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The ultimate Italian road trip

Hey all,
My girlfriend and I are traveling through Italy in early June and would love some seasoned eater and travelers advice.
A bit about us.
We travel very often, and would rather spend our money on a flight and an off the beaten path meal than a fine dining experience in our own town (SF and LA). We are active in the kitchen and love the slow food movement. We cure our own meat, roll our own pasta, brew beer, and I have built several brick ovens and computer controlled meat smokers. Needless to say, we not only love food, but love the process and the artisans who take pride in their craft.
Our upcoming trip is a quick one, but since we are both focused on the same thing, are hoping we can avoid tourist traps.
Unfortunately we don't speak Italian, but will have our iPhones ready with a dictionary.
Our current plan is to fly into Milan and make our way south. Our only requirement is to make it to Sicily for a few days and eventually back to Rome for our flight home.
So, with 9 days, what are the must do food lover experiences from Milan to Sicily.
We have read quite a few threads on each city (Florence, bologna, Rome, etc)....but were hoping for a higher level sense of how to plan our trip.
Is each city best seen on foot? We are happy to walk several miles a day. Are the artisans outside the city and we need a car? Is there amazing food to be had on the roadside in the country? If you could pick 3 best foodie cities, which would they be?

Our budget is flexible, but we get far more excited by a great rustic meal than a fine dining experience. Maybe even a few home meals? Also, recommended cooking classes are great too.
Sorry if this has so many questions, and our excitement is transparent. We probably should have made this a month long trip.

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  1. Search this board for anything to do with Piemonte -- and particularly posts by Allende. Piemonte is all about wine, food and some of the most unspoiled countryside in Italy. Stay in one of the many perched villages, try restaurants like Da Bardon, Il Centro and Da Renzo, drink great barolos and barbarescos at reasonable prices. In three days, you will have fallen in love.

    1. To get from Milan down to Sicily and back to Rome in 9 days without feeling rushed or pressed for time will be quite a challenge.

      I second the recommendation for spending a few days in Piemonte, where you will find possibly the best food in Italy, if not all of Europe. Having a car there will be a necessity.

      You might want to check what days are "market days" in the cities & towns you are thinking of visiting. Various food growers and artisans in the countryside will be bringing their goods to market and be in one place on the same day. That will save you the time of tracking them down out in the hinterlands.

      Buying a copy of the Slow Food Guide to the Osterias of Italy would certainly be a good investment for you. Fred Plotkin's "Italy for Gourmet Traveler" is also worth a look.

      3 Replies
      1. re: DavidT

        "a few days in Piemonte, where you will find possibly the best food in Italy, if not all of Europe"

        DavidT is more than entitled to his enthusiasms, and I compliment him for including that tempering "possibly", but I am stickler for not overlooking the fact that individual palates and food enthusiasms vary, and that is a good thing to be respected. The cuisine of Piemonte, like every other region of Italy, is quite distinct, and what Piemonte does best may not be everybody's favorite dish. It is worth reading up on what the cuisine is before going there (true of any region of Italy). Many, many knowledgeable people prefer other areas of Italy for their food thrills, or other European countries!

        1. re: DavidT

          fantastic! we will definitely look into the possibility of heading to piemonte.
          i looked at the slow food guide on amazon, but feedback was saying that it was a bit outdated. do you think thats just a few people whining and the book is still overall great?
          definitely going to look at having a great book by our side.

          1. re: DavidT

            sorry for the confusion on this one. we are definitely not covering the entire country in 9 days. just trying to select the best region to visit aside from sicily. currently, we are debating between piemonte or maybe the parma/bologna/florence run.

            we havent done enough research on piemonte, so we are reading a bunch now.

          2. I think you are overestimating how long it takes to both cover geography and sit down to eat a good meal in Italy. It is not just slow food. It is slow service, and not necessarily in a bad way. To get from Milan to Sicily in 5 days doesn't give you much time for exploring places where traditional still rules, and having a car would be a must in several areas.

            Given the way you've described your food interests and budget, my suggestion would be that you arrive in Milan but immediately take a flight to Palermo, spend a few days in the city, and then rent a car and do a partial tour of the island. While in Palermo, buy the Osterie d'Italia guide (complied by the Slow Food editors), and follow its recommendations. Fly to Rome (from either Palermo or Catania airport).

            If meeting up with people who cure meat is really what interests you, consider arriving in Milan and going directly to Parma by train. You can rent a car in Parma and visit meat production facilities in the region. You should do a lot of googling between now and the time you leave to find out where to locate these people. There are recommendations, too, in past threads of this board. (I have no personal experience of it so can't offer suggestions.) Fly to Sicily from Bologna if you need it to be part of your trip.

            I also recommend that you invest in a real Italian menu translator (you can usually find them on Amazon and get them delivered rush order) and also invest in a copy of Fred Plotkin's Italy for the Gourmet Traveler so that you understand the regional specialties of Sicily and where best to eat what in June.

            Sticking to Piemonte alone is also a fine suggestion, but be aware that the wines of this region and many of the recommended restaurants are what most travelers deem extremely expensive, and often the ambience is more upscale that what you seem to be looking for. You can also find recommendations on this board from allende and others for traditional food in Piemonte that is what you are looking for and which doesn't cost hundreds of euros per meal, but just make sure you know which is which. You will need a car if you follow the recommendations on this board. If you want to combine Piemonte and Sicily, you can return to Milan to find flights or fly from Genova airport.

            Also be aware that eating well in Italy, even in rural places or in restaurants proud on their tradition of staying close to home cooking, is not necessarily inexpensive. Sometimes great food can be surprisingly economical (even in the cities). But it is rare to find a true bargain for high-quality ingredients for a full Italian meal in a sit-down restaurant. I've found that the best bet for that is to stay at the best agriturismi that also serve home cooked dinners -- but it takes a lot of research to pull a trip like that together.

            1 Reply
            1. re: barberinibee

              thank you for the reply. we definitely understand the geographic difficulty of traversing the entire country in 9 days. to be honest, we have no issue with "feeling rushed" (ive flown to okalahoma joes for lunch....and we flew to napa for a dinner at french laundry). that being said, we were planning to do 3-4 days or so in the northern regions (parma, florence, or now maybe piemonte). then another 4 days in sicily. then a last day or two in rome to catch our return flight.

              thank you for the setting expectations appropriately on pricing of meals. perhaps its a matter of perspective for us. we eat in SF, NYC, and LA most often in the US, so our home meals are usually about $30/person minimum. Our last trip of this nature was a few months ago to Japan, which was also not cheap. Our issue with "fine dining" and the costs is we hate to be disappointed with a multi-hundred dollar meal....dont get us started on french laundry (it was like a final exam for a michelin star...way too safe).

              ok. we now that the plotkin book in our amazon shopping cart

              any thoughts on cooking classes? (sorry to throw such a big question in)

            2. This Google map should get you started from the EM region. send me info on your computer controlled smokers!

              http://goo.gl/maps/0CNsc

              Red pins are michelin *
              yellow pins are the OI guide (slow food)

              2 Replies
              1. re: Compleat Eater

                that map is awesome! thanks.

                since we are sharing maps, here are ours:

                http://goo.gl/maps/147kK (NYC
                )http://goo.gl/maps/7ixyp (SF
                )http://goo.gl/maps/ey4P7 (LA)

              2. Berninibee gave exactly the same advice I was going to give: Take a plane down directly to Sicily. If Sicily is the goal, and you want to spend a few days there, then that is the only way to do it, without spending days and days driving in between.

                Other than that, it's really hard to give you answers to your questions, since they are so open ended. But to answer some of your questions:
                Yes, cities like Rome and Florence are best visited on foot.
                Yes, to visit artisans outside of those cities you need a car.

                I would definitely advise against travelling the length of Italy, though, and instead focus on one other area (other than Sicily) to base yourself from. Then I would just take a fast train back up to Milan to leave.

                Hope this makes sense to you.

                www.elizabethminchilliinrome.com

                1 Reply
                1. re: minchilli

                  ya. i think we are going to fly in between. maybe a flight from florence to sicily. or maybe make our way from milan to rome, then buy a round trip ticket from rome to sicily.
                  do you think 4 days is enough in sicily?