Marbella Nido Suite Hotel & Villas, Corfu

As Autumn arrives in London, summer is still in full swing over on the idyllic Greek islands. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Corfu, where balmy weather and an easy going lifestyle are the norm.

Marbella Nido

My first stop was Marbella Nido Suite Hotel & Villas, a newly renovated, adults-only boutique hotel in the south of the island, not far from the airport. The all suite hotel is a tranquil and luxurious place to stay away from the hustle and bustle of Corfu old town.

Marbella Nido

We were staying in a smart Junior Suite with private whirlpool. It was fresh and airy with subtle accents of colour and stylish patterned tiles. The bed dominated the room, with a bright purple velvet armchair in one corner and a small bathroom tucked away at the front.

Marbella Nido

On the first morning we were treated to breakfast on our terrace. The charming terracotta-hued terrace was a glorious sun trap, annoyingly also a favourite for the persistent Corfu wasps! A lavish breakfast set-up included the sweetest freshly squeezed orange juice, delicious pastries and a tropical fruit platter.

Marbella Nido

There are several restaurants and bars to choose from; the main San Giovanni eatery serves a buffet breakfast and dinner, while guests wishing for a more special experience can book the a la carte Apaggio terrace restaurant, with endless azure sea views.

Marbella Nido

You can enjoy an evening aperitif at the colourful heritage lobby bar, or choose to sip your drink during the day at the dazzling pool bar.

Marbella Nido

At each outlet the staff are welcoming and eager to please, choose a classic cocktail or ask them to make you a creative invention.

Marbella Nido

Life’s troubles seem to melt away at Marbella Nido Suite Hotel & Villas. It is serene and calm, a place to truly relax and soak up the stunning surroundings.

Book a stay at Marbella Nido Suite Hotel & Villas via Mr and Mrs Smith here.

I was a guest of Marbella Nido Suite Hotel & Villas.

A trip to Le Puy-en-Velay to learn about Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils

Lentils were a staple meal when I went to spend time with family in the South of France as a child, but at home in London I don’t cook them often. I think this must be because of a lack of recipe knowledge, and the length of time they usually take to cook. Although now, discovering the versatile pre-cooked Merchant Gourmet pouches will change all that!

On a recent trip to Le Puy-en-Velay with Merchant Gourmet, a group of fellow foodies and I were introduced to the special region where Puy lentils are from. We visited the farm and factory, learnt about the harvest and tasted some seriously tasty meals utilising these tiny green lentils.

Le Puy en Velay

Le Puy-en-Velay is a beautiful area of central France, a few hours drive from Lyon. The historic city is also known as a start point for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. We arrived in the sleepy town mid-morning after an early start, and our first stop was Sabarot – manufacturers of Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentil and one of the most prestigious family-run lentil and pulse companies in the region. Here we were shown the variety of products that the Sabarot family produce, an amazing array of French pulses, mushrooms and snails, and given an insight into the company’s story over the last 100 years.

Puy lentilsPuy lentils

Lunch was served at the factory , a nutritious and delicious selection of lentil salads, my favourite was an inspired combination of fresh sliced peaches, rocket, mozzarella and lentils.

Puy lentils

Next it was time to visit the factory and fields. Puy lentils are a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta literally “Protected Designation of Origin”) so can only be grown and harvested in this part of the world, under strict growing conditions of no pesticides or irrigation and allow the natural environment to run its course The flavour profile of these special green lentils is more peppery and flinty than other lentils and they have a softer, thinner skin making them cook quicker than your average lentils.

Puy lentilsPuy lentils

The lentil harvest was an eye-opening experience. Prior to the trip I had no idea how these small pulses were grown…

The sunny fields were filled with dry short crop, benefitting from the rich volcanic soil which gives the Puy lentils a unique flavour. A tractor systematically drove through collecting the crop and beginning the sorting process, and the lentils then go to the factory for a more exact sorting and cleaning. It was incredible to witness quite how delicate this crop is, with just one or two tiny lentils housed in each shell.

Puy lentilsPuy lentils

Dinner that night was spectacular… a tented dining room in a Puy lentil field, with dinner cooked on barbecues. It was amazing to sit in such a remote natural landscape while enjoying a refined dinner of lentil inspired dishes, prepared by some of the best chefs from the area.

Puy lentils

Menu highlights included a slow cooked lamb and lentil stew and a dessert which included orange lentil jam! The whole meal was accompanied by carefully selected matching wines from the region.

Puy lentilsLe Puy

Before boarding a flight back to London there was just enough time to have a walking tour of the beautiful town, Le Puy-en-Velay. We wandered around the old cobbled streets, noticing the old fashioned lace shops and fragrant bakeries, before heading up the hill to the astounding Le Puy Cathedral.

After a quick local lunch it was time to return home, with Sabarot lentil flour biscuits in hand! Since visiting Le Puy-en-Velay and the lentil fields I feel inspired by this ingredient again. Many think of Puy lentils as a store cupboard filler, but when you delve into the Puy lentil story, it’s easy to see why this pulse can be the star of a dish, rather than just a supporting act.

Collaboration trip as a guest of Merchant Gourmet.

Things to do in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana is a brilliant destination for a weekend break. Just an hour and half from London, and close to the Italian border, the Slovenian capital city is beautiful and easily walkable. There are just enough sites to keep you entertained but not overwhelmed, and the local restaurants are relaxed and reasonably priced. When you feel you have exhausted all the city has to offer, venture out of town to the many beautiful sights and natural beauties this small but special country has to offer. Lake Bled and Soča Valley were top of my itinerary, but there are many other wonderful areas to explore if you have a little longer.

Slovenia

To Stay

Vander Urbani Resort – This design hotel is conveniently tucked away in the very centre of town. With 20 sleek rooms, a ground floor restaurant and a small rooftop pool, it is a popular choice for weekend trips to Ljubljana.

Slovenia

To Eat

TaBar – On a warm evening the TaBar terrace is the best place in town to eat, drink and people watch. The menu has a range of gourmet dishes, designed to be shared as tapas and focused around local ingredients. Try the Ostrich and the mini burger and let the brilliant team help you choose a glass from the reasonably priced list of organic, Slovenian orange wines.

Gelataria Romantika – This cute ice-cream parlour is known for its quirky and delicious flavours of gelato. I loved the traditional Tarragon and cottage cheese and also the Pumpkin Seed Oil on Vanilla Bourbon base.

EK Bistro – EK bistro pride themselves on serving the best brunch menu in town. The stylish hang out offers a menu of alluring egg dishes, including Eggs Benedict with pulled beef, pumpkin oil and seeds and Goats cheese omelette with tarragon. Or you can opt for something lighter like Granola with yoghurt, thyme syrup and seasonal fruit.

Trappa – A new pizzeria 10 mins outside Ljubljana, serving delicious sourdough pizzas and a range of local organic wines.

Ménagerie – A charming, new boulangerie, ideal for breakfast. Ménagerie is beautifully decorated in a shade of pale green with antique furniture and artwork. Try the pillowy local brioche with homemade jam and butter, or take away one of their speciality loaves.

Monstera Bistro – Everyone recommended Monstera Bistro, and for good reason. This simple, local bistro is run by Bine Volčič, one of the best-known chefs in the country, and his wife Katarina. A daily menu offers delightful dishes like Braised pulled pork in tramezzino bread, and Elderflower baba cake. When we visited it was just €17 for 2 courses or €20 for 3… be sure to book.

Slovenia

To Drink

Cafe Čokl – This little cafe is known to locals and tourists as one of the best coffee shops in town. Café Cokl roasts only the freshest Arabica beans, and then uses a variety of expert techniques to make you a coffee of your choice.

Kolibri – Kolibri is considered to be Ljubljana’s best cocktail bar, perhaps even the finest in the country. The tiny bar is decadently designed with moody lighting and velvet seating. Sit at the bar and order from their seasonal menu, we particularly loved the Mezcal old fashioned.

Črno Zrno – This little blue and white tiled hole in the wall is found in the Gornji trg part of town. Črno Zrno translates to ‘black bean’ and is owned and run by Alex, a Colombian architect turned coffee geek, eager to bring the best Colombian coffee to Slovenia. The speciality coffee here is immaculately measured out, poured to perfection and served with a smile. A must-visit for caffeine fans visiting Ljubljana.

Stow – Stow is a modern and spacious cafe located within the City Museum. Stow initially launched as a roaster before opening a cafe serving their carefully selected and roasted beans. Stow also run coffee academies where experts share their coffee knowledge.

Tozd – This friendly cafe in the centre of town is a lovely place to sit and read for a while. Though their coffee making skills aren’t the best in town, their beans are from Escobar, a brilliant speciality coffee company outside of Ljubljana.

Slovenia

To Do

Triple Bridge – It is impossible to miss this iconic historic feature in the heart of Ljubljana. The three bridges cross over the Ljubljanica River and was designed by the architect Jože Plečnik, completed in 1932. Tourists constantly walk over the famous bridges, but they are most picturesque from above.

Funicular up to the castle – Take the short funicular ride up Castle Hill above downtown Ljubljana to the landmark castle. Originally a medieval fortress, it was likely constructed in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 12th century. The panoramic views of the city are most beautiful at sunset.

Nebotičnik Skyscraper – This prominent high-rise building is located in the centre of Ljubljana and was once the tallest residential building in Europe, with its thirteen storeys rising to a height of 70.35m. It was designed by the Slovenian architect Vladimir Šubic for the Pension Institute, the building’s investor, and was opened on 21 February 1933. Head to the building staircase for a view all the way down, or enjoy a drink on the outdoor terrace.

Sunday Flea Market – A charming flea market takes place every Sunday morning along the riverside on and around Cobbler’s Bridge (on Breg). Here you can find an extraordinary range of antique goods and bric-a-brac to interesting Slovenian memorabilia.

Slovenia

To Escape

Soča Valley – A couple of hours from Ljubljana the Soča Valley is a 138-kilometre long river that flows through western Slovenia and northeastern Italy. Here you can enjoy fresh Alpine hikes, whitewater rafting and other outdoor sports. One of the best walks is from Kobarid to Slap Kozjak where you can visit an impressive waterfall for €4 per person and see Napoleon’s Bridge. We came to the Soča Valley to try the destination restaurant Hiša Franko run by inspiring chef Ana Ros, a must for all foodies visiting Slovenia. She also owns the casual eatery Hiša Polonka with her husband; here you can try the delicious local craft beer paired with the hearty traditional dish – cheese and potato frika.

Lake Bled – Just 40 minutes outside of Ljubljana is one of the countries best-known and most beautiful natural wonders. Lake Bled is a lake in the Julian Alps of the Upper Carniolan region of northwestern Slovenia, where it adjoins the town of Bled. Here you can trek up to Mala Osojnica for a magnificent viewpoint, take a boat to Bled Island (€15pp return), and enjoy wild swimming. Don’t leave without trying the famous and indulgent Bled cake (a light cake with layers of pastry, whipped cream and custard).