|Vegan gelato, mmm|
I'm semi-vegan myself, if there is such a thing. I've been vegetarian for about 20 years (I still eat honey, eggs and cheese) and used to call myself "vegaquarian" when I was eating fish and other seafood more than I do now, which is hardly ever.
|A great book, seen in Florence|
All week, we had great conversations - on trains, at the dinner table, while walking city streets - about things close to my heart, like minimalism and tiny houses and animal welfare and plastic pollution and the importance of being in nature. It was a breath of fresh air.
It also meant I wasn't the only one noticing sustainable things as we travelled by train from Venice to Rome via Bologna and Florence.
Here are six I particularly loved:
|A "Venexian" espresso|
with cocoa and soy milk
2. Free water. In every city we visited we found public drinking fountains where we could refill our reusable water bottles. The water was not just clean but cool, so refreshing on a steamy northern summer's day.
|Water fountain in Venice|
3. Being "vegano" is easy. It's surprisingly easy to be vegetarian or vegan in Italy. Many much-loved Italian foods are naturally vegan; think olive oil, pesto, bruschetta, pizza and pasta (when made without eggs).
Because most dishes are made fresh, you can often ask for non-vegan ingredients to be removed; for "no cheese" just say "niente formaggio".
|Pizza heaven, without cheese|
(at Il Rovescio, Bologna)
We ate at some incredible vegan restaurants. My three favourites, which were all organic too ("bio" in Europe-speak) were: Fiume Freddo (it means Cold River) in Venice; Il Rovescio in Bologna, where the wholemeal pizza with soy cheese made me never want to eat pizza outside Italy again; and Il Margutta in Rome, a fine-dining vegetarian restaurant that's been going since 1979.
|A "zero kms" bruschetta at|
Garden & Villas, Ischia
The food there is amazing, thanks to the resort's Sicilian chef Guancarlo Lo Giudice and the fact that almost everything you eat is grown in the property's organic garden. The rest is sourced from elsewhere on Ischia, including olive oil and wine; there are 20 wine producers on an island that's barely 10km wide. That's Italy for you, land of the fresh and delicious.
We stayed in Canareggio, Venice's Jewish quarter (who knew? It's only been there for 503 years), which has plenty of hip bars and cafes. One morning I got up early and walked to the sea-shore to watch the sun rise.
Everything was still. The crooked colourful buildings looked as if they'd been hand-drawn, the canals were as smooth as mirrors and there was no one around but the seagulls and the street-sweepers (they do a good job; I barely saw any rubbish around, despite Venice being one of Europe's most visited cities).
|In tourist mode at|
Rome's Trevi Fountain
The island of Capri, near Ischia, banned all single-use plastics in January this year. Rome is working towards banning all single-use plastics. And the EU Parliament just voted unanimously to ban 10 single-use plastics such as straws across Europe by 2021 and to recycle 90 per cent of all drink bottles by 2029.
|Climbing roses in Tuscany|
Big thanks to Intrepid Travel, particularly our "vegano" guide Francesco Sibilio and Kate Parker at head office for getting me back to Italy, my first visit in 30 years. The more I travel, the bigger the world gets, but I'm appreciating the value of backtracking too, as bookmarks in our lives, showing how we've changed as well as the places we thought we knew. Grazie mille, Italia.