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Villa in Sicily

Renting a luxury villa in Sicily can open up a world of opportunities and experiences that you would not normally get from staying in a large hotel. If you want to find a villa that is right for you and your family, you need the right agent who not only understands the area but also the needs of the customer.

Villas offer the unrivalled experience of living like a local, so that you can enjoy the luxurious surroundings of a character property in a relaxing pool, surrounded by lush landscapes and breathtaking sea views.

Finding the right villa in Sicily for your holiday can be a daunting task, particularly when there is a language barrier. There are plenty of websites for renting villas, but sometimes it is just easier to give the difficult task of finding a villa to an agent.

The best agents will have personal knowledge of Sicily and will be able to offer advice about location, customs and even excursions. They should also be able to answer any questions about the finer details of renting the property before you choose to go ahead.

When dealing with a rental property, especially a luxury villa with a pool, it is always best to prepare for the unexpected. Like any other holiday property, you will probably find something that you didn’t expect, whether it is the situation of the villa, the decorative features or the proximity to neighbours, but it is important to keep an open mind. Your own personal idea of what luxury villas should look like may be very different to the opinions and tastes of a local, so it is essential to keep this in perspective. No matter what property you choose, your villa will always offer more space and freedom than a large luxury hotel.

Benefits of renting a villa

The best part of renting a villa is the freedom it can bring to you and your family. If you love to see all of the local attractions, then you certainly have the opportunity to see them at your own pace. Sometimes the best moments are spent enjoying all the facilities that the villa has to offer. This is especially true for children, who will love to run around freely or splash about in the pool. It’s also the perfect opportunity to explore the local area, get to know the owners or the neighbours and really immerse yourself in authentic Sicilian culture. Sicily has a long and fascinating history that has been shaped by its ancient Phoenician, Greek and Roman influences. To explore all the wonderful historic sites of this fascinating island, like Syracuse and Catania, there’s no better choice than spending your holiday in a luxury Sicilian villa.

Top 5 attractions of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh

The tours to Armenia and the beautiful old region Nagorno-Karabakh are becoming popular day by day. This area amazes by its old and difficult history, colorful traditions, exotic national dishes and, of course, a huge number of attractions. In this article you’ll be able to have a closer touch with this amazing country. You will learn about most famous attractions of Armenia and the region Nagorno- Karabakh located to the east of the country.

Geghard Monastery

Gaghard Monastery is one of the most famous in Armenia. It is included in almost all tour packages. The uniqueness of the temple is that it has rock architecture and its part is carved in the rock. The exact date of its construction is not known yet however, it is supposed that the monastery was built in the 4th century and first was called Ayrivank translated as Cave Monastery.

Later it was renamed into Geghard or Geghardavank (a monastery of spear). This name was given because of the spear of Loginus that for a long time had been kept in the monastery. Geghard Monastery impresses by its rough simplicity and majesty seemingly borrowed by surrounding landscapes – equally severe and amazing.

Tatev Monastery

This amazing architectural creation is an absolutely must for all those who wants to travel to Armenia. It is a masterpiece of medieval architecture of the 9th century. You can get to the monastery by the world famous rope way which is included into the Guinness Book of Records because of its length (5,7 km). You will fly over the amazing gorge for 15 minutes. At the end of the way you will see Tatev Monastery – impressive and majestic as though soaring over the surrounding mountains.

Ghazanchetsots Cathedral

The town of Shoushi is one of the most famous in Nagorno-Karabakh region. It is famous for its tragic 200-year history. It is a real symbol of the tireless struggle of Armenians and their belief in a brighter future. One of the most popular and exciting attractions of the town is the majestic Church Ghazanchetsots (Church of Holy Savior). It is one of the largest Armenian churches in the world.

The temple was built in 1888 from white limestone and decorated with the finest exquisite carvings. While visiting the temple, you will be impressed by its graceful design and spirituality. The temple is also known for its unique acoustic hall located under the altar, in which man’s voice changes unrecognizably and sounds like a stranger’s. Ghazanchetsots Church is the perfect embodiment of the architectural talent of Armenian people.

Gandzasar Monastery

In Nagorno-Karabakh near the river Khachen, there is another great architectural monument. It symbolizes wisdom and centuries-old Christian traditions. We are speaking about the Gandzasar Monastery (Church of St. John the Baptist).

The construction  began in 1216 and was completed in 1238. People differently call this beautiful creation. “The greatest miracle of Armenian architecture”. Also”the church similar to the Heaven’s dome temple”, “a perfect creation”. The church is also famous around the world because it keeps the head of John the Baptist buried under the altar. So once in Nagorno-Karabakh try not to miss this majestic site. It would be a great omission!

Hunot Canyon

Hunot Canyon is a natural miracle of Nagorno-Karabakh. This canyon is a State Natural-Historical Reserve which by its stunning beauty leaves the visitors in awe. The tourists who choose to travel around the canyon will be able to discover amazing waterfalls, forests, caves, ruins of ancient settlements, and numerous historical and architectural wonders. An excellent place for hiking lovers! There you can choose among the three trials marked with signs.

For example, Routе 1 will lead you to the popular picturesque waterfall called Mamrot Qar or Umbrella. It got this name not by chance: the water here falls from a cave that resembles a big umbrella covered with moss. This impressive natural monument surprises visitors of all ages, and is a highlight of the canyon. Route 2 will lead you to the ruins of Hunot village which was founded in the 18th century and was abandoned in the 20th century. During the hike the tourists can explore interesting remains of old buildings and cemeteries. Hunot Canyon has lots of other unique surprises for its visitors, so if you decide to have a Holiday in Nagorno-Karabakh try to necessarily visit this attraction.

If you’d like more information on Armenia go to the official tourism website of Armenia 

Ecotour – Kyrgyzstan Horse Riding Tours

Ecotour organizes travel for individuals, small groups and families (with children). We have prepared for our guests thematic cultural programs – meeting the nomads, felt making and active adventurous tours

– trekking, horse riding, mountain bike trips and cycling tours and tours for bird watching, nature photography, and a tour exclusively for women. We also offer programs at a discount during spring and autumn.

All of our programs are very interesting and unique. You can join a group or make the trip individually. When travelling individually you can create your own itinerary with departure date of your choosing.

In cooperation with local people we have organized a small net of 5 yurt camps (4-7 yurts per camp). You will stay in these yurt camps, sometimes in guesthouses or with local people in the villages. We offer a great variety of tours, some strenuous, some very relaxed

Our guests can pick a yurt camp of their liking and we can inform them about the activities that are organized from this particular camp. By combining several places to stay in a time span of 2 or 3 weeks, guests can thus enjoy the different sceneries and different activities. We will gladly assist each guest in composing a tour to her/his liking.

Also it is possible to combine one special tour (for example horse riding or textile) with an individual program in one or two yurt camps you like. Most of our guests have a three weeks` holiday since the places are surrounded by different landscapes and offer different activities.

Ecotours website has details and itinerary of all the tours offered.

Here is what other travellers have to say about Ecotours

We can give our warm recommendations to anyone considering going to Kyrgyzstan in general, and with Ecotour in particular! In June 2008 we spent two weeks in some of Ecotour’s yurt camps, and it was a highly memorable experience. Ecotour was very flexible and had arranged a programme that suited our wishes perfectly. We got horse riding, camel riding, hot springs, hiking in the mountains, varied landscapes (from semidesert to green, lush vallies and high, dramatic mountains) and delicious and very varied food. Our guide/interpreter was also excellent and felt more like a friend than a guide.

Tom & Karin


I enjoyed the trekking a lot. The views on Son Kul lake changed every hour and were breath-taking, the silence in the mountains was delicious and soothing and the valley of Temir Kanat was one of the most beautiful I have seen.

When you manage to route the first part of the trekking a bit more in the direct neighborhood of the Tien Shan mountains (the views on these huge white peaks I liked the most), then you have the perfect trip, I think.

The guides did take very good care of us.



Food and Cuisine of Hoi An – Paradise in Vietnam for the Food Lover

Food in Hoi An

A trip to Vietnam is not complete without visiting Hoi An, a Unesco World Heritage Site. While not being a large town (120,000 people) there are plenty of things to see in Hoi An and you can easily spend 3 days seeing the major sights, most of all enjoying the local cuisine that includes some fantastic regional specialties.

The history of Hoi An is predominately based around trading and Hoi An was the most important trading port in the South China Sea in the 17th and 18th centuries, trading in ceramics and spices, which were exported all over Asia.

The legacy of this history is some very old and historic buildings and a rich cuisine with some external influences, such as the French, Japanese and Chinese.

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Banh Mi

The main culinary gift the French exported to Vietnam was the baguette and is the base of the Banh Mi.

The Vietnamese baguette is lighter than the French variety, it’s made with rice flour as well as wheat flour. Added to the baguette is pork, sometimes egg and pate’ which is almost always made at home. Then add coriander (cilantro),

Cucumber,onion, mint and mayonnaise and often pickled carrot and daikon radish. Some chilli or sweet chilli sauce is also added depending on your tolerance level.

It’s a great and cheap meal to have for lunch and backpackers are seen at all the local Banh Mi shops.

The most visited Banh Mi shop in Hoi An is Banh Mi Phuong which was made famous on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

Hoi An Crispy Pancake

Another great snack and regional specialty is the Hoi An Crispy Pancake. In Vietnamese called Banh Xeo – sizzling cake.

It’s similar enough to crepes to think there maybe a French influence in this dish as well.

The pancake is made from rice flour, turmeric and coconut milk/cream and then bean sprouts,shrimp and pork are added to the batter.

Once the batter is cooked rice paper is used as a base next layer the pancake and then put cucumber, green banana coriander (cilantro), mint on top of the pancake and roll it like it’s a cold roll and eat. Just fantastic!

You can buy the pancakes in the local market and you eat them with your hands, true street food.

This dish is taught at most of the local cooking schools of which there are many.

Cao Lau Noodles

This noodle dish is something you will only find in Hoi An and the legend that surrounds it, is that the taste and texture can only be achieved using water from the Ba Le water wheel (although it is quite likely an urban myth).

It’s also said the ash of a burnt local tree gives the dish its taste and texture.

Nobody can be sure of the origins of the dish but the fact that it is unique to Hoi An and is reminiscent of a Japanese or Chinese noodle dish, you would think that it is a local attempt to replicate a Chinese or Japanese

dish a few centuries ago to sell to the traders.

Different restaurants cook the dish in slightly different ways the dish is normally pork, noodle and vegetable with a broth and sauce.

There are many Cao Lau noodle makers in Hoi An outside of the old town where you can enjoy a bowl of Cao Lau Noodles

You can see the noodles being made all over town being laid to dry on the pathways, out the front of the homes of the noodle makers.

Crispy Wontons

This dish is out of left field and something I would more likely expect to see in Mexico. In Vietnamese this dish is called Hoanh Thanh.

Crispy Wontons are fried wontons filled with pork. It’s a bit like a fried tortilla but the thing that’s most Mexican like is the salsa that’s added at the end.

It’s a tomato based salsa with vegetables and coriander (cilantro), it’s a fresh taste that’s ideal for the hot climate in the area.


If you are in Vietnam you will find Pho (pronounced) fur everywhere. The Hoi An variety is much like the Saigon style which is a lighter broth with star anis, very floral with plenty of herbs.

The more north you travel the more that Pho tends to change to a more winter like soup by European tastes.

Unlike in Europe the soup is eaten for breakfast in Vietnam and you will find Pho in nearly all the places you go in Vietnam.

It’s a taste sensation when done well and you’ll find everyone will have a different master stock so no two restaurants will have Pho’s that are exactly the same.

Hoi An is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of Vietnam and should be on the itinerary of every food lover visiting Vietnam

Relax with nature in Tuscany at Oasi Maremma Village

The thought of Tuscany brings evocative images into my mind. The sun setting behind a vineyard as you snack on olives and sip on your glass of wine.

I guess everyone gets a different picture in their mind when they think if a certain place and that’s my image of Tuscany.

One place where you can satisfy that desire is at Oasi Maremma Village where you can let one of 48 newly built apartments for you holiday in Tuscany.

There are many things to see and do near Oasi Maremma Village and is very close to Scarlino a small medieval village on Alma Mountain, with a view of the blue sea.  Scarlino’s history is linked to the noble Aldobrandeschi family, dating back to the eleventh century.

Walk along its medieval walls to the Rocca Aldobrandesca castle, walk through ancient streets and encounter the Romanesque atmosphere of the San Donato church, dating back to the 12th Century.

Only 40km away is Grosetto a town that dates back to the 9th century, see the 16th Century Medicean Walls and Grosseto cathedral you can spend a great day exploring the town and its history. You could spend days exploring all the churches, abbeys and palaces in Grosseto but you may not want to because Siena and Florence are only a 2 hour drive away as well.

Within the city walls you can visit

  • Church of San Francesco. Situated in the square, it was built in the 13th-century, initially an important Benedectine, later Franciscan convent. The complex underwent several restorations and reconstructions: the bell was rebuilt in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Convent of Clarisse. Located on strada Vinzaglio, the convent is annexed to the Church of Bigi. The convent of Clarisse and the church of Bigi are now desecrated. The entire complex is characterized by the probable medieval origins, which was followed by a series of restorations in Baroque style in the 17th century.
  • Church of San Pietro. The oldest religious building in town, it was built along the stretch of the Via Aurelia that crossed the center and was originally a plebeian and stational church along the old consular road.
  • Church of Misericordia (19th century). It belonged to various religious orders during the following centuries, before moving on brotherhood in the early decades of the 19th century.

Another daytrip you could take is to Portoferraio best known as the location of Napoleon’s first exile (Elba) there are a number of historic forts on the island for you to visit, you can get to Elba on a ferry from Piombino.

And if the history is not enough you have the beach and there is a great sand beach nearby for you to swim and spend some time in the sun.

For more information about accommodation at Oasi Maremma Village please go to the website

The end of the line – Ho Chi Minh City

The final leg of the Reunification Railway and the terminus is Ho Chi Minh City. The journey started in spectacularly dodgy style. I get to Nha Trang railway station nice and early and I go over to the desk and the woman on the desk checks my ticket and says for me to wait in the seats until the train comes – usual story.

I have a chat to the guy next to me who is Vietnamese lives in Philadelphia, I guess this is something that would happen a lot, I know where I live there is a large population of Vietnamese now in the second generation. Anyway a fair bit before the train is due the woman from the desk says I should go out on the platform – no one else does though, she gets me a chair to sit on and the realization dawns on me she doesn’t work for the railway.

Anyway she’s seen that I’ve got an extra ticket and she wants it. “no no no no no”. “it’s my friends”..: Where’s your friend” He’s coming”.

So then she says when she comes back she wants some money.. so anyway I gave her some fuck off money and she was gone. I get on the train and the conductor had sold the spare seat to a Vietnamese woman in 15 minutes flat – I should have sold it myself in the train station.

So at about 6 in the morning I’ve arrived at Ho Chi Minh City after not much sleep at all.

Now I have to disclose here I didn’t like Ho Chi Minh City very much at all.

Here are some of the reasons:

1. The noise of the traffic is incessant, people continually beeping their horn. Even if they were the only ones on the road.

2. Saigon is noticeably more expensive than anywhere else in Vietnam and its not better.

3. When you walk around, it is on the edge of being dangerous. Crossing the road you need nerves of steel and on the footpath you occasionally need to dodge a motorbike or two.

4. A 2 inch cockroach ran across our table at a Yakatori restaurant we went to in the Japanese area – District 1.

5. Not being able to walk 50 metres without some guy trying to sell you sunglasses.

6. You get to Vung Tau from Saigon to escape the heat and Vung Tau is a very ordinary place.

7. The heat made it difficult to walk around that much.

So other than all that Saigon was really good. One thing that we did right was stay in the Japanese area (District 1) this was full of good restaurants and nightlife.

The highlight for me was having having a drink at the Rex Hotel because even though the bar would be nothing like it was 40 years ago you could feel the history being there.

Another good find was Pho 64 which was reasonable Pho but you could get it for lunch and in most other places Pho is breakfast only dish.

So it was with much reluctance I got the taxi back out to the airport for my flight home and reflecting back I know I will be returning to Vietnam sometime soon.