Day 1 – Venice food tour
A few surprises await on your Venice food tours of Italy with some of the country's finest modern classics.
You can find this exquisite Italian staple dish everywhere these days. But it might surprise you to know that carpaccio was invented in Venice. And it will surely surprise you that it was only half a century ago. In 1950, Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry's Bar, Venice, created this appetiser of thinly sliced beef and served raw with olive oil, lemon and white truffle. Now, you can find carpaccio of everything from horse and veal to salmon and tuna.
Where to eat it – Harry's is still going strong on Calle Vallaresso. But if you can't score a seat at the legendary, swanky cocktail bar where it was invented, Ristorante Carpaccio on Riva degli Schiavoni is more than a fitting substitute.
Continuing the theme of recent classics to come out of Venice, we cannot help but mention tiramisù, a favourite at restaurants the world over. The famous dessert of coffee-soaked sponge fingers, cocoa, and mascarpone cheese originated in Treviso in the 1960s. Meaning ‘cheer me up’, it’s perfect for the happy ending of any meal.
Where to eat it – To go all-out on tiramisù, visit I Tre Mercanti near Ponte della Guerra. This upscale dessert bar specialises in different flavours and offers twists on the classic version.
Getting to Venice – Venice has two main train stations. Venezia Mestre, outside the city centre on the mainland, is where trains from major Italian cities arrive and depart. Venezia Santa Lucia, on the island in the historic centre of Venice, is only a 30-minute walk from St. Mark's Square. Commuter trains from Venezia Mestre to Venezia Santa Lucia are very frequent, with a journey time of nine minutes.
Day 2 – Bologna food tour
The home of fresh egg pasta, parmesan cheese, prosciutto, and balsamic vinegar, the Emilia-Romagna region boasts a treasure trove of culinary riches. And Bologna is the centre of it all.
Ragù alla bolognese
Spaghetti alla bolognese technically comes from Bologna. But here you'll get to discover its delicious original version, ragù alla bolognese, which has a few key differences. First, ragù alla bolognese doesn't rely on tomatoes, which are traditionally more common in southern Italy. Nor does it use olive oil. Or red wine. Instead, real, authentic Bolognese ragù is made with white wine, milk, high-fat beef and pork belly, and a touch of tomato paste. It’s cooked very slowly for hours, even overnight. Until it gives new meaning to 'melt-in-your-mouth' delicious. Oh, and you won't find any spaghetti here, either. Instead, do as the locals do and enjoy your ragù over thick, flat, freshly made egg-based tagliatelle.
Where to eat it – Osteria dell'Orsa, on Via Mentana. This place ticks all the boxes. Packed with locals. Affordable. Authentic. And delicious.
Tortellini al brodo
Tortellini al brodo is the typical pasta dish that rules the roost in Bologna. Tortellini filled with meat (usually pork, prosciutto, and mortadella) and Parmigiano Reggiano swim in a rich broth. Throughout Bologna's old town, you can see pastaioli (pasta makers) rolling tiny tortellini by hand in shop windows. Osterias (similar to casual bistros) and clatter-filled pasta bars fill to bursting point at lunchtime, where steamy spoonfuls of rich broth are served up to eager locals. With such a high turnover, you can be sure everything is made fresh – it certainly tastes like it.
Where to eat it – Ristorante da Nello, on Via Monte Grappa. Tucked away just off the main drag, this local institution has satisfied multiple generations of bolognesi. There are photos of celebrities on the wall to prove it.
Getting to Bologna – There are 36 trains throughout the day from Venice to Bologna. Trenitalia's high-speed Frecciarossa and Frecciargento services take as little as 1h 15m, as do Italo's fast trains. They all depart from Venezia Mestre and arrive at Bologna Centrale. Frecciarossa trains offer high-quality onboard services, including free WiFi, power sockets at every seat and a catering service called FrecciaBistrò which offers drinks and snacks, as well as gourmet breakfast and lunch menu options. Moreover, if you buy a Frecciarossa Executive ticket, you can get free access to FrecciaClub, where you can enjoy free WiFi and newspapers and a complimentary drink or snack while waiting for you train at Venezia Mestre.
Day 3 – Naples food tour
Two of the world's favourite foods started in Naples. But there's a lot more than pizza and spaghetti in southern Italy's culinary capital.
Naples is the birthplace of pizza. And it's where you still find the best pizza in the world. The reason for this is a combination of ingredients and heritage. You don't have to believe the story that Margherita pizza was invented for the Queen of Italy visiting Naples in 1889. All you have to know is that high-quality basil, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella are traditional in the region. To protect the Neapolitan way of making pizza – from dough-making to spinning to final baking – it was inscribed on UNESCO's list of intangible cultural heritage of global significance.
Where to eat it – L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele, in the heart of Naples' historic centre, is straight-up old school. No nonsense. No mucking around. And no options beyond the only 'real' pizzas – margherita or marinara. If you prefer a few more choices and don't mind the wait, nearby Sorbillo champion only organic Campanian produce.
Polpo alla luciana
Neapolitan cuisine goes back a lot further than the history of pizza and spaghetti. And polpo alla luciana is a return to the city's culinary roots. Naples is a seaside city at heart, and nothing represents that better than this ancient octopus stew. The dish developed in the historic fishing village of Santa Lucia, at the western tip of Naples harbour. Here, octopuses were caught in large terracotta pots for centuries and left overnight in the water between the rocks. At some point, they also started getting simmered, very slowly, in crockpots with local tomatoes and Gaeta olives. Hearty and wholesome, you can find this stew with either traditional croutons or spaghetti.
Where to eat it – In the traditional octopus district of Santa Lucia, La Cantinella has great seaside views and a delicious polpo alla luciana, too. For a more rustic option, visit Pulcinella Bistro, between Università and Dante metro stations.
Hungry yet? Well, these highlights are only the very start of discovering Italian cuisine at its best. If you're ready to start planning your Italy food tour, check out our trains in Italy page and see where you can go.