Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

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 CantinaDirect.com

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 CantinaDirect.com 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.

CantinaDirect.com

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 CantinaDirect.com

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 CantinaDirect.com

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.

cantinedirect1

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

Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Venice with Caterina

Venice is one of the most popular and extraordinary destinations in Italy, and among our favorite cities in the world. Like most travelers, we’ve had to forgo a trip to Venice this year - along with the rest of Italy - due to travel restrictions, and we have particularly missed exploring the tiny lanes and canals of La Serenissima in this year of staycationing and plotting future trips.

We couldn’t end our popular “Meet Our Guides” series of blog posts without dropping in on the Floating City and getting some background and insider intel from one of our top Venice guides, Caterina Nardin. Like all of our guides, Caterina passed the rigorous exam to become a licensed guide in Italy and now spends her days sharing the highlights and hidden gems of Venice with clients from across the globe.

Caterina - Venice

If you’re just discovering our “Meet Our Guides” series now, be sure to go back for more guide interviews and insights into cities like Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, Bologna with Nathalie, Rome with Alessandro, Tuscany with Roberta, and Sicily with Italo. We guarantee that you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of their areas and a bit of inspiration for future trips!

But first, take a virtual trip to Venice with us this week...
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Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Sicily with Italo

This year has perhaps been the longest stretch of time we’ve spent away from Italy since we first fell in love with the Bel Paese decades ago. We miss the food and wine of course, as well as the dazzling views, world-class culture, and slower “la dolce vita” pace of life. What we miss most, however, are the people, including old friends and neighbors, trusted shopkeepers and restaurant owners, and our network of outstanding local guides in cities and rural villages across the country.

To feel a bit closer to Italy, we began reaching out to our favorite guides last month and sharing short interviews on our blog about their journeys to becoming licensed guides in Italy (a famously difficult profession to break into), the highlights and downsides of their cities or areas, and insights into the top things to see and taste. These conversations have uncovered delightful surprises to seek out on our next trip and moving memories of past tours - some with our own clients!

If you haven’t been following our “Meet Our Guides” series, take some time to delve in and visit destinations like Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, Bologna with Nathalie, Rome with Alessandro, and Tuscany with Roberta. We guarantee that you’ll come away with a deeper understanding of their areas and a bit of inspiration for future trips!

Italo - Sicily Guide

This week we continue our series by heading across the Strait of Messina to the island of Sicily for an interview with Italo Giordano, one of our favorite Sicilian guides. Specialized in archaeology, Italo is our go-to local expert for unpacking the millennia of history behind many of Sicily’s most fascinating ancient sites. Here’s what he had to say about his career and island:

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Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Tuscany with Roberta

Over the past month, we’ve taken a virtual stroll with our top guides through some of Italy’s most important cities - both ancient and modern - but now it’s time for a turn through the Tuscan countryside!

If you’ve missed our past posts in this popular “Meet Our Guides” series, make sure you go back to visit Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, Bologna with Nathalie, and Rome with Alessandro... all among our most beloved guides who have revealed the hidden sides of Italy with scores of our clients over the decades.

We’ve missed being able to meet up with these and other of our trusted guides this year to soak in their passion and knowledge about Italy’s historic and cultural treasures. In the meantime, however, we’ve been enjoying reading about how they chose this line of work and the pleasure they find in it and in the travelers they meet.

Roberta in Tuscany

Our featured guide this week is Roberta Marioni, who is not only a cultural guide for southern Tuscany but also leads guided hikes through the countryside and, as a certified sommelier, wine tours! In addition, she’s a passionate photographer, so be sure to admire her stunning photos posted below...

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Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Rome with Alessandro

We have been enjoying all the feedback we’ve been receiving from readers and clients about our new series of posts this month featuring interviews with our top Italy and Switzerland guides, including an insider’s look at Florence with Elvira, Pompeii with Antonio, and Bologna with Nathalie ...all trusted professional guides who have shared the treasures of their cities with countless of our clients over the years!

We are staying stateside for the moment and haven’t been able to reconnect with our guides as we usually do each year. These posts have been a powerful reminder of the passion and commitment that drives Italy’s licensed guides, who train for years, pass a rigorous licensing exam, and hold university degrees in everything from archaeology to art history.

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This week we stop in the Eternal City to chat with Alessandro Celani, our long-standing go-to guide in Rome. In addition to being one of the most dedicated and informed guides in Italy’s capital city, Alessandro has published a number of books and photography projects that reflect his interest in Italy’s history and culture. Read on to hear about his career as a guide and to pick up some secret tips to discovering the beauty of Rome.

Be sure to stay tuned for our next guide in the series that will take us across the border into Switzerland!

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Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Bologna with Nathalie

Welcome back to our special series of blog posts featuring interviews with our top guides in Italy and Switzerland. We began the series with Elvira in Florence and continued last week by highlighting our Naples and Pompeii go-to guide, Tony. These are just two of many expert guides who have given our clients an inside look into some of the most famous cities and sights in Italy in Switzerland over the years.

This year, as international tourism has been put on the back burner, many of our guides find they have extra time on their hands over what is usually a very busy summer season. We are taking advantage of this strangely quiet year by reaching out to our favorite guides to chat about their work and passions. This week takes us to Bologna to interview Nathalie, a guide in one of Italy’s most famous foodie destinations.

Nathalie Bologna

Stay tuned for more guide interviews to come!

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Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Pompeii with Tony

Last week, we began a short series of posts highlighting our favorite guides in Italy and Switzerland. The series kicked off with Elvira, our top Florence guide and insider who knows the city’s highlights and hidden gems by heart. Elvira is just one of our carefully selected stable of professional guides whom we have entrusted with countless clients over the years.

This year, we are missing out on reconnecting with these guides as we lay low at home waiting for travel to make a comeback; our guides are also missing travelers from the US, and many have very little work this year as international tourism has bottomed out.

Antonio(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

We decided to take advantage of their relatively free schedules this summer with a number of interviews that touch on what each guide loves about their jobs, their cities, and their clients. This week we talked with Antonio Somma, known affectionately as Tony, who has taken scores of our travelers through the ancient city of Pompeii at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius. In addition to being a wonderful guide, he is an avid S.S.C. Napoli football fan and has accompanied clients to San Paolo Stadium for matches. Tony and his wife Carla are excellent cooks and have hosted guests for a home-cooked lunch. On a more personal note, Tony has a lovely lemon tree in his garden that supplies the lemon peel for our annual batch of homemade limonello. He is generous with his time and passionate about where he’s from. In somma, Tony is a true Pompeiano.

Napoli Game with Tony(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Stay tuned for more guide interviews to come!

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Meet Our Guides: An Inside Look at Florence with Elvira

Of everything we miss about not traveling to Italy at the moment (the food! the wine! the food!), perhaps it’s the people that weigh heaviest in our thoughts. Over the decades, we have made dear friends, bonded with our clutch of neighbors, and are on a first-name basis with our favorite shopkeepers and restauranteurs. Though our families are in the US, we have a second family in Italy that we can’t wait to see again.

Among those we miss checking in on is our select group of professional guides, whom we have carefully cultivated over time and to whom we entrust our clients to make anything from the Colosseum to the peaks of the Dolomites come to life. One of the joys of our jaunts through the country is reconnecting with these guides and catching up on what is new and fascinating in each one’s area of expertise.

To give you an idea of how special our guides are, we’ve decided to begin a short series of posts highlighting the best of the best! Due to the restrictions in international travel, tour guides in Italy have very little work this year...we are making a bit of limoncello out of lemons by taking advantage of this rare moment of free time for a short interview with our favorite guides.

Elvira(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

We are starting off with Elvira, our go-to Florence guide who has shown dozens of our clients the highlights and hidden gems of this Renaissance city. Stay tuned for more guide interviews to come!


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Keeping Cool Like an Italian

In normal times (remember those?), the lion’s share of our clients scheduled their Italy trips during the summer months. Though summer is an ideal time to visit—with long hours of sunlight for sightseeing, clear days for exploring outdoor archaeological sites and medieval villages, and balmy evenings for dinners alfresco—these torrid months also bring soaring Mediterranean temperatures and scorching sun that can be uncomfortable for much of the day, especially in the south and major cities.

men-in-tights-florence-cr-brian-dore
(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Air conditioning is slowly becoming more common in Italy, but a surprising number of sights and businesses still do not have any sort of cooling system beyond open windows and fans. Indeed, many Italians avoid air-conditioning like the plague, believing it causes all sorts of ailments from stiff necks to digestive issues. Instead, Italians tend to use a number of life hacks to combat the heat, from how they dress to how they schedule their days.

ice-cream-tower-montefalco(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

You may not be headed to Italy this summer, but the Italian heat is quite probably headed to you now that we are in July. Sure, you could crank up the a/c for the next few months to stay cool, but for the sake of the environment—and as a fun cultural experiment—we suggest you try some of these tricks of the trade from the Bel Paese to make it through the dog days of summer.

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Italy and Switzerland Without the Crowds: Our Top Memories

Now that Italy is opening back up domestically after a few months of coronavirus-related lockdown and travel restrictions, Italians have been enjoying the rare opportunity to admire their country’s iconic sights without the crush of foreign tourists. Stories highlighting “Italy without the crowds” - a nearly empty Vatican, peaceful Cinque Terre, Pompeii with just a dozen visitors - have made headlines across the globe and produced once-in-a-lifetime photos.

We’ll let you in on a secret: visiting Italy’s top sights without the crowds has always been possible, even before COVID-19 threw a wrench into the gears of international travel. Tourism in Italy is very seasonal, so if you visit during the quiet winter months, you can enjoy some of the most popular tourist sights in the world virtually on your own.

colosseo-crowd-roma-cr-ciu-travel(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

During the high-season summer months, we are busy with clients traveling through Italy and Switzerland, so we often plan our research trips outside of the peak travel times, which also gives us a chance to speak with local guides and hotel general managers who are too busy during the high season to even say hello. As a result, we've seen much of Italy and Switzerland perfectly socially distanced, long before it became a household term.

As the world readjusts its schedule in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, consider an off-season trip to Italy or Switzerland as a safer, less crowded alternative to the traditional summer holiday. Not only will you be able to enjoy the beauty of these two countries with peace of mind, but you can also savor the slower pace and more personalized attention that winter brings.

If you have to keep in contact with the office during an off-season trip, the time zones make it easy to take that morning zoom meeting right after lunchtime. Just be sure that you have your data sorted before departure, as off season travel may require more connectivity.

Going through our travel photos over these past few months, we’ve been reminded of our top crowd-less memories in Italy and Switzerland, and wanted to share them with you!

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Staff Inspiration: Linda's Dream Trip

Last week, we capped off our series of dream trips through Italy and Switzerland to inform and inspire future jaunts to Europe with Maria Gabriella’s trip with her sister...or so we thought. We realized that we had one more dream trip in the bullpen from Linda, longtime CIU Travel administrative assistant and...Brian’s mom!

KIF_1721(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Brian’s parents, Linda and Mike, both took up skiing when they were in their late 30s, and are still happily hitting the slopes today in their late 70s. They're avid skiers - they have slowed down a bit in recent years, however - and though skilled, are cautious to avoid injuries from falls. Linda had knee surgery to treat an injury from a ski fall more than 25 years ago; the first orthopedist she consulted told her that they didn't operate on people over 50! Luckily, she got a second opinion and was back skiing a couple of years later.

They are advanced intermediate skiers, so the runs straddling the Italian/Swiss border offer endless options at their level. Though they have visited all the destinations on this itinerary in the past, they are keen to return and take them on again at a leisurely pace that includes a bit of sightseeing, some days on the slopes, and a heavy dose of pampering to recharge. This trip may not just be a dream. Mike turns 80 in February of 2021 and vows to spend the day on the slopes so maybe this jaunt from Venice to Zürich via the Dolomites and St. Moritz will become a reality!

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Staff Inspiration: Maria Gabriella’s Dream Trip

Over the past few weeks, we have shared our dream trips through Italy and Switzerland to inform and inspire future jaunts to Europe. This week, we continue our series with Maria Gabriella, owner of CIU Travel together with her partner and husband, Brian.

For years I’ve thought about taking a trip with my sister, just the two of us—no husbands, kids (she has one), or cats (I have two). For a couple of big reasons, this year seems like a great time to finally make a plan, even if we can’t go just yet.

Maria and Renee(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

First, as you may have noted a couple of weeks ago, Brian dumped me for Mike Tucker for his own Dream Trip. That’s fine (and understandable, as Mike is much more fun than I am!), so now I can plan my own itinerary guilt-free. Veering sharply to a more serious note, the second reason is that my mother died in March, just as the Corona Crisis was hitting the U.S. At the time, we believed that she passed away in her sleep from a heart attack and that her death wasn’t Corona related. She lived out her final years in a nursing home, which, at the time of her death, had no recorded Covid-19 cases, but a few weeks later had a couple of dozen. Mom was a smoker for decades and had other comorbidities which would have made her an easy mark for the Coronavirus, so, just as she was in life, she may have been a trailblazer in death, and been the first one to succumb at her nursing home. We’ll never know. We’re just grateful that she passed quickly and peacefully and we had all been in touch with her the very day that was her last. Commenting on the Covid restrictions that banned my sister to the nursing home window in the parking lot and me to the telephone, my mother said on that last day, “I’ll be glad when this is all over.” We are now attributing deeper meaning to her comment.

Out of the depths of despair comes…a trip to Rome and Sicily! Read More…

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: Sarah’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 Matthew Greenbaum, this week we take you on a dream trip with Sarah Blaze, Operations Associate for CIUTravel.

Sarah in Florence(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Several years ago, Brian was singing with Opera Theater of St. Louis with a tenor named John Bellemer. John and Brian became friends so it was only natural that their wives would meet and join in the fun. John’s wife, Sarah Blaze, is a mezzo soprano, so with Brian (baritone) and Maria (soprano), we not only became friends, but formed a quartet. Through various connections, we were invited to sing on a few cruises in the Atlantic and Mediterranean as High C’s on the High Seas - bello, no? Over the years we stayed in touch, meeting in New York or Europe when singing schedules converged. When CIU needed to add to our team, Sarah was a natural first choice. Her effervescent personality and can-do attitude, together with her love of travel, are perfect for working with our travelers on custom itineraries. We hope you enjoy her trip to the Amalfi Coast.

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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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Staff Inspiration: Cristina’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. We begin with Cristina Tili, Operations Manager for CIUTravel and local contact for clients while on the ground in Italy.

Crisitna and a plate of mussels
(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Maria and Brian met Cristina 16 years ago at the Mercato delle Gaite medieval festival in Bevagna. She had been working as a translator and group leader for local tour groups, and they were immediately taken with her excellent English (occasionally tinged with a British accent) and organizational skills. Today, in addition to her role as Operations Manager, she often translates for cooking classes in Umbria and is the friendly voice on the other end of the line if clients need to get in touch when they're on the road in Italy or Switzerland. Cristina is 100% Umbrian and proud of it. Any attempt to convince her that perhaps a dash of salt in the local bread wouldn't be the worst thing will be met in the best case with confusion and in the worst case scorn. We hope you enjoy her dream trip through her beloved Bel Paese!

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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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Visit Italy Without Leaving Home: How To Bring a Bit of the Bel Paese to You

Whether you had an Italy trip planned in the upcoming months or are just a dyed-in-the-wool Italophile, you may be feeling the need for a pinch of Italian flavor in your home-bound life right now. Just because you’re lying low at the moment doesn’t mean that you can’t travel virtually and savor a taste of Italy from your living room, be it an aperitivo or a full feast. Here are a few suggestions to satisfy your appetite for the Bel Paese for those who find themselves with a lot of time on their hands, as well as those working or schooling from home who need to make every moment count.

Venezia - Rialto(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

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The Art of the South: The Top Museums and Collections in Naples

With the eyes of the world fixed on Covid-19, now is the time for us to do what’s best for our communities and avoid unnecessary travel. That said, there’s nothing that gets us through hard times like dreaming of our next jaunt to Italy! We’ll continue posting travel ideas for the Bel Paese and Switzerland for future trips, and we all hope to be wheels up as soon as possible....

Rome and Florence may be considered the capitals of Italy’s art world, but the teeming city of Naples (http://ciuitaly.com/blog/files/48-hours-naples-napoli.php) is home to a surprising number of world-class museums, collections, and other cultural treasures. Known more for the atmospheric, shop-lined streets of the Centro Storico and grandiose monuments like the Castel d’Ovo and Piazza del Plebescito, “Bella Napoli” was the seat of the House of Bourbon during their rule of the Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the 18th and 19th centuries, and a number of royal collections scattered across the city are testimony to the wealth and power of their reign.

Naples Panorama. Nikon D3100. DSC_0109-0115.(Photo by Robert Pittman via Flickr)

Before heading further south to the blockbuster destinations of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast, linger awhile in this vibrant port city to take in the masterpieces hidden in its museums, palaces, and churches.

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A Note from Maria Gabriella and Brian

We have been astounded by the number of caring messages and well-wishes from past clients, conveying their thoughts and concern for us, the guides, local hosts, drivers and other members of our team that they have encountered during their travels with us over the past 17 years. We also continue to be inspired by the generous spirit, understanding and support of our future travelers during this challenging period. Most of our clients with travel dates affected by the COVID-19 restrictions are postponing their visits to Italy and Switzerland rather than cancelling. Perhaps that is because so many have traveled with us before. This commitment to travel is a welcome show of solidarity for us and for the broader travel industry, a sector of the economy particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. We are happy to say that our team members in the United States, Italy and Switzerland are well, and look forward to delivering the outstanding authentic experiences to which our travelers have become accustomed when this crisis abates.

At the moment, we fully expect travel to Italy and Switzerland to return to normal by 2021 and are proceeding with itineraries accordingly. We are, of course, monitoring the situation very closely and will notify affected travelers of any recommended or necessary changes. We will continue to offer our clients the opportunity to reschedule any fully paid itinerary with full credit toward a future trip with no time restrictions, penalties or deductions. We are reaching out to our travelers with updates as their travel dates approach. Please understand that in the short term, our immediate attention must be devoted to those with travel dates within 60 days.

There is a lot of uncertainty now as the pandemic makes its way around the world, but as we are already seeing with news of developing vaccines and new therapies, this too shall pass. The world certainly will emerge changed. At CIU, we will be even stronger and as passionately focused as ever on fulfilling your lifelong travel dreams.

With our very best wishes for your health and happiness,

Brian and Maria Gabriella

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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

A Blast in the Past: Tips for Visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum

Pompeii and Herculaneum are two of the most spectacular ancient Roman sites in the world, both buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and frozen in time for the past 2,000 years by the ash, mud, and other debris that sealed and protected the ruins from the ravages of time. Excavations began during the 18th century, and still today new marvels are routinely uncovered at both sites, including colorful frescoes, intricate mosaics, and unique architectural details or artifacts that provide a window into the ancient world.

Pompei with Vesuvius(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Whether or not you’re a Roman history buff, these two archaeological sites offer a fascinating glimpse into western history and civilization. That said, with their vast size and wealth of artistic, archaeological, and anthropological treasures, Pompeii and Herculaneum can be daunting to explore on your own. Here are some tips for visiting these two ancient cities to ensure you get the most from your time there without succumbing to the heat, crowds, labyrinthine layout, and general information overload.

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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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What’s New in Italy for 2020: Openings, Destinations, and Trends

Last week, we took a look back at our top blog posts of 2019 to see what Italy travel topics were most interesting to our clients and readers, but now it’s time to look ahead to the coming year and the hot new openings, newly discovered destinations, and travel trends taking over the Bel Paese. Now is probably also a good time to announce our inclusion in Wendy Perrin's WOW List for 2020. The WOW List is a curated collection of the world's best travel planners and we're honored to be included.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Italy in 2020 and are looking to add something new to your itinerary, here are a few ideas for things to see and experience over the next 12 months:

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Our Top Ten Blog Posts in 2019

Happy New Year! It’s January, a month we dedicate to both looking forward at the upcoming trends and destinations for travel to Italy and Switzerland, and looking back to see what our clients especially loved during their trips over the past year.

Italy Cats(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

One way we are able to keep our finger on the pulse of what clients and travelers were interested in during 2019 is by taking a look at which of our dozens of blog posts were the most read. This year we saw a few perennial favorites at the top of the list, as well as a few surprising newcomers.

Here is a quick recap of the top ten blog posts over the past 12 months so you can take a look at those you may have missed and study up for a future trip.

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Tivoli: An Idyllic Respite from Rome

Located less than an hour from Rome’s teeming historic center, Tivoli has been a popular summer retreat for the city’s residents since the time of ancient Rome and through the Renaissance, and saw the construction of lavish villas and gardens used as pleasure palaces for the capital’s most powerful and wealthy noble families over the millennia. Today, this hilltop town—home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and an Italian National Heritage Trust gem—is a popular day trip from Rome for those looking for a break from the relentless bustle of the city.

Tivoli(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

You can take just a few hours to tour the town’s main attraction, the 16th-century Villa d'Este famous for its ornate gardens and fountains, or spend an entire day and also visit Villa Adriana, Emperor Hadrian's sprawling estate; and the lush woodlands of Parco Villa Gregoriana. The small town of Tivoli itself is also worth a stroll, and is thick with traditional restaurants and trattorias for a lunch break during your visit. Here are the highlights to take in on a day trip to Tivoli:

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Liberty: Italy’s Art Nouveau

Italy may be best known for its Renaissance and Baroque architecture, but the country’s creative vein didn’t end in the 1700s. During the decades straddling the 19th and 20th centuries, a new artistic movement swept through Europe and the US, which influenced everything from fashion and advertising to the decorative arts. Most significantly, the movement left its mark on the architecture of the time, and still today we can find its organic, botanical lines in facades and interiors across Italy.

Quartiere Coppedè(Photo by Sarah Nichols via Flickr)

In France, this movement was known as “Art Nouveau”, but in Italy it was originally called “Floreale”—soon changed to “Liberty” after the landmark Liberty & Co. shop in London. Breaking from the rigid geometry of the past, the Liberty style was informed by the more fluid lines found in nature (and helped along by new techniques to shape iron, glass, and cement) and became the hallmark of a new generation of upper and middle classes who were looking to build residences and commercial buildings that reflected their distance from the Continent’s historic aristocracy.
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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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Sicily’s Alcantara Gorge

By far the most striking natural feature along Sicily’s Ionian coast is the towering volcanic peak of Mt. Etna Which spews ash and steam more or less continuously from its crater. The mountain and its roughly 570,000 years of activity have left an indelible impression on the surrounding landscape, beginning with the mountain slopes and valleys blanketed with rich volcanic soil that today produce excellent wines, Sicily’s most prestigious pistachios, blood oranges, and a number of other specialties.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_8b09(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Another impressive consequence of Etna’s millennia of activity are the the Alcantara Gorges—or Gole dell’Alcantara in Italian—that sit at the foot of the mountain’s northern slope. This network of vertiginous gorges cutting through the volcanic rock were formed by the Alcantara River, which runs from the Nebrodi Mountains to the coast near Giardini Naxos. The rushing river waters follow the path of an ancient lava flow, carving dramatic open-air ravines and underground passages through the hardened lava stone along the way.

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The Artful Season: Exhibitions and Unveilings in Italy This Fall

With fewer crowds, lower temperatures, and some of the best foods of the year, the months from September to November are among our favorites for visiting Italy. That said, as the summer-like days of September wane and November approaches, the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable and can swing between clear skies and balmy temperatures and blustering winds and cold showers in minutes.

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Portrait of a Lady and her Daughter.png
By Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

This is the season in which you’ll want to have some indoor touring options up your sleeve so you can fill a few hours when the weather turns biting cold or uncomfortably wet. With luck, your autumn trip will be a mix of days temperate enough to enjoy meandering through the streets and sipping an espresso al fresco and the odd sudden shower driving you indoors to check out a museum or art gallery. For the latter case, here are some suggestions for art exhibits to check out across Italy this fall:
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A Papal Retreat: Castel Gandolfo

Rome is one of the world’s great cities: repository of stunning art and architecture; birthplace to iconic pasta dishes; and vibrant capital formed over almost three millennia of history. Despite its La Dolce Vita-tinged joie de vivre, the Eternal City can also be slightly overwhelming, with a relentless pace and urban bustle that is unsurprising for a metropolis of millions but not the relaxing atmosphere you may want on holiday.

Villa Barberini Pontifical Gardens, Castel Gandolfo(Photo by Sonse via Flickr)

If you find you need a break, there are a number of easy day trips that take you out of the city for a few hours of respite; one of the most delightful is Castel Gandolfo, where popes have retreated from the heat and politics of the capital during the summer months since the 17th century. Set just 14 miles (24 kilometers) outside the city limits, this sprawling estate is located deep in the hills of the Castelli Romani overlooking Lake Albano, an area known for its pretty towns, bucolic countryside, and respectable wines.
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Trip Inspiration: Venice to Zermatt in Ten Days

If you’ve been to Italy a few times and already visited the A-list destinations like Florence, Venice, and Rome—or if you are looking forward to your first jaunt but want to steer clear of the tour bus set—we have some delightfully quirky itineraries up our sleeve that offer all the photo ops, great food and wine, and cultural treasures for which the Bel Paese is known, with the added perk of fewer crowds, as well as that elusive sense of discovery that is sometime hard to come by in our heavily-traveled world.

DSC_0221(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Here is the first of our Trip Inspiration series, meant to inspire your sense of curiosity and adventure, or simply to highlight the fact that Italy (and Switzerland) offer much more than the blockbuster sights. Check back in the future for more Trip Inspiration travelogues and photos to bookmark for future holidays!

IMG_9797Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

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Unsung Cilento

There are a number of destinations in Italy that are beginning to heave under the weight of their tourist influx, and the world (or, at least, the travel press) always seems eager to offer up “the next ...” options. Twenty years ago, Umbria was the next Tuscany; ten years ago, Puglia was the next Sardinia; and just recently, Treviso was posited as the new Venice.

Clearly, none of these substitutions satisfy: Tuscany is the cradle of the Renaissance whereas Umbria is a land of contemplative hill towns and Romanesque beauty; Sardinia is beloved primarily for its pristine coastline where Puglia delights with Baroque architecture and fairytale-like trulli villages; Treviso is lovely, but let’s face it...Venice is Venice.

One destination that has been creeping onto the radar as a possible “next Amalfi Coast” is Cilento, the area at the very southern reaches of the region of Campania stretching from below Salerno to the border with Basilicata. To the west, it is lined by the pebbly beaches and craggy cliffs of the Tyrrenian Sea, and to the east, by the steep peaks of the Alburni Mountains; these two geographic barriers kept the area isolated and pristine for centuries, and much of this stretch of coastline is now part of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Morning walking(Photo by Irene Grassi via Flickr)

Though it would be naive to propose Cilento as a substitute to the Amalfi Coast, it is an area worth exploring. Home to one of Italy’s most spectacular archaeological sites, delightfully authentic villages and coastal towns, traditional buffalo farms where true Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP is produced, one of the most scenic parks in Italy, Cilento is still far enough off the tourist track to lend the thrill of discovery while close enough to the Amalfi Coast to merit a side trip for a day or two.

Here are some of the highlights of the yet-to-be-discovered Cilento:

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Three Great Fall Destinations in Italy

Though most travelers take their big trips during the summer months, by far the best season to visit Italy is after the high season heat and crowds have peaked, pushing your dates into the autumn months from late September through October.

Though the weather can be slightly unpredictable the closer you get to November, overall you’ll still find balmy temperatures, long hours of daylight, and delightfully crisp evenings during most of the season, perfect for both city and country touring. In addition, as the summer season draws to a close and the academic year begins, the tourist crowds thin dramatically and hot spots like Florence and Venice become a bit less claustrophobic, especially toward the end of October.

via-tornabuoni-florence-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Destinations that have a very distinct high season (the Amalfi Coast and the Salento peninsula in Puglia, for example) offer more advantageous rates for hotels and other services like private boat tours once October begins, and you have the added benefit of crisp days for stunning photo ops...without the hordes of tourists ruining your shot.

Finally, fall in Italy is paradise for gourmands, with the vendemmia (grape harvest) happening in wine countries from the Alpine foothill to the southern islands, and food festivals galore.

Untitled(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

If all of this sounds appealing, then start planning now for your fall trip to Italy. There are countless destinations that are perfect for a fall trip, but here are three of our favorites to consider for an autumn jaunt to the Bel Paese.

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5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Italy

Italy is one of the most popular vacation destinations on the planet, a haven for millions who swoon for its cuisine, culture, and climate. Though the Bel Paese is our first love, we know that it may not be for everyone ...Italy poses unique challenges and hurdles that may be daunting for a first-time visitor.

bacco-felice-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

So, how do you know if you should set your sights on Italy for your next trip? Here are a few reasons why you may want to take a pass... (We’re just kidding...never pass up on Italy! Here’s how to make the trip a delight for even the most cagey visitor...)

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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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Italy's Islands: The Isole Borromee in Lake Maggiore

When considering Italy's Mediterranean islands, most people conjure up mental images of the southern yachterati hot spots of Capri, Sardinia, and Ischia...famed for their coasts lined with chic beach clubs, bustling towns full of artisan shops and designer boutiques, and luxury hotels and resorts with Michelin-starred restaurants and world-class spas. Though those generalizations are largely true for islands off the country's southern coast, as you move north the character of Italy's islands subtly shifts away from beaches and boats, and begins to favor pristine nature and historic architecture.

Dawn on Lake Maggiore(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Italy's lake islands, however, are in a category of their own. These tiny outposts lording over the waters of lakes from Bolsena to Como are often privately owned, home to defensive fortresses or sumptuous villas that either stand mysterious and closed to the curious or, more rarely, welcome visitors to stroll through and admire their lavish excess from an almost forgotten age.

Isola Bella(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Perhaps the most remarkable in the latter category are Isola Bella and Isola Madre, two of the three tiny islands that make up the Isole Borromee (Boromean Islands) archipelago in Lake Maggiore. The second largest of Italy's northern lakes, Maggiore straddles the border between Italy and Switzerland and offers stunning scenery and an elegant La Dolce Vita vibe. Strung like pearls along the lake's shores are a number of delightful resort towns, including Stresa, the perfect jumping-off spot to visit the gem-like Borromean Islands by ferry or private boat.

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Top Rooftops in Rome

With its sublime alchemy of ancient ruins, exquisite art, and vibrant neighborhoods, Rome's charismatic capital is one of the most captivating cities in Italy. Unfortunately, the secret is out...which means that the Eternal City can be relentlessly crowded around the cluster of its most iconic sights in the historic center. After a day of touring, get a respite from the urban chaos and discover the city from what may arguably be its best angle by heading a few floors above the streets to one of the many rooftop restaurants, bars, and clubs.

5e92w5PMSS2hQdd2y1rPqA_thumb_82a5(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Rome has long had a semi-hidden rooftop scene, but the number and quality of panoramic venues overlooking the heart of the city has exploded in recent years and most hotels worth their salt have revitalized their top floors to house everything from pools to cocktail lounges. Here are a few of the best for relaxing and soaking in the view, dining, or simply basking in the heady La Dolce Vita atmosphere above Rome's cupolas and domes.

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Leonardo, Wine Maker

Most know Leonardo da Vinci as the consummate Renaissance man, both an engineering and artistic genius. It may surprise you to learn, however, that Italy’s famous luminary came from a long line of winemakers and was a passionate vintner, himself. So much so, in fact, that while finishing up his iconic Last Supper in Milan's Santa Maria delle Grazie convent in 1498, his patron Ludovico Sforza buoyed his spirits by bestowing on him a small 200-by-575-foot plot of vineyard set behind the private Casa degli Atellani just opposite the convent church. Here Leonardo would retire in the evenings to putter about the vines, building pergolas and tweaking the grapes in preparation for harvest.

Casa degli Atellani (Milan) 04.jpg
Di Carlo Dell'Orto - Opera propria, CC BY-SA 4.0, Collegamento


Today, after centuries of being lost to the annals of history and then decades of research to bring it back to light, you can visit Leonardo's Vineyard (La Vigna di Leonardo), the original rectangle of land replanted with vines located behind the Atellani's Renaissance villa, one of the few still standing in this area of Milan.

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The Seven Hills of Rome: History and Highlights

Today, the sprawling metropolis of Rome is most commonly subdivided into neighborhoods, from the upscale Prati to the bohemian Trastevere. Before this major capital expanded to its current 500 square miles, however, it was a modest clutch of fledgling settlements concentrated around an area of marshy valleys and steep hills that provided natural protection from attack and invasion. Eventually, these individual communities united and their seven populated hills became the geographical and historic heart of what would become the city of Rome.

Rome(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

In the fourth century BC, the Servian Walls were built to encircle the Seven Hills, but the city soon expanded beyond this barrier and today the hills can be hard to make out under the historic center's urban jumble. That said, these hills are home from everything to the site of the city's foundation to the residence of its modern head of state, and play a significant role in the city's history and culture.

Here is an overview of each hill and its highlights, so everyone from art and architecture enthusiasts to Roman history buffs can find something that delights:

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

We know, we know...you 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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Italy for Kids: Step Two (Get Organized)

The academic year is officially at its halfway point, and your kids are probably already looking ahead to their summer break. Though it seems a long way off, school will be out before you know it...now is the time to start planning for your summer vacation, especially if you've decided that this is the year for an unforgettable family trip to Italy.

Though Italy is remarkably kid-friendly, planning overseas travel to a country with a different language and culture is slightly more complicated than planning a jaunt to Disneyland, and to make your trip memorable for all the right reasons takes a bit of realistic preparation and mindful choices. A few weeks ago, we talked about
how to get your kids excited (and informed) for their upcoming departure. Here, let's talk about how to approach the “grown-up” aspects of your trip—logistics and itinerary—to maximize the fun and minimize the stress.

Edge of the World(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

From accommodations to activities, Italy can please families of any size, style, and pace. Here are a few tips and suggestions to ensure a flawless family holiday in the Bel Paese:

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Heart-warming Italian Movies for Cold Winter Nights

Temperatures have plummeted across North America (and Europe, for that matter), and the only thing anyone wants to do is curl up in front of the fire with a glass of Italian wine and a movie to match. Ok, we admit that we are partial to all things Italian, but there's no arguing against some of the best movies of the 20th century.

If you're planning a trip to Italy over the next few months, settling in to watch one of these classics will help you brush up on your Italian ahead of time, or at least hone your ear a bit. Not planning a trip? At least you can be transported by the sights and sounds of a film set in Italy!

Here are ten beloved classics old and new to keep you occupied while you wait for the world to thaw:

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Italy for Kids: Step One (Get Psyched)

Forget Disneyland or Las Vegas...if you want the family trip of a lifetime, Italy is your dream destination. With its mix of iconic sights (The Colosseum! The Leaning Tower of Pisa! Venice!), an incredibly kid-friendly culture, and complete lack of judgement about letting your children subsist on pizza and gelato for days on end, the Bel Paese is where you can strike the perfect balance between parent-approved education and kid-friendly fun.

Gelato
(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Like any family vacation, however, the overall success of the trip is dependent on a bit of advance planning, itinerary tweaking, and realistic compromise. Kids (and adults) can get overwhelmed with a new language, culture, schedule, and menu...the best way to avoid general crankiness or complete meltdowns is to take this into account when planning your trip and gearing up for your departure.

Young travelers at a vineyard, Tuscany(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

We have a number of recommendations to help prepare for a family trip to Italy that we’ll be sharing over the next few months. Here, we begin with one of the most important and, luckily, enjoyable: getting your kids excited about Italy through reading!

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2019: The Year of Leonardo

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death, and Italy is pulling out all the stops to honor one of the country's greatest luminaries, a polymath whose genius covered everything from engineering to art, with a number of blockbuster shows in major cities and even the town of Vinci, Leonardo's birthplace.

Leonardo da Vinci- Vitruvian Man.JPG
Public Domain, Link

If you're planning a trip to Italy over the next 12 months, consider seeking out one of these blockbuster shows to see original sketches, designs, and artwork from one of the greatest minds of the western world.

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Five Spots in Italy and Switzerland to Put on Your 2019 Radar

Happy New Year! Now is best time to start thinking about travel for 2019, especially if you are hoping to organize a big family trip with multiple generations, have a special occasion to celebrate, or need a last minute gift that has a bit of “wow” factor. Giving yourself a few months of lead time means that you will have an ample choice of hotels and can book the best guides, cooking class instructors, and other professionals and experiences while they still have their spring, summer, and fall calendars relatively free. You also, of course, have something to look forward to during the long, dreary months of January and February when the holidays are over but the first warm days of spring are still far in the future.

Sunset RomeDecember 29, 2018 Sunset Rome (Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

If you'd like to curl up by the fire this winter and start thinking about some unique and unforgettable destinations in Italy and Switzerland, here are a few that are trending right now or that we have quietly fallen in love with over the past few years that you may want to put on your travel wish list for 2019.

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Parma's Festival Verdi

One of our favorite pastimes in Italy is uniting our love of opera with our love of the Bel Paese and exploring new and wonderful ways to see live concerts and performances in everything from small mountain towns to magnificent Roman amphitheaters. We have often enjoyed memorable stagings, stunning theaters, or contagiously enthusiastic audiences...and, on rare fortunate occasions, we have come upon the perfect storm of all three.

Festival Verdi - Parma(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Just such an occasion happened this past fall when we attended the final weekend of Festival Verdi, the annual celebration of one of Italy's most prominent and beloved composers that has been held for the past 18 years in Parma and Busseto, the small town between Parma and Piacenza where Giuseppe Verdi was born and lived for numerous periods of his life. Held each year from late September to mid-October, the festival is a delightful way to experience traditional and contemporary stagings of Verdi's works, sit in on rehearsals, see up-and-coming performers and directors, and mix with opera and classical music aficionados from across the the world.

Festival Verdi - Parma(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Here are a few highlights of our experience, so fellow Verdi fans and opera buffs who are considering attending upcoming editions know what to expect. Remember that the Festival Verdi is held in the very heart of Italy's gastronomic capital, so expect to consume copious amounts of Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma along with the musical fare!

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Something Old, Something New: Recent Discoveries in Pompeii

Pompeii is one of the most famous and important archaeological ruins in the world, and among the most visited cultural sights in Italy. This ancient Roman city just outside Naples was buried in ash and scorching rock from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 (more on that below), and remained more or less unexplored for over 1000 years. In the 18th century, official excavations began, and the site became a popular stop on the Grand Tour between Naples and Sorrento; today millions of visitors walk the paved Roman streets and admire the colorful frescoes and intricate mosaics decorating many of the unearthed villas and public buildings.

Pompei 2(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

What most of these visitors don't know, however, is that the Pompeii Archaeological Park is an active dig, with new discoveries being made almost weekly that shape how historians and researchers imagine life in the city and in the 1st-century Roman empire in general. Almost a third of the Pompeii has yet to be excavated but 2018 has been a year rich with new finds as the two-year Great Pompeii Project kicks off, the most intense period of study in the ruins since the 1950s. Archaeologists have begun a large-scale excavation of Regio V, a stretch of land between the House of the Silver Wedding and the House of Marcus Lucretius Fronto and a number of important clues to the past have been uncovered over the past year.

Just this week, archaeologists uncovered a magnificent fresco depicting the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan decorating an internal wall near the entrance to an elegant villa on Via del Vesuvio, in the Regio V. This somewhat suggestive depiction was discovered just days after that of an equally eyebrow-raising fresco of the Roman fertility god Priapus weighing his member on a pair of scales. Though it was found near the Leda fresco, the depiction of Priapus is unfortunately in much worse condition.

Pompei with Vesuvius(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

What have archaeologists found? Here are some of the most exciting discoveries:

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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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Fall into Art: Exhibitions to See in Italy This Autumn

As September comes to an end in Italy, fall is reaching its glory: temperatures have cooled and brought balmy days and crisp evenings, a few heavy storms have cleared the last of the summer haze from the air and brought picture-perfect skies, and the autumn leaves and sunsets are tinged with red and orange.

autumn-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by CiuTravel via Flickr)

This golden moment of autumn, perfect for outdoor touring, is fleeting; in October and November, the weather will turn to nippy winds and sudden showers that usher in winter. Rather than spending long days in the open air, you'll want to be inside where it's warm and dry...the perfect excuse for ducking into a museum or art gallery. If you need to come in out of the cold, here are a number of excellent art exhibitions scheduled through the end of the year across Italy:

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Venice's Unforgettable Artisans

Venice has been dominating the news this month, and not only for lighthearted reasons like the Venice Film Festival and the Biennale. La Serenissima is under siege from an increasing number of tourists each year, reaching numbers of daily visitors in the summer months that are unsustainable both ecologically and socially. As mega cruise ships and vacation rentals have moved in, historic shops and long-time residents have moved out, diluting the uniquely Venetian charm that has attracted travelers for centuries.

DSC03268 _Snapseed(Photo by Ciutravel via Flickr)

That said, don't despair! Venice will always be Venice, and the city is trying to preserve its social fabric by making a number of changes, including limiting the size of cruise ships allowed to dock and the percentage of city residences that can be used for short-term rentals. Slowly the pendulum will swing back toward a vibrant and thriving Floating City, where future generations of visitors and residents alike can bask in its magnificence.

Venezia - Rialto(Photo by Ciutravel via Flickr)

In the meantime, there are ways to visit Venice that support rather than harm its local economy and traditions, giving the pendulum a little nudge in the right direction. Be sure to stay at least a few days when visiting, rather than just stopping by for a day trip. Take in the famous sights, of course, but take time to wander the quieter back streets and explore the smaller churches and museums. Sample cicchetti, take a gondola ride, and head to the outlying islands. And, of course, avoid purchasing cheap tchotchkes, and choose beautiful, one-of-a-kind mementos from Venice's many artisan workshops and ateliers.
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Fashionable Florence: Designer Museums

Milan may be considered Italy's fashion capital, but a number of the most famous and historic designers to come out of Italy in the 20th century actually hail from Florence. Indeed, many trace the birth of Italy's haute couture industry to a fashion show held at Florence's Villa Torrigiani in 1951 by entrepeneur Giovanni Battista Giorgini; the collections made such an impression on international buyers that in just a few short years Italian fashion was considered equal to or better than the iconic French houses.

Gucci-Garden-cr-CIU-Travel(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Florence has begun to highlight its design history with a number of fashion museums that have either opened or expanded recently, most notably Gucci Garden. If you are a fashion addict, or simply appreciate the rich history and exacting eye Florentine designers are known for, you can explore a number of museums dedicated to a specific designer or to the history of fashion and design during your visit to the city...in addition to browsing the elegant branded boutiques that dot the city center.
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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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Palermo: Italy's Cultural Capital 2018

Each year, the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism appoints a panel of seven experts to select the next Italian Cultural Capital, a small city highlighted for 12 months to promote its cultural heritage and artistic treasures through special events, itineraries, and services. Cultural Capitals in past years have included Mantua, Pistoia and Matera; for 2018, the spotlight has turned on one of the most fascinating cities on the island of Sicily, a bustling metropolis with a richly variegated history that is reflected in everything from its architecture to its cuisine: Palermo.

P7310310(Photo by Patrik Tschudin via Flickr)

Many cities in Italy have long histories of successive conquests and rulers, but Palermo is unique in that every new wave over the millennia has left a lasting mark. The original Phoenician colony's strategic military and trading position attracted invaders beginning with the Carthaginians and moving through the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Swabians, and French and Spanish Bourbons. Each impacted the city's art and architecture, language, and cuisine, leaving behind a historic center that is a fascinating patchwork of styles and a local cultural that is uniquely multiethnic. Famous for everything from its Byzantine mosaics to its modern streetfood, Palermo is an unforgettable city to explore and discover, layer by layer.
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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…

Where to Find the Most Photogenic Views in Italy

As much as we lament the modern obsession with sharing every moment of vacation on social media and the growing importance of a destination's “Instagrammability”, the truth is that travel has been image-driven for centuries. From the time of the Grand Tour—perhaps the first moment in Western history when a voyage was considered a pastime undertaken for pleasure rather than a hardship fraught with risk—travelers have been tucking sketchpads and watercolors in their trunks to capture informal “snapshots” of Roman ruins, Renaissance palazzi, and, of course, pastoral views.

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

The explosion of leisure travel in the mid-20th century coincided with the advent of the compact camera, and generations of Americans were forced to sit through album page after album page of rather blurry black-and-white—and, later, color—photos (or, worse, slides) of the world's most famous monuments. This was followed by digital photography, giving travelers the ability to curate their hundreds of shots and only print the best. Finally, we have arrived at smartphones, letting us not only curate, but also filter, edit, and instantly share our dreamy images.

rome-panorama-cr-ciutravel(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

All this to say that today's avid Instagrammers and their quest for the perfect shot are part of historic and close rapport between travel and image-making, just the latest phase of a long evolution. So, snap away! Whether you have an old-school reflex or the latest iPhone, here are some prime locations to capture the most iconic views in Italy for yourself and, of course, your loyal “followers”!

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A New Look at the Uffizi Galleries in Florence

For a decades, if not centuries, Italy was home to the both world's best art and its worst museums. Dusty, stodgy, impenetrable, uninviting...the art was magnificent, but often the setting was underwhelming, at best.

Over the past decade, however, the Bel Paese has been working hard to up its museum game, shifting from a somewhat apathetic institutional mentality to a more pro-active, almost entrepreneurial one. Many state-run museums and galleries have been renovated and reorganized to make the collections more approachable, offer incentives like kids' programs to extended hours to attract a larger audience, hold the type of blockbuster temporary exhibitions that have been the bread-and-butter of US museums for half a century, and have brought on younger (often foreign) directors to shake things up a bit.

These welcome changes have meant that despite the crowds and overwhelming scope of many collections, a museum visit in Italy is a much more engaging experience than just a few decades ago, often going beyond the traditional chronological curation to use multimedia, group works by theme, or simply take long-stored works out of the basement. Even if you've already visited Italy's A-list museums, now is a good time to circle back and take another look.

To begin, here is what's new at the Grand Dame of old-school museums, Florence's Uffizi Galleries:

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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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Our Favorite Hotels: Hotel Savoy Florence

As we mentioned recently in our Accommodations in Italy post, it isn't always easy to judge the quality of a hotel in Italy without vetting it in person. The Italian star rating system can often be misleading, and hotels that look landmark and luxury on paper can turn out to be dingy disappointments on the ground. In short, even the Grandest of Dames sometimes need to “have a little work done”, as they say, which is why we were very excited to get a sneak peek at the Hotel Savoy Florence after a its glorious new facelift.

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Authentic Amalfi Coast: Traditional Ceramics from Vietri sul Mare

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most popular destinations in Italy, and it’s easy to see why. With its dramatic coastline, colorful fishing villages, crystalline turquoise waters, and hidden sea coves and grottoes, this stretch of coast south of Naples is simply stunning. That said, after more than half a century of intensive tourism—the masses began rolling in after the post-war Jackie O/Brigitte Bardot jet set put this area on the map—it can sometimes feel as if the local culture of this historic coastline is buried under layers of grand hotels, luxury yachts, and chic cocktail bars from Positano to the island of Capri.

Travel slightly further afield, however, and it’s easy to discover the more authentic side of the Amalfi Coast, including its stellar cuisine, scenic donkey paths-cum-hiking trails, and, of course, traditional artisan crafts. Among the most storied of these artisan crafts is ceramica di Vietri, or hand-painted ceramics from Vietri sul Mare.

Vietri sul Mare(Photo by Elicus via Flickr)

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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…

The Sestieri of Venice: A Neighborhood Guide

The “Floating City” of Venice is famously made up of dozens of small islands crisscrossed by picturesque canals, but these islands are part of a larger patchwork of historic neighborhoods, or “sestieri”, each with a distinct character, charming “campo” square, and treasured, yet often little-known, church or monument. Luckily, aside from the outlying islands, most of Venice is conveniently compact, and its easy to strike out beyond the over-crowded A-list areas and explore the quieter and more pleasant backstreets—or back “calle”, in La Serenissima.

DSC03268 _Snapseed(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

There are six sestieri on Venice's main islands (or seven, depending upon how you count), though the lion's share of visitors only take the time to see one or two. After taking in the Doge's Palace and the Rialto bridge, stroll a bit further afield in almost any direction and you can discover a completely different side of Venice, a world away from the teeming crowds and questionable souvenir shops concentrated around Piazza San Marco.

Venezia - canal(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Here is an overview of Venice's main historic neighborhoods:

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Italy's Versailles: the Reggia di Caserta

It is said that when Charles VII of Naples first set eyes on the scale model of the magnificent royal palace he had commissioned his architect Luigi Vanvitelli to construct for him outside Naples in 1752, the Bourbon king was filled with such emotion that he feared his heart would be torn from his breast.

king-queen-lion-reggia-di-caserta-cr-ciutravel(Photo by CIUTravel via Flickr)

Though your heart is probably safe, your breath is sure to be taken away by the splendor and opulence of the finished Royal Palace of Caserta (or Reggia di Caserta), a triumph of late Italian Baroque architecture that is stunning both for its massive size and ornate style. The largest royal residence in the world, the palace is often compared to that of Versailles in France—with which it shares a number of stylistic and organizational features—and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited monuments in southern Italy.

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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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