admin December 12th, 2009
“My commitment to cultural immersion travel is strong. That is why I insist on research trips.? I continue seeking out sites, smells, and tastes that will envelope and enrich my AHA guests.? This is a different kind of travel, a more personal approach, with a focus on a deeper understanding of a culture other than our own.”? -Cynthia Quist
Wonderful discoveries and some dismal disappointments.? That sums up three weeks of pretty intense research in Italy for Jim and I.? We worked hard, ate a lot, and took notes on everything.? One difficult night, the only consolation that we had, as we laid awake in our two tiny twin beds in a HOT, stuffy room with a party going on outside our windows, was the knowledge that you, our guests, would never have to experience this.? On the other hand, in Sorrento, where we had booked for just two nights, everything was so perfect that we longed to extend our stay.
Our itinerary: Paris 3 days, Lake Como 3 days, Tuscany 6 days, Rome 5 days, Sorrento 2 days.
We covered a large part of that little boot, (and sometimes felt as though we had been kicked by it).? The good news is that our guests benefit from the good and the ill.? Based on our pages of notes we will create a beautiful and delicious new Italian Itinerary for 2011.? It will be a Northern Italian trip to include The Lakes region, Florence, and Northern Tuscany.? If you are interested in the new itinerary, keep your eye on this blog.
But for the present, if you are interested in a, post-battle report on our three week sojourn, here you go.
Paris: Hotel Pas du Calais remains a favorite, with its warm and welcoming staff, pretty rooms, delicious breakfast, and a perfect location on the Left Bank.
We will be adding the beautiful town and immense cathedral of Chartres to our Paris itinerary in the future.? A beautiful day trip from Paris.? We discovered new parts of Versailles to explore, and some that we weren’t supposed to be in.? Oops!
The food in Paris was a dismal disappointment, and it shouldn’t ever be that way.? We ate at all types of eateries, and found the bistros and brasseries to be most dependable.? The two star Micheline, with it’s fish foam, will surly appeal to some, but I think I lost weight in Paris.? Our favorite brasserie, is as delicious as ever and I wouldn’t miss eating there for anything.? However, the day we left Paris we felt we were fleeing the land of butter, cream, and Bordeaux wines, and were in a hurry to arrive in the land of tomatoes, olive oil, and brunello.
Lake Como: The four star Grand Hotel Imperiale was a bit of a disappointment.? But the very peaceful Hotel San Giorgio was adorable and is calling to me this very minute.? Located on the lake with a large gently rolling lawn, dotted with lawn furniture and easing down to the lapping edge of the lake, is the place for me.? Not trying to be something it is not, it exudes character, delicious food, and a lakeside walk into the little town of Lenno.? From here you can catch a boat to other pretty towns on the banks of the lake, never having to get into a car.? All of this with the snow capped Swiss Alps looming above you.? This place was magic and I will be sure that my guests have enough time here to really let down.
We landed on four wonderful restaurants here.? The garden and terrace restaurant at the San Giorgio, where Jim swears he had the best pizza of his life and I had a beautifully presented caprese salad.? After lunch it was all we could do not to drop into one of the hotel lounges for a nap.? If we had been guests of the San Giorgio, that is exactly what we would have done, but instead we walked to Lenno and did some exploring.? Darling!
Another wonderful discovery was Trattoria Del Fagiano (guinea fowl), high up above the lake, each course in this great place was perfect.? Maria Louisa and Enza run the front, and you better clean your plate or you are going to hear about it.? Wilma is in
the kitchen with Chef Gabriele, who masterminds the absolutely delicious country Italian fare, and Mr. Giorgio (Wilma’s husband) runs the bar and makes the oh so important espressos.? I cannot wait to share Trattoria Del Fagiano with AHA travelers!? The Italian menu was daunting so Maria Luisa took over.? If you are interested, below is a description of what she decided we were going to enjoy at this eatery.
Antipasti: Paper thin prosciutto with shaved parmigiano cheese, sauteed mushrooms, bruschetta topped with bacon, braseola with melted mozzarella, drizzled with vinegar.? At that point, and I know that you know this feeling, I was pretty much done.? Oh no, no, no.? Primi piatti – house twisted pasta with a sauce of? light tomato and ground fagiano, plus the lightest crepe ever, oozing a bechamel sauce, rolled then sliced very thinly, smothered in fresh tomatoes and baked in the oven.? OK, now its not funny.? Remember those elastic waisted pants I bought before departure, yeah well, you can imagine where I am going with this when Maria Louisa arrives at our table with a wild boar stew served over country polenta.? Yeah, not to filling.? But hey, I told myself I was doing it all for you, the reader and traveler, it was my responsibility, right?? Jim looked across the table at me and gasped something rather negative about our food in Paris . . . .
A departure from the country food is the Imperialino. Very, very beautiful terrace dining, lakeside.? Service was impeccable and yet friendly, and the food was absolutely wonderful.? I just have to mention my antipasti.? I ordered Prosciutto and melon and that is what I received but the presentation was amazing.? Thin slices of cantaloupe covered the bottom of my huge plate, but someone had taken the thin prosciutto and fashioned it delicately into the shape of a rose in full bloom sitting on top.? I will look forward to sharing this quiet, elegant restaurant with guests.
And finally, La Locanda.? This place you have to experience to believe.? Located on the only island on Lake Como, we arrived by boat to a very famous, yet casual six course lunch, under a tree on the terrace.? Please!!!!? It just could not have been more perfect.? This became a must for all of the AHA trips to the Lake Como area.? Take a look at their website.? Too fun!
From Lago Di Como we headed south to Pienza, located in the heart of Tuscany for the next six days, stopping for lunch in Cremona.? Cremona is the town where Stradivari lived and created his perfect violins, now on display, and I have wanted to visit for many years.? It was not a disappointment.
Tuscany Staying in a beautifully redesigned farmhouse on top of a hill, we relished traveling through the area at a very leisurely pace.? The high points were the 12th century Abby of Saint Antimo, where the resident Gregorian monks chant . . . .? stunning.? The beef steak restaurant, Osteria Acquacheto, so good we went twice, the town of Montepulciano, and the perfect Renaissance town of Pienza.? There were some disappointments that taught us where not to go as well.? Restaurants that are full and bustling, but without an Italian in the place.? We were in Italy, right?? Or were we in Germany or England?? Several got scratched off of our list, and that is a good thing.
Rome: Continues to amaze us and we have been visiting annually for over 20 years, with guests and on our own.? Exploration of some sites we’d not seen before proved fruitful.? The hillside town of Tivoli, just outside of Rome, with its two enormous villas will make a great addition to a week long itinerary in Rome.? This would be a day trip, out of the bustling city to visit the ancient Roman Villa Adriana, lunch and then visit the Villa ‘d’Este c. 1565.? Both have gorgeous gardens, gushing fountains, and views of Rome.? A super way to spend an easy day, I loved it there. We were disappointed with a restaurant that we have been enjoying for years, because it decided to go up market.? So, whereas their pizza and pastas were wonderful, they have been replaced with items like parmigiano mousse served with middle eastern flat bread.? What?? I am in Italy, right?? Too bad.? But, the Enoteca (wine bar) near the bottom of the Spanish Steps, and Ciampini, at the top, were just as great as ever!
Sorrento: This has become a favorite.? Perhaps the fact that? beautiful Hotel Antiche Mura pampers us is part of the reason we keep returning? Perhaps that, as well as the aqua waters lapping on the shore, the slower pace, the pirate history, the fresh seafood and icy white wines, and the limoncello? ? Yeah, that’s probably it.? In Sorrento it is easy for me to wrap my guests up in history and culture.? It is a place to let down, slow down, and just be.? A must for AHA clients.
This trip we visited Herculaneum (in Italian, Ercolano) for the first time.? A seaside city destroyed by the same volcanic eruption that flattened Pompeii, in 79 AD, but smaller and better preserved.? Unlike Pompeii, in Herculaneum we found full homes that survived with their artwork still on the walls.? I was able to walk through a home in which the dining room looked out onto a garden with a patio complete with patio furniture. ? I stood in the kitchen gazing out the window at the garden imagining that more than 1,930 years ago, a woman just like me, had done the same thing.? Perhaps she wondered what kind of weather they would have that day, as she watched her children play with a pet.? Suffice to say, that in Herculaneum, one could easily step back in time, and I loved it. I will look forward to sharing this experience with guests.
I began this post with my commitment to you, the AHA guest.? I hope that as you have read this article, it has become clear just how I will immerse you.? My goal is to envelope you in the people, the art, history, music, and food of the places we explore.? Complete Cultural Immersion, hope you can swim!