How to (not) Visit the Cinque Terre by Kate Little-Pardiso


My colleague Kate has written a very poignant and honest  blog about “experiencing” this wonderful corner of Italy (and lucky us, our backyard). Her points are fair and true, but most of all, her love for what the Cinque Terre really is comes out as only a “local” can do. This is must read for anyone planning to visit the Cinque Terre!

CT in September

Tuscany Villa Rentals: That Whole “Under the Tuscan Sun” Thing


It’s overused (heavily) but it still conjures up the quintessential Italian experience for many. And we get it. That’s why we have spent days, months, years collecting just the right rental properties to satisfy that Tuscan dream.


Tenuta Greve Al Fresco

Whether it be a cozy, romantic cottage for such as Casa Pianicanldi (can sleep more but we think it’s perfect for honeymooners), a sprawling farmhouse for families and larger groups like Tenuta di Greve or a luxurious “super villa” for discerning guest as we have with Villa Contea, the goal is to supply you with the best for your Ultimate Tuscan experience.

Contea Kitchen


Ranc Bed

So please take a peak inside and see if you we help you enjoy a week or two under the Tuscan sun…


Bella Vita Italia’s Tuscan Villas


Places We Love: Marzamemi, Sicily


Marzamemi a small 18th century borgo in the southeast point of Sicliy between Pachino (famous for its tomatoes!) and the lovely Vendicari marine reserve, another BVI favorite.  The word Marzamemi is an Arabi, “Marsa al hamen” which means Rada of Doves. The name comes from the abundant passage of these birds of spring. This little special spot is almost completely surrounded by the Ionian Sea and actually below sea level. The once “business” of Maramemi was tuna.  The inhabitants of this village were fisherman who participated in the “mattanza” (literally the slaughter), which was second only to the one on the island of Favignana, and most of the buildings once made up the “tonnara” or tuna packing factory. Now it is a thriving hamlet of restaurants, shops, cafes and apartments rentals that doesn’t stray from its old world charm.  It’s a wonderful place to experience a wonderful combination of old Sicily with the new AND a nice base for exploring one of our favorite parts of Sicily (note, you can visit any of the following in under an hour: Noto, Siracusa, Modica, Vendicari and Siracusa).

Venite e scoprite cosa c’è!


The Downside of July on the Italian Riviera

The beautiful beach in quieter times…

I grew up on a pristine, private cove in southern California with 350 days of sunshine a year. It was paradise to me. My husband grew up going to an exclusive “stablimento balneare” where his perfect lounge chair and ample space to play awaited him every day of the summer. Together we are 100% bonafide beach snobs. I admit it and with good reason.

By the end of June the public beaches of Italy begin to fill up with locals and tourists alike. It’s a methodic, seasonal thing that never changes, and goes until just after Ferragosto, when just like the clock striking midnight for CInderella, it’s time for everyone to go home and prepare for autumn. So why would be even attempt to go to the public beach on a Sunday in mid-summer? We only wanted a couple hours of morning sun and Lui wanted to take a good swim (aka more like a work out). We knew our beaches in Lerici would already be packed, so we thought that at 9AM we’d find some space and peace at the large, long open beaches of Marinella, just a 15 minute drive from home. Wrong.

The first sign should have been the effort it took to find a parking space (at 8:50AM). But we were determined for that swim! Upon arriving at the beach, this is what it looked like:

9AM on a Sunday in July



Peace and space went on vacation about last June 1.

Mid-morning traffic jam



Within the first 1/2 hour, we watched two women get into a fight (almost physically) because one of their kids splashed the other one; a man in a g-string and nothing more almost knocked me over with his morning jog through the masses (I was too in shock to take a photo, what a shame); a family of 5 literally placed their towels on top of about 1/3 of ours to claim their territory for the day; a baby made a “bella cacca” (as the mother cooed) in its diaper about 10 feet away and then the mamma decided to clean off his little bottom in the fresh sea water just in front of us.

With that, we got up, took our belongings, got back in the car and sat in the garden for the rest of the afternoon.

Word from the not-so-wise:

If you don’t have a boat and you can’t find the perfect rock to lie on, pay the cold hard cash for a nice lounge chair and umbrella at a private beach club. Believe me, it’s worth it.

Where I would have been had I been thinking clearly!

The Forte dei Marmi Market

View from the Pier…

I don’t dare call it a flea market even though many refer to it as that. It’s hard to do so when they are selling high-end designer shoes at half price for €160. No flea I know can afford that! But I suppose I would call it a “deal” considering the maker. Anyway, back to the beginning before I get too far off tangent about the gorgeous pale pink Prada ballerina slippers I would have snatched up in an instance had they been in my size…

I could just jump in this pool of fancy shoes!

Famous for their cashmere

If you are ever within a one-hour radius of Forte dei Marmi (i.e. – Lerici, Lucca, Pisa, even Florence), I highly recommend a day of shopping, people watching and lunch by the sea. It has been a popular resort area for over 2 centuries. The rich and famous flock here from all over the world for a touch of “Dolce Vita” as the area has some of Italy’s most prestigious beach clubs, discotheques, restaurants and, of course, shopping (how many beach towns do you know with a Gucci store?!). It is also is a good base for exploring the cost from Le Cinque Terre down to Pisa and inland to the marble quarries of Carrara, Lucca and even Florence.

Stylish bikini cover-ups for €20

A great selection of hats


Fur for less anyone???

Every Wednesday, the population of this cozy town must triple in size for this shopper’s paradise. You name it, you’ll find it, from cooking utensils to branded designer wear, all at (quasi) bargain prices. During summer, it’s a “double-bonus” as the market is open even on Sundays.

Mom checking out the latest look in tablecloths

The mob scene

Versilia’s natural beauty

Forte dei Marmi Market

Every Wednesday (rain or shine), also Sundays in summer

From 8:00am-2:30pm in Piazza Macroni

Crossing Borders: Vive Le Cote d’Azur

We escaped, again. Well with good reason. My parents came for a 2 1/2 week visit. They have seen and done just about all there is to do in Lerici, Portovenere, Cinque Terre, Italy in general. So we decided to surprise them with a weekend jaunt to France. Mougins to be exact.

If you have never been to Mougins, I suggest adding it to your “travel to” list. This pretty little hilltop village is an artistic and culinary delight. We stayed in a fabulous little B&B just outside the village in a gorgeous residential area (if I were ever to move to France, this is where I would plant myself!) called Le Mas de Mougins. 5 charming rooms, all done in French country chic next to a lovely pool area.

The breakfast alone deserves a blog. In all my travels I don’t think I have ever experienced a more abundant and delicious spread of breakfast goodies! Whether it was the apple tart, sausage omelet, homemade pain au “chocolat” or the “real french toast” (as explained by the charming owner Joel), there was something to satisfy everyone, over and over and over again. And with such gorgeous weather, sitting outside, poolside with the smell of jasmine in the area, made it a heavenly experience.

Ok, getting away from the B&B (which is not easy to do)…we made a series of fun and easy day trips to Antibes, Eze, Monaco and Cannes. With only 2 days, we made the most of our time and even managed a couple of hours by the pool (a must!), but we also know we missed so much and we’ll just be forced to make a return trip.

The best part, Mougins is only a 3 hour drive from our home!

If you plan to be in the Italian Riviera area, give some though to a “duel Riviera trip”. They are BOTH were seeing. Hmmmm, think I just might need to expand the business some…

Fabulous Rental Series: Serenity and Beauty Above Lerici

We are so pleased to introduce you to another wonderful rental property in Lerici!

Villa Maralunga is an exclusive 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom villa perched above the sapphire blue sea, in an only pedestrian zone, offering complete privacy and tranquillity. Enjoy the sound of waves hitting the rocks below while gazing at the sunset and Portovenere in the distance. It doesn’t get much better than this!

The has its own private parking spot which is located just about 200 yards away from the villa’s front gate. Upon entering the gate there is short staircase leading guests down to the garden and into the living room area. The living room area has a nice relaxing area with 2 comfortable sofas and large glass doors overlooking one of the many terraces that the villa has to offer. Just off the living room is the modern kitchen with an electric oven, microwave, espresso maker, dishwasher and washing machine.

The kitchen leads out to another panoramic terrace which has a lovely shaded patio area for dining outdoors along with an outdoor preparation area perfect for summer dinners “al fresco” while enjoying the views. This area also overlooks the poolside. The pool is only 2 x 5 meters but is just perfect for a quick dip to cool off on the hot summer days and is lined with an elegant travertine marble.

Down one level, is the bedroom area where there are two bedrooms and one bathroom with a shower. The master bedroom has a queen size bed and has access directly out into the garden and the second bedroom has a trundle bed with a second bed which pulls out from underneath and can turn into a double bed upon request. The third bedroom has independent access directly from the garden area and is not “connected” internally to the other bedrooms. This bedroom has a queen size bed and a private en-suite bathroom with a shower.

If you can tear yourself away from the villa, guests can walk to the closest beach (with terraced rocks) just 5 minutes by foot. The charming town of Lerici is about a 15 minute walk, and Le CinqueTerre, Lerici, Forte dei Marmi, Portovenere and Portofino are all easily within reach by either car, boat or train (from Sarzana and La Spezia).

Please contact us directly for more details and pricing at

Festa della Focaccia (a casa mia)…

Mom and Dad are here so the social activities are plentiful (and my blogging at a minimum, sorry). Last night we invited the “butcher” from the house below us along with us wife and gorgeous hunk of prosciutto, my in-laws and zio Costantino for a night of homemade focaccia!

I don’t know anyone who can make focaccia like my mother-in-law, really. Being in Liguria, I have plenty of opportunity to taste test, but few come even close. Specializing in little round focaccine that are sublime alone, but also the perfect partner for fresh prosciutto (or other cold cuts one might prefer). Throw in a little stracchino and gorgonzola, and you’ve got the perfect party meal.


Calabria Table Tour

500 miles of coastline, 3 national parks and 1000’s of acres of olive trees, vineyards and citrus groves makes Calabria is one of the most diverse regions in bell’Italia. Combined with the enduring influence of Calabria’s past conquerors (notably the Greeks, Spaniards and Arabs) there is a distinct uniqueness to Calabrian cuisine. My friends Cherrye and Tanya down south have put together a fun and oh-so delicious adventure in their gorgeous and less traveled region and I want to spread the word!

Having handpicked some of their favorite towns and villages (many of which you’d never find in a guidebook!), the girls down south are offering a truly authentic culinary and cultural experience.

The Calabrian Table Tour will take place October 16 – 23, 2011, hosted by two fabulous gals who have made Calabria their home.

For a complete itinerary, click here!

Any for booking details, you can either contact me or Cherrye or Tanya directly (let them know I sent you!).

Oops, We Did It Again! This Time, Noli…

We had another “escape” weekend up to this gem (I had recently come across a new accommodation that I wanted to check out so that was our excuse). Although I expected cute, I was actually very impressed.


Located on the Riviera Ponente between Savona and Imperia lies the quintessential maritime borgo of Noli. You probably haven’t heard of it, unless you were fortunate enough to stumble upon it while driving between France and elsewhere in Italy, but it deserves to be “on the map”.


Noli has less than 3,000 inhabitants living within its tiny medieval, cobblestone streets (ok, and in a few swanky villas on the hillside), but possess all the good qualities of a charming seaside resort: a charming historical center, a gorgeous and very clean cove-like beach, ruins of an old fortress on the hill, some excellent restaurants and a couple of very nice places to stay. It’s history dates back to the 1st century B.C. when the Romans built a shipyard in the bay which now houses lively beach clubs and waterfront cafés (we became partial to Marea, having both an aperitivo and mid-morning caffè there) . It also a member of the prestigious “I Borghi Piu Belli in Italia” (Italy’s Most Beautiful Hamlets).

There isn’t a whole lot do to do in Noli, but that is part of its charm. Sometimes a place needs to be about relaxing, strolling, enjoying the views and just “soaking up the local atmosphere” (my signature phrase!). But if one wants more to do, Genova is just an hour’s drive away, the Grotte di Toirano about 30 minutes and even some fine wineries of Piemonte not too far by car.

We stayed at Ca’ de Tobia, a brand new luxury guesthouse along Via Aurelia (the seafront highway). It is a lovely little place decorated to perfection and the owner, Andrea, is very accommodating. There are only 3 (super) rooms but there is a plan to add another three next year (two with sea view balconies). The place is going to be a hit!

At Andrea’s recommendation we ate at Bucùn du Preve (translated from Ligurian dialect is “Il Buco dei Prete or in english, The Priests’ Hole int he Wall), a lively old tavern like restaurant with special dishes of the region and more than 7 homemade desserts (that sadly enough, we were too full by then to eat!). We enjoyed an incredible “toma” cheese made only in Albenga with fresh honey and pears, mini-octopus “drowning” in hot sauce, homemade taglioni with shrimp and asparagus, a gorgeous cuttle-fish salad and anchovy stew, along with a bottle of local Pigato. It was delish and much more reasonably priced than any of the places in our neck of the Riviera.

Our lazy Sunday consisted of a morning stroll and then out first day at the beach for the 2011 season at the very chic and cozy Vittoria Club.

When it was time to say “arrivederci” to Noli, I felt a twinge of melancholy as another day or two of doing nothing would have been nice. But it’s only 2 hours away and there will always be another excuse to escape! :)

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