Attending an authentic sagra: a good enough reason to visit Italy!

Throughout spring and summer, posters adorn Italian walls with the word ‘sagra’ clearly taking prominent position in the advertising, so what does this word mean?

The literal translation is festival, but the definition of sagra is a local fair and celebration connected with food and local produce; for example, the town of Baone, in Veneto, hosts an annual Sagra dei Bisi (festival of the green pea). During the event, the streets are filled with people dressed in medieval costume and local residents prepare different dishes that must include the peas within the recipe. Among a number of traditional recipes, the most famous is definitely Risi e Bisi (a delicious risotto with peas). After all the tastings, every evening culminates in a music show with Italian live bands.

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Actually, almost every town in Italy at some point during the year will host a food festival. This year for example is the 80th Fish Festival at Chioggia, Venice. The sagra lasts for ten days and attracts over 100,000 people each year; music and theatre act as a backdrop as visitors sample fish dishes, fresh from the Adriatic sea, such as stuffed clams and mussels, griddled sole, pickled cockles and mixed fried fish. Attending a sagra is the perfect way to immerse yourself in Italian life. Add to this the opportunity to sample local cuisine as you sit at long communal tables to eat with the local population and you get a real feel for how Italians come together to celebrate.

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Fish Festival, Venice

Finding out about a sagra is very straightforward as most of the posters follow a similar format: the main heading will tell you where the festival is held and the date; these are mostly in bold typeface and large enough to read from a passing vehicle. Once you’ve found one that interests you, the poster will give you the start time, destination and other events that will be staged. You don’t have to be a local to attend and most towns welcome outsiders and tourists to their celebrations. The lines of parked cars stretching out of the town will indicate that you have arrived at the right place, and those who arrive early are usually the last to leave due to the sheer volume of traffic attending! In fact, some sagre (the plural of sagra) are so popular that the towns have a coach service to ferry people in and out of town to keep the streets clear for dancing.

Sagre take place throughout the year, with many taking place in the summer, so during your holiday to Italy this year, keep a keen eye on the local posters and find a local sagra, and for one evening become an honorary Italian and enjoy all the hospitality the town has to offer!

 

Panettone is on the table!

Christmas is just around the corner and, where Italians are concerned, food is one of the main components in the festivities.
There are many traditional products eaten by Italians during the Christmas season, and two of the most famous are the Pandoro and the Panettone.

PANDORO

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Pandoro, credits to perbellini.com

Pandoro is a traditional Christmas cake made with flour, butter and eggs, which was originally produced in Verona. Verona is not only the town where the first Pandoro was made, but remains the place most associated with this delicious creation.

It is important to note, however, that the origins of the pandoro are often linked to the skills of Austrian pastry chefs, inventors of the bread of Vienna, from which inspiration was sought to produce the first pandoro.
Pandoro is also associated to a famous cake typically linked to wealthy families of the Venice Republic during the Renaissance. This cake, the “pan de oro”, or “bread of gold,” was covered in thin, gold leaves.

Pandoro as we know it today was also most certainly inspired by a star-shaped cake known as the “nadalin,” which was prepared by some families in Verona in the 1800s. In fact, pandoro even keeps the star shape of the “nadalin” alive.
The name Pandoro, meaning golden bread, perfectly describes its colour, which is provided by the eggs in its batter and its sugary coating. The shape, as previously explained, resembles a star.
The Pandoro is often warmed and served with cream, hot chocolate or Nutella poured on horizontally cut slices, thus enhancing the similiraties with an eight-pointed star.
Since the 19th century, pandoro has been produced on an industrial scale and it has now acquired national fame, being sold in all Italian supermarkets. Next to industrial production, there is also a parallel handmade production, which in the last few years has increased its sales by 20%.

PANETTONE

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Panettone, credits to perbellini.com

Pandoro, credits to perbellini.com

If Pandoro is traditionally linked to Verona, Panettone belongs to the history of Lombardia, in particular to that of the city of Milan.

In the 13th century, an ancestor of Panettone already existed: it was made of bread, yeast, honey, raisins and pumpkin. Starting from the 1800s, it acquired the shape of today’s Panettone. It is a cake made from flour, butter, eggs and sugar with candied citron and sultanas.
Several legends exists about the birth of Panettone. Some people mention the story of Ughetto degli Atellani, a boy who fell in love with a girl, Adalgisa. In order to be near Adalgisa, Ughetto pretended to be a pastry chef, so that he could work in Adalgisa’s family bakery. While there, the lovestruck young man tried to invent a new cake by mixing flour, eggs, butter, sugar and sultanas. Ughetto’s creation was a smash hit, earning him favor with Adalgisa’s father and paving the way for the two to be married.
Another widespread legend is based on the story of a cook working for Ludovico il Moro, who had to prepare Christmas lunch. After baking the cake, the cook forgot it in the oven and it burned; a boy named Toni, a kitchen porter working with the cook, suggested a solution: cooking another cake with the leftover ingredients, which were flour, butter, eggs, citron peel and raisins.
When the cake was served, everybody liked it and the duke wanted to know the name of the cake, which was called “pan del Toni”, Toni’s bread, which then evolved into the name Panettone.
Panettone has a less romantic shape than pandoro because it has a cylindrical base, and ends with the shape of a dome. Even if its shape may not be as evocative of Christmas festivities, Italians adore it, and comsume huge quantities of panettone during the Christmas period.

Both Pandoro and Panettone sell like, well, hotcakes during Christmas time. At the same time, Italians take their choice of panettone or pandoro very seriously. Some love Pandoro, but dislike Panettone, while some others are the complete opposite. Usually children prefer Pandoro and those who don’t like raisins and sultanas will never choose Panettone.
One thing is for sure, those who like both of them will get the better of it, because they’ll get to taste a slice of both!

If you ever come to Italy during the Christmas period you can’t refuse to try them…so choose whichever is the best for you and try it in the pursuit of the perfect Italian Christmas!
In the UAE you can find Pandoro and Panettone in all the Italian grocery or at just about any supermarket.

Mercato AE: an Italia Kitchen Group successful project!

Mercato is the last Skelmore Hospitality Group’s concept (the one of Roberto’s Restaurant & Lounge in DIFC) which opened in Dubai last May 2016.

Their motto is “We don’t just like food, we love it”.

“It perfectly shows!” we could answer them.

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Mercato restaurant and retail 

The restaurant incorporates a retail space featuring fresh pasta, including roasted coffee beans, cured meats, bread, pastries and an open kitchen which let the clients see with their own eyes the baker and the chef making bread, pizza or pasta from scratch. The chef takes great care in selecting the best quality ingredients.

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Mercato’s kitchen: an Italia Kitchen project and realization

As you enter Mercato, you are welcomed by a fragrance of fresh bread, vibrant colors, and a vivid atmosphere inspired by Mercato Centrale in Florence, an historical place to buy groceries that has been renewed and it has become a meeting place for food lovers and gourmets. That is exactly what Mercato is.

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Open Kitchen at Mercato with Italia Kitchen equipment 

For all these reasons, it was an honor for Italia Kitchen Group to be part of its project and realization.

We asked to Mercato’s manager, Mrs. Grazia, what he think about the work that Italia Kitchen’s project manager and technicians made for Mercato:

Time that Mercato project’s born, we immediately thought of relying on someone with great experience and seriousness that could provide us support in any emergency situations, requirements found immediately in Italian Kitchen Group…THANK YOU !

So if you haven’t already, visit Mercato to experience deliciously prepared dishes and the best customer service in town!

                                                                                                                                    by Martina Bettella

Do you know how to deal with difficult customers?

If you are part of the industry that handles the customer relationship, surely you have got to interact with angry  or rude people at least one in your life. This kind of encounter could be frustrating and exhausting for both, yourself and the customer.

However, now that you have come this far, you have a choice. More than not loose a client and prevent a negativity mood, you could be satisfied of yourself to been able to help someone’s problem, or just you might transform a bad experience into something positive, despite your interlocutor’s attitude. So, let’s see some advices to learn how to deal with arrogant and constantly angry customers.

The following tips can be used normally both for a call-in conversation and for face-to-face meetings

1. Be respectful

This is the critical time of the conversation: an angry customer called you and he is angry because of something you cannot control. To loose your temper could be very simple now, especially when the customer handle the situation like a personal matters. Worst case scenario, the customer decided to insult you because he has a problem with the product you have produced or it doesn’t play with his expectations. Patience to him, once they took their rage out on you, even the angriest customer will agree to calm down and and listen to you so that you can help them. After all, this is the real reason why they are calling you. No matter how difficult it may be, always have the utmost respect! There might be several reasons why they came to you to complain.

2. Listen carefully

Even while the customer is ranting and raving in his monologue, always listen carefully what he is telling you. This can help you for many reasons: it allows you to concentrate on the words, ignoring his tone of voice and can avoid annoying repeated complains. Take note and listen; is he talking about a single issue or different situations?

3. Recapitulate the problem

Once the client has calmed down, it is time to be heard. Explain what you understand calmly but firmly help you to demonstrate to the listener that you have listened what he said and you are fully aware of the issues to deal with. It also allows you to make sure you have not forgotten a word or to it helps you look into some important points. Sometimes, in the anger the problem can emerge partially. In this way, there will be no doubts.

4. Simple solutions

Very often, the problems with an angry customer can be solved with simple solutions. Probably it is not the first time you listen to someone’s problem, that is why you may just have the solution. After allowing him to vent, immediately offered him a simple solution, perhaps not definitive, but still “possible”. Pay attention at this stage, not to further irritate the customer (he could be still angry).

5. Provide information

If a simple solution is not available, then you must deeply explore the issue with the client. Provide information about the process that leads to the problem, trying to recreate with him the conditions that carried that particular circumstance. In this way you can demonstrate your professionalism and your dedication on the resolution of the problem.

6. Find resources

If you know you can not solve the problem by yourself, try to involve someone who can help you, better if you succeed getting him in touch with the customer. Do not ever perceive this as an attempt to delegate the problem to others, always consider yourself as the reference between the two people.

7. Make the customer feel important

Always update the customer when you solve some problem and let him feel important. For example, send him Christmas wishes. Good manners could transform a customer in a faithful customer, especially after an issue.

8. Take him out (I am joking!)

Finally, always keep in mind to never start a “words war” with your customers. Some of them could insult you and the temptation to face charges is too strong. Only fight the temptation. If you were an employer, you could lose your job. If you were he manager, you could ruined your reputation forever. If you have quite reached the limit of your patience, try to distract yourself: if you are on the phone, put him on hold and take a breath, if he is in your office, run off in your employers room. Sometimes, to solve unpleasant situations, you just need a break and someone’s support!

 

How to create the perfect Food Menu

One of the hardest challenges when opening a new restaurant is creating and modifying your menu. The menu is what brings customers in and pays the bills, so it is essential to balance room for trial and error with the perfect variety of dishes. If you are creating a menu (or changing your existing one) and need some help getting it right, the following tips will help to bring you in the right direction.

1. Start with your environment 

The first step to menu planning is to think about the location of your restaurant, café or eatery. What are people looking for in your area? What is currently popular and where are there niches? What are the socioeconomic considerations in the area? These factors should all play a part in the creation of your menu. Are you surrounded by fish and chip shops? Perhaps look at some fresh, gourmet eats for your menu. Find something your audience will find exciting and enticing. Take a holistic approach to your menu and consider the location and type of clientele and how this fits with your menu.

2. Focus on a theme

Every restaurant has a style, theme and atmosphere that are important to match to your menu. A coherent menu is essential: you don’t want to confuse or discourage potential clientele. Although it is good to be different, everyone likes the classics so try to find a balance between the two. Remember, your customers have a lot of control as to your success, pleasing them is just as important as doing what you love.

3. Be flexible and change often 

Your first menu shouldn’t be your last! Make sure what you create, even if it seems perfect, has room for change. You want to be able to change things that don’t work and try new things to see if they could be successful. Regularly changing your menu is not only a great way to find out what works and what doesn’t, but also a way to build excitement for your guests. Try to find a regular schedule for change and stick to it. When it comes time to change the menu, remember that you don’t have to change everything, just keep the best and mix up the rest!

4. Keep it small

No one likes a huge menu with too much to choose from. Research has found that more choice causes indecisiveness and could even result in a guest leaving. While you may think lots of choice is great, it can make it confusing and frustrating for the customers. A simple, small menu is easier for everyone. Your guests will like it, you won’t have to buy as many different kinds of produce and your chefs will be able to focus on quality over quantity.

5. Use specials to test menu items

Specials are a great way to test and learn for a restaurant. They give you the opportunity to see what clients like without making them a permanent addition. This is a great way to make smart choices on your menu and make the most profit.

6. Have a ‘signature’ dish

Your signature dish should be the golden egg on the menu: it is a special dish that showcases your chef’s talents and your restaurant’s style. It is what draws people to your establishment and what they walk away talking about. It should be the star, but remember to make all your dishes worthy of remembering.

7. Price your menu accordingly

There are many factors that come into play when pricing menu items. Try to consider all of the things that could affect your profit margin and make sure these are covered. Public holidays, equipment, utilities, rent, produce and prep, breakage, staff pay and any incidentals are all outgoing costs. You may need to do a bit of trial and error to figure out how to cover them all. Consider price points and look at your competitors and clientele and remember you may need to mix up the menu when it comes to cost. Not all dishes will equal profit, some will be in the positive, some won’t reach it. By balancing this you should be able to maintain your overall food cost goals.

8. Make your menu attractive and engaging

The design on your menu can have as much impact as the dishes do! Where you place things, the shape and feel of the menu and what kind of colours and visuals you include all affect how a guest uses it. Smaller menus are a tick and items at the start and end of the menu are usually the most memorable. A4 books are great, particularly for pubs and similar venues, as they are easy to read and hold and can be stood up on tables.

Italia Kitchen Big Opening day

We have been waiting for it so long and finally the great day has come!

Sunday, September 18th, we inaugurated the new headquarter of Italian Kitchen Dubai that, last April, has moved from Deira to Al Quoz, a central area of the city, where companies are mix in stores, banks, luxurious shops and hipsters clubs.

Precisely, the office is located in Al Quoz 3, in front of the showroom Natuzzi (here you can find the location map).

Thank to all the participants the day was a great success, but a special thank goes to our partners who have supported us for years in the most interesting events in Dubai and beyond. They are Rosario Scarpato, Aira Piva and all the chefs of Italian Restaurant Consulting and Electrolux, our well-known supplier that, in addition to the cooking line and the Air-O-Steam Oven, “brought” the Italian Chef Silvano Costantini and some  students of ICCA , the famous cooking school based in Knowledge Village.

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 The Italian Consul of Dubai with the Chefs of: Bice, Bice Mare, La Bussola, Lounge Cafè Italiano, Carnevale, Casa Mia, Eataly, Frankie’s, Margherita, Per Te, Positano, Prego’s, Roberto’s, The Artisan, Trattoria Toscana, Vivaldi, Galeries La Fayette Le Gourmet, Jumeirah Golf Estates.

The new headquarter, like the old one, has a special feature that differentiates us from other professional kitchens providers in Dubai: the training room.

Italian Kitchen’s training room is a kitchen with all the professional equipment you can find in the best restaurants: pizza oven, dough mixer and moulder, manual machine for fresh pasta, freezer, chiller, blast chiller, ice-cream machine, soft ice-cream machine, ingredients to make ice cream and coffee machines. All from the best brands: Electrolux Italforni, Sigma, Aikhon, Baldassare Agnelli, Tecnoinox, SPM, SAB Italy and much more. Now that is fully and well equipped, our new kitchen is available for hire on a part-time basis, or by the hour. What we offer is a modern, practical and professional space for training sessions, cookery workshops, team buildings and tastings.

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Italia Kitchen’s Training Room

The restaurants and the chefs who will participate at the upcoming Italian Cuisine World Summit (to be held in Dubai, November 7th to 17th) have delighted us with some of their specialties like grilled shrimps, beef with polenta, pizza, cannoli siciliani and a lot of Italian dishes.

Those who have accepted our invitation have all let us feeling very happy and satisfied… of course also the good food attracted them greatly!!

During the afternoon, the new Consul of Dubai, Mrs. Valentina Setta, has honoured us with her presence. We wish her good luck for the new assignment.

We really hope that the new office will be the beginning of new projects, new contacts and new business for Italian Kitchen, a reality that is not only Italian, but who has been in the UAE for almost 15 years and in some way has contributed to the growth of this stunning city.

And again, thank you very much!

Essential Tips for Keeping your Restaurant’s Kitchen clean

A clean kitchen reflects your restaurant’s responsibility to excellence and food safety. With a lot of things happening all the time, from oil flying out of the fryer to strange items being found in the back of the refrigerator, regular cleaning can seem unbearable if you don’t have a system in place.

To help you maintain a clean and hygienic professional kitchen, here is a list that outlines how to keep your restaurant kitchen shining.

Some jobs have to be done many times a day, while others need to be done weekly or monthly. Regular cleaning is essential for food safety and can help reduce food waste.

Items to clean during every cooking

  • Brush grill between cooking red meat, poultry and fish
  •  Switch cutting boards
  • Change sanitizing water and cleaning rags
  • Empty trash bins
  • Wipe down the line and preparation areas

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Items to clean after each cooking change (breakfast, lunch, dinner)

  • Brush the grill
  • Empty sanitizing buckets
  • Put all cleaning rags in dirty laundry
  • Put all aprons and chefs coats in laundry (not with cleaning rags)
  • Wash and sanitize all surfaces (cutting boards, reach-in, line, prep tables)
  • Empty steam table and clean
  • Wash meat and cheese slicer after each use
  • Cover all bins in reach-in cooler with plastic wrap
  • Wash floor mats
  • Sweep and mop the kitchen floor
  • Sweep walk-in refrigerator

Daily Restaurant Kitchen Cleaning List

  • Clean out grease traps
  • Change foil linings of grill, range and flattops
  • Wash the can opener
  • Run hood filters through the dishwasher

Weekly Restaurant Kitchen Cleaning List

(Each of these duties can be rotated in the week.)

  • Empty reach-in coolers and wash and sanitize them
  • Clean coffee machine
  • Clean the ovens.
  • Sharpen knives (okay, not cleaning, per se, but needs to be done)
  • Oil cast iron cookware
  • Use drain cleaners on floor drains

Monthly Restaurant Kitchen Cleaning List

(to rotate throughout the month)

  • Wash behind the hot line (oven, stove, fryers) to cut down on grease build up
  • Clean freezers
  • Empty and sanitize the ice machine
  •  Calibrate ovens
  • Calibrate thermometers
  • Sharpen the meat and cheese slicer
  • Wash walls and ceilings
  • Wipe down the dry storage area
  • Change any pest traps
  • Restock your first aid kit

Yearly Restaurant Kitchen Cleaning and Safety List

There are also other important things to do each year, to make sure your kitchen is clean and safe. Most require the help of a professional. It’s good to schedule them during slow seasons.

  • Check fire suppression system
  • Check the fire extinguishes (this may need to be done twice a year, depending on where you live)
  • Clean the hoods twice a year. There are many professional companies that specialize in hood cleaning. Better use one rather than doing the job yourself (very messy and time consuming)
  • Clean the pilot lights on any gas kitchen equipment (Be sure to follow the manufacturers instruction)

A beauty secret by Sophia Loren

“Everything you see

I owe 

to spaghetti”.

SOPHIA LOREN

Polenta: a taste of Italian tradition

Many of Italy’s more traditional dishes were born as food for the poor: in Italy, we call it cucina povera and every region, from Veneto to Sicily, knows it. Just as people of the South achieved the most of their energy from pasta, people from the North would eat mainly polenta, a dish that has a very long history.

ORIGINS OF POLENTA

Polenta has been called by some “Italian grits” and there are similarities to the homonymous dish so popular in the Southern United States. In this way polenta and grits share a common link as the food of poverty. However in ancient times, what would later be called polenta started out as one of the earliest and simplest foods made from grain. Made from wild grains and later from primitive wheat, farro (a popular Italian grain), millet, spelt or chickpeas, the grain was mixed with water to form a paste and was then cooked on a hot stone.

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A current way to eat polenta: with mushroom and melted cheese

HISTORY OF POLENTA

In Roman times, polenta (or as they knew it, pulmentu) was the main food of the Roman Legions and was eat in a porridge or in a hard cake like form, much like today. By this time, milling techniques had greatly improved and the course grind favored for pulmentum had mostly been replaced by farina, a flour. However, even though bread was widely available in Ancient Rome, the legions and the poor preferred the simplicity and tastiness of their polenta. For the next few centuries, nothing changed in the history of polenta, as well as the living conditions of those who ate it most, poor people. However things would slowly improve for polenta, if not the peasantry, the first being the introduction of buckwheat (the Italian saraceno wheat)into Italy by the Saracens.
This nutrient grain is still popular in Tuscany for making polenta and adds a characteristic flavour that was preferred for centuries. Buckwheat polenta would finally loose its popularity when a crop from the New World arrived in Italy more or less in the 15th or 16th centuries known as maize. The new crop was a perfect match for the farms of Northern Italy, where landowners could grow vast fields of corn for profit, while forcing the peasantry to subsist on cornmeal. This new form of polenta was abundant, but seriously lacking in nutrients compared to earlier forms of the dish. However cornmeal polenta is very tasty and filling, and therefore continued to be predominant when the conditions of the poor were improved. From then on most of Italy’s polenta consumption was made from corn, which ranges in color from golden yellow to the Veneto’s white polenta.

MAKING POLENTA

Much of Italy’s polenta is still made the tedious old-fashioned way using a round bottom copper pot known as paiolo and a long wooden spoon. The process to make a soft polenta involves a 3 to 1 part of water to polenta and constant stirring for up to 50 minutes. Today in a modern kitchen with a good heavy pot, polenta preparation is not so tiring, but it still does need attention. Cooking polenta using a double boiler method is even easier. When finished, the polenta can be served in this soft form or poured out onto a slab and allowed to cool to form a cake.

by Martina Bettella

Ferragosto: history and Italians habits

Many visitors coming to Italy hear some version of the story that “August is not the time to visit Italy” because everyone is on holiday, off to the seaside or to the mountains, leaving cities full of empty or closed restaurants and closed shops.

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There is definitely an element of truth in this, but rest assured that Italy continues to function during August and that Italians on holiday are also tourists and they are well catered for. Nevertheless, at the middle of the month of August, there really is a date when almost everyone really does take the day off. This is Ferragosto, a day on which, in many areas, you can experience Italy with few cars on the roads. It’s almost like stepping back into the 19th Century.

What is Ferragosto?

In the simplest terms, Ferragosto is a holiday that takes place on 15th August every year in Italy. The day coincides with Assumption Day, the principal feast of the Virgin Mary, commemorating the day of the assumption of her body into Heaven. Not coincidently, Ferragosto is also the modern derivative of the ancient harvest festivals that were formalised by the emperor Augustus in 18 bC under the name Feriae Augusti (Festivals of Augustus), from which its name Ferragosto is derived. During these celebrations, horse races were organised across the Roman Empire and this tradition remains alive today with the Palio di Siena, taking place on the 16th of August. Indeed the name “Palio” comes from the pallium, a piece of cloth that was the prize given to winners of the horse races in ancient Rome.

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Cities are almost empties 

The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose under Mussolini. In the second half of the 1920s, in August, the government organised popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organisations of various corporations, and some trains ticket were discounted. For many families, it was during these trips that they saw the sea, mountains and Italy’s many artistic places for the first time.

Nowadays, Ferragosto means going to the family home or to the beach for a watermelon party or even better to the mountains for a walk and a pic-nic. Both in the cities and in many tourist destinations you can enjoy midnight fireworks. Traffic is heavy before and after Ferragosto and trains are usually booked out well in advance for those dates.

If you are visiting Italy during Ferragosto, make a restaurant reservation – you will see the real Italian life like in La Dolce Vita (I hope so)!

                                                                                                                                   by Martina Bettella