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Treating my mother to her first trip to Europe/Italy - but where??


I am returning to Europe again next month and am flying my mother in for my last performance in Prague as she has never been to Europe before. Then I am planning to show her around Prague and Paris before bringing her to Italy. She is 60 years old but loves to travel. We both love good food (obviously being a frequent CH'er, you know that food is very important to me!) and also love absorbing the culture of our surroundings and seeing beautiful things.

We will be going in the first or second week of December for about 5 or 6 days and am thinking we can go to 2 places. I am torn about renting a car vs. training it. Neither of us has driven in Europe before and I don't want us to get stressed. I also don't know if she might prefer to have a city vibe where she can see things in close proximity or if she would like going from small town to small town. Should I stay in a nice hotel in a big city and make day trips? Or should I stay in a nice B&B outside and go from there? We will just be two ladies on our own.

I've already been (myself) to Rome (I somehow did not care for Rome so much), Florence, Cinque Terre, Montalcino, Siena, and Spoleto, but do not mind going back to a place to show it to my mother. I really want to go all out on this trip and book wonderful places to stay and treat my mother to the best food and the best experience. Some places I was considering are Torino/Piedmont, Bologna, Florence, Sardinia, Sicily (Siracusa), Venice, Tuscany/Umbria (Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena, Assisi, Montalcino, etc), Naples/Amalfi Coast.

What do you all recommend and what and where do you recommend eating where? I am interested in probably one fine dining meal and many rustic, homey, soulful, nonna type places, great Italian pastries (anything involving ricotta!!), and perhaps one great pizzeria. Please help me create an amazing experience for my mother! Thank you so much!!

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  1. You really should take 15-20 minutes and scroll thru the many, many helpful & informative posts that have been made here on this board over the past 6-12 months. The food and the sights in Italy can vary be region. You should think about what kind of both you & your Mom might enjoy. You can also search the board naming a specific region (Tuscany, Piemonte, le Marche, etc.) or a specific town or city.

    I would recommend picking up an English-language copy of the Slow Food "Guide to the Osterias of Italy." I would also recommend Fred Plotkin's "Italy For The Gourmet Traveler." If nothing else, the latter will give you a very good sense of how the cuisines vary from region to region.

    2 Replies
    1. re: DavidT

      Thanks DavidT. I read Fred Plotkin's Q&A on the NYTimes and have pored over many of the posts here on CH (and all over the internet) for more like 15 - 20 hours.

      I guess I just can't tell from the posts here which regions will be good to visit at that time in December and what might be comfortable for a 60 year old woman and whether or not renting a car would be practical for the two of us. Also can't tell which combination of cities would make the most sense.

      Also, I'm just generally interested to hear what each CH member considers their favorite region of Italy for eating and why.

      1. re: j.jessica.lee

        Here is a link to a recent thread discussing the beat eating regions in Italy:


        As a 61-year old man, I would have no problem going to any region of Italy in December. This board is supposed to limit its discussion to food & dining and not delve into general travel matters.

    2. This is a tough one for the board as Italy is such a diverse country with good food just about every region. You know your mother better than anyone on this board. Since this is her first trip to Italy, does she want to do the 'greatest hits' or prefer more of hidden gems. Does she like cities with all the museums as well as other cultural events such as opera and music? Is history important? Shopping? Can she cope with the colder weather in the North in December? Does she prefer natural scenery over cities? Without doubt, Sicily or Sardinia are best by car that will take all 5/6 days and will be very quiet in December. You stated that you did not care for Rome. What are the reasons? Will you have the same opinions with other big cities such as Naples. There was an earlier posts about the best food regions and the consensus seems to be Emilia-Romagne and Piedmont.

      4 Replies
      1. re: PBSF

        Thanks PBSF!

        Ah, okay, I will specify what I am asking. How cold does it get in the North around Venice and Bologna and in the Piemonte? How warm is it on the islands of Sicilia and Sardegna? How are the islands of Sicilia and Sardegna different? Is it possible to do a "greatest hit" city for a day and a half and then spend the rest of the time going around the countryside? Which area+city pairing would make the most sense there?

        I did not like Rome partially because I was unable to get above the fact that there were so many tourists. In Paris and Prague, somehow, this has never really bothered me, but in Rome it did. This time, however, it will be in December. And I will not be seeing Rome alone. I was alone at the time and didn't have anyone to share the experience with and it might have become overwhelming to deal with on my own.

        I read somewhere that the Amalfi Coast closes down for the winter - is this the case? Should I scratch the Amalfi/Naples from my list?

        Thank you SO much for your very helpful reply!

        1. re: j.jessica.lee

          You are asking questions that are beyond the scope of this board. You should ask your mother where she wants to go. She is only 60, after all. Unless she's been living under a rock, which I doubt, she might well have an opinion about whether she'd like to see Rome, Florence, or Venice. Of course Rome has a lot of tourists. It's Rome, for heaven's sake. Florence seems even more overrun than Rome because its center is smaller and there are more American studients. But that is not a good reason to deprive your mother of seeing these important cities. I'd suggest not driving, but you can take a day trip by train from either Florence or Venice to some nice small destination and see some countryside.

          1. re: mbfant

            Thanks for saying what I was wondering...I'm almost 60 myself and if someone said "she's 60 years old BUT loves to travel" rather than AND, I would be mystified where that was coming from. And to deny someone Rome just because you were in some sort of funk when you were there previously is sort of selfish, IMHO. Of course if your mother is in a wheelchair or a walker, the cobblestones could be a deterrent ;-) Geez. Rome is the greatest city I've ever visited, and I'd love to return someday, although I'm sure I'll be older than 60 the way things are going! I seem to recall that Rome is the same latitude as the Virginia, and the weather comparable. Although they have palm trees.

          2. re: j.jessica.lee

            Since you stated that your mother loves to travel, she must have ideas where she would like to go. Italy is not a 'hidden remote' destination. All the information is out for one to read and decide. There are tons of good general guide books regarding to many of the non-food related questions that you have such as weather, sights, driving logistics, best time of the year to visit, how Sicily differs from Sardinia, etc, etc. As mbfant stated, these questions ares beyond the scope of this board. Yes, the Amalfi Coast will be very quiet in the winter and many places shut down but you will have it to yourself. That is the beauty of traveling off off season. If your mother tells you to decide, it is up to you to figure it out from what knowledge you have about her; her likes and dislikes, etc.

        2. For heaven's sake, of course I asked my mother where she wanted to go! She told me to decide as she has never been before. And I would not "deprive" her of Rome just because I didn't like it last time if I thought she would enjoy it - I am just trying my hardest to make this as special as possible for her as it is her first time to Europe. And as for the 60-year old comment, it was in relation to my father who is 60 and does not like traveling at all.

          1 Reply
          1. re: j.jessica.lee

            My husband is in his 60s and hates traveling too, at least until he gets there! A mother/daughter trip sounds like heaven to me, I wouldn't be able to decide either.

          2. For an initial trip to Italy, you would want your Mother to experience typical Italian culture, food and wine traditions, the special beauties of the place. I would suggest choosing one area and staying in it, not renting a car unless necessary. Even though food may be more specially delicious in one part than another, the national characteristics would be more noticeable than the regional for a first time traveller. My personal suggestion would be to visit Venice and nearby towns, all easily accessible by rail from Venice. You would have a chance to sample the seafood and other cuisines of Venice itself (pizza and meats are also available there) and to travel to beautiful historic towns like Verona and Padua, . The distance to Mantova, Ferrara or Bologna are also not great. All of these destinations would display different land-based cuisines, and a variety of wines. We have been in this area in both December and January and while it can be very chilly (you should look at typical weather forecasts) and while there may be acqua alta it can also be quite temperate. Rome would be more moderate and that would be my second recommendation.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jen kalb

              Or what about Florence and Rome and they are only one and a half hours away from one another by train? I wouldn't go to Sardinia in November....Venice can be very beautiful and souful but possibly rather damp....Bologna is very beautiful as is Siena. There are so many beautiful places in italy to visit - a very hard decision, but a lovely treat. Also look at the opera in Florence if you are there in December?

              1. I would spend a 2-3 days in Bologna and 2-3 days in Florence.

                From Bologna, which is well worth seeing on its own, you can reach nearby cities such as Parma, Ferrara, Modena, etc. easily by train in 45-75 minutes. You can even make a day trip to Rimini (to see the mosaic tiles) or Mantua (to see the Ducal Palace) without much stress.

                After a day or two in Florence, you can rent a car for a day and spend it touring the towns in the Tuscan countryside between Florence & Siena.

                The food and sights are more than worthwhile in both areas. Venice & the Veneto is another excellent choice. The fact of the matter is there a very few bad choices

                1 Reply
                1. re: DavidT

                  I agree, Florence and Bologna or any 'little' city in the Emilia Romagna. Proscuitto in Parma, Balsamic in Modena, and Florence is one of THE amazing cities.

                  Close to each other, train travel is easy enough, you can find quaint places to stay in any of the cities.

                  Just don't try and do 'too much'. Pick Rome and the environs OR Florence OR Venice OR Milan. Spend 2 or 3 days getting to 'know' the bigger city (and art and architecture and people) and then pick a smaller city/town and get to know that as well.

                  The weather will be nicer the farther South you go so that is to be taken into account.

                  Once you have figured out where you want to go, THEN we can have fun helping you with what to eat!!

                2. My thoughts tend to go in the direction of eating well and drinking well and if that's one of the important issues here I'd go to eastern/southern Sicily. Outside of Sicily in December most veggies are grown in hothouses, there's very little of that in eastern Sicily.

                  The fish is terrific, lending itself in preperation toward simplicity vice covering up the purity of flavors with sauces. Mt Etna is unique to europe, rising up to 12,000 ft there are more varieties of fruit, nuts, and produce than all of California. You have the lava flows of Etna, the best kept Greek ruins in the world, Ragusa with it's fine dining and hundred cathedrals every region is completely different doable in 5/6 days by car without the traffic and confusion you find in the other parts of Italy. A couple 2 star Michelin restaurants and 4 or 5 one star places to fit the requirement of a fine dining experience and a myriad of excellent rustic, homey, soulful, nonna type places.

                  The weather in December is normally high 60's to low 70's with the nightime in the high 40's, In the mountains about 10 degrees lower that time of year. A real good read about the culture, food, and wine of Sicily is "Palmento" by Robert Camuto, just came out and will give you a lot of insight about what Sicily is about and just might make a difference in choosing Sicily or some other region in Italy. Take care....Brandon

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: thefireknight

                    As much as I love Sicily (one of my most favorite regions) I have to say I laughed when I read your comment about "very little ...hothouses... in eastern Sicily". you can travel miles and miles and just be surrounded by the white plastic roofs of the hothouses in that area of Sicily. Also, it is not true that elsewhere in Italy there won't be any normally grown vegetables in the winter - Italy's regions do go by the seasons and the winter vegetable richness in the Roman (and any other you can think of) markets is incredible.

                    1. re: vinoroma

                      Agree - we have had great luck shopping for local vegetables in Rome Florence and Venice during visits at Christmas, in Jan and early Feb.

                  2. I would avoid Venice in December; flooding can be an issue for at least part of every day. If I were taking my Mom, I'd take her to Florence.

                    1. Thank you all for your very helpful comments!

                      From what you have all said (and from reading a few books, including Fred Plotkin's amazing tome), I am leaning towards doing Bologna (and the surroundings - Ferrara and Verona or Parma or Modena) and then perhaps Florence and its surroundings, or, after reading some of your comments, even Rome for two days instead of Florence. I will be there for now 4 or 5 days - is it too much?

                      I have ruled out Venice.

                      Also, from reading posts on these regions, I am guessing that places I must go to are:
                      Trattoria Gianni
                      Pizzeria Da Nicola
                      La Sorbetteria
                      Trattoria Anna Maria
                      Tamburini (just the lasagna?)
                      Da Vito
                      (Any recs for great pastries? I love Italian pastries)

                      L'Oca Giuliva
                      Trattoria La Romantica

                      Hosteria Giusti

                      Haven't started researching Florence yet as I am not quite positive if I will go there or not. I was also considering going to either Piedmont (Alba and Torino) or even going to Cinque Terre to give her a sense of coastal Italy and seafood (she loves seafood) and lighter Italian cuisine. Is there another location that would offer great seafood near Bologna that would also be fun to see for my mom? I know that Ravenna is close, but is it also shut down like the Amalfi Coast?

                      I also see the recommendation for Siciliy. That could be nice too, although as two women traveling alone and hearing about the concerns over safety (I have seen, though, that many think it is not anything for tourists to worry about), I am thinking twice about it. And as a first time trip for my mother, don't know whether it would be better to do mainland Italy first.

                      So I guess it comes down to these choices:
                      Bologna/Cinque Terre

                      I know you get inundated with requests on this board, Italy being as amazing as it is, and I know that us newbies to the board, as hard as we may try, often ask similar things and sing the same song, so I really appreciate your patience and your willingness to help us plan anyway! :)

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: j.jessica.lee

                        Bologna/Florence seem to be too much of a similar thing to me.
                        Bologna/Rome would be very nice, actually. Food-wise different enough, and seeing Rome is a must for me, especially for a first-timer.
                        Bologna/Piedmont is very interesting, too, food-wise, plus it would be city/countryside. Even better if you/she are interested in wine.
                        Bologna/Cinque Terre I have lived there for 1,5 years and november/beginning of December is the dreadliest time. rain, rain, rain.
                        Sicily - lovely. But maybe for a first timer better to do the mainland. But do not let security be the reason for not doing it, it really is not an issue. The worst that is gonna happen is being courted everywhere you go by hot looking sicilians! ;)

                        1. re: j.jessica.lee

                          I might get thrown off the board for asking a non-chow-related question, but is this trip supposed to be all about food or does experiencing some of the culture and history of Italy come into it as well? There's culture and history all over Italy, of course, but to me a first trip to Italy that does not include at least one of the three great cultural centers - Venice, Florence, Rome - seems to miss the point. So of your choices I would suggest Bologna/Florence or Bologna/Rome. Also, in four, five or even six days, you cannot hope to do more than skim the surface of two places. Finally, consider that in a period of iffy weather, a city offers more indoor activities than the countryside or a small town, however picturesque.

                          There is nothing going on in the Cinque Terre in December. Ravenna is a provincial capital that functions year-round, but its cooking is not seafood-based. If availability of fish/seafood is a criterion, Rome offers more possibilities than Florence.

                          1. re: zerlina

                            or a day trip to Venice, an hour or so from Bologna by train. Plenty of delicious seafood there, plus the wonders of venice itself. If staying in Bologna, can choose a nice day for this.

                            1. re: jen kalb

                              If traveling to Venice in December, you do run the risk of encountering "acqua alta" which can make getting about the city a bit of a challenge. That being said, visiting Venice in November/December, when it is tourist free, is great.

                              Verona is another city well worth a day trip that is not that far by train from Bologna.

                              1. re: jen kalb

                                would also like to add that pretty much anywhere you go in Italy there are seafood specialist restaurants because italians are mad for seafood, just as you can find neapolitan style pizza in every big city - so you dont necessarily need to go to the coast to have good fish and seafood, you just need plenty of Euros.

                          2. Hello again -

                            So I have decided to base in Bologna for four and a half days. I am thinking that two will be spent in Bologna and the other two will involve day trips. The half day will be just briefly looking around Venice, as we are flying to Paris from Venice Marco Polo.

                            I am thinking of doing light lunches and doing dinner out at restaurants or trattorias. I've read a lot of reports and posts and would like to ask what the the main differences between Trattoria Gianni, Anna Maria, Drogheria della Rosa, and Gigina are. I'm thinking I'll probably choose two of those for our two dinners in Bologna. Perhaps visit Pizzeria Da Nicola for a lunch and Tamburini for another lunch? Any strong recommendations for espresso bars with great pastries for breakfasts or afternoon snacks?

                            Also, for our day trips, I might go one day to Florence and another day to another more neighboring town. I'm thinking of Ferrara or Modena or Verona. I know they are all different and unique, but maybe it was from reading for too long because I couldn't quite get a good sense of how they were different. If you have recommendations for great food in any of them, that would be great too. In Modena, I heard about Hosteria Giusti and in Ferrara L'Oca Giuliva and Trattoria La Romantica.

                            Thank you so much!!

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: j.jessica.lee

                              Verona is too far for a day trip from Bologna. Tourist information is beyond the scope of this forum, but both Modena and Ferrara have excellent tourist information in English online.

                              You may have to consider having a restaurant lunch and a light dinner on your day-trip days. Hosteria Giusti is only open for lunch, and train service from Florence and Ferrara may terminate too early to allow a leisurely dinner.

                              1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                After a really disappointing meal last week at Trattoria Anna Maria (and it wasn't just my food, but my companion's as well, plus the service), I would scratch it from your list.

                                Tamburini seems to be a favored lunch stop for guided tour groups. Lots of English, lots of confusion. I took my lunch over to Osteria al Sole, which is quite rustic and basic (you buy a glass of wine to drink with the food you bring in). I didn't find Tamburini's prepared lunch offerings all that marvelous (although get some pinci cake to go!), so I recommend you find a nice lunch spot, period.

                                For pastries and espresso, try Zanarini. For cocktails, Le Stanze.

                                If you want Hosteria Giuisti, you need to reserve in advance for sure.

                                I've not tried pizza in Bologna, and I doubt I ever will when there is so much wonderful pasta to sample.

                                Instead of Verona, consider Parma as a day trip, or Ravenna.

                                1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                  Ciao Jessica.

                                  It is probably too late to post my Italian :-) point of view about the geographical choice... I would never advise anyone – first trip to Italy - to be based four days and an half in Bologna. There is nothing in Bologna to keep you occupied for two days (people from Bologna would probably kill me, but it is like that). Weather conditions: very cold and high chances for snow.
                                  Modena and Ferrara (rather distant) are OK for a day trip, no need to say that Florence - and many other places in Tuscany - would deserve more than a day visit.

                                  Back to your selection: BOLOGNA.

                                  My green light:
                                  DA GIANNI ALLA VECIA BULAGNA (book in advance)
                                  ANTICA TRATTORIA DELLA GIGINA

                                  Other green light suggestions:

                                  OSTERIA BOTTEGA

                                  My red light:
                                  TRATTORIA ANNA MARIA
                                  DROGHERIA DELLA ROSA

                                  MODENA. My suggestions:

                                  STALLO DEL POMODORO
                                  HOSTERIA GIUSTI yes!!!!!

                                  I will prepare you a list for bars, pastries, cookies and so on.

                                  Emilia-Romagna is definitely no region for sea-food.

                                  1. re: Irene65

                                    Rereading this thread, Im wondering what you have decided to do. Rome is certainly the best bet for overall interest and warmer weather.

                                    Assuming you have fixed on Bologna as base, one possibility would be to spend your last night in Italy in Venice rather than Bologna. I think it would be more relaxed for you and your Mom to wake up there and wander instead of just dropping in for a couple of hours, After a few days in the traffic of an italian town, a day in car-less Venice, maybe a boat to the airport, would be heaven. whereas, dropping in for part of a day and worrying the whole time about when you need to get to the airport., baggage etc would be less restful. Its a magical place in all seasons, but especially in winter when relatively tourist free and certainly you could get your seafood fix.

                                    Culturally, the main thing Modena has to offer is its Romanesque cathedral, which is wonderful, but had scaffolding on the tower and part of the facade when we were there 2 yrs ago. Its another pretty large busy Italian city, like bologna (a bit wealthier). Look for a nice bottle of aceto balsamico tradizionale for a souvenir. We found Parma more charming and with more artistic distinction but again, its also a city.. A day trip to Florence might be preferable to either, given the speed of the trains and the higher degree of cultural interest. Just plan something manageable, and you will be fine. Tuscan food, too, is a different simpler cuisine from the rich food of emilia-romagna and that would be of interest..

                                    Wherever you are, I recommend that you visit the local public markets - the seasonal vegetables, fruits, meats and fish are always magnificent. Eat some moscato grapes.


                                    1. re: jen kalb

                                      Thank you, Irene and Jen! Well, it is not too late yet. I basically just booked flights so far. We fly in to Milan and fly out of Venice. I have not booked hotels yet, so we have options available to us.

                                      Perhaps should we take a train to Rome from Milan, spend two days in Rome, one day in Bologna, and then one night in and flying out of Venice? (I know that this isn't strictly food here, but it is a question pertaining to my food itinerary) I was reading the posts on Venice and couldn't really get a good sense of where I could find a great seafood meal for not a lot of money. I also read that as Venice is mainly a tourist town, many businesses and restaurants might be closed in the winter?

                                      I could then try Da Gianni or Gigina (how are these two places different and which do you prefer?) in Bologna and then do some more research and figure out where to eat in Rome. Do you have any suggestions for Rome? I will certainly get to researching the boards, but just asking in case something comes to mind right away.

                                      Thank you both so much - I really appreciate your thoughts and help!!

                                      1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                        If you are flying out of Venice, why not take advantage of that and spend the day in one of the most remarkable and unique city in the world. And if one is interested in history and culture, it reeks all that. It is not true that Venice is mainly a tourist town as it is still the center of government and bureaucracy for all of Venice proper. There will be tourists in November but not like during the summer months and evenings, you will have Venice all to yourself as most are on day trips. November is a decent month as the bone chilling cold/dampness hasn't hit. Some restaurants will be closed during the winter but many are open and so are most businesses. It is true that good seafood in Venice is expensive but good seafood is expensive everywhere unless one is near a fishing port. Since you are there for only one dinner, why worry about a few extra euros.

                                        1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                          Venice "mainly a tourist town"? Let me try to put it in terms that you will understand: Carmel-by-the-Sea is "mainly a tourist town"; Provincetown is "mainly a tourist town".
                                          To call Venice, a city with 1500 years of history that is still a regional capital, "mainly a tourist town" is to miss the point, abysmally.

                                          Are you thinking of something like a clam bake when you say "a great seafood meal for not a lot of money"? You won't find it, not in any Italian city, and not even in a fishing village in December. Seafood is expensive in Italy. Live with it.

                                          1. re: zerlina

                                            Ciao Zerlina.
                                            I can see your point (I am Italian and I visited Carmel-by-the-Sea) but I think it is debatable. We all know that Venice is a unique and extraordinary town, + the islands, + the Riviera del Brenta with its Palladian Villas (there are beautiful boat trips). BUT, there is a “BUT”. Venice, a very small town which is under siege by hordes of tourists “Mordi & Fuggi” – “Bite & Go?” - frequently uneducated and boisterous - lost a lot of its identity and fully deserves its fame of UNACCEPTABLE expensive town. I say unacceptable because 8 times out ten this does not correspond to the quality you would expect. That said, Venice is UNIQUE and I agree with PBSF November and December would be perfect: less crowded.

                                            As for seafood, I would try to unederstand how much is it “not a lot of money” 30 USD per pax without wine? 50 USD per pax without wine? Sicily, for instance, would be the perfect destination for a 360° low budget excellent seafood experience – from 20 to 30 Euros per pax without wine.


                                            1. re: zerlina

                                              Lets talk about Venice reality here. There is good and interesting seafood in Venice for less than an arm and a leg. Its a beautiful place which is very far from a tourist town out of season. Walk down the Cannaregio canals or in Castello, away from San Marco and there are few tourists to be seen, empty quiet churches and what is left of the Venetian life. It is MUCH harder to get away from the tourist feel in Florence,for example.. There are dozens of posts on this Board about reasonably prices restaurants in Venice.. Avoiding whole fish helps if the goal is to save $ on a seafood meal. I recommend Anice Stellato and Osteria alla Frasca, as well as Alla Zucca for non-seafood fare -all have proved reliable to us and are not terribly expensive - , but there are many other places

                                              1. re: jen kalb

                                                I agree with Jen (as I usually do when it comes to Italy). Yes there are lots of tourists in Venice. But they're there for a reason, and after all, we're tourists! And I found Florence much more oppressively touristy. As Jen notes, once you get away from the areas around San Marco and Rialto you can be wandering through empty streets and into empty churches.

                                              2. re: zerlina

                                                I've come into this debate quite late, but a couple of years ago I had a great pasta alle vongole at Ai 40 Ladroni, on the Fondamenta della Sensa in Cannareggio. This was not expensive, and it was one of the best I've had - so, while the price of an average dish (and an average seafood dish) in Venice will be more than most places, there are still pretty good value meals to be had away from the tourist hotspots. And it is a small city, so it doesn't take long to get off the beaten track.

                                      2. I would make Rome my home base. Lots to see, do and eat. Rome is also a major rail hub that encourages day trips.

                                        60 is the new 30.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: steve h.

                                          I love Rome but I don't recommend it for short stays and for European newbies -- it's too overwhelming. Yeah, Venice and Florence have 1500 years of history, but they're basically Renaissance cities, while Rome has Imperial Rome, Renaissance Rome, modern Rome (it's still a vibrant living city, while Florence and Venice are more like museums) and the Vatican all jumbled together.

                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            Rome is all you say and more. Unlike some destinations in Italy, it has a pulse (Naples, too). I like that. I guess that's why I keep going back every March.

                                            1. re: steve h.

                                              Let me put it another way: after the first time I spent a week in Rome, when people would ask me if I'd had a good time, I would say "I don't know" -- it wasn't until weeks later, when I'd had time to process the experience and realized I was making plans to go back, that I understood how marvelous it was. And this summer I went with a friend who had the same experience: at the time it didn't seem like we were having much fun (it was during that record heat wave in Europe this summer, which didn't help), but now he's talking about how he wants to go back.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                Yeah, there's something about that place.

                                        2. Thank you all! This is great information. As for Venice, I only meant that I had heard this somewhere, not that this was something I thought or believe. I am posting on this board because I have questions for all of you who have greater knowledge of Italy than I do.

                                          So how does this sound? Landing in Milan, training to Rome, making it there in time for dinner, spending two days in Rome. One day (one night) in Bologna. One day and one night in Venice? Flying out of Venice. Is that too much? Again, I realize this is not strictly food related, but it is the main part of planning my meals for my trip.

                                          As for the cost of seafood in Venice, I would be comfortable paying about 50E pp without wine. Is that a "dream on" sort of scenario? If so, what is an approximation of what I would spend for a nice seafood dinner not including wine? Jen, I will definitely be re-reading the previous posts on Venice - thanks for the tips.

                                          Steve - argh! I wish I could rewrite that statement about my mother being 60. I totally did not mean that she would not be able to do certain things because she is 60. I just remember that she needs, personally, more time to relax in between things than I do and that was really what I meant. I've definitely learned my lesson, though, and won't make that mistake on CH again! :)

                                          13 Replies
                                          1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                            No worries j.j.l, I was just having a little fun with you.

                                            I still urge you to reconsider your itinerary. Headquartering in Rome for your short stay in Italy makes more sense to me than catching snips of Bologna and Venice (if it's Tuesday it must be...). Don't worry about trying to see it all. You'll be back.

                                            1. re: steve h.

                                              As much as I love Rome and recommend it, OP has already bought her tickets - I think she might be better served staying in the North than wasting the better part of two days taking trains down to Rome. since she will be in Venice, I dont think that should be skipped (pointlessly wasteful). If She follows her current plan I would recommend treating Bologna as a day-trip stop (maybe staying there the one night). Alternatively, she could travel to Florence instead of Rome, 2 days there, a day in Bologna (need not sleep over), the distances arent big) and the remainder in Venice.

                                              As to the cost of eating in Venice, 50euros per person is in range for a good meal for sure.
                                              One strategy in Italy is to avoid eating desserts in restaurants - they are frequently not very good, whereas pastries with coffee in bars/pastry shops can be excellent. I highly recommend Tonolo's in Venice for an afternoon or morning snack. Eating 2 courses per person per meal (they can be split) and drinking the house wine also keeps the costs down considerably. and skipping whole fish as mentioned before.

                                            2. re: j.jessica.lee

                                              By the way Jessica, why train?

                                              Have a look at www.easyjet.com for low cost internal flights (e-tickets).

                                              I would split your holiday in two: Venice+Rome or Venice+Florence.


                                              1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                By the way number two :-) if you decide for Venice consider to sleep in Mira or in Dolo.
                                                Just to give you an idea about what to expect + prices have a look at:



                                                1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                  Venice: except for the very expensive places (ie. da Fiore, Da Ivo, Antica Martini, Harrys Bar and the famous hotel restaurants such as Gritti), you will be able to eat in just about all the other places for 50E pp before wine. And wine is inexpensive compare to the big US cities, even at excellent restaurants. For places that serve only seafood, alle Testiere and Antiche Carampane are two of the best. Be aware that they are both trattorias, meaning somewhat cramped and noisy, with informal Venetian service (personal but sometimes quirky depending on the moods of the owners). Fiaschetteria Toscana is classic Venetian (larger menu of seafood as well as non-seafood), more formal yet friendly service and comfortable surroundings. Al Covo has excellent food with some creative (for Venice) menu choices, warm ambience and very friendly and personal. There are many other places that are less expensive. Search this board for earlier posts. And if eating a 3 course meal is too much in terms of budget and/or food, can always split an antipasto or a dessert. Frequently, desserts can be an after thought in Venetian restaurants but they are very good at alle Testiere, Fiaschetteria Toscana (also excellent cheeses) and Al Covo. Keep in mind that some restaurants are closed Sundays and even more on Mondays.
                                                  As for recommendations of staying outside Venice proper such as in Mira or Dolo to save money, I don't see the point. Venice is the most beautiful early mornings and the evenings: waking up in the morning to stroll along the canals to a nearby cafe for breakfast and rub elbows with Venetians or a leisurely walk after dinner through the calles and fondamentas with the sounds of the splashing water are truly special. I cannot imagine having to train or bus to Venice in the morning then spending most of the day on my feet, then making the trip again in the evening. With hotels offering Winter rates and the recent proliferation of B&B, staying in Venice is affordable.
                                                  You are getting a lot of good feedbacks and recommendations because most of us on this board are passionate about Italy.
                                                  And if you are a musician, touring La Fenice is a must.

                                                  1. re: PBSF

                                                    Ciao PBSF.
                                                    This time I don't agree :-)

                                                    Venice vs Mira or Dolo.

                                                    The point is that I personally prefer to stay 10 km from Venice for a good quality staying – and service - on the Riviera del Brenta - instead of paying the same amount of money for a 8 square meters dump room in Venice :-)

                                                    As for restaurants and prices, my - personal and fully disputable - opinion about the following restaurants (I know they are positively reviewed in USA, UK and by CHOWHOUNDERS, sigh):

                                                    ANTICHE CARAMPANE (beware: no printed menus)
                                                    OSTERIA ALLE TESTIERE
                                                    FIASCHETTERIA TOSCANA
                                                    AL COVO

                                                    50 Euro before wine? No, MORE. Unless you eat like a bird – as we say – or share.
                                                    Tourist trap both for Italian people and foreigners? YES, fully.
                                                    Trattorias? Yes, but FAKE ones.
                                                    Small portions? YES
                                                    Good service? NO, on average, NOT.

                                                    You have to be willing to spend much more than Italian average for good value in Venice.

                                                    SLOW FOOD 2011 – Osterie d’Italia – published a section for “OMBRE” (glasses of wine) which are the traditional Osterie & Trattorie where you can drink a glass of wine “OMBRA” + have a “CICHETO” (traditional appetizer/tapas with fish or vegetables) and eat a limited selection of typical cold & hot dishes. My selection ;-)

                                                    DA ALBERTO (closed Sundays)
                                                    Venetian traditional dishes
                                                    2 courses + 1 glass of wine 25-30 Euro

                                                    ALL’ARCO (closed Sundays - till 21h00 )
                                                    This is a really authentic place, they work mainly with RIALTO Market workers and you eat at the “banco” “standing”. Cicheti - hams - cheeses and on Fridays and Saturdays some raw fish dishes.

                                                    CANTINONE (closed Sundays)
                                                    One of the most beautiful Venetian Osterias, only CICHETI.

                                                    CAVATAPPI (closed Mondays)
                                                    Cicheti + some primi piatti + a recommended selection of cheeses.
                                                    You can book/arrange a dinner with more elaborated/sophisticated seafood. Around 35/40 Euro.

                                                    LA MASCARETA (closed Wednesdays and Thursdays)
                                                    Selection of hams, cheeses, carpacci, + some hot dishes + a worth mentioning tiramisù.


                                                    1. re: Irene65

                                                      I think your list of places are good and inexpensive and I have eaten many standup lunches around the Rialto market during our daily food shopping. Eating cicchetti is one of the pleasures of Venice; Cantinone is one of my favorite in the late afternoon if I am shopping at the Strada Nova (good food, friendly staff and even a couple of outside tables), so is Cavatappi if I want some really good and interesting wines by the glass. And Da Alberto is lively and moderately price with good food (and mob with visitors in the summer).
                                                      But if I want a nice dinner, Alle Testiere, Antiche Carampane, FT and Al Covo are some of the best choices. In the past year, we've eaten at all of them and one can certainly eat for around 50E pp before wine which was what the poster was referring to. When we ate at Al Covo last spring, they had a 3 course prix fixed for 46E, choices from the regular menu. As for the others, give or take an euro, antipasti/primi are around 15, secondi 25 and dessert around 8. And this includes service and tax. Sure one can splurge and spend more. Antiche Carampane does have a written menu, whereas alle Testiere recites their orally. These restaurants do have its share of tourists but they are NOT "tourist traps" but serious restaurants, using excellent ingredients and exact preparation. As for portion size, unless one is comparing to those in the US, they are not small, typical Italian. I like the Slow Guide for certain types of eating places but it is not to end all. The poster is spending one day/night in Venice, asking about a seafood dinner for 50E PP before wine and my post was specific toward that.

                                                      1. re: Irene65

                                                        Irene, Your insight as an Italian is often valuable - it evidently persuaded the OP to consider Rome and Venice after she had rejected similar suggestions from non-Italians - but sometimes it is of limited application for visitors. A first-time visitor should *not* be encouraged to stay on the Riviera del Brenta to save on hotel costs. There are excellent inexpensive B&Bs in central Venice that are *not* dumps and whose rooms are *not* 8 metres square. In December, even the more expensive hotels have reduced rates.

                                                        Nor should a visitor looking for a seafood meal be encouraged to go to a cicheti bar, where she will not find what she is looking for. (I don't know Cavatappi and its prearranged seafood meal, but I'm not sure it's a feasible solution for someone who speaks no Italian or that it would be a particularly good meal.)

                                                        I do not agree that the restaurants you list are "tourist traps"; the restaurants along the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge are tourist traps. I do agree, though, that the cost per person for a complete seafood meal may exceed 50 Euro.

                                                        1. re: zerlina

                                                          Ciao Zerlina and PBSF.
                                                          Well, I think we have a different benchmark for quality, portions and tourist traps :-)

                                                          As I have already written in other posts the Slow Food guides are not my Bible, nor are The Gambero Rosso and the Michelin.

                                                          I am part of a food fanatics group and we devote time and money to find - and possibly enjoy - the best eating experiences – no matter if at top end restaurants or at Osterie - and we try to treat us with the best ingredients at our homes too.

                                                          I recently dined at DA FIORE, at ANTICA TRATTORIA DA CERA (in Lughetto), at AL PASSO, at VECIA OSTARIA DA MAURO (in Mirano). If Jessica had stated a different budget I would have given other suggestions. Maybe I am too old for B&B too.

                                                          You are probably right when you say that I don't fully understand what she looks for, what she really expects. Posts here are generally full of "We are looking for authentic, traditional, non expensive, non touristy blah, blah". I am trying to contribute according to my native personal opinion and experience.


                                                          1. re: Irene65

                                                            Your point is well taken and opinions certainly differ. It is not always easy to figure out what visitors are looking for. We've spent a month or two in Venice for years and there are places that we frequent and love but not be appropriate for short term visitors. And many of us might be too old for B&B. I think sometimes locals take many things for granted such as language and logistic issues that visitors have to deal with. For a local, taking the bus/train from Dolo or Mira to Venice is an easy 10km and a no brainer but for visitors that have to figure out the route system, stops, fare, etc, it can be a real chore.

                                                            1. re: PBSF

                                                              You raise several good points. My wife and I spend the better part of every March in Rome, been doing this for years. We've made the transition from casual tourists to frequent visitors. I seriously doubt we will ever graduate to local status.

                                                              The Italian board is beneficial because all three categories are well represented and not reticent in the least to offer insight to folk who ask for advice. There are no hard-corps, know-it-alls here who have the potential to both dominate and stifle the free exchange of ideas.

                                                              Italian board is pretty cool.

                                                              1. re: steve h.

                                                                If you're flying into Milan and out of Venice, I would spend at least a night in Milan if only for practical reasons (but it's also a great city with wonderful art) and finish up with at least two nights in Venice. You might also want to visit the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, near Venice, en route. Personally I wouldn't try to fit too many cities in in-between on such a short trip! About Venice, for all its museum-like qualities, it has to be one of the most special cities in the world and yet many tourists don't even spend 24 hours there (probably not chowhounders). Spend a little more time and walk as much as your mother can manage! December is a good time to go (if not as good as February/March). Santa Maria dei Miracoli is a particularly stunning church, tucked away, that you should definitely viist. For a fancier meal there that just about fits your budget I would go for Corte Sconta. Wonderful seafood, charming atmosphere and service. For food and wine in a casual way, the bacari are great. You know, with the whole standing and eating salt cod thing. Much more economical. There's a brilliant one called Ca' d'Oro/Alla Vedova in Cannaregio and there are pleasant ones in Dorsoduro, which is a lovely area too.

                                                    2. re: j.jessica.lee


                                                      if you are still hanging around.....

                                                      I think so much train travel from Milan to Rome is not good for the digestion. Instead, I suggest you arrive in Milan and enjoy the great food there. Before flying out of Venice, I would endeavor to sample the food and wine in Verona or Bologna as well. Each is within a 90 minute train trip from Venice or Milan. For a lunch in Bologna, I would pick Da Gianni on the via Clavature. For a lunch in Verona, I might pick Maffei in the piazza dell'Erbe, but others might have a budget oriented suggestion.

                                                      One of my favorite budget places to eat lunch in Milan (weekdays only) is the Vecchia Latteria on via dell'unione (number 6). It's very close to the Duomo, Galleria and the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, all great to see. Go for an early lunch. The place books up fast.

                                                    3. Thank you all for your valuable comments and advice. I will let you know what I end up doing and report back when I return to the States in mid-December! Thank you for helping making our trip a very special one. At the end of the day, no matter what your opinions and disagreements on restaurants, food, etc., you are all helping to create wonderful trips and experiences for people.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                        Please report back when you finish with your trip. You can't go wrong anywhere in Italy; the best advice from this board is not try to do too much. Also saw your post for Paris; your mother will have a great time.

                                                      2. Rushing to write this before leaving for the airport - our itinerary is three nights in Bologna with one day trip to either Ferrara, Parma, or Florence, and then a day and one night in Venezia.

                                                        I tried making a reservation for Gianni tonight, but they're booked - will try passing by tonight, but have made reservation at Annamaria anyway in a panic. Reading back, though, I will have to try Osteria Bottega for tonight as well. We'll see.

                                                        Any other suggestions for two dinners? I can check again on this board this afternoon. Also lunch help would be greatly wanted.

                                                        Venezia - I have emailed requests to Alle Testiere, FT, and Da Fiore. Any other suggestions? We have one dinner and two lunches. Any pasticceria recs for breakfast?

                                                        Thank you all!!

                                                        16 Replies
                                                        1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                          Venice: for one dinner, any of the three on your list will be good. Da Fiore is excellent but very expensive. A three course dinner will be around 100E before wine. Most antipasti, primi and secondi are in the 35-45E range; dessert is around 20E. For lunches, if your mom does not mind a little slumming it, I would make one meal eating cicchetti. Though most are standup, a few do have seats and tables: La Cantina, Alla Vedova, al Bomba have tables. I would not cross all over town to have lunch but try to have a couple of places in mind depending on where you'll be sightseeing. Aciugheta is not bad consider it is just a 5 minute walk from San Marco. Cavatappi is good but further east of San Marco. Vino Vino is a little expensive for a bacari but it is comfortable, lively and near La Fenice.
                                                          As for pasticceria for breakfast, depends where you will be staying. There are good places all over the city. These are Italian style pastries, therefore, try not to compare those in Paris. Near the Rialto on the San Marco side is Marchini (probably the most famous pasticceria/chocolatier in Venice) and Ballarin. Closer to San Marco is Rosa Salva; Behind the Hotel Danieli is Da Bonifacio. Tonolo in Dorsoduro is famous for their filled cream puffs and donuts as well as their cornetti. All these are stand up bar only. if you happen to be near the Rialto Market, Caffe del Doge serves some of the best coffee in the city and their pastry cream filled croissants are decadent. They buy them frozen but proof and bake fresh on premise. It is stand up as well as table service; there is a second branch near the Rialto Bridge on the San Marco side. The coffee is just as good but their pastries are pedestrian. The atmosphere is more like an old-fashioned salon de the with jacketed waiters. It is very comfortable and since it is so close to the Rialto bridge, it gets a lot of foot traffic, therefore, good for people watching. Near the Frari is Caffe Dersut; the only caffe that I know that have seats/tables without paying extra; it also has foreign language newspapers to read and great for watching the comings and goings of the morning Venetians. The nearby Caffe Frari is a bit more cozy and atmospheric but has sort of odd morning hours. And nothing is quite as decadent (with a view to match) as breakfast on the terrace of the Hotel Bauer. If one want to soak up the atmosphere of the Caffe Florian without paying the sky high prices, there is a small stand up inside bar where one can get a espresso for around 2E and a cappuccino for 2.50 (still expensive by Venice prices). Just walk straight to the back from the main entrance. The menu is posted discretely on the end of the bar.
                                                          If you can be more specific on where you're staying at, I or others might have more suggestions.

                                                          1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                            For Bologna, I can recommend

                                                            Serghei (on the via Piella) -- a simple trattoria, but popular so you need to book

                                                            Diana (on the via dell'Indipendenza) -- here, the lasagne al verde and the passatelli in brodo are excellent. I would skip the rolling carts of meats in favor of ordering a secondo from the menu. It's a bit fancy and a tad pricey. They bottle their own house Sangiovese and its fine (and inexpensive).

                                                            Teresina -- on the via Oberdan, not far from Da Gianni. It veers away from the classics to include fish, but overall the food and preparation is extremely high quality and space is very nice.

                                                            If you end up at AnnaMaria, don't go for the pasta with mushrooms. I take it tortellini in brodo is the best. You might want an antipasto and pasta more than a secondo.

                                                            If you end up in Ferrara for your day trip, Volano on the via Volano is an excellent choice.

                                                            1. re: barberinibee

                                                              My experience at Diana was very disappointing. The food was extremely ordinary, and I did have the lasagne verde (gloppy and dull). The quality of the meat was poor. Service was charming but everything was served awfully fast. We were in and out in no time. It was not terribly expensive but did not live up to expectation. Da Gianni was great, too bad it is booked. Al Papagallo would be my recommendation, though it will be more expensive than either Da Gianni or Diana it is still reasonable for the quality.

                                                              1. re: rrems

                                                                Sorry your lasagne al verde wasn't the silky and light plate that I had at Diana -- it was just perfect -- and I've yet to have another passatelli in brodo in Bologna to match Diana's. I was sorry I went for the much recommended spuma di mortadella and rolling carts of meat there -- but I would go back and take a flyer on the dishes offered on the menu. Our service was indulgent -- but I probably should only recommend Diana with a lot more explicit hesitation. Although I like the bright, windowed space, it is a very fossilized restaurant, with lots of mixed reports from diners.

                                                                I have found most sit-down dining in Bologna to be in the same price range, with prices at Diana only jumping a euro or so per course, offset by the reasonably priced house wine. My dinner for two at Diana was only 20 euros more than what lunch for two would have cost me at Da Gianni's. My overall experience of eating in Bologna (and even all of Italy, especially in its cities) is that the days of the wonderfully cheap but delightful and delicious meal is a thing of the past. You generally have to pay more to eat quality ingredients, and the euros really add up fast for a 3-course meal with wine and coffee.

                                                                I hope to go to Pappagallo's soon.

                                                                1. re: barberinibee

                                                                  Yes, the prices at Diana seemed quite reasonable, which is why we gave it a try despite having read a number of negative reviews. Though Pappagallo is far above in quality it is also quite a bit more expensive. Da Gianni on the other hand has better quality at a lower price, albeit with a less formal atmosphere. Just to clarify about the meats at Diana: My partner had a slow-roasted pork (shoulder I think) which was tasty if unexceptional, and I had a veal chop which which was a thin piece of low-quality meat, not at all what I normally expect a veal chop to be.

                                                                  1. re: rrems

                                                                    We ate at Diana for sentimental reasons too long to go into, despite having read poor reports, especially about the service. So we were pleasantly surprised to be treated rather sweetly, and I confess I enjoy the bright room too. But that said, it didn't make the entire meal a hit -- just our primi and dessert (pears in wine). We thought we just ordered wrong with the spuma di mortadella (I doubt I'd like it from anywhere), and we regretted being good tourists sticking to the classic meat carts, since many of the secondi on the menu sounded like interesting -- but who knows how they would have tasted?

                                                                    But I'm grieved to hear that lasagne al verde is not consistently wonderful at Diana, because the night I ate it, it was. I found myself studying it, trying to figure out how pasta could be so blissfully light, like a cloud, yet full of rich tones. And the passatelli in brodo was bright, light and flavorful, and perfectly balanced.

                                                                    I staggered a bit when I read the prices on the lunch menu posted outside Pappagallo, and had an inner debate if I really wanted to lunch solo there, given that I was not famished. Pappagallo's lost. When I am really hungry, I'll dive in. I have high expectations -- but people I know who live in Bologna prefer Teresina and a few other places for an overall dining experience, minus the price tag.

                                                            2. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                              for Venice I dont really think Da Fiore is worth the bucks tho the raw materials are top flight and the cooking is good you may wind upfeeling sheared there as we did.. One of the other good places that have been recommended will satisfy - just make sure you try the Venetian seafood specialties somewhere - they are exquisite. For your day trip, given that the travel time is not that different florence seems like the best bet for a first time visitor to Italy - one of the simpler traditionally tuscan places would be best for your lunch - there are a lot recommended here, I happen to like Da Mario, over by the San Lorenzo market very much, very informal, good soups, pasta and meat, also Il Fagioli, nr. Santa Croce, but it will hinge on where you are at lunch time. Some pappa pomodoro or ribollita will be very satisfying at this time of year!
                                                              There are a lot of wonderful places in Parma,and it is a beautiful town with an outstanding cathedral/baptistery ensemble and many fine restaurants (look on the Restaurant page) but the food is in the same vein as bologna - wherever you are in emilia romagna, do try the handmade pastas which are silky and delicate, filled (in soup (brodo-broth or sauced)or noodle form, the cured meats, prosciutto di parma, culatello, etc, often served with a fried bread (delicious excess), also the bollito misto if offered, a wonderful assortment of meats cooked in capon broth, often served off a cart and with green sauce,mostarda, etc.

                                                              Have a lovely trip, and hope we hear back how it went!

                                                              1. re: jen kalb

                                                                My thoughts about bollito misto in Emilia-Romagna are decidedly mixed: Yes, it is a regional tradition but most boiled meat makes for dull eating, only worth it if the salsa verde or mostarda is outstanding (and you can try mostarda in other ways). For a short visit, with the chance to only eat a few meals (they are so filling), I might pass on bollito misto.

                                                                I'm wondering if bollito misto is a legacy of Austrian rule in the region.

                                                                As for Parma, I have to confess that I find proscuitto so much better in Parma than I do any place else, I think it is the only place to eat it -- and certainly the place to try it, since it is a revelation to eat the real deal in its home town. The same is true for Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese, which is much more deiicate in flavor when eaten fresh in Parma. These, eaten by themselves and without condiments, I would not pass by.

                                                                1. re: barberinibee

                                                                  agreed that the people in parma are prosciutto di parma mad and very knowlegeable, its probably hard to get a bad plate in that area- Ive not been in bologna but we certainly had great prosciutto, culatello and othe regional cured meats as well as fine parmigiano at Cavallino Bianco, Hostaria Giusti and Arnaldos - which after all are in or near the zone of production.

                                                                  I cant comment about bollito generally but that at Arnaldos- was excellent in the context of their full meal (where we didnt eat take every course) - we really liked the contrast of salsa verde and their house mostarda with the different meats. the fact is that the meat secondi in Italy CAN be stodgy - many of the roasts dont do much for me, for example but this was worth having and I would eat it again.

                                                                  1. re: jen kalb

                                                                    The most tempting bollito misto I've seen was in Parma at the restaurant Cocchi in the Hotel Daniel -- but by the time I saw it, I had burned out on boiled fatty meat in Emillia-Romagna and went for something grilled (it was blah, but my friend's long-cooked beef cheeks were terrific goo.)

                                                                    Over the past 10 weeks I've eaten some 20 meals in Emilia-Romagna, mostly in Bologna, but in Rimini, Ferrara and Parma as well, plus done near-weekly take-home food shopping from many of the famous food shops. I'll be doing this halfway through January (with a break for a week in Napoli), and when I'm done, I'll try to post something looonnng on Chowhound.

                                                                    I'm skipping Modena because right now one of its most important cultural sights is obscured by scaffolding. But I do hope to visit Reggio nell'Emilia -- so any specific recommendations for lunching and food shopping (without a car) would be welcome.

                                                                    1. re: barberinibee

                                                                      Just an FYI, I went to Modena in late 2007 and the cathedral was also under scaffolding. If you use that as your benchmark on whether to see a place you'll cross 3/4 of Italy off the list. At any rate, I really liked Modena. We ate at Giusti and felt really spoiled by the experience.

                                                                      Reggio Emilia, not so much. On one hand it was completely untouristed, on the other, I didn't find much to recommend it. I went on a Sat and after hitting the market in the center of town and popping into a few churches, we were done. Maybe I had high expectations because it is touted as "off the beaten path," "hidden gem" etc. Perhaps someone will set me straight but I thought it was the dud of Emilia Romagna having also visited Parma, Modena, Bologna, Ravenna, Ferrara.

                                                                      We ate at "A Mangiare" which is in Slow Food 2007. It's a nice white tablecloth restaurant. Can't recall my meal so well but a I do remember eating a nice plate of salumi. Checking out your list above, why not check out Ravenna or head to Cremona or Mantova? IMO, all three have better food (or at least more variety) and were more vibrant places to visit.

                                                                      1. re: badwaiter

                                                                        Hi, badwaiter.

                                                                        I live in Italy, so i have the incredible luxury of being able to wait for scaffolding to come down, which is predicted to do next spring in Modena. I'll consider myself lucky if I ever make it to a full 1/4 of Italy -- scaffolding or no. (By the way, the scaffolding is up on the central sights of both Parma and Bologna.)

                                                                        I've been to Ravenna, will be going to Mantova in January (maybe, provided I wont freeze) and will also go to Cremona next year. In the meantime I would like to taste some balsamic vinegar!

                                                                        I don't imagine I'll be in Reggio for more than a few hours, but I would like to see its architecture and art, and taste its vinegar, cheese and pastas. You'd be surprised by how many dud towns in Emilia-Romagna I enjoy.

                                                                        1. re: barberinibee

                                                                          we didnt think Reggio Emilia was a dud town at all, even tho our experience of it was marred by some bad navigating which (in our jet lagged condition) caused us to be touring the back side of Parma for a couple of hours thinking it was R-E and trying to square it with our maps! (rather like the story of the Gurkha soldier finding his way home from Malaya using the underground map) anyway, by the time we got to R_E it was into the sleepy Monday post-lunch closing period, the day was hot, the cathedral was closed (behind boards) It was nevertheless a prosperous and interesting town, feeling more relaxed and spread out than Modena.with a couple of interesting squares, several fine churches and a lovely large parkwith an amazing roman tomb sculpture) etc. Im sure if it had been open and fuctioning there would have been interesting markets and shops.

                                                                          If it had been open and we werent planning to dine at Arnaldo's in Rubiera, we would have checked out Trattoria all Ghiara probably. As you must know the emilian countryside is peppered with restaurants, another one only a few miles away is Archiprete. Here is a small compilation from the Restaurant page of Reggio places.http://www.chow.com/search?query=&amp...

                                                                          And I suspect, since you are in the area, you are clicked into the local discussion websites, such as http://www.amioparere.com/index.php, which seems to have swallowed up my Parma favorite, tolasudolsa.

                                                                          I wish we had had more time to visit the Emilian towns and countryside - we enjoyed stopping in busseto, Fidenza, Rubiera and Carpi in addition to Parma and Modena, , but our visit really just scratched the surface. We looked for regional products, and found them in all of these towns, especially the balsamico tradizionale (prices are pretty consistent through the area for the highest grades) and nocino.

                                                                          Mantova is a whole different bag, cuisinewise being in Lombarda instead of course with a focus on rice and fresh water fishes - bundle up!

                                                                          1. re: jen kalb

                                                                            Thanks! I'll be visiting Reggio by train only (from Bologna and back to Bologna), so no chance to get into the countryside. I'm hoping to get into a shop that will give me drop of balsamico tradizionale to taste before I decide whether I am plunking down the requisite and no doubt justified euros for this intensely hand crafted product.

                                                                            And i do want to bite into the local cheese..

                                                                            I'm not going to Mantova unless it is dry and well above freezing, which may mean it will have to wait. I am going for the risotto when it comes to eating, and the mostarda, but I also look forward to the fish.

                                                                            I like the flat and sleepy feeling Emilian-countryside. I've yet to find any part of it that bores me (and I fear I can say that about one or two other provinces, some of them huge tourist attractions

                                                                            1. re: barberinibee

                                                                              Im not sure there are any makers with a vinegar loft right in the town of Reggio, (as contrasted with Modena) but surely there will be some sellers in the shops around the market square. You probably should get in touch with the consorzio for more info. http://www.acetobalsamicotradizionale...

                                                                              Mantova is also one of those towns which makes specialties of donkey and pony (or young horse) meat. We did not sample when we visited in 2009 .Slowfood recommends a place offering this speciaty. We had our single dinner at L'Ochina bianca http://www.ochinabianca.it/lang/it/
                                                                              but there seem to be quite a number of promising choices. That place has traditional cuisine + fish. by the way the fritto misto is good but nothing special - the fish I was referring to lucchio in salsa, marinated lake fish.. the risotto alla pilota is not soupy - it is served on a plate, mixed with the fresh sausage, very simple and tasty.

                                                                              1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                Thanks! I appreciate the link for the consorzio, and I'm hoping Mantova has lots of good cooks, because I want to spend a few days there.

                                                                                I'm afraid that once four legged creatures have become close neighbors of mine, it gets hard to eat them. Rabbit and deer had already won a reprieve by the time I left the American suburbs. Geese now honk hello daily, and a donkey lives across the valley from me. I've gotten so attached to the sound of his frequent, raucous laughter, I am less inclined now that I ever was to eat donkey, pony or horse (and it was not a strong urge to begin with).

                                                                                Fortunately -- for multiple reasons -- I've only run into the local wild boar once. But frogs.? I used to eat those too, but they are all over the stairs where I live, including their insect sized children, and they make such a lot of pretty music. I gather I'll be missing those in Mantova too.

                                                                                Despite living near the sea, I've yet to get too close to any fish, so I think that's what I'll be looking for in Mantova, along with many ways to eat rice.

                                                            3. You are all so helpful - thank you thank you!!!

                                                              So we got lost and ended up at Diana last night. Didn't get to read this until now unfortunately. But we did pass by Gianni and scored a lunch for today! Very excited. We had tortellini in brodo and tagliatelle with ragu bolognese. Tagliatelle was good but nothing great. Tortellini in brodo was very good. We had their house Sangiovese which was nice. Service was a bit stiff and cold as others have mentioned.

                                                              Will report back on Gianni when I can.

                                                              We got reservations at Alle Testiere in Venice on Tuesday. What is pricing like there and what dishes should we order?

                                                              Sorry for the short and hurried reply. I have one hour in an Internet cafe and am typing on my phone while my mom uses my computer, but I wanted to let you know what we did last night!

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                                PS j.jessica.lee,

                                                                At some point in your stay in Bologna, drop by Terzi's on the via Oberdan for Bologna's best coffee. Cappucini are divine, and they have a house specialty coffee called "Cremino" with a layer of cream.

                                                                1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                                  do drink some lambrusco while in Emilia-Romagna - great with the cured meats and rich pork dishes

                                                                  1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                                    Alle Testiere's menu changes often depending on what is available. There is no printed menu; it is recited orally consisting five or six antipasti, 4 primi, 3 secondi of the day and about 4 desserts. Besides the 3 secondi, there is always a selection of grilled seafood that comes with a side of grilled vegetables. These are not always recited so ask if not. The staff speaks English, therefore, should be no problem with the menu. For antipasti, the best for first timer might be their 'assorted' that consists of small portions of: usually bacala mantecato, poached shrimp, crab salad, an oyster and whatever else. The price for this is the same as the other antipasti and good to share if one is not a big eater. Other good antipasti that I've had: stuffed crab, grilled octopus on celery root salad, fried moleche on arugula, sechie with polenta. I rarely order primi except for their excellent risotto with crab and lemon; best split for two as a full portion very filling. For secondi: St Pietro with citrus, branzino with olives; otherwise, I order a plate of grilled scampi or monkfish or rombo. My advice for ordering is to choose what shellfish (crab, baby soft-shell crab called moleche, sechie which are small gray shrimp, finger size baby squid) that are unique to the Veneto, available at the time. The best fish are St. Pietro, monkfish, rombo, red mullet, wild (not farmed) branzino. Tuna and swordfish are excellent but they are common in the US. For dessert, their chestnut chocolate cake and tiramisu are very good. The price is uniform for each course; when we were there last year: antipasti and primi 18E, secondi 24E, desserts 9E.

                                                                  2. Dear All,

                                                                    Lunch at Trattoria Gianni yesterday was incredible! My mother absolutely adored the food as did I. The ambiance was just perfect. Very warm, bustling. It was full of Bolognese families out for Sunday lunch. We got the tortellini in brodo (delicious, better than Diana IMHO), special gnocchi di zucca with burra and menta, split a lasagna special, and split the stinco di maiale with potatoes. It was all divine. I will write more details later when I have free internet.

                                                                    We then had gelato at La Sorbetteria di Castiglione. I had cioccolato scuro and Emma (ricotta and figs) and my mom had pistchio and the mix of walnuts and pine nuts. I liked the Emma and the walnut-pinenut one best. Delicious. Cioccolato was great, but even a chocoholic like me could only manage a little bit of it. VERY rich and decadent. Almost like eating fudge!

                                                                    Dinner was out of the question after all that!!

                                                                    As for tomorrow, we have reservations at Alle Testiere AND Il Ridotto because I was worried that we would not be able to get a seat anywhere. Now I need to cancel one-which one should I cancel? We really want traditional Venetian food as we have both never been before and want to try lots of seafood and pasta/risotto. Thank you, PBSF for your extensive advice on AT.

                                                                    Thank you all so much again - you have not steered me wrong and we are having the time of our lives. My mom is so happy and I cannot thank you enough for that. She will never forget this trip and neither will I.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                                      I have never been to Il Ridotto but from what I've read and heard, Alle Testiere is probably more traditional Venetian with some creative touches. Neither is like F. Toscana which is a phototype of an excellent traditional Venetian restaurant. I also got the impression that Alle Testiere has a much more of a trattoria/osteria feel then Il Ridotto. Just a note if it hasn't filtered down, alle Testiere is all seafood, no poultry or meat.

                                                                      1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                                        I'm a partisan for Il Ridotto but where it falls down is definitely service. I've never dined at Alle Testiere but I think it always garners high praise in that dept.

                                                                      2. Thanks everyone again!

                                                                        We ended up going to Ferrara and dined at L'Oca Giuliva based on recs from the CH board. It was wonderful. We got 1/2 portions of four different pastas! Capellacci di zucca with ragu bolognese, capellacci con brodo della capon, risotto with squid ink calamari and mixed seafood, maccheroni in pastry with truffles. We also got a zucca flan bruleed on top with a ball of salty cheese and buttery, savory cracker which was divine. An amuse of chickpea puree/soup. Dessert of passionfruit creme brulee with coconut cookie. Loved our lunch.

                                                                        Dinner could have gone without for me, but mom wanted to try pizza. So we went late to Da Nicolas and got pizza. Very good, but didn't like the service.

                                                                        Today in Venice, we stuck with Alle Testiere and it was really REALLY great. My mother just about died and went to heaven over the seafood, as did I. We got the mixed seafood platter appetizer to share (cuttlefish, baccala on toast, prawns, baby octopus, mantis shrimp, sechie) as well as the seafood, shellfish stew to share. They were both AMAZING! The broth was to die for.... Then we got the ricotta ravioli with lobster sauce and spaghetti with clams to share, as well as one St. Pietro to share. And then as if that weren't enough, we split the tiramisu - my mother has only tried the Olive Garden tiramisu and hated tiramisu, but after trying this one, she said that she felt as if she'd never known what tiramisu tasted like until now. I've tried much better ones, but feel the same way. Unbelievable.....

                                                                        We also got three pastries from Tonolo - cream puff, donut with jam, and a ricotta and pine nut tart. The cream puff is truly exquisite. Donut was tough and jam too sweet. The ricotta pine nut was great for me, but others may not like it.

                                                                        Will write more detailed reports later! Ciao for now and thank you again!!!

                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                        1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                                          Glad you and your mom are having such a great time! I didn't know until I was in Venice that tiramisu is a Venetian dessert, but the tiramisu I had there was amazing.

                                                                          1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                            I think tiramisu was created in Treviso in the Veneto in the late '70s. (1970s).

                                                                            1. re: barberinibee

                                                                              So they claim. Sorry to be imprecise, when I said "Venice" I was thinking of the region, not necessarily the city proper.

                                                                              1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                The origin of Tiramisù is very controversial, as for many other Italian dishes.
                                                                                I don't think it was invented in Treviso in the late seventies.
                                                                                My Granny used to prepare it well before and it was a "family recipe".
                                                                                The positive aspect is that every region developed its own version: liquor/no liquor, cocoa powder or chocolate chips... Yummy ;-)

                                                                            2. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                                              SO glad you ate all that seafood - what eating in Venice is about - and tried Tonolo.
                                                                              What a wonderful trip for you and your mom and I really look forward to the detailed report.

                                                                              1. re: j.jessica.lee

                                                                                Glad to hear it only got better and better. Your mom sounds like a great dining companion!

                                                                                1. re: barberinibee

                                                                                  Will J. Jessica Lee be writing a report on this trip? Would love to know.

                                                                                  1. re: johannabanana

                                                                                    Reports are above, johannabanana! Enjoy!!! We had the most memorable trip. :)