The Musette: Summer Vegetable Salad

When my beloved’s home, I shop each day but when I’m home alone  – as I was this last Bank Holiday week-end – I’m happy to whip up a big bowl of something and eat it for a couple of days. Whatever I cook is typically determined by what’s fresh, seasonal and local. Here I was inspired by some ingredients piled side by side in my local organic grocers: fresh peas, French beans, broad beans, courgettes (zucchini) and sweet-scented basil.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a main dish)

  • 2 large courgettes (zucchini) one yellow and one green
  • 80g (2 3/4oz) freshly podded peas
  • 150g (5 z) freshly podded broad beans
  • 100g French beans
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 small avocado
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil
  • 1 organic lemon, juice and zest


1. Start by spiralising the courgettes (zucchini) but if you don’t have a spiraliser, use a vegetable peeler to cut the them into wide strips and then jullienne with a knife. Set aside in a colander to drain.

2. Blanch the vegetables in salted boiling salted water as follows: beans (4 mins), broad beans (3 mins), peas (1 min). Drain and put into ice cold water to stop the cooking process and preserve the colour. Allow to cool then take the outer skin off the broad beans and split into two.

3. Make the dressing by adding the last six ingredients to a food processor and pulse gently. You still want to have bits of avocado. Check seasoning.

4. Put the drained courgettes in a bowl, add the dressing and stir to coat. Then add the cooked vegetables, check seasoning and serve.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. You can freely substitute and/or add vegetable to this salads. Cooked artichokes and  asparagus, along with raw rocket, spinach and spring onions would all go well in the salad, as would some finely sliced radishes for a peppery crunch. Do NOT substitute fresh peas with frozen or tinned peas, it won’t have the same impact.

2. I decided not to add any garlic to the dressing for fear it would overpower it. I wanted the sweet taste of the basil to shine. If you don’t have any basil, use parsley and then add a medium clove of garlic as well to the dressing ingredients.

3. I like my vegetables al-dente but, if you don’t, just blanch the French and broad beans for a bit longer.

4. Some toasted flaked almonds scattered on the top or some toasted seeds also wouldn’t go amiss

Musings on Mothering Sunday

It’s Mothering Sunday here in France and while I was out shopping yesterday I noted  the florists and chocolate shops were doing a roaring trade. I’ve been thinking about my late mother this week, not because of Mothering Sunday, but because the Chelsea Flower Show which she adored has just ended. She was a keen gardener and spent hours tending her garden ensuring that it was a delight to the senses all year long.

I can’t remember when I first bought her a subscription to The Royal Horticultural Society but it was so long ago that membership then entitled you to attend the Chelsea Flower Show free of charge. Ah, those were the days! My mother would come and stay with us in London for a few days with her best friend and the pair of them would lunch out at a couple of top restaurants, enjoy afternoon tea at one of the hotels, indulge in a spot of shopping and wear themselves ragged walking around the flower show. Once my father had retired, she dragged him around the show for a few years but, as my mother’s dementia took hold, she lost all interest in gardening and with a heavy heart I finally cancelled her subscription.

The QueenI visits the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Wisley.

After a few years of grace, I had to pay for her flower show tickets but never begrudged the cost as the gift afforded her such pleasure. She used to read the RHS magazine from cover to cover and, whenever she could, also visited their gardens at Wisley (pictured above). My mother loved her garden but it wasn’t just about the flowers, she delighted in the wildlife that would venture into the garden from the golf course which it backs onto. All year round she’d leave treats for the birds, big and small, many of whom enjoyed a shower in the bird bath and fountain.

My father liked the garden to look good but had little free time to assist though he took charge of the lawn which he liked to be as green and smooth as a billiard table but the borders and soft planting were Mum’s territory. As they got older, Dad employed an odd job man to look after sweeping up the leaves, cleaning the paving, trimming the hedges and general weeding. He had a lawn expert who would tend to any mossy or bald patches, plus a gardener who would increasingly give Mum a helping hand. These gentlemen continued to keep the garden in good order when was Mum was no longer able to tend it.

One of the first things my father did after my mother’s death was to try to restore her garden to its former glory. In addition, he bought a stone statue in her honour. He placed it where he could see it every day and I assume provided him with some sort of comfort. My mother’s ashes and now his, sit in its base which is back in the garden though not yet in its rightful spot.

My sister and brother-in-law have remodelled the family house and are slowly turning their attention to the garden. I saw some pictures of it yesterday and couldn’t help but feel that my parents would be gazing down on it with exasperation, it’s a shadow of its former self. Though not from want of trying, my sister has been unable to find a landscaper who wants to revitalise it. She suspects that although it’s a major project, because the terraces are already set in stone and it’s just the planting which needs sorting out, it perhaps isn’t quite as remunerative for them as a total overhaul. However, I’m sure she’ll get there in the end and provide a fitting setting for my parents’ final resting place.


Things in Australia that made me smile: the Food

Generally, when we eat out, my dining options are limited. Not so in Australia which really embraces a healthy lifestyle in many of its restaurants. I’m generally spoilt for choice by the array of produce that can be eaten by a fish-eating vegan –  no soy, no fried foods, no sugar, low gluten. Of course, many of the high-end fine dining establishments with their carefully curated menus can’t cater for me but there are plenty of others who can.
Of course, we didn’t eat out all the time and I took great pleasure in whipping up simple meals from the vast array of wonderful, local, fresh produce. I was able to frequently indulge my love of lobster, oysters and avocados. Some of our favourite meals were in fairly simple establishments with fresh fish cooked to order, like the Fish Shack in Apollo Bay.

But what exactly is Australian food? It’s a tough question to answer. I’ve been to the country three times and eaten extensively across different levels of dining, from informal cafes to high-end fine dining restaurants, and it seems the more you eat in Australia, the more places you try, the harder it becomes to answer that question. I can tell you what it’s not. It’s definitely not snags (sausages) on the Barbie, or Vegemite or Pavlova or Lamingtons. None of which comes even close to touching on the rich diversity on offer across Australia’s food scene.

Of course, in relative terms, the country is young and culturally mixed and its food scene reflects this. Contemporary Australian cuisine comes from a unique form of fusion rooted in Australia’s multicultural heritage, global flavours and techniques, and beautiful home-grown produce. So how did this all come about?  Australia’s immigration history is long and complex, marked after British colonisation by successive waves of immigrants from China, the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

After a number of failed attempts by the Portuguese and Dutch to settle Australia, the British succeeded in occupying Australia in 1788. The first fleet of ships to arrive included an Italian convict and a French winemaker and merchant. The first major wave of immigrants were Chinese, some 50,000 Cantonese in 1851 for the Gold Rush. Many served as cooks at the mines and after the boom resettled all over Australia. These days nearly every small country town has a Chinese restaurant.

Lebanese and Syrians escaping the Ottoman Empire settled in Australia in the 1880-90s. Russians started arriving after the 1905 and 1917 revolutions, and then again after World War II. The Lebanese continued to arrive in Australia until the 1950s, then there were second and third waves of Lebanese after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and 1975 Lebanese civil war. Egyptians started arriving in the 1940s and 1950s after the Suez Crisis.

Greeks, Italians, French, and Eastern Europeans settled in large numbers after World War II. Maltese arrived under the first assisted passage scheme in 1948 while the Turkish settled from 1967 onwards under another assisted passage scheme. More French landed in the 1960s and 1970s following independence of French colonies in Asia and Africa. Latin Americans, from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and El Salvador fled military rule for Australia in the 1960s and 1970s; Asians, including Vietnamese and Cambodians did the same throughout the 1970s; and beginning in the 1980s, Iranians, Afghans and Iraqis fled war and poverty for Australia. That’s quite a mix of cultures and cuisines!

Contemporary Australian cuisine’s roots lie largely in European technique, especially French, Spanish and Italian. Yet it’s commonplace to see an array of exotic ingredients from Australia’s Asian neighbours on the same plate – ingredients often grown on Australian soil – not forgetting the cuisines of the Middle East and Latin America which have also had an influence. Unlike countries such as Italy and France, Australia doesn’t have a solid basis for what is distinctly theirs – and this is the most exciting thing about the country’s food. A meal can easily touch on 10 different countries through a tasting menu. Well-known chef Peter Gilmore (Quay Restaurant) says it best:

Australian cuisine reflects our unique land where you can grow just about any product. It’s a modern society drawing on multicultural influences. We’re able to interpret with freedom and an open mind.

Gilmore’s cooking focuses on fresh, seasonal, local produce that highlights nature’s diversity, and epitomises the newer style of contemporary Australian cuisine that has developed over the last three decades in the country’s finest restaurant kitchens. This wonderful mix of cuisines can be seen in the restaurants, markets and food-shops.

But that’s not all as we’ve not even touched on the country’s extensive wine scene or its coffee shops selling some of the best coffee you’ll ever drink. That’s worth another post at least!


The Musette: More vegan banana bread

I recently read a newspaper article about the millions of bananas that are thrown away every day because they’re slightly blemished, bruised or over ripe. I was shocked, shocked! Don’t throw them away, make banana bread!

Who doesn’t enjoy a slice or two of banana bread for breakfast? This one is adapted from an Anna Jones’ recipe.  I have substituted the chocolate in her recipe with raisins in mine. The texture  is soft and moist, studded with plump raisins and nuts, and is made without  flour, dairy, eggs, or refined sugar. This is the perfect breakfast before or pick you up after  a morning’s ride, run or workout and tastes totally indulgent.

Ingredients (enough for 8-10 hungry cyclists)

  • 75 ml (1/3 cup) melted coconut oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 200 g (7 oz) toasted, chopped walnuts
  • 150 g (5 oz) sultanas
  • 200 g (7 oz) rolled oats (preferably gluten free)
  • 500 g (1 lb) very ripe banana (approx. 4 large ones)
  • 100 g (3 1/2 oz) coconut sugar (or raw cane sugar)
  • 100 ml (6 1/2 tbsp) Grade A maple syrup
  • 100 ml (6 I/2 tbsp) unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of fine sea salt


1. Preheat the oven to 170ºC (325ºF)/150ºC (300ºF)/gas mark  3 and grease a 1kg (2 lb) non-stick loaf tin with coconut oil.

2. While the oven comes up to temperature, toast the walnuts in it for 10 minutes, then roughly chop and set aside to cool. Hydrate the sultanas in some boiling water for ten minutes, then drain.

3. Blitz the oats in a food processor until you have a flour. Put the oat flour into a bowl, add the baking powder, cooled walnuts and salt.


4. Put the bananas into the food processor with the coconut sugar, maple syrup, almond milk and melted coconut oil and blitz until well combined.

5.  Add the wet to the dry ingredients along with sultanas and mix gently with a spatula until combined. The batter should be quite wet.

6. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack in the tin, for at least 30 minutes. Remove from tin and enjoy.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the bread in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the bread is browning at the edges, cover it with an aluminium foil tent.

4. You can substitute the walnuts with pecan, brazil, macadamia or hazelnuts.

5. To turn up the volume, soak the raisins in warm rum rather than water.

6. I tend to keep the bread in the fridge as it’s quite moist. That way it lasts the week providing I hide it from my beloved. I find it tends to cut better the following day – if you can wait that long……………

7. Equally, it’ll keep for up to two months in the freezer.

Things my beloved says: I’ll be able to help more when my leg’s better!

I’m married to the original high-maintenance man who basically does little other than his job. I pretty much take care of everything else. My family call him “The man who just turns up.” He’s not what you would call domesticated. There are times when I believe he was put on this earth simply to create more work for me. I joke that he’s MC (Master in Chief) Drinks but even that’s debatable. He does open the odd bottle and has been known to offer to make cups of tea or coffee, but rarely completes the task in full. He has on odd occasions inexpertly wielded a vacuum and very occasionally put the rubbish out, but that’s pretty much it. He has no idea how most of our electrical appliances work or where anything goes in the kitchen, despite having lived here for over 12 years.

My work-load has increased exponentially since he broke his leg over two months ago. Initially, he got around the flat on his crutches so he couldn’t fetch or carry anything, that was my job. Patience is not one of his strong suits. When he wants something, he wants it NOW! So imagine my surprise when he acknowledged my increased workload and said that as soon as his leg was better, he’d be able to help out more. As if the act of his leg mending is suddenly, and inexplicably, going to make him more amenable to helping out around the house. I also take objection to the more which somehow implies that he’s going to be doing more than he does at the moment. More than nada is still nada! To be honest, I’d just settle for him making less mess.

When we were in Australia, I kept seeing these large billboards asking if I needed a husband. They were promoting a handyman service whereby qualified tradesmen come around to do all those jobs you’ve been waiting for ever for “him indoors” to do. Sadly, they don’t appear to have a French franchise. But that’s exactly what I need. I have a million and one jobs around the house that require someone (other than me) who’s handy with a paintbrush and screwdriver. My beloved isn’t exactly bad at DIY but again he never finishes any of the jobs he starts and tends to make so much mess that it’s not worth even considering asking him.

The accidental loss of one of his crutches has forced him to start walking without either of them. However, he’s still not doing any more around the house. Instead he’s still expecting me to wait on him hand and foot! He’ll be taking his first solo business trip without the crutches next week when he’ll be away for just over a week, including the UK Bank Holiday week-end. This will give me enough time to get everything clean and tidy and then, on his return, he’s going to get a rude awakening.

Of course, I still have to organise my reward. I’m thinking a few days away on my own, somewhere I’ve not been before, in mid-June. Suggestions welcome.

The Musette: Mussels many ways

I often cook mussels for lunch after a long ride as they’re the original fast food – cooked alive and eaten fresh. These shellfish are truly delicious and adaptable as the following recipes and suggestions show. Like many things though, you will need to have done some planning and preparation beforehand.

Acquiring and cleaning mussels

If you have collected the mussels yourself, put them in a bucket of sea water as soon as possible and add a handful of flour to the water. Live mussels feed on this and it cleanses their stomachs of sand and grit before cooking. Your fishmonger will already have done this prior to selling them. Mussels should smell fresh like the sea. Ask your fishmonger how long the mussels have been out of the water. Fresh mussels will keep for a minimum of three days in the fridge and should still have the byssus or ‘beard’ attached. If it’s already been removed, the mussels won’t keep as long. Store the mussels in the fridge in a bowl to catch any leaking seawater and cover them with a damp cloth to keep them from drying out. Leave the cleaning until just before cooking.

Do NOT soak them in water – fresh or salt. Fresh water will kill them, and if left for too long in static salt water the mussels will use up the oxygen and suffocate.

Preparing and cooking mussels

Place the mussels in a large dry bowl. Discard any that have broken shells. Likewise, if a mussel has an open shell and it fails to shut as soon as you tap it, discard it. Scrub the shells with a stiff brush to get rid of any grit. Use a small sharp knife to scrape away barnacles and pull off any straggly ‘beards’ protruding from the shell. Use a colander to rinse the mussels under fresh running water. They’re now ready for cooking. It is best to use them immediately.

Boil 3 cm (about an inch) of water in a large wide pan with a lid. Pour in the mussels, place the lid on and steam for 3-4 minutes or until all the mussels have opened. Do NOT overcook, as rubbery mussels are an abomination. Discard any mussels that have not opened.

Black beauties cleaned and ready to cook (image: Sheree)Black beauties cleaned and ready to cook (Image: Sheree)

The Classic Moules Mariniere

Ingredients (serves four as a main course, or eight as a starter)

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium-sized shallot, finely chopped
  • 500ml (2 cups) dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 kg (4 lbs) mussels, cleaned and debearded
  • Handful of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley


1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a wide-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. As soon as the butter melts, add the shallots and cook for five minutes.

2. Add the wine, bay leaves, thyme, and pepper. Bring to a boil, and cook for three minutes to evaporate the alcohol.

3. Add the mussels and cover the pan. After three minutes take off the lid. If no mussels have opened yet, put the top back on, and continue checking at one-minute intervals until they open.

4. Divide the cooked mussels among four bowls. Discard the bay leaves and any unopened mussels, and ladle the hot sauce over the mussels. Sprinkle over the parsley.

5. Serve immediately with crusty bread to mop up the sauce, and a green salad. Don’t forget to provide a large bowl where everyone can put their empty shells!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Once you’ve mastered the basic art of steaming mussels, the possibilities are endless.

2. For a version with a more Spanish feel, add sautéed chunks of spicy chorizo to the pan along with a finely diced (skinned and deseeded) red pepper while you’re cooking the shallots.

3. Give them a West Country feel with leeks, bacon and cider.

4. If you want a richer sauce, stir some crème fraiche into it once the mussels are cooked..

5. For Moules Mouclade, just add curry powder and saffron to the shallots while they’re cooking and stir some double cream through the sauce afterwards.

6. Or, you can give the mussels a more Italian vibe with the addition of finely chopped garlic and a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (to taste) – add just before the shallots are cooked – along with a handful of freshly skinned, deseeded, chopped tomatoes which you should add with the wine. Top with chopped parsley or rocket (arugula) and serve with a chunk of focaccia.

Mussels: Italian style

Mussels: Italian style (Image: Sheree)

7. I find mussels work really well with both Far Eastern and Indian spicing. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try these two recipes.

Ingredients for sweet, sour, salty and spicy mussels (image: Sheree)

Ingredients for sweet, sour, salty and spicy mussels (Image: Sheree)

Thai Style Mussels

Ingredients (serves four as a main course, or eight as a starter)

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • ½ tsp red chilli paste
  • 4 fat garlic gloves, peeled and finely grated
  • Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 200ml (¾ cup) coconut milk
  • Juice and zest from two fresh limes
  • Bunch of freshly chopped coriander, including stems
  • 2kg (4lb) mussels, cleaned and debearded


1. Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan (skillet) and fry the spices for 30 seconds, then add the chilli paste, coconut milk and lime zest. Heat the sauce on a low heat for 15 minutes.

2. Cook the 2kg (4 lb) of mussels in a large saucepan with lid in about 3 cm (an inch) of boiling water for three minutes or until they have opened. Remove mussels from the pan with a slotted spoon, discard any that have not opened, and reserve the fragrant cooking liquid.

3. Add about 200ml (¾ cup) of the mussel cooking liquid and all the cooked mussels to the pan, the freshly squeezed lime juice and the chopped coriander. There’s no need to add that all-essential Thai ingredient, fish sauce, because there’s plenty of salt in the cooking liquid once the mussels have given up their taste of the sea.

4. Divide equally between the dishes and serve with a bowl of jasmine rice.

Thai-style mussels (image: Sheree)

Fragrant Thai-style mussels (Image: Sheree)

A few adjustments to the ingredients and Thai become Indian style mussels!

Indian Style Mussels

Ingredients (serves four as a main course, or eight as a starter)

  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small finely chopped red onion
  • ½ tsp red chilli paste
  • 4 large garlic gloves, peeled and finely grated
  • Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 3 medium-sized tomatoes chopped
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 60g (1 cup) unsweetened desiccated coconut
  • Bunch of freshly chopped coriander, including stems
  • 2kg (4lb) mussels, cleaned and debearded


1. Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan (skillet) and fry the onions for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Add the chilli, garlic and ginger pastes and stir well for 30 seconds. Now add the tomatoes and cook until they soften and break down, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Cook the 2kg (4 lb) of mussels in a large saucepan with lid in about 3cm (an inch) of boiling water for three minutes or until they have opened. Remove mussels from the pan with a slotted spoon, discarding any that have not opened, and reserve the cooking liquid.

Curry paste for mussels (image: Sheree)

Curry paste for mussels (Image: Sheree)

3. Add the garam masala, turmeric and coconut to the onion mixture and mix well. Add about 250ml (1 cup) of the mussel cooking liquid and all the cooked mussels to the pan, along with the chopped coriander.

4. Divide equally between the dishes and serve with an Indian flat bread. I find naan works best.

Mop up that sauce with an Indian flat bread (image: Sheree)

Mop up that sauce with an Indian flat bread (Image: Sheree)


Two becomes one

Yes, this is a sad tale about separation and loss. My beloved had arranged a business meeting in Alassio on Monday – part way for both parties. I decided we’d spend the Sunday night there so he could once again enjoy the benefits of the Thalassotherapy centre and a massage. He’d returned late the night before we left from a dental exhibition in Birmingham, his first solo business trip since breaking his leg in early March. We decided to have Sunday lunch in Alassio and booked a table at one of our favourite seafood restaurants which overlooks the sea.

We descended to the garage and as soon as I spotted the lit rear lights on the car, knew I had a flat battery. They hadn’t been on when we’d parked late the night before, I always check. As I opened the door, the alarm squawked into life. That was the offender. Maybe someone had tried to nick my wheels again but this time I had been fully prepared with an alarm and special wheel locks. The battery was indeed as flat as a pancake. We pushed the car out of the garage, got out the jump leads, and an obliging neighbour gave us a quick spark – that’s all it takes – and we were off.

On the motorway, just past Nice Nord, we heard a funny sound. To be honest it sounded as if my exhaust had fallen off but that was unlikely as Tom had just been serviced. Was it us? Was it coming from the plethora of Harley Davidsons which had been constantly streaming past us, on their way home from a Harley get-together in Grimaud? We soon had our answer as with their sirens and lights blazing, the police pulled us over. A first for us!

My beloved with his two crutches

We got out of the car to discover one of my beloved’s crutches, which he’d obviously left resting on the bike carrier, had dislodged and had been scraping along the tarmac, hence the noise. As to its companion, we have no idea of its fate. It wasn’t in the back of the car. We presume it was lost somewhere on route. My beloved had rested the crutches on the bike carrier while he piled the bags in the car and then had forgotten to put them in too. He’s going to have some explaining to do down at the pharmacy who lent us the crutches.

My beloved with his sole remaining crutch

The police tried hard not to laugh at our explanation of what had happened and waved us on our way, after we’d put the badly beaten up remaining crutch in the car. Luckily my beloved can now manage with just one. Meanwhile, I’ve been looking for a stuffed parrot and eye patch to complete his ensemble.

Art of Cycling: The 100th Giro d’Italia

American cycling artist Greig Leach and I are working together again. Greig’s planning on producing a hardback book of his vibrant postcard sized pen and water colour paintings of each of the stages of this year’s 100th Giro d’Italia, complete with his narrative – which I’ll be editing –  stage profiles, stage winners and jersey wearers.

Now’s your chance to pre-order this magnificent memento of what’s already shaping up to be an epic edition of the Giro as it wends its way from Sardinia to Sicily, and the length and breadth of mainland Italy. The first ten days or so has been super exciting and it’s only going to build to a crescendo in the final week. You can “try before you buy” as the work and accompanying (unedited) narrative appear daily on his blog, plus he regularly posts his work on   Facebook and Twitter.

This is a Kickstarter project, so if you would like to support Greig, check out the campaign page. Contributions start very small at just US$1, but you have to commit at least US$40 for an artist signed copy of the book (with worldwide delivery) plus assorted goodies. Splash the cash and pledge a whopping US$ 500 and your book will also be signed by the winner of this year’s 100th Giro d’Italia. No prizes for guessing who’ll be collecting that all important signature once the book is published.

Of course, you can also buy Greig’s original postcard sized drawings of this year’s races (and indeed from many other races), but you’ll need to be quick. It’s a case of first come, first served! These, and indeed the book, would make wonderful presents for the cycling enthusiast(s) in your life. Or why not treat yourself to a reminder of what’s sure to be a very memorable grand tour?

Official Richmond UCI Road World Championship 2015 artist Greig Leach.

If you want to know more about Greig, please  check out my interview with him!

Postcard from Sardinia: Part II

There was little of note on our journey From Alghero to Olbia aside from the landscape, which became more rugged the further east we drove. We arrived at our hotel in Olbia, close by the airport, just in time for lunch. My beloved was delighted to discover the hotel had a pool and gym where, post-race he was able to give his leg a work out. He’s walking further each day without crutches but is not quite confident enough to surrender them completely. 

The finish in Olbia was unexpected. A young Austrian sprinter, Lukas Poestlburger (Bora-hansgrohe), who typically leads out his team’s main sprinter, took a successful flyer off the front. It was game over and he picked up three of the jerseys including that of race leader, the maglia rosa. Another team-mate who was in the day’s break had taken the remaining jersey, getting their team’s Giro off to a wholly delightful yet unexpected start. One of the reasons I love cycling, it’s so unpredictable.

After an evening working, which may or may not have involved an alcoholic beverage or two, we slept soundly and rose to head back into town for the start of stage two. This gave me an opportunity to have a quick look around. The town was full of beautiful floral displays from, I assume, local growers though we’d seen no evidence of them driving over. The town’s proximity to the Costa Smeralda was reflected in its upmarket shops and restaurants, plus the large contingent of Russians and Germans milling round town. 

All too soon the peloton had departed and we followed in its wake, further south to Tortoli. A detour off the motorway due to an accident meant we drove up and over the much more undulating terrain, which afforded great views down to the coast and gave us an idea of what the peloton could expect on today’s stage. 

This stage had a more familiar face winning the bunch sprint, Andre Greipel, a rider who’s won a stage (12) in every grand tour in which he’s participated, and who also assumed the race leader’s jersey. 

We easily found our hotel overlooking the sea. A wedding party was in full swing. The couple were obviously big MotoGP fans as the theme was VR46’s (Valentino Rossi) yellow and blue with all the tables named after GP races. They weren’t the only guests, Movistar were also staying at the hotel with Trek-Segafredo billeted next door. 

We opted for dinner in the hotel next door because, in addition to its main menu, it had a vegan one, not necessarily what you’d expect in a very small seaside hotel. I was delighted and we ate here for the next two days. Our evening was spent sitting in our patio garden watching the comings and goings of the team. 

After the following day’s stage from Tortoli finished in Cagliari, the riders would fly to Sicily. Pretty much everyone else had to take a 12 hour ferry. Given the sheer volume of traffic, including the caravan and press pack, the vehicles departed in waves, some the night before to get everything set up for the riders the following day which of necessity would be a “rest” day. 

After waving the riders off from Tortoli, promising cakes on my return on mainland Italy, we spent two days luxuriating in the serenity of our chosen hotel, watching the wind-affected sprint into Cagliari dominated by echelon masters Quick-Step. Another stage victor who also took the leader’s jersey, sprint sensation Fernando Gaviria, the youngest Colombian to win a grand tour stage. Most of the Colombians are mountain goats. Not so Gaviria, an Olympic track star turned roadster. 

All too soon our Sardinian idyll was at an end but we’ll definitely return with the bikes, the best way to see the island. We drove to the airport in Cagliari for our flight to Malpensa and the drive home. I’ll be following the Giro on the television for the next week or so before watching two stages near Novi Ligure at the end of the second week.



Postcard from Sardinia: Part I

We spent last week on our maiden trip to Sardinia ostensibly to watch the first three stages of the 100th Giro d’Italia but also to see something of the island. We toyed with going by ferry but in the end plumped for direct flights from Milan and a hire car – quicker and cheaper.

I drove to Malpensa on Sunday evening where we stayed overnight in a delightful B&B with a magnificent garden and red-hot WiFi. We dined in the local town in a restaurant that greatly exceeded expectations. Luckily we were the first to arrive as it was packed with locals – a ringing endorsement – by the time we left. This got our holiday off to a real swing.

The following morning it was pouring down as I drove to Malpensa and our EasyJet flight to Alghero, on the north-west coast, which was hosting “The Big Depart”. Even before we’d left the airport to collect our chubby Fiat 500L, it was obvious the Giro was in town. We drove straight to our hotel on the outskirts of Alghero, nestling in the verdant countryside, dropped off the luggage and drove back into town for lunch. An octopus salad later – you know how I love my cephalopods – and we were ready for a walk around the charming old town.

By now the sun was out and it was starting to heat up but we were still huddled in our gilets on account of the brisk sea breeze. I was on the lookout for potential dining spots as we were staying here for four nights before heading with the peloton to Olbia on the other side of the island. There were plenty to choose from, all sporting my default white (or pink) linen tablecloths and napkins.

I spotted two old boys shooting the breeze speaking a language I didn’t quite understand but it sounded most like Spanish, and then the red and yellow Catalan flag was flying prominently from a number of buildings. Turns out, a part of its population is of Catalan descent. Back in the Middle Ages Sardinia was part of Aragon.

The town was already bedecked in pink: pink flowers, pink bikes, pink bunting and balloons, pink cycling-related displays in shop windows. You knew the Giro was coming to town. Of course, the party atmosphere was largely due to it being 1 May and a bank holiday pretty much everywhere in Europe.


After unpacking and exploring our hotel, we opted for a light snack and a couple of Aperol Spritzes for dinner – shades of our recent stay in Alassio. Breakfast the following morning was copious. I particularly enjoyed all the vegan options. I should add that at many Italian motorway service stations it’s now possible to get vegan croissants! I’m not allowed them as they’re made with soy but even so…mille grazie.


We spent the morning working before heading into town for lunch – more squid – and picking up our accreditations, a relatively speedy affair this year. It helps to be first in the queue. The afternoon was spent working around the pool with my beloved undertaking some of his exercises in the water. We opted for another light dinner, this time courtesy of the local Lidl before watching an action movie in Italian with me providing my beloved with a running commentary in English.


Wednesday we woke to birdsong, sunshine and clear blue skies. With almost all the teams billeted out of town we decided to forgo the inevitable round of pre-race press conferences in favour of a morning working, followed by lunch in a nearby town en route to the Trek-Segafredo presser. Well, I’ve got to show up at least one of them!

We had a seafood lunch in Porto Torres, where the ginormous ferries from Genoa and Toulon dock, before driving back into Sassari, the closest major town, to buy a memory card so my beloved could take some photographs. One of these days he’ll actually check he has everything he needs before we leave for a trip!

Porto Torres

The team, along with many others, were staying in a hotel in Stintino, near to a national park on one of Sardinia’s most northerly points. There were surprisingly few journalists and I got my pick of the team. I plumped for neo-pro Mads Petersen, the almost benjamin of the Giro. He has a surprisingly mature head on very young shoulders. I’ve a feeling he’ll go far.

Young Mads

We drove back cross-country, marvelling at the open spaces and beautiful countryside dotted with sheep, goats and cattle, plus plenty of olive trees and vines amid bright bursts of yellow broom. As we passed through La Corte we noticed many of the roads were named after former Italian champions: Coppi, Bartali, Binda, Giradenga. In Alghero there’s a church and road named Valverde, remnants of its Catalan past rather than in deference to Alejandro Valverde, a Murcian pro cyclist with Movistar.

With the sun now firmly over Sardinia, Thursday followed a similar vein. We worked in the morning, headed into town for a late lunch and a spot of shopping. Alghero is famous for its coral and I’ve long wanted a coral necklace to match a beautiful coral ring my parents bought me over 30 years ago in Capri. I had treated myself to matching earrings in Como but I’ve never gotten around to completing the set until now. At my time of life, it’s definitely now or never!

The team presentation was well attended and paid homage to the Giro’s illustrious past and present. We watched from a distance. A press scrum is no place for a man on crutches.

On Friday, the town was pumping. Folks had obviously come from far and wide, many decked out in pink, particularly the kids who all seemed to have pink whistles. Great for the atmosphere but no doubt parents would be cursing them later in the day.

The race set off amid much fanfare, Astana at the head of proceedings in memory of the recently departed, much admired Michele Scarponi. Having said a quick hello to those riders we know, it was back to the car and off to the other side of the island to watch the finish in Olbia, a town close to the world-famous, ritzy resort of Costa Smeralda.