We just returned from a 7 day cruise in the Western Mediterranean…7 days of blue and sunny skies, sun-kissed sands, gourmet food, pampering, lounging on the magnificient Meditteranean Sea with stops in Florence, Naples, Rome, Palma Mallorca. The best part, no phones, no laptops and no access to the world. I dont remember the last time we had ever done that in our grown up lives. I did have some Facebook and Twitter withdrawals as I would have loved to tweet and check in to the amazing places we visited, but in the larger scheme of things, I was so more relaxed and calmer that this was an eye opener in many senses. To top it all, this was all in Spain and Italy, a feast not just for the eyes but for all the senses and for the foodies out there. As you can imagine, this was as much a vacation as it was a culinary fest. Tapas in Spain, Limoncello in Sorrento, Pizza and Gnocchi in Naples with Tiramisu and “Baba”…I was in food heaven.
Our first stop in Madrid was at this vegetarian restaurant called Artemisa. Great reviews from Frommer and Chow hound placed this at the top of my list. Let’s just say it wasn’t a great start to our holiday. They had sime interesting dishes like quinoa burgers and eggplant lasagna like contraptions which were edible. The quinoa burger caught my attention as I thought it was a unique and creative way to use quinoa as an appetizer and in a sandwich. But overall the food was bland and quite overpriced. Almost €100 for the five of us which by far was the most expensive meal during the course of our trip.
After a day’s stay in Madrid we reached Barcelona, the city of Picasso, Gaudi, the Segrada Familia, Montesserat, and the Tibidabo. We didn’t get to see all the sights in two days of course, but we did walk around the city to take in the local smells, and tastes. The Market at La Rambla, La Bouqueria was one such. To describe this market on thier own words, “La Boqueria is a gastronomic temple, a place that congregates all the phases in the food chain, from the producers, harvesters, butchers and fishmongers who provide the food, to the individual and professional clients who wander through this magnificent, characteristic maze of traders in charge of the market stalls.”
The pictures don’t do much justice to the lively ambience that exuded from the local markets.
We boarded the cruise from Barcelona and the first stop after being at sea was in the “architectural” city of Pisa and Florence or Firenze as the locals call it. I don’t mean to be satirical when I use the word architecture and Pisa in one sentence, but we heard an interesting anecdote about the city of Pisa as we were being driven by our driver/guide. Pisa is a University town as the University of Pisa is widely known for its academic excellence. However there is one course that is not offered in this University and that is architecture. Apparently after the Leaning Tower of Pisa became the way it stands today (which is due to the shifting nature of the soil in this part of Tuscany), they decided that architecture was not the city’s panache and excluded the course from the University’s list:). I don’t know if the guide was just being glib but it was an amusing tidbit for a city so well known for its landmark.
I don’t have much to say about Firenze’s culinary offerings and not because there isn’t any, we just didn’t pick the right place to go to eat..the margherita pizza we had in Florence was worse than one I’d had in Texas:) Gelato, however, was amazing. So we knew it wasn’t Florence…it was just our choice of restaurant. The next stop was Rome, and all I can say is that, we didn’t do justice to Rome in one day. There is so much to this city that I will leave any description of Rome and of course it’s culinary delights to a separate post, when we visit Rome again:)
Naples, Sorrento and Positano, our next stops were one of the most beautiful and breathtaking sights as we drove alongside the Amalfi coastline. We stopped at Sorrento and walked through its bustling little street markets that boasted of everything from culinary treasures, olives, olilve oil, pesto, the famous limoncello, and everything else lemon, to clothing and jewelry.
Pizza in Naples was actually an itinerary on our list, which we made quite clear to our driver/guide. I’ve got to say he was not only very resourceful but very observant… he obviously knew where to take us. We were driven to this apparently famous restuarant in Naples that sits by the Naples port, Antonio & Antonio, famous for its woodfire grilled pizza, gnocchi and dessert.
I’ve got to admit, this was THE highlight of our trip. I’ve never tasted as fresh a buffalo mozzarella and margharita pizza as this one before. We noticed the Mayor of Napoli (as the locals call the city) exiting this restaurant as we were arriving so we knew we had “arrived” as well:) This wasn’t a very fancy restaurant but had some elegance, nevertheless. Our driver/guide did very well with this recommendation and this was enough for us to tip him well. Can you tell we are all a bunch of foodies in this family?:) Bruschetta, Buffalo Mozzarella Caprese-like dish, and of course Pizza Margherita. We topped this off with their famous melt-in-your-mouth Tiramisu and the famous “baba”.
I had not tasted “baba” before until now and am hooked. These are sponge cake like brioches in syrup ( reminded me slightlyof tres leches but even better) of either rum or limoncello. The one we had at Antonio & Antonio was more like a limoncello syrup and was heavenly. This was by far our best pizza in Italy and probably my best Margherita ever so far.
And that brings me to the end of this long post on this scrumptious note to savor the flavors that we had experienced. This was definitely a sampler of Europe’s finest gastronomic trips, only to leave us yearning for more. I’m already thinking about a longer vacation to Rome and Naples to take in everything else it has to offer, the sights, the smells and the exquisite tastes.