“ITALY” brings many images to mind, the language and the land, the culture and the history. Particularly iconic for Italy is the food and the wine, each region with its own specialities. There is more to Italy than just Spaghetti Bolognese, Pizza Napolitana and a glass of Lambrusco. Wine is something that has developed over hundreds or even thousands of years. Different people have different tastes, and different regions have different products to offer. Italy is one of the great wine producing countries of the world. We can imagine that Italian food must have a deeper and more complex history than wine. Many mediterranean countries take a long break for lunch, “Pranzo” in Italy it is not fast food. The combination of Historical sightseeing, visiting great Italian wineries and finding the real traditional Italian food experience could be one your best holiday choices ever made.
Your chauffeur-guide will meet you at the airport and introduce you to Imperial Rome. There are highlights to see, not least the Colosseum and much more. The old streets have an electric atmosphere. To settle down to a glass of vino is also an option.
The Ancient Romans knew very well how to enjoy the pleasures of life, had already figured out centuries ago the potential of this region, with its volcanic soils and lakes, and the mild climate. The hills surroundings Rome produce a lot of wine.
Particularly to recommend from this region of Lazio, for white wine is Frascati, for red wine is Cesanese del Piglio. Of course these wines can be ordered in bars, restaurants and enoteca of Rome. To visit the vineyards of Frascati is on the edge of Rome, less than an hour’s drive. To visit the vineyards of Cesanese del Piglio is out of town to the east over an hour’s drive, but could be included on the way to Naples.
For the food tips in Rome: “alla Romana” means the Roman way of doing things. Artichoke, lamb, lard and olive oil are important ingredients.
Pizza Bianca – light, fluffy, crispy and salty foccacia style pizza bread
Pizza Rome style – a thin base and lightly charred
Fritti – whether seafood, vegetable or flower, sweet or savory always deep fried.
Carbonara is a classic pasta dish. There is even a Pasta Museum.
Quinto Quarto (the fifth quarter) are the popular offal dishes such as La Pajata veal intestines Pecorino is a sheep’s milk cheese, the older the harder, between mozzarella soft and parmesan hard.
On completing the sightseeing of Rome and the Vatican City, we head south to Naples. A big city in southern Italy, it sits on the Bay of Naples near Mount Vesuvius. It is the capital of the Campania region, and is certainly one of the most interesting cities in Europe- at once chaotic and melancholic; degraded and beautiful. Dating back 4000 years, it has centuries of important art and architecture. Its landmarks include Naples Cathedral, whose Chapel of San Gennaro is filled with frescoes and statues, the lavish Royal Palace and Castel Dell’Ovo castle. The Camorra mafia is from here.
The highlights of the cuisine are based on the raw ingredients of seafood, tomatoes, basil, lemon and buffalo milk mozzarella. As Naples is famous for tomatoes, dishes labelled Napolitana mean the Naples way, but often with tomato. Naples is also renowned for its distinctive style of thin-crust pizza. Another classic dish is Spaghetti alla Puttanesca literally means “Whore’s Spaghetti”! It is a hot, spicy, salty pasta dish made from typical local ingredients: fresh tomatoes, olives, chili peppers, garlic, and capers, all sauteed in olive oil and presented with a sprinkling of fresh parsley.
There is a large choice of excellent dining experiences available.
A visit to the Mustilli Vineyard just north of Naples would be possible.
Today we move on to Pompeii on the south side of Mount Vesuvius, a vast archaeological site. Once a thriving and sophisticated Roman city, Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash after the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius 2000 years ago. It has been well excavated so we can visit and see much detail of life as it was. Highights to see may include the House of the Fawn and the House of the Tragic Poet. Those enthralled by the site may prefer to paw over it more carefully.
We are still in the Campania region. With its Ancient Greek grape producing unique and little known blockbuster reds and fragrant delicate whites. “Greco” and “Aglianico” (“Hellenic”) both mean “Greek”. Pliny, the Roman historian, wrote about both of these grapes in his ancient encyclopedia. Taurasi and Serpico are red wines, Falanghina and Greco are white wines.
For a vineyard visit today we could go to Montevetrano Estate near Salerno. For a special meal or even cooking school there is the Il Principe restaurant in Pompeii, or for more modest prices Il Giardino delle Esperidi.
Today we go to Bari on the Adriatic coast, the capital of the Puglia region.We could stop by some vineyards in the Avellino area of Campania on our way to Bari.
Feudi di San Gregorio wine estate in the village of Sorbo Serpico, Cantine Caggiano in Taurasi or Colli di Lapio. Puglia, also called Apulia, is “the heel” of the boot of peninsular Italy. Puglia is a very fertile region. Olive trees, wheat fields and vines cover the territory of Puglia like a colourful patchwork. Most visitors to Italy are not familiar with this region, or the wonderful food and wines on offer.
Bari is a port city. In terms of regular sightseeing there is a cathedral, a basilica and an imposing castle. The old town area is right out by the old port where you can see the fishermen landing their catch.
The flagship red grape of Puglia is Primitivo, genetically the same as California’s Zinfandel grape. The wines made with Primitivo are luscious, heavy and definitely “food wines”.“Castel del Monte” is one of Puglia’s best known wine names. The white wines and the rosés are also very good.
Puglia is known as the breadbasket of Italy, producing most of Italy’s pasta, much of its fish, and more olive oil than the rest of Italy. Typical dishes in Puglia, to accompany their local wines include Aubergine Parmigiano, Orecchiette pasta, flavored breads and aged ricotta. From Bari it is possible to make a side trip to Alberobello to see the traditional houses and visit the Cantina Albea Winery.
Today we take the coast road north from Bari to Pescara. Before we leave Puglia we can visit vineyards in the Castel del Monte area, Torrevento or Santa Lucia near Corato. Cantina d’Arapri or Cantine Teanum in San Severo and Cantine Losito in the Terre del Gargano, by the Gargano National Park. Pescara is the largest city in the Abruzzo region.
Being right next to the sea, seafood dishes are plentiful and of high quality at pretty much every restaurant – from the exclusive eateries to the beachside cafés. The Pescarese are also keen on cooking their dishes with chilli or peperoncino, which, according to traditional belief, helped drive away evil spirits. One of Pescara’s specialities is Polpi in purgatorio, octopus cooked in tomatoes, garlic and chilli peppers.
Fresh seafood at the Pescara port where many fishermen have converted their waterside huts (travocchi) into very small restaurants.
Recommended regional dishes:
o Brodetto – a fish soup with mussels, fish and tomatoes and a hunk of bread.
o Lamb kebabs, known as arrosticini, are also another Pescarini favourite. They are cooked on coals and served with bread and oil.
o To help wash down all this fine dining, sampling some of the local red wine, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is the best known.
For local vineyard visits near Pescara:
o Cantina Agriverdi Caldari di Ortona
o Cantina Tollo
o Casa Vinicola Roxan at Rosciano
Now we leave the coast to visit Umbria. Assisi is best known as the birthplace of St. Francis of medieval times, founder of the Franciscan monastic order and the patron saint of Italy. It is a village perched on a hill. Perugia is a city perched on a hill. Both seeping with history and very attractive with steep narrow streets.
For an Assisi vineyard we can visit the Saio Farm at the foot of Assisi
For a Perugia vineyard the Goretti winery is located just south from the city center.
The region is full of medieval hamlets sitting on hilltops surrounded by vineyards, small and intimate wineries making superb wines such as the native Sagrantino, and some of the best olive oil in Italy. The local cuisine is scented by the local black truffle and the famous charcuterie from Norcia, not to forget Perugia’s famed chocolate.
From Perugia we head north to Bagno di Romagna, from there on our way to Venice we can consider to drop by Bologna, San Marino or Ravenna. To include all three would be too much.
The City and Republic of San Marino known as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino.
Bologna with its nicknames “la dotta, la grassa e la rossa” or “the learned, the fat and the red”. In the wine region of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna divides Emilia to the west, Romagna to the east. Of course Bolognese means how they do things in Bologna, and quite famous world wide is the dish “ragu” Bolognese, pertaining to a pasta dish served with a minced beef based sauce.
Ravenna is by the sea, for a few centuries it was the capital of the Roman Empire. Ravenna is in the Romagna part of the Emilia-Romagna wine region. There are many wineries in and near Ravenna. The Sangiovese grape for red, and Albana and Trebbiano for typical white wines.
We pass the delta of Italy’s longest river, the Po. Before reaching Venice we could make a stop at Chioggia, known as Little Venice. Venice itself is a city built on islands using a canal system to connect the spires and domes, bridges and squares with jems of shops, bars and restaurants hidden between. The Veneto region is northeastern Italy and encompasses a massive territory including the eastern shores of Lake Garda in the west, the majestic Dolomites in the north and Venice in the east. There are many different wine appellations, some of the most famous being Valpolicella and Prosecco. For the food of Venice, rice and risotto, polenta and Venetian Zaleti polenta cakes are very traditional. Cicchetti are small snacks reminiscent of tapas, Seppia al nero is squid in its ink, Sarde in Saor marinated sardines. Fegato alla venesiana is liver the venetian way, Baccala mantecato a cod paste spread on polenta or bread. Tiramisu a classic dessert said to come from the Veneto region.
Leaving from Venice we take a look at Padua on the way to Verona. Padua is renowned for its Scrovegni Chapel, its Basilica of Saint Anthony and the old university. Salvan and La Mincana are two local wineries.
Verona is a Roman town in northwest Veneto well known as the site of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with a Roman Arena and a great ambience. Valpolicella is a beautiful wine region located north of Verona and home to the famous Amarone wines. The region is full of pretty wine producing hamlets, patchworked vineyards, gentle hills and ancient parish churches. We could visit Villa Crine, a small family vineyard.
Bardolino wine is from just northwest from Verona on the east shores of Lake Garda, we could visit Zeni Winery.
Our destination for today is Desenzano on the southern shoes of Lake Garda, with the waterfront, the old town and a castle to explore
Lombardy’s myriad wine regions include some of Italy’s best such as the high-altitude, intense, red wines of Valtellina; the chique
bubblies of Franciacorta; and the delicate wines of Lugana, on Lake Garda. The Berlucchi Winery would be on our way to Bergamo. Bergamo has three levels, San Vigilio on top with the castle ruins, Citta Alta as the original hilltop settlement and Citta Bassa (lower town) as the modern developement. We can take a look at Bergamo before arriving in Milan. For Italy, Bergamo is the cheese capital, so a dairy visit can be an option, even the Gritti family buffalo dairy with the brand Quattro Portoni of Mozzarella and other cheeses in the Cologno al Serio district of Bergamo.
In Milan particularly famous are the cathedral and La Scala Opera house. As a major Italian city and the capital of Lombardy and the north it has the best of cuisine and wine.
Today we are going to the west coast of peninsular Italy. On the way we pass Parma of the ham fame, but also renowned for cheese, architecture and the old university, and the composer Verdi. For a winery visit we could stop at Monte Delle Vigne near Parma where they produce several wines including Lambrusco.
Then we come to Massa, a medieval town dominated by its castle La Rocca with some nice restaurants in the Marina area. Then we continue south to Pisa. Although the iconic leaning tower beside the cathedral is a must-see, this town has a nice ambience.
We are in Tuscany so of course there is great food and wine. Look out for mushrooms and truffles, sweet corn and chestnuts, and some good Chianti wines.
For a wine tasting or vineyard tour San Gervasio gives good options, just east from Pisa, on the way to Florence.
We are crossing Tuscany with a chance to visit Florence with or without the museums, galleries and cathedral, but before entering the city we drop by the Piazzale Michelangelo for the view. Then we go south to Siena with its Piazza del Campo square and the cathedral.
We are still in the land of olive oil and truffles, for starters Crostini di Fegato is chicken liver pate on toast, or Bruschetta is garlic bread with tomatoes and herbs. Pappardelle sulla Lepre is pasta with a hare sauce and Ribollita is a vegetable and bread soup. There are very good pastries like Ricciarelli which are almond cookies, and pride of place: Panforte, the Siena dessert particularly popular at Christmas time.
Siena is sitting between the Chianti, Vino di Nobile and Brunello wine regions so it has an excellent choice of wines.
Chianti Classico is from the area between Florence and Siena
Vino di Nobile is from Montepulciano an hour southeast from Siena.
Brunello wines at Montalcino an hour south from Siena
In Siena itself just on the edge of town is the Azienda Agricola Marciano giving vineyard and winery tours, tastings and cooking classes.
We are going to Lake Bolsena but before leaving Tuscany we could visit wineries in either Montalcino or Montepulciano, or both, to increase our understanding of Vino di Nobile and Brunello wines.
Lake Bolsena is a crater lake of volcanic origin in the Lazio region, same as Rome. For some history we can visit Montefiascone overlooking the lake dominated by its cathedral and fortress. Bolsena itself is a beautiful lakeside resort town dominated by its fortress but given relief by the lake’s clear waters and sandy beaches.
For a winery tour the Puri family have run Villa Puri since 1450 in Bolsena with Est! Est!! Est!!! and Muffato della Villa as the white wines, and Cannaiola, Montarone, Voltone and Macchia del Prete as red wines.
Today we end the journey with our descent upon Rome. We will pass Viterbo, the provincial capital and medieval walled town on a hilltop with its charming old quarter. Nearby is the 16th century Villa Lante with beautiful gardens, and the 16th century Villa Farnese and its gardens. Then we pass Bracciano with its volcanic lake and its massive castle Castello Orsini Odescalchi and into Rome.
You know Rome already but perhaps you have a remaining unfulfilled wish to see, eat or drink…?
Depending upon departure time, Rome at leisure, whether sightseeing or a spot of shopping, even just another delicacy to squeeze into your luggage, then your transfer to the airport. So with your heart, memories and taste buds laden with the flavours of Italy, and a deepening of your feel for European wines and cuisine, we send you off home.