September 2012

Secret Italian Islands

by Bianca Gignac

Italian Islands

Italian islands — the ones that are usually forgotten — are the ones you want to be on.

People tend to skip the small ones in favour of the famous Italian islands and cities,  which offers the smart cookie like you an interesting loophole for travel in Italy.

If you wanna trade concrete for sand and museums for gravel roads then head to my secret list of Italian islands (marked on the map in pink) where escapism is the preferred pastime.

1. Isola Palmaria  |  2. Isola Budelli  |  3. Isola di Stromboli

Secret Italian Island #1: Isola Palmaria

Where is it?

Palmaria is in the Ligurian sea in the northwest part of Italy, a short day trip from the Cinque Terre. It is directly in front of Portovenere — one of the prettiest towns in the region and a favourite of Italian tourists.

Why You Wanna Go:

Palmaria has major status, together with Portovenere and the Cinque Terre, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The views from Palmaria are ridiculously sweet. On one side you have an incredible panorama of the Bay of Poets (made famous by Byron), the colourful village of Portovenere, the bluffs that lead to the the Cinque Terre and the port of La Spezia. On the other side all you see is blue water and sky.

There are two sides of the island. One side is perfect for families and for those who prefer sandy shore and shallow-water. Head to the public beach called Il Gabbiano (the seagull) in Punta Secco. A few steps from there is a great restaurant and guesthouse called Locanda Lorena. The view of Portovenere rocks from there.

The other side of the island is called Pozzale and is known for a wild beach lined with pine trees.  The locals hang their hammocks in the trees and when hunger hits they head to Ristorante Il Pozzale. Make sure to try spaghetti ai muscoli‖ (spaghetti with mussels) cause the mussels are raised on the farms that surround the island.

The hike around Palmaria takes about 2 hours. If you find yourself in peak season in the Cinque Terre and the trails are packed out — head to Portovenere for a great day trip and take the boat to Palmaria to find your perfect secret hideout.

Getting There:

Departures happen from La Spezia or from Portovenere. You can arrive to La Spezia from anywhere in Italy via train. To arrive in Portovenere you need to get a bus from La Spezia or catch the ferry from one of the villages of the Cinque Terre. If you love to hike take the walking trail from Riomaggiore to Portovenere. It’s long (5-6 hours) but beautiful and highly recommended.

Secret Italian Island #2: Isola Budelli

Where is it?

Budelli is located just north of the large Italian island of Sardinia.

You’ll find this uninhabited island in La Maddalena National Park — just south of the Razzoli and Santa Maria islands.

Why You Wanna Go:

The  island is known for it’s crystal water, rocky coves, steep cliffs rising from the sea and unspoiled natural scenery. The most famous beach in the zone is called Spiagga Rosa (Pink Beach) and people like to say it’s the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. It’s name comes from the fragment of shells and coral that tint the sand pink. Another beach close to Spiaggia Rosa is called Manto della Madonna (Virgin Mary’s Mantle) — which is a pretty large promise for a beach I’d say.

Getting There:

To get to Budelli, first you must travel to the northern Sardinian town of Olbia (meaning happiness in Greek!). The 2 choices to arrive are either by plane or by ferry (see my extensive list below). The fact that Olbia has an international airport means that you can make life super simple and fly from other parts of Europe or Italy — you’ll just be another jet-setter heading to the sexy costa Smeralda.

Then from Olbia you need to reach the port of Palau where you can catch a ferry or boat to Budelli. It’s about a 40 minute drive from Olbia. Reach the port by bus service.

  • By ferry: From Palau to Maddalena Islands pick from Saremar or Enerma
  • By boat: From Palau and La Maddalena via motorboat or sailboat is another option. Try Gite in Barca.

But first, ya gotta get to Olbia.

  •  To Olbia from Italian cities by air. From Pisa or Milan with Airone. From Rome, Milano (Linate), Milano (Malpensa), Bologna, Firenze, Torino, Verona to Olbia with Meridiana. From Parma to Olbia withAir Vallee. From Milano (Malpensa) to Olbia with Easy Jet.  From Milano (Orio al Serio) with Trawel Fly. From Palermo, Venezia with Volotea.
  • To Olbia from European cities by air. From the U.K to Olbia with Easy Jet (London Gatwick, Bristol). From France  with Easy Jet (Paris, Lyon). From Spain with Easy Jet (Madrid). From Germany and Austria with Intersky (Friedrichshafen) with Tui Fly (Berlin, Bremen, Cologne, Dresden, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig, Munich, Munster, Nuremberg, Rostock, Salzburg, Stuttgart, Vienna, Westerland) with Air Berlin (Nuremberg, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg) with Easy Jet (Berlin). From Switzerland with Easy Jet (Geneva, Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg) with Darwin Air (Lugano, Geneva). Whoooo!!

 Secret Italian Island #3: Isola di Stromboli

Where is it?

Stromboli is located off the north coast of Sicily. It is one of the 8 volcanic Aeolian Islands.

Why you wanna go:

Black sand beaches, cobalt water and a smoking hot volcano in the middle of the sea.

Did you know that this Italian island is home to an active volcano? The last major eruption happened in 2009 but small eruptions constantly lend it the name “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean”. In the daytime you can see puffs of smoke and at night lava glows as it makes its way down Sciara del Fuoco (Slope of Fire). You need a guide to take you up to view the molten lava, which they do at night so you can see the coolest natural glow-in-the-dark show.

On Stromboli the rhythms are slow. Car traffic isn’t allowed in summertime so the locals travel by foot or bike.

What is fascinating is that this place is very low key: no fancy resorts and splashy excess like you’ll see on Sardinia. The most wild thing happening is people sipping granitas in the crowded Ingrid Bar or the watching of movies on the library’s public lawn in the town of Stromboli.

On the opposite side of the island you’ll find the tiny village of Ginostra which is reachable only by the sea from its tiny port (Pertuso in the local dialect), one of the smallest of the world. Apart from a few summer homes, there are just a handful of residents. A point of interest is Eolo‘s grotto (La grotta di Eolo). In classical mythology the God of wind lived in the Aeolian Island and kept the winds closed in this grotto.

As far as the beaches, Scari and Ficogrande are the most famous for their fine black sand. When the wind blows in the right direction you can hear the huffing of the volcano.

Obviously, before you go you gotta see Roberto Rossellini’s flick “Stromboli” with Ingrid Bergman.

Getting There:

The Aeolian Islands are in province of Messina and can be reached by the sea. By air you can travel to Reggio Calabria then make your way to Stromboli. I’ve listed all possibilities imaginable below.

  • By Boat: Either from the mainland or from Sicily. Mainland: by ferries and hydrofoils: From Napoli (Mergellina) to Stromboli: Alilauro | Snav. From Napoli (Calata porto di Massa) to Ginostra (Stromboli) or the town of Stromboli: Siremar. Sicily: From Messina to Stromboli: Ustica Lines:  From Milazzo (Sicily) to Ginostra (Stromboli): N.G.I | Ustica Lines. From Milazzo to Stromboli: Siremar
  • By air from Italian cities: The nearest airport is in Reggio Calabria. To get to Reggio Calabria here is the deal: From Torino, Milano (Linate), Bologna, Venezia, Roma (Fiumicino) with Alitalia. From Roma (Fiumicino), Milano (Linate)  with Blu-express. From Venezia with Volotea.
  • From the Reggio Calabria airport: there are bus connections to Messina (Sicily) with Autolinee Federico and from Messina to Milazzo with Giunta bus. It is possible to reach Reggio Calabria also by train with the Italian railways and by car followed by ferries from Reggio Calabria to Messina.

Have you ever been to Palmaria, Budelli or Stromboli? Have any tips to share?

Which island makes you wanna pack your bags and be there by morning?

I’d love to hear your comments below.

Photo credits: Valentina Cossu, map by Laura Bird for Italian Fix, Palmaria, Budelli, Stromboli

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Post image for Restaurants in Florence: 20 Top Choices from Food Critics,Travellers and Locals

Restaurants in Florence can fall into two categories: a waste of money or a religious experience.

But where then, can religion be found?

If you’re like me, you associate Italy with eating stellar meals. But you can’t expect that to be a sure thing in restaurants in Florence   because anywhere the tourists outnumber the locals — the odds are stacked against you.

Don’t waste your precious time wandering around saying, “Where should we eat?”

There are literally HUNDREDS of restaurants in Florence. But you don’t need hundreds; you just need a few awesome spots for your stay.

I’ve got your back! I’ve listed 20 Florentine addresses that will bring you dangerously close to dinner nirvana.

Stick to your budget

You can spend between 8 and 800 euros at restaurants in Florence. Sometimes you wanna splurge. Other times you just wanna go where the local builders eat — they don’t want to spend more than 15 euros to do that, including a glass of house hooch. So here’s the deal:

  • I’ve hit the streets myself.  I’ve sourced opinions of locals. It’s was hard work eating my way through the restaurants of Florence, but I do it for the team
  • I’ve highlighted crowd-sourced reviews of thousands of travellers from Trip Advisor
  • I’ve listed opinions of the worlds top food critics and included  in them in the Michelin guides section
  • I’ve consulted an Italian language food book called Il Mangiarozzo and translated their recommendations to English. Si! Lo fatto!

If you don’t find a restaurant in Florence from my list below that will bring you to tears with joy — then you simply cannot be helped.

At least not today.

*****

Download your Restaurants in Florence guide (it’s free) or read it below.

*****

The 5 Best Restaurants in Florence: Trip Advisor

Whether you love or hate Trip Advisor is irrelevant. It is still the largest source of travel related opinion on the web. Sure, some are fakes posted by jealous business owners, but you can’t deny that there are tons of legitimate travellers who converge on Trip Advisor to dish the good the bad and the downright nasty.

Here are the top pics for restaurants in Florence from that audience. I left gelaterias, bakeries and pizzerias off this list.

1. Osteria  Vini e Vecchi Sapori (Travellers’ Choice 2012 Winner Restaurant) no website

This spot is a stones throw from Palazzo Vechio and serves traditional fare from a blackboard menu under wood beamed ceilings. Not only is it rated by hordes of Trip Advisor fans, I must note that it is also recommended in a very Italian, very unpretentious food guide Il Mangiarozzo (more listings from this guide below). Reservations are mandatory.

Address: Via dei Magazzini 3r | Hours: Tues-Sat 9am -11pm; Sun noon-2:30pm | Phone: 055 293045 | Spend: First course €6 – 8; main course €10 – 14

2. Brown Sugar

Located in the heart of  town, overlooking Piazza San Firenze and via della Condotta, 100 metres from Piazza Signoria is a cocktail lounge and eatery that peeps rave about.

Address: Piazza di San Firenze 5 | Hours: Mon-Sun 11:30am-3:30pm; 7pm-11pm | Phone: 055 217031 | Spend: €20 – 32

3. Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina

This place served  fresh pastas, local cheeses with charcuterie and pops the cork on great wines, all within view of the Pitti Palace.

Address: Piazza Pitti 16 | Hours: From 1pm to Midnight | Phone: 005 212704 | Spend: €41 – 69

4. Zeb

Zeb gets a hella lotta love from the Trip Advisor gang — there are almost 200 reviews about this place! Their dedicated clientele love to eat whatever this mom and son team have on the stove.  They also run a food shop next door.

Via San Miniato 2 Rosso/r | Hours: Mon-Tue 9:30 am-8 pm; Thu-Sat 9:30 am-10:30 pm; Sun 9:30 am-5 pm | Phone: 055 2342864 | Spend: €20 – 25

5. Trattoria da Ginone (no site)

Traditional Tuscan trattoria in a casual setting that is praised for being warm and welcoming.

Via dei Serragli 35r | Hours: Closed Sunday | Phone: 055 218758 | Prices: €20 – 35

The 5 Best Restaurants in Florence: Michelin Guides

The Michelin guides are the oldest and most famous food and hotel guides in Europe and the Michelin star ratings are like the Academy Awards of the food world.

Every new edition brings tons of speculation from foodies worldwide (especially in France where it is based) on who will be stripped of their stars or awarded one. Their food  inspectors go to ridiculous lengths to remain completely anonymous — they can’t even tell their own families what they do for a living.

Getting a Michelin star at your restaurant gives you massive brag rites: it was picked by the snobbiest, most cultured, most professional food critics in the world.

The Michelan star rating is between 1 and 3. Getting 3 Michelan stars is fantastically impossible: only 6 restaurants were given that designation in all of Italy in the latest edition. Worldwide — there are around 80 that hold 3 star prestige. Expect to set your credit card in flames after dining at these following spots, but you can always douse it with a little Chianti to cool it off.

1. Enoteca Pinchiorri

This is the only 3 Michelin starred restaurant in Florence. The wine list is epic and they feature a tasting menu: 15 small plates starting at 200 euro/person.

Address: Via Ghibellina 87 | Hours: Thursday to Saturday for dinner only| Phone: 055 242757 | Spend: €155-225

2. Ristorante Ora d’Aria

This is a 1 starred restaurant inside the city. It’s co-owner and head chef, Marco Stabile has honed his skills in the top restaurants in Italy and he is an executive chef at a new project in Miami.  The prices are incredibly reasonable for this type of fame and the interior is sleek and sexy. I will be making a pilgrimage to this place on my upcoming trip to Italy.

Address:Via dei Georgofili 11R | Hours:Tues – Sat 12:30 – 14:30/Mon – Sat 19:30 – 22:00 | Phone: 055 2001699 | Spend: €50 – 64

3. Il Palagio

This spot is located in the posh Four Seasons Hotel Firenze and is awarded 1 Michelin star. Inside has vaulted ceilings with garden views and you can eat al fresco in the good months. Multi-course tasting menu by exec Chef Vito Mollica and wine pairings make this a fun evening out.

Address: Borgo Pinti, 99 | Hours: Breakfast and dinner everyday | Phone: 055 2626450 | Spend: €70 – 90

4. La Tenda Rossa

You’ll have to travel outside of the city to reach this spot. But you will eat at a restaurant maintained by 3 families. And for that the Michelin guides says it’s 3 times as good.

Address: Piazza del Monumento 9/14 I – 50020 Cerbaia | Hours: Monday to Saturday lunch and dinner/closed lunchtime Monday | Phone: 055 826132 | €Spend: 60 -110

5. Osteria di Passignano

This restaurant isn’t inside the city, but halfway between Sienna and Florence in chianti classico (picture rolling hills and cypress lined roads in the most famous region in Tuscany). You could stay at the Agriturismo Fonte de’ Medici — it takes incredible willpower not to board a plane instantly to do just that. I could be there by tomorrow, poolside, with a wine cellar visit and reservation at Osteria di Passignano. Perfection.

Address: Via Passignano 33 I – 50028 Passignano | Hours: 12:15 – 14:15 / 19:30 – 22:00 | Phone: 055 807 1278 | Price: €55-65

The 5 Best Restaurants in Florence: Locals Pick

Locals and seasoned travellers to Florence love to boss you around and tell you where to eat. Let them do it.

1. L’Osteria di Giovanni (my recommendation)

The lovely Freya suggested I go check out this place. It’s ran by a famous family in the Florentine dining scene and has lots of fans. Caterina, Giovanni’s daughter, made us feel very welcome and I’ll look forward to going back — probably with 12 women in tow on one of my trips. This osteria has a charcoal grill where you can order your Bistecca alla Fiorentina. You can also order something different from what you might be used to: Braised rabbit with Vernaccia wine and green olives. Of course I would recommend a side of fried zucchini blossoms.

Address:  Via del Moro 22, Florence | Hours: 12:30pm-3pm ; 7pm-11pm | Phone: 055 284897 | Spend: €30 – 45

2. Il Santo Bevitore (my recommendation)

I spent a fab girls weekend in Florence with my friends last spring. We were coming off the high from the success of the group trip that I hosted in the Cinque Terre. Of course, since I work in Italy,  a trip to Florence is incomplete without researching the hot restaurants and hotels for my tours and new ontent on this blog. The interior is really beautiful but intimate and low-key. The tables were packed with local shopkeepers and neighbours for lunch. Don’t miss the adorable deli “Il Santino” beside Il Santo — it’s owned by the same people.

Address: Via Santo Spirito 64/66, Florence | Hours: 12:30pm-2:30pm ; 19:30pm-23:30pm | Phone: 055 211264 |
Spend: €15 – 50

3. Hostaria Il Desco (Rosa’s recommendation)

This place will save your life! Picture the pulsating waves of people that converge around the Ponte Vechio. Now imagine escaping, slipping down a tiny alleyway of a street, and finding a shady sanctuary that serves awesome food at the best prices your gonna get in this town (lunch is a deal!). They also have gluten free menu options. Seeing a rice cake in Italy is like a rainbow of alternative grain love in wheat-land. I ate soup and it was fantastic. Rosa recommends their sublime gorgonzola and pear gnocchi and the most light and fluffy cheese cake you’ve ever tasted. Reservations are recommended cause during the nights the locals take over.

Address: Via delle Terme 23/R | Hours: Closed on Monday at dinner | Phone: 055 294882 | Prices: €15 – 40

4. Ristorante Accademia (Freya’s recommendation)

Ristorante Accademia is situated in the historical San Marco square, just a stone’s throw away from Michelangelo’s David. After you pound the pavement at a morning Accademia session with Freya, just  pull up a chair and take a load off. Take several loads off (and go to bed after) with the ‘wine and dine’ menu. It’s a four course meal, with each course paired with a wine carefully selected by sommelier Gianni.

Address: Piazza San Marco 7/R | Hours: 12pm-3pm; 7pm-11pm |  Phone: 055 217343 | Spend: €20 – 40

5. Trattoria la Casalinga (my suggestion)

It is no secret that I love the Oltrarno (across the Arno) district of Florence. If you can locate Piazza Santo Spirito then head in that direction —  La Casalinga is just a few paces away. It’s inexpensive, it’s cozy and it is packed with people. I like eating lunch there, but like most eateries in Florence it closes between lunch and dinner so get there at “Italian working people’s lunch time” not “wandering around Florence and damn it’s already 4pm” lunch time or you’ll miss the boat — or the steak.

Address: Via Michelozzi 9/R | Hours: Monday-Saturday. 12 – 2:30; 7-10|  Phone: 055 2679243 | Spend: €12-20

The 5 Best Restaurants in Florence: Il Mangiarozzo

I picked up the latest edition of Il Mangiarozzo in Italy. The coolest thing about this guide is that every restaurant listed costs 45 euros or much less for a multi-course meal (not including wine) per person. It also features only typical Italian trattoria and osteria, usually family run and historically significant to a region.

You won’t find any fusion or any hip in the below selections — just regionally specific Italian food how it’s been made for generations. In Il mangiarozzo 2012, they review over 1000 osteria and trattoria in Italy “that you must eat at once in your lifetime”. If you will be travelling Italy for any length of time and you are really into food, I suggest you buy this book at a local bookstore once you land. Even if it is in Italian it will do 2 things: give you names and addresses of great eats in every region and also serve you up a deal — many restaurants will give you a little treat, like a drink on the house or a discount on your bill, when you have the book on you. Here is a sampling of 5 in no particular order from the 2012 edition.

1. Antica Trattoria “Da Tito” dal 1913

I quote the owner: ” Sai, io voglio fare solo il ristorante di una volta: pochi piatti, ma eseguiti benissimo”. I’ll translate: “You know, I want to have a restaurant like in the past: very little menu choice but each of those choices exquisite.” You will eat artisan cheese from Bagno a Ripoli, fresh pasta made in house with mushrooms, or with a sausage sauce with lardo di Colonatta (have you ever tried that?). You’ll also find cabbage and bean soup, wild boar pasta (le pappardelle al cinghiale), and desserts which are heavy on the chocolate and cream. Don’t miss the artisanal cantuccini — the dried biscuit you eat with the fortified wine in Tuscany called vin santo.

Address: Via San gallo 112/r | Hours: Closed Sundays | Phone: 055 472475 | Spend: €35- 40

2. Da Nerbone Due (no website)

The book says: “We are in the region of lampredotto (the original peasant food, a Florentine meat made of boiled cow stomach) , we are in the region of half of the population of Florence, we are in the San Lorenzo market”. This stall at the San Lorenzo market is their top solution for a quick, economical and delish lunch. Yes, you can just grab a sandwich  but you can also find warm meals and spend a respectable 15 euro. They serve pappa al pomodoro, pasta with wild boar or deer or duck, bean and pasta soup, mushroom risotto, ribollita, Florentine tripe, beef and potatoes. They also have fish options like baccala (salted cod) and seafood risotto. You can buy a glass of Chianti Classico  for 1.50 € to wash it all down. Expect to wait in line and get there early, they close at 2pm.

Address: Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo | Hours: Closed Sundays, open till 2pm | Spend: €12 – 15 euro

3. Il Latini

Il Latini is a Florence institution and they have a virtual guidebook filled with many love letters about the food. It has loyal foreign clientele that visit every time they are in Florence and for that reason you will hear a lot of buzz about this place. This restaurant is related, family wise, to L’Osteria di Giovanni (above). Anyways, it’s not just the foreigners you’ll find, as there are many Italians in love with the Latini family: both their food and their company.

Address: Via dei Palchetti 6/r | Hours: Phone: 055 289794 | 12pm-12am, closed on Monday | Spend: €40 – 45

4. Al Tranvai

I’ve included this restaurant from Il Mangiarozzo because it is likely you’ll find yourself in Florence, near the Ponte Vechio, and be suddendly famished  and exhausted and looking for salvation from crowds and heat and art. Take a chill pill, cross the bridge and head to my favourite neighbourhood in Florence, San Frediano — in Oltrarno near Piazza Santo Spirito. Al Tranvai serves “casalinga” food, unpretentious home cooked nosh. They also serve gluten fee meals.

Address: Piazza Torquato Tasso 14/r | Hours: closed Sundays and Monday for lunch | Phone: 055 225197 | Spend: €25 – 30

5. Trattoria Lo Stracotto

Run by two very pleasant cousins from Tuscay, Tomamaso e Francesco, you’ll find this eatery in the San Leonardo di Firenze neighbourhood. You’ll eat Tuscan specialties like you’ve heard of before: pappa col pomodoro (tomato and bread soup), tripe, bistecca all Fiorentina (steak), ribollita (stew) as well as cheeses with jam, veg risotto, mixed Tuscan salami, pasta with beef and balsamic vinegar and stuffed chicken.

Address: Piazza Madonna degli Aldobrandini 17/r | Hours: never closed | Phone: 055 2302062 | Spend: €25 – 35

*****

So, there you have it: 20 ideas for Restaurants in Florence to steal.

I’ve made a snazzy PDF version for you to print off and throw it in your bag. It’s free.

Note: all phone numbers must affix +39 if dialing from outside Italy. Obviously all prices are approximate and they don’t include vino. Nice try though.

Now be a buddy and forward this to a friend who wants to go to Italy.

{Image credit top to bottom: Leela Cyd for Italian Fix, Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina, Ristorante Ora d’Ariastringbot, Il Latini }

Please comment.

What is your best restaurant recommendation in Florence?

Which place have I inspired you to go?

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