La Dolce Vita
Italy is the place where I feel most at home when I'm not at home. John and I were married in Tuscany, and every year we go back for a long weekend with our family and close friends. Then we take a week for just the two of us to celebrate our anniversary.
One of my biggest heartaches when I travel is that when I'm staying at a hotel, I can't cook. That's why John and I decided to rent a villa for this trip to Tuscany: You can really live as if you're lucky enough to be native to the region.
We stayed in one of the villas at Monteverdi in the village of Castiglioncello del Trinoro.
We found a gorgeous ancient stone home with a great kitchen where we could cook our hearts out! I think this is going to be our routine now, forever and ever.
We fell in love with Scott and Gina, the young couple that manages the villa.
I love to go to markets when I travel. That's how you get to know the people, the food and the personality of the region. It's also the most fun and affordable way to eat during the day.
You can have four times the amount of food for way less money! I would buy some fruit or cheese and a hunk of bread, and we'd have an amazing alfresco picnic.
You get the bits and pieces of a meal at different places -- we bought the artichokes at a village market.
The artichokes were so flavorful, I just boiled and served them with a quick dressing. They didn't need anything else!
John couldn't make it through the market without getting a porchetta (slow-roasted pork) sandwich, even though he'd eaten 20 minutes earlier!
Roasted Potatoes & Peppers
One night, I roasted baby potatoes with lots of rosemary from the garden and served them with a classic, super simple veal saltimbocca.
John and I usually have a cocktail around 9 p.m. and eat around 9:30. For this meal, you can put the potatoes in the oven before drinks and cook the veal just before you sit down.
Living the Life
I love that in Italy, they fit two days into every one. They get up early and work until the middle of the day, when everything closes for three or four hours. Then they go home, have their main meal and rest. After that, everyone does a passeggiata, or walk-and-talk, around town and the shops reopen.
After that, everyone does a passeggiata, or walk-and-talk, around town and the shops reopen. Some might work for a few more hours and have a late supper.
You're outside all the time in Italy. You want to be -- it's like the air is sweeter there. When we're in Tuscany, John and I just wander around. We aren't the type of people who put a schedule on things.
We make no plans whatsoever. Mostly, you're walking around all day, trying to get in enough activity to keep up with how much delicious food you're eating! (A lot.)
For this soup, I got a big hunk of a giant, deeply orange squash at the market. They just hack off a hunk and sell it to you by the kilo.
Time to Eat
I ended up trying to feed all my new Tuscan friends so I could cook at the villa as much as possible.
Gina brought a few gems up from our villa's cantina (wine cellar).
My Italian grandfather was never wealthy, but to hear my mother talk about her childhood, you'd think he was, because their life was so rich. They had fabulous food and they were always celebrating!
The Joy of Living
That's what I love so much about Italians: They have a real appreciation for life and beauty and each other. Being in Italy brings me closer to my grandfather Emmanuel, who I miss very, very much.
Live Like a Local
The most delicious way to experience Tuscany -- or anywhere! -- is to dive right into the culture. Read on to find out how!
Staying in an Italian villa is easier and cheaper than you'd imagine.
Stock the Kitchen
The best reason to rent a villa is the built-in freedom to cook with the local specialties. The kitchens in most Tuscan villas will have all the equipment you need, but you can add to your own collection by buying some of the region's famed copper pots or ceramic bowls as souvenirs.
White Ragu Sauce with Pici
This tasty dinner is a hearty and earthy pasta dish.
Meet Some Experts
If you'd like a bit more hand-holding on both the lodging and shopping front -- especially if you're visiting for the first time -- consider one the new G Adventures Local Living tours, which guide you through the local markets and restaurant kitchens. To dine on authentic home-cooked meals with locals in their homes, try Stasera Non Esco.
A Trip Around Italy
My family and I have been to Italy many times, and each place we've visited holds a special place in my heart.
Want to see more of Italy? Explore John and my Tuscan wedding pictures!