Category Archives: Italy

plenty new for europhiles

With thanks to Jenna and her blog this is my happiness, I learned that Rick Steves has just published his highlights on ‘what’s new’ in Europe.

I have a real fondness for Rick. I don’t know him, but I feel like I do. “He” was with me when I traveled solo backpacking in my early 20s in Italy. His guidebook clutched in my hand, I marked phone numbers that led me to the perfect top floor apartment, little-known beach  or gelateria (I needed first to find a pay phone -yes, a pay phone). Directions were always easy to follow – even before online mapping tools – and restaurants both authentic and inexpensive. Pictures of him would be framed in the hostels I stayed in, demonstrating the close relationships he fostered with the locals he featured in his books.

I’ve grown up, as it so happens to all travelers, and have traded my backpack in for luggage, roughing it for a bit more comfort, and solo travels for family travel.  His latest article on what’s new in Europe reminds me again why he still is a wealth of good, practical information for those who want to experience real Europe and travel slowly – in whatever format you prefer using, hardback or app.

Paris' Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

Paris’ Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June


Highlights for me include the re-opening of one my favorite museums in Europe – the Picasso Museum, Paris; Marseille’s facelift; a new gallery devoted to Michelangelo at the Uffizi in Florence; a new museum dedicated to Dante Alighieri in Ravenna; and Milan preparing to host the 2015 World Fair.

Read it, soak it in – Rick Steves: What’s new in Europe article here via sfgate. Europe still awaits even the most seasoned Europhile.


the great beauty

The SF Chronicle’s  picky movie reviewers are notorious for being tough as nails when awarding their highest rating –  the image of the little man jumping out of his chair and clapping. But today’s review of just-released Italian film, “La Grande Bellezza” – or “The Great Beauty” for the American market –  did just that. The little man is smiling, he’s clapping, he’s jumping and ecstatic. His hat even falls to the floor. I’m ecstatic too and I haven’t even seen the movie yet.


Toni Servillo stars as Jep Gambardelle, turning 65, jaded from early success as a writer and experiencing an “awakening.”

“The Great Beauty” is directed by Paolo Sorrentino and was a big favorite when first previewed at the 2013 Festival de Cannes.

Lovers of Italy can spend more than two hours falling in love (again) with Rome (with all its decadence, beautiful and ugly) while immersing in the language since the movie is in Italian with English subtitles. The reviewer notes that you can’t watch “The Great Beauty” without thinking of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” with Rome as the movie’s focus.

Like “La Dolce Vita”, this movie is going to throw more at you than just a tour of the city’s sights and high society. An excerpt from the SF Chronicle review reads (you can read the review in its entirety here):

“Toni Servillo plays Jep Gambardelle who wrote a masterpiece of a novel in his youth but has been unable to repeat the success. He’s become a journalist and bon vivant, living in an incredible apartment overlooking the Colosseum. He’s popular in his circle but jaded, and, having just turned 65, is starting to look at the big picture. When news arrives of an old girlfriend’s death, he continues to make the rounds of high-end gatherings and nightspots in the Eternal City, but in a “what’s it all mean” frame of mind. He informs us that once he wanted to be the king of Rome’s extravagant night world. But he no longer wholly buys into his cynicism, if he ever did. Delivering acerbic witticisms at over-the-top parties isn’t much of a purpose in life. The plot is…. a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. “

Something to put on the holiday movie list? You got me at Fellini.

grazie dal cuore, marcella hazan

Marcella Hazan, food writer and considered one of the foremost authorities of Italian cuisine, died September 29 at the age of 89.


Ms. Hazan married and moved from Italy to New York with her American husband in 1955. Ironically, she never cooked before she got married. But later, after beginning a cooking school and giving cooking lessons from her home, her husband encouraged her to publish her first cookbook, “The Classic Italian Cookbook”,  in  1973. She believed simple, good ingredients lead to delicious dishes and is credited with bringing traditional Italian cuisine to the American public.

Thanks to Ms. Hazan’s wisdom and detailed, quite simple and beautiful recipes, I often fry with butter and vegetable oil  (a must when you make her Asparagus Risotto) instead of extra virgin olive oil when required for better, richer and milder taste.  Her “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” (published 1992) cookbook sits on my counter and is the source of my favorite dishes including braised pork chops (Modena style) and risotto, my guide to using herbs, and provides extra meaning after the news of her death.

This NY Times article, “Remembering Marcella”, provides more information on Ms. Hazan’s life and cooking.

In honor of Ms. Hazan, below is a reprint of her simple and delicious tomato recipe.


 2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano or Italian imported whole peeled tomatoes)                   

5 tablespoons butter               

 1 onion, peeled and cut in half                   



Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed.
Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.

lavazza love

Watching Wimbledon gets better with this playful Lavazza commercial (“Enjoy the real Italian espresso experience at Wimbledon” reads the tagline). Take a look, it’s very clever.

If you are up at 4 am to catch the finals this week, Lavazza- a big Italian coffee brand in Italy found in many parts of the world – makes its case to be your espresso of choice to cozy up to. (North Americans can take note of the cup and portion size.) When I can’t find Lavazza stateside, Illy and Peet’s Espresso Forte stand in quite nice. What’s your favorite coffee brand and style?

( While I’d sure like to be, I’m not a Lavazza brand ambassador, just a fan of good Italian coffee, Wimbledon tennis and clever marketing.)

Video credits: Lavazza

100th tour de france kicks off in corsica

In honor of today’s start of the 100th Tour de France on the Mediterranean island of Corsica – I am reposting my last feature on this beautiful and favorite island of mine.  Enjoy! – BTH

A trip most memorable was when our daughter was three months old, we were living in Italy and we took our first family vacation to the beautiful and natural island of Corsica.

We (and our car) hopped a traghetto from Savona, Italy to Bastia on the island of Corsica, France. (Today’s Tour de France stage begins in Bastia.)

Heart pajamas were a good choice that day, as they smoothed an unfortunate and unnecessary encounter with police at a routine traffic stop on our drive down, due to a mix up with our car maintenance papers. (Even armed Italian policemen won’t resist a cute baby.)

We loved Bastia, with its surprisingly urban city feeling on an otherwise natural island. There we got a great feel for the unique Corsican character which is sprinkled with a little Italian and a little French, due to a history involving both countries. Corsica was under Genovese rule until  1729 when the Corsicans revolted and enjoyed independence for a short 40-year period, later ceding to France in  1769 . They still have an uneasy relationship with mainland France and Bastia has been the target of bomb explosions by Corsican militants.

Ferries arrive to Bastia’s port – the 100th Tour de France kicks off in Bastia today.

We drove down the Eastern coast of the island to Santa Giulia. There, at the recommendation of friends, we rented a villa at Les Toits de Santa Giulia  and every morning went for a swim in the nearby bay.  The beaches there and nearby were beautiful in  September, and the sparkling water and red rock formations were breathtaking.

the bay of Santa Giulia

La plage de Palombaggia was the most unforgettable beach (and likely the coolest place I’ve nursed a baby.)

the beach and beautiful red rock formations at Palombaggia

The nearest town, Porto Vecchio, offered a delicious bakery and creperie, just in time to remind us we were in France, as it’s easy to forget with so many reminders of Italy. Porto Vecchio has always been a “remember when?” moment, when we purchased a much too expensive International Herald Tribune to satiate my english language news craving, and driving off, watched each of its pages fly off the top of the car, where I had left it. (I blamed it on new mom mushy brain).

A highlight was the drive down to Bonifacio, at the southern most point of the island.

Citadel and cliffs of Bonifacio

The reconstructed and renovated citadel was originally built in the 9th century along with the foundation of the city. Bonifacio is known for its chalk-white limestone, sculpted in unusual shapes by the ocean. Not a stroller-friendly town, baby was put in the carrier and we explored this town on foot. Standing on the cliffs, we could see Sardegna.

white limestone cliffs of bonifacio with sardegna in the distance

This year we won’t make it back to Corsica, but we are researching islands not far from it, closer to the Italian coast and in the Tuscan archipelago. Whatever the weather when we arrive, my first order of business will be to jump in and take a swim in my most favorite sea of all.

interview with Playground around the Corner: Italy with Kids

I was recently introduced to the blog Playground around the Corner (“Italy with kids”) written by Italian mom Mary. My husband and I lived for many years in Italy and we became first-time parents there, so I was especially interested in her quest to collect information to help families find good playgrounds when traveling in Italy. Her larger goal is to work towards improving the investment and availability in clean, safe, quality play spaces in Italy.


Mary of Playground around the Corner and her son enjoy a playground – with breathtaking views – in Cinque Terre

I recently asked Mary if I could interview her and learn why Italy – a country that loves bambini more than almost anything –  appears to be coming up short in meeting standards families are looking for in quality play spaces for their children . Read further to learn more about why she is passionate about this issue and what she is doing about it. And take notes on some fabulous playground recommendations for your next trip!

Bringing Travel Home (BTH): Why did you launch Playground around the Corner?

Playground around the Corner (PATC): When Riccardo – my first son – was two, we took a journey to the U.S. I love traveling and I’ve kept feeding this passion even with my son in tow. During this trip I realized the importance in finding safe, welcoming and stimulating places where he could play, move and have fun between visits to cathedrals and museums. What better than a playground?


Mary’s son playing at a playground in Trentino

In foreign countries I have never had any difficulties finding information about play areas: web and tourism offices provide complete information about placement and equipment of playgrounds. On the contrary, when I travel around Italy and I look for information about Italian play areas (parco giochi) I never find anything useful: no images, no descriptions, no maps. With my blog I want to fill this gap and provide useful information for families visiting Italy with children.

BTH: Have you visited American playgrounds? What is your impression of them compared to those in Italy?
PATC: After visiting playgrounds in Boston, New York and Toronto I’ve started to dedicate attention to Italian play areas. In Italy there is not a culture about playgrounds as there is in America or in many north European countries. In the foreign countries I visited, I loved spending time in the play areas I ran into because they are – for the most part – original, stimulating, welcoming, and well-placed. On the contrary, Italian playgrounds are too often neglected, anonymous, standardized and convey a negative image in the eyes of tourists who travel to Italy to discover its beauty.


a much too common sight – a neglected Italian playground


Another goal that I hope to reach with my blog, not immediate but equally important, is to shed light on the subject and to encourage the people in charge to take care of existing playgrounds, as well as investing in new play areas for children.

BTH: Those of us with kids know how important it is to find playgrounds or open play space when traveling with our little ones. What recommendations would you give families visiting Italy and looking for a playground? What are your top picks?

PATC: When I travel with my children I believe in the rule of “I give you, you give me” and what does a child wish more than play? If you come to Italy and you look for information about where your kids could play, you will find endless information about the most famous theme parks, but there are hardly any details about the small playgrounds that exist in every village, just around the corner. With my blog I want to provide the missing information and, with contributions from readers and other bloggers, I hope to soon be able to cover most of our beautiful country. I describe the playgrounds I visit in a very objective way and often I’m sorry for criticizing rather than praising, but I hope that the criticism may serve to improve. Fortunately there are many beautiful exceptions: at the moment I would put on the podium the play areas I visited in the Cinque Terre and in play areas in Trentino , with special attention for the universally accessible playground there is in the lovely Jesolo because every playground should be designed in order to allow every child to enjoy it.


a creative playground space in Manarola, Cinque Terre



Another fantastic playground find in Trentino

BTH: Americans believe Italy is a child-friendly, child-centric place because Italians love children so much. Then why are playgrounds being neglected in your opinion? Some of my favorite memories from having a child and living in Italy were the piazzas in the evening full of children and their families. But I also remember going to a mall shopping with my infant daughter and unable to find a changing table, even in the bathrooms.

PATC: If you ask me if Italians are child friendly: yes, they are. Children are welcome everywhere and are allowed in every restaurant, bar, museum, store and especially older people always have a smile or a nice word for children.

But if you ask me if Italy has much to offer to families with children my answer is not as positive at all: there are a very few dedicated facilities such as changing tables or play areas in restaurants or shops, no dedicated parking spots at the malls, hospitals or other venues. There is a very poor support for families with children – for example, finding daycare is very difficult for working parents,so many mothers end up having to either quit their job or rely on friends and family.

Play areas dedicated to children  – areas of prime importance for the growth of children both for a physical stimulus and, most of all, for creative and relational opportunities –  are too often neglected and badly-maintained (in my blog, unfortunately, there are a lot of examples). Those responsible for the design and management of playgrounds should not just open a catalog and choose three items within the budget, but rather look for information, study, and be curious about this issue, otherwise kids end up playing in the streets, piazzas or prefer the walls of the house and the video or TV screen to outdoor play.

To learn more about Playground around the Corner and also get tips for finding the best play spaces on your next vacation to Italy (I know I will), visit

tennis & travel

Nothing is sweeter for me than the intersection of clay court tennis and Rome, Italy.

Today Rafa Nadal won the 7th Internazionali BNL d’Italia (Rome Masters) title defeating Roger Federer 6/1 6/3 in 1 hour and 9 minutes.


The Rome Masters (officially called the Internazionali BNL D’Italia) is held at Foro Italico, the most prestigious red clay tennis tournament in the world after the French Open. Tennis lovers pack the stadium. The spectators are given white Panama-style hats and paddle hand fans to beat the heat  –  a chic touch for a mostly Italian and fashion-loving audience.

Foro Italico, Rome

Foro Italico, Rome

Clay courts are found mainly in Europe. When I lived in Italy, I took lessons and played at the clay courts of Rimbalzello near Gardone Riviera on Lago di Garda. Italians are crazy for tennis although the sport is a bit “snob” with limited public access to free courts like in the States.

Europhiles have huge opportunities to combine both travel and tennis. The European tour features matches in Spain, Germany, Italy and France.

You can also go there virtually. I recently subscribed to for a little over 16 euros a month to watch matches live on my computer. This morning I got a special treat listening to Nadal speak quite good Italian during award presentations (Bravo Nadal!), as well as to the Italian judges and award presenters. Language lovers will appreciate this aspect of Tennis TV, which also offers some nice video clips on European life.

What’s next? Brussels, Nice, Strasbourg. Then clay will turn to grass with June’s Wimbledon. Non vedo l’ora!