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Aug 31, 2011 07:30 AM

foodies in Italy, where to go?

I imagine you can find amazing food anywhere in Italy. My dream is to find smaller towns/villages that we can enjoy Italian culture for a few days a days at a time, without spending a fortune. Likely we will have a car to facilitate this. Wine touring is a must in this area too. We will be there in April 2012, flying in and out of Rome and having 2 full weeks. I don't even know where to start! A guide book (for off the beaten path) recommendation would be appreciated. We are not interested in the big city tourist attractions at all. There is a good chance we will be visiting some vineyards up in Verona. Driving up to 5 hours in a day, is not unreasonable to us.

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  1. The guidebook for your purposes is Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler. Don't be misled by the name: he emphasizes local places rather than high-end places. But once you've decided where you're going, check online that the places are all still open.

    1. I second the recommendation of Fred Plotkin's book. I would also encourage you to take 10-15 minutes of scroll thru the many, many posts that are already here about taking "foodie" trips in Italy.

      Here is a thread that might be especially interesting:

      1 Reply
      1. re: DavidT

        look right below here at the threads linked under italy Board Discussions for some possibly relevant discussion threads

      2. Fred's book is fantastic. But there are also some great guides published by Slow Food. Some only in Italian, but others also in English. Osteria d'Italia and they do other smaller guides to various towns and regions. Go to their web site and you can get a full listing.

        16 Replies
        1. re: minchilli

          Thank you for the guide book recs they sound perfect. Also that link for the chow thread helped a lot. It sounds like the Emilia-Romagna region will be exactly what we are looking for and in a reasonable area.

          one thing, how hard is it to get accommodations? Can we be spur of the moment travelers? I am loving the idea of agritourismo, staying in farm houses. I would love to not have to book everything months in advance. We are there right after Easter.

          1. re: cleopatra999

            Start here:
            In English, by region, with links to individual sites.

            1. re: bob96

              In order to better help you find the places you're looking for, how do you define "amazing food"? I have some thoughts as to areas, both in the countryside and smaller towns, as well as places to eat, but I'd like to get a better idea of what you're looking for in terms of types of food and types of restaurants.

              For example, there are two types of ristorante/trattorie for good food. There are those you walk out of and say WOW, what an incredible meal; the chef has an unbelievable skill with first class ingredients. Then there are those places where you walk out and say, that was a really excellent meal, exactly what it should be, "I can't wait to go back"... but it's not a WOW moment. Then, of course, there are the other 98% plus places that you don't want to go to if you are really interested in eating well, because the food is nothing special or is poor.

              Also, is wine an important consideration at a meal? It sounds as if it might be considering that you mentioned going to the Verona vineyard area.

            2. re: cleopatra999

              The Slow Food locande guide is chock full of places where you eat well as well as sleep well. I took a July trip to valle d'Aosta with no advance reservations, and using the Slow Food guide and the Michelin Red guide, always landed lodgings with a restaurant with no advance plan. If you cannot buy the Slow Food guides where you are, you can buy them when you arrive in Italy.



              Do be aware that both Bologna and Verona host many large trade fairs in Spring, which make advance reservations for the most famous restaurants and desirable hotels a necessity in those cities. But if you are driving, it is better to lodge outside these cities anyway, and food and hospitality in the neighboring countryside is fantastic.

              1. re: barberinibee

                thank you again for all the links, I look forward to checking them out.
                I believe we are just missing the trade fairs such as VinItalia. I am definitely interested in staying mostly outside the cities.
                My idea of amazing food for this trip is what I would best describe as rustic/homemade. I want to experience Italian food the way an Italian grandmother would make it. I would like to experience regional specialties and would love to see the source of some of these.
                I know at some point on our trip we will also indulge on a WOW meal.
                And yes, wine is imperative through all of this, we will spend a few days at least wine touring.

                1. re: cleopatra999

                  Most areas in Italy will have your idea of amazing food… “rustic/homemade, the way an Italian grandmother would make it.” Unfortunately, most of it will be mediocre or poor. Few restaurants or trattorias will have even a decent wine list.

                  From what I know of food and restaurants in northern Italy, which, without false modesty, is a lot, (the center and the south, except for the Abruzzo, I’m much less familiar with so someone else will have to suggest places), here’s what I would suggest you think about.

                  There are two, possibly three areas to look where the countryside and small cities (which you said was important to you) predominate, lots of ristorante/trattorie/osterie serving rustic/ homemade food that is excellent, and care about their wine lists. The first two areas are obvious. The first is Emilia- Romagna and southern Lombardia; think of this area as roughly bounded by the triangle of Mantova, Parma and Cremona. This encompasses a lot of the eastern end of the Pianura Padana, some of the richest farmland in Italy. Lots of GREAT country trattorie/ristorante, some comfortable hotels, a small exquisite “no tourist “city, Mantova, with a wonderful not expensive hotel that could certainly be used as a partial base for 5 to 7 days of eating in the countryside, and in the city itself which has a few very good trattorie. Notice that this is part Lombardia and part Emilia Romagna, but not the very popular Emilia Romagna of the Bologna area which is, in my mind, by far the most over-rated area in northern Italy re restaurants. The triangle is the true breadbasket of the North and the food reflects it. Unlike the past (say 20 years ago and before), where wine was an afterthought for most trattoire, the goods ones have wine lists that are excellent.

                  The other area, of course, is Piemonte. Wine there is crucial and the places to eat reflect it. The food is very special, dish after dish of fantastic combinations. Having gone there over and over and over again for 35 years, we can never get enough of it. Wonderful ristorante/trattorie in the countryside, lovely places to stay, small gems of towns, particularly Alba and Asti, beautiful vineyards. It is hard to overstate how lovely it all is and the spring is a wonderful time to be there. The only thing you’ll be missing are the truffles, but there is much more to Piemonte.

                  I hate to leave out Liguria which is one of my favorite places and Tuscany where I live, but the “magic triangle” in Lombardia/Emilia Romagna, and Piemonte, I think are better suited to what you are looking for. The other area I’d consider in terms of the combination of wonderful trattorie, “different” excellent food dishes and wine, would be Friuli, particularly the area bounded by the parallelogram of Udine, Cividale, Gorizia and Cormons. Again, all the things said about the first two areas apply here.

                  To answer your other question about booking months in advance. The answer is no, you don't have to do it months in advance. As far as places to stay, you have to book in advance, but certainly not months. In terms of places to eat, most places the same day, some, at most, a day or two before. Even with the WOW restaurants, only a few days before.

                  Lastly, there is at least one Wow restaurant in both the triangle and Piemonte and there is definitely one not that far from Verona where you said you’d be. There is, to my knowledge, not a Wow restaurant in Friuli.

                  I’ve written extensively here about “the magic triangle.” I, and many others, have written extensively about Piemonte and to a certain extent Friuli. Look at all the posts and come back with your initial thoughts and I’m sure many of us will be happy to answer your questions.

                  1. re: allende

                    I have reviewed many posts and I have especially paid attention to what you said Allende. Our itinerary is as follows now: train from Rome to Bologna, couple days there, then rent a car and do a loop to Parma, Cremona, Verona, and back to Bologna through Mantova.

                    If anyone has any specific recommendations for these areas for restaurants, hotels, farm stays, or wineries. That would be great.

                    1. re: cleopatra999

                      Cleopatra, I have lived in Italy for 10 years and I love great food and wine as well as my wife who is a superb cook. DO NOT MISS PIEDMONT. IMO Emiglia Romagna runs a distant second in overall ratings , although they have given the world some great foods such as prosciutto, balsamico, parmagiano cheese an lets not forget spaghetti bolognese :-)

                      1. re: Villasampaguita

                        Cleopatra, I think Villasampaguita is both correct and incorrect about what he says. IMO opinion he is correct in saying that you should go to Piemonte ( I said that in my second post above). It is a fantastic area and in the 35 years we've been going there it has gotten better and better in terms of places to eat and stay. With two weeks of travel you should be able to accomplish that. Certainly it would be an interesting experience. Although not exactly the same, Parma, Cremona, Mantova and Verona have somewhat similar food. If it's food you're interested in, I would cut out Cremona and Verona (both wonderful towns for more than food) and spend the days in Piemonte., probably around Alba and Barolo.

                        Of course I disagree with his thought that Emilia Romagna (n.b) "runs a distant second in overall ratings" (whatever "overall ratings" means). The areas are very different, both are wonderful, but to say that one runs a distant second in "ratings" is just folly.

                        You asked for specific recommendations. I, and a few others, have written extensively on places to stay and places to eat in the triangle of Mantova, Cremona and Parma, the golden triangle for food in Emilia Romagna. There are incredible places to eat, particularly trattorie in the countryside. Look at some of the posts and you'll see hotels like Casa Poli in Mantova, country trattorie (and places to stay) like La Buca in Zibello and Da Ivan in Roccabianca... and many more. If you have any specific questions, just ask.

                        La Buca
                        via Ghizzi 6, Zibello (PR), Zibello, Emilia-Romagna 43010, IT

                        Da Ivan
                        via Villa 73, Roccabianca di Fontanelle, Emilia-Romagna 43010, IT

                        1. re: allende

                          Allende, maybe I was a bit crass in my reply, after a stressful day in Torino, made worse by driving in torrential rain, I was annoyed at the OP for ignoring your para about Piedmont. (apologies Cleopatra999).

                          Actually what I meant to say is that ER runs a distant second overall in my personal ratings compared to Piedmont. Of course I have not gastronomically travelled as much as you have in Italy, running an agriturismo in Piedmont doesn’t leave much time for extended breaks out of the region, but we have made short forays down the Po valley, and although there are some gems in ER (Zibello as you mentioned – I hope they are not inundated by the Po – and Scandiano are two that readily come to mind); it seemed to us that one really needed some recommendations where to go, whereas in Piedmont I am of the opinion that you can find wonderful little osterie and trattorie almost anywhere you go and inexpensive too. And I think we can agree that the vino in ER cannot be compared to Piedmont. So the distant second in is my opinion, but then I will also admit to being biased.

                          Also in my opinion, if you were coming to Piedmont for the first time, I would recommend the vicinity of Asti as being more central to the whole wine and food “central zone”. Alba and Barolo areas are not to be missed for sure, but that’s only one subsection of the whole (and an expensive one at that) area and not as convenient for say Turin or the Monferrato, which Asti is, as well as being not far from Alba area.

                          However next time I am in ER I will definitely check your past posts :-)

                          1. re: Villasampaguita

                            Unfortunately I feel that a trip to both ER and Piedmont would be too stressful. I really like to enjoy an area and not rush around a lot. We are going to Verona to specifically visit 2 vineyards that my cousin reps over here. As well we hope to mountain bike at Lake Garda. If these plans fall through I can see adding in another region, but most likely it would be one closer to Rome.

                            When I have a moment I will look into your other posts Allende regarding ER.

                            Having never been to Italy, I cannot imagine we will be disappointed with being in ER only.

                            We are considering driving from Rome up the West coast to Bologna rather than the more direct inland route, I would think that this will give us some interesting changes in regional fare along the way.

                            1. re: cleopatra999

                              "Having never been to Italy, I cannot imagine we will be disappointed with being in ER only."

                              Fair enough, enjoy.

                              1. re: Villasampaguita

                                I'd like to think of Piemonte as an area that one "graduates" to:

                                If it's your first trip to Italy, you may be inclined to do the Best Of route: Rome (carbonara! amatriciana! cacio e pepe! pizza al taglio!), Venice (cicchetti! fish risotto!), Florence (bistecca! lampredotto!) - where all the sights and tastes are bound to overload your senses and keep you mesmerized for a lifetime to come.

                                Then if you liked it (and most do - but I only speak from personal experience though), for your second trip you'd go E-R: (Parma, Modena, Bologna, Ferrara, Ravenna etc) and perhaps throw in Lombardia (Milan, Bergamo, Como), Umbria (Orvieto, Perugia).. (doesn't have to be in this order btw, just sayin)

                                Then after this (or you could do this before E-R, but I think some of the food in Piemonte may be unfamiliar to those that are still beginners to Italy.. whereas E-R has items like tagliatelle ragu, lasagne, tortellini etc that's commonly found abroad - in various incarnation/interpretations), it's just a natural progression onto Piemonte - where one could easily spend a week (and even then you've just scratched the tip of the iceberg) in the area eating all the superb nocciole, tartufi, panacotta, tajarin, agnolotti, fassone etc that you could possibly handle (beware, you will return home with what I'd like to call the Piemonte Ponch). And if you love wine, (il sigh) - barolo, barbera, moscato, barbaresco, dolcetto etc.. and I'm not even that big of a wine drinker either :0

                                Of course one can not forget Trentino AA, Friuli, Valle d'Aosta, the Marche, Abruzzo, Molise.. and everything in the heel and foot (Naples, Lecce,etc etc).. and not to forget Sicily (and I'm sure I'm missing a region or 2, forgive me, I am self taught in the ways of the delicious boot country). Aside from Naples, I've yet to visit these places, but it is definitely something I'd like to do. Just need to find the infinite vacation time and self replenishing bank account!

                                So yes, to sum it up: If you liked Italy the first time, chances are you will keep returning for a brand new adventure in a whole new region, because each region offers up new foods, customs, language (yes, dialect) etc.

                                Buon viaggio.

                                1. re: DistendedBelly

                                  Buon viaggio, but I wanted to add that while DistendedBelly may feel that Piemonte is a region "one graduates too", I feel one can plunge right in to any region of Italy. Skip the academic approach to Italy, and forget about ratings. Much of the food of Italy is incomparable, and certainly its regions are.

                                  My husband's favorite Italian cuisine is Piemontese, but it is not mine. Which is not to say I think it "ranks" second or third or last to anyplace else, it is just that I adore other regional cuisines in a way that I don't adore Piemontese cuisine. Actually, I don't adore the cuisine in Emilia-Romagna as much as a I adore it in some other regions of Italy. I love olive oil.

                                  1. re: barberinibee

                                    PS: Just a few added thoughts:

                                    Many of the foods of Piemonte -- most notably risotto -- are now completely familiar to travelers to Italy. Every region has some dishes that don't make it out of the region (unless in highly bastardized form). I really don't see any reason to view Piemonte as being an acquired taste.

                                    I do think that, independent of personal preferences in taste (some people like braised meats, others prefer fish), one can admire some areas more than others for the discipline they exercise in cooking and for the high quality one finds in the markets and stores. There are places I go in Italy where I feel people are just "stricter" about food and sticklers for quality. (Both Fruili-Venezia-Guilia and Emila-Romagna have jumped out for that in my experience.) Other places, just the opposite (but I'm not saying that about Piemonte).

                              2. re: cleopatra999

                                As an expat Albertan, I would suggest Piedmont as a must visit. I know after living in Edmonton for a number of years, there's nothing comparable to Piedmont cuisine available in Alberta. It will be truly a culinary adventure, as most of the food will be new to you.

                                It also doesn't hurt that the Nizza-Asti-Alba area is stunningly beautiful and produces some excellent wines. I go there every chance I get since I only live a three hour drive away. Beats going to Saskatchewan! ;)

            3. You may want to explore the region of Abruzzo which you can reach in a little over an hour from Rome and away from the mass tourist routes. The cuisine is very rich and rustic while the wines of Montepulciano D'Abruzzo & Cerasuolo are excellent drinking wines. There is also unbelievable olive oil produced in some of the most picturesque olive groves of central Italy. Hopefully these two articles may provide some inspiration/information for you on your trip.


              1. Cleopatra,

                You MUST go to Lucignano just off the A1 between Sinalunga and Monte San Savino. You will find everything you are looking for at Albergo Da Toto in the middle of this beautiful and charming town. Tell Boris and Marianna that Tusanlover sent you.

                The welcome is great and the food is fabulous. (In the rustic Tuscan country style.)

                Da Toto
                Piazza del Tribunale, 6, Lucignano, Tuscany 52046, IT