Mallorca: Son Brull – A Rural Sanctuary

I brushed the crumbs from the seat, clues of previous passenger’s snack trolley delights. The best thing about the Ryanair flight was the oversized house fly that had hitched a lift and was bombing up and down the aisles, racing between the headrests.

After picking up the blackcurrant berry of a Fiat 500 hire car, and driving down what must be Mallorca’s only motorway, we arrived at Son Brull. A beautiful rural sanctuary on the north of the island.

I’ve been to Mallorca before, accidentally. I told my friend we could do anything she liked for her birthday, she suggested a comedy club, I suggested Eurostar to Paris, she suggested 3 nights in a hotel near Magaluf which was powered by a petrol generator on the roof and had yellowed plastic sheets on the bed. To be fair, those weren’t her search requirements, they were just by-products.

We were shown to our room, a light and airy junior suite. Champagne, oranges and fresh flowers greeted us. Tall shuttered windows with long white linen drapes, high above my head. Washed oak beams and dark concrete floors. A Jacuzzi bath in the corner, and sun hats at the end of the bed. What an absolute dream.

We found our way to the bar and bistro, through the cobbled courtyard of the old monastery, passed the pelargoniums and ferns.

Two enormous olive presses lined the walls either side of the room, and above the large copper bath that would have boiled the olives for their second pressing, a wispy wire sculpture representing steam.

Millstones and big white sofas, like heavy clouds. Good dinner. Nice atmosphere.

The shutters kept the sun out, room pitch black and cool. Outside the window, sunshine and strawberry bushes, palms, and bottlebrush trees with neon fronds.

We took our breakfast on the terrace. Blueberry juice. Eggs benedict. Swimming pool lapping, sparrows darting in for crumbs.

Later, I wandered around, looking at fruit, taking pictures. A woman (from Jersey) stopped to talk to me. Whilst I looked away, she discreetly held up her mobile phone and took a photo of me. Except, it wasn’t discreet, the loud ‘kercher’of the iPhone camera alerted me to it. She didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything.

Adam and I sat in the shade, listened to goats and to the wind in the leaves. Looked at the mountains.

We drove into the mountains. Zipping around in the little Fiat 500, looking for somewhere to pull in, to take in the views. Adam said, ‘We can stop here if you like?’ and I read the sign, ‘prohibited military zone’. We drove on.

At the top of Es Colomer we stopped, walked up to the viewing point, blown by the warm wind, ate Patatas Fritas at the café Mirador.

In the evening we ate at Son Brull. 365 Restaurant, understated and comfortable. Cobbled floors, white linen, subtle lighting, and on the tables, little wound-wire lamps that looked like they were modelled on potatoes.

Often before a meal I begin to feel a little nervous. I have a strange array of allergies and sometimes it’s hard to get that across. I was once told (in a rather unusual restaurant) that, although allergic, I had to eat the ‘gift of almond’ because it was what the chef wanted.

At 365 I didn’t even need to ask. Every member of staff knew who I was and told me what I could or couldn’t have. It was the most attentive and kind response to allergies that I’ve ever experienced.

Sweet, soft, Cannelloni with duck and dark chanterelle mushroom.
Suckling pig with apricots and sweet Tokaji wine.
Prickly pear and fennel sorbet.

All delicious, but then, dessert.

On my list of things which I wish I could eat again (including rice pudding at Neemrana Fort and Sunday dinner at Nanny and Grandad’s), this incredible dessert.

Pine nuts. Soft pine nut brownies. Tiny, beautiful, dark pine cones soaked in honey, rich with the sweet taste of the Mediterranean forest, like fresh cut wood. Creamy pine nut parfait. Pine infused cream.

This may be the most beautiful dessert I have ever tasted. If woodland fairies exist, then this is what they feed on.

In the morning, after a breakfast of eggs, and fresh fruit, and a lot of wishing it wasn’t time to leave, we packed up our bags and headed west.

More mountain driving. Slender curved roads, hairpins, steep drops. Holme oak trees. Goats crossing. We stopped at lakes, listened to lapping water and bird song. Chased velvety chocolate-brown donkeys.

Around every corner was a view to behold. Warm air and the sense of freedom. We turned off the main road, to our next stop. Up the drive. Nine hairpins to the top.

With the greatest thanks to the team at Son Brull for making this trip possible, for hosting us for two nights, and for the power of Chef Rafael Perelló and his puddings.  As always, my opinions are my own.

A Cold Night Under the Stars (CEO Sleepout Fundraiser in London)

I parked my £150 car in the £5.70 carpark and got the £73 train to London.

Anna text me, ‘Are you all set?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I’ve got a scarf, an umbrella, a tarpaulin and a coat from the nineties!’

The day hadn’t started well. After dropping Adam at the airport and driving home, I realised I was locked out. Then I lost my train ticket. Then M&S wouldn’t sell me a sandwich because their card payment system was down.

I was having a bad day. But bad things come in threes, I thought – at least I wouldn’t die in my sleep.

All the time I was thinking; it could be worse.

I walked along the road, towards Lord’s Cricket Ground, my rather fancy rough-sleeping address for the night. This night had been planned for months (read about it here) and I’d been fundraising for several weeks, but I wasn’t really prepared. I thought I’d just go with the flow.

I started paying attention to the things around me. I’d be sleeping outside for the night, just one night, with the thought of a home to go to. What if that wasn’t the case? I lugged my tarpaulin and sleeping bag passed the couples, laughing with their Halloween fancy dress on, I looked in the window of the Indian restaurant, saw a family eating dinner together, warm spiced food, smiles, steam on the glass. All the windows with their yellow lights on, homely, net curtains and soft furnishings.

Further up the road, buildings with electric gates and eighty-grand cars parked outside. The light of the road island bollard strobed on and off intermittently. A pigeon lay dead in the gutter. Everything seemed poignant.

I arrived at Lord’s to a warm welcome and a cup of tea. I saw the Ashes, a glove that I thought was a bunch of sausages, and a blue cricket ball from the early days of women’s cricket (where they thought that girls would be scared of a red ball coming at them, so they made it almost invisible instead).

I signed a disclaimer form that said I might die or get maimed by other people in the night.

After introductions from some of the charities that CEO Sleepout supports we did the Haka. That’s not a typo, it’s fact of life.

Then it was time to find somewhere to sleep. I hadn’t realised we’d be sleeping in the stalls. I watched and waited for everyone else to find their spots. I found a space between two rows of seats, away from other people, down close to the pitch, and set up my bed nest.

Tarpaulin first, on the ground and then up the back of the seats in front of me, so as to stop any drafts (and then later, to stop the rain). My umbrella I propped on the ground, kind of over my head, wedged between seats, it helped keep the light off, and made me feel a bit more protected.

I put on my massive 1990’s Swedish army coat. I looked around at the North Face and Patagonia badges, patted my old £15 antiques shop bargain with fingers crossed.

I’d had to buy a sleeping bag (I’d given the one I had to Winter Comfort for the Homeless a couple of years ago). As I shuffled into it and tried to settled down I realised that I’d been tricked. Mountain Warehouse had let me down with their paper-thin waste of time sleeping bag. It did no good at all for keeping me warm. I wore a knitted jumper on my legs instead and wrapped the tarpaulin around me.

I was not prepared, and to be honest, I think that was actually pretty authentic.

It was too cold for my body to relax enough into sleeping. I am rubbish at sleeping in public places too. Can’t fall asleep on a train, can’t sleep on an overnight flight. At one point I scrunched myself up, face down, and managed 20 minutes of sleep. I was pleased, I hoped there was more to come. (There wasn’t).

It rained. Not hard, but enough. That misty rain that you don’t know about until it’s too late and it’s soaked you. I was glad for my umbrella and tarpaulin. It was cold. Some people left during the night. 3am Ubers.

In the morning we were lucky to be met at 6am with tea and bacon buns. An eight-hour night and I was feeling it – feeling the wear on my brain and body, feeling more compassion for those who have to endure this night after night.

I was aching, not just cold, chilled to the bones. I couldn’t grip my cup properly, I couldn’t hold a pen until gone 10am. I felt low, tired and drained. From just one night.

When you hear people saying that homeless people could do something to help themselves, know that it’s hard enough to survive, to just exist, let alone do anything else.

I got on the tube at rush hour. Tarpaulin and sleeping bag in hand. Tired eyes. I felt more pushed and shoved than ever. I felt tired and intolerant. The man behind me pushed himself hard against me, body invading my space. It took all my senses not to just throw my head back and head-butt him. Seriously. More people got on. My bag got pushed into the woman next to me. ‘You’ll be paying for my hernia operation!’she said to me, and I fake laughed, but I’m not sure it was a joke.

The London Lord’s CEO Sleepout raised a whopping £80,000. For some reason my JustGiving total got stuck at £666, but I’d prefer to focus on the amount with Gift Aid, £825. Thank you, to everyone who sponsored and supported.

It was an enlightening and difficult experience. I’ve already signed up for next year. I’ve got to do something, we all have.

Holland: Make It Happen – Rotterdam in 24 Hours

If you know me, you’ll know, I don’t like to rush. I get plenty done, but under the deceptive guise of a tortoise, meandering from distraction to distraction, taking in the details, finding joy in the small things.

There was a time when I would have told you that you can’t get a feel for a place in just 24 hours, but I’ve  proved myself wrong.

Rotterdam is a fascinating city, having been almost completely destroyed in World War II, it has been rebuilt with aplomb and continues to develop and grow with  adventurous modernist architecture.

I walked out of the station, past the sharp angles and high gloss of the tall buildings, and headed to Op het Dak.

This trip, although brief, was to be full. I had several places to be, and things to see, all centred around thoughts on the environment – how we live, and what we do to the earth. I’m in the process of researching for an exhibition on the modern landscape, and Rotterdam gave me food for thought… and food… back to Op het Dak.

Ten minutes from the Central Station is Op het Dak, a simple café serving healthy local food. We ate flowers, hummus and tabbouleh, before exploring their outdoor space – the largest urban roof garden in Europe.

One of the main reasons I was in Rotterdam was to visit the studio of Daan Roosegaarde. It’s not easy to describe what Daan does, but I’d say he’s a socially led artist, thinker, conservationist, and innovator. His projects are brilliant and varied, but to me the best thing is the Smog Free Project – air purifying towers that filter particulates. This ring is full of smog from 1000 m3 of Beijing air.

After a presentation at the Rotterdam Food Garden on De Urbanisten’s new research project, Sponge Garden, we stopped off at Kaapse Maria, where I ate a bowl of olives and drank homemade cherry cola. Nice.

Then we headed to the Kunsthal for the opening of Waterlicht, Daan Roosegaarde’s latest  work. Described as a virtual flood made of LEDs, software and lenses, Waterlicht shows how high the water could reach without human intervention and gives space for thought about rising water levels caused by global warming. I’m interested in the connections between Holland and the drained area I live in, here in the UK, so the idea behind this really resonated with me.

After a brilliant and relaxed dinner at Ayla it was time to retire to the perfumed aircon comfort of The James Hotel. I woke to the 16th floor view over the city, in the distance, the glow of C&A.

I skipped breakfast (The James have a food market where you can buy yourself a mini baguette for one euro) and made my way back to the Kunsthal for a muffin and ginger tea, and to see Stephan Vanfleteren’s Surf Tribe. I couldn’t not – Shutter Hub had listed it in the top exhibitions to see this month. It was brilliant. The photography was amazing, beautifully executed, emotionally relatable, and the scale of the images too, brilliant. But for me, without wanting to sound like an exhibition weirdo, it was the lighting that really made it. Best exhibition lighting I’ve seen.

Have you visited the famous Cube Houses in Rotterdam?  I’d seen so many similar images on Instagram that I just  wasn’t that interested, but, with all the hype, I thought I should have a look – I was pleasantly surprised.

Designed by Piet Blom in 1984 as a kind of village within the city, inspired by the woods –  futuristic tree houses in modernist urbanity. Structurally they’re just bizarre. Like those paper folded fortune-tellers you used to make as kids.

They look like a collage. All snippets of 80s style. Great colour combinations, and a shop offering hair removal services. Why did the ‘influencers’ not show me this on the gram?

I stopped  in Sint Laurenskerk, the church beautifully restored after the war, light glass windows, and chandeliers. On the big bronze doors, (designed by Giacomo Manzu) the distressing scene of war. When the doors are opened, the light floods in and this beautiful dove is revealed.

Heading back to the station I stopped and ate chips at the Markthal, I noticed it looks like a grown-up bouncy castle, made up of luxury apartments and delicious food offerings.

Other things I noticed  in Rotterdam:
A statue of santa holding a butt plug.
Very healthy looking pigeons.

On my way home, in the queue to board my flight, I met a plastic packaging saleswomen. She told me that she did feel sad that the dolphins are dying and the plastic is getting round the necks of turtles, but plastic is environmentally friendly as it’s made out of waste oil, and if we don’t use it our peppers will go off.

I didn’t make it to the Nederland’s Fotomuseum, but there’s so much to see and do in Rotterdam, I don’t have any excuses not to go back.

With the greatest thanks to Rotterdam Partners for making this trip possible. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to meet the ‘interesting’ people whilst travelling is something that should be investigated!)

Everyday Life: I’ve Been Away But Now I’m Back

The sun is shining, I’ve been up since the early hours, and I’m waiting for my friend Maddie to arrive so we can go and swim in the sea. It’s good to have the occasional day without too much responsibility. It’s good for the brain and for the soul. I do most of my best thinking when I’m in the bath, or on a long drive, so I’m expecting a double whammy of inspiration today!

We’ve had such a lot of hot weather, and aside from rendering me dozy and useless, it’s had a big impact on the little animals. I’ve been putting bowls of water and food in the hedge, but it’s not enough. When the rain came it was joyous. Thunder storms that lasted six hours, power cuts, flash floods, trees down, and in the morning, the smell of damp earth, and pigeons stood waist deep in puddles.

I don’t know where to start with these recent things, because it’s been three months, a quarter of the year, and that’s really not that recent, is it?

Perhaps I should tell you the saddest thing first.

April the chicken (the one with the hearts on her feathers and a penchant for a shoulder ride) has gone. She was taken by a hawk. I couldn’t believe it either. Four years she’s lived with us, watched me through the window while I worked, pinched fruit from my puddings, stayed out at night in storms, ran around the garden in circles like Basil Fawlty, and needed to be lifted down from the tree each night and put to bed. She was a very sweet little creature, and all I can hope for her is that it was quick.

I didn’t know what to do with her last eggs, they suddenly seemed so precious, so I did what we used to do and entered them into the village show. She won first prize, of course, she always did.

Now there are just two. Sasha and Margaret. What will we do?

I took a trip to Haarlem with Polly. We wandered the streets, saw blossom and cats and beautiful window displays. We ate croquettes and tapas and things we probably shouldn’t have eaten. We bought souvenirs from the second-hand market and postcards from everywhere we went, and a very kind man gave me a tea towel. What a dream. Haarlem is a beautiful city, with a selection of amazing museums – Het Dolhuys, Frans Hals Museum, the Corrie ten Boom House, and Teyler’s Museum (with it’s incredible collection of rocks and shells, fossils and bones).

Full adventures in Haarlem, available to read here.

I went to Grenoble, rode the cable car to the Bastille, drank Chartreuse, saw the street art, ate the cheese, visited the Museum of Art, headed out to a vineyard.

I went to Vienne, rode the tram to the hill top, ate vichyssoise, saw the Roman temple, headed out to a pancake house, ate jam.

I also involuntarily mooned half of Grenoble airport. You should read about that here.

I went to Cheese Valley. It’s a real place, not a dream. I can’t even begin to explain what an incredible, enjoyable and fascinatingly bizarre time I had, and that’s okay, because I’ve already written about it in full detail for you, here. If you like cheese and cats, and more cheese, and stroop waffles and songs about cheese, and cheese warehouses, giant cheeses and ginger cheese, then you need to know about the cheese mecca that is Cheese Valley.

It was all so good that I wrote a Foodie Finds special on Cheese Valley for Surf4, and an article on grass cheese for Smallholding magazine.

On my way home I popped in to the gallery at 5&33 in Amsterdam to do a bit of research. I’ve been invited to curate an exhibition there, I’m excited about the possibilities.

We launched the new Shutter Hub website and services. It’s been a really positive experience, seeing how well it’s all been received. We’re a small team and we work hard, so every bit of feedback has been really valued.

We’ve been invited back to Cambridge University to partner with Art at the ARB on an exciting new exhibition project, and we’re working on exhibition projects in London and Amsterdam, too.

I sprinted the Elise at MIRA, Silverstone Stowe and Blyton Park. No trophies.

We went to my brother’s for his birthday, ate lunch in the garden, got annihilated by gnats in the woods.

We took part in our village yard sale. People asked for gun sights and Manchester United merchandise. I told a man that my dead grandmother would haunt the dinner service he haggled me on.

We went to Belgium, to Graspop festival, to see Killswitch Engage, and Iron Maiden. We visited the university city of Leuven and explored the beautiful streets during the longest day festival, we ate delicious food and toured the gothic town hall.

Before coming home we visited the Hortus Botanicus Lovaniensis, the oldest botanical garden in Belgium. If I could live in a palm house, I would.

I went to Croatia, wow, Croatia, and I glamped, which is something I never thought I would say, or want to say, but I loved it. I think it was helped by the brilliant company, but staying in a fancy pants tent at the side of the Adriatic Sea, eating the best food and drinking honey grappa, walking the historic streets of Pula and taking a boat to the National Park island of Brijini, well, it was all pretty unexpectedly epic to me.

Jayne and I went to France, to St Gilles Croix de Vie, to Festival Pil’Ours, to launch the Shutter Hub Because We Can! Exhibition.

We hired the cheapest car,‘ Chevrolet Spark or similar’, it said on the Thrifty website. It turned out to be a cute convertible Fiat 500. Not an Abarth, but still, cute.

We drove 130km from La Rochelle airport, and arrived at our hotel, Ker Louis. It was closed. We phoned and were told ‘Come back tomorrow!’ Jayne persevered, struggled, held her own in French, and was eventually told, in English, that there was a code for the door and our keys would be in our rooms. We chucked our bags in and then headed out to see if we could find some food. We asked in the hotel restaurant, no, we were too late, we were told. Then it clicked. The man from the phone! From his seated view in the restaurant, he watched everything, just didn’t help. It was like Fawlty Towers, but without the comedy.

Our exhibition launch was very well received, people were lovely, the festival was great, and opportunities to do more in the future were presented. Later in the afternoon we headed over to Le Fenoullier to see another one of the exhibitions. The local mayor appeared to be very taken with Jayne, talking very closely to her for quite some time, in French, which I struggled to understand fully. When we went to leave, he reached out and shook Jayne’s hand. In politeness, I extended my hand too… he pulled my finger. It wasn’t a joke (but it has provided me with lots of laughs!)

In the evening we ate a supermarket (Super U) picnic by the sea, and watched thousands of tiny silver fish swarm in the dark blue water of the bay. Later, when we walked into the town, there was an accordion band playing, and dozens of people dancing. It was more than wonderful.

Jayne came home vowing to be more French (she’s been eating cheese and watching Amelie) and I decided it’s about time I cracked out one of my piano accordions and got playing!

There’s a full report, feedback and lots of photos of the Because We Can! exhibition over here, on the Shutter Hub blog.

Oh, and,the Toiletries Amnesty website is up and running (and awesome, yeah!) We’ve even been featured by the Big Issue!

We really do still need your help though – if you can spare a few minutes just to have a look at the website, have a think and see if you know any organisations who would benefit from free toiletries, have a look and see if you’ve got something you can donate, tell your friends and help spread the word, and, if you can help financially at all, either through a small donation, or some kind of fundraiser, we’d be eternally grateful.

I guess this all explains why I’ve not written for a while? I’ll try to tone it down for a bit. Promise.

Croatia: Glamping by the Adriatic Sea at Arena One 99 Pomer

I’ve never seen the appeal of camping. Of course, in the past I had to do it, for festival glory, but waking up with a stranger rummaging in your tent, your wallet that you’d used as a tiny pillow missing, or even the majority of your tent missing as the rain pours on your face, are not things I would include on a holiday wish list.

My biggest fear about camping (aside from the above, and maybe the toilet issue) is that I’ll get run over while I sleep. Like really. Camping is hazardous.

On the other hand, I’ve never really understood glamping either, until now.

We flew early from Stansted to Pula, arriving in Pomer, Southern Istria, at Croatia’s first glamping destination, Arena One 99. A selection of 199 cabin-like ‘tents’ on a tree covered hillside, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Peace and quiet, blue water, blue sky.

Arena One 99 doesn’t allow cars on site (my concerns, eased) so along with our luggage we were delivered to our tents on electric golf carts (unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to drive). It didn’t take long to settle in. I could live like this. A self-contained space, double bed downstairs, double bed upstairs (a tent with an upstairs?!), a dining table, full kitchen, bathroom (with Elemis toiletries), and a flat screen tele and air-con unit above the bed. There’s even an app you can download and use to request anything else you need. If there’s anything else you need.

Croatia is known for its truffles, extra virgin olive oil, wine and honey, along with the fresh seafood, fish and meats. For lovers of quality, unadulterated food, this is the place. The extra virgin olive oil is like nothing I’ve ever tasted – a peppery hit in the back of the throat, strong and rich, and apparently suggested (for the health benefits) as the first thing you consume in the day.

We drank Medica grappa, a sweet honey liqueur. Strong, but deliciously easy to drink (something to note, before you get carried away!)

After an amazing lunch of chicken with celery and gherkin in a yoghurt sauce, roasted vegetables, fresh seared tuna, cured meats and truffle cheese dipped in honey, we headed to the beach. It took about a minute to get there.

The water was clear, the beach was stony, and I was a wobbling, giggling, whinging weirdo! It’s been a long time since I’ve swum in the sea (2002, Greece, underestimated distance to island from boat, do not want to relive that again) and whilst children charged in and snorkelled nearby, I was still nervous. I did swim, not far, and mostly round in circles, but I swam, and the water was beautiful and healing. (I’m not being a hippy. It did absolute wonders for my eczema).

In the evening we headed over to the Park Plaza Belvedere, in Medulin, for dinner. We tasted some of Croatia’s finest wines: the award winning Kozlovic, a crisp white wine of the golden valley area, and Teran, a dry red wine from the family winery of Franc Arman, which was rich and sooty, unusual, like the dust of an oak fire.

As the rain began to fall and the thunder rumbled in the sky, we moved inside for shelter. The light was a little dim, so I took my meat out in the rain to photograph for you, because I am loyal like that.

We had a wonderful evening, lots of delicious food, and great company. Back at my tent I slept really well, once I’d managed to tune out of the weird repetitive digital alarm-like sound, that I could hear, (and once Lynsey had stopped whatsapping to make sure everyone else could hear it and there wasn’t a bomb about to go off in her tent!)

We ate breakfast in Pula, at the Park Plaza Arena. Rice pudding. Plum dumpling. This is my new life now. Don’t expect me to come home.

In Fazana we boarded a boat for Brijuni Islands National Park. A set of 14 islands, the largest one contains, amongst other things, hotels, a golf course, café, gift shop, museums, a church, Roman ruins, a small safari park, and a dinosaur’s footprint. Visitors get to tour the island on a land train.

Covered in Bay, Myrtle, Strawberry, and Holme Oak trees (the guide described these as ‘like an umbrella, or a mushroom’), the island was former President Tito’s summer residence. A communist leader for 30 years from the end of the second world war, until his death in 1980, Tito used to drive around the island in his Cadillac Eldorado (you can too if you want to pay over £300 for 30 minutes) from his grand house, to his zoo, past his Shetland Ponies, a gift from Queen Elizabeth II, as he smoked cigars in his smart suits and entertained government leaders and film stars alike.

We drove through the park; on the right, some sheep and local goats, on the left, ‘the so cute baby zebra’, and then we reached a stop, for the viewing of Lanka. The lonely elephant. A gift, to Tito and to his elephant Soni, both from Indira Gandhi in the early 1970s. Soni died in 2010, and Lanka, now almost 50 years old, lives alone in a compound on the island. I’d dreamt I might get to see her, to look in her eyes and see she was well, maybe even get a cuddle, but I am full of dreams, and the reality is that when the crowd arrived, and people started calling ‘Lanka, Lanka,’ she retreated and hid behind a wall. As the land train left I saw her come out and watch us drive away.

I asked, and apparently, she’s too old to be moved, crossing the water is too unsafe. Perhaps she’s too old to be sedated? I’ve read that African elephants can live to 60-70 years, and I feel sad to think she might have to spend another 10 or 20 years alone, with nothing of interest to do. I think elephants can feel heartbreak. In the wild, or even in a zoo, she’d have had a herd to comfort her.

Many other animals were given to President Tito as gifts for his collection, and those that died were stuffed and displayed in one of the islands museums. Waste not want not.

We drove past the abandoned zoo, rusty bars on lion and bear enclosures, nature forcing its way through the concrete walls, and past the 4th Century olive tree, split straight down the middle during a storm in the 1980s, still bearing crops every year.

Land train tour over, we headed inside (past the Cadillac Eldorado in its special bus shelter shroud) to view the exhibition of taxidermy, and then Tito’s Museum, a vast collection of images of the President, in dapper dress, always, lavishly entertaining film stars, dignitaries and notable statesman.

In Fazana we ate lunch at Stara Konoba, right on the marina, watching the boats (when we could take our eyes off the puddings).

Back at Arena One 99 we headed uphill to the wellness centre. In amongst the trees we discovered a platform for yoga and meditation, hot tubs and a sauna, and tipis for therapeutic treatments. I opted for an ‘innovative wellness technology’ – a candle massage. My scent of choice? Spearmint. I was slightly apprehensive, I’m often allergic to things, but I needn’t have worried, the combination of the Adriatic Sea salt and the organic candle wax has been the best thing to ever happen to my unhappy skin.

The massage was relaxing, I was just lying there being dozy, listening to the gently repetitive music, when I heard a noise. ‘What was that?!’I thought, with utter surprise. Then I realised what it was. It was Dijana, the therapist, asking me to turn over. I was so zonked out, I’d forgotten she even existed!

An hour later I emerged from the tipi, like a butterfly from a cocoon (or something like that) and headed down to the beach. Whilst the others paddle boarded, (at one point I thought Lynsey might be heading out to sea, never to be seen again) I made friends on the shore with a small dancing crab.

Beachside, we ate dinner. Mushroom panacotta with rich peppery extra virgin olive oil, Ox stroganoff with gnocchi, beef with purée celery and spinach, cheesecake. The sun set, a warm and comforting glow across the horizon.

Over dinner we discussed the strange digital noise we’d all heard the night before. ‘It’s an animal!’ Dario told us, and while I was busy thinking ‘yeah right, nice try!’ he produced an image on his phone of the Sivi Cuk – little owl. This dear little creature makes the most manmade sound, a little ‘beep’ noise, perfectly timed.

That night I listened. Beep… bomp, beep… bomp, beep… bomp – there were two owls talking!

In the morning we headed into Pula to visit the Roman Amphitheatre. It’s the sixth largest in world, and back in the gladiator days it held 23,000 people (and a bunch of lions and panthers). It’s a vast space, built during the 1st Century, and I was amazed to hear that it had actually had a massive roof, made from sails and masts, for use in bad weather. A lot of the seating materials had been dismantled through the ages, but in the 1930s the Italians decided to repair and use the space as a venue, and in the 1950s a film festival started here.

We wandered around the city, admiring the Austrian and Italian architecture, heading for the cool shade when we could find it, then through the Arch of the Sergii and into the old town. We worked our way uphill for a view over the city and the 19th Century Uljanik shipyard, one of the world’s oldest working docks, and where, at night, the cranes are lit up beautifully, in an artwork, Lighting Giants, designed by Dean Skira.

Beside a fountain, in the centre of the town, we ate lunch at Bistro Alighieri, before heading back to Pula, to the park, to the paddleboards and the stony beach.

Our last night in Croatia, we headed over to the yacht club at the Park Plaza Histria, in Pula. Outside, on the terrace, we watched the sun set over the Adriatic Sea. Pastel tones, soft clouds, warm air, no dolphins, not tonight.

Drinks in the city at the Shipyard Pub, a visit to see the Lighting Giants, and then back to our tents. Our last night, too soon.

Not long after I’d drifted off, I was woken by the crack of thunder. Bright lightening flashed through the canvas walls as heavy rain poured down, thunder rumbling across the sky, shaking the ground. And, just above my head, above the canvas roof, in the tree, a little ‘beep… beep’ sought shelter from the storm.

I was a guest of PPHE Hotel Group. With the greatest thanks to Ben Frith, Dario Mijatovic and Arena One 99 for making this trip possible. As always, my opinions are my own (and my ability to eat truffle cheese dipped in honey, a skill I’m willing to perfect).

Welcome to the World of Karen Harvey: photographer, writer, creative consultant… self proclaimed cat whisperer, chicken wrangler and chief cake taster!