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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.

Capri Delights

Capri Delights

Italy’s Isle of Capri, a treasure in the Tyrrhenian Sea, a delight on or off  season

By Eva Stelzer

The Isle of Capri has drawn hedonistic visitors since Roman times. Today’s visitors represent the glamorous jet set, fashionistas and nature lovers alike.

Located in the Tyrrhenian Sea in the Campania region of Italy, Capri is the name of both the island and the main town. Breathtakingly beautiful Capri is swarmed in July and August, but May and September still boast amazing weather and thinner crowds, with enough action to keep any traveller happy. By late September the streets and alleys are quiet and you can get to know the locals.

Bring your most comfortable walking shoes! Most of Capri is closed to traffic and there are few parking places; mid-March to November there is no traffic allowed except for residents and those with motorbikes. If you get tired of walking take public buses or taxis.

Exploring on your own is exciting, but it’s always good to have a to-do list to fall back on. As Charles Dickens once wrote, “In no place on earth are there so many opportunities for delicious peace and quiet as on this small island.”

Here are five great picks for visiting Capri:

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).

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.

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.

Sicily Hiking Mount Etna

Sicily Hiking Mount Etna

Mount Etna on Sicily’s east coast rises gracefully from a sapphire sea. The peaceful scene contradicts the power of the most active volcano in Europe.

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?”

Wine, Wheels, and Words

You can usually find me writing or leading some walking holiday in Italy. I took a detour so that my husband, a self-proclaimed oenophile, could discover the wines of Mendoza. I searched for a holiday that combined his love of wine with my passion for bike riding in the countryside. Trying to find one to merge our two and very unrelated loves could have been a challenge. Thanks to Duvine, it was as easy as signing the application form and writing a check.