For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that I would celebrate my 50th birthday, in Italy, and with my friends. Over time, bits and pieces would form in my head and ultimately become reality: once I knew what I was going to do, it never changed. And once I realized, years ago, where it would be, I never wavered on the location or anything else.
It was a humbling experience, and a memorable one at that. Those who were able to attend, along with those who couldn’t but were there in spirit, have had to hear me reminisce, and tell and retell long stories, and yes, still get verklempt at the fact that many people came a long way. For me.
So here’s my story. And if you want to follow my path, and visit my special places, I hope you will and I hope you’ll let me know if I can help you as this really was unforgettable.
I started off the Grand Tour at a hotel that I’ve always wanted to stay at but never had the opportunity either because they were closed (they close in the winter) or they were fully booked (they only have 5 rooms!): the Locanda Cipriani (https://www.locandacipriani.com/en/). I wanted a little time to myself, before everyone arrived, and I knew that this would be the perfect place. The island of Torcello is perfection and the calm and solitude that you feel when walking on this island, after all of the day-trippers have left, is absolutely stunning!
I next moved to the Cima Rosa (https://cimarosavenezia.com/) in Venezia. I’ve always wanted to stay on the Grande Canale in Venezia but never wanted to stay at one of the large touristy hotels. When I first read about the Cima Rosa, I knew that this was more my style. But reader be warned: staying on the Grande Canale, regardless of hotel type, is not cheap! As this was my 50th birthday celebration, it was worth the splurge, but splurge it was. And the hotel itself? It’s a little quirky – I’m still not sure how I felt about the bathroom for my room being across the hall, even though it was private to just me – but you feel like family and the rooms really are comfortable. (When we were there, they had also created another suite on the ground floor that looked divine.) The staff are outstanding and the location really is gorgeous and pretty quiet (ie, no tourists walking under your window).
The site of the party for most of my friends was the La Gare Hotel Venezia, subsequently rebranded as the Hyatt Centric Murano (https://www.hyatt.com/en-US/hotel/italy/centric-hyatt-murano-venice/vcect). I love this hotel for numerous reasons: the staff are fantastic, the location on Murano is great because it is close enough to Venezia to go as often as you want but far enough away that when the day-trippers leave, it is like living on an island as the Italians do, and the rooms are modern and large, something that you don’t often find in Venezia.
The food. It was all about the food. And having one belly laugh after another with my friends.
I’m not normally one for hotel restaurants but given the secluded nature of the Locanda Cipriani, and the fact that I was having a birthday luncheon there, I figured I should check it out. Oh my lord, I am so happy that I did. I’m certain that there is a menu – I may have even seen it but I can’t recall – but when I told the waiter that I was vegetarian, he made a few suggestions, spoke with the chef, and came back with other suggestions. Divine! (And yes, the birthday luncheon of manicotti stuffed with cheese and vegetables was delectable!)
Next up was Venissa (http://www.venissa.it/), a restaurant I have been dying to try but could either never get a reservation for, or it was closed, or I couldn’t get there and back. I am so pleased that I finally made it and literally sit here dreaming about the food, the staff, the location, and the décor. There is the Ristorante which has a Michelin star and looks amazing. I haven’t eater here, but I will: it will be a splurge, but one I suspect is worth it. The other restaurant is the Osteria which, unlike your typical Italian osteria, is a bit on the pricey side and a little nouveau but it was outstanding. And I must say that, even after all that food, and having no room for a bit of dolce, the wonderful staff brought a bit of lemon torte that was mind-blowing! I don’t care if you are full, you must try their dolce!
After moving to Venezia to spend some special time with a dear friend and new friend before the start of my birthday festivities, the first restaurant that we tried was Da Fiore (http://www.dafiore.net/en/restaurant/). As a group of three, we couldn’t do the one window table on the small canal but we were close and it was divine. And the food?! Absolute stunning! And with an outstanding wine list, there was no way that we could not have a fantastic meal of pasta (for me) and shellfish for my friends (it is Venezia after all!).
Our last meal in Venezia, before moving on to Murano, was Anice Stellato (https://www.osterianicestellato.com/) which required a lovely walk through parts of Venezia to this wonderful, small, and not pretentious osteria. Although the staff were a bit rushed – it had the feeling of being slightly short-handed that evening – the antipasti and primi were everything that we had hoped for after a long day of walking and talking.
And then Murano and the start of Craig’s birthday celebration. The first night, that Friday the 6th, a bunch of us went to Corte Sconta (http://www.cortescontavenezia.com/). If you’ve read my blog on Venezia, you’ll know that this is one of my favourite restaurants in Venezia: the staff are amazing, the food is always outstanding – especially because they happily accommodate this vegetarian – and the location which is off the beaten path is just perfect. And it was no different for 16 people with a variety of preferences and dietary restrictions. After a bit of confusion, we ultimately decided on antipasti for vegetarians and antipasti of fish. Insane! I can’t even recall each of the platters of antipasti but I do recall that there were 3. Yes, 3 platters of antipasti. And we hadn’t even had the main course! But fear not, the primi was everything that I knew it would be and we were not disappointed. Oh, and of course, we had to have a bit of dolci of vin santo and cartucci (before the taxi ride back to Murano).
On Saturday the 7th, we all went to AcquaStanca (http://www.acquastanca.it/homepage-en/) run by the lovely and welcoming Giovanna, and not far from the La Gare Hotel in Murano. Knowing that some friends came a very long distance, I wanted something close and welcoming and this is, in my opinion, pure perfection. In my opinion, this was the restaurant that Murano long needed and it will forever hold a special place in my heart: not only is the restaurant amazing, and the staff so inviting and welcoming, but it was Giovanna who introduced me to one of my favourite antipasti combinations which is exactly what we had as a starter: mozzarella di bufala with artichokes. And, as always, the pasta was amazing, the gnocchi with scampi that some friends orders pillow-like, and the fish perfection. And the wine that never seemed to end? Perfectly matched!
The birthday day celebration was one for the memories: we started with a boat from Murano to Torcello to the Locanda Cipriani and a luncheon in the garden. The weather was perfect with hardly a cloud in the sky and the manicotti stuffed with cheese and vegetables in a béchamel sauce ideal. And given the heat of the day, the house made gelato with strawberries a perfect way to end that meal before heading back to Murano on our private boat.
And that evening, the penultimate celebratory meal was at one of my favourite restaurants – easily one of 2 or possibly 3 in all of Venezia – Vecio Fritolin (which, sadly, has suddenly closed as of 18 Jan 2020). Perhaps we were a little loud, and perhaps we laughed a little too much, but it was exactly what I wanted thanks to Irina and everyone at the restaurant. We started with lovely amuse-bouche that were appropriate for the meat eaters, the fish eaters, and the vegetarians, not to mention the amazing breadsticks that had a lattice-work of parmigiano (that no one knew if they could eat or not, that’s how pretty they were!). And then the pasta, hand made in house, with the right sauce that was literally to die for. It wasn’t so much so that you felt like you had overeaten but just the perfect portion to leave enough room for dessert: tiramisu! It was my birthday so I had to have my favourite.
The Monday after my birthday was emotional as friends began to leave and I wanted to say goodbye to each (beginning at around 5am and about 3 hours of sleep). But what softened the sadness that everything was over was seeing people who had not met before that weekend connecting on social media and sharing personal contact information. As I write this, I am overwhelmed by the beauty of these friends, and the love that they have to give.
And thankfully, the food tour wasn’t quite over as a few of my friends who hadn’t left yet went to La Bitta (no website) a small, traditional restaurant near the train station that only seats in two waves: 19.00 and 21.00 (but best to check when making the much needed reservations). The menu is small, and the wine list just as small but when you focus on such a few items, the food cannot help but be perfect, and it was.
From Venezia I traveled to my other happy place, Rome. I knew that my Grand Tour could not conclude without a visit to Flavio al Velavevodetto (http://www.ristorantevelavevodetto.it/) which, hands down, has the best cacio e pepe in Rome. Hands. Down. But coming in a very close second is one of my new favourite restaurants that I, sadly, didn’t know about when I lived there: Sora Margherita (https://www.soramargherita.com/) a small little restaurant close to the Jewish Quarter. Unlike any other place that I have visited, Sora Margherita lets you choose the fresh pasta that you want, and then the topping. Of course, I had to choose cacio e pepe and, when I did, I then asked which pasta to have and the waitress quickly replied “you should only have the fettuccini”, so I did.
Anyone familiar with my blog knows that I always include those sites that are either off the beaten path and not included in the many guide books available, or that are so outstanding that I just have to mention them. But for this event, the sites were the sound of laughter, the clinking of glasses, and the making of new friends as well as my favourite places, my favourite restaurants, and my favourite drinks. I wanted everyone to see what it is about this place – this Venezia, this Murano, this Torcello, this Burano, and this Roma – that has a hold over my heart. It may have only been a small peek in to this happy place, but hopefully enough to make you want to return or to go for the very first time.
Sunday 01 April
18.05 Depart JFK
AA Flt 198
Monday 02 April
8.20 Arrive Milano
11.45 Train to Venice
Locanda Cipriani (confirmed)
Linea 3 to Murano Faro – Linea 12 to Burano – Linea 9 to Torcello
Tuesday 03 April
19.30 Venissa Osteria (confirmed)
Wednesday 04 April
Linea 9 to Burano (every 15 minutes) – Linea 12 to Murano Faro – Linea 3 to P.Le Roma – Linea 1 to San Stae
Staying at: Cima Rosa Venezia (confirmed)
20.00 Da Fiore (http://www.dafiore.net/en/restaurant/) (confirmed)
Thursday 05 April
10.30 – 15.00 Go to Corte Sconta to leave deposit for Friday evening – Lucia Zambon
Aperativo Vino Vero or Timon on the fond. Misericordia
20.00 Anice Stellato (https://www.osterianicestellato.com/)
Friday 06 April
Linea 1 to P.le Roma – Linea 3 to Murano
Le Gare Hotel Murano (confirmed)
Riva Longa 49,
30141 Murano Venezia
19.30 Corte Sconta (confirmed)
Calle del Pestrin
Saturday 07 April
20.00 Dinner at Acquastanca (confirmed)
Sunday 08 April
11.30 Depart for Torcello
12.30 – 14.30 Lunch at Locanda Cipriani (confirmed)
15.00 Return to Murano
19.00 Depart for Venezia
20.00 Dinner at Vecio Fritolin (confirmed)
22.30 Bussola Cocktail Lab?
Near Ponte di Rialto
Monday 09 April
19.00 La Bitta (Confirmed)
Tuesday 10 April
10.18 Depart Murano Museo
10.47 Arrive P.Le Roma
11.25 Depart Venezia for Rome (4 nights in Rome)
The Corner Rome (confirmed at 162 euro per night)
Viale Aventino 121
20.15 Settimo al Pellegrino (confirmed)
Via del Pellegrino 117
Wednesday 11 April
19.30 Caroline and Tony
Da Enzo (confirmed)
Via dei Vascellari, 29
00153 Roma (Trastevere)
Thursday 12 April
13.00 Meet Rita at the Ludovisi Palace hotel (via Veneto)
20.00 Sora Margherita (confirmed)
Piazza delle Cinque Scole, 30
Friday 13 April
20.00 Flavio al Velavevodetto (confirmed)
Via di Monte Testaccio, 97
00153 Roma RM, Italia
Saturday 14 April
8.00 (taxi to Ostiensa to Fiumicino)
11.05 Depart Roma
AA Flight 721
15.50 Arrive Charlotte
17.20 Depart Charlotte
AA Flt 5276
19.02 Arrive LGA