We went to Italia back in July, 2006 for 10 days. I wish I wrote about it immediately upon my return, b/c I have already forgotten so many details. Being first-timers, we did the typical route of Roma, Firenze, and Veneto. If I had to rank my favorites in order, it would be Firenze (due to Tuscany), Roma, and lastly Veneto. But, I loved them all!! Oh, and Italian cuisine is by far my favorite, and Italy only reinforced that. Going there for the food alone is worth it!
An Italian friend, and several recommendations online led us to stay in the region of Trastevere just outside the city. It was the best decision we made.. I don’t think we would have enjoyed Rome as much, had we not chosen to stay in this area. It was charming, quaint, and not nearly as touristy as downtown Rome. It was also just a short, 15 minute walk to all the major attractions. We stayed at the Santa Maria bed and breakfast. The b&b was nothing spectacular, but it had a very homey atmosphere, and wonderful to come back to after dealing with all the crowds and chaos in Rome. They served free breakfast and a had nice, complimentary antipasti spread at 5:00…perfect timing, b/c that’s the time we always got back from sight-seeing and were ready to just unwind on some yummy foccacia and wine. Our days were spent seeing all the history of Rome, which is absolutely beautiful (Coliseum, Vatican, Steps of Rome, etc). Check out the slideshow! I would get a gelato or two on our walks, and Neil would get a Panini or two (which I also picked at). The gelato in Italy is so creamy, yet light. I wish I could have had one at every gelatria we passed. The paninis in the streets of Rome are also awesome, much better than the ones in Florence or Venice. You can get all sorts of fillings (prosciutto, peppers, eggplant, basil, mozzarella, etc). The bread is so moist, and pressed firmly against the filling…almost like a stuffed pizza. It was the perfect lunch/snack to have on the go, as we were constantly on the go in Rome. Bring good walking shoes!! We did most of our dinners in Trastevere versus the touristy restaurants in the heart of Rome. Our favorite restaurant in Trastevere was Taverna Trillusa. They are known for their homemade pastas which they serve right in the pan in which they were made. We also had a veal tenderloin dish there, which I still remember to this day. It was super thick, so tender, and each bite so flavorful. Dinner time (around 10pm) and after dark is when Trastevere really shines. Everyone is out just enjoying themselves, from local families to college students. It’s full of energy and life…even on a Monday night! We loved just walking around at night and feeling the energy. We also frequented a chocolate bar every night…can’t remember the name. But, right after dinner, we went there to get a shot of rum in mini chocolate cups. On to Firenze….
We got on the euro-rail and were on our way to Florence. The euro-rail is such a great way to transport between cities. It’s fast, comfortable, and so easy to buy tickets. We spent 4 nights in Florence at the Villa De Medici Hotel. This hotel was also about a 15 minute walk from the major attractions. The hotel was beautiful, with a nice pool in the back, and a lovely complimentary breakfast. I love staying in hotels that are right outside the touristy area. During the walks to/from , you get to see so much more that you would have otherwise missed. Again, we spent our days seeing the major attractions (Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, etc), and grabbing tasty bites along the way. So many cafes and gelaterias to choose from!! We would go into multiple ones in a given day, because I just had to be sure to try everything.
I found the food to be better in Florence than in Rome. I really enjoyed the Tuscan influence...wild boar, prosciutto w/ melon, ribolita, and crostinis galore. The memorable restaurants I remember are Il Latini and Acqua Al 2. Both were touristy, but you would never know by the food. Il Latini was family style, with several courses of authentic Tuscan food and flowing drinks. The staff there is on a mission to get everyone loaded. They gave us limoncello shots followed by grappa…and yes, we were LOADED. We were seated with people we didn’t know, but we got to know each other by the end of the night! Acqua Al 2 was equally memorable. The staff was super friendly. Their concept is sampler courses. You can order the pasta sampler, in which they bring out 8 courses of different pastas from gnocchi to fusili. All were so tasty. The pasta everywhere was just heavenly…always done al dente, and so flavorful that it didn’t even need sauce. Acqua Al 2 is also known for their blueberry steak, which sounded weird at first, but it was so perfect. The tanginess and sweetness from the blueberry reduction sauce complemented the filet so wonderfully. I’ve been trying to recreate it at home unsuccessfully. If anyone has any recipes, please send!! They also have a dessert sampler, but we were too full for it…can’t believe I was too full for dessert!
The highlight of our trip was our day trip to Tuscany. We decided to go to the region of Montalcino versus Montepulciano. Everyone was raving about the Brunello di Montalcino (a red Italian wine, and similar to Sangiovese). Brunello is one of the best known and expensive wines of Italy. We rented a little baby blue panda car and decided to go out on our own and just discover. Another bad decision! We got lost constantly…and of course that meant we fought constantly. But, we finally made it to Montalcino with some other scenic stops along the way (Sienna and San Gimignano). The drive is so amazing and serene (even though we got lost). Tuscany is absolutely beautiful with its rolling hills, vineyards that go on forever, castles, etc. The drive is just breathtaking. So, once in Montalcino, we had some yummy crostinis and wine in town before going to the vineyards. The waiter at the café and several others recommended that we check out Altesino and Carpazo vineyards. It was a rough drive getting to the vineyards…all dirt roads. Altesino was closed L But, Carpazo was open, and we spent a good 2 hours there! The young woman who worked there was so incredibly friendly. She taught us so much about the wines and the region. The brunello, btw, was incredible!!! I’m sooo stupid for only buying 3 bottles. They were only like 25 EUR, while they sell for over $100 bottle here. She also did some olive oil tastings, and OMG…I have never tasted such fresh, fruity extra virgin olive oil. It didn’t need anything added to it. It tasted absolutely perfect on its own. I bought a bottle…it’s finished now :( By the time we were done with Carpazo, it was time to head back. I hear the Altesino is even better than Carpazo, which means we have to return. So, we left and drove thru Chianti. Another breathtaking drive! We stopped at Rocca De Macie vineyard on the way…..bought some more wine and more olive oil. The olive oil tastings are such a cool concept! The wine at Rocca was decent, but nothing like Carpazo. Rocca De Macie distributes heavily over here, but since we were there, why not just buy straight from them. On our way back to our hotel, we got lost again, of course… and somehow ended up on a pedestrian street in Florence. That was scary! My next trip to Italy will focus on Tuscany. A day there wasn’t enough, and there’s so much more wine to try!! I also would do a winery tour this time. While it was fun exploring on our own, I feel that we missed out on a lot.
Venice was our last destination on the trip. We were there only 2 nights, and I thought that was enough. While Venice was absolutely gorgeous and unique, we didn’t enjoy the food as much as we did in Florence and Rome. That’s probably due to bad choices on our part. We didn’t research the restaurants there ahead of time, and ended up just restaurant shopping. We also found that the people in Venice really don’t like tourists. I guess, it’s understandable, given that their entire city is constantly flooded. So, we were pretty much left to fend for ourselves on the trip. The hotel and people were generally not helpful with recommendations and suggestions on good eats. The restaurants we ended up at weren’t terrible, but not memorable either. Regardless of the food, Venice was a sight worth seeing. I mean it’s a city on water after all! The views of Venice from our hotel patio were so beautiful. One thing worth consuming in Venice are their bellinis. And where else to try it, but Venice, where the bellini was born. The bellini is a mixture of Prosecco sparkling wine and peach puree. Everywhere we went, they were serving it blended with fresh peaches. The end result was a refreshing, frothy, yummy drink. I’ve made them at home too, and will post the recipe one of these days. On the last day of our trip, Neil was totally sick of Italian food. I just didn’t understand, b/c I can eat Italian food forever, even in Venice. So, he had to just have Micky d’s for that greasy taste of America. I sat with him, looking in disgust as he chowed down on his burger. But, one cool thing was that they had mini calzones on the menu. So cute, and not bad tasting either.
Italia was a trip of a lifetime, and I am dying to go back. So, I can continue to write on. But, I don’t want to bore you anymore. If you are going to this beautiful country, and have specific questions, please let me know. I’d love to help! Ciao for now! I’m heading back to Rome in July 2008 for 3 days on the way to Turkey. I’ll take good notes this time and report back!.