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The Best Places to Eat and Stay in Italy

08/20/2013 12:50 EDT | Updated 10/20/2013 05:12 EDT

On this latest trip through various parts of Italy, I started to think about the intimate link between where we stay on vacation and how we eat while away. Let's make the broad assumption that if one is staying at a Relais & Chateaux, then one is drawn to food experiences that are of the Michelin star variety. On the other end of the spectrum, hostel hoppers likely look to picnic as much as possible. Either way, I think any experienced traveler would agree that being within walking (or short driving) distance of good food is just as, if not more, important than proximity to places of interest.

My reality is such that I cannot afford to eat every meal out for three weeks. So to balance my bank account with a lust for luxury, Mario and I hopped between boutique hotels and apartments rented via Airbnb.com. At hotels we could let our hosts worry about the details, indulge in complimentary aperitivo (see the spread at Sicily's Monaci delle Terre Nere), as well as acquire some lovely bath products (like Sicilian-made Ortigia at Milan's Townhouse 33).

At apartments we could really feel like locals...and do laundry. On a July/August sojourn in Italy, having a washing machine eclipses WiFi access. Trust me.

But getting back to food. At every check-in, we met residents who offered up the latest and greatest restaurant options. We evened out the recommended splurges by either eating pizza on the cheap the following night, or preparing our own dinners with delectable discoveries made at nearby markets.

On the final leg of the trip, we found a charming one-bedroom in his lively hometown, Piombino. From this apartment, we had easy access to shops in the square, medieval sites, the seaside, and most amazing cioccolato fondente. The location and bargain price of our accommodations allowed us to tour and lunch in Suvereto, Populonia and Lucca. The latter requiring two hours in a car, but worth going the distance to see and walk the Renaissance-era city walls.

By Vespa, we reached the beach in Baratti, the thermal waters at Calidario Terme in Venturina, as well as festivals in Campiglia and San Vincenzo (great shopping to be had here). Of course there were notable eateries in each stop, but I should mention that having mama serve us one of her deliciously rustic meals was worth staying in town for.

Flip through the gallery for the eat/sleep intel collected in Pisa, Palermo over to Mount Etna, then Milan and Varese, and finally Florence and coastal Tuscany.

Many thanks to HTC Canada and the loan of the new HTC One smartphone so I could Instagram delicious dishes on the go!

Eat, Sleep Italy

The Where To Stay Shortlist:

Hotel Palazzo Sitano, Palermo

Monaci delle Terre Nere foothills of Mount Etna, Sicily

Townhouse 33, Milan

Romeo's Apartment, Pisa

Luca's Apartment, Varese

Max's Apartment, Florence

Alessandra's Apartment, Piombino

22 Remarkable Restaurants, Markets & Cafes (in order of discovery):

Giorgio Pizzeria, via Cavour 45, Pisa

Bar Santoro, Piazza Indipendenza (near Palazzo Reale), Palermo

Ocean Ice, Piazza Verdi (next to Teatro Massimo), Palermo

Culinario Hosteria, Via C. Ramondetti Filetti 24/26, Palermo

The Restaurant at Monaci delle Terre Nere

Borghetto S. Caterina Pizzeria, Corso Ara Di Giove 63, Pedara, Sicily (15 minute drive from Monaci)

La Plage Resort, 107/a Isola Bella, Taormina, Sicily

StraRipa Bar, Ripa Di Porta Ticinese 19 (best late night aperitivo on the Navigli), Milan

Frijenno Magnanno, Benedetto Marcello 93 (near central train station), Milan

Café Cioccolati Italiani, Via Griffi 6, Varese

Bella Napoli, Piazza Giovine Italia 10, Varese

Osteria Vecchio Vicolo, Via Lambertesca 16, Florence

Zeb, Via San Miniato, Florence (Secure a coveted spot during their weekend-only lunch service.)

Caffè Royal, Via Adriani, 35/R (overlooking Ponte Vecchio), Florence

Sapori e Dintorni Market, Via de' Bardi, Florence

Festival del Gelato, Via del Corso 75, Florence (Try the gelato made with rice milk.)

La Taverna di Populonia di Luca Pavan, Via San Giovanni, Populonia Alta

Antica Osteria Dei Tre Briganti, Via Matteotti 45, Suvereto

Trattoria da Leo, Via Tegrimi 1, Lucca

Ice Palace, Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, Piombino (Espresso, cioccolato fondente and free wifi for breakfast!)

Falesia, Via Costa 15, Piombino

Il Peccato, Via Emanuele 64, Piombino

A final tasting tip...When it comes to arancini, you won't get better than the ones made in Sicily. We ate them everyday! There are a few small café/bars on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, just north of Palermo's Hotel Palazzo Sitano, but stop at the one with the spinach arancini.