I love staying in apartments, especially in Italian cities. You can live like a local who talks funny.

Too many apartment owners like to spiff a place up for the tourist. You know, fake ceiling beams, fake Renaissance art on the walls. The stuff they think you want. The stuff they think makes it seem like Italy for you.

What I want is a comfortable place, a good bed, heat in the off-season, internet that’s fast and reliable—and I want to throw open the shutters and have Italy come to me. And it doesn’t hurt that the owner is nearby and feels the duty to make herself available to you in case you have questions or want to know what you actually ordered at the restaurant last night that you thought was an prime cut from your favorite barnyard animal in red sauce but appeared to be a part you usually don’t put in your mouth voluntarily.

Yes, between “hover incessantly” and hide, there is the zone of comfort, the bulls-eye of great hosting, making yourself available to your guests.

So let’s say your host is Rebecca and your apartment is inside a 16th century palazzo with a view out the window like this:

assisi town apartment view
Assisi Town Apartment View

Below you is the main square of Assisi. You can casually stroll to the bar across from the Roman temple of Minerva and get a coffee, or better yet a glass of local Grecchetto. It’s a hoppin’ place.

At night you batten down the hatches, closing the shutters over the double-paned glass and there’s silence.

I’d say you’ve got it made.

We’re talking about Brigolante’s town apartments, specifically:

Il Camino

assisi apartment interior
Il Camino - Town Apartment in Assisi

One long room with fireplace. Perfect. A thermostat that keeps the place at just the right temperature. And it’s smack in the center of Assisi!

Ok, so you know there’s the Basilica of San Francisco. Everyone goes there. It’s safe. There are armed guards making sure. It’s a new age.

But Assisi is more. Gawk at the amazing carvings on the facade of the Duomo. That’s the cathedral lost in the tourist’s focused lust over Saint Francis. It’s dedicated to some local guy. San Rufino—or Rufinus of Assisi. You don’t care about him, but the church had lots to do with Francis; in 1209 he preached so well that Clare realized her calling and history was made.

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Facade of the Duomo di San Rufino

And there are the little surprises that appear in front of the many churches. Like classic cars in front of Santa Chiara.

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Assisi Classic Cars Exhibition

And if you ask Rebecca she’ll tell you how you can arrange to visit the Roman houses underground. Imagine putting in an elevator and wham! You hit Roman columns. You can stroll up to the castle, where you’ll get great views overhead of the city of Assisi, or you can take a walk in the footsteps of Saint Francis; there are trails everywhere out of town associated with the saint.

Spend a week. Spend a month if you have it. You’ll be cozy. You’ll eat well. You will be in the heart of Assisi. If you’d rather stay 6 kilometers out of town, Rebecca also runs the Brigolante Country Apartments.

You can’t go wrong either way.

Brigolante Guest Apartments, Assisi

Assisi: Stay Where the Action Is originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Apr 17, 2016, © James Martin.

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It was a bright, spring day. While she was in Fivizzano to pick up the latest bags and hardware that conformed to the latest recycling scheme the commune had thought up, Martha also managed to pick up some Lunigiana food specialties which we ate outside, on the terrace. This was the platter of food we shared:

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A Lunigiana Lunch in the Sun

The top row consists of food bought locally, but not food that is particularly though of as “Lunigenese” in origin. From left to right there is an onion focaccia, a whole wheat focaccia and a bit of truffled pecorino cheese.

It’s the bottom row that’s interesting and quintessentially local. You’ve got your Torta d’Erbe, a delicious vegetable “pie” with a very thin and flaky crust, farinata, a chick pea flour and olive oil pancake that is rolled up here and almost unrecognizable as a pancake, and slices of a fabulous salami bought in Pontremoli at the Salumeria Angella di Bertocchi on via Garabaldi 11 in the heart of town.

I’ve always thought of the place as a sort of tourist place, so haven’t been in it—at least for a long while. When I saw the slender sausage, I asked “what is that?” to which the reply was simply, “salami.”

But when I saw him cutting it carefully with a knife, I knew I had stumbled upon something special. You use a big commercial cutter to make short work of most salumi, but some things you need to be thicker, or you need to cut without making any frictional heat that would destroy a delicate texture.

As it turned out, the salami was a hard salami, but the bits of fat were soft and silky on the tongue. It made me think I was eating a Salame lardellato. Naturalmente Lunigiana makes one. It was delicious, and unlike anything you might come across in the states unless you knew a master meat preserving specialist.

Can you have a good picnic in the wilds of northern Tuscany? Are you kidding me?

A Lunigiana Lunch in the Sun originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Mar 26, 2016, © James Martin.

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italy usa map
Italy compared to the continental United States in size

Above you see a little map overlay with the country of Italy placed under a map of the Continental US state boundaries.

Italy’s total area is 116,350 square miles or 301,340 square kilometers, the 72nd largest country in the world. Almost 40 per cent of that is mountainous territory.

The area of the US is 9,826,675 square kilometers by comparison. Thus the US is about 32.5 times the size of Italy.

By population, Italy is the 23rd largest country in the world with 61,680,122 people living within its borders.

If Italy were a US state, it would lie between New Mexico and Arizona to be the 5th largest state by area.

So if you’re planning a vacation to take in mainland Italy, it would be like taking a New Mexico vacation except that to drive from north to south would be like driving from far northern California to San Diego, a long drive of at least 13 hours if you don’t dawdle.

And the food is better in Italy.

See Also: How Big is France Compared to the US?

How Big is Italy? originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Nov 19, 2015, © James Martin.

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Are you not tired of hearing about the curative powers of “yummy!” Italian food arranged on a plate by a saintly person of unsullied culinary credentials who sources the food from other saintly people who treat their lambs like the lambs of God?

Well then, why not visit an outlet mall and eat in the food court? Certainly there will be a disgusting gruel of dubious provenience served there!

Contrast is everything. So off we go.

foud court picture
The Setting For a Romantic Meal (Or Not)

This is the food corral (er, “Pavilion of Taste”) of the Shoppin Outlet Brugnato Cinque Terre.

Just so you know, we’re located just outside of the town of Brugnato, known for its Infiorata

The “Cinque Terre” has been added to the title by a clever advertising person because the tourists know the five little overtouristed villages and will drool over the prospect of emptying their wallets on any object with the words “Cinque Terre” printed on it, especially refrigerator magnets.

They will sell more crap, in other words.

So let’s have a peek inside, eh? People are eating; don’t bother them with your mouse cursor.

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Shopinn: The Food Court

Familiar?

So we make the circle. People in cute uniforms tell us what they can do for us. The burger joint is closed, but we eventually decide on some pasta from this compact little kitchen:

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I Piaceri della Pasta

All the pasta is fresh. You can buy it raw and cook it at home. But most people are hungry after their morning shopping, so they pick a sauce and one of the young women will cook the pasta right before your eyes. I ordered Ravioli al Ragu. It’s easy enough.

Five minutes or so later the plate of pasta comes to me on a tray with real silverware along with a very nice glass of red wine which I have purchased for the modest amount of 2.50 euro. Not vino sfuso, the cheap bulk stuff, but local wine poured from a bottle with a label from a serious winery. Try that in the US without making yet another trip to the ATM.

I might as well show the dish to you:

ravioli al ragu picture
Ravioli al Ragu

It’s good. Quite good in fact. In any case it tastes way better than the warmed over chef Boyardee slurry you might get served in an American food court, despite looking oddly similar.

It filled me up. I barely had room for the very nicely done torta di verdura. We liked the flaky crust wrapped around a copious filling of greens and onions. Despite the fact that Martha and I shared the dish, there was enough left over for a little breakfast joy the next day.

So what about the final touch, the coffee? Ah, yes we could get an Italian coffee from a big machine and it would undoubtedly be good, but let’s go to the Shopinn’s mall bar instead. It’s just a few steps away.

Some of you neophytes may think all you can get in Italy is a tiny cup with a little strong coffee in it. You like to have lots of stuff in your coffee, so you don’t dare come to Italy, where you will be deprived of the chance to add things like sprinkles and chocolate and spiced pumpkins and all manner of cloyingly sweet things to the astringent brew you find at places like Starbucks. Well, close your eyes! Now open them and look down there:

Golosino Zabaione: Coffee, Zabaione, and a scoop of gelato

Welcome to the alternative universe! It’s Golosino time! They’ve lined the glass with zabaione sauce (my choice), made the coffee in it, plopped a scoop of gelato on top, then speared the works with that cookie thing! Pig out baby!

And this isn’t the only “fancy” coffee they serve. Not by a long shot. There’s a list a kilometer long.

And were do you go to work off the calories? The mall has excursions! Read all about it!

Unreal, don’t you think?

Outlet Mall Food: Gross or Golosino? originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Nov 07, 2015, © James Martin.

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