To ring in the New Year, my family and I rented a farmhouse for a few days on the outskirts of Ferrara. Thinking back to the trip, the timing wasn’t ideal. Ferrara was freezing and on New Year’s Eve, the fog was so thick on our drive into town to watch the fireworks over Castello Estense that we wondered if we should even go out at all. Continue reading Five Favorite Flavors From Ferrara and Modena
With its rough coastline, deep blue ocean, and color-drenched markets and hillsides – think bougainvillea, oleander, lemons, and orange blossoms – the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana in Italian) is one of the most sought-after seaside destinations in Italy. Similar to Liguria’s Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, just south of Naples, is a series of cliff-side towns linked by culture and geography. Typically, the Amalfi Coast is listed as one entity. But if you’ve heard of any of its towns separately, most likely you will know of Ravello, Positano, and Amalfi. The nearest cities to the Costiera Amalfitana, Sorrento and Salerno, act as bookends to this luscious, Mediterranean zone.
The Amalfi Coast evokes so many gorgeous images for me, so I’m very excited to be able to share more information about this area in a new Five Favorites post by Laura Thayer. Laura runs the excellent Amalfi Coast-focused blog Ciao Amalfi!, which is a chronicle of her life in this wondrous little nook of the Italian peninsula. Her following five favorite reasons for loving the Amalfi Coast are personal but I think they hold some solid tips for anyone who wants to travel there.
Five Favorites: The Amalfi Coast
For most people it only takes one quick glance at a photograph of the rocky and dramatic shores of the Amalfi Coast to make it a dream destination. Life’s twists and turns—much like the serpentine roads that wind along the coastline—have brought me to a new life on the Amalfi Coast. It is a place of striking opposites, of both intense and surprisingly simple pleasures, that continue to impress me day by day. Here are five of my favorite experiences about life on the Amalfi Coast.
The Brilliant Blue Sea
Don’t come to the Amalfi Coast expecting wide, sandy beaches. Instead, you’ll find pebbly beaches, rocky coves, and the brilliant blue sea. One of the best ways to see the Amalfi Coast is to rent a small boat and explore the tiny, out of the way beaches and grottoes. Find the most tempting spot – with water the color blue of your dreams – and dive in!
Duomo of Amalfi
Many people are shocked when they first step foot into the main piazza of the small seaside town of Amalfi and encounter the Cathedral of Amalfi, called the Duomo. Golden mosaics glitter in the sunlight on this Neo-Byzantine revival façade dating from the late 19th century. Most days the steps are crowded with groups of tourists taking photos, local teenagers lounging about, and children trying to eat gelato faster than it melts in the warmth of the summer sun.
Food & Wine
Living on the Amalfi Coast and learning how to shop and prepare the regional dishes has made food and cooking an integral part of my daily life. The simplicity of good food here has taught me a great deal about enjoying what is fresh and locally produced. Fish that was caught fresh that morning, wine grown and produced on the steep mountain terraces along the Amalfi Coast, cheeses made just up the road, and apricots from my neighbors gardens. When you visit the Amalfi Coast, don’t miss the chance to try some of the excellent wines produced on the small towns of Furore and Tramonti, or the renowned Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese made from cow’s milk in the mountain village of Agerola, or the limoncello (a lemon liqueur) made in most of the villages along the coastline.
Ceramics are a part of everyday life on the Amalfi Coast. In almost every town you’ll find shops full of colorful hand-painted ceramics. Inside many churches the floors are covered with beautiful ceramic tiles, and the bright majolica-tiled domes of the churches in Positano, Praiano, Cetara, and Vietri sul Mare shine in the sunlight over the towns. Head to Vietri sul Mare, where ceramic production dates back to the 15th century, to find the best shopping.
Hiking on Ancient Pathways
After a few days relaxing by the beach, grab a pair of good walking shoes and explore the mountains – the other side of the Amalfi Coast. Long before the road was built, the only option for getting around on land was to take the stone steps and pathways that still connect all of the towns and villages. Walking is one of the pleasures of my life here, far away from the summer crowds and deep into the sleepy daily life on the Amalfi Coast.
Laura Thayer is an art historian and freelance writer living on the Amalfi Coast in Campania, Italy. She writes about travel for MNUI travel insurance and blogs about life on the Amalfi Coast at her own site Ciao Amalfi.
Photos © Laura Thayer, Ciao Amalfi!
To many a traveler, Tuscany and art are synonymous. From the architecture to the numerous galleries to those gorgeous, green, and cliché hills, there’s an element of art in every corner of Tuscany. Continue reading Five Favorites: Art in Tuscany
Have you ever wanted to rent a villa in Italy but didn’t know where to start? Or, are you having trouble being convinced of the value and/or utility of renting a villa over booking a hotel? This excellent guest post, from Linda Dini Jenkins, author of Up At the Villa: Travels With My Husband, provides five great reasons how renting a villa can work with your travel lifestyle and budget. And, if Linda’s five reasons don’t spur you to action, her fun photography, featured throughout this post, should have you wanting to research Italian villas right away.
Are you ready to start planning your Italy villa vacation? Let’s get started!
Five Favorites: Reasons to Rent a Villa in Italy
There’s nothing I like better than gathering up six of my friends and my husband and heading off to Italy for a villa vacation. The first time I did this, I was a villa newbie and didn’t know what to expect. But since that first world-changing trip in June of 2000, I’ve gone almost every year and the experience just gets richer and richer.
Most villa rentals are offered for a week at a time, with a Saturday afternoon arrival and a departure the following Saturday morning. But check around — I know some offer more flexibility, with shorter stay options; it’s up to the owner and/or rental company. But why, with all the affordable hostels (if you’re young) and wide range of hotels (if you’re older, like me) would I opt to stay in a stranger’s home for a week or two? Let me count the ways . . .
1. Unpack once. Maybe twice.
Packing and unpacking are not the highlights of anyone’s holiday. So even if you’re visiting two regions over a two-week period (one year, for instance, we stayed one week on the Italian Riviera in Pieve Ligure and one week outside of Rome, in Frascati) you can stay put for a week at a time and only have to re-pack once. That means you can focus your attention on the village or city you’re staying in, and not whether your underwear is dry enough to put into the bag today.
2. Live like a native.
You start to feel like this is your home. You relax a little, maybe get to know some townspeople or at least the keyholder or caretaker. You can practice your Italian. Frequent the local trattorias and caffés. Haggle with the natives over the gorgonzola or a colorful scarf at the weekly mercato. Take a rest in the afternoon. Stroll through the piazza, arm-in-arm, after dinner with the villagers. You can even do laundry in most villas (washing machine are common; dryers are a luxury, but your clothes will smell amazingly fresh from drying outside in the sun all day). Renting a villa lets you enjoy an authentic Italian experience away from the touristy fast lane that hotel living usually implies.
3. Eat like a local.
If you’re like me, trying out different restaurants on holiday is half the fun. I love exploring the side streets and finding out where the Italians eat with their families. And I also love going all-out once or twice during my stay and eating in a place that I’ve read or heard about. But during the course of a week or two, this can get expensive. What I really like is meandering down to my very own kitchen in my bathrobe in the morning and putting on a pot of espresso, then opening the bag of cornetti and letting the aromas wake everybody up. A little Italian yogurt (it’s so creamy over there!) and some fruit is all you need at the table to help everybody wake up and plan the day. No “I’ve got to get out of the room so they can clean” or “Where can we all go to get a cup of coffee this morning? (and will we all have to stand up?)”. It’s your house. Get started when you want to. And be sure to buy some food at the local supermercato and try cooking dinner once in a while. And eat it al fresco on the patio that no doubt comes with the villa. Watch the scenery go by as you sip a glass of local wine that’s still so cheap you can’t believe it, and mamma mia — you’ll wonder why you waited so long to do this!
4. Gather together.
This one’s easy: you’re traveling in a group and you want some quality time together in addition to seeing the sites. Where the heck do you do that in a hotel? The lobby? Usually, too small or impersonal. The bar? Only for so long and only at certain times of the day. In a villa, you’re home. There are living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens, sitting rooms, bedrooms . . . you can hang out anywhere. Take a walk through the piazza. Lounge in the garden or poolside, if there’s a pool. The kind of stress you sometimes feel in a hotel vacation just isn’t here. A villa is your home away from home. Relax and talk to one another. Tell stories. Write in your journal. Take photos. Plan for tomorrow. Somehow, it’s different in a villa. You’re in control of your time and itinerary.
5. Save money.
While this is the factor that gets most people to try villa vacations, experienced villa renters realize that, although price is very attractive vs. hotel stays, the other four “reasons why” are really much more important. That said, imagine if you wanted to go to Florence or Rome for a week with another couple, and each couple wants its own room. Reasonable hotels start at around $150 and go to more than $500 per night for two people (much more, of course, if money is no object). Say you found something for $200 per room . . . that’s $2800 for two rooms for one week. And all you’ve got is a room. You have to buy all your meals out (you might get a little breakfast, if you’re lucky). And every time you go in and out of your room, you’ve got to turn in your key, then get it back, etc. etc. It can be a pain. Now, if you were renting a villa, you and that couple plus one or two other couples could stay in a well-appointed country home or updated city apartment (maybe even historic) for that amount and divide it three of four ways. So instead of $1400 per week per couple, you could be down to $700. And you’ve got all the advantages laid out above.
Finding the right villa takes some time, admittedly. You need to figure out the number of bedrooms and bathrooms required, the location, whether you’ll be driving or relying on public transportation, how much you’ll cook, to pool or not to pool . . . but that’s part of the fun of planning. You can spend as little as a few hundred dollars a week for a cozy place for two or tens of thousands of dollars for a grand historic palazzo in the country for a wedding or family reunion. For me, it’s the only way to go! Buon viaggio!
Linda Dini Jenkins is a unabashed Italophile and the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband, which was named one of the “Ten Travel Books I’d Give My Girlfriends” in 2009 by Journeywoman.com. Linda is also strangely attracted to Italian doorknockers. She blogs about travel and travel writing at www.travelthewriteway.com.
All photos © Linda Dini Jenkins
This week I’m resuming the guest post feature “Five Favorites” with a post that I myself have been meaning to write. Luckily, my friend Matthew Long over at the travel blog Landlopers.com stepped in to write about his five favorite obelisks in Rome. He has even provided some interesting historical notes about obelisks, stumping even this Rome lover with his knowledge and unique selections.
If you’re a food or travel blogger and/or Italy expert and would like to write about your five favorite things in Italy, send me a tweet @italofileblog or contact me with a proposal. And now, without further ado…
Five Favorites: Roman Obelisks
Oddly enough, Rome is a city of obelisks. Amongst the most impressive are eight ancient Egyptian and five ancient Roman obelisks spread throughout the city like chess pieces.
Obelisks were prominent in the architecture of the ancient Egyptians, who placed them in pairs at the entrance of temples. After the invasion of Egypt, not only did the Romans export several impressive obelisks to the Eternal City, but they commissioned many of their own.
I remember the first time I saw one of these seemingly out of place structures near the Pantheon. I was intrigued not only by the Egyptian influence in Rome, but the remarkable way in which the city has adopted the monoliths as their own. Here are five of my favorite Roman obelisks.
Arguably the most famous of Rome’s obelisks is the Vaticano obelisk, found in Vatican city. This remarkable edifice was originally brought to Rome by Caligula in 37 for the Vatican Circus. Although it has been moved, it is the only obelisk not to have been toppled since the time of the ancient Romans.
Not only is Lateranense obelisk Rome’s tallest but it is also the largest standing ancient Egyptian obelisk in the world. Originally from Karnak, it was eventually brought to Rome in 357 to decorate the Circus Maximus. It disappeared from history during the dark ages and was found in the 16th century in three pieces. Pope Sixtus V restored the obelisk and today it can be found in the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano.
Behind the Pantheon is a small church, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, the only Gothic church in Rome. I know it fairly well because I once stayed in a hotel next door to this remarkable, quiet basilica. It was during this stay that I noticed a strange looking obelisk in front of the church.
Originally part of a pair, the Minerveo obelisk was brought to Rome by Diocletian for the nearby Temple of Isis. Found in the 17th century it was erected by Pope Alexander VII and sits on a gorgeous elephant base designed by Bernini.
One of the city’s five ancient Roman obelisks, Agonalis is red granite monolith erected to celebrate the emperor Domitian. It was later moved to the Circus of Maxentius and finally broken down in 5 pieces in 309. Like many of Rome‘s other obelisks, it was restored in the 17th century and is currently located in the Piazza Navona on top of the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.
This is another obelisk seen by millions of tourists, few of whom realize the history behind their photographic subject. Located over a fountain in front of the Pantheon, Macuteo was originally part of the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis and was moved to the Temple of Isis in Rome near the Minerveo obelisk. It was found in the 14th century and found a home on the Capitoline and was relocated to its current location in the 18th century.
Matthew Long, Editor-in-Chief and creator of LandLopers.com, has a true passion for traveling. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to do it all on a budget. Matt is a Lonely Planet Featured Blogger, as well as a contributor to TravelBlogSites.com, Traveldudes and Travel Tidbits. Contact Matt at Matt @ LandLopers dot com.
Since I started “Five Favorites,” a feature to showcase the expertise and interests of guest Italophile bloggers, we’ve seen posts about Lucca, Beaches in Calabria, and Recipes from Rome. This week’s installment, about the Italian language, is from Jessica Spiegel of BootsnAll’s WhyGo Italy guide. And, it’s so appropriate that Jess would write about language as she is so skilled at making words dance upon the page (or screen). Jessica’s list of Five Favorite Italian Words also got me thinking: what are your favorite Italian words? Feel free to comment after the post with your faves (though keep it clean – this is a family blog!). I think I, too, will have to save my favorite words for the comment box as I’m too scombussolata* right now to think of a few!
Here’s another installment of Five Favorites, this time from a born-and-bred Italian. Eleonora (Lola) Baldwin writes not one, but two food blogs – one in English and the other in Italian. I’m very excited that this native Roman wanted to share with Italofile readers her five favorite typical Roman dishes. And you don’t have to wait to go to Rome to try these as Lola has provided recipes!
Five Favorites: Recipes from Rome
I’m a favorites freak. I have favorites in every category – authors, colors, artists, foods, cities, wines, bands, movies – you name it. So imagine how excited I was to participate in Italofile’s fabulous new feature Five Favorites. And since I am a Roman citizen, and among my favorite activities are eating, cooking, writing, and traveling, here is my Five Favorite Roman Dishes, listed in dream-menu order starting with an antipasto, followed by a starchy opener, a protein entrée, a delicious veggie side dish, and a non-sweet meal ending. All of these are traditional and authentic recipes hailing from the Eternal City. Shall we begin? Unfold your napkin and prepare to salivate.
Fiori di Zucca Fritti – Fried Zucchini Blossoms
There have been millions of words written on the zucchini flower. The forerunner of the ever-burgeoning mottled cylinders, are edible. More than edible, they’re delicious! That which some just chuck away as waste, can in fact become a delectable antipasto, part of a pasta condiment or even a salad element. Gather those blossoms while you can and prepare for yet another true Roman taste bud epiphany.
15 zucchini flowers
4 salted anchovy fillets (optional)
200 gr (1 cup) mozzarella, diced
100 gr (1/2 cup) unbleached all purpose flour
Oil for frying
Trim pistils and stems off the flowers, paying extra attention not to break them, they are quite delicate. Wash carefully with water and baking soda, rinse with plenty cold water and pat dry with paper towel.
Cut the mozzarella in strips and finely chop the anchovies (if you’re using them). Stuff each blossom with some mozzarella and a dab of anchovy mash and uncork a bottle of white Colli Albani wine.
In a mixing bowl, blend a 1/2 glass (or more) of chilled sparkling water, flour and salt until fluffy and add a dash of beer or a pinch of baking soda for an even more lightweight batter.
Dip the stuffed flowers in the batter open side up and deep fry in scalding olive oil. Briefly park on paper towel and serve hot with the remaining wine, if any is left.
Bucatini Cacio e Pepe
This typical Roman pasta dish is a simple cheese and pepper combination hallmark of Testaccio, the ancient housing project development and ex meat slaughtering district in the southern section of the Peninsula’s capital. Cacio e Pepe is particularly suited as a rewarding quick fix for self-invited last minute guests or post-fornication midnight munchies.
500 gr (1 lb) bucatini, thick hollow noodles. They can be substituted with virtually any ribbed or long strand pasta (in U.S. supermarkets, look for perciatelli if you can’t find bucatini -MMR)
1/2 cup sharp Roman Pecorino cheese, grated
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
Cook the pasta al dente in 1 gallon of lightly salted boiling water. Drain and save some cooking water for later. Toss with the grated cheeses and pepper, blending well and if necessary adding some starchy cooking water, should they become too thick and dry. Devour at tongue-burning temperature and revel.
Saltimbocca alla Romana
Roman-style “jump in the mouth” cutlets whose name is remarkably appropriate–you can never eat enough of these deliciously tender veal cutlets topped with prosciutto and sage. Serves a hungry 2 (or regular appetite 4).
500 gr (1.1 lb) lean veal, cut into 8 thin playing card-sized scaloppine
60 gr (2 oz) prosciutto, cut into wafer-thin slices, about 4
Unsalted butter for sautéing
8 Fresh sage leaves
Dash of salt
If your butcher was lazy when he carved the veal and your slices are too thick, hammer them with a kitchen cleaver held flat. Lay half a slice of prosciutto on each, and a sage leaf. Fasten these to the veal cutlet with one or two toothpicks.
Heat a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter in a skillet and sauté the cutlets until just done, cooking them more on the veal side than the decorated side (salty, overcooked prosciutto tends to become leathery). Season your saltimbocca to taste and hop them in your mouth, along with their savory drippings.
Puntarelle are the sprouts of a chicory variety called cicoria di catalogna, puntarelle chicory or asparagus chicory, picked while still young and tender. They are in season from November to January.
The preparation of this salad is a little complex, fortunately puntarelle are sold in Rome’s farmers’ and corner markets already trimmed and “curled”.
The sprouts and shoots of the puntarelle are cut lengthwise into long, thin strips and soaked in acidulated ice-cold water for an hour. This causes the crunchy pale green chicory to curl up in extraordinary Shirley Temple-style curls, become juicier and less bitter. The recipe for the punchy dressing of this very particular salad dates back to ancient Rome.
Assemble the following ingredients for a taste of true Roman flavor.
1 kg (2.2 lbs) puntarelle (can be substituted with Belgian endive or the youngest curly chicory you can find)
8 anchovy fillets packed in salt, cleaned (can be substituted with regular oil-preserved anchovies)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
The juice of 1/2 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Prepare a creamy pesto with minced garlic, anchovies, splash of lemon juice (not too much!) very little salt, pepper and plenty olive oil. Pestle and mortar would be best, but if you use a mezzaluna or a kitchen knife to chop finely and then mix with a wire whisk, I won’t tell anyone. Stir and allow the dressing to sit for 10 minutes.
Drain the puntarelle, dry with a kitchen towel or spin-dry carefully. Trickle the obtained velvety beige dressing over the chilled and curled puntarelle salad, toss, allow it to sit for another few minutes, and expect to face reduced social life for the next 3 days (garlic).
Note: If you’re particularly in a rush and decide to use anchovy paste instead of fillets, just cut down on the salt and–again–count on my discretion.
Fave & Pecorino
April 25th and May 1st are very important Italian National holidays. One celebrates the Country’s liberation after 20 years of fascism, and the other is Italian Labor Day. On both dates all activity stops, newspapers don’t go into press, all business shuts down and people migrate to nearby rural locations laden with copious amounts of packed picnic food. Bucolic folly and loud outdoor snoring are a must because the milder climate, blooming vegetation and diffused hormone surge, make a pastoral occasion on such holidays a necessity. Families and friends make for their countryside destinations loading their cars with picnic tablecloths, soccer balls and baskets of Pantagruelian delicacies, which require among them large amounts of fresh fava beans and sharp Roman Pecorino cheese. The tangy crunch of the raw beans and the aggressive dairy combo is downright divine. It is a synonym of Roman spring. And quite a potent digestive too!
When she’s not shooting on location around the world on a film set as script supervisor–or writing a food/travel column–you’ll most probably find Eleonora (Lola) Baldwin busy cooking in her Rome kitchen. Eleonora is currently editing her Italian cookbook/lifestyle manuscript, and is the author/editor of two popular weblogs: AGLIO, OLIO & PEPERONCINO, focuses on Italian cuisine, food history, travel musings, and local hang-outs. FORCHETTINE, written in Italian, is a food-lover’s online guide in which the author reviews restaurant facilities and regional specialties in Italy. You can also follow Eleonora on Twitter @passerotto.
It seems that I’m not the only one thinking of lazing on a beach right about now. This week, Italofile has another guest blogger, Cherrye Moore,
who writes the blog My Bella Vita and runs the Il Cedro B&B with her Calabrese husband. She has chosen to write about the Five Best Beaches in Calabria.
Five Favorites: Beaches in Calabria
If the idea of warm sand rubbing your toes and a fresh Mediterranean breeze blowing in the background makes you dream of warmer days, then it is time to start planning your summer vacation … in Calabria. With more than 500 miles of coastline, wrapping around seaside villages and swooping cliffs, Calabria is packed with beaches in every shape, size, and color and choosing which ones to visit is tough. As a certifiable beach bum and Calabria connoisseur I’ve made the rounds. And here, in no particular order, are the five best beaches in Calabria.
Praia a Mare
Located on the northwest coast of Calabria just south of the Basilicata border, Praia a Mare’s two kilometer-long sand and pebble beach is among the best in the country, but even that’s not the main attraction. Jutting from beneath the shimmering blue waters just off of the shore is Isola di Dino. Once called “Rabbit Island,” Isola di Dino is four kilometers in perimeter and reaches 65 meters into the sky. There are no beaches on the island, so travelers spend the day exploring the island’s sea caves, most notably the Lion’s Grotto, where stalagmites jut from the limestone floor or the Blue Grotto, where lights magically glimmer from beneath the cave.
Continuing south along the Tyhrranian Coast, Diamante’s sparkling waters and glistening coastline beacon travelers to stop-and once they do, they are hooked. Although Diamante’s beach overflows with bright white sand, the real attraction is just off of the coast. Diamante is famous with foodies throughout Italy for its annual Peperoncini Festival where local vendors spice things up by creating dishes such as chili pepper shrimp, chili pepper chocolate, even chili pepper liquor. The 150 hand-painted murals in Diamante’s historical center have earned it the nickname, “The City of Art.”
Tropea is by far the most touristy name in Calabrian beaches and with a strip of coast that is only 500 meters long and 30 meters wide, it is often brimming with beach-goers anxious to bask in the Mezzogiorno sun. The sand is soft, the cliffs are steep and the water on the edge is a bright Easter egg turquoise-green that slowly fades into light green, then azure blue and finally sapphire. In peak season, the beach is packed with wooden bungalows selling sandwiches, gelato and drinks and there are a dozens of pizzerias, seafood restaurants and bars lining the beach front.
This mystical village is plucked from Greek mythology and was one of the locations featured in The Odyssey. According to Homer, a six-headed sea monster names Scylla slept on the shores of this town and attacked sailors as they attempted to pass the Straits of Messina. She eventually attacked Ulysses’ crew, capturing six of his men, but he escaped her grasp. Located just 22 kilometers north of Reggio Calabria on Calabria’s west coast, Scilla is still guarded by Ruffo Castle, the 11th Century fortress that sits on the cape that once overshadowed the slumbering Scylla. The soft-sand beach is one kilometer long and 60 meters wide and on a clear day offers easy views of nearby Sicily.
Located on Calabria’s east coast near Catanzaro, Caminia is one in a string of beaches that make the Ionian Coast one of the most beautiful-and untouched-stretches of land in Italy. Caminia, along with neighboring Pietragrande and Copanello beaches, rival Calabria’s west coast beaches in terms of dramatic cliffs, panoramic views and warm, clean water, but are much less developed in terms of tourism and services. The main attraction at Caminia is the beach itself, which features fine, light tan sand, bright sun and relaxation.
Today I am starting a brand new feature at Italofile called Five Favorites.
The segment is a chance for me to invite fellow Italy bloggers and Italophiles to wax poetic about five favorite Italian things, be it characteristics of a town or region or five favorite foods, fashion designers, parks….anything Italy-related. Continue reading Five Favorites: Lucca