The Wineries of Northern Italy: Piedmont and the Langhe

Summer moves steadily along.  It’s mid-August already, and the weather is turning cooler.  We moved back into our house just over a week ago, and we’re still digging out from under boxes of possessions that we haven’t seen since the fire.  It’s a bit overwhelming, but we’re making progress.  The silver lining to it all is that our 1920s south Minneapolis house is all new.  We have a little more closet space and a bigger bathroom.  The kitchen, though, is what we’re most excited about!  It’s spacious and open with lots of counter space and a fabulous gas range.  Soon we’ll get back to cooking and we’ll post a few photos on Due Spaghetti.  In the meanwhile, let’s finish our tour of northern Italy’s wineries.

We started in Trentino-Alto Adige along the Strada del Vino, and then worked our way through Veneto and La Valpolicella before traveling west to Piedmont and the Langhe.  Our first stop was in a tiny village high in the hills called Castiglione Tinella, home to the Paolo Saracco Vineyards.  Stefano met Paolo this past winter when he was in Minneapolis recently to present his wines, and was impressed not only with his Moscato d’Asti, his trademark wine, but also with the Pinot Nero he produces.

Paolo Saracco Vineyards owns a hotel called Albergo Castiglione, just minutes away from the winery.  The hotel pool is located near the Saracco vineyards, on a hilltop overlooking the vines below.  We stayed at the hotel and while nonna Maria and the boys enjoyed the pool, Stefano and Cara toured the winery.

The entire experience was delightful; the village was charming, the hotel staff were attentive to our needs and recommended two very good local spots to eat, and the winery itself and the wines we tasted were splendid.

Seemingly the setting could not become more idyllic,  until we traveled 40 kilometers southwest to the Azienda Agricola Cogno, storied Barolo producers, and found ourselves immersed in some of the region’s most beautiful scenery.  The winery was founded by Elvio Cogno in his hometown of Novello, where his family had been producing wine for several generations prior.  Under his daughter Nadia and her husband Valter Fissore’s attention, the winery produces highly acclaimed Barolo as well as a Barbaresco, a Dolcetto d’Alba and two Langhe.  The Elvio Cogno representative for the American market, Daniele, was in Minneapolis last winter and came to the Butcher Block to present his wines to Stefano and Filippo.

We arrived at the winery complex in mid-afternoon, under a scorching sun.  The winery is housed in a perfectly restored 18th century manor.  The family lives in on part of the facility, adjacent to the actual winery.  A spectacular outdoor kitchen sits alongside an infinity pool that looks over the rows of vineyards that run up and down the hills of the Langhe.  Once again, Sean and Luca put their swimsuits back on and spent a few hours in the pool under nonna’s supervision while Stefano and Cara toured the winery and tasted the outstanding Barolo and other Elvio Cogno wines.

Stefano and Valter Fissore of Azienda Agricola Elvio Cogno

It was a fitting end to our tour of northern Italy’s wineries.  With an extra several bottles in tow, we packed up Marco’s Toyota RAV 4 and headed to the sea and the Cinque Terre.

The Wineries of Northern Italy – La Valpolicella and Villa Monteleone

The second stop on our tour of northern Italy’s wineries was Villa Monteleone, where we talked wine, politics, culture and travel with owner and wine producer Lucia Duran Raimondi over a splendid lunch in the estate’s protected historical garden.

Stefano and Lucia met in Minneapolis in the winter of 2012, when she was in town promoting her wines with her distributor, Wirtz Beverage Group.  Stefano and Filippo of the Butcher Block organized a spectacularly successful wine dinner, and months later when we were planning our trip to Italy, we knew that we would take Lucia up on her offer to visit Villa Monteleone.

Villa Monteleone is located not far from the town of Verona in a tiny town called Gargagnago.  A beautiful 17th century villa serves also as a bed and breakfast, and a separate two-story apartment in a historical building located on the estate is also available for travellers.  The estate’s gardens are lovely, and the view of the vineyards and surrounding villages is breathtaking.

This part of Italy is called la Valpolicella, a hilly area within the Italian region of Veneto, long known for its wine production, and especially for the production of Amarone Classico, a prestigious Italian red wine with D.O.C.G. status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita), made from Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes.  Amaro means ‘bitter’ in Italian, but Amarone is far from bitter; instead it is a ruby red, full-bodied, dry rich wine, unquestionably one of our favorite Italian reds.  It earned its name to distinguish it from another, slightly sweeter local wine, Recioto.

Villa Monteleone produces five wines: a Valpolicella, a Ripasso, two Amarones, and a Recioto.  Each is excellent, but our favorite was unquestionably the Amarone della Valpolicella D.O.C. Classico Riserva Campo San Paolo.

Lucia’s story is both fascinating and inspiring.  She grew up in Bogotà Colombia, raised her children in Chicago together with her husband, the American pediatric neurosurgeon Anthony Raimondi, and then moved to la Valpolicella with him in the 1980s to make wine, an activity that Lucia oversees on her own today.  She is strong, yet sensitive to the history and traditions of the land and the people that have given us some of the world’s best wine.  She is a business woman, but she is also a passionate defender of authenticity and quality in Valpolicella Classico wines.

But she’s the best one to tell you her story, perhaps over lunch in her garden or with a glass of wine on the villa’s terrace during your, overlooking the vineyards of la Valpolicella during your stay at the Villa Monteleone Bed and Breakfast.

The Wineries of Northern Italy – Tretino-Alto Adige and Alois Lageder

After a week of fun in Rome, we borrowed Stefano’s brother Marco’s Toyota RAV4 and headed north, for a spectacular, 6-day tour of northern Italy.  Our itinerary included tours of 4 wineries, each distinct and unique from one another, but all 4 producers of some of Italy’s best wine, and excellent examples of Italian hospitality.

Our first stop was in Trentino-Alto Adige.  Located in the Dolomite mountains on the border with Austria, this region, also known as Trentino South Tyrol, is heavily influences by its Austrian-Hungarian roots.  We stayed in a tiny city called Cortaccia, located along a road called La strada del vino, or the road of wine.  Even though we were still in Italy, this area was culturally much more German than Italian; many people we encountered were bilingual, but at our hotel we had to resort to English on several occasions because the German-speaking staff did not speak Italian.

Cortaccia sulla strada del vino is located just south of Bolzano, in the Dolomite mountains in an area known as South Tyrol.

The German influence is evident in the architecture of Cortaccia.

Nonetheless,we were welcomed and well-treated at the Turmhotel Schwarz-Adler.  The morning view from the balcony off of our room was lovely, and the boys enjoyed the swimming pool with its view of the mountains in the distance.

The view from the balcony of our room at Turmhotel Schwarz Adler

Just down the winding mountain road from Cortaccia is a sleepy little town called Magrè.  One would never suspect that it is home to the Alois Lageder winery, a sophisticated wine production facility designed in accordance with sustainable and ecological building practices.

We arrived in Magrè and even though the village it tiny, had to ask a local where the winery was.  Nothing about the town suggests that it is home to such a modern production facility.  However, Paolo our host walked us through the archway into the Löwengang estate, and we discovered a beautiful wine-producing complex.  The office space has a remarkable ceiling system that allows sunlight and cool mountain air to penetrate the space.  Commissioned artwork fills the walls and the open spaces, the most notable a permanent exhibit of three large, square glass containers containing the soils and plants of the three primary microclimates that produce the grapes used to make Lageder wines.

Entering the Lageder wine production facility with our host, Paolo.

The roof of the Lageder office space lets in sunlight and the cool mountain breeze.

A living art exhibit captures the soils and plants from the three main microclimates.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Lageder winery is how the vinification facility was designed to leverage the force of gravity in the handling of the grapes, must and wine, to render the winemaking process as efficient, gentle and ecological as possible.  This was done through a 17-meter tall vinification tower located at the heart of our winemaking facilities.  Grapes are deposited into the top of the tower, and are cellared in free fall, with gravity pulling the must down into tanks below without the use of pumps or other mechanical transport systems.

Lageder vinification tower. Photo from http://www.aloislageder.eu/en/cellar

Two labels make up the portfolio of Lageder wines.  The Alois Lageder label includes wines made partly from grapes grown in Lageder biodynamically farmed vineyards, but predominantly from grapes purchased from local growers.  The Tenutæ Lageder wines are made entirely from grapes that are grown in the Lageder estate vineyards, which are all biodynamically farmed.  Lageder produces an unusually high number of wines, mostly whites such as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, but their Pinot Nero is notable, as well.

At the end of our tour, Paolo guided us through a tasting of nearly 20 of those wines and came home with a 2009 LEHEN Sauvignon, a 2011 BETA DELTA Chardonnay – Pinot Grigio, a 2008 KRAFUSS Pinot Noir, and a 2000 COR RÖMIGBERG Cabernet Sauvignon that Paolo pulled out the Lageder cellar for us.

Magrè is home one of the 3-4 oldest vines in the world, dating back to the 1600s.

Read more about Due Spaghetti’s trip to Italy in our previous posts: Date Night in Rome, and Il Cinquino di Zio Marco and Ciao, Roma!, and  check out our Due Spaghetti Facebook page for more trip photos.

How to Drive on the Amalfi Coast, and what to see along the way

It happened again.  At a party last weekend, we found ourselves enthusiastically in conversation with friends who are planning a trip to Italy in October and who want ideas about places to visit.

The Amalfi Coast or costiera amalfitana, is one of our favorite places in Italy.  The dramatic mountain cliffs rise up against the emerald-blue sea sparkling in the sunlight below.  Pastel colored villages carved into the mountain-side shine vibrantly against the landscape, while scented lemon groves and a salty sea breeze fill the air.

The drive along this spectacular coastline is simply breathtaking.  It’s not, though, for the faint of heart.  With steep rock on one side and a dramatic drop to the Mediterranean on the other, the narrow road clings to the mountain and follows the twisting shoreline, resulting in winding roads and sharp curves.  Equipped with a sense of adventure and some solid advice, you can drive the coast and experience one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

If you already know this and want to skip directly to the driving lesson, scroll to the bottom of this post.  Otherwise, read on for our recommendations on where to go and what to do on your trip.

Location
The Amalfi Coast is the 60 km (37 mile) stretch of coastline between Sorrento and Salerno, located just south of the Bay of Naples.  The most charismatic part of the coast is between the cities of Positano and Vietri sul Mare.  36 km (22 miles) separate the two cities.

Itinerary
1.  Vietri sul Mare
2.  Ravello
3.  Amalfi
4.  Positano

Directions
Arriving from Rome or any other northern Italian city, take the Autostrada A1 south toward Naples.  Just past Naples, exit onto the Autostrada A3 headed toward Salerno-Reggio Calabria.  Follow the A3 past Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano whose eruption in AD 79  buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, to the Vietri sul Mare exit.  Follow the road down to toward the city of Vietri sul Mare.  As you drive down the hill, you will have your first glance at the sea down below.  As you enter the town, you will see a municipal parking lot.  If space is available, this is your best parking option.  There is a parking ticket machine at one end of the lot.  Pay in advance and place your ticket on your dashboard.  If there is no available space in the lot, look for street parking.

Vietri sul Mare
Vietri sul Mare is famous for its hand-painted ceramics.  Ceramic-tiled storefronts line the main street of the village.

Inside there are dishes, vases, urns, wall-tiles and countless other items hand painted in vibrant colors in the traditional style of the Amalfi Coast.  Stefano and I began a collection of dishes years and years ago, and each time we go back we acquire a few more pieces.

From Rome, it’s a two-and-a-half to three-hour drive to Vietri sul Mare.  Plan to arrive in the morning and do your shopping before lunch.  Stores will close at approximately 1:00.

Lunch
Leave Vietri sul Mare and proceed west along the coastal road.  Stop for lunch at Torre Normanna for spectacular coastal views and perfectly prepared seafood in an amazing location.

Proceed along the coastal road through the villages of Maiori and Minori, stopping for a caffè or a gelato if you wish, and on towards Amalfi.  We will save Amalfi for tomorrow, however.  When you arrive at the village of Castiglione, turn right and follow Via Castiglione up the mountain to the city of Ravello.

Ravello
Ravello sits high on the mountain overlooking the Amalfi Coast below.  It is a quaint town, and has been home to many famous artists, musicians and writers, the most notable of whom include Richard Wagner, who found inspiration for his opera Parsifal,  and D.H. Lawrence., who wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover, here.

Ravello is home to two villas with striking architecture and gorgeous gardens.  Villa Rufolo, originally a watchtower, is an oasis of serenity with it Moorish cloister that reflects the Arab cultural influence and its immaculately cured garden on a terrace overlooking the Mediterranean.  Wagner loved this garden, and each summer during the Ravello Festival concerts are held in this garden, with the sea as a spectacular backdrop.  Villa Cimbrone is equally beautiful, with its lush gardens, temples , statues, and fountains and its famous terrace named Belvedere of Infinity for its view out over the coast and the vast expanse of sea below.

Spend the night in Ravello.  There are many hotel choices at a variety of price points.  Some hotels are located just outside the gates of the city just off of the main road, and are quite accessible.  Others are tucked away inside the town, often down narrow cobblestone paths.  Before making a reservation, ask about parking (there essentially is none inside the city walls), and also about luggage services.  Be specific about where the nearest parking is, what parking costs, how far there is to walk, whether it is up or down hills, and if there is help with luggage.  And of course, request a room with a sea view.

We stayed Villa San Michele years ago and were very satisfied.  We have also stayed at Villa Amore.  This more cost effective hotel is located deep into the heart of Ravello.  A simple and clean place, it has a few rooms with small gardens overlooking the sea.  Ask for a room with a full sea-view, vista sul mare, and don’t accept a partial or blocked view.  Don’t be afraid to not accept a room if the view does not meet your expectations, and even to leave for a different hotel if they cannot offer you a different room.  You are on the Amalfi Coast and a full-sea view is a must.

Many hotels along the Amalfi Coast offer a full- or half-pension.  A full-pension includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The half-pension, which we prefer, includes breakfast and either lunch or dinner.  You need to let the hotel manager know each morning which meal you plan to have there.  Our recommendation is to take advantage of the half-pension, eating lunch away from the hotel while you are exploring the coastline, and having dinner back at the hotel.  We’ve always enjoyed the hotel dinners we’ve had on the Amalfi Coast; well prepared meals that take advantage of the fresh seafood, sun-ripened tomatoes, and amazing mozzarella di bufala native to that part of the country.

In the morning, have a caffè, hop back in the car and take Via Castiglione back down to SS163, the official name for the coastal road, and proceed toward Amalfi.

Amalfi
Once a the capital of the powerful Maritime Republic of Amalfi, but later ravaged by years of natural disaster and poverty, Amalfi is now a quaint, if very touristy, town.  As you enter the town you will see several municipal parking lots near the shore, often with city traffic officers directing tourists into parking spaces.  Be prepared to pay the high parking fees – there simply is no alternative.

Head up the hill into Piazza Duomo, the town square.  Admire the cherubs and chuckle at the nymph’s water-jetting bosom at the Fontana di Sant’Andrea in the center of the square, and then turn to your right and visit Pasticceria Pansa for a Neopolitan-style pastry and a cappuccino or a cup of tea.

Make a mental note to return to buy some chocolate-dipped candied citrus peel or babà al limoncello to take away with you.

Adjacent to Pasticceria Pansa is the impressive 10th century Duomo di Sant’Andrea with its Arab, Norman and Gothic influences.  Climb the 62 steps up to to the cathedral and admire its bronze doors, cast in Constantinople  in AD 1044.  Inside the Duomo frescos cover the walls of the Baroque interior.   Be sure not to miss the Cloister of Paradise on the left side of the cathedral’s portico, with its Moorish white marble arches and beautiful garden.

After exiting the Duomo, stroll up the the streets of Amalfi and into the small alleyways of the village.  Although the small shops are often over-priced, some fun items can be found.  Look for confections of limoncello, the lemon-infused liquor made popular by the Amalfi Coast, or glass jars of tuna canned in olive oil.  We promise you it will be the best tuna you’ve tasted.  Before returning to your car, stroll down to the shoreline to see the quaint fishing boats and the sometimes impressive yachts docked in the harbor.

Lunch
Have lunch in Amalfi, or find a spot further down the coast on your way towards Positano.  Two highly recommended places are Ristorante Eola, which is along the coast  in Amalfi, and Hostaria il Pino, which is further along the coastal road near the town of Praiano, just over half-way between Amalfi and Positano.

Positano
Positano is a jet-set and touristy village built dramatically and steeply into the side of the mountain in stunning pastel colors that glow in the evening sunlight.

 

Parking in Positano can be challenging.  If you plan to spend the night, be sure to find a hotel that offers parking.  In the best case scenario, you will pull off on the side of the road in front of your hotel, go in to check in, and hand your keys over to a valet, and not worry about your car again until you are ready to leave Positano.  Luggage service is another thing to ask about.  Steep staircases unlike anything you have ever seen have been cut into the mountain to allow locals and tourists to move about through the village.  However, you don’t want to try to go up and down those with heavy suitcases!  If you are not staying overnight, you will need to pay 20-30 Euros per day to park in a garage.  It is outrageous, but simply part of the cost of experiencing the beauty of the Amalfi Coast.

In Positano, stroll up and down the charismatic labyrinth of streets.  Shopping is one of the highlights of this little town, and hand-crafted, made-to-measure strappy leather sandals are what Positano is famous for.  You can choose from a variety of styles and leathers and in about 10 minutes you will have your sandals made exclusively for you.  They will cost a pretty penny, but will also last forever.

Wander down to the beach to soak up some Mediterranean sun, or simply for a stroll.  There are two beaches: Spiaggia di Marina Grande is the busiest of the two, while Spiaggia di Formillo, a little further west, is quieter.  Don’t expect white sand; both beaches are made up of small, round pebbles.  You will want sandals to walk in, and if you plan on spending time on the beach it is worth renting chairs and an umbrella.  From the beach you can see Li Galli, the archipelago of little islands just off of the coast that are said to be where the Sirens seduced Ulysses and other ship captains in Homer’s Odyssey.  The coast is home to dozens of spots to grab a drink, an afternoon aperitif, or dinner.

If you prefer action over relaxation, consider taking a ferry to the islands of Ischia or Capri for a day trip.  You will see a lot of advertising about the Grotta dello Smeraldo, the sea cave full of stalactites and stalagmites that fills with emerald-glowing light.  Most reviews suggest that it is an excursion to pass on.

Directions out of the Amalfi Coast
When you are ready to leave Positano and end your stay on the Amalfi coast, get back onto the coastal road SS163 and follow it west.  It will eventually take you inland in the direction of Sorrento.  Follow the signs to Sorrento; the road will eventually turn into SS145.  Stop and stay in Sorrento for a night, or follow the SS145 until you see signs for E45 Napoli/Roma.  Take the E45 Napoli/Roma, which will turn into the Autostrada A1 headed toward Rome.

How to Drive on the Amalfi Coast
By now you are enamored with the costiera amalfitana, appreciative of the flexibility that a car offers, and enticed to experience the amazing coastal drive yourself.  You can; just follow the advice below.

  1. Choose a smaller-size car.  It will be easier to handle on the curves.  Too much luggage is a hassle on the coast anyway.
  2. Consider automatic vs. manual transmission.  Most Italian cars have manual transmission (cambio manuale), and if you know how to drive a straight-stick, the manual transmission is a lot of fun.  Be prepared, however, for frequent shifting between first, second and third gear as you speed up and slow down on the winding roads.  If this isn’t your thing, get a rental car with automatic transmission (cambio automatico).
  3. Keep an eye out for the scooters.  Locals, especially the youth, use motorini and Vespas to travel up and down the coast.  Their driving will seem reckless to you, especially as they pass you on the right, squeezing between your car and the mountain wall.  Keep your cool and stay in your lane.  Don’t be tempted to veer into the oncoming lane to go around them.  They’ve driven this road hundreds of times, and you haven’t.  They know when they fit and when they don’t.
  4. Don’t get too adventurous and rent a scooter yourself.  You’re not ready for that yet.  If you get really good at driving the road in a car, then you could maybe consider it.
  5. Don’t drive too fast, but don’t drive too slow, either.  It’s very frustrating to be stuck behind a tourist who is creeping along the road, holding up traffic behind him or her.  This is especially frustrating for the locals.
  6. Be mindful of cars flashing their lights at you; this is a form of communication in Italy.  If an oncoming car flashes its lights at you, this means “watch out” or “get out of my way.”  If a car behind you flashes its lights at you, this generally means “hurry up.”
  7. Slow down and hug the walls as you go around curves; you can’t see what is coming around the corner from the other direction.  At some point, you’ll be surprised when you see a larger vehicle or a tour bus in the other lane and realize that you both don’t fit.
  8. When you encounter a tour bus on a curve, the tour bus has precedence.  Slow down or stop if necessary to let it get around first.  If you encounter a tour bus on a curve and you both cannot fit, you will be expected to carefully and slowly back up to allow the bus through.  Put your car into reverse so that the cars behind you see your reverse lights and understand that they also need to back up, and slowly move backwards until the bus can get by.  It will be scary the first time, but you’ll be fine and the cars behind you will understand that they need to back up, too.
  9. If you are approaching a curve and you hear a deep horn honk, it is likely a tour bus approaching from the other side.  Hug the wall and slow down, so that hopefully the bus can get by and you can avoid #8 above.
  10. You will encounter men and women with small fruit stands in little enclaves along the side of the road.  They will be selling what appear to be gigantic lemons, but are actually citrons, which are more for attention-grabbing that anything else.  You can stop, but you need to pull off the road into the enclave so that you are not blocking traffic.
  11. When you park, allow your passenger to get out of the car first so that you can park tightly against the side of the road and the wall.
  12. Before getting out of your car, look very carefully behind you to be sure that you are not opening your car door in front of an oncoming car, or even worse, a scooter.
  13. When you close your doors, take a moment to turn your side mirrors in against the car door.  On this stretch of road, every inch counts.
  14. Finally, go easy on the white wine and limoncello if you are hopping back into your car after lunch.  This isn’t the time to play Mario Andretti.

Have you been to the Amalfi Coast?  Tell us about your experiences and recommendations.

Have you driven on the Amalfi Coast?  We welcome your comments and feedback on our advice above.

More on the Amalfi Coast:

The Amalfi Coast is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Read what National Geographic says about the Amalfi Coast Roadtrip.

View this YouTube video of driving on the Amalfi Coast.  It’s the real deal, with delightful music in the background.  Our only comment is that the filmperson was so focused on the road itself, the video does not do justice to the spectacular coastal views.

TripAdvisor has a forum on driving on the Amalfi Coast, with advice for drivers and for those who prefer to hire a transport service.

Un Cono e Un Caffè al Pantheon

Our favorite monument in Rome is the Pantheon.  Built in 27 B.C. as a temple to the gods of Ancient Rome, rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in 127 A.D. following the burning of Rome and converted to a Catholic church in the 7th century, it is one of Rome’s best preserved buildings.  The Pantheon boasts the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, with an oculus in the center that lets in the Pantheon’s only source of light.  Today, the Pantheon is home to the tombs of famous painters, a composer, an architect, two kings and a queen.
Whenever we return to Rome we be sure to visit the Pantheon, and while we are there we make time to stop for some of the best gelato and caffè in all of Rome.

Gelateria Giolitti is just a few blocks away from the Pantheon.  With its gigantic columns at your back walk straight ahead, passing along the right side of the fountain and down a narrow street called Via della Maddalena.  Proceed three or four blocks until you reach Via degli Uffici del Vicario.  Turn right and walk about a block and a half.  Gelateria Giolitti is on the right.  If you were to continue down that road you’d reach the Italian Parliament and Chamber of Deputies.  Don’t do that, though.  Stop and have a gelato, instead.

Gelateria Giolitti is not exactly a secret, so expect a full house and plenty of jostling and crowding to get your gelato.  Don’t be intimidated – it is worth it!  Stop at the cassa (cash register) first, and pay for your cono (cone) or coppa (cup).  Take your receipt and proceed to the gelato bar.  Practice being assertive – you will need to be in order to get the attention of the gelato servers.  Hold your receipt up to demonstrate that you’ve paid already and make eye contact.  Be ready to call out the flavors of gelato you want on your cono or in your coppa.  If you can’t read the little flavor labels, just point.  You can choose two and sometimes three flavors per cono or coppa, depending on the size you ordered.  Some of our favorites are pistacchio (pistachio) and nocciola (hazlenut), although the fruit flavors are buonissimi, also.  Your server will ask you if you want panna (whipped cream) on top.  Say yes – this panna is natural and much less sweet that what we are used to, a perfect compliment to the gelato.

Of course, if all of this is too intimidating, you can just sit down at a little table and be served by a waiter.  We won’t hold it against you if you choose this option; but know that you will not only pay a hefty surcharge for a table and wait service, you will also miss out on the adventurous and authentic experience of standing elbow to elbow with Italians and tourists alike to order your gelato from Giolitti.

Next, it’s time to get what many claim is the best caffè in all of Rome.  Head back toward the Pantheon the way you came.  This time, however, once you get back to Piazza della Rotonda where the Pantheon is, veer to the right past the fountain and keep walking with the Pantheon on your immediate left until to get to Salita de’ Crescenzi.  Turn right onto Salita de’ Crescenzi.  Proceed until you get to Via di Sant’Eustachio, which turns into Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, home to Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè.

Sant’Eustachio hasn’t changed much since it opened in the late 1930s.  Its tight space sports the original decor, and the baristi are more formal appearing that elsewhere in Rome.  They mean business; watch as they clear away used tazze (espresso cups) and set new ones out on the bar with rhythmic precision.  Expect lines and crowding like at Giolitti.  Follow the same routine of paying first at the cassa and then taking your receipt to the bar.  Order the renowned Gran Caffè, a dense, creamy double-espresso.  You will simply not find a better caffè in Rome, or perhaps anywhere.  Do not order a cappuccino; those are for breakfast with your brioche.  Do not order a regular caffè; you can get those everywhere in Rome.  You are at Sant’Eustachio, and you must order a Gran Caffè.  We hope we are sufficiently clear on this point.

If you do, you just may find yourselves doing what we do when we visit Rome – ensuring we make a visit to the Pantheon, and enjoying a gelato and a caffè while we are there.

Gelateria Giolitti
Via degli Uffici del Vicario, 40
00186 Roma
http://www.giolitti.it

Sant’Eustachio il Caffè
Piazza di Sant’Eustachio, 82
00186 Roma
http://www.santeustachioilcaffe.it

This map shows the Pantheon (B), Gelateria Giolitti (A) and Sant’Eustachio il Caffè (C).

On our most recent visit to Rome, we gathered three generations of family for a walk in the historical center, and of course, a visit to the Pantheon, Giolitti and Sant’Eustachio.  Gelato was had by all – Flavio, Davide, Giorgia, Noemi, Luca, Damiano, Sean, Mery, Patrizio, Ivana, Andrea, Debora, Daniele, Valentina, Marco, Cara, Stefano, e Maria.  Only the adults had caffè, though!

Crema di Caffè
If it may be a while before you have a chance to pop into Sant’Eutachio, here is a little trick you can use to render your home-made espresso more like a Gran Caffè.

When you make espresso, set aside a very small amount of the first coffee to come out of your espresso maker.  This coffee is stronger and richer that the coffee that follows.  Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the reserved coffee.  Stir rapidly until the sugar has dissolved and you have a dense, sticky, cream.  This is called crema di caffè.   Add a teaspoon or two of crema di caffè to each espresso you pour, and stir.  The crema will render your espresso extra-rich and creamy.