Cruise (and Taste) Your Way through Italy
Considering a traveling public that—by any official measure—is increasingly hungry for culinary tours, one cruise line is serving up a new twist on an old adage: The way to a nation's heart is through your stomach.
Already known for exceptional foodie offerings, Oceania will take them to the next level (or rather, il prossimo livello) on a nine-stop cruise around Italy next year. Because despite the undeniable fun of waking up to a new country every day or two, there's something at least as compelling about doing a deep local dive (so much so, in fact, that single-nation cruises rank among Cruise Critic's top trends of the year).
While continuing to offer up plenty of multinational itineraries through the Mediterranean, Europe and beyond, this award-winning boutique line (think six intimately-sized, meticulously appointed ships) is preparing the truest of moveable feasts in Italy. Here, five ways you might spend a day there—that is, when you’re not attending onboard wine tastings, cooking demos or limoncello-fueled lectures.
Any ride through this city's absurdly romantic and evocative old canals is going to be good. But a cruise on a private motor-launch that deposits you at the Nani Bernardo Palace, where you'll have tea and Venetian pastry with the countess in residence—a certain Elisabetta Lucheschi—well, there are no words. Not in English, anyway. But we'll try: Imagine pulling into the three-story palace as one has since the mid-1500s, when it was built—through a water-door on the Gran Canale. The countess will then usher you into one of the most sumptuous salons—still furnished with period pieces—where she'll reveal Nani Bernardo’s storied past, and whatever else you'd like to know about la dolce vita Veneziana.
Speaking of dolci, or sweets, we should note that Venice has a long and delicious history of them, from the Bussolai Buranei (the lemony local butter cookies) to the Baci in Gondola (translation: kisses in a gondola—a chocolate fused duo of merengue crisps). And the list goes on, as you'll find at the countess's place, where a whole assortment of sweets awaits you, along with your tea.
Tradition holds that angels transported the Virgin Mary’s house to this Umbrian hilltop town from Nazareth, and when you enter the local basilica, you'll find the venerated and humble one-room house—floors visibly indented from countless knees of the devoted—against an ornate 16th century marble backdrop.
But once you've explored the basilica and its surrounding shop-filled streets, there's another kind of pilgrimage to attend to in this Renaissance town: a culinary quest leading to Caffé Bramante, where you'll sample famed local white wines—likely Esino Bianco or Colli Maceratesi—along with various kinds of bruschetta and extra virgin olive oil.
This Sicilian jewel is famed for many facets—among them, medieval lanes, Greek ruins, lush gardens and cannoli worth crossing oceans for, even if you never knew you were a fan. But the most fabled local feature is, hands down, Mount Etna—Italy's highest peak south of the Alps and Europe's highest active volcano west of the Caucasus.
Beyond its imposing stature (nearly 11,000 feet) and devastating beauty (granted, being surrounded by a sapphire sea doesn't hurt), Etna boasts remarkably fertile soil, among other viticulture-conducive conditions: harsh winters, bright sun and abundant rainfall. The result is one of Italy's tastiest—if still lesser known—wine regions: the volcano's steep, altitudinal slopes.
And Oceania offers a few ways for you to sample the local varietals for yourself: On the Sicilian Wine Roads excursion, for one, you'll make a pit stop for some famed pistachio gelato en route to the Cottanera Estate in the northern foothills of Mt. Etna, where you'll survey 123 acres' worth of slope-spanning vineyards and taste local Nerello Mascalese and Cappuccio varietals, among others.
Another great local option takes you to a beloved winery on the volcano's eastern slopes: the San Michele Estate, where the vino (options include Lapilli Bianco, Etna Rosso Murgo and Moscato Murgo) will be rivaled only by your vistas (picture terraced vineyards against a backdrop that stretches from Taormina to the seaside hamlet of Capo Mulini). You'll also eat a traditional Sicilian lunch—go for the eggplant- and ricotta salata-rich pasta alla Norma if the dish is on offer that day—before returning to the ship, eyelids heavy and heart happy, via the ancient Greek port of Naxos.
When in Rome...head to the surrounding countryside for an amazing cooking class. During Oceania's Farmhouse Culinary Experience, you'll take a brief but bucolic drive to a family-owned farmhouse, where you'll learn how to make a classic ragout sauce with fettuccine, plus the crowd favorite dessert, tiramisu.
Your subsequent four-course meal will include not just wine pairings but organic herb-infused local liqueur plus time to chill under the resident fruit trees afterward. And don't worry: Because the farm is only a half an hour from town, you'll still be able to visit the Colosseum, the Forum and any other urban antiquities on your list.
Cruise the stunning stretch of the Italian Riviera—all pastel houses, forested hillsides and bobbing boats—between Portofino and Santa Margherita, where you'll meet the driver who'll whisk you off to Recco. In this seaside town known for its focaccia al formaggio (the formaggio typically being a melted stracchino), one of the dish's best proponents awaits: the chef at the famed Ristorante Vitturin.
Open since 1860, this restaurant hosts lively demos where you'll learn the secrets of not just focaccia al formaggio but other local specialties, not least pesto—the blend of basil, garlic, olive oil, cheese and nuts for which this whole region (Liguria) is best known among foodies. After class, you'll have a multi-course lunch that includes some of your own creations and, naturally, plenty of local wine.