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By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 11 May, 2017
Single travellers don’t be afraid to go it alone. “They were the best 12 days of my life!” These are the words of a wonderful woman from NSW who had just hit 70 years old. Not only was she heading overseas for the first time in her life, she was going solo! We took her on our 12 day Treasures tour and she just delighted in Italy and the travel experience.
By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 08 Feb, 2017

Are you thinking of coming to Italy this Autumn? If you are then you’re in luck! Many people think Autumn is the best time to visit Italy, with crisp days, changing colours and seasonal food products to enjoy. Autumn in Italy is often characterised by the last lingering warm-to-hot days from summer, but typically without the humidity, or the hot nights. So even if it feels a little warmer than you think it should during the middle of the day, it’ll cool down in the evenings so that your after-dinner passeggiata will surely be pleasant. In September it’s also likely to still be warm enough after dinner to warrant a gelato while you stroll!  

Autumn colours can be found in vineyards, foothills, and mountains in mid-October and into November. During the spring and summer Italy puts on the most amazing array of greens that I have ever seen, but come Autumn, when the Lombard poplars and chestnut woods change to yellow, the vineyards turn burgundy and you sometimes get a low lying mist settling in between the valleys it becomes a photographers playground!

By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 03 Jan, 2017
Over the years we have come to know what our clients are looking for in a tour. They want to see new and beautiful places, eat good food, drink good wine and be around like minded people while relaxing and having everything taken care of. But what about pre and post tours when you are travelling independently? We have a few suggestion to make independent travelling a little easier.
By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 25 Oct, 2016
Like many other travellers, Jim and I fell in love with Siena the very first time we experienced it. It was roughly 20 years ago and at the time we didn't have any preconceived ideas or expectations about the town. It was wonderful to be swept away by its elegant architecture, intimate, winding, alleyways and to cap it off - the magnificent Duomo. At Siena's heart though, sits the stunning shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, which is arguably one of the world's most stunning open spaces. Discovering Siena is akin to discovering Atlantis whilst on a snorkelling holiday on the Great Barrier Reef!

As many of you may already know, Siena is also famous for the "Palio", its historic horse-races that take place in the Piazza del Campo annually in July and August. Out of the 17 Sienese districts (known locally as contrade), 10 get to race. Of the 10 that race, one must stand behind the front row because it only fits 9 horses. The horses are ridden bareback, and if a jockey happens to fall from his horse, the horse can still win if it crosses the line first - with or without him! The jockeys are true mercenaries. They have no allegiance to any one district (contrada) and many of them are not from Siena. The contrade do not trust each other, and they do not trust the jockeys either - even the ones riding their own horses! From the moment that the horses are assigned, the contrade keep a dubious eye on their jockeys until they mount their horses on race day. It is said that jockeys are not permitted to depart from neighbourhood soil. Lip readers are hired to ensure that the jockeys are conniving in the interests of their contrada, rather than their own interests. Contrade bribe other contrade and jockeys, and in turn jockeys bribe officials. It is also not beyond the pale to drug horses, or kidnap jockeys before the race! Despite all of this 'accepted' corruption, the Palio is still a great race. Spectators pack the piazza (there's no chance of toilet breaks if you are in the centre of the piazza though - Are you pondering on that one?). The well-to-do, on the other hand, peer down from the balconies of the residences surrounding the piazza. After days of parades and fanfare, the actual race may last for only 75 seconds. But the excitement of it all overrides all the waiting!

Siena is an ideal town to see on foot because access by car is severely restricted. The surrounding countryside is a rich landscape of rolling hills, vineyards, olive-trees and the archetypal Tuscan Cypress or "Pencil" pines. It is a truly magnificent, architecturally-designed landscape that resembles gorgeous paintings at almost every turn in the road! To the north of Siena is the beautiful Chianti region. Also close by are the beautiful towns of San Gimignano, Volterra and Montepulciano. To the south of Siena lies the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Val D'Orcia, characterised by large sweeping hills that depict some of the most famous images of Tuscany. These images are represented in millions of photos in magazines and on postcards around the world. The gorgeous town of Montalcino, famous for its red wine the "Brunello di Montalcino", lies at the heart of this area. Siena and its surrounding towns are definitely not to be missed.
By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 06 Oct, 2016
The Veneto region is in north-eastern Italy and is one of the biggest and most active wine regions in the country. It produces the largest amount of quality wines with the prized DOC and DOCG denominations. The vineyards can be mostly found around the beautiful town of Verona, home to Romeo and Juliet and second only to Rome itself in the number of Roman ruins it contains. The Veneto landscape is breathtaking in its natural beauty, with gorgeous valleys, misty mountains and winding streams.

To the north west of Verona lies the prestigious wine making area of Valpolicella. It is an intensely beautiful region, whose name comes from “val polis cellae” and means “ valley of many cellars”. The region is also known for its olive oil which has a DOP status (Malcesine, on the eastern shore of Lake Garda, and a destination on this month's feature tour, is famous for its olive oil). However, most importantly it is home to the wonderfully unique Amarone della Valpolicella wine.

Amarone is the star of the Valpolicella region. Once you have tried it you may not want to drink any other wine! It is a dense, concentrated wine with a velvety texture. ‘Amarone’ comes from the Italian word for bitter, and is made to balance the extreme fruitiness of the wine with a refreshing acidity. As it is highly aromatic and full flavoured, it is often compared with port wines. Due to its intensive production process and ageing requirements, Amarone wines are expensive. The wine making process is a unique ancient Roman tradition in Valpolicella, called “Appassimento”. It entails the partial drying of grape bunches after harvest for up to 4 months, allowing them to shrivel like raisins. The grapes are dried in special drying halls, which results in a concentration of sugars. They are then crushed and fermented until the wine is basically dry. Amarone goes perfectly with game and hearty foods.

Amarone is considered to be an off, dry wine, while its cousin, Recioto, has a bitter sweet flavour. Recioto is a smooth and deep coloured wine that is also reminiscent of Port, but with no added alcohol. It is made from grapes that are dried in the traditional way on straw mats, or hung from the rafters in warm lofts. This technique is called ‘passito’. The grapes are dehydrated, concentrating the sugars before fermentation. Recioto goes well with hard cheeses or cakes and pastries.

The name Ripasso is derived from the word re-passed, and this is a style of wine that is unique to the Valpolicella region. Ripasso refers to the production process whereby regular, fermented Valpolicella is added to a cask containing the skins left over from fermented Amarone wines. The process of adding the lighter Valpolicella wine over the remainders of the “bigger” Amarone wine imparts additional colour, texture and flavour to this particular wine. Also, it induces a second fermentation of the wine that increases the wine’s alcoholic content. Ripasso goes well with hearty foods, game and aged cheeses. Ripasso wines are less expensive than Amarone wines, and as such can be enjoyed regularly. Ripasso goes well with Porcini pappardelle, which is the focus of our recipe of the month below - Buon appettito!!
By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 12 Aug, 2016

When most people think of San Gimignano they think of a town of skyscrapers, characterised by the numerous towers within its medieval walls, surrounded by the most beautiful Tuscan countryside that there is to see. What most people don't know is that San Gimignano was also a stopping point for pilgrims travelling to Rome and within San Gimignano were eight hospitals with one 'pharmacy' or apothecary supporting them. Also, this sixteenth century apothecary is one of the oldest in Italy. It has been kept unadulterated and its appearance is what it was centuries ago.

Today the collection of the Apothecary represents one of the most beautiful and interesting collections in San Gimignano. Set on the first floor of the museum in the former Conservatorio di Santa Chiara, the display exhibits more than 100 ceramic and glass wares from the 14th century and features the original structure of the pharmacy "shop", where the medicines were sold, and the "kitchen" where they were prepared. On display also are some of the drugs that would have been used. Some of these are preserved in ceramic and glass vessels and were manufactured on the basis of precise information, collected in ancient recipes. On display also are the  pharmacopoeia books from that time and the apparatus in which pharmaceuticals were prepared.  

To make this fascinating experience even more enriching, imagine a kind of open-air museum where you can walk among aromatic and medicinal herbs, breathing in the aromas and fragrances.  With the help of architects, archaeologists, botanists and gardening experts the city of San Gimignano and the Opera Group- Civita, have tried to recreate the herb garden that would have once supplied the busy apothecary.

Interestingly, among the records of the expenses incurred at the time of the great plague epidemics (1630-33) accounts can be read of the remedies prepared in the apothecary and applied during the epidemic. It seems that hundreds of pounds of honey were used as a soothing agent and remedy for catarrh. A remarkable quantity of violets must have been used, not only as the ingredient of various medicines, but also to disinfect and perfume the closed areas of the Hospital. It was believed, that the transmission of disease was spread through bad air, and so there was an enormous number of recipes for making scent-balls, to be held to the nose as a "filter" for the air. And to keep the inhaled "poison" from mixing with the saliva, it was recommended to chew bitter roots that disinfected the oral cavity.  I would hate to be a mother in the 1600's having to tell your children to "Chew your bitter root. It's good for you!"

You can visit San Gimignano and Apothecary on day 7 of our 10 day Seaside to hilltops Cinque Terre and Tuscany tour . During this day you would say goodbye to the gorgeous Northern Italian Riviera and hello to the equally beautiful Tuscany! You will stop at San Gimignano on the way. With its amazing towers and stunning surrounding countryside, this will surely be one of the highlights of your time with us! After our San Gimignano sojourn we head to the commanding hilltop town of Montepulciano, where we spend the next four days together.

By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 04 Aug, 2016
If you have ever travelled through Northern Italy during the A utumn months you surely would  have been touched by the infectious excitement that runs throu gh the towns, restaurants and  deli's, as they celebrate the arrival of black and white truffl es ( tartufi in Italian ). Many towns will  have a truffle festa or 'sagra' and if we are lucky enough to  be running our tours at the same time  as one of these sagra del tartufo, we to can take part in the  joy these little round fungi cause.
By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 20 Jul, 2016
It's home to perhaps the narrowest street in the world.  It measures 53 centimetres wide, or just a hair under 21 inches. It is located in the area around Campo San Canciano: Calletta Varisco.
By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 21 Jun, 2016

Out of all the North Italian Lakes, Lake Como is arguably the most beautiful of them all. If you were to Google ‘top European Lakeside destinations’, Lake Como comes up in all of them. Lake Como is best known for its stylish lakeside villas and has long been a favourite retreat for the rich and famous.

By Jim and Lynette Romagnesi 08 Jun, 2016

Spring is a wonderful time to be in Italy, especially April, May and early to mid June. It is warm enough for dresses and sandals and cool enough for sightseeing all day. It is also perfect weather for enjoying hearty meals and a glass or two of vino rosso or bianco! Most parts of Italy get less rainfall in spring than in the autumn and you can expect average maximum temperatures between 20-25°C.

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