The grey felt cap adorned with a black raven feather worn by old northern Italian men and some modern-day camouflaged troops is known as the Cappello Alpino. This recognizable cap signifies that the wearer is or was a member of the Alpini, an elite corps of the Italian army that is most closely associated with World War I and is the oldest mountain infantry in the world. Continue reading Italy’s Alpini Corps: The Traditions Beyond the Feathered Cap
With so many ancient structures in need of constant upkeep, Italy is no stranger to scaffolding. Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica, in particular, is known for constantly being under repair. Continue reading For the First Time in More Than 20 Years, the Facade of St. Mark’s Basilica is Scaffold-Free
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.
About half an hour by train from Venice and even closer to Padua is Hotel Millepini Terme, a spa hotel that has the Guinness World Record for the world’s deepest thermal pool. The Y-40 The Deep Joy is 137-feet deep (40 meters) at its deepest, with four underwater grottos along the way. There’s a viewing tunnel at about the 5-meter mark. Fed by the warm waters of the Terme Euganee, one of the most popular thermal spa complexes in Italy, the Y-40 maintains a constant temperature of 30-32 degrees Celsius (about 90 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Y-40 was designed for free-divers and scuba enthusiasts, who can book time at the concept pool separate from staying at the hotel. But pro divers and amateurs can stay at the hotel and take advantage of several dive and relax packages, including ones for families and beginners.
Although Venice has been sinking into the Adriatic sea for centuries, visitors, as well as many residents, pay little mind to this fact other than keeping close watch on the acqua alta forecasts. Few of the millions of people that tread on Venice’s cobblestones and stroll over its storied canals know how the city manages to preserve itself amid threats such as global warming, rising tides, and the inevitable erosion that accompanies them.
Enter Insula, the company charged with Venice’s maintenance, which has launched a website called Venice Backstage. Venice Backstage is a fascinating trove – in English and Italian – about the unusual landscape of Venice and how workers toil daily behind the scenes for its upkeep. The website contains educational tidbits on water levels and what happens when a sandbar builds up the lagoon; bridge construction and maintenance; a gallery of construction projects showing workers efforts to counteract building erosion; a glossary of terms; and videos.
I really enjoyed the video titled, “Venice Backstage: How Does Venice Work?” and I think that you will, too. So, have a look at this video, then head over to Venice Backstage to learn even more about the everyday efforts to save Venice and its iconic cityscape.
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!
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!!
Eating Up Miles, Drinking Up Scenery, Motoring From Nice to Tuscany (road tripping between France and Italy)
American Military Cemeteries in Europe Honor Heroes in Both World Wars (profiles Sicily-Rome Cemetery)
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)
The Telegraph (U.K.)
Mesmerizing Relics of Byzantine Brilliance (Ravenna)
Wall Street Journal
Starling Stalkers Try to Scare the Birds out of Rome
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
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli (Gargnano)
Hotel Splendido (Portofino)
Villa d’Este (Cernobbio)
Time again to see what Italy travel articles have come out for fall.
New York Times
Cave Crusaders in Matera (examines a new boutique hotel in Matera, Basilicata)
The Independent (U.K.)
Italy: Spirit of Palladio (Vicenza)
The Guardian (U.K.)
10 Things to See in Venice (about the Venice Biennale of Architecture)
The Boston Globe
Sampling the Motherland (a culinary expedition through Sicily)
Dallas Morning News
Fast Cars, Haute Food in Northern Italy
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.
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
“everything from roasted hen and fresh stuffed sardines to…fritto misto, cassata, and strawberry sorbetto”
Enrica Rocca Cooking School
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”
“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
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…:-)
In case you missed these recent articles on travel to Italy…
New York Times
Sicily, Through the Eyes of the Leopard
The Washington Post
See Naples…And Eat
Sydney Morning Herald
Ready for Super-Bol (A Search for the Best Ragu in Bologna)
Los Angeles Times
Exploring Sun-Splashed Venice’s City Squares
The Guardian (UK)
Seattle Times (Rick Steves’ Europe)
For Italy In the Extreme, Go to Naples
The Vancouver Sun
How To Enjoy Rome With the Kids
The Financial Times
Do You Need Another Reason to Visit Florence?
While browsing the web recently, I happened upon Emmanuelle Jary’s excellent primer on touring the Venice Lagoon on ViaMichelin (full disclosure: I have written for Michelin Travel Guides). But what, I wondered, was a pénichette? Turns out that it is a small barge-like houseboat – just the perfect type of transportation for getting around the city of canals on a mini-tour.
The word “pénichette” is a registered trademark, perhaps owned by the company Locaboat, whose photos are used throughout the Michelin article and which runs several tours of the Venice Lagoon. You can choose one- to two-week excursions, and travel from the base at Chioggia to points such as Treviso, Padova, and the Venetian islands. According to Locaboat, pénichettes are ideal for family or group travel and those “which bear the ‘R’ label are boats which have been updated with the latest low-pollution, high performance equipment.” So, your trip to Venice can be eco-friendly, too.
While you’re out and about, consider following Jary and Michelin’s suggestions for dining out or ordering in (listed at the bottom of the article) from some of the great restaurants in Venice. I’m salivating for the potato risotto and cuttlefish polenta from Do Farai right now…
Photo © Via Michelin
Lots of Italy-related articles this time of year. So, here goes:
The Washington Post
Smart Mouth: His Palermo Restaurant Is Popular, But It’s No Mob Scene
Naples (FL) Daily News
From the Ground Up: Part-Time Naples Couple Found Their Italian Villa a Full-Time Restoration Job Over Two Years (Brindisi, Puglia)
The Guardian (UK)
The Amalfi Coast On a Budget
Caught in the Spell of San Pietro (Sardinia)
Hidden Gems (Sibillini Mountains, Le Marche)
Little Po Peep (Emilia-Romagna)
Flying Visit: Venice
A Greener Way to Umbria’s Capital
Sydney Morning Herald
How to Shop Up an Appetite (Milan)
Night in Italian Prison Promises Gourmet Fare (Tuscany)
Master of the House (Palladio in Venice)
Holiday in Harmony with Gregorian Monks (Tuscany)
A Bloodbath, Italian Style (Florence)
For Americans touring Venice, one of the most famous places to visit is Harry’s Bar, a former haunt of Ernest Hemingway. Unfortunately, as the dollar has sunk (and continues to sink) against the euro, Harry’s, which has always been expensive, is out of most American tourists’ price range. So now, in light of the current economic downturn, Harry’s Bar has begun to offer a “discount to ‘poor’ Americans suffering from a weak dollar and subprime blues.”
According to Reuters, the following sign has been posted outside of the bar:
Harry’s Bar of Venice, in an effort to make the American victims of subprime loans happier, has decided to give them a special 20 percent discount on all items of the menu during the short term of their recovery.
Now, let’s hope that other restaurants and hotels in Italy extend similar charity to traveling Americans this summer. We’re gonna need it!
Here are some of the Italy travel articles you may have missed over the past few months.
New York Times
Prato, Italy: In Tuscany, the Revealing of a Forbidden Love
Bread-Making and Truffle-Hunting in Italy (Piemonte; actually a short review of two tours)
Bologna, Italy: Finding New Life in the Arts
La Dolce Vita, Both Day and Night (Readers Picks in Rome)
The Washington Post
They Got Game. In Several Languages. (About European (and Italian) basketball leagues)
Los Angeles Times
20 Ways to Take Back the 20% Our Dollar Lost to the Euro (great advice from Rick Steves; not specific to Italy, but there are several Italy tips)
Bend Weekly (Oregon)
Serene Pleasures of the Veneto (via Copley News Service)
New Zealand Herald
Venice Calls – and to Hell with Explanations (a sort of Eat, Pray, Love piece on traveling alone to Italy)
We hope you enjoyed yesterday’s run-down of part 1 of 20 Things We Love About Italy. Hopefully, the list has given you more travel ideas and the inspiration to learn more about all of Italy’s 20 regions.
Now, without further ado, the remaining 10 favorites on our list:
11) Termoli, Molise. If Puglia (see #13) is the next Italian travel spot, surely Molise will follow. This beautiful beach town in Italy’s second smallest region is little known outside of the country and blissfully free of the tourist throngs (so far).
12) La Mole Antonelliana of Torino, Piemonte. This iconic building (perhaps you remember it as the symbol of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games?) may be one of the younger structures in the region, but it certainly has a cool history. Originally built to be a synagogue, the Mole now houses Italy’s National Cinema Museum. Besides a collection of thousands of movie posters and exhibits about early cinema in Italy, the museum presents a huge roster of films each month. This is great if your Italian is up to snuff.
13) Padre Pio, Puglia. If you’ve spent any time tooling around the shops near the Vatican, you’ve most certainly seen images of Padre Pio, the white-bearded Capuchin monk (originally from Pietrelcina in Campania) who lead a congregation at San Giovanni Rotondo and was canonized in 2002. Unofficially, for better or for worse, Padre Pio is Italy’s modern patron saint. What’s really random is that he’s now the patron saint of the New Year Blues.
14) Neptune’s Cave, Sardinia. Long known as a playground for the jetset, Sardinia is more than just beaches. Because of the island’s geography of rocky promontories spilling into the sea there is a vast network of underwater caves, or grottoes, to explore. Chief among them is the Grotta of Nettuno, which spans about 1 kilometer, includes impressive stalagmite and stalactite formations, and is a great cure for beachside boredom. Take a boat tour of Neptune’s Cave or, if you’re feeling more active, approach the grotto from the 656-step staircase that leads from Capo Caccia.
15) Taormina, Sicily. Like the region of Campania (see #4), much of Sicily lives in the shadow (or under the legend) of a volcano: Mt. Etna. Taormina, with its Greco-Roman theater, bougainvillea draped hillsides, medieval town, and views of Etna, epitomizes the beauty, history, and geology of Sicily. We’re also fond of Taormina’s cultural attractions, including Taormina Arte and Taormina Filmfest.
16) Ötzi the Iceman, Trentino Alto Adige. Europe’s oldest mummy was found in 1991 in the ice-packed mountains above Trentino Alto Adige, the alpine region that borders Austria’s Südtirol. After years of research, the 5,000-year-old Ötzi was placed on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano in 1998. Also on exhibit are the Iceman’s tools and clothing, and information about the preservation measures being taken to keep Ötzi in peak condition for many millennia to come.
17) Botticelli Gallery, Galleria degli Uffizi, Tuscany. It’s too hard to single out just one thing in Tuscany, of course. But the Botticielli Gallery at the Uffizi has to be one of the most special rooms in Florence. Upon seeing Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and Primavera in the flesh, we are transfixed, barely even noticing the dozens of other museum-goers trying to elbow us out of the way. For more information about the Uffizi, including how to get tickets, visit the museum’s official website. We also like this unofficial site that provides a virtual tour of the Botticelli Gallery and others.
18) Orvieto, Umbria. One of our favorite day trips from Rome has to be to the town of Orvieto. Situated atop a huge mountain of tufa, Orvieto shines because of its gorgeous, Gothic Duomo, its ancient Etuscan caves and wells, and the superb Orvieto Classico white wine. Actually…forget the day trip. Why not stay overnight?
19) Fiera Sant’Orso, Valle d’Aosta. How can you not appreciate the Fiera Sant’Orso, Aosta’s traditional craft fair which has been going strong for more than 1,000 years?! The fair usually takes place at the end of January – so you just missed this year’s edition – and it is known for its wooden handicrafts, artisanal metalworks, ceramics, and sculptures. No doubt, there aren’t many events that can boast a 1,000 year history – not even in Italy.
20) St. Mark’s Lion, Venice, Veneto. Leave it to us astrological Leos to love the symbol of the city of Venice: the lion of St. Mark. From atop a column in St. Mark’s Square to Madonna’s Like a Virgin video, the lion has been an effective marketing tool for Venice for hundreds of years. You can learn more about the symbol and the city in Garry Wills’ excellent Venice: Lion City, one of the most gratifying biographies about a city that you will ever read.
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:
Best in the 25 Most Popular Destinations – World
7. Sofitel Roma, Rome, Italy
12. Palazzo Sant’Angelo sul Canal Grande, Venice, Italy
Top 10 Best Hidden Gems – World
5. Residence Corte Grimani, Venice, Italy
Top 10 Best Hidden Gems – Europe
4. Residence Corte Grimani, Venice, Italy
10. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice, Italy
Top 10 Best Bargains – World
10. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice, Italy
Top 10 Best Bargains – Europe
4. Hotel Al Ponte Mocenigo, Venice Italy
5. Hotel Vecchio Asilo, San Gimignano, Italy
Top 10 Best Service – Europe
8. Relais La Suvera, Pievescola (Siena), Italy
10. The Westin Excelsior Florence, Florence, Italy
To read reviews of the above hotels or to find out more about Tripadvisor’s criteria for its awards, go to www.tripadvisor.com.
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
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.