Obviously great food and wine are to be expected in Italy… that’s just a given, but there are some exciting adventures to be had as well. Here are a few suggestions to help balance out that face feeding frenzy!
Cinque Terre – These five cliffside villages on the rugged coast of the Liguria region encapsulate the quintessential Mediterranean images of brightly colored houses spilling into the sparkling blue sea. These “five lands” are all part of a National Park that is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. The best thing is they are all connected by a well-marked 12km walking path surrounded by cactus, wild rosemary, and stunning views of the glittering water. Take a train to Riomaggiore in the morning, stop along the way in Manarolo for some site seeing and a coffee, meander on to Corniglia for lunch at Osteria A Cantina de Mananan for the best bread had in all of Italy! Of course wine will have been a part of your lunch so the hot afternoon might be a bit slower as you move on to Vernazza – the most picturesque of all the villages. Stop here for a post-lunch pick-me-up espresso, gelato (or both) and do some shopping at the quaint boutiques, particularly Bottega d’Arte Cinqueterre where artist Antonio Greco captures the vibrant colors of the area in his paintings and unique jewelry. http://www.storieinitaly.com
Still hungry? Surely not, but if more fuel is needed to continue on the last portion of the walk, excellent focaccia can be had on the way back to the trail close to the water. One square of “Tricolore” (tomato, pesto, & mozzarella) and you’ll be ready for the hills! The hike ends* in Monterosso where you can celebrate the days work by taking a dip in the sea and lounging on the beach. After drying out head into the village not far from the water to Ciak http://www.ristoranteciak.it where they serve a delicious creamy version of gnocchi al pesto – the classic Ligurian dish. This region is pesto capital where pesto originated. Ciak also specializes in large ceramic bowls of seafood rice or pasta that have been roasted in the oven. Intended to share, they come out steaming hot and make quite a presence at the table. After this and a bottle of Sciacchetrà (the local white wine), the Mediterranean sunset tops off the perfect ending to a perfect day! *Intrepid hikers can actually extend their day to almost a marathon by starting the walk in Porto Venere and ending in Levanto.
Biking Chianti – Sure you can rent a car and drive through the Chianti region sampling wine like all the rest of the tourists or worse, go on a giant bus trip where the tour guide carries a stick with some fluffy bits on the end and you’re expected to follow it around like a dangling carrot…OR you can have an exciting outdoor adventure and go on a bike trip with Tuscany Bike Tours. http://www.tuscany-biketours.com Guided by young, fun English speakers and ex-racers, Keith and Andy lead day trips through the rolling hills of the wine country. Departing Florence at 10am and after a beautiful drive up winding roads through lavish estates and farms, the tour starts off in a 12th century castle where you’ll visit the wine cellars, learn about olive oil production and of course taste the final product…not too much though, as you have a 13 mile ride ahead! The terrain is mixed with small hills, a nice long flat, and a steep 950 meter climb that happens to come after lunch (which is included at a small, local family ristorante). Do not be fooled by the wine! This is a tough climb, but Andy & crew are kind enough to provide van support to those who are not quite up for the heart and leg pumping challenge. The ride continues on through such classic Tuscan scenes you’ll wonder if you’re in a movie. After the day of food, wine, new friends and memories, you’ll be glad you chose to be a traveler and not a tourist!
Lucca – While it’s not quite the adventure of a 13-mile ride though the hills of Chianti, renting a bike while in Lucca makes a pleasant way to enjoy this historic Tuscan city. 12 meter-high walls built around the city in the 16th & 17th centuries make for a lovely 4km loop perfect for casual cycling, running, or strolling. Complete with leafy trees and a wine bar along the path, it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon. Inexpensive bike rentals can be made at Cicli Rai on Via San Nicolao, 66.
Yoga in Salento – All the way down South, near Lecce, in the heel of the boot is Yoga in Salento, http://www.yogainsalento.com an excellent way to kick off or wrap up any trip. Week long retreats take place in two large studios and range from Iyengar to Jivamukti and traditional Ashtanga Yoga. Delicious and plentiful vegetarian Italian meals are served, the staff is warm and welcoming, and the pool refreshing. Lecce is only a 25 minute drive from the spectacular beaches of the Adriatic and Ionic seas and is a 5 hour train ride from Rome.
Enjoy the food, enjoy the wine, enjoy “la dolce vita.” but take time for a little outdoor adventure and connect with nature. You’ll gain a whole new appreciation for the people and the land that has made Italy an international favorite travel destination. Trust me, your waistline will thank you. Ciao Bella!