Tuesday, 12 July 2016

A WEEK OF SPECIAL FAMILY TIME IN BEAUTIFUL PUGLIA....




A little over a week ago now, we returned from our visit to the beautiful region of Puglia in Italy.  I had not visited this area before, but had heard such wonderful things about how unspoilt and uncrowded it was compared to other regions.  


Puglia, in the 'heel' of southern Italy, is known for its whitewashed hill towns, many with the most beautiful Baroque architecture.  The surrounding countryside with centuries old farmland growing an abundance of fruit and vegetables, olives and grape vines.  There are also hundreds of miles of stunning coastline.  








Our home for the week was in a beautiful architect designed villa with attached restored historic 'Trulli' which is typical of the area we were in, just outside the delightful town of Martina Franca.  Alberobello and the surrounding Itria Valley nearby is particularly famous for these sand stone or often whitewashed conicular roofed houses, which reminded me of our lovely oast houses here in Kent.





Set amongst olive groves on quiet dry stone edged lane within peaceful countryside, our interesting home away from home for the week, was the perfect place to switch off and relax 'en famille'.  With our three 'grown up' children having left home now, it was a particular treat to get to spend special time with them away from their busy London lives.







Some evenings, but usually lunch was spent exploring Martina Franca's beautiful marble streets, and array of wonderful little family owned restaurants...




...and most evenings at our beautiful villa, where we could all relax and have fun.  The only sound to be heard was of the grasshoppers in the olive groves, our music playing without disturbing a soul, and much chat and laughter and the clinking of glasses!




We are all true foodies in our family, so the lure of the wonderful local markets was irresistible.  Fabulous fresh produce and seafood to take back with us for dinner in the evenings.   Puglia is particularly renowned for its amazing tomatoes and burrata cheese, which we ate in abundance!










We are very spoilt to have a 'Professional Chef' in the family! Thank you to my lovely daughter Georgie for all the delicious dishes you prepared....


...also to my lovely boys who too are very keen and accomplished cooks, and took great command over the bar-b-q and fantastic outside kitchen!
Holidays really are an opportunity to have the time to get creative and prepare uncomplicated but delicious food, especially when it is outside and in such relaxed and beautiful surroundings.   Having said that, Mr. W and I got very little look in on that front, and just sat back and enjoyed the pleasure of being cooked for!









High on our list of favourite places in the region was 'Lecce', just an hour's drive south.  Described as 'Florence of the South' for its numerous examples of baroque architecture, the uncrowded streets brought a beautiful suprise around every corner.  Ending with a fabulous lunch in one of the many fantastic little restaurants tucked down these gorgeous historic streets.










Another amazing place of interest was 'Alberobello' near Bari.  Although a little touristy and busier compared to other areas, we are glad we visited just to see the extraordinary array of 'Trulli' buildings which have made this small town a Unesco World Heritage site since 1996.











A day on the coast at a relaxed little beach bar and seafood restaurant, with swimming off the rocks, was truly magical.  





Our last night came around far too soon, as with any happy holiday....











As Mr. W and I reflected on our happy week, we felt very blessed to have spent such a special time with our brood.   





Puglia lived up to all expectations.  As well as the beautiful unspoilt countryside, coast and historic towns, the people were just lovely....so warm, friendly and welcoming and with an appreciation of the important things in life, which is all about family, good food, and life's simple pleasures.... and I couldn't agree more! 

***


Sophia xx


PS.  For a daily dose interiors, gardens, food, travel and lifestyle, follow me on Instagram @sophiahomelifestyle



Monday, 20 June 2016

A DAY OF FLOWERS AND INSPIRATION...





On a bright and sunny day last week, I made my way through the beautiful Kent and East Sussex countryside to 'Perch Hill' near Burwash, the home of renowned gardener, writer and TV broadcaster Sarah Raven.  

Sarah and her husband, writer Adam Nicholson, bought Perch Hill fifteen years ago.  Over the years, it has been transformed from a run down dairy farm in to the home and highly productive nursery and gardens it is today.  There are extensive vegetable and flower cutting gardens, providing all the produce for the highly popular gardening and cookery courses held there throughout the year.  Every plant variety that is sold through the wonderful online/mail order shop is also carefully trialed at Perch Hill, before hand.








The school is housed in a bright and light building, with a large conservatory attached with beautiful views over the neighbouring rolling Sussex countryside.  On arrival, my fellow students and myself were warmly greeted with coffee and delicious home made beetroot and chocolate brownies.  We were a lovely small group of just seven ladies, and as we introduced ourselves and chatted over coffee, we learned that we had a variety of gardening experience and differing available garden space, but the common bond was our mutual love of flowers and that we were all keen to learn to grow our own beautiful cut flowers at home.



There was also time for a browse around the beautiful shop, with many gorgeous tempting garden and interior bits, books and seeds for sale.







Our morning of teaching from Sarah herself, started in the classroom.  A highly informative talk on the best way to go about planting a cutting garden, which flower varieties were the best value and most productive, and how from just a couple of square meters patch, we could be rewarded with a constant supply of beautiful fresh cut flowers to pick for our homes from Spring until the first frosts.  



A tour around the greenhouses followed...




....and then on to see the extensive kitchen and cutting gardens.  All so abundant and inspirational!








A delicious lunch was then served inside the conservatory.  All fruit and vegetables and salad were from the organic vegetable gardens.  Pictured here was a gorgeous fresh and colourful salad with edible nasturtiums, which was served alongside a delicious chicken and lemon dish and sweet potato rosti.




Pudding was the most mouthwatering orange almond cake with rhubarb and ginger yoghurt, and to drink we had a delicious and refreshing rhubarb cordial...lunch really was a home grown treat.





After lunch it was off to the barn for our flower arranging demonstration with Sarah and her floristry team.  We learnt how to prepare and condition our foliage and flowers prior to arranging, along with a brilliant and easy technique for arranging a beautiful big hand tied bouquet.  All helpful and invaluable advice.





It was then off out to the cutting garden with our secateurs and buckets to pick our choice of flowers to make our own hand tied bouquets....




Even this early on in the summer, there was an abundant choice for picking...




Beautiful Cosmos...



Orange Poppies and magenta Sweet Williams...





This is a very clever home made grid, built to support the emerging Dahlias...I shall definitely be taking this idea home with me (along with many others!) to support these highly productive flowers which are a brilliant choice for a cutting garden, as the more you pick, the more they produce right up to the Autumn's frosts.















Lilac and white 'Wild Rocket' flowers...







Roses...





We girls decided it was like being in a sweet shop!




With my bucket overflowing with beautiful blooms, it was back to the barn...











With back up help on hand from Sarah and her team, we set about conditioning and then arranging our bouquets...








It was so interesting to see the differing arrangements that we all produced...different colour choices, scale and themes.  Sarah told us that our own bouquet would be a reflection of our personalities....













Well here is my own finished first attempt....





A little wild and exuberant perhaps....not sure what that says about me?! Ha ha!




A lovely thing to take home as a reminder of a highly informative and enjoyable day in a beautiful setting, meeting new fellow flower and gardening enthusiasts and learning something new.  Highly recommended!

***

Wishing you a lovely week ahead...

Sophia xx


PS.  If you are inspired to grow your own cut flowers for your home and as beautiful presents, or indeed go on any other of Sarah Raven's brilliant courses, then click here and go to 'Courses and Events' on her lovely website.