Matera: Italy's Cinderella Story

You know there must be something particularly special about a place when, despite the distance from transport hubs and tricky arrival logistics, it suddenly starts popping up on dream itineraries and bucket lists from glossy travel magazines to backpacking blogs.

matera-italy-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

The ancient city of Matera is one of those difficult yet rewarding special places, located in the extreme southern province of Basilicata just a few kilometers from the border with Puglia, and tumbling down a canyon ridge overlooking the neighboring Murgia Materana Park. Not particularly near any principal airports, and set a bit off by itself at the point where the Salento peninsula “heel” attaches to Italy’s “boot”, this hauntingly beautiful place is unique and memorable enough to have been named both a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993 and, just this year, the European Capital of Culture for 2019.

Chestnuts: Italy's Best Kept Fall Secret

Fall is the key season for a number the most well-known (and beloved) staples of Italian cuisine. Grapes and olives are harvested in fall, quickly yielding the year's new wine and fresh-pressed oil. Foraging and hunting hit their peak in fall, and much of Italy serves mushrooms, truffles, and game at their autumn Sunday meals. Fall is also when many Italians begin to home-butcher their pigs, and put up salame and sausages to cure through the winter months.

Roasted Chestnuts(Photo via Flickr by Allen Brewer)

But few know that there is another fall treat that dominates Italy's menus (and chilly evenings around the fire): chestnuts.

Tuscan Villages to Discover: Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino

Italy is a country of contrasts, with differences between regions so stark that a trip from north to south seems to span a continent rather than a country.

Pienza(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

You don't need to drive for hundreds of kilometers to see how dramatically Italy can vary both culturally and architecturally. It is enough to simply travel a bit around the region of Tuscany, beginning in the elegant and bustling city of Florence marked by the wealth and power of the Medici and still one of Italy's most vibrant cultural and economic hubs, and moving on through the iconic Tuscan countryside to some of its lovely hilltowns, popular with travelers but with a quieter, more rustic atmosphere reflecting a humbler history much more closely tied to the rural culture of farming families and provincial nobility.

What We're Drinking, Part 2: More Outstanding Italian Wines On Our Table

Fall seems like the perfect season for wine, perhaps because the crisp evenings call for cozy fireplaces and warming reds, and perhaps because wine is so closely linked to the months of September and October, when most vineyards in the northern hemisphere are harvested and the delicate process of fermentation begins to work its magic on the crushed grapes.

wine-barrels-chianti-tuscany-cr-brian-dore(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Which is why we thought we’d take a fresh look at our domestic cantina, which we last did almost two years ago, and share some of the great bottles we’ve discovered (and stockpiled) during the last few trips to Italy. Read More...

Fave dei Morti: A Sweet Treat for A Bittersweet Holiday

Americans may have their candy corn and color-themed Reese’s Pieces, but Italy has a seasonal sweet much more tempting come the end of October.

fave-dei-morti-italy-cr-rebecca-winke(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Pasticcerie throughout central Italy begin turning out fave dei morti (sometimes called ossa dei morti)--beans (or bones) of the dead--a few weeks before All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. These soft almond cookies, sometimes laced with cinnamon, citrus, or rum, are covered in granulated sugar and baked into an oval bean (or slightly longer bone) shape until just barely golden.