Category Archives: other adventures

Albergo Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita, Italy

P1110425Website:    Genre:  Accommodation

There are a staggering 17,000 abandoned historic towns across Italy with approximately 2,000 that are partially populated. At a time where the global trend has deprived unique places of their identity, in favour of urban lifestyles escaping poverty and unemployment, it is extremely comforting to see a group like Sextantio committed to the preservation of past civilisations and the cultures that have survived until very recently. For them, the restoration and preservation of these historical sites are not a cost but an added value. It has been more than a business; a moral and ethical responsability they have taken upon themselves. Welcome to the town of Matera, home to the famous Grottos which have been lovingly restored by the Sextantio group.

P1110684Known as la città sotterranea (subterranean city), Matera is one of the oldest inhabited settlements in the world, well known for its historical center, the Sassi, which joined UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1993. The town lies in a small canyon which, over the years, has been gradually eroded by a small stream. As I was celebrating my 30th Birthday, I wanted a special place for the occasion and therefore booked a couple of nights in December 2012.

P1110366The town was located only an hours drive from the airport of Bari. Our welcome at the hotel was very warm and Danilo wasted no time in installing us into our rooms. I had requested room 13 based on some research I had done and Danilo gave a cheeky smile when he saw my face light up as we were lead up the stairs to that exact room. It’s difficult to imagine without being there but, despite the barren exposed stone floors and walls, the room was cozy, warm and most of all very romantic with candles scattered thoughout the room, shining out from every nook and cranny, bathing the room in a comforting glow. Despite this aparent step back in time, there was even wifi for those who couldn’t cope with complete isolation from the world.

P1110371Our bedroom was located through a narrow archway off the living room with a stunning view over the canyon. You can probably just about make out the white foldable bed through the arches which catered for private in-room massages for those who wished to indulge in a bit of luxury. Perhaps the one issue was the lack of a door to the toilet area which may be a bit discerning for those who prefer a bit more privacy when doing your business, although I have noted that this seems to be a bit of a trend in hotels in europe. The room however was big enough to give the other party space.

P1110523It wasn’t long before curiosity got the better of us and we decided to venture outside the room and hotel. But before heading down to the town centre, we stopped by the 13th century church within the hotel compound which now served as the dining area for the hotel guests. We followed Danilo’s suggestion and opted for a local red, the Matera Primitivo, accompanied by a couple of plates of cheese and fennel seed taralli. In hindsight, we should have stayed with the nibbles in the hotel as the recommended restaurant (as the hotel didn’t serve dinner when we were there a year ago) was quite disappointing. We were not after any fine dining but this was Italy after all and we could not forgive the a poorly executed pasta and dry / tough meat. In comparison, the wine and nibbles in the church was divine, especially given we were the only ones there all night. So much so that we decided to order a second bottle after returning from dinner.

P1110734Personal touches again by the superb team at the hotel. There was a fire going in the bathroom when we got back late to our room with all the candles lit around the bathtub. We took our turn to soak in the modern bathtub. The smell of burning wood in winter and the dancing shadows were enchanting and ever so inviting. Suffice to say I struggled to get out of the water.

P1110547Breakfast (included in the fee) served in the 13th century church could not have been more different from our dinner the night before. A feast was laid out on each table where everything was fresh and sourced locally. We felt it was wrong to leave anything so we had a good go at polishing the plates. There was ricotta, fresh fruit salad, sweet almond cake, home made marmalade…

P1110558… mozzarella buffalo with tomatoes and pecorino, salumi, freshly squeezed orange juice and plenty of coffee to go around, and a varied choice of artisanal bread (my favourite was the focaccia). And for those who wanted a bit more privacy, the hotel can also cater for breakfast in your own room at a tiny cost. Admittedly, if you only had one night here I would advise going to the church. It’s pretty spectacular.P1110560There’s not a huge amount of things to do in Matera but enough to occupy for you for a day or so. If you get bored of staring out of your room over the canyon, you could take to the streets and get lost in the old part of town soaking in the historic site. If you prefered to do something more hands on, the hotel can also organise a gastronomic tour of the town or cooking lessons.

P1110530And if that doesn’t tickle your fancy you can always head out to the Archaeological Park of Natural Rock Hewn Churches which holds one of the most fascinating rock landscapes in the world. Walking along the park paths you can find traces of man’s presence since the ancient times. Heck, the hotel can even organise a guided night tour through the canyon for those who find it irresistable to probe into the areas history. Whatever you decide doing, I guaranty you will leave this place enchanted with a lasting memory.



Mt William Winery, Macedon Ranges


Winery: Mt William Winery       Website:        Region: Victoria

My wife and I recently had a casual lunch at Taxi on Federation Square in Melbourne to celebrate a friends birthday. As our friend had flown over from Denmark with his wife for our wedding, we thought it would be appropriate to crack open a nice bottle of Australian sparkling wine but admittedly we were both not very familiar with the regional producers. The sommelier at Taxi was very enthusiastic about a particular bottle so we decided to bite the bullet and go with it. He chose well. Really well. The bottle was the 2004 Blanc de blanc from Mt Williams Winery, Macedon Ranges. It had an elegant palate of lime and peach flavours with a refreshing citrus finish. As usual, given my obsessive personality, I immediately arranged a visit to the Macedon ranges for the following week to visit the winery that had won quite a few awards for their blanc de blancs!


The Macedon Ranges Wine region is located only an hour and half North of Melbourne and is less known than the competing bigger wine regions of Victoria such as the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula. It is the coolest mainland region in Australia and wines produced in this region tend to be quite uni-dimensional with an elegant nature, balanced with a higher amount of natural acidity and finer tannins. Mt William winery is located off a long dirt road on the northeast slopes of Mt William, between Lancefield and Kilmore, at an altitude of 605 metres. Their vineyard site is a sloping amphitheatre of grey loam soil to 600mm depth, overlaying a clay base. The considerable slope of the blocks ensures a frost-free site of excellent sunlight interception and provides spectacular views over the surroundings.


Adrienne and Murray Cousins purchased the 220 hectars of grazing property back in 1985. Whilst sheep and angus cattle remained an integral part of their farming program, they established pinot noir, chardonnay, cabernet franc, semillon and merlot between 1987 and 1999. Their blanc de blancs in particular have won them many awards and accolades over the past few years and we were keen to try what they had on offer.P1130578

We were welcomed warmly by Adrienne and her friendly black labrador and were the only ones at the winery that day. Unfortunately, we were soon disappointed to learn that all their blanc de blancs from 2004 had sold out at the cellar door and their agents similarly had hardly any left! Despite the slight hiccough, given Adrienne’s hospitality, we decided to stick around and try the other sparkling wines they had on offer. I don’t claim to know wine as well as a sommelier does and I sure do not have the same level of sophisticated vocabulary to describe them. However, I really did want to share this experience because I was very impressed with a couple of bottles we tried.


We started off with a very interesting glass of 2003 Mount William Winery Jorja-Alexis Pinot Rose. This really reminded me of one of the most unique and delectable sparkling rose I came across in England from Nytimber. It was deep salmon-pink and indicative of the premium pinot noir fruit used in making this sparkling rose. It had a very intense spicy red fruit with a long palate and aftertaste. There was a divided opinion amongst our group as some people found it too acidic and tart, whilst I absolutely fell in love with it. So much so that I immediately asked for a few bottles to be put aside for purchase (and currently nestled in my wine cellar)! This sparkling rose would be a perfect accompaniment to oysters, prawns and crayfish amongst other fresh seafood. 


Second up was the 2004 Mount Williams Pinot Noir Chardonnay. Richly fruited and textured thanks to a lengthy six years on lees, this sparkling wine had a bright and zesty freshness of citrus and strawberry fruit. Admittedly, we still preferred the 2004 blanc de blanc we had tried in Taxi but we were happy to buy a couple of bottle of these as well.

We were also very prepared with a picnic basket as we had set off from Melbourne for the day and knew there were not many restaurants in the vicinity. As the weather was so beautiful and they had a table outside the cellar door, Adrienne suggested we made the most of this by enjoying our charcuterie over a glass of their sparkling wines. We naturally obliged and spent a lazy afternoon soaking up the sun.

As it also transpires, their cottage located right next to the cellar door had become available for hiring after the last permanent tenant moving out. It was a beautiful cottage that was tastefully decorated and big enough for three couples. Suffice to say, we will definitely come back on the next occasion and stay overnight. Let’s hope they don’t run out of their next batch of blanc de blanc before we get there!