Italy

Enoteca L’Alchimista – Food Magic in Montefalco

IMG_1384When you visit Montefalco, a medieval stunner, smack in the middle of landlocked Umbria, it wont take you long to see which is the star restaurant.  About 5 minutes in fact after you enter the main gate.  30 minutes if you get distracted by more truffle sauces and hanging grandpa’s balls (Palle di Nonno).  Its the one in the main square with all the happy people occupying every inch of the space.  Some of the happiest ones are munching on pigeon done five different ways.  And while the star restaurant does not always deliver the results you’d expect, this one shines.

At the helm is Patrizia Moretti, the alchemist, the magician, and local legend, who runs a tight ship along with daughter and daughter’s partner.  L’Alchimista doesnt have the look and feel of a small mom/pop Trattoria but of a sprawling, busy, well run establishment with a traditional yet refined menu.  Delicate flavors so on point, you hear angels sing with every morsel (We did eventually asked them to lower the volume when it got annoying).  Facing one of the most atmospheric squares in Umbria doesnt hurt.

The only thing better than a restaurant with a signature dish is one with two.  Onion Parmigiana may not sound too enticing but here you get sweet protected onion from nearby Cannara that sings with that cheese.  Burrata with 24 month Norcia Prosciutto we couldnt get enough in Umbria was spot on, and so was the delectable ravioli with goat cheese.  Tenderloin, marinated with the local Sagrantino red, so tender you can cut with car keys.  The remote square ones, not the one you ignite with.

IMG_E1383But the undisputed shining star, and a dish of the trip nominee is the pigeon.  Just like Onion Parmigiana, pigeon just never jumps out at you when you read a menu as such.  But then we recall the tasty pigeons of nearby Tuscany, especially the one made by another female magician 100 km away.  This bird comes in a variety of ways – pigeon breast, pigeon sausage, pigeon liver, and pigeon stuffed with more pigeon.  Its outstanding.  The only thing left to do is finish with a proper Tiramisu, and its indeed fantastic here.

Although I’ve had Enoteca L’Alchimista on my radar, I was not expecting this level of cooking, and an impeccable attention to detail.  Neither should you.  It helps when you go anywhere with low expectations.  Or lower than the enthusiasm you get from such blogs.  Different tastes, off nights, and just picking the wrong items to match your palate means way too many variables involved to guarantee anything.  But for us, on this particular night, it was flawless.

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A Day in Chianti

IMG_0884When was the last time you did the chicken dance?  They still do them in weddings and  events all over the continent as far as I know.  Legend has it, the first chicken dance was in Florence in the 13th century when Florence seized control of much of Chianti from rival Siena (more on that later).  So in order to give the proper homage to this famous wine region, and unless you’ve been to a Bar Mitzvah lately, start practicing that ancient dance.  You will see that famous black rooster all over Chianti, sometimes proudly presented as larger than life statues.  Wish to visit Chianti on a day trip from wherever (I recommend basing in this town)?  Follow me on this chicken route…

Start your morning with a visit to the Castello di Verrazzano, one of the oldest (over 1000 years) and most respected wineries in Tuscany.  Its educational, but the history, place and location offering some magnificent vistas, is what sets it apart.  Its a great place to visit even if you are not into wine.  The 10 am visit (there’s also a 3 pm) Classic Wine Tour ends with a tasting.  You can also visit the store, have a nice long lunch, or book other experiences.  But we have more to do…

A short drive away is Greve in Chianti.  Visit for one of the most striking squares in Tuscany, which all but disappears on Saturdays when the market takes over.  Its a catch 22 since the market is interesting as well, and you can still visit some of the square stores.  Like the ancient, well respected Antica Macelleria Falorni where you can buy some high quality local salami and where Beef Tartare is treated as fast food.  And if you are from NYC dont forget to take a selfie with homeboy Giovanni da Verrazzano whose statue dominates the square on non market days.

Speaking of Johnny, here’s a little tidbit.  On October 1st, 2018 NY governor Cuomo signed legislation to correct the spelling of the VerrazZano-Narrows Bridge, adding that all important extra Z missing since 1960.  The Z-gate feud between the one Z supporters, and two Z supporters that spanned decades, finally came to an end.. for now.  While Google and all electronic signs reflect the new spelling, none of the old 96 signs reflect the name change. With that said, if you take the tour at Castello di Verrazzano, you can find an ancient barrel that shows ancient spelling with only one Z.  And will New Yorkers ever change the pronunciation (ZZ is “TS”, like Pizza).  The great explorer Verrazzano of course discovered the Bay of NY, before being eaten by Cannibals in the Bahamas.  Thats why we go to Turks and Caicos.

Its almost lunch time, but before that there’s one more stop.  This centers around a man as well, except that this one is very much alive.  Panzano is home to the most famous butcher in Italy, maybe the planet, Dario Cecchini.  Dario is an eighth-generation butcher born and raised in Panzano.  He owns a butcher shop (Antica Macelleria Cecchini), a few restaurants, and is essentially the main attraction in this town based on the number of people and energy that usually surrounds his shops.  He is the only butcher featured on Netflix’s Chef Table.  Dario doesnt speak much English, and my Menu Italian wasnt strong enough to carry a conversation.  You can have your Bistecca alla Fiorentina at Dario’s house.  Or…

IMG_0861Head to Osteria Le Panzanelle, 5 km south of Panzano, with reservations in hand of course.  Its an institution, popular with locals and visitors alike.  Start with the luscious eggplant Involtini and/or green bean flan.  Move on to the fresh, eggy Papardelle with a wild boar ragu that carries some serious depth.  Then your choices are an excellent fried rabbit and chicken, or the very fine, and surprisingly affordable Bistecca.  This place is popular, so it may take some time.  So stay, relax, and.. sigh.. check in with social media.  But take turns.  Dont be that table! 

By now you must be wondering whats the story with this black rooster that you see on every Chianti Classico and all over the region.  The legend of the Gallo Nero came from medieval times when Siena and Florence decided to settle their territory feud once and for all.  Two horseman would leave early in the morning from each city, and when they’ll meet, that spot would serve as the border.  But since the Iphone wasnt invented yet, they used the rooster crow as the signal for the start.  The Florentine starved their black rooster, while the Sienese fed their white rooster plenty, thinking he’ll wake up early and energized.  But it was the black Florentine rooster that woke up too early, starving and crowing, while the white rooster slept well.  That meant an early start for the Florentine horseman who got within 12 km of Siena, essentially seizing control of Chianti.  Hence the symbol.

IMG_9875After lunch, your options are to head to the nearby hamlet of Volpaia, and/or perhaps skipping the next destination, but I suggest not.  Castello di Brolio is yet another stunner.  You can participate in more activities and tours, a la Castello di Verrazzano.  But for the purpose of this post, we’ll just pay the entrance fee, walk around the castle, enjoy the views, and read about the history.  This one feels more subdued and isolated, adding about an hour of travel time overall.  You are entitled to a glass of red on your way out, but then you have more driving to do and its getting late.  Safety 6th is the motto of Eating With Ziggy Tours.

Our last stop is the ancient Castellina in Chianti, arguably the most picturesque village in the region.  You can visit and climb the all important Rocca, and see the unique underground tunnel that is essentially a street today with wine shops.  Wine and food is the theme in Castellina.  Like the Montalcino of the north.  A great place to just hang and people watch.  End this journey at Gelateria di Castellina.  Not a personal endorsement, but… Gelato + Tuscany = Safe Bet.

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10 Genoa Tips

IMG_0474Ahhh, Genoa!  The name that triggers no emotion, confusion, and even anger sometimes.  Why is this guy writing about Genoa now.  What happened to Venice, Rome, and that Cinqua Terras place that he supposedly visited and only wrote about one dish so far.  Isn’t Genoa a working town?  What is there to do for three full days (said Mrs Ziggy when I first pitched the idea).  Plenty, turns out.  Genoa surprised me with its cultural depth, cuisine, attractions, and fashion.  Yes, I said fashion.  This post is not supposed to reinvent the wheel and offer you a complete Genoa guide (plenty of sources out there), but offer you some tips that may enhance your Genoa holiday.

Stay for a while – “More Than This” is the Genoa slogan you’ll see everywhere.  Either Genoa has much to offer or they are just huge fans of Brian Ferry.  But you can very easily fill three days in Genoa alone, and even do some day trips to Boccadasse, Anita Garibaldi Passeggiata, the stunning Camogli, Portofino, and more.  A week doesnt sound too long in Genoa once you factor all day trips and all the Focaccia you can eat.

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Make Pesto with a local – Pesto, like jeans, originated in Genoa.  Book a Pesto making class with Enrica from A Small Kitchen in Genoa.  Enrica is a publisher, food blogger, Pesto championship finalist, and just a delight to be around.  This experience, that ends with lunch at the beautiful terrace of Enrica’s apartment will probably be your most memorable.  You can also take a food tour and book other food experiences with Enrica.  My friends are still thanking me for this.

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Visit Staglieno Cemetery – My apologies to Enrica for following her with well, death.  But if you havent quite made the connection between a magnificent old cemetery to local history and culture, this is a good start.  Staglieno is arguably the most important or at least most beautiful cemetery in Italy.  An outdoor museum like no other.  But it helps to do a bit of research (you can start here), and spend at least 2-3 hours here.  Reading about the monuments will bring some of the stories to life.

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Do some Rolli palace homework – Its almost impossible to come to Genoa and not visit the Rolli Palaces, but its important to arrive with at least the basic understanding of the system of the “Lists” and how it got UNESCO’s attention.  This is what makes Genoa so unique.

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Dont overlook the Royal Palace – A most underrated stunner.  The Palazzo Reale, or Palazzo Stefano Balbi is just a little out of the tourist way.  And I can see how it can be skipped on a short visit.  A mini Versailles in Genoa that was shockingly empty when we visited.  I could practically walked the hall of mirrors naked, with only one or two people marveling watching.  This is also a good place to see the Ligurian pebble mosaic style called Risseu.

See Piazza De Ferrari at night – This is why you need to stay overnight.  Its the same story as many Italian towns.  The difference between a rushed day trip and an overnight stay is, well, day and night.  Seeing the families come out, the lights, fountain, with the palazzos in the background including the magnificent old stock exchange, all add up to quite the atmospheric square.

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Ok, trust me, there was atmosphere 😉

See the old town, but be prepared for some ‘Grit’ – Like many such towns all over Europe, Genoa has a distinct personality.  Genoa’s old town is fascinating, especially to the culinary minds.  But it’s not the most attractive.  Dont be surprised to see graffiti, and prostitutes in some corners.  Maybe thats what they mean by “More Than This”!

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Stay at So&leo Guest House – A well maintained, comfortable, quiet accommodations right between the port area, and old town.  Just a few minutes from Focaccia e Dintorni and many more

Get your Focaccia at Focaccia e Dintorni – The Genoese eat Focaccia for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a late night snack.  On my morning walks, I must have tried around half a dozen different places, and Focaccia e Dintorni was the clear winner.  Try the Farinata, soft chickpea flatbread a la Cecina.

Eat at Cavour 21, and Trattoria Rosmarino – These were the best meals.  Cavour, old, no frills, no nonsense institution I already wrote about.  Rosmarino, a dazzling Slow Fooder by Piazza De Ferrari.  Who knew Lasagna’s biggest problem was tomato sauce.  Get the Lasagna.

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The Umbria Awards

IMG_1397Instead of boring you with the usual Best of Umbria this or that, or random tips on Umbria, I will bore you with an award ceremony.

The Charlize Theron Award.  Given to the most picturesque Town – Spello

We visited a number of towns and villages throughout Italy.  Spello is not only the most picturesque town in Umbria, but one of the prettiest in the country.  It helps if you visit during the Infiorate flower festival.  But even at other times you got flowers, bunnies, chachkies of all kinds decorate every balcony.  Some even proudly display the awards their balconies won.

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The Tom Branson Award.  Given to the most charming village – Scheggino

I’ve already written about this little fairy tale village near Spello that so many overlook.  But it helps to see it like I did, without any preconceived notions.  Have dinner at the excellent Osteria Baciafemmine, and visit the Urabni Truffle store.  Pair it with Spello, and give it an hour or two of daylight prior to dinner.

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The Leonard Hofstadter Award.  Most atmospheric square –  Montefalco

You get the sense that the squares of Umbria stick out more than other regions.  Many towns feature interesting streets and alleys full of anticipation to what squares they lead to.  Some, as the great Morrissey once said, are bigger than others.  But few came close to the atmosphere of Montefalco in the evening.

Villa in Umbria

Courtesy of Villa in Umbria

The William H Macey Award.  Given to the sleepiest village – Bevagna

Or did we catch her at the wrong time.  June, midday, hot hot hot.  This is not a full endorsement as we found it a little too sleepy perhaps, but there’s something to learn here.  Avoid middle of the day.  Come with an open mind.  Dont compare them.  And no matter what, have dinner at Antiche Sere.

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The Rick Steves award.  Given to the most important, but couldn’t wait to get out of there town – Assisi

Every time there’s a discussion about wearing shorts in churches, I think of Assisi and the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi.  I havent seen so many bare legs since the last ZZ Top video.  Some places are touristy for a reason, and Assisi is certainly no exception.  Best advice is this:  Take a guided tour to help with the focus and appreciate it better.  We didnt, and that was a mistake

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The Boar’s Head Award.  Given to the best picnic spot – Piani Di Castelluccio

With the aid of Norcia Salami, made by some of the most respected butchers in the world.  Even after the devastation of Norcia and Castelluccio after the 2016 earthquake, there’s just something surreal about being there.  A trip to the stunning Piani compliments any Umbria itinerary well.  But if this is a bit far from you, a picnic overlooking the spectacular Assisi from the vineyards off SAIO may do.

IMG_1276The Milton Snavely Hershey Award.  Given to the best Chocolate – Urbani truffled truffles in the Urbani museum

Umbria is sort of a Chocolate lover paradise.  You got Perugia and its famous tenant, Perugina, the maker of Baci kisses.  In Norcia you can visit Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia.  We purchased so much chocolate, we are still eating them months later.  But it was the marketing nightmare of the truffled truffles in Urbani that triggered a reaction like no other.  A good reaction.

The rest of the awards given in a ceremony earlier…

Best Porchetta – Antica Salumeria Granieri Amato, Perugia

Best I can’t believe it’s not Porchetta – Rabbit Porchetta, Antiche Sere, Bevagna

Antiche Sere Porchetta rabbiit

Best Dish – Pigeon at Enoteca L’Alchimista, Montefalco

Best Meal – Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Best Chef – Patrizia Moretti, Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Best Chef South East – Patrizia Moretti, Enoteca L’Alchimist, Montefalco

Miss Congeniality – Giulia Rossi. Enoteca…  Just kidding.  Its Patrizia Moretti

Congratulations to the winners!

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Piccola Trattoria Guastini – Meal Of The Year

Eating With Ziggy

Guastini - Caprese

August 21st, 2019 Update

Allora, so which is my favorite restaurant in Tuscany? A question I get asked often.  Its actually easier for me to answer this than naming my favorite NY restaurant these days.  The answer is Piccola Trattoria Guastini in the little hamlet I call Torrita di Siena, because thats what its called.  The post I’m bumping is also to announce a location change.  Emanuela and Davide Guastini moved the restaurant from close to home in Valiano to the other side of the Autostrada, 12 km north of Montepulciano.

The title refers to the meal we had here in 2013.  But this one was not too shabby either.  New location, same family, new atmospheric terrace with some of the best views in town.  Although Davide seemed to age a little so I dont know if I can wait another 6 years to visit this gem.  His wife Emanueala…

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Cappun Magru {Manarola} – What’s in a Name? Everything

Cappun Magru - the dishTo say that Cappun Magru offers the best Cappun Magru in Cinque Terre is a fair assessment.  Its the only one making it.  This old Ligurian specialty is slowly disappearing from Ligurian menus, even in Genoa where its most associated.  Cappun Magru is an elaborate seafood and veggie salad to put in the simplest of forms.  Its most common spelling is Cappon Magro, but here at the headquarters of EWZ, with the tagline “Eating Well, Spelling Pourly” we dont care about spelling all that much.  My guess is that Cappun Magru is the more ancient spelling.  Sort of like Giovanni da Verrazzano ancient spelling had only one Z.  If only NYC would have known about it before spending millions to change the name.

When you talk to Christina, the owner of Cappun Magru, you can easily forget that you are in Cinque Terre.  This is not a place I expected to easily find Slow Food.  Two hours prior I was elbowing my way through a sea of tourists, pizzas, and Limoncelos in a boot in Vernazza.  Since Rick Steves discovered this corner of Italy, restaurants dont need to go through great lengths to please us tourists.  But Christina and husband who moved Cappun Magru from the mountains, closer to the sea, continue to march on, trying to preserve whatever tradition left.

There’s no one universal way to prepare this monster.  But its often involved shrimp, mussels, oysters, fresh fish, and a Parsley led complex green sauce that involves eggs, anchovies and a slew of other ingredients.  Its not a simple dish by any means, but the reward is a feast to all senses.  Even the non photographers on the table will reach for their phones.  It a rich poor people’s food.  It goes back to the days when fishermen would indulge in the leftovers of their bosses rich feasts.  It then became a feast in itself, and a popular lent preparation in Liguria.  There’s no meat involved of course but the name sort of means “light fat chicken” (Capon is a type of fatty chicken).  Like.. “I’m a vegetarian”.  “Oh, in that case here’s a little lamb”.

And did I mention that its delicious?  So are the smartly crafted sandwiches like the shrimp with fish roe, Zucchini, and Egg.  And while Cappun Magru does have a good wine selection (Its more of a wine bar), this is a good place to take a break from wine, and indulge in some beer.  Italy’s craft beer is some of the most underrated in the world.

Cappun Magru is ideal after a long hike.  But dont come too late as they close at around 7:30 (in the summer at least).  A light early dinner at 6 is perfect because you are after all in Monorola, and you dont want to miss sunset.  Thats the reason you are here.

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This is Scheggino (and Osteria Baciafemmine)

IMG_1380This was supposed to be a post about Osteria Baciafemmine, one of Umbria’s most hidden (quite literally here) gems.  But something happened during this visit.  A twist.  The kind I only see in South Korean movies.  As good as this meal was, the little village of Scheggino, with a population of 463 (we counted) upstaged the meal.  To the point that we changed plans on the last day to visit the village again.

Scheggino is a village nestled vertically at the foot of a mountain.  From the outside it may look like something you may have seen before.  But once you start climbing those narrow pedestrian streets, its like a fairy tale village.  One without tourists which is a rarity nowadays.  But that’s Umbria for you.  The unappreciated belly of Italy.  No wonder there was a wedding during our second visit.  When you visit a place this small, and there’s a wedding going on, you essentially become part of it.  We wished them a big Mazal-Tov, and sent them off with a fondue set.  I always carry one in the car in case of emergencies.

Scheggino, simply put is the most charming little village I’ve ever seen.  But there are more reasons to visit.  Scheggino is also home to Urbani, the truffle tsar, whose products can be found all over NYC.  You can visit its headquarters just outside the entrance to the village.  But even more accessible is “Truffleland” inside the village where you can participate in several rides like the “Its a Fungus after all” train ride through the mountain.  Ok, not really.  Its just a small museum and store, where you can sample the best “truffle truffles” (a marketing nightmare I imagine) you’ll ever have.

 

IMG_1321Cutting through at the foot of Scheggino is the Nera River producing one of the only seafood items found in Umbria, trout.  You can have it at Osteria Baciafemmine as is, or crusted with crunchy breadcrumbs and parsley.  Osteria Baciafemmine is a local legend, Slow Food fixture, and the reason we came to this village in the first place.  Rustic, all in the family Osteria, dishing out local specialties and meat raised in their own farm.  Mother, father, daughter, cat, all hard at work at a space decorated head to toe with food and drink stuff, almost museum like.  Toto, we are not in Staten Island anymore.

Not much English spoken at the Osteria, but the international language of food is sometimes more powerful than words.  Out of the soup offerings, the pureed chickpea soup was a standout, but the local lentils were not too shabby.  A fragrant and delicious gnocchetti with sheep meat ragu and tomato sauce worked better than the Strangozzi with truffles.  Excellent pork cooked with beer, apple and honey.  Two perfectly cooked and well crafted sausages comes with polenta topped with, what else, truffle spread.  A most memorable meal at a photographer’s dream setting.

 

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10 Scenic Spots in Tuscany

italy-2013-1310Tuscany is a wildly misunderstood region.  You hear about it.  You read about it.  You finally decide to go.  But unless you plan carefully, you may just miss it.  Its large, very diverse, and it includes some of the most photogenic corners in Europe.  But finding these corners requires time, patience, and a Fiat.

Fattoria Poggio Alloro (San Gimignano) – Even if you remove the San Gimignano towers from the horizon, this would have been on the list.  Its a bustling working farm that welcomes visitors to shop, and stay for a meal  on their terrace overlooking this..

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Castello di Brolio (Chianti) – Its a castle that is a bit out of the way, but very much worth the drive.  Fair entrance fee, easy to park, and splendid views of the estate from the castle.  Drinks are on them!  Seriously you get a free glass with your ticket

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Siena to Asciano Drive– The Crete Senesi is more of a feast for the eyes than the camera due to its depth.  Its like gentle rolling hills meets a desert meets Mars.  As a result dont be surprised to see people stop in the middle of the road, like in a zoo.  You will want to do the same.

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Agriturismo Baccoleno (Crete Senesi) – You park by the gate, and walk on the path to the left until you see it.  Thats the view you saw on paintings in every art gallery you’ve visited so far.  Although the cypresses by the gate are photogenic on their own.

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Capanna Winery (Montalcino) – Just outside Brunello Disney Montalcino is one of the Brunello founding fathers.  Its worth checking it out just for the views from the back of the farm, but the farm itself is striking.

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Cugusi Silvana (Montepulciano) – And you thought there wont be any mention of food in this post.  Oh how silly you must feel right now.  This is a Pecorino producer that sets you up with a picnic basket, and some of the best cheese and salumi in the area.  All to be enjoyed in their picnic facilities just outside the store.  Glorious views of Montepulciano and the country side is a major bonus.  Nice alternative to the picturesque but super popular Podere Il Casale.

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Genna Borborini Maria Eva (San Quirico d’Orcia) – One of the Gladiator locations.  This farm is a bit overlooked when compared to the other hits on Via Cipressi (Montalcino to Pienza).  You park at these coordinates, 43°03’55.8″N 11°36’43.6″E and view the villa from the gate, while humming the Gladiator theme song.

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Cipressi di San Quirico d’Orcia (San Quirico d’Orcia) – Aka Cypresses Valdorcia or Circle of Cypresses.  Its not just about a bunch cypresses bunched together in the middle of nowhere, but the entire most scenic middle of nowhere surrounding that middle of nowhere.  Makes sense?  Just go, and look around at both sides of the road.

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Chapel Vitaleta (San Quirico d’Orcia) – The most photogenic little chapel in the world is a very easy drive and a short hike.  But do it in the afternoon when the light is in your favor.  Enjoy it while humming the Gladiator theme song because you cant get it out of your head at this point.  Dont leave any luggage or anything important in the car

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Le Foce (Chianciano Terme) – This is the classic zigzaging cypresses that is part of the Le Foce estate.  But in order to see it, you need to take a tour of the estate.  Otherwise its close to impossible to find a good view (we tried, and tried again.  Gladiator humming just made it worse)

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Cavour 21 – Unadulterated in Genoa

Cavour 21 - Trofie PestoThere’s a common belief in the travel community that vacations should be all about you, and what you like to do.  Stay in the type of accommodations you like.  Do the things that interest you.  Eat the things you enjoy the most in the setting you feel most comfortable in. “What type of food do you like?” is a common response to someone seeking dining advice on the travel boards.  It rarely makes sense to me.  But knowing exactly what you want and getting it when you want it, doesnt sound so wrong.  Some may argue its living life to the fullest.  In fact I’m often jealous of people who travel with their favorite cigars, coffee, rum, prunes.  Yes, prunes.  Prunes give people comfort.

But then there’s the camp that believes that vacation is all about experiencing different.  The camp that enjoys adventure, stepping outside the comfort zone, and generating memories.  The camp that leaves their prunes behind.  If you are in that camp, you most likely enjoy places like Cavour 21.  Oy, I didnt mean to go all over-dramatic on you.  I’m just talking about a super casual restaurant in Genoa.  Watching too much Jessica Jones lately, and all that narration is beginning to get to me.

Although we’ve been to local institutions as such (one is Coimbra, Portugal comes to mind) Cavour is as genuine as they come.  Traditional Genoa food, in a rustic, no nonsense environment, with too good to be true prices.  Stepping inside feels like stepping back in time.  For us at least.  For the locals it may feel like Wednesday.

Cavour 21 - Lobster pastaYou start this adventure before you even enter the place.  About 15-30 minutes before in fact.  To ensure a table its recommended to come before they open, otherwise you get an approx time slot, or risk missing out.  If its lunch time, and they run out of space and time, they can put you on a list for dinner.  Once they open (may not be on time), everyone surrounds the list reader like he is about to read the chosen names in a high school play, and about to give them free Focaccia.  Then he goes “Prego” and bam, a mad rush inside.  You are shown to your table or table that you’ll share with others.

While you wait outside, its hard to miss the “Pesto World Championship” proudly displayed on their front.  And unless you just spent a week in Genoa, its hard to pass on it.  It comes with the traditional Trofie, along with potato, green beans, and it’s outstanding.  But as good as it was, the Pansoti, Ligurian Ravioli with walnut sauce was the real revelation.  It’s a local specialty and unlike anything I’ve had before.  Stuffed with wild herbs, its creamy and ultra nutty.  Delicious even though the “Pansa” which means belly wasn’t super evident here.  They suppose to look like Ravioli with fat beer bellies.

We were on a mission to eat as much seafood as possible in Luguria before moving inland for over a week.  Lobster with Taglierini and tomato sauce was sufficiently flavorful, or divine once you factor the price (I dont remember the exact cost but trust me on this).  Fried and grilled fresh seafood was all good, with the standouts being the shrimp and Langoustines.  They get a pass for the forgettable desserts however.  This is one of two particularly memorable meals in Genoa.  The other being the great Rosmarino.

Categories: Italy, Liguria | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Castelluccio di Norcia

IMG_1259I tell ya.  There are some beautiful places on this planet.  Some of which look like belong to another planet.  I can think of some parts in south Utah like Lake Powell, and Horseshoe Bend in Arizona that look like something you may see in science fiction movies.  The common theme is usually color.  And if you come at the right time to this part of Umbria you might just see every color imaginable.  If you come at the wrong time as we did, its spectacular, still.

Castelluccio is where beautiful mother nature meets cruel mother nature.  It is perched dramatically on a hill in the middle of a large plateau surrounded by the Sibillini mountains.  On October 30, 2016 Castelluccio was the epicenter of a 6.6 earthquake that decimated the village.  Eight months later the famous wild flowers that surround the village were back.  And once the roads opened about a year after that, the tourists started to come back as well.IMG_1276

So when is the best time you ask?  Sometime between end of May and beginning of July.  Its something that is not possible to time properly.  We came in the second week of June and the colors were not quite as robust as the pictures we’ve seen.  Notice the before and after of Castelluccio (Google it).  Although destroyed, its still stunning due to its position.  Today you can drive up, enjoy a meal, or do what we did.  A picnic of Salami e Pecorino overlooking the mesmerizing back plateau, following the herd of sheep.  The feeling of being in the middle of the devastation you heard about years ago, while surrounded by this landscape is indescribable.

You will most likely pass Norcia on the way, which also got severely damaged during the earthquake.  One of its main attractions, the Basilica of St. Benedict, totally destroyed.  What remain is the facade facing the statue of St. Benedict, still standing, all defiant in the middle of the square.  The city was a ghost town when we popped in.  Many stores, and restaurants closed, or relocated after the quake. IMG_1296

The Norcia pork butchers are so famous, they are called Norcino across Italy, and their shops are Norcinerias.  They are the Culatello of Pork butchers.  Inside a typical Norcineria you’ll find cured meats galore including Grandpas balls, Palle del Nonno.  The Italians call them like they see em, although Grandpas balls seem a lot larger than mules balls, Coglioni di Mulo for some reason.  Be careful when slicing them.

On the way to the flower fields, pass by Antica Norcineria F.lli Ansuini for some picnic supplies including bread.  Or better yet get it from the store with the same name inside Norcia.  Although same name, they dont seem related somehow.  Like twins that are not in speaking terms.  Then stop by at Cioccolateria Vetusta Nursia di Arianna Verucci for your chocolate needs and perhaps a tour of their facility as we did.  But if you prefer to sit down for lunch, reliable sources told me to head to Agriturismo il Casale degli Amici just outside Norcia.  A day trip to this area in the summer is memorable to say the least.

 

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