Azamara is pleased to bring you this guest blog by foodie and travel writer Kristen Oliveri.
I set sail to explore the beautiful regions of Tuscany and Provence for my inaugural Azamara cruise experience. I've had the pleasure of spending time in both regions prior to this trip and was secretly thankful that I didn’t feel obliged to do the touristy checklist activities this time around. Instead, I could focus on behaving a local in a land where I was already partially familiar.
One of our first stops on the itinerary was Florence, a city I have grown to adore. My last visit to Florence was only a few months prior when I was on another assignment writing about the water—and the wine— of the region. Naturally, when I read that the first stop was Firenze, I knew I had to shake up my experience. No Duomo for this seasoned traveler. I wanted to lose myself in the amazing ambiance of this city.
We disembarked and flagged down a taxi. Our destination was Fiesole, a beautiful hillside village that offers sweeping panoramic views of Florence. There was no plan and no guidebook (which goes against almost everything I believe in!), only the hope of having an amazing lunch.
Fiesole is home to one small special hilltop in particular, known as Maiano. We vaguely remembered reading something about this tiny place and decided to stroll through its beautiful grounds, coming upon fertile olive trees and a small vineyard. A little further down the road, we found a small, unassuming restaurant. We weren’t sure it was even open until we heard the clanging of dishes. When I peeked my head into Trattoria Le Cave di Maiano, I saw one couple enjoying what looked like a leisurely meal with multiple courses.
We were seated at a table for two and began chatting with our very friendly waitress. When I mentioned that I was a journalist of Italian descent, she shrieked with excitement. As fate would have it, she too was a journalist when she met her husband (the owner and head chef of the restaurant that we were dining in). The two fell in love and have operated this unassuming slice of heaven since their nuptials.
Somehow, I knew we had found the right place. I informed them of my gluten intolerance, but also touted my absolute willingness to try whatever the chef suggests we should eat. We began with two appetizers: vibrant mozzarella and tomatoes topped with basil and ripe melon wrapped in prosciutto.
Next, we dined on a mushroom risotto topped with copious amounts of Parmigiano-Reggiano, followed by the main course of thinly sliced beef with eggplant and a side of roasted potatoes. Each bite was better than the next as the ingredients were top notch.
We split a bottle of red wine throughout the course of the meal and snapped photos of the beautiful landscape. Just when we thought the afternoon couldn’t get any better, out walked the Chef to ask us how we liked our meal. His English was a bit broken, as was our Italian, so he decided to sit down, pull up a chair and open a bottle of Limoncello instead of conversing.
Perhaps it was the wine or the overwhelming sense of hospitality we found in the owners at Cave de Maiano, but we couldn’t stop smiling over having had one of the best meals of our lives. And it didn’t happen at a Michelin star restaurant or a famous venue we'd reserved a month in advance. We had a spectacular 5-star meal at a beautiful trattoria overlooking the city of Florence on a day where we simply went exploring.
When we woke up from our dream-like food coma we walked back to find a cab to take us to the middle of Florence, where we snuck one last peek at the Duomo. The energy of the city center was lively, but I knew we made the right choice traveling off the beaten path. We lived as the locals do, found a meal worth devouring, and even made two brand new friends along the way.
Kristen Oliveri is a career, food, travel and financial journalist who loves dishing about her culinary and luxury exploits around the world. Azamara’s “Cruise Global, Taste Local” mantra is one that Kristen lives every day. She vows to eat locally everywhere she roams. Follow her on Twitter @pastaskitchen, Instagram, @krisoliveri and on her website, www.pastaskitchen.com.