Every one is an expert on Rome…..

A beautiful and insightful review from the Editor of ‘Insights.  Melbourne Business and Economics.’ by Associate Professor Geoff Burrows.  A regular and passionate visitor to Rome.

REVIEW of ROMAN DAZE – LA DOLCE VITA FOR ALL SEASONS

The saying that ‘every immigrant is an anthropologist’ is colourfully realised in Bronte Jackson’s Roman Daze.   Arriving in Rome as a backpacker courtesy of a free airline ticket won in a raffle and after a failed marriage, she immediately fell in love with the city during what turned out to be a 17-year stay, acquiring along the way fluency in the language, an Italian husband and employment with the UN’s Rome-based World Food Program.

 

Loosely structured around how the four seasons impact on Rome and its inhabitants, the text offers a series of fascinating excursions into Rome’s geography, history and the living, working, courting, shopping, eating, beach-going, and other socialising and recreational habits of its citizens.  Some clichés are shown to be true – timetables are largely works of fiction, Italian women do apply make-up before exercising, bank tellers do demand the personal phone number of young female customers as a condition of providing service.  At least one legend is also verified: the existence of a keyhole, remote from the Vatican, which offers a breathtaking view of the Holy See.

 

There is no air-brushing of Rome’s frustrations: long waits and customer-unfriendly banking procedures and the lack of a service ethos in Italy’s bloated public sector.   However, there is always the compensation of superb food and coffee, the search for which is a sub-theme running through the text.  Frustratingly for tourists, the best food and coffee is served in small obscure establishments, mostly invisible to foreigners.  The locals never patronise establishments directed at tourists.  The subtleties of local variations are constantly described.  Unexpectedly, Italians emphasise the taste of pasta itself rather the toppings.  The author also describes her own culinary triumph – a quiche at a neighbour’s crowded sixtieth birthday party.

 

Much travel writing is by experienced journalists based on quick impressions on sponsored trips.  Roman Daze is the account of a 17-year love affair with a city.  Written in a deceptively easy prose style, it is recommended to both first-time and regular visitors to the Eternal City.

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The Perfect Bun

Arriving back in Italy after having been away I am always dying for an Italian coffee and a cornetto (Italian sweet breakfast pastry).  So my first stop is always………the airport.  Yes, that’s right, I can’t wait until I get into the city for a long awaited cup of Italian coffee, so I stop at the first cafe I see in the arrivals section of the airport.  It is important to note that this does not apply to the departures lounge.  For a simple reason.  The Italian airport staff are served their coffee in the arrivals section of the airport (as it is open to the public).  The departure lounges do serve departing Italians but they also serve mostly tourists.  So you know that the standard of coffee etc. you get in the airport will be the same standard as that outside the airport as their custom is the discerning Italian local and worker.

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As well as providing me with my Italian coffee fix this stop also serves to gently ease me back into Italy by being able to sit awhile and leisurely savour my cornetto and cafe.  Otherwise it all hits me hurriedly in the face as soon as the glass sliding doors open and its almost too much to take in.  The perfectly coiffed women of all ages, the impeccably suited men of all shapes, the uniformed personnel of all statures, the crisp neatness of the designer clad children, the amount of women wearing high heels that can actually walk in them, the sun tanned slick haired touts and tour guides.  It overwhelms me and I feel an immediate need to go to a hairdressers and book a gym appointment, or the other way around.

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“OK can we go now?”, says my husband ten minutes after we have both finished our respective coffees and cornettos.

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I have been watching a steady flow of men and women of all ages and shapes come to take their morning coffee standing up at the bar.  They all look magnificent and I try to analyse why.  I notice they dress in a way that suits their particular forms, strong features, and advantages – so well that you don’t notice their less than perfect statures or girths. And their clothes fit.  Their hair is also groomed, all different styles and generations of fashion but they all have good hair cuts, and shoes.  Even those that are not naturally gorgeous looking, dress as though they are, and it has the same effect.

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I watch a short, grey haired man walk to the bar in an immaculate suit with a tall, wrinkle-faced woman wearing a gorgeous green silk knee-length dress and gold high heels.  They happily talk and greet others, chit chat and move on. With his perfectly cut suit, silk tie, shinning skin and good hair cut he looks ten feet tall even though he is a head shorter than the beautiful woman on his arm.

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“Oh please just a few more minutes, now the Carabinieri are coming over, and they are wearing their winter uniform…………..knee length boots…..”

The carabinieri notice me checking them out.  They glance boldly fully at me in the face, an acknowledgement of the compliment they know I am paying them, before they turn their backs to me, one heeled boot resting slightly higher on the bar running under the counter in order to show off butt muscles to perfection.  I appreciate the gesture and salute them with my empty coffee cup. Ahhh viva Italia I am home!

Speaking of perfect buns………The Perfect Bun restaurant, American bar, is celebrating their fifth anniversary this month!  I am particularly excited about this because it is a place I visited for the first time five years ago and features in my book “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons”.  It is the setting for the Chapter entitled ‘Foreigner’ and features because it was a good example of what was so hard to find in Rome back then (and still now).  That is, an authentic escape from Italian culture, which all expats need from time to time!

There are many wannabes and my book talks about why that is so disappointing – imagine missing a particular Anglo-Saxon dish and then ordering it at a place that advertises itself as producing it and then having an Italianised version of it served up.  It is better to avoid the whole experience than to try and convince yourself that your ‘Greek salad’ which consists of mozzarella cheese, tomatoe and basil with an olive thrown in, is really OK.  The list goes on – cold pasta as “brunch”, Italian almond biscuits as “Devonshire tea” and my favourite – a pastry case full of melted chocolate advertising itself as a “brownie”.  No, the disappointment is just too keen.  Sometimes it is just best to accept that Italian food is SO good, they don’t need to offer other nationalities as well.  Sometimes its best to wait a year or two til you get home.

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For this reason many places fail to survive after a year or sometimes only a few months.  The fact that The Perfect Bun is celebrating its fifth anniversary is truly a feat and shows they have catered to the Anglo-Saxon palate and those Italians that remember their Anglo-Saxon treats and want to re-visit them, successfully.  Well done Perfect Bun and many happy returns!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Perfect-Bun/120823150120

 

 

 

What’s up in a Roman January?

I know, I know i’ve said it before.  January is a dull, cold, dark, short month.  Its sometimes better just to hunker down and get it over with.  Then again sometimes its hard to notice it at all.  By the time Christmas and New Years festivities are gotten over its almost over anyway and there isn’t much to look forward to or do until the Carnivale starts livening things up again in February.

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So this post will be short.  Its just to let you know that January is not a great month to visit Rome.  Everyone is tired, the Vatican in particular.  Many places close for a restful few weeks and those that can, get out of the city and go skiing.  No one wants to party or eat much and no one is very interested in serving you.  Its too cold to stay outside for very long and enjoy the best parts of Rome which are actually mostly outside.  Although the keen winter sun does make it lovely for a short stroll either just before lunch or just after.

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The three best things to do in January in Rome all begin with S – shopping (there are lots of sales), skiing (ski fields only about an hour away), sipping hot chocolate.

A Roman hot chocolate is a spiritual experience and will revive even the most jaded of palates and auras.  When I first got handed a hot chocolate in Rome I thought someone had made a mistake in my order.  It looked nothing like the brown, milky, liquid hot chocolate I grew up with.  You basically had to eat it with a spoon and it came with an inch of whipped cream on the top to “even out the chocolate”.  A hot chocolate is taken standing up at the counter of your local cafe or sitting at a table alone or with friends.  In Winter it is one of the five food groups, along with deep red chianti.  But as most people are heartily sick of drinking by January, and are saving themselves for Carnivale, a hot chocolate is a steady substitute.

Italy has some of the best ski slopes in the world, the most breathtaking scenery and the most comfortable acroutements to skiing in the Western world.  Added to this is the high fashion still apparent on the slopes, the spectacular food and venues and it is a pretty good way to pick yourself up during a dark, cold January.

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Lastly the sales.  While others are working off their Christmas kilos on the slopes or dieting by drinking hot chocolate alone, some are using shopping as their cardio.  Its not just the heart stopping deals and the adrenalin inducing battles that go on between shoppers its that you end up walking for ages laden down with bags due to the fact that the bargains just go on and on.  It is also an ideal way to throw off Winter blues.

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Oh and if you are still stuck for ideas, try http://www.wantedinrome.com and  http://www.facebook.com/TheYellowRomeGuide  between these two you will find everything else you need to enjoy a Roman January.

Happy 2014!!!

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Free Download: Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons

Roman Daze-La Dolce Vita for all Seasons

Please feel free to try this sample!  The Prologue and first Chapter of my new book.

Early reviews describe it as “conjuring up people and place in a masterful way and having the effect of making you want to eat pasta and book a trip to italy”

“What a beautiful book, you start reading it and can’t stop!”

“The book is a quirky and perceptive cultural set of observations and decoding of the phenomena that is Rome, and her beautiful people. Brava Bronte”

The full copy can be bought from the below link in hard or digital copy, or from any major e-platforms

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386736705&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

Book Launch: Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons!

Its finally happened folks!  My book, Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons was launched last week to great acclaim!  In fact we sold out!

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Go here to get more!

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386736705&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or any major e-platform booksellers (google, kobo, ibooks).  It is available as a hard copy or electronic.

Early reviews describe it as “conjuring up people and place in a masterful way and having the effect of making you want to eat pasta and book a trip to italy” and

“The book is a quirky and perceptive cultural set of observations, and decoding of the phenomena, that is Rome and her beautiful people. Brava Bronte”

 

 

La Dolce Vita for all seasons

This post is to announce the publication of my book “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons”!!!!  I am very excited.

What is it about I hear you ask?  Well………….Twenty years ago, Bronté Jackson won an airline ticket that thrust her into the heart of the Mediterranean. Recently separated, made redundant and evicted from her home, Bronté spent six months recovering in Greece and spending her redundancy package, before making her way to Rome. Roman Daze: La Dolce Vita for All Seasons is a book about living a personal and continuously surprising adventure. It’s about following your heart and what it’s like to live among people who continuously use theirs.

In Roman Daze, Bronté Jackson describes how the seasons, food, family, landscape, rituals and history combine to create and explain the Italian lifestyle and why, from the outside, it looks like La Dolce Vita.

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“It took only three days to fall in love with Rome. Like all infatuations, I expected it to wear off. I decided that I would leave when I no longer noticed the Coliseum. I am still waiting.”

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From December 10, 2013 it will be available on all major e-platforms as an e-book and hard copy (print on demand). I will provide the links as soon as I have them. Many of you will relate to the stories and lifestyle description in this book (and some of you are in it! – you know who you are;).

If you enjoy the book, please write a review of it and recommend it to your friends. More information on the book is on the page in this Blog “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons.

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Top 10 restaurants in Rome (6 -10)

Hello all,

The rest of the list is a bit later than expected.  We have been through some trying times recently which I will blog about next.  In the meantime here is the rest of the list!   Although I did say they would be in order, upon reflection I can’t order them as they are all so different and depend on what kind of dinning experience you are seeking.  The caveats from the last blog still apply though.

 

6.  Ai Spaghettari – P.za di San Cosimato, Trastevere 57-58-59-60

A beautiful, succulent and rich experience of a typical, contemporary restaurant, that has nevertheless been around for half a century or more.   It is based in the most traditional part of Rome, Trastevere, a mostly pedestrian only precinct, which is now packed with restaurants and is an enchanting neighborhood to eat in.  Ai Spaghettari is always noisy, has the television blaring, and is always full.  A pizza oven greets you at the door and you can watch while your pizza is made, being flung up in the air and all. There are vast amounts of seating outside and in, and service and menu are both good, featuring lots of traditional Roman specials.  If you don’t book you may be waiting a while but you will get a seat eventually.

 

7.  Pizzeria Popi Popi – Via delle Fratte di Trastevere 45, 06-589-5167

I avoided going to this restaurant for years as it looks like the typical tourist trap often found in Trastevere.  Red checkered table cloths, tables set outside in front of a beautiful, white marble church, and filled with tourists.  Then my Italian husband and his mates took me there.  Now we know the waiters by name.  Frequented by both Italians and tourists alike, its cheap and cheerful outdoor atmosphere make it a superb summer Roman dinning experience (and indoors for Winter).  They have a large and traditional menu (including pizza) and the food always tastes surprisingly good for its quick production, volumes turned-over, and large variety.  Their Tiramisu is one of the main  reasons we keep going back.  By the way, once I asked the waiter what the significance of the name was.  He told me its the sound that Italian men make when they squeeze the breast of a woman “popi, popi”.   Booking is optional, just turn up and the waiters will look after you.

8. Ciak – Vicolo de’ Cinque, 21 ,Trastevere 06 5894774

Carnivores unite! The window is packed with hanging dead animals of the kind not often seen – boar, pheasant, deer and hare.  If you need an iron or blood fix this is the place to come.  Deep rich, red salamis of wild boar, pastas with venison ragu, stews of hare, Fred Flintstone steaks of beef, pork and veal are all on the menu here and nothing much else.  If meat is what you are after you will get any kind your heart desires (including heart…..).  It feels like you are eating in a Tuscan agroturismo with bare brick walls, lively noise and Chianti bottles everywhere.  The huge open grill is at the front and you can go and choose your type and cut of meat before cooking.  Best to book as it tends to be a restaurant that people go to specifically for this kind of food.

9.  Spaghetteria L’ Achetto – Via dell’Archetto, 26, Trevi Fountain 06 678 9064

This is the Frat Boy version of these top ten restaurants in that it has foregone all the add-ons of Italian cuisine and just focuses on the pasta.  Exactly 100 different pasta dishes can be ordered here and not much else.  But why would you bother coming here for anything else, their pasta dishes are fantastic?  Originally another restaurant I stayed away from as it seemed too gimicky to be good food to me, but I was dragged again along by my husband and his mates who had all eaten here for years.  Once I tasted my Fiume di Londra (London Fog) pasta dish I understood that no short cuts had been taken in delivering high quality, mouth watering food by focussing on just one type of dish.  This is a great place to go when you are sick of the same menus in all the other more traditional restaurants of Rome, although here you can get the traditional plates as well of course.  Try also the Pasta al Limone and the Penne alla Vodka a traditional dish that many restaurants disdain to put on their menus but is delicious and won’t make you drunk (although perhaps best not served to children).  Their vegetable dishes and Tiramisu are pretty good too.  Seating is outside partly and right on the cobblestoned street so cars will pass at your elbow.  Inside there is plenty available although it is a bit warren like, underground and airless at times.  If you book try to sit outside or ask for a table close to the entrance.  This restaurant is literally around the corner from the Trevi fountain.

10.  Est, Est, Est – Via Genova, 32, Nationale  06 488 1107

This is a gorgeous, out of the way, nourishing and cosy restaurant.  It is situated off the main shopping strip of Via Nazionale, close to Termini and right at the end of a dead end street.  It serves most things but I come here for the pizza which is slightly different from the pizza you will get in most of Rome.  Instead of the delicious light, thin-crust pizza that is typically Roman, these guys follow the Neapolitan tradition of thick crusted, doughy pizza bases.  Most Roman pizzas, like their pasta dishes, have two, maybe three toppings on them.  Don’t be tempted to do more, especially not in this restaurant, as you will be unable to finish it.  Toppings  are designed to enhance the pizza base not drown it out, similar to the toppings for pasta.  For example the best pizza is usually the Margarita (named after their last Queen) which consists of tomato paste, mozzarella cheese and basil (the three colors of the Italian flag) .  The wood panelled walls and old-world decor make it a relaxing and casual dinning experience, inexpensive and a nice place to eat as a couple or in a small group.  The menu is not large but has most traditional Roman food on it.  It is small, quieter than the other restaurants and has high quality food.

 
 
 

Top 5 Eating spots in Rome

Although there are many great restaurants in the suburbs of Rome, these are not them.  These top spots are all in the “centro historico”, the city centre of Rome.  Handy if you are visiting Rome as generally this is where you will be staying.

My definition of a top Roman restaurant is one that:

  • has been in operation for at least one hundred years
  • is family run (usually by the second or third generation by now)
  • specialises in traditional Roman cuisine (simple, fresh and offal based)
  • has a menu that depends on what is available at the market that day
  • does not depend on decor as a selling point.  (Not for me the modern, sleek, sharply fitted out interiors with modern twists or re-inventions on traditional dishes.  If I wanted those kind of restaurants I would go to Milan or Melbourne.)

So here goes, the top five are not in any particular order:

1.  L’Hostaria Romanesca – Piazza Campo dei Fiori, 40 – 06 6864024

Don’t bother calling as you can’t book and if  you are lucky enough to get a seat you will have to wait a long time often for your meals.  It consists of one small room inside plus a square of the piazza. There is a sign on the wall written in local dialect warning about the wait and not to bother the chef with complaints.  But it is worth it.  Dishes are individually and lovingly prepared, and spilling over with food of the highest and freshest quality.  The Spaghetti Carbonara, Pollo con Pepperoni (only found in Rome)/chicken with capsicum, and Fegato alla griglia/grilled liver are the best I have ever tasted.  But everything on the menu is good, cheap, and cooked with care and attention to detail.  Try any of the specials as they will be seasonal and based on the chefs traditional knowledge.

And while you are waiting you will have the spectacular Campo dei Fiori to watch – full of people, no cars, magnificent medieval buildings, and a statue of Giordano Bruno, the last person burnt to death there in 1600 for heresy.  Reflect on how, if waiting for some spectacular Roman food while sipping wine and eating bread is the main problem you have at the moment, then life is much improved since 1600.

2. La Carbonara  – Piazza Campo dei Fiori,23 .- 06 6864783

You will be lining up often with international movie stars and politicians to get a seat but it is not a pretentious or expensive place, just a Roman institution.  At the other end of the piazza from L’Hostaria, it is thankfully much larger so your chances of eating there are greatly increased, and they take bookings.  Again it produces very traditional, high quality Roman dishes with just a bit more flair (and prices) than the down market L’Hostaria. The Fiori di Zucca/fried zucchini flowers, Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal with proscuitto and sage) are the best I have ever tasted and the Carbonara is on a par with L’Hostaria.  Again you will have the Campo dei Fiori piazza to look out upon and will be entertained by a parade of non-stop travelling musicians.

3. Il Bric – Via del Pellegrino 51, 06-687-9533

This one is around the corner literally from La Carbonara and has a gorgeously rustic, cosy, and wine filled interior,  with a wine list that resembles an encyclopedia.  It is often referred to as the “cheese restaurant” by locals as one whole window is dedicated to a range of melt-in-your-mouth French and Italian cheeses in such an array that stops passersby in their tracks.  It gives the impression of being only a Vineria (wine bar) but has a full restaurant menu.  It is fairly new (twenty five years old) and its decor does draw me in, hence the rules don’t always apply.  But the combination of feeling like I am eating in someones lovingly kitted-out cellar, with high quality food based on traditional Roman and French cuisine, in a romantic and more tranquil atmosphere than the other two, gets me in every time I want something just a little more upmarket and refined, without feeling I have to forgo my casual Roman street-wear.   Booking is essential.

4. Il Drapo – Vicolo del Malpasso 9, 066877365

Il Drapo is certainly the most upmarket, expensive, romantic and luxurious so far.  It is great for a romantic dinner for two, or elegant get together with more.  I notice that they tend to put couples and quieter parties together which preserves the atmosphere in some rooms, and makes others louder.  The food is Sardinian based so you will get a slightly different menu but they are respectful of where they are (just around the corner from La Carbonara), and Roman cuisine is also honored.  It is a peaceful and attentive experience compared to the above four.  The food is fantastic, beautifully presented and you come out feeling like you have been refreshed and pampered with a belly full of excellent memories.  My favourite here is the suckling pig in juniper berries.  Bookings essential.

5. Da Luigi – Piazza Sforza Cesarini 23, 06 6865 946

I stumbled on this place when I used to live around the corner from it and noticed it was always full with lines of people waiting.  Hence I usually had to eat dinner next door in a grossly inferior establishment.  Da Luigi is packed full with Roman families who like to keep this place a secret.  It is squashed along the side of a tiny piazza across the road from Piazza Navona.  Here you will find reasonably priced, down-to-earth Roman dishes specialising in sea food.  It is noisy and always crowded and there is nothing to look at, but the variety and good reliable quality of the food makes up for it.  The booking system doesn’t seem to work so be prepared to wait for a table which is never very long.

Top 10 places to visit in Italy (6 – 10)

6.  Knock off Naples

This is a tricky one.  Naples is definitely a “must see” on your trip to Italy but in the past few years the number of street shootings have increased to the point where you can see them replayed on U-tube.   And they are not occuring in “out-of-the-way” places, but in average downtown and shopping areas that anyone is likely to be in (hence them being captured on mobile phone videos).  These days I wouldn’t actually go to Naples for safety reasons.

However Naples is still one of the top ten places to visit in Italy.  Nowhere else is like it.   It is the birthplace of pizza and the ones that you will taste here will leave you pining for the rest of your life.  The centre of the city is an ancient labyrinth of tiny streets, filled to the brim with humanity and all its trappings.  This is not a tourist city.  The rhythm of this city is more like an African than a European city.  The combination of art, history, food, overpopulation and danger means it feels like a city that is on the edge of a precipice.   And technically it is.   When Vesuvius, the volcano behind the city, blows up again in the not too distant future it will be bye bye Napoli!  Just in case you don’t get here I’ve included a few more photos than usual.

If you dare to go to Naples stay at the appropriately named: L’Albergo del Purgatorio, +39 081 299 579.

7. Idle to an island

Italy has many, and to truly experience the fullness of Italian life, you need to go to one.  Pick one, any one – Sardinia, Capri, Ischia, Ponza, Ventotene, Elba, Lippari, Procida, Lampedusa, Vulcano, Stromboli, just to name a few.  They are all on the left side of Italy running down from Tuscany to Sicily, and are all easy to get to, and within a few hours by boat from the mainland or Sicily.  They are the ultimate Italian holiday experience.  Although each has its own character, they all operate at a much slower pace than the mainland and it is nice to see that even Italians can wear flip flops and shorts at times.  Although in parts of Capri and Sardinia they maybe Valentino and Gucci.

Stay at: Casa Adolfo, +39081999443, Ischia

8.  Absolutely Amalfi

I know that many people visit, and love, the Cinque Terra.  However my theory is that only those who have not seen the Amalfi coast, love the Cinque Terra.  Along the Amalfi coast is the town of Amalfi, although I recommend Positano as the place to base yourself in.  I find it hard to describe the Amalfi coast as it takes my breath away every time I see it.  Imagine sheer, grey, craggy cliffs, covered in bright bougainvillea flowers and green cacti, plunging into an aqua blue sea.  Imagine driving along a road that hugs these cliffs and that winds in and out of them for hours, giving you enticing glimpses of the sea, flowers, the cliffs above you, and every now and then a set of dwellings that seem to hug in or tumble down from crevices in the cliffs.  The views are stunning and world class.  Add to this some deep crystal clear water to swim in, magnificent sea food, pizzas (you are still only an hour out of Naples),  and delicious desserts and liquor made from Amalfi’s famously huge lemons, and I am in paradise every time I go (which is annually).

Positano is mostly a pedestrian town, fantastic shopping and eating, with views to die for from even the cheapest hotel windows.   Because it is mostly pedestrian, and the town opens up onto the sea, it makes for a wonderfully relaxed and escapist beach holiday, and a truly summer Italian experience.

Stay at: Hotel Conca d’Oro, Positano (See blog roll for link), Pensione Casa La Reginella, +39089875324, Positano

9.  Admire Albero Bello

There has to be one obscure gem on this list and this is it.  Nowhere else in the world will you see anything like this little town, right at the southern end of Italy, in Puglia.  It is a town made up entirely of Trulli, the name of the traditional rock and cave houses from this region.  It is the only one of its kind in Italy and in the world.  These houses were made entirely out of stones stacked on top of each other and consist of several round rooms joined together with a round roof.  They are whitewashed and each has a different symbol on the peak of their rooves which indicated families or landlords they belonged to.  It is a pedestrian town and you can eat, shop and visit all within these traditional dwellings.  It is like walking through a film set and is a cross between a Hobbit village and a village from the Star Wars trilogy.

10.  See Sicily

Sicily is a country in itself and unlike anywhere else in Italy.  But again to understand and have a true feel of Italy you must see and experience Sicily.  It is the wild west of Italy and extremely varied even within itself.  See Palermo and visit the islands other ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine temples, palaces and churches.  See the most amazing beaches in the Mediterranean, picturesque countryside, incredible food found nowhere else in Italy, and an ancient way of life clung to with fierce pride.

Photographs by A. Verhagen and A. De Luca

Top ten places to visit in Italy

1.  Visit Venice

It may seem passé, a tourist trap, and a cliché but the truth is that Venice is still a lovely, lively and real city teeming with actual inhabitants.  It is also worth going because it so unique.  A city built on water with canals instead of streets not to mention some of the world’s most beautiful squares, palaces, hotels and art galleries.  Venice is timeless, an important part of Western and Eastern history, and yes full of tourists.  However it is a favourite destination because of the above, why would you want to miss out on that just because everyone else is there too?

And do take a Gondola ride.  Yes they are expensive but on your death bed will you be glad you had that extra hundred or so dollars in your pension fund or will you be glad that you took a romantic Gondola ride in Venice?  The Gondoliers are a respected and traditional trade that is passed down from father to son.  Only if you come from a family of Gondoliers can you become one, after many years of training.  They know the city intimately and will show you places you can’t see on foot, and yes they will probably sing for you as well.  All in all it’s an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.

Stay at: Le Guglie B & B, Cannaregio, Venice  (see blogroll for more details)

2.  Do the Dolomites

Part of the magic of Italy is that is so many countries in one.  To appreciate the dry, almost African feel of the South you must have experienced the mountainous cool region of the North, more like Germany than Italy in some parts.  The Dolomites are majestic and offer incredible skiing in the winter and beautiful walks in the summer with stunning views, authentic wooden chalets, beautiful towns, and magnificent food and wine of the region, not found anywhere else.

3. Miss Milan

I may get into trouble for suggesting this but as a long term resident of Italy I get a bit sick of the hype about Milan.  It’s a shopping centre, a big church and then an industrial city of the type you can find anywhere in Northern UK or Southern Germany, and usually cloaked in fog.  In a word, not unique.  If you want to use your holiday to boast to your friends you have been to Milan or if your idea of a holiday is shopping, then you will probably like Milan and fit in well with the “seen to be seen” set.  Otherwise you will be bored after a day.

4. Tour Tuscany

Siena, Volterra, San Gimignano, Cortona, Bagni di Lucca, Lucca, Pitigliano, Sovanna, Montepulciano, Pienza, Florence, Montalcino, Lucinangno, Pisa, San Severo… ……… so many medieval hill top towns all within an hour’s drive of each other.  Tuscany is a nonstop feast for the eyes and stomach.  Feast your eyes on the rolling hills topped with cypress trees, fields of sunflowers, stone farm houses and wild deer.  Tuscany is the poster child for Italy.  Then fill your stomachs on its rich, earthy Chianti’s, chewy salami, handmade bread and stews of wild boar, venison and hare.  Once again everyone goes to Tuscany because it is gorgeous, peaceful, and breathtakingly beautiful.  Nowhere else in the world looks or feels like Tuscany.

Stay at:  Agriturismo Selvoli, Pienza http://www.selvoli.com or Relais La Suvera, Pievescola, Siena http://www.lasuvera.it or Hotel Helvetica e Bristol, Florence (See Blogroll for links)

5. Revel in Rome

Of course if you don’t have Rome on your agenda when you visit Italy then you are a complete Philistine.  Even if you have no inkling or interest in history I guarantee you will be bowled over by it in Rome.  Where else can you go and stand in ancient chariot racing arenas, sit where tourists sat 2,000 years ago to watch someone mauled to death by a wild bear as part their Saturday afternoon entertainment, stand in the same spot where Mark Antony addressed the crowd after the death of Julius Caesar, visit the building where Roman Senators ruled the world for over 1,000 years or visit the illegal underground burial chambers of the first Christians?

If history and Roman buildings don’t grab you then how about the world’s biggest collection of art works and sculptures in just one city, ornate marble filled churches, squares full of fountains, tiny medieval streets and the Vatican.  No?  How about the chance just to chill in a café all afternoon sipping cold Belgian beers or Italian whites and watch some of the world’s most beautiful people go by, often two or three at a time on a moped,  not letting their driving interrupt  their smoking or ice cream eating?

Stay at:  Hotel Locarno or Hotel de Russie (See Blogroll for links)

Tips 6 – 10 next week.