When you think of different types of dining establishments, most fall into one of two categories-sit down or take out, fine dining or casual, restaurants in cafes.

But in Italy, they seem to have a dizzying number of names for places that, ostensibly, all seem like sit down restaurants: trattoria, ristorante, osteria, enoteca, and the list goes on.

When you're out in Italy, how do you know what you're getting? There are basically five grades of sit-down restaurant, two types of wine bars, and two main types of take-out place.

Sit-Down Restaurants:



  • Ristorante - This is the top grade of Italian dining establishments, with conscientious service, fine dining plating and dishes, and often a well-known chef.

  • Trattoria - Trattorias are wonderful casual places to eat, whether for a pre-set lunch menu or a dinner out. They focus on typical Italian fare, without the fusion flare you may see in ristorantes.

  • Osteria - Osterias are much like trattorias, but a bit more casual with a focus on regional specialties.

  • Tavola Calda - In a tavola calda, there is typically no table service. You choose your food from a cafeteria style serving set up. These are primarily in Florence.

  • Pizzeria - In Italy, pizzarias are sit-down restaurants that predominantly serve pizza with wine, a variety of salads, and a few pasta selections.


Wine bars:



  • Enoteca - For a more formal wine tasting experience in line with American wine bars, head to an enoteca. Today, many are high-design and high-tech, though the food options are typically limited.

  • Taverna - Tavernas are more old-fashioned, like an Italian version of a British pub, with wine instead of beer. Food is very traditional, simple fare.


Take-out:



  • Pizza a taglio - For a slice of pizza on the run, look for a pizza a taglio (literally: by the slice). There may be limited seating, but squares of pizza, calzones, and occasionally some desserts are packaged up to take away.

  • Rosticceria - Unlike pizza a taglio places, which expect people to be eating their food on the go, rosticcerias typically serve hot food, primarily meat and roast vegetable dishes, to take and eat at home. If you're looking for an entire chicken, this is the place.

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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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Whether you plan it into your budget or not. Whether you bring a big enough suitcase or not. Whether you set aside time in your itinerary or not.

Shopping in Italy is kind of inevitable.

You may end up with a suitcase full of gourmet goodies or wine bottles (here’s how to pack them), housewares or high fashion. But first you have to navigate the cultural nuances of shopping in Italy.

Opening and Closing Times


Shops open on the later side, often around 10 am. Most non-chain shops, boutiques and handicraft shops close for an extended lunch from 12:30 or 1pm to 3 or 4 pm. In small towns, absolutely everything will close.

In major city centers, most things stay upon through the lunch break. Stores, even in smaller towns, are open later to compensate, usually till around 7:30 or 8 pm.

Trying Things On


When you arrive, you must say hello (buongiorno during the day and buona sera in the afternoon) to start a respectful relationship with the shop keeper. Otherwise they will find you very rude.

You, on the other hand, might find it rude when salespeople come into your dressing room while you’re trying things on to help you squeeze into a tight pair of jeans. Salespeople in Italy are very hands on, but it is just because they are passionate about helping you find something you like.

Buying and Exchanging


Commas replace a periods on price tags, and tax is already included. You can’t pay anything that is less than EU10 or 20 Euros with a credit card. Always bring cash with you for the smaller purchases.

Credit cards are not widely accepted, but bring your passport or another photo ID if you plan to make a large purchase with your credit card. Many stores will send you away if you are not able to provide photo ID with your credit card.

Be very confident before you purchase anything, because store exchanges essentially don’t exist.
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Image by Flickr user TorreBarolo

When I think of Piedmont, this is what I see. Rolling hills, covered with vineyards. Perfect for a stroll between wine tastings.

Many travelers love Piedmont for its food (and wine) due to the rich culture that gave rise to and has grown around the Slow Food movement, which is based in Bra, Piedmont. But Piedmont is also home rich Renaissance architectural landmarks, several of which have been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Sacri Monti


Shared with Lombardia, the Sacri Monti UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of nine historic sites throughout the two provinces that range in origin from 1486 to 1712.

When the expansion of Muslim territories made it more difficult for pilgrims to visit Jerusalem and Palestine in person to pray at the Catholic holy sights, the guardians of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre sanctioned the creation of sacri monti (sacred mountains) to mirror the layout and shrines of the main holy places and offer alternative prayer and pilgrimage sites.

UNESCO included these sites as much for their beauty as their historical significance, as you can clearly see when visiting them. Located outside major cities, built into the side of mountains, and incorporating forests, streams, and lakes whenever possible, the sacri monti represent a type of architecture that unites natural and made made elements that spawnded many offshoots throughout Europe.

Residences of the Royal House of Savoy


Walking the streets of Torino, it’s easy to imagine that the stately, elegant town was developed with a cohesive town plan in mind. Interestingly, that plan revolved around connected the various regular, working, hunting, and leisure homes of the Savoy family more so than any main Renaissance or Baroque city-planning scheme.

When the Savoys first moved their capital to Torino, it was a relatively plain provincial village, so they had a clean urban slate to start from. Using the “command center,” which is what we think of today as the palace, as a nucleus, radiating roads were built outward, to connect to the river Po, where the Villa della Regina was built in the foothills and the Royal Theater and State Secretariat soon followed.

From command center to the nearby banks of the Po and to lodges further afield in wood areas, the palaces, villas, and lodges of the Savoys—naturally in the most scenic locations around the city—straight, tree-lined royal roads created a framework for the city to grow around.

As the Savoy kings were consistent and constant in their growth and reorganization of the city, UNESCO chose to include the site in its World Heritage list because it provides a comprehensive overview of European monarchical and monumental architecture from the 16th to 18th centuries.

Accolades

2008 - 2012 CONDÉ NAST TRAVELER ITALY SPECIALIST

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