Romantic Getaways In Italy As Perceived By Maria Liberati, Author Of The Basic Art Of Italian Cooking
Today, sketchandtravel.com and Bookpleasures.com, are pleased to have as its guest, Maria Liberati, supermodel and author of the soon to be released cook- book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking. The cookbook will contain recipes Maria discovered as a guest of various agriturismi (country farms), as well as her family’s vineyard. It also includes her encounters with chefs of some of Italy’s trattoria (dining establishments). In addition, the cookbook contains stories about Maria’s travels around Italy.
Maria is a former Miss Pennslvania and Miss International World, however Maria has confided in me that she wouldn’t consider herself a ‘pageant junkie’. It just gave her a great deal of experience and self- confidence. She holds a degree from Temple University in Foreign Languages, and is now in demand by many European type food companies to serve as marketing consultant, as well as spokesperson on TV and in print ads.
The following is an interview conducted by Norm Goldman, Editor of Bookpleasures. Com and Sketchandtravel.com, with Maria, who provides us with some very timely information pertaining to romantic getaways in Italy. Maria now lives six months of the year in Italy.
Norm: Please tell our readers something about yourself and your expertise pertaining to romantic getaways in Italy?
Maria: My grandfather and his family owned a vineyard in the mountains of Abruzzi, and I practically grew up learning a great deal about Italian cooking. Moreover, due to my modeling career, I spent a great deal of time in Italy.
When I was not modeling, I had the opportunity to study regional Italian cooking at what are known as ‘agriturismi.’ This is the Italian word for country farms that are also bed and breakfasts serving meals produced from the fresh foods grown and produced in many different regions of Italy.
Generally tourists tend to know about the popular and crowded places that can be very impersonal. Traveling by car and foot throughout Italy has provided me with windows to some of the most spectacular venues.
Norm: You mention that you have a great deal of experience of staying in bed and breakfasts on organic farms in Italy (agriturisimi). Could you tell our readers something about these B&Bs and why you consider them to be appropriate as romantic or honeymoon destinations?
Maria: The ‘agriturismi,’ aside from being great places to learn about Italian foods, tend to be some of the most romantic vacation spots in Italy. They are usually located high up on a hill with breathtaking views of a town. If located in a city like Rome, they would be found away from the principal areas. Consequently, they are usually situated in peaceful, serene and picturesque settings. What could be more romantic than staying on a vineyard, and being able to take a peaceful walk picking a fresh piece of fruit to munch on while your walking?
Moreover, staying in an agriturismo you are guaranteed to always have an abundance of the best quality freshly prepared foods. No doubt, this is far superior to eating at restaurants that cater to tourists and which often are very pricey.
All- inclusive packages are generally available and in most instances will prove to be much more economical than a stay in a hotel.
Norm: Why would you consider Italy a good choice for a romantic getaway or wedding and honeymoon destination?
Maria: Italy is beyond doubt one of the best places for a romantic getaway or honeymoon- not only because of the variety of breathtaking beauty and romantic views surrounding you, but also the Italian lifestyle.
Italians love romance, their songs are all based on romance and about love. People love to see couples walking hand in hand or arm in arm. Even just the simple ritual of eating a meal has a romantic feel to it. When you sit down to eat dinner at a restaurant or even at a bed and breakfast it is meant to be a long, drawn out ritual. In other words, an activity that is shared and enjoyed between two people, and not something over with in 10 minutes.
Take for example picnics in Italy. If you opt to have spontaneous romantic picnics, you have access to some of the most romantic locations in the world. Moreover, at your disposal are a variety of fresh bread and pizza at the local “forno” (pronounced ‘for-noh’), as well as cheeses found in local cheese shops or supermarkets.
Even some of the major cities such as Rome, Milan or Florence, all have their quiet venues, where you can savor your food and enjoy the romantic ambiance.
The center of Rome has the Villa Borghese, and of course, if you don’t mind the noise and crowds, there are the Spanish Steps.
Not to omit the Coliseum and the Roman Forum that are popular areas for impromptu picnics.
If you are in a small town, it is certainly not difficult to find a beautiful view in a quiet place. One word of advice, please always remember to respect the property you are on and clean up after your picnic.
NORM: Why have cooking classes in Italy become so popular?
Maria: Actually it is a new trend and my own company has received many requests to put together these packages for couples. In fact, I am working with a journalist on an article that will shortly appear in February 2005 in Women and Fitness Magazine. Of course it is themed around St Valentine’s Day. Anyways, it is a trend for couples to take cooking classes not only in Italy but also in the USA. What better way to share a wonderful experience and create something together, and then enjoy the romantic experience of eating what both of you just created?
It is time that Americans catch on to what the Italians have known for years- that cooking is a wonderful romantic experience. It is non-threatening in that you can be creative at your own pace together- and then partake in a romantic meal together. It can be a prelude to watching a romantic movie. You can even go shopping together at a local fresh food market before you cook the meal. So it is a wonderful romantic trend and it is becoming more and more popular.
Norm: What is the best time to visit Italy from the point of view of weather, costs, and crowds?
Maria: I have visited Italy during every season and there is almost no bad time to be there. However, if I had to select my favorite time it would be summer and fall, when I can enjoy the beautiful Italian sun shining down on the colorful scenery.
August is usually the most the sunniest, however it is also the busiest.
If you don’t want to chance the crowds of August, July can be a great month because the weather is usually warmer.
Early fall can be great cost wise, and usually by the end of August the Italians, as well as the tourists, are back to school and work. Late fall you would be into the rainy season.
Christmas is another possibility, and a very beautiful season. However, it can be crowded and pricey, unless you stay in agriturismo. It is less commercial than in the States, as houses are not all lit up with Christmas bulbs. The foods you will experience and the feeling in the air are so romantic! Spending New Year’s Eve in the center of Rome and watching the spectacular fireworks display over the Coliseum is something that I do every year and is an experience like no other.
Norm: If you had to choose 5 unequalled venues in Italy for a romantic getaway, honeymoon or wedding destination, what would they be and why?
Maria: First, I must say that it is really difficult for me to narrow my choices down to 5 venues. Please also note that some of my picks are not the usual places people may choose. I like to find the unusual and the not highly commercial favorites.
-The Island of Ischia: In August 2004’ I visited friends, who own and operate a wonderful bed and breakfast in the town of Forio. Located atop a 30-mile island that is divided into about 5 separate, tiny cities, of which the city of Ischia is the principal one.
It is famous for its spas as a result of the thermal waters. You find saunas that are not man made but actually exist inside a cave on the side of the volcano in Ischia.
The view of the sea, while you are at one of the outside spas enjoying a thermal bath or on the beach, is absolutely breathtaking and you will imagine you are in paradise. The blue of the water and the sky is so intensely blue that you will feel like you are in the middle of a living painting- so to speak.
It is amazing how revived you feel after taking the water cure of the thermal baths- although I’m sure the ‘soaking in of the scenery’ has a lot to do with it also.
There are also little towns to wander around in. Each of the 5 towns in Ischia has their own little square, which is very romantic, and the main town of Ischia has its own castle. There are also little romantic outdoor cafes, shops and coffee bars as well as the glow of the moonlight basking on the sea and an occasional outdoor musician singing old romantic Neapolitan songs accompanied by mandolin music. Oh the romance of it all!!!
If any of your have seen the award winning Italian move- Il Postino- (The Postman), the island that it was filmed on (Procida) is right next to the Island of Ischia.
-ROME: The next place I would select would be the city of Rome. Yes it is a big city, but as many well-traveled Italians will tell you- there is nothing like the city of Rome- if you know how to find your way around.
To walk around Rome is analogous to living in an art museum.
Rome is made up of different hills with magnificent views. My favorite is Monte Mario with its breathtaking panorama of the city. Another is the top of the Spanish Steps, where in front of the steps you have a beautiful fountain. If you go to the top of the steps you have gorgeous views overlooking the city and you can also enjoy one of those impromptu picnics here.
Don’t forget Villa Borghese- it was the territory of the royal family. Borghese is now a beautiful park- dotted with beautiful statues, ponds- another great place to savor a romantic walk and an impromptu picnic.
One of the most romantic piazzas (square) is Piazza Navona, particularly at night, where you will find many outdoor restaurants and beautiful statues. There is the famous and beautiful-Bar de la Pace- which is located at a far corner of Piazza Navona. It is a favorite of international celebrities. And if you want to have some great pizza- again ask a local for a ‘forno’ and you will experience some great, freshly baked pizza and bread. The Romans are famous for a type of roll called a ‘rosetta’ it is crusty but at the same time light and airy. So ask for a rosetta, fill it with cheese and you have a wonderful picnic type lunch or snack.
-Venice is a very romantic spot. I hesitate to recommend Venice; although it is one of the most beautiful and romantic spots in the world, it has just become too ‘touristy’. However, if you visit Italy and can do it, you must see Venice and experience its beauty.
Just riding on one of the water taxis that take you to the island can be romantic as you take in the beauty that surrounds you. If you really wish to have a romantic view of the city, take your taxi ride at night, when the moon glistens on the water and the beauty of Venice is lit up by the glow of the moonlight.
You will fall madly in love with your romantic significant other, while experiencing this kind of view together.
Of course, there are the other traditional things to do, as a visit to St. Mark’s Square, or enjoying one of the outdoor cafes and restaurants, and exploring the little canals and back alleyways.
As for eating establishments, the key in finding great food is to find smaller more intimate dining places that cater to the locals rather than the tourists.
Tuscany is a beautiful romantic destination.
Here you can find several romantic ‘agriturismo’ serving wonderful fresh foods and located in out of the way places-you are away from the crowds, yet with the possibility of day trips to Florence and Pisa. In this way you avoid the pricey hotels and at the same time experience the feeling of really living in Italy.
The wines made in Tuscany are wonderful- be sure to experience them.
Florence is a city overloaded with beautiful works of art.
You have of course the Uffizi Gallery, which houses some of the world’s most beautiful works of art. Outside of the Gallery there are statues of some of Florence’s most famous citizens including Michelangelo and Galileo- all who had a rich Florentine patron to support them in their works.
Two romantic spots in Florence are: the main square, which is the Piazza Della Signoria, where you will find a replica of the statue of “David” (or as the Italians know him- the Davide), and the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge crosses over the Arno River and from the bridge you have a beautiful views of the city. Add to this, the walking tours of the vineyard regions- like Chianti or Montepulciano and you have yourself a winning spot.
Oltranto is located in Puglia and is a sea resort.
If I may use again an Italian film to give you the feeling of this landscape- see the award winning film-“Meditteranneo”- a wonderful comedy about the war, but the scenery is breathtaking. Most of the film takes place in parts of Greece. However, Oltranto’s deep intense blues of the water and stark pristine white colors of the surrounding buildings will bear a deep resemblance to the colors and waterfront scenery in this film made mostly in Greece.
Due to a lack of industry in Oltranto, the water is crystal clear.
Oltranto is also filled with outdoor cafes and shops that overlook the deep blue sky and clear water. There are many other beautiful towns near by that are worthy of day trips. Lecce, which is about 30 minutes away is a beautiful, elegant art-filled city, most of the churches and statues are Baroque. Lecce is a perfect spot to take a romantic walking tour. In any of these venues you won’t find the crowds of tourists found in other popular venues. Also worth a day trip is Alberobello. It is a very touristy town, but worth it to appreciate the ‘Trulli’.
Trulli are these cone shaped houses that are in certain areas of Puglia. These were actually used as houses many years ago. In Alberobello most of the specialty shops are located inside the Trulli. You can really experience a lot of unspoiled countryside and the beaches are clean and not as yet commercially organized.
NORM: How far in advance should a couple prepare themselves for a honeymoon or getaway in Italy?
MARIA: For a honeymoon or romantic getaway, you should really start getting your ideas and plans together at least a year in advance. For reservations, etc for hotels, destinations, you need to plan that at least 3- 6 months in advance. Italy is a favorite destination for many, especially for weddings and romantic getaways.
Certain times of the year tend to be more overbooked- especially in the summer. SO it also depends on the time of the year.
NORM: What people should know about planning a wedding in Italy as far as requirements, etc.
MARIA: If you are an American citizen you mainly need three documents to apply for the proper documents for an Italian Wedding:
*A US Passport
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