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Thursday, April 30, 2009

My Favorite Books About Italy

I just appeared on the "How to Tour Italy" radio show to share my favorite books about Italy. (Anthony, the host, had a great list too, including Vasari's Lives of The Artists.) I'm not talking about guidebooks but rather (mostly) non-fiction picks that truly convey the atmosphere and culture of a particular time and place in Italy. You will notice that I have a significant interest in history, particularly the World War II era. I probably have dozens of favorite books on Italy so this is by no-means a comprehensive list. I will be adding to it as I can...So, in no particular order:

Please add your favorite Italy book recommendations to the comments section!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Recycle the South: One Man's Journey Through Southern Italy

For the past several weeks, I have been following Silvestro Silvestori's bicycle trip through southern Italy through his series of revealing photos and reports on his Web site. Silvestro who lives in Lecce, Puglia feels passionate about southern Italy - Campania, Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily - and wants to bring more attention to all the rich culture and history here, with a particular emphasis on the food. (After all, he owns a cooking school!) So he set out on a five-week journey to show the world that southern Italy isn't just the beautiful beaches northern Italians and Europeans flock to each summer. I promise that you will have a new appreciation for this beautiful land after reading his dispatches.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rome Restaurant: Da Alfredo e Ada

In our April issue, David Downie reveals eight authentic restaurants and wine bars to visit near the Pantheon in Rome, excerpted from his new book Food Wine Rome. Here's one selection:

Among the Eternal City's eternal tables, this one stands out for its simplicity and preserved-in-amber authenticity. There's no sign on the door, just a card tacked to it. The wooden tables with marble tops and paper mats are probably a century old. Hand-scrawled mottos decorate the walls. The local regulars and intrepid out-of-towners who eat here are sometimes entertained - if that bethe word - by minstrels with acoustic guitars.

Since 1946, Sora Ada has been making home-style meals in her tiny kitchen atthe back, and keeps working despite her age and the death ofher husband Alfredo, who presided over the trattoria's one long, narrow dining room for nearly 60 years. For anyone who's eaten at home with a Roman family, the food will bring back memories: amatriciana with short pasta; a red sauce made with Rome's involtini beef rolls and used for topping rigatoni or penne; veal stew with peas. Dessert? Fresh fruit and wine-dipping cookies.

The wine comes in two colors: red or white, both from the family's small vineyard at Albano, in the Alban Hills. Note: cash only, no credit cards, but the prices are also stuck in amber.

Da Alfredo e Ada
Via dei Banchi Nuovi, 14
(39) 06 688842
Open for dinner from 6 p.m., weekdays only.
Closed for lunch, on weekends and in August.
Very inexpensive
Near: Tiber River end of street, about 100 yards west of Piazza dell'Orologio

Paid subscribers: Read about seven more authentic Rome restaurants that you should not miss!

Photo by Alison Harris

Experience the Flavors of Italy with Ciao Laura

Experience the Flavors of Italy with Ciao Laura in 2009 - Let the FLAVORS of Italy DANCE in your MOUTH and SING in your HEART on a CIAO LAURA culinary-based vacation in Italy!

Ciaolaura.com offers Hands-on Cooking Lessons, Culinary Vacations, Foodie Excursions, Wine Tastings, Personal Chefs, Market Tours and Customized Itineraries in Italy.

Experience the REAL FLAVORS of Italy in 2009!

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

April 2009 Issue - Art Courses in Italy, Where to Eat in Rome

The April 2009 issue of Dream of Italy is out! Paid subscribers can login to see the PDF version (or read the articles on Web pages). Become a subscriber today (you'll get immediate online access to over 60 back issues and our Rome e-book too) and this will be your first issue...

...or purchase an immediate download of this issue!

Authentic Roman Dining Near the Pantheon
Author David Downie reveals wine bars, restaurants and trattorias that are favorites among the locals and must visits in Central Rome.

Indulge Your Inner Artist in Italy
Whether you're looking for an half-day art class or course last several weeks, our writer discovers the best art and craft courses in Italy. They include:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Join Music and Markets on the Amalfi Coast

The breathtaking Amalfi Coast is the setting for an inspiring week of discovery and music with Music and Markets Tours. In the magical atmosphere of the divine coast, enjoy mouthwatering cuisine and explorations of delightful seaside towns, the ancient ruins of Pompeii, andthe fabled isle of Capri. Complete each day with performances of the renowned Fine Arts Quartet and other artists in picturesque locations. Click here for details of this luscious July trip, and join us for a thrilling experience of authentic Italy!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Green Travel: A Unique Tour of Italy Focused on Sustainability

Happy Earth Day! Looking for a unique way to see Italy and explore the issues of green tourism, organic food, sustainability, environmental justice and social justice? Then this ecotourism-focused trip I just heard about might be for you...

The organization Global Exchange and Green Festival founder Kevn Danaher are offering what they call a "Reality Tour" of Italy from May 27 to June 9, 2009. The trip centers around Florence's landmark Terra Futura Festival, a three-day extravaganza which draws 100,000 people to enjoy live music, film, debates and abundant organic food and drink all in the name of environmentalism.

Highlights of this green "Reality Tour" include:

  • Through the lens of social and economic justice, move beyond the traditional sites of Florence and discover often-overlooked aspects of this historic city.

  • Accommodation in Florence at the Ospitale della Rifiorenze (the Hostel of Reflowerings), a non-profit project which shelters the homeless during the cold winter months and operates as a hostel for socially responsible tourism from April to October.

  • A visit to Banca Etica (the Ethical Bank), which integrates social and environmental concerns with the normal functioning of a bank, investing client's funds in social justice and environmental restoration initiatives.

  • Spend three days in the beautiful Chianti region, staying with Ecorotondo cooperative, a small family-run guesthouse.

  • Spend five days exploring green and sustainable projects in Rome. Visits will include city markets converted from old military barracks, an important social mediation initiative in the multi-cultural Esquiline neighborhood, fair trade and organic businesses, a bicycle activist cooperative, and multiple examples of urban building projects featuring renewable energy and green building technology.

  • A meeting with Libera, a network of 1,200 organizations fighting organized crime (La Mafia) through education and social enterprise, often using land and resources seized from criminal networks.

  • A day spent in the beautiful town of San Casciano, and a visit to La Ginestra (pictured above), a unique cooperative farm that works to preserve and renew the traditions of the Tuscan countryside. Covering more than 300 acres, the organic farm includes verdant forests, olive groves and some of the freshest cuisine in all of Tuscany.

The cost of the trip is $2,000 per person and more information can be found here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Looking for an Italy Rental? Pick A Good Villa Rental Agency

For those who are planning their first trip where they will be staying in a vacation rental, I nearly always recommend that they go through a reputable villa/apartment rental agency. But with hundreds of them (possibly thousands) out there, especially on the Internet, how do you know how to choose a good one? No one knows more about villa rentals than Pauline Kenny of SlowEurope.com. She was the guest editor of our Special Report: Villa Rentals II and in the following article explains how to choose a good villa (or apartment) rental agency:

Villa rental agencies for Italy are not created equal; they come in all shapes and sizes. The best agencies are run by people who hand pick their properties, inspect them annually, have close relationships with the property owners and have well-trained, knowledgeable staff who will spend the time to help you make your decision.

Large agencies with many employees and hundreds of listings do not always give a traveler the personal assistance they need. I have dealt with agencies where you talk to a different person each time you call or e-mail and the details of your reservation get confused. They do not know their properties or the towns where the places are located.
Some large agencies, like Rentvillas, overcome this by assigning each client a personal representative, creating a small agency feel within a large agency. They also have very detailed property listings, with lots of photos, so you can get all the information you need from the Web site.

Read the rest of the article

(Photo by rdesai on flickr.com)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Getting Organized: Italy Travel Destinations and Popular Topics

In nearly seven years, Dream of Italy has published almost 700 articles on travel to Italy. Wow. And like all those doing their spring cleaning, we're getting organized! Now you can look up your favorite place or topic and see what we've written about it. Happy browsing!

Italy's Major Cities

Italy's Regions and Destinations

Popular Italy Travel Topics

Monday, April 06, 2009

Some Thoughts on the L'Aquila Italy Earthquake

I was saddened to see the news late last night and this morning of the devestating earthquake centered around L'Aquila. I had the pleasure of an extensive visit to the Abruzzo region two years ago this month - a very beautiful and mountainous place. Italy has far more seismic activity than most people realize. In fact, you can take a look at a list of earthquakes in the past 100 years and see that tens of thousands of people have been killed by earthquakes.

I immediately thought about the 1980 Irpinia earthquake that killed several thousand. This earthquake was centered in the Avellino area, near Naples, where my ancestral hometown is located. I first visited there in 1995 and you could still see areas greatly damaged that the quake that were never repaired or poorly fixed up. Then of course there is also the quake that severely damaged Assisi in 1997.

I've often thought of Italy as one of those places where there is great beauty on the outside but tragedy and struggle in the shadows. No more so than today. Watch this space for more as news develops...

Ways to help/resources:

NIAF (National Italian American Foundation) has created an Abruzzo relief fund.

You can make donations online to the Italian Red Cross - Croce Rossa.

This Abruzzo real estate agent is volunteering to help those abroad get in touch with loved ones in the affected area.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Is There Really a Culinary Institute of Tuscany?

I'd seen that Olive Garden commercial one too many times... You know, the one where the narrator extols the virtues of "the Culinary Institute of Tuscany" where Olive Garden chefs supposedly go to train and get inspired to bring Tuscan-themed dishes back to the U.S. Forgive me, but I highly doubted such a place existed. I'd never heard of "the Culinary Institute of Tuscany" and in the commercials the school looked totally fake with an "Olive Garden" sign outside and everything. I wanted to know the the real deal and my background as an investigative reporter had me ready to do some digging.

I'll admit that I was disppointed it didn't take a full-blown investigation to figure out the truth, just some Web sleuthing. Apparently, Olive Garden really has a place in Tuscany where culinary managers go to train but the whole "Culinary Institute of Tuscany" is a just a name created by the restaurant company. The "Institute" is really the restaurant at Riserva di Fizzano, a medieval borgo or hamlet in the heart of Chianti. (The borgo was renovated in the 1980s by the owners of the nearby Rocca delle Macie winery.)

Over the past decade, Olive Garden has sent hundreds of culinary managers to Riserva di Fizzano during the winter months to train with Chef Romana Neri and Chef Paolo Lafata. The rest of the year, the restaurant is open to the public and serves traditional Tuscan cuisine nightly. Riserva also welcomes travelers to stay in its renovated two- and three-bedroom apartments. The Olive Garden Web site actually has a cool graphic with videos that shows the entire Tuscan estate.

DVD Set: Inside The Tuscan Hills (PBS Series)
DVD Set: Treasures of Sacred Art: Tuscan Journeys
Newsletter Issue: Dream of Italy's Special Report - Tuscan Hideaways
Newsletter Issue: Dream of Italy's Special Report - Chianti
Newsletter Issue: Dream of Italy's Special Report - Villa Rentals II

Introducing DaVinci Custom Travel & Tours


My name is Peter D'Attoma and I'd like to custom design your next trip to Italy. I show my clients the undiscovered Italy that only Italians know, not the Italy the casual tourist sees. For over 25 years, I owned a traditional travel agency, but my first love has always been helping travelers experience the best of my native country - Italy. When I sold my agency, I devoted myself solely to this mission through DaVinci Custom Travel & Tours.

I believe there is no other Italy travel planning service that offers the same level of personalization and service. Think of me as a tailor of fine suits who makes sure every stitch and seam is sewn precisely for you. While some travelers may be satisfied with "buying off the rack", I understand that you require more and deserve better.

Just like a tailor, I will can custom design a unique masterpiece for you and only you. No two of my trips are ever alike. I'll get to know you, your likes and dislikes and what precisely you hope to experience during your time in Italy.

Together we'll complete a six-page long travel survey so I have every detail I need to create your journey of a lifetime. I can work with any budget and fulfill any request. When you need anything, you'll work with me directly. I'm intentionally a one-man operation so that each one of my clients gets my full attention from beginning to end.

Whether you wish to be enveloped in the comfort of 5-star amenities of a luxurious Italian hotel and resort, the relaxing atmosphere of a family-run bed and breakfast, the romantic allure of a 19th-century castle, or prefer the quaint and unique experience of a small rustic relais (old monastery), I have just the right place to call home while in Italy.

I'll help you bypass the ticket lines at Italy's world-famous museums. Spend your extra time admiring the intricacy and artistry of David's feet, losing yourself to an Italian opera or wandering the vast corridors of the Sistine Chapel, not standing among long lines of impatient tourists waiting to enter.

For me Italy is not just about the incredible sites, but it is about the people who will share their country with you. I have personally selected extraordinary tour guides, hotel operators, villa experts, art historians, private drivers, private vintners and magnificent restaurant owners who are dedicated to catering to you with attention to every conceivable detail. I have long relationships with all of these people and they know I am sending you to Italy as my close friend, not simply as a business client. I treat every travel program I develop as if it is my own.

All I ask you to do is show up at the airport for your departure to Italy and everything will be taken care of until you return. You will have all that you need in my trademark vacation itinerary which provides information on each city you visit, an outline of that day's scheduled activities, recommended dining, shopping, reservation confirmation at major museums, art and special events to fill in open time during the day and a "special notes" section, anticipating those small details to enhance your Italy vacation experience.

If you like, I will even make each and every one of your dining reservations. And these won't be at places you'll find in guidebooks, these will be special dining experiences at authentic restaurants known only to the locals.

And while you're on the ground in Italy, I will be monitoring your trip as it progresses, contacting the hotels where you are staying and the handpicked guides who are escorting you, ensuring that everything is going off without a hitch. Nothing is left to chance, I promise.

After a recent client meeting (if you live near me in Ohio, I always prefer to meet in person otherwise we will work together by phone), the gentleman told me I had such passion for my work that "you make it sound like we should leave tomorrow." Well if that is your desire, I can even make that happen.

If this sounds like the kind of personalized service you would like for your next trip to Italy, please contact me by e-mail (peter@davincicustomtravel.com) or phone (330-633-2292) so that the Italy you've only dreamed of can now be yours.

A presto,
Peter D'Attoma

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