Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

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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Why You Should See It: Duomo di Milano Milan, Italy

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh is the social media manager for My Life’s a Trip. She is also a great photographer and traveler. She recently visited Milan, Italy and I asked her to write a guest post. I hope her excellent guest post inspires you to climb up to the roof of the Duomo.

– Jen Pollack Bianco

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Go up to the roof to realize how huge the cathedral actually is (behold tiny people figures on piazza)

The most impressive thing about the Milan Cathedral is how much time and effort were spent on its construction. Thousands of artists, builders, craftsmen and 78 different architects from all over Europe worked on the project for 500 years!

The result is thoroughly impressive. The fifth-largest Christian church in the world, the Duomo is decorated with over 4000 statues, gargoyles, and figures (it is the most decorated building in the world) and the size of a city block on the inside.

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Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele II

The Duomo’s building, topped with a spire statue of the Madonna, was the tallest in Milan for almost two centuries. And its construction even changed the appearance of the city. In order to build this impressive Flamboyant Gothic church, marble was brought from the quarries of Candoglia. The canals built for marble delivery turned Milan into a small Venice, and they still can be seen in the Navigli area of the city.

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Ubiquitous Italian Pigeons on Piazza del Duomo

Unfortunately the kind of marble used on the Duomo is very fragile and needs to be replaced every 50-100 years. This expensive reality has provided continuous work for the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, the organization that has been responsible for the cathedral’s construction and maintenance since 1387.

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Interior of Duomo di Milano

The interior of the cathedral is not as impressive as the exterior, but it’s also well worth visiting. Some believers think the most precious thing in cathedral is The Holy Nail relic, with which, per the legend, Christ was crucified. It is placed over the altar and is illuminated with red lightbulb.

There is a sundial on the floor near the main entrance that was once used to regulate clocks in the whole city. It was placed in Milan Duomo by astronomers from the Accademia di Brera.

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Artsy Windows of Duomo are Illuminated from Inside   

The archaeological area displays the remains of the early Christian baptisteries of S. Giovanni alle Fonti and S.Stefano and the remains of the basilica of S. Tecla, which dates back to 355 A.D.

Milan’s magnificent Duomo was the first cathedral in the world to illuminate its windows from within so that, at night, the sacred images can be admired from the outside.

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Sky and Spirals: First Thing You See After Climbing The Dark Spiral Staircase

The roof climb is another visitor’s must-do. The views of the city are incredible and the opportunity to see 135 spires rising above the cathedral, like a marble forest, is worth the climb alone!

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“The Marble Forest”

There is a gilded statue of Madonnina, the Virgin Mary, at the top of the highest spire Milan Cathedral. Traditionally, no building in Milan can be higher than the Madonnina. The Duomo was the tallest building in Milan until the middle of 1950s, when the higher Pirelli Building was built. So to keep up with tradition, a smaller replica of the Madonnina was placed atop of it.

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Gilded Statue of Madonnina as Seen From Cathedral’s Roof

The best way to explore Duomo is a combined Duomo Pass, admission  includes Terraces (by elevator for A pass or on foot for B pass), Duomo, Museum, Church of St.Gottardo in Corte and Archaeological Area.
 The line is smaller near closing time on Sundays, and I’d suggest to purchase B Pass to avoid the queue at the elevator. The climb isn’t that hard (about 200 steps) and there is something utterly satisfying about going all the way up and then being rewarded with a fabulous view!

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 The view of the Milan from the Terraces of Duomo

Duomo di Milano

OPENING HOURS

Every day: 8.00 am – 7.00 pm. Last ticket at 6.00 am. Last admission 6.10 pm

TICKETS

DUOMO PASS Duomo Pass A € 15.00 Duomo Pass B € 11.00

Make sure you’re properly dressed before entering the Duomo (no shorts, no short skirts or dresses, no tank tops).

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