Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

Food and Wine

Glass Half Full: Drinking Wine in Italy

Piedmont has recently been named as one of the top destinations in the world for 2019, and the news comes as no surprise. With delightful villages, beautiful landscapes, and one of the best regional cuisines in Italy, this northern region is a winner in every way. No visit to Piedmont is complete, however, without sampling its local wine, as the region is home to Barolo and Barbaresco, two the most prestigious labels in the Bel Paese.

tasting-wine-italy-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Though Piedmont is one of the most captivating regions in Italy, its wine culture is in no way unique. One of the greatest pleasures when visiting Italy is discovering the rich variety of wines produced here. With tens of thousands of wineries from the tiny, family-run to the international powerhouses scattered in every region from north to south, sampling the countless local labels is both a joy and a daunting task, best undertaken with a few pointers to keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

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The Best Chocolate Festivals in Italy

Italians are purists when it comes to seasonal foods. At the outdoor markets, the months of the calendar are marked by what is stacked high in the market stalls: asparagus, strawberries, and lamb in spring; tomatoes, zucchini, and goose in summer; mushrooms, chestnuts, and pork sausage in fall; and legumes, truffles, and charcuterie in winter. You may be surprised to learn, however, that even foods that are normally not considered “seasonal” outside of Italy are harder to find during certain months of the year in the Bel Paese.

chocolate-modica-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Chocolate, for example, is celebrated whole-heartedly in Italy from autumn through spring, but is often pulled from store shelves during the country's hot and humid summer months, when many chocolate factories and artisan workshops either slow or halt production entirely. With the first cool days of fall, however, chocolate reappears at shops, cafés, and, most importantly, festivals. Exact dates of Italy’s chocolate festivals vary from year to year, but they are all held in the fall or winter months when Italy's endless varieties of bars, truffles, candies, and “sippables” can be displayed and sampled without fear of melting or curdling.

This is sweet music to the ear of any chocoholic visiting Italy during the autumn and winter months, as there are a number of chocolate festivals held across the country each year where visitors can sample offerings produced by everyone from the most famous Italian and international chocolate powerhouses to the tiniest local artisans. Some festival highlight a local specialty, be it a unique flavor or style of chocolate; others include a variety of chocolatiers offering new concoctions, free samples, workshops, demonstrations, and cultural events like concerts and performances.

Amedei. the Italian family
(Photo by Everjean via Flickr)

If you'd like to wander through a food festival where even the air smells of cocoa, here are five of Italy’s most popular celebrations of “the food of the gods”:

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Four Foodie Fall Trips in Italy

Summer is coming to a close even in the warm Mediterranean climes of Italy, and soon the first crisp autumn days will arrive, and with them the abundance of Italy’s fall fare. The final months of the year are perhaps the best time to visit for gourmands and wine aficionados, as the harvest season brings a wide variety of some of Italy's best seasonal produce, fattened meat, new wine, and freshly pressed olive oil...and the cooler weather means a more hearty appetite!

Octopus(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

If you're pondering a trip this autumn, consider a culinary journey through one of the Bel Paese's many food- and wine-centric regions so you can combine culturally rich towns and cities, spectacular landscapes, and unforgettable autumn specialties. Planning trips around Italy's fascinating food culture and wine production is one of our specialties; in honor of Condé Nast Traveler's 25th Anniversary issue, we were asked to design a dream trip to include in their World on Sale promotion, and our "Italy for Foodies: 10 Night Culinary Adventure of Umbria, Sorrento and Rome" was included in the September 2012 issue.

Based on our long experience creating food and wine itineraries, here are what we think are some of the best fall foodie destinations:

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Italy's Classic Cocktails: Negroni and Spritz

With the seemingly endless list of holidays celebrating iconic Italian foods—think pasta, pizza,tiramisù, and even Nutella —it's easy to lose track, which is why we were caught a bit off-guard by the news that Negroni Week was celebrated recently! The Negroni is one of Italy's most iconic cocktails, which, after spending decades beloved domestically but relatively unknown outside of Italy, has exploded onto the international cocktail scene along with another Italian favorite, the Spritz.

NEGRONI & SPRITZ Full

We love these two aperitivo classics, so much so that our Instagram handle is @NegroniandSpritz, and will be raising a glass and cooling off this July 4th weekend with a Negroni and Spritz. Cin cin! Read More…

Wine Tasting in Montalcino

When you picture a Tuscan hilltown, what comes to mind is probably more or less Montalcino. With its fairytale castle above, vineyard-covered hills below, and warren of winding lanes and pretty squares, this village in the scenic Val d'Orcia is sent directly from central casting.

When you picture a Tuscan wine, what probably comes to mind is more or less Montalcino's flagship red, Brunello. With centuries of history, Italy's first DOCG recognition, and a unique microclimate and terroir that gives this 100% Sangiovese wine a more fleshy texture, smoother tannins, and more complex dark-fruit-driven flavors than Chianti (http://www.ciuitaly.com/blog/files/wine-tasting-chianti.php), this iconic red has become so popular and prestigious over the past half century that it has almost single-handedly transformed Montalcino and the surrounding area from one of the poorest in the region to one of the wealthiest.

wine-tasting-montalcino-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

For a quintessentially Tuscan experience, there is nothing like a day touring the wineries surrounding Montalcino and tasting what many consider Italy's greatest wines. We have spent time nosing around the local wineries many times over the years, and always discover something new and memorable. Here are some of our tips:

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Poetry and Sunday Lunch: Naples' Most Iconic Ragù

'O rraù ca me piace a me
m' 'o ffaceva sulo mammà.
--Eduardo de Filippo


Food is not taken lightly anywhere in Italy, but in Naples it is the subject of passionate arias and earnest odes. And of all Neapolitan classics, the two that are most exalted and celebrated are also two of the most humble home dishes: ragù.

manfredi-orrau-napoli-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Naples has two types of traditional ragù, both of which call for long, slow cooking; are generally more flavorful the next day; and serve as an all-in-one dish of both pasta sauce for the primo and tender, braised meat for the secondo. The tomato-based 'o rraù and the onion-based la genovese are both such traditional staples of festive lunches in famiglia, that many Neapolitans believe that Sunday isn't Sunday without a plate of ragù.

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Rome on Two Wheels: Vespa Tour

Along with the Colosseum and Leaning Tower, nothing is more iconic of Italy than the Vespa. This timeless scooter was created in 1946 by the Piaggio company to meet the demand for a modern, affordable mode of transportation for the country's rapidly urbanizing post-war population. Since then, the Vespa has remained one of the most beloved vehicles of convenience in Italy, from retirees puttering to the market in banged up originals to urban hipsters buzzing about town in spotless faux-vintage models.

Nowhere is this more true than Rome. Due to the city's heavy traffic, limited parking, and—let's face it—theft problem, many Romans eschew a car and opt for a smaller and less expensive scooter to get to work, school, or simply out and about. Though there are certainly higher-end, full-optional scooters that almost edge into motorcycle territory, by far the scooter of choice is the plucky Vespa, and nothing delights more than spotting a candy-colored Vespa parked jauntily in a narrow Roman backstreet or against the backdrop of one of the city's most famous sights.

rome-vespa-tour-cr-ciutravel
(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

If the Vespa is the Roman vehicle of choice, it follows that the ideal way to explore the Eternal City like a native is on the back of one of these classic “wasps”. We did just that on a recent tour that combined the fun novelty of zipping through the streets of Italy's capital on two wheels with the undeniable pleasure of some of the city's best street food. If you'd like to do the same, here are some of the basics: Read More…

Swiss Cheese: Not Wholly Holey

Switzerland is known for three things: mountains, chocolate, and cheese. Though this beautiful Alpine country offers much more—think lakes and castles, contemporary art and music festivals, picturesque old towns and bustling modern cities—there can be no quibble that it is home to some of the world's most stunning landscapes, prestigious chocolatiers, and, of course, unforgettable cheeses.

fondue-cr-ciu-travel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

If your only foray into Swiss cheese has been...uh, Swiss cheese, you're in for a delightful surprise. Switzerland produces more than 150 different types of cheese, each more complex and storied than the bland commercial cheese called “Swiss” available in the US. If you want to sample some of the country's best cheeses but are overwhelmed by the vast selection, you can start with the ten or so AOP (Appelation d‘Origine Protégée) Alp cheese varieties, certified as coming from Swiss Alpine farms in a specific area of origin and guaranteed to be the best of the best.

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Porcini: Italy's King of Mushrooms

Of all Italy's fall foods, porcini mushrooms are among the most eagerly anticipated. The decisive, nutty flavor of the famous Boletus edulis gives depth and richness to dishes from risotto to soup, their high protein content make them an excellent substitute for meat, and the spongy underside of their massive caps melts down during slow cooking into a rich earthy sauce. The perfect blend of comfort food and gourmet specialty, fresh porcini are a highlight of any fall trip to Italy and can be found on menus from tiny trattorias to Michelin-starred restaurants.

Boletus Aureus(Photo by Pietro Bertera via Flickr)

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Five Favorite Restaurants: 2017

We were fortunate this year to have been able to enjoy a number of long stays in our second home in central Italy. Though we savor any trip to our beloved Bel Paese, leisurely visits are by far our favorite. We're able to slow down to match the pace of our quiet Umbrian town, catch up with old friends, adventure out on day trips or weekends to explore new places and experiences, and circle back to our old stand-bys a second - or tenth - time around. Though time flies no matter how long our trip lasts, a long stay reminds us of just why it was we fell in love with Italy so many years ago.

good-friday-lunch-spaghetti-bottarga-villa-roncalli-foligno-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

We sat down to some wonderful meals during our trips in 2017, some at newly discovered eateries in both Italy and Switzerland, and some at long-time favorites that have withstood the test of time. This year's list of our five recommendations is a mixed bag of old and new, including a few restaurants we have been dining at for years and a few that hooked us after our first meal this year.

Regardless of whether you are planning a quick trip or a long stay, keep these spots in mind for a memorable meal in 2017 and beyond:

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Florence to Explore: A Neighborhood Guide

One of the pleasant surprises upon first exploring Florence is the convenient compactness of the city's historic center. Almost all its most famous museums and monuments are within an easy 10 minute stroll from each other, centered around the stunning Duomo and the stately Piazza della Signoria.

Florence twilight.(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

But if you walk just a bit further in almost any direction, you can discover Florence's historic neighborhoods where the crowds are thinner, the shops and restaurants are funkier, and the feel is that of an authentic Old World city where locals have lived and worked for centuries. After taking in the David and Ponte Vecchio, dedicate a few hours to striking out beyond these iconic yet overrun sights to discover the Florence of the Florentines.

Here are a few of the most charming neighborhoods to wander:

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