Mar 292014

Almost in the very middle of this little sea, enclosed between the water and the sky, lies Venice, a fairy vision, risen as if by miracle out of the water that surrounds it and like green shining ribbons, cuts through its beautiful body.

Eolo from afar

The Eolo plies the waters of the Venetian lagoon. | Photo: Nevio Doz

So wrote Giulio Lorenzetti, in his famous 1926 guidebook, Venice and its Lagoon: A Historical and Artistic Guide (updated in 1994 and still the most authoritative guide). Yet there it is, the ancient “Serenissima,” a glittering city decorated with gold, arising out of the lagoon, firm and fixed. We can barely grasp how architects could have imagined its plan and how century after century, its stones were put into place.

Gondole, and Palladio's San Giorgio Maggiore  in the distance. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

Gondole, and Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance. | Photo: Greg Mitchell


Mauro Stoppa, skipper, chef, in his galley.

Venice was born in the lagoon, though to outsiders, it seems somehow completely separate from it. To really experience la Serenissima, the ancient city of waterways and light, you must ply its inland sea and visit its tiny islands (there are 30 of them, and 150 canals in the archipelago). You need to go beyond the tourist route to find the bustling life of true Venetians that is hidden from the view of foreigners and to enter a quiet world of history, art, and nature surrounding the spectacle of Venice. What better way to explore the real Venice than alongside a native son with deep roots in the natural world of the lagoon, and with an award-winning American food writer, journalist, storyteller, and one-time sailor who has intimately explored Venice and its cuisine? 

Come with me and Mauro Stoppa, a local hero and legendary skipper-chef on a unique three-day journey and see the Venice behind the stage set for an experience of a lifetime.
I began my cooking career on a 50-foot sailing ketch.

I began my cooking career on a 50-foot sailing ketch.

Sail its secret estuaries on board the Eolo, a flat-bottomed sailing bragozzo constructed to navigate the shallow waters of the lagoon. Built in the nearby port of Choggia in 1946, Mauro has lovingly restored the historic boat and appointed it for the comfort of an intimate group of guests. Be transported for three days on the archipelago’s waterways to the grace and rhythm of another time, far from the tempo of today’s battering pace and the throngs of tourists. Immerse yourself in the natural life of this magical and mysterious place, see its unique flora and fauna, savor its seafood, wild game, and the fresh harvest of the lagoon islands in autumn. Drink the delicious “salty” wine that is made from local grapes kissed by the sea air. 

Hemingway decimated the wild duck population on Torcello, where he hunted and wrote. Photo: Foto Graziano Aric

Hemingway decimated the wild duck population on Torcello, where he hunted and wrote in 1948. | Photo: Foto Graziano Aric

Discover nearby islands like Torcello, where Hemingway wrote parts of his Across the River and Into the Trees and hunted; refuge of royalty and international superstars seeking seclusion at Locanda Cipriani, the legendary inn still run by the Cipriani family. Visit Lazzaretto Nuovo with its Bronze Age ruins, where digs over the last 20 years have turned on its head the previously held notion that Venice was settled some 1,500 years ago by mainland tribes fleeing the Longobards. You might stop at Sant’Erasmo, a floating island of vegetable fields and orchards; or untouristed Chioggia, whose ancient mercato puts the famous Rialto fish market to shame. Afterward, feast on sublime meals from the galley, dreamed up by Mauro using the fresh local bounty of the day. Dine in the best restaurants and stay overnight in the finest hotels in Venice. You’ll never get any closer to the real and enchanting essence of Venice.

Mauro Stoppa, skipper and chef, on board his beloved Eolo. Photo: Paolo Destefanis

Mauro Stoppa, skipper and chef, on board his beloved Eolo. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis


Continue viewing "Cruising Venice," www.

The lagoon by air. Credit: Mauro Stoppa,

Read about cruises on board the Eolo and view previous excursions for a sample of our upcoming “Venice by Lagoon” culinary-historical tour, on Mauro Stoppa’s new website here.

“September,” Mauro says, “is the best time of year to come to Venice, not too hot and not too cold or rainy. It’s when the island farmers harvest pumpkins, the first radicchio of the season, local cabbages, eggplants, peppers, and the sweetest tomatoes of the year….We have local breeds of figs and plums and an old, sweet white grape variety, ‘Dorona.’ The skin is too delicate to export so it’s only eaten here. We get sea bream with the first storm and different kinds of fish migrate to the open sea that join the main canals between the lagoon and the Adriatic….Also the cuttlefish are ready….It’s open season for wild duck—they have a different taste in autumn, unique.”  

Can you resist?


“…it’s hard to blame people for getting excited when they eat risotto with sea asparagus—the Venetian “salicornia”—or grouper cooked in peaches with a Byzantine basilica as a backdrop.” —Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times


  • We will meet you upon your arrival at Venice Airport and take you by water taxi to the Eolo, the only bragozzo of its size still navigating.
  • Cruise the lagoon to uncover the origins of the most fascinating city in the world. Reach the Venissa, a manor house-hotel and wine estate on its own bucolic island, Mazzorbo, top-rated by The New York Times, Michelin, and Travel + Leisure. The tiny, peaceful island, once an important trading center, is known today for its colorful houses, vineyards, and orchards. Refresh here, eat a light lunch.
  • Visit Torcello in the afternoon, the original site of Venice, a tiny island made famous by Ernest Hemingway, today sparsely inhabited by twenty people and a Byzantine cathedral.
  • Drop anchor in the serene northern lagoon, where Mauro will cook a superb dinner from the pick of the fishermen’s catch and the local foods and wine. Back to locanda Venissa where we will stay overnight.
Our first stop, the island of Mazzorbo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Our first stop, the island of Mazzorbo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Locanda Venissa, Mazzorbo. Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Our lodgings on the first day, Locanda Venissa, Mazzorbo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Table set for dinner at twilight with the local varietal wine typical of Venice. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Table set for dinner at twilight with the local varietal wine typical of Venice. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol


  • Sail to the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, where the Venetian government once quarantined people and boats for 40 days during the plagues, thought to have entered Venice on vessels from the Far East. This is where the Venetian mask originated, elaborate cloth cover-ups soaked with vinegar to ward off disease. Today, the island is a beautiful and and peaceful respite. Drop anchor and have lunch on board.
  • Visit the remarkable excavations in progress on the island, revealing human settlements in the archipelago that predate the Roman period.
  • Cooking lesson with Mauro and me on the Eolo using local produce and fish from the lagoon. Formerly an agronomist and vegetable expert, he is a first-rate chef with a profound knowledge of the local history, natural habitat, and cuisine. Lunch follows.
  • After lunch, visit an organic wine producer who revived ancient vines a few years ago in this semi-sandy soil. Sample grapes and vintages that are reminiscent of the tastes and aromas of the lagoon all around us.
  • Back on board, pass the “Murazzi,” a thin strip of land that divides the sea from the lagoon and was built up and reinforced by the Venetians with stones from Istria, brought by thousands of boatloads from Croatia, at that time under Venetian rule. Reach Malamocco  towards evening for dinner and the night at Ca’ del Borgo, a beautiful 16th century palazzo.
Venetian carnival masks originated during the plague. Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books)

Masks originated during the plague. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)

The local catch for lunch on board the Eolo. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

The local catch for lunch on board the Eolo. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

On the Eolo in the middle of nowhere. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

On the Eolo in the middle of nowhere. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol


  • This morning, after the fishermen of the village have dropped off their catch from the night, we cruise in the direction of Venice.
  • Cooking class with Mauro and Julia using splendid ingredients the lagoon offers us. As we finish our enchanted lunch, la Serenissima begins to appear in the distance.
  • Dock on the island of San Giorgio just across from San Marco with plenty of time to stroll the streets of the city. Dine and stay overnight at the magnificent Palazzetto Pisani Ferri, a private 15th century palace on the Grand Canal, once a residence of wealthy merchants.
The fishermen bring us their catch early in the morning. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

The fishermen bring us their catch early in the morning. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis

Cooking lesson with Mauro on board the Eolo. Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Cooking lesson with Mauro on board the Eolo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Piazza San Marco. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

Piazza San Marco. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

Last night in Venice: THe Palazetto Pisani. | Photo: Courtesy of Palazetto Pisani

Last night in Venice: The Palazetto Pisani. | Photo: Courtesy of Palazetto Pisani


  • Breakfast.
  • Our cruise is over, but if you’d like to stay on in Venice we can suggest what to see, where to eat,  and where to stay.
Mauro's biscotti for breakfast, baked on board.  Photo: Paolo Destefanis, from Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books)

Biscotti breakfast, baked on board. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)

The Grand Canal as seen from Ca' Franchetti. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)

The Grand Canal. | Photo: Paolo Destefanis, for Veneto, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle)



  • Euro 2,300 per person (US$ 3.175/rate 1.38, at this posting).
  • 10% deposit upon reservation, refunded if the minimum of 6 guests is not reached.
  • 40% upon confirmation, the balance 30 days before departure.
  • Minimum 6 guests. Maximum, 12 guests.
  • Possible extension of a stay at Palazzetto Pisani Ferri, Euro 300 per couple per night.


  • Accommodation as detailed, breakfast, lunches, dinners daily; private stops as per itinerary, local guides, the services of your two tour leaders.
  • Two cooking classes on board the Eolo.

Not Included

  • Flights, travel insurance, items of personal expenditure (e.g. telephone calls, laundry, etc.), discretionary gratuities to boatmen and guides, government levies or taxes introduced after publication of this program (March 25, 2014).
  • Please note that if circumstances beyond our control necessitates some alteration to the itinerary shown, you will be notified of any such changes as soon as possible. 


Winner of the 2004 World Gourmand Awards.

Julia della Croce’s Veneto: Authentic recipes from Venice and the Italian Northeast, with photography by Paolo Destefanis (Chronicle Books) won the 2004 World Gourmand Awards.

“Everyone knows Venice, but the Venetian cuisine has been somewhat of a hidden treasure. Rich in the use of unique spices left from its Serenissa years, the cuisine sparkles with surprise. Julia della Croce [in her book, Veneto]…has captured wonderfully [its] nuances and sparkle of this regional cuisine.” —Lidia Bastianich

Julia della Croce has been immersed since birth in the tastes and aromas of the Italian cooking she loves. After becoming disenchanted with a political career, she began cooking in the galley of a 50-foot sailing ketch for paying passengers. She is a journalist, and James Beard award-winning cook book author and cooking teacher. Among her thirteen titles, is Veneto: Authentic Recipes from Venice and the Italian Northeast (Chronicle Books), winner of the 2004 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. She writes about the culture of food and drink for Zester Daily and in this blog, and is a noted authority on the food of Italy.

Mauro Stoppa was born and raised on his family’s farm in a small village near Padua on the southern edge of the Venetian archipelago. He is an agronomist by education but his first love was always the world of the lagoon. In 1998, he pulled up his land roots and bought and restored the Eolo, a vintage bragozzo named after the Greek god of the wind, a flat-bottomed 52-foot fishing barge that is one of the last of its kind. There and then, he decided to fulfill his lifetime dream of living on the sea and to devote himself to the restoration of the Venetian waterways. Stoppa takes small groups on cruises to sail, eat his sublime food, and experience the magic of Venice and the lagoon he loves, a venture featured in the New York Times.

with Mauro at Met

Mauro in NYC to cook for a private party at Sotheby’s, bringing his own ingredients with him from Venice. We met at the Met for some down time. | Photo: Nathan Hoyt

Mar 052014
Umbria book

Along with Nancy, I’ve traveled those byways. Here’s my book about Umbria (Chronicle Books, 2003)

Many a tourist has been hustled along the deep-rutted routes of Venice-Florence-Rome-home, yet some travelers got off the highways and criss-crossed the countryside, writing about the cities, small towns and byways. One such traveler is former New York Times staff writer, Zester Daily contributor, author, and Tuscany resident, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who has savored Italy with great learning and a deep and abiding love.

Today, previously overlooked regions that she has captured masterfully in her writings are popular destinations for the American traveler interested in the glorious food of Italy, and there is hardly a better guide. Nancy has announced two upcoming tours to Puglia for this year in October and November that will take you away from the predictable tourist routes. Called AmorOlio, “in love with olive oil,” they  will immerse you in the ancient olive oil lands of the region.

We’ll gaze on groves of monumental centuries-old olive trees and taste magnificent oils from coratina, ogliarola and other local cultivars; we’ll learn how oil used to be produced (under ground!) and how the best modern practices create fine oils characteristic of the region today….Because Puglia is also a granary for high-quality hard durum wheat, we’ll visit one of Italy’s premium pasta producers and we’ll learn from a master chef how to make traditional pastas by hand…. We’ll taste wines from deep dark primitive … to fresh flowery whites from Locorotondo, we’ll dine in trulli, the white-stone domed architecture so typical of the region, and in al fresco seafood restaurants along the Adriatic coast….

Trulli, Puglia's iconic, ancient drywall huts.  Photo: Nancy Harmon Jenkins,

Trulli, Puglia’s iconic, ancient drywall huts. Photo: Nancy Harmon Jenkins

A third culinary tour, organized in Umbria for May, is led by Nancy’s daughter, award-winning restaurateur, porchetta expert, and cookbook author Chef Sara Jenkins. Sara calls the tour Porchettiamo, “an intimate exploration of porchetta and all things porky.” Judging from her stellar New York restaurant, Porsena, and her intimate knowledge of the region’s food, it promises to be a splendid journey:

… explore some of the off the beaten path towns, wineries and eclectic cooks as well as spending the day at the Porchettiamo festival in the medieval town of San Tereziano tasting various porchetta stands, drinking sagrantino wine, visiting wineries and an historic brewery in fabulous Perugia.  … porchetta making workshop as well hands on cooking class … dine and stroll exploring enotecas and simple trattorias … pottery shops and …antique paper making atelier …  meet and sample with some of the areas finest norcini and salumi makers …  May in Umbria is heaven as the fields are alive with wildflowers, the sun is warm but not yet too hot and the days are long.

"Porchettiamo," travel and feast with Chef Sara Jenkins. Courtesy: Chef Sara Jenkins

A porchetta festival in Umbria, from “Porchettiamo,” traveling and feasting in Umbria with Chef Sara Jenkins. Courtesy: Chef Sara Jenkins

In my view, spring and autumn are the best times to see these achingly beautiful regions, not to mention opportunities for eating unequalled early- and late-harvest foods the likes of which, I believe,  you’ll never taste here. Better hurry and read the details—there is still some room left in both tours. If you go, safe—and delicious—travels!

Mar 042014
Heart of Nicaragua: Grace and Magic in a Corn Masa Cookie

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 Kudos to Canal House on Winning the James Beard Award

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Apr 082013
Pistachio Pesto: A Sauce Fit for a Prince

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I’ve never met Señora Rosenda, the master empanadera of my last post, nor eaten her empanadas, but she’s the stuff of legend in her corner of Santiago del Estero, on the northern steppes of Argentina. I heard about her from my daughter, Celina, who went to stay with the campesina one recent winter in the scrubby northern flatlands, called the mato, which were once in the shadow of the Incas. When I asked Celina what went into Señora Rosenda’s empanadas, she didn’t know. Instead, she told me this story. Today, this corner of the world is in the shadows of a different [...more...]