Umbria Travel Tips from Paolo Villani, Italian Blogger

Conversations with Locals

Umbria, Italy’s Green Heart, is fast becoming Tuscany’s rival for its lush rolling hills and medieval towns. Gubbio-based blogger Paolo Villani shares his favourite hiking trail in Umbria, the villages to go, and where to find the world’s largest Christmas tree. 


Photo: Paolo Villani 

What should travellers know about Umbria before heading there?

Before coming to Umbria, you should know that it is the paradise of medieval villages. To enjoy it, equip yourself with sneakers and get ready for some good food!

What are some local dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Umbria without trying? 

There are so many local dishes that you absolutely must taste in Umbria, such as cappelletti, which is a closed pasta stuffed with minced meat. It’s a delicacy! Also, do not miss the friccò di pollo con crescia, which is chicken in tomato sauce with bread.

What about your favourite restaurants?

One of my favourite restaurants is here in my city, Gubbio. I’m talking about the restaurant Contessa, where you can taste all the Umbrian specialties without spending too much.


Photo: Paolo Villani

Name one best kept secret of Umbria

Umbria is beautiful, but if you want to admire it in all its glory, you have to go up! I intend to go hiking in the mountains and enjoy the great valleys that contain several small villages. 

What are your favourite hiking trails? 

Gubbio is famous for having the largest Christmas tree in the world, which covers the whole of Mountain Ingino. You can find the best path right here. Once you reach the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo at the top of the mountain, you can take a path that will take you up to the fortress, located at the highest point of the mountain. In winter, the star of the tree is mounted there.

We heard that Umbria is famous for its wines. Where do you go for this?  

My favourite place is located in the city of Gualdo Tadino, a few minutes from Gubbio. It’s called Vineria dei Re.

What about your favourite hilltop towns? 

My favourite Umbrian town are the safe bets – Gubbio, Spello, Assisi, Perugia, and all the villages surrounding Lake Trasimeno. They are a wonder to behold! 


Spello. Photo: Paolo Villani


Photo: Paolo Villani

Umbria is often being compared to Tuscany. What are the biggest differences between these two regions?

They are compared because they are very similar. The biggest differences are the dialect, the food, but otherwise – they are very much alike. Maybe in Umbria, there are more medieval villages. 

Where can we go to see your favourite view of Umbria?

I could never say where my favourite view is, because in Umbria, there are so many. I could tell you about the Carducci Gardens of Perugia, Spello’s alleys, the Church of San Francesco in Assisi, or the Palazzo dei Consoli in Gubbio. The views are wonderful in all these places. 


Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. Photo: Paolo Villani


Ristorante Contessa
Where: Strada Contessa, 6, 06024 Gubbio PG, Italy
For: Umbrian specialties 

Vineria dei Re
Where: Via Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, 15B, 06024 Gubbio PG, Italy
For: Wine


Mount Ingino
Where: Via della Piaggiola, 06024 Gubbio PG, Italy
For: The world’s largest Christmas tree

Carducci Gardens
Where: Corso Pietro Vannucci, 06121 Perugia, Italy
For: A view of Perugia


Where: Spello, 06038 Province of Perugia, Italy
For: A charming hilltop town

Venice Travel Tips from Gionata Smerghetto, Venetian Blogger

Conversations with Locals

Venice may be overrun by tourists, but Venetian blogger Gionata Smerghetto knows just where to go and where to avoid in the City of Canals. Gionata reveals the one authentic Venetian dish to eat, a magical staircase for a view of the city, and why Venetians are campaigning for tourists to leave. 


Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

What do you feel defines Venetian cuisine?

Venetian cuisine is strongly influenced by the Adriatic Sea. Fresh fish is the highlight of Venetian cuisine – full of delicate flavours, pure and immediate. The Rialto market is indeed the center of Venetian cuisine. Every morning at dawn, fresh fish is sold to the Venetians, who are masters at cooking it. The flavours and tastes are enhanced by the use of spices and oriental scents, originating from the historical trade of the Serenissima Republic with the East.

What is the one local dish you feel travellers can’t leave Venice without trying? 

My favourite Venetian dish that I recommend to any tourist is sarde in soar, which literally translates to sardines in flavour. It is historically a poor man’s dish, which was made using the cheap but very popular fish, stored in a baking pan covered with onions and cooked in vinegar to ensure that the sardines are preserved for as long as possible. The modern version of sarde in saor have also introduced more ingredients, such as pine nuts and raisins. It is certainly a dish not to be missed for the flavour and history of Venice.

What about your favourite restaurants?

My favourite restaurants are found in the areas behind the Rialto Bridge. They are slightly out of the touristy central square, and are not commonly featured in tourist guides. The food is rich in flavour and close to the great Venetian fish market. My favourite places to eat are Al Raspo de Ua, Al Mercà, Antico Calice and Antico Forno. They are so pretty and honest!


Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

Name one best kept secret of Venice 

One of the great secrets of Venice that I can give to tourists is to not stop in the usual tourist spots. The true Venice exists even in the most hidden streets, where you can see the authentic, everyday Venice. Try exploring using Google maps! 

The best way to experience Venice like a local is to explore it with a Venetian. I’d love to visit a city with local eyes, allowing you to see and appreciate the hidden corners of the city that never would have been identified. 


Photo: Gionata Smerghetto


Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

Name some tourist traps travellers should avoid in Venice

I think the traps to avoid for tourists are shops who are not managed by locals. Often, there are restaurants, bars and taverns opened by foreigners. In addition to the poor quality of food, you definitely pay too much for the service! And there’s no fresh Venetian fish!

Where can we go to see your favourite view of Venice?

My favourite view is of course at La Scala Contarini del Bovolo. It is a magical staircase in the heart of Venice; you will definitely feel immersed in the heart of the city and you have a 360 degree view of the Venetian landscape. It is less known to tourists, so I recommend it. 


Photo: Gionata Smerghetto

Recently, there have been news reports of locals in Venice campaigning for tourists to leave the city.

Venice unfortunately turns out to be a very expensive city, not only for tourists but also for residents to live in. Due to the difficulty in building new buildings, it is hard for anyone to develop and upgrade the city. This has caused young people and even tourists to live on the mainland, travelling into Venice everyday by public transport. 

It’s a problem difficult to solve, partly because Venice is one of the most fascinating cities in the world, and at least once in their lives, tourists from all corners of the world want to see it. It is as if it there is always a carnival along the Venetian streets, which can sometimes put a strain on those living there.


Al Raspo de Ua
Where: Via San Martino Destro, 560, 30012 Burano, Venezia VE, Italy
For: Italian food

Al Mercà
Where: Campo Bella Vienna, 213, 30125 Venezia, Italy
For: Cichetti 

Antico Calice
Where: Calle dei Stagneri, 5228, 30124 San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy
For: Seafood

Antico Forno
Where: Calle dei Stagneri, 5228, 30124 San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy
For: Pizza


Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Where: Via Montacuto, 121 60129 Ancona (AN)
For: A view of Venice

Madrid Travel Tips from Omar Allibhoy, Spanish Chef of Tapas Revolution

Conversations with Locals

Since opening Tapas Revolution, Omar Allibhoy has transformed the landscape of Spanish dining in the UK, one tapas restaurant at a time. The Madrilenian is also part of the Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube family, dishing out the secrets to traditional Spanish cooking. We talk to Omar about the must-try dish from Madrid, the Spanish way to do tapas, and why you should never go for paellas in Madrid. 


Spanish Made Simple: Foolproof Spanish Recipes for Every Day by Omar Allibhoy of Tapas Revolution (Quadrille £20) Photo: Martin Poole

What do you feel defines the cuisine in Madrid?

Madrid is undoubtedly the capital of tapas. Every street is full of tapas bars, all making their own specialty. But of course it wasn’t always that way and something which is less known but equally important is the cuisine around offal. Madrid was heavily bombarded during the civil war and very poor as a result. Families used to make great recipes with cheaper animal cuts to save money and still use offal in cooking today.

How do Spanish people do tapas?

In Spain, tapas is more than just food, it’s how we connect, and is an excuse to get together. In the UK people meet ‘for a pint’, in Spain we ‘go for tapas’. Sharing food from the same plate brings us all a bit closer, and enhances conversation. It’s human nature to share what we have as opposed to eating your own thing.

When we go for tapas, we generally hop in and out of a number of tapas bars eating and drinking the house specialty of each place.


Photo: Tapas Revolution


Habas con chorizo. Photo: Tapas Revolution

What is the difference between British food and Spanish food?

Where to start? Cuisines are constantly evolving and the British food scene is now shifting with the influx of other cuisines. Unfortunately, the local produce is limited because the climate and geography is not quite as diverse as Spain.

Spanish cuisine has evolved for the last 2,000 years to become what it is today. Different cultures have chipped in – Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Christians. To put it into perspective, in Spain there is no concept of ‘Spanish cuisine’, it’s a lot more regional. For example, we have Galician and Catalonian cuisines. I think it’s fair to say there is a lot more variety in Spain compared to the UK.

What are some local dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Madrid without trying? 

Callos a la Madrileña, it’s a beef tripe stew. It may not sound appealing but it’s a very traditional dish. Otherwise, don’t leave without trying patatas bravas or a good bocadillo de calamares (deep fried squid ciabatta).

Where do you love to eat in Madrid?

I love lots of them! A few you have to try are Casa Lucio, Era, Cachivache, Sala de Despiece, Taberna de la Daniela, Combarro and St. James


Spanish Made Simple: Foolproof Spanish Recipes for Every Day by Omar Allibhoy of Tapas Revolution (Quadrille £20) Photo: Martin Poole

Name one best kept secret of Marche 

Madrid Río is the new refurb and regeneration plan for the south of Madrid and is a beautiful walk or bike ride away. Also, Parque del Capricho is one of my favourites and you hardly ever see any tourists there, so I guess it’s still a secret!

What’s your perfect itinerary to explore the city? 

Grab the bicycles, which are battery assisted, and make your own route, you are never going to see it all in one trip. If you are into food, know when you are going to finish for lunch! Maybe this Google map can help you with some of my favourite restaurants in my hometown. 

Name some tourist traps travellers should avoid in Madrid

The usual things, if there are food photos on the window, stay away from that restaurant. Paellas in Madrid are not great. Don’t waste your money in souvenir shops. Generally ask the locals, you are always closer than you think for authentic tapas.

Do paellas in Madrid taste bad? 

Paellas are only truly great in the Valencia region, where they originally come from. Rice is one of the most difficult ingredients to cook correctly in my opinion, and they are the masters of it. When in Madrid, eat like the Madrileños!

What’s your favourite day trip to take from Madrid?

I think Segovia. You can eat proper cochinillo asado (roasted suckling pig) at Meson de Candido while looking at the most stunning Aqueduct.

You recently had to defend Jamie Oliver on adding chorizo to paella. What is it about Spanish cuisine that the Spanish are so passionate about defending?

Our cuisine has been corrupted and distorted a lot because of a lack of knowledge and good communicators who spread the word about traditional Spanish cuisine. Food is fundamental to the Spanish and they don’t like to see traditional dishes messed around and altered. On the other hand, I think a bit differently.



Casa Lucio
Where: Calle Cava Baja, 35, 28005 Madrid, Spain
For: Spanish food

La Era Restaurante
Where: Calle de la Infanta Mercedes, 103, 28020 Madrid, Spain
For: High-end dining

Cachivache Taberna
Where: Calle de Serrano, 221, 28016 Madrid, Spain
For: Tapas

Sala de Despiece
Where: Calle de Ponzano, 11, 28010 Madrid, Spain
For: Tapas

Taberna de la Daniela
Where: Calle del Gral. Pardiñas, 21, 28001 Madrid, Spain
For: Cocido madrilenio

Where: Calle Reina Mercedes, 12, 28020 Madrid, Spain
For: Seafood

Restaurante St James Madrid
Where: Calle de Juan Bravo, 26, 28006 Madrid, Spain (and more)
For: Rice dishes


Madrid Río
Where: Puente de Toledo, 28019 Madrid, Spain
For: Parks and play areas

Parque del Capricho
Where: Paseo de la Alameda de Osuna, 25, 28042 Madrid, Spain
For: Parks