Three months into the pandemic we were itching to get our passports out. As travel still not allowed and the light at the end of the travel tunnel was definitely not shining any time soon, we needed a plan. How to pass time and try to make the days feel as if we were somewhere else? I reverted back to a game I use to play when I was a nanny, pretend travel. We would pick a destination and off we would go. I wondered if playing this travel game at home would hopefully break up the day-to-day routine of being, home. Why not? Just like that, we were on our way to Italy for the month. We cannot wait for you to join us on our Virtual Travel to Italy journey, from the safety of your home.
When I started plotting out this little virtual trip to Italy the only plan was to cook Italian food every day for a month. At the time I was purging cookbooks I no longer used so this seemed like the perfect way to figure out what should stay and what should go. How horrible could a month of eating Italian food be? That first month was so delicious that we decided to continue playing the virtual travel game, and at that point, the game had definitely evolved into more than cooking.
Condo living does not really allow for much outdoor space but we do have a small deck. It is big enough for a small herb garden, grill, and alfresco dining set for two. We had already been enjoying many mornings of coffee and weekend eggs on this deck but after a month of being in “Italy,” we decided to start dining outside all the time. We cleaned off the deck, rearranged as much as one can rearrange a stoop, laced fairy lights in the olive tree, and set candles on the table.
Soon we were lingering over long dinners filled with delicious Italian food as well as wine. Did I mention the Italian music that would bellow from the deck? We were sure our neighbors thought we had lost our minds. We didn’t care as it was almost as good as sitting on a small deck overlooking the Almafi coast.
If we were really traveling we would be researching hotels or little apartments to stay in. Instead, we created a similar experience at home but changing some things. The first and most important part of the adventure is your imagination. It had been thirty years since either of us had been to Italy but that did not stop us from dreaming what it would be like.
- Atmosphere – we didn’t turn the entire home into Italy but we did try to mimic a small cafe in one of the many beautiful squares in Italy. Small fairy lights hanging from a tree along with candle burning from an empty wine bottle. We have also been loving these Italia Escapist Candles as they make our home smell like a walk through an Italian pastry shop. Changing up our every day dining scenery is definitely a bit more romantic than eating inside the house at the same dining room night after night. Playing Italian music while enjoying aperitifs at the end of the day is always a welcome treat. Slowly moving onto cooking and eating a meal together at our little fairy lite table on the stoop takes us somewhere else for awhile. Some nights we were surprised at how it had been two-three hours of sitting out there enjoying each other’s company just as we do when we are away on vacation.
- Sight Seeing – once we decided to take our virtual trip to Italy beyond only cooking from Italian cookbooks, we found a slew of online sites that could be visited virtually. Early on during the Pandemic, we had done a few virtual viewings of museums in other countries but once we started digging deeper we found even more options. The Italian Tourist Board has quite a few virtual museum tours to pick from. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Vatican Museums – this collection of museums in Rome are some of the most famous. They have some lovely virtual tours that almost make you feel as if you walking through the collections.
- Uffizi Museum – this museum is located in Florence and includes an extraordinary collection of art. A must-see if you are in Italy in person but just as fun to look through virtually.
- Duomo Milano – one cannot go to Milan and not visit the Duomo. Their virtual tour makes you feel like you had a quick private tour and the colors of the video are so vibrant.
- Things to Do Virtually
- Virtual Walking Tours – there are quite a few options on YouTube, and sometimes I keep them playing while I am working as the sounds of the city and people make me feel like I am out at a cafe. Come to Rome or maybe Tuscany!
- Online Cooking Classes – cooking classes using Zoom have become a regular past-time during the lockdown and are a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, learn some new recipes and meet new possible friends.
- Divina Cucina– Judy is an-expat who has been living in Italy for years, so long that she is considered more Italian than American. She usually teaches in-person cooking classes but since the world is online now she has brought her kitchen to the entire world.
- Domenica Cooks – Domenica grew up in an Italian family but in the US. Her strong Italian roots are apparent in her recipes. She leads tours in Italy when travel is happening in person and while the world is still at pause she is teaching from her Washington DC kitchen. We have yet to take a class but have heard nothing but amazing things from friends who have been able to take them. Great way to learn how to make pasta from the comfort of your kitchen.
- Massimo Bottura – has cooking classes on Masterclass and they are so much fun!! It is a great way to learn to make Italian food from a Michelin star chef from home. Cannot get to the restaurant right now, recreate it in your kitchen.
- Cinema – recreate an Italian cinema at home. Pour an Italian Aperitivo, grab popcorn or a deconstructed cannoli and enjoy an Italian film or two. We always enjoy Cinema Paradiso or Life is Beautiful.
- Read a Book – books are a wonderful way to escape for a couple of hours, and travel or cooking ones are even better! Under The Tuscan Sun is an easy read that will transport you to sunny Tuscany in no time. Classic Italian Cookbooks that are a must in any home kitchen are any of them written by Marcella Hazan or Antonio Carluccio. If you are planning an actual in-person trip here is a list of all my favorite travel guides.
Whenever we have the “what is your favorite Italian restaurant”conversation with friends, we always say, the best Italian food outside of Italy is what we make at home. Often the Italian food in our local area feels as it is has been rushed or tossed together. Cooking at home either from fond food memories, what we learned during an Italian cooking class, or from a favorite book transports us even more than eating out at an average spot especially during the pandemic.
Favorite Italian recipes that we make at home often include:
- Wine – one cannot go wrong with wine when pretending they are in Italy. If you live in Oakland be sure to check out our go-to wine shop Bay Grape, as they usually have a lovely selection of Italian wines. We have been pairing wine from their shop to all our recipes throughout the month, and it has been delicious. Their staff is super helpful in guiding you in pairings according to your budget and the style of wine you enjoy.
- Aperol Champagne Cocktail
- Cheese and Breadsticks
- Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms
- Italian Style Grilled Rib Eye
- Slow Braised Italian Meatballs
- Carlos Fresh Salmon
- Chicken Piccata
- Chicken Wrapped in Proscuitto
- Italian Style Lamb Belly
- Lamburghini Italian Style Lamb Burger
- Ditalini with Chickpeas
- Courgette Sauce
- Easy Pumpin Ricotta Gnocchi
- Lasagne of Emilia Romagna
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
- Cinnamon Gelato
- Lenox Almond Biscotti
- Orange Cherry Biscotti
- Pumpkin Cannoli
- Deconstructed Cannoli
- Moscato Sabayon
- Pomegranate Panna Cotta
- Pumpkin Panna Cotta
- Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Passion Fruit Gelee
We will continue updating this Virtual Travel to Italy post as we create more delicious Italian inspired recipes and as we continue to find fun as well as inspirational online travel experiences, at least until we can actually jump onto a plane and head to Italy!
Ready for another Virtual Adventure?