Italy

Views, Views, Views in Trentino

If you want a real change in scenery from the Italy you're used to (I mean I could go to Tuscany 1000x and never get sick of it but change is good), then may I suggest the South Tyrolean region of Trentino Alto-Adige located in Italy's alps, also known as the Dolomites. Located in northeastern Italy, this region borders Austria and Switzerland and sometimes has you fooled that you're actually in those countries! Many people speak German and as a matter of fact all signage is in German, Italian & English. The food is even more like that of Austria (strudel, yum!) but don't worry, you will still be able to find a dish of pasta. 

The capital city of this region is Trento, which is a lovely, medieval town to visit. It is pretty small in terms of Italian cities go but it's friendly and those mountains are a lovely backdrop to your aperitivo. In the fall it's not too busy, but I would imagine that things pick up a bit in winter, seeing as how this is a perfect jumping off point to explore & ski the Dolomites. Trento is well connected by smaller airports and train stations, but the closest major airport is Venice. So the next time you take a trip to La Serenissima, consider venturing off into the mountains for a little taste of something different! Plus, Trento hardly makes it on the tourist map making your stay an authentic one which deserves brownie points in my book.

You don't need much time in Trento to be able to see it and experience what it has to offer so a night or two should be enough unless you're looking for some extra relaxation or plan to do some skiing. There are plenty of boutique hotels, B&Bs and inns to choose from, none of which will break the bank. Our hotel, B&B Luxury Heart of Trento even had a jacuzzi on the balcony incase you needed to soak some sore muscles after a day on the slopes or if you were just looking to relax with the mountains in the background (btw, spas in this town seem to be as abundant as espresso!) TIP: Don't miss the Funivia Trento-Sardagna, which is a cable car/gondola that brings you from the city center of Trento up to the hilltop town of Sardagna for some sweeping views of the city below and the mountains in the distance.  

The medieval city of Trento

The medieval city of Trento

A must-do if you're visiting Trento is to take a day trip to nearby Bolzano which is a lively town located about 45min to an hour north. Bolzano is even further into the mountains and only an hour south of the Austrian border making it feel more Austrian than Italian (just look around and admire all of the chalets...all that's missing are some yodellers!) TIP: Don't miss the Funivia Soprabolzano, which is a cable car/gondola that brings you from Bolzano way up into the mountains to the tiny little town of Soprabolzano. Grab a coffee and homemade strudel at Trattoria Babsi before heading out on the Renon railway for some amazing views of the Dolomites. 

The streets of Bolzano

The streets of Bolzano

The quaint town of Soprabolzano

The quaint town of Soprabolzano

And lastly, here are some food & drink reccos for your hungry bellies. Enjoy!

Trento

Enoteca Il Libertino for a casual dinner

Ai Tre Garofani for a more upscale, modern Italian dinner

Bar Pasi & Duomo 34 for aperitivo and people watching

Casa del Cioccolato & Casa del Caffe for the best coffee and pastry

Cafe de la Paix for craft beer and live music in a cozy setting

Birreria PedavenaForst for pretzels & beer in a German brewhaus

Bolzano

Pasticceria Hofer for gourmet coffee and pastry

Piazza delle Erbe for some market snacks 

Bar Caffe da Té for some liquid courage in a small, local's hole-in-the-wall before getting on the funivia 

Panificio Hackhofer for some authentic pretzels

The view of Trento from the top of the funivia ride 

The view of Trento from the top of the funivia ride 

A quick, fun ride for some breathtaking views

A quick, fun ride for some breathtaking views

Piazza Duomo in Trento

Piazza Duomo in Trento

View of the Dolomites from Soprabolzano

View of the Dolomites from Soprabolzano

The Renon Railway

The Renon Railway

Austria in Italy

Austria in Italy

The Funivia Soprabolzano gondola arriving in Soprabolzano

The Funivia Soprabolzano gondola arriving in Soprabolzano

The valley below (taken from the gondola)

The valley below (taken from the gondola)

The craggy Dolomites

The craggy Dolomites

3 (other) Places to Visit in the Veneto

....that aren't Venice! Most people come to this region of Italy to only visit Venice and what a shame that is. Some of the best of the Veneto is located outside of the crowded city of Venice and only a short train ride away. And thankfully the tradition of cicchetti (Venetian tapas) lives on beyond the islands of Venice, so embrace it! Next time you're headed to the fish, I highly recommend making time for at least one, if not all of these to get a taste of what this wonderful region has to offer. 

1. Verona - If you're looking to ditch the crowds (and high prices) and explore a much smaller city, this is the place to go. It is where Romeo & Juliet took place and only an hour by high-speed train from Venice making this an easy day trip. Or if you can spare the time, which I highly recommend you do, you could opt to stay overnight at one of many B&Bs like the traditional Il Sogno di Giulietta, the romantic Suite di Giulietta or the more modern Opera Relais de Charme

Verona is very walkable and not very big so you can see a lot in a little time. Highlights include Casa di Giulietta (Juliet's house and famous balcony), the Arena (Verona's mini-Colosseum), Ponte di Castelvecchio (the fortified bridge), and Ponte Pietra (the Roman-arched bridge).

The food here is more meat-centric (than seafood, seeing as how it's more inland) and is absolutely delightful. Visitors will feel a sense of relief to find good food easily that won't break the bank, which is nothing like your experience in Venice! Here are some of my favorites:

Osteria del Bugiardo for simple but amazing dishes in a lovely, rustic space.

Antica Bottega del Vino for an enormous wine list (no, really) and the best Florentine steak outside of Tuscany.

Osteria La Mandorla for the quintessential neighborhood wine bar. Just look for the "Vini-Liquori" sign and the crowd congregating with wine glasses outside.

Osteria Caffe Monte Baldo for a spritz and some cicchetti. When it's nice, do it alfresco.

L'Arte del Gelato for some of the city's best ice cream.

Romeo, Romeo! O where art thou Romeo?

Romeo, Romeo! O where art thou Romeo?

2. Valpolicella - If you've had enough of the soave and prosecco and you're looking to change it up with some delicious red, add this place (and wine) to your list. Believe it or not folks, Tuscany isn't the only place for good red. Here you will find, like the name suggests, Valpolicella Classico which is your everyday wine, Valpolicella Ripasso (DOCG) which has been aged a bit longer giving it a bit more character, and Amarone delle Valpolicella which is the region's most prestigious wine made from dried grapes giving it a higher alcohol content.

There are many wineries in the area to choose from including the world-renown Azienda Agricola Giuseppe Quintarelli (known for its amarone), Azienda Agricola Valentina Cubi (known for its bio-organic wines), and Azienda Agricola Scriani Fumane (if you're looking for a place that's open on Sundays). As with most wineries, you will need a car to access these places but this area is only a short 30-min drive from Verona.

To soak up all the wine you'll be tasting, I highly recommend making a reservation at Enoteca della Valpolicella which is a restaurant located on a fully-functioning farm and vineyard. Everything on the menu is fresh and locally sourced from the farm whenever possible. Pasta is handmade each morning and the tagliatelle was some of the most delicate, thin ribbons of delight I've ever had. If they offer a chef's tasting, I highly recommend. It is an excellent way to taste some of the local dishes.

Enoteca della Valpolicella

Enoteca della Valpolicella

3. Treviso - Not only is this small city pretty to look at with its greenery and unique canals, but its location makes it an excellent place for a day trip away from the tourists in Venice or to stay the night before your early departure from Marco Polo International airport. It just feels less touristy here and sadly I think it gets overlooked because most people flock to Venice. If you're staying the night, I recommend the adorable, family-run B&B San Leonardo which only has 2 rooms and is located on the ground floor of the family's home. The decor is especially cozy and you really feel like you're staying at a friend's home rather than a hotel.

The nice thing is that there isn't a whole lot of sightseeing in this town which makes for a leisurely and relaxing stay. It is small enough that you can walk the entire city to see it. Some spots to check out are the main area of Piazza dei Signori, the interesting Fontana delle Tette (Google it....), and the pretty Canale dei Buranelli

The food and drink in Treviso is delicious too, and should not be missed. Here are some of my favorites: 

Osteria Arman for traditional dishes an a cozy, vintage atmosphere. 

Osteria dei Naneti for the most delicious panini and wine. This place gets busy but eating and drinking outside is common practice and quite enjoyable!

Antica Osteria al Botegon by Porta San Tomaso for the best spritz and cicchetti.

Cantinetta Venegazzu for a lovely glass of wine in an informal local's atmosphere.

Cafe due Pomi for yummy espresso in a tiny hole in the wall.

The streets of Treviso

The streets of Treviso

So if you're looking for some balance on your next Venetian vacation consider these 3 places which are totally doable in a day or just one night. It is some of the places that you don't hear as often in conversations about Italy that end up being the ones you remember most. I'm so glad we decided to stay in this area rather than doing what most people do and head south to Florence or Rome. 

Curious about how to enjoy Venice? Check out my previous blog post.

And lastly, stay tuned for my next post which will be about another great area to explore from Venice....the mountainous, South-Tyrolean region of Trentino! Yes, we're headed to the Alps!

Ponte Pietra, Verona

Ponte Pietra, Verona

Small piazza in Verona

Small piazza in Verona

What a view from the Castelvecchio Bridge, Verona

What a view from the Castelvecchio Bridge, Verona

Veronese buildings

Veronese buildings

Arena di Verona 

Arena di Verona 

Excited at the wine list at Antica Bodega del Vino, Verona

Excited at the wine list at Antica Bodega del Vino, Verona

Valpolicella vineyards

Valpolicella vineyards

The streets of Treviso

The streets of Treviso

Salute!

Salute!

Fontana delle Tette, Treviso

Fontana delle Tette, Treviso

The picturesque canals of Treviso

The picturesque canals of Treviso

How to Enjoy the Ever-So-Crowded Venice

There's nowhere in the world quite like Venice, or Venezia as it is called in Italy. The city is known as La Serenissima, the serene one, but with today's tourist traffic it can be anything but. Still the canals are mesmerizing and the sun hits the buildings in such a beautiful way that you do need to pinch your cheeks once in awhile to remind yourself it's real. Everyone needs to experience Venice once in their life....and preferably before the city is underwater!

Venice is well connected by Italy's national rail system, Trenitalia, and it is also reachable by plane via Marco Polo International Airport. Some important things to know about Venice--it is made up of over a hundred little islands all grouped together in the shape of a fish with many canals in between them; the Grand Canal is the main thoroughfare or "guts" of the fish that weaves through the middle of the city in a north/south fashion; there really are no cars so be prepared to take boats or stretch those legs to get around (the fish is not that big so walking is a perfectly acceptable mode of transport); and there are only 4 bridges across the Grand Canal...get to know where they are otherwise be prepared to take a boat to cross. If you are looking for a boat, you can take the public "vaporetti" (essentially a water bus with many different lines), a water taxi, or the "traghetti" (which is a public gondola that essentially just goes back and forth across the canal).  

Before planning a trip, every traveler should know that Venice is super congested these days thanks to the grandi navi or big cruise ships that dock for the day and the hundreds of people that come for the day by land. It doesn't help that the city is surrounded by water and cannot expand to accommodate the loads of tourists! Unfortunately with all the people it is difficult to find some local charm but if you just know where to look (and what to avoid) your stay in Venice will be a much more enjoyable one. Here are some tips to help you have a more authentic vacation instead of one overloaded by tourists:

  1. Avoid peak season if you can which is February during Carnivale and May through September. The off-season (November to March) definitely has the smallest crowds (and cheapest rates!) and is great if you don't mind chilly temps and shortened hours for sightseeing. The shoulder season (April or October) is a happy medium both weather-wise and crowd-wise and there will be more open with longer hours. 
  2. Get away from the Grand Canal, Rialto Bridge & San Marco, once you've seen them and taken some of photos of course. Wandering (and getting lost in) the dozens of tiny canals is part of the charm and is also a good reprieve from the crowds. Specifically, the neighborhoods of Dorsoduro and Cannaregio on the outskirts of the fish are really lovely. 
  3. Do your (food) research. There are tons of tourist traps, and actually there are probably more mediocre restaurants than good ones. A good way to know if you are eating the touristy stuff is picture menus and being in proximity of the major sights. Stick to the regional specialties (i.e. seafood, risotto and polenta food-wise; and prosecco, soave and valpolicella wine-wise) and you can't go wrong. When in doubt, you can always hop around from bacaro (bar) to bacaro, trying some cicchetti (Venetian tapas) with an ombre (small glass) of local wine. 
  4. Opt to stay at an apartment. It forces you to live a little more like a local, especially if you make a trip or two to the market for provisions. Plus, hotels in Venice are notoriously expensive!

And lastly my two cents, for what its worth. Be sure to check the hours before you go since some of these places close down in the afternoon and on random days during the week. Also, reservations are always best for dinner...Italians love formalities!

Best Bacari for Cicchetti: Cantina do Mori, All'Arco, Ostaria dai Zemei, Enoteca al Volto

Best Aperitivo: Al Merca (you must order a spritz, it's the best!)

Best Drinks: Osteria da Filo (live music most nights), Time Social Bar

Best Upscale Dinner: Al Coro *reservations a must*

Best Traditional Dinner: Cantina do Spade (do yourself a favor and order the polenta & bacala which is salted codfish...surprisingly the most delicious dish in all of Venice!)

Best Modern Dinner: Osteria L'Orto dei Mori, Ostaria Boccadoro

Best Espresso & Pastry: Il Caffe Rosso, Pasticceria Tonolo

Best Gelato: Gelateria Ca' d'Oro

And if you're sick of wine and are looking for some craft beer both local and imported, head to Il Santo Bevitore and Birreria Zanon.

Heading to Venice soon and need some ideas on what to see? Drop me a line and I'd be happy to help! Happy travels!

Venice is filled with pure beauty like this!

Venice is filled with pure beauty like this!

Basilica di San Marco

Basilica di San Marco

Campanile di San Marco

Campanile di San Marco

A Venetian canal

A Venetian canal

Ornate buildings along the Grand Canal

Ornate buildings along the Grand Canal

The church of San Giorgio Maggiore

The church of San Giorgio Maggiore

The Campanile di San Giorgio offers the best view in all of Venice

The Campanile di San Giorgio offers the best view in all of Venice

Ciao Venezia!

Ciao Venezia!

Eat & Drink like a Roman

In my last post, I hit upon some lovely places to rest your weary head and what to do when in Rome. As I've mentioned before there's literally so much to see that you could keep busy for weeks on end. With all that seeing and doing, you need some sustenance, obviously, but you really need some cultural balance. Some wonderful ways to experience what Rome really has to offer is to take part in aperitivo, eat some local dishes, wander off the main roads, and for the love of God ditch the picture menus! After all, indulging in local cuisine and cocktails is why most of us travel (and if it isn't, then you're doing it all wrong and we need to change that!)