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Golden Day 102: Borticello with Whitney Hickey

February 19, 2014

178947_10151136787467656_1830070881_n (1)I am grateful to have Whitney Hickey join the Golden Days in Italy team, as an excellent intern with a passion. Whitney fell madly in love with Italy in 2012 when she went to the Culturforum Italian Language School in Cefalu, on Sicily’s northern coast. She didn’t want to leave after the course ended, and happily accepted a job as a nanny with a Sicilian family for the summer. The experience completely immersed Whitney in Italian culture, including joining in with a family tradition: taking a vacation for the entire month of August, to enjoy the pleasures of Calabria.

Here, Whitney shares her advice, that’s particularly great for family travel, for a Golden Day in Borticello:

The first thing I learned about traveling with a family in Italy, is that it’s impossible to stick to a schedule. This turned out to be a good thing. We were supposed to leave Sicily early in the morning, but we ended up running several hours late, so we got to watch an incredible sunset, as we rode on the ferry from Messina to Reggio Calabria. IMG_2112

A great vacation base (where we stayed), is Villaggio Costa del Turchese  outside the seaside village of Borticello. It’s a great set up of condos of different sizes, that can be rented by the day, week or even for months. It has a gorgeous long private beach–white sand and clear blue waters.IMG_2129

There are activities here day and night–a volleyball court, and entertainers that offer water aerobics and dancing on the beach for kids, and they also perform plays.  I loved biking down to the little resort market in the morning to pick up some fresh peaches for the kids. The beach snack bar, that serves delicious gelato, transforms to a disco in the

Though it’s great to relax at the resort, here are a couple of ideas for day trips nearby:

As Cherrye wrote about in Golden Day 101, there is Le Castella, a massive fortress that is rumored to be the secret hideaway where Calypso held Ulysses in The Odyssey. You can tour the inside of this miraculous place, hiking up the little stairs and peeking out the windows. Often during the day you will see many people touring the town and playing in the sea. Be sure to grab a gelato while you’re walking around—Try the brioche which is the southern Italian version of our “ice cream sandwich”–sweet bread stuffed with gelato. IMG_2536

If you are feeling more adventurous, go to the Il Parco di Avventure, an eco-friendly adventure park surrounded by a forest in the beautiful Sila National Park. This is a magnificent place for the whole family , and you can even bring your dog. The entrance is free, and then you pay according to what activity you’d like to take part in–there is zip lining, tight rope walking, wall and tree climbing, trekking, and mountain biking.IMG_2502


For lunch you can have a barbecue in the park.. A traditional Calabrian dish is Carne Verde, grilled beef that’s seasoned with a spicy herb rub that may look a little strange at first, but tastes outstanding! IMG_2509


In the evening, enjoy the passeggiata around the villaggio and dancing at the Paradise disco. Everybody enjoys stopping in at the Caffe Aiello for a warm, fresh, deliciously filled cornetto and a cappuccino. You may be amazed (I was!) to see groups of friends and couples here laughing and talking at the wee hours of the morning…Here’s my photo from 4 a.m. last August… capp

Grazie mille Whitney…we’re making summer plans…

Buona Festa Degli Innamorati: Happy Valentine’s Day!

February 14, 2014

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. And so we shall be flattered that Italians have adapted the American tradition of celebrating Valentine’s Day. They call it the Festa degli Innamorati, a holiday for lovers and sweethearts. Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, is celebrating big time:


Amore is abundant in Italy, in many forms. For example, there’s the Art of Italian Flirtations–one of the country’s many pleasures, celebrated in an excerpt from my book, “Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice”.


“I know a shrink in New York who sends women who are suffering from low self-esteem to Italy for a month,” Heather whispers, as we clink glasses at a wine bar near the Campo dei Fiori in Rome.

My amica Carol nods toward a handsome Italian signor at the other end of the room, who’s been staring at us since we walked in the door: “Men like that are better than Zoloft,” she says. Il Signor’s stare washes over us, blending in with the deep rich taste of red wine, the sharp pecorino cheese, the warmth of the rustic wood tables.

I have to admit the stare feels darn good.

I flashback to 1976 when I was 18 and arrived in Rome for the first time, when the flirting game was more primitive, played in the Me-Man-You-Woman-Hubba-Hubba style.

My “American Girl In Italy” experience began as soon as I stepped off the train, just as it was captured in the famous Ruth Orkin photo. There, a young woman walks in Florence while 13 men–-from a guy in a T-shirt on a vespa to a group of older gents in suits–give her variations of the leering eye. The American Girl steels herself, looking like a frightened doe. The photo was taken in 1951, but in that sweltering August of 1976, things in Italy hadn’t changed that much.

imagesSignorina, signorina,” men hissed from every corner. They popped out of nowhere, grabbing their crotches, reaching out for pinches. I was fresh American meat in their jungle.

According to my Catholic upbringing this reaction was all “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” I was supposed to be behaving and dressing with “Mary-like modesty” so my body would never be an occasion of sin to others.

Varieties of guilt flogged me. I felt guilty for wearing a halter top, but it was too hot for anything else. I felt guilty for lying to the men who stopped and asked if I was lost–-of course I was, but I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, right? I felt guilty because I’d read The Sensuous Woman and wasn’t FRIGID the worst thing a woman could be? I felt guilty because Gloria Steinem had ordered me not to be objectified–-should I be kicking these guys where it hurts?

At a loss, I assumed the American Girl in Italy walk, with my mother’s mantra in my head: “Don’t encourage them.” This strategy became futile in The Forum when a man who’d been stalking me, hissing behind every pillar, finally lost control at The House of the Vestal Virgins, ran up and slung me over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry, squeezing my behind like a ripe tomato. I beat on his back and hollered till he dropped me and ran off laughing.

Shaken to the soles of my feet, (I remember I was wearing what we called Buffalo-sandals), I brushed myself off. Did that just happen to me? Me, the high school drama club geek? Me, the one who stood watching the girls with their flawless Farrah Fawcett hairdos get smooched up against their lockers by the cool guys? I scurried for my guidebook and squelched the confusion by reading about how the Vestal Virgins served Vesta, the Goddess of the Hearth, by keeping her flame continuously burning and maintaining a vow of chastity for 30 years.

But that moment of being airborne, pinched, and that laugh–-particularly that laugh–kept playing back. As if it was a grown-up game of tag and I’d just had my initiation.

Thirty years later, Italian men have refined their flirting style to an art form I rank up there with the country’s many masterpieces. I’ve watched it evolve over many years coming here. It’s as if they were all sat down and ordered to view Marcello Mastroianni movies, memorizing his looks and moves to perfection. Now what’s in their in their genes, in their historical legacy from the days of Casanova, has come to full flower. Women are adored here–from precious baby principessas to mammas and everything in between.

And who doesn’t adore being adored? Having reached that certain age where attention back home is waning, here it comes at me with every encounter. The barista at the café brushes my hand with a smile as he passes me my morning cappuccino. The shopkeeper who bundles up my postcards gives me a wink. At dinner, a cameriere pulls out a chair for me whispering “Buona sera, signora,” in a low sensuous voice, keeping a firm hand on my back.

When I return to Los Angeles and report these flirtations to my husband, he laughs it off with, “Unbelievable! That stuff was beat out of us guys in the seventies. I held open a door for a woman once back then and she read me the riot act. And now with sexual harassment, I could be sued for reckless eyeballing if I turn my head towards a female for two seconds longer than I’m supposed to at work.”

I ask him to stare at me and he gives it a try, but it just results in mutual giggles. Decades-long marriages and the enticing mysteries of the flirting game go together like a bowl of minestrone topped with tiramisu.

So I go to Italy and play the soft, subtle version of the game, now that I’ve grown from signorina to signora, knowing the strategy is to not take any of it seriously. It’s a harmless way to get a little lift, simply accepting being appreciated for nothing more than being a woman.

Walking along Rome’s Via del Corso there’s so much to admire–-from the guy with the slicked back hair and leather jacket speeding along on his moto who brings back memories of bad-boy high school heartthrobs, to the elegant set who stroll with their suit jackets slung behind them off their index fingers, displaying tempting torsos in crisp white shirts. Mix these visions with church bell gongs, gushing fountains, naked thick-rippling-muscled statues and a street violinist playing Besame Mucho and I am oh-so relaxed as we catch each other’s eyes.

I realize my style differs from how other American women play it when I sit with Mario, a bar owner in Positano. Suddenly, a table of American women of a certain age, having had one too many limoncellos, zig-zags by to give Mario their buona nottes. One of them, a bleached blonde, squeezed into white jeans with silver studded pockets, turns to present her rear to Mario. He pats and pinches obligingly, sending her giggling away. As soon as she’s out the door he throws up his hands, “Aagghh! American women! They don’t understand the affair is an affair. The European woman, she knows it’s just what it is, she can take care of herself, and let us men be. But these Americans!”

Fabio, a handsome, deeply tanned boatman, joins in: “I’m exhausted. All summer I bring the American women from here to Capri. We have the sun, the wine… Then one of them has a top off, another one a bottom off. I am a man, what can I do? But it’s too much, too much–-they come here, they expect!”

Back in Rome, the trend becomes even more obvious when I walk by a Piazza Navona caffe and see a group of females ogling a businessman in a well-tailored suit. He puts his head down, avoiding entanglement. It all adds up to the inverse of Ruth Orkin’s masterpiece. Now it’s The Italian Boy In Italy who’s being leered at by gangs of American women.

Ladies, please stop!

Is this behavior going to ruin my game? Will the cougars with their blatant expectations scare off the signori? I have an urge to start a campaign to end this, like the Italians did when a McDonalds was opened beneath the Spanish Steps and they started the Slow Food Movement to preserve the country’s culinary culture. Their symbol is the snail, posted on all establishments that play by Slow Food rules.

I imagine plastering Rome with symbols of the Italian Stare, setting up enclaves where none of this breed of American woman tourists can trespass, so the delicate tradition can be preserved safely, and these men won’t become an endangered species.

I finish up my glass of wine and turn to look at the staring signor. He raises an eyebrow to add just the right mischievous element. It’s as if he’s beckoning words from the Roman poet Ovid’s advice to men in the Art of Love: “They may cry, naughty, but they want to be overcome…”

Could he be the one who slung me over his shoulder in the Forum those many years ago?

“Buona notte,” I say to him, as I head out the door, tossing my scarf over my shoulder.

Now in the Roman night, I realize the shock that rocked my world 30 years ago has transformed to a flutter, that whispers enchantingly:

We are men, you are women. We are alive! And what a fun game we play!


To read more Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice…Buy the Book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords



Golden Day 101: Catanzaro and Beyond with My Bella Vita

February 11, 2014

Cherrye Moore 2I became a fan of Cherrye Moore’s My Bella Vita blog when she began it in 2006. The story of this adorable Texas native who fell in love with a southern Italian and left everything behind to begin a life with him (IN CALABRIA!) fascinated me. From the start Cherrye’s passion for her new home was clear, and her enthusiasm for learning new recipes, customs, and exploring new places was absolutely enchanting.

It’s been gratifying to watch Cherrye’s business grow into My Bella Vita Travel, the premier genealogical travel company in southern Italy, specializing in ancestry tours to Calabria and custom vacations throughout Southern Italy. Her services, and the Catanzaro B&B Il Cedro she created with her husband, get raves from happy clients. She’s also written guides to the area and has expanded her blog so that it’s an interactive resource where readers find Italy travel tips, Calabrian destination highlights, such as Five Spots in Calabria for Art and Architecture Lovers, recipes such as this truly authentic recipe for Calabrian Lasagna, and a hodgepodge of Calabrian tales.

Plate of lasagna at an Italian restaurant

I’m so grateful Cherrye has joined in to give advice for a Golden Day in Catanzaro:

Calabria isn’t yet a household name for many Italofiles. In fact, many non-Calabrese Americans don’t know of this rugged, wild place – a land almost trapped in time that still very much epitomizes Old Italy.

Fourteen years ago I was one of these people. Today, along with my testa dura Calabrese husband and son, I call this place home. cherrye-and-peppe-engagement-pic-1-240x300

We live in Catanzaro, that is often referred to as “The City Between Two Seas,” because it sits between the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, making it a perfect base for a Calabria vacation. beach

Come stay at our Bed and Breakfast Il Cedro, set amidst a grove of citrus trees. 


For this Golden Day, you can sleep in until 9:00, then head up the Ionian Coast towards Crotone.  Just off of the road, you’ll find Le Castella, the massive fortress that is rumored to be the secret hideaway where Calypso held Ulysses in Homer’s The Odyssey. I typically pack a picnic lunch and either eat in the shadow of the ancient Argonese castle or sit on the rocks that line the tiny shore. castella

 If you prefer fresh seafood, my choice is Micomare, (Tel: 0962/795082), located on Via Vittoria on one of the tiny town’s side alleys. For unbeatable views of the castle, ask for a table on the terrace and dine on spaghetti with mussels and clams. 

 After lunch, continue up the coast, past the hometown airport Sant Anna and turn down the long, dusty road towards Capo Colonna. Capo Colonna is the last remaining temple dedicated to Hera Lacinia that dates from between the 6th and 5th century BC. It’s hard to find, but if you let yourself get lost (in your thoughts!) you can imagine what the Greeks must have seen when they chose the site. capo

In the early evening, head back to Catanzaro where you can end your mini-tour of ancient Magna Graecia by sampling wines that descended from Greece’s Cremissa – a wine that was served at the ancient Olympics.  Dine with us at Il Cedro and then take a stroll along the Catanzaro Lido lungomare, stopping for some award-winning gelato at Marrons Glacès .lungomare

Grazie mille Cherrye! I am packing my bags…

Visit My Bella Vita Travel for more info about Cherrye’s customized tour services of southern Italy, ancestry tours, and to sign up for her newsletter. You can also join her on the Calabrian Table Tour held 2-3 times a year, that she hosts and designs with Tania Pascuzzi of In Italy Tours.


February 4, 2014

Let’s move on to the region of Calabria, and make our first stop a town at the bottom of Italy’s boot: Tropea.


Tropea is dramatically set above the sparkling sea, waterview

an evocative mix of crumbling baroque buildings,


Piazzas that look like opera sets,


and views out to the volcanic island of Stromboli, that continuously bursts forth with glowing fireworks. stromboli

I visited Tropea a few springs ago, as a guest of In Italy Tours  The company was created by Tania Pascuzzi, a charming Australian-Italian whose parents were born in Calabria, and then emigrated to Melbourne. Tania grew up around delicious Calabrian food, moved on to work for many years as a stylist in New York, and finally returned to her roots, making Tropea her home base.


This is an undertouristed area, which Tania has grown to know intimately. She has a great passion for the land and its people, and has been embraced by the natives over the many years she has lived and worked there. As for my experience: AMAZING. The Calabrese lived up to their reputation as being some of the kindest, liveliest folk you’ll ever meet in your travels, and with Tania guiding I was immediately embraced as family.

My Golden Day in Tropea began with breakfast on the rooftop of Il Residenza Barone . This is a luxury B&B, right in the historic center, that’s been stylishly renovated, with chic, airy rooms, elegantly run by Rosella and Roberto.

RESIDENZABARONEMORNINGTania’s itinerary started with a food tour of Tropea, through the enchanting centro storico, where the culinary stars are hot red peppers, that are dried up, tied up, hanging in garlands everywhere. pepper

They’re also minced up into a spread called n’duja that’s delightfully sizzly or will have you choking and teary-eyed, depending on the intensity. You can try some at La Casetta del Piccantino, where you’ll meet Franco—probably wearing a corno–what we in Jersey used to call an “Italian horn” (hot red pepper shaped charm)-around his neck. Franco will generously offer you tastes of all varieties of n’duja and other delicious spreads.

You’ll find the most spirited Tropea character at Gelati Tonino


This beloved-by-locals octogenarian is famous for his gelato, always inventing new flavors using what’s growing around there at the time–such as red onion gelato, garlic gelato, of course red pepper gelato…

It’s relaxing to pick up a panino somewhere and take a break at the beautiful beach, that’s voted every year as one of the best in Italy. 

TROPEABEACH2The dreamy day continues with a Cooking in Calabria class. During my visit, Tania took me to a hilltop cottage on the outskirts of Tropea, surrounded by a small vegetable garden and some fruit trees, where I cooked side-by-side with a local mamma and her husband–from appetizers to homemade pasta, and then we ate at a picnic table under the stars.

In 2012, Tania expanded and improved this concept, so now guests are driven to a glorious 3.5 acres of sprawling olive groves, flourishing vineyards and gardens in the rolling hills above Tropea. As Tania puts it: “You’ll enter as a guest and leave as part of the family after a day of cooking and feasting on made-from-scratch Calabrese cuisine with our hosts and dear friends, Peppe and Vera.” 

Guests tour the gardens, finding an abundance of Tropea’s famous red onions, expansive olive groves, and lush vineyards–the olive oil you use for cooking and wine you drink is produced right on this farm. 


In the kitchen Peppe and Vera teach recipes such as handmade pasta, meat and seafood dishes, luscious fruit tarts–as true to Calabria as they

The finale is an open air feast, insomma as Tania says, “Not only is this the ultimate food experience, it is a chance to be with authentic local people and experience the ‘dolce vita’ with them.” 

familyNon vedo l’ora di ritornare== I can’t wait (can’t see the hour) till I return to Tropea!

For more info: Check out the In Italy Tours website for Calabria Tours AND tours of the Castelli Romani (outside of Rome).

Golden Day Ninety-Nine: Lecce with Cinzia Rascazzo

January 21, 2014

cinzia_Rascazzo(1) I’m happy to have connected with Cinzia Rascazzo, a native of Lecce, who with her sister Marika founded the Stile Mediterraneo Cooking School. The school celebrates southern Italian cuisine, that’s been handed down in their family from mother to daughter for generations (As Cinzia says: “No Italian men were ever admitted into the home kitchen!”).

Cinzia has a beautiful blog, with great travel advice for the area and also recipes, for such classics as Orecchiette with Cime di Rapa , that was featured in La Cucina Italia magazine. And check out the ebook they wrote: The Cuisine of Southern Italian Women: Mediterranean Secrets for a Happy and Healthy Life.orechiette with cime di rapaI’m so grateful she’s joined in to give advice for a Golden Day in Lecce: 

When friends come to visit me in Lecce and ask what to do, I always answer: “Follow the locals’ schedule and have fun! And mostly importantly, do not skip naps!”

 Yes there are many beautiful baroque monuments in the old town of Lecce, but what I think really makes it special is the general lifestyle–a relaxed way of life, partly due to the sunny weather, but also to the way people are, eat, and live.puglia lecce lifestyle

Leccese are very proud of our beautiful town and if you come here you will notice that we “live” our town fully. We spend most of our day in the old town, going for coffee, buying food, meeting friends (and working!). In the evening we go out for food and drinks and stroll around until late. You will never feel unsafe. Moreover, we love foreigners so everybody will be super friendly.

 To have a day like a local start with caffe at Alvino bar, (Piazza Sant Oronzo, 30)


Here you should try our typical coffee (we call it espressino) and pasticciotto (this is a pastry with custard cream). At Alvino, you should sit in one of the outdoor tables and read the local newspaper (Quotidiano) where you will find information about local events. Or if you don’t read Italian, have fun watching the locals.

Next, spend the morning strolling around the beautiful old, baroque town.

First, go to the Roman Amphitheatre in the Sant’Oronzo Square.


From there head to the Santa Croce Church (Via Basilicata), that is the best example of Baroque architecture in Southern Italy.

Lecce Santa Croce ChurchThen visit the Duomo (Piazza del Duomo).
*Note that all churches close at 12:30pm.

santo oronzo square-sun rise

From the Duomo, you can walk all the way up to Porta Rudiae, which is the ancient gate to access the old town.

Now it’s time to eat!

Lunch is the most important meal for locals. Most go home, and then take a rest from 1 till 4:30pm, when all shops and activities close.

You can get delicious snacks from gourmet coffee and pastry places in the Sant’Oronzo square. Try a rustico (savory and round dough filled with mozzarella and cheese) from Alvino caffe, or a stuffed focaccia from the little bakery, Il Fornaio, in the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Don’t miss a gelato from Natale Pasticceria, Via Tevere. My favorite flavors are nocciola (hazelnut) and pistacchio.


You can also visit the shops in the morning and buy good things to bring home, such as Puglia’s red wine (look for primitivo or negroamaro grapes), excellent extra virgin olive oil, or the taralli bread.

After your afternoon nap, it’s time for activities…

Of course, I recommend a cooking class at the Stile Mediterraneo Cooking SchoolMy sister Marika and I run it from a beautiful ancient olive oil press that we turned into an elegant cooking school. A driver can meet you in Lecce, and then drive you from the old town to Squinzano.

CinziaIn class, you will learn how to taste extra virgin olive oil with me (I’m a certified extra virgin olive oil taster) and make Puglieses classics, such as home made orecchiette pasta (taught by my mamma), the famous Rascazzo’s  fresh tomato sauce, and almond cake that my grandmother invented. I’m also a wine sommelier and will teach you about the best local wines. 


The mission of our school is to improve people’s quality of life through the Southern Italian’s Mediterranean cuisine, so we do not just teach traditional recipes. Marika (a cardiologist) and I promote a way of eating, cooking and living that can contribute to the improvement of people’s health and wellbeing–not just through the healthy ingredients (extra virgin olive oil, seafood, etc), but also partly due to our specific cooking methods.

Class will be followed by a nice seated dinner on the outdoor patio.

After dinner (and wine!) the driver will drive you back and you can enjoy the evening passeggiata in the Lecce old town. There will be people walking around and chatting until very late.

Grazie Cinzia, for the delicious day in Lecce!

AND for more Lecce advice, check out the Lecce post by Country Walker’s Guide Marcello Polignano–he’s also a Caffe Alvino fan!


January 17, 2014

The delicious potluck dinner--pre-presentation at Wonderland Elementary SchoolHow about joining author Susan Van Allen for a Beautiful Italian Adventure this fall?

2014 will be her Third Annual Golden Week in Italy...

Raves are in for the last two:


“A wonderful Italian experience of a lifetime for all of us!!”–Gayle, from Chandler,
Arizona, Golden Week guest 2013

This year we’ll discover Southern Italy, aka The Mezzogiorno...


“Susan’s humor, knowledge, and surprises really made this vacation one of my very favorites!”–Lynda, Boston

It will be an inspiring week, where the elegant soul of Bell’Italia bursts forth with stunning sights,


delicious flavors,

IMG_2106and soulful songs.

IMG_7990Discover marvels of Capri,
capri (52)vibrant Naples,

fascinating Pompeii,
POMPEIIand the blissful thermal springs of Ischia.

giardini-poseidon_TopShop for artisan treasures,
IMG_8196take a cooking class with a local nonna,

IMG_1415toast with robust local wine, and enjoy the world’s best pizza.


“Italians really know how to enjoy life. I would love to do this once a year!”–Cynthia, Madison, Mississippi, Golden Week 2013 guest

The tour is based in the seaside town of Sorrento, at the legendary Imperial Hotel Tramontano, where the famous song, “Come Back to Sorrento” was composed.
Each day Susan will lead you to discover treasures and pleasures of this region that has enchanted travelers for centuries, and was a Jackie Favorite!




IMG_3515 (1)

For Inspiration, CLICK HERE…Come Back to Sorrento on You Tube..

Dates: October 10-18, 2014
Space is limited to 14, so reserve now–
Prices: $3700 per person for double occupancy/$4150 single occupancy

In Collaboration with Perillo Tours, America’s leading tour operator to Italy


December 15, 2013

Grazie Mille to  All of You

Who Shared ONE of your Favorite Places in Italy with us

I loved reading every comment.
It had me dreaming of places I’ve stayed,
and scheming to get to ones I have not yet experienced.

My husband picked 3 names at random out of the pasta bowl…So drumroll…


Annette Piper will receive a One Year Subscription to the Award Winning Newsletter Dream of Italy, plus fresh Olive Oil from Puglia


Lynn Goodman will receive a signed copy of Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures, and Advice

Letters from Italy cover_original

Anne Woodward will receive a signed copy of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, 2nd Edition



Best Wishes to You All

for Happy Holiday Celebrations!

angelo musiciante


Buon Natale

Felice Anno Nuovo


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