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Cool Concierge Tips: Italy
Special Report

Looking for an authentic, perhaps even unusual experience on your next trip to Italy? Or maybe you've already been a few times and want to try something totally different when you visit Venice, Naples, Rome, or Tuscany. Then you'll love these unique, sometimes-off-the-beaten-path recommendations from local staff members at a handful of our Italy partners in The Hideaways Collection®.

This is our fourth installment of "Cool Concierge Tips," and we must say, these concierges and staff members in Italy outdid themselves in providing juicy tidbits and well-kept secrets for where you should shop, dine, and see the best sights.


If you missed any of our previous installments, be sure to check them out at Hideaways.com. Look for concierge tips from Europe (www.Hideaways.com/europeconciergetips), the Caribbean (www.Hideaways.com/caribbeanconciergetips), and other destinations around the world ( www.Hideaways.com/moreconciergetips).


ROME

We'll start in the capital, Italy's beloved Eternal City—so named by the ancient Romans because it was believed that, no matter what happened in the rest of the world or how many empires might rise and fall, Rome would live on forever. In fact, longevity seems to be a drawing card of the first restaurant recommended by Massimo Mazzola, Head Concierge at Hotel d'Inghilterra , which is located just a short stroll from Rome's historic Spanish Steps.

"Restaurant la Campana has been open since 1518, and it offers typical Roman cuisine, including the delicious artichokes 'guidia-style' (literally 'Jewish-style'), which are fried crisp and so yummy," says Massimo. "They are my favorite dish there. But I also like the tagliolini (fresh homemade noodles) with anchovies and pecorino (sheep's milk) cheese, their homemade soups, the pasta and broccoli, and, of course, abbacchio (baby lamb) and the vaccinara (Roman-style braised oxtails)."

Much newer is the Trattoria Vecchia Roma, dating back to 1916 when it was a classic meeting place for locals where, according to Massimo, they would gather to eat and play cards. "Today this is an excellent, family-run, traditional trattoria, or pizzaria, with very friendly service. My favorite dish is the Spaghetti Amatriciana with bacon, onions, tomatoes, and Roman pecorino cheese."

For a truly exclusive tour of Rome, Massimo recommends the "Hotel d'Inghilterra Tour of Middle-Age Rome," which he personally has created for hotel guests. "This is an exclusive walking tour for our guests who love to explore and travel throughout the ages of history," he says. "On this tour, we lead guests into little-known places such as the old Church of Santi Quattro Coronati and the Basilica of San Clemente, where they'll see underground complexes that reveal three levels of ancient Rome."

Another must-visit is the Museum of Galleria Borghese in Villa Borghese. "The original sculptures and paintings here date back to Cardinal Scipione's collection of the 16th century," Massimo explains. "It's a must for those who wish to see important pieces of the Italian art heritage. And of course, you should always book your visit to The Vatican immediately upon arriving at the hotel, so you're not disappointed. The queue to get in can be endless!"

Shopping in Rome is a no-brainer, but Massimo has some special suggestions for unique places to browse through. "Rome is full of local handicraft shops," he says, "and it would be a shame to miss visiting the Via Giulia or Via dei Coronari, two of Rome's elite shopping streets that are famous for their antique shops.

"I also would suggest a visit to Ditta Annibale Gammerelli, listed among the historic shops of Rome and the tailors in charge of creating the attire for bishops, cardinals, and popes since 1798. Then, near The Vatican is the shop of Antonio Arellano, who is the creator of the famous red shoes that Pope Benedict XVI wore. Arellano does not make shoes in a series, but each is a single model—a great example of Italian craftsmanship."

As his pièce de résistance, Massimo reluctantly surrenders his secret Rome must-see tip, saying, "Okay, but it's the ace up my sleeve. On top of the Aventine Hill, just past the orange grove (Giardino degli Aranci), there's a door that leads to the Priorate of the Knights of Malta. If you look into the keyhole, surprisingly a stunning view will open up and take your breath away: St. Peter's Basilica in a natural frame provided by the trees of the garden!"


VENICE

To quote Indiana Jones, "Ah, Venice!" This magical city of canals, bridges, and gondolas is home to the equally magical Palace BonvecchiatiTHC, located in the historic heart of the city. Front Office Manager Nicola Bottacin has a favorite restaurant she recommends, Trattoria Do Forni, which started out during the golden years of the Serenissima Republic as a bakery specializing in bread and sweets for the nearby monastery of San Zaccaria.

"In my opinion, Do Forni is the best restaurant in Venice," says Nicola. "It offers traditional Venetian cuisine based mainly on fresh seafood coming from the Adriatic. I recommend the granceola (Venetian spider crab), rombo al forno (a lightly flavored flatfish), and risotto."

For special excursions, Nicola suggests visiting some of the main islands of the Venetian Lagoon, beginning with Murano to see the famous glass-blowing factory. Take a vaporetto, or waterbus, and be sure to visit the island's fascinating Glass Museum as well. "I would also visit Burano Island, with its many different colored houses lining the canals and its magnificent Merletti lace factory, where you can watch the lace artists and maybe buy something to take home. Finally, Torcello is a kind of paradise, quiet and away from most tourists, and it has the oldest church in all the Venetian Lagoon dating back to 639, called the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta."

According to Nicola, you won't want to miss out on the "Secret Itineraries" tour at Doge's Palace, so you must book it in advance of your visit. The tour takes you through hidden passageways, into the Secret Chancellery, and through the Torture Room, which connects directly to the old "gaol." You'll even see the very cell from which notorious lover Giacomo Casanova escaped in 1775.


NAPLES/CAPRI

The seaside city of Naples and the Island of Capri, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples, are two stylish and sultry destinations with exhilarating cliff-top views. In fact, it's the view from Naples' Grand Hotel Parker'sTHC that inspires Sales Coordinator Viviana Villamajna to recommend the George Restaurant—located on the hotel's sixth-floor roof garden, and situated to offer wonderful sea views—as a favorite dining spot.

"I highly suggest George's because the chef is always working out new and original menus that draw from the most regional traditions," she says. "Here, you can treat your palate to the aromas and flavors of true Neapolitan cuisine." Dishes include stuffed squid in a stew of mussels, rabbit chop with bacon and cream potatoes, and risotto with prawns, fennel, and a hint of curry.

Naples is famous for its exquisite crafts, particularly its nativity scenes, known as presepi (presepe means "crib" or "crèche"). "The manger scenes of Naples are one of the most intense symbols of the local Christmas tradition," says Viviana. "Of course, Naples also is known worldwide for its Capodimonte porcelain, the manufacturing of coral cameos, and the sartorial splendor of our fashion."

For guests who travel to Naples in summer, Viviana recommends a visit to the Gaiola Underwater Park, with its remains of an ancient Roman harbor and other underwater archaeological attractions—like Roman moray eel ponds! "It is not well known by tourists," she says, "and when you go snorkeling, you will see the beauty of this underwater park up close.

"Definitely do not miss a visit to nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum to view their impressive ruins," Viviana continues. "Then I suggest you explore Subterranean Naples. At 40 feet deep beneath the streets of the historic center of Naples, it's a world apart, a system of ancient Roman tunnels, caves, and aqueducts. Visiting it means taking a journey through time of 2,400 years."

Those with a penchant for the opera will appreciate Viviana's recommendation to book tickets for Teatro de San Carlo well in advance. "This is one of the most prestigious opera theaters in the world, and the oldest public opera in Europe, having opened in 1737. Today, its impressive schedule attracts people from all over the world."

On the island of Capri, in the quiet town of Anacapri, is the luxurious and art-filled Capri Palace Hotel & Spa. Head Concierge Lorenzo Vernacchio offers a number of ideas for getting the most from your visit, including a boat tour around the island. "It's the ideal way to explore the sea caves and experience the beauty of Capri, with a stop at its famous Blue Grotto," he says. "I also would explore the neighboring Amalfi Coast by boat, and always with a private guide to give you all the information you may want to know. If you like fishing, you can book a typical fishing boat for a day on the water, or even take a sailing course.

"If you prefer walking, I suggest a trip to the ancient villa of the Emperor Tiberius in Capri, called Villa Jovis," he continues. "Furthermore, one of the most spectacular walks on the island is called the Sentiero dei Fortini, a pathway that hugs the coastline of Anacapri all the way from the Grotto Azzurra (Blue Grotto) to Punta Carena. Along the way, you'll see ancient forts and towers that were positioned to defend the coastline."

You're bound to have worked up an appetite after all that exercise, and Lorenzo suggests you experience Capri Palace's Il Riccio Restaurant, awarded its first Michelin Star in 2013. "It's located only a few steps from the enchanting Blue Grotto, in the midst of a mesmerizing setting. You'll find fresh seafood and typically Mediterranean specialties, plus the not-to-be-missed Temptation Room filled with desserts, where (not only) children's dreams come true. Another truly authentic restaurant is our Bistro Ragu, a true homage to the traditional flavors of Capri through local recipes such as Ravioli Capresi (chicken-and-ricotta-filled pasta with fresh lemon-basil sauce)-one of my favorite dishes."

Capri is well known for its fashionably dressed locals, no doubt because of shops like Mariorita, the historic and completely renovated fashion boutique at Capri Palace. "It features an on-site atelier where, over the past four years, an exclusive brand has developed and expanded to become what is called Capritouch—pure handicraft and high quality for clothing and footwear," says Lorenzo. "The shop honors the best of Capri's historic Dolce Vita Style by re-launching the colors, patterns, and fabrics of that time. And the space itself evokes images of a craft factory, with on-site craftsmen including a tailor, knitter, and cobbler."


LAKES DISTRICT

In northern Italy, the lovely town of Stresa sits like a colorful jewel on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Here,Villa & Palazzo AmintaTHC encompasses the opulence and beauty of a 17 th-century palace that once was home to Italian Admiral Francesco Capece and his beloved wife, Aminta. Receptionist Massimiliano Dore says you need look no further than the hotel's two restaurants for an excellent meal, either from Le Isole, which offers regional Italian specialties and outdoor seating on the pool terrace, or from I Mori, with its elegant atmosphere and wonderful views of the lake.

"If you want to go off-property, I suggest Ristorante Verbano on Isola dei Pescatori (Island of the Fishermen)," says Massimiliano. "It's a nice romantic trip on the boat to get there, and they serve nice food specializing in fresh-caught lake fish. I also like Ristorante Pizzeria Mamma Mia in Stresa center for its excellent bistecca alla florentina (Florentine-style steak) and Settimo Cielo in Campino di Stresa, where all courses are excellent and the chef will explain the history of each traditional dish, like fillet of beef in sour apples and fish fillet in sweet orange sauce."

The Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiori are a natural attraction for guests of Villa Aminta, and Massamiliano suggests a boat ride to any of the three main islands to explore their natural beauty. "Also, try to visit Lido Beach in Baveno for a day of sun, water sports, and relaxation," he says. "I also recommend a visit to Mottarone, where you can take the cable car to an elevation of 1,491 meters for an amazing 360-degree view-you can see seven lakes from up there!

"Also, book well in advance if you plan to see Leonardo da Vinci's famous 'L'Ultima Cena' ('The Last Supper') at the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan. Group tours are small and book up quickly. For shopping, I recommend Stresa's own Beatrice Boutique for women's clothing, shoes, and accessories—true Italian luxury!"


TUSCANY

Food, wine, and warm hospitality-no wonder we love this region of Italy! L'AndanaTHC embraces the food and wine culture of Tuscany with its "foodie" atmosphere, nurtured by owner Alain Ducasse. However, Front Office Manager Andrea Alocci offers up other nearby restaurant suggestions as well, including Terra di Nello, located in a countryside setting and known for its grilled meats and handmade pasta. "I think the best dishes are their

Filetto and the Maremmana Tartare (finely chopped raw beef from the maremmana cattle of southern Tuscany). For a very romantic and unique dining experience, try Fiumara Beach, located directly on the beach and overlooking the sea. I only recommend it at dinnertime when the crowds have left. Their best dishes are the tuna steak and the Spaghetti alle Vongole (Spaghetti with Clams)."

Andrea's not-to-be-missed excursion is a drive to the medieval village of Massa Marittima, about 40 minutes from L'Andana. "There, you will find the town's 12th-century cathedral and its old bell tower that overlooks all of the surrounding countryside," she says. "Within 20-minutes' walking distance of the hotel is Cala Violina, a beautiful and wild beach. And right on our property is the San Gugleilmo Romitory, a chapel from the 16th century. The walk there takes about 45 minutes each way and passes through beautiful woods and open countryside.

"If you want to pre-book a canoe excursion or bicycle tour, I suggest a trip to Parco Naturale dell'Uccellina, a famous natural park 30 minutes from the hotel," continues Andrea. "The park stretches along the seaside and has a well-marked network of trails through much natural beauty. Another option would be to rent a private motorboat and visit our marvelous Tuscan Archipelago, with its deep-blue crystal water and beautiful islands, especially Giglio and Elba."

Andrea says to be sure to make the trek to Diaccia Botrona near Castiglione della Pescaia, a nature preserve famous for its ancient ruins and seasonal visits from pink flamingos. If history is your thing, she also recommends an excursion to the archaeology museum in the ancient Etruscan city of Vetulonia, where they have special programming for kids.

Finally, take home a piece of Tuscany when you visit Olpe Forme in Castiglione della Pescaia, a shop where artisans craft "marvelous ceramics with patterns of the Maremma landscape. You're sure to find a decorative dish or plate that will be a memory of your visit!"

January/February 2014

 
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