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

Assisi

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
Navigli
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

Milan Magnified

I’ve traveled to Milan for the last 15 years on both business and pleasure. My Italian cousins live in Milan (Porto Genova) and in Sesto San Giovanni, a suburb of Milan about 6 miles from the city. I usually stay in Sesto and take the tube to Milan Centro but this year I stayed in an apartment in Milan. Down the street from the Duomo, near Zara and Geoxx, around the corner from the Galleria and Pecks I was right in the heart of the city and if the number of people pulsating through Milan’s main  arteries was any indication of the health of the city, I would say it was in danger of a cardiac arrest. The frenetic pace was a little overwhelming and decidedly different from my past times in the city.

When I first traveled to Milan in the late ‘90’s, the city was vibrant and bustling with an Italian urban vibe that reflected its role as the 5th largest city in the EU, the largest city in Italy and according to my Milanese cousins the most important.  Milan is Italy’s center of commerce and industry, fashion and finance and even with a population well over one million, the refined Milanese seemed to be able to balance it all.  The trams, traffic and people all moved with the determined synchronicity of a large metropolitan city and although the “juxtaposition of different centuries and styles” (ancient , Gothic Renaissance, Romanesque, neo-classic, art deco, post-modern) can be mezmerizing, Milan seemed to take it all in stride.  In Milan you can attend performances at the venerable La Scala or at the modern Teatro degli Arcimboldi.  You can shop couture on Via MonteNapoleone or the quaint shops of Leonardo’s boho Navigli canal district. You can visit a Visconti palace (Castello Sforzesco) and then take a stroll through Parco Sempione.

In Milan you can eat in some of the most exquisite restaurants in the world or grab a panzerotti , a pocket of soft billowy dough that tastes like a closed pizza, from a street side shop down from the Duomo.  I had mine standing in line with my Italian cousins on a rainy October afternoon with about 30 other munching Milanese savoring every bite at Luini’s panificio on Via S.Radegonda 16. City dwellers and in-the-know tourists line-up by the dozens for Luini’s famous doughnut-like pizza. A gastronomic specialty from Puglia, panzerotti were brought to the Milan in 1949 by Giuseppina Luini seeking her fortune in the post-war Lombardian capital of the north.

Panzerotti  may be a metaphor for my magnified view of Milan 2012. Over-stuffed yet filled  with a flavorful mix of people and cultures with dreams of success and the will to make those dreams come true.  Sounds to me like another larger-than-life city in the US where our Nonna traveled to in 1920 along with thousands of other immigrants. Except instead of a lady in the harbor with a torch to light the way, Milan has a great cathedral with Gothic spires that rise out of the concrete earth of the main piazza like it had materialized from thin air. In the fairyland of statues on the rooftops of the Duomo cathedral is another lady of meaninful beauty. Perched on the top of the highest cathedral spire (the guglia del tiburio  “lantern spire”) is a gilded statue of the Virgin Mary or Madonnina, (little Madonna), Milan’s shinning beacon to the rest of the world that leads their way into another city with a big heart. I hope the Milanese can manage to keep it heart healthy.