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Italy and its food are on top of the world.

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What is the best restaurant on the planet? According to San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants its Osteria Francescana.

The honor is well deserved. Chef Massimo Bottura and his phenomenal team have worked together for many years with a humble attitude, a penchant for funky creativity and natural talent.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Osteria Francescana with one of Le Baccanti’s clients. I fell in love. I had just experienced tasting the best Tagaliatella al Ragù of my life. Soon I discovered other creations on the menu to admire like the Croccantino of Fois Gras with balsamic vinegar heart.

A year later I was invited to London to introduce the new Cecchi Winery Super Tuscan wine “Coevo” to the British press and some MWs. I had six wines starting with a 1989 vintage to a new release and Massimo crafted a dish to pair with each wine. People were in awe for his laid-back approach and high level performance. The same night we were both meant to attend a gala dinner. I decided to sneak out to catch up with some London friends at a dim sum house.  An hour and a few pints in a man with a black hoodie walked in the door. He goes straight to the counter to order almost every dim sum item on the menu. When he turned around I saw that it was Massimo! Over a ton of dumplings, he explained his idea of making a “cotechino” – a Modena special New Year’s Eve fresh pork sausage and lentils stuffed raviolo. His idea became a reality and what resulted was an Italian dim sum dumpling!

Last April during my visit to Osteria Francescana Massimo was in the most motivated mood. When were leaving the restaurant after a delicious meal he told me that “ We are living in a great moment, we are making history here.” He hugged me and as he dashed off he said, “I gotta go talk to the priest about the mensa for the homeless in Modena!”

I can’t hide how proud I feel for an Italian chef the caliber of Massimo to receive this well-deserved recognition. A toast to Massimo and his team. And to the long line of guests waiting to get a table I say, don’t give up. It is worth the wait!

Should you not be able to make it while you are visiting, don’t worry because on the 50 Best list there are another three great Italian restaurants: in 17th place is Enrico Crippa of Piazza Duomo on Alba, in 39th place is Le Calandre, and in 46th place is Combal Zero in Rivoli. Aside from these, there is an infinite list of Michelin star restaurants and old school Trattoria where you can feed your tummy, soul, and mind with delicious bites!

Here is the list of winning restaurants:

Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy

El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain

Eleven Madison Park, New York City

Central, Lima, Peru

Noma, Copenhagen

Mirazur, Menton, France

Mugaritz, Errenteria, Spain

Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan

Steirereck, Vienna, Austria

Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain

D.O.M., São Paulo, Brazil

Quintonil, Mexico City

Maido, Lima, Peru

The Ledbury, London, UK

Alinea, Chicago

Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Spain

Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy

White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia

L’Arpege, Paris, France

Amber, Hong Kong

Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain

Test Kitchen, Cape Town, South Africa

Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand

Le Bernardin, New York City

Pujol, Mexico City

The Clove Club, London, UK

Saison, San Francisco

Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark

Tickets, Barcelona, Spain

Astrid y Gaston, Lima, Peru

RyuGin, Tokyo, Japan

Restaurant Andre, Singapore

Attica, Melbourne, Australia

Restaurant Tim Raue, Berlin, Germany

Vendome, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany

Borago, Santiago, Chile

Nahm, Bangkok, Thailand

De Librije, Zwolle, the Netherlands

Le Calandre, Italy

Relae, Copenhagen, Denmark

Fäviken, Sweden

Ultraviolet, Shanghai, China

Biko, Mexico City

Estela, New York

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK

Combal Zero, Rivoli, Italy

Schloss Schauenstein, Austria

Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocatino Hills, New York

QuiQue Dacosta, Denia, Spain

Septime, Paris, France

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Spiritual Guards by Jan Fabre

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The works of Jan Fabre will be on display in Florence until October 2, 2016. The exhibition is promoted by the Comune di Firenze and is taking place in three impressive locations throughout the city.

Jan Fabre is described as one of the most innovative and important figures on the international contemporary art scene, who uses his art to depict and embody the power of imagination.

This is the first time that a living artist will have his art exhibited in three venues of outstanding and historical importance at the same time.

Around 100 of his works will be on display including bronze and wax sculptures, works made of the iridescent cases of the scarab beetle and performance films ripe with humanity and universalism.

Two new works specifically created for the occasion will join the open-air museum of Piazza della Signoria that will temporarily host the monumental work ‘Searching for Utopia’ and the smaller ‘The man who measures the clouds’ that proudly stands between copies of Michelangelo’s David and Donatello’s Judith outside the Palazzo Vecchio.

The second location is the Palazzo Vecchio featuring a series of sculptures that will interact with the frescoes and artifacts tat are housed in the Quartiere di Eleonora, Sala dell’Udienza and Sala dei Gigli, rooms that are open to the public.

The third location is the Forte Belvedere which is the thematic heart of the Spiritual Guards exhibition, showcasing roughly 60 works of art.

The Fortress was built to defend Florence from external attack, but also to protect the Medici family in troubling times and was, therefore, a stronghold for both external and internal defense, highlighting the need for protection and vulnerability. Seven bronze scarabs are placed on the fort’s outlook posts, which represent angels of metamorphosis and guardians who symbolize the transition between earthly dimension and the afterlife with their ceaseless movement.

Continuing on the first floor of the villa, open to the public for the first time in many years are a series of was sculpture and films of the artist’s performances.  These works of art all being in the magnificent setting that is Florence.

“The exhibition’s motto and device, Spiritual Guards, should be interpreted as an encouragement to live a heroic life, be it in war or unarmed in defense of the imagination and of beauty.”

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Jubilee Year – What You Need to Know While Visiting Rome

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2016 – A Jubilee Year

Last year, during a Lenten penitential service in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis summoned an extraordinary Jubilee to be called the Holy Year of Mercy.

What is A Jubilee Year?

A jubilee year is a special year called by the church to receive blessing and pardon from God and remission of sins.

Normally, in order to be forgiven, pilgrims must visit all of the 4 papal basilicas and Rome and the Vatican City during the Holy Year and walk through the holy doors, which are opened only during a Jubilee Year.

But this year is a historical first as the Pope Francis deemed this year’s Jubilee be opened worldwide and that every diocese around the world is supposed to open a Holy Door. The dioceses have registered their locations on a dedicated interactive Google map so pilgrims from around the globe can participate.

When is the Jubilee Year?

The Jubilee Year started on December 8, 2015 with the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. The other holy doors of basilicas around the world were also opened  as a sign of God’s opening a new pathway to salvation.  The Jubilee year  runs through to November 20, 2016. when the holy doors at St. Peter’s Basilica and in cathedrals around the world are closed.

How does the Jubilee Year impact travel to Rome?

You can expect Rome to be busier than usual, so booking ahead of time is essential especially if you are planning on doing a Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s Walking Tour. Pilgrims travelling to Rome to attend Jubilee events will need to register in advance for a specific time slot to enter the Holy Doors.

Book a Private Tour and avoid the queues – your tour guide will guide you past the long lines an  you will enter the Vatican at your appointed entrance.   The Vatican is the smallest sovereign state in the world, at just over 100 acres, and has less than 1000 inhabitants. Over the past millennium, the Catholic church and its Popes have been amassing amazing works of art within its walls.

The Vatican is the center of Catholic religious life and your private guided visit to this mystic, religious, spiritual, artistic and historical treasure will leave you in wonder and awe. You will view the Sistine Chapel with your expert guide, where you can see Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, as well as the other stunning works of art by other renowned artists.

You will have plenty of time to ask questions and truly understand the Vatican from an insider’s perspective. From there you will continue through the Vatican museums, viewing sculptures, painting and other works of art that will take your breath away.

After the museums, you will visit St. Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica is impressive for its immense size, beautiful golden light and many famous works of art, most importantly Michelangelo’s Pieta (Piety).

Make sure you don’t miss this special Jubilee Year by visiting Rome.

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Ultimate Tuscany: Top 10 Wineries

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Filippo Bartolotta give us his insight into his top 10 Tuscan Wineries.

Tuscany is in the heart of Italy and is the epitome of perfect wine country.
The gentle rolling hills are planted with hectars of vineyards, as you drive through the region you pass medieval castles, wild forests, pilgrim trails and ruins of ancient churches. On the coast streets lined with 400 year old cyprus trees lead you to medieval hamlets.

In Tuscany wine making is an age-old tradition and the wineries are mainly family run with passion for their history and tradition blending in with a new generation of innovation and ingenuity.

First on Filippo’s list of top 10 Tuscan Wineries to visit is Antinori Chianti Classico.

Just 20 kilometers from Florence is the newest addition to the Antinori Brand.  Opened in 2012 after 7 years of construction, built out of all locally sourced material, the winery is state of the art.  It is a working winery which also hosts a wine museum, book shop, art collection and wine bar with tasting rooms.

Next on his list is Castello di Ama the hamlet and it’s vineyards and olive groves and 12th century castle have been lovingly restored and renovated by Lorenza Sebasi and Marco Pallanti.  The owners of Castello di Ama ‘the castle of love’ who are passionate not only about wine and extra virgin olive oil, but also contemprary art. Since 1990 they have been commissioning artists to create personal artworks for Castello di Ama, with permanent contemporary art installations by Anish Kapoor, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kendell Geers, Daniel Buren and many  more.

Next up is Castello di Nipozzano, the most celebrated and historic property of the Frescobaldi family.  The wine estate dates back to 1855 when the cultivation of varieties previously unknown to Tuscany such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlo and Cabernet Franc were planted.  Nipozzano is the real thing: a true working farm, and a big one at that with more than 600ha, including olive trees and an on-site olive press. Chianina and Angus cows can be seen roaming free in the fields.

Cappezzana is next on Filippo’s list – just a few miles from Florence towards Prato.  Capezzana is one of the oldest wine estates in Tuscany producing wine in Carmignano since 804 A.D. Since 1920 the estate has been run by the Contini Bonacossi family.  The newest addition being the wine bar ‘La Vinsantaia’ where guests can enjoy informal wine tasting as well as food.  In summer you can see Florence’s Duomo from the tasting terrace!

In 2011 Salcheto became the first self sufficient winery in Europe.  Most of it’s energy comes from renewable sources and recycled winery materials.  Salcheto is also a certified organic winery. Their motto is Salcheto is… Sangiovese, Quality and Sustainability.  Overlooking the own of Montepulciano it is one of Tuscany’s most beautiful wineries.

Tours include an insight into the incredible technology in place and a tasting is likely to make you a firm believer in both high-tech and green principles.

Badia a Coltibuono is an old montestary from the 11th century in perfect condition.  The old crypt where the monks once had their cellar is now where the Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico is aged in big oak casks.  With guided tours of the abbey, which include the Italian style garden, the frescoed hall, the ageing cellars, and wine tastings their organic wines a visit to Badia a Coltibuono is guaranteed to be a pleasurable one.

Sassicaia – Tenuta San Guido

Tenuta San Guido is located on the Tuscan coast in the area of Maremma.  It was here that Italy’s first vine cuttings of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon were planted by Marchese Mario Incisa della Rocchetta in 1944.  He originally intended to make wine only for his own personal use.  The first vintage to be commercialised was the 1968 vintage.  Sassicaia is the first Super Tuscan wine and has it’s own appellation, Bolgheri Sassicaia DOC which started with the 1994 vintage.

Livernano and Casalvento

Bob and Gudrun Cuillo run the Livernano and Casalvento estates with passion and

In 1997 Bob Cuillo (a serial entrepreneur born in the Bronx, New York has a knack of turning everything he touches to gold) bought Casalvento a property in the heart of Chianti Classico and soon afterwards the neighbouring estate of Livernano which he and his wife Gudrun lovingly  restored  along with the Liverano village turning it into a country resort with restaurant.  Along with award winning wines they also produce olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Biondi Santi – Tenuta il Greppo

Tenuta Greppo, is nestled in the hillside of Montalcino in Val D’Orcia, the estate is more than a century old and being run by the fifth generation of the Biondi Santi family. The first Brunello di Montalcino was bottled here in 1888.  Visiting this estate is like taking a step into Brunello history, where a cellar tour will include seeing the barrel used to store the world’s first Brunello.

Castiglion del Bosco

The hamlet of Castiglione del Bosco was built in 1100 in the heart of the Orcia Valley, which in 1972 became a UNESCO World Heitage site. Castiglion del Bosco is one of the founding members of the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino and organisation created as a voluntary association of producers who regulate and control the quality of Brunello production, it is also among the first Italian wines to be granted DOC and DOCG status. A new cellar was built in 2004 with a capacity of 3,000 hectolitres. Castiglion del Bosco also boasts a beautiful 18 hole golf course designed by the legendary winner of the British Open, Tom Weiskopf

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