Visiting the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena

There are two Ferrari museums in Italy, one in Modena and one in Maranello, where the cars are actually built. The Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena is the perfect setting to combine food and auto touring in Italy. Although the town is full of ancient cobblestoned streets and old stone buildings, it’s known as the “Detroit of Italy” due to its automotive heritage. It’s set in the Motor Valley where Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini automobiles, along with Ducati motorcycles, are built. Located in the Emilia-Romagna region 250 miles north of Rome, visitors can tour factories and museums related to these legendary marques.

Modena is a city of contrasts. Two prominent buildings pierce the azure blue Italian sky; the 12th-century white marble cathedral and the sinewy, yellow curved roof of the Enzo Ferrari museum. (In Italian it’s the Museo Enzo Ferrari.) Modena may be the birthplace of Ferrari, the worldwide symbol of fast automobiles, but it is also the heart—or perhaps stomach—of Emilia-Romagna. Regional names such as Modena, Parma, Bologna and Reggio are all associated with famous foods.

Italians might make these famous foods slowly, but they like their cars to be fast. Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena 1898 and still leaves his mark on the city more than a century later. His bright red, road-hugging vehicles seem synonymous with the word “racecar.” Start your Motor Valley tour at the Ferrari Museum in Modena.

In the Footsteps of Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena Italy
Ferrari Museum in Italy

You’ll walk in the legendary carmaker’s footsteps at the original workshop and home of his father–Alfredo Ferrari. Enzo inherited the buildings at age 20, but sold them soon afterward to buy a sports car. Here you’ll get up close to the first road Ferrari ever built, a 1947 Ferrari 125 S with a 1500 cc V12 engine pushing out 118 horsepower for a maximum speed of 210 km/hour.

Museum of Engines

Since, besides good looks, Ferrari cars are also known for their engines, there are more than 30 high-performance engines on display, which is why this area is called the Museum of Engines. It’s a gearhead’s paradise.

The 1994 Ferrari F129B engine was their first road-worthy V8 engine with a five-valve cylinder head. It was developed through their Formula 1 research. It put out 380 hp and was first used in the F355 Berlinetta.
ferrari Museum Modena 1951 500 F2 Formula 1 champion
Behind the wheel of the 1951 Ferrari F2 that won the Formula 1 world championship in 1952 and 1953 with Alberto Ascari driving.

Adjacent to the workshop a newer building’s striking yellow roof curves skyward, mimicking the hood of a 1950s racing Ferrari. Inside, more than 20 Ferraris are displayed under glittery lights as if they were jewels in a crown, although these Italian creations are more expensive than most diamonds. A soaring Luciano Pavarotti (another local boy) soundtrack creates a sense of autos as art. For more information go to the Ferrari Museum in Modena.

Ferrari Museum in Modena
1948 Ferrari 166 Inter Aerlux at the Ferrari Museum in Modena
The 1948 Ferrari 166 Inter Aerlux was the first four-seater Ferrari. It featured an aluminum body and clear panoramic roof.

The Pavarotti music can get you in the mood for visiting the nearby Luciano Pavarotti House Museum. Even for non-opera buffs (like me) it’s a fascinating experience; sort of like Graceland with an Italian twist. The house where he lived for the final years of his life is set on a bucolic one-lane road outside his childhood hometown of Modena.

Modena Ferrari Museum

The Ferrari Museum in Maranello

Ferrari Museum Marinello

Ferrari moved production to nearby Maranello in the 1940s. After you’ve seen the Modena Ferrari Museum you should check out the Museo Ferrari in Maranello. It focuses more on performance with a dose of Ferrari heritage and style added. The visitor’s courses through Ferrari Formula 1 race cars up to the “One-Off” gallery that on this visit included rocker Eric Clapton’s SP12EC (shown below). Make sure to enjoy the museum; the only way to go on the Ferrari factory tour is to buy one. Ferrari Museum in Maranello

Eric Clapton's Ferrari

After viewing primo cars, Modena is a great place to reward yourself with a fine Italian meal: it’s the town that invented tortellini pasta and the eponymous balsamic vinegar di Modena.

Visiting Modena With a Discover Ferrari & Pavarotti Land Passport

With so much to see and do in Modena, it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Fortunately there is a means of easily visiting many attractions within a few days. Discover Ferrari & Pavarotti Land is a shuttle service that whisks visitors to over a dozen sights related to food, wine, history and cars (including both Ferrari museums) with a stop thrown in at Pavarotti’s home. The price includes access to the attractions as well as the shuttle.

Interested in purchasing tickets? You can get them in advance here:

Tickets when traveling from Bologna: Ferrari & Pavarotti Land-Bologna Shuttle

Tickets when traveling from Modena: Ferrari & Pavarotti Land-Modena Shuttle

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Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

Lake Como in northern Italy is one of the most gorgeous places in the world; which helps explain why celebrities like actor George Clooney live in villas overlooking its aquamarine waters with the Alps forming a snow-capped backdrop. The lake itself is shaped like an upside-down “Y” with its namesake town of Como located at its southwestern tip.

Como mountains in distance
Como, with its dazzling waterfront and medieval buildings, provides a convenient year-round base for tourism in this enchanting corner of Italy. Its location at the base of Mount Brunate provides an excellent jumping off point for touring other sights along Lake Como’s coast.
Como Italy

Como is located only 30 miles from Milan, making it an accessible destination for visitors. Due to low airfares on Emirates, we’ve used Milan as a gateway city to Europe lately, so a visit to Lake Como is an easy trip from destinations all over the world. Como boasts a restored medieval section that provides charm, shopping and restaurants.

Como piazza

An interesting spot in Como for science lovers is the Tempio Voltiano, a museum devoted to local boy made good Alessandro Volta. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because the electrical scientist was an early pioneer with batteries and gave us the terms “volts” and “voltage” to  measure electrical power.

38799796 - the volta temple in como town, italy,

One of the best choices for lodging in Como is the Park Hotel Meublè. The 3-star hotel is conveniently located only 200 meters from Lake Como. While you’re staying there, the hotel can arrange a unique tour of Lake Como–viewing  it from above via a seaplane excursion. Maybe you’ll even wave to Mr. Clooney out on his veranda.
Park Hotel Meuble Como Italy
Any way you experience it, Lake Como is a spectacular destination for visitors. We may be a bit biased here, but since it’s also in Italy, the Lake Como region offers some of the best food in the world making it an ideal place for a holiday.

The Venetian resort town of Bibione is a beautiful destination for a beach getaway. The gold sand beach hugs the crystal clear waters of the upper Adriatic Sea, providing a lush backdrop for a sun and surf vacation. The beach has been awarded the coveted “Blue Flag,” an award given to beaches that are managed with great care for the environment.

One of the things that impresses visitors to Bibione is just how much beach there is, stretching over six miles with a depth of almost a quarter-mile in spots, providing plenty of space for frolicking in the sand, sunbathing and recreational activities. Families love that their children can play in the abundant sand, always finding an activity with newfound friends.

During the summer the water temperature reaches 77 degrees Fahrenheit (around 25 degrees Celsius) creating a perfect swimming environment. For landlubbers there are hiking and cycling paths (20 miles worth) along the beach.

Venice is only an hour from Bibione. Bibione is conveniently located only 35 miles from one of the world’s most magical cities: Venice, just one hour by train. For those days when you want to add a little culture to your beach vacation, head over there to stroll its romantic byways and canals and perhaps take a sunset gondola ride with the sun casting its golden rays over the Grand Canal.

The Pineda ApartHotel in Bibione, Italy

An excursion just around the corner from Bibione is the Lagoon at the Valle Vecchia (Old Valley). Venice is famous for its lagoon but Bibione also offers this treat with nature. Coastal pinelands abound with more than 150 bird species, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise and providing a tranquil idyll during your stay in Bibione.


One of the best options for staying in Bibione is the Pineda ApartHotel, which is located just a block and a half from the beach. When we travel we like stay in places with a kitchenette. It’s easier to prepare some of our own meals and also provides a better value while in vacation. The apartment units at the Pineda ApartHotel offer kitchenettes along with terraces to catch sea breezes. A short stroll away is the Bibione Thermae, where massages and beauty treatments turn your getaway into a spa holiday.

Pineda ApartHotel in Bibione, Italy

Overall Bibione provides the ideal combination of sun, sand, culture, nature and sports activities.

This post has been provided by the Pineda ApartHotel.

I must confess that I am not an opera fan but I found visiting the Luciano Pavarotti Home in Italy to be fascinating; sort of like Graceland for opera buffs. Recently opened to the public, the museum is set in a bucolic setting on a one-lane road outside his childhood home of Modena. Though he became one of the most famous people in the world who traveled everywhere, he was still a hometown boy at heart.

Luciano Pavarotti House Museum exterior

The house where he lived for the final years of his life, and where he died in 2007, is entirely open to visitors. This compares to Graceland where Presley’s second floor living quarters are off-limits.

Pavarotti House Museum in Italy

The audio guide that comes with admission shares the tenor’s role in designing the house and background information on the exhibits.

Pavarotti house museum kitchen

Visitors also learn about Pavarotti’s signature handkerchief which he always clutched in his hand during performances. He used it in his early years to overcome nervousness about performing. You’ll see them in his walk-in bedroom closet along with Pavarotti’s omnipresent Panama hats and Hermes scarves.

Pavarotti Hawaiian shirt

I didn’t realize that Pavarotti was also an accomplished painter. Many of his colorful paintings are on display as well as the equally colorful Hawaiian shirts he loved to wear offstage.

Pavarotti home costumes

Costumes from his key roles, revealing that he was not just a big man in girth but rather tall too.

Pavarotti Museum piano

An exhibit of letters from the great singer’s friends reads like who’s who of world celebrities and includes Princess Diana, Frank Sinatra, Bono and Bruce Springsteen. A room covered with pillows on the floor to sit on shows home movies of Pavarotti vamping it up around the house and getting ready backstage for his performances. In his unguarded moments you can see how much he enjoyed life and being around people.

During the tour Pavarotti’s music voice is paying out of a great sound system. Thus inspired, I went and downloaded my first Pavarotti album.

Pin it!You don't have to be an opera buff to enjoy visiting the home of the late maestro Luciano Pavarotti outside Modena, Italy

Visiting Luciano Pavarotti’s Home/Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti

Address: Stradello Nava 6, Modena, Italy

Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Admission: Adults, 8 euros; adults (over 65), children (12-18), 6 euros, children under 12, free. Includes audio guide .

Web: Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti

Discover Ferrari and Pavarotti Land Pass

The Modena is also the home of Ferrari. The Luciano Pavarotti House Museum can be visited as part of the Ferrari & Pavarotti Land Pass which provides admission to over a dozen attractions in the region including two Ferrari museums and artisanal food producers.

We’re global nomads who have been traveling the world since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

A restaurant is a favorite if it earns repeat visits. By that definition one of our top restaurants in Rome is Hostaria Costanza. We’ve been to Rome several times and on each visit we visit this small spot tucked away in a corner off the Campo dei Fiori. There are trendier places with more contemporary menus but Costanza keeps drawing us back.

The setting itself is pretty spectacular. Costanza is built into a surviving portico of the ancient Teatro di Pompeo. Vaulted stone ceilings that are two millenia old arch above the tables. If that’s not enough history for you, it’s also the spot where Brutus literally stabbed Julius Caesar in the back during the Ides of March in 44 B.C.

Costanza restaurant rome

The moody lighting helps recreate the atmosphere of ancient Rome.

But the setting, eerily romantic as it is, isn’t what keeps bringing us back. It’s the food, a classic take on Roman cuisine. Upon entering the restaurant  it could easily be mistaken for a delicatessen. That’s because the foyer serves the double duty of storing much of the food while at the same time showcasing the freshness of the ingredients.

Experienced diners examine the food displays out front before venturing into the dining room. It reveals a sneak peek at the day’s specials that is far more evocative than any chalkboard description. In true Roman fashion, this anteroom also houses the antipasti table.  Grilled vegetables, seasoned olives and sliced cheeses nestle temptingly on individual dishes waiting for one of the servers to pluck them out to create a customized antipasto for each diner.

Top restaurants in rome Hostaria Costanza

Select your antipasti from the tables out front.

We credit Costanza with introducing our tastebuds to the joy of truffles. On our first visit we ordered cannelloni con funghi e tartufi as an appetizer, completely unprepared for the taste sensation that was to come; a rich earthy, nutty, creamy flavor. Suddenly we got it: this was why people rummaged through the woods or went to specialty food shops and paid exorbitant sums for tartufi. These cannelloni immediately made it onto our “Culinary Greatest Hits” list.

Top restaurants in rome Hostaria Costanza

Cannelloni with mushrooms and truffles.

Our recent visit lived up to our expectations.  The atmosphere of a perennial favorite was confirmed by the diners at the next table, two dapper Italian businessmen along with a distinguished looking priest. There was no way they were going to waste their palate on a mediocre restaurant.

This time we took advantage of artichoke season to order an appetizer of carciofi alla Giudea, the classic Roman dish that originated in the old Jewish quarter of the city. Deep-fried until crispy and golden and garnished with salt and pepper, these beauties put potato chips to shame.

Hostaria Costanza rigatoni with sausage

Rigatoni with sausages and truffles in a light cream sauce.

Naturally for our pasta course we simply had to have truffles.  The day’s special was rigatoni con salsice e tartufi, sausage and truffles in a light cream sauce.  It was rich, but delicately balanced with not too much of any one ingredient.  The cannelloni were made with fresh crespelle, or crepes. The flavors immediately took us back to our first visit, the way biting into a warm homemade chocolate chip cookie takes us back to childhood.

We hope there are more visits to Rome in our future along with the requisite visit to Hostaria Costanza.

Click the link to read about our soggy day hunting for truffles in Italy.
We’re your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Guest post ~ Florence is well known for its museums and historical attractions like Michelangelo’s David. But amid the vibrant streets near the Duomo stands a building which no visitor should miss. It hosts a real temple of food: the Mercato Centrale (Central Market). Eating at the Florence Central Market is something no visitor should pass up.

Central Market Building

The circa 1874 Central Market building, with its ornate cast iron and glass architecture, is an attraction itself, but many people don’t look beyond all the culinary delights to notice it. Amid all the hustle and bustle the entrances are hard to find, just look behind the peddlers.

florence mercato centrale

The Market

The food market is at the ground floor. Here you’ll find the largest possible variety of food in Florence. One section is dedicated to fruit and vegetables, with some typical products you can find only here. During winter, the king of vegetables in Florence is the cavolo nero (black cabbage), master ingredient for the ribollita, the most famous Florentine recipe: it’s a soup based on stale bread, cannellini beans and, of course, black cabbage. (See link to ribollita recipe below.)

eating at the florence central market

You’ll be amazed at the garlands made of garlic and onion: here it’s not just a matter of quality, the presentation of the food is very important. There is also a shop dedicated to exotic fruit and vegetables, especially from South America.

Garlands of garlic and onion (750x565)

Another section is for fish shops and butchers, the latter each specialize in a particular kind of meat: chicken for example, or beef, with the Chianina (a type of cattle typical of Tuscany) which is the meat used for the famous bistecca alla fiorentina. If you’re wondering what all that white spongy meat on display is, it’s tripe (the stomach of the cow). It’s an acquired taste for foreigners but Italians love it.

salumi and cheese florence mercato centrale

Among the other specialty foods at the central market are sundried tomatoes, mushrooms and pasta in fantastical shapes. There is a fresh pasta shop and several bakeries, but the shops that attract more attention are the ones selling salumi (not to confuse with salami, which is just a kind of salumi) and cheese. Some of them also make panini.

salumi (750x537)

Prices are very reasonable, in some cases you save on supermarket prices, unless you want to buy something very hard to find elsewhere. For a traveler in Florence who plans an excursion or a picnic, or just wants to prepare a quick lunch, this is the place to find something tasty.

The temple of food on the second floor

After a complete restoration in April 2014, the second floor, which once hosted the fruit and vegetables section, was reopened with a new function: a temple of dining. This part of the Central Market, which stays open from 10 am to midnight, including Sundays, is an amazing place where you can eat any kind of typical Italian food. It’s a huge hall, with cafés in the center serving drinks, tables all around and specialized restaurants on the sides.

eating at florence central market food hall
How does it work? You just pick your preferred food (cheese, meat, pasta, pizza, fish and many more), go to the chosen restaurant, order, and they will prepare your food in front of you. Then join your friends at the table of your choice. It’s perfect for a group, where everybody wants to eat something different. Prices are very reasonable, while quality is excellent: in particular, I like pizza at the Central Market.

wood bruinng pizza florence central market

Pizza is not a typical Tuscan recipe, and I have to admit that, in general, you won’t eat the best pizza in Florence, but at the Central Market you will actually taste a great pizza, made with natural yeast, the best flours and high quality tomatoes and mozzarella.

dry porcini mushrooms

Florence Central Market Visitor Information:

The ground floor of the market is open Monday-Friday from 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM and Saturday (not in the Summer months) from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The second floor is open everyday from 10:00 AM to 12:00 AM.
Check out the Florence Central Market website for the latest information on activities there.

If you’re in the mood for some Italian food now, here’s a recipe for ribollita, also known as peasant stew it’s the perfect antidote to a cold winter day.

2015 1 21 Florence andrea pic (300x300)Guest writer Andrea Pecchi is a freelance tourist guide in Florence and runs Your Florence Contact, a blog about art and history. When not guiding tourists, he enjoys writing about his own city and promoting Florence as a destination for travelers. You can follow Andrea on Facebook and Twitter.

One of the biggest misconceptions of travel is that everything to do in famous cities is very expensive. But with a little exploration, a visitor can find free things to do, cheap eats and low-cost stays, even on a long weekend in Venice.

So how do you keep costs to a minimum on a holiday to this glorious Italian city, while still enjoying everything that short breaks to Venice have to offer?

Venice canal St Marks towerVenice is world famous for the large network of canals that wind their way across the city, and while you have to pay to ride in one of the city’s historic gondolas, walking the canals is a free, and perhaps more interesting, way to wander along them.

There are more than 150 canals in Venice, the most famous and largest of which is the city’s main boulevard, the Grand Canal. There are many canals to choose from, including some that are so small that walking past them is perhaps easier than navigating them by boat.

An almost free gondola ride in Venice

If you really had your heart set on a gondola ride but blanch at the expense, consider a short hop on a traghetto. It’s a black gondola that travels back and forth across the Grand Canal in several places. The cost is 2 Euros, while it’s not quite free you can say you’ve been to Venice and ridden a gondola.

Unleash your inner explorer

Although the city is known for its canals, there are many more narrow passageways, piazzas and bridges that will introduce you to Venice’s beautiful architecture. Some streets are so narrow that you can reach out and touch buildings on both sides when you stroll down them, in a few your hips will brush up against the walls on both sides. Intrepid explorers should just start strolling, although bringing along a map is not a bad idea. At night a flashlight on the darkened streets is a must.

Must see sights, for a bit

st marks square veniceReferred to as “The Drawing Room of Europe,” St Mark’s Square is the heart of Venice, locals and tourists alike gather there to meet, talk and people watch. It’s less crowded in the evening after day-trippers from cruise ships have left, but avoid the cafes if you’re on a tight budget as they are rather expensive. Instead head somewhere quieter for coffee, like a traditional “bacaro,” where you can usually get a cheap meal or drink standing at the bar, Venetian-style.

If you’re heading to the Grand Canal, take a slight detour and cross the Rialto Bridge, the main crossing over the water. Completed in 1591, the bridge houses many unique shops. Beware that the Bridge can get very crowded at midday.

Make sure to stop by the adjacent Rialto Market, a food market that some say has been here for a millennium. It’s a great place for the freshest fish. While you probably won’t be firing up an oven in your hotel, check the salumeria and bread vendors to pick up items for an impromptu picnic.

In the first ghetto

A stroll through the Jewish ghetto is poignant. It’s the first use of the term ghetto in the world to designate an area where members of a minority group were forced to live; it’s believed the term comes from an adjacent iron foundry. Several synagogues are still active in this disappearing piece of Venetian and world history.

Saintly art

15 churches have combined in a group called a “Chorus,” to allow visitors to view their buildings and artwork. Over 1,000 years of Venetian art history is represented including works by Tintoretto, Donatelli,  Titian and more including the only Venetian painting by Rubens. Admission to each church is 3 euros per person, or you can buy a pass (valid for one year) to visit all 15 churches for only 10 euros per person.  To see so much art it’s a bargain.

Elevate your view

venice view from san giorgio maggiore

Take the vaporetto to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, perched on its own little island. While other visitors are queued up to ascend St. Mark’s, you can smugly skip the lines. Don’t let the 6 euro fee for the elevator ride put you off. You’ll want to view Venice from on high and this is one of the best places to do so. Just remember to cover your ears when the bells ring.

venice rialto bridge (640x407)

As a town that lives for festivals, Venice offers many free events, including concerts, for locals and tourists. Many are offered during Culture Week (which is usually in April) but if you’re there during other times of the year look out for posters advertising free concerts, as many choirs and bands tend to play around the city for free on any given day.

During Culture Week admission to almost all of the city’s museums and galleries is free, not just in Venice, but all around Italy, so it’s worth checking into this opportunity to view some of the world’s most beautiful artifacts and art.

Whether you’re thinking of booking short breaks to Venice or a longer trip around Italy, there are ways to save money on your trip; avoid shopping at tourist traps, pick up a few items at a food market for a picnic lunch and put on your walking shoes to take the time to know Venice on your own terms.

This post has been brought to you by Expedia UK.

Guest post by Davide Vadalà ~ If you are traveling to my hometown of Rome on a budget you’re in luck because there many free things to do in Rome. It’s an open-air museum where you can visit most of the “not to be missed” attractions for free. Even though I’m abroad most of the time, it’s always a pleasure to return and enjoy Rome. I’m sure you will too.

Roam the historical center

rome piazzaAlthough Rome is a vast city with over 3 million people, the historical center is quite concentrated and walkable. The world-famous squares, designed during the Renaissance period, are accessible for free. Expect to spend at least a day and a night walking between Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, Piazza del Popolo and Campidoglio. And don’t forget to take a roam along the Tiber River and stroll the “Via dei Fori Imperiali” gazing at the Roman Forum and the Colosseum.

Saint Peter’s Cathedral and other Churches

ffree things to do in rome st petersYes ok, Saint Peter’s Cathedral is part of Vatican City, but for a Roman there is no difference. Not only you can enjoy the square and the colonnade, and go inside the Cathedral for free. And if you are into religious architecture, there are plenty of other churches from all eras to be visited without paying a penny.

Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel

Vatican museum for free on sunday There is usually an entrance fee to visit Museums in Rome. But if you visit the Vatican Museum the last Sunday of each month entrance is free. Admission is between 9:30 and 12:30. Be prepared to stand in line for hours from early morning.

Stroll the Trastevere

rome trastavare street scene This is one of the most genuine districts of Rome, with old buildings, clothes hanging on the washing lines, and restaurant offering traditional food. You can spend a nice evening or afternoon getting lost in its alleys and stopping for a street artist show.

Brush up against some Caravaggio paintings

san luigi dei francesi caravaggio paintingNot far from Piazza Navona, in the direction of Pantheon, lies the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Here you’ll be able to admire some of the most famous paintings of Caravaggio, with his typical use of light. The entrance is free, you have to put a coin to switch on the lights, but there are always other tourists doing that, so be patient!

Toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain

trevi fountain in rome

Just a few hundred meters away from the “Via del Corso” stands the most famous fountain of Rome, “Fontana di Trevi.” Large but delicate, it completely covers the facade of the Trevi Palace with imposing sculptures. Find your way through the crowds of tourists and don’t forget to throw a coin over your shoulder if you want to return to Rome! OK, so maybe the coin isn’t free.

The eye in the sky at the Pantheon

pantheon rome hole in ceilingThough it was built during the ancient Roman era, the Pantheon is still used today as a Church. That’s why you’ll be able to enter for free and wonder how they were able to build such a huge dome over 2,000 years ago. Look up at the giant hole in the center of the roof: wasn’t this the reason you came here? If you time your visit with a thunderstorm the effect is spectacular.

Elevate your view

Rome view (575x383)

There are many places to enjoy a panoramic view of Rome.  My favorites are Gianicolo, which can be reached by foot from Trastevere, and the terrace of Pincio, right above Piazza del Popolo. Be there for sunset, possibly with your better half!

The moment of truth at Bocca della Verità

bocca della verita rome mouth of truth

This big round mask was a gutter in ancient Rome, lying in the interior courtyard of the Church Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Bocca della Verità literally means “The Mouth of Truth,” because it was believed to be an oracle capable of predicting if a women committed adultery. You better not go there if you have something to hide! The entrance is free. If the gate is closed, you can still see it through the fence. Film bugs will remember the scene that took place there in Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

Key moments at the Buco di Roma

buco di roma

Originally known only by locals, today this place is becoming a bit more touristy. I went to see the “Keyhole of Rome” last time only 2 days ago and I had to stand in line to see it! It’s basically a keyhole on the entrance gate of the Order of Knights of Malta’s headquarter. Looking through it it’s possible to see St Peter’s Dome under a gallery of vegetation.

Go green

Parks in Rome (575x383)

You can’t believe it judging only by the traffic and the chaos in the streets, but Rome is the greenest city in Europe; 68% of its surface is covered by greenways and parks. Many of them are not far from the city center. The most convenient is the park of Villa Borghese, right above Piazza del Popolo, an easy place to cycle in Rome.

Get out and socialize

Social centers in Rome (575x382)

If you want social life or entertainment, you should go to one of the many social centers in Rome. Entrance to concerts, disco and events organized by the social centers is usually free, or at most require a very small donation to support their activities. Learn more about Italy’s Social Centers.

What are your favorite things to do in Rome?

Guest writer Davide Nomad TravellersDavide Vadalà has been traveling non stop for over 3 years now, first alone and then with his better half Otilia, met while rock climbing in Hungary. Together they created an inspiring travel blog called Nomad Travellers: stay updated with their adventures and learn how to switch to a nomadic life, follow them on Facebook and Twitter and spread their stories!

Beyond its main sights like the Uffizi Gallery, the statue of David,  and the Duomo, there are many free things to do in Florence. Here are five of my favorites.

Mercato Centrale

Florence Mercato Centrale

Don’t miss the Mercato Centrale, a huge indoor food market. It’s filled with Tuscan delights: fresh salads, olive oils, salami, cheeses, beautiful produce, pasta, and many other examples of wonderful local food. You can simply look around or enjoy a snack, get picnic supplies, and even buy gifts or souvenirs.

Walk to San Miniato al Monte

Florence view from San Miniato al Monte

Stroll down the Arno River to Viale G. Poggi and then climb the winding path uphill. You will reach Piazzale Michelangelo, but for a better experience, walk just a little further to the church that sits above the piazzale.

San Miniato al Monte, a Romanesque church from 1018, is one of the oldest churches in Florence. The views of Florence from outside the church are stunning. You can walk the grounds, see the cemetery, and even visit the shop next to the church, which is run by Olivetan monks. Step inside the church, notice the carvings in the floor, and walk to the back to see the beautiful mosaic from 1297.

As you make your way back down to town, stop in the Rose Garden (Giardino delle Rose) at Viale G. Poggi 2.

Visit the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella

Florence SMN Officina

This pharmacy/perfumerie dates back hundreds of years and is an important part of the cultural heritage of Florence. The monks of the nearby church began to sell their products in the 13th century; later, the pharmacy produced scents for Queen Catherine de Medici, among others, and became known for its herbal remedies and natural creams.

Step inside the beautiful marble entrance and enter one of several rooms that make up this museum and shop. All the rooms are decorated with intricately painted ceilings, ornate furniture, sculptures, and chandeliers. Get a copy of the information brochure and read about the long and interesting history of this unique pharmaceutical office. Entrance is free, and products are for sale. Via della Scala 16, open every day 10:30-7:00.

Visit Artisan Workshops

Free things to do in Florence bruscoli

Florence is known for its artisans who have carried on the traditions of making quality products by hand for centuries. Now with the increase in globalized goods and machine-made products, the artisan heritage of Florence is at risk of dying out. You can experience this piece of Florence’s history by stopping in an artisan’s workshop.

Cross the Arno River and start wandering the quaint streets of the Oltrarno quarter to find most of the workshops. Back on the main side of the Arno is the Bruscoli workshop, run by Paolo Bruscoli, a 4th generation artisan who makes fine leather products in the Florentine tradition. His partner makes traditional Florentine paper. Mr. Bruscoli speaks English, so feel free to ask him about the workshop’s 140+ years of history. Their items are for sale at the front of the shop, open 8:30-1:00 and 3:00-7:00 at Via Montebello 58.

Palazzo Strozzi Public Events

palazzo strozzi

Palazzo Strozzi is one of the best museums in Florence and definitely the one that connects the most with the Florentine community. It hosts excellent exhibits of both contemporary and historical art. The museum is housed in one of the best examples of a Renaissance palace—it was built for the Strozzi family, rivals of the ruling Medici family, in the 15th century.

Stop in on a Thursday evening for free admission to some exhibits and the weekly social gathering in the courtyard. There you can listen to music, hang out on couches, and, for fun, type tweets on an old-fashioned type-writer and post them on a large bulletin board. Other public events are held, including free movie nights and concerts, so check their website for updated information.

Click the link for my story about 30 things to do in Florence.

Jenna Francisco travel bloggerJenna is a freelance writer who runs This Is My Happiness, a blog about culture, art, and travel. She also writes for the new website Travel Mindset, launching in early 2013, and is an ambassador for AFAR magazine.  She enjoys writing about what makes places unique in an effort to provide a deeper look at travel destinations, especially California, Brazil, and Italy.  You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Pizza is our go-to food on the road, our favorite is New York-style. And when we return from a trip it’s usually the first meal we eat. On our year-long journey we tried pizza on six continents, including at its birthplace in Naples, to seek the best pizza in the world. But what surprised us most was where we found the best and the worst pizza.

 Pizza in Asia

best pizza in Hong Kong Paisanos

Paisanos in Hong Kong served up pizza that was very close to New York style.

pizza in North Korea

We hadn’t expected to see pizza in North Korea. But our guides kept referring to their own version of Pizza Hut. While it was a bit undercooked, it wasn’t bad for pizza in, well, North Korea. (Photo courtesy Russell Ng)

Pizza Chiang Mai Thailand

The owner of Pulcinella da Stefano in Chiang Mai, Thailand hails from Italy so his pizza was almost Neopolitan in style. 

best pizza dessert pineapple bali

A pineapple and banana dessert pizza in Bali. What a great idea!

Pizza in Vietnam

We were surprised to find an upscale Italian restaurant in Hanoi, complete with marble columns and tuxedo-clad waiters. This being Vietnam though, it was still really cheap.

Pizza Siem Reap Cambodia

Pizza in Cambodia? Why not, we even ate an authentic Philly cheesesteak there.

Pizza in the Middle East

In the Middle East we ate authentic pizza along with an Arabic version that while not pizza, sure had a lot in common with it.

Pizza in Dubai

No one affiliated with this restaurant in Dubai was Italian, but they put out a pretty good product. 

Israel food Arab zatar flatbread

In the Arab market in Jerusalem we tried zatar flatbread. It was ‘pizza-ish” enough to be included here. Also, we really liked it.

Pizza Tel Aviv

We almost walked right past this pizzeria in Tel Aviv because we thought it was a Dominos. But look closely at the logo, it’s Pizza Domino and no relation to the American chain. It may be the closest we came to authentic New York style pizza.

Pizza in Africa

best pizza in the world Namibia

We don’t surprise easily but were gobsmacked to come across a pizzeria in Swakopmund, Namibia. It was pretty good too. 

Pizza in Italy

Many people have a love/hate relationship with authentic Neopolitan pizza. The type served in Naples is different than what many expect. (Particularly if they were weaned on New York-style since childhood.) It turns out that authentic Neopolitan pizza is kind of soupier than expected. Some say it’s due to using fresh buffalo mozzarella. Either way, it takes some getting used to.

Pizza Naples Italy tomato

A plain  pizza in Naples, a bit soupy for our taste. 

Pizza Naples Italy rocket

Larissa’s favorite topping, fresh arugula or rocket.

Pizza Italy french fries

This is what happens when a self-proclaimed world traveler can’t admit that he doesn’t speak his grandparents language and orders a pizza that he thinks comes with potato slices on it.

Pizza in Australia and New Zealand

best pizza in the world Auckland New Zealand Sals

Sal’s in Auckland, New Zealand boasted of authentic New York style pizza. It came pretty close, even with Wisconsin mozzarella.

Best pizza in the world Australia Clare Valley Stone Bridge winery

Craig from  Stone Bridge Wines in Clare Valley, Australia manages to serve up delicious  wood fired pizza and award-winning wines. This was the runner-up for best pizza.

best pizza in the world Perth Australia

The pizza from Embers Wood Fired in Gooseberry Hill outside Perth, Australia. Although no one working at the place seemed to be over the age of 12, the pizza was the best of our entire trip. This is the Pizza Siciliana  with fresh ricotta, cacciatore sausage & marinated eggplant. That’s right, our top two pizzas were both from Australia. What an upside down world we live in.

The worst pizza we had

worst pizza in the world Pizza Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is known for being half-Italian (just like Michael) so we were disappointed in this gooey mess. Three fist-sized hunks of mozzarella were placed in the center of the pie before going into the oven. Since they’re too big to melt properly, the chef just smears them around the pie after it’s baked where it turns into a gelatinous clump.

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Tasting pizza on six continents--which is the best?

On the flip-side, Argentina did provide us the greatest taste sensation of our trip: Read “Is dulce de leche the best flavor in the world?”

Is a coal mining town in Pennsylvania the “Pizza Capital of the World?”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at finding the best pizza in the world in Australia. We may have found the best gelato in the world in New Zealand, where it’s made by a mad scientist from Italy.

What type of pizza do you like? Do you eat pizza with your hands or a knife and fork? To us, a knife and fork for pizza is just plain wrong.

To follow our journey around the world in search of the tasty and quirky and receive valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Despite all my efforts, I’ve never really learned how to make pasta from scratch. On a recent trip to Bologna, I was determined to change all that.  I took a pasta-making class at an agriturismo, a working farm and inn on the outskirts of Bologna.

Rolling fresh pasta dough

Federica Frattini demonstrates proper technique for rolling tagliatelle

For the last ten years, Federica Frattini and her husband have run Podere San Giuliano, hosting overnight guests and feeding them in the restaurant on site.  Their mission is to showcase the foods and cuisine native to Bologna and its surrounding region of Emilia Romagna, which of course includes fresh pasta.

Our “How to make pasta” class began with a brief overview of Ragu Bolognese.  Federica’s Bolognese was somewhat different to what I had learned (she does not use milk, for instance) but this wasn’t surprising. Legend has it that if you questioned 100 women from Emilia Romagna, you’d likely get 101 different recipes for the signature sauce of the region.

Sauce-making was all very interesting, but I had really come for the messy stuff:  turning flour and eggs into pasta.  Out to the “classroom,” where each student had a workstation and an apron (much-needed) waiting.

1.  Mixing:  We watched as Federica deftly blended eggs into a small crater of flour, slowly incorporating more and more egg until she had a small lump of dough.  This was harder than it looked.  More than once my little flour crater collapsed, with the eggs threatening to slither across the board and onto the floor.  (This is why all my previous attempts have been made in a bowl, with the sides protecting my wayward yolks from fleeing the scene.)

how to make pasta

The only two ingredients required for pasta dough: flour and farm-fresh eggs

Federica showed us how to shore up our flour craters with one hand while continuing to blend in the eggs with the other.  Eventually I managed a sticky lump, although smaller than Frederica’s since a large portion of the ingredients now coated my hands in a crusty mess.

With hands appropriately un-gooed, we then kneaded our lumpy dough balls.  A few minutes later we each had a smooth, silky mass that looked promising.

2.  Rolling:  I confess that I have always cheated a bit on this step.  My sister once gave me a hand-crank style pasta maker so I could avoid hand-rolling.  Not so in Frederica’s class:  “you want to make fresh pasta, you roll by hand”.

how to make pasta

Pasta dough rolled thin enough for cutting and shaping

I’m no stranger to a rolling-pin (no, I have not used it on Michael) but I can do a pretty mean pie crust.  However, pie crust is soft and malleable.  Something about this golden elastic dough was intimidating.  With the patience of a saint, Federica demonstrated how to flatten and stretch the dough.  Drape over the rolling-pin, start at the edge of the board, and press and roll.  Drape, press, roll. Repeat. To my astonishment this technique worked and I had large, flat sheet of pasta dough lying complacently in front of me.

3.  Cutting tagliatelle, making nifty nests:   In the past I had simply run my narrow sheet of pasta through the cutting blades of the pasta machine, then laid them in a haphazard pile on a towel.  But that technique wouldn’t cut it here.

Federica demonstrated an easy  technique that for cutting and separating pasta into individual portions:

how to make pasta

Before slicing tagliatelle roll both ends of the pasta sheet toward the center then slice across the rolls from left to right into 1/4″ strips. . .

Fresh pasta dough

Slide a knife under the sliced pasta and lift. . .

technique for making fresh pasta

Lightly grasp a handful of the sliced pasta and. . .

how to make pasta

Gently shape into nests

(This will equate to roughly one portion when cooked.) Place on a dish to dry slightly before cooking.

4.  Stuffing and shaping tortelloni:  We used a fluted cutter to divide our second sheet of pasta dough into 3-inch squares and placed a teaspoon of the ricotta filling in the center.   Then came the tricky part:  folding and pinching.  I had tried this at home and usually come up with something that was functional and tasty, but not very pretty.

Fresh pasta tortelloni

Fold and seal tortelloni, then pinch and twist around fingers

Federica demonstrated the “vertical pinch”:  after sealing the pasta closed into a stuffed triangle pinch each side toward the bottom (hypotenuse for you geometry-prone.)  This creates a slightly 3-dimensional pocket for the filling, making it less likely to open up during cooking.  Roll the corners around two fingers and pinch closed for the final effect.  Tortelloni are larger than their better-known cousins, tortellini—which would have been a little too delicate for our clunky neophyte fingers.

5.  EATING!!!:  While the fruits of our labors were taken back into the kitchen to cook we went out to the wisteria-shaded veranda to enjoy some antipasti. While nibbling on some local mortadella along with fresh-baked crostini  we looked out over the farm and gardens.  Later in the year those fresh peaches and tomatoes will appear on the menu, along with whatever else is ripe.

Fresh pasta with meat sauce

Our fresh tagliatelle with Ragu Bolognese

Then, the moment we had worked for:  the pasta arrived at the table!  Tagliatelle with the signature ragu Bolognese and the tortelloni dressed with a simple sauce of burro e salvia—melted butter and sage.

fresh homemade pasta

Our tortelloni sauced simply with butter and sage

Sitting with Federica and some of her staff we enjoyed a pranzo alla Contadina al fresco—country-style lunch served outdoors. The elegant simplicity of the meal with its ultra-fresh ingredients was one I will long remember—it tasted even better knowing I crafted the pasta myself.

My only regret was that I had not booked one of the podere’s comfortable guestrooms—a nap afterward would have hit the spot.

Pin it!Spend the day at Podere San Giuliano, an agriturismo near Bologna. Learn the art of hand-rolling pasta, then enjoy the delicious results.

Many thanks to Federica and the staff of Podere San Giuliano for hosting me at this class, and to the staff of Blogville Emilia Romagna for making the arrangements.

Pasta lunch al fresco

The shady veranda serves as the perfect setting for our lunch al fresco

If this post got you hungry click the link for other food stories.


(Thanks to Chris Damitio for taking the photos of me)

Pin it!


As a schoolteacher, my mother Marian has always had a natural curiosity about the world and a love of travel which she instilled in her two sons. When I was nine years old she took us on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Grand Canyon. For the first time I realized there was an exciting world out there.

We hadn’t seen my mom since we left on our year-long around-the-world trek last August. We asked her if she’d like to meet us someplace along the way. But lately she says “I’m too tired, I don’t get around easily, I’ll just slow you down.” I knew these were just excuses that could be overcome.

Larissa and I chose a destination my mother couldn’t resist: Italy, the birthplace of her parents. When she brought up her age we reminded her that Grandpa had made his last trip to the old country when he was a mere ninety-six years old. And then I suggested she come over for her birthday. It’s a particularly poignant day for her; she shares the same birth date as my father who died four years ago. Since then birthdays have become a painful memory of her loss. She couldn’t  resist the comforting distraction of traveling with us on that day.

italy apartment rental

Our Italian apartment with the Gulf of Salerno in the distance.

Mom agreed to visit so Larissa found a rental apartment in the hilltop village of Corpo di Cava, near the Amalfi Coast, where we would spend a week. Perched on the edge of a cliff, the house provided sweeping views of the nearby hillsides and overlooked an 11th-century Benedictine Abbey. The warmth from the woodstove was a cozy respite during what turned out to be a chilly rainy week. Since this trip was about spending time together, the wet weather relieved us of any burden to run out and see as many sites as possible.  It gave us the perfect excuse to slow down and sit by the fire while we ate home-cooked Italian food and caught up on our lives over the last half-year.

One sunny day we took in the spectacular ruins of Pompeii. The sight is a bit of a physical challenge since it stands on a hill beneath the brooding hulk of Mt. Vesuvius. Mom travels with a lightweight folding chair that lets her sit down anywhere. Periodically she was content to rest and observe the passersby.

folding travel chair

The folding travel chair always comes in handy.

After an hour of clambering over ruins and people-watching, she decided she had seen enough of the ancient Roman town. Larissa and I still wanted to discover more so I escorted mom back to a piazza in town knowing she’d occupy herself with a gelato while we continued to explore. This arrangement allowed us to each enjoy Pompeii at our own pace.

Rocky Giuliano Naples (506x550)

Our pizza guide in Naples, 10-year-old Giuliano.

Afterwards, we meandered through the chaotic streets of Naples in search of pizza. Here is where mom’s background as the daughter of immigrants came in handy. Speaking Italian she asked a father and son if they could recommend a good pizzeria. Ten year-old Giuliano piped up, “Come on I show you.”

So away we went, following the young boy through the streets of Naples. It worked out perfectly, his short-legged stride at just the right pace for mom. Before this trip I thought our roles would now be reversed and as adult children we would be doing the leading. But here was mom in Italy, using her language skills and newfound energy to once again lead us.

Mom Milne walking Naples (2) (575x431)

Larissa trying to keep with an energized mom.

Oh, and her birthday? We celebrated it at a restaurant in Salerno. The staff made a big deal out of the event and baked a special cake for her. Mom was overwhelmed. She said it was the first birthday she had enjoyed since my dad died.

Every year we wonder what to get mom for Mother’s Day. It turns out the greatest gift we can give our parents is ourselves, the special moments that we share together. They’ve certainly earned it.

This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Mother’s Day, 2012.

When we think of Italy the first thing that comes to mind is delicious Italian food. However, we didn’t think that driving on the Autostrada would yield such a fine dining experience. In Italy, just because one is driving it doesn’t mean they need to make culinary sacrifices. As native New Yorkers who’ve lived in Philly for the last 25 years we’ve taken more trips on the New Jersey Turnpike than we care to remember. We can tell you that the food at the Molly Pitcher rest stop never looked like this:

Italian food autostrada

A wide selection of meats and cheeses is available for a roadside picnic.

Italian food

Italy autostrade food

Fine cuts of meat are displayed to be cooked to order, just like in top steakhouses.

Italian food on autostrada

Even when eating on the road Italians have a first and second course, the primi and secondi.

Italian food driving

For vegetarians an order of roasted eggplant and a chick pea salad washed down with a bottle of sparkling San Pellegrino water is a tasty option.

Italian rest stop

Who isn’t in the mood for a seafood risotto on a road trip?

Bottle of white, bottle of red
Perhaps some fresh mozzarella instead
You can dine or you can shop
At an Italian rest stop. . .

With all apologies to Billy Joel.
Click the link for more stories about Italian food.

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD it buried the nearby Roman town of Pompeii. Layers of ash and pumice kept the village almost intact until it was rediscovered in the 1700s. We visited Pompeii with Michael’s mother a few weeks ago. Follow along as we present the following images of Pompeii:

Photos of Pompeii Mt Vesuvius

While walking around Pompeii it is hard to escape the continual presence of Mount Vesuvius.

Images of Pompeii

Many columns were sheared off by the force of the blast.

Images of Pompeii

Wildflowers abound in the cracks and crevices of Pompeii as seen at the top of this wall.

Pompeii amphitheater

The theater appears ready to put on a show.

Pompeii amphitheater

The amphitheater survived fairly intact. Pink Floyd filmed a concert video (without an audience) here in 1971.

Images of Pompeii forum

Parts of the Roman forum still retain their two-story height.

Pompeii brothel painting

In one of Pompeii’s brothels the fresco paintings on the walls survived the eruption. Over a dozen images present a visual menu of what was available to the discerning customer. Until 40 years ago this room was off-limits to female visitors as it was considered too shocking.

Photo of Pompeii pedestal table

This pedestal table sits in the courtyard of a merchant’s house.

Pompeii Mt Vesuvius

On a cloudy day the tip of the volcano appears to be steaming. Is there another eruption in its future?

Image of Pompeii green tree (550x414)

Sometimes on even a gray day a little splash of color survives. We like to think it represents rebirth and survival.

Click the link for more Italian travel stories.

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We’ve already shown tasty pictures of Bologna, the food capital of Italy. But the city also makes for a great visit in its own right. It’s the home of the University of Bologna, founded in 1088 it’s the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere, and houses many interesting architectural features. In 1568 it was decreed that all sidewalks should be covered so most structures built since then have porticoes to protect pedestrians from sun and rain. At over 30 miles, Bologna has more covered walkways than any other city in the world making it a difficult city for umbrella salesmen. And you hockey fans will love a city that has a “Via Zamboni.”

Bologna Bike

Bologna is a city of many contrasts between new and old.

Bologna painted porticos (502x550)

We didn’t walk all 30 miles of porticoes but it sure felt like it.

Bologna portico painted ceiling (550x415)

The paintings on the ceilings of some porticoes are incredibly detailed.

Bologna Neptune Statue shadow

The statue of Neptune, seen here in nighttime shadow, is called “The Giant” because of his ample derriere.

Bologna Piazza Maggiore night

The Piazza Maggiore in the center of town at night.

Bologna rooftops

The view from our flat of the rooftops of Bologna.

Bologna street musician

As a university town the street performers are a bit classier than we’re used to seeing.

Couple reading newspaper

Nobody looks more stylish reading a newspaper than Italians.

A day in the life of a Mini Cooper

Bologna Mini Cooper

He starts out the day by himself.

Bologna mini cooper smart car

Sometimes he gets someone “Smart” to talk to.

Bologna mini cooper bikes

Or perhaps a few bikes, both powered and unpowered.

Bologna mini cooper night

But by the end of the day he’s tired and just wants to go to sleep, and so shall we. Good night after another day in Bologna.

Here are some tasty food pictures of Bologna.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

It was a dark and stormy day (it really was) the kind of day in late spring that makes you wonder if summer will ever come.  The wind was whipping across the hill, sending the chilling rain horizontally into our faces.  Umbrellas were inverted with every gust.  Our feet were muddy and cold.  Yet we were having fun.  We were the few, the proud and the slightly deranged:  we were the truffle hunters.

Truffle hunting Larissa Jeff Jung

This may look like my intrepid husband but it's actually Jeff Jung, the Career Break Secrets Guy, braving the cold and rain with me. Michael was back in the farmhouse by the fire. Note the special truffle hunting plastic bags on our shoes.

A group of us had been invited to a farm in northern Umbria to attend “Truffle School.”  We survived a dozen hairpin turns up into the hills to arrive at Ca’Solare.  An agriturismo (working farm with lodging) run by Matteo Bartolini and his wife Elisa, Ca’Solare specializes in harvesting the world’s most expensive fungi.  Matteo is a self-admitted “truffle geek”:  he grew up in this region, which supplies 90% of the world’s truffles.  Partnered with Solé, the truffle hunting wonder-dog, he spends his days scouring the woods on his farm in search of these elusive treats.

In the cozy farmhouse, Matteo described the different varieties of truffles: their unique characteristics, growing season, and market value (depending on the variety they fetch from $130-$3,000/kilo.)  While truffles can be “encouraged to grow” they can’t be cultivated completely.  Therefore, harvesting them is a combination of science and experience mixed with a dose of luck.

Since truffle tubers grow underground a strong sense of smell is required to find them.  Traditionally pigs were used for this task; unfortunately pigs also like to eat truffles so when they find them they act like, well, pigs.  Thus dogs were introduced; they like to eat truffles too, but can be more easily trained to move aside once they’ve identified a “hot spot.”

Truffle hunting Sondra umbrellas

Sondra joined Larissa and several others on the wind and rain-lashed hunt.

Armed with our newfound knowledge, we set out toward the woods for the “practical” part of our lesson.  By this time the weather had turned nasty and the ground muddy.  Determined not to let a little rain deter us, we created improvised truffle hunting shoes by putting plastic bags over our feet—not very fashionable but certainly functional.  About half of our group decided to stay behind in the warmth of the farmhouse (including a certain husband who shall remain unnamed.) Editor’s note from unnamed husband: It was really, really cold and I wanted to warm my tootsies by the fire.

Truffle fireplace Vin Santo

Meanwhile, back at the cozy farmhouse Michael enjoyed the warmth of the fireplace and a glass of Vin Santo.

Five of us dutifully trudged behind Matteo and Solé as our truffle-hound bounded and sniffed under bushes, beside mossy rocks and at the base of trees.  Solé’s rambles were periodically interrupted with a mad dash to a seemingly random spot where he would frantically begin digging.  Like mad dogs, we truffle students descended as well, armed with cameras big and small to capture the magic moment.

Truffle "hot spot"

The wind and wet weather did not lend itself to “good sniffing” on Solé’s part.  Nevertheless, he did manage to unearth three small white beauties about the size of chickpeas.  They didn’t look like much, but a simple scrape across the surface with a fingernail released an aroma so tantalizing that the rain and mud faded into obscurity.  The promise of savoring this taste at lunch was enough to convince us that our meager harvest was enough for the day.

Back at the farmhouse our “classroom” had been converted to a dining room with a large communal table. We placed our sodden shoes by the fire to dry and became honorary family members as we joined the meal in our stocking feet. Papa Carlo sat in his customary spot and smiled benevolently. Elisa described the menu for our traditional “Sunday Lunch/Truffle Style” as Matteo went back to do double duty in the kitchen.

Because of their intense flavor, truffles are used simply and sparingly to showcase their earthy richness:  an antipasto of crostini with two types of truffle paste, and fresh tagliatelle pasta with butter and chopped truffles. Forgetting that a meat course was to follow, many of us had second helpings. Too bad we hadn’t made arrangements to take naps at Ca’Solare’s lodgings.

Tagliatelle con tartufi

The reward at the end of the hunt: tagliatelle con tartufi

After participating in the truffle school and the hunt, it is easy to understand why these tasty tubers cost so much. Matteo and Elisa are passionate about educating consumers about all that goes into getting that tiny bit of truffle onto a plate—so much so that they have earned a commendation from the Italian Ministry of Agriculture. That passion is infectious—now that we were educated amateurs the truffles tasted even better.

For more information, contact the Truffle School at Ca’Solare.

Check out more posts about visiting Italy.

In our humble opinion Italy serves up the best food in the world, a belief that is shared by millions. Since the northern Italian city of Bologna is the food capital of Italy it is a must-visit spot for any foodie. While we were enticed by the Bologna food we also fell in love with the rhythms of the city displayed on the streets and sidewalks. Here are some photos from a day walking, and eating, around Bologna.

Bologna Italy

The Atti market on the Via Drapperie, which as been in the same family for five generations, was closed when we showed up. Not to worry, we’d come back.

Bologna food shop

Here’s the same market a few hours later bristling with local Bolognese-made products.

Bologna Italy food market

Can you spot any similarities between the customer peering in the shop window and the figure on the left? Besides the blue jacket of course.

Bologna man eating gelato

A man enjoys his gelato in front of a plaque dedicated to Father Marella, unaware of the imploring gesture from the priest who dedicated his life to raising money for the poor.

Bologna pappardelle

A local specialty of Pappardelle with Ragu Bianco, a meat sauce without tomatoes, served up at the Taverna dei Lords.

Bologna Italy tomatoes

It didn’t occur to us until we put this post together that the above sign was in English, not Italian. There’s a reason for that.We learned the hard way a few years back that in Italy, as in much of Europe, the customer doesn’t squeeze the produce for ripeness. Instead they rely on the vendor to give them the best product available.

Bologna tortelloni

One of the local culinary treats is tortelloni, served with a variety of fillings.

Bologna butcher pigs head

The butcher shops are a bit more graphic than we see at home but they certainly show that the meat is fresh.

Bologna food produce market

Working your way through the narrow streets of the medieval-era market just east of the Piazza Maggiore is part of the fun of food shopping in Bologna.

Bologna mushrooms

When your favorite mushrooms are in season, grab ’em!

Bologna meat cheese store

Bologna is the capital of the Emilia Romagna region, a culinary smorgasbord famous for being the birthplace of Parmigianno Reggiano cheese, prosciutto de Parma, ragu Bolognese, tortellini, balsamic vinegar de Modena, mortadella and Lambrusco sparkling wine. No wonder shopping at the markets is a head-spinning experience.

Bologna stuffed zucchini flowers

Larissa was so inspired by the markets that she whipped up a serving of roasted stuffed zucchini flowers. They were delicious. Read about her learning how to make pasta in Italy.

Bologna mortadella

No food tour of Bologna would be complete without trying mortadella, the meat that is the godfather of baloney.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive quarterly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.