Located where Italy fades into Austria and Switzerland, Italy’s ski valleys have a layered history that today is often best expressed in their food.

In the past, for decades at a time, these secluded valleys remained insulated from other cultures—even those just one mountain away. But as the World Wars changed boundary lines of many European countries, areas that were once Austria because Italian overnight.

In rifugi, the alpine lodges that dot the slopes and ski villages offering food and lodging to visitors, northern Italian favorites like polenta mingle with Austrian spatzle and bratwurst-like sausages. You’ll find seemingly typically Italian pastas, like spinach ravioli cooked in sage butter, toting Germanic names (schlutzkrapfen).



Originally, these lodges served hikers crossing over the mountains in the summer months, serving simple food included in the cost of a night’s stay. But as technology advanced and the Alps and Dolomites became predominantly ski destinations, the cuisine changed to echo the well-heeled visitors.

Today, the mountains have enough Michelin stars to make most major cities blush. You’re just as likely to indulge in peacock ravioli with pioppini mushrooms and goose liver with roasted pumpkin, mugo pine meringue, liver terrine and candied kumquats as a simple plate of mountain cheese and cured speck.

Food and the rifugi themselves typically center around a well-tended wood stove or grill, so sausages, filling steaks, and even wild venison, feature heavily in the evening menus. And, as you’d expect with the chilly weather, soups play an integral part in the local cuisine, especially hearty beef stews reminiscent of the goulash of the Austrio-Hungarian.

My favorite picks are Baita (a local name for rifugi) Fraina and Da Aurelio.
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Though I have been in contact with the staff at Monastero Santa Rosa for years, it was only this year, during my trip to Matera in the fall, that I finally made it out to visit this property high on the coastal road perched over the Amalfi coast.

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Now that the cold has set in and the holidays are approaching, your thoughts are no doubt far from your travel plans for next summer, but savvy travelers know that this is exactly when you need to set up your villa vacation rentals for next summer.

I’ve recently returned from a trip scouting even more villa options for clients in Italy’s most desirable vacation areas, because villas increasingly provide an ideal price-quality ratio for discerning travelers.

Italy consistently ranks as the most expensive place in Europe for hotels. The Trivago Hotel Price Index name Venice, at 281 euros per night on average, more costly than famously pricy London, Stockholm and Geneva.

But, thankfully for families and groups planning an Italian summer, villa rentals all around the boot are primed to accommodate travelers disenchanted with astronomical hotel rates. Thanks for the recession, more rental properties are available than every before, as Italians open their previously private second homes to rentals, and owners are in the mood to negotiate.

As you narrow your choices for next summer’s accommodation now, to secure the best properties at the best prices, keep in mind these three key villa rental booking tips:

1. Solidify Your Group’s Priorities First


Take an informal poll of the one or two things each person wants to get out of the trip and the things they can’t live without.

The answers may surprise you—even from your own spouse!

Some normally tight-laced individuals will want to taste all the wine they can in one week, while otherwise easy-going friends may have very specific needs in regard to their bedroom and bathroom requirements.

2. Italian Villa Rentals Run Saturday to Saturday


Most properties book at weekly rates, but the structure of that week is not up to the guest.

It is customary throughout the country for villa stays to run Saturday to Saturday with packed roads each Saturday as visitors move from one property to the next.

Try to structure your travel dates accordingly, with one night on each end in a hotel in the city you are flying in and out of.

3. Tuscany is a Big Place: Where Do You Want to Go Exactly?


Even if you know that you want to rent a villa, the biggest question is where, and it’s more complicated than you think.

Tuscany, maybe? Well, it’s a big region. And there may be other areas that have the same attractions or features you’re interested in at a better price point or in greater quantities.

We can help you find the right area to match your interests and budget, whatever the region.
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If you eat truffles in high-end American restaurants, you’ll easily pay hundreds of dollars for a few shavings.

In Italy, especially during the truffle hunting season and the Alba International White Truffle fair, it seems like there’s so many in circulation, it’s hard to understand why prices are so high!

Truffles Cannot be Grown, Only Found


Finding a fist-sized white truffle—white truffles are rarer than black summer truffles—is no easy feat. They’re so hard to come by that truffle hunters go out at night to keep anyone form following them to their best truffle foraging grove.

Dogs—not pigs, who might eat the truffles they find—paw at the ground when they find the scent—and truffle hunters unearth their prize with a special, spade-like digging tool.

And while truffle hunts for tourists can make the whole thing look simple, digging up handfuls of black truffles in just a couple hours, it can take trained truffle hunters and their dogs weeks to come upon the massive truffles you see at the market, often pulling 12-or-more-hour days all the while.

The International Truffle Fair


In the end, the hunt is worth it though. At the international fair, white truffles can fetch 3,000 euros a kilo!

When I saw hunters selling their wares out of the trunk of their car on the side of the road, though, the truffles were going for 250 euro a kilo.

For consumer, it is a huge savings to get them from the source, before they go through layers of middlemen at the markets and restaurants to finally reach your plate.

Cooking with Real Truffles at Home


For cooking yourself, it’s best to get the grated truffles stored in oil, but if you get your hands on the real thing, there are two perfect ways to enjoy it.

In our newsletter, we showcased a recipe for Tajarin with Truffles, the traditional handmade Piemontese pasta that is the best loved accompaniment for these treasured tubers.

But my favorite way to enjoy them—which also happens to be the most simple—is grated over fried eggs.
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