A Gastronomic Tour of Italy
June 25, 2018
As George Clooney quite rightly observed “I think people in Italy live their lives better than we do. It’s an older country, and they’ve learned to celebrate dinner and lunch, whereas we sort of eat as quickly as we can to get through it.”
Perhaps the hustle and bustle of living in a cosmopolitan city like London lends us to not to appreciate the things that actually sustain, enrich and enthuse us – like fine food, wine, culture and the arts.
In Italy, food is a carefully thought out art form that is not simply for sustenance but for pleasure. The heart of the home is the kitchen and, for most Italians I suspect, it is something to be celebrated.
My gastronomic Italian tour was a feast of pleasures with notes of deep history surrounding five important cities: Parma, Bologna, Genoa, Florence and Verona.
The First Italian UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy on December 11th 2015, Emilia-Romagna is the European region with the highest number of PDO (a badge that guarantees its authenticity) and PGI products and is described by US Forbes as “Italy’s greatest gastronomic treasure”.
Parma is the headquarters of the EFSA – the European Food Safety Authority and of SSICA – the Experiment Station for the Food Preservation Industry. We attended the City of Gastronomy Festival on 2nd and 3rd June 2018 which was its first exhibition held in Piazza Garibaldi and Piazza Ghiaia with chefs from six nations with five pop-up restaurants.
Parma was founded 2,200 years ago and gave birth to Parmigianino, Verdi, Toscanini, Guareschi, Attilio Bertolucci. You can wander this charming city tasting Italy’s finest meats, cheeses and wines or even nip into the Museo Glauco Lombardi (named after the professor) to read Napoleon Bonaparte’s second wife’s letters – Marie Louise Habsburg who resided and died in Parma in 1847.
The museum is in dedication to her with Mortiz M Daffinger’s Portrait of Duchess Marie Louise, Giuseppe Naudin’s Palazzo Ducale: The Living Room. Atelier Louis-Hippolyte Leroy and other Parisian workers, Corbeille de marriage belonging to Marie Louise, 1810, and Giambattista Bodoni’s Saluzzo.
Hosted by Emilia Romagna Tourism, Foreign Markets PR Sara Mantovani, we arrived to one of the pop-up restaurants by Chef Umberto Goriza Chef Consultant Lindenberg Germania who made us a delicious Fusilli intergrali ragù Di trota salmonata, scorza di limone, candita, and sedan.
Delicacies sampled were the Parmigiano Reggiano PDO which was invented in the Middle Age by Benedectine and Cistercian monks. The Prosciutto di Parma PDO which has a sweet characteristic due to the low 5% salt. The Culatello di Zibello PDO “Son of the Mist” considered the king of cured meats dating back to the 1300’s as a favourite with nobility, poets, singers and sculptors. The 25-days aged Salame Felino PGI. The rich Coppa di Parma – stuffed into natural casing and aged in ventilated cellars for two to three months. The Tartufo Nero di Fragno – searched by hound dogs trained by “tartufini” in between the rivers of Parma and Baganza. The Fungo di Borgotaro PGI – mushrooms brown in colour, grown between chestnuts and beeches of the area of Albareto and Borgo Val di Taro.
We tasted three key wines: Malvasia dei Colli di Parma PDO – derived from a white grape native to Crete which was imported to the hills of Parma and Maiatico by the Venetians in 1200. Lambrusco dei Colli di Parma PDO created in the hills: this ruby red wine comes in sweet, still or sparkling. Colli di Parma Rosso PDO – Dark wine from primarily Barbera grapes usually paired with game. Ducati Brewery was also present, offering its lagers to intrigued passer-by’s.
Talks and cooking shows were done by three-Michelin star chef Riccardo Monco of Enoteca Pinchiorri restaurant, Florence who was also awarded a prestigious award in the Parma court. Matteo Fronduti of the Manna Restaurant, Florence was present as was Terry Giacomello of Inkiostro, Parma. Throughout the two days, many prestigious speakers, wine and food experts and chefs showcased their knowledge and cooking skills.
For dinner, we went to the perfect local restaurant on a side street where giant bowls of “tortelli” were served alongside sparkling red Lambrusco.
If you wish to go to Parma, I recommend you go to the next food month festival “City of Gastronomy Taste” 1-30 September 2018 and stay at the modest Star hotel du Parc Hotel. In 2020, Parma will be the Italian Capital of Culture.
The next day, we had an incredibly special lunch in a gorgeous hilltop villa hosted by Tommaso owner of Cantina Charlie.
Tommaso’s charming chef William, whom adorned a monogrammed and tailored white shirt, served us sumptuous Parma ham, savoury el dente tortelli with melted butter and sage, slow roasted pig neck, and an English style custard dessert before we toured the wine production rooms and the sweeping vineyards.
Cantina Chiarli was founded in 1860 by Cleto Chairli – a restauranteur and manager of Trattoria dell’Artigliere. This producer is the first and oldest family-owned wine company of the Emilia Romagna region. Winner of “Mention Honourable” certificate at the 1900 Universal Expo in Paris, Chiarli has become a long-standing wine name passed down through family generations.
Five generations later, this family winery remains the global leader in Lambrusco production and own 140 hectares of vineyards in the best Denominzazione di Origine Controllata producing areas of Modena and Bologna which produce Lambrusco di Sorbara, Lambrusco Grasparossa and Pignoletto. Situated in the Etruscan-built town of Modena, this north Italian town also is the birthplace of Balsamic vinegar (which Chiarli also produce under their Vecchia Scuderia Distribuzione brand name) and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
*Cheese Lovers Fact: Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese in itself had a 2.2-billion-euro turnover at consumption in 2017 with 1.9 million tons of milk produced.
After a delightful lunch at Cantina Chiarli, we departed for the UNESCO city of music: Bologna. In Bologna, living well means culture, meetings and relationships between people.
“Thus, the laughing muse flees as the poet struggles with a vain desire for ancient beauty.” Gouse Carducci.
We arrived to the beautiful Grand Hotel Majestic già Baglioni. Situated in the oldest part of the city next to a 9th century church with an 18th century portico by Francesco Tadolini on its left. The city is rich in culture and boasts 40km of porticos.
Our bedroom was a gilded and moss-coloured green treasure chest with hand-embroidered silk green curtains and golden notes. All of the prestigious 4 and 5-star Due Torri Hotels are former palaces, and this certainly had an 18th century noble char. Directed by former Pope Prospero Lambertini to be constructed, the hotel covers an old Roman Road which can be seen by the open terrace breakfast nook with upward views of colourful stained-glass windows.
Bologna has a plethora of museums and the oldest university in the world the University of Bologna formed in 1088, located in the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio.
When you visit, climb the 498 steps to reach the Asinelli Tower for views over the city. (Famous poet and 1906 Nobel Prize Winner Giosue Carducci describes the Two Towers Asinelli and Garisenda as Sombre Bologna with its towers rises in the bright winter “Surge nel Chiaro inverno la fosca turrita Bologna” It’s the tallest Medieval leaning tower in the world at 97.2 metres high.
Go to the centre of the city where we heard street musicians play at night in the Piazza Maggiore. In the piazza, Flemish sculptor Giambologna’s bronze and marble statue of Neptune “Il Gigante” (the Giant) stands proudly at 3.2 metres high and weighing 2.2 tons. The fountain represents papal power and is one of the symbols of the city based on a design by Tommaso Laureti between 1563 and 1566.
The other symbol of the city is Basilica of San Petronio, a gesture of local power vis-à-vis Rome which houses one of the largest sundials in the world. Between Palazzo del Podesta and Palazoo Re Enzo, there is a whispering gallery where if you whisper facing one of the four corners of the arch, you will be heard by anyone who is at the opposite corner. On Sunday, visit the Church of San Petronio: one of the largest churches in Christendom.
Key museums to go see are Palazzo Fava museum, International Museum of Music, The Modern Art Museum (which holds a video from one of my favourite performance artists Marina Abromavic – Imponderabilia), Civic Archaeological Museums (known for its Etruscan and Roman Bologna exhibits as well as its Egyptian collection including the Horemheb tomb relief), the Medieval Museum (featuring Jacopop Lanfrani’s Ark of Giovanni d’Andrea), and the University Museums of Palazzo Poggi which has recently acquired a collection of Asian art, Pinacoteca Nazionale (well known for its collection of Emilian painters like the Carracci brothers, Guercino and Guido Reni as well as works by Raffaello, Giotto, Tiziano and Perugino.
If you visit Bologna later this year July to September, go for the classic silent films festival “Sotto le Stelle del Cinema” on June-August or the Jazz and Soul music festivals: Giardina Al Cubo Festival, Selva in Jazz Festival, Porretta Soul Festival, the Valley of Soul Festival.
Adorned in our chicest attire, we entered the at the Majestic’s I Carracci restaurant. The ceiling painting “The Fall of Phaeton” is breath-taking. Scattered with allegorical figures of the Four Seasons on the four sides of the vault, the main dining room is a visual feast. Even the restaurant lobby showcases the Carracci school’s The Rape of Ganymede with grotesque decorations thought to be by Giovanni Luigi Vales.
Hosted by the wonderful General Manager Tiberio Biondi and sales manager Elena Spadaro, our evening menu by chef Cristian Mometti was regional charcuterie with seasonal vegetables pickles and Tigelle bread, fried Petronian-style bites on skewers and Parmigiano Reggiano D.O.P mousse, tagliatelle fresh pasta with Bolognaise-style ragout, Bolognaise-style cutlet with Prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and smashed potatoes, and Trifle for dessert.
Wines served with our meal included Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro 2016 La Battagliola and Sangiovese Superiore Ca’Grande 2017 – Umberto Cesari.
The next day, we went to Centergross, one of the largest commercial wholesale districts in the world. With almost 700 companies an excellence center of the ready-to-wear fashion made in Italy. Then we had lunch at Villa Orsi, and 18th century villa used by Centergross to welcome the guests. We were seated in a long drawing room served by top chef Stefano Boselli chefs whose aim in life is to educate the world on the originality and importance of Spaghetti alla Bolognese recipe.
The president of Centergross Lucia Gazzotti informed us that a few decades ago, mothers would test their son’s prospective brides would test their pasta cooking skills. Once the pasta sheet was made, the potential mother-in-law would hold up the pasta to a window and if she couldn’t see through the sheet – the woman was unfit to marry!
*Opera Lovers Fact: The greatest opera singer, composer, conductor and mechanical producer of the promenade fleet, Farinella, was a revered artistic icon in Bologna who sang privately for Prince V of Spain in 1737. He collected a vast number of paintings which unfortunately were sold after his family couldn’t afford to upkeep in his villa The Farinello beyond Porta delle Lame.
After lunch, we travelled to my favourite Italian city: Florence.
The Hotel Bernini Palace is gorgeous with cream coloured walls and a stylish bar with romantic lighting. Our first floor Renaissance-inspired room featured a dark wood four poster bed and incredible stark lighting reminiscent of a Lawrence of Arabia film set.
Our favourite dinner was at the hotel ristorante La Chiostrina. With a red and white clothed table dotted with gorgeous flowers and candles. We were hosted by the lovely General Manager David Foschi and Sales Manager Beatrice Biagiotti and deputy manage of Duetorrihotels group Elena Antonini.
Our meal by chef included Antipasto (Starter) Tuscan vegetable tasting – Leaf cabbage flan, chick peas pudding with red onion Tuscan soup, asparagus and Amiata Pecorino cheese (ewe’s cheese) with Wine: Vernaccia di San Gimignano Isola Bianca DOCG TERRUZI. Primo Piatto (First Course) was Porcini mushrooms crepes with yellow pumpkin cream with wine: Cipresseto rosato Toscana IGT SANTA CRISTINA. Second Piatto (main course) was beef fillet with Chianti Classico mousse, black truffle and beans puree with wine: Chianti classic Peppoli DOCG ANTINORI. Dessert was Florentine Zuccotto (sponge-cake covered with iced mousse) with wine: Moscato d’Asti DOCG Vignaioli di Santo Stefano.
We walked through Florence at night across the Ponte Vecchio where the jewellery shops aligned it. It reminded me of Patrick Susskind’s book Perfume: Story of a Murderer. We walked across the bridge into the old town where little trattorias, pizza places and wine bars were open at midnight. When we walked back, we passed through a piazza where young musicians were playing classical music on violins.
The next day we went to an ancient silk lab in a beautiful house with the original silk making machine created designed by Leonardo di Vinci. We checked out the Gucci Museum with old Gucci retro pieces, luggage and an odd film with smashing cars. We dined outside on fantastic white wines, breads and incredible steak at the stunning restaurant Frescobaldi. The activities for the day were curated by high-end events group Alfresco.
American author Mary McCarthy describes Florence as a working city in “Firenze as it was”. With most of the manufacture, silk, linens, textiles, leather goods work done on the left bank, the “Oltrano” or on the “contaldo” farms in the countryside. Artists and sculptors like Michelangelo, Donatello, Paolo Uccello and Brunelleschi worked in the city and some of their art can be found in the beautiful Uffizi gallery.
Great places to visit are the Boboli Garden, the Tennis Club of the Cascine, shops on Via Tornabuoni and Via della Vigna Nuova, Santa Croce, Duomo and Giotto’s bell tower.
*Cheese Lovers Fact: Amiata is the largest of the lava domes in the Amiata lava dome complex located about 20km northwest of Lake Bolsena in the southern Tuscany region of Italy. It is the origin of Amiata Pecorino Cheese.
We departed for Hotel Bristol Palace, Genoa: the inspiration of Hitchcock’s infamous film “Vertigo”.
“Once a foreigner has tasted the “pesto”, he never leaves Genova again.” Philippe François, Genova, The Town Can Be Read Like A Map
The wondrous staircase in this charming palatial hotel is one of the most stunning pieces I have ever seen. Coloured throughout with hues of burgundy and a hazy yellow, the Bristol Palace has a vintage feel.
We went to a small fishing town called Boccadasse where Corso Italia ends, and we sat on grey pebbles as the water lapped up onto docked shipping boats. Known for its gelateries and fresh fish restaurants, you can reach this town taking an hour walk through tiny alleyways “caruggi” and then alongside the pier. You can follow it all the way along to popular Portofino.
Another seaside town favoured by European aristocrats between the 19th and 20th centuries is Nervi where one can see Corsica and Capraia and take the ferry here to Portofino, San Fruttuoso, Camogli, Cinque Terre and the Ancient Port of Genoa or scuba dive in the cove.
With dozens of museums, I would go back to view the Palazza dei Rolli where, during Rolli Days, one can visit the grand palaces of which 42 out of the 150 Genoese palazzi became UNESCO world heritage sites in 2006. The Palazzo Ducale Chiesa del Gesu houses The Circumcision and The Miracle of Saint Ignatius by Rubens and is only a 5-minute walk from the hotel.
Further off is the biggest aquarium in Europe designed by Renzo Piano in 1992 where you can watch sharks and dolphins, or you can go up The Bigo panoramic elevator for views over the city.
For the evening’s dinner, director Giovanni Ferrando and Deputy Manager Fiorenza Peyrot kindly hosted us in a private room at the hotel’s restaurant Giotto serving famous Genoese pesto pasta.
*Art Lovers Fact: Hemingway describes it as “One of the Wonders of the World”: The Cemetery of Staglieno is part of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe which showcases sculptures (from the likes of Santo Varni, Giulio Monteverde, Augusto Ribalta, Lorenzo and Luigi Orengo, Leonardo Vistolfi, Demtrio Paernio, Edoardo De Albertis, Eugenio Baroni) between 1850 and 1950 (the end of World War 11). Other prominent visitors include Neitzsche, Maupassant, Mark Twain, Empress Sissi of Austria.
It was designed by Genoese architect Carlo Barabino who also built Teatro Carlo Felice and Palazzo dell ’Accademia and also Giovanni Battista Resasco (mixing a Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon style) and opened to the public in 1851 with the final construction done in 1880.
The decision to make a monumental cemetery was by King Carlo Alberto of 1832 (which in turn inspired by Napoleon’s Edict of Saint-Cloud of 1804).
Entrance is Piazzale Resasco. One of the key monuments is the tomb of Caterina Campodonico (the peanuts pedlar) who sold peanuts and doughnuts to have her own funerary monument built sculpted by Lorenzo Orengo (1881).
The next morning, we indulged in more Genoan pesto pasta at seaside restaurant Il Veliero before we transferred to Romeo and Juliet’s famed city: Verona, the city of love.
“Mixed and impure, Verona is vibration, warmth, colour, art transformed into landscape and fused with the landscape, a mirage of a romantic city.” Guido Proven.
Warmly greeted by the kind staff of the Due Torri Hotel Verona, we walked into a stunning dining room entrance to the hotel which used to be horse stables. Now, covered in frescoes, the entrance is grande and the ceilings covered in art. We walked up to the stunning roof terrace we were served delicate foie gras and salmon canapes with sparkling white wine whilst looking onto the churches.
The dinner was in a lovely formal room the Due Torri Lounge and Restaurant hosted by some of our favourite hotelier staff: GM Silvano de Rosa and Sales Manager Giorgia Gazzuola.
The next day, we had a city tour with a special peek of the House of Juliet, the famous Arena and the symbol of peace: the lion in Piazza delle Erbe.
John Ruskin wrote that in “divine” Verona “every hour of light is precious.” This was exemplified by the magnitude of painted frescoes painted by the likes of Stefano da Varona, Althichiero da Zevio, Mantegna, Paolo Veronese, Liberale de Verona, Nicola Giolfino, Stefano da Verona, Girolamo ai Libri, Brusasorci, Flaconetto, Del Moro, Aliprandi and which covered the interior and exterior walls of more than 300 buildings in Verona – a status symbol of the Renaissance nobility to highlight their social position. These incredible houses and palaces can be admired such as the restored Mazzanti Houses in Piazza delle Erbe, the Pindemonte-Ongania-Bentegodi building in Via Leoncino, and the Monistcalchi Palace to name a few. To delve more deeply into the history of the ancient frescoes, go check out the G.B. Cavalcaselle Fresco Museum which is dedicated to nineteenth century art historian Giovanni Batista Cavalcaselle or pick up the collection of etchings from Veronese painter and author Pietro Nanin.
Verona, a UNESCO heritage site since 2000, is the first province in Italy for wine export and was awarded the role of Italian delegate in the nine Wine Capitals around the world in November 2017 according to the Great Wine Capitals Global Network. This award is based on architecture and landscapes, art and culture, innovative wine tourism experiences, accommodation, wine tourism restaurants, sustainable wine tourism practices, and wine tourism services.
We were shown around the city by Veronality Tours and Experiences which was started in 2011 by partners and friends Matteo Pasqualotto and Andrea. Locals to Verona, they decided to create a tourism experience company to create a real Italian experience focused on food tastings and cooking courses learning how to make handmade pasta, risotto, tiramisu, fresh sorbet and gelato in crystal glasses (hosted by chefs Cristina and Alex from La Soffritta), tasting fresh pasta and cheeses, wine tasting – focusing on Amarone and Valpolicella (many valley cellars) hosted by Diana and Cristina the food tour guides or Leonardo the expert in the Valpolicella area, Italian language classes with teachers Martina and Robberto, art and culture history, bike and vespa experiences with Matteo and Leonardo, minivan tours of Sirmione, Lake Garda and the Dolomites with Alessia.
Verona has seen an influx of different cultures and wars over the last 2,000 years home to a Rhaetian-Etruscan and Euganean town. A commercial hub in Roman times starting from the first century B.C., being under Scaliger rule in the second half of the thirteenth century, Verona has been under rule of the Signoria of the Visconti, Carraresi, the Republic of Venice, The Serenissima, Napoleonic, Austro-Hungarian empire, until it was released to a newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
To top off the magic of Verona is definitely the Arena di Verona guided by Verona Opera House PR Tania Cefis.
A Roman amphitheatre built in the 1st century AD with a seating capacity of 13,500 persons, the Arena is the largest open-air opera theatre in the world. Each year, it hosts about half a million spectators. The first opera held on the date it was founded 10th August 1913 showcased Giuseppe Verde’s Aida (considered one of the pieces de resistance of the shrine of opera) which is the most performed opera and the symbol of the Opera Festival. The centennial festival in 2013 celebrating 100 years of opera has added to the fact that Verona is one of the music capitals of the world. Upcoming performances for the rest of the season July to the end of August include Carmen, Aida, Turandot, Nabucco, Roberto Bolle and Friends, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Verdi Opera Night.
The Arena di Verona specially selects a random member of the audience by spotlight every evening to stand a few steps away from the artists on stage close.
The Mayor of Verona and President of Fondazione Arena, Federico Sboarina states: “Operatic and non-operatic music must complement one another, the two cores of the Fondazione, which contribute to achieve the same aim: making the Arena the shrine of opera and world-level music par excellence.”
Incredible conductors, world-renowned choreographers, and singers will perform but it is Roberto Bolle and Friends, Etoile of Milan’s Teatro all Scala and Principal Dancer of the American Ballet Theatre of New York which is most hotly anticipated. This will be a top night of dance welcoming some of the most prestigious international names in ballet on the stage.
The finale will see the Verdi Opera Night on Sunday 26th August 9:30pm dedicated to the “Swan of Busseto” which pays tribute to great opera featuring acts from the celebrated Verdi trilogy – Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata.
*Book Lovers Fact: Juliet’s balcony is actually a man-made replica to represent the fictional story Romeo and Juliet. The balcony at number 23 Via Cappello was built onto a real house owned by the Capuleti family albeit the sad love story is not true. Dante was the first to scribe a story of the “fighting” big families – the Montagu’s and the Capulet’s which was then transcribed a couple times before Shakespeare turned into his love story masterpiece. A statue of Dante is situated in the Piazza Dante surrounded by historical 16th century houses, buildings and palaces.
There is even a box where individuals can write letters to “Juliet” and receive a heart-warming letter back.
We transferred to the amazing Allegrini villa with Valpolicella wines, delicious Amarone surrounded by figures of “heaven and hell” all prepared by a 25-year old genius master chef.
“No house so beautiful and fascinating could go forsaken; it was as infinitely desirable as a lovely woman with full breasts, rounded hips, and a tiny waist, eyes dark and intense and full of unfathomable thoughts.” About the Allegrini Winery is in the mysterious haunting tale of the villa by Valerio Massimo Manfredi “Amoris Potio” meaning Love Potion.
Hosted by Export Manager Tom Fox for Allegrini Winery and PR Marcello Scandola, we had a sensational lunch in this gorgeous villa with a fantastic Amarone wine.
As rich in food as it was in art history, Italy is an incredible terrain of delectable treats for any lover of gastronomic luxuries and it seems their exuberant appreciation of food leads them to live better lives for it.
Contact Names and Addresses
Grand Hotel Majestic
Hotel Bristol Palace, Genoa
A: Via XX, Settembre, 35, 16121 Genova, GE, Italy
T: +39 010 592541
Hotel Bernini Palace
A: Piazza San Firenze, 29 – (Piazza della Signoria) – 50122 Firenze, Italia
T: +39 055 288621
Due Torri Hotel, Verona
A: Piazza Sant ‘Anastasia, 4, 37121 Verona, VR, Italy
T: +39 045 595044
A: Via Manin, 15 – 41122 Modena, Italy
T: +39 059 3163311
Arena di Verona
96 Opera Festival 2018, 47 evenings scheduled between 22nd June and 1st September 2018
A: Via Dietro Anfiteatro 6/b Verona, Di fronte al cancello 63 dell’Aren, Gegenuber dem Eingang 63 der Afrena
Opposite gate 63 of the Arena
T: +39 045 8005151/ +39 045 801 32 87
Tickets range from 16 Euros to 226 Euros each