I’m a rule follower by nature. I never skipped class in high school OR college. When I go 7 miles over the speed limit, I feel like I’m really pushing my luck. And when I decided to be Paleo a couple years back, I followed all of the “don’t eat that, only eat this” rules.
But here’s the thing. I respect rule-breakers. The little goody two shoes inside of me wants to be one because I know that, mentally, it’s a hell of a lot more healthy than being a rule-follower.
So when my husband and I decided on Italy for our honeymoon, I decided right then and there that I would break all the rules the moment we hit Italian soil.
It started innocently enough with a cheese and prosciutto plate. Then I found myself reaching for the bread basket before dinner (the horror!). But by the end, I found myself housing an ENTIRE pizza. But not just any pizza, thin, crispy, saucy, cheesy, air-pockety Neapolitan pizza in Naples.
In fact, I am sorry to inform you that if you had any desire to go to Italy yourself, that it is no longer there…because I ate it.
I ate big blocks of cakey bread topped with white cheese, red cheese, orange cheese, liver bruschetta (aka Bruschetta di Fegato), mozzarella, pecorino and goat cheese. I ate pumpkin risotto, then hazelnut gelato (then chocolate gelato and later vanilla bean gelato). Whenever the moment presented itself, I had tiramisu – tiramisu gelato, tiramisu in cups, tiramisu in bowls, tiramisu in squares, and when they were out of tiramisu, I ate crème brûlée. I gushed when croissants were brought to us on a tray at our cozy little bed and breakfast, and stuffed my face with squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta cheese. I squeeled, then drooled over pizza with ham, pizza with mushrooms and radicchio and pizza with anchovies. I "when Harry Met Sally-ed" at least twice. Once over eggplant lasagna, and the second time over lemon tart stuffed with freshly-made, sweet crunchy peanut brittle…in the same meal.
When I needed a gut break, I had no problem finding paleo-ish fair that still felt nearly as indulgent. That’s when I found seafood salad, branzino and red snapper with a side of grilled vegetables drizzled in balsamic vinegar. I got giddy over prosciutto paired with eggplant drenched in truffle. Then found a new love for rabbit salad. I enjoyed a simple braised beef with golden potatoes dish. And later became in awe over an onion slow roasted till it became "soup." All of my health nut needs were met by sea bass in a lemon sauce, sea bass in “crazy water” vegetable broth, grilled octopus with spicy oil with avocado and plantain chips, and even an organic grocery store in Naples with aisles of food products shouting “senza glutine” and “non-OGM” (hehe, it’s backwards).
Yes, I felt uncomfortably stuffed by the end of the trip. My pants didn't fit. My thighs felt like big sausages. And to top it off, I caught a cold while we were in Montalcino so I was all stuffed up and snotty. But I was still standing. I didn't die. In fact, I lived.
I’ve gained weight since I got back. No question about it. But I am surprised to report that I kind of like it. I have this extra cushion that wasn't there before. I'm trying to think of it like a badge of honor. This new butt? Oh. Got that in Italy. 😉
If you ever find yourself going to Italy, you'll ask every previous Italian traveler you know, where they went, where they ate and what they did. I know I did. Which is why I'm going to make it easy for you and include my trip itinerary below (well, most of it – I don't need to bore you with ALL the details).
That said, at the end of the day, my favorite finds were the ones that we stumbled upon – not the ones we went looking for.
You have to make Italy your own. So please do. But if you feel the need to start somewhere, here is my Italy…
Healthy Stacey's Italy Itinerary
We stayed here: AC Firenze (a little too far off the beaten path for our liking; it took us about 15 minutes to walk into town; it was clean and well-kept, but seemed more for the business traveler than the honeymooner)
We ate here:
La Prosciutteria (wine and a snack before dinner ended up being one of our favorite spots in the whole trip; it's teeny tiny, but has so much good energy that you don't even notice it)
My husband's cousin's home (where we ate homemade pumpkin risotto, grilled eggplant and every meat known to man cooked over a coal-burning fire at the best restaurant in Monsummano Terme, not open to the public, hehe)
We stayed here: Porta Castellana Bed and Breakfast (adorable, warm, inviting, all the mushy gushy adjectives you can think of!; the owner was sweet, giving us the perfect itinerary for our stay in the beautiful little moutain town of Montalcino)
We ate here:
Caffe Fiaschetteria Italiana (a historical cafe known for its famous guests includes Prince Charles of Wales, as well as Prime Ministers like Jean Chretienne of Canada, along with politicians, actors, and Italian and internationally renowned athletes – GREAT wine and waiters who know their wine like nobody's business)
Re Di Macchia (adorable, initmate restauraunt that was buzzing inside with locals and laughter, lots and lots of laughter; honestly, I don't quite remember what I had, but I know it was delicious)
We drank here:
Enoteca la Fortezza di Montalcino (a wine bar…in a castle! we tasted some of our favorite wines in montalcino here accompanied by a light appetizer of truffle eggplant bruschetta – absolute heaven)
We wine-toured here:
Altesino (here, my husband and I learned everything about Super Tuscans and Brunellos on our private tour; there was a gorgeous view of the vineyards and of Montalcino in the distance)
We ate here (and wish we didn’t): La Taverna Di Moranda (weird vibe in a dark empty stone-walled room with an angry owner; the only reason we came was because the highly recommended Osteria La Porta was totally packed with no room for even two more guests; we ordered one app so as not to be rude and then we hightailed it outta there)
We made up for it here: Dopolavoro La Foce (bright and friendly with seasonal farm-to-table fare; it has its own vegetable garden across the road so you know it's fresh. A path connects the vegetable garden to the famous La Foce gardens; I had something called "onion soup" that was literally an onion that had been roasted until its insides became soupy – yum!)
We stayed here: Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora (beautiful, great location, complete with a rooftop breakfast with a beautiful view of the city)
We ate here:
La Rosetta (came to me highly recommended by my dear well-travelled friend, Marta; this beauty was the first all-fish restauraunt in Rome; all locally-sourced, made to order; grilled octopus with avocado and plantain chips? yes, please! It's pretty much a Paleo restauraunt in Rome…kind of)
Sarafini alla Pace (my husband believes this to be the best pizza we had in Italy, while my vote is still in Naples, but I don't disagree that it was pretty frickin amazing; right in the heart of everything, great people watching if you sit outside)
Sapori D'Ischia (this place was literally a two minute walk from our hotel, but was such a gem; owned and operated by a very sweet family of three – the mother is the chef, the daughter is the server, and the husband is the piano player – meaning he takes periodic breaks to play a little diddy on the huge grand piano that takes up more space than the tables in this tiny and intimate eatery)
We stayed here: Grand Hotel Il Saraceno (it is literally a castle built into the side of the mountain; there are no words for how beautiful this city was, but I will embarrasingly admit that the view from our room actually brought me to tears – I am not exxaggerating, and no, this has never happened to me before, and may never happen again)
We ate here:
Ristorante Mashreq (the restauraunt in our hotel; honestly, the food didn't blow me away, but I didn't care because we had no desire to leave our beautiful castle with tear-jerking views)
Covo Dei Saraceni (Amaaaazing gelato on the dock of the bay in Positano)
We cooked here:
Cooking Vacations (I'm tempted to say the highlight of my trip – but there are so many it's hard to say; here is where I got to check a bullet off my bucket list – a private cooking lesson with an Italian chef in Positano; he taught us how to salt an eggplant to get out the bitterness, how a simple vegetable broth is all you need to cook a sea bass, and the best indicator of a perfectly cooked garlic – "when it's turned blonde – like me!" he says).
We stayed here: Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo
We ate here:
Pizzaria Trianon (this is where I ate an entire pizza ALL BY MYSELF and I would do it again if I could because…damn; we stumbled upon this place as an alternative to L'antica Pizzeria de Michele – the shop that was put on the map after Elizabeth Gilbert gushed about it in "Eat Pray Love"; we took one look at the line that wrapped around the block and decided to find our own "best pizza in Naples, and therefore, the world"; we were spot on with Trianon; they not only hand-made the pizzas in front of you, they were more than happy to ham it up for the camera)