Category Archives: Italian Tourism

Inside the Rome Colosseum’s Newly Restored Top Floor

Colosseum
CoopCulture
First restored in the 1800s, after centuries of inaccessibility, the fifth floor had been forced to close due to safety concerns.
For the first time in 40 years, the quinto ordine is open to the public.

As one of the most iconic buildings in the world, you’d forgive Rome’s Colosseum for being a little over-exposed. 6.4 million visitors last year alone, immortality on the five (euro) cent coin, a background role in countless Hollywood movies… you’d assume there isn’t a stone unturned.

Not content with simply unveiling new details like an 1,800-year-old gladiator bas relief as part of a 33-month deep clean (and an ongoing restoration project funded by fashion brand Tod’s), Roman authorities have now gone one step further. Earlier this month, the top level of the structure opened to visitors for the first time in 40 years. First restored in the 1800s, after centuries of inaccessibility, the floor had been forced to close due to safety concerns.

“It’s a unique view of the Flavian amphitheater and of the city, in a monument that’s the symbol of Italy to the wider world,” Italy’s culture minister Dario Franceschini told reporters when he previewed the site last month.

And so it is. Perched 130 feet above the arena floor, in the area where the “plebs” sat–the cheap seats, in other words, with restricted views of the action and precariously angled wooden benches rather than the stone seating on lower levels–the perspective from the quinto ordine, or fifth level, is unlike anything you’ve seen before—other than on a birds-eye view, panoramic postcard. There’s an intense sense of depth.

The amphitheatre seems more oval than ever. The tour groups at floor level, on a partially reconstructed stage, look like walking toothpicks. Away from the masses following the standard routes below, the skin starts to prick, and you can almost hear the roar of the crowds from 80 A.D., when it was first inaugurated. It’s a visceral experience.

And then there are the views: 270-degree panoramas that give a completely different take on Rome, turning away from the Forum and putting the spotlight on lesser known sights like the 2,023-year-old marble pyramid of Testaccio, gleaming after a recent renovation, and the defunct gasometro of Ostiense, which held gas for the city in the nineteenth century. Make sure to look out for the dome of the mini St. Peter’s at EUR, the business district built by Mussolini southwest of the city centre which meshes classical and Fascist architecture together. Closer by are the hills–the Caelium, Palatine, even the Gianicolo–suddenly at eye level. Olive trees, spindly pine, and cypresses dominate the landscape.

Colosseum
CoopCulture

Visiting the newly-opened floor is only possible via official guided tours.

Only a small stretch of the fifth level exists today; the rest crumbled centuries ago. The restoration work to make this possible has cost Rome’s authorities €1.4 million ($1.6 million) and has unearthed far more than a new selfie spot. The visit—only possible via official guided tours in groups of up to 25—includes an access corridor, never before open to the public, with white plaster and traces of color uncovered during the restoration. The walls show blocks of travertine which were recycled after a devastating fire in 217 A.D., complete with notes scrawled on them in red by the men who quarried the stone in nearby Tivoli. Other bits and bobs—a piece of column here, a relief there—were upcycled from other places during the post-fire restorations. There are even remnants of the original toilets.

This isn’t the first time the Colosseum has opened a restricted area to visitors. Since 2010, the Sotterranei, Terzo Ordine, e Belvedere (underground, third level and lookout) tour has been popular with those in the know, taking visitors down into the bowels of the building to see the system of elevators and pulleys used to deliver animals and gladiators onto the stage, and finishing on the third level with its terrace overlooking the Forum.

But this, 50 feet higher up, is on another level, in more ways than one.

Back in the day, the fifth level was covered, sheltering the crowds from the fierce sun (and obscuring their view in the process). Today, it’s exposed to the elements, a mere few feet below the gulls who nest on the top ridges of the buildings.

HOW TO BOOK

Tours—in Italian, English, and Spanish, booked through coopculture.it or by calling +39 06 39967700—will start from the ‘Colosseo: Un’Icona’ exhibition on the second level, then wind their way up to the top “ring,” taking 75 minutes. Be warned that the steps are steep and purposely dark, as the lighting in the corridor has been set to mimic that of the flaming torches that used to light the way. The tour cost is $11 ($18 if you want to visit the underground part, too), plus the $14 entrance fee for the Colosseum. A small price to pay for setting foot where few people have been since the last show, in 523 A.D.

Source: https://www.cntraveler.com/story/inside-the-rome-colosseums-newly-restored-top-floor

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“Special Places in Italy” – On the Road to Naples

by Cindy Stollhans

To celebrate my buddy David’s 70th birthday, some friends and I took the birthday guy on a road trip from Rome to Naples.  This was the kind of trip where the journey was going to be just as much fun as the destination!  We headed south on the A-1 Autostrada.

First stop was Cumae, home to the famous Cumaean Sibyl, known as a great prophetess at the Temple of Apollo.  Cumae was the first mainland settlement by the Greeks in the 8th Century B.C. We walked around the old acropolis seeking the opening to the Cave of the Sibyl. Her cave is a long tunnel dug into the rock, which runs straight until it reaches a larger, open space that acts as a vestibule, entrance to a main room with three niches.  The Cumaean Sibyl prophesized by singing the fates and writing her visions of the future on oak leaves, not caring if the wind scattered them.  According to Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas of Troy disembarked from his ship in what is now the bay of Naples in order to consult the famous Sibyl.  While standing on the high hill of what is the modern archeological park, it is easy to imagine the strong-bodied Aeneas running from the coast, through the grasslands, and navigating a small forest to reach the cave where he would meet the Sibyl and be told to visit his father Anchises in Hades—all part of Aeneas’s journey as the founder of Latium.

Although mortal, the Sibyl of Cumae lived over a thousand years. The God Apollo offered to grant her one wish in exchange for her virginity. She scooped up a handful of sand and asked to live a lifetime with as many years as the number of grains of sand in her fist.  She refused to sleep with Apollo but he still granted her wish.  However, he mocked her by not giving eternal youth. Her body grew older and older, smaller and smaller as hundreds of years passed.  During her final years, her voice continued to be heard but no one could see her as she withered to an invisible size.

Our next stop was lunch!  We had reservations in the tiny seaside village of Bacoli at the hotel/restaurant named Cala Moresca (website: calamoresca.it), which is high on a hill with a gorgeous, bird’s eye view of the bay.  I knew we would stop and eat (doesn’t everyone stop and eat in Italy!), but I had no idea how scrumptious and memorable this particular lunch would be! Our table for eight was on the outdoor terrace with a perfect view of the sun worshipers on the beach as well as the ships in the harbor. Our 180-degree view included the expansive open waters of the turquoise blue of the Mediterranean Sea. The restaurant was offering a six-course fresh seafood special…we all said yes!  Each course consisted of a beautifully arranged piece of fish…shrimp or scallop or fresh anchovy…presented in a fun, creative manner. Imagine a perfectly grilled shrimp balanced upright on three tiny bite-sized golden, roasted potatoes or two white scallops perched over a bed of orange and yellow strands of zucchini with a creamy sauce drizzled lightly across the plate. It was a veritable feast for the eyes and taste buds.  After all six courses and as many bottles of wine (none of us were driving; we had hired a professional) it was time to travel to our next destination, the Piscina Mirablis (or Miraculous Pool) also in Bacoli.

We arrived at a locked gate embedded in an ancient wall.  A hand-written note said something like if you want to visit the underground cisterns, then call this number.  And so, we did!  In about five minutes an older woman, walking swiftly towards us and carrying a heavy set of keys, arrived.  We descended modern metal and then old, slippery tufa steps and found ourselves among the cavernous ruins of the old cisterns.  Wow!  The Piscina Mirabilis is an underground, ancient Roman cistern that functioned as a water supply for many towns along the bay. In Roman days, the Aqua Augusta supplied the fresh water. Did you ever read the book Pompeii by Robert Harris, published in 2003? Although historical fiction, Harris built his story about the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. by introducing Roman workers at the underground cistern as some of his main characters.  As portrayed in the book and which was historically accurate, the water level of the cistern lowered to a critical point days before Vesuvius blew.  Had the Romans understood the lack of water as a signal of the danger ahead they may have been able to escape. The cistern or piscina is truly a testament that the Romans were great engineers and builders!  The cistern was dug entirely out of the tufa and measured 49 feet high, 236 feet long and 82 feet wide.  With its 48 stone columns and great, vaulted ceilings, the space gave the same experience as standing in a large cathedral, but totally underground.

After the cistern, we took a short walk along the coastal town of Baia and visited the archeological site but, by now, we were all feeling a bit tired and ready to arrive at our destination. In Naples, we ate world-famous pizza at Starita, we viewed some of Caravaggio’s most exquisite paintings, and we enjoyed terrific views of the Bay of Naples from our balconies at the Hotel Brittannique.  Our stay in Naples was truly wonderful, but, sometimes, as this trip proved, the journey can be as exciting as the destination!

This section of La Rondine will feature special places in Italy shared by ICSTL members.  A wealth of insights exists within our membership to enrich each other’s travels.

Write to ciao@italianclubstl.com with your favorite spot, a photo if you like, and the information about why you love the place, a specific spot within a place, a place to stay, a place to dine…you get the idea.

Please submit your special spots!!

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10 things Italy does better than anywhere else

10 things Italy does better than anywhere else

Jordan Burchette and Silvia Marchetti, for CNN •
(CNN) — Pizza, pasta, Verdi, the Coliseum, runway models. We know Italy does some things incomparably well. But travelers to the elegant boot don’t just want to eat spaghetti, deal with opera and gawk at old ruins.
Beyond the cliches, you’ll find 10 other surprising ways in which Italy shines.

1. Flattery

Depending on whether or not you think the occasional catcall is flattering, you’ll find Italians are aggressively complimentary of friends and beautiful strangers alike. A historical tool for both disarming and defusing, flattery is the fulcrum on which Italian society teeters.
As Luigi Barzini writes in “The Italians,” “The people have always employed such arts offensively, to gain advantages, destroy rivals and conquer power and wealth; and defensively, as the squid uses ink, to blind and confound powerful men, dictators and tyrants.”
But you’ll likely only notice the catcalls.

2. Hot baths

If flattery doesn’t get you out of your clothes, the peninsula’s 380 spa sites offering healing mud and bubbles will. Boiling as much beneath the surface as its people, Italy pioneered the world’s first large-scale spas, exporting them as they colonized Europe.
Watery therapies include island baths (such as those on volcanic Ischia), Tuscan hot springs, mountain baths in the town of Bormio and the thermal park of Lake Garda.
Just drinking the mineral-rich water in some places is reputed to be healthy. So convinced is the Italian government of the healing power of hot springs and geothermal mud packs that it covers the cost of some therapies for its citizens.
Free hot springs in Tuscany: turismo.intoscana.it

3. Cursing

Best thing about an Italian curse -- it looks as good as it sounds.

Best thing about an Italian curse — it looks as good as it sounds.
Be it in Italian or any other language, the accent of native Italy turns any expletive into a blunt force instrument.
Rhythmic, staccato and with an almost operatic legato that fuses syllables together like a hammer-on guitar note, swearing here is a performance art. Inspired mostly by pigs, anatomical exit points and promiscuous women, Italian profanities — which vary by region — sound equal parts dramatic, angry and comical.
Powered by the passion characteristic of the Italian people, the results stun, intimidate and even charm their recipients, sometimes all at once.

4. Beach bumming

With 7,400 kilometers (4,600 miles) of coastline, Italy boasts the most beaches in Europe, as well as 27 marine parks. Summer temperatures peak in many places at just below 30 C (86 F), compared with the mid 20s (70s F) in France and Portugal. It’s like swimming in tropical waters, minus the sharks and trinket hawkers.
When it comes to beaches, it’s a tough choice between blinding-white dunes, pebble and even turf shores, but 248 Italian beaches have been awarded Blue Flag status for clear waters and unspoiled sands.

5. Changing governments

Italians tear through regimes like their sports cars do dinosaur juice. Since the end of World War II, Italy has established 63 governments under 39 prime ministers (42 if you count Silvio Berlusconi’s three total terms), and only one has lasted a full five years.
Fearing the rise of another Mussolini, Italy’s constitutional system years ago provided for a weak executive branch that requires majorities in both legislative houses just to get anything done.
That, combined with an already fractured political landscape of small, opposed parties, puts Italy’s average MPG (months per government) barely over 12.
Italy’s Mount Etna, Europe’s tallest and most active volcano erupts again.

6. Volcanoes

Mt. Etna, the world's second most active volcano, is in Italy.

Mt. Etna, the world’s second most active volcano, is in Italy.
Ten active volcanoes allow Italy’s geology to vent the way voting gives release to its citizens.
The country’s (and Europe’s) largest volcano is Mt. Etna in Sicily, the world’s second most active volcano after Hawaii’s Mauna Loa. Etna’s spectacular eruptions, soot-blackened scenery, lava flows and extensive caves draw more than a million tourists a year.
It leads TripAdvisor’s top-10 must-see volcanoes list, along with four other Italian spouters, including Mt. Vesuvius.
Etna is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, joining three other Italian volcanoes, including the Aeolian islands of Vulcano (no translation prizes there), Lipari and Stromboli, known as the Mediterranean’s Lighthouse for its breathtaking eruptions.
Mt. Etna tours and excursion: sicilytravel.net

7. Dessert

Apple pie is good and all, and it’s never a bad time for a sticky slice of baklava, but for sheer volume and variety of treats, nothing beats an Italian dessert case. Much is made of the peninsula’s food, the usual suspects being pizza, pasta and antipasti.
But the real stars of Italian cuisine are gelato, tiramisu, cannoli, Neapolitan, biscotti spumoni, tartufo, zeppole — Italy has nearly as many signature desserts as it’s had governments.
Italian confectioners work in all media, too, combining cakes, cookies and creams both iced and otherwise to create the world’s vastest, tastiest arsenal of desserts.
Ironically, Italians don’t even really eat this stuff, most often preferring a piece of fruit or chocolate after a meal instead.

8. Caving

Rich in crumbly, sieve-like karstic landscapes, Italy is one of the most cave-pocked countries on the planet, with more than 35,000 cavities above ground and thousands more underwater.
Grotta Gigante holds the Guinness World Record for largest accessible cave on Earth at a yawning 850 meters (2,788 feet) wide, with 500 steps that descend 100 meters (328 feet) into the earth.
Other notable caves include the Blue Grotto on Capri, where Emperor Tiberius loved to swim. Inside the Grotta del Vento, winds whip through its tortuous trails at 40 kilometers an hour.

9. Sports cars

Ferrari Dino: Four wheels or "phwoar!" wheels?

Ferrari Dino: Four wheels or “phwoar!” wheels?
Eliciting more turns per head than even its fashion models do, Italy’s catalog of exotic land jets is what Porsche drivers dream about. What began as a race car manufacturer in the 1930s has become the standard bearer for aspirational autos — in 2012, Ferrari sold just 7,000 cars, but booked $3 billion in revenues.
Meanwhile, Lamborghini may be owned by German Audi now, but the hips are still all Italiano.
Pagani, Alfa Romeo, Maserati — these names are sex on wheels.
Italy doesn’t even crack the top 20 in global auto production, but for out-of-your-league supercars that cover more adolescent male bedroom walls than Kate Upton, no other country can outrace Italy.

10. River cruises

Unlikely to be among the top two or three or hundred things that spring to mind when you think of Italy, river cruising on the peninsula is actually a vibrant business, and new routes keep opening up.
Italian rivers aren’t as long or easily navigated as those in the rest of Europe, but visitors can float from one beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site to another.
Po River Travel, UniWorld and European Waterways offer week-long cruises that take in areas like the Venice Lagoon, Manuta, Padu, the Po Valley and Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet.
Originally published April 2014, updated March 4, 2015.
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Why Travel to a Small Village in Italy?

Margie in Italy

Your Guide to Bella Italia

Savoca, Sicily Photo by Margie MiklasWhile traveling in Italy, I discovered the magic of visiting a small village. This travel off the beaten path allowed me to have a real feel for the people and to experience the local flavor of an area. With no crowds, I was able to see how the people live, listen to the stories they shared, and have incredible photo opportunities.

photo by Margie Miklas

While visiting the village of Colle d’Anchise, a small town of 900 in the hills of Molise, I felt like I was stepping back in time.

Italy Molise Photo by Margie MiklasA woman was carrying greens wrapped in a scarf on her head, a man was sweeping his doorstep with a hand­made broom, and a woman was outside cleaning fava beans, freshly picked from her garden.

For me this travel experience had no price tag, as I was able to see first­hand how real people live today in a place without all the modern conveniences.

Italy. Photo by Margie MiklasIn the nearby smaller village of Longano, the people shared stories of their lives, mostly in Italian and sometimes a little English. In fact I was surprised to learn that some of them actually knew any English. They were especially determined to tell me about any relatives in America, or about any of their own travels to other countries.

To outsiders, life may seem harder, despite being simple, yet the people I met seemed happy, and nobody was complaining or acting rude. Within minutes of arriving in the piazza in Longano, I could see that all the local residents who were outside, knew immediately that I was from someplace else.

They were very curious, asking questions about where I was from, and were eager to continue a conversation. I learned a lot from the local people regarding the simplicity of life and its relationship to happiness.

Italy. Photo by Margie Miklas
The value of these interactions was priceless and I wished I could stay longer. The more we talked the more they seemed to want me to stay. One man invited me and my family to return and stay for a month, promising a home­ cooked meal of pigeon.

Visiting a small non­ touristy village guarantees no crowds, the photo opportunities are endless. Around every corner there was another scene more interesting than the last.

Photo by MArgie MiklasThe men sitting on the church steps were pleased when I asked to photograph them. When I asked an older woman for permission to photograph her, she seemed surprised and asked “perche,” why, then smiled and allowed me to capture the magic of the moment.

Photo by Margie MiklasA visit to a little known place is full of surprises and never disappointing. The memories of the experiences with the people I met will remain with me for a lifetime.

Photo by Margie Miklas ItalyWhat are your experiences with visiting small villages? I’d like to hear your stories so please leave a  comment.

Grazie and Ciao

If you like this post you may be interested to read more about the many small towns and villages I visited during my 3-month solo travel adventure in Italy. Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Italy is available on Amazon.comin paperback and Kindle editions, and also Amazon.UK.

Memoirs of a Solo Traveler - My Love Affair with Italy

 

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Grape harvest time: wine festivals in Tuscany

Some of the best wine festivals in Tuscany scheduled for September 2017

The end of summer marks the beginning of the grape harvest. Countless festivals dedicated to wine are held in the most beautiful Tuscan hamlets. Here are some of the best wine festivals in Tuscany scheduled for September 2017.

Montecarlo [Photo credits: John W. Schulze]
Montecarlo [Photo credits: John W. Schulze]

Festa del Vino di Montecarlo – Montecarlo (Lucca)

August 31 to September 10

Music, art exhibitions, wine and local food tastings in Montecarlo’s squares (Piazza D’Armi and Piazza Garibaldi). Info (in Italian) here.

Settembre Di Vino in Pitigliano
Settembre Di Vino in Pitigliano

Settembre DiVino – Pitigliano (Grosseto)

August 31 and September 1,2 and 3

Annually on the first week end of September, the streets of Pitigliano’s historic centre are filled with thousands of people, music, shows and so much wine!. Info (in Italian) here.

Expo del Chianti Classico [Photo credits: Expo del Chianti Classico official page on Facebook]
Expo del Chianti Classico [Photo credits: Expo del Chianti Classico official page on Facebook]

Expo del Chianti Classico – Greve in Chianti (Firenze)

September 7-10

A great opportunity to taste the best Chianti Classico Wine in the area that bears its name. The Expo del Chianti Classico offers visitors a full program of artistic and cultural events, as well as the possibility of visiting cellars and castles and to taste the specialties of the Chianti area. Info (in Italian) here.

Walking in Panzano in Chianti [Photo credits: Giuseppe Moscato]
Walking in Panzano in Chianti [Photo credits: Giuseppe Moscato]

Vino al Vino festival – Panzano in Chianti (Firenze)

September 14-17

Every year on the third weekend of September winemakers of Panzano in Chianti get together in Piazza Bucciarelli with their best products.  Vino al vino is a good opportunity to taste different styles of wines, visit a beautiful village and enjoy some music. Info (in Italian) here.

Manciano [Photo credits: Serena Puosi]
Manciano [Photo credits: Serena Puosi]

Festa delle Cantine di Manciano – Manciano (Grosseto)

September 8-10

“For locals, the Festa delle Cantine is a chance to catch up with old friends in the name of tradition and free wine – a good enough reason to party on its own. For tourists, the festival is a chance to experience Manciano at its liveliest on a weekend when everything from the food to the music is authentic and inspiring.” Info, here.

Scansano [Pleur Phillips]
Scansano [Photo credits: Pleur Phillips]

Festa dell’Uva di Scansano – Scansano (Grosseto)

September 24,25

Wine tasting in historic wineries; craft markets, music and floats. Info, here.

Festa dell'Uva (Impruneta, 2010) [Photo credits: Marco Meoni]
Festa dell’Uva (Impruneta, 2010) [Photo credits: Marco Meoni]

Festa dell’uva dell’Impruneta – Impruneta (Firenze)

September 24

The festival, founded in 1926, is a collection of music, ballet and spectacular floats animating Buondelmonti Square. The grape festival is one of the longest-running Italian festivals and much loved by locals. Info, here.

Chiusi [Photo credits: Stefano Costantini]
Chiusi [Photo credits: Stefano Costantini]

Festa dell’uva di Chiusi – Chiusi (Siena)

September 22 -24

Road shows, music, wine and food tastings at the many historical wineries and tasting points in town. Info, here.

Festa dell'Uva in Capoliveri [Photo credits: Tommasso Galli]
Festa dell’Uva in Capoliveri [Photo credits: Tommasso Galli]

Festa dell’uva di Capoliveri – Capoliveri (Elba Island)

End of September, beginning of October

Three days of events, games and races between local “rioni” (neighbourhoods) of Capoliveri. A great opportunity to taste local wines and many other traditional products.

source: https://www.visittuscany.com/en/ideas/grape-harvest-time-wine-festivals-in-tuscany/

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ITALIAN RIVIERA SEASIDE TOWNS

portofino 3
Photos: Christina Pfeiffer

The Italian Riviera is beckons with picturesque bays, suntanned bodies, rocky alcoves and colourful towns. You’ll find beaches and coves packed with beach chairs.

So where exactly is the Italian Riviera? It’s also known as the Ligurian Riviera and is a coastal strip between the Ligurian Sea and the mountain ranges of the Maritime Alps and the Apennines.

It stretches from the French border (and the French Riviera) to the eastern end of the Gulf of La Spezia near Tuscany.

Here are five spots to put on your travel itinerary when visiting the Italian Riviera.

CAMOGLI

The least well-known of the destinations on the south-east coast of Liguria, Camogli means “houses of wives”.

The name refers to the lonely womenfolk of the region’s fishermen. While their husbands were out at sea, the wives spent much of their time home alone.

Camogli is bright and colourful. It’s a picturesque seaside town with fishermen’s houses painted in jelly bean jar colours.

It’s a picturesque place with plenty of local scenes to photograph.

You’re likely to come across fishermen and their boats, clothes flapping on washing lines and a lively vibe.

The harbour has an ancient castle – Castello della Dragonara – which has foundations that date back to AD1000.

There’s a bit to see around the area too. Hike uphill to the ancient Abbey of San Fruttuoso.

If you’re a diver, lying 15m below the surface of the bay there’s a bronze statue of Cristo degli Abissi (Christ of the Abyss). The statue was put there in 1954 to remember those who lost their lives at sea.

PORTOFINO

Portofino is possibly one of the most photographed seaside towns in the world, well certainly in Italy.

From the yachts and fine-dining restaurants, there’s no mistaking this is the glamorous side of the Italian Rivera.

Portofino is where the rich and famous hangout.

Soak up the ambience at one of the waterside restaurants, eat pasta, drink wine and rub shoulders with wealthy Mediterranean yacht-owner.

There are luxury villas tucked away in the hills and small boats bobbing in the ocean. The plunging cliffs, boats and sparkling ocean is my idea of a Mediterranean holiday.

Portofino is a great spot to experience European beach culture too.

The beaches are crowded and you’ll have to pay a to sunbake as beach stations offer facilities like showers, snack bars, beach chairs and umbrellas.

SANTA MARGHERITA-LIGURE

Not as flashy as Portofino, Santa Margherita-Ligure is a little patch of Italian Riviera heaven to escape to. Santa Margherita-Ligure’s town centre is a hub of boutiques and nautical shops.

RAPALLO

Rapallo’s open-air market is a great place to sample local fruit and cakes.

The waterfront has a sweeping bay guarded by an ancient castle and plenty of local cafes where you can drink coffee, eat gelato and enjoy the views of the Ligurian coast.

DISCOVER ITALIAN RIVIERA

If you’re visiting this part of Italy you’re likely to pass through Genoa, a large city with a historic old town. There’s lots to see in Genoa, such as the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (for Gothic to Renaissance architecture), Palazzo Ducale (the former palace) and the Strada Nuova museums.

It’s the gateway to two sides of the Italian Riviera, the Riviera di Ponente (setting sun) and the Riviera di Levante (rising sun).

Looking for a romantic experience? Belmond Hotel Splendido is the place to stay. Since 1952, when the Duke of Windsor was the first guest, the hotel has hosted a string of famous people including movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Clark Gable.

For more about the Italian Riviera see Italian Government Tourist Officewebsite. While in Italy, it’s worth visiting Turin for rich historychocolatea fabulous cinema museum and to experience the city’s Slow Food movement.

6 HILLTOP TOWNS IN PUGLIA ITALY
THE MAGIC OF THE DANUBE RIVER CITIES IN EUROPE
GREEN SPAIN | MYSTERIES OF CANTABRIA
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Nine unmissable Italian railway journeys through magic landscapes

Nine unmissable Italian railway journeys through magic landscapes
The Circumetnea railway below Mt. Etna. Photo: Alex Macbeth.
From circumnavigating Mt. Etna, to views of lakes, rivers and natural reserves, classic trains remain a great way to see Italy in slow motion.

Some climb through snow-capped fields in winter to reach peaks of more than 1,400 metres. Others slither their way round lakes, forests and volcanoes, cutting through swathes of majestic countryside from north to south.

A few are powered by steam, others by diesel or electricity: away from the hustle and bustle of busy highways and thoroughfares, Italy’s quaint and quiet tourist railways are a great way to see some of the country’s natural highlights.

More than 100,000 tourists used train services in Italy in 2016, Silvio Cinquini, a spokesman for The Association of Tourist Railways, told The Local Italy.

“Tourist railways began in 1994 when a few public service lines were closed down,” says Cinquini, whose organization administers three of the railways featured in this article.

There are 10 tourism-only railways in all, says Cinquini. All are a recent phenomenon. “Italy realized later than other nations how a railway can have a value as a tourism asset in a local economy,” says the rail enthusiast.

Below are a few of the most breathtaking railways, both tourist and public, across the Italian peninsula, as well as in Sicily and Sardinia. Follow in the footsteps of figures such as Sophia Loren, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica – as well as various Italian presidents and popes – and travel the slow way.

1. The ‘Italian Trans-Siberian

Route: Sulmona to Carovilli, Abbruzzo

Next departure: August 20

Traversing snow-capped fields in winter, the so-called ‘Italian Trans-Siberian’ covers a stretch of nearly 130 kilometres near the Adriatic coast. The sleek wooden interiors and decor lamps inside the 1930s diesel-powered vintage carriages make this stretch of tourist railway a favourite among train enthusiasts and nature lovers.

2. Circumetnea

Mt. Etna seen from the Circumetnea train. Photo: Alex Macbeth

Route: Riposto to Catania Borgo, Sicily

Next departure: See weekdays schedule.

The Circumetnea is not strictly-speaking a tourist railway but it does invite visitors to cross its mystical landscape. The train departs Riposto, just south of Taormina, and winds its way slowly towards the lava rocks of Mt Etna, leaving the ocean behind.

The active volcano still erupts smoke and lava, yet it is the breathtaking views from both sides of the train that fire the imagination.

3. Treno della Sila

Route: Moccone to San Nicola, Calabria

Next departure: August 12, 13, 14, 16

Cutting through the Sila National Park in Calabria, the Sila railway ascends to a height of 1400 metres. It also passes the highest narrow-gauge railways station in Europe at 950 metres. The renovated classic trains are powered by steam and the decor and attention to detail replicate the vintage experience.

4. Trenino Verde (‘Green Train’)

Route: Various, in Sardinia.

Sassari to Palau

Palau to Tempio

Macomer to Bosa

Mandas to Sorgono

Mandas to Seui

Arbatax to Gairo (suspended)

Next departure: Every day (weekdays)

Sardinia’s ‘Green Train’ delves into the island’s interior from the coast at several points, running for a total of 453 kilometres across the island on six stretches of line.

The Sassari (Tempio) to Palau section of railway cuts coast-to-coast across the north. An extra one-coach service links Sassari to Alghero on the west, allowing visitors to traverse the whole of the north east-to-west.  The train trickles along ancient aqueducts and bridges taking in various stunning landscapes along the way.

British writer DH Lawrence apparently travelled across Sardinia on the Treno Verde. A train and carriage can be rented for a private trip for €1470, according to the route’s website.

5. Ferrovia del Basso Sebino

The Ferrovia del Basso Sebino. Photo: C. Bonari. Courtesy of: Archivio FTI-FBS

Route: Palazzolo to Paratico/Sarnico

Next departure: September 10.

Reopened in 1994 after 30 years closed, the Ferrovia del Basso Sebino runs from the banks of the River Oglio and cuts around Lake Iseo (Lago d’iseo). The Festival of Villages of Lake Iseo presents a series of celebrations on September 10 and should be a great time to travel this route via castles and forests at the foot of the alps.

Steam-hauled trains with vintage coaches and capacity for up to 390 passengers can also be reserved on this line.

6. Ferrovia val d’Orcia

Photo: A. Bini. Courtesy of: Archivio FVO-FTI 2

Route: Asciano to Monte Antico, Tuscany

Next departure: September 1, 3 and 24

This quaint yet spectacular Tuscan railway line coasts along viaducts, beside creeks and through lush landscape, via Mt Oliveto, taking in famous wine valleys, including Montalcino, around Siena. The line stops at several 19th century stations, before meandering along the banks of the river towards Grosseto. There are several departures out of Siena in September, all set to coincide with local events and festivals.

7. ‘Train of Temples and Sea

Photo: ©Archivio Fondazione FS Italiane

The Valley of Temples, Agrigento. Photo: Alex Macbeth. 

Route: Agrigento Basso to Porto Empedocle

Next departure: August 20, September 3

This short stretch of railway takes travelers from the city of Agrigento, home of Nobel Prize-winner Pirandello, to Porto Empedocle, home to the white cliffs knows as the ‘Turkish Steps’. The train stops at the station Tempio di Vulcano, within the Valley of Temples, where seven ancient places of worship to Greek gods stand tall and intact.

8. The Petrarsa Express

Photo: Archivio Fondazione FS Italiane

Route: Naples Campi Flegrei to Portici-Ercolano

Next departure: August 20. September 13, 17

The Petrarsa Express departs from Naples and brings passengers directly into the National Railway Museum in Petrarsa on a vintage carriage. The museum is situated on the sight of one of the first ever tracts of Italian railway, squeezed between the ocean and Mt Vesuvius. Besides hosting concerts and events, the museum traces 150 years of Italian railway history.

9. Ferrovia Turistica Camuna

Photo: D. Piva. Courtesy of: Archivio FTC-FTI

Route: Rovato to Edolo

Next departure: Everyday (weekdays)

Like its nearby baby cousin – the Ferrovia del Basso Sebino – the Camuna railway bends round Lago d’Isea and the River Oglio, albeit for much longer. The entire route is part of a UNESCO World Heritage-listed and protected site.

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Cremona: Special Places in Italy”

One of my favorite places to visit when I’m in Italy is the beautiful, ancient city of Cremona.  My mother grew up in this fair Lombardian town and lucky for me I’m able to visit my relatives there any chance I get.

Cremona is located in Lombardy a short train ride south from Milan.  It is of course known for its lengthy musical history of producing the famous Stradivarius violins and other stringed instruments.  It was the birthplace of Antonio Stradivari and to this day is home to the world’s best luthiers.  A visit to the Museo del Violino is a must for any first time visitor.  There and throughout the city one can see an artisan crafting one of these fine masterpieces.  It was a pure delight to be strolling through its narrow streets this past spring and hear the soft sound of violins tuning and playing in the air.

Of course like other Italian cities Cremona boasts a breathtaking piazza with its unique Romanesque Duomo, theCattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta and its octagonal Baptistry.The Torrazzo is the symbol of the city and by the way is the third tallest brickwork bell tower in the world.  I’ve enjoyed many a gelato or apperitivo here at a café overlooking this beautiful setting.

Cremona is also known for its contributions to la cucina Italiana.  It’s known for its stuffed pastas like marubini or tortelli di zucca and various styles of risotti.  I had some of the best marubini in brodo at the very casual neighborhood Trattoria Cerri.  They tasted just like the ones my nonna used to make.  On the sweet side Cremona is known for the famous nougat candy, Torrone which we see during the holidays but there you can find anytime. The sweet-spicy, syrupy fruit, Mostarda is also from this city.  My parents used to serve it with their turkey instead of cranberries but it’s usually served with bollito misto.

So the next time you have the opportunity to travel to Italy take a side trip to this often overlooked treasure.  You can stay at Hotel Impero, Piazza della pace, 21 – literally steps from the beautiful Duomo and town center.

Vi auguro una buona permanenza!

Angela Pasetti Holland

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The Zingaro Reserve

Where sea and wild nature meet – it often happens in Sicily – the result is always something spectacular. If we add a sunset of those you never forget, the scents of the Mediterranean, crystal clear water ranging from emerald green to cobalt blue, then you understand that you are in a truly unique place.

The Zingaro Reserve is one of the most admired natural gems in Sicily. There, you can experience the sea as it was centuries ago, if not millennia; the work of man lacks almost entirely, except for some rural houses. There is not one coastal road, there are no cars, no noise except the one coming from wind and waves. The preserve was established because of the document signed by thousands of citizens that have prevented the construction of a street connecting directly Scopello to San Vito Lo Capo. Thanks to them, there is only a “face to face” between man and the genista, the olive, holm oak, between the walker and the curious eyes of a fox or a seagull that met by chance on their path.

Sentiero nella Riserva dello Zingaro - vita khorzhevska

Trail in the Reserve – V. Khorzhevska

Walking along the coastal path, from Scopello to San Vito Lo Capo, seven kilometers of wonders of great variety will unfold before us. Our eye will wander among the many enchanting blue bays – Cala Tonnarella dell’Uzzo, Cala dell’Uzzo, Cala Marinella, Cala Berretta, Cala della Disa, Cala del Varo, Cala Capreria – where the delicate colors of the smooth white pebbles alternate to the harshness of the rock. The itineraries are many and all rich of surprises.

Visiting the Zingaro Reserve year after year means discovering new views and details that the other times were not noticed. Do not miss the views from the halfway path, views that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the world. And then you feel the timeless atmosphere in Bosco di Scardina or Borgo Cusenza, where you would expect to see at any moment a shepherd or a farmer bent by the weight of years. Summarizing, there is the upper trail, among the Aleppo pines and the Mediterranean steppe… The Zingaro Preserve is a small earthly paradise loved by the most obstinate hiker and by those who simply do not want to miss the unique experience of bathing in perfect temperature clear water; it is also loved by those who would like to use a mask to explore the seabed, or even enjoy the warm sun on the tiny beaches, in a wild coast, where man seems almost superfluous.

Spiaggia nella Riserva dello Zingaro - Eddy Galeotti

Riserva dello Zingaro – Eddy Galeotti

Yet, among the rich flora and fauna of these places, among the dust of the paths and the foam of the sea, it really seems to feel at home …

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Let’s Go Shopping at a Supermercato in Italy

by PostcardZ from Victoria

A Foodie I’m Not But…

Although I don’t consider myself a foodie (and certainly wouldn’t call myself a cook!), there’s no question that I love food and love to eat.  If you’ve followed along with me on my travels, you know that I also love to share photos of local markets and fare, and the people who grow, harvest, catch and/or prepare it.

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Going to local farmers’ markets is absolutely one of my favorite things to do in any town – large or small – be it a small neighborhood vegetable stand, artisan cheese, seafood or pastry shop or a large market offering pretty much a to z, I find that it is a perfect way to really learn about the authentic local cuisine and culture. Knowing that what I see will probably be on my plate later that day, I have a deeper appreciation for every morsel.

Learning about local specialties; what is seasonal, regional and traditional is a wonderful, experiential way to gain insights into the local lifestyle.

Since I usually stay in or near historical centers or small towns, I haven’t had the opportunity (or need) to go to an Italian super market (super mercati). Passing by as we travel from town to town, I see them on the outskirts in the more modern neighborhoods. My closest encounter has probably been an AutoGrill which is more like a super deluxe convenience store/gas station along the autostrade.

Well, that all changed during my last visit to Puglia. While visiting friends who now live in Ostuni, we had the occasion to go to a local Supermercati together. While visiting super markets isn’t usually my thing, this was a new experience and a peek into another aspect of local life. And, after all, since it involved food, I was definitely interested!

Also, I thought it would be a fun way to improve and practice my Italian vocabulary and, indeed it was. So…

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Grab Your Shopping List and Let’s Go!

The Familia Supermercati is a chain of stores in southern Italy. Flipping through their weekly ads you’ll quickly notice that you’ll find everything you need and more. From fresh and local to packaged goods, pasta to pet food and patio furniture, they have it here. It’s virtually a one stop shopping destination. (You’ll notice a few familiar American brands sprinkled here and there, too.)

  • If you need a shopping basket, you can pick one up on your way in but you have to pay one euro which is refunded when you return it after you’ve checked out and put everything in your car. (I love this concept as all too often shopping baskets never find their way back to the store here in the States.)
  • If you only need a few items, smaller baskets (trolleys) with wheels are available as well.Italy Super Mercati
  • You have to bring all of your own shopping bags to tote your purchases home.
  • The rule when picking out your purchases in Italian farmers’ markets is generally“non tocare” (don’t touch). After all, what good would that peach be after dozens of people gave it a squeeze?
  • However, at the super mercati, where you have to pick and choose, you are politely reminded that you must wear a glove which is provided as you enter the market.
Italy Super Mercati

Please wear a glove…

  • Wearing your glove, you get a plastic bag and then pick out your fresh produce as well as make and put your other selections in your cart.Italy Super Mercati
  • Once you select your produce, you then weigh it. The automated scale prints out a sticker with the description, weight and your cost to affix to the bag.  Very efficient and obviously time saving during check out!
    Italy Super Mercati

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The array of choices is positively mind boggling! Just the assortment of fresh produce, cheeses, meats, seafood, dairy, wine and beer, baked goods…on and on… is outstanding! The challenge is to stick to your shopping list…

And everything is so neatly organized and arranged, and attractively displayed.

♦ And, by the way, if you’ve traveled in Italy it will come as no surprise that there is a  very “green” conscientiousness and emphasis on ecological and biological alternatives.

♦ It also became obvious that, for practical purposes, knowing basic metric measurements was very important.  (Also, note that they use a comma instead of a period to indicate “cents”.)

♦ A few of the more useful conversions are:

  • Kg (kilo) = 2.2 pounds)
  • L’etto = 100 grams or approximately 4 ounces (used for freshly sliced cheese and cured meats)
  • L (liter) = 33.8 ounces
  • 500 g (500 grams) = 17.6 ounces

Italy Super Mercati

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♦ Not only the assortment of choices but the prices and values were very impressive. For example, some fresh Pecorino romano Dop at 0,79 L’etto (about 6.5 euros/kilo) would equate to only about $4.00 a pound and fresh ciliegie (cherries) at 1,99 for 500 gramsequates to a little over $2.00 a pound!

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As my friend checked items off her list and filled her cart to the brim, I was interested to see what her total would be. When it was only 77 euros, I couldn’t believe the value!There were enough delicious eats to keep me happy and satisfied for weeks!

I have to say that I loved this outing and learning more about the daily local life. Eating well is an uncompromised priority for Italians and its easy to see how one can eat and live well in Italy!

Buon appetito!

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copyright 2017Join me on some of my other forays into local markets in Italy!Better yet,  join me in 2018 and we’ll explore together!

Genoa’s Fabulous Mercato Orientale

Lecce’s Covered Market

Rome and the Testaccio

A Neighborhood Market in Gallipoli

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Saint Louis

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