I am sitting at Lanate airport in Milan and have time to reflect on my Italian travels. What is abundantly clear is that I travel in a unique way --- I will call it The BVE (short for the Bryan Verona experience), coined by fellow Louper (and traveling bud) Matthew S. The BVE has three essential rules:
Rule #1 - When done with a destination, leave!
Rule #2 - Know where to go, but don't fear change of course.
Rule #3 - Why do tomorrow what you can do today!
Rule #1. When traveling, get out there and see a lot of places ... you don't know if and when you'll be back to that region. This Summer, I have brought the road trip (conceptually) to Europe where we are going (flying, boating and driving) to a slew of new, diverse and previously unchartered (by me) lands. It's hard to predict how long you need to be somewhere. Therefore, don't be beholden to an itinerary; always be ready to pack up and leave for your next destination. Conversely, if you need more time in a place ... take it.
Rule #2. This is the epitome of the Loupe's credo. Ask friends and people who know where you have to go. You are likely heading somewhere that friends of yours have been before. They can save you many mistakes and missteps.
Rule #3. The last rule relates directly to the first and second rules. If you wake up early, rather than go to breakfast, first go on a hike or a jog, as there is no better way to see and learn a new place. If you are showered and early for dinner, squeeze in another spot (maybe a martini or bellini) before dinner. If you have some downtime in the afternoon, use it. These are the ways to fit more activities into less time, allowing you to travel BVE style and move on to your next destination without FOMO.
I want to be clear; vacation doesn't always equal relaxation. I am on vacation to do and see things that I haven't done before. For instance, in 10 days in Italy I have been to Matera (in Puglia), Amalfi, Positano, Capri, Naples (for pizza), Sardinia, Portofino and Cinque Terre. I have eaten to my heart's (or stomach's) desire each region's specialties and have seen, heard, smelled, and touched (get your mind out of the gutter) Italia! Basta, let's get to this week's finds!
Rule #1 - Move on
Matera is a town on the rise, which is ironic because it means Subterranean City. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the upcoming Italian host of European Capital of Culture for 2019. The Romans discovered it in the 3rd Century (Palaeolithic) and built it into a deep rock canyon. Then, years later in the 1950's the Italian government intervened calling the Sassi (the ancient city) uninhabitable due to extreme poverty found in the cave dwellings. People came back in the late 1980's (cheap real estate) but until now very few Americans have found their way here (except of course fellow Louper Bonnie K.); travelers mostly consist of Italian tourists (from the North). The Sextantio is unique in every way -- it's 18 rooms are built into the prehistoric caves of Matera. There are three executive suites, which are luxury caves (oxymoron?) that are minimal, but well appointed. With small windows, little to no electricity, and no flat screen, this is a nod to the (far) past (however, great wifi). Go to sleep by candlelight and enjoy the natural cooling of the caves. Strike up conversations with fellow travelers and the accommodating staff while eating breakfast or having cocktails on the communal veranda. The Sextantio is a perfect spot for a one night stay on an Italian road trip. We were supposed to stay there two nights and left a day early to head to the Amalfi Coast (not our original plan). We loved the experience, but did everything we needed and wanted to do here --- hence, we were ready to go ... Rule #1 of the BVE!
Rule#2 - Know where to go
Piazza delle Sirene, 15, Marina del Cantone, Massa Lubrense NA
The restaurant that everyone loves on the Amalfi Coast is called Lo Scoglio. It is consistently thought of as the best restaurant in the region (possibly the world) for a seaside lunch. Some Loupers said they still think about it in their dreams and can't wait to be back. Serving the freshest fish, vegetables and homemade pasta, this hot spot will not disappoint, The robust flavors are from the waters of Positano/Capri, and the knowledgeable staff points you in the right direction. The most notable dishes are the linguine with zucchini (the region's specialty), the homemade pasta with their fresh tomatoes, and the salt encrusted sea bass. Pair these with a bottle of rose, or white wine, and soak in all the flavors of the Amalfi coast! It is a meal that you will be telling your friends about!
Hotel Cala di Volpe
Costa Smeralda, 07020 Porto Cervo OT, Italy
As you may realize by now, it is not my style to write about 5-star luxury hotels that have been well established and firmly rooted by many that came before me. However, in this case, I had to, given that it perfectly falls into Rule #2 (know where to go). In researching where to stay in Sardinia, it was hard to decipher between the hotels, given the online reviews and descriptions of the trio of Pitrizza, Romazzino, and Cala di Volpe. However, after speaking with friends who know, it became abundantly clear that the Cala di Volpe was the right choice for us. Why, you may ask ... evidently, while all beautiful, the Pitrizza is smaller and more romantic (better for honeymooners) traveling alone (and I'm with rowdy friends), the Romazzino is better for families with children (and I despise children, LOL), and the Cala di Volpe is lively, action-filled, service-oriented, and classic Sardinia. Upon checking into our rooms, we were less than impressed, given as astute fellow louper Greg M. said, "they look like they are carved out of Fred Flinstone bedrock;" however, we soon realized it's not about the rooms, it's everything else that make this place so spot-on. With superb and attentive staff, a top notch facility and the most delicious cuisine imaginable, guests can't help but return year and after year to this Sardinian paradise. First designed as the Aga Kahn's private villa, now this place has it all --- great private beach, water sports, tennis, yachts for rent, an outdoor gym and even a history, replete with 007 movies! The poolside lunch is one for the record books (I'm salivating as I write) as you imbibe excellent wine and eat excessive amounts of insane truffle pizza, fresh pastas, local fish and meats, hand chosen for you --- Cala di Volpe is not just a hotel, it's a way of life --- la dolce vita!
Piazza Martiri dell'Olivetta, 5, 16034 Portofino GE
I was introduced to this place by fellow Louper Mindy G., who said it would be her "last meal." This is the ultimate compliment, and therefore expectations were high (a dangerous thing). To begin, Puny is located in the central square of what I will call the most (naturally) beautiful port in Italy, Portofino. It was a perfect setting where the air was cool, and the sound of music was filling the square. I got a table outside (a must, insist), but near the entrance to the indoor area to have maximum engagement with Puny (owner) and the amazing waitstaff (we had Ivan). Puny floats effortlessly between tables, charming the ladies and teasing the men. He disclosed to us that for 70 years, since the age of 15, he has been serving Portofino with food made with love and passion, two essential ingredients for authentic Italian cuisine. We ordered (rather Ivan ordered for us) the house specialties: Pappardelle Portofino, seafood risotto, and the salt encrusted (yup, always) sea bream. To be blunt, it exceeded expectations. Ivan passionately described the process that goes into making the pappardelle; he also passionately described how he would never eat Italian food in New York again (two restaurants and two fist fights!). This meal is not to be missed, but creates a conundrum ... do I eat every meal there?
Da O Batti
Vico Nuovo, 17, 16034 Portofino GE
We were supposed to go somewhere else for dinner this night recommended to us by the concierge at our (overrated and overpriced) hotel. However, we observed the food coming out of the kitchen from the restaurant we were supposed to go, compared to the food coming out of the kitchen we wanted to go, and immediately changed course! Family run and operated, Da O Batti is a must hit when in Portofino. Located steps from the main piazza, up a narrow cobblestone street, Da O Batti is charming and authentic in every way. The menu is small; however, you shouldn't waste your time -- go straight to the Pesto Tagliolini with potatoes and green beans, Spaghetti Vongole and the ... world famous (for the past 50 years) Scampi. Don't bother asking the recipe, it is Batti's best-kept secret!
A quick sidenote about knowing where to go ... At the conclusion of our boat trip up the Amalfi Coast, we arrived in Naples. We had planned to go to L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele for what we had heard from numerous parties we trust (fellow Loupers Ali & Neil R. and Caryn & Jonathan B.) and Julia Roberts inEat, Pray, Love that this may be the best pizza in the world. We were planning on stopping there on the way to the airport. However, our taxi driver simply wouldn't take us as directed. And, you may not know this, but Naples is not the place to get in an argument with a local. about pizza ... He said he is Neopolitan, and he will take us to a real Neopolitan place. He proceeded to take us to a place against our will. We complied because there wasn't much we could do (he seemed prepared to kick my bleep). We ate there, and it was delicious, but we still didn't have the Best Pizza in the World. We had planned a large chunk of the trip around eating this pie. The moral of the story is to try to find a compliant driver, or avoid Naples all together!
Rule #3 - Take what you are given
Loc. Porto Massimo, 07024 La Maddalena OT
Friends rave about Corsica for its landscape, beaches, and food. Given it's proximity to Sardinia, our initial plan was to take a boat for the day from Sardinia to Corsica. However, the rough seas intervened (take what the ocean will give you), so we made an unplanned detour to the quiet island of Maddalena at the archipelago. Here, there are epic landscapes, private beaches, and incredible food. We dropped anchor in a quiet cove right in front of the restaurant La Scogliera. From the moment you pull up to the dock, you feel like you are in St Tropez. You are greeted by vibrant music and glasses of Rose Champagne (tres magnifique). Take in the view from the outdoor lounge then step into the dining room (indoor or outdoor) for lunch. Your waiter will bring over a wicker basket full of the fish caught that day; any choice will do. After lunch, head back over to the outdoor lounge and take in the views of the surrounding cliffs and open water. This is a lunch and a view that will stay fresh in my mind!
Bagni Fiorre Paraggi
Via Paraggi a mare, 1, 16038 Paraggi GE
To be honest, my crew wasn't feeling the pool at the hotel in Portofino (crowded and too much chair jockeying) and needed to head to the beach. A 15-minute walk on the red carpet (a portion of the longest in the world) takes you from Portofino to Paraggi, a small seaside beach town. Located there are three beach clubs, Bagne Fiore being the one to hit! For 120 Euros per couple (a bit pricey but worth it) get escorted to seaside chairs that come with towels, bottle service, and your very own changing room. Sip your rose and periodically go into the turquoise waters for a refreshing swim. When you can bear your pulse being so low for no longer, head inside for a delicious lunch. Do not miss their homemade and famous focaccia (with cheese on the inside), oysters, carpaccios, sea salt encrusted prawns, and deliciouso pastas. The day slips away as locals and tourists enjoy living la dolce vita in this glorious enclave!
The take away from this week's post is to channel our Italian friends and enjoy good food, good drinks, and good people. Remember to travel the BVE way, and consider Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, Lo Scoglio, Hotel Cala di Volpe, Ristorante Puny, Da O Batti, La Scogliera, and Bagni Fiorre Paraggi Found!