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Saturday, 15 December 2012

Le Marche

Why not LE MARCHE?

We invite you to watch this video about Le Marche with wonderful pictures of this rich region of culture and nature

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Traditional Italian Family Christmas


Article first published as A Traditional Italian Family Christmas on Technorati.


When I was a child, Christmas was without a doubt the biggest event of the year. Even though I come from Switzerland and spent a good part of my life in this country, the influence of my Italian Grandmother, a Piedmont native, won over. Our Christmas celebrations, year after year, had a definite Italian shine to them.

First of all, there was none of this splitting the family at Christmas or gathering in different houses. The whole family met in my Grandmother's home for three days in a row. Extra tables and chairs were brought from our neighbouring houses, allowing everybody to sit and eat comfortably. The white table clothes and napkins came out of their cupboard, and the three long tables were prettily decorated. Numerous presents were carefully piled under the colourful Christmas tree so that the crib would not be disturbed. Us children had real trouble going to sleep the night before when our favourite day was so close.

On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, serious action happened in the kitchen under my Grandma's orders. New recipes were tried every year on Christmas Eve, and I cannot recall one time when we thought one of the dishes was only average. The food was always delicious. We would start the festivities by some of the adults going to the early Christmas mass with the children, then come home and unwrap the presents while enjoying the aperitif. There was many a scream of delight as we discovered one of the toys we had so wished for. Once the excitement had died down a bit, it was time to eat and enjoy the warm family atmosphere. After the feast, the adults who had stayed home earlier would then go to the midnight mass, while the children collapsed into bed, exhausted.


Christmas Day saw the slow roasting of a massive turkey. The bird would be stuffed with a filling featuring chestnuts and the aroma made you feel hungry well before it was time for lunch. Sometimes black truffles would also be used, and I have this distinct image of incredibly thin mushroom slices being inserted in cuts in the turkey. Once out of the oven, the delicate truffle taste had perfumed the meat exquisitely.

Of course there was always far too much food prepared over these two days, which is why it became the tradition to all meet again on Boxing Day. Leftovers would then be eaten in a convivial manner. When there was not that much turkey left, the meat would be used to make a Bolognese sauce and homemade gnocchi then featured on the menu.

It has been a while since these childhood Christmases, but still today I cannot eat gnocchi without thinking about the lovely times we had.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

An Italian Wine To Discover: Brunello Di Montalcino


Article first published as An Italian Wine To Discover: Brunello Di Montalcino on Technorati.


When asked to name Italian wines, people might come up with the full-bodied Tuscan Chianti, the light and fruity Pinot Grigio originating from the Tre Venezie or the sparkling Asti from the Piedmont region. But would they know about the Tuscan Brunello Di Montalcino?

The Brunello is a wine produced solely from the Sangiovese Grosso, a larger-berried variety of the Sangiovese grape. These round and juicy bunches grow exclusively around Montalcino, a beautiful hilltop town in the Siena area, which boasts a fortress that was never conquered. Thanks to being exposed to one of the warmest and driest climates in Tuscany, the Sangiovese grapes often matures up to a week earlier than their fruit counterparts used in the production of Chianti and Montepulciano.


Although the first mentions of the Brunello can be traced back to the 14th century, the wine became well known much later, largely because of the Biondi-Santi family. In the 1870s, Clemente Sianti was already producing the beverage we know today. His grandson Ferruccio Biondi-Santi then took up the challenge of managing the family estate after coming home from the Garibaldi campaigns. He is the one responsible for developing new winemaking methods, and for taking the Brunello to its more accomplished form. The Biondi-Santi family was still the sole Brunello producer when World War II ended. Today, however, there are over 200 wine producers, mainly small farms and estates, who proudly have their names attached to one of the first-class wine names in Italy.

The Brunello has been traditionally matured over a long period in large oaks barrels, thus creating a very intricate flavour. More modern methods now call for smaller recipients and a reduced aging time, resulting in a less tannic and more velvety body. Aromas such as blackberry, chocolate, black cherry and violet are often associated with the Brunello. A French "equivalent" would be found in the Burgundy region, namely the Pinot noir varieties. The strong character of the Brunello makes it the perfect accompaniment for meat and game.

The Brunello wine even recently made the news in a spotlight fashion when freshly re-elected President Obama offered a bottle ofthis fine Tuscan beverage to House Speaker John Boehner as a birthday gift. Much has been said about whether or not this present, which can be found and bought for around $125 in Washington DC shops, breaks the White House ban on gifts over $50 to members of Congress. As an exception for gifts from friends exists, the 1997 Altero Brunello di Montalcino bottle may however well belong to this category.


Monday, 19 November 2012

Masseria lo Jazzo

Just some houndres metres from the Trulli Angelo you have a very interesting place to discover the Apulian Culture:

Masseria lo Jazzo
A Place for Culture and Mankind

for example: Night Picnic
 
http://masserialojazzo.it/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/effetto-giorno-capanna11-e1342446510239.jpg 

 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Villa Elba Island

Finally!

A villa, a superb one, on the Elba Island:
You have a infinity pool and a direct access to the sea.

Madonna delle Grazie

Ferienhaus - Toskana / Umbrien - Elba - Madonna delle Grazie

Villa - Tuscany / Umbria - Elba - Madonna delle Grazie


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Casa Olivi: virtual visit of beautiful exhibition in Cupra Marittima

casa olivi: virtual visit of beautiful exhibition in Cupra Ma...: Fabiano De Martin Topranin - Return to the forest



On Sunday 23rd September 2012 at 6.00 p.m.   Marconi  Gallery  of Cupra Marittima and ...

Friday, 19 October 2012

A trip to Apulia


First lunch: Ricci - Sea Urchins at Il Principe del Mare in Fasano





Visit of the wonderful Trulli Angelo in Ceglie Messapica




First night in a very charming and cosy B&B in Ceglie Messapica:




Then we had the chance to visit the new Trulli Madrac in Fasano maybe one of the best trulli you can rent in Apulia...




1 week in a villa in Morciano di Leuca in the Salento area:



what a bbq and a terrific steak:





Thursday, 20 September 2012

Ceglie Messapica

Ceglie Messapica, a small town in the heart of Apulia, located on the North side of Salento and at the heart of Valle d’Itria. They called Ceglie Messapica “the Land between two seas”, and it is in fact few km far from the Ionian Sea and few others from the Adriatic one, set in the midst of the lands of centuries-old olive trees andTrulli.

What I like here:

A cosy B&B:
Santa Anna

A wonderful Trattoria Messapica in
Piazza Plebiscito 27, Ceglie Messapica

or

a Trullo to stay a week:
Trulli Angelo




Tuesday, 11 September 2012

New Villa in Piemont in Roccaverano

Villa with pool in Piemont:



We're pleased to inform you about this new villa in Piemont for 16 people with private pool. A main villa for 10 and 2 houses for 3 people each one.


Back To The Middle Ages In Italy


Article first published as BackTo The Middle Ages In Italy on Technorati.

The first Sunday of September in the afternoon, thousands of people gather in the town of Arezzo, Tuscany. The reason? The Giostra del Saracino (Joust of the Saracen), an incredibly popular medieval tournament held in this lovely old city twice a year, in July as well as September. It is said that the origins of the joust go back to the Crusades, and its popularity varied during time, before being firmly reinstated during the 1930s.

As you arrive, you really have the feeling that you have stepped back in time… A great deal of detail goes into the historical costumes, and the explosion of colours is a pure delight. Not only are the protagonists of the tournament dressed that way, but residents too. On the day of the event, a procession takes place from the dome to the Piazza Grande, starting with a blessing of the Bishop in front of the cathedral. Once everyone is gathered in the main square, the flag wavers, known as the sbandieratori, demonstrate their skills, launching their flags high into the sky before catching them at the last second. It is then time for the representatives of the four districts to defy each other. They joust in pairs, mounted on a horse, but nowadays do not throw lances at each other anymore. Instead, the aim of the game is to hit the Saracen king, a target carved in wood, trying to score a maximum of points in order to win the golden lance.

There are also several other traditional events to choose from, not only in Tuscany but also in regions such as Umbria or Le Marche.


The Quintana of Foligno (Umbria) is one of them. It was named after the 5th road of the Roman military camp, dedicated to the training of lance fighting, and was later turned into a knight jousting tournament. In 1613 it was officially instated as part of the Carnival celebrations. The first part of the event is held in June on a Saturday night, and the counter challenge the second or third Sunday of September. Ten knights, representing the town quarters, are competing. Their duty is to catch with their lance three rings of decreasing sizes, which are dangling from a gyrating statue of Mars, the Roman God of war. All this while sitting on a horse going at full speed.

Other possibilities include the Palio del Serafino in Sarnano or the Disfia del Bracciale in Treia, both located in the Marche region. The Palio del Serafino is a reminiscence of the 13th and 14th centuries that happens in August and consists of a week of processions, banquets and tournaments opposing the four different parts of the town. The Disfia del Bracciale sees teams of two players dressed in medieval costumes and sporting big spiky bracelets made of wood confront each other. The purpose of the game, played against the fortified walls, is to propel a leather ball over a high net. The match and the party that follow are the culminating point of ten days of celebrations.

Are you ready to join in?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Eating by the sea

From sunrise to sunset, the informal hospitality of people living by the sea...

Ristorante Emilia a Portonovo - Monte Conero, not far away from Casa Olivi Villa in Italy






Cooking in Casa Olivi

Take a look what you can eat in Casa Olivi:


Menu 1
Antipasto
crostini with truffle and mozarella
crostini with spring vegetable
typical prociutto from Trentino (speck, salami)
scoperino cheese with grape marmelade 
small tomatoes filled with ricotta 
small artichokes in olive oil
Primo
gnocchi with duck sauce 
Secondo
veal and green peas
fritata of vegetable 
crema fritta (speciality of Le Marches)
Dolce
apple tart



Menu 2
Antipasto
Melon and prosciutto
Primo
Ravioli of ricotta or lasagna Vincisgrassi
Secondo
roasted chicken
beef 
Porchetta
tomatoes and melanzane (aubergines) roasted
salad
Dolce
crostata with blackberry marmelade
chocolate sausage


Menu 3
Antipasto
melon and prosciutto
ricotta in the oven
pecorino cheese, grape marmelade and small peperoncini
salami
artichoke in olive oil
home made olives
primo
lasagna Vincisgrassi
Secondo
milk pork roasted
potatoes and tomatoes roasted
green beans
Dolce
fruit tart


Fish cous cous




This cous cous has been cooked in Casa Natoli in Sciacca, Italy! It was super!

Nonna Giusy’s Fish with Couscous

From the book Jamie’s Italy by
Serves 4

Introduction

When I was on the island of Marettimo, I found out that it’s famous for its African-influenced couscous dishes. I walked around the town one day asking the locals who made the best couscous and, of course, every answer was “Mia mamma!” That is, until one lad took me along to meet his grandmother — Norma Giusy.
She was the most incredible woman, who made her own couscous by hand using coarse semolina flour and rubbing it in a bowl with a bit of water until it stuck together in little chunky bits. It was so delicious, and incredibly easy to make, but I think the type of flour she was using will be hard to find outside Italy, so I would suggest using quality bought couscous instead.
This is how the women on the island prepare whatever fish their husbands catch at sea each day. When they see the boats coming in, they put the couscous on to steam and get ready to start poaching the fish. It’s a really interesting method and damn tasty. I was at Norma Giusy’s house for three hours learning how to make it, so thanks, Norma! (And she makes a mean limoncello, too.)

Ingredients

Couscous


1 small onion, peeled

½ bulb garlic, peeled

~ Large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked

14 oz. couscous

Fish


~ Olive oil

1 large white onion, peeled and sliced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

½ dried red chile, crumbled

2 red mullet or bream (11 to 14 ounces each), gutted and scaled

2 jars (16 ounces each) stewed tomatoes

~ Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

~ Large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Steps

  1. Put the onion, garlic, and parsley into a food processor and whiz up until fine. Mix with the couscous, then put into a steamer or use a colander over a pan of boiling water and let it steam very slowly for half an hour. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, put a pan on low heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Add the sliced onion and garlic and the chile and cook gently for about 5 minutes. Add the fish to the pan, then pour in the stewed tomatoes and the same amount of water so that the fish is covered. Season with a little salt and pepper and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully transfer the fish to a plate, then pour half the sauce into the bowl of couscous and mix together.
  3. At this point Norma Giusy placed a couple of towels over the bowl so the couscous remained warm while it absorbed the sauce. You can do this, or cover the bowl with aluminum foil and place it in a very low oven (160 degrees) for 30 minutes. Flake the meat from the fish and put into a second serving bowl. Be careful to remove all the bones. Pour the rest of the poaching sauce over the top, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve with the bowl of couscous in the middle of the table for people to help themselves.

Notes

Editor’s notes: If you don’t have a good setup for steaming couscous (such as a couscoussière), you can make an all-in-one version by pulverizing the onion, garlic, parsley, and 2 cups water in a blender, then pouring the liquid over 1 1/2 cups couscous in a saucepan. Cook on low for about 20 minutes (depending on the size of the couscous pearls) until the couscous has absorbed all the water. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Vary the flavors in the fish-poaching stew by adding fennel seeds, Aleppo pepper, chopped kale, and the like. Canned whole tomatoes work perfectly well as a substitute for the stewed tomatoes. And a few fillets of firm-fleshed fish, such as halibut or black cod, will do just fine in the place of the bream or mullet.
This content is from the book Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Casa In Italia on facebook












Follow the latest news about www.casainitalia.ch and Italy on facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Casa-In-Italia/131079690359895

You LIKE it?

There's more to Italian Cuisine than pasta

There's more to Italian cuisine than pasta, as you'll discover in the Marche. With delicious cheeses, cured meats, truffles and speciality dishes this is gourmet heaven.

http://casaolivi.blogspot.de/2012/08/theres-more-to-italian-cuisine-than.html

"Few people seem to go on vacation to the Marche, the region of Italy that lies between Umbria and the Adriatic. Yet it is a delightful area, with rolling hills, great beaches, long stretches of undeveloped coastline and cultured hilltowns such as Urbino. If you take a cheap flight to the Marche – you can fly to Acona from London - you’ll not only escape the tourists who flock to Tuscany and Rome, you’ll be able to try the region’s delicious cuisine. As Fred Plotkin says in his fascinating book Italy for the Gourmet Traveller (Kyle Cathie £14.99), ‘the combination of sea, hills, and mountains’ in the Marche means that ‘there is superb seafood as well as excellent truffles, mushrooms, meats, olives, grapes, and especially cheeses. Dishes to look out for on your vacation include vincisgrassi, a rich lasagne made with cream, veal ragu and black truffles; brodetto, a fish stew made with garlic and herbs and served over slices of bread; lumache a nove erbe, which is snails cooked with nine herbs – a speciality of the northern Marche; and sarde alla Marchigiana, a dish of sardines which are baked with breadcrumbs, rosemary, parsley and lemon. As you explore the Marche, you will also find speciality cheeses such as Casciotta, a cheese made from a mix of sheep’s milk and cow’s milk, that Fred Plotkin says was Michelangelo’s favourite cheese. Apparently the great Renaissance artist used to eat keep supplies of casciotta handy so he could eat it while he sculpted. Michelangelo liked it so much he eventually bought land near Urbino and grazed sheep on it, so that he would always have casciotta to eat. Other traditional cheeses from the Marche are Formaggio di Fossa, a pecorino cheese stored in caves, and Pecorino Sotto le Foglie di Noci, a pecorino cheese wrapped in walnut leaves. In Italy for the Gourmet Traveller, Fred Plotkin suggests restaurants where you might like to eat when you visit the Marche. He also provides some recipes for classic dishes of the region. This recipe for Shrimps Wrapped in Prosciutto, which appears here with permission, is a speciality of Ristorante delle Rose in Marina di Montemarciano. It uses prosciutto from the town of Carpenga, but if that is unavailable you may substitute it with prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele. Prosciutto from Carpegna is saltier than the others." www.amazon.co.uk/Italy-Gourmet-Traveller-Fred-Plotkin

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Vini...

If you have the chance to be near Bolgheri in Tuscany, don't miss to visit the Winery:

Le Macchiole

http://www.lemacchiole.it/index.php?lingua=en

Le Macchiole is a story of men and human endeavor. And of one man in particular.

Eugenio was strongly convinced of his passion for wine that, when it entered his life, took it over and proceeded to profoundly transform it. Always one for experimenting, he decided to become a winegrower; following his instinct and wholeheartedly committing himself to hard work, he became a very successful one. Cinzia, his partner for years, was his accomplice in this new and challenging adventure.

Outlets in Le Marche



http://www.villasanraffaello.com/free-time/marche-shopping-outlets.html

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Eating Sea Urchins in Apulia


Article first published as Eating Sea Urchins in Apulia on Technorati. 

"Buy the sea urchins!" This exclamation can be heard every morning at more or less the same time. When the fishermen are back with their booty. Have you ever tried these spiny sea animals? If not, Apulia, the "heel of the Italian boot", might be the perfect place for an introduction. Sea urchins can be found along the whole of the stunning Puglian coast, and you will hear that cry everywhere you go.

It is commonly said that fruti di mare (seafood) are best savoured during the months containing an "r", therefore mainly in the winter, for freshness. You will however have no trouble finding sea urchins while on holiday in the summer. It might even be fun to go and collect some yourself, but be careful not to walk on them! The spikes breaking into your flesh will be very painful, and it takes a long time for them to come out. Use thick gloves or tongs to haul the ricci di mare out of the water, and put them straight into the large bag you will have taken with you.

If you purchase them, the fishmonger will show you how to open the sea urchins or do it for you. It might be a good idea to learn the proper way if you are having a go on your own. As the edible part is nesting on one side only, it would be a shame to destroy it by tackling the wrong part. Special pliers dedicated to that job exist and you will get the best results that way, but a pair of sturdy scissors or simply a sharp knife can also be used for that purpose.

Once open, you will marvel at the delicate orange colour. The edible part, called the roe, can be rinsed with fresh or salt water first. You can also skip that part: Just tip the shell to drain it and start eating with a knife or a spoon. Its foamy consistency is surprising at first, and then the salty, subtle taste hits your taste buds. Add a piece of fresh bread to the equation and you will get one perfect combination of food heaven.



Eating it raw is not to your taste? Not a problem. Try one of the several existing pasta or risotto recipes in the comfort of your own kitchen for a special lunch or dinner.

Sadly, a new report that ocean acidification is affecting shell growing in sea creatures, therefore rendering them more exposed to predator attacks, has now been published. Which impact will this consequence of climate change have on the marine food chain, and also on human seafood supply? Will the simple pleasure described in this article disappear one day?




Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sicily – A Land Of Contradictions

Article first published as Sicily - A Land of Contradictions on Technorati.

The picturesque miniature villages, forgotten by modern life and going about at a slower, somehow more genuine pace. The gorgeous sand beaches leading to waters so clear you can spot the details of the tiny fish swimming near the bottom of the sea. A culinary tradition of such richness  that every visit to this Italian island unveils new delights and entices you to come back again and again. Vibrant cities such as Palermo and Taormina, with their cultural heritage and many architectural wonders. Dramatic volcanoes, the Etna winning the prize of the most famous one, the green plain of Catania spreading under its looming shape. An abundance of citrus fruit, almonds and vegetables. A bountiful production of wine and oil, as well a thriving fishing trade. Add natural resources such as sulphur, gas and salt. Yes, Sicily has it all.

But this blessed part of our planet is also steeped in contradictions. Let's concentrate on a few in particular.

The majority of the population has of course elected to live in the coastal areas, the massive exodus resulting in the inner, rural territories being seriously under populated. This is unlikely to change and is creating an imbalance in the financial circumstances of the population. Did Dolce & Gabbana's three months casting in Sicily to discover non-professional models for their latest men summer collection included the whole territory? It would be interesting to know.

A little bundle of joy will soon be joining your family. As your pregnancy progresses, you will no doubt appreciate to find out that parking spaces are reserved especially for you. But will this delicate attention make you forget about the lack of pavement and how dangerous this makes walking in the streets? Not so sure.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Sicilian beaches are out of this world, and you will find that they are often not crowded at all, which definitely has its importance in making the experience an enjoyable one. You leave the seaside after soaking up the sun the whole day, feeling contented and relaxed. The last thing you fancy coming across are various heaps of garbage strewn around. Sadly, this might well be the case, casting an unpleasant shadow over your stay in heaven.

You will also almost certainly step into a beautiful grocery store that has retained the flair of an era long vanished. You find yourself unable to resist filling your basket with artisanal goodies, wrapped in colourful paper or moving gently inside an old-fashioned jar or bottle. The shock of the bill at the till will certainly make you leave your reverie at once.

Sicily, a land of many contradictions. But so worth discovering.


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A new, very special and cozy house


CASA BLU




Casa Blu is an exclusive villa on the sea in Fontane Bianche, a well-known beach resort just to the south of Syracuse.

Olive Oil: Bitter is Better?

Article first published as Olive Oil: Bitter is Better? on Technorati.


Hardly a day goes by without news relating to the latest health discoveries appearing in newspapers and magazines, on TV and on the Internet. In parallel, one can read about the multiplication of health problems given today's tendency to eat more, with food getting richer and richer while at the same time populations move less and less. No wonder obesity is on the rise at a rate that can only be described as alarming, not only in high income countries, but also in middle or even low income countries, especially in urban areas. It is said that one billion adults are now overweight, while three million are considered obese.


With its wide array of options, the slimming products and meal plans market certainly is a lucrative one, but it is easy to get lost in its meanders. It is also no surprise that the mass of information widely available can confuse people, especially as it is often conflicting. A subject has however remained unchanged over the years, and that is the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.


What does this way of eating consist of? Lots of vegetables, fruit, pulses and unrefined cereals, which provide a healthy dose of dietary fibres, moderate amounts of dairy products, fish and wine, and low meat consumption. And last but not least, olive oil as the main source of fat. The very high level of monounsaturated fats present in this oil is thought to be a factor in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, has anti-inflammatory properties, and evidence that its antioxidants improve cholesterol regulation is commonly cited.


The way the olive oil is produced, in particular the stage of pressing, however does have an impact in terms of health benefits. Studies have tested the anti-inflammatory capacities of extra virgin olive oil from the first pressing with virgin olive oils from later pressings. The result was that first pressing oils were able to lower inflammatory markers in the blood, when second or subsequent pressings were not.


Interestingly, it is also now recognized that the bitterer the olive oil tastes, the more polyphenols it contains. Polyphenols protect cells and body chemicals against the damage caused by free radicals, and can possibly deactivate substances that play a role in the growth of cancers. Additionally, they make the oil last longer.


One of the bitterness factors comes from the type of olives used for the oil production. If you go to Apulia, the region forming the high heel on the "boot" of Italy, you will encounter the Peranza variety. Its distinct bitterness makes it an ideal candidate for a first pressed, extra virgin version of this wonderful addition to the daily diet.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Bandiera Blu


The cleanest beaches in Italy:

Every year the Italian Government publishs a list of the cleanest beaches in Italy. Click here:
http://www.bandierablu.org/common/blueflag.asp?anno=2012&tipo=bb


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Italian Body Language

Article first published as Italian Body Language on Technorati.


Every European nation has been attributed its own clichés: The French complain a lot but are romantic, the Germans have no sense of humor but work very hard, The Spanish are loud but welcoming, etc. You will agree I think that an entire nation cannot be cataloged into such narrow boxes. I happen to live in Germany and most people I have encountered do have a sense of humor. They are also in the vast majority very helpful, warm and welcoming towards my family and myself.

One cliché I do find to be true, though, is how important body language is to Italians. Perhaps I especially notice it as it has been pointed out to me that I am prone to "speaking with my hands". No doubt this is the Italian blood in me coming to the surface!

During a visit to the lesser known perhaps but absolutely gorgeous region of the Marches, we encountered many local people and enjoyed watching them interacting. Our house was close to the lovely walled city of Urbino, to which we cycled on a magnificent sunny day. Comfortably sitting down at a café terrace and having ordered much needed refreshments, I began to discreetly look at our neighbors. Now my Italian is rather basic, and I did not try, nor did I want, to pry. I just observed people instead.

Two women in their mid-thirties, I would say, we engrossed in a passionate and obviously very amusing discussion. They both kept throwing their heads back, laughing heartily, hands alternatively flying to their mouths and to their hearts. Their eyes were twinkling, and they were having trouble keeping the loudness of their voices under control. Behind them I spotted a woman with two young boys. The look of love in her eyes, her head half tilted, the way she kept patting their heads and pinching their round cheeks, all this told me that she was their mother. She had a game of blowing them kisses, pulling a funny face at the same time, which kept the little ones highly entertained. On the other side, a middle age couple look as though they were going through a stormy patch in their relationship. Hands were pointing accusingly at each other, and it seemed that reproaches were being uttered through clenched teeth. After a while, they both sat back and fell silent, looking away from each other, arms firmly crossed on their chests. Finally, I rested my gaze on a group of teenagers, the girls pretending not to be flirting while the boys clearly were competing for their attention. They kept getting up, throwing their arms on the side, and looking deeply into the eyes of the girl they were desperate to impress. In return the said girl usually gave a small smile and intense look, only to quickly resume her demure position.
As they walked away, I noticed hands being held and heads resting on shoulders. I could not help but smile: the courting had clearly been successful!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Eating with the Stars

Article first published as Eating With The Stars on Technorati.


Nowadays, a conversation about food generally means sharing the latest diet miracle trick or focusing on what is deemed healthy and what is not. This is of course important in a world where obesity and its related health problems are dramatically rising. However, there is a certain sadness to realise that often the notion of pleasure associated with eating has disappeared. There is one country that remains faithful to its culinary culture tough, and that is Italy. This explains why food plays such a big part in movies set in this country or featuring Italian characters.

Going back to the fifties and sixties, a prime example is "La Dolce Vita," directed by Federico Fellini and starring Anita Eckberg and Marcello Mastroianni. You can literally smell the aroma of the pasta dishes served in the Roman trattorie and it is a struggle not to get ravenously hungry. You would love to try these recipes yourself? You can still find them on the Internet today.

A bit closer to us, can you recall the famous quotes from Enzo, played by Jean Reno, one of the main characters in "The Big Blue", released in 1988 and a fantastic box-office success for director Luc Besson? Enzo is adamant that "pasta has to be eaten al dente" or is genuinely scared about his mother's wrath: "She will kill me if she catches me eating pasta in a restaurant!".

And how about the ragù sauce, prepared and served to her family on Sunday nights by Sophia Loren in the 1990 film "Sabato, domenica e lunedi"? The famous actress is actually a skilled cook in real life and has published a few recipe books. And one of the sayings attributed to her tells us: "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti".

"The Big Night" is a 1996 movie with Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci. It recounts the story of two Italian immigrant brothers in the fifties struggling to keep their New Jersey restaurant afloat. The older one is the masterful cook who cannot bring himself to offer the mediocre meals that make a neighbouring place so successful. The younger one is the restaurant manager desperately trying to save their business. Without giving too much of the plot away, the key moment is the preparation of a mouth-watering feast, the central piece being a form of timballo, an elaborate baked pasta dish.

Last but not least, "Eat Pray Love" is recent enough for the story and pivotal scenes to still be clearly present in our minds. Julia Roberts, playing author Elizabeth Gilbert, spends time in Italy, India and Bali. How not to love the scene where she is so enjoying her pizza in Napoli that her line is: "I am in love. I am having a relationship with my pizza."

That bit of movie dialogue sums it all up, does it not?

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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Trulli - The Typical Stone Houses of Apulia

Article first published as Trulli - The Typical Stone Houses of Apulia on Technorati.


As you arrive in the Itria Valley, a part of the Apulia region in Italy, it is impossible to miss the Trulli, the typical stone houses specific to this area.

Their cone-shaped roofs are covered with layered flat stones, their spire soaring against the mostly blue skies. The walls are normally whitewashed, but can also show the dry stones used to create these unusual houses. The buildings can often been found in groups of two to five or more. And finally, you cannot help but notice the various, mostly Christian, symbols sometimes painted on the roofs: for example, a heart pierced with an arrow has nothing to do with love, but is the representation of Our Lady of Sorrow, or a dove calls to mind the Holy Spirit.

The architecture of these homes is pretty basic. The material used is limestone, which can be found in plentiful quantity in that region. The stones are set to create two rows in a circular shape, to which the conical roof is then added. This structure does not allow for multiple floors, and means that the house will remain comfortably cool in the summer and will be relatively easy to heat during the cold season. Corbelled blocks on the inside, topped with a finishing stone, and slats on the outside render the roof watertight.

Various conjectures have been uttered over the years as explanations for such a simple way to build a house. The fact that the construction could be dismantled quickly and without hard work, therefore stopping inspectors from spotting it and asking for high property tax to be paid, is the most probable.
There are several towns or villages famous for Trulli houses, which are protected under the UNESCO World Heritage law. You should be aware of that fact if it is in your plans to buy and renovate such a house, as you will have to comply with many regulations.

And should you want to avoid the main, bustling tourist places such as Alberobello, you can still find plenty of hidden gems. Beautifully restored houses are available and will offer you a truly relaxing, magical holiday. They offer all the modern commodities while retaining original characteristics. You can therefore enjoy cooking meals in a state of the art kitchen while going to sleep in a cosy, stone alcove. Open fires are the norm, and often an outside swimming pool has been added, perfect for either a summer or a winter stay. You will have the feeling of having been forgotten by the entire world, but gorgeous beaches and restaurants offering superb food and wines will never be far away.

Pretty heavenly region and accommodation, is it not?
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Paradise on Earth - The Amalfi Coast

Article first published as Paradise On Earth - The Amalfi Coast on Technorati.


Chances are that even if you have never actually visited some of the gorgeous places populating the Italian Amalfi Coast, you are aware of what they look like. Why? Because they are regularly featured in magazines and used as shooting locations in movies. "The talented Mr. Ripley", "Under the Tuscan Sun", "Only you" or the older "Beat the Devil" are a few examples.

The Amalfi Coast is located in the southern part of the Italian "boot" just around the corner from Naples. It is about 70 m long and ends at Positano, a stunning cliff-hanging town with breathtaking views over the sea and natural caves to discover. Its mix of white and colourful buildings as well as the luxuriant gardens sporting green Mediterranean plants, lemon trees and beautiful flowers make it an enchanting place to visit.

Amalfi is the biggest city. This does not mean that you will find it intimidating. On the contrary, its numerous alleys and steps give Amalfi a romantic and intimate feel. 57 steps will take you to Saint Andrew, the impressive cathedral overlooking the main Piazza. The town is also a good base for a visit to Capri.

Sorrento is located on its own peninsula with a panoramic view on Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Its lovely harbour is ideal for an evening stroll enjoying one of the many ice-cream flavours available. The petrified city remains of Pompeii are also close by, as well as the site of Herculaneum.

Ravello is another village on the "to visit" list. Situated at a great height above Amalfi, most of the visitors come during the day, so if you are after tranquillity at night, this might just be the place for you. Villa Rufolo and its amazing gardens, which so impressed Wagner, are well worth some of your time. A music festival is also organized there, starting early in April.

Travelling along the Amalfi Coast is relatively easy as means of transportations are plentiful. Visiting by car is of course one of them, and you will no doubt enjoy the stunning scenery as you drive along the coastal road. If you arrive by plane, you will most likely land in Naples. If you do not fancy renting a car, then trains, ferries and buses will be on offer to take you to your chosen destinations.

As it is understandably very popular during the summer season, you may prefer to visit it in spring or autumn, or even in winter when the temperatures remain pleasant. You will then avoid the crowds and inflated prices, and enjoy a more peaceful atmosphere. Whatever season you choose, you can be sure that you will not be disappointed.
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Sunday, 27 May 2012

Egadi Islands - Favignana


Favignana, Marettimo and Levanzo are the names of the three principal Egadi Islands, located off the magnificent western coast of Sicily. This article focuses on Favignana, the largest one.

It is situated between Trapani and Marsala, and its proximity to Trapani international airport makes it easily accessible, while remaining unspoilt. It has a land area of about twenty square kilometres and the two plains on either side of a chain of hills have given Favignana its "butterfly" nickname. A tunnel running through the hills connects the two parts. The island is composed mostly of calcareous boulders, and visitors are also usually fascinated by the "cave di tufo", huge cavities which are the result of years of quarrying. These gaping holes can surprisingly conceal a precious area of greenery, or be filled with pretty pools of sea water. The most wondrous can be found around Scalo Cavallo, Bue Marino and Cala Rossa. The rugged coastline means that the beaches are often small and sometimes hard to access, but Favignana is a sought-after spot for all types of diving activities. Its turquoise waters have been protected by a marine reserve and there is no shortage of diving centres.

The main town, also called Favignana, is where the ferry stops. Built around a pretty port, it is dominated by Santa Caterina Fort, once a Saracen observatory post, nowadays in military hands. Facing the sea, the heritage of the rich Florio family, which used to be active in the production and export of Marsala wine as well as tuna fishing, can be found. It takes the shape of the Palazzo Florio and the tonnara (tuna fishery). Tuna fishing is still going strong, Favignana being one of the few places in Italy where the bloody mattanza method is still alive. It is however a historic ritual performed every year in May or June, and one of the principal tourist attractions.


Apart from scuba diving, snorkelling and swimming, other options include boat tours and cycling. You can hire your own craft, or participate in an excursion. Boatmen will also come to you spontaneously in the harbour, with ideas of a trip to secluded beaches or around the island. You can book a fishing trip too. With its flat landscape, exploring the island on a bike is popular. If you did not bring your own, you can hire one at a low cost without problem, and either set off alone or join a guided tour.

For sustenance, you have a choice between shops selling everything from tuna steaks to take-away pizze, or a wide range of restaurants. The prices are fair for a touristic place, and if you like fish and seafood you will be in heaven.

Are you after authenticity and unpretentious beauty? Then Favagna is for you.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Casa Olivi in the Marches, Italy


Published in Travel Files http://travel-files.com/casa-olivi-in-the-marches-italy/


A Week in Casa Bramasole



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Article first published as A Week In Casa Bramasole  on Technorati.


More and more articles are being published about the way social media now affects our lives. Twitter and Facebook are still the leaders, but new possibilities are emerging every day. We tend to spend more and more time interacting with our virtual "friends" online. But how about our real life friends? Do we still have time for them? How would you say an experience such as described below compares with how popular one can be on social networks?
Our group of four friends were driving through the dark oak forest. We finally came to a clearing and there it was, the house! We got out of the car and took the time to admire the myriad of lights around Lake Trasimeno below us. We then looked for the key that would open the beautiful Umbrian property in front of us and quickly found it. We had of course seen lots of photos of Casa Bramasole but the reality surpassed what we had been expecting. We immediately felt welcome as we entered the old converted farmhouse, while retaining its original features of old beams, terracotta tiles and brickwork. The colourful flowers and fresh fruit waiting for us in the dining room were a nice and thoughtful addition.
As we entered the spacious kitchen, we realised that this was where we would spend most of our stay. On top of the two dishwashers, massive fridge and freezer, a surprise was waiting for us: a Pavoni coffee machine! This completed the feeling of belonging that we had experienced as we had first walked into Casa Bramasole. Once the bedrooms, all different, were attributed, we set out on a complete tour of our home for the week. All the rooms were absolutely gorgeous and fireplaces could be found in the kitchen, bedrooms and living room. We were ravenous by then and the oak logs were quickly thrown into the barbecue on the terrace. We did not even wait for the fire to completely turn to embers to cook the impressive steaks we had bought on the way in Tuoro. The result was heavenly: Tender and juicy meat, eaten with tomato and garlic bruschette.
The following morning we fully discovered the unbelievable view on the lake below and the nearby hills. We were very lucky with the weather and were able to enjoy the outdoor swimming pool and to eat outside, except for one evening when we gathered around the big wooden table and ate by candlelight. The whole week was a culinary festival: mushroom risotto, steaks alla Fiorentina, homemade pasta filled with ricotta and basil, zabaione, berry tiramisu and apple tart, accompanied by local white and red wines. That last dessert we savoured in the TV room, just so we could say we had used all of these stunning rooms at least once. This part of the house was once a pigsty and the original arrow slits gives it a special atmosphere.
As we were about to leave we all stated how much we would love to come back. Perhaps this time in the winter? If only for the opportunity to snuggle up on one of the big leather sofas in the living room, with logs blazing in that enormous fireplace.