Joyce Falcone

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As an avid hiker and leader of Italian walking tours for many decades, I’ve seen many of Italy’s best mountain vistas many times.

But as a resident of Aspen, Colorado, I clearly also love to ski, and last year I was delighted to experience Italian ski culture head on.



Skiing in Italy is a case of extremes: the slopes are world-class, the food is Michelin-starred gourmet, and the skiers are top European and American celebrities.

Even with all that going for Italy’s ski resorts, they’re remarkably accessible. And with 237 main resorts to choose from, you’re spoiled for choice. In the Alps, in the Alto Adige region that was a part of Austria until 1919, the mountains around the regional capital Bolzano offer a chance to try Austrian-Italian fusion food, great skiing, and stunning scenery, including Seiser Alm, the largest Alpine meadow in Europe and one of my favorite hiking spots in warmer weather.



But though Italy has been blessed with a slice of the Alps, the nearby Dolomite Mountains are home to some of the country’s most prestigious skiing. In the Dolomites, Cortina d’Ampezzo, home to the 1956 Winter Olympics and a famous James Bond chase scene, has become a particular favorite among celebrities.



I hit the Dolomiti Superski last year, with 36 lifts and 87 miles of runs and ski-in restaurants where you can really spoil yourself. If you make it up there, head to La Posta Hotel in the center of town for the best apres ski.

And like many things in Italy, one of the best parts of skiing in Italy is the meals!



Though the interiors seem like simple rustic wooden cabins and you’re welcome to wear your ski gear, the servers are all suits and the food is Michelin-starred.

Read more about Italian ski cuisine and ski lodges in January’s Little Black Book.

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Italy truly holds the most natural and cultural wonders in the world.

But don’t take my word for it. UNESCO has awarded Italy the most World Heritage Sites in the world: 49.

Wondering who has the second most? That would be China, the fourth largest country in the world. Italy could fit in it almost 32 times.

To recognize and reflect on Italy's greatest cultural achievements, I'd like to share the wonders of Italy (according to UNESCO at least, since we share Italy’s gems large and small with you every month) by region in our new series on Italy’s UNESCO Heritage Sites.

Puglia’s UNESCO Heritage Sites


Though for travelers, Puglia often takes a backseat to the northern art cities—Rome, Florence, and Venice—or better known historical sites in Sicily, Rome, and Pompeii, the heel of the Italian boot was a crucial point of strategic and cultural importance for millennia.

When the ancient Greeks came to Italy, this was often their entry point. When foreign conquerors sought to subdue the peninsula, they needed Puglia’s ports. And in prehistoric times, the fertile Puglian soil and idyllic weather provided a perfect spot for budding civilizations.

Puglia’s UNESCO Hertiage Sites reflect all of these moments in history:

The Trulli of Alberobello (Alberobello)




Inland, among Puglia’s mountains and olive groves, Alberobello offers visitors the best opportunity to spot a type of architecture found nowhere in the world but Puglia.

These conical houses are made entire without mortar, the glue that holds most types of pre-modern buildings together. Yet the present buildings date back to the mid-1300s, and have mostly been continuously inhabited since.

Castel del Monte (near Bari)




It looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, and honestly, Castel del Monte is only slightly less mysterious.

We know that it was built by a northern conqueror, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, in the 13th century, but it echos more of a Near Eastern or North African dessert castle than of a structure you’d find in the northern European Gothic tradition at the time.

Stranger still, it has medieval Asian plumbing systems, a strikingly perfect mathematical and astronomical plan reminiscent of Arabic structures, and yet it never seems to have endured a battle.

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With so many visitors each year taking in Italy’s cultural heritage, it’s important to do our part to help protect and upkeep it as well.

As mentioned in the past, each year The Italian Concierge donates to FAI, which protects, restores, reopens to the public and reinvigorates Italy’s splendid jewels of art and nature. This year much of our $5000 donation went to restore two frescos at Santa Maria del Cerrate near Lecce in Puglia, so it seems appropriate to begin our series with Puglia.

WHITE TRUFFLES FROM ALBA

truffles

Here is the scoop. They true truffle hunters go out only at night, secretive with only their dog and do not use a flashlight or else others will see them and know where their spot is. So they go alone, or with the dog. Any dog will do, just needs a trained snout. when you find them you place them in a newspaper and wrap them up. They last about 5 days 1 week. Stored in a paper towel and then places in a jar. Open the jar once a day ( and sniff).

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With my calendar full of appointments I head tomorrow to Piemonte, Toscana and Roma. With a well planned list of stops I have used Google maps to plan each and every day. Divided into each day there is a map, contact info, and managers name to make sure that every minute is used wisely. This is called R&D- Research and Development, this is where I travel specifically to gather information to be able to sell and discuss the finer aspects of Italy with you.

Many friends ask to come along on R&D, but I have learned this can be a conflict. For friends, going to Italy is a vacation , for me Italy means work. I do not schedule in time to sit in the piazza and drink a cafe.

During this particular trip I have 39 villas and hotels to review in 10 days. It is an aggressive schedule, with only two days planned in as play days. Upon arrival, at Malpensa, and with a rental car, I will drive to the Langha and Roero with the first appointment scheduled for 11:30. Call me crazy, but I do not use a GPS. I take along a trusty Michelin Map ( now on version #4 having worn out the other editions).

The goal is to review hotels newly opened, and villas in Tuscanys' central core as this is a new service we will be offering. Oh and to have risotto with truffle at least once.

Two days into the research, and I feel like Anthony Bourdain where I cannot even recite to you where I have been. Today I started touring a lovely Relais of 16 rooms a renovated monastery overlooking a pristine valley, with swimming pool ( no the monks did not have that) the rooms simly decorated ( after all they were once cells) but now with halogen lamps. From there I reviewed a beautiful beautiful villa with 4 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms, heated pool and hectares and hectares of land. The owner was asking Eu 20,000/week for the rental. The property lovely only issue was it was in the countryside in farm country and not in wine country.

Selling truffles on the side of the road Selling truffles on the side of the road



From there, I raced to Monforte d'Alba to see a newly refurbished villa ( 4 bedroom ) quite fine with pool, would be rented so easily. If I were you I would book it now for next October for truffle season. Stumbled upon a very very chic renovated palazzo

in town and was able to squeeze into the day a classic fried egg shaved with truffle and glass of Nebbiolo. Then to a hotel castello in the Langha proper to a Modern resort complete with Michelin ristorante on the premises and an Aveda Spa, which unfortunately I could not stay and test. But the very highlight of my day was encountering this Trufalao who was hawking his wares out of his new Audi A6 wagon in the parking lot.

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It is hard to believe that this will be my fifth trip to Italy this year.   January- Rome and Firenze , February skiing in the Dolomites, and Venice, May on tour in Puglia and then to Emilia Romagna, early October to Venice and Verona and this week Piemonte and Toscana.  With this job, I am  always searching for more information to share with all of you, this is the life of a professsional traveler to Italy.

Many people would want to ask, Am I tired of traveling to the same places?  But you see, I have not been to the same place this year, and with twenty regions  in Italy each one different, one never is bored.  This trip I am preped for   some glorious foods such as  Barolo, Dolcetto, Gianduja, risotto,  and Truffles.  In Venice the classic pairing is baccala mantecato and Friuliano.   Toscana will serve cingale in a hearty red sauce  ( and God-awful bread).

En route, the United Premier lounge  in Newark airport  is a good place to work, and wait until your flight is called.   Well worth the Chase Visa Card activation charge.  Here are some of the benefits of obtaining this card:  specialty lines for check in, specialty lines through security, and of course the lounge benefits such as snacks, drinks,  comfy chairs and electric outlets for all the business gear that a working traveler needs to stay connected.  Every seat  in the lounge is full by the way, however, when checking on my reservation to Milano apparently  the plane was not.  Whether this had to do with Emirates new discounted fare or the time I year, I do no know.    As a reluctant  flyer in coach class,   I seat surf frequently prior to departure,  to see if I can secure a more advantageous position with a tad more space.  Rarely,  is that the case, especially  when flying to Europe during high season months.

On this flight first class was  empty when I looked at the screen one last time. Then the offer came blinking in front of me,     First Class  Upgrade for $859.   That sounded pretty good, but I did not take it.  After passing security,  and having some time to review,  a little voice said,  Why not try first class?    When approaching the agent she had an even better offer. First Class for $550 and 20,000 miles  How can one resist?

Accolades

2008 - 2012 CONDÉ NAST TRAVELER ITALY SPECIALIST

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2009 - 2020 TRAVEL + LEISURE A-LIST

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