Think Tank – A conference discussing the latest on the travel industry

Tourism as we know it has come a long way from its roots. Once solely exclusive to the wealthy, academics, or those seeking health or spiritual improvement, travelling is now one of the most popular activities internationally – accessible to most, desired by almost all.

With the rapid increase of popularity in the tourism industry, we have also seen a change in the way people travel. There was an obvious shift from mass, large group tourism, to more personalized and intimate travelling. People want to take back home with them a memory, a smile, a life lesson – more than they want to take home memorabilia as a souvenir.

That being said, some things remain the same over the years – people still seek recommendations and they still want to make the best out of their time somewhere. The thing that has changed is the medium through which they do this.

What was previously a recommendation from a friend by word of mouth is now a like or a check-in on Facebook; or a photo of a scrumptious meal on Instagram. TripAdvisor has almost replaced asking a local for the closest or best restaurant in the area – and blogs and online platforms have almost entirely taken the place of guidebooks, as the former give a face and name, and not solely a multinational company’s logo.

This shift in attitude, together with today’s ever-changing world has led all those involved in the industry around the world, both on a local as well as on a national level to make sure they are adapting to the change – including here in Italy, where tourism is one of the industries that define the country today. Legislation has been changed, service providers have been adapting and re-shaping their product, and all to make sure that travelers get what they have originally sought in the first place – instants, moments and memories to take back home.

Whether you are in the industry as a blogger, or whether you are in the industry as a service provider – if you are interested in learning more about how tourism has been changing here in Italy, particularly in Tuscany make sure to join Think Tank, a seminar that will take place on the 27th May 2016. Speakers include Paul Richer, founder of GENESYS Digital Transformation; and Federico Lucarelli – expertise as a lawyer will outline what is going on in the tourism industry terms of regional, national as well as European levels. For more information as well as to register as a participant, contact FIAVET on 055 2345460 or segreteria@fiavettoscana.it. The conference starts at 9.00am, at the Auditorium della Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze in Via Folco Portinari n. 5. 

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Italian Recipes: the art of artichokes

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Native to Mediterranean areas, culinary use of artichokes dates back to Roman times. It was in Sicily however that they are said to have first been cultivated. These grown artichokes then travelled up the coast of the Italian peninsula, going to Naples from where Filippo Strozzi bought the spikey vegetable to Florence. The Venetians found it quite curious when it arrives to their shores in approximately 1480. From there, it is said to have been taken to France, the Netherlands and then England throughout the 1500s, before heading on to the United States in the 1800s, taken over by both French and Spanish immigrants.

Italians have thus had several centuries to perfect the art of cooking artichokes, and perfect it they have!

Today, artichokes are featured on ‘antipasto’ dishes, in first courses (risotto, pasta, lasagne…), stuffed and served as mains or as a side dish (either on their own or in salads). They can also be served on pizza.

As artichokes oxidise quickly, it is best to have a bowl of water with a good squeeze of lemon juice in which to keep the cut artichokes whilst prepping the other pieces. This will stop them turning black whilst preparing other parts.

To prepare artichokes requires firstly chopping off the woodiest part of the stem. There is then to remove the more fibrous outer leaves. The spiky tips (thorns) of the top of the artichoke are usually cut off also.

Once the harder outer shells have been removed, it is important to discard the ‘fuzzy’ choke in the centre.  If wanting to keep the artichoke whole, this can be done opening up the leaves (making sure you’ve already trimmed the thorns off first!), before using a teaspoon to scoop out the furry centre. Be aware though, it’s trickier than it sounds! Otherwise, cut the artichoke in half long ways for easy access to scrape out the choke.

To cook artichokes, they can be steamed, cooked on the grill, or even eaten raw. It is quite common to preserve them in oil to have this delicious thistle year-round.

A yummy artichoke salad recipe sees the artichokes prepared with the hard outer leaves removed until the layer of light yellowy-green leaves. Once you think you’ve removed enough leaves, you’ll usually have to remove another layer or two! Next, cut the artichoke in half long-ways and remove the choke, trying to keep the rest of the leaves attached. With a sharp knife and steady hand, thinly slice the artichokes into lengths. Once cut, keep in lemony water so the leaves don’t oxidise. When all are cut, remove the artichokes from the water and pat dry. Place in a bowl then quickly coat with a good dose of extra virgin olive oil, another squeeze of lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Shave some good quality parmesan atop before mixing. Make it even more special with a drizzle of high-quality, aged balsamic vinegar. Garnish with some more parmesan and serve as a refreshing starter or side dish.

You can also prepare the raw artichokes in the same way then mix with a good amount of rocket leaves for a unique summer salad recipe. In this case, even a regular balsamic will suffice, although it is also delicious without.

Artichokes can be cooked in a pot with a generous splash of olive oil. Left covered for around 30 minutes over a low heat, they will become nice and soft. Once cooked, they can be garnished and eaten as is or let to cook, placed in sterilised jars, then covered with olive oil to preserve. Some people prefer to cook with lemon juice and/or vinegar. These are delicious chopped up and served in salads, on a hors d’oeuvres platter, on bread as a ‘crostini’… or eaten straight out of the jar when no-one is looking!

To stuff the whole artichokes, once the raw artichokes have been prepared as above, open up the heart and stuff it. One of our favourites is to stuff the artichokes with a mix of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or parmesan), breadcrumbs, Italian parsley, chopped garlic and a pinch of salt. You can pimp it up with the addition of crumbed Italian sausage or pancetta added in also. Mix together, stuff the artichoke (using a teaspoon to pump the mix into all the ‘nooks and crannies’) then top with some more cheese. In a large pot, place a small amount of water then the artichoke hearts, cover the pot and steam for around 30 minutes until nice and soft, with gooey cheese on top. Enjoy hot!

Discover more about Italian recipes in one of our hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

Artviva Tours: in FlorenceRomeVeniceMilanCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

 

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Eating gluten free in Italy

Travelling with a food intolerance (such as gluten) or allergy (like with celiac disease) is never easy. Visiting Italy and eating gluten-free might seem daunting, almost impossible, to some. The good news is that the prevalence of wheat in the Italian cuisine has made the land of pizza, pasta and bread one of the most conscious about celiac disease, and one of the best destinations for those who avoid or cannot consume gluten. That being said, there are a couple of tricks and tips one should know about:

Forward planning

Inform restaurants beforehand of your intolerances or allergies, and also tour operators and tour guides if you are taking any tours including food during your stay.

You can look for restaurants that are celiac friendly certified by the Associazione Italiana Celiachia, the entity responsible for those suffering from gluten intolerance or celiac disease here in Italy. These can be recognized through the sign they usually bear outside with the association’s logo.

Hidden gluten

Be aware that some foods, such as Italy’s renowned cold meats and sausages, cheeses, sauces and dressings, soups, and some desserts such as chocolate or gelato might contain wheat or gluten. As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’, and the best way to avoid accidental gluten consumption, or even cross contamination is to ask and confirm with the staff responsible from beforehand.

Learn the essentials

Many Italians, especially in the bigger cities, can communicate well in English. However, it is always a good idea to learn the essential phrases and words to describe your dietary requirements. Phrases such as “sono celiaca” (I suffer from celiac disease), “sono intolerante al glutine” (I am gluten intolerant), “Questo piatto è senza glutine?” (Is this dish gluten free?) might come in handy when ordering food at a restaurant. You can write them down on a piece of paper to carry with you if you are concerned about pronunciation!

Not just pizza and pasta

Delicious Italian food goes much further than just pizza and pasta. Naturally gluten-free foods such as risottos, polenta, as well as vegetable- and meat-based dishes are just as Italian, and delicious as their wheaty counterparts. Italy’s climate as well as culinary diversity around the various regions make it one of the richest countries when it comes to gastronomy. Spending some time wandering around its many food markets is not only an enriching experience culturally, but also a good opportunity to stock up on fruit, vegetables and nuts so that you can have something to snack on during the day.

Explore Italy’s food culture with one of our food tours!

Discover Florence’s most famous food market on our Market Tour and Easy Cooking Class Lunch , taste Tuscany’s culinary tradition on one of our food and wine tasting tours, learn how to prepare your own Tuscan dishes on our cooking classes.

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Unique Florence – Laurentian Library

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A little gem in Florence, the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) holds a vast collection of early-edition books, prints and manuscripts, the bulk of which formed the private library of one of Florence’s most important families.

Having worked their way up from their merchant beginnings to become rulers and even Popes, the Medici family (specifically under Medici Pope, Clement VII) constructed the library to promote themselves as learned members of society.

Commencing in 1525, the Laurentian Library building was designed by and constructed under the watchful eye of Michelangelo until his departure from Florence 9 years later. Upon leaving the city, Michelangelo gave strict instructions to Tribolo, Basari, and Ammannati on how to bring the work to its conclusion, which occurred in 1571.

The reading room of the library features stunning stained glass windows bearing the heraldry of the Medici family and specifically that of Clement VII and Cosimo I, in a design likely realised by Vasari. Equally as breath-taking is the ornately carved wooden ceiling by Giovanni Battista del Tasso and Antonio di Marco di Giano based on a design by Michelangelo. However, the first thing one notices upon entry is the splendid terracotta floor dating back to 1548, designed by Tribolo and created by Santi Buglioni. The ceiling was designed to encase the same symbolism encompassed in the other decorative elements of the room, all of which allude to the Medici family.

Today, the museum houses 5,000 early-edition books, 11,000 manuscripts and close to 130,000 prints, around 1,600 of which date back to the 1500s whilst the remaining 126,000-odd are from the 17th-20th centuries.

The early manuscripts were indexed and put on display on parapets designed by Michelangelo that serve as shelving, lecterns and seating. These remain to this day in the 46 meter-long reading room. The collection, arranged by subject, remained in place until the 1900s when they were moved to what is today known as the Bibliotecca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze.

With Florence hosting some of the world’s greatest artworks in some of the most important museums in Italy, the Laurentian Library offers a charming (and usually uncrowded) place to visit, especially great for return visitors to the city or those passionate about architecture and the history behind it.

Artviva Tours: in Florence, RomeVenice, Milan, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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Traditional Venetian cocktail recipe: The Spritz

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When travelling in Venice during the Italian summer, a traditional Venice recipe to try is the Spritz cocktail.

In fact, so traditional is this pre-dinner drink in Venice that it is also called a “Spritz Veneziano” or even simply a “Veneziano”.

Inspired by the Austrian “Spritzer” (white wine and sparkling water), the tradition of the Spritz in Venice is said to hail back to the time when the city was under Austrian rule.

Now all fancied up with a touch of Italian flair, the Spritz recipe sees some ice added to either a short tumbler or red wine glass. Add a dash of wine or prosecco sparkling wine and a splash of Campari, Aperol, Select or Cynar (or other alcoholic bitters of choice) before topping off the glass with sparkling water. An orange slice, lemon peel or olive is added for a final touch of class.

A Spritz in Venice is best enjoyed sitting in a local bar (preferably in a charming piazza and/or with picturesque water views). It will usually be served with little sandwiches, nuts or potato crisps, as Italians do not usually have alcohol without some food to accompany it.

Most traditional Italian restaurants have their first seatings at 7.30 pm onwards, making an aperitivo (aperitif/pre-dinner drink served with hors-d’oeuvres) a great way to tide you over until dinner time and also enjoy Venice amongst the locals.

For greater insight into Venice’s food and wine culture, we have the My Exclusive Taste of Venice: Bacari Wine Tour.

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Easter in Italy: what to do, where to be, what to expect

Easter – that time of year during which the faithful and not alike find themselves promising they would eventually get on a diet. Eventually.

Naturally here in Italy, Easter, or Pasqua in Italian, comes with its many traditions and celebrations – from foods, to processions, to the most eccentric regional traditions. Whether you’ve planned to spend your Easter in Italy, or else you’re here by complete coincidence, we came up with a couple of tips for you to make the best out of your stay here during this festive period.

Eat!  

Sounds quite obvious considering Italy’s cuisine is one of, if not the most, famous around the world. As you know, Italians take their food seriously. Traditional Easter Foods in Italy come in all shapes and forms – from first course, to of course, dessert.

Our tip would definitely be not to miss out on the Colomba Pasquale – the Easter Dove. Although you can find them prepacked in stores, we recommend that you switch your traditional Italian breakfast pastry (‘cornetto’) for a piece of Colomba at your favourite confectioner’s shop, or rather what those cafes commonly known as caffe-pasticceria.

Nothing says Happy Easter like a child’s expression at the sight of an Easter egg. We say children but we also mean adults…

Italians typically wait for Easter morning to crack their eggs and find what is waiting for them inside as a surprise. Chocolate for breakfast? Yes please.

Easter in Italy Colomba

The traditional Italian Colomba (Photo: Wikipedia)

When in Rome, do as the Romans do

Or in any other Italian city really. Different cities come with different Easter traditions and celebrations.

Rome, home to the Roman Catholic headquarters, the Vatican is probably most popular Easter celebrations, especially for its Via Crucis on Friday, and Easter Sunday Mass. Also famous is the Urbi et Orbi – the Papal address and Apostolic blessing, which ends in greetings being expressed in many different languages spoken worldwide.

Florence boasts its yearly Scoppio del Carro, where on Easter Sunday an antique cart, packed with fireworks is set on fire. Legend has it that this guarantees a good year ahead.

Many small towns hold their own processions from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, so you might want to ask your hotel concierge for anything that is traditional of that particular town.

Lo Scoppio nel Carro in Florence

Lo Scoppio nel Carro in Florence

Be Prepared

Easter Sunday is a public holiday here in Italy – which means that organizations and many of the shops will be closed. That being said, the major sights and museums, excluding those in the Vatican, will be open for public as usual. You can spend your Easter immersing yourself in art and history at the Uffizi in Florence, the Colosseum in Rome, or the Doge’s Palace in Venice among others.

Transport might run on reduced hours, according to which city and town. Rail services between the major cities, as well as the long-route bus lines will still run on Easter Sunday, however it would be best to book these in advance, and to confirm their availability from beforehand.

Italians are usually on holiday themselves during Easter weekend, which also includes Easter Monday – more commonly known as Pasquetta. This means that some of the smaller restaurants and shops might be closed. If you’re planning on eating out on Easter, make sure to reserve your spot as soon as possible as restaurants can easily get fully-booked.

Make the best out of it

Mondays are always tough, especially if it follows a day full of food, wine and celebrations. Some are lucky to still be on holiday on Easter Monday, so make the best out of it. Many businesses and shops might still be closed on Monday, so you might want to plan your day from beforehand. Take a walk around the city, walk off the calories and immerse yourself in its culture. Alternatively, postpone that diet to yet another day, and immerse yourself in Italy’s food culture, once again.

Artviva Tours: in FlorenceRomeVeniceMilanCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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Happy International Women’s Day!

Italy is no exception to celebrating International Women’s Day – that one day during which we look around us to appreciate the women in our lives. Founded in the early 20th century, the 8th of March is a day to celebrate women’s economic, political as well as social achievements.

Traditionally, during this day women in Italy receive yellow mimosa flowers. One look around the streets here in Italy, and it’s easy to spot either mimosas being sold, or mimosas being held by women of all age. This particular flower was chosen as a token for this celebration not only for its fragrant scent and bright colour, but also because it bloom at this time of year – which makes it affordable.

Women here in Florence are also invited to celebrate this day exploring the wonders this city  has to offer by going to one of the many museums, including the Uffizi  and the Accademia, which offered  free entrance to all women on the 8thof March. Culture and the arts have always been a means of communicating oppression, suffering, but also victories in humankind’s history – and this is valid more than ever when looking at the way and the reasons why we celebrate such an important date today.

We, the staff at ArtViva would like to extend our warmest wishes to all women out there – women of all ages and from all walks of life, who are making the world a better place to be in simply by just being themselves, by believing in their abilities and in their dreams. We would like to also thank all those men who provide constant support and appreciation to all the women in their lives.

Some of the lovely women on today's Uffizi tour, spending International Women's Day discovering Florence and its masterpieces.

Some of the lovely women on today’s Uffizi tour, spending International Women’s Day discovering Florence and its masterpieces.

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Florence’s Finer Details – the Column of Saint Zenobius

 

Must-sees of Florence

Column of Saint Zenobius in Florence’s city centre

With all the marvellous monuments to see in Florence’s city centre, it’s easy to miss a relatively small and unimposing column.

Yet just near the Florence Cathedral, right by the Baptistery, is the Saint Zenobius column.

Right in the heart of the historical city centre of Florence, the Saint Zenobius column is said to mark the spot of a miracle taking place on 27th January 429 AD that concerned Florence’s first Bishop, Saint Zenobius.

Famed for having evangelised Florence and its surrounds, he was also known also as the ‘Apostle of Florence’.

Bishop Zenobius had passed away some 12 years prior to the miracle. On the day in question, his relics were being moved from the old Florence cathedral of San Lorenzo to the new one of Santa Reparata (where now is the Duomo – the Cathedral of Florence) where they have been kept to this day, held in a silver shrine made by Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Whilst the procession passed through what was at the time an open field, the bier in which the relics were held is said to have touched the base of a deciduous elm that immediately sprung into bloom.

A column was erected in honour of this miracle, with the bronze silhouette of a flowering tree positioned on one side, together with an inscription (now illegible) recounting the tale that was erected in 1375.

The original column was destroyed by floods in 1333 and replaced the following year. In 1501, the cross fell from its perch, shattering instantly. (It was, of course, eventually replaced again.)

The Column of Saint Zenobius is also the meeting point for our Monumental Marvels: Duomo Museum & Baptistery Tour focusing on the magnificent Duomo Complex.

Artviva Tours: in FlorenceRomeVeniceMilanCinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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Italian Pasta Recipe – spinach and ricotta cannelloni

A great dish for dinner parties, this Italian pasta recipe is super easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time.

There are two versions of this ricotta and spinach cannelloni recipe. One version of the pasta dish can be prepared in 20 minutes, whilst the other is a little more time consuming.  You can also mix and match the steps as you prefer.

You will need a light tomato sauce that can be made either with chopped tinned tomatoes or fresh. For tinned tomatoes, simply add to a saucepan with some salt and let simmer on a low heat for around 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Some people like to add a pinch of sugar to remove the more tart flavour. For fresh tomatoes, you will need to put the whole tomatoes into boiling water so that the skins split right off (or you can help them out by piercing with a knife). Chop the skinned tomatoes then add to the pan and cook with a pinch of salt until you have an intense flavour. You can also pass the mixture through a ‘passatutto’ food mill at the end of cooking to get a smoother consistency. You may need to add in some water to ensure it is nice and liquidy.

Next, take 400 grams of cooked spinach. Italians will often go to an ‘alimentari’ (delicatessen) where they can buy fist-sized balls of freshly cooked spinach that just need to be squeezed dry and chopped before using. To cook fresh spinach, take one big bunch, remove the harder parts of the stems then soak in water to remove any grit from the leaves. Rinse really well then add to a pot and steam using just the water on the washed leaves. Once cooked, let cool then squeeze off any excess moisture before chopping finely.

The cooked spinach will need to go into a mixing bowl with an equal quantity of fresh ricotta cheese. To this, add salt and pepper, a dash of freshly-grated nutmeg and a decent amount of quality grated parmesan cheese. Mix well together and set aside.

For the pasta, follow the cooking instructions. If using dried cannelloni tubes that require pre-cooking, you will need to bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add in a big handful of salt (preferably rock salt) and cook 500 grams of dried cannelloni tubes for one minute less than indicated on the cooking instructions. Drain the pasta, then let cool only until you’re not going to scorch your fingers touching them!

You now have your three prime components and are ready for assembly. Fill the cannelloni tubes with the ricotta and spinach mix either using small spoons or a piping bag (or a sandwich bag with a corner cut off). Coat your lasagne dish with a thin layer of the tomato sauce so the tubes don’t stick to the bottom. The tubes can then either be stood on end or laid down side-by-side in a lasagne dish.  Once the tubes have been filled, cover with the tomato sauce. Cook for 20 minutes in a medium oven then remove, sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese and cook for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Serve hot, preferably paired with a light Chianti wine.

 

Discover more about Italian recipes in one of our hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.

Artviva Tours: in Florence, RomeVenice, Milan, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.

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Milan: food and fashion capital

 

Milan, Italy

Milan, Italy

Milan is famous for being the fashion capital of Italy. Some of the world’s biggest fashion brands call Milan home. It is also a must-visit Italian city for art lovers and opera aficionados.

Of all the great places to eat in Italy, you wouldn’t normally think of Milan as a must-visit foodie destination. Yet it is.

Home to some 157 Michelin-chosen eateries, Milan has a strong tradition of great places to eat. Some of Italy’s favourite recipes also hail from Milan.  Milan is the capital of the Lombardy region, which – like every Italian region – has its own unique gastronomic traditions.

For a city so famous for fashion, you wouldn’t expect the cuisine of Milan to be calorific. Yet it is. It is also, of course, delicious.

Being to the north of Italy, where the climate is much cooler than the south, it is not common to find tomatoes. There are not many seafood dishes either, but lots of meat recipes. In terms of dairy products, butter is used more often than olive oil. Italy’s famous blue cheese, gorgonzola, comes from nearby town of… Gorgonzola, whilst the delightfully fattening mascarpone, the 9th century cow-milk Quartirolo and the ancient Taleggio cheese all hail from the region.

As to Milanese dishes, there is the much-loved Pollo alla Milanese – Milanese crumbed chicken. There is also the Costoletta alla Milanese, a pork chop similarly crumbed and fried… and delicious! The secret to these traditional Milan recipes is that they are fried in butter, clarified for best results.

Another hearty dish from Milan is Ossobuco. A veal shank that has been crosscut, Ossobucco takes its name – meaning “bone hole” – from the O-shaped bone in the centre. Slow-cooked in vegetables, wine and broth that form a tasty sauce, it is fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-the-mouth good. It has been a staple of Milanese food for several hundred years at least and, given its diffusion around Italy today, shows no sign of waning in popularity.

Although pasta and rice are usually served as first-course dishes, Ossobucco is one of the very rare exceptions when risotto can be served as an accompaniment to a second-course dish. The risotto: Risotto alla Milanese.

Also known as “Golden Rice” Risotto alla Milanese is principally made with onion, saffron and butter, turning the rice a rich golden colour.

As to dessert, Milan is home to the Christmas cake, Panettone. For All Souls’ Day, there is also the delightfully-named Pane dei Morti (Bread of the Dead), which is actually a cinnamon biscuit.

 

Explore Milan on one our great Milan Tours!

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