A Little Greek / Yogurt in Paestum

If you tell a Roman that you are going Paestum for the weekend, invariably he or she will tell you: “Make sure you pick up some mozzarella di bufala.”

Paestum is a sight to see without the culinary pit stop. A city known as “Poseidonia” when it was part of Magna Grecia, Paestum is home to three extraordinarily preserved Greek (Doric) temples that date from 600 to 450BC. The two temples to Hera and the temple to Athena sit on a wide, grassy plot of land that is much easier to navigate than the not-too-distant Pompeii, the more famous ruins an hour north of here. Continue reading A Little Greek / Yogurt in Paestum

Italy’s A3 Autostrada Near Completion 50 Years After Project Began

It’s been called the “shame of Italy” and for good reason. The A3 autostrada, a 443km highway that is to connect Salerno to Reggio Calabria, has been under construction since 1966.

Faulty construction and mafia meddling by both the Camorra and ‘Ndragheta factions have caused numerous delays during the nearly 50 years since the project began, reports The Independent. It has become the “symbol of how public works are in Italy,” according to Stefano Zerbi, spokesman for Codacons, Italy’s national consumer organization.

When mobsters aren’t creaming off millions from the road building thanks to dodgy contract work, it seems they’re ensuring that the route doesn’t impinge on their other activities. About halfway, the route curves back on itself awkwardly. This detour is said to have been done at the request of a local Mob boss who didn’t want the motorway coming too close to his villa.

This week, Prime Minister Renzi declared that construction of the A3 will be stepped up in the hopes that the project will be finalized by the end of 2015. However, no completion date has been set.

Read more: Fifty years on, work on Italy’s ‘eternally unfinished’ highway enters final stretch

Naples 101

napoli_vesuvio

Although Naples is the third largest city in Italy, it is not as well known as its more popular neighbors to the north, like Rome, Florence, and Venice. That’s why we’ve brought in guest poster Gabriella Sannino to tell us the basics about her adopted hometown. Continue reading Naples 101

Scenic Drive on the Amalfi Coast

Positano Amalfi Coast
Italy is full of scenic drives. There are the honey-colored sunsets of Tuscany, sepia-toned ruins of Ostia, and the snow-capped cityscapes of Torino. But if you want a ride with the bluest of blues then the only place to find yourself is along Campania’s La Costiera Amalfitana, The Amalfi Coast. This coastal road links Sorrento with Salerno and is dotted with candy-colored fishing ports and fortified ancient towers. There is so much to see on this magnificent stretch of road that your agenda should include several different itineraries because it is difficult to tackle it in just one day. So, rent a car and explore the road that is sure to take your breath away as you climb the hills out of Sorrento and head toward key stops along the way to Salerno.

Positano Amalfi Coast
1.    Positano – There is a lovely little lemonade stand just before reaching Positano.  It affords those postcard views you always see of this famous cliff-side town.  The rest stop itself caters to tour buses but ignore the masses and climb down the steps for some of the best photo ops you can imagine.  Parking is extremely difficult in the heart of Positano and after taking your great shots from the rest stop you would be much better off bypassing the center and heading further south.

Furore Room with a View Amalfi Coast
2.    Furore – is an ancient municipality highlighted by a beach at the bottom of a towering fjord, which then rises some 550 meters to the village of Agerola. Furore is at once majestic in its raw beauty with mountains that reach toward the sky and waves that crash along the fortified towers which dot the coastline. Furore itself is comprised of several smaller villages, one of which is the pretty port of Praiano.

Praiano San Gennaro Amalfi Coast
3.    Praiano – is an ancient fishing borgo. (OK, so all of these villages offer fishing but that’s just how it is when you’re a coastal community!) Again parking is difficult but a stop in Praiano is worth it if you can climb down to the piazza in front of the oft-photographed Church of San Gennaro.  Its dome rises before you as you come around the bend and is even more spectacular when viewed from a boat on the water.  You should also make your way down the steep and winding road which leads you to the beach. It may be small in size but is enormously full of charm and the warmth of the locals who greet everyone as old friends.

amalfi coast
4.    Amalfi –comes upon you as a pleasant surprise, as the road directs you to the port and the bustling area around the marina. It is hard to imagine that this tourist-filled area was once a major maritime powerhouse for over 400 years. A leading trading port in the Mediterranean between 839 and 1200, Amalfi has kept many of its ancient traditions alive in the 21st century and has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Parking here, as in most of the ancient Amalfi Coast villages, is difficult but is best found if you turn right at the central taxi stop and head toward the end of the pier. Then journey up the hill and absorb the view that awaits you in Amalfi’s central Piazza del Duomo. Your first glimpse of St. Andrew’s Cathedral is something not easily conveyed in words or photos.

La Costiera Amalfitana is more than just scenic drive in Italy.  It is a road of dreams and I have but barely scratched its surface.

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Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist-turned attorney and nearly fanatical vagabond.  Her passport is always at the ready and she is the Italy travel consultant behind Wanderlust Women Travel and the Italy destination wedding site Wanderlust Weddings; she also writes travel features for MNUI Travel Insurance.

Photos © Emilio Labrador, Lisa Fantino (1, 2), nenita_casuga, toastbrot81

Five Favorites: The Amalfi Coast

Amalfi Coast Santa Croce
With its rough coastline, deep blue ocean, and color-drenched markets and hillsides – think bougainvillea, oleander, lemons, and orange blossoms – the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana in Italian) is one of the most sought-after seaside destinations in Italy. Similar to Liguria’s Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, just south of Naples, is a series of cliff-side towns linked by culture and geography. Typically, the Amalfi Coast is listed as one entity. But if you’ve heard of any of its towns separately, most likely you will know of Ravello, Positano, and Amalfi. The nearest cities to the Costiera Amalfitana, Sorrento and Salerno, act as bookends to this luscious, Mediterranean zone.

The Amalfi Coast evokes so many gorgeous images for me, so I’m very excited to be able to share more information about this area in a new Five Favorites post by Laura Thayer. Laura runs the excellent Amalfi Coast-focused blog Ciao Amalfi!, which is a chronicle of her life in this wondrous little nook of the Italian peninsula. Her following five favorite reasons for loving the Amalfi Coast are personal but I think they hold some solid tips for anyone who wants to travel there.

View more Five Favorites posts here.

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Five Favorites: The Amalfi Coast

For most people it only takes one quick glance at a photograph of the rocky and dramatic shores of the Amalfi Coast to make it a dream destination. Life’s twists and turns—much like the serpentine roads that wind along the coastline—have brought me to a new life on the Amalfi Coast. It is a place of striking opposites, of both intense and surprisingly simple pleasures, that continue to impress me day by day. Here are five of my favorite experiences about life on the Amalfi Coast.

Amalfi Coast Santa Croce

The Brilliant Blue Sea
Don’t come to the Amalfi Coast expecting wide, sandy beaches. Instead, you’ll find pebbly beaches, rocky coves, and the brilliant blue sea. One of the best ways to see the Amalfi Coast is to rent a small boat and explore the tiny, out of the way beaches and grottoes. Find the most tempting spot – with water the color blue of your dreams – and dive in!

Duomo of Amalfi

Duomo of Amalfi
Many people are shocked when they first step foot into the main piazza of the small seaside town of Amalfi and encounter the Cathedral of Amalfi, called the Duomo. Golden mosaics glitter in the sunlight on this Neo-Byzantine revival façade dating from the late 19th century. Most days the steps are crowded with groups of tourists taking photos, local teenagers lounging about, and children trying to eat gelato faster than it melts in the warmth of the summer sun.

Wine Glass Amalfi Coast

Food & Wine
Living on the Amalfi Coast and learning how to shop and prepare the regional dishes has made food and cooking an integral part of my daily life. The simplicity of good food here has taught me a great deal about enjoying what is fresh and locally produced. Fish that was caught fresh that morning, wine grown and produced on the steep mountain terraces along the Amalfi Coast, cheeses made just up the road, and apricots from my neighbors gardens. When you visit the Amalfi Coast, don’t miss the chance to try some of the excellent wines produced on the small towns of Furore and Tramonti, or the renowned Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese made from cow’s milk in the mountain village of Agerola, or the limoncello (a lemon liqueur) made in most of the villages along the coastline.

Vietri sul Mare Ceramic Mural

Colorful Ceramics
Ceramics are a part of everyday life on the Amalfi Coast. In almost every town you’ll find shops full of colorful hand-painted ceramics. Inside many churches the floors are covered with beautiful ceramic tiles, and the bright majolica-tiled domes of the churches in Positano, Praiano, Cetara, and Vietri sul Mare shine in the sunlight over the towns. Head to Vietri sul Mare, where ceramic production dates back to the 15th century, to find the best shopping.

View of Atrani Hiking - Amalfi Coast Hiking

Hiking on Ancient Pathways
After a few days relaxing by the beach, grab a pair of good walking shoes and explore the mountains – the other side of the Amalfi Coast. Long before the road was built, the only option for getting around on land was to take the stone steps and pathways that still connect all of the towns and villages. Walking is one of the pleasures of my life here, far away from the summer crowds and deep into the sleepy daily life on the Amalfi Coast.

Laura Thayer Sorrento Headshot
Laura Thayer is an art historian and freelance writer living on the Amalfi Coast in Campania, Italy. She writes about travel for MNUI travel insurance and blogs about life on the Amalfi Coast at her own site Ciao Amalfi.

Photos © Laura Thayer, Ciao Amalfi!

Hotel Award: Best Culinary Experience

Virtuoso Life, a magazine tailored to luxury living and travel, has just released the winners of its Best of the Best Awards for 2009. Not surprisingly, the worldwide winner for the best culinary experience was in Italy.

Rosellinis, a 2-star Michelin restaurant in the Palazzo Sasso hotel in Ravello, received the top prize for a hotel restaurant among 800 properties surveyed. I took a look at the restaurant online and found these items on the  sample tasting menu: Giant squid ravioli filled with crab & courgettes, creamed potatoes sauce and ricotta dumpling; Cod fillet crusted with Gaetas black olives, Sorrento beef tomatoes and anchovies sauce; and Lamb filet wrapped in rose crust & rose liquor with white asparagus tip, mirror potatoes and anchovies sun dried tomatoes sauce. YUM!

I’ve no doubt these dishes are lovingly prepared with the best ingredients. Rosellinis and its star chef Pino Lavarra have earned 2 stars from Michelin, too – not an easy feat. Then again, this award is for the best culinary “experience” so I’m guessing the setting – in a palace on the Amalfi Coast, with terraces “looking down on the fishing boats 1,000 feet below” – had a lot to do with the decision.

Either way, if you’re interested in dining at Rosellinis, book far in advance. Also note that the restaurant is closed from November through March.

Click here for more information about the Virtuoso Best of the Best Awards.

Photo from the Palazzo Sasso website

Do You Know the Way to Pompeii?

About a year ago, I posted some information about going to Pompeii from Rome on a day trip. Just a few days ago, I was alerted of a new way to get there. When in Rome Tours has private and semi-private minibus tours to Pompeii. They’ll pick you up in Rome, drive to Pompeii via Cassino (site of the Montecassino Abbey) and Naples, take you to lunch, provide you with a Pompeii guide, and get you back to the Eternal City all within the same day (about 13 hours). They also provide walking tours of Rome and smallish bus tours of the Rome environs (no giant motorcoaches here!). So if you’re trying to put together a little jaunt down to Pompeii while visiting Rome, consider checking out When in Rome Tours. Thanks for the tip, Marie!

Photo by Paul Vlaar

A 360-Degree Spin Around Italy

Do you ever feel like you don’t get the whole picture when reading about Italy in guidebooks or on blogs? There are now a couple of websites that go one better than the usual two-dimensional picture.

Expat Peter Ryder, a resident of Sardinia, has two websites that can give you a better picture of the island – www.360sardinia.net and www.360alghero.net. In addition to providing information on where to stay, where to eat, etc., these two sites provide 360° looks at some of the beaches, marinas, and piazze of Sardinia.

Similarly, there’s a newish website called 360travelguide.com that features, according to a press release, the “world’s largest free access panoramic image library.”  For Italy, they offer virtual tours from Amalfi to Verona, as well as user reviews and travel blogs. There’s also an ongoing competition for users who provide reviews to win an iPhone. Ooops…gotta go write a review now…:-)

Spain Conquers Italy

Palazzo Reale in Caserta Campania Italy
Palazzo Reale in Caserta, Campania Italy

Large parts of Italy were once united under the Spanish flag, with conquests in Naples and Sicily by the houses of Aragon and Bourbon, among others. Even Milan and Parma were under Spanish rule at one point. I confess that I am not an expert on Spain’s influence on Italy, so you may want to read more about it here or here. This article from Best of Sicily Magazine even discusses the Spaniards of Sicily. While I still need to brush up on my Spanish-Italian history, I do know there are a number of interesting sites to visit in Italy that have a Spanish past.

For example, the city of Caserta, north of Naples in Campania, is known for its breathtakingly large Royal Palace, built on the orders of Charles of Bourbon by Luigi Vanvitelli in the late 18th century. The Campania Regional Tourist office lists several regal itineraries including this Itinerary Fit For a King.

The Caserta Palace was one of four palaces used by the Bourbon Kings of Naples. The other three are in Naples, with one on the Capodimonte Hill, one in Portici, and the other at Piazza del Plebiscito. You can read more about the Bourbon palaces from the Royal House of Bourbon Two Sicilies, which still exists, if by name (and wealth) only.

Speaking of Sicily, the island has tons of Spanish leftovers, as it was ruled by the Houses of Aragon, Bourbon, Bourbon of Two Sicilies, and the Spanish Hapsburgs, among others. This brief history from the travel agency Think Sicily has a good rundown of what each dynasty left behind and what there is to see today. The Sicily Tourist website provides an itinerary of the castles and forts on the island, including the Spanish Fort (Portopalo di Capo Passero) on the southeast coast.

For more palaces, go north. The Palazzo Ducale di Colorno in the province of Parma was a Bourbon residence. Milan also has a Palazzo Reale, which houses the city’s contemporary art museum. Some of the Royal Palace in Milan was destroyed during World War II, but underwent a long restoration that ended in 2006.

Then, there’s the island of Sardinia, which was ruled for many years by Spain before becoming a kingdom in its own right. Sardinia has a very diverse history, and many of its feasts and festivals, such as Sartiglia, held each year in Oristano, features a medieval Spanish-style jousting tournament. Here, too, is The Complete Guide to Sardinia, a fantastic, in-depth article written by Frank Partridge of London’s Independent in 2007.

Of course, I have only touched on a few Spanish-related gems in Italy. Certainly the maritime territories, such as Genoa and Venice, have Spanish connections, and areas throughout Sicily and the Mezzogiorno (Abruzzo, Basilicata, etc.) also have leftovers from the Spanish era. I hope to bring you more about these sites in the future.

Photo from Caserta.nu

Pompeii By Night

Pompeii By Night
Pompeii At Dusk

Question: What’s eerier than surveying the ruins of Pompeii? Answer: Visiting them at night.

According to the ansa.it news service, Pompeii will once again offer its popular “Sound-and-Light” tour, a one-hour look at the ancient Roman city complete with ambient music, flood-lit ruins, and a video simulation of the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed the city in 79 AD. The tour will be available in English, Italian, and Japanese.

Sognopompei, as it is called in Italian, promises to be an unforgettable night and will show the “poetic side” of the must-see tourist trap:

The tour kicks off at the Terme Suburbane, a once-neglected district that has become a big draw for its frescoes graphically depicting a variety of sex acts – presumed to be an illustration of the services on offer at the local brothel.

It then winds its way up the main road, pointing out the curious cart ruts, craftsmen’s shops and famous villas.

The grand finale comes in the heart of the old city, the forum, when four giant projectors beam a special- effects-laden video reconstruction of the wrath of the volcano Vesuvius, which smothered the city and its lesser-known but equally fascinating neighbour Herculaneum in ash and cinders.

Sognopompei tours will run this summer, Fridays through Sundays, through November 13. Prices start at €20 per person, with discounts for Campania Artecard holders and families with children under 16. Reservations are required.

Photo by Pirate Alice

Dirty Weekends in Italy

The Times UK’s Stephen Bleach had a fun article about romantic getaways in Europe this weekend titled “The Dirty Weekend Guide to Europe.” Bleach argues that a “place of [one’s] own” makes or breaks a romantic holiday and highlights a “dozen of the slushiest, smoochiest and downright sexiest hideaways on the Continent.” No surprise to us, four out of the 12 are in Italy:

And, not a Tuscan villa among any of them. Be aware, however, that romance this luxurious comes at a price!

The Complete Guide to the Bay of Naples

Bay_of_Naples_and_Mount_Vesuvius2C_Italy

Now that Naples seems to have a handle on its garbage problem, it is hoping that tourists start to make their way back to Italy’s “city by the bay.” Right on time is a service article from the U.K.’s Independent. The Complete Guide to the Bay of Naples gives the lowdown on getting there, visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum, and taking tours of Vesuvius, the Campi Flegrei “sulphurous sites,” and nearby destinations like Sorrento and Capri. As the article is geared towards the British traveler, some of the suggestions, such as for hotels, are a little on the pricey side for American tourists. But there is a lot of information here for someone who’s considering exploring one of Italy’s most evocative cities.

Not even 5 minutes since we wrote the above…Want even more about Naples? You may also enjoy 48 Hours in Naples. This recent piece from the same newspaper has great tips for the “independent” traveler, including city walks and dining suggestions.

Photo: Wikitravel Naples

Luxury Lodging Links

Italy is not short on luxury accommodations, as is often highlighted by A Luxury Travel Blog. We have gathered several recent tips from that site for hotels that go the extra mile (or kilometer, as it were):

1) In the post Top Ten Small Luxury Hotels of the World, two Italy hotels are singled out: Le Sireneuse in Positano (Amalfi Coast, Campania) and Il Falconiere in Cortona (Tuscany).

2) Castello di Meleto in Florence recently received best accommodations honors from the 2008 Best of Wine Tourism awards.

3) And, reserving the Presidential or Diplomatic Suite at the Park Hyatt in Milan will get you a Porsche rental.

Ten Euro Trattorias

Italy’s leading paper Corriere della Sera has a small English language section that delivers news and the occasional lifestyle article. While digging, we found this recent nugget on Low Cost Italy’s Ten Euro Trattorias. While the article doesn’t provide an exhaustive list of cheap eats (it is a mere round-up of some other food articles), it does name a few, including Buffet da Pepi (Trieste, Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Taverna del Leone (Positano, Campania), and Antico Forno Roscioli (Rome).

Roberto Rizzo, the author of the article, also names staf chef Davide Oldani’s D’O, a budget-friendly restaurant in Milan’s San Pietro all’Olmo district that offers a two-course lunch menu for €11.50. D’O’s dinnertime tasting menu isn’t a steal at about €32, but it’s not bad for a one-star Michelin restaurant.

Day Trip to Pompeii from Rome

My friend Tom recently asked me if I knew of any good day trips to Pompeii from Rome. When I last visited Pompeii, I did it myself: taking the morning train to Naples then Pompeii and doing the reverse in the evening. My tour of Pompeii was solo and without a guide; quite frankly, being alone added an extra eerie element to the ruins around me.

Nevertheless, I know that there’s a better way to “do” Pompeii because I am sure that I missed a lot in my quest to be self-sufficient.

Tom’s question put me in research mode. Unfortunately, what I found were fairly expensive tours, the lowest of which started at $173 for a one-day trip or €115 (about $176) for a guided tour of Naples and Pompeii. The In Italy website had trips starting at a ridiculous €728 for a two-person tour. I’m sure that their guide is quite knowledgeable, but their trip still has travelers riding the same train that they could book for themselves.

I took a look to see what it costs today to ride the train from Rome to Pompeii. Currently, a train trip to Pompeii (transferring at Napoli Centrale) on the Ferrovie dello Stato costs €37.90 (or about $58) each way. The earliest trains depart from Rome’s Termini station to Napoli Centrale is 6:45 a.m.; total travel time is about 2 1/2 hours.

Once in Pompeii, travelers will no doubt come upon authorized and non-authorized Pompeii tour guides, whose expertise could cost about €50 for a two-hour tour of the archeological site. Alternatively, once inside the entrance, visitors can purchase an audioguide for €6.50 and pick up free maps of the excavations from the Information Point. To ask about additional services offered by the Pompeii Archeological Site, send an e-mail to [email protected].

In sum, a self-guided trip to Pompeii – taking the train, €11 admission, and using an audioguide – will cost a traveler about $142.50 a day, not including breakfast, lunch, and other knick-knacks. Add in those extras, and you may as well book one of the above trips. That, or find a friendly Italian guide who can drive you there and give you a tour for less. Good luck with that one.

So, Tom, I hope that this little bit of research comes in handy for your travel planning. I wish I could have found a better deal for you. Perhaps someone else has a tip? If so, please comment below!

One other idea that I write about in the Unofficial Guide (and that I was reminded of when reading about In Italy’s Pompeii tour) is to consider a daytrip to Ostia Antica. Located about 30 minutes by local train outside of Rome, this ancient ruined city is Pompeii in miniature. Sure, Ostia Antica didn’t die the dramatic death that Pompeii did (the silting up of its outlet to the sea and rampant malaria drove its populace out), it is still a beautiful, awe-inspiring, tour-worthy site.

Photo © Paul Vlaar

Should Naples Secede from Italy?

Yes, that’s a pretty drastic headline. But, Beppe Grillo – Italy’s #1 social/political commentator – seems to think so. He posted the following GreenpeaceItaly video about the Naples garbage problem on his website saying “I’m here to say sorry to you on behalf of all the Italians.” This is a huge tragedy that I hope will be resolved soon – before the summer sun really starts cooking that trash. *sigh*

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9ZGsZ_7m2c&locale=en_US&persist_locale=1]

Italy’s UNESCO Heritage Sites – All in One Place

So, you’ve made it all the way to Rome but wish your vacation time allowed you to visit the other 40 UNESCO Heritage Sites in Italy? Have no fear!

According to the U.K.’s Italy Magazine, an exhibit of 120 photographs of Italy’s heritage sites will be on display at the Central National Library. The exhibition will give you a chance to see the Trulli of Alberobello (in Puglia, as pictured above), the beauty of the Amalfi Coast, and the historic center of the ideal Renaissance cities of Urbino and Pienza.

The exhibit at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma runs through March 14. The library is located at Viale Castro Pretorio 105 (Metro linea B, Castro Pretorio), just a few blocks from the Termini train station.

20 Things We Love About Italy – Part 1

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a favorite shopping spot in Milan

In honor of Valentine’s Day, we here at Italofile wanted to share with you some of our favorite foods, fashions, architecture, and other random things that make Italy our favorite destination. Yes, just about every one of our posts highlights the things we love about Italy. But this is our chance to feature some things that just don’t make it into every day posts.

And, why 20 things, you ask? Italy has 20 regions and we’ve selected a favorite thing from each of them. Keep in mind, this is hardly an exhaustive list: it was hard to pick just one thing from each region. Also note that this list is in no particular order (except alphabetically by region).

What kinds of things have made you fall in love with Italy? Please be so kind to share them by commenting below or contacting us on Twitter @italofileblog. If you want to know more about each of the 20 regions of Italy, click on the “By Area” categories to the right or visit our Tourism Boards page.

Today, we’ll tackle the first 10 – Abruzzo through Lombardy:

1) Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo. We love our Chiantis and Barolos, for sure. But we often find that when it comes to buying a good, everyday table wine for under $15, we return time and time again to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. There are many good brands of Montepulciano out there. However, Wine Spectator recently featured Valle Reale as one of its daily wine picks. To learn more about this vintage, visit Winebow.com.

2) I Sassi of Matera, Basilicata. These cave houses, which are a lot like those of Cappadocia in Turkey, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The eerie dwellings were mentioned in Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli and the Matera landscape was used as a stand-in for Jerusalem in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.

3) Sopressata and Caciocavallo, Calabria. Many an Italian-American household would be at a loss on what to serve for antipasti were it not for these delicious sausage and cheese items from Calabria. I’ve yet to try these foods in their native place. Though, we once shared some Arthur Avenue sopressata (sausage) with a visiting Italian friend and he said it was some of the best he’d ever tasted.

4) Mt. Vesuvius, Campania. From the ruins at Herculaneum and Pompeii to the jawdropping landscape of Naples – even to the rock formations on the island of Capri – Vesuvius was involved. This still-active volcano is a sight to see, which makes this trip seem pretty cool.

5) Byzantine Mosaics of Ravenna, Emilia Romagna. Yet another World Heritage Site, Ravenna is often overshadowed by other Emilian cities like Parma and the capital Bologna. But Ravenna shines because of its stunning, well-preserved, early Christian mosaics, particularly in the Basilica of San Vitale. If you’ve got an Italy “bucket list,” seeing Ravenna’s mosaics should be on it.

6) Gorizia, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. There are little pockets on the peninsula that defy Italian stereotypes. Gorizia, which lies on the border with Slovenia (Nova Gorica), is one of those places. Here is where central and Slavic Europe meets Italy in a melting pot of dialects, architecture, attitudes, and more.

Civita di Bagnoregio, a magical little village in Lazio

7) Civita di Bagnoregio, Lazio. Beyond the attractions of Rome, one of the most charming places in all of Central Italy is the tiny, hilltop town of Civita di Bagnoregio. Built by the Etruscans on soft tufa rock, the village is slowly but surely giving way to the ravages of time and gravity. So you may want to pay your respects before its too late.

8) Olive Ascolane, Le Marche. The earthy cuisine of the Marches (Le Marche) is finally getting its due thanks to the fantastic cookbook Cucina of Le Marche by Fabio Trabocchi. Certainly no book on the cucina marchigiana would be complete without a recipe for Olive Ascolane – fried, stuffed olives. Yum!

9) Portofino, Liguria. Liguria, the eyebrow shaped region of Italy, is very eye-catching indeed, what with its picturesque fishing villages, particularly those pastel painted cities of the Cinque Terre. Portofino, in the Genoa province, is a huge tourist magnet. But one glance at its tidy cityscape and port and you’ll understand why those big-time hotel developers have tried their damnedest to recreate the place.

10) Milan Fashion Week, Lombardy. Twice a year in Milan, we have the opportunity to see what Italy’s creative fashion minds have come up with for the catwalk. In my humble opinion, the Italian designers have always been on the cutting edge with sexy, yet wearable clothing. Think Valentino, Versace, Gucci, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana, and you’ll see what I mean. Of course, Milan is Italy’s fashion capital year-round which is in evidence when you walk the city’s bustling streets, stroll through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and window-shop the chic shops on Via Montenapoleone.

Tomorrow…our favorites from Molise through the Veneto!

Photo © Traveler100, Alessio Damato

Renaissance Hotels in Italy?

I’ve been really digging the recent ad campaign by Renaissance Hotels in which famous Renaissance-era compositions are recreated with modern models and scenes. The one listed above, of course, is an homage to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery) and there is also one that is based on Leonardo’s Last Supper. You can check out the comparisons of the ads and the original paintings here.

Anyhow, this got me thinking: a company named Renaissance that uses inspiration from Italian masters surely must have tons of hotels in Italy, right? Wrong.

It turns out that Renaissance Hotels has only one property on the peninsula: the Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo. According to the reviews on TripAdvisor, it seems like a fine hotel and is currently rated #37 out of 195 hotels listed on the ratings site. I have to admit, however, I am a bit disappointed with this finding.

I’m not advocating that there should be more corporate-owned hotels in Italy. But, it almost seems like false advertising using well-known Italian Renaissance painting scenes to hype up your hotel in Orlando. At any rate, if any of you are looking for a hotel in Naples that is “great for a day trip to Capri,” “near great shopping on Via Toledo,” and has stunning views of the Bay of Naples from the breakfast terrace, then this may be the hotel for you.

You’re welcome.

A Video Game for Italophiles…Who Knew?

A number of press releases come across our desk, most of them irrelevant to our interests or assignments. One that came over the wire today is about Anacapri: The Dream, a video game that takes place in Capri and Anacapri.

According to the release, the game requires that “you assume the role of an expert in ancient civilizations beckoned to Anacapri, a place of beauty and mystery. Here, you must search for an ancient artifact once believed lost to the ages. On the trail for clues, you encounter real villagers of Anacapri, as well as historical figures who once lived on the island. As you explore the Grotto of Ferns, Walkway of the Forts, Marina Piccola, Palazzo a Mare, Red Beard’s Castle, the Phoenician Staircase, and much more, you experience the fantastic legends and lore of this magical place.” In addition, the game “is comprised of more than 8,000 detailed photographs taken around the real island of Capri and its charming village of Anacapri.”

We’re not gamers, but this is one that we may have to check out.