Florida Keys

Located south of the tip of Florida, the Keys are a coral cay archipelago forming the southernmost tip of the continental United States; they also separate the Gulf of Mexico from the Atlantic Ocean. The chain of over 200 islands is over 290 kilometres long and connected by the 42 man-made bridges called the Overseas Highway. The Florida Keys have a tropical climate with average annual high temperatures of 28,3°C, lows of 23°C, and total precipitation of circa 1000mm.

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This summer we took all 42 bridges down to Key West and would like to share some of the sights we discovered with the help of a veteran Keys-visitor and hobby fisherman. The practically turquoise Caribbean waters surrounding the coral islands are home to various great game species: In the flats and mangroves closer to the shores, there are tarpon, bone fish, and red fish which are often caught on a fly from flat boats. But venturing further out into the Atlantic, the game changes to mainly trolling for the big game fish: swordfish, sail fish with their spectacular tail walks, and of course the magnificent mahi mahi (or dolphin fish).

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Guided fishing trips can be arranged at literally any marina, with boat sizes varying drastically. A good place to start looking is always one of the numerous bars and grills where the captains hang out after a morning of deep-sea fishing–at the very least, the local wait staff is sure to know where or with whom to arrange a fishing expedition. The general atmosphere in the area is just very laid back and social statuses seem to  vanish with the burning red sunsets over the ocean. As our guide told us, you’ll never know if you’re sitting next to a bum or a billionaire in the Keys.

Here are some of our favorite–and very Keysy–places we visited on our trip:

Island Grill at Snake Creek

The Island Grill in Islamorada sits on a small waterway of the Atlantic just off of the highway. The fare is simple, but it’s a good spot to stop for a diner-like breakfast or lunch with pretty views of the water and, especially, the mangroves.

Lorelei Cabana Bar

The Lorelei is a casual bar and restaurant in Islamorada that serves food and drinks all day in classic Keys style: no frills, live music, unpretentious people, and a great view of the back bay. The sunsets are beautiful here, especially with a cold one in hand.

Morada Bay Beach Cafe

Morada Bay sits right next to the Lorelei and is one of the more upscale options for dinner and drinks on the Keys; that being said, you can still show up in shorts and a t-shirt for dinner. Set under twinkly lights and palm trees, tables are scattered over a deck and the sand-covered backyard overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. There’s often live music and always a bevy of little kids running around and playing on the sand. It’s a great family spot and one of the most beautiful spots to watch the sun go down. Plus, the food and cocktails are quite good!

Sparky’s Landing

Sparky’s is a Keys classic on Fat Deer Key for all-day dining or drinks with live music and a great view of a marina. Come here less for the food (though it’s not bad) than the atmosphere, which is fun, lively, and full of locals. Also worth a visit for the large fishing boats in the marina. Bar staff will be able to point you to the captains of the boats for a fishing trip.

Louie’s Backyard

Amid the raucous bars and dining spots overrun with tourists in Key West, Louie’s is a high-end dining spot with a great view of the ocean looking south toward Cuba. The food, especially the fresh fish, here is excellent, and so is the service. Sit outside on the deck if it’s a nice day, though the inside also has a nice atmosphere with views of the water. On the lower deck, there’s a nice bar to sit if you’d just like a drink.

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Valle Maira

While studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piemonte some classmates and I took a day trip to the Maira Valley in the western alps. It was April, and it was a very interesting experience to see how from the bottom of the valley ascending up the road, we would not only travel a few hundred years back in time but also back to the last winter season. It was spring at the bottom of the valley and the end of the road it seemed we were back in January.

The Val Maira is an alpine valley that stretches about 60 kilometers from east to west in the Italian province of Cuneo in the region of Piemonte. It is also part of the Alpi Cozie in the border region of France and Italy. Settlements as far back as 4.000 years have been found in the valley, however, today it has the highest rate of rural depopulation in the whole alpine region.

From Dronero at 622 meters the valley climbs aproximately 60 kilometers following the Maira river up into the mountains. At the end of the valley in the east are the 3,389 meter high Chambeyron and the 3,166 meter high Sautron peaks. Because the lower valley is extremely narrow, the upper parts of the valley are only accessible on foot paths during summer. Hiking trails from the French side over 2,600 meter high are practically the only way to access the upper and wider glacially formed parts.

Many of the inhabitants of the Valle Maira speak (besides the official Italian language) a dialect of occitan, a gallo-romance language that formed in the medieval times. Originating from the south of France, occitan is still spoken in several Piemontese valleys, the Val d’Aran in Spain, and the south of Italy.

Mid-Valley in Stroppo: Lunch at Lou Sarvanot

Featured in the Slow Food Guide, Lou Sarvanot offers traditional occitan fare from largely local suppliers. The valley is especially famous for its high quality cheeses from raw milk.

Chippera: End of the Road

Chiappera is the highest part (1,600m) of the commune of Acceglio and the end of the paved road up the valley. The whole commune has a total population of 160 inhabitants and many of the buildings are neglected due to the migration into the cities over the past century. Already in early November the snow starts building up and usually does not start to melt until March or April, which makes for an extremely short growing season.

Elva: Above the Valley

Elva is a commune in a side valley of the Valle Maira at an elevation between 1,100m and 3,100m above sea level. The total population was 97 in 2015. The first settlement was Roman, as is proven by an engraved stone in the village’s church wall. This church is particularly important to the whole region because the frescoes in the choir are among the most important works of clerical art in the Piemonte. The œuvre depicts the life of Mary and originates from the end of the 15th century and is attributed to the French-Flemish wall painter Hans Clemer .