Ti Amo Italia…

Now, in no way do I class myself as a travel writer – in fact I look back at a few of the journals I kept when previously travelling around and cringe. However, after a recent trip to Italy I had to share some key finds and my enthusiasm for Italian food (which I am currently on a mega mission to work off after consuming my weight in pizza and gelato on a daily basis for 2 1/2 weeks).

Whilst I spent some months ‘travelling’ after university, I stuck to the standard route of South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. With Europe so close it seems silly that I have not taken a little look around; apart from some family holidays in the canary islands, a couple of school trips and a beautiful weekend in Paris, Europe has been ignored in my ventures abroad. Although my list of places in the world increases day-by-day I bumped Italy to the top for the main holiday this year to explore its beauty and discover what Italian food really tasted like.

My key finding – all the pizza and ice cream I have eaten in my life is wrong. England has missed a trick as these taste 1000 times better in Italy – people we are being duped! Also the coffee is just beautiful – I lived off espressos for the majority of the trip!

Espressos and pastries
Espressos with gorgeous little pastries

The route:

Rather hectically, in 17 days we travelled from Naples, through Rome, Florence, Siena, Venice, Verona, Bologna and out of Pisa. PHEW! Armed with our Lonely Planet guide (an awesome resource that provided us the information we did not pay a guide for 😉 ) we covered the following key sights:

  • Naples – the home of pizza. Castel Sant’Elmo has beautiful views over the waterfront (this area is also a great escape from the crazy noise of Naples); the Spanish Quarter is also fascinating.
  • Rome – sightseeing central with giant buildings popping up out of nowhere. Go to the Colosseum, of course (the one place I would really recommend a guide -we had Roberto who told amusing stories about the gladiators); Trevi Fountain (absolutely stunning and hidden away); Pantheon; and Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City (must see ceiling by Michelangelo)
  • Florence is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been and could easily have just wandered around for days. Climb the steps to the top of the Duomo for incredible views; also worth the trek up Piazza Michelangelo to see the town and replica of the statue of David; stop in the Garden of Roses on the way down.
  • Siena – More medieval feel than Florence and beautiful to wander around. Giant piazza to sit and eat gelato; we discovered the most gorgeous deli for lunch. Note: we easily squeezed this into a day trip.
  • Venice – it’s HUGE! Travel around on the Vaperetto (waterbus); visit San Marco’s square (but don’t eat there unless you’ve got a deep pocket.
  • Verona – we only squeezed in a day trip. Amphitheatre is incredible – need to go back in opera season to witness in its true glory; Juliet’s balcony is definitely worth it for the romantics out there (you can grab a marker from the nearby shop to join the grafitti walls).
  • Bologna – the culinary capital – go there and EAT! An awesome market on Fridays and Saturdays where we picked up some incredible bargains.
  • Pisa – there’s a leaning tower – it’s shorter and fatter than I anticipated but very impressive.

The food:

I would say you are pretty much going to eat well wherever you are, as (in my opinion anyway) Italian food is incredibly delicious. Personally I have no idea how on earth all the Italians looked so thin!?!?! With pistachio ice cream on offer on every corner how do you resist eating this on a daily basis and becoming the size of a house!? HOW??? (Little tip: Look out for the olive green coloured pistachio – Avoid the brighter green coloured, its not as good).

antipasti
Pretty sure I could live off antipasti – if I had to….

Rather than detail all the pizzas I ate over 2 1/2 weeks I will focus on my two favourite restaurants, both recommendations from the people working in the accommodation we were staying in; both must visits.

Naples: Nunella’s

Hidden in the middle of the Spanish quarter (head down the street opposite a big bank and its the third road in) you find a manic Italian restaurant. At 10 o clock on a Saturday evening, having just arrived and dumped our bags in Naples, this was our first, and one of my favourite, experiences of Italian eating. Starting as one room in a house, this has expanded over a floor and outside onto the street as the word spread of its great food and it became ever popular. The restaurant seems to be constantly full and buzzing with activity: the wait for a table can often be so long still that an old man across the street as opened a bar out of his garage where you can get a spritz (the best drink ever consisting of Aperol and Prosecco) for pennies to keep you entertained while you wait. When venturing in you do still however feel like you are having dinner in someone’s living room with loads of strangers eating around you.

Naples is loud. If it’s a quiet evening talking with your dining companions you are looking for this is not the place for you. Instead we were surrounded by people chatting excitedly in a language I did not understand.

There is not a written menu. Instead they generally stick to antipasti, pasta course (a choice of about 3), secondi: choice of meat or fish; and little dessert. With our grasp of the Italian language consisting of little more than hello, goodbye, please and thank you we were generally a little unsure of what  we were getting but our waiter explained as best as he could, in much better English than our Italian, the choices available. The key issue was that with limited knowledge of what was going on we just said ‘Si’ to everything and plate after plate of food was given to us. Whoops. It was not until the end we realised people tended to choose a couple of the courses and go up to pay when they were finished. Despite the mass amount of food (it pretty much felt we like we ate three main courses) it only cost 14 euros each including beer and water! Bargain! If you do visit, remember you do not actually have to eat everything on offer.

Bologna: La Bella Napoli – D’Amore

Round the corner from our B&B we found the most incredible restaurant. We loved it so much we went back two nights in a row and ordered pretty much exactly the same the second night, only changing the starter. They even sat us in the same table outside. Haha! The service was amazing friendly. One thing we noticed all around Italy (I guess we visited a lot of very touristy areas) was the waiters focus on getting more people in – once you have ordered it became more tricky to get attention! Here, despite being busy, the waiters were attentive (perhaps something to do with us being English girls – we got asked where we were from by three different waiters…)

The reason for our return visit? Fillet steak in balsamic sauce. The most tender of meats soaked in a beautiful balsamic vinegar – It is tricky to find the words to describe how incredible this was – mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm… The desserts were beautiful – alongside a tiramisu we also tried the Sorbetto il caffe: a combination of ice cream, coffee and alcohol – genius. The first starter was a delightfully fresh seafood salad. The only thing that swayed us to trying something different the second night was the description: Muscles sea man style (in a simple herb sauce we discovered). This went down nicely with a 1/2 litre jug of the house red. 🙂

My friend eating steak
Have you ever seen a happier face due to a plate of food??

So…. Main advise is to speak to the locals  – they know the best places!! OH and go to Florence – it’s stunning. Trying to work out how I can justify a little weekend visit at some point soon in my life! 😉

We also need to campaign to Walls to get Cafe Zero over here – they are AMAZING!!!

2 cafe zeros
Get Cafe Zero in England!!
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