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Technorati Tags : , , Ads by AdGenta.comI was recently interviewed in www.sketchandtravel.com– a wonderful site all about travel. Here is an excerpt on my interview…….. My grandfather and his family owned a vineyard in the mountains of Abruzzi,  and I practically grew up there learning a lot about Italian cooking and then (because of my modeling career – since I’ve modeled throughout Europe) I started spending more and more time in Italy. When I wasn’t working, I had the opportunity to study regional Italian cooking at what are known as ‘agriturismi’ (this is the Italian word for country farms that are also bed and breakfasts and serve meals produced from the fresh foods grown and produced there) in many different regions of Italy. I also met my fiancé there (he is a prominent Italian architect based in Rome, Italy) and now live in Italy about 6 months out of the year. The ‘agriturismi’ aside from being great places to learn about Italian foods tend to be some of the most romantic vacation spots in Italy since they are usually located high up on a hill somewhere with breathtaking views of the town or  generally ,even if located in a city , like Rome, for example, they must be in a place that is out of the main area. So they are usually located in peaceful, serene and picturesque settings. What could be more romantic than staying on a vineyard (since most of them have their own vineyards, and/or being able to take a peaceful walk and pick a fresh piece of fruit to munch on while your walking…. And if you stay at bed and breakfast, located on a farm/vineyard (agriturismo) you can be assured of always being served freshly prepared foods of the best quality (and plenty of it). Usually the farms will produce their own wines, olive oils, marmalade, fresh fruits and vegetables. Generally tourists have to eat in areas they are not familiar with, and this means going to places that cater mainly to tourists not to the locals. Which in turn means the food will be overpriced and (even in Italy) not of good quality. Also a stay at a bed and breakfast (agriturismo) usually includes breakfast and an abundant dinner. Also for any couples that need to be cost conscious. This can be also more economical because of the unfavorable exchange rate of the US dollar to the Euro- eating out can be expensive if you don’t know where to go- but the ‘agriturismi’ tend to have packages that are all-inclusive (food, stay) and much more economical than staying in a hotel. I also have a cookbook coming out in 2005.  We are planning it to be a little more than a cookbook in that it will also include stories about my travels throughout as well as recipes I’ve developed from my travels there. I also act as a consultant for couples wanting to plan romantic but unique trips to Italy in unusual places. Generally tourists tend to know about the over visited and publicized places that can be overpopulated and impersonal. With my travels throughout Italy usually by car and on foot- I have visited some of the most spectacular places that I had never even heard about.       *Would I consider Italy a good choice for a romantic getaway or honeymoon destination? Definitely..I would consider Italy to be one of the best places for a romantic getaway or honeymoon- not only because of the breathtaking beauty and romantic views that you are constantly surrounded by but also the lifestyle there. In Italy, you are constantly surrounded by romantic things and somewhat of a romantic way of life.  Italians love romance, their songs are all based on romance and about love. People love to see couples walking hand in hand or arm in arm. Even just the simple ritual of eating a meal has a romantic feel to it. When you sit down to eat dinner at a restaurant or even at a bed and breakfast it is meant to be a long, drawn out ritual. An activity that is shared between two people and enjoyed by two people, not something just meant to be done in 10 minutes. You can also opt to have a romantic picnic-weather permitting- in some of the most romantic locations in the world. Having a romantic picnic in Italy can be very spontaneous and doesn’t really have to be planned in advance. (this goes along with the romantic Italian lifestyle since Italians generally like to be spontaneous and have that ‘live for today’ philosophy). You can just go to the local ‘forno’ (which means in Italian)  this is where they produce some of the freshest breads and pizza. If you can’t find one, just ask a local (they will know where the best ‘non-commercial’ bread/pizza bakeries are. If you don’t speak Italian- just say the word ‘forno’ (pronounced  ‘for-noh’) and they will direct you. Then go to a local cheese shops which are easy enough to spot (the word for cheese is ‘formaggio’) or you can even go to a small local supermarket and look for the section (usually in the back ) where they sell cheeses and fresh salads (similar to the deli counters in American supermarkets). Buy some cheese that you both like to put in your fresh bread or pizza.  While in the supermarket grab a bottle of wine- red or white depending on your preference.  My favorite wines for a picnic would be a Montepulciano from Abruzzo or a Chianti form Chianti. A great white wine that I just discovered is -Fallenghina- which is produced near Naples in a town called Benevento.  Trebbiano is a good, light white wine produced in Abruzzo as well.  But in Italy you have many choices. Next step while in the supermarket grab some paper plates and napkins and you are on your way. Final step, find a quiet, beautiful romantic location. Finding a beautiful, romantic spot is not difficult. If you are in a major city like Rome or Milan or Florence- it may be difficult to find a quiet spot. But even in the center of Rome- there are many parks- like the villa Borghese. Of course if you don’t mind the noise and crowds- stop at the Spanish Steps (in a place not obstructing tourists from pa
ssing) and eat there – the view is a beautiful one.
  The Coliseum and the Roman Forum are popular areas for impromptu picnics- again breathtaking scenery, but lots of people. If you are in a small town, it is certainly not difficult to find a beautiful view in a quiet place. Please always remember to respect the property you are on and clean up after your picnic.    *Best time to visit Italy *I have been in Italy in all seasons and there is almost not a bad time to be there. However, if I had to select my favorite time to be there to be able to enjoy the beautiful Italian sun shining down on the colorful scenery- it would definitely be summer and fall. If you go in the summer the month of August is usually the most ‘sun-filled’ but it is the traditional vacation month for not only Italians but most Europeans. So you can be sure to wait in long lines and deal with crowds and generally have to book things at least a month in advance. However, if you stay away from the typical tourist spots you can avoid a lot of the crowds and benefit from the beautiful Italian sun filling almost all of your days. May and June can be nice as well, however the weather is more uncertain. You may be dealing with still chilly and possibly rainy weather- but if the weather is good this can be a good time of the year because you will not experience as many crowds. If you don’t want to chance the crowds of August (although there are a lot of tourists in Italy at this time) July can be a great month because the weather has usually gotten warm by then. The early part of fall can be great because generally by the end of August beginning of September the Italians  as well as the tourists are generally back to school and work and places are less crowded. If the weather is still good you can see Italy minus a lot of the crowds and avoid the high prices that hotels, bed and breakfasts, etc. charge during the main summer months when everyone travels, and get to see Italy in a quieter environment. However, once you get out of September and into October the weather can get quite rainy. So if Fall is your time- it is best to go at the beginning of the Fall season. One other time to be in Italy that I must mention here is Christmastime. It can be crowded as well, but it is very beautiful. Christmastime in Italy is less commercial than in the States- in so much as houses are not all lit up with Christmas bulbs. But the foods you will experience and the feeling in the air can also be very romantic. Spending New Year’s Eve in the center of Rome and watching the spectacular fireworks display over the Coliseum is something that I do every year and is an experience like no other.     The costs for hotels and restaurants are up at this time of the year, however, again if you find a bed and breakfast or agriturismo or on the outskirts of the city you can get to the center by taxi or bus. The Christmas holidays last from the nigh before Christmas to the Epiphany- which is on January 6th. So if you want to spend a romantic Christmas Holiday, plan to stay until the 6th of January.  *For 5 unequalled venues in Italy for a romantic getaway or honeymoon destination First, I must say that it is really difficult for me to narrow my choices down to 5 venues. (Please note also that come of my picks are not the usual places people may pick- I like to find the unusual and the not highly commercial spots ) but if I have to, here are my picks: 1.The Island of Ischia- I just visited here again this past August of 2004, and got to visit with friends of ours who operate and own a wonderful bed and breakfast at the top of a hill in the town of Forio, high atop the island (the island is about 30 miles total and is divided into about 5 separate tiny cities- with the city of Ischia being the principal one). The family has owned this ‘agriturismo for many years and they have a vineyard, olive oil grove and fresh fruit trees, so they produce their own olive oil, marmalade, wines there. I also spent some time with the family matriarch who actually heads up the kitchen and got to work on some Neapolitan recipes (one of my favorite style of foods). The Island is crowded in August, but the beauty of the island dotted with many beaches and beautiful vistas makes you forget about the long lines to get into the beaches. Ischia is really famous for its spas because of the thermal waters there  are many thermal baths and spas that use the mud taken right from the sea there for all types of masks. You can find saunas there that are natural saunas- not man made – but actually inside of a cave on the side of the volcano there in Ischia (it is purportedly great not only for people with sinus conditions, but also great for your skin- because of the naturally occurring steam produced inside the cave. The waters used for the thermal baths are filled with naturally occurring minerals and salts that come right from the side of the mountain there. But the view of the sea while you are at one of the outside spas taking a thermal bath or on the beach is absolutely breathtaking and you will imagine you are in paradise. The blue of the water and the sky is so intensely blue that you will feel like you are in the middle of a living painting- so to speak.            In August, the cost  for anything there is going to be about 30% higher than at other times of the year- because this is usually the month (again) that Europeans travel. If you go during the winter you probably can’t go to the beaches or the outdoor spas but most of the hotels have indoor spas and you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to use the spa- although the hotels usually have packages in the winter for the spas and stay combined. However, you could still stay in a bed and breakfast and go to the s
pas in the hotels as you like (for a fee of course). It is really amazing how revived you feel after taking the water cure of the thermal baths- although I’m sure the ‘soaking in of the scenery’ has a lot to do with it also. There are also little towns to wander around in. Each of the 5 towns in Ischia  have  their own little square which is very romantic and the main town of Ischia has its own castle. There are also little romantic outdoor cafes, shops and coffee bars as well as the glow of the moonlight basking on the sea and an occasional outdoor musician singing old romantic Neapolitan songs accompanied by mandolin music. Oh the romance of it all!!! One last note, if you have seen the award winning Italian move- Il Postino-(The Postman) a very romantic movie in its own right- the island that it was filmed on (Procida) is right next to the Island of  Ischia. You can take a boat excursion there for the day and/or it is in view while you are on Ischia. By the way if you haven’t seen the film- do that before your trip there and you can experience some of its beauty. Many Italian films were filmed on the Island of Ischia in the ‘60’s.
  2. The next place I would select would be the city of Rome. Yes it is a big city, but as many well traveled Italians will tell you- there is nothing like the city of Rome- if you know how to find your way around. Walking around the city of Rome is liking walking around a living art museum, the sights and views are so beautiful. Rome is made up of different hills. My favorite view is from Monte Mario (one of the hills). It is a breathtaking view of the city. Or the top of the Spanish Steps is not only a beautiful views but a very romantic location. In front of the steps you have a beautiful fountain but if you go to the top of the steps you have a beautiful vies to overlook the city by and you can also have one of those impromptu picnics here. Don’t forget Villa Borghese- it was the territory of the royal family Borghese and is now a beautiful park- dotted with beautiful statues, ponds, etc. Also a great place for a romantic walk and an impromptu picnic. Here you can find some quiet spots.  At night, one of the most romantic piazzas (square) is Piazza Navona- filled with many outdoor restaurants and beautiful statues. There is the famous  and beautiful-Bar de la Pace- which is located at a far corner of Piazza Navona.  It  tends to be a favorite  of  international celebrities and is a beautiful and romantic place to ‘hang out’ at especially if you sit at an outdoor table. And if you want to have some great pizza- again ask a local for a ‘forno’ and you will experience some great, freshly baked pizza and bread. The Romans are famous for a type of roll called a ‘rosetta’ it is crusty but at the same time light and airy. So ask for a rosetta, fill it with cheese and you have a wonderful picnic type lunch or snack.    The time of year to visit Rome would not be August- the heat can be stifling in August and many shopkeepers and restaurateurs close up and go on vacation that month. However, the best times to visit Rome would be in the springtime and fall again. The cost of everything usually goes down slightly after the summer months. However, winter can also be great in Rome, it rarely snows there, and temperatures usually are in the 50’s or 60’s. The costs are higher though around the winter Holidays, but after the Epiphany you can find more reasonable prices for everything. If you like to go shopping this is a great time to get some bargains s the sales start after January 6th and go into mid-February. If you have never seen Rome you owe it to yourself to go there at least once and experience Romance Italian style there. 3-Venice is a very romantic spot. I hesitate to recommend Venice , although it is one of the most beautiful and romantic spots in the world it has just become too ‘touristy’. However, if you visit Italy and can do it you must see Venice and experience its beauty.Just riding on one of the water taxis that take you to the island can be somewhat romantic taking in the views of tall the beauty that surrounds you. If you want a romantic view of the city take you taxi ride at night, when the moon glistens on the water and the beauty of Venice is lit up by the glow of the moonlight.  You will fall madly in love with your romantic significant other while experiencing this kind of view together. Also, of course there are the other traditional things to do like visit St. Mark’s Square. Also enjoying one of the outdoor cafes  or restaurants and exploring the little canals and back alleyways there.The food there has become very tourist oriented since the island is overflowing with tourists- not great quality and pricey. Look again for local ‘pasticcerria’ (bakery) where you can find exquisite pastries and ’forno’ for great bread. The key in finding great food sometimes is to find smaller more intimate dining places.  As far as best times to travel there- best time would be after the ‘mad summer rush’- like in early fall and late spring. However, Venice is in the North so the weather can be cooler and taking a water taxi ride can be not so pleasing if you have an extremely cold wind blowing around.  Costs in Venice are going to be the highest in Summer, because that  is their tourist season. However, if you want to see Venice and avoid the high cost of staying there- stay in a nearby town like’Mestre’ which is practically right next door to Venice. From Mestre you can easily do a day trip to Venice.  4-Tuscany is a beautiful romantic destination. Here you can find romantic ‘agriturismo’ that serve wonderful fresh foods and they are located in out of the way places so you are away from the mad rush and you can stay at a romantic spot where you get great foods and do day trips to Florence and Pisa as well. This way you avoid the high cost of hotels in the center of Florence. By staying in an’ agriturismo’ you will get more of a feeling of really living in Italy and not just experiencing it as a tourist. The wines made in Tuscany are wonderful- be sure to experience them. Tuscany is a great place to do a romantic walk while stopping for a picnic in an impromptu spot. You may spot an abandoned villa with beautiful frescoes or  a beautiful view of a vineyard or olive grove.  The city of Florence is just overloaded with beautiful works of art. There have been people known to pass out from being overloaded with seeing works of art when they visit Florence. You have of course the Uffizi Gallery which houses some of the world’s most beautiful works of art. The outside of the Gallery has statues of some of  Florence’s most famous citizens including Michelangelo and Galileo- all who had a rich Florentine patron to support them in their works.  Two romantic spots in Florence are the main square which is the Piazza Della Signoria. There you will find a replica of the statue of  “David” (or as the Italians know him- the Davide) and man
y romantic little coffee bars and outside cafes. The other place to visit is the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge crosses over the Arno river and from the bridge you have a beautiful vies of the city. Add to this walking tours of the vineyard regions- like Chianti or Montepulciano and you have yourself a winning spot.
 5-Otranto is located in Puglia and is a sea resort. If I may use again an Italian film to give you the feeling of this landscape- see the award winning film-“Meditteranneo”- a wonderful comedy about the war, but the scenery is breathtaking. Most of the film takes place in parts of Greece. However, Oltranto’s deep intense blues of the water and stark pristine white colors of the surrounding buildings will bear a deep resemblance to the colors and waterfront scenery in this film made mostly  in Greece. The water is clear and you can see through it largely due to the lack of big industry in Puglia- most of the activity there in Puglia is farming and agricultural products so you are less likely to have factories dumping in the waters. Oltranto is also filled with outdoor cafes and shops that overlook the deep blue sky and clear water. There are many other beautiful towns near by that are worthy of day trips. Lecce, which is about 30 minutes away is a beautiful, elegant art-filled city, most of the churches and statues are Baroque.  Lecce is a perfect spot to take a romantic walking tour. In these spots you won’t find the crowds of tourists like you will in the other more well known spots.  Also worth a day trip is Alberobello. It is a very touristy town, but worth it to appreciate the ‘Trulli’. Trulli are these cone shaped houses that are in certain areas of Puglia. These were actually used as houses many many years ago, and are cone shaped structures. In Alberobello most of the specialty shops are located inside the Trulli so you will also get to see what they are like. If you would both really like to get away from it all, this area would be the best for you- less crowds and other than Alberobello less ‘touristy’. You can really experience a lot of unspoiled countryside and the beaches are clean and not commercially organized yet.            *How far in advance should a couple prepare themselves for a honeymoon or getaway in Italy? For a honeymoon or romantic getaway, you should really start getting your ideas and plans together at least a year in advance. For reservations, etc for hotels, destinations, you need to plan that at least 3- 6 months in advance. Italy is a favorite destination of many especially for weddings and romantic getaways so if you want to be sure you are going to get the locations you want you would be better to plan way in advance and beat the crowds. Certain times of the year tend to be more overbooked- especially in the summer. SO it also depends on the time of the year.  *What people should know about planning a wedding in Italy as far as requirements, etc. If you are an American citizen you mainly need three documents to apply for the proper documents for an Italian Wedding:*A US Passport*A Birth Certificate*If you were divorced or widowed- a death decree The documents that the Italian government requires are :*The Atto Notorio which can be acquired on your own in the USA. This basically consists of you meeting in front of an Italian Consulate (go to one in the closest city near you in the USA) and you must obtain a certain amount of witnesses for this. Each consulate has different requirements. (Call your closest local Italian Consulate to get their requirements for the Atto  Notorio). *The next document is the Apostille. This is a document you get from your Secretary of State’s office. It is just a matter of contacting your Secretary of State’s office filling out a form and sending it to them and they send back to you a seal that is considered an Apostille. *Your birth, divorce and/or death certificates will need to be translated into Italian by your Secretary of State’s office. These documents expire after three months so you can not get these completed more than three months in advance.        *My book is called “The Basic Art of Italian Cooking” and it will be released in early Spring 2006. It will be a cookbook containing recipes that I have come up with from my time spent at various agriturismi and my family’s vineyard as well as visiting with chefs at some of Italy’s trattoria and their chefs. It will also be more than a cookbook in the sense that I will also share some of my memories   from the times that I visited these wonderful places. The title is somewhat befitting this book because firstly- cooking in Italy is really an art to all Italians- it is not something that you do by just opening a can and throwing things together. It is the art of taking a few of the freshest ingredients and turning them into a masterpiece.  But also, while modeling in Italy a very famous Italian painter – named Nerone- painted my portrait then exhibited it at many galleries throughout Europe, NY (even at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and other parts of the USA for two years, he then gave it to me as a present . However, the catch was that I had to go to his studio and pick it up and his studio happens to be located in a beautiful but very rural part of  Reggio Emilia (in the north) and we had to fit this gigantic painting in the back of my fiance’s smaller European car, get it back to his studio in Rome and attempt to get it transported to my home in the USA. Many interesting things and recipes happened all along the way. My website:www.mariascooking.com is under construction right now but it will be completed also in the spring and can be purchased there as well or for more info you can contact me there. *I did win and compete in a lot of beauty pageants g
rowing up and was chosen as a Miss Pennsylvania, Miss International World and other titles- however I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘pageant junkie’. It just gave me a lot of experience and self confidence and early on in my career exposed me to many interesting people in many different fields. It also opened many opportunities for me since I won some scholarships and got to travel all around the world and pursue a successful modeling career. With my expertise of Italian cooking and Italy and my degree from Temple University in Foreign Languages- I now get asked by many European type food companies to serve as  marketing consultant as well as spokesperson on TV and in  print ads. 
              *Couples taking cooking classes in Italy together It is a new trend, actually, my company has gotten many requests to put together programs for couples to cook together, and I was just asked by a journalist to put something together about this. Actually the article I collaborated on will appear in Women and Fitness Magazine in February 2005, of course it is themed around St .Valentine’s Day. Anyway, it is a trend for couples to take cooking classes together not only in Italy but also in the USA. What better way to share a wonderful experience and create something together and then be able to enjoy the romantic experience of eating what you just created together. It is time that Americans catch on to what the Italians have known for years- that cooking is a wonderful romantic experience. It is non-threatening in that you can be creative at your own pace together. And then partake in a romantic meal together. It can be a prelude to watching a romantic movie. You can even go shopping together at a local fresh food market before you cook the meal. So it is a wonderful romantic trend and it is becoming more and more popular.   (

5 Comments

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