5 Rules You Should Always Break When Traveling in Italy

5. Never Drive in Italy

Contrary to popular opinion, driving in Italy is not an extreme sport. Italy has an excellent network of motorways and if you are comfortable driving in the States, exercise common sense and be aware of your limitations based on language skills and itinerary you should be fine. Like all road trips you need to be flexible and have a sense of adventure. Expect to get lost even with a good GPS (mandatory). If you want to get off the tourist flow, travel like an Italian and see the country from the ground up, consider driving. Just remember do not park in a space marked Divieto di Sosta (No Parking) and follow a few helpful tips that I have learned driving in Italy.     ciao

4. Don’t Bother Visiting Milan

At first glance Milan can be a little intimidating. It doesn’t have the historical familiarity of Rome, the Renaissance art of Florence or the landscape setting of the Tuscan hill towns and for this reason many tourists tend to avoid spending time there. But that would be a pity because Milan has a style all its own, a style worth taking the time to see and get to know. Here is a list of must do’s for first time travelers to Milan. Sights and sounds they need to take the time to see and savor. I call it the M-List.

3. If You’ve Seen One Church in Italy You’ve Seen Them All

Each church in Italy is a time capsule of the art and history. Hidden meanings and messages that reveal themselves to those who take the time to explore them. Not only the great churches in the guidebooks but the small churches and chapels in the towns and villages contain works of art that are the envy of the greatest museums in the world. Each church has a architectural backstory and a sacred personality.

2. You Don’t Need to Know Italian

Of course, many Italians do speak English but if you will be traveling to little known places in Italy, outside of the tourist “comfort zone” you will need to understand and speak some Italian. That way you can experience all that Italy has to offer. Take some time before your travels to learn some basic Italian including verb conjugations. Phrase book Italian is confining and is a little like speaking from a script. Learning vocabulary is good but limited. Commit to a program that builds on more than rout sayings and idioms to carry on a conversation or you may end up like this.

1. Thinking That Traveling in Italy is Like Traveling in the States

You will be happier and more satisfied with your travels in Italy if you remember that you are traveling in Italy, a European country with a different monetary system, mindset and culture. Italians in Italy are not Italian-Americans. They are not stereotypical caricatures of the American media or even the same as our Italian-American relatives. They eat Italian food not Italian-American food. They don’t put Parmesan cheese or even call it Parmesan on seafood pasta or cut their spaghetti with a knife. They live in a political-economic system with different social mores and although there are more similarities than differences between us, respect and embrace the differences and you will have a more enjoyable time.

Engage in a mindful travel experience; actively attentive, aware (never order a cappuccino after 12 o’clock) open to the possibilities. Deliberately keeping in mind that you are a guest in their country and an ambassador of ours.

Springtime Near Bergamo Means Valcalepio Wine, Songbirds and Polenta

wine VALCALEPIOIn the wine valleys near Bergamo in Northern Italy, always the rules for the production of vino rosso Valcalepio remain the same and require that, in the spring following the vintage, the union of the two wines obtained by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot is to be made. When spring begins wines are assembled as indicated – 40 to 75% Merlot, 25 to 60%  Cabernet to create Valcalepio rosso, an Italian “Bordeaux- style” blend. Such a mixture gives Valcalepio a special ruby red color and a pleasant scent, soft yet spicy it goes with a variety of meats and cheeses, butter-based dishes and the polenta specialities of the region.

Little known in the United States, Valcalepio is a wonderful wine growing area starting from Lake Iseo and ending near Lake Como. Bordering the city of Bergamo it is a perfect way to see and savor Italy following the Wine and Food Roads of the Valcalepio in Lombardia. Three different routes, about 100 km long, to enjoy the culinary and cultural history of a region of Italy that rests in the foothills of the Alps with some of my favorite Northern Italian dishes to pair with the local wines.

Must-haves include polenta e osei (polenta with songbirds now game birds) replicated as tiny little bird cakespolenta osei gilded a yellow gold to imitate polenta and stuffed with almond paste and chocolate mousse for those more likely to enjoy this marzipan version, coniglio alla bergamasca (braised rabbit with polenta)rabbit and crescent-shaped ravioli served with butter-fried sage.

The first itinerary known as The Road of the Convents (I Conventi) begins at the Capriate S. Gervasio exit on the A4 and ends in Bergamo. Along the way, you can visit the Abbey of Sant’Egidio at Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, the Abbey of Pontida and the Church of San Tomè at Almenno San Salvatore.

The second itinerary is named the Heart of the Valcalepio (Cuore della Valcalepio). It starts in Bergamo and finishes in Grumello del Monte. This itinerary includes visits to the city of Bergamo, the Abbey of San Paolo D’Argon, the Oratory of Santa Barbara (inside Villa Suardi, at Trescore Balneatico), frescoed by Lorenzo Lotto, and several castles.

The third itinerary is named The Lake (Il Lago) and stretches from the Grumello del Monte exit on the A4 motorway towards Sarnico on Lake Iseo, returning via a different route and taking in the 15th century castle, Castel de’ Conti at Castelli Calepio.

Along the route, visitors will have the chance to taste typical dishes accompanied by the well-known regional wines.

*if you are not driving a visit to Bergamo is 45 minute ride from Milan