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Tuesday
May052015

lovely liechtenstein

last month we visited liechtenstein* for a few days. when i was planning this trip i looked online for information about where to stay, eat and explore in this small (160 square kilometres), doubly-landlocked (it’s surrounded entirely by landlocked countries – swtizerland and austria) principality, but struggled to find very much.

quite a few online articles and discussions started with the question – is it worth visiting liechtenstein? my view is yes – it’s beautiful and i really enjoyed the fact that we could explore the country, in its entirety, within a day (having a car probably made it much easier to do this)!

we stayed in triesenberg which is located halfway up the mountain that overlooks vaduz, the capital. being this high meant we had beautiful views, down into the rhine valley and over the swiss border towards the alps. it also gave us the experience of two seasons in one day - when we arrived at our hotel it was snowing and by the next morning everything was beautifully white. in morning we drove higher up the mountain to malbun to see more snow but by the time we were down in the valley the snow had vanished. temperatures that day varied from -3c to 12c. it was all very surreal but also a brilliant way to be able to see the landscape in snow as well as basking in spring sunshine – it was beautiful in both.

so, what did we do…

the border with switzerland is formed by the rhine and we decided that rather than drive along on the swiss side, we would enter the country in the northwest corner and drive along the river on the leichtenstein side it wasn’t a particularly interesting journey but it did take us along most of the length of the country, on our way to triesenberg.

our drive up the mountain was on a teeny windy road which took us past vaduz castle, the palace and official residence of the prince of liechtenstein. the castle isn’t particularly pretty and you can’t visit; if the weather is bad i wouldn’t bother working your way up the mountain – with the snow coming down and on a single lane road it was all a bit scary for me -  as you can get a good view of the castle from the valley below, while you explore vaduz itself.

we explored triesenberg on foot in the afternoon – there isn’t much to this small village with its one shop and handful of restaurants but the onion-domed st jospeh’s church is pretty and the well-tended cemetery gives an insight to the names of all the local families. there is also a museum devoted to the walser community, which journeyed here from switzerland in the 13th century. apparently this is triesenberg’s star attraction and recounts the story of the walsers, a german-speaking ‘tribe’ from the valais that emigrated across europe and settled in many places, including liechtenstein, where they still speak their own dialect. the museum was closed so we couldn’t visit, however, apparently it is also worth asking at the museum about visiting the nearby walserhaus, a 400-year-old house furnished in 19th-century fashion.

instead, we called in at restaurant kainer and ate a delicious cheese fondue. the restaurant has beautiful views over the rhine valley and would, i am sure, be especially lovely in the summer when you can sit out on their terrace – in the meantime, visit their website which has a short video that includes the village and the views.

driving down to vaduz, this time using the road which the buses take rather than the single lane windy road we’d driven in on, we went south to balzers  to see burg gutenberg, a state-owned 13th-century castle which was restored in the 20th century. it is now only open for concerts but apparently this is a good area to use as a starting point if you enjoying walking or hiking.

back to vaduz. we called in at the cathedral and then walked through the pedestrianised area, visiting the postage stamp museum to pick up some souvenir stamps but resisting the option of having our passport stamped (for a fee) to show we’d been in the country – apparently this is a big thing for many tourists! there is also a national art gallery (the café here looked nice and airy, with a lot of people tucking into sushi) and a national museum. we had nice, albeit pricey, pizza at nearby brasserie burg, sitting out in the sunshine.

we headed mitteldorf, a street which is part of a lovely area of town that includes a number of traditional houses and gardens with small patches of vineyards in between. particularly eye-catching is the late-medieval, step-gabled rote haus, which you see perched above the vineyards (see above). we then walked a short distance out of town to the hofkellerei - the prince’s vineyard where you can taste and buy the wines he makes in both liechtenstein and austria. the local pinot noir was what caught our eye as we’d enjoyed it the previous evening, but there is a broader range available (there is small charge for the tastings but we weren’t charged this as we bought some wine). there is also a restaurant attached to the vineyard – torkel – but this was closed.

and that pretty much covers it. obviously there are various outdoors options if you’re visiting and more inclined to ski, walk, camp, cycle than i am, but even without those additional distractions, i had a great time. this was at least in part due to the hospitality we experienced at the hotel oberland in triesenberg. this was one of the few hotels open so early in the season (we were there in the first week of april) but despite this we were well looked after, especially the evening we arrived as we didn’t want to go out for food. the kitchen was not open but we were given a plate of cold meats, cheese and salad plus glasses of the local pinot noir. this was followed by a hot dish as the owner was cooking for his family and didn’t want to exclude us. he provided me with samples of his homemade pickled chillies and an extra glass of wine on the house as we chatted about living and working in liechtenstein and gained an insight into this small and beautiful country.

* the country, not to be confused with lichtenstein, a town in germany(actually, there are two, one of which we also visited, on our way back to frankfurt, as it has a beautiful castle – see below)

Saturday
May022015

chewy chocolate cherry cookies

i use pinterest to store a lot of the recipes that catch my eye while i’m rummaging around the internet, but keeping on top of what i’ve pinned and then getting round to trying something new is never as easy as adding things to the list. however, i am trying to be better at this and these lovely chewy cookies are the result.

the original recipe, from ruby tandoh, is for ginger, orange and chocolate flavoured cookies but, following her advice to swap in different flavours, i decided to use dried cherries in place of the ginger as the chocolate i used had some of these in as well.

i really enjoyed these – they don’t have the slightly sour flavour that some cookies have and the texture was great – crispy around the edges and chewy in the middle. sadly i don’t know how well they keep as they were all eaten within a day of being made.

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Thursday
Apr302015

roasted strawberry, mint and rose iced tea

this is a gorgeous non-alcoholic drink and well worth making if you find strawberries cheap – the first german strawberries are in the shops which means that everything non-local is suddenly half price, so i stocked up.

the quick roasting of the strawberries helps soften them so they release their juices and flavour. choosing good mint tea is, i think, important as the flavour really shines through and gives the drink it’s refreshing character (on the day i made this it was the strawberry flavour that came through but one day later and it’s the mint). the rose adds a lovely floral note.

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Sunday
Apr262015

sweet potato rosti with asparagus and poached eggs

it’s asparagus season and, as usual, i’m making the most of it. we’ve had some white asparagus* but it’s the green stuff that i really love and this is what i’ve been focusing on. this is a good way to sneak it into a weekend breakfast – i used it in place of the called-for avocado.

the sweet potato rosti was not the easiest thing to make – it’s quite a delicate mix so turning it over can be tricky and i was also worried about it cooking through, so decided to go with large oval shapes, that i could flatten out  quite a bit. this also had the advantage of providing enough space for two poached eggs per person.

to avoid getting too stressed out i suggest waiting until the rosti is cooked through before you start your eggs – the rosti will keep warm over a low heat, slowly getting crispier round the edges, or you can put them in a warmed oven. i think it’s also worth adding some spice to the rosti mix – garam masala, cumin or coriander would all be good, plus extra fresh herbs.

* i do plan to make this white asparagus with lardo, parmesan and toasted hazelnuts again, before the season ends.

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Monday
Apr062015

a glimpse of gothenburg

in february we spent a wet, grey and snowy weekend in göteborg, on sweden’s west coast. despite the miserable weather we had a great time and i came away thinking that sweden is a country i’d like to explore more of and that göteborg would be an especially lovely place to visit when the weather is brighter. there are a lot of canals in the city, many of which have wide grassy banks that will, i am sure, be wonderful places to spend time when you’re not tucked under an umberella!

the architecture is also appealing – there is a wide variety of styles, most of which boast large windows to encourage the light to stream into the rooms. one of the most interesting buildings we visited was feskekôrka, a fish market which resembles a gothic church. gothenburg’s other food market that is well worth exploring is stora salluhallen (we had really delicious raw vegetable wraps and juices at på kanelen before countering the healthiness with a couple of cakes from one of the bakery stalls).

an area that i particularly liked was haga, the city’s oldest neighbourhood which has cobbled streets, beautiful buildings as well as plenty of cafes and shops. the advice i’d been give before visiting the city was to make sure we indulged in “fika” – a swedish tradition of stopping to chat over coffee and with a cinnamon bun. we stopped at a few places in haga, including café husaren (allegedly the source of the best fika in town but a bit disappointing in reality as the service was cool and the cinnamon bun very dry) and café kringlan (a small but cute and cosy choice).

our other “food on the run” option was courtesy of strömmingsluckan, a centrally located black van that sells strömming, a snack of fried herrings with parsley butter, mash and lingon berries. the mashed potato was particularly lovely – rich and creamy and a great accompaniment to the fish.

in the evenings we ate at familjen, with it’s vibrant welcoming atmosphere and adventurous cocktail list (although i suggest avoiding the beetroot and talisker whisky option which is one of the few cocktails i’ve not been able to finish!) and swedish taste, which has a more formal setting and beautiful food. i didn’t keep notes from either meal so can’t write about what we ate in any detail but overall, while i enjoyed atmosphere at familjen, it was swedish taste’s food that i’d choose to eat again.