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Italy for Dummies 101

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Italy for Dummies 101

Q. I am going to visit Venice, Florence and Rome this summer and it will be my first time in Italy. Is it better to rent a car or take the train between these cities?

A. The train is the best way to travel between these cities, plus rental cars are no longer allowed into the historical city centers. If you consider the car rental at $100 per day, gas at $6.50 per gallon, the expensive autostrada tolls and very high parking rates, the train will seem like a bargain. You can have your local travel agent book your train ticket in advance. As an alternative, while in Florence for example, you can rent a car for the day to visit the Tuscan wine country or for a few Euro more, you can hire a private driver. * * * * * * * * * * *


Q. On our last night in Rome, I would like to treat my wife to a wonderful farewell dinner. Can you suggest a very special restaurant for this occasion?

A. Roman law dictates that no building can be higher than the Dome of St. Peter’s. Sitting above the Spanish Steps on one of the highest spots in Rome, The Rooftop Restaurant at the Hotel Hassler (Tel: +39 06 69 93 40 ( boasts an unparalleled panorama over the Eternal City, with the Dome of St Peter’s sitting prominently in view. This perfect setting, along with the “new wave” Roman menu and extensive wine list create a magical atmosphere for the most memorable dining experience. After dinner, you can walk down the Spanish Steps to the Fountain of Trevi and throw a coin over your shoulder, assuring your return to Rome.


Q. I have always heard the lake region in Italy is very enjoyable. Do you have any suggestions?

A. In the north of Italy is Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and my favorite, Lake Garda near Verona. Nestled in the foothills of the Dolomites (the Italian Alps), the Lake Garda enjoys a Mediterranean climate where orchards of olive and lemon trees fringe the region and the vineyards of Bardolino and Valpolicella are nearby. On the Southeastern shore, quaint villages with cobblestone streets and pastelcolored houses dot the lake: Peschiera, Sirmione, Lazise, Bardolino and Garda to name a few. From these small villages, it is only 25 minutes to Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet and the cultural center of the Veneto region. Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and also the cleanest with ferries running often allowing visits to all the villages along the lake. From here you are 2 hours from Milan to the west and 2 hours from Venice to the east and 2 hours from the Austrian border to the north.


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PEP TALK: Pass the bread, please?

The cuisine of Italy is so pleasurably varied that traveling from north to south is a culinary journey unto itself. But all Italian restaurants have at least one thing in common: grissini, the slim breadsticks, are as essential as knives and forks and featured on every table. But how many people know that grissini are of Piedmontese origin? 150 years ago prince Umberto, son of King Vittorio Emanuele II, was a weak child unable to digest normal bread until one of the court bakers created a much lighter dough, and baked it in the shape of sticks for the pleasure of the young prince. Thus the grissino was born. Of course the popular factorybaked bread sticks have little in common with the original grissino, which is found only in Piedmontese bakeries and restaurants. The real thing is made by hand, is very crispy and thin, and can be up to two feet long.


Rich Pepe brings to this column his expertise in the Italian food, wine and travel industry.

Pepe is the creator of Pèppoli at Pebble Beach, Little Napoli in CarmelbytheSea, PEP TALK Cooking Classes and Vino Pepe.