Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A "Bucket List" Trip to Italy For My Friend


This is a brief account of a one month adventure in Italy by a good friend and her friends, and I had the pleasure of escorting the small group. It was a bucket list trip for my friend so I really wanted it to be extra special. She wanted to share her adventure with some friends and relatives, whom she invited. Of course, I can't include every activity we enjoyed but I will highlight, often in the words of my friends, their favorite experiences.
The trip started at an apartment in a small non touristy village in the Lake Como area which was the base for the month. This provided my friend lots of room, quiet, privacy, a kitchen, balconies, and other amenities.

Some of the areas we visited during the month included the following:
Lake Como, and a number of surrounding communities; the spectacular Dolomites, a must-see; beautiful Lake Garda; the Barolo wine country area in Alba, Piemonte;  the Italian Riviera, including Cinque Terre, Rapallo, and Portofino; the Cities of Bologna, a food lover's paradise Venice, Verona, and Milan. We did a lot but at a leisurely pace, never rushing, and making sure we took it all in. Each of these areas had its own unique flavor, and all were beautiful in their own ways: topography, cuisine, wines, traditions, and history, but they were all Italian!!

Transportation was primarily by mini van driven by me throughout northern Italy. Boats were used for transport on Lake Como to visit lake villages; and trains were used to visit Milan and between Rapallo and Cinque Terre towns. Accommodations outside of our Lake Como base included hotels and a bed and breakfast on a vineyard property in Piemonte.

We ate only in local non-tourist restaurants that I knew personally, and some others recommended by those whose judgement I trust. We looked for small villages and "off the beaten path" sights. My experience has taught me to always ask local residents where they and their families eat. As everyone knows, good food and wine for a good value, are very important to Italians. I made a point to acquaint my friends with the local area around the apartment, and the operators of restaurants and shops in our base village of Montano Lucino. Staying in an area for a month allowed us to live somewhat like the locals, and be recognized when we patronized shops and restaurants.

Here are some observations expressed by my friends: "best pizza and pasta I have ever eaten"; "nicest people I ever met";  "most interesting and beautiful landscapes and vistas ever!"; "the only way to visit, with someone who knows the language, the geography, the restaurants, sites, etc., and who handles the driving."

We agreed to having lots of free time and so we did not over plan activities. This allowed us to make some travel choices after we arrived, particularly for day trips. There was no need for guides because generally I served that purpose for us except for specialized certain sites for which we hired local experts.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I am including a number of photos taken on the trip.

In closing I am including a quote from a note my friend sent me after we returned home: " You so love Italy, and now I do too." Italy is infectious!!

Grazie Mille Maureen Higgins, my friend.

Lake Como

The Dolomites

The Dolomites

Clients at the Dolomites
My barber, Giancarlo, in Montano Lucino, Como
Vilage of Varenna on Lake Como
Paolo Manzone,  our host and winemaker in Piemonte
Clients on Gondola ride in Venice
Dining, what else, in Como!
wine tasting at our B&B in Piemonte
enice
Our B&B, Vineyard and winery in Piemonte
The Roman style arena in Verona

The Balcony of Romeo and Juliett in Verona
Clients outside of historical arena in Verona
Grand Canal in Venice from our hotel


Rapallo on the Italian Riviera, our view from hotel



Saturday, November 21, 2020


SICILY



Sicilian sunset


Nero d'Avola grapes
Sicily (Sicilia) is one of my favorite regions of Italy, but in all honesty, I am bias. This is my father's birthplace and still home to many members of my extended family. I had the pleasure of finding my roots and relatives after my father passed on my first of many trips to Italy. The trip was driven by wanting to meet the relatives and see the village and home where my father and his siblings were born and lived before emigrating to the USA.
My father's village, Santa Caterina Villarmosa, is in the Province of Caltanissetta, located in the heart of Sicily. It is very rural and very small. By the way, the village is not far form "Corleone".
Tracing and finding about our Italian heritage is educational, exciting and emotional. For me the experience brought be back to Italy many, many times. I felt very close to the country as a whole and very comfortable there. It felt liked I belonged there! To some degree it feels like a second home.
If you have an opportuinty to visit Italy, make time to see and connect to your roots. It is very rewarding. You will be welcomed with opened arms, not just by family members, if you are luck enough to locate some, but by the entire village, neighborhood, or city.

Those of you in the Dante Club and friends and family, who are planning a trip in the near future, take the time to gather whatever documentation you have and make time on the trip to check out your family's heritage.
I am including a few pictures of Sicily, in general, and my father's village.
Mt. Etna, near Catania

Santa Caterina Villarmosa

The Meditrranean Sea
My Father, Giuseppe Miccichè
Neighbors

Siracusa

Piemonte Region


 PIEMONTE REGION


The Piemonte  Region of Italy has some of the most beautiful countrysde vistas in Italy. It also features wonderful wines made from the Nebbiolo grape. We know them as Barolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and Barberesco. The City of Torino is a beautiful and vibrant city, full of young people due to the large university there. The River Po flows through the city and is home to many rowing competitions. It is an easy city for walking around and sightseeing. By the way, the cuisine is excellent especially in Autumn when the truffles and mushrooms are plentiful. By Italian measures of age, Torino is relatively modern, and well-designed. There are great views of the Alps here as well. Readers will recall that the 2006 Winter Olympics were hosted here.

From Torino it is a short drive to the rolling hills and vineyards of the Alba and Asti areas.

Alba is a wonderful small city in the heart of the Piemonte wine region, and it is a proud home of some of the best Italian truffles. Wonderful wines and Asti Spumante are produced here. Visit the town of Barolo and its spectacular interactive wine museum. Be sure to taste the Barolo while you are there. Alba is also home to Nutella, because of the major harvests of hazelnuts in the area.
In Alba you can arrange a truffle hunt experience with trained dogs, and watch them sniff and dig out the truffles. Alba is surrounded by beautiful scenery, featuring rolling hills filled with vineyards. There are beautiful vistas spanning miles. The area around Alba is easy to see by car because the villages are not too far apart. The city of Alba, itself, is comprised of a number of historical buildings, and it is designed for walking so everything can be enjoyed on foot. Don't miss having a pasta dish with fresh truffles and/or porcini mushrooms. From Alba, Asti is a short drive if you like sparkling wines. 
Also, a day trip to Genoa and  the Riviera is very doable.

Torino Municipal Building

Downtown Torino


 
Rolling Hills and Vineyards of Alba Area

Medieval Castle in Alba Wine Area



Piazza in Alba


Friday, January 17, 2020

Italy, 2020 Buon Anno Amici 

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope it is a great year.  Think about including a trip to Italy in your plans for 2020. Perhaps a celebration of a special birthday or anniversary or wedding, is in your plans. Why not have the "party" in Italy. You will never forget it!!

To help you consider a trip to Italy this year, I thought that instead of the usual article describing an Italian region or city, I would pass on this article from the Huffington Post published on December 28, 2013. It was written by Lisa Miller. 
I think that it is right on the money as it points out some of the less obvious reasons for visiting Italy. It goes beyond the food, the wine, the history. I hope you enjoy it. Those of you who have travelled to Italy will appreciate this article because you have experienced these things. 

Here is the article:

If you've spent time in Italy you know that life in Italy and life in America are very different. While both cultures have their pros and cons, we think Americans can learn a lot from the way Italians live.
Traditionally, Italians have an easy-going and positive outlook on how to go about daily life. Italians live "la vita bella" (the beautiful life). But the beautiful life doesn't mean the luxurious life -- it means a relaxed, family-centric lifestyle.
Check out seven lessons Americans can learn from Italians below.
1. Eat slowly, locally and with others.
There's really no such thing as Italian fast food.  (There is street food which is excellent). Italy is all about "slow food." Dinners are unhurried and eaten around a table with one's family.  In Italy, food is natural, authentic and sourced locally.
2. Drink a little bit, but not too much.
Italians love their vino. But they don't overdo it. Here in America, there's a culture of binge-drinking. In Italy, a bottle of wine is shared among friends or around the dinner table.  Italians like to drink, but they know how to keep it classy.
3. You should indulge a little every now and then... perché no??
There are so many delicious treats in Italy -- rich gelato, mouth-watering pastries, decadent chocolates. Much like the philosophy on drinking, Italian culture has a "perché no?" take on treats. "Perché no?" translates to "why not?" The idea is to treat yourself by having a little bit of something tasty (because, why not?) 
4. Stop hurrying, start relaxing.
Life is less hurried in Italy. People don't rush around with to-go cups of coffee, but rather sip their espresso at the "bar" (aka coffee shop). Meals tend to linger, whether they be at restaurants or at home. Pedestrians tend to meander.  Many Italians take a siesta of sorts -- a break during the day, from 1 p.m. - 3 p.m., to eat lunch and relax.
5. Having family nearby is the best thing ever.
Families in Italy tend to stay in the same area, rather than moving around. Grandparents often care for grandchildren, siblings remain close and extended families are huge and welcoming.  Having family nearby is deeply valued in Italy. Having nonna(grandma), aunts, uncles and cousins drop by for dinner during the week or having a weekly extended family meal every Sunday is common and brings everyone together.
6. Gather and spend time outdoors.
Part of the great communal feel of Italy comes from the fact that people tend to congregate outdoors. Friends will meet up at a piazza and hang out there, rather than in a home. Piazzas are vibrant, outdoor hubs where tons of people gather, children play and tourists roam, creating a lively atmosphere. Similarly, many Italians do most of their shopping at a mercato, outdoor markets where vendors sell everything from food and wine to clothing and leather goods.  There's nothing like wandering a mercato, sampling the fare and interacting with other locals.
7. Maintain a "bella figura."
Bella figura literally translates to "beautiful figure" -- but it's more idiomatic than that. The idea of maintaining a bella figura is more like the idea of maintaining a good public image. Italians don't get drunk in public, eat while they walk or wear pajamas to the dinner table because it would have a negative impact on their image. Bella figura is more than just looking good, it's a way of life that emphasizes aesthetics and good behavior. 
Thanks to Lisa Miller and the Huffington Post.  She is absolutely right.

I think I would add a number 8 to this list, about getting around in Italy, which is very different that how we travel in the U.S.  After numerous trips to Italy, and renting a car, my son has decided that there is a much easier, slower and less stressful way...the train. Italian train service is excellent and easy to use almost anywhere, but it is particularly convenient when moving from city to city. Here is an example of an itinerary that relies on train travel, and may include side tours with a driver/guide if desired. I am abbreviating this somewhat and highlighting the train part of the journey.

Example: Fly into Rome, local train to hotel from airport. After stay in Rome take "super fast train" to Florence, where station is right in the heart of the city. Walk or taxi to hotel. After stay in Florence, express train to Venice or Bologna, or Milan, etc. Fly home from Milan or train back to Rome or Florence. Staying in cities makes traveling easier and more comfortable. 
In any of these destinations cars and guides or car rentals, can be arranged for day or overnight trips to the countryside for wine tasting, museums, historic ruins, events, et. al.

The bottom line is there is less stress, a more relaxing journey, convenient train stations, available taxis, shuttles, and more. In other words, take the train and leave the driving to "them".

















Friday, September 6, 2019

BOLOGNA



Bologna, in the Regione Emilia Romagna, is a marvelous and fascinating city. It is well-known for its fabulous cuisine, and I am pleased to say, that on my many visits there I have had the pleasure of tasting a great deal of it. There is no question that it is one of the best "foodie" places in the world. The famous Bolognese sauce was created here and remains one of Bologna's signature dishes. The original recipe can be found in the archives of the University of Bologna. The mortadella with pistachios is also an original product of Bologna. There are many fine ristoranti and trattorie in Bologna, but one of my favorites is Trattoria Gianni, with great menu choices in all of the courses. If you don't get there, don't be concerned because it is hard to find bad food in Bologna or in the rest of Emilia Romagna. Casual dining is very popular. There are a number of "deli" style eateries throughout Bologna serving the best cold cuts, breads, wine and sides you will ever eat.  Don't miss "Eataly" a multi-level store with ongoing pasta and cooking demonstrations, restaurants, Italian products of all kinds, books, art  and much more!

There is, of course, more to Bologna than its cuisine. It is the home of the oldest university in Europe, so it is a vibrant and alive city. Any time of year you will find events and activities outdoors, everywhere. It is definitely a must see in Northern Italy. The Bolognese people are wonderful hosts and will assure you of a great experience in their City.

The sidewalks of many of the streets of Bologna are covered with porticoes, and that feature along with the city's layout, makes it an easy city to walk around and enjoy. It is also known as the City of Towers as you will see as you stroll the city.
From Bologna you can easily access the cities of Parma, Modena, Ferrara, and the coastal cities of Rimini, Ravenna, and  others, along the Adriatic Sea. Enjoy a walking tour on your first day which helps to acclimate you to the layout, history and culture of the city. Then you can enjoy Bologna on your own at your own pace.

Buon Viaggio!



                                                            Piazza e Fontana de Tritone



Typical Portico
                                                                       Classic narrow street
 
                                                       Polpette (meatballs) Bologna style


The Two Towers



Saturday, June 22, 2019

Rosa dei Venti-Cortona, Italy

Italian Journeys says:
When travelling to Tuscany.....


Italian Journeys is happy to announce exclusive non-hotel accommodations at Rosa dei Venti properties in Tuscany, when you book your trip with us. You can choose this luxurious apartment within walking distance to the lovely Tuscan town of Foiano Della Chiana, and close to Cortona, Arezzo and all the wine area towns. Below is a first hand review and description of "Diamante" which I did when my wife and I were the very first occupants of the apartment. We have been staying here for nearly 20 years and clients will tell you they were never disappointed in any of the property owned/managed by the Micheli Family.



Living Room

Dining Room

Wraparound Balcony

Bedroom

A "Gem" from the Rosa dei Venti Family
Diamante is a three bedroom, two bath apartment located outside the historic center of Foiano della Chiana, in Tuscany. It is six km from the farmhouse property in the countryside. My wife and I are fortunate to be the first occupants of this totally remodeled apartment. The kitchen is fully equipped with modern appliances and kitchenware. There is a dishwasher, refrigerator/freezer, double sinks, and all the pans, dishes, etc., to cook and entertain.
From the apartment you can walk to town and shop and dine as local residents do. There are fresh pasta shops, butchers, delis, bakeries, and fresh fruit and vegetables every day. There are family restaurants and pizzerias and, an open air market every Monday.
You have complete access to the farmhouse activities and events such as cooking classes and and guided tours. The location is ideal for visiting the many historical hill and walled towns in Tuscany and Umbria. There is a train station nearby for trips to Arezzo and Florence or even Rome. It is a great place to stay for a long term as a base for touring the area and other parts of Italy. The apartment rental period is a minimum of one week. There is a significant savings for longer rentals, particularly for one month.
This is a great alternative to the farmhouse property for long term stays.
It can be viewed and booked by Italian Journeys. Email to Volareinitalia@gmail.com for more information and details. Remember my booking services are free. We can also escort, drive, interpret, etc.
This is a five out of five rating all around.
Michael Miccichè – California
If you prefer country living in a beautiful villa/farmhouse property, you can choose from the apartments shown below. There are sizes for all. Most of the apartments are two bedrooms, two full baths, full kitchen, appliances, tableware, etc.,  and living room. There is a three bedroom with two baths, and a cottage with one bedroom.

Aerial view of Rosa Dei Venti

All these apartments are owned and operated by the Micheli Family which has owned the property since 1900 (4 Generations).
As the properties are first class, so is the family. They are friendly, helpful and very accommodating.  They can arrange delightful wine tours, cooking classes, etc. during your stay. The family produces wine, olive oil, fruit, and sunflowers. It is very much a working farm. You can buy the wine and olive oil and their cookbooks, which you will want after you participate in the cooking class and enjoy the cuisine!
View from Maestrale Apartment
Landscaped grounds
Cooking Class

The pasta maker


Friday, March 15, 2019

Bell'Italia

Bell’Italia


Ciao Amici.  Most often in writing these articles, I have selected a particular region to write about. It is often a difficult decision because, the truth is, I have no favorite. In fact I love each and every region due to  its “uniqueness”. Because of how Italy developed over its history, the areas, from North to South, and East to West, are unique in character, cuisine, appearances, customs, etc.


Italy is really like a country made up of a collection of “states”, or a collection of independent small territories! This is what makes Italy special. There is a feel sometimes of being in different countries as you travel the whole boot. We must remember that, as a unified republic, Italy is younger than California! We don’t think of it that way because of the area’s long and diverse history and foreign occupation. For a very long time each independent region had to defend itself from the region next to it. That is why there are so many walled and hilltop regions and cities.
Of course, the topography of Italy lends to different looks, lifestyles, cuisine and foreign influences. Much of Italy has similar topography to California with the exception of the California desert. Below are some stark examples, and some pictures from North to South.
Starting in the north, from east to west, across the Italian Alps and Dolomites, we see mountainous regions with cold and snowy winters. The multiple languages, cuisines, architecture, and feel of the area, are due to the proximity of Austria, Switzerland, and Slovenia. In fact, many border communities speak two to three languages.
Moving from the area below the Dolomites to central Italy as far as Naples, we see the largest influence of the Roman Empire, Etruscan culture, and the Renaissance Era. A great many of the walled and hill towns are found in Piemonte, Lombardia, Toscana, Umbria, Emiglia Romagna, Marche, Veneto, Lazio, Abruzzo, and Campania. As you know these regions produce lots of great wine and fabulous food. I have spoken previously about the food of Bologna and all of Emigila Romagna, but all these regions have great food and their own particular dishes. Of course, there is no place like Rome anywhere in the world if you have an interest in Italy’s early history and its influence on much of the world’s languages, customs, architecture, and government.
The countrysides of these region are known for their rolling hills, agriculture, wines, and food production. There are beautiful coastlines on both the east and west sides of the boot. Campania, of course, is famous for the breathtaking Amalfi Coast. The east coast consists of Adriatic coastal towns from Venice to Puglia.
As we move further south of Naples, there are still non tourist areas that are unspoiled. Beaches and small villages are wonderful. Much of the cuisine revolves around seafood from both seas. Place like Basilicata, Puglia, and Calabria.
Continuing south, of course we move toward Sicily, and Sardinia. Both are beautiful islands but different in many ways. Sardinia has a small population and resembles a resort island with lots of open space. It is a quiet lifestyle with lots of clear water beaches, lots of fishing and boating activities, and lots of seafood based cuisine.
Sicily, on the other hand, is the largest of all the Mediterranean islands. It is a food lovers paradise, having been influenced by many cuisines during their many occupations over the course of history. A few influences are seen in the varied architecture, churches, temple ruins and the food. They include Arabic, Norman, Spanish, Greek, and French.
The climate is great pretty much year round. Palermo is a great city to start your trip and sample the food. It is a big island which can not be seen in just a few days. Ten days to two weeks would be perfect if you have the time. The people are warm and friendly and go all out for tourists. Great wines are in abundance here to go with the diverse cuisine.


Of course, I have only scratched the surface of the country and give a cursory look at the regions. It certainly will take more than one trip to see the highlights of Italy, but you will never regret the trip. It will provide memories of a lifetime. After all, we are visiting the
“homeland”.


The Dante Club wants to see the County, State and eventually the Federal Government recognize our Italian Heritage and contributions, with a designated day and month. We will be pursuing this with the partnership of other Italian organizations, and all of you.
Let’s be prepared to argue why this is important to do by getting familiar with what our ancestors have given to society.