One Year in Italy: 12 Months of Memories

Time Flies!
“Time Flies! Stop lying around and write something, will ya?” (Photo of a detail from the facade of Santa Maria dell’ Orazione e delle Morte on the Via Giulia, Rome)

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.

Continue reading One Year in Italy: 12 Months of Memories

The Best Ever In-Depth Video of Siena’s Palio

Inspiration always seems to find me when I’m not looking and that is exactly what happened as I settled in to watch a few minutes of television last night. Lucky for me, I clicked over to Kenny Mayne’s Wider World of Sports, a show on ESPN that puts sports into a cultural context.

One of the segments was on the Palio, the famous, twice-yearly horse race in Siena. Mayne gained insider access to the Leocorno (Unicorn) contrada to cover the race from mane (ahem) to tail. We learn about Leocorno’s rivalry with the Civetta (Owl) contrada, the pre-race ritual of having the horse blessed in the district church, and the strategies and intrigue that go into competing in one of Italy’s oldest sports traditions. Both the footage and the commentary in this segment were compelling, so I wanted to share the video with you.

Fantastic stuff, Mr. Mayne. Mille grazie!

Give the Gift of Italian Culture

Flickr/mysza

When my colleagues in the Italy Blogging Roundtable and I decided to write on the topic “gifts” for our December post, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I knew straight away that I didn’t want to write about Italian gifts you can buy in a store, though there are many I desire or would recommend. Similarly, I knew that I didn’t want to write about the intangible gift that Italy has given me. No, I wanted to write about so-called “gifts that keep on giving,” presents that will serve to enhance others’ understanding or appreciation of Italian culture.

The two “gifts” that I am highlighting below are 1) a documentary film project about a very famous town in Tuscany and 2) a charity devoted to restoring a town in Cinque Terre. I would love it if you, my readers, would consider contributing to one or both of these very worthy causes. To do so, you will be giving yourself and all others who appreciate Italy’s history and heritage the chance to enjoy it for years to come.

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1) The Genius of a Place

Photo of a piazza in Cortona by Flickr user wyzik

Sarah Marder, an American who has been living in Italy since 1988 and has been visiting Cortona, Italy, since 1986, has been working for more than two years with Italian production company OLO Creative Farm on a documentary about the Tuscan town made famous by Frances Mayes’ book Under the Tuscan Sun. The book and its subsequent film starring Diane Lane were a rousing success, but the publicity has started to have a detrimental effect on Cortona, drawing in more tourists than the village can handle. Ironically, the hill town that so many tourists are coming to experience risks losing its look and atmosphere. The Genius of a Place takes an honest look at Ms. Marder’s beloved Cortona and its potential spoiling at the hands of too much tourism.

The Genius of a Place project is listed on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, and it seeks to raise $20,000 by December 31, 2011. As of this post, they are almost half-way to their goal. Donating to The Genius of a Place will help Sarah and her crew finish the massive editing process in time to submit their documentary into consideration for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and can net you “grazie gifts” ranging from chocolate to a set of Tuscan watercolor paintings, not to mention the knowledge of having assisted in raising awareness about Cortona’s potential plight.

Take a look at the project video for The Genius of a Place to see if it’s something you’d like to donate to:

 

2) Save Vernazza

Photo of Vernazza by Flickr user pizzodisevo

You may or may not be aware that the region of Liguria, which includes the capital Genoa and the famous tourist area of Cinque Terre, suffered record flooding this past fall. On October 25, 2011, heavy rain buried city centers under feet of water and caused massive mudslides. The flooding led to emergency evacuations, and many residents have yet to return to the once-picturesque area to begin the process of rebuilding and restoration.

Hit particularly hard during the flooding was the town of Vernazza, one of those perfect, pastel villages that the Cinque Terre subregion is famous for. Vernazza, which was buried under more than 13 feet of mud, suffered more than 100 million in damages. In order to get Vernazza back to working order, three American expat women living in Vernazza created Save Vernazza, an Italian nonprofit to raise funds for construction projects and cultural preservation. Included in the mission statement of Save Vernazza is the commitment to rebuild the Muri a Secco, the terracing walls that are part of the heritage that merited Vernazza its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

If you’re interested in joining Ruth Manfredi, Michele Lilley, and Michele Sherman, the three women behind Save Vernazza, in preserving this iconic village, visit the Save Vernazza website to learn about its projects and how to donate. Watch this video to see the Vernazza flood in action (warning: heart-wrenching):

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This month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable topic was “Gifts.” Find out what the other members of the Italy Blogging Roundtable conjured up when they thought about “gifts” together with Italy. Click the links below to read their contributions to the Roundtable, and leave comments to join in the conversation. Tune in next month for another Roundtable round-up.

Also this month, we opened up the Italy Blogging Roundtable to other bloggers interested in telling us a story about gifts in the context of Italy. Below are five posts that I enjoyed reading. And, I’ve also added a Twitter widget to the bottom of this post so you can find links to even more #ItalyRoundtable posts on Twitter. Thank you so much for tuning in!
  • No Onions Extra Pickles: What to Get the Italian Futurist Who Has Everything – I loved this whimsical post. Extra points (pickles?) for the art nerdiness.
  • Cross Pollinate: Made in Italy – Hand Made Gifts by Florentine Artisans – See the painstaking work it takes to create some of the beautiful products that are still made in Italy, from etchings to bespoke shoes. Great photos here.
  • A Sense of PlaceThe Gift of Learning Something New – Erin teaches me something new about a church in Rome whose marbled floor I’ve walked on countless times. Her explanation and photos were exquisite and made me want to get on the very next flight to Rome.
  • Sicily SceneGifts – Italy may be on the road to austerity this Christmas, but that doesn’t mean the season will be less joyous. I appreciate how Pat wove in her observations of how Italians confront Christmastime with her memories from the past 20 years of being an expat in Sicily.
  • Life…Italian StyleThe Gift of Becoming Italian – Becoming Italian, if that is at all possible, takes more than just marrying a person from Italy and/or moving there. It takes an attitude adjustment, especially with regards to time, food, and chiacchiere (talking), as Jennifer explains so nicely in her post.
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Romantic Hotels in Tuscany

Tuscany is, without doubt, one of the foremost locations in the world for your honeymoon. Whether you wish to visit the tiny, romantic, hilltop villages or simply watch the olive groves and cypress trees gently sway in the wind, Tuscany offers some of the most romantic hotels that you are likely to come across and allows you the opportunity to enjoy a perfect honeymoon. Here are a few romantic hotels in Tuscany available for booking from Escapio.com by guest blogger Holly Maguire.

Monsignore della Casa Country Resort Tuscany Hotel
Monsignore della Casa Country Resort
, situated in Borgo San Lorenzo, is a four-star country house hotel with breathtaking views of the Mugello. Within 5 km of the resort are a variety of bars/pubs, discotheques, restaurants, cinemas, and shopping opportunities. The extensive grounds of the hotel offer fabulous gardens, a pool and spa area inviting to relaxation. This is ideal for couples happy to spend their honeymoon without lifting a limb, as every necessity and modest luxury is available on the hotel grounds. The hotel was named after Giovanni Della Casa, best known as the official secretary of Pope Paul IV. (Melanie: nothing says romance like the Pope’s personal secretary!)

UNA Palazzo Mannaioni Tuscany Hotel
UNA Palazzo Mannaioni
, located in Montaione, is an enchanting castle hotel with a distinct historic character encompassing 400 years of romance and history. Montaione has forged a reputation as one of the most spellbinding areas of Tuscany. It is also home to the much celebrated Montaione Castle. The original building was constructed in the year 1500, and over the years the hotel has undergone many renovations, most recently in 2006. The local area sings with vineyards, olive groves, oak and lemon trees – perfect for hand-in-hand strolls, or even one of Tuscany’s many bicycle tours. You can also take advantage of the many in-house facilities that this sublime hotel has to offer. The De’ Mannaioni restaurant in the old mill will cater to candelit dinners after days sunbathing and sipping exotic cocktails by the outdoor pool.

San Biagio Relais Tuscany Hotel
San Biagio Relais
is an old patrician mansion which was converted into an intimate 41 room hotel in 2006. Situated in Orbetello, the hotel’s muted modern décor inside historic walls guarantees a unique experience, and this may well be the perfect place for star-crossed lovers to retreat. Take in the spectacular views of the Monte Argentario mountains from the stylish rooms and savor breakfast and outstanding cuisine in the Ristorante Wine Bar. Rooms offer large comfortable bed, stylish furniture, and wonderfully crafted historic arched ceilings. While romantic couples will find everything they need in the hotel, they can also enjoy the Orbetello peninsula, which has a lively nightlife district full of bars and restaurants.

Mediterranea Hotel Tuscany
Mediterranea Luxury House
is a small bed and breakfast offering four star luxury in a beautiful, romantic setting in Quercianella. Quercianella, known for its macchia – the evergreen Mediterranean vegetation enveloping the landscape – is a nature lover’s paradise and is just a stone’s throw from the sea. Mediterranea Luxury House is a private retreat which affords stunning views and personal service. This exquisite bed and breakfast serves up local hams, cheeses and home-grown tomatoes as part of the renowned morning fare. Owners Roberto and Vania will ensure your stay at this white villa is a memorable one, and can help you with recommendations for nearby activities including mountain climbing, sailing, surfing, and fishing.

Villa Campestri Hotel Tuscany
Villa Campestri
,  a 13th century country home, is set in the awe-inspiring natural surroundings of the village of Campestri, not far from the magic of Florence. Villa Campestri pampers honeymooners with homegrown fruits, vegetables, and finely tuned cuisine; enjoy regional specialties and vegetarian options accompanied by a glass or two of the local Oleoteca wine. From the outdoor pool, couples can enjoy views of vineyards, olive trees, forests, and meadows stretching out to the horizon. In addition to the attractions of Florence, the Medici fortress at San Piero a Sieve is a great day trip from here. This beautiful hotel offers high-flyers a helipad should they wish to arrive in style and horse-drawn coach rides are an opportunity to lap up romance and style with a timeless touch.

Contributed by Holly at Escapio.com. These are just a selection of the luxury, design and boutique Tuscany hotels available for booking. All photos courtesy of Escapio.

Five Favorites: Art in Tuscany

To many a traveler, Tuscany and art are synonymous. From the architecture to the numerous galleries to those gorgeous, green, and cliché hills, there’s an element of art in every corner of Tuscany. Continue reading Five Favorites: Art in Tuscany

Siena 101

The Torre del Mangia and Palazzo Pubblico on Siena's Piazza del Campo

On the other side of the Chianti countryside, some 35 miles south of Florence, you will find Siena, a Tuscan town rife with tradition and mood.

WHERE: Medieval Siena is best known as the site of the Palio, a twice-yearly, bareback horserace that takes place in the wide, shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. The race, which can be traced as far back as the early 13th century, pits a rotating roster of 10 of the city’s 17 contrade (neighborhoods) against one another. Run on July 2 and August 16, the Palio is Siena’s most famous local event, which today draws scads of spectators from all over Italy and abroad. Indeed, the Palio is a hot ticket: Learn how to book tickets for the Palio.

Post pageantry, Siena is a gloriously Gothic prize for pedestrians; the compact city center is car-free and quiet enough to hear the cobblestones resonate underfoot.

WHAT TO DO: In addition to the Palio, Siena’s cityscape awes, with art and architecture around every bend. The tight warren of shadowy streets empties into Piazza del Campo, one of the finest medieval squares in Europe. Divided into nine sectors–a nod to the Council of Nine who ruled the city during the Middle Ages–the shell-shaped piazza serves as a meeting point, playground, and outdoor dining venue.

At the base of the shell lies the Palazzo Pubblico, a result of Siena’s construction boom in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The Humanist “palace of the people” houses two masterpieces by native son Simone Martini and an amusing fresco series depicting good and bad government practices.

Next door to the Palazzo Pubblico rises the Torre del Mangia, which, at the height of 330 feet, is one of the tallest bell towers in Italy. Climb the 505 steps to the top and enjoy the views of rooftops and the Campagna Senese (Sienese countryside).

Also within view from the tower is Siena’s spectacular Duomo, a massive, black-and-white striped cathedral renowned for its interior pavements. The pavements are usually unveiled in their entirety in September. However, a small portion of the 56 floor panels featuring sybils, angels, saints, and biblical scenes, are visible to viewers on a rotating basis throughout the year.

Finally, if you want to endear yourself to some of the locals, pay a visit to one—or several—of Siena’s 17 contrada museums. On proud display are banners, relics, and costumes from Palio contests of yore. The tourist office in Piazza del Campo can provide you a map to each neighborhood. For a really good explanation of the contrade, their history, and what’s on view in their museums, see this article of Siena’s Contrada Museums from In Italy Online.

LODGING: There are tons of agriturismo (farm stay) inns and self-catering options on the outskirts of Siena, ideal if you’re touring Tuscany by car. Retreat to the well-appointed Hotel Santa Caterina (Via Enea Silvio Piccolomini, 7), which is set just outside the Porta Romana, or stay in Villa Scacciapensieri (Strada di Scacciapensieri, 10), a country hotel north of town where you can “forget your troubles” by enjoying vistas of the rooftops and towers Siena as well as the surrounding valley.  If you want to stay in town, consider Hotel Duomo (Via Stalloreggi, 38) because its upper floors offer rooftop views.

DINING: Siena’s culinary landscape reflects its rustic roots: think roasted meats, lots of herbs, and simple peasant fare. But the city is also home to a university, so cheap eats and wine bars abound. Osteria Le Logge (Via del Porrione, 33), changes its menu daily, and offers more than a dozen options for lunch and dinner. Osteria La Sosta di Violante (Via di Pantaneto, 115) serves up traditional fare in a casual atmosphere a few blocks from Piazza del Campo. Primi piatti, such as ravioli with red chicory, start at around $16. An enoteca (wine bar) option is Trombicche (Via delle Terme, 66), which offers good wine by the glass,  tasting platters of salumi, cheeses, and antipasti (ideal for a snack), and a convivial atmosphere.

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GETTING THERE: Fly into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport or Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport. If you take the train from either of these destinations to Siena, the trip will last approximately two to three hours, with at least one connection on the way. A better bet is to rent a car from the airport. The A1 autostrada is a direct route from Rome to Florence; Siena is about halfway between the two cities. The SS-222 from Florence to Siena provides a more scenic route past the olive groves and vineyards of Chianti.

INFORMATION: For more ideas about what to do and where to stay and eat in Siena, see the Siena Tourism website.

Photo © delphaber

Round-up: Italy in Winter, Hidden Salami, Timelapse Tuscany, and more

This installment of Italy travel articles includes two videos that I thought were worth sharing. Enjoy the round-up! Continue reading Round-up: Italy in Winter, Hidden Salami, Timelapse Tuscany, and more

Round-up: Martinis in Rome, Skiing Switz-aly, and more

It has been a while since I posted an article roundup. Here are some of the great Italy travel articles you may have missed in the last month or so.

Roaming Rome, in a Martini Mood [L.A. Times]
Do the Splits on the Swiss and Italian Ski Slopes [The Independent]
Sicily’s Secret South [The Guardian]
Italy in Full (Palermo, Sicily) [Conde Nast Traveler]
Artists Lead the Way in the Oltrarno District of Florence [New York Times]
The Best Way to Travel in Tuscany [CN Traveler’s Perrin Post]

Photo © ventofreddo

Three Best Travel Secrets

Coming up with three of my best travel secrets for Italy is no easy task. Alas, I’ve been tagged by Robin Locker at My Mélange to come up with my list, just as she has over at her blog. In fact, since I had difficulty paring down my favorites, I’ve come up with my non-Italy list over at my personal site Miss Adventures. Have a look at both of them!

Of course, it’s not fair to really call these “secrets,” as there are plenty of other people who have gone before me and recommended the same places. So, just consider these as my current favorites among a bucket-load of tips.

Three Best Travel Secrets for Italy

aventinohillrome

Aventino Hill, Rome
There are so many wonderful places to stay in Rome, but I really like the Aventine Hill which rises just beyond the Circus Maximus. This is one of the most peaceful corners of the city, mostly because it is slightly removed from the constant buzz of the city. And the views from up here are spectacular and even unique. If you are lucky enough to charm the policemen who guard the headquarters of the Knights of Malta, then you can have a glance through their peephole, through which you can see a perfectly framed St. Peter’s Basilica. Though it’s largely a residential area, there are hotels on the Aventine. I like Hotel Villa San Pio for its garden setting, richly decorated rooms, and the fact that its on Via Santa Melania. 🙂

ravennamosaics

Ravenna
As a former capital of the Roman and Byzantine Empires, Ravenna is hardly unknown. Nevertheless, I rarely see it on must-visit lists for Italy. True, there’s so much to include that Ravenna is easy to bypass. But I think this little city in eastern Emilia-Romagna is one of Italy’s gems. Indeed, it is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its incredible Byzantine-era mosaics, such as those decorating the walls and apse of Sant’Apollinare in Classe (above). In total, Ravenna has eight sites featuring spectacular mosaics. Ravenna is also a great place to get piadina, a special flatbread typical of Emilia-Romagna and very much like a Turkish gözleme. Grab one filled with cheese, spinach, or nutella (!) at a piadinerie and enjoy…yum!

argentario

Argentario Promontory, Tuscany
This is a place you probably won’t get a chance to go to unless you have a friend with a house here. The Promontorio dell’Argentario is a popular summer home spot for Romans and Tuscans. It has stretches of empty sand beaches, ideal currents for windsurfing, idyllic resorts at Porto Santo Stefano and Porto Ercole, and views of some of the islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll know that I’m a sucker for ruins and the Argentario promontory has Roman ruins at Ansedonia, known in the Roman world as Cosa. I’m also quite fond of La Parrina, an agriturismo where you can overnight or simply stop by to pick up the farm’s own olive oil, wine, and super fresh provisions on your way to your beach home.

So, those are my “secrets” and I’m also supposed to tag a few other blog friends to see what they come up with.

South of Rome
Flip Florence
The Espresso Break
Bell’Avventura
Katie of Tripbase, who started this whole shebang

If you’ve come up with a list, by all means tag me so I can have a look at your tips, too!

Photos © Patrick Medved, Gregorio Parvus, Alberto Bizzini

Five Favorites: Lucca

Today I am starting a brand new feature at Italofile called Five Favorites.

The segment is a chance for me to invite fellow Italy bloggers and Italophiles to wax poetic about five favorite Italian things, be it characteristics of a town or region or five favorite foods, fashion designers, parks….anything Italy-related. Continue reading Five Favorites: Lucca

Best Places in Italy for Modern Art

Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Museum, Rome
Zaha Hadid's MAXXI Museum, Rome

Italy’s modern art museums are often overlooked by the masses, who prefer, not surprisingly, to examine the country’s ancient and Renaissance-era treasures. But with the debut of Rome’s new, Zaha Hadid-designed MAXXI Museum, the capital now has a very high profile exhibition space that is itself a work of art.

New York Times’ The Moment magazine describes the museum, which is dedicated to exhibitions on 21st century art, this way:

[It is a] series of sky-lighted concrete canyons that tilt and swell, swerve like a velodrome and twist into what appears from the exterior to be a monumental hard-shelled calla lily, a pliable mausoleum that seems to play the sobriety of a de Chirico off the cooling, warping effects of a work by Anish Kapoor. Otherworldly in some respects, the museum also resonates with the character of Rome. The MAXXI could easily be a composite sketch of Rome’s contradictory but fluid, theatrical, and sweeping architectural personality — which is not unlike its architect’s.

Such excitement over a new building in the Eternal City made me think that others may wish to know more about some other modern art museums in Italy. Here’s a brief list:

Rome and Lazio
Before the MAXXI, Rome had the National Gallery of Modern Art. This museum is housed in a late 19th century building in the Villa Borghese and features art from Pirandello, De Chirico, Kandinsky, and more. There’s also the MACRO, a museum occupying two reclaimed buildings (and a new wing in 2010) in the Porta Pia neighborhood. It features “some of the most significant expressions characterizing the Italian art scene since the 1960s.” Other places in Rome to see modern art include the PalaExpo in the Quirinale district (which has, by the way, a great cafeteria); the Auditorium Parco della Musica, a music hall and occasional exhibition space in Flaminio which was designed by the celebrated architect Renzo Piano and opened in 2002; and the Giorgio de Chirico House-Museum near Piazza di Spagna.

Elsewhere in Rome’s region of Lazio, check out the town of Anticoli Corrado, located about 40 km northeast of the capital and featuring a trove of artist studios and the Civic Gallery of Modern Art. The best write-up about this little town can be found on the Vagabondo-Italy website.

Venice

A work by Picasso at the Guggenheim, Venice
A work by Picasso at the Guggenheim, Venice

Venice is on this list for one museum only: the Guggenheim. Located in Peggy Guggenheim’s former palazzo on the Grand Canal, the museum “is the most important museum in Italy for European and American art of the first half of the 20th century.” What does that include? Some of the famous names in Mrs. Guggenheim’s collection include Braque, Duchamp, Modrian, and Giacometti. Ernst, Pollock, and Magritte. Calder, Brancusi, Klee, and Picasso. Just about anyone you can think of from the world of contemporary art is there. The Guggenheim also attracts numerous big-name exhibits. Currently, it is hosting the Masterpieces of Futurism (through Dec. 31, 2009). See my article on Planning a Visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for About.com.

Of course, Venice also is the host city for the Biennale. Despite its name, this celebration of contemporary art is happening almost all of the time. This year (2009), saw the Venice Biennale of Art, Cinema, Theatre, and Music. However, in August 2010, the 12th Biennale for Architecture will kick off in the Lion City.

Tuttomondo by Keith Haring
Tuttomondo by Keith Haring

Florence and Tuscany
Finding modern art in Renaissance-heavy Tuscany is a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. But modern art is there. In Florence, try the Marino Marini museum, which features the Italian artist’s works, including numerous sculptures of horses. Also, what could be more modern than fashion? Even if you can’t afford to shop until you drop, you can enjoy looking back – and forward – at the styles created by Florentine Salvatore Ferragamo in the Museo Ferragamo. (As of this writing, the Museo Ferragamo is sponsoring a shoe design contest for artists. Deadline Dec. 10, 2009!)

There are several more opportunities in Tuscany to enjoy modern art. Just north of Florence, in the city of Prato, is the Luigi Pecci Contemporary Art Museum. It features mid- to late-20C art, including photography, from Italian and international artists. If you’re in Pisa, you can savor some pop art with Keith Haring’s Tuttomondo mural. It’s one of the last works ever created by the American artist. Two more outdoor modern art spaces in Tuscany are gardens. In Chianti, check out the Chianti Sculpture Park, whose name says it all, and the Tarot Garden (Il Giardino dei Tarocchi), an unusual project of sculptures based on tarot cards that was the vision of artist Niki de Saint Phalle. The Tarot Garden is located in Capalbio in the province of Grosseto.

Torino (Turin)

Torino's Mole Antonelliana
Torino's Mole Antonelliana

Our final stop on this modern art tour of Italy is in Torino (Turin), whose skyline is a work of contemporary art. The spire of the Mole Antonelliana, gives Torino its distinctive look and today houses Italy’s National Museum of Cinema (Museo Nazionale del Cinema). The moving image is, to some, the ultimate in contemporary art, and the MNC contains a vast collection of archival film footage, books and magazines about film, scripts, costumes, and a cinema. Among the masterpieces in the collection are an 18C movie camera (the first?), Peter O’Toole’s costume from Lawrence of Arabia, an original poster from the Rita Hayworth classic Gilda, storyboards from Star Wars, and a script of the Italian dialogues from the 1933 version of King Kong.

While Venice has the Biennale, Torino has the Torino Triennale Tremusei, a triennial exhibition of emerging artists at three of Torino’s contemporary art spaces: the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, the Castello di Rivoli, and the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, also known as the GAM. The last Triennale in Torino was in 2008 (the 2nd incarnation). So, if my calendar and math serve me right, T3 will take place in 2011. Stay tuned.

I know I’ve missed a ton of other fine contemporary art museums in Italy. So if you have suggestions for what else should be on this list, please add your comments below.

Photos by MAXXI, Guggenheim, Comune di Pisa, Comune di Torino

Italy’s Most Unusual Religious Relics

Examining the ampoule of San Gennaro's blood
Examining the ampoule of San Gennaro’s blood

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.

Shroud of Turin

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.

As with all religious relics, the Shroud’s authenticity has been doubted. Even the Catholic Church has yet to formally endorse the Shroud. And a recent scientific study confirms the shroud as a relic of the Middle Ages (i.e., NOT 2,000 years old). Nevertheless, this sacred relic (called Santa Sindone in Italian) is well-protected by the Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud.

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.

Michelle Fabio explains more about the Feast of San Gennaro for Italy Magazine. She has also posted a link to the video of the Procession of San Gennaro, which you can watch below:

The Holy Foreskin

(Currently Missing)
David Farley’s book An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town was one of the inspirations for this post.

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.

Sacra Cintola - Sacred Belt, Prato

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)
  • The “doubting finger” of Saint Thomas (in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme)
  • Papal innards in the church of SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio near the Trevi Fountain
  • Saint Francis Xavier’s forearm in the church of the Gesù (the rest of the body is in Goa, India)
  • The Santo Bambino in Santa Maria Aracoeli
  • And “evidence” of souls trapped in purgatory at the Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio (nicely explained by Jessica at WhyGo Italy).

I’ve barely even scratched the surface of all of the unusual relics one can find in Italy. So, what’s your favorite? Please leave your comment below!

Photos (top to bottom): sangennarofeast.org, Wikipedia, Gwilbor.

Vampires in Volterra

New Moon Fever in Volterra
New Moon Fever in Volterra

The windswept, medieval Tuscan town of Volterra has been in the news a lot lately, thanks to the hype surrounding New Moon, the second book in the teenage vampire series Twilight. Author Stephenie Meyer set a scene between Bella, the heroine, and Edward, her undead lover, in Volterra. And now this small town in western Tuscany has become a tourist attraction.

Volterra has never really been much of a Tuscan hotspot, being highly overshadowed by Pisa, the capital of its province. Now, according to USA Today, wide-eyed, vampire-loving tourists are coming to Volterra to take the New Moon tour. USA Today has provided a photo slideshow of the tour.

Want to know what else to do in Volterra? Visit the Official Volterra Tourism Website. Here you can learn about Volterra’s museums, including the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum, which showcases the history and artifacts from Volterra’s ancient past. Maybe Edward was Etruscan? I don’t know – you’ll have to read the book!

Or see the movie. The film version of New Moon comes out on November 20.

Photo from USA Today

The Real Pinocchio

Pinocchio Marionettes in Collodi, Tuscany
Pinocchio Marionettes in Collodi, Tuscany

Last November, the New York Review of Books released Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio under its NYRB Classics imprint. The tale, as reviewed by Tim Parks in the latest issue, is much darker than the Disneyfied version. After the jump is Parks’ full review. As always, I urge you to subscribe to NYRB; they often review books on Italy and even have an Italian version, La Rivista dei Libri.

By the way, if you’re visiting Tuscany with kids, you may be interested in venturing to the Parco di Pinocchio in the author’s hometown of Collodi (Carlo Lorenzini adopted the town’s name for his nom de plume).

Knock on Wood
By Tim Parks
The Adventures of Pinocchio
by Carlo Collodi, translated from the Italian by Geoffrey Brock, with an introduction by Umberto Eco and an afterword by Rebecca West

New York Review Books, 189 pp., $14.00 (paper)

A voice yells from within a pine log, “Don’t hit me too hard!” The carpenter is astonished, his axe stayed. When they come unexpected, life and language are unsettling.

Brought into being by blows, the talking log proceeds to start a fight: the carpenter’s friend Geppetto has arrived to ask for a piece of wood and the voice mocks his yellow wig; Geppetto imagines he is being insulted by his friend and in a moment the two are on the floor, scratching, biting, and thumping. Consigned to Geppetto, the lively log contrives to bang his shins and provoke a second misunderstanding and a second fight before it is taken away.

Old Geppetto is something of an artist. His house is bare, but he has painted bright flames in the fireplace and a merrily boiling pot above them; when reality is hard, illusion may offer consolation. Now Geppetto is about to embark on a much greater act of creation: he will fashion a traveling companion who can “dance and fence, and do flips,” so that together the two can earn a “crust of bread” and a “cup of wine.” He’s thinking of company and economic advantage. But no sooner has Pinocchio been carved from his living log than he is snatching off Geppetto’s wig, revealing the reality of his maker’s baldness. Taught to walk, he runs off. When Geppetto catches up and starts to give the puppet a fierce shaking, he is arrested for assault and jailed. The artist has lost control of his creation. Raw vitality with no inhibitions, Pinocchio is freed into a world of hot tempers, vanity, ignorance, and appetite; a violent tussle is never far off.

Continue reading The Real Pinocchio

Ramble On: Tuscany Walking Festival

Walking Festival in TuscanyTuscany, with its beautiful vistas and thousands of hectares of nature preserves and woodlands, offers numerous opportunities for serious hikers and casual trekkers alike. This is the also the thought of the organizers of the Tuscany Walking Festival, a yearly event that happens goes on roughly between the first days of spring until the end of fall.

The festival highlights six of the great hiking areas in Tuscany, including the Maremma, the Monti Livornesi and the Tuscan Archipelago. In addition to the great walks are other events and promotions, such as photography exhibits, birdwatching courses, and restaurant discounts near the walking regions. What a great way to learn about Tuscany’s natural treasures and take a break from art overload!

Photo from Tuscany Walking Festival

Become a Museum Reporter for Tuscany

As we reported last week, Tuscany has a brand new tourism website. We have also now learned that the regional tourism board is considering letting visitors weigh in on the Tuscan museum experience. According to the Florentine, the tourism board will be asking visitors in May to become “museum reporters” as part of the Amico Museo 2009 initiative.

Those who choose to become ‘museum reporters’ will be asked to send their photos and thoughts to [email protected]. The best entries will be featured in a virtual album on the region’s official Web site, in the ‘Culture’ subsection.

So here’s your chance to be heard and let others know how impressed (or underwhelmed) you were by a particular museum in Tuscany.

Tuscany’s Great New Tourism Website

While we weren’t paying attention, the Tuscan tourism office launched a lovely new website, complete with destination information, links to hotels and maps, and even a marketplace where you can purchase typical Tuscan wares (wine, ceramics, leather) or advanced tickets to museums.

What we’re really loving is the Tuscan tourist board’s embrace of new technologies. There is a multimedia portal where you can view photos, watch movies, or take an audio tour of famous sites in the region. The video offerings are currently lacking (only about five of them right now), but we’re sure that number will grow. The other cool thing you can do is sign up to get text messages about the region’s weather or events on your phone. You can also browse multiple itineraries according to your interests, available in sliding scale form on the home page, or see which events are happening right now by clicking on an interactive calendar page (e.g., there are 45 event listings for March 12).

To start planning your Tuscan vacation, visit www.turismo.intoscana.it.

Catchall Catch-Up Post: More Articles About Italy

Here are just a few notable articles on Italy that I’ve come across in the past month or so. I need to get them off my plate, as it were, so I can move on to more tips, hotels, and news that has come my way…

One Fish, Two Fish – This article my Mimi Sheraton in the New Yorker looks at the origins of brodetto, a fish soup that is most prized in Abruzzo and Le Marche. This link is to an abstract, but if you have a New Yorker subscription you can plug in your account info and read it online (if you haven’t already).

Italy Against Itself – Another abstract, this article by regular Italy columnist Alexander Stille looks at recent politics in the country.

An Italy Variety Plate from Gourmet.com – Last month, the food magazine had articles on Christmas pandoro from Verona and Chicken Liver Crostini from Central Italy. This month is Gourmet’s Italian-American issue, which explores recipes inspiration from Lucca to Lecce. Also, it seems that gourmet.com has a more searchable archive now. So, just go to their search engine, type in “Italy,” and you can find articles going all the way back to 1954!

2008 Year-End Article Round Up

I am still trying to figure out how to manage a toddler and a newborn and find time to keep this blog up-to-date. But I have been keeping track of the numerous articles about Italy that have come out in the past couple of months. So, enjoy the following links and have a Felice Anno Nuovo!!

Boston Globe
Eating Up Miles, Drinking Up Scenery, Motoring From Nice to Tuscany
(road tripping between France and Italy)

L.A. Times
American Military Cemeteries in Europe Honor Heroes in Both World Wars
(profiles Sicily-Rome Cemetery)

The Globe and Mail (Canada)
Roman Holiday, Reconsidered
Your Palazzo in Florence Awaits
Escape From San Domino

The Independent (U.K.)
Madama Butterfly, Floria Tosca – They All Came From Lucca
Puglia Is a Food Lover’s Paradise

The Guardian (U.K.)
Flying Visit to Florence
Flood-Hit Hoteliers Offer Packages With Free Wellies (Venice)
Go With the Flow (Skiing on Mt. Etna)
A Taste of Italy at Harvest Time (Le Marche)
Turin On A Plate
On the Trail of the Leopard (Sicily)

New York Times
Florence, Then and Now
Venice: In Laguna Da Toni
Savoring Italy One Beer at a Time

The Telegraph (U.K.)
Mesmerizing Relics of Byzantine Brilliance (Ravenna)

Wall Street Journal
Starling Stalkers Try to Scare the Birds out of Rome

The Top 25 Hotels in Italy

Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli: One of Italys 25 Best
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli: One of Italy's 25 Best

While it’s true that the travel industry is taking a hit in light of the world financial crisis, there are still plenty of people making trips to Italy. And, with the dollar improving against the euro (at least for the time being), some Americans are looking to do Italy in style.

Luckily, thanks to USA Today/Forbes Traveler, there’s now a list of Italy’s 25 best hotels. Compiled by Forbes, this is a grouping of the most luxurious and elegant lodgings “ranging from urban grande dames to breathtaking coastal villas.” Forbes Traveler has also created a nifty little slide show to showcase each of the 25.

We’ve certainly mentioned some of these hotels in The Unofficial Guide to Central Italy and/or on this site. But here are the links if you want to check them out yourself:

Italy’s 25 Best Hotels According to Forbes Traveler

Rome
Hotel de Russie
Hotel Eden
Hotel Hassler Roma
Portrait Suites
St. Regis Grand Hotel

Florence
Hotel Lungarno
Hotel Savoy
Villa La Massa
Villa San Michele

Tuscany
Il Pellicano Hotel (Porto Ercole)
Relais Il Falconiere (Cortona)

Milan
Bulgari Hotel Milano
Four Seasons Hotel Milan

Venice
Bauer Hotel
Luna Hotel Baglioni

Capri
Capri Palace Hotel and Spa (Anacapri)
Grand Hotel Quisisana

Lake Garda
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli (Gargnano)

Amalfi Coast
Hotel Caruso (Ravello)
Hotel Santa Caterina (Amalfi)
Il San Pietro (Positano)
Le Sireneuse (Positano)
Palazzo Sasso (Ravello)

Cinque Terre
Hotel Splendido (Portofino)

Lake Como
Villa d’Este (Cernobbio)