Hiking Italy: ancient Salt Paths from Cinque Terre to Piedmont.

Walking Italy’s centuries old Salt Paths, (Via del Sale), across the Italian Apennines from the Piedmont Region to coastal Liguria is a unique experience. Ancient trails – established since pre-Roman times until before the Second World War – were used by salt merchants and their laden mules to transport salt from the area of Genoa, on the coast of the Italian Riviera, to the interior, rich cities of Piedmont and Italy.

The Ligurian Coast

The Ligurian Coast

The Italian Appennines

The Italian Appennines

Hannibal and his elephants used this route in 218BC, recruiting Ligurian soldiers to fight the Roman Empire. Just 2,112 years later, a 16-year-old Albert Einstein walked it with a friend on his way to visit an uncle.

For hundreds of years from the Middle Ages onward, mule trains loaded with sea salt would labor up to these heights from the coast, crossing range after range of the Ligurian Apennines, which separate the Gulf of Genoa from the Po Valley in north-west Italy.

The network of paths this  precious cargo traveled on became known as the Via del Sale, the Salt Path(s).

The route takes travelers along grassy paths through the Piedmont vineyards, before heading into the Apennine foothills where vast forests of sweet chestnuts replace the vines.

Quaint Bed and Breakfast inns (Agriturismo) dot the path.

Local architecture

Local architecture

As must have been the case in the early days of the Salt Paths, much of the food that will be consumed at the comfortable local lodgings along the path is foraged or sourced nearby. Chestnuts, acacia flowers, alpine herbs, nettles and salvia leaves all find their way on to delicious recepies of pasta, risotto and frittata omelettes.  A wild funghi and pasta dish called maltagliati del frantoio can be tasted at the small village of Uscio, along the path.

Italian pasta

Italian pasta

 

The path crosses ancient forests and winds through villages forgotten in time, such as Varzi, Uscio and Bobbio.

At  the ancient market town of Varzi the trails hit the  mountains, dotted with alpine flowers – royal blue gentians, mauve pansies, ivory asphodels, orchids in their thousands and mushrooms (funghi). On a clear day, from the summit of Monte Chiappo, in the Appennines, you might see all the way to Venice.

The path starts in Piedmont and ends in Camogli, a quaint village and a port town on the Ligurian Sea, clinging onto a precipitous hillside. Gone are the alpine flowers and in their place you can find groves of oranges, lemons and olives, while the air is scented by vast arrays of jasmine, wisteria and bougainvillea.

The Ligurian Coast

The Ligurian Coast

Casa Italia will host an 8 day walking tour on the Salth Paths this Fall from Sept. 29th to Oct 6th. 2015.

This small- group guided  8 day walking tour offers a unique travel experience, immersing travelers deep into nature, silence, and history.

You will enjoy expert bilingual Italian – English guides, delicious meals, quaint country inns, seamless ground transportation, spectacular landscapes, nature, friendship, and much more.

 

Beyond Milan Expo 2015: trendy spots in the city.

Milan is the main industrial, commercial, and financial center of Italy and a leading global city. Its business district hosts the Borsa Italiana (Italy’s main stock exchange) and the headquarters of the largest national banks and companies. The city is a major world fashion and design capital.

Milan’s museums, theaters and landmarks (including the Milan Cathedral, the Duomo, the fifth largest cathedral in the world)

Milan, the Cathedral (Duomo)

Milan, the Cathedral (Duomo)

and the Basilica of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, decorated with the famous Leonardo da Vinci’ painting, the Last Supper, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) attract over 8 million annual visitors.

Milan hosts numerous cultural institutions and universities and is also well known for several international events and fairs, including Milan Fashion Week and the Milan Furniture Fair, the largest of its kind in the world.

But Milan has much more to offer: great international restaurants, galleries, exhibits, shows, concerts, world class entertainment, opera at the famous theater La Scala, and the Basilica of San Lorenzo, built on the site of an ancient Roman temple.

Milan, the Basilica of San Lorenzo

Milan, the Basilica of San Lorenzo

 

Here are recommendation for a visit that includes elements beyond the “classical” touristy itineraries.

The big thing going on in Milan right now is Expo 2015.  From May to October 2015 Milan is hosting for the second time an Universal Exposition, the Expo 2015, whose theme is food sustainability. If you go, make sure not to miss the Expo and buy tickets in advance.

 

There are interesting ongoing exhibits at the Prada foundation.

Not to miss: Bar Luce inside the foundation. Designed by film director Wes Anderson, Bar Luce recreates the atmosphere of a typical Milanese cafè.

Fondazione Prada - Bar Luce (Courtesy of The Prada Foundation)

Fondazione Prada – Bar Luce (Courtesy of The Prada Foundation)

Worth seeing: a large farmer’s market under the stars: Mercato Metropolitano.

Not to miss: the Darsena, the area of ancient canals & port crossing Milan (designed by Leonardo da Vinci & recently restored) which used to connect Milan to the Ocean through a network of rivers and canals. Now you can stroll past art galleries, cafes, restaurants, boutiques and more.

Nearby you can eat a delicious meal at an old and traditional Milanese restaurant: El Brellin restaurant.

If you prefer to eat Vegan, try restaurant Alhambra.

Visit the interesting Italian photography exhibit at Palazzo della Ragione.

For a quick bite to eat while shopping downtown, go to Mercato del Duomo or grab a seat at another interesting & swanky restaurant: Asola.

Lastly, you can get free admission to Expo Milano 2015 when you purchase on your overseas air ticket on www.alitalia.com. Check all the Alitalia promotions to Milan!

If you go in the coming months you will find the city of Milan more alive and vibrant than ever!

Thermal Baths of Caracalla

Less popular sites worth seeing in Rome

I was recently in Rome. Here are some of my favorite sites which are – in my opinion – worth a visit despite they might be less popular than others:

The Baths of Caracalla are very close to the Forum and the Palatine, however many visitors miss the huge complex.

Inaugurated in 216 by the son  of Emperor Septimus Severus, Caracalla, the thermal bath complex, the largest and most beautiful in Rome, remained in operation up until the 6th century when the Ostrogoths, under Totilla, sacked it, destroying the hydraulic installations. Inside its thick rectangular walls are the remains of the main buildings, once surrounded by gardens and by the library, entertainment and conference rooms, and the gymnasium.

Thermal Baths of Caracalla

Thermal Baths of Caracalla, Rome

The entrance opens into the ‘Frigidarium’ (cold water room) and its pool, followed next by the ‘Tepidarium’ (luke water room), and finally the ‘Calidarium’ (hot water room), with a huge circular pool, that originally was topped with a cupola, which dominated the entire complex.

The pool was heated by a system of radiant panels. Beneath the room were a system of furnaces and pipes, along with elaborate passageways, facilitating the movement of huge quantities of wood and ash, as the baths could accommodate up to 6000 – 8000 people at a time.

Thermal Baths of Caracalla, Rome

Thermal Baths of Caracalla, Rome

The internal and external walls were covered in multicolored marble. The rooms and gardens were decorated with mosaics, paintings and statues in marble and bronze, some of which can now be found at the Vatican museum.

Admission free first Sunday of each month www.archeorm.arti.beniculturali.it

  •      St. John in Lateran

The site on which the Basilica sits was occupied during the early Roman Empire by the palace of the gens Laterani who served as administrators for several emperors; the Lateran Palace was eventually given to the Bishop of Rome by Constantine. The palace basilica was converted and extended, eventually becoming the cathedral of Rome, the seat of the popes as bishops of Rome.

Basilica of St. John in Lateran, Rome

Basilica of St. John in Lateran, Rome

Saint John Lateran was the permanent residence of the Pope since Constantine until 1304, when the Pope escaped from the chaos reigning in the town and the Pope’s States. When the Popes returned to Rome in 1376, the Vatican was selected as the new permanent residence for the Pontificate.

On the Basilica’s facade, there are 15 statues, 7 meters high. The one in the center represents Christ, with Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist on each side. The other statues represent the Doctors of the Greek and Latin Churches.

The history of the Basilica is very complex. Due to the many earthquakes and fires it has suffered, the original construction has been rebuilt several times throughout the centuries.

There is very little left of the ancient Basilica, built by Emperor Constantine in the IV century. Today, whoever enters Saint John Lateran, will see the Basilica in its five naves with an ample crossing and a huge apse, restored in XIX, during the reign of Pope Leo XIII. The interior design and the interior architecture were completed in the XVI century by Francesco Borromini, one of the most prolific Roman artists and architects.

The basilica is very interesting architecturally and inspires a sense of awe.

  • Catacombs of St. Callixtus

The Catacombs of St Callixtus are located just outside Rome on the Appian Way. You can reach them from the square facing St. John in Lateran by riding bus line number 218 to the Fosse Ardeatine stop. Buy the bus ticket at a nearby news-stand, the ticket costs Euro 1.50 and can be used for 100 minutes (however only once in the Underground).

The area of the catacombs began to be used for burials in the second century AD, when some of the local proprietors, who must have been Christians, allowed the bodies of their brethren in the faith to be buried there too.

This was the first cemetery to be owned by the Church at Rome, and by the following century it housed the remains of sixteen popes, almost all of whom had been martyred. Callixtus worked as administrator of the catacombs for the best part of twenty years, before himself being elected pope, thus the catacombs were named after him.

It has been calculated that the number of Christian graves in the Catacombs of St Callixtus is around 500,000, 40% 0f whom were children. Most of them are quite plain tombs, marked only by a simple carved image. From the fourth century onward, once the persecutions had ended, inscriptions become much more common.

There are 4 layers of catacombs superimposed to one another, the tunnels are about 13 miles long, the visit takes about 30-40 minutes, is extremely interesting and leaves you wanting for more!

  • The Ancient Appian Way and the tomb of Cecilia Metella

Along the Ancient Appian Way the tomb of Cecilia Metella is a large funerary monument, built in the 1st century B.C., located about 3 miles outside of the city borders. The mausoleum’s location, on top of a hill, made it an important landmark for people traveling to Rome from the south.

Tomb of Cecilia Metella, Rome

Tomb of Cecilia Metella, Rome

The tomb bears an inscription saying it was constructed for Cecilia Metella, daughter of the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus and wife of  Marcus Licinius Crassus, who governed with Julius Caesar. The tomb is raised on a square pedestal and is round in shape as it was inspired to the Etruscan  graves. It is covered with travertine marble.

During the Middle Ages (11th century) the tomb was transformed into the main tower of a fortress defending the southern access road into Rome. Later that the tomb was equipped with merlons.

The tomb is impressive and moving, still bearing witness to the love and grief of a father and a husband who lost their beloved daughter and wife about 2000 years ago.

If you have time, spend an afternoon walking or biking along the Ancient Appian Way, which has been transformed into a park dotted with monument ruins and the remains of ancient villas. You can still see fragments of the old road, with grooves markings of ancient Roman carts and wheels.

Emperor Nero in Rome: restored house opens

The restoration work site of Nero’s house in Rome, the Domus Aurea, now open to the public. You can visit upon appointment for a limited period of time.

After the fire of 64 a.D., which destroyed the greater part of the center of Rome, Emperor Nero had a new residence built with walls covered by rare varieties of marble and vaults decorated with gold and precious stones. The house was so glittering so as to earn the name of Domus Aurea (Golden House).

Frescoes in the Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

Frescoes in the Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

Built of brick and concrete, the extensive gold leaf that gave the villa its name was not the only extravagant element of its decor: stuccoed ceilings were faced with semi-precious     stones and ivory veneers, while the walls were frescoed, coordinating the decoration into different themes in each major group of rooms.

Nero's Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

Nero’s Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

  The Golden House was designed as a place of entertainment: there were 300 rooms but no sleeping quarter.

No kitchens or latrines have been  discovered.

The enormous complex included vast vineyards, pastures and woods, an artificial lake, treasures  looted from the Orient.

It was embellished by precious ornaments, such as a gigantic statue of the Emperor in the  robes of the Sun God.  At the death of Nero, his successors tried to bury every trace of the Palace.

The luxurious halls were spoiled of  the marbles and of of the sculptures and were filled with earth up to the the vaults; upon them the large Baths of  Titus and Baths of Trajan were built and in the underlying valley the Colosseum was erected.

The lavish fresco and stucco decorations of the Domus Aureas remained hidden until the Renaissance when some artists passionate about antiquities, including Raphael, entered into what they thought were caves and began to copy the ornamental motifs of the vaults; thus the decorations were called grotesques (from the Italian word grottesca, grotta being the Italian for cave).

Recently the Domus Aurea work site was reopened to the public after many years of being closed because of collapsed structures.

Visiting the work site will be possible on weekends  from 9:15 am to 3:45 pm upon appointment: call 01139 06 3996 7700 or visit: www.coopculture.it

The restoration is still in progress, paid for – in part – by the Italian company Sky Arte HD, which is also trying to raise more money for the works through crowdfunding. They need about 31 million Euro to restore the garden above the structure, which has been damaged by water infiltration.

In my opinion, visiting the Domus Aurea alone is worth a trip to Rome.

 

Statue in the Domus Aurea

Statue in the Domus Aurea from Wikipedia

Challenges in using American credit cards in Italy.

Outdoor dining in Italy

Outdoor dining in Italy

Americans are often surprised that their credit cards may not be accepted where they would expect them to be, i.e. Italy.

While it usually it is not an issue in hotels, the problem of using credit cards in Italy for payments does often arise in some stores, restaurants, train stations, etc  – and even on many local websites (for example, Trenitalia, the national railway, however they accept Paypal). Sometimes it’s particularly difficult to use some credit cards online.

The problem is that while U.S. cards still primarily rely on magnetic-strip technology, Europe and much of the rest of the world has moved on to embedded microprocessor chips that sometimes require also a pin at the point of transaction. These “chip-and-pin” cards have been widely adopted to reduce fraud.

Many stores and other vendors in Italy will only accept these types of cards. American travelers to Europe should be aware of this potential problem and be prepared. One solution is to pre-purchase as much of your travel online as possible before leaving home. It would also be advisable to inform your credit card company of your travel abroad, especially if you are not a frequent traveler, as they might stop the transactions in order to prevent fraud if your purchases do not match your usual pattern.

American Express cards seem to be often rejected in Italy because of the high commissions and fees they impose on retailers.

Using a credit card, or even better, a debit card or your local bank (ATM) card for cash withdrawals in Italy is easy, however you must first locate either the Cirrus, Plus, VPay, or BankMate symbol (on the Bancomat [ATM] and on your card), to ensure the card is usable at that particular unit.

Of course, in Italy the money will be dispensed in Euro, but when you return home, your bank will have converted the amount of your withdrawal into dollars using the most current exchange rate.

Your bank account may have daily withdrawal limits, e.g. $300, therefore, you have to account for the currency conversion when withdrawing euro in Italy.  Italian ATM (Bancomat) limit pin numbers to four digits. Besides currency conversion rates, your bank will also apply a hefty International Transaction Fee for cash withdrawal and/or for credit card payments (however US Bank has waived such fee for credit card payments with its Visa Flex Perks Credit card from Sept. 1st, 2014) .

Some other banks waive this fee if you go to their “Correspondent Bank”. For instance, the Bank of America Correspondent Bank in Italy is Banca Nazionale del Lavoro or BNL. Otherwise you end up paying $8.00 at least PER WITHDRAWAL over and above any other fees applied.

You may be entitled to dual citizenship.

 

Thanks to a 1992 decision by the Italian government to expand its definition of citizenship, Americans able to trace their Italian heritage up to four generations back can apply for Italian citizenship under “jure sanguinis” (blood right). The process is time consuming, but for the thousands of Italian Americans who apply each year, the benefits of Italian dual citizenship are well worth the effort.

By D.Kellam@Flickr
Italian Flag by D. Kellam,Flickr
In order to be recognized as an Italian citizen, you have to prove that your Italian ancestor born in Italy was not a naturalized US citizen before his son/daughter’s birth in the USA.
Write to the “Comune” where the Italian ancestor was born, requesting a birth certificate.

The recognition of Italian citizenship can take up to one year to be completed, however Casa Italia can help you speed up the process by providing fast and accurate translations  of all the documents you collected.

ADVANTAGES OF DUAL CITIZENSHIP FOR AMERICANS

Dual citizenship
Italian/US passports
As European nationals, Italian citizens have the right to live, vote, work and travel freely within all 27 European Union member states.
Dual nationals also benefit from Italian social security and universal health care and access to largely state-funded universities throughout Europe.
Dual citizenship facilitates career and financial growth. Italian dual citizens are attractive to employers because they can transfer between company branches in both Europe and the United States without restrictions.

The process is time consuming but Casa Italia can help you by translating all your application documents.

For more information contact the Italian Consulate in your jurisdiction.

 

Ferrara, a hidden gem.

The town of Ferrara is situated 50 kilometers (31 miles) north-northeast of Bologna, on the Po River. It has streets and numerous palaces dating from the 14th and 15th centuries, when it hosted the court of the House of Este. For its beauty and cultural importance it was qualified by UNESCO as World Heritage Site. (from Wikipedia).

Very few American travelers know it, but it’s worth a detour.

The Cathedral of Ferrara (Liboni@flickr)

The Cathedral of Ferrara (Liboni@flickr)

This travel diary, by Lorenza G., is all in Italian.

Abbiamo passato il nostro primo fine settimana nella città di Ferrara, praticamente gli unici abitanti… tutti gli altri sono andati al mare…..

Venerdi sono arrivati degli amici che passava sulla via di ritorno a casa e abbiamo fatto una cena a base di cappellacci di zucca, vera prelibatezza locale. Ieri siamo andati al vedere una battaglia in uno scenario  rinascimentale, con cavalieri e fanti e alabarde e se le davano davvero di santa ragione.

Ferrara, the Este Casle (Liboni@Flickr)

Ferrara, the Este Castle (Liboni@Flickr)

 

Alla fiera c’erano  i banchettti del villaggio medioevale, molto ben fatti, con persino l’appestato, i maniscalchi, i lavoratori della lana, del legno e vari artigiani. Interessante.

Abbiamo finito la serata nel giardino e cortile di un bellissimo palazzo con un poeta che declamava poesie di Gioachino Belli, con finale di pecorino, spumante e porchetta.

Tutta la ferrara bene, e noi… non tanto eleganti, ma almeno esotici. Ci aveva inviato il padrone di casa qualche giorno fa, ma non ci aspettavamo una cosa del genere, sfarzosa quasi, con candele da tutte le parti, tavolini e tovaglie.

Oggi dopo, la visita al mercato, stiamo in casa al freschino, che fuori ci si scioglie dal caldo.

Ferrara, shopping (Munch@Flickr)

Ferrara, shopping (Munch@Flickr)

Abbiamo due vecchissime biciclette con cui giriamo in lungo e largo… veramente non tanto perché la città è piccolissima, ma cominciamo a girare anche fuori mura.

Ferrara, bicycles in the old town (Sofia@Flickr)

Ferrara, bicycles in the old town (Sofia@Flickr)

 Abbiamo fatto qualche conoscenza, ma siamo qui da solo una settimana e non abbiamo ancora molti amici. Ma stiamo bene e ci godiamo la città, che è veramente graziosa.

Tourism in Milan, Italy. Best time to visit.

Piazza Gae Aulenti, Milan

Piazza Gae Aulenti, Milan

If you are planning to travel to Milan for reasons other than business, and can select your travel dates, you may base your decision to visit the city on two factors: Milan’s climate or the multitude of events constantly taking place in the city.

Weather-wise, Milan is at its best in late Spring and at the beginning of Fall, despite these two seasons might be a bit rainy: the city climate is continental with hot and humid Summers and damp Winters and temperatures are definitely more pleasant in the intermediate seasons.

On average, in Milan the coldest month of the year is January, whereas the hottest is July. In the past decades Milan was infamous for its fog and smog, but now many of the industries responsible for such poor air quality have closed or relocated and fog now is a rare phenomenon. Sometimes you can find fog in the early morning hours or in the evening near the Navigli, the canals that run through Milan, and in the southern areas of the city.

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Milan

The Duomo (Cathedral) of Milan

If you make the decision to visit Milan based upon its busy calendar of events, you will have the choice among a myriad of options:  from the theater or the La Scala famous opera season, trade shows fashion, furniture trade show, art and other cultural exhibits, presentations or inaugurations. Online event calendars can give you information on what is happening in the city at any given time.

The four major fashion events in Jan, Feb-Mar., June and Sept-Oct. as well as the April “Salone Internazionale del Mobile” (International Furnishing Accessories Exhibition April 14/19, 2015) can make it difficult to find suitable accommodation in the city.

The opposite happens in July and August: the city is deserted by its inhabitants who vacation on the coast or in the Alps, many stores close, no major events take place. Those who are not afraid of the heat and of the closure of many commercial establishments can enjoy the city in almost total calm and peace.

 

Things to do if you travel to Sardinia, an enchanting island off the coast of Italy. Wind, sea and sun.

 

Sailing in Sardinia (photo by Flickr)

Sailing in Sardinia (Flickr)

Located south of the French island of Corsica and closer to the North African coast than the Italian mainland, Sardinia (Italian: Sardegna) is an autonomous region of Italy and the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily).   Although being characterized by natural treasures and possessing an extraordinary cultural, artistic, historical and archaeological heritage, Sardinia is not particularly well known to most American who travel to Italy, but is certainly an Italian destination with much to offer.

Climate and Geography

With an area of 9,197 square miles and coasts covering 1,149 miles, Sardinia has an interior mainly composed of mountains and hills and a varied coastal landscape of high cliffs, long stretches of coastline, many remarkable headlands and inlets, and various smaller islands off the coast.  The island also has an ancient geoformation and is not earthquake prone, unlike Sicily and mainland Italy.

Sardinia is temperate year-round and has an average temperature between 52 to 63 °F; however, the weather is not uniform here, partly due to the island being relatively large and hilly.  Sardinia enjoys a Mediterranean climate along the coasts and plains with mild winters and hot summers, while a continental climate is found on the interior plateaus, valleys and mountain ranges with cold winters and cool summers.  The highest temperatures are felt in July and August, which is peak season for the island. Sardinian beaches can get crowded during this time as ferries bring large numbers of sun-worshippers from mainland Italy, or what the locals call il continente (the continent).

Luckily for travelers who wish to avoid the crowds during the hottest time of year, the summer on the island tends to be long with weather (and sea) temperatures generally warm enough for swimming from May until October.

Cobalt blue beach in Sardina (Photo by Flickr)

Cobalt blue ocean water in Sardinia (Flickr)

Sardinia is also known as the” isola del vento” (the windy island), due to winds that can blow quite strongly and that cross the island from all directions.  Though most prevalent from September to April, the mistral wind that comes from the north-west is the dominant wind throughout the year and makes for a sailor’s paradise.

Natural Beauty
Sardinia’s dazzling coastline with crystal-clear turquoise sea waters andbeaches of white and pink sand may be the island’s main draw, but away from the coast the scenery can be similarly stunning.   With about 50% of the territory covered by forests, Sardinia has an enviable wooded property with many forests open to the public and accessible through different trails.  In addition to the Marine Reserve of Sardinia, the island also has three national parks and over 600,000 hectares that have been environmentally preserved.

Sardinia is populated by a variety of local animal and vegetal species, including rare amphibias that are found only on the island and uncommon species of mammals such as the Sardinian Deer, the Sarcidano Horse and the Mouflon (wild sheep).

 Things to do/ Activities

Endless possibilities for a leisurely vacation can be found along Sardinia’s startlingly beautiful coastlines.  Renowned for its magnificent beaches, breathtaking cliffs and rock formations, and outer reefs with an abundance of sea life, it is not surprising that Sardinia is said to have been designed by the gods for all kinds of water sports.

Windsurfing in Sardinia (photo by Flickr)

Windsurfing in Sardinia (Flickr)

  • Windsurfing: Sardinia’s strong winds, especially towards the north coast, make windsurfing very popular
  • Sailing and boating: a great way to appreciate the island’s coastal views, with many cruise companies offering sailing excursions
Sailing and boating in Sardinia  (Flickr)

Sailing and boating in Sardinia (Flickr)

  • Scuba diving: sunken ships, marine reserves and underwater caves make Sardinia a paradise for underwater adventures.  There are also over 80 scuba diving centers that can be found throughout the island
  • Fishing: fly fishing, shore fishing, boat fishing, and nighttime surf casting are all popular in Sardinia, which likely offers the best fishing in all of Italy.
Scuba diving in Sardinia (Photo by Flickr)

Scuba diving in Sardinia (Flickr)

 

But it’s not only about water sports that Sardinia is famous for. Other activities that you can perform when on the island include

  • Rock climbing (or arrampicata): popular on the steep cliffs by the sea
  • Horseback riding: Sardinians are very fond of horses and riding stables can be found near many coastal resorts

By Ryan Bane

 

Sardinian sheep cheese, paper-thin bread and other delicacies off the coast of Italy.

 

Sardinian and Italian cuisine, with their ancient culinary history rooted in both fertile land and sea, are some of the cornerstones of culture in Italy. Italian cuisine is widely considered to be among the best (if not the best) cuisine in the world.  Although ingredients and dishes vary by region due to factors such as climate, geography and history, Italian cuisine is characterized by its simplicity and emphasis on using quality ingredients rather than cooking techniques.

The importance of quality ingredients in Italian cuisine makes Sardinia an earthly paradise for those who love fine food, as the sunny island has ideal conditions for many natural products, from both the land and surrounding sea.  Endless choices of fresh fish and seafood dishes can be found on the island thanks to its rich and rugged coastlines.  Despite the popularity of seafood dishes on the island today, many of Sardinia’s cherished foods are land-based, partly due to invasions that prompted Sardinians to find refuge in the mountains and away from the coasts.  Fertile farmlands, vast forests, and a large population of shepherds have also allowed Sardinia to become Italy’s leading producer of organic produce.  With thousands of rare species of plants and animals and local food available virtually everywhere, Sardinia remains a largely agricultural area with an eccentric cuisine that is sure to satisfy any appetite.

Meat

Sardinia is well-known for its roasted meats (e.g. suckling pig, veal lamb, goat and sheep) and for producing exceptionally lean lamb (some of the best in Italy).  The island has many famed meat dishes which typically consist of veal, agnello (lamb), agnellino (younger lamb), suckling pig, goat or sheep.  Carne equina, or horse meat, is also a common dish in Sardinia that is usually served in the form of a thin steak (bistecca).  In addition to porcheddu (roast suckling pig), carne a carraxiu (buried meat) is an especially popular dish of the island which is made by placing a calf (or other meat) in a hole and covering it with myrtle leaves; firewood is later laid on top of the hole which cures the meat.

Grilled meats, Sardinia (Photo by MCelluzza@Flickr)

Grilled meats, Sardinia (Photo by MCelluzza@Flickr)

Bread

Bread is a staple in Sardinia and the island is admired for the quality and variety of its bread.  Traditional breads may be made with white flour, semolina (hard wheat), bran or sprout.  Sardinia also has breads that are usually prepared for special occasions and can be found in certain shapes (e.g. nativity scenes).  The best-known bread on the island, and a base for many other Sardinian dishes, is the Pane Carasau, or carta di musica (music paper).  Made with hard wheat flower and kneaded with yeast, Pane Carasau is a dry handmade bread that consists of crispy, thinly sliced layers of dough.  Pane Carasau also has many variations, such as pane frattau which is made by combining tomato sauce and egg to the bread.

 

Pane Carasau, Sardinian bread (photo by Rowena@flickr)

Pane Carasau, Sardinian bread (photo by Rowena@flickr)

Cheese

With about half of Italy’s sheep milk produced in Sardinia, it’s no surprise that cheese is abundantly used in Sardinian cuisine and that the island is a major exporter of various types of cheese.  The quality of cheese on the island can be attributed to the proximity of the mountains.  An especially well-known cheese is the sharp and spicy Fiore Sardo, which is a smoked and aged over a long period.  Other traditional cheeses made in the region include pecorino sardo, ricotta, caprino, pecorino romano, and casu marzu (containing live insect larvae and now illegal in Italy).

 

Pecorino from Sardinia (photo by Anna@Flickr)

Pecorino from Sardinia (photo by Anna@Flickr)

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