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Food Culture and the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is a compendium of the eating habits traditionally followed by those that live in this part of the world. So, let’s see what it consists of and its beneficial effects on its practitioners.

The eating habits of the 16 nations along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea vary depending on culture, ethnic traditions and religion. There are, however, some characteristics that are common to all:

High consumption of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, bread and cereals

Use of olive oil to cook and as a condiment

Moderate quantities of fish, little meat

Small/moderate quantities of rich cheese and whole yogurt

Moderate wine consumption, usually with meals

Use of local, seasonal and fresh products 

An active lifestyle

The Ingredients of the Mediterranean Diet

Olive Oil is especially important as an alternative to butter, margarine and other fats. It is a valuable source of mono-unsaturated fats that protect against heart disease, as well as a source of antioxidants such as Vitamin E. It is used to prepare vegetables, tomato sauce, salads and to fried fish.

History the Phoenicians planted the first olive trees around the XVI century BC, first on the island of Cyprus then in Asia Minor. Its greatest success was achieved in Greece where the myth was that the goddess Athena, in competition with the other gods, was declared the winner of a contest by Zeus by creating the olive tree. Historians have determined that the first olive tree “Plato’s Olive Tree” was planted near Athens some 2500 years ago.

The species was prevalent in Italy since the days of the Roman Republic, especially in the southern part of the country. Today, it is cultivated everywhere in the country with many DOP and IGP denominations. As one of the pillars of the Mediterranean Diet, extra-virgin olive oil is present in virtually all food recipes. Among its benefits is the lack of physical and chemical manipulations as it is simply extracted by pressing the olives.

the only oil produced by a fruit as opposed to a seed

Olive oil should be the only fat in cooking as it is the only one that is not subject to degrading when exposed to heat. Culturally speaking, olive oil represents the Southern crudeness as opposed to butter cooked foods prevalent in Northern foods.

Therapeutic Aspects the “liquid gold” referred to by Homer has over time had a therapeutic function as well; it reduces the impact of heat while at the same time acting as a blood “cleanser”. It is both a nutrient and a medicine. Dishes containing olive oil are easier to digest, with an excellent gastric and intestinal tolerance as well as a protecting effect on the arteries, stomach and liver.

Fruits and Vegetables a high consumption of fruits and vegetables leads to protective action to prevent cancer and heart disease, probably because of the antioxidants present in these food items. This is especially true of tomatoes, an important source of antioxidants particularly when heated to make a tomato sauce.

Fish such as sardines with its omega 3 polyunsaturated fats have a healthy fat content. Fish consumption is also important for its anti-inflammatory properties in preventing heart disease and regulating blood circulation.

Wine first a clarification: there is no such thing as biological wine, only biological grapes. By its very nature, wine is the opposite of an industrial product that never varies; grapes vary from area to area depending on climactic conditions. They also evolve, mature and decline over time. In all Mediterranean countries wine is consumed in moderation, usually with meals. For men this implies two glasses a day and one for women.Red wine in particular contains a number of vegetable composts with beneficial properties. Also, powerful antioxidants such as poly phenols protect against oxidation.

Legumes during the middle ages, all of Europe risked high mortality rates due to a series of epidemics. Unable to procure high protein foods such as meat, the poorer classes were especially malnourished.Legumes were introduced only from the 10th Century, thereby making a gradual contribution to the welfare of the population, increasing resistance to disease and aiding in the re population of the continent. Later, with the discovery of the Americas and the importation of agricultural products, beans emerged as a basic staple without which the population could not have doubled insize in just a few centuries. They may be consumed fresh or dry, with the former having a higher water content (60-90% versus 10-13%) hence, given the same weight, a lower caloric, protein and glycine content. 


legumes are richest in protein, and protein quality, among all vegetables

In Italy, beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and fava beans are the most common staples. Some are canned and are therefore available off season and in areas where they are not cultivated. Both fresh and dry, they are a key component of Italian cuisine in general and the “cucina povera” in particular. Studies confirm a high energy content, a high vitamin B content, as well as iron and calcium. The protein value is 6-7% in fresh and 20-25% in dry legumes.

Especially in dry form, legume seeds contain a respectable quantity of phosphorus, calcium and iron. They should be cooked at length as they contain anti-digestive elements in its crude form. The heat from cooking eliminates these negative characteristics. Dry legumes should be left over night in water before cooking. Lentils do not require this treatment.

Beans have been known since antiquity. Originally from the Americas, they have been found in pre-Inca Peru and were also a favorite with the Romans; known as the “poor man’s meat”, there are over 300 varieties of beans; of these, 60 are edible. There are red, black, multicolor, small, large, round and flat ones. They range from the Mexican bean (small, black and round) to the Spanish one (large, white and flat). Given the large qualities available, beans are cooked in a variety of ways (soups, minestrone, salads and condiments). They are digested slowly and are rather filling.

Lentils were among the first foods to be cultivated and consumed by man; traces have been found in Turkey in ruins dating back to 5500 BC as well as in Egyptian tombs from 2500 BC There are large seeds (6-9 mm), yellow or green, cultivated mostly in the Americas, and a smaller variety (2-6 mm), orange, red or brown in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and India. They are cooked as soup and as a side dish to meat and other dishes. It is a well-wisher during the New Year’s celebrations all over the world.

Peas along with lentils, peas are the legumes of which we have the most information from antiquity. Probably originating in Asia, they may date back to the stone-age. Modern techniques allow for availability year-round, canned or frozen, fresh or dry.

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Chick-Peas originally from the Orient, the name derives from the Latin word “aries” which refers to the shape of the seed. A major staple in the Middle East and in India, they are cooked with pasta, as soup and as a side dish.

Fava Beans this ancient plant, originating from Persia and Northern Africa, may have been known in the bronze and iron ages. Possibly the first legume to be consumed by humans as they do not require cooking. In some parts of Southern Italy, they are eaten as a fruit or in dry form with pasta or greens. Heavy consumption of fresh fava beans may cause anemia in genetically predisposed populations in the Mediterranean basin.

Truffles the black truffle has found a perfect habitat in the beech woods in harmony with oak, birch and hazel trees as well as black pine. It can be found in different areas of central and southern Italy. It has had its place for nearly two thousand years in the more culturally sophisticated cuisine, and is appreciated for its unique aroma. Found in sizes approaching that of a grapefruit, it acts as an environmental guard as it refuses to grow in polluted terrain.Composed of water, fibers and minerals its function is uniquely “aromatic” in this type of cuisine; the small quantities utilized contain limited nutritional value. Nevertheless, it has its place in a variety of preparations associated with appetizers, first and second dishes especially if accompanied by olive oil.

Pasta the Romans where among the first to mention lagane (from which lasagne derive). Previously, Horatio and Cicero consumed this light pasta made with flour and water. However, there is no further historical data on pasta from 200 AD. It is believed that maccheroni originated in Sicily. The term is from the Greek “macar” which means happy or food of the blessed ones. Pasta was seasoned with sugar and honey besides cheese and butter. The first recipe with tomatoes dates from the year 1839. And the first apparition of the word spaghetti appears in a Neapolitan cook book from 1824.

Bread the history of bread begins with that of man with barley and millet the preferred ingredients as they were ideal from a nutritional standpoint; they were eventually replaced by cereal. The invention of bread can be attributed to the Egyptians nearly 3000 years ago. They also developed the first ovens and, it is believed that the workers of the pyramids were paid in bread. Thereafter the Greeks developed at least 72 varieties of bread whereas the Romans improved on certain technical features such as windmills. There were at least 400 ovens in Imperial Rome with the first public oven dating back to 168 BC. Only with the start of the 20th Century bread production reaches an industrial scale.

Mozzarella the domestic water buffalo originates from India and was also found in Persia, brought over by migrant workers or armies. Later, Islamic soldiers brought it to Syria and Egypt. It arrived in Italy in the year 596 during the reign of the Longobard king Aginulfo. It thrives in warm, swampy areas rich in water such as the Nile Delta. In Europe it has found fertile ground in Puglia, Campania and the low lands along the Danube River.Mozzarella was offered and received with great pleasure by the nobility passing through while on the Grand Tour to Pompeii and Paestum. The word mozzarella comes from “mozzata” or cutting. The denomination “Mozzarella di Bufala” was nationally recognized in 1993 with a D.O.C. label and a D.O.P. label at the Europe level in 1996.

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Spaccanapoli and the Naples Historic Center

The Arts Traditions History Culture Churches and Palazzi of Naples

Spaccanapoli is a narrow one-kilometer long street in the heart of the Naples Historic Center, the oldest continuously inhabited community in Western Europe. 

An Open-Air Museum and a 2500 Year Journey of Western Civilization

The Decumano Superiore and Spaccanapoli comprise the urban layout of Greek era Neapolis. In the 19th century, the city’s aristocratic families’ palazzi and religious convents led to renewed interest in the old quarter from Piazza San Domenico Maggiore to Piazza del Gesù Nuovo where remains of the Roman baths where found under the Cloister of Santa Chiara.

The Renaissance period led to changes in the original Gothic buildings as well as a linkage with the city’s Spanish quarter with construction of via Toledo. Palazzo Carafa di Maddaloni is a classic example of Neapolitan Baroque whereas Palazzo Coriglianoand its namesake church maintained their gothic polygonal apse but were refurbished in a gold and stucco baroque style. 

We have developed anchor locations from which you can best base your travel movements, mindful that you are likely to visit three to four places in a compressed period of time, typically 7 to 10 days, and experience multiple interests that range from cultural to culinary, wellness and the environment. 

San Gregorio Armeno is an alley full of storefronts and stalls presenting porcelain pulcinellas peppers, lemons and blood red tomatoes as well as artisan shops, antique dealers, pizzerie and the famed Neapolitan crib. Nearby are the entrance to Undeground Naples and the city’s Cathedral where you can view the Treasure of San Gennaro.

Photos and Original Italian Text courtesy of Ciro La Rosa and Vesuvio Live

Travel Logistics Move in one direction. Anchor your stays in strategic locations conveniently located near points of interest. Take in sites, meals and other planned events in a hub and spoke fashion and enjoy the places and the people you are visiting

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Amalfi Coast Food and Travel

Terra Furoris, Land of Furor, is the ancient name of this community in the hills above the Amalfi Coast; it symbolizes the fury of the sea inside its fjord. This area produces pomodorini and a vine with a terroir – Costa d´Amalfi Doc – unique in Europe.

Furore’s Vineyards produce high quality reds and whites, appreciated around the world, including in a cantina built into the rocks and others that extend for just a few hectares, given the characteristics of this territory, fruit of the local labor and its talents, cultivated in pockets of land carved from mountains, rocks and the sea. 

Furore is one of Italy’s most beautiful borgos

The Cuisine here is representative of the landscape’s variety:

Pasta in the Costiera includes ‘ndunderi, a large-gnocchi with ricotta, semola and spices, recognized by Unesco and made with spelt flour; it traces its origins from Roman times.

Colatura di Alici di Cetara, evolved from the Roman garum, is a local sauce, typical of this area, resulting from the natural process of preserving anchovies.

Dairy Specialties such as ricotta, fior di latte, provola and caciocavalli are still produced by several artisan shops in the nearby town of Tramonti.

Sfusato Amalfitano a Lemon utilized in making Limoncello

Local Culinary Traditions can be experienced with the catch of the day, combined with vegetables and Mediterranean macchia herbs producing dishes such as swordfish cooked in lemon leaves, parmigiana with anchovies, tuna in a genovese sauce, squid and potatoes, the latter especially popular with the local farmer-fishermen and their very large families.

A Cuisine that captures and blends scents from land and sea: migliaccio, minestra maritata and caponata are among the dishes typically found at local restaurants.

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Monasteries Monks and Nuns have experimented and contributed to all this with a judicious use of lemons, fennel, laurel, nuts and wild strawberries, creating sweets and preserves, the Santa Rosa cake, bocconotto, melanzane with chocolate and even the famed caprese.

Pizza is another local tradition, exported by the over three thousand Tramonti pizzaioli who have traveled all over the world.

Food and Travel on the Amalfi Coast

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Medieval Castles and Etruscan Cities

Lazio History Culture and Archaeology

History Lazio gets its name from the Latini, a people who arrived in the area in the second millennium BC. This Indo-European population established itself on the Palatine hill and eventually expanded to the other six hills of Rome. The region was home to the Etruscans, north of the Tiber river, the Latins in the center, the Falisci in an area in between Etruscans and Latins, and the Capenati, an italic people heavily influenced in language and customs by the Sabines, the Latins and Etruscans.

Archaeology Lazio is among the richest archeological regions in the world, with major Etruscan cities such as: Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci, Veio and Volsini that peaked between the VII and V Centuries BC. Our trip begins in Vulci, an ancient Etruscan city suddenly overwhelmed by the advancing tide of Rome; a walk through the princely tombs of its Necropolis confirms the glorious and lavish past of the Etruscan aristocracy. A majestic silhouette stands out in the background: the medieval castle of the Abbey, which towers over the Fiora river valley. Next, the Niki de Saint Phalle Tarot Garden, a unique theme park.

The First Monasteries in Central Italy appeared around 529 and the Founding of Monte Cassino Abbey

Via Appia Antica the Regina Viarum has been traveled by millions of people over the past two millennia. Via Appia linked Rome with Southern Italy; along the way, you will discover monuments, clues about who built and owned them, and the Catacombs. Then, a rustic and appetizing lunch al fresco under a pergola.

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Castles and Museums the area just south and east of Rome, known as the Castelli Romani e Prenestini, comprises a network of museums and archeological sites in several small historic towns. These twenty cultural venues are representative of the area’s rich historic, artistic and cultural heritage in: History and Archeology; Anthropology; Science and the Environment; Culture and Religion.

A unique opportunity for vacationing families and culture professionals alike to walk ancient trails, become acquainted with old traditions and visit: small historic towns, churches and convents, medieval palaces, Roman aqueducts and imperial navy ships, a wine producing town and even a toy museum.

Travel in the Company of People who Live and Work in Etruscan Cities and Medieval Towns

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The Wines of Campania

Romans Greeks Sannio Irpinia DOCG DOC IGT Aglianico Greco Falanghina Falerno and Fiano

The Romans favored the vineyards along the coast north of Naples where Falernian, the most treasured wine of the empire, was grown. They also praised the wines of volcanic Vesuvius and the wooded hills of Avellino.

The Greeks introduced Vines Which Still Stand Out Today as Aglianico Greco and Falanghina

In Campania, wine producers make the most of native vines, including an honor roll of archaeological varieties which dates back to antiquity. The noblest of red varieties is Aglianico, which makes the red Taurasi, as well as the red Falerno del Massico.

Taurasi is Known as the Barolo of the South

Greco is the base of Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo. Falanghina is the base of the white version of Falernian. Campania’s DOC zones also include the islands of Capri and Ischia, as well as the recently revived Penisola Sorrentina and Costa d’Amalfi, produced in terraced seaside vineyards from Sorrento to Amalfi.

Campania Appellations: DOCG Fiano di Avellino, Greco di Tufo, Taurasi DOC Aglianico del Taburno, Aversa, Campi Flegrei, Capri, Castel San Lorenzo, Cilento, Costa d’Amalfi, Falerno del Massico, Galluccio, Guardiolo, Irpinia, Ischia, Penisola Sorrentina, Sannio, Sant’Agata dei Goti, Solopaca, Taburno, VesuvioIGT Beneventano, Campania, Colli di Salerno, Dugenta, Epomeo, Irpinia, Paestum, Pompeiano, Roccamonfina, Terra del Volturno.

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Irpinia the rail line linking Avellino and Rocchetta Sant’Antonio was known as the Wine Line; such was the importance of wine productionin this area. Avellino County features Greco di Tufo, Taurasi and Fiano.

The Fiano di Avellino takes its name from the variety that the Latins called Vitis Apiana because the vine’s grapes were so sweet that they proved irresistible to bees (api). Highly appreciated in the Middle Ages; an order for three salme – a measure – of Fiano is entered in the register of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and Charles d’Anjou had 16,000 Fiano vines planted in the royal vineyards.

Dry Fiano Features Scents of Toasted Hazelnuts

Greco di Tufo is the oldest variety of the Avellino area. It was imported from the Greek region of Thessaly asconfirmed by the discovery of a fresco in Pompeii. The Greco variety was originally cultivated on the slopes of Vesuvius, where it was given the name Lacryma Christi. It was later planted in the province of Avellino, where it was given the denomination Greco di Tufo.

Taurasi is the center of the production of the red wine of the same name; is a wine of great body and structure, dry and austere, with an aromatic vein. The wine must be aged for three years, of which one in chestnut or oak casks. In the three succeeding years, the wine can be tasted in the fullness of its quality and is particularly good as an accompaniment to roasted red meats.

Aglianico was Introduced at the Founding of Cumae the Grapes are Round and Blue in Color

Sannio is a hilly area where the best land has always been used for growing grapevines. The climatic conditions here are ideal for the ripening of grapes. Pliny, Columella, Cato and Horace have written on the excellence of the wines produced from the historical grapevines of Samnium – Aglianico, Coda di Volpe, Falanghina, Fiano, Greco, Moscato, Piedirosso, and Sciascinoso.
Aglianico is a red-grape variety that is widely diffused in Basilicata and in Campania in the provinces of Avellino and Benevento, where it is known by the names of Gnanico, Agliatica, Ellenico, Ellanica and Uva Nera. The production zone of the Aglianico del Taburno in the province of Benevento is a district of high hills that is subject to particularly severe winters.

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Southern Italy Castles and Coastal Towers

The History of Coastal Towers goes hand in hand the political and military evolution of the Kingdom of Naples.Fortifications were built in Southern Italy over and eight-hundred-year period from the 9th to the 17th centuries. The original towers were cylindrical in shape, tall and with small windows. Their main function was to sound the alarm when pirate ships were sighted through the lightning of fires, allowing the local population to find shelter into the hills and grottoes inland from the coast.

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Increased Raids during the 16th Century led to Development of More Complex Coastal Defenses

Naples Viceroy Don Pedro of Toledo ordered the construction of massive, square-shaped towers with thicker external walls. The transition from circular-shaped towers to square-shaped ones was spurred by the introduction of artillery requiring fortifications whose functions now included sighting, signaling, shelter as well as the use of offensive weapons that could hit a ship approaching the coast.

Communications were carried out through a series of visual signals – smoke in the daytime, fires by night as well as acoustic signals such as bells, or shots from a cannon or arquebus, a precursor of the rifle. When a pirate ship was sighted from one tower, one of these signals would be used to warn the people of the area to prepare to fight or flee. The signal would be passed from tower to tower, up and down the coast, passing the word quickly and effectively. The ground level floor had no windows and was set directly above a large cistern to guarantee a constant water supply. This space was used to store food and munitions and also contained a millstone for grinding wheat, making the tower self-sufficient.

Saracen Towers can be viewed along the Southern Italian coastline from Gaeta to the Sorrento peninsula, the Amalfi and Cilento coasts. There are over 350 towers, including 30 along the coastal strip from Vietri sul Mare to Positano. Some have been restored and incorporated into modern buildings in small harbors such as San Marco, Pisciotta and Marina di Camerota. Further south, around Cape Infreschi just before reaching Scario, there are cliffs along the coast unreachable by road; here the original coastal towers stand just a few hundred yards apart.

The Term Saracen has shifted over time. Ptolemy’s Geography from the second century mentions Sarakene as a region in the northern Sinai Peninsula and refers to a people called the Sarakenoi. For Italians during the middle ages it meant Muslim invader, from the Arabs who rode the initial wave of Islamic expansion into Spain and Sicily in the 8th and 9thcenturies to the Ottoman Turks who took Constantinople in the 15th century.

Coastal Watchtowers were also as a point of reference for friendly ships. The towers were generally manned by a military team of four guards and a horseman, who often remained outside the tower ready to ride into town to carry a warning as soon as possible.

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Traditions and Folklore in Rome and Lazio

Capena Viterbo Marta Oriolo Romano Gradoli Latina Frosinone

Rome on August 5 it snows in the eternal city. Rose petals fall on the congregation in the Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica. This event is a re-enactment of the snowfall that took place on the Esquilino hill on this day in 352, when the Virgin Mary indicated to Pope Liberio the location where the church should be built.

Capena before dawn, every January 13, a large oak log is lit. As flames ember, all the citizens light up a cigarette; this very ancient tradition ends with a benediction of the animals and a parade of local horses dressed in vivacious colors

Viterbo celebrates Santa Rosa on September 4 with a procession led by a very large statue of the saint placed on an elaborate cart; the first one dates-back to 1663. 

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Marta on May 14, a procession of the Chiesa della Santissima del Monte: a wooden stand is carried by four persons holding an image of the Madonna adorned with fruits and flowers followed by the clergy and citizenry parading in groups representative of their trades.

Oriolo Romano a unique celebration takes place on August 15 – Ferragosto; a long procession accompanies the statue of the Virgin Mary of the Star along the streets of this XVI Century medieval borgo, built as an ideal town by the Church, an early example of a planned community!

The Venue for a Rodeo by the Butteri of Maremma, the Cowboys of Southern Tuscany

Gradoli on Fat Tuesday, members of the Purgatory Fraternity, wearing black hoods, parade through the town’s streets led by banners and drums, knocking on doors to collect food for the Dinner in Purgatory eaten on Ash Wednesday.

Latina Tuesday is market day: bancarelle with new and used clothes, home furnishings, fruits and vegetables. Best day to visit is the first Tuesday of the month when, it is claimed, new and fresh stuff arrives! 

Frosinone a feast known as Radeca may have pre-Christian origins. Frosinone is a very old town and this event may have its roots in pagan fertility and procreation rituals. The long radeca leaf represents the agave, the ancient symbol of fertility. The event takes place on July 26 to celebrate an insurrection against the Roman Republic and the French army that protected it.