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Winter in Paradise

2017 has been a winter like no other in the last 30 years.

Up until the 4th January the weather had been spectacular, warm days, sunshine, blue skies....then one morning, it was strangely quiet on waking, always still and silent, the lack of noise was different, inexplicable. On opening the curtains the prickly pear cacti which dot the hillsides were covered with a thick dusting of snow. Just beautiful, gently falling and settling on the ancient houses of La Rabatana and the surrounding slopes. The constant snow, which fell all day was truly beautiful but created havoc in a village that hasn’t seen the like for three decades. Burst water mains, frozen roads and icy footways made treacherous going for a day or so. Thanks to our young, dynamic and very good looking Mayor, the local police and workers at the Commune the situation was resolved quite quickly. Two days later even our beautiful Centro Storico was passable once more.

Christmas, flu and bad weather combined to halt work on The Mandarin and The Kumquat for nearly one month. Work is progressing well now and these two beautiful apartments are starting to take shape. The exciting part of choosing flooring, bathroom fittings and kitchen equipment is starting.

Last week l bought some lovely antique furniture in a rather shabby state, they need some love and l will be restoring them myself to their former glory. We are trying to recycle, re-love and rescue as much as possible and l was given 150 beautiful, handmade 17th century tiles that have been laid on the balconies; they are exquisite. The existing floor tiles in The Mandarin which are laid only on dirt are going to be lifted, meticulously cleaned and repainted for the Arabic terrace. I will be restoring the French doors on the balconies myself. Sanding down, filling, painting and having them reglazed. It’s so exciting to be getting my hands dirty again. The Kumquat will have the classic, vintage 50s look with pastel Smeg fridge, and some Formica, restored original pieces discovered in the house, a chrome divan for instance. Pretty curtains and an open fire complete this Barbie doll house. Just can't wait for il all to be finished and starting to welcome more guests here to my little paradise.

In 2019 our Provincial Capital Matera will be European Capital of Culture, against direct competition with Lecce, the Florence of the South and Sienna as well as 3 other beautiful Cities, we did outstandlingly well to win.. Matera is reputed to be the second oldest constantly inhabited City in the World. The setting for much of Mel Gibsons The Passion of Christ and the new Ben Hur. The look is Biblical and breathtaking. Exhaustingly hot in the summer and rather humid the rest of the time, the perfect solution for visiting this stunning city therefore is to stay in a village like Tursi. Its an easy 1 hour drive to Matera through stunning scenery, the lunar landscape of the Calanchi sandstone hills.

Basilicata has so much to offer in a laid back way, our produce is all local and seasonal, which means we wait all year for a crop to be available and gorge ourselves when its growing locally. Fennel, cime de rape (long stemmed broccoli) delicious, crisp, bitter salads that we never see in the UK. Its an endless list that each season offers up a new delicacy fresh from the fields.I really do believe that seasonal, local produce is the best for our well being....with maybe one exception.......

February is the month of San Valentino, a celebration of love, a special dinner that should be eaten almost in entirety with fingers. Tactile, sexy, light dishes, nothing heavy, little tasters.......Starting with of course the most phallic food that exists, the out of season asparagus. The bigger and the thicker the better, simply boiled and served with a marvellous, buttery, lemony hollandaise sauce. If you don’t want to interrupt your evening making the sauce to order it can be made in advance and kept in a pre warmed thermos flask, a quick shake and its ready. A robot chef really helps to simplify the making of a delicious Hollandaise. Nothing is sexier than dipping the asparagus into the sauce, staring into your lovers eyes and.........biting.

Seafood is also a must, the ultimate aphrodisiac is of course oysters, but not everyone’s taste, however the humble mussel, lightly cooked with fresh herbs and prosecco is very erotic, certainly to the eye. The French have a slang word that likens it a part of the female anatomy. A main course of ultra well trimmed lamb cutlets, with a little long stemmed broccoli and baby new potatoes. Elegant and refined as you can get, simplicity on a plate.

To finish a heart shaped Creme Caramel and some fresh strawberries dipped in dark chocolate. La Cucina, which is not a cookery book at all also has ideas what to use as tableware; a hint, is it's not plates. Let your fantasies go wild for a San Valentino with a difference in the privacy of your own home (or here at The Bergamot of course!).

Enjoy…until next time.

Martine x

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