Aglio e Scalogno

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

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 fa├žade 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

Positano

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!

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: www.italianclubofsaltlake.com .

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!