Aglio e Scalogno

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Buon Natale!

Buon Natale !

Last year at this time, I was packing my bags for Italy, about to head off on the Italian Hilltowns Tour.  We spent 12 glorious days in Italy last December, taking special note of the lovely Christmas decorations displayed in piazzas and storefronts, like this Wild Boar Santa in San Gimignano.  How cute is he? 

And the food!  Though pasta is satisfying at any time of year, it seems to be especially warming and hearty in the wintertime.  Perhaps it's just that I chose more dishes prepared ragu' style than the lighter, fresh tomato dishes that I favor in warmer weather.  In any case, it's Christmastime once again, and I have wonderful memories of two tours to Italy from the past 12 months - a total of one month in the Bel Paese.  What a fulfilling year it has been! 

As I prepare to set up our tree and arrange our festive decorations throughout the house, I am serene, and I'm pleased that I'll be savoring this holiday season with my husband and dog instead of jetting about the world without them, but I also long for a touch of Italy.  The spirit of Italy at Christmas is so palpable, so personable, so connected, so.... flavorful! 

There is also news to share with you about La Contadina, the company with which I've been affiliated for several years.  Giuliana, the founder and owner, has created a new website for Tours and Events/Classes:  Her original website,, now features her handpainted Italian ceramics and includes an awesome video of her actually creating one of her handpainted specialities.  You've got to visit the website and watch the video!  If you live in Utah, you can now take ceramics classes with Giuliana and make your very own work of art!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for information regarding Tours for 2011.  We will be repeating some customer favorites and introducing some new Tours!  In the meantime, hug someone you love, marvel at the sparkle in the snow, and do something kind for someone.  Enjoy the magic of the season, and Buon Natale :-) 


On the Piazza del Duomo in Orvieto, September 2010 

A lovely presentation of tiramisu' in Florence, Sept 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Travel Insurance - Some Tips and Helpful Info

Many people question whether or not to purchase travel insurance (also known as trip insurance) before going oversees.  Sometimes, the decision is made for you.  If you travel with me or with La Contadina, as with many other tour organizers and tour companies, you are required to purchase travel insurance, especially the type that covers repatriation expenses (the cost of getting you home if need be).  Independent travellers have more flexibility in deciding, and Rick Steves provides a helpful article on the factors involved in making this decision:

For those who are required to purchase some form of travel insurance, an easy website to use is  This site allows you to compare numerous plans, their prices and coverage options, in an easy-to-read table format.  In contrast, if you go through AAA, you are only offered the Access America insurance policy options, whereas Insure My offers Access America and many, many other companies' options.  The website also provides ratings for each of the policies (A+, A, A-, etc.). 

Another interesting link is from the Travel Blog Exchange:  This traveller offers three instances in which travel insurance 'saved the day.' 

TIPS:  If you purchase your insurance well in advance of the trip, it can be extremely affordable - a drop in the bucket relative to the cost of your trip.  The closer you are to your departure date, the higher the premium can climb, so shop for your insurance while you're shopping for your airline tickets! 

It's also important to note that in order to cover pre-existing conditions, it can be necessary to purchase your trip insurance within 24 or 48 hours of your initial trip payment (such as purchase of your airline ticket, or your down payment to a tour operator). 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Back from Italia After a Wonderful Tour

We are back from the September 2010 Oceans and Hilltowns Tour - 15 days total in Italy.  All that food!  All that wine!  And tiramisu'!  And all the sights, and shopping.... I'll be posting pictures of our meals and reviews of some restaurants and accommodations in the coming weeks. 

I also made lovely friends in Sorrento and am so thankful that we'll be able to stay in touch via Facebook until I visit again.  I tossed my coin into Trevi Fountain, so I'll certainly be back!

Now that I've recovered from the jetlag, all I can think about is the "Return to Sorrento" Tour in late April 2011.  Here is a beautiful instrumental version of the "Return to Sorrento" song: 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Great Women's Travel Pants by Isis

Check out these great travel pants from Isis!  These "Walkabout" pants will be coming with me on my September Oceans and Hilltowns Tour, and I'm looking forward to wearing them quite a bit while on tour with my ladies.  These pants have a flattering and forgiving fit, are made of a stretchy and quick-dry fabric, and have several discreet zippered pockets (great for holding passport, Euros, credit/debit cards).  They also roll up into capris for those warmer days.  I chose black because they won't show dirt and will match everything.  Thank you, Isis!

Note:  The picture provided by Isis (above, in khaki) is not terribly attractive.  These pants actually fit very nicely and offer a bit of "drape" without being too loose.   I also really appreciated the two discreet leg pockets for my passport and for extra cash.                                                                     Here I am wearing the black Isis travel pants at our cooking class in Italy in September 2010. They were very lightweight yet durable, could be "dressed up" to look quite nice for evening, and could be rolled up into capris, which came in handy for the very warm but rainy day in the Cinque Terre (below):

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exchanging Dollars for Euros

There is always some confusion regarding exchange rates.  "How many Euros can I get for this wad of US Dollars?" 

Many currency exchange rate websites, such as and display rates that apply to international banking transactions.  For individuals who want to go to a bank to buy Euros with US Dollars, though, the rate is always less favorable, because the banks must acquire the Euros and also pay their staff to manage, process and exchange them.  Banks charge a fee for these services (no surprise there!). 

To get the daily foreign currency exchange rate that applies to YOU when you go to a bank to buy Euros, visit the website of a major bank, such as Wells Fargo or Chase, and look for their information on foreign exchange.  For example, you can visit this Wells Fargo website and click on "today's rates:"

By the way, the Euro hit a 4-year low in May and has been climbing again slowly ever since.  Today's rate (July 28, 2010) was 1.3706 dollars to the Euro.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Garmugia Soup Recipe from Lucca

For those of you who might have seen "Garmugia" on the menu below from Prosciutto e Melone and wondered what it was, this link will bring you to a recipe: Garmugia Soup Recipe from Lucca.  It is a hearty peasant-type dish believed to have originated in or around Lucca. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

56 Days Until Tour Departure!

It's hard to believe that we only have 56 days left until we depart for the Italian Oceans and Hilltowns Tour!  This summer is flying by! 

This restaurant may be the first place we visit once we arrive in Lucca.  Isn't it adorable?  I love the paint color on the plaster wall and the wooden gates that serve as doors.  Below are some of their menu items - every single one makes my mouth water!

The ladies and I are flying to Italy a day before the Tour officially starts so that we have a chance to acclimate just a bit.  We'll spend our first pre-Tour night in Lucca, and "Prosciutto e Melone" is a darling little restaurant right down the street from our B&B.  Check back in October to see what I thought of this dining establishment.

Below is the street view of Prosciutto e Melone (restaurant on the left) - it's tucked away on this tiny "via" behind the Piazza Anfiteatro, in the heart of historic Lucca. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

My Review of Teva Tirra Sandals

Here is my review for the Teva Tirra Sandals, which are coming with me to Italy this September:

Originally submitted at REI,

At home in the water or on terra firma, the Teva Tirra sandals mesh fun, feminine style and multisport performance for everyday, go-anywhere use.

Comfortable enough to hike in!
By Mb on 7/2/2010
5out of 5
Gift: No
Sizing: Feels true to size
Width: Feels true to width
Pros: Breathable, Comfortable, Cute, Durable, Great heel comfort
Best Uses: Everyday, Walking, International travel
Describe Yourself: Casual
Got two pairs, one for daily use and hiking, the other for an upcoming trip to Italy. Wanted to try them on the trail to see how they protected against uneven surfaces, as the cobblestones in Italy can really make your feet ache. These sandals were GREAT on the rocky trail! I've never hiked in sandals and was a little dubious about how they would fare, but they were awesome! I will hike in these again and again and am so relieved to have found a great pair of shoes for Italy. The best feature is the cushion under the heel - supportive but soft and really comfortable.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Castello di Verrazzano, Greve in Chianti, Tuscany

Here is the Sassello Super Tuscan that we enjoyed the other night with our Italian meal.  It is a fabulous wine, aged 18 months in oak, made from Sangiovese grapes.  This wine is among many produced at the famous Verrazzano winery in Greve in Chianti, Tuscany.  Its website is  Once on the website, click on the little British flag to get the English version to appear.  

The vintner has this to say about the wine:  "Sassello represents the highest expression of the terroir-vine binomial, where Sangiovese creates a unique wine with a deep and impenetrable colour of an intense ruby red, enhanced by purple overtones. The fragrance is fine and intense, wide and persistent, and offers a variety of fruity notes including cherries, blackberries, raspberries underlined by hints of oak and vanilla. The taste is elegant and complex with closely woven tannins both smooth and pleasant joined to notes of fruit and spice, oak and vanilla, with an equally pleasant and long finish." 

No good wine tasting is complete without wild boar salame and bruschetta (above) !  We were made to feel very welcome, and the tastings were numerous and plentiful.

Simone, on the left, is the sommelier who led our wine tasting.  His personality is as vibrant as his smile!

I recommend a visit to this charming and refined establishment.  Visit their photogallery here: 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Italian dinner party

Why not host an Italian dinner party for your friends this week? I did last night! On our menu: Bistecca di Manzo con Rucola (steak with arugula), Creamy Orzo with fresh garden peas and asparagus, and Panzanella, served with a FABULOUS Super Tuscan that I got in December in Greve in Chianti, called Sassello. Amazing meal!  

The steak recipe is in the Rogers Gray Italian Country Cookbook, which I LOVE, and the Creamy Orzo is one of Giada DiLaurentis' incredible concoctions (not lowfat, but everyone goes nuts for this flavorful, creamy dish).  Her recipe calls for frozen peas, but I added just-picked snowpeas and tender asparagus from my garden.  And Panzanella, is of course, made most delicious by the freshest basil and the best-tasting olive oil.  This early in the season, it can be hard to find tasty tomatoes, but the little organic grape tomatoes are packed with sweet tomato flavor right now.  I toasted the ciabatta, rubbed it with garlic, salted it, and drizzled Viola olive oil aaaaallllll oooooover, before cubing it to add to the salad. 

Seriously, this was one of the best all-around meals that I've ever made.  And to top it all off, we savored the Super Tuscan.  After the first sip, everyone was wondering what it was and wanted to see the bottle.  We all thought it was fabulous!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My new favorite wine for summer

This is my new favorite wine for summer, Banfi's Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend called Fumaio.  You can read more about the wine on Banfi's link, here:  .  Lucky for me, this wine is on sale for the whole month of June here where I live - just 7.99 a bottle!  How crazy is that price?  For a wine that is easy to drink with such crisp and light fruitiness, this is an excellent price.  It pairs well with fish, and we've been enjoying it as an aperitif as well as with light pasta dishes (pasta with artichoke, pasta with asparagus, etc.).  When I was in Montalcino in December, we visited the Croce di Mezzo winery, whose vines are directly adjacent to the Banfi estate.  They share the same "terroir," or climate/soil/environment.  We didn't enter the Banfi estate, but one of these times, I'm going to have to stop there for a tour and tasting.  They make a lovely rose', too, in addition to their world-renowned Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino.  For now, I've got two cases of Fumaio in the house, and I plan to enjoy this lovely white wine all summer long!

Two Glorious Weeks in the Bel Paese!

It's official!  I've bought my airline tickets to Italy!  I'll be there two weeks in September with the ladies on tour.  The tour is 11 nights, but I arrive one day early and stay on two days at the end.  Having a trip like this to look forward to changes the way you experience every day, every moment....  It gives you an added zest, a hopefulness, a serene happiness that pervades everything you do...  It's one of my most favorite things about travel. 

Film Internship Photos

Giuliana and Steve are posting their photos from this month's ongoing film internship o their blog (  Here is the link directly to their photo slideshow:  They all appear to be having a fabulous time!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Giuliana and Steve's New Film Internship Blog

I am so excited to share the news that Giuliana and Steve, who are in Italy this whole month with University of Utah film students, have started a new blog!  Please visit to see wonderful photos of the gang hard at work doing lots of filming, and to read their heartwarming stories.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lucca's Buccellato

When I got to Lucca, I couldn't wait to try their famous Buccellato, and I knew I had to visit Taddeucci's to get the very best sampling. 

You can visit Taddeucci's website to learn more about the history of Buccellato:

Borrowing from, "Buccellato is a famous sweet-style bread from Lucca. As the old Lucchese saying goes: “Chi va a Lucca e non mangia il buccellato è come se non ci fosse stato” (Going to Lucca and not eating the Buccellato is like never being there). The Buccellato is a cake shaped like a doughnut or long loaf of bread and has an average weight of approximately 1 pound.  Its main ingredients are flour, sugar, anise seeds, yeast, raisins and egg white.  The Buccellato is a bread-like cake that stays fresh for several days, even if it eventually becomes very hard. When it hardens, it is usually consumed the Lucchese way, cut up into thick slices and dunked in wine (such as the sweet Vin Santo wine). It can also be toasted and served covered with sugar and strawberries."  Read more:

Believe me, your Buccellato will get as hard as a baseball bat after several days, and if you're traveling without a toaster, you'd better get yourself some sweet wine to dunk it in!  I recommend getting as small a loaf as they will sell you, or else plan to share it with several people while it is still fresh.  :-)  The anise flavor is quite pronounced and makes this a very distinctive treat.

Montalcino Wines

Do you know the difference between Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino wines?  They are both made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, but Rosso di Montalcino wines are aged only 1 to 1.5 years and never have to go in oak, whereas Brunellos must be aged for 5 years:  2 in steel, 2 in oak, and then the final year in the bottle.  Oh, and don't buy any 2002 Brunellos - it rained too much that year and the wine made from grapes harvested in 2002 isn't as good as wine made in other years.  Try to find a 2004 vintage - even though it is still "young" for a Brunello, 2004 was apparently a very good year for the grapes, and the wines have come out very nicely.    Here I am with Brenda at the Croce di Mezzo winery in Montalcino taking a tour of their cellars (Dec 2009). 

Want to share this blog about Umbria - you will love it!

If you are interested in an insider's view of Umbria, check out Gabriele and Federica's blog:  You will love it!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Italian Oceans and Hilltowns Tour update

Cute, centrally-located accommodations are being booked north to south, as are awesome exursions for wine and olive oil tastings and for cooking classes guaranteed to please!

We'll see major cities, teeny hilltop towns, and beaches along the Italian Riviera & along the Sorrentine Peninsula. We will climb bell towers, admire hand-painted ceramics, savor incredible traditional recipes, sip limoncello, and shop for our take-home treasures, but the very best souvenirs of all will come home with us in our hearts and minds, not in our luggage. They will be the memories we will have created on our adventure, the new appreciation for the Italian culture, the lasting mark that 12 days in Italy will inevitably leave on our souls.

We will be on vacation from America, opening ourselves to a different way of being in the world - the special "Italian" way of being, or perhaps rather the special way of being a guest of the Italian people. We will let Italy explain to us what she is all about, and we will not judge her according to our American standards.  We will expect the unexpected and rejoice in it! 

Canta che ti passa -

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Italian Oceans and Hilltowns Itinerary, Sept 13-25, 2010

OK, folks, here it is!  The long-awaited itinerary for the September tour!  Deposits to hold your spot are due Tuesday, June 8, 2010, two weeks from today.  The deposit is $500, is nonrefundable and is applied toward the total tour cost, which is 3595 Euro.  At today's incredibly favorable exchange rate, that's less than $4500.  For 11 nights with all these transfers, meals, wine, and added bonuses, this is a great deal!
Day 0 – 1 Monday - Tuesday

Depart Mon Sept 13, 2010. Fly overnight to Europe. Arrive Florence airport on Tues Sept 14. Transfer to our centrally-located Florence accommodation.

By the time we get settled in, it will be late afternoon/early evening. Tour guests can choose to either rest or wander a bit of Oltrarno and maybe head over the Ponte Vecchio to admire all the gold jewelry and medieval storefronts, before heading back to a welcome dinner. Tonight we will enjoy our “sogni d’oro,” (dreams of gold) because we are in Italy!

Day 2 (really our first full day in Italy) – Sept 15 Wednesday

Following breakfast at our hotel, we will head out this morning to enjoy this Renaissance city, strolling along the Via Calzaiuoli (street of cobblers – shoe stores galore!), and further into the city toward the Duomo and the Campanile di Giotto (Giotto’s Bell Tower). Those who dare to climb it with me get treated to a Vin Santo tonight! Free time in the afternoon to wander the street markets, shop for purses, see the replica of Michelangelo’s “David” in the Piazza della Signoria (free and fast!), or maybe explore the Santa Croce area and visit the Leather School. Dinner together tonight to talk about how thrilled we are to be in Florence!
Day 3 – Sept 16 Thursday

Following breakfast we will transfer today by train to Lucca (greater Lucca area pop. 86,000; pop. within medieval walls 8,000), and test our wits in a cab from the Lucca train station to our centrally-located B&B. It’s a quick stroll to the unique, tree-topped Torre Guinigi, which we can climb for a view over the red tiled rooftops of this walled city. Then we head to the Piazza Anfiteatro for some sightseeing and shopping. Free time in the afternoon for you to stroll atop the famed medieval walls of this proud Etruscan city and have some personal time before joining together for dinner at a wonderful Lucchese restaurant. Dinner together tonight to celebrate being in this lovely town!

Day 4 – Sept 17 -Friday

Following breakfast, we will board the train and take a day-long excursion to the Cinque Terre, a string of 5 isolated, rugged villages clinging to the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean. We will 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 your Tour Leader during dinner together before we return to our peaceful retreat in Lucca.

Day 5 – Sept 18 – Sat - Free Morning

This morning is yours to do as you please – catch up on your sleep, write some postcards, check out the local markets, do some shopping, or maybe rent a bicycle and ride on the medieval walls that encircle the town. Take some time today and just experience what it feels like to be in Italy – stop by a little bar and order yourself a caffe’ or a glass of wine. Try to order in Italian. People watch. Listen to the language. Watch Italian women walk together arm-in-arm. Just be… in Italy. Then meet your Tour Organizer at 12:30 for an excursion into the Lucchese hills for a lovely Tuscan lunch in a farmhouse and then a visit to an olive oil maker.  We will taste the locally-produced olive oil as well as some local wines before returning to Lucca about 5:30.  Tomorrow we leave Tuscany and head to Umbria! Dinner on your own tonight (your Tour Leader can make recommendations or you can find your own spot!).

Day 6 – Sept 19 - Sunday

Following breakfast, we will head to Orvieto in Umbria. Along the way our driver will drop us in “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 explore the Piazza Duomo and the Piazza della Cisterna (an ancient cistern has been in operation for over 1000 years in this piazza). Before taking off for Orvieto, Umbria, you may wish to visit the famous gelateria 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 white wine made in this region since the Renaissance. We will then drive to Orvieto (pop. 21,000), check into our lovely centrally-located hotel, and call it a day – a great day! Settle into our Orvieto hotel and enjoy dinner at your Tour Leader’s favorite pizzeria.

Day 7 – Sept 20 Mon

Following breakfast at our hotel, we will admire the glorious façade of the Duomo before getting our admission tickets to the Orvieto sights. Enjoy the Orvieto underground with a local guide and then rejoin your Tour Leader for an escorted walk through town to the Etruscan necropolis, an ancient burial ground at the base of the tufa bluff on which this city rests. The afternoon is yours to explore a bit on your own, do some shopping (great leather masks here!) or take a short bus ride (included) to Il Pozzo di San Patrizio (St. Patrick’s Well), a mere 248 steps down a spiral staircase at the edge of town. Of course, what you descend, you must then ascend! It’s fun, really! Dinner together tonight for traditional Umbrian fare.

Day 8 – Sept 21 Tues

After breakfast at our Orvieto hotel, we will depart by private driver to transfer to Sorrento (population 16,000), the gateway to the Amalfi coast.  We will stop along the way for snacks and drinks, as this is a longer transfer (4 to 5 hrs).  Sorrento is a beautiful seaside resort town about 35 miles south of Naples, overlooking the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. We will spend 3 glorious nights in Sorrento, so unpack your bags and relax! Upon our arrival, we will check into our magnificent accommodation and then explore a bit of Sorrento together. Free time before dinner together tonight to try some specialities of the Campania region.

Day 9 – Sept 22 Wed Free Day

Today is yours to do as you please. You may wish to do nothing but sleep and walk on the beach, or shop for handmade sandals and limoncello. Or you might like to book an excursion to Pompeii. Enjoy being in this Mediterranean paradise! Lunch and dinner on your own.

Day 10 – Sept 23 Thurs

Breakfast at our accommodation or at a local cafe'.  Then we head off together by hydrofoil to explore the famous town of Positano (population 4,000), where we can disembark for some shopping and exploring along the Spiaggia Grande (large beach). Positano was the colorful hillside town full of narrow, twisty streets featured in “Under the Tuscan Sun,” when Diane Lane put on her white dress and drove to the coast in search of her Italian lover. We aren’t making a movie, but we’ll feel like we’re living a dream! After a day of exploring, we return to Sorrento to attend our cooking class!  We will be making pizza as well as a traditional Italian entree' and dessert.  We will cook and laugh and eat on the terrace by the pool!  Then it's back to our accommodation to pack our bags for our last adventure.

Day 11 – Friday Sept 24

Check out of our Sorrento accommodation and transfer to Rome.  Check into our accommodation, and prepare to carry all our luggage up numerous flights of stairs, as if there weren’t enough stairs on the Amalfi coast! We are in the heart of Rome – a perfect spot for shopping, eating, and feeling what the Eternal City is all about. Enjoy a brief walking tour of this part of Rome with an excellent local guide. We will toss our coins into the Trevi Fountain to ensure our return trip to Italy! Then we will enjoy our farewell dinner together in the vicinity of our hotel and reminisce about all we have seen, learned, and felt. We will try to cram everything we’ve bought into our luggage, and try to get some sleep tonight. Your Tour Leader knows just the place to buy quality, durable luggage if you do find yourself needing another bag for the trip home! Buona notte. (Extra nights in Rome can be arranged.)

Day 12 – Sat Sept 25

Check out by 7:30 am, private transfer to Fiumicino airport . Arrivederci, and Thank you for traveling with us! ‘Til next time...

September 2010 Tour Itinerary Announced! Sept 13 - 25, 2010

Come spend an amazing 11 nights with La Contadina in Italy this September.  Special tour pricing is available with savings of over 15% because we have decided to stay at some B&Bs and to utilize the Italian train system for some transfers.  These changes will keep costs lower so we can stay in Italy LONGER!  The usual La Contadina price for an 11-night itinerary is 4300 Euro, but we are able to offer this September tour package for an unbeatable 3595 Euro a savings of over 700 Euros (over $880).  At today's super favorable exchange rate, that comes to less than $4500.  When you consider what is included (below), this is an extremely good price!

What's included: 2 nights in Florence, 3 nights in Lucca (Tuscany), day excursion to the Cinque Terre, 2 nights in Orvieto (Umbria) with a stop-over in San Gimignano, 3 glorious nights in Sorrento on the Amalfi coast, a day tour of the Amalfi coast, and 1 night in Rome.  Single supplements and extra nights can be arranged at additional cost.  Also included:  all breakfasts, and 3 lunches and 9 dinners (including wine with dinner), 1 cooking class, 1 olive oil & wine tasting, services of bilingual tour leader, all transfers to/from airport and between lodgings.  Tour begins in Florence and ends in Rome.  Tour price does not include airfare, personal shopping expenses, and other things not listed in "included" above.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Lovely Positano - the "jewel" of the Amalfi coast.  I can't wait to wiggle my toes in the sand and gaze up at the pastel-colored buildings of this beautiful little town, while sipping a locally-made limoncello.  Positano is on the itinerary for the September 2010 trip!  Check back here for more info about this and other Amalfi coast destinations in the coming weeks and months! 

Dining in Orvieto - Don't Miss Pizzeria Charlie!

The restaurant I heard the best things about and that has great reviews is called Trattoria La Grotta, on Via Luca Signorelli 5, right off Via Duomo (between the Duomo and Corso Cavour, the main street intersecting Via Duomo). On my trip in December, we walked by and peeked in, and it looked darling -a converted stable with frescoes. Closed Tuesdays. tel 076 334 1348. However, we didn't eat there.

We ate at a super fun, highly-recommended, authentic, non-touristy pizza place called Charlie's Pizza. It was a bustling place on Corso Cavour, between Pzza. San Angelo and Via Delle Portiche - in general, that is northeast of the Duomo, about 1/2 way along Corso Cavour between Via Duomo and the Piazza Cahen end of town (where the funicular comes up). tel. 076 334 4766. All the Orvieto youth seem to eat here - it was so much fun listening to them and watching them and eating the FABULOUS pizza. The menu is almost overwhelmingly long, with many interesting choices. The owner is a darling man. I don't think they take reservations, so you want to get there ahead of the crowds to be sure and get a table - try to arrive before 8. They will not rush you, so you can stay all evening if you want :-) A fun, lively, local place but still quiet enough so you can talk. Buon appetito!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mb and Giuliana enjoying pizza

Giuliana and I met the other day with some tour clients at Settebello, a wonderful, authentic, napolitano-style pizzeria in Salt Lake City.  Here we are dressed as if it were mid-winter, when in actuality, it was Easter weekend (April 5th).  It's still snowing in Utah!  The weather is never too bad to get together for a nice pizza, though :-)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Italian Hand Gestures - Watch and Learn!

You will undoubtedly see these gestures throughout your trip(s) to Italy.  Do you know what they all mean?  Watch and Learn!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Be Safe - Carry Essentials in a Wrist Wallet !

For an investment of just fifteen dollars, you can put your mind at ease while traveling in Italy.  You can put your credit cards and Euros in this cool wrist wallet, available on the Sprigs website ( and at other places on-line and in stores.  No thief is even going to know what this is, let alone try to rip it off your wrist.  It avoids having to dig into your purse all the time, and it allows you to carry non-essentials only in your purse (umbrella, guide books, maps, water bottle, spare camera batteries, etc.), assuming your have your passport in an ankle or waist wallet, that is.  I would NEVER put my passport in my purse, by the way - NEVER EVER!  More on passport safety in a future post...  Just thought I'd spread the word about these awesome wrist wallets.  I absolutely loved using mine on this most recent trip to Italia.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Don't Skip Orvieto!

Orvieto sits atop a mesa of volcanic material about one hour from Rome, in the region of Umbria.

Among other fabulous sites, Orvieto boasts a 2600 year old Etruscan burial ground (necropolis) pictured here. The necropolis sits at the base of the mesa, below the historic center of town, but is easily reached by bus or on foot. We walked from our hotel near the Duomo, and it took about 20 minutes to get there. It was mid-December and early afternoon, and we were the only visitors there, which just added to the wonder of the place. When you go to the tourist office, ask for the Carta Unica, which buys you discounted access to multiple sites, including the necropolis, and to use of the town bus.

Here is a view from the necropolis looking up toward the town. The sheer cliff walls are really stunning, though it was overcast on this day so the lighting doesn't really show it off.

The town was festively decorated for the holiday season with lights projected onto the churches and street decorations throughout the town.
It was a delight to stroll the streets at night - so quiet and beautiful.
More to come on Orvieto, so stay tuned!

Wine: you CAN take it with you when you go!

Wine: you CAN take it with you when you go!

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This link provides interesting info about how much wine you can bring back to the US duty-free, etc. and links you to the US Customs "Know Before You Go" pamphlet. Plus, I just really like Dr. Vino's wine blog for so many reasons! I'm picking up his "Wine Politics" for my January read.

I still vote for using the VinniBag instead of styrofoam for transporting wine. Styrofoam is not eco-friendly, is not leak-proof, and is not recyclable. Visit or

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!