Eat, Drink, Gelato, Repeat: A Taste Of Italy

1 February 2015
Read Time: 3.8 mins

Some people might travel to Italy for the history, the culture, the romantic idea of walking cobblestone streets arm in arm with someone tall, dark and handsome, but I’m not ashamed to admit I’m here for the food (and the wine). Cannoli, ravioli, pesto, gelato, prosecco… these are words that roll off my tongue quicker than you can say buongiorno.

So here I am, travelling solo through the boot of Europe to see its biggest blockbusters. But far from a languishing three-month sabbatical a la Eat Pray Love, I’m on a two-week, fast-paced adventure.

 People soak up the sun wherever they can

With plenty of preconceptions about an 18-30 something tour bus, I had trepidation I would be "over the hill" for a Topdeck trip but our group of 25 is a friendly mix of young friends, couples, solo adventurers and even one married couple with their first baby on the way.

Friends are quickly made during a walking tour of Rome. Bonds are formed over espresso stops and chatter quickly turns to food for, well, pretty much everyone.

It seems we’ve all been lured by one thing: our stomachs.

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Centuries Of Culture...And Cooking

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"Italy is divided in 20 regions, so when you travel you visit 20 Italys,” our guide Michela tells us as we pull out of the eternal city towards the ruins of Pompeii on the second day.

“Each area developed in a different way through the centuries.

"It's not about history, it's about culture. What they used to do and how they used to live."

And indeed, how they used to eat!

 You're never far from something delicious

As we walk through the ancient city, preserved by four to six metres of ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and 1500 years, our local guide Luciana shows us a shopfront where takeaway meals would have been served from an ancient bain-marie. Convenience was key even in the sixth century, it seems.

As we arrive in Sorrento for our two-day rendezvous with the Amalfi Coast, I spot abnormally large lemons threatening to break free from overstocked citrus trees lining the roads.

This is the home of limoncello – the perfect counterbalance to overindulgent meals.


More on the eternal city. When In Rome - Sit Back And Enjoy The View

Try a taste of culture. Top Rome Cultural Attractions


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Fun, Sun And Food

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The onus is also clearly on seafood in this fishing village turned tourist haven, where colourful houses spill down the sheer cliff-faces.

On a day trip over to Capri, I swirl my fork through fresh seafood linguine coated in the lightest sauce of fresh olive oil, cherry tomatoes and a soft flush of chilli and enjoy a cheek-sucking but utterly refreshing lemon sorbet before we jump on a boat ride around the island.

 An essential part of the eating experience

Up in the town square, fresh oranges are pressed into lemon slushies, creating the ultimate summer drink, a line snakes up the street for the sweet delights of Buonocore Gelateria, and day trippers like us wait for a ride back down to the marina on the funicular, full on the good life.

While I could easily lap up the sunshine (and okay, the gelato) in Capri for a few more days at least, time is of the essence as we make our way north towards Siena, smack back in the middle of Tuscany’s wine country.

Being familiar with only the major cities on the itinerary, it’s an unexpected bonus that I find myself falling in love with the dusty pink sandstone walls of Assisi on the way – and the basilica that would provide the inspiration for the Sistine Chapel 250 years later.

 It could have inspired the Sistine Chapel

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Dedicated To St Francis

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Overlooking Perugia (home of Baci chocolate), this medieval walled-city is dedicated to St. Francis, which means its cake stores have dedicated themselves to Mostaccioli. The much-loved Catholic friar reportedly requested these airy almond cookies on his deathbed so every cafe has mounds of the sugary treats piled high in the windows to enjoy with a strong espresso.

With 10 olive trees for every resident and vineyards as far as the eye can see in this picturesque region, our local guide Francesco is clearly living la dolce vita. “Guys, this is paradise,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.

The next day, a quick walking tour through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed centre of Siena provides a taste test of the pretty Tuscan capital – and enough time to sample the local specialty of pici all’aglione (egg-free pasta with a tomato and garlic sauce).

Later, as we roll through fields of vineyards into the Chianti region, the focus switches to grapes and a full-bodied Italian named Chianti Classico.

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Land Of The Holy Wine

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This has been one of the most eagerly anticipated activities on the itinerary: a private winery tour and tasting at a family estate, with the added bonus of a designated driver to whisk us away to our next destination.

"It's always important to combine what you eat with what you drink,” young winemaker Christian tells us, so we happily work our way through four courses of his mother Barbara’s delicious Tuscan cooking.

 Colourful houses cling to the cliff at Cinque Terre

Bruschetta with fresh olive oil from their farm paired with rosé, ragu pasta with the famous Chianti Classico, salumi and cheese with a Sangiovese/Merlot blend and the decadent Vin Santo – or holy wine – with a slice of cake that Barb says has “just a touch of Christmas”.

In Florence, I discover the only word you need to know is ‘bollito’. Sure, the watercolour-dream city is also the birthplace of gelato, the renaissance and opera, but this street stall beef sandwich should also go down in the history books.

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Squid Ink Pasta

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By the time we arrive at the pinnacle of the Italian coastline at Cinque Terre, meals are starting to become a blur. Here the locals nosh on fried anchovies and fresh foccacia laden with basil pesto but the fig and ricotta cheesecake gelato from Gelateria Vernazza deserves inclusion on the speciality list, too.

On the second-last day of the tour in Venice – the home of prosecco and pinot grigio – I throw caution to the wind and order pasta nera (squid ink pasta). Hot tip: Remember to rinse and swill every few mouthfuls if you don’t want to resemble Captain Jack Sparrow by the end of lunch.

The few kilos I’ve added to the scales will (hopefully) be dropped upon returning home from my Italian fling but the experiences will keep my heart full for many years to come. Even if I am now ruined for eating gelato anywhere else but Rome for the rest of my life.

The writer was a guest of Topdeck.

Celeste Mitchell

After a decade of editing and writing for magazines like Girlfriend and Cosmopolitan – and a stint in tourism PR – Celeste Mitchell now travels the world, working wherever there's wi-fi. Consequently, she has been blocked from many friends' Facebook feeds.