Jochen Lucke

Welcoming Our Newest Team Member!

We're thrilled to welcome Parker Anderson as the newest addition to the Silver Creek Real Estate team! Hailing from Northwest Georgia, Parker is a third-generation realtor who is passionate about creating bonds with his clients. He spent six years focusing on and helping to grow the booming residential market in New Orleans before relocating to Cashiers. Learn more about him at

Silver Creek Website Recognized by REAL Trends

Silver Creek Real Estate Group is thrilled to share with you the amazing recognition we received today from REAL Trends, the undisputed leader and trustworthy source for national analysis of the residential real estate industry. In their Website Rankings for 2019, we placed in not just one category but four, including fifth place for Best Overall, ninth for Best Design, fifth for Best Mobile, and sixth in Best Video. As you can see, we're in great company among other prestigious real estate firms out of huge markets such as LA and New York. This amazing win is a testament to heavy investment in our marketing efforts online, standing head and shoulders above any other firm on the Plateau.

The Barn's Wild Lemon Balm-Mint Smash Cocktail

Serves 2 (with extra lemon balm simple syrup)

In a pint glass or cocktail shaker, combine 4 ounces vodka with 2 ounces lemon balm simple syrup.
Add the juice of one lemon and a generous bunch of fresh, wild mint.
Shake or stir vigorously and pour over ice into two glasses.
Garnish with a wedge of lemon and enjoy!

To Make Lemon Balm 
Simple Syrup:

Combine one cup sugar and one cup water in a small heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Add a nice big bunch of fresh lemon balm to the pot and stir until its covered. Allow the lemon balm to steep in the warm simple syrup for at least an hour or up to eight hours. Strain syrup thru a mesh sieve, squeezing the lemon balm to extract as much flavor as possible.

A Wild Day in the Country

I scan the ground at my feet and spy the green clover-like specimen I am instructed to look for. As I am encouraged to do by our knowledgeable guide, I pluck it from the grassy patch and pop it into my mouth. I taste a mild tangy lemon flavor on my palette. Not bad. “Welcome to backyard foraging,” someone next to me bellows. Despite the fact that I feel like I am eating weeds, well, because I am, I learn that this is yellow wood sorrel, a native weed in North Carolina, and is great in gin cocktails. Hmm… tell me more.
Our foraging guide is Becky Beyer from No Taste Like Home in Asheville, who has a master's in Appalachian studies and speaks across the Southeast on Appalachian folk medicine, wild foods, and ethnobotany (huh? the study of the region’s plants and their practical uses). As we walk along the edge of an overgrown field of wildflowers and weeds, we learn about how to steep white yarrow for a cold remedy tea, how orange daylily blossoms are delicious fried after being stuffed with goat cheese, and how sassafras makes a mean root beer and adds a tasty zest to gumbo. We encounter all sorts of wild edibles from greens to flowers to roots that can be used to infuse drinks, soups, stews, teas, and salads, and many of which can heal a bevy of ailments. Who knew?!
Our organizer and host for this day in the country called Foraging Adventure and Wild Food Lunch is Kristin Jorgensen, a talented cook, caterer, and event planner. Entertaining our group of twelve today at her charming event hideaway called The Barn just outside of Cashiers, Kristin has refurbished the old and once minimalist structure, previously owned by her grandparents for almost thirty years, into an inviting, shabby chic finished space where she hosts dinner parties, events, and cooking classes.
The Barn is where childhood summers spent with her grandmother were majestically filled with foraging adventures picking blueberries and apples, making jams and pies and sipping lemonade under the big oak tree. Her grandmother’s motto, “Found food always tastes best!” is imprinted deep in Kristin’s heart and for today’s event, Kristin shares this passion with us. She has turned an ordinary Sunday into an extraordinary Sunday that is well organized, educational, and delectable. Our diverse group, hailing from Atlanta, Asheville, and the local area, enjoys an enlightening foraging tour and then relaxing under The Barn’s signature oak tree sipping Kristin’s Wild Lemon Balm Mint Smash (see the recipe on the next page).
As the glorious smells of a wild greens pesto, country ham, and burrata pizza make their way from inside The Barn to the outside, our party takes its cue to head inside to eat. We gather around the state-of-the-art kitchen watching Kristin cook up some fabulous eats and gush over The Barn’s interior, lovingly decorated with antiques, linen, silver, wood, stainless steel, and glass. With many original effects of the barn still intact like the wide plank flooring, the original beams across the ceiling, and the powder room humorously made to feel like an outhouse (only with real plumbing), the place feels bucolic but refined. As the warm, gentle breezes of the day billow through the open doors and windows, the views of the pasture, fields, and distant mountains make for a surreal setting.
With the pizza appetizer happily digesting in our bellies, we are invited to sit down at a long, beautifully appointed table for our much-anticipated three-course wild foods lunch meticulously prepared by Kristin. Each course sticks with the theme of the day to include some sort of wild edible. Our starter is a delicious Magenta Lamb’s Quarter (yes, a weed) Gnudi with ramp butter and parmesan, a naked ravioli that melts in your mouth. The chatter dies down at the table as we all dissect and savor the flavors. Our second course of Sunburst trout with a wild sorrel mayonnaise with wild greens and field peas is equally as impressive. The trout is so fresh like all of Kristin’s ingredients, which come from sustainable sources from the surrounding area. Our third course, a dessert of wild lemon balm pannacotta and wild fennel shortbread cookies blows everyone away. It is the perfect ending to a perfect meal. As laughter and joyous conversation fill the room, I look down the table and see nothing but smiles. You almost want to shout, “We did it! We ate prepared weeds!” but really the meal is so much more than that because you can feel the love Kristin infused into each preparation.
Her intention to create a nurturing space for comfort, happiness and good food where people can nourish their bodies and souls has been accomplished. “I hope that [guests] too will be affected by the magic that my grandparents created here,” confides Kristin, “and for the simple rustic beauty…unplugged and off the beaten path…and sharing a meal together.” One guest, Carol Saul, an attorney from Atlanta, put her perspective into words, “The almost magical serenity of the Barn’s setting in remote and lush Western NC enveloped us as we were served an amazing meal incorporating native edibles from the surrounding fields.”
The event calendar is quite packed for The Barn this season with interesting workshops, cooking classes, kids camps, and dinners under the stars. Check out The Barn’s website at for more dates and information. 

Finding the Luxe

Looking to be inspired in creating an enviable interior, luxe style today calls for a mix of materials reflective of classic designs but with a contemporary fresh look bringing balance and sophistication to form and function.  NC Living found some coveted favorites to delight your design sense and bring envy to all of your well-heeled friends.

There is nothing old-fashioned about this mid-century diamond-cut pattern on these 15-ounce Bourbon Street Double Old Fashioned (DOF) glasses inspired by the French Quarter in New Orleans. Visually making a statement on the bar, the tactile and nicely weighted feel of the glass in hand will elevate the enjoyment of the beverage within. The crisscross design is available in a bevy of sizes and shapes including wine, flute, coupe, rocks, and highball glasses along with a 40-ounce decanter and ice bucket by Rolf Glass. Set of 4 of DOF glass: $72.50 at

Eyelets are back in and they are hot! Pair these Carnival hand-crocheted 100% linen napkins with any of Kim Seybert’s napkin rings or her Gem Blocks to complete the look of your tablescape. Kim’s designs are featured in Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and luxury retailers around the world. Napkin available in two colors: White/Beige and White/Seafoam; size 21” square; set of four: $112 at

Sophisticated and functional, this Chin Hua Lotus Bar Cabinet crafted with maple and walnut solids and satin walnut veneer will add grandeur to any room. Tucked behind the double doors is a mirrored back panel with LED interior lighting, a mirror work surface, wine bottle storage, fixed shelving, and two adjustable shelves. The metal base is black nickel-plated with one fixed wood shelf. Size: 54”w x 17.25” d x 74.25” h. Available colors include Sable (shown), Prairie, Black Pearl, Smoke and Sapphire. $10,650 by Century Living at

Designed as jewelry for the table by NY-based designer Kim Seybert, this Gem Block brass napkin ring with faux malachite inlay will inspire any hostess or host to throw one fabulous dinner party. Couple with one of Kim Seybert’s napkins for a finished look. Size each: 1.5”w x 1.75” t; set of four: $84 at

Literally wrapped in luxury and sitting in front of the fire on a chilly evening, you will delight in your purchase of this Emara throw by Sferra. Made of delicately soft cashmere blended with superfine Merino wool, the design is layered with fluid organic pressed pleats inspired by ripples on water. As much an art piece as a home accessory, Sferra’s attention to detail makes this exquisite work of craftsmanship standout. Available in two colors Winter White and Natural. Size: 50” x 70”; $1,110.00 at

Designed by Spanish designer Miguel Arregui, the classic Fonda Chair is intricately handwoven by superior artisans in Mexico. With anything woven being en vogue, this chair is bound to be the center of attention in any room. Made from hand-woven palm leaves wrapped on an iron base, it is available only from the innovative and contemporary Tao Studio Gallery located in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Tao Studio can easily ship this one-of-a-kind piece to anywhere in the world. Email Tao for an estimate. Size: 36"h x 18"w x 17”d; $750 (estimated in US Dollars) at

North Carolina native Whitney Caudle’s fresh designs and bold colorations will make any sofa or chair be the signature seat in the room. With a touch of contemporary, yet a youthful, sophisticated style, Whitney’s vast collection is available in every color, shape, texture, and size. Consult for her catalog. Priced from $175.

This Rattan Daisy Hanging Light by specialty designer Soane in London is made from hand-woven cane by Leicestershire, England weavers. Suspended by a natural rope chain, the 4-bulb chandelier’s sculptural knitted design allows soft light to filter out through the cane as well as casting light below. Antique brass canopy and fittings add to the distinctive detail. Size: 13-1/4” H x 31-1/2” D. Lead time: 8-14 weeks. Headquartered in London, Soane showrooms can also be found in San Francisco and New York. Price upon request at 

Highly stylized ceramic lighting, including chandeliers, pendants, and table lamps are LA-based designer and artisan Heather Levine’s signature. Sought after by clients from around the world, Heather’s one-of-a-kind designs are artful and functional. This particular pendant’s glossy white glaze is super chic while the decorative circle cutouts give it an edgy feel exposing the light from within. Size: 11.5” tall x 11” in diameter; $1,125 at


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    Chef Ken Naron's Spicy Bread and Butter Pickled Tomatillos

    9 each small to medium sized tomatillos, quartered
    2 small yellow onions thinly sliced
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup white vinegar
    ½ cup water
    ¾ tsp. black pepper
    1 tbsp. cayenne 
    ¾ tsp. turmeric
    ¾ tsp. cornstarch
    ½ tsp. celery seeds
    ½ tsp. mustard seeds
    1 tsp. kosher salt 

    Combine all spices and liquids in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add onions and tomatillos and cook 8-10 minutes more. Ladle into sterilized jelly or mason jars, twist on lid to finger tightness, turn upside down on thick kitchen towel and let sit overnight to seal or process in water bath until sealed. Enjoy as an accompaniment with your favorite sandwich or taco.

    Heart & Soul: Meet Canyon Kitchen's New Executive Chef

    Chef Ken Naron is no stranger to the kitchen, particularly Lonesome Valley's Canyon Kitchen, located in Sapphire Valley. Having served as Sous Chef, or second in command, for the last two years under Chef Adam Hayes, Chef Ken’s new role as Chef de Cuisine or Executive Chef will breathe fresh life into the traditions emanating from this highly respected farm-to-table restaurant. Patiently working his way up the ranks during nearly twenty years of culinary experience, he has achieved an impressive resumé. And while he looks great on paper through his culinary accomplishments, it is his Louisiana heritage along with his magnetic personality that will bring a fresh heart and soul to Canyon Kitchen’s seasonal debut.
    As a kid, if he wasn’t on his skateboard, he was getting the cultural education of living off the land in the bayou. He was unaware at the time that this down-home training would shape him for his culinary path and current role. “Although my passion for cooking was realized later, I was always involved with the gathering process and gained an intense appreciation for the land.” Steeped within his memory are happy times spent hunting, trapping, and fishing with his grandfather. Harvesting from the family garden, they ate seasonally in the days when the term “farm-to-table” was not yet a culinary trend. They ate whatever they caught or grew. It was Ken’s Creole-Irish grandmother who would spend hours creating spontaneous yet traditional dishes from their bounty. He recalls carefully watching her preparations and waiting patiently for her mouthwatering plates to land on the family table. He was always impressed with her ability to pay homage to the land and craft food that radiated passion.
    When Ken’s teenage aspirations to be a professional skateboarder fizzled, he soon found his next step as a dishwasher to earn money to buy his first car. What he quickly discovered was a fascination for the restaurant life, particularly in the kitchen. The energy, the creativity, the camaraderie, and enthusiasm drew him in, and he soon found himself working under such notable chefs as Tom Wolfe and James Beard award-winning Chef Gary Danko. As a mentor, Gary Danko wielded a great influence on Ken’s career while he worked at Danko’s Relais & Chateaux restaurant in San Francisco. Ken was encouraged by Danko to pay attention to the finer details. Aside from learning how to best manage a kitchen team, he was taught culinary and kitchen secrets that became a turning point in his path and gave him the tools to become a truly great head chef.
    Now taking the helm at Canyon Kitchen, Chef Ken and his team introduced an expanded tasting menu, offering more choices of Canyon Kitchen’s signature menu items and incorporating new twists to past presentations. Gracing the menu is gastronomy influenced by Ken’s Creole roots, as well as Mexican and Asian infusions. Thoughtful and inventive, Ken draws inspiration from around the world and the local land. His vision is clear on striking a balance in his culinary creations by marrying flavorful spices with seasonal ingredients. Canyon Kitchen’s practice of using local ingredients from sustainable suppliers along with fruits and vegetables harvested from their own garden will continue to serve as the basis for Chef Ken’s prix fix menu. New features include pasture-raised Lady Edison pork and farm-raised bison from Carolina Bison. You might find these dishes imbued with essences of fresh chamomile and coriander that are new to the garden this season, while heirloom squash, Seminole pumpkin seeds, arugula, and cauliflower with touches of radish and nasturtium brighten the plates. 
    Above and beyond everything else, Chef Ken is all about making his guests happy. “It’s important that the food is flavorful and balanced with every bite,” says Ken. “Our guests can expect an elevated dining experience.” Creative gastronomy guided by Ken’s heart and soul will be the driving force behind his authentic cuisine. If you haven’t managed to visit Canyon Kitchen this season, make sure to make your reservation soon! Not only will you enjoy your experience, you will love getting to know Ken as he meets and greets.  

    About Canyon Kitchen

    Located in the scenic Lonesome Valley community in Cashiers, North Carolina, Canyon Kitchen is a seasonal restaurant featuring exquisite dishes in a relaxed setting. The nightly prix fixed menus utilize fresh, seasonal ingredients from the restaurant’s own garden and other local food sources, including Sunburst Trout Farms, Brasstown Beef, and Looking Glass Creamery, to name a few. At Canyon Kitchen, guests enjoy the local flavors of North Carolina while looking upon the thousand-foot granite cliffs and lush forests. Situated in a craftsman-style barn, Canyon Kitchen’s interiors include traditional post-and-beam architecture, stacked stone fireplaces and sliding barn doors throughout allowing guests to take advantage of the crisp mountain air. For more information, visit

    South Pacific Escape

    Welcomed by stringed instruments, Fijian lyrics, and bright smiles, you immediately feel the tropical embrace of Royal Davui. The private island resort located in the Beqa Lagoon is a sanctuary of lush land and seascapes bottled into a curated rendezvous that allows time to disappear and invigorates your human experience. 
    Sipping morning coffee in the warm splash pool overlooking a spectacle of blue water begins each day. Each villa inspires a no-technology zone, with an open-air deck, inviting sun or shaded lounge chairs, and a tub for two—perfect for stargazing with the one you love. 
    The perfectly transparent turquoise waters offer some of the best snorkeling in the world. Filled with live coral and breathtakingly beautiful fish species, the scenery mesmerizes guests. Low-tide paddleboarding or kayak jaunts will allow a view from above where deep blue starfish can’t escape your eye. Raise a flag poolside for your cocktail of choice to be delivered, or indulge in the refreshing aromas and inviting touch of the spa. 
    The staff brings the resort to life; with only sixteen villas on the island, they all know your name and share their culture, allowing you to feel a part of something much bigger than yourself. The connection with others, yourself, and nature is the most special part of this Fijian escape from the everyday world. 
    Each morning over breakfast, choose your lunch and dinner menu over the sound of crashing waves and the aroma of fresh flowers under the leaves of a one-hundred-year-old banyan tree. Culinary delights from the island chef include tuna cones with fresh wasabi, cucumber, and ginger or an incredible tuna caesar salad. Enjoy fried cassava root (a healthy alternative to french fries) and the catch of the day. Sweet offerings at the end of lunch and dinner are delightful with an innovative island twist. I was fond of the ice cream affogato drizzled with chocolate and dipped in espresso and coconut vodka. The detox smoothie offers a restorative zing with its mint and fresh ginger, while the spice of the kava-infused vodka bloody mary is a staple at 8 o'clock each morning. 
    Don’t miss the kava experience with the locals. If you are lucky enough to be anointed Ratu (chief), the drinking of kava and singing could go on for hours. Kava root is harvested when it is around three years old. It is cured and ground into a fine powder that is diffused into room-temperature water and used in social gatherings in local villages. Travelers beware, it is a little more powerful than the average alcohol drink. 
    Hermit crab racing will have you in deep anticipation to see if your chosen one will cross the line first, and cocktail hour is always a great time to converse with other guests from across the globe and the bartenders are always good for storytelling. 
    We were fortunate enough to watch humpback whales and dolphins show off from the deck of our villa as we gazed at the edge of the horizon, watching the sun take its final bow as it kissed the sealine. The little moments of smiles and connection were truly life-changing, inspiring new ideas and mottos to live by. Your stay at Royal Davui allows you to relax, unwind, and tap into what matters most. 

    / Picnic on the sand cay. Exposed for only a few hours of the day, this stretch of sand, about the size of a football field, provides an afternoon you will never forget. At the edge of Beqa’s lagoon water break, you are surrounded by hues of blue from both the water and horizon—becoming your backdrop for a private picnic lunch for two. Land crabs play hide-and-seek, and fish leisurely swim by as you and your loved one spend a couple of hours on a deserted island. 

    / World War II Hike. Many people may not realize the history of Fiji during World War II. The island-hopping campaign brought 10,000 U.S. Marines on the ground in Fiji to look out for warships coming through the sea passage. A ten-minute boat ride across the waters from Royal Davui is a small village of approximately one hundred, where local guides will take you up a mountain to one of those lookout points. The hike is not for the faint of heart, yet the view is stunning. This was one of our favorite activities, as we were able to shake the hands of children at school, and see the villagers' lifestyles.

    / Day Trip to Suva. Pass villages and visit roadside makeshift stands to buy local fruits and vegetables, freshly caught fish, and straight-from-the-tree coconut water as you make the forty-five-minute drive to the capital city of Suva. The city is bustling with shops, parks, markets, and people. Its main port receives approximately 150 cruise ships a year and offers a perspective on city versus village living. Find souvenirs or try local fare, yet the must-see is the market. Filled with an endless selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, it rivals Pike’s Place in Seattle and the renowned spice markets of Mérida, Mexico. Its cleanliness and fresh pineapple will linger in my mind forever.

    / Deep Sea Fishing. If the urge bites you, take a local charter to the east side of the reef to challenge yourself with a mahi-mahi, marlin, skipjack, or a myriad of other fish. Guides will be happy to strap you in and help you reel in the big one. When you land your prized fish, snap a photo and then enjoy it on your dinner plate. If your sea legs are a little weak, be sure to pack a patch or Dramamine to get you through. 

    How to Get Here:

    From the States, take the direct Air Fiji flight from Los Angeles Airport (LAX) to Nadi International Airport on the mainland in Fiji. From here there are a few options. One, take a helicopter directly from the Domestic Terminal to Royal Davui Island. It is the fastest and most exhilarating way to get there. Second, have breakfast in the terminal, enjoy a Fiji Bitter at the domestic terminal, and wait for your small plane to take you to the airstrip where you will taxi to a dock and board the 30-minute boat ride to Royal Davui. Third, take a three-hour scenic drive from Nadi to the boat dock and cruise over to the island for your Royal Davui welcome greeting. 


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    Renovated Chattooga Club Cottage

    Sassafras is a charming and spacious three-bedroom, three-bath Tudor-style Club Cottage in the premier gated community of The Chattooga Club. Ideally located just steps away from all club amenities and minutes from downtown Cashiers, this carefree cottage has been completely renovated with a fresh, modern look.

    The elegant exterior is welcoming with a new roof and poplar siding. On the inside, custom cabinetry and high-end finishes in the kitchen, dining room, master bedroom provide a luxe sanctuary. The divine screened living porch offers space for dining or relaxing. Mature landscaping with beautiful indigenous plants and trees surround this very inviting summer home.

    Homeowners enjoy the trout-stocked lake, canoeing and a very picturesque picnic area known as Mac's View, boasting views of three states — a sublime spot to watch the sunset while enjoying some wine and cheese with friends. Lawn maintenance is included with all Club Cottages. Membership to The Chattooga Club and Chestnut Society is by invitation only.


    A River Tour of Northern Italy

    Uniworld's river cruise "Gems of Little Italy" did not disappoint. The tantalizing itinerary promised a little bit of everything: big-city excitement, art history, charming villages, extraordinary wine, and unending culinary adventures. 
    We arrived, jet-lagged, early one morning at Milan Malpensa International Airport, but a quick nap at the city’s Starhotels Rosa Grand was all that was needed to incite curiosity about our new location. Milan is tremendously walkable, and we took meandered, delighted to be within a stone’s throw of Duomo Square, elegant shopping, and endless restaurants. Ten thousand steps or so later (according to one traveler’s Fitbit) we decided on an outdoor table at a cafe near the hotel and collapsed into chairs at about 6:30 p.m. Mind you, it was somewhere in the wee hours our time, but we had inadvertently labeled ourselves hopeless Americans. After several minutes, the proprietor ambled out of the back of the restaurant where he and his staff were enjoying their dinner before the official opening of the restaurant which would not come for some time. He took pity on us, however, and poured a round of Prosecco for us to enjoy while he finished his own supper.   We were finishing up our meal when the first locals arrived. Takeaways from the excellent dinner: proper dinnertime is closer to 8 p.m. and Italians never (never!) sprinkle Parmesan cheese on fish dishes, something I was told in no uncertain terms when I requested some for spaghetti and clam sauce.
    The next day began with a special tour of il Duomo, the fifth largest Christian church in the world which took 600 years to build. Not surprising, when one considers the mind-boggling details contained within its walls.  For example, a  minute opening high up in the ceiling is perfectly engineered to allow a tiny beam of light in each day to produce a line on the marble floor that traces the winter and summer solstices.
    The scale of Duomo is otherworldly—the cathedral seats 40,000—and was a breathtaking preamble to our visit to the nearby small church where da Vinci’s renowned Last Supper is displayed in a setting that is both intimate and accessible. The refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the 15th-century masterpiece is housed, was appropriately hushed on the day we visited, as we absorbed the guide’s insightful interpretation of the painting’s depiction of the 12 apostles with Jesus and the meanings behind their positioning and expression.
    Dinner that evening found us in the historic Biffi Ristorante, located in the famed Galleria, an emporium of designer shops. We opted for a table outside the restaurant, which facilitated world-class people-watching, from families pushing strollers and eating gelato to young lovers window shopping Prada and its displays of leather accessories.
    The next day our itinerary called for a road trip via Mercedes bus to Venice, with two side trips to Verona and a famed Valpolicella wine estate. The day happened to be a holiday celebrating workers, so Verona was teeming with people who flooded the street markets and especially the famed balcony where Juliet was purported to have awaited her Romeo.
    The winery at Valpolicella, however, provided a peaceful counterpoint to the Verona craziness and we disembarked happily at the owner’s 800-year-old home for a sublime luncheon. Think creamy risotto, veal shank with a side of rich layered potato slices, followed by a strawberry mousse with chocolate and almond nougat. Then pair each offering with bespoke wines, and you’ll know why more than a few travelers napped on the last leg of the journey to Venice.
    Ah, Venice! The first thing that struck us was that this picturesque city is composed of 118 different islands. Is it any wonder that Venice is known for its canals and bridges? A walking tour on our first morning there took us up and down, over and under many of them on our way to the Doge’s Palace where we met one of Venice’s real gems.  
    Her name is Susan Ruth Steer, and she is an art historian from England who fell in love with Venice during her education. A resident of the city for more than 20 years, she wrote her thesis and dissertation on medieval art, architecture, and Venetian altar paintings. But even better, she’s wonderfully accessible and conversational, and you feel as if you’re strolling through the world’s masterpieces with an old friend.
    The Doge Palace, of course, was the seat of Venice’s sophisticated republican government and the residence of the “doge” (Italian for top dog) more than 800 years ago.  But it is also an extraordinary art gallery with jaw-dropping works by Tintoretto, Titian, Bosch, and so many others. It also provides a fascinating peek into early Venetian justice, as the prison is located here, within view of the famed “Bridge of Sighs” which the accused passed under on their way to judgment. (After touring the grim jail, we can only assume they sighed with deep remorse.)
    The afternoon was spent on our riverboat, the River Countess, cruising the beautiful lagoons, before meeting up with Susan Steer once again, this time for a private visit to St. Mark’s Basilica, after hours and far from the maddening crowds.
    We arrived by valporetto water taxi (“like George Clooney!”our cruise director assured us) and were ushered into the quiet elegance of the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Venice. We could have stood in the entry passageway for hours following the chronological stories of the Bible on the ceiling, but there was so much else to see. The pala d’oro, for example, is a breathtaking enameled altarpiece made up of gemstones and gold, much of which, like many treasures in the cathedral, had been plumaged during early Turkish conquests. The crypt downstairs once housed the remains of St. Mark, but due to flooding concerns, the apostle has been relocated upstairs beneath the altar.
    For a change of pace, our guides took us the following day to Chioggia, a working fishing village on the Venetian lagoon. An orientation walk was offered, although the heartier travelers opted to ride bikes, and we all convened at a local restaurant for an outdoor demonstration of the harvesting of mussels. A family-style lunch of steamed mussels, pasta with clams and eggplant parmesan followed, complemented by local wines served from carafes. Chioggia is also known for its weekly market, which is more like a traveling department store. Locals can purchase everything from dresses, shoes, and underwear to pet food and local produce. The morning scene was vibrant and noisy.
    It’s impossible to know Italy without knowing the food, so another side trip, this time to Bologna, featured a pasta making lesson. Bologna is a foodie’s delight, known for its exquisite bolognese sauce which is wonderful paired with fresh egg pasta or incorporated in the area’s traditional lasagna made with green lasagne noodles and a rich bechamel sauce. But Bologna is also famed for its, well, bologna. Also known as mortadella, bologna is made of finely hashed pork, mixed with a few small cubes of pork fat and flavored with spices, olives, myrtle berries, and pistachios.
    Bologna, as it turns out, is also known for its exceptional medieval architecture, such as the University’s famed Anatomical Theatre and the National Gallery of Art. But be forewarned: pushing oneself away from the local tortellini or tagliatelle is not easy, no matter the cultural offerings!
    Seeing Venice from a small riverboat brought home again the realization that the city is really a collection of islands. Thanks to Uniworld, these islands seemed to have been carefully culled, as the ones we visited were each extraordinary in their own right.
    Take Mazzorbo, for example. Mazzorbo is the home of the “last of the golden vines” from which the Venissa vineyards produce its famous wine. A stop at the famed winery, which was resurrected in 2005 when the elusive vines were re-discovered, allowed us to sample the rich, amber colored wine, which is produced like a red wine with the skins remaining on the grapes.
    Or, Burano, home of the ancient art of lace-making. It is said that lacemakers learn one stitch, and one stitch only, so that every piece produced passes through a number of dedicated hands. The table linens, clothing, and charming accessories like bookmarks are understandably temptations for visitors. But Burano itself is a feast for the eyes, as the homes along the water are all painted different bright colors. Legend has it that sailors would be gone for long periods, arrive home in the fog, and occasionally stumble into the wrong home. Knowing that they lived in the bright orange house, or the sunny yellow house, presumably made their homecomings smoother.
    Finally, no trip to Venice would be complete without checking out a Murano glass factory.  We visited a very special one on the Isle of Giudecca, where our tour began with a stunning glass blowing demonstration during which an artisan very calmly blew hot liquid silica into a figure of a high stepping horse. The showroom offered infinite examples of this art for sale, from charming necklaces and pendants to ballroom-scale Murano chandeliers that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
    Most evenings, after a full day of touring, we returned to our riverboat for dinner, always a treat on the Uniworld line. The company buys daily in the local markets, and the result is a magazine-worthy presentation of fresh and creative offerings to suit all palates.  At breakfast, guests find traditional American omelet stations beside cutting boards laden with olive bread and pain du chocolat, tray after tray of fresh fruits, smoked salmon and capers, and punch bowls of smoothies. The lunch buffet is equally tantalizing, featuring a pasta of the day along with eye-popping salad, sandwich offerings, and the ever-popular gelato bar. Dinner follows a cocktail time in the lounge and features three choices of appetizers, entrees, and desserts.  A recent addition to some of the cruises is a pizza oven, located on the upper deck, for those nights when travelers prefer a casual dinner. Every evening ends with featured entertainment—and sometimes dancing. It makes a wonderful day.
    Perhaps a cruise is not for everyone wanting to explore Italy, but for those seeking a meticulously curated itinerary, served up with excellent food and wine, Uniworld’s “Gems of Little Italy” is hard to beat. Veterans now of four excellent European river cruises, we have become fierce advocates of this style of travel. The only question remaining is “where next?” •


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