If you tell a Roman that you are going Paestum for the weekend, invariably he or she will tell you: “Make sure you pick up some mozzarella di bufala.”
Paestum is a sight to see without the culinary pit stop. A city known as “Poseidonia” when it was part of Magna Grecia, Paestum is home to three extraordinarily preserved Greek (Doric) temples that date from 600 to 450BC. The two temples to Hera and the temple to Athena sit on a wide, grassy plot of land that is much easier to navigate than the not-too-distant Pompeii, the more famous ruins an hour north of here. Continue reading A Little Greek / Yogurt in Paestum
Living in a new place, especially for an extended period of time, fills me with a sense of duty that I have to write everything down, commit every moment to memory, take a photo every day if not every hour. But eventually, that initial motivation turns to dread and an overwhelming feeling that I should be more mindful of my surroundings rather than living behind a lens or a computer screen.
The latter reason is why I have not written as much as I should have over this past year in Italy. Plus, I’ve just done so much in these 12 months! I’ve traveled all over Rome and its region Lazio, from the beaches to the lakes to hill towns in between, and have visited six other regions (with a goal of getting to all 20 before my time here comes to and end). Over the past year, I have also taken more than 7,000 photos — so much for not living behind a lens!
Despite that photo stat, I have been paying attention with my other senses: smelling the roasting chestnuts in winter, the jasmine bushes in spring, and the cool, damp aroma of underground spaces; listening to the rumble of trams, the clinking of cups and saucers, the fleeting bits of Italian conversations overheard in the markets and shops; and tasting the foods of each season. Touch has been more elusive, as Italy is full of things you want to touch but cannot — smooth marbles and mosaics and frescoes, tufts of moss growing out of crevices high on a Roman wall.
Of course, readers visit this blog to see Italy as much as learn about it. So, I wanted to share 12 photos over this past year, one for each month, to mark my transition from year one to year two. These are simple photos — most taken with an iPhone 5 — but they are special reminders for me. Read below for details.
It’s been called the “shame of Italy” and for good reason. The A3 autostrada, a 443km highway that is to connect Salerno to Reggio Calabria, has been under construction since 1966.
Faulty construction and mafia meddling by both the Camorra and ‘Ndragheta factions have caused numerous delays during the nearly 50 years since the project began, reports The Independent. It has become the “symbol of how public works are in Italy,” according to Stefano Zerbi, spokesman for Codacons, Italy’s national consumer organization.
When mobsters aren’t creaming off millions from the road building thanks to dodgy contract work, it seems they’re ensuring that the route doesn’t impinge on their other activities. About halfway, the route curves back on itself awkwardly. This detour is said to have been done at the request of a local Mob boss who didn’t want the motorway coming too close to his villa.
This week, Prime Minister Renzi declared that construction of the A3 will be stepped up in the hopes that the project will be finalized by the end of 2015. However, no completion date has been set.
Last month, UNESCO inscribed Italy’s newest World Heritage sites: The Longobards in Italy. Places of the Power (568-774 A.D.). Treated as one entity, these seven sites stretch from as far north as Castelseprio, a small village in Lombardy where is located Santa Maria Fortis Portas and the castrum with the Torba Tower, to as far south as Benevento and its Santa Sofia church complex. All of these sites represent, according to UNESCO, “the high achievement of the Lombards, who migrated from northern Europe and developed their own specific culture in Italy where they ruled over vast territories in the 6th to 8th centuries.”
While the Longobard sites are the newest ones to be recognized by UNESCO, they are among the least well known of the many UNESCO buildings and sites in Italy, which now leads the world with 45. To learn more about each of the “Longobards in Italy” sites, including where they are, how to visit them, and the treasures they contain, visit Italia Longobardorum, the website of the group responsible for formally submitting these sites for UNESCO World Heritage consideration. You can also click on the links below for the individual sites:
With its rough coastline, deep blue ocean, and color-drenched markets and hillsides – think bougainvillea, oleander, lemons, and orange blossoms – the Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana in Italian) is one of the most sought-after seaside destinations in Italy. Similar to Liguria’s Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, just south of Naples, is a series of cliff-side towns linked by culture and geography. Typically, the Amalfi Coast is listed as one entity. But if you’ve heard of any of its towns separately, most likely you will know of Ravello, Positano, and Amalfi. The nearest cities to the Costiera Amalfitana, Sorrento and Salerno, act as bookends to this luscious, Mediterranean zone.
The Amalfi Coast evokes so many gorgeous images for me, so I’m very excited to be able to share more information about this area in a new Five Favorites post by Laura Thayer. Laura runs the excellent Amalfi Coast-focused blog Ciao Amalfi!, which is a chronicle of her life in this wondrous little nook of the Italian peninsula. Her following five favorite reasons for loving the Amalfi Coast are personal but I think they hold some solid tips for anyone who wants to travel there.
For most people it only takes one quick glance at a photograph of the rocky and dramatic shores of the Amalfi Coast to make it a dream destination. Life’s twists and turns—much like the serpentine roads that wind along the coastline—have brought me to a new life on the Amalfi Coast. It is a place of striking opposites, of both intense and surprisingly simple pleasures, that continue to impress me day by day. Here are five of my favorite experiences about life on the Amalfi Coast.
The Brilliant Blue Sea
Don’t come to the Amalfi Coast expecting wide, sandy beaches. Instead, you’ll find pebbly beaches, rocky coves, and the brilliant blue sea. One of the best ways to see the Amalfi Coast is to rent a small boat and explore the tiny, out of the way beaches and grottoes. Find the most tempting spot – with water the color blue of your dreams – and dive in!
Duomo of Amalfi
Many people are shocked when they first step foot into the main piazza of the small seaside town of Amalfi and encounter the Cathedral of Amalfi, called the Duomo. Golden mosaics glitter in the sunlight on this Neo-Byzantine revival façade dating from the late 19th century. Most days the steps are crowded with groups of tourists taking photos, local teenagers lounging about, and children trying to eat gelato faster than it melts in the warmth of the summer sun.
Food & Wine
Living on the Amalfi Coast and learning how to shop and prepare the regional dishes has made food and cooking an integral part of my daily life. The simplicity of good food here has taught me a great deal about enjoying what is fresh and locally produced. Fish that was caught fresh that morning, wine grown and produced on the steep mountain terraces along the Amalfi Coast, cheeses made just up the road, and apricots from my neighbors gardens. When you visit the Amalfi Coast, don’t miss the chance to try some of the excellent wines produced on the small towns of Furore and Tramonti, or the renowned Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese made from cow’s milk in the mountain village of Agerola, or the limoncello (a lemon liqueur) made in most of the villages along the coastline.
Ceramics are a part of everyday life on the Amalfi Coast. In almost every town you’ll find shops full of colorful hand-painted ceramics. Inside many churches the floors are covered with beautiful ceramic tiles, and the bright majolica-tiled domes of the churches in Positano, Praiano, Cetara, and Vietri sul Mare shine in the sunlight over the towns. Head to Vietri sul Mare, where ceramic production dates back to the 15th century, to find the best shopping.
Hiking on Ancient Pathways
After a few days relaxing by the beach, grab a pair of good walking shoes and explore the mountains – the other side of the Amalfi Coast. Long before the road was built, the only option for getting around on land was to take the stone steps and pathways that still connect all of the towns and villages. Walking is one of the pleasures of my life here, far away from the summer crowds and deep into the sleepy daily life on the Amalfi Coast.
No matter if you’re a devout Catholic or a curious non-believer, you should make a point to check out a few of Italy’s many religious relics.
More than 2,000 years of Christianity has produced numerous fascinating, if not gruesome, stories. And it seems that for every Biblical tale, there is a relic housed in Rome, the Vatican, or in one of Italy’s thousands of churches.
Here are a few unusual relics that you can put on your next Italy itinerary.
The Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin is one of Italy’s most famous relics, housed in the Cathedral of Turin (Duomo di Torino) in the Piemonte region. The Shroud is a linen cloth that bears “the image of a man who appears to have been physically hurt in a manner consistent with crucifixion.” In short, the image on the Shroud bears a striking resemblance to the collectively agreed upon image of Jesus Christ and is thought to be Christ’s burial shroud – thus, the relic’s significance among Christians.
Because of the Shroud’s delicate nature, it is not always on display. Check the Torino Tourism website for updated information.
The Blood of San Gennaro
It’s hardly surprising that a hot-blooded place like Naples would have a relic made of blood (see main photo above). Each year, the city of Naples awaits the liquefaction of the blood of Saint Januarius (San Gennaro), which is stored in an ampoule in a reliquary in the Naples Cathedral. An early saint of the church, having been beheaded during Emperor Diocletian’s anti-Christian raids in the 4th century, San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples. The liquefying of his blood, which can happen up to 18 times per year, is thought to signify a miracle and helps protect Naples from calamities, such as the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
In his book, Farley writes about the town of Calcata, located in the region of Lazio (Rome’s region), where the Holy Foreskin – yes, the skin from Jesus Christ’s circumcised penis – was kept for centuries until its disappearance in 1983.
Farley has devoted himself to this subject, so you’d do well to read his book to learn about the relic and Calcata, which is known as a “village of freaks.” But here’s an interesting tidbit: apparently Saint Catherine of Siena wore the Holy Foreskin as a ring. Now that’s some devotion.
Mary’s Holy Belt
The Virgin Mary didn’t leave behind a piece of her body for future Christians to revere. But she did leave behind a belt.
The story goes that Mary gave this sacred accessory to Apostle Thomas as she ascended to heaven. The Prato Cathedral acquired the relic in the 14C and has kept it in a precious silver reliquary ever since. In fact, a special chapel was built to house the relic and the church also commissioned artists Michelozzo and Donatello to build an exterior pulpit, from which the relic is ceremoniously displayed to crowds below.
Unlike the Shroud of Turin, the Sacra Cintola is made of a more durable material – green wool – so the church readily displays it five times a year: Christmas, Easter, May 1, August 15, and September 8.
Prato is located in Tuscany, just north of Florence, so it is hardly off the beaten track should you wish to visit.
Relics in Rome
Being the center of the Christian universe, Rome has, perhaps, the most holy relics per square mile of any other city in Italy. And here you will find some wonderfully odd ones, including:
Saint John’s severed head in the church of San Silvestro in Capite (also the National Church of Great Britain in Rome)
Saint Valentine’s head in the Santa Maria in Cosmedin (the rest of the body is in Terni, Umbria)
The head of Saint Agnes, located in a side chapel of Sant’Agnese in Agone (the huge church that fronts Piazza Navona)
About a year ago, I posted some information about going to Pompeii from Rome on a day trip. Just a few days ago, I was alerted of a new way to get there. When in Rome Tours has private and semi-private minibus tours to Pompeii. They’ll pick you up in Rome, drive to Pompeii via Cassino (site of the Montecassino Abbey) and Naples, take you to lunch, provide you with a Pompeii guide, and get you back to the Eternal City all within the same day (about 13 hours). They also provide walking tours of Rome and smallish bus tours of the Rome environs (no giant motorcoaches here!). So if you’re trying to put together a little jaunt down to Pompeii while visiting Rome, consider checking out When in Rome Tours. Thanks for the tip, Marie!
Sometimes I’m not always sure if anyone is actually reading Italofile. As I’ve said, it is a true labor of love. Still I like to imagine that there are regular readers out there who enjoy discovering with me the destinations, hotels, art, schools, churches, etc., that make traveling in Italy so rewarding.
Lo and behold, this weekend I found that I have at least one reader! Maribel wrote in to tell me that last year I missed a New York Times article on “Tortellini Lessons at the Source” in Bologna. Thanks, Maribel! And, with that, I thought I’d provide another round-up of recent articles, from the NYT and elsewhere:
Yes, this is an exhaustive list. But I’m sure I didn’t find everything. So, I’m depending on all you Maribel’s out there to help me out by sending me links to articles and other tips you think would be worthy of posting on Italofile. Thanks again!
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.
Question: What’s eerier than surveying the ruins of Pompeii? Answer: Visiting them at night.
According to the ansa.it news service, Pompeii will once again offer its popular “Sound-and-Light” tour, a one-hour look at the ancient Roman city complete with ambient music, flood-lit ruins, and a video simulation of the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed the city in 79 AD. The tour will be available in English, Italian, and Japanese.
Sognopompei, as it is called in Italian, promises to be an unforgettable night and will show the “poetic side” of the must-see tourist trap:
The tour kicks off at the Terme Suburbane, a once-neglected district that has become a big draw for its frescoes graphically depicting a variety of sex acts – presumed to be an illustration of the services on offer at the local brothel.
It then winds its way up the main road, pointing out the curious cart ruts, craftsmen’s shops and famous villas.
The grand finale comes in the heart of the old city, the forum, when four giant projectors beam a special- effects-laden video reconstruction of the wrath of the volcano Vesuvius, which smothered the city and its lesser-known but equally fascinating neighbour Herculaneum in ash and cinders.
Sognopompei tours will run this summer, Fridays through Sundays, through November 13. Prices start at €20 per person, with discounts for Campania Artecard holders and families with children under 16. Reservations are required.
Now that Naples seems to have a handle on its garbage problem, it is hoping that tourists start to make their way back to Italy’s “city by the bay.” Right on time is a service article from the U.K.’s Independent. The Complete Guide to the Bay of Naples gives the lowdown on getting there, visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum, and taking tours of Vesuvius, the Campi Flegrei “sulphurous sites,” and nearby destinations like Sorrento and Capri. As the article is geared towards the British traveler, some of the suggestions, such as for hotels, are a little on the pricey side for American tourists. But there is a lot of information here for someone who’s considering exploring one of Italy’s most evocative cities.
Not even 5 minutes since we wrote the above…Want even more about Naples? You may also enjoy 48 Hours in Naples. This recent piece from the same newspaper has great tips for the “independent” traveler, including city walks and dining suggestions.
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.
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.
Yesterday we linked to reviews of a Naples hotel on Tripadvisor.com. Sites like Tripadvisor, Virtualtourist.com, and others have really taken off in the past couple of years as more and more travelers sign on to rant or rave about hotels, restaurants, attractions, etc. Indeed, these review sites are really giving magazine and guidebook writers a run for their money because potential travelers can get and give recommendations in real time.
Today, Tripadvisor released Travelers Choice, a list that includes the best-reviewed hotels on every continent and in every category, from luxury to “hidden gems” (maybe not so hidden anymore!) and from family-friendly properties to hotels and timeshares with the best service. We’re happy to distill this into an Italo-centric list for you:
I’ve been really digging the recent ad campaign by Renaissance Hotels in which famous Renaissance-era compositions are recreated with modern models and scenes. The one listed above, of course, is an homage to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery) and there is also one that is based on Leonardo’s Last Supper. You can check out the comparisons of the ads and the original paintings here.
Anyhow, this got me thinking: a company named Renaissance that uses inspiration from Italian masters surely must have tons of hotels in Italy, right? Wrong.
It turns out that Renaissance Hotels has only one property on the peninsula: the Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo. According to the reviews on TripAdvisor, it seems like a fine hotel and is currently rated #37 out of 195 hotels listed on the ratings site. I have to admit, however, I am a bit disappointed with this finding.
I’m not advocating that there should be more corporate-owned hotels in Italy. But, it almost seems like false advertising using well-known Italian Renaissance painting scenes to hype up your hotel in Orlando. At any rate, if any of you are looking for a hotel in Naples that is “great for a day trip to Capri,” “near great shopping on Via Toledo,” and has stunning views of the Bay of Naples from the breakfast terrace, then this may be the hotel for you.
Trying to devise an itinerary for visiting the Amalfi Coast and other notable towns near Naples? A recent guide in the Via Michelin magazine shows you how to make a three day plan that takes in medieval hill towns, farms that make limoncello and wine, a cheesemaker, and a 14C Carthusian monastery. Of course, you can also count on Michelin to direct you to some of the finest hotels and most authentic restaurants, including the Michelin-starred La Caravella, one of the few eateries in southern Italy with that distinction.