Winter Wonderlands
The Boston Globe
December 7, 2006

By Linda Laban, Globe Staff

No one wants to miss out on the holiday fun, but who wouldn't like to escape the work and stress? Take a holiday break this season and ditch the cooking, the clean-up, and the complaining.


Find your thrill on Federal Hill

For white Christmas dreams of a different kind, check into an uber chic, super-white suite at ...

Hotel Dolce Villa (63 Depasquale Ave., Providence. 401-454-8826) on beautiful DePasquale Square in Federal Hill, Providence's Little Italy. Short of flying off to Milano or Florence, Federal Hill is an unbelievably real Italian experience, similar to the North End, but with its own special character, just an hour's drive south from Boston.

After all, the holiday season is about great food, and who does it better than the Italians? Federal Hill is packed with great restaurants, bakeries, and delis. Get to know the area's culinary history with a tour from Cindy Salvato, who teaches at Boston University in the pastry arts program Julia Child started. (Tour days and times: SavoringRhodeIsland.com, 401-934-2149.)

Make sure you discover Scialo Brothers Bakery (257 Atwells Ave., 401-421-0986), which has been in operation since 1916 and is now run by co-founder Luigi Scialo's daughters: Carol and Lois Scialo. The fruit-laden fried pastry Struffoli is a must for any Neapolitan Christmas feast.

Venda Ravioli (265 Atwells Ave., 401-421-9105) is a fabulous deli, located by the fountain in DePasquale Plaza, with homemade prepared meats and 28 different types of ravioli in its considerable gourmet arsenal. Tony's Colonial (311 Atwells Ave., 401-621-8675) is another mouthwatering Italian food market stocked with pastas, Pantone, and Panforte, and what is reputed to be the best arancini (deep-fried rice balls, usually stuffed with mozzarella), which are traditionally made for the feast of Santa Lucia on Dec. 13. Gasbarro's wine shop (361 Atwells Ave., 401-421-4170), at 108 years old, is one of the oldest businesses on Atwells, which is Federal Hill's main drag. It has around 1,800 wines in stock, with 900 from Italy.

The vibrant Federal Hill restaurant scene has yet another hot new name: Siena (238 Atwells Ave., 401-521-3311), a sleek spot with traditional Italian dishes such as gamberi con timo, which matches shrimp sautéed with thyme and a perfect creamy risotto bianco ($19). Zooma Bar-Ristorante (245 Atwells Ave., 401-223-2230) is a hip hangout for drinks and excellent food — try a pillowy crabmeat-stuffed ravioli con grancho ($15). Mediterraneo (134 Atwells Ave., 401-331-7760) is a longtime favorite, which turns into a late-night Latin nightclub on weekends. The food, however, remains the focus, and Mediterraneo's ''assaggi,'' or small plate-style tastings, allow wonderful exploration.

Hotel Dolce Villa's suites offer basic kitchen facilities for creating an effortless private Christmas or New Year's Eve feast Italiano, courtesy of Federal Hill's many wonderful delis. The hotel's adjacent Villa Toscano has a full kitchen for those who really want to cook. Or just fire up its enormous Jacuzzi and relax in utter privacy. (Rates: suites from $99 to $249 per room; Villa Toscana from $399.)

For a real traditional Italian experience, from Dec. 17 through Christmas Eve, Pane e Vino (365 Atwells Ave., 401-223-2230) offers the Sicilian Christmas Eve feast La Viglia di Natale, known more commonly as ''The Feast of the Seven Fishes.''

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