Saturday, October 13, 2018

Living like a local in Provence

Birthday tripping along the Amalfi Coast

Happy birthday Jen!!!

Oh dear, well that was FUN!!!!  Jennifer and her 6 best gal pals decided to take a trip to Italy for their 50th B’day.  Not all 6 ladies were turning 50 and not all 6 joined us… (next time Carolyn) but all of us spent 10 days in Italy celebrating what was more than a birthday, it was a dream!

All of the ladies arrived in Napoli, that’s Italian for Naples, where it was hot and humid and the setting was just right for the start to our Amalfi coast wining and boating trip!

Day one was already electric with the introduction of the Aperol Spritz into our beverage menu.  Bright shiny orange and fizzy drinks… yep, I’ll take another, per piacere! 

Day 2 – We were off early on a boat since we were so well organized, with small suitcases and even a clothes washing machine aboard (grazie Janice)!  The trip to Capri was smooth and easy with a wonderful welcome at the Villa Ceselle, our own Villa in Anacapri!  We were hungry, so Pietro took us in the mini ‘pullmino’ up to Da Gelsomina, the most reputed seafood restaurant on the Isle of Capri!  What else do we have to do today?  Drink spritzes and “Wendy’s” by the pool?  Non che problema… Who does not want to experiment with a little bit of Amaretto when in Italia…?  And then….? ‘Andiamo in il pullmino!’
On Capri we boated around the island with Marco, and he invited us to swim in the Green Grotto.  There were little blue fish everywhere!! What an exhilarating experience to be in the cave…maybe a bit of salt in the mouth but this is the Tyrrhenian Sea, after all!

We had a look at the Faraglione and the Grotta dell Amore from the top, and then went home for some Jacuzzi time.

What next, and what to do on our free day in Anacapri except for make friends with gorgeous Italian shopkeeps, buy clothing, shoes and lemon scented everything, and of course most of us mustered the courage to go up the Monte Solaro chairlift, despite Dawn’s exclamation, since she didn’t know that THIS WAS HAPPENING TODAY!!!???.  Blue skies, blue sea and beautiful ladies, nuff said.

On no! We have to leave. For where you say? The reputable and stunning Amalfi coast with Lorenzo who picked us up in Sorrento, certo! Pasta and salad in an artsy garden that I got to enjoy with Pat, then we were off !

Lorenzo had us hopping out of the van and posing for so many pictures of Isole de Galli on the ‘wild side, and then the famous traffic infected town of Positano.  We stopped for a refresher in Amalfi then were back on the incredibly windy roads to the clifftop town of Ravello.   Solo una 'notte here' in Ravello but Wendy went home with a fantastic bottle of Falanghina, the best from the region. Thanks to the enchanting woman at the ‘Wine and Drugs’ store.  No fibbing. Look it up. J

Ok, that was the teaser.  

We moved on to stay at the Vecchia Quercia our dear friend and fellow hustler in the tourism industry’s private home. Anna Imparato welcomed us with open arms and her Napolitano ideals, and along with that came her recipes, her garden secrets as well as her sentiment about being from Italy’s south.  She expresses herself so firmly yet delicately, that you can’t not let her teach you how to make squishy and bouncy gnocchi from dry old bread crumbs.  Home made Ravioli followed as a lesson, and then it was time to eat! The terrace lit up at night was made spectacular and we would all like to give a thankful Grazie to Giovanni, Valeria and the other Vecchia Querica family members.

Mamma Mia!  It is time to go after three magical nights by the pool surrounded by orange groves and fresh Fico d’India.  Rosamaria, also a Buffalo Mozzarella farmer can tell you more about how to carve out the best piece of fleshy cactus or persimmon. Rivabianca was a slippery, hot, cheesey, wet time but that day we learned about the mysterious leftover buffaloes as well as ancient ruins at Paestum.  Hey the Greeks need some credit on this boot of a peninsula, no certo? 

L’ultima note had us drinking the last spritz and then the Transatlantico fed us insalata caprese with mixed seafood pasta, polpo, calamari, vongole and the fresh treasures that come in every morning to the wharf.  Oops, sorry to wake you, sir with the giant yacht… I have a fresh catch coming in.

Allora.  Hugs and felicit√† upon the dark parting under the shadow of the Castel dell’ Ovo.
These ladies were never holding back their gregarious ways...and so we became fast friends after even a few minutes.  I am honoured to be part of this past 10 days in bella Italia and grazie mille Jennifer for inviting us to be a part of it.  Buon compleanno!

Ci vediamo la prossima volta le belle donne!!


Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Alisa's Dream Tour of Italy with Family and Friends!

Alisa's Dream Tour of Italy with Family and Friends!

What better way to celebrate a 60th birthday than wine, food, art and culture in bellisimo Italy. The weather was perfect for these nine ladies from Canada - +27 C and sunny skies as we made our way from a farm stay near Naples to the gondolas of Venice! Every country lodging seemed to come up with a birthday cake (Italian Style) for Alisa!

A few days with Anna at La Vecchia Quercia (the old oak tree) gave us a base in this lovely Italian Villa to roam the countryside. A day at the Di Meo Winery had us pair his wine with delicious meats, cheeses and pasta from Campania - followed by another birthday cake of course.
Our dining room was a former Prince's hunting lodge from the 18th Century!  Then back to Anna's kitchen to learn how to make pasta!  The weather cooperated so we were able to take a dip in the pool before dining on the outside patio.
An hour drive away in the other direction found us in Bufalo Mozzarella country where we toured the facility, munching on warm, fresh mozzarella cheese. A delightful lunch with Rosa-Maria, in her 18th century farm house followed.  Paestum, the best preserved Greek Temples was worth a walk through with gelato waiting at the end of the visit.  Casa di Baal, a family run winery, olive oil farm added information on olive oil production from their 20 000 trees. This family uses the old fashioned olive press as well as the new modern method. Only the experts can taste the difference! We sat under the cherry trees next to the olive grove with the nono (grand daddy) and the wine makers to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Back to Anna's for another swim after a busy day!

An exciting drive along the curvy Amalfi Coast to Ravello was in sharp contrast to the straight grid roads in Saskatchewan!  Visiting this hilltop village, home to Wagner's Concerts was worth it particularly the descent down to Pompeii for a visit with our guide Nicola and then to the Hotel Transatlantico in Santa Lucia, Naples.  After a morning visit to this dark and mysterious city with its own hidden treasures like San Severo (the veiled statue of Christ carved from marble) we hopped on the train for Florence!  These girls were great packers - small carry on luggage made travel easier on the trains and boats not to mention the cobble stone streets of ancient Italy!

The Pensione Bencista welcomed us as they have welcomed VM Travel's guests since 2003. We overlooked the Duomo of Florence from the terraces of this former convent from the 16th Century.
From this location we were able to take the local bus no. 7 into the heart of Florence to scout around the leather  and food markets. The illustrious David, carved from one piece of flawed marble by the master Michaelangelo was an afternoon delight! Leo of Maronibus escorted us into the hills of Chianti to Radda where Lele instructed us on the secrets to Tuscan cooking!  What a beautiful location on a hilltop, but the table set in the garden for us to enjoy the meal we had prepared. All paired with Chianti wine, of course!

Cinque Terre was a one day backpack excursion for us. We did stay in the hilltop La Cabana in Monterosso which enabled some of us to hike the UNESCO path from this village to Vernazza - a grueling 2 hour hike up 500 steps right off the bat. Cool beer in our hands in Vernazza made the effort worth it.  The ferry boat meant we were able to enjoy these 5 villages from the sea!

Soon we were on the train again to Venice where we stayed in the Locanda Fiorita with prosecco on tap!  A delightful stay in the middle of this city of water allowed us to wonder on our own and get lost, of course!  However, one destination was on everyones' radar. One of the clothing stores had a summer blow out sale of 10 Euro per outfit!  Needless to say those tiny carryon suitcases when home bulging at the seams!  As were we - all the great food, wine and cake!

Thanks Alisa for arranging this trip of a lifetime for your family and friends!  You were a fun, easy group to travel with  and it was a delight for me to be your guide! Grazie mille!