Martin in Maubourguet

Well after my adventures in Sicily I have found my assignment here much easier.

Assignment you say ?? What assignment ? Housesitting and minding 3 beautiful dogs, 4 chooks, 1 rooster,  3 fluffy white things, a recluse cat and one gorgeous kitten with many many personalities. How did this happen ??? Well, unfortunately the Château owner I had been emailing all last year decided the week before my arrival to take a month off and go to South Africa.
Yes, you can imagine I was a tad upset and Yes a few expletives popped out… fortunately though in the confines of my apartment Butera28 in Sicily, as he was a  reason for my trip abroad. I was hoping to come up with cool things to do in Bordeaux…

Once I had calmed down, I checked my emails and the latest house sitters email popped up. Taking this as good omen, I quickly scanned the email and a Maubourguet house sit was advertised. I quickly answered and then had correspondence with Catherine, a lovely English lady who has lived here in rural France for 15 odd years. May I suggest to you to check out site should you be on a budget like me but still wanting to travel – it is amazing! Let’s face it animal lovers are lovely people!

Maubourguet churchChurch in Maubourguet

 I must admit Maubourguet or the Pyrenees have never been on my radar. Still hard to comprehend in Australia temperatures have been in the 40’s and I have been sashaying about wearing long johns, jumper, beanie, gloves, scarf and jacket! But, the countryside is truly beautiful and the people charming. My French totally sucks but I have managed to survive and enjoy …

Pyrenees-view from a villagePyrenees-ski

Pyrenees – view from village (left), ski fields (right)

My charges pictured have been great company and very entertaining … I’m sure the many scratches on my hands from Mini (a loving kitten who on a whim can become psycho kitten) will heal in time…and Clochard – the good looking darker dog (Clochard in french means tramp) will be remembered for his enthusiasm and good looks and holds the record for most widdle stops on our walks….!

France-dogs_sandy stanley clochard

French chooks French chooks and rooster


Whilst I have been here I have managed to slip out during the day – Catherine loaned me her old postie van (loads of fun traveling incognito and passing as a local) so have been exploring local markets. Vic-en-Bigorre being my favourite plus many small villages, the larger towns Lourdes, Tarbes and along the way i have met some lovely people…


Roaming the countryside in a postie van!

One treasure is Allyson Gofton, a passionate foodie and cookbook author in New Zealand who is here for a year researching and writing a book about the people here including recipes. I was fortunate enough to meet her husband Warrick at the Maubourguet Market (he nearly passed for a french man with beret, scarf and fresh baguette under his arm) alas his kiwi accent gave him away :)))) or maybe it was my Aussie accent ….

Allyson Gofton  foie gras
Allyson Gofton (left), Foise gras (right)

So we chatted beside the Local Wine stall which was near an English pork pie stall and another stall selling English sausages and English bacon (I was somewhat surprised about this but there are many English retirees here wanting their own food). This saddened both Warrick and I, as when we are in another country its their culture and their food which we wish to embrace…

(market food)

But on another note I do love the ‘multiculturalness’ of Oz :) And yes I will be going to my favourite Indian Karma, My Thai, Vespa Pizza, BrewBakers, and Sunny Coast’s Berardo’s on the Beach, Spirit House and other faves when I return home.
Anyway! I gave Warrick my card, an email soon arrived inviting me for cuppa …. a coffee date with Allyson at a local bar. Since then we have been bestest of mates and I have had a few catch ups with her, Warrick and their lovely children. I also have been lucky enough to see and taste some of the recipes going in her book ….yum!
I’m sure it going to be well worthy of picking up a copy.

Joaquin and Virginie Figueiredo

maubourguet hotel owners

A dynamic husband wife team who run Hotel de France in Maubourguet.

Joaquin is a very good Chef from Portugal and his menu offers great food from his upbringing plus local Pyrenees favourites of foie gras , duck confit and magret.

 So now I’m leaving Catherine tells me about murder, a hanging, red stains on the wallpaper when she removed the top layer and Nazi’s taking over house during the war and torturing French Resistance in the cellar …aha!  now i know why she asked me my thoughts on ghosts ;))))) 

One can stay in her Gites at Le Camelia Chambres d’hotes http:/ +33 562960238Interesting house opposite – had women taken/held there for the Nazi’s pleasure! So many fascinating stories in this area.



Next stop Rome…. London ….then Home!

Palermo diary – Hot things to do in Palermo & beyond…!

If you or friends should be coming to Sicily please, please come to Palermo & I recommend staying at Butera 28
– via butera

My favourite unit is Unit 9 with its decks with view of the sea. Then 13, then 11 and 12 would be my next …
Butera 28 is in the best spot in the old part of town with everything just a short walk away.
When booking tell the Duchess Nicoletta I sent you and if she is around she will give you a personal tour of her fabulous Palazzo.
ps one simply must book her cooking class, tis a fab day! ( see earlier blog )

Martin and Duchess oct2014
Palazzo-doors entranceMartin in Palermo-view

Day trips – beyond Palermo

Depending on your length of stay with us we have some recommendations:

  • Red hop-on hop-off bus tour is great way of seeing our beautiful city one can jump off jump on at desired locations. There are 2 routes, your ticket is valid for 24 hours, ticket price is 20€ per person (for both routes).
  • Monreale -30 mins by bus or car (secure car park available) Getting there easy taxi or bus leaves from opposite Stazione Centrale. (Be warned: bus may be crammed and that’s when pick pockets take advantage but don’t be uptight about this, just be aware…).

The stunning cathedral is a must see! It is worth spending a few hours here soaking up ambiance and looking at the truly amazing mosaics. Be sure to go to back of church and pay 2 euro and go up to the roof top of cathedral for an awesome view of Palermo.

  • Mondello beach – 30 mins away (806 bus from Piazza Don Sturzo) or 15/20 mins by car. A truly lovely seaside resort town, you can dine right on beach, enjoy gelato whilst people watching.
  • Cefalu – a must do! Only 1 hour by train, Messina line from Stazione Centrale A charming seaside village we adore. The Cathedral and quaint shops all worthy of you enjoying. Must dine down on the foreshore, there couple of restaurants with balconies at the rear where one can soak up view of sea and town with scrummy seafood. Hire a sun lounger and umbrella (10 euros) or just use your towel on public part of beach, enjoy a massage on the beach whilst sunbaking.
  • Agrigento – 2 hours away by bus/ train/ car:
    • bus company  (running Monday – Saturday)
    • train  (not recommended on Sundays)
      This stunning Valley of the Temples (Greek) well worth a visit. One can take train or bus – 2 hours (Monday – Saturday) (bus drops you near)
    • Trapani 1 1/2 to 2 hours away by bus or train (best by car, so one can stop when one desires). Historical town:
      – Museum with biggest coral collection in the world
      – Salt flats outside town with natural reserve and flamingos
    • Erice a medieval town on top of the hill, a slight detour and worthy of a look
    • Segesta Ancient Greek temple and theatre

Walking tours of the city or out of town trips with your personal guide and driver can be arranged as well…

Cefalu-beach view Cefalu-church inside Blog-cefalu dining


Palermo dining here’s  some favorites…

  • L’Ottava Nota Restaurant directly across the street from Butera28, lovely stylish contemporary Sicilian food only 34 seater so best book! (if you are staying at Butera28 be sure to use 25% discount card)
  • Da Salvo trattoria loud fun outdoor fresh fish restaurant, Fish so so fresh!
  • Two yummy pastry shops Rosanero and Bar Touring
  • Day Spa and roof top restaurant at Hotel Porta Felice across the street
  • Kursaal Kalhesa – wine bar, book shop, restaurant within an old Palazzo on Esplanade – 21, Foro Umberto…. fabulous for drink
  • Best vegetarian restaurants the Myrtle and the Rose and Bistro The Freschette
  • Cioccolateria Lorenzo, Via Quattro Aprile 7 fantastic chocolate shop and tearoom (no chocolate in summer but fabulous cakes!)
  • Best Pizza restaurant Mudù  Via Enrico Albanese 26 across the street from Palermo jail !
  • A’ Cala on via Cala an open air cafe see pic…
  • Antica Gelateria Patricola directly behind Butera 28 on Esplanade – 6, Foro Umberto I
  • Enoteca Cana, via Alloro 105, wine shop and wine bar, open from 6:30pm, serving also bistro food
  • Foro Italico Gadir.     Via della Spasimo 44 Elegant refined dining offering Sicilian and international food

Blog 3-dining is fresco restaurant white drapes Blog-lóttava nota

Palermo shopping here’s  some favorites…

 Giovanni Vallone  Via Calascibetta 22
Handmade leather goods  ie Handbags,belts

Casa Merlo  Corso Vittorio Emanuele
Best selection of Sicilian pottery and ceramics

Officine Achab Via Alloro 13
Designer clothes and knick- knacks

Our hidden jewel
Stanze Al Genio Via Garibaldi 11

Stunning private collection of ancient maiolica tiles
Viewing by appointment +39 340 0971561

Ancient tiles


Enjoy and, in Sicily, if things don’t go to plan just sit relax have a vino, gelato or coffee and enjoy the adventure….

 A presto

Palermo diary – Dining out is made so easy

Dining out here in Palermo is made easy with many good restaurants offering true Sicilian food

…all using only local ingredients …something I love and am particular about along with my chefs at Freestyle.


You can also pick up great produce at the markets (pictured) to cook with and dine in. This is best if you are craving vegetables or are vegetarian.

have seen some awesome vegetables at the markets but they do not appear on any restaurant menus as Sicilians see this as some thing you can cook for yourself at home …

Blog 3-veges at market Blog 2-veges at markets


Here’s 3 favourite food experiences of mine already, all offering totally different experiences:

Da Salvo – is loud, bright and on the street theatre serving only the freshest seafood straight from the grill

L’ottava Nota – is small, intimate (only seating 34 ), smart and contemporary, offering both local food and Sicilian wines..

I tried a lovely White wine which went so well with my seafood dishes – CDC cristo Di campo bello from Agrigento here in Sicily

 Olive pâté with bread 

Bean purée with squid

Squid and Zucchini


yummmmmm! I think I may need to go back for this 😉 

L’ottava Nota (pictured ) 

 Blog-lóttava nota


Da salvo (pictured )

Blog-da salvo bbq Blog-da salvo fish plate 

The special menu offer is brilliant here all as you get all of below …


Tomato salad (tomatoes here in Sicily are seriously good)

Fresh whole fish , sword fish, squid, prawn – all cooked on charcoal grill

Glass of wine (I won’t say what it looks like but ’tis drinkable just .. Lol! )


– all for only 20 euro. The seafood’s the best!


A’ Cala on via Cala an open air cafe (at front door turn right, at end of street cross and reach the marina on the esplanade right beside yachts)

This stunning location on the marina is already my favourite. With knock out view one feels like a millionaire just sipping away on a short black.  Lunch is also as good as in the evening.

Blog 3-dining is easy..harbour

Blog 3-dining is fresco restaurant white drapes

Other suggestions for dining:

  • Kursaal Kalhesa – wine bar, book shop, restaurant within an old Palazzo on Esplanade – 21, Foro Umberto…. fabulous for drinks
  • Cioccolateria Lorenzo, Via Quattro Aprile 7 fantastic chocolate shop and tearoom (no chocolate in summer but fabulous cakes!)
  • Pizza restaurant on Piazza Marina I Beati Paoli
  • Gelateria directly behind Butera 28 on Esplanade – 6, Foro Umberto I
  • Enoteca Cana, via Alloro 105, wine shop and wine bar, open from 6:30pm, serving also bistro food

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