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Experience Tuscany with Wine & Gourmet

May 15, 2016
Savor delectable culinary delights, sample extraordinary wines from historic vineyards, experience local cheeses and olive oils, partake in a cooking class at a historic Abbey, and immerse yourself in the healthy Tuscan way of life on our Essence of Tuscany Vacation.   
 

Included Features  

  • Deluxe air conditioned mini coach transportation with English speaking driver throughout 
  • Six (6) accommodation in superior double rooms at the 1st Class Palazzo Leopoldo Hotel in Radda in Chianti 
  • Two (2) nights accommodation is executive double rooms at the 1st Class Degli Orafi Hotel in Florence
  • Buffet breakfast daily
  • Olive oil tasting at an olive oil press in Radda in Chianti
  • Visit the Castello di Brolio Wine Estate for a winery visit, wine tasting followed by lunch at the estate's locanda with wine
  • Hands on cooking class with English instruction at the Badia a Coltibuono Cooking School in Gaiole in Chianti followed by lunch with wine
  • Guided excursion to the hills towns of Siena and San Gimignano
  • Visit  the Fattoria Poggio Alloro, an organic farm for a winery visit, wine tasting and lunch 
  • Visit the Prada and Gucci outlets for world class shopping
  • Tasting tour of Florence visiting gourmet food shops, sampling typical Tuscan specialties
  • Walking tour of Florence with English speaking guide including skip the line reservations & entrance fee to the Accademia Gallery to view Michelangelo's famous "David" Statue

View the full itinerary

 

Where to Find the Best Gelato in Italy

May 15, 2016

Gelato in Italian literally means "frozen."  This rich, creamy and flavorful ice cream is coveted around the world.

The great tradition of Italian gelato started during the Italian Renaissance.  The Medici Family who ruled over Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert.  A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer by day who dabbled in cooking during his spare time, took part in the competition.  Ruggeri's tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice (similar to today's sorbet) won the coveted award, which immediately placed Ruggeri in the spotlight.

Thanks to today's modern production methods, gelato is now available to all.

Artisans create unique flavors and textures, using only the freshest ingredients.

When traveling to Italy, go sample this magnificent wonder!

Here are 5 of the best venues for gelato in Italy:

1. Gelateria dei Neri in Florence

2. Gelateria I Caruso in Rome

3  Il Massimo del Gelato in Milan

4. Otranto Gelateria in Naples

5. Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè in Rome 

 

Donna Franca's Hotel of the Month L'Hotel In Pietra

April 21, 2016
L'Hotel in Pietra is a unique boutique hotel, hewn out of a cliffside in the historic city of Matera.  The "I Sassi"
Quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Formerly  a church, the structure dates back to the 1300s. 

 
There are seven rooms and two suites that evoke a historical past, which have remained unaltered by the passing of time. "
 
The structure underwent  an extensive renovation and under the direction of architects Giuseppe e Michele Andrisani e interior designer Cristina Bergamini, offering a warm ambiance .
 
To book your stay here, contact one of our sales agents.  
Please visit our hotels page for more details.
 

 

The Magical Island of Sardinia

April 19, 2016
Join us on a unique escorted 12 day, 11 night vacation to the enchanting Island of Sardinia. Explore the extensive cultural heritage, complete with Punic archaeological remains, Nuraghe, Bourbon fortress towns, and pristine beaches. Savor typical Sardinian specialties and visit two wineries. 
 
Included Features :
 
Deluxe mini coach transportation throughout 
 
Eleven (11) nights accommodation in first class, centrally located hotels in Cagliari, Pula, Oristano, Porto Torres, and Porto Cervo
 
Daily buffet breakfast
 
Nine (9) dinners at local restaurants and hotels 
 
One (1) lunch in Alghero at a local restaurant including wine 
 
One (1) lunch in La Maddalena on board a scenic coastal cruise
 
Professional English speaking tour manager from arrival in Cagliari to departure from Porto Cervo
 
Daily guided excursions to San Sperate, Nora, Porto Pino, Grotte Is Zuddas, Village of Tratalias, Barumini, Giara di Gesturi, Tharros, San Salvadore, Santu Antine, Asinara Island, Berchidda, Porto Rotondo, and the Archipelago della Maddalena
 
Visit to Serdiana for a wine estate visit, wine tasting with rustic snacks
 
Excursion to Berchidda to visit the wine museum with wine tasting 
 
Boat cruise to the Archipelago della Maddalena 
 
Overnight ferry transfer from Olbia to Civitavecchia Port in outside cabins with private facilities 
 
Transfer from Civitavecchia Port to Rome Fiumicino Airport 

Ways to Spoil Your Mom in Italy

April 19, 2016
The "Festa della Mamma" is around the corner, why not  show your appreciation by spoiling  her!  Here are five suggestions.
 
 
Shopping in Milan is an amazing experience.  The city offers shopping options for any price point.  As one of the leading capitals of global fashion, Milan is home to top-notch designer stores, boutiques and outlets ranging from the ultra chic to very affordable, while still maintaining high quality and elegance.  Some ateliers may be reserved for private showings.
 
 2. Enjoy a Cooking Class in Tuscany                            
 
Have fun preparing fine Italian dishes with a hands-on two hour cooking class. 
 
Enjoy a full day private guided excursion exploring the hiking and biking trails in the Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.,
 
Go sea kayaking around the Aeolian Islands or off the coast of Taormina, and take in breath-taking views.
 
 
Enjoy an intimate private yacht cruise along the Divina Cositera on board you private yacht with English speaking captain sipping on pro secco. 

 

Donna Franca's Destination of the Month: Venice and Islands

April 6, 2016

Destination: Venice 

Location: Capital of Northeast Italy's Veneto Region, the City of the Doges is built on more than 100 small islands in a marshy lagoon in the Adriatic Sea.
Popular Attractions:  Gondola Ride on the Grand Canal, Doge's Palace, Saint Mark's Basilica, Bridge of Sighs, Cichetti and Bacari Wine Bars.
 
Popular Foods:  Baccala' Mantecata, which is made with cod, marinated sardines, polenta, risotto with squid.
 
Wine: Valpolicella, Bardolino, Marzemino, Merlot, and Prosecco!

Traditions: In the winter, the Venetian Carnival is world famous for its distinctive masks,  elaborate costumes, formal balls as well as dancing in the streets.
 
 

 

Donna Franca's Destination of the Month: Puglia

March 17, 2016

Destination: Puglia 

Location: Southern Italy, bordering the Adriatic Sea.

Popular Attractions: The Trulli of Alberobello, Grotte di Castellana.

Popular Foods:  Chickpeas, homegrown herbs and spices, olive and olive oil, tomatoes, and, of course, fresh seafood.

Wine: Puglia produces more wine than any other Italian region, about 17% of the country's total production! The most widely grown grape variety is Negroamaro (literally 'black bitter'). Almost exclusively cultivated in Puglia, Negroamaro is used to produce some of the region's best wines, including Salice Salentino. 

Traditions: Every year on November 11, the peninsula comes together to taste the fruits of their labor for this harvest's wine (vino novello)-and to open bottles from the previous year in honor of Saint Martin.

Vacation Special:  8 Days/ 7 Nights: $899.

Celebrate Easter in Italy

March 17, 2016

Home to the most beautiful cathedrals in the world,  Italy is abuzz with processions and unique traditions during the Easter Holiday.

 

From Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday, this is an opportune period to witness the Catholic Church in action and, in particular,  the charismatic Pope Francis, who follows quite an active schedule.

If you're fortunate  enough to be in Italy during this colorful time, Donna Franca Tours suggests that you experience these five memorable celebratory  traditions.

1. A Visit to St. Peter's Basilica 

On Holy Thursday, visit the  Saint Peter's Basilica where the blessing of the holy oils in Saint takes place in the morning during a special Mass presided over by the Pope.    The next day, on Good Friday, a service is held in Saint Peter's in the afternoon, during which Saint John's account of Christ's suffering and death is sung, and the cross is kissed by all present before they receive communion. 

2. Follow the Stations of the Cross 

On Good Friday, tourists visit the Colosseum to watch the Pope lead the stations of the cross, a procession that commemorates the fourteen stages of Christ's passion. A meditation is read at each of the stations. 

3. Partake in Easter Sunday Mass at  St. Peter's Basilica & Square

 On Easter Sunday, Mass  is celebrated in the morning in Saint Peter's Square with tens of thousands of people. Tickets for seats at these services are free, but need to be reserved in advance.

4. Savor Italy's Finest Easter Culinary Traditions

 Traditional Easter foods in Italy include eggs, artichokes, roasted lamb, a special sweet bread called "La Colomba" and chocolate eggs, which are hollow and house a special prize inside.  

5. Watch the historic Scoppio del Carro

The Scoppio del Carro is a folk tradition which brings hundreds of people to the streets of Florence on Easter Sunday to  watch  a cart, packed full of fireworks and other pyrotechnics, explode.  The 30 foot tall antique cart  is escorted by 150 soldiers, musicians, and people in 15th century dress.  Shortly thereafter, at the singing of the Gloria in excelcis Deo during Easter Mass, the Cardinal of Florence lights a fuse on the colombina, a rocket shaped as a dove, with the Easter fire., which then zips over the heads of parishioners to ignite the cart outside. The complex array of fireworks  lasts about 20 minutes. According to tradition, a  successful display of the "Explosion of the Cart" guarantees a good harvest, stable civic life, and good fortune to all.

Best Pizzerias in Italy

March 16, 2016

There are not many nations that can lay claim to the fact that their national dish has become an international favorite!  

The word "pizza" is thought to have come from the Latin word pinsa, meaning flatbread (although there is much debate about the origin of the word).

A legend suggests that Roman soldiers gained a taste for Jewish Matzoth while stationed in Roman occupied Palestine and developed a similar food after returning home. However a recent archaeological discovery has found a pizza fossil dating from the Bronze Age in the Veneto Region! By the Middle Ages, these early pizzas started to take on a more modern look and taste. The peasantry of the time used what few ingredients they could get their hands on to produce the modern pizza dough and topped it with olive oil and herbs. The propagation of the tomato imported from the New World as well as the introduction of the Indian Water Buffalo to create  mozzarella cheese gave pizza a totally tasty dimension . Even today, the use of fresh mozzarella di buffalo in Italian pizza cannot be substituted. While other cheeses have made their way onto pizza (usually in conjunction with fresh mozzarella), no genuine Italian Pizzeria would ever use the processed dried shredded type used by so many American pizza chains.

Here are the 6 best pizzerias in Italy:

1. Pizzeria Port'Alba in Naples

2. Pizzeria Brandi in Naples - created the Margherita Pizza in 1889!

3  La Bussola in Florence

4.  Antico Forno in Venice

5. Pizzeria Spontini in  Milan 

6. Pizzeria Da Remo in Rome

 

 

Discover Underground Rome

March 16, 2016

Underneath modern Rome is a hidden city. Explorers will find theaters, baths, stadiums, imperial villas, apartment buildings, fire stations, and pagan temples -- even an enormous sundial that used an Egyptian obelisk as a pointer!  Throngs of people come to Rome each year to admire her beauty and ancient treasures, unsuspectingly walking above these buried treasures during their visit.  Here are a few hidden gems worth visiting.

Beneath Palazzo Valentini 

The archaeological remains of ancient Roman houses uncovered beneath Palazzo Valentini are now on permanent display, adding to Rome's already rich historical and artistic heritage. A team of art historians, archaeologists and architects, all working for the Provincial Administration, worked on a project to research, restore and put these excavations on public display. The results are of exceptional significance, revealing an area that was of great importance during Roman times and help piece together the ancient, medieval and modern topography of Rome.

Beneath the Basilica of San Clemente

One of the most fascinating adventures I've taken recently was to descend into the underground levels below the 12th century Basilica of San Clemente.  Here there are two excavated levels, one revealing a 4th century Paleo Christian Basilica, and the other with 1st century AD Roman buildings. In one of these is a perfect example of the Temple of Mithras, a Persian God who probably migrated back to Italy with soldiers and slaves.

Catacombs

The Catacombs of Rome are underground burial places underneath the city which visitors can tour today. They are most famous for Christian burials, either in separate catacombs or mixed together.  People of all the Roman religions are buried in them, beginning in the 2nd century AD mainly as a response to overcrowding and shortage of land. The Etruscans, like many other European peoples, used to bury their dead in underground chambers. The original Roman custom was cremation, after which the burnt remains were kept in a pot, ash-chest or urn, often in a columbarium. From about the 2nd century AD, inhumation (burial of unburnt remains) became more fashionable, in graves or sarcophagi, often elaborately carved, for those who could afford them. Christians also preferred burial to cremation because of their belief in bodily resurrection at the Second Coming.

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