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.

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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.

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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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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.

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

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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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