Dooid’s Suggestions for This Weekend in Italy
Are you in Italy this weekend and wondering what events might be going on near you? We have you covered here with lots of ideas in every part of the Bel Paese!
- Marché Vert Nöel – Aosta Valley
- Christmas in Bolzano – Trentino Alto Adige
- Christmas in Spilimbergo – Friuli Venezia Giulia
- Beatles Exhibition – Lombardy
- The Biggest Christmas Village in Italy – Lombardy
- Villaggio di Babbo Natale – Emilia Romagna
- Niki de Saint Phalle Exhibition – Emilia Romagna
- Christmas market in Palazzuolo – Tuscany
- Christmas in Palazzuolo – Tuscany
- Tyrolese Village– Tuscany
- Christmas in Florence – Tuscany
- Christmas market in Siena – Tuscany
- Book Fairs – Lazio
- Christmas market in Perugia – Umbria
- The Gradara Castle – Marche
- Luci d’artista – Campania
- Christmas Traditions in Agnone– Molise
- Night of the Faugni– Abruzzo
- Caria Exhibition in Cagliari – Sardinia
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Stay in Lucchesia: discover Lucca and its surrounding area
Have you ever visited the beautiful city of Lucca? Have you ever been there when the camellias are in full bloom? Have you ever dressed up as a ninja with your friends for the famous Lucca Comics event? If not, the time has come for you and a group of friends or family to make unforgettable memories in Lucca. Enjoy this Stay in Lucchesia package!
Cost and Terms & Conditions
Up to 4 guests ( 2 rooms ) € 160,00/per night.
Each additional person is € 25.00 / night. The offer varies according to the number of people.
Minimum stay 4 nights.
10% off only with dooid (taxes included) on a minimum of a 7-night stay
Payment Method: by bank transfer
How to Book: read the final paragraph and fill out the form below.
Cancellation policy: free up to 30 days before arrival, after this deadline, 50% of the price of the stay will not be refunded.
An additional security deposit of € 400.00 is required for any damage caused to the property which will be refunded upon check out (after checking the house).
The house was built around 1784, when it originally housed nuns. In the early 1900’s, however, it was transformed into a small farm. The building has been finely restored, preserving the stone exterior, and is ready to offer tourists an authentic experience. The structure is located in the neighborhood called vicinato, perhaps because it is isolated, but yet close to the real village. This area is the oldest part of the town and if its walls could only talk!
What to Do and See
Lucchesia, as it’s known in Italian, is an area of Tuscany rich in art and culture, but also in various events that attract tourists and enthusiasts from all over Italy and beyond!
The city of Lucca is one of the jewels of Tuscany. The town is protected by walls on which you can take pleasant walks accompanied by the sound of rustling trees. You’ll see the famous towers (Torre delle Ore and Torre del Guinigi) above the rooftops. In the historic center you’ll find the Cathedral: Lucca is nicknamed the “city of a hundred churches” due to the large number of sanctuaries scattered within the city walls.
As you wander along the cobblestone streets of the city and window shop, you’ll make your way to Piazza Napoleone, or Piazza Grande as it’s known by the locals. This is where most of the events, such as Lucca Comics and Games and the otaku event, take place. The piazza is also home to concerts like the Lucca Summer Festival which brings international stars such as Elton John.
Going back towards the village of the camellias, or Pieve and Sant’Andrea di Compito, art and nature come together. Strolling along the streets of these villages, you’ll be able to witness the most spectacular camellias, parks and historic villas. Sant’Andrea di Compito is a charming Tuscan village with narrow streets, stone walls, ancient buildings and even some villas from the 1700s.
If you need additional information or if you’d like to personalize your package, please fill out the contact form below or send us an email at email@example.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page.
If you’re interested in this offer, contact us for additional information!
Let us organize your stay in Lucchesia:
from your hotel to everything you might need for a pleasant trip!
Package code: 201903141658
Catania package, Sicily: includes hotel, shuttle, meals!
How does a relaxing weekend in Catania, Sicily sound? Overlooking the Ionian Sea and Mt. Etna, you’ll discover Catania’s art and natural beauty. With this special Catania package you can enjoy a well-deserved break and indulge in Catania’s amazing cuisine!
Cost and Terms & Conditions
199€ per couple (meat dinner menu)
225€ per couple (fish dinner menu)
Payment Method: Deposit of 99 € required, balance due at check in. You can book at any time, even last minute (subject to availability).
How to Purchase: Read the final paragraph and fill out the form below
Cancellation Policy: Cancellation policy: the deposit amount paid will not be refunded, but you will be given the option of applying it towards a credit for a future reservation (within 6 mos).
Valid During: all year except 3-day weekends and holidays at which point there would be an increase of the offer price.
An oasis in the baroque heart of Catania where you’ll enjoy the comforts of personalized rooms, completely renovated spaces, furnishings and colors.
On the fourth floor of the building (equipped with elevator) you will enjoy a 180 ° view from the covered terrace of the most beautiful façade of the city center, in an area with limited evening traffic on weekends.
Ideal for leisure stays, individual or group, or business trips, you will be “pampered” by the managers and the attentive and dedicated staff. Free Wifi, available in all indoor and outdoor areas.
Also available for your leisure: a reading area with seasonal guides and information, tour desk, book-exchange and relaxation room, with refrigerator and drinks, kettle and herbal tea, toaster and microwave.
What to Do and See
Catania is not just a city of art! It overlooks a crystal clear sea just waiting to be discovered!
The Riviera dei Ciclopi or the Cyclops Riviera is stunning: characterized by black lava that has reached the sea. Equally beautiful and noteworthy are the Grotte di Ulisse or the Ulysses Grotto where you can take a swim in the clear waters. In the fishing village of Acitrezza you can visit the protected area around the Faraglioni and the Lachea Island by pedal boat. And you cannot leave without tasting the best granita and pastries in the area at the Eden Bar!
Admiring Mount Etna, whose prominent outline is the backdrop to the whole city, is obviously a must.
Besides the amazing gifts of Mother Nature, you’ll also want to visit the Cathedral of St. Agnes which dominates the Piazza del Duomo; the town hall and the elephant fountain; the Roman Theater; Via Etnea and so much more!
If you need additional information or if you’d like to personalize your package, please fill out the contact form below or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact us on our Facebook page.
If you’re interested in this offer, contact us for additional information!
Let us organize your Catania package:
from your hotel to everything you might need for a pleasant trip!
Package code: 201903081544
Folk Traditions Festival in Petralia
That’s right, folk is not just tradition, but a life style! It’s like a drug; once you go into the tunnel, you can’t come out. You don’t even try to stop, but if for some reason, you distance yourself from it for awhile, you miss it. After awhile you get used to being without it, but as soon as you hear that distinct sound of a cheerful accordion or an upbeat mazurka, you realize that your feet are independent of the rest of your body being commanded by the beat.
The Festival of Popular Traditions – Pantomime dance of Cordella in Petralia Sottana (Palermo) is an example. This will be the XXXV Mediterranean Meeting of International Folklore held every year during August in this beautiful location within the Madonie Park. During the typical celebration of the Cordella dance, the ancient peasant traditions are recalled as a sign of hope for a fruitful harvest and married life. The festival lasts for four intense days that are packed with events, workshops and concerts from morning until late evening. There are even signing and dance workshops for children.
The last day is where the real party takes place which consists of the re-enactment of the traditional Sicilian wedding complete with a church ceremony and a wedding procession that from the village parades up to the pine forest above Petralia Sottana. The traditional Cordella dance concludes the festivities in a blaze of colored ribbons woven by twelve pairs of dancers to the rhythm of the cheerful sound of the tambourines.
Over the course of these four days the city changes its appearance, coming alive with people of all ages who fill the streets. Guests will notice the proud faces of children in their traditional garb and locals who participate enthusiastically keeping their island’s folk culture alive. Parades of local folk groups and international guests, cuisine from around the world, book lectures and finally concerts will delight.
But that’s not all. Grab a speaker, connect to a telephone, find a free square, some dancers and start again. Maybe you’ll only start with a few, 6 or 8 people, but as the music goes on, some passerbys stop to look. The energy and enthusiasm soon overwhelms them, and their swept into the growing climax of the dance.
It captures you and overwhelms you in its vortex.
It is an indispensable exchange of energy! You suddenly realize you are very tired, but the energy that your body expended is all returned to you in spirit by your dance partner, the people who dance around you, the music, the joviality of the moment, the desire to dance until exhaustion, to make friends and to fly … you realize that your body no longer feels tired.
The newcomers can initially be skeptical, embarrassed because they do not know the steps or people with whom you dance; it’s normal. The Circassian circle loosens tension, loosens the body, confuses you, amuses you. You are inexorably involved. When the music starts, the dancers frantically run in search of a partner. There are never enough men. You search through the crowd looking for a volunteer. You can not find one. You draw one against his will. Resistance. You hastily reassure him that the steps are easy and that he will learn them in a few rounds, at each change of partner. It begins. He’s tense and embarrassed. He hesitates and his steps are uncertain. He continuously makes mistakes, again and again until finally, he’s having fun. He’s passionate and alive.
There is no age. Everyone is dancing with everyone. It is pure magic.
Artigianato Vivo Festival in Cison di Valmarino
ArtigianatoVivo is an artisan festival held from 5 to 15 August in Cison di Valmarino in the province of Treviso, between Follina and Vittorio Veneto. It has steadily and increasingly attracted thousands of tourists from far and wide since 1980. There is talk of a turnout of 400,000 people this year.
The town of Cison – which has recently been inducted into the exclusive “club” of Borghi Più Belli d’Italia (Most Beautiful Villages of Italy)– comes to the forefront of excellent artisan craftsmanship that Italy truly does best.
200 exhibitors will present their unique products made strictly by hand at stands throughout the village. These types of festivals keep the Italian tradition and the art of “know-how” alive in this technological era in which craftsmanship is slowly dying.
In conjunction with the event, the Proloco organizes a series of side events such as concerts, animation shows, exhibitions and literary meetings.
ABOUT CISON DI VALMARINO
As I said, the tourist turnout is very high, and the whole territory merits a holiday of at least a few days. The artisan festival is a great opportunity to explore this beautiful area.
Cison di Valmarino is located in Valmareno, a valley dominated by the fortifications of the XII century Brandolini Castle which has been converted into a luxury hotel.
The Brandolini Counts were men of arms in feudal times and later became gentlemen dedicated to the economy, leaving an indelible imprint throughout the village.
The heart of the historic center is Piazza Roma which is dominated by Palazzo Marcello. It was the ancient Venetian villa of the Venetian doges Marcello, famous winners of the battle of Lepanto and the Loggia.
You will notice while walking through Cison that almost all the old houses have red or maroon shutters; a red that in these parts is called Rosso Brandolini.
Another example of the restoration of feudal buildings is the Antiche Cantine Brandolini. The building already appeared, as a basic structure, in fifteenth century maps. It has always been a particularly important place for the life of the village: built by the Brandolini family, it was initially used as a stable and then adapted to the wine production and conservation of agricultural products. It’s proof that the viticulture industry was already present in this area in distant times due to the high demand from Venice and the entire Veneto region.
As early as 1440, Valmareno already specialized in the cultivation of vines … and even today the entrire economy of the area is based on the production of wine, especially Prosecco.
Needless to say, this is an area where food and wine tastings are among the top tourist attractions.
Rolle of Cison di Valmarino
You can not go to visit Cison di Valmarino without going through Rolle, a very small town surrounded by Prosecco vineyards. The poet Andrea Zanzotto defined it as “a postcard sent by the gods”. Beautiful all year through, the most fascinating season to visit Rolle is undoubtedly in autumn when the hills glow red.
Copyright photo The most beautiful village in Italy + Antiche Case Brandolini + Rolle: Carla La Rocca
Copyright photo Palazzo Marcello: villevenetecastelli.com
Copyright photo Castelbrando from above: hotelcastelbrando.com
Amalfi Coast- Slightly Off the Beaten Path
In the heat of the summer, our thoughts tend to wander and places like the prized Amalfi Coast along Italy’s western coastline come to the forefront of our mind. There probably isn’t an aspiring traveler on earth that hasn’t either heard of it, dreamed of it, or actually been there. It is truly a dream.
The Dream of Amalfi
It is also exactly how it’s pictured in the movies from the era of Vittorio de Sica and Sophia Loren to those of late such as Under the Tuscan Sun and The Talented Mr. Ripley. So, where I am going with this? It is paradise… right?
Well, almost (sigh). The hoards of tourists that make their pilgrimage to the well-known Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi, and Positano during high season (mainly July and August) have somewhat ruined it for the rest of us.
By “the rest of us” I mean those travelers that are looking for a more authentic experience; those of us who would like to get into a lengthy, (although botched) conversation in Italian with a local at the bar in the piazza; those of us who would like to know the name of the signora who painstakingly made the homemade pasta at dinner. For “us”, if we have the possibility, the months of May, June, and September are going to be a far more rewarding experience.
The Little Haven of Maiori
The town of Maiori in the month of May was the “off the beaten path” type travelers’ dream. From Salerno (a major station well connected by both the Italo high-speed trains as well as the Trenitalia Frecce) one can easily take a bus (SITA) and reach Maiori in about an hour. The bus routes are basically Salerno-Maiori-Amalfi and then Amalfi-Positano-Sorrento. Private taxis are available but very expensive.
The bus ride in itself is an almost guaranteed adventure straight out of a movie scene! Our ride included infinite treacherous curves and passing other buses with literally a few centimeters in between. Of course, there were a multitude of locals that hopped off their Vespas or stopped their work only too happy to direct the drivers with excited gesturing and yelling as only Italians can do. It’s all part of the marvelous experience that is so truly unique to Italy.
Maiori offers a lovely town center with numerous shops and restaurants run by locals. You’ll immediately notice the abundance of lemons. They’re everywhere! From lemon-shaped soaps to perfumes to olive oil to the famous limoncello liqueur– they are the pride and joy of the entire coast.
I had been to Sorrento years before and fondly remembered eating a spaghetti al limone dish that I had tried to recreate multiple times since. I began my quest asking at various shops if they knew of a good place that served it and low and behold, a friendly shop owner handed me a business card of a restaurant that she knew served it. It was late that evening so we decided to go the following day for lunch.
As soon as we walked in and I asked the server if, in fact, they did serve spaghetti (actually tagliolini) with lemon, her face lit up and she proudly exclaimed, “Oh! You’re the one! They told me you’d be coming in today! Sì! We have it!”
Dumbfounded- I contemplated how it could be possible that the shop owner from 11 pm the night before could have already contacted the restaurant and told her about us. Then I remembered- this is Italy. Not just Italy, but southern Italy. The climate is warmer, the people are warmer, and anything and everything is possible.
We dined on the most delicious lunch of the entire trip that day: warm focaccia bread with oregano and lemon-infused olive oil, spaghetti al limone, the seafood catch of the day, a sliced lemon salad (surprisingly amazing!), and a delectable lemon sorbet. It felt good knowing that our smiling server would tell the shop owner from the night before that we had come and dined and enjoyed her spaghetti al limone and that the tradition would continue. We would not be the ones to break the chain of this wonderful heritage.
Of course over the course of our short, three-day stay, we did visit the inevitable Amalfi, Positano, the island of Capri, and Ravello- all breathtaking and totally worth it. But every evening we were relieved to return to our little haven of Maiori where the locals smiled and nodded their heads as we strolled by them along the promenade and where there is still an authentic piece of Italy left for “the rest of us”.
photo copyrights: positanonews.it; thatsaleaf.com; vesuviolive.it; lonelyplanet.com
Cremona and its Beauty from Violins to Torrone
Cremona. Cremona is synonymous with so many beautiful things. We could begin with the violin, or perhaps the torrone dessert, or maybe even, the Torrazzo- the highest belltower in Italy. And yet, when you type in “Cremona” in the search engine, it might actually auto-suggest the phrase, “Is Cremona worth visiting?”
Is Cremona worth visiting? That’s like asking if coffee is really all it’s cracked up to be or any other number of extremely rhetorical questions. Cremona is only about an hour by train from Milan, yet it gets very little attention from tourists.
Stradivari and Cremona’s Violins
In my opinion, being a lover of music of all kinds, Cremona’s most beautiful contribution to humanity has been its violins. I would go as far as to argue that, if played correctly, there isn’t a more beautiful, man-made sound in the entire world.
In the 1600s the Amati family began making violins in Cremona and soon, pupils like Antonio Stradivari began making their own as well. Stradivari made revolutionary changes to the violin that would forever change music. Their contributions to world heritage were so important that “Cremonese traditional violin craftsmanship” was actually declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. Visiting the Museo del Violino is an absolute must while in Cremona. There is even a consortium of luthiers (violin-makers) that hold workshops on the violin-making process.
Piazza del Comune
One of the most photographed and stunning piazzas in all of Italy, if not all of Europe, is Piazza del Comune. Everything a city holds dear can usually be found in its central piazza and this is true in the case of Cremona. Its Duomo and Baptistry in their blinding, white marble set against the red brick along with the Torrazzo are some of the most striking you’ll see anywhere in Italy.
The Cathedral dates back to 1107, although the facade as seen today probably dates to the 14th century. It’s considered one of the finest Romanesque churches in Italy. Its octagonal Baptistry also dates to the 12th century. Since the year 1309, Cremona’s Torrazzo has proudly stood as one of the tallest brick towers in the world. At 112 meters, it is the absolute symbol of the city. The clock dating to 1583 is the largest astronomical clock in the entire world! Also located here are the Loggia dei Militi and the Palazzo Comunale.
San Sigismondo Monastery
If you enjoy finding hidden jewels when you travel then you must make the slight effort to get to the Monastery of San Sigismondo. This is a monumentally important church for many reasons. One, it was where the marriage of Biancamaria Visconti married Francesco Sforza in 1463. Big deal? Yes, when you consider that this union united the Visconti- Sforza families giving rise to the Sforza family rule in Milan. The nave is completely covered in frescoes and is one of the best examples of Lombard Mannerism.
For more art and even musical instruments, you can visit the Civic Museum of Cremona “Ala Ponzone” which holds more than 2,000 pieces of beautiful art.
And now for all of you gluttons out there- what kind of Italian city would Cremona be without its signature dish? In this case, it’s known as Torrone. Invented here for none other than the above-mentioned wedding of Biancamaria and Francesco and created in the likeness of the famous Torrazzo. By 1911, it had made its way to America via the Sperlari family who is still making it today.
The cuisine here is a luscious combination of Lombard and Emilia-Romagnan with dishes like marubini (like tortellini) and cheeses like Grana and Provolone.
The Charming Village of Castelrotto in the Dolomites
Northern Italy’s South Tyrol region is known for its skiing and winter sports but has also become increasingly popular in the warmer months as well. Over 450 km of hiking trails, lakes, fresh air, great hospitality and so much more are putting it at the top of many travelers’ “must-see” list. Today, we’ll explore the town of Castelrotto (Kastelruth) in the Bolzano province.
Castelrotto is located just 45 minutes from Bolzano and is the largest town in the area known as the Alpe di Siusi in the Dolomites. The town is located at the foot of the largest Alpine pasture in all of Europe known as the Seiser Alm. Since the area is best known for its natural beauty, let’s start there!
Castelrotto lies within the Sciliar-Catinaccio/Schlern-Rosengarten Nature Park and, as already mentioned, there are over 450 km of hiking trails in this immediate area alone. One need not be an expert hiker because there are plenty of trails for all ages and abilities. The trails are well-marked and equipped with Alpine huts where you’ll be able to rest and taste the best cuisine South Tyrol has to offer.
A good starting point might be to take the Marinzen chairlift from the center of town which takes you to a lovely area in just a few minutes. You can choose to stay there with the kids and enjoy the petting zoo, fishing pond, sunbathing, and the restaurant or continue on to various trails.
This area is also a paradise for mountain biking enthusiasts, Parkour, swimming, golfing, and horseback riding!
There is so much to see and do in this small village. In 2018, Castelrotto made the exclusive list of one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy” and when you visit, you will see why. This quaint medieval hamlet is made up of tiny shops and beautifully painted, colorful manor houses in the town center.
The church steeple is the third-tallest in all of South Tyrol and visitors can book a visit every Thursday at 5 pm. There are also various museums that really put the visitor in touch with the local culture and customs which are vastly different from the rest of Italy including a traditional costume museum, farmers’ museum, and a school museum to name a few.
From town, you can take the path up to Kofel Hill where you’ll find the remains of the castle, a beautiful park, and seven Calvary chapels constructed at the end of the 17th century.
Pflegerhof Farm is another interesting place to visit if you’re interested in Alpine culture. This farm has been growing native herbs and plant species for medicinal uses since 1982. They have a shop where you can purchase local products.
Trostburg Castle is also in the vicinity and includes a very extensive visit of the grounds and the interior.
South Tyrol Cuisine
Uniquely Tyrolean, the cuisine here is a perfect marriage of Mediterranean and Alpine influences. Dishes tend to be heartier than those of the rest of Italy and include bacon, sausage, and goulashes. Dumplings (canederli), risottos, and polenta are very common first courses while cured meats (speck) and Alpine cheeses also adorn the table. Common bread includes pretzels and heartier, dark rye. Artisan beer as well as wines like Lagrein (red) and Gewürztraminer (white) are the drink of choice. For dessert, you’ll, of course, want to try the strudel, the famous Sacher torte, and the delicious strauben funnel cakes.
The Seaside Town of Sperlonga and the Villa of Tiberius
If you’re looking for a coastal city that is also one of the “Most Beautiful Villages in Italy” then look no further than Sperlonga. Located along the Tyrrhenian coastline between Rome and Naples, Sperlonga has the perfect mix of history, culture, and sea.
Sperlonga and Emperor Tiberius
Sperlonga’s history dates back to Roman times and its name is derived from spelunca, Latin for “cave” or “grotto”. In fact, Emperor Augustus first developed the grotto into a residence, but it was his successor Tiberius who made it famous. He lived here until 26 AD when the roof collapsed while he was dining.
Incredibly, the villa’s statues and sculptures were not discovered until 1957 during a local road construction project! You can visit the Archaeological Area of Sperlonga on the weekends between 8:30 am and 7:30 pm. The entire area has been protected by the WWF since 1995 under the name Oasi Blu and comprises over 10 hectares of land and sea.
The Historic Center
The historic center of Sperlonga is a typical medieval village and you will delight in meandering through the tiny alleys lined with quaint shops. The two original gates to the city can still be seen- Porta Marina and la Portella. Three watchtowers dating back to the Saracen raids once protected Sperlonga: Torre Truglia (still intact), Torre Capovento, and Citarola.
There are two churches that are of great importance. Santa Maria di Spelonca was constructed in the 12th century and is the oldest while the Church of San Rocco dates to the 15th century. Pope Clement VII lived here in Palazzo Sabello in the 14th century.
Blue Flag Beach
Sperlonga’s beaches have boasted the prestigious Blue Flag for over 20 years. Sperlonga boasts 10 km of sandy beaches between the Gulf of Gaeta and the Gulf of Naples. From the town, you can reach the most popular beach on foot (Spiaggia di Levante or Spiaggia dell’Angolo) which extends from the Torre Truglia to the Grotto of Tiberius.
Beachgoers will find a variety of water sports from windsurfing, kitesurfing, beach volleyball, as well as lots of tour operators that will take you to the secluded grottos along the rocky coastline.
The family beach is the stretch known as the Spiaggia di Ponente. This beach also has a nice cycle path making for easier access. Other beaches to check out are Spiaggia del Lago Lungo, Spiaggia della Sorgente, Spiaggia di Bazzano, Spiaggia delle Bambole, and Spiaggia dei 300 Scalini.
Being a seaside town, of course, what’s on the menu is fresh fish and seafood! The most typical dishes are sardines and anchovies as well as mussels and clams. Sperlonga is also famous for its interesting variety of white celery and Gaeta olives.
The Region of Salento in Puglia: the Sun, the Sea and the Wind
Puglia is not just Alberobello, Lecce, and Brindisi. Puglia is much more; Puglia is Salento. Salento is the heel of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula, located between the Province of Lecce and parts of Brindisi and Taranto.
Salento is the deep color of the earth and the green of the olive trees; it is the blue shades of the sea. Salento is the sun that warms your heart all year round, not just in the hot summer months. Salento is the wind- either the humid Scirocco blowing from the south, from Africa, or the dry Tramontana blowing from the north.
Salento is also tradition. Salento is music; it is a folk dance (the pizzica) that makes your body come alive and moves you. Salento is the melody of its dialects, which vary from one town to the other, even if only a short distance away. Salento is the “griko” language (Hellenic heritage) still spoken in a few villages, in the part of the region called Grecia Salentina. You can visit and experience Salento all year round from the summer festivals to the Christmas markets.
Salento is a stroll through the narrow streets of Otranto and Specchia, two of the most beautiful Italian medieval villages. Salento is the smell of fresh tomato sauce simmering early on Sunday mornings. Salento is the figs dried in the sun after summer, waiting to be stuffed with small pieces of chocolate or almonds. Salento is a good glass of Negramaro wine by the sea, accompanied by local taralli.
Salento is a walk in the old town of Lecce, to discover the workshops of local paper mache artisans. Salento is homemade pasta prepared by our grandmothers and mothers, the delicious orecchiette and sagne ‘ncannulate.
Salento is a day-trip by bike either to the Alimini Lakes or to the nature parks along the coast. Salento is a mix of different cultures, from the Saracen to the Byzantine. Salento is also represented by the beautiful caves located on the Adriatic coast. Salento is its local terracotta handicraft made in the hinterland (e.g. Cutrofiano). Salento is joy, hospitality, laughter.
All this and much more has been referred to as “Salento-therapy” by some scientists. So what are you waiting for? Come and experience this beautiful place for yourself!
Article and photos by M. Cafiero
Where to Stay
Your Journey Begins Here
The Duomo of Siena: the Reopening of the Floors
As the saying goes, “When opportunity knocks…” and until July 31, 2020, visitors will have the extraordinary opportunity to see the mosaic floors of the Duomo in Siena. If you’re thinking this isn’t a big deal, think again. Giorgio Vasari himself called them “the most beautiful, largest, and magnificent ever made.”
Once you’ve seen them with your own eyes, you’ll surely agree with him. A highly complex process of mosaic inlay and a technique known as graffito was used on the Duomo over a time period of five centuries. The graffito process involved chiseling or etching the designs into the marble slabs and then filling them with black stucco which was then completed by placing the colored marble inlay. There are 56 unique and extremely detailed panels completed by over 40 artists. Amazingly, they were all from Siena except for one: Bernardino di Betto aka Pinturicchio.
Now if you’re still not convinced, just know that the floors are so precious and delicate that they are covered for a good part of the year and only opened to visitors at select times. Also, keep in mind that the floors are just part of the experience.
The Cathedral Complex
The entire cathedral is a marvel of what man can accomplish. This is a massive complex in which you could easily spend the entire day. It is comprised of the Cathedral, the Piccolomini Library, the Gate of Heaven, the Baptistry, the Crypt, the Museo dell’Opera, the Panorama from the Unfinished Façade, the Oratory of St. Bernardino and the Costone Gardens. Here is a very concise recap of each.
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta or the Duomo, is considered one of the greatest Gothic and Romanesque masterpieces of all time. Greats such as Nicola Pisano, Donatello, Michelangelo and Bernini sculpted the statues that we see today. The frescoes, stained glass, and the choir are some of the most impressive in the world.
Cardinal Piccolomini commissioned the construction of the library in 1492 next to the cathedral in order to store his uncle’s (Pope Pius II) amazing collection of manuscripts and books. Pinturicchio completed the frescoes and pay close attention to the Canonization of St. Catherine of Siena scene because one of the male figures is supposedly Raphael himself who is said to have painted the frescoes with Pinturicchio.
The Gate of Heaven
The Gate of Heaven or the Porta del Cielo is the rooftop of the cathedral. Another rare opportunity to access the upper level of the cathedral that has been closed to the public for centuries. Visitors can walk above the nave and have access to panoramic views of both inside and outside the cathedral. Note that the all-inclusive ticket called Porta del Cielo will give you access to the entire complex including the Gate of Heaven tour.
Many of the great cathedrals today have moved their most-prized pieces into a museum and Siena is no exception. Three floors and numerous rooms will give visitors the chance to see some of the greatest masterpieces ever created up close and personal and best of all, they will be preserved for all time.
The area known as the Crypt is a must-see because it was only discovered in 1999! After being hidden for centuries, crews uncovered it when they were working on an expansion project. Can you imagine their surprise when they found a cycle of frescoes from the 13th century?
Like the Baptistry of the Duomo in Florence, Siena’s is a masterpiece of Early Renaissance art. Here too greats such as Lorenzo di Pietro, Jacopo della Quercia, Ghiberti, and Donatello all left their indelible mark. The Baptismal font is the absolute focal point.
Last but not least, make sure to save time for the Oratory of San Bernardino which houses an extensive collection of Sienese paintings from the 13th century on.
The reopening schedule is a little bit tricky so you will want to consult the official website and purchase tickets in advance before your visit. From June 13 through July 31 between the hours of 10:30 and 6 pm (with the exception of Sunday when the cathedral is open from 1:30 pm to 6 pm) the cathedral including the floors and the Museum dell’Opera will be open for FREE.
Beginning August 1, the entire complex will reopen to the public (but the floors will be covered between August 1 and August 17). Then from August 18 through October 18, the floors will once again be uncovered for viewing.
Siena Opera della Metropolitana official website
Caccamo: A Journey Back In Time
There is a village 40 km from Palermo where no time machine is needed to go back in time. We are talking about Caccamo, whose castle is one of the largest and best-preserved Norman castles in Sicily and Italy.
We are on the top of Mount San Calogero, approximately 500 meters above sea level, with breathtaking views of the Sicilian countryside and Rosamarina Lake, one of the largest artificial lakes in Sicily.
You can visit the castle every day from 9 am to 1 pm and from 3 pm to 7 pm. On the stairs leading to the castle, a small door will introduce you to the Bottega nella Roccia where Mr. Giovanni Aglialoro awaits visitors to tell them everything about the sites, art, and landscape as well as history, traditions and much more.
In fact, in addition to telling the story of Caccamo, Mr. Giovanni will delight your palates by letting you taste the typical products of the area, such as almonds or pistachio cream, jams and even a sip of marsala. All these products and many others can be purchased at low prices.
The shop was once a small farmhouse of the early 20th century. Mr. Giovanni will tell you its story and illustrate all the ancient objects kept there. The white and blue-tiled kitchen still has pots, pans, and utensils, an old tool to make fresh pasta and, on the wall, some dated pictures, taken by Giovanni himself.
After the tasting, the purchase of products and the visit to the old house, Mr. Giovanni leaves us with a couple of tips on taking beautiful photos, advice on where to dine and what to taste. It’s Sicilian hospitality at its best!
Lavender Fields in Tuscany: Provence in Pisa
When you think of Tuscany you think of lush, green hills and cypress tree-lined roads and of course, sunflower fields; sunflowers as far as the eye can see in some cases. If you haven’t been to Tuscany, I wish I could tell you it was just a myth, just some publicity stunt to lure you here- but it’s true. It’s all true. What I didn’t know was that parts of Tuscany were also known for their lavender fields. Another dream of mine has always been to drive through Provence in early summer to witness this, but now I know my trip can wait because it’s right here in the province of Pisa.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has a multitude of uses. Romans and Greeks used it to infuse their bathwater (lavandarius, derived from Latin “wash”) and it has been widely used throughout history for medicinal purposes due to its anti-anxiety properties (especially lavender oil).
As early as the 1600s, it was also used in cooking and Queen Elizabeth I supposedly had lavender jam on her table. The possibilities are endless as every part of the plant can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. Interestingly, there is no record of it being used in southern France before the 20th century and the now world-famous spice blend known as herbes de Provence was invented in the 1970s.
I consider myself to be a “lavender-enthusiast” and personally love the aroma in everything from soaps, creams, oils, sachet bags for drawers, and even ice cream! So when I recently heard that there was row after row of this beautiful purple herb less than an hour away, I knew I had to go see for myself.
And so we did. On the winding roads between Orciano Pisano and Pieve di Santa Luce is where you’ll find the “Tuscan Provence”.
The road is terrible. Full of potholes and loose chunks of asphalt. But as I look at my surroundings taking it all in, I realize, once again, that the road really doesn’t matter. Every curve, turn, and bend uncovers another piece of the patchwork quilt with its own unique colors, textures, and characteristics, and a farmer waves and warmly smiles. This is all that matters. This is Italy.
I don’t want to be misleading and claim that there are lavender fields as far as the eye can see, but there were enough to satisfy my lavender wanderlust. Last year at this time, the community had an actual lavender festival and if I had known about it then, I would have surely attended. 2020 is a strange year on so many levels and so, sadly, lavender-aficionados like myself will have to wait until the 2021 harvest.
Far, far away from the brutal, mask-wearing reality that has been COVID-19, for a couple of hours, we lost ourselves in this isolated paradise. Round hay bales wound so tightly that they looked as if they would pop if you were to puncture them with a pin proudly guarded each and every plowed field. The only sounds were tractors hard at work and buzzing bees equally laborious.
I must not be the only one to have an affinity for this herb because there were numerous other cars stopped along the road snapping pictures and just taking in the view and the aroma in the air. One of the fields had a darling lavender-painted bench perfectly positioned for onlookers to sit down and admire the scenery.
It makes little difference as to whether you’re admiring the brush strokes of the Mona Lisa or a field of herbs, Italians truly understand beauty. And yet, once again, this notion was confirmed.
Article by Marie Contino
Torgiano: History and Taste
Immersed in the lush, green hills of Umbria just 15 km from Perugia lies Torgiano.
The origin of this ancient hamlet, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, most likely dates back to the Etruscan period, as testified by several artifacts. A hypothesis further supported by its proximity to Bettona, an ancient Etruscan stronghold (Vettona).
The hamlet owes its name to the legend of Janus, the two-headed god to whom the tower owes its name “Torre di Giano”. Built during the thirteenth century and the symbol of Torgiano, the Tower of Janus, also known as Tower Baglioni, is all that remains of the ancient defensive walls that used to surround the hamlet.
In the old town center, starting from Piazza Matteotti and walking down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, you can reach the Oratory of Mercy and the Church of Saint Bartholomew.
Built by the end of the thirteenth century, the Church of Saint Bartholomew owes its current appearance to a thorough restoration completed in 1805 by the architect Antonio Stefanucci. The church has a basilica-style layout and a façade coated in cotto tiles, while the bell tower has a square plan and was built in the ancient tower which originally constituted the eastern gates of the castle. The Oratory of Mercy occupies the base of the tower which was built in 1587 and, subsequently restored in 1714. Currently deconsecrated, the oratory is used as a location for exhibits and displays.
In front of the church, lies Palazzo Manganelli, dating back to the seventeenth century. Palazzetto delle Manifatture Stocchi and the ancient residence of the Falcinelli Family are also here.
Walking along Via di Mezzo, you’ll reach Piazza Baglioni, where the Palazzo Comunale rises after its rebuilding occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century. On the other side of the square, the Baroque Palazzo Graziani-Baglioni stands.
On its main floor, Palazzo Graziani-Baglioni contains a late seventeenth century gallery decorated with frescos, an abundant library, and several halls decorated with antique furniture. Moreover, Palazzo Graziani-Baglioni now hosts the Wine Museum. Among the most famous wine museums in all of Italy, it was founded in 1974 and has the most complete collection of techniques and records from the Italian wine-producing culture.
The nearby Oratory of Saint Anthony the Abbot was built during the sixteenth century. During the following centuries, this building underwent a slow degradation culminating in 1960 with the disbandment of the Confraternity of Saint Anthony the Abbot. Restored during more recent times, the Oratory is used as a location for cultural events and still shows traces of the original frescos. On the outside, along the shorter side of the building, you can see the “Virgin and Child” fresco credited to the workshop of Domenico Alfani.
The Church of Santa Maria del Castello stands behind Palazzo Graziani-Baglioni and along with the ancient Graziani farmhouse, this building is one of the oldest churches in Torgiano. It is worth noting the Baroque altar decorated with stucco and gold-plating and the restored fresco depicting “The Virgin and Child” within the recess above the two entrances of the church.
Food and Wine
Torgiano offers more than just history, it also offers fabulous cuisine and wine. In fact, Torgiano is synonymous with good wine with its most important being Torgiano Rosso Riserva (one of the only two Umbrian wines awarded with the controlled and guaranteed denomination of origin, along with Sagrantino di Montefalco, and the Torgiano DOC.
There is no better way to taste the fine wines of the Torgiano area than by pairing them with traditional dishes like Torta al Testo, the simple dough stuffed with prosciutto and cheese or sausage and spinach and cooked on the fire. Schiacciata is a kind of flatbread cooked in the oven and topped with olive oil, onions or sage. Finally, the traditional Torta di Pasqua is perfect with cured meat.
As far as sweets go, Pan di Mosto or Mostaccioli are the most traditional in Torgiano. These ring-shaped dry biscuits are made with wine must. Pinoccate are diamond-shaped traditional Christmas desserts made with pine nuts, vanilla or chocolate, and, finally, Cammellati are made with bread crumbs, walnuts, cinnamon, honey, and pine nuts.
The Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore
Lake Maggiore is shared by the northern Italian regions of Piedmont and Lombardy and the Swiss canton of Ticino. Its beautiful lakeside cities on the Piedmont side include Stresa which makes for a perfect starting point for our Borromean Island adventure!
The Borromeo Family
The group known as the Borromean Islands include Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori, and Isolino di San Giovanni. Their namesake comes from the prestigious Borromeo family who were actually prominent merchants from San Miniato (Tuscany) in the 13th century. Amazingly, Isola Bella and Isola Madre are still owned by the Borromeo family some five centuries later! How’s that for keeping it in the family?
Beginning with Isola Bella, the must-see destination is Palazzo Borromeo. This Baroque palace was built beginning in the mid 17th century by Vitaliano VI. The twenty sumptuous rooms all decorated with the finest art, tapestries, and furnishings will astound you. Even more incredible is the Berthier Gallery with 130 masterpieces in mosaics and the grottoes which were designed to keep guests cool in the summer heat.
The gardens, which include Teatro Massimo, are absolutely stunning. Fountains, statues, obelisks, terraces, and an amazing variety of flora make this the quintessential Baroque garden. There are even white peacocks roaming around to add to the fairy-tale-like atmosphere.
Isola Madre is the largest of the group and also has a lovely palace belonging to the Borromeo family that is open to the public. Again, the furnishings and art will take your breath away but so will the marionette theater. This is one of the most prized and complete collections of marionette theater in the world.
Here you’ll also find an enormous English garden spanning 8 hectares. An overwhelming array of plant species, some very rare, thrive in this unique climate. One of the most unique is probably the protea which is native to South Africa but blooms on the island in abundance. But it is the Cypress of Kashmir that has become the true symbol of the island. Native to Tibet, it was brought here in the 1860s and now is the largest and oldest of its kind in all of Europe.
Interestingly, Isola dei Pescatori (meaning “Fishermen’s Island) is the only island of the group to be inhabited year-round. As its name implies, it is an ancient fishing village and the practice is still common. This tiny island hamlet doesn’t allow any motorized vehicles so once you step off the boat, you’ll be strolling through the tiny alleys on foot. It’s a great place to relax, try some local fish dishes, and imagine what life must have been like hundreds of years ago.
The Islet of San Giovanni is the least-visited because its palace and gardens are closed to the public.
If you stay in Stresa, you can also visit the Mottarone Park and Pallavicino Park. From Stresa, you can take ferries to reach the islands. Check the official website for island hours and ticket information.
Article by Marie Contino