Friday, December 22, 2006


I happen to be very fortunate, my in-laws adore me. I also happen to be somewhat cursed, my in-laws adore me. Seriously, it is a double edged sword. I live in a culture where is it common to live with your parents until you get married, whether you are 22 or 45 year old. And in many cases, the married couple moves into the same house or the apartment downstairs (usually an inheritance). I live in a culture where your business is their business or at least they try to make it that way. And no matter how many times they say it’s because they love us, it’s still “butting in” to me.

This weekend is Christmas weekend which lasts through Tuesday, December 26, which is Boxing Day – something my family in the US has never celebrated. We are expected to be at my in-laws Sunday for dinner, Monday for lunch, Monday for dinner, and Tuesday for lunch and Tuesday evening for dinner. Overkill. But for them, it is the way it is, no questions asked. So you can imagine how it went over when I said we’d be there for Christmas Eve and basta. You’d think I’d committed a crime! The calls, the guilt, the hurt, it’s enough to drive me crazy at times. The best is when they say, did “we do something wrong”? How do I explain that “we (Americans) just don’t do things the same way”? In the end, Luigi has convinced me to go there for Christmas Day dinner as well. (Note, I offered to do it in our house, but there is not enough space – no joke!), but that’s it.

My saving grace is that my dear husband is finally started to understand where I come from. I’m not trying to be mean or ungrateful, but I am trying to set boundaries – and he agrees we need them. I adore my in-laws too, but Luigi and I need to be able to establish our own family, our own traditions and own life. In addition, I’d like to mix a bit of American culture in my Italian life. I may have moved to Italy, but there’s no reason I should give up everything I was and still am.

You always hear about the tight knit Italian family, but until you live it, you have no idea what it’s really like. It’s part blessing (they are wonderful people) yet very frustrating. They don’t complain about me, but the disappointment is clearly there whenever I/we say no. I guess it’s just something I will always have to deal with…

HAPPY HOLIDAYS and may you enjoy and cherish the time you have with your families, even if it is a overkill!

P.S. My father-in-law just called. The neighbors are coming over this evening to watch the soccer game and with a bottle of spumante and a panettone to celebrate Christmas, are we coming??!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


So please xcuse the lack of blogs...Will be back shortly writing about Italia...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Believe it or not, there are times when even I need to get away from it all. I know most people would think “But you live in Italy, paradise is at doorstep!” But I am also one of those types of people that cannot completely relax unless you take me away from my home/office. The beach works for a few hours but I always think about “the work” when I return home. So instead, I need to be in an element different than my own but with all the comforts of home. For me, this place is Baur B&B…

Nestled in the rolling hills behind the charming town of Acqui Terme lies my idea of paradise. Baur B&B is a small, boutique style B&B owned and managed by Diana Strinati Baur (American) and her husband Micha Baur (German). They bought this piece of property about 4 years ago when the farmhouse was merely standing but not exactly habitable and the 11 acres (or something like that) was overgrown and wild. It is now a gorgeous & colorful structure with 2 fabulous and comfy guestrooms and the land has been transformed into beautiful grounds for roaming (especially for my dog Lucy and their dog Max) plus a lovely pool area and dining patio.

Diana is an artist at heart. She make ceramics (most of the plates and cups are done by her), paints (the walls have many of her creative works) and has an eye for combining style and comfort to near perfection! She has tastefully decorated the farmhouse inside and out to make you feel as if there is no place better to be…Micha takes care of the “outdoors” which is a BIG job. He keeps the land looking manicured without losing its “wildness” and charm. He is a groundskeeper/farmer/pool man/plumber/electrician/ poolman PLUS a tour guide for the area!

The Suite consists of a living room with pull out couch, Satellite TV, DVD player and refrigerator, a nice size bath room with big shower (and lots of good running hot water!) and a cozy bedroom. The second bedroom is very large with a sitting area and bathroom with bathtub and the same amenities as the suite. It’s hard to choose which one I prefer (although I partial to soaking in a warm bath when possible!).

The outdoor dining area and the pool are the real “traps” for me. I can sit out there for hours staring at the same hill and never get bored! That’s when you know they have something special. I have not figured out exactly what it is about Baur B&B that makes me decompress but I imagine it is a combination of the comfort, the incredible hospitably and company of my dear friends the Baurs, the clean air and the views. Whatever it is, I give all the credit to Diana & Micha who set out to do something special and have really made it happen.

Baur B&B is a retreat, a treat and perfect for anyone who wants to enjoy quiet Italian living in the heart of its beauty and nature.
For more information, please take a look at their web site:

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

5 DAYS IN SICILY: Extremes at opposite ends of the island...

I will start with the fact that 5 days is clearly not enough to really see Sicily. But I was traveling with 2 girlfriends of mine who were on a 2 week trip to Italy and wanted some time there. I had not yet been to Sicily, could really use the break and decided to join them for short stays in Taormina and Palermo.

We arrived in Catania and after a series of mishaps that included plane, train, bus and taxi (I did not study one once for this trip! You can easily take a direct 70 minute bus from the airport.), we managed to arrive at our hotel in Taormina, Villa Belvedere, an old palazzo built at the turn of the 19th century. It was ideally located just a 5 minute walk from Via Umberto (main street) and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Etna. We were unable to check in immediately so we enjoyed a few hours by the pool and its spectacular views. I was already in heaven!

We spent the late afternoon exploring the village (mostly the plentiful stores as my girlfriends are excellent shoppers!). I was very impressed by the baroque architecture and charming side streets where ever home seemed to have lush and colorful plants brimming from the balconies. There is a great buzz about the town – music coming from a café, the sweet smell of jasmine and plenty of good people watching. It reminded me a bit of Positano but with more to offer shopping and food wise!

Our second day we took the Funivia (monorail) down from the village to famous Mazzaro Beach (much better and faster than by bus). The sea was a gorgeous shade of turquoise, the perfect temperature and so clean, I spent half of my day just floating around in it!

One of the highlights of the trip was to see Mount Etna actually erupt! There was a full moon which seems to light up the top of the mountain as a thin stream of red hot lava could be seen spewing out of the top and down the side of the mountain. Just amazing!

Another great activity included a visit to the Greek Amphitheater which dates back to the Hellenistic period and the remains we see today are from the 2nd century (a Roman remodel!). From there you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the town, Mount Etna, Castelmolo and the eastern coastline.

The only negatives of Taormina were the restaurants and our hotel room. I am sure there are some terrific restaurants there and we just picked poorly. But I’d rather warn others for future use on where NOT to go:

First was Il Ciclope (The Cyclops) on Via Umberto. Although it received a decent review in Frommers, the food was just so-so. (My calamari in Sicilian sauce was a bit chewy and there was nothing special about the sauce.) But worse than the food was the extremely rude owner/waiter who managed to throw insults and attitude at almost every patron in the restaurant. The second was Granduca which had potential with its sea views and open air terraced dining room. But the food again was just ok (dried out swordfish and steaks). More over (again!) was the owner. We had a very nice waiter until someone heard us say we were from Los Angeles, When the owner got wind of this, he sat down at our table and did not leave for nearly an hour. He spent the whole time bragging about his friends in LA and his Dolce & Gabbana shirt! He was neither charming nor attractive and made for a really long dinner.

As for our hotel, the building and grounds were lovely, just a little old. We had a very plain three person room with no view and way too much noise coming from above (every morning around 7:00AM). I got a peak at a sea view double and it looked MUCH better than ours so I would not rule out the hotel, just make sure you get a sea view room!

Day Three we left beautiful Taormina for Italy’s 5th largest city of Palermo. (Note: the easiest way to get to Palermo from Taormina is by bus. You have to switch in Catania, but it’s about 1 – 1 ½ hours shorter than the train.) We had all been warned about Palermo’s rough and tough reputation so we were not surprised by its harsh exterior upon arrival. It definitely had an exotic feel to it. My first impression was how much it reminded me of Cairo, then Mexico City and then a mixture of both. We got a cab to out hotel (I had to make the driver turn on the meter as he had not planned to!), Grand Hotel Villa Igiea. It is the best hotel in Palermo which we managed to get a deal on via The building itself is old world charm mixed with an Arabic flair. You can tell it is old, but also distinguished which meant the prices on food and drink were jacked up as well.

Our first night we enjoyed a dining experience that I have to say rates amongst the best I’ve had in my three years of living in Italy. Lo Scudiero (Via Turati 7, tel: 091 581 628) is a small, upscale trattoria with individual waiters for each course plus a sommelier. Salads are prepared at the table, you chose your own fish from a platter and then the sommelier assists you with what wines work best with your meal. Despite its formalness, it did not have a snobbish or uncomfortable air to it. The meal was wonderful and entertaining. Our dessert was from another world: semi freddo with almond nougat inside and hot chocolate sauce on top – HEAVEN!

We only had one full day to venture through town. I had a list that easily would have taken up 3 days, but I had to pick the attractions closest to the center. We visited the Zucciria Market which I enjoyed enough but thought would be more impressive and exotic: too many stands selling knock offs and not enough spices, weird fish and tropical fruits! We visited Teatro Politeamo and the opera theater which is a gorgeous building and it would be a real treat to see a live opera there. We walked by “Quatro Canti” (4 corners) which does have 4 lovely baroque buildings encompassing the main cross streets of the city. We then visited Fontana di Pretoria (otherwise known as the fountain of shame for its naked statues!) and Chiesa Martorana (beautiful mosaics!) before enjoying a good old fashion Sicilian pizza at Pizzeria Bellini (Piazza Bellini 6). I gorged on a “Diavola” (buffalo mozzarella, onions, anchovies – YUM!).

We missed several MUST DO’s in and around the city that I would suggest for others (and should I ever return will do myself) including Palazzo Norman, Villa Bonnano, Monreale, Catacombe di Cappucini, Mondello Beach and the Duomo.

I did not enjoy Palermo as much as I’d hoped, but then again I did not give it the time it probably deserved. I might consider going back someday. Taormina was just what the doctor ordered after a hard working summer. I think when I return, I will spend a day or two in Catania (which looked interesting from the bus and my fiancé is from there!), go up to Mount Etna and rent a boat to enjoy some of the coastline. I would also like to see Noto, Siracusa, Ragusa, Cefalu and some of the outer islands. By just visiting two places, I could see the extremes and variety Sicily has to offer. My guess is 2-3 weeks would be ideal for exploration there. Now if I can only find the time…

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In Search of the Perfect Rock (in Portovenere)...

When the alarm went off at 6:30AM my first thought was “You’ve got to be kidding”, as was my 2nd, 3rd and up to about my 10th thought that morning. Saturdays were (usually) non-working days and we were getting up as if it were one for the sole purpose of getting the best “scoglio” (rock) for our day at the sea. Yes, you read right. This day is about a rock, the perfect sunning spot in our favorite place, Portovenere.

We arrived at Portovenere at exactly 8:30AM. We quickly paid the (expensive) parking meter and power walked our way to paradise. Just west of the port where the ridiculously large yachts dock, there is man-made jetty of marble, alabaster and limestone mostly smoothed out to create a “beach” of rock – prime real estate for a day of sun bathing, people & boat watching and beating the July heat wave that has left the air in Italy quite stifling. The location can’t be beat, facing the western mouth of the bay that leads out to the open Mediterranean with a view of the dramatic 13th century church of San Pietro to one side and the island of Palmaria to the other. The strait gets a near constant stream of air coming which keeps you from really baking while bathing on the rocks.

Upon our arrival at 8:40AM, rock “numero uno” was already taken. The nerve of that middle aged blond who even brought her own blown up pillow with her! There are two good second choices. One was also taken by two passed out young men who had clearly been there since the night before, so we were able to score the other one: a peach toned marble lounge chair for two. By 9:00AM there was a regular stream of sun bathers arriving in disappointment (and giving us dirty looks). But we had staked our claim, set up camp and could safely leave to a morning “passagiata” (walk) and a cappuccino.

Our first stop on our walk was the port with several large and opulent yachts. They all paled in comparison to the “mother load” of seafaring excess known as “Mustang Sally”. She was about 120 meters long, 5 stories high, sporting a rooftop Jacuzzi, numerous water toys (aka – sea doos, boats, etc.) and a crew of eight. My initial guess on price was $10,000,000, but was off by a cool $15,000,000 according to the skipper. $25,000,000 with a yearly maintenance and employee bill of about 2.5 million. But for the reasonable price of $175,000 per week, you and 15 of your friends could live in the lap of luxury on the Mediterranean. The yacht next to Sally certainly did not hold a candle to her grandeur, but its company was far more exciting than any boat that day. Getting ready for a day at sea was the most famous and adored man in Italy at the moment, Marcello Lippi, the coach of the newly crowned world champions of soccer (Italia!). Luigi was star struck as if he were facing Arnold Schwarzenegger or Harrison Ford – ONLY BIGGER & BETTER as he put it. So we had our “star” sighting of the day (ok, not as common as I made that sound) and were off to explore authentic, everyday Portovenere.

We passed our favorite restaurant, Da Iseo, where Gianni Carassi and the boys were setting up for a big Saturday lunch. Carassi is one of my favorite characters here in Italy. He must be about 60 years old, uber-tan all year round and always clad in a barely buttoned linen white shirt and either bright yellow or orange pants. We excitedly announced our “star sighting” 10 minutes before, but he was able to counter with, “Oh well, yesterday we had David Beckham here and the day before it was Brad Pitt”. Ok, since when is Portovenere the playground for the rich and famous? I thought that was a 2 hour ride up the sea in Portofino?! I guess as long as they don’t put a Gucci or a Prada in the area, a little glitz doesn’t hurt.

We finally ended our walk at Bar Doria sitting on the outdoor patio sipping our cappuccinos and munching on a fresh and delicious cornetto all the while people watching. Bar Doria is a fabulous place for just that. There are regulars who set up camp in the morning starting with breakfast and stay there all day long using their table as a base than the stone wall for tanning. Our waiter, Giovanni, explains that the bar is almost more of a beach club, but instead of paying for a lounge chair and umbrella, you buy “stuff” throughout the day and they are happy to let you stay there. Mornings are breakfast, late morning a cappuccino, then panini for lunch, gelato for an afternoon “merenda” (snack) and then an apertivo to end the day - all this and a big free umbrella - not bad. Still I was ready to return to our rock.

Besides a quick panini for lunch, our rock became our sanctuary for the day. The constant breeze made a scorching day not only bearable but refreshing. The sea water was a crystal clear tepid bath. When 4:30 rolled around and our meter was just about up, I found myself wishing we were staying another 2 hours! There is something magical about Portovenere at any hour, but in particular the early evening is so calm and pretty. Most of the people have returned home or to their hotel rooms. You get the feeling its all yours – rock, sea and more. It may seem like a silly thing to get there so early and sit on a rock, but I think it is a wonderful way to spend a hot summer day. I highly recommend it and hope an of you traveling to the area will give it a try…

For more information on Portovenere, go to:


Monday, July 03, 2006

My New Favorite Past Time...

I am commonly asked the question by people “What Is There to Do in Le Cinque Terre”? There are, of course, the usual answers: hike, bike, swim, rent a boat, eat. But I have a few favorite “thing to do” that I welcome visitors to partake in when visiting the area.

Every Monday – Saturday, La Spezia holds its outdoor market in Piazza Cavour (just off the main pedestrian street of Via Cavour) from about 7:00AM to 1:00PM. There are probably a 150 “stalls” selling fresh produce, cheeses, meats, local fish and even underwear! Everything I have bought from the market has been delicious and the prices are reasonable. Nothing like getting fresh mussels from Portovenere for ½ the price they are asking at the local Coop supermarket. It reminds me a bit of the Central Market in Florence with one very big difference: everyone is speaking Italian!

Most people just pass by the city on their way to Le Cinque Terre or Portovenere, but it does have some wonderful things to offer – especially its lively and colorful outdoor market. In addition, the stores, cafes and pedestrian streets are bustling with people. You can also have the pleasure of tasting some of the best farinata (chick pea pancake that melts in your mouth!) made in the area at La Pia (Via Magenta 5 just off Via Cavour). I love it with onions (cipolle) and stracchino cheese – YUM!

If you want a true opportunity to soak up the local Italian culture and atmosphere, I highly suggest a morning in La Spezia and its outdoor market. You can easily reach “centro” by train from Le Cinque Terre and by bus from Portovenere (11 or P bus) and Lerici (LS bus). Don’t worry, the mountains and Mediterranean will be right where you left them before starting your adventure…

Sunday, May 14, 2006


I recently had the opportunity (and honor!) to collaborate with Judy Witts Francini of Divina Cucina on a "Tuscan Treasures Week" in the heart of Chianti. It was a week full of interesting adventures, entering a new world of friends and places, a sensory overload of tastes and smells, an unbelievable learning experience - and oh and did I mention AMAZING Tuscan food & wine?! It would take a novel to best describe this "event", so I will abbreviate with a list of highlights and commentsÂ…

VILLA SWEET VILLA: Our base was a 16th century villa in Panzano in the heart of the Chianti region. Once owned by the Della Robbia family, it is know a lovely 3 star hotel owned by an Italian count and French countess who despite their noble name can be found working in the garden or preparing the evening's main course in the hotel restaurant. The grounds are manicured to perfection (thanks to the hardworking count!) and were filled with early blooming spring flowers. The rooms are simple and rustic yet comfortable and charming just as one would imagine and hope their Tuscan accommodations would be...

DAY ONE: The village of Panzano is quite small and could easily be passed through while traveling the SS222 Chianti Highway if you did not know what hidden treasures lie within. The first and probably most famous one is the local macellaio and his "uber-butcher shop". The man has made a name for himself countrywide (and well into the states) for his choice cuts and creative uses of meat as well as his personality. People come from all over the world for the "butcher experience". Our day in Panzano was nothing short of that being market day (Sunday). The doors to the macelleria were open at the crack of dawn and there was little standing room (and too many cameras in action). Inside they served a plethora of carnivorous antipasti along with some local moonshine Chianti at 10:00AM! Let the party begin!...The market is relatively small but fun to walk around and see the various offerings which consisted of baskets, ceramic Madonnas, household goods and of course Chianti wines. We also visited a local shoe making shop where you have a choice over 20 types of exotic skins (including ostrich and sting ray) and colors to choose from. Shoes can be made in a matter to days to fit your foot perfectly (made me think of Cinderella!) Our first lunch together was at the fabulous trattoria run by a mother and son team serving fine but simple Tuscan dishes (many of the meats from the famous macelleria). On a beautiful, sunny day like ours, lunch is served served on their wisteria-filled patio overlooking the "Conca d'Oro" (Golden Valley). I could not resist the pappardelle with cinghale (wild boar) which is a local specialty and a "must" for anyone's menu list in Tuscany...

THE DIVA IN ACTION: Monday we spent in Florence exploring the Mercato Centrale and our clients enjoyed an afternoon of Judy's cooking lessons at her cute apartment in the city overlooking the market and the Duomo. Judy is no less than a whiz in the kitchen and should have a doctorate in food and its marriage with spices & other foods! Who would have ever thought gnocchi made with mash potato flakes from a box could be even more delicious than with real potatoes?! The butter and sage sauce so complimented the pasta, I went for seconds (a rarity for me and pasta). It was accompanied by a delicisautepork tenderloin flash sauted with what Judy refers to as the "drugs", her special spice mixture and newly in season raw fava beans and pecorino. Needless to say, "noi abbimo mangiato come le bestie e con piacere"...

FESTA DELLA BUONA STAGIONE: Every year Panzano celebrates their local sagra (festival) - a sort of "kick off" to spring. The people were in Renaissance costumes and performed a mock trail and hanging (that looked all too real to me!). After the "hanging", we experience an amazing event, the flag throwers from Arezzo. I had no idea what coordination and grace went into the art. My hear did leaps every time a flag was tossed 20 feet into the air with only the slightest flick of the wrist. It started with one person and one flag, and grew to about 10 people and 20 flags flying through the air at the same time. It was like watching a beautiful waltz interrupted by a large, encumbersome object. But when thrown, it became a dove flying in the air...

ONE FOR THE “TOP TEN” LIST: Our 10+ course meal at a newly crowned Michelin 1-star restaurant in Castellina had to be one of the best meals I have ever eaten in my life. The setting itself is special in an old medieval cave. The dishes ranged frmackerelive (cinghale medallions and tiny mackeral sandwiches) to crazy (a porcini mushroom cappuccino!) but all beyond delicious and served with suggested wines that best compliment the course. Our 7:30 reservation did not end until well after midnight!

VINO & THE TOWERS: We enjoyed a nice, smaller wsomethingan Donato run by a couple of 30-somethings whose knowledge & passion for food & wine makes a tour and lunch an unforgettable afternoon event. After a 30 minute in-depth but interesting tour of the winery, we were served a home cooked meal while sampling their various wines. I will always savor the Peposo (stewed meat in wine sauce) with their 2001 Chianti Riserva...

SHEEPS & PECORINO: For the pecorino lover in me, I was more than satisfied by tasting the local offerings of one unassuming farmer whose chgourmete better than any I had tasted in gourment restaurants and stores in the states. In addition he stole my heart with his homemade honey. What better combination is there then fresh, warm pecorino with honey dabbed on top?! I even made friends with one of the sheep who would greet me every morning when I walked by the farm - and then would try to hide behind a tree (sheep's tend to be a bit bigger than tree trunks). I think it was sort of a game for the sheep as his tail never stopped waging...

Tuscany is no new name to most travelers to Italy and some may question if it still holds it authentic charm. This week proved to me that Tuscany not only retains its rustic character but revels in it with pride and love. It is a truly magical place brimming in beauty & history, warm & enthusiastic people and endless choices of amazing food & wines. Judy and her endless knowledge & passion for the area, of course, made it an experience of a lifetime...

There will be more of these "Tuscan Treasures" weeks in the near future and I hope some of you reading this will be apart of our next adventure!

Monday, April 03, 2006

(Somewhat) Hidden Gems of Liguria...

I have always "tooted my horn" about Liguria, but it's only because it has so much to offer! Most people who think of the region, know of Le Cinque Terre or Portofino. Yet beyond these picturesque (and often crowded!) destinations, Liguria is rich in charming seaside villages, interesting and important history and all around gorgeous scenery.

This weekend we ventured to the remarkable archaeological village of Luni. Dating back to 177 B.C., Luni served as an important and strategic Roman colony whose port was used primarily of for the shipment of the Apuano marble (better known today as Carrara marble). It also was home to a large Forum (for commercial use, think of it as a Roman Empire Mall!), a fairly well in-tact amphitheater (believed to have been visited by Julius Cesar), a Temple to Diana and an incredible "house of the mosaics". The site houses several different small museums filled with statues, artwork, coins and many other interesting artifacts with which you could easily fill up your afternoon. You learn how they Lunese people lived a very civilized life in a time considered barbarian. Even how they used "basilico" (basil) as both a food ingredient as well as a "health" herb - a traditional that is still carried out today in Liguria.

After our "lesson in history", we decided to take a different route back home to Lerici via the mountain to sea pass that winds through a national park plus the lovely fortified medieval villages of Ameglia and Montemarcello. Ameglia faces east toward the Apuane mountains and the Versilia basin. Montemarcello opens to the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Poets to the north and the coast of Versilia in the south. They are "resort" areas for many Northern Italians, therefore are well kept-up, have nice little cafes, restaurants and pleasant pedestrian streets to explore. Once you pass Montemarcello, you drive cliff side along the coast with dense green pines and olive trees to your right and the open sea to your left. (In addition, there are also many trails for those who love to hike.) Once, you turn the corner in the village of La Serra, you have the entire Gulf of Poets in your panorama including Portovenere, the three islands and the back side of the Cinque Terre mountains.

What a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. So much so that we are turning it into a tour! If you plan a vacation in le Cinque Terre or Southern Liguria, make sure to visit a few of the "less traveled" areas such as these in order to fully experience the area. And if you would like someone to guide you through, you can always find us at

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lovely Lunigiana...

It was a beautiful February morning and we were entertaining a out of town friend. Since she had been here several times before and was well acquainted with Le Cinque Terre and the Gulf of Poets, we thought we’d jump in the car and explore a lesser known region near our home called Lunigiana.

We started up the winding road that goes from the sea at Lerici to the Appuane Mountains and made our first stop at Fosdinovo. This 12th century medieval village is dominated by its “crowning” Malaspina castle 1700 feet above sea level from which there are wonderful views to the sea (as far as Elba on a clear day!) and the Magra Valley. Its position was considered ideal to maintain control of the Apennines outlet to the sea and the Lunigiana region with its roads and mountain pass, between the most important roads linking the Tyrrhenian coast to northern Italy during the Middle Age. Now the village is a quiet retreat and passageway into Lunigiana and its 100+ castles, Etruscan ruins and charming “alpine like” villages. You can visit the castle and its torture chamber (but currently tours are only given in Italy so you’ll need an English speaking guide to accompany you).

Our next stop (about 15 kms away) was the lovely village of Fivizzano. This medieval town of has about 10,000 inhabitants and prides itself on style, character, warm hospitable people, good restaurants and an international music festival (August)! It was a wealthy town in medieval times and an important strategic centre, so it flourished with business and prosperity. There is a strong “Fiorentine” influence and even has its very own Medici inspired piazza. Being that it was February, there wasn’t much in terms of crowds or liveliness, but it was warm enough to sit out next to the fountain in the main square and eat our “foccacia paninis (with bresaola & robiola cheese – yum!) and do a little people watching. You could imagine what it would be like on a sunny day in June with all the cafes and restaurants filled and the flowers in bloom – just charming!

The drive from Fivizzano to Bagnone (via Licciana Nardi) was quite pleasant and even a little surprising. There was a similar look and feel to Chianti region o Tuscany with its gorgeous villas and sweeping views. Yet couple of things that did make it different – the meringue like, snow capped mountains in the background and the price tag. You can still buy an old rustico to fix up for UNDER $100,000!

We did not end up stopping in Licciana Nardi to my regret as it did look quite cute and I have since then read up on its history as a major trading post 1000 years ago! But I plan on returning soon…

Our next stop and probably my favorite was at the incredibly charming village of Bagnone. What a setting! The village appears as if it is perched on a rock in the middle of the woods. There is a river that runs through the middle of the village and many of the buildings are built into the cliffs on both sides of the river. It is topped a fortress with a large, round tower (typical of Lunigiana). There is also a castle, pretty palazzos and several churches and squares. If I were to choose to stay overnight at, this would be my choice!

Our last stop, we came full circle back to lower Lunigiana and to my favorite “near to our home” village of Sarzana. Although not yet fully discovered by many Americans, Sarzana has the makings of being a great destination with its colorful Ligurian buildings, winding streets filled with boutique stores, cafes, chic restaurants and large piazzas. Its history is plentiful dating back to at least the 10th century. The small fortified village was protects by its wall and a commanding fortress on the hill above it. It has the look and feel of Lucca which is not surprising as it was ruled over by one of Lucca’s greatest leaders, Castrocani and then taken over by Lorenzo de’ Medici in the 15th century, then the Savoys of Liguria. It was even a pivotal town for the Axis army in World War II. Today, it is a rather popular town for the young and old alike. On a Saturday night and Sunday afternoons the villages is filled with people walking the streets, window shopping and enjoying a “bevande”. In our case, we savored a nice cup of hot chocolate with lots of whip cream on top!

There are several other villages of note in Lunigiana which we passed on due to time such as Pontremoli, Villa Franca and Ecqui Terme (just to name a few), but hopefully I’ll be able to write about those shortly and you all will have the opportunity to visit some day. In the meantime, here are a couple of good links for Lunigiana: (a nice rental near Ecqui Terme) (a cute B&B in Bagnone)