It's hard to imagine better cucina marinara than the mussel salad punctuated by tiny croutons of brown bread,or the lively light soup of clams and zucchini flowers. The fruity vitality of the tomato purée that surrounds the eggplant and mozzarella timbale restoresone's faith in red sauce. And Bacioterracino resurrects such relics as pizzelle e foglie, thin rounds of fresh pasta in a lovely, light ragù of baby vegetables and zucchini leaves; and rigatoni alla genovese in a sweet, melting sauce of onions ever-so-slightly flavored with beef. This dish, Neapolitans' mockery of the Genovese stinginess, dates to the 17th century. Don't miss the vivacious, light-bodied Campania red called Falerno del Massico; slightly chilled, it's the world's most seductive afternoon drink.
Ravello Reaches for the Stars
I came to the Amalfi coast to check out the young chef at Taverna del Capitano in Nerano but met his co-chef, his mamma, instead. Son's food was meek, mom's traditional spaghetti con zucchini sublimely powerful—a millennial scenario this wasn't. So I searched for another rising star, figuring that young southern chefs trying to flee their parents might escape to a hotel.
Sure enough, I found my talent at Palazzo Sasso, a remodeled 12th-century gem, set on a ridge in Ravello. Most of the 43 rooms are palatial and marble-filled, with a Moorish twang. Thirty-one-year-old Antonio Genovese delivers exactly the kind of ambitious, smartly accessorized southern Italian cooking that you'd expect from a Calabrian who grew up in France and sautéed his way through Europe and Asia—all the while plotting his return to bella Italia. Smoke-tinged nuggets of swordfish are paired with a lemony mound of shaved fennel and a salad of waxy potatoes and minuscule squid. Anchovies, fried between two lemon leaves and arrayed atop a Neapolitan bread salad, never tasted this special. Dessert?A peach mousse presented in the hollowed-out fruit with thyme gelato. No wonder Michelin inspectors have been here seven times recently (not that anyone's counting).
Itinerary 1: San Remo, Turin, Torre Pellice
Day 1: Visit San Remo's Mercato Comunale (near Piazza degli Eroi Sanremesi), and stroll around La Pigna, the medieval center. Dine at Paolo e Barbara (see above). Stay at the old-world Royal Hotel (80 Corso Imperatrice; 39-0184/5391; doubles $233).
Day 2: Drive 30 minutes to the artist's hamlet of Bussana Vecchia; also, stop in the nearby medieval town of Taggia. Then set off for Turin, about two hours north. Have dinner at the Piedmontese relic Tre Galline (37 Via Bellezia; 39-011/436-6553; dinner for two $65). Overnight at the plush Grand Hotel Sitea (35 Via C. Alberto; 39-011/517-0171; doubles $232).
Day 3: Explore Turin and snack on the amazing sandwiches at Bar Zucca (296 Via Roma; 39-011/531-694). Drive an hour to Torre Pellice, in the Piedmontese Alps. Eat dinner and stay at Flipot.
Itinerary 2: Montemerano, Colle di Val d'Elsa, Città di Castello, Modena, Abano Terme, Appiano
For restaurant reservations, it's wise to call at least a week in advance.
Day 1: Spend the day hiking at Parco dell'Uccellino, just south of Grosseto. Drive an hour to Montemerano for dinner and an overnight at Caino.
Day 2: Visit the gorgeous medieval town of Pitigliano. Then follow the S2 north, allowing time for detours to the wine towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino. Have dinner and an overnight at Arnolfo in Colle di Val d'Elsa.
Day 3: Devote the morning to exploring San Gimignano. Drive 11/2 hours to Arezzo to see the Piero della Francesca frescoes at the San Francesco church. Continue on an hour to Città di Castello for dinner at Il Postale. Stay at the nearby Hotel Tiferno (13 Piazza Rafaello Sanzio; 39-075/855-0331; doubles $133).
Day 4: Drive 11/2 hours to Modena. Stroll around the town and raid Giusti (46 Vicolo del Squallore; 059/222-533), a dream food emporium (spectacular selection of balsamic vinegars). Dine at Osteria Francescana, and check into the old-fashioned Canalgrande Hotel (6 Corso Canalgrande; 39-059/217-160; doubles $160).
Day 5: Drive 11/2 hours to Padua. Refuel at the ornate Caffè Pedrocchi (Piazzetta Pedrocchi; 39-049/876-4674). Visit the lovely market on the Piazza della Frutta, and then see the Giotto frescoes at Scrovegni Chapel. Abano Terme, the day's final destination, is 15 miles south. Treat yourself to a massage or mud bath at the spa hotel Grand Hotel Trieste e Victoria (1 Via Pietro d'Abano; 39-049/866-9101; doubles $114), a good place to stay. Have dinner at Casa Vecia (see above).
Day 6: Drive half an hour to Vicenza to tour Palladio's buildings. The Alto Adige, on the Austro-Italian border, is a beautiful two-hour drive north. Head to Appiano, 20 minutes southwest of Bolzano, to the very Austrian pensione Wendelstein (6 Santa Anna; 39-0471/662-122; doubles $106). Don't miss dinner at Zur Rose.
Itinerary 3: Naples, Ravello
Day 1: Check into the Grand Hotel Parker's (185 Corso Vittorio Emanuele, Naples; 39-081/761-2474; doubles $220). Spend the morning taking in the Baroque paintings and other treasures at the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte (2 Via Miano; 39-081/749-9111). Lunch at the hotel's George, then see the city. End the day with perfect pizza at Da Matteo (94 Via Tribunale; 39-081/455-262; $30 for two).
Day 2: Set out early for a tour of Pompeii, located 15 miles southeast. Lunch at the super-refined Principe (8 Piazza Longo; 39-081/850-5566; $60 for two). Drive an hour southeast to Ravello for an afternoon exploration. Have a late dinner at Rossellinis (see above) in the Palazzo Sasso, a 43-room hotel, then head upstairs for some rest.