First time foodie in Italy
We have never travelled in Europe , but want to plan a trip to Italy with the very strong emphasis on food and wine. We are not totally opposed to a tour, but do not want to be restricted and do not want to be with seniors. I am afraid that I don't know how to start my research. The internet search results are too voluminous.
We would like to travel late in the spring or late in the summer of 2012. Can anyone help us get started in looking?
Another vote for Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler as the place to start. You might also contact him at his website to see if he still gives tours or knows of a great one focusing on wine and food.
I think you do need to be very careful about all the people out there on the internet offering wine/food tours of Italy.
I also think it is good to be very skeptical of all the subtle and overt pressure you might get from travel agents, friends who have traveled to Italy or from internet message boards (even this one!) for you to head to the famous destinations -- especially Venice, Florence, Rome -- because this is your first trip to Italy. Even though you've also said you want a "very strong emphasis on food and wine," people will still pressure you to subordinate that to what they beieve is a more appropriate tourist's introduction to Italy. You don't inevitably get bad food in Italy's most popular tourist destinations, but revelatory food experiences and revelatory wine experiences are usually located in the other (extremely beautiful and culturally rich) areas of the country.
Finally, what do you mean by "late summer"? Many people mean the end of August, and that is a very problematic time to do a gastronomic tour in Italy. If you mean just before Sept 22, that's much better.
Another way to get started on you search/research is to visit a travel agency focusing on Italy. My only point is that in talking to a good agent, she/he is likely to ask the right questions helping you to zero in on priorities. I'd emphasize that you're just starting the research, so don't get hooked into going with that agency. If you "do not want to be restricted," you'll have to decide whether that means renting a car or using trains (beyond the "tour" restriction). Using trains/buses will impose some limits, but given this is your first visit, that isn't a major problem. As the others have said, once you have a sharper focus, this site will be of greater value to you.
I second the recommendation of Fred Plotkin's book "Italy for the Gourmet Traveler." It is important to realize that food in Italy various very much by region. Some regions eat a lot of seafood, other regions each a lot of meat. Some regions cook with olive oil, some cook more with butter. Some regions eat a lot of pasta, other regions eat a lot of rice. Plotkin's book does a good job describing the foods (and wines) of the various regions. Faith Heller Willinger also wrote a good book ("Eating in Northern Italy") that is worth keeping an eye out for.
Here is a discussion of eating in the various regions of Italy. The good news is there are very few bad choices!
Before this board can be a helpful resource, you need to be more specific what your interests are. What is it in Italy that interest you. What Italian food that you've had that impressed you. And what Italian wines are you curious about? Italy is a country with distinct regional differences: topography, history, culture, food, wine are different from region to region. If it is your first trip, does the most popular destinations of Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples interest you at all. If not, ask yourself why not.
I think it is difficult to separate food and wine from the region's history, topography, culture. There are good food and wine in just about every area of Italy. It really depends on individual's likes and dislikes. Also, how long is your trip? do you prefer to stay put for a period of time or move from place to place after a couple of days and cover a lot of areas. These are questions that you need to ask yourself. If you are vague or looking background material, a good general Italy guidebook is a good place to start: Rick Steves Italy is quite good for general background info: short history, geography, region by region characteristics, logistics. Maybe one might skip his specific recommendations on hotels and restaurants. There are many good general cookbooks that will give a good introductions to the food of different regions.
Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveller is probably the best single book if you want to get a feel for what is available foodwise and what the food culture and restaurants are like in different area. ther are also good regional food guides for various regions and cities, once you develop a more focussed plan.
I would go to your local library and start reading guide books. The net is still not a good substitute for the printed word when it comes to obtaining an overview and deciding what interests you, foodwise and otherwise. Personally, I dont care for Rick Steve at all., especially about food. Their guides are too opinionated and limited - guides like the Green Michelins,Cadogan,Rough Guides and the picture guides like 10Best, Eyewitness, etc. will help you get started on figuring out where you will want to go and what you will want to eat.
Finally, you have plenty of time to plan. I would not worry about needing to take a tour. its a safe country, easy to travel in. But preparation and knowing yourself and your own interests is key. There are boards like Fodors where the folks will tell you exactly where (they think) you should go and we will tell you wnat restaurants we think are best in your destinations, or even what some food-worthy destinations are, but only you know what kinds of travelling - and eating and drinking- you enjoy. - so the more you bring here the more you will take away.