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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.

Home Again - In Italy


We are home. In Italy. We live in the rural Lunigiana when we're here. It is a place where folks make their own food (salami, honey, polenta, olive oil and the like)  and where door locks are considered a proper nuisance and keys are left in them so they don't get lost. It is a world apart from what we experience in California. When we drive up, Tim the dog jumps to greet us, and Francesca comes flying out the door. "Are you here for Easter! Do you want to eat together?" Of course we do. Anyone who knows Francesca's cooking would be nuts to pass up an invitation like that. It is unthinkable to Francesca that people with no place to go for a holiday or a feast day should spend the time alone. We eat with them often. There is a concept of togetherness, a social stickiness, that we...
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  1399 Hits
1399 Hits

See Naples and Live


You can spend a lifetime prying up rocks and rooting around the garden muck in order to find that single, misinformed life form that doesn't like Venice. Mention Naples, on the other hand, and detractors exit in force from the woodwork, carrying signs (one supposes) protesting "this pimple on the earth called Naples." Why is that? Why does this nearly unanimous display of disgust not deter those who love Naples and visit time and time again? Let's try the literary answer. Waxing nostalgic over San Francisco before it became an overpriced lair for haughty tech types, I've been reading a book about better times in The City called "The Beats Abroad" by Bill Morgan. It turns out that John Clelion Holmes, the guy who introduced the phrase "beat generation" to the world, spent some time in Naples. His essay, See Naples and Live appeared in the June 1970 issue of Playboy...
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  1621 Hits
1621 Hits

Why Does Italian Food Taste so Good?


The number of us who travel to eat well has skyrocketed in the last few years. To the best of our ability we find and consume the most incredible eats we can manage to research. Once firmly established on the boot, we gorge on porcini, weep with joy when the waiter with the truffle shaver approaches, munch the tender shoots of puntarella robed in olive oil zapped with bits of anchovy, and gleefully dig into the ravioli made from sheets of pasta that minutes before was flapping around on the giant rolling pin of the 87 year old pasta wizardess in the kitchen. Demand is driven by the lack of supply, any reasonable economist can tell you. It's been like that forever. Adam and Eve didn't need a lot of coercion before chowing down on the apple that propelled them into humanness, despite living in a garden that provided everything they...
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  5375 Hits
5375 Hits

Tuscany and Why You Need to Eat the Wild Boar


If there was a single animal who seems to represent Tuscany, it would have to be Sus scrofa, the Wild Boar. Cinghiale, as it's called in Italian, is tasty (when young), so you find it on many restaurant menus. They are also quite destructive; when rooting out grubs and other tasty tidbits with a plow-like head, overdeveloped canines and powerful neck muscles, boars can make shambles of large chunks of vineyard, a hot spot for gourmet hordes of wild pig. This makes vineyard owners hopping mad, of course. Because of this destructiveness--and because a boar is a challenge to kill, it is hunted with particular vigor. Problem is, the beast breeds more prolifically than hunters, who are their last remaining major predators on the Italian peninsula. Thus: if you like wine, you will come to Tuscany to eat Wild Boar. It is your duty.   When you see the head of...
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  3115 Hits
3115 Hits

Free Art in Italy!


How much does Italy cost? It's a question people frequently ask. Cost is different for everyone, of course, that's why nobody ever gives with a decent number you can wrap a reasonably flexible mind around. My flights from California to Italy and back will cost about two of those things you stick in your pocket and take out to get annoying phone calls and to read crank emails. Your equivalency may vary. Then of course you have the lodging, the food, and the entry fees to major attractions and museums. Pretty soon your numbers start to pile up. Before long your expenditures might be equal to the price of a brand new Alfa Romeo Berlina purchaed, say, in 1973 (I bought mine for $5000 back in the heady days of demand-side economics because it was a color called "Le Mans Blue" which nobody liked so the dealer had to whack $500...
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  1226 Hits
1226 Hits

Medieval Festivals in Italy: History Fresh as a Daisy


Isn't it odd how we react to the medieval period? We gawk at little stone houses huddled together in the shadow of a defensive castle as if we wished to return to this gauzy dreamland, if for no other reason than to escape from a wonky present and a future riddled with doubt. But life back then wasn't all peaches and cream either. You, the peasant or shop owner, needed that castle . Not infrequently did you gather what you could carry, leaving your sheep and cows, the ones you slept with (your trusty, if pungent heat source on chilly nights I mean, not what you were thinking!) to flee to the castle like a scurrying rat when they banged the drums and blew excited air into the trumpets and the heathen hordes began ramming the gates and shooting flaming arrows from all directions. (This they did often because unwashed tribes...
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  2071 Hits
2071 Hits

Piemonte: A Hot Destination for 2016


Food tourism in Italy is hot because there is nothing "elitist" about it. In Italy, a "chef" doesn't arrange your food on the plate like it's a medieval tower topped with chervil "trees" and then challenge you to try to eat it. Kitchen slaves don't micro-chop your garlic. Instead, the woman in the kitchen cranks out irregular chunks of garlic, cutting against the thumb just like her mother who is likely to be in the kitchen rolling out the restaurant's pasta using an ancient rolling pin almost as old as she is. Food tourism includes drinking, of course. Good, cheap wine or great wine with a pedigree and a guarantee. You have a choice. In Piemonte--or more properly a section of the Piemonte called the Langhe--the choice is made more maddening because the wines are so darned good, so good they don't have to be over-oaked to cover the taste. Wine...
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  1628 Hits
1628 Hits

Top Ten Italian Hidden Gems


When you've spent considerable time in Italy, gems reveal themselves everywhere. It's quite extraordinary. You make a list. You narrow the list. You check it twice, then remember that little place you should tell people about hoping it didn't get too full of trophy tourists (folks who just come to check a destination off a list). My favorite gems have more than a bit of glitter. They are places full of cultural enlightenment. They are places I want to live in, thrive in. Study. So what is below consists of the ten places I think of very worthy of your consideration if you have more time in Italy that isn't spent in Rome, Florence, Venice or the Cinque Terre. They are listed in no particular order. Cesenatico You may never have heard of this little Adriatic gem of 20,000 hard-working folks, but bike racer Marco Pantani was born here and culinary...
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  2593 Hits
2593 Hits

Italian Butchery: It's Different Over There


We Americans live in oddly mechanical times. In front of the supermarket meat counter we are connected to "the butcher" via a button whose croaking ring urges someone wrapped in a white lab coat to come "up front" after he turns off the noisy, 300 hp industrial saw he's been using to cut the lamb chops apart. Seldom, though, do people ring. Instead they pick among the Styrofoam trays stacked before them, each  stuffed with ground and sawed-apart meat. Each category of meat comes in packages that are all the same weight. They have been packed sometime during the last week or two. Little absorptive diapers sop up the blood and other juices as they leak from the aging muscle, ensuring you pay for every drop of ooze made invisible. Labels warn the shopper to cook the hell out of the meat, because it has undefined poisonous qualities. You, the shopper...
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  1389 Hits
1389 Hits

Consider a Vacation Rental for 2016


Ok, first off I have to admit: lots of folks like staying at a hotel or resort. Your needs are taken care of, your room gets cleaned every day, a cook sweats over a hot stove for you, and some unfortunate kitchen slave starting his working life at the very bottom gets to wash your dishes. I get it. It's vacation. You want to live like the Koch brothers without having to pay an unimaginable wad of greenbacks to run the country. There are those of us, however, who will make numerous arguments for prefering a vacation apartment, house, or villa. The explosion of rental properties over the last few years has lead to a downward trend in price. A one bedroom rental in most places is now usually less expensive than a hotel room. But don't do it because it's cheap. Do it because there are advantages. Here are my...
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  1258 Hits
1258 Hits

December in Rural Italy: Pigs, Witches and the Moving Nativity Scene


Christmas in Italy, called Natale, is a hoot for the tourist. You should go and see it. There are many elements not found in American Christmas like La Befana , the Christmas witch. La Befana arrives on her broomstick during the night of January 5 bearing gifts of toys and sweets for the good children and lumps of coal or heads of garlic for the ne'er do wells. Yes, that's right, in America we load garlic into the pasta sauce thinking it's an Italian tradition. The Italians use it very sparingly in the kitchen and save the left-overs as a present for the kid who bugs them the most. Then there are the nativity scenes. In America mom puts up the background, the manger, the swaddled baby Jesus and his parents, the wise men, an angel or two and that's it. It's always the same unless Uncle Bob has one eggnog...
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  1477 Hits
1477 Hits

Innocents Abroad: 40 Years of Travel in Italy


Giddy and determined from cocktail party tales of adventure from the slightly inebriated folks who had gone before me, I first headed to Europe 40 years ago.  I feared nothing. Today this simple sentence seems out of place, but I assure you that I am not claiming to be a reckless person with a pronounced swagger; I was simply and blissfully ignorant of the dangers that lurked on The Continent, an  innocent with a backpack. I avoided dangers by not thinking about them, as most of the travelers of the time did. We were not driven by fear back then. We had put a man on the moon. We were going to be fine. We were also disconnected when traveling. Perhaps pulling the plug was a good thing. You disconnected on vacation to recharge your batteries, to allow new things to flood your memory which until that time was loaded with...
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  1199 Hits
1199 Hits

Italy: Go Rural. Go Now


Don't let the title deceive you; On your inaugural Italian vacation, it's imperative that you visit the Italian big three, the big cities everyone tells you to visit, namely Rome, Venice, and Florence. The diversity in art, architecture, cuisine and lifestyle will astound you. The hidden secrets will amaze you. But then what? You could head off for another popular destination, say the Cinque Terre . It's rural, full of eye candy, and it's got a whole lot of tourism resources. Rick Steves likes it. It's become so popular you don't have to speak Italian there any more. You might have to walk a bit to get the full effect of seeing the villages from all angles, but walking is good for you. The Cinque Terre is easy—and it's safe--unless you trip on the overworked and rapidly crumbling pathways. But there are some of us, curmudgeons all I suppose, who immediately...
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  1882 Hits
1882 Hits

Where to Go in Italy, 2016: Mantua, the Italian Culture Capital


I spend about 5 months of each year in Italy. On my way back to California I spend that awful time in Airline steerage recalling the number of compelling things I have discovered over the course of the past year. Italy is about the size of Arizona or New Mexico. How do they pack so much in there? Take Mantua. Been there? No? Consider this: Mantua has been named the Italian Culture Capital for 2016. The city surrounded by lakes beat out 24 cities vying for the honor; last year's winner, Matera, had but 5 competitors. What does this mean for Mantua? Well, you can bet that enormous piles of money have been filtered through politicians' pockets before finally trickling into city coffers. What's left, a million euros they say, will go towards spiffing up the Renaissance city, planning special events, and getting it ready for the throngs of visitors who...
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  2548 Hits
2548 Hits

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