Traveler vs. Tourist

“a tourist arrives confused and leaves confused”

The age of the tourist is over. Anthony Bourdain’s now infamous challenge to”be a traveler not a tourist” resonates with a new generation of travelers who want to remove the word “vacant” from vacation. Time and money well spent on a trip requires it to be more than a “show and tell” tour. Travelers look for the backstory, walking into a postcard rather than buying a postcard, taking time to see and savor the country and its people. A tourist often looks at the scene, a traveler wants to be in the scene. Travel need not be far and wide, nor expensive, nor complicated but it should be imaginative. Don’t settle for the trip du jour or boxed set. That’s not to say you shouldn’t see the Coliseum in Rome or the Milan Duomo. It just means that travelers move slightly outside the box up on the roof of the Duomo or eating at a ristorante like Da Pancrazio built over the ruins of the Theatre of Pompey where Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March 44 B.C.

It may be time to re-think your travel goals and invest in a travel experience. Italy is Europe’s everyman with something for everyone. There shouldn’t be any reason to come back from a trip to Italy boasting about the most wonderful food you ate, wine you drank and what you saw.

Here are 5 ways to convert yourself from tourist to traveler to see and savor Italy.

1. Define your travel goals. An attainable travel goal can be sometimes difficult to find. We suggest choosing a main them such as food, wine, art, design with subordinate activities such as history, architecture, hiking, biking, adventure travel, horse trekking, cooking, shopping/fashion etc. You may not be able to do everything you want but that’s perfectly fine. A traveler is destined to return again with a series of reasons on what more to see and do.

2. Design your own travel playlist. It’s easier than ever to plan a customized trip to Italy. The internet is awash with posts, blogs, sites, suggestions and travel reviews (Trip Advisor). Get a feel for what you want see and do and then seek a reliable consultant who can set you in the right direction. Do your homework to find out what’s best for you and research any suggestions. The best consultants have your travel goals in mind not theirs.

3. Be realistic about your travel goals but add a dream. You cannot possibly travel through the Tuscany of Leonardo, the Florence of the Medici or the canals of Venice without being drawn into the fatal charm of Italy that can be found nowhere else. Choose a secondary travel goal that may be a little out of reach but may also be attainable and build it into your schedule. View this goal as icing on the cake; as something that heightens your travel experience.

4. Choose your travel companions wisely. Tourists most always are part of a non-specific group. Meaning they may have very little in common with each other except for the fact that they are on the same bus. This can be an opening for making new travel friends or it can prove to be stressful and distracting in both time and effort.  Travelers share a conviviality with like-minded people who share their travel personality. A certain diversity among travelers is important because everyone’s background and knowledge can enrich the total experience (think about planning the guest list for a dinner party). It’s your party decide who you want to travel with rather than just showing up.

5. Start reading about Italy. The style of a Seeing and Savoring Italy trip begins with a desire to enjoy traveling in Italy on all levels and pre-departure information shouldn’t be limited to operational activities only. It’s important to get travel tips on what type of clothes to bring and how to exchange your money but it’s also important to have a general knowledge of the history, geography, language and people. Knowing this will help you sort through all the tourist babble.

Alpha Italy

bestofitalyThere are some things in Italy that are over the top, the star of the group, the best investment, the cherry on the sundae, the most dominant person, place or thing you can see in Italy. I get asked ‘What is your favorite thing to do in Italy?” all the time and I tend to want to say everything because for the most part it’s true. Italy is the gastronomic epicenter of the world and 60% of the world’s most important works of art are in Italy with almost half of those in the city of Florence. Traveling in Italy will take you down Roman roads, past castles with Celtic altars and Etruscan ruins, through medieval walled cities and alpine lakes, visiting Renaissance chapels and Gothic cathedrals into family trattorie, vineyards and orchards to experience the food of Popes, princes, pilgrims and kings and wanting more.

It’s hard not to have the best time seeing and savoring Italy but it can happen. Many Americans have a narrowly defined, commercialized view of the people, places and food of Italy and pre-packaged tours often result in a show and tell version that can be less satisfying. If you’re planning a trip to Italy, take some time to “get off the bus”. There should be no excuse to come back from a trip to Italy boasting about the most wonderful food you ate, wine you drank and what you saw.

Here are some of our favorite alpha experiences traveling in Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria. Some are on and some are off the tourist flow. They are in no particular order and are just the beginning of your tour of a land perfectly constructed for the enjoyment of man. Where even after 15+ years and 15,000+ miles seeing and savoring Italy makes me come back for more.

Driving le strade dei vini  e sapori, the wine and food routes of Italy

Seeing 1800 statutes up on the roof of the Milan Duomo and the baptismal pools of the paleo-Christian archeological site hidden below

Stopping at an aperitivo bar in Milan for a struzzichini (nibble) and Campari and Soda

The Obika Mozzarella bar in La Rinascente  and window shopping on Via Monte Napoleone in Milan

An afternoon spent at Castello Sforza in Milan

The luminous crystal roof of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan centro

The Navigli canal district of Milan

Visit to CityLife,  Milan’s newest shopping and business district

Michelangelo Caprese

A dinner of costoletta alla Milanese and an authentic Milanese risotto

A plate of Milanese Osso bucco

An authentic Margherita pizza

Eating panforte in Siena

Panoramic landscape of The Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta near San Quirico d’Orcia in Tuscany

A bowl of Tuscan ribollita

A panzanella salad

A summer afternoon spent at the lake side resort town of Sirmione near Lake Garda stopping at every gelateria

Walking the promenade of Bellagio

Eating lavarello, a type of whitefish, on the shores of Lake Como

Off the tourist radar to see the Roman ruins of Veleia near Castell’d’Arquato near Parma

Tuscan crostini di fegato and fettunta

A panzerroti, a pocket of soft billowy dough that tastes like a closed pizza, down the street from Milan’s Duomo at Luini’s panificio

Milan’s Ambrosiana gallery and library to see Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit and Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus

Leonardo’s Last Supper in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie, Milan

A taste of gelato at any Riva Reno Gelateria or Gelateria di Piazza in San Gimignano

The funicular to Bergamo Alta, (the upper part of the city), the capital of polenta for a taste of polenta e osei, tiny little bird cakes gilded a yellow gold to imitate polenta and stuffed with almond paste and chocolate mousse

A stay at Le Ginestre , a two-storied Tuscan farmhouse, on the grounds of Castello Bibbione, Machiavelli’s Hunting Lodge, San Casciano in Val di Pesa near Florence

The dramatic Camera degli Sposi  in Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, one of 500 rooms of Renaissance glory in the renowned court of the Gonzaga

The Great Fresco Cycle of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua

Eating a bistecca alla fiorentina (Tuscan T-bone) in the Val d’ Chiana

Radda in Chianti to visit the Chianti Cashmere Goat Company

A stay at the Hotel Tiferno in Citta’ di Castello in Umbria

Driving a Ferrari through the streets of Maranello

The Eugubine Tablets in Gubbio

Baci and chocolate at the Perugina Chocolate Factory in Perugia

Fidenza Village Outlet Shopping Center near Parma

Siena’s Campo and Lorenzetti’s allegorical frescoes of Good and Bad Government in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico

Eating a plate of cappellacci  di zucca (big hat pasta) with a butter and sage sauce in Ferrara


The Franciscan Santuario of La Verna

A glass of Montefalco Sagrantino

The hot springs of Bagno Vignoni

The fish market of Treviso

A drive through Tuscany’s Chocolate Valley

Eating Tagliatelle al ragù Bolognese near Bologna

Tasting authentic Parmigiano Reggiano in Parma

The aroma of the grass, herbs and wildflowers of Italy

An insalata caprese made with authentic mozzarella di bufala, from Campania

The Luigi Fantini Celtic-Etruscan Archeological Museum near Monterenzio in the Bolognese Hills

The tri-lingual experience of the Northern Italian Trentino-Alto Adige (Sud-Tirol) and the towns and villages of the Dolomiti drinking Bozen beer, eating the local food  at Hopfen and Company  and seeing the Ice Man in Bolzano

The chimneys and Leaning Tower of Portogruaro near Venice

The seaside resort town of Carole on the northern Adriatic coast with beautiful winding streets, colorful houses and dinner at La Ritrovata Ristorante

La Rotonda; the Palladian Villas and the whimsical Villa of the Dwarfs along the Brenta Canal near Vicenza

A picnic lunch along Lake Trasimeno driving from Tuscany to Umbria

The medieval town of Castell Arquato near Parma with dinner at at Ristorante Don Ferdinando and the night at Hotel Leon d’Oro

A visit to a caseficio (cheese factory/dairy) to see the art of Italian cheese making

The Charlemagne Castello di Gropparello and “Parco delle Fiabe” for the fairies and elves of Vezzeno Gorge and the  Leggenda of the Ghost of Rosania Fulgosio

Driving through the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany

The city of Pienza for pecorino cheese and a visit to Palazzo Piccolomini

The hot springs at Terme Antica Querciolaia near the town of Rapolano Terme in Tuscany

A tasting of artisan crafted Italian beer at Birra Toccalmato near Parma

Stay at the Prisciana Suites in Ferrara and dinner at La Romantica with a visit to Castello Estense and Palazzo Schifanoia,

Museo di Tartufo in San Giovanni d’Asso for an addictive truffle experience

Abazzia Sant’Antimo only 9 km away from the Brunellos of Montalcino

Gregorian chants and the Great Cloister at Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore near Siena  

Driving the iconic landscape of Tuscany’s Crete Senesi

The authentic Northern Italian river town of Bassano del Grappa,  to drink grappa, eat white asparagus and walk across the Ponte degli Alpini (Bridge of the Alpini), a covered bridge designed by Palladio that commemorates fallen soldiers from WWII

A stay at the Lodole Country House in the Bolognese Hills near Monzuno

A visit to Tenuta di Capezzana for estate bottle extra virgin olive oil, world renown Vin Santo and Tuscan wine

Verona; the Arena, Casa Giulietta and dinner at La Greppia

The wines and cellars of Tenuta Vitanza Montalcino in Tuscany

A stop at the town of Valeggio sul Mincio with lunch or dinner at Ristorante Lepre, a Buon Ricordo member restaurant to eat papparadelle con lepre (papparadelle with hare) and a plate of tortelloni

Anything in Florence including Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery, Giotto’s Tower, the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens and the view  at sunset from Piazza Michelangelo

The Medici Chapels and Church of San Lorenzo in Florence

An incensual slice of Lardo di Colonnata over warm toasted bread

A taste of coppa ferrarese bread

An order of Olive all’Ascolana, stuffed olives ascolana style a specialty of the Marche

The mosaics of Ravenna and the starry blue ceiling of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Titian’s altarpiece masterpiece in Venice’s Franciscan Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

A stop at a cicchetti bar in Venice for a nibble and an Aperol Spritz

A Venetian sgroppino, a refreshing prosecco lemon sorbet combination served in a flute

Venice period – walking tour through the Sestieri (districts)

Tour of the Consorzio Vacche Rosso to see the making of the famous Red Cow Parmigiano Reggiano in Reggio Emilia.

Attending Mass at San Cristoforo sul Naviglio (Navigli in Milan) dating from 1176.

Visiting an acetaia in Modena to discover the tradition and magic of the artisanal production of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena D.O.P.








Upon this Rock

Pre-fabricated buildings and construction with pre-engineered components much like fast food and AstroTurf moves us further away from the source of the natural materials that once made up the surroundings of our lives. Today most of our foundations are built on the synthetic and disposable with little regard for what nourishes our bodies, minds, spirits . . . and communities.

candoglia quarriesOnce upon a time this wasn’t so. Buildings were made of rock and stone and you knew where those materials came from. On October 24th 1387, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan gave the “Fabbrica del Duomo” the Candoglia marble quarries in the Italian Piemonte to use as a source of material for the construction of Milan’s Duomo, one of the largest Gothic cathedrals in Italy and Europe.

Located above the commune of Mergozzo, on the left bank of the Toce River at the mouth of the Val d’Ossola, the quarried pink-hued white marble streaked with grey (rosa candoglia) is of Paleozoic origin and still used today for maintenance and restoration work on the cathedral. The only tools used to cut the marble were iron picks, cudgels (a short heavy stick), drills, wedges and crowbars and the only way down the mountain was by way of a very risky series of ropes and pulleys. The marble, stamped ad usum fabricae ambrosianae (material for the construction of the cathedral of Milan), was then loaded on to flatboats on the Toce River and transported by horse drawn barges known as cagnone, to Milan-CathedralMilan along Lake Maggiore and the Naviglio Grande.

Milan’s Duomo took more than 500 years to complete. It is 515 feet long, 302 feet wide and 148 feet in height.  There are 5 naves divided by 40 pillars with a capacity of 40,000. Inspiring and impressive, the art and altars, statues (3,400 inside and out), stained glass and reliquary of Milan’s domus Dei make it one of the greatest churches in the world. It is the heart of Milan’s cultural and social life and the strength of the marble, skill of the stonecutter, architects and artisans who worked on it have created a priceless treasure that endures.

The Misunderstood Italian

milan phone cover

After taste traveling in Italy for over 15+years and 15,000+miles sourcing products for CosituttiMarketPlace I’m asked a fair number of questions about Italy and Italians. Most of my answers are received with surprise and disbelief making me think that Americans in general don’t understand Italians. The mythology about the people and places of Italy is filled with misconceptions and most of it centers on food but there places that most tourists just don’t get and one of those is the city of Milan.

It may be that most foreign tourists to Milan come from other European countries (56%) with only 17% traveling from the US and it’s true that at first glance Milan can be a little intimidating. It doesn’t have the historical familiarity of Rome 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. Although Florence may be the beautiful and famous daughter of Rome with one of the largest collections of art and architecture on the planet*, Milan has a unique style that leads Italy into the 21st century. From Roman, medieval and Renaissance periods through Baroque, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau/Liberty and the nationalistic Novecento style architecture of the first half of the 20th century, the food, wine, art and design of Milan and environs could fill a taste traveler’s notebook many times over. With a series of subways (the Metro) and trams, getting around Milan is efficient, easy and inexpensive .

Here are a few sites that make Milan one of my favorite Italian cities.

Milan Duomo
Castello Sforzesco
La Scala                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   San Babila                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Ambrosiana
La Rinascente and Milan’s fashion District
Brera                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       A stroll under the luminous crystal roof to the cafe’s and shops in the Galleria
San’AmbrogioAbbey                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The Last Supper

*60% of the world’s most important works of art are in Italy and almost half of those are in Florence

My Friend Lui

Once when I was seeing and savoring Italy with a group of fellow taste travelers, someone asked me who my friend “Louie” was. They said I talked about him a lot. Not knowing the Italian language they didn’t realize that my friend “Louie” was actually spelled “Lui” and referred to the Italian personal pronoun for he or him. So when I would say “Lui mi piace” or “Mi piace Lui”, I wasn’t saying “I like Louie” as in a person by name but rather I was referring to someone of the male gender not necessarily named Louie.

Confusing? All the more reason for you to know a little Italian when seeing and savoring Italy. But knowing a little Italian can be a dangerous thing. Phrase book Italian is confining and is a little like speaking from a script. Learning vocabulary is good but limited. There is no “quick, easy, instant” way to learn the Italian language. A language has many dimensions and language without grammar and conjugation is a meaningless shell. Although an Italian phrase book is a good starting point for your first trip to Italy you will need to build on these rout sayings and idioms to carry on a conversation. 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.

However you decide to find your friend Lui; audio, video, textbook, flash cards or formal classes, begin and keep at it. Once when I was complaining to my Italian cousin, Ornella, about how difficult it was to study the Italian language she laughed and told me about the building of Milan’s Cathedral, the Duomo.It took 500 years to build. I sometimes feel that studying the Italian language is my Duomo but then again how else would I have found my friend Lui.

Up on the Roof

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space  

                      Song: Up on the Roof by Gerry Goffin and Carole King 1962

One of my favorite places to visit in all of Italy is the Milano Duomo.  In fact so much so that for the last 14 years, every trip begins with a flight into Malpensa (Milan’s International Airport), a stop in Sesto San Giovanni (9 km) to see my cousins and a 15 minute ride on the tube (Milan’s subway system) to Milano centro. I walk up the steps from the tube at the Duomo Metro station and before me, rising out of the concrete earth of the piazza the massive spired cathedral stands like a Gothic Transformer. For me it is an indelible sight, unforgettable, unique; a sight that created a moment in time that changed the way I felt about traveling.  It was unexpected and impressive and in a way was to represent what traveling in Italy would become for me and why I would return again and again.  

The Duomo of Milan has been described as one of the greatest churches in the world, second only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Dressed to impress, Milan’s cathedral was built of Candolglia marble from the quarries of Northern Italy. It took more than 500 years to complete, is 515 feet long, 302 feet wide and 148 feet in height. There are 5 naves divided by 40 pillars with a capacity of 40,000. Inspiring and impressive, the art and altars, statues (3,400 inside and out), stained glass and reliquary of Milan’s domus Dei make it one of the greatest churches in the world.  Yet for me the true beauty of this cathedral is up on the roof. To experience the sheer size and intimate grace of the Duomo, visit the rarified air of the roof terraces of the cathedral. It is a fairyland of pinnacles, spires and flying buttresses with a spectacular view of the city and the wide plain stretching down to the River Po (on a clear day you can see the Alps and Apennines). Mark Twain described it as a “delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath”. There are 800 statues up on the roof, “a silent population of prophets, saints, virgins, martyrs and bishops”. My first climb to the top of the roof was in 1999 with my cousin Lidia.  You can go up on the roof (salita) of the Duomo con ascensore (by lift) or a piedi (by stairs).  Like the romantic urban aspirations of James Taylor’s dreamy rendition of Up on the Roof,  it seemed to be the “only place where you just have to wish to make it so”. Up on the roof of the Duomo, the world below melted into the timeless landscape of Italy and I began to discover that traveling was as much about how you feel as what you see with many rooftops yet to discover.  

  • Geographic coordinates: 45°27′51″N, 9°11′29″ E Coordinates: 45°27′51″N, 9°11′29″E
  • There is a small charge to ride the elevator to the roof also to ascend by stairs


Becoming Easter

Even though we have 40 days to prepare, celebrating Easter seems to be more about bunnies and brunch then it does about a life changing transformation. For if we follow the teachings of faith we known that “if we die with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Romans 6:8). This was never felt more deeply than by the Early Christians.  On all accounts their devotion and unwavering belief caused them to commit and transform their lives in a ways that seem impossible. Accepting a contra-lifestyle based on the teachings of an outlawed and unpopular doctrine of redemption often took them to the brink and it began with the sacramental waters of an Easter baptism.

Images of these early Christian baptisms took on a vivid reality when I first visited the Milan Duomo, a massive Gothic spired cathedral rising out of the concrete earth of Milan Centro like it had materialized from thin air. Described as one of the greatest churches in the world (second only to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome), the building of the Duomo took more than 500 years to complete. There are 5 naves divided by 40 pillars with 3,400 statues (1800 alone on the terraced roof).  It is a fairyland of pinnacles, spires and flying buttresses with a 4 meter gilded statue of the Madonna perched on the top of the highest spire.


The art and architecture of the Milan Duomo is amazing but what is more remarkable is what is hidden and unexpected. The 135 spires of the Duomo overshadow a little known paleo-Christian archeological site hidden below the surface of the city with baptismal pools (circa 378) used by the early Christians of Milan. Through a staircase on the left of the main door of the cathedral you descend into the excavated remains of a brick wall around the perimeter of a Baptistery and a Roman road. Walking along a raised platform you see a large octagonal frontal pool where the catechumens were baptized. The pool is impressive because of its size (6.10 meters in diameter) with concealed pipes that provided a channel of “holy water” sprouting from several jets.

BaptisteryA description of the space talks about the pool being clad in Greek marble and the original flooring and walls being made of black and white marble in geometric designs. It must have been an awe-inspiring event to be led to this place on the eve of Easter and to be immersed in the water to receive that sacrament that cleanses you of your sins and binds you to all of Christendom.  As many times as I’ve seen the Milan Duomo (at last count this would be 12), the one particular thing that stands out most in my mind is being in that underground space where lives were transformed forever.