If you’d told Caroline Toplis four years ago that she’d be looking forward to celebrating Valentines’ Day as a newly-wed this week she wouldn’t have believed you. Sadly widowed after nearly 30 years in 2010, looking for romance was not something she was even contemplating when she booked a cooking holiday in October 2010. We caught up with her last week to find out more about the story behind this year’s unexpected Valentines celebrations.
Flavours Holidays: So had you ever been on holiday on your own before, Caroline?
Caroline: Never; sadly in May 2010 I lost my husband of nearly 30 years. We’d been together since we were very young so I’d never done any solo travelling in my youth or even had many trips away with girlfriends. Holidays had always been about us as a family. When I lost my husband, my world was turned upside down. I anxious to try and make positive changes and move forward in my life. I hated the feeling that ‘nothing could ever be the same again’ and that my life was frozen. So in addition to learning to be a bit more practical around the house I decided to take another positive step and plan a holiday for myself. I knew I didn’t want to go on holiday on my own on a classic package tour – the thought of sitting lonely on a sun lounger next to a swimming pool horrified me. However, going on a dating week was equally unappealing. I just wanted to get away and not have to impose as a ‘gooseberry’ on my friends who were all busy making holiday plans at the time.
I’d always enjoyed cookery so I thought perhaps a week away learning new recipes might be a good way to ease myself into the concept of going away alone. I did a lot of googling and came up with a Flavours cooking holiday in Italy. Whilst the company clearly welcomed solo travellers, it didn’t look like a classic holidays for singles which appealed to me.
Flavours Holidays: So how did you feel when you first set off on holiday?
Caroline: Excited but pretty terrified really. I needn’t have worried however. When I arrived at the airport, the villa host put me at ease immediately. At the villa, Livia introduced me to my fellow travellers. It was a small group, some were there for cookery like me and the others were learning Pilates. However soon we all got to know each other.
Flavours Holidays: How did you enjoy your first week away on holidays for singles?
Caroline: The week of my holidays for singles passed incredibly quickly and at the end of it I actually realised I’d had a really nice time – something I hadn’t actually been contemplating with all the anxiety I’d experienced around booking the trip in the first place. I then booked to go away the following summer to Umbria.
Flavours Holidays: So did you meet your husband in Umbria?
Caroline: No, we met on my next trip. I’d spent my first New Year’s Eve without my husband babysitting my grandson. I decided I wanted to do something for me to ring in New Year 2012. So when I spotted that Livia, my delightful villa host from Sicily, was leading a special New Year’s Eve tour I decided to go back for a New Year’s holiday.
Sicily enjoys a wonderfully mild climate, so it was a really pleasant place to be in December, too. Matt was amongst the tour group. There were quite a lot of us, around a dozen in total, but we all gelled really quickly over cookery lessons and sightseeing trips and it was a really happy New Year.
Flavours Holidays: So was this a holiday romance?
Caroline: No, not at all. During the trip we just got on as part of the group. I didn’t even really consider there could be anything more at that point, it was just an enjoyable holiday. When we all returned to the UK, we swapped emails and kept in touch via Facebook. Gradually, Matt and I struck up an email correspondence over the next few weeks. He then invited me to be his date at a dinner dance. To be quite honest, that was the first time I’d considered that there may be the possibility of more than friendship between us and to my surprise I was excited and ready to find out. So I said yes. At the time Matt lived in Leicestershire, which was only an hour or so from my home in Yorkshire so it was easy to keep in touch and get to know each other. We married nearly 18 months after we first met and were delighted to have a number of our original travelling companions at the ceremony.
Flavours Holidays: A love of cookery brought you together, is cookery an important part of your marriage?
Caroline: Most definitely, yes. We often unwind on a Friday night trying out new recipes and rediscovering old favourites. Naturally we both enjoy Italian cuisine. My favourite is fresh crab and prawn ravioli, whereas Matt loves to cook risotto. We still both have a keen interest in becoming better cooks and will be departing on our first Flavours cooking holiday together in May, this time to Puglia.
Flavours Holidays: So how will you be celebrating your first Valentine’s Day together as a married?
Caroline: We plan to let someone else do the cooking and have dinner at a local restaurant, obviously raising a glass or two of Prosecco.