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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Vin Brulé: Italy’s hot wine recipe

Vin Brulé In Italy (Photo from luccalive.com)

Vin Brulé In Italy
(Photo from luccalive.com)

Forget gloves, the best hand-warmer in Italy is a steaming cup of Vin Brulé.

Whilst Vin Brulé – commonly known as Mulled Wine – is a popular winter beverage around the most of the colder parts of the world, it actually dates back to the Romans.

The first reference to this hot wine treat comes from the 2nd century. The Romans had set off to all corners of the continent, taking with them a bevy of beverages, including wine and the recipe for this winter warmer.

Today, it is most commonly found in the colder northern areas of Italy. Throughout the winter months, you may find stalls set up in piazzas around the towns and cities selling Italian mulled wine from large cauldrons set up for the occasion.

Most Christmas markets in Italy will also have Vin Brulé.

Whilst the traditional mulled wine may come from Italy, it’s name comes from the French for burnt wine,  “Vin Brûlé”. Funnily enough, the French don’t use this term themselves, opting instead for Vin Chaud – hot wine – for their copy of this classic.

As to the Vin Brulé recipe? Each locality in Italy will have their own variation on the exact mix of red wine heated lightly (but not boiled or the heat will cook off the alcohol), spices such as cinnamon and cloves, plus a mix of seasonal fruits.

For our favourite Vin Brulè recipe, for every 1 litre of (full-bodied, inexpensive) red wine, add in 180-200 grams of sugar, 1 orange and 1 lemon (peeled of skin and white bits), 2 sticks of cinnamon, 8-10 cloves. Put all the ingredients in a big pot, then bring it close to the boil without boiling it, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat and serve. If you want to make it less alcoholic, bring it to the boil or if outdoors and it is safe to do so, burn off the alcohol vapours by lighting a stick of spaghetti or other long stick and placing it on the surface of the wine to light the vapours.

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

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Via San Gregorio Armeno: Naples’ Nativity Street

Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples

Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples

Naples’ Nativity Street In the heart of Naples’ historic city centre is Via San Gregorio Armeno.

Aside from its architectural and historical importance, the street has become famous for its plethora of stores selling traditional hand-made figurines.

These are no mere toys, however.

Hand-carved and finely detailed, they are designed to be placed in traditional Presepe, the Italian nativity scenes.

Stores line the street selling a whole range of figures said to be present after the birth of baby Jesus.

But the tradition has also expanded to include tiny models of famous personalities from the world of entertainment, politics, and other walks of life.

The Christmas tree as a symbol of Christmas is relatively new (in context) to Italy. A much more traditional Christmas item is a model of the nativity scene. The first real-life Christmas version said to have been set up by St. Francis in 1223, being modelled from an Etruscan and Roman tradition.

The street of the Nativity in Naples is part of our private My Exclusive Naples Walking Tour 

CNN recently did a report on Naples, with our expert Naples Italy tour guide lead the visiting reporter and crew through the must-see sights of Naples.

Visiting Naples with CNN

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Museo dell’Opera del Duomo – Florence’s Cathedral Museum

Florence Duomo Museum

After recently undergoing extensive renovations, Florence’s Duomo Museum is now open to the public.

This Florence museum is comprised of 28 rooms, spanning some 6000 square metres over three floors, housing more than 700 artworks from over 7 centuries of history.

Hosting artworks by artists including Michelangelo, Ghiberti, Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Antonio Pollaiolo, Verrocchio and Arnolfo, it is definitely a must-see in Florence.

An almost-to-scale model of the Duomo façade showcases most of the original statues and other artworks created for Florence’s Cathedral (Il Duomo) in the positions they were designed to be placed.

What’s more, the Duomo Museum houses an original wooden model of Brunelleschi’s Dome used by the artist himself to prove his design was sound.

Also on display is an artwork that so infuriated its artist – Michelangelo – that he smashed it to pieces. Painstakingly put back together, it is now on display in this most unique Florence museum.

The Florence Duomo Museum also houses the originals of Ghiberti’s glimmering Gates of Paradise.

If all these great artworks don’t get your head spinning, the Museum Terrace will! Offering the most spectacular views over the Duomo, it is a great way to conclude your visit to this Florence musuem.

On our guided tour of the Florence Museum, our expert guides will show you a careful selection of the most interesting and important items. Also including entry with our guide to the Baptistery, plus a ticket to enter the other areas of the Duomo Complex in your own time, this is the best way to visit the Florence Duomo Museum.

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

Florence Duomo Museum Tour

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Tips for Travelling to Italy in Winter

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Visiting Italy during the winter months in Italy is a totally different experience to Italy during the summer.

Most people flock to the Bel Paese during the splendid spring and summer periods. As such, there are many more things to do during this time. This means there are also many more people.

During the winter rather, many people take their annual leave and certain areas (such as the Cinque Terre) are nearly deserted of visitors and locals alike.

Here are some tips for travelling to Italy during the winter months.

Book and Plan Ahead

As not everything is open or available, it is best to plan your time so any hopes you may have to visit certain sites or museums are not hindered by their being closed.

Many services associated with tourism have limited or no availability. Group tours do not run, but you can still book ahead for a great range of private tours that can be run just for you. Whilst booking private activities may cost more, you’ll make up for it on the low-season rates for accommodation and flights.

Market Research

One of the most splendid things about Italy during winter are the spectacular winter and Christmas markets. Ask at your accommodation for local markets taking place in the area you are visiting.

Lay It On With Layers

Whilst walking around the streets can be freezing cold, entering into a heated indoors area will require you to strip down. Any Italian nonna will tell you that overheating yourself indoors then stepping out into outside into the cold is a recipe for illness. The Italians keep their levels of snug just right by wearing various layers of clothing that can be put on or taken off accordingly.

The cobblestones in the historical cities can also be freezing cold. A woollen innersole inserted into your boots can make such a difference to how much you enjoy walking around the beautiful sites of Italy.

Nativity Scenes

If you are visiting Italy in December or January, be sure to check out the local Presepio – the more traditional holiday decorations in Italy. Most cities and towns will have theirs up throughout December and January, with the traditional date to be put away usually considered as 8th February.

The baby Jesus is not placed into the manger until 25th December however.

Festa Feasts

For important feast days like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, it is a good idea to book ahead. Many restaurants close, whilst those that do remain open will have a set menu. Especially for small towns, if you don’t reserve in advance you may miss out altogether.

If you’re not at a set dinner for New Year’s Eve, you may also wish to go into one of the local squares or other locations (such as in Florence, where locals gather along the bank of the River Arno) with a  bottle of Prosecco in hand to welcome in the new year.

On 6th January, there is then the Epiphany Day in Italy! Besides marking another feast day, there are also parades and other events to keep an eye out for. On 6th January in Florence, for instance, there is a great parade in the city centre.

 

‘Tis The Season

Food in Italy is very seasonal and revolves around local specialities. Be sure to read up on the best winter treats for each location you are visiting.

Whilst fresh tomatoes are not in season, the sauces made from them at the end of the tomato season are out in force and taste delicious!

There are more delicious traditional Italian Christmas and the New Year’s recipes than you can poke a fork at, making it a great time for foodies to travel.

Panettone, Panforte and Pandoro are then the most typical sweet treats to try in Italy.

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

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CNN in Naples, Italy: Walking Tour with ArtViva

We at ArtViva Tours are pleased to have helped CNN with a report on Naples, Italy on their recent visit to one of Italy’s most captivating cities.

Our expert Naples Italy tour guide led the visiting CNN reporter and crew through the must-see sights of Naples.

Visiting Naples with CNN

Visiting Naples with CNN

Some of these same places to visit in Naples can also be visited on our private My Exclusive Naples Walking Tour.

Naples boasts Europe’s biggest historic city centre, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dating back some 2700 years, Naples is one of the oldest cities in the world to be continuously inhabited, with its first populations dating back to the 2nd millennium BC. Throughout its history, Naples has been an important city with great influence on significant cultural and historical events both in Italy and beyond. Besides being one of Italy’s most important financial hubs, it is has a strong (and delicious) food culture, most famously as the birthplace of pizza. Its music and cinema is also famous worldwide.

Our private Naples tour is a great way to see the must-see sights of this great city to visit in Italy, in the company of an expert tour guide to bring the history to life!

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

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WINE HARVEST IN ITALY – The vat stats are in!

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Now that the 2015 grape harvest in Italy is complete and production of the ensuing Italian wines is well underway, wine estates in Italy are able to reflect on the wine year that was.

This summer saw the hottest temperatures on record combined with little rain fall – the perfect conditions for forming quality grapes for the Italian wine production.

Some 48.9 hectolitres of wine were produced in Italy in 2015, which – as Italians are quite happy to boast – beats that of their main wine challenger, France, and Spain also.

Italy boasts a rich collection of more than 500 varieties that will be going into the vast variety of traditional regional and more new-era wines, including Supertuscans.

Around the world, 17% of wine purchased comes from Italy, with Italian wine producers hoping this will only increase over time.

But as any connoisseur of a good thing knows, it’s not only the size that matters – it’s also about quality.

This is why Italian wine producers cut back heavily on their vines throughout the season to ensure that what is eventually harvested is of the utmost quality, a production technique known even to the Medici family.

The good news is that the Italian wine producers say there is still much more to be done to improve production and wines so watch this space or, better yet, visit us – several times over.

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Top Tips for Italy Travel 2015 #8: Eat like a local, with the locals

Beyoncé in Florence Italy

Beyoncé dining in one of Florence’s best (and smallest) pizzerias that has seatings late into the night.

Italians eat dinner late, usually sitting down to dine in Italy at around 8.00-9.00 pm.

Restaurants thus have their first seatings at around 7.30pm.

Our latest tip for travelling in Italy is: eat dinner later for a true Italian dining experience!

If you find somewhere that is willing to serve up a ‘traditional’ Italian meal outside of meal times, it is likely tailoring to the tourist market. That’s not to say they won’t have good food, they may very well have. It just means the locals will be dining later, and likely elsewhere.

So why do Italians have dinner so late?

Italians generally have a light breakfast, like a pastry and cappuccino. Lunch is thus an important meal when they stop work for a nice plate of pasta and/or a main meal. Italians often take a long lunch break, during which time shops and offices close even for a few hours. They then return to work until as late as 7.00 or 8.00 pm.

If you’ve been sightseeing around Italy all day, you’ll likely be hungry well before the restaurants open. We suggest ensuring you do as the locals do and have a good lunch to tide you over. You’ll also have no problems finding something delicious to snack on in between if you just can’t wait for dinner in Italy.

From around 7.00 pm, many local coffee shops and bars offer an Aperitivo, a pre-dinner drink customarily served with some light snacks.

In certain places, that may mean some nuts or crisps, a few tasty sandwiches or even something more substantial. It costs from 5-12 euro for an Aperitivo (including a drink). If you find somewhere with a full array of foods (also sometimes known as ‘Apericena’ – a cross between aperitivo and dinner, ‘cena’) this is sometimes even enough to do you for dinner.

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

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Porcini Mushrooms: an Italian recipe favourite

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Porcini mushrooms are one of Italy’s most beloved fungi.

They are easily found dried in many local grocery stores, however finding them fresh can be a slightly more difficult task! Almost impossible to cultivate, most local supplies of porcini mushrooms are collected from the wild by local porcini mushroom hunters.

Also known as the less-than-delicious-sounding Boletus Edulis, porcini mushrooms are used in many delicious Italian recipes for soups, risottos and sauces. They can also be served over steak, or simply on their own.

Although most mushrooms do not lend themselves to pickling, porcini mushrooms are a rare example. So preserved, they are great served on an ‘antipasto’ platter with other delicacies such as sun-dried tomatoes, olives, cheeses, cured meats.

Here are some photos from a recent excursion in Tuscany, hunting porcini mushrooms. There is however one we decided not to pick. Can you guess which one?

 

Planning a visit to Italy? See: 7 Top Travel Tips for Italy Trips – How to eat.

7 tips before your trip to Italy: How to eat

Be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.

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Italy travel tip #7: Get out of the cities

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Florence, Rome, Venice and Milan are arguably the best cities in Italy to visit.

However, touring only the main cities of Italy can mean you miss out on some of the most stunning views of Italy, the most pleasurable aspects of Italian culture and the best in relaxing experiences.

Our latest Italy travel tip is to, yes, tour Florence, visit Rome, travel to Venice and explore Milan….and also allow time to take in the more natural landscapes Italy has to offer.

Some of the most stunning and thus most-loved and famous landscapes of Italy are in Tuscany. Replete with undulating hills tipped with medieval villages, vineyards, beaches, lakes and mountains, it really does have everything nature has to offer.

Trekking in Tuscany a wonderful way to get back to nature, and earn your pasta afterwards!

Umbria and Veneto also have lush countrysides to explore… not to mention some great wine country too.

How to get around in Italy: 

Driving in Italy?

Be part of the Italy travel community for top travel tips.

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