About Donna Sozio
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Whilst in Umbria, Roccafiore is what the locals call da vedere….which means it’s a must see. An even greater compliment to Roccafiore is that you’ll find locals dining at the table next to you and ordering their wine from the cantina.
What often starts as just lunch at Roccafiore turns into hours under the Umbrian sun dining al fresco with sweeping views of Todi, a hilltop medieval town, visiting Roccafiore’s lavender gardens, organic wine tasting in their cantina, sunbathing by their luxurious pool or indulging in a day pass at the Wellness Center. Or just give in and stay the night in one of Roccafiore’s 13 luxurious rooms. Then you can wake up and do it all over again. Even picnic in the surrounding Grechetto vineyards.
My love affair with Roccafiore began with lunch last year. An exceptional white tablecloth fine dining affair at their Fiorfiore Restaurant, I was spoiled with unparalleled farm-to-table dishes on their seasonal menu like the Torretta: eggplant with bufala mozzarella, tomatoes and oregano, Chianino beef: with froth of parmesan cheese, salad and toasted almonds and homemade strangozzi pasta: with sausage, lemon and anchovies.
Accompanying our meal, we sipped on organic wines – Grechetto di Todi, Trebbiano Spoletino and Sangiovese – from their cantina. Talk about Zero Kilometer commitment. The cantina isn’t next door. It’s on property. Roccofiore also generates its own solar energy that saves up to 90.000 Kg of carbon emissions annually. I’ll drink to that. And, we did!
I also found the staff to be more than accommodating. Once on a windy June afternoon, they kindly set up a table outside, just for the two of us, on the terrace. We couldn’t pass up the stunning views of Todi, vineyards, hills, and gardens and didn’t mind chasing after a few cloth napkins to enjoy it. The waitstaff are well educated on food and wine pairings offered delicious suggestions that I would never have thought of. Even the biscotti with my espresso after our meal were homemade and truly exceptional.
So, get out your navigation device and make your way to Roccafiore. Pack your swimsuit and I wouldn’t make any other afternoon plans. Because there is a high probability that you will not want to leave.
For just 15-35 Euros – an incredible deal – treat yourself to a day pass at the spa complete with a Kneipp bath, Jacuzzi, equatorial showers and more.
When is the right time to go to Roccafiore?
After six visits to Umbria, I find the countryside stunning and magical in all seasons. The colors of the hills are constantly changing. Every time I visit Roccafiore, I sink deeper into simple delicious pleasures of Umbria. The views. The hills. The lavender gardens and vineyards. And then there’s the pool, the cuisine, the spa, and the wine. Roccofiore’s 38 Euro seasonal wine tasting menu brings it all together – a tour of the flavors of Umbria on your tongue. Just make sure you designate a driver. Tasting pours are more than generous.
As far as luxury, quality and value, I have yet to find a hotel, restaurant and spa in Italy that offers even close to what Roccafiore provides guests. Every time, it fully delivers on my dream of the Italian countryside experience. Which is why I go back again and again. For me Roccafiore is da vedere di nuovo. I pinch myself and ask “can life really be this good?” Yes, it can. At Roccofiore, it is.
Talk about farm-to-table, Lodi’s legendary Towne House restaurant was located on a historic farm where the restaurant was the original house to the Towne family. Keeping that homestead vibe, delicious wine country cuisine is served family-style. Elegant but without pretense, I found every detail thought of and carried out with warmth and excellent service. It’s the kind of place where you actually feel a connection to those who aren’t just your servers but feel more like long-time friends.
Located at the Wine & Roses Hotel, amongst vineyards, tall oaks, redwoods, and weeping willows, The Town House’s ingredients come from local farms, including their own garden. Fresh and crisp, everything had that extra crunch to it that made you feel like you were eating something truly homemade.
Romantic inside and out, it’s perfect for twilight dining under a fairy lit gazebo on a warm balmy night. And there are plenty of balmy nights in Lodi. And lucky me, on Tuesday’s in the Town House’s lounge I joined in for their piano sing-along. Their award-winning local Lodi wines are said to “sing out of the glass.” At the Towne House, I was invited to sing with my glass. Holding my wine glass like a microphone gave me a little extra courage to belt out some tunes with the rest of the fun loving and surprising talented locals.
Now that Lodi has emerged as a wine making region (not just grape growers) it’s worth circling on your wine road map. And with restaurants like the Towne House, you get all the perks of wine country – farm fresh ingredients and sumptuous recipes paired delicious old vine Zinfandel wine, but without any of the pretense of the more commercial wine country regions.
*I was a guest of Charles Communication and the Lodi Wine & Visitors Center
*Photo courtesy of the Wine & Roses Hotel
It’s not often that I could spend my entire stay on hotel property. Let alone enjoying an entire afternoon in my room and its environs. But such is at the MacArthur Place in Sonoma. Located walking distance from tasting rooms and minutes from stunning wineries, it’s a unique classic. A gem. Just 45 minutes from San Francisco, it’s worth not just staying at, but also staying in.
After check in, I followed a narrow garden path on the way to my room where I discovered one whimsical nook after another. Art and sculptures emerged, all with a sense of humor. Swings beckoned and sunny spots invited me to whittle away the afternoon reading a new book or record random musings in my journal.
MacArthur Place both impressed and inspired me. I felt my stay unlocked my creativity. Ideas flowed as I was both entertained and utterly spoiled. From feeling old-Hollywood glamorous in the outdoor cabana shower to the pure indulgence while sipping champagne in the morning on my veranda overlooking a garden full of oversized playful jacks. Like watching a good movie twice and enjoying it even more the second time, I’m counting the days until I can return.
And then there was the pool to soak up a few afternoon rays in luxury and day dream if only just a little while. On the way, I meandered through the Spa Gardens where they harvest fresh herbs for signature spa remedies. The pool is understated and elegant surrounded by a lush garden view in every direction. Even the jacuzzi was bordered by white roses and lavender.
But time slipped away and I realized that it was nearly happy hour held in the Library. Now, the Library at MacArthur Place is hardly quiet. It’s a fun and lively gathering place for guests where our entertaining hostess, Cynthia, generously poured delicious local wines. After a glass or two (but who is counting?) with a Chardonnay smile, I happily stumbled to my suite for a disco nap before dinner.
When it was time to sleep and party with my pillow, I took the “long” way back to my suite and sat in a swing contemplating the stars and my good luck. And not wanting the night to end, I took a bath enjoying yet another perk; complementary Grape Seed Bath Soaking Tea from the Spa.
The next morning I work up feeling utterly refreshed. I treated myself to a glass of champagne in my white fuzzy bathrobe on my suite’s front porch. Looking down, I saw yet another subtle art installation. A life-like dog sat to my left, who left paw prints in the “wet” cement under my feet. More whimsy to make me smile.
I could have relaxed on my front porch for another hour, but I didn’t want to miss breakfast. So I traded in my fuzzy bathrobe for real clothes and headed over to The Barn for its complimentary buffet for guests. Sitting in their garden room with nearly floor to ceiling shutters with lush green views, I fully enjoyed homemade muffins and a fresh breakfast that lived up to all that I had experienced before.
Looking at my watch, checkout was looming. I could have easily have stayed another day or ten reveling in the charm and whimsical elegance that is MacArthur Place.
Disclosure: I was the guest of MacArthur Place Inn & Spa and Photos courtesy of MacArthur Place Inn & Spa.
It’s not often that your hotel lobby also hosts a tasting room featuring the best local wines both grown and produced in the region. Well, hello daring! This is my kind of place. But you might expect that from a hotel called Wine & Roses. Casual wine country chic, my stay was much like the whites I tasted: elegant and well balanced with a smooth finish. If Robert M. Parker rated hotels, he might give Wine & Roses 91 points.
I stayed in the Spa Room with sky blue walls, a pebble stone floor, a cozy fireplace and an oversized bathtub that made me want to light candles and soak all night. One highlight of my stay was what I call “the bed of all beds”. I had such a brilliant night sleep that only the allure of tasting wine off the back of a truck in one of Lodi’s oldest Zinfandel vineyards got me out of bed. I heard later that their mattresses have such a cozy reputation that the Summit Hotel Group sells them. I’m definitely looking into that.
Once up and about, I strolled around the grounds. They were lush, elegant, and romantic with garden dining at the Towne House farm-to-table restaurant which offered, dare I say, a superb breakfast. The red delicious berries, white linen tablecloths, perfect espresso, and homemade spa granola were worth coming back for. Dinner at the restaurant was a feast of farm fresh vegetables and meats served family style. If you can carry a tune, have a drink before dinner in the bar for Tuesday night sing-a-longs.
The pool was separate from the hotel but worth a walk across the parking lot to relax in cushy oversized lounge chairs under - thankfully – a cabana that shaded my pale skin from the sun.
While it’s true that in Lodi there are no fancy castles or topiary garden sculptures, one of the aspects I enjoyed most was what Lodi was missing as well. There are no curtains between you, the wine growers, wine makers, and the award winning wines that sing out of the glass. Most often the lovely folks pouring also grew the grapes and made the wine they opened for you to enjoy. Perhaps, their hands were in the dirt just that morning. Which makes for what I found to be a real conversation around something I love – casually enjoying a beautiful glass of wine. I found this approachable “come as you are” mentality pervaded in the hotel from the spa to the tasting room and their Towne House restaurant.
Perhaps this relaxed atmosphere comes from Lodi’s Italian and German heritage where they take a more European approach to enjoying the pleasure of a beautiful glass of wine every day. Not just for special occasions. Or perhaps it’s just the Wine & Roses chic casual touch. It’s not often that I actually want to stay on the hotel grounds and enjoy my day relaxing, dining, sipping, and noshing.
*I was a guest of Charles Communication and the Lodi Wine & Visitors Center
*Photos courtesy of the Wine & Roses Hotel
It’s not an official or scientific test. Yet, generally, I can tell how good a spa is by the quality of their granola. When I go back for a second helping, I relax and trust that I’m in good hands. My granola litmus test at the Wine & Roses Spa was an accurate massage prediction. Both were amazing.
I arrived an hour early to soak in one of the spa’s two outdoor plunge pools. After a late deadline and an early flight, I needed it. Under gentle pines and elegant landscaping, I watched the leaves fall beside me as a jet gave my back a pre-massage. Then I headed to the outdoor sauna with a looking glass door. Usually, I’m not a fan of saunas or steam rooms. I always feel so boxed in. But being able to see the lush garden through the glass, I felt expansive and relaxed. Pampered. At least for a hot minute before the glass door steamed up and my gorgeous view disappeared into a white fragrant fog.
After my steam, I waited in the octagon relaxation room for my massage. Indeed, I indulged in a few more spoonfuls of delicious granola. I appreciated that the lounge chairs faced away from each with either a fire or garden view. It relaxed me and felt so private not having to look across the room at someone else.
My masseuse arrived. She was tiny but mighty. I was invited to a lay down on a massage table with soft linens where she began to work her magic. There was an amazing flow to her massage. A series of hot towels kept me warm and relaxed my muscles as she dug in deep and relieved my stress-related kinks. Afterwards, I felt like I was walking on rose petals. At first, I thought it was just me. Was this really one of the best massages I have had? But when one of my travel companions unprompted said the same, we both knew it was really, that good.
Still basking in my after-massage bliss, I slathered on a caramel body lotion that smelled so sweet it satisfied my sweet tooth. Then in ladies changing room, I traded in my cushy bathrobe for heels, skinny jeans, and a satin top and headed to dinner smelling like “spa”. Underneath my relaxed smile, I silently wished that every day be like this.
*I was a guest of Charles Communications and The Lodi Wine and Visitors Center
*Photos courtesy of Wine & Roses Hotel
There’s an ancient Carnival parade in the traditional Swiss valley of Lötschental called the Tschaggatta. On February 7th more than 100 monsters roamed the valley villages from Blatten to Ferden. Clad in frightening hand carved wooden masks, larger-than-life furs, cowbells, and carrying sticks; they march through the valley and unleash a winter’s worth of mischief.
As intriguing as they are, it’s wise to stay out of the monsters’ way. Or you risk being thrown into the snow. Had I known that I wouldn’t have worn a bright pink bobble ball ski hat. I ate snow. Twice. In times past, onlookers who came too close would be doused with ash. Which made me grateful for just a dusting of white powder.
Dare I return, you’ll find me dressed in black, standing in the shadows where the monsters cannot see me. But I can see them.
One story of the origins of the Tschaggatta is that the monsters scare off evil spirits that arise from the long dark isolated winters of the past. Another legend is that bands of thieves living high in the valley descended in frightening masks to steal from the villagers. Either way, the church banned the Tschaggatta in 1865. But the monsters persevered. Today, with or without the church’s blessing, beginning February 3rd, the monsters get free drinks at bars.
For the Tschaggatta, I stayed at the three-star Hotel Lötschberg in the traditional village of Kippel. The monsters march right through its old town and the hotel is walking distance to Lauchernalp’s Wiler ski lift. The Lötschental valley isn’t only famous for its monsters. Winter enthusiasts have long enjoyed the open bowls of Lauchernalp’s ski paradise. You can ski and drink in views of more than forty 13,000 ft. peaks including, the “King of the Lötschental” the majestic Bietschhorn.
The village of Kippel is home to the famous Dorfkeller restaurant. Yet, had it not been completely booked that night, I would have missed out on the fantastic Restaurant Waliserkeller. Transported back in time, the walls were covered in Tschaggatta masks, Valais wine flowed, and after a long day tree skiing; I felt no guilt ordering the deliciously filling Fondue des Hauses. But the best was yet to come. Apricot liquor homemade by the watitress’ uncle. Not to mention, Restaurant Waliserkeller served the best gluhwein I ever drank. But the infamous uncle’s lips were sealed about his secret ingredients. Which is just another reason to return.
If I were to write a brochure for Lötschental, the headline would read “Come for the Skiing. Stay for the Monsters.”
Both are worth a second and third visit. Just leave your pink bobble ski hat at home.
*I was the guest of Lötschental Tourismus. All opinions expressed are explicitly my own.
*Photos are courtesy of Lötschental Tourismus.
If you fancy sipping champagne on a frozen lake, purveying handsome men yielding mallets and riding horses while battling for victory, then come to the St. Moritz World Cup on Snow. You’ll love it. I did.
Every January more than 12,000 polo fans, socialites, and fashionistas rub elbows on frozen Lake St. Moritz. Whether in the stands or the champagne tent, you’re surrounded by the Engadin’s snowcapped mountains dappled with six 5-star hotels and a sapphire blue sky reflecting ice crystals. It’s an otherworldly thrill as the hooves of dark stallions stir up clouds of white snow; charging down the polo field for an attack on goal.
But Ice Polo isn’t just an event. It’s a spectacle.
Haute winter style is on full display. Furs, Moon Boots, and outlandish hats, were this year’s must-haves. Don’t forget the jewels. Whether they were inherited from a great aunt, a Valentine’s gift, or you waltzed into Tiffany’s and bought your own diamonds – wear your ice! It is Ice Polo after all.
Just as important as the Polo and fashion is the social agenda.
Relax and catch some rays on fur-lined seats while listening to the light rock band. Hobnob in the Veuve Clicquot champagne tent. And don’t forget to secure an invitation to the ball. This year’s black tie event was held at the Hotel Kepinski that was light up in blue and raised over CHF 40,000 for the charity BEYOND.
If you are interested in the game of Polo and it’s your first time, fear not. Before each match at 11 AM and 2 PM, a presenter explains in English the strategy, riding style, and plays that you’ll see on the field. And if you (or any of your mates) think they can ride better than the players – swing your mallet on the mechanical polo horse to give it a go.
Champagne, stallions, fashion, snow-capped peaks, and a black tie ball… yes, St. Moritz’s Ice Polo is glitzy and absolutely romantic. What I enjoyed most was the warmth and spirit of the crowd. Indeed, you need not be intimidated by “Glamouritz”. Dripping in diamonds (or not, like me) everyone had champagne smiles and enjoyed the romance of an elegant day .
A word to the wise: St. Moritz Ice Polo is a much-loved event. Book accommodation early. If you can’t find a room in St. Moritz, try the swank Hotel Misani in nearby Celerina.
*I was the guest of Tourism St. Moritz
*Photo credits belong to St. Moritz Polo World Cup on Snow
My sister and I are leaf peepers. I love saying that. I feel there is something so intrepid sounding about it. Almost, a little naughty. But what it really means is far less impish than peeping implies. In the Fall, my sister and I flew back East to well, look at leaves. We met at Logan Airport in Boston in brisk mid-October and drove off into red, yellow, gold, crimson, and orange maple tree heaven. To us, nothing sounds better than the crunch of leaves under our feet. And, almost nothing tastes better than warming up with a hot cup of New England clam chowder. That, and an Ipswich Ale.
Fall 2012 wasn’t the best year for leaves. Temperatures had been screwy and many of the trees had already lost their leaves. So, we decided not to head into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Instead, we drove off towards coastal towns for eating, shopping, and general cozying up in taverns… and of course, peeping. But for two Southern California girls, the bursts of color didn’t disappoint, even on the city streets. Truly, we were in East Coast leaf peeping heaven.
Day One: Marblehead, MA
After hitting up The Big Apple farm and bakery in Wrentham, MA for (still hot) apple donuts, steaming coffee, and a to-go apple crumble that (honestly) didn’t last a day, my sister and I headed to one of our all time favorite destinations: Marblehead, MA.
Who knew the “birthplace of the American Navy” is so romantic. But it is. There are over 30 quaint inns and unique family owned B&Bs. And if you are a history buff (like my sister), you’ll be in historical plaque bliss. Over 200 homes predate the Revolutionary war housing rebel residents who played a pivotal role in the independence of our country. While my sister read (almost) every plaque, I went shopping. After perusing a great selection of shoes, I wasn’t surprised to learn that in 1846 Marblehead went from fishing… to shoemaking. Indeed, a town after my heart.
Idyllic Marblehead, MA
We found a gem of a seaside B&B at a steal of a price. Suzy from A Lady Winette Cottage (built in 1890) welcomed us like long lost grandchildren. A perfect hostess, she knew just when to lavish us with stories of Marblehead and baked apples for breakfast and when to “disappear” to let us wind down from the day.
The Harbor Light Inn’s Tavern
The Harbor Light Inn is another quintessential must-see in town. Two Federalist Mansions connect through a formal dining room that is refined and inspires sipping a cocktail with your pinky finger out. Even if you don’t stay at the Harbor Light Inn, pay its tavern a visit for fine wine and sophisticated classic atmosphere. Upon walking in, I felt like I was back in the days when gentlemen threw coats over puddles.
While we don’t agree on everything, my sister and I both concur that the clam chowder at The Landing is hands down the best – and that verdict stands for two years in a row. Not to mention the harbor views are stunning. Another view-centric seafood haven is The Barnacle. Their bowl of mussels is sky high and filled both our bellies. Also the staff has the classic New England humor. When arriving with two Ipswich Ales, (a perfect accompaniment to muscles) she said dryly, “Look what I found.”
Day Two: Portsmouth
In a word, Portsmouth is flipping fun. Okay, that was two words. But it deserves it. There is so much to do. It is so varied and with great energy. There’s the harbor, the downtown, coffee shop culture, breweries, music scene, and great nightlife. Also the gorgeous white-steepled North Congregational Church was our “no-fail” marker for navigating the city and remembering where we parked the car. The cherry on top was the people themselves. My sister and I tried to “out-nice” them. But it was impossible. Even the graffiti “Rick Sucks” on a bathroom wall read next to it, “I bet Rick is a really cool person if you got to know him.”
Along the harbor and city streets, the trees glowed in fall colors against the gold leaf sign lettering. And the city popped at night. We arrived during the New Hampshire Film Festival and hit up the opening party at The Music Hall where we rubbed elbows with up-and-coming actors/writers/producers/directors. No Hollywood posturing there. The place is just packed with down-to-earth, genuine people.
Since there is no leaf peeping after dark, we cozied up at the Rudi’s wine bar and sat next to the owner, who treated us to grilled scallops with saffron puree after she caught us eyeballing hers. And for the history buff (my sister) Portsmouth didn’t disappoint. There were more than 70 points of history – plaques included.
North Congregational Church, Portsmouth, NH
In harmony with the “you can’t out-nice Portsmouth”, we stayed at the Marriott and it truly was the warmest and most welcoming check-in experience I’ve ever had. The ladies at the front desk set the bar high, just being their friendly-Portsmouth-selves. The next morning for breakfast we weren’t surprised when a local recommended the Friendly Toast on Congress Street. Amazing pumpkin pancakes and you guessed it, friendly service.
Day Three: Newport, Rhode Island
I love Newport. It had so many different faces: history, wineries, bays, wharfs, taverns, and it seemed, a bar on every corner. We stayed at the renovated 1893 Victorian Blue Jewel on Pelham Street on the Historic Hill. Newport is a walking town. We parked our car once and didn’t think about it for two days. We headed out the door, turned right and walked down the hill to Bowen’s Wharf and hit up (another) The Landing for sunset cocktails. Once you enter, keep going past the massive lobster tanks until you see a hopping bar with an ocean view.
The Landing at Bowen’s Wharf, Newport, Rhode Island
That night we followed a local’s advice to Zelda’s. We hobnobbed with Newport’s boozy sailor crowd at the bar while waiting for a table. Red-faced crusty men flirted with us, made sure our wine glasses were full, and advised us what to order. Zelda’s didn’t disappoint. It was delicious and since there are antioxidants in wine, it was also nutritious. Skipping breakfast, the next day my sister and I indulged in a seafood festival at Bowen’s Wharf. We stuffed ourselves with quahogs, clam cakes, and shot oysters with the fisherman. I even scored a $6 steamed whole lobster. The only catch was that I had to crack it myself.
Newport, Rhode Island
To burn the calories, we did the legendary Cliff Walk. Along the way, we were invited to sample fresh pressed apple cider from someone’s driveway. When I say “fresh” I mean that I threw apples into a press from the 1800’s, turned the handle, and out came the most delicious apple cider I’ve ever tasted. After the walk, we moseyed on over to The Chanler and felt upper crust in the bar lounge area. Not much leaf peeping that day. But even the most professional of peepers can take a day’s detour.
Shopping in Newport you never know what you will stumble upon. We found everything from “The Largest Man Cave Specialist in New England” to a store that specialized in Miami sequin fashion. Think pink on peach and glitter on gloss. And yes, there was even a shoe store that sold the ubiquitous New England ladies clog. Indeed, something for everyone.
New England Leaf Peeping Do’s and Don’ts:
*It was dark at exactly 6 P.M. every night so budget your time so you aren’t pulling into town with only an hour or two of daylight.
*Do not try to find anything (especially your hotel!) in the dark, unless you have a GPS. New England country roads are confusing enough during the day. Let alone when they are dimly lit at night.
*Some amazing leaf peeping is actually by the sea, not just in the mountains. Try a harbor cruise to see the trees from the sea.
*Weather in New England can be schizophrenic. Layer.
*Book hotels ahead. There actually is a Leaf Peeping Season.
*Mix with the locals. They know where the leaves are peaking. And where to get the best quahogs.
*Photos are courtesy of the Harbor Light Inn, Marblehead Chamber of Commerce, Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce, and Discover Newport. Photographer credits belong to Jeff Folger (Marblehead) and Tammy Byron (Portsmouth).