Hello Kitty Wine Is the Latest Vintage from Italian Winery

Hello Kitty wine is a real thing. I know some of you will hate this and others will want to snatch some up just for the novelty of it all.

Apparently, Torti Winery, located in the Oltrepò Pavese hills of Italy’s Lombardy region has been working on a Hello Kitty wine since 2007, putting aside special Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes to create several different variety of wines (including a perfectly pink one). Continue reading Hello Kitty Wine Is the Latest Vintage from Italian Winery

The Milano Duomo, Inside and Out

Over the weekend, I finally got the chance to check out Milan’s famed Duomo, that jagged, Gothic behemoth that defines the city’s traditional skyline. Also known as Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary of the Nativity), the Duomo is the second largest church in Italy (second only to Saint Peter’s in size) and it took more than 500 years to complete, with more than 78 architects and engineers heading the project from its groundbreaking in 1386 to its completion in 1965. Continue reading The Milano Duomo, Inside and Out

Adopt a Spire on the Milano Duomo

Aerial of Milano Duomo Spires

The Milano Duomo, an enormous Gothic cathedral that is recognizable for its 135 spires, is giving the public a chance to help with its upkeep. Like an “Adopt a Road” campaign, Adotta una Guglia (Adopt a Spire) is an initiative by the Veneranda Fabbrica to get locals, tourists, and businesses to help with the upkeep of the spires, which are topped with fragile statues of saints and angels.

According to Adotta una Guglia:

The Duomo could not exist without the people of Milan, nor could Milan exist without its cathedral, which gives the city its identity. This is why the population is being invited to share in an act of popular responsibility. All contributors will be recorded in the List of Donors of the Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano, drafted in paper form and published online in the portal adottaunaguglia.duomomilano.it, obviously with the donor’s consent.

Donors who donate more than €50 can apply to receive a certificate of participation while top donors, those who donate more than €100K, will have their names engraved. (If you’re considering the latter, get in touch and let’s talk about adopting me…)

Browse on over to get a look at the map of the spires or the spire wall and learn how you can donate. The wall includes photos of the spires and has the names of the saints or angels represented. Also cool to note on the wall are the saints’ days, in case you want to make a donation to honor a loved one’s birthday.

As of now, the top three adopted spires are the Angel Pointing to Heaven, Archangel Gabriele, and Saint Cecilia. I wonder if anyone is going to adopt St. Napoleon?

h/t @moscerina

Photo: Milano Duomo

Milan Invites Visitors to Discover the Art of Nobel Winner Dario Fo

Dario Fo "Earthquake in L'Aquila"
Dario Fo’s “The Earthquake in L’Aquila”

Next month, the Italy Blogging Roundtable will celebrate our first anniversary. Jessica, Alexandra, Gloria, Rebecca, and I have enjoyed tackling a new topic each month, and we’ve especially enjoyed hearing from readers. In fact, we were so pleased with how our last invitation went for bloggers to join us at the Roundtable that we thought we’d extend another! This month, not only is the Italy Roundtable topic INVITATIONS, we’re inviting anyone who wants to participate to blog about one of the past year’s Roundtable topics. Our invitation details are at the bottom of this post. Now on to the post…

Continue reading Milan Invites Visitors to Discover the Art of Nobel Winner Dario Fo

Italian Fashion Designers and Their Hotels

Castiglion del Bosco

Fashion designers have known for a long time that it’s good to diversify. Not only have Italian fashion houses like Armani, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana ventured beyond clothing to include perfume, accessories, and restaurants among their branded items, they’ve also gone into the business of designing and/or maintaining luxury hotels and suites. This weekend, in the wake of the end of Milan Fashion Week, Sophy Roberts profiles Ferragamo’s Tuscan Estate Castiglion del Bosco for the Financial Times. As the writer points out, discussing this vast estate in today’s economic climate seems “absurd.”

The numbers involved in the project – by spring 2010 it will include 20 villas, 26 “hotel” suites, a Tom Weiskopf-designed golf course, spa, two restaurants, winery and stud – are clearly not for the credit-crunched. Nor are the sums easily accessible: Castiglion del Bosco has been set up as a membership club where fees are confidential. One source recently estimated it to be 120 memberships at €2m each.

Nevertheless, Castiglion del Bosco does allow non-members (“discerning guests,” according to its website) to stay at Il Borgo, the so-called heart of the 4,500-acre estate, for roughly €600-€3000 per night, based on availability. This latest Ferragamo venture is located in Val d’Orcia, but the Ferragamos also own other (more reasonably priced?) properties in Tuscany that are open to guests. Il Borro (not to be confused with Il Borgo, above), near Arezzo, has villa and farmhouse accommodations starting at $475 per night. In addition, the family also runs Lungarno Hotels, which includes several hotels in Florence and some suites in Rome.

Of course, the Ferragamos aren’t the only designers in the hotel game in Italy. The FT article also lists The Bulgari Hotel in Milan, the (Alberta) Ferretti’s Castello di Montegridolfo and Carducci 76 near Rimini, and the Bottega Veneta suite in Rome’s St. Regis Hotel.

If luxury and design are important criteria for you when choosing a hotel, you can also check out the Fashion Designer Hotels round-up from Forbes Traveler, which includes properties from around the world designed by Italians and other big names in the fashion world.

Photo of Castiglion del Bosco

Two New World Heritage Sites in Italy

Mantua/Sabbioneta are new UNESCO Heritage Sites
Mantua/Sabbioneta are new UNESCO Heritage Sites

Time to add two more Italian sites to the UNESCO World Heritage List. In July, UNESCO inscribed the Po Valley towns of Mantua and Sabbioneta and the Rhaetian Railway, which passes through the Swiss Alps into Tirano, Italy. Both new sites are located in the region of Lombardy.

Mantua (Mantova) and Sabbioneta were selected for their Renaissance town planning, with the former being an example of an irregular layout while the latter “represents the implementation of the period’s theories about planning the ideal city.” The Rhaetian Railway, which was opened in 1904, and made the list because it is an outstanding example of architecture.

Now with 43 city centers, monuments, and other cultural locations on the UNESCO List, Italy is one of the leading countries of “World Heritage” sites. And many more sites are vying for UNESCO status and monies. Perhaps next to be inscribed will be the Medici Villas, the incredibly lovely town of Orvieto, or the Historic Centre of Lucca. We’ll keep you posted!

Italian Program for European Day of Jewish Culture Announced

I’m always fascinated to learn about Jewish heritage in Italy. So, here’s a Jewish cultural event that will be going on this fall.

September 7 marks the European Day of Jewish Culture, and, according to Ruth Ellen Gruber’s blog Jewish Heritage Travel, “Italy is consistently probably the most enthusiastic country that takes part.” This year’s theme for Jewish Culture Day will be “Music,” and Italy is expected to host events in some 58 towns and cities, including Milan and Mantova.

To see a schedule of events and information about the programs, visit the Giornata Europea della Cultura Ebraica website. Note that the information is in Italian, but the times and locations are pretty easy to understand.

Golfing With George Clooney

You know that if you want to catch a glimpse of George Clooney, you’re more likely to find him in Como than in Hollywood. Now Jaunted.com reports that Clooney likes to hit the links at Como’s Menaggio & Cadenabbia Golf Club. Lord knows I’d let him play through… 🙂

Menaggio had its centennial in 2007. And though it appears to be a haughty, members-only kind of place, mere mortals (i.e., people other than Clooney and his cronies) can play here, with weekday greens fees starting at €60.

Win An Italian Cooking School Vacation

If the price of an Italian vacation has you down, here’s your chance to win one. Through October 1, 2008, you can register win an Italian Cooking School Vacation from La Cucina Italiana. The winner gets:

  • Round-trip airfare for two to Italy*, with transfers to and from the airport.
  • 4 nights accommodation in a 4-star hotel in the center of Milan, including daily breakfast.
  • 5 hands-on cooking sessions at La Scuola de La Cucina Italiana.
  • A fabulous Tuscan-themed dinner and wine tasting.

We’re not quite sure why guests will learn to cook Tuscan food in Milan (which is, of course, in Lombardy), but it sounds like a nice time, nonetheless. No purchase is necessary to register for the prize. But, if you love to eat and cook Italian food, a subscription to La Cucina Italiana can be a prize in itself.

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

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!

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.

More Money Saving Tips for Milan

We recently got such a good response from our posting on Designer Outlets in Italy, that we thought we’d try to find more bargain shopping resources. What we found was Entrepreneur’s How to Shop in Milan – Without Spending a Fortune, a short article with tips on outlet shopping.

This isn’t a cheapskate’s guide to Milan, but a way for fashion-conscious bargain hunters to get the most out of Italy’s fashion capital. There’s contact information for outlets such as The Place, Fidenza Village, 10 Corso Como Outlet, Basement, and Il Salvagente. Sale items included a black cashmere Miu Miu coat for €235 (reduced from €650), Furla handbags for €185, and Dolce & Gabbana men’s shoes (from the Dolce and Gabbana Outlet) for €168.

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.

Where the Fashion Forward Eat and Sleep in Milan

Nhow Hotel, Milan

Here’s a hotel and restaurant that we hope Jessica over at Italylogue will have a chance to check out while she’s in Milan.

Located in the hip Tortona district, Milan’s Nhow Hotel, which opened last year in a defunct General Electric power plant, has put a high-design touch on all of its rooms and common areas. There are bedrooms decorated to look like comic strips, a “crystallized” Swarovski chair, and a flowering Alexander Calder-type installations in the dining room. According to the Nhow brochure (PDF file), the hotel changes the look of the common areas every four months. So, it’s like staying at a gallery almost every time you visit.

If the Nhow’s minimalist design starts to bore you, then head over to Dolce & Gabbana’s Gold, the fashion design duo’s restaurant/bistrot/lounge bar. Like D&G’s, Gold is deliciously over the top. Though we wonder if anyone actually eats there.

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

Celebrating a Legend: Luciano Pavarotti

Today the world mourns the passing of a titan of music. Luciano Pavarotti, the man who introduced opera to a wider audience than any other before him, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer today. He was 71. There are many tributes on the web, including a Life in Pictures on bbc.com, reaction from his Three Tenor partners Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras (also from bbc.com), a reaction from residents of Modena, Pavarotti’s birthplace, and, at last count, more than 2,000 articles about his passing. Indeed, he will be missed.

So, what’s the best place to celebrate the big man’s work? Go to the opera, of course! One perfect event is Rome’s Opere Sotto Le Stelle (Opera Under the Stars), which will run through September 29 at the Gran Teatro. See www.romaturismo.com for more information on this and other events.

If you’re not prepared to go to the opera this month, consider taking in some musica lirica at some of Italy’s famous opera houses and arenas. Those include the Sferisterio in Macerata (Le Marche); the Arena in Verona (Veneto); and, of course, La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice.

36 Hours in Milan

Didn’t the NYT just run 36 Hours in Florence? Well, now you can check out 36 Hours in Milan, a weekend’s worth of culture and cuisine. Take these two pieces, along with NYT’s previous 36 Hours in Rome, and you’ve cobbled together a nice little vacation for yourself. See our Travel Articles category for links to articles from the New York Times and other publications.

Cook’s Tour of Milan

I’m very lucky. The very first time I tasted risotto was in Milan. We were en route to Verona and ate the creamy, saffron-tinted risotto milanese at the train station cafe. Even given the locale, it was still an epiphany.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has dreams about one of Milan’s most prized dishes. Mimi Sheraton’s Times’ piece A Cook’s Tour of Milan shows us that the city of high fashion also turns out fine cuisine.