The first time I saw a photograph of Burano and its prettily-painted fishermens’ houses interlaced with quaint canals I knew I would have to see them for myself one day. Burano is made up of four islets linked by bridges and is located at the northern end of the Venetian Lagoon around 6 miles from Venice. We took a scenic 45 minute Vaparetto ride passing the cemetery island of San Michele, Murano where the traditional Venetian glass is made. We passed Torcello and other tiny islands in the lagoon en route to catch some of Burano’s local colour.
Skiing in The French Alps in January is always going to be a lot colder than skiing in March or April without that gorgeous spring sunshine. This year as we’d be going in winter I wanted to make sure I was completely warm on the piste. I packed for the cold with thermal undies and lots of layers to keep me toasty but I needed something extra for my feet. I’ve got some great walking boots but they’re only ankle height and take ages to get on and off. The time had come for a pair of waterproof snow boots.
Enter the boot of choice – Berghaus Women’s Jura AQ Insulated Waterproof Winter Boots
I needed a longer, waterproof, boot that would keep my feet warm and dry. It’s no fun balancing on one foot in a snowy car park while trying to get your après ski boot on so they needed to be easy to slip on and off and with good grip for icy conditions. They also needed to have a bit of style and look good for après ski with jeans or leggings. Those are my gorgeously soft, woolly socks peeping out the top…
These boots come in a durable, water-resistant, nylon ripstop fabric with a waterproof lining to give complete water protection outdoors. They feature a warm insulation which keeps feet and legs warm when the temperature drops. A faux fur trim offers extra warmth and style to this cold weather boot which comes in black to match any outfit.
Berghaus have included in the design of this boot their patented OPTI STUD® technology which increases traction over rough terrain. This feature has been created through a floral pattern to add style and definition. The boot has a front lacing system which improves fit and comfort whilst a concealed zipper makes getting them on and off easy.
What’s to love?
Lots. These comfortable boots kept my feet warm and dry and looked great too – the fluffy detail made me feel like a proper snow-bunny! They were really easy to get on and off using the full-length zip at the side and the lacing at the front could be loosened to fit thick ski trousers or tightened for evenings when I was wearing leggings or jeans. The grippy sole provided great traction in the snow and they weren’t heavy to wear. Even when I was knee-deep in snow the boot remained totally dry without letting any moisture soak into the fabric.
What’s not to love?
The boots come up a bit small so I went for one size bigger – especially as I knew I’d be wearing thick ski-socks with them. Not a problem if you’re buying in-store and trying on but if purchasing on-line this could be an issue.
Overall I’m very pleased with these boots – they look great, they’re waterproof, warm and grip well in the snow. They’re very well made so should last several ski seasons and will also be perfect for the cold weather in the UK, although if this rain carries on I’ll have webbed feet before long!
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Every winter the mountains start calling and I begin to yearn for our trip to Morzine Avioriaz in the Portes du Soleil area of the French Alps. There’s a whole host of reasons that I love a week in the mountains, none more significant than any other, it’s all wrapped up together; a feeling of being at one with nature, insignificantly small in a vast mountain landscape and more alive than I feel anywhere else. Here’s some of the reasons I’m drawn back each year…
1. The Views and the wide open spaces. White-topped peaks, soft, billowing drifts contrasting with rocky terrain and the bluest of skies I’ve ever seen. I’ll let the views speak for themselves…
2. The Air is cleaner, fresher and more invigorating than anywhere I’ve ever been and it’s the only place I can really breathe properly – I have allergies but the air is so pure in the mountains they all seem to disappear.
3. The peace and stillness. It’s so, so quiet at times with just the faint sound of skiers schussing through the powder, a muffled laugh in the distance, the breeze, and the sound of my own breathing and I want it to last forever.
4. ‘Jubilee de Neige’ is a french term which I heard for the first time this year which describes the sparkles of sunlight dancing on the snow in the sunshine. Lovely.
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5. Hot Vin Chaud. You knew that was coming didn’t you!
6. Evenings cosied around a roaring log fire with friends, wine, comfort food and feeling like you’ve really earned it after a hard day’s skiing.
7. Ski lifts – I love the journey to the top of the piste – time to really soak up the views and that fresh mountain air.
8. The fact that you can just ski over the border to Switzerland without checking-in or going through security. No passport required.
9. Cheese, oh yes the cheese! The alpine shops are full of gorgeous, tasty, gooey, smelly cheeses! Comte is my favourite.
10. I love the sense of achievement at the end of the day when I’ve kept up with all the others who’ve been skiing for 10 years longer than me!
What do you love about the mountains…?
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Nine years of skiing at least once a year means I’ve got my ski packing list down to a fine art. It can be a challenge knowing what to pack for a ski trip but it’s crucial you get it right. The last thing you’ll want to be thinking about when ripping through the powder is numb fingers or worrying about getting a sunburned nose. Not a good look.
To get the most from any ski tip you’ll need to have the right ski equipment and gear to be protected from the elements and any tumbles you might take. Whether it’s spring skiing in the sunshine or winter white-outs here are my top tips for what to pack for a ski trip. And as I like you, I’m including a free downloadable ski trip packing list.
I’m going to tell you about a secret town – it’s actually one of the oldest towns in the world. You’ll be surprised to learn that it’s in Southern Italy and I’m guessing that you’ve probably never heard of it. I hadn’t. Matera is one of the oldest inhabited places in the world where people have lived continuously for over 9,000 years. Just think about it – that’s incredibly old. It’s a crooked, crumbling, tumbling town filled with cave-dwellings, churches and an intense sense of history.
The view across “La Gravina” into the ancient town of Matera
Where is Matera?
Matera is a city in the Basilicata region just below the ankle of Italy’s boot near Puglia. Located on a rugged ravine which has a small stream, La Gravina, running through it, prehistoric settlers have dug their dwellings straight into the soft volcanic tuff since the Palaeolithic period. The cave-dwelling district is called Sassi and Sassi di Matera means Stones of Matera.
Sassi di Matera
Our first glimpse of the Sassi was from the opposite side of the ravine, La Belvedere. As we walked to the edge of the canyon bright green lizards scorted away from us and the aroma of fresh thyme filled the air as our footsteps bruised the leaves of the wild-growing herb underfoot. This is the best view of the town and shows exactly why Mel Gibson used it as a substitute Holy Land when he filmed ‘The Passion of the Christ’.
The view is of a honeycomb cluster of small, square hovels layered higgledy-piggledy on top of each other. A labyrinth of steep winding staircases pick their way through the jumble of connecting cave houses and we could see where rows of flat rooftops formed the streets of the level above. The homes were originally carved out of the rock and extended with facades to look like normal dwellings connected by underground passages and tunnels.
People in Matera lived in the caves with their animals (donkeys, chickens and goats) and without running water, sewers or electricity right up to the 1950s. Poverty and disease were wide-spread and it wasn’t until Carlo Levi’s book ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’ that people became aware of the appalling conditions suffered by the cave-dwellers in Matera. To address the situation the Italian government evacuated the caves and moved the occupants to new public housing in the modern (upper) part of the city – this took almost two decades.
We visited a reconstruction of a typical 20th-century cave dwelling, Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario.
St Antoni Church, Matera
There are around 140 rock-cut roman and baroque churches in Matera. St. Antoni church consists of four connecting churches built between the 12th and the 13th centuries. They house a crypt and vault and there are millstones and cellars used to produce wines at some stage in their history. The remains of frescoes are the main attraction.
Matera’s divided into two parts, the more “modern” city, dating from around the 13th century, has several churches, museums, and squares. There’s a pedestrian area with cafes and bars where we stopped for a Peroni – it was a really hot day for November! This part of town reminded me of Goreme in Cappadocia, Turkey where we stayed in a cave hotel and the Sassi cave houses similar to the Derinkuyu Underground City although not subterranean.
Basilica Cathedral dominates the town’s skyline with its bell tower.
The Church of Purgatory caught my attention with its unusual theme of death, fashionable at the time of building, in 1747. Death was considered not as an end but as the beginning of a better life. There are carvings of skeletons, skulls and angels with more unusual details of flames enveloping repentant souls. The wooden door is divided into 36 panels with skulls and crossbones, sometimes crowned with headwear belonging to different classes of society, showing that all men are equal after death.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Matera was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 for being “the most outstanding example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean”. Since then visitor numbers have slowly increased. Many of the caves have been renovated and used as homes, hotels and restaurants but in Sassi Caveoso, in the lower town, most of the caves have remained empty. It’s a fascinating side of town where you can wander the silent cobbled streets and twisting alleys; take steps and stairs and turn a corner for a view of tumbling rooftops and weather worn walls and get a feel for what is was to live here years ago. Only the cats will keep you company.
I can imagine Matera in 10 years time being a complete boutique town filled with cave hotels, bars and restaurants with none of the empty caves left in their original state. If you’d like to see it before that happens go now; enjoy the peace and calm of a city that’s steeped in millennia of history and where you really do feel like you’ve stepped back 2000 years in time.
My trip to Matera was part of a Celebrity Cruise excursion. Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises UK for hosting our cruise. As always views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise are entirely my own.