Savoring the tastes of Italy with John

As first timers traveling with a tour group, my new fiancé and I did not know what to expect.  We’ve always heard that most tour groups give you second hand accommodations and there is no time for yourself, other than the allotted time the tour has given you.  As we looked around for various tour agencies, Trafalgar really caught our eye with its itinerary and options within it.

Trafalgar’s Best of Italy itinerary was comprehensive and really focused on the individual’s choice.  The wonders of being able to stay for two days in each main city: Rome, Sorrento, one day in Assisi, Venice, Lake Maggiore (Baveno), and Florence couldn’t be more perfect.  In addition to staying within those cities, the ability to see the various sites within close proximity, including The Vatican, Capri, St.Francis’ Basilica, Murano Island, Lake Como, Lugano, Siena, etc. made the itinerary more wondrous.  Some of these sites were optional excursions, but that was money well spent with no regrets.

Being from the North Shore of Boston, there are many ‘Little Italy’ communities around us.  I’ve met many families who are first or second generation Italians. This gave me a sense that I knew what to expect while experiencing the country of Italy… boy, was I wrong.

The most memorable experiences we had while in Italy included great food and great wine.

My fiancé and I usually eat out at restaurants once or twice a week, in and around Boston.  We typically look for Italian restaurants with a good wine list. ‘Italian’ foods in the States have copious amounts of sauces and herbs.  When we would find the rare Italian restaurants that claimed ‘real’, Neapolitan or Venetian cooking, we never quite understood the difference. We’ve always thought Italian was Italian. To really understand this concept is to visit Italy. On the Best of Italy tour, we had the chance to experience the difference between the Roman, Neapolitan, Venetian, Florentine, and Tuscan styles of cooking.  And we discovered that the major difference between ‘real’ Italian cooking vs. Americanized Italian cooking is that less is more.

Delicious Risotto di mare (seafood risotto)

Delicious Risotto di mare (seafood risotto)

The main concept I brought home, because I love cooking, is that you should be able to taste what you are eating.  If you are going to eat salmon, you should be able to taste the salmon.  Overpowering food with garlic is a sin. A good cook, in Italy, should let you taste each ingredient without one or the other fighting for your attention.  Each region differs on what is locally available to them as far as ingredients, from the spices and herbs, to what you are about to eat.  For example; the main fish you will eat in northern Italy is a white fish called plaice.  Florence specializes in their Florentine steaks and the north love their risottos.  I tend to love the Southern Italian style of cooking with their various amounts of available fish and endless amounts of pastas.

I know what you are about to say, what about the drinks?  I don’t know what else to say about Italy and their wine.  You can buy wine, red or white, at gas stations or the food stands; literally everywhere and the wine will be good.  As the saying goes, in Italy, ‘wine is cheaper than water’.  I love their half bottles that you can buy for between one and three euros.  Eating a nice lunch with a half bottle is a good break from life.  On the subject of drinking, drunk and belligerent behavior is abhorred in Italy.  I will never understand the concept of drinking to get drunk, but I digress.

The aperitif of choice in Southern Italy is usually limoncello, why?  If you take this trip, you will find many olive farms and lemon farms around the Amalfi coast.  The Be My Guest dinner in Sorrento, at a lemon farmer’s home, was an incredible experience.  Home cooking with homemade wine and limoncello, AMAZING!  Northern Italy aperitifs were usually prosecco with Campari or aperol.  The Tuscan Be My Guest Dinner, 30 minutes outside of Florence, also amazing, had a blue prosecco aperitif.

Appetizers at our Be My Guest in Tuscany

Appetizers at our Be My Guest in Tuscany

If you end up around San Gimignano, try their Vernaccia wine.  There are many types of Vernaccia, but Vernaccia Di San Gimignano is in a league of its own. I am usually a red wine drinker, mainly because it’s really hard to mess up red wine!  I’ve tried many new whites with different names, but I usually can find a similar taste comparable to the better known ones like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling.  With Vernaccia Di San Gimignano, it was a taste of its own; a rare occasion.

Talking about Italy, especially your experiences, is quite difficult.  I could have talked about the romance of Italy, since I did propose to my fiancé in Verona, under Juliet’s Balcony.  I could have talked about the arts and the magnificent architecture of Rome, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, and the Borromeo castle on Isola Bella.  But to understand Italy is to taste Italy.  Learning from our Travel Director that Italy wasn’t a unified country until the 19th Century made sense from the preparation of the dishes.  From the different cities you will visit as well as the southern vs. northern areas of Italy, to the small hill towns of Tuscany; to experience Italy is through a nice bottle of wine, and a plate of good, local food knowing that you are surrounded by history.

Best of Italy indeed.

John Simbajon, Boston, USA

8 responses to “Savoring the tastes of Italy with John

  1. Hi John, loved to read your story. We too did The Best of Italy this year and absolutely loved it. It was our first time for a guided tour but what an amazing experience. I just loved loved loved Italy. There is nothing else like it, the San Gimignano,Venice and Floreance were my favourite, ahh what am I saying I loved it all. Especially the Be my Guest dinner how special was that. We are still taking about our trip, and have booked a second tour with Trafalgar to the East Coast USA/Canada. Great story John. Cheers
    Sandy Qld Australia

  2. Marilyn Coulter

    I totally agree with John. The food and wine is amazing, and the tour speaks for itself. I loved it so much the first time, that I went a second time and am heading back to Italy again next year!

  3. Thanks for the comments ladies. Are you going to Boston Sandy? You will love it coming from Oz, especially if you like your beers. Try our ‘Beantown’ clam chowder or the beans. Nothing like a nice cup of chowder, hot sauce, and some Sam Adams Oktoberfest in the winter.

    • Hey John, yes we will be going through Boston on our tour. But we won’t be over your way till July next year so your summer, may be too hot for a Chowder with hot sauce. Will have a sweat up! Have you been to Oz at all?
      Cheers
      Sandy

  4. I have. I was in Sydney in 2009 for New Years, for about 2weeks, and then Melbourne for a week or so. Really loved Oz; I lived in Europe for 2 years, mostly Germany, and I thought I loved Europe until I went to Oz. Definitely an amazing country.

    If you are going on a tour or on your own, July would be the time to go to the Cape or the North Shore like Gloucester MA. I am from Salem, MA and it’s an amazing walking city.

    • Hey John,

      Wow that is amazing you have done some travelling then by the sounds of it. We came back from London; Paris; Nice; Italy in July this year and absolutely loved it. We are doing a Trafalgar tour to the East Coast USA/Canada with our girls next year. Hoping it will be as wonderful. It is so exciting to see other countries and how people live. We live right on the Barrier Reef, in Central Qld, well on the coast that is but it is at our door step. Just stunning beaches and clear waters.

      So when you say Salem is that like the town that is in dare I say it, “Day’s of our Lives” isn’t it suppose to be set in Salem, sorry had to ask. LOL

      Cheers

      Sandy

  5. Walter C. Caiazza

    Today is 11/6/2013 and I have just booked this “Best of Italy” tour from July 13 to July 26th. with an extension until the 30th. to visit the town where I was born (Riardo, Caserta, Campania) and to visit the town where my wife was born (Sant’Ambrogio sul Garilgiano). Both towns are near Cassino which You must have passed during this trip and likely stopped at the American Cemetery below the mountain. It is time for us to share our heritage with our grandson. I have been back to Italy several times. Therefore, I am familiar with most of the sites this tour covers. La Costa Amalfinata and the Bay of Naples with the Vesuvius, Pompei, Sorrento, Positano, Capri and other places North and South of Italy, is something everyone must see. “Vedi Napoli e poi muori” (see Naples and then die). I encourage every one to visit. Plan also on taking a day or two to visit my birthplace “Riardo”, a little town on a hill, in the countryside, with a medieval castle on top, a place where the mineral water Ferrarelle comes from and “un paese” which, from afar, looks like a nativity scene at night. You probably saw Riardo from the highway (close to the Abbey of Monte Cassino, Teano, Roccamonfina, The Royal Palace at Caserta {La Reggia Di Caserta}). Thank you for visiting Italy and to all future tourists using “The Best of Italy” tour please open your eyes and enjoy!
    Walter

  6. Walter C. Caiazza

    The date should have been 11/5/2012. This was my first post and use of this blog. So, I just discovered there is not edit button.

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