ROUGH GUIDE: Food for the soul in the heart of southern Europe

Nettle lasagne, vinegar ice cream, buffalo milk mozzarella and gentian grappa should on no account be missed, writes Celia Woolfrey

Best food

Lasagne con ortiche - sheets of pasta layered with a sauce flecked with nettles. An Emilia-Romagnan combination I'd never had before was ice cream with a really beautiful balsamic vinegar. As for best drink, other than some wonderful wine, I liked the flavoured grappas: gentian, plum and mountain herb are some of the most interesting. The one drink that has always remained inexplicable to me is Cynar, a digestif made from artichokes. Although it's displayed in every bar, I've never seen anyone to drink it.

Best for an all-over tan

The Aphrodite-Apollo thermal park at St Angelo on Ischia is a relaxing place to spend a spring day. It has a series of 12 thermal pools (with water at different temperatures), natural saunas in caves, a secluded nude sunbathing spot (which is rare for Italy), and a volcanically-heated beach, hot enough to cook food if you bury it in the sand.

Wildlife moment

The Gran Paradiso park is a protected mountain area near the border with France. While walking there one evening, we felt a startling presence appear 3ft above us: an ibex with curving horns, matted fur - which he was shedding in sheets - and the maddest, most glittering, amber eyes. Next to us, two younger ibex came prancing over the shallow part of the river, locking horns in a mock fight, followed by a timid chamois. My friend and I looked at each other in disbelief. All day, walkers in the national park had been training their binoculars on tiny specks of chamois and ibex running away into the distance. Then these jumped out at us like something from a Garry Larson cartoon. It's a schlepp up from the valley and so it is worthwhile staying overnight at the mountain refuge Rifugio V Sella. You will almost certainly get to see a lot of wildlife, especially at sunrise and sunset when everyone else has gone home.

Under-rated area

The Le Langhe wine region in Piemonte (nearest airport Turin). Terraced vineyards, ancient hill-top towns, weighty Barolos and Barberas, white truffles in autumn, good places to stay. Tuscany eat your heart out.

Worst pick-up attempt

We were driving fast along a motorway next to the Ligurian coast, when a car pulled up alongside us. The occupants gave us thumbs-up signs and what I think were meant to be inviting grins. They then swerved in front of us and mimed drinking espresso out of tiny cups, pointing to the services stop coming up and inviting us to "come back for a coffee".

Favourite country hotel

The Locanda di Sant'Uffizio was once a convent and is now a comfortable hotel with a great pool and views overlooking vineyards and cornfields near Asti. A close second is Tenuta Seliano, a more affordable agriturismo (farm holiday) place near Paestum. One of its features is a herd of buffalo which is kept for their milk and from which mozzarella is made. Here, too, is a swimming pool in the garden, and good, home-cooked food. Everyone eats round one table outside in summer. The best bedroom is in the circular tower

Cheapest city

Naples, by far. Walking around the tiny streets and lanes of Spaccanapoli is entertainment all by itself, and there is a whole network of small, neighbourhood restaurants to eat at in the evening where a pizza and a beer cost no more than L10,000 (about pounds 3.50). A good time to visit is in May, when all the museums and galleries are open until 10pm or 11pm and there are a host of classical and jazz concerts, screenings and events. Stay at the Ausonia, a decent two-star hotel a couple of minutes' walk from the hydrofoil service to Capri, Ischia and the Amalfi coast. For those on a budget, there's also a youth hostel.

ITALY

GETTING THERE

BA (tel: 0345 222 111) and Alitalia (tel: 0171-602 7111) operate scheduled flights to major cities. BA has return flights to Rome from pounds 119, plus pounds 20 tax. Alitalia's return to Milan is pounds 119, plus pounds 15 tax. Skyshuttle (tel: 0800 129129) offers summer charter flights with return fares to Naples from pounds 179. Go (tel: 0845 605 4321) flies from Stansted to Venice, Bologna, Milan and Rome. Internet bookings, at www.go-fly.com, offers the cheapest flights. For southern Italy contact Long Travel (tel: 01694 722193; fax: 01694 724291).

WHERE TO STAY

In Naples: Ausonia, via Caracciolo 11 (tel/fax: 00 39 081 682 278); double rooms pounds 60 per night. Youth hostel, Ostello Mergellina, Salita della Grotta 23 (tel: 00 39 081 761 2346) is pounds 9 per person, per night. Locanda di Sant'Uffizio (tel: 00 39 0141 916 292) has doubles for pounds 100 per night. Dinner, bed and breakfast at Tenuta Seliano (tel: 00 39 0828 724 544) is pounds 39 per night. Rifugio V Sella (tel: 00 39 0165 74 310) is open from Easter.

Suggested Topics
News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker