I suppose if anything deserves its own festival, it’s chocolate.
The only question that comes to mind is: why did it take me thirty-odd years on this planet to attend a party in honor of chocolate? Because, once again, Italy has its priorities straight. That’s why. Which other country would lovingly dedicate its time and energy to such humble pursuits?
These sagras, or festivals in honor of a specific gastronomic delicacy, never cease to amaze me, and bring a whole new perspective to life. Stand after stand of fantastically-crafted delights. I’ve come to the conclusion it’s entirely possible that Italy’s role in the world may just be to teach everyone else how to slow down, and rather than smell the flowers, taste the (insert food of choice here).
After all, it is what they do best.
Getting a private home lesson from a personal master chef: my mother-in-law, direct from Caserta…
La pizza con la scarola, traditionally made in Southern Italy at Christmas and New Years (but as far as I’m concerned any regular Saturday is a fine excuse).
Greek (kalamata) olives
Capers (rinsed, sparingly)
Hot pepper flakes
Christmas in Italy, step 3:
Il primo (1st course) of linguine with fresh shrimp, zucchini, and pachino tomatoes, and secondo (2nd course) of baccala’ paired with frittura of calamari and shrimp.
Travel Highlight: Giardino di Ninfa
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These beautiful gardens were the perfect Saturday afternoon getaway with friends. Classified as a natural historic monument, they’re located about an hour and half from Rome in the province of Latina. An oasis of exotic plant life, these English-style gardens are home to the remains of the ancient city of Ninfa, which was a rich community on the Appian Way during the Middle Ages.
The nearby town of Sermoneta is the definition of classic medieval charm and well worth a walk-through, regardless of whether a visit the gardens is on the agenda. We’ll certainly be back when we have more time than just for a quick lunch. And apparently it’s not all that well kept of a secret, judging from the generous amount of fancy Nikons snapping away… As usual in Italy, there’s always another unique town around the corner worth discovering.
Travel Highlight: Monte Argentario, Tuscany
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Ah, Tuscany… Land of picturesque hilltop towns, rolling landscapes, romantic vineyards – and a surprising coastline that hardly gets the attention it deserves.
What most tourists don’t know about Italy’s arguably most famous region is that in addition to its fabulous countryside, it’s home to a notable and particularly beautiful Costa d’Argento, or Silver Coast. The touristic section is called Monte Argentario, a mountainous area surrounded by quaint seaside towns.
In Italy, the quality of the water determines the popularity of coastal locales. Monte Argentario may not be at the level of Sardinia or Puglia in terms of crystal clarity, but it’s certainly above average and attracts its fair share of Italian vacationers. It boasts a bandiera blu, or blue flag, which is the national beach/ocean ranking system that signals the cleanest, least polluted water around the boot.
The charming town of Porto Santo Stefano is the main attraction, with its countless restaurants lining the waterfront, where the fresh fish is caught and practically delivered directly to your plate. There are also some shops, scuba rentals, a marina and an aquarium, but the overall vibe is still remarkably tranquil and very local.
This area made international news last year when the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off the coast of Isola del Giglio, a small isle accessed directly from Monte Argentario by boat. More than a year later, the Concordia still sits just off the island’s coast, toppled on its side in the distance, an ever-present reminder of Captain (coglione) Schettino and one of the biggest fails in maritime history.
So next time you think Tuscany, remember: there’s more to offer than just stereotypes. Head toward the coast for the best of both worlds. Doesn’t wine taste better with an ocean view anyway?