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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Lake Como, The Movie Star

Our December 2014/January 2015 issue featured the best of Lake Como. The lake is so beautiful and enticing that at least 26 director  have set at least part of their films in Lake Como and 82 movie stars have performed in these scenes.

Here are some of the best known:

  • Casino Royale  with Daniel Craig, filmed at Villa La Gaeta in San Siro and Villa del Balbianello in Lenno, 2006
  • Ocean’s Twelve with George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, filmed at Villa Erba in Cernobbio and Villa Oleandra in Laglio, 2004
  • Star Wars: Episode 11 – Attack of the Clones with Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Hayden Christensen, filmed at Parco Civico in Tremezzo and Villa del Balbianello, 2002
  • The Other Man’with Laura Linney and Liam Neeson (2008)
  • The Luzhin Defence’with John Turturro and Emily Watson (2001)
  • Bobby Deerfield with Al Pacino (1977)
  • The Last 4 Days of Mussolini with Rod Steiger and Henry Fonda (1974)
  • The Pleasure Garden’ directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1925)
Film buffs and Lake Como enthusiasts alike who want more details may pick up the complimentary Stars of Lake Como guidebook at the tourist office in Como at Piazza Cavour, 17.  -- Barrie Kerper

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Siena Museum Reopens

The Museum of Santa Maria della Scala, a former hospital in Siena, has opened following renovation, featuring a new segment dedicated to the history of Siena and several ancient silver, gold, and precious stone Byzantine reliquaries. The building opened to the public as a museum in 1995; extensive renovation began in 1998 and has continued in phases since then, with about half of the complex currently open to the public.

One of the oldest hospitals in Europe, it was founded in 898 and served as such for more than 800 years. In the 14th century, the hospital commissioned several altar paintings and exterior and interior frescoes by artists Simone Martini and brothers Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti; time has worn down the exterior frescoes, but those on the interior have been restored. The museum also houses Etruscan artifacts, chapels and several other paintings.

The museum, at Piazza Duomo 1, is open daily. Opening hours vary. Admission is nine euros per person. -- Elaine Murphy

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Explore Tuscany with SimpleItaly

Dream of Italy contributors Sharon and Walter Sanders will host Tuscany Tour with SimpleItaly with four week-long immersion programs in 2015: April 11-18, April 18-25; October 3-10, October 10-17.

Sharon and Walter met, fell in love, worked, and married in Tuscany. Their award-winning blog SimpleItaly.com helps people all over the world celebrate their Inner Italian. SimpleItaly partners with the Donati family who own the magnificent Montestigliano estate, just south of Siena, where the luxury Villa Pipistrelli is situated.

Sharon is a Certified Culinary Professional and cookbook author. Walter, a brand consultant and writer, formerly developed escorted tour programs to Europe and earned a Certified Travel Counselor designation. He wrote about Villa Pipistrelli in the October 2012 Dream of Italy newsletter.

“We share the experience of unpacking just once, settling into the luxurious Villa Pipistrelli and feeling the rhythm of a secluded and majestic Tuscan location,” says Sharon. “The meals, prepared by private chefs, reflect the culinary integrity and wine heritage of Tuscany.”

“Instead of spending precious time behind the windows of a tour bus, we immerse you in a splendid destination,” says Walter. “We bring artists, cheese makers, foragers and other experts to the Villa so our guests can engage with them. The jaunts off property open windows that are usually closed to tourists, such as a private Palio contrada tour in Siena with author Dario Castagno.” (Dario made our list of Italy's best tour guides.)

“We especially like spring and fall in Tuscany,” says Sharon, “The region comes to life in April with a freshened tempo. And October is a harvest dance, celebrating the finish of the agricultural year. It’s these seasonal experiences that create authentic experiences that become exceptional memories.”

James Martin, the About.com Europe guide, Martha Bakerjian, the About.com Italy guide, author and master sommelier Jennifer Criswell, will be among the special guests.

Tuscany Tour with SimpleItaly experiences are limited to 12 guests. The cost is $2,995 per person, double occupancy, land only. All meals, with wine at lunch and dinner, are included.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Introducing "Dream of Italy" on TV

Dream of Italy, the travel newsletter is now Dream of Italy, the public television series! The 6-part travel series, hosted by editor Kathy McCabe, will begin airing on PBS stations around the country in May 2015. Each episode will feature one region, including Naples/the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Puglia, Tuscany, Umbria and Puglia. Here's a sneak peek:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jewish Museum in Venice to Be Restored

To mark its 500th anniversary, the Jewish Museum in Venice will undergo a $12 million restoration project focused on the museum and three of the Jewish Quarter’s five synagogues, to be completed in 2016. The Venetian Heritage Council announced the project on Monday, supported by its chair Joseph Sitt, vice chair Diane von Furstenberg,and director Toto Bergamo Rossi.

Venice’s Jewish Quarter dates back to 1516, when the Republic of Venice forced Jews to move to a certain area of the city, and residents remained confined to the area until Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797. The result, a rich history and culture, has survived for 500 years, but the Jewish Ghetto and its structures have fallen into disrepair.

“This is a project long overdue and hugely important to European and Jewish identity. There are 500 years of cultural and religious importance residing within this community and it’s imperative that we revive and revitalize it,” said Sitt.

During the project, overseen by architect Renata Codello, the superintendent for architectural and landscape heritage of Venice, the buildings’ walls and structural elements will be repaired, and decorative elements such as gilded, Biblical wood carvings will be restored. The restoration will also improve traffic flow in the museum.

“In addition to the structural revitalization of the synagogues, we are vastly improving and upgrading the museum space, adding space and streamlining room-to-room flow to accommodate the incredible interest in this piece of history. This is a huge component of European culture and it can’t be ignored,”  Rossi explained. -- Elaine Murphy 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

An Ode to Sfogliatelle and Other Neapolitan Pastries

Whenever I travel to Naples and the Amalfi Coast, I always have to take into account a bit of extra baggage on the return trip. I’m not, sadly, talking about the extra baggage you get to check, but the extra baggage that takes a bit longer to unpack and makes your jeans just that much tighter around the middle.

Umbria, my home for the past twenty years, is a land of simple yet excellent food. Pork charcuterie, sheep cheese, heirloom legumes, forest treasures like mushrooms, truffles, and wild asparagus are all daily treats on the Umbrian table, and it’s easy to become inured to the quality and flavor of these local dishes.

The one category where Umbria falls short is dessert, unfortunately. A landlocked region, Umbria hasn’t had centuries (if not millenia) of contact with foreign trading ships stocked with exotic spices, sugar, and cocoa. A mountainous region, Umbria doesn’t have the climate for citrus, dates, almonds, and other base ingredients of many of the Mediterranean basin’s best delicacies. A poor, rustic region until recently, Umbria traditionally cooks with olive oil and water, not butter and milk.

All this adds up to a meagerly sum in the dessert column. Hard tozzetti cookies dunked in wine, dry crostate tarts baked with olive oil, a rather sad version of strudel...nothing that leads you skipping down the path of perdition, in other words.

But Naples! Ah, Naples...Naples is a siren of sweets, tempting you with a thousand years of delicacies that Umbria has been denied. One of the most important ports in the Mediterranean since Roman times, Naples has been unloading ships stocked with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, sugar, dates, rum, and cocoa for generations of pastry chefs. The much more tropical climate means that the area is rich in lemon, orange, and almond groves, the heat makes it easier to dry and candy figs and other sweet fruit, and the herds of grazing cattle along the fertile plain give milk enough for an army hungry for sweet ricotta. 

In Naples, I am happy to do my part to maintain this rich gastronomic history and tradition...all in the name of culture, of course. I make a bee-line for a promising pasticceria (you can tell the good ones by the crowd of customers), order up a small (ahem, medium) tray of local delights, watch as they wrap it up in paper and ribbon like the gift it is, and guard my precious cargo until I find a quiet spot to savor my goodies while watching Naples frantically get on with being Naples.

Here are a few of the most classic Neapolitan pastries you should try on your next trip, but make sure you’ve packed a pair of roomy pants: 

Sfogliatelle: Though her crown is often challenged by babà au rhum (see below), for me the divine sfogliatella will always reign supreme. There are two versions of the sflogliatella: riccia, or ruffled, and frolla, or shortcrust. 

My favorite is the riccia, which is also the more elegant and classic version. Here a sweet orange-infused ricotta filling is enclosed in a delicate pastry made of countless parchment-thin layers, which separate out into ruffles or leaves (from which the name sfogliatella is derived) as they bake, crispen, and form a golden, shell shaped pastry. They can be bite-sized (my favorite, with the perfect pastry to filling ratio), or as large as a lobster tail (overwhelming, even for a die-hard sweet tooth).

In a pinch, I have been known to enjoy the frolla version, generally preferred by Neapolitans (probably because it had also be made at home). Here the same ricotta filling is enclosed in a short crust which forms a small ball and baked; these can also be various sizes, but are most commonly a bit smaller than a tennis ball. 

Neither of these are first date foods—at the first bite, both shatter in a shower of pastry flakes or short crumbs covering your cleavage and lap, and are almost impossible to eat with cutlery—but a bit of unseemly collateral damage is a small price to pay for the pure pleasure of this local specialty, invented on the Amalfi Coast and wholeheartedly adopted by Naples in the early 19th century.

Babà au rhum: Just as there are cat people and dog people, so are there sfogliatelle people and babà people, and it’s not easy to broker a peace between them. Babà is an airy sponge cake (most commonly baked in individual portions, so shaped like tall muffins) made with eggs, milk, and butter and, once cooked, soaked in a sweet rum syrup. It made its way through Europe from Poland to France in the 1800’s and finally to Naples, where it was adopted with much relish and is now one of the most beloved of “local” pastries, and the source of much strife in sfogliatelle vs. babà debates around dinner tables throughout the city.

Zeppole: If you happen to be in or near Naples around the feast day of Saint Joseph (La Festa di San Giuseppe) on March 19th, you’ll be able to feast on “le zeppole di San Giuseppe”. These are deep fried fritters, dusted with sugar and filled and topped with piped custard and a candied cherry. They are roughly a gazillion calories each, so eat one and then go light a candle and pray to Saint Joseph to help you burn it off.

Pastiera: At Eastertime, Neapolitans make pastiera to serve at the holiday meal with family. This is a deeply traditional tart (indeed, said to have pagan roots) with a shortbread bottom crust, a rich filling of ricotta, eggs, boiled wheat kernels, candied citrus, orange water, and spices, and a latticed shortbread top crust. It includes symbolic ingredients representing rebirth and fertility, which happily are also delicious baked together, and is prepared no later than Good Friday to be eaten on Easter Sunday. Once made almost exclusively by the nuns in local convents for the city’s wealthy families, now it is often homemade or bought the few days before Easter at Neapolitan pastry shops.

Any of these delicacies can be found in the city of Naples, Sorrento, or further south along the Amalfi Coast. Unless you have a heroic sugar tolerance, you’ll probably have to pace yourself over a couple of days: these are not light desserts. Plan at least an overnight, staying at one of the area hotels listed on ItalyTraveller.com and walking off your daily indulgence exploring this beautiful area of southern Italy. -- Rebecca Winke

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Pizza School in Naples Italy

Even *I* learn something from the pages of Dream of Italy! Though many of the story ideas and articles are conceived and written by me, I also hire the best travel experts to help uncover more Italian gems.  

I first read about master pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia and his Naples pizza school when guest editor Barrie Kerper handed in the first draft of the her list of best cooking schools in Italy. I had a trip to Napoli coming up and bingo, last week I had a once-in-a-lifetime lesson with Enzo (with the red scarf below) and his team!

That's the value of Dream of Italy and our two special issues on Italy's Best Cooking Schools - the second part/issue on schools from Molise to the Veneto came out last month. You can immediately access these two issues (covering 80 great cooking schools) as well as 115 other incredible back issues when you SUBSCRIBE NOW. And guess what, we're giving $15 OFF all subscriptions.

Meanwhile here's more on Enzo's school:

Pizza Consulting by Enzo Coccia
(39) 338 9997840
Prices: Start at 700€ for a one-week amateur class
Where better to learn the art of pizza making than in the city where pizza was born? Master Neapolitan pizzaiolo Enzo Coccia and his staff have been training hundreds of students from all over the world in the art of pizza making for many years. Three classes are offered: a week for amateurs, a master class (an individual course for the professional pizzaiolo; length and price determined after an evaluation) and professional (100 hours divided into 20 days, 2,800€; for those who have never worked as a pizzaiolo and want to learn the profession).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Let's Get Cooking in Italy

Looking to take a half-day cooking lesson or even attend a longer cooking program? We've got you covered with our list of Italy's Best Cooking Schools - more than 80 schools that were featured in our August and September issues! Learning to cooking in Italy isn't just a fun activity, it is a cultural experience - a way to truly experience daily life in Italy.

Here are some of the highlights of our list:

Abruzzo: Enjoy a 7-day cooking extravaganza with time in the kitchen and visits to producers all over the region.

Amalfi Coast: Get down to the business of cooking with one of the most popular mamas in all of Italy!

Basilicata: Learn the art of pasta making at the palazzo that Francis Ford Coppola renovated in his ancestral hometown.

Bologna: Half-day lessons in all the local specialties from ragu to gelato making.

Emilia-Romagna: Learn the ins and outs of butchery from "The King of Culatello" at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Friuli: Learn dishes featuring the area's prized San Daniele prosciutto.

Molise: Go on a truffle hunt with a man and his dog and then cook up some of the tasty tubers!

Naples: Attend professional pizza school with a master piazzaolo in the heart of Napoli!

Palermo: Cook with a real duchess in the palazzo once owned by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of the seminal work The Leopard.

Rome: A special class just for kids to learn to cook with Nonna (grandmother).

Tuscany: Be trained by one of the world's most famous butchers - Dario Cecchini - when you're a butcher for a day.

Umbria: If a day or two of cooking and eating isn't enough for you, join our friends Bill and Suzy for Cucinapalooza!

Venice: If there's ever a place to learn to prepare seafood, this is it and you can do it in style in a beautiful palazzo - but shop for ingredients at the Rialto Market first!

Verona: Join Giuliano Hazan - son of famed cookbook author Marcella Hazan - and his sommelier wife for a week of "Italian food, wine and life."

SUBSCRIBE NOW to read all of the above including two full issues on cooking schools as well as immediately access 115 back issues and receive 10 new ones over the coming year! Oh and did we mention that we're currently offering $15 OFF all subscriptions?