Our weekend break at the Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon – video

What a night for a drive down to Devon! With rain pelting down on the windscreen and leaves blowing across the road, any thoughts we had of stopping at a country pub on the way were abandoned in the hope of just arriving safely at the Moorland Garden Hotel.

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

We’ve arrived at the Moorland Garden Hotel!

Just north of Plymouth we turned off the main road and down a secluded drive to reach the gates of the hotel, a long two-storey building with all the bedrooms overlooking the lawned gardens. Parking the car and running inside to escape the downpour, we were soothed by the warm welcome at reception and the sounds of music and celebration coming from the room at the other end of the corridor. This being rural Devon, the Young Farmers’ annual dinner dance was in full swing with lads in DJs and lasses in full-on evening glamour and tottering heels, wandering in and out of the bar, not a wellie or barbour jacket to be seen.

I hope you enjoy my video below of the Moorland Garden Hotel

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Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Harking back to the hotel’s glamourous heyday

The hotel was built in the 1930s, originally named the Moorland Links Hotel because of the nearby golf club and enjoyed a glamourous reputation in its heyday, attracting celebrities such as David Niven and Rex Harrison. With a large ballroom complete with sprung dance floor and resident orchestra, guests flocked to attend tea dances and balls, while in the 1940s the hotel was popular with army and naval officers stationed at nearby Plymouth. In 2011 the hotel was bought by the current owners Brian and Sonia Meaden who have gradually put the hotel through a complete refurbishment of the 44 bedrooms and public areas. While the swimming pool and tennis courts of the 1930s are no longer there, the hotel has taken on a new character as a welcoming place for guests wanting to combine the wild walks of Dartmoor with the Waterfront attractions of the Ocean City of Plymouth. To celebrate its 80th anniversary this year, the hotel has been drawing on its heritage, with a 1940s themed tea dance, Agatha Christie inspired afternoon teas and summer picnics in the wildflower meadow that adjoins the gardens.

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Relaxing the Dartmoor Bar and Lounge

Having left the cases in our bedroom (more about that later) we settled into the comfortable Dartmoor lounge for a warming bowl of haddock and sweetcorn chowder and chilli Exe river mussels from the bar menu. The decor was cosy and traditional with some modern touches and looked as if it had benefited from the recent refurbishment with an inviting air of fresh paint and new carpets. We settled into the oversized patchwork armchairs by the fireplace, which would be a favourite spot in winter when the fire is lit, admiring the striped tapestry, brocade and velvet fabrics with gilt mirrors and glowing red glass lamps. The walls were covered with artistic photos of Dartmoor, reminding us of the wild landscapes, granite tors and mossy covered river boulders that we had explored on previous visits to Devon. In one corner was a desk covered with useful information leaflets of local attractions and on the shelves were games and jigsaws to while away an autumn evening.

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

The adjoining Dartmoor bar had been similarly refurbished with plenty of comfortable seating areas, leather sofas and velvet banquettes by the wall. The wild landscapes of nearby Dartmoor were referenced in the black and white photos of moorland miniature ponies and twisted oaks, with metal stag heads on the wall and stag motifs on the cushions. Guy was keen to try a pint of the Dartmoor Best ale although we discovered from the barman that it actually comes from St Austell in Cornwall.

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Settling into the Lily of the Valley Suite

After recovering from our windswept Friday night drive, we were able to enjoy our spacious Lily of the Valley Suite on the first floor, where home-made biscuits had been laid out for us. All the rooms in the hotel have been individually redecorated with the help of West Country designer Nadine Judd, drawing on a garden theme to bring the natural beauty of the moor into the hotel. Like all the bedrooms, ours overlooked the garden and so when we awoke we had delightful views over the lawns and down to the Tamar valley beyond.

I had a peep in a few of the other bedrooms and found the decorative style was colourful and modern, often using patterned feature walls, bright floral prints and striking pieces of furniture. Our Lily of the Valley suite took up the fresh floral theme, with leaf green walls, pretty cream linen curtains with a delicate floral sprig and a feature wall covered with hand-printed lily of the valley paper on a dark background. We sat eating our warm biscuits on the green crushed velvet sofa with pastel floral cushions and flicked through the books and magazines that had been thoughtfully left under the glass of the coffee table. The overall effect was very pleasing although there was the odd item that seemed more high street than high end – a metal garden chair at the desk and a strange IKEA style metal shelf on the wall beside the bed. The en suite bathroom was clean and fresh with pale grey tiles and a shower above the bath although I suspect that this was one of the few remaining bathrooms in the hotel that was due for refurbishment, since I saw other rooms with more modern bathrooms.

Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Elegant Dining in the Wildflower Restaurant

On Saturday night we planned to eat in the Wildflower restaurant, having heard great things about the restaurant which won a Gold in the 2013 West Country Taste of the West awards and was named Best Restaurant in the South West. The Head Chef, Bruce Cole has been at the hotel for 18 months now and has created new menus that feature locally sourced and seasonal produce from nearby farms and food producers. After dinner we had a chance to chat with Bruce and he told us “When I arrived much of the food came from the freezer and the menu changed twice a year. Now everything is freshly made including the bread and pastries, we use the best local produce and we change the menu every 4 to 6 weeks with the seasons”

The Wildflower restaurant has large French windows that overlook the gardens which open in summer leading out onto the terrace. There is an elegant silver and turquoise theme with patterned turquoise velvet chairs, silver leaf wall decorations and a striking private dining area with silver and turquoise floral wallpaper and silver mirrors. I’d love to visit the restaurant in summer to enjoy a cream tea overlooking the gardens or to be there in September when the hotel hosts the Delicious Drake’s trail that ends on those lawns.

Dinner in the Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dinner in the Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

We had invited a friend who lives in Plymouth to join us for dinner and we were all wow’ed by the dishes which were beautifully presented and above all delicious. I started with a crab mille feille, a soft crab pate piled into a tower with crispy biscuits and a  piquant mango garnish. To follow I ordered the sliced breast of duck which was well cooked with a ring of crispy fat, served with vegetables and a prune puree that gave a fruity piquancy. My desert was a perfectly creamy crème brullee with a crisp caramel topping and ball of lemon sorbet in a brandy snap basket. Guy tried a board of delicious West Country cheeses and our friend had the Langage Farm lemon and lime sorbet on a creamy jelly with pretty edible pansies. I thought that the three course dinner which included coffee was incredible value at £28.95 considering the elegant surroundings, friendly and attentive service and of course the delicious food.

The next morning we were back at our window table for breakfast to enjoy the garden views in daylight and of course I had to have the English cooked breakfast while Guy ordered a kipper from the breakfast menu. There was the usual range of hot toast with jam and marmalade, croissants, fruit and yoghurts, a choice of packet cereals, although the selection was fairly limited and I thought the breakfast didn’t quite live up to the magnificence of the dinner the previous evening.

Crystal room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Crystal room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

You can get married here too!

After the Young Farmers’ party on Friday night I noticed that the ballroom was being laid out for a wedding on Saturday and went to have a nose around while the staff were setting out the tables. The large Crystal room at the far end of the hotel is on two levels, the first of which was being set out with chairs for the marriage ceremony while the ballroom area was arranged with tables for the dinner-dance that followed. The room lived up to its name, with sparkling chandeliers and mirrors, and would be the perfect setting for a summer wedding when guests can walk out onto the lawn. In the gardens I spotted the wrought iron rose arbour which was designed and made by local blacksmith Matt Dingle and is popular for wedding photos or even for the wedding ceremony itself. Although the wedding reception was in full swing on the Saturday night when we were dining in the Wildflower restaurant, I was impressed that the staff managed to keep everything running very smoothly, accommodating both groups of guests, although I probably wouldn’t want to be sleeping in the bedrooms immediately above the ballroom when a major event like this is being held in the hotel.

Gardens of Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

The morning market at Tavistock

On Saturday morning we ventured out from the Moorland Garden Hotel to explore the nearby market town of Tavistock, which sits on the western edge of Dartmoor. The town became prosperous in the Middle Ages from the wool trade and was one of the “Stannary Towns” around Dartmoor that controlled the local tin mining that took place on the moor.

Market in Tavistock, Devon

Market in Tavistock, Devon

In front of the impressive stone Guildhall we chatted to the owner of the fruit and veg stall and wandered through the covered craft market. Through an archway we found the Pannier Market, a historic covered market that was given its charter 900 years ago and houses an eclectic mix of different stalls that change daily, with antiques, crafts and daily necessities. On the Saturday it seemed to be a bustling general market of everything you could hope to find in a Devon town, from birdseed to fishing bait, tweed hats to moleskin trousers and country fudge to old books and antique costume jewellery.

Around the courtyard that enclosed the Pannier market there were a number of small specialist shops, including de la Torre’s selling a huge variety of olives and Mediterranean foods like houmous, olive oils and jars of condiments. Right next door was the Country Cheese shop where the staff were only too happy to let us try a sliver of this or that before we decided which of the many West Country cheeses to buy, deliberating between the delightfully named Miss Muffett, Tilly Whim and other Devon specialities.

Market at Tavistock, Devon

Market at Tavistock, Devon

The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum

On the way back from Tavistock that afternoon we stopped in at The Garden House, a privately owned gardens in a secluded Devon valley, set around a Georgian vicarage. The garden was bought in the 1940s by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue who moved to live in the vicarage and started planting the 10 acres of garden which was further developed in the 1960s by head gardener Keith Wiley who introduced the naturalistic landscapes of the cottage garden, wildflower meadow and Acer glade.

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

Walking past the house where I made a mental note of the tea-room, we started our tour of the garden at the small lake where the water lilies and sculptural gunnera made a picturesque setting with the half submerged blue rowing boat that was moored to the bank, but not going anywhere. Most beautiful at the end of summer was the walled garden where the long herbaceous borders were filled with hostas turning to yellow and decaying brown, with fraying silver thistles and the bright spots of dahlias blazing pink and pumpkin orange. In the middle of the walled garden was a small stone thatched cottage, perhaps the gardner’s cottage making a backdrop for the dusty pink hydrangeas and pink penstomen.

At the furthest end of the garden we enjoyed the rhododendron walk which was now full of autumn colour with golden maples and acers lighting up the dark rhododendron foliage. The path led us gradually up hill through the Acer glade beside a small stream trickling over shale which had been cut into the grassy bank. Having completed the circuit of the garden we hurried back to the tea-room in the house before it closed, to have a Devon Cream tea and a slice of home-made fruit cake. Please note the Garden House is now closed for the winter and will re-open again in March.

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey, home of Sir Frances Drake and a Rembrandt self-portrait

On Sunday before we headed for home, we drove the short distance to Buckland Abbey, a medieval abbey which later became home to the Elizabethan sailor, Sir Francis Drake and is now run by the National Trust. We spent a few hours here, enjoying the great barn, medieval house, the Rembrandt exhibition and had lunch at the cafe before driving back to Bristol, although it would be very easy to stay a whole day here if the weather was fine.

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

The Cistercian Abbey was founded here in the 13th century, but after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the abbey was sold to Sir Richard Grenville who demolished some of the monastic buildings and converted it to a family home. In 1582 Sir Francis Drake bought the property with the proceeds of his bucaneering raids on the Spanish fleet in the Americas and it remained in the hands of his heirs until earlier this century. This year Buckland was in the news due the Rembrandt Portrait which came to Buckland Abbey in 2010 and after a 2 year investigation by art experts has now been confirmed as a genuine painting by the master himself. We enjoyed looking around the special Rembrandt exhibition within the house showing the portrait and details of all the ways they had confirmed it was genuine, as well as other museum exhibits such as Drake’s Drum which accompanied him on his voyages and is said to sound when England is in danger.

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

There are no shortage of things to see in this part of Devon and another time we might enjoy a walk up to one of the Tors on the moor or drive into Plymouth where the waterfront is being developed with new restaurants and museums. If you’re looking for a comfortable and welcoming hotel with an excellent restaurant to use as a base for exploring the area I’d certainly recommend the Moorland Garden Hotel and would love to come back in summer to enjoy the gardens and sit out on the terrace, perhaps enjoying a Devon cream tea.

The Moorland Garden Hotel, Yelverton, Devon. Rooms for a weekend stay range from £100-125 based on B & B for 2 people sharing or £125-155 for a suite. Check the hotel website for information on special breaks such as 3 nights for the price of 2, Sunday night stays or breaks that include dinner and afternoon tea. Dogs are welcome in the hotel and can stay in certain rooms. My tip would be to check whether there is a wedding or function taking place in the hotel when you book and if so request a room at the opposite end of the hotel where you won’t be disturbed.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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South Tyrol Designer Giveaway – WAMS socks and Re-Bello t-shirts

November 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Europe, featured, Giveaways, Italy, South Tyrol

The beautiful region of South Tyrol in Italy ticks lots of boxes; picturesque Alpine farmsteads, clear as crystal mountain air, stunning views of the Dolomites – but fashion? When I visited South Tyrol in September I met with two different fashion companies run by energetic young entrepreneurs who were taking inspiration from both the natural environment of South Tyrol and also the modern spirit of Italian design. With the fashion capital of Milan only a couple of hours away these companies can enjoy a lifestyle surrounded by nature while tapping into the best fashion design and production facilities in the world. Read on to find out how fashion and design is thriving in South Tyrol and to enter my South Tyrol Designer Giveaway of WAMS Socks and Re-bello T-shirts – just in time for Christmas!

WAMs featured

Where Are My Socks? Italian Designer Socks from South Tyrol

My first stop on the South Tyrol Designer trail was to meet Robert Larcher and Daniel Kaneider, founders of WAMS?! Socks in their office just outside Bolzano. I call it an office but in true start-up fashion, they have crammed their showroom, warehouse, design hub and working space into a basement room of Robert’s apartment. I instantly felt the fun, fashion vibe with washing lines of latest sock designs strung over their desks and promotional leaflets from their latest collaborations covering the tables.

Robert Larcher and Daniel Kaneider, founders of WAMs Socks in Bolzano, South Tyrol

Robert Larcher and Daniel Kaneider, founders of WAMs Socks in Bolzano, South Tyrol

The two entrepreneurs met when studying economics in Innsbruck and decided they wanted to start a fashion business – fashion seems to be in the blood of every Italian male! They felt there was a gap in the market for colourful designer socks that were top quality but moderately priced and started work with a freelance designer to create the first collection. The tongue-in-cheek name of WAMS or “Where are my socks?” came about because the pair were always losing their socks in the wash so they wanted something bright and easy to spot. Now the range is constantly changing and there are often special editions such as the collection they made to match a Re-bello t-shirt line or the special snowflake sock they made for Snowdays, Europe’s biggest winter sport event for students.

WAMS socks

WAMS socks

The socks are made of top quality combed cotton in a factory near Verona and the company is proud to be selling a 100% ‘Made in Italy’ product. The local production means they can respond to fashion trends and work with other South Tyrol designers on special projects. Daniel told me “If someone asks me for a special design, I can call up the factory and in an hour I can be in Verona to discuss it with them”. The socks are stocked in over 50 stores around Italy and are also available to buy online through the WAMS website.

All the designs are unisex and in two lengths since Italian businessmen prefer to wear longer socks that don’t show any ankle, while those looking for fun and fashion will go for the ankle length. The socks retail at €12 for the ankle length and €16 for the longer length with a €48 gift box containing 4 socks that is very popular at Christmas. Robert and Daniel kindly gave me 4 pairs of socks in their most popular designs to give away in one of the gift sets – see below for more information on my South Tyrol Designer Giveaway.

Screen Shot 2014-11-09 at 17.07.23

Follow WAMS?! socks on their website where you can order their socks,  ankle length socks €12, knee length socks €18, gift box with 4 socks €48, free shipping within Europe for orders over $40 otherwise shipping within Europe is €5.  Follow their social media channels Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter

Read on to the bottom of the article for details of our WAMS Socks giveaway

Re-Bello – Sustainable Street style from South Tyrol, Italy

My next stop on the South Tyrol Designer trail was at the Re-Bello warehouse on the outskirts of Bolzano, where I met founder and CEO Daniel Tocca. After completing a degree in economics Daniel went on to complete a Master’s in Entrepreneurship in Rotterdam and realised that this was the path he wanted to take in business. After a false start working for a year in a multi-national corporation he gave up his job and in 2010 returned to his home town of Bolzano, where he joined with two friends to work on the concept for their new start-up venture.

Daniel Tocca, CEO of Re-Bello Sustainable Street style from South Tyrol, Italy

Daniel Tocca, CEO of Re-Bello Sustainable Street style from South Tyrol, Italy – with some of his t-shirt designs

They wanted to work in the fashion sector which is well developed in northern Italy, as Daniel put it ” Already when Italians are 13 or 4 they have an eye for beauty and fashion, it is in our blood like football.” Their vision was to develop a fashion brand that was based on sustainability, since this was a growing movement in Italy and Europe in areas like organic food, but was not well represented in the fashion sector. They started to source and develop sustainable yarns and fabrics, using bamboo and eucalptus as well as organic cotton and up-cycled wool, and to develop a plan to build the business. Daniel told me “Sustainability is not only in the clothes, in the materials, in the hang tags and everything we use, but also in the philosophy of how we should develop our company for long-term growth”.

At the start Daniel worked with a freelance designer to develop the fashion concept of Re-Bello – a beautiful rebel who wants to change things but in a beautiful way. Each range follows the season’s trends but draws inspiration from street-style, punk and rock and is inspired by the 23-35 year old fashions, although all ages may be attracted to the stylish designs and sustainability concept. The t-shirts designs are where the company started and Daniel showed me a banner made up of all their best-selling t-shirt prints, many of which become signature prints that transfer from one season to the next.

Re-Bello Autumn 2014 collection - Italian Sustainable Fashion

Re-Bello Autumn 2014 collection – Italian Sustainable Fashion

The fabrics used are top quality, with a silky finish and the unusual yarns are a key part of the sustainability approach. Bamboo grows in the wild and when cut it will quickly grow back at 15-20 cm a day, while Eucalyptus (sold under the Tencel brand) is also a semi-wild plant and so does not require intensive cultivation methods or large amounts of water. Organic cotton is also used as well up-cycled wool, taken from the offcuts from woollen garment manufacture which is re-cycled to make a new yarn for the Re-Bello knitwear. The company uses natural dyes, avoids garment finishes that use any harmful chemicals and their production methods are certified under recognised standards such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and OEKO-TEX Standard 100.

Despite all the work that goes into the sustainability of the Re-Bello fashion ranges, Daniel told me “I want to attract the customer who doesn’t necessarily know about our sustainability philosophy, who buys because of the style, they love the materials and how they feel. Then they go home and wear it and they understand the sustainability message and feel good about that.” The natural beauty of South Tyrol is a big inspiration for the sustainability approach of Re-Bello and a reason why they are based in Bolzano rather than the fashion hub of Milan. Daniel told me “When you come here the first thing you see is that nature is everywhere, even if you are in the centre of Bolzano you look up to see the mountains around you. The nature and sustainability of South Tyrol is what will keep Rebello here.”

Read on to the bottom of the article for details of the Re-Bello T-shirts I’m giving away

Re-Bello Autumn 2014 range

My favourite looks from the Re-Bello Autumn 2014 range

Follow Re-Bello on their website where you can see more of their Autumn range and discover how their sustainable approach makes a difference. In the Re-bello online shop you can order some of the best-selling t-shirts, knitwear and jeans for both men and women with T-shirts from €39.90, knitwear from €69.90 and jeans from €99.90. Follow them on their social media channels Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube |

The South Tyrol Designer Giveaway – WAMS?! Socks and Re-Bello T-shirts

I’m really pleased to be giving away to my readers some of the WAMS Socks and Re-Bello T-shirts that were kindly given to me when I visited the designers in South Tyrol. Lucky you – just as you’re starting to look for Christmas gift ideas! I’m giving away a gift box of 4 pairs of WAMS designer socks and 3 Re-Bello T-shirts. You can keep them for yourself or gift them to that sister/ brother/ mother/ daughter/ son/ boyfriend/ wife/ special person in your life.

From WAMS Socks – I’m giving away 4 pairs of Socks in a gift set worth €48 which you can see in the photos below. There are 3 pairs of short and 1 pair of long length, 2 pairs in size 36-40, 2 pairs in size 41-46.

WAMS Socks Giveaway from South Tyrol

WAMS Socks Giveaway from South Tyrol

From Re-Bello – I’m giving away 3 T-shirts in designs and sizes listed below to 3 different winners;

  • Left: Batwing Tunic T-shirt Rose of Sharon made of Eucapliptus (Tencel) in size Large worth €39.90 – See it online here
  • Centre: Kimono T-shirt White + Dark Gull Grey made of Bamboo in size Large worth €48.90 – see it online here
  • Right: Batwing Tunic T-shirt Dark Gull Grey made of Eucaliptus (Tencel) in size Medium worth €39.90 – See it online here
Re-Bello T-shirt giveaway from South Tyrol

Re-Bello T-shirt giveaway from South Tyrol

How to Enter

To enter the South Tyrol Designer Giveaway please use the Rafflecopter widget (you can enter for both the socks and the T-shirts);

  • If you’d like to win the WAMS Socks, enter by taking a look at the WAMS Socks website and then leave a comment below this post to tell me which is your favourite sock design from their range.
  • If you’d like to win one of the Re-Bello T-shirts, enter by taking a look at the Re-bello Autumn 2014 look book for women or men or their online shop and then leave a comment below this post to tell us which is your favourite look or item from the Re-bello autumn range. In your comment, please also let us know which of the three t-shirts you’d like to win.

You can gain additional chances to win via the Rafflecopter Widget;

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and Conditions

  • This giveaway is a prize draw/sweepstake
  • The prizes are a. 4 pairs of WAMs socks in a gift box b. Re-bello batwing T-shirt Rose of Sharon size L c. Re-bello Kimono white/grey stripe T-shirt size L d. Re-bello Batwing dark Grey t-shirt size M
  • Unfortunately no substitutes for design/ size/ colour are available since the items were given to me in South Tyrol and will be shipped my me from the UK to the winners
  • The giveaway is open to all readers in any location
  • The 4 winners will be chosen at random
  • The giveaway ends on Monday 24 November at midnight
  • The winners will be notified by e-mail within 7 days of the draw ending and must confirm their acceptance of the prize by e-mail within 3 days or the prize will be allocated to another winner.
  • The prize will normally be posted to the winners within 14 days of them accepting the prize and may be posted by the cheapest method, so this will determine when it will arrive.
  • The giveaway is restricted to one entry per individual although each individual may leave a comment for both the socks and the t-shirts
  • Any duplicate or automated entries will disqualify the entrant from this giveaway
  • Entering this giveaway gives permission for you to be added to the e-mail list of Heatheronhertravels.com but we will never spam you and you can unsubscribe at any time.

More things to see in South Tyrol

Cycling with wine and apples – on the South Tyrol wine road
Climbing my first Via Ferratta in South Tyrol
Traditional South Tyrol food and wine with a gastronomic twist
Messner Mountain Musem – before the time of man

Information, articles and resources for South Tyrol

For more information to plan your own visit, find accommodation and discover all the things to do in South Tyrol, visit the South Tyrol Tourism website and watch videos about the region on their YouTube channel. For updates on things to do in South Tyrol follow the South Tyrol Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram pages

My thanks to South Tyrol Marketing for supporting my visit to South Tyrol in collaboration with Travelator Media

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Athens is on the menu for 2015 – a taste of Greece with TBEX – video

“We want you to help the world dream about Greece”, the Minister of Tourism, Olga Kefalogianni told us at the opening night party for the TBEX travel bloggers conference in Athen. The city had opened its arms wide to welcome over 500 travel bloggers attending the conference so that we could help change perceptions about what Greece has to offer. In the opening speeches the Mayor of Athens, Giorgos Kaminis told us “We felt that during the economic crisis we were treated unfairly by the mainstream media and so we wanted to invite you bloggers to see Athens for yourselves and tell the real stories of our city.”

Heather makes the obligatory trip up to the Acropolis Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather makes the obligatory trip up to the Acropolis

Greece has been through some tough times in the last couple of years fillng the newspapers with reports of strikes and public protests. During the crisis the government was forced to take drastic measures to balance the books and pensioners, students and families alike struggled to make ends meet. But in Athens last week we could feel a new energy as Greece leaves the worst behind and looks to the future. Local tourism businesses had come together to show us their best side and at the opening party restaurants and food businesses wow’ed us with a feast of Greek cuisine and enterprise.

Food at TBEX

Clockwise from top left: Proscutio from Stremmenos, Halva mousse from Aleria , Verve fruit juices from Farmer’s Republic, canapes from ManhManh

A showcase of Greek gastronomy at the TBEX opening night party

Arriving at the Technopolis cultural centre it took me a very, very long time to extract myself from the main hall where stands of food and drink producers tempted me with tastes from all the regions of Greece. From Stremmenos I tasted my way through the naturally matured proscutio and salamis from the pine forests of Central Greece, washed down with Verve natural juices in blends of apple, celery, melon and ginger from Farmer’s Republic. I sipped Greek wines from Papaioannou Wines and nibbled a plate of miniature hot dogs from local restaurant ManhManh who offer Greek regional dishes with a modern twist. Another local Athens restaurant Aleria was serving a creamy, nutty Halva mousse to die for and I was given a bag of traditional Loukoum sweets made by Nedim, perfumed with rosewater, coated with coconut and dripping with syrup. I took them back to my hotel room and looking for a late night snack I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t resist eating the whole bag.

During the day I had taken the Athens Food Tour with Big Olive City Walks, a new business run by young Athenian entrepreneurs including the founder, Yannis and architecture expert, Nikos who fed us historical snippets during our walk.

Greek pastries and yoghurt at Stani Dairy bar

The gastronomic walking tour started back to front with the deserts first, although of course the Greeks tend to eat their yoghurt and honey in the morning for breakfast and their cakes in the afternoon when guests come visiting. At Stani, a family run dairy cafe just off Omonia square, tubs of creamy Greek yoghurt were piled in the chiller cabinet and jars of honey stacked on the shelves of cream painted cabinets transported from some Greek grandmother’s kitchen.

Loukoumades are drizzled with honey at Stani Dairy Bar in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Loukoumades are drizzled with honey at Stani Dairy Bar in Athens

Plates of sweet treets were laid out for us to try, with crisp Loukoumades, miniature doughnuts drizzled with honey, a slice of Galaktobureko custard tart enclosed in syrupy filo pasty and Moustalevria a sweet jelly made from grape pulp left over from the wine pressing and scattered with nuts. And of course there was creamy Greek yoghurt made from sheep’s milk bathed with honey and scattered with walnuts. Stani: 10 M. Kotopouli str, Omonia square

Greek specialities at Stani dairy bar in Athens; Loukoumades, Galaktobureko and Moustalevria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Greek specialities at Stani dairy bar in Athens; Loukoumades, Galaktobureko and Moustalevria

A tasting of olives and LIA oil, the symbol of Athens

Our next stop took us to the Big Olive offices where we had a tasting of olives and olive oils with sweet, hard biscuits flavoured with orange and almond. These traditional Koulouraki biscuits would be hard baked to preserve them but then softened by dipping into olive oil. The LIA extra virgin oil from Messinia, beside the Ionian sea was poured into a cup to sip on its own and savour the green grass flavours. We tasted the small, salty, black Kalamata olives from the Pelleponese and the plump, fleshy Amphisa olives from central Greece, the Kalamata ones being the more expensive of the two.

The olive is seen as a symbol of peace and prosperity in Greece since the legend goes that the Greek Goddess Athena planted a tree on the Acropolis, so founding the city of Athens which was named after her. I thought perhaps that the Big Olive city walks had started from selling olives, but Yannis explained that it was a play on names like Big Apple for New York, but Big Olive for Athens since the olive is not only the symbol of the city but also of regeneration and will spring up and grow again after a forest fire.

Olive oil tasting on the Big Olive gastronomic tour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Olive oil tasting on the Big Olive gastronomic tour

With the fishes in the Athens Central Market

Our gastronomic tour now took us through the amazing Central market on Athinas Street known as the Varvakios agora where stand after stand of fish was laid out, with all the vendors keeping up a constant calling and exhorting us to buy their fish. Silver scaled and yellow striped fish stared up at me with dead eyes and open mouths from their bed of ice strewn with lemons while plump pink crayfish were standing ready to make a seafood supper.

At the farthest end of the fish section we reached the meat section where half carcasses of dead animals hung from the meat hooks. I winced as the butchers wielded their cleavers expertly on the chopping blocks and hoped that no fingers would be chopped off in the process.

Nikos the story teller told us how the market had originally been located within the archaeological area until this new one was built in the 1880s to allow the excavations to take place. The traders resisted moving into it since it was further away from the busy shopping areas, until a fire mysteriously broke out and burned down the original market, leaving them no choice.

Central market or Varvakios agora on Athinas Street in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Central market or Varvakios agora on Athinas Street in Athens

Flatbreads warm from the oven from Antiochia

Next stop on our gastronomic journey around the regional influences on Greek cuisine was Feyrouz Lahmajoun, another new family venture featuring the flatbreads of Antiochia. What is a Lahmajoun? It’s a Turkish or Armenian street-food that is somewhere between cross a pizza, pitta and a pie. The owner, Andreas explained how the shop was named for his mother Feyrouz who made all the doughs and fillings for the Lahmajoun and also for the much admired singer Fayrouz who was considered the queen of Lebanese music and whose portrait was hanging behind the counter. “She is the only Arabic singer who is loved by all religions and all nationalities” he told us.

Andreas and mother Feyrouz explain the different flavours of Lahmajoun Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Andreas and mother Feyrouz explain the different flavours of Lahmajoun

We could see the different flatbreads laid out behind the counter covered with minced meat or vegetables to which you could add humus or olive paste as an extra topping. The Peinirli or open top pies were laid out along the window counter for us to try, warm from the oven with toppings of cheese and tomato or cooked vegetables, with a glass of perfumed amber Turkish tea flavoured with cardoman and cloves. Each of these a bargain at around €3. Feyrouz: Karori 23 in Aiolou, Athens

Peinirli or open topped pie served at Feyrouz in Athens with Turkish tea Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Peinirli or open topped pie served at Feyrouz in Athens with Turkish tea

Ham and charcuterie at Karamanlidika

Reluctantly our group moved out of Feyrouz, having devoured everything that had been laid out for us and headed through the side streets to another cafe/deli specialising in cheese and charcuterie called Karamanlidika. Strings of red sausages, bunches of garlic and chillis and whole hams were strung above the counter like Christmas decorations. With bare stone walls and simple wooden tables the place looked like a classy village taverna serving simple plates of cheeses and sliced charcuterie to appreciative diners.

Charcuterie and Meze at Karamanlidika in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Charcuterie and Meze at Karamanlidika in Athens

Many of the hams had a thick red coating of spices like pepper and fenugreek which once thinly sliced, made a ribbon edge of the meat, giving a zap of flavour as we greedily ate it with our fingers. Also on the menu were Meze like the stuffed vine leaves and matured cheese with plenty of jars and bottle full of oils and condiments to take home. Karamanlidika: Sokrates 1 & Evripides 52, Athens

Charcuterie and Meze at Karamanlidika in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Charcuterie and Meze at Karamanlidika in Athens

Coffee and a sweet spoon at the Museum of Gastronomy

Our final stop was the charming Museum of Greek Gastronomy, a private house that had been opened up with a restaurant upstairs, some specialist produce on sale and downstairs an exhibition about the foods and cultivation of the monks of Northern Greece. We sat in the small courtyard looking out towards the church next door and enjoyed a strong Greek coffee perfumed with rosewater and a “Sweet Spoon” which in this case was a miniature aubergine preserved in syrup like a crystallised fruit. Museum of Greek Gastronomy: 13, Agiou Dimitriou Street 10554, Athens.

gourmet museum

Now mid-afternoon and our Big Olive Gastronomic walking tour completed, it was time for a bit of tick-list sightseeing. Paris may have the Eiffel Tower, Rome the Colosseum, London the Elgin Marbles (don’t mention the Elgin, or should I say Parthenon Marbles to a Greek!) and of course when in Athens one must see the Acropolis.

The heavy rain that we had battled through in the morning had given way to warm sunshine and so with my new blogging friend Paula from Soothed in the city I headed up the hill towards the Parthenon. By pure chance we had chosen the perfect time to take photos of those famous monuments, at the golden hour of late afternoon when the sun bathes the golden stone of the Parthenon and those lovely ladies holding up the roof bask in the sunshine.  The Parthenon was something of a building site and seemed to be in a process of being dismantled and put back together with cranes and scaffolding everywhere. We walked around, took lots of photos and marvelled at the size and sprawl of Athens below us, stretching as far as the mountains in the distance.

The Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Erechtheum on the Acropolis in Athens

Sightseeing boxes ticked, we headed back down and wandered around the narrow streets filled with cafes and restaurants, stopping for a pistachio ice cream (me) and an enormous chocolate truffle (Paula) from Da Vinci, an artizan ice cream parlour that it seemed churlish to pass by without going inside to investigate the flavours on offer.

Ice Cream from Da Vinci in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ice Cream from Da Vinci in Athens

The next two days were taken up with the TBEX conference but our final Saturday night was spent at a street party put on for us by the local traders of Pandrossou Street. Emerging from Monastiriki Metro station and crossing the square I was half expecting that this narrow street nestling below the Acropolis hill would be full of tourist tat, but instead I found charming family businesses that were full of character, displaying Greek crafts and artizan goods. I stopped to watch the lady handpainting gorgeous vases at Pagani and stepped inside to find a treasure trove of painted gifts from all over Greece.

Hand painted Greek vases at Pagani on Pandrossou Street, Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Hand painted Greek vases at Pagani on Pandrossou Street, Athens

Further along the street the shops were putting on demonstrations of their crafts, a shoemaker tooling traditional leather sandles that a fashionable Ancient Greek lady might have coveted and the bouzouki maker at the Pegasus musical instrument workshop. I tried a real Greek coffee outside the Mikro cafe, strong and sweet just how I like it, but beware drinking it down to the last drop or you’ll end up with coffee sludge between your teeth.

Left: Bouzouki maker at Pegasus musical instrument workshop Right: Greek Coffee Photos Heatheronhertravels.com

Left: Bouzouki maker at Pegasus musical instrument workshop Right: Greek Coffee at Mikro cafe

At the end of the street the bouzouki band were playing all the old favourites, those foot tapping, shoulder swaying tunes that demand to be danced to. Since my sister lives on the Greek island of Zakynthos, I’ve had the pleasure and fun of the Greek night that she puts on in her hotel each week for guests, and all the songs were familiar to me. This is the music of festivals and wedding celebrations, enjoyed by every age from the trendy young things to their black clothed grandmothers and believe me when the band strikes up, the Greeks don’t need much excuse for a dance.

I’d like to say that I joined the circle of dancers, a mixture of locals and bloggers and danced the night away in the streets of Athens, but I was too busy recording the music on video for you dear reader (please watch it below). “We invite you all to be Athenians” the major had told us, and on our final night in Athens, listening to the familiar songs we took that message to heart. Come to Greece was the message, come enjoy our ancient cuture and our modern spirit, come enjoy the sunshine and the music and the people. Come enjoy a glass of wine with new friends, come eat our traditional dishes reinvented in new ways, come feel the warmth and spirit of Athens and Greece. Come visit us in 2015.

The Bouzouki Band on Pandrossou Street Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Bouzouki Band on Pandrossou Street

I hope you enjoy the video below of Bouzouki music in Pandrossou Street Athens

If you can’t see the video above of Greek Bouzouki music in Athens, see it on my blog here or Youtube here and please do subscribe using the button above

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This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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