Month: April 2015

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Italy’s Lazio region

¿Are you looking for a day trip from Rome? You don’t have to go any further than Lazio, the region that’s home to Italy’s capital city!

This area is located just an hour from Rome by train, and the town and lake of Bracciano make the perfect escape. Also, the medieval town is quaint and lovely; the 15th-century Odescalchi castle has been the residence of two different papal families (the Borgias and Orsini), and played host to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

When he wanted to escape from Rome, Emperor Hadrian came to his sprawling, luxurious villa outside the city. Much of the villa remains intact today, with columns, marble pavement, and ancient statues, and gives a tantalizing glimpse into the opulence of ancient Rome!

One of the key towns of the ancient civilization of Etruria, Sutri today has 64 Etruscan tombs dating all the way back to the 6th to 4th centuries B.C. (that’s 600 years before the current Pantheon was built in Rome!).

The Roman amphitheater here is also worth seeing.

Easily reachable by train from Rome, Albano Lake makes an ideal escape in the warmer months.

Located on the top of a mountain in Lazio’s lush Monti Simbruini, Cervara di Roma is a medieval town unlike any other.

In an attempt to attract more visitors, the people of Cervara-who number less than 500-have made their town a destination for artists, welcoming international artists and art students and allowing them to create sculptures, murals, and other pieces on the walls and stones of the town.

As a result, a visit to Cervara doesn’t just mean striking views of the surrounding countryside, but a tour through a living art museum!

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Tips for trips: Rome


For its food, its wine and its scenery, there really is no place like Tuscany.

For those taking a day trip from Rome we’d recommend visiting the hill town of Pienza for shopping, climbing the castle at Montalcino, visiting some of the famous Brunello di Montalcino vineyards and stops at some of the smaller towns such as Montepulciano, tiny little Monticchiello and if you have the time, the hot springs town of Bagno Vignoni.

It takes just one hour and costs 3 euros to take the train from Rome to Tivoli, a small town in Lazio with alot to offer!

One major sight here is Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli; this is where Emperor Hadrian came when he wanted to escape the capital.

Much of the sprawling, luxurious ancient villa remains intact today, with columns, marble pavement, and ancient statues, and gives a tantalizing glimpse into the opulence of ancient Rome!

If you take the train, just remember that you’ll then have to take one of the city buses from the center of Tivoli to Hadrian’s Villa, which is located outside of the town.

No matter what you’ve heard about Naples, make no mistake: This is one of the most fascinating, and definitely the liveliest, cities in Italy.

To get to Pompeii from Rome, you’d have to take the train to Naples (see above), then follow signs for the “Circumvesuviana”; you can check Circumvesuviana train times in advance, but they run every half hour or so.

If you want to visit a site that’s a little more manageable on your own, check out Herculaneum.

In Orvieto, make sure you don’t miss the town’s fascinating underground—the tunnels and caverns carved out some 3,000 years ago by the Etruscans—or its Duomo, with frescoes that inspired even Michelangelo.

Instead, take metro line B to the Piramide metro stop and follow signs to the Roma Porta San Paolo train station; take any of the trains, since they all go in the right direction, and get off at Ostia Antica.

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Painting and graffitti in the Colosseum!

Visitors come to the Colosseum will be able to see something really special: Original, painted decorations… Not only that, but some pretty interesting graffiti was discovered.

A lot of graffiti is written in admiration of the gladiators and their deeds. Found during a restoration of the third level, the gallery could be open as early as next summer.

But it probably will only be open to those who are booking the third-level access (which isn’t an automatic part of your normal Colosseum ticket, but instead is currently included in a visit of the hypogeum), so stay tuned!

You can book your tour of the Colosseum underground and third level with us here. And don’t miss our fun video of what it’s like to explore the Colosseum underground!

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Visiting Pompeii

Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the most visited sites in Italy and one of the most visited archaeological sites in all the world. The best possible way to see what life in ancient Rome was like, plan ahead with our easy guide to get the most out of your visit to Pompeii.

Travel time by road (without traffic – which is rare on these roads) is around 2.5 hours from Rome to Pompeii, 30 mins from Naples to Pompeii, 45 minutes from Sorrento to Pompeii and 4.5 hours from Florence to Pompeii (which pretty much rules it out as a day trip from Florence).

If you’re planning on visiting Pompeii from Rome, perhaps the easiest option, is to book our Pompeii & Amalfi Day Trip from Rome, which includes a guided tour of Pompeii, a scenic drive along the Amalfi Coast and a stop in Positano town.

The budget conscious will want to travel by train, which is largely easy to navigate and less expensive, although more time-consuming. You can view train times and prices as well as book your tickets in advance on From Napoli Centrale, take the Circumvesuviana train, the old but reliable commuter train of Campania, on the Napoli-Sorrento Circumvesuviana line.

The Circumvesuviana runs trains about every half hour and it takes about 30 minutes to arrive at your Pompeii stop, Pompeii Scavi – Villa dei Misteri. If you’d like to get a better view of the Almafi Coast (albeit a rocky, potentially crowded, view) take the SITA bus from Piazza Esedra in Naples or from the Sorrento train station.

The site has only one restaurant-cum-cafeteria of dubious quality, and the maps – if you can get one from the information booth – are not up to date (you may have to backtrack where streets have been blocked off). Remember, Pompeii was once an entire maritime city, and the current site is vast!

The fee to enter Pompeii is 11 euro, about 13 US dollars currently, but be sure you have cash: The ticket office doesn’t accept credit cards.

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Discovering italian wine in an enoteca regionale – Piedmont

My other half is now a sommelier through the AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) and that means that wine has now, more than ever, been a big part of our culinary experience. Since we only got a car 3 years ago, it’s been a great excuse to get out and discover the countryside where few buses and trains will go.Tasting Barolo in Barolo, Italy.

This Easter weekend we went back to Piemonte. We spent Easter there three years ago (you can read about the delicious Easter lunch we had) but this time we went to a different part of the region and focused solely on wine and countryside. I did drive by the Ferrero factory (makers of Nutella) but they don’t allow visits, so you can leave that off your itinerary for Piemonte.

Monforte in The #Langhe : vineyards, the #Alps, & #cloudporn #italy

The whole driving through the countryside to find wineries to stop in at and taste is not as popular as it is elsewhere, and I’m not sure if it ever will be. Places like agriturismi (bringing tourists to farms, ranches & wineries) cater to tourists, and some wine producers don’t want you showing up at their place of business without an invitation, so it’s best to do your research before setting out. If it’s a nice day, you might still get a great drive out of it, but if you’re looking to taste wine, it’s best you have a plan.

Piemonte wine countryside, Italy

My biggest tip is to look for the local “Enoteca Regionale” – the regional wine “repository” or shop – which features local wines; many which are not found elsewhere!  Another name to look out for is the “Cantina Comunale” – the city cantina- this will be much smaller in focus and may feature only uber-local wines and whatever else the people running the shop decide is worth their shelf space.

When in Barbaresco, drink…a wall of #Barbaresco. #vino #italy #wine

In my experience at the several ones I’ve been to, here’s what you can expect from an Enoteca Regionale or a Cantina Comunale:

  • Taste the wine. They will have around 4-6 bottles of wine you can have a taste or glass of directly there.
  • Local experts. They will know their wine, very, very well. They probably know the producers personally, too.
  • There will be wine there you won’t find elsewhere. Not every wine producer in Italy is in the bigger supermarkets or even the bars. It’s a great way to discover brands and vintages which you might not find anywhere else!
  • Tourist information: maybe. They may or may not have information about visiting local wineries or itineraries, or this may fall to the local Tourist information office. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
  • No frills & no food. They definitely want to sell some wine, but this isn’t an “experience” where you can park it there all day and have them entertain you. Most will offer the standard grissini, breadsticks, to help you cleanse your palate and put something in your stomach, but most do not have kitchens nor a menu for you to sit and drink. Buy a few bottles, stop by aforno or macellaio (baker or butcher) to pick up some eats, and head to the nearest park for your own tasting session.

Cantina Comunale in La Morra, Piemonte, Italy

If you’re set on planning a wine tasting & touring trip, here are my suggestions:

  • Map it out. Roughly map out your trip and take a look at which areas you’d like to focus on. Pick 2-3 towns or spots per day you’d like to stop at, and leave room for that 2-3 hour lunch you *know* is going to happen. Don’t try to rush it all, and especially if there’s sun out, you’re going to want to sit somewhere and enjoy the scenery instead of being in the car all day.
  • Call ahead for updated info. Sure, it takes some of the spontaneity out of it, but finding out if someone will actually be there when a guide book (or even their own website!) says they will is a good thing to verify.
  • Reserve. Make reservations at a tasting room or lunch spot. During high season, you’ll want to make sure you’re not left eating panini and drinking Cokes on a sidewalk somewhere.
  • Go early. If you’re flying by the seat of your pants, go early. That means no later than 12:30 for lunch, or 19:00 or 19:30 to catch the restaurant right when it opens so you can grab that last 2-top table that’s open. And, if you’re early and they still don’t have room, that leaves more time for you to find an alternative.

Barbaresco's Enoteca Regionale, Italy

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Gardens in Florence

The gardens of Florence are among the city’s finest gems-not only because of their beauty, but because of their tranquillity. Remember, too, that the gardens in Florence are particularly perfect for cooling off in the warmer months (and a charming spot for walks during cooler times).

The Boboli Gardens-Giardini di Boboli-make up the most famous garden in Florence, and you quickly see why. As years passed, the Medici and Lorriane families expanded their inventory of sculptures dating from the 16th and 18th centuries, building an outdoor museum boasting some of the best views of their beloved city.

After passing through the hands of many other owners, Stefano Bardini, the famous antique dealer, purchased the land in 1913. Highlights include walking through the tunnel of wisteria, the Baroque stairs, six fountains with mosaic treatments and Villa Bardini.

Be on the lookout for more than 350 types of roses and even the Japanese Shorai Oasis, which was gifted to Florence from Kyoto, its twin city.

The Stibbert Museum, or Museo Stibbert, is better known for its 57 rooms filled with over 50,000 relics (armoury, antiques, costumes, paintings, tapestries, glasses, and so on) of the late Frederick Stibbert from the 1800s.

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Reasons to visit Italy in 2015

The best option this year it is to Travel to Italy in 2015.

The 2015 Expo in Milan has motivated Italy to do some early spring-cleaning, restoring monuments and art to their ancient glamour, adding visiting hours to museums and churches and giving access to long-shuttered attractions. Expo 2015 is the current Universal Exposition being hosted by Milan, Italy. The opening took place on 1 May 2015 at 10:00 am and the expo will close on 31 October 2015.

Look into the option to enjoy a private Pompeii tour, the Domus Aurea and the catacombs under Rome, for an updated trip in 2015.

Also, Italy has always been known for its food but with this year’s Expo theme, “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life,” you can tour food from throughout the world all in one city! In Siena, the Santa Maria della Scala museum is finally open after extensive renovation.

View first-hand the Catholic church’s revolution Pope Francis’ popularity is huge and doesn’t seem to be declining in the new year.


Source: Walks of Italy

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Florence food tour: Just delicious

If you make your way to Florence, don’t forget to try the most traditional food and wine the city offers with a Florence food tour. With a local guide, get ready to taste the spots where the locals go – those hidden delicacies that are not always listed in guide books.

Our table was filled with many types of crostini like the popular bruschetta, mushroom spread, olive spread and a few toasted bread slices with the best olive oil ever. The Sant’Ambrogio Market, one of the best markets in Italy, is quite large and spills out onto the street with many more shops inside.

Oh and don’t forget all the different types of olives!

The cheese was also incredible as we tried young and aged cheese and even pecorino romano and parmigiano romano. Our group of four shared a large plate of orecchiette pasta with zucchini, perfectly fresh! Lastly, we enjoyed their ribollita- a Tuscan soup cooked down with local bread and vegetables.


Italian food

The truth is, Italian food is still largely considered by regions with each region in Italy creating its own unique cuisine based on its history, people and geography. The region of Rome and the starting place of the empire, Lazio’s food history can be more than overwhelming.

From the classic thin-crust Roman pizza to the wealth of pasta and slow-cooked meats you’ll have more than enough local, amazing choices! Bucatini is a spaghetti-like pasta with a hole through the middle.

During the feudal system farmers had to pay a tax to their landlords depending on their yield. So, when it was time for the food to be counted they started hiding some of their cheese in stacks of hay.

When in Venice order the cicchetti, basically small slices of toasted bread with a taste of fish or meat on top, served hot or cold with a glass of wine.

Exploring with a local guide, you’ll visit the Rialto Fish Market, one of the oldest spice shops in the world and eat your fill of cicchetti, wine, coffee and grappa. A warm, gooey cotoletta alla valdostana, veal covered in fresh fontina cheese, is the perfect dish after a day touring through the lovely Val d’Aosta Alps.

Start with a simple plate of pasta e fagioli, a pasta and white bean soup cooked with pork rind and broth. Or, if you’re a fan of the chili pepper get the spaghetti diavolillo, spaghetti with a strong chili pepper sauce. Though with sardines, fennel, raisins, pine nuts and at times saffron it’s hard to compare this dish with typical pasta plates.

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Italian foods perfect for a winter day

Visit museums and churches without fighting the crowds, then warm up over a steaming plate of some of Italy’s most traditional, and delicious, comfort foods!

Polenta is a very simple dish that can be made in dozens of ways, but polenta taragna kicks it up a notch by adding cheese, milk and butter to create a rich, creamy dish.

Cassoeula, named after the casserole dish it is cooked in, is made with cabbage, tomato purée, onion, celery, chopped carrots, pepper and a variety of pork (the ribs, sausage and tail). It’s tradition to eat this high-calorie dish after the first frost of the season so that the cabbage used will be ready and tasty. Follow suit and order the hot casserole dish; the strong flavors and rich combination are sure to warm you. What better way to warm up and keep winter sniffles away than with a bowl of hearty soup?

Order a plate of these warm marbles of potatoes covered in a classic Tuscan meat sauce, with just a pinch of Parmesan cheese on top, for the embodiment of “comfort food.” Or try some with a butter sauce and sage, or butternut squash gnocchi with a cream sauce. We’re sure you’ll enjoy each bite!