In Season: Italian Easter Bread

italian easter bread easter antipasto
Image © Concierge in Umbria

For the past few weeks, Italian food stores, sweet shops, and bakeries have been overflowing with Easter goods.

It’s hard to walk a few blocks in any Italian city without being blinded by the sheer amount of plastic wrap keeping all the goodies hidden away until Easter Sunday.

But besides egg-shaped chocolates (yes, they are popular in Italy as well), there are a whole host of savory and only slightly sweet breads that characterize the holiday season for Italians.

Some are typically made at home, while others are almost always sourced from a local baker. Try your hand at making them for your own family this spring.

While the recipes vary a bit by region, here are some of the most common Italian Easter breads.

Colomba Pasquale


italian easter bread easter colomba
Photo by Flickr user Nicola since 1972

Think of a colomba (which also means dove) as the Easter version of panettone.

While the latter has found its way to the U.S., colombe are just starting to show up stateside.

Apart from its shape, which is meant to look like a dove, but looks a bit like a cross, colombe are primarily different from panettones due to their filling – there are typically raisins and less candied fruit – and topping. On colombe, you’ll find a thin layer of meringue topped with whole almonds and sugar pearls.

Colomba Pasquale Recipes

Pane di Pasqua or Gurrugulo (Easter Bread)


italian easter bread
Image © Concierge in Umbria

A sweet bread with a consistency not unlike challah or brioche, this bread is braided, typically in a circle, with eggs nestled into the braid.

Many parts of Italy claim this as a traditional food, though its real origins are quite obscure. Pane di pasqua is also commonly eaten in Greece and many areas of the former Ottoman Empire.

The Italian version has a light anise flavor and brightly colored eggs. You can actually use whole raw eggs if you don’t cook and dye them first. They cook perfectly while the bread bakes.

Pane di Pasqua Recipes

Torta di Pasqua or Torta al Formaggio (Savory Easter Cake)


italian easter bread easter antipasto torta di pasqua
Image © Concierge in Umbria

While the term torta di pasqua is also sometimes used for colombe, it also refers to this rich, savory version.

This bread draws its nickname torta di formaggio or “cheese bread” from the hunks of pecorino cheese buried in the dough that impart a rich, creamy taste. Just the thing you need after abstaining from rich foods during Lent.

Though it’s most associated with Umbria, torta di pasqua is also served in Le Marche and other parts of central Italy. It is traditional to have a slice for breakfast on Easter morning.

Torta di Pasqua Recipes

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

Planning a Group Trip to Italy? Start Here

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Image © Concierge in Umbria

Your entire extended family has decided to spend 10 days in Italy and you’ve volunteered to plan it. Coraggio - you’ve signed up for a lot!

Let these fundamental questions guide you to a better understanding of how to plan your trip.

How many are you?


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Image © Concierge in Umbria

Don’t say you don’t know. You’re allowed not to know, but don’t try to start planning if you’re still waiting to hear if your sister and her three daughters and their friends might join.

If you don’t know how large your group is, you won’t be able to reserve or put in a deposit on anything. So get that nailed down first.

What is your budget?


This is probably the hardest and most important question to answer before planning begins. Is one generous group member treating everyone or are you sharing the cost evenly? The former scenario is generally easier to plan - one financial decision maker generally guides the group to a quick consensus on a number of trip variables. If, however, people with diverse budgets are traveling together and everyone is splitting the costs equally, things can get dicey. In this case, it is critical to decide on “per person” or “per family group” budget parameters first, as this will determine the level of accommodation and services for your trip. Being up front with each other about the level of accommodations and services you’re willing to divide equally with the other members of the group will get things going in the right direction. That way, if someone in the group wants to splurge on a special activity or upgrade their accommodation, it can easily be added in later.

How do you plan to get around Italy?



You’ll also need to think about how you’re going to travel safely with minimal stress. We have had clients rent a big van with plans to drive themselves around the countryside only to call us on day two to have the van picked up and replaced with a professional driver. Think about it - if no one in your group has ever driven a big van in Florence, SC let alone Florence, Italy, you might want to consider letting someone else do the driving.

As it is, large vans are a rarity in Italy, and anything that fits more than 8 people will be slow and unable to fit into many narrow Italian streets. Whether you drive yourselves or hire help, consider splitting your group into smaller subsets with a smaller minivan each.

Which brings us to . . .

What do you (and everyone else) want to do?


planning group trips to italy family cooking class
Image © Concierge in Umbria

At least in broad strokes, you need some sort of idea as to what interests your group. Food. Wine. Music. Art.

It’s fine to split into a few groups with different interests, but you want to figure that out early on so you can plan your schedule and activities accordingly.

Gather everyone’s one or two top “must do” activities and see if it’s possible to accomplish those items together or if it’s better to have different options available each day.

But who is in charge of collating all that information? It’s important to have a group leader.

The best way to have a great trip as a group is to make sure everyone has a say but then let one person handle the coordination so nothing falls through the cracks.

There will also be times when a quick decision needs to be made, say between one villa and another or one day excursion and another lest both get filled while the whole group deliberates.

planning group trips to italy children in the vineyard
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Have we scared you away from planning a group trip to Italy?

We hope not. (Get re-inspired here!)

But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, give us a call and we’ll make sure your group has the trip of its dreams.

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

So You Want to Go Shopping in Italy

shopping in italy strolling the galleria
Photo by Flickr user Dajan

Besides enjoying the scenery, the food, the arts, and the people, shopping in Italy is one of our favorite activities.

What You Need to Know: The Basics


First and foremost, prepare at home to spend abroad. Call your banks and credit card companies to confirm your travel dates and avoid getting your accounts locked for fraud.

Once in Italy, you may find that intriguing shop you’ve got your eye on always looks closed. Shops in Italy often close for a long break for lunch at 1 PM. So while you’re often out of luck at 2 PM, late afternoon openings mean you can shop more or less from 4 PM until dinnertime at 8 PM.


shopping in italy specialty food store
Photo by Flickr user Roboppy

In the shop, start off with a “buongiorno” (good day) or a “buonasera” (good evening) if it’s afternoon to the shopkeeper to get things going on the right foot. Shopping in Italy is a rather collaborative experience; often, the customer isn’t even supposed to touch things.

Discuss, point, or otherwise indicate what you are looking for, and your salesperson will take care of you. In the more popular tourist destinations, the shop personnel generally speak English. In smaller towns or off the beaten track destinations, try out your charade skills.

If you’re making a substantial purchase (more than 155 euros in one shop), consider getting a partial refund on your 21% value-added tax (IVA) payment. You’ll need to start the paperwork at the time of purchase and then visit the customs desk at the airport before leaving Italy.

What Should You Shop For?


Everything?

If only there were enough time and luggage space. These are some of our favorite things to bring home:

Clothing


shopping in italy clothes store
Photo by Flickr user Sifu Renka

Look up how your usual size translates into European measurements for both clothing and shoes (Italy is simply the best place for fine leather goods), but don’t be surprised if you need a larger size. Italian clothing is cut slim. Try everything on before purchasing, as returns are often not possible.

Food & Wine


shopping in italy specialty food panforte
Photo by Flickr user Gashwin

Food stores are where the “look but don’t touch” ethos is most paramount. Let the salesperson give you samples and guide you to something special. But be forewarned: anything fresh – and to U.S. Customs that includes cured meats – can’t come home. Enjoy it while you’re there! Aged cheeses can be brought back so if you want to bring a small wheel of Pecorino from Pienza back home, just ask them to vacuum pack it (sotto vuoto in Italian). Olive oil and wine are ok as well. If you do plan to do some food shopping in Italy, be sure to bring a few ziplock bags with you from home - they are great for keeping any breakage during travel under control.

Linens


shopping in italy linens
Photo by Flickr user Bart Hanlon

With access to stunning handmade linens like those at Brozzetti (highlighted earlier this month), it’s impossible to resist bringing one of a kind household linens home. Linens make great gifts - they don’t take up a lot of space and aren’t breakable. Brian’s mother advised us long ago to never leave home without a notebook of all of our table measurements. We pass along her wise words.

Pottery & Glassware


shopping in italy pottery
Photo by Flickr user Andrew Batram

If you love painted pottery, you’ll be in heaven. But before you fall in love, ask about shipping. Some of our favorite shops charge (thankfully) by box size not weight, but usually international shipping rates apply and they aren’t “cheap”. You may also receive a bill from US Customs for duty on shipped ceramic items.

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

Handmade Italian Textiles from the Masters at Brozzetti

When you reach Giuditta Brozzetti’s Handmade Fabric Museum and Workshop, it’s easy to think you’ve got the wrong place.

The Women’s Church of St. Francis


brozzetti italian textiles
Image © Concierge in Umbria

The street address leads you to an early 13th century church near Perugia's historic center. The atrium (pictured above) could be the office of the convent’s head sister, with its spare but elegant furnishings.

It was here that San Francesco and his disciples made their home while they were teaching in Perugia. And this church – today Perugia’s oldest Franciscan church – was erected on the spot in the saint’s honor. A group of Benedictine nuns then resided there on and off for the next 600 years.

But as you venture into the main church, you find antique looms lined up within each arch of the arcaded aisles.

brozzetti italian textiles loom
Image © Concierge in Umbria

And as textiles historian and Brozzetti co-owner Clara Baldelli Bombelli unravels the history of Umbrian weaving, through one breathtaking sample after another of the workshop’s delicate, colorful recreations of Deruta ceramic-inspired embroidery, veil-like silk and linen curtains, and cashmere- and gold-threaded tapestries, you come to share her belief that the church is the ideal place to honor the region’s traditionally feminine monastic crafts.

The Long Tradition of Umbrian Weaving


brozzetti italian textiles weaving
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Weaving as both a craft and an art form is believed to have developed in Umbria between the 11th and 13th centuries.

But it was in the next three centuries that the industry, and its designs, came into their own.

Umbria-woven linen altar cloths with geometric borders (similar to the Medieval tessuto rustico pictured above) and regal animal figures became in moda throughout Italy. Umbrian griffins, lions, and eagles – based on Etruscan pottery – could be found gracing the vestments of the high-ranking church figures and the tables of the wealthiest Renaissance families.

Unfortunately, after its Renaissance peak, the Umbrian textile industry declined almost to the point of extinction, until, in the early 1900s, a group of Umbrian woman revived interest in the traditional designs.

Giuditta Brozzetti, Clara’s grandmother, was one of those leading the charge, and Brozzetti founded her workshop not only as a production center, but also as a school to further the craft.

Brozzetti’s Work Today


brozzetti italian textiles jaquard plates
Image © Concierge in Umbria

Generation after generation, from mother to daughter, this tradition of education and excellence has continued through today.

If you have a day or a week, Clara and Marta will impart their deep knowledge of the craft’s history through basic weaving courses or in-depth dives into the intricacies of traditional Umbrian motifs. What sets the Brozzetti workshop apart, besides being one of the few wholly handmade cloth workshops left, are these designs (created on the pattern machine above).

Clara’s daughter, master weaver Marta Cucchi, studies paintings from the likes of Simone Martini, Ghirlandaio, and even Giotto and da Vinci featuring Umbrian cloths to uncover Renaissance patterns that have been lost to the weaving community over the centuries.

The Region of Umbria honored Brozzetti in 2004 for this important preservation work, officially including the workshop in its museum system.

Don’t Forget A Souvenir


brozzetti italian textiles weaving
Image © Concierge in Umbria

While you’re busy admiring the antique jacquard looms, skeins of jewel-colored linen, cotton, silk, and cashmere thread lined up like jellies in a candy shop, and Marta swiftly warping and wefting away in the midst of it all, don’t forget to choose a favorite.

We think it’s a sin to miss the opportunity to pick out one of the workshop’s divine creations in person.

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

Cruise Passengers: Questions About Shore Excursions in Italy?

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Image © Concierge in Umbria

All Ashore That’s Going Ashore!


Cruise ship arrivals in Italy have increased ten fold in the last fifteen years. Venice is on the itinerary of one third of the cruise ships in the world and 2 million visitors arrive in this city annually by cruise ship!

Not surprisingly, we are receiving an increasing number of inquiries from cruise travelers wondering can I do a private tour as my cruise excursion? How does that work?

While we are a custom tour company, meaning that we personalize all of our itineraries to our clients’ needs and tastes, we have cultivated a number of activities specially suited to cruise travelers’ scheduling needs.

How do You Arrange a Shore Excursion?


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Image © Concierge in Umbria

We start with you. What drew you to this cruise itinerary? What are your personal interests?

Then we match our network of curated experiences and top-class guides with your (or your group’s) personality.

Love food and cooking? Learn to make Genoa’s world-famous pesto and feast on the fruits of your labor. Live for art? See Venice through the eyes of Peggy Guggenheim with a stroll through her favorite artisan shops and neighborhood haunts.

And if you have the opportunity to dock in some of Italy’s smaller ports, we’ll whisk you off with a driver and ferries to other must-see cities along the coast.

What Can You Do in Italy’s Top Ports?


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Image © Concierge in Umbria

Depending on your cruise, you may dock directly in a city, as is the case in Naples, Venice, and Messina in Sicily, or in a nearby town, such as Civitavecchia near Rome or Livorno near Pisa and Florence.

In these latter cases, even getting into the main sightseeing city can be an inconvenient headache without a guide or pre-booked excursion. And there are certain things that your cruise operator could never include in their excursions – activities too exclusive for mass tourism – that we are able to offer our guests.

In Taormina, join a local celebrity chef to select the day’s restaurant ingredients at the market. Skip the lines at Florence’s Uffizi and Accademia Galleries as your guide walks you through the city’s treasures. Experience Venice like a noble on private tours of the palazzos owned by the city’s oldest families.

Have something else in mind? Let us know!

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy

48 Hours: Firenze (Florence)

In a city with more than 70 museums and 2,000 years of history (much of it concentrated in the just under 2-square-mile centro storico UNESCO World Heritage Site) forty-eight hours is just enough time to get a taste of Florence’s charm . . . and start plotting for your return.

FRIDAY


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Image © Concierge in Umbria

4:00 p.m. Greatest Hits


Start in the Piazza del Duomo, where the sheer mass of the cathedral and its Renaissance engineering masterpiece, the largest brick dome constructed to this day, dwarf the surrounding medieval streets. Continue down Via dei Calzaiuoli and work your way through Piazza Signoria to the Arno River and back east to the Basilica of Santa Croce.

6:30 p.m. Stop and Smell the Vino


Rest your feet and feast your eyes on the Florentine passeggiata, the evening stroll in one of the many medieval tower houses that’s been converted into a wine bar. Where to begin? We’re partial to Antinori’s wines and their restaurant outside the city, and their in-town Cantinetta Antinori is an ideal spot to sample both.

8:00 p.m. Dine like Dante


You’ll find that beyond all of the art and architecture, one of the best things about Florence is its residents. Trattorias showcase both traditional local fare – think pasta with rabbit sauce, 30+ oz. steaks, and hearty vegetable soups – and a vibrant swath of the local population. We love Trattoria I’ Parione, where we had one of our favorite meals of 2011.

SATURDAY


48 hours in florence palazzo pubblico
Image © Concierge in Umbria

7:30 a.m. A Café with a View


At Rivoire, founded by the personal chocolatier of the Savoy family when Florence was the capital of newly united Italy, you can grab a signature hot chocolate or a café and pastry and soak up the local gossip and the singular view of Piazza della Signoria, a site which has hosted the rise and fall of Florentine regimes for centuries.

8:15 a.m. Medici Morning


Dive in when the doors first open to get Florence’s famed Uffizi Gallery more or less to yourself. The museum is organized chronologically and grouped by artists, so it offers the perfect chance for a morning’s education on Florence’s pivotal role as a setting for Renaissance artistic development. And what better setting than the place these great artists learned their craft! During the early Renaissance, the Medicis invited artists to study and work among the collection to hone their skills.

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Image © Concierge in Umbria

11:00 a.m. On the Wild Side


Though it’s just a one-minute walk across the Ponte Vecchio, the Arno’s south shore, the Oltrarno (beyond the Arno) is largely overlooked by tourists. Grab lunch in one of the great-value, locals-oriented trattorias or piadinerias (like a pizzeria for flatbread). Walk it off touring some of the artisans plying ancient trades on the back streets, from bookbinders to furniture makers to stationers. Begin your second Medici encounter of the day at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence’s answer to Buckingham Palace. After all the opulence, treat yourself to a well-deserved respite in the ducal gardens attached to the palace, the Boboli Gardens, or the adjoining, recently reopened Bardini gardens terraced on the hillside.

5:00 p.m.: A Sunset fit for a King


Michelangelo’s David (or at least one of the four versions displayed around the city) enjoys the best view of the city from Piazza Michelangelo in the Oltrarno. As the day cools off, you can reach this spot via car, bus, or foot – the steep steps up the riverside to the piazza are not for those out of shape – for a picnic or aperitivo as the sun sets on the River Arno.

7:30 p.m. Dinner Theater?


No other spot in Chef Fabbio Picchi’s Cibreo empire can compete with Teatro del Sale in terms of pure entertainment value. The dining room is itself a theater, and a performance – from circus acrobatics to lyric opera to stand-up comedy – ends every dinner. But the show is only half the show. Dinner itself, announced with a verbal drumroll from the windows of the adjoining kitchen, is like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole. Only after gorging yourself on the buffet of vegetables, salads, and grilled meats does the soup begin, followed by course after course after surprising course.

SUNDAY


48 hours in florence vista
Image © Concierge in Umbria

9:00 a.m. Small Blessings


Begin in one of Florence’s smaller museum gems. Just behind Piazza Signoria, the Bargello (open the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month), named for its former function as a prison, is a wonderful alternative to the Accademia with its broad range of sculpture including works by Donatello and Michelangelo. The Museo dell’Opere del Duomo, which houses all of the original art and sculpture from the cathedral, offers an opportunity to get up close with a version of Michelangelo's Pieta. For fashion lovers, Museo Salvatore Ferragamo tells the story of how one man's quest to make perfect custom shoes launched an empire.

11:00 a.m. Sweet Rewards


Reward yourself for an early morning among the maestros with a café and pasta (pastry) at one of Florence’s top bakeries in the eastern part of the city. Try I Dolci di Patrizio Corsi on Borgo Albizi or Dolci & Dolcezze in Piazza Beccaria, home to one of the city’s remaining eighth-century gates.

12:00 p.m. Spoil Yourself


Stroll back through some of the city’s best boutiques on Borgo Albizi as you make your way back to the center of town and Florence’s supreme shopping around Piazza Repubblica, particularly on Via Tornabuoni, home to the family palaces and fashion houses of the Puccis, Guccis, and Ferragamos.

2:00 p.m. Arrivederci Firenze


Refuel on some light fare like the legendary sandwiches at nearly-130-year-old Due Frattelini before bidding your final adieu to the city from its premier panorama spot – the top of Brunelleschi’s dome.

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Brian Dore and Maria Gabriella Landers | Contact Us
Condé Nast Traveler Top Travel Specialist: Italy