hidden gems

/hidden gems

July 2018

Best Places for Bachelorette Party

By |2018-07-28T18:49:12+00:00July 28th, 2018|bachelor party, General, hidden gems|

Bachelor party in Tuscany with A Toast to Travel,
Bachelor party in Tuscany with A Toast to Travel,

Best Places for Bachelorette Party

When planning the perfect bachelorette party, consider a trip you’ll never forget. Italy is one of the best places for a Bachelorette party.  It’s the perfect destination to let loose and enjoy the finer things in life, and when your closest friends accompany you, the experience is greatly enhanced. You want your send-off into your new life to match the excitement you feel, and a fun-filled week (with a private group, you pick the date!) of good food, good friends, and the novelty of exploring a lovely country is a fantastic way to do achieve that.  Let A Toast to Travel show you why a trip to Tuscany is the perfect setting for an unforgettable bachelorette party!

Whether you’re a fan of food and wine, admiring art and architecture, shopping, or simply relaxing, a group trip through Tuscany has a little something for everyone. Stroll through the beautiful towns of Siena, Florence and Pisa, taking in the sights and experience the Italian lifestyle firsthand, then visit the famous walled city of Lucca and experience Renaissance-era history as it lives on in the modern age. Besides becoming familiar with the lovely towns of Tuscany, you may also sample the best of Tuscany’s varied and delicious cuisine and indulge in the best Tuscan wines. How about taking a tour of the legendary Uffizi Gallery, where some of the world’s finest works of Renaissance art are housed? You will live like a local, going on guided tours given by locals of these towns who know them inside and out, offering an intimate glimpse into the heart and soul of Italy that you won’t find anywhere else except with A Toast to Travel’s  Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience.

For a more hands-on experience, perhaps you would enjoy Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun, where your group will become acquainted with the techniques, ingredients, and traditions that give Italian food its well-deserved reputation as some of the best in the world. As a result, you will gain a newfound appreciation and understanding of the importance of food within Italian culture, thus dramatically altering and improving your own approach to food. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see how truffles, some of the world’s most prized delicacies, are collected?  How about learning how to make pasta by hand, as well as authentic pizza? Why not tour a winery in Chianti, where you’ll sample some of Tuscany’s most delicious wines right at the source? Well, your group could have the privilege of doing all this and more, resulting in a truly memorable, once-in-a-lifetime vacation bachelorette party that will be reminisced upon for years to come.

Above all else, Italy is a wonderful place to simply relax, reflect, and appreciate life. Don’t stress about planning an itinerary; with A Toast to Travel, that’s all taken care of. Don’t worry about feeding yourself and your group, either, or where you’ll stay. Leave that all to A Toast to Travel! You’re about to embark on one of the most rewarding journeys of your life, and an equally grand celebration, free of worries and stress, should be in order. Let the natural beauty and rich history of Italy complement the joy of your friendships and the exciting new journey you’re about to embark on with your dearest love.  Life is short, so why not live it to the fullest?

June 2018

What’s the Fashion Capital of Italy?

By |2018-06-03T11:50:40+00:00June 3rd, 2018|General, hidden gems, Italy Shopping|

Italy Fashion-Milano-600
Italy Fashion D&G Firenze
Italy Fashion Armani Milano

What’s the Fashion Capital of Italy?

Prada, Gucci, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana–when you think of the high-end fashion industry, it’s likely many of those famous Italian brands immediately come to mind. It’s no secret that Italy is a powerhouse within the world of fashion, but how did this come to be? What does fashion really mean to Italians? For starters, Italians are known for their attention to dressing well–they adhere to the term “la bella figura,” which translates to “the beautiful figure.” The story goes back to the 11th century and the Renaissance period, when Italy was considered the leading trendsetter of fashion in Europe. This designation was lost throughout the 17th to 20th centuries.

Following WWII, however, Italian fashion experienced a resurgence and is now considered one of the most influential fashion centers in the world. There are a number of reasons for this. On a technical level, there’s the Italian way of craftsmanship and attention to detail, as well as an emphasis on high-quality textiles. So while the clothes themselves have plenty to do with it, there’s some interesting historical context to consider as well. The Marshall Plan, a post-WWII U.S. program designed to aid the economies of war-torn European countries, helped to boost the Italian textile industry. Then, in 1951, Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Giorgini held a fashion show in Florence with the goal of elevating Italy to its original standing in the fashion world, and it worked. By the 1960s, a variety of American celebrities and public figures, inlcuding First Lady Jackie Onassis Kennedy, could be seen sporting the latest Italian designs. Italian fashion had become synonymous with Hollywood Chic.

Florence remained the fashion capital of Italy throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but by the 1970s, this distinction began to sway toward Milan and Rome. The 1970s also marked a turning point for Italian fashion, with clothing and accessories becoming less geared towards only the rich and famous. An emphasis on ready-to-wear clothing was made as well, with a focus on jeans and miniskirts, for example. Today, Italy remains at the top, and the industry remains centered on Rome and Milan.

Despite having lost its distinction as the fashion hotspot of Italy, Florence still remains a relevant outpost for Italian fashion, and nothing can take away the fact that Florence spurred the resurgence of Italian fashion in the 20th century. If you were to visit Florence today, you would find a number of high-end boutiques and shopping districts. Florence’s main shopping street, called Via de’ Tornabuoni, is known for its array of luxury fashion boutiques. Some of these include Gucci (whose headquarters are located in Florence), Armani, Enrico Coveri, Roberto Cavalli, and Emilio Pucci. In addition to the high-end, world-class fashion outlets, major fashion labels such as Prada and Chanel maintain large offices within Florence. The pervasiveness of the fashion industry within Florence speaks to the importance of fashion to Italians!

If you find yourself curious in the world of fashion, or you happen to be a huge fan of it, you’ll be happy to know that an all-inclusive tour of Italy on our Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience will take you right through the heart of it all in Florence! Part of living like a local is experiencing every cultural beacon that makes a place unique—in the case of Florence, fashion is a part of this. Fashion, food, art, and architecture are all integral to experiencing Italy, and we stand behind this at A Toast to Travel!

May 2018

Experiencing a Beautiful Italian Summer

By |2018-05-16T05:12:36+00:00May 13th, 2018|Feature, hidden gems, Summer, Tuscany|

Summer in Tuscany
Panzanella

Experiencing a Beautiful Italian Summer

Summer is just around the corner, and for many people, that means it’s time for a vacation! Summer vacations in Italy, especially in Tuscany, can be full of many wonderful festivities and attractions; if you’re a fan of warm weather, you will love experiencing Tuscany’s stunning natural beauty. Tuscany is classified by its Mediterranean climate, with generally mild winters and nice, toasty summers. Due to the unique geography of the region, temperatures can vary widely based upon your location, with the coasts and valleys being generally warmer than hills and mountains. There’s no better time to enjoy the beautiful coasts, with gentle, refreshing sea breezes blowing in to contrast the warm summer air.

Apart from the joys of enjoying lovely Tuscan weather, summers in Tuscany come with another host of benefits. If you read our recent Tuscan food piece, you may recall that we mentioned Panzanella, a salad made of leftover bread and fresh, sun-ripened vegetables grown in the fertile Tuscan soil. It should come as no surprise that this is a terrific summer dish, so if you want to try it at its best, summertime is your best chance. It’s amazingly refreshing on a hot day! If the warm temperatures attract you to the coast, then you’ll find lots of wonderful seafood to dive into as well. And how awesome does a big scoop of authentic gelato sound for a chilly summer treat? Tuscan food is borne out of the finest resources available at any given time, and as a result, it complements the weather in ways that few other foods can.

While summer in Tuscany demonstrates itself to be a great time to enjoy seasonal dishes and the region’s natural beauty, it is also ideal for attending events and landmarks. Most of us would probably agree that a warm and pleasant day is the best time to go for a leisurely stroll; that’s enjoyable enough in its own right. But imagine doing so in the midst of some of the most well-preserved Renaissance architecture in existence! We know that warm weather brings people outside, and this will you give you the chance to observe the peak of human activity throughout the town squares and side streets of Tuscan cities and towns if you feel so inclined.  The chance to observe and explore the ways the citizens of a distant country interact and function throughout their daily lives is a valuable aspect of travel, and one could argue that it is key to fully understanding and appreciating a place. At A Toast to Travel, we believe an Italian vacation should allow you to fully immerse yourself in the culture so that you may experience how it feels to live like a local. And if you choose to embark on our Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience in the summer, you’ll get the chance to experience everything that a Tuscan summer has to offer.

Experiencing Italian Cooking

By |2018-05-03T05:58:00+00:00May 3rd, 2018|Feature, food, hidden gems, Tuscany|

Experiencing Italian Cooking

For the many travelers who choose to embark on a tour of Italy, one of the commonly recognized highlights of the overall experience is the food. Tuscany, in particular, is home to a number of delicious specialties. Tuscan cuisine is known for its delightful simplicity which lets the individual ingredients speak for themselves, with bread, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables being central to many dishes. Much like the rest of Italy, olive oil is an important staple in Tuscany, where it is typically made from Leccino, Moraiolo, and Frantoiano olives. The region is also known for traditional Florentine steaks, which come from the native Chianina and Maremmana cattle breeds that are found there. Apart from these fundamental elements of Tuscan cuisine, there are plenty of specific dishes there that are very much worth trying!

Throwing away stale bread is highly frowned upon, so instead, a salad called Panzanella is made. The bread is tossed in with Tuscan-grown cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, then is seasoned generously with salt, olive oil and vinegar. Not a bad way to make use of those leftovers, and it’s a lovely summer meal to boot! If you’re feeling more like enjoying some fresh Tuscan bread, however, you may try Fettunta. Fettunta is typically ordered at the start of a meal, and it consists of a freshly toasted slice of bread drizzled with delicious Tuscan olive oil, rubbed with garlic, and sprinkled with salt. These dishes are two examples of the many ways in which the people of Tuscany demonstrate their passion for bread.

Beyond that, there’s also a special affinity for soups in Tuscany. Papa al Pomodoro is a thick, rich tomato soup prepared with basil and other vegetables, then served with stale bread. (Again with the stale bread—they really know how to make the most of their food!) Another type of soup is ribollita, which is made with kale, cabbage, onions, beans, carrots, potatoes and a few other vegetables, as well as—you guessed it—leftover bread. If you’re not a fan of soup, that’s not an issue—there’s plenty more variety in Tuscan cuisine. For example, you may fancy trying tagliatelle al tartufo, a dish that consists of pasta smothered in a rich truffle sauce. Tuscany is fortunate enough to feature naturally-occuring black and white truffles, both of which are very rare, growing within its borders. So as a result, this decadent Tuscan staple is absolutely worth giving a try. As a matter of fact, when you tour Italy with A Toast to Travel, you’ll hunt truffles in the morning. Then, during our hands-on cooking in Tuscany experience, Cooking Under the Tuscan Sun, you’ll learn to make fresh, Tuscan truffle sauce for our fresh pasta.

Potatoes are an important ingredient in Tuscany as well, so the wonderful potato tortelli should not be ignored. It consists of ravioli-like pasta stuffed with potatoes and smothered in a rich game meat sauce. And of course there’s the aforementioned Florentine steak, or Bistecca alla Fiorentina, which cannot be missed. It’s a large t-bone steak typically weighing 3 to 4 pounds, and it’s so thick that it must be cooked on all sides! Once you’ve tried some of these meals, save room for dessert, because Tuscany is home to plenty of those as well. There’s the world-famous gelato, of course, and trying it is certainly a given. Ricciarelli, from Siena, are traditional biscuits made with an almond base as well as sugar, honey, and egg whites, and are typically consumed around Christmas.

The chance to sample some of these dishes (and many, many others) could be yours with the Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience! A Tuscan holiday simply would not be complete without the opportunity to indulge in the finest food offerings available, and because A Toast to Travel gives you the chance to live like a local, nothing will be glossed over. Italy is a wonderful, dynamic country, and we strive to give you the best Italian vacation experience possible!

April 2018

A Tour of Pisa – More Than Just a Leaning Tower

By |2018-04-28T12:35:37+00:00April 28th, 2018|Events, Feature, Features, General, hidden gems|

A Tour of Pisa – More Than Just a Leaning Tower

Pisa is yet another beautiful city located within central Italy’s Tuscany region, and no tour of Italy would be complete without a visit there. Situated on the river Arno just before it enters the Ligurian Sea, Pisa is perhaps best known for the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the most recognizable landmarks throughout the world. Built over the course of 200 years through the 12th to 14th centuries and standing tall at 183 feet from top to bottom, the tower is a wonderful attraction. Be ready to climb up a 300 step spiraling staircase in order to take in spectacular views at the top; if you’d prefer to admire the tower from the ground, though, there’s endless opportunities to take photos giving the illusion that you’re holding the tower up with one hand, which is almost a requirement for an Italian vacation. But beyond having a bit of silly fun, there’s much more that cements Pisa as a must-see Italian holiday destination.

Pisa is home to countless churches, many of which date from the Renaissance Period or earlier. Some of them include Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri, which houses a bust made by Donatello; San Fredriano, which was built in 1061 and features a basilica interior along with a crucifix dating from the 12th century, among other things; and St. Sixtus, which was built in 1133 and is regarded as one of the most well-preserved Romanesque structures in town. If you harbor a deep appreciation of architecture and history, Pisa surely will not disappoint. And even if your interests generally track elsewhere, it’s difficult to not be blown away by the living history of the place.

Pisa’s rich collection of historic buildings and artifacts extends to its museums as well. For instance, there’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, where you’ll find original sculptures crafted by the influential sculptors Nicola Pisano and Giovanni Pisano. Another terrific museum to visit is Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti per il Calcolo, which exhibits numerous historical pieces of science equipment, including a compass that likely belonged to Galileo Galilei.

Once you’ve taken in the rich history of Pisa and the plethora of incredible historical artifacts you’ll find there, you may take advantage of Pisa’s food and shopping offerings. Dwell among the locals and take a stroll through Piazza delle Vettovaglie, a 16th century town square where you’ll find numerous cafes, butchers, wine shops, and bakeries.  When the hunger you’ll inevitably develop from all your walking and sightseeing becomes your number one priority, stop by Il Crudo Panineria for a delicious panini, then finish it off with a cup of gelato at La Botegga del Gelato, located right in the center of the city. Or, if a slightly more upscale meal is in order, stop by Da Bruno for traditional Pisan cuisine in a trattoria setting.

Not to be overlooked and worth every moment spent there, Pisa is a fantastic conglomeration of Italian culture, heritage, and history. Come for the allure of its most famous landmarks, but stay for the wonderful treasures you’ll discover within its borders. With A Toast to Travel’s Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience, a visit to Pisa is included for all the aforementioned reasons. You’ll be taken on a guided tour with  the locals, so no must-see attractions will be overlooked. Join us for a visit to Pisa, one of the many stops on our unforgettable, all-inclusive Italian vacation package!

Vacations in Italy and Gelato!

By |2018-04-24T22:12:28+00:00April 24th, 2018|Feature, food, hidden gems|

Vacations in Italy and Gelato!

When you ask someone what their favorite dessert is, you can usually expect something along the lines of cake or ice cream!  Ice cream is so popular in the United States that we even have that popular saying everyone shouts as a kid “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” It’s a sweet treat that cools us down in the summer, and fulfills our late night sweet tooth. However, if you asked asked an Italian what their favorite dessert was, ice cream probably wouldn’t be the response you’d get. Gelato is ice cream made the Italian way, and like pasta and pizza, it’s one of the foods Italy is famous for.

It’s said that the first forms of gelato date back to ancient Rome and Egypt, there are even examples of different forms of frozen treats being enjoyed in biblical times. These were by no means the creamy treat we’ve come know and love today. The first forms of modern gelato were created by a Florentine artist named Bernardo Buontalenti who served the first cold cream of made from milk, honey, and egg yolk to the Medici court in 1559. But it was spread from Italy to Europe by a Sicilian fisherman named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli (say that name ten times fast). He was the first individual who sold gelato to the public, opening a cafe in Paris in 1686 named “Cafe Procope.”

But what’s the difference between the ice cream and gelato? They’re both cold, delicious, and easily scoopable. So what makes gelato so much more popular than ice cream? One of the main differentiating factors between the two is that gelato contains a lower amount of fat content than ice cream. By Italian law, gelato must contain at least 3.5% of butterfat. Gelato’s fat content is not legally regulated in the United States, but ice cream is. In the US, ice cream must contain at least 10% butterfat. In order to have a lower percentage of fat, gelato uses more milk and less egg yolk, whereas ice cream uses more cream and yolk. This makes gelato a generally healthier alternative to ice cream!

Compared to ice cream, gelato is creamier, smoother, and denser. Unlike ice cream, which is churned hard and fast, causing it to be fluffier and lighter, gelato is churned much slower which erases air bubbles. This lack of air bubbles is what causes the creaminess and density, which is why gelato often ends up looking like a like an elastic putty in a tray before its touched or scooped for an eager customer.

Since it’s been over 330 years since Francesco opened his shop, gelato has spread all around the world, which is something worth celebrating. Entering its ninth year, the Gelato Festival is a European competition that “recognizes the best Italian and foreign gelato artisans and the flavours they create for the tour.” The festival, which starts in April and lasts through September, travels all over Italy and then spreads to other competitors in Europe.

If you’re interested in seeing authentic, Italian gelato first-hand, then our Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience  is the perfect choice because it will take you on a visit to one of the oldest gelaterias in Italy. These Tuscany holidays allow our guests to live like locals and show you where to go in Italy.  Authentic gelato will definitely be a delectable treat you can indulge in during an experience with A Toast to Travel.

March 2018

Lucca – The Famed Walled City

By |2018-03-07T22:40:46+00:00March 7th, 2018|Feature, General, hidden gems|

Lucca

The Famed Walled City

Lucca is one of the most beautiful cities in Tuscany and is famous for many things including the retention of its Renaissance era walls.  The walls around the old city were kept intact even as the city became modern and expanded.  The walls are historic as they served to preserve and protect the city and its inhabitants.  Even though the walls have lost their strategic military importance, today they serve as a beautiful promenade–it’s a beautiful walk or bike ride for you to enjoy with all the greenery and trees.

Lucca has delicious foods and many unique artisan shops.  For food, you can enjoy a delicious meal in Lucca and some of the must try foods include:  Farro Soup, made with borlotti beans and seasonal vegetables, Tordelli Lucchese which is pasta stuffed with beef, or Necci, a delicious crepe stuffed with ricotta.  All are typical Lucchese dishes for you to enjoy.  For dessert, try the Buccellato, a ring shaped cake stuffed with raisins and aniseed which is traditionally eaten on Sundays.  It’s delicious with your morning coffee or a glass of red wine.  Remember, you’re still in Tuscany and Tuscany is famous for its red wines.

Lucca also has many artisan shops.  Purchases of interest can include jewelry, art and ceramics.  For fashion, head to via Fillungo, which is the main shopping street in Lucca and enjoy window shopping.

In addition to the delicious food, artisan shops and beautiful, famed walls, there are many other must see sights in Lucca.  Lucca’s San Martino Cathedral is surrounded by medieval buildings in the Piazza San Martino.  With an intricately decorated marble façade, its style is more Roman on the exterior and Gothic on the interior.  There’s also the San Michele church in the large square.  The square is a great place to sit and enjoy an afternoon.  There are many cafes to choose from.  If sitting is not how you want to pass the afternoon, you can climb to the top of the Guinigi Tower, a 14th century tower with spectacular views of Lucca.  There are 130 steps to climb and you will be greatly rewarded with the spectacular views!

Lucca is not only famous for its walls.  It was also the birthplace of the famous opera composer, Giacomo Puccini.  His home is now a museum filled with memorabilia, including his piano and musical scores.

These are just a few reasons A Toast to Travel’s Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience includes a visit to Lucca–one of the most beautiful and unique cities in Tuscany!  Join us for an unforgettable experience where you will live like a local.

Chicagoland Culinary Reviews Part 2

By |2018-03-14T18:41:42+00:00March 4th, 2018|Chicagoland Culinary Reviews, Feature, food, hidden gems|

Pelago Chicago 1
Pelago-Chicago 2
Pelago-Chicago 3

This year A Toast to Travel is starting a new search, for the most authentic Italian experiences in the Chicagoland culinary world!

Part 2- Pelago Ristorante

Chef Mauro Mafrici is a tall man, with broad shoulders. He is jovial and chooses his words with the same care he’s put into the establishment of Pelago Ristorante. This exclusive gem is tucked away behind the world famous John Hancock Tower, and that’s the way Chef Mauro likes it. In fact, he prefers catering to his guests in this intimate setting.

Chef Mauro has been cooking since he was 14, originally from Italy; his 40 years of experiences have taken him a great number of places. It was actually in New York City that he met his lovely wife, Kimberly. She’s the architect in charge of Pelago’s design. There on a sky blue barstool, I sat taking a moment to appreciate the space she’d envisioned. The entire room is a cozy rectangle, accessed through a blue glass bubble entry way.  The bar is on the west side and is the first sight one has upon entering. The same blue glass is used to divide the room’s upper and lower levels. The chairs at each table are also blue, and they are accompanied by bright blue purse stools. The stools are a custom adopted from the old wives tale that putting one’s purse on the ground is unlucky financially. The choice in color can be correlated to the Chef’s focus on seafood cuisine. Large windows let a lot of light into the space, and the blue glass partition keeps the room open. This design makes the smaller space feel large and airy.

We were treated to a Chef’s tasting. The beginning appetizers were brought, and we sipped Prosecco in pairing. The Burrata is made fresh and is absolutely delicious–the fresh Italian buffalo milk cheese’s delicious flavor seems to explode in one’s mouth, the fresh herbs complimenting it perfectly. It’s one of the best we’ve had outside of Rome and Italy vacations.  The Risotto tasting followed. We were tempted with three variations saffron, vegetable and tomato basil. The Saffron was al dente, and tasted fresh from the streets of Italy herself. The Ruffino Chianti red wine paired with the final plater. Chianti, Italy is where we, at A Toast to Travel, take our guests for all-inclusive culinary and wine experiences and Italy tours and vacation packages.

The afternoon was passed in pleasant conversation, we took our time tasting each dish, and appreciating the ambiance of the restaurant. The room was impeccable. Behind me, on the wall, hung a magnificent oil painting which when looked at straight on may trick you. The optical illusion of depth is created by a black negative space that contrasts the extremely fine attention to detail in the positive foreground. It appears that if one wished, they could simply reach in and pluck the lobster from the display in the painting.

The dessert sampling finished our meal leaving us with a very sweet impression of Pelago Ristorante. The service was impeccable and faithfully attentive, which served to create an intimate experience between guest and server, leaving one feeling happy and well cared for. Ultimately, Chef Mauro creates an authentic Italian experience in the heart of Chicago.

February 2018

Chicagoland Culinary Reviews

By |2018-03-14T18:42:24+00:00February 9th, 2018|Chicagoland Culinary Reviews, Feature, food, hidden gems|

Piccolo Sogno1

This year A Toast to Travel is starting a new search, for the most authentic Italian experiences in the Chicagoland culinary world!

Part 1- Piccolo Sogno

Our first stop is Piccolo Sogno, this little dream of Tony Priolo and Ciro Longbardo, greets you at the door with a first impression you won’t soon forget. I was treated to a first class seat at one of the most tasteful restaurants in Chicago. And don’t just take my word for it, take Italy’s! A placard from Ospitalità Italiana hangs on the left hand side of the main entryway, proudly displayed next to the front desk.

I was greeted by a deep blue wall, and I welcomed its immersive calming embrace. Contrasted beautifully by choice of art, the room greets you and so too do the smiling faces of the staff. Abel the manager, was quick to greet me, he had us check our coats with a sweet smiling attendant, from there leading me through the establishment and to the table. After showing me the table, he asked me if I’d like a tour of the rest, including the kitchen. I, of course, was excited to accept; I left my companion for the evening at the table and followed Abel through the main room camera at the ready. I was here for only the best food, so of course I wanted the best photos.

All pasta served and gelato consumed by guests at Piccolo Sogno is made in house. The Antipasti can be found delightfully displayed when you first enter the kitchen; a large red meat slicer sits to the right hand side. All Prosciutto consumed in house is sliced on this machine. Fresh and salty, the Prosciutto is chewy and easy to pull apart, and an excellent way to start your meal if you like ham. Another excellent choice is the Caprese salad, tomatoes and mozzarella served to enchant the taste buds and the meal has only just begun.

Another prime feature of the kitchen is its wood burning oven, its gapping maw, fire licking away on the inside tugs on my ancestral heartstrings, the Italian in me appreciates such attention to detail. At the table, I am greeted once more but this time by Italia’s very own bottled stars. The N.V Prosecco, Alexa is bubbly, and gives me that cherished oh so tingly sensation, and yet somehow there is heaviness here among the stars. It’s a full body that can be appreciated and considered very, very smooth. Grissini and Focaccia and Filone are given as choices of bread before dinner at the table, I appreciated the light and airy Filone the best, but my companion liked the Focaccia best. I found it to be a strong flavor, I wasn’t quite prepared for.

There are excellent guest relations here; Abel is frequently seen throughout the evening interacting with guests, especially as it gets busier around 6:30 when the restaurant hits the evening rush, a charismatic smile never leaving his lips. I believe this joviality is made possible by the excellent staff relations that exist here as well. Abel has been here 8 to 9 years, to him, “it feels like a family.”

Alberto our servers checks on us often, and takes our dinner order of Tagliolini con Funghi Misti e Tartufo Nero and Ravioli “Piccolo Sogno”. I was promised the perfect pairing of wine with my meal, and Alberto our server for the night has the perfect suggestion. The evening is meant to be enjoyed and I found myself observing the rest of the room. I noticed a few birthdays being celebrated, the birthday candle is lit discretely for the table’s enjoyment. It is personal and private. My ideal birthday treat. The entire setting’s aesthetic can be expressed as intimate. This effect is particularly created by the lighting. It is dark, the room is outlined in a cool white glow but the main source of light is each occupied table’s single white candle.

The red wine, a 2011 Chianti Classico, Casaloste, paired perfectly with the Tagliolini! I found myself quite enthralled by the savory flavor of the mushroom and pasta pairing. I can be quite picky, but the flavor of those al dente noodles made even this palate jovial. My companion and I shared meals, and agreed that it surpassed the Ravioli. Now, this Ravioli has won against Bobby Flay, so this is high praise for the Tagliolini!

Upon Alberto’s insistence we finished dinner with the Tortino di Gianduja. The first bite of this chocolate delight will send your eyes back into your head. Warm chocolate syrup encased in a light chocolate cake shell sprinkled with powdered sugar. This is accompanied by a single scoop of hazelnut gelato. The pairing is well chosen. We take coffee with dessert.

I’d like to thank Piccolo Sogno for an excellent evening. The service is friendly, and the food is tasteful, the experience is authentic.

January 2018

10 Must See Sights in Florence

By |2018-01-31T19:12:10+00:00January 14th, 2018|Feature, food, General, hidden gems, Wine|

Ponte Vecchio
Uffizi Gallery
Florence Duomo
Boboli Gardens

10 Must See Sights in Florence

1- The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

This massive Gothic cathedral simply known as the Duomo, serves the role of not only being Florence’s religious center but is also one of the most recognizable entities in the city. If the viewer is not already enticed from a far by the building’s stunning architecture, once inside the guest will be drawn into a narrative packed with history and culture.

2-Uffizi Gallery

Located along the banks of the Arno River in the Historic Centre of Florence lies Europe’s first modern museum. This is one of Florence’s most popular attractions so a long wait can be expected, but if you have the time endure the wait you would be rewarded with the best collection of Italian paintings in the world. When you join A Toast to Travel’s Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience, we work with locals who help minimize our wait with advance reservations.  Whether you are observing the work of Giorgio Vasari or admiring the life-sized paintings of Botticelli, the Uffizi Gallery is sure to possess a masterpiece that catches your eye.

3- Galleria dell’Accademia

While this museum holds many works of art that deserve your undivided attention such as St. Matthew or Cassone Adimari, the main reason why this location is one of the most desirable areas to visit by guests can be summed up with one word: David. Michelangelo’s most famous work is housed here in the Galleria and will continue to attract visitors from all over the world for years to come.

4- Ponte Vecchio

Once a location run by butchers and bakers, a flood washed away the old bridge and, in its place, rose the Ponte Vecchio, one of the oldest bridges in all of Italy. If you are looking for a historically significant area, look no further than the bridge that has survived it all from natural disasters to attacks during World War II. The bridge is known to be the heart of the city’s gold and jewel trade, so expect to find some fancy trinkets as you venture through the markets.  During the city walk on the Highlights of Florence and Tuscany Experience, you’ll have a chance to personally experience all the energy of the Ponte Vecchio.

5- Boboli Gardens (Giardino di Boboli)

If you are looking for a change of pace from the up-beat tempo of Florence’s city center, try taking a casual stroll through the Boboli Gardens. This beautifully landscaped area provides a quiet setting where you can take in all of what Florence has to offer without being bothered by all the noise and commotion of city activities. While perusing through the garden try finding some of the statues that have been strategically placed on the path and take advantage of the picturesque views provided by the Boboli family’s garden.

6- Piazzale Michelangelo

Perched high above the city in the Oltrano district lies the Piazzale Michelangelo, arguably the best viewpoint in all of the city. This view comes with a cost, as many of its visitors recall the towering staircase that needs to be climbed in order to reach the square, however, if you are into panoramic views that are sure to garner tons of likes on your Instagram, then it is well worth the workout.   During A Toast to Travel’s Highlights of Florence and Tuscany, the brave can join us on the adventure to Piazzale Michelangelo!

7 – Baptistry (Battistero)

Most known for its massive doors whose work was once praised by the great Michelangelo, Baptistry also has the distinction of being the oldest building in all of Florence, dating back to the 5th century. Interesting enough, this octagonal masterpiece was thought to be a temple dedicated to the Roman God of war, Mars, but it is yet to be proven.

8- Campanile di Giotto

Known also as Giotto’s Bell Tower, the 277-foot tower serves as another vista to capture those scenic views of the city you have been yearning for. The tower actually had three architects influence its construction, so it is very intriguing to see how those powerful minds clashed to create this visual work of art.

9- Palazzo Pitti

What were once residential homes for citizens during the Renaissance, is now the location of some of Florence’s most intricate museums after the area was bought by the Medici family in 1549. The Palazzo Pitti is the largest museum complex in Florence, spanning about 32,000 square meters and previous guests suggest blocking out several hours of your day so that you may see all of what it has to offer.

10- Piazza della Signoria

This free, outdoor museum area is regarded as the perfect place for the weary traveler to rest as well as viewing some marvelous sculptures, such as the gigantic statue of David replica. This area is great to catch your breath while also not feeling as though you are wasting precious exploration time while you complete your experience in Italy!

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