If you like bucolic scenery, and are planning to take a trip to California, may I suggest you skip Napa and head a bit farther west to the Russian River Valley? With none of the glitz that Napa has come to embody, this northern corner of Sonoma county retains its simple allure: still plenty of wineries to visit; a meandering river where to stop by, sit and read (or float on); if the need for an ocean beach strikes, in less than 30 minutes you can sit on the sand and, if you just can’t go without some serious shopping or dining for a while, head to Healdsburg for a fix. Still semi-undiscovered by the throngs and hoping it stays that way.
2. Canine adventures
Travelling with dogs is more fun and less complicated than one might think. Depending on the country, many hotels are happy to host your pooch (or my two giant ones) – at the high-end, all Lowe’s hotels, all over the world, accept all breeds and sizes and, at the low-end, most Best Western do too. In between, it’s not hard to find B&Bs that will accommodate them. During my last trip to Northern California, I have also found that many restaurants are very obliging, even fancy dining establishments like Charlie Palmer’s: as long as there is a patio, dogs are welcome. My dogs are seasoned travelers: they will go anywhere as long as they get to stay with me and, taken out of their territory, they behave like the angels they are not back home.
3. Vacation rentals
airbnb has been in the news lately: hoteliers all over the world are complaining of lost revenue and many cities are waking up to the missed tax revenue. It’s a shame the site has become so popular and trendy because it’s starting to ruin a good thing that had been flying under the radar for many years, i.e. rent someone else’s home instead of booking a hotel. It’s usually much cheaper, especially if one factors in how much money is spent on meals that can’t be cooked at home. I have been renting for about 10 years from vrbo (same as homeaway) and I have never come across a bad or dirty place. I also check airbnb for good measure but the trendiness quotient usually irritates me. It takes a little bit of patience but houses or flats can be found anywhere in the world, for all budgets. Many I have rented more than once, often striking friendships with the owners.
Gelato and ice-cream don’t often feature in my diet: I rarely crave them but, when I encounter excellent ones, I have to give them their due. Straus Family Creamery is an organic dairy farm that has been operating in California since the 1970s. I heard their yogurt and ice-creams to be outstanding so, when I saw Straus Vanilla on offer at a sandwich shop in Sausalito, I tried it, with Valrhona cocoa bits. The verdict? Worth my calories: I don’t love ice-cream because of the coat fat it leaves on the tongue but this is good fat! You can taste the cream, mixed with pure vanilla – if it’s available near you, give it a try.
Being Italian, I am wordy by nature, and I am not daunted by books that run in excess of 700 pages. As soon as I finished Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch“, I wished I hadn’t read it yet so I could open it for the first time. Every single review was glowing but I have friends who couldn’t be bothered to finish it. Some books I love because the plot eggs you on; some because the writing is exquisite; others have interesting ideas and then, the best, the real works of literature have all of that and then some. “The Goldfinch” is about the power of art, how it changes us, why it’s vital and why mankind couldn’t, and shouldn’t, do without it. And, having said that, it’s also a page turner. “[…] if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think ‘oh, I Iove this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.”
All images copyright of C&S. The Goldfinch cover taken from Amazon