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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Renting a Car in Italy? Great Deals from Auto Europe

I've been a big fan of Auto Europe for many years. In my first few visits years ago, I tried other rental companies in Italy but once I started using Auto Europe I was hooked. Two reasons: 1) the customer service is superb and efficient and 2) I've always found the lowest car rental rates with them. A few years ago, I was able to get the rates down even further by negotiating a 5% discount on Auto Europe rentals with Dream of Italy's special discount - use the discount code: 72002261.

When you rent a car in Italy, do as I say, not as I do. A few times I have made the mistake of NOT renting a GPS unit. Bad idea that resulted in hours, in total, of getting lost. Always, always make sure you have a GPS unit, whether you bring it with you or rent one. Actually, this summer Auto Europe is offering a FREE GPS unit rental with any car rental of five days or longer! Sweet!

Another piece of advice from my many Italy road trips - always rent automatic! Okay, I do it because I don't know how to drive a manual transmission and Italy (with its driving challenges as it is - though I LOVE driving there) isn't where I want to learn. More often then not, I end up renting a Mercedes - a car I could never afford to own back home but an awesome ride either on the autostrada or winding country roads. Auto Europe is offering 15% off a Mercedes rental or rental or rental any other luxury car. It is your dream trip, drive your dream!

By the way, here are some handy tips on driving in Italy and you can read more about my adventures navigating the Amalfi Drive (one of Italy's more challenging roads).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Have You Tasted a Chino While in Italy?

I always feel bad when I order a Diet Coke (or "Coca Light") when I'm in Italy. First, it clearly gives me away as an American. (Some Italians call Coke or Diet Coke - "American champagne.") Second, it usually costs more than a glass of wonderful house wine. But sometimes on a hot day, you just crave a Coke, you know?

Though I've visited Italy dozens of times, it was only on my most recent trip that I was introduced to Chino - an Italian soda by San Pellegrino. Thinking I would feel way less guilty drinking Italian soda in Italy vs. American soda, I gave it a try. Chino has a distinct citrus taste and was pretty refreshing. I'd probably order one again, though I'm not sure it will replace a Diet Coke. (I swear I'm trying to give it up - those chemicals are bad!)

I decided to find out more about Chino and found this great description on the Drink Station blog:

Chinotto is a sparkling Italian soft drink named after the small, bitter citrus fruit of the Myrtle-leaved orange tree. The tree is believed to have originated in China, hence the name. Today Chinotto fruit is mostly cultivated in Italy, where the peel extract is an essential ingredient in Italian Bitters ('Amari'); alcoholic liqueurs drunk either as a digestif or an aperitif. San Pellegrino claim to have formulated the first Chinotto soft drink in 1932, today marketed under the brand name of Chino.

Sparkling Chino is a dark chestnut brown colour, clear and intense. When poured out, fine pinhead bubbles can be observed rising from various points in the glass. On the nose this is sweetly spiced and strikingly aromatic: Allspice, cloved orange, with rooty and woody scents all combining to create a spice cake impression.

Opening with a fruity caramel, cola flavour on the palate, a long and controlled progression of sweet to bitter follows. Flavours of spice cake and ginger at first, cassia and clove, then black cherry, fig and toffee. Subtle notes of liquorice and menthol emerge to add further points of interest along the gently bitter, persistent finish.

Have you tasted Chino? What did you think?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Slide Show: Preview of Dream of Italy's Umbria Harvest Week Trip

Join Dream of Italy this November 6th in Umbria
a week of food, wine and ceramics:

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Umbria trip

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Highlights of Dream of Italy's Umbria Harvest Week:

• Six nights at the 17th-century farmhouse villa La Fattoria del Gelso near Assisi, Umbria.
• All meals ─ homemade by the villa's fabulous chef or at restaurants.
• Visit to Italy's ceramics capital Deruta with hands-on ceramics painting workshop.
• Full day touring, and tasting, at the famed local vineyards of the Montefalco wine zone.
• Hands-on cooking lesson with one of Umbria's hot, up-and-coming Slow Food chefs. After
the lesson, we'll have a private lunch at his restaurant.
• Full day truffle hunting extravaganza: hunting for truffles with a local hunter and his dog; a
visit to a truffle laboratory; cooking with truffles demonstration; full meal featuring truffles!
• Visit to an olive mill to watch the yearly harvest in action.
• Guided tour of the Basilica of St. Francis and the town of Assisi.
• Guided tour of the historic Umbrian capital of Perugia.
• Pasta and pizza-making lessons with the villa’s chef.
• Dinner with expats and/or local authors to give us a feel for everyday life in Umbria.
• All transportation for the week via private van.
• Accompanied by Kathy McCabe and terrific local guides.

This entire, one-of-a-kind week costs just $2,450 per person, based on double occupancy in a double room with private bath. (Airfare not included.) We have just several rooms left. See the full itinerary and see you in Umbria!

Galileo's Fingers Await at Newly Reopened Florence Museum

In producing some of the world’s greatest scientific minds, Italy has shared an intimate history with the development of modern science. Based on the content of the newly reopened Instituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza (Institute and Museum of the History of Science), now renamed the Museo Galileo (The Galileo Museum), it is safe to say that the city of Florence in particular, has played a significant role in scientific history.

At the reopening, museum director Paolo Galluzzi announced the addition of two fingers from Galileo’s right hand and one of his teeth to the museum's collection. They reappeared at at an auction last year, over a century years since they were reportedly last seen. The Museo Galileo was already in possession of the scientist’s middle finger.When Galileo’s body was transported in 1737 from storage to its final resting place in Florence's Santa Croce Church, dedicated followers of Galileo removed his digits from his body.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Where's Salvatore? He's Still Cooking in Umbria

In my book, there’s now one less reason to visit the town of Foligno in Umbria – but Foligno’s loss is Spello’s gain. In Dream of Italy's Special Report: Umbria, editor Kathy McCabe wrote about the one-of-a-kind chef Salvatore Denaro and his popular trattoria in Foligno.

Salvatore has now closed his quirky and wonderful restaurant Il Bacco Felice and is taking his talent and his enthusiasm for good food and wine on the road. Through September of 2010 (at least at this writing - we'll keep you posted) you can find him continuing to prepare delicious lunches and dinners in a more picturesque spot….the osteria on the terrace at La Bastiglia Hotel at the very top of the Umbrian town Spello.

From a distance, Spello – the picturesque town on the side of Mount Subasio just east of Assisi – seems to be spilling down the side of the mountain. It often tops the list of places to visit in Umbria: it already had art by Pintoricchio and Perugino (two of Umbria’s native sons), Roman ruins and the famous infiorata. And this summer it has Salvatore Denaro!

Amazing views across the valley have replaced the rows of wine bottles and graffiti-scribbled walls of his small osteria in Foligno. The terrace is large, with tables set up both in the sun and shade. There’s also a 20-seat indoor dining room in case there’s one of the rare days of rain during the Umbrian summer.

And while the setting may have changed, the food and wine – and Salvatore himself – remain the same. There’s still no menu so what you eat will be what is fresh that day, with many of the ingredients coming from his garden just a few kilometers away. On a recent visit, after the prosciutto (“extraordinary”, said Salvatore), we ate panzanella with his ripe, flavorful tomatoes (the man is a tomato genius!) and herbs.

This was followed by a choice of pastas but most of my group took our host’s recommendation and had fresh pasta from a Sicilian recipe with zucchini and mint (again from the garden) and olive oil; this was followed by a slice (“have just a taste,” Salvatore says) of perfectly-cooked porchetta (roast pork, possibly the signature dish of Umbria). Though Salvatore is Sicilian to the core, he has adopted Umbria (and Umbria has adopted him) and incorporates the best of all Italian regional cuisines in his dishes.

Don’t be surprised if an extra wine glass shows up at your table; your host is involved in every level of quality control...down to the bottle of wine just opened for you which he may taste just to make sure it’s good.

La Bastiglia already had a one Michelin star restaurant (which I hope to visit soon with Salvatore as my guide) …and now they have a Sicilian-Umbrian star in Salvatore. -- Frances Kidd

The Details

Via Salnitraria, 15
(39) 0742 651277
Open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Lunch runs 1 to 3.30 pm and dinner service starts at 8 p.m.
A meal costs 30 euros per person, including one glass of wine.
Reservations strongly recommended, especially on the weekend (specify the osteria or terrace)