Friday, December 31, 2010

Year End Summary

I am going to leave what I consider a not so fabulous year on a good note in the form of my 5 favorite photos from 2010. These shots are not my attempt at becoming an expert photographer, but those with the best memories behind them.

Lui finally gets his Ferrari, if only for 15 minutes!

VinItaly, Valdobbiadene, Valpolicella & Venezia with Kate.

My "solo" research trip to Puglia.

Daily walks with Lulu (and her new, svelte body!).


I am hoping that 2011 will open the doors of

possibility, success, peace and hope

for all of us...


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where to Stay in Italy

Version 20.10

The View from Poggio ai Santi

With 2010 coming to an end, over 25 private trips planned and several of my own research "adventures", I am pleased to share my Italian accommodations picks of the year (starting in the north and ending in the super south).

Grand Duca di York


A lovely 3-star hotel in the heart of Milan, just a 3 minute walk to the Duomo. Good size (and exceptionally clean!) room and modern bathrooms.



A small, boutique 3-star hotel with luxurious looking rooms, comfortable beds in the Cannaregio neighborhood (my preferred area of the island).

Luxurious Rooms at Ca' Gottardi

Baur B&B

Acqui Terme

Upscale, beautifully decorated, top notch service (oh the breakfasts!) and what I refer to as my “little sanctuary in the north”. Diana and Micha have created a really special place to stay in the heart of Piemonte wine country.

Punta Est

Finale Ligure, Liguria

Old world charm, lovely gardens and terrific views of the sea at this 4-star hotel located in a nice Riviera resort town. (Note, rooms could use a revamp but the all over experience is very nice.)

Outdoor dining at Punta Est

Villa Rosmarino

Camogli, Liguria

Chic but laid back, minimalist feel in a gorgeous old Noble villa overlooking the picturesque seaside village of Camogli and north to Genova.

Alle Corte degli Angeli

Lucca, Tuscany

Each room is decorated differently in rich colors with frescoes and equipped every modern comfort. Located within the walls and a short walk from everything.

The "Poppy" Room at Alle Corte degli Angeli

Hotel degli Orafi

Florence, Tuscany

Excellently located along the Arno, warm service and reasonably priced for a 4-star hotel in the heart of Florence. They even have the real "Room with a View" (from the movie!).

Poggio ai Santi

Upper Maremma Coast, Tuscany

Serenity, tranquility and comfort in this Tuscan seaside estate near San Vincenzo. Love the spacious suites (with mini-kitchens in an armoire!). The restaurant, Il Sale, is wonderful. You almost don’t need to leave the property!

A Suite at Poggio ai Santi

Fattoria Tregole

Castellina in Chianti, Tuscany

Rustic charm surrounded by vineyards and panoramic views of the Chianti countryside. Edith, the owner, is also an excellent cook. Do not miss her twice a week dinners!

The Pool & Gorgeous Garden of Fattoria Tregole

Alla Madonna del Piatto

Assisi, Umbria

What a special place in the hills above Assisi! Simple but lovely rooms and gorgeous views. Be sure to sign up for one of the owner’s (the lovely Letizia) cooking classes. She is a WHIZ in the kitchen!

Rose Garden Palace


This is a great pick for those who want to be in the Via Veneto area and have a wide range of modern amenities (even an indoor pool!). Rooms are classy. comfortable and (usually) well-priced for a 4-star hotel in an expensive city.

Torre Maizza

Savelletri, Puglia

One of the finest hotels not only in Puglia, but all of Italy. It is 5-star luxury without any pomp and circumstance. All rooms come with a fireplace and private patio (some even with small pools). It’s “sister” hotel, Torre Coccaro, is just a kilometer away (also noteworthy) where you can enjoy their spa and beach club.

Sunset Aperitivo at Torre Maizza

La Rascina

Ostuni, Puglia

Another personal favorite, this gorgeous masseria offers both bed & breakfast rooms and 4 lovely apartments around a lush garden and pool area just outside fabulous Ostuni. The owners are warm and helpful (a welcome aperitivo is a must!) and the location is excellent for exploring the area.

Palazzo Failla

Modica, Sicily

This elegant, family run hotel was actual the family home until a few years ago. It is located in Modica alto, but you can easily meander down the old baroque streets into the historical center. They have two restaurants, one of which has been awarded with a Michelin 1 star (Gazza Ladra).


Palma di Montechiaro (Agrigento), Sicily

An oasis in a rather unattractive area, but if you are traveling by car and want to see the Valley of the Temples (or do a little wine tasting at Morgante), this is the place to stay. It is a working olive oil farm (and Giuseppe will be happy to show you around it and offer you some fabulous “green gold” to try!). They also serve wonderful homemade dinners. If a cassata has been made, you cannot resist it!

Lovely Rooms at Mandranova

La Foresteria

Menfi, Sicily

A brand new “locanda” from the Planeta family featuring a fantastic (and huge!) kitchen, fabulous herb garden, charming rooms and a sea view. Make sure to visit their wonderful winery, Ulmo, located about a 30 minute drive away.

Hotel Signum

Salina, Sicily

NUMERO UNO, heaven on earth, where you could put me for the rest of my life. Ok, I may be exaggerating a little, but I love this hotel and this island. There is an incredible sense of peace and relaxation here (both at the hotel and on the island itself). Signum is family run but also includes a robust staff of wonderful people who seem to love their jobs and love helping the guests. There is a superb restaurant specializing in Sicilian dishes with a twist (I will never forget the sublime raw anchovies mixed with honey and pistacchios!). They also a terrific spa with turkish sauna and several different natural thermal baths. Rooms vary in style and price, but everyone can enjoy the extensive gardens and magnificent views. 4-star but a perfect 10 in my opinion.

Hotel Signum

Room with a View on the Island of Salina

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Wishing everyone a happy and safe

Christmas weekend!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Wonderland

on the Italian Riviera

This is a rare sight. Liguria is know for its supposed “balmy” weather, but right now we are experiencing a whole different kind of fall/winter. After 6 weeks of almost non-stop rain, then one week of gorgeous, sunny but super frigid weather, we now have SNOW!

It won’t last and that’s a good thing for people trying to get to and from work (or like my husband, drive around for work), but it is kind of fun!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Guest Blogger:

Diana Baur of Baur B&B

Di & her camera, ready to action!

My friend, Di, artist and innkeeper extraordinaire up in Piemonte wrote a good blog post about Living in Italy and a few simple lessons to making it, well, a bit simpler. I plan add a few of my own self-learned lessons shortly, but for now, enjoy!

A Certain Simplicity

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Country Chic on the Riviera

This is one of our favorite properties in Liguria, specifically located in the hills above La Spezia. Villa Maggiano was recently restored with the utmost taste and style. There are 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, a fully-equipped kitchen, dining room, living room and a large, gorgeous terrace for sun bathing or dining al fresco. In addition, the villa has many extra comforts such as satellite TV and Wifi.

The villa is less than a 10 minute drive to La Spezia and its wonderful daily market and charming “pedestrian only” downtown as well as the train station and port (ferries run April - November). It is a wonderful mixture of sea and country and perfect for families or couples.

For more information, please take a look at our web site:

Bella Vita Italia Rentals.

Friday, December 03, 2010

My Idea of (Italian) Travel Suicide...

I recently came across a tour offering the following:

Rome – Assisi – Siena – Florence – Bologna – Padova – Venice – Region of Chianti – Montepulciano – Rome – Naples – Pompeii – Sorrento – Capri – Rome - IN 10 DAYS!!!

I immediately let out a shrill of disgust at my computer (as if would reach the the tour company from cyber space, ha!), then sat back and begin to think about this marathon vacation. In one day they plan to go from Florence to visit Bologna then Padova and eventually end up in Venice. Now that’s just crazy. Actually, I’ll take it a step further...that’s just irresponsible travel.

While I realize and empathize with the fact that Americans have very limited vacation time, it needs to be stated loud and clear that:


Yes, Italy has almost too much to offer, but the above will make it nothing more than a blur. Here are some suggestions to avoid travel suicide:

  • With one week, choose no more than 2 destinations, but ideally just one. You will be amazed at how much to can do and see from a villa in Tuscany, or taking nearby day trips.
  • With a two week vacation, choose no more than 4 destinations (2-3 being more ideal). Otherwise, you start spending more time getting from point A to point B, rather than enjoying where you are.
  • Do not think you have to “conquer” the Big Three (Rome, Florence and Venice). Mixing a city with a few days in the countryside or the sea gives you very different perspectives of Italian lifestyle. Mixing one city, one countryside area and one seaside resort in 2 weeks is excellent in my opinion (May - September).
  • Do not cram tour after tour into each destination. If in Rome, sure, do a 1/2 day tour of Ancient Rome and a 1/2 day tour of the Vatican, but leave the other half of those days free to explore on your own. People watching in a cafe in a lovely piazza can be just as rewarding as seeing the Sistine Chapel, again, in my opinion.
  • Do not think that the restaurants in guidebooks are the (only) way to go. Ok, I write for a couple of guidebooks so you may find this strange. But even though we writers suggest places that are of quality, they often become “tourist only” places after a while. It doesn’t mean they are bad, just maybe not as “authentic Italian” as before the book’s publication or as you might be expecting. Instead, search some blogs on Italy and you are bound to find lots of little gastronomic gems not frequented by “that guy with the backpack” and his followers (sorry, couldn’t help myself on that one).
  • Leave time for some rest. Even if you are taking it at a slower pace, you body has been jilted with jet lag, you are eating new and different foods and probably drinking a good amount of Italian wine. Do like the Italians and enjoy a “pisolino” (nap) or two. Italy won’t pass you by while you sleep and you will be more refreshed afterwards to “soak up the local atmosphere”.
  • If you are a workout fanatic, first know you will not be keeping your same regiment up while on vacation. It just doesn’t happen. But for some exercise, take it outside!. What better way to see real Italy than an early morning power walk? You are bound to come across many lively and intimate scenes (i.e. - best time to pass by a fish market, see the old men getting caffè in a bar, watch the parents taking there kids to school, see people setting up shop for the day, real life Italy!

I am sure if I had a bit more time this morning, I could come up with many more suggestions and hope to add to this list eventually. And I would love to hear from any of you out there with further recommendations.

Bottom line is trying to do too much in too little time = (Italian) Travel Suicide. Just don’t do it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lovely Vacation Rentals in Italy

I am so pleased to announce (finally!), our new web site,

Bella Vita italia Rentals!

There are still a few kinks and we are still adding property descriptions, but you can get the overall big picture by taking a peak now.

We have many wonderful properties in Liguria, Tuscany and Puglia to start. We also offer a a special add-on service called “Travel Concierge” where we actually organize your entire week with tours, excursions, cooking lessons, private chefs, and other fun adventures.

So please check it out and pass it along!

A special grazie to Melissa Muldoon

for her creative expertise on creating this web site.

For more information on Melissa’s fabulous work:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Il Tramonto a Riomaggiore, Le Cinque Terre

As a southern California native, I struggle with Italian winters. Liguria is notorious for its rain and it feels like every November we start bracing ourselves for the weather chaos ahead.

Still, there are days like this which are nothing short of beautiful. There is no equal to winter sunsets here on the Mediterranean. Let's hope there are many of these this season.

Buon weekend.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Crossing Borders Once Again with...

This past weekend, I had a chance to visit my friend, Erica, who is staying in Genova for a month, and is the owner and founder of Haven in Paris. HiP is a rental agency with gorgeous apartments in beautiful Paris (and a few beyond). Erica has been picky and smart about her choices in properties. Literally, I cannot find one on her site that is not uber-appealing!

She also has a wonderful blog (which is on my blog roll) and an absolutely necessary ‘source” if you plan to visit the City of Lights.

I know many of you out there make a “stop” in Paris or France before south to bell’Italia, so keep HiP in mind. Also, they are offering some really fabulous deals over the wintertime, making “gay-Paree” even more enticing!

Thursday, November 04, 2010

A True Artisan in Taormina...

There are many things I love about Taormina (the views, the sea, Corso Umberto, canoli from Chemi, etc.), but there is one place that I must return to every time we visit.

On a side street a few blocks down from the Corso is the studio of Michael Samperi. Michael is a true artisan who keeps alive an old family tradition marble mosaics. Basically what Michael does is chip away at a piece of marble making incisions where he then lays other pieces of stone such as lava, tufa, travertine or a colored marbled to create a design. His work is fascinating and breathtakingly beautiful.

Hiding behind his desk was a 3x3 meter table top I am dying to have, but the price tag does not quite fit into my lifestyle just yet, so we settled on this lovely piece:

Additionally, Michael is a joy of a person. There is no sales push, just a very talented but humble local eager for people to see that artisan work is alive and well in Taormina. BUT, it’s really hard to leave there without buying something as his work is so special!

So, next time you are in Taormina, please make a visit to Michael and maybe you too will find a little )or large!) piece of unique art to bring home with you.

Il Fascino delle Pietre di Michael Samperi

Via G. di Giovanni 52

Tel/fax: +39 0942 625266

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Anniversary to Us!

4 years ago was the happiest day of my life.

Tanti auguri amore mio!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October at its Best

October can be an “iffy” month. You really don’t know what you’ll get in terms of weather. It’s been cool, almost blustery for days. Then today arrived.

Warm sun beating down from a clear blue sky. Crystal clear and calm water glistening and inviting boat lovers to enjoy its beauty and serenity. The local bars filled with Italians enjoying their “cappucci” and a little sun on their faces. Clothes that dry within a day!

Truly October at its best. Hope it lasts for a while...