My tours to Italy, Spain, and Greece are always in the European summer, so in preparation for my upcoming tours to Italy, here are my top summer travel tips for you.
I love flying and I fly all the time for my food and wine tours. Living in Australia means that the flights to Europe are long, at least 24 hours, and as a tour host, I need to arrive at my destination refreshed and ready to greet my very important guests with warmth and enthusiasm.
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.
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.
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/aperitif-aperitivo-appetizer-2666-scaled.jpg16972560Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2019-06-04 08:58:502019-06-10 08:34:38Things to Do in the Basque Country
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.
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.
Capri is close to Marina Grande and the main piazzette where most people will hang around and wait for their departures from the island.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Don’t miss our post on 5 of the most beautiful islands in Italy! and more on my food and wine tours.
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Dom-in-street-1-e1554878100347.jpg18231332Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2019-04-10 16:27:572019-10-01 04:56:20My Day on the Isle of Capri
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Dom-in-front-of-sophia-e1554704237720-scaled.jpg25601923Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2019-04-08 17:04:112019-10-01 04:56:27For the love of Sophia Loren
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Amalfi-April-2019_restorante-scaled.jpg17712560Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2019-04-08 13:35:062019-10-01 04:56:35Top 5 things to do in Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi that aren’t tourist attractions
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.
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.
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.
Image 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.
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.
Image 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.
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/davide-ragusa-405374-unsplash-e1571644839869.jpg6681000Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2019-04-03 16:50:512019-10-01 04:56:41Why I personally would choose an escorted organised tour
7 reasons why Dominique Rizzo Food and Wine Tours are better than travelling on your own
That’s what cracking the misconceptions about escorted tours is all about.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Dom-in-red-dress-on-boat-scaled.jpg23362560Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2019-04-03 15:02:592019-04-03 15:22:59Cracking the Misconceptions about Escorted Tours
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.
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 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 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 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!
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Palate_1.jpg6641000Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2019-03-06 17:17:592019-03-06 17:19:394 Cities For Foodies In New Zealand
After a day of art, culture, and history, do as the locals do and head to one of the many fantastic bars in Barcelona.
Here is the low down on bars in Barcelona as a starting point.
Can Cisa Bar Brutal – Natural wine bar and Wine Shop.
This has one of the best Natural Wine selections in Barcelona you can buy everything at takeaway prices.
L’Anima del Vi – is so Spanish, great food, great local vibe.
Lots of bottles on the walls but as always, ask for anything you are chasing. They have an extensive off list cellar and back vintages of great things!
Vila VIniteca – A great wine shop with big vibes, near the marina.
Boadas – Pretty cool spot for a cocktail. Has been open since the ‘30s and is one of the oldest art deco buildings in the city.
La Cova Fumada – This is a classic tapas basement restaurant with heaps of attitude and charcoal-grilled vegetables and smoked meats.
Bar del Pla – another classic tapa place, good natural wine too. This is a good lunch spot.
Bar Mut – Super old school place. Ask to eat in the bar upstairs that always has live music and gets rowdy. Great cocktails and old school wine list.
ABaC Restaurant – Michelin star – definitely worth considering.
Quimet y Quimet – some of the best smoked, canned, and dried, pickled seafood and meats in the city. Canned Quail is the hot tip here.
Tickets – Adrias bros tapas – it is really good but you will want to book or line up early.
Bodega 1900 – Adria’s Vermut Bar. Its actually opposite Tickets. Must book for dinner.
Cal Pep – an absolute institution, sit at the bar, drink heaps of beer and eat heaps of seafood from the Plancha.
El Tres Porquets – the three pigs, pork, pork, and more pork. Fantastic flavours and dishes.
With thanks to a Chef friend in Barcelona for sharing.
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/puglia-finca-wedding_0014.jpg16201200Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2018-02-26 16:13:262020-02-19 14:01:30A Spanish Chefs Pick of Bars & Restaurants To Try in Barcelona
Experience A Taste of Spain, Unique Catalonia in September 2018 starting in Barcelona
Here is an insight into where we go and a bucket-list of the top places we visit in each city, what to look out for on your free days, the best bites we will be trying along the way and tastes not to be missed. Let’s start with Barcelona as it is our first destination.
Where we go
Barcelona, the capital and largest city of Catalonia, with a population of about 6 million including the city and outer suburban regions sits as one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Barcelona was founded as a Roman city, in the Middle Ages where it became the capital of the County of Barcelona. After merging with the Kingdom of Aragon, Barcelona continued to be an important city in the Crown of Aragon as an economic and administrative centre of this Crown and the capital of the Principality of Catalonia. Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage and is today not only an important cultural centre but also renowned architecturally with the works of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner, which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Like many of Barcelona’s architectural feats, La Sagrada Família was and continues to be, controversial. For years scholars have debated whether engineers strayed too far from architect Antoni Gaudí’s original vision (he died when just a quarter of the project had been realized). And while many citizens deem La Sagrada Família the greatest achievement of Catalan building, others view the structure as a glaring, expensive parody of it. Academic bickering aside, it’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of this place, which, pending completion in 2026 after 150 years of construction, will be the tallest religious building in Europe. Fusing Gothic and Art Nouveau styles in unprecedented ways, the basilica also draws on nature as a central inspiration. The hyperboloids, bright colours, and unconventional animal representations (e.g., chameleons, turtles, pelicans) epitomize Gaudí’s belief that nature and the divine were inextricably linked. Insider tip: Lines here are notoriously long, so it’s advisable to purchase tickets in advance.
Photo credit: By Ralf Roletschek – Own work, GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44806990
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a stroll through Las Ramblas, the wide, shady boulevard that runs through the heart of the city from Plaça de Catalunya down to Port Vell. Whether you’re taking in a street performance, ambling beneath the trees, or people-watching from a terrace, there’s never a dull moment here. To get a bird’s-eye view of all the action, finish your Ramblas route at the 18th-story mirador at Columbus Monument for panoramic views of the city and sea. Just be sure to watch your wallet around these parts: this is pickpocket central.
**Cava and Vermouth
Prosecco and other budget sparklers rely on industrial carbonization to make their wines bubble. But Catalan cava, like fine champagne, gets its effervescence and complexity from bottle fermentation. You can taste some of the region’s best bubblies at La Vinya del Senyor, a cozy, understated restaurant with several by-the-glass boutique cavas to choose from. If you’re lucky enough to snag a table on the plaça, you’ll be rewarded with views of Santa María del Mar’s 14th-century façade.
On sunny weekend afternoons, neighborhood bars fill up with locals out to fer el vermut, the Catalan ritual of catching up with friends over a few dainty glasses of this aromatic, garnet-red aperitif, customarily garnished with an orange slice and an olive. Barcelona’s best vermouth bars, like Morro Fi, blend their own vermouths by infusing fortified wine with any range of botanicals, but in a pinch, the bottled stuff is perfectly passable, too (just ask the bartender for a quality Catalan brand such as Vermut Yzaguirre).
Pablo Picasso may have hailed from Málaga in the south of Spain, but he chose Barcelona, the city where he apprenticed as a young artist, as the location for his namesake museum. Housing 4,251 of Picasso’s early works in sculpture, paint, and engraving, it’s a virtually complete representation of his portfolio all the way up to the Blue Period. Picasso’s art isn’t the only draw at Museu Picasso, though; the five adjoining 13th and 14th century residences that comprise the museum are precious in their own right.
A gastronomic mecca that attracts more than 45,000 visitors a day, La Boqueria may be the most famous food market in the world, and for good reason. Its endless stalls entice shoppers with abundant displays of the region’s finest cheeses, charcuterie, seafood, and produce. Some vendors have adapted over time to tourists’ demands, but for a taste of how things were at La Boqueria way back when, sidle up to the bar at Pinotxo, where quick-witted 75-year-old Joan Bayén (“Juanito” for the locals) has been churning out hearty country fare like cigrons amb botifarra negre (stewed chickpeas with black pudding) and calamarcets amb mongetes (tender baby squid and white beans) for a half a century.
Photo credit: By Llull – http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=14973110&size=o, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4025194
No place on earth can hold a candle to Barri Gòtic when it comes to concentration and breadth of Gothic architecture. This is the most ancient part of the city, where labyrinthine streets empty into medieval plaças. Yet amid all the antiquity, Barri Gòtic boasts some of the city’s best shopping. Handmade espadrilles, or alpargatas as they’re known in Spain, make cheery, affordable souvenirs; find them at La Manual Alpagatera, worth a visit if only to marvel at the floor-to-ceiling stacks of sandals available in every hue and style. For rarer finds, wake up early on a Sunday morning to explore the Mercat Gòtic, where you can treasure hunt for antiques and, if luck strikes, witness a traditional Catalan dance on the plaça called the “Sardana.”
**Castle of Muntjuic and El Mirador del Alcalde
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Mirador de l’Alcalde is a belvedere overlooking the sea and the city which boasts spectacular 180º panoramic views. Dotted here and there, the tallest, best-known landmarks rise up among the densely built-up city, while the sea, the harbour and beaches can be viewed with admiration and respect. The Mirador was designed by Joan Josep Tharrats, and opened in 1969 it comprises of a series of terraces set out on different levels which feature a series of attractive gardens and ornamental fountains. A curious mosaic made from shards of recycled glass demarcates the different levels of the belvedere. At the top, there is a cooling fountain designed by Carles Buigas. There are also two noteworthy sculptures: L’Homenatge a Barcelona (Tribute to Barcelona) by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs, and the popular Sardana, by Josep Cañas.
https://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Barcelona.jpg-09-17-23.09.45-e1547698153506-scaled.jpg25601244Dominique Rizzohttps://dominiquerizzo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Dominique-Rizzo-Pure-food-logo.pngDominique Rizzo2017-10-23 16:27:362019-01-17 14:11:06A Taste of Spain, Unique Catalonia where we go, places we visit