Living in the Moment: the South American Attitude Towards Life

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Traveling through Chile & Argentina over the past few years, I’m always struck by the beauty, cuisine, and, of course, wines of these charming countries.  But what has had the biggest impact on me is the South American attitude towards life. From my perspective, South Americans enjoy focusing on living in the moment rather than have their lives be dictated by a clock.

As a North American that used to be in the heart of the hustle and bustle of a large metropolis, working a fast-paced, high-stress job, and being one of those people who never used all of my given vacation days, I can wholeheartedly appreciate this kind of life philosophy. Us northerners can take a page from our southern friends and take a step back to enjoy each experience to the fullest. Now that I have my dream job where I get to split my time between the marketing of Taste Vacations and Zephyr Adventures, and guiding tours all over the globe, I find myself trying to help our guests to do just that.

There have been many times, especially at the beginning of a trip, where I’ve needed to gently remind a guest that vacation isn’t necessarily about getting from point A to point B so that you can check it off your list. But it is rather about the journey and experiences that bring you from one destination to the next, even if some of those experiences were unplanned. In fact, it’s the unplanned ones that usually end up creating the best memories!

But there are two sides to every coin. As a travel guide leading a tour through South America, it can be tricky to stay on schedule and make sure that you are delivering on the promises that the tour itinerary has laid out. Things happen at a slower pace in Chile & Argentina, which means we have to sometimes pad our itineraries to account for delays in crossing borders, the time it takes to get a lunch bill paid at a small restaurant, hotel check-in processes, etc. Though we try to predict where these delays can happen and plan accordingly, we can’t always foresee the hiccups that arise.

In my mind, a perfect solution would be to meld the two approaches together. At Taste Vacations, we actively try to blend the efficient and detail-oriented processes of North America with the South American ability to slow things down and truly savor what life has to offer. I encourage you to try to do the same, wherever your next vacation may be.

The History of Pesto recipe

The History of Pesto – Plus a No-fail, Easy Recipe

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Pesto, also known as battuto Genovese, is a simple, yet superb sauce found in traditional Italian cuisine. The first written record of a pesto recipe dates back to the late 1800s, but is thought to have originated during the 16th century in Genoa, in Italy’s northern region. Traditionally, it is made up of crushed garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts, Parmesan Reggiano, and extra-virgin olive oil. The word pesto refers to how the sauce is authentically prepared with a mortar and pestle. Both pesto and pestle are derived from the word pestare which means to grind or crush.

Though pesto seems to have had a long history, moretum, the sauce that pesto is thought to have descended from, dates back to somewhere between 70 and 19 B.C. and was even described in a verse attributed to the great Roman poet, Virgil. Moretum was a green paste made of cheese, garlic, and herbs.

Today, one of the most popular uses for pesto is as a sauce for pasta, but it can also be used as a salad dressing, dip, or spread. Additionally, it is a delightful accompaniment to steak, poultry or fish.

Though we don’t go as far north as Genoa on our Tuscany Food & Wine Tour, we would highly recommend making an additional stop either before or after the tour to try what is sure to be the best pesto of your life. Or if you’re looking to try your hand at creating this exquisite sauce at home, our Alumni Ambassador and Tour Operations Manager, Kris, shares her no-fail, sure-to-please pesto recipe below:

Easy Pesto Recipe

  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan

Place all contents in a food processor and mix until well blended.  Taste and adjust to your liking.

Buon appetito!

Cortona, Tuscany, Italy

The Simple Pleasure of A Tuscan Gastronomical Adventure: Cortona, Italy

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There is a very large hill leading up to the town of Cortona in the province of Arezzo, in Tuscany, Italy. Seemingly endless switchbacks give light to the infinite beauty below the town, rolling hills of vineyards and hay slowly falling back as you continue to climb up. The ambiance is enhanced by the setting sun on my last ascent up to the breathtaking town.

I have a hand-drawn map, given to me by a friend who has spent many years exploring Italy. I have never been to Cortona before, but I know exactly where I want to go, even if I can not pronounce the name of the venue properly.

Tucked into one of the tiny winding streets that spiral the city center, my restaurant awaits me. I walk in and point to a table outside. Sitting down, the aromas of fresh bread and rosemary assault my nostrils in the most pleasing way. I decide then and there to indulge in ½ liter of house red wine, linguine all’arrabbiata as my primi piatto (first course), and the pollo al marsala as my secondo piatto (second or main course). Now that the hard part of deciding what to order is over, I peacefully wait to savor my meal.

First comes the fresh bread, still warm. I drizzle olive oil on the plate with a few sporadic drops of balsamic vinegar and sprinkle it with salt and pepper. The wine is dark and robust, perhaps too strong, but it tastes good. I tell myself it has antioxidants in it and drink up.

About 10 minutes later the arrabbiata arrives, al dente, of course. I am always amazed at how such a simple dish of fettuccine, olive oil, garlic and chili pepper in a simple tomato sauce can taste of utter perfection. I love spice and this heat gives balance to the often astringent garlic. All is made smooth and subtle by a homemade tomato sauce that tastes nothing like anything I have been served in the states.

Next my beloved chicken marsala, a dish so savory I can’t help but close my eyes while I enjoy the first few bites. Essentially, it is a butter and wine sauce finished with mushrooms and fresh herbs. There is something about it that makes it seem like these ingredients were destined for each other since the dawn of time. Chicken dredged in flour and sometimes lemon, then pan fried and topped with marsala. At this point in my meal, I am very happy that I ordered as much wine as I did, for it has opened nicely and balance has been achieved.

I finish my meal with a panna cotta topped with fresh raspberries, and a macchiato, because I still have to ride my bike home. The panna cotta was clean, pure, and simple. The raspberries were small and wild, full of flavor and giving of nutrients. I was in a complete state of bliss. The family who kept the restaurant has continuously checked in on me, as though I am starved for conversation (it seems they forgot I don’t speak Italian) or perhaps they too enjoyed the ambiance, the aroma, and the incessant smirk on my face for being in the right place at the right time.

Post written by Kerry Dopler, Taste Vacations’ Customer Care Coordinator.

You too can enjoy the simple pleasures of an extraordinary Tuscan meal.
Join us on the Tuscany Food & Wine Tour!

Travel Resolutions

Travel Resolutions for 2016

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Let’s face it, even those with the best intentions find it hard to keep their New Year’s resolutions past the first few months of the year. This can sometimes be from a lack of detailed resolutions or resolutions that follow the same old patterns. Rather than the normal “I want to travel more this year,” try spicing things up by making more specific goals that can either add up to traveling more or at least make the most out of your travels.  Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

Focus on a culture’s signature dish.

Open your mind and your palate to new and exotic flavors this year.  When traveling, don’t try to find restaurants that have menus that are similar to those back home. Even if your travels keep you in the U.S., there are still opportunities to taste new cuisines.  Trying local cuisine will take you a few steps closer to understanding the culture of wherever you are visiting.

Unplug and actually relax.

Tech gadgets and travel apps can certainly make life on the road much easier, but they also can be blocking you from truly relaxing. Try to be more present and enjoy your surroundings.  You can always check your emails and post your travel photos to social media when you get back.

Be a tourist in your own town.

There may be times when you feel like you really need a vacation but either schedules or finances just won’t allow it.  Try being a tourist in your own town or region.  With a little research, you’ll be surprised at how much there is to do and see that is just a short drive (or even walk!) away.

Read an inspirational travel book.

Not quite sure where you want to travel to next? Grab an inspirational travel book to get the trip planning juices flowing. You’ll start to imagine yourself in new and exotic settings in no time. Check out Conde Nast’s 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time and get reading!

Take that trip you’ve been talking about forever.

Bite the bullet and FINALLY take the trip you’ve talked about for years. Want to taste your way across Italy or explore the magnficent wines Argentina has to offer? Do it! And if it truly doesn’t fit into your 2016 schedule, you can resolve to plan out your itinerary for 2017 so that when December rolls around again, you’ll be starting to pack your bags and getting ready to check that trip of a lifetime off your bucket list.

No more half-hearted resolutions. Let’s make 2016 your best travel year yet!

Friends on a patio

Private Tours – Vacationing Your Way

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Have you ever spent long hours researching the perfect vacation only to find out that the listed tour dates have passed, it doesn’t fit into your schedule or the trip is sold out? Skip the hassle and consider booking a private tour. It’s not hard to fall in love with traveling exclusively with your family or friends, selecting the perfect destination and choosing exactly when you’d like to go. And one of the best parts is that you don’t have to plan the entire trip yourself.  Working with a trip coordinator, you can decide on the general trip criteria and they’ll take care of the details of booking hotels, making dinner reservations, and securing activities.Chile & Argentina - Allan Wright

Private tours can also be a perfect way to celebrate a number of life’s milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, or retirement.  We’ve also seen them successfully used as a way to motivate a team at work by creating a business incentive trip for top performers.

All of our Taste Vacations trips can be booked as private tours – and we won’t charge you extra just because it isn’t part of our public group tours, unless you request additional customized options. We also don’t require you to have large groups in order to book a private tour, with a majority of our trips only requiring a minimum of 4 people.

Sonoma County Wine Tour: Minimum 4
Tuscany Food & Wine Tour: Minimum 4
Basque Country & Rioja (Spain) Food & Wine Tour: Minimum 4
Washington Wine Tour: Minimum 4
Peru Food Tour: Minimum 4
Chile & Argentina Wine Tour: Minimum 6
Belgium Beer Tour: Minimum 6
Kentucky Bourbon Tour: Minimum 8
Napa Wine Tour: Minimum 8

So what are you waiting for? Join us on a Taste Vacations private tour today.