Unique Experiences

A Day in Trieste

The world sees Italy as a homogenous country, united from north to south by a common language and culture, but this relatively new nation was united only in the late 1800's from a patchwork of former kingdoms and territories grouped - sometimes reluctantly - under a single flag but with vastly diverse histories and traditions. This is especially true in the case of the Italian islands, where millennia of geographic isolation has created local cultures much different from mainland Italy, and on the northern Alpine borders, where many regions were part of the neighboring empires until very recently.

Piazza Unità d'Italia(Photo by Leandro Ciuffo via Flickr)

The elegant city of Trieste is an excellent example of Italy's fascinating diversity. Located on the border between Italy and Slovenia on the Adriatic coast, this wealthy city has seen at least a dozen waves of invaders and rulers since the Romans. Most recently, Italy was granted the city after World War I and annexed the area from the former Austro-Hungarian empire. Though Trieste remained an intellectual hub and center for important literary and artistic movements, the rise of Fascism and campaign to transform this formerly heterogeneous city into a “città italianissima” led to attacks on and subsequent emigrations of the city's large ethnically Slovene population in addition to its Jewish population, which was the third largest in Italy.
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So You Want to Visit Vineyards in Italy?

Getting out into the Italian countryside, driving through the perfectly-aligned rows of grape vines capped with rose bushes at each end, and sampling little-known wines with the families who have been making them for generations – what could be a better way to spend an afternoon in Italy?

Young travelers at a vineyard, Tuscany(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

We have had unforgettable experiences and made life-long friendships while visiting small vineyards in Italy, while also discovering wines that we can’t wait to share. (You can see our favorite spots from 2013 and 2014.)
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Celebrating Thanksgiving in Italy

We've had a year that has made us particularly thankful, with the celebration of 10 years of CIU Travel, good health, and the support of family, friends, and clients in our personal and professional adventures. All this gratitude led us to revisit this post from the archives about our first Thanksgiving celebration in Italy in 2011.

We'll be stateside this year, but hope to roast another Italian turkey to celebrate internationally not too far in the future. In the meantime, we give thanks (in English) and wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Spending Thanksgiving away from the US has become a tradition for us. We started 8 years ago with a quick weekend visit to Italy from Germany where I had just landed a full-time singing job. We followed that up with three German turkeys from the farmers market in Dortmund and a gaggle of singers and other friends crowded into our IKEA-filled apartments while the slate gray skies over the Ruhr Valley spat rain on our holiday preparations.

Thanksgiving Turkey(Photo by Aldo Messina for Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

When I stopped singing in Germany, we finally concentrated our belongings under one roof in central Italy. We had always promised our Italian friends that one year we’d introduce them to a“real” American Thanksgiving dinner, so when we returned to Italy in mid-November of 2011, we began preparations for the great feast.
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Feast Day of Saint Francis

Italy is a land of holidays, first among them feast days dedicated to a number of patron saints. Each town in Italy holds a special allegiance to a particular saint, and commemorates the anniversary of his or her death with a mixture of solemn Masses and processions, and festive fairs and fireworks.

assisi-view-mt-subasio-umbria-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Of all the saints’ days in Italy, one of the most widely celebrated is the Feast Day of Saint Francis, which falls on October 4th. Patron saint of Italy (though not, oddly, of his home town of Assisi), Saint Francis is one of the most beloved of all historic figures in the Catholic church, and the current Pope’s choice of Francis as his papal name has only added to this humble figure’s worldwide popularity. He’s especially noted for his inclusion of animals in his preaching and many churches worldwide offer a blessing of the animals in honor of his feast day.
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Shave and a Haircut in Italy

There are many trends regarded as fashionably hipster in the United States which are, in Italy, at the least old school and at the most simply the way things are done. Small, family-owned businesses, artisan crafts, handmade accessories and shoes, eating locally, farmers’ markets, espresso bars, Vespas, fedoras: these hallmarks of cool in spots like Brooklyn and Portland have all been cribbed from the decidedly not alternative small towns of Italy.

DSC06004(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

In this same new-to-us-throwback-to-them vein is the historic barbershop. Though old-style shave-and-a-haircut boutiques (offering craft beer) are popping up wherever handlebar mustaches are worn in the U.S., the corner barbershop in Italy has remained an understated institution for the past century and a visit is less a token of hip and more a step into the past. Read More...

Nocino: Italy's Most Beloved Digestivo

Just yesterday, Italians celebrated the Feast Day of Saint John—or the Festa di San Giovanni—with food, fireworks, and showy pageantry. At least, that’s how citizens marked the day in some of Italy’s biggest and most cosmopolitan cities. In the quiet countryside, however, this saint’s day was observed with a much humbler but no less traditional rite: gathering green walnuts to put up the annual batch of one of Italy’s most popular digestive liqueurs, Nocino.

Italians have penchant for digestivi (the function of which, as the name suggests, is to settle the stomach after overindulging at the table), especially amari, or those bitter elixirs made with infusions of either plants and vegetables or a complex mix of herbs and spices. Mouth-puckeringly alcoholic and tongue-blisteringly aromatic, these drinks are not for the faint of heart (or liver). There are a number of digestivi that any restaurant or home cook will have at the ready to finish off a meal--measuring out no more than three or four sips to be presented in tiny digestivi glasses--but the one served with most pride is the house Nocino.

Tweetable: Across Italy yesterday, home cooks were picking green walnuts to put up this year’s batch of Nocino

Walnuts for Nocino(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Fire and Water: the Feast Day of San Giovanni

It’s so easy to lose track of time when you travel. In fact, that might be one of the most blissful aspects of setting out for distant lands, this sense of timelessness when you no longer know what day of the week it is, what month, or what holiday.

Of course, finding yourself unaware of a passing holiday is more common when you’re in a foreign country with a foreign calendar...especially when you’re in a foreign country like Italy, where it seems that every other day the nation is commemorating a historical event, saint, or random day of R&R. Here you are, happily getting on with it, when suddenly—and, to you, inexplicably—you find museums closed, hotels booked, and a procession complete with marching band and Madonna statue weaving its way down the main Corso.

Tweetable: Cities across Italy will be celebrating the Feast Day of Saint John next week with fire and water.

One of the holidays that often sneaks up on visitors to Italy is the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist--La Festa di San Giovanni--on June 24th (John the Baptist is the only saint whose feast day is celebrated on his birthday rather than his date of death, incidentally). Though not a national holiday, it is a festive occasion in a number of Italy’s most important cities where San Giovanni is patron saint, including Florence, Turin, and Genoa.

If you are traveling through Italy during late June, you may want to join in on one of these celebrations, which are infused with centuries of local history and culture. Though they take place hundreds of kilometers apart, they are united in their themes of fire and water, two elements linked to Saint John from pagan tradition. Read More...

Rome with Kids: A Family Friendly Tour

At first glance, Rome will not strike any parent as particularly kid-friendly. One of Europe’s largest and most visited cities, this sprawling metropolis is home to some of the world’s greatest treasures of art and archaeology, but can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate for families traveling with children.

rome with kids 001
(Photo by Rebecca Winke for Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Which is why the Eternal City is the perfect place to explore with a tour guide specialized in bringing the city’s iconic cultural sites to life (while coordinating bathroom and water breaks) for kids of various ages, attention spans, and interests. My sons (who are nine and twelve) and I recently spent a day with Valerio, one of Concierge in Umbria’s go-to family-friendly tour guides for Rome, who is also an art historian and expert on Rome and Roman history. Here’s our review of the sights we visited, with high points and caveats!
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Italy’s Best Car and Automotive Museums

The world mourned Massimo Vignelli last week, one of Italy’s most influential designers who was the genius behind such iconic graphic images as Bloomingdale’s shopping bags and New York City’s uniquely Modernist subway map. In reviewing his ubiquitous influence, we were reminded of how important Italian design has been to the 20th century aesthetic evolution of everything from espresso pots to sunglasses to cinema to cars.

Especially cars.

Some of the sexiest (okay, beautiful...but we all know they’re sexy) cars produced since Ford cranked out the first Model Ts have come from Italy; indeed, if you want to nitpick, the first car ever built was a wind-driven vehicle which used a windmill-type drive to power gears and turn wheels designed by Guido da Vigevano in 1335. Names like Lamborghini and Maserati have become synonymous with sinewy, flowing lines that belie the power of their roaring engines and conjure up images of La Dolce Vita-era film stars speeding their way along the Italian coast.

Ferrari classic cars(Photo by Kosala Bandara via Flickr) Read More...

Italy from the Air

Just because we’re travel specialists (and, ahem, enthusiasts) doesn’t mean that even we don’t need a little trip inspiration from time to time.

One of our favorite sources for new ideas--or simply refreshers on beloved classics--is Wendy Perrin, one of the most respected and recognized names in travel today. She recently launched her new website, which is chock full of consumer tips, travel advice, and trip reports—all served up in her signature approachable yet no-nonsense style.

Our eye fell immediately on her recent trip report about flying a small Cessna to Fogo Island, Newfoundland—or, better, gifting the piloting experience to her husband—and we were reminded of what an unforgettable experience seeing Italy from the air can be.

MB Avio C-26(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Gubbio’s Raucous and Saintly Festa dei Ceri

Umbria, the pretty, rural region in central Italy just south of Tuscany, is known for its sleepy Medieval hilltowns, which spend almost the entire year caught in a time capsule of languid days broken up by long family meals and gossip in the main square which has remained unchanged for centuries. I say almost the entire year, however, because this slow pace and pastoral atmosphere is brusquely interrupted once a year when each town holds its annual festival—most often celebrating the local patron saint’s feast day—and the citizens let their hair down for a few days of unfettered eating, drinking, dancing, and benignly chaotic partying.

Saint Ubaldo(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Nowhere is the contrast between the saint’s day celebrations and the remaining 364 days of the year as dramatic as in Gubbio, where this normally stoic and rather dour mountain fortress town descends into a day of delightful madness and celebratory anarchy each year on May 15th to celebrate their patron Saint Ubaldo with a symbolic race, La Corsa dei Ceri.
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Our Secret Florence

Shh! Can you keep a secret? We’re about to reveal some of our favorite hiding-in-plain-sight spots and highlights in Florence that are just too much fun to keep to ourselves. Read on to see what is getting us excited to be in Italy’s most beautiful Renaissance city this week...(but keep it between us!)

Florence twilight.(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)
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Rome's Monteverde Nuovo Food Market

Of all of life’s great questions, perhaps the most confounding is this: How does one choose a good artichoke? (hint: they feel heavy and compact)

Carciofi(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Luckily, there is a place in Rome to find an answer to that and many other cooking (and living) conundrums: the Monteverde Nuovo food market.
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Unique Train Rides in Italy: International and Gastronomic Routes

Italy recently held the seventh edition of what is quickly becoming one of the most popular events on the annual calendar: La Giornata Nazionale delle Ferrovie Dimenticate (National Forgotten Railways Day). On this day each spring, long-closed and oft-forgotten rail lines are reopened and visitors can travel along the routes either by historic carriage or, on lines now repurposed as trails, on foot, bike or horseback.

Though part of the popularity of this event is surely the pure child-like joy many find in the chugging steam engines of old, there is also a more poignant pull for Italians for whom these abandoned, weed-infested tracks are means of peering into the not-so-distant past of an Italy made up of tiny hamlets connected to the larger world by almost exclusively by these “I-think-I-can” engines and their rugged, no-nonsense cars. Read More...

Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” in Bologna

“Vermeer: The Golden Age of Dutch Art” exhibition, runs in Bologna’s Palazzo Fava until May 25th.

“Vermeer(Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” via Wikimedia Commons) Read More...

Surprise Sunshine and Serendipity

The snow and ice got Brian and Maria reminiscing about one of their last, unexpectedly balmy days in Italy, while traveling through Puglia’s Salento peninsula this past fall. Read More...

Behind Closed Doors: Visiting Private Museums and Artwork in Italy

Italy is saturated with art, and not only in the big ticket cities like Rome, Florence, or Venice. Virtually every hamlet and hilltown in Italy boasts at least one masterpiece tucked away in the local parish church or dusty municipal gallery which, if it were housed in any city in the New World, would be the crown jewel of a lavish dedicated museum and marketed to its last dab of tempera.

But if your head swims at the thought of the incredible volume of art displayed publicly in Italy, consider the treasures that hide behind closed doors. Centuries of noble families amassing sumptuous private collections mean that there are untold Stendhal moments tucked away in the elegant apartments of Italy’s private palazzi and castles. Many of these are off-limits to visitors outside the family’s close circle, but many others can be quietly and privately seen...if you just know how. Read More...

So, You Want to See an Opera in Italy...

There may be no better place to see an opera than Italy, with its rich musical history, stable of illustrious composers, and sumptuously grand landmark theaters. And there may be no better people to advise the traveling opera fan than Brian and Maria, Italy travel experts and professional musicians themselves. Read More...

Naples’ Christmas Street

Though Christmas decorations have become increasingly international in Italy over the past few decades, traditionally most Italian households, shops, and churches celebrated the season with a single, but often sprawling and elaborate, adornment: the Christmas Nativity scene, or presepe. Read More...

A Magical World Inside a Lucky Store

In just a few days, Italy will celebrate the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception which falls each year on December 8th and marks the official beginning of the holiday season. In years past, families and merchants spent this day decorating their homes and shops for Christmas, and each town threw the switch on their holiday lights come sundown (though now decorations are often seen at the end of November). Read More...

A Rainy-Day Florence Itinerary: Leon Battista Alberti

Now that autumn is upon us, travelers can expect some wet and blustery days even in the mild Mediterranean climes of Italy. With this in mind, we asked one of our favorite Florence guides, Elvira Politi, to suggest a largely indoor itinerary for those days when plans of lingering over a cappuccino in the city’s outdoor cafés get rained out, and she came up with the wonderful Leon Battista Alberti walking tour to celebrate the recent reopening of his Rucellai Chapel. Read More...

I Santi e I Morti: Italy’s All Saints and All Souls Days

Twenty years ago, very few Italians had heard of Halloween; today this holiday is widely known and celebrated (more commonly with costume parties than with trick-or-treating) across Italy, as shop windows are festooned with spooky decorations and restaurants and clubs offer themed dinners and events in the weeks leading up to the 31st. Read More...

Harvesting the Olives in Italy

Just a few weeks after the last grapes are harvested for the annual vendemmia, the countryside in central and southern Italy is a-buzz again the sounds of the olive harvest.

From October through December, olive groves from Liguria to the southern-most tip of the peninsula are carpeted with netting to catch the precious fruit as it is either hand-picked or, in the southern regions, falls naturally to the ground. Read More...

Autumn Treasures: Alba’s White Truffle Festival

Of all the wonderful seasonal food one can savor in Italy in autumn, perhaps the most sought after (and certainly the most luxurious) is that homely yet princely tuber, the truffle. Found across central and northern Italy, its penetrating, earthy (its flavor suggests loamy woods and wild mushrooms and crisp autumn days and burning leaves all rolled into one) aroma graces a number of fall dishes from Le Marche to Piedmont, regions where tartufai kitted out with a bisaccia (a traditional leather truffle bag) comb the woods come September hoping to uncover nature’s buried treasure. Read More...

Turin’s Historic Lingotto Automobile Factory

Travelers flock to Italy to see this country’s excellent Etruscan and Roman archaeological sites—many dating from over two thousand years ago—but few consider visiting the fascinating and elegant industrial archaeology left over from Italy’s economic boom in the early 20th century.

The best example is the Lingotto building in Turin. Read More...

La Vendemmia

As summer draws to a close, bringing shorter days and cooler nights, vineyards in the countryside from Piedmont to Puglia begin to buzz with the sound of rumbling tractors, chattering voices, and the clip of pruning shears. Read More...

Sicily’s Cous Cous Fest

One of the most well-known food festivals in Italy (and certainly in Sicily) is the annual Cous Cous Fest, held every year in late September in the pretty beach town of San Vito Lo Capo on Sicily’s western shore. Read More...

Siena’s Duomo Floor Revealed

The breathtaking floor of Siena’s Duomo, worked in inlaid marble mosaic by about forty artists from between the 14th and 16th centuries, is one of the most splendid of its kind in all of Italy. Read More...

Stars in their Eyes: Italy’s Notte di San Lorenzo

Italy is a country that lends itself to generalizations. Some of these wide brush strokes ring true (Italians have a sense of style) and some less so (Italians eat pasta at every meal), but the most popular stereotype about Italy--permeating everything from movies to books to travel bucket lists--also happens to be one of the most accurate: Italians are romantics. Read More...

Rome Hosts Titian’s Renaissance Masterpieces This Spring

pouring italian wines
Image by Flickr user Cea

Titian, or Tiziano, as he is known in Italy, is equaled in elegance, technique, and artistic breadth only by his Renaissance contemporaries Raphael and Michelangelo.

During his lifetime, he was the darling of the Venetian Doge, and did much of his work in Venice and around the Veneto. Today, his masterpieces are scattered throughout Europe’s most prominent galleries from the Uffizi in Florence to the Prado in Madrid.

But thankfully for those visiting Rome this spring and summer, Titian’s greatest masterpieces are coming to you.

Titian at the Quirinale


summer art exhibit in Rome Quirinale
Image by Flickr user Averain

For the first time, the Uffizi Gallery’s seductiveFlora will meet the frenetic, brutal torture scene The Flaying of Marsyas from the Kromeriz Gallery in the Czech Republic.

The span of Titian’s work, both geographically and chronologically, will be united in one place as never before in the “Tiziano” exhibition at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale from March 5th through June 16th.

summer art exhibit in Rome Titian comparisom
Image by Flickr user Cea

Assembled by the greatest scholars of Titian’s work, the exhibit painstakingly documents the growth of the master, decade by decade. Both different versions of the same subject that Titian painted for different patrons and paintings on the same subject by the master and his apprentices will be juxtaposed to show the depth of his interpretation and technique.

Other Headlining Exhibitions


summer art exhibit in Rome Uffizi
Image by Flickr user Kevin Poh

In Florence, the Uffizi been busy expanding the breadth of its display with a brand new wing. But the real gem is the new Michelangelo room, centered on the master’s sculpture “Sleeping Ariadne,” on display in the museum for the first time in two hundred years.

And if you find yourself in Verona for the 100th anniversary of the city’s iconic opera festival at the Roman Arena di Verona, stop into the Palazzo della Gran Guardia for their Rubens and Picasso exhibit. Nearby in Padova, the Palazzo Zabarella has assembled more than 120 works from Apulian impressionist De Nettis’s time in Rome.

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

Walk in the Paths of St. Francis and St. Clare in Assisi

st francis and st clare assisi city view
Image by Flickr user Carolyn Conner

Like main squares in towns all around Italy, Assisi’s Piazza del Comune is a microcosm of the entire city. The façade of a first-century Roman temple opens into a 15th-century Catholic church. The modern day square lies directly atop the Roman forum, the entrance to which is next to a 20th-century pastry shop housed in a Renaissance pharmacy framed by period sculptures. The town hall rubs shoulders with the Roman brothel.

Assisi revolves not only around the landmarks of the life of its most famous figures, St. Francis and St. Clare, but also what they stood for: finding peace in simplicity amidst a decadent world.

st francis and st clare assisi crowded city
Image by Flickr user Rodrigo Soldon

The Basilicas of St. Francis and St. Clare


Lying at opposite ends of the sloping city, roughly equidistant from the main square, the basilicas of St. Francis and St. Clare balance each other in stone as the saints balanced each other in life. St. Clare and St. Francis form two halves of the same whole, the female yin to the male yang, the nuns that complete the work of the friars.

At the lower end of the city, the Basilica of St. Francis, holding the tomb of the saint, has drawn pilgrims since it was first constructed in 1228 - another church was even constructed on top of it to accommodate the adoration and reverence the saint drew. Among those who have come to Assisi, few have left a more lasting mark than the artists who adorned the walls, including Cimabue, Giotto, and Simone Martini.

For medieval Christians, many of whom were illiterate, these illustrations were the main means of understanding the life and works of the saint. And as they tell the story of St. Francis, the frescos also speak to us of the origin of modern painting, which many art historians believe lie within Giotto’s cycle of St. Francis’ life in the upper church.

st francis and st clare assisi francis basilia
Image by Flickr user Josh Friedman

Meanwhile, at the upper end of the city, the Basilica of St. Clare dates back to 1260 and preserves not only the remains of St. Clare, but also many relics of her and St. Francis’ lives. But none are more revered than the Cross of St. Damien, through which it is said that God first spoke to St. Francis.

The cross originally lived in the tiny, run-down church of St. Damien just outside Assisi. In the early days of his renouncement of worldly goods, the wooden figure of Jesus famously whispered to St. Francis: “Go and repair my house, which, as you see, is falling into ruin.”

And so it was here that St. Clare led her cloistered life. You can see where she prayed, where she slept, and where she performed her miracles. The deep peace present for the first devotees of St. Francis and St. Clare resonates in the walls even now.

st francis and st clare assisi countryside
Image by Flickr user Niels J. Buus Madsen

And after a guided walk through Assisi and its countryside, with the collected intentions of 800 hundred years of pilgrims, it is hard not to feel at peace yourself.

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

Fresh Pressed Olive Oil

olive grove
Image: © Concierge in Umbria

When a bottle arrives at your dinner table filled with a deep green, cloudy, viscous liquid with a piquant, zesty, grassy, spritzy, peppery aroma . . .

That’s not your everyday olive oil.

It’s fresh-pressed olive oil. And this is its season.

You can use olive oil right after it’s pressed (typically October-December). But the flavor reaches its peak two or three months after pressing, making January the olive oil season.

Fresh-pressed vs. Extra Virgin: What’s the Difference?


freshly picked olives
Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Olive oil is at its tastiest and most healthy when it’s young. Both the flavor and nutrients begin to fade after six months and fall flat two years after pressing.

Fresh-pressed olive oil or olio novello is oil less than six months old – the sweet spot. Typically unfiltered, it’s extremely high in polyphenols, a group of antioxidants that are believed to protect cells and prevent diseases such as cancer.

Any type of olive or pressing can be olio novello. It’s not a qualitative designation like extra-virgin, which refers to low acidity oil produced purely through mechanical extraction like stone oil mills (as opposed to chemical extraction, which produces refined oil). While producers will label their new oil olio novello, the only way to tell that it’s still fresh when you get your hands on it is to check the harvest date printed on the bottom. All Italian oils should have a harvest or best by date listed.

Even though all fresh-pressed oils share certain characteristics that differentiate them from older oils, there’s a huge variation in flavor. Some are bold and assertive, others nuanced and delicate.

Using and Storing Fresh-pressed Olive Oil


spaghetti with tomato basil olive oil
Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Fresh-pressed olive oil is not for cooking. Heat breaks down its polyphenols, causing it to lose not only flavor, but also health benefits. Ambient heat and light can have the same effects, so only buy olive oil that is bottled in dark glass bottles and kept in a cool place away from direct sunlight.

When you bring your oil home, also keep it somewhere dark and cool, though not necessarily as cold as the refrigerator. By all means, don’t keep it in a clear glass bottle by your stove or on your table any longer than necessary for cooking and serving.

A drizzle on top of soup, a hearty dose over carpaccio, salad, or pasta, or the perfect bruschetta flavoring, fresh-pressed olive oil should be enjoyed as a topping or finishing agent.

Here are some great uses for fresh-pressed olive oil from our Italy del Giorno blog:

goat cheese
truffle oil
cannelloni bean salad
lentil soup
(read more about lentil and other winter soups in this week’s In Season column)

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

A Tuscan Cooking Class with a Noble Twist: Cooking with the Contini Bonacossis

Anybody can sign up for a cooking class in Tuscany. But how about learning to cook with the private chef of a count and countess and then sitting down to lunch with the whole family . . . eating the food you just made?

The Contini Bonacossi Family


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

In Tuscany, and especially Florence, the Contini Bonacossis are best known for their art collection. The previous count, Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi (1878-1955) – friend of Simon Guggenheim and a Senator to the Kingdom of Italy – amassed one of the most important collections of the 20th century. Now housed in the Uffizi, the collection was donated to the state in 1969.

Today's generation of Contini Bonacossis are best know for their food and wine. The family is one of the top producers of Carmignano wine, a wine that dates back 3000 years and in the 14th-century was one of the most valuable commodities in Europe. Carmignano is produced by only 13 estates, and when you visit you’ll see the family’s dedication to keeping this craft alive.

Arriving at the Contini Bonacossi Estate


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

In the morning, depart from your hotel and climb the leisurely hills outside Florence with your driver. The Contini Bonacossi estate lies a half hour outside Florence in Tenuta di Capezzana.

On the sprawling grounds – you’ll get an excellent view from the hilltop villa – the family maintains large orchards of grapes, olives and lemons, which are raised in terraces called limonaie that transform into greenhouses in the winter.

After driving through the vineyard to reach the house, you’ll dive into your cooking lesson with the family chef Patrizio, who has been with the family for more than twenty years.

Cooking Ancient Tuscan Food


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Contessa Lisa Contini Bonacossi founded this cooking school in the 1980s to share traditional Tuscan cuisine based on ancient recipes with her guests, so you're in for a treat beyond the usual Tuscan dining experience.

Though they may include some of today's typical Tuscan menu items, such as ribollita, pappa al pomodoro, and bistecca alla fiorentina, Patrizio also teaches particular regional dishes like stracotto alla Carmingnano (Carmignano-style pot roast) and baccala alla livornese (Livorno-style cod) and dishes based on local ingredients, such as penne ai tre cavoli (with three cabbages) or crostini di cavolo nero (with black cabbage).

At the end of your course, the Contini Bonacossis will also give you a bottle of wine or olive oil so you can recreate your meal at home.

Eating with the Family


Image: © Concierge in Umbria

Dust the flour off your clothes, wash your hands, and sit down for lunch with the count, countess, and their whole family. Naturally, the contessa will don her pearls, but the family is quite laid-back, so you’ll do just fine.

After your meal, one of your hosts will escort you around the estate, including the wine cellars where they age their famous DOCG (the highest quality designation available for Italian wine) Carmignano wine. Once you’ve had your fill of the noble surroundings, your driver will cruise you back through the rolling hills into town.

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