Filled to the brim with incredible culture, history, food, wine, art and beautiful scenery, Italy is a destination you can return to again and again and discover something new every time. Scott Dunn USA’s Product Manager (and Italy pro), Deborah uncovered lots of new surprises on her most recent trip to the country. Read on to find out her highlights.
Italy never gets old. Well, sure, it’s old, and one can’t help but be in thrall of its medieval towns, Renaissance art and 3,000 years of architecture, but despite all the history, Italy never fails to offer new surprises. On this, my fifth visit to the Bel Paese, I expected to encounter the usual Italian highlights: wine, pasta, breathtaking vistas of rolling hills, more pasta, friendly and spirited locals, gelato, and even more pasta. Perhaps naively, after so many trips here, I really wasn’t expecting a wealth of new experiences. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Here are my favorite new-to-me discoveries from my recent trip to Venice, Tuscany and the Piedmont region.
I knew that truffles were a big deal in Tuscany, and goodness knows I eat more than my fair share of butter, but I didn’t know that these two things combined would melt in your mouth and make your taste buds sing with glee. You need only to spread truffle butter on a simple piece of bread to experience the magic. Best place to find: specialty food shops in Piedmont or Tuscany. Pro tip – try truffle pesto too!
The colors of Burano
Just a short boat ride from the bustle of Venice sits a small, peaceful island bursting with color and charm. Back in the days when the island’s population was sustained by the fishing industry, houses here were painted in vivid hues so that fishermen could find their way home in the fog. Today, the colorful cottages attract more tourists than fishermen, and day-trippers flock to the island’s homey trattorias, lace shops and its precariously leaning tower. One can’t help but smile and relax while strolling Burano’s narrow streets, delighting in the eye-popping rainbow of homes. This little island is definitely worth a day trip from Venice.
The neighborhoods of Siena
I’d heard about Siena’s Palio bareback horserace and was eager to learn more about this centuries-old tradition, but I was completely unaware that the competitors in this race represent Siena’s historic neighborhoods. I learned that Siena has 17 distinct neighborhoods, each a micro-community within the city, and each with its own character, traditions, gatherings and mascot. How fun it was to turn a corner and see signs proudly boasting the symbol of the rhinoceros, tortoise, panther, giraffe, or even the mighty seashell.
Gelato from Amorino
You go to Italy, you eat gelato… done and done, right? Wrong. On this trip, I discovered that all gelatos are not created equal. I had a true “OH. MY. GOSH.” moment while tasting the chocolate hazelnut gelato at Amorino near the Rialto market in Venice (San Polo, 480, Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni.) Its decadently smooth, creamy texture was simply unparalleled (and trust me, my points of comparisons were many – just ask my waistline.) It’s a feast for one’s eyes as well, as cones are painstakingly scooped into the shape of a rose. Better yet, their gelato is made from all-natural ingredients. It was not until my return home that I learned that Amorino has shops across the world, so even if you can’t travel to Venice, you might be lucky enough to find a location near you!
Head to the rooftop of T Fondaco dei Tedeschi department store in Venice for a free aerial view of the city. Although there is no charge, it is best to make an appointment as capacity is limited. Visits are restricted to 15 minutes.
After soaking in the history and culture of Florence, Venice or Rome, many travelers yearn to switch off their brains by the seaside. In the northern half of the country, the most well-known beaches are around Forte dei Marmi, but the crowds and “scene” there aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking to be off the beaten track but still crave sun and sand, try a stay at Baglioni Cala del Porto in Punta Ala. This small, sleepy town has yet to be discovered by the masses, and the more personal, relaxed vibe here is just what the tired tourist ordered.
As we all know, meals in Italy are not for the faint of heart. They are often multi-hour feasts that are always delicious, if not 2 or 3 courses too long. Do you enjoy good food, but need a break from the endurance-fest? Make like a local and head out for cicchetti, the Italian equivalent of tapas! Eaten while standing at a bar or seated at a table, you can control your own portions and choose what you like as you cicchetti-hop from restaurant to restaurant. Pro tip – try Cantina Dospade in Venice (Calle Do Spade, San Polo 859 – 30125 Venezia) and then follow it up with gelato from nearby Amorino!).
The beauty of a full moon against a landscape of cypress trees and fireflies
At Borgo Pignano, a specialty hotel estate in the Tuscan countryside, the stars aligned (as it were) to bring these natural elements together for our little group’s final night in Italy. Hollywood could not a scripted a more beautiful ending. (Borgo Pignano is at Localita’ Pignano, 6, 56048 Volterra PI, Italy)
Ready to start planning your Italian adventure? Call one of our Europe Experts on (858) 523-9000 to find out more or learn about our Italy itineraries here.