Posts Tagged ‘Italian Tours’

Golden Day 101: Catanzaro and Beyond with My Bella Vita

Cherrye Moore 2I became a fan of Cherrye Moore’s My Bella Vita blog when she began it in 2006. The story of this adorable Texas native who fell in love with a southern Italian and left everything behind to begin a life with him (IN CALABRIA!) fascinated me. From the start Cherrye’s passion for her new home was clear, and her enthusiasm for learning new recipes, customs, and exploring new places was absolutely enchanting.

It’s been gratifying to watch Cherrye’s business grow into My Bella Vita Travel, the premier genealogical travel company in southern Italy, specializing in ancestry tours to Calabria and custom vacations throughout Southern Italy. Her services, and the Catanzaro B&B Il Cedro she created with her husband, get raves from happy clients. She’s also written guides to the area and has expanded her blog so that it’s an interactive resource where readers find Italy travel tips, Calabrian destination highlights, such as Five Spots in Calabria for Art and Architecture Lovers, recipes such as this truly authentic recipe for Calabrian Lasagna, and a hodgepodge of Calabrian tales.

Plate of lasagna at an Italian restaurant

I’m so grateful Cherrye has joined in to give advice for a Golden Day in Catanzaro:

Calabria isn’t yet a household name for many Italofiles. In fact, many non-Calabrese Americans don’t know of this rugged, wild place – a land almost trapped in time that still very much epitomizes Old Italy.

Fourteen years ago I was one of these people. Today, along with my testa dura Calabrese husband and son, I call this place home. cherrye-and-peppe-engagement-pic-1-240x300

We live in Catanzaro, that is often referred to as “The City Between Two Seas,” because it sits between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, making it a perfect base for a Calabria vacation. beach

Come stay at our Bed and Breakfast Il Cedro, set amidst a grove of citrus trees. 

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For this Golden Day, you can sleep in until 9:00, then head up the Ionian Coast towards Crotone.  Just off of the road, you’ll find Le Castella, the massive fortress that is rumored to be the secret hideaway where Calypso held Ulysses in Homer’s The Odyssey. I typically pack a picnic lunch and either eat in the shadow of the ancient Argonese castle or sit on the rocks that line the tiny shore. castella

 If you prefer fresh seafood, my choice is Micomare, (Tel: 0962/795082), located on Via Vittoria on one of the tiny town’s side alleys. For unbeatable views of the castle, ask for a table on the terrace and dine on spaghetti with mussels and clams. 
ristorante-micomare

 After lunch, continue up the coast, past the hometown airport Sant Anna and turn down the long, dusty road towards Capo Colonna. Capo Colonna is the last remaining temple dedicated to Hera Lacinia that dates from between the 6th and 5th century BC. It’s hard to find, but if you let yourself get lost (in your thoughts!) you can imagine what the Greeks must have seen when they chose the site. capo

In the early evening, head back to Catanzaro where you can end your mini-tour of ancient Magna Graecia by sampling wines that descended from Greece’s Cremissa – a wine that was served at the ancient Olympics.  Dine with us at Il Cedro and then take a stroll along the Catanzaro Lido lungomare, stopping for some award-winning gelato at Marrons Glacès .lungomare

Grazie mille Cherrye! I am packing my bags…

Visit My Bella Vita Travel for more info about Cherrye’s customized tour services of southern Italy, ancestry tours, and to sign up for her newsletter. You can also join her on the Calabrian Table Tour held 2-3 times a year, that she hosts and designs with Tania Pascuzzi of In Italy Tours.

GOLDEN DAY 100: Tropea with in Italy Tours

Let’s move on to the region of Calabria, and make our first stop a town at the bottom of Italy’s boot: Tropea.

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Tropea is dramatically set above the sparkling sea, waterview

an evocative mix of crumbling baroque buildings,

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Piazzas that look like opera sets,

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and views out to the volcanic island of Stromboli, that continuously bursts forth with glowing fireworks. stromboli

I visited Tropea a few springs ago, as a guest of In Italy Tours  The company was created by Tania Pascuzzi, a charming Australian-Italian whose parents were born in Calabria, and then emigrated to Melbourne. Tania grew up around delicious Calabrian food, moved on to work for many years as a stylist in New York, and finally returned to her roots, making Tropea her home base.

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This is an undertouristed area, which Tania has grown to know intimately. She has a great passion for the land and its people, and has been embraced by the natives over the many years she has lived and worked there. As for my experience: AMAZING. The Calabrese lived up to their reputation as being some of the kindest, liveliest folk you’ll ever meet in your travels, and with Tania guiding I was immediately embraced as family.

My Golden Day in Tropea began with breakfast on the rooftop of Il Residenza Barone . This is a luxury B&B, right in the historic center, that’s been stylishly renovated, with chic, airy rooms, elegantly run by Rosella and Roberto.

RESIDENZABARONEMORNINGTania’s itinerary started with a food tour of Tropea, through the enchanting centro storico, where the culinary stars are hot red peppers, that are dried up, tied up, hanging in garlands everywhere. pepper

They’re also minced up into a spread called n’duja that’s delightfully sizzly or will have you choking and teary-eyed, depending on the intensity. You can try some at La Casetta del Piccantino, where you’ll meet Franco—probably wearing a corno–what we in Jersey used to call an “Italian horn” (hot red pepper shaped charm)-around his neck. Franco will generously offer you tastes of all varieties of n’duja and other delicious spreads.

You’ll find the most spirited Tropea character at Gelati Tonino

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This beloved-by-locals octogenarian is famous for his gelato, always inventing new flavors using what’s growing around there at the time–such as red onion gelato, garlic gelato, of course red pepper gelato…

It’s relaxing to pick up a panino somewhere and take a break at the beautiful beach, that’s voted every year as one of the best in Italy. 

TROPEABEACH2The dreamy day continues with a Cooking in Calabria class. During my visit, Tania took me to a hilltop cottage on the outskirts of Tropea, surrounded by a small vegetable garden and some fruit trees, where I cooked side-by-side with a local mamma and her husband–from appetizers to homemade pasta, and then we ate at a picnic table under the stars.

In 2012, Tania expanded and improved this concept, so now guests are driven to a glorious 3.5 acres of sprawling olive groves, flourishing vineyards and gardens in the rolling hills above Tropea. As Tania puts it: “You’ll enter as a guest and leave as part of the family after a day of cooking and feasting on made-from-scratch Calabrese cuisine with our hosts and dear friends, Peppe and Vera.” 

Guests tour the gardens, finding an abundance of Tropea’s famous red onions, expansive olive groves, and lush vineyards–the olive oil you use for cooking and wine you drink is produced right on this farm. 

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In the kitchen Peppe and Vera teach recipes such as handmade pasta, meat and seafood dishes, luscious fruit tarts–as true to Calabria as they are.cooking-class-tropea-5

The finale is an open air feast, insomma as Tania says, “Not only is this the ultimate food experience, it is a chance to be with authentic local people and experience the ‘dolce vita’ with them.” 

familyNon vedo l’ora di ritornare== I can’t wait (can’t see the hour) till I return to Tropea!

For more info: Check out the In Italy Tours website http://www.initalytours.com for Calabria Tours AND tours of the Castelli Romani (outside of Rome).

Golden Day Ninety-Seven: Lecce with CW (Country Walkers) Guide, Marcello Polignano

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One of the many great things about CW Adventure (formerly Country Walkers) trips is their native guides. I loved a trip to Sicily I went on with them, where along with the spectacular scenery and food, we had full on cultural immersion with the wonderful Loredana Grasso, who grew up right near Mount Etna. Her stories about cooking with her grandma were great, also her hit on Italy’s political scene, and her passion for her homeland–from every flower on the trail to the delicious almond cookies of Taormina.

I’m grateful a CW Puglia Guide and Lecce native, Marcello Polignano has joined in to give his advice for a Golden Day in his beloved city, a baroque gem that’s often called “The Florence of the South”:

Since a lot of Lecce is zoned as pedestrian only, and it’s flat, you can bike ride or walk around the ancient town comfortably, to admire the major sights:

Basilica of Santa Croce…

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Duomo Square:

Puglia_Lecce1_tango7174and Church of San Giovanni

LECCE-SANGIOVANNIOr you can take a ride on a sightseeing hop-on/hop-off little train that reaches all these places. July, August and early September can be very hot and uncomfortable to enjoy the visit, so you may consider getting up a little early and taking your walk  around 9:00a.m.. There’s a tourist information office at the Carlo V Castle with maps and leaflets of the city.

Stop in at Caffè Alvino, in Sant’Oronzo Square, to taste a local pastry, the “pasticciotto”, which is a sort of tart closed on top and stuffed with custard, to be served fresh from the oven or warm. 

LECCE-PAZZICOTTOCaffè Alvino is also famous for its almond cookies that can be taken away even as a present.

My favorite restaurant for simple, excellently prepared food is Alle Due Corti, close to Sant’Oronzo Square (Corte dei Giugni 1, 0832 242223). You can try the full round of starters, which is enough for everyone, and then have a “ciciri e tria” (fresh pasta with chick-peas).alle-due-corti

And be sure to join the Leccesi (the locals) for the passegiata and to peek into beautiful shops.

The two best hotels in town are the Risorgimento, a 5-star resort…

BRI.A.2011.118977.005and the Patria Palace Hotel.

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Grazie Mille Marco! To check out more CW in Italy–including hiking, biking, and beautifully arranged travels in the major cities, click here.

For more info on Lecce, check out this recent New York Times Travel Section: 36 Hours in Lecce.