It has been five long years since I co-led the “Bella Italia” trip through Venice and Tuscany with Donna Apidone. I had come to expect first class hotel accommodations and knowledgeable, friendly guides and, once again, Earthbound Expeditions did not disappoint
On June 17, our enthusiastic group of 30 CapRadio travelers hit the ground running on an unseasonably hot and humid day in Rome, which made it feel more like August than mid-June.
We built up quite an appetite as our gifted guide Natalia Mandelli led us through a walking tour of the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. We had a great deal of pasta at the famed La Carbonara near Campo de’ Fiori.
Our lively group brought their walking shoes, which came in handy when we got to Pompei and Mt. Etna. Karen Carchidi, who took many great photos, wrote, “It was a fun group of people who were all very welcoming and inclusive. But what would you expect from the intelligent, conscientious, creative kind of people that listen to Capital Public Radio?!” Michelle Calvo was also generous with her excellent photographs. For a look at some of her pictures and other images from the trip, click here.
Every group has one person who is somehow able to sniff out the best places to eat and that award goes to Susan Hansen. I often asked Susan and her husband Robert, “Shall we eat, or shall we dine?” We also had a wine cognoscenti with us, my brother-in-law, John Vincenti. He made wise decisions with the list.
John Walker was our classical music expert (and he was also a very good sport when I kept calling him Johnny). Koichi and Michiko Takamura, who traveled with CapRadio five years ago, led the many treks on the off-beaten trails. Although most of our travelers were in their sixties, we had two lively young women, Amanda Shattuck and Emi Calvo. Traveling with their families, they were fun to be with and reminded us to watch our step.
Rome has many rooftop gardens and we embraced the view from ours at Hotel Savoy. At night, my sister, brother-in-law and I crossed the Tiber and dined al fresco at Sabatini in Trastevere.
The following day we visited the beautiful Villa d'Este Gardens just south of Rome, then had a group lunch at a rustic pizzeria in Tivoli. We then departed for the Amalfi Coast.
Our hotel in Ravello was a convent built by the Augustinian friars and converted to Hotel Parsifal in 1948. I savored absolute stunning views from my room.
There are two breathtaking public gardens in Ravello, Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone. Gore Vidal loved it here and Richard Wagner composed music inspired by the gardens. They still have summer concerts here and among those who have performed are Wynton Marsalis, Dave Holland, and Kenny Barron plus many iconic classical musicians and dancers.
After dinner, we were treated to a concert presented by the Ravello Arts Council featuring the Diomende Piano Quintet performing the music of Johannes Brahms and Dmitri Shostakovich. The concert was held in the intimate setting of a deconsecrated church in the Annunziata Historic Building.
The following day we caught a ferry to the Isle of Capri. This island is only four miles by two miles and is correctly pronounced KAH-pree (unlike the song or pants). We wisely avoided the shopping mecca of Capri Town and headed to Anacapri, which sits higher on the island with beautiful views of chalky white limestone cliffs and well-maintained gardens. Villa San Michele has delightful gardens and a scenic view of Mount Vesuvius in the distance.
We enjoyed many exquisite meals in Palermo. Trattoria al Piccolo Napoli is a great seafood restaurant founded in 1951 by Orazio and Rosetta Corona and now run by his son Pippo. When I asked Pippo's son for a wine list, he said, "I am the wine list," and proceeded to rattle off a number of great white wines from Mt. Etna.
Being of Italian heritage, I’ve always been partial to wines from the Piemontese region. Lately, however, I’ve noticed that legendary chefs and industry titans such as Mario Batali and Angelo Gaja have begun to praise wines from southern Italy. Although Sicily is now famous for the rich red Nero d’Avola, the dry white wine blends from Mt. Etna proved particularly pleasing to my palate, pairing well with the seafood of the region.
After touring Etna under the guidance of Maria Cannavo, we dined at the estate of the Murgo winery. Murgo makes a Champagne-method sparking Brut that is truly world class!
The volcanic vineyards of Mt. Etna have attracted a growing interest from several wine critics. While prices are generally inflated in the U.S. for these wines, we found many bargains here in Sicily.
Famous for his Piemontese Barolo and Barbaresco wines, Angelo Gaja recently purchased land on the southwest slopes of Etna in a joint venture with Alberto Graci. Graci is a former financier who has been making great wines in the area for a decade. The deal comes after several excursions to Etna by Gaja, starting in 2015, when the two men met.
“We have a lot of things in common—one is curiosity,” Graci told Wine Spectator. “We were in touch often—talking about wine and life, and we spoke about the idea of doing something together. Everyone who comes on Etna falls in love with it. Angelo on Etna is like a volcano on a volcano.”
Speaking of a volcano on a volcano, many thanks to my dynamic sister, Palma Vincenti for assisting Natalia and Maria with interesting facts about the historical significance of the region and for engaging the locals with her fluent Italian.