Food & Travel Guide to Tuscia, Italy – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

It can be hard to describe Tuscia. “It is a short distance from Rome,” A man attired in a sharp business suit says, leaning against a stone-coloured building along Via del Corso in Rome. Tuscia has been his usual city escape. To others, it is like “the other Rome”. And like Rome, Tuscia is in Lazio. It is less than two hours away. The flavour of the province also brings to mind the typical Roman cuisine of the pecorino, guanciale, artichoke, porchetta, to name a few.

Now, Tuscia is emerging from the shadow of the Eternal City, surprising travellers with its historically fascinating network of Etruscan cities. Narrow roads journey through the deep emerald forest, leading to palazzos and castellos shrouded by stories of battles, of conquests. These palatial houses, some still owned by the aristocrats, breathe memories of their illustrious past. 

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VITERBO

Viterbo is very much like an attic trove of notable gems disguised as forgotten knickknacks. Monuments and artefacts are scattered all over the historical centre. Start at the piazza where you can see the Palazzo dei Papi and the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo. This area was once the military fortress of the Etruscan civilisation. Some of the remnants of the civilisation had been left engraved into the street building walls, still. So perfectly engraved they are almost missable. Look for the accompanying inscriptions on the walls not to miss them.

For Roman cuisine, Osteria Tanta Robba does family-style dishes. The menu is simple but classics like the carbonara, cacio e pepe and gricia are more than satisfying. Just 20 minutes away, there is the Tutto N’artro Magnà in Bomarzo. The trattoria also serves as a butchery, so you know the meat will be delicious. Within minutes of ordering, plates of chicory, porchetta, meatballs, chickpeas are served. Then comes the finale – a fillet sizzling on a plate. 

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VILLA LANTE

In Bagnaia, Villa Lante is a remarkable piece of renaissance garden design. It was originally designed for Cardinal Gambara who relishes the outdoor lifestyle. Perfectly-manicured hedges form a unified harmony, akin to a Renaissance painting. From a bird’s view, the balance and unity of the garden is undeniable. 

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SORIANO NEL CIMINO

Less than an hour away from the main sights, Soriano nel Cimino lies at the heart of Tuscia. Castello Orsini stands at the peak of the town, fortified by layers of sepia-roofed houses. Along the way on Via Montecavallo, Palazzo Catalani is a gem of a hotel stay. The 17th century building was once the residence of a nobleman. The rooms have been converted and some of the walls painted with elegant frescoes. Doubles start from €70. 

Every morning, Caffè Roma is buzzing with early risers. Locals stand at the bar for a quick espresso and brioche. Others are yelling orders for the generously-priced pastries – cannoli, sfogliatelle, cannoncini… For casual lunches, Pizzeria da Gigi does pizza romana, chicory, artichokes and potato frittata. The owners are welcoming and the food, down-to-earth.

As Friday announces its arrival, locals amass just in front of Macelleria Porchetta in quiet anticipation. Excitement ripples when the butcher comes out with the prize – a whole porchetta roasted with fennel. Everyone moves in. Slabs of pork fall onto the wax paper as his knife carefully treads the crackling. It’s a must to have a porchetta with its crispy skin. An indulgence worthy of a Friday night

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CASTELLO RUSPOLI

Entering the Ruspoli estate from the garden feels like a daydream. A man in a cashmere coat and tortoise-shell glasses guides you through long stretches of dense thickets. Out of the undergrowth emerges the Castello Ruspoli from afar. Its entrance stands at the end of a long narrow walkway lined by tall hedges.

Roaming the gilded halls clad in faded floral-patterned wallpaper, you can still catch a whiff of the stories that once enveloped the Castello. The residence has been passed down from generation to generation but Ottavia Orsini, wife of Marcantonio Marescotti, is the one whose presence and design taste still deeply perfume the garden of the Castello. Starting from the entrance, head to the right of the estate and you will see the secret garden which Orsini had personally designed for Marescotti – his very own sanctuary.

The Castello is still owned by the Ruspoli family today – Claudia and Giada Ruspoli, and their cousin, Francesco Maria Ruspoli. They keep the first and second floors open for visitors over the weekends, while the rest remain their private residence. Stays at the Castello are by invitation only

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Food & Travel Guide to Emilia Romagna, Italy – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

Trace the origin of any Italian ingredient and you will somehow end up in Emilia Romagna. Mention the name to any well-deserving Italian chef and they would talk for ages, about the “sensational Parmigiano Reggiano”, the “noble Culatello”, the “Balsamico Vinegar, smooth as velvet”. The list just goes on. It is where the most Italian of all Italian food comes from, and the most quintessential. In Emilia Romagna, there is no festival. There is only the feast. And so, the gastronomic adventure in Italy’s eating table begins. 

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PARMA

In Parma, the practice of ham-making practice is a tale as old as time. It is here, near the Po Valley, where the luxurious Culatello di Zibello is made. The Bergonzi family at Podere Cadassa has been crafting culatello for decades. In a natural cellar frozen in time, the culatello ages until its flavour is at its fullest. The precious meat is salted and refrigerated, before being placed in the cellar where humidity takes full reign. A walk through the cellar always ends at the family’s restaurant, Al Vèdel. In the kitchen, Chef Enrico arranges thin slices of culatello, from 16 months to 26 months to 38 months, on a perfectly polished porcelain plate. In the evenings, loud chatters emanate from the linen dining tables and red leather booths. Waiters rush to and fro tables to shave black truffles on ox tartare as a cheese cart trails them. Ravioli is served Colorno style, as Al Vèdel calls it, with pears, grape seeds and pumpkin. 

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MODENA

In Modena, the making of balsamic vinegar is a tradition still preserved at Acetaia Pedroni. Cooked fermented grape must sit in the battery, or barrels, to age for at least 12 years.

The tasting menu gives a small but complete offering of dishes that compliments the balsamic vinegar, but it’s the a la carte menu the locals order from. Vegetable flan with Parmigiano Reggiano cream, ricotta tortelloni and custard cream gelato are dished out before the owner comes over with their treasure – a bottle of balsamic vinegar. Slowly, he dabs the smooth, thick vinegar over the food in carefully measured drops as he smiles with pride. It could be the pride of owning a centuries-old tradition, or the pride of owning the barrels that produce the best balsamic vinegar in the world. Nobody knows. But everyone leaves the osteria in silent agreement that it was a dining experience unlike any other. 

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BOLOGNA

When in Bologna, a few slices of mortadella are in order. Mo Mortadella Lab gives a generous serving of Bologna’s favourite slice in a panini. Go before lunch to avoid the queue of hungry Bolognese. In Bologna, the wining and dining hour eases past the reasonable Italian lunch hour. Armed with a few plates from the local macelleria, you can grab a seat and a mandatory drink at Osteria del Sole where this longtime establishment has a strict bring-your-own-food rule. At one table, a class of students from the nearby university are having a toast with their teachers. At another, an old man sits perched over a notebook as he pens some sentences on the parched paper. Everyone has a glass of something on their table. For dinners, Hostaria San Carlino and Osteria dell’Orsa are perfect for Bolognese classics like tagliatelle al ragù and tortellini in brodo.

On any day in Bologna, chefs clamber to Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo located on Via Drapperie. Hundreds of kitchen tools hang on wooden displays from ceiling to floor in this historical shop, any kind you can ever imagine. As a customer rattles off a list, the shop assistant bustles about, grabbing two ravioli stamps, an anolini stamp, a truffle slicer, a gnocchi cutting board and a dozen or so ravioli moulds. It’s a busy day at the Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo. 

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BRISIGHELLA

It’s a whole new world further south in the region. Brisighella is nearer to Ravenna, and so nearer to the coast. There is a very serious seafood scene with restaurants like La Lanterna, where plates heaping with pasta and shellfish are paraded to the tables. Others include La Cavallina and Osteria Pontenono, or Il Portolano and Osteria Il Paiolo in Ravenna.

A few minutes on an unpaved road across a bridge from Brisighella will take you to Azienda Agricola Baccagnano, an agriturismo with a handful of rooms. The owner of the winery, Marco, furnished the modern rooms with vintage finds. In a restored church, guests have a breakfast of croissants, local cheeses and fruits on beautifully-mismatched place settings. Doubles start from €90. 

For views of Brisighella, take a walk from the town center to La Rocca Manfrediana and on to Torre dell’Orologio. The town truly comes alive when celebrating the autumn harvest. People come in droves from the neighbouring houses to gather around the white-top tents where the food – salumi, cheeses, pears, truffles, porcini mushrooms – are proudly boasted by their farmers. There is a band making uproarious music. White-haired Italian men are indulging in a guitar riff on a makeshift stage, crooning the tunes of 80s rock music. Even as night falls and the stalls close, the crowds disappear into the bars. The night is still young. 

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Food & Travel Guide to the Amalfi Coast, Italy – What to See, Eat & Do

Italy

In the blazing heat of the Italian summer, the entrance to the Amalfi Coast is a sight for sore eyes. Houses and terraced vineyards sit atop undulating precipices against the bluest ocean. The ride on the coastline is beguiling in the picture-perfect scenes that surprise at every twist and turn. In the evening, the coast glows like a placid dream. Along the Italian Riviera, the towns light up to form a trail of stars. Elsewhere, glasses of limoncello clink.

Many have claimed the romance of the Amalfi Coast, and few would contradict that assertion. It is a place where the sweltering sun rays melt into a sultry warmth for sunbathers lounging on the golden sand. Where boats wait in front of summer villas, ready to whisk day trippers away. Where every dinner is preceded by an endless flow of aperitivi. In every season, in every decade, the Amalfi Coast still stuns the well-travelled. 

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POSITANO

Positano sparkles like a jewel on the coast, with ornate buildings climbing down a cliff that falls sharply into the ocean. A trip here will cost in parking, but the jaw-dropping views it affords are not to be missed. These views are best enjoyed from the balconies of Le Sirenuse.

Once a summer house of four Neapolitan siblings, the hotel is now the vacation home of the upper echelon. The rooms are designed with an eclectic mix of Italian antiques, mosaic-patterned cushions and cream-coloured linens. Doubles start at €470. Also on the premises of Le Sirenuse is the ultra-chic Franco’s Bar, where Negronis are paired with sunset panoramas.

But of course, the celebrated Il San Pietro di Positano will never be forgotten as the 19th century villa hangs gracefully off a cliff edge. At the foot of the hotel is the guest-only beach club. Tangerine sunbeds and umbrellas gather on a cove accompanied by a bar. Private charters on a yacht and cocktail masterclasses are also available. Doubles start at €442. For another sun-kissed view, Residence Villa Yiara is an adults-only hotel with bougainvillea-clad rooms. Doubles start at €230.

From Positano, a five minute boat ride brings you to Da Adolfo. This beach shack hidden from footpaths does grilled local fish, mussel soup and mozzarella on lemon leaves. Saraceno d’Oro is also a crowd-pleaser for being friendly on the wallet, and for the vongole and seafood pasta. The best finisher to a meal there will have to be the limoncello shots. 

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RAVELLO

Unlike the glitz of Positano, Ravello enchants with a sonata. It is little wonder that Ravello is the stage for the Ravello Festival of music at the Villa Rufolo, a 13th century villa with a well-manicured garden of climbing figs, hydrangeas and umbrella pines. Ravello’s villas and gardens are like the museums of Florence, and the Villa Cimbrone Hotel and its garden the masterpiece. Owned by the Vuilleumier family, the estate is a favourite of the literary set. The hotel is furnished with frescoed halls leading into 19 bedrooms and an outdoor tea room. Doubles start at €300. On the same grounds is the English garden. It can be hard to leave once you set foot on the path rambling along the rose gardens, the shaded walkways dripping with wisterias, and the unrivalled view from the terrace leading out to the ocean that knows no end.

You will most certainly pass by Villa Maria towards the town square from Villa Cimbrone. The hotel breathes old-fashioned Italian style. Small, family owned, marble staircase, and mahogany furnitures that look centuries old. The hotel only has one restaurant and that is the only restaurant to be. The menu is made up of produce from the garden sprawled below the outdoor dining area, overlooking the valley.

Back in the square, the most talked-about restaurant is Mimi Pizzeria. You get the classic margherita or prosciutto crudo di parma, and contemporaries like the Mimi – San Marzano tomatoes, anchovies, garlic burrata and lemon zest. The outdoor dining area is perfect for having a slice under a vine-covered canopy. 

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CONCA DEI MARINI

The biggest draw to Conca dei Marini is the Grotta dello Smeraldo. Visiting this Emerald Cave is uncomplicated – a staircase, an elevator and a boat tour. A less than 5 minutes car ride away is Fiordo di Furore, an inlet that narrows into a fishing village. In the late afternoons, the beach there is a sanctuary for some unobstructed swimming. For food, Le Bontà del Capo is best known for its lemon and ricotta ravioli. Ask for the outdoor area seating that juts out into the ocean for the best views. 

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PRAIANO

Praiano has always been the one for affordable stays within reach of Positano, but really there is more than meets the eye. There is the view. The buildings seem to be etched vertically into the cliffs, and staying at Calanteluna will make you feel like you are at the edge of the coast. This small bed and breakfast has a casual beat to it. The occasional homemade lemon cake and lemon juice in the afternoons. The after-dinner laughter and cheer resonating from the floor below. Doubles start at €90. Then there is the food without the crowds – La Strada for the seafood risotto, or Kasai for quiet dinners by the sea. 

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