The Baths of Bormio | Roma to Sonoma

Bormio, Italy is only a few hours from Milan, just south of the Swiss border and smack dab in the middle of the Alps.  The natural hot springs – the Bagni di Bormio (the Baths of Bormio) have been in continuous use for thousands of years. Throughout the ages the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and European royalty regularly flocked there to “take the waters”.
The Hotel Bagni Vecchi (Old Baths) is a smaller, cozier, and more traditional Valtellina mountain style hotel, while the Grand Hotel Bagni Nuovi (New Baths) is a sumptuous mid-19th century Victorian extravaganza, replete with grand dining and dancing halls, and Murano glass chandeliers throughout.

 

The hotel built the spas around the terme (natural hot springs), meticulously preserving the original Roman baths but also enhancing them by adding a subterranean spa that boasts modern cedar saunas and mineral water Jacuzzis. The trump card of the terme is an outdoor Roman thermal pool perched up against the mountain that looks out over the ski slopes and picturesque Alpine valley. Add to this the charming town of Bormio itself and it comes as no surprise at all that the Bagni di Bormio have been popular for centuries.
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Florence – Food & Wine Recommendations | Roma to Sonoma

There are many delicious places to wine and dine in Florence, but these locally loved places are great options on your travels through Firenze.

Caffè Italiano

Located right off Piazza della Signoria, it’s remarkable that this charming spot isn’t swelled with tourists. A coffee and tea lover’s paradise, you can lounge for hours reading newspapers or books supplied by the owners or, better yet, play one of the board games available upstairs in the quasi-family room. Lunch menu changes daily, and the food (pasta, sandwiches, meats, etc.) is all honest family fare. But the real draw here is that it is a place to truly enjoy a coffee and a chat. Open 8 a.m.–1 a.m.

Via Condotta, 56/r
Tel. 055.289.020
www.osteriacaffeitaliano.com, Closed Mondays

L’Enoteca Fuori Porta

Located in Oltrarno just “outside the door” of Porta San Niccolo on the road to San Miniato, this jostling and happy place houses one of the best and most varied wine selections in Florence. Off the typical tourist route, Fuori Porta draws in the locals with its traditional charm and good, solid local fare. Open 12 p.m.-1 a.m.

Via del Monte alle Croci, 10/r
Tel. 055.234.2483
www.fuoriporta.it, Closed Sundays

Le Volpi e L’Uva

This enoteca, although extremely small, is a really special place for wine lovers.  It’s a real victory if you can snag a seat at the bar to sip your wine and enjoy small plates of excellent cheeses, meats and panini. The wine is stalwart — each selection chosen for good quality and value, generally showcasing small Italian producers. Near Ponte Vecchio.  Check out the wine suggestions on the blackboard behind the counter. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Piazza dei Rossi, 1
Tel. 055.239.8132
http://www.levolpieluva.com

Osteria del Porcellino

You will very likely find a group of Tuscans clinking glasses and celebrating a special occasion at this osteria’s long tables. Located near Il Porcellino, the pig statue in Mercato Nuovo – you can rub it’s snout for good luck before you dine – it’s a charming, cozy spot that always delivers.  The spinach and ricotta gnudi with walnut and sage, when in season, is amazing, and if you haven’t tried Bistecca alla Fiorentina yet this is a good place to do it.

Via Val di Lamona, 7/r
Tel. 055.264.148
http://www.osteriadelporcellino.com/
Open Daily

Copyright, The American Magazine, All Rights Reserved.

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Sonoma Picnic | Roma to Sonoma

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Rosè and a little nosh.

Forget the mayo-laden potato salad and the fried chicken drumsticks from past generations, today’s picnickers are much more pick(nick?)y.  Especially in Northern California where the adage “Life is too short to drink bad wine” is part of everyday vernacular.  The following are some simple tips to creating a magical picnic day:

  1. Bring a blanket/quilt for seating. Seating options may be limited and if you should pass a beautifully shady and secluded spot with a view, you will be glad you came prepared.
  2. Many wineries have outside seating and encourage visitors to bring a picnic and stay awhile – and buy a bottle of wine, of course.  You should NOT bring food into a winery that serves food – that’s a major faux pas.  And don’t bring your own wine to a winery. (Oy vey!)
  3. It’s really the finger food aspect of a picnic that makes it intimate, simple, and special. The most romantic finger food options are the classics: wine, bread, cheese, and maybe a bit of fruit for good measure.   Anything much more complicated than that is just too fussy for the simple pleasure of a picnic on a beautiful day.
  4. One caveat: When you go simple, make sure that every simple thing is simply the best little thing available.  That means no cheddar cheese, please.  Two great local Sonoma County cheeses to sample are Truffle Tremor by Cypress Grove (goat cheese with truffle) and the Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam (Triple Crema).

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    The cheese choices at Atelier at JCB in Yountville.

  5. The bread should come from a proper bakery and it should be soft enough to tear off in pieces – a baguette, for example.  The only utensil you’ll want to worry about bringing is a cheese knife.
  6. If you want to add some fruit to the picnic, the local black mission figs would be amazing.  If you don’t mind prepping a bit, slice and pack a local Gravenstein apple.
  7. Some favorite wineries for picnic-seekers are Lambert Bridge Winery with its private, umbrella-shaded tables, and Rochioli Winery which is just small enough to make you feel like it’s all yours.

 

 

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Carmel-by-the-Sea | Roma to Sonoma

If you happen to see Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger behind a bar pouring his family’s almost 300-year-old label’s champagne, with a Black River Caviar bar on one side of him and a Hog Island Oyster bar on the other, either you are dreaming or you are at the first night Welcome Party of the GourmetFest Carmel 2016. The four day foodie extravaganza featuring an exclusive roster of Relais & Châteaux chefs and the world’s best wine estates took place Feb. 25-28, and we’re still in recovery mode from the decadent offerings.

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Getting ready for a Masseto wine tasting.

Each year, a world-renowned team of wine experts and Relais & Châteaux chefs descend on Carmel-by-the-Sea, transforming the sleepy hamlet into a food lover’s and wine aficionado’s paradise. GourmetFest celebrated its third year with vineyard tours, cooking demos, wine tastings, sumptuous meals designed for the most discerning palates and a wild mushroom hunt.

The Relais &Châteaux GourmetFest is not, nor does it try to be, an event for the average food and wine lover. This is where true connoisseurs come to play, where elite wine collectors gather to share their very specialized obsession with like-minded folk such as legendary sommeliers Rajat Parr and Larry Stone.

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Oyster Bar Hosted by Hog Island Oyster Company.

Take Conrad Kenley for instance, a second time participant in the GourmetFest Carmel who has already decided to return in 2017. When asked what makes him return year after year, he quickly responds, “Because I know that David Fink will do something really special.” Conrad shipped several rare bottles of wine to the event for his own enjoyment, a few of which are pictured below. He brought them along not because there wouldn’t be enough top caliber wine at the event, but because he knew that the select group in attendance would have the proper appreciation for the exclusive vintages. The bottles pictured were shared with old and new friends, sommeliers and chefs, over pizza at a late night gathering well after the exquisite seven course meal that evening. This is apparently how the crème de la crème of the wine world roll.

And speaking of the crème de la crème of the wine world, the 2016 event boasted Château LaTour, Domaine Leflaive, Ornellaia, Rochioli, Champagne Taittinger, Domaine Eugénie, Château Grillet, Araujo, Masseto, ROAR Wines, Pisoni Vineyards, Mount Eden Vineyards, Taylor Fladgate, Chappellet, Peay Vineyards, Ayinger, Silvestri Vineyards, Morgan Winery, I. Brand and Family, Georis Wine, Failla Wines, Crocker & Starr Winery, Calera Wine Company, Caraccioli Cellars, Copain Wines, Williams Selyem, Tablas Creek Vineyard, Qupe Wine Cellars, Morning Dew Ranch, Domaine de la Côte, Fink Family Estate Vineyard, Galante Vineyards and Georis Wine.

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Cheeses by Carmel’s The Cheese Shop.

And then there’s the food. The GourmetFest attracted celebrated chefs from across the globe, including Loic Leperlier, executive chef of the Point Resort, Mark Lundgaard, chef of Restaurant Kong Hans, Hiroshi Nakamichi and Tomoyuki Kon, chefs from Restaurant Molière, The Little Nell’s executive chef Matt Zubrod and chef de cuisine Matt Padilla, David Kinch of Manresa, Twin Farms executive chef Nathan Rich, Les Maisons De Bricourt chefs Olivier Roellinger and Hugo Roellinger, Luciano Sarzi Sartori, chef of Baglioni Hotel Cala Del Porto, Hans Sauter, executive chef of The Post Hotel & Spa, Troisgros chefs César Troisgros  and Michel Troisgros, Saison owner/chef Joshua Skenes, Derek Poirier, Ecole du Grand Chocolat Pastry Chef Western USA, Valrhona, Aubergine at L’Auberge Carmel’s executive chef Justin Cogley and executive pastry chef Ron Mendoza, and Chris Kajioka, executive chef of Hotel Wailea.

At the GourmetFest Carmel there’s certainly the sense that you’ve stepped into a decadent secret society of oenophiles and culinary kings, where everyone has known each other for years. It is definitely a clique you’d like to join, even if only for a few days.

Truffle Scallop in his Shell served at the Black Truffle Dinner.

Truffle Scallop in his Shell served at the Black Truffle Dinner.

Highlights of the four-day fest included a Black Truffle Dinner, a ten course Rarities Dinner, a Father/Son (Chefs) Lunch, a Vineyard Tour and Lunch with the ROAR Wines and Pisoni Families, a Farmer’s Market Lunch, and vertical tastings of Masseto, Rochioli, Taittinger, Château Latour, and the Grand Crus of Domaine Leflaive.

Befitting a top-of-the line event, the 2016 GourmetFest’s major sponsors were BMW, VISA, Gaggenau, Taittinger, and L’Auberge Carmel. An online charity auction of stays at beautiful Relais & Châteaux properties continues through Tuesday, March 1, with proceeds benefitting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, and California State University at Monterey Bay.

By Layne Randolph, Haute Living Magazine, 2016

Copyright Haute Living Magazine 2016

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Salento: Italy’s Best Kept Secret | Roma to Sonoma

 

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The sea, the sea, the sea!!

I arrived in the seaside village of Otranto to study Italian at Porta d’Oriente, a school that advertised a half-day sea/half-day study approach to learning. Since then, whenever I have been away from it I have dreamt about Salento.

It seems God has blessed this part of Italy with special treasures: turquoise water, rock cliffs, long stretches of natural beaches, and bleached-white buildings that make up the tiny villages that hang over the sea. This is all topped off with a special southern hospitality which its natives lavish on visitors.

I fell in love with the seemingly untouched beauty, the seafood and the spice that was missing in Tuscany. In Salento, I always have the sense that I’ve traveled back in time to a 1950s Italian movie in which the streets are actually filled with Italians and life is lived in a way that modern Americans believe is impossible.

The region

Salento is located at the tip of the heel of the boot that is Italy in the most southern part of Puglia. But not many people know about Salento, save typical southern Italian tourists, who have been traveling to its shores every August for centuries.
Many people associate southern Italy, in general, with dirty streets and high crime and think that there’s nothing worthwhile to see below Naples. But once you spend time in Salento, you begin to think it’s the best part of Italy, despite the fact that it is isolated and indietro (backward).

The difficulties of living there are obvious only to the nutcase strani­eri (foreigners) who decide to call Salento home. After dreaming of living there for years, I (aka American Nutcase) decided to transfer to this backward paradise to set up my home base in 2007.

Confronting reality
When on vacation in Salento, it’s easy to adjust to its rhythm and let the practicalities of life, like work, drop to the wayside. But living there is different.

I decided to live in the centrally located town of Maglie and found a tiny little apartment, a former cantina, that had arched ceilings of stone and a marble staircase leading down to it from the street. I was attracted to its inherent charm, so I didn’t realize until I moved in that not only did my cell phone not receive a signal inside but my computer’s new Italian wireless card didn’t work either.

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Trying to get a signal outside my apartment.

I was told that a phone/internet line would take months to install and activate, if it could even be done, so I was left to my own devices when it came to using my computer to access the Web. I immediately started to panic, experiencing withdrawals from my plugged-in life in the States and fearing the worst: complete isolation.

Attempting to be undaunted, I set out on my Metropolitan Lady bicycle every day, my computer in tow. I rode to coffee bars, restaurants and friends’ houses and places of business to use my computer and wireless card, much to the amusement and chagrin of the Salentini, who would say, “You are fixated. Stop the computer. Go to the sea!”

Rediscovering paradise
I was at the end of my rope with the constant comments and the nomadic computer life when I met Gianni (not his real name), a Salentino by birth who worked in Milan and was back in the area on vacation. He understood my pain and helped solve my Internet dilemma with a series of extension cords and wires. He then felt it was his personal responsibility to restore my previous sense of wonder in Salento.

Finally ready for a break, I agreed, and we hit the road to Otranto. Once we arrived at the port of Otranto, we bought tuna-and-pepperoncino sandwiches on olive rolls at the corner café for our day-long adventure, then took off on Gianni’s boat to Imperial Beach.

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The sea off the Adriatic Coast of Salento.

Almost hidden by the large limestone rocks that surround it, Imperial Beach is accessible only by boat and therefore has, perhaps, 15 inhabitants. They had parked their boats 30 meters or so from shore and half-swam, half-waded in, like we did, with our lunch and towels on top of our heads. The water was so completely transparent and the sun shone so brightly that the entire scene seemed as if it were a dream.

Gianni knew everyone on the beach and they all greeted him with kisses and hugs and handshakes as if it had been a decade since the last time they had met. No, he assured me, it had been only yesterday. But these people, like he, had been coming to this beach for all of their lives, and they were like family.

Gianni ex­plained the history of the area as we sat on the sand instead of on our towels, like 5-year-old children, half in and half out of the water, with the gentle waves lapping our legs. We ate our panini and drank cold coffee from plastic bottles that Gianni’s beach family smilingly offered us.

Then Gianni led me back into the shallow sea to one of the giant rocks jutting out into the water. He put his hand inside a crack in one of the rocks and came out with what looked like slimy gray mud. He slapped it on his forehead and laughed when I jumped in shock.

He told me that the ancient mud purifies the skin and that, for centuries, people had been coming to these rocks and slathering on the argilla (mineral clay). I looked around and saw two children rubbing argilla on each other and a group of teenage girls very seriously applying the mud to their thighs and stomachs.

When in Salento, I thought, do as the Salentini do, so I started to cake it on too. Then we walked slowly back and forth along the white sand in the ankle-deep water until the mud had caked and we could finally dive into the sea, ascending slowly to the sunny surface fully purified.

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A view of the coast in Salento.

Every day for the rest of the summer, Gianni and I would head out to another part of Salento, to a beach, a museum or a tiny hillside town. We ate pesce crudo (sliced raw fish) every day and never even came close to seeing or doing all the things that were possible there.

A cultural mix
Salento is like no other place in Italy. The little towns on the coast seem like old-fashioned seaside paradises, each with its unique culture and history. Yes, it’s Italy, but it also seems to be a bit of Greece, Turkey and what the Salentini call “Porta d’Oriente.”

Salento’s geographical location was perfect for invaders attacking from the sea, so there are remnants and ruins of lighthouses, bastions surrounding sea towns, castle walls, moats and towers dotting the coastline — reminders of the largely unsuccessful attempts to protect its inhabitants.

There are still parts of Salento where a version of the Greek language is spoken, and the bleached-white buildings stacked on hillsides certainly bring to mind that part of the world.

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It’s all about the sea in Salento.

Each invasion and occupation left a mark on the region, creating a melting pot of cultures instead of one homogenous genetic stamp. And because the area is so lightly traveled by outsiders, you really feel that you are the first one to discover it all.

Lesson learned
There was so much to learn about and see here, yet I had been stupidly spending my days toting a computer around tiny Maglie. I had wasted so much time crying about the lack of efficiency that I forgot I had chosen to live in a place that thrives on closing down for five hours in the middle of every day so everyone can go to the sea. I should have been joining them.

I went to Salento with all of my American-ness and tried to make it fit me. But Salento doesn’t need to change; it needs to hang on to that which makes it unique. It was I who needed to adapt and embrace the rhythm of the place, to sort out what drew me there in the first place: I wanted to understand the sway of life in a place like this, where the original Italian vita bella still exists. Miraculously, once I was purified, I understood it all.

By Layne Randolph, International Travel News © 2016 International Travel News. All Rights Reserved.

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Roma to Sonoma – Traveling the Vineyards from Italy to California

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“Across Sonoma Mountain, wisps of sea fog are stealing.  The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky.  I have everything to make me glad I am alive.”

– Jack London

Disclaimer:  I am freshly in love with northern Sonoma County, so excuse me in advance if I am overly effusive. San Francisco and the California wine country have been my go-to American vacation spots for the last year or so and this obsession culminated in my recent move here after returning to the US from living in Italy for many years.   Every time I visited this area I fell more in love with the extraordinary combination of fantastic climate, laid-back vibe, and worldly accoutrements. Then there is the lifestyle punctuated with the ongoing clinking of celebratory glasses, but it’s not just that.

Sonoma's Countryside | Roma to Sonoma

Sonoma’s Countryside | Roma to Sonoma

Winding through some of the most breathtaking countryside in California, Sonoma County offers visitors picture postcard views of vineyards nestled between hills and valleys as well as amazing tastings of some of the world’s best wines.  Sonoma County simply leaves an indelible imprint on the mind and a sense of peace in the soul.

fic Coast | Roma to Sonoma

The Pacific Coast of northern Sonoma County – Jenner by the Sea.

European Immigrants

This must be part of the reason that Italian immigrants made their way here too, before there was even one wine-producing vineyard in what is now known as Napa Valley and Sonoma County.  Like me, maybe they felt a sense of being “home” here not only in the inland which is so reminiscent of the Italian countryside, but also in the proximity to the coast and seaside villages which is also a mainstay of living on the Italian peninsula.

It wasn’t only the Italians that settled here and became winemakers.  In fact the Russian River Road offers an array of sights into the world of wine making from Italian villas to French-style chateaus to smaller garagiste wineries built when immigrants still made wine in their garages.  Those Italians (and French) knew that Sonoma County’s ideal combination of warm days and cool nights had the potential to produce spectacular wines.   

Sonoma County AVAs

Now, northern Sonoma County is officially a top international wine producer complete with a trifecta of AVAs (American Viticultural Areas): Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and the Russian River Valley.  Each valley offers a jewel to add to northern Sonoma County’s crown. The Russian River Valley brings its internationally famous Pinot and Chardonnay, Dry Creek produces some of California’s best Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, and the Alexander Valley boasts voluptuous Cabernet and Merlot.  Sonoma County produces more than 60 varieties of grapes and houses dozens of international varietals.  And now that I’m here, I plan to learn as much as I can about all of them and travel to every corner of wine country soaking up la dolce vita – just like in Italy.  Evviva!!

 

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