Aglio e Scalogno

Aglio e Scalogno
Aglio e Scalogno: Garlic and Shallots at the Christmas Market in Florence

Monday, October 19, 2009

Day by Day, "My Private Italy" tour itinerary

Day 0 - 1
Depart US/Fly overnight to Italy. Tour begins at Pisa airport, so you may fly either directly into Pisa, or fly to Rome and connect to Pisa by air or by train. At the Pisa airport, you will be met by "La Contadina" tour guide Marybeth (“Bettina” while in Italy) and by filmmaker Steve McCurdy. We will embark on our first adventure right from here by visiting the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa in the Piazza dei Miracoli, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.* From here, we will transfer to Lucca (greater Lucca area pop. 86,000; pop. within medieval walls 8,000) and our centrally-located, 4-star hotel. Time to settle in, stroll in the heart of this proud Etruscan city and enjoy a welcome dinner at one of Lucca’s finest restaurants. A mini language lesson for those interested.

Day 2
Breakfast and a quick morning stroll atop the ramparts to get our blood flowing before our drive to the ocean to visit the Cinque Terre, a string of 5 isolated, rugged villages clinging to the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. Let Steve show you some of his favorite spots he filmed for “My Private Italy,” as we search together for the best pesto, the most flavorful wine, lemon-flavored honey, local olive oil, and locally-made handicrafts in this UNESCO Natural World Heritage Park*. This is a day to admire the colorful architecture, breathe deeply of the sea air, and get some exercise as we climb and descend the often-steep and always-quaint village streets. Enjoy a little wine education courtesy of Bettina during dinner together on the coast before we return to our peaceful retreat in Lucca.

Day 3
Breakfast together and then off to Florence for the day! One could spend a whole week in Florence, or perhaps a lifetime, taking in the wonders of this world-famous city. It is not our intention to show you all of Florence but rather to expose you to the grandeur and magnificence of this cultural mecca, visiting some top spots along the way (incl. the Ponte Vecchio), to show you some hidden gems (good places to shop for leather, fun local trattoria for lunch together, best gelateria, etc.), and of course, to pose with the replica of Michelangelo’s David in the Piazza della Signoria. Dinner on your own tonight in Florence (we will happily make recommendations), and then we return to Lucca to pack our bags!

Day 4
This morning is our last breakfast in Lucca. We are going to get an early start so we can enjoy our drive through Tuscany and have time for a brief exploration of “San Gimignano delle belle Torri” (San Gimignano of the beautiful towers, pop. 7100), one of the best-preserved hill towns in all of Tuscany. In fact, San Gimignano has been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site* and still has 14 towers remaining from the 11th-13th centuries. We will wander the hilly streets and, for those up to the task, climb the 54-meter high Torre Grossa for an unparalleled view of the surrounding Tuscan countryside. Before taking off for Spoleto, Umbria, we will visit a famous gelateria (spring tour) and perhaps try the Crema di Santa Fina (orange cream gelato flavored with vanilla bean pods), or the famous Sorbetto alla Vernaccia, another specialty flavor found only here. You may want to pick up a bottle of local Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a lovely white wine made in this region since the Renaissance. We will then drive to Spoleto (pop. 36,000), check into our lovely centrally-located hotel, and call it a day – a great day!

Day 5
We get to sleep in a bit today! Breakfast at our hotel followed by an orientation to Spoleto and a free morning to do as you wish. You may cross the Ponte delle Torri (the Bridge of the Towers which began as a Roman aqueduct), or you may prefer to check out the Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) and the Casa Romana (Roman House). There are also plenty of shops in Spoleto selling lovely and affordable hand-painted ceramics, truffle oil, pasta, wine, and other souvenirs and gifts. Time for a nap in the early afternoon before we gather for our cooking class! Our renowned local chef will teach you to mix simple ingredients and create sophisticated dishes that will impress your friends and family. After our session in the kitchen we will relax and enjoy our scrumptious meal. We will stroll leisurely back to our hotel and enjoy sogni d’oro tonight (dreams of gold). Printed recipes will be emailed to you following the tour’s conclusion.

Day 6
For our last full day together, we will meet after breakfast for our day trip north to Bevagna (pop. 2,400) and Montefalco (pop. 5,500). These hilltop villages are lined with cobblestone streets and old shops. While in Bevagna we will visit a local winery for a wine tasting. On our way back, we will stop in Montefalco, and from the “Balcony of Umbria,” we will savor the panoramic views of the Umbrian hills and let the scenery gently revive our senses. After snacking on pizza we will shop for a wonderful local wine (Sagrantino di Montefalco or a Rosso di Montefalco) or other treasures. Back to Spoleto for our last dinner together and a night “passeggiata.”

Day 7
Arrivederci everyone! Transfer to Rome Fiumicino Airport and buon viaggio! For those of you extending your stay, you can ask to be transferred into the city from the airport. Thank you for traveling with us!

*UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. To learn more about UNESCO, please visit Briefly (and taken from their website), UNESCO’s mission is “to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.” A sub-mission of UNESCO is “to preserve humanity’s irreplaceable riches: its diversity and shared heritage.” To accomplish this, UNESCO catalogues, names, and conserves sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity. In particular, a World Heritage Site is a place of either cultural or physical significance and must be of "outstanding universal value." On our “My Private Italy” tour, we will visit 4 such sites: the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, the Cinque Terre, the historic center of Florence, and San Gimignano.

Don't Just Dream It - Do It ! Let us take you on a tour of a lifetime!

Don't Just Dream It - Do It !   Let us take you on a tour of a lifetime!
L to R: Marybeth, Giuliana (owner/founder) Steve (filmmaker)

Giuliana, owner of La Contadina Travels and Tours

Giuliana, owner of La Contadina Travels and Tours
Giuliana, on the right, leading a tour in Umbria

Steven Robert McCurdy, documentary filmmaker and my fellow tour guide

Steven Robert McCurdy, documentary filmmaker and my fellow tour guide
Steve taking a self-portrait in Italy

Another self-portrait of Steve, who is co-leading the tour with me

Another self-portrait of Steve, who is co-leading the tour with me

Italian Club of Salt Lake

If you're in Utah or coming for a visit and are interested in events related to Italian culture, music, or food, check the Italian Club of Salt Lake (ICSL) website for information: .

The ICSL also offers wonderful Italian language classes in a fun and comfortable setting at Raw Bean Cafe', at 611 South West Temple (great access off I-15). I'm the coordinator of the classes as well as a student, and believe me, the classes are great!