Monday, 29 April 2013

My favourite place to stay in Melbourne


There are a handful of hotels that get hospitality right – and The Lyall Hotel and Spa in Melbourne is one of them. 

An understated boutique getaway in a leafy side street in upmarket South Yarra, the Lyall is perfect for weekend escapes with all city comforts, although there is a concierge who can put together bespoke, chauffeur-driven full-day vineyard tours of the Yarra or Mornington Peninsula should you wish. 

The Lyall is Melbourne’s only privately-owned and managed five-star hotel and has just 40 suites (some with cute balconies), a Champagne Bar, a tiny bistro and an on-site spa. 



Several appealing restaurants and bars are within strolling distance, including the venerable France Soir and Da Noi, but it is the service that sets this hotel apart. There is 24-hour room service, 24-hour concierge and a pillow menu, too, along with free wifi. 

The stylish Lyall has a reputation for being both exclusive and expensive but when I checked this afternoon rooms were available for $272 on wotif.com  - a very reasonable price for a little slice of luxury and staff who really seem to care.

Lyall Hotel, 14 Murphy Street, South Yarra. (03) 9868 8222. www.thelyall.com.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Princely rewards from Canada's well-kept wine secret


Grape growers in regions like Orange, Canberra and Tasmania like to think they are on the cutting edge of cool-climate viticulture but the wineries of Ontario in Canada have to deal with some pretty extreme winter conditions.

Ontario wine country is located between 41 and 44 north, similar in latitude to Burgundy, and extreme fluctuations in daily temperatures provide conditions that locals say are critical to creating a balance between acidity and fruitiness.



Prince Edward County is Canada’s newest wine appellation, only recognised in 2007, producing minerally wines, boutique beers, crisp ciders and artisanal cheeses. It is located in Southern Ontario at the eastern end of Lake Ontario and has a population of just 25,000.

Despite that, “the County” has become a top culinary destination, sometimes called the gastronomic capital of the region given its many vineyards, organic farms and community of artists and chefs.

The number of wineries has soared from just one in 2001 to over 30 as a growing number of émigrés from the big smoke live out their dreams of rural idyll.

Winter temperatures, however, can sometimes exceed -30°C - enough to kill even healthy vines - which is why those in this part of the world have to be pruned back and buried during the winter months to protect delicate buds.

PEC, as its known to the locals, is a picture postcard-pretty region that is not only producing some impressive cold-climate wines, but is also becoming a popular wine tourism destination with several attractive cellar doors and restaurants alongside art galleries, antique stores and beautifully restored old barns.


It still trails behind the Okanagan in British Columbia and the Niagara-on-the-Lake district in southern Ontario both in terms of wine production and recognition, but is attracting attention nationally and internationally.

Norm Hardie, of Norman Hardie Wines, is one of the pioneers in PEC. He aims for taut mineral-driven styles from his chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris and melon de bourgogne.

Other star wineries include high-tech Huff Estates, Closson Chase, Black Prince, Casa-Dea, Waupoos Estates (cellar door below), Keint-he and Rosehall Run, while Harwood Estate is one of Canada’s few solar-powered wineries.

Dining out options in the county range from the funky Buddha Dog (where the artisan sausages have been named Canada’s best hotdogs) to the casual East & Main Bistro, fine dining at the upmarket Bloomfield Carriage House.

At East & Main you can dine on dishes like wild smoked Atlantic salmon with colcannon, creamed corn sauce and bacon; or Waupoos cider-brined pork chop with apple pecan quinoa.

The Merrill Inn in Picton, the Claramount Inn and Spa, the Inn at Huff Estate and the new Drake Devonshire Inn on the shores of Lake Ontario, outside Wellington, are among the best places to stay. 

But visitors need to time their trip well. Most of the cellar doors are only open May-November, when the weather is kind, and by appointment over the colder months. See www.tastetrail.ca

A British restaurant that's worth a detour


Who says British food has to be staid and stodgy?

With innovative chefs like Nathan Outlaw and Eric Snaith on the scene, the British menu now features fabulous fresh seafood with innovative twists.

Titchwell Manor, a boutique hotel that overlooks the North Norfolk coast, has become a magnet for gourmets thanks to chef Snaith’s creative cuisine in the Conservatory restaurant (pictured below) using largely local produce like Brancaster oysters and mussels and Cromer crabs.

With a menu featuring dishes like partridge breast and leg with fruit and nut bulgar wheat and red cabbage, or maybe halibut with cauliflower, white chocolate, caviar, couscous and hazelnut, Snaith pushes the boundaries and challenges the palate.



Dishes like a self-saucing fishcake with caviar, lemon and dill or fillet of wild sea bass with mussels, bacon, fingerling potatoes and wild mushrooms are more mainstream, but Snaith’s food is modern English cooking at its best. All main courses cost less than £21 and there is an excellent wine list along with several local ales.

Titchwell Manor also offers seven-course tasting menus in the Conservatory for £45 while more casual food is served in the Eating House.



The main building here, a former Victorian Farmhouse, dates back to 1896 and is home to a super little hotel cum pub with just 27 really cosy and individually decorated rooms (I stayed in the Potting Shed, above) - making it a great spot to spend a gourmet weekend away from London, which is a two-and-a-half hour drive away

Titchwell Manor. Phone +44 1485 210221. www.titchwellmanor.com    

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Why Virgin Australia is driving me a little bit crazy

Let's get one thing straight from the start: Virgin Australia is my preferred domestic airline carrier. I opt to fly with Virgin whenever I have a choice, or my schedule permits.

I like Virgin's flexible "can do" attitude. If a passenger has an issue the response of its rivals is generally "no". Virgin's tends to be: "Let's see what we can do."

I love Virgin's lounges, particularly the warm response I always receive from the great crew in Melbourne, and the fact that meals are not included in budget fares doesn't worry me as I am generally on short haul flights anyway.

What I hate is the fact that Hobart has no lounge (and the one promised for 2013 has now been pushed back) - meaning that frequent flyers based in Tasmania don't get a fair go. 

I also dislike the fact that over recent months (and I've caught five Virgin flights over the past three days so I know what I'm talking about) Virgin has shown signs of service levels dipping to meet those of their competitors.

Some examples: No entertainment at all on four recent flights (oh for the days of Sky channels in seat backs) and the staff have been decidedly grumpy on two of those, albeit busy, flights.

Then there are the dull-witted, surly girls they appear to be increasingly employing at boarding gates (although no doubt they come cheap).

Throw in the tasteless wraps and the very stale sandwich I had yesterday (I note most frequent flyers now refuse these out of hand) and the food on board is uninspired. Although Luke Mangan tells me a menu revamp is underway. Great news.


Then there is the fact that frequently flyers are asked to record a seat preference. Mine is an aisle seat but on my last four flights I've been put in window seats, including one next to a bloke who weighed nearly 200 kilos and nearly suffocated me. How hard can it be to allocate an aisle if one is requested?

I also notice a tendency to almost ignore the fact that flights are running late. On some occasions there is barely an apology. I also hate it when airport signs say "go to gate" or "boarding" and you arrive to find the flight is not boarding for another 30 minutes.

None of these things are important on their own. They are all trifling complaints of decidedly minor consequence. Except I want Virgin to succeed. I want serious competition in the domestic airline sector. I also want a Hobart Lounge, but that's by the by.

What I don't want to see is a complacent Virgin Australia whose standards sink to those of the opposition. I want to be able to recommend Virgin as the airline that I choose to fly - and that means fixing up nagging issues like these. I'm sure I'm not the only Virgin flyer to feel the same way.         

Monday, 22 April 2013

The best little café in Tasmania?


Don’t walk into the UtSi Cafe in Perth expecting to order a toasted sandwich, a pre-heated pie, or a bucket of chips. It’s not that sort of cafe.

Expect, instead, to sample maybe a house-made pumpkin soup, perhaps a hare and chorizo cassoulet or blackberry, rhubarb and rosewater baby cakes. 

The menu comprises almost entirely of dishes that use fresh, organic, seasonal produce that can be sourced locally. 
  
Owner Colette Barnes (pictured below), whose son Julien Davies (ex Stillwater and Fee & Me) is the chef, opened her business in mid 2008. Her partner, Alex Coram, is a globetrotting academic, a professor of Political Science when he is not behind the counter washing dishes.

For four years this cute little converted 1838 Methodist church, constructed by convict labourers, has been a de rigueur stop for foodies travelling between Hobart and Launceston.

It's a lot more than just a cafe. The Georgian-style interior is enhanced by regular exhibitions of local art; and the house-baked bread has been known to cause much angst when it sells out before midday.

If it’s available, try the pasture-raised beef stew braised in Tasmania apple cider and served with dumplings. The beef comes from an ethical farm at Sassafras while the cider is made by Ashley & Jane Huntington of the Two Metre Tall Company, a small farm-based brewery in the Derwent Valley.

UtSi’s mission is to promote local, healthy food whenever possible; thus the menu changes regularly depending on what local producers are able to provide. 

Garnishes and herbs are often picked from the cafe’s own organic kitchen garden and many locals simply pop in to enjoy a slice of cake and a cup of tea or coffee (there’s that rarity in rural areas; a decent coffee machine).



The UtSi menu is written on a mirror, French bistro style, with daily specials listed on a blackboard – and if there is meat on the menu you can be certain the beast was reared free range.  The motto here: “Source locally. Eat seasonally. Live responsibly” – so everything is prepared fresh and on the premises. 

The UtSi Cafe, 86 Main Rd, Perth, 7300. (03) 63 981125. Open: Seven days for breakfast and lunch.  

A funky hotel choice in Shanghai


Shanghai is one of the most fascinating and vibrant cities on the planet right now; an intriguing combination of ancient and modern that is moving ahead at breakneck pace.

The skyline of the city’s financial centre, Pudong, changes on an almost daily basis as futuristic high-rise buildings are constructed with almost indecent haste. The 492-metre Shanghai World Financial Centre is the world’s third-tallest building with the highest observation deck on its 100th floor.

Shanghai is a city on the move in a nation that has built up impressive economic momentum; it’s a place for the young – and young at heart – that pulses 24 hours a day.

New hotels are popping up all over the city but one has a distinctive Australian accent that will put visitors instantly at ease.

The first Indigo hotel in the Asia-Pacific region, the Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund sits on the bank of the busy Huangpu River, where working barges jostle for space with gaudily decorated cruise boats full of excited tourists.



Of the 184 rooms, including 23 suites, most have sweeping views of both the historic Bund – the city’s main thoroughfare and waterfront promenade - and the dramatically lit skyline of Pudong  across the water.

Situated at the southern end of the Bund, and just a short walk from Yu Gardens in the Old Town, one of the city’s main attractions, Hotel Indigo has been designed to reflect both the past and the future of Shanghai’s riverfront neighbourhoods and has a funky but relaxed vibe.

Constructed on the site of a former bank building, it offers a coming together of generations with old and new objets d’art and furnishings; including individually designed tea sets. An old rickshaw in the lobby is next to an art installation that shows a video telling the story of the city, which was once known as “the Paris of the East”. Artworks by young local artists decorate the public spaces, which aim at replicating 1930s Shanghai without skimping on creature comforts.

While rooms feature historic photos, traditional lamps and bamboo desks, the hotel is the epitome of modernity with 42” flat-screen TVs, Bose sound systems, free wifi and broadband connections and iPhone/iPod docks and chargers. Bathrooms feature large showers, luxurious deep baths and electronic toilets with warmed seats and individually adjustable bidets and there is a state-of-the-art gym, along with a 17-metre indoor swimming pool that appears to float above the Bund.



There are several Australian staff, too, including GM Bruce Ryde and executive chef Julie Donohoe, whose food at CHAR bar and grill (above) has received several rave local reviews. 

Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund: 585 Zhongshan Dong Er Road, Huangpu Area, Shanghai, 200010, China. Phone +86 21 3302 9999.
www.ihg.com/hotelindigo/hotels/us/en/shanghai/shgnb/hoteldetail 
Qantas has direct flights from Sydney to Shanghai. See www.qantas.com.au. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Is this the best place to eat (and stay) in South Africa?


I'm always a bit wary when the same place is recommended to me by several different people. 
I like to think I enjoy something a bit different.

But the multiple-award-winning Le Quartier Francais more than lives up to the accolades and awards it has won over the past few years - thanks to the hard work of proprietor Susan Huxter and chef Margot Janse. 

If you want to be right in the centre of the action in the prettiest of all the South African wine villages, you cannot look past this little gem in Franschhoek, known to locals as LQF and part of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux group.



Right on the main street of the former Huguenot township, a chic spot dotted with cafes and gourmet stores, LQF comprises a small luxury hotel in typically relaxed Relais & Chateaux style along with a pair of top-notch restaurants.

There is a selection of accommodation options, all luxuriously furnished, with the suites looking onto the central courtyard and swimming pool particularly attractive. The staff, as is so often the case nowadays in South Africa, are spectacularly efficient without a hint of obsequiousness. And, of course, there is free wifi along with all the other effortless comfort, like massive beds and superb bathrooms. 

The Tasting Room, where chef Janse creates serious food with playful notes, also boasts a wine list comprised exclusively of premium Cape wines. It takes around 3 1/2 hours to work through the African-influenced eight-course tasting menu here (Tuesday-Saturday evenings only) but it is a sublime experience with a story behind each of the constantly changing courses. 

The Tasting Room has been ranked in the S. Pellegrino top 100 restaurants in the world for most of the past decade.



The Common Room is more casual, a place for snacking and enjoying a glass or two of local wines, perhaps from Moreson, which shares the same ownership. 

Several other restaurants and boutiques are just a short stroll away - making this an ideal base from which to explore the Cape winelands during the day but to return to at night. 

As is the case throughout South Africa, prices are almost ridiculously low. The five-course tasting menu at The Tasting Room costs around $60, the eight-course menu $77, or $15 more if each course is matched with wine. 

A winter package including two nights' accommodation, five-course Tasting Room dinner with wines, lunch at nearby Moreson winery restaurant Bread and Wine and a dinner in the Common Room costs just $360 per person. You wouldn't get a single night, room only, at a comparable establishment in Australia for that price.

Le Quartier Francais, cnr Berg & Wilhelmina Streets, Franschhoek, + 27 21 876 2151. www.lqf.co.za 

Saturday, 13 April 2013

A [gourmet] taste of the country

When former Sydney Morning Herald restaurant reviewer Matthew Evans quit the big city rat race and made the sea/tree/Brie change to Tasmania, he chose to base himself just outside the pretty hamlet of Cygnet in the Huon Valley.

Cygnet lies just 45 minutes south of Hobart in a region best known for its apple and cherry orchards. Its population of around a 1000 people includes a large proportion of foodies – many of whom, like Gourmet Farmer star Evans, have turned their hands to breeding, growing and cooking their own produce. It's also popular with media types and artists.

Sleepy during the week, Cygnet comes alive at weekends when visitors descend to enjoy its cafés, art galleries and waterfront walks. 

Steve Cumper, chef/patron of popular Cygnet eatery the Red Velvet Lounge (pictured) was named Australian country chef of the year by Country Style magazine a couple of years ago, and like Evans, Cumper opted for the country over the city, having previously worked as head chef for Maggie Beer at her Pheasant Farm restaurant in the Barossa Valley and at several Melbourne fine diners.

Cumper has his own small farm outside Cygnet at which he grows a wide range of vegetables and herbs, as well as fattening up cattle. He, like many of the local foodies, was attracted to Cygnet by the wide range of superb local produce.

Many local farmers sell direct from the farm gate, with apples, cherries and berries all available  from roadside stalls during the season.

At the rustic Lotus Eaters Café, just a few doors down from the Red Velvet Lounge, Giselle Benton and Alex Klimenko also use local produce wherever possible, including vegetables, herbs and eggs from their own kitchen garden, and highlight ingredients like Tongola Goat Cheese and  organic rhubarb.

The menu here changes daily but focuses on pies, curries, gourmet pizzas, fresh soups and vegetarian dishes – with everything is made from the ground up.

Marcus Boks began his Boks bacon business in Cygnet before moving to Glenorchy, but his premises have been taken over by Graham Victor, who styles himself as a “a 24-hour emergency butcher”. He’s one of two artisan butchers in town.

Other local gourmet food producers include Swiss couple Hans Stutz and Esther Hauesermann’s award-winning Tongola Goat Products, known for their cheeses and curds from their own herd, and another former Sydneysider in Gillian Ryan, who makes her hand-crafted Cygneture chocolates using Belgian couverture and “fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, teas, local beers, wines, ports and liqueurs from the Huon”.
Her chocolate selection changes seasonally as she eschews preservatives. Like many local producers, Ryan sells her chocolates not only from her Cygnet shop but at local markets and festivals - and sometimes at the extremely popular fortnightly Cygnet Market (above), held every second Sunday throughout the year. Here you can taste everything from fresh mussels to home-made cakes and preserves. 

At Nicholls Rivulet Organic Farm, just a couple of kilometres out of town, Gerard Crochon sells organic beef from beasts raised in his own paddocks from his farmgate shop on Thursday and Friday afternoons, and all day Saturday.    

Wine lovers are catered for with Panorama Vineyards, Hartzview and Elsewhere, just outside the town, having cellar doors and Two Bud Spur due to have their weekend cellar door open in time for summer.  Leading Hunter Valley winemaker Jim Chatto and his wife Daisy have big plans for their Isle pinot noir vineyard just out of town. 

Cygnet also has three pubs (one currently closed after a fire) and two other good cafés, the School House and Devour (terrific for burgers), along with a bakery, Double Delight, and weekend pizza outlet. It's the perfect day trip from Hobart. 


A very smart London address

You might remember veteran British hotelier David Levin, who recently created something of a stir when he criticised service standards in Australian hotels, suggested large hotel groups were losing their way and that Australian chefs often over-complicate matters. Most readers of Fairfax newspapers happened to agree with him.

Levin owns both the Capital Hotel and Apartments and the nearby Levin Hotel in London's terribly trendy Knightsbridge (and has his own winery in the Loire Valley). It just so happens that several leading Australian winemakers regularly stay at his hostelries.

I  joined the guests at the Capital last weekend - and it was a memorable visit for all the right reasons after a couple of less-than-stellar experiences earlier in the week. A liveried doorman collected my bags from the taxi and two staff members said: "Good afternoon Mr Dobbin", as I walked into the reception area. That is personalised service for you! I'd never set foot in the place before.

Opened by Levin in 1971 and now managed by his daughter Kate; the Capital is a quintessential family-run luxury boutique hotel. The guest comes first here, and nothing is too much trouble. If you want kippers for breakfast, or a 3am wake up call, it just happens. 




The rooms in this "grand hotel in miniature" are classic; elegant and comfortable but with all modern comforts like Sky TV and free wifi. It's the style of place where afternoon tea is served and fine whiskies are on offer in the bar.   

There is also an excellent on-site restaurant; Outlaws at the Capital, run by two Michelin-hatted chef Nathan Outlaw and specialising in fresh-caught, simple but satisfying Cornish seafood like cod (pictured), hake or turbot.  A two-course lunch costs £20, three courses £25. Dinner is more expensive but the service is excellent. I paired dinner with a bottle of complex Levin Sauvignon Blanc.  

Outlaws at the Capital picked up its first Michelin hat in September 2013.  



   
In addition to the stylish service and attention to detail, the Capital has position, position, position. Harrods and Harvey Nichols are just around the corner and Knightsbridge tube station is 100 metres away.

Online rates start from around £175 ($270) per night (I checked on April 14) - which is remarkably good value considering the levels of service on offer, and what you might get for a similar amount in Australia.

The Capital, 22-24 Basil Street, Knightsbridge, London SW3. Phone: +44 20 7589 5171. www.capitalhotel.co.uk. 

The writer was a guest of the Capital Hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Why I'm a convert to cruising

I wasn't all that keen on going on the recent maiden voyage of the MSC Preziosa to be completely honest. I can be seasick on a millpond and some of my previous cruise experiences had been less than stellar, marked by a high bogan factor. 

What swung me was the ports that the spanking-new Preziosa was going to visit: Naples, Messina, La Goulette in Tunisia, and two cities I particularly enjoy: Barcelona and Marseille. 

And I certainly wasn't disappointed, although being accommodated in the up-market Yacht Club section of the ship made a huge difference and is a worthwhile upgrade for anyone who values their peace and quiet.

Christened late last month at a glittering black-tie ceremony in Genoa, the MSC Preziosa was sent off on her maiden voyage by veteran actress Sophia Loren, the "Godmother" of the MSC cruise fleet, to music conducted by the great composer Ennio Morricone.




The exclusive Yacht Club suites are just 69 in all and home to the movers and shakers on each cruise. These guests sip their drinks in the dedicated lounge, barely getting their lips wet, as a pianist in the lounge tinkles unobtrusively in Richard Clayderman-style.

Those staying in the Yacht Club enjoy cabins with walk-in wardrobes, full bathrooms with bath and showers (and towels that are replaced twice daily on request), a complimentary mini bar, balcony or panoramic views and room service. There's king-sized bed with Egyptian cotton sheets, widescreen TV and a reserved area in the ship's Aurea Spa facility, operated by Balinese therapists.

Yacht Club guests also have their own private pool and jacuzzis on the bow of the ship, unlimited alcohol and canapes, and are served high tea each afternoon, while a daily paper from your home country is delivered to your cabin each morning. 

There are private butler and concierge services as well, should you need another selection from the pillow menu or to book a shore excursion. Concierge Maria, an Italian who speaks six languages, organises my visit to Carthage and Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia, while butler Jeannot, from Madagascar, is on hand to help should I need escorting to a part of the ship I am not familiar with. 

The food throughout the ship has a largely Mediterranean vibe – and many of the chefs and waiters are Italian, although there were crew from 48 different nations on board the inaugural cruise.

The boast is "the flavours and aromas of the Mediterranean", which seemed to please most guests. The star is the Eataly restaurant – the first afloat – which highlights artisanal Italian dishes and organic Italian wines. For someone who loves food and wine, I was in my element.

I ate well, drank well and slept well. And not once did I feel even remotely seasick.  

The writer was a guest of MSC Cruises and Emirates Airways. For details visit www.msccruises.com.au.



Tuesday, 9 April 2013

A Paris hotel to cross off the list

In need of a Paris hotel near Gare du Nord for a one-night stay prior to a morning departure on Eurostar, I booked myself into the recently-opened Mercure Gare du Nord La Fayette, just 400 meters from the station. 

So what could possibly go wrong? Particularly as the hotel room was exactly as advertised for  129 a night - and there was free wifi. 

I arrived in a taxi from Gare du Lyon and the driver had no change for a  50 (no surprise) so I popped into the hotel to ask for change. First problem. The only guy on check-in was on a phone call - and he wasn't going to interrupt it for a mere guest. 

I stood for five minutes with the taxi driver losing his patience - and then the dude said he was unable to change a 50. OK, I said. Just give me 10 so I can pay the driver and I'll leave my bags (and phone) here while I go and break the 50. No deal. 

I eventually got change by walking down the road in the rain to a nearby supermarket. So far, so dismal. It then took four attempts at getting a key card for the room that actually worked - and three return trips to level 5 with anger increasing with each one. Zero staff care factor. 

Then, when I checked out, the only staff member on duty in the morning held me up for 10 minutes because he refused to believe I had paid in advance - even though I showed him the confirmation on my phone. 

There is very poor staff attitude here - much more training is needed. Despite the great location and clean, functional rooms I would not use this hotel again.

Mercure Gare du Nord La Fayette, 175 Rue la Fayette  75010 Paris, France. +33 1 44 89 89 10.


   

Monday, 1 April 2013

Genoa on a shoestring

The historic and busy Italian port city of Genoa, home base of MSC Cruises and several other cruise lines, is worthy of exploration pre- or post- any tour of the Mediterranean.

Birthplace of Christopher Columbus and blessed with a well-preserved old quarter, Genoa is also a surprisingly affordable destination, both when it comes to accommodation and dining out.



I've just enjoyed a sensational three-course lunch that featured beautifully al dente spaghetti, olive oil, garlic and some moist, plump clams and mussels; followed by a fritti misti composed largely of prawns, squid and salty whitebait and then a delicious lemon tart. A carafe of local Cortese white, bread and coffee were all included - as was free wifi.

This gem of a lunch came in an initially unpromising hole-in-the-wall eatery called Osteria sopra di Mare, which holds around 25 people - all locals on my visit - and a blackboard menu that is also recited by the waiter.

It's scruffy, atmospheric, just across from the Porto Antico and should be on the agenda of every visitor looking for an authentic Genovese experience. Did I mention the bill came to just 20 Euros?

And that bargain-basement price is far from unique in Genoa. Dinner last night comprised a delicious pizza with prosciutto and funghi fior 6 Euros, enjoyed with a large bottle of Moretti beer. Again, I was the only visitor in the place; a tiny, overcrowded pizzeria favoured by locals in the city centre alleyways that goes by the name of Pizzeria Ravecca.

I've also stayed in two hotels I'm happy to recommend in Genoa. On arrival, the gracious and peaceful Grand Hotel Savoie, and prior to departure the slightly more faded but once very grand Hotel Bristol Palace. The first cost around 129 Euros a night, the latter 80 Euros a night. Both are unashamedly old fashioned but both delightful in their own way.