There’s nothing quite like discovering a place through the eyes of a local. Everywhere in the world has its own culinary traditions and stories. Italy is of course, no exception.
Our week long trip in Italy this past April opened up a plethora of foodie delights we never knew existed. If we’d not found a guide to take us on a food tour (which usually included discovering local secret places too), we’d perhaps not have discovered:
– Aperitivo – the best Italian tradition you’ve never heard of! Start in Milan. For a set price you buy a drink like a cocktail and can indulge in a large buffet too! Read more
– Cichetti – like Spanish tapas, served at bacari, traditional bars, in Venice. Live like a local. Read more
– Italian coffee culture. Start your day drinking a macchiato standing at a bar in a coffee shop. Don’t sit down out the front, you’ll look like a tourist! Cappuccinos or lattes are for the morning only, never after lunch. An espresso is ok at any time of the day. Here’s a quick guide on your options
– Gelato – support local when in Italy. We discover in Italy how to keep the prices down and determine the difference between authentic and not-so… Read more
– Panzerotti (deep fried pizza dough) and the place you should queue up to taste it in Milan. Read more
Why do a walking tour? It’s easy, fun and you get to live like a local for a couple of hours. Not to mention, you can grill your walking and food tour host with any questions you like. Mostly you get an authentic experience that’s inexpensive, and you can find gems off the tourist trail. We took a walking food tour in Verona and Venice, both booked on Airbnb.
Learn to cook
One glance across experience promoters like Airbnb or Viator shows just how many cooking tours there are around the world now. Most mean you turn up to someone’s home, or a family restaurant’s kitchen, and spend a few hours learning (or honing) a skill. It might be pasta, desserts or a uniquely local cuisine you’re learning. Either way, what better opportunity do you have to learn about a new place?
The bonus of this type of experience is you’re usually supporting a local business. Win win!
One of our most popular blogs on Travel Live Learn is about pursuing creative travel experiences including this type of trip. Have a read here.
There’s plenty of this type of class or food tour on offer all over Italy. If you have any that you’d recommend, do please share details in the comments below.
Organised coach tours
If you’re fully committed to spending a few days discovering Italy through the eyes of food, there are coach tours available exclusively for this purpose. A simple search, ‘food tour Italy’ brings up a number of options. You might explore the regions we did, like Milan, Verona or Venice. Or, the famous Tuscan food and wine region. There are plenty of small towns that offer amazing insight into food and wine, and if you don’t have a car, a booking like this is the way to go to not miss anything important.
An organised tour takes the stress out of figuring out what to do and may include an itinerary of a few days. You don’t have to worry about driving or finding your way – just focus on what’s important. Your taste buds!
Other ways you can find a food tour in your country or region of choice, might be by searching for recommendations on Tripadvisor, YouTube or running a hashtag search on Instagram for #foodtour, for example.
We discovered the Brussels option on the destination’s tourism website, and our Italy experiences (including wine tastings, which you can read about here) popped up as recommendations alongside our Airbnb bookings.
Do you have tips or a personal example to share, or even questions? Let us know in the comments
Siena – it’s more charming than you can imagine, possibly my favourite city in Tuscany, over Florence (I know!) … what are the best things to do in Siena when you visit? Here’s an itinerary of how we spent our day. Although, I can’t wait to go back and spend longer in Siena.
The best things to do in Siena
Siena is one of those cities that you can easily wander around in. One of the best things you can do in Siena is give yourself time to get lost.
There’s plenty of little alleyways you’ll come across, walk up and down hills; around corners and discover magical old churches and homes.
Of course, the city boasts several highlights such as its cathedral and towers that rival those of its once-enemy, Florence.
You can sign up for a walking tour in Siena if time permits. Take in museums, galleries and history – there’s so much to do in Siena in a small space. I really did long for more time here.
Siena is pretty and oh-so-Instagrammable so take your time. Wear comfortable shoes and take water though, as it gets hot here in summer.
Find your way back
It’s fine to get lost but at some point you’ll want to find your way out of the old town again.
Before ticking off your own ‘things I want to do in Siena’ list, we strongly suggest that you arrange reliable roaming data for your trip here (and across all of Tuscany) because you can access Google Maps for directions.
Even then we found that we often landed up against a wall – unable to walk through, we combined tech with tips from locals to make our way.
In old cities, Google Maps can get a little confused, but it’s better than having no guide at all.
Food with a view
The old town centres on the extraordinary Piazza del Campo where people-watching becomes the thing to do in Siena.
There are over-priced restaurants selling mostly pizza and pasta that surround this area and you’re really only paying for the view.
Cooper discovered a one-off though, a pub called San Paolo which sells yummy toasted paninis, beer and boasts a small balcony overlooking the spectacle.
If you’re swift, you too can indulge for less! This pub opened just after midday when we were there. It was a great base to settle, grab a snack and figure out what we wanted to do to cover off other things to do in Siena before the end of the day.
For other options off the expensive tourist trail, keep an eye out for little bars and restaurants in the back streets, or even away from the old town and on the way towards where street traffic is allowed.
How to get to Siena
We’ve already mentioned in our clips and blogs that you are better off with a car in Tuscany.
Siena, like in Florence, strictly limits traffic in the old town so you need to park outside.
Some car parks charge around €35 per day!
The car park at the Siena train station is a bargain – we were only charged €2.50 for around eight hours.
To get to the old town from here though is about 25 minutes’ walk – usually not a problem for us but it’s up a very, very steep hill that’s also busy with traffic.
Jump on bus no. 3 or 10. The bus station is underneath the shopping centre (which conveniently, also has a big supermarket).
You need to buy a ticket from the transit machine that will cost about €1.20 (one way). It’s a bit tricky as it’s in Italian so aim for an ‘urban’ pass that comes to about this amount, or ask a local – they were so helpful, quite often walking us a distance to ensure we were on the right track!
Get off at the last stop or one closest to the old city centre – about five minutes bus ride from the train station.
Coming back, you need to find the bus station which is in a different place from where you get off the bus. Again, don’t forget to buy a ticket that will be zoned as ‘urban A’ for around €1.20 for a single.
Siena is a truly wonderful Italian find, and another example of the many lovely places in Italy we want to visit.
I somehow knew the word, but not the destination until now.
Highly recommended on your Italian travel itinerary.
Do you have questions or tips? Let us know in the comments.
We’ve dropped into the little town, Radda, about fifteen minutes drive from our Tuscany apartments courtesy To Tuscany, it’s a perfect April day and I think this has to be the best time to visit Tuscany! It’s just so special.
I’m sitting in the corner of Radda’s old village square at a bar called Palazzo Leopoldo.
Cooper’s suggestion that I find a shady spot was a good one. The midday sun floods across faded yellow walls and sunflower pots, proving April in Tuscany sparkles with its own touch of timeless elegance. It IS the best time to visit Tuscany.
A pleasant soundtrack of Goo Goo Dolls and Mary J Blige has turned into a string of ballads by Ed Sheeran – a fellow fan must be running this joint!
April – the best time to visit Tuscany
The light in Tuscany is as they say: golden, warm and soothing.
The sunsets across our To Tuscany apartments are spectacular and saturate with pretty light the rolling hills, olive groves and vineyards (which at present are stripped, a new season on the way).
It’s really warm in the middle of the day and a nice change from chilly England (that said, we’ve had nice days in London recently, we’d recommend exploring Kensington on a sunny day, or heading to a sky bar if you’re in town).
Where I sit and write now – first draft on paper – I’m positioned by an old Roman fountain.
I spotted a young artist perched by a flower pot sketching the fountain just the other day and thought how charming the scene was; now I’m here and feeling all creative too.
I don’t really mind if no one reads this – the space, the channel, the craft, it’s for me.
I guess right now though I’m bordering on an Under the Tuscan Sun cliché, but that’s ok too.
Three notepad pages down already, and they’re still playing Ed Sheeran. Lucky streak for me!
Last time I wrote like this was in my treasured travel diary from my first life-changing adventure back in 2000 which was to the USA and Canada.
I remember sitting inside McDonalds as freezing snow fell upon Times Square outside. First snow I’d ever seen.
A melodic Backstreet Boys tune played on the radio there (also good by me, at the time), and it was my first experience as a traveller being alone but not feeling lonely.
It’s a bit like that here too (although Cooper’s not far – he’s wandered off towards the scenic viewpoints on the outskirts of this pretty place to record a little something for YouTube).
Drops in temperature happen here too – overnight from around 4pm; but it’s light until 8pm.
To Tuscany apartments
Our villa is in Montebuoni, which is a ‘resort’ in the Tuscan hills, about 15 minutes’ drive from the nearest town of Radda in Chianti, and next door to an impressive winery, Castello di Ama.
We were staying here with To Tuscany in a cosy villa named La Stalla.
Montebuoni is set amidst hilly vineyards and includes pool, tennis courts and a number of beautifully restored villas, some of the original buildings date back to the 1500s.
We discovered that during medieval times, this whole area that had been popular for wine and olive producers, was mostly abandoned due to ongoing wars between neighbouring cities Florence and Siena.
It was unsafe to live here until the 1800s when things calmed again and people returned to the area, only to gradually regenerate it to its former glory.
Now the fields that stretch as far as the eye can see offer a patchwork of organised plantations that make the land look particularly charming and well kept.
I can actually see why many Italians were drawn to develop businesses in far north Queensland during post-war migration periods because the climate and land in that part of Australia feels quite similar to the Tuscan region. Tuscany’s landscape is larger though, but I felt some similarities and I remember quite well the Italian influence of my childhood in places like Cairns, Atherton and Mareeba (Australia); and the wine regions are a little similar to Australia’s climate, like in the Hunter Valley.
Iconic Italian Cypress trees point skyward and line the property around where we are staying; grassy spaces with wildflower patches are everywhere around us and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to scenic picnic spots.
La Stalla’s most important feature for me was the peace and quiet.
The large, homely property sleeps four or five, and when we arrived on Monday I actually fell asleep on a bed in a little patch of sunshine that was streaming in through the window.
A bird sang sweetly outside, the wind gently swept across the trees and I couldn’t resist dozing in the warmth and stillness of it all.
No east London sirens, no deadlines, and happily no Wi-Fi.
I think we don’t realise the impact of city life until we remove ourselves from it.
I find the city’s energy and opportunities intoxicating but here I’ve remembered the pleasure of slowing down, just being and indulging in imagination; well, that and a bit of red wine (Chianti, of course) and cheese.
And when I say ‘a bit’, I quite possibly mean a lot.
You do need a car in these parts (automatic, and with a GPS or reliable phone data package for Google Maps is highly recommended).
There are many villages that would be difficult if not impossible to reach otherwise. You can visit wineries of all shapes and sizes, most family-owned and operated.
Gorgeous Siena is about 45 minutes’ drive away, and yesterday we parked there and took a train to Florence (find the car parking facility at Siena’s train station for about €2.50 for the day, which is vastly cheaper than anywhere else, and for trains visit trainline.eu).
Florence is beautiful.
If it weren’t for all the tourists it would be perfect.
It’s a small, romantic city in which you can walk around – everywhere takes about twenty minutes.
Florence is where the Renaissance began, breaking the shackles of the Dark Ages and shedding light once again on creativity, learning, passion, pleasure and the arts.
The city was famously managed by the Medici family in the 15th Century, and their mark along with that of the artists, musicians and papal folk that influenced during this time is still bright and bold.
Find a view – whether up the steep hill to absorb all that Piazzale Michelangelo has to offer, or from a cool rooftop bar position; breathe in the past and present indulgences of Florence.
There’s tours of all sorts here, and we’d strongly advise researching ahead of time to avoid the queues which can quickly become tiresome.
As for me today, I’ve recovered from the hustle and bustle of that big Italian draw-card and am happily hanging about within Radda’s romantic walled city with pen in hand, coffee at the ready.
It really is beautiful in these parts and while I don’t understand the language (yet) I find it soothing to listen to its rhythm in the voices of those around me or on the radio.
If you’re planning a trip to the region, I highly recommend To Tuscany’s apartments offering, and think that April is the perfect temperature and best time to come.
Signing off … I’ve got a date with Cooper at a winery.
After a relaxed retreat boasting wineries, stunning gardens, mountain hikes/lookouts and a world-famous cricket museum? Well, Bowral in New South Wales’ southern highlands should be on your holiday hit list. Nestled at the base of Mount Gibralat and just 1.5 hours from Sydney, Bowral is a cute town full of things to do for a country escape.
As you explore Bowral you’ll notice how serene the place is, especially during spring when its country gardens and fields are alive with tulips.
Here are some of my favourite things to do in Bowral in New South Wales
Books and breakfast
For a unique café experience be sure to head to the Elephant Boy Café. From the moment you enter you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a 1920’s novel. The walls are lined with books, 1920’s antiques, spices and jams and tea merchant posters. It’s the perfect spot to grab a coffee, write/work, read a book or simply sit back and relax.
The meals are delicious and the portion sizes are generous. During my visit I couldn’t resist the Big Breakfast with everything you would expect (sausages, beans, eggs, bacon, mushrooms and even black pudding). Also the salmon omelette with chives is scrumptious and filing.
Tip: Go early to avoid the crowds and to secure a table.
Home to Australia’s greatest batsman
One of the most famous attractions in Bowral is The Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame. For any cricket fan this is a must-do activity as it commemorates the game’s greatest batsman, Sir Donald Bradman who grew up and learned his craft in Bowral.
Even if you aren’t a cricket enthusiast it’s a pretty impressive museum featuring state-of-the-art interactive experiences, theatre screenings and rare memorabilia and exhibits, all showcasing ‘The Don’s’ significant contribution to cricket and Australian history.
Tip: Don’t forget to explore outside and see the Bradman Oval.
Follow the wine trail
No visit to Bowral is complete without sampling the Southern Highland’s vineyards. With over 60 wineries to visit in this region (spanning across the towns of Bowral, Exeter, Moss Vale, Sutton Forrest, Berrima and Mittagong), you’ll have a blast wining, dining and soaking up the views.
Producing award-wining sparkling wines and specializing in pinot noir and pinot gris, you’re sure to walk away with a few new favourites and bottles for keepsake.
One of my favourite spots is Mount Ashby Estate, a charming French farmhouse style winery. On the property you’ll see cattle grazing, a provincial 17th to 19th century antique shop and of course, its cellar door and Café La Palette which serves delicious pinot gris, merlot and chardonnay wine and modern-French cuisine.
Tip: It’s a nice spot to grab lunch, soak up the vineyard views and unwind with a bottle of vino.
There’s certainly a lot of magic in a Hunter Valley romantic getaway, and if you’re in the region in Australia, we’d highly recommend it!
The Hunter Valley offers gorgeous scenery and much indulgence, it’s the perfect weekend away.
Hunter Valley romantic getaway from Sydney
With around 150 top-class wineries matched with numerous restaurants – no wonder it’s a tourist hot-spot.
Located two hours from Sydney, an impromptu trip to Australia’s largest wine region was on the cards just the other weekend, and we were not disappointed.
Hunter Valley romantic getaway: itinerary
Arriving into Pokolbin I didn’t waste any time to get our cellar door hopping on, and the first stop was Kevin Sobels, a family winery with over 150 years of history and tradition.
As you walk along the entrance path there are grapevines blossoming and barrels sitting on the veranda.
Inside has a classic home feel – brightly lit with the sun shining through large church windows.
Awards and family photos line the walls and if you’re lucky you’ll see the resident St Bernard called ‘Archie’ roaming about.
The moment you chat with the team, it’s easy to see their love and dedication for wine-making.
From Merlots, Chardonnays and White Ports, the Sobels have a range of refined and classic wine. My favourite was the Verdelho 2013 – fruity, crisp and great with spicy Asian food.
Feeling famished, a lunch stop Bistro Molines at Tallavera Grove was in order – got to keep our energy up for our Hunter Valley romantic getaway!
This place took my breath away.
Located on Mount View, it boasts never-ending valley views and does alfresco dining flawlessly. Very romantic!
With its outside hilltop gazebo, you can’t help but feel like you’re in a cute village in France or Tuscany.
The food tops off the whole experience – delicious, tasty and to die for. It takes lunching to a whole new level – from pan-fried quail, stuffed calamari and braised black mussels for entrée to veal wrapped in prosciutto, pork cutlet with parsnip puree and char-grilled spitchcock for main.
It’s a culinary journey I recommend for any rustic French cuisine lover.
Next stop on the our Hunter Valley romantic getaway ‘vino train’ was Brokenwood and it remains my favourite winery in the Hunter.
Inside is small and cosy and you’re immediately welcomed by the staff who have a witty personality.
Famed for its cricket pitch heritage and its dry table wines of Semillon and Shiraz, Brokenwood not only serves up exquisite wine but great conversation with many laughs.
Here you can experience a range of tours including private room and out of the barrel tastings.
My wine of choice was the 2013 Semillon Hunter Valley – citrus/lemongrass aromas with sweet fruit flavours.
After a siesta snooze, a trip to Hunter Valley’s finest culinary venue, Circa 1876 restaurant finished off our day escape to the Hunter Valley.
Situated in a stunning cottage dated back to 1876, it’s furnished with antiques and features a cosy lounge area with a fireplace to relax and enjoy a drink before dinner.
The main dining room is beautifully decorated with dim lighting, candle chandeliers and rustic wooden walls and beams.
For a more intimate experience, the restaurant offers three private dining rooms and a dedicated wine room.
Eating here is a memorable (and also expensive) experience serving delicious contemporary dishes matched with an impressive wine list of course.
Hunter Valley Wine and Food festival
A great time to come to the Hunter Valley is in June for Wine and Food month.
Whether for a romantic getaway or trip with friends, it’s a great reason to check out the region, and to experience its unique culture, fine wine and succulent food.
Got any tips of your own on the Hunter Valley? Let us know in the comments
About the author Danielle Muller (@stuffitgotravel) is a Sydney-based travel blogger and communications professional. Follow her travel adventures, stories and recommendations at stuffitgotravelling.com.
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