Eurochocolate 2012: Perugia’s Confectionary Celebration

by Admin 18-Oct 2012

Nine delicious days of everything chocolate—October 19-28—draw chocolate lovers from all over the world to lovely Perugia, an Umbrian hill town whose history dates back to the Etruscans. It’s also the birthplace of Italy’s famed Baci, the chocolate kisses made by Perugina Chocolates.

For the past 19 years, the town has welcomed professional chocolatiers, bakers, and artisans who, in turn, create a confectionary wonderland for all ages. Vendor tents line the streets and lace together the piazzas in Perugia’s historic center. Chocolate-making demonstrations, tastings, art, and non-stop live music are all part of the experience. More than a half million visitors joined in the tasty fun last year. If you’re lucky to be anywhere in the region, don’t miss the chance to attend this deliciously unique Italian, festival. Here are some of the anticipated highlights:

Chocolate sculptures
Sunday, October 21 - 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Imagine what Michelangelo would have done with 11 tons and 141 square feet of Perugina Nero chocolate! For one amazing day, Central Perugia’s Corso Vannucci turns into a veritable sculpture gallery, revealing fantastic creations by teams of Italians sculptors. This year’s theme is: 100 Years of Baci Perugina.

The Chocolate Show
Daily 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. (until 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday)
This grand chocolate emporium is choc-full of artisans, purveyors, and boutiques that elevate the dark and the light sides of the mighty cocoa bean into blissful confections and concoctions that are among the tastiest—and most beautiful—in the world.

Chocolate Tastings – Omaggi
Daily at 4 p.m.
Every afternoon visitors have the chance to sample nibble-size goodies—omaggi— offered by the prominent participating chocolatiers. Cioccolati d’Italia, voted the best “Made in Italy” chocolate, is this year’s special guest.

For Kids
Numerous events dedicated to children take place throughout the festival. An annual favorite is ABC Chocolate, where kids can create little chocolate masterpieces in special molds—cioccorelli—and take them home. In the I Pasticcione test kitchen, supervised by chefs, children make little cookies dipped in chocolate.

Chocogadget Gift Shop
Open daily - 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. (until 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday)
Taking “gift shop” to a whole new flavor! This year’s design highlights include: Choco lamps, iChoc smartphone and tablet cases and covers; Choco Heart USBs; Chocoumbrellas (no, they won’t melt in the rain); Choco Pill Boxes and so much more!!

WEBSITE: Eurochocolate (in Italian) 

Planning to attend the next Eurochocolate?
Parker Villas’ large “Passo d’Elefante” (8 bedrooms/9 bathrooms) is a bon bon of a villa, designed for indoor and outdoor fun. With a sunny swimming pool and games room, it’s perfect for a few families who’d like to share a vacation home. Beautiful Perugia, chocolate and all, is just 20 minutes away by car.

Museo Ferragamo—Famous Footwear, Italian-Style

by Admin 17-Oct 2012

There is no limit to beauty, no saturation point in design, no end to the material.
                                                                       Salvatore Ferragamo


Shoes = Scarpe; footwear in general = calzature

Second only to the Catholic Church and probably tied with la mamma and spaghetti in national importance, shoes are to Italian cultural identity what designer jeans are to the Americans.

It’s not just the fashion statement a shoe makes, however ... it’s how the shoe fits that makes Italian shoes the gold standard in footwear. We have no doubt Cinderella’s glass slipper was “Made in Italy.”

After Rome’s sandal manufacturing business—for gladiators, senators, et al—tapered off, Florence rose to power as the shoe design capital of Europe. Generations of fine shoemakers have kept the fashion renaissance current and the styles in demand around the world. If one name stands out in recent history, it has to be Salvatore Ferragamo, creator of the cork wedge and purveyor of gorgeous footwear to Hollywood’s leading ladies of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn , and Marilyn Monroe among them.

Salvatore’s interest in ladies shoes started as a young lad in Naples, where he apprenticed to a shoemaker at the age of 11. Two years later he had his own shop in nearby Bonito, and at 14 he set sail for America, joining his brother at a footwear company in Boston. Right away he saw that the modern, mass-producing machinery had its limitations and he moved to Santa Barbara, California to join another brother. With the rise of Hollywood and cinema, Salvatore began to design shoes for the industry while attending the university in Los Angeles and studying human anatomy and mathematics. His goal was to design a “shoe which fits perfectly.” In 1923 he opened the Hollywood Boot Shop and began “building” his made-to-measure shoes for individual movie stars. It launched him as an unparalleled designer. When the demand was so high that he couldn’t keep up, he returned to Italy, to Florence, where making shoes by hand was the tradition. From here, he exported his shoes to the U.S., personally supervising the handiwork of his skilled employees. The rest, of course, follows the heels of history, and even now, more than 50 years after his death, the Ferragamo shoe is legend.

The Palazzo Spini Feroni, which faces the Arno River on Via Tornabuoni, was built in 1289 by Geri Spini, a merchant and banker to Pope Boniface VIII. Ferragamo purchased the building in 1938, establishing company headquarters and his workshop here. The Italian flagship store, for both footwear and fashion, is also located in the palazzo. In 1995 the Ferragamo family opened the Museo Ferragamo, located on the basement level, to the public. The collection on display encompasses Salvatore’s designs from 1927, when he returned to Italy, until his death in 1960. Lovers of footwear and fashion in general—in fact, even all-occasion, no-nonsense athletic shoe wearers— are in for a real treat.

Salvatore’s technical achievements in the business and his dedication to fitting the foot properly are exemplary, not to mention the attention to fabrics and materials chosen for the aesthetic component: silver, gold, and bejeweled leather straps; brilliantly colored, embroidered silks; studded heels; and the famous cork wedge, which made yet another return to international foot fashion just this past year. There are the practical styles, or, in the case of Salvatore, the stylishly practical ... the flamboyant, which seem more appropriate to characters from far-eastern folktales ... and there are even shoes made from candy wrapper paper during material shortages during World War II. The exhibits rotate and draw from the 10,000-plus models housed in the archives.

SPECIAL EXHIBITIONS
There is almost always something special going on at Museo Ferragamo, too. Now through January 28, 2013, a major exhibition titled simply, “Marilyn,” pays tribute to the diva 50 years after her death. A series of iconic portraits, taken by numerous famous photographers, are juxtaposed to famous works of art—where Marilyn's poses and expressions reflect those such as Botticelli’s Venus, for example.

Details:
Museo Ferragamo
Palazzo Spini Feroni, Florence
(Entrance at 5 Piazza Santa Trinita)

Hours: Wednesday through Mondays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Closed Tuesdays and December 25, January 1, May 1, and August 15.

Tickets:
5 €. All Museum admission proceeds are donated annually to finance scholarships for young footwear designers.

Planning a vacation in Florence?
Parker Villas' "Casa della Santa" apartment, located in the historic heart of Florence, is perfect for one couple, and comfortably cozy for two. Save on your stay by sharing and treat yourself to some fabulous shopping (located right around the corner)!

 

The Art of Tipping: When, How, and How Much

by Admin 11-Oct 2012

Tipping is the exception and not the rule in Italy. The Italians who perform a service, whether it’s waiting tables, driving a taxi, or being a porter take pride in their chosen profession. Unlike in the U.S., they are paid a respectable wage, earn full benefits and enjoy an average of six to eight weeks paid vacation a year. A small token of appreciation and sincere grazie for a job well done is really all that is required. If you look around you’ll notice that’s exactly the cultural behavior of the Italians; it’s an acknowledgment, an extra little thank you, but never an obligation. 

So what should you do in a restaurant?

You’ll notice your bill will say either il coperto or servizio incluso (and often both). Il coperto is a cover charge for bread and a glass of water. Servizio incluso indicates that service—in the form of a “tip”—has been included. That amount is generally about 15 percent of the total bill. If you’ve enjoyed good service, leaving an additional 10 percent is the norm. When paying with a credit card, don’t leave a tip on the card, leave it in cash, on the table, discreetly under a dish or glass. Look around the restaurant; you’ll see that’s what the Italian clientele is doing. “When in Rome” ... right?

Here’s a short list of When and How Much to tip:

• In a caffè, a coin (5 to 15 Euro cents) on the counter is customary.
• For hotel maids, a Euro per night is appropriate. Porters are generally tipped one Euro per bag. Room Service: 2 Euros.
• For taxi drivers, a tip is not common. If you received help with luggage or a friendly narration en route to your destination, you can round up with a friendly “keep the change”– tenga il resto
• Men seldom tip in barbershops; women usually give a small tip of one or two Euros to the person who washed her hair.
• In public restrooms (WC) where a fee is not published, you may see a lady collecting coins; leaving 10-20 Euro cents in the coin dish is appreciated.

Enjoy yourselves in Italy, and enjoy the good services provided by the Italians. Avoid over-tipping, which can be seen as disparaging and snobby. Your modest tokens of appreciation — especially your smile and "tante grazie!"— are what will ultimately make for a bella figura: the socially important act of looking good that all Italians strive for!

 

Where to Espresso Yourself in Rome

by Admin 08-Oct 2012

You’re not in Seattle anymore, Dorothy. Italians take their caffè seriously. Seriously strong. Seriously frothy. Seriously sweet. And really seriously: if you want to appear as if you know what you’re doing in a caffè, only order a cappuccino for breakfast (never after 10 a.m.) and an espresso after a meal or as quick afternoon pick-me-up. Oh, and one more thing... don’t order a latte unless you want a glass of milk. Seriously.

While everyone in Italy has their favorite local caffè-bar, the small, venerable establishment of Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè, around the corner from the Pantheon in Rome, is considered to have the best coffee in the city, and some claim in the country. Which is saying a lot, given that there are probably two caffès to every shoe store on every block. And which, therefore, makes it worthy of pilgrimage.

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè is famous for its artisanal, wood-roasted Arabica beans and beloved for its crema, the ethereal top layer of an espresso. And the foam—spuma—that caps the cappuccinos here is almost like meringue; experts have determined that when you add a teaspoon of sugar to it, it should take precisely three seconds for the sugar to disappear beneath the foam. You might be too busy licking the spoon to time it. If you’re there in the summer, order a shakerato... a creamy, icy concoction that’s absolutely worth the time it takes to make it.

A meeting place of Rome’s celebrities and elite since the caffè opened in 1938, Sant’Eustachio also happens to sit smugly across from the palazzo of the Senate of the Republic and snugly between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. The place is well seasoned, old Roma at its finest; the mosaic tile floor is respectably worn, the stainless steel bar pock-marked from decades of cups hastily set down by customers headed into their busy day. It smells good in here, rich and sophisticated, and there is always a contingent of dapper professionals among the tourists. There isn’t much of a counter culture as in most other caffès... you order, drink quickly, or take it outside to one of the tables facing the lovely little piazza.

Benevolently looking down at the surrounding street scene is a large marble stag’s head from atop the thousand-year-old Basilica di Sant’Eustachio—a symbol of the conversion of the pagan Roman soldier, Eustachio, who was visited by a stag in the forest, the crucified Christ illuminated between its antlers. The caffè also chose the stag as its emblem and it decorates the mustard-yellow tins that house the shiny espresso beans (along with chocolate-covered ones and coffee-infused caramels) you’re sure to purchase following your own conversion to the delicious brew.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who have “fear of espresso syndrome” ... we suggest you commit this mantra to memory: “The darker the bean the less caffeine.” Which means that those teeny little cups of espresso, made with dark, shiny roasted beans, will give you a friendly energy boost for the next hour or so, but won’t linger in your system and keep you awake half the night like our drip coffee will. Enjoy!

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè
Piazza Sant’Eustachio, Roma

HOURS: Sunday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m to 1 a.m.
Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Saturday, 8:30a.m.  to 2 a.m.
CLOSED: December 25 and August 15

Planning a vacation in Rome?
Parker Villas’ Roman Holiday apartment sleeps 4-5 guests and is located near beautiful Piazza Navona (and an easy walk to Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè!)

Aperto/Chiuso: Opening Hours in Italian Time

by Admin 04-Oct 2012

That 24/7 thing we’ve come to take for granted here in the U.S.? Not so much in Italy. La dolce vita wouldn’t be quite so sweet if that were the case. Especially when such a large part of its charm lies in the pleasures of savoring a long lunch with friends or colleagues... of tending to business after your morning cappuccino... of doing something else when you actually can’t go shopping. In Italy, this break time is called riposo, which is akin to a Spanish siesta, and absolutely vital to the (emotional) well being of the entire nation—and therefore yours.

So, for travelers wondering how to be efficient in a country that isn’t always... Yes, you can plan your days to maximize your time so that you can both see what you came to see, but also experience the unexpected enchantments that Italy offers—and which we long for, long after we’ve returned to our very convenient lifestyle.

All of that said, we do agree that frustration and utter disbelief at the non-efficiency of our favorite country is also part of the journey, though a lesser part of the charm. To make it a bit easier to take, below are some practical guidelines. (We said “guidelines.” This is not Switzerland.) And for these purposes we’d like to replace “Have a nice day” with: “Stay flexible.” Which, ultimately, will help you have a nice day. Smile

Dizionario = Dictionary

Aperto = Open

Chiuso = Closed
Giorni feriali (or just feriali), means Monday through Friday
Giorni festivi (or just festivi) means Sundays and holidays
 
• First, Italy uses the 24-hour clock: 12:a.m. to 12:00 noon; 13:00 to 23:59 (1 p.m. to 11:59 p.m.)

• Second, There is no “daily” on the Italian timetable for stores, supermarkets, local bakeries, and clothing stores. Hours vary according to the day of the week. Look for the l'orario, which indicates and the aperto-chiuso hours.

• Most stores are open between 8:30/9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. when they close for riposo. Most stores reopen from 3:30/4 p.m. until 7:00/9:00 p.m.

• You know you've hit the jackpot when the sign reads: orario continuo—these establishments never close for lunch.
 
Clothing stores: Many clothing stores are closed on Monday “mornings” (until afternoon hours of 3:30/4 p.m. Some might be closed on Mondays altogether. Look for the orario.
 
Local grocery stores: Many are closed on Monday or Wednesday afternoons (in Rome, they close on Thursday afternoons).

 
Restaurants: Most will be closed on Sunday evenings, and either Monday or Tuesday. Italians like to have lunch around 1 p.m. The kitchen is usually open between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. The national dinnertime in Italy begins around 8. Restaurant kitchens are open from about 7 to 10:30 p.m.
 
Caffè Bar: These usually open at 5:30/6 a.m. Cafés and snack bars stay open all day until about 6 or 7 p.m. Bars (where you can get both un caffè, un aperitivo, and un digestivo) stay open throughout the evening, often until midnight or 1 a.m.. Bars that serve primarily alcoholic drinks and stay open late are strangely called American Bar.

 
Banks: Open 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and from 3 to 4 (sometimes 5) p.m. Some banks are open Saturday mornings from 9 to 1:30. Check the orario. ATMS, called Bancomats, are common and available 24 hours.

Museums: Major sights remain open all day from 8/9 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. Minor ones often close around 3 p.m. Many are closed on Mondays.


Churches: Open 6:30/ 8 a.m. until 5/7 p.m. If you’re not going to mass on Sunday mornings, it’s not a good time for a visit to look at the artwork; you can go in after 1 p.m.
 
Mondays: Try to avoid having Monday be the only day of your trip where you can sightsee, especially in a major city or tourist area. Most museums and many restaurants are closed.
 
Travel Tip: Avoid some of the longer lines at star attractions by waiting until 1 p.m. when even the tourists go for lunch. You may not have the place to yourself, but you might be able to actually view the art. A good way to tell if you won’t have to wait long for entry at a famous monument or museum is to look for the tour buses... If they’re not there, you should be!

Two major exceptions to these tips are the mega supermarkets (ipermercati) that stay open continuously throughout the day, usually until 9 p.m. Some even have Sunday hours. As a last resort, you can always get a meal, a coffee, gas or some victuals any day from dawn to 11 p.m. at dozens of Autogrill found all along the Italian highway system, provided you are inclined to pay the toll to get on a major highway. See blog post Driving In Italy part 4 — Autostrade Rest Areas.

Florence and the Three Davids

by Admin 01-Oct 2012

No, it’s not a rock band. It’s Michelangelo's famous miracle-in-marble sculpture, the David, and there happens to be three of them scattered about the city of Florence. Let us introduce you ...

The original, the hand-hewn Michelangelo, the prototype for millions of refrigerator magnets, plastic statuettes, snow-globes, and T-shirts (to mention just a few) stands in the Galleria dell’Accademia—the sighs, the wows, and tears of a thousand visitors a day creating a fitting soundtrack. (You will too, you’ll see.)   

In 1501 a 25-year-old Michelangelo was commissioned by the board of the Cathedral of Florence (the one with the big dome) to sculpt David from an abandoned giant block of stone with the intent of placing it in one of the exterior niches ...

HISTORY BREAK: In the early 1400s, Italy was divided into multiple city-states, each vying for power over the others. Florence was a republic, believing in the guaranteed freedom and rights of individuals. Milan, ruled by a succession of Dukes with absolute power, repeatedly tried to gain control of Florence, but was defeated for the last time in 1425, giving way to the flowering of the early Renaissance. From that point on, the city adopted the young hero David—who, through sheer faith in his Lord and belief in the cause, slay the enemy of his own birthplace—as their symbol and guardian.

... It took Michelangelo three years to sculpt the David, all of under the secret cover of scaffolding. He chose to create a contemplative lad, perhaps accepting the blessing of God before the slaying of the giant, rather than the victorious hero full of pride.

When the statue was finally revealed, the citizens and important artists of Florence agreed that it was too fine a work to be placed high up on a building. A base was constructed and the 14-foot-tall figure was brought to the Piazza della Signoria to stand in front of City Hall. Some 370 years later, due to weather effects, the marble masterpiece was moved to the Accademia. In 1882, a replica was placed back in the Piazza della Signoria.

Today, if you haven’t ordered your tickets in advance online (www.museumticket.it) you have to stand outside in long lines to visit THE David (always worth it, but unnecessary). If you somehow have to forego seeing the number one most famous statue in the history of sculpture in person, you can admire Dave II from a table at Caffe Rivoire, where the price of coffee might be what Michelangelo was paid for his work. The show is fun though, watching all the silly poses by tourists of every nationality under the sun (Tuscan and otherwise) ...

And, you’ll have another chance to meet, David—Davide III. This one perches high above the city in the Piazzale Michelangelo, where you can order a Negroni at a table (probably for the price of the Sistine Ceiling commission, but mostly worth it) and watch the magical descent of dusk over Florence while tour buses park around the statue.

There are, of course, many more David sculptures; perhaps the most famous three after Michelangelo are by Donatello (1408) and Verrocchio (1475), which are in Florence’s Bargello Museum; and Bernini’s Baroque piece (1624), which resides in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. But none comes close to capturing the spirit of the Old Testament story (see below) and a young’s man’s unquestioning devotion to his Lord as does Michelangelo’s breathtaking work. Don’t miss the real thing!

As the painter, architect and historian Giorgio Vasari wrote upon seeing the David:

…nor has there ever been seen a pose so easy, or any grace to equal that in this work, or feet, hands and head so well in accord, one member with another, in harmony, design, and excellence of artistry.
 
PARKER VILLAS – Vacation Rentals in Florence
For those seeking a true Florentine immersion, our Torre Uffizi Apartments (which comfortably house 2 to 6 guests) are located right in the heart of the city, a few minutes walk from the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries, and all the major sights and museums of the historic center.

October in Trevi—Life’s a Festival! (So go. Eat.)

by Admin 26-Sep 2012

What do black celery, sausages, truffles, chestnuts, and a medieval race through town have in common? For the charming town of Trevi, it means October—and a month-long series of festivals, celebrations, and competitions. Everyone gets involved. And people come from all around Umbria and beyond to, well... eat.

The first Sunday in October is Palio dei Terziere, which means men, women, and children dressed in colorful medieval garb are pulling decked-out wooden carts and running chaotically all over the town. Why? Because since back in the 13th century, Trevi has been divided into three terziere, or neighborhoods (Castello, Matigggia, and Piano), and, like with any ‘hood, its residents have to prove that “mine is better than yours.” (The Italian prove-it gene has officially been tacked onto the regional genome map.)

During this annual Palio, the participants from each neighborhood begin the race by pulling a key out of the right hand of a statue of a Saracen figure. They race up and down the warren of streets to a tower to unlock its door, then race up the stairs to ring the bell, whose triumphant chimes announce the victor. Meanwhile, we lucky spectators take a seat at the long tables set up outside the little restaurants in each neighborhood—all of which are also, of course, vying for best terziere in the food category!—and cheer the competitors on, eating and drinking all the while, and celebrating both the winners and Trevi’s history carried forth by its proud citizens.

Another of Trevi’s claims to fame is its “black” celery, sedano nero, which reaches maturity in October. No, it’s not really black, just a darker hue than the pale varieties we’re used to ... The general belief is that it has something to do with the pure spring waters used in irrigation over the course of centuries. Whatever it is that distinguishes Trevi’s celery, its flavor is deliciously robust and local cooks have mastered a myriad ways to prepare it, incorporate it, and pair it, making it worthy indeed of its own festival (the Italian equivalent of sainthood for food), held the third Sunday in October. It comes with “expert” judging, ribbons and certificates, and even strolling minstrels.

Not to be outdone, local butchers also gather in the town square on this day to flaunt their sausages... made from the pigs who, as everyone knows, offer up their best meat in the first chill of the fall. Grills are fired up in the afternoon and the sausages roasted, a perfect prelude to the feasts (okay, pig-out) that await in the evening in the local taverne. And so, the Trevi Sausage Festival is now one with the Trevi Black Celery Festival (and probably mostly because sausages go really really well with a side of celery), making this day (la Sagra del Sedano e della Salsiccia) a memorably tasty treat for anyone lucky to be in Trevi on the third Sunday in October.

Finally, the last weekend of the month brings on the Trevi Medieval Festival, a photogenic dream, of costumed townsfolk celebrating old traditions, songs, dances, and, of course foods, which include everything mentioned above, plus pungent pecorinos from local sheep, and meats and pastas smothered in or tossed indolently with truffles and their miraculous oils. And then there are the chestnut desserts ... 

If you can’t be there for a festival weekend, weep not... Friday is market day in Trevi and in autumn (or any other time of year), you’ll find the bounty of the season overflowing the stalls of Piazza del Commune. In short, between the exuberant celebrations and the abbondanza of locally sourced foods, life in Trevi in the golden month of October is indeed a festival. Benvenuti a tavola!

These vacation rentals in Umbria, all located in Trevi, offer an ideal base for exploring the hidden wonders of the region and beyond:

The terrace of Fra Angelico, a 14th century Trevi townhouse, commands a spectacular view across rolling hills, olive graves, and other nearby hill towns. You can walk to the town’s medieval center in just a few minutes.

Charming Palio is perfect for a couple seeking the easy pleasures of village life and access to Umbria’s hidden gems.

Located in the pedestrian-only center of Trevi, cozy Terziere makes a perfect hideaway and base for Umbria discoveries.

The spacious two-bedroom San Francesco, furnished in 16th century heirlooms, was once a nobleman’s palace.

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Olive Oil: A Tasting Primer

by Admin 08-Sep 2012

 

Like wine (or diamonds), the quality rating usually involves a holy trinity. In the case of olive oil, it’s color, scent, and flavor. Amen. In the Umbrian region surrounding the hill town of Trevi, the olive branch represents both time-honored tradition and the liquid gold that has sustained families for centuries. Now that the world has recognized the mighty olive and its “juice” as a nutritional powerhouse, Italy’s producers have elevated the science of perfectly timed squeezing to a fine art, pitting its artisans against one another with secret alchemies that involve cold presses and virgins with a little extra extra something. 

But seriously ... Tasting the local oil “on location” is truly one of the pleasures of discovering the heart of Umbria. First, we highly recommend a visit to the Olive Oil Museum in Trevi, where you can learn about l’oliva and marvel at the 8th century Phoenician lamps, powered by the ancient fruit. Then, follow the winding roads through bucolic groves to one of the area producers and treat your palate to a tasting.

Following are ten cardinal tips from “the pros” on how to expertly determine the quality of olive oil. Don’t be surprised if, like so many Italian experiences, it all seems a bit over the top. And rest assured... your host will discreetly set you right should you drizzle. (Don't forget your camera; if it takes video, all the better.)

1: Holding the container of oil up into the light, shake the bottle to determine its consistency.
2: Pour a tablespoon (you know, like nonna’s soup spoon) of oil into a glass.
3: Smell the oil, taking in and evaluating both the pleasant and less-so sensations.
4: Warm the glass of oil in the palm of your hand. This releases inherent aromas.
5: Putting your nose close to the glass, inhale slowly, quietly, and deeply. According to our producer friend, this “vaporizes it in the oral cavity and puts it in contact with the taste buds.”
6: Now you are ready to command your tongue to dip into the oil and let it rest on your palate.
7: Again, inhale with your lips half-opened and put your tongue against your palate.
8: Repeat steps 4 through 7 three times in a row. Do not discard (i.e. spit out) the olive oil for at least 20 seconds.
9: Now you may “place” the olive oil into the communal bowl.
10: As you continue to move your tongue forward against your palate, the back olfactory sensations should (should) reveal the true quality of the oil.

Got that?

Congratulations—you’re an expert! And, since you’ll undoubtedly return home with several gallons of different oils from your favorite local artisans, it might be fun to invite your friends over for a tasting. Have the above list handy so you can guide them through the ten steps; we also recommend offering your victims a slice of fresh pear between taste-tests to cleanse the palate. Take photos and share them with us on our Facebook page!
 
These Parker villas in Umbria, all located in Trevi, offer an ideal base for exploring the hidden wonders of the province and beyond:

The terrace of Fra Angelico, a 14th century Trevi townhouse, commands a spectacular view across rolling hills, olive graves, and other nearby hill towns. You can walk to the town’s medieval center in just a few minutes.

Charming Palio is perfect for a couple seeking the easy pleasures of village life and access to Umbria’s hidden gems.

Located in the pedestrian-only center of Trevi, cozy Terziere makes a perfect hideaway and base for Umbria discoveries.

The spacious two-bedroom San Francesco, furnished in 16th century heirlooms, was once a nobleman’s palace.

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Le Cinque Terre — A Slightly Different Ending part 3

by Admin 09-Nov 2010

As we approach Monterosso, I’m more than happy or at least my feet are to see the entrance to this village is not up a steep cliff like the last. The town is divided into two sections. The medieval hamlet on one side and what is called New Town on the other. A pedestrian tunnel connects the two as well as Monterosso’s Fegina beach which is the largest stretch of sandy beach in the Cinque Terre and one of the biggest tourist draws in the summer/fall months. Walking along the promenade circling the harbor we head into the older part of town for lunch. Piazza Garibaldi, the main square of the village is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants, all jam packed with tourists. An array of festive pastel colored houses with little, rod iron balconies and matching shutter and window boxes seem to tower wistfully above the raucous square. 

Wandering up a narrow lane leading out from the square we find a smaller piazza several blocks away and a restaurant called Il Pozzo. With its charming patio filled with flowers and wooden tables covered with different colored checkered table cloths, Il Pozzo turns out to be an ideal spot to sip a glass of sciachetrà, a sweet white wine this region is known for and to people watch. The food is good, although I notice the specialty is pretty much the same specialty of every Cinque Terre restaurant we pass. I try it anyway and have no complaints. It’s called Spaghetti Al Vulo (Spaghetti with Clams). The wait staff is friendly and of course speaks English.

After lunch we skirt by the crowds wedged into each shop and head for the beach and another gelato. Large and sandy, Fegina beach is dotted with umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent by the hour. The water is almost as warm as the sun. A small warning, be careful you don’t doze off and miss the boat, the train station is quite a hike.

Vernazza — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

According to the ferry guide, Vernazza, our last stop, is the most characteristic and charming Cinque Terre village. The lively harbor where we dock is the size of a postage stamp, the piazza is lined with restaurants and shops. The now familiar crayon colored houses rise above the square. Crowds of tourists swarm the streets, ebbing in and out of the same trinket stores as in the earlier towns. The village is very pretty, the explosion of color between the houses and the flowers can’t help but to make you smile and take lots of pictures. But from what I see these villages are fairly interchangeable and at least at this time of year they are overrun with mostly American tourists. After a last sip of sciachetrà we brave the crowds, pick up our share of take home trinkets, board the ferry and head off into a magnificent sunset on the way back to Rapallo.

The Ligurian Sea — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

When I first mentioned my intention to spend a day in the Cinque Terre I was immediately barraged by friends, fellow travelers and well wishers with advice on how one day in the Cinque Terre would never be enough. We should plan at least two full days, three even better. As picturesque as the Cinque Terre villages indeed are, they are far too commercial for my liking. Mobbed with tourists, the largest contingent being from the United States, I can vividly recall hearing far more English than Italian as we shuffled in herds oohing, sometimes in unison, at whatever pretty sight drew the eye of a lucky individual at the outer edges of the throng. 

I’m glad I saw the Cinque Terre and happier that we spent the majority of our time exploring the rest of the Ligurian coast. In retrospect, with so many tourists concentrated in the Cinque Terre, the rest of Liguria seemed far less crowded. Spending just one day in the Cinque Terre turned out to be the right amount of time for me.

Bobbie Lerman, Parker Villas Senior Travel Advisor

Le Cinque Terre — The Perfect Approach part 2

by Admin 02-Nov 2010

The double edged jewel of Sestri Levante — Photo courtesy of our friends Paulo & Giovanni at Maranatha.it

By Bobbie Lerman, Parker Villas Senior Travel Advisor

Twenty minutes later we pull into the picture perfect harbor of Sestri Levante to pick up half a dozen more passengers. Surrounded by a gorgeous landscape of sea and mountains, the original part of this ancient fishing village is actually on a peninsula, with the beautiful Baia del Silenzio (Bay of Silence) favored by Percy Bysshe Shelley on one side and the Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy Tales) aptly named by Hans Christian Anderson on the other. We are definitely coming back here.

As we chug along the coast the ferry guide announces our arrival at the first of the three Terre villages approachable by sea in 40 minutes. Riomaggiore, the furthest away being the first stop. My first glimpse of Riomaggiore is of a small horseshoe shaped harbor with a tiny dock. Several other ferries loaded with tourists were lining up ahead of us like airplanes taxiing for take off. Looking up I spot yellow and rust colored houses rising from the black jagged coastline. The buildings sit atop each other with nary a hairs breadth of space between them. At the pinnacle are the ruins of what appears to be an old castle. My first thought is how pretty. As I glimpse the more than 100 steps I need to climb to the village...

...my next thoughts are I’m glad I quit smoking and I should have worked out more before attempting this.

At the top of the winding stone stairway we pass beneath Riomaggiore’s archway into a small half-moon shaped piazza with streets snaking out and upwards into the village. The houses and storefronts are as vivid and colorful as they appeared from below. Adding to the riot of color, window boxes and pots filled with flowers are set on ledges and postage sized patios fill every open space available.  However, wall to wall tourists fill the narrow cobblestone lanes in front of me. The going slows to a crawl. I wonder: “How we will be able to move through this crowd?”

Lined with shops displaying an dizzying array of touristy glitz we thread our way through the maze of streets following a sign nailed to the corner of the nectarine colored house. The arrow points up to the Church of Saint Giovanni Battista. Since it’s too early for lunch and the throng of people and the din thinning the higher up we walk we decide the hike up a connecting labyrinth of alleyways and staircases might be worth it. It is. The old Gothic church is lovely. A short distance away we spy the ruins of the castle. Here we enjoy the heart stopping panorama over the Gulf of Genoa before making our way back down to the gelato shop on our way back to the ferry.

Within moments of re-boarding we are off to the village of Monterosso, 20 minutes away for a three hour stopover. That’s enough time to do some exploring, have some lunch (my stomach’s growling) and maybe get in some sun and beach time. I’ve been told the beach is what this village was known for.

Coming up: Le Cinque Terre — A Slightly Different Ending part 3 (conclusion)

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