Postcards from Italy

Food and Wine

Show Your Love Some Sweetness with Italian Chocolates

Like so many of our modern holidays, Valentine’s Day is rooted in Roman history and named for an early Italian saint (San Valentino), so it seems fitting to mark this celebration of love in all its forms with a sweet treat from Italy. Family, friends, and sweethearts alike will be delighted to unwrap our chocoholic’s dream Collezione San Valentino stuffed with artisanal Tuscan chocolate!

Collezione San Valentino
The Collezione San Valentino Box is available in the USA via

La Molina Tuscan Chocolate

Based in the small Tuscan town of Quarrata just outside Pistoia, La Molina has been producing hand-crafted chocolate for the past two decades - a blink of the eye in Italy’s millennia-long timeline but enough time to establish the brand as one of the premier names in Italian luxury chocolate.

This young yet prestigious company was founded by two brothers, master chocolatiers Massimiliano and Riccardo Lunardi, along with artist and designer Riccardo Fattori and entrepreneur Elisabetta Cafissi. Together, they embody La Molina’s motto “Con gli occhi e la bocca” (“With eyes and mouth”) that expresses the equal importance of flavor and aesthetics in the uniquely sensorial world of chocolate.

Collezione San Valentino

The Lunardi brothers create exquisite limited edition pralines, bars, dragées, spreads, and other delicacies from cocoa imported from Madagascar, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Ghana. They are so choosy about their ingredients that when, for example, the specific farm in Piemonte where they source their hazelnuts has depleted its stores, the brothers halt production on hazelnut bars until the next season.

Riccardo Fattori designs the striking packaging, inspired by the personal chocolatier to Marie-Thérèse of Austria, queen consort of King Louis XIV of France. Little is known of this Spanish servant beyond her nickname of “la Molina”, derived from the whisk-like utensil (“molinillo”) she used to prepare hot chocolate. With the company name and cameo logo, La Molina sought to honor the centuries of humble chocolatiers who have come before.

Elisabetta Cafissi, instead, spearheaded the renovation of La Molina’s unique praline-inspired headquarters that houses both the offices and open-plan chocolate workshop. Located just up the street from the 14th-century Medici Villa La Magia, this unusual domed building was restored to its original 1970s design and today is open to visitors for tours. Read More…

Parmigiano-Reggiano Pairings and Recipes: 12, 24, 30, and 36 Months

Congratulations, you’re the proud owner of a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano, one of the most iconic cheeses in the world!

If you’re not, you should be...and now you can order authentic aged Parmigiano-Reggiano directly from Italy in just a few clicks via the dedicated page on our Cantina Direct site. We’ve sourced top-quality cheese from the Parma2064 cooperative - a group of five historic family farms located in the countryside outside Fidenza, deep in Parmigiano-Reggiano country - and chosen to offer four different agings so you can compare the subtle variations in texture and flavor between wheels aged 12, 24, 30, and 36 months.

Parma2064 Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese is available in the USA via

Now, what to do with this precious Italian staple, invented by Benedictine monks almost a millennium ago and produced roughly the same way with no additives and no preservatives since? All certified authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is made using the same technique and ingredients (take a deep dive into the production, aging, and certification process in our Parma Food Tour blog post), but the final product is markedly different depending upon the age of the individual wheel.


  • Younger “Primo” cheese (aged a minimum of 12 months) is lighter in color, creamier in texture, and still tastes of fresh, buttery milk and bright grass and herbs from the local forage that must be used to feed the cows.
  • As the cheese ages another year and earns the name “Classico”, it becomes slightly darker and more granular. The flavor deepens and begins to take on floral or fruity notes with hints of spice and nuts.
  • “Lunga Vita” Parmigiano-Reggiano, aged 30 months, has a more intense color and flavor. This crumbly cheese is unique for its stronger herbal notes with traces of toasted nuts and spices.
  • Aged a full 36 months, “Extra Lunga Vita” cheese has the most striking color and grainy texture, with a complex blend of flavors from sweet hay to chestnut. This aging also has the most intense umami effect and you can sometimes pick up notes of rich beef broth and dried mushrooms.
Since Parmigiano-Reggiano evolves in its texture and flavor over time, you should try different pairings and recipes with each aging to highlight its specific characteristics. We suggest ordering a variety of different ages of cheese to compare and contrast their nuances and choose a favorite. If you’re unsure which to order, contact us for some tips and guidance and be sure to click through to the full article for 4 fabulous recipes! Read More…

Traditional Tuscan Sweets from Cookies to Cakes

Generally speaking, the most famous and beloved traditional Italian pastries and desserts (we’re not talking about tiramisù, a relative newcomer that exploded onto the scene in the 1980s after its debut at Le Beccherie restaurant in Treviso) hail from the southern and northern reaches of what is now modern Italy.

In the south, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies brought the royal house of Bourbon from Spain in the 18th century, and, with it, a predilection for rich, ricotta- and custard-based dishes like cassata, cannoli, sfogliatelle, and pastiera - all elevated by the exotic spices, candied fruit, or marzipan introduced to Italy’s southern ports via centuries of Mediterranean trade. In the north, the Turin-based Savoy dynasty brought French-influenced desserts across the Alps, and with it rare or expensive ingredients like chocolate, eggs, and cream that form the base of favorites like bonèt, panna cotta, and zabaione.

Featured in Collezione Maxi Gusto
DolceForte Gift Boxes are Available from

And central Italy? While northern and southern cuisines still carry strong inflections from their royal history, Tuscany is instead known for its “cucina povera”, or rustic rural fare. Sure, the Medicis would occasionally import a French chef to supervise their palace kitchens, but the most prominent Tuscan dishes from ribollita to lampredotto are the product of frugal farmwives making use of leftovers and offal to feed large families on a tight budget. Many Tuscan sweets also echo the region’s agricultural history, eschewing ingredients that were once hard to come by for modest farming families (refined sugar or flour, chocolate, spices) for ready replacements like honey, chestnut flour, homemade jams, and grapes or raisins - the base of classics like crostata, castagnaccio, and schiacciata con l’uva.

That isn’t to say that Tuscan sweets should take a back seat to their northern or southern neighbors. In fact, where Piemontese and Neapolitan desserts are often dairy- or egg-based and don’t travel well, Tuscan sweets lean towards baked cookies and cakes that can easily be shipped across the world and sampled fresh even if you can’t make it to Tuscany.

If you want to add a touch of central Italy to your holiday table, here are some of the cookies and cakes featured in our Florentine food boxes...perfect for yourself or as a gift to the Italy-loving gourmand on your list!
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Meet the Producers: Luciana from Casa Gola Olive Oil

Our first shipment of Casa Gola’s extra-virgin olive oil, freshly pressed from the groves blanketing the hills of Umbria, has just arrived and we couldn’t be happier. Though 2020 has been tough for many reasons, it was a fantastic year for Italian olive oil, and the quality of the harvest is unparalleled. We weren’t able to make it to Italy this fall to help with the annual picking and pressing, but we’re thrilled that this season has brought the opportunity to share our favorite artisan olive oil with friends and clients in the US.

Casa Gola
Casa Gola Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available in the USA via

We spent a few days this week unpacking newly delivered tins of Casa Gola oil and shipping them to customers across the US to fill our first orders, and feedback has been excellent. Janice and Jeffrey wrote to say that they love the idea that they are buying directly from the farm in Umbria and supporting the local growers, one of the main missions behind our gourmet Italian food website. Other recipients, like Barbara, were struck by the quality, commenting on the olive oil’s spectacular flavor, perfect for pouring on anything.

We believe in the importance of maintaining Italy’s rich and historic network of small farms and artisan workshops that produce everything from top-notch olive oil and wine to sweet and savory delicacies like chocolates, balsamic vinegar, and truffles. The quality is unbeatable, of course, but the human stories behind the food is what truly captures our hearts and trust, making us come back year after year to stock up on the same delicacies.

Olive Oil - Cantina Direct

Casa Gola is a perfect example: this olive oil estate was founded in 1997 when Luciana Cerbini and Giovanni Picuti purchased the land to restore the old farmhouse and replant and revive the surrounding olive groves. We became friends with Luciana and Giovanni over the years, as their estate is not far from our home in Umbria, and Luciana often gives cooking lessons to our clients visiting Umbria. We know first-hand the care and love Luciana puts into producing their extra-virgin olive oil and wanted to share a bit of her passion by speaking with her about Casa Gola and her cooking lessons.

Olive Oil - Cantina Direct

Read on for an inside look into Umbria’s fascinating culture and cuisine, and be sure to order your extra-virgin olive oil now ...olive oil is only produced once a year in the late fall and once it’s gone you have to wait until the following year to savor its uniquely peppery flavor again! Read More…

Gourmet Food Boxes: A Traditional Italian Gift

Come December, shops across Italy from tiny corner grocers to huge supermarket chains begin displaying sumptuous “cesti natalizi” (Christmas baskets) of every shape and size. In this food-centric country, it comes as no surprise that one of the popular and beloved holiday gifts is these decorative baskets or boxes stuffed with holiday goodies like wine, chocolates, panettone, and even lentils and zampone...a traditional New Year’s Eve dish.

From the most basic packages pairing a bottle of spumante with a small panettone to elaborate cellophane-wrapped confections bursting with dozens of sweet and savory treats, these gourmet gifts are exchanged between close friends and family as well as between casual acquaintances and colleagues with equal enthusiasm, and the contents enjoyed for weeks or months after the holidays.

Collezione Buon Gusto
DolceForte Gift Boxes are Available from

When we were deciding what to feature on our new CantinaDirect website - dedicated to authentic Italian food that can be ordered directly for home delivery in the US - we knew we wanted to include these quintessentially Italian gourmet food boxes and reached out to Elena Carradori, a long-time friend and source for sweet and savory gourmet delicacies in Italy. Her Florentine shop, Dolceforte, is our go-to for quality chocolates, cookies, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Tuscan artisanal pasta, and other delights selected from local, sustainable, and traditional producers.

Truffle Products - Collezione Maxi Gusto

Our first Florentine food boxes have already arrived in the US and customers are very pleased.
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Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: Ten Facts about Italy’s Liquid Gold

In a country known for its unparalleled food, Italy’s extra-virgin olive oil stands apart. One of its most important gourmet exports and a staple of Italian cuisine from north to south, the oil extracted from the fruit of the Olea Europea, or European olive tree, has been gracing tables in Italy for three millennia. The ancient Greeks imported the tree around 1,000 BC and since then Italians have used olive oil for dressing, cooking, and preserving food - as well as in medicinal and beauty treatments.

Olive Oil - Cantina Direct (Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

The popularity of Italian olive oil has spread across the globe and today this rich oil, beloved for its unique flavor and health benefits on both sides of the ocean, is known as Italy’s “liquid gold”. Unfortunately, high demand has also been its downfall as cheap imposters of dubious quality are now commonplace on supermarket shelves. Today, many oils marketed as “extra-virgin Italian olive oil” are made from olives harvested outside of Italy, extracted with harsh chemical methods, or created in a lab with a mix of Italian and lower quality oils.

Casa Gola
Casa Gola Extra Virgin Olive Oil is available in the USA via

How do you know you’re getting the highest quality oil? The best way is to purchase your oil from a trustworthy source, ideally directly from the producer. You can also brush up on your olive oil knowledge to help you suss out an authentic and high-quality Italian oil from cheap substitutes.

Here are the most important facts about Italy’s extra-virgin olive oil to guide you to real “liquid gold”...
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Cantina Direct: Italian Olive Oil and Other Delicacies Delivered to Your Door

This year has been a difficult one for so many reasons, but for lovers of travel like us - and like all of you - being grounded for the better part of 2020 has been one of the biggest challenges. We said goodbye to our beloved second home in Italy last December, never imagining that we wouldn’t be able to return for over a year.

There are many things we miss about Italy, but the fact that we’ve been gone for such a long stretch really hit home recently when our precious pantry provisions - those stashes of aged Parmigiano Reggiano, extra-virgin olive oil, impossible-to-find local wines, artisan pasta, and other delicacies that we routinely bring back in our overstuffed suitcases - began to run low. Though it is getting easier to find Italian specialty foods state-side, nothing beats the quality of what you can get on the ground in Italy.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and in our quest to restock our own stores we realized that making these same excellent products that we love available to fellow gourmands would be a perfectly-paired side business to CIUTravel. We have long been ardent supporters of small-scale local producers in Italy, and many of our clients have visited our favorite foodie meccas from Umbrian olive farms to Piedmontese truffle woods. Today, you can savor many of these same quality products from home via Cantina Direct.

Introducing Cantina Direct

cantina direct

Come visit our new CantinaDirect website to order a variety of Italian goodies shipped directly from the supplier or local independent gourmet shop. We will be expanding our inventory over the next few weeks, but you can order a number of carefully selected items already:

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

We are missing olive picking season this year, but are looking forward to enjoying the peppery flavor or freshly-pressed olive oil from our old friends and suppliers Luciana and Giovanni from Casa Gola, hidden in the Umbrian hills. You can only get fresh olive oil during the final few months of the year; we buy several 5-liter cans to stock our pantry, transferring the oil to smaller bottles for kitchen use and to give as gifts. Over the last few years, we have actually been fulfilling orders for our local friends and neighbors in the States, and due to the pandemic restrictions with everyone cooking so much more at home, many of them have doubled and even tripled their order!

Olive Oil - Cantina Direct(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Casa Gola extra-virgin oil is made from moraiolo, leccino and frantoio olives - three heirloom varieties common in Umbria -and the fresh oil is bright green with a golden tint. The scent of this vibrant oil combines notes of artichoke, fruit, and herbs and the flavor is slightly bitter with a pleasant peppery finish. We use this smooth, yet decisive, oil to dress meat, fish, vegetables, or to simply drizzle over a thick slice of Italian bread for a rustic bruschetta.


You can order a 5-liter can here.

Gourmet Italian Food Boxes

When clients come back from Italy, one of the most common questions they ask us is where they can find pasta, wine, olive oil, and other products on par with what they had tasted while traveling. Unfortunately, many imported products that are touted as authentic are actually low quality, commercial-grade imitations and it’s not always easy to find the real deal on this side of the Atlantic.

E6A658B3-D26C-4D17-BE71-D7411CE2D9E9_1_105_c(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

One of our favorite gourmet shops in Italy is Dolceforte in Florence, where we regularly stop to stock up on some of our favorite Italian delicacies. We’ve partnered with the delightful Elena from Dolceforte to put together a selection of gourmet gift boxes brimming with delicious delights like artisan chocolates and cookies, balsamic vinegar from Modena, Tuscan pasta, and other specialty items sourced from local eco-friendly producers who are keeping the traditional cuisine of Italy alive.

C686387F-02A4-4091-8860-07F6C175C6B2_1_105_c (Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

There are a variety of boxes to choose from and all are packaged in a Dolceforte box, handmade in Florence using paper from the Tassotti di Bassano printing house. Gourmet gift boxes are a beloved holiday tradition in Italy, when family and friends exchange overflowing baskets of indulgent seasonal treats.

B4EDE0F0-E531-4AE1-A452-1A45BC6E42D8_1_105_c(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Browse our Florentine gift boxes here.

We’ll be adding more Italian pantry provisions regularly over the next few weeks and months, so be sure to check back regularly to browse some of our favorite delicacies from the Bel Paese. Buon appetito!

CIU Travel | Concierge in Umbria | Contact Us

Wendy Perrin WOW List
2020 Wendy Perrin WOW ListTrusted Travel Expert for Italy and Switzerland

Condé Nast Traveler Magazine
Top Travel Specialist for Italy since 2006

Staff Inspiration: Brian’s Dream Trip

Join us over the next few weeks as we share our dream trips through Italy and Switzerland, aimed at informing and inspiring future jaunts to Europe. This week we set off with Brian Dore, owner of CIU Travel together with his partner and wife Maria Gabriella.

Brian and Pasta
(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Maria Gabriella and I met at the Westside YMCA on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in late November or 1995. I was asked to sing a small part in collection of opera scenes that Maria was singing in and helping to organize. By New Year’s Eve we were dating, in 1998 we married, and in 2004 we started CIU Travel. We really haven’t spent much time apart since and for the last 16 years we’ve been traveling up and down Italy searching for the best experiences for our clients. So, when given the opportunity to think about a “dream trip” we both decided to create an itinerary that leaves the other one at home.

Michael Tucker and I met drinking wine. He had just published his book “Living in a Foreign Language” about buying a farmhouse in Umbria. He had also been interviewed by Wine Spectator about Umbrian wines, and gave high marks to winemakers that I know very well, so I got in touch and invited him and his wife, Jill Eikenberry, to an event at the vineyard. They graciously accepted and we’ve been close friends ever since, finding our love of food, wine, cooking, the performing arts, and laughter to be an unbreakable bond. I reached out to Mike and asked him if he’d be interested in planning a culinary adventure with me.

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Staff Inspiration: Matthew’s Dream Trip

Join us over the next few weeks as we share our dream trips through Italy and Switzerland, aimed at informing and inspiring future jaunts to Europe. After last week’s trip with Cristina Tili, Operations Manager for CIUTravel, this week we take you on Matthew Greenbaum, Operations Associate for CIU Travel's dream trip.

Matt in the mountains
(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

We met Matt in 2018, shopping for a ski jacket for Brian at Patagonia in New Haven, CT. It was a weekday afternoon in February, and we were hosting chef Luisa Scolastra from Villa Roncalli in Umbria. She doesn’t speak English, so we were walking around the store, speaking Italian with her and English to the sales associates. Matt was assisting Brian and he asked what we did that we were in the store in the middle of the day, and with an Italian woman who was experiencing a first visit to the U.S. I told him a bit about CIU, and he asked if we were hiring. We replied that, actually, we were looking to add a part time position, but starting in the office - basically warning him that we wouldn’t be sending him to Italy tomorrow! We received an email from him a few days later, and after a couple of interviews and email exchanges, he came on board. We thought that his love for the outdoors and adventure activity would be a great addition to our team, especially with the then recent addition of Switzerland to our offerings. Although his dream itinerary here is in Italy, after Maria Gabriella, Matt was the first person on our team to become a certified Swiss Travel Expert. We hope you enjoy his dream trip through two of Italy's wine regions!

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Five Italian Pantry Recipes for a Kitchen in Lockdown

Now that trips to the grocery store are being kept at a minimum, cooking with what you happen to have on hand to stretch your pantry power is very much in vogue. Luckily for lovers of Italian cuisine, Italy’s home cooks are experts in conjuring delicious meals with bare bones basics, so you can tuck into some of the country’s most classic dishes without the need for exotic (or even fresh) ingredients.

Anchovy Pasta(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Much of Italy’s traditional regional cooking has its roots in “cucina povera”, a type of rustic, rural cuisine based on simple ingredients and strongly tied to the seasons. In the past, during the long months of winter, Italian families relied on salted, canned, and otherwise preserved ingredients to make it through to spring, and still today some of the country’s most beloved crowdpleasers are made with canned tomatoes, salted anchovies, root vegetables, and other pantry staples. Also, many of these recipes are forgiving with proportions and substitutions, knowing that sometimes farm wives in February might have had to scrounge a bit.

If you find yourself standing in front of a bare cupboard and wondering what to make for dinner, here are five dishes that use just a handful of basic ingredients to create a deliciously satisfying meal.

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Italy’s Most Famous Coffee Houses

What most of the English-speaking world knows as a coffee house, Italians know as “il bar”. This Italian institution is a fundamental part of the daily routine, from a quick stop in the morning for the standard Italian breakfast of a “cappuccino e cornetto” and a bracing espresso - known simply as “un caffè”, or a coffee - mid-afternoon, to a leisurely pre-dinner cocktail or glass of wine with finger food, or “un aperitivo”.

Caffé Espresso miscela Florian
(Photo by Richard, enjoy my life! via Flickr)

Generally, Italian bars are rather humble affairs, varying from a tiny space with a standing bar and a few scattered tables to a sprawling hybrid pastry shop/newspaper stand/tobacco shop that also serves as a neighborhood community center. That said, there are more august historic coffee shops scattered across the country that hark back to the age when artists and intellectuals would gather to exchange ideas and inspiration. If you’re looking to linger over an espresso and cappuccino in elegant, often frescoed, rooms, here are a few of the most famous landmark cafés in Italy.

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Trip Inspiration: The Via Emilia

Of the many innovations that allowed Roman civilization to expand so quickly and flourish for so long, perhaps the most important was their expansive network of roads that crisscrossed the Italian peninsula and connected to places as far-flung as Britain and Mesopotamia. Covering about 250,000 miles at the height of the Roman Empire, these routes were often paved, linear, and major arteries for moving troops, diplomats, and goods quickly and safely between Rome and its provinces.

via emilia
(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

A number of Roman highways still exist today, and one of the oldest and the most important is the Via Emilia (sometimes called the Aemilian Way), which runs northwest from Rimini to Piacenza across the region of Emilia-Romagna and recently celebrated 2,200 years since its foundation. A road trip along the ancient Via Emilia takes you past some of the most interesting small cities in the region, as well as its gourmet and automotive heart. Here are the highlights:

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The Breathtaking Wine Country of Lavaux

Rising steeply above the waters of Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman, as it is known in French), the lush terraced vineyards of Lavaux are one of the most stunning landscapes in Switzerland and a paradise for both oenophiles and photographers. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007 for both its unique topography and its deeply rooted history of wine making, this 2,000-acre stretch of land lines almost 20 miles of lake shore and is the epicenter of wine production in the canton of Vaud. If you are exploring the area around Lake Geneva, consider a jaunt through this magnificent wine country as a treat to both your eyes and palate.

lavauxPhoto via Flickr by harmishhk

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Out of the Fog: Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo is one of the most beguiling grapes in Italy, not least because unlike other blockbuster reds like Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, this picky varietal doesn't like to travel. Aside from its flagship DOCG Barbaresco and Barolo, most wines from made from Nebbiolo grapes—notably Roero, Gattinara, and Ghemme—are hard to find in Italy far from their happy corner of Piedmont and virtually impossible to sample beyond the border. Even its name, inspired by the heavy fog (nebbia) that blankets the hills where these vineyards thrive during the late fall harvest, hints at its reticence at being transplanted to alternative microclimates.

barolo-wall(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

So, what to do if you want to taste these enticing wines for yourself? You may just have to take a jaunt through Piedmont's incredibly picturesque Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato wine countries, but it will be worth the effort. Here's why:

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Five Classic Swiss Dishes

One of the most fascinating aspects of adding Switzerland to our roster of destinations has been comparing and contrasting its culture, landscape, and food to that of its neighboring country to the south that we know so well.

Switzerland is a country in which order and reserve are prized, making for meticulously cared for cities and towns and picturesquely pristine countryside. Italy is where a kind of benign anarchy often reigns, and its beauty is often a result of this exuberant chaos. Switzerland is almost entirely covered in Alpine peaks and plateaus, a wonderland in both summer and winter. In Italy, you can find everything from desert to coastline, islands to mountain ranges; destinations on your itinerary are often chosen to fit the season in which you are traveling. Switzerland is where the best restaurants are usually fine-dining establishments in high-end hotels and are not cheap; in Italy, the best meals you will have are often in unsung corner trattorias where two can dine on multiple courses with wine and still have a bill that is in the low double digits.

steak-tartare-view-le-crans-switzerland-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Despite these differences, the two countries do share one common thread in their cuisines: both have regionally based dishes that draw on the local climates and cultures and are best sampled in their place of birth, as well as a few classics that can be found across the country. In Italy, the best pizza is in the south, the best Fiorentina steak in Chianti, and the best risotto in the north...but you can find delicious lasagna virtually anywhere. In Switzerland, each Canton has a local dish that reflects its French, Italian, or Germanic roots, and a number of classics based on rustic Alpine staples of cheese and potatoes.

Here are some culinary highlights to seek out across Switzerland:

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“Italian” Foods That You Won't Find in Italy

We know, we can't wait to get to Italy and tuck into your favorite Italian dishes! The steaming plates of fettuccine alfredo and spaghetti bolognese, the buttery garlic bread and creamy carbonara, the slices of pepperoni pizza and towering sub sandwiches to go...

Ok, we're going to have to stop you right there. Though these may be staples of Italian-American cuisine, which is deliciously satisfying and has its own unique history and evolution, you won't find any of these classics on an Italian menu, or at least not in the form you're used to. Italian cuisine and Italian-American cuisine are distant cousins, sharing some common roots but diverging dramatically after centuries of being separated by the Atlantic and at least three hardiness zones.

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

This is not to say you won't eat well in Italy. On the contrary, with the minimum of luck and serendipity, you may even have some of the most memorable meals of your life. But leave your notions of what you will be feasting on behind and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised to sample authentic Italian favorites. Here are some of the most common dishes you won't find on menus in Italy, and some alternatives to try!

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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.


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 (, 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.

(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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