Italy’s Ventotene Island ~ This Tiny Package Holds Big Surprises

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Ventotene harbor

One of Ventotene’s scenic harbors

If the best things in life come in small packages, then Ventotene is a perfect example. Just a tiny island in the Tyrrhenian sea off the west coast of Italy, Ventotene is all of two miles long and almost a half mile wide. It is one of six islands called the Pontine Islands, of which Ponza is the largest and most developed.

The Romans discovered Ventotene over 2,000 years ago and named it Pandataria. Emperor Augustus banished his promiscuous daughter Giulia here in 2 BC. The crumbled remains of her prison-palace, Villa Giulia, can still be seen today.

The early Romans heavily used and depended on this small piece of land for very good reasons. Off the beaten tourist track today, this easily missed island packs a big punch.

This Is Your Time Travel Blog Tour Team

This Is Your Time Travel Blog Team ~ Avary Sassaman, Amy Gulick, Susan Nelson, Helena Norrman and Linnea Malmberg

My blog team, This Is Your Time, arrived in Ventotene for two days in September. We took a boat from Formia on the mainland and arrived in the modern port before reaching the old Roman port on foot. Built into the side of the volcanic island, the Roman port is lined with fisherman’s boats and scuba shops.

Ventotene is very photogenic and reminded me a little of the Greek islands. Breathtaking 360-degree views of the Mediterranean sea can be seen from several spots.

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Ventotene shows some island charm ~ Borgo dei Cacciatori hotel

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Strolling through the village on narrow uncrowded streets

Ventotene is very walkable. The streets are undeveloped and narrow, allowing only one small car to pass at a time. But the traffic is seldom, making for perfect walking and hiking.

Dinner happens late in Italy, so with good appetites we arrived at Restaurant il Giardino (The Garden Restaurant). Authentic and tasty island cuisine is served consisting of fish and seafood freshly selected from the Port of Ventotene each morning. Chef Candida Sportiello transforms this seafood into magical dishes that dazzle the eye while her son, Luca, serves them with flair. Take a look!

Restaurant Il Giardino, Ventotene

Something exotic being prepared in the kitchen of Restaurant Il Giardino, our choice for dinner

Freshly caught fish from surrounding ocean waters topped with tender green beans and island herbs dressed to perfection. Superb!!

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Creativity happens in the kitchen

Several other dishes arrived just as gorgeously displayed. Each one was well worth mouth-watering praise.

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Semifreddo (different consistency than ice cream and half-frozen ) Pistachio Gelato with crisp wafer and berry sauce. Pistachios are from Bronte (Sicily).

After dinner, we strolled through the village streets to the central square, Piazza Castello. The Town Hall commands center stage in matching yellow with white trim. A line of flags on poles grace the front. The piazza has a few cafes, alimentari and restaurants. But this is not the place for nightlife. It is quiet and serene. A lovely place to be for a mellow evening experience.

Central piazza in Ventotene

After dinner walk through the central piazza

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A street corner in the village

The next day for lunch, we were greeted with big smiles by Pina (center) and her family at their restaurant, Un Mare di Sapori. It is inside a grotto on the old Roman port. A table was prepared for us with great care. Wine was poured and island cuisine began to arrive in various dishes. The lentil is cultivated on the island, and the resulting soup that Pina served was absolutely delicious….earthy and flavorful.

Enoteca Un Mare di Sapori

Pina and her family at Un Mare di Sapori, their enoteca on the old Roman Port. I was touched by their gracious manners and welcoming smiles. 

Antipasti from the kitchen…four different kinds of cheese, olives, salami, artichoke, and eggplant rolls.

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Antipasti

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Fresh sliced bread with octopus in a savory olive sauce

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We were served a bottle of delicious Falerno wine, made from a grape varietal cultivated in first century Rome. It was the favorite drink of the emperors and was also a red wine. In fact, Pliny mentions in his writings that it was the only wine that would ignite when a match was put to it. Falerno was obviously much higher in alcohol then!

Pina’s restaurant is also a shop with shelves of local products for sale.

Grotto on the Old Roman Port which is the location of the enoteca

Grotto on the old Roman Port where freshly caught fish are sold

A lighthouse rises on the edge of the rock at the old Roman Port. Santo Stefano Island with its sprawling prison stands just off to the left. Mussolini detained his adversaries here during WWII. The prison is now abandoned.

Lighthouse on the Old Roman Port

Lighthouse on the old Roman Port

Below the surface of the waters of Ventotene, evidence was found of five ancient Roman ships with cargoes of wine, olive oil and garum (fish sauce) still intact in large clay amphora. Ventotene was perfectly located on the trade route between Rome and North Africa.

Time to walk off all this good Ventotene cuisine!

Time to walk off all this good Ventotene cuisine!

Ventotene is rich with history, beginning with the Phoenicians and Greeks and continuing into the present. It was used as a listening post by a German garrison before being captured by allies in 1943.

Le Terazze di Mimmo for lunch!

La Terazza di Mimi is situated on a cliff wall overlooking the main beach of the island, Cala Nave, and the sea

The next day after a full morning of sight-seeing, we dined at La Terazza di Mimi. The ocean view and exotic dishes combined with sea-scented gentle breezes created a memory that will linger for many years.

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Awaiting our lunch with good appetites. We loved the ambience on the terrace with Mediterranean sparkle and gentle breeze. Santo Stefano in the distance.

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Squid ink pasta with crustaceans and vegetables. The ink is mixed into the pasta, creating a dark but tender noodle. I found this dish very tasty.

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Pasta with clams and mussels in a delicate wine sauce embellished with island herbs.

Pietro Penacchio owner of La Terazza di Mimmi restaurant in Ventotene

Pietro Penacchio chats with us at his restaurant, La Terazza di Mimi

Pietro owns the restaurant and has named it after his father Mimi. He shared his many exciting plans for the development of his properties on the island that is sure to increase tourism with a new, ecologically sound twist. He has a great love and respect for the natural environment of Ventotene.

Bright island flowers give sprightly accent to the shimmering Mediterranean.

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Ventotene has several terraced views that instill a strong sense of exotic ambience. My favorite location is the hotel Borgo dei Cacciatori. Owned by Pietro as well, it is in the process of a complete restoration. The new Borgo dei Cacciatori will be eco-friendly which includes the swimming pool. Earthy tones and colors of the island will be used to decorate the hotel, providing a peaceful and relaxing environment.

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Borgo dei Cacciatori

Imagine the large sweeping terrace on a warm evening. Long white tables are laden with sumptuous island cuisine and sparkling white wine. The Tyrrhenian ocean spreads out before you in a vast expanse reaching to the horizon. Surrounded by good friends, you watch the golden sun set as brilliant colors streak across the sky. Soft breezes caress warm faces and inspire a sense of well-being. Borgo dei Cacciatori is such a place.

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View of Santo Stefano from the terrace of Borgo dei Cacciatori

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Agave and Aloe grow in abundance on the island.

Barely touched by international tourism, Ventotene enjoys a natural existence. The subject of ancient Greek myth, Homer intended this to be the place where Ulysses confronted the sirens during his long journey home. Ventotene makes it easy to believe that they still exist today.

** More about Ventotene from a local website

Italy Inspires Art Behind the Glass Case

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When I’m in Italy, one of the sights that never fails to grab my attention are the many glass display cases well stocked with delicious food. I switch to cruise mode as I pass by and hungrily admire thick meaty paninis on focaccia bread, thin crust veggie pizzas, deep-fried potato balls, fresh-baked croissants, rainbow-colored salads and mouth-watering gelato. The Italians have a way of making food a constant festivity and these glass cased tidbits are no exception.

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A well-dressed display case puts everyone in a good mood. No matter how long the line is, people seem to be having a good time, including the sales staff behind the cases.

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These appealing focaccia paninis are layered with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella. They were delicious and didn’t last long. I admired the way they were so attractively arranged on my plate.

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The thick and the thin….just how hungry are you? The thin ones are heated with meat and/or cheese.

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On a typical hot summer day in Rome, bowls of fresh fruit sell quickly.

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Who doesn’t love a gelato? There are so many different flavors it’s difficult to choose, but cioccolato or nocciola (hazelnut) are my favorites. I especially enjoy a gelato cone as I stroll down the street on a warm summer evening.

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Everything is freshly baked, flavorful and tender

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Although Italians are not typically big on sweets (dolci) like we are, there are tempting treats to be had.
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Insalata displays entice me the most. All of the ingredients are fresh and tasty. Seafood, olives, eggs, cheese, the Italians can really dress up a salad. Combined with olive oil and vinegar, it is a complete meal in itself.

So the next time you are busy checking out the sights in bella Italia, stop to visit these glass cased works of art. In a culture notorious for its many famous masterpiece paintings, not all of the most sense inspiring are from the Renaissance.

 

 

Surprising Gaeta, Italy; You Haven’t Heard of It But You Should

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 “Whether it be hiking along the rugged coastal mountains or shopping in the busy downtown thoroughfare, Gaeta is truly one of Italy’s hidden treasures.”  Nicola Tarallo

 Nicola Tarallo is very passionate about his hometown of Gaeta.  Acting as the town ambassador, Nicola not only knows everyone but also little secrets that guide books don’t tell you.

Just south of Rome by 86 miles and 59 miles north of Naples, Gaeta is a stunning seaside village with golden sandy beaches. It is still a bit undiscovered, but if you find Nicola there it won’t remain a mystery for long. On his website, he has a long list of fans that have visited him in Gaeta.  His authentic friendship and helpfulness are highly regarded. His enthusiasm and warm-hearted friendliness will convince you that you have a solid friend that you can depend on.

Have you ever heard of tiella? I never had, until I “met” Nicola on Twitter. He was excited to discover not only my passion for Italy but that my hometown of Portland, Oregon is where he spent a year attending college.

Nicola has learned the secrets of traditional family meals handed down through many generations. His nonna, mother and aunts cooked over a wood fired oven, teaching him their recipes for traditional local cuisine. One popular specialty in particular is called the tiella. This is a pie shaped dish made of thin layers of dough crimped around the edges to enclose a seafood or vegetable filing. They have become so popular that Nicola has written an e-book, Mangia Tiella, complete with photos and instructional videos. Tiella can be found in almost every bakery and pizzeria in Gaeta. It can be eaten hot or cold and always eaten with one’s hands. Nicola teaches cooking classes on the fine art of making tiella in his home.

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Born in a family committed to high standards and a deep love for their hometown of Gaeta, it is no wonder Nicola fosters the same passion and talent for creative cooking and writing. His grandfather, Nicola Magliocca, wrote several books about the traditions of Gaeta and about the unique dialect of the “Gaetanos.” He received the gold medal from the President of the Republic for good service in the public school system.

Nicola's nonna makes a mean tiella!

Nicola’s nonna makes a mean tiella!

Enjoy the following interview I had just recently with Nicola Tarallo.

Were you born in Gaeta? If so, what was it like growing up in Gaeta? Do you have a particular memory about it?

I was born and raised in Gaeta. It is a safe place to grow up. Gaeta is a very small city with a population of 22,000. You can walk the streets and beaches freely. I finished school through high school. I have good memories of when Gaeta was less populated, and there was more space in the town and on the beaches.

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What inspired you to carry on your family’s tradition of writing books, teaching how to make tiella, and promoting Gaeta?

My lifelong passion for cooking has developed throughout my life while watching and helping my grandmother Maria and my mother Nives prepare delicious Italian dishes in the family’s kitchens. All of my books originate from my love of Gaeta and of my family: I helped my grandfather, Nicola Magliocca, draft and prepare several books about the traditions and history of Gaeta and on the unique dialect of the “Gaetanos.” I also published a book of my grandmother’s poems written about their beloved Gaeta.

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Nicola and a happy tiella class…now they get to taste them!

Your grandfather Nicola and grandmother played a big role in your life. What more do you remember about them?

While my Grandfather and Grandmother were writing their books they did not have a computer, everything was finished with a typewriter, after everything was written by hand.

What are the regional foods of Gaeta?

La Tiella is the most distinctive dish in the city of Gaeta –  kind of a double crusted deep pizza or pie. Traditionally is made with seafood (squid, anchovies or catch of the day) or vegetable. Any seasonal vegetable is suitable for la tiella: zucchini, escarole and spinach are popular favorites. Also Olives of Gaeta are very popular all over the world. Easter Cake (Tortano) and traditional Christmas Cookies (Mostaccioli, Roccocò, Susamieglie, Sciuscèlle)

When you aren’t busy teaching and promoting Gaeta, what other passions do you have?

I enjoy riding my beach bike, and walking on the beach, or up the Regional Park of Monte Orlando.

What is your definition of authentic Italian cuisine?

Using fresh products in every dish you make.

Do you teach tiella making in your home?

I teach Tiella making in my home, and I share my grandmother’s wonderful tiella making tips and techniques. I teach how to prepare the different fillings (zucchini, cheese, anchovy, onion etc.). how to knead the dough; how to roll out the dough; how to seal the two layers of dough in the shape of waves of the ocean.

What brought you to Portland for a year?

I was in Portland to attend College to study English and to practice at a Hospital for the Sleep Disorder Technician program.

What are the local wines and do they play a big part in the everyday life of the people?

Local wines do play a big part in the everyday life of the people. A small amount is usually served at the lunch and dinner hour every day.

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What is the dialect of Gaeta?

The dialect of Gaeta is similar to the dialect of Naples area.

Why should one visit Gaeta ~ what makes it stand out from other cities in Italy?

The weather is always nice all year round, it never gets too cold during the winter, and not to hot or humid during the summer. You are able to get fresh fish everyday from the local fish market. There is much history steeped between the narrow streets and churches to discover. One can be easily enticed into wanting to spend an extended amount of time basking on the golden, sunlit beaches and swimming in the warm summer waters. Whether it be hiking along the rugged coastal mountains or shopping in the busy downtown thoroughfare, Gaeta is truly one of Italy’s hidden treasures.

*Visit Nicola’s website for exciting articles and information about his beautiful Gaeta and family traditions at ladolcegaeta.com

*E-books by Nicola, including how to make tiella, sweets, touring Gaeta and the history at ladolcegaeta.com

Click on Nicola Tarallo to follow on Facebook

Tuscany’s Villa Vignamaggio ~Much Ado About Mona Lisa

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Villa Vignamaggio in Greve in Chianti

Mona Lisa was born here…..or was she?

Considered to be one of the oldest and most enchanting wine estates in Tuscany, the vast 14th century Renaissance Villa Vignamaggio contains all of 85 rooms on a 400 acre wine estate in the Chianti region. Hills, vineyards, castles and cypress trees create a mythical landscape appropriate to the mysterious shroud that surrounds the villa.

Much debate exists concerning Mona Lisa’s place of birth. A noblewoman by the name of Lisa Gherardini and wife of rich silk merchant Francisco Giocondo, she is famous for her portrait by Renaissance painter Leonardo di Vinci. It was her husband who commissioned Leonardo to paint his wife, yet Leonardo refused to part with the painting. He took it into France and kept it with him until his death when it became part of the French royal collection.

Those of the Villa Vignamaggio claim that she was born within its walls in 1479. It has been noted by some that if one looks closely at the background of the painting, they will see the same view as that from the Villa terrace, suggesting that the picture was painted from there.

Leonardo scholar Giuseppe Palanti, after studying the city of Florence’s archives for decades, is convinced that Mona Lisa was born in a house on the side street of Via Maggio in Florence. Later, Mona Lisa lived very close to Leonardo in San Lorenzo as a young married woman.
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Much Ado About Nothing, a 1993 adaption of William Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, was filmed at Villa Vignamaggio in Chianti. In the movie, Kate Beckinsale and Keanu Reeves duke it out as the one accuses the other of infidelity just prior to her wedding day. However, merriment and love eventually find their way into the elegant Italian gardens surrounding the estate with much singing and dancing.

It is interesting to note that both Leonardo and Shakespeare came from insignificant backgrounds but rose to universal acclaim.

Enter through the door

Enter through the door

Passing through the entrance gate on a visit last September was like walking into a pristine medieval realm. Tall stately trees lined the side of the stairs, reminding me of attentive soldiers. At the top a vast garden spread out before the long and palatial villa. I ran my hand over the prickly forest green hedges trimmed with care. Bright red geraniums and pink impatients brought splashes of color against the variegated foliage. A young couple conversing softly in a corner nook is all I could hear in the surrounding silence.

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Fine gravel walkways crunched under my feet and rambled all throughout the grounds, accentuated with occasional terracotta pots of flowering geraniums.

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Copy of the Mona Lisa ~ Vasari, art historian of the Renaissance, notes that Leonardo hired jesters and singers to keep a smile on her face while he painted her.

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Rolling vineyards at the estate

Vineyards of the Vignamaggio estate

The winery at the Villa is a major supplier to the Quirinal, or Presidential Palace in Rome as well as to the Senate of the Italian Republic. Vignamaggio produces 230,000 bottles of wine each year. After over 500 years of winemaking, the winery has gained prominent standing. The harvested grapes are processed through a strict regiment of fermentation which afterwards leaves the wine in oak barrels for 4 years. It is then divided between Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva I.G.T., and Vinsanto del Chianti Classico DOC. Roughly two-thirds of the bottles are exported, while the remaining third are sold within Italy and at the estate.

A host of amenities include swimming pools, horseback riding, bicycling, cooking classes, a spa center, and meandering walks among vineyards and olive groves.

Castello Verrazzano, another Renaissance wine estate and the birthplace of seafaring explorer Captain Verrazzano, can be seen on the neighboring hilltop.

Castello Verrazzano in Chianti

Castello Verrazzano in Chianti

My previous posts, “Captain Verrazzano’s Castle Wine Tour,” and “Tuscany’s Castle Winery Leaves a Dashing Legacy” will reveal some exciting aspects that many are not aware of. Take a look, and understand the deeper spirit of Chianti.

*Villa Vignamaggio Accomodations 

 

Verona’s ‘Faire Old Castle’ ~ Lords of Foul Play?

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Castelvecchio, 'old castle', was the most important military structure of the Scaliger empire that ruled the city during the Middle Ages

Castelvecchio, ‘old castle’, was the most important military structure of the Scaliger empire that ruled the city during the Middle Ages

Mystery surrounds Lord Cangrande I (1291 to 1329), early Lord of Verona, like a dark shadow. Historical documents claimed he expired suddenly from polluted drinking water but doubt remained among scholars. Shocking results from a recent exhumation revealed toxic levels of digitalis, a strong poison from the Foxglove family, discovered throughout his liver and colon. It appears that he was likely poisoned under the cloak of medical treatment in the midst of his astounding military victories. One of his physicians was hung afterwards by his successor, Mastino II. Foul play? One would think so.

Lord Cangrande I was the most celebrated of the Scaliger family, the Lords of Verona, who ruled from 1260 to 1387. A noble ruler who was a warrior, prince and patron of Giotto, Dante and Petrarch, he didn’t live to set foot inside Castelvecchio.

Lord Cangrande II della Scala had the castle and bridge built in 1355 for his protection and that of his ruling family. With a reputation opposite that of his predecessor, he was a cruel and tyrannical governor who needed a safe escape route from his abundance of enemies. Venice, the Sforza family and the Gonzaga were a constant threat. He had no lack of forceful neighbors who surrounded his keep in Verona. If needed, the bridge would allow him to escape northwards to relatives in Tyrol.

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William Shakespeare was smitten by the walls of Verona and immortalized them through the words of his Romeo ~

“There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself. Hence “banished” is banished from the world. And world’s exile is death.”  Romeo and Juliette, Act 3, Scene 3

The Adige River in Verona passes gently beneath the red brick segmental arches of the Scaliger Bridge. Graceful in bearing, it was the world’s largest span at the time of its medieval construction. White marble lines the lower sections of the nearly 49 meter length, which connects to the powerful fortress of Castelvecchio.

The day I visited the Castle was grey and chilly, making this imposing Gothic structure all the more real. As I crossed the bridge toward the castle, I passed striking M-shaped merlons (see in photo above) that ran along the top of the walls.  The brickwork opened regularly to offer a view of the river and surrounding countryside. Peace and tranquility permeated the ambience of this visually romantic castle fortress.

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According to records, a tiny little church existed on this site prior to the castle’s construction. It’s name, San Martino in Acquaro, was adopted by the castle. It became known as Castello di San Martino in Acquaro. In 1404 it was renamed Castelvecchio, Old Castle, and became part of the Venetian Republic as their military compound.

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Seven towers in a pentagonal shape give a magnificent character to the castle, which is divided into four buildings. The super lofty castle keep has four main buildings inside. And, a castle is rarely without a moat that surrounds it.

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The castle moat is no longer flowing with water from the Adige River, but is full of lush greenery. Notice the equestrian statue of Cangrande I Della Scala at the top center.

 

Lord Cangrande I Equestrian Statue of Cangrande I della Scalla, sandstone sculpture from the early 14th century housed in the Castle museum. 

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The castle remained steeped in historical events. It was brutalized by French troops during the Napoleonic Wars of 1796 when the population reacted violently to the anti-French revolt. During WWII, the retreating Germans destroyed the bridge and tower (Ponte Pietra), which was rebuilt by dredging the river for the original mortar and bricks.

Carlos Scarpa, famous architect of his time, implemented a final restoration of the castle in 1958. Born in Venice, he was an artist very sensitive to historical times. As a result, the Castelvecchio was carefully repaired to its original design.

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Castelvecchio at night, photo credits by Google

 

 

A Village Stroll through Chianti

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Panzano in Chianti

Panzano in Chianti

The early Fall morning in Chianti is crisp and quiet. My first night at the Castello Verrazzano (yes, the bridge in New York is named after Captain Verrazzano) in Greve leaves me refreshed and eager to explore the new surroundings. I hike up the half mile to the castle from my farmhouse lodgings and eat an early breakfast of artisan cheese and rustic bread washed down with a rich brew of fresh coffee. My fellow lodgers and I share our plans for the day, from winery tours to B&B shopping. Gazing off the deck high above the valley, rows of vineyards swell gently over the landscape. Every row is straight and precise. Another castle sits like a crown jewel on the next tall hill a short distance away.

Back at my car, I head south through Greve on Via Chiantigana. This route cuts through the middle of the famously picturesque Chianti Classico wine zone. With no itinerary, I lean back and absorb the fresh green ambience.  No radio, just me and Chianti. Only 20 minutes down the winding road I come upon the town of Panzano. The brickwork framed with bright flowers and towering church on the main square entice me to stop and take a look around. Following are some of the highlights of my village stroll.

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Someone with an obviously incredible green thumb lives here. The clay pots on the steps and across the wall sprout colorful flowers which add a rich texture to a stately entryway. If only I could make my doorway at home look like this.

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Churches in Italy fascinate me. Santa Maria Assunta adorns the piazza with old world charm. However, unlike many churches in Italy, this one is not very old. It was constructed between 1890 and 1903.

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Door Panels on the church built in 1964 depict scenes from church history. At the top is Pope John XXIII.

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The village streets bring out the shopper in me. To the right are rows of shirts with a cartoon wild boar on the front. Of course, I have to buy one. Chianti has its share of wild boar, called cinghiale, and they are hunted for their tasty meat that often accompanies a pasta sauce or hearty stew.
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Intrigued by a green door outside an old medieval aristocratic residence, I enter into this wine cellar run by three entrepreneurs. Although I did not eat here, the food is traditional Tuscan with a modern twist. I was taken by the rustic atmosphere with a stone terrace that offers both indoor and outdoor dining.

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I stop here for a cappuccino at II Vinaio, an enoteca and bar. Covered completely overhead with a thick green canopy of leaves, the lively chatter of people below entice me to linger. Afterwards, I find some stairs straight ahead that lead down to the lower part of town.
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Most of the doorways are clean and tidy with lots of greenery. Today the village is very quiet except for some tourists roaming the streets.
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Poor old Mr. Boar has been reduced to only a head. Yet he symbolizes an important landmark for tourists. Inside, the famously winsome owner Stefano will let you try some of Chianti’s most remarkable wines. He also offers samples of local honey, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

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Shallow doorways in rustic brickwork are around almost every corner. Small and pristine, village life in Chianti is the perfect week away for anyone seeking impeccable streets, medieval ambience, tasty authentic Tuscan cuisine and panoramic vistas.

Why I Love Southern Italy

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Baia, just north of Naples, combines antiquity with the modern

Baia, just north of Naples, combines antiquity with modern

When I dream of Italy, i’m wandering along the shimmering Bay of Naples. The mountainous backdrop rises up to meet a baby blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. A faint smell of citrus drifts on the breeze and tugs at my hair as I watch several white boats skim the water’s surface, leaving a bubbling trail behind them. An old castle fortress stands high on a hilltop, its many levels adding dimension to the landscape.

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My life has been blessed with the good fortune to travel to Italy several times, and I am passionate about every region. Italy never ceases to fascinate me and each time I visit, I feel myself pulled deeper into its history, culture, exotic beauty and friendly people. A return visit is always on my mind.

Although the south of Italy is poorer than the north, to me it is the real Italy. It is true that transportation by train or bus is slower and sometimes undependable, but to really see Italy and experience the culture it is essential to leave oneself a bit vulnerable. Who knows what kind of adventures await you at a bus stop when the bus shows up late? A slow train provides the opportunity to meet the locals and strike up a conversation.

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It is the people who I have met along the way in the south that have put heart and soul into my experience in Italy. This young woman and her son run a tiny restaurant next to my hotel in Naples. The hotel manager personally walked me over to her and introduced us. She wined and dined us with delicious home-made food and charged only a couple of euros. Of course we couldn’t allow it, but she staunchly refused to take any more. After the meal, she took out a laptop and brought up her Facebook photos. We had a wonderful evening even though it wasn’t easy to communicate.

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This young lady is the educational director aboard the glass-bottom boat Cymba, which takes people out onto the shallow waters of the bay in Baia to see the underground ruins of the palatial palaces and statues of the rich and wealthy of the first centuries. When I arrived and found no excursion was leaving for the day due to murky water conditions, she brought me aboard and spent an hour educating me on the ancient luxury resort of Baia.

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After we spend a morning walking through the wonder and grandeur of Naples, we stop for pizza. This young couple, who are attorneys in Naples, sat next to us. They encouraged us to order Margherita with extra cheese which we did. I never imagined pizza could be so delicious. As you can see by our plates, not much was left. They were delightful to meet and spend time with. Now, when I order pizza, it must have extra cheese!

Surrounded by Giovanni and his two brothers

 

Three brothers who own a cameo shop in San Martino, a neighborhood just above Naples, welcome me like I’m the Queen of Sheba. Warm and talkative, they graciously let me observe them hard at work bent over lovely pieces of mother-of-pearl while they carve them into delicate cameo’s.

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I love the passeggiata on the waterfront in Naples during the early evening hours. Families, friends, lovers, kids, all kinds of people from every walk of life enjoy themselves as they intermingle with the crowd. It is warm, friendly and full of life. It signifies the beginning of a slower pace before mealtime, which is typically after 7:30pm.

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Where else can you join a Sunday crowd of locals and take part in rooting for the teams playing water polo? The splashing and fast action is thrilling, and I am welcomed into the group. We all pack together tightly and cheer on the players.

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The shops and street markets are abundant and colorful

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Crazy street markets sell everything you can imagine….at the most amazing bargain prices. I bring my bag and fill it up with fruits and vegetables. I love learning the ropes of bargaining.

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Morning street below my hotel balcony in Naples

This next Spring of 2015 I plan to return to southern Italy and the culture I have come to understand and love. But this time I’m excited to push further south and discover the ancient regions of Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia and forgotten Molise. They, too, have stories to tell, ones that go back to the early beginnings and developed a culture. Genuine, authentic travel among real people doing what they have done for centuries; simply live.

Our ‘Passed-Over’ Easter

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St. Peters Basilica in Rome

St. Peters Basilica rises majestically in Rome

How is it possible to miss the yearly Easter celebration, you may ask. Quite easily, we found, if one’s mind is preoccupied with other matters. Let me tell you just how we temporarily ‘fell off the grid.

Throwing caution to the wind and taking temporary retirements, my husband and I backpacked through western Europe for three months in the Spring of 2004. With only 25 pounds each, which allowed us two changes of clothing and our basics, we embarked upon the adventure of our lives. Flying out of Portland International Airport on March 9th, we found ourselves in Amsterdam the following day. From there we took a flight to Athens and spent the remainder of March exploring the wonderfully diverse landscape of southern Greece.

Monastery on Pelopennese

Monastery clings to a mountainside on the Peloponnese

On March 27th, Easter Sunday for the western world, we were curiously investigating all the nooks, crannies and tiny chapels of a monastery, Eloni-Chynuria, north of Kosmas on the Peloponnese. Sitting on a mountainside shelf, it was nearly hidden from a distance. A winding road through desert country took us up to the monastery, where I donned a skirt over my jeans (requirement for modesty) and absorbed the Greek Orthodox ornate Byzantine decor. Panoramic vistas of low valleys and rugged mountains dominated the landscape from the rock walls above.Taverna in KosmosTaverna in Kosmas

Continuing our drive down the rocky Peloponnese, we had lunch in a lively, down-home taverna in Kosmas run by a local family. We enjoyed a simple but tasty dish of chicken and spaghetti, cooked spinach and rose wine. Next to us an elderly woman sat at a table in a traditional black Greek dress, quietly enjoying her own thoughts. The warm open friendliness of these local people transformed a simple lunch into fond memories.

Throughout the day we enjoyed the panoramic and visually stunning view of the Aegean Sea. Thoughts of Easter day back home were far from us. EUROPE04 152

A few weeks later we were at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome when it dawned on us that Easter had come and gone while we were in Greece. What a surprise! On May 5th, while dining on the glistening sun streaked water of Lake Como, it never occurred to us that Easter was happening in the East.

Easter had ‘passed over’ us unnoticed. Explorations of the multi-layered Peloponnese with its Byzantine fortresses, mystic monasteries and homey tavernas kept our thoughts far from home. Italy intoxicated us with the ruins of Pompeii, vineyards of Campania serving ancient wines of the Greeks and Romans, the Eternal City with its multiple layers of history, and the richness of the north. Although surprised and a bit saddened by it, we knew it was probably a once in a lifetime occurrence. At least we hope so. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Where to Sleep on Ponza Island


Hotel Piccolo Louisa on Ponza

Hotel Piccolo Louisa (photo courtesy of the hotel website)

When I travel, a clean and comfortable hotel to come home to at the end of a busy day is always at the top of my list ~ a retreat to escape the swirling activity of life.  A time to refresh and regroup. It needs to be convenient in respect to my itinerary. It is also a plus to be served a good breakfast before beginning a new day. I found this all on Ponza Island.

Last September I spent three days on Ponza, a small crescent-shaped island in the Tyrrhenian Sea between Rome and Naples, with my travel blog tour group This Is Your Time. This was my first introduction to island life in Italy and I fell for the quaint and colorful village nestled against a sparkling blue harbor.

Port of Ponza

Ponza Port

Our group discovered rocky coves and sandy beaches. We explored grottos, caves and craggy cliffs that lined the water’s edge.

The first lodging was at the Hotel Piccolo Luisa, a lovely white-stuccoed collection of remodeled buildings just a short walk from the port area. Inside, the Mediterranean style with an Asian flair infused a sense of class. Just past the reception desk was a large open room with comfortable furniture and nooks for privacy. Spacious windows served as portals to the surrounding island landscape.

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I loved this old cobbled street that lead up to Hotel Piccolo Luisa

A warm greeting awaited us by the staff who operate this family run hotel. We had the pleasure of meeting the madame of the house, Mrs. Luisa Mazzella. She was full of smiles and sage advice. We felt right at home with her gracious hospitality. She freely shared her fascinating island experiences and the history of Hotel Piccolo Luisa.

Luisa Mazzella ~ Madame of the Hotel Piccolo Luisa

Luisa Mazzella ~ Madame of the Hotel Piccolo Luisa

The rooms were clean and cozy, with a touch of originality in each. Some of them overlooked the garden while others offered views of the island from balconies.

One of the best amenities was the full buffet breakfast served every morning on the open terrace. A menu of local products and traditional foods both sweet and savory made for a very tasteful and satisfying meal. Luisa took great pride in her menu items and enjoyed discussing some of her recipes. While dining, we enjoyed viewing the hills of Ponza with its colorful little pastel houses tucked into the landscape.

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Inside the entrance and past the reception desk is a large living room with tables and nooks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our last night on the island was spent away from the village.

Il Gabbiano B & B, located four km from the port, sits majestically on a ridge overlooking the sea. The white villa is surrounded by island nature and cradled in blue from sea to sky. A large outdoor terrace provides tables and lounges for relaxation. Long shuttered wooden doors open onto the terrace from rooms that inspire a time to reflect, write and restore. Exotic views of the rugged island shoreline below and Palmarola Island in the distance can be easily seen.

We stood on the terrace and soaked up the warm sunshine. All was quiet except for the faint rustle of leaves from the soft ocean breeze.

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That evening, we enjoyed a late night aperitif by candlelight under the stars surrounded by a peaceful stillness.

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The B & B offers three spacious rooms and a full kitchen. It is a complete villa, dressed in a crisp Mediterranean style.

Breakfast was prepared and served by a local resident employee. We enjoyed a wonderful buffet outside on the patio accompanied by Maurizio Musella, who is the owner of Il Gabbiano and is also the “Delegato al Turismo” on the island.

The buffet was tasty and colorful

The buffet was tasty and colorful ~ photo credit Daniela Nasteska Olsson

The entire villa can be booked, or just by the room. The luxurious rooms will accommodate one to two people each and include an array of lavish amenities. For more information refer to the website link above.

Sunset on the terrace with a view of Palmarola in the distance.

Sunset on the terrace with a view of Palmarola in the distance.

In the rush of travel planning it’s easy to miss out on finding a hotel that is just right. Whether your plans are to be in the port village or out among nature, Ponza promises to please.

Cats Among the Ruins of Rome


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Torre Argentina, a cat sanctuary among the ruins

The grey Roman skies overhead unleashed a torrent of rain as I reached Torre Argentina near the Pantheon. Dashing across the street for cover underneath a red awning, I bought the first umbrella that a passing vendor handed me. I watched as large pellets of rain hit the surface and bounced upward. Miserable weather. Fortunately, the squall was short-lived and I was soon crossing the street again.

I had come to see the cats of Rome who have called Torre Argentina their home since it was excavated in 1929. The below-street level block contains some of Rome’s earliest temples. Among them are a part of the Theater of Pompey where Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC.

The cats are mostly feral. They prowl around the ancient ruins as though they owned them and answer only to the Gattara, or “Cat Women” of Rome who come to feed them during lean times.

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At the cat sanctuary of Torre Argentina

Gazing downward to the wet grass and dampened stones, I soon began to see cats creep out from under hiding places that had given them shelter from the rain. At one corner, a gate with a staircase lead down to the underground cat sanctuary.

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Entrance down to the sanctuary

The sanctuary began as a cave-like excavated area under the street that served as a shelter for the cats at night and a place to store food. For a long while there was no running water or electricity. A big gas lantern was placed on a table that cast shadows of the cats on the cave walls and created a spooky atmosphere.

Inside the sanctuary today are large rooms painted white. Cages line some of the walls with cats under medical supervision. All of the 200 cats are up for adoption. Most of the permanent cats have special needs like blindness or missing a limb. The volunteers show a great love for these cats and are very interactive in finding them safe and loving homes.

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Volunteer inside the sanctuary

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Cats curled up inside every bed and box

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An independent cat cozied up on the gift display

There are estimated to be about 2000 cat colonies (local groupings of feral cats) in Rome. The city council of Rome protects the cats living among the ancient ruins of the Colosseum, the Forum and Torre Argentina as part of the city’s bio-heritage.

James Martin in his article, Rome Cats, explains that “not everyone in Rome, of course, holds a fondness in their hearts for their neighborhood Gattara (cat women), or for the cats, but it hardly matters to the healthier ones, who augment their meals outside the finest of Rome’s eateries. In summer there are pigeons, mice and lizards to be had in the excavations and nearby fields as well. (In antiquity, the cat was highly valued for just this activity–defending mankind against rodent borne diseases like the plague.”

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Jungle Gym!

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Cat with a penthouse view!

All of the abandoned cats are spayed, neutered and vaccinated. The sanctuary is operated by an international group of volunteers who welcome visitors and give free tours of the premise. Donations from tourists, fund-raising projects and the sanctuary store keep the shelter running. It is kept very clean with every small box and cat bed occupied by a curled up feline.

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Enjoying a Zen moment

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The Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary is open 7 days a week from noon until 6pm. Only a 5 min. walk from the Pantheon. Entrance is free. So is the love.

For additional information:

Roman Cats

Engaging Orvieto, Born of a Troubled Past

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Orvieto stands on top of tufa rock

Orvieto stands on top of tufa rock 1,000 feet above the valley floor

Italian hill towns capture my imagination and quicken my pulse. Whenever I catch a glimpse of one, I’m reminded of my childhood fairytale books. Filled with pictures of enchanted castles and medieval villages, they rise mysteriously toward the clouds on faraway hilltops.

Orvieto is definitely one of those. Sprawled out on a massive bed of cavernous tufa rock high above the valley floor, it is a vision to behold. The sweeping landscape is dotted with cypress trees and well-groomed vineyards. Less that 90 minutes north of Rome, the old walled city is rich in medieval charm and is nearly traffic-free.

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A medieval street in Orvieto

I love to linger and soak up the surroundings at different times of the day. Dusk is always my favorite. The winding cobbled streets and outdoor cafes take on a romantic ambience as candle light flickers off the stone walls. Trattorias disperse delicious aromas of roast meat and savory sauces. Idyllic.

But don’t let the serenity fool you. From it’s very beginnings, Orvieto has known a troubled past.

Let’s take a quick peek into those bygone years…

It all began with the Etruscans ~

What began as an Etruscan settlement (Velzna) in the 9th century BC, became Roman property after an arduous two-year siege in the third century BC. The Etruscans were ingenious and crafty, and had carved out a large network of tunnels and wells within the expanse of penetrable tufa rock below their feet. The position of the walled citadel increased the difficulty of an invasion, making it nearly impossible for the Romans to take the city.

Orvieto Challenged by the Middle Ages ~

During the early middle ages, Orvieto became prosperous under a developed, well-organized political system and urban structure. This all changed when, sadly, the plague infected the city of 8,000.

“At Orvieto the plague began in May 1348. Some 500 died in a very short space of time, many of them suddenly; the shops remained closed, and business and work was at a standstill. Here it ran its usual five months’ course, and finished in September, when many families were found to have become extinct.” (G. Gigli, Diario Sanese).

Constant fighting among highly ranked noble families also weakened the city. Orvieto was no longer a free municipality and governing city-state, but became a mere shadow of its past. Poverty ridden and sickly, the populace limped along despite pestilence and increasing economic uncertainty.

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Orvieto is full of charming nooks and corners

Fire, Brimstone and the Last Judgement ~

The city’s greatest artistic treasures give a strong indication of the political and religious turmoil experienced by the populace. Apocalyptic delirium was inspired by the half-crazed Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola. Luca Signorelli’s paintings in the Orvieto Cathedral chapel reflect the effects of Savonarola’s sermons, resulting in a growing religious anxiety.

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Approaching the Orvieto Cathedral

A terrifying Renaissance Apocalypse, a series of frescos by Signorelli painted between 1499 and 1504, fills a chapel in the Orvieto Cathedral. In the midst of the city’s post-plague devastation, it must have been natural for such a painter to envision the full depth of human depravity.

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Luca Signorelli’s fresco of The Damned in the San Brizio Chapel of the Orvieto Cathedral

Signorelli’s frescos had a huge impact on his contemporaries, including Michelangelo, who studied them before he created his own masterpieces on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and the Last Judgement on its far wall.

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Almost there!

A Cathedral Hides a Precious Relic ~

Prior to the plague’s devastation, Pope Urban IV took up residence in Orvieto due to the civil unrest in Rome. It was he who commissioned the Cathedral to begin construction in 1290 as a resting place for the holy relic named the Corporal of Bolsena. This relic is the result of a Eucharistic miracle at Bolsena.

As the story goes, it was in 1263 that a traveling Bohemian priest, burdened by doubts concerning his faith, stopped at the tomb of St. Christina in Bolsena to take communion. As he held the host, red drops of blood dripped from it onto the linen. Immediately, his faith was strengthened and the stained linen relic came to be housed inside a small chapel within the Cathedral.

Orvieto Cathedral

The Orvieto Cathedral

The Cathedral’s grey and white striped exterior must have given a glimmer of hope and lifted the spirits of the people. Built very similarly to the Duomo in Siena, it was also a competitive move towards them as Orvieto’s arch-enemy.

The papacy brings prosperity ~

As Orvieto became an important papal province, its economy began to prosper. It grew in popularity with cardinals and popes, who were drawn to an ambrosial sense of peace and security, so contrary to the past few hundred years. Beginning in 1600, urban renewal and profound architectural restoration occurred within the city and have continued to the present.

The town hall has an official symbol that embodies the recent history of Orvieto. It consists of a red cross on a white background, symbolizing the loyalty of the city to the papal party named Guelfi, a black eagle which refers to the Roman domination, a goose which is a reference to the geese who saved the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) in Rome, and the lion that symbolizes the loyalty to the papacy of Orvieto.

Symbol of Orvieto

Symbol of Orvieto

Today, Orvieto is bustling with tourists who enjoy the medieval architecture, shopping, abundance of cozy Italian restaurants and some of the best wine in Italy. The ambience changes after dark. Quiet and serene, it is the perfect place for an after dinner stroll through its medieval maze of golden lamp lit streets.

Orvieto Cathedral

Striped Medieval architecture

Orvieto is prosperous and friendly with much to admire. It is the result of a people who endured waves of hardships that threatened to wipe them out. They chose to work toward and embrace hard-won achievements that are visible throughout the city today.

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Restaurant on the Cathedral Piazza

A Memory of the Umbrian Hills


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Splashes of red and gold streaked across the evening sky like a watercolor painting. The sun made its last hurrah and slid behind a wooded hilltop while sleepy hamlets surrounded by fields of olive trees and flocks of sheep became silhouettes against the fading light. An Umbrian evening was quickly approaching.

Dinner was ready. I left my room in the old restored farmhouse of the agritorismo, Nido del Falcone, my lodging for three nights, to meet my friends for dinner inside the ancient stone dining room with an Etruscan tomb hidden underneath. It was magical, and as I passed the window before entering, I took this photo.

Inviting, warm, friendly, enchanting, nurturing, romantic….all of these words came to mind. Smells of simmering boar sauce and basil filled the air as I passed by the kitchen. Candle glow from the carefully laid table danced across the walls and played among the shadows of the topmost corners. Fragrant baskets of apples and nuts brought a wholesome fall ambiance that I couldn’t get enough of.

Unforgettable…a special moment in time.

Soaring Views from the Temple of Jupiter

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Terracina and the Tyrhenean Sea from the Temple of Jupiter Anxur

Terracina and the Tyrrhenian Sea from the Temple of Jupiter Anxur

We stood transfixed at the majestic panoramic view of Terracina below and further points unknown from the Temple of Jupiter Anxur on Mount St. Angelo. I had previously gazed up at the temple from below and noticed the large terraced platform with a long row of support arches running underneath. It was then that my thoughts recalled a Bible verse I once read about putting your light on a hill for all to see. This was certainly a place to display ones most highly prized possession. Its beauty and importance could be seen by everyone for miles around.

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Temple of Jupiter Anxur (photo credit Creative Commons)

Terracina is located 47 miles southeast of Rome on the Tyrrhenian coastline. My blog tour group, This Is Your Time, had just arrived at the Temple of Jupiter Anxur with Danilo Mastracco from Slow Food Terracina, and Laura Marano from Terracina Live, the local newspaper. We entered through the ticket office which is run by the organization Munus. This association also manages the Tempio di Giove by working to support the communications and promotional aspect of the site.

We enjoyed frothy cappuccino outside the Piano Bar Tempio di Giove while conversing with Professor Vencenslao (Lavio) Grossi about the history of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur while taking in the views.

This Is Your Time travel blog team with Slow Food Terraccina

This Is Your Time travel blog team with Slow Food Terraccina ~ Laura Marano, Helena Norrman, Claudia Moreschi, Avary Sassaman, Amy Gulick, Federico Michieletto, Linnea Malmberg,Daniela Nasteska Olsson, Nando Campi and Danilo Mastracco.

Piano Bar Tempio di Giove (Temple of Jupiter)

Piano Bar Tempio di Giove (Temple of Jupiter)

Inside the Piano Bar Tempio di Giove are guidebooks for sale as well as a selection of drinks.

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After coffee, we passed through the Piano Bar to the back room where we saw a large model of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur. The Roman Sanctuary, a large complex of several buildings, dates back to the 4th century B.C., although most of the development is believed to have happened over a period of time up to the 1st century. The spectacular position of the large temple mounted high on the terrace, accessed by twelve steps, would have dominated the skyline . Although now merely foundations, a vaulted gallery and a cryptoportico, it is still commanding.

The Temple of Jupiter Anxur is mentioned by Livy, Virgil and Servius. Livy records lightning striking the temple twice. A passage in Virgil’s writings indicate that the worship of Jupiter Anxur extended to neighboring towns and that the Temple complex was highly visible all around. Servius wrote that the infant Jupiter was worshipped under the title of Anxur.

Model of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur

Model of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur as seen inside the Piano Bar Tempio di Giove

In the photo above, you can see the arcades and vaults of the substructure that supported the large terrace above where the Temple of Jupiter Anxur stood. The vaulting at the base of the temple area are the most impressive remains of the complex. Below is how they look today.

During the first century it was also used for military purposes. At the decline of the Roman empire in the 5th century, the site caught fire and burned. Afterward, a Benedictine monastery was built in its place. It was later abandoned in the 16th century.

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The arches of the subterranean support system are regarded as one of the best examples of “opus incertum,” which was a Roman construction technique using concrete. As I walked through them, I was very impressed by the strength and precision of the structure. The Roman complex was built to last.

Twelve arches give the impression of a single corridor. The figure at the end below increases the effect of one single line of arches. The construction of the rock and brick walls was fascinating. It all fit tightly together like a puzzle.

Arcades and vault of the substructure that supported the terrace and the temple

Arcades and vault of the substructure that supported the terrace and the temple

A large covered gallery behind the portico is believed to have been used for processions.

The vaulted gallery underneath the temple

The covered portico underneath the temple

In the past, a cave connected with the oracle’s rock podium, which had a hole that winds passed through and made eerie sounds. Because of this, the cave was chosen as a holy site associated with the god Jupiter’s voice.

A priest stood in the cave and gave answers to the questions of the devoted by deciphering the voice of Jupiter.

Cave of the Oracle

Cave of the Oracle with our tour guide Professor Vencenslao (Lavio) Grossi

Professor Vencenslao (Lavio) Grossi was a wealth of information concerning the historical facts and timeline of the Temple. He is a researcher, author of numerous scientific papers on archaeological Terracina, and a very engaging speaker during his guided tours. He is associated with the Archeoclub of Terracina.

The word Anxur is a Volscian name for Jupiter as a youth. The Volsci were an early Italic tribe that lived in the hills and marshes of the area. Although they fought against the Romans, they eventually succumbed to domination.

Mount St. Angelo, at 227 m high, stood directly in the way of Rome’s most important road. The Via Appia, built in 312 BC as a major road between Rome and Capua, ran up the steep slope of the mountain. It was Trajan who had the rock face cut below the complex along the coast to enable travel at sea level. The completed bypass was not finished until the early 2nd century AD.

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The Port of Terracina 

The area of the complex is grassy and inviting for an outdoor lunch. There is no charge to enter from the generous sized parking lot. A small bar (cafe pictured above) sits inside the walls on the sun-splashed terrace with outdoor dining tables where you can also purchase a guidebook. Cats lounge about soaking up the warmth of the stonework.

For those more energetic, walk up to the temple complex from Piazza del Municipio in Terracina and soak in the flower strewn olive groves along the way.

 

Magnificent Roman Skyline from the Hotel Raphael Rooftop

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La Terrazza Bramante, a garden restaurant on top of the Hotel Raphael provides panoramic views of the eternal city.

While enjoying a refreshing glass of Frascati wine at a small outdoor table near the Piazza Navona last September, I couldn’t help but notice the tall and lush Hotel Raphael across the street. The entire facade was covered with ivy and purple wisteria. As my eyes traveled from the front door entrance up the building to the top, I noticed some large umbrellas and wondered if it had a rooftop restaurant. I questioned my waiter about it and was told that it did. It was then I decided to enter the hotel and make my way to the top. I could only imagine the views of the city from this vantage point.

Golden lamplight spilled through the entrance toward the street as I entered the Raphael. The impeccably dressed gentleman at the front desk took a copy of my identification and told me how to reach the elevator.

La Terrazza Bramante, the rooftop garden restaurant, was more exotic than I imagined it would be. I had stepped off the elevator and into a multi-level terrace that offered elegant dining among tall fan palms.

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Large umbrellas provide shade for diners. This is what attracted me from the cafe across the street.

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A scattering of diners begin to arrive as the dinner hour approaches.

A handsome young waiter approached me and inquired if I would like a table. I accepted a menu from him and scanned the pages. A nice selection of gourmet organic, biodynamic vegetarian Mediterranean cuisine was on offer along with some of the best wines in Italy.

I wasn’t hungry for dinner yet, so I declined but asked if I could take a moment to enjoy the Roman skyline. He smiled and encouraged me to take my time.

The fading light over Rome inspires me to linger just a bit longer

The fading light over Rome inspires me to linger just a bit longer

The nearly 360 degree view of the eternal city at dusk was intoxicating. The restaurant faces the Bramante cloister in the church of Santa Maria della Pace. The terrace overlooks several architectural wonders of Rome, including the Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, and the National Monument of Victor Emanuel II.

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The dome of Santa Maria della Pace to the left and St. Peters Basilica in the center.

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St. Peters Basilica to the left and Victor Emanuel II on the right with the quadriga, or chariot of horses, on top

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The bell tower of the Church of St. Mary of the Soul, built in 1502.

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The building of the Hotel Raphael itself seems to have been around for hundreds of years. Its believed that a fresco in the Vatican Museum clearly shows the building already in existence in the sixteenth century city. Florentine developer Spartacus Vannoni remodeled the interior into The Raphael, a luxury hotel with two lower level floors, seven upper floors, a multi-level rooftop terrace and a restaurant in 1963.

The 5 star luxury hotel is also a veritable museum of sorts. Artwork in the form of paintings, sculptures, antiques and a collection of Picasso ceramics are on public display throughout the building. American architect Richard Meier designed two of the executive floors which are of a modern decor.

 

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Entrance to the Raphael

The ambience of the Hotel Raphael and La Terrazza Bramante rooftop restaurant left me with a yearning to return. In addition, the waitstaff were exceptionally friendly and cheerful. The hotel is nicely located and within walking distance to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Vatican.

 

Evening in Trastevere, Rome’s Colorful Surprise

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Trastevere

Colorful nightlife in Trastevere

To my delight, I found myself once again in Trastevere on a warm evening in September. I had just arrived in Rome to meet up with This Is Your Time blog tour as one of the participants. We planed to celebrate our kick-off for ten days of traveling in bella Italia to explore some charming tucked away places.

Located on the west bank of the Tiber River and south of Vatican City, Trastevere has a spirited medieval old-town feel. Greenwich Village in New York came to mind as I slowly made my way through the tightly winding streets. Quaint, comfortable, charming, incredible nightlife….Trastevere is all of these and more.

Helena, one of the tour members who lives in Rome, picked me up at my room in Guesthouse Sant’Angelo. We followed the Tiber River south and found the tiniest parking spot imaginable. It was no problem for Helena. Like a pro, she backed her little Smart right into the curb. Since I had never parked like this before, I was entertained and impressed.

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We arrived by tiny red Smart coach

Bars, nightclubs, trattorias and pizzerias hummed with groups of people engaged in lively conversations. A golden glow brushed the cobbled streets and reflected off old brick and stucco walls. Aromas of savory food filled the air as soft guitar music could be faintly heard over the drone of voices.

Diners packed around outdoor tables for aperitif or dinner. There are so many excellent selections to choose from its difficult to go wrong. I’ve noticed that while enjoying the ambience at a table, the desire to linger only grows stronger.

Helena and I found the others on the stairs of a small fountain and headed for their favorite pizzeria.

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Typical street in Trastevere, alive with outdoor cafes and candlelight

We passed a couple of small bands strumming guitars and softly singing. Their presence brought a romantic mood to the festive atmosphere.

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Street bands play in small open spaces

*Pizzeria Nerone was an excellent choice for delicious pizza and salad. Watch the one minute video by clicking on the name. You will see the immense and savory looking individual pizzas made for each person as well as how they make them.

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My friends Federico, Linnea and Avary standing outside our pizzeria

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Ridiculously large salad on pizza crust with a lid inside Pizzeria Nerone

To my amazement, I ate the whole thing! Except for the bread. It was as tasty as it appeared, however huge. Everyone at my table had a good laugh and took photos. The Chianti wine was a great addition.

After dinner, we took a stroll through the piazza and up to the 12th century Basilica di Santa Maria. The silhouette of the archways, as well as the statues in front of the mosaic of Mary and Jesus flanked by 10 women holding lamps was a beautiful sight.

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Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

I entered the portico and snapped a photo of the piazza through the iron rod gate, amazed at the two completely different atmospheres.

Gates to the entrance

Gates to the entrance (not sure who the lady is)

Inside the portico, the walls are packed with sections of ancient marble with Latin inscriptions. These are pieces of marble found in archaeological digs from broken sarcophagi and loculi in the catacombs. There are several with Christian symbols such as a dove, olive branch, praising figure and crosses. The church was closed so we did not enter this time.

Large entry doors surrounded by ancient sarcophogus marble sections

Large entry doors surrounded by ancient marble sarcophagi pieces 

This piazza is a place where it is more fun to hang out in the dark than during the day. Although you are never alone, the mellow feel is very relaxing. The large fountain in the center provides seating on the steps.

Piazza Santa Maria with fountain...Trastevere's living room

Piazza Santa Maria with fountain…Trastevere’s living room

We passed the trattoria Grazia & Graziella, surrounded by tables of things to buy from colorful scarves, jewelry, leather goods and little glowing objects that jet through the night sky.
IMG_0820Our evening ended later than we had intended. It is so easy to get swallowed up in Trastevere, and I never feel like I have had enough. The crumbling buildings with fading paint quickly become a welcome sight. Since it is so walkable from the city center, I bid my friends good night til the morning and slowly followed the Tiber River north to my comfortable little room by Castel Sant’Angelo. All was peaceful in the Eternal City.

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The Ladies of Umbria’s Monteleone d’Orvieto


Lady of the house looking through her open window

Lady of the house looking through her open window

The clean and imaginative little medieval village of Monteleone d’Orvieto is well-kept by the lovely ladies of the village. All is swept clean and tidy, and the homes are creatively adorned with colorful flowers and ornate wooden doors. All is quiet and peaceful, making a very pleasant walk among the winding cobbled streets. Not a scrap of trash can be seen anywhere. The views from the hilltop walls are vast and majestic.

Late afternoon chat among good friends

Late afternoon chat among good friends

Sitting in the cool of the afternoon, these ladies seem to be very good friends. There is much to discuss and talk about, and I was charmed by their laughter. Although they don’t know English, we communicated well enough. Much care is put into their appearance and they are dressed very neatly. Scarves, necklaces and stylish shoes accessorize their lovely dresses.

I can only imagine their cooking skills. It must be heavenly. There was much to see the afternoon I spent walking through the village, but I found these lovely ladies to be the most charming view of all.

9 Of My Favorite Things About Ponza

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Port of Ponza

Ponza Port dressed in colorful pastels

“When from the sea the shape of an island appears, there it becomes a site of the soul.” 

Ponza is one of six islands that make up the archipelago called the Pontine Islands. Set in the Tyrrhenian sea just off the west coast of Italy between Rome and Naples, Ponza is the largest and most developed.

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The port of Ponza was alive with sparkling lights pinned against the dark silhouette of rising hills as we deported the boat from Formia. My travel blog tour group, This is Your Time, were here for three days with much to see. Excited but tired, we made our way through the night to our lodgings. Our explorations would wait until morning, after a good nights sleep.

Hotel Luisa

Piccolo Hotel Luisa

1. Comfortable and Accommodating Lodgings Close to the Village.

Some of us found lodging at the Piccolo Hotel Luisa, just a short stroll up from the village on the port. Our pull bags clattered over the cobbled streets as we made our way up to the door. We were warmly greeted and taken to our rooms. The next morning, a full breakfast was set out on the covered veranda with surrounding views of the island.

Ponza port produce stand

Vibrant produce stand on the port

2. Fresh Produce

Ponza village is colorful and packed with several quaint shops. One of the delights in passing are the produce stands packed with ripened fruit.

Ponza Port

Exploring Ponza port with Avary Sassaman, Daniela Nasteska Ollson, Susan Nelson and Helena Norrman

3. Ambience that Inspires Friendship

Life is much more fun when you share it with friends! Some of my team and I walk the port snapping photos and shopping. It isn’t long before we work up a thirst.

Aperol spritz and ladies

An Aperol spritz starts off the afternoon! Avary Sassaman and Amy Gulick

As a result, we found a small outside table and enjoyed spritzes while engaged in ‘serious‘ conversation.

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5. Excellent Seafood

Abundant plates of perfectly prepared mixed seafood freshly caught from the surrounding clear waters of the Tyrrhenian sea are served up with gusto at Trattoria Monte Guardia. Perched on the highest hill of the island, views from the veranda are stunning. It is one of the best places to watch the sun set dramatically over the island.

Vineyards on Ponza

Vineyards on Ponza

6. Vineyards and Views that Captivate.

Wine is superb and harvested from the vineyards on the hills of the island. Antiche Cantine Migliaccio makes a wonderful Rosato among their other wines. However, because the production is small, it is difficult to find, creating another very good reason to visit Ponza!

Ponza waters

Linnea Malmberg and Helena Norrman lounge onboard our skippered boat as we explore the turquoise waters and caves of Ponza

7.Boating Explorations

This Is Your Time travel blog tour designers Linnea Malmberg and Helena Norrman lounge on our boat excursion around some of the island. The weather was perfect and a very light breeze kept us comfortable. We explored several caves and grottoes carved into the cliff side by boat.

Our trustworthy boatsman

Our trustworthy boatman

We could not have found a better guide than Antonio from Noleggio Barche da Tritone. If not for his keen boating skills and island knowledge, we would have missed a lot of exciting caves and exotic scenery.

Aperitiff on a Sailboat in the harbor

Aperitif onboard the S&S Swan Sailboat in the harbor with Amy Gulick

8. Evening Aperitif on a Sailboat

Adventure on the high seas was enjoyed as we took a small skiff from the harbor out to a stately sailboat anchored off shore. We were invited to a delicious aperitif by Jayne who sails the S&S Swan sailboat. Her lively conversation and gracious hospitality made it difficult to head back to shore. She provides various sailing excursions to those looking to live their dreams of sailing the high seas.

Exploring caves and grottoes with Avary Sassaman

Exploring caves and grottoes with Avary Sassaman

Many surprises awaited us as we explored the water’s edge. From caves deep and cavernous to ocean floor artwork, Ponza seems to always have something new up her sleeve.

Lodging in paradise on a secluded part of Ponza, Villa Il Gabbiano

Lodging in paradise on a secluded part of Ponza, Villa Il Gabbiano

9. Exotic Escapes on the Island

After a full few days in the village, we retired to a secluded lodging. Villa Il Gabbiano is an exotic B&B with surrounding views of the sea that provide a tranquil experience.

Ponza is more than another island. Ponza has allure, one that the Etruscans, the Romans, and the Bourbons found impossible to resist. Intertwined with centuries of myth and legend, this island paradise makes it easy to believe.

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