An easy day on the water relaxing and scuba diving they said. And it was, until that part I nearly died. Maybe that is a little overblown for the sake of drama, but when you are meters deep below the surface with lead weights strapped to you starting to fall unconscious, you might freak out as well. Everything began and ended fine, because I wouldn’t be writing to you today and showing you this gnarly video if I was dead, but there was an in between bit that I thought I was doomed.Read More
Ever since I was a wee little boy, Italy was the country I dreamed of seeing over everything else. It was probably the badass gladiatorial culture that fascinated me as a youngin’ but as I got older it was the history and impact on the world that drew my curiosity. I never thought I would see it, like it was a fantasy place from movies. But after I had to leave Thailand because of the military coup, Italy was my first choice to visit. Over the course of a month on and off I explored Italy, sometimes flat broke and scraping for cash, and other times on an inclusive tour with other bloggers. Here are some of the adventures.
10 Days of Paradise in Italy
From eating bread and ketchup completely broke in Rome, to a 10 day tour with a group of awesome travel blogger, I find myself swept away seeing and eating the best Italy has to offer. Come explore Rome, Umbria, Tuscany, and Ponza Island.
A Surprise at Campo Dalto Villa
Sometimes unexpected things happen when you reach a place. After a long late night drive from Rome to Umbria, I arrived at the Villa Campo Dalto under a full moon. Here would be my base for 3 days, and I didn’t think it would be like this.
Frontone Beach Villa on Ponza Island
After a 2 hour train ride from Umbria to Formia, and a 3 hour long ferry ride, we finally arrived in Ponza Island. We took a tiny van around the treacherous cliff roads to our accommodation for the week, Frontone Beach Villa, and I was in love.
Il Fontanaro Organic Estate in Umbria
Il Fontanaro estate in Umbria Italy is a place of passion and care when it comes to growing olives and grapes, and more so with hospitality. For the first few days of our 10 day tour of Italy, much time would be spent here learning Italian traditions.
Tantalizing Food Tour of Ponza
Once upon a time I could have been considered the pickiest eater alive. On Ponza Island in Italy we toured restaurants and tried some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted. From octopus to calamari, anchovies to oyster. Warning, you may drool.
Video: Exploring Ancient caves in Ponza
Penza Island is unique geographically for the rock compositions and formations that make up this beautiful island. Settled by the Etruscans, caves and underwater passageways create fascinating labyrinths hidden around, and I take you there.
The moment I stepped foot in the backyard of Il Fontanaro, I knew I was going to quite enjoy myself. Maybe it was Bob humming along as he cut the lawn, or maybe it was the pool beyond the hedges the overlooked the green gum-drop dotted hills around, or maybe it was the hammock swaying in the breeze (after all, hammocks make everything better). Maybe it was the drive through the valley that did it, or the old brown dogs that greeted us after passing by the family vegetable garden. Even under the grey washed sky it was a beautiful place set in the valley above Paciano, Umbria, and there was much to gawk at.
It could have also been Alina asking if I wanted a glass of wine on arrival. It’s possible.
Oh, and meet Bob, well as I named him…
Welcome to Il Fontanaro Olive and Grape Estate, almost 100 acres of protected wood and land crawling with vineyards or sprouting with olive trees perched in the rolling hillside of Umbria, Italy. After arriving late night to our villa Campodalto where we would be staying during a 10-day blogger tour, day two introduced us to our base of operations in the area where super secret blogger pow-wows would happen. Or, in reality, where we would meet up for lunch or dinner and go over plans for the day and experience what the estate has to offer with its award winning wine and olive oils.
But before we delve into some of the experiences over 4 days around the estate (and my wine glass count which may or may not top 100) I want to share some of my first impressions in photos as I noted above, which are some of the details that made Il Fontanaro such a special place.
Everybody loves dogs. That is the only reason they are on here to get oohs and ahhs out of you. No, I’m kidding, Fontanaro brings out the big guns in first impressions with the welcome committee consisting of these two. I can’t tell you how many photos us bloggers took of them.
Hammock hung from an olive tree overlooking the hillside. Enough said.
Care for a swim in the secret garden?
All around Il Fontanaro life and color was bursting everywhere you looked. Beside the large family garden in the front of the property where the family gets the majority of ingredients they cook with, all over were lilac and flowers and even artichoke growing. By the way, the crazy awesome purple flower above is what an artichoke in bloom looks like! If you already knew that, go away. I didn’t, and it was exciting for me. Don’t crush my enjoyment.
Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Award winning at that!)
One of the days on the estate, we had the opportunity and pleasure of getting a tour of the olive orchard and mill where they make the award winning olive oils. We were led through the orchard and told of the history of the farm, the process of growing and maintaining the olive trees, and the process at which they produce the extra virgin olive oil. Our guide, the one and only true Mamma Lucia, told us of how the estate only had a small portion of olive trees growing on it, and now they produce some 2,000 liters of it annually.
Momma Lucia explains how the olives are harvested, carefully of course, and how the trees are decades old and they have used no chemicals at all on the farm.
Olives in growth, just beginning to pop their little green heads out into the world.
Our other guide, Ciccio, always followed us about the estate and knew of the best places to relax.
Some of the bees in the bee hives just below the olive trees. Not only to they produce olive oils, but also 300kg this year of organic raw honey.
The valley splitting open, revealing the rolling hills of Umbria and the town below. Quite a view from the mill.
Mamma Lucia takes a moment to show us photos of the estate and of baby Alina so we could embarrass her later by telling her how cute she was. Apparently, all throughout their childhood, the kids of the household were always eager to help with whatever they were producing.
Some of the machinery involved in the olive oil pressing.
While on the olive oil tour, we had a chance to take shots, of olive oil of course, to see if we could guess the cheap store bought brand versus their organic oil. Instantly I could see the difference; the store bought was a transparent golden color, whereas their olive oil was a thicker consistency and was slightly green. Alina told us how to sip the oil specifically, and doing so I could feel the oil triple down my throat and burn all the way to my stomach. Not in a painful way, but almost like I would sip a fine whiskey.
“I use it for everything. If I feel sick, or have a stomach ache, I take a spoonful of olive oil.”
Now that is something the United States won’t back — organic natural medicine? That would probably be deemed blasphemous. Yet, I believed it, and when she explained all of the benefits of olive oil, and the nutrients and vitamins in organically produced olive oil, it was something I would definitely be using back home.
Wine Tastings (and my new found love for it.)
Another part of the experience at Il Fontanaro is the wine tastings of their own wine produced from a small vineyard on the property. I can definitely say I love my wine, with their brand being called by the exact same name of My Wine, and no doubt there is reasoning behind it because I never wanted to give it up.
Alina, during the wine tasting, went through the history of wine in the region and the main types produced there, with Il Fontanaro’s stock being exclusive to the guests who stay there.
I remember asking Alina at one point a question that completely baffled me, “Why is it that I haven’t gotten a hangover yet?” I inquired. Truth be told, I get headaches from wine even if I only have two glasses, let alone the first day when I had upwards of ten. Exaggerating that claim or not, she filled me in on the blunt reason behind my lack of hangover, and with her thick Italian accent she retorted, “Because you aren’t drinking shit wine like America.”
We all laughed, but it is potentially true, given her explanation that organic wines from Umbria and Tuscany wouldn’t have preservatives in them, and more importantly, sulfates that cause headaches in wines. With a gulp of My Wine, I nodded and felt enlightened.
After the clanking of glasses and sipping of more wine, we were taken into the kitchen where we were to learn how to make authentic Italian pasta from scratch. To my relief, it didn’t appear that I was the only one lacking experience in this field as Alina instructed us each step of the way. And usually delegating the hand-cramping task of making the dough and folding and massaging it to the “strong men”. I think the girls just wanted to sit back and sip wine and laugh at our attempt at cooking.
Pasta Making (I learn how to cook! Kind of.)
Soon, the floor began forming a volcano…well, we formed it into a volcano to stir ever-so gently pesto into it to create the pesto ribbon pasta.
In Umbria, everything has got to be hearty. Raguout means hunks of meat chucked into a pan and simmered together in glorious carnivorous synchronization of flavor. The kinda’ food that will keep you warm during the cold winters there. I’m sure the red wine helps too.
Just as our dough was settling, we were taught two ways to slice them into pasta: Momma’s and Alina’s. There was a reason why both were never in the kitchen at the same time, since Alina refused to use a hand-crank pasta slicer whereas Momma Lucia snuck us out back to show us how.
Here around the table daily, us bloggers sat and talked and ate and drank and laughed, all in the good company of Fontanaro Estate’s family. Everything they do on that farm and around the other guesthouses they own is done with a long-lasting passion you can see in their eyes and hear in the enthusiasm in their voices. Though we were visiting for four days, four was not enough since I wanted to stay and actually help with a harvest. At some point I will. Or, mainly sleep in that hammock out back. But it was the perfect location to launch our amazing blog tour from, and a place that helped us all get familiar with the roots of tradition in the Umbria region and history of an ancient art like olive oil.
*Special thanks to Linnea of This Is Your Time and Alina of Slow Living Vacations for inviting me on this blog tour, and Il Fontanaro for hosting us. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.
Family values are a big thing in Italy. And even bigger, are the enormous and lengthy family style dinners that Italy is famous for. And while staying at Campodalto in the hills of Umbria, I had my first experience which made a lasting memory.
Something happened to me during the five days of my stay in the hills of Umbria. On that hour or so ride from Rome late at night to Paciano where a 10-day blog tour of Italy would be kicking off, I could not have imagined what it would be like — and even if I could have, this sudden and unexpected occurrence wouldn’t have come to mind.
After a rendezvous with one of the tour hosts Linnea, a fellow blogger (DJ of Dream Eurotrip) and I hopped into Giovanni’s car and left the Eternal City in the rear view mirror. Giovanni, who is brother to our other tour host Alina and family owners of Fontanaro Farm where much of our base of operations would take place, told us of the area we would be staying in and bits and pieces about the region’s history.
Once we were off the highway, dark curving roads turned to gravel; smothered in dust kicked up from the car and lined with the dark walls of long grass dancing in the wind. The distant hills, monochrome in the twilight, surrounded the valley as we crept deeper into Umbria.
Under a full moon we arrived at our destination, Campdalto Villa, around midnight. There was a gentle breeze, and the sounds of crickets were the only thing stirring in the night. We passed under the silhouette of an ivy-lined archway to the villa which was completely dark besides a dim porch light illuminating the front door with a hand-painted “Welcome” sign at the center. Marlina greeted us, host and owner of Campodalto, who had a ginormous warm smile, so much so that it caused her eyes to squint just to make room for it, the kind of smile that makes someone feel like family at first meetin. Then, out popped the second blogger of the tour, Serena, who was already eager to gush about the villa’s secret in the garden.
We plopped our bags down inside of our room and Marliza gave us a tour of the house. Our room was large and cozy, a far cry from the crowded and uncomfortable hostels I had inhabited the past few months. And a bed! A real bed with real pillows and real blankets. Oh so marvelous. Our bathroom was bigger than my last apartment as well, with a walk in shower and decorated with handmade goodies. All around it just felt comfortable, but even more-so it felt like an easy place to call home for the week.
As much as I wanted to face-plant into the bed, Marliza and Serena both demanded that we go explore the backyard of Campodalto, for some super secret and amazing ‘something” awaited us back there. We wandered toward the back yard and into the blackness of the night, but soon, as our eyes adjusted, we were all “ooohs” and “ahhhs” at the sight before us.
The distant town lights glowed in the valley, but the sea of fireflies (or lightning bugs as I called them as a child) overpowered even that. There were thousands around us flaring up and fading black, like the visual representation of the heartbeat of the hillsides around us — and with the cloudy sky above, it was as if the stars had descended so wouldn’t miss them that night.
Somewhere in those hills a dog howled at the great moon above us. Something else in the darkness growled fiercely, which I looked down and discovered it was my belly. I guess I was quite hungry. I let out long sigh, it felt good to be away from the city lights and the noise. DJ and Serena both seemed to be feeling the same. I had been crashing in one hostel after the other, and with a nearly exhausted budget, had been living on bread and ketchup while waiting for some extra funds to come in. But here I didn’t have to worry about where to slept night and if I might eat. Here, I left the fireflies to mock the stars and went into the villa for a cup of coffee and a biscotti, and plopped into the lavender-scented bed, pulled the knitted blanket over myself, and drifted into a deep sleep.
In the morning under the Umbrian sun I could finally take in the sprawling views of the countryside and see Campodalto in all its rustic glory. Stone walls and pastel accents, ceramic tile rooftop and bright-colored plants all around. It was as if someone had dug into my mind and constructed my dream house. Or maybe that after-thought was a product of how much I couldn’t stop ogling over every itty-bitty detail of the house.
Though it was considered “home” for the 5 days that our blog tour would be exploring Umbria, the majority of the time spent here was just for sleeping. Most days, Linnea and Alina were taking us exploring all over the region from early morning to late at night, or we were around Fontanaro Farm feasting, cooking, and guzzling down wine. But even though we didn’t spend much time at the villa itself, I have told many people that of all of the awesome things done on this blog tour; from exploring sea caves in Ponza, to the day-long hike around Il Trasimeno Lake, and everything in between — an experience at Campodalto stood out to me above most else.
What was this unexpected experience?
Well, it was falling in love.
I fell in love in Campodalto in the hills of Umbria, fell in love with not a person or a thing or a scene, but of a concept. A tradition. I fell in love with Italian hospitality, but more specifically, the Italian-style dinners. How could this be one of the favorites of a trip filled with so many amazing things?
Well, besides Italian food in general making it easy to fall head-over-chucks, and surely good wine makes falling in love easy sometimes, it was something else.
When we all entered Campodalto after a day wine tastings and an in-depth tour of Paciano by the tourism leader in the area, aromas tickled our nostrils and rumbled our hungry stomachs. Again, Marliza and her warm smile invited us all in to the dining room — dimly lit with stained-glass lamps and polished wood furniture, with a great table in the center strewn with scrumptious finger foods. This was aperitivo baby, one Italian concept which is basically appetizers to snack on while you drink wine and talk amongst friends as you wait for dinner.
Marliza, after telling us all to drink and eat, went straight back into the kitchen and began crafting her Napoli-style pasta originating from her home town, and something she had eaten as a child. She had to have been cooking and preparing the spread all day, and everything on it from the flat bread with artichokes to the tomato and mozzarella was incredible. It just seemed like she was so passionate about having guests over and cooking for them, and as we all huddled around the kitchen at times to watch her create culinary masterpieces, we also just mingled and talked and laughed all night.
For three or so hours.
That is exactly why I loved the experience of Campodalto so much.
That is what I fell in love with.
As I was sipping my wine I thought about how great it was to have a huge dinner where everyone is talking and eating and enjoying the food and company…nobody was on their phones or watching television. It was a whole affair, an event, and it was something I hadn’t felt all too often.
When I was growing up, we would occasionally have family dinners on holidays, or I would go to family dinners of friends as well, but majority of the time when my brother and father and I ate dinner, it involved taking our plate to air respective areas (dad went to the TV, I went to my room, and my brother went to his). Family dinners weren’t a common thing for us growing up, and if we did sit together we were eating off fold out stands in front of the tube. So, though I enjoy family gatherings and dinners around the holidays, I’ve always felt awkward like I didn’t know how to be a part of the gathering.
But somehow inside Campodalto amongst the new friends and fellow bloggers, and with Marliza and her husband, I felt completely normal. I felt like I was experiencing this big dinner without a second thought to being out-of-place. And though I had already eaten my fair share of Italian food, it had never been what is one of the underlying fundamentals of Italian culture — being present with family and friends and enjoying the tastes and the company. Italian dinners (not all the time though) are typically an event where the food goes fast but the smiles don’t die. It isn’t a rush to leave anytime soon. And its a passion it seems.
With nearly three plates of Marliza’s pasta in my belly, and maybe about 4 glasses of wine, I observed her creating a work of art in the kitchen as the cap stone of the night. She drizzled caramel she had just made as the final touches over a desert only Dali could have conceived — sweet massive crackers with candied fruits, caramel, and homemade cream. As she presented it, nobody dared touch it as we all gawked at the construction. We didn’t want to destroy something so beautiful, however much our stomachs wanted us too. But, as she urged us to dig in, I was voted to make the first blow. Everything about it was fresh and unique and delicious, and though it took so much time to prepare, it was gone in seconds. I guess beauty doesn’t last, especially around hungry bloggers.
This crazy concept of cooking big dinners with friends over a few hours and enjoying company isn’t new, but it was somewhat for me. That dinner, the hospitality of Marliza and her husband, and the overall feel of Campodalto in general is what truly made the experience one of the most memorable from my time spent in Italy.
Now I’ve got to get my friends in the US to adopt this kind of concept. As long as they are the ones cooking.
*Special thanks to Linnea of This Is Your Time and Alina of Slow Living Vacations for inviting me on this blog tour, and Campodalto for hosting us. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.
Up in the hills above the 15th century town of Paciano Italy and overlooking the countryside of Umbria sits the villa of Campodalto. At the beginning of my 10-day blogger tour through Italy, this sight was one of the more unexpectedly memorable ones — and it happened on day one after arriving late night to Campodalto where we would stay during our time in Umbria. I just remember wandering outside and into the back lawn that was pitch black. The distant town lights glowed, but the sea of fireflies overpowered even that. There were thousands around us flaring up and fading black, like the visual representation of the heartbeat of the hillside around us, and with the cloudy sky above, it was as if the stars had descended so we could still see them.
Read more about the 10-day blog tour around Umbria and Ponza Italy HERE!
Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)
There was a time when I could have been labeled the most picky eater alive. Anything with a weird texture, look, smell, or even name I wouldn’t go near. But I like to think that travel has broadened my tastes (and probably my ass too) and allowed me to break down the taste bud barriers — and now I am proud to say that I am usually up for trying most anything. Just keep Vegemite away.
During the 10-day tour through Italy with a group of bloggers I tried more types of foods, flavors, cooking styles, and cultural dishes in a short span of time than any country I’ve been to so far. And I put on more weight than any other I’ve been to. The best kinda’ weight possible — Italian food deserves an extra corridor in your stomach for excess.
While on Isola di Ponza (Ponza Island) I expanded my food adventures even further as the group every day visited a restaurant on the island to try their unique dishes, and met with the chefs/owners to learn more about the foods we were eating and what made them special.
I mean, after an entire day of exploring ancient Roman sea caves, scuba diving in underwater cave networks, and hiking around, you definitely work up a ravenous hunger. But besides the weight that stuck with me, one thing that was so amazing about the food in Ponza was the freshness of the seafood, and the fact that I enjoyed seafood there much more than I do in the States.
So grab your drool rag and come check out the food adventures I had in Ponza over the three days we were there and discover the best seafood I’ve ever had in my life. Most dishes I do not remember the names since they were given in Italian, so i will do my best, but this is a feast for your eyes!
The most memorable part of the first restaurant we visited in Ponza, Il Tramonto, was the view; clinging to the side of a cliff overlooking the sea. After a long day of trains and ferries to get to Ponza, and getting settled into our amazing beach villa, seeing this sunset painted over the silver ripples of the sea made the stress of transit drift away. Ivan Altieri, the owner of Il Tramonto, came and welcomed us at the table.
After we stopped taking thousands of photos and selfies with the sunset, we drank champagne as Ivan told us about his humble beginnings. He actually came into ownership of the restaurant after working as a waiter for years before the original owners decided to give it up. Ivan beamed stories, told jokes, and kept the appetizers, and eventually entrees flowing. Even when our bellies were full to the brim, out came a full range of deserts for us to try. I’m surprised we could walk after. Favorites included the mozzarella cheese rolls in pistachio crumbs and the molten cake.
Cheese rolls covered in pistachio crumbs.
A grilled white fish in a zesty tomato sauce with pine nuts.
Stuffed bread puffs.
A seafood pasta in a creamy sauce with basil and tomatoes. Sorry, I can’t remember the fish!
Molten chocolate cake covered in caramel.
Candied caramel topping a cream puff with sweet crackers.
After a full day on the open water cruising around the island and exploring caves, we were all fiends for food. We taxi boated into port and walked to Orestorante, once a night club, it now gives breath-taking views of the town and port. As the sun set, we settled into our table and immediately all of us were drawn to the amazing handmade plates adorning the table — brightly colored and vibrant, each dish that was served popped in contrast to the plates. It was as if each dish was its own art piece.
As each plate came out, we tried the various seafood native to Ponza and the waters around and admired the unique presentations of the dishes. Swordfish served on a hot rock to cook on, calamari pasta ringlets, and even special dessert goodies. Oreste Romagnola, owner and chef at Orestorante, came by the table to talk a bit about the restaurant and show us a book based on dishes he created and the restaurant itself. Just like Ivan above, he started off learning the ropes in the kitchens at the bottom and worked his way up to own restaurants around the island, including Oresteria down on the port itself.
Though most locals prefer traditional dishes and methods of cooking, Oreste Romagnolo decided to stand out and create interesting seafood concepts using the freshest and best catches of the day from the market just below.
Handmade and hand-painted plates on every table. Oh, and starfish.
Swordfish sizzles on skewers cooked over a hot rock. My favorite part of the experience.
White fish, grilled, over kalamata olive puree.
Calamari pasta ringlets in a light tomato sauce with dill. Something I thought I’d never like,a nd it was delicious!
More white fish sliced and served raw like a ceviche.
Chunks of buttery white fish over a risotto topped with cream sauce.
Oreste hanging out with our crew and telling us about himself and the history.
Adriano Bacchella’s book of recipes based on the restaurant.
My second favorite bit of the night, homemade strawberry shortcake in a glass jar!
Da Enzo al Frontone
On our last night of the blog tour and of our time in Ponza, we only had to make a short walk to Da Enzo al Frontone, located right near Frontone beach and ruins of an old grotto from ancient Rome. Tucked literally into the cliffside, the restaurant feels like you are dining in a cave, with sand at your feet, the breeze coming through, and the long melted candles around.
At this point, I didn’t think there would be seafood I hadn’t tried yet, but I was wrong. The owner of the restaurant, Enzo, came by and we got a chance to pick his brain. His main concept for the restaurant is “zero kilometers” which means that what they serve in the restaurant that day and night, is what they caught that morning.
You could taste the freshness of the dishes; flavors stood out like I had never had before. The swordfish, steaky and delicious. With the recipes, the ingredients tend to be minimal to let the flavor of the fish and freshness shine. Oh, and I can’t forget about the massive crawfish, which this species is only found around the Pontine island — it was naturally buttery in flavor and by far my favorite dish.
The bar, carved into the cliffs, with melted candles setting the mood.
The chefs whip up salads as appetizers for us.
This dish, packed with tons of different types of fish, was almost like a ceviche but not too overpowering on the acidity. I would normally avoid dishes like this, but I’m glad I didn’t!
Skewers of breaded white fish and grilled bell peppers, another favorite.
Anchovies. Whole anchovies. I NEVER thought I’d eat them. After learning how to remove the bones, I devoured one after another because they were so damn scrumptious.
The favorite…a filet of swordfish and the native prawns with an arugula and clementine salad. Just give me a bucket of the crawfish!
Cheers (now wipe the drool off)
Looking back on the time spent in Ponza, it will forever change the way I eat. Even though I am pretty adventurous when it comes to foods, I tend to fall back on things I’m familiar with normally, and often that doesn’t involve seafood. Plus, to have seafood like this — caught every day and served that night, with exciting blends of recipes from skilled and unique chefs, that makes the difference.
Which dish looked most delicious to you?
Ponza Island, just off the coast of Italy, is a unique and ancient island dating back pre-Roman era. Come explore the secret caves of Ponza Island.Read More
It’s not every day that you get to look out of your window and see the ruins of a 15th century palace. Or fortress. Or house of a wealthy family. Whatever it was atop that hill across from our villa on Isola di Ponza — that crumbling structure barely clinging to whatever historical moment in time it came from — it was a magical sight. Something out of one of my fantasies. I always dreamed of exploring ruins and castles as a young boy, but I had never thought I’d bee sleeping across from them.
Let alone have a hammock to relax in on the porch of a white-washed villa set in the rocky, green-brushed volcanic hills of Ponza Island.
Our crew of the This Is Your Time blog tour, all bags in tow, plodded along the winding pathways that snake through the hills of grey and orange rock, passing the white painted villas which seemed almost to be carved straight out of the hillside. This was after a winding truck drive down the small hairpin turns which rim the coastal cliffs that were incredibly treacherous and equally adventurous, with our whole blogger crew holding on for dear life.
Which made arriving all the more rewarding and the location even more fantastical.
After a brief hike (around Ponza, you definitely need to have good legs under you) we came up the hill and through the gate to our sweet getaway, our own bright white villa above Frontone Beach overlooking the sapphire blue Tyrrhenian Sea. A gentle breeze brought up the salty sea air and cooled our brows as we all heaved our bags down happily, ready to take in this beautiful place and relax.
All of us immediately went exploring the house. Or flopping down on our faces on the comfy beds. Maurizio Musella, owner of this villa and head of TuristCasa on Ponza Island, was nice enough to let us use both connected guesthouses while we were on the island. And wow, was it awesome. It had been a long day of traveling, leaving Umbria and the first half of our tour behind, taking a train 2 hours into Formia, and a ferry to the island over 3 hours. There was space to stretch out, plush couches and beds, and the setting sun shining through the doorways.
This felt like home away from home.
What I loved most was the décor; vibrant and lively and totally fitting for an island paradise, with fish painted on the walls, maroon and royal blue ceramic tiles, and handmade plate-ware.
I think I could sit there every morning for breakfast, couldn’t you?
Though we were all “oohing and ahhhing” at our accommodation for the next 3 days, it wasn’t long after arriving and dropping our bags that the beds and couches were enticing us it was nap-time for all.
For most of the time in Ponza when at the villa, besides having some family-style dinners cooked, or a few hangouts, this was mainly our spot to relax. And we were all fine with that. Of course blog tours are hectic, so it was nice to come back each day to such a homey and fantastical villa where we could all enjoy the views and decompress — whether it be from snorkeling all day, exploring the island, or waddling back with stuffed bellies.
Here is our villa above the pink house as seen from the ruins I gazed out at every morning.
Most of our blogger crew hanging out relaxing in the sun and eating lunch whipped up by Federico or Linnea. That table was our gathering spot when we all did work or just wanted to sit around and chat.
This is my “I’m going to destroy this plate of delicious pasta” face.
When I had heard we were going to be staying in a villa on Ponza Island, I couldn’t imagine it was going to be like this. The views alone were breathtaking, with panoramic scenes of the sea in front of you. But also the hospitality of Maurizio was stellar. He was kind enough to give us lifts to and from the port when possible, and even a day excursion by boat exploring the Island (much more on that to come!). And of course I can’t forget the company, with the other members of the blog crew really making it a fun place to stay. How often can you get a group of strangers together in a house and have everything be smooth?
Unless we had to ride into town, or if we didn’t bus it back, then we followed the path down the cliff-side to the beach and small port below the villa where we could catch a boat. That’s right, we could boat taxi from our villa! Since I was so fascinated by the ruins nearby I tried to do some sleuthing, and apparently it is called Fort Bentick or Fort Gable, built for defense of the port against raiders. But there isn’t much else. Now overgrown and a wind-swept shell of its former self, but still nonetheless nifty.
Long golden grass dancing on a gentle wind, bright yellow and purple wild-flowers peeking out of the hills, dark green-brushed mountains in the distance climbing out of the horizon and surrounding the turquoise lake shimmering under the summer sun.
This is Il Trasimeno Lake in the region of Umbria in Italy. Here, our blogger group on tour around Italy began a hike with UmbriAction that would take us through the hills around the lake, showing us the beautiful and unique agriculture and wildlife. Though we had quite a hike ahead, I had to pause and take a moment to admire the view. This was a place I could have seen myself spending an entire day on that very bench writing.
Read more about the 10-day blog tour around Umbria and Ponza Italy HERE!
Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)
*This blog tour was sponsored by Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time, but all opinions and stories are my own*
Oh how the adventures of backpacking can swing dramatically from lows and highs. Trust me, I would know, because for a chunk of my time in Italy and across parts of Eastern Europe I was living on bread and ketchup as my budget bottomed out and I was left pondering what to do next. Well, slightly freaking out.
And then, the next thing I knew I was on a blog tour around parts of Italy with a group of bloggers, dining on some of the best culinary traditions of Italian cuisine, and exploring the country in ways I wouldn’t have been able to afford. Luckily, I had met a person with a similarly adventurous spirit who was setting up her first blogger tour around the country based around the sole idea of living your life to the fullest.
We met on one of the historical tours I had taken in Rome, and after meeting up a second time to hear about her idea for her blog tour, she invited me to come along. To say I was stoked is an understatement, because what she had told me for the goal of her blog tour fully encompassed the sprit of adventure and inspiration.
That is where Linnea and Alina come in — the two who incubated the idea of a tour through Italy that would embody the ideas of taking advantage of every moment in life, to explore Italy into the deep roots of its culture by taking in everything in a slow-paced and relaxing way, and to get the real Italian experience by spending time with locals. And of course the would be our marvelous guides for the week and half.
With their powers combined, the Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time blog tour was formed! It would take us outside of the bustling Eternal City into the countryside of Umbria, amongst the rolling hills and endless olive orchards and vineyards, where we would discover the very essence of Italian cuisine by seeing first hand how hearty pastas, award-winning olive oil, and robust red wines are made. We would hike around the turquoise Il Trasimeno Lake learning from the locals how the flavors of Italy are grown in the fields around us, and what a fisherman’s life is like on the lake.
Then, we were off south of Rome to the Island of Ponza for a complete contrast of culture and flavor. Here the white wine and Proseco flowed, and meats and red sauces became fresh-caught seafood in spices and white sauces. We would explore the island by boat, taking in all of the geo-gasmic natural beauty, and underwater by scuba diving to see what lies beneath.
There wasn’t much mention about this tour on the blog as it happened in June because well, the majority of the tour we were busy doing epic things, and my hands were tied with copious amounts of wine. So for the next few weeks I will be sharing all of the tour on the blog.
But who is this “we” I keep mentioning? I can’t be rude and not introduce the rest, so without further ado I give you the gnarly blogger crew!
Roster of awesomeness in no particular order:
Ryan (why that’s me of course!)
DJ of Dream Euro Trip
Serena of Wishversilia
Anna of Green Holiday Italy
Diana of Browsing Italy
Claudia of Travel Stories
Gillian of Gillian’s Lists
Now let me introduce you to some of the delicious and adventurous tidbits we experienced that we took part in while on this blog tour as a teaser for what is to come!
Part 1: UMBRIA
It was such a contrast going from an uncomfortable and hot hostel, to a villa in the hills above Paciano that felt immediately like home. Though the home of my past never had views like those outside my window, nor did it look this nice, I instantly felt warm and cozy. The villa, Campodalto, is where DJ and I stayed while the other bloggers were split up into other locations around the area. From high up in the hills it overlooked the valley below, with fireflies that would light up the darkness at night, and our host Marliza with the biggest smile and sweetest heart. One of my favorite aspects of the trip happened here, which was the massive Italian style dinner she cooked up for all of us, which was my first true experience of Italian hospitality. Read about the heart-warming experience HERE!
One of first activities that we did, which was fitting since we were staying on or around vineyards, was to take a winery tour and tasting of Giacomo Mori. A historic winery set in the hills of Umbria, we were taken below the house into the brick-lined cellars where we learned about their process for making wine, how long their blends are aged, and a bit of the history. Then we went upstairs into the dining room where the table was lined with meats and cheeses — and of course wine! The view out the window was breathtaking, and the wine maker gave us tastings of their best wines, and even their reserve. This was the beginning of my love affair with wine, which I normally do not drink at all!
Marked as one of the most beautiful historic towns in Italy, Paciano, dating back to the 15th century, is an incredibly well-preserved town in the Province of Perugia in the Umbria Region. With the mayor and the head of tourism of Paciano, we were led around the cobblestone streets and learned about the rich industries of agriculture, metal work, and textiles in the region, while admiring the rustic architecture.
One of the blog tour guides, Alina, also helps run Fontanaro Farm which is owned by her family and the place she grew up — and was our main base of operations while in the Umbria region. Here, Aline showed us how their families award-winning olive oil is produced, and cemented my appreciation of Italian wine by letting us taste the delicious red wines produced on the farm. Also, a big perk for me seeing that I lack a bit in the cooking department, Alina taught us how to make homemade Italian pasta and how to stew up a thick Umbria argue that would easily keep you warm in the winters. The property was surrounded by the vineyard and olive trees, with mountains ranging being and the valley sinking below into golden fields. To be invited into someones house, whether she was our guide or not, was something very special.
Cantina de Redi
Deep below the stone street of the mountaintop town of Montepulciano was the wine cellars of Cantina de’ Ricci, which were carved into stone below the city by the Etruscans dating back before ancient Roman times. In the silent darkness, massive oak barrels lined the vaulted stone corridors which led us into the modern-day Cantina de’ Ricci where we tried fresh-cut prosciutto, cheeses, and other meat while trying their red wine selections. The building, inside of a historic Palazzo or palace, holds onto the traditions the now extinct Ricci family guarded hundreds of years prior.
What’s the best way to really explore a region? To hump it. No not that kind of humping ya’ pervert, but a real long hike or trek throughout the region to really experience it. On our last full day in the Umbria region we met up with the team of UmbriAction, a company specializing in eco-tourism and adventure tourism in the area. When we first me up with them, we were off to do some bird watching around the marsh area of Il Trasimeno Lake populated by tons of local and migratory birds. After, we went off for a hike into the hillside to see first hand the natural beauty sprouting in the region, and an ancient tower overlooking the lake. We hiked all the way to Azienda Agrarian, the farm of Flavio Orsini where he explained the agriculture in the region, showed us what is unique about his own farm, and gave us a taste of some local flavors. Then we headed around to one of the villages where we met up with local fisherman who took us out onto the lake to show us how they making a living fishing.
Part 2: Ponza
The second portion of our blog trip began. I was sad to leave Umbria and the villa that we stayed in, but as we left the harbor of mainland Italy 2 hours south of Rome and pulled into the port in Ponza, I was slapped by the incredible beauty of the island. Ponza greeted us with its dark blue waters, brushed green hills, rocky cliffs, and colorful villas sprouting about. We took a dinky van from the port to the villa where we were to stay, and to say that the route was treacherous would be a light statement. Treacherous but worth it as the roads on this island were snaking up and down cliff-sides.
It had been a long day of travel on the train and on the ferry, and after we were done unpacking in our terrace overlooking the harbor, we were all famished. It was grub down town and Linnea had something special planned for the dinner. We hiked into the hills rising above our terrace and to the highest point in Ponza to the restaurant Il Tramonto, where we were greeted with this breathtaking view from our seats. As the sun set the sky afire, we tried the specialties of the restaurant with buttery melt-in-your-mouth octopus and potatoes, white wine, and other amazing seafood dishes. Oh, and a full desert spread to top it off!
Boat Tour around Ponza
One way to truly see a region is to hike it like I mentioned in Umbria, but on an island, to truly take in the beauty is to boat it! Day two in Ponza we explored the island by cruising around, taking swims in the warm Tyrrhenian Sea, and had a chance to explore ancient Roman sea caves carved into rocks around the island. My favorite part though was when our boat guide took us over to a natural sea cave, where you had to dive beneath the water and swim under a rock arch to reach the interior cave, it was like something out of a movie!
It had been a long day at sea, so after a couple naps and showers it was time to feast again! We boated into town from out private dock and walked atop the hill to Orestorante, a restaurant hugging the cliffside and overlooking the port as the sun set. The restaurants brightly colored and hand-made plates immediately grabbed my attention, but later the seafood would grab hold of my taste buds. From calamari pasta to skewered fish cooked on hot rocks, we sat around enjoying the flavors of the sea we had explored that day while getting to know the owner and chef and hearing his stories about life on the island.
Ponza Diving Centre
Our last day on Isola de Ponza was an extremely special one for me, and I can’t tell you just how giddy I was. Because I was going scuba diving! For years I’ve dreamed of scuba diving and while in Thailand I figured I would get my certificate, but I never took the time to. After boarding, the crew of Ponza Diving Centre took us out into the sea, where the certified divers went down exploring depths we weren’t allowed to. But the sun was beaming and we were treated to some snack while we hung out and waited for our turn. Once they were done we cruise on over to an area with massive rock crags jutting out of the sea. I geared up and waddled to the edge of the boat and my destiny, and leapt in. At first, I struggled a bit to get acquainted with the gear, but with their help I was swimming 20 meters down with ease through underwater caves. And this has now become an addiction. See the awesome video HERE!
Da Enzo al Frontone
The last piece of our blog trip in Ponza was dinner at Da Enzo al Frontone, a candlelit restaurant carved into the rock face beside the beach. Here we were treated to the zero-kilometer style cooking of the restaurant, where they served us tastes of the sea caught that very morning. Now, I’m not huge on seafood normally, but Ponza had really changed that for me. We ate whole grilled anchovies, skewered of white fish that was breaded and served with sweet peppers, and so much more. We were all pretty bummed that the trip was coming to an end, but one last dinner on a beautiful summers night in Ponza eating fresh seafood and drinking wine, you can’t beat that.
And so it ended (sad face)
So, as we cruised back toward mainland Italy and Ponza shrunk into the horizon, our Slow Living Vacations and This Is Your Time blog tour came to an end, but those experiences that I have from it are forever engrained in memory. And of course the awesome people who I met on it! As my budget neared empty I feared that I wasn’t going to be able to experience Italy in an in-depth way, that I’d be stuck just seeing Rome and that’s it, but this tour gave me the opportunity.
*Special thanks to Linnea and Alina for inviting me on this blog tour. All opinions and use of the word “gnarly” are my own.
HAVE YOU BEEN TO ITALY? WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE REGION?