Lively and bustling streets criss-cross Parma’s Romanesque architecture and pastel-hued buildings. Its status as a university city is to thank for this, but we’re not here for class. No, we’re here for the food.
Because of its location in the center of the fertile Po Valley, in north central Italy, the Emilia Romagna region has been the country’s foodie capital for centuries. Parma in particular, became the epicenter of this gastronomical powerhouse due to its production of world class and world famous eats. Most notably, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma ham. Along with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from nearby Modena, these products can only be made in this specific part of Italy, and therefore the world. And although you can find cheap imitations from other places, they are definitely not the same. Trust us.
The beauty here is mesmerizing. One person after another sits and stares across the water’s surface. No phones, no distractions. Just gazing at the forested cliffs and colorful towns on the other side. It’s nice; peaceful even. This view is the kind that pulls you in, forces you to stop, makes you breathe a little deeper, and offers a little break from the current state of the world.
We’ve made the 4 hour drive north from Lucca, passing through the Apennine Mountains and the Emilia Romagna region, before arriving at the incredible Lake Como in Lombardy. We’re here to find the perfect hotel for the final stop on next year’s Italian Origins small group trip. Our three days here are jam-packed with meetings and hotel tours, and we constantly have to remind each other that we’re here for work - A not-so-easy task with views like these.
Skipping down the narrow, olive tree-lined road toward Greve, we can hardly contain this euphoric feeling. The sun is about to set over the endless rolling hills of Chianti and the golden hour light glows against the rows of vineyards that extend as far as the eye can see in either direction. These hills baked today, as the temperature rose to nearly 100 degrees fahrenheit, preparing the grapes for their inevitable September harvest. After a day of driving all around the region, meeting with hotels and agriturismos, the setting sun brings a welcomed respite.
Mark Twain once described Florence as a “city of dreams.” We’re standing on the rooftop terrace of Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni 1, a medieval tower and boutique hotel dating back to the year 1200, and are completely on board with his assessment. Layers of red terracotta tiled roofs give way to ancient palaces, marble porticos, and the incredible Duomo of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. We’re completely aware that many people dream of seeing this view once in a lifetime and are filled with equal parts gratitude and awe at the beauty of the Tuscan capital. It’s these moments that remind us why we started Cohica - to share a slice of this magic with travelers - and over the next 48 hours, we’re on the hunt for the perfect Florentine hotel, rooftop restaurant and city guide for the first night of our 2021 Italian Origins small group trip.
It’s a hot sunny day in late July and we’re jumping in our trusty Fiat 500L for a short drive up the coast to the jaw-droppingly beautiful Cinque Terre. This will be one of five stops on our September 2021 Italian Origins small-group journey, so we’re on our way to meet with hotel and activity partners in person. Over the years, we’ve gleaned two bits of wisdom - 1) reliable contacts that we know and trust are gold, and 2) the best way to ensure every travel detail is amazing is to experience it first-hand. We cross the green hills surrounding Lucca and head north, past Carrara and its mountains of glistening white marble, and into the terraced hillsides of Cinque Terre National Park.
Summer in Lucca came right on time. As if a switch were flipped, the solstice happened and one day later the sun showed up in full force, blasting down 87-degree days one after another. It’s beautiful in this part of Italy at this time of year, while the greenery, wildflowers, and other remnants of spring are still on display and the summer nights seem to last forever. Italy has successfully (so far, at least) emerged from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns and la bella vita once again surrounds us. Masks are commonplace (mandatory when in close proximity to other people), Italians are the least touchy they’ll probably ever be, and there is enough hand sanitizer to give every one of the world’s germaphobes a lifetime supply, but life is otherwise pretty normal. The country as a whole followed a long, closely monitored quarantine with a quite uniform reopening strategy and the numbers continue to look good. There are currently less than 14,000 total cases in Italy, with only 69 considered critical, and fewer than 200 new cases per day.
Watch where you step. Look both ways. And under no circumstances whatsoever, wander aimlessly into the bike path. If you do, there’s a good chance you’ll collide with a very fast, basket laden bicycle. Or, at a minimum, you’ll have a tall, beautiful, and perfectly multi-lingual Dutchman or woman ring a loud bell and politely shout to get the ‘f’ out of the way. Cycling is a cornerstone of the culture in Amsterdam - just as much as canals, museums and coffee shops - and thousands of bikes cruise around the city during every season and at every hour of the day. It’s just one of the things that makes this gorgeous, creative, liberal, historical, free-thinking city unlike anywhere else in the world.
No where else in Spain is the influence of the country’s diverse history and converging cultures so apparent than in Andalucia. It’s a region many think of as traditionally Spanish, from Flamenco to bullfights, tapas to a vibrant late night culture. Around every corner, the combination of Moorish architecture with traditional Spanish buildings and plazas creates a unique sense of place. When you’re in Andalucia, you know it.
Located in the southern part of the peninsula, Andalucia is the most populous autonomous community in Spain. The name, Andalucia, is derived from the Arabic word Al-Andalus and dates back to 716, just after the Moors took over Spain by defeating the Visigoths. Historically an agricultural region, it’s home to some of the best olive oil in the world. It’s also the hottest region in Europe, with average summertime highs of 97 °F in Sevilla and Cordoba. No wonder Andalucians are known for their siestas.
We come here in the summer, so as we mention, it’s hot. Near the Portuguese border and just north of the Golfo de Cadiz, Sevilla is an elegant city that feels like an amalgamation of Spanish stereotypes. We arrive in the late afternoon, check in to our apartment in the Triana neighborhood along the west bank of the Guadalquivir River, and quickly get ready for a small-group Flamenco, food, and wine tour.
The Scottish Rail rolls east, passing flocks of fluffy white sheep. We throw out guesses of how many we’ve passed (500? 1,000?) - an unwinnable game. Somehow, the passing hills are illuminated by the muted grey sky, creating an Emerald city-like green glow. We take a sip of whisky (that’s whisky, not whiskey, and certainly not scotch) from a test-tube size dram, both because it’s weirdly cold outside for being spring and because that’s what you do here. Scotland is all about feeling cozy and, even when the rest of the world is wearing shorts, we’re 100% here for it.
The hills and mountains surrounding the valley have suddenly turned a brighter and deeper shade of green. The sky has also shifted, from muted greys with subtle blue hues, to a spectacular baby blue scattered with pillows of bright white clouds. The green fields are now strewn with the reds and yellows of wildflowers that have shot up from the fertile ground below. Spring came with a force in Lucca, our home of just six months, and after two months in quarantine we’re reminded of the multitude of reasons we chose to settle down in this little city in the northwest corner of Tuscany.
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