My First Airbnb Experience in Naples

In recent years, staying at people’s homes while traveling has become somewhat mainstream. Back in the 1960’s in India, my grandmother started the local chapter for Servas, a travel exchange program designed for people to further global peace. While growing up in Chandigarh, I was able to interact with guests from all over the world who came to stay with us while traveling through India. No money was exchanged with these strangers; they would bring gifts and we would offer them our home, food and local tours. It was a wonderful experience for me to be able to see the world through their eyes.
Through my adulthood, I have hosted and stayed through Servas and Couch Surfing. During a recent visit to Naples, Italy, I decided to give Airbnb a try.
Airbnb works a bit differently as homeowners do list their places officially on the website (with pictures, prices, services, etc), and bookings and payments are accepted through the site. You can browse through the listings, see the actual location on a map, photos of your room and read guest comments.
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I picked B&B LA TERRAZZA (‘O CAFÉ) in Naples for 3 nights at $90/ night. Though a 3-star hotel would cost just a few bucks more, I decided it would be a better experience to stay at an authentic Napoli home with locals than at a hotel since I was traveling by myself.

The place was actually better than described. The B&B was off a busy street in an apartment building. The owners, Valentina and Dario communicated with me prior to my arrival (through text and Airbnb chat) giving me directions and buzzing me in to the building once I got there. There was plenty of security with keys and cameras. The 4 bedroom/ 4 bath apartment was located on the 5th floor of an old building that had been renovated. Though it was off a busy commercial street, the apartment was fairly quiet. There was a small elevator and you needed a key to start it. A unique feature I had not seen before.

The apartment itself was very spacious. Rooms were located along a long hallway. There was a reception desk where Dario checked his bookings, and a common kitchen where Valentina cooked meals. The couple usually hung out in the vast patio which backed up to one of the historic churches of Naples. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed in the last earthquake and hasn’t been renovated since. Nevertheless, it was beautiful to look at the ruins.

Airbnb in NaplesMy room was huge with high ceilings and a spacious private bathroom. There was an air conditioner (needed in 90F Italian summer), a king size bed, a couch, desk and chairs. The WiFi was fast enough to stream movies. I felt like I was staying at one of the Italian aristocrat homes built in this area during the 16th century, only everything was renovated and modernized.

airnbn napoliThe place was centrally located, only 10 minutes walking distances from the train station, port and historic city center. During my visit, I never had to take any transportation as I could just walk everywhere.

Valentina and Dario, in their heavy Italian accent, planned by itinerary once I got there. Valentina spoke excellent English. She mapped the places I wanted to see and recommended a few restaurants (including her parent’s pizza place down the street, which was excellent). I frequently sought their advice as I had been warned that Naples is not the safest places for a woman to be traveling alone. Valentina, being a native Napoletana, told me which streets to stay off at what times of the day, better roads to take for scenic views, and how to navigate the busy train stations.

Airbnb in NaplesThe couple use to own a restaurant too, but since Valentina discovered she had celiac disease, she really didn’t want to be making pizza and pasta all day. I don’t blame her! Only in February this year, they opened La Terrazzo Bed and Breakfast after selling their restaurant. Now, they have 5 rooms on 2 floors of the building. They live in one and rent out the other rooms. I highly recommend La Terrazza for anyone who wants to have a comfortable yet authentic Napoli experience.

Founded in 2008 and based in San Francisco, California, Airbnb is in more than 34,000 cities across 191 countries. The 2 million+ listings include single rooms, villas, wedding venues, yurts, tree houses, beach homes, and even windmills and castles! If you haven’t yet checked out Airbnb yet, click here to join and receive $25 in travel credit.

PS – This is NOT a sponsored post. All opinions are my own. 

When in Naples – EAT!

In my opinion, there is nothing to do in Naples except eat! Surely, its a historic city with lots of UNESCO world heritage sites and beautiful views, but the sole reason to come here is for the food. Naples is the birthplace of pizza and many other dishes. It is the former capital of Italy and is largely responsible for all things we know of as “Italian cuisine” in most of the world.

On a Tuesday morning, my guide, Alberto from Context Travel and I set out on a food tour of the historic area. We start at Duomo di Napoli (Naples Cathedral) and see the remnants of Saint Januarius inside this spectacular 14th century construction. We walk down the famous Via dei Tribunali, making small detours to see narrow alleys with towering residences on both sides. During the 4-hour long eating spree, we take intermissions between courses to step into a church or a monastery, look at local crafts, and discuss more of – you know what – Italian food!

Here are some highlights of my Food Tour in Naples with Context Travel…

Sfogliatelle is a traditional Neapolitan pastry with thick flaky layers of dough filled with lightly whipped ricotta and a little powdered sugar dusted on top. There is also a brioche version of this. It’s best eaten when warm out of the oven, and locals enjoy it for breakfast or afternoon snack.

Sfogliatelle naplesBaba au Rhum is a fluffy sponge cake made with eggs, milk and butter, and soaked in rum. It is recognizable by its shape, a 2-inch cylinder. You can also find cream filled Baba at pastry shops across Naples. It is said that this pastry originated from France, but has Polish roots as well.

baba naples

Italians are passionate about their coffee. When I ordered a cappuccino at 10am, Alberto looked at me in horror. “If you want to drink coffee during the day, it has to be an espresso” he explained. Though coffee is not grown in Italy, they brew it the Italian way, with lots of ground coffee and little water, for a very short time (40 seconds). As a result, the coffee is dense but has less caffeine. You can add sugar, but there’s no room for milk in that tiny Italian espresso cup.

naples pizza fritta

Next we eat the local street food, Pizza Fritta. This light and fluffy deep fried pizza dough almost reminds me of sopapilla from New Mexico. It is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil. Just the perfect snack before lunch!

There is also a stuffed version of the Pizza Fritta which basically looks like a Calzone. Ricotta cheese, salami and tomato sauce are the only ingredients that are put inside, sealed and deep fried in hot oil. It never got popular outside Naples but out here it is a favorite street snack.

naples pizza frittaArancini are my favorite Italian appetizers. These fried risotto balls are stuffed with ragù (meat and tomato sauce), mozzarella, and peas, though there are other variations with mushrooms, eggplants, or pistachios as well.  It can be pretty much made with whatever leftover ingredients you may have. Note ragu with pasta is a special Sunday meal. The ladies of the house will start to cook ragu 24 hours in advance, simmering the tomatoes on very low heat till the sauce is thick and flavorful.

Being in southern Italy, cheese, olives, and cured meats are staples. Alberto took me to a speciality grocery store where locals shop for these products. Here I learned that if you can squeeze out milk from Buffalo Mozzarella with the tip of a fork, it means that its fresh. He recommends that Buffalo Mozzarella should be eaten within 24 hours, and should never be used for cooking pizza. We also taste Goat Ricotta, which is used to make pastries, and Smoked and Aged Provolone perfect for snacking with wine.

buffalo mozzarella naplesFritto Misto are also popular street foods in Naples. You can often see display windows full of fried snacks including fried zucchini, eggplant, calamari, shrimp, potato croquettes, or whatever is in season. You would order it by Copa (paper cones) and snack on it with a glass of beer or aperitif.

Next, we head to O Cerriglio – Trattoria Cucina Napoletana to try our hands on making pizza. The chef gives me a brief demo and makes it look so easy, but it isn’t! I have made pizza before, but the extremely thin dough of Neapolitan Pizza Margarita needs some skills to stretch, lift, and twist without burning or forming holes. We stretch the dough with only our fingers (no roller), spread 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce, few slices of fior di latte mozzarella (cow’s milk mozzarella), sprinkle grated parmesan cheese and top with fresh basil leaves. It takes only a minute to make the pizza and another 45 seconds to bake it in this very hot brick oven reaching temperatures of 700-800F. This is why the pizza has a crunchy crust and a soft center.

pizza cooking class naples

Alberto was a wonderful guide and showed me a lot of hidden gems in the historic area that I didn’t even knew excited, even though I had been through those streets few times before. He is available for walking food tours in group sizes 1-6 booked through Context Travel.

Read more about the history of pizza.

If you have another Neapolitan speciality dish to share, leave a comment below.

Love Italy? Sustain Pompeii

No trip to southern Italy is complete without a visit to the historic Roman ruins of Pompeii. Once home to 3k residents who enjoyed the pleasures of life, Pompeii was buried in meters of ash and pumice after the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD. During its peak, the city was flourishing with 400 shops, 35 bakeries and 24 brothels. It was also well planned with sloping streets that allowed drainage, public bath houses and Roman theaters for the performing arts. Many of the paintings on the walls of wealthy homes are still intact, as are the remnants of the original structures.

pompeii toursI discovered all this during my Pompeii Small Group Walking Tour with LivItaly Tours. There were only 3 people in my tour which allowed for an intimate experience, where I was able to ask a lot of questions. My local Italian guide, Maria-Chiara, was informative and friendly. The tour was organized in the afternoon, which is a much better time to visit Pompeii after the bus loads of tourists have cleared out.
pompeii
Sure, there are many companies offering tours to Pompeii. In fact, as soon as you get off the train station, there are dozens of people selling group tours. They generally charge 12 Euros + the entrance fee 13 Euros. You will need to wait till a group of 10 people is formed, before the guide starts the tour. With LivItaly Tours, there was no waiting in line. I booked the tour online in advance and met the guide at the entrance. We started right away and completed the visit in 2 hours, strolling at our own pace.
pompeii italy
The best part about touring with Liv Italy is that you are not only having a richer experience, but also helping sustain the sight you visit. This summer, LivItaly Tours is donating 5% of each tour booked to support a crowdfunding project to restore a famous ancient home in Pompeii. Watch the video about how this works…

Love Italy? Let your tourist dollars make a difference and chose a sustainable travel company.

If you have already done any sustainable tours in Italy, do share with our readers below…

Hotel Genova – Treasure of Turin

When I was told that I was going to be staying at a Best Western Plus hotel during Turin Epicurean Capital, I didn’t expect much, mainly because I rarely find anything interesting about chain hotels. But Hotel Genova contradicted all my beliefs!hotel genova Turin

First of all, this hotel has been a family owned business since the 1880s. According to the current hotel manager and owner, Dr Fabio Borio (his grandfather bought the property after World War 2), it was originally an inn with a restaurant with just a few rooms.

The name “Hotel Genova” can be confusing, since it’s not in the city of Genova, or anywhere close to it. I discovered that the name came about because it was on the way to Genova. Back in the days, when people left Turin to head towards the Italian riviera, they would stop at Hotel Genova for a meal.

Originally, the hotel had only 20 rooms. Over the years, the family has added floors and contemporary style rooms, bringing the number of rooms up to 88. Because of this, each floor is done in a different fashion, with staircases, carpets and decor representing many decades. Guests can see that no two rooms at the hotel are alike. For example, on the fifth floor – known as the Parisian floor, there are all attic rooms with wooden beams. My room looked like it was out of a children’s story book, with slanted roofs and all!

hotel genova turinThe fourth floor has more elegant rooms with high ceilings, glass chandeliers and huge baths. The room I ultimately stayed in also had a 2-person jacuzzi tub right in the room! There was also a small patio with beautiful views of the city.

genova hotel turinThe third floor of the hotel has contemporary furniture but wooden floors dating back to the 19th century, and the second floor was originally the piano nobile or the main floor of the original building back in the 1800. Walking around the hotel can be quiet interesting, as one may discover   original stained glass windows, paintings, antiques, and world war memorabilia.hotel genova turin

Now in 2016, the hotel has modern features such as free WiFi, spa, Turkish bath, Finnish sauna, music room and salt room, beauty center and gym. There is also a delicious breakfast buffet served in the basement.

The hotel is centrally located across from Porta Nuova station. It is 5 minutes walking distance to Via Roma, the hub of shopping, restaurants and cafes, as well as to most tourist attractions.

Hotel Genova is truly a charming family-owned boutique hotel that is now part of the Best Western Plus family.

Book your stay at Hotel Genova today with TripAdvisor

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10 Facts You Might Not Know About Turin

What do you know about Turin, a charming city in northern Italy? I have traveled to Italy several times, but sadly never made it to Turin or Torino until now. Prior to my visit, I didn’t know much about it, except that the 2006 winter Olympics were held here. Here are some facts about Turin that I feel you should know too!

  1. Though most people are familiar with Rome, Turin was Italy’s first capital city in 1861.
  2. Turin was home to the House of Savoy, Italy’s royal family. There are many palaces, residences and castles in the city and in surrounding towns.
  3. French influences can be seen in the city’s architecture and culture. Up until the unification of the Italian kingdom in 1861, Piedmont included areas that are currently in France which explains this. The atmosphere, culture and even the local dialect is very similar to French.turin3
  4. Turin is sometimes called the cradle of Italian liberty, for having been the birthplace and home of notable politicians and people who contributed to the Risorgimento, such as Cavour.
  5. Some of Italy’s best universities and colleges are in Turin, such as the six-century-old University of Turin and the Turin Polytechnic.
  6. Turin’s several monuments and sights make it one of the world’s top 250 tourist destinations, and the tenth most visited city in Italy. Even then, it doesn’t feel touristy at all here.rive Po turin
  7. Turin is ranked third in Italy, after Milan and Rome, for economic strength. With a GDP of $58 billion, Turin is the world’s 78th richest city in terms of purchasing power. Food is actually quite cheap.square in turin
  8. Turin is also home to the Italian automotive industry, having headquarters of FIAT, Lancia and Alfa Romeo.
  9. The shroud of Jesus of Nazareth is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy. The Pope decided when it is allowed to be displayed to the public.
  10. Turin is home of 2006 winter Olympic games. Events that made their Olympic debut in Turin included mass start biathlon, team sprint cross country skiing, snowboard cross and team pursuit speed skating.

To learn more about Turin, visit my friends at Turin Epicurean Capital.

A Slice of the History of Pizza Pie

Luca Varuni is a master at his craft. As head chef and owner of Varuni Napoli he swears by the freshest ingredients and uses traditional Italian techniques to create the best Neapolitan pies. Growing up in Naples, Italy, he was surrounded by Italian chefs and studied under renowned chef Enzo Coccia, head chef of the only Michelin rated pizzeria in the world. After years of experience, he has settled in Atlanta with the goal of showing everyone what real Italian food is supposed to taste like. Inside Varuni Napoli you will notice large family-styled tables as well as conventional seating for smaller parties with the aim of creating an atmosphere best fit for you desired experience. Don’t be afraid to go alone, sitting at the bar gives you a firsthand experience and a direct view of the chefs at work. Since Varuni Napoli is based on the idea of tradition, we must travel back in time to see where these traditions originated to appreciate how pizza has ended up on our dining table.

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Pizza has a complex history. Some suggest this dish started in Greece, others say Egypt, but the pizza we are familiar with today, got its start between the late 1700s and early 1800s in Naples, a city filled with the poor and working class.

The majority of the population required a quick and inexpensive meal during the day, before returning to work. Street vendors sold these flatbreads made with different toppings to satisfy the needs of workers. They were not looking for a rich or high quality meal, just a little something to tide them over during the long work hours.

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A man named Raffaele Esposito, considered by some to be the father of modern pizza, was known all over Naples to serve the most delicious pizzas. After Italy was unified, King Umberto and Queen Margherita visited Italy when Esposito was called on to make different pizzas for this royal couple. During the meal, Queen Margherita expressed her delight with the flatbread covered with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (to represent the three colors of the Italian flag) so much that they named the pizza after Queen Margherita. After approval from the queen, the popularity of pizza grew and expanded beyond the borders of Italy.

Similar to Queen Margherita, Luca Varuni is also passionate about margherita pizza. He says here in this interview, “You can tell the quality and authenticity of a pizza place by the quality and authenticity of the margherita.” He proudly explains that the cheese, sauce and olive oil for his pizzas are all from the region of Naples.

During the late 19th century, many Europeans moved to the United States of America searching for factory jobs where the Neapolitans started family-run pizzerias. Americans couldn’t get enough of this Italian novelty as it spread quickly all over the country. Once pizza made it’s way to US, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first documented pizzeria in New York City in 1905, which still operates today. Pizza is a simple dish that started as a snack for peasants, and is now devoured by young and old people all over the world. There are hundreds of pizzerias all over the United Sates, but the Gayot Guide recently named Varuni Napoli as one of the top pizzerias in Atlanta for 2015.

Top 5 Meals of 2014

Reminiscing the best restaurant meals of the year has become a tradition for me. In fact, readers request me to share my culinary highlights if they don’t hear from me by January, so here you are, with my top 5 meals of 2015….

1. Restaurant Ulo at Hotel Arctic in Ilulissat, Greenland – Located 280 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, this may not be the obvious choice for one of the best meals in the world, but it actually was! Fresh seafood caught from Disko Bay each morning, combined with the finess of award winning Chef Jeppe Ejvind Nielsen, at one of the finest kitchens in the country, results in the perfect 11-course wine paired dinner. The view was unforgettable from the restaurant, and the scallops carpaccio, smoked halibut, fresh crab salad and reindeer mousse – flavors I cannot find anywhere else. Read 5 reasons to visit Ilulissat

hotel arctic greenland

2. Gu’s Bistro, Atlanta – I reviewed this family-owned Szechaun restaurant for my column Ethnic.City in Creative Loafing newspaper. Buford Highway is a famous street in Atlanta, known for Asian and Latino restaurants, and I have managed to make my rounds through them. Unlike other Szechaun restaurants I have tried, I found the food at Gu’s to not hold back on authentic flavors, at the same time not scaring off the novice spice eater. While my tastebuds crave for Gu’s dumplings, Chengdu cold noodles, and crispy fried fish, there is hardly a dish here I won’t eat again.

Gu's Bistro Atlanta

3. Coco Bistro, Turks and Caicos – While most of the food on this heavenly island was very good, the cuisine focused on fresh seafood and international styles of cooking. The 24 year old Coco Bistro is a popular spot among locals and tourists, serving some of the best seafood in the world. My favorites were melt in your mouth Tuna Tataki served on a fried wanton with shredded cabbage salad and spicy mayo; as well as Lobster and Avocado Rolls with spicy duck sauce. Make sure to get reservations in advance and ask to be seated outdoors, as the gardens are elegant and romantic. Read more about my reviews in TCI.

coco bistro TCI

4. Palazzo Donati, Italy – This was a special meal prepared by a group of nine men, who call themselves Accademia del Padlot, meaning the academy of “a giant ladle that is used to pour wine.” The volunteer group came over to the renovated 18th century palace where I was staying and cooked an elaborate meal from scratch. On the menu was Charcuterie, Bruschetta, Torta pascuela, Coradella (lamb’s liver), Goletta con salvia e aceto o vino bianco (pig’s jowl), Spezzatino di Cinghiale (wild boar stew), Tagliatelle pasta, Radicchio rosso in graticola, Patate Sotto il Fuoco, Crostata, and endless bottles of wines. It was not just the delicious homemade Italian food, but the fact that we were eating it by a fireplace in an Italian home located in a tiny village, along with these local people, that made it even more memorable. Read more about eating and drinking with the Padlots in Italy

academia de padlots, italy

5. Rivea at Hotel Byblos, St Tropez – Critically acclaimed Chef Alain Ducasse, French Riviera charm, seasonal ingredients and Mediterranean style tapas – whats not to love about this place? I started with a French Rose at this elegantly decorated restaurant and made my way through marinated white fish, sardine toast, eggplant dip, arugula pizzetta, ratatouille, blue lobster, and the most amazing Tropézienne on the planet. No visit to St Tropez is justified without eating at Rivea! Read more about Hotel ByblosBook Hotel Byblos.

hotel byblos st tropez

Read my Top 5 meals in 2012

Read my Top 5 meals in 2011

How to Make Gnudi

Gnudi means “naked” as in an inside out ravioli. While a typical ravioli is filled with spinach and ricotta, gnudi is made entirely of the filling mixture, held together with a little flour. Its a great alternative to eating pasta, especially for those who are gluten free! Serve it with a sage-butter sauce as a delightful appetizer.

The recipe below is very easy to make. You don’t want to make gnudi day before as it may dry out.

gnudi recipe

Ingredients for Gnudi:

  • 1.5 cups Ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb. fresh or frozen spinach
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 egg yolks (leave out if vegetarian)
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup 00 pasta flour (more for dusting)

Ingredients for Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 8-10 fresh sage leaves

Steam the spinach leaves in a large pot until they are fully cooked. Drain the spinach using a sieve and allow for all the water to soak through. The spinach should be cool and dry before its ready to use. If there’s water remaining, then the gnudi will not hold together. Chop the spinach roughly and keep aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add spinach, ricotta, nutmeg, parmesan, eggs, flour and salt. Mix well until the dough is of uniform consistency. It will be soft to touch. Using your hands, take a walnut size pinch of the dough and shape it into a ball. Sprinkle flour on your hands and the gnudi if it starts to feel sticky.

Keep aside the gnudi balls and sprinkle more flours.

In a large pot, bring water to a boil ( same way you would make pasta) and drop in prepared gnudi gently. The balls will be cooked once they rise to the surface of boiling water (about 5 minutes). Remove with a strainer spatula and keep aside. Make sure the excess water is drained.

To make the sauce, heat the butter in a fry pan. Once the butter starts to brown, add the fresh sage leave and cook them for 2-3 minutes until fried. Pour over the gnudi and serve immediately.

Here is the original recipe for GNUDI in Italian courtesy of Luisa Donati, at Montestigliano Società agricola s.r.l.

INGREDIENTI PER 4 PERSONE

  • 350g di ricotta
  • 1 kg di bietole o spinaci
  • Parmigiano grattugiato q.b.
  • Una spolverata di noce moscata
  • Sale q.b.
  • Farina q.b.
  • 40g di burro
  • Qualche foglia di salvia fresca

Lavare accuratamente le verdure e bollirle in poca acqua salata per circa 10 minuti.

Scolarle bene e lasciarle raffreddare nello scolapasta affinchè si elimini tutta l’acqua in eccesso; quindi strizzarle con cura fra le mani e tritarle grossolanamente con un coltello.

Mischiare in una terrina le verdure con la ricotta, aggiungere la noce moscata e il parmigiano, aggiustare di sale; deve risultare un composto omogeneo e abbastanza asciutto.

Formare con le mani infarinate delle polpettine grandi come una noce, infarinarle bene e posarle in un piatto spolverato di farina.

Palio Obsession in Siena, Italy

Siena, Italy is known for its landmark, Piazza del Campo, a famous town square and a UNESCO world heritage site. I take a behind-the-scenes tour of Bruco Contrada, or the Caterpillar District, which is one of the 17 Siena wards that takes part in the Palio (race).

Up until now, I am unfamiliar with the contrada culture and how dynamic it is. A contrada is basically like a district, often made up of nothing but a few streets. Established in the Middle Ages for military reasons, now the contrade are simply areas of localised patriotism, celebrations of every important event including baptisms, deaths, marriages, church holidays, victories at the Palio, even wine or food festivals.

caterpillar contrada siena

One has to be born in a contrada to be a member of it. Someone who buys a house, gets married or moves, does not get a membership into the contrada. This can be confusing because, say if you were born in the caterpillar contrada, your wife was born in the giraffe contrada, and your child is born in dragon contrada, then all three of you have membership to different communities. The members of the contrade meet weekly, so each person has to celebrate important events (like deaths, births, etc) only within one’s own contrada.

Each contrada is named after an animal or symbol and has a long history, and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations. We enter the home of caterpillar contrada, which looks like another home from the outside. A newly renovated establishment with modern decor, looks nothing like ancient culture to me. However, there is a chapel, museum, garden, kitchen and hall.

Bruco (Caterpillar)

600px Giallo e Verde listati di Azzurro con quadrato Rosso.PNG Bruco is situated to the north of the Piazza del Campo. Traditionally, its residents worked in the silk trade.
Bruco’s symbol is a crowned caterpillar crawling on a rose. Its colours are green and yellow, trimmed with blue.
Bruco is one of only four nobile (noble) contrade; its title was earned in 1369 by its people’s bravery in helping to defeat Charles IV, and consolidated in 1371 when they led the revolt to replace the Sienese council with a people’s government.
Its Sede is at Via del Comune, 44.
Its patron Saint is Madonna (Visitation of the Saintest Mary) and the Titulary feast is on 2 July.
Its motto is “Come rivoluzion suona il mio nome” (As revolution sounds my name).
It is allied to the Istrice, Nicchio and Torre contrade and not officially opposed to any other contrade since its animosity with neighbouring Giraffa (giraffe) ended, formally, in 1996.
Last victory- 16 August 2008. It has 37 official victories.

palio costume

One of the members, Dario, gives me a tour of the community center which houses the Bruco’s Palio trophies and costumes. He gives me a brief history of how the Palio came about and why the Italians are still so passionate about it. We touch upon every detail about the horse racing culture: horses are assigned by lottery; jockeys are hired based on their desire to win; each new costume designed is worth 5,000 euros; money is raised by the residents of the contrada; transactions are made offline; and parties are thrown all week. It is incredible to realize that there are millions of euros and years of planning that go into a 90-second race.

siena palio

The Palio di Siena (known locally simply as Il Palio) is not just a horse race, it is an annual event which involves the entire community’s hearts, minds and preoccupations for years. The race is actually held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16, in Siena, located in the heart of Tuscany. The Palio held on July 2 is named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, who has a church in Siena. The Palio held on August 16 is named Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary. 

palio of siena italy

Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city wards. The race itself, circles the Piazza del Campo, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. Crowds cheer and emotions run high. From children to seniors, everyone in the contrada is rooting for his jockey to win.

palio silk painting

The winner is awarded a banner of painted silk, or palio, which is hand-painted by a different artist for each race. The enthusiasm after the victory, however, is so extreme that the ceremony of attribution of the palio is quite instantaneous, being the first moment of a months-long celebration for the winning ward. There are occasional outbreaks of violence between partisans of rival contrade. More than the palio, the bragging rights against the economy contrade, calls for weeklong celebrations. The winning ward hosts a nonstop party with free wine, food, and music.

Discover Ligurian Cuisine: Ristorante Pizzeria Da Alfredo

People amidst a small busy port coming and going, sipping apéritifs, meeting friends, and betrothed in fast paced conversation set the picturesque views of the shoreline in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy. Locals and visitors alike go into the chic boutiques, watch the yachts dock at the marina near the heart of the city, while others deliberate where they are going to eat. Asking, “where is a good place to eat?” is very much a part of the average vacation experience. No doubt, visitor after visitor is given directions to Ristorante Pizzeria Da Alfredo, across from the marina in Santa Margherita Ligure. What the natives know is that the tourists will be thrilled with whatever Chef Salvatore is cooking up.

view of Santa Margarita

Ristorante Pizzeria Da Alfredo also referred to as Da Alfredo, is managed by the chef, Signor Salvatore and his wife Adelina. Salvatore, the embodiment of our American treasure, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, welcomes guests with an enthusiastic spirit and smiling hospitality. Chef Salvatore’s English is limited, but his over the top facial expressions, dramatic hand gestures, and lively games of point and look are enough to fill in the blanks in any conversation.  So like having a holiday meal in the home of your favorite loving cousin, the Da Alfredo atmosphere is very much an extension of the endearing personality of Chef Salvatore.

chef ristorante da alfredo

For a unique point of view, ask for a table near a window, facing the kitchen, or on the outside patio. Seating at a table near a window allows diners to stay in touch with the vibes of the outdoors where a parade might go by, or get a view of the port and the beautiful blue water of the Gulf of Tiguillo. Some fortunate guests seated facing the open kitchen enjoy watching Chef Salvatore and his team deboning fish that was live only moments earlier, preparing handmade pasta, ladling fresh sauces, and carefully plating meals. The aromas of each dish carried by a waiter causes diners’ eyes and nostrils to follow it to the table where it is eagerly anticipated.

Salvatore and his team prepare authentic Ligurian cuisine procured from locally grown produce and the open waters of the gulf. The menu is divided into Antipasti salads, Primi pastas, Secondi seafood, meat selections, and Le Pizze. Plates with large prawns that glisten in herb infused white wine sauce accompanied by capers leave the onlooker inhaling to catch the aroma. International options such as sirloin steak and Schnitzel are available for patrons with taste buds that want to be reminded of home.

Da Alfredo's PrawnsOverwhelmed by the tempting choices, I couldn’t make up my mind as to what to order, but Fabio, my waiter said, “If you like pasta and you eat meat, I suggest you go with the gnocchi with pesto and the smothered steak with capers.” The two suggestions just seemed too rich for a cool spring evening, so I told him, “I will keep looking and think about it.” However, Fabio was adamant. When he came to take my order, a question was never posed. He simply looked towards me and said, “So for you, the gnocchi with pesto and the smothered steak with capers.” That was it. To my surprise, I could have eaten endless plates of them both, especially the pesto and gnocchi. It was the fluffiest-lightest gnocchi I had ever had the pleasure of biting into. I kept thinking, “If I eat all of this, I will not feel well tomorrow.” The only feeling I had the next day was the pleasure of a wonderful memory. Moral of this story is, if the waiter or chef gives you a strong recommendation, go with it.

Da Alfredo Gnocchi

Very often I skip dessert, but I was in a quaint ristorante on the Italian Riviera, I smiled to myself and said, “La Dolce Vita,” meaning live the good life. The dessert list read, apple pie, fruit salad, Italian gelato, panna cotta, tiramisu. My decision was clear, authentic tiramisu for me, please. The texture was much creamier and richer than any I had previously experienced. The ladyfingers played more of a supporting role as compared to the bold predominant feature it plays as in the American dessert. The small portion was more than enough to satisfy my sweet tooth and enough to give me a new expectation for future tiramisu.  I paired this moment of good life with a sample of prosecco and campari.

Da Alfredo's TiramisuPlan your dream trip to dine at Ristorante Pizzeria Da Alfredo where Signor Salvatore and his staff are always cooking up the best of Italian and International cuisine. Then while you are in the magnificent city of Santa Margherita Ligure, ask the locals, “What sites do you recommend I see?”

Ristorante Pizzeria Da Alfredo

~ By Kaylah Burks, an athlete, who enjoys traveling the world while staying health conscious.  Follow her on Instagram @jadenlie