My husband and I recently took a spectacular trip to Italy and visited some amazing regions, rich in cultures and traditions. One of our destinations was Tuscany and we were living our dream of “La Dolce Vita” (the sweet life). We were blown away by the beauty of the rolling hills and the lush cypress trees. Finally, all the landscape pictures we had seen were coming to life and the views were similar to that of a postcard. On the first day, we got to visit this beautiful winery called: Fattoria di Montemaggio, located in Radda in Chianti in the heart of Chianti Classico region. It’s truly magical with a stupendous view of the valley, and well-manicured grounds. There were full-blown roses and fresh artichokes growing in the immaculate garden. Ilaria, the estate manager greeted us with a beautiful smile and gave us a tour of the vineyards. It was clear how passionate she was about her job and demonstrated a great knowledge in the viticulture and viniculture process of wine making. She gave us a little lesson about the stubborn Sangiovese grape, as I explained in an earlier post: The temperamental Sangiovese grape variety . I pointed out to her that the ground seemed very dry and she replied: “we need to make them suffer”. Of course, she was referring to this particular grape variety. After a tour of the vineyards and some photo snapping, it was Denis, the cellar manager, who guided the wine tasting. We enjoyed a lovely selection of wines in the company of Riccardo, our amazing tour guide and the multi-talented Katarina Andersson. She is a translator, an educator and a wine writer at: Grapevine Adventures. The wines were luscious and of high quality which were no surprise to us, after seeing the labor of love that went into producing them. Fortunately, because of the terroir and the micro-climate, Fattoria di Montemaggio is able to grow many grape varieties such as: Sangiovese, with small additions of Merlot, Pugnitello, Chardonnay, Malvasia Nera, and Ciliegiolo. A few months ago, I was able to get their Chianti Classico in my area and paired it with Pork Chops in Tomato sauce. It worked delightfully. I brought back a couple of bottles from this recent trip and cannot wait to crack them open. If you intend to visit Tuscany, I highly recommend that you put Fattoria di Montemaggio on your itinerary. You will be very happy with this gem of a place.
I hope you have enjoyed my blog post on this beautiful winery and the enchanting photographs that I captured during my visit. My wish for you is to have the opportunity to visit this lovely place and bask under the Tuscan Sun.
Gina Martino Zarcadoolas, Foodiewinelover
My Food, Wine & Travel Lifestyles
World renown – WSET (Wine, Spirit, Education, Trust)
Level-2 Certified Wine Connoisseur.
Culinary aficionado & Lover of Global Cuisines & Travels
Photos by Gina Martino Zarcadoolas for Foodiewinelover
and by Katarina Andersson – Wine Writer
Before the tour, we had a lovely lunch buffet on the veranda, overlooking the beautiful garden.
Do you ever wonder why coffee is so expensive? Well, after I recently visited a coffee plantation called Doka Estate, in
Costa Rica, I can totally understand why the prices are so high. It’s a long process to get from the coffee bean to the cup. I will share with you my experience, and what I learned from the tour guide. It starts out with the coffee beans from the berries, that are planted, and grown in different stages. Eventually, they are transplanted in the coffee fields, where they take about 3 years to produce the berries. The trees can live up to 100 years, however, after 25 years, the quality starts to deteriorate. The plant is called Coffea, and originated in Africa. It produces fragrant white flowers which turn into green berries. When the berries are ripe, they turn red, and are ready to be picked by hand. They don’t all ripen at the same time, and that makes the process more tedious. This particular plantation has about 200 pickers, and they use what is called a canasto, a basket to collect the berries. (It looks like a laundry basket) The pickers collect up to 20 baskets a day each. Inside the berries are two coffee beans, but once in a great while, some will have just one bean, and it’s called the peaberry.
The tour begins in the seedbed, where the tour guide explains the development process of the plant, the collection of the ripe berries, the classification, the fermentation, the drying, the peeling and the roasting process.
The second station is the oldest humid coffee processing plant in the country that works by hydraulic power. The grains are classified, and the best ones are heavy, and stay on the bottom. Afterwards, the process of de-pulping of first and second quality coffee takes place in the grinders.
Next, the natural honey of the grain is cut in the fermentation tanks. This process is vital, and significant to the taste of the coffee. The coffee is dried on the patios under the sun. During rainy seasons, they use a drying machine, but they prefer the natural method.
Afterwards, the coffee beans are stored in the warehouse for three months in their parchment, the outer layer of the coffee beans.
At this point, the coffee still has no fragrance, but they are ready to be peeled, and then exported or roasted in the country. The parchment is used to make paper.
A very small portion is used to make decaffeinated coffee. They get shipped to Germany to remove the caffeine from the coffee beans. They do not have the machines in Costa Rica because most people drink regular coffee, and the machinery is quite expensive. Why Germany, you might ask? It’s simple, they have the engineering, and they use water only without any chemicals in this process. They don’t charge Doka Estate for this service. Germany sells the caffeine that has been removed from the coffee beans to large companies such as Coca Cola, Red Bull, etc., that’s how they profit from this service.
Finally, the roasting plant is visited, and we observe the different types of roasts: Italian Espresso is roasted for 20 minutes, Peaberry is roasted for 18 minutes, and French Roast is roasted for 15 minutes. The longer it is roasted, the more intense the flavor. This explains why the espresso is the strongest.
Coffee roasting machine
“Doka Estate coffee is one of Costa Rica’s highest quality coffees. The Doka Coffee Estate is located on the fertile slopes of the Alajuela Poas Volcano, the rich soil and the ideal altitude and climate have made the Santa Eduviges farm famous because of its excellent coffee.
The Vargas coffee growing family also carry a brand – Cafe Tres Generaciones – ‘Three Generations Coffee’ that conveys the great care and pride that this coffee growing family have placed in their coffee trees.”
Pictures: by Foodiewinelover – taken with my iPhone 6 Source: Information was obtained from the tour guide Adriana, my observations, and Doka Estate website.
I hope you have enjoyed, and learned some interesting facts about my journey through the coffee-making process.
In 2011, I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime, Mediterranean cruise with my family. One of the destinations, was the lavish principality of Monaco. From Cannes, France, we took an excursion on a lovely bus trip along the French Riviera, known as Côte d’Azur. The scenery was spectacular, and we enjoyed sight-seeing the opulent homes, and the magnificent views of the ocean. We drove on the streets, where the Monaco Grand Prix, (Grand Prix de Monaco, in French) is held every year. We arrived in Monaco right before lunchtime. We ate delicious pizza at a small restaurant tucked in the alleys. Afterwards, we shopped for souvenirs, and took a walking tour of “The rock” (aka Monaco-Ville where the royal palace is). We enjoyed the splendid vistas of the harbor, and the surrounding areas. We were pressed for time, but wanted to visit the grandiose and extravagant area of Monte Carlo, located on a prominent cliff. We took a “gamble” and caught another bus to visit Monte Carlo. Once we arrived, we were mesmerized by the glamour, and wealth of the area. Colorful Ferraris and luxurious cars swarmed the streets. We toured the Monte Carlo Casino, known as Casino de Monte Carlo. (You can either visit the lobby for a quick glimpse, or pay a fee to visit inside). A picture ID was required to visit the casino. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, and had to leave our cameras at the front entrance. Outside, We were free to take beautiful pictures of expensive cars, lavish gardens, and luxurious stores. Monte Carlo is where the palatial Hotel de Paris is located. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to experience the glitzy nightlife, but at least we got a taste of this magical place. We got back to our tour bus in a nick of time, and had a fabulous experience.
Prince Rainier III of Monaco was married to American actress Grace Kelly and was the longest ruling European monarch at the time of his death in 2005.
Spain is a beautiful country rich in history, with stunning architecture, and known for its cultures, and delicious cuisine. They are famous for The Running Of The Bulls, which is held every year. It is a Spanish tradition that started in Northeastern Spain, in the 14th century. Spanish love their soccer, and are world-renowned. They won the World Cup in 2010, and defeated the Netherlands. Gastronomy, and great wines are also a major part of their cultures.
Follow me for A Taste Of Beautiful Barcelona!
In 2011, my family and I embarked on an amazing Mediterranean cruise, and we visited many beautiful cities in Europe. One of the port of calls, was the magical city of Barcelona. We spent an entire afternoon frolicking the famous, and happening area of Las Ramblas. The streets were filled with creative artists, mimes, vendors, restaurants, and thousands of tourists. We ate delicious Spanish tapas, drank beer and sangria, and visited lots of souvenir shops. We enjoyed a beautiful stroll in this vibrant and fun city, and had a grand time.
Taking pictures and having a good time….
La Boqueria is probably one of the most famous markets in Europe. You will find a vast selection of cured meats, and scrumptious cheeses. The Serrano ham, and Manchego cheese are delicacies in Spain, and can be found all over the place.
Sangria is a must have, when visiting Spain
Later in the afternoon, we went back to the cruise ship to get ready for nighttime. On the schedule, there were two activities, either watch a spectacular performance by Flamenco dancers, or have some free time, and eat Paella al fresco (in the outdoors). Although, we were torn between the two fantastic choices, the foodie in us could not resist the idea of eating this traditional and delectable Spanish dish.
The Paella was delicious and the entire experience was surreal. Sadly, one day was simply not enough to visit this enchanting city, but the good thing about it, we can always go back.
In closing, I would like to share with you this famous quote by Charlie Trotter: ” All four elements were happening in equal measure – the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambiance. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level.”
I hope you have enjoyed my wonderful trip to Barcelona. Stay tuned for more exciting blogs on My Food, Wine & Travel Lifestyles.
Somewhere in Central America, there is a little paradise called Costa Rica, meaning “rich coast”. In 2009, it was ranked the greenest country in the world. It has enchanting rainforests, beautiful tropical birds and adorable monkeys, indigenous to the region. Education is a main priority in Costa Rica, it has a literacy rate of 96%. The main language is Spanish, however, many people speak English as a second language.The people are warm, and always welcome you with their characteristic phrase, Pura Vida. It literally means pure life and is used as a greeting to wish you “good living”. Part of their food culture is this condiment called Lizano sauce. It has a sweet, smoky flavor with some tanginess, and makes everything taste better. I always bring a bottle back with me to the US. They put it on a variety of food, including their traditional breakfast called Gallo Pinto. It is considered their main breakfast dish of rice and beans mixed together with onions and bells peppers. This condiment is a staple in every household, and restaurants across the country has it displayed on their table. Part of their diet includes lots of local fresh fruits and delicious veggies. They also like fresh seafood, chicken and meat. There are many traditional and flavorful dishes, and I always relish them during my visits. This country is known for its delicious coffee, Cafe Britt. You will also find more affordable ones at the supermarkets.
The first time I went to Costa Rica was in 2001, I attended a beautiful wedding held on top of a mountain overlooking the gorgeous views of San-Jose, the capital. During that trip, I visited the volcano Arenal, and swam in the Hot Springs. I also took a rainforest lift ride, and was amazed by its beauty and vastness. I fell in love with this enchanting country. I’ve been back four times since my first visit. Guanacaste is one of my favorite provinces, and it’s located on the Pacific Coast. It’s a 5-6 hour drive from San-Jose. I have also flown on a twin-prop plane which takes about 30 – 45 minutes. I usually stay in a beautiful house, perched on a tall mountain, overlooking the breathtaking views of the pacific ocean. I have also stayed in beautiful resorts and hotels, but, will share more details in future blogs. Real Estate has skyrocketed in the last ten years, as more and more americans are retiring there, or making it a second home. However, it is still very affordable to live there.
I can never get enough of Costa Rica, a small country packed with delicious food, panoramic views, rich cultures and great adventures. I go there to relax, and have fun with loved ones. I think I’m ready for another trip soon! I hope you have enjoyed this journey with me, and learned something new and interesting about beautiful Costa Rica.
My paternal great grandparents were originally from Teora, a small town in the province of Avellino, in the Campania region of southern Italy. My great-grandpa, Anselmo Martino owned a lovely property with a small vineyard on it. He employed many people from the town, they harvested the grapes in a festival atmosphere, singing and dancing. He was also a shoemaker. It’s no wonder, I have such passion for shoes and wine. The property has been sold since then to the Caprio family. My dad had always wanted to visit Italy and begged me on several occasions to go along with him, but I wasn’t ready to take this long transatlantic flight from Miami. Then, In 2007, I realized my parents were getting older and it was time to take this adventurous trip to Bella Italia. I knew, once I committed to going, there was no turning back. I mentioned to them about planning a family trip to Italy, and they were ecstatic about it. We were 7 of us, hubby and me, our boys, 16 and 19 then, my brother, my mom and dad. We were all ready to embark on this amazing travel adventure. Since it was our very first time visiting, I thought it would be a great idea to take a tour and have them plan everything. We enlisted in Perillo Tours, and were very pleased with the entire experience. In February, we booked a multi-city Italian trip for an escapade of a lifetime in June 2007. The anticipation was building during that time span and, we used every moment to plan for a perfect family vacation. As time got closer, we made sure all the travel arrangements were in place, did our last-minute shopping, made sure we packed walking shoes for the cobblestone streets, summer clothes, outfits for the evenings and lots of toiletries. I will never forget that day, on June 3rd, 2007, my parents and my brother met us at the house and we took a limo to the airport. We were chanting on the way and extremely excited about what was about to come. We landed in Rome early morning, got picked up at the airport, then dropped off to our hotel. The Grand Hotel Beverly Hills is located right outside of the city center near the famous Villa Borghese and the elegant area of Via Veneto.
Photo courtesy, Grand Hotel Beverly Hills
One of my favorite cities in the world is Rome because of my fascination with its ancient architectures, magnificent artwork and rich history. I also love it for its breathtaking sightseeing, scrumptious cuisine and delicious wines. The next day, we visited the Vatican and were amazed by its opulence and lavish gold accented decor. Afterwards, we took a tour of St. Peter’s Cathedral, and were astonished by its grandeur and splendid beauty. We bought some souvenirs and grabbed some lunch at Piazza Navona.
It is not a trip to Italy unless you visit the Trevi Fountain (Fontana di Trevi) “A traditional legend holds if visitors toss a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. ” We tossed some coins into one of the most beautiful Italian masterpiece fountain in the world in the hopes to return someday. Hubby and I have been back twice since then, and my parents and the family once more. Magically, it works!
Mom & Dad at the Trevi Fountain
The highlight of the trip was definitely the tour of the breathtaking Colosseum. It was a surreal experience that gave me the chills, and felt like I was living a part of history. It was a magical moment that I will cherish forever. We then took pictures with the gladiators and bought souvenirs to keep these memories alive. It was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for dinner.
We ate dinner at a nice Italian restaurant called Al Grappolo. It was a fun evening with an abundance of delicious food, elegant wine and some good laughs. It is fair to say, I was the loudest and very giggly because I walked into the lady’s room and there was a man in there. I was already feeling tipsy, I went back to the table and had everyone in the restaurant in stitches. The next day, we visited the Spanish Steps, (Piazza di Spagna) a major landmark that attracts millions of people each year. It is located near the old city centre and consist of 138 steps. At the base of the Spanish Steps, there is a beautiful fountain and some quaint shops.
Facing the Steps is Via Dei Condotti, a very glitzy street filled with luxurious brand named stores such as Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and so much more. Dad offered me a Gucci bag as a special gift for accompanying him on the trip, it was very hard to resist. First, we stopped at a coffee shop, named Caffe Greco, beautifully decorated but on the pricey side. A cannoli set us back 8 euros but it was worth the splurge. We were rushing as mom and I could not wait to get to the Gucci store.
Of course, no afternoon would be completed without a refreshing gelato or granita, shaved ice with flavored syrup, topped with whipped cream.
One night, we went to a Gala Party at the extravagant Palazzo Brancaccio, had an amazing dinner and drank delicious wines to our heart’s content. We were serenaded by an amazing orchestra and danced the night away. It was a magical evening of fun celebrations with the family and new-found friends we met on the tour.
Arriving at the bay of Naples was another special moment that I will always cherish. The bus made a stop so we could shoot some family pictures overlooking the magnificent view. We were having the time of our lives.
On that trip, we also visited Pompeii, Sorrento, (ate dinner at the beautiful restaurant La Tonnarella,) Capri, Florence, Venice and Milan. That will be another blog all together. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to take this once in a lifetime vacation with my amazing family. Please note, back then, I was not big on taking food pictures and the camera was barely adequate to take decent photos. The pictures featured here are from 2 separate trips. Thank you all for coming along with me on this amazing travel adventure. There are a lot more details to this trip but it would take me too long to describe.
Update: 3/26/2017 – I am saddened to announce you, that I lost my beloved dad on July 15th, 2016 but he remains in our hearts forever. On the other hand, I am happy to let you know that I am currently planning another trip to Bella Italia soon. Destinations: Roma, Toscana, Napoli, Positano! A presto! Ciao a tutti!
Gina Martino Zarcadoolas aka Foodiewinelover
My Food, Wine & Travel Lifestyles
Culinary Aficionado, WSET-Level 2 Wine Connoisseur
World Traveler – Lover of Global Food Cultures & Traditions
This year, my hubby surprised me with a weekend getaway in beautiful Fort Lauderdale to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It’s a thirty to forty-five minute ride from our home. Since a vacation requires a lot of planning and time off, this was the perfect escape to enjoy the sweet life, La Dolce Vita as I like to call it. Of course, I packed as if I was going away for two weeks. We stayed at the W hotel, a very chic hotel facing the pristine Fort Lauderdale Beach, with a modern look and upscale amenities. Upon our arrival, we were greeted courteously by the hotel staff. While waiting for our beachfront view room, we sipped on champagne, (courtesy of the hotel) to kick off our celebration, and took a tour of the lovely pool area.
Shortly afterwards, we were notified that our room was ready, and could not wait to see it. Well, we were blown away by a spacious and impeccably kept room, and a glass-encased peekaboo shower. Yes, nothing private about it, however, there was an option to order a curtain which we didn’t feel the need. The best part of course, was the spectacular view of the glistening ocean waves and the beautifully landscaped tropical palm trees. It was truly paradise on earth.
At nighttime, we took a stroll on the beach, and had dinner at the exotic Casablanca cafe. The ambiance was romantic, the decor had a Mediterranean flair with a gorgeous view of the ocean from afar. Hubby had a crab crusted mahi-mahi with a lobster sauce and I had a black grouper with a beurre blanc sauce (white wine, butter and shallots). Both dishes were beautifully plated, very fresh and tasted delicious.
Black grouper with beurre blanc sauce
Friday morning we lounged around the pool at the hotel and savored some delicious hummus, tasty Ahi tuna tacos and enjoyed fabulous drinks.
Around 2:30 PM, we headed to the spa for our massage and body wraps. It was ninety minutes of pure “bliss”, and we both felt rejuvenated after this amazing pampering experience.
That evening, we ate dinner at a newly opened restaurant in the trendy Las Olas area called, Fork & Balls. A fun place but on the noisy side, I recommend going there with a group of people. They have a nice assortment of meatballs on their menu.
Afterwards, we went back to the W and played pool with some hotel guests. On Saturday, we basked in the sun and had a relaxing day. In the evening, we got dressed up and enjoyed some fine dining at Steak 954. We shared a Porterhouse steak paired with an elegant super tuscan wine.
While eating dinner, we got a notification that someone dropped off a bottle of champagne for us at the front desk. It was a family member and a friend who came for a surprise visit. We joined them for drinks and ended up at the hotel’s nightclub, Whiskey Blue. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful weekend away.
On Sunday morning, we ordered room service for breakfast and sipped coffee on the balcony while enjoying the fabulous view of the ocean. We, then packed our bags and headed back to our home, sweet home.
So in 2016 I turned 50. I was in Italy for my 21st, 30th and 40th. To keep this birthday tradition going I always knew I'd be in Italy for my 50! This blog starts with my 5 week adventure in Puglia but my love affair with Italy continues.....