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Italy’s Hidden Gems

Find out what's happening at L&B and stay up-to-date with the latest outings of our well-traveled Italy experts.

Amatrice and the Politics of the Big One

One of Italy's prettiest villages isn't there any more, according to the Mayor. People have come together to save what they could. A recent earthquake has been a tragedy of monumental proportions for residents of Amatrice and smaller villages that surround it. An idylic corner of Lazio was reclaimed by the earth from which it sprouted. A city you are sorry you missed has been leveled. Yet, even as the Travel Curmudgeon, I have seen amazing things grow from this tradgedy. Sudden, natural disasters bring people together in an amazing way. African immigrants volunteer to don hard hats and dig into the rubble. People and pets presumed dead rise from the ash and rockfall to live again. But here's the thing, pessimist as I am, I still think the mayor of Amatrice is wrong. There is always something there. Foundations are there. Rocks can be re-stacked just like they were...
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Italy's Best Smaller Lakes

I like lakes. I also like fresh water. I live on the water in California. Small lakes are better than oceans or seas because the water is calmer. When the lake gets glassy and reflective there's no limits to the romantic notions the calm can spur. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. What's good about Italian lakes? Italian lakes can have medieval hamlets and castles built right up to the water. You can't say that about a lake in Iowa, can you? While Italy's big lakes--Como, Garda, Maggiore--make fine destinations, there is a problem of scale. Like the Great Lakes, they overwhelm. Better to slide your kayak or canoe into Lago di Iseo and paddle gently. Lago di Iseo? What? If you hadn't heard of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Floating Piers project, in which "100,000 square meters of shimmering yellow fabric, carried by a modular dock system of 220,000...
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Massimo Bottura: The Skinny Chef You Might Trust as President

Certainly you have heard of Chef Massimo Bottura and his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena . Mr. Bottura has been climbing the charts of restaurant fame. He is climbing no longer. He has made it to the top. His is the current best restaurant out of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. So what is chef Bottura doing right now, as I sling words from a poor comunity devistated by fire? Perhaps you think the chef would be hobnobbing with the rich and famous--but no, he is in Rio. While it's true that cooking has become a sport, the chef is having none of it. He is dishing up Olympic leftovers for the poor. 5000 people will be fed great food that was on the way to the garbage pail. Not-so-perfect fruit and vegetables, the modern biblical loaves and fishes, multiply the food available to the masses if you let it....
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Who Cares if the Italian Truffle Tour You've Chosen is a Little Bit Faked? Take One Anyway.

First, let's get the bona fides out of the way. I am a veteran of countless truffle wars. I have seen lowly mutts paw the tender soils under trees with the exagerated vigor of army privates fearing the brig, a young man with a carved stick giving orders and encouraging them. When the dogs yap, and they will, the truffle man responds, raising an eyebrow before wrenching the troops back from the trenches with fearless arms, guaranteed him by his constitution. He bends, he plucks, he beams; an ugly, warted, dusty mass rolling between his fingers like a beguiling cats-eye weilded by a nemesis tempting you to risk everything in your marble bag. The audience that has funded this exhibition is generally wowed by the action and applauds lightly so as not to startle the gods of good favor. The dogs release their pent-up anxiety by bounding thorugh the soft...
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Fabriano: It's All About That Paper

Can you name a business that's been able to sustain itself since the year 1264 without changing directions, without corporate buyouts, without bankruptcy? I can. Even better yet, it's a business we've written off after making hapless stabs at going "paperless". Yes, I'm talking Cariere Milani Fabriano , the oldest continuously operated paper mill in Europe. It's still going...and you can visit. The declaration on Fabriano's About page may tickle your intellectual fancy. Once upon a time, in lands far away...: The invention of paper is traditionally attributed to the Chinese, but it was actually the Arabs who, after having learned the rudiments of manufacture and made a few improvements, spread the new product throughout the west. It was a long, arduous process that was completed in the second half of the 13th century in Fabriano, a little town of the Marche inland. The reason for this location, which made...
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Horses and a Cart: Recipes for a Good Year in Italy

While we usually recommend the off season for travel to Italy, there are some great reasons to go in Summer--and it's not just the weather. July happens to be the month my favorite two festivals in Italy are celebrated. L'Ardia di San Costantino L'Ardia di San Costantino (in Sardo "Sa'Ardia) is held at the Sanctuary of Contantine just outside the little town of Sedilo in the province of Oristano . The dangerous horse race recalls Constantine's victory over Maxentious at the Mulvian Bridge in 312, during which Constantine is reported to have seen a flaming cross inscribed with the words "in this sign thou shall conquer". Each year a person who has received some special dispensation from God is chosen by the local priest to play Constantine. He chooses his generals and arms them with flags; they are allowed to do just about anything with the flags they can think...
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Should You Go to Italian Language School?

If you're excited to place yourself inside a very different culture for a while (and you consider this a prime part of "vacationing") you'll want to learn a few words of Italian before you embark on your Italian adventure. "So, Mr. Smartypants, what benefits will derive from this imposition on my life of leisure?" I hear you mumble. Ok, lots of people consider learning the equivalent of hard labor, like turning big rocks into gravel with a little hammer. I hope you're not one of these. It's easy, really. Learning to say, "Buon Giorno" when you enter a shop before lunch will make you seem like a very cultured American to the shopkeeper. You see, in America we're used to dealing with minimum wage workers who don't have a stake in the store's reputation or its merchandise. You could say, "get outta my face, you dingbat" to one and you'd...
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2000 Year old Italian Venues for Opera, Theater and Music

Have you seen a performance in a Roman Theater? Yes, there are many Roman theaters in Europe and Africa, and many are being put back into service. What better thing to do with them but to stuff them with people and charge them for seeing a performance? Many moons ago Bill, Martha and I took a break from our archaeological survey of Sardinian Nuraghi to relax in a bed and breakfast in the town of Pula. Pula is the modern city; the nearby ancient city of Nora sits pretty at the foot of the promontory of the Cape of Pula, where you couldn't screw up a landing no matter how ancient or battered your boat. Nora lies on the coast south of Cagliari. It's the ideal place to spend a few days. You have a white sand beach, shallow for the kids, an ancient city founded by the Phoenicians between...
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Sand and Sardinia

If you like beaches, it follows that you might like sand. If you like sand, where would I send you if you told me you wanted a beach vacation? Sardinia. Why? People have gotten in the habit of stealing sand from Sardinian beaches. A non-beach enthusiast like me might take that as a sign that the beach people are so enamored with the sand on Sardinian beaches that they frequently run off with it, and thus I can't go wrong sending you to a choice Sardinian beach. So, later on in this article, I will. If you haven't learned of Sardinia's sand thieves, perhaps you have failed to read the following loopy sentence from the lead in a recent article: It became unwittingly notorious for Silvio Berlusconi's 'bunga bunga' sex parties, but the holiday island of Sardinia is now having to endure a fresh indignity - tourists are stealing silky...
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Getting High Over Tuscany

The rural landscape of Tuscany has captivated travelers for centuries. The Tuscan Apennines press through fertile soil and the human overlay, fields and vineyards and hill top villages, follow the eye-pleasing flow from the higher elevations. This landscape is pleasant enough to see from the windows of your rental car as it weaves its way between villages and vineyards slowly. The pieces of the puzzle are compelling to run your eyes over, but how does the whole thing come together? For that you have to get high. Not too high. A helicopter will take you up to the right alititude, the pilot will coax it to lean over so you can take a photo. It's a fine way to see a big chunk of this landscape quickly from above. Of course, while you're enjoying those views of Chianti Vineyards you will have a hankering for some wine tasting and a...
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Wine Tourism in Italy

Wine tourism. If you're not fond of quaffing the squeezings of the grape, you probably don't get why people would take time out of their busy museum schedule to visit small-scale factories devoted to making wine out of a God-given raw material, the grape. I'm going to help you out here. Wine has a history . Wine likely helped the Romans conquer their known world. They made the effort to transport the stuff everywhere they went--meaning they didn't have to drink the retched water of their hygienically-challenged enemies. An army travels on its stomach you know. Besides a long history, as Pope Francis recently pointed out, wine makes the feast, and thoughts of a feast are what many tourists travel for. "Wine is necessary for the feast," Pope Francis said, and pointed to how Jesus, in turning the water into wine, makes “an eloquent sign,” because “he transforms the Law...
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How to Drive a Donkey on Your Vacation

The world is collapsing. Have you noticed? The common man and woman commands nothing but the buttons on the TV remote. Perhaps we are on our way toward a new set of dark ages. Or we are already there. Do you feel the despair? Do you feel monastic walls closing in on you? Then come to Italy and learn skills to get you through it. When the roads collapse into sink holes it is a sign. When automobiles finally become useless burdens in a broken world, then what you need is a beast of burden, no? A beast to fall back on. A beast who doesn't mind a balanced load. A hairy animal with big ears to love. Come to rural Italy. Learn to "drive" a donkey. It will prepare you for the upcoming apocalypse. You may think I'm kidding, but your humble scribe has learned the basic psychological nuances...
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Can Snobs Save Italy?

Have you ever had a limoncello? If you are a lover of all things Italian and you come to the boot often and haven't had a limoncello, then you haven't made the effort to eat to excess and be nice to your waiter afterwords. If you had, they would have made you feel like you were at the top of the world; with a flourish (after you have paid the bill) your waiter might ask if you desire un limoncello . "A limoncello? A sweet, zippy, boozy drink that nobody hates? Free?! Good gosh, I am in heaven." your brain babels to you, seeking the dimness the alcohol promises. "Yum," your Facebook persona repeats vacuously. What a way to end a meal. We aren't in Kansas anymore! But let me tell you, there is trouble in paradise. Limoncello is easily produced. Even corporations can do it. While once, years ago,...
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Roman Splendor Outside the Walls

I like Rome. It's messy, but in a relatively good way, like shockingly erotic lovemaking--or trying to keep up with the melting of of your gelato on a hot summer day. The Romans made getting around difficult by stuffing their big, important buildings under metro tracks and other modern infrastructure just to demonstrate to future generations just who had the upper hand in the architectural achievement department. Rome's summer temperatures make even standing still in the shadowy cleavage of the seven hills unbearable. You know that. So you've got some time in Rome. If you're lucky, you've got lots of time in Rome. Of course, a great deal of Roman Rome is outside the walls. Take Hadrian's Villa . The man was wealthy enough to know how to live the good life. When the temperatures rose, he just headed for Tibur--ancient Tivoli. In fact, he liked his villa so much...
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What to Eat in Sardinia

Hardly anyone considers the island of Sardinia a gourmet destination. That said, the food is generally hearty and wholesome, and if you ignore the gargantuan portions you'll likely encounter (generosity is a virtue in Sardinia), you'll come away with the feeling you've eaten extraordinarily well, despite the simplicity of the dishes. Before the Meal: Antipasti Sardinia has an antipasto tradition like Puglia and very similar to where I've put down roots in Italy, La Lunigiana. In any of these three places you might sit down and tell the waiter you'd like antipasto and he's off to the races. Platters start coming. They never seem to stop. "Small plates" don't exist. Let's take a look at what the four of us were served at a Agriturismo Casa Atza in the village of Bauladu. I've counted ten platters. Could we finish? Nope. Yes, we felt guilty. Which brings us to our fist...
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Why You Should Go to Sardinia

Today we set sail for Sardinia. The car will be stuffed into the bowels of the ferry at Livorno and at 6 am the next morning all hands will be on deck for our arrival at Golfo Arancia. We will have docked in coastal Sardinia, a world apart from mainland Italy. We will point the car inland, a world apart from anywhere on earth. Graffiti written in English will set the tone: Tourists! Sardinia is not Italy! Indeed it is not. We will be immersed in a world that has one foot set in the modern age (the first talking cash register I'd ever experienced happened to be functioning inside a closet-sized fruit and vegetable store in the village of Sedilo in 1983) and the other in a memorable and unique  past. What's important though is that big toe scratching the pagan earth. One of the fascinating elements of life...
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The Best Stroll in Italy

We "normals" live in a well-defined alternative universe the corporate media has yet to acknowledge. According to the "standards" big media have set by the images they spew at potential consumers of the country, tourists are all extremely fit young people whose stout hearts are monitored by expensive wrist watches as they stand valiantly on just-conquered mountaintops, hair waving in oxygen-deprived gusts, the world below embraced by a fog of dim remembrance... Doesn't anyone simply stroll any more? I mean, according to an extensive survey I've done in my head, it's us old folks, refugees from better economic times, who've escaped the current corporate cash-grab with a few shekels we can spend on pure pleasure, having abandoned the whole idea of developing "six pack abs" during the Cretaceous Period. We're the ones who dream of an absolutely dead-nuts flat castle-to-castle walk along the turquoise sea for a distance of slightly...
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Don't Go to the Abruzzo in Springtime

The Abruzzo. Even the word describing Italy's beleaguered region does not roll off your tongue correctly. It gets stuck. There's that harsh tzzz sound of the double zeds, as what drops jaggedly from out lips when we say "pizza". The Abruzzo is a strange land. It is a dangerous land. Earthquakes have more than rattled it. Stones lie where they fell. Your GPS tells you to point your car where the going is impossible. The Abruzzo  in spring is particularly awful. The green is torrid. Too green, like the green of Liguria's Pesto that Olive Garden initiates say is way too green, thus unappetizing. Who'd want to stand there and stare at a scene just green? Sure, there are the mountains. Bare. A few trees, far apart like they don't want to mingle. Also mostly bare. Where is the life? And yes, there are the castles. Ruins! And you have...
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Secrets of Pitigliano

Pitigliano, a Tuscan town hill town that seems to grow out of a tufa ridge, is known as "Little Jeruselem" for its once-hopping Jewish quarter. The town's jumble of houses lies on the boundary with Lazio, once part of the Papal States; Jews from Rome fled here during the Vatican's Counterreformation persecution in the 16th century, and you can visit a large part of the quarter today--the synagogue was restored in 1995. Surrounding this compelling tourist destination is a web of "roads" called the  Vie Cave said to be carved from the soft tufa by Etruscans. You can walk them, although it's not as easy as it seems. In the center of the road there is a channel, perhaps for the flow of water, and the sides slope almost imperceptibly toward the center channel, so the walker feels constantly off-balance. Still, people find it fascinating to follow the sinuous meanderings...
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Suggested Itinerary: Ferrara and the Eastern Emilia Romagna

Looking for something different on for your next Italian vacation? Certainly you've heard of Ferrara, a city that has at its center a fabulous Este Castle and a unique Cathedral displaying layered time periods like a proper cake or archaeological excavation; the older Romanesque on the bottom and Gothic above, all very orderly. A Renaissance city noted by the UNESCO folks for its forward looking planning, Ferrara's center hardly deviates from its original configuration, even in the age of the SUV parade as the shimmering snake of them waddles through the streets waiting for inattentive things to bounce off of. If it wasn't for the occasional mosquito, Ferrara is so perfect that the orderly city might seem to lack that certain vibrancy that comes from the uncertainty of one's safety. Cyclists young and old seem to gather haphazardly in front of the Cathedral and yack a great while before dispersing...
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