A MARITIME MICHELIN MEAL
After days of cured meats and never ending bowls of pasta, I’m craving the sea. The salty air in the tiny port town of Cesenatico delivers an idyllic backdrop for just such a meal, and restaurateur Stefano Bartaloni is the man to deliver it. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the award-winning La Buca is a tri-generational labor of love. The cuisine honors Bartaloni’s father, who was a local fisherman, while his son, Andrea, designed the space. Budget-friendly diners seeking a casual, yet impeccably prepared fish fry should head next door to Bartaloni’s Oseteria del Gran Fritto, but if it’s a Michelin star, bucket list meal you’re seeking, settle into a multicourse experience at La Buca.
Chef Gregorio Grippo welcomes me into the kitchen for an exclusive demonstration, where he and his team prepare olive wood-smoked mackerel, almond-crusted John Dory, and spaghetti a la guitar, a labor-intensive fresh pasta served with locally caught raw red shrimp and shaved bottarga (dried and cured fish roe)—and that’s before dinner!
The official tasting menu at $73 per person is worth a visit to the otherwise sleepy fishing village. The seasonal and locally inspired menu is constantly evolving, but expect to experience exquisitely executed preparations such as smoked mackerel with radicchio and Tropea onions; crispy red mullet with homemade mayonnaise and fennel salad; and risotto topped with burned scallop carpaccio, leeks, and Sichuan pepper.
Thanks to Italy’s high-speed rail line, in just over 30 minutes you can leave behind the quaint town of Bologna and find yourself in Tuscany’s bustling capital of Florence. Be prepared for an onslaught of tourists traveling in packs that rival Pamplona’s running of the bulls. I head to the hills for a spectacular respite at the five-star Il Salviatino. The 15th century villa is just a 15-minute drive from the city center, with hourly shuttle service that will drop you off at Il Duomo, where you can join the throng of tourists clamoring to view the cathedral and Filippo Brunelleschi’s famous Renaissance dome.
The city beckons, but also be sure to spend time wandering Il Salviatino’s luxurious grounds. Over the years, the property had fallen into disarray until hotelier Marcello Pigozzo rediscovered it in 2007. A $16.8 million architectural renovation began to restore Il Salviatino to its former glory, including the addition of La Spa, which features scents from famed Florentine perfumer Dr. Vranjes. There are other treasures to discover among the grounds such as elusive truffles. Guests seeking an immersive experience can join Giulio Benuzzi and his dog, Eda, for an exclusive truffle experience, which ends with a truffle-inspired meal.
Beyond its legendary monuments, palaces and piazzas, Florence is also an epicenter for artisan goods. It’s easy to get distracted by the multitude of street vendors selling leather outside of The Central Market, but forgo the cheap goods and head straight to da Nerbone, a food stall famous for its boiled beef sandwiches slathered with salsa piccante. For handmade leather goods with a contemporary edge, turn to Fez-born Hicham Ben’Mbarek. His tiny shop, Ben Heart, offers some of the city’s most unique designs. Another great place to obtain a great gift from Italy is Aqua Flor, an intoxicating perfume parlor that features the olfactory creations of Master Perfumer Sileno Cheloni. Choose from the carefully crafted scents suitable for men or women, or opt for a custom-designed scent. “Creating an original perfume”, says Cheloni, “is like constructing the biography of an individual. We are taken back in time and then we return with a new sense of pleasure on having been called to remember with awareness.”
(Dial +39 for the U.S. before the number listed below unless otherwise noted.)
Basilica di San Vitale, Via San Vitale. Tel: 544 541688. Ravenna church that features what many consider the first examples of Byzantine art in Western civilization. Ticket includes admission to five historic sights throughout Ravenna including the Archiepiscopal Museum, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, and more. www.ravennamosaici.it
Bologna, Online guide to Emilia-Romagna’s capital. Must-see’s include the Basilica of San Patronio and a tour of the city’s 24 towers built around the 12th century. www.bolognawelcome.com
Carpigiani Gelato University and Museum, Via Emilia 45. Tel: 051 6505306. Gelato museum and school. A range of classes and workshops are offered, from a guided tasting to a hands-on master class. www.gelatomuseum.com
Emilia-Romagna, An online resource to one of Italy’s most food-centric regions. Discover the origins of Parmigiano-Regiano, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, Lambrusco, and more. www.emiliaromagnaturismo.com
Gelateria Gianni, Various locations. The artisan gelato shops throughout Bologna produce nearly 400 pounds of the frozen delicacy daily and relies on locally sourced ingredients including Langhe hazelnuts, Amalfi lemons, and Amedei chocolate. www.gelateriagianni.com
Goffredo Gaeta, Via Firenze 455. Tel: 0546 43044. Art studio and gallery of famed artist Goffredo Gaeta. The former paper mill power station is packed with original works of art and also houses artisans working on Gaeta’s latest projects. www.goffredogaeta.com
Hotel Commerciante, Via De’ Pignattari, 11. Tel: 051 7457511. Historical four-star property in the city center. The family-owned originally served as Bologna’s City Hall in the 11th century and features original architectural details. www.bolognarthotels.it/en/hotel-commercianti
Il salotto di Penelope, Via San Felice 116/G. Tel: 051 6493627. Cooking school specializing in authentic Bolognese recipes, including Bolognese ragù, tagliatelle, tortelloni, and potatoe gnocchi. Market tours also available. www.ilsalottodipenelope.it
Kokomosaico, Via di Roma 136. Tel: 0544 465190. Mosaic laboratory in the heart of Ravenna. Half- and full-day classes offer participants the opportunity to produce a copy of an ancient mosaic or create an original design. www.kokomosaico.com
La Buca, Corso Garibaldi 45. Tel: 0547 1860764. Stefano Bartolini’s Michelin-star restaurant in the charming fishing village of Cesenatico features locally sourced seafood from the Adriatic Sea presented in a modern setting designed by his son. www.stefanobartolini.com/la-buca
La Sabbiona, Via di Oriolo, 10. Tel: 0546 64214. Guesthouse, vineyard, and cooking school located in the rustic region of Faenza. The Altini family welcomes visitors for agritoursim experiences and plenty of wine produced from their own vineyards. www.lasabbiona.it
Museo Enzo Ferrari Modena, Via Paolo Ferrari, 85. Tel: 059 4397979. A spacious exhibition hall pays tribute to some of the most exquisite cars ever produced and currently features a multimedia installation showcasing one of Italy’s most famous tenors, Luciano Pavarotti. www.museomodena.ferrari.com
Opera 02, Via Medusia 32. Tel: 059 741019. Hillside winery and resort overlooking the hills of Modena. The eight-room boutique property boasts vineyard views, pool, sauna, and a rustic country breakfast included in rate. www.opera02.it
Aqua Flor, Borgo Santa Croce, 6. Tel: 055 2343471. Ornate perfume parlor near the Basilica of Santa Croce. Choose from carefully crafted scents or splurge for a custom-made creation (by appointment only). www.florenceparfum.com
Ben Heart, Via il Prato, 25R. Tel: 055 2608625. Handmade leather goods from up and coming designer Hicham Ben’Mbarek, who you’re likely to find in the tiny shop just steps from the Arno River. www.benheart.it
Central Market, Piazza del Mercato Centrale 4. Tel: 055 2399798. Sprawling food market offering fresh ingredients and prepared foods. Be sure to add da Nerbone’s boiled beef sandwich on the first floor to your culinary bucket list and pick up souvenirs from Eataly on the second level. www.mercatocentrale.it/en
Il Salviatino, Via del Salviatino, 21. Tel: 055 9041111. Five-star property overlooking Florence. The palatial villa began as a modest 14th century farmhouse and has been expanded over the years, culminating in its most recent $16 million restoration. www.salviatino.com