A Taste of the Mezzogiorno — May 2-11, 2017

Monday, September 12, 2016 | Category: Travel Tips

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If you’ve got a plot the size of a car or a tiny yard in Italy, you’re going to be growing tomatoes and basil and celery and carrots, and everybody is still connected to the land — Frances Mayes

May 2 – May 11, 2017

I am so pleased to announce the dates for a fantastic 8-day excursion to three select cities of the mezzogiorno:

  • In Abruzzo: Sulmona
  • In Puglia: Trani
  • In Basilicata: Matera

See the mezzogiorno (southern Italy) in all its glory . . .

We’ll spend three nights in Sulmona for a true taste of Cucina Abruzzese, while we eat and drink from the local bounty, explore medieval hill towns and climb up to the highest point in the Apennine.

Then we’ll drive down the Adriatic coast for a two-img_4658night visit to Trani, the beautiful and historic fishing port that’s often called the “Pearl of Puglia.”

IMG_4830Finally, we’ll venture inland to the incredible “cave” city of Matera and spend three nights in this unique troglodyte city and see first-hand how artists and entrepreneurs are transforming it.

All breakfasts, guided tours, ground transportation and most meals included for $2750. Airfare extra.

This trip has limited space, so please send a $500 non-refundable deposit by January 1, 2017 to reserve. Contact me at linda@travelthewriteway.com for details.

Watch www.travelthewriteway.com/tours-to-Italy as the itinerary comes together.

Discover Italy with Lonely Planet’s New Guide

Thursday, August 18, 2016 | Category: Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there — George Harrison

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There are a lot of guide books out there, but I have always liked what Lonely Planet guides have to offer. The company was launched 40+ years ago by two crazy kids who got married and, for their honeymoon, decided to cross Europe and Asia and end up in Australia. On a very slim shoestring. And then they wrote about it. Today, the company has been bought and sold twice, but still manages to maintain its edge of writing about — and encouraging travel to — some off-beat locations and authentic experiences. And those two crazy kids — Tony and Maureen Wheeler — are still very much involved.

I have just been given the fourth edition of Lonely Planet’s Discover Italy (Top Sights, Authentic Experiences) guide, and I thought I’d say a few words about it. A quick perusal of the Lonely Planet website, and you’ll see the empire that this company has become. They have all kinds of travel guides for all kinds of travelers, plus so much more: links to special tour experiences, travel insurance options, digital chapters, apps, e-books and so on.IMG_5291

But when somebody gives me a book about Italy, I dive right in. Discover Italy is a well-organized, beautiful pictorial guide for someone who knows what they want to see in Italy. It covers in text, maps, and photos what it calls “Italy’s Top 12” areas: Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Assisi, Venice, Milan, the Lake District, Naples, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, and Sicily.  Even better, it provides some actual itineraries for travelers to take, either by public transportation or by driving themselves. The “If You Like” and “Month by Month” pages help travelers pin down things they shouldn’t miss and when they should book their travel.

And here’s where some of the off-the-beaten track stuff comes in. Everybody knows about Carnevale in Venice in February, but did you know that in January, you can see the Regatta of the Befana (witches) – the gondoliers in drag? (See why here . . .) Or that in April the city of Milan hosts the world’s most prestigious furniture fair? How about Tuscany’s Chianti Classico Expo in September? Well, now you know.

IMG_5292And if you need to get inspired to go to Italy, Lonely Planet offers that too, with a page of books, movies and music to get you in the mood. As if . . .

This is a book that will help you tailor your travel according to your interests and needs. Of course there’s a section on travel with the family, and lots of insider tips about how to save money and time and how to get around like a local. It provides all the usual essential information (hours, fees, websites, transportation tips) as well as reviews for eating, sight-seeing and shopping on a few different budget levels. And on almost every page, you’ll find a “Top Tip,” “Did You Know?,” or “Don’t Miss” suggestion to make your experience even richer.

I particularly like the “In Focus” section which takes on topics like “Italy Today,” “The Italian Table” and “Lifestyle” as well as providing a good overview of Italian history. There’s also an invaluable “Survival Guide” and a great pull-out map of Rome (in the printed guide).

So, as I always say, go to Italy. Figure out what you want to see and get this guide to help plan a magnificent trip.

IMG_5293My only negative about this edition of Discover Italy? It completely left out my beloved mezzogiorno – Southern Italy. Especially Abruzzo and Puglia, which are very hot tourist destinations right now. Maybe that will change in the next edition — or maybe Lonely Planet will update its guide to the southern regions by including Abruzzo. I’ll be watching!

 

Buon viaggio!

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Aged to Perfection: The Wines of Antica Casa Vitivinicola Italo Pietrantonj

Friday, July 29, 2016 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips, Travel Writing

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I like on the table,/when we’re speaking,

the light of a bottle/of intelligent wine. — Pablo Neruda

 

If you’ve been to our house in the last three years, chances are you’ve had a glass of wine or two from the Abruzzese winery called Pietrantonj. Because three years ago is when we discovered we were madly in love with the region, bought an apartment there (in Sulmona) with our friends Lou and Vicky, and dove head-first into all things regional. One of our first discoveries was the wine.

Here in the USA, we have come across whites called “trebbiano” and reds called “montepulciano.” But the trebbianos are often just passable blends of whites from a variety of regions and the montepulciano – if you’re not careful – is not from Abruzzo at all, but from the village of Montepulciano in Tuscany. Our Sulmonese friends taught us about Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and introduced us to some of the finest wineries in the area. My favorite winery, hands-down, is Pietrantonj (pronounce the “J”: like an “I”).

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Located in the heart of the Peligna Valley, less than 30 minutes from our apartment, is this most ancient winery in Abruzzo. Their vineyards lie between the villages of Vittorito and Corfinio and this valley has been famous for making wine since Roman times. Pietrantonj has been a family run operation for more than 200 years and is today managed by members of the eighth generation of the family. Our new friends Roberta and Alicia Pietrantonj take very good care of the operation — and us, when we are there. Roberta is usually the “front of the house” person, with the marketing, tour and sales responsibilities. Her sister Alicia is a degreed viticulturist, a wine scientist who knows everything there is to know about soil, temperature, growing conditions, grape varieties, potential pests and disasters — like the one that happened earlier this year when a false spring was followed by a quick freeze.

IMG_2296Take a tour with either of them and you’ll be charmed by the story of their family’s dedicated to maintaining the ancient wine-making methodologies while remaining on the cutting edge of their craft. Here’s how they write about themselves, being so proud of their history:

The grapes are picked when they have reached the perfect peak of ripeness and exhibit an ideal balance between sugars and acids, thus ensuring that they will express to the fullest the varietal characteristics of the grape and of their individual growing area. The following step of vinification takes place immediately, in the estate cellars, in a careful process that [wisely] combines tradition with innovation. The respect for tradition and extreme reverence for the “past” can be easily witnessed by simply visiting the historic production complex, built before 1830.

This facility, which today houses a small winemaking museum as well, is currently used for the maturation of the winery’s finest red wines, which go into large Slavonian oak [barrels]. In years past, the wines were made and stored here. In 1893, after increases in production, Alfonso Pietrantonj, ancestor of the present owner, enlarged the capacity of the cellar by building, 14 metres beneath street level, two magnificent vats, holding a total of 1402 hectolitres.

Biggest. Barrel. Ever.

Biggest. Barrel. Ever.

These tanks, which had no equal in the world, were a true architectural jewel of the period and testify to Alfonso’s courageous and creative spirit. Their most unusual characteristic was in fact the internal sheathing in Murano glass tiles, which has been admirably preserved and can still be admired, thanks to a convenient entrance-way to one of the vats. The cellars preserve as well fascinating equipment from the ancient distillery that produced a superb aquavit, an activity that the winery continued until 1930, thanks to Nicola Pietrantonj, the first Abruzzo winemaker to graduate, in 1889, from the Regia Scuola in Conegliano, in the Veneto. A renowned winemaking expert, he was responsible for growing and strengthening the winery’s production from the second half of the 19th century on.

Come for a tasting!

Come for a tasting!

Of particular interest too are the old equipment and tools for working the vines and making wines, such as the first crusher-destemmer, dating to the early 20th century, and two imposing wooden wine presses from the 18th century. Crossing the family garden, one returns to the current main production facility where the entire production process is carried out, from fermentation and ageing, to bottling and storage of the wines.

Here, in the underground cellars, are the striking and venerable centuries-old [barrels], in sizes ranging from 32 to 365 hectolitres, crafted of oak and walnut in 1870 by local artisans. Thanks to careful renovations, they are still in use today. The modern winemaking facility rises alongside; it employs the most state-of-the-art technology for vinification, storage, and bottling, with every operation focused on preserving and maximizing the individual qualities of each grape variety. Of particular importance is the considerable investment that went into temperature control of the numerous stages of grape handling, wine maturation, and bottled wine storage.

My favorite souvenir!

My favorite souvenir!

The Pietrantonj production philosophy dictates that the maturation of red wines is carried out in oak casks of medium and large capacity, in order to ensure that the qualities of the grape varieties are faithfully preserved.

 

This combination of old and new — not to mention the Murano-glass-lined barrel —  is just part of what makes Pietrantonj so unique. And it works, because their line of wines, which includes Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Pecorino, Malvasia and Passito Rosso, are among the finest you will ever have — without breaking the piggybank.

So here’s another reason to come with us to Abruzzo. And another reason you’ll keep coming back!

 

Buon viaggio!

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Off-the-Beaten-Track Italy

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips

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First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing. Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages, such as hills in the sunset, olive groves, lemon trees, white wine, and raven-haired girls. Italia, on the other hand, is a maze. . .  Italy is the only workshop in the world that can turn out both Botticellis and Berlusconis. ― Beppe Severgnini

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The designation

Most tourists go to Italy to see the big cities: Rome, Venice, Florence, maybe Milan. If they are Rick Steves fans, they want to go to Liguria’s Cinque Terre. If they love the sea and don’t mind death-defying drives, they’ll go to the Amalfi Coast. Some folks find themselves in Cortona because they’ve read Frances Mayes’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun.

And all those places are fine. Beautiful, historic, breathtaking, worth seeing. But there is so much more to Italy. And that’s where the association Borghi piu belli d’italia comes in.

Anversa degli Abruzzi/Adopt-A-Sheep

Anversa degli Abruzzi/Adopt-A-Sheep

Established in 2001 with the blessing of The National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI), “the most beautiful villages of Italy” is dedicated to promoting the small villages and towns that best represent the authentic, traditional Italy, respecting and, in some cases, reveling in their local culture and traditions. These can include the arts, cuisine, viniculture, historical structures, relationship with the land, etc. ANCI recognizes that fantastic art, culture, traditions and landscapes exist not only in the major cities, but throughout the entire country, and it hopes to draw travelers to these lesser-known areas and help them flourish. 

Tim and I in Introdacqua

Happy in Introdacqua

Here’s what villages need to have to qualify for the designation “Borghi più belli d’italia”:

  • An historical borough can have no more than 2,000 residents and an entire municipality that cannot exceed 15,000 in population.
  • The borough must be home to relevant architectural, certified either by the municipality itself or by the local representative of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities. It is essential that the borough consists mainly of historical buildings.
  • The borough must be vetted and declared authentic and must commit, in case of acceptance, to maintain its appearance.
Castel del Monte -- Italy's "Little Tibet"

Castel del Monte — Italy’s “Little Tibet”

At present, there are 244 villages and small cities throughout Italy with this designation. The ones starred are the ones we’ve visited – and will continue to include on our tours – just in Abruzzo! Don’t worry, we’ll get to the other ones in time!

 

 

Here are the 23 borghi pui belli d’italia in the region of Abruzo . . . come and visit them with us soon!

Abbateggio

*Anversa degli Abruzzi

Bugnara

Caramanico Terme

*Castel del Monte

*Castelli

Citta Sant’Angelo

*Civitella del Tronto

*Introdacqua

Navelli

Opi

*Pacentro

Penne

*Pettorana sul Gizio

Pretoro

Rocca San Giovanni

*Santo Stefano di Sessanio

*Scanno

Tagliacozzo

*Villalago

Pietracamela

*Pescocostanzo

*Guardiagrele

Pettorano sul Gizio . . . in March!

Pettorano sul Gizio . . . in March!

Buon viaggio!

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The Cucina Abruzzese Tour, September 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016 | Category: Travel Stories, Travel Tips

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If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant? — Martin Scorsese

IMG_4188We’ve been working feverishly here to put together a food and wine-oriented tour for you — with just enough history and even a little down time — to keep you all enchanted. Of course, it’s Italy, so how could you not be enchanted?

IMG_3990Here’s what we’ve got so far:

  1. Walking tour of Sulmona
  2. Visit to an olive oil mill from the 1700s, with a tasting
  3. Cooking class at the wonderful Hotel Ovidio
  4. Visit and tasting at the oldest winery in Abruzzo
  5. Food-oriented walking tour of Guardiagrele
  6. Visits to Scanno and Pacentro
  7. Arrosticini BBQ lunch in Italy’s “Little Tibet”
  8. Walk through Santo Stefano and then the amazing Rocca Calascio
  9. Tour of the Abbey Morronese in Badia with the inimitable Novelia
  10. Tour of Campo 78
  11. Three-hour lunch experience at Costa del Gallo
  12. A visit to the Pelino confetti museum and store

IMG_4300. . .  Plus a few other surprises if I can pull them off! What are you waiting for? Air fares are starting to drop now and it’s time to plan your fall getaway.

The price for everything you see here, plus local transportation and many other meals, is a mere $2,495 per person. Airfare is on your own. All I need is a check for $500 by July 15 to reserve your spot.

There are only 4 more spaces available, soIMG_4160 please contact me soon or you’ll have to wait until next year!

Ci vediamo in Abruzzo!

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Buon viaggio!

 

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