Everything you need to know about visiting Burano island, Venice.
A city built on water: the home of gondolas, spritz and cicchetti culture; winding alleyways and some stunning vistas of some seriously old architecture. This is your Venice Travel Guide for everything to do, see and the best food and spritz in Venice.(more…)
The home of Renaissance art, centuries of rich history, incredible architecture, an abundance of gelaterias and some of the best food you’ll ever eat…you must be in Florence. With endless museums, cracking sunset views over the city and winding streets with plenty of places for an Aperol pit stop every time the heat or the walking gets to be a little too much, the capital of Tuscany makes the perfect city break.(more…)
History and ancient architecture are quite obviously the biggest pulls to Rome. There’s an exceptional amount of Old Stuff here, and so much to see. Naturally extremely touristy and a relatively big city compared to other Italian counterparts given it’s the capital, Rome can feel a little overwhelming at times, but it is undoubtedly special and I personally cannot think of anywhere else that is like it. There’s a lot to pack in, so I would recommend a good three days in order to explore without rushing around from place to place, or leave some things for another visit. Queues are long and you’ll want to ensure you’re taking time to wind down with an Aperol or two without rushing off to the next tourist attraction. Whilst it’s unlikely you’ll eat badly in Rome, it is really worth hunting down places off the beaten track for specific recommendations, as that’s where you’ll find the really fantastic food. It’s easier to fall down a tourist trap in Rome compared to say Florence or Bologna, but hopefully this travel guide will be a start to point you in the right direction. Always try to look out for spots popular with the locals and you won’t go far wrong – do as the Romans do, after all! (more…)
It’s almost pointless recommending somewhere specific in Italy as a destination, because pretty much the entirety of Italy is a must visit. Honestly, is there anywhere you don’t want to go in this country steeped in history, art, stunning coastlines, hilly vistas and moreover – ridiculously good food and wine?
The latter brings me to Bologna, where I recently visited for four days over a long weekend for the sole purpose of eating. Bologna is the regional capital of Emilia-Romagna, an area closely situated to the north east of holiday favourite Tuscany, yet remains very much under the radar compared to the likes of Rome and Florence. The city has three nicknames: La Dotta, meaning ‘the learned one’, since Bologna is home of the oldest university in Europe; La Rossa, ‘the red one’, after the sea of red tiled roofs it houses; and La Grassa, ‘the fat one’, due to its reputation for a rich culinary history often singled out as making Bologna the best place to eat in Italy.
When you’re off to a known foodie destination and your research throws the names of certain restaurants into the mix several times, you know you’re onto a winner. Even better when these places are noted for not breaking the bank and for being favoured by locals. Osteria dell’Orsa in Bologna is one of these places.
Clearly the word of Osteria dell’Orsa’s reliable excellence has spread, as tourists from all over were waiting patiently for a spot to eat during my visit, but this hasn’t put off the locals, who still flock to the restaurant in hordes. Despite the Osteria’s popularity with tourists, it remains authentic with a menu fully in Italian, leaving me to use a translation app with only moderate success and a renewed resolve to learn the language with the help of Duolingo (and I bet you can guess how well that is going). The staff are extremely busy and this is a casual, local place, so don’t expect a great deal of patience with explaining each dish on the menu – ask about each section and expect a rushed reply, but it’s not too hard to muddle your way through, and they will advise if you’ve ordered too much.
And at these prices it really is hard not to over order; there’s a €6 dish of the day, their famous tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese, along with a €8 dish of ravioli and the traditional Bolognese dish Totellini in brodo (broth) for €10. Desserts are €4 and the drinks are just as holiday fund friendly, with aperitifs putting you out of pocket a mere €3 and excellent local wine comes in at just €7 for a litre. The prices alone are enough to appeal to anyone, and though you may be fooled into thinking that the prices are representative of the quality of the food, you’d be wrong. Very wrong.
Despite my strong affinity toward tagliatelle al ragu Bolognese, I’d had a perfect dish of it for lunch earlier that day, and in interest of sampling as much of a variety as I could fit in during my time in Bologna, I landed on the ravioli con pesto genovese. The break between pouring over the menu and eating provided the perfect time to people watch: everyone animatedly enjoying their food and chatting away in different languages. After a short wait a generous portion of yellow pasta arrived in front of me, smothered in plenty of fresh homemade pesto and stuffed with creamy ricotta. Washed down with a cold Aperol spritz (€3), I eyed up my neighbour’s platter of meat and cheese whilst I ate, already planning my next course.
Determined to try more food, I ordered a selection of cheeses with walnuts and honey to round the meal off, along with an excellent glass of red wine for two euros. Two euros! The atmosphere and communal tables make Osteria dell’Orsa a great place to eat solo, but with those portion sizes and the sheer desperation to try everything you see everyone else eating around you, going in a group would be handy so you can share a few things. Either way, make sure you track down Osteria dell’Orsa whilst in Bologna – it’s a true gem.
Via Mentana, 1, 40126 Bologna BO, Italy
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As usual when on holiday, I want to eat outside. I want to sit under a parasol basking in the heat of the sun, sipping on a cold glass of something that will swiftly make me heady as I lazily watch the world go by around me. So if I hadn’t been recommended Ristorante Angiol d’or specifically, I would never have chosen to eat there – I may not have even noticed the place, the restaurant not having any tables spilling out onto the piazza where it lives. There is a covered indoor terrace area which I imagine would be lovely in the evening, but during the quiet of August on a Sunday lunchtime the main indoor area was the only option for a table. In hindsight, with temperatures nearing 40 degrees outside and the inside very much indulging in air con, this was nothing but a good thing. Besides, with a large open window looking straight onto Piazza del Duomo and the Baptistery of Parma beyond, you may as well have been outside.
Now I’d actually been sent off to Ristorante Angiol d’or with some specific dishes to order, and a couple of them blew me away so much I’m going to instruct you to do the same. To start off what will undoubtedly be an incredible meal, order the plate of Parma ham aged for 30 months because guys – you’re actually IN Parma, no excuses. Let’s face it, Parma ham is always good – in Parma it’s phenomenal. So soft – almost buttery – it practically melts in your mouth. Team this with another must order, the traditional fried bread (€4), and I guarantee you your eyes will roll back in your head whilst you eat. These fried breads are all puffed up and hollow inside, and whilst certainly fried, not greasy how you may imagine. Served hot, pulling them apart to stuff with parma ham and then washing it all down with a perfectly chilled locally produced glass of white is an experience I’d happily repeat each week. And as you may know by now I did dine alone on this trip, and yes, I ate it all – I couldn’t leave any of that Parma ham, though they do an assorted plate including salami, copper and cicciolata for the same price (€11), should you want to mix it up. Or hey, get both! When in Parma and all that.
As ever in Italy, I find it hard to manage the four courses that is standard for Italians – try as I might – and usually opt for either the ‘first course’ in the form of a pasta dish, or the skip straight to the meat course. I’d been recommended a pistachio encrusted beef burger which spiked my interest even though I would never usually order such a dish in Italy, but it wasn’t on the menu during my visit, so I opted for the more traditional gnocchi with duck ragout, julienne vegetables, spinach and thick shavings of parmesan (€12). A bit of a rogue choice for me as I would usually opt for ricotta tortellini (€10) and was admittedly tempted by the spaghetti carbonara done in the ‘Angiol d’Or’ style (€11), whatever that may be, but I learnt something about gnocchi that day. Gnocchi is supposed to be light. I genuinely had no idea that gnocchi can or should be anything other than the fairly stodgy situation we tend to get in the UK. It goes without saying the Italians would of course do it better, but just how well they do was somewhat of a revelation; it was a beautiful dish.
A fellow diner confided that the tiramisu was exemplary should you be so inclined, but with no room for desert I settled on an espresso to perk me up for wandering through Parma during the afternoon heat. Because Italy is very much that grandmother who will insist on feeding you up as much as possible and then force leftovers into your hand as you leave, my espresso was served with morsels of cake and biscuits. The floury chocolate cake was particularly good.
When in Parma Ristorante Angiol d’or is a must, and it’s no surprise that it sits firmly in the Michelin Guide. Go hungry, and go with people so you can try as much as possible. Do not under any circumstances forget to order the fried bread. Thank me later.
Via Scutellari, 1, 43121 Parma PR, Italy
Closed Mondays and Tuesday lunchtimes
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot go wrong with a food recommendation from a local, and after some of the top restaurants on my Bologna hit list turned out to be closed without warning for summer holidays (sob), I was lucky to have some extra tips to explore from my lovely Air BnB host, Marco.
Ideally, one of these recommendations happened to be right opposite my apartment in Mercato delle Erbe, the grocery market favoured with locals that dates back to 1910. The market has an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fresh handmade pasta, and also has several food stalls and cafes where locals flock to for lunch and dinner, tucked away to the side of the market stalls in the wings of the old building. If you saw Rick Stein’s Long Weekend in Bologna, Mercato delle Erbe may ring a bell: the market featured on the tv show and was home to the location where Rick tried stuffed squid at Banco 32 – another restaurant also recommended by Marco, though I opted for his other tip in the market: Altro?
Altro? was the spot for my first meal in Italy on this trip, and what better way to start a weekend of eating your way around an Italian city than with a steaming bowl of tagliatelle al ragu (€10) and a couple of glasses of Sangiovese? Seeing as I came to Bologna specifically to eat, there was a lot riding on this first meal to live up to the high expectations I’d built up around the food of Bologna, and I wasn’t disappointed. Altro? served up one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever had: the pasta fresh and perfectly cooked al dente (and you should hope so in the land of pasta), the ragu rich and plentiful. Parmesan served in a shaker on the table allows you to keep piling on the good stuff as you make your way through your meal as you go, something I appreciate over posher establishments where the waiter is in charge of your cheese distribution.
I was actually so impressed with Altro’s version of the most traditional of Bolognese dishes that I returned a few days later for another go at it. This time around I started with the burrata (€10), which hands down overtook what I thought was the best burrata I’ve had. Sitting in the cream sauce of two varieties of tomato, Altro’s was ‘eyes rolling to the back of your head’ good, particularly mopped up with the bowl of fresh sourdough brought over to me at the start of the meal. If you’re even the slightest fan of burrata, this dish is unmissable. Pleasingly, the tagliatelle al ragu that followed kept up the high calibre of a few days previous.
Whilst dishes here can be slightly higher in price than those in many of Bologna’s trattorias, the quality is clearly worth it. The food excelled, and I would happily return to try many of the other dishes on the menu. In hindsight I was particularly disappointed in myself to have not found room to try the desserts they had on offer. I would love to return in the evening in order to take longer over my meal and enjoy the atmosphere around Via Belvedere afterwards. In the evening, the restaurants of Mercato delle Erbe and the surrounding bars spill out onto the pedestrian street, animated with scores of young professionals drinking aperitivo into the night. The night time atmosphere is wonderful on this stretch, even in the quiet of August, and Altro is the perfect place to eat before settling into a night of Aperol in the balmy air. Returning to a restaurant in the relatively short space of a long weekend is something I never usually do, keen as I am to try many different places to eat as possible. In a city of unfailingly good food such as Bologna, it is the highest of accolades.
Mercato delle Erbe, Via Ugo Bassi, 23 – 25, 40121 Bologna, Italy
+39 351 014 4191
Open every day 8am – 12am except Sundays
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When I’m sitting mid-way through a tedious work week, my patience being tried and tested more than should be normal on a day to day basis, my mind inevitably wanders to my travels. To where I’d rather be. We all do it, be it dreaming of lying in the sun on a beach somewhere tropical or breathing in mountain air in the French Alps. There are many places I’d like to be, but today it happens to be sitting under the shade of the Duomo in Florence, reading a book whilst sipping on an aperol spritz before deciding to wander down to the river in the late afternoon sun. I’d walk past Ponte Vecchio and along the Arno, crossing at Ponte Santa Trinita for this: gelato from the aptly named Gelateria Santa Trinita.
Flashback to September: word of mouth has spread, my bed and breakfast host Biagio sending me to join the locals and tourists alike to try some of the best Florentine gelato. Biagio never was wrong with his recommendations. Italy isn’t short of good gelato, but this place deserves to be written about and ventured to.
Gelateria Santa Trinita make fresh flavours every day, with up to 38 different flavours of gelato, sorbet and even ice cream cake in the busy summer months, and they are constantly dreaming up new innovative flavours to go alongside the universally loved classics. As ever when it comes to ice cream, narrowing down the flavours becomes a challenge – at least it does for me, as I’ll want at least six. One I almost never steer from is Stracciatella, probably because you never seem to get it in England much, and if you do it’s never as good as its European counterparts. Creamy vanilla flavoured with chocolate chunks in it, it’s the perfect accompaniment to something a little punchier. Today that flavour is their signature, the Santa Trinita; mascarpone gelato swirled with hazelnut chocolate – essentially, swirled with nutella. Yes. A thousand times yes.
I think it must be some sort of unwritten rule to eat your gelato whilst sitting on the bridge overlooking the famous Ponte Vecchio in the distance. On the day I ate the best gelato in Florence, the sun was setting on the other side of the bridge I sat on, the city swiftly becoming one of my favourite places in the world. And when you can buy gelato that good for a few euros, who could blame me?
Piazza Frescobaldi, 11/12 R, Firenze, Italy
+39 055 238 1130
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This should really be titled ‘The Day I Ate Like A King’. After eating one of the best lunches of my life in Florence, I ended up eating a beautiful meal at Konnubio on my way back to my bed and breakfast seven hours later, and that day will forever be known to me as the day I ate like a king.
Konnubio was a recommendation from a friend of mine who has also stated it was the best meal of her trip to Florence. It was almost an after thought, spoilt as you are for choice in such a city, and I decided that only if it was on my way home would I stop there for dinner. Luckily for me and my laziness, it was. As the manager organised a table for one in the busy restaurant, I was handed a complimentary glass of prosecco, and as anyone who knows me will know, this is a sure fire way to my heart. Even before looking at the menu properly, I was sold.
I settled on beef, having tired myself of so many pasta dishes over my time in Italy (it’s a tough life). Specifically, I ordered peppered beef muscle (€16) with an accompaniment of the Tuscan beans, cooked in sage, garlic, olive oil and tomato, (€5) after the waiter convinced me that these two dishes complimented each other very well and not to be boring and order fries. He brought me a beautiful glass of red wine (€6) whilst I waited for my meal and then a little after that, that Wednesday in September became The Day I Ate Like A King.
The beef muscle tender and melting in a Chianti sauce, the simple Italian flavours from the Tuscan beans and sage adding a whole other level of taste sensation, the red wine washing it all down – this was superb food from Konnubio. As is so often the story with me, my only regret is that I didn’t have enough room to explore the dessert menu, and instead had to practically roll myself home. In Florence you are truly spoilt for choice on good food and I have scribbles of untouched recommendations prime for my next visit, but I would find it difficult to not revisit Konnubio in favour of somewhere new. Arrivederci, as they say.
Via dei Conti, 8r, Firenze, Italy
+39 055 238 1189