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Friday, June 22, 2012

Dreaming of Puglia Cheese

If you're a firm believer that one can make a meal out of cheese alone, then get yourself to Puglia pronto to taste some of the freshest, most magnificent, tear-inducing (because it is that GOOD) cheese in the world. After all, this is where burrata was invented. On my recent trip, I visited a factory/story that has been producing the fresh white goodness since just after World War II. 

And then we grabbbed a plastic table just outside the shop door made a meal of all of the varieties (scamorza, burrata, smoked mozzarella, knotted mozzarella, ricotta)  and some grilled zucchini, stewed tomatoes, taralli and some vino. Really do you need anything more? This cheese stands on its own. If I had to pick the best, the very best of the selection - the smoked mozzarella, just unlike anything I have ever had before, even the same type of chesse elsewhere.


Do you know the name of this artful cheese producer? Hint, it is in a very "special" town in Puglia .

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Italian Wine & Movie Night in Denver

I didn't even know Elizabeth Montana of DreamItalia and her husband the famous Denver sushi master Yasu Kizaki were longtime readers of Dream of Italy when I attended the Italian Wine and Movie Night they co-organized last summer at Balistreri Vineyards in Denver. It was simply the best event I have been to in the two years I have lived in Denver. I felt like I was transported to a magical summer evening in Italy and still haven't stopped talking about the film Pranzo di Ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch) which was screened under a big tent.

Fast forward to this year, Elizabeth and Yasu have become my friends, Balistreri has an incredible new tasting room and event space (which I saw at an incredible opening event with food by Top Chef Hosea Rosenberg) and the Annual Italian Wine and Movie Night is set for Saturday, July 21st. If you're an Italophile and anywhere near Denver, don't miss this event. My mouth is already watering for the food and wine and this year's movie is Pane e Tulipani (Bread & Tulips). I can safely say that Elizabeth and Yasu as well as Julie Balistreri and her father, winemaker John Balistreri, share my passion and perfectionism when it comes to all things Italian. You will not be disappointed!

As if Yasu doesn't have enough on his plate (excuse any pun here) -- he is one of the hardest working men in the sushi world, you must read this incredible profile in a recent issue of 5280 -- he also has another wonderful event he's hosting at Balistreri:  KUVO's Mambo in the Vineyard on August 11th.

Nearly 700 jazz fans are expected for this fundraiser for KUVO Jazz 89 Radio. The music will be provided by local group Salsa con Jazz and boy, is the audience in for the a treat. I just saw the group for the first time this past Sunday at Denver's incredible series of free summer concerts,  City Park Jazz. It was at least 100 degrees that evening but that didn't stop thousands of Denverites from grooving to the sounds of this electric latin rhythms. And add in some wine tasting at Balistreri -- the vineyard will be rockin!

I'll see you at Balistreri this summer!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Some of the Best Beaches in Italy

Recently CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg and his team asked me to share five of the most beautiful Italian beaches over on his travel site. I know the Internet and travelers love lists like this but to be honest, narrowing any down any selection of "best of" or "most beautiful" in Italy gives me some anxiety - so many great choices. I do think I managed to select some of the most unique and beautiful beaches in Italy including:
  • Pescoluse - called "The Maldives of the Salento" - in Puglia
  • San Vito in Capo - I really love this one! - in Sicily
  • Maddalena Archipelago - okay, truly one of the most beautiful places on Earth - in Sardinia
  • Spiaggia Nera - in one of the best resorts (little-known to foreigners) - Maratea - in Basilicata
  • Lido Beach - because how cool is it to have a beach in a world-class city? - in Venice
On a related note, did you know Italy has some great surfing beaches?

Where are you favorite Italian beaches? Leave a comment below. 

Photo of Spiaggia Nera by Lucio D.B, flickr.com

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Hop-On, Hop-Off Vaporetto in Venice

You've probably seen the red hop-on, hop-off buses in Rome and other cities (there's even now a hop-on, hop-off bus along the Amalfi Coast)...Perhaps it was only a matter of time before a hop-on, hop-off tourist boat came to the waterways of Venice.

Earlier this month a hop-on, hop-off vaparetto service began on Venice's Grand Canal. Vaporetto dell'Arte runs daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and makes eight stops between the train station and San Giorgio. Two additional stops at Arsenale and Giardini will be added during the Architecture Biennale, August 29 to November 25, 2012.

Vaporetto dell'Arte has 80 seats and space for 20 additional passengers to stand. The seats are equipped with multi-language audio-visual systems. Each passenger receives a welcome kit which includes disposable earphones, a map and special offers from partners like Punta della Dogana and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

A 24-hour pass costs 24€ for adults and 15€ for children and seniors. A better deal, for those staying a dayor more in Venice or exploring the city on a wider basis, seems to be purchasing the Vaporetto dell'Arte pass in conjunction with time-limited ACTV tourist tickets (12, 24, 36, 48, 72 hour, 7-day and 3-day Youth Card: Rolling Venice).  This costs only 10€ in addition to the price of the other ACTV tickets.  All of these passes/tickets are  available for pre-purchase through Venice Connected  up to a minimum of four days before collecting and/or using them.

Thanks to the Nan McElroy for first informing us about the new service.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Buy a Tuscany Villa / Bed & Breakfast at Auction with No Reserve

Are you in the market to buy a villa in Tuscany? Granted this is still in the "dream" category for most of us, but an intriguing auction taking place later this month just might help one lucky bidder snag an elegant villa in Tuscany for a steal of a price.

Villa Sognare, a 26-room villa in the walled town of Barga, will be sold at auction on June 20th. The fascinating thing about this auction is that it is being held with NO RESERVE. That means there is no set opening bed and no minimum price the villa must sell for, it will simply go to the highest bidder. That doesn't mean just anyone can bid however, bidders must  make a pre-bid deposit of 100,000 euros by June 19th. They need not be present in Tuscany, as bidding will be held online via auctionnetwork.com

The villa, currently operated as a bed & breakfast, has been owned by an American couple for the past 10 years.  They worked to meticulously restore the property. The nine bedrooms are currently advertised for rates of 50 to 125 euros per night. Villa Sognare seems like a natural choice for those who dream of living in Italy and potentially running a business there as the villa could continue as a B+B or offered as a villa rental.

Barga, located about 20 miles north of Lucca, has been honored by the Italian Touring Club as one of the 50 most beautiful villages in Italy. The 10,000 inhabitants enjoy mountainous views, historic buildings and plenty of culture. Barga is host to Opera Barga, a festival held every July, and Bargajazz, an annual celebration in August. A number of artists call the area home.

You can take a virtual tour of Villa Sognare here and if you're one of the lucky ones who could even think about bidding on such a gem, here are all of the details.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Ladies: Join Susan Van Allen for Golden Week in Tuscany

Are you a gal looking for an Italian getaway?

Our friend and frequent Dream of Italy contributor Susan Van Allen, author of the book 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, has just announced GOLDEN WEEK IN TUSCANY: FOR WOMEN ONLY!

Join Susan November 3-10, 2012,  for an inspiring adventure in the Tuscan countryside. Immerse yourself in breathtaking surroundings, celebrate the olive harvest, indulge your taste buds with delicious traditional food and wine, stroll through hilltop villages, stand awestruck before world famous masterpieces, shop for artisan treasures, relax in natural thermal springs.

Click here for more info on Susan's November tour in Tuscany

Inside The Suites at Francis Ford Coppola's Palazzo Margherita

The final destination on my recent trip to Italy was the most moving. I drove to the small town of Bernalda (in the in-step of the Italian boot in the region of Basilicata) to stay at the new 9-suite hotel film director Francis Ford Coppola opened in his ancestral hometown.

Even if you can't afford a night at Palazzo Margherita (few can), consider Basilicata as part of your next trip. These three Basilicata towns make for great day trips no matter where you stay. This region is part of the real Italy. (In fact, this 4-minute video about Basilicata narrated by Coppola is worth a view.)

It took me four pages in the May issue of Dream of Italy to recount my experience at Coppola's hotel, from the cooking lesson to private film screening. This production was 50 years in the making as Coppola first visted here in 1962 (his grandfather left in 1904) and is truly the director's love letter to Italy.

Here is an excerpt about the palazzo's suites:
"Running a hotel is like making a movie; it's all about putting on a show," Coppola recently told Vogue. "You start with an idea, a theme-a leisure palazzo, for example-and then you pay attention to a million details. And whether you're staying in a hotel or watching a film, it's those details that provide the experience."

Each of the nine guest suites is completely unique with its own storyline of sorts. One of the most impressive suites is #4, where Sofia Coppola (the daughter of Francis and an Academy Award-winning director herself) stays. She and French interior designer Jacques Grange created the magical gold trompe l'oeil lining the walls and ceiling. It gives the sense of stepping into a light and airy Belle Epoque garden.

As we look around the room, the managing director points out the influence of the Coppolas. "Francis likes to read in bed," he says as he points next to the bed, "so he chose these specific reading lights which are in each room." He later points out the hearts in the tiles lining Sofia's bathroom and thinks she influenced Grange in adding them to the design.

Suite #9, where Coppola and his wife stay, is a departure from the other rooms (it was originally an open terrace that has been closed in) in its Arab motif. Coppola designed the colorful, airy room it as an homage to his Tunisian grandmother. One wall is filled with French doors leading out to a huge terrace above the garden - truly the best view in the palazzo.

I will spend the night in suite #8, named for Coppola's granddaughter Gia. Its light pink walls, floral couch and an original ceiling fresco depicting lovers Amore and Psyche combine to make it the most romantic suite in the palazzo. The Juliette balcony overlooking Corso Umberto practically begs for a local Romeo to come calling.

Lined up against the bathroom mirror, between the claw foot tub and shower, there is a selection of full-size bath products and a candle from Florence's famous Officina Santa Maria Novella. Sitting atop of the candle is a matchbook from Sofia's wedding, another touch that makes me feel like a guest in a home rather than a hotel.

Read the rest of the article about the palazzo's deep links to Coppola's ancestors, the cooking lessons included in each stay, the private screening room and more when you subscribe today for immediate access to the entire article, the May issue and 93 back issues PLUS you will receive 3 FREE issues of Italia! magazine ($32 value) mailed to your home as a subscription bonus.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Apartments in Rome, Venice and Florence

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