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Nov 14th, 2018, 12:07 PM
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I just returned from a three week amble through Central Italy, culminating with 6 nights in Rome. Much of the trip was focused on food and, as we had spent time in Rome on previous trips, the “sights” took a back seat to the sampling—of various food both in markets and in restaurants. I’d like to present this as a brief sketch of our trip, which will likely be of interest only to the food-obsessed among us.

The trip had originally been set for May of this year but we had to postpone two days prior to the scheduled departure due to medical issues. The Business Class tickets had been secured via Amex points and although Amex gave it their best, I believe, Alitalia refused to permit a change of dates even though we had a note from the physician citing that my partner was unable to travel and spelling out the reasons why.
The stated response was that we had canceled “too late!” I’m not going to spell out the rushing back and forth to the Alitalia office in the Empire State building, where the agent would not allow my partner access to the office, speaking to him only on the phone from the lobby, the multitude of furious phone calls back and forth with the airline (their US customer service is based in Tirana, Albania and each time we phoned we got a totally different reason from a different agent as to why we could not change the tickets). No, we did not have trip insurance. So in the end, we paid a few thousand dollars (total) to change the dates to October and, thankfully, we were both well enough to take the trip, a fact that overrides all the upset that took place earlier.

The appointed date finally arrived, and in mid October we departed JFK on Alitalia, arriving in FCO very early on the following Sunday morning. I had deliberately chosen a Sunday arrival with this train of thought: On all of our previous trips involving car rentals, we would arrive in Europe in the morning and immediately rent a car and drive for up to three hours to reach our first destination. I wanted to spare my partner the stress and possible danger of driving on little or no sleep. So I did something I’d not done before: I rented a room at a hotel close to the airport for two nights, so we could be assured a check in upon arrival in the early morning, around 7am. I chose to arrive on a Sunday because Sunday lunch is the very best time to enjoy a meal in Italy, surrounded by tables and tables of families representing several generations. Spirits are always high and we are often included in the general back and forth between the tables. If you’ve not experience a Sunday restaurant lunch in Italy and Spain, do your best to include one on your next visit! We still remember lunches from ten or 15 years ago, in restaurants all over Spain and Italy. I still scratch my head when tourists complain that they have “nowhere to eat” in Italy on a Sunday. Just make your midday meal your main meal on that day!

Ok..digression righted. Back to Fiumicino. The taxi from the airport cost 20 euro, and taxis for “local” destinations (destinations other than Rome centro) wait on a line just beyond the main taxi queue. The drive to Hotel Seccy took about ten minutes. Hotel Seccy is a family run hostelry, very clean with a blend of bland contemporary and over-the-top modern Baroque. Staff were friendly and helpful and the owner even helped shlep my bags to the taxi the next morning. (Taxi from hotel to FCO: 15 euro, arranged by hotel) I would certainly stay there again. Recommended!!


By 9 am Sunday we were fast asleep, and when the call came to rouse us for our lunch reservation, we debated canceling the table, but thankfully our curiosity if not our hunger, roused us and we set off on a walk of about 20 minutes through the center of town and across the river Tevere. The day was sunny and warm and the streets were teeming with locals out for a stroll, a seafood lunch, a gelato. Just a marvelous welcome to Italy!! Everyone so polite, so good natured, so welcoming..infants in strollers to anziani with canes….just glorious. One peek at this town made my mind turn to “what if we rented a place here for a month next year……”


I forgot what I did yesterday but I remember the review of this restaurant that Maureen Fant included in her classic “Trattoria” guide sadly, no longer in print. Maureen, if you are reading this, here is another plea to update! Maureen, and many other before and since, have ranked this seafood eatery as among the best in Rome and the city’s environs. The Gambero Rosso guide, about the premier restaurant bible in Italy, gives it their top rating of three forks. We had only a glimpse of the kitchen’s talents but on that basis alone I would say that a meal there would be worth the ride from central Rome, or a night close to the airport. (They also have rooms for overnight stays)

We arrived after a healthy walk to find: The gates were closed. The doorbell rang to no response! What to do? My attempts to phone led me nowhere as I had no yet mastered the tricks of using the iPhone in Italy, although I had purchased a monthly plan. Just as we were about to turn away, the door clicked open and we found ourselves enveloped in a white room right out of Elle Decor. Everything white, dotted with the blue of sculptures and drinking glasses with that distinctive Murano gorgeousness. The place was bustling with well dressed diners (many wearing white!!) spanning the age range from 2 months to about 90 years. Lots of laughter, smiles, and nods of welcome to our disheveled selves. We may not have cut the “bella figura” in our dark jeans and rumpled linen shirts, but we felt like the honored guests at a birthday party!

The only table free was on the sunny terrace but an umbrella was fixed in place to shade us, and the lunch began. After all this buildup, I am sorry to report that we were so snackered from the flight and the time change that we could only manage two primi, both pasta. These, of course, were preceeded by several complimentary amuse (do not remember the details as had forgotten both notebook and cell phone camera) and a basket of bread containing what we both declared to be the best we’d ever tasted (later on that trip the breadstick honor fell to Uliassi, in Senigallia, but Pascucci’s were sublime all the same.

I chose Spaghetti con Occhi di Canna, which I knew as moscardini, the tiniest octopus one can imagine. Superb, to say the least.

Partner, who was not a fish lover at this early stage of the trip, asked for a simple pasta dish with tomato and received a glorious plate of hefty house-made noodle with tomato sauce and studded with oven roasted small tomatoes. (I noticed this at many restaurants; diners would not glance at printed mennus but would consult with wait staff about thwat they felt like eating and the chef would conjure up a dish to suit that preference. Any restaurant could make a version of pasta with tomatoes, for example, even if it was not listed on the menu. We were always amused by the amount of discussion bewteen diners and waitperson that preceeded the actual placing of an order. Later in the trip, in Pacentro, Abruzzo, I clocked this back and forth at 17 minutes! There is a lot of flexibility in Italy, at least at the restaurants we visited, and this extends to the fact that one can order a half portion of a pasta, or of a main course, and no eyebrows will be raised) If only this were the case in the US, where our favotie NYC Italian restaurant will not allow half orders of pasta.

With a bottle of water and two glasses of Franz Haas GewŁrztraminer from Alto Adige (recommended by sommelier and very good), the total, with complimentary pastries for dessert, was 64 euro. Highly recommended. (A note here: Many of these Michelin/Gambero Rosso restaurants have online menus that might cause you to believe that you must order a tasting menu. We found that this was not the case and we ordered a la carte here, as well as at Uliassi, La Bandiera, and one or two of the other high-end restaurants we sampled). We found pricing to be reasonable across the board, even allowing for the rather poor exchange rate between the Euro and the US Dollar. One reason we kept the price down was that when possible, we ordered the house wine and when there was no house wine, I often chose to order by the glass. Partner drinks very little so that was a help too, especially since I was not doing the driving!!



Last edited by ekscrunchy; Nov 14th, 2018 at 12:09 PM. Reason: FORGOT TO INCLUDE CRUCIAL PORTION OF TRIP IN THE TITLE!!
ekscrunchy is online now  
Nov 14th, 2018, 12:49 PM
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Oh yippeee!!!! More, more!
Rocket79 is offline  
Nov 14th, 2018, 02:13 PM
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oh yes, more please!

How right you are about the flexibility of italian restaurants. On my last night in Bologna last February, I decided to try a place near my apartment which I'd walked past many times during my 2 weeks there but for one reason or another had never got further than the front door. For some reason I decided to go in, and spent the next 2 hours wishing I'd gone in there the first night I was there. It wasn't just the food, but the friendliness of the staff [not always a given to a solo female, though I have to say that I experienced no problems of that type in Bologna] and the atmosphere. I can't remember the item on the menu that had drawn me in, but while I was trying to decide, I spotted two ladies eating large plates of grilled seafood, including the most delicious looking giant prawns. Can I just have those, I asked? Just the prawns? yes, just the prawns. So I went to prawn heaven. A glass [or two] of house white, a house dessert, and coffee, and I was done.

Where next?
annhig is offline  
Nov 14th, 2018, 05:02 PM
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Ann that's lovely! Just knowing you here, I imagine that a large part of the kindness you elicited is generated by your own personality and enthuiasm, not to mention your expertise in the language.

It seems to me (and not just in Italy) that even the most forbidding-seeming person will melt once food enters into the discussion. I even found this to be true among the Bengalis who seemed very prominent as helpers in the food markets in Rome. Some of the ones I encountered were less than warm in the face of questions by an obvious tourist, but once I asked about a specific product, the tenor of the exchange quickly switched to one of helpful friendliness...

Next is a two-night stay in Norcia, with a very scary incident of road rage on the GRA, en route!!
ekscrunchy is online now  
Nov 15th, 2018, 01:03 AM
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With zero Italian, we dined at a family run trattoria in Sorico (northern Lake Como) last year, and were thrilled to be told the menu options being what 'Mama' had prepared that day. We had the most simple pasta dish, so light, so fresh, and our delightful waiter so kind in trying to converse with us. We declined dessert due to not wanting to walk back to our accommodation in the dark, and he said in his gorgeous minimal English, "no problem, I drive you".

I will never forget that - at the time, we were convinced it was one of those lost in translation moments, but indeed he did drive us back to our bnb.
Adelaidean is offline  
Nov 15th, 2018, 06:58 AM
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That's lovely. So many times I would ask for directions and people would take me by the hand or arm, and lead me a block or two out of their way to point me in the right direction. In this trip of three weeks in length we had so many wonderful exchanges with locals. There was only one grumpy man, at a toll booth. My partner has a bad arm and could not reach the slot to put in the money, so I got out of the car and I could not understand the directions. So a disembodied voice came over the speaker asking me what I was doing. I said that I did not understand the procedure and the man started yelling at me saying that I was talkiing in Italian but claiming to not understand the directions in Italian. Happy to report that was the one and only instance of anyone beeing less than very kind to this foreigner. It was just funny, in any case!
ekscrunchy is online now  
Nov 15th, 2018, 07:06 AM
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Eks, Sunday lunch is a lsuch ovely institution also found in Greece. Great memories.
Recently, I became too ill to fly home ( doctor wrote “unfit to fly” ) and British Air delayed our departure, rebooked is on a later date with a doctor’s note that our hotel sent to the airline. I don’t know what would have happened if we wanted a longer delay.
Excited to read your report especially as you visited Norcia. We loved that mountain town and know the earthquake damaged it quite a bit so am eager to read your comments.
HappyTrvlr is online now  
Nov 15th, 2018, 08:55 AM
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Always a delight to read about your culinary adventures. Thanks!
Marija is offline  
Nov 15th, 2018, 09:31 AM
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Following and loving this! And getting hungrier by the minute!
progol is offline  
Nov 15th, 2018, 11:13 AM
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Iím following along too. Letís eat.
Leely2 is offline  
Nov 15th, 2018, 01:37 PM
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I'm hungry, too, Leely, but we have to complete the drive to Norcia!! Good things await!!

After lunch we wandered back to the Hotel Seccy and promptly fell asleep. The hotel is nice and quiet and all was well. Partner was disappointed that there was no US baseball on the tv, here or anywhere else we visited.

The next morning the sunny weather continued to shine upon us. After a decent breakfast, included with the room rate of 150euro per night, we set off in a taxi arranged by the hotel (15 euro) back to Fiumicino airport. Navigating the route to the EuropCar desk took longer than we had expected, and the back and forth to actually secure the car, brokered through Kemwell by phone in the US, lengthened the time at the rental desk to an hour, or even longer.

The first car they offered us was some kind of Jeep which we rejected due to its large size. After lots of negotiation, and an upcharge in the previously agreed-upon price, we settled on an Audi A3 equipped with a built-in GPS. That GPS proved to be worth its weight in gold, once we figured out how to work it, which took about day or so. We will never rent a car overseas without one, even though I have an iPhone and had a monthly plan that allowed unlimited text and data through Verizon. Big difference between that and the GPS and, with both of them at our service, we rarely got more lost or confused than our natural lost and confused state. We like renting Audis since we are familiar with the brand back home.

As an aside, we were not asked for an IDP at the rental counter, or anywhere else. Later on we met a Canadian couple who had been stopped at a police checkpoint; not only were they not asked to produce an IDP but they asked the police person about this and were told that as long as they had a current Canadian license, an IDP would not be required. I am just passing along this info, not commenting on whether or not one should acquire one. We have many expired ones on hand and carry the most recent on our European trips when we plan to rent an auto.

Once we were belted in and ready to roll, the drive to Norcia was an easy one, taking just under three hours, as I always insist upon driving slowly. One notable event took place a half an hour after leaving the airport, on the GRA ring road circling the city of Rome. Traffic was fairly heavy on this Monday morning around 12pm and as we crept along in the far right lane, we came upon a scene that shocked me out of my jet lag.

Two unassuming small cars were stopped in the center lane. Three men from the first car had exited their vehicle leaving the doors open, and walked a few steps back to the car behind, occupied by four women. As we crept past to their right, the men had opened the doors of the womens’ car and were leaning in, trying to yank the females out onto the highway. Much screaming, much tussle, with the women leaning back away from the men and hanging on to their seats for dear life. I’d never seen anything like this “road rage” and can only hope that someone had phoned the police or the relevant highway authorities.

From then on, the drive proceeded without incident and, very tired from the jet lag, we reached Norcia and drove around and around (we had not yet worked out the intricacies of the GPS) until we were were shown by a kindly woman who (we later learned was the mother of the present owner) indicated that the hotel was directly in front of us.

PALAZZO SENECA is a dream of a hotel, fashioned from a centuries-old palazzo in the center of the small town of Norcia and still family owned and run. We were in awe from the moment we parked the car until the moment we, sadly, departed two days later. We had booked through a Virtuoso agent and were, therefore, afforded an upgrade in room category, daily breakfast, and a substantial credit towards a meal in their Michelin-one-starred restaurant, Vespasia.

Home - Relais & Chateaux Palazzo Seneca

La rinascita di Palazzo Seneca a Norcia. E nella cucina del Vespasia arriva Valentino Palmisano - Gambero Rosso
ekscrunchy is online now  
Nov 16th, 2018, 08:57 AM
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Dinner was sublime: The chef hails from Campania but he sources recipes and ingredients from all over the peninsula and the islands.

A parade of amuse bouche, which we both followed by a soup of Castellucio lentils and generous amounts of grated parmesan and black truffles. This was followed by a delectable ventresca, the fatty belly of tuna, dressed with a ponzu sauce.

For first courses, I picked Bavette (long noodles, I think #13 on the box) with copious amounts of sea urchin, ricci del mare, and tiny vongole (clams). My partner raved about his truffled toast and his Tortelli Ripieni di coratella di Agnello, ai sentori di limone e yogurt. I noted three stars for both of these on the menu. And while this all might sound pretentious, the staff were as warm and welcoming as they might be in your favorite local eatery. Happy to guide us through the menu and happy to accommodate my partner who does not eat raw seafood or most “unusual” animal parts. (He raved about the pasta stuffed with coratelli of lamb; sometimes one has to keep secrets close to the chest)

For the second course, we both chose suckling pig accompanied by a crackling roll of porchetta and a mix of chanterelles, spinach and green oinions. My notes say "WOW!!"

The choice of secondi was an easy one, given that we were in Norcia, the town which gives its name to the most esteemed pork butchers in Italy. The lemon dessert was stupendous as well. I will note here that booking with virtuoso gave us an 80 euro credit toward a lunch or dinner at Vespasia; we chose dinner and, although our meal turned out to be more than the 80euro allotted, we thought it was an extraordinary value and one I would seek out, especially in a town with limited very well respectred eating options. I mean to osay that while there are many restaurants in Norcia and I doubt if you could encounter a bad meal, this dinner was so spectacular that we felt that with the 80 euro credit ( never mind the superb breakfasts), and the upgrade, we would certainly have no hesitationn towards staying here again if we are fortunate enough

(The story of the townspeople of Norcia and how they spread out over the mountain passes and across the peninsula to operate butcher shops, known as Norcinerias, throughout Italy, is a fascinating one) How many people who have visited Rome have a photo of Norcineria Viola in the Campo dei Fiori, with the multitudes of hams and salamis hanging from the ceiling and the glorious aroma of pork wafting through the shop and into the iconic plaza outside?

shopping for pork in rome: norcineria viola - Elizabeth Minchilli

Here is one of many pork stores in Norcia itself:

La Bottega a Norcia | Antica Norcineria F.lli Ansuini

While the center of town was up and running, many businesses had been temporarily relocated to rows of attractive, rustic wood cabins just outside the walls. Cheeses, meats, wooden kitchen utensils, chocolates and other sweet desserts—we spent about two hours browsing over the course of our two-night stay. We wanted so much to contribute to the rebuilding efforts and I was happy to learn from the owner of our hotel that the Virtuoso agent that we had used for booking this, and our hotel in Rome, had been very generous in supporting the renovation efforts. While we do not often use a travel agent, I do use one for hotels associated with Virtuoso, and for travel in southern Africa. I’d happily recommend Linda Terrill and her associate Carrie Matson, who are a joy to work with and do their very best when we book upscale Virtuoso properties:


I had wavered back and forth between spending two or three nights in Norcia and, given the extent of the ongoing renovations after the seismic events, we were glad that we had spent but two nights. The morning after the day of arrival, we set off for the drive to the Piano Grande, which was thrilling despite being off season. Roads were open and there was some activity in the hamlet of Castellucico but much of this was confined to the temporary cabins at the entrance of the village which houses shops offering the famous lentils, sausages, beans, and ready-to-eat porchetta and other mainly pork-based dishes. I would not miss this drive were I anywhere in the immediate area. There was snow on some of the highest summits and the pattern of the foliage on the mountain slopes was fascinating. There was opportunity for horseback riding and for gliding. Just glorious scenically. We were saddened to watch an open-back truck back into the main square and await the loading of an altar from the town’s principal church, which had been badly harmed by the quake. the care with which the wooden, gilded altar was wrapped and loaded into the back of the truck, with bystanders crossing themselves, was very moving. I hope it will be restored and returned to its rightful home before too long.

This was more or less the view we had from the main road leading to Castelluccio:


There is a fairly direct route from Castellucio to Ascoli Piceno, which we had to forego due to our stay in Norcia and also because I had in mind a restaurant on the border of Le Marche and Umbria for the following afternoon. I’d very much like to return to this area in the late spring to see the lentils in season. As a substitute, I bought a few boxes and bags of the DOP Castellucio lentils, as well as a kilo of cichercie, a heritage form of chick peas that is not easy to find outside the growing areas in central Italy.

We’ve been home a week and have already enjoyed a soup of cichercie with canned tomatoes and kale. (Also concocted a pretty delicious dish of Papparadelle alle Morronese, which we first sampled in Ascoli. I cooked a kilo of the noodle for one dinner and then, baked the leftovers with added grated pecorino and scamorza, topping all this with fine bread crumbs and slices of prosciutto. Really, really good!!)

After returning to the hotel to wash up, we set off for lunch at an agriturismo that I had read about on TripAdvisor.

Last edited by ekscrunchy; Nov 16th, 2018 at 09:18 AM.
ekscrunchy is online now  
Nov 16th, 2018, 09:27 AM
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Ekscrunchy, I saw in the local paper today that Uliassi (in Senigallia) just got a third Michelin star. I hope it won't be priced out of my reach! Or that I won't have to reserve a table months in advance now. I look forward to reading your opinion of the restaurant.

There are now 10 Michelin 3-star restaurants in Italy. However, Italians tend to trust the Gambero Rosso and the Espresso restaurant guide more than Michelin. Uliassi has consistently been rated among the best in Italy by those guides. Madonnina del Pescatore (2 stars), also in Senigallia, has been close behind. At one time, maybe ten years ago, Madonnina del Pescatore was rated more highly. I myself prefer Uliassi.

Senigallia has a number of truly excellent restaurants that don't have any stars (yet, at least). Probably the two starred restaurants keep the standards high.

Once, on our anniversary, my husband and I were walking on the beach, and happened to pass Uliassi. I said, "Since it's October, they're probably not overwhelmed with bookings; let's see if they have a table free." They did, and we ate there on a whim. It was a lovely meal, and Uliassi himself came out to see how we were enjoying the meal. Of course, we were dressed for a walk on the beach, not for dinner at a two-Michelin-star restaurant, but they treated us like royalty.
bvlenci is online now  
Nov 16th, 2018, 10:36 AM
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So great to hear this! Mauro looks so youthful, it is difficult to believe that he has been in business for so long. Uliassi was our best eating experience on this trip and I am thrilled for them. They were so exceedingly kind and humble, one would never know that they ran a restaurant of such acclaim. We liked Madoninna del Pescatore but it did not reach the heights of Uliassi, in our opinion.
ekscrunchy is online now  
Nov 16th, 2018, 01:17 PM
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We returned from our scenic jaunt to Castelluccio, washed up, and set out for lunch at an agriturismo just outside Norcia. Restaurants in agriturismi have provided us with some of our best, and some of our least good, meals in Italy. I knew almost nothing about this one except that it had been rated well by Italians on the TripAdvisor site.

IL CASALE DEGLI AMICI sits surrounded by open fields and rural dwellings about a ten minute drive from the center of Norcia. The weather that day was dreary and damp so we could not enjoy the view from the terrace which might have afforded a nice panorama on a sunny afternoon. From the written menu in Italian, which proferred about 4 or 5 choices for antipasti, primi, and secondi, we chose only two pasta courses and one main course, to be shared Such is the “problem” for travelers fortunate enough to be lodged in a hotel where the breakfasts and bountiful, and delicious!

I chose Tagliolini all tartufo di Norcia. (12 euro). The highpoint of my experiences with black truffles came about 15 years ago, and I never forgot the haunting aroma and taste of the platter set before me at a trattoria named Latte di Luna in the Tuscan town of Pienza. This dish remains one of my greatest food memories. The dish at Il Casale degli Amici fell way short. I could barely discern any truffle aroma, or taste, and the mouth feel was dried out. I asked around after this and thought I understood that the best of the black truffles in the region were not to
be found until a month or so later (my experience in Pienza took place in early January). Even though I tried a few more truffle dishes during the three-week-long trip, none of these were memorable. We even had one or two tastes of white truffles from regions other than Piemonte on this trip, and these, too, failed to delight. I can only say that I hope it was the truffles and not the onset of a taste deficiency on my part.

The pasta itself in my dish was superb, obviously home-made, irregular in shape and just delicious. I might have enjoyed it more with butter alone.
My partner was happy enough with the classic rendition of Papparadelle al Cinghiale, long wide ribbons of pasta in a sauce infused with the flavor and texture of wild boar and red wine which makes an appearance at many local eateries in Umbria, Tuscany, parts of Le Marche, and no doubt many other regions during the cooler months.

The second course brought the meal’s highlight: Salcicce alla Griglia, three oval patties of house-made pork sausage with a luscious crust, spiced only with salt and pepper. Terrific! Well, we were in Norcia, after all! My mouth is watering right now as I think about this trio of crunchy gems. (I guess now is as good a time as any to report that both of us gained more than a couple of pounds during the three weeks, despite walking nearly 9 miles on a few days in Rome, according to the calculator on my iPhone)

With a bottle of water and a quarter carafe of house red wine: 35 euro for two.

Ristorante Norcia ristoranti Norcia Ristoranti ristorazione a Norcia agriturismo con ristorante
ekscrunchy is online now  
Nov 16th, 2018, 02:42 PM
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I am impressed with how little you eat and drink! You know, the pounds don’t adhere if you drink more...
Marija is offline  
Nov 17th, 2018, 08:33 AM
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We loved that drive through the Sibillini Park. We started in Spoleto and drove through to Ascoli in a day, making many stops for photos. Thanks for the food reviews! Iím getting hungry for Italy reading this.
natylou is offline  
Nov 18th, 2018, 07:29 AM
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Always enjoy your food-focused trip reports, a great resource for future travels.
bon_voyage is offline  
Nov 18th, 2018, 10:17 AM
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Love your food centric TRs. Always pick up some great places to try. Thanks for taking the time to do this.
yestravel is offline  
Nov 18th, 2018, 01:45 PM
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That drive through the Grande Piano is very beautiful. We had a picnic and then hiked. This was a month or two before the earthquake, so we walked around pretty little Castelluccio as well, unbelievably picking up even more food. The devastation there is so sad to think about, although they seem determined to rebuild business and community. Nice article (in Italian):

Tra polemiche e voglia di ripartenza, il Deltaplano di Castelluccio Ť realtŗ: ecco la nuova "casa" del commercio per far vivere il lavoro (e la gente)

Thank you so much for your report--it's great to get detailed restaurant reviews.
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