Before I had a chance to read this weekend’s New York Times article on D.H. Lawrence’s footsteps through Sardinia, my father-in-law interjected with a tale from his time spent in Sardinia while in the Italian Army.
Dante served in the army for 13 months, most of that time spanning the year 1960. He had been posted to the Piedmont, but his battalion was sent to Sardinia for a gun training exercise. “Our hands were purple when we left the Piedmont, it was so cold,” he said. “By Genoa, it was much warmer. Then when we got to Sardinia, we were bare back because it was so hot.”
“I remember we took the train from north to south, from Sassari to Cagliari through the middle of Sardinia. It was so dry and we were so thirsty, we jumped out the train at each stop so we could run into town and fill up our canteens with water from the village nasoni (the faucet-like fountains that are all over Italy). Only the first guy would ever get a cup of water because the water in the nasoni just went ‘drip drip drip.’
“The other thing I remember is that all up and down the island were plots of land with prickly pear bushes everywhere. We took to eating the fruit from the prickly pears as a way to hydrate. But I remember this one guy–Carnicella–who was an office guy, a real primadonna, who stood back on the train with a fork and waited for the others to come back with prickly pears. Now, prickly pears are tricky–they are prickly so you have to be careful to get the meat out of them. Carnicella used his fork to dig into a prickly pear but the pricks were on his fork as he took a bite. He couldn’t eat for three days after that!”
The train chugged along through Sardinia. “It was a coal train, so by the time we reached Cagliari, we were black from the soot. I ate mussels in Cagliari that made me so sick I was in the hospital for two days. I didn’t know if I was dead or alive.”
When most travelers think of Sardinia, they think of the Emerald Coast (Costa Smeralda) – sea, sun, yachts, a veritable playground for the rich. In fact, Sardinia has a wild side and not just its macchia-covered nature trails. In the heart of Sardinia lies the village of Orgosolo, a sort of Sardinian “Wild West” known for years for its bandits, who would conduct brazen kidnappings and murders. During the first half of the 20th century, Orgosolo’s notorious reputation grew to such a point that it inspired the film Bandits of Orgosolo (1961).
While Orgosolo has since gotten a handle on its crime, the village’s unique history of rebellion as well as Sardinians’ struggles with the Italian state (i.e., in opposition to an army base on the island, among other reasons) has made the village a center of artistic political expression. Orgosolo today is known for the some 150 murals that decorate its houses, shops, and other outdoor spaces with images from Sardinia folklore, Italian history, and even international events. This unusual assortment of art encouraged me to find the best examples for my Orgosolo Mural Gallery on Flickr.
I’m going to let the art speak from here on out. But if you are interested in making a day trip to Orgosolo on your next visit to Sardinia, visit the Sardinia Tourism Board website for more information.
It’s Carnival time again in Italy, when Italians prepare to say “goodbye meat!” (Carnevale) by throwing lavish parties and parades before hunkering down for 40 days and nights of denial during the Holy Lenten Season.
We hope you’ve had an enjoyable August. Obviously, we took a little time off for rest and relaxation (and a move!), so there’s been little time to fill you in on some of the latest Italy travel news. Here’s a recap:
Some people in Rome think it’s a good idea to create a Disneyland-like theme park outside the city. Could this possibly be a good idea? I can’t imagine Italians wanting to pay money for a bit of Italian-style Americana in their backyard, nor can I see tourists skipping the real Roman tourist attractions to see another Euro-Disney. Yuck.
On August 16, the Bruco contrada won Siena’s Palio Horserace. Congratulations, Caterpillar! Lots of Palio history and trivia here.
And, some art news caught our attention. In Rome, through September 7, looted Roman antiquities that have recently been returned to Italy will be on display at the Palazzo Poli (near the Trevi Fountain). And, beginning on September 7, those interested in Etruscan art and relics should head to Cortona, where Etruscan art from the Hermitage will be on loan to the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca e della Città di Cortona (MAEC).
We should be getting back on track this week, so stay tuned!
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…:-)
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.
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.
An article today in the New York Times on Swimming Vacations inspired us to see if there were any swim adventure tours in Italy. In fact, one of the companies profiled – Swimtrek (located in London) – offers a one week swim trip around Sardinia’s Maddalena Archipelago. The tour features:
Swimming from Maddalena to Spargi.
The crossings between the three northern islandsof Budelli, Santa Maria, and Razzoli are inspiring.
The swim down Caprera’s eastern shoreline is a great delight, ending at the beautiful beach of Tahiti (named after the South Pacific island!)
Enjoying the abundant flora and fauna as we make tracks across the archipelago.
Savouring the delights of the main town of La Maddalena.
For this season, there are still two dates available – June 14-20 and September 27-October 3. If you’re a swimming enthusiast, this is a wholly unique way to see Italy. As an added bonus, each day you’ll have a chance to work off all that pasta you ate the night before!
We hope you enjoyed yesterday’s run-down of part 1 of 20 Things We Love About Italy. Hopefully, the list has given you more travel ideas and the inspiration to learn more about all of Italy’s 20 regions.
Now, without further ado, the remaining 10 favorites on our list:
11) Termoli, Molise. If Puglia (see #13) is the next Italian travel spot, surely Molise will follow. This beautiful beach town in Italy’s second smallest region is little known outside of the country and blissfully free of the tourist throngs (so far).
12) La Mole Antonelliana of Torino, Piemonte. This iconic building (perhaps you remember it as the symbol of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games?) may be one of the younger structures in the region, but it certainly has a cool history. Originally built to be a synagogue, the Mole now houses Italy’s National Cinema Museum. Besides a collection of thousands of movie posters and exhibits about early cinema in Italy, the museum presents a huge roster of films each month. This is great if your Italian is up to snuff.
13) Padre Pio, Puglia. If you’ve spent any time tooling around the shops near the Vatican, you’ve most certainly seen images of Padre Pio, the white-bearded Capuchin monk (originally from Pietrelcina in Campania) who lead a congregation at San Giovanni Rotondo and was canonized in 2002. Unofficially, for better or for worse, Padre Pio is Italy’s modern patron saint. What’s really random is that he’s now the patron saint of the New Year Blues.
14) Neptune’s Cave, Sardinia. Long known as a playground for the jetset, Sardinia is more than just beaches. Because of the island’s geography of rocky promontories spilling into the sea there is a vast network of underwater caves, or grottoes, to explore. Chief among them is the Grotta of Nettuno, which spans about 1 kilometer, includes impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations, and is a great cure for beachside boredom. Take a boat tour of Neptune’s Cave or, if you’re feeling more active, approach the grotto from the 656-step staircase that leads from Capo Caccia.
15) Taormina, Sicily. Like the region of Campania (see #4), much of Sicily lives in the shadow (or under the legend) of a volcano: Mt. Etna. Taormina, with its Greco-Roman theater, bougainvillea draped hillsides, medieval town, and views of Etna, epitomizes the beauty, history, and geology of Sicily. We’re also fond of Taormina’s cultural attractions, including Taormina Arte and Taormina Filmfest.
16) Ötzi the Iceman, Trentino Alto Adige. Europe’s oldest mummy was found in 1991 in the ice-packed mountains above Trentino Alto Adige, the alpine region that borders Austria’s Südtirol. After years of research, the 5,000-year-old Ötzi was placed on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano in 1998. Also on exhibit are the Iceman’s tools and clothing, and information about the preservation measures being taken to keep Ötzi in peak condition for many millennia to come.
17) Botticelli Gallery, Galleria degli Uffizi, Tuscany. It’s too hard to single out just one thing in Tuscany, of course. But the Botticielli Gallery at the Uffizi has to be one of the most special rooms in Florence. Upon seeing Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera in the flesh, we are transfixed, barely even noticing the dozens of other museum-goers trying to elbow us out of the way. For more information about the Uffizi, including how to get tickets, visit the museum’s official website. We also like this unofficial site that provides a virtual tour of the Botticelli Gallery and others.
18) Orvieto, Umbria. One of our favorite day trips from Rome has to be to the town of Orvieto. Situated atop a huge mountain of tufa, Orvieto shines because of its gorgeous, Gothic Duomo, its ancient Etuscan caves and wells, and the superb Orvieto Classico white wine. Actually…forget the day trip. Why not stay overnight?
19) Fiera Sant’Orso, Valle d’Aosta. How can you not appreciate the Fiera Sant’Orso, Aosta’s traditional craft fair which has been going strong for more than 1,000 years?! The fair usually takes place at the end of January – so you just missed this year’s edition – and it is known for its wooden handicrafts, artisanal metalworks, ceramics, and sculptures. No doubt, there aren’t many events that can boast a 1,000 year history – not even in Italy.
20) St. Mark’s Lion, Venice, Veneto. Leave it to us astrological Leos to love the symbol of the city of Venice: the lion of St. Mark. From atop a column in St. Mark’s Square to Madonna’s Like a Virgin video, the lion has been an effective marketing tool for Venice for hundreds of years. You can learn more about the symbol and the city in Garry Wills’ excellent Venice: Lion City, one of the most gratifying biographies about a city that you will ever read.