3 Totally Unexpected Things I Discovered On My Italy Vacation

Someone told me that when I returned from my Italy vacation, I would be transformed.

They were right.

As I begin to write this post, I am still here, but for only about 15 more hours.

There is so much to share that I can’t possibly do it all in one post. But I hope that with each one, that I can convey to you, what I saw and experienced and that you too will be transformed.

Many of you know that this is my first time traveling to Italy and I went with a very special tour arranged by Adam Japko who owns Esteem Media and runs the Design Bloggers Conference.

The trip was entitled Italy Design and Wine.

Here’s the deal.

I realize that I’m a bit of a freak, but I’m not really much of a wine drinker; not really much of a drinker– period. If I never had another glass of wine, I would not feel at all deprived. If it was popcorn you were taking from me, I would be upset and foaming at the mouth.

So, while not particularly fond of wine, I do get it when someone loves a food or a drink. I love anyone who feels passionate about something as long as it’s a positive thing and not hurting anyone else.

And believe me, these people are phenomenally passionate about their wine. I respect that immensely.

I also discovered that I truly enjoyed many of the wines I sampled. But that isn’t one of the three things I discovered during my trip to Italy. In truth, it’s a lot more than three things. However, there are three things that stand out and they are all related to the food.

But first.


From the moment I stepped foot inside my first water taxi on the first canal in Venice, I knew that I was someplace magical. (please note: All photos are mine unless otherwise noted.)


venice canal italy vacation

This first photo is from the instagram of one of our lovely trip-mates–interior designer, Sandra Espinet


decay and water in the canals of venice italy vacation

We arrived at a lovely time of year that is busy but not with the insane crowds that will be soon encroaching on Venice.

venetian chandelier palazzo roca venice italy vacation

The first evening we were treated to a lovely reception of local Italian cheeses, meats, breads. Of course, wine and an exquisite medieval Palazzo in the heart of the grand canal, the main artery in Venice. Someone mentioned that Princess Diana would come here for a retreat. The main room has been beautifully restored.

grand canal venice at night italy vacation

The view after sunset off of the balcony. Pretty amazin’ ain’t it? Okay, I’ll admit, it did conjur up thoughts of Disney World, but on a far, far grander and more real scale.

By the time the evening had ended, I was spell-bound with this city. I will definitely be back.

The first full-day we left Venice for several hours to go to the immensely picturesque medieval town of Asolo.

If you go to Italy, it’s a must-see. Just trust me here.

Out of century-old buildings live modern and chic shops and restaurants. It was a little rainy but it only served to enhance the scenery.

asolo italy vacation panoramic vista

Yes, those are mountains peaking through the clouds in the distance.

Asolo garden italy vacation

Dolomites Filini Garden


I got this shot of Adam Japko keeping things together. I love the juxtaposition of a 21st century man against the decay of old buildings and the couple in the distance under an umbrella. A happy, freaky accident.

asolo lush gardens italy vacation

Just beyond Adam is more lushness.


Hey. I’m on the plane now and have internet! How cool is that? Alas, I woke up with a hideous cold, but Advil got rid of that bone-ache feeling, so I will resume.

Alright or all right if the English troll is in attendance. :]

The post title is three things I learned on my Italy Vacation. And they are all related to food.


One, is that traditional Italian cuisine is exceedingly low in vegetables. And only once was any kind of salad offered. The last night, two of the women and I stayed back at the hotel and actually had a far more typical American dinner. We ordered a big salad which was not on the menu, served with delicious olive oil and balsamic vinegar; a little salt, pepper, some grated Parmesan and I was a happy girl!

Two, no surprise here, but we were given risotto at nearly every meal. It was always as a separate course, and usually the main course. Each one was delicious in its own way. But here’s what really surprised me. Three times out of the five, the dish consisted of nothing but rice in a sauce. In the US, there are always other things like fish and veggies in the risotto.  The other two times there was only one other thing in the risotto. My favorite one had tiny bits of asparagus in it. The other time which was yesterday, had tiny pieces of pork and beef.

This isn’t one of the surprises, but it seemed that there was far more meat than seafood. If you’re a cheese and egg eating vegetarian, you might be alright, but a strict vegan would definitely starve to death!

Three. This one is really funny. But two times, we were offered little sandwiches, not on thick crusty Italian break (although we did have that on occasion), but on what essentially, was Wonder Bread with the crust cut off! One time, the little sandwich consisted of egg salad with large pieces of anchovy all through it. I can tolerate anchovies in very small doses, but most Americans will not eat it.

But when in Venice…


The second full-day of our Italian Vacation took us back to Venice for over-all my favorite day of the trip. This was the heavy “design day.”

First we were taken to the Bevilacqua fabric factory. Although “fabric factory” is not really an appropriate term. These are the finest brocades and jacquards – hand-woven in the same way that they have been for centuries. We’ll get to that in a sec. When I say the SAME WAY that they have been for centuries, you will get to see and hear exactly what I’m talking about.


foliosandfibre bevilacqua fabrics venice italy vacation

This is obviously not my image. We came in on the water side and it was a rainy day but I think that this image is so lovely.

Photo via Folios and Fibre.


When you walk in, you find yourself in a kind of Belle Epoque Opulence– A small but elegant showroom featuring a gorgeous Murano Glass chandelier.


belivacqua shop venice italy vacation

belivacqua showroom venice italy vacation

They can make anything you want, but it comes with a hefty price-tag. Although there is a range and some is machine-made, the hand-made fabrics are definitely in the “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” range.


belivacqua pillows

Some of these fabrics are available at Scalamandre and Brunschig and Fils.

But just behind the beautiful showroom lives another world— A world that feels like you’ve suddenly stepped back 300 years in some sort of unexpected time machine.


belivacqua factory old machines hand loomed fabric

belivacqua hand-loomed fabric

Haha! Well, not 100% back in time.


YouTube video

A short video showing the painstaking process. It takes an entire day to produce the amount of fabric you see here!

belivacqua silk yarn for fabric

Skeins and skeins of yarn, mostly made of fine silk.

chiara and orseola at bevilacqua fabric weavers venice italy vacation

Back out front, we have these two beauties who served as guides. To the left is Chiara Zanella who is conversing with Orseola Barozzi or rather, The Countess Orseola. Both are native Venetians and of course Orsie (as her friends call her) is part of its Royalty.

We hung more with Chiara and within minutes, she had enchanted everyone in the group. A morph of Sophia Loren and Ingrid Bergman, I kept waiting for Marcello Mastroianni to come sauntering in and Federico Fellini to shout, “ACTION!”


I chatted with both young women at the opening reception. Chiara is a former ballerina and now an interior designer/antiques dealer. Orsie may be a countess, but she’s as darling and down-to-earth as can be. They own an antique business together and work as tour guides for our Antiques Diva and antique tour guide for our trip, the amazeballs Toma Clark Haines.

If you don’t know who Toma is, you will shortly; it’s a good name to know. And don’t let the “diva” word fool you. She’s a veritable encyclopedia of what’s what in the antique world as well as fun, funny, and very un-diva-like, but still glamorous.


bevilacqua fabrics venice italy vacation chiara zanella and toma clark haines

Adorbs they are– hamming it up for me!

I am going to end this post with one more place that Toma took us to before lunch. The Antichita Marciana Gallery. We were graciously guided by the owner,  Monica. I don’t know her last name and I understand that she’s a very private and exclusive dealer. So, this was a tremendous honor and treat.

This exquisitely curated collection features many phenomenal Venetian pieces as well as antiques from all over Europe. The pieces include art, tapestries, tables, objets and lighting. Everywhere one turns is one masterpiece after another. The gallery consists of several small rooms.

These are some of my favorite pieces/vignettes.

antichita marciana antique shopping venice italy vacation

antichita marciana antique shopping venice italy vacation chinoiserie venetian cabinet

Always happy to see a little blue and white chinoiserie porcelain.

antichita marciana antique shopping venice italy vacation brocade

A beautiful antique brocade

antichita marciana antique shopping venice italy vacation funky lamps

I found these bronze lamps to be quite extraordinary.

antichita marciana antique shopping venice italy vacation-2

While there is much gold, there are also many painted pieces.

antichita marciana antique shopping venice italy vacation red chinoiserie cabinet fire hydrant

I adore this wonderful Chinoiserie corner cabinet. And yes, that’s a fire extinguisher. :]

antichita marciana antique shopping venice italy vacation red chinoiserie corner cabinet

Here’s a closer look at the fine detailing.

Can you believe that we are only a few hours into the second full day? We still had lunch and a fabulous trip to Murano and then capped the day with an extraordinary tour and meal at a boutique vineyard.

Okay, I am still on the plane. We’re landing in about an hour and a half.


It is Saturday evening and my cold has morphed into something quite nasty complete with a fever. Sorry if there are some mistakes here.



50 Responses

  1. Laurel, this is a spectacular post! Thank you for your beautiful work and allowing those of us land-locked interior designers a glimpse into the extraordinary Bevilacqua Fabric Factory. All the scenery, greenery and antiques you snapped are a joy to see! Makes me want to put daily life aside and book a flight.

    1. It’s really amazing. I had read things about Venice that it’s dirty, smelly, crowded. I dunno. Maybe in a month or so… While we were there it was none of those things, just enchanting.

  2. Lovely photos, strange about the food though. On my many trips to Italy, nearly every restaurant we went to had huge tables with platters full of vegetable plates that were served as appetizers and contorno’s (side dishes). The main meal is Italy is always at 2pm and what we call dinner is always a “snack” or small lunch. Maybe whoever scheduled the meal was not aware of this? Rice, pasta or potatoes are always first courses that always, always, always precede the protein and side dishes plate at the main 2pm meal. Maybe make sure the food budget is increased on the next tour. Love your photos. My sis and I both have caught bad colds on planes so we feel your pain. Please get well soon.

    1. Hi Rita,

      Oh, the spent a lot on the food. It was quite gourmet. Maybe I didn’t give that impression but most meals were over the top with several courses. Too much for me. Some of the dishes were really wonderful though. Thanks for the well wishes. It worked!

  3. I hope the worst of your illness is over and you recover swiftly. Consider pushing out the Paint Palette reveal date even further. It can take a loooong time to recover strength and get back on track after an illness.

    The fabrication studio and salon and the private gallery are gems. I look forward to more posts on the tour. I also enjoyed the inclusion of the guides and organizers to provide even more flavor to the posts. Thanks, Laurel!

    1. Thanks so much Libby. Really appreciate that. I read this on Sunday and really it made me cry. That’s how crummy I was feeling.

      It’s 98% done but the last 2% is still 3 solid days. Yes, I’ve spent hundreds of hours so far. Most of what’s left doesn’t require a lot of brain power. Unless I have relapse which I better not, should be alright for next week.

  4. Laurel, it took me 2 weeks to lose that cold, so take care. Thank you for sharing your trip, your photos are gorgeous! My later-in-life partner surprised me with a trip to Italy (so, really, post-husband romances can be fabulous), and I had to admit I was never that interested in Venice until we went – and I was stunned by its beauty and left a lot of my soul there. (we ate in the more ‘residential’ areas and there was a lot of fish on the menu – lots of weird little fishes to be honest). One of my favourite things in Italy is a cappuicino on the sidewalk, watching the world go by.

    1. Oh yuck. I am a lot better today but I know that sometimes it’s two steps forward and then a step backwards with these things. But resting and doing all of my remedies. Next trip will be different. I would love to people watch but didn’t have that luxury this time. But still had a wonderful time getting to know my trip-mates and seeing things I never would have otherwise.

  5. Laurel:

    What a spectacular trip! So happy for you. So sorry you are under the weather. Hope you feel better soon. Thank you for the wonderful post. Can’t wait to see and hear more. Particularly loved the little video of the weaver at work. It is hard to comprehend the effort and time that goes into producing such glorious fabrics. No wonder they cost gazillions of dollars.

    You are such a gift to all of us here in the provinces. Get well soon.


  6. Laurel, Loved the video that showed how time-consuming it is to make those fabulous fabrics. Years ago, we were in Venice in January. A friend from New Orleans recommended an incredible place that was run by nuns and sold gorgeous linens. They could make custom pieces to go with your China or whatever. It was called Jesurem, I think. I bought white scalloped, heavily embroidered napkins. To this day, they are some of my most treasured possessions.

  7. I’m so sorry that you aren’t feeling well after such a wonderful trip.

    I agree with the other comments that Italian cuisine is very regional and not as diverse as American. This comes as a hugh surprise to most Americans as we are accustomed to such diversity. When I first moved to Italy 30 years ago I got so sick of past and risotto I still can’t bear to serve it. I’m aware that this was a pre-planned tour so its not surprising they serve the same things at each meal. When someone is hosting you they will often serve the entire 3 courses as a show of their hospitality but you are not required to order them all in a restaurant. Modern Italians usually eat a salad and either a pasta or meat or an antipasto and pasta. Desert and wine are not always taken but coffee, yes. You can always ask for a main course salad and most places will make one for you even if its not on the set menu.

    A tip for your next trip Laurel: If you want vegetables just let them know. Vegetable side dishes are only served if you ask and there are usually at least two available that may not appear on the menu. If you are a vegetarian or vegan then almost all of the antipasti in the north are suitable. I often have an entire meal of just antipasti. I’m surprised that in Venice you were served only meat as it is famous for its fish and seafood. I love the whole Sea bass (for two obviously) roasted over thinly sliced potatoes and served with spinach. The finger sandwiches you mentioned (tramezzini) and are served- as Jill mentioned -as a snack with the apero and I love them for breakfast. There are dozens of kinds so avoiding anchovies should be easy.

    Italian hospitality is legendary so be prepard to ward of the frequent offers of more food!

    Please take care nad feel better soon!

    1. Hi Susan,

      Yes, that’s what we were told about the anchovy egg salad sandwiches. I forgot to mention about the squid in black squid ink sauce with some Exorcist Green sauce next to it. ummmm… Could I have a BLT please? Actually, just a thick piece of crusty Italian bread and a bowl of minestrone for lunch would’ve been lovely. But yes, it was all presented to us and I think in a quite authentic way for them.

  8. Laurel, what an amazing post, and even more amazing experience for you! Your photos are beautiful (I licked my screen plumb clean over that luscious fabric, lol.)

    Thank you so much for sharing; looking forward to the rest!

    Hope you feel better soon. 🙂

  9. Your photos were beautiful, they made me almost feel as if there. Although you are feeling ill, your humor is in tack and much appreciated.

    Please, no need to respond, just happy I found your sight.

    Take good care,

  10. Laurel –
    Your blog is a gift. I am an avid reader and find I must comment. Love that your son with autism called you. You are a gift to all of us learning from your design prowess … So glad you received a gift so special to your heart. Thanks for sharing that and reminding us all what is important as many of us embrace Mother’s Day … in our half decorated homes! Someday house … Someday it will come together 😉

    1. How sweet you are Amy. We all have different points of view and experiences. I remember some parents at our high school all up in arms because their son’s guidance counselor might be leaving. What???

  11. Thanks for your insights on Italy. I am going in June and can use tips and recommendations. I am also a designer so I loved the photo of the fabrics and the art pieces!

    1. Hi Diane,

      I wish I was going back! Actually what the trip was like for me was being given the most incredible cheesecake ever, but just two bites and then it’s whisked away!

  12. Hello, Laurel, I have just signed on to your lovely newsletter. What a wonderful first post for me to read…yes, Venice is a most extraordinarily romantic and stunning place to visit. Buildings and canals seem saturated in magic; one is never bored there! I’m very glad to discover your blog and look forward to future entries. Feel better, soon!

  13. You were suitably transfixed by the magic of Venice. Our years living in storico centro of Roma were a fairytale. A small correction about Italian food. Italian food is extremely regional. That is, what you are served in northern Italy, on the coast, will be entirely different than what you eat 50 km away. The little sandwiches are found all over Italy and are called tremezzini. They are typical bar fare/take out for breakfast, snacks, or lunch. A bar, of course, is not only for alcohol, but for quick meals with the whole family at all times of day. In general, northern Italy serves risotto and is heavy on meat dishes. The Italian alps have dishes similar to other nearby alpine countries. Other regions have more pasta (and different types in every town), and healthy, vegetable based dishes, although meat is also popular. Coastal regions have seafood, which in the south will be combined with citrus. Cheeses differ with the region also, as of course, do wines. You have to go back, and sample food and wine in every region. You will love the textiles in Tuscany also.

  14. Loved this post Laurel! Though I am sorry you were under the weather. I hope this finds you much improved!

  15. Thank you, Laurel, for writing the post even though you are sooo very ill! The pics and the remarks give me – and many others, I suspect – the opportunity to see the treasures we will never see with our own eyes. Was fascinated by the looms used in making those magnificent fabrics. Only thing missing was the “touch” element! Do you realize the “gift” you are giving to us with your wonderful posts?

  16. Laurel – welcome home! Thank you for immersing us right into your trip despite feeling like you have been hit by a truck. Loved every image and your descriptions made me feel as if I were lucky enough to be there too! Almost could feel those threads under my fingers. Good call on the last night salad!

    Looking forward to more – but get some rest first.

  17. Yes, your food experiences are pretty typical of what Europeans perceive as what Americans/Canadians/Brits want. Off the tourist trail, you would find what Hanna Mullun has said. Thanks for your lovely report, sorry about at the all too common trip home illness….like those little germs hide in the airplane’s air system to get you!

    1. Just to be clear, this was very much off the tourist trail. We were guests of people who are native Italians and the people they normally entertain are other Italians, not Americans.

      I didn’t even make it to San Marco. There were several people who were sick early on the trip. This one is really nasty; not just a regular cold.

  18. Beautiful post, Laurel. It’s so interesting how different our experiences were. When my husband and I went in spring ’12, we stayed in a tiny boutique hotel. The staff was so gracious and we felt a real intimacy with the city. The beautiful pictures of the glamorous statues, furniture and chandeliers…we only saw things like that in the churches and other tourists places. But I was always intrigued by what I saw through the open and shut of a door or in the light of a window at night. Clean lines, marble, sophistication and warmth…modern design in Italy. I hope you were given access to some of this because I’d love to see more!
    As for food, we ate LOTS of octopus and fish, crusty sandwiches with Italian salami and ham, pickled tomatoes, pesto, arugula, shell fish. Yum. if we found beef on the menu it was usually expensive. Small lemon ice between courses, a plate of fruit at the end. It was divine.

    1. Also…I’m envious of your sunset pictures. I don’t recall any sunsets…maybe we were napping. As parents away from our young children that is what we required!

    2. Again, I probably didn’t make this clear. It was a special tour and 90% of us were in the design trade. It was called Wine and Design.

      Quite frankly, it was glorious to be lead around and not have to think very much for a week. It was all pre-payed too. But the meals dragged on an on particularly the mid-day meal. It was a learning experience for the people who put it together too. But all in all it was a wonderful taste of Italy!

  19. Continued….,they think Amers Want Grande, terrible…..in 80s, 90s gelato on a cone was size of a quarter…..now US TV captures tours, gelato is size of tennis ball! Authentic Ital meals, fresh, colorful, 5,7 courses..immigrant chefs changing things up? Take your hubbie or live one off a tour, back road of Umbria, you’ll find un-restored, real, crusty settings, stay in olive orchards. Real food, sauces, etc. Oh well….that’s aesthetic!

  20. Seen that fabric house, toured Italy w#a Brunswig & Fils crew…, btw, your food experiences were very “touristimo”! So, sorry! As I’ve aged fr procuring things for clients to “home experiences” food is the venue….doing kitchen designs, its @inculcating Italian expeditions. First, go in fall, most chefs there cook w/the seasons, huge platters of colorful tomatoes, things w/garlic, few Amer know how todo, w/squash blossoms, etc.Most Italians never eat pasta or risotto as an entre, but a sm course. Most fav @Tuscany are the authentic butcher shops,few tours can do…..pick a rib steak, yes grass fed, suzed to feed 4, sit in tiny table area in back of shop, amazing come out! Roasted trays of veg, etc, w/ribbon thin slices of fresh grilked steak, wines ti die for!
    Lots if restaurants in Venice, & tiny towns, owners lease out to Musl. Imigrants who produce what they “thinj”

    1. To be clear, this was not in any way a tourist visit! It was an insiders tour. But it was their first time. We went to very off the beaten track places. The menu was always several courses and just brought to us. No choice. We also visited multiple vineyards. We did not spend a lot of time in Venice. The only other place we went to was the Verona Township which is exquisitely beautiful.

  21. Oh. So beautiful. Everything is. And everybody too.
    Such a wonderful post. I’m little bit teary-eyed because I get like that sometimes when I see how people create something truly magnificent.
    And it’s all so interesting. I loved reading every word.
    I read a bit about Murano glass, and its history-fascinating..
    I want to go there too some day.
    even though I might starve to death there..:)
    Please get well soon, Laurel!

      1. Oh not a vegetarian..but gluten free that doesn’t tolerate dairy etc. and doesn’t eat seafood:) I’m sure I’d be getting by though..lol. Wouldn’t prevent me from going. I have never been on insider tour yet, and it sounds nothing short of amazing.

        But that doesn’t matter much; just wanted to share with you a recipe of “magic tea” that I drink/make to my family when something nasty like flue happens..hot tea plus ginger plus honey plus lemon plus garlic(ew)..in abnormal amounts. You probably know it though, it’s a rather banal knowledge. It does help, to some point at least.
        At night, tea with a bit of vodka works well. But it needs to be “taken” right before you go to sleep. Tea with vodka-warm blanket and socks-sleep.
        I hope you feel better soon; and I hope you don’t push yourself too hard after feeling better too.

        1. Hi Jenny,

          Yes, I’m doing the ginger thing. Ran out of lemon. Garlic and I do not mix. Just tiny doses. With me, it kills everything BUT the virus. lol The last two days I’ve slept a total of 22 hours! That’s been the most helpful I think.

  22. My most rewarding and satisfying trips have always been to Italy-its warm hearted people, its wonderful culture and its sublime food- I love everything this beautiful country has to offer, including the anchovies 🙂 I will also say that you do see an awful lot of ‘gold’ everywhere..but somehow, it seems to work in Italy.
    Hope that you will feel better soon!
    If you have time- and are feeling better, run to the MetMuseuom before the sublime exhibit of Vigée Le Brun paintings closes on 5/15- you will adore the colors!!

  23. Looks amazing. Can’t wait to see more. Hope you get plenty of rest and feel better soon. The paint guide will come out when it comes out and it will be glorious and exciting when it happens!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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