2019 was a great year for seeing new things and meeting new people in Italy. Funny how that works. The interesting things never seem to end, no matter how long you stay in Italy. And yet most people never see more than Rome, Florence, Venice and the Cinque Terre.
Italy is currently in vogue for its cuisine, so lets start with my favorite discoveries in the eat/drink category.
Best Brew Pub: Birreria Le Baladin
So you take a big ol’ farm house and set some creative people scurrying around with paint and plaster and what emerges is a fascinating brewery with formal and informal restaurants, a cozy bar, a chocolate room and more. All in the middle of nowhere.
Choose informal and you eat in the stables. Really. But it’s good. Surprising food, some of which you know because it’s the Italian interpretation of food you’re likely to fawn over in a brew pub in the states.
So here’s what you do. Stay in little Bene Vagienna, between Mondovi’ and Barolo in the Langhe if you’re a small town person, or Mondovi’ if you like a larger town. You’ll have to drive out to the outskirts of Piozzo to get to the brew pub.
Here’s the facebook page for the Birreria.
Best Eating Experience With Truffles: Wild Foods: The Truffle Lodge
High on a hill in Umbria is a village in which the residents make food. That’s not altogether unique, but what’s interesting is that to own property in the village you must be related to the original founding families, meaning the blood lines must go back to the late 15th century.
Smack in the middle of this working farm they’ve created a couple of luxury suites called the Black Truffle Lodge. Yes, you might have to shoo away the chickens to gain entrance to your room, then you’re immersed in a little world with a bottle of great wine and a large spa tub in your bathroom as well as a wonderful little reading nook in your bedroom.
And they feed you. If you like truffles and are there at the right time of year, you’ll be in heaven. You can even witness the act of multiple love on the only truffle hunt experience I’ve really liked if you wish. See the video below to see how it goes.
Best Meat Experience: Officina della Bistecca
Yes, everybody knows the Dante Quoting Butcher of Panzano in Tuscany, but that’s because the guy can really put on a show that highlights meat produced with respect.
…the Officina della Bistecca. That’s for the high-spenders who really want to dabble in the prime cuts of grass fed beef but don’t want to have to dress up to get it. One long table dominates the room, with a couple of huge grills in the center of one wall, bathrooms opposite. You feast together. You get to know your neighbors. You get to laugh at them when they try to find the bathrooms.
Yes, it’s the most expensive of the Dario restaurants, and an extraordinary value for the 8 or so courses, the wine, the laughter, and the comradery you’ll develop over the hours of intensive feasting. And all of that will cost you, ladies and gents, a mere 50 euro. Really, if you like beef, just go.
Read my whole experience at the Officina della Bistecca
Best Castle: Odescalchi
Lest one forget, there are castles in Lazio and we found this one on Lake Bracciano on a day trip from Rome. It’s not just a shell; there’s a ton of things to see in side—and the village offers some fine eats so you can make a good day of it. Here’s what Martha says about it:
More than 20 rooms inside the castle are decorated with amazing frescoes, paintings, and period furniture. Bracciano makes a relaxing short escape from the crowds of Rome, but our friends stayed for a few nights and recommend using it as a base to explore the area too.
Read her Bracciano Travel Guide to find out more about the town and castle.
Best Museum: Ships in Pisa
Over time the best museums have continued to evolve from being collections of “a bunch of old stuff” to a coordinated attempt to get you to know a little about the life and times of people who’ve used the artifacts collected. The new Historic Ship Museum of Pisa will hold your attention for many hours.
Even the space is interesting. The Arsenali Medicei was built by Cosimo I as a shipyard for building ships for the Tuscan fleet and has been restored for the museum.
Now you have reason to go to Pisa, even if you’ve already held up the tower for your allotted 15 seconds already.
The conclusion of 2019
So these are some of the very memorable things Martha and I experienced in 2019. They might not represent the “best” Italy has to offer, because the best is relative. But they were a few of our favorite things born out of our wanderings of 2019. Have a happy 2020.