sweets of Sicily

Aside from the rich history and varied architecture, it was Sicily’s sweets that remain most in my memory. Being a sweet tooth, we made it a point to find and taste the best of the region. In Noto, we discovered what’s considered one of the best gelateria’s in Sicily, Caffé Sicilia. Here we stopped for lunch, and decided to make it a sweet one, starting with ice-cream, which was indeed delicious!

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From there we moved on to the second course, and what became my favorite dessert in Sicily, the cassata, a cake covered with almond paste and candied fruit, and filled with ricotta cheese. Incredible! We accompanied this decadent cake with coffee and a glass of almond milk, Sicily being the land of almonds. For the third course (yes, there’s more), we tried the almond granita, an icy concoction of almond milk. WOW!

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After the sugar high faded and we returned to a healthy meal of pasta and fish, we ventured to Modica’s famous confectionery, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, the oldest (and considered the best) chocolate factory in Sicily. Their chocolate, a legacy of their Spanish history, contains only cocoa beans and sugar. I tried many of their varied flavors, including the most famous, vanilla and cinnamon. But what really blew us away were the cannoli’s. They filled them on the spot, hazelnut and pistachio, the latter being the best Sicilian cannoli I’ve ever tasted!

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A well-known tradition in Sicily is an almond paste known as pasta reale, made with ground almonds, sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice. These fruit shaped sweets almost look too beautiful to eat. This too is one of my favorite sweets, having grown up eating marzipan.

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Considering how much I love these sweets of Sicily, I can’t wait to return. Until then, detox.

scenes from Sicily

Last weekend my Italian and I ventured to Italy’s most southern region, Sicily. This was my first trip and his second. I had no idea what to expect in this island rich in culture and cuisine. After taking a swim in the still warm waters of the Mediterranean, we headed to our first destination, the island of Ortygia in Syracuse. This charming city reveals baroque facades with Greek,  Roman and Arab influences in it’s centuries old architecture. With Sicilian hospitality, we immediately felt at home.

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One morning we spent at the archeological park where a massive Greek theater from 5th-century BC awaits it’s visitors. During the summer season it’s brought to life with classical concerts.

IMG_9897Being adventure seekers, we decided to drive to Noto. Destroyed by an earthquake in 1693, it was rebuilt to become the grandest baroque town in Sicily. Noto was recently added to Unesco’s list of world heritage sites, certainly worth a visit! And did I  mention that Noto is known for it’s gelato? More on that later…

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IMG_9790The next stop on our Sicilian adventures was Modica. This multi-layered medieval town is uniquely atmospheric with it’s high and low levels, allowing for an incredible view. Here too, you find the most delicious chocolate and confections. How could I resist?

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Our last stop was Taormina, the chic, sophisticated town that seduced many an artist and writer in it’s day. Here was the capitol of  Byzantine Sicily in the 9th century, and today it remains an international hotspot boasting views of a still active Mount Etna.

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Four days spent beneath the Sicilian sun, learning about ancient history, discovering hidden beaches… dining on fresh pasta, fish and local sweets (the latter of which I’m devoting the next blog post to). A perfect holiday.

lost at sea

For the last 10 days I’ve been hiding out in Cinque Terre with friends and family. Did I realize that when I met my Italian, this enchanting land would become my home? No, but I am lucky that it is. Though I am most familiar with Monterosso, I love to explore the other villages whenever possible. On an overcast day, we decided to venture by train to Vernazza, considered by many the most spectacular. It will soon be 3 years since the flood, and the village looked more colorful than ever.

IMG_4394This time we walked the many steps up to Castello Doria and the views were breathtaking!

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IMG_4312After happily discovering a local shop to sell my bags, and an aperitif with a view at Gianni Franzi’s new terrace, we headed home to Monterosso. For more photos of our days in Italy, click here.

Naples top 5

Everyone loves Italy, the food, the people, the easy going feeling… But when it comes to Naples, what I consider ‘real Italy‘, those who haven’t yet ventured to this city in the south are often fearful of it. It is really so dangerous I wondered? Will I get mugged upon landing and should I even bring a camera? Shortly after moving to Paris my Italian and I took a trip to Naples and Capri, a perfect contrast of dark and light. At once, I became enamored with the chaos and vitality of Naples, or was it the food? My Italian promised that we would return. Finally, almost 4 years later, we did.

IMG_8409This time we were joined by our friends Suzanne and Jeremy, armed with a list of Napolitan specialties both sweet and savory. We headed directly to our hotel in the Spanish Quarter, an area braved by few, hidden within narrow streets. And there began our adventure, and my Naples top 5.

IMG_8741#1: GET LOST. The city is composed of a maze of streets, and getting lost is par for the course.

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#2: WALK TO THE TOP. Along the coast we passed the Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) and headed up to the Certosa di San Martino (Carthusian Monastery), perched atop the Vomero hill. There we discovered a museum with a vast collection opf Spanish and Bourbon era artifacts, as well as some of the finest Nativity scenes in the world.

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The views from there was breathtaking, highlighted by majestic Mount Vesuvius.

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#3: LEARN HISTORY. On our first trip to Naples we spent an afternoon at Pompeii. On this trip, we decided to explore the lesser known and smaller, but equally important, Ercolano (Herculaneum).

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Part two of our history lesson was spent at the National Archaeological Museum, the most important in all of Italy.

IMG_8699#4: EAT! This perhaps being the most important of the 5, being in the city where pizza originated. And where to find the pizza to top them all? At Da Michele. Trust me.

10003942_10154027585470254_1636954526295859952_nSome of my favorite local spots in the Spanish Quarter being Antica Capri and Hosteria Toledo.

IMG_8417And then there is the coffee and sweets… La Sfogliatella Mary being the best for local specialties.

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#5: SHOP. Naples is famous for it’s tailors, thus making it an ideal shopping destination for the stylish man, more so than for women. My Italian bought a new wardrobe, I bought lingerie.

IMG_8764It was a memorable three days in a city that leaves an impression, and keeps you coming back.

wine country

Having just returned to an empty Paris, I am filled with visions and tastes of Italy. Surprise adventures began as we boarded the plane, enroute to Turin but unaware of the final destination. What was my Italian up to I wondered? With map in hand I tried to search for the secret spot in which we would celebrate. Several hours of suspense along the open road, with nothing but vineyards in sight… And then it dawned on me.

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We were entering the Piedmonte region, land of some of the best wines in Italy.

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Our home was a charming agriturismo near Barbaresco, with views, vines and of course, local wines.

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We explored the region, stopping to admire the views, and taste the local delicacies. Spectacular!

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The following day our adventure began in the village of Grinzane Cavour.

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Shouldn’t everyone spend their birthday at a castle?

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In Barolo, we indulged in a wine tasting and met with one of my oldest friends from the Hamptons. What a perfect setting in which to meet! But it wasn’t until dinner that the real wining began.

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We entered a michelin starred restaurant boasting a breathtaking view, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Was this all an illusion? By far one of the most memorable meals, and days, of my life. From the first glass of prosecco to the trumpet serenade. I will forever look back, and smile.

viva Italia!

Anyone who knows my Italian (or reads this blog) know’s he’s a romantic, and like me, loves to travel. He also loves to plan surprise romantic escapes. Yes, I chose well! For the last few years my birthday was spent in Italy, destination unknown, until we arrived. A few years ago it was a charming agriturismo in Tuscany… and last year hiking in the Dolomites. Both adventures I smile upon. Once again this year, we are enroute to Italy to celebrate. I’ve never before so much looked forward to my birthday! I suspect we are heading south, but haven’t a clue where. Any ideas? Wherever it is, July 29th will certainly be a day to remember!

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After our journey to places yet unknown, we are heading to Monterosso, home on the riviera. You can follow my adventures via instagram and I promise to post photos as soon as I can. Until then, wishing you all a wonderful summer wherever you are in the world!

alpine adventures

Growing up, I used to dance ballet, play tennis, go horseback riding and play the piano, all privileged and pleasurable activities. But never did I learn to ski. My family was not the type to take winter holidays to the mountains, rather we would go to Europe to visit with family in the summer months. I never thought I was missing much until as an adult I began to hear stories about the high of the mountains, feeling the crisp air while admiring the panoramic views. What was this feeling exactly? While still living in NYC I ventured up to Hunter mountain to find out. Though it wasn’t until this past week that I experienced the true bliss that can only be felt soaring down the slopes on a pair of skis, slowly and cautiously in my case. And needless to say, terrified. But determined.

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We arrived to Alpe di Siusi, high up in the Dolomites, on a chilly evening, and woke up to the same view from our hiking adventure in August. Only this time the mountain hues were whites and blues, seeming to change by the hour.

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On overcast afternoons, the snow, mountains and sky would melt together into a blanket of white.

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It was upon these slopes, the less intimidating ones, that I put on my skis, as awkward as it felt, ignored the knots in my stomach, listened attentively to my ski instructor and became a skier.

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The first two days I did my best, counting the hours until it was time for our evening sauna.

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On the third day, having fallen a few times and mastering the smallest slopes, with the support of a friend I made my way down from our hotel at the very top of the hill. I was still in snow plow position but able to turn, rather gracefully I might add. I smiled as my body began to feel in control.

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Finally, I understood. I felt that high that is unique to gliding down a snow covered mountain.

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On our last day the sun shone brightly and it was hard to say goodbye. Until next time…

sweet harvest

This time of year I look forward to the grape harvest in Italy. My first real experience paying homage to the grape was two years ago, and still I drink the wine in memory of those days. This year the harvest was not as plentiful, but my Italian and I set to work and picked every grape we could find.

We decided we would make the local sweet wine, Sciacchetrà, made of select, dried grapes. A real delicacy, and my favorite domestic wine from the Cinque Terre region.

The views alone were reason alone to tangle my way through the vines.

We set the 50 kilos of grapes to dry on a metal net and covered them. In six weeks time the dried grapes would be pressed, natural fermentation would take place, the wine would be filtered, and voilà! Ready to be savoured during the Christmas holidays, to compliment a good dessert.

Cheers to the best Sciacchetrà of Cinque Terre!

mountain escape

This year my Italian planned an unimaginable birthday getaway. Nothing like the surprise trip of two years ago in Tuscany. From Paris we flew to Verona, and drove North, the air more fresh and the scenery more spectacular as the elevation rose. Still, I hadn’t a clue as to our final destination.

The drive was long and winding, until finally the mountains settled upon us.

We drove on until we reached what was to become our home… and our view.

Alpe di Suisi. High up in the Dolomites, elevation of over 2,000 meters. Breathtaking!

Time now to relax and enjoy the views? Not exactly. My Italian had other plans. Ready, set… hike!

And hike we did. My birthday was spent at a height of over 2,500 meters, feeling very accomplished!

The day concluded with a lengthy sauna and gourmet dinner. On all accounts, the perfect birthday.

The next day, feeling rather ambitious, we decided to hike an even greater mountain, Monte Pez.

After nearly 3 hours, we reached Rifugio Bolzano, 2457 meters high, and a well deserved lunch.

I will fondly recall these days spent in the mountains, for many years to come. Forever grateful.