experience the popular culture and relax.

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VARENNA

This tiny village stole our hearts from the moment we saw its delightful profile as the boat approached the port. Varenna is more rustic, it’s full of stone and stairs. It’s rough but it’s incredibly charming. The architecture is simple, not many villas are located in this area. Instead you will find lovely pink, crimson and ochre houses and hidden, unpolished corners.  Varenna seems reluctant to lose its essence, it’s obvious that it doesn’t want to be open to mass tourism and apart from a tiny harbour with a couple of cafés and restaurants, the streets and slopes are almost empty, raw. Lake Como - Varenna_1

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Varenna was a fishing village and it’s simplicity is the key to its charm. It’s not prepared to welcome thousands of visitors, so if you want to enjoy its beautiful alleys, you better choose low season to visit. Sipping a ristretto in one of its local, tiny cafes overlooking the lake while enjoying the timid Spring sunshine is exactly what our travel philosophy is about: enjoying the simple things and the understated luxury.

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Varenna is the destination for those who want to admire the lake from the distance, enjoy nature and simple life, for those who look for a nice, calm experience… and for those who have strong legs. Those stairs and slopes are not for the faint-hearted!

PS: next week we will publish the second installment of these series and it would be dedicated to the wonderful town of Bellagio. Stay tuned!

Salmon and egg wraps

Last week was quite difficult because after a wonderful long weekend in Lake Como (we will publish lots of post about the most beautiful villages of Lake Como in the next days!) we weren’t prepared to come back to dreadful weather and inboxes full of angry E-mails. But the weekend finally arrived and, miraculously, on Sunday the sun shined, the temperature was perfect and we didn’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a very long walk in the park. Sadly, we didn’t have our picnic basket prepared but it made us think about picnic season!

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When we came back home after 3 glorious hours under the sun surrounded by beautiful nature, we wanted something light, fresh but delicious. And quick! So we prepared our favourite salmon and egg wraps. These could be a great picnic basket option, but they are a fantastic quick lunch or light dinner too. In fact, whenever we are very lazy to cook after a long day at work, we tend to prepare these salmon and egg wraps for dinner.

You will need (serves 2):
2 wraps or tortillas
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
75 gr smoked salmon, cut into small pieces
A handful of baby green leaves

Boil the eggs for about 6 to 7 minutes. You want the yolk to be creamy and runny. In the meantime mix the mayonnaise and the Worcestershire sauce.
Peel the eggs and mash them up with the sauce.

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Now, heat your wraps or tortillas on a grill pan over a minute. Turn, and cook the other side another minute. You want them a little bit burnt but still soft.

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To assemble, spread a layer of the egg salad over each wrap, add a generous helping to green baby leaves and the smoked salmon. Roll up and there you go: a flavourful, light and tasty dinner/lunch/ picnic snack. We can assure you that once you taste that creamy egg salad you will want to add it to all the sandwiches you prepare! It’s amazing!

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PS: we’ve discovered that one of our favourite food bloggers, a person who we thought was honest and really creative, published a recipe on her blog and social media as hers, when we know for a fact it wasn’t. And we know it because that recipe has appeared in this blog as well, but as we always do, we credited its author, which happens to be a very famous cook. When this person’s followers praised her for her creativity, she even said it was a classic in her kitchen. Wait, what? It was shocking for us because we never thought she would do something like that. Now we doubt everything she publishes! So, if you have a blog or a social media channel, please credit the authors when needed. It’s ok to prepare your own take on other’s recipes, we all do it! But do not steal other people’s work please!

Filario Hotel, Lezzeno

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We arrived at Filario hotel after a 4 a.m. wake up call, two planes and a quite bumpy car ride that lasted forever. The minute we crossed the hotel’s door, our suitcases disappeared, we were guided to a little, lovely terrace and suddenly the Lake Como was sparkling in front of us in all its splendor. Everything was blue, fresh and smelled like camellias and sunshine. From that moment on, there was nothing but relaxation, excitement and the feeling of being in another world, a better one.

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There’s something you have to know about Filario hotel, member of Design Hotels: it will make you forget everything else. It exudes serenity, it makes you slow down and we are pretty sure that somehow Filario hotel makes time stop. It could be the magnificent views, the silence just broken by birds and bells in the distance, the light breeze, the unique scent of the hotel… In some way your senses awake yet you feel motionless, lost into the beauty of the lake and the calmness of the atmosphere.

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The hotel had opened the night before and we noticed that all the staff was absolutely happy about the season that had started. There was this vibrant feeling of new beginnings. From the reception to the restaurant, the service was exquisite in the friendliest way. We were given the best advice to explore the lake: plans were printed, calls were made and taxis booked so that our stay, not only in the hotel but in the area, could be as fantastic as possible. This is a hotel where you don’t feel afraid to ask, quite the opposite.

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To be honest, our favourite part of the days we spent in the lake was the couple of hours that we would spent every day in our terrace, overlooking the lake. After a whole day exploring we would go back to the hotel, have a shower, put on the white, fluffy bath robes and sit in our terrace to enjoy the perfect weather and the breathtaking views.  I would try to write my travel diary and she would try to read, but we both would be so captivated by the landscape that we just stared. We would stare at the profile of Lezzeno to our right: charming sorbet coloured houses, a bell tower and the mountains. And we would stare at the silky, calm water in front of us, the green and ochre opposite shore of the lake, the evergreen Isola Comacina and the incredibly beautiful Villa del Balbianello. That terrace felt like a sanctuary: protected from the wind and rain (we witnessed a terrible storm one night) and safe. The perfect vantage point to see the lake waking up to Spring after a dark Winter.

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And since that terrace was too perfect to miss, our best tip when booking your stay at Filario hotel would be to choose one of the Deluxe Rooms with terrace. They have the most breathtaking views over the lake, they are huge (from 45 to 55 m2), beautifully decorated with dark wood and touches of the softest mint colour and the bathroom has the most perfect rainfall shower. We even had a walk-in closet in our room, perfectly designed to organize your things and feel tidy and prepared for your stay. The only thing we can point out as not absolutely perfect is the lighting. In an attempt to continue with the relaxing vibes and cosy atmosphere, the lightning was very dim and subtle. We could have used a brighter lighting… but please note that we are both shot-sighted!

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And, of course, we have to talk about our dining experiences. We dined twice at the charming hotel’s bistró that doubles as breakfast room in the mornings. We had a little table on the terrace (this hotel is always emphasising it’s privileged position over the lake) where we would have delicious Italian dinners at night and power breakfasts in the morning. The staff would always book the same table for us and that felt very good, like we were regulars and appreciated. Make sure you are hungry before dinner at Filario because the portions are generous! We ordered the most amazing cold meats and cheese plate as a starter one night and it could have easily been our whole dinner! A stunning assortment of local produce, where the salami and smoked Scamorza cheese where our favourites. We also had flavorful pasta dishes, of course, but we have to recommend choosing fish based dishes over anything else because they were beyond incredible: fresh, delicate and rich at the same time. And make sure you wash everything down with the local chardonnay! One night we had the most amazing zuppa inglese dessert, with delicious chewy yet crunchy meringue. A special mention to the amuse bouche courtesy of the chef: outstanding every time!

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And since we are slow-paced breakfasts lovers, we absolutely loved our breakfasts in the bistró terrace. We specially loved one morning, when it started raining and the air was a tad chilly, but we were so warm and felt so relaxed watching the lake and the mountains come to live while we sipped our strong, foamy capuccini. The atmosphere was a little bit melancholic, but the scent of the flowers was intense, the sun was struggling to come out behind the clouds and we had fruit plates, brown bread toasts, ham and the most fragrant extra virgin olive oil in front of us. A simple breakfast that highlighted the quality of the produce. Just what we love. However, if you have a sweet tooth you can’t miss the homemade apple cake and the tiny, flaky croissants. And for those who love heartier breakfasts, the bistró offers eggs and omelettes to order.

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Our experience in Filario hotel couldn’t have been better, honestly. Well, maybe if the weather had been nicer we could have enjoyed its beautiful pool and little shingle beach! When we booked our stay we were a bit worried that such a modern hotel would miss the sense of place that we always look for when choosing our accommodation. But the hotel just looks at the lake, emphasises it, embraces it and literally turns its back on the rest of the world. Here the sense of place is not given by decor, colours or architecture. The sense of place is given by nature itself. And in addition to this sense of place, there is this inherent sense of space, difficult to explain: these beautiful, open spots to sit down and admire the surroundings, lots of space in the rooms, no unnecessary nonsenses… Somehow you have everything you can wish for, but you don’t see it at first and you don’t even need it. Everything is subtle. And, again, there is this feeling of calmness and the tremendous beauty of the lake. Time seems slower but it’s actually filled with lots of sensations, feelings and things to do, just like the lake seems motionless but it’s full of life.

Women empowerment books

Maybe it ‘s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because my eyes are more open, maybe it’s because the situation has gotten so bad that I just can’t help but notice that we, women, have to fight all day, every day, if we want to achieve our goals. Harder than men, that is.  Am I stating the obvious? Of course, but I wanted to emphasize the fact that I never felt truly discriminated as a woman until a few years back, when I realized how many things were different for me when compared to my male coworkers. Nor did I perceive how many times I was letting myself down by being sexist. Me? Yes! Here, as in every aspect of our lives, it’s in the little things… I was allowing and encouraging some absurd behaviors and I think I’m not the only one that has done this. But somehow it comes a time in every woman’s life when she just opens her eyes and from that moment on there’s no way back.

I’ve always consider myself a feminist. When I was a kid and all my cousins would be eating together my grandmother (a very liberal and tolerant woman, but a woman of her time all in all) would tell me to bring dessert/ another spoon / whatever to my male cousins so that they don’t have to get up. I would push my glasses up my nose, complain, get up… and bring dessert for myself and told them to grab theirs if they wanted it. I obviously didn’t realized that was sexist, but somehow I knew it was wrong. The little things, see? A lot of years later, I got a job promotion after passing a couple of quite hard tests and a male colleague asked me who I slept with to get the job. He was kidding… but was he? So from one innocent incident to a very malicious remark, it’s always been there. And it’s always been hurtful. (Side note: I’ve always been privileged, with access to a good education, health care and a strong support network. I can’t imagine how this affects women in diffucult circumstances)

But pain turned into rage. And I answered the best way I know how to: reading. And just as I realized how I’ve always been aware of discrimination, I recognized that my shelves were always full of women empowerment books. It all started with Marian Keyes. The way I see it, her books are all about woman empowerment. Her books have helped me in different stressful moments of my life. They are funny, emotional and they make you feel hopeful and capable of changing your life, therefore, powerful.

I’ve been collecting and reading all kinds of books written by women. From graphic novels like Persépolis to novels like The invention of Wings. All levels, all backgrounds. You might have read or at least heard about the books pictured above. They have taken over the internet at some point, they have been the target of many critics and praises. In my opinion, what’s really important is that there are lots of women brave enough to give us all a voice. Sometimes we might not agree with them or even feel that they represent us, but surely we will identify with some chapters or ideas. Most of the times, we’ve been struggling with the same problems.

One of my favorite women empowerment books is Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I can’t recommend it enough. After reading this book you will have more self-confidence to face the workplace as a woman. Guaranteed. It talks about her own experience in the corporate world and addresses most of the disadvantages and problematic situations that women encounter in the average working environment. But most importantly, she gives honest advice and proactive solutions. If you are a woman and you work, you have to read this book.

So, little but little, these books are making their way to the bestsellers lists, and that’s fantastic. I hope lots of women keep writing and lots of women keep reading. And now it’s your turn: any recommendations?

EDIT: one or our follwers, The Armchair Parisian, has left two recommendations in our Instagram feed: Big Magic, by Elisabeth Gilbert, and Playing Big, by Tara Mohr.

Spicy chicken burger

We love preparing our own burgers from scratch, using the best quality products we can afford. Elevated fast food, if you will. That’s why we have a couple of cookbooks dedicated to burgers, being this one our favourite. This recipe is our take on an Indian inspired burger recipe that we discovered in that book. It’s delicious, it admits lots of variations, though we like to keep things simple.

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You’ll need (serves 2):
200 gr ground chicken
1 tablespoon of seasoning blend (more on that later)
A pinch ground cinnamon
Salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 to 5 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon of cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoon of mint leaves, finely chopped
A handful of baby leaves
1 tomato, sliced
Ideally,grilled naan bread. But you can use buns, or toasties or whatever you want.

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First, make your very own fresh, fragrant seasoning blend: mix 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp ground turmeric, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 pinch of ground cinnamon and 1 pinch ground cardamom. The result is amazingly fresh and quite lemony.

Now, let’s prepare the patties: in a bowl combine the chicken with the seasoning blend and the pinch of cinnamon. Season with salt and mix. Divide the mixture into 2 equal portions and form them into patties slightly thinner at the center than at the edges. This will help having a flat surface once the patties are cooked.

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Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Cook the burgers 10 to 12 minutes, flipping just once.

In the meantime stir together the yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, cilantro and mint. This can also double as your sauce for this delicious recipe so if you have leftovers, you know how to use them.

Now place the burgers on the bread, top with the yogurt sauce, baby leaves and tomato. And there you have it:  a fresh, delicious, light burger that won’t leave you feeling stuffed. If Spring decides to come, this recipe can make any barbacue happy and a little bit different! Now, let’s cross our fingers… In the meantime, we will eat this burger while it rains outisde. Sigh!

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