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3 week road trip trough Italy

3 week road trip trough Italy

Old Aug 13, 18, 9:46 am
  #1  
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3 week road trip trough Italy

Hi my fellow Italy lovers, Italians and world travelers,

I am traveling to Italy with my wife, mother and 1 year old daughter who walks like a champ already and has been traveling since she is 4 months, in mid September for 21 days. I wanted to share a rough Itinerary and wanted to get some suggestions on places to stay, eat and sights to see. Let me start of by saying we have been to Italy individually many times already and I even have some distant family in Viareggio. I am mentioning this because we are NOT first time tourists trying to pack all important sights into one trip. We are big time into food, wine, architecture and the Italian life in general. Ok here it goes and thanks for the feedback in advance.

Day 1: Arriving around lunch time in Rome (we are visiting family in Germany so this is the closest airport we can fly into and we really love Rome)We'll spend the rest of the day in Rome and we really enjoyed our stay at the Hotel San Anselmo (but open to other?) Nice dinner recommendation?
Day 2: Rome (not here to see the major sights just want to soak in the roman life, have some great lunch and dinner (love Trastevere!) I will check out the best 100 Gelato places and see whats good in Rome.
Day 3:We will now rent a big car and leave early morning and drive to the Tuscan countryside ideally in the Val d'Orcia, still looking for a great Agriturismo (Lupaia is sold out, Fontana would be amazing but it is just a little to far from where we want to be (closer to Montalcino) Why am I saying that? because ideally we use this place as a base to explore Tuscany especially the routes driving trough Valcd"Orcia and do day trips (Montelpulciano, Sienna and San Gimignano , Grosetto area Castiglione della Pescaia, 1 day we will 100% drive down to the Saturnia Thermal Baths as that was highly recommended for relaxing, open to other places) I just think its easier not to constantly unpack and with the kid and so if we want to relax one day at the pool or walk trough the vineyards, take on a cooking class, we can do that here. So that would mean 8 days in Tuscany countryside.
Day 11: early morning drive to Florence and basically do the same as in Rome, spend the rest of the day in Florence ( any recommendations for nice hotels and great food?) but not trying to pack all sights in as we have been to Florence before
Day 12: leave early morning and now this is the part of the trip we are not clear on at all; Originally our goal was to get to Reggio-Emilia/Parma/Modena because we love food. We wanted to do this by taking 2 days and driving trough Pisa/Viareggio (spend a night or 2) and get there via Cinque Terre which we have all never been to. Now my Italian friends are telling me it is not worth it and we should go from Florence to the Romagna area on the coast ( I think they referred to the Ravenna and the little coastal towns maybe?) and I believe the reason was it was so beautiful there and they have the best food. Then we should go to Verona and hang out on the Piazza della Erbe and explore Verona for the day and then instead of Modena we should go to Mantova (Mantua in English), and finally to Parma. Please share your thoughts on both options. Thank you.

Our end goal is to spend 5 days near Alba because by then it is truffle and wine seasons and there is a lot of nostalgic reasoning (many trips to Barolo area as a kid). Please suggest a nice Agriturismo and some restaurants. So that would mean Days 16-20 in Piemonte and then driving to Milan from where we will catch the flight.

Very much looking forward to your thoughts and suggestions!

Chris
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Old Aug 14, 18, 10:18 am
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Chris,
Sounds like an amazing trip! Gives my wife and I hope- our first is due in October and we are hoping to plan our next trip to Italy within the next year and a half or so. Ill break this up into my suggestions for each part of your trip, based off a few different trips weve had. Weve had good luck booking places off of Air BnB, VRBO, and Trip Advisor.
- Rome: We loved dinner at Da Enzo in Trastevere. The walk along the river after sunset was especially beautiful.
- Southern Tuscan Countryside: Great youve got a bit of time here. Its is very different than northern Tuscany (Chianti Region) in the large valleys, fewer trees, etc. We stayed just outside of Montepulciano on our honeymoon, but that villa would be too small for your group.
--Montepulciano: Visit the copper guy here (Ramario Mazzetti)- very cool place and fun guy to talk with. We had a great dinner at Locanda Cicolina just outside of town. A few shops have walkways down through their Etruscan 'caves' that was pretty fun. Supposedly one of the best Bistecca alla Fiorentina places in Tuscany is in Montepulciano, but we didnt know that at the time. Avignonesi winery was quite fun to visit.
--Montalcino: Fattoria Dei Barbi was a fantastic winery to tour.
--Pienza was a very pretty little village to walk around.
--Driving through the countryside was awesome around here.
--Just be warned- if you want to see the Fiume Orcia, it is not very impressive. We rode bikes to it, and its not very big.
-- I really wanted to go see the Abbey of San Galgano, but never had time. It looks amazing, and has a great story. https://www.travelhysteria.com/abbey...lgano-tuscany/
-- Dinner at Officina Della Bistecca was quite the event, although we learned from experience that it is not very fun to get back south after the dinner finishes around 1130 pm.
-- We did a cooking class with Stefania Balducci, at Pasta al Pesto in Greve in Chianti. She was great.
-- The winery tour at Antinori was pretty amazing.
-Florence: We had gelati at Gelateria Perche No! I recall it was wonderful. Ive read about the event/show dinner at Cibreo Teatro Del Sale and it seemed fun.
-Cinque terre: We loved it here, but that was in 2010. Ive heard its changed, but we thought it was beautiful, and the walking/hiking trails between the villages would be a fun activity with the kid. The seafood was quite good also, and one of my favorite gelato places was in Vernazza, along the boardwalk in the harbor.
- Modena: If youre a foodie (and rich) try for a reservation at Osteria Francescana. Probably cant get reservations now for your timeframe, but you could get lucky.

If you get time, i highly suggest checking out one of the lakes, especially Lago di garda, but there is never enough time for everything!

Enjoy the trip.
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Old Aug 14, 18, 3:18 pm
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Thanks for the tips Akcaver. Sounds like you had an amazing time as well! And all the best for the birth! I will def report back how it was bringing the kid along.

We decided now that we will do the west coast after Florence and not the other route, which means we will drive trough Lucca and Forte Dei Marittima and via Cinque Terre to Parma/Modena.

Having a bit of a hard time deciding on an Agriturismo in Tuscany, there are so many! If anyone has recommendations, that would be fantastic!

Thanks
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Old Aug 15, 18, 8:54 am
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One small factor to consider about the rental. Traffic to get from the Roma airport to north of Rome on the A90 can be bad in the mornings. Plan a little extra time.
Driving the back roads around Tuscany is amazing. We found some very cool things. Unfortunately, it was before smart phones and GPS, so I have no idea where those things are.
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Old Aug 16, 18, 8:28 am
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Originally Posted by Siriuscom View Post
Our end goal is to spend 5 days near Alba because by then it is truffle and wine seasons and there is a lot of nostalgic reasoning (many trips to Barolo area as a kid). Please suggest a nice Agriturismo and some restaurants. So that would mean Days 16-20 in Piemonte and then driving to Milan from where we will catch the flight.
I have spent a little time in Alba last September. We stayed at the villas of La Madernassa. We didn't manage to eat at the restaurant but from what I read it's highly rated. The staff at the accommodation is eager to help, but service is still a bit hit and miss. They did offer to provide a baby sitting service if we were to go to the restaurant though, so might be an option to have a nice dinner with someone minding the little one.

In Alba proper we had excellent food at La Piola, which is the bistro of the way fancier Piazza Duomo. Fantastic food at great prices.
Top tip: Trattoria Bric in Castagnito. You won't regret it.
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Old Aug 21, 18, 6:17 pm
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Originally Posted by Siriuscom View Post
Having a bit of a hard time deciding on an Agriturismo in Tuscany, there are so many! If anyone has recommendations, that would be fantastic!

Thanks
I would like to clarify this statement. There are not a lot of agriturismi in Italy, and especially not in Tuscany. It’s like trying to find gelato, instead of ice cream, in Rome. They are very difficult to find.

In general, labeling a place as an agriturismo is just another way for a hotel or B&B to evade hotel regulations, something like AirBnB.

I think it was about 25-30 years ago, when Italy’s economy started to tank, that farmers and residents in rural areas were really getting slammed. The government passed an agriculturismo law to bail out farmers. It allowed them to skip over regulations concerning room rentals, but they had to obey some different regulations.

One was that, I think it was 70% of whatever it was that you ate at the farm, from milk, fowl, meat, butter, fruit, vegetable, you name it, had to actually be grown on that farm. It was a law to help REAL struggling farmers who were working the land earn a few extra dollars to make ends meet during a time of struggle.

Now, these rural towns are not all brimming with inspectors making sure that the agriturismi are actually working farms. Especially if they are bringing tourist money into the town.

Very few agriturismi are actually agriturismi, which are working farms. You will know you found one when there are herds of grazing cattle, pigs, sheep, fields of crops.

Almost all of these are just homes homes where somebody just puts out an agriturismo sign, they put a chain around the neck of a donkey and tie the poor creature to a stake in the parking lot. Or, they have some poor old cow, well past milking age, wandering around.

You have to search hard for a real agriturismo. Most are just hotels, without much agriculture. That isn’t to say that they can’t be enjoyed, but it isn’t agriturismo. It’s staying in a rural hotel.

The way the loophole created 25-30 years ago to help poor farmers has been abused by people wanting to turn their house into a hotel without having to abide by recommendations is well known and legendary in Italy.

Most farming in Italy is industrial, as it is in the USA. In the last few years Tuscany has been doing a great job in trying to reign in the touristy beast they have created throughout the region, including passing new laws to try to bring fake agriturismi under control.the link is below. I doubt it will ever be enforced.

You can find them, but don’t mistake a countryside hotel for a real agriturismo, which is hard to find.

http://www.regione.toscana.it/web/bl...la-l-r-30-2003
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Last edited by Perche; Aug 21, 18 at 11:22 pm
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Old Aug 22, 18, 12:37 am
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Originally Posted by Siriuscom View Post
Day 3:We will now rent a big car and leave early morning and drive to the Tuscan countryside ideally in the Val d'Orcia, still looking for a great Agriturismo (Lupaia is sold out, Fontana would be amazing but it is just a little to far from where we want to be (closer to Montalcino)
Chris
Just to be clear about what you want, those are luxury country hotels, not agriturismi. It's fine if that's what you want, but they they do not meet the definition. Places with swimming pools, spas, massage, horseback riding, archery, and a gourmet restaurant may call themselves agriturismi to draw in tourists, but they do not meet Tuscany's own rules for agriturismi, which are detailed down to how many rabbits/hares, and how much poultry you can slaughter per season (I think it's 500 heads per year for both).

There are national laws governing agriturismi to ensure that they are places of agriculture that offer a room to rent, not a country hotel with an expensive gourmet restaurant, spa, and swimming pool. Tuscany being so touristy, tried to protect itself with the new rules, and upped the ante earlier this year in the link provided above. for example, you are not allowed to use spice in the food if it doesn't come from Tuscany, unless it is impossible to grow it there. Campers can stay free at an agriturismo for 24 hours. How many can stay at a time depends on the number of fire extinguishers on the property. I think up to 18 campers can stay for free if there are enough fire extinguishers.

And to prove that it is an agriturismo and not a fancy hotel masquerading as one to draw in tourists, work hours spent actually doing agricultural work, not catering to tourists, must be documented to prove that the primary work of the place is agriculture, not tourism, so that hotel entrepreneurs aren't taking advantage of loopholes that were designed to help true farmers. They even have to show how much agricultural product they produce ( Per quanto attiene ORE LAVORO E I VALORI DELLA PRODUZIONE STANDARD da applicare per il calcolo della principalità dell'attività agricola rispetto all'attività agrituristica...).

Do these hotels actually obey these laws? Few.

For example, there is a website called agriturismo.it. (https://prospect.agriturismo.it). It's sort of like Craig's List, or Viator. It's just a website, and it has been recommended on this Forum before. When you go to their page it says in Italian, "Do you have an agritusmo? This is the best website to promote it." Then it says, "New, starting today, you can even promote your restaurant." Then it says, "The advantages? No stress. The tourists will have to pay in advance, and we will provide them with your phone number and email address so they can contact you."

They take their cut.

Agriturismo.it lists 1,445 agriturismi in Tuscany. There aren't that many farms in all of Tuscany. Tuscany is only 8,600 square miles. That would require there to be a farm every few miles throughout the entire region of Tuscany.

Just for fun, I went onto the agriturismo.it website. It asks in Italian, "Do you have an agritusmo?" I responded "Yes." They asked for it's name. I responded, "La Mia Casa," meaning My House. They asked were it was. I said it is located in the city of Rome. They asked for my email address so that they could start putting tourists in touch with me. I made up, "[email protected]" They asked for my phone number. I gave them the phone number for how to call a taxi in Rome. Within seconds I received the following response.

"Hai fatto un passo avanti verso la promozione efficace del tuo agriturismo, Il nostro staff ti contatterà nell'arco del prossimo giorno lavorativo."
"You have taken an effective step forward in promoting your agriturismo. Our staff will contact you within the next work day."

There are not a lot of agriturismi in Tuscany, just hotels. Not too many people have stayed in an actual Tuscan agriturismo, they stayed in a hotel. There is nothing wrong with that, however, I think it should be clear.
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Old Aug 22, 18, 8:58 am
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Originally Posted by Siriuscom View Post
Our end goal is to spend 5 days near Alba because by then it is truffle and wine seasons and there is a lot of nostalgic reasoning (many trips to Barolo area as a kid). Please suggest a nice Agriturismo and some restaurants. Chris
Restaurants in Alba, Osteria del Vicoletto, and Osteria dell'Arco.
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Old Aug 22, 18, 12:10 pm
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Just adding a bit to Perche's description of "agriturismi". I the suburbs of Perugia (20-25 km radius), there were several brand-new small villas labelled agriturismo, often with a small pool, that could be rented on a yearly lease by out-of-town University staff (postdocs, research fellows, profs on sabbatical, medics, etc.) for prices that were much lower than what one would be paying for appartments of the same size closer to town (<10 km radius). The lower rent was due to the fact that the construction of these villas had been heavily subsidized by the gorvernment and the EU and before being made available to the general public, the owners only had to keep the villas empty for a year stating that they had not been able to find tourists who would use them for their short vacation. No animals, including donkeys, were involved in the scam. Amazingly, on one of my trips back home I heard in the news that the same trick had been used by two politicians, one of whom was an acting minister (and still is )at the time the story broke out in the news. As we say in Greece, una faccia una razza...
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Old Aug 22, 18, 3:28 pm
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Just to further belabor the point, there was an article published in Italy a few years ago, title "How to recognize a true agriturismo." For those interested, it can be copied and pasted into Google Translate.

https://www.terranuova.it/News/Ecotu...ro-agriturismo

The high points,
- people used to like to escape the city and get out into nature, see streams, rivers, animals, see where their milk comes from, etc, but you are unlikely to get that experience at an agriturismo
- when small family farms were allowed to rent out rooms to make ends meet, entrepreneurs decided to use this as a money making loophole to rake in dollars off of tourists.
- these were big companies and chains who started the "agriturismo" industry, with small farmers for whom the law was intended being the ones most damaged, having to give up farming to become, "holiday home" rentals.
- what advertises itself as an agriturismo is an urban hotel, often part of a chain, that just happens to be located outside of the city, and you are renting a hotel room and its landscape.
- the law that an agriturismo must be able to show that most of its activities and income come from agriculture, raising livestock, etc., and not by catering to tourism, is largely flouted.
- you are unlikely to ever meet the farmer or see the shadow of an animal if you stay at a so-called agriturismo.
- if it has a restaurant, it is not an agriturismo.
- hallmark of a real agriturismo is communal dining with the farmer, his/her family and other guests, exchanging convivialities, bonding, learning about how the farmer cultivates his land, why they love it.

There is nothing wrong with staying at a luxury hotel/villa in the countryside, but it isn't agriturismo. The article goes on to say,

"Questo non vuol dire che non ci siano più «veri agriturismi». È solo più difficile trovarne, tra quelli sopravvissuti all’assalto della messa a norma (a volte diventata una sorta di requiem) e tra quelli nuovi che hanno scelto un approccio coerente al turismo rurale."'

"This doesn't mean that there are no more true 'agriturismi.' Only that it is more difficult to find one that has survived the assault of the masses (which sometimes seems has developed into a sort of requiem for true agriturism) and has chosen a coherent approach to rural tourism."
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Old Aug 23, 18, 1:59 am
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There is a great townhouse, not a proper agriturismo that follows the things mentioned above, but truly lovely called villasparinaresort.com - it is in the country in Gavi. Lovely spot and excellent food. Stayed there last november and loved it.
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Old Aug 24, 18, 10:01 am
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Thanks for all the feedback so far and the clarification of what a true Agriturismo means. Its interesting especially since I am in the hotel business. So to re-frase/clarify we were looking for nice country hotels/BB's.

To give everyone an update on where we are, and what we booked:

Rome: We are staying at my favorite little place called Hotel San Anselmo in Aventino. 2 nights 3 days in Rome and we are heading to Tuscany
Tuscany: I followed Margot DeCruif's myitalyselction.com advice and booked with them at Poggio Al Vento Poggio Al Vento Toscana - Vacation home Foiano della Chiana
The only negative is that myitalyselection.com doesn't give you the name until booking so you basically have to do some digging with pictures and map location to find any reviews or listings, since I wanted to read up on the place where we are staying. But I guess that is also the point that you put some trust in Margot and her team as Tripadvisor reviews can be misleading sometimes.
After 1 week in Tuscany we will have 1 week where we will drive trough Lucca, Forte Dei Marmi, CT and then Parma/Reggio-Emilia/Modena in which I will not book a hotel but rather stop along the way where we feel we want to stay/use as a base.
Piedmonte: The last 4 nights/5days we will stay at Tenuta Bricchi https://www.tenutabricchi.it/en/ ,drive around, drink good wine, eat good food, go to Alba and then fly back from Milano.

If you have any more recommendations for the ares where we are going, as far as vineyards, restaurants, cooking classes, things to see etc. I would love to hear it. Other than that we are following closely the list of the 100 best gelato places

Thanks, Chris

Last edited by Siriuscom; Aug 24, 18 at 7:49 pm Reason: Typo
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Old Aug 24, 18, 7:39 pm
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Originally Posted by Siriuscom View Post
Thanks for all the feedback so far and the clarification of what a true Agriturismo means. Its interesting especially since I am in the hotel business. So to re-frase/clarify we were looking for nice country hotels/BB's.

...

After 1 week in Tuscany we will have 1 week where we will drive trough Lucca, Forte Dei Mami, CT and then Parma/Reggio-Emilia/Modena in which I will not book a hotel but rather stop along the way where we feel we want to stay/use as a base.

...
If you're going from Lucca, Forte dei Marmi, CT to Parma..., you'll probably be taking the Autostrada della Cisa (which runs from La Spezia to Parma).

One exit off that autostrada is Pontremoli which has a couple of interesting diversions that may be worth a stop. There is a museum in the Piagnaro Castle above town that has ancient statues from the region (http://www.statuestele.org/en/) and the town has a medieval core that is interesting to explore as well as Cathedral (in full disclosure, we recently bought a 16th century palazzo in the medieval part of town). There are a number of restaurants in town that offer quite good food at reasonable prices. If you think you might stop on the way, PM me and I can give you some info on the food options.

There is tourism here but it's much less intense than Forte dei Marmi (or, as my wife refers to it, the Palm Beach of Italy), Lucca... It's off the beaten track but, at 10 minutes from the autostrada, not hard to reach.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 12:54 am
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Originally Posted by Siriuscom View Post
Thanks for all the feedback so far and the clarification of what a true Agriturismo means. Its interesting especially since I am in the hotel business. So to re-frase/clarify we were looking for nice country hotels/BB's.

To give everyone an update on where we are, and what we booked:

Rome: We are staying at my favorite little place called Hotel San Anselmo in Aventino. 2 nights 3 days in Rome and we are heading to Tuscany
Tuscany: I followed Margot DeCruif's myitalyselction.com advice and booked with them at Poggio Al Vento Poggio Al Vento Toscana - Vacation home Foiano della Chiana
The only negative is that myitalyselection.com doesn't give you the name until booking so you basically have to do some digging with pictures and map location to find any reviews or listings, since I wanted to read up on the place where we are staying. But I guess that is also the point that you put some trust in Margot and her team as Tripadvisor reviews can be misleading sometimes.
After 1 week in Tuscany we will have 1 week where we will drive trough Lucca, Forte Dei Marmi, CT and then Parma/Reggio-Emilia/Modena in which I will not book a hotel but rather stop along the way where we feel we want to stay/use as a base.
Piedmonte: The last 4 nights/5days we will stay at Tenuta Bricchi https://www.tenutabricchi.it/en/ ,drive around, drink good wine, eat good food, go to Alba and then fly back from Milano.

If you have any more recommendations for the ares where we are going, as far as vineyards, restaurants, cooking classes, things to see etc. I would love to hear it. Other than that we are following closely the list of the 100 best gelato places

Thanks, Chris
Naturally, in Piemonte at the time of year you will be there, the main thing is truffles. It's a good idea to seek out gelato. But in Piemonte don't forget about the chocolate. The region is famous for that too. Chocolate is about as hard to find in the USA as gelato is in Italy. But in Piemonte, you can find it.

The Piemonte region is known for it. Chocolate came from mid-American jungles, in Mexico and similar places. It consists of only cacao beans that are fermented, then liquified by heating. It is usually taken as a drink. It can be allowed to dry out and become hard, and cut into bars. Nothing is added; just fermentation of cacao bean, and spice, usually vanilla bean (not extract).

It's sort of like gelato, vs. ice cream. I only mention this because you are going to Piemonte, where you can find real chocolate.

Chocolate in the USA is what ice cream is to gelato - not the same thing, and once you taste it, you'll know the reason why. Chocolate usually contains only a little amount of chocolate, and mainly consists of a blend of powdered milk, sugar, and various chemical emulsifiers.

I think in the USA they only require that 20% of chocolate be made out of chocolate. The rest are fats, sugars, and powders. Even high-end chocolates don't exceed the required amount by much. I think in the UE, known as the EU in the USA, they only require chocolate to be made out of 35% chocolate. The other 65% is sugar, milk fat, emulsifiers, and a long list of chemicals.

In Piemonte you can get actual chocolate, both as a beverage (as it was originally intended to be served), and as a bar. A chocolate bar, meaning 90-95% chocolate, and not 25% chocolate, is how to describe it, a little gritty, or granular, because it's not emulsified. It tastes like there are fine particles within it. I wouldn't say it's a melt in your mouth feeling. But it is chocolate, something that is hard to find.

Chocolate melts at room temperature, just like gelato melts as soon as you pick up the cup or cone, whereas ice cream can sit out in the "gelato" shop under the sun for months without melting because of the emulsifiers and preservatives. That's why chocolate is stored in cool, dehumidified cabinets. Chocolate in the USA has usually only about 20% chocolate, even the high-end brands, and is over 50% sugar. The rest is mostly saturated fat.

Similar to in the USA when they say, "from farm to table" to describe a good restaurant, in Italy there is a saying where they sell real chocolate, "from bean to bar."

Sicily, particularly Modica, is better for chocolate, but then comes Piemonte, where you are going. Unlike Sicily, in Piemonte chocolate will usually be combined with nocciole or gianduja (hazelnut). It will be worth seeking out while you are there.

If a Mars bar or a Hershey bar is good enough, then you don't need to find artigianale chocolate, but as with gelato, it's worth seeking out the real thing.

Last edited by Perche; Aug 25, 18 at 1:02 am
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Old Aug 25, 18, 7:37 am
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My usual add-on: If you decide to go for industrial chocolate bars available at supermarkets, do try Novi. Their gianduja is really good. Or, to have the experience that Perche described above, buy a chocolate bar (they carry different ones) at Eataly, and make sure to buy one with more than 60-70% cocoa. In that case try one without milk or anything else. But careful: more calories than any plate of pasta.
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