Flavors of Italy

It is no secret that Italy is one of the world’s most popular destinations, one that everyone seems to love for its cities full of renaissance masterpieces and romanesque cathedrals, valleys of vineyards and olive groves, majestic Etruscan, Greek and Roman ruins, picturesque fishing ports and sybaritic seaside resorts, dining out on pasta and Chianti. And indeed, for the past six years, Italy has won Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Award as the Best Selling Destination in Europe.

“We are honored to have received this recognition once again,” says Ricardo Strano, North American director of the Italian Government Tourist Board. “While I, of course, believe Italy to be the most charming and interesting destination in the world, it is nice to be the most-loved by American travel partners. And among our American visitors, it is rewarding to know that Italy also enjoys a 40 percent repeat visitor market. While Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, and Amalfi are the familiar icons of Italy, the second- and fifth-time visitors look to expand their horizons with new sights and experiences.”

For 2011, Strano is committed to marketing Italy with the accent on wining and dining, combined with food and wine touring that introduces special cuisines and signature vineyards of familiar and lesser-known regions. He reminds vacation planners that, “Near every great museum is a great restaurant; Italy invented the ‘Slow Food’ movement that focuses on locally grown, sustainably farmed products; discovering regional cuisines is a delightful and delicious way to understand that, as in fashion and lifestyle, high-quality and simplicity are the hallmarks of the special flavors of Italy.”

There are abundant options for food and wine touring in Italy, including deluxe tours spiced with great restaurants, cooking classes for a half day or a week, hiking and biking tours with routes to outdoor markets, specialty bakeries, olive mills, vineyards and wine cellars. Many experts, for example, consider the region of Emilia-Romagna to be a legendary gourmet center with such tasty towns as Bologna, Parma and Modena. Ristoranti, osterie and pizzerie are the dine-around menu when exploring Venice and vicinity, while Piedmont’s wine-making traditions produce the world-renowned Barolo and Barbaresco wines.

Globus family of brands—another top winner in Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Awards—offers a host of trips to Italy, some with an accent on dining, including Umbria’s Treasures where clients will be able to sample this region’s famous cuisine—simple, yet flavorful ingredients, fresh fruits and vegetables, and high-quality olive oil, and nibble on Perugia’s world-renowned chocolate delights. Or, for an emphasis on cooking classes, book with Chicago-based The International Kitchen, specialists in cooking classes and culinary vacations in 12 of Italy’s 20 regions, including three different programs based in Bologna.

In 2006, all eyes were on Torino (Turin) as host city during the Winter Olympic Games, and again in 2011, this capital of the northern Piedmonte region will be front and center when Italy celebrates the 150th anniversary of Italian Reunification. Celebrations and special events will take place nationwide, but Torino is the place the reunification movement was born. Today Torino is a dynamic center for industry (home to Fiat for one) and art—world-class is its Egyptian Museum & Galleria Sabauda, housing the fabulous collections of the House of Savoy. Take time out from touring for a cup of bicerin, Torino’s signature blend of coffee and chocolate.