Milan’s Cathedrals of High Fashion

Napoleon who said to his troops “Follow me to Italy where there are opulent towns with clothing stores on every block” and his troops cried out in one voice “Vive l’Empereur”.

via-monte-napoleoneShopping in Italy is like shopping no where else.  Italian manufacturers and artisans present you with products made by that “fine Italian hand”.  One of a kind specialty shops and couture fashion emporiums to open air markets and street vendors – Italy has it all.  Every town and city has its own unique products that are particular to the region whether it be food, wine, cheese, ceramics, linens, cashmere and the list goes on.The Holy Trinity of shopping begins in Milano and continues into Firenze and Rome.

These cities represent Italian shopping in all its glory! But don’t overlook the towns and villages along the way.  Some of my most memorable shopping experiences have been off the beaten track and in the “zona artigianale” regions of Italy where products are handcrafted according to age-old traditions. When in Milan I take Napoleon’s advice and walk along Via Monte Napoleone, down della Spiga and Sant’Andrea, sightseeing Etro and Bottega Veneta, shopping at La Rinascente and Zara and making sure to stop at Peck’s. Just remember that you are walking into the cathedrals of high fashion so reverence for the products is expected. The 7th floor of Milan’s venerable department store La Rinascente overlooks the Milan’s great cathedral the Duomo, each reflecting the style and spirituality of one of Northern Italy’s most intriguing cities.

Having a detailed map of the area like the one below will help you navigate the landscape of Milan’s Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Triangle of Shopping). 

Map o Milan

How Time Flys

the weight of timeCome vola il tempo. How time flies and how can we manage our time better in the New Year to balance work with relaxation.  Traveling in Italy and staying with my Italian family and friends has led me to believe that they seem to know how to balance work and relaxation. They go through the day with a mid day break, surrounding themselves with beauty and art in their homes and businesses, eating fresh and vibrant food at meals. I want to imitate this but can I.  Can Italy be duplicated? Unfortunately no! Italy is unique with a historical landscape that colors all that has come before and will come after.  But for those of us for have visited this remarkable land we yearn to bring a part of Italy home.

With that in mind, I’m suggesting my Top 5 Reasons to Bring Italy into Your Life in 2015

5. Italians Have Style

Italian manufacturers and artisans present you with products made by that “fine Italian hand”.  Laura Biagiotti, known for her Italian cashmere collection, has said that “Italian fashion is meant to add the extraordinary to everyday like”. Italian style combines superior design, quality and sensibility.

4. Italians Know the Secret of Olive Oil

Vases and amphora filled with Italian olive oil were being transported to Europe since ancient times and have been an integral part of the “Mediterranean Diet”.  According to recent articles published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and the Journal of Nutrition, the antioxidant and ant-inflammatory properties of olive oil make it an important part of a heart healthy diet reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and colon cancer.

3.  Italians Know How to Cultivate a Sense of Well-Being

Italians take time to cultivate a sense of well-being. They are committed to looking good and feeling well. Now in a country of pasta and gelato you might think this contradictory but Italians are masters of moderation, balance and beauty. 

2. Italians Know How to Eat  . . . and Drink

Italians eat smaller amounts in courses, taking time to enjoy each part of the meal.  Italian cooking relies on fresh, local ingredients regionally grown. Italy’s wines are at their best when paired with food and are consistently ranked among the best in the world.

1. Italians Know How Sweet Life Is

Italy and its traditions, food and culture reflect the beauty and sweetness of life.

The Designer Barges of the Brenta

Burchielli OriagoThere is a scenic strand of coastline along the Brenta River that links Venice to Padua known as the Brenta Riviera (Rivera del Brenta ). Architects, such as Palladio, designed summer residences (villas) for wealthy Venetians who were looking for a diversion from the summer heat of Venice. They would take “designer” barges known as a burchielli floating along the Brenta Canal (naviglio Brenta), stopping along the way to party. The barges were able to navigate through the shallow river and were pushed by oars from St. Mark’s in Venice (Piazza San Marco) through the Venetian lagoon to Fusina then pulled by horses along the Brenta.

It is possible to follow the historical route of the 18th c Venetian burchielli, viewing the villas along the way. There are replicas of burchielli and motor barges navigating the Brenta from Padua to Venice that can be rented but they are expensive. You can also drive S11 that runs along most of the canals length. We did this with my Italian cousins and stopped at Trattoria Porto Menai dall’ Antonia along the canal in a town called Mira for a spectacular feast of scampi giganti griglia (giant shrimp, grilled) and other assorted seafood with prosecco to drink.

One can only imagine the trip along the Brenta, as the life of the canal revealed itself to you – magnificent villas as well as craftsmen’s workshops and fisherman along the banks of the river. And in the burchielli of the wealthy Venetians, noblemen entertaining their guests with comedians and musicians, slowly floating down the river in colorful, elegant barges decorated with mirrors and carvings traveling to their country villas. The 18th c Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni describing the villa season wrote “Tis time to set out for the villa. O’ longed for moment come at last. What anguish we’ve endured fearing we should never go”.

A Day in the Life of a Tourist in Italy – Suggestions

clock milanEvery city and town in Italy offers a unique mix of food, wine, art and design to see and savor. So how might a traveler in Italy organize their time and effort to their best advantage. Follow the clock  9 -10 -1 -3  7- 11, beginning  with breakfast.

9:00am  – Although Italians do not eat a typical American style breakfast, they still consider breakfast (prima colazione) to be an important part of the day. For most Italians it starts with un caffe’ a strong, dark shot of espresso or perhaps a frothy cappuccino at the local coffee bar. Add a brioche or cornetti (croissant) with butter or jam and you’re on your way. Today mixed fresh fruit called macedonia, muesli and yogurt are becoming popular choices to add especially if you are eating at your hotel buffet.

10:00am  – Walking to the piazza. Seeing the sites in Italy often begins in city centro, the center of the city. Centro Storica, the historical center of the city, is the most reflective of the food, wine, art and design of the region. Self-guided walks always lead to new discoveries and no matter how many times you’ve been to Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan etc you can always find something new to see and savor in city centro. Each street or via leads to a piazza that is a microcosm of Italian life present and past. One of the joys of touring Italy is to spend time doing nothing more than strolling through city centro with a stop at a cafe located in a historic piazza.

1:00pm -Lunch (pranzo),once traditionally regarded as the most important meal of the day in Italy, is now often a quick slice of pizza (al taglio), panino, panzerotti or piadina. A leisurely lunch on the piazza should not be missed but be aware that cafes on the piazza in the more traveled Italian cities tend to be expensive with tourist menus. Take a walk down a side street and you may find the perfect neighborhood trattoria to satisfy your inner Italian. If you are traveling by car don’t hesitate to exit the autostrada and stop at an Autogrill for panini, a pizza and more traditional Italian meals. Nothing like fast food fare in the States. The quality of their self-service menu is really very good.

3:00pm – Museum and Merenda. One of the best ways to spend time getting to know the region you are traveling through is to spend at least one leisurely afternoon visiting an Italian museum. Oh I know some of you are thinking BORING. Even if you are the most museum adverse person on the planet you cannot help but be amazed and engaged in Italian museums. Often in evocative settings  – palaces, castles, churches, amphitheaters , monasteries, wineries and quirky out of the way sites – the authentic ambiance of seeing something in its historical setting can be awesome and memorable. Afterwards have a merenda, a mid-afernoon snack. A small bite of cheese and fruit, a slice of salumi and olives or a local specialty would be good. 

7:00pm – Aperitivo and dinner. An Italian tradition, the aperitivo hour is a pre-dinner Italian ritual that offers a moment of relaxation at the end of the workday and for travelers a time to relax after a day of sightseeing. Complimentary mini-buffets of antipasti are usually served at every aperitivo bar in Italy and you can easily make this your evening meal. Use restraint and save your appetite for a classic Italian dinner (la cena) followed by an leisurely stroll (passeggiata) back to your hotel.

11:00pm – Time to rest. Travelers have many choices for an overnight in Italy. Decide to stay in the city centro and have everything you need nearby. Walk to a local neighborhood albergo (inn/hotel) or VRBO apartmento for a more in country experience or drive to the many accommodations that surround the city for a night immersed in the countryside.

Between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn

tropic-of-cancer-and-tropic-of-capricornMaking coffee in Italy is an art but growing coffee depends on a botanical landscape far removed from the coffee bars of Milan, Rome or Venice. The life of every town, village or borgo in Italy begins with un caffé and while Italians have perfected the roasting and brewing of coffee they rely on latitudes far away to provide them with their magic beans.

According to Lavazza, Italy’s number one coffee company, that spot is between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (known as Robusta) grow at altitudes ranging from about 650 to 6,500 feet.

These two imaginary lines that circle the planet are the roadmap to what many consider to be the perfect cup of coffee. A climate controlled chamber where the soil, humidity, and altitude coax the sensitive coffee plant to produce at its best.

The Most Famous Comic Strip in Italy

When I was first met Rita at Castello Gropparello we visited over Piacenza cuisine, castles, Celtic legends and Italian ghosts. General conversation for a woman who together with her family have transformed a medieval castle and surrounding wood into one of Italy’s top gastro-historical sites with food festivals and evocative events. Rita’s esthetic is for the imagination and when I mentioned that I had lived in Colorado she immediately asked me if I knew of Tex Willer and Kit Carson. Carson, yes. Our Colorado cousins live in the town of La Junta, along the Old Santa Fa Trail. Trappers, explorers and traders like Carson frequented the area. In fact, La Junta is the home of many distant relatives of Carson and many of the town’s businesses and buildings are named after him. As for Tex Willer, no. But I was soon to find out that he was as renown as Kit Carson, if not in body at least in the spirit of the Old American West and the most famous comic strip in Italy.

Created in 1948 by Gian Luigi Bonelli and Aurelio Galoppini, Tex Willer is still published today. Willer is a Texas Ranger who fights, with his three friends, against all sorts of evil. A little like the Lone Ranger in an Italian-made interpretation of the American Old West. tex willerThere are lawmen and Indians, trappers and bandits but in typical Italian fashion there is also a fantastical collection of magicians, illusionists, wizards and an Irish boxer as well as El Morisco, a warlock, scientist, naturalist and doctor from Memphis, Egypt and the Black Tiger, a Malay prince from Borneo. Rita loves Tex Willer and although Kit Carson seems pretty tame by Tex Willer standards on my next visit to Italy I brought Rita a book about Kit Carson – Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West. It was the most sensational title I could find but I warned her that it couldn’t compete with her hero Tex.

Chosen Cheese

Behind every cheese there is a meadow, of varying green under a varying sky. There are different herds with their stalls; And transhumance;There are secrets of works transmitted over the centuries . . . Italo Calvino

One of the fatal charms of Italy is the food, subset cheese. From Asiago to Unriaco Prosecco the textures, flavors and versatility of Italian cheese make it one of the food gods in the pantheon of gastronomy and Calvino’s quote seems to be the prefect reason to learn about the many varieties and wonders of Italian cheese. Cheese like every handcrafted food we eat is a reflection of the land and the artisan’s hand – small producers and generational families committed to preserving and protecting a culinary and cultural tradition and heritage. Something we often forget about the food we eat today.

Here are a few suggestions for an Italian cheese board. Allow about an ounce to an ounce and a half of cheese per person. Aged cheese should be removed from the refrigerator an hour before serving. Fresh cheese should remain cold. Serve with regional cured meats like prosciutto accompanied by an Italian mostarda, roasted peppers, cracked olives (olive schiacciate), warm crusty bread and an Italian aperitivo or wine.

I’m also including a link to a SlideShare presentation that I have given in the past about Italian cheese. If you like food, animals, Italy and the backstory behind what you eat, you might enjoy it. The entire slideshow takes about 5 minutes to view. It may raise your interest in the gastronomic vocabulary of the cheese you eat and help you discover new and interesting ways to use Italian cheese.

A Seeing and Savoring Italy Inspired Italian Cheese Board        cheese

Parmigiano Reggiano with Aged Balsamico,

Pecorino Toscano with Pears and Chestnut Honey

Bruschetta with Gorgonzola Dolce and Truffle Honey                                                                                                                                        Dates with Mascarpone Cheese Wrapped in Prosciutto                                                                                                                                 Ubriaco Prosecco with Golden Apples