Venice

Unless you’re familiar with chef Giovanni Ciresa’s sublime il branzino con schiaccia dei fiori ed annerisce il tartufo (sea bass with squash blossoms and black truffle) at the Bauer Il Palazzo hotel’s posh De Pisis restaurant, or have a craving for the exquisite il gambero nella salsa di erba (shrimp in herb sauce) at the sensational Avogaria Locanda, food is not the first thing one thinks of when walking the arched bridges and meandering sidewalks of Venice, one of the most beloved, indeed romantic, cities in Italy. Here, on the apex of the Adriatic, lavish Byzantine and Arab-influenced gothic palaces seem to sprout from the sea like Venus herself, and colorful glasswork, delicate lace fabrics, and elaborately decorated masks — the latter a by-product of the city’s annual Carnevale di Venezia — fill the shops and garner much of the attention away from anything gastronomic.

Still, if you dream of dining like the aristocratic Venetians that built some of Italy’s grandest villas here in the 17th and 18th centuries, you’ll discover plenty of trattorie serving up such local favorites as risi e bisi (rice with peas), fegato alla veneziana (Venetian liver), and riso al nero di seppia (rice with squid ink) on or around the city’s historic Piazza San Marco. The piazza is nestled alongside the Grand Canal, with St. Mark’s Basilica and famous Campanile (tower) also within gazing distance. Take it all in, and you will quickly understand how the original Malamocco doges, or leaders, who founded Venice more than 1,200 years ago, might sacrifice everything to savor the flavors of this heavenly city by the sea. To navigate your way through Venice, visit turismovenezia.it, 011-39-041-5298711, info@turismovenezia.it.

Annie Schlechter
This page: owner Guerrino Lovato makes masks in his Mondonovo shop; Scampi in herbs at Avogaria Locanda, where the hotel rooms offer private terraces; sampling a local sparkling rosé at Al Bancogiro, just around the corner from the open air fish and vegetable market; a gondolier on the canal San Trovaso. Opposite page: a view of the Grand Canal at dusk; platters of local cured meats, cheeses, and seafood; enjoying a plate of risi e bisi (rice with peas) at Osteria Anice Stellato.

Bologna

The iconic Two Towers of central Bologna, one of the best preserved medieval cities in Italy, are instantly recognizable because they tower over Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, the heart of the city, and, surprisingly, both are precariously leaning. Less well-known than the tower at Pisa, Bologna is actually a town of towers, at one time rumored to house several hundred, but nowadays limited to fewer than 20. Although it is rarely recognized these days for its rich architectural pedigree beyond its storied 25 miles of porticoes (thanks to an obscure 13th-century zoning variance), Bologna is renowned as the Emilia Romagna region’s culinary epicenter.

The cured pork meats such as mortadella, salami, and prosciutto — there are dozens of varieties and cuts of prosciutto alone — and vegetables, especially artichokes, zucchini, truffles, and tomatoes, from the region are so flavorful that when you taste them, you would swear that the chef had added some secret ingredient. Many manage to find their way into a rich assortment of pastas, including specialties such as lasagna bechamel, tortellini in brodo, or broth, with sage and passatelli (thin unfilled tubes) that quaint ristoranti like La Bottega di Franco and Trattoria La Buca often coat in heavy doses of butter and cream. Then there is the famed meat-based ragù alla bolognese, or bolognese sauce, known throughout the world and found at every trattoria and osteria. Bologna is also the epicenter for other Italian favorites, including the city’s highly coveted Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar, the latter produced nearby in the provinces of Modena and Parma. Many local restaurants are even known for adding aceto balsamico, aged balsamic, like chocolate syrup on vanilla gelato for an indescribable dessert. For more on Bologna, visit informa.comune.bologna.it/iperbole/turismo, 011-39-051-239-660, touristoffice@comune.bologna.it.

Annie Schlechter
Opposite page: Student mimes cross the road on their way to University, one of the oldest in Europe; Paolo Atti & Figli is known for its fresh-baked breads and handmade pastas, all of the ingredients of which are grown in local fields. This page: a courtyard attests to the city’s obsession with the arts; bulk pasta and carciofi (artichokes) for sale at a vegetable stand on the Via Drapperie; biking among the city’s storied porticoes on the Corte Isolani.