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Friday, October 31, 2008

A Day of Truffles in Umbria

This is the second time I have had the chance to go truffle hunting - everyone should experience it. The first time was in Piedmont. I won't even get into the rivalry over Piedmont vs. Umbria truffles. Our truffle hunter (tells you something about me that I can't remember his name but remember the dog's name!) and his dog Asia took us to a piece of land the hunter owns (it is fenced and locked) expressly for truffle hunting.

The truffle hunting crew: Bill Menard, Barbara Skinner, me, my mom, the hunter and Asia, Saverio Bianconi, Art Skinner, Richard Parke (also a DOI subscriber!), Suzy Menard.

Asia found about a dozen summer black truffles - they're just ending their season - and a tiny white truffle.

This hunter is one of the many who sell their finds to Saverio Bianconi, who sells truffles to restaurants and incorporates them into his many wonderful truffle products.

Saverio's wife Gabriella Bianconi led us in a tasting of various truffle varieties.

She also instructed us how to store and cook truffles.

Then we ate! This is polenta with truffles. Yum!

(I shot video of this whole experience and hope to share it with you in the coming weeks!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Working from Umbria

As the owner of a small business, it is hard to get away from work -- even in Italy. But if you have to work, can you find a much better spot than this? Photo taken at Fattoria del Gelso, the villa my friends Suzy and Bill recently purchased.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Chocolate Sunday in Perugia: Part Two

If you thought attending the Eurochocolate Festival in Perugia was enough choco-fun for us, you're wrong. There was more. After lunch on a lovely restaurant terrace in Spello Sunday afternoon, we headed for a lesson at the chocolate school at Perguina's factory. (I first attended the Perugina school right after it opened a few years back.)

My friend Bill drove the group (my mom, our friends Raffaela and Dick rounded out the bunch) to Perugina. When we arrived, I was excited to see that the company finally opened its bright and shiny chocolate museum and moved the school into a brand new facility next door. There are now windows from the museum into the chocolate school classroom. While we were taking our lesson, museum-goers were longingly looking in on us working with our sweet, beloved chocolate.

The class was full so the lessons are definitely popular. But they seem to only still be offered in Italian - though our instructor knew some English. We made chocolates filled with orange ganache. I made something similar the last time I was here but Bill who was on his fourth or so visit made candy eggs near Easter and chocolate hearts near Valentine's Day.

Number one lesson of the day: After melting chocolate, you must spread and stir it on a flat service in order to expose the chocolate to air in order to thicken and cool it - otherwise you will never be able to work with it. It was fun to watch my mom at work with her chocolate and as with last time, we all received and apron, a diploma and of course, chocolates to take home.

October 2008 Issue

The October 2008 issue is out. Paid newsletter subscribers can login to download the PDF version of the issue (postal subscribers will receive their copies later in the week). If this issue tickles your fancy, you can purchase a download of this single issue. Here's what is in the latest issue:

Spa Life at the HotelAdler Thermae
As far as Tuscan spas go, the Hotel Adler Thermae, which opened four years ago, is the new kid on the block. But in some ways, there's a long history behind it.

BagnoVignoni: Tiny Tuscan Gem

Thistiny Tuscan town (population: 36) boasts a fascinating history, healing waters and sweeping views.

Rome:There's Room at the Inn

Our writer called her visit to this hotel near Rome's ancient wonders, "one of the great hotel stays of my life."

Live the Bond, James Bond,Experience in Tuscany
The latest James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, has scenes filmed in Tuscany. Find out how you can stay where the film was shot.

Four Seasons Opens in Florence
After a seven-year wait, the second Four Seasons outpost in Italy has finally opened.

A Hotel Suite Unlike Any Other
Did you know the largest hotel suite in Europe is in Rome? All 11,700 square feet of it.

Pompeii Transported to Washington, D.C.
The exhibition Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples has just opened at the National Gallery of Art.

A Chocolate Day in Perugia, Umbria

Sunday was a perfect day in Umbria: sunny and clear with just the right temperature (not to warm, not too cool) and lots and lots of chocolate. It was the final day of Eurochocolate, the extravaganza held each year in Umbria's charming capital city of Perugia. Everyone else seemed to think it was a great day for chocolate as well and the streets of the city's historic center were filled with people looking for a chocolate fix. The festival featured a number of small artisanal chocolatiers but all the big commercial chocolate companies, especially the local Perugina, seemed to dominate the offerings.

There were all kinds of chocolate concoctions to taste - from pieces of chocolate to drinking chocolate to chocolate-covered bananas. Above is a photo of chocolate covered churros from Spain.

Not every booth gave out tastings :( but this one offered all kinds of chocolate spreads, some flavored with coffee and even pepper.

We thought the chocolate pasta - real pasta made with cocoa powder - was pretty unique and bought a few bags to bring back home.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Salone del Gusto: Lunch in Liguria

Every region in Italy has a booth at Slow Food's Salone del Gusto. Some are bigger than others but many of them have restaurants where visitors can have lunch or dinner. How to snag a table is harder at some regional restaurants than others; Sicily for instance seemed to have a popular restaurant.

Just across the way, I decided to sit down for a quick bit to eat in Liguria. Most of my fellow lunch goers were staying for at least several courses, but I thought a great pasta course would do me well before continuing to explore the massive number of stands I hadn't seen.

What's Liguria famous for? Well, pesto of course so that's what I had -- trofiette al pesto. I pre-paid 8 euros for my one course and was escorted to a table where I was served a bottle of water and a glass of wine (included in the price). In a few minutes, a piping hot plate of fresh pasta with pesto, small pieces of potato and pine nuts appeared. It was just what I needed to get some energy for the rest of the day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Slow Food's Salone del Gusto: First Thoughts

I knew exactly where to go this morning to get to Slow Food's Salone del Gusto in Turin. I was in Turin in 2006 and had been to the Lingotto to watch speed skating. My mom and I hopped on the #1 bus from Turin's main train station Porto Nuova. (We're staying a hop, skip and a jump away at the ATA Concord Hotel, a 4-star business hotel with, needless to say, a great location.) We promptly validated our tickets on board - a good reminder to all Italy travelers to validate either at the train station before boarding a train or on board any bus.

After arriving at the massive conference center, we waited in a series of lines - for my press pass, to try to book food workshops, to try to reserve special lunches and tastings at various exhibitions. Here's where I need to make a sweeping, stereotypical statement - passed on years of travel in Italy - Italians are horrible at standing in line. It is like they are allergic to it or something. If you find yourself in a long line in Italy, chances are you are going to have to position yourself so you're not cut in front of, perfect your leering stare to get that person trying to cut the entire line to back away or speak up. I think I did all three this morning.

The number of workshops, tastings, lectures, exhibitions at Salone del Gusto is just overwhelming. I now know (useful for when I hope to return in 2010 - this is held every two years) that you need a game plan and you need one as early as possible. Many of the events, such as the Taste Workshops and Dinner Dates can be booked ahead online (but booking online seems to closes at least 10 days before thLinke events start). When I tried to book online, it was too late.

Following some hiccups, such as being told be two people that I was in the right line to reserve some things, only to find out after a 45-minute wait that I was in the wrong line, I started to get the lay of the land. Most of the bigger exhibitors - such as the major Italian regions - offer free tastings and reasonably priced meals but you need to go to each booth to reserve ahead. That's a lot of logistics. Since I love Puglia so much, we headed over there first to try to reserve a spot for lunch. Too late - all spots taken. Do you see how this could get frustrating?

Lunch worked out - I'll blog about that separately - and I realized you don't need to overload yourself with workshops and formal tastings. Just walking around the booths and stands - there are 335 stands and 171 booths in the Italy section alone (The international pavillion has about a total of 100 booths and stands) - enjoying free samples and talking to the producers is much fun in and of itself.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Getting Ready for Turin

Tomorrow night, I'm flying to Italy for a nearly two-week trip. I'm starting off in Torino - one of my favorite Italian cities. I spent nearly three weeks there for the 2006 Winter Olympics and I think this is my fourth visit in total. Turin is just the perfect mix of beautiful architecture (love the covered walkways), interesting museums, fantastic food, charming cafes. Its proximity to the Alps and to France gives it a special flavor. In short, I'm just crazy about the place.

The reason I'm visiting this time is to go to Slow Food's Salone del Gusto - an international conference devoted to food, wine and culinary preservation, held only every other year. The travel section of The New York Times revisited Turin this past Sunday, concluding that the Olympic glow hasn't faded and this city is as vibrant as ever. The article mentions Eataly, which opened last year, and claims to be the world's largest food and wine story. That's a must-visit on my trip.

You can follow my trip to Turin and other spots in Italy on Twitter.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Meet the Antinoris of Tuscany

60 Minutes ran an interesting piece last night on the great Antinori family of Tuscany. The dynasty has been making wine for an incredible 26 generations - putting it among the oldest family-run businesses on Earth. (A recent study found only 15 percent of family businesses survive past the second generation.) 60 Minutes focused on the fact that minus a traditional male heir, patriarch Piero Antinori, has happily found his three daughters to be interested in continuing the family tradition. And a profitable one it is...Antinori sold some 17 million bottles of wine last year - that's $200 million worth. The family owns vineyards all over Italy (concentrated in Tuscany) but runs the business from Palazzo Antinori in Florence, which has been in the family since 1506. The television piece didn't mention it but the family also owns Tombolo Talasso, a fantastic spa on the Tuscan coast that Dream of Italy reviewed two years ago.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Special Offer: Because We Can Still Dream of Italy

Rough week, hunh? I hear ya. There's one glimmer of hope - the dollar is strong against the euro and travel to Italy is becoming more affordable. And as bad as things may be, many people will continue to travel to Italy. Why? As I have said so many times, Italy is more than just another place to visit. It is a dream...a spiritual experience...a way to reconnect with life...a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I'd like to help you keep the dream alive, even if you're not sure when you're returning to Italy. Heck, I'm gonna help you brush up on your Italian so you know what you're talking about when you get there. Without further ado, our best subscription deal EVER....it includes:

  • a $15 savings off our regular subscription rates
  • one year (10 issues) of the newsletter delivered online or by postal mail ($100 value)
  • immediate online access to nearly 60 back issues, including special reports on everything from the Amalfi Cost to Villa Rentals ($600 value)
  • BONUS #1: Berlitz Italian Guaranteed Audio Course (4 cds) - learn or refresh basic Italian ($20 value)
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A $700+ package of exclusive travel information and tool for just $64 if you'd like to receive your upcoming issues online or $74 to receive your upcoming issues by postal mail ($84 for mail service to Canada and abroad). So don't miss this great opportunity, subscribe now and enjoy a year of Dream of Italy, these great bonuses and a discount!

If you're already a subscriber to Dream of Italy, you know the immense value you've received with your subscription. Click here to renew and receive our special subscription bonuses. A subscription also makes a terrific gift -- remember the holidays are coming up!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Deal Alert: 2-for-1 Tickets to Rome on Eurofly

Oh those crazy kids at Eurofly, they're at it again! You KNOW you want to go to Italy this fall especially since the euro is down to $1.36 (yes, I know, all those other financial problems still out there) well, this fabulous Eurofly deal will help you save some bucks if you go!

A round-trip coach ticket for travel to Rome between November 7 and December 14 is $659 including fuel surcharge but not including taxes of $75. Book before this Friday and YOU CAN TAKE A COMPANION FOR FREE! (Two business class tickets costs $2,778 plus taxes.)

Remember you must book by Friday, October 10. Visit the Eurofly Web site or call 800-459-0581.

P.S. - If you were following Dream of Italy on Twitter, you would have heard about the deal as soon as I did!

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

Would You Like a Dog Bone with that Limoncello?

Photo taken a limoncello shop in the town of Amalfi. This guy has the life, doesn't he?

Online Help for Navigating Private Villa Rentals

Our September issue, Dream of Italy's Special Report: Villa Rentals II, provided tons of information on renting villas in Italy whether through an agency or a private owner. The New York Times today had a helpful addition to our own information - an article on skirting the pitfalls of private rentals with some mentions of particularly helpful Web sites. After all, when you're renting directly from an owner, you may have little recourse if something goes wrong or the villa or apartment isn't what you expected.

Reporter Michelle Higgins recommends considering a professionally managed rental through Web sites like Zonder.com, forGetaway.com and PickPackGo.com. "... (They) promise a certain level of quality control since the homeowner pays the management company to inspect the home, clean it and handle any issues that arise —if a pipe bursts, for example, or the air-conditioner suddenly gives out. And most accept credit card payments, which affords an added layer of protection in case the transaction goes sour. But the extra security tends to come at a higher cost," she writes.

Doing your homework about renters' past experiences is an essential part of renting from an owner. Higgins tells readers about Vacation Rentals WatchDog. It is a new Web site that lets customers complain about vacation rentals.

Subscriber Finds "A Sense of Place" in Italy

I often tell people that many of Dream of Italy's subscribers might just be even more passionate about Italia than me. And I clearly love it so very much. One of those subscribers that I have in mind is Richard Katzev who has been subscribing to Dream of Italy since January 2003. From time to time, I get e-mails from him telling me about his latest adventures in Florence and Tuscany.

I'm happy to share with you that Richard has published a book of essays about his travels to this part of Italy. It is called A Sense of Place. Here is how he describes it:

"Querencia is a Spanish word that expresses the affection a person feels for the place one calls home and the sense of well being and belonging that one experiences when there. Florence, more than any other place I visit, is where I begin to think about the meaning of home and the journey one takes to find one’s own querencia: When it is warm, I hike up into the hills on the other side of the Arno and look down upon the city and surrounding countryside. I view the oleander, bougainvillea, olive and pine trees, and well-nourished hillsides. It is idyllic, a place to live and have your home.”

Congratulations to Richard!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Budoni, Sardinia: Hot Destination for 2009

TripAdvisor has named the town of Budoni, on the Italian island of Sardinia as the #1 international destination for 2009. This seaside town boasting miles of pristine white beaches is in the northeastern corner of the island, just south of Olbia, one of the main ports connecting the island with mainland Italy. TripAdvisor hasn't elaborated as to what put Budoni in the top slot but the folks at Sardegna.com say, "The beauty of its landscapes, its transparent, turquoise-coloured sea (where, in 1998, the record for free, breath-held diving was made), the best hotels and tourist resort villages and the special attention paid to tourists' needs have transformed this small village of only 4,000 inhabitants into one of the most sought after holiday destinations on the island."

Rome Hotel Review: Villa Laetitia

On a trip to Italy this past spring, I only had one night to spend in my favorite city -- Rome. One of the best part of my job as the editor and publisher of Dream of Italy is the chance to try new hotels. I'm fairly competitive about it actually. I love reviewing a hotel in DOI before the rest of the travel world knows about it. My plans were foiled a bit in this case however. Between the time I booked a room at Rome's Villa Laetitia and the time I arrived. The hotel, owned by member of the Fendi family, made its way to the Conde Nast Traveler Hot List. Part of what made Villa Laetitia intriguing to me was its affordable rates -- especially given its link to the Fendi family. Wondering how my stay measured up? Read my review, which I just made a free access article at the main Dream of Italy Web site.

P.S. - I'm hopefully headed back to Rome at the end of the month. Any suggestions for other new hotels I should check out? Leave your ideas in the comments section.