From my house, the lush vineyards and ancient architecture of Italy are just a short drive across the Austrian Alps.
Italy is one of my favorite travel destinations, so my husband Johannes and I hardly needed an excuse when we left for a week of sightseeing and dining in the breathtaking Repubblica Italiana.
I adore the Italian lifestyle. It reminds me of growing up in Mexico, where life is much more busy and bustling than in Austria. The joys of walking along cobblestone streets and listening to the musical lilt of the Italian language are second only to the magnificent food and wine that this country has in abundance.
Our trip began with a few days in the towns around Lago di Garda, the largest lake in Italy. The scenery here is simply perfect – olive trees, cypresses, and oleanders, castles, sprawling villas, and modest wooden chalets alike dotted the landscape of the Northern Italian Alps.
Immersed in Cuisine
Italians are fiercely passionate about food. Their ingredients are fresh and colorful, full of flavor, and exceptionally delicious. Italian cuisine is like a religion, and ensuring quality ingredients and authenticity is almost a sacred duty.
I am a morning person, and when I am on holidays I love to wake up early and find a nice place to enjoy my first coffee of the day.
Once you find a cozy nook or a busy caffè, you’ll have to decide whether you want to drink your cappuccino al banco (“at the bar”) or al tavolo (“at a table”).
Since Italian breakfast is normally pretty light, I usually picked out a breakfast cornetti and stood at the bar.
The stress from standing in a crowded coffee shop or bakery in the morning is actually one of my favorite things about Italy. Balancing your coffee in one hand and holding your warm cornetti in the other while you find a place to stand can be hectic, but it’s an energizing ritual that I’ve grown to love.
The most difficult thing about eating in Italy is that you will never be able to try everything.
With an infinite number of dishes that you “absolutely must try,” you would need multiple lifetimes to sample even a small portion of the best Italian food.
During my stay in Italy, I developed an obsession with fresh pasta. Short, long, plain, or stuffed, each smothered in a different sauce – I love it all. But my favorite pairing by far is pasta and seafood, so I’m always sure to try Spaghetti Frutti di Mare – “fruits of the sea.”
Picture this: clams, mussels, prawns, and squid, all drowned in tomato and garlic sauce then mixed with spaghetti and fresh parsley. Is there anything better?
Italian food is so much more than pasta; the authentic, wood-fired pizza was another unmissable treat of our trip. I was amazed at the freshness and flavors to be found in handmade dough topped with a mixture of perfect Marzano tomatoes, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (a soft cheese made from water buffalo milk), some drops of Italian olive oil, and basil leaves.
And Now, for Dessert
By far the best food in Italy is the gelato. Even though Italians didn’t invent ice cream, they certainly perfected it.
Real gelato is made by artisans, and the flavors are much more natural. Gelato has far less butterfat than ice cream, so it is served a bit warmer and tends to melt in your mouth faster and taste sweeter.
I believe I ate at least one gelato per day in Italy – but, hey, we only live once and moments like those are made to be enjoyed.
The Floating City
After enjoying several beautiful days in the towns surrounding Lago di Garda, we set off to Venice to round off our trip.
The canals, the bridges, the music, the art – it’s not easy to describe one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Venice was made to be admired. It is a city with no roads – just canals, where you must walk or take a gondola to get where you’re going.
Every time we visit Venice, we let ourselves walk around the little backstreets with no stress and no plan at all. We always end up finding a new favorite place, a new wine bar or restaurant with local food and wines.
When in Venice
The simple elegance of Venice is perfectly captured in bàcari, small, traditional wine bars hidden around the city.
Most of them offer small plates of cicchetti, slices of toasted bread with a slice of fish, meat, or cheese on top, usually paired with wine, beer, or another aperitif.
These are like tapas – perfect as a pre-dinner snack, or they can be a full meal if you order several plates. If you find yourself in Venice with 30 minutes to spare, go and enjoy a drink of your choice with a prosciutto and truffle cicchetti at Al Merca. They are indescribably delicious, and it’s a great opportunity to be around natives and get an authentic taste of local cuisine.
To the Source
In Italy, they say, “La miglior cucina comincia dal mercato” (“The best cuisine starts from the market”), so I had no choice but to go and visit the Mercato di Rialto.
The Rialto Bridge in Venice is a swarming tourist spot, but after crossing over the Grand Canal, you can experience an extraordinary walk through a vibrant market full of colorful fresh fruits, vegetables, and fish.
Here, locals and restaurants shop for everything they need to make their delicious meals. My only regret was that I couldn’t take anything home with me; I would have loved to try my hand at Spaghetti Frutti di Mare at home; but now I have an excuse to return!
Food for Thought
Visiting Italy is a culinary paradise for any foodie like me.
If your travels ever lead you this way, be sure to see, do, and taste as much as you possibly can. The best souvenir you could take from your trip to Italy is surely the memory of all the incredible flavors this country has to offer.