Recently in Italy Category

Under the Pugliese Sun

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harbor_trani.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Sure, the New York Times called it "the next new Tuscany" . But I still wasn't convinced that Puglia - the sun-splashed "heel" of Italy's peninsular boot - was a bona fide vacation hot spot until I heard about the celebrities. Reese. Jake. Coppola. And I know this one doesn't pack nearly as much star wattage, but what the heck (she's got an Oscar, after all): Helen Mirren .

They've all been here. And now, for six weeks between mid-May and late June, so am I.
courtney_015.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Having spent time in Rome, Puglia and Milan during my ten-day Italian sojourn, I still hadn't made up my mind as to which was my favorite destination by the next-to-last day of my trip.  Rome - the first spot I'd visited - had been fantastic, but also crowded, loud and at times more than a little overwhelming.  Puglia - in the sunny heel of the boot - was a wonderfully welcoming region boasting charming small towns, incredibly fresh seafood and the best olive oil I'd ever tasted.  And Milan had been glamorous, sophisticated, worldly and chic - qualities I'd been certain pushed it to the fore of my preferences among the places I'd visited.

But, as my boyfriend and I headed from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport back into the city for one final night before flying home, I felt an unexpected sense of familiarity come over me.  The undulating Roman countryside, with its hills topped with graceful pine trees and centuries-old mansions, at once struck me as soothing and like something I had seen countless times before.  And the brisk traffic whipping by on both sides of the taxi seemed more charming than frightening on the second visit, and before I knew it I caught myself musing fondly, "those crazy Roman drivers!"

Italy Wine Country - Milanese Moment

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dagiacomo.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Occasionally you find yourself dining in an establishment you can just tell is rather famous. Such was the case at da Giacomo in Milan, where we had dinner our final night in the northern Italian city. With its cozy-elegant d├ęcor, bevy of stylish patrons (which included an exotic-looking model at the next table), and delicious fare focused on seafood, the spot oozed the kind of atmosphere you seek out in big city dining, but don't always find.

Italy Wine Country - An Ideal Lunch

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atgallo.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Though hard-core travelers may protest, I simply cannot hide this truth:  my favorite thing to do while traveling is to partake in unapologetically long lunches.  And so when in sunny Puglia in Italy's south, rather than spending our days zipping between typical tourist haunts such as churches, ancient villages and other points of interest, my boyfriend and I spent more hours than I care to recount lingering over exceedingly long lunches. 

Italy Wine Country - The Art of Aperitivo

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aperitivopeeps.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Italians have a habit I sorely wish we Americans would adopt.  It's called Aperitivo, and it absolutely rocks.  Here's how it works:  every evening, bars in Italian cities - especially the big cities, such as Rome and Milan - put out an array of snacks that patrons can tuck into for free so long as they purchase a drink.  The drink is called aperitivo (literally, pre-dinner drink), but the word is often applied to the whole experience of drinking, eating and socializing.  Which is why when an Italian says to you "Facciamoci un aperitivo" ("Let's have an aperitivo"), what he really means is, "let's go get our drink/eat/chat on, presto!"

Italy Wine Country: From Puglia with Olive Oil

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By Courtney Cochran

My boyfriend - who is from Puglia, in the heel of Italy's boot - signed one of his first emails to me "from Puglia with olive oil" (a bit of a comedian, this one). Until then, I'd only known vaguely of Puglia as a place of hearty red wines and wholesome country manners in Italy's sunny south.

But it turns out that - as hinted in Antonio's email - Puglia is also home to some 60 million olive trees that together produce a significant portion of Italy's annual olive oil output. As a result, olive oil is drizzled over just about everything that crosses the table in Puglia, including the hearty pastas that have already - before arriving at table - been prepared in oil. And while this might sound like overkill to those unaccustomed to such intensive intake of the stuff, I can assure you that it's quite delicious, and never seems like a bad idea when you're faced with yet another plate of fabulously fresh local fare.

Pictured here, Anto mid-drizzle.
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Italy Wine Country: Of Orecchiette and Octopus

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courtney_octopus.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

In Barbara Kingsolver's delightful "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" the author criticizes Americans' penchant for eating things trucked over thousands of miles in lieu of goods produced locally. The reason for our bad habits, which negatively impact our environment and send food dollars away from local communities? Kingsolver claims it's due to our lack of something she calls a "food culture" - a set of beliefs and customs unique to a country that compel its constituents to prefer foods that originate nearby. Italy, she asserts, is an excellent example of a country with a model food culture.

In Italy's sunny Puglia region - literally, the heel of the boot - seafood caught in the nearby Adriatic, pizza and rustic pasta dishes reign supreme.

By Courtney Cochran


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It's been raining A LOT here, but the food is amazing!


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courtney2 006.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When pressed for time in Rome, it helps to have an Italian guide. Thanks to my travel companion's city smarts, we were able to see a lot on our last day - emphasis on lot.

For starters, we took in the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, followed by a viewing of the Campidoglio (Roman capitol) and lunch in the Jewish Ghetto, a fascinating part of the city in which modern apartments have literally been built on top of ancient ruins (talk about juxtaposition!).

courtney2 007.jpgAfter lunch we took in Largo di Torre Argentina, a fascinating excavation site of several Republican temples that doubles as a sanctuary for homeless cats (always a sucker for felines, this one), the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Spagna and the adjacent Spanish Steps. (Phew!) It was a whirlwind, but a fascinating whirlwind - to say the least - and fittingly capped by a rooftop Champagne cocktail at the International Academy of Wine at the Spanish Steps.
courtney2 003.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Apparently, getting a private tour of Vatican Palace is about as difficult as getting into a very, very, very exclusive nightclub. So when - thanks to a highly fortunate personal connection - we were granted one, we knew we were in for a treat. Upon entering ultra exclusive Vatican City, a private city state with its own post office, radio station and publishing house, we were ushered through the Vatican's private gardens and Papal Palace by a bishop himself. And while walking unheeded through the sacred halls where the Pope conducts business, eats, sleeps and entertains, I had the singular feeling that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Highlights included standing on the balcony overlooking Piazza San Pietro from which the Pope addresses crowds of thousands, visiting a curious private room designed as an enclave for birds - with walls frescoed by Raphael in delicate flora and fauna, and touring the great halls where the Pope receives foreign dignitaries and other important people (there is actually a throne in the largest!).

Italy Wine Country: The best little bar in Rome

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courtney 014.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

While wandering through the twisting, cobbled streets of Rome's historic center one evening, we stumbled upon a tiny wine bar called Baronato Quattro Bellezze. With its dim lighting and barely-discernible sign out front, we could have easily passed right by without noticing it. But, being on vacation, we were in the habit of noticing things, and decided to head inside. There, four tables fit snugly inside the bar's main room, which is presided over by a fantastical 18th-Century carousel horse. Thick velvet drapes frame the horse on either side, and lend a decidedly theatrical vibe to the spot (something we discovered was no coincidence, since they sometimes stage small performances right there on the bar - one of which we had the pleasure of attending the next night!). Cozily tucked into a corner table, we sipped wildly popular spritz cocktails (wine, Aperol bitters and soda water) to a soundtrack of Frank Sinatra and other nostalgic tunes.

Italy Wine Country: Transmitting from Trastevere

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rome2.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Arrived at the outset of an incredible rainstorm, so took advantage of the weather to take a long nap. Jetlag assuaged, we set out to explore Rome by twilight, walking from the Colonnato del Bernini in front of the Vatican, past Castel Sant'Angelo, across the Tiber to Campo de Fiori and on to Piazza Navona, the great Baroque courtyard surrounded by tourist-filled restaurants and bars.

Naturally, we had several apperitvo along the way, something I'm getting quite accustomed to.

More soon on the best little bar in Rome, and a private tour of the Vatican.

As they say in Rome, "se vedemo!"

Italy Wine Country: Roman Holiday

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rome.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Like most Americans, I've often used the phrase, "when in Rome, do as the Romans," with that all-knowing half-smile that implies that yes, I do in fact know what Romans do! Romans and me, we go waaay back.

Except, I've never been to Rome. Have never, in fact, spent more than 72 hours altogether in Italy, and couldn't tell you what life is like in Rome any more than I could tell you what life is like on the moon. Romans and me, it turns out, don't even go back even so far as a nanosecond.

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