Weird Italian food you’re going to love

Chianti-osteria Nerbone 2

Nowhere else in Europe you will find the same variety  of regional recipes you can find in Italy. With a bit of curiosity and, sometimes, courage, you’ll discover much more than just pasta!

Italian incredibly high number of recipes derives from its being separated for centuries into many independent “states”, each one with its peculiar traditions, and from the variety of its territory (and what it could offer to be cooked). There’s also another aspect to consider: Italy was a rather poor country. The need to feed an increasing population with the available resources, united to the unbeatable Italian creativity, has given birth to some real weird, hence delicious, dishes.

In this post I’m presenting a selection of my favorite “weird Italian dishes you are going to love”. Buon appetito!

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Venice Carnival, and five other top Italian Carnival destinations

Discover Italian Top carnival events, beyond worldwide known Carnevale di Venezia.

February in Italy means that just about every city on the Peninsula is invaded with masks, confetti, colors and lights that make for a very exciting and unique atmosphere: it’s Carnival!

In 2015, carnival will take place between January 31st and February 17th (celebrations dates may vary depending on the location): what are you waiting for?

Continue reading “Venice Carnival, and five other top Italian Carnival destinations”

Climbing up St Peter’s Basilica’s dome

St Peters dome from the basilica

Climbing to the top of St Peter’s Basilica is possible, and it’s actually one of the highlights of a trip to Rome! Here is how to make it.

Cupola San Pietro

Not that many visitors know that it is possible to climb up to the top of St Peter’s dome (“cupola”) : it is a fantastic experience, and a great opportunity to enjoy a fantastic and dizzying city panorama all around Rome and to admire a top down view of St Peter’s basilica nave.

At the entrance to the basilica, after the security check, there is a sign that directs you to the far right of the portico (past the Holy Door) and to the kiosk for the elevator. Note that the Basilica entrance is on the right side of the colonnade (follow the queue… or click here to learn how to skip it).

You can take the elevator to the roof level (saving 320 steps), but if you want to be on the top of the cupola you must take the stairs for the last portion (551 steps in total). The entrance cost is Cost 10 Euros for elevator, 8 Euros for stairs.

After the brief elevator ride (or the first 320 steps), before your climb to the dome, you can stop and enjoy the view from the gallery inside the dome looking down into the basilica . Take a few moments to absorb the astonishing beauty of the cupola from within – and look down – the main altar.

St Peters insight from cupola_3

St Peters insight from cupola_2

St Peters insight _angel

Michelangelo himself designed this dome, which measurs  135m (450 ft.) above the ground at its top and stretches 42m (139 ft.) in diameter. Legend has it that in deference to the Pantheon, Michelangelo made his dome 1.5m (5 ft.) shorter across, saying “I could build one bigger, but not more beautiful, than that of the Pantheon.” Carlo Maderno later added the dome-top lantern.

The climb to the top of the dome proceeds through progressively narrower and sloping stairs. The narrow passageway can be uncomfortable you are claustrophobic (it could also get crowded and hot in summertime). Luckily, there are “slits” here and there to let fresh air in, and since you’re going up during the daylight hours you’ll have the interior lights plus sunlight now and then.

St Peter_climbing up the cupola

Once at the top, you will be rewarded by the views so often seen in photographs: St Peter’s square…

St Peter's square from cupola

… the Sistine chapel and the Vatican museums…

Vatican museums from cupola

… the Vatican gardens

Vatican Gardens from cupola

Back on the roof, you have access to restrooms, water fountains, a gift shop and a new coffeebar. Take a walk to the front of the basilica to look into the Square and observe the huge statues on the façade and the imposing Cupola just above you.

St Peters cupola

St Peter's facade statues

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When you’re ready to leave, there is again the option of elevator or stairs. Consider taking the stairs down, as this area contains marble plaques of all the famous who have visited the dome over the years. Going down takes much less time than going up!

Astonishingly, the exit is directly in St Peter’s nave, that you can now visit.

St Peters (navata)

St Peter_St Peter statue

St Peters Navata 2

Tips & Infos

Hours 8:00 – 18:00 (Apr – Sep) 8:00 – 17:00 (Oct – Mar)
Cost 10 Euros for elevator, 8 Euros for stairs (updated March 2018)

Web site (Italian): http://www.vatican.va/various/basiliche/san_pietro/it/cupola/orari.htm

Dress code: St. Peter’s has a strict dress code: no shorts, no skirts above the knee, and no bare shoulders. I am not kidding. They will not let you in if you do not come dressed appropriately. In a pinch, guys and gals alike can buy a big, cheap scarf from a nearby souvenir stand and wrap it around legs as a long skirt or throw over shoulders as a shawl.

Drop your bags: They no longer allow you to take large bags or purses into the basilica. Luckily, they’ve also arranged a drop-off point for all bags in a room just to the right of the steps leading up into the church. This service is free.

Free Tours: There are free guided visits to St. Peter’s run by volunteer professors and scholars from North American College in Rome. They’re offered Mon–Fri at 2:15pm and 3pm, Sat at 10:15am and 2:15pm, and Sun at 2:30pm. They meet in front of the Vatican tourist info office, which is to the building along Piazza S. Pietro just left (south) of the main steps into the basilica.

Otherwise, follow this link to skip the queues and get a complete St Peter’s basilica tour.


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Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

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Sleeping in a Tuscany castle (at a very reasonable cost)

 Do you know that you can sleep in a Tuscan medieval castle spending just like standard hotel? Discover how!

 

Have you ever dreamed to spend a night or two in a real castle? High rise crenelated walls, majestic dungeons, the echos of ferocious battles that took place centuries ago…

Well, let the dream come true! Tuscany offers an incredible variety of castles, and many of them have been turned into country houses and luxury resorts.

In this post I’d like to share with you my favorite Castle accommodations in Tuscany. Treat yourself as a knight, for a night!

Living in a Castle Map

Castello di Spedaletto

Castello La Grancia 1

The beautiful Castello di Spedaletto was built in the XII century along the old Via Francigena (the path followed by pilgrims walking their way down to Rome). It is a perfect example of a middle age castle  in a beautiful setting in the Val D’Orcia, close to Pienza, Bagno Vignoni and San Quirico D’Orcia (read my post Pienza, Sant’Antimo, Bagno Vignoni: delightful Val d’Orcia to know what to do, eat and see)

It features a large yard, an “ecologic” swimming pool and a very relaxed atmosphere. Relatively cheap (it is an “Agriturismo”), Castello di Spedaletto is perfect for visiting the Val D’Orcia, especially if you are traveling with kids.

Tip: when reserving, ask for the rooms inside the castle, more scenic compared to the ones built in the old fortified wall.

Castello la Grancia 2

Castel Pietraio

Castel Pietraio dall'alto

Here we move to Siena Countryside. Castel Pietraio is a gorgeous castle from the XI° century. It is located in Strove, a very small hamlet close to Monteriggioni, and to the beautiful church of Badia Isola, and is surrounded by vineyards and sunflowers fields. It’s a 4 star small hotel, still belonging to the original noble family (Barone Neri del Nero).

Castel Pietraio is also a farm with an excellent vocation to quality wine-growing: you will be able to taste Chianti Superiore (of course!), Chardonnay, Merlot and Vin Santo.

A personal anecdote: this is the hotel I choose for me and my wife when we got married!

Castel Pietraio_3

Castello di Meleto

Castello di Meleto

Massive, awe-inspiring, castello di Meleto stands in a beautifull Chiantishire valley, close to Gaiole in Chianti. Its striking location and its vaulted halls are often used to host weddings parties, but you don’t necessarily need to get married to sleep in one of the beautifully decorated rooms!

For longer stays, you can also choose to rent a self catering apartment in the nearby dependence.

Castello di Meleto produces an excellent Chianti, that you can taste in the modern wine shop after visiting the old cellars.

HAve a look at my post Fascinating Chianti wine tasting tour to learn what to visit (and drink!) in the Chianti area.

Castello di Meleto 2

Badia a Coltibuono

Badia di Coltibuoni 1

This is a fortified abbey, built in 1049 and transformed in a countryside villa in the XIXth century. It features a Romanesque church, beautiful cloisters, a gorgeous walled garden and huge cellars, as old as the abbey itself!

Regarding your stay, you can choose between the 8 rooms and the 5 apartments. Badia a Coltibuono offers also wine tasting, cooking courses and local delicacies tastings.

Hint: the abbey is 650 metres above sea level, which makes it a perfect place during summer. Winters and springs, on the othe hand, can be really chilly.

Badia di Coltibuoni 2

Monteriggioni

Monteriggioni

Strictly speaking, Monteriggioni is not exactly a castle, but a medieval walled town located on a natural hillock and built by the Sienese in 1214-1219 as a front line in their wars against Florence. Said so, Monteriggioni is one of the most evocative medieval villages in Italy.

Located 14 km from Siena. Monteriggioni has became famous for its fourteen towers’ walls which are among the best preserved all over Italy. Believe me, it’s one of the most scenic places in Tuscany, not to miss even if you decide to sleep elsewere (which would be a pity, indeed!).

Two possibility of lodging here: the romantic Hotel monteriggioni http://www.hotelmonteriggioni.net/ or the value for money Bed & Breakfast “In piazza” www.inpiazzamonteriggioni.

Monteriggioni - borgo

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What to eat in Florence

Menu

A short food guide to decipher a Florence menu and to discover what to eat in Florence, beyond Pizza and spaghetti

 

Few countries can offer the same variety of regional recipes you can find in Italy. This post is a short guide to help you browse Italian menus, with the necessary confidence (and appetite!) to dare tasting something different from spaghetti and lasagne!

I’ll start with one of my best beloved regions: Tuscany.

Antipasti (starters):

Crostini con fegatini

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You will hardly find a Tuscan menu that doesn’t offer Crostinis with salumi and a flask of red wine! The word crostini literally refers to the bread, similar to a baguette where the patè is spread. You will be offered many different type of crostini in Tuscany’s restaurants, but the real stuff is made of chicken livers. Other popular options are Bruschetta, crostini with minced tomatoes and olive oil and crostini with truffle oil.

Finocchiona

Salumi toscani

The “typical” antipasto generally includes all sorts of salami, ham and cheese. While this may not differ that much from the salami you normally find in other Tuscany areas, there’s one which is typicall of Tuscany and that you shouldn’t miss: the Finocchiona.

Finocchiona is a variation on salami made of finely ground pork and fat, laced with fennel, and aged for a while. The unusual ingredient in finocchiona is fennel seeds, which give the salami an intriguing sweet, anise-like flavor. They are also behind the name, as finocchio means “fennel” in Italian. After the ground pork is stuffed into salami casings, the finocchiona is cured so that it becomes firm and dry.

Primi piatti (first courses)

Ribollita

Ribollita

The Ribollita is the most famous Tuscan soup. It is a typical “poor” dish from the Florence and Arezzo cooking traditions, meant to reuse the left over bread and the most commonly available vegetables. The name, which means “reboiled”, derives from the former habit of preparing  the soup in large quantities, usually on Friday. The soup was cooked a second time (and therefore “reboiled”) in the following days, before being served. Actually, the ribollita gets tastier each time it is reboiled.

While many different vegetable can be used, a true ribollita always includes black cabbage (“cavolo nero”), Borlotti beans and dry bread. Once it is served, you should add one or two spoons of “exravergine” olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

Pappa al pomodoro

Pappa al pomodoro

Half-soup and half-sauce, pappa al pomodoro is little more than ripe tomatoes, olive oil, and day-old bread. It’s a delicious summer dish, served in the majority of Tuscany restaurants.

Pici

Pici 2_01

Pici is are thick, hand-rolled kind of pasta, like a fat spaghetti. The dough is typically made from flour and water only. It originates in the province of Siena in Tuscany; in the Montalcino area it is also referred to as pinci.

Pici are served with a variety of toppings, such as ragù (often from game, such as duck, hare or wild boar – “pici al ragù di anatra-lepre-cinghiale”), spicy garlic tomato sauce (“Pici all’aglione”) or porcini mushrooms (“Pici alla boscaiola”).

Pappardelle ala lepre

Pappardelle alla lepre

Pappardelle are large, very broad flat pasta, similar to wide fettuccine. The name derives from the verb “pappare”, to gobble up. The fresh types are two to three centimetres (1 inch) wide. Like Pici they can be served with a variety of toppings, even though most popular Pappardelle dishes are “Pappardelle alla lepre” (hare minced meat sauce) or “Pappardelle al cinghiale” (Pappardelle with wild boar topping).

Secondi piatti (second courses: fish / meat dishes)

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Bistecca alla fiorentina

The most famous tuscan meat dish is actually… a T-Bone steak!

The true bistecca alla fiorentina (“Florentine-Style Steak”, normally called just “Fiorentina”, is huge (hardly less than one Kg, cooked on charcoal fire and traditionally served on a wooden cutting board. Though Fiorentina, is featured on the menus of almost all the restaurants in Florence, finding a good one isn’t at all easy. But when you do it’s heaven on earth, delightfully rich, flavorful rare meat so tender it can be cut with a spoon. Much of the secret is the breed of cattle, Chianina beef…

Cinghiale in umido

Cinghiale in umido

This winter dish requires marinating the wild boar meat in red wine, vinegar, chopped vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, juniper berries and chili flakes for at least one night, and then cook it in a clay pot for at leat 2-3 hours. The result is a melt-in-your-mouth tender, deliciously tasty meat dish, often served with Polenta (cornmeal boiled into a porridge and eaten directly or baked, fried or grilled)

Lampredotto

Chianti-osteria Nerbone 2

Lampredotto is a very famous dish from Florence, that you may find in restaurants or as street food (“panino col lampredotto”). Lampredotto is the fourth stomach of a cow, boiled in water with tomatoes, onion, celery and parsley. A typical Florentine peasant dish, the most popular way to serve it is in a bread roll, with parsley sauce and optional chili oil. ‘Snap up’ a hot cow stomach sandwich at one of the many street and market stalls in Florence that serve it. The most famous one is just in front of the famous “porcellino” statue.

Caciucco alla livornese

Caciucco alla livornese

Cacciucco (also called Caciucco alla Livornese – Livorno-style cacciuco) is a popular traditional Livorno seafood dish, fairly common also in Pisa, Lucca and in all the Tuscan coast.

It’s a delicious soup of assorted sea fish, shellfish and molluscs, poured over the toasted bread, which history stretches back at least five hundred years. The origin of dish name also proclaims the fact that cacciucco is rooted in a mixture of culinary cultures of many nations. It bears resemblance to the Turkish word ‘küçük’, which means ‘tiny pieces’ – small fish and molluscs were used to prepare the dish.

Dolci (Desserts)

Cantucci col vin santo

Cantucci_01

Originating in the city of Prato (close to Florence), Cantucci are presently the most famous cookies in Tuscany. You will probably be offered Cantucci col vin santo after all your meals!

Cantucci are oblong-shaped almond biscuits, made dry and crunchy through cutting the loaf of dough while still hot and fresh from baking in the oven. Traditionally, you are supposed to dip them into a glass of vin santo (Tuscany sweet dessert wine) before savor them.

Panforte

Panforte

Panforte means “strong bread” which refers to the spicy flavor. It’s the traditional Siena cakes, and its origins may date back to 13th century.

The process of making panforte is fairly simple. Sugar is dissolved in honey and various nuts, fruits and spices are mixed together with flour. The entire mixture is baked in a shallow pan. The finished cake is dusted with icing sugar. The result is heavenly delicious! You may taste Panforte as a dessert in restaurants or purchase a slice in a “pasticcieria”. A tasty and spicy variety of Panforte is “Panpepato”.

Buon appetito!

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Garda lake’s natural SPA

Relax in natural hot water pools, surrounded by centenary trees and beautiful lawns, less than 20 minutes drive from Peschiera and Sirmione, and for a very reasonable price? Yes you can, in the Parco termale del Garda (“Garda Thermal Park”)!

Terme del Garda

The Garda Thermal Park is not a traditional health spa at all (if this is what you are looking for, you have many options in the Garda Lake area:  http://www.lakegarda.com/wellness-spa-beauty-farm.php).

On the contrary, it’s much closer to a mountain lake surrounded by lush woods, but with hot water!

Continue reading “Garda lake’s natural SPA”

Secret treasures of Milan renaissance

A walking itinerary to discover Milan hidden renaissance jewels, beyond the Duomo and the Last Supper

 

Milan is universally recognized as the economic capital of Italy, but it is also a city of art. Historical buildings, villas, monuments, modern-architectural buildings, churches and abbeys all offer a variety of styles and striking details that are well worth getting to know.

Yes, there are the well known clichés: il Duomo, La Scala, La Galleria,  Santa Maria delle Grazie (feturing Leonardo’s last supper…), Sant’Ambrogio, the Castello Sforzesco. But the truth is that there’s much more than that. Milan can reveal fabulous treasures from its twenty centuries history,  if only you take your time to look for them carefully, since most of them are very well hidden. In this post I would like to walk you through fantastic renaissance churches, some of which date back from the end of the Roman empire: after all, Milan was the town where Constantine issued the edict legalizing Christian worship in 313.

Milano - San lorenzo Church - Constantine statue

Let’s start from San Maurizio, located in Corso Magenta, 15. It’s close to Sant’Ambrogio, so you can go there after visiting it.

Secret treasures of Milan Renaissance - Map

The church of San Maurizio and its adjoining cloister (now Milan archeological museum) are all the remains of the Monastero Maggiore, the oldest and largest female convent in the city, built between the 8th and 9th centuries close to the walls and near the Roman circus.

San Maurizio - Facciata

The present church, begun in 1503 on the site of an earlier place of worship, has a single nave and is divided into two distinct areas by a screen extending up to the large rib-vault ceiling.

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The first hall, entered from the street, was where the faithful gathered. The second, connected to the rest of the convent, was reserved to the nuns. Nuns couldn’t get in touch with male attendance, not even the priest. To take the holy communion, the host had to be given through a hole in the screen (look at the photo).

Milan - San Maurizio - Holy communion hole in the wall

Along the side walls are ten barrel vaulted chapels over which is an elegant matroneum with Serlian motif.

Milan - San Maurizio - entrance hall

The walls are decorated with one of the most important fresco cycles from the 16th century Lombardy, mainly by Bernardino Luini and his followers.

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After this fascinating visit to a temple of the faith, what about having a look to a modern Gourmet temple ?

At walking distance from San Maurizio, in Via Spadari (very close to Piazza del Duomo) you will find Peck, by far the most reputed Italian Gourmet shop, often referred to as the “Italian Fauchon”.

Peck Vetrina

Here you will find an incredibly wide range of culinary products, all at he utmost level of quality and desirability: gourmet meats, cheeses, meats, grill, delicatessen,pasta, pastry, ice cream, bakery and the most tasty may want the gourmands around the world.

peck-macelleria

Peck basement hosts one of the most famous and prestigious Italian wine shops. Here you will find the most prestigious Italian and international wines, in a classy and refined setting. It is also a perfect place for an exclusive Aperitivo.

Enoteca Peck

Back to culture and history, just in front of via Spadari, in Via Torino, nearly unnoticeable, you will find the Chiesa Santa Maria Presso di San Satiro (commonly known just as San Satiro).

The  is a delightful church just south of the Duomo in Milan, and one of my favorites.

Milano - San Satiro - Facciata

First built in 876, the church was dedicated to St. Satyrus, brother of St. Ambrose, and stands on the reputed site of his house. Later the church was dedicated also to Mary, so that the church’s full name is now “St. Mary Staying with St. Satyrus.”

While San Satiro is now eclipsed by more famous Milan churches, it was an important pilgrimage site in the 13th and 14th centuries, after news spread through Christendom that an image of the Madonna here shed real blood when stabbed.

An architectural gem, San Satiro was later perfected by Bramante (1444-1514), demonstrating his command of proportion and perspective, keynotes of Renaissance architecture.

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In 1472 Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan commissioned the extention of the chuch. His ambitions were great but the location available to him was limited by the presence of a busy street. The choir, the space behind the altar, had to be truncated, making the church awkwardly short.

Undeterred by such an obstacle, Bramante devised an ingenious solution. He painted an optical illusion.Trompe-l’œil, or architectural optical illusion was popular in late renaissance and baroque, but Bramante took the visual deception to an entirely new level. Standing at the entrance of the edifice one has an impression of a much deeper space, extending further behind the altar than is physically possible.

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The illusion, of course, quickly disappears as one steps aside from the main axis of the church.

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Another gem lies to the rear of the left transept: the Cappella della Pietà, so called for the 15th-century terra-cotta Pietà it now houses. It was originally built in the 9th century to honor Saint Satiro, brother of Saint Ambrose. Even more attractive than the namesake statue, though, are the Byzantine frescoes and Romanesque columns of the chapel.

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Getting out San Satiro, keep on walking south in Via Torino. Once arrived at the large crossing with Corso di Porta Ticinese, turn left towards San Lorenzo Church.

Dating from the 4th century AD, the Chiesa di San Lorenzo Maggiore is the oldest church in Milan. With ancient architecture that might seem more at home in Ravenna, San Lorenzo recalls the days when Milan was the capital of the Western Roman Empire.

Milan - San Lorenzo

Probably at the beginning of the V century a.C., on occasion of the building of the basilica, the columns of a big building of the II century a.C. from another part of the city were dismantled and reused in the construction of a wide quadrangular hall opposite to the Basilica. At present, the columns are all that remains of the monumental hall front, and their aspect is the result of several interventions through time, from the Middle Ages on. The Colonne di San Lorenzo are a popular meeting point, especially for the student population.

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Unlike the majority of the Paleochristian churches, the interior of San Lorenzo has a central ground plan, which is not surprising, considering that the basilica was erected as Arian church and that only later on S. Ambrogio succeeded in acquiring it from the ecclesiastic properties of Milan. It is composed of a wide octagonal room with two orders of arcades, overtopped by the magnificent cupola.

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Milano - San Lorenzo - Interior

In presence of the keeper it is also possible to visit the southern sacellum of the basilica, today S. Aquilino’s Chapel, holding the remnants of mosaics which once must have decorated the whole place, not inferior in opulence and beauty to the Roman-Byzantine mosaics of Ravenna.

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However, the most suggestive view of the Basilica can be appreciated from Piazza della Vetra, where it is possible to observe the whole apsidal complex, marked by the three Saint’s chapels. By the way, Piazza Vetra used to be one of the darkest spots of ancient Milan: this was the place chosen by the inquisition to publicly torture and burn alleged  witches.

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Now cross via Molino delle Armi and keep on walking in the nice Giardini di Piazza Vetra garden. After a few minutes you will spot the last monument of this tour: the church of Sant’Eustorgio.

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The Basilica’s architectural structure is particularly complex. The interior has three naves. To the basic Romanesque building, many chapels were added over the centuries following the church’s foundation, above all on its right-hand side.

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This is one of the oldest churches in Milan. It was founded in the 4th century, and rebuilt in the 19th century. Sant’Eustorgio originally housed the relics of the Three Kings, which were later subtracted and taken to Cologne by Frederick Barbarossa. However, from the 13th century on, the church took on an important role, becoming the principal location for the Dominican Order in Milan from 1227.

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800px-IMG_6109_-_MI_-_Sant'Eustorgio_-_Navata_destra_-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall'Orto_-_1-Mar-2007

Two of the several chapels are particularly significant: the Brivio Chapel, dating to 1484, with a Renaissance tomb and a triptych by Bergognone; and the Portinari Chapel, built from 1462 on, commissioned by Pigello Portinari, and an example of Florentine art in Milan. Inside, the upper sections of the walls were frescoed by Foppa between 1466 and 1468.

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Now that your appetite for culture is satisfied, you may consider have something to eat in the excellent Ristorante San’Eustorgio , where you can ask for a table with a view on the square and the church.

Milan - Restaurant - Sant'Eustorgio

Alternatively, if you ar efed up with pasta and keep on dreaming about yankee food, popular California Bakery, just alongside Sant’Eustorgio, is what you are looking for.

Milan - Sant'Eustorgio - California bakery

Cupola San Lorenzo

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Garda lake: biking tour on the Mincio river

This is a fantastic off the beaten path itinerary in the Garda lake area, that will make you discover by bike delightful hamlets, ancient water mills and peaceful river banks. It’s a perfect family tour, my 9 years old boy was delighted to have accomplished such an “adventure” and spent hours staring at (and playing with..) the many water mills in Borghetto sul Mincio. Continue reading “Garda lake: biking tour on the Mincio river”

Fascinating Chianti wine tasting tour

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For anyone but the true “wine aficionados”, Chianti is synonymous of Tuscany wine. There’s a reason for that: Chianti is by far the most produced and sold Tuscan Wine, and is produced in an area much wider than the so called “Chianti region”. It is also one of the first Italian Wines to be branded and marketed in a distinctive way.

The “Chianti” wine was created in 1837 by Barone Ricasoli, who defined a new recipe, a blend of  Sangiovese,  Canaiolo and Malvasia. The new wine was such a success that in 1932 the producers of the original Chianti Wine joint together to create the consortium of the “Chianti Classico”, with the black roaster (“Gallo Nero”) as its symbol.

Chianti Gallo Nero

Today’s recipe is a little different from Barone Ricasoli’s, and requires at least a 80% Sangiovese, with the rest being a different wine, often Canaiolo, but not necessary. Also the ageing in small Oak barrels (barrique) is optional. Add the difference in tastes and texture deriving from different sub-zones, and you’ll easily realize that you will hardly find two Chianti tasting exactly the same.

In this post I’d like to drive you in a one/two days itinerary to discover the beautiful Chianti country side, its history, its food and, of course, its wine.

Our trip begins by taking the “strada del vino” (222 ss route), just south of Florence.

Chiantishire Map

Soon, the view of the silver of the olive trees, the green geometry of the vineyards, the roads lined with tall green cypresses and the borders of the woods lined with yellow broom combine in a palette of colors that seem to create a unique painting.

The first notable stop in your Chiant Wine Tasting tour is the Castello di Verrazzano. The Castle of Verrazzano is located on a hilltop in the Chianti Classico area, overlooking a beautiful countryside.

Chianti Castello di Verazzano

The castle is known for being the birthplace of the family Verrazzano to which the Navigator Giovanni, the one who discovered the bay of New York, belonged. Today, Castello di Verazzano is a highly reputed winery. You can stop there for a guided tour and a wine tasting, often followed by a lunch in the beautiful lunch room overlooking the valley. I suggest to take the tour and the wine tasting, but skip the lunch, there are better options outside.

Wine - Castello di Verazzano

The next stop is Greve in Chianti, which  is considered by many as the gate into Chianti and is famous for its particularly shaped piazza or square that has been market place for the castles and walled villages in the surroundings since the Middle Ages. The square has a triangular shape and large porticos, dotted with nice shops and delightful restaurants. In the center stands the bronze staue of Giovanni da Verrazzano, explorer that discovered the Bay of New York.

Greve in Chianti - piazza

In Greve in Chianti you will also find the Cantine di Greve in chianti, probably the biggest wine shop in the Chianti area, and the best way of tasting up to 140 wines from different cellars in a vaulted, renovated ancient underground. Just purchase a card, choose the wines you want to taste, insert your carte in the tasting isle, put your glass under the nozzle, press the button and Voilà!

Chianti_044 Cantine di Greve in Chianti

You can also order local appetizers (cheese, ham and “bruschette” (grilled bread topped with many different sauces). If you prefer to stay outside, you will find a subsidiary of cantine di Greve on the main square.

If it’s lunch time, you will find many nice restaurants on the main square. I recommend Osteria Nerbone in Chianti, were I had a tasteful Lampredotto (traditional Florence dish, based on boiled cow stomach: it may sound weird, but it’s delicious).

Chianti_Osteria Nerbone

Chianti-osteria Nerbone 2

Going back to route 222, I suggest a stop for a cave visit and a dedicated wine tasting at the Podere casanova. Here you will meet Rita and Silvano, the land lords, who not only produce high end biological Chianti and Super Tuscan wines, but will also delight your tastes with their production of truffle oil, true balsamic vinegar, and even honey wine, which recipe dates from the middle age. Cooking classes are available for the happy few that can dedicate a full day to them (note: the wine tasting is only by appointment, to preserve the intimacy of the experience).

Chianti Cantine Casanova

Chianti - Tenuta Casanova - Wine Tasting

Next stop is Castellina in Chianti.  Set along the Chiantigiana road that connects Florence to Siena, it is one of the most important destinations in Chianti. Once a fortified village, you will discover along the ancient walls an impressive underground tunnel used by the guards, Via delle Volte. You will also like the impressive fortress, which gives its name to the village (Castellina derives from the word “castello”, castle in Italian).

Castellina in chianti - fortezza

Castellina in Chianti may be a good place to rest for an evening. My suggestions to eat and sleep? Restaurant Sotto le Volte, in the underground passage under the ancient walls, and, a few kilometers from the Village, Hotel Villa Casalecchi, an ancient countryside villa, immersed in a park of century old trees and surrounded by Chianti vine-groves.

Via delle volte _ Castellina in Chianti

On a second day, you can explore the beautiful countryside, dotted by middle age villages, abbeys and castles (all this area used to be a battlefield between Florence and Siena). Definitely worth a visit is Radda in Chianti. Radda was the headquarters of the Chianti League and the seat of the Florentine governor housed in the beautiful 15th century Palazzo del Podestà, its facade decorated with several coats of arms. The town maintains its medieval look characterized by narrow streets meeting in the main square where you’ll find the Church of San Niccolò, a church of Romanesque origins which displays a venerated wooden Crucifix from the 15th century.

If you are around Radda at the beginning of June, don’t miss the “Radda nel bicchiere”, an open air wine tasting with over twenty producers presenting their Chianti wines.

Greve in Chianti - palazzo de

Close to Radda you can visit the tiny Volpaia village, often used as a movie set (you may stop at the excellent La bottega di Volpaia, and savour your Fiorentina steak under the trees, on a terrace overlooking the vine-groves) and then have a guided tour at the nearby imposing Badia di Coltibuoni, once a fortified abbey, now a lovely B&B, and visit their huge caves.

Badia di Coltibuoni 1

You may end up your day at the Castello di Meleto, by visiting the 18th century interiors, its caves (of course!) and a really amazing authentic 18th century “family” private theatre. The tour includes, guess what? Yes, you got it: wine tasting! …and a Chianti bottle to bring home. Good deal for 15 €.

Chianti - Castello di Meleto

Chianti - Castello di Meletto - Teatro

Not tired yet? Still a little hungry (and thirsty)? Well, a nice place to have your last aperitivo (Italian cocktail) could be the Castello di Spaltenna,  another perfectly preserved middle age castle, now transformed in an exclusive hotel. On its terrace you will indulge with a glass of Chianti wine in your hand and the  delightful Tuscany countryside at your feet.

Chianti_Castello di Meletto-Degustazione

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Best “aperitivo” (happy hour) in Milan

Anguria assassina

Milan has a long lasting rivalry with Rome, and has often been nominated (likely by Milanesi themselves)  the True  Capital: the business capital, the moral capital, and so on and so forth.

We may endlessly argue about which town of the two could aspire to the title, but one thing cannot be denied: Milan is the capital of Aperitivo.

In no other city of Italy, not even in Venice (read my post on Cicchetti – , or in Bologna, post to come), aperitivo is such a widespread social habit and nowhere else it reaches the same level of locations, glamour and food.

Yes, food. In most Italian cities, the typical aperitivo consists of a drink accompanied by modest snacks such as potato chips and olives (if you are lucky enough not to receive only the drink…). In Milan,  you can expect to be offered an endless variety of dishes such as pasta, risotto, salads, ham, cheeses, meat balls, sausages, bits of pizzas and even exotic food such as sushi or curry, often served as an “all you  can eat” buffet.

For this reason, for many busy Milanese, as well as for the smart travelers,  the aperitivo becomes a clever alternative to dinner at the price of a cocktail (from 5 to 15 Euro).

Top locations are usually poshy and trendy and, during the good season, they may give you the opportunity of discovering and enjoying carefully hidden gardens and courtyards.

There are literally hundreds of nice places to have aperitivo, and new ones pop up every day. I’m going to share with you my favorites, leaving to you the pleasure of working out your own selection.

Cheers!

TIP: the coolest locations usually get pretty crowded, and it’s not uncommon to see a huge crowd of happy drinkers gathering on the sidewalks, a glass in their hands. That’s perfectly OK, but if you prefer to relax instead of standing up, you should consider reserving your seat.

TIP2: Most of these places offer Sunday brunch

Best places for Aperitivo - Map

Milano

Milano

One of the most trendy places for an aperitivo. The Milano is the last creation of the Royalto group (which includes the also Royalto and the Invillà, all recommended).

It is build in a huge former garage (!!), which has been furnished in a ’60s style, with original furniture. Hence, the Milano  looks more like a trendy living room than like a bar. Several food islands, catered by Indian personnel, will serve you cold and hot dishes (sizes are minimal, you can eat how much you want, but will have to queue again!).

In the summer time you can eat on a nice terrace to escape the heat.

Diana Majestic

Diana Majestic

The Diana is the bar of the down town Sheraton. Located in a crowed area, 100 meters from Porta Venezia, you would never imagine that the 19th century building hides a large and beautiful garden.

That’s why the Diana gets fairly crowded in the summer time. To escape the mosquito  or when the weather gets colder, you can sit in the “normal” bar, under gigantic desk lamps.

N’ombra de vin

N'ombra de vin

Located in Brera, N’ombra de Vin is a fantastic wine bar, build in an ancient basement, which used to be the refectory of the Agostiniani friars. Original marble columns supporting the vaulted ceiling, wine bottles of all sizes everywhere, low lights: old atmosphere at its top!

You should come to N’ombra de vin if you are looking for excellent wine and for the feeling of ancient Milan. N’Ombra de Vin also organizes wine tasting lessons.

Bulgari

Bulgari café 1

Italian sophisticated elegance at its best. The Bulgari is the bar of the Bulgari Hotel, one of the best hotels in Milan.

Here again, you will discover an incredible garden, where you could indulge sipping a glass of Gewurztraminer , while observing the “bel mondo” (“high society”) sitting next to you.

Prices are not cheap (18 € for a glass of wine), but the appetizers being served with the aperitivo is excellent and the waiters will keep on refilling your plate until you leave.

Living

Living

Very popular, located in the pedestrian area around Arco della Pace, the Living is one of the many successful bars created by Fabio Acampora (the others, also recommended, are the Circle, the Exploit and the Refeel).

You will find a huge selection of appetizers  but expect to fight hard to get to the counter in the busiest hours. You can either eat inside or outside, with a nice view on the park.

In the same pedestrian area you will find many other nice bars and restaurants, all worth trying.

Novecento café

Caffé novecento

It’s a simple bar, but gives you the possibility of sipping a drink in beautiful corso Como, while contemplating the contrast between the pedestrian 19th century street and the 21st century skyscrapers that are popping up all around.

The waiter will serve you basic appetisers, but you can fill (and refill) your plate at the buffet inside the bar.

In front of the Novecento you will also find the famous,  trendy (and expensive) 10 Corso Como, which you could try for a drink or a dinner if you are looking for a fashionable evening.

 Just Cavalli

Just Cavalli Café 2

Exaggerated, kitsch, expensive, well, exactly what you could expect from the famous Italian Fashion designer Roberto Cavalli.

The Just Cavalli is located in a fantastic location inside Parco Sempione, just under the Torre Branca (same entrance, you could take the opportunity of enjoy the view after you are done with your drink).

I wouldn’t suggest having a dinner there, but the place is perfect for a posh aperitivo.

 


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Delightfullyitaly.com: Italy top destinations and travel itineraries, off the beaten path

Delightfullyitaly.com is the blog for all the ones in love with Italian culture, Italian sights, Italian monuments .. and with Italian food! If you wish to visit Italy for the first time, or if you already discovered Venice, Rome, Florence, the Amalfi coast, but still want more, delightfullyitaly.com is here to disclose to you Italian Must See as well as Italian hidden treasures. And if you like what you read, why not follow delightfullyitaly.com and get free updates?

Venice off the beaten path – discover Cannaregio

Venice Tourist cliché

districts of Venice - Cannaregio.
districts of Venice – Cannaregio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ok, that’s the classical tourist cliché: crowds jostling on the Rialto bridge, expensive Gondola tours, bored “Gondolieri” singing O Sole Mio (which, by the way, is a Napolitan song, not a Venetian song…).

Yes, you will have it all! And, believe it or not, you will love it…

But there’s a Venice outside the classical Station-Rialto-San Marco itinearary, which is worthwhile to discover. And, by the way, you may discover that escaping from the crowd (and live for an hour or so like a true “Veneziano”) can save you quite a significant amount of money. Continue reading “Venice off the beaten path – discover Cannaregio”