Please critique my Lucca, CT, Parma itinerary!
Thanks to everyone for the input on my last post!
We have sorted out the flights and are now flying into Rome on the morning of Sunday, May 3rd and departing Malpensa at 7am on Sunday, May 10th.
We are going to rent a car and drive the entire way, stopping in Lucca, Cinque Terre and Parma. I realize it’s a lot to pack into 1 week but this seems like our only option with these flights. We spent a few days in Rome last year and are not interested in spending more time there on this trip, and are only starting there due to flight restrictions.
I am looking for Chowers’ wise advice on: Up-to -date critiques on my potential restaurant choices or additional options; a place to stop for lunch between Rome and Lucca; a place to stop for lunch between Lucca and Vernazza; and a dinner between Parma and Malpensa. Also looking for tips on where to buy good foodie souvenirs along the way. Any suggestions of activities or places I’ve overlooked are welcome too. I realize we might not end up following an itinerary exactly but I would still like to get a good feel of whether this is realistic and which places we should make reservations at. Also what kind of prices should I be expecting at these places?
• Lunch and dinner in Rome: Antico Arco, Piperno? We had a great meal at Da Fabrizio last May but will most likely try something new, will all depend where we are staying.
• AM car pick up and drive to Lucca.
• Lunch between Rome and Lucca - any suggestions? I was thinking Siena (Il Rialto, Kopa Kabana for gelati, Il Mugolone, Da Enzo, Al Mangia, Le Logge).
• Dinner in Lucca: Buca di San Antonio
• Rent bikes for the day
• Lunch in Lucca: Trattoria da Leo, Il Giglio, La Cecca
• Dinner in Lucca: Canuleia
• Lunch somewhere between Lucca and Cinque Terre – any suggestions?
• Need to decide which town to stay in – leaning towards Vernazza
• Dinner in Vernazza: Gambero Rosso
• Breakfast in Vernazza: Il Pirate
• Hike the CT trail
• Dinner in Corniglia: Cantina de Mananan
• Drive to Modena for lunch: Hosteria Giusti, Osteria Rubbiara
• Dinner in Parma: Trattoria del Tribunale, La Greppia, Sorelle Picchi, Cocchi
• Parmagolosa tour – We’re looking for another couple to join our tour if anyone is interested! 8am to 3pm, $125 euros per couple for three destinations (cheese, ham and balsamic), lunch and tastings extra.
• Dinner in Malpensa: Hotel Villa Malpensa or elsewhere in Malpensa
• Return car, fly to Heathrow then home to Toronto.
Upon arrival home: Workout for 5 days straight to burn the calories!
Another option that would cut the number of traveling days is to arrive in Rome and immediately pick up a car and drive to Lucca. This would give us an extra day to spend somewhere along the way.
Fauglia is tiny and it may be a bit out of your path. It is in the hills south of Pisa. Eat at Il Gattaiolo. It is just excellent! Nothing experimental, or flashy, just perfect. I remember the toasts with barely cooked quail eggs fondly. And a fine Fiorentina steak. They cook seasonally.
I've had the pleasure of spending two May holidays in Italy, both of which included a two-week stay at a villa near Lucca and managed to make multiple trips into the old walled city. Here are some of my random memories:
-This may not be very helpful to you, but my all-time favourite food experience was buying items from the beatiful markets and cheese shops and the Essa Lunga in and around Lucca and taking them back to our villa's kitchen at Fattoria di Fubbiano (http://www.fattoriadifubbiano.it/) and preparing the most simple, flavourful dinners and dining al fresco, sipping the wines prepared on site, with the fireflies dancing around us and churchbells ringing across the rolling hills. Truly a moment of heaven. This truly indulged the chef in me and allowed me the chance to use local ingredients that I could never dream of bringing home with me.
-Something you may want to consider is visiting one of the many fattorias for samplings of some wonderful wines and olive oils. Many of them also have dining facilities where they prepare the most delicious, homemade meals. One of my all-time favourites (the menu is practically framed at home) was at the Fattoria Maionchi (http://www.fattoriamaionchi.it/tuscan-holiday-farm.html). The best olives ever and the most delicious baked artichoke frittata.
-In the old city, one meal that really stands out is the one eaten at Osteria Baralla (http://www.osteriabaralla.it/Inglese/...). It might have helped that one of our dinner companions knew the owners and spoke fluent Italian. However, the quality of the food was top notch. They emphasize seasonal preparations and traditional flavours with plenty of game on the menu. It's a great place to try wild boar, and the carpaccio I had was the best that ever crossed my lips.
-For sweets and treats, you MUST go to Buccellato Taddeucci @ Piazza S. Michele, 34. They have delicious baked confections that you can take away with you and snack on later or take home. If you can't make it to Siena, this is a great place to pick up the traditional panforte..both the light and the dark are delicious, they travel super-well, and make great gifts for your friends back home. A couple of doors south is a beautiful cafe with a gelato counter. Yummy yummy flavours.
-Another of my favourite sweets is the "Brutti ma Buoni" drop cookies. It translates to "Ugly but Good" and it a little bite of heaven...nuts and orange and amaretti in a sort of crispy, chewy meringue. You can find these in mounded piles of bakery windows along via San Paolino. Perfect for when you're sipping on your vin santo.
-And speaking of sipping, one of the great past-times is happy hour. It's that wonderful time when people are heading home from work and the stop in at their favourite bar for a drink and a little nibble. Most of the bars place out wonderful spreads of finger foods, little bites and sandwiches to enjoy while you sip your prosecco and watch the pedestrian parade (no cars are allowed through the old city). Our favourite was a comfortable place with a hip, fashionable crowd on via Vittorio Veneto on a corner of the Piazza Napoleone. We had a delightful time every time.
-Another little tip...don't pass up anything with artichoke, fava, zucchini, peas, strawberries or cherries; they will all be in season for your visit. Oh, or the ricotta. Best ever.
wow, maybe i'll add the extra day to the Lucca leg of the trip and try to find a place with a kitchen! The idea of doing my own shopping in the markets and cooking at home is sooo appealing but I didn't know whether there were a lot of places with kitchens available. I'll definitely have to check it out. I wish we had more time!
Considering your time constraints, I'm not sure if finding a place with a kitchen is such a great idea. Fortunately, I had the luxury of staying at one place for two weeks and the kitchen was fully equipped...it even had a long stone sink you could probably slaughter a boar in. :) I have on offer, however, two suggestions:
1) make a picnic out of some of the wonderful foods on offer throughout the old city, grab your bike, and pick out a shady spot on the grass under a beautiful tree on top of the rampart walls and enjoy the bounty. Tangy, melting cheeses scooped up with a crusty bread (unsalted, by the way...Tuscans don't use salt in their breads so go for the saltiest cheese you can find), spiced salami, pickled veggies, a slice of frittata. And for dessert, the most perfect wild strawberries dipped into a tub of mascarpone. You really don't need anything more.
2) Many industrious folks have renovated villas and mills and farmhouses and what-not into charming B&B-type set-ups, often with a cooking school on offer. Small groups gather in the kitchen in the afternoon and, with the help of a trained local chef, make ravioli, tortas, sauces, maybe a roasted meat, perhaps a dessert. I attended two, but it was more informal as opposed to a paying student. If you're interested, I can track down the names for you. The internet also has some great resources for 1-day cooking vacations right around Lucca. I know you won't be disappointed.
I stayed in Levanto when I hiked the Cinque Terre - took the many frequent trains from Levanto, a very charming little seaside town with a bit more going for itself than the actual Cinque Terre towns. It is daunting to try and do all of them in one day. I found the last one going north to look the least interesting and just did not do it. When I was there the second or third lap had a closed sign on the trail and was blocked, but some others just ignored it and climbed over the barrier and hiked it anyway, in case that is still happening.
Love your plans and hope you pull it off. Hope you report back.
I spent a week in Lucca tracking down the life of Puccini and loved every minute of time in that town, then on to places surrouding Lucca of significance in Puccini's life. This can easily take 2 weeks just by itself traveling to Bagni di Lucca, Torre del Lago and Viaggerio.
Unless the policy has changed recently, Sorelle Picchi is open for lunch only.
If, for the moment we pretend SP is open for dinner, your dinner list is a hodgepodge ranging from Sorelle Picchi, a barebones place in the back room of a delicatessan, to high-end places like La Greppia and Cocchi.
Assuming you're even going to be hungry for dinner after a full, typical lunch at Hosteria Giusti, my vote for dinner goes to La Greppia.
Below, I've copied my write-up of the three Parma restaurants from a trip two years ago.
La Greppia: In both decor and cuisine, this restaurant is a charming blend of the classics and innovation. Generally, the decor is quite traditional: whitewashed, rough-textured walls, starched white linens, and dark wood furniture. Desserts and cheese are brought to the tables on large, traditional rolling carts. However, the huge glass wall at the back of the restaurant allowing diners to see into the kitchen is clearly a bow to a modern trend.
We began by sharing a plate of sublime prosciutto, culatello, and salami. Again, another example of fantastic sourcing. We, then, shared a second dish consisting of a wine-poached pear with a mound of Parmesan mousse. The poached pear was more savory than the version I make at home for dessert. The pear’s essential sweetness was a great foil for the mousse which we later learned was nothing more than a whipped mixture of cheese and cream. We were told the moussse was an ancient recipe. Was the pairing traditional? I don’t know, but it was inspired.
We shared an amazing pasta dish that can best be described as a deconstructed pesto pasta. I don’t remember the name of the pasta, but it was a fresh, house-made pasta of wide, flat noodles. During the rolling-out step, fresh basil leaves were placed on the ball of dough so that whole leaves became incorporated into the noodles. The dough was very thin and the leaves were clearly visible. The dish was finished with a pine nut sauce. Swoon time. Incidentally, the portion size of our pasta course was more typical of what I think of as Italian, that is, small to moderate. During our trip, I noticed that the pasta course in many restaurants was showing portion creep. I wonder if the faster pace of life and meals means diners are order fewer courses so the pasta course, particularly, has become somewhat larger.
La Greppia’s osso bucco sets the standard for this classic dish right down to giving diners a marrow spoon. My husband ate osso bucco one more time in Bologna. It was stellar, but not as good as La Greppia’s version. We later joked that he should have ceased ordering osso bucco after Parma, kind of like retiring the jersey of a star athlete.
Our cheese course was remarkable; the Parmesan was deeply flavorful from the long aging process yet still moist.
We shared a dish of mixed berries; we could specify the types of berries we wanted from the separate bowls of different berries on the dessert cart. The restaurant presented us with a plate of cookies, most of which we left since we were so full.
With dinner, we drank a Sangiovese de Romagna, an inexpensive and wholly delightful wine that the captain recommended.
Sorelle Picchi: The restaurant is quite casual and would be a great place for travelers on a moderate budget for dinner, except that this place is only open for lunch. The dining space is a back room indoors, but the air-conditioning was reasonably adequate to the demands of a full room on a very hot day. I know there was another table of Americans, a family of four with adult children. Otherwise, I heard no languages other than Italian. The hotel had described this place as a delicatessan with a restaurant in the back. For a fleeting instant I had this ridiculous image of corned beef and pastrami. Then, I realized the employee could have no idea I knew the word, “salumeria.” We breezed rapidly past the display of cold cuts when we entered, and it was only after we had eaten a delicious meal including a meat platter that we lingered for a look.
We shared a mixed meat platter which included prosciutto, culatello, cotta, and salami. Excellent quality. The list of antipasti included no melon and meat option. However, we were able to satisfy our desire for melon by ordering it from the separate seasonal fruit category. I was able to communicate that we wanted the fruit served along with the meats, and that’s what happened. We, then, shared our first taste of lasagna in Emilia-Romagna. It was very good, but it would later be surpassed by a version in Bologna.
Cocchi: This was the only restaurant on our entire trip that was reasonably filled between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. by Italians. Interestingly, I think even their fellow Italians were unaware that people might be dining so early since cell phones rang three or four times at one of the tables and once at another table until 9:00 p.m.
My husband and I shared a two pasta dishes made with masterful pasta. One dish was a trio of three types of tortelli, the large round filled pasta of Parma. Fillings included potato and porcini, pumpkin, and herbetta (specifically a mixture of ricotta and swiss chard). My favorite was the potato and porcini filling. I found the pumpkin filling too sweet; apparently, the classic recipe mixes pumpkin with crumbled amaretti. The star pasta of the evening was filled with culatello, ricotta, and parmesan and topped with mixed vegetables. Wow!
My husband really enjoyed his stuffed breast of veal. The filling consisted of bread, onions, and, at least, one additional ingredient that neither of us remembers. The meat was slowly and carefully braised and remained very moist. I tried to order a stuffed beef dish –– akin to a stuffed beef tenderloin –– but when I asked for it to be cooked very, very rare, the captain said that dish wouldn’t work. The recipe was prepared with the whole cut of meat and an order consisted of a slice off the whole; each serving was not cooked individually. The captain thought for a minute and proposed that I get a dish of steak slices atop a bed of fresh spinach, with shavings of parmesan cheese, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. He added that normally this dish would be prepared for two. However, since it was the only beef dish that could be cooked to a specific degree of doneness, he was willing to let me order it as a singleton. It was sublime. The meat was cooked perfectly and each element of the recipe contributed a wonderful note: the astringency of the spinach, the nuttiness of the cheese, and the sweet/sour taste of the vinegar. Yum.
That night, we drank a Valpolicella that was out of our usual price range but delicious.
re: Indy 67
Thanks Indy 67! It was actually your review of the "decontructed pesto pasta" that made me want to go to La Greppia! I think that will have to be our choice. Do you remember the approximate cost of a higher end dinner like this? We will probably try to mix some higher end places with cheaper meals.
While I cannot imagine anyone NOT wanting to spend more time in Rome ... because I could move to Rome and still not have enough of that city's food, culture and ambience ... but anyway, if you wanted to add to your travel time outside of Rome without getting off your plan, I would go to Siena and overnight there. Lots of wonderful restaurants to choose from (search this board and you will find some great choices), and if you want to avoid the tourists (because in Siena, there are many) you could overnight in Montepulciano or Montalcinoand visit one of the special wine/food stops mentioned on this board that I intend to visit one day. It might be that you are partial to smaller towns and villages, and prefer the settings there. Ciao!