Ecotourism in the Cinque Terre


The Cinque Terre, already a favorite destination for travelers to Italy, is one place where sustainable initiatives are taking root. Protect Cinque Terre operates out of Vernazza, one of the five “terre” (lands) and offers participants the opportunity to work with locals in landscape preservation such as “rebuilding the stone walls that support terraced agriculture, cleaning trails used by thousand of tourists every month, and harvesting some of the agricultural bounty grown on the hillsides around the town.”

For sure, this is a challenging working holiday. But it can also be fulfilling. Danielle Machotka, who volunteered for the program and wrote about it for Transitions Abroad, had this to say:

Over the course of the three days, we learned about the impact that tourism has on a small town like Vernazza. The population of 800 doubles on a typical summer day. Some tourists stay for a couple of hours, buy gelato and postcards, and t-shirts, and leave for the next town. Some stay for a night or two. Some return every year.

All create waste. Sanitary sewer lines and water treatment plants are at capacity. Nature-loving hikers increase the potential for erosion with every footstep. None of this is immediately fatal to the well-being of Vernazza, but it is eating away at the town’s surroundings and resources. Tourism and agriculture are the primary industries; neither creates great financial surpluses. Alessandro and Olga hope that the working holiday program will be the first step towards solving the problem by raising awareness.

Protect Cinque Terre has three programs in 2009, including a Wine Harvest Program in September. The price for three days/four nights, including lodging, all meals, guided tours, entrance fees, transportation during scheduled excursions, and tools required during the program is €445 per person.

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Photo by Protect Cinque Terre

Genoa With Kids

I was recently doing some research on Genoa (Genova) and found that the old city, known for its port and as the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, has several kid-friendly activities, almost all of which can be found around the port.

From the port, families can take whale- and dolphin-watching excursions. Whale Watch Liguria offers the service year-round (weather permitting) from several departure points in Liguria for approximately €32 per person/€18 for children 3-12. Eco-conscious families may also want to check this list from the Dolphin Fund, which rates cetacean-sighting tours in Liguria and worldwide.

Another watery activity is going to the Acquario, Genoa’s impressive aquarium. The aquarium has several different underwater environments, including Mediterranean, coral reef, Red Sea, and Arctic waters complete with diving penguins. There are several different price structures depending on your interests (guided tours, children’s tours, aquarium after dark, etc.).

Genoa also has a Città dei Bambini, located in an old cotton warehouse by the port. Sections are divided by age (2-3 y.o., 3-5, 6-14), and include a “grotta” play area for the little ones, a construction site with hard hats for the 3-5s, and a giant “navigable” ship for the older kids. In all, there are 96 exhibits.

Finally, families may enjoy getting out of the city and taking an historic toy train up to the mountains. The train from Genoa to Casella disembarks every Sunday in the spring and summer and chugs its way through hilly terrain with views of the sea.

Photo © Osvaldo Zoom

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

Jetsetters Guide to Portofino

If you’re the type of person for whom money is no object, then you’d probably enjoy Nota Bene, a customized, subscription-only guidebook series. NB produces guides for the “discerning traveler.” Apparently, this is the type of traveler who can lease a “four-cabin Continental 80” boat for €6,000 per day or pay £350 for a 10-issue subscription to what amounts to a high-end travel magazine.

Nevertheless Nota Bene does produce some good-looking guides. And, lucky for us plebs, they’ve released a sample of their Portofino guide. You can download it here (PDF). If you’re satisfied, you can sign up to be a member of NB, which will entitle you to view other Italy guides including Milan, Rome, Capri, and Venice. 

Now, if only we could get a free trip to Portofino, not just a guide… 

Bathing in Viterbo, Eating in Venice…

Here are some links to some recent articles we found interesting. Enjoy!

NY Times
Wild Spas: The Divine Therapy

CNN.com
Vatican Airline Takes to the Skies
Genoa: You’ll Wonder Why Columbus Ever Left

Miami Herald
In Matera, Art – and Life – Go Underground

Gridskipper.com
Top Picks: Good Eats in Venice

The Making O’ the Green

On March 17, people the world over will turn their thoughts to all things green. But in Genoa, Liguria, they won’t be thinking about green beer, rather pesto, the home-grown pasta topping made from heaps of basil, olive oil, parmigiana and pignoli. This Saturday in Genoa marks the Pesto Championship, an effort by the local tourist board to re-introduce the traditional way of making pesto – with a mortar and pestle. Even when it’s made using a Cuisinart, pesto always sounds magically delicious to us!

Photo by Monkeycat!