The Ultimate Cruise for Dining in Italy
For the avid traveler looking to see multiple destinations and experience a range of cultures but also get the most bang for your buck, cruising is the way to go. On my most recent travel and food adventure, I boarded the Azamara Journey Club Cruise to experience Tuscany and Provence. Whether it was in a classic port like Rome or dining in one of the ship's restaurants, I was given the royal treatment: a mix of local delicacies coupled with high-end dining experiences.
While on board, Azamara offers a range of dining options, from poolside grilling to international buffets. It has two specialty dining restaurants, a seafood and a steak concept, as well as the main dining room. Depending on if we had a long day on land, we had the choice to either have multiple courses in the dining room or to sample one of the international buffets followed by the popular gelato cart.
The luxurious ports of call included Rome, Florence, Monaco, St. Tropez, Nice, and Elba. When in Italy, we were in search of the perfect gelato, and in the South of France, an exquisite cheese plate. In either locale, espressos were our drink of choice, a perfect match for an afternoon of sightseeing and people-watching.
The beauty of the trip was how easy it was to grab a bite on board and how simultaneously thrilling it was to go in search for one on land.
Here is a list of 5 delicious foods to enjoy during the cruise:
1. Sea Bass
When in Rome (no pun intended), we made our way to the Jewish ghetto for an authentic experience filled with artichokes. We ended up in Nonna Betta, where if you weren't ordering their house specialty, fried artichokes, you were clearly doing someone wrong. While we began our meal with the simple yet amazing flash-fried artichoke dish, we continued with the sea bass, the local fish special of the day. We opted for the whole fish option and deboned the sumptuous treat ourselves. Perfectly seasoned and lightly dressed in olive oil and lemon, it was the smart eater's way to kick off a weeklong cruise. When we came up for air in between delicious bites, we noticed the restaurant filled, with mostly priests and locals. Obviously, a restaurant home-run.
2. Risotto with Zucchini Flower
Just outside of Florence, nestled upon a hilltop, is the small, town of Maiano. The day the ship docked in Florence, we decided to explore beyond the city limits in search of an authentic Tuscan lunch. We discovered Trattoria di Maiano, a local spot with sweeping views of the hillside. We happened to be the only diners eating for lunch and were treated to fantastic service. While our appetizers of prosciutto and melon and buffalo mozzarella and tomato were as fresh as can be, the dish that was awe inspiring was the risotto with fresh zucchini flower. The rice cooked to perfection was creamy, a perfect vehicle for the delicious zucchini flower.
3. Baci Gelato and Hazelnut Combo
While strolling the streets of St. Tropez, pretending to be famous writers who once sought inspiration from the quaint and beautiful scenery, quite frankly, we became peckish. Having already grabbed lunch on board, we just needed a snack to tide us over. While strolling I spotted a woman carrying a Ladurée bag and was in hot pursuit. We found the elegant shop and bought a variety of four macarons to go. Planning to eat them while staring at the yachts parked in the harbor, we saw an outrageous line form. It was a gelato store on the corner, and we wanted to taste (figuring the macarons would last until evening) but alas were discouraged by the line. We walked a few blocks down and discovered another gelato shop, but this one run by Italian immigrants who now call St. Tropez home. I sampled the baci flavor (chocolate with nuts, similar to the famous Italian candy) alongside the mainstay, hazelnut. It was a match made in dessert heaven.
4. Rib-Eye Steak with Side of Creamed Spinach
The best specialty restaurant on board the Journey, in my humble opinion, was the steakhouse, Prime C. We had a table for two facing the back of the ship, an outstanding setting for a romantic meal. They catered to my gluten allergy and suggested I try one of the steak dishes on the menu. I selected the bone-in rib-eye steak with a side of creamed spinach. There wasn't anything over-the-top about the meal and I reveled in its simplicity. Grilled to perfection, seasoned lightly, the rib-eye was an onboard meal highlight.
5. Veal Tenderloin
Given the multitude of dining options, I only had the pleasure of eating in the main dining room, Discoveries, twice. The menu changes daily but also has signature dishes available every evening. After a few beginning courses to whet our appetite, we came to the showstopper, veal tenderloin. The meat was moist and tender and came in a modest portion, perfect for a multicourse meal. It was by far the best dish I had in the dining room and quite a perfect way for me to wrap up the evening, before hitting the nightclub onboard.