Food N' Wine Vacations Blog

Visit Portugal

Posted by smadar Palace on Fri, Feb, 24, 2017


Portugal points of interest


An ancient kingdom of hilltop castles, walled villages, and fairytale scenery, Portugal is still one of the best kept secrets in Europe. Once you discover this magnificent country you will wonder how it has remained so quietly unexplored by even the most experienced traveler. A Portugal vacation is a step into history, an adventure for today, and an experience you’ll cherish. Yesterday and today blend seamlessly to offer you the trip of a lifetime.

Discovering Portugal has never been easier. All of her charm and beauty, culture and magic are ready to dazzle and invite you. Medieval castles and palaces, unique art and architecture, superb wines and outstanding foods, her colorful people, rich history, cafes and culture await you in this magnificent country on the Iberian Peninsula.

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Vast and Varied Geography

Lisbon, Portugal’s capital, and largest city,  has long been known as Rainha do Mar, or Queen of the Sea. It’s easy to recognize her royal standing as you gaze out upon the Atlantic from one of Lisbon’s hilly perches and see the waves draw their white cat before crashing to the shore. Somewhat warm summer days are relieved by the ocean breeze.

Portugal’s southern sandy beaches are a tourist haven, no matter what time of year. And along the northern shoreline you’ll find a surfers paradise. Sleepy fishing villages dot the coast and transport you to a simpler time, the fishermen auctioning off their catch of the day and boats bobbing languidly in the harbor.

In the northwest corner of the country you’ll find the terraced vineyards of Douro Valley, known for producing some very popular, and outstanding, wines. Follow the Douro River toward the Atlantic and you’ll come upon the second largest city in Portugal, Porto. For all of the cosmopolitan attractions available to you in Porto, the vibe is decidedly laid-back.

Medieval Sorthela is made up of granite homes built in amongst giant boulders, following the rocky terrain of the area. The Alentejo region offers pastures fed by marshlands, endless waves of wheat fields, and untamed coastal beauty. Cork oaks and olive trees dot the sun drenched land, as they have for centuries.

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A Colorful History

From her large cities, like Lisbon and Porto, to small villages and towns not even on the map, Portugal preserves her history with reverence and respect. Nearly every stop you make in your travel to Portugal has some testimony to her medieval past, seafaring culture, and the many religious influences that left their mark on this colorful country.

Historical sites, magnificent castles, and walled cities can be discovered all over Portugal. Narrow streets and alley paths wend their way to celebrated landmarks of Portugal’s heritage, as well as less obvious remnants of days gone by.  Long ago, Muslim culture dominated the region, but as the Moors were pushed out of the Iberian Peninsula in the 9th century, their influence was replaced by Christians.  Many of her mosques were converted to Christian churches so little historical Muslim evidence remains, but the Moorish influence is still present in other ways.

When the Catholic church expelled all Jews from Spain in the late 15th century, Portugal became home to many Jewish communities. There are several Jewish cultural heritage sites throughout the country, the most impressive being the old Jewish Quarter in Belmonte. Your Portugal vacation will enrich your life and expand your knowledge of historical events.

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Dining in Portugal

A Portugal destination vacation is a foodie’s delight. From the traditional to the eclectic-nouveau, Portuguese food is like none other. Her proximity to the sea provides the freshest of seafood, produce is enjoyed in season from nearby farms and orchards, and meats, both cured and fresh, are prepared in flavorful and unique ways, with pork being the staple.

The Portuguese commonly feast on five- and six-course meals, especially in the cooler northern regions. Cheese, typically a soft white variety, is served with the fruit course. Usually made from sheep's milk, the cheeses are quite delicious. Portuguese soups and stews are also very popular on a traditional menu. In your travel to Portugal, you must enjoy a traditional Portuguese meal.

Olive oil from Portugal is a high quality product that’s becoming a popular export. Enjoy the fruity and rich flavor drizzled on warm bread, fresh from a stone oven. Sweets and pastries are often enjoyed by the Portuguese people. Luscious custards, tender, flaky tarts, marzipan, cookies, cakes and ice cream are ever-present throughout Portugal.

You’ll find cultural influences in dining depend on the region. In the north, for instance, meaty, robust meals are common. In the sunny south of Portugal, local fare has a definitive Mediterranean influence. One single dish is enjoyed throughout Portugal. Cozido is a boiled dinner, made with beef, pork, or chicken, and always includes cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips and some kind of sausage. Depending on the region, you may find chickpeas and lamb, more root vegetables, or even pumpkin.
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Wines of Portugal

As you might imagine, given the vast array of agricultural climates, Portugal produces some interesting wines. The most famous, of course, being the Port wine variety. Another popular wine from Portugal is the Vinho Verde, a light crispy white that’s quite easy on the palate. No Portugal vacation would be complete without a sampling of the fantastic wines produced here.

The Douro river region produces many fine dessert wines, including the aforementioned Port, but the dry wines from this region-reds, whites, and rosés-are emerging for the world to take notice. The reds are full-bodied and robust, while the white wines are reminiscent of a white burgundy.

Other wines to try are Castelao wines, similar to Italy’s Barbera, Tinta Roriz from tiny Colares, which will remind you of your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon, with hints of clove, cedar and blackberry. Wines from Alentejo include Herdade do Esporao, both red and white varieties, which is fast becoming popular outside of the region. Fortified wines, such as Port and Madeira, are still the leading wines in this prolific wine-producing country.

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Travel to Portugal

Portugal destination vacations are life-changing. Nowhere else in the world will you find such diversity. From her breathtaking landscapes, rich history, delectable foods, outstanding wines, and warm, and colorful people, Portugal vacations offer so much more than you’d expect.

From the sun-baked terrain of the Alentejo region, to the lush and verdant hills surrounding Sintra, come discover beautiful, vibrant Portugal. A Portugal vacation is truly a traveler’s dream and a dreamer’s ideal destination. Discover the most authentic and colorful places to visit in Portugal.

 


 

Topics: Portugal

Andalucia, The best of Southern Spain

Posted by smadar Palace on Fri, May, 06, 2016


The autonomous community of Andalucia, in southern Spain is the cradle of iconic Spanish Culture. Stretching from the Mediterranean coast to the Sierra Morena mountain range, Andalusia, the birthplace of Flamenco, has also given the world Spanish guitar, the sport of bullfighting, and world-renown sherries. From the miles of hilly terrain, dotted with olive trees, comes the liquid gold we know as Spanish olive oil. With the Mediterranean Sea to the east, and the Atlantic ocean to the west, it’s no wonder the widely-known Spanish dish, Paella, saffron scented and bursting with goodness from sea and land, originated in Andalucia.

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The rich history and culture of this region of southern Spain involves many religions and ethnicities. As the original melting pot of the world, Andalusia’s geographical gateway between the continents of Africa and Europe provided the earliest travel routes for ancient civilizations. Throughout the centuries Greeks, Romans, and Moors have all left their influence on the culture of Andalusia. Wherever their roots began, many people call the Andalucia home, living together and enjoying sun-drenched southern Spain and a love of life that comes naturally to this region.

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Seville

The exciting town of Seville, fabled to have been founded by the Greek god Hercules, has much to offer. An energy-infused vibe permeates this city and Seville’s active nightlife thrives.

The royal palace of Alcazar, built by the Moors more than 1000 years ago, and used today as a royal residence, is an architectural jewel.

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The Barrio Santa Cruz, once the Jewish quarter, is made up of labyrinthian streets and alley-ways. Whitewashed homes, whose balconies overflow with colorful flowers, and squares, nearly hidden from view by the delightfully scented flowering orange trees, make up the area. It’s easy to recognize how the allure of this area could inspire such legendary operas as Carmen, The Barber of Seville, The Wedding of Figaro, and Don Juan.

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The Art of Flamenco

The art of Flamenco includes Spanish guitar-playing, singing, dance,, finger-snapping, clapping, and vocalization. Uniquely Andalusian, Flamenco was first recognized as an art form in the early 18th century. This fiery combination of guitar, voice and dance is popular all over the world, but best enjoyed in Andalucia, the birthplace of Flamenco.

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Jerez

Jerez is a quaint, old town popular for it’s food market, narrow avenues, Royal Equestrian School, and sherry. The town of Jerez is home to some of the most magnificent horses and superbly talented riders in the world. Jerez is known for their superior breed of equine. The town is also well-known as a top producer of sherry. Bodegas throughout the area invite visitors to sample the finest sherries produced in Jerez.

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Cordoba

Andalucia produces more than half the world’s olive oil. The hillsides around the charming city of Cordoba are rich with olive trees, and the weather in this part of Andalucia is the ideal climate for growing olives. When thinking of olive oil, many people consider Italy the top producer of the finest olive oils. Italy actually purchases most of it’s olives from Spain, importing and converting to oil under Italian labels.

The by-ways of Cordoba are centuries old, but built in a unique way to keep the residents comfortable. The narrow streets and white-washed buildings create a cool respite from the often-intense sun. Balconies and windows overflowing with flowers, and patios are essentially outdoor living rooms where families enjoy time together.

Moorish influence is seen all over the region, however the great Mosque of Cordoba, or Mezquita, is truly spectacular. In the 8th century, the Mesquite was a shared place of worship. In the 1600’s a Roman Catholic Cathedral was built inside the Mezquita, where it remains today.

During a period that coincided with the Middle Ages in Europe, Cordoba played host to the Golden Age of Jewish Culture. For almost 500 years Jewish culture thrived educationally, economically and religiously in Andalusia, and it's impact is still felt today. 

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White-Washed Villages

Strategically erected on hilltops throughout the area are the Pueblos Blancos, or “White-Washed Villages”. These small towns are seemingly untouched by the fast-pace of the region’s larger cities and offer an easy, relaxed immersion into Spanish culture.

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La Sierra de Aracena

Breathtakingly unspoiled, La Sierra de Aracena is a natural park located northwest of Seville, is Andalucia’s treasure. Crystalline streams and lush woodland give way to stunning views. Walnuts and chestnuts flourish amidst groves of olives and orchards, prolific with fruit. Beyond the forests you’ll find rocky ridges bearing citrus and wildflowers. Hiking the Sierra de Aracena is a visit to Eden.

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Cuisine of Andalucia

The popular ‘tapas’ featured in so many upscale eateries in the US and around the globe, originated in Andalucia. Small plates with local specialties allow you to taste at your leisure and experience some of the traditional Andalusian dishes.

Many foodies and gastronomes consider Jamon Iberico to be the finest ham in the world. The meat comes from prized black pigs, many of whom live freely to roam the hillsides of Andalucia, grazing on acorns in the fall. The climate cures the hams like no other on earth. The finished product is the pride and passion of Andalucia, and Spain.

In addition to the ham, tapas, and aforementioned paella, the region is known for a delicacy known as rabo de toro estofado, or bull’s tail stew. The unfortunate bull who falls to the matador provides the tail for the stew and it’s traditionally served at the next day’s bull fight. The region’s beautiful and bountiful produce contribute to the best (and authentic to Andalusia) gazpacho you’ll ever taste.

Do you want to learn about a unique Travel experience in Andalucia? Read about The Splendor of Andalucia

 

Topics: best spain tours, trip to spain, tours of southern spain, sevilla tours, spain guided tours, sevilla, southern spain

Piedmont Wine Route

Posted by smadar Palace on Fri, Apr, 08, 2016


The wines of Piedmont, Italy are as diverse as the region itself. Cool air from the Alps combines with the warm, sun-drenched Mediterranean climate, to produce a varietal playground for wine lovers. Manicured landscape gives way to rolling, vine-clad hills, heavy with the grapes that make this region so unique. Piedmont is home to more prestigious DOCG wines -the best Italian wines-than any other region in Italy. A wine tour of Italy’s Piemonte is a must for any wine aficionado.

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You can’t discuss the wines of Italy’s second largest region without first recognizing the king and queen of Italian wines, Barolo and Barbaresco. Both of these unique reds products of the Nebbiolo grape, and grown in opposite sides of the town of Alba. Barolo is located southwest of Alba and Barbaresco is to the northeast. What a difference a few miles makes!

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Barbaresco, the more northern area, has soil which is limestone based, thus producing a softer wine, that carries less tannins. The Nebbiolo used to make Barolo wines grow in sandstone, creating a thicker skin and a bolder wine. Both are unique and specific to the Piedmont wine region.

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With five distinct wine-growing areas in the Piedmont region, you might expect more wines worthy of your time, in addition to the king and queen. Other notable reds of the region are Barbera, a versatile and pleasing wine, and Dolcetto d’Alba, which is a dry red, in spite of the name, which translates to “little sweet one”. Both of these reds are a source of pride in the Piemonte region. 

Sparkling Wines

Though the reds tend to take center stage in the Piedmont wine region, there are some highly-touted white varieties as well. The ancient grape Moscato Bianco lends it’s flavor to Moscato d’Asti, and Asti Spumonte. Moscato D’Asti, a lightly sparkling wine, is often considered of higher quality than the more heavily sparkling Asti Spumante.

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From hundreds of wineries to visit and countless opportunities for a wine tasting, Piedmont wine region is a superb destination for a wine tour.

Here is a sample itinerary to discover the wines of Piedmont  
 

Topics: Wine Tour Italy, wine Tours, Piedmont, piemonte, best italian wine, northern italy, italian wine

Best of The Italian Lakes - Lake Como

Posted by smadar Palace on Mon, Mar, 21, 2016

About an hour north of Milan, and nestled deep in the cradle of the Swiss Alps, lies the breathtaking Lake Como.  Centuries of beautiful scenery, genteel pace, and gracious living have lured people to the shores of Lake Como since the days of Julius Caesar.  Often recognized as a playground for the rich and famous, the towns along the shores of this Italian beauty beckon one and all to relax, enjoy and take in the sights which have charmed many a visitor.  

Lake como, Italy 

Navigating Lake Como

The preferred, and most efficient, way to visit the colorful towns and ancient villages set amidst hillside and shoreline, is by ferry boat, or water taxi.  Even the smallest of these quaint hamlets provides a marina so residents and visitors can disembark and enjoy.  

Italian lakes 

On the southwest tip of Lake Como sits the city of the same name.  Como, Italy is a majestic city full of magnificent examples of architecture, which spans centuries.  The Gothic Roman Cathedral, second century Romanesque church of San Fedele, 19th century villas and Renaissance palaces are just a few of the architectural treats in Como.  There’s even a medieval bell tower, which has been lovingly restored through the centuries.

 Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy

While strolling the city streets of bustling Como, be sure to visit the enchanting family-owned shops, stop into a cafe and view life unfolding, or enjoy a respite along the waterfront promenade as you reflect on your time in Como. 

Bellagio and Her Villas 

Perched on a peninsula, and cloaked in luxury, it’s easy to see why Bellagio is referred to as the “Pearl of the Lake”.  The many riches of the region are available in Bellagio.  Shop for jewelry, silk, pottery and Italy’s one-of-a-kind treasures.  Enjoy a refreshing gelato in the old world elegance of a sun drenched square.  

Bellagio, Lake Como, Italy 

Bellagio is home to the spectacular Villa Melzi.  While the villa is privately owned, the proprietors have opened the awe-inspiring gardens to the public.  A tour will delight visitors with the finest example of English style gardens, alongside terraces full of rare and tropical plants and trees.  Artifacts dating back several hundred years are also on display throughout the villa’s gardens.  

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Also located near the city of Bellagio, Villa Balbienello is a lovely home, on the tip of a small, wooded peninsula, high above Lake Como.  The grounds of this 18th century villa are open to tourists.  The villa’s loggia showcases the heart of the lake, and a panoramic view of much of the Lake District.  Terraced gardens echo the elements of Lake Como as they spill down the hillside to the shore.   

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Facing the peninsula of Bellagio is the Villa Carlota, boasting 17 acres of lush gardens.  The 17th century villa also houses a museum.  Dedicated to the flora of the region, the botanical gardens are home to heirloom varieties of flowers as well as centuries old trees, a rock garden, classic sculpture and much more.   

A Walk through Cernobbio 

For all the bustle of Como, and the luxury of Bellagio, Cernobbio offers a slightly different vibe.  The narrow main street and family-filled piazza, the welcoming trattorias and the residential buildings provide this town, which borders Switzerland, with a neighborhood atmosphere.  The treelined waterfront and quiet streets make Cernobbio a perfectly walkable town.  Many wealthy residents make their home is Cernobbio, evident in some of the more opulent villas throughout the town.

Cernobbio, Lake Como, Italy

The Charm of Varenna 

If Bellagio is the Pearl of Lake Como, Varenna is surely a jewel of similar prominence.  A small fishing village, dating back to the 12th century, Varenna has a population of just under a thousand residents.  Centrally located along the eastern shore of Lake Como, Varenna isn’t as developed as many of it’s neighbors, leaving a lush natural playground that is particularly popular as a destination for “Luna de Miele” or, honeymoon.  

 Varrena, Lako Como, Italy

The steep lanes, romantic, pine-shrouded promenade, and old-world piazza are just some of the sights for which Varenna is known.  Kissed by the alpine breezes, this unpretentious town and it’s relaxed lakefront cafes offer the ideal spot to sip your favorite beverage and take in the beauty of Lake Como.

Lake como Tours

Do you picture yourself seating and watching these amazing views? Here is a Lake Como Itinerary

 

Topics: North Italy

Amalfi coast Tours - Italy's Seaside Paradise

Posted by smadar Palace on Wed, Feb, 24, 2016

Like a brilliant watercolor painting the rocky and mountainous Amalfi Coast spills forth from unexpected heights onto the shores of the Mediterranean. This famed coastline, stretching from the gulf of Naples to the gulf of Salerno, is a popular destination for tourists from all over the world, who arrive to bask in the breathtaking beauty of Italy’s prized jewel.

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The Isle of Capri, just off the craggy peninsula of the Bay of Naples, is glamorous and enticing. The beach town of Positano, precariously perched high above the sea, offers breathtaking views and historic insights into the Campania region. Many more towns and villages make up this travelers bucket-list on Amalfi Coast tours.

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Sorrento faces the Bay of Naples on the Sorrentine Peninsula. Above the Mediterranean and below rugged peaks, Sorrento is dotted with lemon groves and olive trees, prevalent in Amalfi Coast, Italy. A historic 14th century church, Chiesa di San Francesco and an unspoiled old quarter along with the enchanting cafe lined town square offer visitors a full day indeed.

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Take in the view and it’s easy to see how Positano became a favorite resort destination among the glitterati. Visitors flock throughout the year to enjoy this quaint village, built into the face of a hill. Delightful cafes make for a welcome rest stop, as you visit the shops along the steep and narrow streets of town.

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Refined and Romantic Ravello, in Amalfi, Italy, is not-to-be missed on Amalfi coast tours. Known for it’s peaceful and lovey gardens, lush with tropical, native plants and flowers, Ravello is a popular honeymoon destination. Ravello, like the rest of the towns on your southern Italy tour, has it’s own unique view of the panoramic shores of Amalfi,in Campania Italy.

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Between the 9th and 11th centuries, Amalfi was the center of the region’s maritime enterprise. Medieval shipyards still exist in Amalfi, Italy today. The magnificent Amalfi Cathedral, more than 1200 years old, still stands in dedication to St. Andrew, the Apostle. Spend time at one of the many cafes, and enjoy a refreshing limoncello liqueur. Limoncello is a regional favorite and the locals will tell you that’s what sunshine tastes like.

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The Isle of Capri is a locavore’s dream. Capri is heavily influenced, in culture and cuisine, by Greece, Rome, France, and Spain. Meals are built around the abundant seafood available year round, as well as farm-to-table fruits and vegetables. Olive oil, another local commodity, completes the traditional gastronomy of the Isle of Capri.

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Amalfi Coast tours would not be complete without a stop in the famous southern Italian city of Naples. The hustle and bustle of a big city hasn’t escaped southern Italy’s home of the best pizza. Centuries old architecture and art, as well as opera houses and theatre, make Naples the worlds best place to grab a slice-of pizza and life!           caprese_and_pizza_in_amalfi-670584-edited.jpg                                      

Here is a sample Itinerary for a guided  Amalfi Coast experience.

 

Discover Piedmont, Italy

Posted by smadar Palace on Wed, Feb, 03, 2016


Gently cupped by the Swiss Alps, Piedmont, Italy is known for it’s breathtaking hill country, fertile farms and vineyards, and historic landscape, which borders Switzerland and France. This second largest region is somewhat influenced by her neighbors, but, be assured, Piemonte, as it is known in Italian, has a rich pedigree, all her own. This beloved region of Italy emanates a distinct and remarkable flavor, which can’t be duplicated.

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/discover-piedmont-italyIf there were but one word to describe Piedmont, Italy, it would be “harmonious’. From the seamless way lush, verdant hills roll between the sweeping Alps and picturesque valleys, to the centuries-old techniques, adapted and used by winemakers today, and flawless mixture of both urban and rural cultures throughout Piemonte, voices, old and new, blend in a timeless melody.

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Foodies and wine connoisseurs alike will delight in the easy pace of Piemonte. Food is savored and memories made on the palate. The growing, grassroots Slow Food Movement began in Piedmont, where geographic diversity allows for farm-to-table foods to be enjoyed year-round. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of slow-food, be ready to feed your senses, while enjoying food and wine to the fullest.

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The white truffle of Alba, a delight of gastronomes everywhere, is rare and specific to the region of Piemonte. These delectable beauties are the most expensive truffles in the world, selling for about $200.00 US per oz. To unearth a white truffle of Alba is to discover a treasure.

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The wines of the Piemonte region are as diversified as the landscape. When the ice-cold temperatures combine with the warmth of the Mediterranean, the result is an excellent grape. One of the grape varieties specific to the region is the Nebbiolo, used to produce both the full-bodied Barolo and Barbaresco reds, also known as the king and queen of Italian wines.

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The wine-growing region of Langhe, Roero, and Monferrato has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beautiful landscape covers five distinct wine-growing areas. In fact, the Piedmont region has been considered the “most favorable” for growing vines and producing wine, since the Roman Empire.

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Turin is the crown-jewel of Northern Italy. The medieval architecture, 18th century castle, elegant gardens and public squares grace much of the Left Bank of the Po River. In addition to the historic and elegant cafes, which served as a meeting place for such literary royalty as Puccini, and Neitzche, Dumas and Cavour, Turin has gifted the world with the Fiat sports car, and has been known as the chocolate heart of Europe since the 1600’s. Hot chocolate and chocolate-hazelnut spread were both invented here.


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Wish to see a sample itinerary to Piedmont, Italy? Read Discover Piemonte


Topics: Italy, Piedmont, Northwest Italy

Wine Tours in spain

Posted by smadar Palace on Fri, Feb, 07, 2014


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 Finding unique tours in Spain, vacations which combine a sweet nostalgia with new experiences, can be challenging. Being able to immerse yourself in the culture of a region through foods, local wines, the day to day life of it’s people, can only happen with the most customized tours in Spain. Far beyond your visit, you’ll want to pause, perhaps over a glass of a celebrated Rioja wine, and smile as you recall a cherished memory, vowing to someday return to the friends you made on your first of many tours in Spain.Rioja-wine-tours.jpg
Of all the tours in Spain, a trip to Rioja is sure to be among the most memorable.  The wine region of Rioja is tucked in the foothills and valleys of the Iberian mountain range. Rioja is bordered by Basque country, it’s lush groves of grapes, and olives, nurtured and fed by two rivers, the Ebro and Oja, creating a lovely setting for your tours in Spain. 
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The private, family owned hotel, which serves as your accommodations for the duration of your visit, engulfs you in a warm welcome, while the staff offers a glass of sparkling wine, a smile and an invitation to linger.. Enjoy all the modern amenities of a larger hotel-lovely décor, upscale private bathrooms, television and internet access- while experiencing the personal service of a boutique hotel.
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All tours in Spain highlight local sites.  Your tour takes you to the heart of the region of Rioja and it’s people. Visit local wineries, and engage in demonstrations by some of the most celebrated winemakers of Spain. Sample wines, tour estates, and steep yourself in the artisanal wine culture of this remarkable region.
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While the sun is shining, stroll the cobbled streets of Laguardia. Here, you’ll marvel at medieval architecture and enjoy traditional foods and meals from heirloom family recipes. Take in an evening cooking class where you’ll be introduced to the true Riojan Tapas, or pintxo. Learn to make these shared appetizers in true Riojan style and compare what you’ve learned when you tour Haro and the door-to-door tapas bar, a popular destination for foodies.
Nosh on a prepared picnic of regional foods and wine along the beautiful pressed lakes of the area. Later, visit a bodega which specializes in the modern method of crafting the newer regional wines.

Dinastia Vivanco Rioja Tou
Your visit to this remarkably simple, yet rich, region of Spain is made even more wonderful by a visit to the Dinastia Vivanco. The Dinastia Vivanco is widely recognized as the most ambitious, and all-encompassing, European wine project in the world. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to compare and learn about virtually all the known wine cultures of Europe. For wine aficionados, a visit to the Dinastia Vivanco is heaven.

No tours in Spain to the region of Rioja can be complete without time spent immersing yourself in the Basque culture. The simple foods, influenced by the proximity to the sea and incorporating a manner both French and Spanish, are sumptuous. Artisan cheeses, cured meats, and fresh local fare are part of the Basque palate. Basque wines are equally as individual, neither French, nor Spanish, yet highly desirable.
 
Idiazabal cheese, Northern spain tour
Even as you bid adios to this culturally diverse and impressive region, you’ll vow to return very soon. The lifestyle is rich in it’s simplicity and enchanting in ways you never knew, yet, somehow, recognized. Tours in Spain are expected to educate and introduce you to new experiences, however, the very best tours in Spain beguile and captivate you, even when you’re back home. 
 
 Want to see a sample itinerary for a wine tour in spain: Check out Spanish wine roads adventure
 
 

Topics: Spain tours, Northern spain tours, rioja wine tour, Spain trips, Spain wine tours, Wine tours of Spain

Food and Wine in Umbria, Italy

Posted by smadar Palace on Sat, Nov, 16, 2013

 Food tours, Monti Sibilini, Umbria, Italy

Umbria enjoys an abundance of produce like grains, vegetables and fruit thanks to its green and natural environment. In addition, there is also the abundance of forest animals, providing hearty elements to many Umbrian dishes.  The Umbrian cuisine is based on seasonal ingredients and uses traditional methods that date back to its origins in Etruscan times. It's all about freshness, simplicity and good flavor.

Umbria is mostly famous for its art of butchery, top quality extra virgin oilve oil and the prestige Truffle.

Here are some typical specialties of food and wine in Umbria:

 Food Tours, Italy, Umbria 

Hearty soups

 Umbrian soups tend to be rustic, and include seasonal vegetables, dried beans such as fava, lentils and chickpeas, faro or spelt, and chestnuts. These hearty soups are served simply with a drizzle of good Umbrian olive oil. 

Food tours, Umbria, Italy

Pasta 

Probably the most typical Umbrian pasta dish is strangozzi, often served with black truffles, or a spicy tomato sauce from Spoleto. 

Food Tours, Italy, Umbria

Roast Suckling pig

Umbria is famous for its roast Suckling pig, an Umbrian delicacy. It's pork carved right off a stuffed and herbed young pig. You’ll see this around lunchtime, served on thick rolls as a sandwich, or at dinner, as an option for a starter...

 Olive oil tasting, Food tour Italy

Olive Oil 

The umbrian hills are perfect for the cultivation of olive oil, which help produce a high-end extra virgin oilve oil. Often this olive oil is used as the only condiment for many Umbrian dishes. 

Black truffle- Food tour Italy

Truffles 

What is considered the black gold of gastronomy has one of the regions with the best production. The wealth and the variety of woods and lands in the region makes it possible. 

Norcia provides most of Italy’s black truffles.  Umbrian recipes use truffles to elevate the plainest egg, pasta or meat dishes to a gourmet meal.  They are also made into a paste with garlic and anchovies.  Black truffles are used in many ways, including to flavor local Pecorino cheese.

Norcia- food tour Italy

Cheeses

Shepherding is important to the local economy, so sheep’s milk cheese is an important staple food.  Unlike most of Italy where Pecorino cheese is  aged in salt, Umbrian cheeses may be rubbed with tomato paste or buried in ashes in terracotta urns to age.  Some cheeses are aged in cool natural caves.  Each of these aging methods gives unique texture and flavor to the final results.  Generally this cheese is eaten plain or with preserved vegetables or meats, fresh fruits or simply out of hand with a glass of wine. 

Best tours of Italy, Umbria, Norcia

Norcia

 Norcia has become so famous for its art of pork butchery and preparation of cured meats, that butchers across Italy now use the term norcino to indicate all kinds of meats preserved in this manner. 

Best tours of Italy  

Wine: Sagrantino di Montefalco

The cultivation of vineyards along Montefalco dates back to pre-Roman times. Sagrantino di Montefalco, Umbria's flgship wine, is highly alcoholic and can age for decades. 

Dessert- Umbria. food and wine tour

Dessert

Umbrian desserts traditionally include  ingredients like nuts, honey, spices, or candied fruit. Many traditional sweets are associated with specific religious holidays or celebrations, and often their name reflects that. 

Perugina Baci Chocolate

 Inspired by pure passion, Perugina co-founder Luisa Spagnoli created a confection for a special someone. It was called Baci, the Italian word for kisses, and around each she would wrap a love note. She realized the confection was too good to keep secret, and soon Baci became a favorite among the young lovers browsing the Perugina sweetshop.Nearly 100 years later, Baci are still exclusively produced in Perugia, Italy. The recipe is unchanged: silky dark chocolate filled with a blend of chocolate and hazelnut cream, dotted with more chopped hazelnuts and gloriously crowned with a whole hazelnut. Each Baci remains hugged by a note that reflects sentiments of love, affection and friendship. It’s no wonder to give a Baci is to say “I love you” the Italian way.                                                                             

Want to see a sample of food and wine Itinerary to Umbria: Check out Culinary Paradise 

 

The Magical Towns of Umbria, Italy

Posted by smadar Palace on Fri, Nov, 15, 2013

Umbria is located in the heart of Italy, easily within reach of major cities like Rome or Florence. Umbria's towns aren't packed with tourists and tour buses like its Tuscan sister, allowing visitors who are looking for off-the beaten path to experience and discover a true gem. There are many charming perched towns in Umbria but here we'll outline the must-see ones.

Spoleto

Spoleto's known by Spoleto Summer Festival, Europe's leading cultural event that includes music, opera, dance and visual arts preformances. The rest of the year, it is a lively, romantic, and charming town, a town that by simply walking you will discover boutiques, hand-crafted ceramic shops,  an excellent selection of restaurants, and cafes. You will see the residents, not tourists, go about thier daily life: picking something at the local delicatessen, sitting down for lunch with friends, and children going home to have lunch and siesta. 

Spoleto Castle, Umbria (Rocca)

Spoleto has a castle on the hilltop, Rocca, that is the center piece of this beautiful area. The countryside around it absolutely stunning. Nearby, there's the Tower Brigde (Ponte delle Torri), a 14th century bridge built over the foundation of a Roman aqueduct. The bridge is about 750 feet long and at the highest point it's 262 feet above the gorge. You can usually walk on the bridge for breathtaking views of the valley and gorge below.

Spello  

Spello has some of Italy's best preserved city walls, many of them Roman, some medieval. Spello's main point of interest is the town itself: its hundreds of steep medieval streets and stairways, arches and angles, decorated by coloroful seasonal flowers.

Spello, Umbria,Italy

The most important annual event is the Infiorata flower festival, on Corpus Domini Sunday. For months, the residence of Spello and other participants collect flowers in the mountains to cover the entire streets of Spello with intricate flower images. Some of the pictures are so refined and detailed that it is almost impossible to notice the flowers- they look like paintings. The event has grown over the years and now attracts tens of thousands of visitors during the night from Saturday to Sunday. Whlie more than 50 flower artist groups assemble their competing images, the visitors walk around and look on in awe. (We'll be there in June 2014)

Spello flower festival, Umbria, Italy

Bevagna 

The walled city of Bevagna is different from other hill towns in Umbria simply because it's not on a hill but sits on the banks  of the Topino river. Nevertheless, it feels like a perfect medieval, stone-constructed hilltop village.
Bevagna, Umbria, Italy

This cute, tiny village has a fairytale feel to it. Every June, Bevagna recreates its medieval past with set of events called the "Mercato delle Gaite". The inhabitants dress in 14th-century costumes, and each quarter of the city creates a tavern, which is open in the evening and serves dishes made from medieval recipes. One of the most popular events is the large market, where goods made according to 12th and 13th-century techniques are sold. Artisan workshops are also recreated, and some are often in operation all year around, providing schoolchildren with a lesson in the skills of the past. This is a truly unique experience.

Bevagna, Umbria medieval festival

Montefalco 

Montefalco is one of Umbria's most interesting wine zones, famous for its Sagrantino di Montefalco wine, Umbria's flagship wine. The walled town is perched at a uniquely strategic point which makes many call Montefalco the "Balcony of Umbria". 

Montefalco Vineyard, wine tasting umbria 

Assisi

The first sight of Assisi, perched halfway up the slope of Mount Subasio, is extraordinary. Virtually untouched by modern architecture, with the soft pink of its medieval buildings shimmering against the greenery of the mountain, Assisi is an experience for the eye and the soul. Famous as the birthplace of St. Francis, Assisi holds religious, historical, and artistic significance. Despite the many tourists visiting it every day, it does not loose its charm.

Assisi, Umbria, Italy

Orvieto 

Umbria's grand hill town sits majestically on a large volcanic rock. Orvieto'a famous Duomo is visible for miles around. The Duomo, called the Golden Lily of Cathedrals, is famous for its mosaics that decorate its incomparable facade.

Orvieto, umbria, italy

Saint Patrick's Well is another architectural marvel that was built for Pope Clement VII  in case of siege or conflict. It is 175 feet  deep and inside are two double-spiralled stairwells, planned for easier transportation of water. St. Patrick well Orvieto, Umbria,Italy

Underground Orvieto is a facinating journey through time. There's a real underground city made up of a large number of caves and tunnels that cross and overlap underneath the urban fabric, where Orvieto’s inhabitants have carried out a multitude of daily activities since the city’s origins back in Etruscan times.  

underground passage Orvieto, resized 600 

Want to see a magical itinerary in Umbria: Check out Culinary Paradise 

                                       

Topics: Italy, Assisi, Spoleto, Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco, Orvieto, Norcia, Towns of Umbria, flower festival, Medieval festival

How i Fell in Love With Umbria

Posted by smadar Palace on Wed, Nov, 13, 2013

Umbria, Italy

Umbria caught me by surprise. I have been to many places and traveled through different regions in Italy, yet I was not ready for the stunning beauty of Umbria. For some odd reason, Umbria does not get the same PR as its neighbor, Tuscany.  Umbria is the shy, beautiful sister, sitting quietly, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be fallen in love with.

 I was driving from Tuscany to Umbria as part of my job. What job? I am a tour designer specialized in finding interesting places, activities,  people, Food and Wine, in order to create itineraries for  travelers who look for one of a kind experience. 

As I was driving on the main road from Tuscany to Umbria, thinking, probably Umbria will be more or like Tuscany, same villages. Not much of a difference. But then the scenery starts changing and you start to see from both sides of the road green mountains. And you keep driving and you see more of these green mountains with forested slopes and you start thinking that you arrived to another country and you get the feeling that this is not Tuscany anymore. No rolling hills and winding roads but beautiful forested slopes.

Monti Sibillini park, Umbria- Food and wine Tour

And all of a sudden Assisi rises above, high up at the top with its powerful architecture.

More about Assisi in the next  blog post: Magical Towns of umbria

Assisi, Umbria,Italy

One of the things you will discover in Umbria is that most villages you visit go way back before the medieval ages, they are strategically located very high up, which always a striking view from the road, a presence, has surrounded by the lavish green mountains and they are beautifully preserved. You will mostly see Italians, locals, which will make you feel part of the local life. You will see them shopping for everyday products, standing in line in their street bakery to buy home favorite biscuits or local cake, or going to the check if there is fresh ricotta cheese from the shepherds, or special jam from a local convent that the nuns make.

Spello, Umbria, Italy

One of the things I realized very quickly that Umbria is very easy to navigate. Unlike Tuscany, that sometime gets you carsick from all the winding hills and never ending tiny hill roads, Umbria has good major roads and you don’t have to spend too much time driving from one place to another.

Norcia, Umbria. Food and wine Tour

 Umbria is big on Food. The cuisine is known for being fresh and seasonal, simple and delicious.  Umbria is famous for truffles, grains and the best cured meats in Italy.

Read more about  the Food and wine in Umbria in next blog post. 

There are qualities to Umbria that sets it apart: Old traditions and adventure, gastronomy and mysticism, magical towns and genuine people all surrounded by majestic landscape.

i invite you to fall in love with Umbria! 

Want to see a sample itinerary in Umbria: Culinary Paradise

 

Topics: Assisi, Umbria, Orvietto, Tour umbria, Umbria tour, Umbria touring, food and wine tour italy, Italy tour 2014. umbria Tuscany, Tuscany umbria