I just returned from two weeks in Italy that made me understand why Rick Steves (the Euro travel guru) still points to Italy as his favorite European country. As a wine and travel lover, Italy made me fall hard for it, too. If you are traveling there soon, consider this the WWG’s guide to falling in love in Italy.
Basic Itin (2 Weeks):
Milan (2 nights)
Lake Como (2 nights – could stay forever though)
Rome (2 nights)
Amalfi Coast’s Positano (2 nights – should have avoided altogether or stayed longer due to difficulty getting to/fro)
Siracusa (3 nights)
Taormina (2 nights)
Best Activity: AC Milan game. I’m a big soccer fan, but check out the crazy fans at Gate 14. I can’t top them! Italians are nearly as passionate about soccer (calcio) as they are about food, so if you like soccer, try to see a game while you are there. Also, just an FYI – Milan’s San Siro stadium is huge. Instead of ordering online, we could have just bought tickets at the stadium, so keep that in mind, especially if you are in town for a mediocre opponent.
Place I’ll likely return to next: Italy’s lake region. OK – I’m a lake-aholic, but the only way I can describe this place is heaven on earth. Check out this pic of Lake Como. The WWG enjoyed Lake Como’s boating and hiking activities, along with its fantastic dining experiences.
Best Wine Experience in Italy: In Varenna (a town on Lake Como) at Albergo Milano’s Ristorante La Vista. Loved the Nebbiolo (btw, I think this grape, which is the basis of Barolo, will be my go-to for steak pairings, if possible, going forward. Yum, yum, yum!). Also, with my apple tartine, the sommelier brought me a dessert rose that was phenomenal. If I wasn’t already in heaven, I would have died and gone there again!
Best Food: Perhaps I should just say Rome. Best breakfast: While all the hotels we stayed at in Italy offer breakfast with the room cost, the best by far was from Rome’s Vivaldi Luxury Rooms. I loved the cheesecake with fresh fruit on top, and the bruschetta was the best I had the entire time in Italy. Best dinner: Il Gabriello near Rome’s Spanish Steps. Simply the best! My travel companion and I shared the Matriciano pasta (bacon, tomato, and spicy sauce), which was so good. And then, we shared a (very large) filet of beef that was so tender, juicy, and flavorful. I want to eat it again! Oh and I drank a Nebbiolo with that too. That wine/food pairing is working perfectly for me, right now! Best gelato: Around the corner from Il Gabriello is Gelateria Venchi, which had the best gelato of the trip. I enjoyed the chocolate, pistachio, and fig flavors.
Best Sunset View: Positano is a charming resort town with lots of beautiful views. Not surprisingly, I experienced my best sunset view of the trip here at Hotel Marincanto’s restaurant. Good dinner, great view!
Best Hotel: In Siracusa, Sicily, I loved the Algila Ortigia Charme Hotel. Big pros = bathtub, very helpful front desk attendants, and made-to-order breakfast on top of the usual breakfast spread.
Best Market: In Siracusa (Ortigia), the daily market is lively, full of fresh fruits/veggies/fish, and is a great option for picnic provisions. Get some caponata (Sicily’s version of a hearty relish), salami, cheese, and bread from the northern-most/nearest-to-the-sea booth. I also really enjoyed some fresh figs from the market. Delicious!
Best Restaurant Experience: Up the tiniest ‘lane’/'sidewalk’ that I’ve ever seen was the best restaurant experience of the trip at Vicolo Stretto in Taormina, Sicily. It had great food, impeccable service, and lots of extras. The mandatory coperto (cover charge) included fantastic focaccia, an amuse bouche, and a small glass of white wine (Chardonnay-ish), which hit the spot. This coperto was actually worth the money we spent (a rarity on this trip). We ordered the lobster pasta, lasagna, and canneloni, which were all delicious. Also, cannoli from Sicily is legendary. This restaurant has traditional and deconstructed versions; both rocked. And to top it all off, the restaurant gave us dessert wine (a still, sweet Moscato), which you know I appreciated!
Combine those experiences with great company, and I guarantee you will fall in love in Italy too!