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Uncovering the Treasures of Umbria

Uncovering the Treasure of Umbria
Uncovering the Treasure of Umbria

Uncovering the Treasures of Umbria

The Green Heart of Italy is best characterized by endless landscapes featuring rolling hills, verdant mountains, and expansive plains all dotted with charming medieval hamlets. While smaller, cities and towns here are rich in history, beginning with the earliest Etruscan and Umbrian settlements. This makes Umbria a great option for returning and first-time travelers who wish to enjoy Italy’s historic and architectural aspects while maintaining distance from areas with large crowds. Often referred to as Tuscany’s cousin, the picturesque countryside of Umbria offers the same charm as its neighbor, but with less bustle. No matter what part of Umbria you visit, this region is sure to amaze with its history, culture, and nature.

Getting to Know the Green Heart of Italy

Before diving into the hidden gems of Umbria, it’s important to gain an understanding of the region through its most visited cities: Perugia, Orvieto, and Assisi.

Perugia serves as the regional capital and its province covers the majority of Umbria. Though it’s the largest city in Umbria, Perugia’s medieval character remains very much intact with the historic city walls still standing. Below Perugia, travelers can discover the city’s Etruscan origins as well as Ancient Roman and medieval remains via a series of underground tunnels. In addition to its history and architecture, Perugia delights travelers with its chocolate; the well-known Perugina Chocolate Factory lies just outside the city center and Perugia’s annual Eurochocolate event is among the largest chocolate festivals in Europe.

Perched atop volcanic stone and surrounded by green plains and hills, Orvieto perfectly embodies the spirit of the Umbria region. Divided into two parts, a funicular connects the lower modern city with the hilltop walled center. The winding cobblestone streets feature striking medieval architecture and scenic photo opportunities at every turn. The elaborate and colorful façade of the Orvieto Cathedral is considered to be the most breathtaking in all of Italy, while a tour of Orvieto’s vast underground area with ancient tunnels and caves allows for full immersion into the city’s Etruscan past.

Even travelers unfamiliar with Umbria will have heard of Assisi. For centuries, this charming hilltop town has been synonymous with its most famous native son, St. Francis. A pilgrimage destination since the thirteenth century, Assisi is renowned for its Franciscan sites, in particular the Romanesque and Gothic Basilica of Saint Francis with its stunning medieval frescoes, such as those depicting the life of Saint Francis by famed artist Giotto. Filled with pilgrims and travelers during the day, the true spirit of Assisi is best experienced while wandering the historic streets in the evening.

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Umbria's Off-the-beaten-path gems

While Perugia, Orvieto, and Assisi are all majestic cities worthy of a visit, they tend to overshadow Umbria’s less popular, yet equally stunning smaller towns. Featuring breathtaking views, fascinating cultural traditions, and historic architecture, Umbria’s lesser-known pearls can certainly stand on their own.

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Gubbio

Located on Mount Ingino, Gubbio is one of the best places to experience Umbria’s unique intersection of medieval architecture and nature. Before the Romans, Gubbio was a vital settlement of the Umbri civilization. In fact, Gubbio’s most revered artifacts are the Eugubian Tablets, a set of bronze tablets that contain text in the extinct Umbrian language. The city reached its peak during the Middle Ages and at the end of the fourteenth century it became part of the Duchy of Urbino. During the Renaissance, Gubbio served as an important center for the production of maiolica pottery.

Gubbio is best-known for the Festa dei Ceri, an annual tradition that dates back to 1160. Held on May 15, the Festa dei Ceri honors St. Ubaldo, Gubbio’s Patron Saint. The event centers around three large wooden artifacts (called ceri). Weighing more than 600 lbs., the ceri are carried through the streets of Gubbio by teams who race uphill to the Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo as the locals cheer them on.

Today, visitors gather in Piazza Grande, Gubbio’s elevated main square, to admire the stunning panoramas. From Gothic towers to elegant palaces and churches, the medieval architecture is vast and covers the majority of the city. The best views can be enjoyed from the open-air cable car that rises slowly above the medieval rooftops to reach the Basilica of Sant’Ubaldo at the top of Mount Ingino.

Spoleto

Located in a sea of greenery, Spoleto is a town as charming as it is ancient. Thanks to its proximity to the Apennine Mountains, Spoleto served as a key strategic settlement for the Ancient Romans. During the Middle Ages, the city flourished under the Lombards, who designated Spoleto as the capital of the powerful Duchy of Spoleto, which ruled over much of Central Italy. Afterward, Spoleto fell under the dominion of the Papal States before becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy.

Since 1958, Spoleto has hosted the Festival dei Due Mondi, a summer music festival and one of Italy’s most important cultural events. Held from June to July each year, the festival features a variety of concerts and other performances in the fields of dance, drama, and visual arts.

Key historic monuments in Spoleto include the Romanesque Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta, the Roman theater, and the medieval Rocca Albornoziana fortress that watches over the town. For full immersion into Spoleto’s tranquil scenery, visit Ponte delle Torri, an arched bridge constructed during the Middle Ages that spans a picturesque gorge.

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Bevagna

Located in the vast Umbra Valley, this small, tranquil town is uncharted territory for most international travelers. Originally founded by the Etruscans, Bevagna passed to the Romans then the Duchy of Spoleto before joining the Papal States and eventually the Kingdom of Italy.

The village’s most important cultural event, called Mercato delle Gaite, occurs in June. This summer festival is held in the four gaite (quarters) of the historic center. It’s a celebration of Bevagna’s medieval past with banquets and shops showcasing historic crafts, such as blacksmithing.

Bevagna is one of the few Umbrian towns on level ground; as a result, the steep streets that are characteristic of Gubbio or Orvieto are absent in Bevagna. Evidence from the Roman period is plentiful, such as the Roman amphitheater and thermal baths decorated with ancient mosaics and frescoes. The medieval walls still surround the city, while the main square, Piazza San Filippo, features two Romanesque churches — San Michele Arcangelo and San Silvestro — that face each other.

Montefalco

Just over 4 miles south of Bevagna, the equally charming town of Montefalco rests upon a hill overlooking a vast plain. The earliest settlers were the Umbri, followed by the Romans and then the Lombards. The current town was rebuilt after its destruction by Frederick II in the thirteenth century. Subsequently, Montefalco fell to the Lords of Foligno then the Papal States before joining unified Italy.

The village’s cultural wealth can be measured by its historic churches. Of particular renown is the Church of San Francesco, which is now a civic art museum that hosts works by artists such as Perugino. Other key churches, mostly constructed in the Romanesque style, include Sant’Agostino, Santa Lucia, and Santa Chiara da Montefalco, where the remains of the village’s native saint are held.

Today, the defensive walls still stand featuring several towers and gates. Among the locals, Montefalco is known as the “Balcony of Umbria” due to the panoramic views it offers of the valley between Perugia and Spoleto. The town, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, serves as the hub for the Montefalco wine area, which produces Montefalco Sagrantino and Montefalco Rosso wines.

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Spello

Like Assisi, the town of Spello is located on Monte Subasio. The walled medieval city overlooks the Umbra Valley and was originally founded by the Umbri. During the Roman period, Spello was considered to be one of the most important cities in Umbria. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Spello was destroyed by barbarian invasions then became part of the Duchy of Spoleto before joining the Papal States followed by the Kingdom of Italy.

In the seventeenth century, Spello began celebrating its most renowned cultural event, the Infiorate, which coincides with the Feast of Corpus Christi. During the festival, intricate and colorful carpets of flowers are composed throughout the city center. With subjects ranging from geometric shapes to biblical events, the entire town participates in this artistic exhibition that attracts travelers from all over the world.

Historic sites in Spello include the city walls, defensive towers, and gates, such as Porta Venere. Among the must-see churches is Santa Maria Maggiore, a Romanesque structure home to a series of frescoes by Pinturicchio. The nearby Church of Sant’Andrea features an altarpiece by Pinturicchio, while the Church of San Claudio is renowned for its rose window and frescoes by local Umbrian painters.

To truly get to know the town, walk along the main street, Via Cavour, and admire the beautiful buildings composed of Subasio marble. When the sun sets, travelers and locals alike are left in awe as the stone acquires a splendid pink hue.

Countryside and outdoor adventures

In addition to the cities and towns of Umbria, there’s much to explore in the verdant countryside. The hilly landscapes are not only gorgeous, but they provide the perfect conditions for wine and olive oil production in areas around Orvieto, Montefalco, Assisi, and Lake Trasimeno. Historically, Umbria was known for its white wines, such as Orvieto; however, red wine production has increased in recent years with varieties such as Torgiano Rosso Riserva and Montefalco Sagrantino becoming more popular. Travelers can enjoy tastings of the region’s wine as well as extra virgin olive oil, which is essential to the local cuisine.

While exploring the Umbrian countryside, art lovers may wish to stop in Deruta. Since the fifteenth century, Deruta has been one of Italy’s artistic hubs for maiolica pottery. To learn more about this historic craft and admire the town’s colorful creations up-close, visit the Ceramics Museum or one of the artisan workshops scattered throughout Deruta.

Thanks to the pristine scenery, Umbria is home to an abundance of natural parks. The vast Monti Sibillini National Park, shared between Umbria and Marche, is a wonderful place to experience the serenity of the Apennine Mountains. In total, Umbria has 6 regional parks with mountain areas, forests, lakes, rivers, and wetlands. The varied landscapes feature diverse flora and fauna with historic structures, such as castles and abbeys, providing a juncture between nature and cultural heritage. Active travelers may partake in a variety of activities including hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rafting.

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Authentic accommodations

Whether you’d like to stay in the historic towns, the picturesque countryside, or both, Umbria offers several types of accommodations to enhance your experience while engaging with the local culture.

An agriturismo, or farm stay, is the best way to immerse in Umbria’s rural heritage. Throughout Umbria’s countryside, local farmers invite travelers to learn more about the production processes behind the region’s best products, from olive oil and wine to cheese and vegetables. Each agriturismo is unique and can range in size as well as offerings, yet all encourage travelers to slow down and truly appreciate the remarkable landscapes that surround them.

The cities of Umbria are filled with historic buildings, an aspect that naturally extends to hotels. Imagine admiring the ample monuments, art, and architecture of Umbria by day then spending your nights in centuries-old accommodations. With options ranging from rustic to upscale, travelers can choose to stay in medieval castles and towers, renovated monasteries, and even former noble palaces, all of which perfectly encapsulate Umbria’s charm and character.

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Don't forget the local foods

It wouldn’t be a vacation to Italy without delicious food. Umbria’s regional cuisine centers on simple yet flavorful recipes that incorporate fresh, local ingredients. Staples here include fragrant extra virgin olive oil, foraged mushrooms and truffles, wild game, fresh vegetables, lentils, and handmade pasta. Lake Trasimeno — Central Italy’s largest lake — supplies freshwater fish such as trout, carp, and perch, while the ancient town of Norcia is renowned for its cured meats and pork products. Whether you’re a self-proclaimed foodie or simply want to enjoy an unforgettable meal, Umbria won’t disappoint.

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Umbria may be the perfect destination for your next trip to Italy. To learn more about this enchanting region and its many offerings, click here.

Piedmont’s Langhe and Roero: A Gastronomic Paradise

Langhe & Roero: Piedmont Gastronomic Paradise
Langhe & Roero: Piedmont Gastronomic Paradise

Piedmont's Langhe and Roero: A Gastronomic Paradise

Lovers of food and wine hoping to escape large crowds should visit Italy’s Piedmont region where culinary and wine itineraries abound. Though Piedmont is among Northern Italy’s less-traveled regions, it’s highly renowned among those who enjoy the finer things in life when it comes to gastronomy — think white truffles and Barolo, which is known as “the wine of kings, the king of wines.” It’s here that the spirit of the Slow Food movement was born, permeating all aspects of daily life; a relaxing area ideal for wining and dining among beautiful landscapes and historic towns. Though the entire region is considered a culinary gem, two areas in particular are truly magnificent food and wine destinations: Langhe and Roero.

Where are the Langhe and Roero areas?

Close your eyes and picture the Italian countryside. What do you see? Rolling hills, historic villages, rows and rows of vineyards — these are all part of the iconic imagery of Italy’s countryside. Another key component is a peaceful atmosphere, and travelers to the Langhe and Roero areas will be rewarded with the best of Italy’s characteristic countryside plus delicious food and wine without a large concentration of tourists.

Located along the Tanaro River, the Langhe extend over portions of the provinces of Cuneo and Asti in the southern part of Piedmont. This area of undulating green hills is divided into three zones: Bassa Langa (positioned less than 1,970 feet above sea level), Alta Langa (up to 2,940 feet), and Langa Astigiana (the southern part of the province of Asti). Due to differing elevations and geography, each zone has its own characteristics. For instance, the hills of Bassa Langa feature dense vineyards with abundant wine production and truffle harvesting, while Alta Langa is known for its forests and for the cultivation of the local Tonda Gentile delle Langhe hazelnut.

Roero, which is north of the Langhe area and the city of Alba, is situated to the north and west of the Tanaro River, the waterway that serves as a border between Roero and Langhe. Roero is part of the province of Cuneo and its name derives from the Roero family, the land’s past rulers. In general, this area is best known for wine production, fruit cultivation, and breathtaking scenery.

Langhe and Roero, together with the larger Monferrato area, are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. As a whole, these lands are considered to be among Italy’s most noteworthy wine production areas. The hilly landscapes are highly regarded for their beauty, and the interaction between man and nature present here has led to a distinct and highly praised wine culture.

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Highlights of Langhe and Roero

The landscapes of Langhe and Roero are dotted with historic villages and castles. In fact, these areas are home to some of the most charming locations in Piedmont.

Among all the cities and towns that are part of Langhe, perhaps the most important is Alba, which is the unofficial capital of the area. A city of Roman origins, Alba is home to several historic sites including the Duomo of San Lorenzo and numerous fourteenth and fifteenth century towers. However, the city is best known for its prized white truffles as well as the annual International White Truffle Fair.

The town of Barolo may have less than 1,000 inhabitants, but its name is known worldwide thanks to the eminent wine. In the heart of the medieval town rests Castello Falletti, a tenth century castle home to the interactive Barolo Wine Museum, which features exhibits on the history of wine across cultures and the production of Barolo. The castle is also home to a historic wine cellar that offers Barolo tastings and a panoramic terrace with the best views in town.

Only 15 miles separate Barolo from another of Piedmont’s most distinct wine producing villages: Barbaresco. And yet, that small distance results in two distinct and highly revered wines that are characteristic of the Langhe area. The town of Barbaresco is positioned within a sea of green vineyards with over 40 wineries in the immediate area. The small and charming historic center is distinguished by a medieval tower that watches over Barbaresco and offers stunning views of the Langhe hills.

Larger than Barolo and Barbaresco, La Morra is a delightful hilltop village with Roman origins. Though the town doesn’t lend its name to a wine, it’s an essential part of local wine production, particularly Barolo, with approximately 70 wineries based in the area. In addition to wine tasting, travelers can admire historic monuments, such as the Church of San Martino, the Church of San Rocco, and the stunning bell tower that soars over the center of town.

Like La Morra, Monforte d’Alba is part of the Barolo wine production area and it’s a beautiful hilltop town rich with history. While exploring the winding streets, travelers can admire remarkable views of the surrounding vineyards and countryside. Must-sees include the Neo-Gothic Church of Madonna della Neve with its striped interior as well as the natural outdoor auditorium designed by Polish pianist Mieczysław Horszowski, which hosts the town’s annual jazz festival and is renowned for its perfect acoustics.

Though the Roero area is smaller compared to Langhe, it too is filled with remarkable places. Principal among these is the hilltop town of Bra, which is surrounded by Roero vineyards. A perfect base from which to enjoy the excellent wines of this historic land, Bra is a charming town rich in cultural traditions. In fact, Bra is the headquarters of the Slow Food movement, which aims to promote local foods and traditional cuisine. As a result, you won’t find large supermarket chains in Bra’s city center, but rather family-owned shops stocked with local delicacies including wine, fresh fruits, and handmade sausage.

The Slow Food foundation is one of the organizers of Bra’s biennial international cheese festival. Aptly named “Cheese,” this September festival promotes natural cheeses made by regional producers. Nearby Pollenzo, a hamlet of Bra, is home to the University of Gastronomic Sciences, the first university of its kind dedicated to exploring the relationship between food and culture.

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Excellence in Wines

In Langhe and Roero, winemaking is a tradition that dates back centuries. The gradual development of production techniques in response to specific soil characteristics and particular micro-climates has led to exceptional wines that are renowned throughout the world. The eminent local wines coupled with the incomparable natural scenery of the Langhe and Roero hills result in a very special destination for all wine lovers.

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The Langhe area is home to 4 DOCG wines and 6 DOC wines, many of which consistently rank among Italy’s best.

First and foremost is Barolo DOCG, the so-called king of Piedmontese wines. Made from the Nebbiolo grape — the Piedmont region’s signature varietal — Barolo can be produced in 11 towns including Barolo, La Morra, Monforte d’Alba, and Grinzane Cavour. The wine is known for its intense, ruby red color and aromas layered with fruits and spices. Due to its pronounced flavor, Barolo is commonly paired with red meats, wild game, and aged cheeses. The wine is also a key ingredient in local dishes such as brasato and risotto al Barolo.

The queen to Barolo’s king, Barbaresco DOCG is another bold red made from the Nebbiolo grape. This wine is produced over a smaller area centered on a total of 4 towns including Barbaresco and part of Alba. Because the production area experiences more rain and the wine is typically aged for a shorter period of time, Barbaresco is considered to have a gentler flavor compared to Barolo. With a bright red color and a dry, full-bodied taste, Barbaresco is best enjoyed with roasted meats, stews, and aged cheeses.

Among the area’s DOC wines, Barbera d’Alba is one of the most celebrated. Compared to Barolo and Barbaresco, the production territory is significantly more extensive and Barbera d’Alba is made in the majority of the Langhe area’s northern portion. This leads to more variation in the final product, but, like its cousins, Barbera d’Alba is prized for its rich red color and fruit-forward aromas. As one of Langhe’s most accessible wines, Barbera d’Alba is frequently present on dinner tables throughout the area and is best paired with red meats.

Other wines produced in Langhe include Langhe DOC, Dogliani DOCG, Diano d’Alba DOCG, Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, Verduno DOC, and Alba DOC. All of these wines are red, except for Langhe DOC, which has the least amount of production restrictions and can be made throughout the Langhe area. As a result, it’s possible to find red, white, rosé, and even sparkling varieties of Langhe DOC.

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Roero

Though the Roero area is smaller compared to Langhe and has less DOC and DOCG wines, the wines produced here can be just as remarkable.

The principal wine is Roero DOCG, a full-bodied red produced in 19 towns along the Tanaro River in the province of Cuneo. Like many Langhe wines, Roero DOCG is made primarily with Nebbiolo grapes. Additionally, the wine must be aged for 20 months. This ruby red wine has fruit-forward aromas and a dry taste that is slightly more delicate compared to Langhe wines. The best pairings for Roero DOCG are braised and roasted meats as well as truffle dishes.

When Roero DOCG is aged for at least 32 months, it’s known as Roero Superiore DOCG or Roero Riserva DOCG. Due to the longer aging process, the color becomes darker with amplified aromas and flavors.

Roero Arneis DOCG, the white counterpart to Roero DOCG, is primarily composed of Arneis grapes. This dry wine has a pale-yellow color, fresh aroma, and herbaceous flavor. If your meal does not feature red meat, ask for a glass of Roero Arneis DOCG. This versatile white pairs well with aged cheeses, fish, poultry, and lamb. It may also be enjoyed during an aperitivo or as an accompaniment to appetizers.

Roero Arneis DOCG is made in a sparkling variety as well, which is called Roero Arneis Spumante DOC. Produced in the province of Cuneo, the wine is characterized by its pale-yellow color with amber reflections plus a fresh aroma and dry taste. Roero Arneis Spumante is best enjoyed as an aperitivo or at the beginning of a meal.

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Slow Food Central

Not to be overshadowed by the local wine, the cuisine of Langhe and Roero is truly something special. The foundation rests upon historic recipes originally created by local farmers combined with elegant dishes and rich ingredients once favored by the House of Savoy.

Local staples include cheeses such as Robiola di Roccaverano, foraged white truffles from Alba, and the Tonda Gentile delle Langhe hazelnut. Roero in particular is known for its fruits including pears, peaches, and strawberries.

With Slow Food headquarters located in the heart of Roero, the cuisine of Langhe and Roero consists of fresh flavors and traditional recipes tied to the local culture. In addition, the best of Piedmont’s regional cuisine can be enjoyed here from handmade pasta — like tajarin and agnolotti — and delicious risotto dishes to braised meats, seasonal vegetables, and hazelnut desserts.

Perhaps the best-known recipe that is typical of both Langhe and Roero is bagna càuda, a UNESCO-recognized dipping sauce paired with raw or cooked vegetables that is among the most iconic dishes of Piedmont’s cuisine. The purest version of bagna càuda is made using only anchovies, extra virgin olive oil, and large quantities of garlic. The result is a unique sauce served in a special terracotta container that keeps the sauce hot. For locals, bagna càuda goes far beyond food as it is meant to be shared among friends and family and represents a unifying aspect of the local culture.

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Things to Do in Langhe and Roero

Food and wine are a natural starting point when it comes to activities in Langhe and Roero. Travelers will quickly learn that tastings here go beyond simply sampling the local flavors. Food and wine tours offer a deep dive into local production processes, history, and culture. In addition to learning the difference between Barolo and Barbaresco, travelers will experience rich traditions first-hand and hear the fascinating stories behind some of Italy’s most celebrated food and wine. For those open to a more hands-on experience, cooking classes are the best way to live Piedmont’s gastronomy and take a part of the region home.

To truly engage with nature, there are a number of opportunities for nature walks, hiking, biking, and trekking in the countryside. During truffle season, you could even join a local truffle hunter and his trusty dog to discover the secrets behind Alba’s prized white truffles.

Like the rest of Piedmont, culture abounds in the Langhe and Roero areas. In addition to the historic sites of hilltop towns such as Barolo or Bra, there are numerous hidden gems spread throughout Langhe and Roero. Lovers of medieval history will enjoy exploring Piedmont’s many castles, such as the iconic Castle of Grinzane Cavour, which features a museum and regional Enoteca showcasing Langhe’s wines.

Other highlights include an archeological tour of underground Alba, the Baroque and Neoclassical architecture of Cherasco, and La Morra’s colorful Barolo Chapel designed by Sol LeWitt and David Tremlett.

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Enhance your trip with characteristic accommodations

As for accommodations, there are a variety of options available when planning a trip to Langhe and Roero. The medieval cities and towns offer unique accommodations in former historic residences and other evocative locations. If you prefer modern boutique hotels or luxury accommodations, there are quite a few options to choose from that feature modern architecture and commodities without sacrificing the natural surroundings and beautiful views this area is known for.

To fully immerse in the lifestyle of the countryside, consider staying in an agriturismo or country estate where you are likely to receive the close attention and personal care of welcoming owners. During your stay, you can learn about local traditions while surrounded by picturesque scenery. There’s nothing better than waking up to stunning views of the hills or enjoying breakfast in open-air gardens engulfed by endless rows of vineyards; this is truly the best way to experience the spirit of Langhe and Roero.

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Piedmont’s Langhe and Roero areas offer a piece of heaven on earth for food and wine lovers. Travelers spend their days visiting local wineries, exploring hilltop towns, and taking in the timeless atmosphere of the countryside. Click here to learn more about Italy’s remarkable Piedmont region.

Unwinding in Sicily’s Aeolian Islands

Unwinding in Sicily's Aeolian Islands
Unwinding in Sicily's Aeolian Islands

Unwinding in Sicily's Aeolian Islands

North of Sicily, the Seven Pearls of the Mediterranean glisten atop the blue-green waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. A picturesque archipelago formed by volcanic activity, Italy’s Aeolian Islands are a coastal paradise. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, the islands of Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, Vulcano, Filicudi, and Alicudi collectively offer a haven for travelers to disconnect from the world and immerse in the low-key island lifestyle surrounded by beautiful and untouched natural settings. With charming villages, incredible scenery, and a laidback atmosphere, the Aeolian Islands are the perfect place to relax and commune with nature.

Where are the Aeolian Islands?

Located just north of Sicily and west of Calabria, the seven Aeolian Islands form a “y” in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Named after Aeolus — the “keeper of the winds” in Greek mythology — these rugged islands are the product of more than 200,000 years of volcanic activity.

Today, Stromboli and Vulcano are home to active volcanoes, while secondary volcanic phenomena can be observed on each of the seven islands. The volcanic properties of these islands contribute to their magical atmosphere by offering travelers unique activities, such as snorkeling among Panarea’s underwater fumaroles or watching Mount Stromboli light up the night sky. Fertile volcanic soil is also the key to the pristine nature and agricultural abundance of the islands.

Accessible by boat, the Aeolian Islands are prized for their remote location. While they may be well-known to locals and European tourists, reaching the Aeolian Islands can be trickier for the average international traveler. Thus, advance arrangements are highly recommended in order to offset any potential travel headaches. Trips 2 Italy’s knowledgeable travel specialists can coordinate all details and logistics to ensure that the only thing travelers have to do once they arrive in the Aeolian Islands is relax and enjoy.

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Exploring the Aeolian Islands

Though bound by a common history and culture, each island has its own enchanting characteristics that set it apart. Let’s take a moment to get to know these seven gems a little better.

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Lipari

As the largest and most populous island in the archipelago, Lipari is considered to be the “main island” of the chain. With plenty of history, monuments, shops, and restaurants, Lipari is an excellent base for families and first-time travelers. Consisting of five ancient villages connected by a scenic road, Lipari is the cultural hub of the islands. Highlights include the breathtaking panoramic views admired from Mount Chirica, the impressive collections of the esteemed Archeological Museum, and the acropolis containing the Gothic Co-Cathedral of San Bartolomeo.

Salina

The second largest island, Salina, provides a nice balance between the bustle of Lipari and the quaint nature of the smaller islands. Without a doubt, travelers come to Salina for the incredible views. In fact, Salina’s Mount Fossa delle Felci, an extinct volcano that stands at more than 3,000 feet, is the highest point in the whole archipelago and offers unbeatable panoramas. The seemingly endless verdant valleys have designated Salina as the greenest of the islands, while the bountiful vineyards, olive groves, and artisanal farms make it a must-stop for lovers of food and wine.

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Panarea

Panarea may be the smallest of the seven islands, but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in charm and elegance. Thanks to its fashion boutiques and nightlife, Panarea has quickly become a favorite summer destination among the rich and famous. And yet, beneath the modern glitz and glamour lies the old-world charm that is characteristic of the Aeolian Islands. Visitors to Panarea can relax at the hot springs, admire dazzling underwater eruptions, sail to nearby islets, and explore the narrow streets lined with whitewashed houses and artisan workshops.

Stromboli

Best known for the dramatic eruptions of its active volcano, Stromboli is truly a sight to be seen. Conditions permitting, daring travelers can hike to the summit of the volcano or admire the light show and lava flow from a boat off the coast. Continuous volcanic activity has led to striking black sand beaches that are among the best in the archipelago. Other must-sees, besides the volcano, include the captivating Strombolicchio sea stack, the fishing village of Ginostra, and the medieval hamlet of San Vincenzo.

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Vulcano

Like Stromboli, Vulcano is renowned for its black sand beaches, also a result of continuous volcanic activity. Fumaroles and underwater steam currents have shaped the island’s truly stunning landscape. For an unforgettable experience, hike up to Gran Cratere to look into the crater of an extinct volcano and admire views of the green surroundings dotted with volcanic ash. Don’t miss the chance to unwind at the open-air sulfur mud baths, which are renowned for their therapeutic properties.

Filicudi and Alicudi

The two remaining islands are the most remote of the archipelago. Largely devoid of the tourism infrastructure found on the other islands, Filicudi and Alicudi are what rustic dreams are made of.

Filicudi, the larger of the two, is home to lovely hiking trails and a handful of little villages that dot the rugged coast. Small pebble beaches resting along crystalline water are the perfect place to relax, while boat rides offer views of striking rock formations and sea caves. Off the coast, divers can explore underwater Ancient Greek and Roman shipwrecks.

Tiny Alicudi’s allure rests in its unspoiled nature, which is the result of few inhabitants and the absence of cars. Without any paved roads, the primary method of transportation here is mule, leaving the island suspended in time. The landscape is notable for its cliffs, terraces, and beaches, though truth be told the defining characteristic of the island is its unwavering tranquility.

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Island Activities

The Aeolian Islands offer plenty of things to do both for adventurous travelers as well as those who would simply like to bask in the pristine surroundings.

The untouched cliffs, valleys, and volcanoes of the Aeolian Islands offer the perfect setting for trekking and hiking excursions. From climbing to the top of Stromboli’s active volcano and peering down Vulcano’s expansive crater to admiring craggy rock formations that jut out of the blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea, the hiking experiences here are unparalleled. Active travelers may also enjoy mountain biking, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, sailing, and more.

Those who prefer to travel at a slower pace will certainly relish the tranquil lifestyle that’s an integral part of the islands. Between the picture-perfect beaches, relaxing hot springs, and therapeutic sulfur mud baths, the opportunities for relaxation are nearly endless.

Cruising along the coasts is a leisurely way to take in the stunning views these islands are known for from the comfort of a boat. For a dose of history and culture, plan to visit one of the centuries-old churches or Lipari’s Archeological Museum. Small boutiques and artisan workshops that sell handmade leather goods, ceramics, and clothes are scattered throughout the islands, offering the perfect excuse for a shopping break. In the evenings, treat yourself to a sunset dinner with remarkable views of the sea and toast to your dream vacation with a glass of local wine.

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Tentalizing food and wine

Like the rest of Italy, the cuisine of the Aeolian Islands is characterized by fresh, seasonal ingredients and simple, yet flavorful, recipes. Due to their remote location, the islands rely on locally farmed products for their cuisine, ensuring that even the most modest dishes are bursting with delectable flavors.

Many fresh ingredients form the foundations of the local cuisine including capers, tomatoes, eggplants, nuts, basil, rosemary, oregano, and goat cheese. Throughout the islands, foodies can indulge in freshly caught seafood paired with organically grown produce straight from the hillside terraces. For an afternoon pick-me-up, indulge in a traditional Sicilian granita, a semi-frozen dessert flavored with local fruits and herbs such as mulberries or mint. Other delicious traditional treats you won’t be able to resist include cannoli and piparelli cookies.

Wine lovers will rejoice with tastings of the sweet Malvasia DOC white wine, the Aeolian Islands’ biggest export. The rich volcanic soil imparts unique notes making the local wine unlike any other in the world. Malvasia delle Lipari DOC is produced exclusively on the seven Aeolian Islands. There is also a passito version, called Passito della Malvasia delle Lipari, made from sun-dried grapes. Local wineries offer tours of their vineyards with wine tastings amid some of the most spectacular panoramas of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Your home away from home

Accommodations in the Aeolian Islands can be just as varied and distinctive as the islands themselves.

To fully embrace the local lifestyle, consider staying at an agriturismo or countryside estate where you can learn about the delicious products grown and made on the islands directly from the farmers themselves. Those looking for more traditional accommodations will find plenty of options on the larger islands, such as Lipari and Salina. Many hotels have adopted characteristic elements of the local architecture, which consists of whimsical whitewashed, cube-shaped buildings with blue accents and breezy terraces. If boutique hotels or luxury accommodations are your preference, look no further than the chic island of Panarea where you can spend your vacation being pampered in style.

No matter where you choose to stay, your time in the Aeolian Islands will feel like a dream come true.

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Outside of typical travel routes, the Aeolian Islands beckon to those seeking a respite from the bustle of daily life. From the rugged landscape characterized by volcanic features, verdant valleys, and rocky cliffs to the unforgettable activities and truly divine food and wine, everything about the Aeolian Islands is enchanting. The only problem is that after spending time in this gorgeous archipelago, you’ll feel the pull to return again and again!

Is Sicily calling your name? Click here to learn more about this fascinating region.

How to Live a Bit of Italy from Afar

How to live Italy from Afar

It's all about food and wine

Though we may not be able to travel right now, there are plenty of small things you can do to bring Italy to your home.
From lengthy meals to high-quality ingredients, it’s no secret that food and Italian culture go hand in hand. Throughout Italy, cooking and eating are truly a way of life. By emulating Italian tradition, there are several simple habits you can follow to make your meals at home feel a little more Italian. Continue reading to discover quintessential ways to feel Italian no matter where you happen to be.

Dine like Italians Do

In Italy, meals are multi-hour affairs best enjoyed in the good company of family and friends. More than just eating delicious food, meals are a time to gather together and engage in long, passionate conversations. This also means leaving the table is discouraged until each course is finished. One exception would be smoking breaks, which are acceptable towards the end of the meal around the dessert/coffee course.

In order to dine like the Italians, there are a few other “ground rules” to keep in mind. Namely, proceeding through the courses is a leisurely process, and subsequent courses are not presented until everyone is ready, however long that may take. Furthermore, when dining at home, the table is always set with a tablecloth and place settings that can range from plain to elaborate, depending on the meal. This quaint and thoughtful task denotes a kind of reverence, which symbolizes the importance of sharing a meal in Italy.

In addition to the main courses, meals are usually bookended with small accompaniments, such as cheese and salumi at the beginning, as well as fruit, dessert, coffee (espresso), and a digestif at the end of the meal. Finally, a proper Italian meal should always feature wine, which is meant to complement the flavors of the dishes. Start your meal with a glass of bubbly Prosecco or Franciacorta Brut over appetizers, choose a dry, fruit-forward white such as Pinot Grigio or Soave to accompany fish, seafood pasta, or white meat dishes. For a meal consisting of red meats, a Brunello di Montalcino, Amarone, or Barbera will make for a great pairing. To end on a perfectly sweet note over dessert, a Vin Santo from Tuscany, Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna, or Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont will be the perfect fit.

Before parting ways, it’s customary for Italians to say goodbye several times prior to cutting conversation with friends or family. As a result, the conclusion of the meal and the final “Ciaos” have a tendency to extend the meal by 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how many are present. Be sure to allow plenty of time for your Italian dining experience and Buon Appetito!

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Let your inner Italian chef out

When stocking your Italian kitchen for optimal deliciousness, there are certain staples that should not be overlooked. Aside from fresh seasonal ingredients, which are key in Italian cuisine, the usual suspects include olive oil for cooking, extra virgin olive oil for finishing dishes, coarse sea salt to season pasta water, and rich cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, which add sublime flavor when generously grated atop pasta or rice dishes.

Pasta should be abundant and stocked in a variety of shapes and sizes, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. Pasta’s versatility allows for a quick and simple meal (think pasta al pomodoro) though it can also be dressed up with your favorite decadent ingredients, such as porcini mushrooms.

Rice (specifically arborio or carnaroli) is great to have in your pantry to create a slow-cooked and creamy risotto bursting with flavor. For a basic risotto, you’ll need butter, onion, broth, wine, and plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. After mastering the technique, sprinkle in saffron to enjoy risotto alla milanese or feel free to experiment with local ingredients.

Tomatoes or tomato sauce should always be on hand, ready to envelop freshly cooked pasta or to be layered into other dishes. For the best sauce, look for an Italian brand at your local grocery store or create your own with peeled tomatoes, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.

Some commonly used herbs to keep in your kitchen include fresh basil, flat leaf parsley, sage and rosemary as well as dried bay leaves and oregano. Fresh garlic and onions should also be readily available as they are used to enhance pasta, risotto, and meat dishes.

Natural accompaniments to any Italian meal include cured meats (prosciutto, soppressata, speck — there are no wrong answers here), fresh as well as aged cheeses, and plenty of authentic Italian wine, which can be red, white, or sparkling depending on the course or dishes that are served.

To get your culinary experience started, here are a few pasta recipes to try making at home: aglio, olio e peperoncino (garlic, oil, and hot pepper), pasta fredda, homemade pesto, and carbonara.

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There's always time for Pizza

Generally speaking, most Italian meals tend to be cooked at home and shared with family. However, many Italians will periodically enjoy a night out at a nearby pizzeria with a group of friends or family. Pizza can be made at home too, but nothing quite compares to the perfect crust and remarkable flavors imparted by a traditional wood burning oven. In the United States, more and more restaurants are starting to offer thin-crust pizzas baked to perfection in wood burning ovens — one delicious way to experience a small taste of Italy from your home.

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What happens at the "Bar"?

From morning coffee to aperitivo hour, daily life in Italy revolves around the bar, a word that can best be translated as café or coffee shop. These bars, ubiquitous in Italian city centers, are the perfect place to stop for a refreshment any time of the day.

Pop by in the morning to taste a traditional Italian breakfast featuring a fresh pastry, typically a brioche or cornetto with various fillings, and a coffee, such as cappuccino, which in Italy is exclusively enjoyed in the morning.  For a quick lunch on the go, stop by a bar and grab a panino or tramezzino, two popular types of Italian sandwiches. If you’re looking for a midday pick-me-up, local bars will offer a wide selection of refreshing beverages ranging from cold tea and fruit juices to an energizing espresso. As the sun sets, head to a bar to enjoy the Italian tradition known as aperitivo, featuring cocktails and delicious small plates. Finally, be sure to wrap up your night with a relaxing tisana (herbal tea) while enjoying a conversation with good company.

No matter what time it is, stopping by the neighborhood bar for a refreshment is the perfect excuse to socialize and converse with friends. Consider recreating a few Italian bar staples at home or putting your own twist on a beloved classic, such as the panino. Coffee lovers may wish to invest in a capsule espresso machine, an accessible way to savor the art of Italian coffee at home.

Additionally, whether drinking coffee standing “al banco” or seated at a patio table, one thing you’ll never see at an Italian bar is a to-go cup; therefore, it you are trying to experience a bit of that Italian bar vibe in your city, visit a locally owned coffee shop where you are more likely to be served with ceramic ware.

From family dinners to aperitivi with friends, there are plenty of ways to embrace the Italian way of life from the comfort of your home, whether you have been to Italy or not. Socializing in Italy is all about savoring small moments and engaging in a slower-paced lifestyle. In order to bring Italy home, all you need to do is pop open a bottle of wine and get ready to spend an evening enjoying the flavors of Italy with good company.

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More Than Cocktail Hour: The Art of the Italian Aperitivo

How to live Italy from a Far
In Italy it is all about Food and Wine

More Than Cocktail Hour: The Art of the Italian Aperitivo

Another great way in to let your inner Italian shine is to embrace the time-honored tradition of aperitivo. A staple of Italian bar culture, the aperitivo is an excuse to spend time in the company of good friends after work and to enjoy a cocktail plus a few snacks prior to dinner. Continue reading to learn more about the aperitivo and how you can adopt this evening ritual.

What is aperitivo?

Ask any Italian and they’ll tell you that this pre-dinner version of happy hour is the best time to socialize and unwind. Keeping with the Italian tradition of always accompanying alcohol with food, aperitivi feature a rich spread of delicious finger foods that are meant to be shared. The purpose of the aperitivo is to stimulate the appetite, as opposed to an excuse for excessive drinking. This modern-day ritual dates back to the late 1700s and mainly takes place in the evening between six and nine.

Though today Milan is the city most closely associated with the aperitivo, this social event actually started in Turin thanks to Antonio Benedetto Carpano. In 1786, Carpano was experimenting with fortified wines and ended up inventing vermouth after infusing herbs and spices into wine. Carpano’s vermouth became the first drink classified as an aperitivo to be served with finger foods and thus a legend was born.

Over the course of the 1800s and 1900s, the aperitivo evolved and expanded to include a wide variety of bitter cocktails with low alcohol contents, such as the historic Milano-Torino made with Campari and vermouth, as well as wines. The aperitivo can now be enjoyed throughout Italy in every major city, with certain areas imparting their own unique twists on the tradition. For example, in Southern Italy, specifically at the beaches of coastal towns, aperitivi extend late into the night and can be accompanied by music and other events.

Today in Italy, aperitivi are always paired with food, though there are two different ways the food may be served. After ordering your drink, the waiter may bring a small tray of snacks for you to share with friends seated at your table. These are usually bite-sized foods such as olives, nuts, or chips. Alternatively, some bars offer an aperitivo buffet, which you can access once you have paid for your drink. Typically composed of a variety of finger foods featuring fresh and local ingredients, the buffet is not meant to replace dinner; rather the unwritten rule is that each drink you purchase is equivalent to one plate of food at the buffet.

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How to plan the perfect italian aperitivo at home

For an extra special evening, consider recreating a classic aperitivo for your family and friends. With countless choices for food and drink, focus on modest options and plan a wide selection to ensure that there is something for everyone.

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A menu of savory treats

Typical aperitivo fare includes simple snacks such as taralli, chips, olives, crostini, spreads, and nuts. The portions should be small and easy to eat while standing or engaging in conversation. You can also get a little more elaborate, while still remaining in the realm of finger foods, by creating skewers (consider preparing a variety with meat, veggies, and/or seafood) as well as meatballs, frittata cut into small squares, and focaccia. Additionally, a charcuterie board with a range of cured meats and cheeses paired with honey, jam, and dried fruit is always a hit.

Feel free to get creative and incorporate Italian ingredients as well as your own local favorites. You could also plan your menu around a specific theme, let’s say the coast, and feature décor and small plates tied to that theme, like smoked salmon crostini.

From Crodino to beer, what to drink at aperitivo time?

Cocktails are by far the most popular type of aperitivo drink, but there are actually several different categories of drinks you could choose from when going out for an aperitivo at an Italian bar.

These include bottled aperitivi, which can have alcohol (such as Campari soda) or not (such as Crodino). You could also request a variety of soft drinks instead of an alcoholic drink, still giving you access to the finger foods.

The original aperitivo, vermouth, can be enjoyed as part of a cocktail or on its own. When you order straight vermouth, this aromatic wine is served with different garnishes depending on its type, for example: a lemon slice with white vermouth, an orange slice with red vermouth, and green olives with dry vermouth.

The next category, which is wine, needs no introduction. Typically, the wine served during aperitivo tends to be of the dry and white variety or a sparkling wine, particularly Prosecco. Though a little less popular in Italy, rosé or sherry can be customarily enjoyed during an aperitivo as well.

Bitters, the main base for aperitivo cocktails, can be ordered on their own. Examples include Aperol, Campari, Cynar, Biancosarti, and Mezzoemezzo Nardini. These are typically served on the rocks and may be garnished with a citrus peel or wedge.

The final category is beer. Though Italian beer is often overshadowed by Italian wine, there are quite a few excellent beers to try depending on what part of Italy you are visiting. In terms of aperitivo, light beers, such as lagers, tend to be the norm closely followed by bitter beers with hoppy flavors, such as IPA.

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What Italian Cocktail should you serve during aperitivo?

The cocktails served during aperitivo tend to have strong, distinct flavors with bitter, acidic, and dry notes. Depending on the ingredients used, cocktails may be sparkling or have an herbaceous quality.

For hosting the perfect Italian aperitivo at home, five iconic Italian cocktails are indispensable. These are the Aperol Spritz (also known as Spritz Veneziano), as well as the Negroni, Bellini, Americano, and Hugo. We’ve compiled accessible recipes for creating these cocktails at home. Each has its own characteristics and we encourage you to try them all in order to discover your favorite(s). From the refreshing bubbles of the Aperol Spritz and the Hugo to the classic pairing of vermouth and Campari featured in the Negroni and Americano or the fruity aroma of a Bellini, you can’t go wrong with any of these drinks!

For lovers of cocktails and good company, there’s no better way to bring Italy to your home than planning an authentic aperitivo. After a busy work day, take a moment to unwind and reflect in between sips of Prosecco and bites of Italian cheese and cured meats. Trust the Italians, there’s no better evening ritual than the aperitivo.