Where Did Golden Weeks Come From?

It wasn’t my idea to design and host For Women Only Tours to Italy. Sure I loved traveling there for decades, writing about Italy, going to Italy with family and girlfriends, arranging everything so we’d be sure to have the most marvelous time. And I always loved meeting female travelers along the way, who, like me, were swept up in that fabulous magic Italy gives us women.
Women's Tours to Italy, Women Only Tours, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoAll those women travelers and my own experiences inspired my first book, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go.

Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's TravelThen came The Surprise. During my book tour, after my presentations,  hands would fly up, and woman would ask: “Can we go with you?”.
My first answer was, “I write books, stories…I don’t lead tours.”
Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Tours to Italy, Women's Travel, Small Group Tours Italy, Italy TravelAnd then I’d launch into giving these women all kinds of advice for their trips, just as I’d been doing with girlfriends for years, making lists that strung together my Golden Days in Italy into an itinerary that would make their Italian dream vacation come true.

With every presentation, and more books, more hands flew into the air, till finally I said “Yes” to the inspiration  (THANK YOU WONDERFUL WOMEN!) and in 2012 the first Golden Week was launched.

I designed it exactly the way I love to travel with girlfriends–with a balance of group time and free time to discover on our own, a beautiful location and hotel where we can comfortably immerse ourselves for an authentic Italian experience, and an itinerary that mixes culture, history, art, great food, fabulous wine, artisan shopping, and activities (cooking and craft classes) so we LIVE Italian traditions. AND of course, everything is female-focused, with thanks to my fabulous local guide/girlfriends who love customizing their museum and city tours so we discover Italian heroines of the past and present, and art that glorifies females.

Cooking Class with Susan Van Allen Tour

Cooking Class

My past ten Golden Weeks in Italy: For Women Only have been amazing experiences–It’s an absolute joy introducing women to places I’ve long loved, sharing discoveries together, and watching how in just one week women are transformed and enlightened by the pleasures of Italy, and how they form friendships that last well beyond our time together.

Since 2012, Golden Week locations have expanded from northern Tuscany to Southern Italy and the Amalfi Coast, Florence, the Italian Riviera…And in 2018, I’m excited to add new experiences in Tuscany’s Val D’Orcia and Venice.

Women from all over the USA and Canada have joined in, bonding over a range of life experiences. We’ve celebrated milestone birthdays, reunions between sisters and friends, women who have experienced losses in their lives have come to find the Golden Week profoundly healing.

The small groups (max 14), have ranged in ages from 23 to 82, with mothers and daughters, sisters, solo travelers, and girlfriends traveling together, all becoming one famiglia of wonderful women for the week. I’m thrilled that in recent years there have been so many retrunees–wonderful women who have loved Golden Weeks so much, they come back for more. (Click to read the raves...)

I’m forever grateful for those hands raised many years ago that transformed to hands raised in happy celebration and toasts in Bell’ Italia!

Women's Tours to Italy, Women Only Tours, Women's Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

I can’t wait for July for the new Golden Week in Tuscany to begin!

I so look forward to more wonderful women joining me for a week that will become an inspiration for a lifetime!
Click for 2018 Details…I hope to be toasting with you in Italia soon!


It was glorious to spend October days in Sirmione…a magical destination on the tip of Lake Garda, Lombardy…


So many pleasures are contained in the historic center of this tiny treasure-of-a-peninsula, surrounded by the lake. It’s pedestrian only, and you can actually leisurely stroll from top to bottom in about 20 minutes…

The best way to arrive is by ferry from Desenzano del Garda…another charming lakeside town that has a lot of major train connections–that is, you can train from there to Venice in 1.5 hours. Then you cab to the port, catch the Sirmione ferry...CLICK FOR SCHEDULE…





Dominating the whole pretty scene is the 13th century Scaliger Castle, that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle at Disneyworld…




I loved my stay at Hotel Sirmione, with this view from my room at sunrise…

And to make me feel like a true principessa, there are thermal springs in this part of the lake, pumped into the hotel’s lakeside pool…

OR for the complete Sirmione spa experience, a short walk away is AQUARIA, with indoor/outdoor pools, treatment rooms, saunas, relaxing rooms, where you bliss out with views of the lake…
Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours Italy, For Women Only Tours, Small Group Tours Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoSirmione gets filled with tourists during the day, mostly European. It’s a great place for family fun…You can stroll in the center amidst antique shops and caffes…
20171003_093822463_iOSFurther on is a lovely park, where you’re serenaded by birdsongs…

Of course, I always have my antenna up for the HERSTORY angle...Maria Callas had a villa here, and is fondly remembered…

AND  there’s a church of Santa Maria della Neve where one evening there was a Free Concert: a soprano singing Puccini arias…totally magical. It’s fun to take a 25-minute circle ride around the peninsula for 12 euros, that takes you under the Castle drawbridge…
20171003_092713472_iOSAnd then stop at one of the many gelaterias, for special Sirmione-style giant cones…
Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours Italy, Small Group Tours for Women, Women's Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

AND to take you back to Roman Imperial days (1st century AD), you can discover the ruins of the Grotte of Catullo at the tip of the peninsula. It’s strangely named, as this isn’t a grotto, and the pleasure-loving Roman poet Catullus did not live here–though he was from Verona, and his family had a villa in Sirmione. Now you’ll find the most extensive site of northern Italian Roman ruins here…When I visited, there were few tourists, and what a joy to wander amidst those ancient walls and olive trees one morning…
20171004_072800743_iOSAs for dining, we loved the half-board option at Hotel Sirmione, where every night there was fresh fish, delicious pasta, Veneto wines.
And for a splurge, we had an extraordinary dinner at  La Rucola, beloved for sophisticated twists on the classics…such as this seafood-spinach risotto…


Wishing you Happy Travels in Italy, and I do hope you get to SIrmione…







These beautiful summer days have me dreaming back to days on the island of Ponza, aka The Roman Capri…The 7km squiggle off the coast of Lazio may look minor on the map,…

Susan Van Allen, Ponza, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Solo Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

but Ponza has long been a major summertime paradise for pleasure-seeking Romans. Its port is one of the most enchanting in the Mediterranean, where travelers can hop on boats for rides around a dramatic rocky coastline, stopping to sun and swim at dreamy beach coves and indulge in fresh seafood at rustic eateries.

Ponza, Italy Travel, Solo Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Unlike Capri and so many other popular Italian summertime destinations, Ponza remains truly Italian, folksy, and budget-friendly. Spicy history adds to its allure: Homer wrote that Circe lived here and seduced Odysseus to stay for a year, Pontius Pilot bred moray eels in the island’s caves, and it was a place of exile for naughty empresses and Fascists, including Mussolini.

We reached it by ferry boat from the Lazio port town of Formia, (www.laziomar.it — Slow boat takes 2-1/2 hours, fast boat = 1 hour 20 minutes), arrived, and checked into the nearby Piccolo Hotel Luisa…

Ponza, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

Where Luisa, her mamma and bambina were a delight…

Ponza, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

And breakfasts delizioso…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

The best way to explore is by boat…We hopped one for the closest beach, Frontone…

Susan Van Allen, Ponza, Italy Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Where Enzo served us the most fantastic grilled tuna…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

An easy bus ride along a winding road took us to Piscine Naturali…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

where it was glorious to swim in natural pools formed by the rocks…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

The most amazing/blissful experience was boating around the island, thanks to Barcaioli Ponza, gasping at the rock formations…Pilates Grottos…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

The ever-changing colors of the sea…

Ponza, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

with a stop on the beach of nearby Palmarola island…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

While we were swimming, the boat’s captain made pasta, to eat on board in the shade of a cove, a natural cathedral…

Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Ponza, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

There were perfect evenings at the harbor for sunset cocktails…

Ponza, ITaly Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

AND the most extraordinary dinner by starlight at Ristorante Eea…

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, Women's Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

Ponza, Italy Travel, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel

I hope you get to this Paradise soon…

Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Ponza, Women's Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go


AND more extraordinary places to visit in 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go…


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on GOLDEN DAYS ON THE ISLAND OF PONZA


Each of us have special things in our lives that rock our worlds. For me, it’s when I meet my readers in person or get an email like this one, telling me how my advice brought joy to their trip to Italy.
Katy and Mark are travelers I met at the New York Times Travel Show in January. They bought 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, followed my Golden Day advice on their recent trip to Venice…and had an extraordinary, personal experience–even at the height of tourist season!
Here’s what they wrote…
We took your suggestions and visited Santa Maria Della Salute, taking us to the Dorsoduro section, an area we hadn’t explored but loved because it was so less crowded.
Santa Maria Salute, VeniceSalute Altar
And we also went on the hunt for the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, again taking us to a neighborhood we hadn’t been to. As you described, it was an absolute treasure and a bit of a miracle that we found it!
Santa Maria Miracoli, Venice
We admired it from the outside and then soaked up every inch inside as we shared the church with just one other couple.
Santa Maria Miracoli, Venice
Ceiling Detail

Ceiling Detail

Santa Maria Miracoli, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go
By the time we left the church we were ready for lunch. Following your Golden Day suggestion we set out to find Fiaschetteria Toscana. If this was Marcella Hazan’s favorite Venice restaurant we knew we would be in for a real treat. And it did not disappoint! We ate outside in the little square across from the restaurant, enjoying a delicious lunch.
At the end of our meal I went inside the restaurant to use the restroom and mentioned to the waiter how we happened upon the restaurant and showed them the paragraph in your book. The waiter suggested that I repeat the story to the owner, which I did. The owner thanked me and told me that his wife was friends with Marcella and with that she appeared at his side. Her husband then repeated the story to her and she confirmed that Marcella was her friend and she thanked me profusely for coming to the restaurant. 
I returned to my table and shared the story with my husband as we finished up our wine. A few minutes later, the owners wife appeared at our table with an envelope of photos with her & Marcella. She then proceeded to tell me that she and Marcella had been friends since they were little girls. She told me that she was a treasured friend and that she missed her dearly. She then showed me a copy of Marcella’s first cookbook, which Marcella had autographed for her. She thanked me again for coming to the restaurant and sharing the piece in your book with her. She said that I had brought back her friend, in doing so. At that point I had to hold back my tears. It was such a wonderful, heart-warming experience, that all happened because of your Golden Day tip. This happened, a week ago Friday, and was the highlight of our time back in Venice. 
I just had to share this with you!!!
Many thanks,
Katy & Mark  Petrochko
Grazie Mille to you, Katy and Mark, and to all you readers out there who’ve shared with me your Golden Day experiences!  You are an inspiration as I return and discover more and more of Italy’s boundless treasures and wonderful natives.
CLICK HERE for the latest edition of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go…

*UPDATE: Sadly, Fiaschetteria Toscana was sold in 2017 and is no longer…

Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel
Buon Viaggio!

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on GOLDEN E-MAIL FROM VENICE

APRIL: Sacred Month of Venus, Goddess of Love and Beauty

Buona Primavera = Happy Spring!

The Romans considered April the Sacred Month of Venus, Goddess of Love, Beauty, Fertility, and Sex…

Her presence is eternal…you see her all over Italy, in sculptures, paintings. You feel her spirit beckoning you to lighten up, enjoy all the flavors and pleasures…Here in the Uffizi in Florence is the Botticelli painting of her being born from the sea…Botticelli's Birth of Venus at the Uffizi, Florence

The Romans believed they were the chosen descendants of this beauty. As Virgil wrote in the Aeneid, it was Venus who seduced a Greek mortal and thus became the grandmother of Romulus and Remus, those twins suckled by a she-wolf on Rome’s Palatine Hill, who founded the Eternal City. Here she is in Rome’s Capitoline Museum, in her own private niche..

Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Women's Tours to Italy,Here she is in the Naples Archaeological Museum, as Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks…

Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours to Italy, Italy Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoHere she is in The House of Venus, Pompeii — FINALLY opened after restoration, a Must-See!

Susan Van Allen, Women's Tours to Italy, Italy Travel, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoIt’s no wonder Italy brings us such happiness, with this Goddess in charge!

For more places where Venus, her sister Goddesses, Madonnas, and heroines are adored…check out 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go…

Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Women's Travel





Golden Day 136: Bernalda, Basilicata with Dream of Italy’s Kathy McCabe

On a hilltop in the southeast corner of Basilicata, sits the medieval village of Bernalda…

BERNALDA -= OVERVIEWI became intrigued by this spot in 2012. That’s when Francis Ford Coppola opened his newly-renovated 5-star Palazzo Margherita here. Coppola’s grandfather Agostino was born in Bernalda, and left in 1904, never to return.


I’m grateful to have a friend who visited– Kathy McCabe, Editor of Dream of Italy newsletter, and Producer/Host of the fabulous PBS Dream of Italy TV series. She’s here to share her experience of this extraordinary place…

BERNALDA - KATHY McCABE“The town itself is like being in Italy in the 1950s,” she says. Coppola calls it “the real Italy.”

Bernalda, Basilicata, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy Tours, Women's Tour Italy

The unassuming Palazzo Margherita entrance opens to “a surprising oasis”…lush, blooming gardens, fountains…

Bernalda, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Susan Van Allen, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

The 9-room hotel feels more like a home, stunningly designed by Coppola and daughter Sofia, in partnership with French interior designer Jacques Grange. Local artisans and restorers worked to incorporate original elements (floor tiles and chandeliers) of the 1892 palazzo, and every guest room is unique. Here’s Sofia’s room:
Bernalda, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Italy Tours, Women's Travel, Kathy McCabe

A highlight of Kathy’s stay, offered free to every guest, was a cooking class in the Palazzo kitchen, where it’s delightful to learn the local pasta specialty: ear-shaped orechiette
Bernalda, Basilicata, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Italy Tours, Women's TravelAnd for after dinner entertainment, there’s a screening salon, with a selection of 300 classic Italian films and documentaries…

If you’re not staying at Palazzo Margherita, you can still go to the Cinecitta Caffe, next door, that’s open to the public. When Coppola is around, you’re very likely to find him sitting there.

Bernalda, Basilicata, Francis Ford Coppola, Italy Tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Susan Van Allen

Kathy’s interview with the award-winning director at the Palazzo will be featured in Season 2 of PBS’s Dream of Italy series…

Bernalda, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Francis Ford Coppola, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy tours, Italy travel, Women's Travel

Exploring Bernalda, you can also enjoy a visit to the 15th century Castello….

Bernalda, Castello, Basilicata, Palazzo Margherita, Kathy McCabe, Susan Van Allen, Italy tours, Italy Travel, Women's Travel

Refresh yourself deliciously at Gelateria Novecento, Corso Umberto Primo 246…
And go to Barbacoa, Via Carioli 7, 338 739 830, that serves high quality grilled meats and has an extensive collection of wines…


Grazie Kathy!

We’re looking forward to seeing more of this in the upcoming PBS Dream of Italy show…To read Kathy’s full story of her stay at Palazzo Margherita, and for great insider’s advice about Italian travel, subscribe to the Dream of Italy newsletter, http://www.dreamofitaly.com




Ciao Amici!
Happy to tell you that the 6th year of the Discover Italy panel at the New York Times Travel Show was a huge success. We: me, Kathy McCabe of Dream of Italy, Beth Rubin of Select Italy, Brandon Shaw (The Roman Guy), and Kenny Dunn (Eating Europe Tours)–loved sharing our experience and travel advice with the packed house of Italy enthusiasts….
Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Tours to Italy, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

It was such a fun, informative session, full of laughs, and great questions from the audience, that ended with us sharing some tips on how to save money. We’re all ears when it comes to that!

*Book your train tickets early (for the big city to big city routes). Like plane fares, prices go up the closer you purchase to departure. And go ahead and ride 2nd class–there’s not such a big difference between 1st & 2nd on Italian trains. Check out http://www.trenitalia.it or http://www.italotreno.it to reserve.
*Rent a manual car–automatics are so much more expensive! Go to http://www.autoeurope.com for sales…
*Stay at an agriturismo  (working farm), which immerses you in Italian rural life…with prices that may start around 30euros, including meals! Here’s a great way to start searching: http://www.agriturismo.it
*Get in on the Aperitivo tradition. Many bars and restaurants in Italian towns and cities offer a “Appy Hour” where a free buffet (salamis, cheeses, etc) can be enjoyed for the price of one cocktail. You’ll notice signs for them as you wander around…
*Go South! Excluding the Amalfi Coast, hotels and restaurants in southern Italy, places like Naples, Puglia, Calabria, and Sicily are much lower priced than northern Italy.

AND, lucky for us, as of today 1euro = $1.07 — the lowest it’s been in years!
Time to book your trip…
Wishing you all Happy 2017 Italy travels, and hope to meet you next year at The Show!



NEW EDITION – 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go

susan-van-allen-Italy-Florence-100-Places-Every-Woman-Should-GoCiao Amici!
I’m so grateful that 2016 included the release of the Third Edition of “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go.” Wonderful surprises have come into my life since this book first hit the stands in 2009. It’s been thrilling to hear from travelers who enjoyed discovering new places and experiences through its pages, and that the book added so much fun to their Italian travels.

100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, Susan Van Allen, Italy Travel, Women's Travel, Women Only Tours

Here’s a Sneak Preview/Excerpt…
It’s the Perfect Gift for the Italophile in your life…
AVAILABLE at your Local Bookstore, AMAZON, and BARNES & NOBLE


I fell in love with Italy at a dining room table in Newark, New Jersey. It was Nana and Papa’s dining room, my maternal grandparents—immigrants from Southern Italy. The walls were painted in a pale-rose stenciled pattern, the table spread with an ivory-colored lace cloth. On the mahogany sideboard sat a soccer-ball-sized jar of wild cherries marinating in syrup, next to a Capodimonte lamp, with porcelain figures of fancy ladies in flouncy dresses fanning themselves under the shade. A soprano on the hi-fi sang “Un Bel Di Vedremo”—“One Beautiful Day We’ll See Each Other.”

Nana, with her apron tied up under her marshmallow-baggie arms, lit the candles. My mother and aunts carried in platters heavy with mozzarella, roasted peppers, shiny black olives, steaming bowls of macaroni. I sat propped up on a telephone book, clinking my tumbler of half-red wine/half-water along with the grown-ups toasting, “Salute!” By the time the feasts were finished, the candles had burnt to their bottoms, dripping onto the lace cloth. Papa poured Strega, a golden liqueur, into curvy glasses, and sliced a dome-shaped, slathered-with-whipped-cream rum cake.

This was my first Italy: a big, delicious, loving heart.

Every August Papa would get on a ship to visit his sisters who still lived near Naples. He’d send back postcards of statues and churches. He’d return after Labor Day with beads from Venice, rosaries blessed by the Pope, rocks from Mount Vesuvius.

Italy became magical and mysterious, beckoning me—a billowy cartoon finger wafting out of a pot of bubbling tomato sauce.

When I got there for the first time in 1976, I arrived in Roma Termini with a pack on my back and a bursting anticipation. The trip was a sweltering August blur of standing awestruck in the Sistine Chapel, tasting my first gelato, getting my bottom pinched. Naturally there was romance: on the train I’d met a bel ragazzo named Luciano who’d sat across from me in the compartment. We fell madly in love for forty-eight hours and rendezvoused in the Forum: moonlight, a Chianti bottle with a straw-covered bottom, two nineteen-year-olds singing Beatles songs to each other.

Feeling transformed into a woman of the world, I headed to my Roman cousins where I was embraced with smothering-lovering and seated at their dining room table, coming full circle to my childhood Italy.

The spell was cast. Italy grabbed hold of my heart forever. Over these many years it’s drawn me back, again and again.

Tonight as I’m sitting here in an apartment on Rome’s Piazza Paradiso, way past bedtime, even for Italy, I’m realizing there’s been absolutely no logic to my times here. The trips started off with visits to the major sights in the big cities, but then out went the plans, and instinct flung me to such spots as a classroom near Rome’s Colosseum where I struggled to tackle the subjunctive, a quiet farm road in Puglia surrounded by old olive trees, dancing at the Excelsior in Florence with my husband one New Year’s Eve.

I became the “girlfriend with the lists”—scribbling down places I’d loved visiting and passing them along to my traveling pals. If I was back in the States counting the days till my next trip, I lived in Italy vicariously—knowing that Babs was in Rome seeing all those provocative Bernini sculptures with my notes in hand, Sheila at a glove shop in Florence, Louise drinking wine at my favorite bacaro in Venice.

When the opportunity to write this book came along, so did elation, gratitude, and then a freezing panic. How could I choose 100 out of the infinite pleasures I’d experienced in Bell’Italia? So let’s just get the most obvious fact out of the way: there are more places than any one book could hold. I’ve even left out some of the most obvious—such as the Sistine Chapel, Pisa, and Michelangelo’s David—things well covered in other guidebooks.

In these pages, I’m sharing with you some places from my list of favorites, along with those my savvy Italian and American friends have raved to me about. I’ve put a spotlight on goddesses, the Madonna, female saints, beauties who’ve inspired masterpieces, women who’ve taken power. After all, isn’t the fact that women have been worshipped here for thousands of years one of the reasons we love Italy so much? Though in modern times females haven’t yet triumphed as far as business and political realms go, as Luigi Barzini in The Italians says: “Men run the country, but women run men.” Here where la famiglia is the power source, women are at the core of it.

What about your male traveling partners? They’re likely to enjoy a lot of these places, too, whether it’s a museum, beach, or spots for adventure and learning. Okay, the guys probably won’t be into buying lace in Rapallo, but they’ll certainly enjoy Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks in Naples!

Italy seduces both sexes, with irresistibly feminine appeals. Shaped like a boot we’d love to strut around in, she transforms herself as she transforms travelers. She’s the nurturing mama, the drop-dead-gorgeous vixen, the compassionate spirit. She’s even the unreliable girlfriend who exasperates you with travel snafus, but you forgive her because she’s so darn charming. She’s constantly coaxing, “Come on, lighten up and enjoy my beauties and flavors.”

Treat this book like a cookbook. What do you want a taste of? Botticelli’s Birth of Venus? The best chocolate in Rome? A ceramic painting class in Deruta? A wine therapy spa treatment in the Veneto? Allow your mood to be your guide, savoring the experience Italian style, letting it unfold with an unhurried Old World pace.

To make a full meal of it, I’ve included suggestions for Golden Days—matching a place to a nearby restaurant, just like I do when I send out lists to girlfriends. These are only suggestions, because each of us has our own deeply personal experience of encountering Italy.

But as unique as each encounter is, I’m amazed at always hearing, even from travelers without a drop of Italian blood in them, the same words: “It felt like home.” Home, in the sweeping sense of a place that brings peace and comfort, a place that stirs the soul.

For me, Italy brings back that childhood dining room table feeling. It sneaks up on me now, looking out the window of this apartment in late-night Rome. There’s a light shining on a little Madonna altar across the way, her robe the same rose as those dining room walls. Out of the shadows, from a nearby restaurant, comes a dark-haired signorina, walking as if she absolutely knows she’s a descendant of Venus, with her Adonis—a bel ragazzo in a leather jacket—linked to her side. They stop for a smooch under the Madonna, pressing up against each other as if this was their last night on earth.

Italy, once again, playing an endless beautiful song.

My wish for you is to enjoy her many places of pleasure, wherever your desires lead you to go.

—Susan Van Allen



GOLDEN DAY 135: Acerenza, Basilicata, Part Two

Outside Acerenza’s historic center, grazie to Salverio Cancerllera and Antonella D’Andria, I met some of the village’s finest artisans…In a cave at Le Cantine del Grillo..
20160527_160122624_iosThere was rich, soulful Aglianico…straight out of the barrel…
20160527_154701275_ios20160527_154946114_iosNext was Il Re dei Panettoni=King of Panettone, Vincenzo Tiri, at his humble, family run bakery…

20160527_162528374_iosVincenzo rocked the Panettone World, twice winning the Grand Prize in Milan for this Christmas time sweetbread…a triumph for this young, 35-year old baker in a remote southern region, AND quite a surprise, as Panettone is a specialty of the north…


Making Vincenzo’s parents in this family run bakery, (since 1957), very proud…


Tiri’s panettone is a taste bud revelation. He’s a genius/master, starting with dough that rises for 40 hours, mixing it with local products–candy-ing fruit from the nearby orchards. This one that I tasted was flavored with white chocolate and espresso=DIVINE and not just for Christmas!


And finally, it was time to meet The Magician=Antonio Saluzzi at his workshop…Décor Saluzzi…

20160527_181101529_ios-copyFollowing age-old traditions, with passion and incredible skill, he creates…

20160527_172506992_ios20160527_173349338_ios20161116_210835935_iosA lovely agriturismo nearby is La Loggia del Monaco , beautifully set in the countryside with  with a view of Acerenza on the hill in the distance, a great restaurant…

20160527_145000559_iosAnd welcoming host, Rocky Calitri…

Go and visit this treasure of Basilicata! One of the treasured  Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia in this beautiful country…



Last May, I had the great pleasure of discovering Acerenza, Basilicata…Basilicata, Acerenza, Borghi Piu Belli, Italy, Women's Travel, Susan Van AllenAND to meet the mayor=Sindaco Fernando Scattone! The hilltop treasure is one of a group of villages designated by I Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia=The Most Beautiful Villages in Italy, which includes small hidden places up and down the boot that have maintained their architectural, cultural, and culinary traditions over the centuries. The Roman lyric poet Horace, born near Acerenza, described this spot as “an eagle’s nest”, perched above fertile plains, olive groves, surrounded by rivers.
20160527_100628028_iosI can walk from one end of the walled medieval village to another in about ten minutes…
20160527_072939640_iosBut it’s so pleasant to take my time and stop to meet the welcoming locals, for a caffe at Fossato…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Caffe, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should GoAt the bakery…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen

And then there’s Antonio, who shows me around the impressive Museo Diocesano–where stunning Greek vases and religious treasures are displayed…

Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen, 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go

20160527_082241233_ios20160527_085154239_iosThe blockbuster attraction of Acerenza is its eleventh century Cattedrale, dedicated to the Madonna of the Assumption and Saint Canio.


It’s architecture was inspired by the Abbey of Cluny in France, and it remains one of the finest examples of Clunaeic-Romanesque architecture in all of Italy. Some say that the name of the region, Basilicata, came from this church, that was classified as a Basilica in the Middle Ages, when Acerenza held the area’s judicial power. Steps below the sanctuary lead to a Renaissance crypt–gorgeously sculpted and frescoed, shown to me by my lovely guide, signorina Antonella D’Andria of the ProLoco,

Acerenza, Basilicata, Borghi Piu Belli d'Italia, Susan Van Allen

In the crypt is the tomb of Sant’ Canio. His staff, that can be seen through this glass enclosure, has been known to miraculously move! Though not while we were there…


For an extraordinary lunch, just around the corner from the Duomo, is Ristorante al Duomo, (Largo Glinni 13, 0971 741402), where excellent local wine and specialties are served…cured meats and mozzarella…

20160527_105922579_iosHomemade pasta with spicy sausage and mushrooms…
Basilicata, Acerenza, Susan Van Allen

A luxurious place to spend the night, in nearby Forenza, is the Masserie del Falco


that has a spa, cooking school, surrounded by splendid rolling hills…and outdoor dining…



20160526_175552017_iosStay tuned for more on Acerenza…in the meantime, for more info: http://www.prolocoacarenza.it

1 2 3 17