Tag Archives: travel

Fattoria di MonteMaggio, A Magical Boutique Winery in Tuscany

Enjoying La Dolce Vita with Ilaria at Fattoria di Montemaggio
Enjoying La Dolce Vita with Ilaria at Fattoria di Montemaggio
Ilaria is giving me a lesson on the Sangiovese grape
Ilaria is giving me a lesson on the Sangiovese grape

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.

Ilaria, the estate manager at Fattoria di Montemaggio
Ilaria, the estate manager at Fattoria di Montemaggio

The rose garden at Fattoria di MontemaggioThe view at Fattoria di MontemaggioIMG_8849The views at Fattoria di Montemaggio

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.

Happy Travels!

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

Fattoria di Montemaggio
Fattoria di Montemaggio




Coffee-Making Process In Costa Rica, From Seed To Cup

Doka Estate, Costa Rica
Doka Estate, Costa Rica

Before the tour, we had a lovely lunch buffet on the veranda, overlooking the beautiful garden.

Lunch at Doka Estate - Chicken in curry, beef ribs, rice and red beans sauce, salad, veggies.
Lunch at Doka Estate – Chicken in curry, beef ribs, rice and red beans sauce, salad, veggies.
The lush garden at Doka Estate
The lush garden at Doka Estate
Banana trees to distract insects from eating the coffee beans
Banana trees to distract insects from eating the coffee beans

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.

Coffee seedbed
Coffee seedbed
That's me,picking coffee beans off the plant using a canasto
That’s me, picking coffee beans off the plant using a canasto


Machine collecting coffee to classify them
Machine collecting coffee to classify them

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.


Sorting the coffee
Sorting the coffee

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.

Coffee fermentation tanks
Coffee fermentation tanks
Coffee drying machine
Coffee drying machine


Dried coffee is stored for 3 months
Dried coffee is stored for 3 months

Afterwards, the coffee beans are stored in the warehouse for three months in their parchment, the outer layer of the coffee beans.

Coffee after it's dried
Coffee after it’s dried

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

Coffee roasting machine

Different types of roasted coffee
Different types of roasted coffee
Coffee tasting
Coffee tasting
Coffee sampling
Coffee sampling

“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.

Happy Coffee Sipping!

Gina, Foodiewinelover



A Glimpse of The Glitz and Glamour of Monaco

Monte-Carlo Casino
Hubby and our sons, in front of Monte-Carlo Casino
Mom & Dad


Mom & Dad in Monaco
Mom & Dad posing for pictures


My brother Gino in Monaco-Ville
Royal Palace, Monaco
Hubby and me in front of the Royal Palace, Monaco
Luxurious watches in Monte Carlo
Luxurious watches in Monte Carlo
Ferrari in Glitzy Monte Carlo
Ferrari in Glitzy Monte Carlo
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My Mom and Me in front of the Monte Carlo Casino
Pizza in Monaco
Pizza in Monaco
Shopping for souvenirs in the streets of Monaco
Shopping for souvenirs in the streets of Monaco
Monaco's Prince Rainier and Family
An old family picture of the late Prince Rainier and Princess Grace Kelly, their daughters, Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, Prince Albert.

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.

Salade Niçoise

Salade Niçoise
Salade Niçoise

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Nice, also known as The Côte d’Azur, located on the French Riviera. This trip inspired me to make this salad, and I’m so happy to share it with all of you.

Nice, France
Nice, France 2011


Nice, France 2011

Salade Niçoise, (pronounced Niswaz) originated in Nice, France, and makes a delightful summer “salade”, French for salad. I’ve made it in the past with freshly seared Tuna, but this time, I’m using canned tuna. There are many variations to this traditional dish, but most of them call for tuna, haricot vert, which is a French style green bean, potatoes, tomatoes, olives, hard-boiled eggs. You can also garnish it with anchovies. I use a Tarragon Dijon-Mustard Vinaigrette for dressing.

Serves: 4  Degree of difficulty: Easy


  • 2 cans of tuna fish, in olive oil, drained
  • 10 – 12 fingerlings potatoes, boiled
  • 1 handful of Kalamata olives
  • 6 to 8 San Marzano Style tomatoes *
  • 4-5 boiled eggs, sliced
  • 16 oz. haricot vert, boiled or steamed
  • Lettuce leaves


    1) Boil eggs, peel, and set aside. (Please look for my upcoming post on how to boil and peel the perfect eggs.)

    2) Boil potatoes, gently poke with knife, if it goes through easily, it’s done. Do not overcook as it will fall apart.

    3) Boil or steam haricot vert, do not overcook because they will lose their vibrant color.

    If you are comfortable to have 3 burners going on at once, you can cook simultaneously to save you time.

    4) Wash tomatoes, lettuce, and drain well.

    5) Prepare the dressing

Tarragon Dijon-Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • Himalayan salt or sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. dry Tarragon

In a medium-sized bowl, add the mustard, salt, pepper and tarragon, slowly whisk in the oil, to emulsify it.  Adjust the ingredients as necessary.

6) Now that you have done all your prepping, it’s time to plate it. Place the lettuce on the bottom of a serving dish, and arrange all the ingredients to your taste. I did a deconstructed salad, but you can also mix it all together. Add your own touch and make it yours. Drizzle with the vinaigrette for the finishing touch. I can assure you, you and your loved ones will enjoy this sumptuous and healthy summer salad.  I recommend a nice Chablis (a dry Chardonnay from the Burgundy region), or a Sauvignon Blanc, a lovely Rose’ from the South of France to pair with this delectable and refreshing dish. Bubblies are always a good option if you want to get fancy.

* You can also use sliced, cut-up, or grape tomatoes.

Salade Niçoise
Salade Niçoise previously made with Seared Tuna

Bon Appetit From Gina’s Kitchen

Caprese Salad

In 2007, my family and I embarked on an amazing Italian trip, and one of the itineraries was Capri. It is a breathtaking island, and we took a ferry from the bay of Naples to get there.  We visited the famous Blue Grotto, ate some regional cuisine, and took a tour of the island. I must admit, I was very scared going up the mountains on the tour bus, but it  was a travel experience that I will never forget. Today, I am sharing with you an easy and delicious dish, the Caprese Salad.

It’s been in the 90’s already in South Florida, and I couldn’t think of a more refreshing salad, called Insalata Caprese, in Italian.  It literally means Capri Salad because it originated in that magnificent island. In Italy, it is usually served as an antipasto, and made with fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil. The colors represent the Italian flag. My son recently brought me home a basil plant, and I already had some beefsteak tomatoes, and leftover Mozzarella that I recently used in my Chicken Parmigiana. I always have extra virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinegar readily available. I was on the go, and needed a quick-lunch, and this salad hit the spot. It was a great way to reminisce about our trip. (We were there again in 2008, but that’s another blogpost.)

Serves: 2 as a meal – Super easy


  • 1 Beefsteak Tomato, sliced
  • Fresh Mozzarella, sliced
  • Basil leaves, for garnish
  • Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • Drizzle of Balsamic vinegar, of Modena
  • Salt & Pepper to taste


Arrange the tomatoes and Mozzarella on a serving plate, lightly season with salt & pepper, liberally drizzle with olive oil, and some balsamic vinegar. Garnish with basil leaves.

Voila, the salad is ready to be served! It is such a beautiful culinary creation, and so easy to prepare. Make it for your guests, and I assure you, they will love it.

Happy Cooking from My Kitchen To Yours!


Capri, Italy, June 2007 – Hubby and me




A Taste Of Beautiful Barcelona

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.


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Taking pictures and having a good time….

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A family that travels together stays together


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Beautiful artwork


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More artwork
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The big boys in front of Christopher Columbus statue in Barcelona



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Roaming the streets of Barcelona
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posing with a mime


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La Boqueria, famous market

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.

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Sangria is a must have, when visiting Spain


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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.

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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.

Buenos Dias! Have a great day!

Tree-lined and animated street of Las Ramblas district (stock photo)













Costa Rica, Paradise in Central America

Enjoying the spectacular view of the mountains and the Pacific Ocean

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. 

Rice with Chicken and veggies
Delicious Fried Fish
Seafood Ceviche
Chicharon, Fried Pork Skins, very traditional
Shopping in Nosara, a world-renowned yoga retreat

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.

Unspoiled beaches in Guanacaste ~ Playa Carrillo

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.

Pura Vida!