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Iconic Tuscany

Tuscany is a necessary part of any cultural education, as it has been for centuries.

By Eva Stelzer

tuscan landscapeTuscany long ago earned its reputation for capturing the very essence of Italy – picturesque rolling hillsides with vineyards and charming medieval towns. The geography varies dramatically: coastal cities teeter along the Tyrrhenian Sea, while lush mountains, quaint hill towns and river plains stretch far inland. Add to this beauty seeing some of the world’s famous art in person. One of many reasons we are drawn to Italy and other European destinations is that touring “the Continent” always has been part of the ultimate educational experience.

When in Italy, Eat Like the Italians!

When in Italy, Eat Like the Italians!

Posted by guest blogger: Krista Haynes

Eating in Italy is like entering a culinary landscape far removed from what Americans have become accustomed to, where time remains still, and recipes have been passed down for generations. I have visions of a rustic kitchen with a ray of sunlight beaming though the window, a puff of cloud from freshly kneaded pasta dough primed to be hand rolled and cut into various shapes and sizes, or wrapped around humanely raised meats or unprocessed cheese. The noodles would soon be graced with a naturally sweet tomato sauce so delicious it may be mistaken for candy.

Food of this caliber makes a girl following a “restricted-vegan-diet” question whether it’s necessary to stick to her “rules”. How does one experience the finest of Italian cuisine when traditional fare is centered on Parmigiano-Reggiano, mozzarella, salami, crema, and white flour? I think to myself, “When in Rome”…well, in my case, “When in Firenze”. I decide to let loose and allow a few slight modifications. What I left with was a truly scrumptious experience worth writing home about.

Cooking class in Florence

Cooking class in Florence

Each year I spend some time at Costanza’s renaissance villa in Florence. Sometimes I bring group of people to gather together for a cooking class, and walk in the olive orchards or enjoy an outdoor feast of pizza freshly baked in the stone pizza oven. In one of her cooking classes in Florence, Costanza had a group of chefs from Norway who were being taught to make an authentic Tuscan meal. I personally loved the Faraona del Paradisino – roasted Guinea fowl. Back in my native Canada I replaced the Guinea fowl with grain fed, antibiotic free chicken. My guests were so delighted with this dish that I was embarrassed to tell them it’s a one pot meal. Try this out on your family or friends and let me know what they think.

Cook this amazing dish. Faraona del Paradisino – Roasted Guinea Fowl

Cook under the Tuscan Sun

Cooking Class in Tuscany

Cooking with Costanza: a culinary adventure to awaken and inspire all your senses and allow you to experience the very essence of Italy!

The Renaissance Villa, on a hill with all of Florence spread out below, focuses on regional cuisine that is more regal and elaborate in preparation than in the villages. Set in a heritage-protected five-hectare property with colourful gardens, this is an opportunity to experience the lifestyle of the Tuscan city folk and immerse yourself in Italy as you imagine it in films. Your experience begins al fresco with a tour of the organic herb gardens. You are encouraged to smell, feel and taste the various greens. Learn how to choose the most perfect natural flavour enhancers of Tuscan cuisine. The discussions will cover food traditions, history, and what makes food such an integral part of everyday life in Italy. Of course you choose the freshest herbs for your cooking lesson.

tuscan cuisineFood choices are seasonal and take advantage of the freshest produce. The first dish to prepare is an authentic antipasto. Too many restaurants ignore antipasti and focus on pasta, but this is a traditional meal to be enjoyed all evening long, and enjoyment of each course is paramount to your culinary experience. The antipasti selection is based on seasonal and local produce. Each course is paired with an Italian wine.

Appetizers are based on both wild and cultivated foods. In spring you might make frittata di carciofi – fried artichoke. Jewish Romans made this dish famous in the ghetto, and it is still a staple of spring cooking. Chef Costanza may thinly slice an artichoke and treat it like a carpaccio – which is usually thinly sliced raw beef or fish – and serve with a deep grassy flavoured olive oil. In summer tomatoes ripening on the vine make delicious bruschetta al pomodoro (tomato bruschetta), insalata caprese (tomato salad with garden fresh basil, oregano and local buffalo mozzarella). Autumn is the season for melt-in-the mouth crostini con i funghi procini (porcini mushrooms in a flaky crust).

Breakfast in Tuscany

Breakfast in Tuscany

Some mouth-watering delights from Italy

By Eva Stelzer

Starting breakfast with dessert is a slightly wicked Tuscan tradition that I thoroughly enjoy. At Florence’s Hotel Il Guelfo Bianco, the chef’s freshly baked crostata is a sensory delight. The sweet jam oozed in my mouth as the buttery crust crumbled onto my tongue. Manager Antonella Rocchini says the cheerful chef can be heard humming and whistling while baking. “Of all the treats on our menu, crostata is the most popular,” she adds. After devouring too many pieces of the lattice masterpiece, I understand the attraction.

The tiny, unadorned breakfast room hardly seems like the setting for such delicious food, but the morning buffet is filled with goodies from melt-in-the-mouth burratta cheese to warm apple tarts topped with smooth, creamy ricotta. As in most small Italian-owned hotels, a barista makes guests the perfect morning coffee. A barista is a professional coffeemaker who understands the important harmony between milk frothed into white airy peaks and the bitter dark espresso base. The combination of taste and texture creates the perfect balance.

“A barista is a professional coffeemaker who understands the important harmony between milk frothed into white airy peaks and the bitter dark espresso base.”

Guided walks Italy

Guided Walks in Italy

A great way to connect with a place is on a guided walk or day tour with a local expert. In Italy, we have amazing one day and week-long guided walks and tours to suit every fitness level. You may wonder why we choose to use Italian licensed guides with quirky accents. The simple truth is that you can have the best accommodations and food, but without a local guide, you will miss the insider experience. Our local guides know the people in each small town or village, they know the off-the-beaten-path trails, and they are passionate about the history, geography and culture of their land. We engage North American staff to help with bridging the gap between cultures. But it is our local contacts that really make the difference and will leave you with memories to last a life time.

Our guided walks take you on footpaths that have connected towns for centuries, before paved roads became the norm. Turning a good trip into a great one is no easy feat. We do this by choosing leaders for their knowledge and expertise and of course, for their humor. Our feature image is a special walk to the church in Sicily where the Godfather II was filmed. Our expert guides are leading us to the church where Michael Corlioni was married. We end with a glass of limoncello at the local bar, followed by some grappa for those with a strong stomach.

Join us for one of our group departures or let us customize a journey tailor-made to your tastes.

TWO TERRIFIC CHIANTI WINES

Chianti is one of the central regions in Tuscany. Chianti wines, formerly recognized by the squat bottles encased in a straw basket has now joined the rest of the region as one of the major producers of elegant water for the gods.

The Chianti recipe as we know it today, was created by Baron Bettino Ricasole. Taking a run down family property, he began analyzing grapes from various vines and discovered that each type of fruit resulted in a specialized palate. Today, all wines labelled as Chianti comprise 70% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, and 15% Malivasia Bianca. However, in 1992 white grapes were prohibited from use in a Chianti Classico. There are tens of thousands of small vineyards producing Chianti and the best way to find a good wine, is by tasting. Of course, Ricasole remains the larges producer but don’t limit yourself with some many other wines on the market. New organic wines are taking space on the shelves. My two faves (at the moment) from Chianti:

AMA 2010.  Priced at about $27 Canadian and $17 Euros in Greve, this wine has flavourful bouquet that opens beautifully from the first sip. Here is a wine that can be enjoyed in its youth without breaking the bank. Founded in 1972, Castello di Ama provides a great product, thanks to dedication and hard work of founders Marco Pallanti and Lorenza Sebasti.

Florence Statues worth visiting

Florence: Statues in Piazza della Signoria

Florence’s Piazza della Signoria is a must stop for any renaissance aficionado. Most of the statues are of male nudes, and very well proportioned ones at that.

In the 15th century Renaissance sculptors studying the classical ideal found that freestanding nudes had been missing in Europe since the Roman Empire. Even though our own modern times seems to have an absence of free standing nudes, I haven’t seen a mass movement to erect new ones!

Must-Visit Travel Destinations: Tuscany

Tuscany has long ago earned a reputation for its picturesque, Italian atmosphere full of rolling hillsides of vineyards and charming medieval towns. The region’s geography varies dramatically; coastal cities teeter along the Tyrrhenian Sea, while lush mountains, quaint hill towns and river plains stretch far inland. For good reason, the region remains one of the most visited destinations in the world.

Most people recognize Tuscany, Florence specifically, as the birthplace of the Renaissance – a time of learning, beauty and, especially, the artistic movements. It’s the literal birthplace of some of the most famous names in Italian (and world) history. This includes Botticelli, Dante, Michelangelo, da Vinci and Galileo. As part of the Renaissance culture, architects wanted to reflect that in the landscapes and created paths that seemed like they would never end. They created gentle hills that would sooth the soul but make visible an open sky and wide open spaces. After this beauty was created, painters began to immortalize it in their art.

Five Breathtaking Tuscan Villages

Ask anyone who has visited Tuscany, and they will tell you all about the many breathtaking villages that can be found there. From beautiful views to gorgeous houses, there is a feast for the senses around every corner. That is why I wanted to share with you 5 breathtaking Tuscan villages that you must see the next time you’re in Tuscany.

Montalcino
With a population of less than 6,000 people, Montalcino is a small but beautiful walled village located west of Pienza. Sitting upon a hill, the town grew out of a church that was built my monks in the 9th century. These days the town is known for its stunning views, old-world charm and the procution of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s best-known wines.

Top 10 Attractions in Florence

1. Galleria degli Uffizi. Filled with paintings by the most noted Italian artists visitors marvel at the mastery of Botticelli, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael to mention a few. Purchase advance tickets.photo

2. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. Brunelleshi’s dome and Giotto’s Tower dominate the Fiorentine skyline. Visitor’s never tire of these two most visited highlights of Italian architecture

3. The National Museum of the Bargello. Located near the Piazza della Signoria is a museum that houses sculptures of leading artists of the Renaissance era.

My first time in Italy

My first day.

My first day.

MY FIRST TIME IN ITALY AND I WENT WITH EVIA
BY: TONI PERL
May 12, 2014.

I am not a savvy traveller when it comes to European destinations so I look for direction and help to achieve my most desired results. I have heard stories of difficult trips with many details required and thought, I just cannot do this on my own.

Walking Tuscany’s White Roads

At the top of my list of fabulous things is walking through Tuscany’s network of white roads. These winding routes were originally carved out centuries ago by the enigmatic Etruscans, and later expanded by the Romans so that their war horses and soldiers could reach all parts of Europe from France to England. As a matter of fact, the sentence “all roads lead to Rome,” actually refers to this network of interconnecting trails. As cities grew they became neglected, left to be used by farmers and locals as they strolled from town to town.

To spit or not to spit part II

While French wine tasters roll the wine around in their mouth and spit before tasting the next, this is definitely not the custom in Argentina. I spent a week cycling through Mendoza where lunch often included 5 or 6 wines, following which we’d cycle to another winery a mere 10 kilometers away, and begin the tasting process again. I managed one sip from each glass while watching others drain their liquid happily and with ease. I did learn how to check the colour or a red and the clarity of a white, inhale the bouquet, and differentiate between citrus, chocolate and tobacco flavours of a good Malbec.

Wine tasting etiquette

Wine tasting etiquette. To spit or not to spit?

On a recent walking holiday in Sicily I took a group to the Etna vineyards for a wine tasting adventure. Lava rich soil nourishes the grapes yielding a distinctive – and strong – flavour. Our group of mixed neophyte tasters and experienced oenophiles wanted to know, “Do we spit the wine after tasting or swallow it?”