Reveling in Ravello

We begin to understand Italy’s five minute rule. By the time we reach Ravello, we’ve been in Italy fourteen days, and something has become abundantly clear. Everything is five minutes and nothing is five minutes. There is a chasm between our driver’s interpretation of imagined time and real-time, but no matter, there is no need to rush. Continue reading “Reveling in Ravello”

How to Select Olive Oil

The world of olive oil is just as complicated as the world of wine. “Italy has some of the most beautiful products that anyone can imagine”, Elena Lepori tells me. “But we don’t get all those incredible products in North America.” This is why, along with her husband, Stefano, she founded the Toronto-based Lugano Fine Foods to source and import from small Italian producers the best olive oils, vinegars, pasta, and all things Italian. Continue reading “How to Select Olive Oil”

Following the steps of Napoleon Bonaparte in Parma

The cuisine of Parma has become perfected over the centuries, as we dine at Angiol d’Or, an Art Deco restaurant tucked away in the shadow of the Duoma.

Maria Luisa, daughter of the King of Austria, married Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803 and became the Duchessa di Parma. Among other delightful qualities attributed to her, was her good nature and her joy in feasting and socializing, a tradition that still prevails in this pretty, dignified town. Parmagianni revere her memory, and so it was no surprise to find an homage to her on the menu at Angel d’Or. Continue reading “Following the steps of Napoleon Bonaparte in Parma”

Italianissimo! Pasta

The romance of pasta in Gragnano, according to Pastificio dei Campi’s Giuseppe di Martini, began centuries ago when the Roman legions stored their grain here. Today, this little village of 27,000 people supplies 15.5% of the Italian export of pasta. It is the capital of Pasta and has received the Protected Geographic Indication designation (like the DOP).
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Simply Divine Treviso

On a typical morning, I wake to the sounds of the ebb and flow of early morning commerce filtering through the open window of Locanda Ponte Dante. Five guestrooms have been created in this three-story, 14th century building. Retaining its medieval charm, it has recently been renovated in Italian minimalism. And it stands on the very site mentioned by Dante in The Divine Comedy: the bend where the rivers Sile and Cagnan meet. The heart of Treviso.

It is possible to fall in love every day in Treviso. The city embraces you with its charm and old worldliness. A kiss on the hand, a chair pulled out, and all the mannerliness that has disappeared from our social intercourse.

In the first floor Antica Osteria, where traditional, seasonally changing Veneto cuisine is as popular as it ever was, breakfast is fresh apricot cake and espresso. During my morning stroll along the streets, I pause at Piazza Monte di Piete to admire the ancient architecture, and absorb the fashion forward Italian style in shop windows. At the Frutta e verdura da Piazza, they have been grooming their wares until they take on the appearance of jewels. Unblemished, unbruised and perfect, each exceptional piece is an ode to nature. On the street, they call it Bulgari, and I do tend to agree.

Midmorning, I’m anticipating a new experience. How often do I have an opportunity to enjoy an ombre and panini at a 100-year-old restaurant? At Vecia Hostaria dai Naneti, there are no tables; everything is focused around the bar where Beppi and Fabio keep wines from Italy’s vineyards. Every corner breeds tradition. It is a fascinating museum of the local culinary history.

There is an afternoon of excitement planned at Villa Sandi. The Chairman, Giancarlo Moretti Polegato, is the supreme host, and escorts me through the cellars, his grounds and his motorcycle room, where I’m surprised to see taxidermy of Canadian moose. We are in the town of Valdobbiadene, the heart of prosecco country in Treviso. A tasting of vigna La Rivetta Cartizze and Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore is a reminder of why this sparkling elixir is one of my long time favourites.

History and cuisine march on the border of Venice and Treviso to the 90-year-old Ristorante Menegaldo. It has grown from a small trattoria after the First World War to a fine dining family run restaurant. Franco Menegaldo has a concise point of view: excellent ingredients and a lot of passion. It is self evident in the array of mollusk, scallops, razor clams and a variety of baked and grilled fish, all still prepared in the same time-honoured traditions.

It is easy to make friends in Treviso. Tonight Hanna, Vanessa, Ida and I will meet in the courtyard of Abituè for a classic local diversion, the long aperitivo. There is a style here so casual and unconstructed that it is no surprise it is replicated worldwide. A series of delectable savouries and cocktails carry us well into the dinner hour.

To dine well in Treviso, one must take a table at Ristorante Da Alfredo Relais El Toulà. Overseen by consummate restaurateur Arturo Filipini and his son Nicola, this is where our high expectations for exuberant cuisine are met. In the bar, the patina of warm wood adds a glamorous glow. In the dining room paintings, frescos and art objects hark back to the Bel Époque. Fresh baby artichokes finely sliced into salads; zucchini blossoms bursting with their gentle fillings; fish from nearby lake-to-plate that comes redolent with herbs and local olive oils. Traditional cuts of veal and beef prepared to centuries-old recipes that have been admirably adapted to coincide with today’s palate. Pasta is offered with every meal, of course. I cannot order, I leave my choices to the kitchen and happily enjoy each course. Around us are the dialects and languages of an international community of gourmets, dining on naturally fine fare.

Romance flirts in the fabric of Treviso. At Pizzeria S. Agostino they make pizza in the shape of a heart. At the Fontana Delle Tette, the sculpture created for Treviso in 1559, the populous comes to quench their thirst at the breast of the Fontana in the courtyard of the palace Zignoli. Today, however, they quaff fresh water and not red and white wine.

I am seriously considering a return to spend a few months in this languid, lovely region. It is the stuff that dreams are made of, and I have my eye on a fabulous rental at Appartamenti Villa Domenica.

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Roman Holiday

For those who are obsessed with the drama, history and beauty of Italian cinema, there is no better place to discover it than from Hotel Mediterraneo and Hotel Massimo D’Azeglio, two Bettoja hotels in the heart of Rome.

Beginning in October through December, both hotels are offering a new “DORMIRE SUL SET” (“Sleeping on Set”) package in partnership with Cinecittà, the famous backlot studio that was so beloved by Federico Fellini, he had an apartment built for himself next to the Studio Five soundstage. “His furniture is gone,” says Ben-Hur producer Sean Daniel, adding, “But we like to think that his spirit and his ghosts are still here.”

The massive 100-acre studio, which was built in 1937 and has more than 20 stages, is about 30 minutes from the hotels by Metro or taxi. It has been the filming location for countless movies, such as both Ben-Hur films, Cleopatra and nearly all of Fellini’s productions, including La Dolce Vita and 8 ½. Three permanent outdoor sets–Ancient Rome, the Temple of Jerusalem and Florence in the 1400s–are open for guided tours. Guests can learn about the variety of performances that have been filmed on them, including Rome, The Borgias, The Young Messiah, the 2012 Romeo & Juliet remake, a Coldplay music video and a Victoria’s Secret ad. There is also an indoor exhibition that chronicles the history of movie-making in Italy.

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Thanks to their gracious and timeless décor, the Mediterraneo and the Massimo D’Azeglio have had their own starring roles as filming locations. Careful viewers will spot the hotels in shows and movies like HBO’s The Young Pope, Ocean’s Eleven, The Americans, and Trust, the FX series about the abduction of John Paul Getty III in Italy.

Hotel Mediterraneo was built in 1936 and blends museum-worthy Art Deco design and furnishings (including a stylish marble staircase) with historical touchstones such as maps, prints and marble busts of Roman emperors. Set on Esquiline Hill, the highest of Rome’s seven hills, the ten-story hotel is among the highest buildings in Rome’s center and affords sweeping views of the city from its rooftop bar and terrace suites. The hotel’s spacious 251 rooms vary in décor and all feature graciously high ceilings and modern, new marble bathrooms. Free Wi-Fi and a fitness center are also available to all guests. The nearby Hotel Massimo D’Azeglio has 185 rooms with is a special focus on history, with original paintings from the 1860s Risorgimento (unification) period. The artwork focuses on the historical figures who were part of this movement, such as Massimo D’Azeglio, the hotel’s namesake, who was a statesman, painter and writer. Both hotels are part of the Bettoja Hotel Group, which also includes the more intimate Hotel Atlantico, which is connected to the Mediterraneo. Also at the hotels are two fine restaurants, including Massimo D’Azeglio and the Roof Garden, with an unforgettable city view.

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The Bettoja hotels’ location is unbeatable: They are within walking distance from the Colosseum, Opera House, Forum, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. Guests find themselves perfectly situated to explore the Eternal City by metro, bus or on foot. The Stazione Termini, convenient for train excursions to Florence or Naples, is a block away. You can make a day trip to Florence very easily, and be back at your hotel to spend the night.

Prices for the “DORMIRE SUL SET” Sleeping on Set” package start at €260 per person, which includes accommodations in a superior double room a guided tour of Cinecittà for up to 15 people.

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Fish and Chef in Lake Garda

Fish and Chef is a splendid annual food and wine extravaganza that takes place in the lovely area that surrounds Lake Garda. To Malcesine, Garda, Cavaion Veronese, Bardolino andcPeschiera del Garda come Italy’s finest Michelin-starred chefs to rediscover the cuisine of the region, interpret it in their own style and offer it to an international guest list. Continue reading “Fish and Chef in Lake Garda”

All Roads Lead to Rome

The railroad station is a microcosm of the world’s travelers. Looking at the monitor, with its evolving schedules and locales, it is clear that all roads lead to Rome. Convenience is central to our needs right now, and we’re at the Mediterraneo Hotel, across the square from the stazione. Our pleasing reminder of Italian hospitality begins in the breakfast dining room, with its cheery turquoise blue ceramic tile floor, and the cacophony of people speaking many languages while enjoying one cuisine. Italian.
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The Fabulousness of Firenze

“There are two kinds of light: the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.” —James Thurber

Surely Thurber had Florence in mind. Florence glows in illuminary light that is evident in the paintings of the early Renaissance. The sun bathes the piazzas and statue of David in incandescent beauty, making the cold marble look warm. After a sudden shower, the sunlight in the centuries old, private garden of the Four Seasons Hotel creates a magical space. We have been watching the rain during breakfast through the Paladio-style windows in the Michelin starred Il Palagio restaurant. It’s my favourite meal of the day, served on exquisite china along with a flute of champagne. The beginning of another fabulous day in Firenze.
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Classic Chianti

Driving in Italy requires a fearless attitude and a great degree of skill. Fortunately, we have connected with a gladiator of the highway, Simone Baldanzi, of Chianti Drivers. Through rainstorms that flooded the roads, along hairpin curves around cliffs, he remains cheerful, informative and cooperative. And as a bonus, his car radio is equipped with WiFi.
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