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

Saving Money with Combined Tickets

Save your euros by purchasing combined tickets
Save your euros by purchasing combined tickets

It’s tough to be an American tourist in Europe right now, what with the dollar sinking to new lows against the euro every day. The New York Times had a fantastic Practical Traveler feature a few months back titled 10 Ways to Keep Europe Within Reach. I’d like to add to this advice with my own suggestion – consider purchasing combined tickets when touring popular attractions.

A lot of touristy cities in Italy offer joint tickets that include admission to several related attractions at a price lower than each individual ticket. For instance, if you want to check out some of the archeological attractions in Rome, you can purchase the Roma Archeologia Card, a €20 pass to the Colosseum, the Roman National Museum, the Palatine, the Baths of Caracalla, the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, and the Villa of the Quintili. This pass is available at the ticket counters of all of the above sites (except for the latter two) and is good for one week. If you just want to check out the Baths, the Tomb, and the Villa, you can purchase a €6 card, which is also valid for one week. For more information, visit the Roma Turismo website.

Similar deals on admission prices are available in Tuscany. For instance, in Florence, visitors to the Accademia can pay an extra 50 euro cents (for a total of €7) for a joint ticket that includes the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, a fascinating, but oft overlooked attraction. Meanwhile, San Gimignano’s “biglietto cumulativo,” which costs €11, includes entry to all of the town’s major sites, including the Collegiata, the Museo Civico, and the Torre Grossa.

Elsewhere, Venice has a Museum Pass, which includes entry to the Doge’s Palace, the National Archeological Museum, Goldoni’s House, the Murano Glass Museum, and much more, for just €18. In fact, families (of two adults and at least two children) can take advantage of a Museum Pass discount by purchasing one full-price Museum Pass; the rest of the family’s passes are available at the discounted rate of €12 per person.

Before you travel, be sure to check the websites of the museums you plan to visit and the city or regional tourist boards for information about combined tickets. The savings could mean a vacation that doesn’t break the budget.

Photo © Will Spaetzel

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.

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

Venice and the Islamic World

If you can’t make it to Italy this summer, try getting up to New York to see the Metropolitan Museum’s Venice and the Islamic World. This timely, well-curated exhibit looks at the melding of cultures in Venice from 828 to 1797, the era when the city was an important port of trade with the Ottoman Empire. Of particular interest is the representation of fabrics, geometric patterns and personalities from the Muslim World in art from Gentile Bellini and Lorenzo Lotto. The latter was renowned for featuring “oriental” carpets in his depictions of Italian patrician life, as you can see in the accompanying image.

Photo from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Regata della Befana, Venice

Today, day of the Epiphany, is the day that Italian children celebrate the coming of the Befana, a kindly witch that delivers treats or tricks (much like Santa). While the day is special throughout Italy, Venice commemorates the last day of the Christmas season with the Regata della Befana, a boat race through the lagoon. Venice stages hundreds of regattas throughout the year, but this one, featuring witches with broomsticks aboard the boats, is not to be missed.

Fore more information about Venice events, visit the City of Venice website.