A peaceful escape from Rome

by Amy Knauff

Visiting Italy can be exhausting -  trying to fit in as much beauty, culture, and food as you can into a week or two (Rome! Florence! Venice!) doesn’t leave much room for downtime.

The country holds more than 60% of the world’s entire artistic patrimony, so even with more time, there are plenty of other must-see towns on the tourist circuit, museums to visit, piazzas to admire – and does one ever really finish seeing everything there is to see in a place like Rome?

When you get “museumed out”, your feet hurt from all the walking, and the crowds and traffic get to be too much, where can you retreat to for a few days that’s easy to get to and affordable?

Our friend Giulia’s yoga retreat in the countryside near Rome offers accommodation to individuals and couples looking for an escape on a budget.  For those of you who don’t practice yoga, don’t click away just yet – you are definitely not required to do yoga while you are there. It’s also a great place for people who want a quiet, calm place to stay for a few days and be allowed to just do nothing.

Agriturismi (farm stays) abound in Italy.  Many rent by the week only, or require that you have a car.  They range from the rustic to the luxurious. Giulia’s is an agriturismo – she produces her own oil on the grounds – and offers meals included, if desired.

Giulia’s place – called In Sabina – is a little different from your typical agriturismo. Rather than the usual “rustic” country look, Giulia’s place is stylish and artistic, while still retaining some of the quaint country charm. It’s simple – nothing fancy – but well-kept, clean, pleasant, and oh-so-relaxing.

Giulia, originally a Londoner, speaks perfect English (and also Italian and French) so you’ll have the relief of being able to easily communicate.

Food is available on-site which means you don’t have to grocery shop in advance, nor would you need a car to go find food. A certified “Veggie Hotel”, the food is all vegetarian, mostly organic (much of the produce grown on the property itself), and Giulia can provide food that takes into consideration special dietary needs (vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free).

In Sabina is accessible by train from Rome to Poggio Mirteto (just over an hour) and if needed, they can arrange pickup from the station to the house for €25 each way for up to 3 people.

Once at the property, you’re surrounded by olive groves and relaxing views of the surrounding hills.  The closest town is a nearby medieval hilltop village called Casperia.

So what can you do there?

If you’re a yogi/yogini, participate in a mini-retreat with a group and have your meals together. There’s a wonderful outdoor yoga platform overlooking the gorgeous landscape, as well as an indoor yoga room that also has a lovely view.

If yoga’s not really your thing, the surrounding countryside provides some great easy hikes. Walks and excursions to nearby hot sulphur springs, medieval sites, or local festivals can be organized. The on-site swimming pool is great for relaxing or cooling off in hot weather. Since it’s such a tranquil setting, writers and artists will find a haven here as they look onto the olive and fruit trees and the lily pad-studded stream.  There’s not much around but as Giulia says, “that’s the beauty of it”.

And for those of you simply looking to recharge the batteries during an intensive activity-packed trip to Italy, In Sabina is a great spot to meditate, read, nap, or just take in a bit of nature – which, we think, will make you appreciate the rest of your busy trip all the more.

In Sabina
Via Pizuuti 53
02049 Torri in Sabina, Italy
Phone: +39 340 3876028
Website: http://insabina.com/

Vegetarian Florence

by Linda Martinez

Recently, Steve and I had the rare opportunity to spend a couple of kid-less days in Florence.  Besides some train stopovers, I hadn’t truly visited Florence since 1995 and Steve needed to get some cross-pollinate work done – visit with some owners and inspect some new properties.  With the help of our good friend, Toni, who offered to stay with our three young daughters, we were able to have a couple of precious days away on our own.

We stayed at a cross-pollinate property, Ponte Vecchio Suite apartment.  It’s a cute and well-maintained property just a 5 minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio bridge in the Oltrarno neighborhood.  I immediately took a liking to this area which is the artisan neighborhood of Florence.  Just around the corner from Ponte Vecchio Suite we found Caffe degli Artigiani, a bar on a small, quiet piazza that I immediately dubbed “our bar” and knew we would be going there every day for our morning cappuccino.

While the apartment has a kitchenette,  Steve was on holiday from cooking and I was on holiday from washing dishes, so we knew we would be eating out for the two days we were in Florence.  Our family is vegetarian, so traveling offers an opportunity to check out the veggie offerings in the place we are visiting.  One of the on-line sources I check when going to a new city is Happy Cow, an on-line guide (they also have an app) that lets you find vegetarian, vegan, vegetarian friendly restaurants and natural food shops in that town.

Our first food break was lunch and we headed to Steve’s favorite which he discovered on a past trip to Florence,  5 e Cinque, Piazza della Passera, 1 – coincidentally in the same piazza as my new favorite coffee bar.  5 e Cinque is an organic restaurant, mostly vegetarian, but they do have meat options.  Their food is inspired by traditional dishes and ingredients from the region of Liguria.  Steve and I usually try to get two different dishes so we can share.  I got the curried chickpea polpette (polpette usually, meat, but means anything ground and then formed into balls) served on basmati rice and Steve got a farro (spelt) dish made with radicchio and a walnut pesto.  As you can see from the photo, it was so delicious that we had nearly cleaned our plates before I considered taking a photo of them!  I highly recommend – definitely a restaurant to include on any vegetarian (or even non-vegetarian) tour of Florence.

After lunch, Steve had a cross-pollinate appointment and so I decided to take a walk around the city.  I ended up heading toward the synagogue of Florence which is a beautiful building with a gorgeous green copper dome.  On my way, I had an urge for a little something sweet and a hot drink and ended up at Caffelatte also known as La Latteria which uses organic milk and offers fair trade coffees and teas.  Nothing fancy here and the place seems a bit run down, but I was excited by the cakes and treats in the cabinet and so I ordered a slice of a type of pound cake and a caffe latte.  Unfortunately, I left unimpressed.  The cake fell in that realm of many Italian pastries – looks great to the eyes, but a different story when you actually put it in your mouth.  The cake was stale and hard, but at least the caffe latte was good.

Dinner that night was at BVeg which I found out about through Georgette Jupe’s great blog, Girl in Florence.   I had a dish with polenta with layers of pureed broccoli and Steve had a soup with chickpeas and algae.  Both were delicious.

The next day, our last day in Florence, we tried to have lunch at Cuculia, via dei Serragli, 18r, but after sitting down and ordering some water, were told that there was a problem and a delay in the kitchen with the stoves lighting and since Steve had an appointment and didn’t have loads of time for lunch – we decided to pay for the water and find another place to eat.  Lucky for us, just around the corner was Vivanda, via Santa Monaca, 7r.  We both had the lunch special which was a soup and pasta dish.  We started off with a mushroom, cannellini  and cabbage soup followed by a spaghetti alla chitarra pasta with a kale pesto.  We had some great organic wine to go with it.

Our final night we went to a non-vegetarian specific restaurant, il Santo Bevitore, via di Santo Spirito, 66 for dinner.  About a year ago, Steve had been on an excellent Context Travel tour which features the artisans in this area and the docent who led that tour had told him about il Santo Bevitore and had highly recommended it.  It was a Friday night and we hadn’t made a reservation, but we arrived around 7:30pm and with our assurances to the staff that we would not be occupying the table all night and could be out by 9pm, we managed to get a table.  We started with some vegetables preserved in oil – sundried tomatoes, onions, eggplant, etc.  We had a great meal – my ribollita was not really that soupy, but tasted great.  The wait staff were all very accommodating and pleasant – we got into a great conversation with a waiter who is originally from Togo who has lived in Florence for 20+ years.  The meal was our priciest in Florence though – we paid double what we had at the other restaurants, but it was a nice little splurge our last evening there.

The next day, our train back home didn’t leave until 3pm, so we decided to try one last veggie place for lunch.  We had been visiting with Moraq – originally from Chicago who has been living in Italy for the past 18 years.  She’s the owner of the homey Casa di Barbano property on cross-pollinate and having two children, she was able to make some great suggestions of where I could get colored wigs for carnevale for our daughters.

With that errand under our belt, we headed to Libreria Brac, via dei Vagellai, 18r for lunch.  There is no signage for this bookstore/artistic space/cafe so keep an eye out for the number and the books out front.  The cafe is in the back.  Because of the size and popularity of this space, reservations are a definite must.  We didn’t have them and had to assure once again that we would be out quickly as we had a train to catch.  We decided to go with a couple of the specials they had off the menu.  Steve had soy polpette with cannellini beans in a tomato sauce and I had a buckwheat pasta with cream of peas and kale sauce.  Both were absolutely excellent and very filling.  Steve went to the kitchen afterward for a chat with the chef to see how his dish was made.  The great thing about Italy is that for the most part there isn’t this sense of secrecy in the kitchen.  You won’t get a written down recipe, but if you ask the right questions, the chefs will generally tell you what they used and how it was made.  It’s up to you to deal with portions and how to put it together

We were pleasantly surprised by how well put together both in terms of interior design and menus the vegetarian restaurants were that we visited in Florence.  Each restaurant that we went to was always packed with people and had great atmospheres.  All in all we had some wonderful meals and no complaints.  While every Italian restaurant has vegetables available (contorni) or pasta dishes that are meat-less – eating at a specifically Italian vegetarian restaurant will provide an excellent opportunity for anyone  – vegetarians and non-veggies alike – to try interesting and creative dishes using the excellent produce that is available here in Italy.

For many more recommendations on where to eat and drink in Florence I highly recommend Elizabeth Minchilli‘s smartphone app Eat Florence.

Linda maintains her own blog for our hotel, The Beehive, at http://www.the-beehive.com/blog with practical and irreverent information, observations and musings on Rome.  

Cecina – where have you been all my life?

by Steven Brenner

I just discovered cecina, a Tuscan flatbread/pancake made from chickpea flour and water.  I can’t stop thinking, “how is it possible that I’ve lived in Italy most of my adult life and never had this before?”

Two of my daughters and I were in Florence and since I refuse to eat a mediocre meal anywhere, I dragged them around looking for just the right place and decided on Cinque e 5 in the Oltrarno.  It was small, cute, organic, vegetarian/vegan friendly, and the right mix of traditional and creative.  On the menu were a number of things I didn’t recognize, like cecina, both plain or with artichokes (as pictured above) as well as an unleavened focaccia called covaccino and the Florentine ravioli, pansoti, which are stuffed with greens and tossed in a walnut sauce.

Perhaps this is yet one more example of Italy’s awesomeness – that one can discover new foods that exist only a few hours away from one’s home; that entire culinary traditions in a neighboring region are totally foreign to you.

With my interested piqued, I looked it up to get the full story and to make it myself:  it’s called farinata in general, cecina in Tuscany, and socca in southern France.  There’s even a version of it in Sardegna, Uruguay and Argentina.  Originally from Genova – hence having spread to Sardegna (which was originally populated by the French Genovesi) and now typical of all of Liguria, and the stretch from Nice all the way to Pisa.  It is a simple flatbread made of chickpea flour, olive oil and salt.  It’s gluten-free – something that ought to really appeal to celiacs, suffering in Italy without something bread-like to dip into.  It’s similar to a tortilla and holds together well – can be stuffed or used like a sandwich, or rolled up like a crêpe.  You can bake stuff into it, like the artichokes; spread a soft cheese on it, such as stracchino; or top with onions, as I did for my first trial:

It’s pretty easy to make, but also easy to burn.  I mixed about 250g of chickpea flour with 750ml of water, added about 2 tbs of salt and let it sit overnight.  The next morning I stirred in 3 tbs of olive oil and a bit more flour until it was batter-like, then poured it into a well-oiled round dish, and baked it at 250°C until it was nice and brown.  Since I made a few different ones of various thicknesses, to experiment, the time ranged from 10 minutes to 30 minutes (and 1/2 of one was totally burnt to a crisp).

If you’re in Florence, be sure to try the cecina at Cinque e 5 in piazza della Passera in the Oltrarno.


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Or follow more of our recommendations for places to eat on our foursquare page.

Vegetarian Paris

My last time in Paris, about 3 years ago, it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food.  Waiters would disdainfully propose a salad – always the same salad, with goat cheese.  Nice stuff, but not something I wanted to eat at every meal.  A few years later and I’m amazed not only at how many vegetarian and vegetarian friendly options have emerged, but also how well it mixes with French food and the French approach to food in general.

Here’s 4 places worth checking out:

1.  Nanashi – Le Bento Parisien.  One on 57, Rue Charlot in the 3rd and another on 31, Rue de Paradis in the 10th.

This place isn’t 100% vegetarian, but very vegetarian-friendly.  It’s like a long train of a place with a variety of regular offerings and daily specials, all written out on a large blackboard.

I had a vegetarian spring roll wrap with rice paper, filled with sprouts and a honey sauce to dip into.  I then had a vegetable soba noodle dish, full of cooked mushrooms and lightly sauteed grated carrots, with a little nama shoe.  It was amazing — fresh and flavorful and a clever combination of Asian and European flavors.  With a glass (or two) of sake, it was a great meal for only around 30 euro or so.

The staff was also extremely helpful and nice and eager to please.

2.  Soya – Cantine Bio on 20, Rue de la Pierre Levee in the 11th.  A bit more upscale at night, it’s a good bet for a semi-fancy dinner and is probably more casual at lunch time.  Located on a residential street with almost no other activity, and without a sign, you could easily miss it, but that just adds to the charm.

Inside are dark cement walls, warmed up by dramatic lighting and some simple, eclectic, unpretentious design.  All vegetarian and mostly organic.

I had a tartare of alge, and a couscous dish with mixed vegetables.

For dessert, it was hard to settle on a choice, but I was very happy with my apple crumble and cream.  All with red wine and coffee for about 35 euro.

3.  Le Potager au Marais at 22-24, Rue Rambuteau in the 3rd about half a block from the Pompidou.  Probably the most well-known by vegans and vegetarians, it gets lots of attention from both locals and tourists.  The menu is large, with interesting daily specials.  The international staff is friendly, and happy to help in a variety of languages.

I went for the seitan à la bourguignon – a dish I’ve always adored and needed to taste what it would be like without meat.  I also wanted some onion soup, but felt it would be too much, so I took the suggestion from the staff and had a velouté of fennel, which was nice and light and flavorful.

Then came the bourgiugnon with rice, which was as hearty and filling as the original.  Ok, it’s seitan — not meat.  I won’t pretend it’s the same thing, but it sure did the trick.  I don’t think a meat eater would have anything to complain about this dish.

In the end  I had no space for dessert, which was a shame as they seemed to know what they were doing in the vegan dessert department as well.  Open for lunch and dinner, they stay open until midnight.  It’s the kind of place you could return to a few times in one trip.

4.  Le Tête dans le cuisine on 29, Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud in the 11th near Oberkampf.  This is a small place that specializes in homemade cakes, tarts, quiches and bagels, mostly for takeaway but also for a quick bite for lunch.

Not really on the tourist trail, but if you’re staying in the 11th, it’s worth passing by for a soup and sandwich, or get something to go and have it later when you’re out and about.

There are also a number of suggestions at Happy Cow, especially for vegetarian Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine.

by Steven Brenner

Holistic Rome

The following information comes from the Beehive Recommends Guide, which you can download for free here.

ORGANIC MARKETS
(packaged food, fresh vegetables & fruit, cleaning supplies, personal care products)

 

Canestro (3 locations)
via S. Francesco a Ripa, 106 (Trastevere)
viale Gorizia, 51 (Trieste)
via Luca della Robbia, 12 (Testaccio)

il Salice
via Reggio Emilia, 61/a (Trieste)

Biomens
viale delle Milizie, 7a (Prati/Vatican)

Al Sole d’Oro
Lungotevere Mellini, 44 (Prati/Vatican)

Solo Natura
via Petrarca, 1 (Piazza Dante/Piazza Vittorio)

L’Albero del Pane
via Santa Maria del Pianto, 19/20 (Jewish Ghetto)

Citta dell’ Altra Economia (this is a large fair trade complex that has an organic grocery store, fair trade retail shop, bar and restaurant) Largo Dino Frisullo inside the former city slaughterhouses, also where the new MACRO is located (Testaccio)

Mercatino Biologico
Vicolo della Moretta & via Giulia (centro storico).
Outdoor Sunday market, Fall to Spring.

 

ORGANIC BODY CARE PRODUCTS

L’Officina Naturale – centro storico
best erboristeria in Rome with excellent selection of all natural body care products including Neals Yard Remedies and a wonderful Tuscan line called Officinali di Montauto/OM)
via della Reginella, 3 (Jewish Ghetto)
via dei Coronari, 190 (Piazza Navona)

 

ORGANIC FARM
(with farm shop, Saturday and Sunday lunches, animals and nature walk)

Agricoltura Nuova Cooperativa
via Valle di Perna, 315 (just south of EUR)

ORGANIC CLOTHING & SHOES

Eco Wear (standard cotton, hemp clothing)
via del Vantaggio, 26 (Piazza del Popolo)

Dimensione Natura (clothes & shoes)
via dei Falegnami, 66/a (Jewish Ghetto)

The Natural Look (Birkenstocks in many styles, colors, designs)
via del Vantaggio, 21 E/F (Piazza del Popolo)

Angelo di Nepi (clothes & shoes)
via dei Giubbonari (Campo dei Fiori)
via del Babuino, 147 (Piazza del Popolo)
via Frattina, 2 (Spanish Steps)

Croce Franco (shoes)
Piazza Madonna dei Monti, 9

VEGETARIAN AND/OR ORGANIC RESTAURANTS

The Beehive (vegetarian & organic) – breakfast, Sunday brunch and snacks
via Marghera, 8 (Termini) 06 44704553

Bistrot Biologico (organic)
La Casa del Parco via del Casaletto, 400 (southwest of town near Villa Doria Pamphilj park) 06 45476909

Arancia Blu (vegetarian)
via Prenestina, 396 (Pigneto) 06 4454105

Naturist Club (vegetarian)
via delle Vite, 14 (Spanish Steps) 06 6792509

Margutta Vegetariana (vegetarian)
via Margutta, 117 (Spanish Steps) 06 32650577

Tidiro (macrobiotic)
via del Mattonato, 42 (Trastevere) 06 5810626

Pugliamonti (vegetarian specialties from Puglia region)
via Urbana, 104 064742772

 

YOGA

Anusara & Iygengar style yoga:
Centro Parmananda, Lungotevere Flaminio, 48 (Anusara inspired yoga)
Contact Paula Moss 06.7009646

Hatha yoga:
Accademia Yoga, via XX Settembre, 58 (Porta Pia)
www.accademiayoga.it

Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga:
Scuola Ashtanga Yoga, via Annia 54 (Celio)
www.astanga.it

Power yoga, ashtanga and anusara yoga:
Ego Yoga, via Cola di Rienzo, 162 (Prati)
www.ego-yoga.it

 

 

 

Various yoga styles:
L’Albero e La Mano at via Pelliccia, 3 (Trastevere)
www.lalberoelamano.it

Iyengar yoga:
Studio Iygengar via Tagliamento, 45 (Trieste)
www.studioiyengaryoga.com

Bikram yoga
Bikram Yoga Roma via Aurelia, 190
www.bikramyogaroma.it

Various yoga styles
Arya Yoga via Umberto Giordano, 99/c14 (Infernetto)
www.aryayoga.it

Kundalini yoga:
Centro Naad (Monti/Esquilino) via Giovanni Lanza, 125
www.naad.it

Budokanin via Properzio, 4 (Prati/Vatican)
www.budokanin.com

MASSAGE

Jenifer Vinson at The Beehive by appointment (Swedish style)
via Marghera, 8 (Termini) €45 for 50 minutes

Baan Thai (Thai massage)
Borgo Angelico, 22 (Prati/Vatican)
www.baanthai.it

Acanto Day Spa
Piazza Rondanini, 30 (Pantheon)
www.acantospa.it

Acqua Madre (Hammam/turkish style spa)
via di S. Ambrogio, 17 (Jewish Ghetto)
www.acquamadre.it

by Steven Brenner