A Bit from Barcelona, Spain

Here’s a little bit (or bite) from our Barcelona, Spain segment from All the Best with Zita Keeley. We had such an amazing day filming with Yves Nicolier.

It was a great ending to our Holland America Line Mediterranean cruise on MS Oosterdam.

Enjoy and cheers,



Holland America Line Highlights From our Show

Just a few highlights from filming onboard the MS Oosterdam in the Mediterranean.

Enjoy and share!

cheers and all the best,


A Day (No.. A Few Hours) in Provence


Cruising on back into France, our ship docked at the busy and bustling port of Marseilles. Although this large old city had a rough and not so stylish past it has rebounded as a big tourist destination with its historical sites and landmarks as well as shopping and restaurants.

However, in my very few hours in the Provence region, my guide today, Sebastian, (Iamnotatourist) has some special out of town visits planned for me. First on the list is the absolutely charming restaurant, Le Bistrot du Paradou in the equally charming and stunning village of Le Paradou. Sebastian tells me that this quaint and off the beaten path restaurant is a favorite for the local Provencal people and one of his number one picks in the region. The interior is classic  French country with bare stone walls, long wooden and marble top tables and all kinds of photos and pictures hanging on the walls. There’s a pretty outside seating area surrounded by oleander bushes and herbs and the noisy roaring sound of the cicadas.

We are there on a Friday and the special is Aioli,  not just the sauce but a  dish of hot vegetables along with some type of fish and served with the special aioli sauce. I follow  Chef Quenin into his kitchen where he is painstakingly stirring the sauce made of garlic, olive oil and eggs. This is the traditional meal that is prepared and served every Friday.

Sebastian and I are served this huge plate of food (with salted cod) as well as salad Provencal and some local wine. As if all that were not enough, we are served a platter of cheeses and French bread and I am given a glass of Pernod to wash it all down.

Having cheese on the brain now,  we head off to Fromagerie Des Alpilles  where owner Mr Sequin and his family have prepared a tasting of more than just a few of their goat cheeses. But first,  I get to spend  time with goats again, (remember the goats in Corsica)!20160708_131138 After a tour of the small farm we head into the house where the actual cheese making takes place. Very briefly, the milk is put in big plastic vats to ferment. (Rennet is added after a few hours to help curdle the milk.) About 24 hours later the “cheese to be” is transferred to individual molds for further fermenting and drying out. (Salt is added at some point.) About another 24 hours later and this is actually edible delicious fresh goat cheese. Some of the cheese is left to ferment and mature and Mr Sequin’s claim to fame is adding herbs and various toppings and coatings. This is what he had lined up for me and  I had to figure out which ones I would try. I loved the black pepper coated creamy cheese and one coated in tarragon too. Basically, I loved them all and wish I could have taken some with me.

Time to wash that all down with some good wine. Driving  through the beautiful countryside we come to Les Baux de Provence and  Le Chateau Dalmeran. The magnificent winery is located beneath the Alpilles mountains and owner Beatrice Joyce, along with her dog Elliott, take us into the heart of the vineyards to do a tasting of a couple of her wines. It doesn’t get better than this.

We have one more visit before having to re board the Oosterdam and on the way we can’t help but stop to take in some of those spectacular views surrounding us.

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Arriving at Moulin Castelas, one of the best olive oil producers in the region, we meet owners Jean-Benoit  and Catherine Hughes.  While there’s no production taking place at the mill now, it’s still very special to hear the passionate story about why and how this olive mill was started in 1997 and the love the Hughes have for the land. I have a tasting of a few oils that  are rich with aromas and taste. The oils here are like the wines, dependent on the terroir, climate, varieties of olives used and how ripe the olives are. I was quite happy to be given a couple of small tins that I could quite easily fit into my suitcase!

Back on the ship and it was another relaxing night for a delicious dinner and time to catch up with my friends.

All the best,


A City You Never Heard Of- Ceuta, Spain

One of the ports on the itinerary for my 11 night Mediterranean cruise on Holland America Line’s Oosterdam was Ceuta, Spain. I have to admit that I never heard of this  city so I did spend a bit of time reading about it before we would arrive there. Located on the North Coast of Africa between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, this tiny 7 square mile peninsula was captured by the Portugese in 1415 and then given to Spain in 1668. It shares its Western border with Morocco and has been a  fortified strategic location since ancient times.

We arrived on a gorgeous and hot sunny day and the tiny  city sparkled. I met Antonia (Tony) from the local tourist board who told me she was chosen to help since she’s pretty much the only one that speaks English in her office. She was excited to take part in our filming and had some tasty spots planned out.

But first, we drove up the hillside to Monte Hacho, from where you could see views of Spain as well as Morocco. On a clearer day we could have seen the Straits of Gibraltar too.

We drove back into the old town and had a walk through the Central Market normally filled with stalls and stalls of interesting fish and seafood. But, it was Ramadan and since there are many Muslims in Ceuta,  many of the stalls were closed. However, there are the non Muslims who  still want their breakfast and we found the Café La Perla swamped with people devouring churros and tostadas. I tried a bit of the churro as well as tostada, a thin grilled bread topped with a tomato paste spread.

Before our next eating destination, Tony wanted me to see one of the symbols of the img_4586modern side of Ceuta at the Parque Maritimo del Mediterraneo. This is a place with gardens, palm trees, swimming pools and is an oasis for people to come to relax. I was so tempted to dive in to the incredibly inviting looking swimming pool but, oh well, no time and no bathing suit either.

From there, it was tapas time and Tony brought me to a  very modern and exciting gastro bar called El Albedrio. Here, the different tapas are laid out on display so you could easily point and choose. Tony and I shared a few specialties as well as a glass of local white wine. We walked down the street and to Taberna La Trastienda, a much more traditional establishment with an outside seating area along with the small bar inside. The place was packed and they made room at the bar for us to try one of their recommended fish specialties. As it was time to leave, the owner came by and I was able to thank him for his hospitality.

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As we drove back to the ship passing the many interesting buildings and monuments of the old town mixed with the beautiful beaches and parks of the more modern side of the city I couldn’t help but wonder why this is not more of a tourist destination.

Cheers and all the best,


Carrying on to Corsica

I was looking forward to the next stop on this cruise as we were headed to Corsica, a region of France I have never visited. Our ship would dock in Ajaccio on the west coast of the island. I had arranged to meet with Guide Olivier Chavaren from Coloratour who planned a day outside of this capital city and into the mountains for some authentic experiences.

We took a winding and curvy road about 30 minutes into the small village of Campo and stopped at the very pretty Chatelet de Campo, a recently restored and beautiful house converted into a bed & breakfast situated in the midst of the surrounding mountains.

I was greeted by the very hospitable owner, Elizabeth Herzet who after a tour around the B&B brought me into the kitchen where the table was full of local Corsican specialties including a freshly baked heart shaped cake that was made from chestnut flour, a very typical and characteristic ingredient here.

There also were all kinds of home made jams and local goat cheese that comes from nearby Corsican goats. While I hoped we would get to see the cheese making process in action, it turns out that the season was done so I would have to be satisfied with simply seeing the goats.

Little did I know that we would be hiking down a long hilly dirt path in the very hot sun to find ourselves in the midst of a field making strange noises to entice the goats to approach us.  It was a bit strange, but I have to admit the goats did make an appearance and were pretty friendly.

I had a bit of time to cool off in the mini van before our next stop at the bee farm of Francois Andreucci. Before getting my lesson in beekeeping and honey making, I was met by the charming and gracious Sylvain Martinez-Ciccolini, who is one of the only saffron 20160703_105426proIMG_4174ducers in Corsica. He explained how this delicate spice comes from a particular type of crocus flower that only blooms once a year and it’s a very fragile process to remove the dried stigma that is used. This explains why it is so costly.

With one more stop to go, we arrive at a small, rustic looking restaurant called Ferme Auberge U Taravu in the village of Zevaco that serves regional Corsican food. Olivier takes me downstairs where there is a shop selling all the local dried meats and sausages that are hanging up throughout the various basement rooms. It was quite a site and quite a smell too. We went back  to sit in  the dining room upstairs that was busy with locals having their lunches and we were served a fabulous plate of charcuterie, pate and some absolutely incredible cheeses.

It was a pretty and scenic drive back to the port in Ajaccio and our ship after a fun and informative day with Olivier. IMG_4184

Cheers and all the best,


onboard Holland America Line MS Oosterdam




Lovely in Lucca

Before heading to Civitavecchia, Italy where I’d be boarding the Holland America Line Oosterdam that would be my home for the next 12 days, I spent a wonderful week in London and in Sussex, England visiting family. It was a nice break before buckling down and getting to work.
The first port on the itinerary was Livorno, Italy but I had pre-arranged with a local guide to take us to Lucca, an ancient medieval Tuscan city that has been on my bucket list ever since I learned there was a Saint Zita from the 13th century who lived and died there.|
Prior to visiting the church where St. Zita’s mummified body is on display, (yes, you read IMG_3448that correctly!)  I have an appointment with chef Giuliano Pacini of Buca di S. Antonio, a long established and very popular traditional Luccan IMG_3449restaurant. He wants to show me their methods for making pasta and so I am taken to their small and very warm kitchen where I find Chef Monica all ready to go. According to Giuliano, women are better pasta makers so he IMG_3459never makes it himself. I watch Monica do all the hard work while the Chef tells lots of entertaining stories that helps keep my mind off how hot it was in there.
I am then treated to a terrific pappardelle with porcini mushroom IMG_3488sauce that was quite flavorful yet subtle that was paired perfectly with a super tasty local red wine thanks to Sommelier Cristiano. Nice to know I’d be going to the Fattoria di Fubbiano winery later on and could be tasting some more. Chef Giuliano insisted that my crew and I stay for lunch and we devoured more pasta with a rabbit ragu, fresh bread & olive oil and a refreshing rosato to complete the feast.

My guide, Wanda Martinelli, (toursbylocals.com) is with me now and I am eager to  head to the Basilica ano de San Frediano to see the famous Saint. This imposing Romanesque church  is quite beautiful with its marble interior and many intricate chapels. I head straight to St. Zita’s chapel, where the Patron Saint of Maids and domestic servants is entombed in glass and on display for all to see. The story is that she was a maid for the wealthy Fatinelli family and they believed she was stealing bread to feed the poor. When stopped one day and asked to open her apron thinking they would find bread, instead it seems that flowers fell out. Her life is celebrated with a feast every April 27th and while I don’t know if I’ll ever be in Lucca for that event, simply visiting her now meant a lot to me.  20160630_143351

After that very special visit, what better than to enjoy some wine. First, I get to

admire 55,000 bottles at one of Italy’s best wine shops, Enoteca Vanni. The shop itself is rather tiny with just a few shelves lining the walls but down some steps you come to an amazing and ongoing cave filled with wine, whiskies and all kinds of treasures dating back years and years. I was hoping to get a sample of something but seems I would have to wait until the winery.

IMG_3599We drove  into the hills of Lucca and came to the stunning grounds of Fattoria di Fubbiano surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. This impressive property has recently added a new wine cellar and tasting room with temperature controlled steel tanks, large wooden tanks as well as some concrete vats. I met with winemaker Marco in the barrel room where I was honored to taste a Sangiovese out of one of the small French oak barriques. He told

me it was his first time tasting it since it went into the barrel just a few months ago. I have to say it was already quite delicious. The winery produces about 100, 000 bottles of wine per year protecting the local traditions and styles of the Colline Lucchesi  while continually striving to make their wines even better. I liked the fruitiness and easy drinking style of their wines. If only I didn’t have weight restrictions on my luggage I would have grabbed a few bottles to take with me.

It’s time to head back to the ship after a whirl wind few hours in lovely Lucca – a trip I will always remember.

Cheers and all the best,







A Big Thank You, Grazie, Gracias and Merci to our Mediterranean Friends

I’ve just returned from a month of travel and needless to say, there’s a lot of catching up to do. But first I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the helpers, guides, drivers, chefs, winemakers, friends and more that I made during my fantastic journey on Holland America Line’s Oosterdam through the Mediterranean.

Lucca, Italy
Andrea Paganelli and Wanda Marinelli (toursbylocals.com)
Chef Giuliano Pacini  & Sommelier Cristiano Costopassi- Restaurant Buca di S. Antonio
Marco Corsini and staff at Fattoria di Fubbiano Winery
Basilica di S. Frediano (per gentile concessione della basilica- St Zita)

Phillipe Bonafede – Castelroc Restaurant
Aude Elodie Thi-Khan – Patisserie Riviera

St. Tropez, France
JJ Jorisen
Restaurant La Pesquiere
Kelly’s Pub
Glacier Barbarac ice cream

Olivier Chavaran – Coloratour
Elizabeth & Dominique Herzet at Chalet de Campo
Francois Andreucci – Beekeeper
Sylvain Martinez-Ciccolini – Saffron Producer
Restaurant U Taravu

Almeria, Spain
Maria Virginia Cocarro – Translate Travel
Chef Jesse Torrente- Restaurant Catedral at Hotel Catedral
Antonio Barea Fernandez- Bar Barea
Pablo Ansenio – La Mala Bar
Mustafa Fazouli – Aljaima Restaurant and Teteria

Ceuta , Spain
Antonio Paublete -Tourismo Ceuta
Bar La Perla (Central Market)
El Albedrio gastrobar
Taberna La Trasmenda

Marseille/Provence, France
Sebastian Lopez – Iamnotatourist
Chef Vincent Quenin – Bistrot du Paradou
Mr. Seguin – Fromagerie des Alpilles
Beatrice Joyce – Domaine de Dalmeran Winery
Jean-Benoit and Catherine Hugues – Moulin Castelas

Sete, France
Sophie Bergeron – guide
Sete Tuk Tuk -Transportation to Mt St Claire
Olivia Romain-Dupuy – Les Demoiselles Dupuy
Jean-Michel Caumeil – Oyster Farm
Jean-Baptiste De Clock – Chateau Fot Mars Winery

Barcelona, Spain
Yves Nicolier – Toursbylocals.com
Willem (Hans) Zwartbol – Harley Driver
Chef Jon Giraldo – Spoonik
Indalecio – Bar Maians

Holland America Line – MS Oosterdam
Mark Pell- Hotel Director
Mark Sardelis
JJ Jorissen
Ruben Kooiman
(and all the staff)

Stay tuned as I post about each port of call in the coming weeks.

Cheers and all the best,