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Bonassola vineyard

Discover Bonassola: Wine, Tradition and the Sea

By Northern Italy No Comments

Spectacular of the sea. Beautiful vineyards. Divine wine. We spent a perfect day as guests at the agriturismo Ca’ du Ferrà in Bonassola— and that’s exactly what we found.


As the founders of a travel company, our aim is to offer quality and authentic Italy travel experiences away from the conventional tourist attractions and show the best that Italy can offer. We are always seeking out new places still unspoiled by mass tourism, as well as local producers who respect the rhythm of nature and the environment.

On a recent Sunday research trip, we ended up in Bonassola, a little village just a seven-minute train ride from Cinque Terre, but without the crowds. Bonassola is tucked in between the sea and the mountains, with a wide beach protected by the ruins of the old castle, and colourful caruggi (little alleyways) where life is peaceful and the smell of freshly baked focaccia is everywhere.

When we arrived at the Bonassola train station we were warmly welcomed by Davide Zoppi, who runs Ca’ du Ferrà, a fascinating agricultural business, together with his mom, Aida, and his dad, Antonio. Davide and his family managed to convert four hectares of uncultivated land into panoramic vineyards through sheer passion and hard work. They produce the Bonazolae, a divine dry white wine made with the local grapes (Vermentino, Bosco and Albarola).

Walking up and down these vineyards we realized what “vertical agriculture” means. This land suspended between the mountain and the sea is as as difficult to work as it is spectacular to look at. We were impressed to see how they built terraces and planted vineyards on very steep slopes. Davide proudly explained that their production is fully organic. The family offers an excellent product and their respect for the environment and nature, are key values that direct their daily work.

Ca’ du Ferrà is not only a place beautiful to spend a wonderful holiday, it is also a hotbed of great ideas. Davide and his dad, a history lover, are recovering a very rare local grape variety called Ruzzese. This grape variety disappeared centuries ago. It was very appreciated by Pope Paul III Farnese (1468 – 1549), who used to order several barrels of this wine directly from the small village of Bonassola. After researching and finding this variety, they have now planted 1000 grapes of Ruzzese and soon it will be possible once again to drink a wine whose flavour was lost for centuries.

While we’ll have to wait to taste this lost wine, we reached the heavens when Davide brought a cold bottle of Bonazolae wine and two trays of freshly baked focaccia out into the vineyard garden. We ate and drank with a breathtaking view of the Ligurian sea overlooking the two promontories guarding the bay of Bonassola.  

Sound like a good way to spend the day? You should join us! With our unique tailor-made tour service, we are now ready to offer you a gastronomic experience at the Cinque Terre where, you will meet Davide, taste his wine from the panoramic “vineyards garden”, learn about organic agriculture. There will be several tastings of local products, pesto and cooking classes, and we’ll stay in a top quality, relaxing accommodation that Davide and his family converted from one former rural old building and one antique mill. It’s just a few minutes walk from the sea. Come and discover Bonassola for yourself!

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Truffles, Wine and the Langhe Hills Getaway Tour

By Langhe Hills No Comments

The rolling countryside of the Langhe Hills in Northern Italy is incredible, with its hilltops boasting medieval towns, magnificent castles, and world famous vineyards. This stunning landscape isn’t just picturesque and historic, it also produces some of the world’s best wine, hazelnuts, cheese, and truffles. Especially when you know where to look.

Different varieties of grapes have been lovingly cultivated here for centuries, and many of the vineyards here are still family-owned. We know that Etruscans and Celts traded for wine with locals here at least as early as the fifth century BC and that Ancient Romans took note of the quality. Good news! These rich landscapes and important cultural elements should be around for generations to come because in 2014 the Langhe-Roero and nearby Monferrato were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

There are wonderful hikes to enjoy through the vineyards of the Langhe Hills and many glasses of exceptional wines to taste along the way. Agri-tourism (called agriturismo in Italy) thrives here. Many of the stately country homes at local vineyards have been converted into guest houses that boast spa services and curated menus. Imagine enjoying restorative treatments at a spa that’s surrounded by the richness of Northern Italy’s wine regions.

There are many wonderful wines produced here, and perhaps the best known are Barbaresco and Barolo. Both of these are made from Nebbiolo grapes, but their distinctly different soil conditions create very different tastes. The Barolo “King of Wines” has more tannin than the Barbaresco.

Perhaps the most famous crop foraged from these hills is the legendary Piedmont truffle.

And by truffles we don’t mean chocolate truffles. We’re talking about the aromatic fungus that is found growing wild underground, somewhat like a potato or other tuber. Chefs around the world pay top dollar for this Italian culinary delicacy. In 2016 a white truffle weighing just over four pounds sold at a Sotheby’s auction for more than $60,000.

Attempts to cultivate crops of truffles in Australia and North America simply don’t match the flavor of those found in the wild in Italy so demand for these naturally occurring truffles stays high. Delicate white truffles are in season in October and November, when the annual autumn truffle festivals are in full swing all over the region, but there are delicious black truffles available year round.

For an authentic Northern Italian experience, you can stroll through the enchanting local forests as you enjoy a truffle hunt with an experienced truffle hunter called a “trifulau.” At one time truffle hunters worked with female pigs to find truffles, which apparently smell like a male pig to an amorous sow! Unfortunately, female pigs are rather greedy when they find truffles and their trampling enthusiasm destroys truffle beds. So today’s truffle hunters don’t rely on swine; they work with trained scent dogs.

There is quite a bit of skill and knowledge required to find good quality truffles, which typically grow in small amounts. It’s not unusual for a truffle hunter to find a few ounces of truffle, perhaps just under a pound, at a time. You’ll notice that truffle hunters are careful to ensure there’s some truffle left behind so that spores ensure future crops.

You can eat fresh truffles raw and they’re usually paired with a full-flavoured white wine or with a local red low in tannin. They’re also delicious cooked and often served in canapés or shaved over freshly made pasta or risotto. You’ll find them on the menu at local restaurants, which also boast long lists of delicious local wines to accompany their rich, exotic taste.

We should mention that many ancient civilizations – including the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks – used truffles as an aphrodisiac when they were looking to spark a little romance and fire up the libido. We’ll let you decide if that’s because of the truffle or the accompanying wine.

There’s no better place to experience Italian truffles and wine than in the Langhe Hills. Our small group Langhe Hills Getaway offers a four-day excursion into the Piedmont region that includes a truffle hunt led by a professional trifulau, a visit to a winery, a cooking class led by a local chef, and a time to relax and rejuvenate in a spa surrounded by vineyards. Contact our friendly, knowledgeable staff at Local Wonders Travel to book your small group Italian holiday now.

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Portovenere – Experience the Magical Sunset by Boat

By Northern Italy No Comments

People come to Italy from around the world to see the famous Cinque Terre, five fishing villages suspended between the mountain and the sea. These charming villages boast colorful houses, vertical vineyards and olive tree plantations. But how many know about Portovenere, a gem just a 20-minute boat ride away from the Cinque Terre, that shines every bit as brightly as the more famous quintet of villages?

Our 10-day Wonders of Northern Italy Tour will take you to discover this wonder and get familiar with Portovenere on land and from the water. The name means Port of Venus, hearkening back to ancient times when the Romans built a temple to their goddess of love, beauty, and fertility here.

The breathtaking village of Portovenere stretches along the Golfo dei Poeti (Poets’ Gulf).  The gulf got it’s name because many famous poets and artists, like Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Eugenio Montale, loved to stay in this stunning amphitheatre made of water, rocks and colorful houses. It’s easy to see how this magical space offered creative minds rest and inspiration in equal measure.

When you visit Portovenere, walking along the caruggio (the little alleyways) is a veritable symphony for the senses. You can follow the smell of freshly baked focaccia sold from the little shop where a curtain of dry pasta hangs at the window, taste the delicious pesto made from fresh basil and offered by a kindly lady to passers-by, see wonderful architecture all around you, touch the quality clogs made by a skilled artisan out of wood and leather, hear the rich romance of Italian spoken everywhere and taste some of the many delectable flavors of gelato.

At the end of the caruggio, the church of St. Peter welcomes travelers from its commanding perch atop the breath-taking promontory of Arpaia. The church was built in the thirteenth century on the site of a fifth century church and seems to rise up in bands of white and black stones from the rocks of the cliff. Inside you can rest, enjoy the cool and quiet sacred space, and outside enjoy the incomparable view of the Golfo dei Poeti.

After you’ve walked the streets and enjoyed the scenic viewpoints, the best way to embrace the full beauty of Portovenere is by boat. We recommend you make the most of the hours that precede sunset and enjoy a memorable small boat tour with an expert local leader.

Mario, a distinguished young man who grew up surrounded by the water and the colorful houses of this Gulf, welcomes travelers to his little motor boat with a kind smile and a glass of wine for the kind of personalized tour that only a local can offer.

With Mario’s expert guidance, you’ll explore Portovenere from the sea while he regales you with stories about this incredible region of Italy. The itinerary includes seeing the secret caves of Palmaria Island and exploring little inlets that are accessible by boat only. Here, where the water is warm, clean and of an intense blue, you can enjoy a relaxing dive and swim surrounded by solitude and the beauty of nature.

As the sun starts to change color, Mario ends your leisurely lingering in the water by clapping his hands and announcing, “E’ Pronto!” (“It’s ready!”). He welcomes you back on board his boat to a feast of focaccia, cheese, anchovies and the fresh, seasonal goodies that he carefully sources from the best local producers. If you’re really lucky, and Mario’s granny is in a good mood, you’ll get to try her homemade pesto on a tasty focaccia bread.

Before long the sun will dip below the horizon and the ruddy sky will fade to black. Don’t forget to fill your glass and raise a toast to the wonderful treasures you’ve uncovered in Portovenere. Salute! (Cheers!)

To enjoy the wonders of Portovenere and Cinque Terre, Venice, Pisa and Florence, the Chianti Region of Tuscany and Rome, book the 10-day Wonders of Northern Italy Tour with LocalWonders Travel. Our friendly, knowledgeable Italy tour specialists are ready to help you discover the best of Italy.

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