Even though in many parts of the U.S., it still doesn’t quite feel like it, the first “official” day of spring is actually March 20!

While spring is worth celebrating for the weather, once of the best things that comes with that is spring produce. Many fresh greens in spring, from salad to peas, are available throughout the spring and summer in one form or another, but the real, rare gem of the season is asparagus.

In Italy, both in the countryside and even on roadsides in the suburbs, people forage for wild asparagus, a more delicate form of the thick stalks we’re used to. Long and spindly, wild asparagus a tender delicacy, but you can approximate this Italian favorite at home by getting the freshest, thinnest asparagus you can find at your farmers market and eating it right away before it becomes tough.

Bring spring into your home this month with one of these five Italian traditional asparagus recipes:

Asparagus Risotto

Blanch or steam asparagus in a large pot of water. Add broth cubes. Saute chopped onion in olive oil, add Arborio rice and sauté for one minute before ladling in broth to cover. As broth evaporates, continue to add more until the rice are fluffly and transparent. Chop the asparagus into 1-inch-long sections and stir into risotto along with grated Parmesan.

Asparagus Frittata

Dice one shallot. Saute in a cast iron pan or other oven safe pan until translucent. Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces. Cook for three minutes. Lightly beat 6 eggs and pour over vegetables. Cook two minutes. Top with 1 cup shredded cheese. Cook in broiler for five minutes.

Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto

Toss asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap each spear with one piece of prosciutto. Grill over medium low heat five to seven minutes.

Asparagus Sformato

Butter flan molds (cupcakes pans work well). Cut asparagus into thin discs. Blend a four ounce chicken breast into ¾ cup of cream. Stir in asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Fill another baking tray with 1 inch of water and place the molds (or tin) into the water tray. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Creamy Asparagus Soup

Dice 4 shallots, 2 leeks, and 2 garlic cloves. Saute over medium heat till transparent. Chop edible portions of 3lbs asparagus into ½-inch pieces. Add and sauté two minutes. Add 8 cups of broth. Cook 20 minutes. Blend, season with salt and pepper, and still in half a cup each cream and grated Parmesan.
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As you may have seen recently via email, I was fortunate to be selected to speak on a panel at the New York Times Travel Show earlier this month with several other Italian travel specialist:

  • Kathy McCabe from the Dream of Italy magazine

  • Steve Perillo of Perillo Tours

  • Dominic Siano of Tour Italy now

In "How to Plan a Luxurious (But Affordable) Italian Vacation," Susan Van Allen, a friend and author of "100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go" and "Letters from Italy," moderated a panel of experts to help travelers enjoy Italian luxury without breaking the bank.

To be completely honest, I was very nervous beforehand. Though I've been leading tours for decades, that's different than sitting, facing a group of people you don't know at all, and hoping they're interested in what you're saying!

I ended up being very surprised though, because the other panelists didn't have a lot to say and ended up taking notes on what I was saying (!). In particular, I talked about the kind of experiences that a travel specialist can arrange for you through the people they know in Italy that can really add a sense of luxury to your experience even without an over-the-top price tag.

Watch my whole talk on YouTube here or the embedded video above.
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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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I just received this email and had to share it with you all:

flight deal

This is a great price for flights to Italy. I haven't seen many flights lower than this in a while, and Emirates is a great airline. It was recently awarded Center for Aviation Airline of the Year award for the third time.

It makes me want to go back for a weekend in December to go Christmas shopping!

In case you missed our update about their new route in the June newsletter,  Middle Eastern airline Emirates entered the U.S.-Italy market with a bang, offering nearly twice as many seats per day as the airlines currently servicing the route.

Beginning October 1, it also became the only airline to offer a true luxury flight experience between NYC and Milan. Each of its 777-300s planes has 12 first-class suites and 42 lie-flat business class seats.

Sweetening the pot even further, if the Emirates sale doesn't work for you for some reason, domestic carriers have created interesting offers to try to match their new competition.

Delta has matched Emirates prices (even going a bit lower in some cases) and offered extra frequent flyer miles on this route.

If you've been waiting for the right time to book flights, we won't see a fare face-off like this again for years.


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photo-3 copy 4This month, I headed to the Veneto, the region surrounding Venice, for the Buy Venice show, an excellent place to find stunning, artisanally-made Italian products.

While I have certainly found many new items for my “Things I Love” column in the newsletter, especially these Le Furlane hand-made slippers sold under the Rialto, I have to tell you about something even better than a new pair of earrings or gourmet food to tuck in your luggage:

The Real City of Love

Instead of Venice, get away from all the crowds in Verona. It’s only 1:15 away from Venice by train.

Though romantics flock to Venice for its canals, labyrinthine streets, and myths of Casanova, affluent Verona was the backdrop for one of the world’s greatest love stories, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Try to visit when there is a performance in the Roman Amphitheatre, which was built in 30 AD and remains one of the best preserved Roman structures in the world. All summer, modern renditions of classic operas take place in candlelight in the amphitheater.

What Can You Do in Verona?

During my visit, we rented bicycles through the newly installed bike share program, which allows you to see the whole city, including crossing the Roman bridge on the Adige River many times, for only two euros for two hours.

It’s a great way to get to the cloister and 11th-century church of San Zeno, typically only reachable by car.

The city is predominately flat, so cycling is the perfect way to see it. (Be warned: they’ll put a EU 300 hold on your credit card.)

Beyond Venice, there are many enticing day trips from Verona:

  • the Valpolicella wineries, where wine has been produced since Ancient Greeks settled the area

  • Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake

  • Bolzano, capital of the German-Italian culture mélange that is the Alto Adige

  • the 10th-century Soave Castle

  • the UNESCO World Heritage Palladian Villas

To be honest, “Juliet’s balcony,” which is not necessarily the real balcony of the real Juliet (if there was one), was far from the highlight of the trip. If you go, avoid it or go late at night, after the graffiti-writing teens have all gone home, to give the breast of the bronze statue of Giulette the customary good luck rub.

Indulge Yourself in Verona

photo-3 copy 3We spoiled ourselves at Al Desco, one of Italy’s famous top dinning experiences.

If you go, be prepared to pay for that spot on service and millefoglie baccala mantecato. The decor is stylish, as was the clientele. Not an American was in the room.photo-3 copy

There are many hotels worth mentioning, and we will do so in a future newsletter, but for now we focus on The Gentlemen of Verona Relais.

photo-3 copy 2This discreet but seductively luxurious boutique hotel on an side street not far from the Arena opened two months ago. The spacious and stylish rooms have all the modern comforts. Contact us for booking details.

Plan a few days in Verona. You’ll be glad you did.
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