Things to Do in the Basque Country

Things to Do in the Basque Country

The Basque Country is a region in Spain known for its sprawling valleys and rugged mountains. The region attracts millions of tourists every year, as Argia reports that 4.5 million tourists visited in 2015 — a number that is likely to have only grown since then. If you’re planning a trip of your own to this beautiful region, read on for a list of things to add to your itinerary.

Explore the cathedrals

By Dflandre – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16413873

One of the best ways to appreciate the Basque’s unique landscape and architecture is to explore its two most famous cathedrals, the similarly named Saint Mary’s Cathedral and Sainte-Marie Cathédrale. The former, also called the Cathedral of Santa María, is located in Vittoria-Gastéiz, the peaceful capital of the region. The intricate details of the gothic cathedral were chiselled during its construction in the 13th and 14th century. Not too far in Bayonne, Sainte-Marie Cathédrale’s unique infrastructure makes it a popular site to visit, too. The building is made entirely out of locally sourced red and white stones and overlooks two local rivers. Both landmarks have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites and host regular tours for their visitors.

Go on a food crawl

The Spanish people have a rich food culture and history — a fact to take advantage of on your trip. An obvious place to start is with staples like paella, ham, and tapas. We’ve personally confirmed that Spain is home to the most mouth-watering tapas, and these are definitely something you shouldn’t miss out on during your visit.

In the Basque Country specifically, the place to look for is La Bretxa in San Sebastian-Donostia, a market known for its fresh and high-quality seafood. The variety of things at the market are from nearby ports, straight from the fishermen.

Visit a gaming centre

Espaldazo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

For the complete European experience, you can head over to either of the two available land-based casinos in Bilbao or San Sebastian. Gran Casino Bilbao is an excellent choice if you enjoy classic table games like Blackjack and Roulette. Poker tables for games like Texas Hold ’em are also available in the facility.

Of course, the rise of online gaming portals has been both a boon and bane for land-based casinos like Gran Casino Bilbao. Although foot traffic and revenues have undoubtedly taken a hit because of the emergence of online gaming opportunities, these have also made experiences in gaming centres all the more unique, and introduced more people into the excitement of different casino activities. With this in mind, online gaming and casino magazine Expat Bets continues to provide comprehensive casino guides for expats and travellers from around the world on top of giving them a taste of popular games like Big Bad Wolf and Dragon Dance. That’s because there is much more to enjoy on both sides of the spectrum, which sites like this and Gran Casino Bilbao stand as a testament to. If you plan on dropping by the casino at Bilbao, keep in mind that you can play the slot machines from 10 am until 5 am the next day, while table games run from 5 pm until 5 am.

Learn from the museums

Bilbao is also the home of one of the world’s best museums — The Guggenheim Museum. Filled with contemporary and modern art, this attraction is a must-visit for the artsy tourist. The unique curves and appearance of the building itself is considered a masterpiece designed by architect Frank Gehry, who is known for his unconventional style.

A quainter option is found in Bayonne, in the Musée Basque. It houses over 2,000 artefacts that tell the story of Bayonne and the Basque Country, and is the largest ethnographic museum in the region.

All in all, there are hundreds of things to do for travellers who find themselves in the Basque Country, where enriching one of a kind experiences await at every corner. We love talking about Spain and other famous food destinations here on Dominique Rizzo, because like this breath-taking Spanish region, there is a myriad of places around the world to learn about and explore, sights to see, and food to taste — all just waiting for you to get there.

My Day on the Isle of Capri

When I was a mere 5 years of age was the last time I visited Capri, so really I am visiting for the first time and in all honesty, after my day on Isle of Capri, I could live here forever.

Getting to Capri is very easy.

Accessed only by boat, there are a number of companies and ports in Salerno, Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi from which it will only take you 30 minutes to an hour depending on where you are coming from and which boat you choose.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours

All boats arrive in the main port Marina Grande which spills into an array of tourist shops, bars, restaurants and ticket booths offering extra boat rides around the island, tours to the famous Blu Grotto, and for the local buses.  There are also private taxi companies who will encourage you to jump into their sexy little convertible cars, great for groups but I chose to take the bus, 7 euro for an all-day 24 hour ticket, valid for all of the busses, most of which will take you to all of the main towns you will want to visit such as Capri, Anacapri and Marina Piccola; a great way to get around the island.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Dominique on bus

Capri is close to Marina Grande and the main piazzette where most people will hang around and wait for their departures from the island.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Capri piazza

To best describe what to see on the island, it is easier to divide the island into its two main towns Capri and high above it Anacapri.  Both of which have their own mayors, rules and regulations.

What to see in and from Capri

For people-watching, there is no better place than Piazza Umberto I, also better known as the “piazzetta” (little piazza), in Capri town. The heart of Capri’s social scene, this small yet charming square, lined with cafes and restaurants, bustles throughout the day turning into a more tranquil vibe in the evening as visiting tourists start to depart the island.

For centuries Capri has had a long history and a passionate love affair with artists, writers, aristocrats, actors and actresses and to this day it is renowned for being the place for the rich and famous to come to visit, relax and holiday;  from the likes of Rita Hayworth, Axel Munthe, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Gracie Fields, Ernest Hemingway, Sophia Loren, Mariah Carey and Giorgio Armani.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth

Few places in the world can boast such a high concentration of designer shops of some of the biggest brand names in the world as Capri, I was blown away with the collection of stores and I loved wandering along Via Camerelle, a definite must for any shopaholic or for that speciality piece.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Via Camerelle

I also found a fabulous Vintage & Designer shop called WOND&RLAND which was almost like a fashion house museum, with unique clothing, bags and some great homewares, a must if even just to have a look.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Vintage shop

If you’d rather buy something which has been made on the island and which you are unlikely to come across anywhere else, there are plenty of little artisan shops and showrooms in Capri where you’ll be able to find just what you’re looking for!

Capri town also boasts a stunning coastal walk, known as the Pizzolungo, that takes you to Punta Tragara, bringing you up close to the Faraglioni rocks. Though more challenging, another option is the steep uphill walk to Villa Jovis, which takes about 40 minutes from the piazzetta in Capri. Along the way, you will pass some beautifully-kept homes with gorgeous verdant gardens — and, of course, when you get to the top, the view is amazing!

When in Capri, you also can’t miss the famous Via Krupp, the zig-zag street that leads to Marina Piccola.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - waters of Isle of Capri

Marina Piccola is perfect for a quiet stop as there are quite a few restaurants and bars dotted along the beach front and also on the road near the bus stop. We stopped at La Piazzetta ristorante, a little expensive for what it was but the views of the water and beach front were beautiful and the food was delicious especially the spinach with butter and parmesan and the fried zucchini, a must to have squeezed with fresh lemon  from the local gardens; a real symbol of the island.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Octopus by the sea

If you’re coming to the Capri for long stretches of sandy beach … prepare for disappointment! The beaches on the island are either pebbled, or solid rock, and you will soon see that locals and visitors alike, don’t mind relaxing on the hard rock areas that fall into the turquoise waters. In Capri town, you have some equally glamorous clubs, especially in Marina Piccola, which can be easily reached by walking down Via Krupp. Wander down the stairs just in front of the restaurant to reach the beach as it’s a perfect spot for some swimming or sunbaking on either side of the Siren’s Rock.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Wisteria

The most famous, La Canzone del Mare, attracts many high-profile visitors; it also offers some luxurious suites.  While many of these private beach clubs come at a price, Capri town has some free beaches, too. One is in Marina Grande, close to where the ferries dock. The water is incredibly clear, but it can be extremely packed.

If wandering through ruins is your thing, then don’t miss Villa Jovis, in Capri town. The walk is a little challenging to get to and will take about 40 minutes from the piazzetta in Capri. Along the way, you will pass some beautifully-kept homes with gorgeous verdant gardens, so picturesque with the intoxicating aroma of the citrus and floral notes. The Villa Jovis is one of twelve villas built on the island by Emperor Tiberius in the 1st century AD. Spanning more than 7,000 square meters (2 acres) and built on several levels, it once housed thermal baths, servants’ accommodation and official function rooms.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - R. Buonocore

“R.Buonocore” Pasticceria/Gelateria

A must to visit in Capri is the “R.Buonocore” Pasticceria/Gelateria, perfect for a coffee and to try one of their pastries. The ladies all speak English and they also have a great selection of savoury items for lunch that you can enjoy there or take away. Vegetable frittatas, baked pasta, gnocchi, stuffed vegetables and a great selection of side vegetable dishes, perfect if you are wanting something light and to steer away from all of the pasta and pizza. A definite must to try is their “Coda Di Rospo” similar to the Neoplolitan sfogliatelle but filled with a zuppa inglese creama scented with lemon, so deliciously perfect with a good espresso.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Melanzanna at R. Buonocore

Quiet streets of Anacapri

For a quiet and more laid back atmosphere, head to Anacapri and onto the lovely garden at Villa San Michele. Considered one of the finest gardens in Italy, it not only boasts stunning views, but a serene and well-kept garden overflowing with flowers. Built by Tiberius and lovingly preserved by Axel Munthe, the Swedish physician who fell in love with Capri in the 1880s, the villa today has a charmingly refined atmosphere, helped by its formidable position perched high on a limestone ledge.

If you’d rather shop for artisanal or local products, head to Viale Axel Munthe in Anacapri, where you’ll find shops with plenty of specialized clothing and crafts.

Continuing the garden theme, head to the Church of San Michele that boasts a spectacular 12th-century, hand-painted mosaic floor depicting the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Both towns boast gorgeous views, but the view from Anacapri’s Monte Solaro is especially breathtaking. Monte Solaro is the highest point on the island with a striking 360-degree view of the island. The summit can be reached either on foot or (for a fee) by taking the chairlift.

Another fantastic Anacapri walk is along Via del Migliara, a route that dates back to Roman times; today, it winds past vineyards and orchards. Only about a kilometre long, it’s a pleasant stroll where at the end of the route, you will be treated to a fantastic view overlooking the southern coastline. From there, you can even take the path to Torre del Guardia, an ancient watchtower. To truly get off the beaten path, the Sentiero dei Fortini (or “Trail of Forts”) in Anacapri runs along the western coastline, starting from the Blue Grotto and heading to the Punta Carena Lighthouse. It’s perfect for those who want to experience the “wilder” side of the island!

One of the most popular spots among locals is Lido di Faro, where you get the sun the entire day. This exclusive beach club even boasts a seawater swimming pool, plus is renowned for its acclaimed restaurant. If you really want to do it in style, on top of the hill is the Capri Palace Hotel. Privately owned with fabulous service and an outstanding two-Michelin-star restaurant (with a one-Michelin-star restaurant at its beach club), it looks towards the island of Ischia and beyond to Naples.

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours - Lido di Faro by johnhenderson.com

Dickens said: ‘There is no spot in the world with such delightful possibilities of repose as this little isle’.  I could have spent weeks here just exploring, so to Dickens I say, I will have to agree and I vow to return as soon as I can.

For those of you who are into hiking, lots of walking and step climbing here are your must visits:

Linking the port of Marina Grande with Anacapri and, for many centuries, the only way to reach the town built on the high slopes of Monte Solaro is the 921 Phoenician Steps. Chiselled out of the rock face by the ancient Greeks between the 6th and the 7th century, the steps were used by anyone who needed to transport goods from the Marina up to Anacapri. Much of the hard work was done by the women of the town who carried heavy vases, balancing them on their heads. In the late 18th century as international travellers started to visit the island, donkeys were used to carry their trunks up the stone stairs. I remember seeing the donkeys as a little girl, and people paying to ride up the steep stairs.

My day on the Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours

Deciding where to base yourself is crucial. Capri, where the main drag is Bond Street al mare, is heaving with day trippers, but by 7 pm they’re all gone and the town settles into a different rhythm.

That said, Capri town does have some stunning views, too. From the Gardens of Augustus, you also have a fabulous view of the iconic Faraglioni rocks. And from Villa Jovis, a Roman villa perched above the town, you can take in the spectacular view of the entire Bay of Naples, as well as Ischia and Procida!

 My day on Isle of Capri - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours

Don’t miss our post on 5 of the most beautiful islands in Italy! and more on my food and wine tours.

For the love of Sophia Loren

 

 

My love of classic black and white movies started when I was a little girl and I remember watching the afternoon movie matinee with my dad. The likes of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, the Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello, Marilyn Munroe, Doris Day, Tony Curtis to name just a few were some of my favourites. These movies, along with my blue hardcover Film Star Album and a red cover Film Show Annual that were handed down to me from my mother were my most favourite of books to flick through. There was a technicolour style showcasing the famous actors and actresses from the 50s and 60s and they were some of my prized possessions. I recall flicking through and seeing a picture of Sophia Loren and thinking how beautiful and exotic she was in comparison to the other actresses in the books. My father being of Italian heritage would often get very excited when an Italian film or a film starring Italian actors or actresses came on and any film starring Sofia Loren, I found myself mesmerised.

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tours

Skip through 40 years and adoration and love for Sofia Loren is still part of my life. I have a signed photo of her hanging in my bathroom; a couple of her cookbooks that I found in a second-hand shop grace my collection, and her memoir “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”: My Life, was given to me just recently for my birthday, so yes you could say I am a bit of a fan.

On my recent trip to the Amalfi coast, I was in a slight craze when I found there was a wonderful restaurant called “ Donna Sofia” in Sorrento that was recommended with rave reviews and dedicated to the Italian beauty herself. As soon as I saw the review, I had it in my mind that I desperately wanted to go.

As we chatted with our driver on a transfer from Naples to Sorrento, he casually asked if we had plans for lunch, and I said no that I had a few restaurants that I was interested in checking out but had not moved any further on the research or booking. The very next thing he said was either synchronicity, laws of attraction, good karma or just as my mother says “ how it’s meant to be”, so my friend… he begins to say, has a restaurant here in Sorrento called “Donna Sofia”… Oh my god! was my reaction and the next minute we had a booking for two, we were getting picked up from the hotel by one of the staff and taken to the restaurant for lunch. I raced through check-in ran upstairs and tried to fix my hairdo…we had been rained on, no makeup and slightly wet hair…it was cold and windy and I felt like I was actually going to meet her.

 

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tour

 

Upon arrival we were met with such a warm welcome from Mario the owner, his English is very good as he had worked as a maitre d’hotel on a couple of cruise liners in Australia. I explained I was a chef and how enamoured I was with Sofia Loren and of course Italian food. Mario, his wife Lina, who was the chef and our waiter Francesco, could not have been more hospitable as I then began to change seats and tables to obtain the best advantage point for being able to see the most pictures of Sofia as I sat there eating. I immediately started taking photos like some crazed fan and had to have a little talk to myself to just be calm and sit down.

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tour

We were handed a menu and as I was so excited not only to be in the restaurant, but the thought occurred to me, I was in Sorrento. I had never been here before and an hour ago I was in Naples, where I hadn’t been since I was a little girl. I was in excitement overload. I couldn’t decide on what I wanted to eat it was all too much so I asked Francesco to see if the chef could just do us a selection of antipasti.

Sitting on our table were a couple of delicious little canapes of finely diced red ripe tomatoes, garlic and olive oil tossed together and set upon little toasted pieces of bread as our bruschetta taster. They were delicious. While waiting for our antipasti, I wandered around the restaurant adoring the hundreds of pictures of Sofia spanning her entire career. Smiling at the images as I scanned each one I remembered the movie “Scandal in Sorrento” where Sofia plays a fish vendor and gets involved with a retired marshal played by the famous actor and director Vittorio De Sica, and who also played along with Sofia in Pane, Amore e Fantasia…making famous the great singalong “Mambo Italiano”.

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tour

Our antipasti arrived and to my delight, it was a fantastic fantastia of flavours with 5 little plates bursting with the flavours of Sorrento. Buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and thinly sliced white onion, the most delicious melanzana parmigiana I have ever tasted, a cold salad of thin strips of cooked calamari with raw marinated artichokes, delicately fried calamaretti – tiny whole calamari which just melted in your mouth and a pumpkin budino, a delicate baked pumpkin savoury pudding. With Italian music playing in the background, Italian flavours exploding in my mouth, and a glass of prosecco to carry the song …I was in heaven.

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tour

 

Our second course was a recommendation of Lina, who hand makes all the pasta herself. She had kindly shared the portion between two plates and I was delighted to taste, aldente little full pillows of truffled mushroom, with a plate-licking sauce of butter and porcini mushrooms and a kiss of roasted capsicum puree on the side.

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tour

I had also heard about her famous white chocolate oozing pudding scented with orange and lemon. This did not disappoint. Lemons, oranges and mandarins are in full season along the Amalfi coast and line the streets like baubles on Christmas trees, much to my delight as it always makes me feel like summer seeing the Italian citrus in full fruit. Obviously, people have enough at home as no one seems to pick the ones out in public.

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tour

We left Donna Sofia with full bellies and a memory that will last forever, thanks to unforgettable warm Italian hospitality and the beautiful Sofia Loren. Day two of our Sorrento visit, we passed by the Chiostro di San Francesco only to see that the acclaimed Italian photographer Raffaele Celentano was having an exhibition called ‘ The Italians” showcasing 150 works taken all over Italy in the past quarter of a century, also in his collection were a series of Sofia Loren photos. Of course, I just had to visit … was it an omen that twice I was blessed to be able to enjoy this classic beauty in all her glory.

 

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tour

 

After almost a lifetime of watching her movies, having her grace my bathroom wall, reading her memoirs, flicking through her recipes and wonderful 1970 images, I have now completed the trifecta and eaten in a restaurant dedicated to her talent and beauty and seen lost photos of her in her acting glory. Hand on my heart, I can now say I have visited the town where she is blessed as an honorary citizen…my Sofia Loren dream is now complete.

For the love of Sophia Loren - Dominique Rizzo food tour

 

Top 5 things to do in Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi that aren’t tourist attractions

When designing my food and wine tours, I like to experience the cities and towns for myself and that is how I discovered the Top 5 things to do in Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi that aren’t tourist attractions.

Sorrento

1. Take a lift ride down through the cliffs to the Marina Piccola for a boat trip to Capri or along the coast admiring the awe-inspiring cliffs and the magnificent villas that cling to them.

Wander around the tiny streets checking out the local shops and enjoy a passeggiata along Corso Italia stopping in at the Piazza Tassa to enjoy an apertivio while watching the passing crowds

Enjoy a delicious coffee, herbal tea, glass of wine or cocktail at D’Anton Design Bistro/Bar, in Piazza San Antonia. D’Anton is a beautiful homeware and decorating bespoke store that will make you want to buy a villa just to decorate it.

Top 5 things to do in Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi - Dominique Rizzo Food Tour

2. Wander into the Bellevue Syrene, 5 star Relais Hotel, resting on the cliff’s edge in Piazza della Vittoria.

Built in 1820, the hotel’s grounds, garden and interior to the villa are a must, enjoy lunch or drinks on their terrace under the beautiful cascading wisteria and overlooking the stunning views of the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii.

Top 5 things to do in Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi - Dominique Rizzo Food Tour

Take a sneak peek into some of the open doors that you often see wandering through little towns. You just may stumble across some of the most beautiful interiors of villas often from the 15th and 16th centuries. Most of the private gardens in Sorrento are beautiful, filled with citrus trees, flowers huge ceramic pots, and tiled in hand-painted Italian tiles.

Watch Dominique on location in Sorrento on her YouTube channel: https://studio.youtube.com/video/uiFMzsu3JuI/edit

Amalfi

3. Pick up some new colourful ceramic plates, either for your table or the wall – they make beautiful wall hangings as well as decorative table wear.

Top 5 things to do in Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi - Dominique Rizzo Food Tour

Enjoy an espresso and pastry overlooking the grand 9th Century Duomo di Saint Andrea in the Piazza del Duomo, it’s a perfect place to take in that Italian sun, that Italian atmosphere while thinking about your next move.

Wander down the main street, past all of the tourist shops and restaurants and head to  The Paper Museum – Museo della Carta, Amalfi is known for its paper-making tradition. This is a perfect place to stock up on your unique paper for that special letter or as a gift instead of the old tea towel or postcard.

Head to the “Gran Caffe” on the Corso delle Repubbliche Marinare to relax in the afternoon at their lovely clothed tables right near the water. After all of your sightseeing, shopping, eating and while waiting to board your boat, this old cafe will make you feel as if you are back in the 1950s.  Although not winning medals for its food, it is the perfect setting surrounded by lush geraniums in which to enjoy a coffee, or afternoon granita and to just take in that “Amalfi” feeling.

4. Steer clear of the tourist traps for food and head further afield to Trattoria Dei Cartari in Piazza della Spirito Santo.

This is a simple trattoria with surprisingly delicious food.  We ordered the smoked provolone baked in lemon leaf, the baked eggplant topped with olives, capers, fresh cherry tomatoes and anchovies and the pesce aqua pazza, which was amazingly delicious and fragrant with mint in a tasty fish broth and those melt in your mouth potatoes that the Italians seem to know how to do so well. To finish we were tempted by the chef’s special recipe for a pinenut, almond and jam tart unique to this trattoria as it is his nonna’s special recipe.

Top 5 things to do in Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi - Dominique Rizzo Food Tour

Positano

5. Wander through the winding streets and up and down the many stone stairs and allow yourself to get lost in this labyrinth of a town.

Positano is the perfect place to be spontaneous and don’t worry about where you are going or where you have been. I guarantee you won’t cover the same street twice and there is always a surprise just around the corner.

Have your camera handy and be ready to capture every moment. Positano is a photographers dream. With every corner comes an opportunity to photograph, a beautiful doorway, a fragrant lemon tree or winding branches over archways creating artworks in themselves, or a staircase tiled with stunning hand painted Italian art. These are what postcards are made of so don’t buy your friend memories of your journey, take pictures and create your own.

Enjoy an Aperol spritz by the sea. Wander down to the water’s edge amongst all the little shops and enjoy a refreshing Aperol Spritz, the perfect Italian summer beverage to sip on while you take in the sea air and all of the action of the beach front. There are quite a few cafes and restaurants that line the sand and I spent hours sitting just taking it all in and enjoying a moment of just being Italian.

Catch up with more of Dominique on her You Tube channel at https://studio.youtube.com/video/hfjy5Z9UgPM/edit

Pick yourself up some hand made leather sandals. There are wonderful artisan leather shops dotted all along the streets of Positano and a perfect place to have your own pair of handcrafted leather shoes made. Tailor-made shoes are no comparison to the ones you just buy in the shops, do yourself a favour and grab a pair.  It’s not summer unless you have those gorgeous strappy sandals or a pair of leather loafers to wander around in and take home with you.

There are many great restaurants in Positano and one kept coming up as highly recommended and that is La Tagliata (located up in the mountains). Renowned for its zero miles, amazing value and wonderful menu it is a must to try, catch a local taxi or rent a scooter to make the trip it’s definitely worth it. Chez Black and L’Incanto are also great options for lunch and are a little closer to the centre of town and accessible by foot.

Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour

 

As a businesswoman who wants to travel, have time to relax and be part of unique food wine and cultural experiences this is why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour.

 

Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour - by Tom Barrett Unsplash

Image by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

I recently organised my own research trip flying into Rome, then onto Naples, the Amalfi coast, Puglia and Malta.

why I would personally choose an escorted organised tour. - Map of Puglia Dominique Rizzo Tour

I am then heading to Sicily, meeting two tour groups to host a couple of my Sicilian Food Tours.

As a businesswoman, running my restaurant/cooking school, co-owner of a Wine Bar and organising my own Food Tour Business, I found the whole process of also having to organise this tour for myself exhausting and extremely time-consuming.

Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour -. by Matthew Henry on UnsplashImage by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

As I am not 100% confident with driving around Europe nor did I really want to, trying to coordinate all of the times for trains, buses, boats and planes to arrive, depart and transfer me around, plus the extra expense and tedious task of organising the transfers and taxis to get myself and my luggage to the trains, buses, boats and planes on time took much more planning and a chunk out of my budget than I had anticipated.

The domino effect of my precision planning for my travel itinerary relied heavily upon the timing and therefore I felt anxious that one missed train, delayed flight or cancelled boat and the whole trip would collapse. This was all before I had even started to look at hotels.

Next was researching the best areas to stay in each city, to then work out a ground itinerary to visit all of the main sights, attractions and places of interest. Firstly, I had to book the hotels, confirm, pay the deposits and ensure that these had all gone through successfully, calling or emailing each hotel individually to again confirm that the booking was there.

 why I would personally choose an escorted organised tour. image by Fancycrave on Unsplash

What next? Of course, I could buy a travel book and follow their written lead….who wants to walk around by themselves with their head in a book…not me…   I would miss everything. I also had the added thought, how am I going to know what to see, where to go and the best of the best of each place I am visiting? Another couple of weeks of organising and costly bookings for day tours, private guides and ticket prices passed.

After my months of planning I had become quite stressed and anxious about it all and I had not even started to organise most importantly where I was going to eat, what activities or speciality unique experiences I wanted to see and be part of or how was I going to get to see behind the touristy side of each of these locations and get into the real culture.

Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour - Simson Petrol on UnsplashImage by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

After I had accumulated a kilo of paperwork for confirmed hotel bookings, tickets, vouchers and transfer details, I then thought…this is precisely why I would choose to do an escorted tour.

 

Cracking the Misconceptions about Escorted Tours

7 reasons why Dominique Rizzo Food and Wine Tours are better than travelling on your own

cracking the misconceptions about escorted tours - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours

That’s what cracking the misconceptions about escorted tours is all about.

  1. Better value for money and flexibility with flights

Cracking the misconceptions that escorted tours are expensive is easy when you weigh up the cost and time taken to book and organise your own itinerary. With an escorted tour, you pay the one price up front, usually outlaying a deposit to secure the booking and then using a payment plan to work within your budget to finalise the remainder of the payments. This is a great way of planning a trip in the future as you can make the deposit a year before the trip begins and you have the whole year to pay it off.

Most tour companies include flights in their price, Dominique Rizzo’s Food and Wine Tours offer a land price only leaving more flexibility for the traveller to tailor the beginning and the end of the tour to suit any extra travelling they wish to do outside of the tour dates. Most travellers have their own preferred airline they like to travel with, and for the frequent flyer, of course, there are the benefits of using your preferred airline taking advantage of your accumulated points.

Building relationships with local guides/hotels/restaurants and local suppliers mean that we are able to negotiate special rates and our experience in the industry means that our escorted tours are crafted to maximise the efficiency of time and cost for the traveller. Often people look at the price of an escorted tour thinking it is higher than other trips but in reality, an escorted tour is perfectly pre-packaged, designed to take all the planning out, so the only decision you have to make on tour is what to wear.

  1. You have the best of both worlds…Your own leisure time and escorted tours by local insightful guides

People often think that escorted tours leave you no time for yourself to just wander around and explore, which is part of why we all love travelling. Dominique Rizzo’s Food tours offer bespoke itineraries with action-packed days ensuring you get to see, taste and experience as much of a region as possible, but you do have the option to do as little or as much as you like. Often it’s great to get a guided tour of a city from one of our local guides first, for you to get your bearings of the city, understand the culture, history and the importance of the specific sites and monuments and to work out where it is in relation to the hotel. You can then head out on your own for shopping, wandering or just taking in the atmosphere and really make the most of your free time.

  1. All your transportation is taken care of in private, comfortable, airconditioned comfort booked only for tour guests.

There is nothing worse than seeing large bus loads of tourists pulling up to then get ferried onto trains, boats and planes all dragging their own luggage behind them. Dominique Rizzo’s Escorted Tours are small group tours with 12 – 14 people. We travel in comfortable, private, modern, airconditioned small busses for the flexibility of getting onto those small off the beaten-track roads, and narrow cobbled streets often found in Europe. We usually have the one driver for the whole journey who often becomes part of the fun of the tour. Time spent on the bus is minimal in comparison to the rest of the tour, and you are able to leave your belongings on the bus safely when hoping off for lunch or rest stops. Having small group tours means we can accommodate each individual personally, stopping to take photos, bathroom stops and spontaneous places of interest is very easy without fuss or hassle.

 

  1. The most exciting and fun aspect of travel is often what happens spontaneously, meeting and mixing with the locals and discovering unique experiences that are off the beaten track taking you into the true culture of a region.

Travelling on your own whether you are driving or by public transport, you often will play it safe sticking to guide book routes and recommendations. It’s only when you get out of the big cities and meet people “in the know” that you discover the true essence of a region, its people and their culture. This doesn’t often happen on mass-produced tours as they tend to stick to a repetitious itinerary with “made for tourist” experiences. Dominique Rizzo’s Food Tours are all about offering you unique experiences. Building relationships with local guides who are always on the lookout for diverse and interesting local activities mean that on Dominique’s tours you get to really be part of and feel the European culture in the raw. Visiting the families, who make award-winning sausages and salami, walking amongst their black pigs and enjoying some of their products right in the heart of the Spanish hills; meeting and having lunch on their property in Sicily with the family who owns the sheep farm and seeing them in action making fresh ricotta; kneading the dough with the baker in their ancient bakery handed down through generations; enjoying a true Sicily family lunch, cooking with the family, playing cards, is experiencing a culture that has stood the test of time. This is what travelling is all about. After you have seen all the sights, taken a thousand pictures of monuments and churches, it’s the memories of the people you meet, the relationships you make, the laughter, the inclusion that sticks in your mind. It is these unique experiences that we are always on the lookout for, so our tours are always flexible and changing.

cracking the misconceptions about escorted tours - Dominique Rizzo food wine tours

  1. Dominique is a qualified Chef and restaurateur who personally ensures your food and wine experiences are a highlight on the tour

We would all have to agree that trying new cuisines while travelling is one of the biggest highlights. We cringe at the sight of a “tourist menu” on blackboards, menu boards or menus and we do our best to stay away from eateries who predominately cater for tourists. Also quite often large travel companies aren’t so concerned that restaurants tend to all serve the same regional specials or a slight variation of them. Dominique Rizzo’s Food Tours ensure you enjoy a wide selection of a region’s cuisine, guaranteeing that you are not eating the same dishes over and over again. We focus on hand selecting venues for their quality, location, zero food miles and attention to the “Slow Food” movement, taking great care to maintain their regionality, traditions and diversity, resulting in experiences of the sea, mountain, country and city. Most of the meals and beverages are included on Dominique Rizzo’s Food Tours and where we do give you free time to wander and eat on your own, then our lunch or dinner on that day are of bountiful abundance. The main comment on most of our Food Tours is there was “too much” food. We have designed each day to include activities that include tastings of food and or wine-focused around lunch or dinner or both. As well as our hand-selected A La Carte dinners, shared table banquet dining, long lunches, and lavish dinners, we also offer relaxed dining at some of the noted wineries and enotecas or speciality pizza restaurants and also give you the opportunity to practice your language skills, ordering whatever you would like to eat.

  1. Quality, comfort, luxury, style and experience

Dominique’s Food Tours focus on giving her clients personalised, professional service throughout the whole tour, from booking the tour right through to saying goodbye. We personally select all accommodation with 4 and 5-star ratings, often with Spa experiences available to give you maximum opportunity to relax and enjoy your stay in that particular region. Our aim is to give you a feel of contrasting horizons, vistas, scenery and emotional connection to the land. From modern city style hotels to historic, converted stone convents, caves and farmhouses in the country and mountains, cliff side rooms with sea views, small-town traditional boutique hotels, and family run Agriturismo. All of the accommodations are unique in their own style; some are quirky, some are perhaps not what we are used to, although all have the modern facilities you need to make you feel at home and are well located giving you the opportunity to head out to explore on your own. This diverse collection makes up the bespoke experiences that come with a Dominique Rizzo Tour.

cracking the misconceptions about escorted tours - Dominique Rizzo Food Wine Tours

  1. Dominique Rizzo Food Tours are for everyone

There is such a stigma that Personally Escorted Tours are only for the retirees. Dominique Rizzo’s clients range from 18 – 70+, retirees, professionals, businessmen and women, couples, single women, single men, mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, siblings. Dominique’s small group tours are for everyone and are an amazing way to meet new and interesting people with the same passion and curiosity about the world. Often the tours are a melting pot of people from all different walks of life. Some clients meeting on tour have forged long friendships, often planning their next holiday with Dominique’s Food Tours to travel together. For people who may not be able-bodied as others, we do have small amounts of walking on the tour and can accommodate those who find large amounts of walking difficult. In essence, Dominique’s Food Tours are perfect for anyone wanting to just sit back, relax, take in the moment and just have a wonderful time. Let all the organising, bookings and logistics of a unique tour be taken care of for you. Book One of Dominique’s Food Tours today.

 

 

 

 

4 Cities For Foodies In New Zealand

New Zealand is not a country that’s necessarily known for its cuisine, in part because there’s so much else to like about it. More than anything else, it’s known for its sensational beauty, featuring striking coastline and otherworldly landscapes that have only been made all the more alluring by their association with the fictional land of “Middle Earth” from the film adaptations of JRR Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings” fantasy. Given the natural beauty of the country, however, and all of the interesting culture to be found there, it can also be a surprisingly appealing destination for foodies. Like most countries, really, if you know where to go, you’re in for some excellent meals as you explore New Zealand.

We’re highlighting four cities to explore if you’re ever headed to this beautiful country and concerned with the food options.

Wellington
4 Cities For Foodies In New Zealand
One of what we might call the three or four “main” cities of New Zealand, or at least the biggest – and the capital, in fact – Wellington is a place you may well wind up seeing in the course of your travels anyway. And it happens to be by some estimations the very best place on the multi-island nation for food. National Geographic, in fact, included Wellington on a list of just six locations in the entire world it dubbed as being an “unexpected” destination for a food lover. As part of that listing, Nat Geo highlighted the neighbourhood around Cuba Street as having some of the best restaurants in town, and also noted various places for “beach eats” and even some markets for street food and snacks with which you can assemble your own meal. A few restaurants we’d join them in highlighting include Logan Brown, a contemporary restaurant in a converted bank; Olive, a high-end Mediterranean establishment; and Maranui Café, a seaside spot with light, modern fare and fresh seafood.

Hamilton

4 Cities For Foodies In New Zealand

Hamilton is another place you may pass through on your travels fairly naturally, not because it’s a particularly huge city or one packed with attractions, but because of its close proximity to Rotorua, which is a very popular place for tourists. The town is perhaps best known for its gardens celebrating multiple influences from different cultural groups and histories. But don’t sleep on the dining scene here. Palate is one of the most respected restaurants in the country, perched atop the Waikato River and offering fabulous modern cuisine, with menu items including fresh fish and oysters, venison, grilled quail, and all manner of other tasty delights. Chim Choo Ree offers another refined, modern menu, though in a slightly more casual atmosphere (and with a renowned five-course tasting menu option). And you’ll also find delightful gastropubs (such as Foundation Bar Kitchen Lounge) and some of the country’s better Asian-inspired cuisine (at Three Leg Frog).

Auckland
4 Cities For Foodies In New Zealand
Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand, and thus shouldn’t be a surprising inclusion here. There are all kinds of incredible restaurants of all shapes and sizes around the city, from authentic Japanese establishments (Masu and Cocoro) to modern fine dining (Cazador or the Depot oyster bar), to wholly unique options like the 10-course dining experience at Pasture. Also not to be forgotten are the Sky Tower and SKYCITY casino facility in town. Though the word “casino” casts a certain light over a place like this, the gaming options don’t always take centre stage, particularly as they become eclipsed by other, better options online. PokieSource gives us some idea that not just in general but specifically in New Zealand, many of the best gaming options from casino facilities are now accessible electronically, rendering the real-life facilities less necessary. As a direct result, however, other aspects of these facilities have been highlighted more, and those include dining options. Orbit 360 Dining in Sky Tower may be the most striking restaurant in town, and The Grill by Sean Connolly is one of the country’s most elegant and impressive steakhouses.

Nelson
4 Cities For Foodies In New Zealand
Nelson is a somewhat smaller city on New Zealand’s South Island, but one that some visitors pass through en route to some of the country’s vaunted wine regions. Accordingly, it’s built up something of a reputation for culinary delights as well, having featured numerous times on Honey Travel’s list of features that make the South Island a foodie’s dream. In keeping with a theme you may have noticed, there’s no shortage of fresh seafood or oyster bars in Nelson, and both can be among your very best options. However, there are also some more unique eateries to try out in this city. The Kitchen has become trendy among those who gravitate toward whole, natural, healthy ingredients; the place just radiates freshness through simple sandwiches, juices and smoothies, and its own coffee. And there are also some almost inexplicably special establishments such as Hopgoods, known for everything from its brick patio seating to its lamb and filet options, to its sensational dessert menu. Really, there’s a bit of everything in Nelson if you care to look about!

From New Zealand, it’s just a short jump to Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island, where the sustainable food scene is amazing and not to be missed.

Reconnect with your partner at an Island getaway – Tours to Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island

Reconnect with your partner at an Island getaway
Food, Wine and Culture Tours to Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island with Chef Dominique Rizzo as your guide.

Love is in the air this week and as you ponder how to show your loved one what they mean to you, Chef Dominique Rizzo’s Island Tours are the ultimate local destinations to reconnect with your partner at an island getaway.


Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island are two beautiful remote Island destinations located two hours by Qantaslink flight from Brisbane. Once you land, you will feel the weight of the world drop from your shoulders, with both Islands moving to a slower beat of their own drum. As the fresh sea air hits your skin, you just know you are in for a real treat.


Chef Dominique Rizzo’s Food Wine and Culture Tours take care of everything for you from flights, accommodation, transfers from the airport or car hire (depending on which tour you choose), to local activities, spa treatments breakfasts and dinners.

You will be surrounded by natural beauty that will take you and your partner’s breath away. With white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, sunrises and sunsets like an artist’s palette and a night sky full of stars you can make a year’s worth of wishes on.


There is so much to discover of these beautiful Islands and with Chef Dominque’s Food, Wine and Culture tours, you will get to see and experience the best of these truly amazing local destinations. Individual attention is on hand as you are guided in a small intimate group and have time to explore on your own.

Ideal for the avid photographer, history buff and island getaway enthusiast, these two tours have something for everyone.

If you would like to explore Norfolk Island for 8 days or Lorde Howe Island for 8 days this November with Chef Dominique Rizzo as your guide contact us for a full itinerary to book your unforgettable experience today.

 

How travel and culture has influenced my cooking

How travelling and experiencing different cultures has influenced my cooking – Dominique Rizzo’s Interview by A Taste of Harmony

 

You’ve been running food and wine tours since 2012 now, how has travelling and exploring the cuisines of Sicily, Spain, Greece and Norfolk Island and others, influenced your cooking and recipes?  

How travel and culture has influenced my cooking - Ortigia Sicily with Dominique Rizzo

Everyone would have to agree they are inspired, even just a little by the gastronomic delights they experience when travelling. For me it’s the same, I come back from my tours completely energised and even more inspired to cook more, use more fresh seasonal produce, shop at local markets explore new places, and most importantly what I bring back with me from my travels is the emphasis on keeping things simple and to let the star ingredient shine through.

How travel and culture has influenced my cooking - Arncini with Dominique Rizzo

The simplicity of the street food in Sicily, chickpea panelle arancini, Pane con le milza,sfincioni and croquettes, date back thousands of years, with traditions that have been handed down through generations and techniques and customs passed on through the many different cultures that has stepped upon Sicily’s soil. Romans, the Spanish, Swabians, Greeks, Normans, Arabs and so on have all left their mark on the food here. I used to think that my food was sometimes too simple and then whenever I come back from one of my food tours, I am comfortably confident in what I do and the recipes I come up with. I give them my own twist and flavour but fundamentally I always reflect back to the food I ate on my tours, their way of life and the importance of culture, tradition and community and it always grounds me.

How travel and culture has influenced my cooking - Fresh tomatoes and basil with Dominique Rizzo

My cooking has become a melting pot of them all, combining the flavours, ingredients and methods of cookery. In all honesty, I feel that these cuisines are some of the healthiest ways of cooking. Their cuisine styles are simple and I believe it is with the addition of the exotic spices, fresh herbs, fresh and dried fruits and nuts, that simple 3 or 4 ingredient dishes can sing louder with flavour, and have us drooling more than some of the more lavishly garnished, intricate ingredients and long, complicated dishes we find.

How travel and culture has influenced my cooking - Norfolk Island with Dominique Rizzo

More locally, Norfolk Island has been an amazing food experience and left a definite mark, not only on my cooking, but more so on my philosophy for living and importance in strength of community. Norfolk has this amazing, friendly, wonderful sense of freedom. Its waters and air are pristine, it has a very interesting history and unique flora and fauna. Apart from some pre-packaged items and a couple of fresh ingredients, everything is grown, harvested and produced locally. I absolutely love that. Their traditions and history are really embraced with great pride and respect from the locals, their precious island and its unique lifestyle is embraced by everyone. It is an amazing place to visit for either a quiet relaxed getaway enjoying some amazing wine and food experiences or a wild adventure of fishing, sailing, boating, rock climbing, bush walking and attending the many events and festivals which they have on the island.

 

Your tours involve small groups of 14-16 people, have you found through sharing and learning about food together while on tour you also learn a lot about each other?

How travel and culture has influenced my cooking - Sicilian market with Dominique Rizzo

Yes absolutely, it’s part of the main reason I love running my food tours. I have the greatest honour of meeting so many amazing, passionate and interesting people and as much as I have learnt so much about them, the stories of their lives and how they interact with others, their quirks and why they might do the things they do. I have learnt so much about myself, which I have been so grateful for.

I have always believed that sharing a meal, engaging in a cooking lesson together, tasting wine and enjoying conversation, any means of gathering together around food brings out the best and sometimes the worst in people, but usually the best.

The biggest lesson I have learnt in my life that has been reinforced through running my food tours is never judge or make judgment on others as you never know what is really going on for someone behind closed doors. Until you have sat with them, engaged, connected, communicated and listened to their stories, it’s hard to imagine some of the painful events that people have experienced, which in turn has made them who they are.

I really like to just sit back, ask questions and listen to get to know people and what they like, dislike and I really enjoy asking people about their life. I find the more I know about someone, the more I am able to better understand who they are, their culture, beliefs, and in return they can better understand me and I believe this is the basis to peace and harmony between us as humans.

If you had to pick one experience from your tours that has been a highlight for you so far, what would it be?

How travel and culture has influenced my cooking - Dinner Sicily with Dominique Rizzo

That’s a very difficult question!

It wasn’t necessarily an experience, more like a moment where we were all in the most beautiful moment of laughter, joy and sharing a stunning dinner on the Island of Salina. It was a series of little events, positive outcomes for some of my clients and some wonderful transformations they had simply by being able to just sit back, relax and be guided around on my tour. I design and host my tours because I know what it’s like to organise travel either before you go or while you are on the go and quite frankly it can be exhausting.

Sometimes you come back not rested or relaxed but slightly stressed and underwhelmed at all the places you missed seeing, the restaurants you didn’t get to, the distance you didn’t travel and sights you didn’t see because you were travelling on your own or organising it yourself. It’s a big job. I saw my clients faces lighten up, their smiles grow more frequent, they were glowing, their personalities opened up and on that occasion, we just laughed and laughed.

For me it was one of the most special times I have had on tour.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate cultural diversity in our workplaces, kitchens and in general?

I personally, am becoming so despondent at the way we as humans are treating each other. It’s frightening and really sad to see and hear the way some people talk to each other, tease, taunt, troll and hurt others. People don’t listen, they refuse to open up and understand. If everyone could just stop and listen, and accept that everyone is different, that we all have different cultures, backgrounds, beliefs, understandings, ways we do things and ways we think., then I believe we would have way less hate and way more harmony.

I really feel that it is beyond important, almost a necessity to celebrate cultural diversity, not only celebrate but we need to be constantly educated and reminded of its importance. Without celebrating cultural diversity, we wouldn’t have half the interesting aspects of our country that now exist. We would not be open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

The more we can celebrate and be open to cultural diversity, the more we will have stronger communities looking out for each other and not just it being mine, yours and theirs. I sincerely hope that in my lifetime we will be celebrating not just one day through A Taste of Harmony and bringing this awareness to cultural diversity on this day, but that it will just be the norm. Acceptance, understanding and freedom for everyone to live their lives embracing their tradition, culture and to embrace everybody else’s’ with the same respect would be my greatest joy.How travel and culture has influenced my cooking - Pasta making class in Ragusa Siciy Dominique Rizzo

Why should workplaces get involved in A Taste of Harmony? 

 

To get involved with Taste of Harmony is to say to your employees, we embrace and accept everyone equally. We see the importance of cultural differences as a benefit to our business and we support and respect it. We welcome different, we welcome diverse and we are open and willing to engage in bridging the gaps and to open the lines of communication. It can only be a good positive outcome for businesses to engage everyone together on an even platform – strength in numbers.

 

Dominique Rizzo is one of Queensland’s leading chefs, author and owner of Putia Pure Food Kitchen. Learn more about Dominique’s Food, Wine & Culture Tours to destinations such as Sicily, Greece, Spain and Norfolk Island here.