Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Exploring Verona, Italy: a Photo Essay

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A view of the Castelvecchio Bridge

Verona, Italy is perhaps best known as the setting of the Shakespeare’s Young Adult classic, Romeo & Juliet. But there is more to this medieval town in the Veneto than Juliet’s balcony. I was lucky to spend a few days in Verona in early October to attend a friend’s wedding. Here are some of my favorite finds in this charming Italian city.

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fly by of the Castelvecchio bridge

If you’re looking for things to do in Verona, The Museo de Castelvecchio is a must. The Roman fortress, built on the Adige river in the 1300s, is a great place to wander and and check out the simple Gothic architecture and bridge. The inside has been renovated into a museum with exhibits including statues, painting and sculpture as well as some very cool ancient weapons and armor.

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Bird at Castelvecchio

Be sure to check opening hours, as the Museum is closed on Monday mornings as well as some holidays.

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Walking along the banks of the Adige River

If opera is on your radar, don’t miss the Arena di Verona, a Roman amphitheater orignially built during the first century. Now it’s the home to the Arena di Verona Festival during the summer. While there wasn’t an opera during my visit to Verona, I did sit at a table next to an opera singer at lunch who was singing while waiting for her food.

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Villa Zamboni

Like all of Italy, Verona has some beautiful churches. The Gothic Sant’Anastasia is centrally located but charges a fee to visit. I stayed at Hotel Due Torri, overlooking the church. My room overlooked the Piazza, where I got a bird’s eye view of a local wedding.

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Just Married getaway Fiat

The Hotel Due Torri also has a great rooftop bar which is great location for a happy hour drink and view of the church and surrounding terra cotta rooftops.

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Just married in Verona

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Exterior of Sant’Anastasia Church

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Details in Sant’Anastasia

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Wall murals at Sant’Anastasia

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Window light at Hotel Due Torri

Since this is Italy, you can eat well in Verona. The charming Osteria Ponte Pietra has a small but lovely terrace overlooking the Adige river and great pasta. Restaurants in Verona are small, so reservations are a must.

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Interior of  Osteria Ponte Pietra

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Pasta at Osteria Ponte Pietra

Ristorante Antica Torretta was another delicious find. They have a seafood-centric menu and romantic atmosphere to boot.

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Still life at a gourmet shop in Verona

Window shopping is a lot of fun in Verona. I accidentally wandered into a store that outfitted opera divas or people going to carnival in Venice, or maybe both.

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Pretty in Pink (and a swan hat) in Verona

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Street art outside the Verona Arena

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Obligatory Vespa shot

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Moonlight stroll on the Adige

Verona is a great walking city and it’s worth taking an evening stroll after dinner along the Adige river.

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Verona after Dark

Contact details are below.

Ristorante Antica Torretta

dinner on patio. good for romantics

Piazza Broilo, 1
37121 Verona – Italia
Tel. / Fax 045 80.15.292

Osteria Ponte Pietra Ristorante

via Ponte Pietra 34
37121  Verona
T. +39 045 80 41 929

Basilica of Sant’Anastasia

Piazza Santa Anastasia
37121  Verona
T. +39 045 592813
entrance 2.50€

Castelvecchio Museum

corso Castelvecchio 2
37121 Verona
T. +39 045 8062611
entrance 6.00€

Verona Arena

Piazza Bra
37121 Verona
T.+39 045/596517

Due Torri Hotel

Piazza St. Anastasia, 4,
37121 Verona
T. +39 045 595044

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Exploring Italy: Where to Eat in Taormina, Sicily

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Burrata for breakfast at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea

Tell people you are going to Sicily and you are sure to get a positive response from those who have visited that will some variation of “the food is amazing.”

Sicily has a reputation for being part of Italy, yet separate from it with it’s own unique traditions, customs and food. It’s definitely still Southern Italian cuisine, but with Greek, Arab, Spanish and French influences. Sicilian dishes often have olives, pine nuts, saffron, pistachios and an enthusiastic dose of exotic spices.

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Perfect plate of pasta at The Giardino dei Limoni

Be sure to read the fine print on the menu– it’s not uncommon to see horse or donkey meat on the menu. I saw donkey listed as an ingredient for the “hamburger.” Curiously enough, on the Children’s Menu at the at same restaurant, the dish was simple called “hamburger” with no mention of what type of meat was used.

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Spritz o’clock at the Belmond

Of the local specialties I found the stand out to be the arancini (deep friend rice balls filled with ragu sauce, mozzarella and peas and covered in bread crumbs), which were surprisingly light and completely delicious.

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Perfectly plated appetizers at the Hotel Metropole Lounge

Sicily is famous for it’s sea food and I was looking forward to enjoying some octopus. My visit took place during a heatwave, and after seeing flies on some of the fresh fish set up for display in restaurants, I decided to avoid it.

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Belmond breakfast options at the Villa Sant’Andrea

I did indulge in the spaghetti all vongole (spaghetti with clams) which was light, savory and delicious. The restaurant in Taormina which served the best one I found was at Ristorante Da Giovanni, just a 5 minute walk from the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea Mare hotel.

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Heart shaped caprese salad

Ristorante Da Giovanni turned out to be my favorite dining spot in Taormina. The casually elegant cliffside restaurant became my go-to spot for lunch and a few Aperol Spritz, where were served at bargain prices compared to the restaurant bars.

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Left: Frozen fruit bars in Taormina Right: Yummy arancini at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea bar

Sicilian deserts tended to be light and appropriate to the August heat. Frozen fruit bars seemed more popular than gelato and are easily found at many spots along the main streets of Taormina. Mango, lemon and melon were light and summery.

Spritz O’Clock at Ristorante Da Giovanni

The two hotels where I stayed, The San Domenico Palace and Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, both served excellent breakfasts. While the San Domenico Palace had a fine dining restaurant that gets rave reviews, but in the heat I preferred dining at The Giardino dei Limoni, the casual  pergola-covered pool side dining spot. They serve an excellent Penne alla Norma, a Sicilian pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, olives, and basil.

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Spritz with a view at Ristorante da Giovanni

Breakfast at both hotels was typical five-star Italian, with a variety of meats and cheese and eggs served all the usual ways. There was plenty of yoghurt and muesli as well. Mozzarella di bufala for breakfast might have tasted extra good when paired with stunning views of the Ionian coast.

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Left: Spaghetti alla vongole at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea bar, Right: Pasta alla Norma

At dinner be sure to try some wine grown on the nearby hills of Mt. Etna. The nutrient-rich volcanic ash makes it ideal for vitoculture. The Lounge at the Hotel Metropole has a lovely deck which serves up five star sea views along with classic cocktails and fine Sicilian wine. In lieu of a heavy dinner, happy hour here was delightful. They have a nice riff on a mezze platter complete with a lovely eggplant parmigiana, which is much lighter and served cold like a salad.

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A glass of wine from Mt. Etna and water views at Hotel Metropole

Contact details for my favorite dining spots in Taormina, Sicily are below.

San Domenico Palace Hotel

Piazza San Domenico, 5, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy

Tel: +39 0942 613111

Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea

Via Nazionale, 137, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy

Tel: +39 0942 627 1200

Hotel Metropole Taormina

Corso Umberto, 154, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy

Tel: +39 0942 24013

Ristorante Da Giovanni

Via Nazionale, 105, 98039 Taormina ME, Italy

Tel: +39 0942 23531

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Exploring Italy: Mt. Etna Helicopter Tour in Sicily

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The otherworldly landscape of Mt. Etna

I find volcanic landscapes oddly compelling and helicopters are my favorite mode of transportation. So it did not come as much of a surprise to me that the highlight of my trip to Sicily was the helicopter tour of Mt. Etna.

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Helijet’s sweet ride

Arranged by the excellent concierge at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea and booked with HeliJet, the 45 minute tour departed from the airfield at Calatabiano, about a 30 minute drive from Taormina in early morning traffic.

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Aerial view of Castello degli Schiavi

As an added bonus, the Mt. Etna helicopter tour gives you an aerial view of Castello degli Schiavi, the villa used as the setting for Micheal Corleone’s wedding to Apollonia in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (known locally as Il Padrino). The villa, located in Fiumefreddo, is privately owned and can be visited with special arrangements. The fly by was enough to satisfy my inner film buff.

Video of helicopter tour of Mt. Etna

It was interesting watching the plumes of smoke expelled from Mt. Etna and how they drifted and merged into the cloudscape against the bright blue sky.

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Harsh volcanic landscape of Mt. Etna

The rich volcanic soil of Mt. Etna makes for good grape growing. With an altitude of over 3,500 feet, the slopes of Etna are the highest commercial wine producing vineyards in the world. Wine tasting tours are also popular in the area.

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Interesting clouds over Mt. Etna

With a current altitude of 10,922 ft (3,329 meters) Mt. Etna is the tallest active volcano in Europe. It is the largest volcano in Italy. It’s last summit eruption was in 2012.

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Mt. Etna from above

If you’re looking for interesting things to do in Sicily, I’d highly recommend taking a helicopter tour of Mt. Etna. Those interested in taking pictures should sit next to the pilot for the best views.

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Plums of smoke from Mt. Etna in the distance

After viewing the crates of Mt. Etna, our helicopter tour headed along the coast towards Naxos, Taormina and Isola Bella, with lovely views of the Sicilian coast.

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Our Helijet pilot

Helijet can provide transfers to and from hotels to the Etna Volo airfield. Photos in the Helijet office show off that Rihanna enjoyed her helicopter tour of the area.

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View of Naxos

HeliJet
Via F. Atenasio 2, 98039 Taormina (ME)
casella postale 7
E-mail info@helijet.it
Tel +39 345 1528975
Tel +39 347 5928546

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Exploring Venice, Italy: Lunch on the Island of Burano at Trattoria da Romano

 

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Charming interior of Trattoria da Romano

If you’re looking for things to do in Venice, Italy taking a day trip to one of the nearby islands is a must. The colorful island of Burano, known for it’s brightly painted houses and fine lace is an excellent choice.

Burano has a few well regarded restaurants, making it a great destination for lunch time excursion.

The only way to reach Burano is by boat. I traveled with friends on a private water taxi arranged by the concierge at Bauer il Palazzo which got us to Burano in about 35 minutes. Water taxi is very fun way to travel!

Time lapse of water taxi ride from Venice to Burano

We had a fabulous lunch at Trattoria da Romano, which came highly recommended to us by an American who is an Italian scholar and part-time resident. Booking reservations ahead of time is a must.

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Canals and colorful buildings of Burano

Trattoria da Romano makes a world famous risotto which won raves from Anthony Bourdain, who featured the restaurant on an episode of No Reservations.

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Smiling water at Trattoria da Romano

Burano has only 2,800 full time residents, most of whom work in the fishing industry. When you come here, you’re coming for seafood! We ate our meal family style, with sardines and branzino for the table.

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My friends contemplating the menu at Trattoria da Romano

The highlight of the meal was the seafood risotto, which will please any foodie. I am not normally a fan of dishes that include squid ink, but the seafood risotto won me over. I’ve been dreaming about it since tasting it for myself.

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Seafood Risotto at Trattoria da Ramano

We ordered both the Bourdain-approved seafood risotto, as well as the traditional risotto. While not much to look at, both were seriously next level. The seafood risotto was black but not overly so. It was so good, we contemplated ordering another round for the table.

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Sardines for lunch at Trattoria da Romano

The spaghetti with clams was also quite flavorful and perfectly al dente.

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Spaghetti with clams

We also heard great things about Gatto Nero Restaurant, but we did not dine there ourselves.

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Picture of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards on the wall at Trattoria da Romano

Be sure to check out the photographs on the wall near the bathrooms at Trattoria da Romano. They are a fascinating look at the history of this family owned restaurant and it’s guests.

Via San Martino Destra 221, Burano – Venezia
Phone 041 730030
Via Giudecca, 88 – 30142 Burano (Venice Italy)
Tel. +39.041.730120

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Exploring Italy: Venice in the Winter

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A gondolier on the Grande Canal in Venice, Italy

I rang in 2017 in Venice, Italy. I’m a huge fan of Italy and usually game to visit. To me, Venice has always seemed like a gorgeous dreamy fantasyland, so beautiful it is almost surreal.

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Gondoliers on one of the canals in Venice 

Italy is always a popular tourist destination and Venice was once described to me as “the original Vegas.” The city’s unique charms have always been a huge draw for tourists. For this reason, I’ve only visited Venice in the winter. It’s still a popular spot, but you don’t have dodge quite so many selfie stick toting tourists.

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Tourists taking selfies on the Rialto Bridge

This trip I stayed at the fantastic Bauer Il Palazzo, which has a great location about five minutes walk from San Marco Square. The suite was old school stunning and very spacious by Venetian standards, with an exceptionally huge bathroom.

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Stunning interiors of the Aman Venice

While the focus of this trip was simply wandering around the city and dining with friends, I did make a trip to the Aman Venice for lunch. It’s a gorgeous property which boasted the only green space I saw in the city.

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Seeing red in a suite at the Bauer il Palazzo

The Aman has a lovely restaurant and bar, and served a great Aperol spritz. Like all Aman properties, it was zen to the point of feeling like you had the whole place to yourself.

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Museum-like interiors of the Aman Venice

It’s a lovely respite from the throngs of tourists, but a bit more off the beaten path and not the right place if you want a “happening” vibe. But I’ll admit… I was dying to see the rooms!

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Spritz o’clock at the Aman Venice

I had a positive experience at the Bauer il Palazzo and would definitely stay there again. I hope I get the chance since Venice is one of those cities I start planning my next trip to before I’ve even left.

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Sunrise on the Grande Canal

If you’re planning a trip to Venice, check with your hotel about arranging a water taxi to meet you at the airport. Uber is not an option in a a city where gondolas and water taxis are the only way to navigate the canals and water ways.

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Dusk at Basilica de la Salute

 

Bauer Il Palazzo Venice

Address: S. Marco, 1459, 30124 Venezia, Italy
Address: Calle Tiepolo Baiamonte, 1364, Palazzo Papadopoli, 30125 Sestiere San Polo, Venezia VE, Italy

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