Is food a reason to travel? Is that even a question?!…
Every destination offers entirely different reasons to visit. For some, it’s the outrageously white sandy beaches or rugged terrain. For others, it’s the history. But you know you’ve picked a winner when you can combine, sun, culture, history, rugged terrain and outrageously good food and wine. In the pursuit of epicurean delight, a trip to Italy is as good as it gets, so here’s how to create the perfect experience…
The first thing to consider is that Italy is massive. Sure, it looks like a cute “boot” on a map, but getting from Northern Italy to Southern Italy requires no fewer than 12 hours driving, in often rugged terrain. Planning really does matter. Italy is an amazing choice for foodies, because each region offers vastly different cuisine, produce and styles of wine, based on the seasonality and terrain which surrounds it. A restaurant claiming to be “authentically Italian” which offers the same menu all year is anything but authentic.
Seasonality is everything when it comes to visiting Italy, especially if you’re visiting for the food. Winter in Northern Italy is as cold as anywhere else, so traveling in these areas at this time will yield stews, cured meats and other practical produce, whereas summer will bring zingy, bright flavors. Traveling in the Amalfi Coast during summer will bring the freshest of fish, herbs and “light” dishes. You really can’t go wrong, but it’s important to consider this in your planning.
With such vast terrain and cuisine to cover, backtracking is a huge waste of time. One way to instantly improve your trip is to book “open jaw” flights, where you fly into one Italian city, and out of another. For example, flying into Milan and out of Rome can be a great way to experience the iconic wines and rustic cuisine of nearby Piedmont and down to Tuscany, while also enjoying the incredible delights of fresh, vibrant Roman cuisine and beautiful views of Positano.
Italy takes a lot of stick for its public services, but their trains are exceptionally good. ItaloTreno offers regular deals where you can visit Rome, Florence and Venice for just €20. That’s easily the best way to start in one part of the country and get to another, at your own pace. Train saves tons of hassle with luggage, airport security and everything else as you weave your way around the country.
Wine is grown all over Italy, and wherever you go, you’ll find something definitively exquisite. Arguably the most famous and worthwhile areas to visit are: Piedmont, Trentino Alto Adige, Tuscany and Umbria in the North and Central parts of Italy, as well as Puglia and Sicily to the South. If you could only pick one: stay North. They call Barolo the king of grapes for a reason. Here’s a great map, broken down by the most popular grapes and wine styles of each region.
Every dish you crave has a home base in Italy, and each region is very proud of their local speciality. Parmigiano Reggiano can only come from the Emilia Romagna. If you want the best Risotto: head to Milan and surrounding areas. For Bolognese, there’s only one place: Bologna and the Emilia Romagna. For pizza, you’ll generally want to go South to Naples. For outrageously good pesto and pasta, the Cinque Terre, Liguria and Genoa is the home.
Sometimes you’ve just gotta treat yourself. If you’ve ever watched Chef’s Table on Netflix, there’s no doubt you’re keen to add Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, voted the best restaurant in the world to the list. Here’s the official Michelin guide for Italy, which allows you to easily sort by Bib Gourmand, 1 star, 2 star or 3 star. You can see all the top spots on one map, which makes it easy to pick which cities to focus on. With all great restaurants, plan early! Some top spots will require months of notice to secure a reservation.
Always a fan favorite, flying into Venice is never a bad idea. Sample Venetian cuisine and charm before taking the 2.5 hour train to Milan. Enjoy Milan to the max, and head down to La Spezia via Genoa. From there, explore the Cinque Terre and then head to Florence. High speed train from Florence to Rome and then plan to visit the Amalfi Coast, Naples and Rome before flying out. Simple enough, right?
Have you done a food and wine trip to Italy?
Featured image courtesy of Osteria Francescana.