Italian Capital of Culture 2018 Will Be Palermo

Congratulations to the city of Palermo, which has been awarded the distinction of Italian Capital of Culture for 2018.

The Italian Culture Ministry (Ministero di Beni Culturali) awards the prize each year in an effort to promote tourism. Along with the distinction, the winning city receives 1 million euro which is to be used to promote cultural activities and artistic heritage.

“We saw that this virtuous competition creates a system of communal participation,” said Culture Minister Dario Franceschini, “Being on the shortlist is a bit like receiving an Oscar nomination: it allows them to do a lot of work, in terms of planning and promotions.”

Source: Palermo wins title of Italian Capital of Culture 2018

Three Italian Villages Where You Can Buy a House for Less Than A Cup of Coffee

Gangi, Sicily

The Daily Mail reports on three depopulated Italian towns — Gangi (Sicily), Carrega Ligure (Piedmont), and Lecce nei Marsi (Abruzzo) — that are offering real estate for about €1 down…plus a commitment of €25,000 in renovations and upkeep.

They are set in villages which are just a hairs-breadth away from becoming one of Italy’s fabled ‘ghost towns’ – places where natural disaster, lack of jobs and even pirates have driven locals from their homes in search of a better life.

Source: Buy a house in the gorgeous Italian countryside for just £1: Village homes being ‘given away’ to stop blight of ghost towns (but you’ll need to promise £18,000 to do them up) | Daily Mail Online

Ancient Aphrodite Sculpture Back in Sicily


On Tuesday, the Museo Archeologico di Morgantina, a small archeological museum in Aidone (Enna), Sicily, held an inauguration for the repatriation of an ancient sculpture of Aphrodite. The stone deity, known in Italian as the Dea Morgantina, had been a prized possession of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles until L.A. Times journalists Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino uncovered that the Getty had illicitly acquired the Aphrodite and several dozen other ancient works of art that had been stolen from Italy and sold on the arts black market. This fascinating tale of the underbelly of the antiquities trade and the Getty’s role in the acquisition of looted art is the subject of Felch and Frammolino’s new book, “Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum.”

The Getty and many other top American museums are part of a long history of illicit art trade. Looted art has been trafficked for as long as art has been in existence, and Frammolino says this is due to the overpowering effects of antiquity.

“People who come in contact with antiquities — the history of it, the beauty of these antiquities, the thought that maybe somebody great had once possessed this — they lose reason”

[Listen to the full audio of the journalists’ interview with NPR’s Renee Montagne]

While Los Angeles and the Getty Museum may still be reeling over the loss of such an iconic statue, Aidone has been readying for the repatriation of the Morgantina for decades. The Morgantina museum has devoted a new room for the display of the Aphrodite, which will complement Demeter and Kore, two other looted-and-since-returned statues, and other artifacts unearthed from this area of Sicily which was once part of Magna Grecia (Greater Greece). Following is a short video (in Italian) which provides a comprehensive look at the Dea Morgantina and its new home.

Photo © AP/via NPR

A Bribe-Free Holiday in Sicily

Vucciria Market in Palermo Sicily
You Wanna Pizzo Me?

The brave work of the anti-mafia organization AddioPizzo.org was recently brought to my attention. “Addio Pizzo” means “Goodbye, Pizzo,” the latter word meaning the protection money that hundreds of businesses throughout Sicily have had to pay to the powerful, omnipresent mafia. AddioPizzo was formed in 2004 after a group of young Sicilian entrepreneurs, afraid that they too would have to pay a racket if they wanted to open up a pub, began plastering Palermo with stickers that said:

Un Intero Popolo Che Paga Il Pizzo È Un Popolo Senza Dignità

An Entire People Who Pay the Pizzo Is a People Without Dignity

As more Sicilians spoke up to agree with this message, the anti-pizzo movement was born. Slowly but surely, businesses stepped forward bearing the “addiopizzo” label, which meant that because they refused to pay the pizzo, then their customers did not have to worry about funding the Mafia through their purchases. Today there is an ever-growing list of AddioPizzo businesses in Palermo, from sporting goods stores to pharmacies and from restaurants to industrial service providers. You can download the 2009 AddioPizzo Guide and Map to Pizzo-Free Businesses (PDF) here (the most recent guide available as of this writing). You can also print out this list, which is less handy because it is without a map but probably more updated.

AddioPizzo Banner - Anti-Mafia
AddioPizzo also now has an offshoot called AddioPizzo Travel, which takes tourists around Sicily to not only pizzo-free establishments but former homes and hideouts of mob bosses which have been reclaimed by the state and turned over to anti-mafia organizations such as Libera Terra. AddioPizzo Travel goes beyond the Sicilian capital of Palermo to explore many of the other beautiful – but mafia-scarred – cities of Monreale, Capaci, Cinisi, and Cefalù.

Libera Terra is in itself interesting anti-mob organization. It operates as a cooperative that has begun cultivating lands seized from the mafia and producing goods with the “from lands freed from the mafia” label.  Libera Terra also runs a B&B in the former home of mob capo Bernardo Brusca (Portella della Ginestra) as well as the co-op farmstay inn (Pio La Torre) in Corleone, renowned Cosa Nostra territory.

This is responsible travel at its core. Let’s hope that the AddioPizzo organization, label, and tours will spread north to other mafia-infected regions like Calabria and Campania.

Photo © [email protected] from Creative Commons

Six Places to Celebrate Carnival in Italy

Carnevale Masks in Venice

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.

Many travelers think that Carnevale only takes place in Venice. While Venice has the best known Carnival in Italy, there are many other cities with long carnival traditions. Let’s have a look at them: Continue reading Six Places to Celebrate Carnival in Italy

Really Cheap Real Estate in Sicily

Here’s your chance to buy a really cheap house in Italy.

According to Italy Magazine, the Sicilian town of Salemi is selling homes in the town’s historic center which have been ravaged by earthquakes for the fair price of €1. The catch? Buyers must restore the homes “sympathetically” within two years.

Salemi (see this place on a map) is famous for having been the site where Giuseppe Garibaldi claimed Sicily for King Vittorio Emanuele on May 14, 1860, and for the earthquakes that shook the town in 1968. Mayor Vittorio Sgarbi and councillor Oliviero Toscani (of Benetton photo campaign fame) hope that this new scheme will bring Salemi a new kind of fame. Apparently, some Italian stars, such as Lucio Dalla and Inter Milan owner Massimo Moratti, are considering the Salemi real estate offer.

For more information, visit the Salemi website.

Get Cooking On Your Italy Vacation

I am now catching up on summer magazine reading and just came across Gourmet’s May issue, which has tons of information on cooking schools in Italy and elsewhere. So, I wanted to give you the lowdown on the schools I found in the magazine as well as a couple others I’ve read about in the interim.

Academia Barilla
Parma, Emilia Romagna
1-866-772-2233 (U.S. number)
“Biggest Surprise: ‘How easy it was to customize a class – via email – based on what I actually liked.'”

La Vetrichina (a villa available for booking through Homebase Abroad)
San Casciano dei Bagni, Tuscany
781-639-4040 (U.S. number)
Classified by Gourmet as a “relaxed” cooking vacation

Regaleali Vineyards (book through absoluteitalia.com)
between Agrigento and Palermo, Sicily
011-39-0934-81-46-54
“everything from roasted hen and fresh stuffed sardines to…fritto misto, cassata, and strawberry sorbetto

Enrica Rocca Cooking School
Venice
011-44-7762-167900 (UK number)
“What I Learned: ‘To add stock to risotto only when no more liquid is visible.'” Also, Enrica Rocca Cooking School is based in London.

Rhode School of Cuisine*
Vorno (Lucca), Tuscany
011-44-1252-7902-22 (UK number)
“Prosecco and pastries in the morning…four course banquets – accompanied by copious bottles of Chianti and Brunellos – late into the evening”

Villa Ravida*
Menfi, Sicily
011-39-0925-71109
“regional recipes that range from stuffed swordfish with pine nuts, lemon, raisins, herbs…to almond and pistachio gelato”

*info and quotes from NBreview.com

Photo by Carpe Feline

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

Free Airfare to Italy with Perillo Tours

My friend Jessica over at Italy Logue found this (pretty) great deal from Perillo Tours this summer. Here’s the gist:

In order to take advantage of the (admittedly generous) free airfare offer, you have to fly from New York’s JFK into Rome, Bologna or Palermo. You have to fly on EuroFly airlines. The flight must be booked by June 1, 2008. And – here’s perhaps the most critical piece – the flight must be booked along with one of three of Perillo Tours’ specific trips in Italy.

So, this isn’t the greatest package deal that we’ve seen. But it’s nice for Perillo to throw a bone to its cash-strapped yet vacation-starved American clients. If you want to read more about the Perillo deal, check out Jessica’s post. Otherwise, you can visit the Perillo Tours website for more information.

Scootermania in Sicily

Vespas on display

At the end of this month, from April 24-27, Vespa enthusiasts from around the world will gather in Cefalù, Sicily, for Vespa World Days. This annual event, held in a different city each year, brings together thousands of the iconic Italian “motorini” from Piaggio in one place. Participants not only have the chance to meet up with other scooter fans but ride their scooters into Palermo for a parade on the 26th. Registration for the event has long since closed. But, if you plan to be in Sicily during the event, watch out (or listen!) for swarms of “wasps” zooming down the street.

From Mafia Villa to Agriturismo

This one comes from the U.K.’s Italy Magazine, which tells us that the Corleone villa of former Mafia boss Salvatore Riina has been turned into farmstay housing, a.k.a., an agriturismo. The Pio La Torre Cooperative, named for a martyred anti-Mafia activist, belonged to Riina before it was seized by the State after his 1993 capture. No word on when the cooperative will open, so watch this space…

20 Things We Love About Italy – Part 2

Torino's Mole Antonelliana

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.

Beautiful Taormina Sicily
Beautiful Taormina, Sicily

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.

Photos © Comune di Torino, Joe Routon

Some Sicilian Sites

One of our resolutions this year at Italofile is to go beyond our comfort zone of Central Italy and highlight other parts of the country.

In the past week or so, two Sicily guides caught our eye. The aptly-named SicilyGuide.com has a lot of travel ideas for Sicily and good info on Sicilian food. Its companion blog has up-to-the-minute Sicily info, such as mafia busts, hotel projects, and museum closings.

Similarly, Siciliae blog has tons of tips on the attractions and culture of Sicily. Rather ambitously, Siciliae submits its blog posts in Italian and English and has produced several videos about Catania and Palermo, which you can watch if you link to YouTube.

Both of these sites are quite new on the scene: SicilyGuide is about 1 year old, Siciliae only a few months. But keep them in mind if you want a fresh look at the “big island.” Also, don’t forget the Sicily Tourist Board for the latest word on events, accommodations, and and itineraries in Sicily.