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This year I decided to give myself a break from the normal Roman Tourist scene, and decided to dedicate my trip to other important aspects of the Eternal City. Lately it seems that for every client interested in Art, Architecture, and History, there is another traveler whose interests are more aligned with shopping, dining, cooking and the like. I am not one to judge, but only to serve at the needs of Bravo’s customers.
This morning I hopped on the tram (an efficient and inexpensive means of transport), and headed to meet our Culinary Tour specialist for a day of tasting and learning about Rome and its’ food history. Our first interesting nugget was learning that the Roman cuisine is known as “Quinto Quarto,” (fifth quarter) which refers to the offal that was leftover and distributed throughout Rome after a cow was slaughtered. We started as you might expect…with a morning cappuccino at Caffe Peru. Yes, it’s true, a cappuccino is only acceptable as your first coffee drink of the day. Caffe Peru is a lovely bar with a great staff, and on my favorite street in Rome: Via Guilia. Next, we wandered through Trastevere where we had a wonderful potato pizza at Boccaccia. You cannot experience a Roman Culinary Tour without a visit to the Market at Campo dei Fiori, one of the most famous markets in the world. Bring your camera, as all foods are colorful, ripe, and swelling with juices. Just as obvious as our tour starting with a cappuccino was the finale of a gelato. Cremeria Monteforte gave me yet another gelato option to recommend for those with a sweet tooth.
Many people come to Norcia as part of a religious pilgrimage to the birthplace of St. Benedict. I was drawn to the outer edge of Umbria, nestled at the base of the Appenine Mountains for other pursuits. I was here to explore the naturalistic beauty of the territory, indulge in the culinary delights, and enjoy some luxury in the relatively new Palazzo Seneca.
Arriving late in the afternoon, I quickly head to the main square: Piazza San Benedetto. I had forgotten that piazzas such as this still exist, where only Italian is spoken, pedestrians sparse, and a few local children kicking around the ball. I am comforted by the realization this scene lives on.
I continue down Via del Corso, where small shops known as Norcineria, sell the area’s local delicasies: black truffles, salami, and cheese. The shops proudly boast your typical “kitsch,” mostly menacing boar heads. I was literally dragged into one such shop as an old, friendly, Italian man was eager to share his NYC history with a New Yorker. This wasn’t the only such experience. The warmth and desire to engage foreigners was a continuous treat during my stay. These visits were always pepppered with “assagia, assagia, mangia, mangia,” pleads for me to sample the local fare.
The Palazzo Seneca is first class in every respect, from the welcoming staff who cannot do enough, the family whose presence is always available to ensure your satisfaction, and the careful design in the rooms and throughout the Property.
One of the attractions of Norcia is the town of Castelluccio, easily accessed by car. Climb up and over the mountain to discover the imposing and boundless “Great Plain.” The fields are at their most impressive in the Spring, as the flowers blossom into an explosion of colors. I was told that the town had become a haven for those looking to escape from their life, or drop off the proverbial radar. A quirky local tradition is the graffiti that boldly decorates the walls of the homes and buildings, commenting on everything from town gossip to politics.
Don’t forget to include Norcia in your Umbrian vacation.
Driving through the Val D’ Orcia is among the greatest experiences for a driver or passenger. The five towns of the area are separated by a soft, winding road that splits the landscape of vineyards and olive groves. Postcard views of cypress trees grouped as one, or climbing another hill are ubiqituous.
My first stop was Montalcino, where it is all about the wine. That is not to say the town is not beautiful….it is, but normally one visits Montalcino for the Brunello. The town has some delightful wine bars, “Osticcio” and “Alle Logge” are two of my preferred, offering both lovely wines, and stunning views.
Do not leave Montalcino without a visit to the nearby Abbey of Sant Antimo. Time your visit to coincide with the Monks Gregorian Chants.
Next up on my agenda was Pienza, famous for the pecorino cheese, found on most panini in Tuscany and beyond. Pienza is quaint, and even more so in the mornings and evenings when the day’s tourists return to their home base. You will not find a better place to sit and relax than the short Via dell’ Amore, tucked behind the Duomo and running along the Valley.
Plan ahead and make dinner reservations at the family run Latte di Luna, you will need them. Try the pici and the pork. Buon Appetito!
I arrived in Pietrasanta thinking at best I might find a good place to send our travelers interested in visiting Cinque Terre. What a found was a town that had so much more to offer than easy access to the Italian Riviera.
Pietrasanta is an artisan community, reflected by the many art galleries that dot the streets. The town evolved into a haven for artisans and sculptors due to its’ proximity to the nearby marble quarry. An overlooked aspect of the town is the wonderful restaurants serving Tuscan fare. My favorites were Cerbero and Pinochhio, both trendy, yet warm, fun, and delicious!
I recommend hiring one of our private drivers to explore the Cinque Terre, so as not to miss the wonderful vistas afforded driving along the highway. Traveling by train is a more affordable option, but deprives one of some of the best views while in tunnels on the train.
Explore the area by foot and ferry. You will obviously want to walk between Riomaggiore and Manarola, known as “Via dell’Amore.” Enjoy a seafood lunch, washed down with Vermentino wine.
Other wonderful options for your time in Pietrasanta include excursions to nearby Lucca, Pisa, shopping in the lovely Forte dei Marmi, or perhaps a spa treatment at Grotta Giusti.
This morning I was picked up by my driving guide who took me to Carrara to get an up close look at the marble quarries that support the town. Driving through Carrara you notice huge blocks of all kinds of stone which are shipped here from all continents to be cut by the machinery and specialists in this town which has been doing this for as long as it takes to be considered the best.
Finally it was time to climb the mountain of marble. We zigzagged our way up the mountain of white marble, as workers carried on with their business of pulling the marble out of the interior of the mountain. I was surprised at our access, as the trucks and machinery had to maneuver around us. Thankfully my Guide Gabriele understands the way to gain this special access….grease the operators with beer and wine of course. During our tour. I learned much more than I anticipated about marble, how it is the best stone for cutting with precision.
It was also interesting to learn how the town of Colonna became famous for its’ still reknown lard sandwiches. It was discovered that the best source of energy for the workers (slaves) was animal fat. This lard also generated a nice layer of extra fat on the slaves to help fight against the cold temperatures on the mountain in the Winter. The recipe for the lard is quite scientific, and involves layering pig shoulder, spices, and other ingredients in a huge tub of marble for no less than 6 months….aren’t you getting hungry just thinking about it? Somewhere Homer is murmuring, “mmmmmmm pig shoulder.”
As I boarded the ferry after arriving in Como, I was frantically trying to negotiate doing everything I wanted to in the limited time I had. I grabbed a seat out back under the open sky and began worrying about ferry schedules, Villa hours of operation, restaurant reservations, and so on… The concerns fell by the wayside as I finally took in the beautiful landscape I was fortunate to enjoy. Beams of sunlight danced across the mountaintops onto the Lake. The white-capped Swiss Alps rose dramatically from the V-shape created by the descending mountains. Now it hit me, Lake Como is best enjoyed on Lake Como, slowly making your way on the slow ferry from “pontile” “dock” to pontile, capturing whatever Villa, Garden, or other breathtaking scenery that was just coming into view.
I don’t mean to suggest I did not have my favorites. Villa Balbianello, seen in a Bond and Star Wars film, was more impressive than one can imagine. A visit to Bellagio should include a stroll through the Botanical Gardens of Villa Melzi. Lastly, take the gondola from Como to Brunate for a spectacular view of the Lake.