You think you know Italy. You’ve traveled to Rome, Venice and Florence. You’ve been to Siena, Cinque Terre, the Amalfi coast and Como. You’ve been to Pisa, Parma and Pompei and basked under the Tuscan sun. Seen the towers of San Gimignano and drunk the Brunellos of Chianti. Bravo fellow Italian traveler you’ve just began to discover Italy!
There’s much more to see and learn about Italy and like the proverbial onion or tip of the iceberg you need to dig deeper and peel away the layers of “show and tell” travel to discover Italy beyond the beltway. Mozart toured Europe as a child, something that was not commonly done at that time. Traveling with his father and other members of his family he performed for various courts and dignitaries. Journeys that exposed him to many different styles of music (notably Italian and German) with lasting impressions that influenced his destiny as a composer. Mozart made three trips to Italy with varying degrees of pleasure and success but uncontested in the wealth of ideas that strongly influenced his artistic development.
On your next trip to Italy, travel like Mozart, go further afield and look for something completely different. Besides Assisi visit La Verna, a Franciscan retreat in the centre of the Tuscan Apennines, where Francis received the stigmata. Discover that there’s more than wine in and around Chianti, visit San Giovanni d’Asso near Siena for truffles with a side trip to an Italian terme. Drive the historical route of the Brenta Riviera and visit the Palladian villas of the Veneto near Vicenza. Stop at Trattoria Porto Menai dall’ Antonia along the canal in Mira for a spectacular feast of scampi giganti griglia (giant shrimp, grilled) with prosecco to drink.
You may have seen the Sistine Chapel but the mosaics of Ravenna will leave you with an equal sense of wonder. Leonardo’s Last Supper is amazing but Giotto’s interpretation, located in the Scrovegni chapel on the estate grounds of a Paduan money lender’s son who in atonement for his father’s sins sought redemption through art, is in many ways as intriquing as Leonardo’s masterpiece in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. Discover antica farmacia (pharmacies) where healing ingredients from nature create an Italian sense of benessere. They can be found all over Italy if you know where to look. Visit Ferrara, Verona, the Gonzaga court of Mantua and Bellagio for a romantic view.
Learn new things about Italy to add to what you already know and come up with something completely different in your travels. I guarantee you’ll never think of Italy the same afterwards and never think about having a cappuccino after 12 noon.
On a recent taste and travel trip I stayed in the village of San Giovanni d’Asso, in the heart of the Crete Senesi. The Crete Senesi (pronounced KREH-teh seh-NEH-seh) is a rolling panorama of wind swept hills and isolated farmhouses south of Siena where you can find the road less traveled. It is the parallel universe of Chianti and attracts travelers seeking the elemental Tuscan experience. The rolling hills are dotted with cyclists and the woods that straddle the Crete and the Val d’Orcia are the perfect place to find the legendary tartufo bianco, Italian white truffle.
San Giovanni d’Asso is the home of the Museo di Tartufo, Italys first museum dedicated to the truffle and you will definitely want to visit the unique exhibits that allow you to get up close and personal with the prized fungus. There’s even an “odorama” exhibit that allows visitors to experience the heady aromas of dozens of different kinds of truffles.
Located in a 13th century castle, the museum is next to La Locanda del Castello, a country inn with an equally powerful effect on your senses. Your sense of taste, touch, smell and vision are all heightened by the atmosphere created by the owner Selvana, her son Massimo and innkeeper, Fiorella who make your stay at the inn very special. You arrive at the locanda piazza where a series of contemporary sculptures are on display then walk through the Castello drawbridge and into the castle courtyard. The intimate ristorante downstairs from the inn (very convenient) is rustic-Italian chic with a private veranda that overlooks the landscape of the town and valley below. When ordering, I would willingly take the advice of chef Enrico whose Nouveau Tuscan cuisine and artful presentation was fantastici . I ate a delicious pici pasta with cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) one night and another night wild boar ragu’ that was both delicate and bold. The caprese salad and assorted salumi included Lardo di Colonnata, a protected Tuscan delicacy that is particular to the region. My room was decorated with 19th century Italian country furniture combined with touches of French toile fabric to create what I would imagine to be the style of day when traveling from locanda to locanda.
My final day in Tuscany was spent at a terme. Terme is the Italian word for thermal waters. Popes, pilgrims, princes and everyday Italians have traveled to these natural hot springs seeking the beneficial virtures of the waters to regenerate the body and mind since ancient times. On last year’s trip I got “my feet wet” at Bagno Vignoni, a small medieval town south of Siena. This year I would go Terme Antica Querciolaia near the town of Rapolano Terme. There are other popular termes in Italy; Montecatini and Saturnia come to mind that are more tourist oriented, but I like to travel like an Italian so this type of terme appeals to me. It is small, family oriented (yes, Italian children come with their parents) with 3 large pools rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. I spent one memorable afternoon in September languishing in the thermal waters of Antica Querciolaia under the Tuscan sun knowing that this was another reason why Italy is the best place on earth.